|The Spirits Within
Author: SilvorMoon PM
Chapter 12 Up! Flamon rages out of control, but there might be something that can put him to rights if Kouji and Kouichi can trust their guide.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure - Chapters: 12 - Words: 144,296 - Reviews: 158 - Favs: 93 - Follows: 44 - Updated: 08-20-05 - Published: 08-25-03 - id: 1493039
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Takuya sprawled lazily between the roots of a great shade tree, staring up into its mazes of crisscrossing branches and gently shifting clusters of leaves. Slanting rays of afternoon sunshine peeked through, sending down ephemeral columns of gold that dappled the ground with points of fire. In a city like Tokyo, where every square foot of ground was precious, trees like this one were rare and special. Takuya had gotten fond of it. It had always been a good place to sit and rest or think, or climb if you were brave enough, but now it held more significance. It hadn't been that long ago that words like "environment" had sounded dead and abstract. Now even he could appreciate how the wood of the tree drew its life from the ground, the air, the water, and the fire of the sun. He could appreciate the beauty in the patterns of light and shadow cast by its branches. Two years ago, he wouldn't have slowed down long enough to look at any of that, much less bother to think about it... but two years ago, he'd been an entirely different person.
*It reminds me so much of the Digital World,* he thought, and suffered a mental wince. *Darn it, am I ever going to stop feeling this way? Now I know what it feels like to break up with a girlfriend or something. To love something so much you'd die for it, and then have to lose it anyway...*
Objectively, he knew the Digital World wasn't really lost. It was still exactly where it had always been, somewhere just around an existential corner, out of sight but close at hand. He just couldn't get to it anymore, and that rankled.
*It was a part of me, and I was a part of it. I don't see how I can be expected to just leave and never think about it again, or want to go back... Man, I'd give everything I own plus my left arm just to have another day there!*
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming his way. He didn't bother to look up. He may not have had the improved senses of a Digimon anymore, but he had learned to pay attention. After all this time, he knew his friends' footsteps when he heard them.
"Hey, Junpei," he greeted. "How's it going?"
"Pretty good. Got my test results today," Junpei replied. He picked out a comfortable spot next to the tree and sat down. "Hey, pal, why the long face? Something wrong?"
"Nah, not really," he answered. "I was just... you know, thinking."
"Ah," said Junpei. "About what?"
"About the Digital World."
"Oh. Yeah, I think about it a lot, too. You can't really blame us, can you?"
Takuya shifted position so he could talk to his friend face to face. While every one of the six Chosen Children had been changed by their experiences in the Digital World, it was easiest to see the changes in Junpei. In the last two years, he'd grown a few inches, and, due to the fact that he no longer tried to use candy as a substitute for companionship, he'd lost a few pounds. Even before any of that had been visible, though, people still noticed that something was different. He stood straighter, held his head up, smiled more often, laughed and joked easily. People noticed, even if they didn't at first realize what it was: the attitude of someone with absolute confidence in his abilities, who didn't fear anything anymore. His schoolmates had gradually become aware of the fact that he seemed to have given up in his desperate attempts to attract attention to himself, that he no longer resorted to bribes and begging to keep people around, and in short, that there was something different about him. When they questioned him about it, they never really got a straight answer - the closest he ever came to admitting the truth was to tell them he'd been struck by lightning.
"You know, I just realized, it's almost our anniversary," Junpei said.
"Huh?" Takuya's mind had been wandering again.
"Our anniversary. You know - the day you and me and all the rest of us went to the Digital World. It happened exactly two years ago next week."
"Wow. You know, you're right! Maybe we ought to get together and do something... except it'll be my brother's birthday again... and Kouji's parents' anniversary..."
"We still ought to do something. We can't just let the most important day of our lives go by without noticing," said Junpei. "Let's talk to the others when they get here."
"When are they going to get here?" asked Takuya. "They're late."
"Well, I talked to Izumi, and she said she's got a club meeting this afternoon. She won't be able to get here until they're done."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot," said Takuya. "Man, she sure does stay busy. You're going to have to move a whole lot faster if you're going to catch her!"
"Don't I know it," Junpei sighed.
"Hey, don't give up! You'll win her over sooner or later. I have complete faith in you, buddy."
"Thanks, man," said Junpei. "I just hope it's before we're both old and gray... Hey, look, I think someone's coming."
Takuya stood up. "More like some two, if you ask me. Hey, guys, come pull up a root and have a seat."
Down the path came two boys, identical save for their clothing. Even after all this time, the fun of having a twin hadn't worn off for Kouji and Kouichi. They doubted it ever would.
"Hi, guys," said Kouji. "Having fun without us?"
"Loads," answered Takuya dryly. "Can't you tell."
"You ought to know better," said Kouichi with a small smile. "You should have waited for us."
"Oh, please. The day Kouji there learns how to have fun will be the day I take off and fly away," said Takuya.
"Hate to burst your bubble," said Junpei, "but if I remember right, you have taken off and flown a few times. So have I, as a matter of fact."
"Oh, well, then I guess I'll have to let it slide," answered Takuya, grinning. Kouji grinned back. The two boys had never lost their tendency to banter with each other; usually, the more they argued with each other, the more fun they were having.
"So, has anyone seen Tomoki or Izumi yet?" asked Kouichi.
"They're on their way, as far as I know," Takuya replied. "Junpei said Izumi's still at her language club meeting... I think Tomoki went to a soccer game with some buddies, but it should be just about over by now."
"That's convenient," said Kouji. He began walking closer to the tree, but instead of sitting down, he jumped for a branch and began scrambling up the trunk.
"Hey, what are you doing?" asked Junpei.
"I'm keeping a lookout," answered Kouji, casually hoisting himself onto a branch. "This is the best place to do it."
"Don't you dare fall," said Kouichi. "Remember what happened last time one of us did that?"
"Don't worry," his brother replied. "If I fall, I'll make it a point to land on one of you."
"Great. That really takes a load off my mind," said Takuya.
"I'm moving," said Junpei. He got up and went to talk to Kouichi. "So, how's your mom doing?"
"Great," Kouichi replied. "Ever since she got that new job, things have been so much better. It's great seeing her so happy. They're even talking about giving her a raise!"
"That's fantastic," said Takuya. "Congratulate her for us."
"Heads up, guys!" called a voice in the tree. "I think I see another member of our little family."
Kouji's eyes weren't wrong. A few seconds later, the rest of the group could see Tomoki sprinting up the path, looking flushed and excited.
"Hey, guess what?" he called. "My team won!"
"Way to go, little guy," Takuya cheered. The nickname was a bit of a misnomer; Tomoki had grown up enough that there were only a few inches difference between him and Takuya, but old habits died hard.
Tomoki continued with his happy monologue. "Everyone says I'm going to have to try out for the school team next year. I think I want to. What do you think?"
"I think you oughta be able to make it no problem," said Takuya. "After everything we've done, what's a little soccer tryout?"
"That's what I thought," answered Tomoki, grinning.
"We'll all come see you play," said Junpei. "With us cheering you on, you can't lose, right?"
While they were still talking, a new voice drifted in on the wind: "Hello, everyone! Waiting for me?"
Junpei homed in on the voice like a compass needle towards the North Pole. "She's here," he said dreamily.
Sure enough, Izumi came hurrying into view, her hair, skirt, and school bag all streaming out behind her. Judging by the light in her eyes, her meeting had been a successful one.
"Great news, guys," she said. "I just got nominated!"
"Nominated?" asked Kouji, sliding down the trunk of the tree. "For what?"
"Club president, what else?" she answered happily. "I don't know if I'll actually make it or not, but just getting the nomination is so exciting!"
"You'll win by a landslide," Junpei predicted. She gave him a smile that was half-tolerant, half- flattered.
"Why, thank you," she said. "So, are we all here?"
"All present and accounted for," said Takuya.
"Great! We can get going, then," she said brightly. "I've been looking forward to this all day."
"Who hasn't?" said Takuya. "I mean, between soccer and clubs and who knows what else, we're lucky to get an afternoon together at all."
"I know what you mean," said Kouji. "It's just not like the old days, when we were all under each other's feet all the time."
"Yeah, once somebody started speaking to us," Takuya teased. "Heh, I still remember your first words to me: 'Hm.'"
A few people laughed.
"I wish we could go back," said Tomoki. "It's nice being together and all, but it's just not the same... and I miss all the friends we made back there. We haven't heard from any of them in a long time."
"I guess it's just hard work getting in touch from another world." said Junpei, a bit glumly.
"I wish I could go back," said Kouichi. "I barely got to see anything of it... and I wasn't really all there at the time, in more ways than one."
"It's so strange," Izumi murmured. "Sometimes it feels like it all happened yesterday, and sometimes it feels like another lifetime ago."
"And sometimes you just wake up in the mornings," said Kouji softly, "and you wonder if it really happened at all."
There was a moment of pensive silence, as everyone turned their minds to that faraway world. Then....
Beep, beep, beepity beep!
"Darn cell phone," Takuya muttered. "Why does it always have to go off and spoil the mood?"
Beep, beep, beepity beep!
"Well, answer and make it shut up," said Junpei. "Who is it, anyway?"
"It had better not be my family calling me home," Takuya replied. "I refuse to give up my afternoon to clean my room or something." He pulled out his phone and checked his caller ID. "That's funny. According to this, there's nobody there."
BEEP, BEEP, BEEPITY BEEP!
Everyone jumped as all their phones rang at once. They all stared at each other.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" asked Kouichi.
The phone beeped again, and Takuya pressed the talk button just in time to hear a familiar and annoyed voice say, "...don't you answer? Do you realize how much trouble it is to call from this distance?"
"Bokomon!" Takuya exclaimed joyfully. "Hey, buddy, we hear you loud and clear!"
"Oh, thank goodness!" said Bokomon. "I was starting to wonder if I'd done something wrong."
"Man, is it ever good to hear from you!" said Takuya. "How have you been? How are the Angels? How are things in the Digital World? How-"
"I can only answer one question at a time," Bokomon interrupted, "and I'm sure I can't answer all of them on the phone. There's a limit to how long we can keep this channel open, so I have to get right to the point."
A voice in the background said, "Is that them? I wanna talk to them! Let me play with the phone, too!"
Izumi giggled. "Hi, Neemon. Nice to hear from you again, too."
"No, you may not play with the phone! This is serious business! If you keep interrupting, we'll run out of time!" said Bokomon impatiently. "You can talk to them after they get here."
"Get there?" Kouichi asked eagerly. "Does that mean...?"
"Yes, it does. The truth is... there are a lot of people here who would like to see you again, so the Great Angels have agreed to bring you back for a short stay. That is, if you'd like to come."
"Would we like to?" Junpei said incredulously. "Man, there's nothing we wouldn't do to come back!"
"Then here's what you have to do. Listen carefully! We can only keep the passage open for a very short time. You must be on the elevator at the Shibuya station tomorrow afternoon between 5:23 and 5:28. If you aren't all in that elevator within that five-minute span, the wormhole will close, and you won't go any further than the basement of the train station, and we probably won't be able to scrounge up enough energy to open another portal for another two years. Do I make myself clear?"
"Clear as crystal," said Kouji. "Don't worry. We won't let you down, Bokomon!"
"You never have before," Bokomon replied. "I'll be expecting you at the Light Terminal tomorrow! I'm setting a timer for you now."
There was a beeping noise, and everyone looked down at the screens of their phones showing a twenty-four hour countdown. The seconds began to tick by. Takuya looked down at the slowly lowering numbers and nodded.
"We'll be there! Don't worry about a thing!" he said. "See you then!"
Just before the connection cut off, the children were treated to the sound of a pair of Digimon voices singing, "They're coming back! They're coming back! They're coming back!"
"I hadn't realized until now just how much I missed them," said Kouji.
Takuya was gazing off into space, smiling faintly.
"We're going to see Trailmons again," he said. "We're going to see the Digimon, and the Angels, and the terminals and castles and everything... Can you believe it? We're going home!"
Almost twenty-four hours later, the group met again beneath the old shade tree, but this time, the atmosphere was very different. Instead of bored waiting, everyone was in a state of high excitement. Takuya couldn't sit still; he was walking circles around the tree and had been for so long that there was a path visible where he'd trampled the grass down. Izumi kept going through her overnight bag to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything she wanted. Kouji was trying very hard to pretend he wasn't that excited, but he kept climbing the tree every few minutes to see if anyone else was there yet. Junpei was in an ebullient mood, laughing, talking loudly, telling jokes, pulling improbable things from thin air just for the fun of it. Such was the carnival atmosphere that Izumi even seemed to mind his flirting less than usual. Kouichi had a camera he kept fiddling with.
"What's that all about?" Takuya asked.
"It's to take pictures, of course," Kouichi replied. "What else would it be for?"
"Who are you going to get to develop the film?"
"Um," said Kouichi. "I totally forgot about that. We can't have outsiders finding out, but..."
"Have no fear! Junpei is here!" said Junpei, joining the conversation. "I have just the solution. Behold! Nothing up my sleeves, and yet... presto!" He whipped out a small silver box and handed it to Kouichi. "A digital camera for the Digital World! Just take it home when you're done and plug it into your computer, and you can have all the pictures you want."
"Wow, thanks!" said Kouichi. "You're a real friend, Junpei."
"No thanks necessary. Just e-mail me a set when you're done, okay?"
"You know," Izumi remarked to no one in particular, "you have to hand it to him. Sometimes he really comes through."
"So are you finally going to start admitting you like him?" said Takuya with a leer.
"Keep saying things like that, and you'll be admitted to a hospital," she replied. "Especially don't say them around Junpei, or I'll never get rid of him."
Takuya grinned wickedly and raised his voice. "Hey, Junpei, you just missed it! Izumi was talking about you and she said she-" He stopped abruptly as Izumi stomped his foot.
"She said she what?" asked Junpei, looking puzzled.
"She said she wanted a copy of those pictures, too," said Takuya innocently.
"Oh, sure. Anything for you, Izumi," answered Junpei agreeably.
As he walked away again, Izumi glared at Takuya.
"Just remember," she told him, "we're going to be spending the next couple of weeks in the digital wilderness. I can find ways of making things look like accidents."
"I am as innocent as the spring rains," Takuya replied, and contrived to look angelic.
"I know just the kind you're talking about," said Kouji. "The ones that show up out of nowhere and dump a load of cold water over your head.
At last, the final member of their group trotted up, panting and wrestling with a duffel bag that was only half-zipped.
"Sorry I'm late," Tomoki gasped. "My parents wouldn't stop asking questions. I wouldn't have gotten away in time if my brother hadn't bailed me out."
"That's okay, you still made it," said Takuya. He glanced at his watch. "Man, and just in time, too - it's almost five now! We're going to have to book!"
"Right," Kouji agreed, and broke into a run. Within a couple of steps, his twin caught up to him, leaving the others strung out in a ragged line behind them.
"I don't know if we're going to make it in time," said Junpei, eyeing the timer. "We've got less than a half-hour to go."
"Don't worry," said Takuya. "I know a shortcut. Just follow me!"
"Are you sure about this?" asked Izumi, struggling to keep her bag in place.
"Positive! Have I ever steered you wrong?" Hearing the uncertain silence behind him, he added, "I mean, when it was important!"
"Other than nearly getting us all killed once or twice..." said Kouji.
"Hey, I know what I'm doing this time! I've got a plan."
"He worries me when he does that," Kouji said to no one in particular. The only one who heard was his brother, who laughed quietly.
Takuya's shortcut led them down a narrow alley, over a bridge, and down a set of twisty side streets. The others looked doubtful, but Takuya never seemed to doubt his course. He clambered up a pile of crates and other garbage, leaping over a tall fence.
"Are you sure about this?" asked Junpei, eyeing the rickety pile of junk with distrust.
"It's the fastest way to the station," said Takuya. "Trust me."
"I'll do it, but I won't like it," Junpei muttered.
"Come on. It's not so bad," said Kouichi. He and Kouji had already scaled halfway up, as easily as if they were climbing stairs. Tomoki wasn't far behind. "If you don't hurry up, you'll be left behind."
That was enough to spur him on. Tugging the strap of his bag more securely over his shoulder, he began to climb. The crates creaked and shifted every time he rested his weight on one; he might have dropped a few excess pounds over the last couple of years, but he'd made up for it in height and muscle, and he was still taller and heavier than any of the others. He was sweating, as much from nervousness as anything else, by the time he reached the top. Just as he reached the top of the fence and leaned forward to grab it, something shifted under his foot, and he was pitched face forward against the fence. He flipped over and landed hard on the ground.
"Ow," he said vaguely.
"You okay?" asked Takuya.
Junpei was about to say, "Fine," but was cut off. Izumi had been preoccupied with her own climb, and hadn't seen him fall. She dropped down from the fence and landed on him.
"Oof!" he said.
"Now are you okay?" Takuya asked, concerned.
"I'll be... fine," he said, sounding slightly dazed. He started to move, realized belatedly there was someone sitting on him, and said, "Could you please get your hand off my... Oh, Izumi, it's you. Never mind - you can put your hand wherever you want."
"Thanks," she said dryly.
"Would you two stop goofing around?" asked Kouji. "Or did you realize we only have ten minutes left?"
"Don't worry - it's just around this corner. Come on!"
There was a scramble for everyone to recollect themselves. They hurried around the corner and were rewarded by the sight of the train station in the distance. The sight gave them new enthusiasm, and they redoubled their speed. The group blazed through the doors and made a mad dash for the elevator.
"Hey, Kouichi!" Kouji shouted.
"Do me a favor?"
"Don't fall down the stairs!"
"Don't worry, I won't!"
"There it is! There it is!" Tomoki shouted.
He pointed, and the others looked up to see their goal approaching. Takuya reached it first, skidding to a halt so fast that he nearly crashed into it. He hit the down button and waited.
"Come on, you stupid elevator!" he muttered. "We've only got five minutes left!"
"Uh, Takuya," said Kouichi slowly, "I don't think we're going to be riding this elevator."
"Why not?" Takuya demanded.
Kouichi pointed. Takuya looked. Everyone stared. There was a paper sign hanging on the elevator. It read simply, "Out of Order."
"Aw, man, what are we going to do now?" Takuya moaned. "There's no time to find another elevator, and even if we did, it might not take us. I refuse to be blocked by a stupid elevator!"
He kicked the elevator doors as hard as he could. There was a soft ping, and the door slid open. Takuya stared.
"Get in, get in, get in!" Junpei urged, trying to shove everyone in front of him inside. Since everyone was in front of him, it didn't take very long. It was a tight fit, but everyone made it inside just as the doors were closing.
"What's the time, somebody?" asked Takuya anxiously.
Izumi fished out her phone and looked. "Fifty-three seconds left. We just barely made it!"
"Yahoo!" said Takuya. "See? I told you I'd get you all here!"
The elevator went down. Everyone watched eagerly as the counter indicated the floors they passed... right up to the point where it ran out of floors and continued to drop. Now they could look through the windows and see layers of darkness flashing past, catching glimpses of areas other humans might never see. After what felt like an eternity, the elevator slowed, and they dropped into a vast empty terminal. The doors opened, and the children walked slowly out. Their footsteps echoed in the gloom.
"Where is everybody?" asked Tomoki. "It looks so empty..."
"Well, we're the only ones going this time, aren't we?" answered Kouji. "Still... it does seem awfully empty in here."
"Where are the Trailmon?" asked Izumi.
"Hey, that's right! That's what we're missing," said Takuya. "Aren't we supposed to have a ride or something?"
"We didn't wind up missing the deadline after all, did we?" asked Kouichi nervously.
"No, Bokomon's timer definitely hadn't run out," Izumi assured him. "Anyway, if it had gone wrong, we wouldn't be here. It's just that..."
In the distance, there was a low rumble. They felt it under their feet long before it reached their ears, but as soon as they sensed it, they all turned to face the darkness ahead of them.
"I see lights," said Kouji.
"You would," said Takuya.
"Here it comes!" Junpei exclaimed.
Seconds later, there was a massive rush of steam and wheels, and a huge, toothy face loomed up out of the shadows. The children grinned as they recognized an old friend.
"Hiya, Worm!" Takuya shouted. "Are we ever glad to see you again!"
"Whoo-whoo! Stand back, 'cause I'm coming through!" the Trailmon roared. Everyone jumped back as the living train rumbled into the station. He flung his doors open wide. "Okay, folks, this is the round-trip express to the Light Terminal! All aboard who's going aboard!"
"That's us!" Takuya shouted.
There was a rush for seats. Takuya shoved his bag into an overhead compartment, and when he turned around, he found himself standing next to Kouichi.
"Well, looks like we made it," said Takuya. "All ready to go?"
"I think so," said Kouichi. "I mean, yes, I'm ready. I'm just really excited to actually be going there and seeing it all again. I didn't really get to see much of it last time... and most of what I saw had been ravaged by Cherubimon and Lucemon. I want to see it as it was truly meant to be."
"Yeah. It'll feel good, going back. I mean, I know it won't be exactly the same," said Takuya. "Things have probably changed there. We've changed a lot, too."
On the other side of the car, Junpei had staked out a chair and was waving to Izumi.
"Hey! Over here! Come sit by me!"
Kouichi looked at the performance, and then looked back at Takuya.
"Really?" he asked. "How?"
Takuya laughed. "Well, you know... some things never change. But the Digital World made us all into better people. All of us know a little more and care a little more because we were there. That's why we love it so much."
"I think I know what you mean," said Kouichi.
There was a gentle lurch, and the train began moving slowly forward. As it plunged into the darkness beyond the terminal, it picked up speed, until the vague scenery outside its windows became nothing but a gray and black blur. Then even that was gone, and the world inside and outside the car became equally black.
"Hold on tight!" shouted the Trailmon. "We're going in!"
There was an immediate scramble for everyone to grab on to something reasonably secure. Kouichi watched his friends with mild puzzlement.
"What are we all hanging on for?" he asked.
"Because," Takuya began, and then stopped talking as the whole car became suddenly vertical. Kouichi had to make a wild grab for the edge of his seat to keep from being pitched at the wall.
"Because that might happen," said Kouji.
"Everybody okay back there?" Worm called. "Forgot to tell you, this is a rough piece of track."
"We noticed," said Junpei dryly.
"I remembered," Takuya said, gingerly releasing his grip on the window. "The first time we were here, we all got bounced around like popcorn in a popper, and then..."
He trailed off, staring. Everyone else, realizing something strange was happening stared back at him... and then at each other. Hovering over each of them was a familiar figure, semitransparent but real as the air, who seemed to smile as they rested a hand on a child's shoulder. A second later, they faded back into the shadows, leaving only the ghost of a sensation where their hands had been. Then that, too, faded, and the car was dark once more.
"Did you see what I think I just saw?" asked Kouji.
"I saw it," Takuya replied, "and I've seen it before. I think somebody's glad to see us back in the Digital World."
The train burst out of the mouth of a tunnel, and everyone was momentarily dazzled by the late afternoon sunlight that streamed through the windows. Slowly, through a haze of golden light, they were able to make out rolling hills and clusters of verdant trees. Everyone clustered around the windows in time to see a scrap of whiteness drifting across the sky: not a cloud, but a cluster of Poyomon.
"Congratulations," said the Trailmon. "You're officially in the Digital World. We'll be in the Light Terminal in about half an hour, so sit back and enjoy the ride!"
They did. The first few minutes were spent pressing their faces to the glass, staring avidly out at the scenery, calling each other to notice this landmark or that one. Within a few minutes, the scenery had gone from clumps of trees and meadows to what seemed to be endless fields of white flowers. Having had their fill of wonders, the little group relaxed in contented silence.
Just as the landscape was beginning to turn orange with the coming of sunset, they felt the train began to slow. Kouji, who had been half-dozing in his seat, got up and put his head out the window.
"Heads up, guys," he said. "I think we're here!"
He was right. Seconds later, the Trailmon rolled to a halt in a large stone building that could only be the Light Terminal. It was built of some kind of shiny white material that brought to mind marble or feldspar, gleaming vividly in the afternoon light. The whole of it could have been converted from an ancient ruin, or perhaps a cathedral; the high windows were filled with stained glass pictures of the Great Angels and representations of the ten elements. In the strong sunlight, they blazed so brightly, they seemed ready to move, casting pools of bright color on the floor. The effect was ethereally beautiful - or would have been if they could see it properly, because the station was jammed to its furthest corner with Digimon of every shape, size, and description.
"What do you know?" said Kouji. "It looks like someone let on we were coming."
"You can say that again," Junpei replied.
When the train had arrived in the terminal, the building had echoed with the voices of excited creatures, but silence fell as soon as the compartment doors opened. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath in anticipation, straining for a glimpse of their human heroes. The children, somewhat awed, simply stared back.
"Clear a path!" came an authoritative voice from the back of the terminal. "Clear a path for a servant of Seraphimon!"
A path was cleared, and a small, pale figure made his way to the front. As he came nearer, the children recognized him as Sorcerymon, and they smiled as they recognized their dear old friend. As he reached them, he swept an elegant bow, doffing his peaked cap. He looked up and returned their smiles.
"Welcome, children," he said warmly. "We are truly glad to see you all again."
"We're happy to see you again, too, Sorcerymon," said Izumi. "Looks like you've made a full recovery!"
"Thanks to your valiant efforts, yes. I am pleased to say I've been able to re-enter the service of my lord Seraphimon. He believed you might require an escort to Ophanimon's palace, and bid me meet you here and accompany you."
Takuya started to say that after fighting their way through assorted dark Legendary Warriors and a couple of fallen angels, they shouldn't really need an escort anywhere. Then he took another look at the eager crowds that were pressing around and decided to hold his tongue. It was one thing to stand up to your enemies, and another thing entirely to have to defend yourself from well-meaning friends.
"Thanks," he said. "We'd appreciate that."
"Come, then!" said Sorcerymon, turning briskly and beckoning them to follow. "You have friends awaiting you at the palace... and I believe some of them grow impatient," he added with a hint of a laugh.
Sorcerymon threaded a path through the crowd of Digimon, holding them off with carefully chosen words, with a few gentle prods of his staff to fend off the most persistent, and the children were allowed to pass by more or less freely. Still, going was slow, as someone would stop now and then to exchange greetings with a friend or accept well-wishes, and it took several minutes to cross a space that could have been covered in a few seconds under ordinary circumstances. Finally, they were able to exit the terminal and follow their guide towards the palace.
"It's even more beautiful than I remember," said Izumi admiringly, looking up at the soaring ivory spires.
"When last you saw it, I fear it had fallen into disrepair, since the lady of the palace was no longer in residence," answered Sorcerymon. "Now you are seeing it as it was meant to be seen."
"So is Nefertimon back in business?" asked Takuya. "Last time we saw her, well... I mean, you're back, so she's back too, right?"
"But of course. She is the heart of the palace and the keeper of its treasures," Sorcerymon replied. With a knowing smile, he added, "Actually, she is doing better than ever, now that she has acquired her assistants."
"Assistants?" Tomoki asked.
"Wait and see," the wizard Digimon replied. "Ah, here we are. I will leave you here at the gate for now, as I must assist with the preparations. You will have some time for a private visit before the festivities begin. This was supposed to be a quiet visit, but somehow word always gets out, and it seems half the Digital World has turned up to see you, and we have little choice now but to hold a grand celebration. You are to be entertained royally."
"What does that mean?" Takuya asked his friends quietly.
"It means they're going to have a big party, and everyone's invited, and they're probably going to feed us," Junpei translated.
"Cool," said Takuya. "I could go for that!"
They reached the doors to the palace and were bowed inside. They filed in slowly, reverently, taking in the sight of the familiar space. It had changed some since last they'd seen it: all the books were now stacked neatly on their shelves, several desks and tables had been set out on the main floor to aid in studying, and everything was clean and well-lit. The last light of sunset was still streaming through the windows, but someone had already lit several small lamps and a chandelier, so that the whole room seemed to glow. The vast room was silent... or almost silent. Very faintly, they could hear a small scratching noise, as of a pen on paper.
"Hello?" called Kouichi. "Is somebody here?"
There was a startled yelp. Everyone turned toward the source of the noise, and found themselves looking at a massive book propped on a pedestal. As they watched, a face appeared over its edge - a round, white, beaked face, that just now looked very glad to see them. At the sound of the noise, someone else peeked around the edge of the pedestal and gave a glad cry.
"They're here!" he squealed, and ran to hug the first person he could reach.
There were glad cries of "Bokomon!" and "Neemon!" as the children hurried to greet their old friends. For a moment, there was nothing but happy chaos as everyone talked and exclaimed at once. Izumi completely forgot herself and started babbling in rapid-fire Italian, preventing anyone from understanding a word of what she was saying. Bokomon hugged Takuya. Tomoki hugged Neemon. Neemon hugged Kouji. Izumi hugged Bokomon. Junpei hugged Izumi and got a glare for his troubles.
"What did you do that for?" she demanded.
"I dunno. Everyone else was doing it. I was hoping you wouldn't mind," he answered, blushing.
"Oh, well," she said. "I guess since it's a special occasion, it doesn't really matter," she answered, and hugged him back. Then she quickly scooted off before anyone could see and tease her about it, but by that point, Junpei was in no mental shape to complain about it.
"I knew you would come back," Bokomon was saying. "I just knew you'd come back sooner or later. Didn't I say that, Neemon?"
"Umm... I don't remember," Neemon replied.
Kouji chuckled. "Same old Neemon. So, what are you doing here? I thought you two lived in the Flame Terminal. Did you come up for the party?"
"Well, no, actually," said Bokomon, "I live here now. I have a new job, you see. Seraphimon said it was the least he could do for me after I cared for his egg all that time. Just between you and me... if you want a good job in this world, it pays to be diligent, honest, loyal, and be on first-name terms with a Great Angel."
"So you're working for him, now?" asked Tomoki curiously.
"For Cherubimon, actually."
Kouichi whistled. "There's a twist of fate!"
"Not at all! He really is an agreeable sort, once you get to know him - not at all like he used to be. And since he is the Keeper of Lore and Legends, and since those happen to be my specialty, I was appointed official researcher, historian, archivist..."
"Know-it-all!" Neemon piped up.
"Shut it," said Bokomon. "Ahem. As I was saying, my work here is to research the contents of the great library. It contains all the knowledge and history of the world, but since much of it has become disorganized and forgotten, it falls to me to comb it for lost information and report anything of use back to the Great Angels. Of course, it would be impossible for any one Digimon to gain all the knowledge in this library, but..."
"Oh, I get it," said Takuya. "So you're Cherubimon's official paper-shuffler now."
Bokomon gave him an affronted look, and Izumi stepped in to smooth things over.
"It sounds like a very important job," she said, in her most flattering tones. "It must be a very great honor."
"Yes, it is," answered Bokomon, mollified. "It's also, indirectly, what brings you here. You see... well, it's true that all of us here have been wanting to see you all again, but travel between the two worlds is a chancy thing. The Angels won't open up a portal for just any reason, so while I've been searching the books, I've also been searching for an excuse to bring you back. Eventually, I uncovered an old legend - one so old, there are few Digimon left who have heard even fragments of it. My sources told me of a collection of ancient tools, relics of the most ancient past. They are identified only as the Fabled Artifacts."
"Let me guess," said Kouji. "You want us to go look for them."
"That's the idea, yes," said Bokomon. "Ostensibly, anyway."
"What's ostennible... ottensible... what's that?" asked Neemon.
"It's a big word," Bokomon replied. "It means they're going to say they're doing something for one reason when they're really doing it for another."
"Why would they want to do that?"
Bokomon ignored his sidekick. "The Fabled Artifacts were used eons ago at the foundation of the Digital World to maintain its peace, order, and general well-being. However, as time passed, they were eventually lost and forgotten, or fell into the hands of wicked Digimon and became too corrupted to use. A few were evidently destroyed. There are seven remaining that I can positively identify: the Staff of Order, the Light of Love, the Pool of Knowledge, the Star of Guidance, the Blade of Courage, the Flutes of Peace, and the Shroud of Life. There may be others out there that there are no records of; it may be that some of these have already been destroyed, or are hidden too deeply to be found. Nevertheless, I persuaded the Angels that it would be for the good of the Digital World if they were found, and that anyone who can recover twenty Spirits can find seven Fabled Artifacts... or at least give it your best shot."
"Sounds good to me," said Takuya.
"The idea isn't necessarily that you find them all," said Bokomon. "It's really just an excuse to let you come back and let you explore a bit. The Angels understand this; no one will mind if you don't actually find anything."
"Hey, are you saying you don't think we can do it?" asked Junpei. "I say, after everything else we did, finding a bunch of old lost junk ought to be a piece of cake."
"That was different," said Bokomon. "The Spirits chose you. They have wills of their own that helped you to find them when you needed them most. The Artifacts have no such wills. Of them all, only the Star of Guidance is said to be able to find its ideal owner. The others will obey anyone who has the will and knowledge to use them."
"Well, I, for one, wouldn't feel right unless I gave it a real try," said Takuya. "We ought to be able to at least find one Fabled Artifact before we go home."
"Are you kidding? We ought to be able to find all seven," Kouichi said. "I'm game to try, anyway."
"Well, that's settled, then!" said Bokomon brightly. "We set out first thing tomorrow morning. Everyone will be so pleased. I think the Angels were really sort of looking forward to having their Artifacts back again. After being reborn a time or two, they barely remember using them."
"We'll bring them back!" said Tomoki. "All of us together can do anything."
"History seems to bear that out," Bokomon replied. "And, speaking of which... I have a little something for all of you. Neemon, where did I put those books?"
"Uhh... I dunno. In there with the other books, I think."
"Oh, you're no help! Wait here a minute. I'm sure they're around here somewhere..."
Bokomon jumped down from his pedestal and went scampering away into another room. After a few interesting scuffles, thumps, and antiseptic swearwords, Bokomon returned, staggering under the weight of a pile of books as tall as he was. The children hurried to help him, catching the pile just before he dropped it. He leaned against a shelf to catch his breath.
"Whew! I had forgotten just how much I wrote," he said. "Anyway... since I knew you'd be back someday, I used my spare time to make these for you. They're my records of our adventures together. I thought you might like them."
"Wow!" said Takuya, taking a book off the top of the stack. "Thanks, Bokomon! This is great."
"I can't think of a better present," Izumi added.
Bokomon blushed, lowering his head modestly. "Well, I did promise you all I would write them. Never in the history of our world have humans been such good friends to Digimon, nor have they proven to be such brave warriors. You deserve it."
The children voiced their thanks and began inspecting their new treasures. A happy babble of talk broke out as everyone leafed through the books, searching for their favorite moments, exclaiming as they rediscovered old memories.
"Wow, I can't believe we did all this in just a few weeks," said Junpei, leafing through the thick volume.
"Hey, Takuya, look at this!" said Tomoki. "This is where you evolved to Agnimon for the first time! That was the coolest thing I'd ever seen."
"And here's where you first turned into Chakmon - just in time to save my hide."
"Remember this, Junpei? This is when you beat Grottomon and won my Spirit back for me."
"How could I forget? See, here's when you turned into Shuutmon for the first time. Man, you were the most gorgeous thing I'd ever laid eyes on..."
"And I'm not now?"
"I didn't say that!"
"Look at this! This is when we first..." Kouji and Kouichi trailed off, realizing they were talking in unison. Looking down, they saw they were holding their books open to the same page. Kouji looked at his twin and smiled.
"When we first met," he finished.
"As humans, anyway," said Kouichi. "Not that it was a brilliant first meeting, but..."
"It was a start," Kouji said.
"Do you two always do that?" asked Bokomon.
"Do what?" asked the twins together.
"That," Bokomon said. "Talk in unison. Finish each other's sentences."
"Oh, that. Sure," said Kouji. "We didn't do so much of it at first, but..."
"Now we do it all the time," finished Kouichi, grinning. "Me especially. I even feel it when he gets hurt... but why not? I mean, physically, we're identical. Why shouldn't we think and feel the same way sometimes?"
"No reason I can think of," said Bokomon. "Still, if it were me, I'd get tired of it. So, do you find your gifts acceptable?"
"They're awesome," said Tomoki. "Thanks, Bokomon! You're the best."
"It was my pleasure," Bokomon answered.
A bell chimed somewhere, echoing through the building. By some trick of acoustics, the echoes seemed to take on different pitches, creating harmonics until the air seemed to be filled with music.
"That's the dinner bell!" Neemon exclaimed joyfully. "Soup's on!"
"For the Legendary Warriors," said Takuya, "they'd better have something better than soup. Does anyone realize how late it's getting?"
"Well, now that you mention it..." Junpei replied. "Yeah, I'm about to starve!"
"Then let us adjourn to the festivities!" said Bokomon.
Neemon blinked. "But I wanted to go eat!"
Bokomon grabbed Neemon's waistband and dragged him off. The children followed behind them, grinning to each other and cradling their precious books.
The path led down a long corridor, filled with glowing sconces and decorated with paintings of legends from days gone by. The children would have liked to linger and have a better look at them - after all, they had a personal interest in the Digital World's legends - but it had been a long day, and excitement had drained them. They were all hungry. It seemed only natural at the time that they see to their growling stomachs before they indulged in any sightseeing. Following along at the end of the line, Izumi paused just long enough to look at a picture that caught her eye. It depicted a lovely Digimon - it was hard to tell for sure, but its aspect seemed more feminine than masculine - holding something that glowed brightly in one outstretched hand. Behind her was another Digimon, looking battered, either dead or unconscious; before her was a pool of water that seemed to shine with its own light. A healing spring, perhaps? Izumi hadn't heard of such a thing on her travels, but in the Digital World, anything seemed possible...
"Hey, what are you doing back there?" Junpei called. "You'd better hurry up, or someone might eat it all. Everybody and their uncle's coming to dinner tonight, remember?"
"Oh, yeah! Right," she answered. Reluctantly, she abandoned the painting and trotted to catch up with her friends.
Outside, they were met by a welcome sight. To accommodate the overflow of guests, some industrious group of Digimon had set up a collection of long tables, each of them laden with enough food to satisfy the heartiest appetite, with enough variety to supply even the pickiest eater... though it was hard to imagine anyone turning up their noses at anything that looked and smelled so good. The selection ranged from dishes that would have looked right at home on a kitchen table back in the Human World, on up to things that none of the children could identify. The field was ringed by rows of torches, tall posts topped with crystals that glowed with their own light, decorated with ribbons and garlands of flowers, encircling the grounds so that every corner of the party area was illuminated. Here and there were smaller tables surrounded by chairs, or piles of comfortable cushions suitable for sitting or reclining - all in all, the perfect setup for relaxing, circulating, and catching up with old friends. Over it all, the Digital World's three moons hung like giant party balloons, casting their soft glow over the assembled company. Hundreds of Digimon had gathered in the meadow, chatting with each other, eyeing the food, and waiting patiently for the arrival of their heroes. As the young warriors arrived, a hush fell over the crowd. Someone started to applaud, and someone else joined them, until the world seemed filled with the sounds of clapping and cheering. Then Seraphimon, seated at a table with his fellow Angels, stood and raised his hands, and the sound slowly quieted.
"Our guests of honor," he said gravely. "It is our great joy to have you among us again. May you be welcomed in our world, and may all those whose paths cross yours be inspired by your courage, commitment, and goodness."
There was a murmur of assent from the crowd. His blessing seemed to be a sign, and there was instant movement, like a wave moving toward the group of humans, with a small but persistent rip-tide moving toward the refreshment tables.
Despite their best intentions, there was no way the children could avoid being separated. There were just too many old friends to greet. Within seconds, the group had scattered, as everyone picked out familiar faces and rushed to have words with them. Kouji exchanged enthusiastic greetings with a Gotsumon, while Tomoki found himself surrounded by a group that included a Datamon, several Toucanmon, and a Sepikmon who danced with joy at their reunion. It wasn't long before Kouichi found himself on his own.
*Not that its any reflection on me,* he tried to tell himself, as he watched Izumi being swarmed by a group of Honeybeemon. *It's just that I wasn't really in a position to make a lot of close friends for most of the time I was here. That wasn't my fault.*
Trying to keep his spirits up, he circulated among the crowd, idly sampling the offerings on the buffet tables without much appetite as he chatted with whoever showed up to extend felicitations. He managed to have a halfway-decent conversation with Swanmon before she hurried off to tend to her babies, and visited a while with Baromon, who insisted he'd seen good fortune on Kouichi's future. He eavesdropped a bit on a conversation on Trailmons that Takuya was having with a pair of large canines, but too much of it seemed to hinge on an adventure Kouichi hadn't been present for and had heard about only patchily, and he had trouble following it. Eventually he gave up and wandered off. In another corner of the garden, he found Junpei surrounded by young Digimon, with a Tsunomon on one knee and a young Kokuwamon on the other, holding them spellbound with his feats of legerdemain. Kouichi watched for a while, but there was a large, spiky Togemon standing behind him who also seemed engrossed in the performance, and her presence was less than comfortable, so he regretfully walked away. He was just considering the dreary possibility that he might have to spend the evening on his own, when he turned around and nearly walked into someone's leg.
He looked up. Filling his field of vision was a large, pink, furry something who was looking down at him with bright black eyes. Kouichi recoiled. His brain might have known this was a friendly presence, but his gut instinct was telling him to get away, fast, before it did something he wouldn't like. He forced himself to calm down and meet the being's gaze squarely. The Digimon continued to watch.
"Kouichi," he said gravely. "It is good to see you are doing well."
Kouichi worked up a smile. "Hi, Cherubimon. Good to see you're okay, too. How's everything been going for you?"
"All is peaceful," Cherubimon replied. "Not that there are never disagreements, but Seraphimon, Ophanimon, and I have learned to solve our problems quietly." Seeing the expression on the boy's face, he laughed quietly. "Ah, I see you are surprised. Did you think that because we grew up together, we would all see the world as one? No, that is not my nature. We still have differences of opinion. The change is that I have learned to trust them - to trust that they want to work together with me, to trust that they want what is best for the Digital World. I have learned when it is best to stand my ground, and when it is better to compromise or to step down. We are all learning to see from each other's perspective. I have, at least, seen the folly in believing that there is one right way for all Digimon, or that one single Digimon can know what is best for everyone. After all, if one could, why would there be three Great Angels?"
"Good point," said Kouichi. "Sounds like we've all come a long way since we first met. So, tell me... are you happy these days?"
The question seemed to take Cherubimon aback; he gave it a moment of serious consideration before answering.
"Am I? Well... I am doing good work, work that I was meant to do, and doing it to the best of my ability. I have the company of good friends, perhaps for the first time in my life. Yes, I would have to say I am happy. And what of you, Kouichi? How have you been? How is your mother?"
Kouichi grinned, feeling his mood lift. "I'll tell you what - how about we both grab some of that food before everyone eats it all, and I'll tell you all about it... provided you tell me what you've been doing while I've been away. I have to make sure you haven't messed things up too much, without me to keep an eye on you."
Cherubimon hesitated a moment, realized Kouichi was joking, and gave a laugh like a roll of thunder.
"I tried not to damage it too much," he said, smiling.
With his mood much improved, Kouichi headed for the nearest table, hearing the soft thuds of the Great Angel's feet falling behind him, and thinking, *Looks like I really do have good friends here, after all!*
It was late when the party finally ended. The three moons had fallen low on the horizon, the smallest being barely visible. In the garden, there was little left but a broad swath of trampled grass, empty chairs, and scatterings of discarded plates and glasses. Most of the guests had already wandered off, replete and exhausted, to catch the next Trailmon back to their homes. All that was left were a few of the palace residents, slowly cleaning up the party debris, the Angels themselves, and their honored guests. The children were nearly as exhausted as the party guests; worn out from a strenuous day and stuffed with party food, none of them could think much further than finding somewhere comfortable to sleep. Tomoki had already dropped off where he'd been sitting. Takuya, stretched lazily in one of the chairs, sighed contentedly and rubbed his stomach.
"You gotta hand it to these guys," he said. "They sure know how to throw a party!"
"You said it," Junpei agreed. He was idly shredding a sugared pastry, having already eaten all he could hold. "It sure beats wandering the wilderness, living on whatever we could scrounge up."
"Enjoy it while you can," said Bokomon. "Tomorrow you're hitting the road again, remember?"
"I had kind of forgotten that part of adventuring," Kouji admitted.
"Well, at least we won't have to worry so much about running into enemies," said Izumi. "Looks like most of the people around here like us."
"Most of them," said Bokomon. "Not every Digimon in this world is friendly, even without someone to urge them to cause trouble. There are a few who do it naturally. You will still have to be careful."
"Aw, we can handle it," said Takuya. He yawned and amended, "At least, we will once we've had some Z's. I don't know about you guys, but I'm wiped out."
"You aren't the only one," Kouichi said, glancing at Tomoki. "Hey, Bokomon, is there anywhere around for us to sleep?"
"Rooms have been prepared for you," said Bokomon. "I'll show you where they are. After that, I'll be ready to catch a few winks myself."
"What should we do about Tomoki?" asked Izumi, looking at the sleeping boy. "Do we wake him up? I don't think he really ought to spend the night out here."
"No problem," said Junpei. He got to his feet, walked over to where Tomoki was sleeping, and picked him up. "See? He doesn't weigh much. Hm. It's funny... I know he's not any younger than we were when we first came here, but he still looks like a little kid this way."
"Compared to where we are now," said Kouji, "when we first got here, we were little kids. Come on. We've got a big day tomorrow; we might as well get what sleep we can where it's comfortable. No telling where we'll end up tomorrow."
"Oh, sleeping under a tree somewhere, I doubt not," said Bokomon. "Come on, Neemon. We have to show our friends to our rooms."
"Why do I have to come?" Neemon protested, but he abandoned the platter of fruit he'd been nibbling on and went to join the others.
Bokomon led the way through a side door in the palace, guiding them up a flight of stairs and down a small hallway. It wasn't as grand as what they'd seen downstairs, but the effect was partly because almost everyone had gone to sleep already, and the only light came from the glow of the moons through the open windows.
"You boys will be sleeping in there," said Bokomon, gesturing at a wide wooden door. "Miss Izumi, the room on the opposite side of the hall is yours. If you need us, Neemon and I will be in that room there with the green door."
"How come Izumi gets a room to herself?" Takuya wanted to know.
Bokomon drew himself up primly. "Young man, it's a matter of propriety."
"I don't see what difference it makes," Junpei blurted. "It's not like we've never slept together before." Realizing what he'd just said, he blushed brilliantly and added, "I didn't mean that the way it came out!"
Izumi shook her head. "I shouldn't expect any of you boys to be talking intelligently at this hour. I'm getting some sleep. Good night, everyone. See you in the morning."
She slipped through the door, only half listening as the other boys teased Junpei about his latest bout of foot-in-mouth disease, and she smiled a little. Silly as they were, she still was glad to be with her friends.
The room provided by her hosts proved to be quite comfortable, more than good enough for a night's rest. There was a cozy-looking four-poster bed, a vanity table with an ornate mirror, a soft carpet, and a few tapestries covered in flowers and butterflies adorning the walls. A discreet door off to one side opened to a washroom. She briefly considered having a bath before she went to sleep - after all, it was anyone's guess when she'd get another chance - but exhaustion convinced her she'd be better off waiting until morning, so she stuck to the most basic cleaning rituals before blowing out the lamp and dropping gratefully into bed. It was as soft and comfortable as it had looked, and she curled up with a sigh of contentment. Warm, happy, and well-fed, she suspected she'd be asleep before she had time to think about it...
...Except that someone was shining a light in her eyes.
Izumi looked up, ready to express her annoyance with whoever was disturbing her, and found herself faced with a dark room. There was no one there, no light save for what trickled through her curtained windows.
*My imagination is playing tricks on me,* she told herself. That was the kind of thing that could happen, after a lot of excitement and not enough sleep. She closed her eyes again.
The light continued to shine, bright and steady.
Izumi sat up and looked around, trying to reassure herself. The room was almost pitch-black; if she closed her eyes, there was no natural reason why she ought to be seeing anything but the inside of her eyelids. She definitely should not be seeing bright lights unless there was some strange force at work here.
*Well, I have three options. I can sit up all night trying not to see a light that isn't there. I can close my eyes and try to ignore it. Or I can deal with it. There shouldn't be anyone left now who would want to hurt me, and even if there is, I can't believe they'd try something like this right under the noses of the three Great Angels, so...*
Slowly, deliberately, she closed her eyes. Instead of avoiding the light, she focused on it, letting it sharpen and grow until she could see it clearly. Something silvery hung in her field of vision, glowing like the brightest star that ever shined. It was so lovely, so perfect in its purity, that she found herself moving towards it before she could think about it, before she could bother to remember that the light was only in her mind. As she moved forward, the light backed away from her, hovering just out of her reach. She took a few more steps, moving more quickly, reaching for it again. Her fingers brushed something cool and solid.
*Is this a dream?* she thought. *It seems like it ought to be, but...*
Under her bare feet, she could feel something. At first, it was the softness of carpeting, then cold, smooth stone. Then she felt, or dreamed, or imagined, that she was walking on tiles, like a mosaic, though she could guess nothing of the patterns they were making. At last, the light seemed to vanish, and she found herself looking at a wall patterned in shapes and symbols that were alien to her, only half-visible in the dim light. Before her, just under her reaching hand, was a pattern like a starburst, worked with gold and silver that made it almost shine of its own accord. She pressed her hand to it, and it swung inward. Behind it was a hollow, and in the hollow was something shiny. She reached for it, felt her hand close around something, and...
She was back in her bed. More remarkably, she was still clutching something in her hands. She scrambled to get up, to run to the window and open it so she could see what she had found.
Resting in her hand was an oval jewel, as big around as the circle of her thumb and forefinger. It was encircled by a frame of silver, and its back had been faceted so that, when the light caught it just right, there seemed to be a many-pointed star hidden beneath its smooth surface. The jewel hung on a long silver chain, cunningly worked to resemble a wreath of vines and flowers. As delicate as it looked, the item had weight and authority in her hands. It had been cold when she'd first held it, but even now it was warming, so that it felt almost alive.
"Why do I get the feeling," she said slowly, "that I just did something important again? ...Of course, this could all just be a really freaky dream... but somehow, I don't think so."
She started to walk towards the door, to go tell someone what had just happened, but a lingering feeling that there were powers afoot made her nervous. She turned back to her bed, thinking that if this was just a dream, she would be better off not waking anyone up about it. The jewel seemed to be harmless - in fact, she had the funny feeling it wanted to be helpful to her, if a jewel could want anything - so there was no harm in waiting until morning. She started to lay it on her night table, changed her mind, and slipped the chain around her neck. With one hand resting over the crystal, she fell into a deep, restful sleep.