As it turned out the Hypnos digital gate left a lot to be desired. At first, Takato couldn't even be sure he'd made it to the Digital World at all because he had to keep his eyes closed and his back pressed to the ground to prevent the world from spinning. Though the short trip had left him nauseous and with a splitting headache he was still able to at least hear and feel the world around him.
His fingers tightened around what felt like wet gravel, and though the rocks dug at his back he dared not move for fear of losing what little breakfast he'd had. There was also a noise—regular and soothing—that he couldn't quite identify, at least until he felt a surge of water rush up against him. He immediately jumped to his feet, but was already soaked: the sound, as it turned out, was that of the sea.
"Great, just great," he mumbled, trying to brush some of the water from his backside as his hazy vision began to clear.
His first view was not an impressive one: a rocky beach beneath him, gritty and dark brown, speckled with pools of foamy water and smelling of dead fish and seaweed. As he turned his gaze upward though and shaded his eyes he caught his first view of the sea itself. It was choppy, like there was a storm blowing in. Its uneven surface reflected the bizarre sky of billowing clouds with the Earth in the background, surrounded by a glowing aura in a dozen different shifting colors. Waves of light shot out from it and crisscrossed the sky into the distance, broken only by the vibrant pillars that Takato could still clearly recognize as data streams.
Slowly adjusting to his new environment, Takato turned around on unsteady feet. The beach rose quickly about twenty feet back from the water's edge to a sort of ridge that he couldn't see past. It was there, scattered against the small rise, that he saw the three hiking packs. Though they looked like they'd taken as much of a tumble as he had, they all seemed to be intact with all the equipment safely stored. It was a good thing too, because if there was one thing Takato had no interest in doing at that point it was scouring the beach for lost gear with the tide rising and his body half-soaked. Already the wind was making things a bit on the chilly side for him, so he decided to gather the bags together and have a seat, drying himself off as best as he could while he waited for Henry and Suzie to show up. If their trip was anything like his had been they were going to need a helping hand there when they arrived.
So that was exactly what Takato did. Sitting atop the stacked gear, he did his best to wipe the water from his leather bomber jacket. He'd assumed that at least one of the others would arrive by the time he was done, but he was in for a much longer wait than he had anticipated.
October 7, 2017
"No no no no no!" Jack yelled as he emerged from the blinding white light to find a pine forest rushing up at him.
Kari shrieked and squeezed his hand even tighter as she took in the sight. With no time to react and nothing to grab hold of they could only flail their limbs and hope for the best. It was just pure luck that Jack's left arm caught on the limb of one of the old pine trees they were falling toward; though hardly a painless experience, it had probably saved both of their lives.
The first branch broke before it could do the same to Jack's arm. The pair plunged further down before Kari got tangled in the limbs, at which point Jack dropped on top of her and proceeded to roll out into the open air again. Kari's grip held firm, but that could only mean that she was coming along for the ride. Jack fell into the branches of the neighboring tree with a loud grunt and Kari fell on top of him with a shout. The impact broke the branches holding them up and they fell yet again, snapping their way through yards of branches before they'd lost enough momentum not to break through the limbs in their path but rather bounced right off them. There was no tree to catch the pair this time, but their luck held out long enough to get them close enough to the ground not to be badly hurt by the last drop.
Jack hit the ground and rolled forward. As the last bit of his momentum was exhausted he stretched out again and fell onto his back. His eyes immediately fixed on the glowing portal in the sky overhead; he had to squint to keep it from blinding him. After a few short seconds of deep breaths he noticed a shadow appearing in the flickering light, and it was growing bigger.
Jack cursed loudly and rolled out of the way just as a small car plowed into the ground next to him. Bits of broken glass, metal and plastic showered over him, forcing him to shield himself with his arms. Even then it wasn't over, for a loud creak from the car told Jack that he had to move again. He dashed to his feet and dove out of the way just as the car fell toward him. With a loud crunch the vehicle's roof was flattened against the forest floor, only a few feet away from the very lucky man.
More debris began to pelt the forest from overhead, prompting Jack and Kari to move away as quickly as they could. More loud crunches, the sounds of pops and snaps and earth-shaking crashes shattered the apparent tranquility of the forested valley. Once they had made it about twenty yards from where they began though the gate overhead closed up, allowing the pair to drop to the ground after a very exciting few minutes.
"Are you okay?" Jack gasped out before he'd even caught his breath.
Kari coughed. "Yeah."
The way she had been walking on her ankle told Jack otherwise, but he wasn't ready to press the issue yet. He rubbed the back of his hand against his forehead, and found it smeared with blood when he looked at it; that one probably happened during the fall through the tree. "Your ankle…" he panted.
Kari rubbed it with her hand. It didn't feel like anything was broken and it didn't seem to be swelling or discolored. "I think I just twisted it." She blew a strand of hair out of her face. As she traced her hand up her leg she found dozens of minor scratches from the tree branches. Her clothes were looking a bit torn up as well.
Jack tried to roll the arm with which he'd caught the first tree, immediately regretting it. He let out a groan and grabbed it with his right hand. Pain shot up and down the whole thing at the slightest motion. Like Kari his exposed skin was scratched badly. His clothes, too, shouted the evidence of the fall loud and clear, torn from the branches and muddied by the landing. He looked up at Kari and noticed a red spot on her cheek. "What about that?" he asked, pointing at it.
Kari's hand immediately went to her face. She recoiled, but then gingerly touched it again. "I hit it on that tree," she said. Moving her hand made her realize that her wrist hurt as well, though that was probably from the strain of holding so tightly to her husband.
Finally having caught his breath, Jack eased onto his back, still holding his injured arm. Even when he kept it absolutely still it was throbbing with pain. He closed his eyes and bit down to keep himself focused.
"What happened back there?" Kari asked as she finally started to look around.
"That is a really good question," Jack said through gritted teeth.
"The last thing I remember is Tai," Kari went on. "He tried to grab us but he missed, and then we were just here."
"A hundred feet in the air with no place to go but straight down," said Jack.
"This must have something to do with Thunderbirmon," Kari said as she looked around for the rogue digimon among the trees and in the clear skies.
"Of course it does," said Jack. "You know, most people go their whole lives without having to deal with this sort of thing. What lottery in hell did we win?"
Kari ignored Jack and rested her chin on her knuckles. "If this is because of Thunderbirmon then we might be in the Digital World."
"But how?" he asked. "The gate's been sealed for almost fifteen years."
"Tell that to Thunderbirmon," she shot back.
Jack sighed. "Maybe. Or maybe we just got dumped in the woods, or maybe we wound up in Switzerland, or maybe we're in some whole other world we've never even been to before. There's no way to know."
"Only one way to be sure," Kari said with a little smile. "We should look around for someone: if we find a human we're in our world, and if it's a digimon we're in the DigiWorld."
"Sounds like a plan to me," said Jack, reopening his eyes. "Personally I don't care where we are so long as we're not too far from a hospital."
"Yeah, let's hope so. Come on now, sit up. Let me have a look at that scrape."
"In a minute," he groaned.
"We can't go wandering around the forest all beaten and bloody." She tore and already loose piece of cloth from the base of her dress and started to dab at the nasty scrape on Jack's forehead.
October 6, 2017
It had been an hour, a full hour. His clothes were mostly dry, he'd gathered up all the equipment and double-checked that everything was fine, he'd scouted around the area both to get a feel for where he was and to look for his companions' arrival. It had been an hour and Takato was still alone, quietly freaking out on the beach.
He cupped his hands around his mouth. "Hello!" he shouted for the fiftieth time without response. "Is anyone out there?"
Things were quickly turning desperate. Sure, he'd felt just fine with the idea of coming to the Digital World with a full team, but now that he was actually there and his team was nowhere to be found, things were feeling just a bit too familiar. "Somebody answer me!" he yelled.
Again he got nothing. It was infuriating. He walked back to the bags at a brisk pace, unzipped the one on top, dug around inside and shortly thereafter pulled out the Beak. He held it up and fiddled with the controls until he had it set to contact Hypnos.
"What's going on out there, guys?" he asked, trying to hide the panic in his voice.
There was no response from his digivice, nothing but static. He checked again to make sure it was working the way it was supposed to and everything was set just right.
"What's the deal up there, Rika?"
"Hah-hah, very funny guys." Takato found himself talking faster than usual. "You got me. I know you can hear me. Just drop it and stop messing around, okay?"
Not a sound. Takato sighed. "Great, just great. Way to go, Henry. Just send me here with a digivice that doesn't even work. Just perfect." He stuffed the Beak into the pocket on his shoulder-strap designed for just that purpose then tore into the second bag. He dug through this one just like the other, albeit a bit more frantically, and after a few moments he let out an excited "Aha!" as he removed the Flower from inside.
Takato eagerly slipped the unusual digivice onto his hand and turned it on. He impatiently waited for it to warm up as he held his hand out, palm up. After a few seconds a holographic image of the entire Digital World took shape before him. It wasn't exactly as he imagined: instead of being a perfect globe it was more like half of a globe. The outer edges were rough, blocky bits that broke up bit by bit while at the top of the hemisphere it rapidly dipped into a long chasm. Based on his baking experience, the only image Takato could conjure up to describe the overall look of it was that of an upside-down Bundt pan.
"Alright, let's see," Takato mumbled to himself, trying to remember just how to work the device. "Um… Hypnos Special 03. Command. Search: humans."
The device in his hand clicked, whirred, and beeped disapprovingly. Apparently he didn't get the command quite right.
"Oh come on, what did I leave out?" Takato shouted in frustration.
Since it was obvious the Flower wasn't going to just tell him, Takato once again plunged shoulder-deep into the bag and felt around for the manual Henry had so kindly included for his pride and joy.
"I know it's in here somewhere!" Takato barked as he shoved his head in as well. "Don't screw with—oh! There it is."
The smile returned to Takato's face as he emerged with the manual in hand and flipped to the table of contents. Unfortunately his search was only just beginning. Over the next ten minutes he realized that while Henry might have a knack for engineering, writing about how to use it had escaped him. It wasn't until Takato had managed to get the display to stop blinking twelve o'clock that he finally flipped to the page he'd been looking for.
"Ha! Here we are: searching. No wait, that's searching by category… Searching for designated targets… Searching alphabetically? Come on, Henry. How can someone be so smart and still sound so dumb? Wait, here we go: search commands."
Takato read over the instructions twice before he could really follow what he needed to do then he held his palm out again and took another shot at it. "Hypnos Special 03. Command. Search Digital World: life forms, human. Execute."
The digivice clicked again and whirred to life. After a few seconds it gave an approving tone and a red dot appeared on the map before his eyes.
"Zoom in," he said. The device buzzed, eliciting a frustrated groan from Takato. "Zoom to target."
The hologram zoomed in on the red dot until he could make out the fine details on the terrain surrounding it. It was on a coastal area in the main southern continent, not far from the eastern quadrant's borders. He looked closely at it then looked up at his own surroundings. He groaned. "Command. Overlay current location. Execute."
Sure enough a second red dot appeared in the image directly over the one that was already there. "Fantastic, I've found myself," he mumbled. "Command. Toggle: search result counter. Execute."
A line of text appeared over the map in front of him, spelling out: "1 result found."
Takato sighed and rubbed his forehead with his free hand. "Great, just great," he grumbled. "Here I am, once again the only human in the whole world. Talk about déjà vu."
Takato hung his head, trying to decide what to do. "It's not exactly like I can do this whole mission on my own," he said to himself. "It doesn't exactly look like I can get hold of anyone back at Hypnos either with this stupid Beak on the fritz. So what now?"
He looked up again at the crashing waves and rough seas. Aside from that, everything else was quiet. The whole world seemed so calm that it was almost mocking his aggravation.
The Takato looked back at the digivice on his hand and he struck on an idea that had been rolling around in his head for a few days. He snickered a little to himself before speaking. "Hypnos Special 03. Command. Search Digital World: life forms, Guilmon. Execute."
Again the digivice clicked and whirred. The previous results faded from the screen and a few seconds passed. Then a few more seconds passed. Just when Takato was getting tired of waiting the device beeped and the map was flooded with red dots. Takato's face fell as he read a line of text overlaying the image: "188 results found."
"Well so much for that idea," he said bitterly. "I guess I could always try the nearest one and work my way out from there."
Takato stood up again and kicked a rock out to sea. A biting cold breeze blustered past, piercing right through his still-damp clothes and making him shiver. Whatever he was going to do he'd need to do it fast before nightfall set in and he wound up even worse off. Even with all the camping gear he had stuffed away in the three bags he knew he would be better off finding someplace to stay that had four real walls and didn't require him to set it up.
So Takato sat back down again with the manual. Maybe it was too much to hope for that the digivice could search for hotels in the Digital World, but he wouldn't know for sure until he tried.
October 7, 2017
"I don't think we're on Earth anymore," Kari announced as the pair made their way through the rain, she leaning on him to stay off her ankle and he holding his injured arm to keep it still.
"What gives you that idea?" he asked her.
"Oh, I don't know," she said. "Maybe it's the rain falling upward."
Jack nodded. "It does seem a bit odd."
The rain was indeed rising from the ground and flying up into the cloudless blue sky. Naturally this gave the pair more than a few problems when it came to figuring out just how to stay out of the rain.
"You know, I don't think I've ever known it to rain in the DigiWorld," said Jack.
"Me neither," said Kari. "At least not often. If this is what it's like though, I think we should be thankful for that."
"No argument here," said Jack.
Jack eased Kari off his shoulder as they approached a ditch in their path and went on ahead to check it over. Looking into it, he noted that it was about five or six feet deep; the sides were steep and the bottom was quite boggy, filled with decaying plant matter and murky water. He looked to his right, then his left in hopes of seeing a means of getting across, but there didn't seem to be any fallen trees or natural bridges to make the crossing an easier one on Kari's injured leg. What he did notice, however, was that on just the other side of the ditch there was no rain at all.
"This world definitely has a glitch," he announced as he returned to his wife.
"What is it?" she asked, not standing up yet.
"We're going to have to cross this ditch if we want to keep going in this random direction. It might be a little tricky, but at least the weather will get nicer."
Kari looked toward the depression nervously, then at her ankle. "Do you think you could carry me?"
Jack looked back, then at her again. "I'm not sure."
"Come on," she said. "It wasn't that long ago that you carried me over the threshold."
"Well yeah," Jack shrugged. "Of course I also had two working arms at the time."
"Well don't worry about it," she said. "I can make it."
Jack sighed. "No, no. Either way one of us is going to be uncomfortable; I may as well be the one to grin and bear it."
"Yeah, I'm sure. Besides, we're not getting anywhere just standing around and talking about it, are we?"
"Alright, if you're really okay with it."
Jack reached down to help Kari to her feet. Just as she moved to lean on him the strangest thing happened: the rain stopped. That is not to say the rain was over, but rather the rain quite literally stopped: every last drop ceased moving up all at once and just hung in the air. Jack and Kari both paused to stare at the thousands of little droplets hovering around them on all sides. After a few seconds they turned to each other and without so much as a word between them they agreed to move along as quickly as possible.
"Well, here we go," said Jack as he and Kari stood at the precipice. "Ready?"
Kari tried to position herself against his strong arm so that he would have an easier time picking her up. She nodded. "Ready."
He placed his weakened left arm at her back with his palm to her neck, and then he bent down, placed his right arm around her legs and hoisted her up in one motion. It would have gone perfectly, had his arm not instantly given out like it was made from saltines. Kari flipped right over backwards, yelping as she landed on her head.
"Kari! Are you okay?"
She rubbed the back of her head with a grimace. "Just lovely."
Jack smiled sheepishly. "Sorry about that. I think we should try a different way."
She smiled back and extended a hand. "Just help me up."
A few seconds later they stood facing one another. Each took a deep breath.
"Ready?" asked Jack.
Kari nodded. "Ready."
Jack bent down slightly, grabbing Kari around the waist with his good arm as she put both arms over his shoulder and pulled herself up. With a mighty heave, Jack hoisted her up over his shoulder, and although he looked a little on the wobbly side he adjusted his balance soon and was ready to get underway. "Right then."
Jack carefully tested his footholds as he slowly descended into the ditch, making quite sure every slimy rock his foot fell upon was completely secure before dedicating himself to it and moving on to the next step. For such a small journey it was definitely an arduous one. Just getting down one side took several minutes. By the time they were ready to head up the other side, Jack was feeling exhausted and bogged down by the mud quickly filling his shoes.
"Quick question," he said breathlessly. "If I gave you a boost, do you think you'd be able to pull yourself up?"
"If I can find something to grab onto," said Kari. "It's not like my arms are giving me any problems."
"Alright then," Jack nodded. "Let's try it."
Positioning his back towards the wall so that Kari could see over the edge, he did his best to push her up to get a good view of the other side. She stretched out to grab the ledge and pull herself up, but with all the mud and tangled plant-life it was almost impossible to get a decent grip. She looked around for something more solid and her gaze caught on a large rock. It was slick with water and muck but it looked stable enough, so she stretched out and grabbed hold.
"I think I've got it," Kari announced.
"Take your time," said Jack as he tried to keep his face from being kicked in Kari's attempt to wiggle ever upwards.
Once Kari was sure she had a good grip she pulled with all her might. As it turned out the rock was rooted quite firmly in the soft earth; unfortunately, the earth itself wasn't nearly as solid. As she pulled, the rock and dirt shifted toward her, bringing a small mudslide down onto Jack from overhead. He cursed loudly as mud and weeds filled his shirt and jacket and small rocks pelted his head and neck. Still, his stance remained resolute enough to let Kari finish pulling her way up onto the ledge above.
"Are you okay?" she called down as soon as she was safe.
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled. "Think you can give me a little help getting up there?"
Kari leaned over the edge and smiled down at him. "Sure," she smiled, offering him both hands.
He grabbed hold with his good arm, keeping the injured one stiffly at his side. As he began to find footholds he looked up at her and smiled back. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
October 6, 2017
Takato stopped trudging along for the fifth time in as many minutes; his plan was not working. Sure, three bags for three people was a great idea. Everyone could help to carry the things they'd all need to survive. Unfortunately, with three bags and only one person it had gotten a little bit trickier.
At first, Takato wanted to see if he could try to strap all of them together and carry them on his back. After he fell over backwards and was unable to stand up again like some large, pitiful turtle he had to give up on that plan, due to the fact that the three bags together weighed more than he did.
Next he though he'd try to balance things out by strapping one bag to his back, another to his front, and carrying the third. The problem with this idea arose almost as soon as he tried putting the bag on his chest: it was impossible for him to see anything other than green canvas with the tall hiking pack in front of his face. He tried to compensate by turning his head to the side and sidling down the beach with the third bag in tow, but his gate was so unsteady, his balance so thrown off, and the terrain so precarious, that another fall was inevitable and swiftly put an end to his second scheme.
More determined than ever, Takato's third and most recent plot had proven his most successful yet. Now only wearing a single pack on his back, he dragged the other two along behind him, one in each hand. While this did work in the strictest sense, it also brought to light two problems. The first was that carrying so much weight over rough terrain, even if he could do it, was incredibly tiring on the unfortunate tamer and forced him to stop frequently. With the nearest town being twelve miles up the shoreline (from what he'd been able to piece together from his map) he might never make it at the pace he was going. The second problem he encountered, which became clear only upon his most recent stop, was that dragging the packs along a rocky beach was wreaking havoc on them. Even in the short distance he'd covered they had already begun to show signs of wear and tear. It seemed he once again needed a new plan.
Dropping all the bags in a pile, Takato cleared a spot on the ground to take a seat. After popping his back and rolling his neck he leaned back to look over the situation. "Maybe I can make a few trips," he wondered out loud. "I could take one or two packs with me and then come back tomorrow for the rest."
He sighed. Saying it out loud made him realize it probably wasn't the best idea. Even if he did find someplace safe to stash the extra equipment he'd probably need to make three whole trips in order to carry it all. He didn't even know if there really was a town up the coast and whether or not it would be a good place to call home while he figured out what to do. If it wasn't and he had to move on then he'd have to make multiple trips again. No, that idea stunk.
"I guess I do have a lot of supplies," he said to himself. "I could just set up camp and wait here to figure out what to do."
He looked around. The beach and everything around it was very exposed. Even if there weren't wild digimon to worry about he'd still have to contend with the elements all on his own. If he didn't somehow manage to get in contact with Hypnos by the time his supplies started running low then he'd wind up right back in his current situation.
"Besides, I've still got a job to do here," he mused. "I've got to find out why so many digimon are trying to bio-emerge and hopefully stop it. I need to find Guilmon too, and try to find some way to help Ryo if I can. I can't do any of it without being mobile so staying put or lugging everything around with me is not going to work."
He bit his lower lip. It was slowly dawning on him what he'd need to do if he didn't plan to just sit on his hands and wait for rescue. "Guess I need to figure out what all I don't need to carry with me."
Although Takato had a pretty good idea of what was in all of the bags, and perhaps even because of that knowledge, he got a sinking feeling in his stomach. The sheer volume of things he'd have to sort through was staggering; it would probably take him hours to get through it all.
"All the more reason to get started," he said, sounding resolute. He cracked his knuckles and grabbed the closest pack: his own. This one would be the easiest to sort out, since he'd packed it only a few hours earlier.
"Clothes: I'll need those," he said as he unzipped the largest pouch. "Soap, toothpaste, shampoo, shaving cream, razor, toothbrush, hmm… I should probably hang on to those. Sunscreen?" He looked skyward, shading his eyes. "Yeah, that's a necessity. Spare shoes: I guess they're handy, but they're pretty heavy and take up a lot of room. Maybe I'll be better of just taking care of the ones I'm wearing." He tossed his extra shoes aside.
By the time he'd finished the first pocket he was starting to make a little bit of room for the necessities as a small mound of non-essentials built up behind him, beginning with the shoes and also including a few pens, pencils and pads of paper, a compass that evidently wouldn't work in the Digital World, a small collection of comic books that Takato kept as a guilty pleasure, a floppy hat, a pair of swimming trunks and a small umbrella. It hadn't made a lot of room, but every little bit helped, even if he did hate to just toss aside his possessions.
When he got to the next pocket things got more interesting. "There it is!" he said, grabbing the Egg as soon as he saw it. "This I'm definitely going to need." He rubbed a smudge from the digivice's display and holstered it much like the Beak. He continued to root around the more interesting items he'd packed. "Flashlight, can-opener, I could afford to lose this music player I guess. Digital camera: that's actually just expensive enough to hold onto. Swiss army knife, which as it turns out actually has a can-opener on it anyway. Of course I don't know how well some of these other doodads work or even what they're for. Canteen, poker cards I don't need, wristwatch that I'm not wearing on my wrist for some reason, jeez this is a lot of stuff. Hey where'd I pack the tent? Was it in this pocket or did I stuff it in with my sleeping bag?"
Takato sighed. He was barely even getting started and it was slow going. Still, he kept right on working at it. Eventually he managed to get through all three bags, clearing out the things he didn't need from his own and picking out the things he did need from the others. Of course the things he needed from the other bags wasn't going to fit into his own, so he had to find a way to clear even more stuff out, which cost him a sweater, a pair of pants and a couple pairs of underwear among other things.
From Suzie's pack he collected the first-aid kit, cooking supplies including everything he'd need to make a fire except the wood, an armful of canned and packaged food, and a roll of toilet paper: all the necessities of life. He also grabbed the manual for the Flower, which he could tell he was going to need, but opted out of taking any of the ammunition clips she'd packed.
Henry's pack contained more electronic equipment than anything else, and since Takato had no idea what most of it did it was pretty easy to decide against keeping it with him. What did catch Takato's eye, however, was Henry's well-stocked supply of batteries, which he assumed might come in handy with the various gadgets he was doomed to carry around with him. He also decided it would be a good idea to grab a second canteen and on closer inspection it seemed that Henry had done a better job of packing for a rough trip, which is how Takato wound up adding a couple pairs of good hiking socks, a scarf, and a durable pair of gloves to his own inventory.
After some more fine-tuning and tight-packing, Takato did manage to get everything he needed mostly into one pack, though the tent was sticking out awkwardly, he had a canteen slung over each shoulder and it was a little heavier than he'd been hoping. Still, he knew there was a good chance he might need to come back for the rest of the bags (even if only to avoid a beating from Henry and Suzie for leaving their clothes and expensive electronics to rot on some beach) so he set about looking for a place to stash them. He settled on a small crevice in a hill well back from the water; after placing the bags there and covering them with rocks the only thing left to do was log this exact spot into the Flower. Thus having his buried treasure marked with an X on his own little map he finally felt like he was ready to get going again.
"Not a moment too soon," he said as he glanced at his wristwatch. "I'd better move it if I'm going to get there before nightfall." He let out a little sigh, knowing all the work he'd done was only leading up to a brutal hike.
October 7, 2017
"Hide!" Jack whispered harshly as he grabbed Kari around the waist and pulled her behind a tree.
She started to say something, but caught herself in time. Instead she crouched down low, perking her ears up and listening very closely. Jack was right; something was drawing near. "What is it?" she whispered very softly.
He looked around for a moment before moving, then placed his mouth next to her ear and cupped his hand around it. "Don't know," he said quietly. "Just wait and watch."
Kari nodded wordlessly, knowing that sometimes a little discretion could save a lot of running. Since they were in no shape for the latter, the former was clearly the best choice.
Apparently the approaching group didn't see things quite the same way; they were anything but quiet. Though the pair couldn't make out what was being said there were at least three voices talking at once. They didn't seem to be in much of a hurry at least, casually sauntering down an old, overgrown path. Jack and Kari cautiously peeked out to see if they could catch a glimpse of anything through the thick undergrowth, but they caught no more than a glimpse of a large, swaggering body before they had to withdraw again.
"Keep an eye out," said a gruff, ancient voice. "If this is Asmodemon's doing his cronies might be anywhere in this valley by now."
"My sensors are not detecting any nearby hostiles," said a second voice, this one mechanical and vaguely reminiscent of Tentomon.
"I trust my gut a lot more than your sensors, rust-bucket," said the first voice. "It's tellin' me there's trouble about."
"Begging your pardon, but I am not a bucket of rust," the second voice interjected. "While I can indeed be useful for carrying things I am not a bucket. As for being rusty I hardly think a little—"
"Oh put a sock in it already," said a third voice, this one a folksy drawl. "I reckon if there were any evil digimon sneakin' around these parts, y'all jabberin' would tell 'em and the whole valley right where we are."
Kari's face lit up; she would recognize that loveable inflection anywhere.
"But I don't have any socks," the second voice said promptly.
Before either of the other two could respond, they caught sight of two figures emerging from the woods just ahead. Though they immediately tensed up, they relaxed after a second of seeing the smiling faces of two humans.
"Armadillomon!" Kari called out in relief, waving her right hand overhead.
Armadillomon cocked his head to the side. "Well I'll be an Etemon's uncle. I think we found us somethin' a lot more interestin' than a few evil digimon."
"They would appear to be humans," said Armadillomon's Guardromon companion. "Either that or my optical array may require maintenance."
"No, they look human enough to me too," said the third member of their party. He was a powerful-looking digimon, his form being almost identical to that of a very large bear. He walked on all fours and from tail to snout must have measured twenty feet at least. His hair was almost completely black, save for a large patch on his back that was snow white; when viewed from overhead this patch of white fur was shaped exactly like the crest of reliability, the length of it stretching from the base of his neck to his tailbone, the cross-bar wrapping down his sides and the four triangles in the corners placed upon his shoulders and hips. His face was somewhat unusual for a bear though, his black hair being very long and thick on both the top of his head and along his jaw line. While the hair atop his head did hide his face somewhat, it could still be seen that he was missing his right eye. The socket was badly scarred and long since closed off, but the remaining eye shone a piercing forest green.
"Armadillomon, it's me!" Kari called out, still waving. "It's Kari!"
Armadillomon cocked his head the other way. "Kari? Well shucks howdy, would you look at that."
The two groups slowly approached one another while already exchanging pleasantries.
"What're you doin' around these parts?" Armadillomon asked, approaching the humans at a gallop.
"That's exactly what we were wondering," said Jack.
"We're a little lost right now," Kari admitted. "It's been kind of a rough day."
"Well shoot, looks like it," said Armadillomon. "Have a seat and we'll have a look-see."
"Easy now," Jack said as he helped ease Kari to the ground before sitting down himself as well, once again cradling his injured arm.
"C'mon over, fellas," Armadillomon called back to his companions. "I know this here little lady." Then he turned back to Kari. "Though if you don't mind me sayin' so, you ain't so little no more. You don't look a thing like you used to."
"Well of course not," Kari giggled. "I grew up."
"Well if you ask me it looks like you went and got yourself digivolved. If it ain't too forward, I'd like to say that I think it turned out pretty well."
Kari smiled at him. "Thank you. You're looking pretty good too, actually. Did you grow?"
"Aw shucks," Armadillomon blushed. "I might've added a few inches here and there."
"A few inches?" asked Jack. "I'd say more like a foot; you're like a tank!"
"Mighty kind of ya to say, stranger," Armadillomon said with a nod and a smile.
Kari giggled again. "You remember Jack, don't you?" she asked.
Armadillomon squinted at Jack and scratched his head. "Really?" he asked. "Shoot, I'm sorry about that. I don't hardly recognize ya. I remember you bein' such a scrawny thing."
Jack shrugged. "Thanks?"
"On closer inspection, they are definitely humans," Guardromon announced as he leaned in uncomfortably close to Kari, forcing her to lean back quite a bit.
"That's…great," she said, somewhat surprised.
"Now where are my manners?" asked Armadillomon. "This here is Guardromon, and that over yonder is Ursamon."
"Salutations!" Guardromon said enthusiastically.
Ursamon only nodded, still keeping his distance.
"Ursamon, this here is Jack and Kari," said Armadillomon. "I reckon you've heard of the DigiDestined."
"Yes, I know of them," said Ursamon. "I take it the two of you were behind that disturbance."
"Disturbance?" asked Kari.
"A light appeared over the forest to the south," said Ursamon.
"Yeah, that sounds like us alright," said Jack. "Not that we were behind it; we just hitched a ride."
Ursamon nodded. "Good. Now that we've solved that we should return to camp quickly."
"Mind if we tag along?" asked Kari.
"Yeah, we can't just go leavin' my friends in a lurch like this," Armadillomon insisted.
Ursamon sighed. "I suppose not. Besides, we can't have humans running wild now can we?" The way he smiled at that remark left Jack and Kari somewhat uncertain, but since he was a friend of Armadillomon's they knew he couldn't be a bad guy.
"Don't fret none," said Armadillomon. "We'll get you two patched up right away when we get back to the camp. Ya'll be right as rain by mornin'."
"Glad to hear it," said Kari as she gingerly stood up again.
"Now that ankle don't look too good," Armadillomon said in a concerned tone. "Guardromon, give the little lady a hand why don't ya."
"Here you are, Miss," Guardromon said as he quickly presented Kari with his detached left limb.
"I mean let her ride on yer shoulder ya ninny!" said Armadillomon.
It was at just about that time that Takato was discovering a sense of direction in the Digital World.
"Yes!" he shouted after reading the text before his eyes. "Three results found! I knew Henry wasn't going to leave me here all alone. Looks like he had a hard time finding the place though. What are they doing all the way over there?"
After more than a day of waiting around in a thinly populated coastal hamlet, Takato finally had human company in the Digital World: two of them. Unfortunately, the digivice gave their location across the sea on the large central continent of the eastern quadrant. Still, they were there and that was the best news he'd had all day. Now the only question he had to answer was how he was going to get there.