ETA 07/05/14: Currently in the process of revising all existing chapters for this story! Stayed tuned for further updates and new chapters.

a/n: This story, which is purely OC-based, is set in the world of Digimon Tamers (and canon-compliant with everything that happens in that universe). At this point in time I DO NOT have plans for the main cast (i.e., Takato, Jenrya, Ruki, etc.) to make any appearances, outside perhaps a few newscasts/televised cameos. I always thought it was at least a possibility that other children in the Tamers world might have received Digimon partners besides the main group in Shinjuku, and, while I haven't seen any canon evidence for Wild Ones realizing outside of Japan, I also don't think there was anything directly contradicting it. This is especially true since the 'Network,' where Digimon physically exist, could be presumed to exist all over Earth wherever there are people connected online.

Just for clarification, this fic alternates among a large number of (original) characters living in different parts of the world, at varying points in time. Some characters and plot lines will receive more focus than others. The D-Reaper mess will probably come up at some point, but I haven't decided when.

Constructive feedback is always appreciated. Enjoy.


"Enter the Real World"

The French commune of Vertou might have been part of a larger metropolitan area, not far south of Nantes, but the particular neighborhood where Noémi and her family lived was always fairly quiet in the afternoon. It gave her valuable time to think as she walked from her school, passing a number of small shops and buildings in the street without really seeing them at all.

Wind from the distant river Sèvre nantaise blew over the town in cool gusts, sweeping at times through Noémi's dark brown hair. The short strands whipped loosely about her face, obscuring her view of the street, before she mechanically brushed them back again with one hand. It was nothing she wasn't used to.

"—all this fog lately, you wouldn't even believe—"

"—trust me, I know. And it's not just here, my brother in Canada told me yesterday that they had a—"

Passing voices drifted in and out of Noémi's ears as she made her way toward the local primary school. For the most part, she ignored them. She was caught up in her own thoughts, most of which were about the chores and homework she'd have to finish tonight if she wanted to get to bed at a decent hour. Papa had recently started a new job, one that kept him busy in the evenings, and he'd made it clear to Noémi that the upkeep of the apartment would fall to her out of necessity while he was away.

Noémi had protested at first, not liking the weight of having so many responsibilities resting on her twelve-year-old shoulders. Now, though, she was more or less used to their new routine. In fact, the only thing that could still get tiring sometimes was watching over Luc.

Speaking of whom...

Noémi finally arrived at the front gates of the primary school, slowing to a halt as she scanned the outside of the building for signs of her younger brother. Other children were clustered in groups of three or four, and chatted idly while they waited for their parents, but as per usual Luc's dark head of messy brown hair was nowhere to be found. With a sigh, Noémi approached the nearest professor.

"Madame Guyot?" she asked timidly, hoping to get the woman's attention. "Have you seen...?"

The instructor turned, her mouth half-opening to issue a reprimand, but she stopped when she recognized Noémi. "Ah, hello there!" the woman said with a smile, relaxing her posture. "It's always a pleasure to see any former student of mine—especially one who was always so bright at math. Tell me, Noémi, have you been keeping up your grades lately at your new school?"

"I...I have, yes," Noémi lied, feeling a hard sting of guilt. "Everything's going wonderfully."

Truthfully, her grades had recently suffered quite a bit, as a result of the added pressure of looking after the apartment and her brother in the evenings when she might normally have been studying. Noémi knew it was a problem, one that would only grow worse as the year went on, but she hadn't had the heart to talk about it with her father yet. She'd always been a good student before; more than anything she hated the thought of disappointing Papa when he'd obviously trusted her with so much in such a short amount of time. What would he think if he knew she couldn't even handle her schoolwork?

The professor interrupted Noémi's thoughts with a hand rested gently on her shoulder. "That's very good to hear," Mme Guyot said kindly. "As always, let me know if you need any help, all right?"

"O-Of course," Noémi told her with a shaky smile.

"Good," Mme Guyot said, nodding briskly. "Now—if it's young Lucas you're looking for, I believe I saw him not long ago in the schoolyard with one of his friends. Your brother is a bright one like you, Noémi, but I do wish he'd pay more attention in class...and less on those strange little foreign card games of his."

"I'll be sure to talk to him about it when we get home," Noémi assured her, making a mental note to do exactly that. After all, Madame Guyot wasn't the first of Luc's teachers to complain that his constant preoccupation with "Digimon" was an obstruction to his studies, and it seemed to Noémi that at least one of the Simonet siblings ought to be doing well in school.

She walked around the side of the building to the yard, where to her surprise, Luc was seated cross-legged in the grass beside a mousy-looking girl his own age. The two of them were poring over a a sprawling arrangement of Digimon cards, laid out before them in messy rows on the ground.

"...But you can only evolve your Digimon if all the requirements are met for that turn," Luc was telling the girl matter-of-factly, his ordinarily dreamy voice uncharacteristically focused and intense. "If you want to evolve to Adult, for example, you have to already have a Child Digimon in play."

"And then, after Adult—it evolves to Perfect level, right?" the girl asked him pensively.

"That's right!" Luc said, flashing her an encouraging smile. "Child level is first, then Adult, then Perfect, and finally Ultimate, if you make it that far. But, you can only evolve a Digimon once per turn! Those are the rules."

The girl nodded, seemingly more to herself than anything else. She reached out for one of the cards on the ground and gingerly held it up between two fingers to examine it.

"I've never gotten to play this game before," she confessed, pale blue eyes scanning over the text with unmistakable longing. "I've always seen these cards in the stores, and I thought it looked like fun, but ma mère said that monster games are for boys. She wanted me to keep playing with my dolls and animals instead..."

A strange expression crossed Luc's face, and he looked like he was about to say something, but at that moment he caught sight of Noémi approaching.

"Oh—hi, sis!" he called, scrambling to his feet and dusting off his school pants as she walked over to them. "You're here early today! I would have been waiting out front if I knew!"

"I'm not early, Luc," Noémi said, with an all-too-familiar sigh of exasperation. "You lost track of time again. One of your teachers had to tell me where you were, or I'd still be waiting."

"Really?" he asked, blinking dumbly. Belatedly, he realized his cards were still scattered all over the ground, and he dropped down frantically to gather them up as fast as he could. "S-Sorry, Noémi! It won't happen again!"

"You said that last time," she reminded him, though she didn't press the issue. She turned to the girl who Luc had been playing with, a tiny little thing with mouse-brown hair that went almost halfway down her back in a long braid. "Hello, I'm Noémi, Luc's sister. Were he and you playing Digimon together?"

The girl nodded, her pale cheeks now tinged pink. "I'm Océane. Don't tell my Mom about this? Please," she added quickly, almost as an afterthought.

Noémi hesitated. Still, it wasn't as if she knew this girl's mother, and besides, considering the sorry state of her grades, she had no room to talk when it came to keeping secrets from her family. "Okay, fine," she told the girl reluctantly. "I won't tell. But I do need to take Luc home now. You two can play again tomorrow."

The eight-year-olds nodded obediently in unison, exchanging an shared look of excitement between them. Noémi sighed again and turned to her brother.

"Ready to go?"

The walk home from Luc's school was always a long one, and today it was made even longer by the fact that Luc had insisted they take the scenic route down by the river. Thinking of the long list of chores awaiting her when she got home, as well as the recent spike in foggy spells near their area, Noémi had nearly refused, but one look into Luc's eager amber-colored eyes had weakened her conviction. She could hardly ever say no to her brother.

I'll make the time up somehow, she resolved, nervously fidgeting with the straps of her backpack as she walked. She tried not to think too hard about the group project she was supposed to finish for class that Friday, the others having trusted her with tying all the loose ends of their combined efforts together. The work was piling up, and she was getting seriously worried, but it couldn't really be all that bad if she got her act together after today. She still had five days. Maybe tomorrow there won't be so much extra work...

"Hey, Noémi? Do you think Océane could maybe come over to our apartment sometime this week after class?"

Luc's words cut her anxieties short, shaking Noémi from her thoughts. Out here, away from the bustle of the streets, any words they said seemed especially loud when compared to the stillness of the water. She turned to her brother, all thoughts of chores forgotten. "You want that girl to come over?" she asked, a little surprised. "I've never even seen you with her before. I didn't know the two of you were friends until today."

"Um—well, I mean, we weren't," Luc said, glancing away in sudden embarrassment. "We only just started talking. Don't be mad, but, I was practicing Digimon again in class this afternoon, and the teacher sort of caught me with my cards in my desk...I had to write a bunch of lines, but when class was over, Océane came and asked me if I would teach her how to play when school was out. She thinks it's really cool, Noémi!"

"You got in trouble again?" Noémi demanded, stopping to fully face him. "Luc, you have to stop messing around with those stupid cards while you're in school!"

"It's not stupid!" he said, looking hurt. "Digimon is fun! And I didn't mean to get caught, it's just, class is so boring, and Digimon is all I ever think about..."

Noémi bit her lip and looked away from him, slowly starting to walk again. She folded her arms tightly across her chest and looked out over the river.

"Maybe you shouldn't take your cards to school anymore, Luc," she mused quietly, not meeting his eyes. "Papa's got enough to worry about right now, without you getting into trouble over some silly Japanese game."

"No, no, Noémi!" he pleaded. "I'll be good, I promise! I'll never do it again! Digimon is my most favorite thing ever, please don't take it away!"

Noémi closed her eyes and kept walking. "That part sort of worries me, too, Luc," she told him softly, worry churning in her gut like a sickness. "None of the other kids in your class like Digimon as much as you do. Why can't you get into a hobby that will help you make some friends for a change? It can't be fun to sit and play by yourself."

For a long moment, Luc said nothing, and Noémi finally had to open her eyes again. Her brother looked extremely upset.

"I have a friend now, though!" he said, begging with both his eyes and his voice. "Océane likes the card game, too! Really! I bet we can be good friends if I'm really nice to her!"

"Okay, okay, fine," Noémi said, tearing her gaze away from the sadness written on his face. "For now. I just don't like how obsessive you are over this weird game."

"Noémi, what if...Digimon wasn't a game?"

Noémi abruptly stopped walking. Behind her, Luc had stopped, too, staring at the ground with a tinge on his pale cheeks. He refused to look up at her, seemingly embarrassed but also oddly resolute.

"What do you mean, if it wasn't a game?" Noémi asked him sharply. "What else would it be?"

"I...nothing, really," Luc said vaguely, sounding a little detached. His thoughts seemed to be far off, even worlds apart. "It's just...sometimes, I have these dreams, and it feels so real. Like, they're really there."

"What?" Noémi asked, feeling something gathering in her stomach that was strangely close to fear.

"I see kids who can talk to them, have the power to control them," Luc continued, finally glancing up at his sister and talking far too fast, "I see them and and it just makes me want to—"

"Luc," Noémi interrupted suddenly, her skin breaking out in goosebumps all over. She knew her brother could be a bit of an oddball at times, but for some reason, his words now were giving her chills, and she didn't like it at all. "Luc, Digimon isn't real. It isn't. This is the real world, and you need to get your head back into it! Digimon is just a game—your dreams are only dreams!"

He looked back at her, amber eyes wide. "But what if they aren't, Noémi?" he asked softly.

Narrowing her eyes, Noémi opened her mouth to answer him.

But before she could, a sudden pillar of light burst out from the edge of the riverbank—and all at once, the world around them erupted into fog that was dense like steel.