Episode 15: One-Eyed Kings
-by Ajora Fravashi
Notes: I'd like to confess something: this was not the chapter I started out writing. However, I felt that the initial chapter was inappropriate and mostly filler, and I wanted to get into the actual plot because things actually happen in the next chapter! It'll be great and someone's gonna get hurt. So, here, have a little deviation from the norm.
The title is from the adage, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," as coined by Desiderius Erasmus. Other references: the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Turkish and Japanese history, Norse mythology, and a line stolen from Yeats' poem "The Second Coming".
The concert ended late at night, and Yamato was sure no one minded. Despite Tomoki's strange ability to drop temperatures to freezing and below, he was sore and sweating once the curtain went down and they'd finished the final encore. He knew Takeru would be upset at him for not announcing the impending war, but the concert theme was hope and solidarity. War could wait for next time.
Tomoki, a man who had become infamous for once starting a blizzard in a sweltering summer in Minato to protect his home from Raiders, wove between musicians with iced water and a tangible bubble of cold air. No one could explain why he was able to do what he did, but they were all grateful. Yamato took a glass and bade Tomoki to stay for a while.
"Great concert," Tomoki said with that easy grin of his. He looked tired, but Yamato suspected it was due to maintaining a comfortable chill in the concert hall. The air around him was refreshingly cool, and Yamato muttered an apology as he inched close enough to be enveloped in the chill. It was just sharp enough to refresh him.
"I don't think we would have had anyone stick around for the entire concert without you." A small lie; Yamato was sure some fans were hardcore enough to stick around, but Tomoki made it comfortable. "Did Kouji pay you yet?"
Tomoki nodded, and he seemed unaware of the little drummer girl crowding up next to him and taking a glass from the tray. "Five bushels of rice at the library, as requested. And venison and fresh greens! You're too generous."
The library, Yamato had heard, was one of the few places left for anyone to learn academic subjects. As Tomoki had told it, his brother had locked him in the library during the burning of Shinjuku and he didn't dare burn the books for warmth when the deadly winter after the Apocalypse settled in and killed anyone who wasn't prepared. A white bear spirit had come to Tomoki and given him his powers on the coldest night of that winter, and the boy became immune to the bubble of cold air he walked in. Since then, Tomoki opened up the library for pilgrims looking to learn, and earned his food by teaching people how to read. However, food was always in short supply for those who chose to remain in the cities.
"Are you sure it's safe there?" After all, Raiders owned the cities. Protection usually had to be bought from whatever Clan was dominant at the time. The only reason the Asahi Clan had allowed this concert at all was because they stood to gain from the attendees.
Tomoki's grin became almost wolfish. "I'd like to see anyone try to break through three feet of ice and the crows. Hugin and Munin are vicious to strangers."
"I wouldn't doubt it." Yamato remembered being attacked by a murder of crows. They were too clever by half. But there were other topics at hand. "Think you can stick around for the after-party at the embassy?"
"You just want me for my air-conditioning," Tomoki said with a teasing gleam in his eye. "I'll stick around for a little while, but then I need to go home."
They remained in companionable silence for a while, and absently Yamato wondered how Tomoki remained out of the clutches of clans and Raiders. Before he could ask, however, Tomoki spoke again. "Say, how old is that drummer girl? She's really talented."
The musician looked to Tomoki's side, but she had apparently wandered off. "Six. Why?"
"We'll talk about it at the embassy," Tomoki said, his grin suddenly gone. When he was aware it had gone, the younger man wandered off to cool off someone else.
Yamato was left to himself and his thoughts, and he joined the others to pack up instruments for the short walk to the embassy. There was the issue of Takeru that he'd been avoiding. He loved his little brother, but Takeru could be so single-minded that it was easy for him to ignore any dangers in his periphery. Yamato should know, he often had the same problem. He had long since come to terms with Takeru's quest to find their parents, and one nomad among many did not draw attention, but now Takeru had made himself a target by joining in with this Iwakuni while sabers were being rattled. As far as Yamato was concerned, their parents were dead and gone, and Takeru had no business chasing ghosts. And yet, when his brother mentioned meeting an older man who mentioned their mother…
Dare he hope that one of their parents survived? He had already grieved, and to find even one of them alive would be indescribable. Frankly, he had no idea how he would feel and he was sure he wouldn't trust any of the hints and clues the way Takeru did. Which, he supposed, was why Takeru found any clues in the first place. He would have to think on it later, though. One of his bandmates slapped him on the shoulder, and he followed the crowd of musicians to the embassy. His little brother would be expecting an explanation, and he would use the walk to steel himself before then.
In the days since she was reinstated, Ruki had been busy. First, Akiyoshi's head was removed from its body the moment Takeru and his friends were gone, preserved in formaldehyde, and placed on a stake near the fence surrounding the school. Hirokazu routed out his followers and she felt generous enough to exile them rather than lop off any body parts. She had taken Renamon on a tour of both Osaba and the parts of old Hiroshima still in use, and hadn't been terribly surprised when Renamon admitted to being familiar with most of her paltry excuse of a queendom. Then she had to spend days going over Akiyoshi's books and figuring out where he had been bleeding her before he got the foolish idea to take her out. It had involved forcing herself to learn accounting, and by the end of each day she was sure her brains were dribbling out of her ears. And, when she was particularly bored, she asked Renamon about where she'd come from and how she got there.
Renamon's tale was of multiple worlds and destruction, and parallel worlds originating from a single moment in human history when the physical world of biochemical organisms touched upon and influenced worlds of data and electricity. The Digital Worlds might have existed in a nebulous form before the activation of the Atanasoff-Berry computer, but it took its forms from the human world and was shaped by human minds. The real world gave it sapience. Then a great evil had arisen and thrown together multiple timelines, and he was punished. After his power was used to stabilize the remaining Digital World, Renamon had been among the party escorting him to his second prison. Because she remembered the time before the merging of worlds, she stayed behind to find Ruki. It had been a surreal tale, but what else could account for those fragments of half-remembered dreams of people she'd never met? And who could make up such tales?
Ruki frowned at her figures again. Her mind was wandering when she should have been checking where Akiyoshi had cheated her, and she forced herself to focus again. It seemed to have started small — a bit of food here, maybe some scraps of clothes there — and Akiyoshi had become bolder as time went on. Whole shipments had gone missing and Ruki had always attributed it to Raiders. Shipments of bullets from the United States bases on Okinawa in the Ryukyu Kingdom, actual coffee from Vietnam via the Ryukyu traders, grains and hides and dried fish from Ainu traders, and so on. Things she would have paid her people with, which would have been traded with the townsfolk for services rendered, had been squirreled away to somewhere unknown. Nothing in Akiyoshi's books mentioned a holding place, so she made a note to herself to send out a scouting party and closed the books for now. It was getting harder to care this late at night.
Unfortunately, there seemed to be no rest for her tonight. Renamon, her silent sentinel, looked up at the door. Moments later came the sound of three pairs of feet on her newly cleaned hallway floors, and one of them even squeaked. She glowered at the approaching noise, but refrained from protesting when the small party entered without so much as a knock. Frankly, she didn't have the energy to be irate.
One wore a loose blue and orange shirt, which looked too dull and newly sewn to be from the old world, and looked as if a porcupine had died on his head. The other wore a conglomeration of white-painted armor and a red cape, and at this she was sorely pressed not to roll her eyes. This one carried several bags and looked a bit squirrely. The last was… a digimon, apparently. Some sort of orange dinosaur. The one with the porcupine hair spoke first. "Queen Ruki, I take it?"
She gave a brusque nod and leaned back in her chair. The bristly fur of the tiger skin that was draped over the back poked what bits of her were exposed. "Unless this is a doppelganger sitting at my desk. What brings you here at this hour?" And who the hell let them past the guards? She glanced at Renamon, who gave the slightest hint of a shrug.
"I'm Yagami Taichi. Hikari wanted me to escort the Grail here," Porcupine-hair said. Her eyes narrowed slightly. Hikari was a common enough name, but there was only one Yagami Hikari, and Ruki had little patience for priests and the garbage they peddled. The world was hard enough and no one needed false hopes fed to them.
Though Ruki did not know exactly what a grail was, she did remember bits and pieces of a few Indiana Jones movies. There had been something about immortality, she was sure. That or face-melting. She could do with something that melted faces. "Not looking for immortality. Find someone else." Being abrasive did have its benefits. Unfortunately, they didn't seem willing to move on, though Yagami did seem like he was trying and failing to rein in his annoyance at her attitude. That was always entertaining.
"Um. Hi? I'm Takato." The man looked to be her age, but there was an element of boyishness about him and a haunted look in his eyes that clashed so sharply against it. He gave her a slight smile that struck her as somehow familiar. "I'm here to seek sanctuary."
That stopped her short. No one was supposed to know that she granted sanctuary to anyone. She even stopped herself from thinking about old Hiroshima, just in case. Her people prowled the ruins to enforce the peace, and sometimes she'd find a gift on her doorstep as compensation for her protection. It was better that way, so that should she ever be pressed about it, she could honestly say that she knew nothing about them. But they gave her the books she needed, information, and things that should have died in the old world. Hikari could not possibly know about Sanctuary, which left her with one option, and he had certainly never helped her any.
Her glance flickered up to Renamon for the barest quarter of a second, and she folded her hands in front of her on the desk and feigned ignorance. "What makes you think I have any to offer?"
Yagami looked ready to argue, but Takato spoke again as quietly and calmly as he had before. "There are stories. Someone told me that you gave sanctuary to the old people that survived. That's why Osaba is so advanced compared to everywhere else."
She flashed a thin, humorless smirk. "Surely someone must have told you that my position isn't exactly secure. Or has the story of Akiyoshi's coup not gotten out yet? There's a nice reminder at the entrance gate."
Yagami grimaced in memory of the gruesome sight, and a smile ghosted across the Takato's face. "That's okay. I trust you."
"And why should I give sanctuary to someone I don't even know?" Now for the crux of the matter. She leaned forward and watched them carefully. "Who are you hiding from?"
The smile disappeared and Takato's eyes darted to the blinds, as if looking for some gap between the slats. "I talked too much. They're after me. After what I'm carrying. Doc will be so disappointed if—"
Yagami interrupted just then. "Look, he's important, okay. So much more than any of us. Will you take him or not?"
Her curiosity piqued at that, but she didn't press the issue of whomever was pursuing him. "Okay, fine. Hiding some big secrets?"
"Sort of," Takato began, looking rather uneasy with her line of questioning. "If you can call it that."
"Are these secrets about other places? Like, perhaps, Niigata?" It might have been too much to hope for, but she might as well ask. For the life of her, she could not see why this man was so important.
Flustered at the question, Takato hugged a laptop travel bag close to his chest. "Oh! No, no, I'm sorry. It's probably nothing you can use. Nothing anyone can use without the right kind of knowledge."
Yagami looked as if he wanted to start shouting at her, and she waved him off. He wasn't the one asking for sanctuary, so she considered him inconsequential. He was nothing more than his sister's errand boy, as far as Ruki was concerned. "Very well. Do you have any particularly useful skills?"
Takato brightened; clearly this was something he cared about. "I can draw! And paint, and-"
"And you can stop now." As far as Ruki was concerned, artists were very low on the social totem pole. Not for their skills, but because fine arts rarely fed anyone. "I'm sure they can find some use for you. Renamon, could you escort him and fetch the meddler on the way back? You two, you're not to follow them. Sanctuary isn't going to remain a secret if others see it."
Renamon stepped from the shadows, startling the two other humans in the room. She gave a brief bow. "Of course. If you will follow me?"
Takato went happily, dragging some bags while the laptop bag was slung over one shoulder. He was almost out the door when he turned and smiled back at them. It was a tired smile, but so relieved that he looked younger than he had before. "Thank you so much, Taichi! And Ruki!" With that, he hugged her so quickly that she didn't have time to react. By the time she did, he disappeared with Renamon into the darkened hallway.
Yagami frowned as Takato's footsteps faded away. "Will he be okay?"
"So long as he doesn't look back." She flipped through the accounts book, hoping he'd take the hint. "There's no looking back once you venture into the underworld." When neither Yagami nor his digimon budged, she sighed in exasperation. "Is there anything else?"
The look Yagami gave her was so serious that it made her wonder just what kind of minefield she had stepped into, and her irritation at them all faded. "Look, can you just be sure that Takato is safe here?"
When he did nothing but stare at her in wait for her answer, she had to ask about it. "He looks no different than any other weirdo. What's so important that your sister sent him to hide with ghosts?"
"He's going to save us all, if we can keep him alive long enough."
It was entirely too late for cloak and dagger games. She shut the book and stood to fold and drape her tiger skin over her shoulder. It had always topped her bed, but lately she took to draping it over her chair while she worked, too. A reminder that even when she was pressed into corners, she would always come out alive. A little blood-soaked, but what fight didn't end in with blood? "Why don't you go back to your sister and report that your mission is accomplished? It's getting too late to think."
Yagami gave a nod and finally began to move towards the door. The digimon paused, his overly large green eyes regarding her for a moment, and his voice had the same grating quality that Teppei's had. She wondered if he smoked as much as the glassmaster did, or if it was a natural property of his voice. "Thanks! It means a lot."
Rather than answer, she waved him off and settled into her couch for a little nap. Just long enough to be a little more awake when Renamon returned, that's all. Running a town's infrastructure and trying to make sure that it all ran smoothly was tiring work. Her head hit a silk pillow that some place in China still produced and she was asleep in seconds.
Ruki woke two hours later, not quite refreshed but less tired than she had been. With no sign of Renamon, she assumed that something had gone awry and grumbled as she carried her oil lantern with her and went to her bedroom to drop off her tiger skin. It had been the teacher's offices, once, and she had the tables and cubicles replaced with bedroom furniture. The faculty bathroom had several toilets removed and an old Western-style porcelain bathtub set in their places. Unfiltered water came from the rainwater storage tanks on the roof of the building, and drinking water from a handful of filtered and treated tanks that required much more in the way of maintenance. She had a small wood-burning stove to boil her water on, but she missed having hot water on tap so much that she was tempted to demand that the scientists tackle water heaters as their next project. There was still so much to do, however, that her personal comfort was at a fairly low priority to everything else. She took her washing bowl to the unfiltered water tap, where she filled it just enough to sink her face into the lukewarm water. Summer was coming and she had to get ready. Though geography favored the Seto Inland Sea and protected the region from the worst typhoons, the season did play havoc with trade.
And how she could think on any of this at such a ridiculous hour, she had no idea. The water helped wake her up just enough to have some wits about her when Renamon came back. But then, maybe she should visit the sanctuary. The ride would keep her awake long enough to interrogate the meddler. With that in mind, she walked to the garage, where she waved past the guards and picked up her bike. Bicycles were getting rarer these days as rubber wore down, parts broke, and brake lines snapped. Hers, thankfully, was still in good condition.
Though the moon was a waxing crescent and could offer little in the way of light, the stars were sufficient enough for her to see where she was going. She rode deep into old Hiroshima, past buildings rocked by earthquakes and over or around cracks and fallen branches in the road. With Osaba being as successful as it was, there was no need for anyone to be this deep in the city. She followed the Ota River on Gion-shindo for what she was sure were miles, until finally she reached the intersection with Jonan-dori and came to one of two bridges crossing the moat around Hiroshima castle.
It was a reconstruction, as most things in Hiroshima were after the bombing, though whoever rebuilt it made little effort to remain true to the original materials. Concrete and steel were stronger than wood and stone, though much less yielding to the stresses of earthquakes. The cracks would be more apparent in the daylight, but she could barely make out any details now. However, she was sure that someone was roaming the watch tower above the entrance gates.
Renamon appeared at her side barely a minute after she arrived, silent as a shadow and just as noticeable on a dark night. At this point, Ruki was rather proud that she no longer had the urge to jump out of her skin in response. "He did not want to come," Renamon said quietly, almost in an apologetic tone. "Dragging him out by force would not have been… prudent."
Ruki frowned at that, for as far as she was concerned, everyone was equally capable of being dragged by the ear. Or other body parts, maybe with fishhooks. She wanted to protest, but then there was a low creak of hinges badly in need of oil and the gate opened to let a man out. It was dark, and she'd never seen him before, but she knew who he was. After all, he left his mark on every player on the field of major politics. Supposedly he was behind the Rocky Country, Amaterasu, the Empire of the Sun, and several other major players, but she was dead sure that he was behind the Niigata Shogunate. There was simply too much about the rise of the Shogun that set off her suspicions.
"You sent him here, didn't you?" For all that she was speaking quietly, her words sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness of a dead city at night. Even with the stars and faint moonlight, she could only barely make out his face.
"I had no choice," he responded, his voice so neutral that she found it aggravating. "They were closing in on him and he needs to live if we have any hope of surviving."
That was worse, somehow. There was a huge piece of the puzzle missing despite all her efforts to keep track of current events and she had no clue what it might be. Her patience was wearing thinner than usual. "Surviving what?"
"… I can't tell you yet. You're not ready—"
That was it. Her temper snapped. "Fuck that, Sunshine! None of us is ever ready for anything. We haven't been for fifteen years. If you don't—" Renamon's paw fell lightly on her shoulder in warning and she jerked away from it, fuming.
The Wanderer gave an aggrieved sigh, which he was completely not entitled to as far as she was concerned. "Trust me, you don't want to know. I don't even know for sure. All I can tell you is that something bad is happening, and if he's caught, none of us has a chance."
His words resonated with rumors she heard of strange things happening both north and south of her. Something was happening, and the rumors were so unclear as to be useless. Her annoyance leached out of her, leaving her tired and mildly irritated. "Do you delight in being a manipulative dick, or what?"
"It's a means to an end." She could hear a smirk in his voice and it set her on edge again.
"Ugh! If you're not going to be helpful, I'm going to bed." If they weren't going to come out, and if the Wanderer insisted on being unhelpful, she had no desire to stick around for dawn. She kicked her bike's stand out of the way, intending to go home.
"Ruki, wait. You're really going to leave after coming all this way?" He sounded surprised, which was ridiculous because who the hell did he think he was to know her well enough to expect anything? Being of a suspicious nature, she narrowed her eyes at him and waited.
It was late, and she was tired, and she had no time for this nonsense. "What the hell do you want? You've never gotten involved here, not like you did with Niigata and anywhere else you have your hands in. Why are you even here at all if you're not going to do a thing? Where do you get off thinking you're familiar enough with me that you can guess my moods?"
The Wanderer glanced at Renamon, who had remained silent and out of the way. "Didn't she tell you?"
"Multiple worlds and alternative histories," she said with a growl in her voice. "I don't care. What? Were you my ex or something?"
She could only barely make out the shock on his face, and then decided that snapping at him was worth it. Then, to her surprise, he laughed. "Oh, gods no. We just had a working relationship. You hated me, I aggravated you by breathing wrong, and the universe was in harmony."
"Seems not much changed, then." The acid had gone from her voice. She was much too tired for this. "Don't suppose you'd want to offer me whatever you offered the Shogun? For old times?" It might be worth a shot.
The Wanderer seemed to regard her for several long moments before speaking. "You've never been a target because I have too much respect for your abilities to get involved. Do you really want that to change?"
"I got deposed and nearly killed several times," she said with a healthy dose of disgust. "I think I can handle whatever comes."
"Keep this place safe, then. Like you have been." The Wanderer nodded at the closed gates, and she again wondered who they really were. "When the center cannot hold, this place must remain."
Then, as if to really get under her skin, he had the utter temerity to completely disappear on her. Ruki growled and chucked a bit of rock candy she had in her pocket at the space he had occupied and it sailed through empty air to clatter on the concrete. Frustrated, she stomped and settled against the wooden planks of the entrance gate. The roof over the gate would protect her if a drizzle broke out again, but she was sure she wasn't going to stick around that long. She would just wait and see if anyone came out, and…
And she woke up an hour later, her rear end aching from sitting on concrete for so long. Renamon was warm and soft next to her, and it seemed that the only reason she wasn't as uncomfortable as she would have been was because her head had been on Renamon's shoulder and padded by tufts of yellow fur, and her back supported by Renamon's arm. The sun was just barely peeking above the horizon, but the sky was already growing lighter. Orange-tinged clouds gradiated to purples the further they got from the rising sun. The gate began creaking again and she got up, brushed off, and tried to look presentable.
First out the gates was Yoshino, a survivor of the disease that killed so many. It left its mark in her legs, currently strapped to the wheelchair Yoshino used to get around. Something about surviving the disease had damaged her spinal cord. That Yoshino lived at all made Ruki wonder how many might have escaped the Army for a Pure Japan, back when they were still hunting down survivors instead of anyone they didn't think was Japanese. Accompanying her was the child that Ruki had seen every now and then upon the few times she'd had to deal with Yoshino. She remembered vaguely that the girl was Yoshino's apprentice, or some other sort of assistant. The wild brown hair and too-sharp eyes were nothing like Yoshino's, leading Ruki to assume that the girl's parents were elsewhere. What caught Ruki aback, however, was the presence of the third person. All words left her once again, and she was fixed in place as the woman stepped carefully around Yoshino and Fukami, a wooden cane resounding loudly against the ground with each step.
Some small part of Ruki thought that the foreign-looking shawl across the woman's shoulders was interesting, black with red roses and yellow decorative bits in some pattern that was distinctly not Japanese. There was a plain gold wedding ring on her left hand. The woman stopped in front of her and she tried not to look away. "He said you might be out here," the woman stated in a voice that hinted at a history of chain smoking, though there was no hint of yellow on the woman's fingers or lingering scent of tobacco on her clothes. And there was an accent somewhere in there, though Ruki couldn't place it. She forced herself to breathe, bow, and acknowledge the fact that this woman was at least in her early sixties, with a shock of white-and-brown hair pulled back tightly into a braid. A few strands of hair escaped the braid, and two thin locks dangled over the woman's forehead and softened a look that might have been more severe. The resemblance between the meddler and this woman was uncanny.
"Welcome to the Lighthouse," the woman stated. There was a glint of amusement in the sharp blue eyes, though she seemed polite enough not to let it reach her mouth. "You know Yoshino and Fukami, yes? I am Khynika Zakharova-Akiyama, and I apologize for my son. He does so enjoy his games. Why don't you come in?"
Her voice was strangled in her throat. She wanted to ask how the old woman was alive, how any of them escaped the Army, but she followed the trio onto the castle grounds. The gates were closed behind them by children, none of whom looked over fifteen, and she was grateful for Renamon's strength, for it seemed that her own had left her. People started coming out onto the grounds to see her. Children, the middle-aged, and the elderly. Her heart leapt to her throat and she scanned the growing crowd desperately for her mother. It was a long shot, but maybe…
"There's no one here named Makino," Yoshino said, her voice soft and sweetened with empathy. "If she was here, we would have told you long ago."
Ruki gave a terse nod. It seemed all she was capable of right now.
As it had for the past few years, the day started with one of his pet ravens cawing insistently in his ear. How she managed to get up to his couch with a disabled wing, Tomoki was never quite sure, but he was grateful for the fact that Munin liked him too much to peck his eyes out. Her companion, Hugin, was probably out hunting any lingering bugs that hadn't hidden fast enough. There was another insistent caw, and he shooed her away and grudgingly got out of bed. As he went through the usual morning ablutions and got dressed, the raven hop-fluttered away to track down her companion.
Tomoki stared blearily at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Not that the toilets worked anymore, but these facilities still had their uses. There were those smudges under his eyes again — he'd been up for hours after the afterparty to prepare his material for today, because teaching does not come easily to one who was never formally trained for it. Simply washing his face never made it go away, and he emptied the bowl with a quick dump into a bucket for the rooftop garden. The water that he had piped in didn't come from any municipal source, but from a rain barrel with a poor man's excuse for a filtration system he set up on the roof. The blueprints had come from a book he only barely understood. Given that no one went up to the top story and he never talked about it, he considered his water system safe.
Once he was presentable, he pocketed a small frozen vial wrapped in foil and thin but effective insulating material and trotted up the stairs to check the other floors for intruders of any variety, making sure to lock up his private basement before he did so. The two basement floors were his home now, and anything that hadn't been serving as storage space ended up a part of a converted apartment. The keys he'd gotten from his brother, who had worked here before the end of the old world and shoved him in after Shibuya went up in flames and they had nowhere to go. His brother had died defending the place, and Tomoki couldn't even remember his face anymore. Not being able to remember his family bothered him, but what bothered him more were those dreams he had of being something else and having friends he never met in the real world. Up until he met Kouji and Takuya, he was sure they had just been dreams. Not that they remembered anything about a past life or strange dreams, but it was good to know that the people in those dreams existed in the real world.
As usual, the floors were clear. After his demonstration years ago, during which he had scared off vandals and looters by dropping temperatures in a thirty foot radius to below zero degrees Celcius on a hot summer day, people didn't dare try to break in. Harder than inflicting frostbite had been winning people back, because even he couldn't survive long on his own. He'd opened the library doors, let the locals peruse the stacks on the first three public floors, and for the use of the library, he was paid in the kinds of food he couldn't grow on the roof. Slowly, over time, he realized that many of the younger people had the same sort of problem that he started out with. They couldn't read, or could read only hiragana. Furigana could only get one so far, a hard lesson he learned when he tried to build his filtration system from guidebooks with kanji he could barely understand. He set out to learn more, and shared as he learned.
He finally reached the roof, where carrier pigeons cooed at him and the chickens clucked as they scratched around their wire pen. He went straight for the pigeons and selected the strongest, to which he tied his vial and a small identifier, and released it. Talking the girl into giving up a little blood had been harder than it needed to be, but he drew what they wanted and was practiced enough by now that she barely felt the needle and forgot the incident soon afterward.
They hadn't been clear about what they wanted, not when they enlisted him, but after a while he felt like he figured it out. The subjects were always the same: children born after the end of the old world to parents who survived the disease, some of which were smarter than they should have been. It was as if evolution had given the human race a boost up the ladder as a reward for surviving its extinction event. They were probably working on a vaccine, and far be it for Tomoki to decline. So he took stock of the exceptional children who came to his library, took a little blood, and sent it away to who knew where. The carrier pigeons were later returned with their thanks and a gift of appreciation. He knew better than to ask for anything more.
With that task out of the way, he fed the birds, collected eggs, and watered the garden. He returned downstairs soon after cleaning and boiling some eggs. He remembered, vaguely, that his brother loved oyakodon and set a couple aside once he was back in his basement. Preserving his food had never been difficult, not after the white bear came for him. It was still inside him, a silent presence that seemed to spend most of its time hibernating. Only in dreams did it speak to him, but its supernatural power to freeze was always at his beck and call.
He opened the doors roughly around mid-morning once his morning chores were done, and sat at general information counter with a book in hand. There had been a time when he had game systems to entertain him instead, but they had long since fallen into disuse and were lovingly stored in a small box in his basement. First he had waited for the return of power for the larger systems, then for batteries when the ones in his handheld systems ran out. Books were all he had now.
People started trickling in, including his assistant, who happily worked for the food he had to offer. There were never very many, but any visitors were welcome. Mostly they picked a book and sat to read. Sometimes they came in to escape the weather, and sometimes the struggling local community would use his tables for a feast. He expected a feast in a day or so — a large percentage of the food paid to the Teenage Wolves and associated musicians were paid in turn to the Asahi Clan for permission to play in their territory, and the Clan in turn brought the food to share with the rest of them. As exploitative as some of the Clans could be, there were always a few smart ones who knew that it would be better to cooperate with the community peacefully than rule with terror. Tomoki remembered very little of the old world, but the Asahi Clan's role in the surviving community didn't seem much different than a police force to him. They kept the peace and were paid in exchange.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, Tomoki pulled out his materials in preparation for the noon class and sorted through them. He only had two classes a day, three days a week. The first class was at noon for regular folk, who were usually either kids or people who couldn't do manual labor. The second was during the evening, for kids whose parents were in the Clan. While he taught reading, writing, and basic arithmetic in both classes, crime was still an issue and the kids of the Clans were better protected once they went home. His class size was seldom consistent, and he usually took it easier when there weren't many people.
Upon noticing him shuffle through his papers, his assistant trotted up to him and offered to help. Good kid, eager to help out. Not one of the special ones, though. Tomoki smiled and turned over the bin of paintbrushes and ink pots, and a thin stack of sheets illustrating a brush stroke apiece for the day's kanji. "Why don't you set up the classroom?"
The boy took the materials and hurried off to the wing where he held his classes, handling the papers with far more care than Tomoki ever did. He then remembered that he'd have to scavenge for more paper soon; after years of teaching, the library's own supply of printer paper was approaching critically low levels. At least he was in Tokyo and there was no shortage of abandoned office buildings.
Shortly after his assistant returned to report that the sheets were up and then ran off to do patrols, two men and a couple of strange creatures came in. He watched the creatures warily — they weren't animals, but they did remind him of that strange lizard-like thing he saw at the Teenage Wolves' afterparty. The bear spirit inside him stirred in recognition, but remained mute. They were not a threat. Tomoki gave a cool smile and welcomed them into his library.
The taller one looked around; his eyes alight with a passion for reading that Tomoki had seen so often before. His pale skin stretched tight over lean, almost stringy muscle. This man wasn't a fighter. A hunter, perhaps; he had that look of someone who preferred to strike from afar. The other one, though, was more densely built. A man who might have brawled, but he didn't look like he enjoyed it. He smiled brightly at Tomoki. The creatures he couldn't hope to describe.
"Hi, we're looking for a few titles. Do you do check-outs?"
Tomoki politely refrained from sighing. They must be from out of town. Checked-out books were usually never returned, and he often spent his weekends dragging boxes from other libraries and book stores just to make sure he had duplicates. That some of them had escaped the fires at all was a minor miracle. "If there are more than two copies, yes. Otherwise, you'll have to copy what you need by hand. If you've no plans on returning the books, we'll discuss purchasing options depending on the availability of the books. The card catalogue is in the north wing and updated every weekend with a tally of duplicate books. Our plumbing hasn't worked in fifteen years and the restroom doors are locked, so please do that sort of business outside. No bags of any kind. If you need a locker, it will be provided. Mind the birds. Drinking water is provided on an at-need basis. No food or drink near the stacks. The basement, fourth floor, and fifth floor are off limits to preserve sensitive materials. Any questions?"
They nodded, though one of them looked a bit surprised at his list of rules. What, did they expect him to let everyone get away with everything? Nonetheless, one of them requested a couple of lockers. Tomoki dug through the bin under the counter for keys and turned them over. He pointed to the locker area, which was on the way to the City of Tokyo Information corner, and wrote down their names in his visitor's logbook. Which was getting full again. At least he had a few more in boxes in the lower basement. They left for the lockers and Hugin followed to watch. If there was any break in behaviors, the ravens would warn him.
His students began streaming in and heading for the Health and Medical Information corner, where he held his classes. Once his assistant turned up to man the desk, he followed them and welcomed the new faces. The new people were usually transients who were passing through and dropped by out of either curiosity or a desperate grasp at a shadow of their long-dead childhoods. For these he adjusted his teaching methods to mimic what he remembered, because while Tomoki's links to his past weren't very strong due to his age, he understood why older people would cling to memories of a better life.
Class started with a bow and introduction, and then he dived into the day's kanji radical and how to write it, its readings and various meanings, and its position in a complex kanji. Often he illustrated the radicals as an end result of a morphing from pictures representing their meanings. Makigamae would be illustrated as an upside-down box, which he used a prop box for. Nichi was a rectangular sun divided by a cloud. Yumi was a reflex bow ready to shoot. He found that using pictures and props to show where a radical derived from helped people remember them better. It was trickier for radicals that didn't translate so well to imagery, but practice helped a bit. It was just before the practice session that he took questions, then walked along the rows of tables to help people with their writing. The paintbrushes he'd scavenged from schools and supply shops, and the ink ranged from watercolor tablets to ground-up charcoal powder mixed with water. Then, once the majority of the class was comfortable with their practice sheets, he explained how radicals were used in the development of hiragana and used illustrations. For the more advanced students, he wrote up short example kanji in sentences and encouraged them to practice reading. By the end of the hour, most of the students left, happy with their progress and with their practice sheets in hand. The stragglers continued practicing, or else had questions about his examples. He had patience enough for all of them, but he encouraged them to study together. Tomoki found that some people responded best to learning on their own, and others to learning in a group.
By the time he was allowed to return to work, there was a small queue lined up at his desk. He gestured for Hugin to join him, and the bird fluttered from her perch on a bookshelf to his shoulder as he settled down to check out books. Hugin alerted him whenever someone tried to sneak out with a book without going to him first, though most people didn't bother. She nipped his ear affectionately and watched the line. He processed the regulars quickly; the regulars were usually trustworthy and he knew where they lived. Their selections were common books, mostly fiction or how-to guides that he already had backup copies of in the basements. Then came the two with their strange non-human companions, carrying books that nearly made his eyebrows retreat to his hairline. The subjects encompassed several forms of electric generation, advanced mechanics, blueprints for reactors and great manufacturing machines he couldn't possibly make heads or tails of, and more. Hugin shifted uncomfortably on her perch, as if unsure how to react, and he absently patted the foot with the two missing front toes.
"Trying to bring back the old world?" he asked as he copied down titles into his logbook. Several of these had no backup copies, but they would probably be better off with people who seem to be vested in using them. Still, he'd at least try to get something of value from the loss.
"Trying to get people back on their feet," the shorter man said. The beaded band under his goggles looked new and well-made. Tomoki wanted to ask about the artist, but his thoughts kept snagging on the words.
"Politics and sociology on the second floor," Tomoki started, and kept to himself the snark about missing the subjects in their rush to get to the technology-related books. It seemed irresponsible to suddenly bring back things that most people seemed fine without. "If you do not intend to return these books, I request the following: food items, clothing, or spare me the scavenging hunt and find me a box of clean paper." It was a paltry list for such valuable materials, but he couldn't expect more.
They glanced at each other, and he ignored the creature who looked over his logbook from its perch on the hunter's cap. The shorter man set his bag on the desk and sifted through it. Much of it looked like survival tools, of which he had no need. What he ended up pulling out was a can, something that looked like a metal filter, and something bundled in old cloth. "Don't know if you like this kind of stuff, but… There's been some trade opening up between Vietnam and the Ryukyu Kingdom, and Ryukyu trades with us. There's not a lot of this, but just enough to lower trade prices. These are whole beans, so you might want to freeze them to last longer." Tomoki couldn't keep the surprise off his face. They didn't mean… Did they? More important than what they were trading was that international trade seemed to have resumed. "Robusta coffee, Vietnamese style. That thingy is the filter. And this," the man started with a grin as he uncovered a mason jar filled with viscous gold, "is honey from a beekeeper I know out in Shimane."
Tomoki congratulated himself for keeping a straight face. Honey wasn't that rare, but still a luxury item. Coffee hadn't made it this far north, as far as he knew. From the sound of it, the coffee trade was only just coming back; he'd have heard earlier if the trade routes were re-established as of two months ago. He grunted and noted the trade items in his logbook. "They'll suffice. Treat the books well."
"We are going to return them," the taller one offered.
He smiled thinly in response and closed the logbook. Hugin, bored, fluttered off to the shelves. "That's what they all say."
The small party left soon afterwards, and life continued uninterrupted. By the time the sun set, he was back in his classroom area and teaching the children of the Clan. There was little variation from the day class, and he was done in an hour. His assistant did the final rounds to flush out anyone lingering in the library and fed the animals, which left Tomoki time to head down to the basement. The coffee he tucked away in the icebox, the honey he kept aside to portion out a bit for his assistant's payment. While honey wasn't all that rare, and there was a beekeeper a few kilometers away in Chiyoda, it was just rare enough to be a treat for his assistant. The boy had been making noises about going home to eat, so Tomoki filled out a basket for him. He felt a little bad about utilizing child labor, but the boy's mother was born with half of one arm and a couple of fingers missing on the other. The job helped support the family when her own employment was sporadic.
By the time the boy turned up in the basement, he had the basket of food ready to go and followed him to the entrance, where he waved the boy off and waited for his orders. An oil lamp provided the light he read by, and the ravens played together nearby.
Takuya arrived an hour later with birdcage in hand and a few fellow travelers nearby, just after he had the ravens settle in for the night. As this was a fairly frequent occurrence, he allowed them in to rest at the tables while Takuya handed off the pigeons and gave his pass phrase just in case. The cover over the cage ensured that the birds were asleep, or at least would be soon. He'd take them back up to the roof in the morning.
"A couple of guys came in with the strangest things," Tomoki began. Dark as it was in the library, the windows let in just enough starlight for Takuya's party to avoid bumping into anything. As he spoke, he lit another lamp for them. "Nothing like any animal I've seen, and they could speak. One was orange with wings on its head, the other looked like a blue dinosaur."
"Digimon," Takuya responded once they started the descent to the basement. While Takuya trusted his party, he preferred to debrief in private. A ball of fire the size of a candle's flame lit the way and hovered just above Takuya's outstretched palm. "We have them inside us, that's why we can do what we do."
Tomoki considered that as he unlocked the second door to the first basement and moved towards his water supply and filled up a jug with his clean water. Not that they couldn't find and treat their own water, but he'd be a poor host if he didn't offer. "They picked up a few books on advanced mechanics and electrical generation. That sort of thing."
"I've seen those guys around," Takuya said as he transferred the flame to a couple of candles standing in pots on what was once a break room table. The smell of melting beeswax and lavender oil soon filled the room, and Takuya settled on his couch. "They're not a problem so long as they stay out of the way."
"So what's going on? I heard Vietnam finally started opening up trade again?"
"Yeah, though in my part of the world, we're working on outlining a treaty with the Ulta and Russians in Sakhalin, and the Nivkh in the Amur River valley. The old lady helped with outlining our practices, but I think we might need to get her out there because none of us has the amount of knowledge she does," Takuya began, his eyes lighting up with remembered excitement. It was infectious and Tomoki couldn't help but smile in response. "I'm heading out to Korea in a month to examine treaty options with them. All the reports say that the North has pretty much been demolished; you remember that crazy dictator, right? But there are still people organizing in the South. China and Russia are still pretty fragmented, but we're leaving China to the Ryukyuans. They have a history of trade which might help."
"And those samples I send? How's that project going?"
"So far, so good." Takuya's enthusiasm faded. "It's the lack of technology we kept running aground with. The kids working on it are really bright, but everything depends on Doc. Keep sending the samples, though. Everything helps."
Tomoki nodded and switched to more mundane matters. That he had Shinya's homework ready for when Takuya wanted to head out, which was technically just copies of every kanji he covered since Shinya was last here. He wouldn't have considered making up homework in the first place, but Shinya seemed set on the idea of becoming a storyteller and needed to be able to read. Then the subjects shifted local politics and decayed into odd stories and amusing anecdotes before Takuya excused himself and gathered his group to head out. They gratefully took the water he offered them and disappeared into the stillness of the city at night.
At the entrance to his library, the darkness alleviated by brilliant stars overhead that were unimpeded by light pollution, Tomoki wondered for the thousandth time what he'd gotten involved in.
Of all the things that life had thrown at her, Ruki found herself preferring stability and reliability over everything else. When things were the way she wanted them, everything had its place and everyone behaved as expected of them. Anything that upset that displeased her, and she has vast quantities of displeasure. It was almost gratifying, in its way. The world could go to hell or turn upside down, and she'd still be annoyed about something. She did always appreciate consistency.
Her day had been spent almost entirely at the Lighthouse going over plans and paperwork and agreements, with naps between sessions. Her one constant in dealing with strangers whose age made her uncomfortable was that Renamon was always lurking in the shadows, as if in silent support. Yoshino and Fukami showed her around, then Yoshino's legs spasmed in pain from hours in the wheelchair and she had to rest, and Ruki was passed off to Mrs. Akiyama. The old woman pushed tea and cookies off on her as if to allay her discomfort, and dove into the outlining of a treaty. Being of a suspicious nature, Ruki held off on signing anything until after her first nap.
In exchange for her protection, which she had given without fully realizing what they held within the castle walls, the Lighthouse would provide technical advice and specialists when available. It was a step up from what she had before, though she refrained from wincing at the cost of housing one of those specialists for the extent of time in which she might need them. Full room, board, and enough food to take back with them. As successful as Osaba was, largely through her sheer stubborn insistence in keeping the place alive, she could hardly claim to be wealthy. That had been Akiyoshi's mistake — he could have taken over, sure, but his model of production and wealth distribution couldn't sustain her people for long, not without creating the kind of social stratification she tried to avoid. It was worth it to agree to the treaty, though. It had to be. The food she quibbled over with the man who followed Mrs. Akiyama once she needed the rest; a big, broad-shouldered man who insisted on simply being called Satsuma; and minor adjustments were made to reflect the new terms. Lunch followed, then another nap.
Fukami then led her to a room that served for classes, for what she assumed was an attempt to appeal to her maternal side, and Renamon trailed silently behind. She'd smirked at the thought, because she had no maternal side. The kids, however, made her uncomfortable in a wholly different way. Kids shouldn't be smart enough to do the kind of college-level math she couldn't hope to understand, not at elementary age. At eight, she'd barely gotten around to mastering fractions.
"Every extinction event provides opportunity for evolution," Fukami said, sounding entirely too smart for her age. "You see it all throughout geological history. That's how we classify the past, you know. The Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods end with mass extinctions and begin with a proliferation of new life. The old people think that's what happened with us. We're the children of teenagers who survived the Nellis virus."
"Nellis?" she asked, her brain trying to wrap around the unfamiliar name. She frowned, and the girl hurried to explain.
"That's where the first victim was reported. Nellis Air Force Base, in the United States. We think the virus originated in Area 51, but there's no way to confirm that." Ruki bit her tongue to keep from responding to Fukami's revelation. Of course the most powerful nation in the world at the time would be working on something like that. She knew power, and how far some people would go to keep it.
She was then shown to another room, where Takato appeared to be setting up shop. He turned and flashed a brilliant smile at her that almost made her wince. Oblivious, he trotted up to them in a painter's apron and a smudge of green paint on his cheek. At least he'd shed that ridiculous armor. He welcomed her with another quick hug, which she responded to with an awkward pat on the back. People usually feared her too much to attempt this kind of thing, after all.
"Mr. Satsuma thought I should teach art," Takato said, answering a question that was almost on her tongue. She glanced into the room, and there was no sign of the things he had the night before. With a perceptiveness that surprised her, his smile turned lop-sided. "I handed over Doc's laptop. They said they'll be able to do something with it and I won't have to worry anymore."
"Big relief?" she managed to ask. The man looked a lot more rested and less skittish than he had been.
"Feels like the world's finally off my shoulders." The smile faded, though he did look relieved. He glanced at Renamon, then back at her. "I had a dream, too. They say it happens to some of us, especially those of us with stronger bonds to the past."
Then, without waiting for her to respond, he turned to collect a broad sheet of paper from a work bench. It looked… familiar, somehow. Cartoonish and meant to resemble a child's hand, but… There were several figures. Two were clearly her and Renamon, back when she was very young and tied off her hair in such a way that it ended up spiking upwards, but she didn't recognize the other figures. One of them might have been Takato. She had no idea why it was familiar, though.
"I remember painting this," Takato said. "I don't remember why, or when. But I remember that these people are friends."
Her thumb brushed across part of the outline of a face darker than the rest, with dark, spiky hair. To the left of it was some cream-colored thing with long ears. She didn't think she'd be interested in a past that never happened, but the uncertainty was annoying and she'd rather have more than niggling fragments of memories flitting around the back of her mind. "Can you draw more realistic portraits?"
"Sure. When I'm done, I'll bring them to you. Is that okay?" His eyes searched hers, and she nodded. Socialization being as uncomfortable as it was, she soon excused herself and let Fukami resume the tour. Then there were more papers to look over and bicker about before signing, then a supper she agreed to go to that ended up trying her patience.
By the time she was ready to head back home, she was tired and the stars were out. They'd never been this bright back then; the city lights usually drowned them out. As the gates closed behind her, she began walking alongside her bike. The walk would give her time to process the shock of the day. That she hadn't snapped at anyone was a minor miracle.
"Renamon?" she asked of the shadows, and Renamon soon turned up at her side. "No more surprises. I'm done for the week. If anyone does anything unexpected in my presence, I want you to smack them."
There was a soft, short chuckle and she found herself smiling.
Notes: Oh hey, so it turns out that The X-Files influenced a lot of this, and I wasn't even aware until I started rewatching the show. So, credit where credit is due: elements of the creation of this disease, and the reference to Area 51, came from The X-Files and were enhanced by my own research into immunology, epidemiology, and pathology. In the real world, there have been people weaponizing diseases; experts have known for ages that the Soviet Union had been working on weaponizing pathogens such as smallpox, Marburg (the basis of the Nellis virus here), and others. I will stop here because I know I'll ramble even more because the research I've done is so extensive that I could have written graduate theses on the history of biological warfare. Yoshino has transverse myelitis, which can be a side-effect in survivors of Ebola (a member of the same family as Marburg).
Also, historically in Japan, beheading outside of the practice of seppuku was considered degrading to the victim. While Ruki's method was quick and didn't leave much time for suffering, there are records of a beheading being done slowly enough to last for several days. Her sticking Akiyoshi's head at the gates is pretty much exclusively in reference to Sultan Mehmed (the Conqueror of Constantinople and attempted conqueror of Italy) sticking Vlad III Dracula's head at the gates as proof of his death.
Finally, because someone asked, a short list of players on the field, which looks better with all the colors I used:
Takaishi Takeru: A transient hunter seeking to find Amaterasu's Cave, where he believes his parents to be. Currently using Iwakuni's resources to aid in his quest. Partner to Patamon.
Motomiya Daisuke: A transient forager traveling with Takeru. Initially he did so because Takeru has a goal and he didn't; now his goal is to watch over Takeru. Partner to V-mon.
Motomiya Jun: Agent, partner to Penmon. Welcomes newcomers to Iwakuni when off expedition rotation. Has a daughter, Fukami, by Kai.
Urazoe Kai (deceased): Formerly of Ryukyu (Okinawa); agent to Iwakuni after being fished out of the nearby bay following a typhoon. Husband to Jun and father of Fukami.
Ichijouji Ken: Caesar of Iwakuni after the disappearance of his predecessor and brother, Osamu. Partner to Wormmon.
Takenouchi Sora: Second-in-command to Osamu, and then to Ken. Serves as counselor when not attending to administrative matters. Partner to Piyomon.
Li Xiaochun: Communications and radar technician, digimon babysitter. Partner to Lopmon.
Li Jianliang: Former agent, currently security chief. One of Osamu's most loyal followers and ensures that Ken remains in power. Partner to Terriermon.
Li Lianjie: Agent, partner to Gazimon. Mess hall manager when off expedition rotation.
Li Jialin: Council member, military trainer.
Aoyama Taizou: Council member, hydroponics manager/maintainer.
Hida Iori: Council member, legal consultant, chief of maintenance.
Nakabayashi Tadashi: Former communications technician, currently works in the mess hall.
Takashi: Iori's ward
Makino Ruki: Self-made Queen of Osaba, a town built up around a school on the outskirts of Hiroshima. Partner to Renamon.
Shiota Hirokazu: Second in command to Ruki.
Kitagawa Kenta: A researcher.
Teppei: Spirit of Earth. Former farmer, current glassmaster.
Akiyoshi (deceased): Former bookkeeper for Ruki.
Uehara Minami (deceased): A citizen of Osaba, formerly of Ryukyu.
Iria: A citizen of Osaba.
Fujieda Yoshino: Assistant director to Satsuma, handles relations with Ruki.
Fukami: Jun and Kai's daughter.
Mrs. Akiyama: International relations specialist.
Satsuma Rentaro: Director of the Lighthouse.
FIREFLY VILLAGE, Hakusan National Park
Ai: A hunter. Raised in part by macaques, and then adopted by a pair of Ainu girls. Partner to Impmon.
Makoto: A tanner and leatherworker. Ai's twin brother. Partner to Impmon.
Katsuharu: A blacksmith. Spirit of Metal.
SHIBATA CASTLE, Niigata Shogunate
Tachikawa Mimi: Secretly the Shogun of Niigata, frequently acts as the shogun's wife. Partner to Palmon.
Tachikawa Sanin: Mimi's son and heir, conceived through artificial insemination.
Keiko: Mimi's aide, doubles as either the shogun or Mimi when needed to perpetuate the illusion.
Kimura Kouichi: Spirit of Darkness. Daimyo and commander-in-chief of Niigata's military.
Hiroyuki: A samurai.
Warren: A ninja.
Rei: Martial arts trainer specializing in aikido, jodo, and iaido.
Inoue Chizuru & Miyako: Self-trained pilots, last seen heading for the Americas.
Izumi Koushiro: Runs the bar and persons-locator map, collects information on the side. Partner to Tentomon.
Inoue Momoe: Limited access informant to Iwakuni, reports to Jun.
Noriko (deceased): Mistress to Genki.
Genki (deceased): Cult leader who gained notoriety for uniting some of the Clans and slaughtering all who would not worship him.
Matsuda Takato: Self-styled knight and defender of the weak. Escaped Amaterasu after being subjected to horrific human experimentation. Carries with him a laptop stolen from Amaterasu.
Terayama Yuuji: A handyman.
Itou Ayaka: A mechanic. Argued with Yuuji to take care of Takato.
TRANSIENTS, SEMI-NOMADS, WANDERERS, AND OTHER UNAFFILIATED PERSONS
Yagami Hikari: (religious leader), partner to Tailmon
Yagami Taichi: (watches out for Hikari), partner to Agumon
Ishida Yamato: (+ Teenage Wolves: Yutaka, Akira, Takashi. Travelling bard, partner to Gabumon)
Minamoto Kouji: (joined Teenage Wolves, spirit of Light)
Kido Jou: (travelling medic), partner to Gomamon
Shibayama Junpei: (spirit of Lightning, Jou's assistant. Ex-raider)
Chiaki: (spirit of Water, Jou's apprentice)
Orimoto Izumi: (spirit of Wind, part-time barkeeper)
Teruo (spirit of Wood, fucked up on the vaccine & reintroduced the virus to the masses)
Rieko (D-1, pink hair. Travelling violinist)
The Doc (...)