Thank you for your reviews and continued support!

Shockingly, I'm updating this story after "only" three months...as opposed to three years. This story has been difficult to write due to the ensemble cast and the (relatively) ambitious plot - serious kudos to authors who manage their epics so wonderfully. Lesson learned: 2012 me should've left a more detailed outline.

Thank you to everyone for your support and readership: I do want to finish it (at a faster pace to boot) and I'm so, so honored to be on this journey with everyone.

There are minor Tri references, but nothing explicit for those who haven't watched.


Discoveries Good and Bad

There

Taichi hated waiting, which always reminded him of the three days he spent watching every excruciating movement of the second hand on the living room clock, not knowing when he would next see his family. As the story went, his parents did eventually come home, only to bring the news that Hikari never would.

Sora's wall clock ticked steadily. An hour had passed some time ago. Taichi, Sora, and Yamato stared at the wall, where Koushiro had projected the feed that he was receiving through his Digivice. It showed a zoomed in map of the Digital World, where they could track the signals coming from Takeru and Hikari's Digivices.

"Just a bit further," Sora muttered.

Taichi wished that he could've gone with Takeru and Hikari to the Digital World. Rationally, he understood that he would be more of a hindrance, given Agumon's inability to evolve, but he felt - perhaps irrationally - that Hikari would be safer with him there.

The dots representing Takeru and Hikari's Digivices were finally approaching the dot that presumably represented the Digimental.

Yamato crossed his arms. "Took them a bit longer than we expected to get through that forest."

Sora nervously glanced outside the window. "Once the sun sets, traveling through a forest will become much more difficult."

Behind them, Mimi shifted on the couch and leaned forward on her elbows. Taichi glanced briefly at her, surprised that she'd been paying close attention to their little vigil. "Any time now..."

The three dots finally converged. Koushiro raised his head from the screen, where he'd been doing his computer science homework. "Mission success."

Yamato punched the air, eyes bright. Sora got to her feet. "I'm gonna make more tea."

Their relief lasted only long enough for Sora to finish boiling another kettle of water. When she came back with the tea kettle to refill their mugs, the three dots still had not started on their way back.

"Still no message," Taichi said, refreshing his D-Terminal for the umpteenth time. Yamato, Mimi, and Koushiro mutely shook their heads. "Sora, can you check yours too?"

She set the kettle down and grabbed her D-Terminal. "Nope." She chewed the bottom of her lip. "Do you think -"

"They only have Pegasmon...but then again, if the other kids are there, we would see their Digivices show up, wouldn't we, Koushiro?"

Koushiro considered Yamato's question. "The other children could mask their signals if they really want to," he said. "They do have some computer geniuses on their side."

Sora groaned. Yamato rubbed his face. Mimi wore a glazed expression. None of them was any help.

Taichi turned back to the projection.

"Maybe we should try to contact Agumon and the others, see if they could go check on them or meet us -"

"That wouldn't be enough time," Koushiro pointed out. "Only Piyomon is remotely in the vicinity, and there are enough Dark Towers in this area that they can't evolve."

"Maybe we have some allies in the area," Taichi persisted. "Ogremon -"

"They're moving," Sora said.

Indeed, the dots had started moving. Taichi felt relief sweep over him and Yamato audibly let out a breath.

Mimi looked thoughtful. "They are moving faster than before," she remarked, though nobody had a response.

The wait for their journey back was even more nerve-wrecking. Taichi knew that he wasn't the only one who had terrible possibilities racing through his head the entire time. What if...? Suppose...?

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Koushiro's laptop beeped, signaling the opening of the gate. He set it down on the floor just in time for Takeru to burst through, joined half a minute later by Hikari.

The two of them looked much worse for the wear. Their clothes were torn and bloodied, they both sported visible bruises and cuts, and Hikari had a gash across her cheek. The older brothers were immediately upon them.

"What happened? Are you okay?" Yamato demanded, squeezing Takeru's shoulders tightly.

Meanwhile, Taichi grabbed Hikari's wrist so he could get a better look at her injuries, dropping it immediately when she winced. "Just a sprain, probably," she explained meekly to his frowning face.

Mimi got up from the couch and gestured for the younger siblings to sit down. Sora hurried to the bathroom, returning with a bowl of water and a roll of paper towels. Yamato immediately busied himself with Takeru, wetting a handful of towels to wipe the blood and dirt from his face.

Taichi started to reach for some towels, but Sora gave his hand a gentle nudge. He glanced over, noticing the questioning look on her face, and nodded, acknowledging her request with a mixture of reluctance and relief. Hikari would feel more comfortable having the older girl minister to her.

His best friend immediately followed Yamato's lead and started to gently clean Hikari's face, although she was careful to avoid the gash on the cheek. Taichi wondered if it would scar, like Takeru's cheek wound from a few years back. He hoped not.

"You guys look like you got trampled in a street brawl."

Mim's tone was light, but she was wincing as she took in the younger Chosens' appearance, and without being asked, offered to refill the bowl with clean water.

"We pretty much did, if you can envision LadyDevimon as your usual street bully," Takeru said.

Yamato's hand, which was holding a newly moistened compress, stopped in midair. "LadyDevimon? You ran into her?"

His younger brother nodded, while Hikari stayed silent.

That explained their delay in the cave. Taichi saw Sora and Yamato exchange a look over the heads of younger Chosen, though it was Mimi who voiced the question they were all thinking. "How did you get away? Did someone come help?"

Takeru glanced at Hikari. "Well," he began, but she interrupted.

"The Digimental saved us. It started glowing and that threw LadyDevimon off-balance, so we took the opportunity to get away."

Takeru looked towards her, brows furrowed. Taichi could tell immediately that Hikari was lying, and not just because of Takeru's reaction. He'd seen this expression too often in young Hikari. The quick blink, the brief loss of eye contact. No, I don't know where Mom hid your soccer ball. No, Miko didn't finish your favorite biscuits. No, I'm not feeling sick, I can come to the park.

"You got the Digimental," Sora said, picking up on the important part. "That's great!"

"Could we take a look?" Koushiro asked, interested.

Hikari took it out of the backpack and handed it to Koushiro. Then she turned to Sora. "We lost your flashlight though. I'm sorry, Sora. I'll think of a way to repay you."

She shook her head. "It's just an old flashlight. Please don't worry about it. I'm just glad you guys are okay."

"Fascinating," Koushiro said, examining the Digimental. "This is the first time that we have a corporeal Digimental. All the others turned into data in D-Terminals."

The Digimental looked rather ordinary to Taichi, who turned his attention back to his sister. "Hikari, did you find your Tailmon?"

His sister's expression darkened as she averted her eyes. "No, we didn't find Tailmon," she said flatly. "I was wrong."

He itched to comfort her, the way he easily could when his sister was little and needed reassurance after her nightmares. But he sensed that it would be inappropriate, so instead it was Sora who put her arm around her shoulders.

Mimi snatched the Digimental from Koushiro's hands. "So all this time, while LadyDevimon and the others were slapping us around like we're a bunch of bugs, we could've been using Takeru's Digimental to subdue her?"

She sounded unconvinced. Sora shrugged. "Well, Takeru's Digimental was absorbed into his D-Terminal, remember? So it probably functions differently."

"Fair enough, but what if we can extract Takeru's Digimental as well?"

"That is an interesting idea," Koushiro said.

"Hikari, if it's all right," Yamato said, "maybe we can have Koushiro take a look at your Digimental to understand what happened. It could be really helpful."

"Yeah," Sora said, eyes lighting up. "Along with Takeru's Digimental, maybe it could help us figure out how to trigger evolution in the presence of Dark Towers."

Hikari opened her mouth, as if to argue, but she only responded, "That makes sense."

"I'll be happy to take a look, but I'll leave it with you two for now," Koushiro said, closing his laptop. "I don't want to risk traveling with and holding onto such a valuable artifact, but I can be back this weekend to run some tests, if that would be convenient."

Hikari looked relieved and nodded, before turning to Sora, who nodded as well. "Just give us a heads up so I can work out the schedule with my mom's flower shop."

"Will do."

Takeru gave a sudden, loud yawn. Mimi made a face and Yamato chuckled. Now that the younger Chosens were safe and they were in possession of a Digimental that defeated LadyDevimon, the mood had lightened considerably.

"We should probably get home soon," he said, ruffling his brother's hair. "I can give you a ride on my scooter. Let's just hope Mom doesn't freak out when she sees you."

"We can just say we got into a very brotherly fight," Takeru said, deadpan, earning himself a loud snort.

"And get grounded for life? That will be a lot of help against evil Digimon."

Yamato wiped Takeru's face one more time, gently brushing off the last of the congealed blood and dirt. The younger boy stood up, still favoring his left side a little, and allowed his brother to slip an arm around his shoulders in support.

"Thanks everyone, let's regroup tomorrow or Friday. I'll send you all a message." Yamato glanced around the room, starting with Sora and ending with Taichi. The boys exchanged a small nod. "Stay safe, stay alert, and if anything happens let everyone know immediately."

"Right," Taichi and Koushiro said, while the girls simply nodded.

Yamato clapped a hand on Taichi's shoulder on his way to the door. As he followed his older brother, Takeru turned to give Hikari one last look. She wasn't paying attention so didn't notice, but Taichi did. He could discern both curiosity and wariness. He became more suspicious than ever about what really happened inside the cave with LadyDevimon.

Taking the departure of the Ishida / Takaishi brothers as a cue, Koushiro got to his feet as well, snapping shut his laptop.

"I better go too," he said. "Gotta finish this problem set by midnight. Mind if I use your laptop to set up a portal back to my dorm, Sora?"

Sora gestured to her bedroom. "Of course, my laptop's over there." She glanced at Mimi, who was now sitting back on the couch, stretching out her legs. "Maybe set one up for Mimi first?"

"No need!" came the bright response. "I'm going to sleep here tonight."

Four pairs of eyes stared at her. Taichi felt a twinge of sympathy for Sora, who looked like she just wanted everyone to disappear right this moment.

"Here?" she echoed. "The couch isn't very comfortable."

Mimi laughed. "Silly, I'll sleep in your bed!"

"My bed," Sora repeated.

"Oh c'mon Sora, it will be like a sleepover, it will be loads of fun!"

Sora was clearly unconvinced. "But..."

"It's been ages since we girls had a chance to spend time together," Mimi said, grabbing Sora's arm. Then her voice dropped, taking on a pleading tone. "Please Sora. I really don't want to go back right now."

Sora looked to the two boys for help. Koushiro carefully avoided her eyes while Taichi could only shrug his shoulders helplessly. Girl drama was not their area of expertise.

"I have class tomorrow morning," she said finally, even though everyone knew that Mimi had already won the argument.

"Set an alarm, you can still go to class," Mimi said, making her way towards Sora's bedroom, dragging a confused Koushiro along. "I'm a sound sleeper, I won't hear a thing. C'mon Koushiro, let's go set up that portal of yours so we can get the sleepover started."

Sora sighed loudly, resigned to her fate. Hikari, looking uncomfortable, got up, holding onto the armrest of the couch briefly to find her footing.

"Let me, um, clean those up," she said, picking up the bowl with the dirty towels and heading into the bathroom.

Taichi stepped aside so she could pass. As she did so, she gave him a slight bow. He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He had a lot of questions for Hikari, but now was not the time, not when everyone was exhausted. He waited until he could hear the running of the bathroom faucets.

"Um, Sora, can I talk to you for a sec?"

"Only if you're not telling me that you're also staying over for a sleepover," Sora said humorlessly. Her words might be innuendo when said by other girls, but Taichi knew Sora enough to know that her patience with everyone was wearing thin.

"No sleepover," he promised, and to accentuate his point, he rolled his eyes.

Sora gave a reluctant chuckle and followed him to the genkan where his shoes were waiting. "What's up?"

"Listen...I know it's been a lot for you, taking care of Hikari the past week..."

She shrugged, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes. "We've been over this. It's really all right. Unexpected, yes, but she's been a good guest, and we have to house her somewhere safe."

"Well, that's the thing," Taichi said. "I've been thinking...I mean, my parents do have a spare room..."

As soon as he said the words, he saw twin sentiments pass over Sora's face: pity, which he didn't want, not from her, and understanding, which he did.

"Taichi," Sora said, after a long pause during which she was clearly searching for the right words. "I don't know - I don't think it's a good idea. At all. It might be harder for everyone. Have you even told -"

"No," he said. "But I thought about telling them. It might...help them." He paused, knowing he could always trust her opinion. "What do you think?"

"Not yet." She met his eyes steadily. "I think you should talk to Hikari about it first, see how comfortable she would be if they know," she said. "I also think you should think about...whether your parents will be happier or sadder to see her. It's not something you can take back. Ever."

Taichi thought of his mother's haunted face, the empty bottles piled under his father's desk, the dusty photo albums in the storage closet. The fact that this Hikari wasn't here to stay.

"Right."

"Don't do this just because you are trying to spare my air mattress. Just buy me a new fancy one when this is all over."

A weak joke; she was trying to make him feel better.

"I know," he said heavily, breaking eye contact. "I know."

"You need a portal back?" she asked, jerking her head towards the bedroom. "Think I just heard Koushiro leaving."

"Nah. Staying with my parents for a few days so I'll take the train. Better than bursting out of a computer on them." He shoved his feet into his shoes. "Good night Sora."

"Good night Taichi," she said, waiting until he'd walked down two flights of stairs before shutting the door.


Despite the time difference, despite Sora's undersized bed and overly firm mattress, Mimi had no trouble passing out almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. Her sleep wasn't dreamless, but the details had slipped away by the time she woke up to the sound of Sora's alarm blaring.

"I thought you are a sound sleeper," Sora remarked, when she returned to the bedroom. Ever the efficient multitasker, she'd managed to start brushing her teeth in the minutes since she turned off her alarm and opened her curtains.

"I'm just too excited!" Mimi mustered the energy to bounce out of bed. "I can't wait to spend the day in Odaiba."

Sora's toothbrush stopped moving. "You're not going back?"

"I told you, it's been ages since we spent time together." The more exuberant she was, the more difficult it would be to slip back into her dark mood.

Sora wasn't playing along. "What about your parents? Don't you want to visit them then?"

"And explain how I ended up across the ocean so quickly?" Mimi shook her head. "C'mon Sora. It's a beautiful day outside. Let's go to Odaiba Park after you're done with class!"

No answer from Sora, who had ducked back into the bathroom. There was the sound of the faucet and the shower started running soon after. The exaggerated smile faded from Mimi's face. She could tell that her friend was annoyed. Part of her wanted to be understanding; Sora had always been under a lot of stress, from her mother, from herself, and now from her guest in the living room. The last thing she would want to deal with was a newly single Mimi who craved entertainment.

But the other part of her needed this escape, this distraction, so she could quiet the voices in her head, even if only temporarily.

Coming to a conclusion, Mimi opened up Sora's closet and started to pick out an outfit. Her spoiled and selfish side won this round. After her friend finished her shower and came back into the room, Mimi was already dressed in an old soccer team shirt and a flower-print skirt that Toshiko probably forced Sora to buy, a wide-brimmed straw hat that smelled faintly of fish in her hands.

"Mimi."

"Just an hour of your time," Mimi said, meeting Sora's reproachful eyes. "Okay, maybe two, because I want to treat you to lunch. And then I'll go home."

Sora opened her closet and grabbed a few items of clothing without looking. Mimi waited for her response, heart racing.

"If you're going to stay until the afternoon," she said eventually, "you might as well stay until this evening, if Yamato is going to call another meeting."

"Really?" Mimi said, clasping her hands. Then she threw her arms around Sora, who only sighed. "Oh, thank you! I promise, lunch will be worth it!"

"But," Sora added, a warning in her tone, "you should ask Hikari if she wants to join."

A third wheel on their fun outing? Mimi pursed her lips, but knew that this had to be her compromise.

"Fine, I'll ask."

While Sora stayed in the bedroom to change, she went out to find Hikari in the living room. The girl was already awake, perhaps had been for a while and overheard the entire exchange. The air mattress was neatly folded and pushed behind the couch. She was sitting at the kitchen table, an open textbook in front of her.

"Morning," she greeted Mim shyly.

"Morning," Mimi replied. Then, raising her voice so that Sora could hear, she said in a sugary sweet voice, "Hikari, Sora and I are going to Odaiba Park after her class is over. We would love if you could join us."

She hoped that the younger girl would take the hint, and she did not disappoint. "Thank you both, but I should probably catch up on schoolwork."

"Oh well that's too -"

"You sure?" Sora said, coming out of her room. She gave Mimi a brief glare. "The weather looks really nice and you haven't been outside in a while. Some fresh air could be good for you."

"I'm sure," Hikari said, giving both a bright smile. "I think I had enough of the outdoors yesterday."

She did look tired and beat up. Her pale face accentuated the dark rings under her eyes and the fresh cut on her cheek. However it was the plastered smile that caught Mimi's attention. Hikari was clearly hiding something; she should know, she practically patented fake smiles. Fortunately for Hikari, she wasn't interested in playing psychologist or detective today. She only knew that she did not want the stranger to tag along.

Sora had not noticied anything amiss and her expression softened at the mention of yesterday. "All right then," she said. "We should be back in a few hours. I think there's still some leftovers in the fridge. I'll leave my D-Terminal with you so message us if anything comes up."

"I will." Hikari continued smiling. "Enjoy your day."

It was a relief to leave the apartment. The sunlight was warm and welcome on her face. Mimi couldn't help spreading her arms out, as if she were Palmon photosynthesizing. Sometimes she felt that Odaiba was her port, and she needed to recharge her battery every once in a while.

Sora had to ruin the moment with her disapproval. "You could be nicer to her, you know."

Mimi dropped and crossed her arms. "I invited her along and she said no."

"We could hear your insincerity from kilometers away."

"Well, fine, I don't want her to come along. I hate girls who put on the sweet and innocent act to get what they want."

Sora gave her a long look and said nothing.

"I'm not like that!" Mimi said, a little sulky.

"Have some empathy for her. She's alone and far away from home and could use some friends."

Mimi rolled her eyes. She'd been done making new friends ages ago. What use would new friends serve in this world? More deaths to mourn?

In the back of her mind, she was aware that she was acting like a brat, had been acting like a brat for the past twenty-four hours, but once she put on an act, she could not stop.

"Why do you have to be the one to house her, anyway? Did Taichi ask you?"

"No, it's not because of Taichi." Sora quickened her pace and she hurried to catch up. She must be really annoyed. "Sometimes Mimi, when you're part of a team, you try your best to do your part."

Sora's reprimand chastened Mimi. A lump was rising to the back of her throat. She felt exposed as a phony who didn't deserve to wear the Crest of Purity. Because she wasn't pure of heart, was she?

They remained in tense silence the rest of the way to Musashino University, parting ways in front of the entrance. There was some awkwardness as they faced each other. Sora adjusted the strap of her messenger bag while Mimi picked at a loose seam on her borrowed skirt.

"I'll meet you in the park after class is over. Message me on my phone if anything comes up."

"Right," Mimi said. "I can text you my location when you're done."

Once Sora was out of sight, Mimi headed to the nearest convenience store so she had something to do and later eat. Listlessly, she browsed the shelves, picking out anything that seemed interesting. A sponge cake shaped like a turtle, two packets of gummies, a new flavor of KitKat, two bags of Calbee chips, three bottles of Ramune, and finally, two egg sandos, because she figured Sora could use a bite after class.

The park was rather empty on this Thursday morning. Mimi supposed most people were either at work or at school, rather than wandering aimlessly around Odaiba. With her bag of purchase, she found a secluded spot with random benches and sat down to have breakfast.

Unbidden, memories of her last conversation with Victor surfaced. Jikochuu, that was what he had said, showing off after taking some random Japanese crash course as a supposed romantic surprise. He'd thought that the insult would sound cuter in Japanese, thought she would laugh and they would make up and all would be well.

She'd broken up with the idiot on the spot, but internally she'd been ashamed that even he had seen through her fa├žade.

Jikochuu. Self-centered, narcissistic. That was who she truly was. That was why she could no longer super evolve Palmon, with or without the Dark Towers.

Dead Hikari Yagami or not, Mimi Tachikawa had already lost the war.

Something pricked at her eyes so she busied herself with opening a bottle of Ramune, taking delight in popping the marble with all the violence she could muster.

Three sips in, she was distracted by a glint to her right. An oddly familiar glint. She turned sharply, immediately alert, and caught the backside of a teenager racing away on a skateboard. He - or she, it was hard to tell under the helmet - did not turn around to look at her.

She adjusted her borrowed hat. Was that...what she thought it was? Was it directed at her? Probably not...most of the infected children might not even recognize her in this getup, not to mention that she'd been abroad.

Maybe she was mistaken and that wasn't even an infected child. The glint might've been coming from the teenager's watch or phone.

Mimi looked around to see whether she could pick up on the presence of Digimon. But it was quiet.

Sora and Yamato's paranoia is finally rubbing off on me, she thought. Nevertheless, she remained uneasy, so she spent the rest of the morning with her free hand curled around the Digivice in her purse.


Hikari counted 120 seconds after the front door closed before she allowed herself to relax. She could tell that this Mimi didn't want her to tag along, something that stung given how much she admired her own Mimi, but she also wasn't entirely lying about needing to study physics.

Or just study in general, really. At this rate, she was going to miss the rest of her school term. She idly wondered if she would have to repeat the whole year after her return thanks to missing a whole month. How embarrassing it would be to repeat her first year of high school, after studying so hard for the entrance exams. How disappointing it would be not to graduate with Takeru and Daisuke.

"Why couldn't they have taken me during summer vacation?" she imagined mock complaining to her friends. Daisuke and Miyako would try to distract her with antics and treats, Takeru would hide his distress behind sympathetic smiles and private encouragement, and Iori would give her some sage wisdom re-packaged from his grandfather.

But then, repeating a grade and complaining with her friends, that was the optimistic outcome, wasn't it? The less optimistic outcome was that she was going to be stuck here, living another girl's life forever.

She refused to dwell too long on that train of thought.

The clock ticked. Hikari stretched and stared back down at the old physics textbook that Taichi had lent her. Much as she wanted to keep up with her class back at home, mustering the concentration to study electromagnetism felt like a losing battle. Especially when she still felt like a truck had run her over, multiple times. And when her mind kept gravitating to something else.

At some point, she conceded defeat to Taichi's textbook and Maxwell's equation. So she allowed her mind to slip back to her Digimental.

Something had felt off about it from the beginning. Something she wanted to check out before she handed it over to Koushiro.

The urge was overwhelming. Decision made, and before she could second guess herself, she stood up and made her way inside Sora's bedroom like an impostor. The bed was neatly made, aside from Mimi's purple bathrobe carelessly thrown over a corner. The desk held a stack of books and a charging laptop. The dresser had a simple jewelry box and a vase of silk flowers.

The bookcase next to it held her Digimental.

Hikari took a deep breath. This is your Digimental, she told herself. You are allowed to touch it.

She picked it up and turned it over in her hands. Most of it was familiar to her: the silvery color, the clawed feet, the emblazoned Crest of Light. But...had there always been a ring around it?

As if aware of her scrutiny, the ring glowed, suffusing the Digimental with warmth. Hikari touched it.

Everything happened in the blink of an eye. The ring enlarged and loosened, flying up before falling to her hand where it shrank to a size of a human ring. At the same time, the Digimental disappeared, replaced by a D-Terminal.

Letting out a breath, Hikari set the D-Terminal aside to better examine the object in her hand. If she wasn't mistaken - and she doubted she was, considering she had seen this plenty of times in her life -

She was holding Tailmon's Holy Ring.

Trembling, she closed her hand around it. If she hadn't been sure yesterday, she was absolutely convinced now. The Digimental had indeed brought her to Tailmon, except the Tailmon in this world was LadyDevimon.

"I waited and waited for you," her partner had once confided, burying her face in Hikari's shoulder. "I still have nightmares when I think about what would've happened to me if I never found you."

It had been too horrible for Hikari to imagine, yet that was the fate of this Tailmon, who did wait in vain for a partner who had been long gone, eventually condemned to a path of no return. A Tailmon who was so destroyed by darkness that she succumbed, losing herself.

There is light and darkness in everyone, she'd once told her brother, and despite everything that had happened in its aftermath, she had truly believed those words. She still did. After all, she was the embodiment of Light and she had succumbed to the darkness more times than almost everyone else. Light and darkness were two sides of the same coin.

As determination slowly took hold, Hikari clutched the ring so tightly that later she would see an imprint on her palm. The Tailmon of this world might have been corrupted by the darkness, but there was still a chance to save her. There must be a way to save her. And she would find it and save her, make up for all the others she hadn't been able to save.

She stumbled back to the living room, to the little cabinet Sora lent her to keep her few possessions, and located her D3. Then she ran back into the bedroom. The intent wasn't to go to the Digital World now and talk down LadyDevimon - that would be reckless and suicidal, especially in her current state - but maybe she could track her down. Maybe she could find a way to communicate with her, the way the other Chosens could communicate with their partners. And then, with a combination of her D3 and the Holy Ring, there might be a chance of purifying her.

If she could save LadyDevimon, she could also save Daisuke, Miyako, and all of the other corrupted Chosen Children.

In any case, there was no time to lose. She had to try.

Whispering a silent apology to Sora, Hikari booted up her laptop and aimed her D3 at the screen.


Marketing class dragged on as the professor droned. Though Sora was surrounded by diligent classmates typing away on their laptops or tablets, her own mind was elsewhere.

She'd never enjoyed her classes, or even her degree. She'd picked this university primarily for its location and the degree for her mother, who thought a business degree would be useful for her dreams of expanding the flower shop. Nevertheless, even if it often felt like a slog, college was a means to an end, a distraction from everything else that felt out of her control.

For a while, she did feel that she achieved some semblance of control, some balance in her life. College, flower shop, the very occasional meetup about the Digital World. Until the past week, where her life started to transform into a derailing train. Taichi's long lost sister in her living room for who knows how long, meetings in her cramped living room, and a faint but uncertain light at the end of the tunnel.

She hadn't been lying to Mimi and Taichi that she didn't mind being Hikari's temporary guardian. The arrangement made sense and she'd developed somewhat of a big sister complex after years of protecting Takeru. In some strange way, taking care of Hikari even felt like atonement for forgetting Taichi's sister had once existed. Still, none of this changed the fact that she wished that the universe could give her five minutes of peace from time to time.

The professor steadily advanced through his hundred-slide deck. Sora ran a tired hand through her hair and looked down at her almost blank notepad. She did not know how she was going to muster the energy for two (and possibly more) hours of Mimi after this.

After class finally ended, she sent the promised message. Done with class. Are you at the park?

Mimi responded almost immediately, sending her current location. Sora joined the sea of classmates exiting the classroom and slipped out of the building before anyone could ask her for notes or homework.

She found Mimi on a park bench, surrounded by snack wrappers and slurping a bottle of Ramune.

"What flavor?" she said by way of greeting.

"Sangria." Mimi's response was met with raised eyebrows. "How was class?"

"About what you can expect," Sora said, sinking down beside her. "Turns out product diversification is important to growing a business."

Mimi tutted in sympathy and handed her a 7-11 bag. "Here, I got you an egg sando. And you're welcome to anything else that's left."

Sora wore a faint smile as she took the sandwich and peered inside the bag, eventually picking out another bottle of Ramune - this one melon-flavored - and the KitKats. "Is this the fancy lunch that you promised me?"

Mimi waved a dismissive hand. "Nah, that's for later."

Sora felt a wave of affection for her friend. Yes, Mimi could be a handful and self-centered, but every once in a while, she could glimpse the girl who hated to see others get hurt and wore her heart on her sleeve. She shouldn't have been so impatient this morning. Her mother always did lament her temper. Just like a redhead, she would say, after their latest bout.

She slumped against the bench. "I was a little cross this morning."

Mimi reached over to squeeze her arm. "Thanks for indulging me anyway."

The girls exchanged a smile and Sora tore into her egg sando.

"Sora," Mimi said, after a few minutes of comfortable silence. She sounded hesitant, like she'd wanted to ask the question for some time but had been afraid to. "Do you think it's strange that we haven't heard from Gennai in a while?"

Sora stopped mid-bite, then swallowed. Gennai wasn't a consistent correspondent so she hadn't thought it strange.

"Why do you ask?"

Mimi leaned forward on her elbows, staring at the small lake in front of them. "I just have this feeling that we should be hearing from him. I mean, he goes through all the trouble to find the eighth child for us, sends us a poem and opens portals and whatever, and now he's completely silent. You think he would send us some clue as to what to do next, you know?"

"Maybe he thinks that Hikari can explain everything," she said, after some consideration.

"Maybe, but an explanation isn't enough," Mimi said quietly. "It's pretty clear what worked for her and her friends isn't going to work for us."

Sora cast her mind back to Hikari's account of how they'd defeated Vamdemon. She was less pessimistic than Mimi, but she had to admit that they had much more of an uphill battle after eight years of stalemate. Slowly she crumpled the wrapper of her finished sandwich.

"We can talk to Koushiro about it later today," she said. "He might figure out a way for us to get in contact with Gennai. I'm sure he's fine."

"When I last saw Palmon -" Mimi began, but stopped abruptly to grab Sora's hand. "Look over there."

A teenaged girl with long lavender hair and round glasses was walking towards a small lake, startling a flock of birds that had gathered to peck at fallen fruits. The girl wasn't paying attention to them, but it wasn't her that mattered.

What mattered was what she held in her hand. A tag with a pink crest.

Sora sat up. "No way," she whispered. She had not seen this in years.

"I saw another person pass by earlier with a crest," Mimi whispered back. "But I wasn't sure at the time. Now there are more of them."

Sora looked around. Was she going crazy or did there seem to be more school-aged children than there should be on a school day?

"It seems like they are patrolling this area."

Mimi lowered the brim of her hat. "Do you think they recognize us?"

"Probably," Sora said. There was a boy with a round bowl cut who was looking directly at them. "Wouldn't be surprised if they tracked us here."

Mimi studied her hand mirror, which she was using to see behind them. "How long has this been going on? I thought they stopped searching a while ago."

Sora thought back. "I mean, I haven't been paying attention, but I haven't seen tags and crests around here in forever. Didn't Gennai say that Vamdemon had moved his focus from Tokyo?"

A thought occurred to her then. Sora grabbed her phone from her bag and started typing out a message, her fingers moving as quickly as they could over the cramped keyboard.

The same thought seemed to have occurred to her friend. "Do you think -"

Sora nodded, feeling grim. "Yeah, I think they know that Hikari is here, and they are coming after her." She paused. "And after us."

In unison, they looked up at the sky. It would be the last sunny day for a while.


Here

Sometimes, Miyako truly believed that Gennai was the most frustrating entity to ever exist, and that was saying a lot, given the cast of characters she'd met over the years as the cashier of her family's convenience store.

The argument - or discussion, depending on the point of view - had been going on for hours. Gennai's message contained two parts: the configuration of cards necessary to open the portal to the universe that kidnapped Hikari, and a hologram of Gennai who was calmly standing in the middle of Koushiro's study.

"So, let's summarize. Again." Taichi raked a frustrated hand through his unruly hair. Koushiro and Sora stood on either side of him, arms crossed and frowning. "We figured out the right arrangement of cards. If we can still access Vamdemon's old castle, the portal should still be there. The longer we wait, the less likely we can bring Hikari back."

Gennai's hologram hummed in agreement.

"So. Why can't we go now?"

Gennai clasped his hands together. Miyako exchanged a look with Ken. Another convoluted answer incoming.

"First, I must remind you that I am only a recording of the real Gennai," he said. "I must remind you that I only have the answers he shared with me."

Koushiro sighed. "Yes, we've established that. Multiple times."

"When the time is right," Gennai continued, "when the stars truly align, only then can your journey truly begin."

"Why does it have to be so difficult?" Takeru demanded from his corner, where he had been sitting with Yamato. "Why can't we just have a straight answer for once?"

Gennai eyed him. "Boundaries that lie between worlds can't be so easily breached. Otherwise we would have leaks from parallel worlds all the time."

"So basically, the cards are necessary but insufficient to establish the portal," Ken said.

"Indeed. You have to wait until the boundary is weakened, and only then can you defy parallelism."

"How would we know?"

"There was a really bad rainstorm the day Hikari was gone," Takeru said, musing out loud.

Koushiro was nodding. "And weather patterns have always been a bit unpredictable whenever the Digital World and ours establish a prolonged connection. So that could be the key to identify the correct timing."

Daisuke leaned forward. "What are we supposed to do until then?" he demanded.

Gennai moved his gaze to the ceiling, as if contemplating something nobody else could see.

"Be prepared, Chosen Children."


tbc

(end of part one)


Chapter 5 was always meant to be a milestone chapter that finishes the setup. We're probably between 1/3 and 1/2 of the way through the story. The pacing should speed up going forward.

I realize there are errors in earlier chapters (e.g. high school uniform according to Tri is blue, not green; I've been misspelling Vamdemon's name since forever) but will prioritize getting new chapters out while I have some momentum.

I'm very shy in real life, so I don't consistently engage with reviews and messages, but just know that your support means a lot to me and I do take what you say in mind.