Episode 10: City Of The Fireflies
by Ajora Fravashi
Disclaimer - See the one on episode 1. I don't have time to retype it.
At times Ken wondered at whether or not it was all calculated in
advanced. Shaochung was mischievous, true, but the cunning it took to
get Naomi to craft for her a two-way radio that was linked to the
public announcement system and then wait for Ken to work out an
inspiring speech during the private meeting of close advisors was
something he would not have expected of her. Did Jianliang put her up
to this? If so, why? He knew Jianliang wasn't fond of him, so the
notion was set to the side as he mulled over other theories.
Unfortunately, the only one that made sense was that Jianliang was
somehow behind it, but any questioning was met with denial.
Intended or not, her conniving turned public opinion in his favor. The
near-attack of Amaterasu (they had since dropped the location and
chose to refer to their attackers by the name of the sun goddess)
forced everyone to realize that they couldn't hide from the outside
anymore. Despite the fact that he was acting without consulting the
council, he was too popular right now for them to call him on his
initiative. Well, most of them let it go for now, anyway. One surely
The antagonistic tension between him and Hida Iori was always there in
one form or another. Iori thought he was too opportunistic and flouted
convention when it suited him; he always thought of Iori as
hide-bound, unforgiving, and intransigent. Iori believed in strict
adherence to the letter of the law, even if the spirit was somewhat
different. Philosophical discussions usually blew up spectacularly and
either one or both of them would stalk out in a rage. It didn't
surprise Ken that Iori was being groomed to replace him by the more
extreme members of the Isolationist faction.
What did surprise him, however, was that Iori would confront him. They
mostly kept the head-butting to the meetings, but for some reason Iori
saw a need to accost him while he had his nose in a book. It was a
very good book, too.
"Ichijouji, don't you think it's time to stop acting like a child and
grow up," Iori began with just the kind of tone he always took when he
was scolding someone. It was exacerbated by the use of Ken's surname.
Few people ever used surnames nowadays.
Ken knew he was being needlessly sarcastic, but this was a man who
always got the worst reactions out of him. "That's rich coming from
someone who's younger than me. What are you here to nag to me about
The slight narrowing of green eyes suggested that his rival was
restraining himself from snapping back. "Your agents brought in a
prisoner of war, brought attention to the base, and endangered us all.
Don't you think that's a bit careless?" When Ken said nothing, Iori
continued. "And did you consult the council about a course of action?
No! You know you must consult the council before taking any
major actions that concern the base, yet you constantly ignore the
rule your own brother set to paper!"
"And my brother was a much better leader, of course." Deep inside, the
resentment welled up again. It was his inner monster, chained in
darkness and neglected until someone brought up how much better his
brother was. It then reared up and strained against his conscience.
"I would think I knew my own brother better than you or the rest of
the council ever did, and I certainly know he didn't intend for his
constitution to be followed to the letter without consideration to the
spirit of the words behind them."
"Regardless, you should stop acting as if your opinions are the only
ones that matter," Iori ground out.
Ken's voice rose in frustration. Why couldn't Iori see things
the way he did? "In the time it would have taken to alert the council,
get a meeting running and hold votes, the helicopters would have
invaded and have us all executed!"
In the midst of his own frustration, Iori's voice rose as well.
"That's not what I mean and you know it!"
Secretly satisfied that Iori allowed himself to lose ground by letting
anger take hold, Ken chose to respond calmly. "In case you've
forgotten, there's a section in the constitution saying that as duly
elected Caesar, I am allowed to make such decisions in
"Holding secret meetings with your agents instead of consulting the
council first does not fall into that ruling!" Iori scowled darkly at
him. "Didn't the idea even cross your mind?"
For the briefest moment, Ken fantasized about strangling the shorter
man. He shoved the mental image away with a grunt of disgust. "In case
you haven't been paying attention, there is a wolf out there ready to
blow our house into a pile of sticks. We can't sit with our fingers in
our ears and pretend the outside world doesn't exist. If we don't get
reinforcements, we might as well sign over every notion of personal
freedom we have."
Iori gave his own grunt of disgust at the argument. "There are options
other than fighting-"
"Pacificism isn't going to help," Ken interjected. His voice rose
again, but he no longer cared it looked like he was starting to
lose his temper. "Those people were ready to take us out if someone
hadn't killed Oikawa!"
Silence fell between them then. Iori regarded him with an expression
he couldn't quite read. Then, before it got too uncomfortable, the man
meant to be his replacement let out a small sigh. "You're hopeless if
you can see no other alternative."
"The same could be said of you," Ken retorted.
Iori said nothing after that. Ken was given one last unreadable look
before his opponent stalked away, leaving him with the vague yet
unsettling feeling that he had lost. It was ridiculous. People who
abducted innocent children, burned entire settlements, and came down
on a mostly-defenseless base with armored helicopters were not
going to agree to any treaties. He knew this. Why didn't Iori?
And how much further could he go before Iori took his place?
The agents were under new orders. When once the digimon would have
ridden with the blanket on hand in case anyone came close enough to
see them, they were now free to join their human partners in their
assignments. Ken's rationale was that people responded best to a show
of power. Iwakuni didn't have massive tanks and no one could fly the
fighter jets, but they did have digimon. The agents were to check out
other towns and settlements, offer assistance to get back on their
feet in exchange for promises to come to the aid of Iwakuni if
requested, and report back to base if there was good potential for an
alliance. They were not to mention where they were actually from until
they knew their new allies could be trusted. In the event that they
found a trustworthy ally, they would bring their ally back to base and
escort them around.
In pursuit of this new course of action, even retired agents went back
on the field. When Daisuke learned that Jun was included in this, he
fought the decision. Sure Jun was going to be with her old partner,
one Li Rinchei, and Penmon and Gazimon for company, but he insisted
that Jun stay where it was safe. Jun pointed out that "safe" was
a concept that didn't really apply to this world anymore, then Daisuke
stalked out in frustration. It was a stupid thing to argue about, but
Jun was the only family he had and he didn't want to lose her again.
"Older siblings are so pig-headed," he grumbled aloud to no one
in particular. He didn't really expect a response.
V-mon, however, thought otherwise. "But Jun's been doing this sort of
thing a lot longer than you, Dais'ke."
"Doesn't matter," he groused. "I've found her again and I don't want
to lose her. I don't care if that Rinchei guy is with her. How do we
know we can trust him? If he's anything like his little brother..."
Takeru shot him a curious glance. He hadn't bothered to get involved
in the sibling argument, but the offhand comment about one of the Li
family members caught his attention. "What do you mean?"
A corner of Daisuke's lips turned down in thought. "Remember when I
turned up in that isolation room they kept Oikawa in? And remember
just before Ken lost it and started yelling at us? Oikawa and
Jianliang looked at each other like they've met before. And it was
different from when Oikawa and Ken recognized each other, 'cause
Oikawa said nothing to Jianliang. At all. It's as if..."
"As if he's a double agent?" Takeru grimaced, but kept his eyes on the
road. "Do you have any idea how dangerous it would be if he was?"
"No shit! He knows everything about the base!" With a grimace at the
direction his thoughts were taking, Daisuke continued. "If Oikawa
hadn't been killed, do you think Jianliang would've opened the doors
for those choppers?"
For a few moments, Takeru didn't respond. When he did, it was with
some hesitation. "I don't know. Ken's smart and I'm sure he wouldn't
have kept Jianliang on if he was that much of a danger."
Daisuke offered no response. He wanted to believe that Ken was
"This probably sounds like it's out of nowhere, but Jianliang and I
had a conversation once. Sort of." Takeru's brows furrowed slightly in
the effort to recall the exact words. "He said that there are greater
powers out there than we know of, and he's trying to keep Ken in power
because he has to protect the base at all cost."
"What do you think?"
"I think that, if Jianliang is a double agent, he's not working for
Amaterasu. Where would he find the time to do his job at the base
and play double agent?" Takeru took a moment to pause and
arrange the rest of his thoughts in order. "According to Sora, he came
to the base ten years ago, but didn't actually become head of security
until seven years ago. In the three years between, he might have run
into Oikawa. So, I don't think he's a spy. I do think he probably has
a double agent of his own."
Daisuke blinked curiously at him. He sort of vaguely remembered being
dragged to his room by an oddly familiar-looking man in Ainu garb.
Blue eyes, like the Wanderer... who spoke in riddles and called
himself "Time, unlimited." "I think I know who it might be."
"I do too. Autumn-toned Ainu robes, keeps saying 'God says' and
disappears into thin air," Takeru asked, even though he was certain of
the answer. Daisuke's nod only confirmed his suspicions. "Next time
either of us see him, we're going to hold him down until we get some
Daisuke gave his assent and fell silent. He still didn't like the
situation, but it was good to talk to someone else about what was on
his mind. It wasn't like he was good at holding things in, but he had
enough sense to realize that voicing his suspicions while he was still
in the base was likely to stir up more shit than they could deal with
at the moment. Ken already had the council to deal with and wouldn't
appreciate having to investigate an accusation of treason.
"Where are we going, Takeryu," Patamon asked cheerfully, probably in
an effort to get another conversation started.
"I had this thought," Takeru began, "that if we're to gather allies,
we should try to get the old crew together first. If I can get the
Yagamis to join us, Mimi would probably go along too. I don't know
what kind of situation Mimi is in, but the last time I saw Hikari she
had a congregation willing to follow her to the ends of the earth.
Taichi will go wherever Hikari goes, and I'm hoping that Taichi's
involvement might get Yamato's attention. If Yamato agrees, I'm
to bet he can convince some of his fans to join us."
As Patamon bubbled delightedly at the opportunity to see Tailmon
again, Daisuke stared at Takeru in surprise. For some reason it seemed
like religion was a touchy subject with Takeru, so why would he be
friends with a priestess? There were more practical things to
consider, though. "We'll still be trying to get support from people
other than your old buddies, right?" At Takeru's questioning glance,
he rushed to continue. "I mean, not that it's a bad thing, but you
shouldn't put all your eggs in one hen. Right?"
Takeru looked at him like he had grown eye stalks before responding.
"'Basket,' Daisuke. Shouldn't pull all the eggs in one basket."
"Details!" He dismissed the correction with an exaggerated wave of his
"But you're right. I thought we should seek out the old Chosen
Children, but make the proposition to the settlements along the way.
Daisuke nodded and returned to staring at the map. It wasn't their
normal pre-Apocalypse map. It had been composed of the reports from
prior agents, with New World names given in bold and Old World names
within parentheses. Raider camps were marked with red x's, independent
settlements in green, Iwakuni in blue, and uncharted territories were
shaded in with light pencil scratches. The uncharted regions were the
entirety of Hokkaido and most of the north part of the Honshu island,
as well as the Shikoku and Kyushu islands. Daisuke knew the northern
regions were Ainu territory, but who occupied the southern regions?
He'd never been down there.
"What are we closest to," Takeru asked, and effectively derailed
Daisuke's train of thought in the process.
With a hum, Daisuke scanned the map until he spotted the highway they
were on and how many days away they were from base. "Haku mountain.
Map says there's a small settlement there."
"En route to the Noto peninsula, right?"
"Yeah," Daisuke said as he folded the map back up. "What's there?"
"Hikari and Tailmon and Taichi and Agumon," Patamon chirped happily.
Takeru took a hand off the wheel to give Patamon a pat on the head.
"What he said. That's where they usually are during the spring." As a
concession to Daisuke, he added: "But we'll stop off at Haku first."
Formerly home to Hakusan National Park, the region around Haku
mountain was heavily wooded. Tree roots broke through road asphalt or
broken limbs from past storms blocked the way. More than once, Takeru
had to maneuver around particularly thick branches and broken trunks
that couldn't be dragged aside. After much effort to navigate a
highway reclaimed by the forests, they finally came to a smudge of
civilization in the wilderness.
Firefly Village was more of a politely exaggerated name for the camp.
It had once been a tourist information cabin and collection of
campsite huts, but it was now a permanent home to several dozen
people. Rusting, broken-down cars littered a parking lot that was
slowly being broken apart by saplings and younger trees. A few native
horses looked up fearlessly at the visitors before resuming their
midday snack of hay stored in an old motorcycle sidecar. As the rover
slowed to a stop, the local people drew out from their huts.
A teenage boy that seemed oddly familiar to Takeru stepped up from the
crowd. The boy wore deerskin pants and a shirt of hand-woven goathair,
but Takeru would have thought he'd remember someone dressed like that.
Give the boy a pair of torn-up jeans and a too-large cotton t-shirt
"You survived," the boy started in surprise. Takeru was ready to open
his mouth and ask, but then the boy turned to the villagers. "It's
okay! They're safe!"
At Daisuke's questioning look, Takeru took a moment to explain as
briefly as he could. "One of the survivors of Genki's
'demonstration.'" Understanding then dawned on Daisuke's face.
The boy nodded with some hesitation. "Gifu was a bad place to meet.
I'm Makoto, leatherworker. Everyone just calls me Mako, though."
"Takeru," he said as he gave a short, rather awkward bow. "And that's
Daisuke." Daisuke waved in greeting. "I'm a hunter and he just steals
my food." His companion made an indignant noise that was met with
Mako gave a slight smile at that. "My sister's a hunter too. She would
probably say the same thing."
As they talked, the crowd went back to their homes or tended to racks
of smoked fish and leather waiting to be cured. Takeru noticed, to
some surprise, someone who looked like a blacksmith working at a cold
forge. "What do you do here?"
"Survive," Mako said simply. "Sometimes we take the surpluses and
craft items to the larger towns for trade, but mostly we just go from
one day to the next. And that reminds me, you should probably go."
Daisuke's eyes stopped wandering to fix on Mako in surprise. "But why?
We can offer-"
"The raiders come here every month to make sure we fill out their
commissions. Don't get me wrong, they don't harrass us or care if we
get visitors, but if they see that truck of yours..." Mako trailed off
in a vague implication that suggested he wasn't sure what would
happen, but it was bound to be unpleasant.
Takeru glanced around for the moment to see if he could find a good
hiding place. The rover was too well cared for to be passed off for
one of the rusting vehicles and there just wasn't space in the forest
to allow for something of the rover's size to pass through without
breaking through brush.
"When are they due," Daisuke asked suddenly.
Mako shrugged. "Either tomorrow or the day after."
Daisuke caught Takeru's eyes and seemed to want to say something with
his expression. However, the only thing that came to mind for Takeru
was that maybe they should talk to someone in charge before the
raiders came. He returned his attention to Mako. "We have a
proposition for whoever's in charge."
"This place itself doesn't have a leader. We just wait for orders to
come in from the raiders and work." A sudden, almost imperceptible
gleam of mischief appeared in Mako's eyes as his voice dropped to a
whisper. "But I'll be interested in hearing it once Ai gets back."
Then, just as suddenly, Mako's voice returned to its usual pitch. "Oh,
want to come see what I've been working on?"
Takeru gave a terse nod, followed shortly by a more vocal agreement
from Daisuke. Then, much to the surprise of both nomads, Mako's gaze
focused pointedly at the rover's seats. It had been out of habit that
the digimon dived under their blanket at the last minute, but somehow
the teenaged boy must have seen them. "Bring the digimon too."
There was a marked difference between the children old enough to still
remember the old world and those who weren't more than toddlers at the
time the Apocalypse arrived. Yamato pointed it out to Takeru once, a
year or so before Takeru went on his own way. They were huddled
together at a bar with a couple of mugs of herbal tea between them.
"Look at those kids," Yamato muttered under his breath, "don't they
look different?" Takeru shot a glance at the kids Yamato mentioned.
Other than unruly hair and bright, happy grins, they looked no
different from anyone else. That was the difference, Yamato said. This
is their world. They had no real idea what things were like
before the Apocalypse. They didn't remember enough of their parents to
miss them. Their flouting of traditional social conventions would have
had the adults balking in horror. One of the kids, clearly male, wore
a skirt and feather boa. Consorting with the boy was a girl who wore
nothing but body paint and a pair of shorts. Their companions included
a couple of other boys who were a bit too affectionate with each other
and a very aggressive girl who was either trying to pick a brawl or
find someone to warm her bed for the night. None of the younger kids
cared about sexuality or gender identity. So long as they could stand
up for themselves and provide for the adopted families, they were left
well enough alone. Without the constraints of old world cultural
norms, the new world children were free to become something unique.
That seemed to be the way things were with Mako and Ai. According to
Mako, a digimon tried to take care of them when their parents died,
but because the digimon knew nothing about how to care for human
toddlers, he instead took them to a colony of macaques. For three
years the macaques took care of the twins. They picked up certain
behaviors from their monkey caretakers that weren't obvious until the
twins were together, such as social grooming (which Mako explained as
he picked through Ai's hair for leaves and twigs that might have
fallen into it during the hunt) and a more self-conscious manner of
moving around. They took care to make as little noise as possible and,
if they had the desire to, could climb trees better than normal kids.
They walked barefoot even when pressed otherwise, a trait physically
evidenced by their wide-splayed toes and calluses. After they had
reached five years of age, the digimon found a couple of Ainu-adopted
girls to take them in. They learned the language with little
difficulty, along with more human cultural characteristics, but still
fell back on macaque habits when it suited them.
And then Mako went on to pick through Daisuke's hair, much to the
others' amusement. It was a sign of acceptance, Ai reassured Daisuke.
They didn't groom other people unless they liked them and accepted
them as family. During this, Ai picked up the narrative. Yes they had
a digimon, but he didn't often come out of hiding. It wasn't as if
Impmon was shy, Ai pointed out, it was just that he didn't know quite
how to deal with humans and would rather watch from afar than get
Naturally, Takeru was perplexed. How could they have a digimon if they
hadn't ever been to the Digital World or witnessed the Vandemon attack
on Odaiba? Their digimon must have escaped the Digital World just
before the Apocalypse and the shut-down of the world's computer
systems, like Tsunomon and Poyomon had. Perhaps there were other
digimon hiding out there, watching and waiting for some sign that said
it was safe to come out.
Neither Ai or Mako knew of other digimon. The only digimon they had
ever seen other than Impmon were V-mon and Patamon, whom they had been
introduced to a few hours ago.
"There are lots of digimon where I come from," V-mon mentioned
helpfully. "They're just waiting for human partners."
Ai regarded him curiously. "Where are you from?"
"We can't give you the name," Takeru cut in before anyone else could
spill valuable information, "but we're from a place where humans and
digimon live together. What we're doing out here is trying to gather
allies to help us maintain our current freedoms and, hopefully, be
able to help you improve your own lives."
The twins' expressions were absolutely blank, as if Takeru had
suddenly dropped into a detailed lecture on particle physics. Ai was
quicker to ask for clarification. "What do you mean, 'improve our
lives'? Our lives are perfect."
That which was the strength of those who didn't know the old world was
also their greatest weakness. They didn't know things could be better
or worse. They were content living in the here and now, where
happiness was found in the simple things in life. Electricity, running
water, medicine, and other such luxuries were as much an alien concept
as socialism and totalitarianism. It was like explaining color to the
blind, but Takeru had to try. "Are you okay with having the raiders
around, or would you rather be free of them? Wouldn't being free of
them be an improvement?"
"Yes, but they live the way they're comfortable with," Mako said.
"Just like we're comfortable with the way we live. It's not our place
to dictate other people's lives."
"But don't they dictate your's?"
A slightly uncomfortable expression appeared on Mako's face as he
considered Takeru's question. "Yes, but-"
"But they don't have to," Daisuke said once he knew where Takeru was
going. He'd been around raider-dominated camps before and knew what
went on. "They can choose to live in peace like you, but they steal
from other people and repress villages like this. How much of the
local products go to them?"
"Most of them," a new voice spoke from the shadows beyond the hut's
door. When everyone turned to figure out who was speaking, a
dark-toned digimon stepped into the light. "Mako's best leathers and
Ai's best deer. They harass Katsuharu all the time to fix broken metal
"Impmon," Ai and Mako began together. "We've been over this before,"
Ai said on her own; "We don't want trouble," Mako finished off.
Impmon leaned against a doorjamb and crossed his arms, giving his
partners a cool, somewhat bored look in the process. "See, when this
sort of thing happens to digimon, they fight for their freedom."
"We're not digimon," Ai reminded her partner.
"You don't have to be," stated Daisuke, "because people fight for
their freedom all the time."
The twins' partner regarded the newcomers thoughtfully for a moment,
then: "I don't trust humans. I don't even like most humans. But
I'm tired of seeing my own partners having nowhere to call home. When
they do find a great spot, they're unwilling to fight to keep it. Help
them and we'll help you guys. Deal?"
Mako fidgeted nervously with Daisuke's hair. "But remember the last
time I challenged someone for dominance..."
Dominance was the word that alerted Takeru to the real problem.
No wonder Mako was worried. He was thinking like a monkey. Challenges
for dominance of a small colony were made by younger males to the
older males, and usually the older males were stronger and more
experienced. If a challenge failed, the younger male would be sent
away from the colony. From the way Mako was acting, he had tried it
before. Perhaps that was why he and Ai had ended up in Gifu.
"This isn't going to be a fight for dominance," Takeru pointed out as
gently as he could, "this is a fight for freedom. You won't have to
stand on your own."
Ai and Mako glanced at each other for a long, tense moment. While they
said nothing in Japanese, soft, monkey-like sounds could be heard
between them. It was not speech, per se, but it conveyed enough basic
emotion to be understood as their own brand of communication. They
ended on what sounded like a defeated tone from Mako and returned to a
more human manner of behavior.
"Tell us what to do."
Katsuharu had once been a natural-born leader. He had enough charisma
and understated strength for lesser bullies to flock under him. Then
the Apocalypse came and something died inside. How could he order
other kids around when he was powerless against the disease that took
his parents and everything he held dear? How could he make others
suffer when the disease taught him what real suffering was like?
If he had kept to what he used to be, he could have been big when the
Clans started gathering. He could have had his own Clan with other
kids obeying his every command. He could have taken anything he
wanted. He would be Lord Katsuharu and he would have a banner and
everything, but the idea of what it took to get to the top made him
nauseous. Instead of becoming a leader, he became another transient.
He wandered from place to place, wanting to settle down but unwilling
to become enslaved by warlords who were what he could have been.
Then, one day, he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and
caught a stray bullet from a firefight he was trying to skirt away
from. It should have killed him. He went down in pain, only vaguely
aware that the bullet had impacted with his left cheekbone and stayed
there. Unconsciousness followed and he was left for dead.
In the fever dream that followed, he found himself in a room full of
mirrors. Something moved out of the corner of his eye and he turned to
see himself reflected dozens of times. Panic set in as his eyes darted
wildly around the room. There was no way out that he could see, and
everywhere he looked was his reflection. In an effort to calm himself,
he reached out to one of the mirrors and leaned against the polished
surface. The mirror surface felt different than glass normally did,
colder and just ever so slightly rougher. Curiosity replaced panic as
he ran his fingers over the surface. There was a grain in the surface,
like metal had even when it was polished. As he examined the metal, a
voice resounded in his head. He couldn't make out the words, but he
had an idea of what the voice was trying to say. Accept me, he
thought the voice said, and I shall accept you. He quickly
When he woke up, his head felt light from the pain and blood loss. He
reached up to wipe the blood from his eyes, only to be stopped by
someone's hand. "Don't touch it," said the unfamiliar voice, "it's
"Did you take the bullet out," he remembered asking. Whoever it was
that looked over him remained silent.
"What bullet," the speaker questioned at last.
Katsuharu wanted to reach up to his face again and touch the raw, dull
ache that radiated from his cheekbone, but thought better of it. "The
one in my face, dumbass. How did you think I got like this?"
"There wasn't a bullet when I operated on you. It must have ricocheted
off that metal plate in your cheekbone." The speaker paused for a
moment, then: "You're very lucky, you know. If that plate hadn't been
there or if the bullet went in just a hair higher, you'd have lost an
eye. Or more."
A sudden chill came over him. He had never been in a hospital in his
life. How could he have a metal plate anywhere in his body? How did it
get there? Where was the bullet? He knew the bullet must have
still been in him, because it hadn't come out when his fingers
scrabbled over his face before he passed out.
Then he remembered traces of that fever dream. Polished metal mirrors
and a thought suggesting that he accept whatever it was, then he would
be accepted. The chill left, replaced by the numbness of being
completely at a loss for ideas. Whatever it was in his fever dream
must have done something. Turned the bullet into a metal plate,
perhaps to replace whatever bone had shattered in the bullet's wake?
The opportunist within Katsuharu clutched at this new affinity with
metal. He found that different metals felt differently to him, often
in ways that other people couldn't detect. Gold felt weak, but glowed
at him even when it was imprisoned in layers of rock. Silver was much
the same, but stronger. He found that he could excise the precious
metals from stone with less effort than other miners, and soon enough
he became famous. This had proven to be detrimental to his freedom. A
warlord came with the intent to use his ability for the warlord's own
gain, a notion that chafed worse than the thought of dying. He went on
the run and hid out.
But he liked working with metal. It obeyed him. In time, he turned to
blacksmithing and picked up the basics from books he once would never
have bothered to read. He settled in Firefly Village in hopes to work
on his own. No one questioned his ability to forge without schooling
and he was left well enough alone. Then the raiders came and this
village became their's. Again it chafed on his notion of freedom, but
they didn't harass the blacksmith quite as much as the warlord would
have harassed the miner.
At night, when no one was looking, he pulled out a pet project from
under his hut's floorboards and began working. It was an egg of gold
and silver, built up layer upon layer with intricate designs that
would have made any goldsmith green with envy. It was dangerous to
keep working on something so fragile and likely to bring attention to
the real depth of his skill, but he needed something more to do than
hammer away at iron and steel.
Like every other night, Katsuharu began work on the egg's new layer.
He shaped the bars of gold with small hammers and tongs on a
goldsmith's anvil, feeling it give way to him easier than it would
have to anyone else. Flattened bits of gold were shaped into tiny
birds, with details chiseled in with a sewing needle fashioned from
titanium and attached to the layer with silver wire.
He was in the process of scratching facial features into a gold hawk
when a knock sounded at his door and made his blood run cold.
"Who's there," he called out with as much neutrality as he could
muster. There was too much out on the work table for him to hide
everything at once.
"It's Mako," said one familiar voice, then "and Ai," chirped another.
Relief warmed Katsuharu's blood and he got up from his stool to open
the door. He liked the twins. They were weird in the way only feral
children could be, but civilized enough to at least mimic human
interaction. And, somehow, someone taught them how to keep secrets.
The twins entered silently, as they always did, but behind them
plodded a couple of men with heavy hiking boots. Katsuharu eyed them
suspiciously, but said nothing. If the twins trusted them, they
couldn't be too bad. Nevertheless, people don't normally go on social
visits at night. "What's up?"
"Are you tired of having to fix guns and stuff for the raiders," Ai
asked suddenly. Katsuharu blinked in surprise at the girl. The twins
were weird, but never revolutionaries. "'Cause I'm tired of having to
hunt for more than just enough meat and hides to support me and Mako.
It's not fair to the animals and it's not fair to us."
At Katsuharu's slight nod, Mako picked up where Ai left off. "We don't
like to fight, but if we can chase the raiders out, we can live free
again. And if we can do that, these guys want to talk about setting up
an alliance between this village and where they come from."
Suspicion sparked within Katsuharu again. Alliances were set up for
two reasons: trade and war. There wasn't much to trade, so war was the
more likely reason. As much as he liked the twins, they were often a
bit clueless when it came to artifacts of the old world. War was one
such artifact. "I'll agree to whatever you say, but on one condition:
No exploitation." His eyes narrowed slightly at the outsiders. "Most
of the kids here are too young to remember the old world. Exploit that
and you may find yourselves with nuggets of uranium trapped in your
bones." Katsuharu smirked at the blank stare he got. "Remember history
class? Uranium's a very radioactive metal. Deadly."
"That's nice, but we have no intention to do any such thing," the
shorter of the two outsiders pointed out. "Can we explain things so
you don't suddenly poison us in our sleep?"
With a sigh, Katsuharu pulled his stool up from the workbench and
gestured for the outsiders to continue. This was probably going to
take a while. Mako and Ai followed his example, but chose to sit on
"When the pandemic spread," the blond started, "many well-connected
adults retreated to military bases and campsites in hopes to ride it
out. We come from one of those bases, but the virus got in and killed
the adults there anyway. But, there's another military base where the
Katsuharu was unaware that he was gaping until one of the twins made
one of their monkey sounds at him. He closed his mouth with a click of
teeth as he tried to absorb the idea. Living adults? He had been
certain they all died. That was all everyone knew. Those who
hadn't died, often people with hormone disorders that retarded their
growth, had been killed off in the first few years by angry preteens
who were unable to accept that there were reasons why their parents
had died and the hormone-deficient people hadn't. For the first few
years after the Apocalypse, the popular view was that the gods had
punished the adults for screwing up the world. Anyone who hadn't died
of the virus were killed by kids who believed they were enforcing the
gods' will. That was the way things were. But... "If they
survived, shouldn't you be trying to get in touch with them? Drag them
back into the world? Why are they hiding?"
"We don't know why they were hiding," the brown-haired one replied
solemnly, "but they're coming back out. With big, black, armored
"If you've heard any of the rumors about the virus coming back, people
being abducted, men of fire, and entire settlements going up in
flames, the adults from that military base are behind it," stated the
blond. When Katsuharu remained speechless, he continued. "We caught
one of their people, a man with age lines and greying hair. He said
that they were coming out to introduce a totalitarian regime to the
world again. We don't know why they're waiting, but it might have to
do with the returning disease."
"Thing is," the other outsider said, "They came really close to
attacking our base, and we weren't ready. We want an alliance in case
it happens again. If you don't like having the raiders around, you
definitely don't want to have these guys around. In the mean
time, we can send over someone with basic first-aid training,
supplies, and whatever else you want." The man sudden flashed a quick,
rather charming grin. "Please?"
Katsuharu's glance darted from one outsider to the other, and back
again. They looked earnest enough, and he had heard all the rumors
mentioned, but what if they were getting into something too big for a
little village like this? Anyone from the old world would know more
than the kids who grew up without teachers, more than a population
where the vast majority was illiterate, more than kids who didn't
remember the lessons of history. History taught that the future was
paved in blood and suffering, where revolutions were violent and often
led to less-than-stellar regime changes. The adults had had their
chance for thousands of years and raised up their children to act just
like them. But now there were so many children who had forgotten the
old world and grew up just wanting peace, like the twins picking at
each other's hair before him. The raiders were relics of the old
world, but if everything played out right, Ai and Mako could be the
future. With this in mind, Katsuharu gave his consent.
"Okay, what do you want me to do?"
"We need arrowpoints that can hurt but won't catch in the flesh," the
blond stated. "We don't want to trigger a fight, but if things come to
it, a few stings would probably discourage them. With the digimon and
a few arrows, the raiders just might get the hint."
Katsuharu frowned slightly at the unfamiliar word, but could ask what
a digimon was later. "Fetch me some iron and I can work out a few
arrowpoints in no time. There should be enough left on a few of the
The short, brown-haired outsider grinned again and started for the
door. "Sure thing. I'll be right back!"
With a sigh, Katsuharu surrendered himself to working with iron for
the rest of the night.
Morning came with sunbeams streaking through leaves and falling into
mottled, ever-moving patterns on the ground. Ai settled on a branch to
watch out for the raiders. Her calloused hands and feet gripped at
rough bark with the ease of any monkey, and she knew her center of
gravity well enough to balance quite safely in a tree. She watched the
highway now, waiting for the telltale glint of metal that would signal
the approaching raiders.
She had very little idea of what their visitors told Katsuharu. She
understood the words, but the concepts were alien. Why would anyone
want to control anyone else? People were meant to be free, just like
animals were free. Trap an animal and it fights to escape. Wasn't that
the way all things were meant to be? Abductions, experimentation, war,
it was all so strange. The raiders she could sort of understand. They
were like crows and scavenger dogs, taking what caught their interest
and leaving well enough alone anything that didn't interest them. But
then, she hadn't understood Genki either. She played along from what
she remembered from observation, but couldn't fathom why he wanted
them to call him something that meant nothing to her and Mako. Maybe
he had a mind sickness, like her Ainu caretakers had mentioned at
times. Did the raiders have that same mind sickness, or the older
people Takeru and Daisuke mentioned?
With a distinctly monkey-like sound of irritation made at the number
of strange ideas she had had to take in over the past night, she
glanced down at the ground immediately below her. Impmon was talking
to the other two digimon, bringing a slight smile to her face. Other
people would probably think of Impmon's words as insulting, but that
was just the way he was: rough and unable to quite grasp human
politesse. Just like her and Mako. The blue one, V-mon, was starting
to take offense at his words, but the argument that ensued was more
playful than anything else.
Earlier that morning, at the behest of the outsiders, Impmon was
introduced to the village. They explained the existence of the Digital
World and why an alliance between the village and the Rocky Country
was so important. With a digimon on their side, the villagers had a
fighting chance against raiders and other people who would try to
invade. If all went well, the mere presence of Impmon in the village
would be enough of a deterrent for them. And, naturally, Impmon loved
A sudden movement caught at the corner of her eye and she returned to
watching the highway. Approaching them was a familiar, fairly battered
jeep that looked as if it was ready to break down at any moment. She
let out a hoot that would have sounded just as natural from a macaque
and pulled her bow from its place on her shoulder to her hand. Once
she pulled an arrow from her quiver and nocked it into position, she
The group of four raiders approached Mako and Katsuharu with demands
for the month's tithe. When Mako refused, their leader gathered the
front of Mako's shirt in his fists and jerked her brother close. He
snarled something she couldn't catch, but she figured it was just as
good a time as any to act.
The arrow sailed with grace and precision in the air to nick the top
of the raider's right wrist and embed itself harmlessly in the ground.
Surprised, the man let her brother go and demanded his followers find
out who had shot. A second arrow, from where she knew Takeru was
stationed, nailed the man's sandal to the ground. She had to restrain
herself from giving him a whistle of appreciation for his aim.
"We don't want you here anymore," her brother declared in his
strongest voice. She was ever so proud of him. "Leave and don't come
back. The spirits of the forest are angry with you."
"What spirits," the raider leader practically snarled. His fist raised
threateningly over Mako. "If you don't stop this nonsense right now-"
"Night Of Fire," Impmon's voice rang out. Small fireballs shot past,
singeing the raider's hair and clothes but not doing any real damage.
Impmon stepped from the shadows of a rusting car and another fireball
hovered over a finger. "Try that again and I won't miss, punk."
Ai was too far away to see the expressions on the raiders' faces, but
a couple of the followers were starting to back away. Impmon started
stepping forward with his fireball, then one of the raiders broke into
a run. "Don't piss off the spirits of the forest, 'cause we get real
mad real easy. Capice?"
As another ran, a third arrow sailed down from Takeru's post to trip
up the raiders' leader. Although Impmon was small in comparison, he
stomped up to the fallen man's face and gave what Ai was sure to be an
unpleasant smirk. "Mako's my buddy, see, and if you punks ever come
here again, you're gonna deal with me."
The raiders needed no more encouragement. The leader's remaining
underling helped him up and the stumbled back to their jeep. As a last
warning, Ai let loose a final arrow. It undershot, and instead of
hitting the hood, it drove into the space between the men's seats. The
driver nearly jumped out of his skin, then slammed on something and
the jeep sped away.
Once it was out of sight, Ai pulled her bow back over her shoulder and
climbed down. Whether it was out of good cheer over the success of
their plan or not, she jumped the last few branches and landed on her
hands and feet. She had almost started to curl her well-calloused
knuckles under her hands and start running on all fours like a monkey,
but the sudden thump of the quiver on her back reminded her what she
really was. Instead, she rose to her feet and trotted to Impmon's
Impmon blinked up at her. "You think so?"
"Yeah." Ai grinned suddenly at her partner. "I think you're the best
A sudden flush started in Impmon's cheeks, despite his best efforts to
suppress it. "Oh. Well, of course I'm the best! Those jerks won't be
back, you can count on it!"
On an impulse, Ai knelt to give her partner a quick peck on the
forehead and ran before he could think of reacting. Consequently, she
didn't get to see Impmon's face go completely red in response.
At noon was a village meeting over what to do now that the raiders
were chased away. It would be agreed upon that Impmon would continue
to act as protector, and he would stay only if Ai and Mako did. As a
formality, Katsuharu would probably be voted in as village leader,
because he was charismatic enough that people had been listening to
him since he came to the village. Mako hadn't attended, because he had
work to do. Besides, Ai tended to speak for them when it came to
things like that anyway, and told him what happened after every
He busied himself with a couple of unfinished items. He really liked
Daisuke. He was sure they could be great friends if Daisuke decided to
stay. But he knew Daisuke, Takeru, and their digimon had to go soon,
so he had to do something to remind them to come back.
It was really his best work yet, dyed in alternating bands of red,
blue, and yellow to match Daisuke's jacket. He stitched white glass
beads into the ends to finish it off, then set it next to the gloves
he hoped would fit Takeru. Takeru didn't have Ai's calluses and ended
up using a strip of old leather to protect his fingers from the
bowstring, so hopefully he would appreciate the gloves.
As the meeting came to an end, Mako returned outside to the visitors
with his gifts. Other people milled around their homes, but Ai and the
others were clustered around the rover. Beside them were the digimon,
and Impmon and V-mon were arguing again over which one was the better
fighter. Nobody else paid them much attention.
"Before you guys go, here." Mako held out the leather items to what he
hoped to consider were new friends. "Thanks for helping us."
The two men look at his gifts, then at each other, then at him. "We
can't take them," Takeru said apologetically, "they're too nice. We
shouldn't take your work."
Daisuke eyed the long strip of decorated leather longingly. "They
are really nice..."
Mako bit down the urge to sigh in exasperation and pressed the items
into their hands. The old world kids could be so annoyingly polite and
formal. "Take them, okay? I don't need them and you do. Besides,
you'll make me and Ai feel bad if you don't."
"Thanks," Takeru muttered as he accepted the exquisitely made leather
gloves. The rather awed look on his face made Mako warm with pride.
Daisuke grinned at him and tried to tie the headband onto his head.
When it wouldn't go on right, Mako took it from his hands and tied it
in place himself. He rather thought something was missing on
Daisuke's bare head, but the headband helped offset that feeling. It
was like the headband belonged on Daisuke. He gave the knot a final
tug and stepped away.
Takeru gave Daisuke a considering look once the headband was set in
place. "You know what he needs? Goggles."
Daisuke peered at Takeru curiously. "Like Takato? Why?"
Takeru simply shrugged at that. "Dunno. It would just feel right."
The twins watched them in curiosity, but said nothing. Then, as Takeru
tried on his new gloves, Daisuke's eyes widened in sudden realization
and he started digging in his pockets for something or other. Soon
enough, though, he pulled out an old plastic bag and unwound the
frayed wire tie around it. He then pulled out four brightly-colored,
star-shaped objects from the bag and handed one to each of them. Mako
brought his red-colored star thing up close to stare at it. "What is
"Konpeito," Daisuke explained. "It's candy from the old world. It's
made of sugar, so it stays edible forever in the right conditions. Go
Ai sniffed at hers suspiciously, but Impmon popped his into his mouth
and hummed in poorly-veiled delight. When Katsuharu did the same, the
twins followed suit. Mako sucked thoughtfully on the little bit of
sweetness and found he liked it.
After a while, the people from the Rocky Country had to go. Last
minute pot-shots were made by Impmon and V-mon to each other as Ai,
Mako, and Katsuharu waved their farewells. As the rover disappeared in
the distance, Mako had a pretty good feeling that they would see each
other again. All of them.
Note: Ai and Mako are not the only children raised by Japanese
macaques. Other children, mostly infants and toddlers, have been taken
in by the monkeys and come away with varying levels of feral
upbringing. Because Ai and Mako were taken to humans earlier than most
other wild children, they developed fairly normally. While the twins
take traits from both sets of primates, other wild children weren't so
lucky. In more severe cases where the window of childhood development
closes before the children are taken in by other humans, they grow up
incapable of basic speech and human behaviors.
Note 2: Lead is a highly toxic heavy metal and Katsuharu normally
wouldn't survive having a plate of lead in his body. However, his
Spirit allows him to cope with toxic metals in his system, and over
the years his body and his Spirit have neutralized what used to be a
bullet of lead and changed the atomic structures of individual
particles into a titanium-nickel alloy. This is the same composition
of surgical metals. He is not conscious of this happenstance. If asked
to, he probably would not be able to reproduce the act and, for
example, transform lead into gold (which is possible by changing
atomic structure and adding or removing subatomic particles, but
highly impractical). As an aside, all of the people with the Spirits
are capable of manipulating their elements. Katsuharu just happens to
have the good luck of getting to work with metals, which takes up a
good deal of the periodic table of elements. In fact, despite surface
differences, the spirits of Metal and Earth have very similar effects
on their human hosts due to the fact that most non-organic elements
found in soil is metal, silica, carbon, or other such things.