Aeon of Strife: Chapter One

** disclaimer: Digimon does not belong to me. Takeru, Hikari and Cody doesn't belong to me. If they did, I'd be rich. So leave me alone you vultures!

**Author's notes: In case you missed it, this saga is set ONE YEAR after the end of "The Age of Gods". Thus, Takeru and Kari are fifteen. CONTEST RESULTS AT THE END!!!!!!!!!

Pilgrimage: Chapter One

By: TK Takaishi

Every once in a while, some dramatic, historical event happens that is so drastic, and so irreversible, that it changes the land of Gaea forever. Usually, such events are easily recognizable. Adun's legendary Seihad was one of them. Five hundred years later, the fall of Ishida was another.

But sometimes, such events are not so noticeable. At the time, they may appear to be so insignificant and trivial, that it is deemed worthy of only a historical footnote. And it is only in retrospect, as later generations look back upon the stories of their ancestors, that their importance is realized.

The razing of Kurtal, and the subsequent two week hunt was one example.

And on that summer day, the 17th of August, recorded as Ato Seihad1 514 under the Gaean calendar, one such incident occurred. It was minor at the time, but it set off a chain of events whose effects were felt for generations untold. A random series of inevitabilities that once set in motion, could not be stopped. A chain of events that involved four, mighty kingdoms, then eventually all the peoples of Gaea…

And one, tiny desert village.

A solitary figure gazed impassively over a dune at the small, desert village below. His wild mane of dark brown hair streamed silently in the wind, his hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. Beneath him, his black war-horse tossed and neighed slightly, its crimson red eyes narrowing.

The village was not much to look at. Small, perhaps not more than five hundred inhabitants. As the man watched contemptuously, several farmers pumped water from the oasis to irrigate their crops, sweating in the hot afternoon sun. Children were playing happily in the dusty fields. Completely unaware of the man, the village went on with life as usual.

Farmers. The rider thought as his eyes narrowed. All the conditions are right. They will serve as a good sacrifice to our cause. The fools have no idea what's coming…

Abruptly, he drew his sword and held it high to the sky. The blazing afternoon sun flashed so brightly off the steel that it looked like it had caught on fire. Sensing its master's sudden crazy blood-lust, the war-horse reared up, kicking and plunging with unrestrained excitement. A single word rode from the rider's lips like a mallet striking steel.


And with that, he sent his steed racing down the dune, the ground flying past him, flying faster than the wind itself. A plume of sand billowed behind him, sending the man's cape streaming like a banner.

Surprised and confused, the villagers looked up. Seeing the single man charging them, several of them frowned. Some of them laughed. Was he crazy, charging by himself down the dune-side? The villagers had held their own against robbers and bandits before. He's just like Don Quixote, one woman remarked to another.

Then their laughter abruptly died as the entire dune-top behind the man began to shimmer. An almighty roar that shook even the village's houses filled the air as hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers, all clad in the same black leather armour, decloaked in unison, flashing and fading into view. Legion after legion of men raced down the hill, gold-trimmed banners waving violently in the air. And it was then that the village realized that it was doomed.

But what terrified the hapless villagers the most were the slavering, black beasts that raced down the sandy dunes like bloodhounds. But they were not bloodhounds. They were not any creature that could be spawned by nature, so vicious was its appearance. And all of them, every last one, were thundering down the slope after their leader, their own weapons drawn and raised.

Suddenly, instead of one crazy man, it was an entire tide of black bearing down upon the helpless village.

The suddenly terrified farmers dropped their tools, turned, and tried to run for their lives, but it was too late. The rider was already upon them. With a smooth stroke, he killed two as he passed without the slightest break in speed. A sobbing mother running away with her baby in her arms screamed as he laid her back wide open. As she fell, he brought his steed's steel-shod hooves thundering down upon the corpse, and crushed the crying baby's head, laughing maniacally all the while. Slashing and thrusting at the helpless, screaming crowd around him, the man roared in exultation.

The soldiers, carrying firebrands, set fire to the fields and buildings. Blood flew everywhere, splattering the walls, and staining the streets until the village looked like it had been painted crimson. The oasis itself turned blood-red as the howling, feral beasts stormed the screaming women and children who had been drawing their water there, even as they begged and screamed for their lives. Ripping and slashing with snow-white teeth and claws, the beasts' red eyes sparkled with excitement and blood frenzy. The few men who valiantly tried to pick up weapons and fight were slaughtered without a second glance. Legionnaires burst into houses and slaughtered every last living thing they could find, fathers, mothers, elderly, and children.

And amidst it all, the single rider could be seen, his war-horse rearing and plunging, and his sword flashing like wildfire, laughing madly.

"No mercy! No prisoners!" he screamed wildly. "Kill them all! Down to every last woman and child!!"


The desert is a cruel and exacting place, demanding that only the fittest survive. The desert demanded utter perfection. Consequently, only the hardiest farmers managed to eke out a meager existence on the fringes of the Saera scrublands, where there was minimal water at least, and stands of forests to support their needs.

But in the center, there was nothing but shifting dunes and dusty grass, broken only by the occasional copse where oases had sprung up. Heat waves shimmered off the golden, sun-baked ground below. The lone and level sands seemed to stretch on forever. In the hot afternoon sun, vultures circled the deep blue sky, spiraling on the rising heat drafts over their prey.

A young boy, no more than twelve years old, lay prone on the ground, seemingly oblivious to the light, desert wind that harshly scoured his body. His left arm bore a bloody slash wound, and his tunic was slashed to shreds. His dark hair was streaked with grains of gritty sand and blood, and angry red lash marks scored his back and body.

One vulture, more adventurous than the rest, ventured closer. Alighting in a swirl of sand, it gave the boy a curious glance. The boy's footprints led off in a long line to the northwest, and it seemed the young desert nomad had simply collapsed in his tracks. Was he dead yet? Hesitantly, the bird hopped closer, and gave the boy a light nip on the shoulder.

Almost at once, the "dead" boy struck out savagely with his good hand. The blow was amazingly fast. Squawking in surprise, the vulture flapped away in a panic, minus a handful of tail feathers.

Painfully, the boy tried to lever himself back up onto his good arm. He was no fool. He knew he couldn't stay here. He knew he had to keep moving, to find shelter, to find food and water, but it was no use. His wounded arm gave out under him, and the sands got stained a little redder as he fell.

The sun beat mercilessly on the small boy's back as he lay there, weeping quietly. His emerald green eyes were only half-open, clouded with exhaustion and pain. As merciful darkness closed around him, the boy's last thought flitted across his mind as unconsciousness took over.

How ironic…I finally get my freedom, and I have to die less than a day after…

** five miles away**

Two lone figures stood on the plains. One of them slowly straightened up from the crouch it had been in on the ground.

Both of them were clad in the simple traveling cloak of rurouni's, or wanderers, the light, sandy-brown fabric blending in perfectly with their surroundings. The hoods were drawn up to protect their faces from the blowing sand. While some less educated people might believe that the wanderers might be boiling under the cloaks, the truth was that neither of them would last a day without them.

Mutely, they glanced at each other, then back down at the ground.

For before them, lying on the light sand, was a collection of human corpses. From the dark rags, they were most probably desert bandits, preying upon rich merchants or travelers. Both travelers had heard of them. The terror of the scrublands. Several of them were still clutching their rusty weapons in their cold, stiff hands. But none of them would be using them anymore.

Crimson blood stained the dusty sands in an ever-expanding circle around the bandits. Several of them looked like they had been run through with a sword, while others had been struck down with savage slashes. The horrible rictus of death was stamped on their faces.

All of them were undeniably dead.

One of the bodies didn't seem to be bleeding at all, and just seemed to be lying there, as if asleep. Stooping, one of the wanderers knelt and picked up the man. The neck hung at a crazy angle as the body was lifted, and the head lolled loosely. The grinding of splintered bone could be heard.

Grimly, the rurouni lowered the bandit back onto the ground gently.

The man's neck was broken, snapped like a twig.

Who did this?

There was no speaking, no sound, but it was undeniable that there was communication of some sort going on, for the other figure immediately acknowledged with a shake of her head.

They were bandits after all. How many did they kill in their time? They probably deserved the fate that befell them.

A pause fell over the two in their speechless conversation.

Really? Come now, nobody deserves this. When it comes down to it, "righteous" killing is really nothing more than the lesser of two evils.

You and your morals. One of these days, you'll realize the world doesn't quite work as idealistically as you believe it does.

Something akin to a mental sigh emerged from the first traveler. Have you noticed? This sort of thing is happening increasingly often nowadays. The land is growing more and more violent…

But what can two people do to stop the shifting tide of time? There is nothing we can do here. The only thing we can hope for, is to care for the victims we come across that are still alive. Or bury those that are not.

But…never mind. That still doesn't answer the question, who did this?

Look over there.

Turning, the traveler heeded his companion's advice, and looked in the direction she had indicated. Stretching into the distance was a single line of footprints. They were clear and recent, the step shuffling as if exhausted, or wounded. And the footprints were small, that of a child's. Winding, the tracks disappeared into the shifting dunes.

No way a child could have done this.

The traveler's companion snorted.

Look who's talking.

Shaking his head in response, the rurouni scanned the sky. In the hot afternoon sun, vultures and crows were already circling the deep blue sky, spiraling on the rising heat drafts. They would be here soon, as they converged on the dead bodies lying on the ground. In a couple days, the corpses would be nothing but bare bones, picked clean by the scavengers.

The desert wasted nothing.

Turning, the wanderer shook the sand from his cloak, and strode off into the dunes, following the child's tracks as they led south-east.

Come on. Let's go.

His companion followed in mute agreement. Together, the two rurouni's disappeared into the haze of blowing sand, trekking over the shifting dunes and hardy grass. And over their heads, the flock of scavengers thickened.


In the dusty hellhole called the desert, a small river meandered through the arid earth, bringing with it life and fertility. In the valley, green plants grew and wild animals played. But all of them instinctively stayed away from the encampment of soldiers stationed beside the river. Light, desert tents and dark banners streamed around the perimeters of the stationary army.

Death traveled with that army, the animals knew that, and so they avoided it.

Centurion Locke Dimak strode purposefully through the encampment, his battle mask held securely under his arm. All around him, soldiers stepped out of his way in respect, and he nodded to them distractedly, but kept going. Threading his way around a platoon of soldiers on their way to change guard duties, he approached a single tent in the middle of the army. The two guards on either side of the entrance did not stop him as he reached out and pulled the flap back. "Sir?"


"I have a report to make."

A pause ensued. Then the Praetor replied, "Come in."

Adjusting his cloak, the Centurion pulled the flap a little wider, and stepped into the tent of his commanding officer.

Once inside, he was struck by the bareness of it all. The Praetor did not carry many possessions out into the field, and what he did have was strictly utilitarian and functional. There, in a neatly folded pile lying in the corner was Caylor's cloak, and his sword right beside it. The Praetor's battle mask was lying on top of the pile, gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. Turning, the Praetor looked up from the map spread out on the floor. "What is it, Centurion?"

"Sir," Locke nodded his head in respect to his officer. He knew he didn't need to do anything more than that. Caylor was tight on discipline, but relatively lax on protocol. "I just received word by way of messenger. Praetor Karensky's army is trekking north to join us in the assault on Ichijouji. They estimate that they can be at the Ara river within a couple days."

Caylor digested this in silence as he sat back. "How many soldiers does he have?"

"From the time that the message was sent two days ago, five columns sir."

A cold smile of amusement touched Caylor's lips. "Our Praetor hasn't been taking care of his soldiers very well, has he? Five columns? He started out with seven. He's managed to lose two columns in less than a year? Tut tut."

Locke raised an eyebrow in amusement as well. One year ago, Khaydarin had dispatched into Gaea several mobile armies, each under the guidance of a Praetor, and five Centurions. And each of those mobile armies had started out with seven columns. Caylor still had all seven of his columns intact. In fact, casualties in Caylor's corps were a record low in the Khaydarin army. It was just one of many things that made this particular corps in the Khaydarin Imperial Army one of the more popular ones. Caylor took care of his own.

"If I may say so sir, I'm really not that surprised. Praetor Karensky has always been slightly on the…not so conservative side."

It was the understatement of the century. Praetor Karensky was nicknamed the "backstabber" for his tendency to destroy his own troops to get at the enemy. Though of course, no-one dared call him that to his face.

Caylor nodded his head in slight agreement, but said nothing more. Locke continued, his tone turning serious again. "Sir? I am concerned about our chances of victory. Combined with Karensky's corps, we have enough troops to take Sai Auia. But not enough for a sustained campaign against all of Ichijouji."

Caylor shook his head. "Our purpose is not to take Ichijouji, only to lay siege to, and then conquer, Sai Auia. And even after that, we're not expected to occupy the city, merely burn it to the ground and leave. But above all, nobody goes in, and nobody leaves during the siege."

Locke frowned. It made no sense.

Conventional military wisdom dictated that simply leveling a city was no use. One then had to have sufficient forces and supply lines to hold the position against reprisals. Otherwise, one gains nothing. To simply destroy a target and leave worked for military targets, or small-scale raids. And Sai Auia was not a military target, and it was definitely not small.

Either someone at the top had gone crazy, or there was something more at stake.

But then, orders were orders. And a soldier's place was only to obey, and not to question. Caylor's orders were intriguing, but he trusted that his plans would be revealed in due time. So, instead of a question, Locke simply said, "Understood sir. I believe we can achieve that with the forces we have."

"But back to business." Caylor turned to his map, and traced the route to Sai Auia with his finger. "We too, have a fair distance to cover. Sai Auia is due east of us. How long do you estimate the journey to be?"

Locke scrutinized the map. "Two to two and a half weeks sir. We should rendezvous with Karensky before we arrive. If we really pushed it, we could be there in one week, but the soldiers would be wearied by the journey."

Caylor cocked his head, then nodded. Folding up the map, he addressed Locke slowly. "Fine. Send the messenger back to Karensky. Report our numbers and strength, and include the time estimate of two and a half weeks. Tell him we'll rendezvous with him at the Ara river, and we'll march together the rest of the way.

"Yes sir."

"And after you're done that, gather the rest of the Centurions and tell them to prepare their men. Tomorrow, at the crack of dawn, this army marches for Sai Auia."


The small boy tossed and turned, his feverish dreams haunted by strange visions. Memories, sights and sounds he didn't recognize flooded his consciousness. "Mother?" he murmured over and over again in his fitful slumber. Over and over again, he relived the bloody conflict less than a day ago. Or was that also a dream? Where did the dream end, and where did reality begin?

Everything was dark. It was night, the sky devoid even of the moon's welcome light. Terrified, the small boy peered out from under his mother's arms as she tried to cover his eyes. "Don't look…don't look," she kept whispering, although her own voice was just as scared as he was.

Another agonized scream rang out. The boy's eyes widened in horror as another member of his travelling caravan fell to the marauding bandits. Blood sprayed everywhere.

"Don't look…don't look…"

A woman ran up to the bandits. "Please, I beg of you! Spare the boy! Only the boy! He's only- " Then she screamed as she was run through savagely. The man wrenched his blade out roughly. The woman was dead before she hit the ground.

"Don't look…don't look…," his mother cried softly into his hair as she hugged him close, trying to shield his view.

Then the boy's eyes widened as he saw his own sister, barely fourteen herself, stand defiantly in the path of the coming bandits. "Please…don't kill the boy. Spare my brother…He's only twelve…he's only- " Then another agonized scream rang out. The boy whimpered in terror as a shower of his sister's blood rained down on him. "Mana…," he wept quietly for his older sibling, sobbing into his mother's chest. Raucous laughter erupted from the men…

"This will make for a good slave, don't you think?" one of the men jeered as he hauled the boy's mother off him. "Not bad looking. A whore, perhaps? Anyone fancy some fun tonight?"

"Mother!" the boy cried. "Don't touch her, you bastards! Let her go- "

"Son, be quiet!" the woman said desperately. "Please…spare my son. I'll…I'll do anything."

The man looked at the boy appraisingly, then back at her. Then, apparently having reached a decision, he grabbed the boy's arm, and roughly dragged him upright. When the boy struggled, the man slapped him across the face.

"This one's a spirited one, eh?" the man leered. "He'll make for a good slave as well…"

And then the marching began. Hour after hour, day after interminable day until everything seemed to blur together. Chained to a line of wretched slaves as they struggled through the burning desert. Those that could not keep up were flogged. And if they still did not get up, they were left to die where they fell. After the first day, the boy walked in a trance, driven by nothing but his intense, burning spirit to live. He was young. He was strong. He would survive. But his mother could not stand the thirst…

At night, he cared for his ailing mother as best he could, taking the shirt off his own back to keep her warm from the frigid temperatures. During the day, he tried to let her lean on him, to tell her that it was all right, that T'rakul Davis and Yolei, and the rest of the Taelidani, would find and rescue them. He spared his own water and food rations to his dying mother. But eventually, the fire of life in his mother's eyes that he had come to depend upon so much, began to fade…

Eventually, the necessity for survival drove his body to awake again. His first impression was that he was still dreaming. It was still utterly dark, at night. And at first, panic flooded his mind that he was still in the company of those slave-traders.

But no. It couldn't be.

There were no screams. There was no blood. There was no mocking laughter. And although it was a frigid night, for the first time in two weeks, he was not cold. Someone had spread a rough but warm blanket over him. Slowly, the adrenaline left. The boy tried to open his eyes, but immediately squeezed them shut again as the world spun around him alarmingly. His body ached in a hundred different places, and his left arm was afire with agony. "Water…" he croaked softly.

Immediately, he felt a pair of arms holding him securely. In the darkness, he felt rather than saw someone offer him a canteen spout.

At first, he resisted. Desert people were a hardy race, and even at the age of twelve, the boy had learned to be independent, forever wary of others, forever looking for traps and tricks. The best way to survive was to keep to yourself, for you never knew when a dagger might be hidden in your neighbour's smile.

But somehow, in these arms, he felt no fear. They cradled him gently, yet securely. He felt…safe somehow. The boy had not experienced such tender compassion since he was very young, when his mother had cradled and crooned him to sleep. Gratefully, he allowed the water to trickle down past his lips, and into his parched throat. Slowly, so as not to send the world reeling again, he opened his eyes.

"Take it easy little boy. You lost quite a lot of blood back there."

It was night, and he could feel the welcome warmth of a campfire blazing nearby. Someone had stripped him of his torn outer garment, and bandaged up his arm and wounds. Clutching the blanket to his bare chest, the boy looked up curiously at the figure holding him in his arms. The figure's face was obscured behind the cowl of a light brown wanderer's cloak. Slowly, the boy's stiff mouth formed into the shapes he wanted, and he spoke,

"Who…who are you?"

The stranger hesitated for a second, then reached up a hand and pulled the hood of his cloak back, revealing his visage.

In the flickering firelight, the boy saw a lean, fine-featured face, framed with platinum-blond bangs waving in the light, desert wind. A pair of twinkling, kindly blue eyes looked down at him. And for a moment, the boy was surprised. The stranger could be no older than fifteen, but his actions and his words were that of a grown man's.

"My name is Takeru Takaishi, from the village of Kurtal."

The wanderer spoke perfect Rek'hessen2, the sub-dialect of Gaean used in the desert. and yet his speech was tinged with a light accent that told the boy this was not his native language. His voice was more lyrical, and more soft-sounding than the harsh intonations commonly used in the desert. Kurtal? the boy thought groggily. As in the Novinha mountain ranges? No wonder his speech is tinged with the accent of Meiwa Tzin. Doesn't "Takaishi" mean high rock, or high mountain or something?

A new voice broke in. "And my name is Hikari Kamiya, but you can just call me Kari. What's your name?"

The boy's green eyes stared at the newcomer. Beside the first wanderer, there stood a second one, her hood drawn back as well. In the dim light, the boy saw a beautiful young girl, with short, shoulder-length brown hair, and kindly crimson eyes. Not ravishingly sensual, but beautiful in a different sense, wholesome and sweet. She spoke with the same accent as the first.

Slowly, the boy sat up, freeing himself from Takeru's half-embrace. "Cody," the boy rasped slowly. "My name is Cody Hida of the Taelidani."

The two wanderers exchanged silent glances with one another. Taelidani…

Then a sudden spasm of pain gripped the younger boy's left arm, and he grimaced. Kari noticed the boy's pain-filled expression immediately. "Try not to move. Your arm will heal, but only if you give it time. For now…" The girl took a flat piece of bread that he had been warming by the fire, and offered it to the younger boy. For the first time, Cody noticed the small loaves the two travelers had spread by the flame.

"Rest and save your strength. From the looks of you, you must not have eaten anything decent in days. Try this. It's not the best, I know, but it's nutritious and it'll help you get your strength back up."

Cody accepted the bread slowly, and warily took a bite. Despite Kari's words, the bread was actually quite good, warm and soft. His hunger overpowered his caution, and he took another bite, and another. He ate slowly to avoid getting sick, but he ate steadily.

"Why did you save me?" Cody asked as he chewed. It was his experience that unasked for help always came with a price.

"Excuse me?" Takeru said.

"We Taelidani would never do something like that. It is not the way of the desert."

Kari glanced back down at the boy with a raised eyebrow. "Enlighten two ignorant fools from the mountains. What is the way of the desert?"

Are they really that innocent? Cody thought in wonder. Surely the same rule applies in the mountains. "The strong survive, and the weak simply perish. For the strong to help the weak is only to burden them, and decrease their chances of survival. And in the desert, all that matters is survival."

Kari withdrew silently to the other side of the camp, leaving Takeru with Cody. As she passed Takeru, she gave him a meaningful glance, and Takeru acknowledged with a nod. Then the blond Kurtalian turned his attention back towards Cody.

"And since you are weak, are you saying that you deserve to die? Because there is nothing that you can possibly offer us in return?"

Cody remained silent.

"Cody, did you kill those eight desert bandits we saw earlier?"

The boy's stomach tightened in fear, and he looked away in shame. His hand involuntarily clenched at the blanket Takeru had provided him as a fragment of the nightmare came back.

"Don't look…don't look…"

"Yes," he whispered softly.


The boy took another bite of the bread as he looked away. A long moment of silence passed before he finally responded.

"They were planning to sell us off as slaves, see. Mother and I were their prisoners. They caught our travelling caravan five days ago, when we were coming back from a trading trip. The rest of the Taelidani were more than a day's travel away yet. They beat me and tied me up, and forced me into line with mother. They looted the caravan, and stole all our belongings and goods, even jewelry off the bodies of my friends, and my…," he choked. "Sister. And today, I…I didn't care about living anymore. I just had to get away."

Takeru frowned. "And where is your mother now?"

Tears began to prickle at the boy's emerald green eyes, but with an angry gesture, he wiped them away. Desert people did not show weakness.

"She died today. Couldn't keep up with the line, and they flogged her to death. That's why I decided to go."

An awkward silence descended over the pair. "I'm sorry…" Takeru murmured softly. "I know how you feel…"

Yes, he does, Cody thought to himself. There was something in the pain reflected in Takeru's blue eyes, and in the slight catch in the other's breathing as he said the words, that told the younger boy Takeru did understand. It had happened to the blond boy before, of that Cody was certain.

But to come down to it, that was about all he did know about Takeru. Takeru was an enigma, an unknown. And in the desert, what you didn't know didn't hurt you. It killed you.

"Why did you save me?" he insisted as he swallowed the last of the bread. "What do you want from me?"

Takeru's blue eyes stared into Cody's green ones. "I saw someone that needed my help. And so I gave it."

"I don't believe you," Cody said bluntly.

"And what would you do? Just leave someone lying there in the desert?"

Cody hesitated. "If it doesn't benefit us, we won't do it."

"Cody, I'm not from the desert. I don't live by your Taelidani ways. You were the robbed man, and so I became the good Samaritan. Did I need any other reason?"

"That's what a man once said to my friend's family." The boy's voice was stinging, scornful.

"And what happened to him?"

"The man turned out to be a robber. His entire family was sold into slavery, and eventually killed. He only just escaped. And since then, the Taelidani have had one basic rule. Never accept free candy from strangers."

Takeru paused at that, a slight frown on his face. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet, gently chiding the other.

"Cody, let me tell you something. If the world really did work by the 'way of the desert', this world would be an extremely sad place indeed. And if everyone believed that it did, it would be downright miserable."

The younger boy fell silent. A slight, chilly wind blew through the camp, and ruffled Takeru's cloak as he gazed into the fire.

"What you've just described is not survival of the fittest, it's survival of the cruelest. The ones who can afford to throw aside their humanity, and live only by their survival instincts, are the winners in the end. According to you, the 'strong' regards everyone and everything with suspicion, and nobody is allowed to approach, lest they harm you. Every seemingly good intent somehow contains some ulterior motive. And thus, you live out your life in silent misery, lonely and forsaken.

"Tell me Cody. Who is weak then?"

"But that's the way things work in the desert!" Cody exclaimed.

"Isn't it?"

Takeru sighed resignedly. "All right. Assuming that it is. Cody, perhaps it would reassure you to know that if I believed that, if I followed that philosophy, I would have left you lying there in the desert without a second thought. And perhaps it would reassure you to notice that you are not in chains. You are free to get up and leave at any moment, but you are also more than welcome to stay with us. And if I wanted to kill you…I would have done it in your sleep."

Was that a hint of sarcasm in Takeru's voice? But no, the voice remained gentle as ever, the face without a hint of rancor.

The two stared silently at each other. Then Takeru rearranged his cloak. "Cody, I know how you feel," he said gently. "Kari and I, we're not as innocent as you might think. I too have seen this dirty world and all of its filthiness. But always, if I looked hard enough, I can see hope in the darkest corner of this forsaken land. Yes, I can see it even here.

"Perhaps you need to look a little harder yourself."

The younger boy looked down. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend."

Takeru nodded, and smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry about it." Reaching over, he pulled the rough blanket up over Cody, tucking the younger one in, much like Richard used to do for him when he was a child. "For now, just rest. And don't worry about desert bandits. I promise that Kari and I will protect you. We can hold our own if it comes to a fight."

Cody nodded. Suddenly, a wave of weariness washed over him as his injuries began to take their toll on his strength. But he struggled to keep his eyes open. "But what are you going to do with me?" The last spark of suspicion stubbornly refused to go away.

Takeru leaned back slightly. "We'll find your people again, Cody. You can find your way back to the Taelidani, right?"

Cody nodded. Desert people were incredible trackers, and this twelve-year-old boy was no exception.

"Well, Kari and I will take you there. Don't worry, we won't leave you until you're safe with your people. Until then, you're welcome to stay with us. You have my word on that. We'll talk more about it tomorrow, after you get your rest."

For another moment, Cody stared hard at Takeru. Then a strange expression came across his face, as if his mouth and eyes was unused to the movement. "Thank you," he whispered simply. Rolling over in the rough blanket, the small boy settled down with his back to the fire.

Takeru watched as the boy grew still, and heard as Cody's breathing became slower and more regular, indicating that the boy had fallen back into merciful sleep. Turning, he snagged one of the warming loaves for himself, and began to eat quietly. As he chewed, Takeru gazed at the innocent, boyish face. Cody's cheek was still held the soft curve of youth, and the soft, dark hair cascaded over his eyes as he slept. He was young.

Very deep, Takeru. Perhaps you missed your calling as a philosopher.

The blond boy smiled to himself. Come now, Kari. You believed what I said as much as I did. In my place, you'd probably have said the same thing, and don't deny it.

In his mind, Takeru could feel Kari's amusement. Nowhere nearly as eloquently as you. And I noticed you didn't give the kid your real name.

I don't need the extra attention. Not right now. As he spoke, Takeru drew his sword about an inch from its sheath. Taking a piece of cloth from his pocket, he tied it securely around the base of the blade, covering the Ishida insignia. Just in case Cody, or anyone for that matter, saw it. He can keep believing that we are simple wanderers until we part ways. It's better that way. Easier for all concerned.

You think he'll recognize your name?

Takeru put down his katana, and stared at her from across the fire with an exasperated expression. Kari grinned. Okay, stupid question.

I've heard of the Taelidani before, Takeru thought back as he drew his cloak tighter around his slim body. If I'm not mistaken, they're the natives of this land, a nation of hardy desert nomads that generally tend to keep to themselves. They're not bandits. They don't rob people, but if provoked, I hear they can put up quite a spectacular fight. I've always wanted to meet them. His eyes fell on Cody's wounded arm. Though not like this.

I don't know much about them, Kari admitted. But I have heard that they're as mysterious as they are hardy, wandering with the shifting sand dunes. They never seem to stay in one place for very long.

Suddenly, the girl's mood became serious again. But there's something I need to show you, that I couldn't while the boy was still awake. Something important. And I think it might change your mind about hiding our identities to…him.

Takeru frowned, as he got up quietly and walked around to the other side of the campfire where Kari was. As he passed by the fire, he snagged another loaf of bread, and passed it to Kari as he arrived. Kari, we already know he was the one that killed those bandits. And it was a straight-out case of self-defense.

Kari accepted the bread, but didn't eat. Aloud, she answered in words.

"It's not just that. Cody isn't what he seems to be."

As Takeru knelt down on the ground beside her, and peered over her shoulder, Kari took the ragged tunic that Cody had been wearing when they had found him. The cloth had been stained by blood, the majority of which was not Cody's. As Takeru watched curiously, Kari took hold of the hem of the cloth, and turned the shirt inside out.

Takeru sucked in a breath of astonishment.

On the inside of the chest of the tunic, a symbol had been burned into the cloth, leaving behind a dark burn-mark on the fabric. It was as if someone had taken a red-hot poker, and scored the inside of the chest of the shirt. The symbol resembled a strange spectacle, two concentric spirals, one larger than the other, joined by a single line. The pattern was distinct, the burn-mark recent.

Takeru drilled Kari a sharp glance, his food forgotten. "You don't think…"

"How else could a twelve-year-old child defeat eight bandits single-handedly? Eight armed bandits, while he himself had only his bare fists, and maybe his chains. What bothers me is why he didn't tell us."

"I don't think he even remembers. Or if he does, he believes it was a dream. That was how I felt when I first discovered I was a stand-master."

Kari frowned. "If he truly is a stand-master, then what is his purpose? Is he of royal blood like you, or of a new generation like me?" She glanced sideways at Takeru. "Do you recognize the crest?"

"No. Richard never told me about the other crests. It could be any one of the bloodlines: Sheid, Fan-Tzu, Jakt or Chironsala." The boy chewed on his bottom lip in thought. "Since Ishida and Yagami are already taken."

Kari sighed. "Takeru, this is not a sweet little kid we picked up."

"That's where you're wrong. He's even sweeter than he looks. I just hope he'll be able to keep that."

A light wind blew through the encampment, and Kari involuntarily shivered and pulled her traveler's cloak tighter around her slender frame. They were on the edge of a forest of hardy trees around an oasis. Absent-mindedly, Kari glanced back to the west, where the silver moon was gleaming off the open night desert.

Out in the desert, there was a small stir in the sand. A pair of eyes, shaded by a hood, peeked over the sand dune at the pair of wanderers. An arm motioned silently to others hidden in the dunes.

Kari, keep quiet. Don't even breathe aloud.

The sudden cold urgency in Takeru's mind-sense chilled Kari's blood in her veins, but she did as she was told, freezing in place. Her breathing stilled, not twitching a muscle, she cautiously thought a reply back.

What is it?

When Takeru didn't reply, she slowly turned her head to look at the boy's face. The blond prince's visage had frozen into a cold mask of concentration as he sat still as a statue, senses stretched to the utmost. A minute golden glow gleamed around the edges of his body.

Can't you sense it? Someone's coming.

Now that Takeru had warned her, Kari focused her own senses as well, sharpening her hearing and vision far beyond normal human range with her stand. The crest of Yagami gleamed faintly on her chest as she concentrated carefully.

Abruptly, her world expanded dramatically. With her stand-enhanced senses, she could hear the faint stirrings of sand twenty meters away, and sense the light desert breeze. Her sight telescoped until she could see each individual grain of fine sand on the nearby dune.

And at the very edges of her consciousness, she felt rather than heard a faint scratching in the dunes, the faint tumble of loose sand as it slipped down the sides of the drifts. She couldn't even be sure if it was a human or not

But then, Takeru's senses were generally more acute.

I can feel it, just barely.

At the edges of the dunes, silent figures slowly crept upon the seemingly unsuspecting travelers. To them, neither Takeru nor Kari seemed to have the slightest clue that they were surrounded. After all, to the naked eye, they were just sitting there, not even talking.

A small bead of sweat rolled down Takeru's temple as he concentrated. Silently, he linked with Kari's mind once more. Twenty of them, closing in on us in a circle. They're trying not to be noticed, and they still think we haven't sensed them.

What if they're friendly?

Takeru shook his head. Doubt it. I can hear weapons. Whoever they are, I don't think they're that friendly. A slight sadness suddenly flashed across Kari's mind, transmitted from Takeru.

The blond prince was not stupid. This was the desert after all. People who sneaked up on you in the middle of the night were usually not friendly, and actually quite hostile.

Still, what had he just said to Cody? About assuming the worst about everyone?

Kari, I'm going to call out to them. Maybe they don't really want to harm us. If things become violent however, I want you to attack in the direction I tell you to, then retreat. I'll make a break for Cody. And Kari…


If it really comes to that, try not to kill anyone, 'kay?

Kari's lips pulled up in a grim smile. No promises. Surreptitiously, her hand slipped beneath her cloak, and grasped the hilt of her wakizashi. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Takeru grip the katana hidden under his cloak as well, ready to pull it out on a moment's notice. Tell me where to attack. she thought silently at the boy. Her senses weren't acute enough to determine specific locations of targets, but she trusted the boy to point her in the right direction.

Takeru didn't answer. Instead, he raised his head and called out in a loud voice to the surrounding dunes.

"I know you're out there. Who are you, and what do you want with us?"

Utter silence.

"Do you come in peace?" The boy tried again.

Nothing but the light sigh of wind returned his call.

Suddenly, Takeru's blue eyes widened as he put a hand up to his temple. Abruptly, the glow around his body flared up, slightly stronger than before. His eyes squeezed shut as he tried to picture everything he heard, construct every little scrape into an overall mental picture…

The slight sliding of sand had stopped. Whoever it was had stopped advancing. Suddenly, the faint hiss of a sword being drawn caught his ear. The soft twang of someone stringing an arrow touched his consciousness.

An arrow?!!

Merde! Left! Kari, go left!

All hell broke loose.

** Author's notes:

  1. Ato Seihad: "Ato" is a real Japanese word, literally meaning "after". And "Seihad", if you haven't been following since the first chapter, is a word I made up for Adun's "Holy War". Thus, taken together: Ato Seihad 514 means "514 years after the Holy War". Much like our own system, AD (Anno Domini) 2001. Take note of that. If I choose to make any more references to dates, it will be using this system.
  2. Rek'hessen. Perhaps I should explain. In the land of Gaea, there is only one, so-called "proper" language. Gaean. But as is frequent with language, it has split into multiple sub-dialects in different regions. Much like Mandarin is the "proper" language of China, but it has split into the dialects of Cantonese, Shanghainese, and Fujianese (among others). Thus, Takeru's "native" tongue is Meiha Tzin the dialect spoken in the mountain ranges (since he grew up with it), and Cody's native tongue is Rek'hessen. But since all these dialects have their base in "Gaean", it is not difficult to pick up another dialect. Much like Takeru and Kari did sometime in the past year.

The religious stuff is in temporary remission. To be honest, this story isn't primarily "religious" in the most correct sense of the word. (After all, this isn't Earth. Christianity is different). What is Christian are the themes, values and morals embedded into this story. (Call me an idealist. I'm not joking). The real religious stuff probably won't come until a certain scene at the very end of this saga.

And I have no idea when the next chapter might be out. Sorry I took so long with this chapter, but I was about to post it when melted down! And just so I don't worry anyone, I am NOT losing interest in this. I just finished seven pages of chapter seven. (and all the chapters in-between have been done as well). But as usual, editing… It's just that I find the end result is better if I write farther than I post. So be patient with me! And please review. It really encourages me to keep going.


At long last, the results of my contest are in! Regrettably, the Parental category had to be scrubbed, because there was only one entry for it. But the rest of the categories are still up!

First off, here's a complete listing for the fics that were submitted.

Sibling Fics:





"No Need for a Promise"

Tai / Kari

Ken's Gal

"You are my brother"

Ken / Osamu


"The Price of Fame"

Matt / TK



Matt / TK



Matt / TK


"Wish upon a star"

Matt / TK

Friendship Fics:




Hikari Takaishi

"You Promised"

Matt / Tai / Izzy


"Kari's Nightmare"

Ken / Kari


"If I Go Crazy"

Sora / Matt


"My Best Friend"

Matt / Tai


"Something to Live For"

TK / Ken


"Count to Ten"

TK / Izzy

Chyna Rose

"A Late Night Talk"

TK / Davis

Parental Fics:




Crystal Cat

"I'll Love you Forever"

TK / Kari / their daughter

Digimon – Digidestined Fics:




Kari (Karissa)


Yolei / Hawkmon


"Unlikely Savior"

TK / Lady Devimon

All the judges, Karissa, TS, Dreamwalker, and…uh…me, have been hard at work, to judge who's the best. And there were some touch choices. Some of the fics were really good. But overall, most of us agreed on the winners. Drum-roll please…

  • First off, the winner of the Digimon-Digidestined relationship is…

Kari! (aka Karissa), for her fic "Overlooked", featuring the relationship between Yolei and Hawkmon!

**Now, I know what you're all thinking. That Kari's victory was fixed. Well, you can just forget that notion. Karissa had nothing to do with judging her own fic. Dreamwalker and I handled the entire Digimon-Digidestined category, and she was responsible for something else entirely. She deserved this award, and I won't have anyone accusing me, or her, of fixing it. Now onto other things…

  • Sibling relationship. This was the only category where the judges' initial decisions were not unanimous, because the competition was tough. But eventually, we came to a conclusion that satisfied us all, simply because this fic was clearly the best. The winner of the Sibling relationship is…

hikari! For her fic "No Need for a Promise", featuring the relationship between Tai and Kari!

** *sighs* This "fixing" issue again. It's common knowledge that TS edited this fic for hikari. But she had no part in judging this either. Don't worry, I do notice these things…

  • Friendship. The largest category, and consequently, with the toughest competition. But the judges' decisions are…

Hikari Takaishi! For her fic "You Promised", featuring the relationship between Tai, Matt and Izzy!

  • Reader's Choice. Now these review numbers were taken on August 10th, 2001, and may have changed since then. But at the time, the fic with the most reviews was…

Hikari Takaishi's "You Promised", with forty-eight reviews! (she really has fifty, but I didn't count the ones we judges left)

  • And the last, grand prize. Best overall fic. And here, all four judges' decisions were unanimous. Seriously. I asked each of them to come up with their own decision for who thought should get this grand prize. Independently, without discussing with each other, they submitted their votes. And all four of them voted for this fic.

Again. Hikari Takaishi's "You Promised". Congratulations!!!!

Geez…Hikari Takaishi walked away with three prizes. She's good…

Now, congratulations for all those who won! Although I do not have a prize for you, you DO have bragging rights. You can now put on your profile, "I won TK Takaishi's relationship contest, under so and so category." That was the whole point of this contest. Be proud people! You've earned it.

And I will tolerate no talk / arguments / emails about "so and so should have won instead of her." The decisions of the judges are final, and we put a lot of thought into this. If you didn't win anything, don't be discouraged. There's always next time. ^_^

Thank you SO MUCH to all who participated, and I hope you had as much fun writing your fics, as I had reading / judging them. And if any of you have some time, I really suggest you go check out the winners fics. They're really something. ^_^ It'll be worth your while.