Eva glanced down at the screen of her D-Touch, watching the different colored blips as they appeared and disappeared in turn. Her pink blob and Rose’s black one were right on top of each other; she could see the other colors closing in on their location, meaning the others were close by, or at least closer than they had been in some time. Rose stood beside her, looking bored, her gaze centered on the horizon – a look mimicked by both Hatimon and Irbimon.
Ryudamon’s house was so close now, barely three miles away according to the map the D-Touch provided, but Eva had made their small group stop. She had been obsessively checking her D-Touch since waking up that morning; before, she had only kept an eye on it when she got messages and to make sure they were on the right track.
“There’s no guarantee they’ll be coming this way,” Rose said, looking at Eva as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “We should just carry on to Ryudamon’s and wait for them there.”
“We’re kind of sitting ducks out here, Eva,” Irbimon added, agreeing with Rose and missing the surprised look from the lilac haired girl.
Eva sighed. “But they’re so close to our location,” she said, tearing her gaze away from her screen to look at Rose and Irbimon in turn. “Just ten more minutes!”
“You said that twenty minutes ago,” Hatimon advised with a dry tone. “The map on the D-Touch doesn’t give you an exact reading on their location – they might look close on the screen, but in reality they could still be a day’s walk from our location.”
“No buts,” Rose huffed, folding her arms. “We’re better off going to Ryudamon’s home and waiting for them there. I know you want to see Tom – I want to make sure Hunter is okay too – but we’ve got to be logical here.”
Eva grumbled something quietly under her breath that vaguely sounded like ‘I guess you’re right’ as she pocketed her D-Touch and slipped her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. She started off in the direction they had been travelling before, Irbimon walking at her side. Rose and Hatimon exchanged looks, before Rose caught up to the plum haired girl and nudged her gently on the shoulder. She offered a small smile, which Eva only half returned and they carried on in silence.
Since the two had had their adventure with BlackGatomon and Drimogemon, they had been travelling almost non-stop, switching between using Skadimon as transport and walking to save on Irbimon’s energy. They had been going for three days, stopping at night and taking turns on watch, with small campfires so as not to draw attention. They had made use of what they could find for food, and Rose had decided she never wanted to go camping ever again, unless camping meant being in a hotel and going outside once in a while. But the experience hadn’t been entirely awful.
Rose had found herself enjoying Eva’s company, not just at the start where she had found entertainment in Eva’s odd superstitious quirks, but throughout their trip. Eva didn’t seem to fear Rose, and had plenty of times put Rose in her place when she had started to complain. Rose was so used to people doing as she said, and only being told ‘no’ by Hunter, that at first she had been annoyed, but had quickly realized that being told you were wrong was a good thing. Eva had managed to keep Rose under control, something Bella had struggled to do, and even Rose struggled with.
She wasn’t sure if the dynamic would last when the rest of the group met up. If she would go back to being an outcast or still seen as the enemy. Despite her blossoming friendship with Eva, Rose stood by her original declaration that she had no intention of becoming one of their group. She would help them, they would help her, and it would be a mutual beneficial partnership; though she did now hope that she would have some kind of friendship with Eva at the end of it all.
Eva was looking at her D-Touch again, making sure they were on track. She had practically memorized the route to get to Ryudamon and his home but still obsessively checked the map to make sure they were on course. Rose knew it was also to find out if anyone else was any closer to them.
They walked on in quiet for a few more minutes, until both Hatimon and Irbimon stopped simultaneously, freezing in place and feeling the breeze that blew past them, taking in the smells that came with it. Eva noticed the Digimon had taken pause and faced them, Rose doing the same. She knew Hatimon’s look, it was the face she had when she could sense Skollmon was close by: tense, hopeful, and her eyes fixated on one particular point. Irbimon faced the opposite way.
“What is it?” Eva asked, rubbing Irbimon’s ears.
“Hurakamon. And Vespasmon,” Irbimon explained, his face breaking out into a grin.
“Very close,” said the little snow leopard, excitement breaking through his tone.
Rose approached Hatimon, laying the heavy backpack on the floor beside the blue wolf. “And you?”
“Skollmon’s coming – but he’s not alone,” Hatimon told her, practically quivering.
Rose was up on her feet, facing the same way as Hatimon, while Eva looked in the same direction as Irbimon. Moments passed, dragging on slowly. They each waited with bated breath, looking for tiny glimpses of the others to break through the scattered trees or appear over the brow of a hill.
“EVA!!” Tom’s voice was above them both, causing everyone to look up as Valramon soared over head. Eva felt her stomach drop to her knees, the sense of relief she felt almost knocking her to the ground. She had never been so happy to hear his voice or see the outline of the giant black raven with bat wings.
Valramon was circling it seemed, looking for a safe place to land as she swooped back overhead and over the trees again before returning, hovering a few seconds and lowering herself to the ground. Tom had leapt off her back before Valramon’s feet had even made contact with the grass. Eva practically tackled him to the ground in return, wrapping her arms around his middle and squeezing him as tight as she could, like she was making sure he was all there. Tom openly laughed at the display, returning the tight embrace, ruffling his hands over Eva’s hair before cradling her face – apparently checking her over for any wounds and then kissing her once.
Rose stood awkwardly to one side, feeling like she was intruding on quite a private moment.
A bright burst of green light shone, leaving Poemon in the place of Valramon.
“Boy am I glad to see you!” Irbimon yelled, rushing at the small raven who released a small ‘argh’ as she hit the ground. Irbimon was purring loudly, squeezing Poemon so tight her eyes practically bugged out of their sockets.
“Glad to see you too, Irbimon,” Poemon managed to reply, gasping for air.
“Are you okay?” Tom asked Eva, hands slipping around her waist.
Eva nodded. “Fine. Perfectly fine. We’ve had a few run-ins, but nothing major.” She tilted her head. “How are you after that death match tournament?”
Tom raised both his eyebrows. “An experience I would prefer to forget. But unharmed.”
“Is anyone else with you?” Rose inquired, standing a good few feet away.
Tom regarded her for a few seconds, unease evident on his face. Eva laid a placating hand on Tom’s arm. “Hunter, Reyez, and James aren’t far behind. I went on ahead when I noticed you had moved from where you had been. I didn’t want to miss you,” he explained, speaking mostly to Eva.
“Well, I think staying here is the best option for now then – Irbimon said he could smell Hurakamon and Vespasmon not that far off, so I guess Frankie and Piper aren’t too far away,” Eva told him, slipping out of his embrace, but holding onto Tom’s hand.
Eva and Tom talked amongst themselves for a few minutes as they waited for the others to arrive, while Irbimon went straight into his usual mode with Poemon around and they began a game of chase to pass the time. Hatimon had barely moved from the spot of the grass where she sat, barely blinking. And Rose kept her distance, standing at Hatimon’s side, urging Hunter to hurry up so she had someone there.
Eventually, Hatimon sat up alert as Skollmon’s flaming tail became visible through the trees. Hatimon ran at him, the two bumping heads in greeting. Skollmon was followed quickly by Hunter, Reyez, and James, plus their Digimon who were quick to greet the others cheerfully; Ailurmon immediately entering into the story of herself and Odocomon evolving, only stopping when Reyez gave her a gentle knock on the head.
Hunter greeted Rose with a rather loose hug. “You causing trouble?”
“None,” Rose replied. “How’re you?” She indicated to his side which had been injured, his shirt was stained with dried blood. Hunter lifted up his shirt, displaying the bandaging work of the Floramon.
“It’s healing slowly. Floramon herbal healing or something – I’ll feel better when I’ve got some actual medicine in me, which I hope this Ryudamon has something of,” Hunter explained. “You okay?”
Rose shrugged her shoulders. “I never want to go camping, but I’m fine.”
Realizing he would get little more information out of her, Hunter took her words as she meant them, steering her into the group who talked loudly over each other. Eva had greeted both Reyez and James exuberantly, and was now impatient for Frankie and Piper to turn up and make their misfit group whole.
“So, both Odocomon and Ailurmon evolved?” Rose inquired, attempting to make idle conversation while they waited – Eva had received messages from everyone throughout their separation and had kept Rose in the loop too, but Rose was interested to hear the details from the actual witnesses of the events themselves. Hatimon and Skollmon bowled past her, invested in their own game of chase.
Reyez nodded, giving Rose a lazy look. “Involved with a fight with TigerVespamon... another follower of Mukademon, there seem to be a lot of them here.”
“Mukademon,” Rose repeated, she had barely thought on the parasitic Digimon responsible for sending them here, and now that she did, she shuddered. She hoped, deep down, that the fight between Mukademon and their own Mega Digimon had resulted in Mukademon’s demise, but she knew that outcome was unrealistic. Mukademon, according to the histories she and Hunter had found, had survived a direct attack from the old Gods. The attacks of Heliomon and Selenemon might have weakened him a little, but full of destruction was leagues off. “We... that is Eva and I came across some of his followers too – apparently a lot of them are taking pilgrimages to attain powers to better serve him.”
“Sounds positive,” Hunter muttered. “Serve him here, or at home?”
“Didn’t say.” Rose shrugged one shoulder.
James rubbed his fingers back through his hair. “Ryudamon will probably have more information,” he sighed. “I hope.”
“Hey! What is this?” Ailurmon asked loudly, kicking Rose’s backpack that lay slightly open on the floor. “Someone – namely me – could get hurt.”
Odocomon smirked. “It looks like a bag.”
Ailurmon sent the deer Digimon a dry look, before turning her gaze upward at everyone else.
“That’s mine,” Rose explained, picking up the backpack and beginning to zip it back up. It was practically bursting at the seams, with all the documents and journals inside that Rose had pored over time and time again until her father’s hand writing and his words were ingrained into her skull. She had taken time on her watches to do this, as Eva slept – using the time privately and productively. Eva knew only the basics of what the bag contained, any time she had attempted to pry further into the contents, Rose had clammed up and they had spent a good few hours walking in silence.
“What’s in it?” Odocomon inquired, ears twisting to odd angles.
Rose glanced at Hunter, who chewed the inside of his cheek briefly. “It’s information about Mukademon... and our family. We found it at our old house and rescued it before Mukademon blew the place sky high,” he explained. “Honestly, it’s not worth explaining in detail until we’re all together anyway.”
“Speaking of which, I wonder where Frankie and Piper have got to,” Eva murmured, checking her D-Touch to see where the orange and yellow blobs were in relation to themselves. “Irbimon could smell them coming. I hope nothing’s happened.”
“I’m sure they’ll be here soon,” Tom assured her, patting Eva’s head. “You worry too much.” Eva made a face in response, pocketing her D-Touch again.
The group talked amongst themselves for the time being, going over the enemies they had encountered who were loyal to Mukademon, and those that were still loyal to the Gods. Eva was curious to hear more about the Floramon, and also the death match the boys had all been forcibly involved with.
“Corneliamon, wait!” Frankie’s voice came through the trees, followed by Hurakamon’s paws hitting the ground, followed by Vespasmon shoving through the trees with Piper laying close to his back, almost totally obscured by his fur.
Corneliamon stopped short of the group of humans and Digimon, who looked at her curiously and with some wariness. After all, she wasn’t a Digimon they were at all familiar with, but they were less mistrusting of her considering Frankie had yelled after her.
“HEY GUYS!” Frankie waved from atop Hurakamon who lifted a paw to help her down to the ground. Vespasmon did the same for Piper, who climbed down gingerly right into Hunter’s waiting arms. Hunter was immediately checking over the short blonde for injuries, kissing the lower part of her injured wrist when he noticed it.
Eva bolted across to Frankie, throwing her arms around the other girl. There was a chorus of high-pitched squeaking as they two girls asked questions at each other in a rush and with very few breaths being taken, while Hurakamon and Vespasmon were replaced by the forms of Caesarmon and Siberimon. Irbimon charged his brother, knocking him over in greeting, purring as he had with Poemon.
“What took you guys so long?” Tom asked, once Eva had released Frankie.
Frankie grimaced. “We took a bit of a wrong turn. Vespasmon’s fault.” She was easing her way over to James, who was practically beaming at seeing her.
“Was not,” Caesarmon barked from the ground, his jibe aimed at Frankie’s back as she finally was enveloped in James’ arms.
“And who’s this?” Odocomon inquired, looking at Corneliamon who had turned shy and practically cowered behind Caesarmon under the gazes of the other Digimon and humans.
“This is Corneliamon,” Caesarmon announced, his chest puffing out proudly.
“She’s been travelling with us,” Siberimon advised, finally shoving Irbimon off of him.
Eva tilted an eyebrow. “You never mentioned you’d picked up a stray Digimon.”
“Long story,” Frankie answered, distracted now that she was wrapped up in James’ arms, and found herself too comfortable to move from them.
Reyez looked around the group as they talked among themselves, Rose had separated from them again, and Hunter and Piper were a few feet off too. He cleared his throat loudly. “Well – now we’ve all had a nice fluffy reunion, can I suggest moving our asses to Ryudamon’s finally?”
“I like this idea,” Poemon stated, flapping her wings and rising a few feet into the air. “The sooner we get there, the sooner we can relax.”
“Let’s move!” Ailurmon ordered, marching off several steps ahead of the group as they all followed at their own paces. Frankie complained about having to walk, but was quickly hushed and taken into the conversation with James as a distraction.
Tom and Eva took lead of the group, making sure they stayed on course. They took more time than they had done initially because everyone was talking amongst themselves, and the Digimon continuously ran off, letting go of energy and playing with one another, making up games as they went along – which included one game where Irbimon and Siberimon climbed trees and tried to jump onto Poemon’s back as they walked.
The trees became more compact and tighter together, creating a dense and protective forest for them to navigate through. The surroundings were beginning to look familiar, to Eva at least. They had spent eight weeks in this forest training and working at their teamwork skills, and there were still some signs of the damage their Digimon had done during attacks. Sapling trees that had replanted themselves, and of course dead stumps and logs where trees had been destroyed in the heat of battle.
“There it is!” Piper pointed with her good hand, spotting the well hidden home, on its stilts and protected by its camouflage through the branches and leaves, before the others did. She also spotted the Digimon they had been seeking out. “Ryudamon!”
The ancient lizard Digimon almost appeared to be waiting for them, standing outside his home patiently, looking over the group as they came closer to him and the house. Beside him was a second Digimon, about the same size, with dark ruby and mauve scales, small wings sprouting out of its back, and a pretty gold amulet around its neck.
Upon reaching the house, Ryudamon was quick to quiet everyone down as they talked over each other, trying to explain where they had been and what had been happening and asking questions as to why they were here. The crimson dragon Digimon looked amused at the noise. Rose hung back, as did Hunter a little way from Piper, the only two not making any noise, aside from Hatimon and Skollmon.
“One at a time.” Ryudamon’s voice was clear and firm and made everyone silent in moments. He smiled, grateful for the hush. “It took you all long enough to get here.”
“We had some interference on the way,” Frankie explained. “Some bad, some good.”
Ryudamon nodded sagely. “So I understand. Your escapades have not gone unnoticed by me.”
“Escapades?” Tom repeated.
Ryudamon surveyed them all one by one, until his eyes paused, landing on Hunter and Rose. “I see you have some brought more company?”
“This is Rose and Hunter,” James indicated to them both, “Hatimon and Skollmon. They were the ones responsible for sending us here the first time.”
“Thanks for the reminder,” Hunter snapped. James shrugged.
“I know who you two are,” Ryudamon said slowly. “I was wondering when you would show up.” Looks of surprise crossed Hunter and Rose’s faces. “I suppose it couldn’t be helped though – given the circumstances which you were in... it must have taken a lot of willpower to break away from your mother like that.”
Hunter and Rose exchanged stunned looks as Ryudamon continued, quickly speaking to the crimson Digimon beside him. Hunter whispered to Piper. “Is he the Yoda or like... Mister Miyagi of the Digital World or something, Kitten?”
She giggled. “Nothing like that. He’s just... very wise,” Piper replied, planting a quick kiss on Hunter’s chin. “You’ll see.”
Hunter looked dubious, but decided to let it go for now. He hoped all would be revealed in its own time, and any questions he had would be answered without his needing to ask.
“Not to be ungrateful that you’re here to greet us,” James said, “but can we go inside? Speaking for myself, I could really do with a bath and somewhere nice to sleep that’s not the ground.”
“No time for rest,” Ryudamon said. “Not at the moment.” James slumped, disheartened. “But we will go into the house shortly.” He gestured with a clawed paw, to the other Digimon. “This is Rubimon – my apprentice.”
“Pleasure,” she bowed a little.
“Rubimon is... charged with taking the Digimon with her for a few hours.”
“What?” Odocomon spoke up. “Why?”
“Yeah,” Ailurmon joined in, “we’re tired!”
“Can’t it wait?” Irbimon added.
“No,” Ryudamon replied sharply. “There is a ritual that needs to be undertaken swiftly, and only you can achieve it. But Rubimon knows the way and it will not take you long to get there and get back.”
Siberimon looked uneasy. “I’m not comfortable leaving Frankie, considering the amount of Digimon who serve Mukademon here...”
“Your partners will be safe enough with me while you are gone. They are well protected here, I assure you,” Ryudamon advised firmly. “Now you will go, and fulfill the ritual.”
More uneasy and confused looks were exchanged between the Digimon and their partners as Rubimon rounded them up. Hatimon and Skollmon hung back near Rose and Hunter until Rubimon approached them. “You too.” She ushered them towards the other rookies, including Corneliamon – who appeared to be going along simply to stay close to Caesarmon. Hatimon and Skollmon looked back at Hunter and Rose, who were both just as confused as the rest of them.
Once Rubimon had gathered the Digimon together, she led them away through the trees in the opposite direction of the house, followed by concerned gazes of their partners.
Ryudamon sighed. “Don’t look so worried. They’re in safe claws with Rubimon,” he assured them, getting their attention again. “Now perhaps you would all like to come with me upstairs and we’ll get down to the business of answering and asking questions.”
Ryudamon had this way of keeping everyone quiet as they walked up the stairs and into his house, he didn’t speak, and no one asked any questions or spoke to each other, as if taking their lead from the Rookie Digimon whose authority needed no comment. To Hunter and Rose he appeared as he was, as Ryudamon had been described to them both. But the others noticed, he moved slower, and appeared almost smaller as he walked ahead of them, taking one step at a time.
No one said anything, but thoughts passed through everyone’s mind as to how much time had passed in the Digital World since they had last been there, and how much of that time had affected Ryudamon and other Digimon who lived here. As Ryudamon had told them before, time moved differently here to at home, the two weeks they had been away in their own world time, had been months in the Digital World... it was vastly different, and despite how commanding and in control Ryudamon remained, the time progression showed in little ways.
The main sliding door to the house was open, and Ryudamon puffed a little as he reached the top of the stairs. He stood to one side, letting everyone file in past him, closing the door swiftly once they were all inside. It had been a squeeze before with the six of them, but now there were eight, and soon their Digimon would return – the house would be noisier than ever. In his own way, Ryudamon was looking forward to the noise, to the hubbub of having a full house again – in the short time he had spent with the Tamers and their Digimon before, he had grown fond of all of them in his own way, and when they had left the noise had been the thing he missed most.
“Oh my God...” Frankie’s voice caught Ryudamon’s attention. They had been making their way through to the main room where they had all spent a lot of time idle while their Digimon had trained. He was unsurprised to hear her quiet exclamation – they had expected to find only him, and not the company they were faced with.
“Hey Frankie.” Eric Lynn ran his hand back through his slick back hair, smiling warmly at the girl and the group that surrounded her. He sat at a low table in the center of the room with his legs crossed, looking completely at ease and unfazed by the odd looks he was getting from Frankie and her companions. Beside him sat a young woman with dark hair, clipped back but free flowing down her back. She was pale, with warm eyes and an uneasy smile.
“Eleanor?” Rose’s voice joined Frankie’s, full of surprise as she looked at Hunter whose expression was shocked and confused.
“Hello Rose, Hunter.” Eleanor smiled at them and indicated to the cushions around the table. “Please, sit...”
Uneasy and confused looks were exchanged between everyone as they wordlessly asked each other questions, but were getting no answers. No one moved, they just stood in the threshold of the doorway between the kitchen and the large, spacious room. Eric shifted uncomfortably. He had known that their being there would come as a surprise to everyone, he just wanted to get past the initial puzzlement phase and down to business. There was a lot to get through, and Ryudamon had said it would be easier to get through without the Digimon around interrupting and asking questions.
“What are you doing here?” Rose inquired, her eyes narrowed as she stared at Eleanor. Eric clasped one of Eleanor’s hands in his own.
“We’ll tell you if you sit down,” Eric explained shortly. Frankie was the first to move, flopping down on a cushion directly opposite Eric and folding her arms. She had barely seen or heard from Eric since Ms. Lynn had died. They had met briefly once or twice when Eric had been clearing out the old apartment, and they had exchanged awkward words. Frankie was aware that Eric had never been keen on how Ms. Lynn treated her like a daughter, but Frankie personally had no issues or qualms with Eric as a person. She was just completely stunned to see him.
James sat beside Frankie and slowly, one by one, everyone took a place. Rose sat closest to Eleanor, staring at her all the while with a discerning eye.
Eleanor noticed when Hunter winced sitting down and clutched his side. “Oh – you’re injured.” She stood up, and walked to the back of the room. Everyone had been too focused on Eric and Eleanor to see the bags behind them. Eleanor rifled through one or two, before she returned with a couple of first aid boxes, complete with disinfectant, gauze, bandages, and all manner of medicines. She kneeled beside Hunter, who looked at her as if he was seeing someone completely different to his mother’s usually timid and quiet secretary. “Where?”
Hunter lifted up his blood stained shirt, and allowed Eleanor to peel off the bandages applied by the Floramon and examine the wound more closely. She murmured thoughtfully to herself, getting to work diligently while Hunter stared awkwardly at Piper.
“What are you doing here?” Frankie asked eventually. Ryudamon had walked in the room and taken up a seat on a spare cushion.
“Ryudamon’s been keeping me in the loop,” Eric explained with a shall shrug of his shoulders, “and I’ve been keeping Ellie informed.”
“You knew about Ryudamon?” Tom queried.
Eric nodded. “He visited my mom all the time, of course I knew about him. I knew about when you guys got your Digimon – I just never said anything.”
“Why not?” Frankie grumbled.
Shrugging his shoulders, Eric leaned back. “It didn’t seem like something that would need to come up. Besides, mom always said not to mention it unless it was necessary.”
James cleared his throat, leaning on the table. “I’m just going to interject here, because I’m sure I’m not the only one, but who are you? You obviously know Frankie...”
“This is Eric Lynn... Ms. Lynn’s son,” Frankie explained.
Rose added, “and that’s Eleanor. Mother’s PA,” she said. “Though what you’re doing here is beyond me.”
“All will become clear soon enough,” Ryudamon spoke, rising from his seat and crossing the room slowly. He looked at the overfilled backpack that Rose had plunked on the ground beside her with interest, unzipping it and lifting out several of the journals. “Why do you have these?”
“It’s...” Rose struggled a little to find the right words to explain. “My brother and I found them at our old home, kept in our father’s vault. We went there looking to see if we could find any useful information about the Parasite and how it started, if it could be defeated. We received our Digimon before the others, so it seemed logical.”
“I see...” Ryudamon rubbed his chin.
“We found a lot more than we bargained for though,” Hunter continued, sitting up gingerly as Eleanor went on to examine Piper’s wrist, removing the splints placed to hold it secure by the Kabukimon. Interest seemed to grab everyone in the room, not just Ryudamon at that point, though the dragon Digimon stared at Hunter gravely. “It seems like... our father was responsible for a lot of things, that happened in the Digital World,” Hunter sighed. “Like he tried to steal the Core?”
“Which then resulted in the creation of Hatimon and Skollmon,” Rose prompted.
Ryudamon stared at the journals in his claws, as looks were exchanged between everyone at the table, though they stayed relatively quiet. “I...” Ryudamon seemed to struggle with his words, to comprehend the information now within his grasp, secrets even he was unaware of were pages away. “If you don’t mind, I would like to read these journals.”
“Knock yourself out,” Hunter proffered with a nonchalant wave of his hand. He shifted his glasses on his face.
“What should we do in the mean time?” asked Eva. “Clean house?” She grinned, trying to lighten the somewhat grim atmosphere.
“Eat first,” Ryudamon explained, “get clean. Eleanor and Eric have brought supplies to last as long as necessary.”
“We’ve also got some information we can fill you guys in on while Ryudamon is reading,” Eric added.
Tom helped Ryudamon with the journals, moving them to Ryudamon’s secluded room on the ground floor where he had spent much time with the Digimon before. Rose laid each journal out in date order, and then the random bits of paper they had found which had sketches and scribbled, frantic ramblings on them in Bella’s handwriting. Ryudamon thanked them both, and closed the door on them, settling to read for as long as it took to get through everything.
The group were left to their own devices and quickly split off while Eva and Eleanor went to the kitchen to cook, everyone else took it in turns to have baths, washing off grime and dirt from the last few days. Any questions that were asked to Eric or Eleanor were met with conspiratorial smiles and the increasingly irritating response that they would explain everything once everyone had eaten and were settled. It made everyone angry to not know the full details, for one thing how Eleanor and Eric got to the Digital World, how long they had been there, and also how the real world was faring without the Digimon. But the two newcomers kept quiet, Eleanor continued cooking with Eva, avoiding the plum haired girl’s questions, and Eric chatted easily to Tom, James, and Frankie.
It took a few hours for everyone to get clean and for enough food to be made for everyone – plus leftovers for when the Digimon returned – but soon there was a spread on the table large enough to feed a small army. It took little-to-no time for everyone to dig in, taking what they wanted, including second and third helpings. All questions temporarily forgotten by the desire to fill empty bellies, which once full left everyone in an almost comatose state. It was only Eric and Eleanor who managed to remain alert and stop the group of eight from falling asleep on themselves.
“How long should it take for Ryudamon to read through the information you brought with you?” Eleanor asked Hunter, seeing as he was less inclined to continue treating her like a servant than Rose was. Rose had yet to not look her nose down at Eleanor, so used to seeing her as nothing more than a PA.
Hunter shrugged. “It could take him all day. Rose and I took all day to get through it all. Then again we were reading aloud for the most part, so Hatimon and Skollmon could understand.”
“You haven’t said what you found out,” Reyez pointed out. “In fact, any time one of us has asked the two of you have clammed up about it.”
Eva nodded. “It’s true.”
Hunter and Rose exchanged uneasy looks. “It’s all kind of personal,” Hunter explained, trying to remain nonchalant, “and hard to explain.”
“If it includes information about the Digimon or the Parasite then we need to know,” Piper replied, giving Hunter a challenging stare. “Personal or not, this isn’t about just you or your family anymore.” Hunter remained silent, though his face was a picture of surprise at Piper’s comment.
“And,” James added, “we have all the time in the world now for you to explain what you think is so hard to explain.”
Rose struggled in her cushion, suddenly wishing she had Hatimon there with her to stand up for her. Or that she were sitting closer to Hunter so she had her sibling’s support. But there was no way to do that with Piper there. She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and turned, seeing Eva smiling at her.
“Just tell us what you can in your own time,” Eva coaxed. Rose managed to return her smile with a small one of her own. She decided it was nice to have a friend to be an element of support. Even if she could feel the glares of everyone else.
Again Hunter and Rose exchanged looks, seeming to enter into a silent agreement.
“Okay...” Rose said finally. “The short explanation is that our father, Russell Divine, is the reason for everything.”
“Not vague at all,” Reyez rebuked, smirking.
“The journals we found, father kept them as a way to document his daily on goings. Journals of what he was doing with work and with people. He kept them all through our life time, I remember because mother said so when we were growing up, but the ones we found were special. He didn’t want them to be found by the wrong people – have them fall into the wrong hands. And I suppose neither did mother. The information was so delicate and important... they wanted to keep it safe from people who would use it wrongly,” Rose explained slowly, trying very hard to find the correct words and speak as plainly as she could.
“They’d been hidden away, locked in a vault in our parent’s study. These journals documented the years between mine and Hunter’s conception and the death of our father, plus a short time after that – documents written by our mother and hidden away too. It started because father inherited Atlas Corp from our grandfather after he died. Atlas Corp was established by our grandfather and Joseph Lynn...”
“My father,” Eric prompted. “My mom worked closely with Russell and Bella, I remember. And I used to go to school with Logan. You two were probably too young to remember that though.”
“It was a long time ago,” Hunter sighed, resting his head on his fist, his elbow leaning on the table top.
Rose continued. “The company was successful, but father always was ambitious... I think. He wanted it to be so much more. He worked with mother, Ms. Lynn and two other men, cohorts of our father’s – Richard Poihega and Mason White. Both business-minded and ambitious in their own unique ways. Mason more so than Richard.”
“Skipping forward a year,” Hunter cut in, “Mason invited Russell to Germany, there were offices and labs there. Said he’d come up with something that would put Atlas Corp on the map and in the history books. A transportation pod.”
“Transportation pod?” Tom repeated. “Like... the kind in sci-fi films?”
“Beam me up Scotty and all that jazz?” James added.
“Exactly like that,” Hunter confirmed with a slow nod of his head. “Stupid idiot found himself in the Digital World. Found himself lost and wandering and befriended a Digimon here, Dalimon. Who helped him get home after being in the Digital World a few days – but that had only been a few minutes at home. Mason didn’t believe him, neither did Bella, Claire, or Richard. But it seemed dear old dad was adamant it existed and he became obsessed with it.” There was a tone of bitterness to Hunter’s voice that took the others by surprise.
“Cutting the story short, father found a way back. And to prove a point he took Mason, mother, and Richard with him.” She averted her gaze to Eric. “Your mother was probably wisest of them all to remain away from the Digital World...”
Eric looked puzzled. “Why?”
“It infected them... I guess.” Rose shrugged one shoulder, she paused for a few moments, casting Hunter an uneasy look. He returned it, not quite so unsure, but obviously uncomfortable divulging so much personal information to everyone, especially when it was information they themselves had only found out recently.
Finally, Rose carried on, focusing on a teapot in the middle of the table. “Our father and Russell saw the Digital World as an opportunity. Dalimon foolishly told them about something called the Core, an energy mass that sustained the Digital World. They both wanted it, for different reasons, and their avarice and desire for power began to mutate the Digital World.”
“From what we read, it seemed like the ultimate goal was to make it possible for Digimon to be in the real world – a simplistic idea but without the Core’s power it was impossible. Poor Dalimon, father used him to get information, and samples of the essences of the Gods that ruled here.”
“Our Digimon,” Tom prompted.
“Yes,” Rose confirmed. “Or rather the Digimon they once were... I suppose would be more apt.”
“Eventually Russell and Mason went to the Digital World, like they’d been doing before to get more information, gather as much as they could about the Digital World, Digimon, and how they ticked.” Hunter leaned back, hissing as the wound on his side stretched a little. “Like Rose said, their motives had changed the Digital World and then things get a bit hazy... we know they found Mukademon, the Parasite, or it found them. And it gave them the idea to steal the Core...” He shrugged. “After that it’s just a mess of scribbles. Bella says she was approached by Mason after Russell died, and she met the Parasite through him. That in the blast of the Gods attacking the Parasite and Russell to stop him taking the Core, the Parasite used up most of its energy defending itself and latched onto Mason as a vessel.”
“That’s who those two men were at the Gala,” Frankie said, folding her arms, little puzzle pieces beginning to slot into place. “I’d bet my life on it, that one of them was Mason, and the other was the Richard guy. That it latched onto him somehow too, and the Parasite’s been using them as a vessel to get around until it’s strong enough.”
“It leaves a lot of things unexplained though,” Tom mused, tapping his lower lip. “Like how we received our Digimon for one thing. We know they’re the Gods of old, but how come we received them?”
“And what are these?” Piper laid her lodestone onto the table. “I’m guessing they’ve got a purpose, but so far I don’t see one.”
Before any responses could be uttered, the door to Ryudamon’s quiet room opened and he shuffled out, carrying one of the journals with him. If possible, he looked more weary than when he had started reading. He moved across the floor and lay the journal on the table. Piper and Eleanor each budged to one side to allow him to sit. Ryudamon was silent and poured himself a cup of tea deliberately, taking a slow sip before he even looked at any of them.
“That was fast,” Reyez pointed out. “They said it took them all day to read.”
“I did not read,” Ryudamon replied. “The words spoke to me.”
Reyez quirked an eyebrow, exchanging confused looks with others around the table. He said nothing else though as Ryudamon took another sip of tea. “Troubling, very troubling indeed. Your father was a diligent man to keep these records.”
“He liked to know what was going on in his life,” Rose explained, she almost sounded fond, speaking of the man who had practically been a stranger to herself and her brother. “I think he would have published them as memoirs eventually.”
“What riveting reading,” Hunter grunted. Rose gave him a reproachful look but said nothing.
Piper shifted. “What’s troubling you?” She looked down at Ryudamon. Sitting closer, she could see his orange fur had become streaked with grey, and he looked so much smaller now that he was nearer.
“I was not there when these things happened, but I was told of them by my mentor,” Ryudamon explained. “The details within give me more details than I ever had myself, but do miss out some crucial parts which I feel need to be explained so you all understand some things better.”
“I have some questions...” James said slowly.
“Wait until I have spoken, please. Perhaps you will find your answers therein,” Ryudamon replied, smiling gently. He took another sip of tea, his eyes closing and he breathed very deeply, as if he was recalling things from the very depths of his memory. From the very threads of time that had been long forgotten or pushed away.
“My mentor was there when it happened. He saw how our world changed, and how the Parasite... spread and became its current form, Mukademon. The greed of humans was unknown to us, and Dalimon in his naivety did not understand what helping your father and his business partner would mean for the Digital World. He found a friend in Russell, and was a willing participant, never realizing he was a droplet of water that created a ripple in a pond... the beginning of a chain reaction of events if you will.”
Ryudamon sighed. “The Digital World began to mutate and change. In little ways at first, but soon the changes were large and different. Lush forests would be replaced by wastelands and bogs. Trees would die, sweet smelling flowers would become putrid and venomous. The changes were all because of the influence the humans had over this world, not something they could control of course – it is their way. But the changes all had consequence. The Digital World’s atmosphere changed, it was no longer a place of peace ruled over fairly by the six Gods, but it became a land of war. Families and tribes battling against each other. The poison in the air from all the anger and hatred became a living, breathing organism, there was so much of it. And little-by-little, this organism took the form of Mukademon, and his essence was the Parasite that infected the land.” He paused, his eyes opening, and he looked at both Hunter and Rose. “You see – Mukademon was really the creation of your father’s.”
“Those that were infected rallied to Mukademon. He desired nothing more than the control of the Digital World. To continue his taint across the land and make it a world of destruction and chaos. Some were more resilient to his influence than others, but eventually everyone would fall. He wanted the Core – either within his own grasp or gone. Gone was the better option for him – after all, if he retained it and kept it, he would always be fighting to keep it safe from anyone else who would dare try to steal it from him.” He snorted. “No honor among thieves you could say.”
“Russell and Mason were the perfect scapegoats. They both desired power, their thoughts and the thoughts of Mukademon were the same in many, strange ways. Mukademon saw them as a way out to get rid of the Core, to take over. I don’t think he ever considered the fact the Gods had followers who would die for them. Nor that the Gods would lay down their lives to protect their home... not the way it was at the time of the Great Battle.”
“Great Battle?” Tom queried.
Ryudamon nodded. “It took place at The Circle. The most precious place in the Digital World where the Gods convened. They had taken sanctuary there with their most loyal followers and advisors. My mentor was one of them. They had been chased out of their own realms and were forced to convene. They could not reason with Mukademon, and that day he arrived with his forces demanding they relinquish their hold over the Digital World – that it no longer needed them. The battle was fierce, and during it your father found a way into the Circle – quite a feat considering it was believed to be impregnable.”
“Russell escaped, barely, with the Core and with Dalimon. They weren’t aware the Core itself was a living entity and it sent out a distress signal as soon as it was removed from its rightful place. The Gods pursued and confronted Russell, but Mukademon was there too... My mentor saw it all. How they attacked each other, and how the Gods sacrificed everything: their lives, memories, and powers in a last bid attempt to rid the Digital World of Mukademon and his infection. It also seemed to work... but alas... no. He outwitted them, defending himself until the last, before latching onto Mason’s body as it transferred back to your own world. Though it took charge, so while Russell appeared in his office, Mason appeared elsewhere under the Parasite’s control.”
Ryudamon finished, his tea was cold, so he poured another cup. No one spoke or seemed to breathe, waiting for the little dragon to continue his story. When it seemed the tea was otherwise occupying him, Frankie gently cleared her throat.
“So... how did we end up with our Digimon?” she asked slowly.
“Despite their sacrifice, the Gods were able at the last minute to send their spirits out through the... mechanical box-”
“Transportation pod,” Hunter prompted.
“Yes. That,” Ryudamon murmured. “To seek out suitable candidates to look after them until the time came for the real final battle. The Core did the same. Each of you were chosen by the Gods for whatever qualities you possessed. Or they saw you were to possess.”
“How?” Eva queried. “I was a baby when Irbimon’s egg was in my cot. How... could the God-him know what I was going to turn into?”
Murmurs of agreement echoed around the table. They had discussed before, how they had all been found with DigiEggs as babies, or the eggs had been there waiting for them.
“That is one thing I cannot answer. It could simply be that there was a mark on you that drew those Gods towards you. After all, you were all born after the disaster, I believe, so they were forced to wait around for some time for the ideal partners to be born...” Ryudamon seemed to shrug. “Apart from Hatimon and Skollmon.”
“What about them?” Rose’s tone was wary.
“You were both young children at the time. Hatimon and Skollmon lived with you undetected for some years before they revealed themselves – is that not correct?”
“Yes,” Rose pushed her hair back over her shoulder, “what of it?”
“They retained the haziest of memories as their time as the Core. Their memories were mixed up, confused, but they remembered things. They saw Russell in the two of you, and because of his primary involvement in everything, they chose you to help fix his mistakes,” Ryudamon explained. “A way of making up for it. Of course, not even the Core foresaw the involvement of your mother. But that’s no longer an issue, I assume.”
“No,” Rose agreed. “It’s not.”
“How come our Digimon didn’t retain their memories, like Hatimon and Skollmon did?” inquired James. “However vague their memories were – they were still there.”
Ryudamon nodded slowly. “The Gods gave up their very being, their life force, to destroy the Parasite, including their memories. There was no knowing if their memories would return ever, but it seemed they had been kept hidden away and close to their hearts, locked up until they began to unlock them on their own. Remembering too much too soon would have been overwhelming for them, so I suppose in a way, their past selves protected their current selves and let them remember bit-by-bit...” He paused, as if hesitating for a moment. “The journey, the ritual Rubimon will have them perform, will unlock any memories that remain elusive to them.”
“I don’t like the sound of this ritual,” Piper explained, folding her arms. “What if it’s too much for them?”
“It won’t be,” Ryudamon replied, placating her and the others as best he could. He could sense their anxiety ebbing off them in waves. Their worry and concern for their partners was so intense it was practically tangible. “This is one last task they must do to find their full potential.”
Reyez sniffed quietly, fishing his lodestone out of his pocket and rolling it across the table towards Ryudamon. “What are they?” he more so demanded an explanation than asked for one. Ryudamon picked up the object gingerly in his claws and turned it over several times, looking at it from different angles, his expression perplexed. “We all have one, except Rose and Hunter.”
“I haven’t a clue,” Ryudamon replied quietly. “Where did you get them?”
“Different circumstances,” Eva said. “Tom got his from a group of Digimon resisting the Generals. I got mine from a shard of ice after Tsukuyomon froze half the town.”
“Mine appeared when me and James kissed,” Frankie explained, “and James’ came from Oisinmon.”
“Got mine here, from a flower.”
“And mine just generated underground when Caesarmon got it wet,” Piper completed the explanations. “By-the-way... you never mentioned the Generals in your story.”
Ryudamon regarded her for a moment. “Mukademon’s army was vast, he needed Generals to keep control of different parts of the army. Taranimon, Satyressmon, and Bondyemon were the most ruthless and unfeeling of his highest ranking followers. I believe you may have met some of the others here who follow him still.”
“TigerVespamon,” James prompted.
“Zanbamon,” agreed Frankie.
“We met a BlackGatomon who said she was looking for an altar where she would receive power...” Rose added, trailing as if she expected Ryudamon to carry on for her.
He did not disappoint, laying the curious lodestone on the table and sighing softly. “Ah yes, the altars.” He breathed softly. Eleanor rose up from the table, and crossed to the kitchen to heat up the kettle again, noticing the tea had gone cold. “Altars began to spring up all over shortly after the Gods were destroyed. Digimon were still faithful to Mukademon and they made pilgrimages to them. After he regained full power, news travelled fast, even to here. And his... priests, I suppose, Digimon named Wisemon, can bestow immense power and strength on Digimon willing to pledge themselves to Mukademon and his cause.”
“What kind of power?” Tom asked.
“I don’t know for certain,” Ryudamon replied. “Rubimon explored one of them for me some time ago, she said she saw Digimon being granted new forms which were grotesque in some cases, deformed in others. But powerful.”
“Oh great – more bad guys. That’s just what we need,” Hunter said sarcastically.
“The lodestones,” Reyez prompted again.
“I can’t tell you what they are. Or what they do... only that they appear important and I would recommend keeping them safe and close to you,” Ryudamon explained. Eleanor returned, smiling blithely as Ryudamon looked at her and returned it. He moved slowly, almost creaking as he did so, and got to his feet. “Now I am tired and must rest. I will answer more questions when I am awake again. I trust you will all be comfortable here for the time being.”
“Yes,” Piper answered before anyone else could argue. Ryudamon seemed grateful.
“Eric, Eleanor,” he looked at the two humans, “please answer any other questions they might have.” Both nodded, and Ryudamon left them, walking slowly, and taking each step up the stairs one at a time.
The group watched as he left, remaining silent until he had disappeared and the sounds of his footsteps had stopped above them. Piper’s face fell, and she brushed her fingers through her hair, looking solemn. “He looks so old... I wonder how much time has passed here since we left.”
“Too much,” Frankie sighed, deflated. “You have to wonder how old he really is.”
“Old enough,” Eleanor smiled. She gathered up a few plates, beginning to take them into the kitchen. Tom and James assisted until the table was clear and they all sat again. Eric and Eleanor were willing to listen and answer the questions that were not as pressing as the ones asked to Ryudamon.
“How much time has passed?” Eva inquired, tilting her head. “Last time we were here it was two months, but two weeks in the Digital World... at home it must be something like that right? We’ve only been here three days at most.”
“Well...” Eleanor sighed gently, casting a long look at Eric. “We don’t know everything that happened obviously, but something massive occurred when you were all dragged here. The time here and the time at home is the same now. Three days here is three days there.”
“That’s... impossible,” Tom stated. “It would have to be some kind of huge cataclysm to cause that kind of time shift – surely.”
“Digimon evolving to Mega here, there, and everywhere? The Digital World hazing with the real world?” Eric smirked. “Those aren’t cataclysms to you?”
Tom opened his mouth, but closed it promptly. “Ryudamon will send us home though, right? After the Digimon complete this ritual?”
“That’s for him to decide,” Eleanor replied softly. “How did you get home last time?”
“He drew a glyph and sent us,” Piper explained. “But judging by how much he’s aged... using that much power would probably kill him.”
“Exactly,” Eleanor nodded.
“So how do we get home?” Hunter demanded.
James added, “and while we’re at it – how did you two get here? If Ryudamon is too weak to transport us back, I doubt he had the strength to bring you here, so what gives?”
Eleanor and Eric exchanged looks. The corner of Eric’s mouth twitched downwards and his brows furrowed. Eleanor gave him a supportive smile, squeezing his hand. Eric looked back at the group, mainly focusing on Rose and Hunter. “I don’t know if you guys are ready to hear...”
“Ready to hear what?!” demanded Rose. “Honestly, all this secrecy is not acceptable.”
“But it is... was necessary,” Eric replied calmly. He shifted, holding his hands out before him on the table top. “The idea of the transportation pod wasn’t completely abandoned. Ellie found blueprints while going through files on Bella’s computer.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” James asked.
“So is changing the wording on a legally binding document to better the circumstances of someone who needs it,” Eleanor said, smiling warmly. James shrank back in his seat a little, blushing around the ears.
“Anyway... this was after I told her all about Ryudamon and you guys. Eleanor has known for a long time and a lot about it. She’s been the eyes and ears inside Atlas Corp for me and for Ryudamon. Without the blueprints and the technology, well...” Eric struggled. “The blueprints had everything we needed, all the formulae and the building information, we just needed someone out of Bella’s grip to make it. So...” Eric trailed, he could see Hunter and Rose putting two-and-two together in their minds and couldn’t continue, so Eleanor did it for him.
“Eric had been in touch with Logan since he left, he was the last person to see him. Logan asked Eric to keep an eye on you two, and keep him updated. Logan was the only person smart enough, and far enough out of Bella’s reach to construct the transportation pod and get it working.”
“Logan,” Rose repeated. She had practically turned to stone, all the color had drained from her face. “You were in touch with Logan?”
“Your brother, Logan?” Piper asked, looking at Hunter, who had turned as grey as his hair.
“It was completed not long ago, and was able to transport myself and Eric here,” Eleanor explained. “He’s currently working on the techniques needed to bring us back.”
“It can’t take us back?!” Frankie yelped. “So we’re stuck here until their AWOL brother fixes the thing?”
“It’s near enough to completion,” Eric explained calmly, fishing around in his coat pocket, “it just needs a few test runs.” He found what he was searching for and laid it out in the palm of his hand. It was a small square box with five buttons on it and a small screen. “This’ll be able to take us all back when it’s up and running.”
Eva gently nudged Rose. “Are you okay?”
“You were in touch with our brother and you didn’t say anything?!” Rose practically screamed, slamming both hands down on the table, knocking several cups over and hot water spilling.
Eric surveyed her fury with a completely placid face. “He asked me not to tell you. He knew how badly you’d react.”
“You...” Rose’s face contorted angrily. She whirled on Hunter, who so far had remained perfectly silent. “HAVEN’T YOU GOT ANYTHING TO SAY?! WHY ARE YOU JUST SITTING THERE?!”
“Rose...” Hunter’s voice was waspish and harsh. He was shaking, his hands fisting and un-fisting in his lap. “I can’t.”
“You can’t?! Oh, how useful. You can’t,” Rose mocked. “Are all the men in this family useless, deceitful and cruel?”
“Shut. Up,” Hunter growled, he glared at her from beneath his hair. “You’re not the only one who was affected when he left, and you’re not the only one affected now.” He got to his feet swiftly, brushing past his sister. “I can’t deal right now.” He was out of the room in moments, Piper followed after him silently, ignoring both Frankie and Eva as they told her to leave him.
Rose was quivering, and rounded on Eric. “I want to speak to him. Now.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
“Why not?!” Rose yelled. “He’s my brother!”
“Rose.” Eva’s voice was like a rock thudding on the ground and it seemed to bring some senses back to Rose. She turned on the taller girl who was on her feet, arms out and palms forward in a placating manner. “Calm down.”
“HOW CAN YOU EXPECT ME TO BE CALM?!” Rose screamed at her. She was losing all sense of propriety and felt close to tears. Others in the room tried to avert their gazes, feeling awkward enough to be present at Rose’s outburst.
“I don’t expect you to be,” Eva explained smiling a little. “Anyone would be angry at the news you just heard, but are you helping anyone by getting so upset?”
A small sputter that verged on a sob escaped Rose’s lips, and she brought her hands up to her face. “He’s been gone for so long...”
“I know,” Eva sighed, stepping towards the shorter girl. Rose had briefly mentioned Logan while they had travelled together. They had described each other’s families, exchanged happy memories – or rather Rose had been interested to hear Eva’s memories and about her family, and Eva had then asked about Rose’s own. “And it’s okay to be angry. But you can’t take it out on Hunter or anyone else here, okay?”
Rose’s shoulders shook as Eva placed her hands on either one. Eva glanced at Frankie, who was staring at Rose with a sympathetic expression. “Would anyone mind if we had a break from the revelations for a bit? I think it’s getting a little overwhelming.”
No one disagreed.
Piper found Hunter upstairs.
He did not know Ryudamon’s house and had obviously gone for the first thing he could find to get himself away from everyone else, which was the stairs. She had taken her time to follow him, wanting to give him at least a couple of minutes to get himself together, so she had taken the stairs one at a time and checked each of the different rooms for him before finding him at the one furthest along the corridor, with his fist practically slammed into the wall.
She slid the door closed behind her and stood silently there, her arms by her sides, and watched him for a minute.
He had a face like thunder, his skin almost grey but for the burning red on his face, which Piper was willing to guess was caused by some form of outrage. His entire body was shaking and he had thrown his glasses to one side of the room and pulled his hair out of its ponytail - the band somewhere on the floor and his hair now a mess where he had tugged and yanked at it in his frustration.
It occurred to Piper at that moment she had never really seen Hunter get angry or throw himself into a rage. He became annoyed or frustrated often enough, and easily shrugged it off with a joke or a moment of profanity. But to see him actually shaking with anger, was a surprise. He was usually so mellow, letting everything wash over him.
She knew very little about Logan. Hunter had mentioned him once or twice and the conversations about him had been brief and had ended with a short remark from Hunter and a swift change of subject. Logan was a sensitive issue, that was for certain, and judging from the screams Piper had heard from Rose as she’d gone upstairs, it was a delicate subject for the two of them.
She stepped a few paces forward, stopping when Hunter’s shoulders stiffened and he glanced back over his shoulder. His eyesight without contacts or glasses was terrible – but he would know it was her. Who else would it have been. “Hey...”
“I don’t want to be rude, but could you go away, Piper?” Hunter’s tone was sharp and his words were more like an order. “Please.”
“You know I’m not going to do that,” Piper replied softly. She padded across the floor to where his glasses were lying. She picked them up, checked them over for damage and then folded them neatly to keep them safe. “You’re going to damage your hand if you keep hitting the wall.”
“Rather the wall and myself, than anyone else,” Hunter practically snarled. “The way I feel right now I want to rip someone to shreds.”
“Comforting to know,” Piper sighed.
“You’re mocking me?!” Hunter shouted, rounded on her. Piper stayed in place, perfectly still. She was rather blind in how to handle this situation, how to handle anyone when they were losing it or weren’t behaving as themselves. She could barely handle herself when she wasn’t in her right mind. Anyone else was something of a mystery. She could see Hunter’s chest was heaving, he was breathing hard and despite his obvious anger, he looked vulnerable and uncertain. “I’m... I don’t even know any more! Why would you make fun of me!?”
“I’m not mocking you,” Piper returned gently.
Hunter blinked, once, twice, like he was falling back into the room and looked at her, confused. “I... I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled.” He turned his back on her again and put both hands against the wall, shaking. “This isn’t anything to do with you.”
“Maybe not directly,” she returned, walking slowly across the room, stepping over the futon beds laid out. “But I care about you, and it’s horrible for me to see you so upset.”
Hunter inhaled sharply, his hands that had been flat on the wall balling up into fists and smacking against the wood. His shoulders sagged and shook violently. “Get it together,” he practically barked at himself. “You’re better than this. This is pathetic,” he growled, his teeth were gritted and the words were more like orders to himself. “Grow the fuck up and get a backbone.”
Piper frowned a little, seeing him so worked up was bad enough, but hearing him belittle and berate himself was practically heartbreaking. She tentatively reached out her good hand towards him, hesitating to touch him in case he would lash out. She ran her fingers through the back of his hair softly. “Stop talking to yourself like that.”
Hunter exhaled deeply and sank to his knees on the floor. “Sorry...” he muttered. “No one’s supposed to see this.”
Piper dropped to her knees behind him, shuffled forward and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, turning her head so her cheek was resting on one of his shoulder blades. “You don’t have to apologize to me. Everyone has their demons.”
They were both silent for a while. Hunter breathed slowly, shakily, and Piper could feel him swallow deliberately several times. He shook against her, buried his head against the fabric of her poncho and grasped one of her hands with his own, squeezing it tightly. She returned it, and kissed his shoulder, waiting patiently for him to talk again. She couldn’t force him, if he didn’t speak, then she wouldn’t make him. He had been there for her when she needed it, if they didn’t speak, then the least she could do was reciprocate.
“I’m supposed to be the one who’s got no skeletons in the closet, no ghosts haunting his past,” Hunter spoke finally, his voice thick, his tone laced with bitterness and contempt. “The ‘normal’ one.”
Piper moved around so she was in front of Hunter on the ground, between the wall and him. His eyes remained downcast, he didn’t meet her gaze even as she grasped his face in her hands gently and lifted his head for him. He kept his eyes averted, or carefully shadowed by his hair.
“You’re no different from anyone else,” Piper told him in a firm, but gentle voice. “Talk to me.”
It was a long time before Hunter spoke.
He opened and closed his mouth several times not letting any sound come out and he frowned deeply, his eyebrows furrowing together as he collected his thoughts, trying to make them coherent to himself. His heart hammered heavily in his chest like it was trying to break out of his ribcage, his palms felt sweaty and he rubbed them on his jeans several times to get rid of the moisture. And his throat ran dry. He didn’t do this. He didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. He didn’t put himself, his insecurities or his feelings out on the line for everyone else to see and judge. He doubted Piper realized how difficult it was for him to talk. To even make a little mention of his feelings. He had beaten them down so far growing up, after a while he had felt like he didn’t have any, or none that were of any consequence.
His veins pumped with adrenaline and he breathed in deeply through his nose.
“It feels...” he started and stopped. “Logan is a touchy subject. He left, me and Rose. After our father died he promised he wouldn’t. It hit Rose hardest... but he’s been out of our lives for so long it’s kind of a shock to the system to have him suddenly so involved without us... me knowing about it. Why wouldn’t he contact me?” Hunter queried. “Am I not good enough? Not trustworthy enough?”
“He probably wanted to protect himself from Bella,” Piper reasoned softly.
“Maybe,” Hunter murmured, “but it’s a kick to the face. Hearing about your own brother from someone who is a stranger. After Logan left, everything fell to me. I had to be the one there for Rose, and take the brunt of everything.” He paused, realizing he was talking fast. Piper squeezed one of his hands. “I have thought so many times of the things I’d want to say to him, given the chance. But just hearing that he’s been in contact made my whole body turn cold.”
“You have unresolved issues. You’re angry with him for effectively abandoning you after he promised he wouldn’t. That’s not uncommon. It doesn’t make you a bad person,” Piper explained. “I’d be more worried if hearing about Logan again didn’t affect you.”
Piper tilted her head. “But that’s not all that’s bothering you, is it?”
Hunter’s eyes flickered to her occasionally now, for the briefest of moments that shine of fear and vulnerability was still there.
“It’s my fault,” he admitted finally.
“Everything.” Hunter shrugged. “At least it feels that way.”
“In those journals, he said he was doing everything he was doing for us. For me, Rose, Logan, Bella. And in doing so, he destroyed... so much. Not just the Digital World, but our lives were knocked for a loop. He destroyed people’s lives even after his own was ended, and it was because of his greed and his ill-disguised desire for power...” Hunter paused, he was breathing faster. He rubbed his face with his hands and released the tiniest sound of embittered laughter. “I’m scared that I’m like him. That I’m just as greedy, that I’m just as power hungry and have the same desires, ready to forsake everything and everyone I love and care about - you, Skollmon - to justify myself and my own means.”
“You’re not,” Piper told him firmly.
“How do you know?!” Hunter retorted, more aggressively than he wanted. Still Piper didn’t recoil, she barely even blinked. “You didn’t know him. You didn’t read those journals. You don’t know.”
“But I know you,” Piper explained, “and you barely knew your father either. He died when you were a child and the things you read in those journals are just one part of him.”
Hunter groaned and rubbed his eyes with the balls of his hands. “Piper...”
“What has happened - what’s happening in the real world, what happened here - is not your fault. You are blameless. You were a child, and were not and are not responsible of the actions of your father, a grown man who had his own mind and made up his own mind when he followed his selfish desires,” Piper said, with a conviction in her voice so strong Hunter couldn’t find words to make an argument. “You might have been like that, once. But you’re not now.”
“How can you be so sure?” Hunter shook his head, his loose hair fluttering across his eyes, forehead and cheeks. Piper half-smiled and swept her fingers back through the mess, pushing the hair off his face.
“Because people can change, contrary to popular belief,” she said softly. “And you’re proof of that. You’re so different now compared to when I first met you. And the ways you’ve changed are all good. You’re not perfect, no one is, but you’re not full of greed, and you’re not selfish.”
Hunter’s brows furrowed. “So... I am without identity... Awesome.”
“You are you – and that’s okay,” Piper explained, smiling. “You are not Russell Divine, you are not Logan Divine. You are Hunter. And you are kind and funny and intelligent,” Piper punctuated each word with a feather-light kiss on his forehead, eyelids, nose and cheeks. “Stubborn... you are a wonderful human being with so much going for you.” She kissed him finally on the mouth, carefully, curling her fingers into Hunter’s hair as he reciprocated, tilting her jaw up. She broke the kiss, leaving her eyes closed and her forehead resting against Hunter’s. “And I love you, for exactly who you are.”
Hunter released a shuddering breath, smiling. “You don’t have to say that, if you don’t want to.”
“I do want to,” Piper retorted with a small smile. She paused for a few seconds, pushing Hunter’s glasses carefully into place and letting him adjust them until they sat comfortably. “You can’t beat yourself up for something that was your father’s fault.”
“Do you?” Piper prompted. “You’re without blame in all this. And what makes it better, is how you’re trying to fix your father’s mistakes. You’re a better person than him. And your brother is going to see that, eventually.”
“There’s no guarantee we’re going to see Logan,” Hunter murmured, sighing and slowly getting to his feet. “I don’t know what I’d say if we did.”
Piper followed, rising onto her feet and dusting off her legs. “You start with ‘hello’ and see how it goes from there.”
Hunter grabbed her hand and pulled her against him, wrapping his arms around her smaller body, as her own encircled his waist. She buried her face into his chest, and Hunter perched his head on top of hers, inhaling. “Thanks, Piper...”
She leaned back to look at him. “Anytime.”
Downstairs things had settled down too. Piper and Hunter had been gone for about forty-five minutes, in which time Eva had calmed Rose enough down that she was no long shouting or a quivering wreck, but looked a little disheveled and uneasy now. She stayed close to Eva still, and Eva kept a close watch on her. Everyone had disbanded to do their own thing for the short time. James and Frankie spoke quietly on a set of cushions towards the very edge of the room, Eric and Eleanor had tidied the kitchen while Tom and Reyez had played video games against each other on their D-Touches.
When Hunter and Piper came through the door to the living area, they were met by looks of worry and concern. Piper was quick to placate the looks she caught from Frankie and Eva with a reassuring smile, and Hunter did the same with Rose. The two of them would talk later undoubtedly – together, not with everyone else around.
“You okay?” Eric asked, walking through to the living room drying his hands on a dish towel. “We thought we heard shouting.”
“I’m fine,” Hunter replied shortly, sniffing and pulling on his remade ponytail. He sat down with a thump and pulled Piper down into his lap. Eric shrugged a shoulder and returned to the kitchen while Eleanor came back through, untying an apron from around her waist. Everyone was rather settled in their own places, so no one moved as she sat down too, and was quickly joined by Eric.
“We should tell you a few other things,” Eleanor stated. “Now that the biggest shock is done with.”
Reyez groaned. “I do not like these surprises.”
“It’s about what’s happening in the real world... What Bella has been up to since you all disappeared,” Eleanor explained.
“It’s only been three days. She can’t do that much damage in so short a time,” Frankie stated, rolling her eyes. She caught the grave look from Eleanor which told her she was incorrect and sat up straight. “What’s been happening?”
“We only got here yesterday, we’ve been seeing it all firsthand,” Eric explained. “She’s gone berserk. She’s running rampant with crystalline Digimon and with the Parasite, just attacking with no care for who gets injured or what happens. I don’t know if it’s her flaunting her power while you’re gone – or if the Parasite isn’t aware you’re all gone and is trying to call you out, but it’s safe to say, a lot of the city has been evacuated. Most people don’t even know it’s her behind it all, just a select few.”
“And the military?” Tom asked seriously.
“Spread so thin, they can barely keep up with the crystalline Digimon attacks,” Eleanor replied gravely. “They come, attack, and disappear so quickly that the military might as well not bother to go to the attacks at all. And even if they get there when the Digimon is still there – their weapons are doing no damage.”
Reyez sat up. “But they were developing weapons specifically to take on the crystalline Digimon. It was working.”
“Bella found a way to make them stronger,” Eleanor told him. “Their new weapons may make a dent, but not enough to cause any real damage. So many have been injured in the fighting, there’s barely enough people to combat the attacks.”
“Great.” Reyez slumped back against the wall. “I’m still all for welcoming the end of the world – it sounds like it’s all gone down the shitter anyway.”
“Rey!” Frankie’s tone was scolding. “That’s a really stupid attitude to help.”
“Well, considering we don’t have a way to get back right now...” Reyez trailed, feeling no need to continue his comment as everyone knew he was correct in his statement.
“Anything else?” Tom inquired, wanting to move the subject on.
“Occasionally the Digital World has phased in and out with our own,” Eleanor told him. “It’s been very rare, but it’s happened all over the world.”
“That’s like at your parents’ house,” Eva explained, looking across the room at Tom. “Remember when we went looking for Irbimon and Poemon?”
“Yeah,” Tom nodded.
Frankie added, “a similar thing happened to Piper and I, only it was the real world phasing with the Digital World.”
“Is it causing much disruption?” asked James.
Eric shook his head. “Not really. There have been countless reports of it, of forests appearing like holograms and then disappearing in the blink of an eye, like a mirage. And same thing of real Digimon appearing, and disappearing all over the world. But nothing that’s been interfering.”
James spoke again. “There’s one thing I don’t understand.”
“One thing?” Reyez cast a lazy eye over at James.
He ignored him and carried on. “How has the time difference changed? We told you before, when we were here before it was two weeks our time, two months here. But now you say the time has equaled.”
“Can’t give you an answer to that,” Eric said, rubbing his fingers over his temple, as if fending off a headache. “We have a theory that the catalyst that brought you all here was strong enough to disrupt the time change... along with other things.”
Frankie tilted a fine brow. “Dare I ask?”
“You won’t need woolly jumpers and winter coats when we get back,” Eleanor explained. “The atmosphere did a complete jump. The Autumnal weather disappeared in the blink of an eye, and it was like being in an Amazon rainforest. All hot and muggy, humid.”
“So, not only have we disrupted time, but we’ve also affected the weather,” Tom repeated, clarifying.
Tom exhaled through his nose. “Hopefully once we’re back, things will be fixed.”
“There’s no telling,” Eric murmured. He paused, and looked at Eleanor for a moment, catching her eye with a serious look. One that did not go unnoticed by Frankie.
She pursed her lips. “What?”
Eric’s mouth tightened a little. “Backtracking to the crystalline Digimon again...” he paused, “we might have something that will even the playing field when we all get back.”
“Somehow I don’t like the sound of this,” Eva murmured.
“Let the man talk,” Reyez hushed her.
“Alongside the blueprints for the transport pod, I also found the information Bella has and uses to create her crystalline Digimon. It’s complicated, and requires a lot of skill, but I sent them to Logan anyway, to see if he could make heads or tails of them,” Eleanor said. “He’s been working on creating artificial Digimon to fight for us, and recently succeeded. It was only a small Digimon, not very strong, but with a little more time, we could have our own army to go up against Bella-”
“Out of the question,” James snapped. “We’re not stooping to her level.”
“Speak for yourself,” Reyez snorted. “I, for one, would be happy to have an army of indestructible Digimon on our side when-slash-if we get back.”
Eva’s brows furrowed. “Reyez, honestly, how can you say that? You’ve seen the damage those things do. And how they’re completely out of control. They cannot be ordered, they have minds of their own and those minds are to destroy!”
“Maybe there’s a way to reprogram them,” Frankie piped up, gaining surprised looks from those around her. She shrugged her shoulders delicately. “After all, they’re created through formula and programming, there’s got to be a way to give them like... a target... or something.”
“A directive?” Reyez prompted.
Frankie nodded. “That one!”
“There might be,” Eric murmured. “I didn’t think of mentioning that to Logan.”
“It’s a bad idea,” Tom added in his comments, always the last to do so, waiting until everyone else had had their say. “Giving that kind of information to anyone, however good your intentions, gives them the power to play God, which is basically what Bella’s been doing all this time. There’s nothing to say Logan will help us now, and then in four years time we’ll have to face him and his own personal army of Digimon.”
“You have very little faith in Logan,” Eric sighed. “But you’ve never met him, I can understand why.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Look, if you could understand how much Logan wants to help, and how wrong you are that he would become some kind of Frankenstein-”
“I doubt people thought Bella Divine was capable of bringing a whole city to its knees,” Piper murmured. “People can surprise you. And not always in a good way.”
“Why is it, that when we’re faced with an idea that could actually help us and give us an edge, everyone – usually bar me – is against it?” Reyez grumbled.
“Hey, I thought it was a good idea,” Frankie said, raising her hands defensively.
“We are talking about having indestructible Digimon fighting other indestructible Digimon while we focus on the main issues, Bella and Mukademon,” Reyez explained. “I figure we take out the big guns and we can pick off the rest at a later date.”
“You’re only seeing the black and white,” Eva chided, “as always. You’re not seeing the grey in between the lines.”
“I’m perfectly capable of seeing the shades of grey,” Reyez snapped. “I think it’s you guys not seeing the bigger picture here. So what if our own Digimon cause a few houses to get flattened or a few cars to get overturned, it’s nothing the city hasn’t already experienced. If they keep Bella’s minions busy, I’m on board with it.”
“But then, we’ll be just as bad as Bella,” James said slowly. “You really wouldn’t mind being tarred with the same brush?”
“If it helps to get the job done, then no, I don’t,” Reyez said waspishly.
Sensing tension rising in the room, Eric stood up. “It doesn’t sound like there’s going to be a resolution tonight,” he said, slipping his hands into his back pockets. “Just bickering, and you guys going around and around in circles. I only mentioned it to give you an idea, in case you needed it.”
“I wouldn’t worry, we bicker as a group all the time,” Tom said wryly.
“Nevertheless,” Eric continued, “I don’t think there’s much else can be discussed now.”
“It’s getting dark,” Eleanor pointed out.
“Where are our Digimon?” Frankie inquired. “I thought they’d be back by now.”
“They’re probably on their way back with Rubimon,” Eric told her.
Eleanor got to her feet. “You’re all probably tired. Why don’t you all go to bed and we’ll discuss things with fresh brains and fresh eyes in the morning?”
“What about the Digimon?” Tom insisted.
“You’ll undoubtedly wake up with them at the ends of your beds in the morning,” Eleanor said, with some finality to her voice. It was as if they were all being told to go up to bed by a mother figure, and somehow she had enough authority in her voice to make them.
Digimon: Reboot, original characters involved, and graphics are © 2010-2017 Zuza J, Rebekah L, & Keisha P, unless stated otherwise. Do not alter or redistribute any of the site content without granted permission. Digimon and characters not made for the Reboot universe are © Toei Animation, Bandai, and Akiyoshi Hongo.
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