A/N: Yes, I'm still alive. Man, it did take me quite some time to get around to write chap eleven, didn't it? As you can probably tell, I've been a bit busy lately, partially because my beta-reader and fellow author introduced me to his newest passion called SonAmy- of which, I must admit, I have by now developed a certain fondness myself. Anyway, let's move on with the fic, shall we? Once again, thanks to Milleniumon for beta-reading.
It was an almost excruciatingly touching scene.
Juri Katou turned into a green and flesh-coloured blur as she dashed towards her digimon partner and literally flung herself at him, holding him tight as if she never wanted to let go of him again- which was exactly what a part of her wanted, actually.
"Leomon..." she mumbled softly, her voice muffled by the tears she cried at the Champion digimon's muscular chest.
"Juri..." Leomon softly patted his human partner, hugging her gently as the girl shook violently, overcome with emotion.
Hirokazu and Kenta looked at each other and high-fived. Absolutely everyone was smiling by now, and even Ruki mutely commented the scenario with a tiny smirk. On the other hand of the scale was a certain brainiac named Jenrya Lee, who showed the widest grin of his life.
'Well,' he thought, 'if that isn't a sight to be seen. It's wonderful to see her happy again...'
As for the strange sensation in his stomach- well, he decided to push this matter aside for the now, for the diffuse pang of fear that came with it definitely wasn't appropriate at the moment.
As if following a simultaneous march order inside their heads, they all approached Leomon and gathered around him in a- somewhat sloppy- circular pattern. Juri, who by now was standing on Leomon's left side (but still tightly clinging to his arm) looked at them with dreamy eyes.
However, not everyone had tagged along.
Leomon sternly averted his gaze to look at the unhappy picture of misery that was Impmon, who was standing in some distance of the rest of the group with his head hanging in shame.
As if he could feel Leomon's piercing look, he raised his head and, surprising everyone including himself, managed to withstand Leomon's gaze. Even more so, he suddenly started walking towards the Beast Man digimon, causing the Tamers and their digimon to step aside to the right or left, thus forming some sort of honour guard, allowing Impmon to pass them by. As he arrived right in front of Leomon, he unceremoniously dropped to his knees and looked up, his eyes shimmering with humidity. Astonishingly, however, his voice was absolutely clear as he spoke up.
"I don't ask you to spare my life. Even if I had the right to do so, I wouldn't. But, noble as you are, please promise to look after my Tamers when I'm gone."
He smiled sadly.
"They're still young, and they have nothing to do with this. I'm sure you too will find they deserve to be protected. They're good kids... and even better partners... and I don't want them to be harmed..." He trailed off, waiting for whatever Leomon was about to do to him.
Said Leomon looked at him with an enigmatic expression on his facial features.
"Please, get up."
Impmon obeyed silently- and gladly. A part of him had been struggling against the idea of dying on his knees, and he honestly appreciated that Leomon allowed him to save what little dignity was still left in him.
"I thought it was clear that I hold no hatred or thoughts of revenge against you. We shall fight together, bleed together, and rejoice together." He offered his hand to the small purple Rookie. Impmon gazed at the impressive Champion in awe, and, after a moment of pure amazement, took his hand.
"Thank you," he whispered, while a few tears of joy and sincere gratitude trickled down his face.
And, eventually breaking the odd honour guard, Hirokazu and Kenta high-fived again.
"It fills my heart with great joy to see those whom the Digital World owes so much so happy," Asklepiomon finally interrupted the Tamers' miniature reunion. A benevolent smile was spreading across his facial features, and he suddenly looked no more like the wise, respectable digimon from before, yet more like an adolescent just about to hit puberty.
"We thank you for your kind words," Jenrya replied. "You know the reason for our journey, I wager?"
Asklepiomon's only answer was a nonverbal one, as his smile vanished immediately, substituted by an expression consisting to equal amounts of sorrow and helplessness. Fortunately for him, though, Tothmon took his burden of explaining the status quo.
"You have faced great perils, and proven an incredible amount of courage most native inhabitants of this world, despite their familiarity with the environment, would have never been able to muster. So, it aggrieves me endlessly to tell you that I have not the power to replenish Leomon's life on my own."
Tamers and digimon alike were taken aback by this statement. Naturally, they had all thought that it would be a walk in the park for the emperor of Aziluth to bring Leomon back to life. However, the only one to actually articulate this was a certain sanguineous red-head.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Ruki snapped exasperatedly. "I thought you're in charge of this place?"
"You already answered your own question," Tothmon responded gently. "I am in charge of this place, as you quite aptly put it. Yet I am merely a channel, as I stated before, I'm not the force of regeneration itself. When a digimon is to be reborn is not for me to decide. The Digital World decides that for itself. From my experience, there is no cognizable pattern behind its decision, though. In other words, Leomon might be reborn anyway in a minute- or it could take…" he paused, "somewhat longer."
It was apparent that he had not said what he originally had been intending- but that wasn't necessary anyway. The nonverbal connotation of his statement was clear-cut enough: It could very well be that even the Tamers' grand-children wouldn't live to bear witness of Leomon's rebirth anymore.
Juri, now dangerously close to crying again, asked Tothmon about this obvious situation nonetheless, and despite her determination not to cry in front of Leomon anymore, she couldn't suppress the few tears that trickled down her face as the Emperor of Aziluth silently nodded in response.
"I am thoroughly sorry, Tamers. The original concept of the Digital World did not take into account that humans and digimon would ever be so closely connected. Digimon basically live forever, as long as they are not permanently deleted. A human's life, however, is but a fleeting spark in comparison."
"What was the shortest time span ever between a righteous digimon's death and its resurrection?" Ryo asked, already dreading the next question he would have to ask as a logical consequence.
"I will need to consult the chronicles to give you an exact answer to that question, Legendary Tamer. Yet if my brain does not betray me, I think it was a Sukamon from the Eastern Quadrant, who came back to life approximately two months after its transcendence," Tothmon replied. "Naturally, time has a vastly different meaning within these walls, varying from any other time flow in either one of the four Quadrants, but I daresay that this is a relatively decent estimation- if we exclude some certain Chosen Digimon from these statistics, at least."
"And…" Ryo hesitated, taking a deep breath before he continued, "what was… the longest?"
Tothmon did not answer, but simply lowered his gaze in silence. At first, Ryo thought that he didn't want to respond in order to save them even more pain, but that wasn't quite true.
"You might be thinking that Lord Tothmon wishes to leave this question unanswered," Kassandramon suddenly chimed in, as if she had read the Legendary Tamer's thoughts (and Ryo himself wasn't too sure that she hadn't done just that), "yet the truth is that he cannot answer you- or, at least, not without consulting the Chronicles of Aziluth. As a matter of fact, if I had to take a wild guess…"
Hearing those words from her seemed like a paradox in itself, the Tamers simultaneously thought. Kassandramon hat an aura to her that made it almost impossible to believe that she could take 'just a wild guess', no matter what the context was. If she said something, she always seemed to KNOW, and never just to guess.
"…I'd say the longest period of time between a digimon's death and its resurrection cannot be pinpointed, as it has not ended yet. I experienced the ritual of transcendence a long time ago- before Lord Tothmon became the Emperor of Aziluth, actually- and my life still has not been replenished."
"I have not studied the Chronicles in a while." Asklepiomon now joined the conversation, "but I think it's been before any of you was born that Kassandramon came to the City of Gold."
He eyed the group of children and digimon uneasily as he noticed the mostly disappointed looks on their faces. Juri was, of course, no exception- yet she also felt a pang of guiltiness. She knew that it wasn't her fault that Kassandramon had been basically imprisoned in, literally, a golden cage, for such a long time. Yet this context suddenly made her own longing for Leomon's return seem so insignificant and selfish.
Kassandramon seemed to empathically notice her feelings, and, despite the fact that her rather stern facial outlines diminished the effect a bit, gave her a reassuring smile.
"Fear not, my friends. I relish my dwelling within these golden walls, and I have accepted my fate ever since. Despite the risk of sounding egocentric, I daresay that I have been a valuable advisor to Lord Tothmon up to now, and this might be connected to the extensive length of my inhabitation of Aziluth the Aureate. Perhaps the Digital World has a plan for me that even I am incapable of understanding properly."
Again, her sheer presence made it hard to believe that there was anything she couldn't 'be capable of understanding properly', and the word 'perhaps' coming from her sounded almost ridiculously out of place. However, Tamers and digimon alike decided not to take much heed of it.
"This does not necessarily mean that Leomon is bound to stay here for the time being, though," Asklepiomon took up the topic again. "If you give me some time to engage into some research via the Chronicles and the Ancient Scriptures, I might be able to find a solution for your problem."
"What do you mean by that? Don't you dare playing with Ju… with our emotions, or else-"
Jenrya did not finish the sentence, but he pretty much brought his point across. Takato, again, noticed the remarkable degree of determination and concern in his best friend's voice, and was just about to draw some conclusions from it when Asklepiomon's response interrupted his train of thoughts.
"I don't play with your emotions, young Tamers. I hereby pledge myself to assist you in any possible way for you to reach your goal of Leomon's resurrection. I don't hope to find a precedence in the scriptures- as we already noted, no living being has ever entered Aziluth through any other way than the one of transcendence, much less did one ever do so and expressed their wish to take someone with them. However, I might be able to find a passage from the days of yore, prior to Lord Tothmon's reign, where much of the old wisdom could still be enclosed. Apparently, since it has never been necessary to prematurely induce a resurrection, the wisdom of this being possible or not has long since faded away- yet that does not mean that it isn't still recorded somewhere. We merely do not have it readily at hand, as it was never needed."
"Up to now," Tothmon added, and thusly ended the conversation.
The Tamers and their digital partners silently filed out of Tothmon's chamber, with Juri and Leomon in the lead. No words were spoken until they had walked down the stairs again (which seemed to be even shorter now than it was during their ascendancy) and left the citadel through the main entrance.
"Well, I suppose that means we'll just have to wait, right?" Kenta asked noone in particular.
"Looks like it," Hirokazu replied. "Man, I hate waiting!"
"Geez, get a grip, will you?" Ruki snarled. "God, the things I have to bear with…"
That last part of her statement was barely more than a muttering, but Takato overheard it nonetheless and couldn't suppress a slight chuckle in response- a chuckle which ended abruptly as Ruki literally pierced the gogglehead with an icy glare. However, Takato thought he had seen a tiny smirk playing around the girl's lips in the process.
(Around her most certainly incredibly soft and tender lips) – Takato thought that more subconsciously than anything else, yet the impression was already dangerously close to the surface of his mind.
"She's right, of course," Jenrya ultimately commented on Ruki's remark. "It's no use wailing over something we can't possibly change anyway."
"In that case," Leomon suddenly chimed in, "I suppose I could just show you around. Aziluth is a most magnificent city, even in comparison to Tokyo."
"Just don't expect too many malls or amusement arcades around here."
Juri gave a whole-hearted giggle in response to her partner's attempt at a joke- a giggle which sounded rather silly even in her own ears, but she didn't actually mind that. It was a happy giggle.
The small fellowship had already caught a glimpse at Aziluth's sparkling beauty when they were led to Tothmon's citadel earlier, but they only fully appreciated it now, when their minds were not troubled as much as before anymore. Many of the buildings, in addition to being made of pure gold, were over and over decorated with various patterns- sometimes plain DigiCode, sometimes enigmatic scriptures which neither the Tamers nor their digimon had ever seen before. The architectures of the respective edifices were still underlying sometimes vast differences. In consequence, they saw a building strongly resembling a typical Shinto shrine standing right next to what looked like a miniature version of the St. Peter's Dome, and just a few meters away there was a (naturally golden) circular hut like you'd expect to see it in an average African kraal- only remarkably bigger.
"This is what you could probably call the kindergarten," Leomon stated, using a word he had picked up during the time he had spent with Juri and the others in the Digital World during their search operation for Calumon. "All digimon that enter Aziluth which have not yet reached the Rookie level are sent to this place. If I'm not mistaken, the current 'babysitter' is an Elecmon from the Northern Quadrant."
"Oh, that's nice," Juri commented starry-eyed. "Could we take a look inside?"
Actually, most of her fellow Tamers were not too keen on doing just that, but none of them had the heart to tell that to the girl that had finally been reunited with her partner. So they all simply followed the infamous puppet girl, who was already skipping towards the entrance- with two exceptions.
"I think we'll better wait outside," Ryo said pointing at CyberDramon and himself. "We'd probably just scare the kids out of their minds."
"Can't argue with that," Ruki retorted, "and I'm not sure who of you two would scare them more."
This time, Takato was lucky that the others- with the obvious exception of Hirokazu- sniggered along with him, so that at least he wouldn't be the only one to receive a death glare. However, Ruki made no effort at glaring at anyone, anyway, so Takato hurriedly followed her inside the 'kindergarten' before Ryo could take over that part.
The hut was much more spacious than it seemed to be from outside, and the reason for this became apparent instantly as Tamers and digimon alike scanned the room.
The amazing amount of Baby- and In-Training-level digimon was, however, not the most baffling aspect of this situation. As if following an inaudible command, absolutely everyone in the room fell silent after spotting the Tamers. Each and every single 'child' just stared at the newcomers, most of them with a mixture of fear, curiousness and mainly just blatant admiration in their eyes.
"Do I still have some peanut butter on my nose, or why do they look at us like that?" Guilmon mutedly asked his Tamer, who simply shrugged at his digimon partner's question.
"They're not staring at all of us, they're staring at our Tamers," Renamon patiently explained. "Most probably because they are humans, methinks."
"You speak true, and I say thankee," a voice from the backside of the room suddenly chimed in. Then, in a slightly awkward tone, it continued, "I implore your forgiveness, my most honoured guests. That's an idiom from the part of the Northern Quadrant where I dwelt before I underwent the procedure of transcendence. I shall try to adjust my style of speech to your pleasure."
With that, a small digimon finally made its way through the- still awestruck- crowd of 'children'- sure enough, it was Elecmon. He- since judging from his relatively deep voice, we'll address him as such for the sake of simplicity- was balancing a pile of clean diapers atop his head, and had his right paw clutched around a semi-full feeding bottle.
"Excuse me if I do not fully share my fosterlings' amazement, but I have been warned in advance, so to speak, of your presence within the walls of Aziluth." He cracked a wide grin, which was as much a counterpoint to his otherwise rather aristocratic appearance as were the diapers on his head- which now, as he indicated a bow towards his guests, actually toppled down and scattered across the floor, inducing a collective sweatdrop from the Tamers.
Elecmon decided to simply act as if nothing had happened as he continued, "News, especially news which are so extraordinary, spread like a wildfire anywhere in the universe, and Aziluth the Aureate is no exception. Please be my guests for as long as it pleases you. Word is that you have achieved much in the eternal fight against chaos and destruction within your Quadrant, and I shall be honoured that you decided to grace my humble hut with your presence. Unfortunately, there is not much I can offer you…"
"That won't be necessary, thank you," Renamon gently interrupted his speech.
"Yeah, we just wanted to say hello, I think," Juri added, feeling a bit uneasy as she actually didn't really remember why she wanted to drop in for a visit in the first place.
Suddenly, a PetitMeramon shyly inched closer towards the nearest member of the small fellowship- in this case, Jenrya- and looked up at him with intimidation in his eyes.
"Are you…," it started in a rather shrill voice which was literally dripping with unspoken admiration, "…are you those whom they call… Tamers?"
Jenrya gave his fellow Tamers an uneasy and questioning look, then averted his gaze again and knelt down in front of the small Baby digimon while trying his best to smile sympathetically.
"Well, yes, indeed. We are Tamers, and those are our digimon part-"
That's as far as he could get before suddenly, all hell broke loose.
The last traces of the Baby digimons' previous intimidation were gone in the blink of an eye. Each and every single one of them assailed the Tamers with questions, and for every question answered, three new ones seemed to pop up. Tamers and digimon were literally forced to split up into groups of two to four, each group with a cluster of Baby- and In-Training-level digimon surrounding them.
Even though he knew that it was a ridiculous thought, Takato almost began to fear for his life as the masses of small digimon seemed like they were about to just suffocate him; yet he was somewhat relieved to see Ruki and Renamon right next to him. The girl was apparently not too comfortable with the current situation, too, and Takato understood her only too well.
"Do humans have names as well?" a Motimon asked him this very moment.
"Well, uh, of course," Takato replied. "My name is Takato, and this-"
(breathtakingly beautiful and, of course, absolutely cool) – which was Takato's subconscious yet again-
"-this girl is Ruki."
"If a boy and a girl like each other, they get married," a Tsunomon suddenly chimed in in a rather cute know-it-all tone, as if that had anything to do with the situation at all. "Are you two married to each other, Mr. Takato, Sir?"
The effect of the digimon's innocent question was remarkable. Guilmon simply tilted his head in confusion. Renamon had immense trouble to keep a straight face, and ultimately decided to bite her left glove so she wouldn't chuckle against her will. And while Ruki's cheeks simply acquired a slight pink tinge, Takato blushed a deep crimson.
"Ah, wha… why…" he stammered, "what are you saying there? No, no, of course we're not married. We're too young for that, and… and…"
He had no idea what this 'and' could possibly be, so he was immensely grateful when a Bukamon asked him whether they had a Sovereign in the Humans' Realm, too. While he thusly started to explain the concept of global politics in laymen's terms, he did his best to avoid glancing to his right, where a fuming Ruki tried her best not to kill the aforementioned Tsunomon with her bare hands.
However, in that precise moment, the door of the hut suddenly swung wide open, and Lynceumon stepped inside.
"I am thoroughly sorry to…" he paused, amusedly eyeing the chaos, "…disturb you, but Lord Tothmon wishes a word with you. If you want me to inform the Lord that you're occupied at the moment, I shall-"
"No, no, it's alright. We're on our way," a visibly nervous Kenta responded as he inched away from a group of Tokomon gazing at him in silent admiration.
"We'll be back, I promise!" Juri exclaimed enthusiastically, as the group tiptoed towards the door and headed back to the citadel.
The stairway leading to Tothmon's throne room was about as short as it had been before, but to Juri, it seemed to drag on endlessly. As they finally entered the spherical room, Asklepiomon greeted them with a delighted smile.
"I have studied the chronicles and the Ancient Scriptures, and after an astonishingly short time of research, I came across a passage which might be of interest to you."
'Well, at least he's to the point,' Ruki thought with a slight smirk on her facial features.
"Lord Tothmon can serve as a channel to replenish a fallen digimon's life, as was already stated. The processes administrating the Digital World are subtle and mysterious, and even the Scriptures cannot fully explain the underlying principles. It is believed that the Digital World- in most, yet not all cases quite randomly- defines a point in time to recreate a fallen digimon's hull, its body so to speak, which is then transferred to Aziluth. The body henceforth basically exists overlapping with the soul which has dwelt here all along, yet body and soul still need to be unified in order to recreate the digimon as a 'whole' being. This is what Lord Tothmon does. He has the unique ability to merge body and soul together and thusly brings the digimon in question back to its full existence. With that done, the Digital World itself usually transports the digimon back to its Quadrant of origin, and as far as we could tell from previous experiences, normally in the immediate proximity of the digimon's place of death."
He fell silent, and it took a while until Ruki popped the question that actually everyone had on their minds as well.
"In other words, we would have to wait for some obscure… entity to bring Leomon back to life?"
"Usually yes," Asklepiomon replied, and the smile on his face grew even wider. "However, there is one life form in the Digital World- as chance would have it, right in the Southern Quadrant- which might be capable of adopting the Digital World's role in the replenishing process."
He hesitated again, now strongly resembling a rhetorician preparing to state his strongest argument.
"The DigiGnomes!" Takato exclaimed excitedly. "They created Guilmon, after all! And apparently, the Digital World then decided to contribute a 'soul' to the body they had fabricated."
Guilmon merely tilted his head again as his name was mentioned, while Asklepiomon just looked plain disappointed. Apparently, he had intended to break his research findings to the Tamers personally, and probably with much more ado.
"Indeed," he finally said. "However, I must inform you that the DigiGnomes have evolved since your journey through the Southern Quadrant. They do not tend to float around the Digital World anymore, yet it seems like they have decided to live together in collectives inhabiting subterranean catacombs. I guess you might most probably find them somewhere in the mountains in the south-eastern part of the third layer. Don't worry, you'll find yourself in said layer if you leave Aziluth again, if Lord Tothmon wishes it to be so."
Tothmon simply gave a short nod, indicating his affirmation.
"So, in other words, we ought to find a DigiGnome who's willing to help us?" Jenrya dug deeper.
This time it was Kassandramon who answered his question, "True indeed. However-"
She paused, and suddenly, her face turned into a mask of concern and, partially, pure and utter fear.
"Peril!" she hissed. "Great peril! Mors ante portas!"
Takato gave her a questioning look. "Excuse me? What did you say?"
However, Kassandramon never answered that question, as at the precise moment, Lynceumon entered the throne room, panting heavily- and thus probably displaying more emotions than in all the many years before.
"Lord Tothmon!" he gasped, "we're under attack! Aziluth is being besieged!"
to be continued...