Salva Nos
Episode 12: Beauty In The Dark
by Ajora Fravashi

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


Farewells were never harder to follow through with as they were today. Daisuke seriously considered tossing his job into the air and staying with Hikari's congregation. She had a special relationship with the world that carried over to her sermons and rituals, and an intimate understanding of human psychology that made it seem like she understood every personal problem brought to her attention. He could learn a lot from her if he stayed. Everyone was really nice and they welcomed him like family. But then again he still had Jun and Takeru to look after, even if Jun was too pig-headed to appreciate it and Takeru unlikely to welcome the attempt.

If nothing else, he tried to keep to his promises.

Long after they had gotten into the rover and drove off to Niigata, Daisuke still felt warm and happy. In the process of bidding them farewell, Hikari hugged Takeru and him! It was a purely friendly gesture, as was Tailmon's nuzzling of Patamon and V-mon, but it still felt nice. Taichi then made sure the goggles were set properly on Daisuke's head, over the leather headband from Mako, and gave them each something to take with them. Takeru got the introductory letter to the Shogun and a hint as to how to get on the Shogun's good side ("Praise the beauty of his wife and son," Hikari had said with a mysterious twinkle in her eye), V-mon and Patamon got their own little boxes of rice cakes, while Daisuke got a letter he wasn't supposed to open until the date set on the sealed envelope. This date was at least a couple of months from now.

He really wanted to open it. It wasn't like they would actually know, right? What harm would it do? It didn't feel like there was anything more than a piece of paper within it. For a while he stared down at the envelope, torn between curiosity and his own kind of honor system, until Takeru spoke up.

"Do I have to take that away from you?"

Daisuke shoved the envelope into an inner pocket of his jacket in irritation. "No! I'm just wondering why I have to wait so long."

Unreadable blue eyes caught his for a moment before returning to the road. "She does that sometimes. If there's a truth she wishes to tell you but she doesn't think you're ready for it yet, she'll write it down and seal it up for a future date, when she thinks you'll be ready."

"But why," he asked, genuinely confused by the idea.

"Part of it is because she wants to avoid conflict. She pulled the same thing on me several times, trust me. The other part is because sometimes people just aren't ready to face some truths until later." Takeru's expression turned thoughtful as he spoke. "Funny thing, truth. People say they want it so much and sing praises of its beauty, but it can be ugly and destroy lives as well."

Even more confused, Daisuke stared at his companion. "What could be that bad? I mean, it's not like I expect more from her than she's willing to give."

Takeru simply gave a small shrug and did not answer.

It was some time before either human spoke again, even though the digimon kept up their own little conversations between them. Daisuke kept stealing glances at the map. It was some two hundred and fifty kilometers to Shibata, home of the Shogun and new capital of what used to be the Niigata prefecture. Daisuke's travels had never taken him there before. According to rumor, the locals were distrustful of outsiders and the new samurai were not people to cross. After the samurai made an example of a group of small-time bandits, raiders never dared to cross the borders again. Niigata was, in short, someplace one didn't want to visit with anything other than pure intentions.

This, of course, made Daisuke wonder if their intentions were really as pure as they thought. He had faith in Ken and Sora's desires to protect their future, but he wasn't so sure of the rest of Iwakuni. Jianliang was one huge question mark as far as he could tell, and he didn't even know very much about the rest of the Council. What if Ken got politically outmaneuvered or something? Then what would happen to the alliances? More to the point, what would happen to them? From what he heard, the Council wasn't all that happy with Ken's collection of agents. After all their work, would they end up being dismissed?

No. It wouldn't come to that. He wouldn't let it. If necessary, he would stand behind Ken regardless of the consequences.


One could usually tell when they were stepping into the Niigata shogunate. Stone lanterns served as border markers on the most frequently used roads. The cracks and potholes in the roads were filled with mortar, broken tree limbs were cleared away from the roads, and ever so often one could come across a farmer with a cart travelling to Shibata's market. If one was lucky, perhaps a samurai on a horse would greet them and let them proceed with no hassle.

Takeru considered himself rather unlucky in this respect. Roughly ten kilometers into the shogunate he noticed a watchman in the trees. There had been a shrill whistle and they were joined by a group of soldiers led by a samurai a few minutes later. With naginatas pointed at them from every direction and a few archers he was sure were aiming from the trees, he had no choice but to stop the rover. He could hear Daisuke mumble a curse beside him, but paid this little attention as the samurai led his horse closer to the driver's side of the rover.

"State your business, outsider."

For a moment, Takeru regarded the samurai with mild curiosity. The last time he passed through the region was years ago with Yamato, and the armory had apparently advanced a lot since then. Armor modeled after genuine museum pieces had replaced leather cuirasses and stitched-on scrap metal plates. It gave an almost eerie impression of staring back in time. He shook this thought before the samurai could repeat the order and responded. "Our boss wishes us to speak with the Shogun. Nothing more."

He couldn't tell what the samurai was thinking, for the scowling half- mask that was the norm for a samurai's helmet revealed nothing. All he could see of the man underneath were flinty black eyes staring him down, waiting for some insincerity to show itself on his face. "Not just anyone can see the Shogun. Do you have papers?"

"Yes! We do," Daisuke exclaimed. Takeru glanced back to see Daisuke leaning over the digimon to address the samurai. At his confused expression, Daisuke whispered, "From Hikari, remember?"

"Oh, right. Of course." Somewhat embarrassed by the fact that Daisuke remembered and he didn't, Takeru fumbled in his attempt to pull the sealed letter out of an inner pocket in his coat and presented it to the samurai.

The samurai examined the unopened letter and the white daub of wax that sealed it. Something softened in the samurai's eyes as they went over the insignia pressed into the wax. "Very well," he said as he returned the letter, "we at Niigata trust Hikari's judgment."

As Daisuke let out an exaggerated sigh of relief, the samurai turned his attention to the lower ranking soldiers and said something about escorting them to Shibata. During this, Takeru puzzled over the span of Hikari's spheres of influence. He had known that Hikari was getting powerful over the years, but he never really expected her to become quite so influential that her plain star seal was easily recognizable by all. What happened?

Takeru wasn't given much time to ponder this. The samurai gestured for them to follow him as the soldiers dispersed, and Takeru obeyed. The rover easily settled into a cruising speed that matched the horse's galloping gait. It wasn't long before they made it to Shibata Castle.

Many years ago, the castle had been destroyed in some fire or another. Takeru had never really cared to investigate the particulars. Then rumor said that the Shogun who came to power seven years ago raised up a militia, hired farmers after the harvest seasons, and for several years had them all work to rebuild the castle. Shibata Castle now stood as it had centuries before, with impenetrable walls overlooking a moat only spanned by bridges that led to well-guarded gates. Circling the moat were houses, many of which were well off enough to suggest ownership by the ranks of samurai answering to the Shogun, and street stalls watched over by merchants and farmers. The Niigata shogunate was, in short, a throwback to simpler times. Save for the occasional anachronisms, it felt like he had driven onto the set of an old movie about feudal Japan.

The guards posted at the castle gates eyed them warily, but they parted after a few words of assurance from the samurai. Daisuke and the digimon made no effort to mask their wide-eyed awe as he drove through the gate and into the courtyards of the castle main. Cherry trees, with budding pink blossoms, stood against the walls and stretched their spindly limbs above pathways occasionally tread upon by people in kimonos and sandals. They were led along a main pathway with little happenstance, until...

A man with a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard as dark as his blue-black hair and traditional clothes, mounted on a tobiano-patterned paint horse, placed himself in front of the procession with escorts of his own. He looked very important and, to Takeru, very familiar. It was like he was facing Yamato's friend again, and yet-

"Daimyo Kouichi, what is the meaning of this," the samurai asked in a tone that was more than a little stressed.

Daimyo Kouichi's chill blue eyes drifted over each of them in turn, taking his time before deigning to respond. "I should be asking that of you."

"We have papers," Daisuke piped up helpfully. "From Hikari. We're here to talk to the Shogun. Is he in?"

A shadow of a smile tugged at the corners of Daimyo Kouichi's lips, but over what, Takeru couldn't guess. It was quickly suppressed before the daimyo spoke again. "The Shogun is a very busy individual. Park your vehicle and follow me." He then turned to the samurai. "Hiroyuki, please post a guard to watch the vehicle."

The samurai gave a terse bow and ordered one of the soldiers to look after the rover. Takeru's party obediently got out of the rover and followed after the daimyo. Oddly enough, no one paid attention to the digimon, as if...

... What if the Shogun had digimon too?

This bit of weirdness, along with Kouichi's eerie resemblance to Yamato's friend, nagged at the back of Takeru's mind. Now what could they offer Niigata? The military was organized, albeit primitive. From what he could tell of the marketplace, there was no shortage of food. The lack of attention paid to the digimon suggested that there were digimon here at some point. Would the Shogun even recognize the need to band together against Amaterasu?

They were led to the palace, where they were asked to remove their shoes before entering. In a time when the practice had mostly died off with the old world, the request was oddly reassuring. Life goes on, it suggested, and old traditions die hard. They stepped into the slippers provided (with the exception of V-mon, who had wiped his feet self- consciously once he noticed that nothing would fit) while Kouichi dismounted and tied his horse to a post, and followed again as the daimyo led them through lamp-lit corridors. The maids they encountered along the way gave quick bows and gazed curiously at the outsiders before returning to their individual tasks. In time, they were led to a sliding wood-and-rice-paper door, where Kouichi told them to wait.

The moment Kouichi disappeared behind the door, Daisuke turned to draw close to Takeru and whisper. "I don't like this place."

Takeru couldn't help but blink blankly at that. That his companion didn't like some place on first impression was unusual enough to worry him. "Why's that?"

"Can't you feel it?" The hushed urgency in Daisuke's voice now alarmed him. "I'm not good with words like you are, but this feels wrong. Like..." Daisuke's brow furrowed in thought for a moment, then his eyes brightened as realization hit. "That's it! Everywhere else in the world, the kids moved on. Made their own marks on the world. We don't have to follow the old rules anymore. Everyone remembers how the adults screwed up and experimented in something different somehow. We have the nomads, Queen Ruki, Caesar Ken, Genki, Hikari."

A small frown appeared on Takeru's face at that. He suspected what Daisuke was trying to say, but... "Yes, and?"

"Here is an illusion of the old world. Like a movie or something. Samurai and a Shogun and kimonos and having to leave shoes at the entrance. It's all fake and I don't think it's good to cling to the old world like this. Even the Ainu don't go this far." Daisuke's eyes darted quickly to the door Kouichi disappeared behind before returning to fix on Takeru with a deadly serious gaze. "The sooner we're out of here, the better."

There was little for Takeru to respond with. Daisuke was very much one who preferred to live for the moment, but he himself had a tendency to cling to the past. Even if the shogunate was a revival of the days of the samurai, it was comforting in its own way. But, he did have to respect Daisuke's discomfort. "Okay. We don't have to stay longer than necessary. Want me to handle the Shogun on my own?"

"Yeah. Sure." Daisuke gave him a slight smile. "Thanks."

Shortly afterwards, the daimyo returned. "Lady Mimi has been expecting you. You may enter." And, with that said, Kouichi departed.

Lady Mimi? Takeru's train of thought came to an abrupt stop. He knew that Mimi was somewhere in Niigata, but Lady Mimi couldn't be their Mimi, could she? ... Well, he would find out soon enough, he supposed.

The door led to what looked to be a common room for someone of high rank to socialize with visitors. The first thing that struck Takeru, though, was the abnormal amount of pink. It was everywhere. Pink cherry blossoms and roses arranged in vases of pink porcelain, ink paintings on bamboo slats with just enough pink to pass as tasteful, delicately pale pink chrysanthemums on lacquered boxes and inlaid in tables. Were it not for the warm golden-browns of the tatami mats, wood, and the occasional streak of green to counterbalance the pink, he would have easily been overwhelmed by the color. And, standing in the middle of the room with a pink kimono and strawberry-toned streaks in her hair, was Tachikawa Mimi.

Of course it was their Mimi. No one else would overdose on pink quite like her. Regardless, it was nice to see her again. She threw all propriety in the air and bounced forth to envelope him in a surprisingly strong, just-bordering-the-notion-of-tasteful perfumed hug. He suspected that the perfume was pink, too.

"Oh, Takeru," Mimi bubbled once they parted. "It's been so long! And Patamon, it's so good to see you too! He said you two were coming, but I didn't expect you to bring company!" She then grabbed his shoulders and held him at arm's length. "And oh, you grew so well, too! Why, girls must be tripping over themselves to get your attention!"

There were many times during which he wondered what universe Mimi lived in. This was one of them. "Well, no-"

"Then they have no taste." Mimi leaned close and winked at him before whispering: "If it weren't for all that history, I'd consider having fun with you myself."

While he stared at Mimi, baffled, she turned her charms to Daisuke and V-mon. "And who are you handsome fellows?"

Overwhelmed, Daisuke could do little more than stammer. V-mon, who was not quite as susceptible to Mimi's blindsiding as his partner, responded for him. "I'm V-mon and he's my partner, Daisuke."

Mimi reached forward to tousle Daisuke's hair, but paused when she recognized the goggles. The good cheer dissipated slightly as she examined them, as if she was thinking about something that wasn't all that pleasant. Before Takeru could gather the wits to ask about it, Mimi gave Daisuke's hair a good tousle and stepped away. "You all must be so exhausted from your trip! Why don't you sit around the table and I'll have Palmon find one of the maids?"

Still somewhat stunned by Mimi's welcome, Takeru and Daisuke obeyed and settled on the tatami-covered floor before a low-set tea table. The digimon followed suit just as Mimi trotted to another room.

"What just happened," Daisuke muttered after a short interval of silence.

Takeru allowed himself a moment's respite before he responded. "Mimi happened."

Before Daisuke could bring up whatever was on his mind, Mimi returned with a small child clinging to her hand as if it was the child's only lifeline. Takeru honestly couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl. Long, shaggy brown hair hung over the child's face like a curtain, concealing whatever telling features there could have been. Not even the child's noticeably Ainu-influenced clothing in tones of red and blue with white applique offered a hint. "I hope you don't mind," Mimi said cheerfully, "but Sanin's going to join us."

The child's grip on Mimi's fingers tightened, Takeru noted. Apparently the shy type. The hair was the same color as Mimi's, sans the pink streaks, so he concluded that this must be Mimi's child. "Interesting name," Takeru observed. Naming children after places wasn't unusual, but "Mountain Shadow" was not so normal.

"Well, I would have named Sanin after the father, but he insisted otherwise." Mimi looked down at her offspring with a thoughtful expression. "Not that he had much say in anything in the end."

It was as good an opening as any other. "When Koushiro said you had a kid, he never said anything about the father."

"That's because it's not really important. I just caught him, had my fun, and released him back into the wild," Mimi said with a wink. "Besides, you wouldn't remember him. He was the only boy I ever asked out on a date."

Before Takeru could start on his opinions on split families, the child tugged insistently on Mimi's fingers until she looked down and asked what the child wanted.

"Mama," the child started in a voice that was just as gender ambiguous as everything else, though the use of a boy's informal speech suggested otherwise, "can I play with the dogs?"

"Not until Palmon comes back. You know I don't like you going out alone." Mimi gave a wry half-smile as her child sulked and returned her attention to the visitors. "Anyway, why are you boys here?"

"We're here to see the Shogun," Takeru said. Might as well get down to business before Mimi derailed them again.

Mimi's cheerful countenance faltered ever so slightly. "But the Shogun is so busy! You can tell me anything you want to tell the Shogun."

"We have papers from Hikari," V-mon offered helpfully, as if that would solve everything.

Mimi gave the little dragon digimon a tentative look, then asked to see them. She took the envelope Daisuke offered, broke the seal, and read it for several long moments. During this, Takeru wondered why Mimi was being so evasive and why she would be so high up that she was willing to receive information meant for the Shogun. But this kind of thing couldn't be said to just anyone, even if that person was an old friend.

Before Mimi was finished reading, Palmon returned with a maid close behind. The maid was of similar height and build as Mimi, but plainer and not as pink. She arranged the tea tray on the table, poured for them, and would have bowed out as quietly as she came in had Mimi not stopped her.

"Keiko, would you be a dear and see to the Shogun's armor?" Mimi's voice was ever so sweet in her request. "It should be repaired by now. And do let the Shogun know about our visitors so that there will be time for a private audience in the evening."

The maid gave Mimi a deep bow and slipped away as quietly as she had entered.


Daisuke liked kids. They weren't complicated like teenagers and adults were. So, when Lady Mimi sent Palmon to take Sanin out to the dogs, Daisuke offered to go along and keep an eye out. Mimi had said that it was unnecessary, but it gave her an opportunity to talk about old times with Takeru without having to explain everything to others. Besides, it let Daisuke and V-mon get away from the cloying perfume.

There was something peculiar about the child, though, something that made him wonder. Sanin was never without a guide or someone's hand to hold. Normal children of the same age would have at least looked around a bit or insisted on not being led. Come to think of it, Daisuke couldn't remember ever seeing the child's eyes from behind the curtain of light brown hair.

"Papa says he's gonna get me a dobermon someday," the child began conversationally as Palmon led them across one of the inner courtyards.

Palmon didn't falter in her pace even as she responded, "Sanin, you know dobermans don't make good guide dogs."

The child's blank expression didn't change, even though the voice started sounding sulky. "I don't need a guide dog. Papa says someday a miracle will happen and I'm gonna get better."

Palmon's expression turned to sadness as she went silent. It made him wonder what was wrong with the kid. He could ask once the kid was preoccupied with the dogs and-

A blur of color interrupted his thoughts as they came into view of the kennels. He froze instinctively once he identified the red-toned form as a massive dog bearing down on them. It stopped in front of them to give Daisuke a wary look, but then the child murmured something he couldn't hear and the dog's suspicion dissipated just enough to lick the child's face. For the first time since he met the child, Sanin grinned. Normal children would have displayed a wider range of expressions by now.

And then the realization hit: the child was blind.


The meeting with the Shogun was scheduled after supper, which was an elaborate affair of traditional Japanese cooking and presentation. Takeru followed proper etiquette by sitting with his legs tucked under him and holding his chopsticks in a precise manner, while the digimon scarfed down their food and Daisuke sat cross-legged in silent defiance. Mimi took no notice of Daisuke's lack of traditional table manners; and soon enough it didn't matter, anyway. She excused herself from the table, said something about alerting the Shogun, and walked out into the hallway and away from view.

As a maid began clearing away the dishes, another maid arrived to escort Takeru to the Shogun's private audience chamber. Takeru smothered the urge to say "about time" and left Patamon in Daisuke's care. He was led down a confusing labyrinth of corridors until they finally reached the audience chamber.

It was a room separated into two by a platform and a reed curtain with thin spacing between the slats. Takeru left his guest slippers at the entrance before stepping onto the tatami mat and settling into a kneeling position before the platform. Having never actually been in the presence of a real shogun before, all he had to work with were old movies based on the feudal era. He hoped it was enough.

A candle was soon lit behind the curtain, revealing two silhouettes. One had to be Mimi, for even though the reed curtain revealed very little and the lighting came up from behind, her hair was done up in the same manner and she wore the same kimono. The other figure, however, was seated directly in front of the candle and wore what looked to be an authentic suit of armor and helmet. Takeru was certain that this had to be the Shogun and bowed in a manner he hoped was appropriate.

"No need for such formality," the oddly familiar voice of the Shogun said. Takeru tried to rake his mind in an attempt to recall where he heard it before, but the Shogun interrupted him before he could get very far. "I have been told that you requested audience, but refused to talk to my wife. Why is that?"

"I would like to offer an alliance between our-" What were they, really? Organizations? Nation-states? Bits of land ruled over by children with no adult guidance? "-regions."

The Shogun hummed in a manner oddly reminiscent of Mimi, on the rare occasion she revealed herself to be more than just a pampered little girl and had more between her ears than fluff. "What do you offer? Niigata is in need of nothing from outside our borders."

Takeru decided then and there that he had to be honest. Something about the Shogun struck him as someone who responded better to honesty than impure motives. "I come as a representative of Caesar Ken of the Rocky Country. We just barely escaped a recent attack from Amaterasu's Cave."

There was a long, uncomfortable moment after he said his piece. With the Shogun's face deliberately hidden by the curtain and shadows, there was no way for Takeru to discern what the Shogun was thinking. Before he could consider interrupting, the Shogun asked, quietly: "Could you explain in detail? I'm afraid I know nothing of the parties involved."

With a reminder for honesty clear in his mind, he went to great lengths to explain everything he knew about their plight. He did not reveal Iwakuni's location, but everything else was placed out in the open. Amaterasu's probable command structure, Oikawa's revelations, human experimentation and the mutation of the virus, the men of fire, and the attack they had so narrowly avoided. He emphasized everything Oikawa told them, along with less sensitive matters discussed during Ken's last physical meeting with him, in hopes that the Shogun would recognize the need to band together. All throughout, the Shogun remained fairly quiet.

"War is a terrible thing, Takeru," the Shogun said after another long moment of silence. "We shouldn't seek it if we can help it."

Takeru blinked at the familiar use of his given name. Something felt off and he couldn't figure it out. "But-"

"This doesn't mean I won't consider it." The Shogun gave something that would have sounded like a giggle if his voice wasn't so masculine. "I do wish you'd have come straight to me instead of insisting on all this ceremony, though."

"With all due respect, Lord, it was hard to convince anyone to let me speak to you," Takeru felt the need to point out, even though that disconcerting feeling was nagging at the back of his mind. Unlike the strange vocal pitch, the giggle was all too familiar. It couldn't be-

"Anything that goes to Mimi goes directly to me." To his surprise, the pitch shifted to a lighter, more feminine sound. "Really, Takeru, I'd have thought you'd figure it out by now."

He rather felt as if the Earth was shattering underneath him. When it didn't, all he could stammer out was: "Mimi!?"

A small black box dropped to the floor as the Shogun rose to a height equal to that of the Mimi-like figure. Armored hands lifted off the helmet and long hair spilled forth to drape over the chestplate. The Shogun turned slightly to whisper something to the Mimi-like figure, who wrapped her fingers around the candle and held it up in front of the Shogun. It was Mimi. The armor was exquisitely made, crafted to give her a more masculine appearance, with chrysanthemums pressed into the gleaming steel. The steel flowers were meant to suggest lineage to the Imperial family, but this only came to Takeru after his mind finished wrestling with the notion that Mimi was the Shogun. How was he supposed to know!

"One and only," Mimi said with a wink.

Mimi was capable of many more things than people assumed of her, but governing a shogunate wasn't one he would guess. His mind scrambled for reason. "You can't be the Shogun! The castle isn't pink!" It sounded incredibly stupid when he said that.

"We couldn't find enough pink paint that hadn't dried." Mimi's voice sounded far too amused.

"But why!"

"Do I look like someone whose banner people would follow," Mimi asked with uncharacteristic soberness. "Do I look like someone people would take seriously?"

Takeru merely shook his head. Mimi smiled kindly at him, then ushered for Keiko to begin removing the armor.

"When I started here, nobody took me seriously." Mimi's smile was almost sad, despite her cheerful voice. "I'm too pretty for my own good, it seems! But I wanted to make a difference. Nobody would listen to me, of course. Unless you show strength, they never do. Then Sanin's father came along and offered me this. If I wanted to be taken seriously, I had to look powerful. To do that, I needed to change something about myself. He brought the craftsmen and together we built a small town. Things went well for a few years, and here we are."

It took Takeru a second to absorb it all. It made sense. Respect in this world was only won by either displays of power or cunning. Anything else and you had to fight for that respect. "But, why continue this charade?"

Mimi shrugged now that Keiko had removed the upper parts of the armor. "It's comfortable. Not the armor, of course, but there's security in knowing that people adore the Shogun. Besides, Sanin is heir apparent to the shogunate. How am I going to explain to anyone that his father isn't the Shogun?"

"Does he know," Takeru asked. That Mimi was pretty much a single mother didn't sit comfortably with him, but saying so outright would not have been a good idea. What kind of bastard was the child's father to just leave Mimi alone to raise him?

Mimi's smile became reassuring. "Sanin knows who his father is, yes. Really, Takeru, by the time I had him, I was twenty years old and already well off. I didn't have him by whim or accident."

Takeru frowned, but said nothing.


Once upon a time, there had been a child who nearly died in a midnight raid. He had been searching for his twin brother, desperate for family when his mother and grandmother had died, and was attacked for nothing more than carrying with him the few keepsakes his mother once owned. He remembered the pain when the bat came in contact with the back of his head, falling forward into darkness, then walking slowly towards a light. He didn't want to go, but his feet moved of their own accord. But he had to find his brother. But maybe his brother wouldn't care to know of him. His feet kept moving dangerously close to the light until a tall, dark man cloaked in shadows stepped in front of him. He didn't remember the words, but he agreed to let the man share his body if it meant he could find his brother. Then he and the man merged, and the light disappeared.

Since then, Kimura Kouichi was a man of the shadows. They served as shelter when he needed it and comfort when he didn't. While shadowed, no one could find him. He could spy on powerful people, win their confidences, and situate himself into a place where information could come to him. Perhaps someday he would be able to find his brother through the networks his status as daimyo laid out. He slipped easily into these shadows and let them envelop him as he stepped carefully around the Shogun's audience room to find the one spot where he would be sure to hear everything said.

He didn't trust Mimi. He knew she was hiding something more important than just the Shogun's identity, but every time he tried to find it out, he was stopped by the Tosa guard dogs that answered only to that blind child of hers. The child's power over them was, quite frankly, creepy. "He has his father's way with animals," Mimi had said fondly when she was asked about the strange occurrences when only the child could call off the dogs. But there were no dogs here. Perhaps he would finally be able to find out what she hid.

The conversation, while interesting, revealed nothing of what was hidden in the depths of Shibata Castle's most well-guarded storehouse. He was sure Mimi was stockpiling something, but he wasn't sure what it was and it frustrated him to no end. If it was resources she wasn't sharing with her people, he'd have to do something. As the conversation wound down, it became clear that Mimi was still undecided on the subject of helping an outsider go to war. Not that he was surprised, for she never had the will to dirty her hands with unpleasantness like war and criminal executions anyway. Such things had always been responsibilities relegated to him, and he had always carried them out with a passion for justice that was almost Rhadamanthine in its severity. But if Mimi decided to back out of an alliance, perhaps he could convince this Takeru that not all of Niigata was behind her. The military was his domain, and had been since the rise of the shogunate.

Kouichi let out a nearly soundless sigh as the movement in the Shogun's audience room indicated that the occupants would be withdrawing soon enough, and began retreating himself. He had gone only a few steps when he heard a familiar voice whispering to him.

"You shouldn't be here."

The shadows were too deep for him to look at the intruder, but he knew well enough that only Sanin could move through the darkness as quietly as himself. The child may have been cursed with blindness since birth, but other senses had sharpened to make up for the lack of sight. Congenital cataracts, he remembered the doctor telling Mimi once, quite curable under other circumstances, but now only a miracle would save the boy's sight. Kouichi doubted the child really needed sight when he could hear better than most people. After all, no one had ever caught him before this child came along.

"Neither should you," he chided the boy with a whisper that was just as soft. "Where's your attendant?"

Sanin's voice was nonchalant, as if he wasn't doing anything wrong. "Palmon's playing with the other digimon. I just wanted some time alone."

A conundrum presented itself to Kouichi: if caught, he could tell Mimi that he was simply looking for her wayward disabled son, but she would almost certainly listen to the boy should he reveal Kouichi's latest espionage trip. The child was about as imaginative as a cardboard box as far as he could tell, and seemingly outlandish claims like espionage would be perceived as truth. Bribery wouldn't work, for the child was for want of nothing but a miracle to remove the dense, milky cataracts. Perhaps... "I won't tell if you won't."

The child seemed to regard him for one long moment. "I dunno..."

"How about we make a detour and raid Keiko's bakery for some of those famous sugar cookies of hers?" It had to work. Every child loved sweets.

He couldn't see it in the darkness, but the child's voice lightened with something he was sure was a smile. "Can I have them tonight?"

"Don't tell your mama," he said in a conspiratorial tone he was sure would appeal to the child. "You know how she is about your health."

"I won't!"

With the relief of a potential crisis averted, Kouichi guided the child away from the audience room. He could talk to Takeru later that evening.


Hikari was a priestess with links everywhere, Taichi was her defender, Jou was a doctor, Koushiro was an information collector and bar owner, Sora was a therapist when she wasn't playing second in command to Ken, Yamato pranced around singing on a stage in attention-grabbing outfits, and Mimi was a single mother masquerading as a man. It was that last bit that Takeru still had trouble parsing. She was, admittedly, doing extremely well for a single mother, but he still didn't approve of splitting a family like that. Even if Mimi was surprisingly dismissive on the matter of Sanin's father, he would have thought Mimi would have some feelings for the man. Isn't that they way things were supposed to go?

Not necessarily, the voice of reason reminded Takeru. The ideals of marriage and family had all died with the old world. They were mostly orphans, and their own children were conceived out of wedlock and typically either abandoned or raised by the community. For some reason, he thought it might be different here. There was so much effort extended to revive the past in Niigata that he believed even traditional family structure would be unchanged. Children, parents, grandparents, and other relatives under one roof, as it should have been. But then, past traditions no longer really applied, did they?

Daisuke was right. It was all just a pretty illusion in which the people of Niigata were living. What disquieted him was how easily it lulled him into a false sense of security. So easy it was to fall into old, nearly forgotten habits. The effect must have been intended, and he found it difficult to believe that Mimi would really go that far. But then, she was doing a lot of things he would never expect of her.

Sometimes he wondered if he ever really knew his old friends at all.

As the evening gave way to twilight, they had retreated to guest rooms kindly provided by Mimi and tended to by maids. Daisuke had asked how it went, but Takeru didn't feel like providing more than terse answers. He ignored Daisuke's frustration and closed the sliding door behind him to think. The digimon remained silent all throughout.

Naturally, when he heard a knock on his door, he ignored it in the belief that Daisuke had decided to pursue his line of inquiry. After a fourth knock, Takeru growled, pulled himself up from his seat on the tatami mats, and yanked the door aside.

Daimyo Kouichi stood in full regalia, and one dark eyebrow quirked at the amount of force used. Takeru blinked blankly for a moment before ushering the man in. This might be interesting.

Once the door was secured and they were seated around a low-set tea table, Kouichi began. "I come to offer you an alternative should the Shogun refuse your alliance."

Surprised, Takeru had nothing with which to respond. The daimyo allowed him a moment to absorb that before continuing. "Niigata has gotten fat from complacence. The Raiders no longer haunt our borders and the few enemies we have are only waiting until Lord Sanin takes the throne; they believe something as meagre as blindness will mark him as a weak leader. Thus, even our military has grown lazy. I feel that an alliance will work in our favor as well as yours."

"You're willing to do this behind Mi-, er, the Shogun's back," Takeru asked, still in a state of surprise.

A humorless half-smile quirked at a corner of Kouichi's lips. "Shogun Haruhito and Tachikawa Mimi are one in the same. She is just as prone to corruption as anyone else in power."

"What do you mean?"

"She has been stockpiling something, but refuses to admit to it. We believe that she's siphoning her people's resources for her own use. Were she innocent, she would not have dogs posted as guards to the storeroom. Our people's exports mysteriously disappear, and any trade records are destroyed by her orders." Kouichi regarded him soberly. "I am not a man prone to treason, but the good of Niigata outweighs one woman."

For several long, agonizing moments, Takeru considered the daimyo's words. Mimi was a good person. She had always been a good person. Surely there was a reason for that kind of secrecy. She did have a good reason for playing her role of Shogun, after all. Maybe all he had to do was talk to her and get everything cleared up. Until then, he had to stall. "I'll have to talk to the Caesar first. Surely you'll understand."

Kouichi nodded in acknowledgement. "Very well, then. Let me know of your decision before you leave."

Takeru gave his assent and escorted Kouichi to the door. In the light of whale-oil lamps, he again noticed a distinct resemblance to Yamato's friend. As Kouichi began stepping out into the hallway, Takeru paused to speak. "Daimyo Kouichi?"

The daimyo stopped and turned to look curiously at Takeru. "Yes?"

"You look like someone I know. Sort of. It's hard to explain. Do you know someone named Kouji?"

It was Kouichi's turn to be surprised. His hands twitched at his sides, then lashed forth to grasp Takeru by the shoulders. They would leave bruises in the morning, Takeru was fairly sure. "Yes! My twin brother. What do you know of him? Where is he?"

"First bassist to The Teenage Wolves," Takeru said kindly, rather pleased with himself for perhaps reuniting at least one family. "It's my brother's band. They should be swinging up here in a couple of months."

A genuine but tentative smile appeared on Kouichi's face as his grip on Takeru's shoulders loosened. "I've heard of them, but never been to their concerts. I've always been too busy..."

Takeru couldn't help but smile in response. "You should attend one, then. He's really good."

"Thank you, Takeru," Kouichi said as his hands slipped away, and he began retreating to the shadows. "If you are ever in need of a favor, just ask and I will grant it."

Takeru made a mental note of this as Kouichi seemed to melt into the shadows themselves, then listened as the footsteps faded away. When he was sure no one was around, he began slipping silently away. He had to talk to Mimi.

It didn't take him long to find Mimi's quarters again. He knocked at the door frame and waited for her answer. When he heard a muffled invitation, he opened the door. Mimi was seated on floor cushions with her back supported by the wall and her son curled up by one side and Palmon curled up by the other. She lowered the book she had been reading aloud to the child and looked up at him. "Bit late for a visit, isn't it?"

"I need to talk to you."

Mimi sighed and closed the book. From the cover, he guessed it was an old Tezuka manga. "Then talk."

Takeru closed the door behind him, stepped out of the guest slippers, and settled before her to go over Kouichi's discussion. He dropped all references to who his informant was as he went along. It would not do to betray Kouichi's trust, especially when the daimyo looked to be a valuable personal ally of his own. Mimi's frown of upset deepened as he wound down. He couldn't blame her for being unhappy with the accusations, but he did need the truth.

"You want to know what I'm hiding, then," Mimi asked quietly. When he gave her a small nod, she nudged her son and digimon partner to the side to rise. Sanin made a small sound of complaint, but rose as well. In an almost automatic gesture, Palmon reached out to give Sanin a hand to hold. "Very well. Let's go to the storeroom."

The walk to the storerooms of Shibata Castle was through paths just as labyrinthine as a similar walk he took earlier that day. But now it was night and they only had a whale-oil lamp to guide them. However, Mimi seemed as certain of the way as she was of her independence. As they approached the innermost storerooms, Mimi spoke for the first time since they left her quarters.

"I'm taking you down here only because I trust you," she whispered to Takeru. "I know you'll understand." He said nothing in response.

Presently they arrived at a door guarded by a pack of attentive Tosa dogs. Somewhere in the back of his mind was a reminder that they were native Japanese dogs cross-bred with mastiffs and great danes to add bulk to their already formidable bodies. The sumo wrestlers of the canine world. They rose from their haunches in a uniformity that would make most drill sergeants jealous and bared their teeth. The blind child stepped forward then, fearless in the face of dogs big enough to crush his small form, and told them to sit. They obeyed as one, and as they did so, their ears perked and tongues lolled out in an interested but relaxed posture. Sanin giggled and reached out tentatively until his hand met with a dog's muzzle.

With the dogs thus occupied, Mimi ordered Palmon and Patamon to stay to watch over Sanin while she led Takeru into her treasury. The day of surprises was about to go out in a bang.

Fine art paintings, sculptures, and museum pieces filled the storeroom from wall to wall. Lamplight limned elegant picture frames and the contours of statues great and small. Takeru could only stare in awe.

"You understand now, don't you," Mimi whispered. "Nobody appreciates beauty anymore. Take what's useful for survival and destroy what isn't. But we need beauty. It reminds us that there's more than just the struggle to survive that makes life worth living. It serves as our bridge to the past. Without it, what do we have?"

Takeru shook his head, clearly at a loss for words.

When the silence went on for too long, Mimi continued. "Before I started rebuilding Shibata, I found a museum. It had been robbed of weapons and armor, but all the artwork was destroyed. The hard work of nameless artists from centuries ago was gone. I couldn't let it go on, but I needed resources to encourage people to sell me everything here. Someone had to protect it so our own children can enjoy it, but I was the only one who cared enough to do something."

There was a strange lump in Takeru's throat that made it hard to swallow. He understood, all right. He understood entirely too well.

Mimi turned to pin him under a surprisingly strong look. "If your Caesar can provide me with a more secure place to store the artwork, it's a deal. You'll have your militia if I have a safe haven for all this."

Takeru remembered that there were entire sections of Iwakuni Base unused. Surely Ken would understand and offer that space for storage. "I can't see why he wouldn't agree. It's a deal."

A smile as stunning as the morning sun graced Mimi's pretty features. "I'm sure Kouichi will welcome the chance to reactivate the military."

He'll probably be relieved to know that there's nothing as sinister as he thought was going on, as well, Takeru thought. He didn't voice it, but he was sure Kouichi would understand too.

For a day full of shocking revelations, it had ended well. Iwakuni had another powerful ally.


Note: The Japanese ideal of traditional family structure isn't exactly the same as the North American myth portrayed in '50s sitcoms and perpetuated in pop culture.


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