Salva Nos
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 hadn't.

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 now?"

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 emergency situations."

"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 infallible, but-

"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 answers. Deal?"

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 willing 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 hands.

"But you're right. I thought we should seek out the old Chosen Children, but make the proposition to the settlements along the way. Reasonable?"

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 and...

"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 snickers.

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 involved.

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 parts."

"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 agreed.

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 stitched up."

"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 the floor.

"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 adults survived."

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 helicopters."

"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 cars outside."

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 the attention.

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 was ready.

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 side.

"Well done!"

Impmon blinked up at her. "You think so?"

"Yeah." Ai grinned suddenly at her partner. "I think you're the best digimon ever."

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 meeting.

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 it?"

"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 on, eat!"

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.


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