Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth.
And the slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground.
- Jeremiah 25:32-33
Around every event, every possibility, circles an infinite number of "what if" and "what may be". They are nonexistent realities, unknown and unseen to most. Some science fiction authors explore these unseen realities and the possibilities which may spring up should something happen to alter how we perceive reality. This is the story of one of many nonexistent realities. Alternative universe, as it were.
In the year of 1999, there were those people who believed that the apocalypse would come with the dawn of the new millennium. They warned and their warnings were ignored. After all, people had other things to worry about. In Japan there were a group of children who had encountered beings from a "digital world," and these children had an adventure that at least somewhat prepared them for what was to come. The Digital World had taught them to survive.
It came like a great shadow sweeping over the Earth. Warnings of a plague breaking out in North America spread over the globe with the speed of wildfire, and everyone fought to save themselves. It was a man-made virus designed to target those were over the age of puberty and took root in hormone receptors only active in adulthood, it was spread by touch and had no cure. In an age of globalization, it wasn't long before Death's scythe had swung down to slice away the lives of all the adults in the world. The apocalypse had come on the ides of March in 2000 and lasted for six months, and as far as anyone knew, only the children were left alive.
In the fifteen years since the Apocalypse, those left behind had to learn to fend for themselves. Cities were abandoned by survivors who instead took to the wilderness. After all, who would want to live in cemeteries? Many wandered from place to place. These nomads would say that it was better this way, but never admit to the fact that their subconscious minds had equated a sedentary existence to an invitation for Death to come knocking. Wandering meant evading Death. Wandering was freedom.
Takaishi Takeru was one such nomad. He existed on the fringes of those towns built by leaders and gang warlords, staying only long enough to stock up on supplies, trade, and gather what information he could before moving on to the next town. Unlike the other nomads, he had a mission and a digimon. Tokomon remained hidden in his backpack and was let out only when Takeru was certain that no one else was around. An awful existence, but in a world where law was usually found at the end of a gun's muzzle, it was better to be safe than sorry.
It was while Tokomon was nibbling contentedly on a bit of smoked salmon within his backpack that Takeru reflected on his personal mission. During the chaos that swarmed the streets of Tokyo, his parents had told himself and his brother to stay in the safety of their father's apartment in Odaiba. He wanted to go after them. He really did. He cried after his mother, only to be held within Yamato's arms as his mother said that she was going to Amaterasu's Cave and then locked the door behind her.
That had been the last time either of them had seen their parents alive. He couldn't remember exactly when Poyomon and Tsunomon joined them or why, but he was grateful for the presence of his digimon partner in the time when the world grew dark. They huddled together, brothers and digimon partners, as the adult world gave its last rattled breath and collapsed outside.
The end of the world couldn't have been more horrible. Nearly six billion lives went out in half a year. When the electricity finally died and they were out of food, the brothers extracted themselves from the apartment. Takeru still had nightmares about what he saw, and he suspected that every child in the world had the same nightmare. The bodies of teenagers and adults laid where they had died, with skin smeared in dried blood where it wasn't tinged with the yellow-blue mottled complexion of decay. The stench was horrible and overpowering, the raucous cries of feeding crows raked against his eardrums, and all throughout he had been on the verge of either breaking down and crying or throwing up. Sometimes both. Half the time he tugged at Yamato's hand in an attempt to urge his brother back to the safety of their apartment, but Yamato's jaw was set and that had always been a good indicator that he wouldn't budge from his decision.
After snatching some canned food from an abandoned convenience store called Ai-Mart, they set off on their grand quest. They were going to find Amaterasu's Cave. Their parents weren't among the dead, of that the brothers were certain, so they must be at Amaterasu's Cave. Wherever that was.
They had wandered from settlement to settlement together for over a year, staying only long enough to gather what information they could. No one had heard of Amaterasu's Cave, and if they did, they laughed and said it was only a myth. Eventually Yamato gave up. They were just following a ghost trail, his brother said, and it was better to find somewhere to settle and figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. But what did one do in a world where anyone over the age of puberty had died and there were no more teachers?
Unsurprisingly, Yamato picked up a guitar along the way and learned how to play it and read music from a boy with long, bluish-black hair. With Yamato's skill with the guitar and voice, and the other boy's skill with his bass, they wandered with a new purpose: to bring music back into the world. Takeru felt useless. He didn't have any musical abilities of his own or anything to contribute. Reassurances when concert turn-outs were low felt too hollow and insubstantial in the still-looming shadow of the apocalypse. He had to split away when he turned sixteen so he could resume the hunt for Amaterasu's Cave. Yamato had fought the decision, but nothing said or done could sway him.
Takeru was twenty-four now. He still ran into his brother sometimes, but their goals were too different. Yamato, Gabumon, and their new friend were happy with their touring, and he was content to wander and gather information. He walked now along a cracked and derelict highway, under a cloudy grey sky that threatened to break into rain. He didn't mind rain. Rain washed the unpleasant stuff away.
It was on this highway that he noticed a peculiar sight: that of another transient seated cross-legged on the edge of the asphalt. Transients were nothing new, but this one stared pointedly at him. Spiky brown hair, blue eyes that seemed more than a little crazy, rather handsome face for a total loon. That looked a bit familiar, but he couldn't remember why.
"I remember you."
With a brow furrowed in a mix of suspicion and curiosity, Takeru's response was less than friendly. "And who are you?"
"Eight children in a rainbow sky, eight children trapped by the god of a thousand years. Did you know there was a ninth? Or a thirteenth?" This lunatic acted as if he was making perfect sense. "Be wary of the rising sun, Hope, and the truth will wait for you at the edge of the rocky country."
Great. Riddles. Why was it always riddles? Before Takeru could open his mouth to ask what the hell this guy meant, a sudden crack of lightning and thunder clapped against the sky behind him. Startled, his head jerked to glance back at it in what was a purely reflexive motion. He silently swore at himself for being so jumpy and turned back to question the lunatic-
Only to find that the lunatic had disappeared. It was as if he had never been there at all. The only trace was a new mechanical pencil filled with graphite sticks that were all but nonexistent nowadays. Takeru shook off the chill that crept up his spine. He had needed a new pencil for his journal for days. How did the man know?
Later that day, Takeru had set up camp for the coming night. Fire licked away at the rock-encircled pile of dry wood, his digimon was napping soundly next to the brace of mandarin ducks and a pot of eggs waiting to be boiled, and he had completely forgotten about that nutcase. He was in such a good mood over the success of his hunt, in fact, that he took a few moments to clean up before settling down to prepare supper and food for the road.
It was during a quick dip in the river that he heard Tokomon call out to him in distress. With a curse under his breath, he paused only long enough to stomp into his pants before darting from the river shore to his campground. Tokomon had evolved to Patamon in the interim and was pulling hard at the shirt of a relatively short young man with brown eyes that matched the spiked mop on his head to keep him from escaping. This shorter man was someone Takeru would pass on the streets without noticing, but he had in his hands a pole with five ducks tied to it. Takeru's ducks. Goddamn thieves!
With a snarl that betrayed his irritation, Takeru stalked towards this man and gathered the front of the man's garishly patterned leather jacket into his fists. He said nothing as he shoved the man before a tree and banged the man's head hard against the trunk. The man winced in pain at the bump.
"Geez, man! I'm sorry, okay?"
"What is with you people," Takeru snapped. "The world goes to hell and the only thing anyone gives a damn about is screwing over everyone else. Those were mine. Why'd you try to steal them?"
The shorter man squirmed uncomfortably in his hold. "I was hungry! I haven't eaten for days! I'm really sorry, please let me go!"
Patamon glanced worriedly at his partner as he hovered in the air besides the two. He didn't really think Takeru would hurt this guy, but he was still anxious. There was a long, tense moment before Takeru finally let the man go and snatched the brace of ducks that rightfully belonged to him. Patamon let out a sigh of relief and planted himself on his partner's head. The other man seemed kinda nice, even if he did steal. Surely he wouldn't be too freaked out by Patamon.
"You could have asked. I have enough to share." Takeru's stance relaxed slightly as he said this. If Patamon didn't feel threatened by this man's presence, that was good enough for him.
The brown-haired man gave a rather charming, infectious smile. "Well, it's sorta hard to think straight on an empty stomach, you know?"
A tiny smile quirked at Takeru's lips. He never did stay mad for too long, not over something like this. "Yeah."
"Name's Daisuke. Motomiya Daisuke." Daisuke practically beamed at him and stuck out his hand. "Would you share? I'd really appreciate it if you did."
Takeru blinked in bemusement at the hand. People these days would sooner stab you than act so friendly. It was a nice change. He shook the hand and wondered at Daisuke's mood. "Takaishi Takeru. We can have just one of the ducks. I'm trading the others in Osaba."
"Osaba? Really? I'm going there too! Want to go together? The walk will be a lot less boring that way."
It was within the haze of complete befuddlement at Daisuke's perky attitude that Takeru agreed. Well, there were worse people to accompany, and since the world was insane anyway, there really wasn't much he could complain about.
A thin sliver of a moon watched over the campsite of three young nomads. When once they would have been comfortable in an apartment with electric light to chase the shadows away, they talked in darkness that was only alleviated by the natural light of moon, stars, and campfire.
Daisuke was happy. He didn't usually run into someone who didn't want to kill him for some misperceived slight or chase him off. His new companion was much less stressful to be around than some of the people he'd run into every now and then, and that critter with Takeru was much friendlier than the feral dogs he had the misfortune of running from. It was, and yet wasn't, kinda like those monster things that invaded Odaiba's convention center back when he was a kid and before the world died. Patamon was much better company than that vampire monster thing he remembered from back then. It was a surprisingly good day, even if they had started off on the wrong foot.
"So, why are you two going to Osaba," he asked after swallowing a mouthful of succulent spit-roasted duck. "There's another town that's closer and along the same road."
"Just trade, since rumor says it has a bigger marketplace. And to find something."
Takeru's lips pressed thin for a moment before he responded. "I don't suppose you've heard of Amaterasu's Cave, have you?"
"Can't say I have. Sorry." He really was rather sorry and his voice conveyed that feeling. It would be nice to pay Takeru back for the kindness, even if it was only with a bit of information. But maybe he could do something else. With a triumphant grin, he dug into his pocket to pull out a plastic bag filled with his special prizes. "Oh, hey, look."
Confused at Daisuke's sudden mood change, Takeru glanced down at what was in his companion's palm. His eyes widened in surprise. "Wha-"
"Konpeito!" Daisuke's eyes lit up with glee. "Found the bag behind a store a couple of years ago. No one makes these babies anymore, but they stay edible forever. I've been saving them for a special occasion, but you were nice to me, so if you want one or two, you can have it."
The taller of the two simply shook his head. As tempting as the offer was, and it had been over a decade since he'd last had any candy, this was clearly something Daisuke valued quite a lot. Anyone could shoot down a duck, but candy was nearly impossible to come by. Before Patamon could get any ideas of cajoling a candy star from Daisuke, Takeru chose to change the subject. "Say, what did you do before the Apocalypse?"
Daisuke blinked at him, clearly taken aback by the sudden subject change. It wasn't even a very pleasant subject. With a sigh, he shoved the bag of konpeito back into his pocket before responding. "I don't like to talk about it. Shit happened, y'know?"
"I know," Takeru said softly. "It's hard to talk about it. But sometimes we have to remember what went on before so we'll have goals to reach for."
He really, really didn't like this subject. "'Before' doesn't matter. 'Tomorrow' doesn't matter. What matters is what we do now, in the present. It's the present that we have to live in, and for most of us it's all we have."
"If you say so. But sometimes it's a good idea to remember the past so we don't make the same mistakes." Takeru frowned slightly. As much as he disliked Daisuke's attitude towards the past, it was all too common now. No one liked remembering.
In time, the three curled around the campfire to settle down and sleep. Once Daisuke had drifted off and Patamon was curled up at his side, Takeru pulled out his journal to record the day's bizarre nature by the dim light of the campfire. While most of the rest of the world may be content with forgetting, he needed this. It was the closest thing to therapy he could get, and it did feel nice to spill out his thoughts and feelings to an unemotional piece of paper. He told his journal about the lunatic and what-
"Eight children in a rainbow sky," the lunatic had said. A witness to the Vandemon fiasco wasn't unusual, but what the man had said about a ninth struck some sealed-away memory within him. He couldn't remember why that man was familiar or why the mention of a ninth Chosen Child felt natural. There hadn't been a ninth, and yet... Oh, screw it. He could rake through his brain about it later. Sleep was a happy thing, and far be it for him to ignore its call.
Morning was as grey and overcast as the day before, and when Daisuke woke, Takeru and Patamon were asleep. It would be nice to stay, but his kind never stayed in one place for long. It was with a touch of friendship tinged with sadness over having to leave that he pulled out a couple of star-shaped pieces of konpeito from his precious bag and placed them next to Patamon. There was no way they could turn them down when he wasn't here, right? With that thought, he returned to the trail. While he could have made off with the ducks or eggs, he didn't bother. Kindness would be repaid with kindness.
Osaba was technically the name of an elementary school on the outskirts of Hiroshima, but a legendary queen had taken residence in the school and raised up a new town around it. She was said to be as beautiful as she was strong, as loved as she was feared. Rumor said that even her name suggested royalty.
Takeru strolled down the broken pavement that went through what would now pass as a central market. He was in a rather good mood, and Patamon had been so happy to have candy for the first time in over a decade that he had sucked slowly on the thing until there was nothing left. It was sort of disappointing that Daisuke had left without saying goodbye, but he wasn't all that surprised. The ducks and their eggs fetched enough canned food and potable water to last for a few weeks, and enough arrows to take down a few more animals to trade in. Maybe he and Patamon would try for a deer next time. It was a shame that he had to leave Patamon on the outskirts of town, but there wasn't much he could do about it.
During this stroll, he paid some attention to his surroundings. There was a farmer trading vegetables for useful household items, a fisherman with an Okinawan accent haggling over the worth of his fish versus the worth of a buyer's marten furs, a barber offering services for food. Vaguely he remembered a time when exchanges were done with money and suspected that this was probably a better form of supply exchange. Few people were really poor in such a society.
A turban-wearing man trying to hawk supposedly fully-charged batteries caught his attention. Around this merchant were naysayers and hecklers. One mocked him, another sarcastically pointed out that to have usable batteries was to have an electrical source to recharge them with. How could a world without electricity use burnt-out batteries? If they were genuine, they could fetch a lot. Gasoline or coffee was what the merchant asked for, and both requests were laughed at. It was like asking for chocolate when there was no way to make chocolate anymore.
And some people just take without trading. The sudden, loud staccato beat of a machine gun rent through the air as a warning shot, sending everyone into a panic. The shooter, a man with a trench coat and a badly trimmed beard, stalked up to the battery merchant and glared menacingly at him.
"Are they genuine?"
The seller gave a terse nod. He was unwilling to let go of his valuables, but his life was worth more and-
A shrill whistle sliced through the tense atmosphere of the market and everybody but the raiders and their leader, the man with the machine gun and trench coat, dropped to the ground and covered their necks with their hands. When Takeru heard the first shot from above, he too followed the natives' example and dropped to the ground. Gunshots rang loudly in the central market and didn't stop until all the raiders were dead. It was only then that Takeru looked up.
The queen of Osaba stepped gracefully from the stairs leading down from a building overlooking the market to the streets. Red-haired, lavender-eyed, and prettier than most of the women Takeru had seen, she certainly looked like the she was royalty. Royalty in practical denim pants and a fur-lined leather coat over an old Malice Mizer concert t-shirt, but still royalty. As the queen and her entourage descended, young children scrambled forth to pick up the bullets from the posse's guns for future use.
"Is everyone all right," the queen asked. Her subjects, there really wasn't a better word that Takeru's mind could supply him with, gave enthusiastic responses. She bestowed upon them little smiles to lighten up their day and they beamed back. Law at the end of a gun, and the locals didn't even care.
Takeru stared curiously after her, but a motion at the corner of his eye caught his attention and it took but a moment to realize that the man with the machine gun was still alive and taking aim at the queen. Without a thought as to the proper way to treat a queen, he tackled her and thus shoved her out of the line of fire just before the man shot into empty air.
The posse acted quickly and shot the would-be assassin until he stopped moving. Once they made sure there was no more danger to their queen, she dusted herself off and gave Takeru a quick "thank you" before returning to make sure her own people were not harmed.
Eventually, the queen stepped to a dead raider's side and pried the batteries from his hand. She regarded them with a critical eye and turned to the turban-wearing seller. "They're charged, right?"
Again the seller nodded, but he was much more relaxed now. The queen's reputation for harsh justice was well-known. She wouldn't shoot him. Much to his surprise, however, she pocketed the batteries and started to walk away. "Wait, you didn't pay for them-"
"This is my town. The raider that threatened you for them would have killed you, and my people have killed him. I am free to take what I want in exchange for protection." The queen gave him a look that was nearly arctic in its coldness. "Would you like to challenge that?"
"Er, ma'am?" Takeru wondered faintly why he was bothering to pipe up, but this kind of extortion was almost as bad as any raider's method. "The sign I saw when I came in said that there's only equal-value trading allowed. One object or service for another. If you make the rules, shouldn't you follow them? Set an example?"
She gave him one long, piercing stare before finally conceding. "You're right. Merchant!" The queen turned to the battery seller with a look that was almost sympathetic. "You may dig through your assaulter's pockets to see if he has anything of value. Whatever he has is yours."
All the merchant could do was nod in response. The batteries were supposed to be his big break, he would have used them to trade for really valuable stuff, but he would have to settle for this. With a sigh, he began rifling through the raider's pockets. Oh well, at least he was alive.
Once the queen and her posse marched away, Takeru frowned slightly and began asking around for a bar. Weird place, but he'd been in worse. He should probably watch his step, just in case.
In her world, Ruki was queen. There were no two ways about this. She fought tooth and nail for her position, and fought even harder to invest in the future. Some of the things she did in her climb to power weren't things she was proud of, but they were ultimately necessary and she didn't regret them in the end. After all, with great power came great responsibility. As queen of Osaba, she had a responsibility to her people. If protecting her people meant being ruthless towards the raiders that came through town every now and then, so be it.
When she came to Hiroshima with her mother and grandmother, she had been eight years old and they had come for a vacation. Then people started dying, yet her mother was miraculously spared. When someone noticed that Makino Rumiko was untouched by the virus while others died around her, government thugs in biohazard suits took her mother away. Six months later, the rest of the world died. And when her mother never came back, Ruki wrote her off as dead. All the adults were dead.
In the ensuing chaos brought about by badly thought out notions of "freedom" by those kids who were too stupid to realize that they needed adults, and after running with a few of the Clans, she knew she had to do something to protect herself from the bigger, stronger kids. Schools were the first targets of vandalism and arson, but they were the perfect forts and could be defended. If she learned anything from her mother, it was that men responded well to a pretty face. She used that to her advantage and convinced enough of the jocks to help defend her fort. Even at her age, she realized that the geeks were more useful than people gave them credit for, so they were the first to be placed under her wing. With a matron saint looking out for them, anyone who could understand a science or math textbook drew out from their hiding places to flock to Osaba Elementary School. With the great queen Ruki protecting them, they were free to research while others worked nearby farms or handled a gun.
It had been the perfect investment for the future. Thanks to those geeks, many of whom would have never survived on their own, Osaba was one of the most advanced towns to rise up after the mass death. Because of the organization and strategic skills of former chess masters, the clean water and agricultural planning by those who were once shoved into lockers, and the willingness of the jocks to obey her, Ruki's people loved her and didn't mind that she was always looking out for more resources to acquire.
It was this lust for more resources that drove Ruki to practically steal those batteries that day. One last handful of batteries was just what she needed to get her radio working again. Her would-be scientists had suspected that someone out there was broadcasting on radio waves, and anyone who had that kind of power would clearly have more resources than Osaba. Anyone with more resources than Osaba would be a potential threat, and she had to protect her people. And if rumors were true, those with more resources were from the Rocky Country that no one could find.
Once the last battery was put in place, she turned on the radio and listened carefully. There was nothing on most of the broadcast bands, and she was ready to give up until she heard it. It was an encrypted message, certainly, but it stood out against the static. Someone out there could broadcast on radio.
The great queen Ruki, as ruthless as she was beautiful, rose from her desk in the former principal's office and gave her second in command a predatory smirk. "Hirokazu. Have the foreigner brought to my office. The blond man from this morning. Also, I would like you to send a few people out for patrol and see if you can find anything unusual."
Hirokazu gave a quick nod and passed the orders along to a few underlings. As the queen's personal guard started on their orders, she opened the blinds and gazed proudly over her domain. It was a very productive day.
The nice thing about bars, Takeru had been quick to learn, was that they were good places to collect rumors while getting his fair share of socialization. After he traded in a few cans of food for poker chips used to buy alcohol and furtively asked around for information on Amaterasu's Cave, he settled into a stool at the bar and traded in a chip for something cheap, local, and tasted suspiciously like what he imagined to be horse urine. Well, the barkeeper did warn him.
To his left was a group of people who couldn't have been more than toddlers when the Apocalypse came, all chattering about big ghost cities where the dead came back on certain nights to look for their kids. Tokyo was a popular subject for these ghost stories, as were Fukuoka and Sapporo. Wild theories about what caused the mass deaths were thrown about, much to the barkeeper's disgust. Just another night in a bar that was just like any other.
When the theories got too wild, the barkeeper stalked from around the long table to stand before them and give them a piece of her mind. "Want to know what I think," she started, then continued before anyone could respond. "I think someone made that virus. I think that someone was so goddamn pleased with himself that he didn't watch out and it got bigger than him. It bit him in the ass. Then it got out and now we all have that jackass to thank for trying to play God!"
The barflies fell silent, and even the "band" with no idea how to play their instruments made no noise. It was one thing to shoot off wild theories that made no sense, but quite another to voice an opinion that seemed far more likely.
Eventually, unwilling to put any more thought into that suggestion, the barflies resumed spinning tales of evil spirits and devils. The pathetic excuse for music picked up again and everything was back to normal.
Takeru was soon joined by a deeply tanned Okinawan with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and eyes that were the same color. The Okinawan seemed friendly enough.
"I saw what you did back there, earlier today. Why'd you save her?"
"It was the right thing to do," Takeru said. Really, what was the point in asking such a question? And why was the Okinawan examining him?
The Okinawan leaned forward and let his voice grow quieter. "People who desire to do the right thing are a very rare commodity. Most normal people only look out for themselves."
"I'm not like 'most normal people,' whatever that means."
Now the Okinawan's voice was a whisper. "I'm from a group looking to do the right thing. We want to make things better for everyone. We could use someone like you."
Takeru mulled over what was clearly a recruitment attempt. He was torn. On one hand, it would be nice to join up with such a group and help out where he could. To help build a better world. On the other hand, he would have to drop his mission in order to do so, and he didn't want to abandon it quite yet. Not until he'd covered every nook and cranny of Japan and couldn't find what he was looking for. It was with some regret that he declined the offer.
The Okinawan gave a smile that he was sure was tinged in disappointment and bid him farewell. For awhile Takeru was left in peace after that encounter. At least, he was until another very tanned person took a seat next to his.
"Hey, fancy meeting you here." Daisuke grinned at him. "Where's Patamon?"
"Left him outside of town. I don't really think most people would take kindly to a little orange batpig," he stated dryly. "Find what you came for?"
A corner of Daisuke's lips turned down in a partial frown. "Well, not yet. She passed by here a few years ago, but no one has seen her since."
"Who?" That was surprising. Takeru hadn't expected that kind of reply to something that was more of a rhetorical question.
"My sister. Looks like me, but with longer hair. Haven't seen her, have you? She answers to 'Jun.'"
Takeru shook his head. He had seen a lot of people in his travels, but he would surely remember the girl if she was anything like her brother. After thanking Daisuke for the candy, which tasted better than he ever remembered, conversation turned to trade acquisitions and less personal things. Things would likely have continued along these lines, had not a member of the queen's posse come to escort Takeru to the fort. Something about Ruki extending a personal welcome.
Something nagged at the back of Daisuke's mind. It was the feeling that something was wrong, but he couldn't quite put a finger on it. He was quite ready to follow Takeru and that goon with a gun, but someone stopped him. This someone, a man with spiky brown hair and half-mad blue eyes, whispered something that sounded both insane and rational.
"God says that it's not time yet. Hope must find himself again before all other factors join him on the playing field."
Takeru was marched past the guards posted at the school's entrance and up several flights of stairs to the principal's office. At least, it had once been a principal's office. Now it was the queen's throneroom.
She rose gracefully from the overstuffed leather office chair that was her throne and gave him a slight bow. "Welcome to Osaba. How do you like it so far?"
"Nice, better off than a lot of places I've been to," Takeru responded with considerable care. Something about this felt off, as if she wanted something from him. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out what. It would probably be better to wait and see. "Why am I here?"
"You saved me." Simple, direct, devoid of emotion. "That doesn't happen every day. And since you're apparently new in town, I would like to pay a bit of that debt back. If you like it here, you are welcome to stay for a few days. However, before I show you around, I request information. What news is there of the world outside?"
Ah, something that pretty much everyone in Ruki's position wanted. Knowledge was power, after all. "The usual: raiders going from town to town robbing decent people, the pureblood gangs getting more violent, rumors of ghosts rising in Tokyo. Stuff like that."
The queen's lavender eyes pinned him under an uncomfortably probing gaze, as if staring at him alone would unearth any falsehoods. When she seemed to be satisfied with his answer, she gestured for Takeru to follow her.
During the walk down the hallways of a school that was now a fort, and during the times her cheering subjects weren't so loud, Ruki explained to him how she had gathered followers and rose to power. As she did so, he couldn't help but feel that she had plans for him that would never be mentioned. It would probably be best for his own interests to leave the moment he was free to.
They ended up in the science lab, where would-be scientists attended to bubbling concoctions and blueprints. One of them, a rather lanky young man with glasses set on a pale face and short bluish-black hair that seemed better kept than his colleagues', stepped forward to chatter excitedly to his queen.
"Ruki! You're just in time! We're done with the prototype, and it'll be awhile before we can power the entire building, but please take a look!"
At Ruki's nod, ratty old curtains that had probably been stolen from a house years ago were drawn back to reveal some sort of mechanical device. It was emitting steam and hooked up to a power switch that was reminiscent of some old Frankenstein movie.
"It's a really basic steam turbine cobbled together from several sources and builds," the head would-be scientist offered quickly. "Just a prototype. But look..."
At this, the would-be scientist turned and pulled on the power switch.
And someone said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
For the first time in fifteen years, for the first time since the Apocalypse, these orphaned children living in a new Dark Age saw tamed electricity bring a lightbulb to life. Takeru, having been so mired in despair for so long that he no longer recognized it, felt more at ease than he had in a very long time.