vii. the dark angel of svalbard
"Antarctica's Prince has been spotted on South Georgia, my Lord. He destroyed one of your prized Garurumon."
"Ah." The voice is low, sensual, and masculine.
"He has since fled. It is impossible to say where, but it's a safe bet that he's en route to Erebus."
The listener to whom this report has been delivered says nothing. Instead, he spreads gorgeous white wings touched at the tips with alpenglow. He stands on an ivory parapet shrouded in shadow, limed with the eternal dusk of the Arctic winter. The living stars of the Great Bear shine overhead. Unfortunately, it is not a night for auroras.
Sweating discretely, the care-worn human who also happens to be the bearer of significantly bad news gingerly moves closer to the Nordic giant with such deceptively beautiful wings. This means stepping out into a predatory darkness beyond the comprehension of most mortals. An impossible wind blows outside: God's Angel of Death has returned to Svalbard. Despite being ridiculously warmly-dressed, the man shivers.
The angel leans down, long golden hair framing a perfect face. He could be carved of marble; his beauty is breathtaking. All who stand near him feel insignificant and ugly. "This is not ideal." The angel presents this as a pleasant hint.
"I… I know, my Lord."
"I want that boy. Soon." A hand that appears delicate, but which is really too large to lay claim to that adjective honestly, is placed crushingly over the human's shoulders. The man immediately buckles to his knees. "There… I know you want this too."
"I… most certainly do. Lord… what…?"
"What next?" The angel lift up the man as if he were no more than a small child. "Oh, that's simple." Cold lips braise the forehead of the messenger, a kiss offering benediction. "Get him. Use whatever means are at your disposal, but do not kill him. Be secret. Be clever. Have him here by summer's solstice. Or else."
"Yes, Lord Angemon."
"I, I get to ride… the Dragondramon?" Daisuke whispers the last word reverently.
"Airdramon," say Ken and Stingmon in exasperated unison.
"Is it… mmm… safe?"
"I don't see how it could be otherwise, when I'll be up there with you," Ken says without any touch of self-conscious arrogance. "Besides, I'm sure that you are the type that laughs in the face of danger."
Daisuke becomes wide-eyed. "That's true. How did you know?"
"Psychic powers, of course." Ken attempts a weird little smile which looks unusually uncomfortable for him, and it takes Daisuke a few seconds to realize This Is A Joke.
"Oh. Ha. That's great."
Daisuke shuffles his feet, looking away in embarrassment. He's extremely sorry that he just can't seem to connect with whatever wavelength the Prince is projecting on, because it's become obvious to him that the other boy is trying, which makes it all the worse when things don't click. It must be my fault. Because he's not looking, he does not see the way that Ken nibbles on his lower lip and blushes a deep, crimson red. Stingmon notices, however, and looks at this as an excellent time for a segue.
"Maybe I should go on ahead, your Highness?"
Ken whirls to face Stingmon and nods wordlessly. His blush is becoming less acute by the second, but he does not trust himself to speak while he can feel the odd residue of that uncomfortable smile in his cheeks.
When Stingmon is gone, Ken pulls out a little black communication device, and punches some commands into it. "The Airdramon is coming," he informs Daisuke, his tone clinical and crisp. Daisuke winces a bit, thinking that he's mortally offended his new… friend? No, not that. Probably never that. One cannot be friends with a ruler. An employer? Maybe. An equal? Most definitely. But not the sovereign prince. It's just… not allowed.
Daisuke decides to watch for the arrival of the Dragondra.. Airdramon. There are no clouds that he can see in the sky, so he turns slowly, axling around so that he might catch it's emergence from the horizon somewhere.
"Look up," Ken says suddenly. Daisuke does.
Seeming to materialize out of nowhere, a dark shadow blots the sky, the coiling shape of an air-borne serpent blocking the sun like a minor eclipse. It's slender blue and white body rears up like that of a cobra as it prepares to land, while it's blood-red wings beat like torn sails as it breaks against the sky.
"…" Daisuke says.
"Impressive, isn't he?" Ken murmurs with pride. The Airdramon drops nervelessly onto a splay of piercing rocks, it's armored body a protection against injury.
"I think I'm in love," Daisuke whispers.
In love… Ken examines the shorter boy's upturned face, assesses the way that he seems to have forgotten himself completely. Ken never responds that way to his digital servants, seeing most of them as mere tools. Stingmon is the only one with whom he interacts on a personal level. He considers this both a choice and a necessity, but feels somewhat jealous of Daisuke's ability to respond to things at face value, reflecting their worth by his esteem.
"Okay, let's go," Ken says brusquely.
Bobbing his head happily in agreement, Daisuke begins a nice little monologue that continues from when he takes his first hesitant step towards the waiting monster until after he's been boosted up to stand behind the bony protuberances of its head: "This-is-amazing-did-you-know-he has-red-wings-Ken?-I-didn't-Oh-you-are-SO-beautiful-Mr.-Airdramon-(if-I-can-call-you-that)-Ken-er-His-Highness-is-SO-lucky- to-know-you-and-fly-with-you- and-can-I-be-your-friend-too?-please-say-"yes"-please!"
"Your Highness?" the Airdramon asks curiously.
Ken pauses as he climbs up beside Daisuke. "Say yes," he orders with a sigh.
"Very good. I agree to be your friend, young master."
Daisuke almost falls off. "Really?"
Ken steadies the boy, and then commands Airdramon: "Take me home." As the Airdramon lifts into flight, Ken shows Daisuke how to steady himself by holding one of the dragon's large horns. Daisuke holds on one-handedly, and whoops as he arcs backwards.
This is when Ken decides to hold on to Daisuke for the entire trip. Placing an arm around the slender boy's waist, he looks ahead grimly to forestall any arguments.
"Wha…? Hey!" Daisuke protests.
"You'll fall off," Ken says, and as if to underscore the point, the Airdramon makes a small turning dive which causes Daisuke to pitch. Ken grasps the boys waist a bit tighter, and this time he smiles with that knowing superiority that indicates: No, This Is Not A Joke. He's much better at that one.
"Ah… er… Okay then," Daisuke says awkwardly. Kens arm really is no where near to his actual body because of the many layers of clothes that lie between him and… the thin layer of wispy nothingness that the Prince calls "clothes." He does seems actually, unusually comfortable in them, though. "How can you wear that?" he asks, hoping that the question doesn't come off as stupid seeing as how it is one full day and several hours too late.
The question surprises Ken enough so that he meets Daisuke's curious gaze, eye to eye. Oops, that was a mistake… he doesn't want to have to explain away his ridiculous blushing too. Stupid autonomic nervous system. "Synthetics. Not good for very long periods of time outdoors, but then we won't be long. Erebus is…mm. Quite a distance away, actually. But Airdramon eats up miles handily… we'll be there in an hour or so."
"Still. You'll be cold, I'll bet."
"Sure…" Daisuke says slyly, and then wraps a convenient arm around Ken's waist, showing just the tiniest amount of tongue as he resorts to a prankish grin. "How about this… You keep me from spilling off into the atmosphere, and I'll protect you from the big bad cold. Sound good to you, your Worship?" This time, Daisuke does not stutter over the wrong honorific, because it communicates just the level of teasing respect that he is feeling at the moment. Maybe it's the flying that makes him so giddy.
"I guess that's… fair." Ken is suddenly struck with an unwelcome thought. Although Daisuke's happiness seems very good, even infectious, it seems to be brought forth from an almost shockingly ruthless ability to compartmentalize emotions. Not having experienced any strong feelings other than frustration, irritation, or rage for years now, Ken is stumped. It just doesn't seem healthy. In fact, it's a tiny bit insane. "Are you okay?" Ken asks immediately, wanting data.
"Okay?" Daisuke furrows his brow, and his expression becomes ever so slightly shadowed.
"Mmm… never mind."
Ken lets it go.
In Amsterdam, a well-dressed man with a long face and dark-circled eyes steps up to the ticket counter. He's done this many, many times before, and has the frequent flyer miles to prove it.
"I need to get to Buenos Aires."
The smilingly blonde ticket agent looks up in mild surprise. She doesn't hear requests for that very often… especially not for such a last-minute flight. But business travelers do unusual things, and their expense accounts are seemingly bottomless. She smiles.
"It will be expensive, sir."
"And I am sure that you are aware that there are no direct flights?"
"Of course. First class, ticket for one."
"Very good." The agent punches a few codes into her computer, and comes up with a quote. "Lufthansa. $4593.36. Connection in Frankfort, Germany. Total flight time: 17 hours and 55 minutes, with connection. There will be dinner on the flight. Shall I proceed?"
"Please." The man wipes his brow, and the agent exhales in sympathy. "Long day?"
"You would not believe it."
"I'm sorry," she says kindly, then returns to the task at hand. "Ah. There. All set. How shall you be paying?"
The man hands over a credit card. As expected, it is platinum.
The agent evaluates the card. "Thank you, Mr. Yukio. Anything else I can help you with today?"
"No. Not really." The tired man just looks… tired.
Note on the seasons. In both poles the month is December, which makes it summer in Antarctica and winter in the North. I'm not going to call Antarctica's warmest time of the year "winter" just to arbitrarily follow supraequitorial conventions. It's summer IN winter, down in Ken-land.