Chapter 7

Return of a Legend

"Takuya Kanbara," the Flame Emperor mumbled from his kneeling position on the floor as the hazy world around him returned to his eyes. The brown orbs looked around, taking note of the surroundings he hadn't seen with his own eyes for many years.

He looked around the room with a confused expression for a few seconds before a single fact began to set in on him. He was truly seeing the world again. No longer was his body moving on autopilot at the mercy of the lost Spirit of Flames. Freedom was his again, even if he couldn't remember much of his enslavement.

"This is my room in the Sanctuary… How did I…? The last thing I remember…!" Takuya's eyes suddenly widened and shifted downward.

On the ground before him lay the girl he had seen in his fevered dream. She lay there just like the last image of her he remembered from his dream. The dress and adornments were all the same, except the fabric was now soaked with sweat that leaked from her and pooled on the floor. For a few seconds he just stared at her drawing labored breathes that weakened with each passing inhale and exhale, trying to place her and what was wrong with the scene before him. Then, like a bolt of lightning it struck him.

"She's burning up and by the looks of her she's lost a lot of water!" His eyes jumped up from her and began scanning the room. Thanks to his elemental attribute he couldn't feel the intense heat of the room, but he could definitely see the ripping air and rising steam that climbed the walls and pooled on the ceiling.

"I need to get her out of here! Now!" Takuya scooped her up in his arms and picked his sword off of the floor without dropping her. His eyes quickly ran along the walls, his mind trying to make some kind of connection with his memories, until they found what they were looking for and narrowed.

"I really hope I remember how to control this!" He growled as he pulled the girl tightly against him with one arm and used the other to point the large sword at a certain spot on the wall.

"DRAGONFIRE CROSSBOW" He roared as the sword opened and discharged a powerful blast of flames right into the wall.

After leaving Kari to watch over the Emperor for the fourth time the three digimon had settled into the large castle's kitchen. Row after row of black marble countertops ran down the middle of the room while lining both walls were many wood stoked ovens and stoves, cooling after the breakfast rush an hour ago. In a few hours they would be started up again to prepare lunch; but for now Gatomon, Rosemon, and FlameWizardmon were using it as a place to relax and brew up cool lemonade to replenish Kari and the Emperor's electrolytes and liquids.

"You looking kind of nervous," Rosemon leaned over the stone kitchen counter and examined Gatomon's expression.

"Of course I'm nervous. I just left Kari alone with a guy whose fever is literally turning his room into a sauna. At any moment it could get too hot and she could pass out. She could even…" Gatomon cut herself off with a grim look, unable to force herself to say the word, die. "I should be doing something to help. And I shouldn't have left her up there again."

"First off, you are doing something to help. She needs this lemonade to cool off and replace what's she's losing through sweat. The same with the Emperor. Second, staying in a room that's quite a few degrees warmer than an oven is a lot less of a challenge for her than it is for the digimon wearing a permanent fur coat," Rosemon responded, waving the large wooden spoon she had been using to stir the lemonade a few inches from Gatomon's nose.

"I guess you have a point. My fur's still frizzy from the few minutes I was last in there, and my heads finally stopped spinning from the heat," Gatomon begrudgingly admitted to the floral digimon's viewpoint.

"She does. And don't forget this is what Kari chose for herself, so as her friend and partner you need to continue to back her up," FlameWizardmon remarked as he set another crate of lemons down on the counter.

"Good," Rosemon smiled as she pulled a few of the fruit from the box. "We just need to juice a few more and this batch will be-!"

Rosemon never got to finish as a loud boom echoed through the halls of the castle a second before the whole structure shook, sending tiny bits of broken stone raining down to the floor and counters.

"What the hell was that!?" Gatomon yelped as she steadied herself on the stool at the counter.

"I'm not sure," Rosemon turned her attention away from Gatomon and to FlameWizardmon who was staring up at the ceiling with a quizzical expression. "FlameWizardmon, is the castle under attack?"

"I… I don't think so…" FlameWizardmon mumbled as he continued to stare at the ceiling before a look of realization crossed his face and he jumped down from his stool. He took off for the door with a worried expression as he yelled over his shoulder. "That explosion came from the Sanctuary!"

"Kari!" Gatomon yelped as the words of the fiery digimon sent her into a panic and leaping down from her stool, knocking it to the ground in a clatter of hardwood against the stone floor.

The three digimon exited the kitchen and into the halls where different digimon ran about past them. Guards, maintenance crews, cleaning staff, and politician digimon were swarming about in a panic. The guards were heading towards the source of the explosion while others moved to secure the building and civilians.

"Stick close," FlameWizardmon instructed the two.

"Climb up," Rosemon knelt down and extended her arms to Gatomon, offering to transport her through the chaos on her shoulder.

"Right!" Gatomon quickly agreed, knowing that a small digimon like her could easily get trampled in the chaos.

Secured in their plan and direction the three stepped out into the chaos and began following behind a group of large guards, allowing them to plow the way for them.

"Rosemon! What happened?" A familiar voice called out over the crowds when the three got close to the stairs that led up to the Emperor's Sanctuary.

"Granny! We don't know, but we think it came from the Sanctuary," Rosemon turned and found Babamon riding on the shoulder of the Wargreymon who guarded the courtroom doors.

"That's what I thought. How could this have happened? Could someone have gotten this close to the castle again without us noticing?" Babamon obvious suspected that something had either gone horribly wrong or someone had just tried to assassinate the Emperor.

"Let's hope not, because with the Emperor sick he's defenseless," FlameWizardmon stated, a bit of panic cracking through his normally controlled demeanor.

With thoughts of danger threatening the Emperor and Kari the now group of five increased their speed and charged ahead. Soon they were at the stairs and could already spot burning flames flickering at the top. Ascending to the top floor it didn't take the five long to locate the source of the explosion. A large hole had been punched, more like melted, right through the wall of the Emperor's chambers and out into the hall. The inside of the room had been set ablaze, consuming everything that was capable of burning in red hot flames.

"KARI! KARI!" Gatomon frantically screamed into the flames, fearing that the worst had happened, as Rosemon fought to keep her from diving into the inferno.

"Wargreymon, go back down and gather a team together to put these fires out," Babamon instructed the mega as it passed her to Rosemon.

"Understood," it nodded in understanding before charging back down the stairs to get a crew to fight the fires.

"What happened here? Where are the Emperor and Kari?" Rosemon turned to FlameWizardmon who was blankly staring into the flames that were once the room he spent years keeping in order.

"I don't… I don't know…" He gasped back a response while trying to find any indication of the two.

"It starts in the room and goes straight through the castle to the outside," Babamon wasn't looking into the Emperors room, but to the hole on the other side of the hall. The same gaping hole in the wall had been burned through two adjacent room until stopping at one through which the light of the noon sun was pouring through. "This was caused by single intensely hot attack… fired from within the Emperors room."

"What? From within the room?" The three parroted back, something about the much older digimons words developing meaning within their minds.

"But the only thing out that way is…!" Babamon's eyes widened in realization before she tugged on her granddaughter's ponytail, forcing her to turn all the way around, and pointed towards the hole that led outside. "Through the holes. To the outside!"

Rosemon didn't dare pause to ask why of her family matriarch. She just obeyed and jumped through the first hole in the wall, across the room, through another hole and across another room before leaping out onto the roof of the castle.

"Straight ahead. To the Prism Springs," Babamon ordered. Something about the hole in the wall had told her exactly where they needed to go, and had somehow really excited her.

From one rooftop to the next Rosemon and FlameWizardmon leapt until they reached the back of the castle where a large field of green grass, encircled by trees ran up to the edge of a long tall wall of craggy rocks that made up the foot of the secondary mountain range. Moving beyond the trees there was a large pond of crystal clear water fed by the waters that sprung from the underground springs that terminated at the rock wall and leaked down its surface. The waters of the pond were so clear in fact that even at the deepest part one could see the bottom as easily as if one were looking through air.

On more than a couple occasions each of the digimon present, with the exception of Gatomon, had come out to this remote location to relax in the soothing cool waters of the mountain spring fed pond. They would normally marvel at its untainted beauty and the nature that surrounded it, but at this very moment, they stood on the banks watching something kneeling in three feet of the liquid. The something was actually two somethings. The first larger figure was cradling the second more petite figure, keeping its head just above the water and submerging the rest of the body, while they used their hand to scoop up water which they alternately poured over the seconds forehead or into their open mouth, doing the latter slowly so they wouldn't choke on it.

"Kari!" Gatomon yelped at the sight of her unconscious partner in the water.

She gave no regard to the waters as she attempted to jump from Rosemon's shoulder and run to her partner, but a quick flick from Babamon's broom and she was knocked to the side and into FlameWizardmon's arms.

"What are you doing? Kari looks hurt. I have to check on her," Gatomon growled at the one who had hit her and the one holding her alike.

"You're forgetting who's holding onto her," FlameWizardmon rejoined.

Taking a moment to collect herself Gatomon began thinking about the fact that it was the Flame Emperor whose arms Kari was in. His eyes were cast down and his head was lowered, allowing his long dark brown hair to spill into the water and twist about in the rippling crystal clear water. His sword was planted in the water a few feet from him and he was taking slightly exhausted breathes, obviously not over the ordeal he had just gone through, while on the shore none of them knew what to do. The four of them combined would never be enough to pry Kari from his arms, but somehow, the longer they watched him the less urgent things became. For some reason the fearful and unapproachable aura that often surrounded him was gone, and now it almost felt… inviting.

"My lord," Babamon jumped down from her granddaughters shoulder and took one cautious step into the water, caring nothing for getting her clothes wet. The Flame Emperor made no indication that he had heard her as he continued to pour water over the girl.

He dipped his hand into the water and cupped the liquid, lifting it gently up to the girl's lips, guiltily cursing at himself for mentally remarking on their softness against his hand, before he began slowly pouring it down her throat. Each time he did her natural reflexes would kick in and she'd gulp it down despite her nearly unconscious state, but this time the water got halfway down before the muscles in her throat seized and began moving in reverse.

Kari's consciousness returned to her as she tilted her head to the side and began to cough up the drink of water. As she cleared the substance from her throat she felt a hand press against her back and begin moving in circular rotations, trying to aid her in expelling the liquid from the lungs. Once they were clear she weakly rolled her head back and looked up into the eyes of the one holding her.

"Are you okay now? You don't feel dehydrated anymore, do you?" The boy looking into her face with great concern asked.

"…" Kari didn't respond to his question like he thought she would. Instead, she weakly raised a hand up and placed it against his cheek where she let it linger for a few seconds before raising it up a bit more and brushed a coil of his hair back behind his ear, allowing the light to cross his face and dispel the shadows. She then smiled and said, "You have amazing brown eyes, Takuya."

A line like that would normally make Takuya blush a deep red, especially coming from such a beautiful girl, but right at that moment, all he could do was laugh. It started quiet, but eventually grew into a deep chuckle as he threw his head back and felt the weight of many years fall away.

"Thanks, but I think that was supposed to be my line…" his gentle laughter finally came to an end as he returned his gaze to her, "Kari..." Somewhere within the minutes he had been staring into her sleeping face her name had come back to him. It was something to important for him to forget for long.

For a moment the two stared at each other, memories of the struggle against his Spirit of Flames slowly coming back in full detail. When they had thought about it enough they snapped out of their daydreams and turned their eyes to the shore. There, the four digimon stood, three of them watching with disbelieving and exuberant eyes. Seeing how he was acting a single idea had cross their minds.

"Lord…" The three whispered in unison in a wanting tone.

"Babamon. Rosemon. FlameWizardmon," he replied, his face turning expressionless, making the three sink away slightly. A second later his lips curled up at the ends, into a big smile, letting the joke end, and he said his first words to them in quite some time. "Hey, it's been a while."

"Takuya!" The three suddenly burst out in a joyous cry and began running toward him, splashing water about carelessly and almost stumbling with each step.

Seeing the three charging towards them with watery eyes Kari quickly lifted herself out of Takuya's arms and waded a few feet to the side on her knees. Her decision would prove to be wise and timely as the three lunged at the boy, driving him back into the water. Using his incredible strength Takuya quickly rose back up with the three clinging to him in tight hugs and a mixture of tears.

"We missed you so much," FlameWizardmon held tight and cried, completely shedding the cool and controlled demeanor he normally wore.

"You're back. You're back. You're back," Rosemon nestled her face into his shoulder and bawled as tears streaked down her face.

"We thought we had lost you," Babamon cried, giving into the pure joy she felt. As she had aged she began to feel that she wouldn't live long enough to see the return of his soul, but here was the moment she had prayed for night after night.

Takuya smiled down at three before glancing towards Kari who gave him a reassuring smile and nod through her own happy tears; seeing the joyful reunion of four beings that truly cared about each other was too much for her to hold back.

"I'm sorry," he wrapped his arms around the three and pulled them tightly against him. "I must have put you three through so much. I promise I'll make it up to all of you. To everyone my mistake hurt."

"You being back is more than we could ever ask from you in compensation," Babamon pushed off him slightly and cupped his cheeks. She was driven to stare into his eyes and drink up their color like a woman dying of thirst. The brown eyes mixed with orange were the sign of his consciousness, and his return to them.

"…Thank you…" He whispered as he hugged them tighter.

"I can't believe it…" Gatomon's voice was a confused mixture of anger and guilt. "Despite everything you said and how much the others praised him, I still thought he was a monster. Which isn't that difficult to understand when he had that dangerous aura around him all the time. But… but he actually seems really nice."

The whole scene with him in the water embracing his servants had been truly moving, but after hearing how Kari had saved him and how he had blow apart a section of his own keep to save her in return, had tipped the scales. There was also something about the guy that Gatomon just couldn't hate. His smile and attitude after regaining himself was so likeable that it nearly verged on the suspicious.

"I told you," Kari smirked at her partner as she carefully removed a new dress from the closest, making sure not to touch it against the soaking wet one she was wearing.

"Yeah, yeah, you did. But proving it almost killed you, so I wouldn't brag about it. And speaking of that… do you have any idea of what that place was? You never left the castle, but that seemed way too real to be a dream," Gatomon questioned her partner.

"I'm not sure, and right now I don't want to think about it too much. But I'm sure we'll eventually get the answer to that," Kari smiled as she removed the bracelets from her wrists and ankles and set them down on vanity table. "Okay, I'm off to the baths to get cleaned up."

"Right. And now that I can finally relax around here I think I'll get something to eat and look around some more," Gatomon nodded.

Even after Babamon had given them permission to leave and told them they were allowed to freely move about the keep and city, she had still felt tense and uneasy. The reason had been pretty obvious. The fact that they were still sleeping under the same roof as a being powerful enough to waste four mega digimon in a matter of seconds, who was also mentally unstable, was enough to make anyone nervous. However, now that he had returned to his sense and she had seen what the boy under it all was like; she finally felt that the danger had passed. Or at least the immediate danger had.

Kari left the room door open for her partner as she exited with the clean dress folded over the arm. When they had originally returned to the castle Rosemon had offered to take her to the baths and retrieve a change of clothes for her, but Kari didn't want to separate her so shortly after her reunion for something she could easily do herself.

The royal bathes she had been using for the last week wasn't that far from her room. After only a short three minute walk Kari found herself standing before the wooden doors, their size obviously limiting the size of being that could use the bathes down to the height of an adult human. Apparently the bathes weren't meant for most of that staff and occupant of the keep, which made sense since they were meant for the Flame Emperor… Takuya.

Pushing the door open Kari stepped into a small room of smooth polished stone sectioned off into six different areas, changing rooms, by wooden screens embossed with golden and ruby flames. Like she had many times in the last week Kari quickly walked to the last one on the left and slid one of the shutters closed. She emerged a minute later with only a towel wrapped around her and a small wooded tub or toiletries, leaving her new dress in the changing area for afterwards and tossing the tattered one in the hamper.

There was a refreshing burst of steam when she opened the doors to the bath. It wasn't the same stifling heat and sticky precipitation that she had been subjected to a short while ago. No, this was a welcome heat that seemed to relax the muscles and pull impurities from the skin.

"Ahhhh…" Kari sighed happily, already feeling quite a bit more refreshed, as she stepped inside and released the doors, letting them swing shut.

The bathes that stretched out before Kari were ones she never thought she'd see, let alone get to use. They were of grandiose design and size. The bathes had been built right over a large hot spring that pumped warm, pure, water up a rock formation which it cascaded back down in small waterfalls like some luxurious fountain. The rock formation was designed to look like a small island, well, a small island that was bigger than her parents apartment, floating in the middle of a bath, easily more than twice the size of an Olympic swimming pool carved out of the most expensive marble. Even living topical trees had been place about the island and around the bath to give it a more natural feel. To her it felt like taking a bath outside with all of the benefits of taking one inside.

Kari made her way to the edge of the water and stepped down into the shallow water. She hoisted up the bottom of her towel to prevent it from dragging in the water as she made her way into deeper waters, looking for a spot to sit on the edge of the island where the water was fresh and the perfect degree of heat for her.

"Soooo Peeerrrfffeeeccctttt…" Kari purred out as she shed her towel, draped it over the rock beside her, set her toiletries bin down in the water next to her, and settled down on a seat like rock submerged in the warm water.

"…It is pretty nice…" Takuya's voice shyly emerged from the steamy veil on her right.

"Yeah, it's a thousand times better than my bath at home. I can't even stretch out in the bath at-!? TAKUYA!" Kari yelped when she realized that she wasn't alone… and naked. To solve the last problem she quickly grabbed her towel and covered her front while backing up against the island to hide her back. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?"

"Hehe… hehe..." Takuya's voice nervously chuckled. "Taking a bath I guess… After the day I had, we both had, I really needed this. What did you think I was in here for?"

"Considering the reason I was originally told why I had been brought here, I thought you might be here to…" Kari's voice trailed off as she became too embarrassed by the idea to finish.

"The original reason why you were brought here?" Takuya's voice posed the question. Apparently, he had never been aware of why Kari had been brought to the castle. That, or he didn't remember much from the time he was possessed.

"I was broug- You never mind why I was brought here! If you were already in here, why didn't you say anything?" Kari quickly stopped herself from bring up the marriage and became defensive. She suddenly felt very angry and frustrated over what he didn't know.

"Yeah… sorry about that. I kind of saw you get in at the edge and I kind of freaked and hid… probably not the best reaction, huh?" Takuya sighed, feeling quite lame about the way he had gotten embarrassed and reacted.

"NO! No, it wasn't the best react…" Kari didn't know whether she should be angry, embarrassed, or both at the same time. "You should have said something, anything, if you saw me getting in!"

"Ahh… yeah… sorry about that…" Takuya's apologetic tone came from around the corner. "But to be fair, I didn't look. And I'm still covering my eyes despite the fact that there's about six feet of solid rock between us."

"Do you think that makes this whole situation any better?" Kari glared at the rocky face that made up the corner of the island, trying her best not to laugh at the playfully boyish tone he was now using.

"A little… maybe…" He sheepishly responded, a hint of a chuckle mixed in with the tone.

"No~," Kari whimsically retorted, obvious deciding that she couldn't be angry at him despite the situation.

"Soooo… what do you want to do about this?" Takuya inquired after a period of awkward silence.

Kari paused for a bit to think about some possible answers. The first thing that came to mind was one of them getting out, most likely Takuya since she had no intention of getting out of the water and chance him seeing her. However, what she wanted more than to end the embarrassing situation was to get some answers she had been looking for since she had first discovered that the Flame Emperor was human.

"Can we talk?" Kari came out and asked once she had made up her mind. She had dropped all of the annoyance, playfulness, and embarrassment in her tone and turned serious.

Takuya didn't respond right away, maybe he was questioning what she wanted to ask or what he felt like sharing, but either way he gave in with a, "Sure," after about thirty seconds of thought. "What did you want to talk about?"

For a bit Kari pondered whether her question should be more personal, she wanted to know more about the boy, or if she should stick to the mission oriented information. Eventually she chose a mixture of the two with the question, "Can you tell me how you ended up in the Digital World?"

"I'm guessing what you really want to know is how I ended up as the Flame Emperor with all of the power I wield," Takuya easily saw through a part of her question, but completely missed the fact that she wanted to know more about him. "It would be best if I start with the first time I came to the Digital World and end with what I can remember before waking up on the floor of my room with you."

"It all started when I was twelve. It was my little brother's birthday and my mother was running around getting everything ready when I got this mysterious text message asking me if I was ready to start an adventure, and of course being the kid I was I accepted without a single thought. What followed after that was..."

Takuya's story began in the most unlikely of places as the two prepared to fill each other in on their own adventures and trails. The story waiting to be told is a part of the Digital Worlds history that has been forgotten over the eons, but will lead to the events unfolding beyond the walls of the castle. For now thought, one must know the past before they can face the future.

To be continued…