DISCLAIMER: I don't own Digimon, but I do own the OCs in this story (except where stated on the first chapter and subsequent chapters). Zach Strafer is the property of Fireblast123.
A/N: Thanks to Crazyeight for beta reading this chapter. I've decided to rewrite Chapters 7 and 8 (the latter was finished but not published) to keep them up to date with new things in Book Seven as well as to improve the writing style, also giving readers the chance to catch up with what Stratagems is all about since it's been quite a while since my last update. With that, however, comes a major point:
DO NOT READ THIS CHAPTER UNLESS YOU HAVE READ UP TO (AND COMPLETED) AT LEAST CHAPTER 30 OF BOOK SEVEN OR YOU WILL SUFFER FROM MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
By Blazing Chaos
30th August 2026
The glinted data blurred in her eyes, spreading like water out across them in a manner more horrifying than any horror movie. No guts, no gore, just…dots. An infinitesimal number of specks, occasionally blurring and merging to make a larger one but ultimately breaking further and further apart, floated before her.
This was Zach. This was Zach. Zach Strafer, the kid she had met only a few days before.
And he as dead. As was his partner, Candlemon. The data in front of them made no distinction between about whom each bit belonged to. It simply hung in the air, mocking her. Perhaps time had slowed? Or perhaps the horror of seeing a death had slowed her perceptions?
After all, he couldn't be dead. He just couldn't. Things like that only happened in movies, and they were the good guys, so only a sadistic writer would kill them off…right? They had to survive. They had to get out of this together!
Alice, the hotel, running from the Artmon, the soldiers, landing in this village…she couldn't be the only one who would ever remember it all!
Her life kept taking everyone she loved, anyone she even tried to love. She'd lost contact with her parents, seen Alice vanish into nothing while Zach dragged her back into this hellhole…and now he was dead. Hawkmon was dead.
Everything she knew was being systematically ripped to pieces. Next would be Bokomon...she'd met him now, it was the only way things could end. And then fate would kill her…slowly…painfully…excruciatingly. It had done so this far…why would it stop? Everyone she met, she seemed to sign a death warrant for. Her hands tightened into fists, wanting to be angry at herself, wanting to take their pain and have them return to life. But she knew it was hopeless. It wasn't her fault…she didn't even have any control over the situation. Without a partner, she was useless.
It was all so wrong. No-one was meant to die while digivolving! It just…didn't happen! It was wrong! It was…taboo!
But the Artmon didn't have a sense of taboo. Hell, she wouldn't be surprised if they had been programmed to attack during biomerging, particularly the first. A new digivolution almost always meant a sure-win for the heroes…she'd seen that happen in real life and on the Digimon TV show so many times. The Artmon and their mysterious Lord and Master were clearly well aware of that.
That bastard. Thanks to him…her entire life was gone. Partner, parents, home, and even those random people who had come to save her in her hours of need that seemed more and more plentiful as of late.
It felt like a waste too. Her partner had died to save Zach and Candlemon: now they themselves were floating in the air around her. All that heroism, all that effort to protect her, had gone to naught. Zach had risked his life to defend her, and now he had died for it.
It took a tear to silently splutter on the unforgiving dirt for time to resume its normal pace with a cacophonic rush of sound to Asuka's ears.
"They're going to absorb the data!" Beowolfmon's horrified and angry voice covered his helplessness to prevent events unfolding. What was he meant to do, absorb it? They would lose him…no Digimon he knew had ever been split from such a move. Why would a human be any different?
Asuka's eyes widened as she saw an even worse sight, despite her mind telling her there couldn't be one. The data now flowed swiftly towards the Artmon…there was no body…that was all that remained of Zach!
Maybe they could save him? Maybe they could get the data, split it off, and remake him? It didn't have to be hopeless.
But how could they? A few seconds and it would be all over: the data absorbed by an unnatural being. Hell, even if it were to be absorbed by Beowolfmon or Bokomon, what were they to do? Even if they weren't subsequently killed and the data lost forever, how were they meant to split it out? If that were ever possible in history, it certainly wasn't now, right in the middle of a war with the only remote hope for humanity supposedly incapacitated: a euphemism for dead no doubt.
There was a golden flow of hope, however.
"BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE!"
Asuka twisted to face Bokomon, the tiny Digimon holding his book out wide in front of him, the pages glowing as gold as the aura radiating from it to encompass the data around them. As if magnetised, every speck twisted and flew towards it.
Bokomon grated his teeth against it, the little guy putting a lot of effort in for his heroic act, and in a brief moment a nod of thanks passed from Asuka to him. This was not going to save him now but…maybe…just maybe…
The book slammed closed, and Asuka sank to her knees.
It was hopeless. Everyone was dying.
An emerald green loop on the ground caught her eye, and she reached out to grab his D-Arc, half-buried in the sand. Pulling it to her eye with a hand clutched so tight, she found a blank screen. No static like hers, no glow like a normal D-Arc. Just dead.
"It's not over yet."
Beowolfmon's warning made Asuka stand up, unconsciously clipping Zach's D-Arc onto her belt opposite to hers as she did so. Her arms tensed up, her hairs still on end. The Artmon had been tactically surprised by the bizarre sight, but as Bokomon breathed deeply to recover his strength, it was clear that this battle was far from over.
What was altogether more terrifying, however, was that Asuka quickly realised she was wrong. The soundtrack of screams from the village around her was broken, and the eerie silence was ended only by Beowolfmon saying a few more words to her in his gravelly tone.
"You have to run, now!"
"Come on then!" Asuka wasn't naïve, she knew what he meant. She just didn't want him to do so.
"Asuka, they will rip you to pieces," Beowolfmon began, drawing his sword. "You have to survive…this camp is all about fighting to save the majority, and with Bokomon and Zach and Candlemon's data with you, you are the majority!" He paused, sword in hand and his body battle-prone. "I'm sorry…"
He leapt forward as Asuka opened her mouth, a heap of dust rushing in from the fast movement and muffling her attempt to say "but". The swarm of sand shrouded her eyes, letting an image flash before them as the voice of a dead man rang in her ears.
"You have lost so much, you have to survive!" Zach insisted, Alice nodding in agreement.
Asuka frowned and pressed her teeth together; she wasn't going to let Zach's words go to waste. As much as she hated it, she knew what they had to do. A frown was mirrored between her and Bokomon as she caught his eye again, his face recovering from the energy he had just expended to save someone he barely knew.
An explosion rang over them and Beowolfmon leapt back, a few Artmon disintegrating before being absorbed by their comrades.
"We won't forget you," Asuka swore. "I promise."
"Thank you." The genuine gratitude in Beowolfmon's voice was lowered only by the knowledge Asuka had that these were his final words, while the dust stopped her from seeing a tear developing in his eye. He himself attributed it to the sand. "Never forgotten…a warrior's death," he told himself.
"Godspeed!" Bokomon added, nodding to the brave warrior with a poor imitation of a salute.
"Don't look back. Just run, okay?" Beowolfmon growled, pressing back the emotions as the Artmon set themselves up to fire again behind him. Asuka and Bokomon nodded.
All three turned. Asuka and Bokomon: to escape. Beowolfmon: to meet his fate.
The pounding of feet, the crying of Asuka and the blasts of cannon fire were the only sounds that filled the crater, until a roaring scream silenced all.
Asuka raced over the lip of the canyon, thankful for the end of the steep gradient that bit at her legs every time they scraped on the rocks. Exhausted, distraught and weak, she collapsed to her knees. She didn't have time to groan about her exhaustion and her mental anguish though, as a roaring explosion and blast of wind from behind reminded her of what she was fleeing from.
Was that Beowolfmon's death? Or had they found others to kill?
She decided not to look behind. She'd seen too many deaths, and right now, she was ensuring she didn't die herself.
"Come on," she said to Bokomon, forcing the Digimon to resist the temptation to satisfy his morbid curiosity. He didn't want to see another sight that even his book couldn't write out of his mind.
Exhausted already, they began to run across the desert, Asuka unconsciously ducking as she did so in the hope that it would keep her out of the Artmon's "sights". She thanked the heavens it was night-time: about the only lucky thing she had encountered lately.
"Knowing my luck, they'll be able to see in the dark."
31st AUGUST 2026
Asuka collapsed to the grass of the forest plane, having only the energy to let Bokomon out of her arms so she avoided crushing him in the process. The landing woke him up, but she found it hard to care right now, even an apology beyond her.
How far had they run? Were they out of danger?
She highly doubted it.
Reaching to the D-Arc on her belt, she paused, before using her other arm to grab the other side. The navy and emerald green devices were clutched tightly: one with its screen filled with static, the other simply dead. The fuzzy form of the time was a vague memory of home comforts. Apart from the day and night though, it seemed to barely matter.
"Nearly morning," she mumbled, or at least she thought she did. As exhausted as she was, she found it hard to hear, let alone check she was actually making noise with her mouth.
Every chance they had had to stop, a sighting of an Artmon had forced her to move again. Were they following her? It wasn't like they had any way of fighting back.
Bokomon was practically asleep, but he opened an eye to speak, showing he had just a lingering thread of consciousness remaining. "Asuka…we…must…find somewhere…to stop…"
"I know," Asuka thought she answered.
"How…long till morning?" Bokomon weakly gestured to her D-Arc. She wasn't too sure how much of their exhaustion was real and how much was mental, but it was not like they felt they had much to run for, or anywhere to run to. A three day journey was vastly preferable to an indefinitely long one.
Asuka didn't need to answer. The creamy-white Digimon was answered by the sudden sweep of light across the land, and Asuka rolled over onto her back, looking up at the earth orb far above. Her eyelids fluttered, urging her to go to sleep on the soft perfectly green grass. She found it hard to argue with her.
Her head twisted to the other side. The forest clearing was beautiful, small flowers dotting it as the wind gently wavered through them, flicking up Asuka's hair just as gently. Alien scents wafted past her nose, equally captivating to a botanist and a layman.
Like every perfect scene, it wasn't to last.
"Oh for god's sake," she groaned as the peace was broken by the cocking of an Artmon. "It's just not funny anymore!" she announced as she sat up, those self-preservation instincts forcing her to break her lethargy.
She didn't want to lose another of her friends, or her life either. Reality felt so distant that she expected the latter not to hurt that much. Reality was going to school, wandering around town with mates, and weekends at grandparents. This couldn't be any more distant from that.
The Artmon was suddenly struck by a strong yellow paw, sending it screaming to the ground, making a dent as it hit the grass. Asuka's breath halted in her mouth yet again.
The yellow blur slammed a foot straight into the Artmon. With a blue blur, the Artmon was smashed into data, absorbed by the fox-like figure floating a short way off the ground while it absorbed it.
"Wow…" Asuka mumbled, Bokomon making a similar sentiment.
A pair of three-toed feet landed on the ground, with a set of brown straps tightly tied around each, clearly more decoration than shoes. The familiar form rising above was a Renamon, no doubt about that – Asuka had seen it plenty of times on television and Digital Watch. But plenty of differences told her this wasn't a typical Renamon, not least the thicker hips and more muscular form that made its body look far more masculine. A shorter mane led up into a yellow face with sharp blue determined eyes, no feminine touch to soften them here. A thinner tail, inverted leg swirls and slightly ruffled appearance to ears, 'wings' and mane continued the differences, while brown leather-like bands were tied around the hands like on the legs. No gloves adorned the arms, instead a continuous piece of string seamlessly and repeatedly wrapped around the lower arm.
"You two okay?" the deeply masculine voice asked, yet there was a youthful edge.
"Tired…but I guess I'm fine." Asuka yawned, before feeling altogether impolite for doing so in the company of the newcomer.
"I could sleep for a week," Bokomon echoed.
"Even if you're exhausted, it's not safe out here with all these Artmon flying around. I'm surprised we've still managed to keep our secret."
The Digimon's ears twitched as his eyes kept glued to the sky, but thankfully it seemed pretty peaceful for now. The Artmon could've called for backup, however, so it was unlikely the world would stay that way for long. Their home seemed safe, but the outside world seemed to be under constant threat from enemy Digimon.
"Secret?" Bokomon asked curiously, a glance paid to Asuka who shrugged. She had no idea either, but wanting to find out at least gave her a way of taking her mind off things.
"Follow me," the Digimon gestured, taking a step forward. "We have a secret haven where we can protect you from the Artmon," he added, beginning to walk before pausing again and looking back, a smile on his face. Unlike that Asuka had seen on Renamon in the past, however, this one was oddly more pronounced. "And yes, you'll be able to sleep there too."
"I'm game," Asuka said, Bokomon nodding.
"Lead the way!" he said with a new enthusiasm, in spite of the continual attempts by his voice to thwart him and break into an almighty yawn.
They began to follow the male Renamon, his footing much more pronounced than that she had ever seen on a female, yet still lighter than Bokomon's or her own. They left the clearing and entered the forest again, passing through a vast array of random pathways through, some wavering and natural-seeming and others artificial, looking as though a ruler had been used to draw them.
Finally, however, they came to a thick line of trees at the edge of a small clearing, a seemingly impassable array.
"Are we lost?" she asked.
The smile on the male Renamon's face said otherwise as he dove his hand 'into' the tree, it passing through with no problem. He moved his hand about, just to prove his point, before pulling it back again, gasps coming from his two new companions.
"A perception filter to keep the outside world out…what did you expect from a society of Renamon?"
"A society of Renamon?" Bokomon asked, his hands on his waist-tied book. His intent to document everything never seemed to end.
"Hidden for thousands of years and only shown to a select few…oh, and all us Renamon."
"So that's where they all vanished to," Asuka mused. "So is it all just Renamon?" she asked curiously, looking the male Renamon over. "An entire society of just one species," she contemplated. "Wonder what it's like," she added, imagining a strange city full of just Renamon. Well, it was pretty much a human city, but with Renamon instead of humans: driving, shopping, working, playing…
She cursed her imagination – that was very unlikely. There wouldn't be cities like that in the Digital World, that'd just be silly.
"Renamon's just the name of our species, and a bit of a misnomer too," he said with a hint of irritation. "There are several subspecies in our lot…but the most famous have been Renamon…irritatingly."
"Ah, like Rika's Renamon from the real world?"
"Yeah, I know her," the male Renamon nodded, before a curious yet nervous expression crossed his face. "How's she getting on these days?"
Asuka frowned, before shrugging. "No idea…everything's gone to hell in reality."
"Wouldn't be the first time for her and her friends. Somehow I doubt it'll be the last."
"I don't know, with this sort of hell, I doubt there'll be a next time."
"Right now, I'd say I'm an idealist. I'm pretty sure that's the optimistic view in this situation."
"You'll have to tell me what it's like out there then…I just hope they're all alright. Last time…last time we didn't get out unscathed."
"Last time? What happened last time? And when?" Bokomon asked out of curiosity, pulling out his book. "It would provide terribly good background information."
The male Renamon gave the short white one a bewildered expression, turning to Asuka. "Your friend is quite strange…no offence."
"The name's Bokomon, and I am keeper of the book," Bokomon sounded proud, in spite of what most would construe as an insult, and put out a hand which the male Renamon shook. "And I have decided something…I plan to document these events, the events of this war according to me, in the utmost of detail so that one day my once-empty book may be read by all in the Digital World, and perhaps even the real world too. I want to be known as the greatest author ever!"
"Seems like quite a goal," the male Renamon smiled.
Asuka put his hand on her chest. "And I'm Asuka Kumiko."
"Ah, so…one moment, I never get this right. You're his trainer…right?"
Asuka and Bokomon rapidly shook their heads. "Nope…and I'm not his Tamer either."
"Oh, that's the word."
Asuka nodded. "We just ended up stuck together…we came from this camp…The Camp of Survivors. It was ages away from here, but it got attacked by a horde of Artmon. I…I think we may have been the only survivors…I hope not." She didn't want to appreciate the irony of the camp's title.
"Oh," the male Renamon's expression fell. "I'm sorry…how…how many were there?"
"At least a hundred Digimon…I think," Asuka said, adding the last bit upon seeing the Digimon's expression. The figures were hard to take in, clearly.
"And that's just one camp," he said, a sobering thought as he put his hand to his head. "You know, I was just hoping I'd see a lot more of the world before it ended."
"I'm sorry, but you appear to think the world was already doomed…uh…already?" Bokomon inquired, his fairly scholarly tone covering his surprise. Surely these events hadn't been foreseen, not least since such a being would surely have done all they could to prevent them occurring?
"The world always seems to be under threat now…both worlds. I…I'd always sort of assumed that one day it would end. To be honest, we're way over schedule here. But I'm pulling the mood down. Oh, and, before I forget, the name's Renardmon." He tapped his hand on his chest.
"Ah…I was wondering," Asuka said with a light smile. "Can't believe I've never heard of you."
"Renamon rule in our society. Well, females full stop seem to rule. And plus, all the famous ones have always been Renamon…so…annoyingly," Renardmon grated, sighing deeply. "Everyone calls our species Renamon."
"So it's Renamon and Renardmon?" Bokomon asked, scratching at his book with a pencil. Asuka briefly wondered whereabouts it had come from, but decided against it.
"And DarkRenamon and DarkRenardmon. And then there's in-training, champion and ultimate ones of each of us…plus the females have mega forms."
"Wait, so only the girls can go mega?" Asuka asked, the concept rather puzzling. Even after over a century of women's rights in her own world, the gender roles of male and female still had a strong entrenchment in their culture. She couldn't help but remember the first Digimon TV show, 'Frontier'…
"As far as we can remember. Suffice to say, it sucks. The best you can hope for as a guy in this place is to become the chief Taijimon, and there's only one of him," Renardmon huffed, before gesturing to the fake line of trees behind him. "I think it's best if we get inside before the Artmon arrive again. They haven't found this place…yet."
"I apologise, but that fails to instil me with any confidence," Bokomon complained. Renardmon chuckled, before stepping backwards through the trees, leaving his two new companions to stare on at the odd sight in bewilderment.
"Should we go through?" Asuka asked the Digimon next to her, who puzzled briefly while he returned the book to its rightful place in his pink haramaki about his waist.
"It could be a trap, but he seems pretty trustworthy. And if we don't go forth, I'll have to miss out everything about this village for my book, and I've already written the title."
"You took your time. How long does it take to follow someone through fake trees?" Renardmon said to them once they reached the other side. "You know what, never mind. Welcome to the Kabuki Village!" he adopted a smile and swept his hand out across the sight.
Asuka looked past him, and immediately could only think of one word for what she saw.
At the bottom of the gently-sloping hill upon which they stood sat a great number of traditional Japanese houses arranged neatly into a grid, albeit with some of the passageways between them looking perilously small. The tallest and most impressive building – a temple, perhaps – had a grand set of steps leading up to its raised entrance, no doubt giving a beautiful view of the lush forests and trees surrounding and hiding the village, all beneath the perfect sky. A winding stream flowed from a waterfall through the village to a small lake, the gentle trickling of water a soft background noise to the scene, while both ends of its flow vanished into the undergrowth at the edge of the village without a way through.
All about the village and meadow, flowers wafted in the gentle breeze, a breeze which occasionally picked up a leaf or blossom from one of the many trees and plants sitting around, and which certainly accounted for the pleasant smell reaching Asuka's nose. Scattered about were a great deal of yellow and black eggs, far too oversized to be from any chicken, but they were certainly not the most surprising sight to be seen.
The Digimon, on the other hand…were. The sheer number of yellow and black figures was amazing, from tiny blob-like Reremon with short tails to larger, elegant and purposeful Sakuyamon, wandering about on unknown tasks alongside their 'sisters' the Kuzuhamon. The majority of the Digimon were simply Renamon (and their derivatives), with a fair few Kyubimon-like Digimon was well, leaving Taomon and Sakuyamon as fairly rare in the society. A few other completely different Digimon were dotted about, clearly seeking shelter just like Asuka and the Digimon next to it.
"This place seems remarkably peaceful," Bokomon said, the grass soft to the touch of his feet. "What is it called again?"
"The Kabuki Village," Renardmon said with some degree of pride. "Probably the most peaceful place in the whole Digital World right now."
"I'd say the whole universe from what I've seen," said Asuka sadly, frowning again. As much as this sight was trying to, she wasn't about to let Zach's death flee her mind. He couldn't be forgotten. He just couldn't!
Renardmon nodded. "The old Priestess always said that if the Kabuki Village ever falls, then the Digital World is truly doomed. But this Village has stood for practically all of time that this world has been here, and even before it when this world was a very different place, it still existed in some form or another," Renardmon said, admiring his pleasant home and taking in with a smile the surprise of the newcomers, before he grimaced an unclear grimace. "But the Priestesses have been wrong before."
"Priestesses?" Bokomon asked.
"The head of our village, the Priestess. I'm sure she'll want to see you two, particularly a new human. It's been a while since we last saw one."
"You've met humans?" asked Asuka, the statement throwing up so many questions in her mind. Could there be others here? But why wouldn't he have mentioned yet?
"Yeah, once or twice in the past. Not in the best circumstances though…the world was ending back then too, at least for them."
"Were they the Tamers?"
"Yeah. Do you know them?"
"Not personally, but they're pretty famous in our world now. Hard to believe they started out when they were younger than me."
"Why, how old are they now?"
"30 or so I guess."
"Oh. Doesn't seem that old. I used to know someone who was over 200."
"W-what?!" Asuka stuttered. "Actually, you know what, never mind." Asuka had had enough of being confused for one day. This world was different enough without her understanding of ageing being thrown out the window too.
"Well…okay." Renardmon was perplexed by her quick dismissal of her own question, but said nothing as she settled back into looking out at the village.
"You know, I still just can't get over how many Renamon I can see…I thought you guys were really rare," Asuka mused, still transfixed by the sight at the bottom of the hill. Their presence, thankfully, had yet to attract much attention, for good or for ill. Her experience so far of this world had taught her that good attention was rather rare.
Bokomon nodded, looking up to Renardmon. "Excuse me, but with so many of you, how do you tell each other apart?"
"Yeah, do you have a name or something?" added Asuka.
"Just Renardmon," Renardmon said, shrugging.
"But you look the same as all those other Renardmon I can see down there."
"Yeah, but I would say the same about most of the humans I've seen."
"But, then how do you tell each other apart?" Asuka wondered.
"You see this tuft of hair here?" Renardmon gestured to a ruffled bit of hair on his head.
"That has absolutely nothing to do with how we tell each other apart," Renardmon answered dryly, smirking sardonically as Bokomon and Asuka looked at him with bewildered eyes. "Now quit asking – we just can."
"Perhaps you smell each other?" suggested Bokomon.
"I don't know, probably, maybe not, why does it matter?" Renardmon asked, looking flummoxed by all the questioning. Was it so complicated that he could tell the difference without some sort of arbitrary naming system? Personally, he'd never understood the need for names, at least not amongst a single species. He could tell who in his group was who.
"It's just weird, that's all," Asuka answered, frowning. "Sorry if we're bugging you."
"You're not the first to ask, trust me. Since this war began, three days ago, can you believe it, we've taken in dozens of near victims like you two, and they all react in the same way when they see this place. But…we can't take in everyone…so I just hope we're not the only ones doing so."
Asuka frowned, shaking her head. "You're not, well…at least you weren't until yesterday when they attacked our camp. Seems that everywhere I go death follows me lately."
"Everywhere you go?" Renardmon asked, yet grew to regret it as he heard the apprehension in the girl's reply. He'd touched on something deep, he could easily tell that.
"I…I was a Tamer, you see. My partner was a Hawkmon, but…when the Artmon arrived, she sacrificed herself to save someone."
"A heroic but sad death," Bokomon mused, his hands together.
"Oh…I'm sorry to hear that," apologised Renardmon.
"The kid she died to save…his name was Zach, and he had a partner too: a Candlemon."
"Was?" Renardmon asked, before a frown befell his face as he realised exactly what that meant. "Oh."
Tears bubbled at the edges of Asuka's eyes, as the male Renamon felt guiltier and guiltier for even raising the issue. Everything about this girl seemed prone to promote sadness in her.
"They died at the Camp of Survivors with the rest of them…that was only a few hours ago," Bokomon explained, Asuka trying desperately to repress the memories of the sight that was now burnt onto her vision. Sure, they had only known each other for two days, most of which they spent arguing, but…she had thought of him as a friend. They only had each other. And now she had no-one. At least, no-one human.
"I'm sick of everyone I love, like or even just meet dying in a horrible way!" Asuka cried, both Renardmon and Bokomon unsure what to do to help the human with her tears as the girl's head fell into her hands.
She hadn't even spoken of half the deaths even now. Alice, Beowolfmon, Agunimon, the SLEGNA soldiers…all she had left out, all whom had died to save her. She lived on the back of a pile of deaths, the weight on her shoulders for survival greater with every new addition.
Would the same happen to Bokomon? What about Renardmon? Maybe even the entire village? No-one seemed safe with her around. She had never been a superstitious person back at home – indeed, the feeling that she was losing her mind in thinking such things only made her mood drop even further – but right now she felt that anything could be possible.
"A human?" a new voice sounded, Renardmon turning promptly at the voice to see the newcomer, her form unlike all the others in the village at that very moment, although she looked vaguely like a Sakuyamon in some respects.
This Sakuyamon, however, wore no armour, and appeared to have human skin instead of the black and white skin-tight binding other Sakuyamon seemed to have, although she retained the face mask. Replacing the armour, a white and red dress wrapped around her shapely form, tightened by a pair of belts below her sizeable bust. The white of the dress in some places proved to be almost indistinguishable from the white of her long hair or the white mop-like object on the end of her staff, grasped by a human hand. As she stepped over to Asuka and placed her hand on her shoulder, the words from her human mouth were young, yet somehow had such wisdom backing up their tone.
"What's wrong?" she asked, Asuka looking up from her palms into the Digimon's face, her body tensing up at the touch.
"W-who are you?"
"I'm the Priestess…Sakuyamon Kabuki Mode. Taomon told me someone had arrived and…never mind, it doesn't matter. Why are you crying? Can I help?"
"Everyone I meet dies and it's all my fault!" Asuka ranted, knowing how little sense what she said made but her mind jumping at the chance to unleash these emotions she had previously been forced to bottle up for the sake of survival.
"What? How? Why?" The Priestess looked up to Renardmon for answers, but he simply shrugged before frowning.
"She said she lost one of her friends to the Artmon."
"Oh, I see…hmm…" The Priestess looked back to the girl and reached out, gently and cautiously pulling her forth into an embrace. "There-there…just let it all out…" she said to the sobbing Asuka, words failing her.
"Hmm…how does she know what to do?" Bokomon asked, looking up to Renardmon.
"When we had humans here before…we had our fair share of drama. And…she's always been nice too…and I guess she just has humans at heart."
"Interesting." Bokomon began to chew on the end of his pencil.
"What's your name?" the Priestess asked, hearing the tears begin to stem.
"That's a new one." "You're safe here, Asuka."
"Thanks. Do you run this place?"
The Priestess grimaced, glancing to Renardmon. "Officially, yeah. But everyone thinks I'm too young…too young to run anything…and that I make big mistakes."
"Too young? How old are you? You're a mega level…right?" Asuka wondered, thankful at the back of her mind for a distraction to divert her mind to.
"I've been in this form for nearly 20 years now. Seems like forever."
"You're older than me."
"I guess that's something. Do you want to come into the Temple? With all the tears, I'm betting you don't want all eyes on you," she said, gesturing around to the Digimon around them, Asuka now noticing their uneasy gazes. Humans obviously weren't run of the mill here by any means. She felt oddly privileged, even though she knew it was a simple accident of timing.
"First good accident lately though." "Yeah, that'd be nice. Thanks."
The steps leading up to the Temple door felt like a mountain for Asuka's weary feet, not helped by all the attention they continued to receive in spite of the Priestess giving looks of warning to all those about them. Bokomon and Renardmon followed behind them through the huge wooden sliding door, before with a satisfying clunk it slid to a close behind them thanks to an almost-hidden DarkRenardmon. The Digimon bowed to the Priestess, who replied in kind to show her gratitude.
A Youkomon greeted them from a nearby smaller room, bowing her head, and by now Asuka found herself unconsciously doing likewise, even if only slightly. The building seemed even larger on the inside than the outside, a corridor leading off from the main entrance straight through to the back with further sliding doors leading off it, while stairs went both up and down. It was without a doubt the largest building in town, and every wall was graced with perfect handcraft in its ornaments and painting. The air inside was still, yet not stale, while the pleasant floral smell seemed to only intensify.
"My Priestess," she said. "Is everything okay?"
"I need to organise a place for these two to stay."
"Hmm…" Youkomon chewed her lip, the Digimon's role oddly reminiscent of a receptionist for Asuka. "With all these injured Digimon arriving, I'm not sure how much space we have now. We've already had to make some of our people share homes."
"You could put them up in the temple…I'm sure the other elders would love that," Renardmon suggested, an oddly cheeky tone to his voice. Asuka had the distinct feeling that the pair new each other for reasons other than the fact she was his superior.
She shook her head. "As much as I'd love company, and as much as Taomon and the others try to take everything off my hands…" she said with a slightly bitter tone. "I've got a lot to do."
"Apologies if I'm talking out of turn, but the more space we can keep open the better Priestess. I fear that what we have seen so far is only the very beginning," Youkomon noted, frowning deeply.
"No, I understand."
"Sorry, we didn't want to cause any trouble," Asuka said, feeling guilty now for simply her sheer presence in the room. "We'll go if you want."
"No – you can stay with me," Renardmon suggested. "If that's okay with you?" he asked the Priestess and Youkomon, who both quickly nodded.
"Yeah, that's fine," said the Priestess, bowing lightly in gratitude. "Thanks for the offer. Now, would you come with me to my chamber? I need to talk to you," she said to Asuka, Bokomon and Renardmon, who nodded as they began to head towards the room.
"Thanks for letting us use your place Renardmon," Asuka said to the Digimon as they walked. "We won't be any trouble."
"It's better you two than getting someone I don't know dumped on me when this village reaches bursting point. Besides, you don't seem quite like the snoring type," Renardmon noted, a slight smile on his face. "Hopefully I'm right in that…"
The Priestess' chamber, spanning all three floors of the building at the back, was perhaps the most carefully crafted of all the rooms she had seen. The patterns in the woodwork became more intricate, light shone in through the roof, and a small fountain graced the centre of the huge room. As Renardmon closed the door behind them, the Priestess strode straight over to the elegant water feature, leaving Asuka and Bokomon a few moments to take in the room's splendour.
"It's a shame I'm a terrible artist," Bokomon mused, the book out in his hands again as he hurried scribbled down indecipherable notes. Asuka grimly hoped he would survive, if only so he could translate what he had written. Was it even in English?
The Priestess knelt down by the fountain before she splashed water onto her face, scooping it off with the side of her hands. "Harmony," Asuka could hear her mumble as she began to follow. "Can you hear me?"
Silence fell, apart from Renardmon's heavier footsteps on the solidly-built floorboards. He placed his hands on the Sakuyamon Kabuki Mode's shoulders, looking into the eyes on her mask as she swung around.
"She's still not replying. Oh Harmony, Renamon, where are you?"
"Is something wrong?" Asuka asked nervously, feeling like she was intruding on a private moment. The Priestess gracefully stood up and turned back to her, placing one hand on her chin and the other on her hip in a pose that Asuka had not quite expected from such a being. Indeed, the Sakuyamon seemed to act rather less…Priestess-like…than she had expected. She was more youthful, perhaps not to the point of being a child, but she still seemed to lack that deep wisdom one would associate with the head of such a village. And yet, she had moments of extreme grace and age. Was this normal for a Priestess?
"Do you know what happened in the real world? How did this all start?"
"Uh…well, there was this big storm…and then this voice came over anything with a speaker…and then the Artmon arrived."
The Priestess' eyes widened. "The voice…what did it say?"
"It said…um…it said that it was going to kill a tenth of the population…and…"
"So it was the same voice then," the Sakuyamon interrupted.
"Yeah…I know. We worked it out back at the Camp of Survivors," Asuka frowned. "It said everything to everyone."
The Priestess nodded, frowning. "That was when the Artmon began to attack the Digital World too…but…I think that's the least of our worries."
"Excuse me?" Bokomon asked, sounding surprisingly offended as Asuka mentally echoed his sentiment. "How precisely could anything be more worrisome than what happened to all those Digimon in the Camp?"
The Priestess frowned, turning to glimpse at the fountain again, hoping in vain for some sign…anything. "In that message," she began, turning her head back to face Asuka and Bokomon. "She said she had Harmony…incapacitated. Even before then, I could feel something…missing. Something not quite right. When I meditated here at the fountain…I tried to contact her. But she's missing. It's like…it's like she's just…gone. Completely."
"Maybe she's gone out of range?" Bokomon suggested.
"She's not a radio Bokomon," Renardmon disagreed, sighing in disbelief. "The Priestess has a link with Harmony…every Priestess always has. It's a link that can go even between this world and the real world – to any world."
"She guides me…she helps me prophesise…she created me…I need her."
"Ah, I see – there is no explanation for why you should not be able to feel her," mused Bokomon. "And yet you do not. Puzzling."
"Priestess, I know you may not want to contemplate this," Renardmon paused, before looking his friend in the eye, or, at least, in the mask. "But what if Harmony is…dead? She could just be taking a while to reincarnate, that's all. What else could it be?"
"I have the shared knowledge of all the Priestesses…so as much as I really want to hope that's true and that this is all temporary, I know that Harmony reincarnates practically instantly as another child. I should be able to feel her…I'm second only in strength to her as Sakuyamon," she grasped at the air, clenching her hand into a fist before pulling it back. "Where are you?" she mumbled, almost as if insane.
"The worst thing is, we don't know how long this place could last without her," Renardmon noted. "Or if it relies on her at all. It could fall tomorrow, or never fall."
"What do you mean by fall? Everything here looks pretty stable," Asuka asked.
"Yeah, but that's thanks to the Priestess and Harmony. She maintains the barrier around this place, while Harmony keeps everything here harmonious and balanced. This is her perfect society."
"She meant it to be a perfect society," the Priestess corrected. "But we're not…and it's my fault…" she frowned, placing her hand on her chest and closing her eyes briefly. Renardmon seemed unsurprised, while Asuka raised an eyelid in slight bewilderment, but she quickly brushed it off once the Priestess continued to talk. "When I met Harmony…our bond was almost shattered, but it grew again. This place has stayed strong all these years…but now Harmony has simply vanished. I truly have no idea what happened to her."
"If Harmony's a god, surely…surely she can just fix everything?" Asuka asked, but knew very well from Digital Watch that the 'god' status was a misnomer. Things were far from being that simple. "If she's poof'ed out of existence she can just re-poof herself back in, right?"
"I have no idea. I'm worried for Rika, Rei and Renamon too. And, I must admit, for Takato and Chaos…I would imagine that he is involved somehow, if he was not the direct cause of her downfall," her voice became more bitter later on, before she inwardly cursed herself. She had learnt a different way – she had to stick to it. "I'm sorry to have scared you…this is why I must devote my time towards trying to contact her, even if I must search to every recess of my mind. But this place…it should be safe…I hope…even Harmony had to be directed here. She forgot that she had created this place entirely."
"Doesn't that just make you feel loved?" Renardmon said cynically, before the scratching of a pencil made him turn his head. "Are you writing this all down?!"
"I am Bokomon, keeper of the nearly-empty book and documenter of this war to end all wars…so…yes, yes I am as a matter of fact."
"Could you not? It's just that this is all very private stuff."
"Ah…if I must I suppose," Bokomon sighed, returning the pen and book to his pink haramaki.
"Thank you," the Priestess said, before turning her head to face her old friend. "Renardmon, can you please take these two to your place and make sure they're comfortable and safe. I'll come over soon enough if I can. I need to think first."
"Fine," he answered, nodding. "Are you sure you don't need any help?" He pondered whether there was anything he could actually do for the troubled Priestess. It killed him to see his old friend Renamon like this. She was always the innocent one, so why did she have to deal with this all now?
She shook her head, frowning. "Sorry," she answered. "I'm afraid…but I don't know who could help. All of this is new…no-one has ever had to deal with this before. I'm not experienced enough to work out what to do, and that's all my fault. I wish they hadn't picked me for this stupid role," she sighed. "All I can do is meditate…I feel so useless! Ugh!" To Asuka, she continued to sound more like a teenager or young adult, more around her actual age, than what she expected from someone in her 'stupid role'.
"Cheer up, it could be worse," Renardmon noted, smiling in reassurance, as Asuka and Bokomon did likewise (yet less convincingly).
"How exactly?" the Priestess asked curiously, tilting her head and putting her hand on her hip. "Our entire culture could be doomed, along with the universe too," she noted, irradiated by the concept that things could be worse. "So how exactly could it be worse?"
"Uh…" Renardmon pondered. "Think fast…" he pleaded. "Well…you could lose your good looks?" he mooted, laughing nervously. Being placed on the spot like that, with the head of their village no less, was not a fun experience, although the Digimon's reaction was amusing to watch.
"Thanks for the compliment." The Priestess forced down her embarrassed smile, half-irritated that he made such a joke in such a time and half-pleased that the stress had not cost her beauty, even if she had a hunch that Renardmon was just saying it as a cop-out. "Now go," she ordered, gesturing away from the room with her staff.
"Thank you for all the help," Asuka said, bowing lightly. "I hope you manage to contact Harmony."
"Thanks." Footsteps and the clunking of the heavy wooden door later, the Priestess found herself alone again in the huge chamber, her breaths echoing in the vast space. "Change…something's finally changing," she noted, not sure whether to be thankful. The horrified monotony of the last few days had ended – a human had arrived, and history had taught her well that change always followed closely behind them.
Turning, she dropped to her knees by the fountain again, the water softly and calmly pouring down into its lower tray. If this was chaos – if this was the end of the world – then why was everything still so peaceful? Alas, the fountain did not answer her, but she already knew what she had to do if she wanted any hope of fixing things.
"I must find Harmony."
Placing her hand over her face, she let her fingers circle on her temples as she dug deep into her mind. Somewhere, somehow, she had to find a link. Somewhere down there, something had to still exist. Harmony couldn't have gone entirely…just a little deeper…just a little d…
"Hello? What's going on? Hello?"
"Where am I?"
"I think I'm going crazy…I'm hearing voices."
"Going crazy…wait…who are you? And I'm real! I'm not a voice! Well…I guess I am…but…"
"Are you Harmony?"
"Who are you?"
"I…uh…I am…uh…my mind…it feels like fire…aaaah…help me! It hurts so much!"
"What? What's happening? Hello? Hello?"
The voice was gone with a painful and long scream, one which faded away gradually into nothing yet which would haunt Sakuyamon for the rest of her days. She delved around in her mind for the link again, but she felt weakened. Ever so weakened. Her body tingled, a disturbing and unnerving feeling that made her move towards the fountain to splash water on her face, shuddering as she did so.
Finally pausing and looking down at her reflection, she felt somehow…odd.
"Am I going insane?"
She crossed her arms across her chest and held herself tightly, one hand making its way out in front of her, her eyes carefully scrutinising every little part of its human form in close detail. It was still her. The voice was gone. Perhaps it had never existed?
But inwardly, she knew it had.
Really, she knew what it was.
And to her horror, she felt that overwhelming tide of guilt return, guilt from fifteen years before.
A tear drop landed in the fountain.
TO BE CONTINUED…
A/N: If you've read the original, you might notice a few of the changes. But otherwise, treat this as the authoritative version, since now it's aligned with events in Book Seven. And this is your final warning: read Book Seven, because next time will definitely spoil Book Seven for you if this chapter hasn't already.
Until next time…