A/N: As a few people might have noticed, I changed the name of Book Zero, using the original name as the title of the first chapter instead. I apologize if this confused anyone. I have a tendency to do that with names. I think I know what name I'm going to use and then just as it comes times to post it on the site, I change it...
Anyway, speaking of names, starting this chapter Ken's parents finally get some! And yes, I double and triple checked all canon sources... they had no names in the original series, so I'm sure I'm not getting them wrong this time. -_- Unless I somehow AM, in which case feel free to correct me immediately, but I'm pretty sure my sources are right this time.
Extra Note: Huge apologies to all of my readers for disappearing for as long as I did. I had some... issues that were interfering with my writing. I'll post details in my profile, so check that if you want the full scoop. Otherwise, I'm back and running full speed with my writing again, so expect this story to be wrapped up very soon.
Digital Hazard – Book Zero: Fallen Angel
Chapter 2: Waking the Dead
Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.
Takeru's body spasmed and flailed, throwing him off of the bed and onto the floor. He twisted himself about, one arm rising to try to block the view to the window. His senses were screaming. The light, the noise... even the dim windows were blinding. The faint shuffling in the next room was like nails on the chalkboard of his mind...
This whole room smelled of death. Not blood or rot, but of... emptiness. Stagnation. This place was growing stiff and cold. Whatever had once been here was gone, leaving this dead void in its wake. And the taste... that horrible taste in his mouth, sour and bitter all at once. He recognized that immediately... pain. Pain and hate. He was tasting himself, and it saturated everything in him. Every muscle, every bone, every pore... every cell in his body knew that pain.
It was another kind of death. The moment between worlds, as the spark of life faded, the taste of that fall into oblivion, clinging to his body and soul. He was dying anew every day, every time he woke from his nightmares to recall the haunting screams of his own voice as he called back to a friend that he could not save...
No! Stop it! I don't want to see this! Just let me... let me stop! I don't want to feel! Let me back into the dark... let me go, I can't...
A voice, but he didn't know whose. Even whispers were like screams and it was all he could do to pull his arms up at either side of his head to try to block out the noises.
"Takeru! What's wrong?!"
Wrong? What was wrong? EVERYTHING! Angemon is dead, people are dying, the whole world is going to hell! Everything... everything was...
He didn't know why that particular word came out of his mouth... but it was true, wasn't it? It was like... everything that was supposed to be, every way the world was supposed to be had become broken and warped into some twisted mockery of its true form. The digidestined... Angemon, Devimon, the human world... the... rif-
Takeru felt his mind and body convulse again as he tried to remember that... that...
Darn it, he couldn't think. He knew what it was, what he'd done... he looked into something he wasn't meant to see, and now he was paying the price. His mind was barely holding itself together, and it wasn't going to get better with time. All of this... whatever this was... he had to get it out. His head was full of things that didn't belong, and they had to get out.
He heard more talking, but the voices and people didn't matter. They couldn't help. He couldn't even explain to them what was happening. He tried to form the words, but nothing came. It wasn't... no, not words. Not words. It was something else. He had to get it out. Couldn't say it. No words... pictures? No. Yes. Not... yes. Yes! It was wrong, but it was right.
Shoving himself up and off the floor, Takeru stumbled across the room, knocking over a chair in the process and grabbing the edge of... a desk? This... yes. He needed this. At least... he... thought he did.
Takeru started grabbing drawers, yanking them open and slamming them shut, sometimes pulling the drawer completely out of the desk to spill its contents all across the floor. More voices... shut up. I have to find... have to find... wait, there!
Takeru grabbed a notebook that had fallen from one of the drawers and flipped it open. A few pages used. Most in the back weren't. He tried tearing one out, only to rip it clean it half. Darn it! Try again... slower this time. Grab a page... no, grab a lot. A clump, doesn't matter how many. Maybe a dozen.
Careful... hold the edges. His hands were shaking... steady... he couldn't... close your eyes. Can't see straight. Focus, focus... pullno, stop... slow, careful... don't ruin it. Careful, careful... slow, focus, be-
There! Tossing the notebook aside, he slapped the pages down on the desk and looked around again. He needed... there. Pencil holder. He attempted to reach over to grab one, only to succeed in knocking it over and spilling its contents across the desk. Bah... can't clean it up now. Grabbing a pencil, he swept the rest onto the floor and grabbed one of the papers.
Then it started. Words, symbols, numbers... he didn't know what he was writing, or where any of this came from, but with every mark he made on the papers it became a little easier to focus. It was like these things were literally bleeding out of his mind and onto the pages. The more he wrote, the more he forgot, as if it were some kind of living entity that had taken up residence in his head and was now leaving it to find its new home on the page. Line by line...
Not pictures. Symbols. They were the pictures in his mind, though they were so much... more than what people could see on the pages. Just like words, they had so much more meaning than the simple marks that comprised them, and in his mind he could glimpse a part of that meaning... at least before they were forgotten.
When the final mark was made Takeru fell back in his chair and let out a heavy sigh. His hands were shaking... Eight full pages of work, and none it looked like his own handwriting. While one could tell it was written by a child, there was something to it that made it feel so alien to him, despite the fact he had written it... or perhaps because he had?
It was a strange and sobering thought, to see your hands move and know the work was done by them, yet to simultaneously feel that none of it was truly yours. To feel that for a time there was something or someone else inside you, guiding your actions in a way you couldn't control or even perceive, even after it was all finished.
Takeru didn't know what these pages were... he didn't understand any of this. It was simply enough to give them form, and now that they had it he could turn his attention to other, more important matters.
Lunch. Or... dinner. Whatever time it was. He didn't know how long he'd been out, or how long it took to write everything, but he felt like crap. He was hungry, he was thirsty, his hands were still shaking and his heart beat like a drum in his chest. He could worry about the pages later. Right now he needed to take care of himself.
Fortunately, Ken's mother was prepared for him as he exited the room. She already had food cooked up, and he didn't even have to ask for any of it. By the simple merit of his course taking him to the dinner table she was able to figure out what he needed.
Then the gray returned, more welcomed than it had been the first time. All the blinding, suffocating over-saturation of sense and feeling had faded into a vague haze of blurry thoughts and ideas, like there was an enormous blanket wrapped around his mind. The food didn't help take it away, and for a while after finishing his food Takeru merely sat there, staring blankly at the table, utterly spent in both mind and body.
By the time he got around to paying attention to his surroundings again, Ken and his father were sitting nearby, the latter holding the stack of papers he had worked on. Apparently he was inspecting them, trying to figure out what sort of madness Takeru had managed to conjure up from the rift. At least that's what his expression said. For now, Takeru just let him study as he wished. Not like he could offer any help in figuring out what they meant...
"How long was I... out?"
Takeru looked between the people nearby, two of which were distracted by the boy's own mad scribblings, but fortunately Ken's mother took notice of his question.
"You were in that room for almost an hour. Before that, you were out for the whole trip back."
Pretty decent amount of time, then. Not a surprise, considering he nearly fried his brain with what the rift had poured into it.
"And how long was I writing?"
"Maybe an hour."
That was more of a surprise. It didn't feel that long when he was working... still, eight full pages of work. He supposed that it made sense that it would take that long. Not like he was all that coherent during that time, anyway. His whole mind was on overload, both his thoughts and his senses. His senses... which reminded him...
"Whose room is that?"
That question was enough to catch the attention of Ken and his dad at last. Their expressions showed that familiar pain he'd seen in their first meeting, a fact which was in itself enough to answer his question.
Osamu. The smell of death... that was why it smelled that way. Had they even stepped foot in that room since then? All of his stuff was still as he had left it, the books, the drawers, the desk itself... at least until Takeru came in and wrecked it.
Standing, Takeru walked back to that room and looked around, taking note of everything he had made a mess of. Nothing had been touched by any of the others, even though someone must have come in here to grab the papers. He knew why... how could he not? That same pain was branded on his very soul... every time he slept, every time he awoke... a night never passed where he didn't relive the horror of that battle.
Takeru moved back to the desk and began picking things back up, slowly putting them back in order. What he couldn't do for Angemon... he could at least do it here. Honor the dead. Keep his room preserved like this... a piece of his life, left behind as a memorial. Let Osamu have what Angemon couldn't.
Takeru took his time, resetting everything as best he could. He wasn't sure exactly what went where... his memories of the time immediately after waking were blurry at best, but eventually he got everything back to what seemed normal, ending with him smoothing out the sheets on the bed to make it appear that he hadn't slept there.
When he departed the room, he almost expected the sound of the door to make his heart jump. To feel like he wasn't just closing a door, but he was closing a part of the past, locking it away inside his heart. But... it didn't. There was no sudden change in his heart or mind, no sudden pulse of emotion inside him. There was just the vague sense of satisfaction from knowing he had done something to honor his friend...
For a while he just stood there, staring at nothing. He wasn't sure what to do now... he was sure there was something to do, especially after what happened at the rift, but he was just too darn tired to figure it out right now.
"I'm going home."
When Takeru turned toward the door, Ken's mother was quick to stop him, grabbing her husband's attention to inform him that she was going to be driving Takeru home. She didn't want him walking the streets on his own in his current condition... he couldn't really blame her, though he didn't much care whether he had a ride or not, either. He just wanted to get home.
"Takeru, what about these?"
The boy looked up to Ken's father, noticing the papers in his hands. Oh, right... that was what he needed to do something about. Well, there wasn't much he could do with them right now, so the only choice he could think of was...
"...keep them. I'll... get them later."
And with that, the conversation was over. Too long, too tired... he wasn't wasting any more time talking right now. Once he had gotten out of the apartment and headed down to the ground floor he effectively let his brain shut itself off, riding out the rest of the night in mental cruise control and going to bed shortly after getting home.
He didn't return to Ken's apartment for several days... not that he couldn't, though admittedly his mental and emotional recovery was rather long. No, it was due to the fact that he didn't want to. He didn't want to see those papers, he didn't want to watch the news... He just wanted to curl up into a ball and forget that the world existed.
He had hoped that, upon returning to the rift, he would find something that would change this conflict, this world... that somehow he would find that victory that had escaped him at Infinity Mountain... but he didn't. Those papers, for whatever secrets they contained, wouldn't bring them peace. Not by themselves. They still had to work, they still had to fight...
It was then that he realized that he had been holding to the very thing that he had utterly abandoned. Heroes. He wanted the quick fix. A victory like the ones he knew from the digital world. Hard fought, but swift. Earned in an hour, not over weeks and months.
He wanted something to take the sting away. Something to make him believe that the failure at Infinity Mountain was just a hard blow, a setback... a single chapter of the story like so many of those fairy tales. It hurt for a while, but eventually it turned around in the end.
But it wouldn't. He wouldn't... and most importantly, the world wouldn't either. He had come to understand what that wordless voice that came to his mind from inside the rift actually meant. Humans and digimon, fighting together or not at all. They were the heroes, but he wasn't one of them. Not anymore.
He couldn't look for a miracle to save them. The rift didn't give him the answer... it gave him a question. A puzzle. Something that he would have to take apart piece by piece, line by line, until he understood the entirety of what it meant, after which he could at last put it back together and have that answer he sought.
Takeru had spent the majority of his 'recovery' time locked away in his room, and when he finally emerged he was greeted by a world even more grim than he had left it. More news reports... more attacks. They were getting worse. More frequent, more damaging... people were starting to panic, businesses were shutting down until further notice... some people were even starting to flee the area, albeit not in large numbers. Not yet.
Officials had advised civilians to stay in their homes and not venture outside unless it was important business. The time and place of the attacks were erratic enough that they couldn't identify which parts of the city were safe and which ones were most likely to be targeted, which effectively made everyone a target.
Well, this was certainly important enough, both to him and to the city in general. Takeru made a run back to Ken's home, on foot, just as Ken himself had done coming to his. He noticed the presence of people on the streets that he hadn't seen before. Army men, mostly scattered at various street corners, each apparently keeping watch over their local area for any sign of monsters. Not that it made much difference... the reports were clear enough that their weapons were useless. All they could really do was call for an evacuation of the area.
That's when it began. That was the moment that something new was birthed in his heart and mind. It wasn't Katsu... not yet. It was still incomplete, only a piece of what he needed, but the seed of what would eventually become him had been planted.
Takeru was a fool. Days spent in hiding, first from betrayal, then from those papers... hiding from the harsh reality around him. He should have been acting sooner. He should have returned to Ken's apartment as soon as he was able. Things weren't getting better, and the longer he left it the worse it would become. He could never run away again... if he did, people would be hurt, people would die, and it would be his fault.
He had to be better. He had to do better than the other children had done. He couldn't let himself fail the same way they had. Even if he couldn't win, he still had to try. That was their failure... they gave up.
Not him. No... never again. Takeru would never give up.
By the time he reached the building where Ken lived he was gasping for breath, but that didn't slow him down from getting up to the apartment or banging on the door to get their attention. As soon as the door opened he moved in, right past Ken's mom to the living room where Ken's father sat.
"Where... are they?"
Obvious question, and the man was already moving to retrieve them from atop a nearby shelf before he finished speaking. Takeru half-nodded anyway and moved to the table, taking a moment to catch his breath while he waited for his work to be returned to him.
Once it was there, he took a minute to look over everything again. It looked even more alien to him than it had the first time... but it was all here. This is what they needed, but it wasn't something he could make use of. Even if he could figure out what all this meant, he had no way to actually turn it into anything useful, and in the meantime people would still be dying.
He had to get it to the army. They could work it out and make something to fight back with. Just one problem. This... thing that he created couldn't be recreated. It was gone from his mind, so this was the only copy they had. Without this, Takeru was back to square one, at least personally. He couldn't join the fight against the monsters. He could only give other people the means to fight. Darn it...!
"Can you copy these?"
Ken's dad gave him an odd look, but not a confused one. That was something else...
"I'm going to give these to the army, but I want to be able to use them too. Can you make a copy for me?"
"I... already have."
He... what? Why would he have made a copy, and where was the other one. Glancing around, another thought suddenly struck him... where was Ken?
"Ken asked me to... he wanted to study the papers but he knew you'd come back and take them away, so I copied them for him."
Well, that explained the look, at least. And Ken... he wanted to fight the monsters too. Of course he did. His brother was killed by them so. Like Takeru, he knew loss... he knew what they were really fighting against. If the monsters kept coming, more people would die, and more people would feel what they had felt. They weren't going to let that happen.
Takeru quickly gathered up the original copies and tucked them away in his backpack. He'd deal with Ken and the copies later. Every minute spent here was another minute that the army didn't have what they needed, so he had to hurry.
"Is there anything we can do to help?"
Ken's mom asked as Takeru pulled his backup up over his shoulders, leaving the boy to ponder the question a second. He didn't want to drag them into this... better to go out alone, even if he was feeling really tired. Still... on that note, there was one thing they could do to help.
"Can I have something to drink?"
The matter of getting the papers to the army men was simple enough. He just had to find somewhere where they had more than one by himself. He spotted a couple of those along the way, and they had vehicles nearby. Those were necessary to get the word to the people in charge faster.
Nobody really questioned him when he told them what he had. They were obviously skeptical, but he was at least able to convince them to take the papers back to the others in the army. The 'smart guys' who could understand what they meant. Just to make sure, he stopped after rounding the corner and hid, waiting to see if their jeep or whatever it was drove off afterward... it did. Good. Then that was finished, and he could return to Ken's house for a meal and to plan the next step.
That moment was in many ways the end of Takeru's life as a digidestined. He didn't immediately know where to go from there, but he knew that heroism and destiny weren't going to be factors in it. He had to learn the ways of the world... the real world, and with Ken's help he already had a head start.
That was also the beginning, both of the boys' friendship and their education. Takeru had closed the door to his past, but Ken didn't... on the contrary, once the way forward had been provided, he went back to take from that past everything he could.
Osamu, his genius brother... he was dead in body, but not in spirit. They needed a genius, and so Ken would become him, memorizing the contents of every textbook, studying every little pet project or experiment he ran... his library was quite extensive, and the number of research projects he had recorded in his personal journals was impressive for someone his age. Granted, it was child science, things that professionals already knew, but his methods, his philosophy, his natural curiosity... Ken adopted everything he had been, casting aside whatever life he might have had.
It was the perfect irony that these two boys became best friends. Takeru, who rejected everything that his lost comrade had been a part of... everything that had killed him, and Ken, who became everything that his lost brother had been. In other circumstances, these two might have been worst enemies, but somehow they were brought together as the perfect team, the perfect balance to help win the war...
If there was any chance of reversing their course, it died several weeks after the visit to the rift when word came that the military had managed to repel one of the creatures with an experimental new weapon. The monster survived the encounter, but even the fact that it fled was enough to trigger a complete, albeit temporary, turnaround on the public opinion of the Odaiba crisis.
Takeru learned more, however... his father's work at the television station got him some insider info that most people didn't hear. Pieces of interviews, random side conversations with soldiers... there were rumors that the idea for the weapon had come from a theorem provided by a child. A nameless child... nobody quite believed it, but it was the only explanation that anyone seemed to be offering and there were a few people who swore to its validity, so there was enough evidence that nobody dismissed it outright. They simply left it out there, in an odd form of social limbo, perhaps waiting to see if someone would eventually step forward to prove or disprove it.
Takeru wasn't a fool... not anymore. The change in his parents' demeanor was obvious after that news came out. It was never explicitly said that he was responsible, but his father wasn't secretive about revealing what he had heard at the station, either. He wanted Takeru to hear it openly, to see how the boy reacted. The fact that he said nothing at all about this information was enough to tip them off to his involvement. Still, they had seen what he was up to with Ken. They saw what he was quickly becoming and they knew that it was far too late to reverse this. They could offer their support, perhaps reign him in from doing anything overly reckless, but that was it.
This was beyond them. It had been from the very beginning... seven children, pulled into another reality to fight a battle against the forces of evil? This was storybook stuff... but it was also very clearly real. What could they hope to do to stand up and stop this? If Takeru was destined to become some great warrior to fight against a terrible darkness, they wouldn't be able to stop it. Best then to just let him know that, at the very least, he had someone behind him. That he wasn't completely alone...
It is said that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Well, those two boys proved in the weeks and months that followed. There was no more leisure, only work. They were not children anymore... they had been thrust into adulthood, forced to confront the most brutal parts of reality.
It started simply enough. Osamu's miniature library of textbooks was the foundation of their academic studies, while they trained themselves athletically through basic sports, mainly soccer. However, it wasn't long before both of the boys felt... stifled by their restrictions. They had the passion for the work, but their brains weren't trained for this level of study. They needed to get smarter, faster, and they needed to do it sooner rather than later.
Thus, with a few quick internet searches, the boys found themselves plunging into the science of neurology. Granted, the technicalities of it were far beyond anything they could understand yet, but they didn't care about the details, they simply wanted the benefits. Most of the aid came in the form of games. Puzzles, mind-benders, mental training exercises... anything and everything that could help them think faster and absorb information more rapidly.
Of course, given Takeru's demeanor it was inevitable that once he became acclimated to this new level of mental exertion he would once again start to feel the limitations of his work. Unlike Ken, who was completely satisfied to simply master all aspects of the sciences so that he could aid in the fighting, Takeru needed more... he needed a way to involve himself directly in the conflict. Not simply physical combat, but mental warfare as well. Command, strategy, tactics...
Thus Takeru left the genius to pull ahead in his scientific studies while he began delving into the Art of War, both literally and figuratively. He quickly read and memorized all the most notable sources on warfare. Sun Tzu was only the beginning; though understanding warfare as a whole was important, Takeru wasn't content to simply be a planner. He had to be able to fight on every level, from interpersonal to international. That led him to progress into studying people as a whole...
History was the most obvious subject to follow, but psychology, sociology, and other such topics were equally important. Of course, these 'soft sciences' had the flaw that there were so many conflicting theories and nobody quite knew exactly what was true and what wasn't. Takeru wasn't going to waste his time on arbitrary garbage like that, so he took an altogether different approach – he read fiction.
People read what they like, what's interesting, what seems important to them... so Takeru found his perfect case study in all the most popular works of literature. But instead of studying the works themselves, he studied himself, figuring out what might make these stories appealing to him or to others.
As Takeru branched out in every imaginable direction, Ken helped him fill the gaps by mentoring him in the areas he had fallen behind in, giving Takeru more energy to apply to his own studies and multiplying his potential to learn and develop himself and his potential as a person, a soldier, a general... and anything else he needed to be.
Yet even then, even then... it still wasn't enough. He needed more. Always more. Studying was one thing, but he needed application. He needed a way to use this knowledge he was absorbing. In some ways the application was simple enough to find... just find random people to talk to, either other children or even some adults. Say things, test their response, learn how to manipulate them, how to control their reactions, as well as your own... but there were some things he couldn't test directly. Strategy and tactics couldn't be applied unless he was working with the military, and there was no way they would let a child get involved in the battle against the monsters.
Once again, games came to the rescue, but this time they were games of a far different variety. Go and Chess were the first, after which many others came and went, though ultimately the boys would find themselves favoring those two over all the others. Their games started as an occasional distraction, though they quickly developed into a daily exercise and eventually they found themselves spending entire days consumed in their ongoing conflict of abstract strategy.
Ken was a keen thinker, and well above the level of any other children his age, though ultimately Takeru would prove to be the master of the art. That wasn't a bother for Ken, though... he understood well enough each of their roles. He was a thinker, not a general, and though he may never command armies on his own, his understanding of the theorem Takeru had brought them provided an invaluable tool that the boy would one day need to drive out the invaders.
Of course, in the midst of the boys' obsessive studies, their parents had not been idle. Takeru's dad had become involved with the military to a certain extent, eventually coming to serve as a mediator of a sort between them and the civilians.
Even with their improving weapons, small-area evacuations were still necessary whenever an attack came and this led to major tensions with the local civilian government and people in general. The military's official reports did nothing to calm the people down, either. Everybody already expected them to say whatever they had to in order to maintain order.
The people needed to hear the news from someone they trusted, and the military needed someone they could trust to know what to say and what to hold back. Thus Masaharu, with the help of his wife, assisted them by writing up the stories that would be reported to the public, spinning them however they needed to keep the peace. A lot of good, honest reporting with a hint of deception and a dash of propaganda mixed in for flavor. It helped ease the public outcry, and it earned the station a decent subsidy from the national government too. Everybody was a winner.
Ken's father, Satoshi, did less to aid directly in the war, though their aid would ultimately be just as valuable, if not more so. He had a fairly well paying job, and his workplace had remained open throughout all the conflict, so he took a portion out of every paycheck and set it aside for any special expenses the boys required. Books, sports equipment, all of their games... without him, the pair would have struggled immensely to push their studies ahead as far as they needed to go.
Meanwhile, both mothers played yet more subtle roles in the entire affair, though theirs were perhaps the most important of all. Satoshi's job provided for them well enough that his wife, Ayaka, didn't need to be employed, and with the boys doing most of their studying and work at their family's apartment, she took care of all of their physical needs. Food and drinks, baths after their sports practice, and all miscellaneous needs that arose.
Finally, Natsuko... though she maintained her job as a journalist, working at the TV station to help spin the stories Masaharu needed, her most important work was at home, keeping the rest of her family sane. The nights when Masaharu wasn't working late were spent with him, while the rest of the time was spent with Takeru, usually just listening to his ponderings, his frustrations, and offering him advice on how to proceed when he didn't know what to do. Most of the ideas for the next steps of his studies came through her help, from the mental training games to lists of books to read about war, history, or the like.
But beyond her technical aid, she also helped hold him together mentally... aside from his parents, nobody knew what kind of torment Takeru lived with, day and night. To say it was difficult to be simply studying and not actually fighting against the invaders was an understatement beyond compare. It wasn't just hard, it was torture. His nightmares never left him... in fact, they seemed to actually get worse with time, and it was only the consolation of his mother that kept him from breaking down completely on multiple occasions. She kept him looking ahead when what lay behind him was the very maw of hell itself.
It was those same nightmares that drove him ever onward, ever needing more. He wasn't fighting against the invasion, he was fighting against Devimon... a war that existed solely within his own mind. That abomination had tried to destroy him... he murdered Angemon, he shattered the digidestined, and he brought chaos to the human world.
When his best friend died, Takeru had been powerless, and that feeling had never really left him. For all he was learning, he wasn't really making a difference. Not yet. He always needed more before he could finally act. One more step, one more book, one more piece of knowledge... every day he prayed for the opportunity to finally be able to involve himself in the war, to escape the nightmare of helplessness that was ever at his back, following him like his own shadow.
You couldn't escape your shadow... not as long as you stood in the light. There was only one way to ever get away from it, and that was to stand in another, much greater shadow, where there was no light cast on you...
That's where Takeru wanted to be – in the heart of the war. At the darkest, most terrible place he could find, where his own shadow faded into the sea of darkness cast by the nightmares of others. The nightmares he could actually fight.
One day, many months after the whole crisis in Odaiba had started, he would finally get his wish...
Takeru stepped out of Ken's apartment, heading toward the stairs and periodically glancing back to the apartment door to make sure nobody came out to follow him. He had left in a slightly odd manner... he'd said he needed to get out and just think for a while. He never did that before, and he figured it would seem strange, but they seemed to believe him... good.
In reality, Takeru had detected something strange. His digivice usually picked up digimon whenever they came near the apartment, sometimes before the military even knew about them, and so he was able to call in and report their presence on a couple of occasions to preempt the attack. Today, however, things were... different. Something appeared on his digivice, but as soon as he checked, it was gone. It showed up again a minute later, only to have the same thing happen.
The third time he had been waiting for it, and just as expected it blipped in for an instant before fading right back out. Fortunately he was able to spot where it was... yet the location made no sense. Right beside him... it only took him a second to realize why, though. Altitude wasn't being factored in, so it was either directly above him or directly below... and given that the latter would place it in an apartment and there was no panic audible from the lower floors, that left only one option.
Takeru made his way up to the roof of the building, looking around while periodically checking his digivice. Where are you... and why can't I detect you? I know you're here. There's nowhere else you can be, so why...
"So it's true."
Takeru froze. Humanoid voice, coming from right beside him. Shifting forward on one foot, he spun back around, looking all around for any sign of... what the heck? How could there be nobody there?
"Apologies. I wished to avoid conflict. I couldn't risk being seen until I knew for certain..."
Takeru's gaze shifted around a bit, still searching. The voice came from in front of him, but there was no one in sight...
As soon as the words left his mouth, a figure appeared before him, as if materializing out of thin out.
"Knew that the seven child was still alive."
Takeru instinctively took a half step back, ready to run if necessary, though there weren't many places he could go... the figure blocked the only way off the roof, short of jumping off the side of the building. Fortunately, he didn't appear openly hostile. Not yet, at least... so Takeru took the opportunity to look him over, trying to get a sense of what he was dealing with.
The figure looked almost human.. perhaps a child, only a few years older than Takeru, save that his skin was discolored and, even more obvious, the fact that he was floating several inches off the ground. He wore an odd attire... slightly cliche in Takeru's opinion. Staff, pointy hat, cape... right out of a storybook.
"Who are you? And what do you want...?"
"My name is Wizardmon, and there is much to tell of my personal history and motives... but for now I will simply say that I am here to help you."
Takeru narrowed his eyes. Help? He was a digimon in the human world, but he was there to help... the boy was certainly skeptical, but the lack of violence calmed his paranoia a little. Still... he certainly wasn't going to trust without some answers first.
"Why do you care if the 'seventh child' is alive or not?"
"Because there is trouble coming... something far worse than the random attacks you've been faced with so far. It was by your hand that the last great threat was defeated, and I felt your assistance would be nee-"
"DEVIMON WAS DEFEATED BY ANGEMON! ANGEMON IS DEAD! I-"
"I know of all that happened at Infinity Mountain! I spied on the other digidestined for some time, learning what took place! I also spied on the military men from this world... I heard about the child who gave them the theorem on which all of their current weapons are based. With or without your partner, you have done much to protect the people of this world already... but that won't be enough. You need more, and I am here to help you obtain it."
Takeru was barely keeping himself from trying to wring the digimon's neck. The mere mention of Devimon was enough to drive him berserk, doubly so since this guy was trying to ask for his help after that. What, was he hoping that Takeru would charge into another fight that the others were too cowardly to face and get killed like Angemon was? But he didn't say that because of Wizardmon's final words... yes, that was true. He did need more, and if the digimon could help him obtain it, he would accept it. He had to accept it. Whatever it took... he wasn't going to let Devimon win.
"What the heck is a crest?"
"Something that was created to help you in your fight against evil, much like your digivice. The other children were told of them by one named Gennai, who I believe is one of the guardians of the digital world..."
Wizardmon proceeded to explain further details. As much as he knew, which was subsequently as much as the other children knew. They each had a tag which was supposed to hold their crest, though they hadn't yet begun their search for them, at least not when Wizardmon separated from them. They were finishing their work on File Island, implementing some plan to seal the rift before leaving. However, one of them had left one of the tags on the summit, burying it under a small marker, apparently intended to serve as a grave of sorts for Takeru, who they believed died there.
Takeru wasn't surprised that they thought him dead, nor was he upset. Better that way, without the other kids trying to find them. He didn't need them, and he didn't want anything to do with them, either. He was better off alone... Ken was more reliable than all of those cowards put together.
After digging up the buried crest, Wizardmon left through the rift to search the human world for any sign of the missing child. He passed through several large blockades along the way, guarded by soldiers with data-based weapons. After spying on them for a while to learn of what was happening, he began digging up information on the missing children from the camp. Six children declared missing, the last one found and diagnosed as suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
Takeru thought it strange that the other children were declared missing but not dead... still, there was also the fact that apparently the military knew of the rift and no word had gone out about it publicly yet, so those facts were likely connected. If they knew where the monsters were coming from, perhaps they knew that the other children were on the other side of the rift? Or suspected, at least. That also explained why attacks from digimon on the ground seemed to stop a while back. Only the flying ones could get by as the rest were stopped by the blockades.
At any rate, after spending a few days sneaking about and trying to figure out how to do a search on the computers for Takeru's family, Wizardmon finally located their apartment. He went there, spotted the boy, followed him to the other apartment, and then went to the roof where he began fazing his invisibility in and out several times, hoping to catch the boy's attention through his digivice. Clearly his plan succeeded, as he was now standing there, listening to the digimon's explanation.
"There is little else to say... I am here to assist you in your struggle. I wish to prepare you for the coming crisis before it occurs. I doubt that we can stop it completely, but the sooner we take action, the less damage will be done to this world..."
Wizardmon reached into his cloak to pull out the boy's tag, reaching out to hand it to him. To his surprise, Takeru didn't take it immediately, but instead recoiled slightly, as if the tag were some terrible thing to be feared or dreaded.
"What is the matter?"
He didn't know... how could he? That tag, like the digivice... it was a mark of the digidestined, a curse that Takeru wished he could rid himself of. It reminded him that he was like them. The traitors... the best work that he had ever done had been after leaving them behind, and he didn't want to go back, but...
Stepping forward, Takeru slowly, tentatively took the tag and pulled it close to inspect it. Just one glance and already he hated this thing, but he couldn't reject it... not if it was something that could help him fight. He was torn between two hatreds. Hate for evil, and hate for his past... and he could only satisfy one... so which was it? Stop the evil from destroying his world, or... run away?
His hand clenched around the tag and he pocketed it, turning his empty gaze up to the digimon who was now eying him questioningly.
In another time, he would have had a very different answer... everything. But he'd learned to hide his feelings... his heart, his humanity... he'd learned to hide himself. Instead, he showed the world only what he wanted them to see. That was the only way to truly be in control... it had to start with him. Control himself before he could control others, and he couldn't risk not being in control again. That was what cost Angemon his life...
"How do we find the crest?"
"There is a second rift in this city that will take us to the continent of Server, where the crests are located. I learned of it before I went to find the destined children... in fact, it was what led me to begin my search for them in the first place. I will provide you with more details, but we must leave soon, otherwise we won't be able to pass through for some time."
Takeru took a deep breath, still not yet fully trusting of this digimon, yet he didn't have much choice right now, did he? This was what he had asked for, even if it wasn't the way he had expected it to be... and he couldn't run away either way. He couldn't be like them. He had to go...
So be it. Nodding, he turned and headed for the door, informing the digimon that he needed to take care of something briefly before departing.
He'd have to get Ken to cover for him... him and his parents both. He gave them a story to give his parents, that he was staying over with Ken to work on something relating to the theorem and he wouldn't be home for at least several days. All Ken's parents would know was that he was doing something important, while only Ken himself would know the truth...
He was going back. Back to the digital world. Back into the place of his nightmares...
Devimon wasn't the only great evil in the digital world. There were plenty of others... and the one that mattered most to them right now was a big dumb monkey named Etemon. With the assistance of a machine digimon called Datamon, he had managed to create his own rift, but his was different... stable. It required a great deal of power to open, though, so he could only keep it open for a limited amount of time. While he was preparing a generator that could keep it open indefinitely, he sent some of his smaller, stealthier minions in to scout about, finding out all they could about the area around his rift so that he could prepare to invade.
At least, that was what he was doing when Wizardmon first snuck into his base and stole a copy of his rift schedule. It was like clockwork. Midnight, every third day it opened for about ten minutes before closing again. With his cloaking power, Wizardmon was able to sneak them through easily enough, but in the process they had discovered more troubling news about the situation. The rift was first opened outside the city limits, but they'd somehow managed to move the exit gate to the city, into a warehouse that had apparently been attacked early on in the crisis and then abandoned for fear that the digimon might appear there again.
Well, they were right... and now Etemon had moved a small army into it along with quite a few supplies to support his invasion once it began. Doubtful they had much time left, so they had to get what they needed from the digital world and get back fast.
After they passed through and were far enough from Etemon's base, Wizardmon cast a spell on Takeru to mask his appearance, making him appear as another digimon named Sorcermon, not too different in appearance than himself. Apparently that was easier to maintain than complete stealth.
Thus the search began, though with the size of Server it seemed unlikely that they would find the crest any time in the near future. They had no idea where to even begin. How were they supposed to find the crest swiftly and return home in time to stop the invasion?
Wizardmon had no answers, save that Takeru was Digidestined. He would find what he needed to, when he needed to, and he would fulfill his destiny. The digimon had total faith in that fact, even if Takeru himself didn't. As far as he was concerned, destiny could go to hell. If destiny was what brought him to the digital world, then it was also what killed Angemon, so he would be happy to bury it right beside Devimon if he ever got the chance...
Ironically, Wizardmon would be proven right well beyond even his own expectations. When the pair sought shelter for the first night they headed toward a nearby set of stone outcroppings not far from Etemon's base. After passing through a few of the winding paths they prepared to settle in and make camp for the night before Takeru's tag suddenly became active.
His crest was close. Somehow, by some bizarre twist of fate, it happened to be right here, near where Etemon set up his base. It wasn't quite easy to locate with all the twists in the rocky paths, especially at that time of night, but ultimately they found it... a large symbol carved into a rockface that was nestled away in a hard to find corner of the rocky labyrinth.
Wizardmon recognized the symbol immediately, as did Takeru, oddly enough. It was the last thing he expected to find after everything that had taken place already...
Hope. Takeru's crest... his symbol, the mark of his character... was hope. The most hopeless one of all, the one who had all but abandoned hope at his friends' betrayal... and he was the one who carried it?
Hope. The light that shines even in the deepest darkness...
Wizardmon was apparently well versed in the symbolism of the crests, likely due to his own arcane nature, and he spoke those words upon seeing the mark on the wall. Then, when the rockface collapsed into the tiny form of his crest and floated up to him to find its place in his tag... he broke down.
He couldn't help it anymore... months of stress and pressure weighing heavy on his heart and soul, the memories that wouldn't cease to haunt him, the feeling of his own powerlessness and his personal failure to protect Angemon, and he... HE was the bearer of Hope?
The tears poured like a river. Every day and night of pent up emotion releasing itself all at once. How? How could he bring hope to anything? He failed Angemon, he failed the human world... people were fighting and dying while he hid in an apartment, reading books and playing games! He was chasing after a war he couldn't fight! After a failure he couldn't fix! Even in the midst of his greatest studies, he still wore it like a cloak. He could never forget...
He kept telling himself that it was hate... and while that hate was certainly real, that wasn't what drove him.
He was running. Not toward his enemy, toward the war... but away from his past. Away from himself. Away from his... failure.
It was guilt. No matter which way he tried to look at it, it came back to that same word, echoing in his mind. Traitor... failure... he tried to tack it onto the other children, to distract himself from the truth that it was as true for him as it was for any of them.
How dare he... he couldn't save Angemon when he needed Takeru most. It was his duty to help his partner, wasn't it? To give him strength? Just like it was Angemon's duty to protect him... and he failed! And worse, he survived! How dare he keep living when his best friend sacrificed everything on that peak! He had no right to walk away from that! He...!
...he should have died there. Not the other children... not Angemon... him. He dragged Patamon into the fight, he acted like a fool... once Devimon opened the rift it was too late. He should have gotten the others for backup. They all failed that day... the digidestined failed Takeru, Takeru failed Angemon... the only one to succeed was Angemon himself, and for that he gave up his life.
Destiny... if this was what it looked like, it was a true sadist.
But he was here... not just alive, but here, in the digital world, holding his crest. Holding Hope... and when all his tears finally dried and all his shame and guilt had been poured out, he was still there, and his mission was still the same. He had to save the world. Whether it was by running from his past or toward his future, all roads led to the same place. The only question was which path led them through the shortest route, the least death...
In the end, when the guilt was finally spent, all that remained of his old self was hate... and the spark of something new. Hope. Light in that infinite darkness of his heart. It was then that he knew what he had to become. It was then that the persona of Katsu took form in his mind...
Beneath the sun, a match was all but invisible, but in an endless darkness, where it was the only light, it was the sun. That's what he had to do... wrap himself in the shadows of the world, not to hide from his own darkness, but to show the world his light.
That wasn't the end of his journey in the digital world, though... not yet. There was still one final piece to be found, and it lay within the tunnel that appeared behind where the stone slab that held Crest of Hope had previously stood.
Wizardmon had no idea what the tunnel was supposed to be, but as soon as they stepped in and he illuminated it with one of his powers, Takeru knew instantly.
Data. Raw data, in its purist form. These symbols were pieces of a code... a computer code, written into the very fabric of reality- no... not written into it. Their world... the digital world was data. This code was merely that data written on a macro level, where his eyes could see it. Ken had gleaned it from the theorem, and though Takeru had understood it conceptually, seeing it there with his own eyes made it perfectly clear.
The theorem hadn't actually left his mind. Not really. It slept, buried deep within his subconscious, waiting for the right moment to be revealed... and this was it. These markings that would have seemed like gibberish to anyone else were laid out in front of him like one of those countless books he had read through in his studies, as if he were fluent in the language of the digital universe itself.
It was clumsy, of course... it was like being inside a computer the size of a house, where every computer chip was as big as a table. The true code of the digital world was woven into every fiber of every thing in that reality. This was just a gigantic model, a... demonstration? Somebody had left that there, along with the crest, for them to discover in order to learn about the true nature of the universe they now lived in.
Reaching out, Takeru wiped away what seemed to be a random symbol on the wall, only to have the entire tunnel suddenly illuminate itself. Not random at all to him. He knew how this code worked, and that action was merely to prove it to himself. This was it... the last piece he needed. Though he couldn't recall the theorem from memory, with this he knew that he could finally start work to truly decipher its meaning so that they could make good use of it to repel the coming invasion.
Satisfied, Takeru had Wizardmon conjure something for him. He couldn't create anything more than a few random things that might be useful for magic tricks, but fortunately his request fit into those limitations. He needed a marker... something with which he could restore the symbol he removed, thus casting the tunnel back into darkness. He wanted to make sure that, if it was found, nobody would suspect he had been there. Let the other children discover this on their own terms, if they ever did...
With their primary task finished already, the pair was left with two days before the rift would be opened again... fortunately, they could make good use of that time thanks to Wizardmon's stealth power. As soon as dawn broke, they snuck back into the pyramid and began spying out all of Etemon's work. They couldn't get into the high-security zones, but what they saw was enough to give them a general idea of Etemon's plans for the human world.
Perhaps more importantly, they were able to obtain copies of blueprints for both the rift generator and the power system Etemon was working on to keep it open indefinitely. He couldn't keep those records secured... how would any of his men be able to construct or repair them if he did?
Time seemed to fly by now. Compared to the time before when every day had been long and torturous, events seemed to progress rapidly from one action to the next. No longer was he running from his past, but toward his future. For so long, all of his progress had been a desperate form of escape from his feelings of failure, but not anymore. Now it was a series of successes, each a piece that brought him closer to achieving something... a tiny spark to add to the light of the hope that he was going to give the world.
When the third night came and the rift reopened, they had more intel on Etemon's invasion than they had ever expected upon arrival... but even that was merely a set up for something greater. When Takeru stepped back through that rift, his crest and digivice suddenly came alive in that instant between worlds, exploding with a power he hadn't felt for a long time...
He had awakened. He was ready. The first door was not enough. His glimpse was merely a shadow and a reflection of the truth...
The voiceless words had found their way into his mind again and he knew instantly what was happening. The first theorem was given to him as a key. It wasn't enough to give them a complete picture, but it was as much as his frail mind could handle before. Now he was stronger... faster, smarter, better, in every way. What's more, now he understood what he was seeing. His mind could begin to grasp what he was being shown, not just as numbers and symbols, but as actual ideas.
He had improved. He was far more than he had been, but not as much as he needed to be. Time would teach the rest. A long road still lay ahead of him, but this would be enough. This would be the final time he heard the voice. Everything else would come on its own, in its own time.
Fortunately, Takeru didn't pass out this time, but the shock from the influx of knowledge to his mind was enough to send him stumbling as he exited the rift. Fortunately, Wizardmon was there to grab him and pull him away before he fell into any nearby digimon. More fortunate was the fact that there was enough noise around them that his stumbling steps didn't get them heard by any of the guards around.
They departed quickly, returning to Ken's apartment to take care of business. There was so much to do now... enough that Takeru scarcely knew where to begin, but at least now he actually could begin. Now he was ready to meet the invaders on his terms, rather than theirs.
Now... he was ready to start a war.
"That's where the rest of the theorems came from."
Takeru nodded almost idly. No surprise that Hikari had figured it out. She had likely figured out the rest of the story already, minus the technicalities that she couldn't rationalize out on her own. Details that only he had been privy to before...
"That time, though... there was more."
She raised an eyebrow. More? Did that mean more theorems that he never showed to the Hunters, or something else entirely...?
"Along with the theorems, I saw... you."
Hikari shifted back suddenly, actually surprised for once. Of all the things she expected to hear, that was not one of them. How could she have...
"I saw a series of... concepts. Ideas. I didn't know what they meant at first, but eventually I pieced it together after I saw several symbols that matched the ideas in my head."
Hikari paused, pondering his words a moment before it suddenly came together in her mind. Ah... not her specifically... not her name or her face, but her symbol... light. He saw the crests.
"That was when I knew you had to exist, because I only knew of seven children, but there were more than seven symbols in my head. Then, when I found the crest copies Myotismon was using, I knew I had to find you."
Hikari nodded, quickly recalling the final events of the war and the part she had played to help them achieve victory. Had the enemy found her first, they certainly wouldn't have won. Though she had to wonder...
"...is that why you trusted me like you did? Because what voice from the rift told you about me?"
Takeru let out a dry laugh, actually finding something humorous about that concept. It wasn't a laugh Hikari particularly enjoyed hearing, though. It was still... cold, but at least it was more emotion than he used to show.
"The voice didn't tell me anything about you. You could have been just like the other kids for all I knew. No... I trusted you because of our first meeting. You proved that you were willing to take a risk and make a hard choice to do what was right. After that, I gave you chances to go further, and every time you took them. None of the other digidestined ever did that. You were the only one."
"That's not true. You did the same thing..."
"No, not even me. I was dragged into the digital world just like the rest of them and forced into heroism. When Angemon died, I wanted revenge. When Osamu died, Ken wanted the same thing... you did it because it was the right thing to do. You're the only one who could have walked away whenever you wanted, and you never did. I trusted you, Hikari... because I knew that you were the best of all the digidestined."
Hikari went quiet a moment, unsure of how to respond. That level of praise was something she wasn't accustomed to, especially from Takeru, the most critical person she knew. She almost felt... flattered, except that she was pretty sure Takeru didn't know how to flatter someone, at least not earnestly. He just said what he felt was true. Though, whether that made his words less or more flattering... she wasn't sure.
Amidst all that praise, however, something had slipped between the cracks. The true meaning of some of his earlier words had been missed, and now was all but forgotten...
In his mentioning the symbols of the crests, he never stated an actual number. All he had said was more than seven... adding her own crest to the list, she immediately fulfilled that criteria in her own mind, but the actual phrase was far more open ended than that. He didn't just mean more than seven... he meant more than eight.