As it turns out, the house that Caroline and I broke into through a computer screen was Justin's. He pulled into the driveway as the rest of us waited at the door. I wondered what his parents might make of us barging into their home in the middle of the night. What time was it anyway? I glanced at my watch and was mildly surprised to see it was thirty minutes passed midnight.
"Are your parents okay with this?" Jessie asked, apparently on the same train of thought as me.
"They work night shifts," Justin said. He had Koromon safely tucked under his arm, and his keys in his free hand. He unlocked the door and Caroline wasted no time barging in. I wondered if I was going to end up spending the night here. Not that it mattered. The way things were heading it didn't look as if any of us were going to be getting to sleep anytime soon.
"Have a seat." Justin gestured to his living room.
It was nice. Neat. Too neat. The place didn't really look lived in. It wasn't that the house wasn't well furnished. Just nothing looked used, nothing except the kitchen anyway… and Justin's room. That place was well lived in.
No one else seemed perturbed by Justin's too neat living room. They fell into the sofa and recliners. Wizardmon seemed to at least express some discomfort. He sat at the edge of the sofa next to Brian. Then again, that might have been because his feet wouldn't have touched the floor if he did not. I was far too uncomfortable to sit. There weren't enough seats anyway.
"When's he going to be here?" Caroline asked Brian.
"He's not happy, but he's coming." Brian shrugged. "Said he was anyway."
I was still trying to figure out why Jessie was here, and how she and Justin fit into all this. It was clear that Justin and Caroline knew each other.
"Koromon, are you good to digivolve?" Lillymon asked, she sounded a little off, as if she was straining. And I wasn't the only one who noticed. Wizardmon gave her a look out of the corner of his eye.
"Am I?" Koromon smirked and threw himself out of Justin's arms. He landed on the glass coffee table and, despite his lack of limbs, struck a pose, flexing his antennas. "Baby, I was born to digivolve."
"Good, cause I'm exhausted." And with that the fairy burst into light. I might have been startled, but too much had happened tonight for me to be more than just mildly interested. The light shrunk and in Lillymon's place sat a little green head with four dinosaur-like feet and a plant coming out of its head.
"Man what a night," the little green monster said and let out a sigh.
Caroline picked up the little head and put it on her lap. "You were amazing, Tanemon." She smiled affectionately, rubbing Tanemon on the back. The little monster closed its eyes and smiled, making itself comfortable on Caroline's lap.
At that moment the doorbell rang.
"Must be Josh," Brian said, getting to his feet and heading for the door. Wizardmon followed after him.
The living room connected with a hall that led strait for the front door. Most of us were in a position that we could see Josh, and those who weren't leaned forward to get a look at him.
"What's going on?" Josh asked sleepily as Brian shut the door. "You said it was important."
"It is! Check it out!" Brian said and gestured to Wizardmon. "He's my digimon!"
"Digimon?" Josh blinked sleepily and furrowed his brows at Wizardmon. "You woke me up in the middle of the night to see a midget dressed up as a wizard…"
"He's not a midget… uh, I don't think he is. Anyway, look he gave me this." Brian displayed the device.
"What's it do?" Josh asked, taking it from him.
"I… Don't know."
"I see," Josh said, handing the device back to Brian. He gave a start, noticing everyone in the den was watching him. "Whoa, what's going on? You seriously all here to look at a midget?" He entered the room.
"I'm not a midget…" Wizardmon muttered. "I don't even know what that is."
"Not exactly," I said, in response to Josh's question.
Josh gave me a questioning look and I shrugged.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know what's going on myself." Brian said. "But now that you're here we're going to find out."
"Not just yet." Caroline corrected him. "Though I suppose some explanation is in order."
"You're part of the team now!" Koromon exclaimed. He rolled upside down and lifted himself up with his antenna. "Look what I can do!"
Josh's mouth slacked. His eyes darted to the green creature on Caroline's lap and back to Wizardmon. "They're… like the ghost…"
Wizardmon appraised him a moment, and nodded.
"They're called digimon," Justin explained. "Each of you are going to have one, eventually. They're your partners, protectors, but most importantly your friends."
I snorted. Friends who terrorize you, injure your mother, and blow up your house.
"They come from another world, the digital world. It's kind of in a state of war, and that war is bleeding over into our world."
"And we're the ones that are going to save it?" Brian asked, his former excitement coming back. "You said we were chosen one's right? This is what you meant? We were picked to save the world?"
"Kinda," Justin said. "To say we were picked is debatable. In any case, all of you have the potential to be tamers, maybe digidestined, like Caroline and I."
"What's the difference?" Brian asked.
"Well for one, Digidestined have a crest," Justin said, and reached into his shirt. He pulled out a loose necklace with a tag at the end of it. There was a strange swirling symbol on the tag. "This allows my digimon to become stronger, and it shows that I'm dedicated to the digital world."
"The crests have to be earned," Caroline said and pointed to the device in Brian's hand. "That's a digivice, it's what allows your digimon to reach Champion level, but to reach greater strengths you need a crest." She pulled out crest from beneath her shirt. "Mine is the crest of Truth, and Justin's is the crest of Courage. They can also serve as some protection against virus type digimon."
"Virus type? What they make you sick?" Josh asked.
"No, there are three types of digimon, virus, vaccine, and data. Virus are bad, vaccine good, and data somewhere in between." Caroline explained.
"How did the digimon get here?"
Justin opened his mouth, but Caroline cut him off.
"I'm going to put a hold on this discussion. As I said, I don't like repeating myself, so I suggest we all head to the digital world, so that Sarah doesn't miss anything… She's probably wondering what happened to us." With that, Caroline stood up and headed for a set of stairs deeper inside the house.
"What, Sarah's involved in this as well?" Jessie asked. She started after Caroline.
"How do we get to the digital world? What about school?" Josh put in, taking after them, Brian and Wizardmon followed behind.
Justin picked Koromon off the table. "You coming?" he asked me.
I glanced at the front door. It wasn't as if I had anywhere to go, and I was a little curious. Besides, Caroline was right, Sarah was probably freaking out by now.
"Yeah," I said.
Justin and I followed everyone else up the stairs, and into Justin's, to put politely, well-lived-in room. The others were already gathered around the computer. Caroline had Tanemon tucked under her arm.
"Stand close everyone," she said.
Justin pulled out his own digivice and stood beside her. They both pointed their digivices towards the computer. As before, the screen went white and the world blew out, becoming a white background. We hung suspended, and all at once I was back in the Numemon's garden.
Brian's jaw dropped, and he took a few unconscious steps forward. Josh mirrored Brian's shock. They both looked about, wide-eyed. Surprisingly, Jessie seemed to take the trip in stride. She did look a little out of sorts, but wasn't displaying the same expression of disbelieve as Brian and Josh.
She must have been here before. It was the only thing that made sense. Jessie wasn't the kind of person to take an event like this quietly. Come to think if it, Jessie had been unusually quiet this whole evening.
"Numemon!" Caroline called. At the edge of the wood, I could make out five small green figures. Caroline started for them. "Justin, get everyone in the house, we'll be back in a second," she nodded at me. "Let's go, bangs."
I trotted after her, looking over my shoulder as Justin led the gaping boys, Jessie, however, chased after us.
"What's Sarah got to do with this? Why is she here?" Jessie asked, falling into step with us.
"Same reason you are," Caroline replied dryly.
"She's going to be a tamer." It wasn't a question.
"Maybe more, maybe not," Caroline shrugged.
"You need help," Jessie said. "Justin told me, he said it was just you and him fighting the digimon in this area. I thought I was the only one, and I wasn't going to say no… but now there are other people so…" she trailed off.
Caroline offered no reply. Just gave her a sideways glance.
We'd reached the Numemon. Jessie put some distance between the slime creatures and herself. Her lip curled in disgust.
"Is she still in there?" Caroline asked.
"Yes," one of the Nememon replied. It was shocking how ridiculous the monsters voice sounded.
Caroline gestured to the creatures to lead the way. There was a small path in the brush. It was well used, so I didn't have too much trouble not falling on my face. It wasn't a good idea to go wondering around in the woods at night. Jessie seemed to be having a harder time of it than me. She kept staggering, and catching my shoulder to keep from toppling over.
"Who's talking to her?" Caroline asked, unperturbed by mine and Jessie's blunders.
"No one, she yelled at anyone who came near her, so we decided to just leave her alone."
"Then how do you know she is still there?" Caroline asked, returning to the tone she'd used when speaking with Brian.
Ahead, the light of the moon illuminated a clearing, and there Sarah sat with her head in her knees. A small creature stood next to her, patting her sympathetically on the back. It might have been purple. Though, in the dark it was hard to tell. At our approach it gave a start, and abruptly slapped Sarah upside the head.
"And that's why all humans are stupid!" it shouted.
"Owe!" Sarah said, lifting her face and rubbing her head. "Why did you do that?"
"Why not? You're just a stupid human! What else am I supposed to do? Huh?"
"Leave her alone, Impmon!" Tanemon shouted from beneath Caroline's arms. "She's been through enough for one night."
The Numemon and the rest of us poured into the clearing. The little creature, Impmon, put hands on its hips and stuck its nose in the air. "Ha, humans can't take much. They're too stupid. If they were anymore stupid they'd be dumber than the Nememon here, as it is, it's a fine line. Hahahaha!"
Yes, he actually laughed, or shall I say, 'hahaed.'
"I don't understand. You were being nice just a second ago." Sarah sniffled.
"Me? Nice? To a human? Ha! You must be dumber than you look!" He pulled his eyelid down and stuck his tongue at Sarah.
"Alright, that's enough, Impmon, either get out of here or shut up," Caroline said.
"Hm, what makes you think you can tell me what to do, huh? I ain't no virus type, you can't do nothin' to me."
Caroline pulled out her digivice and held it threateningly. "Don't push your luck. We said you could stay if you quit knocking down garbage cans and scaring small digimon."
"Never said anything about stupid humans." Impmon cracked a smile.
"I'll give you to the count of three to beat it."
"Psh, you don't scare me."
"What, are you serious?"
"The real question is if you can actually make it to three. Hahaha."
"Aw, I was leaving anyway," Impmon said. He pulled a face on Sarah, and stalked off into the trees.
Caroline pocketed her device and crossed over to Sarah. "Come on, let's get you inside." She held out a hand for Sarah, who hesitated before taking it.
"I just want to go home," she muttered.
"I know," Caroline said, helping Sarah to her feet. "But for now can you settle for a cup of tea?" she smiled warmly. After so much hostility from Caroline, this new behavior was a little unnerving. To me anyway, Sarah seemed to accept it well enough. She let Caroline lead her back into the woods, only giving the Numemon the briefest of disgruntled looks. She did give a little start at the sight of Jessie.
"Jes? What are you doing here? Did they attack you too?" Sarah asked as we fell in behind Caroline.
Jessie shook her head. "No one attacked me. Are you alright?"
"No," Sarah said rubbing her eye. "I don't know how much more of this I can take."
When we reached the farm house, Caroline had the Numemon wait outside, which they did none to quietly. 'It's our home too you know.'
The farm house was two stories tall, complete with one of those north, south, east, west, rooster thingy's… yeah no idea what they are called. The inside of the home was homely, no pun intended. The boys were already engaged in conversation at a wooden table in what appeared to be a dining room, complete with a bar leading into a miniature kitchen. The counters hardly came up to my knee. Wizardmon, sat on a stool that just barely let his head reach the table top. He glanced our way as we entered the room.
Sarah stopped, hand slipping out of Caroline's. She blinked sleepily at the boys. "What's going on?"
Josh shrugged. "Don't look at me I just got here."
"We're chosen ones," Brian beamed.
"Chosen what?" Sarah asked.
"Why don't you sit down?" Caroline suggested, and without waiting for a reply, gently led Sarah to the table.
Once seated, Brian enthusiastically informed Sarah of what he understood of our current situation. Caroline left him to it, heading into the miniature kitchen. She pulled out a pot to boil water on the little oven. I watched her, more interested in the kitchen than whatever Brian was saying. It was like a little girls play house, only everything worked.
Sarah, predictably, didn't share Brian's enthusiasm. I really don't think anyone did, maybe Koromon, who was now nahing on what looked to be a piece of wood.
"But, I don't understand. Why did the vampire attack me? What's he want with me?"
"It's not just you," Caroline explained, at the same time Justin said: "You were attacked?"
Caroline shot him a looked, visibly restraining herself from going off on Justin again. "As, ah, Brian, explained, the digital world is in a state of war. You see, the virus type digimon want to take over. The good digimon want to stop them, most of them anyway. Some don't get involved, others actually think the virus are in the right."
"Wait, why would the good digimon think that the bad tyrants are in the right?" Josh asked.
"Because they feel that the digimon should be in control of their own world, and that the stronger should have a right to extend their dominance if they wanted to."
"Wouldn't that make them bad?" Brian asked.
"Vaccine is more of a reference to the digimon's general nature. They're like people, someone can be a nice person, but not necessarily believe in the right thing or always do the right thing, though in general they are more likely to do good." Justin explained. He scratched his chin. "It's complicated."
"You said that the digimon feel that they should be in control of their own world. What do you mean? If they're not in control who is?" Josh asked.
"We are," Caroline replied, taking the pot of water from the stove. "With our digivice's we regulate who can leave and come into the human world. Our digimon are also stronger than those without a tamer or digidestine, so in that way we can enforce certain rights."
"Certain rights? What do you mean? Are you like the government of this world?"
"Not really," Justin said. "The digital world doesn't really have a government. We just try and protect the weaker digimon from those that try to oppress them. But in order to do that we need help. The digimon that feel the same way we do, join our cause. However, usually those that join need our help more than any support they can give us…"
"So that's why we're here, to help protect the weaker digimon?" Josh asked.
"And to keep the stronger, more violent ones from crossing over," Caroline said.
"Is that why that man attacked me?" Sarah asked. "because he thought I might join you guys?"
Justin and Caroline shared a look, but it was Wizardmon who answered.
"The digimon here are not the only one's seeking power from humans. Those that are already in command want to expand their power. Myoticmon wants to bond with a human to become stronger. Already there are virus digimon in other areas that have a tamer to boost their power. They also want to be able to have an edge against digidestine." Wizardmon looked at his feet as he spoke, hands on the seat of his stool.
"What about the gates?" I put in. "You said you regulate who goes in and out. Are the bad digimon getting through because of the people?"
"We don't regulate gates," Caroline said.
"But… you just said you did," I frowned.
"Look there are two different kinds of gates. Gates that the digital world created, that tend to be a huge. The only way to regulate them is to physically stand guard against anyone who wants to get there. That's what I had been doing for the past four years or so," Justin explained.
"Until he failed a few weeks ago," Caroline said. "At that point I was sent here, after receiving a distress call from him."
"I'd been asking the other digidestine and tamers for help for a few years now, and they finally send it when it's next to useless," Justin said dryly.
"You're not the only one in over your head," Caroline snapped. "Everyone has their hands full. I just came because Tanemon and I figured out how to close our gate."
I blinked. "Wait, what do you mean? You just said the gates couldn't be regulated. What about the other kind of gate?"
"The other kind of gate is made by using a computer and some electronic device in the digital world, usually something with a screen. As to your other question, the only people that can regulate ah, let's just call them Master Gates, are those that the gate was created for." Caroline explained.
"I'm so lost," Jessie said, putting a hand to her forehead.
"Okay, let's just keep it simple for now," Justin said. "You guys can see digimon, not everyone can do that. Seeing digimon means that you can bond with them, like Brian and Wizardmon just did tonight. Once you get a digimon, you're partners for life."
"What happens when one of you dies?" Brian asked.
Koromon spat out the piece of wood he'd been nawing on throughout the entire conversation. "No! No! I'll never let anything happen to Justin!" he growled at Brian.
"That's a bit of a grim subject," Justin said, and caught Koromon by the antenna before the little monster could throw itself at Brian. He dragged Koromon across the table onto his lap. "I don't really know the answer."
"Can the digimon find a new partner if you die?" I asked. Perhaps I should have been more cautious, for Koromon started making snarling noises at me.
"Calm down she's just asking a question, Koromon," Justin said, struggling to keep a hold on the little monster. I scooted my chair back.
"We're partners for life." Tanemon simply stated. "How can I find someone else if anything happens to Caroline? She's the reason I exist."
"This is all just talk, right?" Jessie asked after a brief pause. "We're not in any actual danger of dying, are we?" she looked to Justin.
"I can't make any promises. I told you that dying here is just as real as dying in the human world. And there are digimon who would rather just do away with humans rather than try and use us."
"I-" Jessie looked around the table. "This sound's kinda dangerous. I don't think I can help you guys."
Sarah nodded. "I just want to go home. But… he's still going to be there isn't he?"
"Yes," Caroline said. "whether any of you like it or not you are part of this now. Sure you can go home, but the digimon are still out there, and as you know not all of them are friendly. Eventually they will see your potential and either force you to join them or kill you. Sorry, but for us, there is no middle ground."
"I don't understand," Jessie muttered. "Why us? Why are we the ones that can see them?"
I suspected we'd be left without an answer, however…
"A gate opened around where you live in the human world." Caroline explained. "Some people are susceptible to the digital energy it produces, so you get your ability to see digimon from that."
"Or from the person the gate was created for," Tanemon said.
"Who was the gate created for?" Brian piped in, looking eager.
"If we knew that, we'd be working on closing it. It could be one of you guys, the gate doesn't look as old as some others I've seen," Caroline said. "Old gates are impossible to close."
"Why?" Josh asked.
"Because the people they were created for are probably dead," Justin put in.
"How can we tell who the gate was created for?" Brian asked, hardly keeping the eagerness from his voice. "And why would the gate be created for that person?"
Tanemon and Caroline shared a look.
"Chance," Tanemon said, shrugging her little feet. "Nothing more."
"How do we find out which one of us it is?" Brian asked, of course. He was practically at the edge of his seat. Wizardmon eyed him. It was difficult to tell his expression, but I'd say it was skeptical.
"When, and if, whoever it is earns a crest," Caroline said. "That's how Tanemon and I found out. When I earned the Crest of Truth, it didn't take much to put it together with the Gate of Truth. From there, Tanemon and I were able to close the gate."
"So… what's the gate in our area called?" Josh asked.
"The Gate of Strength," Justin replied.