Level 2- Children

Tony Grant- Age 16
Born to Michael and Mimi Grant on April 28, 2023
Junior in high school
Currently living in Staten Island, New York with parents Mimi and Michael, step-sister Michi, and step-brother Kori


Stage Seven- Escape

TO: ichijoujiken@keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp
FROM: RKngel@echelon.net

They have Koji?

After staring at the e-mail for two straight minutes, Ken glanced around the office. He was alone, just as he had been all day. Yasuo and his other subordinates were busy with whatever they were doing to Koji. Ken, meanwhile, was left with the job of “trying to keep an eye on Michi.” Since he needed no organizational resources to do that, his time was divided between his e-mail inbox and his game of solitaire.

This e-mail was both alluring and disturbing. Ken knew exactly who RKngel was, but did not understand her role in this situation. She obviously knew something about Koji. She obviously had heard something about his capture. She obviously didn’t want to tell Ken too much. The message was clear- she knew something Ken didn’t.

Something big was happening. Ken could sense that much. But he also sensed that he was being excluded from it. He had the routine job of tracking a pair of vacationers, but had no idea how important this particular pair was to Yasuo. Ken also didn’t understand why he had no part in Koji’s arrest or interrogation. He knew only that Koji was in Yasuo’s custody.

That was all RKngel wanted to know. That was all Ken wrote in response- “Yes.” Once again, he was providing information when others withheld it from him. Yasuo, RKngel, Koji and all the other players were embroiled in something big. Regardless of who was good or bad, neither side wanted Ken to learn too much.

And that taught Ken all he needed to know- this was about the digi-destined.

 

In the shadows of the nearby skyscrapers, Chiaki and Michi shared a bench, content with latently watching pedestrians canter by. Chiaki had already scored a minor victory in getting Michi out of the house. But a change in scenery did little to boost her spirits. She had agreed mainly to see if the trip had any greater importance, but was discouraged by Chiaki's justification: “just something to do.”

Whatever they were doing, it wasn't much. Her association with Chiaki was insignificant and temporary. She found him secretive and a little tense. But she did notice one thing- his quiet satisfaction. They were sitting on the same bench, watching the same scenery, but while Michi felt empty, Chiaki appeared full of something.

“Why did you want to go out?” she asked.

“Just felt like it,” he replied, more interested in a woman pushing a baby carriage on the other side of the street.

“Is that all?”

“Sure. Why not? We have to do something.”

“Why?”

He turned to her, frowning. “Because if we don’t do anything, then there’s no reason to be here.”

Michi’s head fell forward. Her presence in the world had to have more purpose than “just something to do.”

Chiaki continued, “Look, I can only guess what went on with you and Koji. But it’s like you’re a completely different person now. Before you were so… so…” Michi glanced at him, awaiting his answer. “…Not like this.”

She faced the ground again and droned, “With Koji I felt like a completely different person. I felt like I had a purpose. It felt like I had been waiting for him to point me in the right direction.”

“And now?”

“Dead end.”

After pausing a moment, Chiaki asked, “Can’t you just turn around? What were you like before Koji?”

“Nothing.”

“Really? What did you want to do before?”

With a sigh, Michi lifted her head up and leaned back against the bench. Staring up at the nearby buildings, she answered, “I never really settled on anything. I just did whatever seemed fun at the time. I hadn’t really thought about where I was going. I thought I found something with Koji, but he only made me realize how lost I was.”

She looked over at Chiaki. To her surprise, he was smiling. He immediately turned away, trying to hide it.

“What?” she asked.

In a slightly condescending tone, he replied, “I just don’t see why you’re so miserable about this. So you don’t know what you want to do with your life? So what?” He dropped his smile and continued, “I just don’t see why you thought Koji was the big answer to everything.”

Before she could explain anything, he blurted, “Because there’s no way you should be moping because of someone like him. You can find somebody better than him.” She noticed a light blush on his face. He held a hand up to hide it and added, “You shouldn’t have any trouble with that.”

“It wasn’t just about that,” Michi replied instantly, refusing to let herself get wrapped up in the topic, “He had a purpose. He had a reason for being here. Oh... I wanted that. To do something that ranks up there with what my parents did.”

“I think that’s why I want to be a detective. I heard so many great stories from Dad...”

She leaned forward, determined to meet him eye-to-eye. “I mean before all that. When they were... our age.”

With a bigger smile, he shook his head. “Awfully hard to save the Digital World now, Michi. Our generation isn’t cut out for that sort of thing.”

“Still...” Michi faced the other way, “destiny chose them to do great things. But there’s nothing left for us.”

“And Koji changed things somehow?”

Michi turned back. Chiaki was looking at her, his eyes narrowed slightly and his smile a distant memory. “He had some holy mission to carry out, and that meant something to you?”

“Yeah.”

Chiaki rose suddenly, standing with his back to her. Michi couldn't tell what he was staring at, but it had his full attention. She leaned forward, trying to get a glimpse, but she saw nothing unusual. But from her new angle, she noticed that Chiaki had his eyes closed. He took a deep breath before opening them... and his mouth.

“They caught him. Whatever he was doing, somebody upstairs didn’t like it.”

Fixated on Chiaki’s words, Michi silently fell backwards into the bench. She blinked twice- once to question the reality of his statement, a second time to shield herself from it. At first she wanted to know how he obtained this information. Then she wanted to know the specifics of Koji’s capture. But she asked about neither. Both were frivolous details, instinctive efforts to avoid the truth. And she knew it was the truth- she saw no reason for Chiaki to say it otherwise.

She said nothing, but merely closed her eyes and mentally tried to remove herself from the situation.

To no avail, for she still heard Chiaki as he said, “React however you want. But it’s safe to say you won’t see Koji ever again.”

 

Sleep was the only activity Koji could enjoy. His waking world was one of two things. One was Yasuo’s torturous inquisition, which gave Yasuo few answers and gave Koji only pain. Koji still answered as truthfully as he could, lying only to protect Michi and his other friends. But no matter the question, he did not have the answers Yasuo was looking for.

When he wasn’t being interrogated, Koji could only roam his cell, waiting for Yasuo to come calling. He lost all sense of time. He did not know how many hours or days he had spent in captivity. There was no way of figuring out the time- he ate only when he was questioned, and that occurred irregularly.

Whatever time it was, Koji was asleep when the door opened. The resulting creak opened his eyes involuntarily. Two men entered the room. One was very familiar to Koji- the guard whose presence always signaled another session with Yasuo. The second, however, was a new face. But he wasn’t a stranger to Koji. He was older, and the dim florescent light presented his face in a different, darker light. But without a doubt, the man entering Koji’s cell was Ryo Akiyama.

“Thanks. I’ll knock when I’m ready,” Ryo told the guard, who nodded silently and walked out, locking the door behind him.

Koji sat up as Ryo looked around the room, scrutinizing the atmosphere. He put a hand against the steel wall.

“Ryo?” Koji asked, seemingly getting his attention for the first time.

Ryo looked back at Koji and replied, “Koji was it?”

Koji nodded slowly, disappointed that Ryo didn’t seem to remember Takato.

“Not a bad name. In the TV show that was the quiet kid with all the problems at home.” A little smug, he added, “I guess it works for you Takato.”

Startled, Koji replied, “You remember me?”

“How could I forget?”

Koji sighed in relief. The solace in having Yamaki remember Takato was short-lived, but Ryo's good memory offered Koji new comfort.

Ryo continued to survey the room. “Hmm... there’s no chair in here. Oh well.”

“Why are you here?”

 “I heard you were here," said Ryo, returning his attention to Koji. "Figured I’d drop by.” He looked around again. “Wish they’d find someplace better for you. This room sucks.”

“It’s awful here,” Koji complained, “They keep dragging me out of here and asking me questions. But no matter what I say I just don’t have the answers they’re looking for. That Yasuo guy is...”

“Say no more.” Ryo smiled. “I know what he’s like. Dad’s not the kind of guy to be denied anything.”

Koji’s eyes bulged. “Dad?”

“I guess he’s my dad. Technically he’s my brother, but that doesn’t seem right, does it?” Ryo laughed as Koji looked on, confused. “It’s a long story. From what I’ve heard, I spent a lot of time in the Digital World back when it was around. Then one day a Knightmon chopped my head off.”

“Ouch.”

“Or something like that. I don’t remember. But when you die in the Digital World, you get reborn. When I did, Yasuo adopted me and raised me like his son.”

“I’m sorry.”

Once again, Ryo laughed. “I survived.” With a sigh, he added, “I kinda wish you could too.”

It took Koji a moment to realize what Ryo meant, but his spirits fell as soon as he did. “So he is going to kill me?” he asked sadly.

Ryo nodded grimly. “Tomorrow. I heard him talking to Yamaki. They got pretty much everything they can from you. They’ll try again tomorrow, and that’s it.”

Jumping to his feet, Koji began to approach Ryo. But two steps in, Ryo stepped back, momentarily concerned at Koji’s advance. Koji stopped after seeing Ryo’s uneasy face.

“Then you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to get me out of here,” Koji pleaded, desperate for some sign that Ryo was indeed sympathetic.

“Who says?” Ryo eyed Koji nervously as he leaned against the back wall. “I just wanted to see how you were holding up. I have no intention of breaking you out of here.”

“Ryo, you said it yourself- they’re going to kill me,” Koji said, slowly enough to keep his frustration from turning into anger.

Ryo shrugged. “Sorry. There’s nothing I can do.”

Koji slumped back onto his cot as Ryo explained, “Yasuo’s an ass. You don’t have to tell me that. But I have to look past that. Because he’s right- you don’t belong here.”

“Then can’t they just send me home?”

“If they do that, what’s stopping you from finding your way back?”

Koji could no longer stand looking at Ryo. If he was supposed to die, then he had hoped for a little comfort from the “Legendary Tamer,” not the logic behind his upcoming deletion. “Am I really that dangerous?”

“Maybe not, but imagine what would have happened if Henry got through. Did they tell you about that?” Koji nodded. “Two Henrys in this world? Don’t tell me that isn’t a problem. Although frankly I like yours better. Terriermon did a lot for that kid.”

“Just shut up!” Koji yelled, startling Ryo out of his digression. Koji bent down, clutching his head. If Ryo wasn’t going to help, he was better off leaving.

But instead, Koji heard Ryo’s footsteps draw closer, until he saw a pair of feet two yards in front of him.

“Everybody is assigned a world, whether real, artificial, or digital. And that world is where they belong. If they go into the wrong world, they will not be able to survive there. No matter how long they last, they will eventually be wiped out. That’s how it was with me, and that’s how it will be with you.”

Koji lifted his head. As expected, Ryo was staring back with a stern, unforgiving look on his face.

“If you had just stayed in your world, none of this would have happened.” Ryo turned around, shaking his head as he walked to the far corner of the room. “But now, I hate to say it, but they’ll probably wipe out your world as well.”

“What?” As if Koji needed more to worry about.

Koji sensed a little sadness in Ryo’s voice, but not much: “After we beat D-Reaper, Yasuo agreed to leave your world alone as long as it wasn’t disrupting anything. Your presence might be the disruption Yasuo needs to erase everything.”

As Koji’s eyes began to well with tears, he tried not to imagine the potential destruction of his home world. Another coming of D-Reaper, devouring everything he had worked so hard to save. But he couldn’t help it- the visions came regardless. He saw the red chaos infecting everything, with nothing to stand in its way. Somewhere in the midst of it all, Koji saw Jeri, Rika, and Henry, his Henry, broken into nothingness without the slightest idea that their dear departed friend Takato brought this fate on them.

His hands landed on his knees as his head fell, his tears beginning to drip on his lap. “I just wanted to be with Guilmon...”

“God, they didn’t tell you that either...” Ryo muttered.

Koji looked up as Ryo’s head fell against the wall, cushioned by his right arm. “What?”

“We just barely saved your real world from D-Reaper.” Ryo shook his head, swallowed, and delivered the bad news. “Your Digital World wasn’t so lucky. Yasuo wasn’t going to let that survive.”

“No...” Even after all that had he’d been through, Koji still wanted to think his Digital World existed somewhere. That he somehow accidentally had been misdirected into the other one. It couldn’t possibly be gone. That meant...

“Guilmon...”

Ryo approached Koji slowly. “Yamaki told you that you wouldn’t see your partners again. That was why. I know it’s awful, Takato. I lost Cyberdramon.”

“It can’t be...”

“There’s no reason to deny it any longer. You only have one more day, why live it through a lie?”

“But it can’t be true!” Koji’s head jolted upwards, startling Ryo. “Guilmon is still alive somewhere! If he was erased years ago, then I would have been too.”

“Face it Takato!” Ryo's grimace turned into a full frown as he shouted, “Guilmon is dead!”

In a flash of primal instinct, Koji lunged at Ryo, driving shoulder into stomach. Koji refused to let Ryo say such a lie. He continued to charge forward, driving the defenseless Ryo further back, until they collided with the far wall. Ryo’s head snapped back into the steel as Koji stood overhead.

“No. He isn’t. He can’t be,” spat Koji.

As the other boy’s body slumped down, Koji saw blood trailing from where Ryo’s head had hit the wall. But Koji didn’t care. He was through caring. He was not going to die until he saw Guilmon again. And if that was truly impossible, he was certainly not going to die at the hands of Guilmon’s killer.

He left Ryo and pounded on the door. Koji readied himself for the moment the unassuming guard opened the door to let “Ryo” out.

“Takato...” Ryo moaned. Koji saw that Ryo’s eyes were barely open, but through the pain the old Tamer managed two words before slipping into unconsciousness:

“Good luck.”

Scarcely a moment after the door creaked, Koji yanked it open wide, jolting the guard for a fraction of a second as Koji charged at him. The guard was only forced back a couple of feet but it was enough for Koji to make it to the hallway. Without looking back, he sprinted for the nearest stairwell. Because of the many trips to the questioning room, he knew where the stairs were, and that he was on one of the higher levels of the building. He found the stairs and rapidly descended.

The first three floors were a mad dash, as Koji was too busy running to ponder the details of his escape. But his body, working on very little food, soon refused to fly downstairs. Koji looked up; nobody was chasing him from above. He cautiously slowed his pace as he reached the next floor and peered through the window on the door. With nobody in sight, he slowly entered the hallway.

He knew he was not physically capable of running down dozens of flights of stairs. Therefore, the elevator was the only option. Cautiously, he pressed the down button and waited.

As Koji tried to catch his breath, he considered the possible scenarios, and how he was going to respond to them. He knew he couldn’t afford to act wildly. One wrong move and he would be dead.

None of the scenarios involving a hallway confrontation came to fruition, as the bell by the far right elevator brought Koji over. He was not reassured, however; he still had to deal with whatever was behind the sliding doors. He prepared to run, but prayed for a false alarm. The doors opened.

“There he is!”

The sight of three guards armed with police batons made Koji’s heart sink. But thankfully he was ready for it; he dashed away before they could get close to him.

Not wanting to chance a game of hide-and-seek on the floor, he raced back to the stairwell and once again fled downstairs. This time, he heard the guards yelling, their boots clanking down the stairs behind him. He made it down another two floors on adrenaline alone, but two floors after that he could feel himself letting up. He was moving faster than the guards, but he was tiring- they weren’t. Koji stopped at the next floor, not bothering to verify its safety.

He carefully and quietly closed the door behind him, in case his hunters didn’t see him go through it. When he turned toward the elevator, again hoping to test his luck, he realized that he wasn’t alone. A woman was anxiously waiting for an elevator; her head cheated toward her watch and she bit her lower lip. Apparently, she hadn’t noticed Koji through her sunglasses.

Was she dangerous, or an innocent bystander? If the former, Koji knew he had to turn tail, somehow evading the guards on the stairs. But if she was a normal woman that just happened to be there, he could calmly wait with her. Her presence could also potentially keep the guards from becoming violent.

All this logic did little to help, however. He had frozen in indecisiveness.

She casually glanced at him, giving Koji a good look at her face. Even with the sunglasses, she was familiar, and Koji recognized her brown hair- neatly cut in front but hanging freely behind her shoulders. He sensed her scanning him through the sunglasses, and her mouth began to open.

“Takato?”

That was enough for Koji; he turned and ran... almost colliding with the guards entering the hallway.

Koji stopped and began to backpedal, but the trio closed in, hoisting their weapons. With nowhere to run, he braced for the impending strike.

One came, but instead of a swift blow to the head, the woman grabbed his shoulders and pulled him away from the guards.

“Leave him alone!” she shouted. In a swift motion, her right hand left Koji’s shoulder, balled into a fist, and belted one of the guards in the face. As the other two advanced on her, Koji heard the elevator bell.

“The elevator!” he yelled.

She quickly backed away, turned around, and ran to it, grabbing Koji’s upper arm on the way. With all three guards pursuing them, the pair reached the elevator as the doors opened. Two more sentries were waiting.

“Shit!” Koji exclaimed, but the woman wasted no time, violently forcing Koji away. The guards from the elevator armed themselves and charged towards them, just in time to collide with the trio already in the hallway. The entire mass fell to the floor.

Koji and the woman wasted no time in slipping past the five and jumping into the now unoccupied elevator. Koji dived for the button to close the door, but one of the guards was back on his feet, and physically kept the door open. The woman struggled to force him out, trying to prevent him from using his weapon.

Koji tried to assist her, attacking the guard's midsection, but he refused to budge, still grappling with Koji’s would-be rescuer. Koji struck the man’s arm, the one holding the baton, knocking it away long enough for the woman to reach into her purse. She quickly retrieved a can of pepper spray and opened fire. The blast forced the guard back out into the hallway. Koji again pressed the button, and the armed woman refused to allow anyone else on board. The doors closed; the elevator descended.

As Koji took a much-needed breather, he was surprised when she punched the button for floor 25.

“Why aren’t we going to the bottom?” he asked.

Equally breathless, she replied, “They know we’re in here. They’ll stop this thing as soon as they can. We need to get out before that. Once we get to floor 25, we can run to the other tower. If we make it to an elevator on that side, we’re home free.”

“You really thought this through,” Koji replied, fairly impressed.

She looked down at him, taking off her sunglasses. Her eyes made her look even more familiar to Koji. “I don’t know what they told you Takato, but you have done nothing wrong. They have no reason to destroy you and they won’t as long as I have anything to say about it. I came as soon as I found out you were here.”

At first, all he could say in response was, “Thanks.” But after a moment, he added, “You know, I think I remember you. You helped us when we fought D-Reaper.”

“Yeah,” she replied quickly, replacing her sunglasses.

“Yeah, I’m trying to remember your name. It’s um... uh... Riley!”

She nodded. He smiled, happy he was able to recall it. “Yeah, Riley... um... oh shoot.” Unfortunately, the last name still escaped him.

“Kamiya.”

At that moment, the doors opened- almost as wide as Koji’s mouth. But Riley paid little attention to the surprised look on his face.

“Let’s go.”

The two sprinted down the extended hall of government offices, ignoring anybody in their path. Neither noticed any of Yasuo’s guards but given their speed, they could easily have passed one without registering him.

Riley and Koji safely made it to the other side. An identical row of elevators greeted them and a down arrow waited for Riley’s touch. Koji collapsed on a nearby chair. He had recovered enough to make the long run, but only by tapping into his emergency energy. He bent over, ready to faint. He silently hoped Riley was right- that this elevator would deliver them the rest of the way and he would be out of this place.

He would have fallen out of the chair if Riley hadn’t caught him. She sat next to him, guiding him upright.

“We’re almost there,” she whispered, still holding him. Riley softly rubbed his head, and continued to do so until the elevator arrived. Then she helped him out of the chair and through the doors to freedom.

Several others were also riding down, but they only served to crowd, not capture. As a result, the two were boxed into a corner. Riley kept her hands on his shoulders, and Koji’s head fell back until it rested on her chest. Despite her proximity, he was perfectly at ease. It was the first time he felt protected since he had arrived in this world. And yet, the feeling was not new. He had felt this same presence before. As if Riley had been silently watching over him the whole time.

Once on the ground floor. Riley led Koji to the lobby and urgently looked around.

“Where is she?” she muttered.

“Riley!!”

The two turned to the woman yelling. She was a little younger than Riley, with short red hair. She was waving her arms to signal the pair.

“Tally!” Riley ran up to her, doing her best to help Koji along. Tally’s face lit up when she saw Koji.

“You found him. Thank God.”

“Yeah, now let’s get out of here. Where are you parked?”

Instead of answering, Tally ran to the exit, slowing her pace to let Riley and Koji keep up. They made it outside, and Koji looked back over his shoulder and up. He already knew he would see the twin towers of the Metropolitan Government Building. He looked downward at the building’s entrance. Yamaki was chasing after them. Koji faced forward again, unwilling to let the man catch up.

“Riley!” Yamaki yelled.

Koji and Tally ignored him. Riley stopped and turned around. This halted Tally and Koji, as both went back for her.

“We don’t have time, we have to get going!” Tally barked. Riley didn’t respond. “Riley!”

“Take Koji to the car. I’ll be right behind you,” Riley said calmly.

“Make it fast, okay?”

 

Tally followed her elder’s instructions and led Koji away. Yamaki didn’t follow them, focusing instead on the remaining woman.

“Riley, there’s no point to this. It’s over.”

Riley slowly removed her sunglasses. “Why are you doing this? How can you side with him after all he’s put us through?”

“Because he’s right.” Yamaki shook his head. “He always was right. And there’s nothing you can do to change my mind this time.”

“No. He’s wrong. Yasuo’s just afraid, that’s all. Afraid that Takato’s world is better than this one.”

Behind her, she heard a car honking, and Tally shouting at her.

“Better or worse doesn’t matter, Riley. Takato’s world isn’t real. And if something from his world can become real then it’s dangerous.”

Rather than respond, Riley simply put on her sunglasses and turned around. If he was right about anything, it was that she wasn’t going to change his mind. He was aligning with the enemy, and her only move was to let it go.

But as she walked toward Tally’s car, she heard Yamaki announce, “Riley, we are re-introducing D-Reaper into the MAXIS. And there’s no way to stop it this time.”

Riley stopped. She wanted to turn around. She wanted to attack him, hurt him... perhaps even kill him. He was a traitor, and if it weren’t for Tally physically forcing her to the car, it would have been an option.

Instead, she fell back into the passenger seat as Tally sped away. Nobody was chasing them anymore.

From the backseat, Koji asked, “What’s wrong?”

She sat up for a moment and looked at Koji. “Nothing,” she muttered, lying back again. Just tired, that’s all.”

Koji turned to Tally. “What was your name again?”

“Tally,” she replied, more focused on watching the road.

“Tally...?” Koji asked eagerly.

“Onodera,” Tally remained unconcerned.

“Come on Tally, he needs to know the truth. I already told him,” Riley said, a little condescendingly.

“Tally Onodera. I officially changed it back, remember?”

Riley gave up, and faced the window. Koji continued to watch Tally as she shook her head. Finally, she gave in: “Takaishi. Tally Takaishi. Are you happy?”

Satisfied, and not wanting to dwell on the obvious significance of their surnames, Koji moved on. “So where are we going?”

“Tachikawa. I’m borrowing a friend’s house while she’s overseas.”

“Is it safe?”

“If it isn’t, I’d be dead by now. Don’t worry Takato. You’re going to be just fine.”

Koji leaned back in his seat. He soon realized that he had the whole back row to himself, so he stretched out and rested. Somehow, Tally’s words of reassurance did little to appease him. His heart was no longer pounding and his legs had checked out for the day, leaving Koji with only his thoughts.

Face it Takato! Guilmon is dead!”

Ryo’s words still stung. Koji was afraid to ask Riley or Tally, for fear they would confirm it. He wanted to keep pretending it wasn’t true. He could live with being a computer simulation. He could deal with being separated from Mari and Michi, as long as he knew they were safe. But if Guilmon was indeed erased, wiped off the map completely, never to return- then Koji had no reason to keep running.

To Be Continued in “Stage Eight- Truth”

 

Author’s Notes
I’m not going to insult your intelligence. Most of the information in this stage requires a simple game of connect the dots to answer your questions.

While echelon.net was just made up, Ken’s server is the actual domain for the Tokyo Police.

Since Ryo tends to be characterized as 1) a pompous asshole, 2) an irresponsible adventurer, or 3) Rika’s Tamer, try not to dismiss him as option number one in this stage. It’s hardly a flattering portrayal, but there is something to be said about his attitude which goes beyond a type.

Everybody say it together- Riley and Tally rule. And yes, Yamaki and Riley were a canon couple in Tamers, although it’s safe to say they broke up.

Tachikawa is the name of a real town northwest of Tokyo, and I figured it had the appropriate connotations to work as the getaway spot.

This ends Level 2: Stage 7 of The Connection.