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And this time, loads freed from Mana's body, yet she probably would felt as if she's much weaker than she's in the present... afterall, she's regressed back to her six years old form. The girl ended up on the ground of a forest... probably somewhere close back home or to the school. She's wearing the clothes she's used to wear that day... the day of her first day in class. However, if she tried to get up, and look what's beside her, she'd find a swirl of darkness, which suddenly turned into a figure of a tall boy, aged sixteen...
Dark Ryouta would stare down at her before scratching the back of his neck. The dark haired boy with so many scars on his body, with definition slightly exceeding normal strangely smiled at her gently and helped her to get up. In here, strangely, she can hear his voice clearer, voice that came out from his mouth instead of something that resounded in her head.
"You OK, Mana?"
It's a bit deeper compared to the normal Ryouta, probably because he's older, but... definitely, there's a caring tone there, much caring than even the normal Ryouta. She would still retain her memory, but exactly because of that, it doesn't seem it'll be pleasant at all... Especially if she remember that the guy is HERE.
Okay, this was just great. For some reason Mana couldn't understand, she was sprawled on some random forest's floor, yet she didn't feel Yuuki in her back and she felt weaker... and tiny. She looked at herself with some effort and she discovered that her limbs were small and her skin a lot paler than before. Then, as she dusted her clothes, she discovered the uniform of the elementary school she attended; black shoes, long dark blue socks that almost reached her knees, a knee-length scottish-patterned skirt and a blouse-shirt hybrid, adorned with a ribbon that had the same pattern than her skirt. She still had her hair long, so it was before that happened. She sighed with relief, at least until darkness began to swirl besides her.
She then realized that she was totally alone; not Ayaka, nor Tatsuya nor anybody was here, and it didn't help that the figure who materialized besides her was... Dark-Ryouta of all things. Wait, why Ryouta would be in one of Yuuki's trials? It just seemed too weird, yet she didn't have much time to delve into those thoughts, as she was rather paralyzed with fear when she saw boy. He was much taller than her, probably taller than Ryouta himself, and muscular to boot. She knew that if she tried to ran away with her smallish body, he'd catch her in no time, and as she imagined what he'd do to her, he... was helping her to get up? WHY? And then he was asking if she was okay? Okay, this was getting really weird, and why the heck he looked like he cared about her?
"Why are you doing this?" she asked cautiosly "The last time I saw you, you actually encased me in some weird crystal prison for no apparent reason! I want an explanation! And why are you here? This wasn't supposed to be Yuuki's trial of sorts? And, um... Yes, I'm okay, I guess".
Yet, she felt a bit flustered at being nearby a Ryouta that was being affective to her, but snapping out of it instantly. Sighing, she reminded herself that this was a trial, and light-Ryouta already said that the boy only saw her as a sister and nothing else. Most probably, if this was Ryouta's darker version, he'd try to use those feelings to confuse her. She had to remain calm.
"Hmph, well, listen, whatever happened back then, happened... I'm testing your Ryo-kun because I don't want him to regret being too merciful. Now, as why I'm here simply because I wanted to help you. You don't feel like you can face that insanely ripped guy, right? Alright, listen, this won't go anywhere unless you trust me, so just trust me despite they told you to doubt... First, let's just relax, alright?"
The boy sat crosslegged on the ground. He's definitely Ryouta's dark side, but from his tone, it's almost like he's very concerned of her well being. "I know most of things about you, don't ask how. I know most things about your fear, I know most thing about your likes and dislikes... If you ask me why I encased you on that crystal cage, it's to protect you. I don't want you to get hurt. Call it overprotectiveness if you want, but if you already gone through of what I already experienced, you'll end up like me to your dearest person... got the implications here, Mana?"
He stared right at her, like saying he really cares about her. "I also don't get it how I'm summoned here... all I know, I must help you, as simple as that. You can ask as much as you want right here... the trial won't start until we're outta here... but remember, if we're taking too long, Yuuki's life might be in danger... I don't want that. So ask anything you want to know because outside, probably I'll have to act as your big brother."
To say that Mana was puzzled, perplexed and greatly confused on this very same second was an understatement. So, he knew about the nickname she only used on her dreams, he knew about the PE teacher that would try to kidnap her in one of these days in her past self and the fear she had towards him (even though he refered to him as the 'insanely ripped guy'), he said that he knew about her fears, likes and dislikes, and that the prison thingy was only because he wanted to protect her. But most of all, he had implied that he LIKED HER? Mana wasn't really prepared for that one. Red crept on her cheeks at that mere implication, but she tried to calm down. She had to calm down, for Yuuki.
"Okay, I've got only three questions. First, did you just imply that you actually like me or rather, another reality's me? Second, if you actually liked me or the other me, why didn't you say that ealier? And third, this reality's Ryouta likes me? That's all I've got to ask. I believe you and I... trust you, Ryo-kun. Deep down, I feel that you're all the same Ryo-kun I fell in love with and so, I'm sure that you wouldn't hurt me. So, unless you have anything else to say, Yuuki's waiting for us".
She waited until the boy got up and then offered him her hand to take. The boy was most likely at least fifty or sixty centimeters taller than her, so most likely it'd be seen as a older brother and younger sister type of holding hands, but for Mana the feelings were still there, and she didn't want to relinquish the chance of living this moment, even if it was inside a dream world and this Ryouta wasn't the true Ryouta (well, maybe he is the true Ryouta of some other dimension, but she didn't find a better word to describe him), she wanted to hold her frist crush's hand, at least once... "Let's go, Ryo-kun" she said with a smile.
This counterpart Ryouta inhaled before answering her question. His cheek reddened, but he's smiling rather readily. It's a smile of someone who's both shy and really happy about something. "...I guess you can say, we literally married in your alternate reality..." however, his expression became pained soon after. "...We live in a really harsh place... Digimons generally used for warfare... it happened when we're 11. You can say that in that world, we're childhood friends. Since 11, we live in fear, in havens in Digital World as Real World is already so destroyed... We... sorry, but... we're orphans. I'd like to tell you more, but... let's just say, you're my dearest Mana there... We sort of married when I'm 15, although it's no ceremony, just something on papers, still... we love each other that much."
To her next question, he just scratched his head.
"You want ME to tell you that and risk making that dense guy act so awkwardly toward you? I know myself, Mana... I know he'll act really awkwardly if I told you I like you... also, for the answer of the third question... Not now, but... really soon... There's a feeling budding, alright... By the way, sorry, but... let me kiss your cheek..."
If she accept, Ryouta would hug her and kiss her cheek, all while somehow his tears leaking out slowly. It's as if... something happened to his world Mana. "...I really missed you... I really want to hear your voice..."
Regardless, the boy would take her hand and smiled softly at her. "Yeah... but prepare some excuse why your brother is so scarred like this... I cannot change my form here somehow, because... because what called here apparently isn't my data, but my physical body."
Mana began to blush redder and redder at 'dark'-Ryouta's answers. If she was dreaming, she wished for someone to pinch, or not really. "W-w-w-wwe-e-eee a-a-a-r-ee M-m-mma-aa-ar-rr-ri-i-e-ed?" she barely articulated those words as the colors in her face began to become brighter by the second. In that moment, she felt so happy, despite all the words that followed. That world... it was brutal; that description sobered her, yet the happiness remained, even when she became married at... 13? Whoa, getting married before exiting junior high school was definitely a thing, but with the world destroyed, she doubted that schools even existed in first place.
Still, one doubt lingered in the girl's mind, and a rather cruel one, at that. "B-but Ryo-kun, you actually heard what your other you said?" Mana asked sadly with her childlike voice "I-I felt so bad about it, you know. I spent that night crying in my room only because I thought that I would never be with your in that way. But now... I'm so happy. Thank you, Ryo-kun".
She accepted his hug and his kiss, even if it was somewhat Awkward to see a sixteen year old kissing a six year old; but what counted is that both her feelings and her heart were the ones of her present self, and for Mana, that was all that mattered. Yet, she heard the implication about her other self, and became really sad. "My other me isn't alright, is she? I'm sorry to hear that, Ryo-kun. I... I promise that if we somehow get out of this place, I'll find a way to help you. I know that even deletion isn't permanent in the Digital World if the feeling is strong enough, and if I'm sure of something is that all my selves bear the same sentiment towards you, even if they don't know it. I'll try to return you the favor, Ryo-kun. At least that much you deserve after saying all those things about you".
As he took her hand, she couldn't but feel extremely happy. This was as if a weird rendition of her dream just came true. Not the scenario she had in her mind, but what she felt was even more than what she had expected. "The scar thing is easy. My manly Ryo-kun... Err, Nii-san survived a fight with a bear while buying time to her little sister to ran away. She got help from a forest keeper and the bear got shot before it could kill you. The wounds were deep, but you survived due to a timely intervention. Used to happen a lot in my hometown, actually".
She then looked at him with a puzzled expression, before asking. "Is there any difference I should know about with you having your physical body without taking into account the fact that you look really manly? Anyway, let's not waste time. We should get going".
As they were holding hands and she was greatly smaller and weaker than him. It'd take for him to begin walking for them to get going, so she waited until he did so, and they began to walk alongside him.
"Yeah, we're married alright," he affirmed. "Like I said, it's no ceremony because it's not a happy time, but... We just love each other way too much and death can happened anytime... we want to make the best of our life... especially since there's just so little of us remained... so little of us who can biomerges. We fight, but without enough numbers... casualties obviously fall on our side..."
He stroke her head when she asked about what the other Ryouta said. "...Well, sorry about that... I don't know what that guy thinks either... It might be because he assumed that your world is similar to his... but let me say this... the world where you live is my dream world. A peaceful world where I can go to school normally, to joke around with my friends... and there's just so many other stuffs like that... I have lost count how many times I have to rely on dopings to survive... I have lost how many counts I have to get my blood cleansed from those... Sorry if this is being really depressive."
She asked about the other Mana, which made him pained. "...I failed to protect her. She's stuck in half biomerge half human form. Doctor said it might be long for her to start talking again and moving again, or show emotions in that case, but... she's alive... in vegetative state. I only can talk with Ayaka through telepathy, but... other than that, nothing... no response from her... It's OK, you don't have to help me. It's not like you can go there... just... live your life to fullest, you hear? Don't regret anything."
When he heard her reasoning of his scars. He laughed hard, a cheerful laugh instead of the mad laugh he showed her back in the trial day.
"Really? Really? Hey, if I want to, I can strangle a bear now! Residual effect of my universe's biomerge is... that we're slowly assimilated to our Digimon's property... That means, my body is similar to Chrome Digizoit," he explained, flexing his arm to the fullest. Something like thin veins of silver-like metals gleams under the light on his skin. Not only that, it's like it's coursing with light somehow. "So, my body is really tough actually... But yeah, that doesn't sound that bad.. I mean, who doesn't want to be his wife's hero, huh?"
And so, they walked out of the place... the way ahead is full of mists, which seem to be odd... It's seem it's still very early, but there's some strange... feeling in the air. Something like something bad would happen.
"...The thing with my physical body or my data self is, Mana, I don't have my Digimon with me, so... whatever happened, if there's something wrong... I want you to hide behind me, alright?" he told her, then grinned. "I won't tell you to run... You'd hate me if I said that. Plus, with huge chance, I'm sure I can fight with that guy if needed... I still have to give him proper beating for kidnapping you..."
As soon as Ryouta began to say the bit about his realitiy's version of her, the other questions she had uttered about her and this current reality's Ryouta transformed themselves in meaningless. She hugged him by the waist and began to cry her heart you. Her feelings were just so intense in that moment... "No, Ryo-kun. I don't care what do you say about that. I will find a way to help you eventually, and then my silly self will know that she has the guy of dreams waiting for her, and that even that harsh reality isn't that bad when you're" she was almost hysterical now "with the person you love. Then she'll wake up and will kiss you and say that she was the dumbest person ever for having left your side; she then will begin crying because my silly self is just like that and then will promise that she won't never leave your side again, and even if things aren't that nice over there... I'm sure that you'll make the best out of it. I'm sure that both me and you will be happy no matter what from that moment on, because that's what true love means, right?".
Even if her honey orbs were pouring her heart's contents in the form of a small waterfall, she was smiling at him, yet the feelings she was having were just too strong to utter another coherent word, so she just smiled and nodded at Ryouta when he said the joke of the bear and being 'his wife's hero'
As they walked out of the place; they were now in a misty place; it seemed to be really early in the morning, but this feeling so something that was about to happen was everpresent. And still, Mana felt this uneasiness.
"Okay, Ryo-kun, but I just don't get it. This thing is supposed to be a trial for me, yet I'm completely trusting in you to do it for me. It's not that I doubt you, but how I'm supposed to be tested when the one doing all the work is you?".
He was so surprised when she hugged him and poured all her feeling out. It's so endearing. He wanted his Mana to do that to him... he wanted his Mana to break free from that state... She was too short for him, but for some reason, when he was about to bend down to hug her, he saw... tears... his tears falling from his cheek to top of her head. Ryouta quickly tried to wipe it off, but somehow, more and more just coming from his eyes. He's... he's really happy... really happy that his beloved girl is actually still reflected on this girl. He crouched down and hugged her.
"...Sorry, the guy you loved is actually a big crybaby..." he whispered, sobbing silently on her shoulder.
Back to the walking toward the exit of the forest, Mana asked him the most fundamental question. He pondered it for a while... Yes, true, there's nothing to do for Mana if he done all the work... wouldn't that disqualifies her? However, he raised his eyebrow when he saw what's the end of the tunnel.
"...There's something that you can do and what I can't... but first, what trial is this? I know I give 'Trial of Justice', but... if I'm not wrong, this is... 'Trial of Doubt', right?"
When the mist cleared, what's on the end of the tunnel is Mana's hometown.
So, Ryouta was just as puzzled than her about why he was here, and more importantly, why he was the one who seemed to be the most strong, and, she thought, the most intelligent and level-headed one. Even if he had cried on top of her, it had been for a very good reason, at least in her eyes. Especially given that her cried every now and then for just anything. Heck, she was crying (albeit on a very slightly manner) just now, as she hadn't entirely gotten over what 'dark'-Ryouta had said. Yet, she had to remain concentrated in this trial. Yuuki was her priority now; she would find the way to help 'dark'-Ryouta sooner or later after they got out of here. "Yes, This is supposed to be the trial of doubt, Ryo-kun, but what does that have to do with th— oh my God".
Yup, when the mist cleared, they were in the very same Ōno Mana remembered from her childhood. The streets, the trees, the general feel of a small town instead of a big city like Shibuya. She felt so happy for returning to the town she still called home that some more tears sprinkled the ground beneath her.
"I can't believe this, but... if this is Ōno, does that mean that..." she paused for a second, too horrified to say it aloud. Would she have to relive her past? This wasn't good news. At all.
"Wait, is it really Ono?" he asked, sounds skeptical. "I'm not from this world, so probably my memory about this place wouldn't be right... So tell me, did you see any difference? If this is trial of doubt, then most likely the trial is about to spot any difference... that difference perhaps being a key to solve this... I don't know which Yuuki made this... but a Yuuki from my world is basically really distrusting to everyone beside his close friends... He'll try to assess the situation first before going..."
Ryouta looked around for clues, but it's seem there's nothing much in here. When she cried in happiness, he smiled... but when she realized what would come, Ryouta holds her hand, giving it a firm squeeze, but not enough to hurt her.
"...I'm still here... don't worry... Just... just tell your school peoples later that I, your older cousin, just want to see how you do in class... Just say I'm studying in Tokyo or something, and is here because of a family business... That way, I can stay beside you, Mana."
Still, for now, there's seem no change at all... It's exactly like the first day of her elementary school days.
"...Wanna me give you a little lift?" he teased, just to lighten the mood.
"I don't see any difference. As of now, it looks exactly like the Ōno I remember" Mana said, realizing that fact too, but now trying hard to discern anything that didn't fit her memory until her sights reached Ryouta... but she calmed herself before yelping and screaming. The boy had already provided information about her a mere illusion couldn't, but the mere possibility of him being him was the scariest thing she had imagined so far, especially when she felt that squeeze on her hand. Should he want it, he could just anything to her right now; in the end, she decided to throw away the notion that this Ryouta had anything to do with her memory. She'd trust him even to the latest consequence, and so, she squeezed his hand back, although her strength at that age was minuscule in comparison to his.
"I know you're still right here and that you'll stand by my side, but if I know anything about weird trials, is that you can be encased in some weird crystal prison any moment from now; but thank you for being so caring with me, Ryo-kun. To be honest... I'd love to have you on my first day of school".
Mana kept walking, searching for anything different in her hometown, but the memory was just the same as always. Ryouta then proposed to give her a lift, and she blushed instantly at the implication. "You're a real meanie, Ryo-kun" the girl pouted "Teasing this world's version of you's future girlfriend just like that is mean, yet... I'd really like a lift to" she finally said with a smile.
But as they kept advancing, the most obvious detail struck her head. She looked at Ryouta, somewhat doubtful. "Wait, shouldn't I pick my backpack or something like that at home before going to school?" she asked, a bit puzzled by the detail "I mean, teachers are going to be pretty mad if I don't bring my things and just go to class empty-handed".
"Sorry... that was traumatizing, isn't it? But I just... I just don't want you to get into harm way, alright? Call it overprotectiveness, but... I don't want you to be harmed just like her... I failed, I failed and I regretted it every single second. That's why... that's why I thought, 'even though I'll be serious with these newbies... I won't let her gone in harm way, just like mine'. I don't know, I might even forbid her to join the fight again if she ever woke up, but I'll be surely get a slap from Ayaka..." he commented, chuckling a little while rubbing his scarred cheek.
Still, he doesn't respond to the reply to his tease and instead, looking around for something before scratching his head.
"..This is suck... no Digimon means I'm only a guy with martial arts skill... What if this trial actually trial where a random passerby can turn into a Digimon and get us? Of course it'll be fine if I'm with my armored suit, but... dang, this is my leisure clothes..." he grabbed his black sleeveless turtleneck.
Still, his attention returned fully to her when she pointed out that she's without her bag. "...Good idea, maybe it's a clue? Let's go to your house then? Lead the way, Mana."
Mana waved her hand at Ryouta's apology. She hadn't said it with that meaning. "Nah, I didn't mean it that way, Ryo-kun. What I meant is that at any time from now, even if you want to protect me, some crazy crystal wall can encase you in it, leaving me completely alone, just like you did in the past. I'm not acussing you of anything, but there should be more regulation between you tester guys powers. By the way, the Yuuki who's testing you it's the same Yuuki from your world? Also, now that I think of it... Most of you guys use different evolutions in your digimons. I mean, Yuuki used that Dex guy, you used a form of Draco-kun that looked like if he had fused with an Ankylosaurus... and that made me wonder how does Ayaka look in that world, you know. Is she pretty?".
Seemingly, he had got serious just right now, because he had started to complain about his lack of equipment and he didn't even responde to her teases. "Well, this Yuuki is kinda testing us, so I doubt he'd be totally merciless with us, even if he had removed the leverage you had. I mean, he wouldn't be testing me at six and you without your stuff if an ultimate digimon were to appear... or at least I hope so".
Yet, at his proposal of him to lead the way towards her house, she made a gesture with her hand for him to follow her. She began to walk towards the way she remebered her house was, but who knew if she would actually reach that place.
Ryouta assumed his thinking posture yet again, unsure of this. It could probably be the same friend he know, but... No, he won't give trial because trials are given by those who felt that particular trait the strongest. However, when he think about it more... what's the reason of the crests summoning the strongest 'extremes'? Just how it gauge their extremities? If for example, there's no other Yuuki with stronger doubt than his verse, would he be called just like that? Also, he's summoned here without much explanation either... And he's sure that he's not just a simple 'data' in this case, but already 'flip flopped', aka made into something material instead of something easily gone like before.
Or is it that he's summoned here, materially instead? This is too confusing!
Still, there's only one way to know about it.
"Hey, Mana... How's this Yuuki looks like?" he asked as he followed her from behind. "My world one got two prosthetic limbs... One for his right arm and one for his left leg. He got it at the same time because... Well, it's scary to say, but let say... he got it when we got ambushed... and ironically... we're betrayed by somebody in our team... We dealt with the traitor afterward, but... well, Yuuki become really distrusting... It need quite a while for us to get him out of his shell... Also, Ayaka of my world is really similar in evolutionary line to Ayaka of this world."