The Reign of Courage

Part Thirteen: It Begins

***

Standard Disclaimer Thingy: Hey, did I tell you guys I won the lottery? Yeah, so I went out and bought Digimon. Yup. It's all mine now!

Oh, all right. It's not. Darn it. I really wanted it to be. Going to ask for it for my birthday but I probably won't get it. However, this story is mine, so keep that in mind! Enjoy!

***

Miyako peered bleakly into the mirror, only half-seeing her reflection. She sighed deeply.

There was a knock at the door. "Miyako?" Sora's voice called. She pushed it open and peered around the frame. "You coming?"

With another sigh, the younger girl nodded. "Yeah," she replied, but made no move to step away from the mirror. "Coming."

Sora was unconvinced. She shut the door behind her and sat on the bed. "What's wrong?"

Miyako finally pulled herself from the mirror and looked in the older girl's direction. "I'm just worried, I suppose," she replied. "I can't seem to get in the mood for a celebration."

"Worried about Ken?" Sora asked with a knowing tone, but her voice was sympathetic now, instead of teasing.

"Very," she replied, sinking into a chair. "The way he looked then, Sora – it was just horrible. And the magic…the darkness was so deep."

"I'm sure he'll be fine," her friend assured her. "He's got doctors at home to help him, you know. He just needs some rest."

"I should have gone with him."

Sora shook her head. "No," she disagreed. "You should stay here and enjoy yourself. He wouldn't want you to worry about him when you should be having fun, right?"

Miyako was silent for a long moment. "I suppose not," she agreed reluctantly.

"That's better," Sora agreed. "Now where's your brush? Mimi will kill both of us if you look like that all night." She gestured to Miyako's hair, which was appearing rather unkempt at the moment.

The girl looked in the direction of the cabinet on the opposite side of her bed, where the object in question lay. For a brief moment, she let the pale, half-invisible aura around her glow brighter around her left hand. Then, with the few days practice and studying with Koushiro to guide her, she managed to extend the colors out. Tendrils of color grasped the brush tightly. Then, Miyako pulled the colored aura of magic back inward towards her, dragging the brush with her. To her, the colors of the magic were astonishing and beautiful.

To Sora and anyone without the magic sight, it appeared as though the brush had floated across the air. "Amazing," she noted. "You learned to do that after only a few days."

"Koushiro says I'm a fast learner," Miyako replied, taking enough pride in her actions to smile slightly as she began to brush her hair.

***

Daisuke tugged uncomfortably at his collar and frowned at himself in the mirror. His usual attire was fancy enough without being plain, but this outfit was nearly suffocating. Still, it was required for ceremonies or celebrations such as this one.

The collar of his shirt was tight around his neck. A frilly white ruffle that was in fashion at the time and he thought looked ridiculous extended down his chest and the front of his shirt. A dark blue jacket that Mimi told him looked adorable on him was buttoned where the ruffles ended, and a matching color of pants that were too tight around the waist assured that he wouldn't be anything to laugh at in terms of fashion. At least, not according to popular opinion. A pair of shiny leather shoes completed his attire and pinched his toes.

"If this wasn't a Very Important ceremony, I'd refuse to wear this," he'd warned Mimi over and over again when she'd helped him to select his outfit. Mimi had only laughed and said that he looked adorable or dashing or something of the sort and that she was certain Hikari would think the same. The last comment was enough to make him stop complaining, but not enough to make him like the outfit.

V-mon watched his partner adjust his collar for the tenth time that evening. "Are you choking yet?" he questioned, recalling one of Daisuke's earlier complaints.

"Almost," he replied. "But I think I might live through the evening. I'd better go find Jun." He glanced toward his partner. "Ready?"

"Yup." The blue digimon had only to take a bath, and he was relieved he wasn't required to wear anything for the ceremony. He followed his partner from the room and down the hall.

Jun wasn't ready yet, and one of the maids she'd coerced into helping her opened the door. She had a horrified look on her face, and Daisuke smiled cheerfully and whispered that she could escape, which she did quite quickly.

"What's going on?" he asked the girls as they quickly dashed from the room, looking harried, but they were in too much of a hurry to reply.

His sister emerged from her room into the parlor she'd been sharing with Sora and Miyako. She was dressed in a pale purple dress that actually looked quite tasteful and beautiful, to her brother's relief. Mimi's influence was visible in the outfit. The sleeves were long and wide, the front of the dress had some amount of ruffling, and the skirt was wide. All popular fashions at the moment, according to Mimi.

"Where'd everyone go?" she questioned. Daisuke shrugged innocently and peered at his reflection in his shoes. "Oh well. Help me then. Tie this?"

Daisuke nodded. Having an older sister who tended to scare off the help had taught him a few things about women's clothing. One of the main things was that it often took quite some time to get on. Not that his own attire was much easier. So he had no qualms about pulling tight the lacing in the back of his sister's dress and tying it at just the right tension. Too loose and it was liable to fall off, but too tight and she would complain and find difficulty breathing. Much practice had been required to learn this skill.

"How's that?" he asked when he was done.

"Perfect." Jun smiled at him pleasantly. "Daisuke?"

"Yes?"

There was a moment of silence as the elder sibling tried to think of the words to say precisely what she wanted. "I just wanted to say that I'm glad you're all right." Upon seeing her brother's confused expression, she went on. "I was sort of worried about you before. You know, when you all went off to find Sora," she elaborated. "I was…concerned that you could be injured. Or worse."

He grinned sheepishly and looked at his shoes again. His reflection peered up at him once more. "Thanks," he mumbled softly. He and Jun were close, but they didn't usually talk like that.

"I guess I didn't realize until now how dangerous this whole Chosen business is," Jun confessed, not really noticing her brother's discomfort. "I didn't want to lose more of my family."

Daisuke blinked in surprise. "Jun – I was in more danger a few months ago," he replied pragmatically. "I was in a dungeon for a week. My life was more at risk then than now. I mean, sure, I was fighting, but I had V-mon on my side and everyone else."

"I know," she replied, shrugging and now peering at her own shoes. "It's just that the danger keeps getting worse. What happens if – if next time you don't come home? Or…" she trailed off.

"Or what?" Daisuke asked. She shook her head, but he could imagine what she was thinking. 'Or come home the way Mother did,' he thought grimly. 'In a coffin.'

***

Taichi, too, was examining himself in the mirror. He was dressed in an outfit much like Daisuke's, only with a lighter color blue jacket and pants. Taichi, however, was not worried about the state of his appearance. He was more concerned with something else.

"Taichi?" a voice questioned, and his mother peered into the room. "Are you ready?"

He shook his head. "I don't think I ever will be, Mother," he replied, not bothering to tear himself away from his reflection.

She stepped behind him. "I know that. You'll always be my little boy," she replied. "But you're not. You're growing up." She smiled slightly. "I always thought this day would be harder on me than you."

"I didn't expect it to come so soon," he sighed. "I thought I would be older. More prepared."

"I know," his mother agreed, stepping away from him. "So did I."

"Mother," he began, finally turning away from the mirror and facing her. "What happened? What happened to Father?"

"I'm – not sure," she admitted. "He never really told me what was going on in his head. I just knew what he wanted and I didn't disagree." With a sigh, the Queen glanced towards the window and the outside world. "I suppose I never thought he would do anything to hurt any of you. Especially his own children. And he assured me that you weren't being hurt. He just wanted to find some answers."

"Answers? About evolution?" Taichi asked.

She nodded. "He found this prophecy – this poem. It said that there were twelve that needed to sacrifice their powers in order for he and his partner to gain them. He said that it wouldn't hurt. He knew right away one of them was Miyako, and figured that it would be easier to send Leomon for her rather than worry about the details. She wouldn't be hurt, he told me, so I went along with it. When it became evident that two of the Chosen in the prophecy were our own children – I was more hesitant. I didn't know you'd be hurt. If I had, I never would have gone along with it."

"But then there were complications," he put in.

"Yes. Like that Dark Bandit fellow. And Daisuke. And then he got caught up in trying to defeat them, trying to break him of his spirit. When I knew his mother was dying, I begged him to go easy on him. He swore he did, but I knew that he wasn't. I saw him, and I was just as horrified as the rest of you. That wasn't going easy, and I knew it. When you asked me, on the hill, I knew that I might be considered some sort of traitor, but I had to help you. I wouldn't let anyone else be hurt."

"Mother -," Taichi began. "I know Father will always be hard to talk about between us. But I want to remember him for how he was. When I was younger. I have so many happy memories."

"We'll save the best ones, Taichi," she assured him. "Only the good ones."

***

Iori, dressed in a relatively simple beige and green outfit without ruffles, located Daisuke in the hall outside of the Throne room. He was talking with his sister, Miyako, Sora, and a few other guests he didn't recognize. Iori pushed his way through the crowd, apologizing politely to each of them, and tapped the older boy on the arm.

"Excuse me, ladies," he apologized, bowing politely. "But I need Daisuke for something quite important. If you don't mind."

"No, no, go ahead and take him," Jun joked, half pushing her brother in the direction of the intruder. "He's not needed here. "

"Ha. Go ahead and talk about me while I'm gone," Daisuke replied, good naturedly. He was used to his sister's jests. Once they had left the hall and were in a less populated area, however, his expression turned serious. "What's wrong?"

"The Lord originally selected to escort the Princess has fallen ill," Iori reported. "Usually, in a coronation ceremony, the siblings of the new King are escorted by their spouses, other siblings, or a visiting dignitary. In this case it was a Lord from a nearby Kingdom. However, he was rather aged and fell ill, so he's unable to attend. Hikari has no other siblings, and it's impossible to get another foreign dignitary to agree on such short notice."

"What do you want me to do?" Daisuke asked, confused.

"Be the escort," Iori replied.

"But - ," Daisuke protested. "I don't know what to do!"

"Relax," Iori assured him. "Mimi will explain everything to you." He opened the door that he'd been leading Daisuke to all along.

"Oh good, Iori, you've found him," Mimi peered up from where she was helping Takeru to adjust his collar. "Daisuke, have a seat and try to relax."

"Mimi, I'm not sure I'm the right person for this job," he stated, and remained standing.

"Relax, of course you are," Mimi replied, barely noticing his discomfort as she fastened the final clasp of Takeru's collar. Takeru pulled loosely at the collar and was pleased to see he could breathe – barely.

"What job?" he questioned.

"They want me to escort the Princess," Daisuke replied, tugging at his own collar. "What are you doing here?"

Takeru shrugged. "I can't get this thing buttoned on my own and I've no idea where Yamato is so I turned to Mimi for help. I thought the escort was supposed to be Lord something or other?"

"Lord something or other is Lord Kyuka," Mimi put in, slightly scolding in her tone. "He's a very respected Lord from a nearby country – I forget which one. Unfortunately, he's also rather old and prone to illness. He fell ill. Iori and I discussed it at length and decided Daisuke was the best replacement."

"I still haven't figured out why," Daisuke noted.

"You were the only one we knew we could convince on short notice," Iori explained.

"Why not just find another dignitary person or something?" Takeru asked. "I'm sure they'd jump at the chance."

"Yes, but they wouldn't know what to do."

"I don't know what to do either!" Daisuke half-shouted.

"Relax, I'll tell you," Mimi replied. "It's very easy. In a little while, all the guests will be in the throne room. A whole party of people will go first. Mostly dignitaries and such. Ambassadors, advisors. Iori will be in that group. Then the Queen goes. She's alone because she has no spouse and that's symbolic in some way. Then you and Hikari. It's simple. All you need to do is walk down to the end of the corridor with her. Then you stand beside her while the whole ceremony happens with Taichi. Afterwards, we'll move into the State Dining Room a few doors down. Again, we'll let everyone assemble so that you get to make an entrance. You'll sit beside Hikari at the head table. Talk with the others and try not to make a fool of yourself."

"Don't spill anything while you're eating," Takeru advised. He picked up the egg that was still his partner from a nearby chair.

Daisuke appeared pale. "Sit – at the head table?" he asked. "Walk – down that whole – long carpet? In front of everyone?"

"It won't be that bad," Takeru tried to assure him. "Right, Mimi? Just smile and act happy. It'll be over before you know it."

"I think – I could use some water," Daisuke managed to stammer. Iori left the room to fetch some, and Mimi helped him to sit down in a chair.

"You'll be fine, Daisuke. You're great with people, and Hikari will be glad she gets to talk with you instead of Lord Whatever," Takeru continued.
"Lord Kyuka," Mimi corrected. "She will. That's why we chose you. She won't mind being able to sit next to someone who's a little closer to her in age."

"How old is this guy?" Takeru wondered.

"Lord Kyuka is almost seventy five, I think," Mimi said. "Takeru, why don't you go see if you can find V-mon? I'm sure there are a few girls out there that need your escorting, right?"

"Right," Takeru replied taking the hint. He left, and Iori returned with the water.

Daisuke drank the cup in one gulp. "Thanks," he replied, his voice still hoarse. He unbuttoned his collar so that he would be able to breathe. "What do the digimon do in this ceremony?" he wondered.

"Either walk beside their partners or in pairs behind them," Mimi replied. "Tailmon and V-mon can decide what to do when they're there."

He wiped his brow with the palm of his hand. Iori handed him a handkerchief. "You'll be fine," he assured him, but Daisuke was not so sure.

***

Yamato tapped lightly on the door and then opened it, knowing that Taichi had a tendency to ignore door knocks even when he wasn't under pressure. He was slightly surprised to find his friend in a conversation with his mother. Taichi and the Queen had not spoken much in the last few months.

"Jyou reports only a few minutes left before the ceremony," he relayed. "He's trying to convince everyone to get into the room now, and Koushiro's got the band to begin playing, so they'll be dancing soon."

The Queen nodded. "Thanks for the information, Yamato," she replied. "I suppose I should go get ready, then."

Taichi nodded. "Thanks, Mother," he stated appreciatively as she left.

"You almost ready?" Yamato asked.

"Yes," he replied. "Just incredibly nervous, that's all."

Yamato nodded. "My parents arrived this morning," he stated without preamble. "Together, for once. They seem to be getting along. I haven't seen Takeru all day, but he's likely to be surprised. Maybe having both of us away, they get along better."

"Maybe," Taichi nodded.

The blond boy sighed. "I feel like I'm getting so much older," he confessed. "My father was talking about the manor becoming mine soon, and Takeru and I getting married and inheriting his title and all that. Adult things. I feel like just yesterday I was spending my time running through fields without a care in the world."

"That was yesterday," Taichi noted with a grin.

"Yeah, but it was different. This time I went for a walk because I had things on my mind. About this last battle and about the future. There's always some issue to bother me. It used to be so much more simple."

"I know what you mean," the other agreed. "Just listen to your parents and worry about nothing. They protected us from everything." Taichi glanced towards his balcony. "Now I have to worry about protecting others. And making my own decisions."

"Don't even think about going out there and brooding for another few hours!" Yamato warned. "I'll drag you up to that throne even if you're kicking and screaming the whole way!"

"You'd have to get some help," the other countered with a grin. He sobered again, though. "No, it's too cold to worry about standing out there. Now that it's getting colder I'll have to find somewhere else to do my thinking."

"Brooding, you mean," Yamato corrected with a mischievous grin of his own as he opened the door. "Come on, let's go. Can't be late, you know."

***

Hikari peered at herself again in the mirror. Behind her, Tailmon sighed loudly. "You look exactly the same, Hikari. Nothing's changed since the last time you've looked."

"I know," her partner replied. "But I just had to make sure. It's not everyday that your brother becomes king and you turn sixteen."

"You've been sixteen for nearly two months," Tailmon reminded her.

"I know," Hikari replied. "But you know what I mean."
Before Tailmon could reply to that, there was a knock on the door. Yamato poked his head in. "Ready, Princess?" he questioned.

Hikari nodded. "Yes," she replied. "Are we ready to start already?"

"Yes. If you'll come with me, I'll escort you to your escort." He held the door while she stepped out, and they walked down the hall together, Tailmon following behind.

"You're not?"

He shook his head. "No, I will be spending the evening mingling with the guests, looking out for evil intruders, and avoiding my parents, who arrived this morning. I don't know who your escort is, to be honest. I heard that it was an old Lord, and then Mimi said he had fallen ill and sent Iori off to find a replacement. I don't know who he found."

Hikari breathed a sigh of relief. "The original Lord was very old and boring," she stated. "I hope the replacement is more interesting."

"As do I," Yamato agreed. "Nothing bores me more than seeing someone else bored. I'd volunteer my brother, but I'm afraid he doesn't fit the requirements."

She had to laugh at that. "Have you seen my brother?" she asked.

He nodded. "Nervous but well. He was talking with your mother when I went in a few minutes ago."

"Mother?" Hikari repeated. "She and Taichi haven't talked in quite some time. I'm glad they're getting along."

"So am I," Yamato replied. They had reached the corridor outside the Throne Room. A few people were assembled beside the main doors, but the bulk of the people were inside. Soft music could be heard coming from inside. "Here we are," he replied. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll find someone to find your escort." He smiled pleasantly before departing.

Hikari surveyed the scene. Currently, the assembly of dignitaries was organizing itself in front of the door. The music behind the door ended, and she could hear clapping from the people before the next song began.

"When this song ends, we march!" she heard Iori announce to the dignitaries and officials, and they began to hurriedly to move themselves into formation.

***

Daisuke tugged impatiently at his re-fastened collar. "This wouldn't be quite so nerve-wracking if I could just breathe," he muttered to V-mon, who stood beside him, looking almost as nervous as his partner.
"Hey, here comes the official people," V-mon observed, noting as Taichi and his mother both entered the cramped hallway. "The really official people, that is."

"The guest of honor, so to speak," Daisuke agreed. "I wonder if he'd be mad at me."

"For what?" V-mon wondered.

"I don't know, brothers are always supposed to be mad at the people interested in their sister. I'm escorting his sister at an official ceremony. I wonder if he knows that," Daisuke wondered, peering at Taichi from across the crowded room. Thankfully, Taichi was involved with several other people and didn't notice Daisuke, so he didn't ask why he was there and not inside with the others.

"I'd say hope not. Let him find out when it's too late. He can't get mad in front of all these people," V-mon advised, and his partner agreed.

It was Mimi who finally located him and dragged him through the small crowd to Hikari. "I've been looking all over for you!" she told him. "Where did you go?"

"I didn't go anywhere," he protested. "I've been right here the entire time."

Mimi shook her head in disagreement, but before she could say anything, she pushed through the last of the people and Hikari was standing in front of her. "Your escort, Princess," she announced, and then was gone.

Hikari was dressed in a light pink gown. There were the ruffles that Jun's dress had, the wide skirt and sleeves, the shiny leather shoes. She wore her hair half pulled from her face, half loosely hanging. A strand of pearls hung loosely around her neck, and a few silver bracelets were on her wrists. Daisuke felt his throat close in nervousness again and forced himself to swallow.

"Hello," he said pleasantly, hiding that nervous fear. "I believe we've met before."

Hikari blinked, obviously astonished at the choice in escort. "Daisuke? What are you doing here?" she blurted before she could stop herself. Embarrassed, she covered her mouth and blushed. "I didn't mean to say that - ," she apologized. "I just was – surprised."

"So was I," he replied, and proceeded to explain the story of the sick Lord Kyuka and the frantic search for another escort and Mimi's decision. He would have gone on to explain his nervousness, but just then the music stopped.

The Princess took a deep breath, and Daisuke realized he didn't have to explain to her about feeling nervous. She was most likely just as nervous as he. He smiled reassuringly even though he didn't feel it, and took her arm.

It took a few moments for the assembled dignitaries to finish assembling themselves. The doors were opened wide by two attendants within the room, and then the group made its way down the long center corridor. Soft music played as they walked, and the crowd of people stared in astonishment or respect. The doors closed then, and it was a few moments before they opened again.

Then the Queen made her way down the corridor, her partner Elecmon proudly beside her. The music changed abruptly to a more dignified tune as she walked, and the door shut behind her as well.

Daisuke took a deep breath and smiled again at Hikari. She smiled nervously back. "Don't worry, you'll be fine," he whispered.

"I know," she replied. "And so will you."

When the door opened again, the Queen had seated herself on the throne, and the crowd was eagerly awaiting the next entrants. Daisuke took a step forward, and Hikari stepped as well. V-mon and Tailmon had apparently decided how to walk, and fell in step behind their partners. V-mon gripped Tailmon's arm in imitation of his partner, and Tailmon smiled cheerfully back at him.

At first Daisuke thought that he would be astonished by the amount of people in the room, but he found that he wasn't. It was impossible for him to tell one person from the next, and the faces all blurred together. Their clothes blurred into one long mass of colors, and he felt slightly dizzy. He shut his eyes momentarily and concentrated on walking to the end of the extraordinarily long carpet.

Somehow, he was able to notice his sister's face peek out from within the blurred faces, and she smiled at him. Slightly more comfortable now, he smiled back, and then he saw Takeru, who was giving him an encouraging smile, and Miyako, who looked somewhat astonished, but smiled supportively as well.

After an excruciatingly long walk, they arrived at the end. Hikari took her usual seat on the throne, and Tailmon stood in front of her. Daisuke took his appointed spot standing beside her on the right, and V-mon stood next to him. He felt almost as though his legs would turn to gelatin.

"See? Wasn't so hard," Hikari whispered to him, and he felt a little better.

A moment later, the band struck up the official tune and the attendants at the end of the corridor pulled open the massive doors to admit the final entrant to the room. Taichi looked nervous at first, but when he stepped into the room, he'd plastered on a confident smile. He grinned at some of the partygoers, and made his way at a fairly quick pace to the end of the rug.

Daisuke half expected him to take his seat at the main throne, which was empty, but he didn't. Instead, the soon-to-be-King stood at the edge of the raised area.

Then the Queen stood from her seat and stepped to the edge. One of the dignitaries who had been in the first procession stepped forward from his place around the raised platform and handed the official scepter to the Queen.

"My son," she stated then, pitching her voice loud enough so the entire huge hall could hear. "The time has come for you to take on the role your father once filled. Are you prepared to fill that role?"

"I am," he replied confidently, also speaking loud enough to be audible to the entire room.

"Then kneel, Prince, my son," she stated, and he did so. "And then rise the new King."

Another official stepped forward and a heavy golden crown was placed on Taichi's head. A regal robe was draped over his shoulder by another, and then he stood.

The room burst into applause as Taichi seated himself in the seat that was once his father's.

***

Miyako took her seat at the table in the State Dining room. Sora sat on one side of her, Takeru on the other. The rest of the guests were assembling themselves at tables as well. Seating had been assigned, with several officials and advisors leading each guest to their appointed place. She thought it interesting to note that eight of the twelve chosen were seated at the table closest to the main table. Koushiro sat on Takeru's opposite side, then Jyou, Yamato, Mimi, and finally Iori.

Since the rest of the people appeared to be talking, Miyako felt safe enough to lean over to ask Koushiro a question. "I saw magic around the scepter, the crown, and the robe," she informed him. "Is that protective magic?"

He nodded. "Yes," he replied. "The spells are renewed each time a new sovereign is crowned in Yagami. Protective magic, luck charms, health. Meant to insure the long life of the ruler who carries them, and the prosperity of the kingdom."

Miyako would have asked more about the spells, but just then the room fell silent again, and the party at the head table entered. This time their entrance was more informal. The visiting dignitaries and officials who had walked ahead now sat at a table on the opposite side of the head table, and then the others assembled themselves.

To call it a head table was actually wrong, Miyako noted, because in this case all the tables were connected. It was more like one big table which surrounded the entire dining hall. Taichi sat at the center of the head of the U-shaped table, and his mother and Hikari sat on either side of him. Daisuke sat beside Hikari, still looking somewhat in a daze.

"Let the eating begin!" Taichi stated, half in jest, and then the servants began to bring a massive army of food. The room laughed at his casual manner, but all were eager to begin. He whispered to Agumon, who sat between him and Hikari, and the yellow digimon looked surprised for a moment. Taichi nodded, and the digimon shrugged and climbed out of his chair.

Sora was peering over the food that was set on the table, preparing to eat, when Agumon appeared behind her and tapped on her arm. She turned around in surprise.

"Agumon?"

"I hope you don't mind the intrusion," he apologized. "But you've been offered another seat."

Sora blinked and peered up at Taichi, who was grinning happily at her. "Are you sure that's allowed?" she asked.

Miyako elbowed her friend. "He's the King now!" she reminded her. "He decides what's allowed!"

"Oh. Still…," she was hesitant. She glanced at him again, and now his eyes were now asking the question, half-pleading.

"Don't make me go back there alone!" Agumon pleaded. "You don't know what he's like!"

Sora had to laugh. "I know exactly what he's like!" she reminded him.

"Oh, just go, Sora," Takeru urged.

"You'll have fun," Miyako added.

"I'd don't know," she hesitated.

"Sora," Yamato spoke up. "Just go. There's no reason not to."

Finally, she agreed. "Oh, all right. It can't hurt, can it?"

"Certainly not," Piyomon agreed cheerfully.

 So a few moments later, Sora slipped into the seat beside Taichi, her heart pounding hard. "Are you sure this is all right?" she asked.

"It's fine," he assured her, smiling. She felt a little less anxious. "Don't worry, I'm scared as hell, too," he confessed.

She laughed, nervous laughter, but enough to break the ice. "It was a good ceremony," she assured him.

"You sure?" he asked, reaching for a bowl of food and spooning some on to his plate. "I thought that stupid rug would never end. There have to be a thousand people here!"

Sora laughed again. "Only about six hundred, I think," she assured him. "Some weren't able to stay for the dinner." She took the bowl from him and spooned some to her plate before passing it to her partner, who sat beside her.

"Oh, good, I feel better then," he said, taking a bite from his food. He peered to his opposite side where his sister was immersed in her own conversation. "Did that surprise you?" he questioned.

"Daisuke as an escort? A bit," she replied. "Daisuke and Hikari having the relationship they do, no."

He sighed and took a drink. "It did me, I confess," he replied.

Sora swallowed the bite she'd taken. "It did? Why?"

"I don't know. They were never close when we were younger. She and Takeru used to be much closer. But then they started growing more apart, and Daisuke and she grew closer."

"If I remember correctly, Daisuke and Takeru had something of a rivalry over her for some time," she recalled. "Must have been about four years ago."

He laughed then. "That's right. When their silly duels began. They would decide to fight over her and neither one of them would ever win. Hikari paid no attention to them at first. Then she would do things to make them jealous. Spend more time talking with Daisuke to make Takeru jealous. Walk with Takeru to make Daisuke jealous. Father was nearly pulling his hair out."

"I remember," Piyomon spoke up. "He was going to jump in and choose for her, but your mother reminded him she was not quite old enough to marry anyway."

Taichi nodded. "She was only twelve. They all were. I don't think anyone thinks about long-term like that at twelve."

"I try not to think about it now," Sora confessed.

"Same here," he replied, sighing.

"See?" Hikari was saying to Daisuke. "It's not too bad, being in the spotlight and all. You get nervous, but after a while you get used to having people looking at you all the time."

"It's not too bad," he admitted. "I guess having friends helps, right?"

"It does," she agreed. "I don't mind all of them watching me all the time as long as I know I can have some time to myself and some time with friends."

Daisuke nodded in agreement and took a bite of his food as he thought about the friends he had. A flash of concern rushed over him for Ken, who was at that moment, he knew, laying at home in bed and most likely dreadfully ill. He sighed.

"What's wrong?" Hikari asked.

"Nothing," he said, turning back to his food. "Hikari," he began.

After a moment of silence: "Yes?" she asked.

He looked down for a moment and then pushed a cheerful thought into his head. "Nothing. Never mind."

Not long after the food was finished, the band (which had also been relocated from the throne room) began to play some music. As was customary, the main honoree was allowed the first dance. Dropping his clunky new accessories, Taichi managed to nervously stutter out a request while Sora turned bright red. He took a deep breath and asked in a more steady tone, and then she managed to respond politely.

So, while the entire room looked on, Sora and Taichi glided over the floor. Both felt as though they were in a completely different world. "I'm sorry," he apologized once they were dancing. "That was a pathetic way to ask you. Next time I'll try to be more dashing and charming."

She laughed, but not unkindly. "Don't worry," she assured him. "It's not how it's asked, but who does the asking."

"Is that so? Does that mean you only said yes so you wouldn't embarrass me?"

"No," she replied, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "I said yes because I know your parents insisted you learn to dance and I knew I wouldn't have my toes stepped on."

"Funny. Very funny," he noted with some sarcasm. "I guess I should thank Mother for that, shouldn't I?"

"She knew you'd use it one day," Sora replied. There was a moment of silence between them, and then the music ended. "You dance wonderfully," she told him. "And I said yes because it's you."

He smiled, and it was a genuinely happy smile. "You dance fabulously, too," he replied. As they made their way back to their seats, the band stayed quiet.

Taichi poked Daisuke in the back as he passed. "I think the birthday girl deserves a dance," he whispered.

"So do I," the younger boy managed to get out without stammering. "Hikari? Will you dance?"

"Certainly," she replied. As they stood, the band poised for the music to begin, and it did as soon as they got to the floor.

"I want to apologize in advance for stepping on your toes," he warned her. "I'm not as good a dancer as your brother."

"It's all right," Hikari assured him. "I have strong toes."

"How does it feel to be sixteen?" he wondered.

"Should have asked me that two months ago when I first turned sixteen," she replied cheerfully. "It feels no different than fifteen."

"Do you look forward to the gifts?"

"I suppose," she said after a moment of thought. "Sometimes there are some really nice ones. But I don't expect them. I appreciate the effort, though."

There was a pause in conversation. Hikari sensed the same silence she'd seen before. "You're worried, aren't you?" she questioned.

"A little," he confessed. "Mostly I was thinking about my mother."

"She would have liked this?" Hikari asked.

"Would have loved it," he replied. "I think Jun and my father miss her terribly. I wish my father had come today. But I guess you're not much in the mood for parties after you lose someone you've spent your whole life with."

"I wouldn't be," Hikari agreed. "I find myself liking this day, and then I think about Father. It's a wonderful day, sometimes I wish he could be here to enjoy it. But if he was here, we wouldn't be enjoying it. And – as much as I don't like what he did, I miss him."

The music ended then. "You're a wonderful dancer, Princess," he said. "Your father would have been proud of you."

"Thank you," she replied. "And you're not as bad as you say you are. Your mother would be pleased, too."

***

The dancing continued well into the night, and many of the guests who had not planned to spend the night had to, because by the time the party came to a close it was very late and some had drunk too much wine to see straight.

Thankfully, Iori and Mimi had prepared for this and set aside quite a few rooms for many of the guests to sleep in. Some had to share rooms with people they didn't know, but extra cots and beds were set up to accompany the extras.

Yamato led a few men into a room and shut the door behind him. His head was beginning to hurt and he was very tired. He wandered back to the Dining Hall to see it mostly empty. Servants had begun the cleanup, and Mimi was helping. Takeru and Miyako stood in one corner, talking, and Daisuke and Hikari still sat at the head table. He suspected Iori was still helping some of the guests to a room, and Jyou and Koushiro had retreated or gone to bed. There was no sign of Taichi or Sora, however.

Not wanting to disturb the apparently involved conversation between Daisuke and Hikari, Yamato made his way through the mess to his brother and Miyako. "Still awake?" he asked.

"I'm still too excited to sleep," Miyako explained. "This was amazing."

"It was a pretty good party," Takeru agreed.

"Join me for some air?" Yamato suggested, and they both agreed. He managed to drag Mimi from the cleaning, ("The servants are supposed to clean up, Mimi, so you don't have to,") and they sat on a stone wall not far from the castle.

"It was a success," Miyako assured Mimi. "I think everyone had a good time."

"Especially the honored ones," Takeru noted. "Did you see how they danced?"

Mimi nodded. "I knew there was something there," she agreed. "It won't be long before this kingdom has a new Queen."

Miyako sighed, leaning back and peering at the stars. "I never would have thought that. But she'll do the job well."
"She will," Yamato agreed. "And I have to say that I've never seen him so happy before today. Not in a long time."

"He's seemed very worried and tired lately," Takeru agreed. "I think Sora's safety made him feel a lot better."

"You should have seen him before the ceremony," Yamato recalled. "A bundle of nerves. I was sure he was going to fall apart or something. And before we left here last week. Just stood there on the balcony, brooding for hours."

"You want to see nervous you should have seen Daisuke today," Takeru countered. "Turned white as a sheet, right Mimi?"

"He did," Mimi nodded.

"Why?" Miyako wondered.

"I sent Iori to find him and get him to be the escort tonight," Mimi recalled. "He was shaking and stuttering and could hardly speak for a good half hour."

Takeru nodded in agreement. "I thought he was going to faint. But he pulled himself together. Didn't look too bad."

"Good recovery," Yamato agreed.

"Doesn't it feel good to be at peace for a change?" Mimi questioned. "I mean, I know we're probably not done fighting yet, but it feels good to not have something hanging over us as a threat."

"It does," Takeru agreed.

"Won't last for long," Miyako sighed.

"It won't?" Yamato asked.

She shook her head. "That darkness isn't done yet."

"No," Takeru noted, peering at the egg in his hands. "It's not. I'm sure it's still out there."

"It is," Miyako insisted. "You didn't see it the way I did. The way there was this – cloud – around Demon." She shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself. "It was so scary…"

"Well, whatever it is, we'll be sure to get rid of it, right?" Takeru asked.

Miyako was silent for a moment. "I hope so," she said. "I really hope so."

***

The hall was dark, and the candle she carried did little to light the way. It was late in the night and Lady Ichijouji was almost certain she'd heard a noise coming from her son's room. She carried a bucket and cloth in the opposite hand. Ken had had such a fever the past few days. Though she was tired, she was reluctant to leave him alone with the nurse.

She pushed open the door to the room. It was sparsely furnished. Ken hadn't spent much time at home in a long while. Not since Osamu had died. There was an iron-frame bed with blankets on it, a dark-colored rug, a few tattered curtains, but that was all. His bedroom was located in an old wing of the very old mansion.

Ken had always been pale, and now he appeared even paler than before. The fever made him weak, and he hadn't bothered to awaken since he'd been home. Sweat covered his forehead. His mother made herself comfortable in the chair beside the bed and wiped his face with the cool cloth. She dipped it in the bucket of water and then squeezed in carefully before wiping him off again.

He moaned softly in his sleep and turned his head a few times. "No," he whispered, so softly his mother barely heard it.

"It's all right, Ken, I'm here," she told him, carefully administering the washcloth again. If only he'd wake up. Then all would be better. The doctor's couldn't figure out what was wrong. Just that he had a fever and was weak. The letter sent from the palace explained very little of what had happened to her son. With few clues, all Lady Ichijouji could do was try to bring his fever down and make him as comfortable as possible.

He slept restlessly through the night. His mother fell asleep in the chair beside the bed. When she awakened in the morning, he was gone.

***

Yes! It's finally over! Yeah! ::does victory dance:: Okay, anyone predict the ending? I think I threw in enough romance for about twelve chapters there, so no one better complain! ::glares around threateningly:: ^_~

Ah well. A few notes now. Kyuka (the old Lord who's supposed to escort Hikari) is Japanese for "old family." At least according to my dictionary, which is pathetic, but sadly, all I have. I just needed a name for a boring old man.

And I lied, I know, about the Daikari. I said there wouldn't be much more in this story. Oh well. You should know by now not to trust me. I didn't lie about the next story though. There WILL be more in that.

What else will there be? Well, I'm sure you all can guess who the evil guy will be in the next installment. I have a few titles set aside but I won't tell you them yet because I haven't decided. There will be tons of fighting with the evil guy. There will be more action in there than there is in this one (it was incredibly slow moving in terms of action). There will be more Daikari and maybe Tai x Sora stuff. ^_^ Kenyako fans, you'll just have to hang in there….No! I will NOT give out spoilers. Will NOT! ::pulls arm away from keyboard::

The next story will take place about five months or so after this one. I can't guarantee when it will be out. As usual, the beginning is the hardest part, and I have to finish Evil's New Claim (MUST finish) and I have another story I want to write. Plus, of course, real life keeps intruding. Dang it. Dang School. Dang Work. Dang Family. Oh well. Hope you all enjoyed this! Thanks to my readers and reviewers for all your wonderful comments, you're all great and supportive and this wouldn't have been finished nearly as fast without your support. Applaud yourselves. ^_^