My Kingdom for a Portal
The next morning, even before breakfast, the entire staff of the castle was out at a place they called The Garden of the Passing Flames. It was a large well kept field nestled in the valley behind the Pyre Citadel. It could be any field in the Digital World if not for the monuments of marble that dotted it. There was hundreds, maybe more than a thousand, of them and each was finely cut into different intricate designs, shapes, and objects. However it was one in particular that they had all gathered around. It was a six foot, about average in size when compare to the others, piece of white marble that had been cut into a stunning rosebush. Each delicate rose seemed to be reaching out for the sun despite it being made of stone. It was quite beautiful. Carved into the base of the stone was the words, The Ninety-Eighth Magistrate, and stamped with the Emblem of Flame.
On the way over, it had been a long walk down the foot of the mountain and into the clearing, Takuya had been very quiet like the rest of the staff, but Rosemon had been kind enough to explain a few things to Kari. She told her how The Garden of the Passing Flames was a kind of digimon graveyard reserved for those who had dedicated themselves to the safety and prosperity of the Flame Empire.
Digimon by their very nature didn't leave a body to bury, instead they just faded into data, so the idea of a graveyard seemed strange to Kari; but hearing Rosemon's further explanation of it satisfied her curiosity and further raised her opinion of Takuya at the same time. Rosemon told her about how when the first Magistrate had passed away Takuya as the Flame Emperor had felt so grateful for all of their hard work for him and the Empire over the years that he commissioned the creation of the field and the first marble monument, a red marble Emblem of Flame engulfed in fire. He did it so that despite their existence having come to an end there would always be a reminder to the Digital World that they had existed and accomplished great things for both the Flame Empire and Network.
From that day forward any digimon who had served in a place of honor and worked for the good of the Flame Empire was given and spot and monument. And now Kari had to wonder how long the Empire had existed for so many monuments to have been placed.
The white marble rosebush belonged to Rosemon's great-great-grandmother, and the Magistrate before Babamon. She had been one of the two Magistrates at the time when Takuya was slowly being possessed by his spirits.
Once they had all gathered at the monument Takuya, dressed fully in her royal garb (armor, sword, and cloak), stepped forward and with the rising sun personally eulogized her. He always did it for every digimon remembered here and had been horrified in the morning when he learned that he had been too out of it to do it himself and that Babamon had done it in his place. Instantly he felt the urge to correct that mistake and called together a procession before the crack of dawn.
Passionately he told everyone gathered how she had impacted the Empire and how the sparks she created during her time would and had been fanned by future generations into the flames that would strengthen and protect the Empire. It was quite impressive and had many of the digimon in tears despite many of them having never meet the Passed. At the end even Babamon had broken down and sought comfort in the arms of the Flame Emperor; probably the only other being that remembered her grandmother other than Jijimon.
With kind words said and hundreds of flowers from the castle gardens left at her monument the procession receded from the field of testaments to lives lived and returned to the castle; minus Takuya. He alone walked to the back of the field and into a small tree line and vanished. Just about the tree tops Kari could see three white tips pointing towards the sky, but it was too little to even hazard a guess as to what they were. She had made to follow him but had been stopped by FlameWizardmon who told he'd be alright and would return to the castle once he was done. Having no other choice she agreed and walked back with the rest of the staff to await his return.
When Takuya eventually returned to the castle half-an-hour later a massive breakfast was held in celebration of the ninety-eighth Magistrates life and the return of the true Flame Emperor. It was a great party that would continue throughout the day and into the night.
As the stars began to come out Kari realized that she hadn't made any progress that day. She had planned to use the day to discuss increasing the amount and effort of the digimon looking for her friends and maybe even see if she could track down a computer to contact Gennai. However, she also saw how much everyone in the castle needed this day to be together and she made the sacrifice to wait, and maybe lose herself a bit in the revelry.
She went to bed that night, after writing the whole day down in her diary, satisfied that she had made the right decision. And promising herself she'd make her request the next day.
*THE NEXT DAY*
"...and that's what happened." Kari finally sat down at the table and let silence fall over the room.
Sitting around a large oval wooden table in a nicely decorated room the castles key players (Kari, Takuya, Gatomon, Babamon, Jijimon, Rosemon, and FlameWizardmon) had gathered at Kari's request. The room was normally used for private meetings between the Magistrates and dignitaries from other Areas, but today it was being used for Kari to retell her story. The story of her and her groups arrival in Network and the ensuing incident that separated them and ended her up at the Pyre Citadel.
"I'm sorry about your brother and friends Kari, but you have my oath as the Flame Emperor that I'll do everything in my power to help you find them." Takuya reached out and squeezed her hand in an effort to comfort her and emphasize his resolve.
"Thank you." She gave a curt bow in thanks.
"So what's been done to look for them so far?" Takuya directed his question towards Babamon and Jijimon.
"While this is the first time we've heard the whole story, a few days ago at her request we sent agents out to look for information on them." Jijimon stroked his long white beard as he spoke. "With the number we sent out it's safe to assume that none of her friends are within the borders of the Flame Empire."
"How can you be so sure?" Gatomon jumped on his words. "This nation's really big."
"Understand something young one," Jijimon raised his big bushy eyebrows enough so he could look Gatomon in the eyes, "When we promised you and your partner that we'd look for your friends we meant it. At the time we used the full extent of our intelligence agency to look for them, a few thousand agents who spread out and worked with other local agencies to search for any information pertaining to your friends. And as you can imagine humans aren't exactly a common occurrence in Network, so they'd be easy to spot or at least be the subject of some talk, and despite that nothing has been found."
"..." Gatomon didn't know what to say to that. She knew they were right about humans being rare and that digimon would be talking about them, so it was strange that they weren't even hearing a whisper or rumor; especially with how many digimon they had looking for them. For a moment she considered the idea they might be in hiding somewhere, but with even a single member of the group missing none of them would be able to stay still. They would be out there looking and they wouldn't be quiet about it, so there would be some word of them.
"But that's not to say they aren't in Network." Babamon added. "Our search has been limited to only the Flame Empire since an open investigation would draw to much attention in any of the other Areas considering the current Cold War between us. We have been planning some expeditions into the other Areas to look, but they must be planned carefully and executed even more so."
"In other words if we don't want to accidently trigger a war between us and another Area we need time to plan and act." Jijimon summed up the whole thing quite neatly.
Silence fell over the room and Kari and Gatomon were left with only their thoughts. That wasn't the news that they had been hoping for. A full minute proceeded to pass and wear on Takuya's nerves, so he leaned closer to FlameWizardmon and asked, "We have an intelligence agency?"
"Yes." FlameWizardmon whispered back. "Lady Babamon founded it after what happened to you and the other rulers. It's main purpose was to keep an eye on the borders and head off any problems that might undermine the strength of the Empire."
"Ahh, so..." His response trailed off when he noticed all the eyes in the room on him. Apparently him interrupting the serious silence of the room to start another conversation was frowned upon. "Sorry."
"But the biggest problem is the time that's gone by. Many, if not all, of their trails will have gone cold by now. If they left any at all that is." Babamon sighed. She really wanted to help Kari considering she had been instrumental in bring Takuya back to his senses, a debt she could never even begin to repay, but all she saw were obstacles so far.
"What are you talking about, too much time's gone by? It's barely been a week since we came here." Gatomon stiffened her stance and placed her hands on her hips, the perfect body positioning for the you-must-be-crazy look she was giving Babamon.
Again, the room fell silent as everyone, with the exception of Takuya who was just as confused as Kari and Gatomon were, gave them the you-must-be-crazy look right back.
"I was afraid of this..." Babamon relaxed her look and instead formed it into a serious expression. "I knew something was wrong when you didn't mention anything between the strange pulse that hit your group in the Dark Area and waking up here."
"Yeah, so?" Gatomon and Kari were starting to feel ill at ease. Something in her tone and look told them something big was about to drop.
"The day I saw you at Flame Terminal and had that Etemon deliver you food..." She paused for a moment to make sure all of their attention was on her and her words. "That was over two years ago."
That was it, the bottom had just fallen out on this whole thing. The world no longer made sense and... wait, that was it, Babamon must have been messing with them. She was old and a bit grumpy, so her sense of humor was probably a bit strange... right?
"What...?" Yeah, that'll get to the bottom of it Kari thought to herself in a stupor.
"That's not funny! Don't you think we've been through enough so far to at least be shown the courtesy of you not teasing us about something so important!" Gatomon slammed her paws down on the table in anger.
"You're right, you're owed that much," Babamon answered, her expression never changing from serious, "which is why I'm telling you the truth."
"..." Silence again consumed the room as Kari and Gatomon stared at her, mouths slightly agape. For some strange reason they were starting to believe her, which sounded crazy no matter how they looked at it.
"What she's saying is true." Rosemon leaned across the table, closer to the two. "One day two year ago granny came back to the castle complaining that she had lost track of you and your group."
All of a sudden the question of why Babamon was tracking Kari's group came to the forefront of Takuya's mind, but he had enough sense to realize that now wasn't the best time to ask.
"She spent two months trying to figure out where your group went after arriving in the Dark Area because it seemed as if you had suddenly just disappeared off of the face of the Digital World." Rosemon's story continued. "She was pretty upset by the whole thing and even kept teams of agents looking for you over the years. A week ago it was one of those teams that ended up finding you two unconscious near one of the border town of the Flame Empire."
"That can't be right!" Kari suddenly shot up in her chair. It would seem that the weight of the claim had finally made her snap. "You must be mistaken! I don't know how, but you must be..."
"There's no mistaking the passage of time. It has without doubt been over two years since the day you left for the Dark Area." Babamon's voice actually sounded a bit sympathetic and didn't in the least sound like a lie.
"But... That... I need to find a computer!" Kari's heart was pounding and her head was swirling. All she could think about was confirming that fact for herself. She couldn't even begin to think about where she had been for those two years if it turned out to be true.
"Why?" It seemed like a strange request to Takuya. Actually it was to all of them except for Kari and Gatomon.
"We need to go home and check to see... to see..." Kari couldn't get it out. Saying it aloud scared her more than anything.
"Sometimes you just have to see, to be sure. I understand how you feel." Takuya got up right in front of Kari and rested his hands on her shoulders in an effort to comfort and calm her. If anyone understood what it meant to have the real world go on without them, it was him. "Get her a computer as fast as possible." He ordered those gathered.
"It will be done right away!" FlameWizardmon jumped up from the table and quickly made his way to the door. "I'll have one brought up from a store in the city. It should be here in no more than ten minutes." And he was gone into the hall.
With the only thing being done that could be done Kari was left with nothing but her thoughts, whose weight drove her back into her chair when she lost the feeling in her legs.
"He'll be back in a flash." Takuya tried to reassure her as he took a seat on the table beside her chair. Kari appreciated his presence and support, it even calmed her a bit, but not enough to even begin to forget what was happening.
The next ten minutes passed in complete silence, no one daring to speak out of respect for the trying event Kari and Gatomon were facing. Sound only returned to the room when FlameWizardmon entered the room with a laptop under his arm.
"I hope this will suffice." A slightly winded FlameWizardmon placed the laptop down in front of Kari. "If not, I brought all the different models available in the city. They're all in the hall."
"This'll do. Thank you." Kari warmly smiled at the digimon as she pulled open the lid and started up the laptop.
The screen quickly sprang to life and words faded into existence. It was the name of some kind of operating system Kari had never heard of, but she didn't care at the moment, she was sure it didn't matter and she'd figure it out quickly. Since it was apparently new it required no password or log-in, so she had it on the desktop in a matter of seconds, and she wasted no time in aiming her D-3 at the screen.
"DIGI-PORT OPEN!" She called out and waited for the light to engulf her... but nothing happened.
"What was supposed to happen?" She heard Rosemon question Gatomon.
"Why...?" Kari stared down at the screen in confusion. For a moment she was worried that something was wrong with her D-3. She hadn't used it since she had woken up in the castle, she never had a chance to digivolve Gatomon thanks to all of the castles defenses so she had no way of knowing if it hadn't been damaged by the pulse. However, when she noticed the screen hadn't changed she banished that concern from her mind. "Where's the portal program!?"
"Portal program?" Takuya questioned. He assumed it must have been how her and her group got to and from the Digital World, but he didn't exactly know how it worked or what was supposed to happen.
"It's the program that allows our D-3's to form a connection between the real and Digital World." Kari answered before she pointed her D-3 at the screen again. "DIGI-PORT OPEN!"
Again, nothing happened. The desktop remained the same and the D-3 remained quiet.
"DIGI-PORT OPEN!" Again she tried with no result.
"DIGI-PORT OPEN! PLEASE!" She begged this time.
"Stop!" Takuya took hold of her hand and D-3, slowly lowering it to her side as he stared into her worried eyes. "I don't think it's working and you're starting to panic, so take a deep breath," she absentmindedly complied, mimicking the deep breath he took, "and let's just consider that maybe something's just wrong with this computer and try a different one."
"Yes, yes, you're right." Kari took another deep breath and sat down. Gatomon jumped into her lap and tried to help calm her.
"Bring in the rest of the computers and get me someone who's good with technology." Takuya ordered his staff.
Takuya and Rosemon set about bring in the other computers, about fifty in all, while FlameWizardmon went to retrieve someone from the staff or city who knew a lot about technology. By the time all the computers were in the room he had returned with a Datamon in toe.
"Great Flame Emperor!" Entering into the room and seeing the emperor standing before him was quite the shock for the small mechanical digimon, making him react like all other digimon in the Empire, by doing his best to kneel and lower his head.
"This is Datamon from the city achieves. They say he's the best with technology in the city if not the Empire." FlameWizardmon introduced the small digimon, his tone having become more respectful and proper than before.
Kari had noticed that all of Takuya's personal staff had two different tones of voice. The first was friendly and warm which they used around her, Takuya, and each other; while the second was used whenever other castle staff or citizens were around. That one was proper and colder. It was a tone meant to convey an image of regalness and order, not friendship and warmth.
"Good to meet you, Datamon." Takuya smiled; even his tone had turned more authoritarian. "As you can see we're having a bit of trouble with computers here, so if you'd get up and-"
"Yes my Emperor." Before Takuya could even finish the Datamon got up and working on the computers. In a matter of seconds he had all of them running and had himself plugged into each so he could run diagnostics.
"He's a fast one isn't he," Takuya noted as he watched the Datamon work, "despite the fact that I didn't tell him what to do..."
The Datamon seemed to have heard that comment and came to a complete stop. His wire appendages drooped and disconnected from the computers as he whirled around to face the Takuya. "I'm sorry my Flame Emperor! Forgive my impudence!" Datamon laid prostrate before his lord, his arms waving up and down in panic. "Sometimes I just do things and don't think! Please for-"
"Stop right there. There's no reason to apologize. You were doing exactly what I wanted you to do, so please continue." Takuya now felt embarrassed that he had made the poor digimon panic so much. "I actually kind of like your enthusiasm."
"Thank you, my Emperor!" Spurred on by the incredible compliment paid to him by his ruler Datamon double his speed and work. In a matter of seconds all of the computers were humming along, what would have been quietly if fifty weren't running at once. "All connections tested and fully loaded... for whatever purpose..." It had just occurred to the small digimon that it had no idea why it had just set up fifty computers at once, but since it was the request of his emperor it didn't really matter.
"Thank you!" Kari gave the Datamon a hasty thanks, it would normally have been more heartfelt but she was still quite panicked at the moment, and she gripped Gatomon close to her chest. She then leveled her D-3 at the closest screen, this one belonging to an expensive looking monitor and PC tower, like before and called out, "DIGIPORT OPEN!"
And like before, nothing happened.
"Try the next one. It looks more like the ones in the computer lab." Gatomon tried her best to sound positive and at this point in the experiment she still was; however, that would change the longer it went on.
They stayed positive when ten had failed to send them home. They waivered a bit when the number went beyond twenty and began to lose hope after thirty. At forty they began to think more rationally and gave some real thought about what actually made the portal program appear and allowed them to travel back and forth from the Digital World. They had never really given the subject any real thought, they had left that kind of stuff to Izzy, and instead just suspected it to always work. A decision they were regretting now that they were standing in front of the fiftieth and final computer.
"Digi-port open..." All of the enthusiasm had gone out of Kari's voice at this point. Actually, by the forty-second one she had lost all hope that one of them was somehow magically going to work. From then on she had just continued on so she could at least say she tried, and because she didn't really have anything more uplifting to do.
Exhausted from all the failed attempts and the constant expenditure of her hopes she fell back into her chair and let out a tired sigh that she had been holding in just to use when the fiftieth attempted failed like she suspected it would. For a few silent moments she just stared about the room, briefly making eye contact with everyone but saying nothing. Inside she thought about how strange it was that she felt more deflated and defeated than scared or worried. Despite the fact that for all intensive purposes she was now cut off from the real world, and she might have missed two years there, her feelings were more akin to the times her and the second generation of digimon failed to stop BlackWargreymon from destroying Destiny Stones.
She really felt like she'd be terrified by this situation but for some reason she was holding together. Maybe it was the fact that she wasn't alone and was instead surrounded by good digimon and people... person. Maybe they were enough to keep her sane and remind her...
"So stranded for now, huh?" Takuya felt an extreme need to break the silence... but didn't give the way to do it much thought.
"Really...?" Gatomon glared up at him questioningly while Kari just looked to him blankly. "Do really think that needed to be said right now?"
"I said, for now." Takuya gave them both a warm but serious look as he began to elaborate. "It's not like the real worlds just disappeared. And it's not like this is the only method of getting back to the real world."
The two looked up at him a little confused. Using the portal programs on computer screens, and the rare digital spatial anomaly, were the only methods they knew about. But then again, Takuya hadn't known what the Digi-port was and he and his friends had a way of getting to and from the Digital World in the past. Did that mean he had another method they'd never heard of?
Watching their confused expressions change to more understanding ones he smiled. He really liked that Kari seemed very bright and could figure things out so quickly... now if only he could figure out why he thought that.
"All we have to do is go down to the Flame Terminal and-" He began explaining very proudly.
"Let me stop you there, Flame Emperor." Babamon cut in using his title since they had a commoner (the Datamon) in their presence. Before she could even elaborate his expression soured, he knew it wasn't going to be good news. "You see, after you and the other rulers began to change we considered different methods of reaching you. One of which was getting your family to speak with you. We thought that they'd be able to reach you, but in the end we never got the chance to even try."
"The Trailmon tunnel to the real world had somehow just stopped working. We had no idea how long it had been disconnected and one Trailmon got pretty busted up trying with no success when instead of passing through a portal it rammed into a stone wall at the end." Jijimon finished with a sigh. What he wasn't telling Takuya was that he had been amongst the digimon chosen to go to the real world to find his family and had ended up pretty hurt when it crashed. There was no reason to add that extra guilt to his lords conscience.
"Maybe that was because of the barrier over Network?" Kari was quick to comeback with. The same barrier had stopped all travel to Network, so secluding it that the Digital World pretty much forgot it existed, so why couldn't that have been the problem. "It disappeared a few days before we arrived here in Network, so maybe the Trailmon to the real world would work now."
"Let me remind you that your arrival here was not a few days ago, but two years ago." Babamon could tell that she was still having trouble accepting that.
"Fine. Whatever." Gatomon huffed. "So what about what Kari said?"
"Yeah, what about it?" Takuya added on to no real effect other than to at least seem like he was being proactive in the discussion.
"I'm sorry, but it's still not working." Babamon shook her head in disappointment. "And before you ask, the last time we checked was a few days before you were brought here." Her remarks were obviously directed at Kari and Gatomon. "Two years, when your group first appeared I sent a team to test it, I hadn't given up on the idea that the lords family would be the best method of reaching him and bring him back to us, but they had no success. Seeing other humans in Network I assumed it must have meant that it had been repaired, but it sadly hadn't, so I had to go with plan B."
Again Kari felt her spirits that had just been lifted up come crashing down again. She also felt a little annoyed with the fact that the, plan B, Babamon was talking about, was her. Namely marrying her off, or was it getting her to reach Takuya? Either way she felt bothered by the fact that she had been the less preferred method at the time. She felt that she was good enough to be the plan A. "Why am I thinking that? And why do I feel a little insulted?"
"So got any other bright ideas?" Gatomon rolled her eyes Takuya's way, but when he refused to meet her gaze she got her answer.
Quiet settled in again as everyone tried to think of something to help Kari get home, but they were coming up with nothing.
"It might not be my place to speak," the Datamon meekly began to speak, still very nervous in the presence of his Emperor and so many high-ranking officials, "but what about the screen you came here through?" Everyone turned to look at him with that remark. "I mean that I'm assuming that the portal you're talking about is some kind of dimensional bridging program that works with screens and monitors. The problem might be that the program isn't universally installed on all computers on this side, but the one you arrived through might have installed it as you passed through. Or at least have some of the meta data in its memory banks that can be used to recreate it."
Everyone's attention turned to Kari and Gatomon as they looked to each other, having a silent conversation about whether it was worth trying or not. Coming to the same conclusion they smiled and nodded. "We need to go to the Ember Coast."
"Good." Takuya smiled, glad to see the two hopeful again. "FlameWizardmon, make up some travel plans for us and get us on the earliest Trailmon to the Ember Coast."
"Do I take it that you'll be going with them to the Ember Coast?" Babamon couldn't help but smile at how enthusiastic he sounded. It just reminded her that he was truly back.
"Of course. I gave Kari my promise as the Flame Emperor that I'm do everything in my power to help her, so going along is among the least I can do." He gave Kari a small nod and smile.
"It might also give you a chance to see the real world again... and perhaps your family as well." She smiled even wider. Just two days ago her family had finally become complete again with Takuya's return, so she could understand the need to have that feeling of completion.
"There is that." He smiled warmly back at her, knowing she knew how he felt. "So until I get back you and Jijimon are in charge of all the Empires affairs. And don't be afraid, I'll be back soon."
"Very good. We'll get started on putting things in order for your absence." With those words the two old digimon left the room.
"It'll take me about an hour to get a private Trailmon set up to take us, which should be enough time for everyone to get packed." FlameWizardmon noted as he ran over a quickly assembled checklist in his head and made for the door.
"I'll take care of the packing, so why don't you all just relax and I'll meet you at the lounge before we leave." Rosemon hurried out the door before anyone could refuse. She knew that if given the chance Takuya and Kari were the type who would insist on doing their own packing so as not to inconvenience her, but it was part of her duties; and one she took great pride in.
"I guess were set then." Takuya smiled in Kari and Gatomon's direction as they nodded in agreement. "So you should also probably get ready to travel." His eyes drifted to the small digimon still sitting in the middle of the table.
"Me!? Me my Flame Emperor?" He was completely shocked by the sudden revelation, because if he wasn't mistaken it sounded like he was being taken along as part of the royal entourage; a very high honor.
"Of course. It's best if we have a tech specialist on hand if we're going all the way out there. And besides, it was your plan so don't you want to see it through?"
"YES!" The Datamons overflowing excitement finally burst through the carefully set up dams.
"Good." Takuya smirked, enjoying the excitement now in the air. "Just tell whoever you need to that I've requested your presence. And if there's any problems go to FlameWizardmon and tell him to clear it up."
"Understood! Thank you Flame Emperor! I won't disappoint you!" It would seem that now that it had been unleashed he couldn't turn off the excitement. With a final bow it hopped down from the table and ran out of the room, trying it's best to figure out what it needed to do and bring. It's mind was a jumble mess at the moment with the incredible turn of events.
"I guess all we can do now is wait." Takuya happily sighed as he fell back into the chair beside Kari.
Just like FlameWizardmon had said an hour later the group of six departed for the Ember Coast on a private Trailmon. Kari had quickly understood why they had needed a Trailmon all to themselves after seeing how digimon acted when they saw Takuya. They didn't swarm him like people did movie stars in the real world, but instead kept a respectful distance. Some bowed to the ground while others cried out his praises, but what they all had in common was love in their eyes that brought them all to a standstill.
She also wasn't going to complain about the luxury of a private Trailmon. The one that she and her fellow Digidestined had ridden to the capital had been pretty nice. It had been clean, air-conditioned, and the benches comfortable, but it didn't even begin to compare to majesty of the royal Trailmon. The one she was on now consisted of twelve cars; three passenger for staff, one for the personal staff of the Flame Emperor, two for the Emperor himself which consisted of a lounging room with comfortable furniture, music, finely crafted tables for meals and planning, and carpets, and the other was a personal bedroom (an smaller copy of his room at the castle). Another two were used for the kitchen (it took a lot of to feed a train full of digimon, and the remaining ones were used for baggage, storage, and running the train utilities. The caboose was the only mystery to Kari since it had no windows and the doors had been heavily locked. She was sure if she asked someone would tell her what was in it, but considering they were helping her so much she didn't feel she had the right to ask.
An hour into the ride Kari found herself sitting with Takuya, Gatomon, Rosemon, FlameWizardmon, and Datamon in the royal lounging car. Babamon and Jijimon had stayed behind to watch after the kingdom in the Emperors absence. While her mind might have been in turmoil over her situation it did help that everyone else was pretty calm. Takuya was sitting beside her on the fluffy blue couch dressed in his royal armor (the same kind as she had first seen him in minus the helmet) and despite it being made of metal he seemed pretty comfortable. He had actually been doing a good job of calming her down by keeping the two of them talking since they had left the kingdom.
Across from them Rosemon was relaxing in the sun pouring in through the window and sipping on a glass of water. She rarely spoke to Kari and Takuya, not wanting to get in between the two teenagers conversation, so instead she busied herself with talking with Gatomon and watching the two humans on the train. Kari wasn't oblivious to the sly but happy smile that would grace Rosemon's lips every so often while she watched them.
FlameWizardmon was cleaning up a bit, after all the train car had been sitting unused for a long time, and seeing to everyone else's needs. Seeing him working so hard and addressing everyone's needs made Kari somewhat uncomfortable; mainly because he was doing the work she normally did back home and still wasn't used to being waited on hand and foot. At one point she had even gotten up to try and help him, but Rosemon had been quick to stop her and remind her that he was the royal butler, a position of great honor, and it would be a great insult to him if she tried to do his job.
The last occupant was the Datamon who seemed very nervous in the back of the car. Kari couldn't blame the small digimon, while Takuya wasn't her king, he was Datamons and now he was sitting in a royal train car with him. It had to be pretty overwhelming to have been working at the achieves as a low-level government employee one minute and being in the royal entourage the next.
"It'll only be another hour from here." Takuya suddenly stated as he stared out the window.
"Really!?" Kari sounded a bit surprised and for good reason.
"Yeah, I used to make the rounds of the Flame Empire all the time and I know that farm that we passed. It means only an hour to the Ember Coast." Takuya smiled back at her as he remembered better times when he'd routinely visit all the cities and places of the empire.
"I don't doubt you, but that doesn't make any sense." Gatomon chimed in, explaining a bit of why Kari had sounded so surprised. "It originally took us six hours to reach your city and that was on the express Trailmon, but now we'll be there in two. How's that possible?"
"Because this is the royal Trailmon." Rosemon answered. "You probably didn't notice it due to how smooth the ride is but we're moving much faster than any Trailmon you've ridden."
"While most Trailmon don't go there top speed out of safety concerns, they still couldn't match this one." FlameWizardmon added as he set down a tray of drinks and snacks on the table in front of the group.
"So why's this one faster than others?" If it took her mind off her problems for a bit Kari felt there was no reason not to ask.
"Did you notice that the Trailmon of this one was a bit bigger than normal?" Rosemon questioned back with a small smile.
"Yeah, but isn't that just because all Trailmon have different looks and designs." The original Trailmon they had ridden had explained to them how there were no two alike Trailmon in the Digital World. That one had a design similar to that of an angler fish while the one they were on now looked more like one pulled from an old western movie.
"In most cases that would be true, but they don't usually differ this much in size. The reason that this one's different is because..." Rosemon was suddenly cut off when a realization struck Kari and she burst out with her own answer.
"Because it's a higher level!" She yelped out. Due to their look and role in the Digital World Kari hadn't been thinking about the Trailmon as digimon, but they were, and like any digimon they had to be able to digivolve.
"Very good." Rosemon smiled at Kari's cleverness. The more she talked with her and the more she learned about her, the more she liked the idea of her becoming Takuya's mate and the Flame Empress. However, since the idea seemed to make Kari panic a little she wouldn't say anything; but over the last couple of days she had noticed her becoming less worried about the idea. "Most Trailmon in Network are Champion level while this one is an Ultimate, meaning it's capable of going much faster and pulling a lot more weight. They're also referred to as GrandTrailmon's in case you're wondering."
"It also helps that we're traveling on private rails." Takuya added.
"Really!?" Again Kari sounded surprised. Now that she was paying more attention to the scenery out the window she was starting to remember it from her first trip to the capital.
"A set of tracks reserved for royal business only run alongside every inch of track in Network." Takuya explained as he nicked his head towards the window. Looking outside Kari and Gatomon spotted another set of tracks about twenty feet away from their own. They were the same ones they had ridden when they first traveled to the capital of the Flame Empire. "They're meant to get things like important government employees, relief in case of a disaster, and troops around quickly."
"It also helps prevent citizen from causing a commotion when the Emperors Trailmon suddenly pulls into the station." Rosemon added with a chuckle. While the digimon of Network showed their rulers the proper respect befitting their station, they also felt compelled to be near them and maybe, just maybe, even be addressed by them. In the past that desire had lead to large crowds and city wide disruptions; but hopefully, this wouldn't be one of those times.
"Guess there's some more peaks to being royalty than just having your own castle, servants... and anything you want..." Gatomon's voice began to quickly trail off as she thought about what she was saying.
"Haha, did you just think about the fact that compared to those first three things that my own private Trailmon and tracks don't really seem that impressive?" Takuya let out a short chuckle as he glanced towards the small digimon.
"Yeah~ This does seem kind of small compared to having your own kingdom." She sighed back, earning a small laugh from the group.
The last hour of the trip passed quickly with idle talk about nothing of real importance. Kari had spent some time filling Takuya in on what had been happening in the real world since he had been in the Digital World; mainly about advancements in technology, culture, world history (all of which were difficult since she still hadn't worked up the nerve to ask him when he had actually left the Real World for the last time) and how the Digital World and the Real World had been growing closer. Namely, how lots of children around the world had been given digital partners.
"It feels strange to be back here after everything we've been through, but at the same time it's also kind of a relief." Gatomon noted staring off into the city skyline of the Ember Coast.
"It almost doesn't look the same..." Kari glanced about, trying to make sense of the strange feeling gnawing away at her sense of security.
"It does seem a lot smaller than I remember it, but that's probably because we've been in the Capital of Blazing Radiance for the last week. After seeing a huge city like that this place just seems smaller now." Gatomon responded, not liking the slightly confused look on her partners face.
She had a valid point. When she and the other Digidestined had arrive in the Ember Coast their first impression of the city had been that it was large, maybe a half the size of their home town of Odaiba, but the capital of the Flame Empire had quickly made it look tiny. Even from the top of the Pyre Citadel, situated in the mountains, Kari couldn't see where the city ended. It gave the impression that the city of metal, glass, and light sprung forth from the foot of the mountains and flow over the horizon like water. It wasn't that far off of a comparison since it was about a hundred times the size of the Ember Coast. It had to be big since it housed the largest population in Network and served as the economic backbone of the continent (60% of all trade went through the capital at some point and then spread out to the other nine areas, making the Flame Empire the economic powerhouse of Network).
"I know that... And it's not that the city seems smaller. It's something else, like it's changed somehow..." A bad feeling was slithering up Kari's spine. It was the same tight, cold, feeling she had felt early that day when they had told her that two years had passed since she and the others had traveled to the Dark Area. She knew why the city felt and looked different, she just didn't want to admit it. Admit that the city had only gotten smaller in their minds while in fact it had grown, she was pretty sure there were some new buildings in the skyline that weren't there before.
"Are you going to be okay, Kari?" Takuya leaned in closer to her and rested a hand on her shoulder. His eyes were keen enough to notice that she was trembling a little. He wasn't sure what was wrong with her, but he could tell something was definitely up.
It took Kari a moment to turn and look up at Takuya. She found his face shrouded in the shadows of his cloaks hood which he had pulled up over his head to hide his identity. He had also pulled it tightly around his body to make sure that none of his armor was visible. This was all done in an attempt to keep anyone from recognizing him since crowds and talk could get in the way of their reason for coming to the city.
"Uhm, I'm... It's, it's nothing..." Again, she wasn't ready to admit it to herself, let alone aloud.
"I'm pretty sure it's not," he quickly called her bluff, "but I'll trust you anyways." Even though his features were hidden behind shadows she could tell that he was smiling warmly at her. "But just in case I'll keep you close so I can keep an eye on you."
She wondered what he meant by that, but eventually got her answer and a bit of surprise when she felt him take her hand in his. He proceeded to give it a few quick, light, squeezes but kept hold of her hand as he told her to lead the way to the store that contained the television she had come through.
Kari remained silent through the whole walk, only talking to give directions as best she could, while she periodically squeezed Takuya's hand for encouragement or to ward off a dark stray thought. Behind the two Flamewizardmon, Gatomon, and Datamon talked, what about she couldn't tell since it was all coming in too low for her to hear over her own worries, and at the front Rosemon walked, diverting pedestrians from getting too close to her and the emperor.
Now that she was here she knew that the moment of truth would soon be at hand and it became impossible to think of anything else but putting one foot in front of the other and what horrible answer she might find when they stopped. While on the train ride she had tried not to think about it, but all of the worse case scenarios had reared their ugly heads despite her best efforts. Scenarios like; it really having been two years, or that the gate wouldn't open and she'd be trapped on Network, or maybe even that the television they had come all this way to find had been sold and lost forever (it was in the window of an electronics store after all).
But thankfully she had friends to support her and a hand to hold, so she was able to carry on despite all the thoughts weighing her down.
"This is it! This is the store!" Gatomon's excited voice suddenly cut through Kari's mental haze and brought her back to the present, and the sight that greeted her once she raised her head was the familiar storefront.
"This is definitely it..." Now that she was standing before the store there was no time left to think or worry, only act and hope. And if she was being honest with herself, she was glad for that since so far the only thing thinking about it had brought her was a pit in her stomach.
"Well, no point in just standing out here, let's head on in." Takuya placed a hand on the middle of Kari's back and began gently pushing her towards the shops door. He'd noticed her hesitation and decided that she needed a bit of a literal push forward.
"In... Inside...?" Kari questioned in response. They had plenty of access to the televisions from out in the street... and then it suddenly made sense to her. "...You're thinking it's probably best not to do any of this in public...?" She half-questioned, already pretty sure of the answer.
"Yeah, that, and the crowded streets." Takuya tilted his head to the side slightly and looked over his shoulder to the digimon passing along the street behind them. "I'm not exactly sure how this digi-portal of yours works, but I don't like the idea of scaring my citizens or having any of them sucked into a portal to the real world."
"Right..." Kari had to admit he had a good point. Even after all of these years she herself wasn't exactly sure how and what the digi-portal would pull in. There was no way she couldn't guarantee that a number of innocent digimon would be sucked in along with her and Gatomon.
"Then in we shall go." FlameWizardmon gave a curt bow before opening the door with a jingled from the bell over head meant to call attention to the arrival of customers.
"Thank you." Kari gave the digimon a small bow of thanks while the others just walked right in. Her guess would be that they were pretty used to having doors held open for them and if they had to say thank you every time it would probably start to get annoying; and not that they were trying to be rude.
Kari didn't know what she had expected the inside of the store to look like, she just knew she hadn't expected it to look so... normal. Really, it could have been any electronics store in the real world. Televisions, computers, and all kinds of electronics were on display on shelves, each with their own price tags and cards explaining the different specs of each. The only thing that seemed off to her was the fact that all of the technology looked kind of... old. There went any flat screen monitors or televisions. Or Smart phones. Or any cell phones for that matter. Everything seemed as if it had come directly out of the early 2000's.
"Welcome! Welcome!" A voice to the side caught Kari's attention and upon turning she traced it back to a large yellow teddy bear of a digimon, a Monzaemon if she remembered correctly.
"Can I help you find anything today?" The large digimon who had to hunch over just so his head wasn't scraping the ceiling asked with a tiny bow. Unable to answer Kari just stared at him, her mind preoccupied with trying to figure out how he had gotten into the store, where it appeared he worked as a salesman, and managed to walk down the narrow aisles.
Before she could come up with an answer she saw the digimon's eyes suddenly shift to the group behind her and with a worried but kind smile it spoke again, "I'm sorry dear costumers but this shop is still in fact open for another five hours so please don't play with that sign."
Turning back towards the door Kari found Rosemon turning the Open sign around so that it read Closed like she hadn't heard the shop keeps polite request. She even went a step further by twisting the lock shut and drawing the blinds on the door. All of that making sure that no one else would be entering unless they wanted them to.
Looking back at the Monzaemon she found him looking quite nervous. Normally, someone as large as they were would probably be a bit angry that someone wasn't listening to them and closing up their shop, but he looked more anxious than anything.
"The money's in the register! Please don't hurt me!" The Monzaemon suddenly cried, shaking a bit, as the reason for his nervous behavior became obvious.
Without even a word of warning, or even a hello, they had just walked into the poor digimon's shop, closed it, locked the doors, and drew the blinds so no one could see what was happening inside. That definitely felt like the start of a robbery. For a moment Kari tried to figure out why such a large digimon, probably bigger than all of them combined, was giving up without even a fight but then the fact that he was only a Champion and their group consisted of a Mega, Ultimate, and two Champions occurred to her. Digimon had a lot more to consider than size when making their fight or flight decision.
"No! No! We're not robbing you!" Kari sprang into a flurry of what she thought were apologetic and calming gestures.
"I won't tell anyone!" It seemed that her attempt hadn't worked, in fact, it appeared to have had the opposite effect of scaring the digimon even more. In the Monzaemon's mind he was now being robbed by a Mega, Ultimate, two Champions... and one crazy human.
"I'm so sorry!" Kari stopped flapping her arms around, now embarrassed by the act, as she tried to figure out a new way to calm him down.
"I swear I have no idea what... you... look... like..." The panic in the Monzaemon's voice suddenly started draining away as it's sentence trailed off and it's face turned from scared to stunned.
Before she could question the sudden change in mood she heard Takuya speak, "It's okay. We just need to borrow your shop for a bit, okay."
She knew the reason why the digimon had calmed down and turned to stunned silence when she saw Takuya walk past her with his hood drawn back. Even in the middle of a panic attack upon seeing his face the Monzaemon had instantly recognized him. Recognized his...
"Flame Emperor!" The Monzaemon shot down to one knee so quickly that he ended up smacking one of the shelves with one of his arms, dislodging a television from its place on said shelf.
Not letting the digimons burst of devotion sway him for an instant Takuya quickly lunged forward and caught the television set one handed, not wanting the merchant to damage his stock on his behalf. "Yes, yes, it's me. Please rise." He gave the digimon an awkward smile as he careful began to set the television back down on its shelf.
"No! My Emperor, please don't trouble yourself with putting something of such low quality back!" Lifting its head slightly the Monzaemon spotted him trying to put the television back in its proper place within the display and he was mortified by the idea having to make his ruler even expend the effort of catching it and putting it back.
"It's okay." Takuya raised a hand to stop the digimon from taking it back while he continued to try and get it back into just the right position. "Besides, what's this about it being low quality?"
"Maybe because it's over 15 years old..." Kari commented to herself about what she was pretty sure was a tube-television.
"My Emperor it must be nothing compared to what you're used to!" The Monzaemon replied with absolutely no sign of disrespect in his tone or features.
"Take pride." Takuya simply responded with a small smile.
"My Emperor...?" The digimon now sounded confused by the two words.
"As a merchant, you must take pride. Take pride in your shop, in your work, and in your product." Takuya smiled warmly at the digimon, finally getting the set back in its place. "If you don't take pride in these things you're doing yourself, your customers, and the Flame Empire a disservice."
"..." The Monzaemon just stared at him in stunned silence.
"Take pride in the fact that you're providing your fellow digimon with these goods and the information and entertainment they provide." Takuya took a final moment to adjust the display card before he looked back towards the digimon. "It's not like your overcharging your customs or anything, right?"
"Of course not my Emperor! I take great pride in providing electronics for every price range so that everyone can own a computer or television, not just the rich." The Monzaemon reflexive answered.
"There it is. So you do take pride in your product and seeing that everyone gets one?" Takuya smiled warmly at him.
"Yes! Yes, I do!" In that moment something within the Monzaemon seemed to grow brighter as he smiled back at his Emperor. Maybe it had found some spark it had lost some time ago or maybe it was just that his reason to be proud had just been recognized by his Emperor.
"Okay, that was pretty cool." Gatomon whispered into Kari's ear.
"Definitely very Emperor like." Kari answered back. Each day she spent with Takuya showed her more and more why he was such a respected the loved ruler.
"Sir, I hope you don't think this rude of me, but why are you here? I'm sure that if you needed some electronics there are far better thing in the capital." The Monzaemon still hadn't stopped kneeling, but time had allowed it to wonder why the ruler of the whole Flame Empire was standing in his little shop.
"Well, you see it's a long story..." FlameWizardmon cut in front of Takuya and began explaining the situation. After a few minutes he finished "So you see, we just need to borrow your shop for a little while."
"I see..." The Monzaemon gave Kari an empathetic glance before turning his attention back to the
Emperor. "My Emperor, my shop and everything within it are yours for as long as you need them."
Turning towards Kari now he added, "The television up front are my display models and not for sale, so the same ones have been in there for more than ten years. Meaning the one you're looking for should still be there."
"Really!?" A rare stroke of luck might have found Kari after a long mission of misfortune and problems. The digimon just nodded at her kindly in response.
Kari remained focused on that ray of sunshine while the group, plus the Monzaemon and minus Takuya and Kari (The owner wouldn't have the Emperor and possible future Empress working, so instead he brought them his best tea and some snacks.), worked to turn all the display televisions around toward the inside of the shop and clear out a space in front of them by moving the shelves around. Once they were done the Monzaemon gathered up the humans plates and headed to the back room to stay out of the way.
Now Kari found herself standing before a wall of humming and buzzing televisions sets, one of which had brought her and her friends to Network and set off the whole chain of events that followed. And now that she was there, she couldn't stop her heart from beating at a furious pace. It's speed was only matched by rate at which concerns and worries attacked her mind. The immediate concern was that the television wouldn't work, the portal program wouldn't load, and she'd really have no way home. Beyond that was a real fear that two years had in fact passed, and then there was the worst knowledge of all, that she was returning without any of the others. For all she knew they were lost somewhere in Network, maybe injured and confused, and she was abandoning them.
"They'll be waiting for you back in the real world and we'll all laugh about what happened..." She tried to reassure herself, but it had little effect. Something in the pit of her stomach told her that her hope was nothing more than pretty words. "I especially have to go back if they aren't and put together a search party with Gennai."
"It'll be okay, Kari." The soothing voice of her partner assured her from her shoulder. "We'll go back and make a plan and everything will be alright."
Kari turned her head to glance at her partner and in doing so caught the sight of the others up against the wall. They were standing as far off to the side as possible to avoid being pulled in by the portal too if it really did open. Seeing them she felt a sudden pang of pain at the idea of leaving her new friends so soon. And then there was Takuya. She had known him the least amount of time out of all of them, yet she felt so close to him and often found herself wanting to know more and more about him. He was so strange to her and his existence affected her in even stranger ways. It was so odd, but she wanted more time to figure out what it all meant.
"You'll still be here when I get back right?" Kari looked directly at Takuya as she spoke. She ignored the sly, knowing, smiles on Rosemon and FlameWizard's face and focused solely on Takuya.
"Of course." He smiled back warmly. "I really want to know how all of this ends so I'll definitely be waiting here for you to get back."
"Okay." She nodded and gave him a small happy smile back before she raised her D-3 up the wall of televisions. "DIGI-PORT!"
She called out the first part and instantly one of the televisions sprang to life with color. The colors quickly shifting and molding into the familiar portal program. Kari felt a sudden rush of relief when the image in the programs screen turned to a feed of the room in the real world they had left from. Taking a moment to examine it she was even happier to find that it hadn't appeared to have changed any since she had left. Somehow she got in her head that if two years had in fact passed that the other computers in the room, visible from her screen, would have powered off or even burned out after being on continuously for two years; but they were humming away nicely in the background.
"Oh, thank goodness..." Kari sighed. She then spared the group and Takuya a final glance, to build up her courage, and aimed her D-3 at the screen again.
"DIGI-PORT! OP-!?" Two letters from the end of the activation line was as far as she got before she felt something clamp over her mouth while lowing her arm down from the screen.
For a moment she was terrified that someone was attacking her in an attempt to stop her from leaving. Maybe the same force behind the attack that had scattered her and her friends outside the city in the Dark Area. However, that fear quickly ebbed away, leaving her with only confusion, when she looked over her shoulder and found that it was in fact Takuya who had stopped her.
His left hand was clamped over her mouth, completely stopping any chance of her talking, while his right was covering the D-3 and pushing it down along with her arm so that both were pointing at the floor. Past him she could see the others giving his actions the same confused look as her, which meant they had no idea why he had stopped her. However, when shifting her attention back to his face her confusion hit an all new peak. He was staring directly at the screen with the portal program in it. He was studying it, really studying it.
"Ta...uy...?" Kari managed to mumbled out despite his hand over her mouth. She was already nervous with how he was looking and was being made even more so by the look on Gatomon's face that hinted of thoughts of using his face as a scratching post if he didn't release her partner.
"Kari...?" He responded, intensifying his serious gaze on the screen.
After a moment he pulled his hand away from her lips so she could answer, but still kept a firm grip on her D-3.
"Yes...?" She felt a sense of dread swell within her at anticipation of the question he was about to ask.
"The image of the real world in that program... Is it a live feed or just a still image?" He finally asked after a few seconds of silence.
"A live video feed... Why?" The sharp jaws of that horrible feeling were hovering only a few inches from her flesh now.
"Because..." He didn't take his eyes off of the screen for a second as he responded, "...nothing in that image is moving..."
And the teeth just sank in...
To be continued...