This story began as an experimental concept. My first revisit to the Digital World since initially "leaving" the fandom in favor of other fictional universes. I say "leaving", of course, despite the fact that I never truly left—though I stopped writing for Digimon, I've spent the last eight years cosplaying from it at over half a dozen conventions. As Hikari. Because of course. With regards to Pandora's Box, however, I went so far as to write up a dozen or so outlines, some more detailed than others, along with an overarching plot and description of character involvements.
It went left unpublished.
My reasons for returning are many and mostly irrelevant (although, yes, the announcement of Tri had a lot to do with it), but with them came one glaring issue I thought needed addressing: after nearly ten years, my writing style has changed. As did a few minor details of the story. Few of these clashed with my original draft. In fact, I'm fairly certain that no one besides myself would have even noticed. But, as I've always stated, I write these stories as much for myself as I do for my wonderful, wonderful readers, and as such, while I am working on Chapter Three, I took it upon myself to go back and edit from the beginning.
Syntax. Phrasing. A few alterations in honorific decisions (I now have a chart I go by in hopes of keeping track of who refers to whom by what name). And, yes, one or two minor plot points. You don't necessarily need to reread all of Chapter One, but for those new readers just now finding this story (HI!), I wanted them to look upon this story with fresh eyes as the present intends it to be read.
So, with that, I give you: the accumulation of more than ten years' of on and off work. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I'm still enjoying writing it.
The Influence was subtle, washing over the realm with such finesse that, before any had a chance to realize what was happening, it was too late.
Within days, its presence was too strong to be ignored. The sun no longer shone, although an inexplicable daylight somehow prevailed. At night, perpetual darkness filled the star-less skies, each having gradually faded one by one until there was nothing but an empty void. The waters grew cold and dark. Creatures once roaming the lands burrowed themselves deep within whatever sanctuary they could find. Villages were abandoned. Life as the Digital World had known it seemed to come to a terrified halt.
Worst of all, those few that remained seemed to lose their will to fight back.
None felt this Influence stronger than the Guardians, many of whom succumbed to the shadows just as those they had sworn to protect. How could they resist, when they barely knew what was overpowering them? No physical enemy had yet to make itself known. There was no way of knowing if there even was one. For all they knew, they were waging a losing war with Darkness itself. The very yang of their World.
Even as the dwindling few gathered to the one save haven that remained, the knowledge weighed heavy on their shoulders.
"We cannot fight this alone." With his hood pushed back, the one who first spoke could no longer hide the lines marring his features. Betraying an age that should not have been visible. Not with the power they once possessed. "This is an enemy like no other. One within the very heart of the Digital World."
A low murmur spread through the small room. Agreement. Uncertainty. Hesitation. Each voice sounding as defeated as the last. All but one.
"We know what we can do. What we must."
Silence prevailed, as a dozen set of eyes turned to her, a solitary figure in the back who had remained silent until that point. Those present looked upon her as if only then realizing she was even there. The pristine white of her cloak looked out of place among her more frazzled peers. Gracefully, she rose to a stand. Only the delicate jingle of her golden bracelets could be heard as a result of the movement. Not even the usual shifting of cloth.
A select few moved aside out of respect as she crossed the room to take her place at the head. So effortlessly it was as if she were gliding on air. One or two bowed their heads as she passed.
When she spoke again, there was an odd feeling of warmth to her tone. Almost maternal in nature. Despite the underlying sadness of what she was about to suggest.
"It is our own hesitation that has prevented us from taking action until now." She paused just long enough to allow that to sink in. None of this was news; there wasn't a soul present who hadn't thought of exactly the same thing. "We must summon the Chosen one last time. Only they can restore the balance we desperately need."
(Episode One - "Apotheosis")
An inhumane groan escaped from the rumpled blankets. Not one to let a little thing like that stop him, Taichi went straight for the offensive, shaking the bundle of thick fabric...and even thicker-headed little sister.
"Come on, Hikari. You have to wake up sometime."
Her response was to wrap herself even deeper into the makeshift cocoon, foiling his last efforts at attempting to tear the blanket from her delicate fingers. Huh. She was a lot stronger than he gave her credit for. Still, even in the face of defeat, he laughed, stepping back before placing both hands on his hips and cocking his head to one side.
"Well, if you absolutely insist on sleeping in, I guess this means I'm not taking you out for breakfast before schoo-"
The girl was up and halfway to the bathroom before he even had a chance to finish. Though not without a small 'eep' as she ended up tripping while attempting to unstable herself.
Taking a seat on the now-vacant lower bunk, Taichi stared after the closed door with an amused look. It was rare for him to be up and ready before the youngest Yagami sibling, and even rarer for him to have to go through so much effort to wake her up. He reveled in the moment, in the messy pile of discarded blankets at his feet, knowing it wasn't likely to happen again anytime soon.
"I'm so sorry, oniichan." To her credit, she did have the grace to look embarrassed as she trudged back into the room a moment later. Clothed and face freshly washed, but hair still askew. "I completely forgot!"
He feigned offense for roughly half a second before shaking his head. An evil grin tugged at his lips. The kind only a teasing older brother could wear.
"Well, maybe if you hadn't been mailing Takeru until one in the morning..."
She promptly ignored him, turning to reach for the brush on her knight-stand. She knew what he was trying to do and fused to give him the satisfaction. Still, as the brush crackled through her short, brown locks, she couldn't help a private smile as she thought of him. Takeru Takaishi. Her best friend.
He had been one of the original Chosen Children, along with his older brother. And hers. The youngest of the original Seven until it was discovered that she was the missing Eighth, meant to have traveled with them from the start but prevented from doing so for...a number of reasons. He was also the only one her age. A seemingly superficial reason to have found herself drawn to him, but true. Even if they hadn't had discovered so many subsequent similarities between them—not the least of which involving their respective roles in a prophecy involving their Angel digimon and older brothers—it would have been the first thing about him she took note of.
But what had truly set him apart from the others in her mind wasn't age or family or even partners. It was the fact that he had been the only one who never left her side for a single moment during their time in the Digital World. When she had been separated from Taichi—circumstances she knew and understood had been beyond her brother's control—Takeru was still there. He stayed by her makeshift bedside when her weak immune system took its toll yet again, leaving her sick with fever. He protected her when they'd faced the horrors of Piemon. Refusing to let her see him cry, though she knew how badly he wanted to.
After the fighting was over and they returned to their normal lives, they remained close. Exchanging mailing information before he had to return to his home town with his mother with the promise of keeping in touch. A promise that both of them more than kept; nearly three years later, they messaged one another on a near daily basis.
As if responding to her internal musings, the pink cell phone on her desk buzzed to life, red light blinking to signify she had a new message. She picked it up, continued to ignore the look on her (extremely nosy) brother's face, and flipped the screen open.
You're not going to believe the surprise I have for you today. Tell you more later. -T.T.
...he did that on purpose!. She tried, in vain, to frown, but it was no use. Even though she knew Takeru had to have known a message like that would haunt her thoughts until he elaborated. What evil, evil person pulled something like that on their best friend's first day back at school?
Speaking of evil, Taichi chose that moment to casually stroll by, ruffling the hair she had been attempting to brush. All as an elaborate ruse to catch a glimpse of what could cause her to make a face like that.
Huh. Should've guessed.
"Better hurry up," he called over his shoulder as he reached the doorway. "Unless you want mom to think you're staying for breakfast."
She was out the door, cell and backpack both in hand, even before he was. Her hair would have to be dealt with (again) later.
A gust of wind blew across Hikari's bare shoulders. Even with the heat of the overhead sun, did little to stop her from shivering.
"Why did you order a milkshake for breakfast if you knew it would make you cold?"
(Admittedly, that probably didn't help things, either.)
Hikari could do little more than offer a sheepish shrug, a task made infinitely more difficult as Taichi's arm came up and over to offer additional warmth. "I like strawberry milkshakes." She pouted adorably over her McDonalds cup, as if it should have been the most obvious response. "Besides, I didn't know it would be so cold this morning. I thought it was supposed to be in the 20s?"
Taichi visibly frowned. "It is. It's about twenty-two degrees Celcius right now." As if to collaborate his claim, he nodded his head towards one of the nearby building marquee blinking the current time and temperature. "Are you feeling okay?"
It was more than a simply case of brotherly overprotectiveness, and Hikari knew it. One of the few times she never argued with him was when it came to her Health. Given her history of illness and multiple doctors attempting to label her with idiopathic diseases, not to mention hospitalizations and the Digital World incident, it would have been a losing battle.
She made a quick show of stopping to feel her own forehead before realizing that her milkshake-frozen palm was all but useless. Still, her forehead hardly felt feverish to her.
"I'm fine. It's probably just the milkshake giving me the shivers." A distinct slurping sound followed, indicating she had reached the bottom of her cup. Mourning the lack of further strawberry goodness, she spared her drink one last longing glance before tossing it into a nearby waste can.
Taichi said nothing further on the subject as they reached the intersection where they had to split—he, for the local Junior High, while she, right for Odaiba Elementary—but he didn't seem too satisfied by her answer.
"Say hi to Sora-chan and everyone for me!" Giving him a quick hug, she waved him off before heading to the school gates.
The cell in her pocket vibrated again. A phone call this time; a quick glance at the screen led her to believe that, perhaps, Takeru wasn't as evil as she'd earlier suspected.
"I hope you're ready to explain yourself." She joked into the receiver without so much as a cordial hello. They were far past the point of pleasantries at this stage. As she entered the main school yard, she absently waved to one of her friends on the soccer club practicing in the adjacent area. He waved back before catching an incoming pass with his chest, attention once more returning to the impromptu game.
"Nope. Not yet," came the reply. His tone was about as serious as hers.
"Evil," she laughed back, then paused and covered the bottom of her phone with one hand in order to let out a silent yawn.
"Maybe you should go to bed earlier if you're that tired."
"Well, if you hadn't kept me up-" She began. Then froze as realization slowly dawned on her; there was no way he could have heard that. Unlike her brother's unnecessarily loud mannerisms, she barely ever made a sound when she yawned. And her voice was far more energetic than her current state of exhaustion would lead anyone over the phone to believe.
Phone still pressed to her ear, she slowly turned around.
He had grown. That was the first coherent thought that made it through. Even at that distance, she could tell the boy had somehow managed to surpass her by several inches in the years since she'd seen him in person. And yet, she recognized him in an instant. No one else she had ever known could hold a candle to that look in his blue eyes. That mop of unruly blonde locks. That smile...
(Definitely Evil, she would later look back on that moment and reaffirm.)
The first few steps were slow at first. Cautious enough that she had time to safely drop both her cell and backpack on the grass beneath her before breaking into a full run. Closing the remaining distance between them in seconds, and nearly knocking him over as she threw her arms around him. Takeru, meanwhile, took advantage of the momentum to lift her off the ground and swing her around. Her squeals of delight made it well worth the strange looks they received from teachers and peers alike.
"Glad to see me, I take it," He managed to get out once they separated. And her feet found solid ground.
"Very much so." Her cheeks were slightly flushed, unable to keep the smile off her face. "What are you doing here?"
"Mom's job transferred her to their Odaiba branch. We just moved into our new apartment a few days ago."
"A few days?!" No wonder he looked a little too proud of himself. She would have punched him if she weren't still feeling from the fact that he was here. Standing right in front of her. Hands still loosely wrapped around her waist. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"Because it was worth it to see the look on your face just now."
It could have been his imagination, but he was sure her cheeks puffed up in annoyance. The gesture was too cute. She was too cute. Always had been.
Sharing a laugh between them, Hikari enveloped him in a second hug, this one warmer and gentler than before. She had to rise up onto her toes for her chin to reach his shoulder. From that angle, she could feel his breath tickling the back of her neck. Unless that was his hair.
No doubt, they would be the subject of that year's first school-wide gossip. To her, getting to hug him again was well worth every second. Three years, and she had never truly realized just how much she missed him.
"Good morning, Hikari-chan."
Still reeling from the events of that morning, Hikari nearly missed the enthusiastic greeting. Only when she turned towards him did she realize it was Motomiya Daisuke, the very boy she had waved to earlier. He had already claimed a spot to the right corner adjacent to her desk and currently sat backwards in his chair to better face her. The thousand-watt smile on his face gave away his sheer delight at her own choice of seating.
"Good morning, Daisuke-kun." She smiled back at him, placing both arms on her desk and leaning forward. "I saw you practicing this morning. Your form's gotten even better since last season."
He beamed at the compliment. For many reasons. "That's because Taichi-senpai is a great captain."
And who else could verify such a claim than by Taichi's little sister? Hikari let out a small giggle at the thought, hardly distressed at the idea of others thinking of her that way. In truth, it was because of Taichi that she and Daisuke had first met. A visit to him and Sora at one of their summer soccer camps. The boy had come across as hot-headed, stubborn, and fiercely competitive...so much like Taichi that she couldn't help befriending him. His ego might have been overinflated at times, but she admired the fierce loyalty he showed his team. Plus, whenever he spoke to her, he seemed to go out of his way to be friendly.
"In fact..." Daisuke continued, leaning back slightly in his seat. "I even ran into this new kid who told me my goggles reminded him of Taichi-senpai." He motioned to the square sports goggles atop his head. Worn in honor of his mentor; it was no small coincidence that he'd started carrying them around after that first summer.
"New kid?" She asked curiously.
"Yeah, I'm certain I've never seen him around before, though." Daisuke's face twisted into an over-exaggerated expression of deep thought. The same look he always got whenever he had a mystery dangled in front of him he couldn't quite solve. "Not from school or camp. I mean, I'm sure I would've noticed someone with blonde hair like that." Natural. Not bleached, like some of the older high school students were known to do.
"Blonde..." Realization dawned on her, and she had to turn her head away so that he wouldn't see her nearly burst out laughing. Small world, it seemed.
Before Daisuke had a chance to ponder her strange reaction, the door to the classroom opened. A middle-aged man entered, with an unusually full head of hair and sharp features. His suit was cleanly pressed. Thin wire frames hung low on his nose, and he pushed them up with one hand as he came to stand at the head desk, the other setting down a pile of well-organized books.
"Good morning, class. My name is Hanazawa Tsukasa. I will be your homeroom teacher for this school year." He bowed respectfully to the students as they gradually settled themselves down. Once the shuffling of chairs had ceased, he continued. "Before I take attendance, I would like to introduce a new student who will be joining us this semester from Setagaya. Takaishi-san?"
All eyes turned to the door, where a second, smaller figure stepped in. Crystal blue eyes shyly peeked out from beneath long, blonde bangs. Not entirely comfortable with being the center of attention. He offered a charming smile and wave before bowing low.
"I'm Takaishi Takeru. My mother and I are originally from Hikarigaoka, though I've spent most of my life living in the Sangenjaya district of Setagaya. It's a pleasure to meet you all."
Whispers amongst the students (particularly the girls) began even before he'd finished basic introductions. Was this boy a foreigner? He looked too fair to be Japanese. Except, no, he had a Japanese name...maybe he was a haafu?
"Thank you, Takaishi-san. You may take the empty seat over there, next to Yagami-san. She's-" Hanazawa-sensei began, meaning to indicate which of his newest students was the aforementioned girl. But Takeru had already begun heading in her direction without having to be told.
Even more interestingly, the pair held eye contact until the moment he sat beside her, smiling as if they were the only two people in the room.
"Long time no see," he whispered.
Placing a chin in one hand, she replied: "Do you believe in Fate, Takeru-kun?"
"About as much as I believe in Angels, Hikari-chan."
All hopes of being able to jump right into the first lecture of the day were lost as the pair captured the interest of every single other person in the room. Nothing ever happened at Odaiba Elementary, so the fact that a cute, blonde-haired suspected haafu boy—one who spoke fluent Japanese without accent, no less—was somehow on such familiar terms with Yagami Hikari meant the two had to have known one another. Especially the way they seemed so much as ease in one another's presence.
None were quite as shocked as the spiky-haired boy sitting adjacent to them; Daisuke could only stare in wide-eye shock as this new kid referred to "Hikari-chan" by her first name, and she by his. He was supposed to be the only boy in class she did that with! Yet, right then, he might as well not have even existed. Completely ignored in favor of someone he had never seen before. A name he didn't even recognize; she'd never mentioned him. Not once.
With every passing second...every soundless giggle that Hikari let out at Takaishi's lame jokes...Daisuke's expression narrowed. Growing darker and darker as he silently glared until, for a split second, his eyes almost appeared black.
"There are, of course, several variations to this particular story. As there are with any of the ancient myths."
Hanazawa-sensei's voice was oddly appealing for a man who had chosen to begin the semester with a lecture on ancient Greek literature. It was deep, especially given his diminuative stature, and commanded attention without the need to shout. Textbooks were passed from row to row as he weaved in and out with surprising ease. His only fault seemed to be in a lack of sufficient materials, leaving several students to share with their table-mates.
A girl in the third desk from the front raised her hand. "How come all the versions are so different?"
"I wouldn't say they're different, necessarily." He turned to look at her, again pushing his glasses up. "But you must remember, many of these tales were first created in the days before written language was a common presence. Think of it like an ancient game of telephone, with one person passing a message orally to the next. Some details get switched around, and others left out altogether. Minor discrepancies that did little to change the overall message or lesson of the story as a whole, and as such, were hardly worth preserving to the next teller."
Again, a break so that those wise enough to be taking notes could finish. When all eyes were once again upon him, he motioned to the page numbers written on the chalkboard.
Wildly colorful illustrations soon appeared on the surface of each desk in a flurry of pages. The referenced chapter showed a beautiful young woman holding a small box. She smiled down at it as a mother would her child, gently cradling it to her chest. A stark contrast from the caption written below.
"For example, can anyone tell me the central theme of the story of Pandora's Box?"
More than a few students attempted to not-so-subtly skin through the chapter in hopes of gleaning any context clues, only to be disappointed when they realized the text was in English. Advanced English. This was no children's picture book; not a single one of them were fluent enough in the foreign language to successfully cheat their way out of this one.
Yet, a single hand went in the air.
Interesting. "Yes, Takaishi-san?"
"Hope." A single word. Spoken with more than a hint of dramatic irony as he tried his best to maintain a neutral expression. To the casual onlooker, he even succeeded.
Hanazawa-sensei gave a nod of approval. "Very good. The plight of Pandora is one of the most famous, or infamous, depending upon the interpretation you choose to accept. It is mean to teach us that, no matter the trials and tribulations, Hope will always be our ultimate saving grace. But here is where the issue of interpretation comes into play: while there are some translations that claim Epimetheus was the one to open the box, many choose to blame Pandora herself. Further still, there has yet to be a full consensus on whether or not its opening was meant to release all evil upon the world, or allow the good in humanity to escape. These details, though they do not detract from the Hopeful theme, can..."
Hikari waited until the teacher passed by their desk and was out of immediate earshot before leaning in to whisper: "Can you actually read any of this?"
"Nope." He grinned right back at her, unashamed to admit it. Fluent in two languages, yes, but only French and Japanese. "Not a word."
"That's what I figured." The humor in her tone was evident as she added: "...cheater."
Takeru had to bite his lip to keep from laughing, though even he had to admit it was an almost bizarre coincidence. On his very first day back in Odaiba, sitting in class with a fellow Chosen, what were the odds that the intended lesson would be focused around the theme of his Crest? If he didn't know any better, he would have started watching Hanzawa-sensei for signs that he was actually secretly Gennai.
A sudden weight fell on his shoulders. Nearly jumping in surprised, he tensed and risked a downward glance. Hikari was leaning heavily against him, head tilted at such an angle that her hair partially fell across her eyes. Which were closed. Her breathing was shallow, but steady, shoulders rising and falling with each measured breath.
Had she...fallen asleep?
Maybe we really shouldn't have stayed up so late last night, he thought to himself with more than a hint of guilt.
Checking to make sure the teacher hadn't yet noticed, he discreetly shook her. No response. Only then did it dawn on him that she had passed out a little too suddenly. His brows furrowed in concern. He tried again. And a third time. Nothing. A thought came to him, and he placed his palm against her forehead.
He felt his breath catch in his throat. Not again...
"Sensei?" Ignoring the fact that they were right in the middle of a lesson, he rose a hand in the air. Impressing himself with how steady he managed to keep his voice. "I think...Hikari-chan needs to see the nurse. She's not feeling well."
Less than pleased at the disruption, Hanazawa-sensei was ready to verbally reprimand the boy for such a blatant disregard for proper classroom decorum. Then he caught a glimpse of the girl in question, and nearly did a double take. He'd seen his fair share of hoaxes and attempts to get excused from class before. Knew every trick a dozen years' worth of students ever threw at him. This...did not look like a trick. Nobody could turn that pale that quickly. Not unless something was genuinely wrong.
Sure enough, he scanned through his class list, only then remembering a particular conversation held in the Teachers' Lounge that very morning, and the subsequent notes he'd jotted to himself as a result:
YAGAMI HIKARI (29)
*highly prone to sudden illness
*history of hospitalizations going back to early childhood
*(better safe than sorry; nurse already aware of circumstances)
Whatever history the two children had, Takeru must have already known. Hanazawa-sensei could see the genuine concern in his eyes. The fact that he seemed as if he were trying to downplay the situation only further added to his credibility.
"Very well. You are both excused for the moment."
Gathering up his and Hikari's notebooks, Takeru slipped both their bags over his shoulder before nudging the girl. She stirred, but still didn't wake up. His cheeks burned with the knowledge of what he was going to have to do, even with the entire class watching, but he had little choice.
He dropped everything else in his seat and came around to lift her out of the chair. One of the girls on her other side saw the difficulty in managing her dead weight and stood to help. Together, they managed to get her up and on his back, arms around his neck with his hands tucked beneath her knees. Other students were beginning to tense as well, finally noticing the severity of the situation.
"...what's wrong with her?" One of the boys dared to speak up. He looked more worried than anyone. Daisuke, his name was. Takeru had a faint memory of encountering him earlier that morning. "Is she sick again?"
The way he phrased the question...
Takeru hesitated, turning to the boy. Several others followed suit, wondering what Daisuke meant by that. "Does she get sick a lot?"
"N-no. Not that I know of. But..." Taken aback, Daisuke pressed his lips together as he struggled to gather his thoughts. "I heard from Taichi-senpai about...you know...how it's happened before."
He wanted to ask. Right there and then. What exactly Taichi had said. How much detail. Whether or not the Digital World was discussed, or if he had kept that part of the story vague. If the situation had been different. If all eyes weren't on them and Hikari didn't need to get to the nurse right away.
"I've seen her like this before." His expression turned eerily neutral, eyes staring straight ahead as he made his way out of the classroom. "She'll be fine."
It was as if he were trying to convince himself of the fact more than anyone.
For the third time in twenty minutes, Taichi had to stiffen a yawn. Barely. Less than two hours had passed since the school day began—he knew because he was keeping track of the number of times the minute hand passed 12—and, already, he was anxious to go home. A quick search of the room told him several of his classmates, including one Takanouchi Sora, shared similar sentiments.
After all, it was difficult to pay attention to Calculus when the instructor spoke with all the enthusiasm of an Andromon.
His eyelids were just beginning to droop when he felt the familiar buzz of his cell phone. Careful not to draw attention to himself, he slipped it out of his pocket and flipped the screen open:
Try not to get detention on your first day for falling asleep in class. -Sora
He risked a glance over at the red-haired girl, who was deliberately not looking at him.
You should talk. Just be careful not to snore this time! -Taichi
His oh-so-hilarious reply earned him a very heated glare.
Eek! The boy abruptly sat up straight, shoving the evidence as far back in his desk as possible as he tried to look about as innocent as he wasn't. Sora's eye roll was practically palpable, and it wasn't until he actually calmed down that he realized it hadn't been the head teacher calling him, but another faculty member at the door.
"I...that's me?" Fortunately, the situation allowed for just enough confusion that his lack of subtlety could be excused.
"We just received a call from Odaiba Elementary. Your sister's fallen ill. We've contacted your parents, and they've requested you pick her up and bring her home."
Taichi paled, thoughts of that morning's conversation echoing in his mind. How cold she'd been. How tired she'd looked. Symptoms that had been all too quickly dismissed by a milkshake and late night mailing session, respectively. Brotherly instincts had told him something was wrong, and yet he'd allowed himself to ignore them. Again.
His hands were shaking by the time he rose to his feet, mind a whirl with the worst thoughts. Focusing on gathering his things. Trying to ignore the eyes of his curious classmates. Not trusting himself with any sort of verbal attempt at explaining. It wasn't their business. They didn't need to know why the thought of his little sister going home sick was absolute cause to worry.
Only once did he look up on his way out of the room, and it was to meet Sora's uneasy gaze. Because of course she would know. She had been there the last time, and heard the stories of the times before that.
She would understand.
'Later," he mouthed.
She would understand that, too.
The computer lounge was oddly vacant for the first day of school. At least, Koushiro thought so.
There were only a few people scattered about, and not all of them seated at a console. Most, like him, seemed to be passing time in between classes. A few looked to be hard at work on some assignment, even though it was just after eleven in the morning. They couldn't have had more than three classes, maximum, and the first day rarely gave out excessive homework.
Ah, well. No matter.
Leaning back in his chair, Koushiro absently typed in the address of his personal e-mail server. Okay, technically, he wasn't supposed to use school equipment for recreational activities. But what did they expect? His newest PineApple Laptop was sitting at home and he felt oddly bored without it. The others—that is, his fellow Chosen—had given it to him as a combined birthday present the previous year, and he treasured it even more than the original. (Something which led to numerous jokes at his expense, mostly by Taichi and Mimi.)
Page finally loaded (his laptop would have completed the task in less than half the time!), he was only half surprised to find he had a new message despite having checked that account before he left for school.
But when he read through it, he was left staring at the screen in utter disbelief.
The ticking of the infirmary clock was impossible loud. Every passing second echoed in Takeru's mind as he stared, glassy-eyed, at Hikari's prone form. Occasionally, he would think to busy himself with menial tasks such as refreshing the compress on her forehead.
The thermometer went off, alerting the nurse sitting at her desk. She came over and pulled the thermometer from Hikari's mouth. From where he sat, Takeru got a good look at the definitive 39.1 blinking on its display screen. Not that he needed a thermometer to tell him Hikari was feverish. Her cheeks had flushed red, and her forehead was slick with sweat.
Twice, she mumbled something in her sleep. Both times, Takeru could just make out the name of her brother. Taichi. She was calling for Taichi, like a subconscious reflex. She probably wouldn't even remember doing it when she awoke later.
For some reason, the thought bothered Takeru far more than he knew it should have.
He reached for her hand, wondering how the tips of her fingers could feel so cold when the rest of her was burning up. Behind him, he could hear the nurse saying something about phone calls and family. Asking him questions. Questions he shouldn't have known the answer to, but did. A medical history. Details of that morning. No. Yes. Yes. No. Not that she mentioned. Each response written down on a clipboard. For school records or something. He supposed that made sense.
Behind the partition, the office door opened. A voice Takeru was almost positive he knew called out. The nurse placed her clipboard on a small table beside the cot and went to greet the newcomer. More words were exchanged. Hikari's family name was mentioned more than once.
Taichi appeared a moment later, and though the nurse had told him of Takeru's presence, he still looked slightly taken aback. Not that Takeru could blame him. He hadn't told Taichi yet, either, wanting to ensure that Hikari had no idea until he saw her in person. And he was fairly certain the significant difference in his appearance after only a few years' had something to do with it as well.
"Mom's job transferred her." He forced a tired smile, rising to his feet to greet the older boy. "We moved a few days ago."
"...huh." Despite the situation, Taichi shook his head in amusement. Of course. Now he knew what Hikari had been so excited about that moment. Even though he still wished she had gotten some sleep the previous night. "Well, if you ask me, you certainly picked the right time to show up."
You were there when I failed her. An unspoken sentiment he hoped Takeru wouldn't pick up on.
If he did, he gave no outward indication; instead, the boy sat back down in his seat. Taichi claimed the chair opposite him, alternating between looking at Takeru and Hikari. The nurse had filled him in on her condition, but it was still painful to see her looking so fragile.
"She never told me she still gets sick." Takeru spoke up. He sounded slightly hurt, thinking back to what her classmate had said to him. "We've sent mails back and forth nearly every day, and she never once said anything to me about it."
As if he could tell what Takeru was thinking, Taichi shook his head. "That's because she hasn't been sick. Not like this. Not since..."
His voice trailed off, but Takeru got the message just the same. "You don't think...?"
"I don't know what to think." Taichi slumped in his seat. "I mean, yeah, sure, even the doctors couldn't explain why her immune system was so weak at times...they used the term idio-something or other-"
Taichi paused long enough to send Takeru an odd look. He was a clever boy, Taichi knew, but that was an unusually specific vocabulary word to know even with context. "Are you sure she never mailed you about this?"
Takeru's only response was to shrug.
Awkward silence took over as Taichi continued to stare after the young boy, unconvinced. Until both their cell phones began to buzz. In unison. Either a coincidence of unprecedented proportions, or else somebody had mailed them both as part of a larger group chat.
Taichi reached his first, flipping open the screen.
Message from the D.W.
We need to talk. Everyone. -Koushiro
This can't be happening.
He took a deep breath. Then another. The urge to hurl his phone through a window had never been so strong in his entire life. He might have been known as hot-headed and even impulsive at times, but Taichi wasn't stupid. The dots were forming in his mind. Past experiences overlapping. A coincidence that simply couldn't be ignored. Not when it came to his sister.
"I'm going to take Hikari-chan home." He moved to stand, both calling out to the nurse at her desk and informing Takeru. "Takeru should head back to class. We'll meet up later at our apartment."
There was no room for argument. Not with the leader of the Chosen. Not this time.
Takeru was one of the last to arrive. An initial glance around the room told him that only Mimi and Jou remained unaccounted for.
Sitting on the floor with his PineApple laptop resting on the coffee table, Koushiro managed to tear his gaze away from the screen long enough to offer a welcoming wave. Yamato was leaning against the far wall, arms folded and looking less than pleased at the recent turn of events. Neither boy looked surprised to see him, even though Yamato had been the only Chosen he'd spoken to about his return. Figures. Koushiro was often too smart for his own good.
Sora, on the other hand, had no idea and reacted exactly as he would have expected. With a slight jaw drop and an expression that, had be been in a better frame of mind to appreciate it, was priceless. Except Takeru's attention was immediately drawn to the notably conscious girl in her arms, feeling no small amount of relief that Hikari had woken up.
The expression on her face worried him, though, because he had seen it before. Their eyes made direct contact as he crossed the room and moved to kneel directly in front of her. It was a gesture that earned them several curious looks, though not nearly as strong as a result of the exchange that followed.
"Yes." She nodded in response to an unspoken question. "I can tell."
She shook her head. Slow, so as not to cause herself more pain. "I can't explain it. It's like...almost like crying. All of them. Lost. Frightened."
"Who's crying?" Taichi moved to sit on the armrest, visibly uncomfortable. He trusted Takeru and he trusted Hikari, but watching them share half a conversation that he didn't understand was more than a little unsettling. "What are you two talking about?"
Takeru answered for them both. "You weren't there at the time, but Hikari-chan has this way of sensing when something's wrong, or others are suffering." He kept his eyes focused on Hikari, as if seeking permission to continue. She made no indication of stopping him. If anything, she was grateful she didn't have to tell the others herself. "We found a bunch of Numamon being held captive underground. They'd been calling to her. Sora and I couldn't hear them, but she could. She led us right to them."
Sora nodded in verification of the story, reaching up to brush away some of the hair from Hikari's eyes. Close as she had been to the Yagami family growing up, the younger girl was like a sister to her. "I remember. But I never thought she would be able to feel it outside the Digital World."
"Fascinating," Koushiro murmured, stroking his chin in thought.
Down the hall, the doorbell rang.
"It's open!" Taichi called out.
A moment later, the remaining two Chosen appeared. Takeru would have recognized Mimi anywhere. No one he knew would ever dye their hair such a vibrant shade of pink. Even with the uncharacteristically solemn expression she greeted the bunch with, the room seemed that much brighter with her in it.
"...Takeru-kun?" she came to an abrupt halt upon seeing him, causing Jou to nearly run into her from behind. "How did you make it to Odaiba so quickly?"
He wondered how many times he would have to explain himself before realizing, once more, it was his own fault for keeping it a secret in the first place. "I live here now. Mom and I moved back a few days ago."
Koushiro cleared his throat, and even Mimi went silent. The pink-haired girl quickly took a seat on the ground beside him, eyes turning to the computer screen out of habit. If Koushiro was about to tell them something, experience told her it would be on there, too. Jou responsively chose the empty chair sitting behind the pair, leaning forward to maximize his own view.
"I'll get right to it." A rare moment of bluntness. As he spoke, the two latecomers were already frowning as they skimmed the contents of his open browser window. "This was sent to my e-mail late this morning."
He spun the PineApple book around so the remaining members of the group could read:
From what thou hold within thy hearts
There is but one yang to thy yin
Yet only four can possess such force
As to consume from within
Not manifested, but by surfacing
Through swiftly broken locks
It can never be destroyed
But merely contained in Pandora's Box.
After about ten seconds, Hikari jumped up from her seat on the couch and dashed out of the room. The sound of her bedroom door slamming shut echoed all the way through the main hallway before any of them had a chance to react.
Taichi looked as if he were about to follow after her, but it was Sora who held up a hand and volunteered. No one argued as she disappeared from view and a soft knock was heard. Silence. The rattling of the doorknob as she tried it, finding it unlocked, and quietly letting herself in. The lock settling back into place with a soft 'click'.
An uneasy tension settled between the remaining Chosen. Even Takeru had yet to budge, though he still knelt in the spot directly in front of where the girls had been previously sitting.
It was Mimi who broke the silence first, reaching to pull the laptop screen back around to where she could see it. "How do we even know this came from Gennai?"
"We don't." Koushiro was forced to admit. "But I've run it through multiple programs verifying the IP address of origin. It's definitely coming from somewhere in the Digital World."
"But the writing style's all different, and the language sounds like it's coming from a totally different time period." She leaned forward, brushing against Koushiro's shoulder as she squinted at the screen, like that would help any.
Yamato blew some of the bangs from his eyes. "Seems as short and not-to-the-point as ever to me."
Taichi was forced to agree. "Who else would give us long-winded prophecies that don't actually tell us anything without bothering to explain what they mean or where they come from? Or, heck, why we need to hear this one now."
(Though the now, he could probably guess if he stopped long enough to allow himself to.)
"No. I think Mimi-san's right." Aside from the part where he had to lean away from the girl, in an effort to regain some personal space she probably didn't realize she was invading. "But what worries me even more is the message itself. Regardless of who it came from, I don't think this is something we can take lightly, given Hikari-san's condition."
Mimi sat back, leaning against Jou's legs as she folded her arms across her chest. He seemed noticeably less bothered by the contact than Koushiro. "It talks about yin and yang...something that comes from within..." A hand rose to her upper chest. "Our Crests? But they were destroyed, weren't they?"
"The talismans were, but not the traits within us." Jou placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. His voice was warm and soothing as he addressed her specifically, though his words could have otherwise been meant for the group as a whole. "When we defeated Apocalymon, we did it without them. We didn't need them; the power came from within us. From each of the eight traits. Your Purity, Mim-chan...my Reliability..."
"Knowedge," Koushiro chimed in, picking up what Jou was doing almost immediately.
"Courage," Taichi added.
"Friendship," Yamato shared a knowing smirk with the goggle-wearing brunette.
A voice came from the entrance to the room: "Love."
Everyone turned to see Sora smiling at them, a hand over her heart, before she glanced behind her. Hikari stepped out, fully dressed in her usual set of clothing with a look of determination on her face. Around her neck was a replica of the whistle she had worn during their first Adventure, with a second mysterious string disappearing beneath the collar of her shirt.
"Light," she contributed, before turning to face Takeru and adding on his behalf: "...and Hope."
"Wait. There's one thing I still don't understand," Mimi spoke up after a moment.
"Okay, so maybe there's more than one thing." She rolled her eyes at Taichi, though it didn't take away from the point she was trying to make. "Seriously, though, what exactly are we expected to do this time? "
"Isn't it obvious?"
There was something about the way Hikari spoke...so calmly, so certain, as if the answer really should have been obvious to everyone present...it brought back memories of the last time the seven of them had heard her address them in such a manner. A few years prior, when it had been not quite her doing the talking.
Cautiously, Taichi moved in front of her, kneeling down just enough so that they were at eye level with one another.
"You...are Hikari-chan, aren't you?"
"Hmm?" She looked genuinely confused at the question. "Of course, onnichan. Who else would I be?"
Takeru was the first to get it. He and Hikari had always seemed to get one another to the point where words weren't even necessary. How many times over the years had they deciphered hidden meaning behind simple text messages? He wasn't even sure how exactly they knew. Just that they did, as he did now.
"Are you sure, Hikari-chan?"
They sounded both excited and sad at the same time; the shared traces of pain in their voices drew mirroring looks of concern from their older brothers. Taichi and Yamato had a long, unspoken acknowledgement about Light and Hope being different than the others. As much partners as Courage and Friendship were intended—maybe even more so, given that the boys' thoughts had never been so much in synch.
Finally tearing her eyes away from those of her best friend, Hikari turned to address the remaining Chosen. To tell them what, in their heart of hearts, they already knew (they just didn't know they knew it yet):
"We have to go back."
Inoue Miyako sighed deeply. She was bored. She was beyond bored.
Back pressed against the cool stone ledge frame, she sat with one leg idly dangling off the side. The long, black dress she wore draped over her petite frame like liquid fabric, the slightest shift in movement revealing glints of silver lining both at the top of the bodice and bottom hem. Her hair was mostly left loose save for the black headband keeping most of the strands out of her face. A tiny symbol was etched into the left side. Also silver.
The temperature of the room was numbingly cold, yet—despite the thin straps barely covering her shoulders—she hardly noticed. Not a single shiver as she shifted her weight, eyes lazily surveying the room with coal black eyes.
There were two others besides her, both male. The first was a mere child, several years her junior. Hida Iori took up an unfairly large area towards the back, where he relentlessly sparred against a thinly-padded wall. Every attack was wild, violent, and full of rage one would not expect from a boy of his stature. Already, specks of blood flew from where his knuckles were freshly torn. He'd been going at it for hours, it seemed like, and yet he showed no signs of stopping. Impressive. Certainly worthy of the fighter's uniform he donned, with black training pants and a black top trimmed in silver. Though his feet and hands were otherwise bare, he wore a single black sweat band on his left wrist. The thick strip of cloth bore a silvery symbol, albeit different in design than Miyako's.
Finding little amusement in the display, Miyako flipped her long, lavender hair over her shoulder and turned the remaining occupant. He saw only a few feet away, expression blank as he stared into the empty space before him. Soft, raven hair fell just below his chin, with long side bangs sweeping over one eye. A pair of dark sunglasses hung loosely from one hand, the earpiece twirling between his thumb and forefinger. It bore yet another unique symbol in silver, just as his ensemble consisted primarily of black clothing. Including a long, silver-lined cape hanging from one shoulder.
A lustful smirk tugged at her lips; Ichijouji Ken was hardly one for conversation on a good day, but—in her opinion—a delight to look at.
Swinging her leg over the edge, Miyako jumped to the floor. Her heels echoed loudly off the walls with each step she took, and yet Ken gave no immediate acknowledgment of her approach. Nor did he react when she placed herself to his immediate right, taking a seat so close her knees brushed against his.
"You're planning something, Cratus, aren't you?" She whispered to him in delight. Although they knew one another's true names, it had become a habit to use their given alias when directly addressing one another. "You look like you're planning something."
"It makes no difference. We cannot act until the Master deems it time." His melancholy tone only enhanced his delicate tenor.
Miyako pouted, though not from a lack of his undivided attention. Yet. When he continued to refuse to look at her, she reached over with one finger and traced the outline of his jawbone. "I accept that. And yet, I find myself increasingly bored." Her voice was laced with thinly-veiled innuendo. "Surely, there must be something we could do to pass the time."
A new voice called to them from across the room: "I'd tell you to get a room, but knowing you? You'd probably listen."
Miyako shifted just enough to allow a glance over her shoulder. "How nice of you to finally grace of with your presence."
"Piss off, Nike."
"Hmph," was her eloquent reply. "Temperamental today, Zelus, are we not?"
The boy in question gave a snort as he stomped across the room, making his poor mood known to all present. His outfit consisted of a pair of black jeans, black sneakers, black t-shirt, and a black leather jacket that bore silver fur around both the collar and wrists. A pair of square goggles buried within his mop of unruly auburn hair, just as each of his companions' tokens did, bore a silver symbol on the top right corner frame.
"I'm surprised you're even here," she continued on when he did not immediately react. "Usually, you're off sulking who-knows-where for who-knows-why."
"I'm here because I have a message. Now tell Bia to get his ass over here. He needs to hear this as well."
"Tell him yourself."
"I'm here." Having heard and recognized his own alias amongst the verbal stupidity being spewed, Iori made a shoe of administering a few last punches before ending his session with a bow. The change in his demeanor was instantaneous, face taking on a calm, almost serene expression. Showing no signs of having been engaged in such brutality mere seconds prior. He approached them with an indifferent, yet forceful presence. "What is it?"
"I have news from the Master."
Miyako was interested now. Beside her, even Ken finally turned his head around in anticipation.