And Then There Were Ten: Redux
Chapter 1: A New Beginning
No river can return to its source, yet all rivers must have a beginning.
-American Indian Proverb
"The Digital World is dying."
The silver woman cast her sightless eyes heavenward, her metallic skin gleaming the color of Ophanimon's moon. Her quicksilver robes drifted lazily about her ankles, tossing flecks of golden light and cobalt shadows around the small and featureless room. Beyond a pearly barrier, a pair of digimon shared a startled look before turning to face their charge.
"Are you talking to us?" one of the guards ventured.
The being's gaze drifted to the guard, who recoiled as her eyes caught his reflection, reflected the image as clearly as a mirror but somehow exalted by the orbs that held it, and the statuesque figure smiled. "I apologize. Twenty years have passed since I was bound to this prison, and I fear I have had little company…A conversation would bring me great pleasure."
Blushing furiously, the guard bowed. "O-of course! But…what is there to talk about?" This was Regulumon, a warrior whose name and data had been taken from an astronomer's file on the constellation humans called Leo, as well as its brightest star, Regulus. The leonine digimon wore black pants and bronze armor inlaid with a jade magatama as a symbol of his immense physical and spiritual power.
"What do you know of the world beyond these walls?"
Regulumon's companion, Valkyrimon, extended one white-feathered hand, and a golden falcon dropped from the rafters to settle on his forearm. Gold and steel armor crisscrossed his avian body, and a blue cloth hung from the leather belts about his waist. While Regulumon preferred to fight unarmed, using his sword only as a last resort, Valkyrimon wielded a variety of weapons and currently carried a crossbow, sword, and shield. "Flare has been bringing me news," he said, stroking the falcon. "Troublesome news."
The woman cocked her head to one side, looking avian herself for a moment. "What sort of news?"
Flare screeched, and Valkyrimon sighed. "Wicked digimon have overrun the land, and its denizens are powerless to stop them. The data of many innocent digimon have been scanned, and those who survive live in fear."
"They need champions," Regulumon growled. "Someone strong enough to free them. I'd do it myself, but…"
A laugh like wind chimes filled the small space. "But you are as bound to this castle as I. We are not as different as you think, Regulumon. I, too, would like to help, but no digimon alive can grant our wish, just as none can defeat those who oppress our world. Only the Legendary Warriors and Celestial Angels wield that kind of power, and they have been silent as long as we have resided here."
"What of the humans?" Valkyrimon asked.
Regulumon shook his head. "On whose word are we to believe those stories? Any who met the humans have been reborn too many times for us to trust their memories!"
"The Legendary Warriors themselves vaunt the humans who fought at their sides against Lucemon and his minions!" Valkryimon protested. "Are we to discount the greatest heroes our world has ever known?"
"And where are the Warriors now, Valkyrimon? They placed their hope in humans and that was their downfall! I'll not make the same mistake!"
"Peace, friends," the silver digimon murmured. Her guards stilled. "It is true that humans have not come to our world in centuries, but that is only because they were not called upon. They do not know what happens here any more than we know what has become of their world since the gate closed."
Hope lit Regulumon's eyes, and he stepped toward his charge. "Can you call them, then?"
"No." She smiled again as his broad shoulders slumped. "But take heart. The Digital World herself may cry out when the pain becomes too much for her to bear. And I do believe such a time has now come."
"What are you saying?" Valkyrimon asked. Flare, sensing his master's agitation, took flight with a shrill cry. "Are they coming? Truly?"
Turning to gaze out the window behind her, the silver figure smiled as Ophanimon's yellow moon transformed her eyes into molten gold. "Indeed they are, Valkyrimon. The gate is opening as we speak."
The bang of the front door closing startled Takuya Kanbara out of the conversation he had been carrying on with the other digidestined and their wives. Who was that? he wondered as the house fell silent. Before he could ask, however, footsteps descended the staircase and a boy of twelve years poked his head in the living room doorway.
"Nao?" Kouichi Kimura asked. "What was that?"
"Sorry, Dad," the boy replied, shaking his jet black hair out of his emerald eyes. "That was Taura and Jomei. They're going to the park."
Kouji Minamoto shook his head. "And they couldn't spare two seconds to say so themselves?" Nao shrugged and crossed to the couch his father and uncle were sharing with Kouji's wife, Kaya. The boy wore black pants and a sky blue tee shirt, and as he draped himself over the back of the couch between Kouji and Kouichi, his hair fell back into his eyes.
"Aren't you going with them?" Kouichi asked, twisting in his seat to study his son.
Nao shrugged. "Nah…I was just about to start Macbeth."
"Again?" Zoe Kimura asked, smiling fondly at her son. "You've read that one three times already!"
"But it's good!" Nao protested. "It's one of my favorites."
Kaya Minamoto leaned around her husband to frown at her nephew. "Isn't that the one where everyone dies?"
Shuffling his feet, Nao blushed. "Well, it is a tragedy. People die in tragedies…"
"Then why do you like it so much?" Kaya asked, adopting the tone she normally reserved for headline interviews. Seeing her husband raise his eyebrow, she laughed and shut her mouth.
"I dunno," Nao said, smiling at his aunt. "I like the irony, I guess."
Yawning, Takuya stretched and slipped his arm around his wife, Midori, who shot him a wry smile. "Real smooth, Takuya."
The one-time gogglehead laughed. "I don't know what you're talking about. I was just thinking that Taura and Jomei had the right idea. It's the first day of summer vacation, for crying out loud! Why waste it reading? When I was your age, I spent the whole day playing soccer and enjoying the sun. The second day was the day I shut myself up in my room playing video games for twelve hours straight."
"There's a big difference between reading and playing video games, Takuya," Kouji pointed out.
Kouichi snickered, but sent Nao a look that could only be described as fatherly. "Takuya's right. Why don't you join Jomei and Taura?"
"Come on, Nao," Tommy Himi said from his place on the floor across from the couch. "You'll have fun. You can take Kado with you – he would play video games all day."
"And whose fault is that, hmm?" Tommy's wife, Nyoko teased, poking him in the side. "If you wouldn't bring your work home with you, maybe he wouldn't be obsessed."
JP Shibayama shared a meaningful look with his own wife, Hana, and chuckled. "Don't pretend you don't like a good video game yourself, Nyoko. We all know how you get."
The woman blushed. "I only play when I get writer's block!" she protested, winning a laugh from JP.
Nao hesitated a moment longer, then nodded and left the room. They heard him bound up the stairs, and after a muted conversation, two sets of footsteps returned to the living room. Nao entered, followed by Kado, a ten-year-old with his mother's red hair and father's green eyes, who was dressed in an orange-striped white polo shirt and army green shorts.
"Can I at least bring my PSP?" he asked.
Having recovered her dignity, Nyoko folded her arms and frowned at her son. "You have all summer to play video games, Kado. One day won't kill you." Kado sighed, but Nao offered him a smile and the two boys went to put their shoes on.
"Tell Taura that dinner's at six!" Midori called as the front door opened. There was a distracted acknowledgement, and they were gone.
As silence reasserted itself, Kouichi sighed. "Sometimes I worry about him."
"Nao?" Takuya asked, and Kouichi nodded. "Why?"
"He never seems to hang out with other kids. Ever since we moved, I swear all he does is read Shakespeare."
"He's just shy," Zoe assured him, though her voice wasn't as bright as it usually was. "You were like that, too, remember? I mean, aside from the Shakespeare."
"That isn't as comforting as you might think, Zoe."
Midori scowled. "If you're talking about Duskmon, I have to tell you that you're taking fatherly concern to an unhealthy extreme."
Sighing, Takuya patted his wife's arm. "I think it's time you tune down the policewoman vibe, honey. You aren't at work."
"She has a point, though," Kouji said, placing his hand on his brother's shoulder. "I thought you put Duskmon behind you a long time ago."
"I did," Kouichi assured him. "It's just…they're the same age now that we were when we went to the Digital World. It just makes me nervous."
"The Digital World hasn't needed our help in years," Tommy said. "Why would it call on our kids after all this time?"
"You think they followed us?" Taura Kanbara glanced over her shoulder at the crowds choking the park. Sweat trickled down her neck, and she was beginning to regret the red long-sleeved shirt she had thrown on under her black tank top. Even her jean capris were a bit too warm for the early summer sun.
Her best friend, Jomei Minamoto, followed her gaze, frowning, and Taura found herself envying his choice in clothing – brown shorts, black flame tee, and green button-up over top. Then again, Taura didn't need baggy clothes to make her look like a tomboy; with her hair tied back, she resembled her father enough that people might mistake her for a boy if she wasn't careful. She even wore goggles in the same style he had once treasured.
"We're safe," Jomei said without a moment's pause. "You know my cousin. I think he's allergic to sunlight. Kado too."
"You think we should've invited him?"
Jomei studied her with eyes as icy blue as his father's. "Naoko? Why bother? He would've said no – you know he has better things to do than hang out with us."
"I didn't mean we should ask him so he could say yes," she said. "I meant we should ask him so he could say no and then our parents couldn't get mad at us. They can't accuse of respecting his choice."
After considering this for a moment, Jomei shrugged. "Oh, well. We can deal with our parents later. Let's just enjoy ourselves today. Our spot?"
"Our spot," Taura agreed, charging into the wood that bordered the park. It wasn't a large wood, but it was thick enough that most visitors to the park didn't venture in. They left behind the screaming children and flying soccer balls and prattling picnickers, plunged through bushes and trees, tugging at twigs that caught in their hair.
And then suddenly the trees thinned out. A stagnant green pond lurked beneath a weeping willow, and a section of rotten log had been dragged under the curtain of leaves for use as a bench. The noon sun blazed down on the pond, reflecting off what little exposed water there was and casting crystal patterns on the willow leaves. The grass was tall, but half the clearing had been trampled flat, trampled all the way to the dirt in places. Though at first this had been Jomei's haven, Taura had followed him here three years ago, making it their place, rather than his alone, but Jomei didn't seem to mind sharing it with her.
As they crossed to the rotten log, Taura reached up to pluck a willow frond from overhead and began to strip it of its leaves. Tomorrow, she was meeting some friends to play soccer, and she had promised her younger brother, Benjiro, that she would practice with him this weekend. But today, she would spend time with Jomei. They would enjoy each other's silence for a bit, and plan out some more diversions to get them through the summer and their parents' inevitable nagging to spend more time with Nao and Kado.
But Taura was reluctant to break the silence just yet, to admit that summers were long and boring ordeals to be endured rather than enjoyed. So she flopped down on the packed earth at the willow's roots, closed her eyes, and listened to the whistle of the wind, the rustle of the grass, the plink of unknown creatures jumping into the pond, and…the electronic peal of a cell phone.
Taura groaned and reached into her pocket. An icon on the screen indicated she had a text message waiting, but when she navigated to the message, no sender was listed. Confused, she read the message, then glanced to Jomei, who was staring at his own phone.
"You got the same message?"
Jomei frowned. "'Do you want to play?' Sounds like a dumb joke."
Taura shrugged. "I wonder who sent it…" As Taura scrolled through the message, hoping there would be something at the bottom, the screen went blank and two words appeared: YES and NO. "Well that's weird."
"Scroll down." Taura waited as Jomei pressed a button and then pursed his lips. "What are you going to say?" Taura asked, thumb hovering over the YES button.
"Don't tell me you're actually taking this seriously? It's probably some kind of virus or something."
"Maybe..." Grinning, Taura pushed the button. "Oops. Too late now."
"Oh, come on, Jomei. Say yes! What's the worst that could happen?"
He hesitated once more, but Taura could tell from the way his finger wavered that he would say yes. Finally, he sighed and shook his head. "If my parents get a huge bill next month, I'm blaming you."
Almost immediately after he pressed the button, both cell phones beeped once more, and Taura eagerly opened the text. "Walk north?" she read, scrolling. "That's it? How far? Where are we going? What are we looking for?"
"I warned you," Jomei said, shoving his phone back into his pocket. "Some kind of spam or virus or something."
But Taura couldn't stop the grin that stretched across her face. "What do you say we take a little walk?"
"What? No way!"
"Oh, come on. It's a gorgeous day, and I've been sitting still all term! I could use a little exercise. Please?" She leaped to her feet and grabbed Jomei's arm, dragging him out from under the willow despite his protests. When he realized she wasn't giving up, Jomei sighed and relented, and they walked north in silence for several minutes.
At length Jomei stopped walking and crossed his arms. "Face it, Taura. We can walk all day and still not find anything. Let's just turn around or go get ice cream or something."
"There's an ice cream shop north of the park," she pointed out, and Jomei groaned. "Oh, don't be so boring! Come on, I'll race you." Not waiting for a reply, she took off running, holding her arms in front of her face to ward off branches that clawed at her face. Jomei came crashing after her, shouting for her to slow down and stop being such a kid. Taura merely laughed and called back for him to stop being such an adult. The moan she got in response widened her grin and she picked up the pace.
Her foot caught on something and she went sprawling, twigs snapping as she skidded through the leaf litter.
"Taura!" Jomei cried, emerging from the foliage behind her. "Are you alright?"
"Fine," she said, scrambling to her feet. She was used to hard falls, thanks to soccer and kendo; it would take more than a stray root to ruffle her feathers. "What was that, anyway?" She began to search the ground for the offending root, but couldn't see anything that would have tripped her.
"Here." Waving her over, Jomei crouched down and brushed a tangle of weeds aside to reveal a dull metal rail as wide as Taura's hand.
"Old train tracks?" she asked. "I don't remember any lines going through here."
"Didn't they redo this park a few years ago? Why not clear this out?"
Taura didn't have an answer and so glanced around her for some kind of explanation. What she found was a dilapidated boarding platform, wooden planks black and sagging with age. "Look!" she cried, darting over. "How old do you suppose this is? I didn't know we had anything like this in Shibuya. Do you think it would hold me?"
Jomei wasn't smiling. "Come back here, Taura. If those boards give out, you could break your ankle."
"I know that! Why do you think I'm being so careful?"
"You call running onto a rotten old boarding platform careful? It's a shame I already bought your birthday present, or I'd get you a dictionary."
Sticking her tongue out at him, Taura scrambled for a witty comeback but was spared the trouble when their cell phones beeped in tandem. "Another text?" She glanced around the small clearing. "I don't see anyone. How'd they know we were here?"
"I really don't like this, Taura," Jomei said, staring at the screen. He paused for a moment to read the text, then shook his head. "Some stranger telling us to take a train can't be good news."
"There isn't even a train to take!"
"Hey! It's Taura and Jomei! Do you think they got the texts, too?"
Taura turned and saw that Kado Himi and Nao Kimura had entered the clearing from the east, phones in hand. Nao had stopped at the tree line, staring at his cousin for a moment before glancing behind him as though looking for an escape route, but Kado had no such qualms. He flew across the grass and mounted the steps to the boarding platform, phone held out in front of him.
"Yeah, we got them," Taura said, eyes bouncing between Nao and Jomei. "Don't see any train, though."
Turning, Kado frowned at Nao. "What are you standing there for? Come take a look at this. It's like something out of a video game! Do you think it'd take us to Yen Sid?"
"Who?" Jomei asked testily.
"It's from Kingdom Hearts," Taura explained, frowning at the look Jomei sent her. "What? I'm not allowed to like video games? Have you met my father?"
As they spoke, Nao joined them on the platform and walked to the far edge, leaning out to follow the tracks into the forest. "What, will the line stretch out to th' crack of doom?" he murmured. Though Taura didn't recognize the line, she knew from the faint accent Nao's voice acquired that he was quoting Shakespeare.
"Don't be creepy, Naoko," Jomei grumbled. "It's just a run-down old train line."
As if to protest this assessment, a train wailed in the distance, making all four children jump in alarm. When it quieted, they could hear the clanking sound of wheels on a track, and a shape flickered behind the trees. It rounded a corner and a headlight, blazing despite the midday sun, forced them to shield their eyes until a train shot past the station, nearly blowing them off their feet. More suddenly than should have been physically possible, the train jerked to a standstill, and the doors opened with a hiss.
"All aboard!" a voice inside the train called. Three of the four children hesitated, but Kado darted through the doors of the lone passenger car, hopping onto one of the bench seats and staring out the window while gushing some giddy nonsense about Twilight Town.
"Get out of there, Kado," Jomei called. "You don't even know where this thing goes or how much it costs!"
"No worries!" the voice assured him. "This one's on the house!"
"See?" Kado cried. "Come on! What if it goes someplace really cool?"
Taura knew she should be more wary, but she had to admit she was curious. "You know, there's bound to be another station nearby. We can always turn around and come right back…"
Jomei scowled. "You can't be serious!"
But Taura was already in the train car, glancing around for the man who had spoken. "Hello? Anyone here?"
"You need something?"
"Um…where are you?"
"Up front. Where else?"
Taura blinked. "Oh. Right. Are you the one who sent us these texts?"
"Texts? What are you talking about?"
"I'll take that as a no."
"Are your friends getting on or not? I got a schedule to keep, you know."
Taura turned to see that Jomei and Nao were still on the boarding platform, Jomei looking skeptical and Nao looking bored. Grabbing Nao's wrist, Kado dragged the older boy through the door, and Taura waved Jomei over. He rolled his eyes but entered, and as soon as he was through, the door slammed shut and the train shot away from the platform as swiftly as it had arrived.
Kado and Nao, who were just sitting down on the far bench, tumbled sideways, and Nao cried out as his shoulder hit a pole. Taura managed to brace herself against the bench while reaching out to catch Jomei – the only one of them still standing – and as they rounded a corner, Jomei tumbled onto the bench, striking his head on the window.
"Ouch!" he yelped, latching onto a pole of his own. "What kind of a train ride is this?"
Across the car, Nao and Kado were hanging on for dear life, Nao to a pole and Kado to Nao. The track seemed to drop away like a rollercoaster, and as Taura's stomach leapt into her throat, her vision blurred, and her companions seemed to change form, becoming for an instant larger, strangely-proportioned beings.
Then they hit a bump and Taura squeezed her eyes shut as she began to scream. When they came to a vicious halt, she peered around the car, not sure what to expect, but whatever she had thought she'd seen, it was gone, so she cautiously released her hold on the pole and turned to glance out the window. The platform here was concrete, and startlingly bright, though she could see no light fixtures. Before she could stand, the whole side of the car opened up, and the train lifted off the tracks, dumping them onto the cement.
Taura was on her feet in an instant, storming to the front of the train in search of the conductor. "Hey, buddy!" she yelled. "What's the big idea? That was the worst train ride I've ever taken!"
"Train? I ain't no train. I'm a Trailmon."
It took a second for Taura to realize that the voice belonged to the train itself, but then she screamed, long and loud, and the others came running over, demanding to know what was the matter.
"Hey, hey!" the train cried. "Turn it down, would you? You're giving me a headache!"
Jomei gasped along with the others, but recovered faster and scowled at the creature before them. "What are you?"
"A Trailmon. I already said that."
"What's a Trailmon? Where are we?"
"A Trailmon's a digimon, what else?" the train said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "And this is my home. The Digital World."
"Digital World?" Kado asked, recovering from his shock. "You mean we actually went to another world? That's awesome!"
"No it's not!" Taura roared. "Take us home! Now!"
"Sorry, I'm busy," the train said. "My route doesn't go back there for a couple weeks."
"Weeks?" Jomei cried. "What are we supposed to do in the mean time?"
"I don't know. Wander around. Enjoy yourselves! Not my problem; I have a schedule to keep!" In a burst of steam, the Trailmon started off once more, and Taura chased it to the edge of the platform before she gave up and started pacing.
Jomei pulled out his cell phone and scowled. "No service here."
"Great," Taura grumbled. "What are we supposed to do now? We have to find a way back!"
"Do we have to?" Kado asked, leaping from the platform. "Right now? I mean, can't we explore a little bit? Maybe we'll find someone who can help us! And what about the person who sent those texts? They must've had some reason to bring us here, right? What if this is the start of a quest to save the world? We can't just leave!"
Jomei scowled and grabbed Kado's arm, dragging him back to the platform. "Don't be an idiot, Kado. This isn't a game. We don't know anything about this place. You're going to get yourself killed if you go off alone, and I'd be the one held responsible."
"You're no fun," Kado grumbled.
"I don't care about fun. I care about staying alive," Jomei growled, bristling as Kado stuck his tongue out at him.
Shaking her head, Taura scanned the area. Beyond the boarding platform, a short stretch of bare dirt formed a semicircle around the track; all else was forest. "What are we supposed to do for food? I don't have much money."
"We need a plan," Jomei said. "We'll find a village or something and work for food until the Trailmon comes to take us back."
"What if there are more of them?" Nao asked. "Maybe we can find another Trailmon that can take us home."
Jomei scowled. "Look around, Naoko! This place is deserted. Why would anyone waste two trains for a ghost town? We aren't going to find another way back."
"Not if we don't look."
Jomei waved a hand in the air, rolling his eyes. "Fine. You want to go look for a nonexistent train, be my guest. But do it alone. I'm going to do something useful." Nao stared at him for a moment, then turned and strode down the steps, shoving his hands into his pockets, and disappeared into the forest.
"Is he going to be alright?" Kado asked, staring after him.
Shaking his head, Jomei met Taura's eyes and huffed. "We'll have to go after him sooner or later," Taura pointed out. "We can't afford to get separated."
"Yeah, yeah," Jomei said. "I know."
The light here was brighter than back home – Nao was sure of it now. He squinted and bowed his head, but the light seemed to come from all around, from the fallen leaves and the stones and the soil itself, all glowing like a computer screen. When he craned his neck to look for the sun, he found himself gazing into a cloudless, sunless cyan sky. Even the leaves seemed to glow a lime green, casting no shadow as far as he could see. Coming to a pond, Nao crouched to splash some water on his face, and found that the water was as bright as everything else, bright enough to have been the sun, fallen from the sky.
Startled at the voice behind him, Nao whirled to find a creature – presumably another digimon – floating at the edge of the forest. It looked like a brown warthog with a purple underbelly, but a cloud of smoke billowed out in place of hind legs, and it wore a silver helmet and a gold band on its left leg.
"Oh, wow, I can't believe this. I never thought I'd get to see a real live human!" The creature sounded inexplicably giddy, reminding Nao of his science teacher. "Let's see now. Human-type, obviously. Variable attribute. Variable level, but comparable to an In-Training or Rookie. Special attacks: none."
Attacks? Nao wondered. Were digimon violent creatures? If so, Nao and the others were in for a long few weeks. Jomei and Taura had studied kendo under Jomei's father, but Nao and Kado would be less than useless, and Nao rather doubted that Taura or Jomei would be keen on protecting him for long. "What are you?"
The digimon grinned. "My name is Tapirmon. I'm a holy beast-type vaccine digimon of the Rookie level. My special attacks are Deleting Virus, Walking Dream, and Nightmare Syndrome. I should warn you, I'm useless in combat, but I am the Keeper of the Book."
"Book?" Nao asked. "What book?"
"The Book of Knowledge," Tapirmon answered. "It has all the Digital World history you could ever want. Oh, and I know all sorts of tidbits about digimon. Not all of them, I'm sure, but a lot. I learned from the great Bokomon himself. He taught me all there is to know about the digidestined, too."
"Digidestined! The stewards of peace in the Digital World! The humans to whom we appeal when no one else can vanquish the tyrannous digimon oppressing us! Don't you have a digivice – a D-Tector?"
"No. You've got the wrong guy," Nao said, glancing over his shoulder. "I'm not looking for a battle; I just want to go home."
"What, leaving so soon?" a new voice chimed in. Turning around, Nao saw that the voice came from a yellow frog with orange fur and black spines down its back. A dozen of these digimon had emerged from the pond, the first few of which were now hopping towards Nao.
"Gizamon," Tapirmon said calmly, pressing his hooves together in thought. "Sea animal, viral Rookie. Special attacks are Spiral Saw, Four-Leg Kick, and Water Cure."
"Enough talk," the first Gizamon said, glaring halfheartedly at Tapirmon. "We're just here for the human." He and two others launched themselves at Nao, who ducked, barely avoiding their razor sharp claws. As he straightened up, Tapirmon darted in front of him.
"No!" the warthog cried. "You mustn't harm him! We need his help!"
But the Gizamon kept coming, and Nao backed away, swallowing. "I don't think they buy the whole digidestined thing."
"Nonsense! The digidestined are the Digital World's most famous legend."
"What are you doing?"
Whirling, Nao found Taura standing behind him, Jomei and Kado at her side. She gaped at him, eyes darting between him and the Gizamon, as did Jomei, whose expression soon settled into a scowl. Kado, trembling, cowered a few feet from the other two.
Nao grimaced. "Right now? Trying not to die."
"Golly-gee-Witchmon!" Tapirmon cried. "You didn't tell me there were more of you! Oh, this is excellent."
"Yeah," Jomei said. "Peachy."
A Gizamon inched towards Taura, eyes twinkling with excitement. "I call this one!" It gurgled. Waiting just a moment for a nod from the leader, it sprang at her, but she broke off a low-hanging branch from a nearby tree and brought it down on the digimon's head. It slumped to the ground, unconscious.
After a moment of stunned silence, the other Gizamon swarmed her. Taura spun her branch, knocking away three digimon, but retreated from the rest as Jomei broke a branch of his own and joined the melee. Together, they fended off the Gizamon, standing back-to-back for protection, and Kado scrambled to Nao's side. Three more Gizamon fell unconscious before the rest simultaneously retreated without a word.
"What was that all about?" Kado asked timidly as the scene stilled.
Taura frowned. "I don't – "
"Fire Ball!" A fireball sailed across the pond and ignited Jomei's branch, which he promptly dropped. The digimon that emerged from the brush was humanoid, but his entire body consisted of flames, save for a row of stitches in place of a mouth.
"Oh, dear!" Tapirmon cried. "Oh, my! Oh, this is bad. Definitely bad!"
"What is?" Taura demanded as she shifted her grip on her branch.
"That's Meramon! He's a flame-type data digimon, and he's a Champion."
"What does that even mean?" Jomei snapped, stamping out the flaming branch at his feet.
"It means he's ten times stronger than the Gizamon you were just fighting. What's more, since he's made entirely of flame, he can throw fire at you. He doesn't even have to get close to do some real damage!"
Meramon laughed. "But it's so much more fun up close!" Roaring, he hurtled over the pond toward Nao, who scrambled out of the way just as the flame-man sailed past him, crashing into a tree and setting it ablaze. Nao gaped as the flames consumed the tree far more quickly than they should have, reducing it to ash within seconds. Meramon emerged, still laughing, and extended his hand toward Nao.
"Hey!" Taura shouted, picking up a rock and throwing it at Meramon's head. "Why don't you pick on someone who can fight back?"
"Taura!" Jomei hissed. "What are you doing? You're going to get yourself killed!"
Taura stumbled back as the attack hit the ground in front of her. The next blast sent her flying backwards to the middle of the pond, where she landed with a shout of pain and fear as Meramon turned his attention to Jomei.
Taura skidded through the water, crying out as a rock sent a jolt up her spine. Coming to rest in the center of the pond, drenched and slimy with algae, she struggled to get her feet under her as she prepared herself for Meramon's attack. Then she saw him, going after Jomei and cackling about some legend or another being wrong.
"Jomei!" she cried, finally gaining her feet and starting to run. She hadn't made it three steps before she kicked a rock, which exploded with a cone of blue light. The rock rose from the water and hovered before her, revealing itself to be some kind of statuette, all blue curves and squiggles with a tiny red gem in the middle.
A second glow erupted from her pocket, this one white and blazing, and her cell phone began to ring, the sound becoming an electronic whine as she reached down to grab it. What she found was unlike any cell phone she had ever owned. It was larger, thicker, and oddly shaped, with a rubbery grip on the side and a handful of clunky buttons, but she didn't have much time to think about it, for a whisper in her head prompted her to point the non-cell phone at the statuette. A beam of light shot out and drew the object forward, shrinking it until it was small enough to pass into the device, and then the world around her faded.
Nao gasped as an egg of bluish light wrapped around Taura, flickering with bands of purple and green. Everyone was transfixed by the sight, even Meramon, but it was Tapirmon who shouted in delight: "By the Angels, she's evolving!"
"Evolving?" Jomei asked, his grip on his new branch slackening. "What do you mean, evolving?"
"I mean she's transforming into a Legendary Warrior! Bless my code, I never thought I'd witness this in person!"
Before the children could respond, Taura's voice cried out from the blue egg. "Execute: Spirit Evolution!"
Tapirmon squealed like a five-year-old on Christmas morning as the egg shattered, revealing a new figure clad in blue, with blue armor on her lower arms and ankles, and a blue helmet framing her face. Her skin was green, with fins on her hips and the sides of her head. Rubies sparkled on her helmet, the same color as her eyes, which gleamed as she grinned at Meramon.
"Ranamon!" The digimon sounded like a twenty-year-old Taura, but with a slight Texan drawl, and Nao felt himself blushing at the distinctly feminine form before him, who was wearing somewhat more revealing clothing than Taura usually did.
"Spectacular!" Tapirmon cried. "I never dreamed Spirit Evolution would be so spectacular!"
"What happened to her?" Jomei demanded, face tinted the same shade of red as Nao's.
"She has become Ranamon, Legendary Warrior of Water. This is only the Human Spirit, mind you, but she is powerful in her own right. Her attacks are – "
"Vapor Trident!" Ranamon cried. Water streamed into her hand, forming said three-pronged weapon.
Tapirmon stared on in amazement. "Inconceivable! That's not one of her attacks!" Ranamon, either ignoring him, or just not hearing, charged Meramon, thrusting her Vapor Trident forward. It evaporated on contact with his chest, but the damage was already done, and Meramon staggered back, clutching his steaming wound.
Extending his hands forward, he shouted, "Roaring Flame!" and a jet of fire sped towards Ranamon, who merely smirked.
Ranamon turned into water instants before the fire hit. The water zoomed forward, slicing though the fire, and bore down on Meramon. Once through his attack, Ranamon reformed, still surrounded by a column of high-pressured water; her foot connected with his face, water pummeling the rest of his body.
Howling in agony, Meramon faded to a silhouette with a large white egg at the center, and a ring of the strange blue light surrounded him. Ranamon landed lightly on her feet in front of him, a blue-and-teal device in her hand.
"Fractal code…Digitize!" The blue light peeled away from the silhouette, streaming toward the device, and as the last of the light disappeared, the shadow dissolved, black particles dispersing into the air along with the egg, which soared out of sight. Tapirmon looked ready to faint from sheer giddiness, but the children remained slack-jawed and speechless as the blue egg reformed around the newfound Warrior of Water.
"So what are we going to do with the rest of our afternoon?" Zoe asked, stretching and settling back against her husband's legs. "Now that most of the kids are gone, the house is awfully quiet."
"Not for long," Tommy assured her. "Kita's still upstairs. I give her ten minutes before she comes looking for someone to let her win at Candyland."
Takuya shook his head. "Ben's up there, too. I'd say we have an hour, easy."
Chuckling, Kouji stood and went to browse the Kanbara's movie collection. "I'm gonna go ahead and say it now. When the kids ask for board game volunteers, someone else had better raise their hand because I'm not getting roped into it."
"What's the matter, Kouji?" Takuya teased. "Didn't you ever play with Jomei?"
"Not often," Kaya replied before Kouji could say anything. "At least, not until he was older. He always made him cry because he wouldn't go easy on him."
"That's not true!" Kouji protested. "I went easy on him. I just didn't spoil him into thinking he could win every battle!"
Frowning, Noriko patted Tommy's arm dramatically. "I think we'd better find a different volunteer, honey, or else our daughter will be scarred for life!"
"Jomei turned out just fine, thank you," Kouji grumbled.
Hana Shibayama nodded sagely. "Kaya, you must be some kind of saint!"
Kouichi shot his twin a sympathetic smile and shrugged. "For what it's worth, I think you're a great father."
"You're my brother. You have to say that."
A cell phone rang, silencing the rest of the conversation, and Zoe reached instinctively for her pocket. "Whose is that?"
"I think it's mine," Takuya said, standing and hurrying to the kitchen. The phone continued to ring, and Takuya could be heard rummaging around. "Midori, do you know where I left my phone? It's not on the counter!"
"Look by the fridge!" Midori called, not moving. She smiled at the others. "He always leaves it there."
"Aha!" Takuya cried in triumph. "There it – woah!" He fell silent for several seconds, then came charging back into the living room, a grin splitting his face. "Guys, look at this! It's my D-Tector!"
"So this thing's called a D-Tector?" Kado asked, turning over the device Taura had received.
Tapirmon nodded vigorously. "Yes. It's a digivice designed to hold Spirits and fractal code. Only works for humans – digidestined to be precise."
"And Taura got the Human Spirit of Water," Jomei said. "What was it like?"
Taura had devolved several hours ago. The four kids, accompanied by Tapirmon, returned to the Trailmon station, not surprisingly finding it abandoned. Though Taura was too tired to really care, she noticed Jomei's frustration and Kado's uncertainty. It seemed the battle had soured his excitement over discovering a new world. With their cell phones still non-functional, the group decided to make camp rather than walk aimlessly until nightfall and settled down under a clump of trees.
Taura looked up. "Huh?"
Jomei frowned at her. "I was asking you what it was like to Spirit Evolve."
"Oh, sorry. I guess I'm worn out from the fight." She took her D-Tector back from Kado and studied it. "It was all instinct. I barely remember standing up and pointing this thing at the Spirit. Then I was in this…this void, floating there, and the light formed into armor and attached itself to me. And then…I don't really remember. It's all a blur."
"That's quite normal," Tapirmon assured her. "It's the residual consciousness of the original quintessence of the Spirit, returning to assist the new Warrior – "
"Did I mention I was tired?" Taura asked. "Smaller words would be nice."
"He's saying the spirit itself was doing the fighting," Kado said. "The digimon that was originally the Warrior of Water – "
"AncientMermaimon," Tapirmon supplied.
"– was still somewhat alive in the spirit and helped you fight."
Jomei rolled his eyes. "Tapirmon, you said it was normal. What did you mean?"
"Well, it happened with the others," Tapirmon said. "Of course, I didn't know them personally – it was 582 years ago, when I was still Mokumon, my Baby form. Bokomon told me about them."
"I thought you said this was a digital world," Kado frowned. "There wasn't anything digital 582 years ago."
"Oh, silly me! There's a time difference between the worlds. So it would be…24 years ago, your time. Plus a few months."
"How many Legendary Warriors are there?" Taura asked.
"Ten in all. Six last time, and – if I'm right – you four."
The group fell silent, the only sound the trilling of birds in the canopy. Taura stared at the device in her hand, considering Tapirmon's words. A Legendary Warrior? Her? It had to be a mistake – she was no hero! And yet there was no denying that she had evolved into the Warrior of Water. And the others? Jomei she could see battling evil digimon, but Nao and Kado…? No, Tapirmon had to be wrong.
"It feels late," Nao said suddenly. Taura forced thoughts of heroes and Spirits out of her mind and focused on Nao's words. "Shouldn't it be getting dark soon?"
"This is the Continent of Light," Tapirmon replied. "It doesn't get dark here."
"How is that even possible?" Jomei asked.
Kado shrugged. "The same thing happens in a lot of video games. No one bothers with boring stuff like sleeping during a quest, you know. I wonder if there are recovery items here, too?"
"Why would there be?" Jomei snapped. "This isn't one of your stupid games!"
"Well, no…" Kado's smile faded. "But if we're in a world made of data, anything's possible."
"Anything but a good night's sleep," Taura groaned. After a moment, her thoughts turned in another direction and she sighed. "I wonder if our parents are worried."
Jomei stretched out in the leaf litter and covered his eyes with his outer shirt. "Probably, but there's nothing we can do about that right now. Get some sleep, Taura. We'll find a way home tomorrow. I promise."
Next Time: "Playing Dirty" – The kids try to find a way home, but the Human Spirit of Earth has other plans…
A/N: Welcome to my new and improved Frontier sequel, And Then There Were Ten: Redux. To those of you who read the old version before I went AWOL, I hope you like the additions and I'm sorry for disappearing. To the newcomers, thanks for checking me out! If you didn't know, this is a rewrite of a story I started years ago. But you don't have to worry about me quitting this time; I've written quite a ways ahead and am currently working on some of my favorite chapters.
Comments and criticism of any kind are welcome! Disclaimer's on my bio. Thanks for reading!