Salva Nos
Episode 4: Spirits of the Wind
by Ajora Fravashi

Disclaimer - See the one on episode 1. I don't have time to retype it.


It had been at least two weeks since Takeru's life had turned upside down once again. Two weeks since he had gone from the life of a nomadic hunter to acting as an informant for Ichijouji Ken in his quest to find his parents. Every entry in Kai's journal tantalized him with ethereal suggestions of their location, and every contact of Kai's that talked to him gave him more to work with. While he didn't particularly like being Ken's informant, the job seemed perfectly suited to guide him further towards his goal.

The thing that struck him as weird, however, was Daisuke's willingness to go along with him regardless of the potential risk. He just didn't get it. Sure Ken offered them a place to call home in exchange for the service, but couldn't Daisuke just find some other job at the base? Why would Daisuke want to accompany him on his personal quest? Daisuke said that it was because Takeru had been nice to him and that he had more of a sense of purpose than most people nowadays. It still didn't make much sense to Takeru, but maybe that was just the kind of person Daisuke was. At least they got along reasonably well.

A sigh escaped Takeru's lips as he rotated their supper over the fire. It was a rather large salmon that Patamon had wrestled out of the nearby river in a manner that would have been reminiscent of bears had Patamon been larger. But Patamon was proud of himself, and the praise that followed was well-deserved. Daisuke voiced minor complaints about having to cover up the rover with branches, but Takeru didn't pay them too much attention. His mind was on other things.

There were an awful lot of people wanting to change the world. Takato did so by making himself a hero and inspiring others to follow in his footsteps, and Takeru had little doubt that Takato would return to his chosen vocation the moment he healed. Ken planned to do so when "the time is right," whenever that was, and he could introduce order to the world again. Ruki, in her own way, was doing her part by giving former school nerds room to grow intellectually and work out the mysterious technology of the old world. Yamato's dream was to bring back music, and he was quite successful at it. Even further back, there had been the Ainu tribes that brought themselves back from the edge of extinction to introduce ways of hunting and growing food that didn't need a gun or electricity.

There were so many powers at work, great and small, that Takeru wondered where his place in the big picture was. Was he simply another of Ken's pawns, one that wouldn't even be a footnote in the history books? Not that it mattered much, since all he really wanted was to find his parents again. Obscurity wasn't all that bad if he had his parents with him.

He looked up when Daisuke had thrown down the last handful of branches in mock disgust. The shorter man sat and eyed the salmon appreciatively. "That's a really nice catch there. Should go great with the rice."

"Rice is in that pot," Takeru said as he gestured to the pot that had been set aside to cool. "Nice thing about working for Ken..."

Daisuke grinned as he began shovelling rice onto his plate. "Military- issue mess kit, food, a land rover and gas for it, and nice soft mattresses waiting of us between missions. Man, we practically live like kings."

"Isn't it funny? When I was a kid, I'd call this 'roughing it' and whine to Yamato about wanting to go home. Now, well..." Takeru felt it was better to leave the rest of the sentence unspoken, but he wasn't too surprised when Daisuke decided to follow up on it regardless.

"Now we know we had it good." Daisuke paused to add flakes of dried seaweed to his rice. "This is a damn sight better than having to scavenge for canned food and finding some hole to curl up in for the night."

Takeru nodded silently as he removed the fish from the spit for slicing into bite-sized chunks. He didn't want to mention that he had been lucky enough to run into the Ainu early on and was taught to hunt when he reached his tenth year. From what he could tell of Daisuke's behaviors at times and the occasional hints dropped, his friend hadn't been so fortunate. Maybe once Ken trusted them enough to let Daisuke meet and bond with a digimon, he could teach Daisuke how to hunt. Having to scavenge was no way to live.

Once Patamon returned with some freshly cleaned green onions, the trio ate in companionable silence. Their personal nightly rituals followed soon afterwards, and sleep came when conversations wound down. It was a familiar pattern of late, and none of them expected any different.

In the small hours of the morning, the inattentiveness would be rewarded with a theft. Shadows hid the figure well, and the light of the moon and stars were just enough for the figure to recognize what it needed. It slipped to the rover's side with the grace of a master of the art of theft. There was little more than the creaking of hinges as the figure opened the gas tank's lid and carefully lowered a hose into the tank. With just a bit of encouragement by way of a hand pump, gasoline was siphoned from the tank to the glass jar the figure brought along. And, had Daisuke not been awoken by a nightmare, the figure would have gotten away with the theft.

The only reason Daisuke knew to check on the rover was because he heard liquid being poured into something. He moved with the silence of one well-practiced in sneaking around others, and the thief was so fixated on stealing their gasoline that she didn't notice Daisuke until it was too late. When Daisuke tackled the thief, she let out a startled yelp and tried to struggle away from him. Though he was the stronger of the two, he was caught off guard when he finally caught a view of her face. Something struck him as familiar about her, but he couldn't quite put a finger on why she was familiar. His hold slackened enough for the woman to break away and run. Puzzled, Daisuke could only stare after her.


The day was slightly overcast in the suburbs of the once-great city of Nagoya, but spirits seemed to be high in the residents. Mention of an upcoming festival kept being tossed about by the locals. Daisuke was thrilled by the prospect, and this was because they were both sorely in need of a good party and Iwakuni wasn't exactly the most exciting place to be. And, while the gasoline theft put a damper on Takeru's own mood, he had a good reason to look forward to meeting the next contact on Kai's list. Patamon, when he was told whom they were going to meet, crowed in joy and insisted on coming along this time. He didn't even mind being stuffed in a backpack.

The trio made their way to what was once a bar that offered such Western-style entertainment as darts and billiards. The sign had since been painted over, so whatever it was called before, they didn't know. People socialized around billiard tables, dart boards, and roulettes with drinks in hand. And, oddly enough, both barkeepers were familiar to Takeru.

The blonde barkeeper he remembered from Osaba, and he couldn't imagine why she was here instead of the Osaba bar. He had only spoken to her in passing and never once thought she'd have any connection to this place's owner. The owner himself was a childhood friend, and Takeru recognized that shock of spiky red hair anywhere.

"Koushiro! How's it going?"

Izumi Koushiro blinked up at Takeru from a battered old paper notebook and dropped his pencil in surprise when he recognized who was calling out to him. He waved his old childhood friend over to the bar.

It was when he got a good look at the bar itself that Takeru's jaw dropped. Spread out behind the bar, where liquor bottles were normally displayed, was a huge map of Japan glued onto a cork board that had been nailed to the shelves. Perhaps hundreds of tiny pins stuck strips of paper to the map, and on each strip was a name and date. He had no idea Koushiro had something like this.

"Like it?" Koushiro looked particularly proud of his map. "So many people started coming in when I staked this place out that I decided to start it up. This place was a nexus of information once you got truth out of the rumors people spread. Since there are no phones anymore, this helps me keep people in touch with each other or help them find someone they're looking for. Primitive version of the Internet, but it works. One can of food gets you a pin on the map for half a year; a CD-Rom, DVD, or ten thousand yen gets you a year. Bring me a computer or fifty thousand yen and you get five years."

"But dude, what do you need those for? Money's useless and you need electricity to run a computer," Daisuke blurted out. As awesome as the map was, he didn't understand why this guy Takeru knew would want things no one could use anymore.

Koushiro eyed Daisuke curiously before returning his attention to Takeru. "Friend of yours?"

"Yeah. He knows about our... er... special friends." Takeru mentally kicked himself for the poor attempt at being subtle. "Special friends," indeed. He should probably change the subject. "Say, where are our old club members, anyway?"

Koushiro's dark eyes twinkled in amusement at the subject change and dug out a lecture pointer. Once it was extended, he tapped it once on each location as he explained. "Well, most of us wander a lot, but the Yagamis usually settle down in Suzu in the winters and Jou tends to stick to that cabin of his outside Osaka when he's tired of house calls. Mimi lives in the Niigata region, and I hear she settled down because she has a kid now. No one knows who the father is and she won't tell us. When Yamato's not touring, he spends his time in Yokohama. I don't know exactly where Sora is, but I have ways of contacting her. But you, Takeru, you've been a problem."

It took a moment for it all to sink in. Mimi had a kid? She never seemed the type to be interested in breeding. Takeru wondered faintly who had knocked her up, but if Koushiro didn't know, it probably wasn't anyone in their group. And he wanted to bring up where he could be reached from now on, but he would need privacy. "Hey, is there a quiet place we can talk around here?"

The hall's owner gave a brief nod and called out to his companion, who was pointedly acting as if she wasn't listening in on them. She tucked away a perfectly clean beer mug and washcloth before giving her employer an innocent look.

"Orimoto, can you keep an eye on business for a bit," Koushiro asked. "My friend and I need to get reacquainted."

"Volentieri, Izumi." The woman grinned as Daisuke's eyes widened and darted from her to Koushiro.

"What the... But..."

"Oh, excuse my manners." Koushiro gave a formal bow, but it was clear he enjoyed the confusion as much as the blonde woman seemed to. "I'm Izumi Koushiro, and this is Orimoto Izumi. It seems your friend knows Orimoto personally, Takeru."

"We met in Osaba, but I never picked up her name," Takeru admitted with a slightly sheepish tone. "Daisuke stuck around longer than I did."

"And he was much better company." Orimoto Izumi's grin took on a decidedly impish aspect. "Now hurry along. I can take care of things for the time being."

Izumi Koushiro mouthed a silent "thank you" to her before escorting Takeru to a door that led to a flight of stairs. Daisuke, though he was torn between curiosity and wanting to ask Orimoto Izumi why she was here, opted for the path of least annoyance for everyone: he stayed with the woman as Takeru and Koushiro went upstairs.

An apartment had been built above the bar and gaming hall. The door was locked, but Koushiro seemed to have procured the keys from what was probably the previous owner's pockets. When opened, the door revealed a common room littered with computer systems, wires, and some odd device connected to car batteries that Takeru suspected Koushiro got his electricity from. Once they were in the safety of the living room and the door was locked again behind them, Takeru set down the backpack carefully to let out Patamon. Patamon cheered happily and began flapping in circles around their heads until he ran out of air and settled on his usual perch.

"Koushiro! It's been so long! How are you and Tentomon? Where is Tentomon?"

Koushiro couldn't help but chuckle at Patamon's exuberance. Some things never changed. "He's probably napping in the bedroom. And we're doing fine."

"You're doing fine," a familiar voice seemed to buzz from the kitchen. Tentomon flew out and into the living room. When he spoke again, his tone was dry, almost teasing. "I'm the one who has to be hooked up to the batteries every morning."

"You said it just tickled." When Tentomon said nothing and was then distracted by Patamon tackling him, Koushiro returned his attention to Takeru. "You're in deep, aren't you?"

Takeru blinked blankly at that. "What do you mean?"

"You could have told me that you were fully nomadic and left it at that, but if you want to talk in private, you're living someplace you can't or don't want to reveal to the world. Chances are that you don't want to be found and I can't stick you on the map."

Trust Koushiro to figure it out before he even said anything. "I'm living in the same place as Sora. Can't give away more than that unless you want to come back with us and join up. I wasn't told to recruit anyone yet, but Sora and I can probably talk our boss into letting you in," he ended on a cautiously optimistic note. Though Takeru hadn't really thought about what he said, in retrospect it seemed like a good idea. Iwakuni Base could probably do well with Koushiro's skills, and it would be nice to have another member of the old group there.

Dark, calculating eyes studied Takeru carefully for a minute. When it seemed that Koushiro was satisfied with his examination, he responded. "Normally I'd say I would need more information before coming to a decision, but I have a place here. Who will take care of my map when I'm gone and keep the system running? Izumi would be a logical choice, but she'll pack up and leave when she gets bored. The moment I'm gone, some brute would probably lay claims on this place and throw out all my work. Sorry, Takeru, but I can't. Every pin on that map is someone who came by here trying to find siblings and friends."

"Understood. Well, if you can contact with Sora, she'll be able to get word to me."

A hint of a smile tugged at Koushiro's lips. "It's harder than it should be, actually. We used to just send our digimon to pass on messages, but about seven years ago we had to resort to timed meetings and only Piyomon could pass messages. Something about new security measures."

Takeru suspected that was around when Jianliang became chief of security. He'd never met someone so uptight and paranoid. Maybe Jianliang acted differently off duty, but Takeru couldn't remember ever seeing the head of security off duty. "I think I know why, but..."

"But you can't tell," Koushiro said in that tone that suggested he knew more than he was letting on. "Sora said the same thing. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about in private?"

"Yeah. Have a place to sit down? This could take awhile."

Koushiro gave him a questioning look, but then escorted him from the digimon playing around the computer systems to a small dining area connected to the kitchen. There were only two chairs around a small table, but it was enough for Takeru's purpose. He pulled out Kai's journal once he was settled into a chair and flipped to the page mentioning Izumi's Gaming & Intelligence Center. "I was asked to follow my predecessor's footsteps, so I'll be asking the same questions. He mentioned here that you had information about the 'men of fire' which may be linked to Amaterasu's Cave. Can you elaborate?"

It was interesting to see any emotions shown on Koushiro's face, especially since the older man was never much for expressing himself that way to begin with, but the anxiety made Takeru wonder about the subject. "How much do you know of them?"

"Not much," Takeru admitted. "Just bits and pieces of rumors."

The older man sighed and settled into the other chair before explaining. "They come in the night, usually in clusters of five, and lay waste to entire settlements. Adults, children, or livestock, it doesn't matter to them. Some people think they're just gangs out to cause trouble, like those pureblood groups. But then I started studying their patterns of movement. The major sightings have been in Tokyo, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Aomori, and Fukushima. However, they don't seem to target the cities themselves. It's the settlements they burn. The reports I get suggest that their strikes are within days or even hours of each other. That's the clincher."


"Yes." Though there was a frown on Koushiro's face as he spoke, there was also a glimmer of morbid fascination in his eyes. "The rumors and reports don't take related accounts into consideration, but look at them from a distance. Look at the big picture. Their attacks were well-coordinated even though they happened within a very close timeframe of each other. Take, for example, the winter burning of Aomori, Tokyo, and Fukuoka. They all happened within several hours of each other, despite such vast distances. This suggests that they either had radio to contact each other, or planes. I'd wager on radio, personally."

Takeru's mind tried to wrap itself around the suggestion. Radio meant military power like Iwakuni's. But why would someone with that kind of power want to burn the cities? Cities were useless nowadays. You couldn't grow crops in them or feed livestock on cement, and the few who did remain in cities usually claimed the parks for themselves. The settlements on the outskirts of cities were hardly a threat to anyone, especially if that someone had the military might of Iwakuni Base. "Do you have any idea why? Or what they look like?"

"Have you heard the rumors that the government is trying to come back?"

"Yeah, but I never paid them much attention. It's up there with the rumors of the dead coming back for their kids, and with about as much evidence," Takeru muttered. He always figured they were all just wishes for stability to return.

"In every rumor there's a seed of truth." Much to Takeru's displeasure, Koushiro's voice dropped into lecture mode. "People are ultimately selfish, Takeru, especially if they're politicians. Politicians are typically a patient lot, and if they have to wait a decade or two to come back into power, they will. What I believe is that they're holed up somewhere, just waiting for the right time to draw out of their hiding places and restore the old world. I also believe that these men of fire are agents for them. I'm still working out a hypothesis about why they're burning settlements, however. I suspect that it's related to the virus that killed the adults."

"How did you come to that conclusion?"

"Well, diseases don't really die. They can remain dormant for years and spring up again. They can mutate to better suit themselves. That's why there will never be a cure for the common cold. The best we could have hoped for was a vaccine, but everyone died too quickly back then. Now then, I know that remembering the past is painful, but do you remember when the virus turned into an epidemic?"

Takeru winced at the unpleasant imagery that invoked. He remembered the news reports. "They started burning dead bodies to keep the infection contained until there were too many bodies and not enough adults to move them." But it didn't work. The incubation period was nearly impossible to detect, and when the signs finally appeared, the victim was dead within a day or two. We never had a chance.

"I think that's why these men of fire are out there now. One of the guys I talked to drew up a sketch of what they looked like: men in silver suits and cowls with clear plastic faceplates. They carried flamethrowers on their backs. When my informant drew up the symbol they had on their attire, I... there are times when I hate being right. The symbol is the one used to warn people about biological hazards. The conclusion I came to is that either the virus is back but moves slowly because few people have quick modes of transportation anymore, or someone well-connected made a vaccine and screwed it up. However, because of the lack of facts, I'll have to reserve opinion until something more concrete comes along. That was what I told Kai."

There was little else Takeru could do but remain silent as he mulled over Koushiro's revelations. The implications alone would have been enough to floor him a few weeks ago, but now he had to wonder: how much more didn't he know of what was going on in the world? How many other details had he ignored in his quest? But then again, Koushiro had always been the logical one and picking out patterns where others only saw chaos was his specialty. That was somewhat reassuring.

The discussions that followed afterwards were of far less importance. They caught up on what had happened to them in the years following the Apocalypse, and recounted memories of the Digital World. During this, Koushiro brought up his own theories about the Digital World's current state. It would have been all too easy for someone to take over in the ensuing chaos, but they weren't entirely sure that there was much to take over anymore. Even with Koushiro's numerous attempts to contact Gennai (all ending in failure), there wasn't much information to work with. The only conclusion they could come to was that whatever had happened to the Digital World wasn't drastic enough to affect the real world as it had during the events of 1999. Nevertheless, there was nothing more they could do but wait.

Takeru had gotten very good at waiting.


All things considered, Daisuke could think of much less pleasant people to be around. Orimoto Izumi was friendly (if just a bit guarded about more personal matters), cute, and she definitely had a way with mixing drinks. She also had the neatest stories of Italy and didn't seem to mind telling them to him. The only problem with any fanciful thoughts he may have harbored was that she liked being nomadic and didn't enjoy staying in one place for long. She came by this place every few months or so to gather news and help Koushiro with his bar during festival season, but ultimately there was little rhyme or reason to her visitations. Ah well, she'd make a good friend.

Amazingly enough, there was a lot of common ground to cover between them, due in part to their lifestyles. Oh, you were there for Rieko's violin concert too? Wasn't it great? How about the Teenage Wolves? Yeah, Yamato really has gotten odd lately but his music is better. Oh! remember when the Ainu had that festival up near Aomori? Wasn't the food just perfect? Sorry, I didn't get as far as Okinawa, but is it true that the Okinawans are raising sugarcane crops again...

They were interrupted every now and then by someone ordering a beer or two, but it wasn't until Daisuke was midway through his tale of wandering in the Ainu territories (Izumi had never been to the Ainu heartland!) that someone came up for business of another kind. Daisuke returned to his long-forgotten drink as he let Izumi take care of things.

"My sister and I would like to be taken off the map, please," the bespectacled woman with short, strawberry-blonde hair said with all the airs of someone who would really rather be elsewhere. "We're going on a very long trip and it's likely that we won't return for at least a year."

Izumi pulled out what was apparently the logbook and a pencil. "Names?"

"Inoue Miyako and Chizuru," the other, probably the younger sister, muttered as her eyes kept darting around the bar. Daisuke wondered at that behavior, but what nagged at him more was that she was somehow familiar. Where had he seen the long purple hair and glasses that were too large for her face?

Izumi turned briefly to take down their pin before scribbling a notation in the logbook. When that was complete, she flipped through a few pages to read some lines. "It says here you have another sister living out near Gifu. Would you like a message sent to her?"

The older sister looked cautiously hopeful. "If it's no trouble."

"None at all." Izumi looked up from the logbook to give them a quick smile. "Gifu's an old haunt of mine. Since I'll be leaving after the festival, I can deliver it myself."

There was rustling as Izumi dug out a yellowing old stationary set, and a few clacks when she placed an inkwell, brush, stamp, and sealing wax on the bar. The older sister thanked her and began the task of writing out a letter. Daisuke didn't pay this too much attention, puzzled as he was by the younger sister. She didn't look comfortable at all with being there, as if...

As if she was guilty of something.

Rather than make a scene about it, Daisuke grabbed her arm and proceeded to yank her over to a lonely corner. He would have, anyway, if she hadn't-

The first things that registered in his mind was a loud smack and the hot sting on his cheek. So much for trying not to make a scene. "Let go of me, you pervert!"

"Hey listen, lady," he hissed as he released her arm to tenderly touch his cheek and make sure she hadn't broken skin or anything. "I've seen you before."

The woman's brown eyes narrowed suspiciously at him. "I'm not returning it."

Daisuke blinked blankly for a bit before he finally connected the dots. She was the thief? Well, okay, that made sense considering her discomfort with being here, but still... "I don't care about the gas."

It was her turn to watch him quizzically. "Then what the hell is this all about?"

"I remember you," Daisuke began with some apprehension over the upcoming subject matter. "From before the... before then. Did you ever live in Odaiba?"

"Yeah, my family owned a convenience store there-"

"Ai-mart. My sister used to go there sometimes to visit her friend. Momo? Momoko? Midori?"

"Momoe." The woman's gaze was somewhat distant as she fought to remember the years so many others had forgotten. "She didn't have a lot of friends, but her best friend was this one girl... I forgot her name though. She had a little brother around my age, but I only saw him once or twice in passing."

Daisuke couldn't help but grin at that. "You know how older sisters are. You'd think dragging their kid siblings around was worse than having the parents show potential boyfriends their baby pictures."

"Like we could make them look any more dorky." The woman giggled for a moment. When it tapered off, she cleared her throat and stuck her right hand out to him. "Since we've never been formally introduced: Hi, I'm Miyako."

He took the hand with gusto and shook it a few times. As much as he disliked remembering the past, some things weren't so bad. "Hey there, Miyako. Most people call me Daisuke, but my sister sometimes likes to call me a pain in the ass."

Miyako smiled slightly at that as she withdrew her hand. "Yeah, my sisters call me that too. Say, since it's my last day in town, want a guide to the festival? Chizuru and I would appreciate the company."

Well then, who was Daisuke to turn down any such offer?


As the night settled in, Takeru wandered around the festival crowd. He wasn't altogether surprised that Daisuke had left a message with Izumi saying that they'd probably have to meet up at the place they hid the rover at dawn, so Takeru simply assumed that his traveling companion would probably find somewhere to sleep and chose to bunk down at Koushiro's for the night. If nothing else, Patamon loved being with a fellow digimon he'd known for so long and Koushiro's offer of supper and a spare futon couldn't be refused.

He didn't want to get into Koushiro's hair too much when the evening brought about a sizeable influx of patrons to the bar and kept both Izumis busy, so he opted to explore for a bit in the hope that high spirits would loosen some tongues and give him more information to work with. Well, maybe if he were lucky.

At one street corner was a preacher. While Takeru missed a few words due to the background noise, he could understand the gist of what the preacher was trying to say. Something about how the gods had been involved in a great war with demons and humanity had been the toll. But they haven't abandoned us, the preacher insisted, they were just weakened by the war and needed the surviving humans to remain strong so as to give them power. Rather disgusted with it all, Takeru turned away to pluck some free odangos from a merchant's stall (festival-time always meant free food) and went to what was once a suburban park to watch the dancing.

Long ago, these dancers would have been trained in the traditional arts. But, without proper training, they had adopted what they could from memories of the old world. The result was a dance that mixed elements of traditional geisha dances, Ainu ceremonial dances, kabuki theater, and whatever they could remember from the Western influences on television. The music too was a conglomeration of the cultures that had once occupied Japan in such dramatic segregation. It was rather depressing to realize that it took the downfall of the old world to finally get the people to mingle. Even then it wasn't perfect.

As Takeru watched this display by members of a new culture that rose from the old, he was too entranced to notice that he was being watched in turn.


The festival, in and of itself, had been fun for awhile until Chizuru said she wanted to go back home and rest. Daisuke would have waved them off and wished them well, but then they did something odd and offered to show Daisuke something that no one else in Japan would ever see if he was willing to go with them. With his curiosity piqued, he went along. What harm could it do?

When Miyako said she lived a bit far from the Nagoya settlement, she meant it. While the settlement was mostly clustered around the parks near Nagoya Castle and along the river, Miyako and her sister laid claims on Nagoya International Airport. Since no one was trained to fly, most people ignored the airports and left others like the Inoue sisters with a relatively quiet place in which to settle down. It could be easily defended if necessary.

They passed the terminal completely and walked out to tarmac, where a number of jets sat uselessly, rendered decrepit by the passage of time and lack of maintenance. But, hidden behind the larger air buses and commercial passenger planes was a smaller and well cared-for private jet.

"Yeah, it's not the best thing ever, but it's home," Miyako said as she and her sister passed by him to tug at the hatch. It opened out and allowed them to climb in. "Meet our baby, the Raytheon Hawker 1000. We call him Horus."

Daisuke paused in surprise as he noticed the crates of gasoline tanks stacked together and strapped along the sides of the jet's interior for a third of its length. The stacks began after the tiny beds bolted where there would normally be passenger seats and ended at the door to the lavatory. "So that's why you took the gas."

"Bingo. It's not aviation quality and we've had to add some other materials so the engines can process it, but it'll serve its purpose. And no, we're still not giving it back."

He gave a shrug at that. It really wasn't his gas and the only repercussions to be had would come from Jianliang. He had faced worse than Iwakuni's head of security before. "Doesn't matter. The way I see it, everything we have was taken from the remains of the old world. We don't really own any of it and it's not right to pretend we do."

"That's an interesting view to have. Refreshingly honest too," Chizuru said as she stepped into the cockpit. "Miyako, would you be a dear and explain to our guest what we're planning?"

"Sure." Miyako took a seat on one of the meticulously-made beds and gestured for Daisuke to do the same. Once he followed suit, she began in earnest. "Before all the adults died, my siblings and I were in Nagoya to visit with our aunt and uncle. This jet was theirs, by the way. When they and Mantarou died, we stayed together with the jet for awhile. Couldn't fend off all the scavengers who were hunting down fuel, but we discouraged most of them. Chizuru and Momoe went to work in the rice fields for awhile when I said I wanted to learn how to fly the Hawker, so I spent all my time with flight manuals and books while they brought home the food."

Chizuru returned from whatever it was she did in the cockpit to pull out a bottle of clear water from the galley's refrigerator. "We figured that if anyone had a chance to learn how to work it, Miyako did. She always was good with machines. So, we wouldn't let her have supper until she could tell us something new she learned from them." She gave her sister a puckish grin. "It worked well."

"But why would you want to learn how to fly a plane," Daisuke asked. It was a really impressive feat to learn on one's own, but there wasn't much use for them nowadays.

"That's simple." Miyako's warm brown eyes lit up with passion for the subject. "We want to find out whether or not the death toll was more or less severe in other countries than it was here. What if other countries got back on their feet faster? What would it be like on the other side of the Pacific, or even in Britain? Do they wonder about us the way we wonder about them?"

Chizuru offered both of them a glass of water, and Daisuke was struck by how cool and refreshing it tasted. Wow, he hadn't had anything from a working refrigerator for ages. "Miyako and I kept wondering about that for ages. I took to learning English, Spanish, and navigation while Miyako stuck to the technicalities so that hopefully we'd be able to contact and talk to people. It's a pity Momoe didn't want to go on with it after awhile."

Miyako took a sip of water before responding in a rather sympathetic tone of voice. "She's in love with Japan. The rest of the world doesn't interest her. She would have been miserable on the trip and she knew it."

There was a slight frown on Chizuru's face, as if it had been a subject of long contention. "Well, I hope she's happy in Gifu. Anyway, when we scavenged all the aviation fuel we could from the other planes, we didn't have enough for the trip we planned, so Miyako took to ste-"

"Borrowing," the younger woman interjected.

"Right. She took to 'borrowing' gas from others. I am sorry that you were caught up in it, but we need enough to make it to the American continent and back again. The last batch Miyako got topped off the last of the reserve tanks and we're ready to go at dawn."

Daisuke's glance shifted from one sister to the other. "Wait, don't you need practice or something?"

"You've been at Izumi's, right?" Before Daisuke could respond, Miyako continued with a sort of twinkle in her eye that he couldn't quite define. "Have you ever wondered why he asks for computer parts no one has any use for?"

His memory passed briefly over his encounter with the red-haired barkeeper. "Well, yeah, but Takeru changed the subject before Koushiro could answer me. I thought maybe he was just one of those conspiracy theorists who think the government's coming back and he just wants a leg up in case it does."

"Oh, that's why he wants the money, but not the computer parts. I'd ask you to promise not to tell anyone what I've told you, but I don't think that would be an issue. Your blond friend has one too. I saw it when I paid your rover a visit." Now he could define the twinkle: secret amusement.

"One what?" Daisuke wondered at that. Could she mean-

"Digimon. Koushiro's digimon is Tentomon, an insect type that seems to be able to generate electrical power. When I told Koushiro my theory about why he was collecting things that had no use to anyone without electricity anymore, we exchanged secrets. Our plan to fly to America for how he got his electricity." Miyako smiled then, and he couldn't help but notice that she was rather pretty when she smiled. He firmly shoved that thought to the back of his mind as she continued her story. "Then he did the best thing any outsider had done for us: he let me use his computers each night and collected flight simulators for me. I know flying for real will be very different from a simulator, but it helped a lot. Chizuru took some time to train on them too so she could be the co-pilot."

The elder sister's smile echoed the younger's. "And he even went so far as to come by for a few nights to help us program the autopilot's flightpath."

Interesting as this all was, Daisuke couldn't help but wonder why they brought him here. There were certain signs one made nowadays that illustrated sexual intent, but none of them were used so the sisters didn't seem to want that from him. He was being treated like a guest, so they didn't seem to mean him any harm. He had to ask. "Well, this is cool and all, but why did you want to bring me?"

"That's simple," Chizuru stated as she picked up their empty glasses and returned them to the nearby galley. "We want a witness and Koushiro was just too involved. We were going to choose someone from the festival, but figured that you would probably serve that purpose best since you look like the type to travel a lot. When we saw you in the bar talking to Izumi, it just clicked that you'd be perfect. That Miyako had stolen gas from you was sheer coincidence."

He wondered vaguely when the sisters had talked about this behind his back, but figured they had their own ways of silent communication that were alien to anyone else. Siblings often had that sort of thing going on. He just never did because he and Jun were more for telling each other things outright than doing anything that could be misinterpreted. It was all too easy to misinterpret things that were left unspoken.

In the end, he agreed to be their witness and share their story with as many people as he could. It was a good story, and better than the wild rumors barflies usually spun because it was true.


The late-night partying that usually followed festivals didn't end until well into the small hours of the morning. Takeru and the Izumis turned in around midnight, with Tentomon taking up guard duty in case any of the drunks managed to break past the bar's locked doors. Patamon took advantage of the opportunity to be with his own kind and joined Tentomon so they could talk about things only other digimon could really understand. Orimoto laid claims on Koushiro's guestroom, so Takeru was stuck with sleeping in the fold-out futon/couch that occupied the common room. He didn't mind it too much, and it did feel very nice compared to the nights he'd slept with only a sleeping bag between himself and the hard ground. He was out like a light as soon as he settled in.

He dreamt of a world where no one really died and everyone was reborn. He dreamt of a brightly-colored and cushioned ground, of Elecmon and Patamon tending to the babies in their cribs. He was eight years old again, and building a castle out of painted blocks that came in various shapes was the most interesting thing in the world to him. Triangle goes on top of the cylinder to make a tower. This was his world, and he was content.

Another little boy came up to him when he was setting the rectangle blocks sideways to make castle walls. The boy, an unfamiliar figure with dark hair and violet eyes, sat to watch him build. Then, with a bit of encouragement, the boy picked up a cube and placed it inside his castle walls. They built the castle together, in a kind of harmony that didn't need words. It was peaceful and quiet until-

"Once upon a time there was a goddess," the other boy began, picking up a yellow crayon to hold it upright. "She was very beautiful. She was the sun, Amaterasu. One day, she got so tired of Susanowo's noisemaking that she retreated to a cave and sealed herself away." The boy placed his yellow crayon inside the castle's keep. "Without the sun, the world was sad and everything started wilting." Crayons of different colors were set up outside the castle, leaning up against the rectangle blocks so that the boy's hands were free. "So the other gods tried to get her to come out. They sang good stuff about her, but she wouldn't listen. They tried to give her presents, but she wouldn't take them. Then they got an idea. Why not show her that they were happy without her?" A white crayon was taken out this time, but the boy kept it in his hand and held it before the keep. "One of them started to dance and the others laughed. The laughing got Amaterasu's attention, and she poked her head out in curiosity." The boy took the yellow crayon out of the keep and held it to the white crayon. "The gods dragged her out and made her join them again." Then the yellow and white crayons were placed with the others outside the castle.

Takeru blinked curiously at the other boy. He opened his mouth to say something, but the other boy started talking again. "But what if Amaterasu didn't want to come out of her cave? You can't force someone to do something they don't like and not get them to hate you. Couldn't the other gods just make another sun? There are plants and animals that live in total darkness."

"But we need the sun," Takeru found himself saying. "Lots of things would die without it."

"Lots of things did die without it, Takeru, but life manages. Even when it all seems hopeless, life goes on." The boy rose to his feet and turned to walk away. "Just keep in mind that you shouldn't force anyone out of hiding. Forcing things like that leads to explosive results. Very explosive."

Takeru called out after the boy in an effort to get him to come back and explain, but the boy and the little green digimon that joined him soon disappeared from view. With a sigh, Takeru too rose to his feet. When he looked down for a last look at their castle, he found that it had collapsed upon itself. How-

"Takeru! Wake up!"

Someone was shaking his shoulder urgently. He cracked open an eye to take in his surroundings and attempt to figure out why he was being awoken. Moonlight that only faintly illuminated the sharp outlines of inorganic machines suggested that he wasn't in his usual environment. He could just barely make out Koushiro's features in the dark. The thinly-veiled fear in his friend's face was enough to set off a few alarm bells in his head and he forced himself to wake completely.

"I'm not a very good shot," Koushiro said as Takeru started pulling himself out of bed and threw on some clothes. "So when you're ready, I want you to take my rifle as a precaution."

Once Takeru had his clothes on, he found a semi-automatic rifle pressed into his hands. "Er, what's going on?"

"Tentomon and Patamon saw a group of five people break in and sneaked up to warn me. They would have attacked, but-" Koushiro paused to take a deep breath and calm himself. "They're the men of fire, Takeru. One badly aimed Petite Thunder and this place would go up in flames. There's a fire escape accessible the kitchen, we can take that to get out of the building and lure them to a place where Tentomon and Patamon can attack. Orimoto's on her way down."

No more encouragement was necessary for Takeru. He and Koushiro ran to the kitchen and out the sliding doors that led to a small landing and stairs. Orimoto waved at them from the alley between buildings, with Tentomon and Patamon in her company. She had her own sidearm from the looks of it, and the moment they reached her, she released the safety lock. "Buon giorno," she whispered, her green eyes alight with the thrill of the chase. "Hope you're all ready to go."

"Lead them to the airport." Koushiro's voice was so soft that it was just barely understandable. "Nothing grows out on the tarmac and the only people who live there are just far enough away north that nothing they have will catch fire. I'll stay just long enough to make sure the map is okay and follow you. Tentomon, go with them."

They all gave slight nods in agreement and rushed out in front of the bar. Orimoto fired off a shot that was angled to merely nick the brick wall, but the noise was enough to grab the invaders' attention. They waited long enough for the invaders to catch view of them, then ran with Orimoto in the lead, Tentomon guarding the rear, and Patamon clinging to Takeru's hair and shirt. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he considered it a miracle that he didn't have any bald spots.

Something nagged at the back of Takeru's mind as they raced to the airport. Why were these men of fire targeting Koushiro's bar? Didn't they target entire settlements instead of one person? There had to be a reason-

"Never tell." The memory of Takato's voice came, unbidden, while he was toying with the subject and following Orimoto's lead. "The men of fire will come to get us."

Takato must have known about them. Koushiro did know about them. But perhaps neither were a threat to whatever powers were behind them. Most people thought Takato was crazy, and Koushiro wasn't likely to spread information about them until he had all the facts. But if they did perceive Takeru as a threat, what had he done? What did they think he would do?

They came upon the decrepit airport as the sky began lightening with the yet-unseen rays of the rising sun. Shelter was found behind the landing gears of a decaying old air bus, and they waited.

"Our orders said nothing about chasing kids," a rough-hewn voice groused through some sort of air filter in his suit. "This is stupid."

"No one is supposed to know about us," said another as the group passed by. This voice was female. "We eliminate those that do know about us or render them incapable of sharing their information. Let's just kill them and go home. They're just kids. Disposable."

Takeru glanced at Orimoto and Tentomon, who were hiding behind the landing gear closest to the group. She glared back, as if what they said had angered her. Then, as he thought about it, he realized that they may have been more responsible for what happened to traumatize Takato than he had previously suspected.

"We should've gotten rid of that one kid when we had the chance," a third muttered dourly. "If he retained any information about the base, being crazy wouldn't stop someone from taking him seriously. Want to bet that virologist just let him go? Kids stick up for each other when they have a good enough reason."

They were responsible for Takato. He recalled the terror in Takato's eyes when he had asked about Amaterasu's Cave, and how Yuuji once treated the man for taking on an alternative personality to cope with whatever had happened there. He had little idea of what really happened to Takato there, but that these men of fire might have been responsible and had even said that people like Takato were disposable... That kids were disposable...

There were times when Takeru could see nothing but red, when the world fell away and he had to destroy a great evil so that no one else would be hurt. This was one of those times.

"... One badly aimed Petite Thunder and this place would go up in flames..."

The invaders in their silver suits stopped and turned when they heard the dulled clap of hiking boots on asphalt. They might have wondered why there was a very strange creature pulling furtively at the young man's shirt and why it was ignored, but that was wholly unimportant when the young man was bearing upon them with a rifle. He stopped just out of range of their flamethrowers and took aim.


For the first time in fifteen years, an aircraft began rolling out the tarmac and bore down upon the runway. Daisuke cheerfully flailed his arms in hopes that the Inoue sisters could see that he was there and still watching. Horus began accelerating on his wheels, then almost hopping as he caught enough speed to take off. With the first rays of the rising sun, he took to the air. The ascent was as graceful as it would have been under the hands of truly experienced pilots. Even though Daisuke hadn't known the sisters too well, he was proud of them. Not everyone could master old world technology with no teachers but books and simulators.

It was when the engine noise faded into the distance that Daisuke smelled something that most certainly was not jet exhaust. Something was burning. Flesh. His good mood took a nose-dive as he looked around to find the source of the smell. The oily black smoke that was far too reminiscent of the last days of the Apocalypse rose from someplace to the south, near the air buses. Whatever had happened, it must have been while he was out near the runway and waving to the Inoues, and the engine noise would have easily masked any explosion. Were there any survivors, he would have to get there fast.

Daisuke had run out to the tarmac and followed the pillar of smoke until the sight of burning bodies made him slow down. His pace slowed to a tentative walk when he spied familiar figures near an air bus. Orimoto Izumi had her eyes fixed on Takeru, as if she couldn't quite tell what she was looking at. Izumi Koushiro was sitting next to a huddled Takeru and whispering something that Daisuke was too far away to hear. A giant insect (Tentomon?) and Patamon looked as if they were trying to reassure Takeru. Takeru himself was staring into the fire.

"What the hell happened," Daisuke couldn't help but blurt out. Really, he had been gone for a night and all hell had broken loose!

Orimoto Izumi looked up, and appeared almost grateful for the intervention. She hesitated for a moment and glanced back at Koushiro, who only gave a slight nod. Once she had taken a deep breath, she turned her back to the burning bodies to talk to Daisuke. Her voice was kept steady despite the visible strain on her face as she fought to maintain that stability, and she told him about the events of the night. She told him Koushiro's theory about the men of fire, the break-in at the bar and the chase to the airport, then about how Takeru had faced them, said that what he was doing was for Takato and all the lives they'd taken, and aimed at the flamethrower tanks.

That was what stunned Daisuke. Couldn't Takeru just disable them or something? A good shot to the arm would keep them from firing back, but at least they'd still be alive. It was... Just... He never thought Takeru had it in him. Maybe Takeru had acted without thinking? Daisuke did that all the time, but at least he never hurt anyone in the process and he certainly hadn't killed anyone.

Let alone five people.

With a sigh, Daisuke scrubbed his face with a palm as he tried to figure out what to do. While he wasn't very good with people, he could at least try. From the looks of it, Takeru hadn't really expected to kill five people either. Maybe that was something he could work with.

"Hey Takeru?" Daisuke frowned when he realized that no response was forthcoming. "Why?" Still no response, and Koushiro was giving him an inquisitive look now. "I mean dude, if you wanted a barbecue, we could have gotten an ox or something." Takeru's eyes looked as if they were starting to regain focus or something. "No offense man, but barbecuing people went out a long time ago." Now Takeru started glaring daggers at him. Great! "I think that's because there's so much bad stuff in humans that we taste horrible. Yeah, you're better off with an ox."

"Daisuke," the other man ground out from between clenched teeth, "shut up. You're not being funny."

A quirky grin appeared on Daisuke's face, despite his attempt to suppress it. "Well yeah, genius. I wasn't trying to be. I was trying to get you out of 'woe is me' mode."

Takeru stared at him in an attempt to figure out what he was going on about, then sighed and brought himself to his feet. "Good job on that, at least."

"Great. Now can we get away from here? I have the coolest story to tell you all, and it's better told somewhere with clean air and seats that aren't so hard." Daisuke gave his friend a quick pat on the shoulder and led the way away from the fire. He could talk to Takeru later and learn what had really gone on, but now he just needed to get away from here.



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