The night was lit with an unhealthy orange glow. A bell rang wildly, calling all the town's citizens to awaken and seek safety. Some brave citizens had started a bucket brigade, passing water from the nearest fountains and wells to others further down the line, so that they could try to douse the flames or wet the nearby houses to keep the flames from spreading. Children wailed in fright as their mothers attempted to carry them away from the fires. No matter what the townspeople did, the fire kept spreading.
Meanwhile, the Legendary Warriors were hiding at the end of an alley.
"I never thought I'd wish to see Ranamon," Kouji said. "I'll bet she could do something about this."
"Well, she's not here," said Izumi factually, "and we are, so we'd better think of something to do for ourselves."
Tomoki frowned slightly. "I bet if I turned into Samuimon, I could snow the fires out... but I don't know if that's a good idea or not."
"You might have to do it anyway," said Junpei, looking up at the firelit sky. "Otherwise there won't be any of this place left."
"There is that," Kouji admitted. "But if we interfere, it's bound to make him angrier than he already is. He'll attack us again."
"What we need," said Kouichi, "is some way to get him to calm down for six seconds - long enough to get that sword away from him. I just can't think of a way to do it without getting hacked to bits in the process."
"I guess hoping he'll get tired and go to sleep is out of the question," said Junpei wistfully.
"Somehow, I doubt that," Kouji replied.
They sat there for a moment in dejected silence, each silently hoping that one of the others would suddenly have an idea that would make everything better. In the background, they could hear the rush of flames, the clang of the warning bell, and the hubbub of various Digimon screaming and shouting to each other. One high-pitched wail seemed to be coming slowly closer.
"Do you hear what I hear?" asked Neemon.
Kouji ran to the end of the alley and peeked out into the street. What he saw was something like a small fireball heading his way in a hurry. He ducked as it whizzed over his head, and a few seconds later, it collided with a heap of empty crates. Out of the wreckage came Witchmon, still clutching her smouldering broom and dancing around crazily as she attempted to beat out the flames on her skirt.
"Somebody help meeeeee!" she wailed.
Kouji sighed resignedly, and then tackled her, shoving her to the ground. She gave a muffled squeak as she hit the hard-packed earth, but thankfully didn't struggle too much, and Kouji was able to beat the flames out.
"There," he said, standing up and brushing himself off. "Takuya is bad enough; we don't need another person flying around setting fires."
"I wasn't setting fires," Witchmon muttered, trying to put her hat back on straight. Nearby, her cat was picking his way out of the wreckage and sitting down to groom himself. "I was trying to un-set a fire, but it wouldn't listen to me."
The others crept out of the alley to have a look at the newcomer.
"Oh, look, it's her again," said Neemon. "Hi there! What are you doing here?"
She frowned and looked at her much-abused broom. "I was just flying overhead, and I hit some turbulence. Then I kind of crashed."
"The fires must be messing with the air currents up there," Izumi mused.
"You'd be the expert," said Junpei.
"What's with all the bonfires?" asked Witchmon. "Are you having a festival?"
"Not hardly," said Kouji dryly. "We're having a problem."
"Oh," she said. She looked around. "I guess things are a little out of control, kind of."
"Takuya got hold of the Blade of Coruage," said Tomoki helpfully, "and now he's gone ballistic. He's burning everything up, and we haven't figured out how to stop him yet. Got any ideas?"
"I kind of doubt it," Kouji said.
Tomoki shrugged. "It doesn't hurt to ask. None of us thought of anything."
"Well, if we can't think of anything, what makes you think she's going to-"
"Have you tried the Pipes of Peace?" asked Witchmon.
Everyone stared at her. She blinked.
"What? What did I say?" she asked.
"What have the Pipes of Peace got to do with it?" Kouji asked.
"Well, they're pretty close by, so I thought you might have tried to use them to get him to settle down. I thought it would have worked," she answered blithely.
"What do you mean, pretty close by?" Kouichi asked eagerly. "You know where they are?"
"Sure," she said. "Didn't you?"
Everyone continued to stare at her.
"Oh," she said. "I guess you didn't."
"Are you trying to say," asked Izumi, "that you've known where one of the Fabled Artifacts was all along, and you never said anything?"
"Why would she tell us?" Kouichi commented. "It's not like she's on our side."
"That doesn't matter. We need to know now, and she ought to tell us," said Izumi, with her usual stubbornness. "So spill."
"Umm..." said Witchmon. "I don't really know that much, really. I just know what I heard from Wisemon and Lilithmon, and they don't really explain things to me, so I might have it wrong, but..."
"I think you're intimidating her," said Kouichi gently, stepping between Izumi and Witchmon. He turned to face the frightened spellcaster. "Just tell us what you know, and we'll figure out if we can use it or not."
"Oh. Okay. Umm... lemme think..." Her brow furrowed in thought. "Well, the way I remember it, there was this warrior, see, and a musician, and they were best friends. The warrior guarded a city - not this one, see, but another one, out in the desert. A big stone city. The musician stayed inside the walls and would help him relax when he came home. One day, some monsters came and attacked the city, and the warrior killed the warlord and took his sword as a trophy. Only, see, the sword was really the Blade of Courage, and it drove him crazy. The musician begged the king of the city to let him take the Pipes of Peace out of the royal treasury. They had been sealed up in there so no one could use them, but he knew they were the only thing that would save his friend. He took the Pipes and lured the warrior out into a cave in the desert, and then he started playing a song on the Pipes. When his friend heard it, he calmed down and realized what had happed, so he threw the sword out into the desert as far as he could. Then he fell fast asleep. The musician stopped playing, but there were still echoes in the cave, and when he heard the echoes, he fell asleep too. The legend says they've been sleeping there so long, they've both turned to stone. The Pipes are supposed to still be there, but nobody's ever been able to get them out."
"Why not?" asked Tomoki curiously.
"Dunno," Witchmon answered with a shrug. "They say there's still a curse or something on the cave, and anyone who tries to go in there will fall under the spell, too. They say the Pipes are still playing in there. I dunno how. I mean, the guy is asleep, isn't he? He can't play music if he's asleep."
"Do you know where the cave is?" asked Kouji.
"Well, yeah," she said. "Just nobody goes there because of the spell. Anyone who tries, they come back all sort of droopy, like they just don't care anymore." She shrugged. "It wears off after a little while, but they can never take the Pipes because they always give up before they get to the end of the cave."
"Would the Pipes of Peace really break the Blade's spell?" Kouichi asked Bokomon.
"It would make sense," Bokomon answered. "The Blade produces unbridled rage; the Pipes cause unshakeable apathy. The two together would likely cancel each other out. And there does appear to be some historical precedent..."
"So we need the Pipes," Tomoki declared. "Are they near here? Could we find them, if we looked?"
"I guess..." said Witchmon doubtfully. "If you don't get lost in the desert first. There's a lot of sand out there, you know, and it all looks the same, so if you don't know where you're going..."
"Great," Junpei muttered. "We'll never find it in time, if we have to search the whole desert!"
Izumi looked at Bokomon. "Your book wouldn't tell where this cave is, would it?"
"I'm afraid not," said Bokomon. "I admit to having heard fragments of the legend, but I never knew exactly where the cave itself is hidden."
"Why are you asking him?" asked Kouji. "She knows where the cave is! We can just ask her."
"She's under no compulsion to tell us," Kouichi reminded his brother. "She's not on our side. You can't make her tell us anything."
"We need the information to get Takuya back!" snapped Kouji. "If she doesn't want to tell us, we should make her tell us!"
"How?" asked Junpei. "What are you going to do, fight her?"
"Don't you think I could do it?"
"I don't know if she could fight back," Junpei replied.
Kouji shot a guilty look at Witchmon and then quickly looked away.
"I'm not talking about torturing anyone," he muttered. "It's just... we need this. And it's partly my fault that we're in this mess. I've got to do something - and if finding those Pipes is what it takes, then I'll do whatever it takes to get them!"
Witchmon stared at him. "Did you do something wrong?"
"Um, well... Kind of," he said. More defensively, he added, "It's no big thing. We just had an argument, and..."
"And Kouji is blaming himself for something that's not his fault," Izumi finished. "For the last time, it's not your fault Takuya went and did something stupid, and you probably couldn't have stopped him by any way other than pounding him into the dirt... which would have had its own set of problems, come to think of it. So knock it off already!"
"You had a fight with your friend?" asked Witchmon. "Is that what this is about? That's sad... I don't even have any friends to fight with."
"It happens, sometimes," said Junpei, "We always patch things up eventually."
"So it'll be better if you find the Pipes of Peace?" Witchmon persisted.
"I... guess," said Kouji, who looked mildly confused. He wasn't entirely sure she was still following the thread of the conversation, and he was getting a bit lost trying to figure out where she was coming from.
"Then maybe I will help," said Witchmon. "I know I'm always messing things up. It would be nice to have someone to help me when I mess up. Besides," she added more brightly, "they only told me I'm supposed to keep you from looking for the Fabled Artifacts, and you'd have to look for the Pipes if I didn't tell you where to find them, so it's better if I just tell you, right? Then you'll already have them, and you won't have to look."
"Um. Yeah," said Junpei.
Neemon scratched his head. "I think I almost understood that."
"Don't bother trying to explain," said Kouji. He turned back to Witchmon. "If you can help, I would... be very grateful."
Izumi nodded. "Right. So you and Kouichi can go with Witchmon and get the Pipes, and the rest of us will stay here."
"What?" Kouichi explained. "Why us two?"
"Isn't it obvious?" said Kouji. "We're the only two who can't evolve. We're of no use here. The rest of the gang can stay here and try to keep Flamon under control and put the fires out."
"In the interest of historical observation, I think I should go as well," said Bokomon, drawing himself up nobly. "Purely in the spirit of preservation - er, preserving a historic moment for posterity, you understand."
Izumi smiled a little. "That's all right, Bokomon - we don't mind if you go with them."
"Well, if we're going, let's go. No point in wasting more time here," said Kouji. "Are you going to walk with us, Witchmon?"
"I guess I have to," she said, looking gloomily at the wreckage of her broom. "I wish I didn't keep breaking this thing."
"If this works out, I promise we'll get you a new one," said Kouichi, giving her a reassuring smile. Witchmon beamed at him.
"Come on, Neemon," said Bokomon. "We're leaving now, before this place burns down around our ears."
Neemon had gotten bored of the debate and had been sifting through a heap of garbage.
"I found a pretty bottle!" he said, holding up what appeared to be an empty vinegar bottle.
Bokomon rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Come on!"
Neemon sighed and tucked his treasure in the band of his pants, and then went scampering off after his best friend.
Getting out of town proved relatively easy. Thus far, most of the destruction seemed to be contained in a central area; it had not yet reached all the outlying buildings. Most of the places that were blazing now were shops; losing them would be bad for the community, but few Digimon lived in that area, leaving most of the town time to hear of the danger and escape to safety. The fringes of town were dark and deserted. Soon, Witchmon and her reluctant followers had left the town entirely.
This is better, thought Kouichi, as he passed beyond the last of the buildings and found himself walking freely under the stars. It was a relief to be out of the town, away from the red glare of the fires. With his back to the blaze, he would have been able to convince himself that nothing was wrong if he couldn't still hear the warning bell ringing. Strange as it was, he felt better now that he could no longer see the fire. Night was supposed to be dark, and the part of him that was linked to Darkness felt bothered that someone had lit things up on such a grand scale. I wonder how Kouji feels about that? Would he like for things to be lit up, if it didn't mean burning the town down?
He glanced at his brother and sensed seething frustration. Of course, he wanted to go back and fight, and the knowledge that he couldn't was burning him up in a way nearly as intolerable as the flames would be. The fact that he was being forced to rely on someone he didn't fully believe was trustworthy couldn't be helping.
"It'll be all right," Kouichi told him. "I don't think she'll lead us astray."
"I know you don't think that," Kouji replied. "Don't get me wrong - she's likeable enough. She just doesn't seem very reliable. You can't trust someone whose loyalties are divided. Even if she's not leading us into a trap, do you really think she's not capable of getting lost out here?"
"Well, maybe," Kouichi answered sheepishly.
Kouji sighed. "I just wish I could be back there helping the others."
"Just keep telling yourself that this is the important thing," Kouichi replied. "It's not enough to fight right now. This isn't an enemy we can destroy. All the others are doing is damage control; we're doing the real work.
"I know, but still. Kouichi... why do you think we can't evolve? Why just us?"
Kouichi frowned a little. "There has to be a reason for it. There must be something special about Light and Darkness that we haven't thought of yet."
"Hmm," said Kouji, looking speculatively up at the stars. "I wonder..."
"Now isn't the time to be experimenting," said Kouichi. "Losing Takuya is enough right now. Maybe later."
"Later," Kouji agreed.
They plodded steadily into the night, keeping as brisk a pace as they could. The route Witchmon was leading them was off the beaten path, and it was difficult work walking on the shifting sands. Witchmon's tall boots protected her well enough, with Cat riding on her shoulder, and the Digimon had no problem walking on their bare feet, but the two humans quickly found their shoes filled with sand. After a few minutes of this, Kouji finally gave up and stripped off his shoes and socks, shaking them out as best he could and stuffing them into his bag. Kouichi did likewise, thinking to himself that everything he owned was going to be coated in sand after this. It did make the going a little easier. The sand was warm from the day's heat, and powder-soft, but it was still tricky going in places. Climbing up the hard-packed sides of dunes was easy, but on the leeward side, they sank into the soft sand nearly up to their knees. A night wind was blowing, occasionally flicking plumes of sand into their faces.
"How far away is this cave, anyway?" asked Kouichi, suddenly realizing he should have asked that question sooner.
"Not far," was the reply. "Maybe, um... four miles? Six? Less than ten. It's hard to judge. I always fly."
"But it's definitely this way, right?" Kouichi asked.
Witchmon stopped walking a moment and scanned the skies; her cat raised his nose to sniff the wind. She raised one finger to trace a line of stars, her expression one of deepest concentration. Lowering her gaze, she noted the location of various distant rock formations.
"Definitely this way," she said at last. "I'm glad the moons aren't bright tonight. It makes it easier to see the stars."
"That's got to be a useful talent, finding your way around by the stars," Kouichi commented.
"They made me learn it," said Witchmon. "Stars are important to magic and stuff. It has to do with how they all line up. I forget which alignments have to be where to do what spell, but I can usually remember where the stars are. It's handy when I'm flying up above the clouds. Otherwise I'd get really lost."
"Hm," said Kouji. "Maybe we should learn that. It could come in handy, someday."
Witchmon looked pleased, and Kouichi laughed and nudged his brother.
"That's the first nice thing you've almost said about her," he said.
"Hm," said Kouji, coloring a little.
They trudged onwards. Gradually, the ground became rougher, as rocks jutted from the sand. A few formations were higher than the twins' heads. Years of wind and sand had carved them into peculiar formations; in the uncertain light, they looked like hunched beasts or peculiar plants. Others resembled the arches and towers of a mystic city. They would likely have been beautiful in full daylight, but at night, they had a vaguely menacing feel. Kouichi thought it looked like the remains of a forest that had been turned to stone by some strange spell. The wind whistled through these odd formations like demented music.
At length, they were able to see that they were heading for one particular formation that was much larger than the others, a small mountain of stone that towered over everything else. Even from a distance, it was possible to see that a dark crack ran partway down its center.
"Is that it?" Kouji asked.
Witchmon nodded, plainly delighted in having done something correctly for a change. "That's the place!"
"I thought it would be more, somehow," Kouji said. "Like... I don't know, a secret temple, or something."
"But it's not a temple," said Witchmon, looking puzzled. "It's a cave. Nobody uses it for much. I think they carved it out a long, long time ago, in the war, to store weapons and things. But not anymore. Lilithmon made me learn about the war, because she was there."
"I guess some of that makes sense," Kouichi replied. "So the next question is, how do we get in? If there's supposed to be magic protecting the place, it won't be easy."
"We don't know there's magic. It could be just a story to keep people from going in and messing with the Pipes," Kouji pointed out. "I know if I knew there was something so dangerous nearby, I'd think of a reason to keep people from going in and trying to take them."
"The correct answer, then," said Bokomon, "would be to send someone in to have a look." Everyone turned to look at him thoughtfully, and he quickly added, "Not that I'm volunteering! You don't want to send me! Even if it was perfectly safe, I'm not the one to go claiming a Fabled Artifact."
"Well, it's obvious we can't send Neemon or Witchmon," Kouji muttered. "I'm not sure either of them could remember what we sent them in there to do at the best of times."
"You go," said Kouichi. "I can't imagine even magic putting you off from doing something you wanted to do."
Kouji thought about it a moment, then nodded. "Fine. I'll have a look. Probably there's nothing there anyway."
"Good luck!" Witchmon said, and her cat added a yowl of encouragement.
Kouji nodded in response, and then struck out alone toward the rock. Kouichi, feeling bereft without his twin, stood and kept watch over him as he made his way closer to the cave.
"There he goes," he said, as he saw Kouji disappear into the cracked stone.
"I'll take your word for it," Bokomon replied. "I lost sight of him quite a while ago. You really do have the most remarkable night vision."
"It's only worked like that since I came to the Digital World," Kouichi replied. "I can't do it at home."
"Even so, it is remarkable," Bokomon said. "But then, very little is known about the effects of humans traveling to the Digital World. Even legends of visits from humans are sparse. Until you all were seen here, we barely knew what one looked like. Perhaps the journey from your world to ours causes some kind of fundamental change that makes it possible for you to do these things. You say it would be impossible for you to do them in your world?"
"Yeah, magic's pretty scarce, where we come from - if it exists at all," Kouichi replied.
Inside, he was thinking, A fundamental change, he says? Hmm... He was used to thinking of himself as being no more or less than himself... unless, perhaps, he was using a Spirit to turn into a Digimon. When he was wandering around in human form, he hadn't deeply considered the idea that he would become something radically different just because he'd taken a train ride. He supposed he should have known better, but it was so easy to think that he wasn't different just because he didn't look different. He filed the notion away with the other thoughts that had been simmering in the back of his mind about the nature of this place.
"Hey, look!" he said suddenly. "Kouji's back!"
Sure enough, Kouji was walking slowly out into the open again. Even from this distance, Kouichi could tell that he was empty-handed. He watched as his brother wandered around in a small circle before finally picking out a nearby rock and dropping down onto it in an attitude of exhaustion. Kouichi frowned.
"Looks like trouble," he muttered. "Let's go have a look."
Despite the troubled look he got from Bokomon, Kouichi raced off over the sand to check on his twin. After a moment of debate, Witchmon scurried after him. The two of them found Kouji still sitting on his rock, staring dully up at the sky. He didn't even notice when they came quite close to him. Cat jumped off of Witchmon's shoulder and trotted up to him, pawing at his knee curiously. There was no response.
"Kouji?" Kouichi asked. "Are you okay, Kouji? Can you hear me?"
Very slowly, Kouji focused on his brother.
"Oh. Hi," he said.
"What happened to you?" asked Witchmon.
Kouji thought a moment. "I don't know. Something."
"That's no good," Kouichi muttered. "Come on, wake up!"
He waved a hand in front of Kouji's face, and when that brought no reaction, he gripped his brother's shoulder and shook him lightly. The contact seemed to rouse him, and he blinked and looked around.
"How did I get out here?" he asked.
"You walked," Witchmon said helpfully.
He gave a her a glare. Ordinarily, Kouichi might have been a little annoyed, but at the moment he took this as a sign that everything was normal.
"I know that," said Kouji. "I mean, the last thing I remember, I was walking into that cave, and next thing I know..."
"You don't remember anything at all?" Kouichi asked.
Kouji frowned a little. "Hmm... I went in, and everything seemed normal for a while. Then I heard a sound. Not exactly music, just like something whistling off-key. I thought it was just the wind, at first - there's a draft coming from somewhere in there - but then I started to feel so tired. I tried to shut it out, but it gets into your bones..."
"I guess sticking our fingers in our ears won't work," said Kouichi dryly. "Well, now we're in a nice pickle. We know the Artifact is in there, but we can't get it out!"
"There's got to be some way," Kouji muttered. "I'm not giving up while we're this close!"
He sat a while in silence, pondering the puzzle they had been confronted with. After a few moments, Bokomon and Neemon decided that the area must be safe, and they crept up to join their companions. Witchmon fidgeted nearby. Kouichi paced restlessly back and forth in front of the cave, occasionally stopping to stare into its depths as if expecting to see an answer down there somewhere. He could hear nothing, but he was sure there had to be something magical at the end of the tunnel. As he walked, he noticed that there was indeed a light breeze issuing from the mouth of the cavern, gently stirring the sand at his feet.
Meanwhile, Neemon had gotten bored with waiting for everyone to think of something, and as thinking of something obviously wasn't a job he could do himself, he had taken the bottle he had found earlier and was playing with it. He filled it with sand and emptied it a few times, making a series of little piles of dust, but became frustrated when the ever-present wind blew them all away. He tried looking through the bottle like a telescope, but discovered that he couldn't see anything interesting through it. Then he tried blowing over the top of the bottle, and was pleased to find that he could coax a noise out of it. He tooted merrily on the bottle before Kouji finally got annoyed and took it away.
"Give it back! Give it!" Neemon wailed, dancing around and trying to get his toy back. Kouji held it out of his reach.
"Not unless you promise to be quiet," said Kouji. "We're trying to think, here!"
"But I'm bored!" Neemon comlained.
"Wait a minute," said Kouichi. "I've just gotten an idea!"
"From an empty bottle?" asked Witchmon.
Kouichi nodded. "I was just thinking - isn't it weird that wind is blowing out of a cave? There must be another opening somewhere, and the wind is coming in through there. We need to find that spot."
"What difference will that make?" asked Bokomon. "You'll be able to hear the Pipes no matter which way you go in."
"I don't think that's what he means," said Kouji, as comprehension dawned. "Pipes make music when air blows over them. That's what's making the sound - wind is blowing through the cave and over the openings on the Pipes. If we can block off the opening, they'll stop playing, and we can get in!"
"It's worth a shot," said Kouichi. "Let's start looking."
The four of them split up and began searching the rock for alternate entrances. When a search of the perimeter revealed nothing, Kouji put his shoes back on and climbed up on top of the rock. There, he was able to find a large hole, roughly three feet wide, near the pinnacle of the hill. Kouichi and Witchmon scrambled up to join them, and together the three were able to pile several rocks over top of it, blocking the air flow.
"That ought to do it!" said Kouji, looking down at the slabs of rock they'd assembled. He dusted his hands off on his jeans.
"Let's go down and try this again," Kouichi replied. "All together, this time."
They scrambled down the side of the hill and regrouped with Bokomon and Neemon, who had been watching their feats of mountain climbing from a safe vantage point on the ground. The five of them trooped around to the front of the cave. The breeze Kouichi had noticed before seemed to have vanished. Feeling encouraged, they went inside.
The first thing they noticed was that it was completely dark. The three moons had lit the desert well enough that the reflective sand made it seem almost as bright as day, but all that stopped five feet through the cave's entrance. Beyond that point, their eyes were useless. Fortunately, the floor was flat and smooth, cushioned by a thin layer of sand that softened any irregularities, and the passage didn't veer in the slightest. It did get wider as they went on, and from time to time, they would come across the remains of some ancient weaponry that had been stored there eons ago, but Kouichi was able to spot and guide his friends past these obstacles. Witchmon, despite her apparent clumsiness, didn't appear to have any troubles navigating by herself. Kouichi found himself thinking about what he'd heard about cats and their ability to see in the dark, and wondered just how closely she was linked to her feline familiar. There had to be something magical about that cat; such creatures didn't seem any more natural to this world than Digimon would back home.
At last, they came to a place where the tunnel walls opened abruptly into a small chamber. Kouji, who had been using the wall as a guide, almost stumbled as his support disappeared, and Kouichi quickly reached to steady him. Witchmon said something uninteligible, and there was a flash of yellowish light. Kouichi blinked in the sudden brightness, and saw that she had taken out what appeared to be a glass ball, which was shining softly.
"It's one of Wisemon's," she said, as if she felt it required some explanation. "My light spell hasn't been working very well lately, and this is easier."
No one bothered to comment. They were looking around the room, what there was of it. It was little more than a roughly carved out circle of empty space, the walls of which were piled with old pieces of armor and weaponry, most of which were showing signs of serious wear. Neemon poked a wooden shield and jumped back in surprise as it crumbled to dust at its touch. Kouichi, however, was much more interested in what was sitting on a pedestal in the middle of the room.
It appeared to be a simple set of wooden panpipes, stained to a glossy black and held together with bits of thin gold and silver wire. Other than that, they were unadorned, but he knew at once that they were the mythical Artifact he was searching for. He noted with some satisfaction that there was a hole in the wall just across from where they were sitting, suitable for funneling any stray breezes over the openings of the Pipes to call forth the unearthly music that had entranced his brother.
"Do you want them?" he asked Kouji.
Kouji shook his head. "I already have one," he said, gesturing with the Staff. "You take them."
Kouichi nodded - he had suspected all along that things would fall out this way - and reached out to take the Pipes. They felt cool to the touch, and smooth as glass. For a moment, he thought wistfully of how beautiful they must sound, and found himself envying Kouji the chance to hear them. He put the thought roughly out of his mind, reminding himself that he would hear them soon enough, when the time came for them to serve their purpose. The thought nagged at him anyway. Kouichi resolutely shoved the Pipes into his bag where he couldn't see them.
"Right," he said. "Let's go find Takuya."
There was snow coming down in the desert. It made a peculiar image: the sandy streets filled with snowdrifts, and gleaming off of that, the reddish light of a fire. Samuimon staggered a few paces towards the next blaze, but he stumbled and fell face-forward in the street. Choumon sighted him from above and swooped down from the sky to land next to him.
"Are you all right?" she asked. Her insect-like eyes didn't convey emotion very well, but there was concern in her voice.
"I'm tired," Samuimon said simply. "It's too hot out here for me. I'm running out of strength."
"It will be okay," Choumon said soothingly. "Help is coming. Here, let me try to cool you down."
She flitted over to one of the snow piles and fluttered her wings, fanning the cold air in the direction of the little polar bear. Samuimon seemed to revive a little.
"Thanks," he said. "I needed that."
"Hey, what are you doing down there?" called a voice from the sky. Mushimon had been hurling lightning bolts down at Flamon, trying to keep him contained, but had been driven back as the heat became too much for him to handle. "You're supposed to be helping me!"
"Samuimon was in trouble," Choumon explained. "He needs my help, too!"
"I'm fine," Samuimon insisted. "I just needed to catch my breath. I'll be fine, really!"
Mushimon dropped down next to them both. He staggered a little as he landed, and managed to prop himself up on a nearby wall.
"Sorry," he said. "Sorry for yelling. I'm kinda tired, too."
"Help is coming," Samuimon assured him.
Mushimon nodded, but the expression in his eyes was faintly puzzled. He knew, somewhere in his mind, that someone had promised to come help them, but the memory of exactly who and how and when was eluding him. All he knew was that there was something very wrong with Flamon, and that he and his companions had to defend him and everyone else until help came. They just had to hang in there. Help would come.
The next thing he felt was a sudden flare of pain across his back. He slammed into the wall he'd been resting against and bounced backwards, falling backwards in the street. Mushimon found himself looking up at the tip of a sword, which was being aimed between his eyes.
"Got you now," Flamon hissed.
Only he didn't, because Samuimon threw himself at Flamon's side and shoved him. There was a hiss as the icy Digimon and the flaming one collided, and they both sprang apart with cries of pain. Choumon fanned her wings and stirred up a rain of cutting scales, forcing Flamon to occupy himself with fending those off while Mushimon struggled to his feet.
"Are you okay?" Choumon asked him.
"Fine. He just nicked my shell a little," said Mushimon, twitching his wings in annoyance. The impact had bruised him somewhat, but he was not badly damaged. It was strange that she should be so concerned about a minor scratch, and stranger that he should feel so touched by her concern. She was his battle partner, just as Samuimon was and Flamon should be, but that didn't explain why he should feel so elated just because she was concerned over him...
"Standing up for him, huh?" Flamon growled. "Fine! I see how it is! Soon as there's trouble, you abandon me! So much for our promise!"
"Promise?" asked Samuimon. "When did we make a promise?"
Flamon scowled. "Forgot already? Huh. Figures. Figures you wouldn't remember that we promised always to be together. Forever didn't last long, did it?"
"But we didn't-" Mushimon said, and stopped. He was sure he hadn't made any such promise. Why would they? They were elementals, eternal beings. To make such a promise would be ridiculous, because they were already inextricably linked. They couldn't leave each other if they wanted to. And yet...
Flamon was so angry. Why was he so angry if he didn't feel deeply betrayed - and afraid? He really did think there was some way to lose them all.
"This doesn't make sense," said Mushimon. "Are you really Flamon?"
There wasn't an answer. Flamon frowned, lowering his sword a few inches and looking suddenly uncertain of his answer and everything else he was doing.
"You can't be," said Samuimon suddenly. "If you were really Flamon, you wouldn't be talking like this. You must be some kind of impostor!"
"I am not! I am real!" Flamon "Why won't any of you listen to me?"
"Who are you really?" Mushimon demanded.
"Stupid! I'm Takuya!"
Meanwhile, Kouji and Kouichi were racing over the sand as fast as they could go. Witchmon had been left far behind; she couldn't travel as fast as they could without her broom, and speed was of the essence right now. She had agreed to catch up to them when she could. Bokomon and Neemon had not been so willing to be left behind, so one rode on each of the boys' shoulders. A guide was no longer necessary; all they had to do was follow the red glow in the distance and the smoke rising into the sky.
"I hope there's something left for us to save," Kouji muttered. Kouichi nodded grimly.
They reached the edge of town and skidded to a stop as they paused to check their surroundings. This area of town was relatively undamaged, but the smell of smoke was heavy in the air, hindering their already labored breathing. Kouichi set Neemon back on the ground as he considered which way to go from here.
"Where do you think they are?" he asked.
There was a distant crash.
"I'd say that way," Kouji deadpanned.
They moved forward again, heading for an area that had once been a marketplace. There wasn't much left of it now, only the scattered remains of stalls and an amalgam of crushed or burnt produce. There was also a certain amount of mud and slush, courtesy of Samuimon's snow- generating abilities. In the middle of all this were four battered figures locked in a furious tussle. It was a bit hard to tell who was on whose side at the moment; the fight seemed to have degenerated into a free-for-all.
"They've all gone crazy," Kouji muttered.
"Let's see if we can fix that," Kouichi replied.
He reached into his bag and withdrew the Pipes. A thrill of anticipation ran through him; he was finally going to hear them work their magic.
This isn't for your enjoyment, he told himself sternly. This is for Takuya and the others.
With that thought fixed firmly in mind, he raised the Pipes to his lips, took a deep breath, and began to play.
Kouichi had never been a musician. His brother had a guitar he played when the mood struck him, but Kouichi's mother had never been able to afford lessons, and he had never shown much aptitude for the subject at school. He certainly didn't know anything about playing the pipes, so he wasn't expecting to make anything like a tune. However, as soon as he exhaled the first breath, the Pipes seemed to take over, filling the air with a sweet melody. It cut through the noise of the battle, the rush of flames, and the rush of the night wind, blotting out all other sounds but its own. He couldn't have described the sound, exactly, but it reminded him of when he was very young, and his mother would hold him in her arms and rock him to sleep. Nothing bad could exist as long as that song kept playing. As long as it lasted, everything would be all right, all right...
Neemon was the first to go. He listened for a moment, ears quivering, and then swayed on his feet. He flopped to the ground and curled up there, sucking his thumb. Bokomon fell victim to it soon afterwards, sitting down and staring off into the sky, apparently lost in contemplation. Kouji fought it - his face showed that he was desperately struggling against it, determined not to fall victim to its magic again - but at last he dropped to his knees and closed his eyes. Gradually, the fighting slowed, as the four elementals stopped what they were doing to listen to the music. Flamon stared in puzzlement as his opponents turned and walked away from him, slowly fading back into their human forms. He stood alone, panting, staring wildly about in search of the music.
Kouichi walked forward to meet him. Flamon spun to face him, looking first confused, then infuriated. He rushed forward with his sword raised high, preparing to smite the Pipes and their player to splinters. Kouichi kept playing, knowing that his life depended on it. The music's volume increased, echoing off every surface until the very air vibrated with it, so that Kouichi felt he was breathing music instead of air. A few inches away from Kouichi, Flamon stopped, frozen in mid-motion. Very slowly, he lowered his sword. He slipped it into its sheath. Then he took the whole thing and threw it as far away as he could. There was a flicker of orange flame, and then Flamon vanished, leaving only a haggard-looking Takuya. The magical fires faded into wisps of smoke and blew away on the night wind. Kouichi lowered the Pipes, and the sound faded.
"Takuya," he said. "Are you okay?"
Takuya didn't answer. He was staring around at the charred wreckage that surrounded him as if unable to believe what he was seeing. He dropped to his knees, gaping in silent horror. Then he collapsed entirely and curled up into a ball on the ground, shaking. When he didn't do anything else for a long time, his friends crept closer to him, watching him with wide, worried eyes. Kouji hesitantly reached out to touch him.
"Takuya," he said. "Look at us."
Takuya slowly raised his head. His face was pale. For a moment, he didn't even seem to realize who he was seeing, but then recognition flashed across his face, and he cringed away.
"I..." he began, and then choked. He closed his eyes, took a breath, and tried again. Very quietly, he said, "I'm sorry, Kouji. I really don't hate you. I didn't mean it when I said that. I didn't mean any of that..."
"It's okay," said Junpei. "You didn't know what you were doing."
Takuya shook his head stubbornly. "No. I did. I knew exactly what I was doing. I just didn't care." He looked up at his friends with fear in his eyes. "Guys, I didn't forget this time."
"Huh?" said Kouji. "Takuya, what are you talking about?"
"When I transformed," said Takuya. "That was the first time since I got here that turning into Flamon didn't make me forget. I remembered exactly what I was, and who you were. I didn't forget anything."
There was an uneasy silence. Everyone looked at each other, uncertain of what to say.
"Well, it's over now," said Izumi briskly, "and there's still some hours before daylight. Maybe the best thing for you to do is go home and get some sleep."
"I don't know if I can sleep or not," said Takuya, but he got up anyway. He cast an uneasy glance in the direction he'd thrown the Blade. "We can't just leave that thing there..."
"I'll get it," said Kouji, and ran to pick it up.
He felt a moment of trepidation as his hands closed around the sheath, but it seemed to have used up its supply of malice for the night. It felt warm in his hands, as if it had been lying in strong sunlight, but that was all. He carried it back to the rest of the group, and they began shuffling back toward what was left of their hotel to try to get some rest. Their minds, however, were anything but restful.
"Why didn't he forget?" Junpei asked quietly. Takuya, near the head of the group, didn't hear him. "All the rest of us forgot. Why didn't he?"
"Probably something to do with the sword," Izumi answered.
Tomoki frowned. "I don't know. It makes me worry. When we transform to do something good, we all forget. When he transformed to attack us, he remembered everything. If these powers are really for good, why would it happen that way? It just gets harder to remember every time. And the mirror... when we look in the mirror, it shows us as something halfway between a human and a Digimon. I'm starting to wonder... when we change like this, what are we changing into?"
They stayed for three days in the town, helping with the cleanup. Thankfully, there had been few injuries, fewer that were serious, but a great deal of damage had been done to buildings and wares, and the town's Digimon were grateful for any help they could get in putting things back together. For their part, they only thought that they had been attacked in the night by a stray marauding Digimon. No one but the Warriors and their friends seemed to know what had really happened.
It was hard for Takuya's friends to guess what was going on in his mind during that time. He worked harder than anyone at the cleaning and rebuilding that was going on, rising before the sun every morning and working until well after nightfall, and then falling into a deep sleep of utter exhaustion. He spoke very little. The Blade of Courage was stored in his room, stuffed under his bed with a stray blanket thrown over it to keep anyone from noticing it, but he hadn't touched it since he had thrown it away.
"I don't get it," said Izumi. "Why is he hiding from us?" It was the dinner hour of the third day, and Takuya was conspicuous in his absence. "It's not like we blame him for any of this."
"That," said Bokomon, "could very well be part of the problem. He feels he has done something unforgivable. The fact that we have forgiven him only makes him feel as if we don't properly understand the problem."
"So what are we supposed to do?" Kouji asked. "Tell him he's a lousy excuse for a person and we're never going to speak to him again? We can't do that!"
"Somebody's got to do something," said Tomoki. He cast a glance at the stairs that led up to the sleeping rooms, as if hoping to see Takuya come strolling down with his usual careless grin. "I miss Takuya. I don't like it when he's like this."
"I guess we'd better try to talk to him, then," said Kouichi with a sigh. "It won't be easy though. I think Bokomon's right to say that Takuya's not in a mood to be forgiven."
Izumi toyed thoughtfully with her spoon, gazing at the reflections in its polished surface. "Maybe there's a better way."
"What do you mean?" asked Kouji.
"Does it have something to do with the spoon?" asked Neemon.
"Yes. No. Kind of," said Izumi. "It put the idea in my head, anyway."
"I wish I could put ideas in my head with a spoon," Neemon said.
Izumi ignored him.
"Takuya might not listen to us," she said, "but I think I just thought of someone he might listen to. Definitely someone better suited to giving him a scolding than we are."
There was a moment of silence. Then realization slowly dawned.
"I think you might be right," said Kouji. "Let's go see if we can track him down."
A few minutes later, Takuya was sitting in his room, chewing disinterestedly at his dinner. In a little while, he expected that he would leave again, and go looking for something else that needed doing. He knew his friends were impatient to leave this place and get on with their mission, but he couldn't bring himself to leave just yet. He had made this mess, and he wanted to clean it up. It was the only thing he felt he could do to compensate for his actions. Certainly he had no more interest in acquiring any more Artifacts.
There was a knock on the door.
"Go away," said Takuya.
"Who do you think you are, telling me to go away?"
Takuya yelped. A moment later, the door opened without his help - the fact that he'd locked it didn't seem to have affected it much. Behind the door was a familiar presence, though not one that Takuya had particularly wanted to see, and he sat in stunned silence as Ogremon tried to find a way to work his broad shoulders through the narrow door. The top of his head brushed the ceiling, and he had to crouch slightly to keep his horns from snagging the overhead beams.
"So this is where you're hiding," Ogremon muttered. "Some warrior, hiding under his bed. Knew you weren't up to snuff the minute I set eyes on ya." He set his hands on his hips and leveled a glare at Takuya. "So, what have you got to say for yourself, huh? Lemme guess - you're really sorry and you'll never do it again. Izzat right?"
Takuya swallowed a few times. Then he took a breath and raised his head.
"I was the one who stole the sword," he said. "I knew it was wrong, and I did it anyway. You should take it back."
He crouched to withdraw the Blade from under his bed, carefully undoing its coat of protective blankets. He offered it to Ogremon, who glared at it as if it were something dead and rotting.
"So, you think that'll make it all better, huh?" he snarled. "Just say you're sorry and hand it back like a good little boy, and everything will be okay. Pfft!" Ogremon spat on the floor. "As if. You can't nearly burn down a whole city and expect to make everything all right again."
"Well, I don't know what else to do!" Takuya wailed. "I'm doing everything I can, but I can't fix it!"
"Right," said Ogremon. "No matter what you do, the past happened. You did something stupid, and you're gonna hafta live with that. You understand? Live with it! Don't just hide under a rock and whimper and whine and expect everybody to make a big deal out of you. You're not that special."
"I nearly burned this place down, and you think I'm not that special?" Takuya exclaimed.
"Why? You proud of that?"
"Then why does that make you special, huh? It makes you an idiot, is what it makes you, but there are plenty of those around already. Unless you're some kinda firebug that goes around lighting things on purpose, you're just a stupid kid who obviously thinks too highly of himself. Or did you just forget you're not the first one to pull a stunt like this?"
"Um," said Takuya.
"Right," Ogremon said. "That's what I thought. Too stuck on yourself to remember that anyone else ever exists. Nobody ever did anything as bad as you did, and everybody thinks you're so important that they're going to keep you in their brains forever and never have anything more interesting to worry about."
Takuya winced. "When you put it like that..."
"Thought so," said Ogremon. "So, how long do you plan to sit here and hope everybody's gonna see how noble you are for feeling so ashamed of yourself, and how long is it going to take you to get off your butt and get back to work?"
"I am working!"
"Not on what you should be," said Ogremon. For the first time, his hostile manner faded a little. "Got a little too cocky, myself, leaving that sword lyin' around where anyone could see it. You were right about that. Wasn't safe. Oughta be grateful it was taken by someone who didn't want to cause trouble."
"I really didn't mean to do that," said Takuya. "But does that mean you aren't going to take it back?"
"Why should I? I don't want it! Nothing but trouble," said Ogremon. "Nah. Take it far away from here. It's safe as long as its in the scabbard. Take it out and hide it, or destroy it. The world doesn't need things like that in it."
"Are you sure it's safe?" asked Takuya.
Ogremon gave him a glare. "How'd you think I got it up there on the wall in the first place?"
"Oh. Good point," said Takuya. He put the sword down again on his bed, but didn't hide it this time. "I'll take good care of it. You can count on it!"
"I know. Takes somebody who's been burned once to know how to handle fire," Ogremon replied.
Takuya almost smiled. "You said it."
"So... you gonna straighten up now? Your buddies are worried about you," said Ogremon. "Wouldn't shut up until I came down here and set you straight."
"So that's how you knew!" said Takuya. "Those guys... All right, all right, you win. I guess I've felt sorry for myself long enough."
"Good. Otherwise I mighta had to get serious," Ogremon grumbled. "Anyway... while I'm here, I brought you something. Wanted to give it to you earlier, but it took a while to finish."
"Huh? For me?" asked Takuya, stunned.
"Yeah. Didn't wanna throw it out, see," said Ogremon.
He reached into a pouch he wore at his waist and took out a knife in a leather sheaf. It was plain and unadorned, made entirely of some silver metal, with a thin straight blade as long as Takuya's forearm. He drew it wonderingly, as if he'd never seen anything like it before.
"What's this?" he said.
Ogremon scowled at him. "A knife, stupid. What's it look like? Hadda do something with that metal you ruined. It's no good for anything else. It's got your blood in it, so it's yours. Figured maybe if you had a blade of your own, you wouldn't have a hankering for other people's anymore."
Takuya stared at the knife a moment, turning it over in his hands.
"Yeah," he said at last. "I think this is more like what I wanted than the other thing. I'll take good care of this, too."
"You had better," Ogremon grunted. "Time you did something right. Now, don't let me catch you mopin' around this place tomorrow, or I'll chase you outta town myself!"
"I'll go, I'll go! And I'll take that with me," said Takuya, pointing at the Blade. "We'll make sure it's safe, even if we have to destroy it."
"If you can do that, it'll be more than us Ogremons could do. We've tried," said Ogremon. "That thing's tougher than it looks. You said some of your friends got their Artifacts back under control? That might be the only way to do it. Hiding it sure didn't work."
"I guess you're right," said Takuya. "Anyway... thanks, Ogremon. For everything. You're a good friend."
"Am not," said Ogremon, and stomped out the door. Takuya fought a sudden urge to laugh.
So, I'm supposed to tame the Blade, huh? Looks like I've got my work cut out for me.
He hung his new knife from his belt, where it would be close by if he ever needed it. He would never let that knife out of his sight from now on - not because he felt he would need to defend himself with it, but to remind himself of what he'd gone through to get it. Then he picked up the Blade itself, careful to touch only the scabbard.
To put this to rights, it's going to take real courage. Not just rushing out into battle, but the other kind. Admitting you're wrong, being able to put the past behind you and become stronger, being able to face your friends after you've done something really, really stupid... It's easier to face monsters. But I'm getting there.
He went downstairs. His friends were all gathered around the dining room table, nibbling at the remains of their desserts. They all looked at him curiously as he arrived, and Takuya did his best to look nonchalant.
"Did you have a nice talk with Ogremon?" asked Izumi innocently.
"I wouldn't exactly call him nice," said Takuya, "but yeah, we had a good talk. Ogremons are smarter than they look. So, anyway, I was thinking... things are just about back to normal here. The cleanup is almost done, and they don't really need us anymore, so I think it might be time for us to hit the road again, huh?"
Kouji gave him a quirked smile. "And start looking for the last of the Artifacts?"
"Yeah. I mean, there's only one left, right? Might as well finish what we started, since we've come this far," said Takuya. "I mean, the Shroud isn't even corrupted, so it should be a piece of cake!"
"You could be right," said Junpei. "Glad to have you back, Takuya."
"Aw, I just needed a little downtime, that's all," Takuya said. "So... anyway, did I miss anything interesting while I was out? Why is Neemon trying to put a spoon in his ear? Or do I really want to know?"
His friends laughed.
"Let me see if I can explain," said Kouji, and, smiling, began to fill him in.
What became of Witchmon? She never made it back to the town. Not for lack of trying - she and Cat had begun the journey with the intent of eventually reuniting with Kouji and Kouichi and all the rest, and possibly trying to help them some more. She was, after all, a creature of habit, and her memory was hardly reliable. Her training had always taught her to be useful to those around her, but up until very recently, she had never had anyone to serve but her brother and Lilithmon. Now that she was encountering new people, and she didn't quite have the training to help remind her that she wasn't supposed to be helpful all the time. Thus far, she'd wound up helping her enemies so much that it was beginning to become habit for her, and it hardly crossed her mind that she might want to rethink this expedition.
Then a dust devil swirled up in front of her, and she cringed away from the whirling sands. When it calmed, her brother was standing before her. She got a sudden feeling that maybe she might have made a mistake.
"Witchmon," he said coldly, "just what do you think you're doing?"
"Um... I'm not sure I was," she admitted.
Wisemon sighed. "Really, you're becoming impossible! We send you out to do a simple job, and you do the opposite! We tell you to spy on the humans, and what do you do? Come out in the open and chat with them! We tell you to keep them from looking for the Fabled Artifacts, and you go out and find the things for them! Are you their tame pet now, that you do everything they say? Have you forgotten everything I've told you?"
"You said it was okay to talk to them," she said lamely.
"Yes, but I didn't say you should lead them straight to a Fabled Artifact! If you had just left well enough alone, they might have been convinced the Artifacts are too dangerous, and given up. Now they are more dangerous than ever! Do you realize what you have done?"
Wisemon sighed. "You can count, can't you?"
"How many Fabled Artifacts are there?"
"Er... seven, right?"
"Yes, Witchmon, that's right. And how many do they have now?"
Witchmon counted on her fingers. "Six!"
"That's right. Now, how many does that leave?"
"Um..." More frantic calculations. "One?"
"That's right, Witchmon. Just one. Now, think about that a minute. What do you think that means?"
Witchmon thought carefully, much longer than she had when she was trying to do simple arithmetic. Suddenly, a look of understanding crossed her face, and she said, "Ohhhhh!" And then, "Oops?"
"Oops does not begin to cover it," said Wisemon sternly. "You, young lady, are coming home right now, and you are going to explain to Lilithmon what you have done."
"No!" Witchmon began backing away. "Please... please don't make me..."
"You must," said Wisemon. "This behavior is unforgivable. You are going to have a lesson, and we are going to make sure it sticks."
Witchmon gave a wail of terror and tried to escape, but something invisible wrapped around her and held her in place. Cat ran back and forth in a panic, torn between the desire to escape and inability to escape his bond to Witchmon. Wisemon reeled her in like a fish on a line. She struggled, her boots leaving trails in the sand as she tried in vain to find a secure foothold. Oblivious to her protests, Wisemon gripped her arms firmly with his clawed hands and pulled her around to face him.
"I think it's time we put this job into the hands of someone more competent," said Wisemon. "I've tried to be patient with you, dear sister, but you have proven that you cannot be trusted. Obviously even the simplest task is beyond you. I'm afraid Lilithmon and I are both going to have to be very stern with you."
Witchmon whimpered slightly.
"This is not going to be enjoyable for you, I'm afraid," said Wisemon. "You've had your problems before, but never of this magnitude. Even I cannot imagine what Lilithmon is going to do to you when she hears of this. All I can say for certain is that this is the end of your chances. From now on..." He hesitated a moment, obviously contemplating something he did not like to imagine. "I see no help for it. We can afford no more mistakes, no more waiting. Next time, I am going to go myself."