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Dreaming To Reality: 02 Remix

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        Sora sighed softly as she headed to her locker, adjusting the skirt to her white tennis uniform. Practice was long, as always, and the uniform did not help. It was nothing as comfortable as the one she wore when playing soccer, where the uniform at least prevented others from getting a glimpse of her underwear. It was nearly impossible to catch a peek through pants, after all, and the frilly gym bloomers meant to be worn under the skirts were almost as bad as having her panties blatantly on display. Sadly, there were no girl soccer teams in Middle School or above. Just as she had left her childhood behind, so she had to leave soccer behind and join the more ‘girl appropriate’ clubs.

        Her mother had been very happy about the change. At least someone was happy about it. As it was, Sora was just trying to learn to like it, even if that task was proving to be more difficult than she ever anticipated. It lessened the odds of going crazy.

        Sora let out her breath in a great whoosh, her entire body slumping as she allowed herself a chance to relax. If nothing else, she was still keeping physically active, but tennis exerted a different set of muscles than soccer, so she was left quite sore after each session. She set down her racket by the lockers before mechanically working the combination lock on her locker as her mind drifted. She wondered if she could convince the coach to let her wear different shorts underneath the skirt, perhaps something that looked less like fancy underwear and more like pants. Given that the coach was a man who snapped at anyone who complained too much, such as wearing summer tennis outfits when the weather was still too cold to reasonably switch from the winter uniforms, she doubted it. “Another day done…”

        Sora felt far more weary than normal, but it was not exactly the tennis team’s fault for that. As her thoughts took a more somber turn, her gaze grew distant. What she saw in the Digital World was a nightmare. It was hard to sleep knowing that Piyomon was out there somewhere, the Kaiser doing all sorts of awful things to her. When she did manage to drift off, she was haunted ghastly nightmares of Piyomon replacing Palmon in the coliseum, beating and deleting innocent Digimon, even hurting herself on the Digimon Kaiser’s command. It took so much strength for the Chosen of Love focus on anything at all when her mind kept returning to Piyomon in an endless cycle of fear and worry.

        The ironic thing, at least as far as Sora saw it, was that she was certain that if Piyomon knew how troubled she was, her partner would say something like ‘cheer up!’ and do everything possible to make that happen. Normally, such thoughts would make her smile, but even brief daydreams of a cheerful Piyomon quickly turned dark.

        The sting of tears barely registered as Sora’s vision began to waver. “…Piyomon.”

        A slamming locker caused Sora to flinch, instinctively looking back towards the source after quickly swabbing the moisture from her eyes with her wristband. Dismay turned to displeasure as she caught sight of a brown-eyed girl sporting long hazel hair tied back in twin pigtails. Once upon a time, Sora would have been happy to see the other girl, but those days were gone. Rie, like many of her former soccer teammates, never forgave her for missing that important game.

        Rie flashed her teeth in a wide smile. “Nice game today, Sora.”

        Sora suppressed the urge to flinch at the nasal whine Rie’s voice took on whenever the twin tailed girl tried to sound sarcastic. It was one thing she did not miss when she quit soccer, and it made her sometimes regret not choosing to join the volleyball team instead. The redhead tried her best to smile, but she was unable to put any sincerity into it. She simply was not in the mood to deal with Rie. The best she could do was hope that if she ignored the sarcasm, she would not have to address it. “Thank you.”

        The smile slipped from Rie’s face and she blinked exactly three times before her cheeks puffed up with air and her brow furrowed into a glare that pierced through Sora. The Chosen of Love hoped that Rie’s confusion towards the missed sarcasm would linger long enough for Sora to finish changing and escape the locker room. Sadly, luck was not with Sora that day. “Oh yeah, you’re so good.” Rie said, raising her voice so that everyone in the locker room could hear her. “The way you got three faults was so cool. You play tennis even better than you play soccer. Just how do you do it?”

        Sora felt her insides twist, but she hid the displeasure from her expression. She knew that Rie was in the mood for a fight today and would not be deterred. A fight was the last thing the Chosen of Love wanted, especially if it was as pointless as the passive-aggressive needling of a whiny girl who could not let go of petty grievances. Of course, she was never in the mood for a confrontation with Rie, but she had never been less willing to be in the other girl’s presence than she was at that exact moment.

        Sora opened up her locker without looking at Rie. She snatched up her belongings and stuffed them into her bag before slamming the door shut with a loud bang that made Rie and the other girls standing near her flinch back. She would change in one of the restrooms in the main building or go back home in her tennis uniform if she had to. She refused to waste any more time with Rie breathing down her neck, and she did not trust her former friend not to try anything underhanded. The memory of one such incident from a month ago was still fresh in her mind. Her mother had to take her to a salon to dye her hair back to its natural color after Rie snuck green food coloring into her shampoo bottle.

        Sora made a dash for the door, her bag clutched awkwardly in her arms along with her racket. She kicked the door open and barely spared a backward glance at her tennis teammates. “Bye!” She felt a small measure of satisfaction when another kick to the locker room door cut off whatever Rie tried to say in response with a mighty slam.

        Once free of social obligation to linger in the locker room, Sora found herself hesitating. What little pleasure she felt in her escape left her, as she realized that she had outright fled from her former friend and likely everyone inside understood that as well. She could faintly hear their muffled voices through the door and caught her name once or twice along with laughter. She hugged her belongings to her chest and forced her feet to move, leaving the locker room behind her.

        Sora hated this part of herself, a part that shied away from confrontation so strongly. Back then, after she had let her team down, she was unable to face them, their disappointment and accusing looks. She chose to leave the team rather than deal with their anger towards her. It was no different when she avoided the other Chosen upon learning about her Crest. It was a problem she knew she had, but it was still there, plaguing her life.

        “I can’t believe she still cares about that,” Sora muttered, though a part of her wondered if that was really the case. The sheer amount of animosity felt disproportionate to one missed soccer game, especially due to an unavoidable injury. There was something else there, but she could not fathom what it was, and Rie was certainly not going to tell her. She sighed and shook her head slowly. “But I guess… even if I knew, it wouldn’t change anything.”

        It was becoming all too clear to Sora that, as she got older, her world became far more complicated. Suddenly, it felt like her peers had an increasingly oppressive affect on her behavior. That was not to say that she had never experienced peer pressure in elementary school, but it felt far less forgiving now than it had been then. Being denied a chance to return to the sport she loved and instead forced to join a more ‘womanly’ sport was only the beginning.

        Sora shook her head, trying to dismiss the darkness plaguing her thoughts, and quickened her pace to put more distance between her and Rie. She had more important things to do than feel sorry for herself or let bullies bother her. She was the Chosen of Love – it was her duty to save the Digital World and, more importantly, her partner, as well as the rest of her friends. She needed to hurry and get back to the things that really mattered.

        Even if it felt like all she was doing was still running away.

 

 


 

 

        Koshiro leaned back in his chair, which creaked in time with his weary sigh. Through heavy-lidded eyes, he watched strings of data compile on a large wide-screen monitor placed on the left side of his desk. The monitor to the right displayed the Digital Gate, which displayed nothing but static where it should have shown a clear image of the Digital World. His computer set up had become impressive over the years. Every birthday, every holiday, he requested parts to upgrade and add to his system, which took over about half of his bedroom with large bulky boxes of state of the art electronics. Despite all this hardware and software at his command, and the years he spent researching computer programming, nothing he did seemed to make a dent in the firewall the Digimon Kaiser used to lock him out of the Digital World. He ran his thumb across his Digivice, which rested between his keyboard and mouse, hooked up to his computer by wires. “I suppose these results shouldn’t be unexpected…”

        With another sigh, Koshiro stopped the data feed with a single click of the mouse and rubbed his weary eyes. He was used to reading streaming data and absorbing information at high speed, even for prolonged periods of time, but six hours was a bit much even for him. It was all so frustrating that he had spent so much time working over the problem, yet he felt no closer than when he had started.

        A gentle voice made Koshiro snap his head up. “Be careful, dear,” his mother Yoshie said as she pushed open his bedroom door with her hip, carefully balancing a tray of snacks and tea. “You might go cross-eyed.”

        Koshiro blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes again. His mother’s interruption reminded him just how weary his body was from sitting too long and he stood up to stretch. “Thank you for the snacks, Mom.”

        Yoshie set the tray down on a small end table beside Koshiro’s desk then let out a small gasp. Her expression grew troubled as she looked at the snacks she brought. “I did it again. I brought something for Tentomon as well.”

        Koshiro looked at the two glasses of tea and extra snack cakes, his expression solemn. Normally at this time of day, Tentomon and he would thank his mother and then they would discuss the latest project they were working on. After spending so much time together, he taught his partner many things, including his passion for computers. It was wonderful having someone who understood him and the terminology he used, who was eager to help him with his latest ideas. They had grown so close and that fact made the knowledge that at this very moment Tentomon was now the Digimon Kaiser’s slave, brainwashed into doing terrible things for the Kaiser’s amusement…

        It was too much for Koshiro. It took him a moment before he managed to give his mother a wan smile. “It’s okay, mom. We’ll get Tentomon back soon.”

        Yoshie’s gaze lingered on the extra food for a moment longer before she nodded. She knew this was harder on Koshiro than it was on her. She made sure to wear a bright smile when she turned to her son. “Yes, that’s right. I’m sure you’ll save him.”

        Koshiro smiled back at his mother, the gesture just as tinted by a lack of cheer as hers. “Thank you for the snacks.” He took a bite of one of the cakes, but barely tasted the sweetness of it. The tea he drank to wash it down could have been water or something utterly vile and he would have barely noticed the difference. His mind was too full with thoughts of Tentomon, the Digital World, and the Digimon Kaiser to pay much attention to anything else. When he was not focused on his work, his thoughts continued to stray back to what terrible things Tentomon might have been experiencing at that very moment. Even contemplating this corrupted Chosen Child’s motivation was something he could not bear to entertain, as it drew his mind back to his partner. Worrying was not going to bring Tentomon back. Hacking into the Digital World and understanding how it had changed in the last two years was their best hope of saving all of their partners and the Digimon.

        Yoshie watched as Koshiro’s eyes unfocused. She could see he was already a million miles away from her, so small talk was a futile gesture. Her expression softened as she felt an almost out of place swelling of pride when she thought of how dedicated and focused her son was, how readily he faced such a monumental task with maturity most children simply did not possess. Somehow, he managed to keep strong when the stakes were unimaginably high and everything seemed to go wrong. Some days she could scarcely believe that her little boy had already grown up so much.

        The rhythmic chirp of an electronic device cut into the silence. Koshiro mechanically worked his way through another cake. He heard the noise, but it barely registered.

        Yoshie blinked and let out an inquisitive hum as she looked over to the bed and spotted the source of the noise – Koshiro’s D-Terminal. “Ah, it must be your friends.”

        Koshiro nodded as he swallowed the cake he had been eating. He lingered on his thoughts a moment more to sip his tea before he moved to the bed. “They must be wondering if I found out anything.” He flipped open his D-Terminal, already preparing a brief response in his head. Those thoughts disappeared instantly as he noticed that the email he received was not from any of the Chosen, but Centarumon. His eyebrows shot up as he read short message.

        

        

       &nbspI have found something of interest to you.

        

        Koshiro read the message a second time, his already racing with possibilities and questions, but he forced himself to send a reply that asked simply what it was. The response came quickly.

        

        

       &nbspIt is a sacred treasure my clan has guarded for centuries. They bare the mark of the Chosen.

        

        Koshiro could barely contain his excitement, his fingers flying across the keyboard of the D-Terminal as he asked for more information. The reply he received was simply coordinates to somewhere in the Digital World. He paused for a moment to remember the location by number alone, but gave up quickly and darted over to his computer to bring up the simple map of the Digital World he used a program to create just before the Chosen Children made their initial entry and lost their partners. The place was a rather innocuous looking rocky canyon.

        Koshiro quickly sent an email to the others with the coordinates. His mind was already abuzz with possibilities and an almost desperate hope that this sacred treasure could give them the edge they needed to take down the Digimon Kaiser and reclaim the Digital World. “Maybe…” he muttered.

        Yoshie lingered a moment more to watch her son before she quietly slipped out of the room, leaving him to work in pace. She knew from his expression that something important was happening, so it would be best to leave him to it. He needed space to concentrate and her presence would only serve as a distraction. Ultimately, she could do little for him but offer refreshments.

        It struck Yoshie as a rather ironic situation. Children were supposed to focus on school and playing with their friends while the adults took care of the important tasks. She, like the other parents of the Chosen Children, were left with little option but to get out of the way and let their children bear the burden of far more significant duties. Maintaining a house and going to work practically felt like the busywork of children when comparing it to the most important job of all – saving the world.

 

 


 

 

        The Chosen were making another trip into the Digital World, but with a significantly smaller group. With the presence of the Digimon Kaiser as a looming threat, the Chosen decided that it would be best if only the children who had Digimon to protect them should go. The only exception was Taichi, who refused all attempts to dissuade him from going in spite of the danger he would be in.

        The Digital Gate appeared in a flash of light and closed a moment later, leaving a group of Chosen Children and Digimon in the Digital World at the bottom of a massive canyon. Filled with nothing but dirt and rocks, the canyon felt lifeless. Massive walls of jagged brown rock spanning hundreds of meters into the air loomed above them on both sides, cutting off much of the sunlight. The blue sky looked more like a distant river that snaked its way in front of them, directing them on the path they were to take. The walls were peppered with dozens of caves. Narrow paths carved into the cliff side connected the caves higher up, while the ground below showed signs of wear from countless footsteps. The caves, at first glance, appeared completely dark, but a cursory glance into a couple of the ones on ground level gave a hint of some light source further in.

        The small group of Chosen had arrived in the Digital World without any trouble. However, they did not expect to receive another unexplained outfit change upon their arrival – and the outfits seemed even more outlandish than the previous set. Takeru could never remember owning a full-length leather bodysuit, let alone wearing such an outfit. And yet, as soon as he arrived in the canyon, he found himself decked out in leather like some sort of outlaw biker from a movie rather than the clothes he wore during that fateful day in August two years ago. The Chosen of Hope shifted uncomfortably as he tugged on the leather top. I’m going to roast in this thing.

        “Alright!” Daisuke shouted as he tugged on his jacket complete with flame pattern. “I’ve got my cool jacket back.” He paused for a moment then tugged at the goggles resting atop his head. “And Hikari-chan’s goggles are back too!” He turned to Hikari, eager to show her then stopped, outright gawking at her change in apparel.

        Hikari noticed the look Daisuke gave her then glanced down at her new clothes. Her outfit had changed to a lovely off-white dress, layered with ornately patterned lace underneath the skirt that went well with the white tights on her legs and the elegantly shaped off-white boots that came up almost as high as her knee. She reached up to feel the pin that held back her bangs, now ornamented with a flower shaped like the crest of light, its petals holding an iridescent sheen and adorned with small pearls at the center. Over her heart was a hand-sized emblem of the Crest of Light, shimmering in the light in a similar pearl-like sheen as her hairclip. She did a small twirl, which made her skirt flare up a bit, giving her a better look at the subtle patterns in the stitching that were too complicated for her to make out, yet held a strange sense of familiarity. It took her a moment to find her voice, which came out hushed in slight awe. “So pretty…”

        Mimi cast an envious gaze towards Hikari that mixed with a sense of genuine delight and sighed. “Ahhh... Hikari, I’m so jealous! Your dress is so beautiful!” She looked down at her clothes, the red, white, and blue color scheme of her t-shirt and jeans were fashionable and reflected well of her enjoyment of her new home in America, but that was not the point – the problem was that this was the same outfit she had picked from her closet this morning. Her cheeks puffed out as she looked around at the others. “Why does everyone get new clothes except me?

        Taichi shrugged, back in the clothes he wore during the days of their initial adventure back in August, though better fitting than the real clothes his mom donated once he grew out of them. “Dunno. What I’m wondering is why Takeru looks like a biker now instead of wearing his old clothes.” He cast a disapproving look in Hikari’s direction. “And why Hikari looks like she’s ready for a wedding.”

        “W-wedding?” Daisuke said in a voice that carried a hint of a tremor to it. Heat rose to his face as his imagination ran wild, adding a veil to Hikari’s outfit that he could see himself removing from her face at a church in front of all of the other Chosen. A goofy smile slowly spread across his face. “Hikari-chan would make a beautiful bride...”

        Mimi covered her mouth to stifle her laughter. “Hikari’s dress is pretty, but it’s not a wedding dress just because it’s white. A wedding dress is much, much, much more elegant and sophisticated.” She turned to her partner. “Right, Palmon?”

        “That’s right!” Palmon nodded sagely as she crossed her arms. “There’s so much more to it than color!”

        “It doesn’t matter!” V-mon said. “Daisuke looks so cool!”

        Daisuke snapped back to reality and beamed at his partner. “Really? You think so, V-mon?”

        “Of course!” V-mon said, with a bright smile on his face.

        Taichi fixed eyes on V-mon as his eyebrows raised. “Hey, wait. When did you evolve to V-mon? You were still Chibimon when we came here.”

        V-mon was about to respond when he realized who it was that spoke to him. He instead clamped his mouth shut and stared hard at Taichi before turning his back to the Chosen with an audible snort.

        Daisuke blinked at Taichi, thoughts of exploring the cave completely forgotten. “Eh? What do you mean, Senpai?”

        Hikari noticed the confusion in Daisuke’s expression. “You didn’t make Chibimon evolve?”

        Daisuke felt acutely uneasy when everyone focused their attention on him and rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh, no.” His nervousness grew as the group continued to stare at him and V-mon, guessing his answer was insufficient. “Was I supposed to?”

        Taichi scratched his head. “Huh. Weird.”

        A familiar masculine voice brought the Chosen’s attention away from Daisuke and V-mon. “Chosen Children, it is good to see you.” The group turned to see Centarumon walk out from one of the caves lining the canyon floor.

        Hikari was the first to approach the Adult, her footsteps light and careful as she cradled Tailmon in her arms. Back in the real world, she had initially wanted to stay behind to tend to her injured partner, but Tailmon had been just as stubborn as Taichi was to come as well. “It’s good to see you too, Centarumon.”

        Taichi perked up at the sight of their friend. “Yeah. So what are the sacred treasures you were talking about?”

        Centarumon turned about and looked back at the Chosen only briefly before he walked back into the cave. “Follow me.” The group did as they were told, entering the cavern and allowing the Adult to navigate them through a network of passages illuminated periodically by torches that lined the walls. The multitude of branching pathways soon left everyone feeling lost as they were led ever upwards. The worst part of the trek was when they were required to leave the cave system briefly to navigate the narrow paths along the cliff to reach the next cave. Everyone felt overwhelmed with relief once they finally reached their destination at the top of the canyon wall. The Chosen barely had time to catch their breath before it was taken away at the sight waiting for them.

        A monument of sandstone had been built atop the cliff. It had four sides that tapered off into a point high up into the sky, making it look almost like a pyramid or an obelisk. Each brick was carved with countless elaborate symbols that formed an intricate pattern too complex to figure out its meaning. The pathway was lined with polished white stones that reflected the sunlight to such a degree that they were difficult to look at directly without the children hurting their eyes.

        Takeru was the first to find his voice. “Wow…”

        Hikari’s eyes were wide with curiosity. “It looks like a… shrine?” Her gaze drifted to Centarumon, who nodded slightly in confirmation.

        Mimi focused on the artful designs etched into the sandstone and stepped closer to get a better look. “Those drawings are so pretty!”

        Daisuke blinked and tilted his head, but the only thing he found impressive was the size of the structure. “It’s… big, I guess.”

        Taichi raised his eyebrows. He felt a sense of wariness from pyramids in general after the last time they visited one. “What’s it for?”

        “Our sacred treasures,” Centarumon said. “Though this is just for the ones in this area.” He resumed walking, leading the Chosen down the path towards the shrine’s entrance. “There are many other temples just like this one.”

        Takeru forced his gaze away from the pyramid and hurried to catch up with Centarumon along with the others. “So there’s more than one sacred treasure?”

        “Yes,” Centarumon said. “The ones in this particular temple have been guarded by my people for a very long time. My clan is numerous and spread out across the Digital World, with a different faction protecting each shrine and the sacred treasures housed within them until their true owners come to claim them.”

        “Sacred treasures…” Mimi said quietly. “It’s almost sounding like when we first got our crests, doesn’t it?”

        Hikari glanced down towards her chest where her crest used to be before focusing back on Centarumon. “Does this mean these treasures might be something like our crests?”

        “I believe so, yes,” Centarumon said.

        The interior of the shrine was well lit despite not having any noticeable light source. The walls and floor were blank, with no other entrances within the large chamber. The dimensions of the chamber were about the size of a school gym, making it almost oppressively empty, as the only thing there was a rectangular stone altar at the center that was no bigger than a kitchen table. The Chosen barely had time to take this in before Centarumon stopped abruptly and pointed to the altar. “Look.”

        The Chosen drew closer and saw two colorful egg-shaped objects resting atop the altar. The most striking thing about the artifacts were that one bore the mark of the Crest of Love while the other sported the Crest of Hope. The egg marked with Love was silver with twin bladed wings on either side of it. The one with the symbol of Hope was gold with a pair of wings that bore a striking resemblance to Patamon’s.

        Takeru gasped, his eyes immediately drawn to one of the artifacts in particular. “It’s… Hope!”

        Patamon flew after Takeru when his partner dashed off for the altar. He hovered over the egg-like object, examining it from all angles. “It kind of looks like me!”

        Takeru briefly glanced up at his partner before looking back at the strange item. “It does, doesn’t it?”

        The rest of the Chosen were quick to join Takeru and Patamon at the altar, with Centarumon following at a more sedate pace. He waited until they were all gathered around the artifacts before speaking again. “When you mentioned that you could not evolve, it made me remember an ancient prophecy of our clan. It said that these sacred treasures are to be guarded until they are needed by the Chosen in order to combat the monumental power of evil.” He paused, his front hoof digging into the ground. “When I asked our elder if this could be that time, he–”

        A coarse voice cut off Centarumon’s words, too loud to ignore, which created an echo off the shrine’s high ceiling. “I said that if those giant towers ain’t monumental powers of evil, then they’re the Kaiser givin’ us the middle finger! Either way, it pisses me off.”

        Centarumon and the Chosen turned towards the entrance and saw a Digimon shaped and sized much like a human, an old man to be specific. His body was covered in long, scraggly gray hair to the point that his eyes and most of his body were no longer visible. He wore a ragged brown tunic that did nothing to hide his gigantic hairy feet. His hands were large as well and covered with vibrant red gloves, one hand clutching a staff with am oversized bright yellow cat’s paw attached to the top, which he used as a walking stick. He moved with a slight limp, which created a galloping pace as he crossed the span of the shrine to join the group.

        The hairy Digimon, Jijimon, slammed his staff against the floor once he was within arm’s length of the group. “So get off your ass and give ‘em to the Chosen.”

        Centarumon bowed the front half of his body as his eye drifted towards the floor.  “Elder,” he said, his voice heavy with respect.

        Jijimon barely paid Centarumon a glance before focusing on the Chosen. “They look like monuments, they’re evil, and it’s givin’ off a helluva power.” He made a broad sweep at the air with his staff. “Voilà, monumental powers of evil.”

        Taichi blinked then scratched his head as he took in Jjijimon’s words. At this point he was no longer surprised when Digimon suddenly showed up to give them important information. “I guess that makes sense.”

        Centarumon shifted, his words coming with an underlining sense of unease. “Elder, I believe it was meant more in a metaphorical–”

        Whack. Jijimon smashed Centarumon upside the head, his staff striking the taller Digimon’s helmet with a resounding clang. Centarumon staggered back before tumbling backwards onto his hooves and collapsed into a heap.

        Jijimon tapped his staff against his shoulder, tilting his head back as he turned towards Centarumon. He gave the impression of staring down at the fallen Digimon despite the fact that his hair completely hid his eyes. “I’m the elder.” He knocked the end of his staff against the floor. “I get to decide if it’s literal, metaphorical, physical, or metaphysical.” He turned the head of his staff towards the Chosen, pointing towards them. “And I’m sayin’ that there’s no better time than the present.”

        The Chosen Children looked awkwardly at one another after Jijimon’s display of violence, uncertain of what to make of it.

        Hikari looked at Centarumon in sympathy and decided that it would be best to redirect Jijimon’s attention before the elder Digimon decided to strike someone else. She nodded her head towards the objects. “What are they? They look like Digieggs, but…”

        “Digimentals,” Jijimon said. “They’re like primitive Crests, and supposedly help you evolve when normal evolution is impossible.”

        Takeru gasped, his eyes widening. “Like what happened at the arena!” A surge of hope shot through him and he leaned forward. “How do we use them?”

        Jijimon threw his arms outward. “Damned if I know!”

        The group groaned, some nearly falling over. Taichi grunted and scratched his head beneath his goggles. “Why am I surprised? I should be more surprised whenever someone does know anything for sure about ancient artifacts and stuff.”

        Mimi sighed and placed a hand to her forehead. “Well, at least we know they’re supposed to help us evolve.”

        Takeru looked over the Digimentals and tapped them lightly before letting out a quiet hum. The others joined him in examining the artifacts more closely, but they saw nothing to indicate how they were supposed to use the Digimentals.

        A chime from Taichi’s D-Terminal caught his attention. He pulled it out to read the email, surprised to see that it was from Sora. “I guess Koshiro has the video feed working back in the real world again,” he muttered. He raised his voice and looked towards the other. “Guys, Sora and the others see the Digimentals too and she says something’s weird with hers. It doesn’t look like any of Piyomon’s forms and they’re not covered in metal like this.” He lightly rapped the egg for emphasis, but instead of making a metallic chime, as he expected, the sound was more like a dull thud. “Eh?”

        Hikari took a closer look at the Digimental of Love. She had to admit, it did not remind her anything of Piyomon, unlike the Digimental of Hope, which seemed perfectly suited to Patamon. “Strange…”

        Daisuke scratched his head. “So what’re we supposed to do? Crack the eggs open and see what’s inside?”

        Mimi covered her mouth to suppress a giggle. “That would be funny if our Digimon evolved by eating super powered omelets, right, Palmon?”

        Palmon blinked as she looked up at Mimi, then tilted her head. “I’d rather have your Mom’s omelets.”

        “Me too!” Mimi said.

        Hikari let out small giggle tinged with nervousness as she looked towards Mimi and Daisuke. “I don’t think breaking the eggs is a good idea.”

        Another chime of the D-Terminal drew Taichi’s attention. He looked over the new email and a light flush appeared on his cheeks after he read it. “Uh, yeah, Sora agrees.” He decided the others did not need to know that her exact wording was a reprimand towards him knocking on her Digimental and risking it breaking.

        Takeru shook his head. “We couldn’t even if we wanted to.” He rapped his knuckles against the Digimental of Hope, which resulted in a dull thumping noise. “This looks really fragile but it’s actually hard as a rock.”

        Jijimon snorted and banged his staff against the ground. “Ain’t it your job to figure it out for yourself? You’re the Chosen.” He sighed and shook his head. “Damn kids these days, wantin’ everythin’ figured out for ‘em.”

        While Jijimon’s words were caustic, the group reluctantly conceded that old Digimon had been immensely helpful. Even if they did not know how to use these Digimentals, they at least had something that would help them. It was simply a matter of time before they could figure out the artifacts’ secrets.

        Takeru shook his head before furrowing his brow as he gazed intensely at the altar. He reached for the Digimental of Hope, and started when he felt how light it was. “It doesn’t weigh anything at all!”

        Daisuke picked up the Digimental of Love and examined it from all angles. “Huh. You’re right. It’s like I’m carrying a bubble.”

        “It’s just one more thing about the Digital World, huh?” Takeru said with a chuckle. “Even physics can’t argue with Digimon logic.”

        “Damn right it can’t,” Jijimon said. “This is the Digital World, not the Logical World!”

        Taichi took the Digimental of love from Daisuke. “I’ll hang onto that until we get it back to Sora.”

        Daisuke blinked, startled, and felt somewhat sheepish. “Oh, okay.”

        V-mon’s cheek twitched as he glared at Taichi, then muttered under his breath. “Don’t tell Daisuke what to do.”

         “I guess we’re just going to have to keep the Digimental of Love safe until we rescue Piyomon,” Hikari said with a touch of sadness in her voice.

        A voice dripping with venom broke into the conversation. “I don’t think so.”

        The Chosen jerked and looked around blindly at first, as the new voice echoed off the walls, but soon their attention focused on the entrance to the shrine. Standing just outside, wearing a vicious grin, was the Digimon Kaiser.

        The young dictator drank in the group’s shocked expressions before snapping his fingers. The wall in front of him shattered into countless pieces as a giant insect Digimon destroyed it. The group instantly recognized the Digimon and only Daisuke and V-mon were spared from recoiling instinctively. Their enemy was Kabuterimon. Around the insect Digimon’s neck was another of the black rings. There were no eyes that they could see glow red like the other controlled Digimon, but the way he salivated and stood hunched over hinted that his mind was gone.

        The Digimon Kaiser pulled out his whip and snapped it at the air in front of him before pulling it taut between his hands. “What did I tell you about trespassing in my world?”

        Mimi screamed. “Kabuterimon!”

        Taichi hissed a curse under his breath as he saw Kabuterimon looming over them. He opened his mouth and began to speak his partner’s name, but the words died on his lips as he remembered that Agumon was not there. His insides twisted and his anger grew, both for the Digimon Kaiser for stealing their friends away, and for the poor choice he made to leave Agumon and the others at the mercy of the Digital World without any means of evolving to defend themselves.

        Hikari shuddered at the sight of their brainwashed friend. “He… he can evolve our partners too?”

        The Digimon Kaiser barked out a mocking laugh that rang through the partially destroyed shrine. “Of course I can! Far better than any of you could!”

        “You…!” Takeru clenched his fists until they were so tense they trembled. Though anger was quick to color his thoughts, a terrible hypothesis formed in his head – if the Digimon Kaiser could still evolve Digimon, that meant the tyrant was most assuredly responsible for why the Chosen could not. “What have you done?!”

        The Digimon Kaiser’s upper lip curled in a faint sneer as he directed his gaze towards Takeru, his eyes almost completely obscured by the outlandish tinted glasses he wore. “I don’t need to answer you, Insect.” He cracked his whip against the ground, cracking the tile and sending tiny shards of sandstone in all directions. “Except with a lash of my whip against your back!”

        “Hey!” Daisuke said. “Just why are you stealing other people’s Digimon for anyway? If you’re supposed to be a Chosen kid like us, doesn’t that mean you got one of your own you can boss around?”

        A quiet, but dark chuckle rippled through the Digimon Kaiser’s body. “This is my Digital World.” A smirk played across his lips as he spread his arms out wide to his sides. “That means everything in it is mine.”

        The words turned the anger in Takeru’s heart to hatred and he spat out a curse at the Digimon Kaiser before he turned towards his partner. “Patamon!”

        Patamon snapped out of his stupor. He had been so caught up by the surprise of Kabuterimon’s appearance that he tuned out much of the conversation. He nodded to Takeru, his body tensing up. “Right!”

        The Digimon Kaiser hummed out a strange little melody as his smile took on a twisted note of pleasure. He waited for signs that all the Chosen were tense and ready before he threw his arm out towards the group. “Go, Kabuterimon!”

        Kabuterimon let out a high-pitched hiss as he hovered forward into the temple. His head scraped against the ceiling and widened the cracks he made earlier, causing more blocks of stone to fall.

        “Scatter!” Tailmon shouted. The Chosen did not hesitate to do as she ordered, each running in different directions to avoid the chunks of stone raining down upon them or the swiping hands of Kabuterimon as he lashed out for them.

        Jijimon hurried to the altar and ducked behind it, with Centarumon close behind him. The elder Digimon raised his head over the stone structure, just barely enough to allow him to watch the battle. When a large stone fell towards him and Centarumon, he batted it aside easily with his staff, his eyes never leaving the battle.

        Centarumon crouched behind Jijimon, his eye shifting from the stone that nearly hit them and the older Digimon. “Shouldn’t we help, Elder?”

        “No,” Jijimon said, his voice calm and carrying the weight of authority behind it. “This is a Chosen fight.”

        Centarumon rose to his feet. “But if they lose–”

        Jijimon thwacked Centarumon in the shoulder with just enough force to drive the other Digimon to his knees. “Then they’re not very Chosen, are they? Even after I went through the trouble of givin’ them those Digimentals. So sit down, shut up, and watch.”

        Centarumon grunted from the impact, but did not utter a word. His body was tense with disapproval and the desire to act, but ultimately he did as his elder ordered him and remained still.

        The Digimon Kaiser’s laugh echoed through the remains of the shrine as he watched the Chosen scramble away from Kabuterimon and the rocks, hesitant to attack their friend. “Yes, run! Run, Insects!” He cracked his whip in the air, which served as a signal for Kabuterimon to launch a breath attack that tore through the floor, barely missing the fleeing children and Digimon.

        Daisuke took a single step out from behind the large rock he used to take shelter from the attack so that the Digimon Kaiser could see him shake his fist. “Big talk coming from a guy who’s can’t even fight his own battles!”

        The Digimon Kaiser focused on Daisuke as his laughter died down and a sneer soured his expression. “So says the little bug hiding behind a rock.” A heartbeat later his cruel smile returned. “It suits you.”

        Tailmon leapt from Hikari’s arms, aiming her fist at Kabuterimon’s neck. “Cat Punch!” Unfortunately, her movements were slowed due to her injuries and the giant Adult countered her attack with a vicious swipe of his giant hand. The impact of their fist against his palm racked through her bones, but, ultimately, her diminished strength gave out first and she was sent flying. Her back collided with the wall, creating a spider web of cracks in the stone. She grunted, biting back the urge to scream due to the pain, and slid to the ground, slumped over and breathing heavily as she hissed out a curse.

        Hikari felt her heart leap into her throat as she saw Tailmon hit the wall and ran to her partner’s side. “Tailmon!”

        Tailmon’s ears twitched at the sound of Hikari’s voice. She whispered her partner’s name in a shaky breath as she clawed at the wall for purchase, trying to pull herself back onto her feet before Hikari made it to her side. “If only I weren’t… I’d be able to…!”

        Hikari shook her head as she took Tailmon into her arms. The feline Digimon tensed at first, as though she considered trying to escape, but ultimately slumped against the Chosen of Light with a defeated sigh. “It’s alright,” Hikari whispered, her voice as gentle as a caress. “You’re still injured. Let the others handle this.”

        Daisuke noticed that Hikari and Tailmon were out in the open and Kabuterimon had turned in their direction. They were too far away to reach his position behind the boulder without opening themselves up for attack. He dashed out of hiding in the opposite direction from the girls, waving his arms around and making crude gestures at the Digimon Kaiser. “Hey!” he shouted. “Digimon Keister! Bet you couldn’t hit me before I get over there and punch your stupid nose in!”

        The Digimon Kaiser directed his narrow gaze towards Daisuke, his cheek twitching. He cracked his whip to catch Kabuterimon’s attention and pointed towards the insulting boy with the handle of his whip. “Get him.”

        Kabuterimon answered with a roar before he lumbered towards Daisuke, breaking off more of the shrine’s ceiling. Daisuke yelped and scrambled back to avoid falling rocks and a swipe of the giant insect Digimon’s hand.

        V-mon felt his heart leap into his throat as he saw Daisuke in danger and cried out his partner’s name as he ran at top speed for Daisuke. He dove into the dark haired boy, knocking them both to the floor just in time for Kabuterimon’s hand to swipe over their heads and send the boulder they had been using for shelter into a high the wall. The giant rock splintered to pieces upon impact, forcing the other Chosen deeper into the shrine to avoid the rock shrapnel.

        Daisuke propped himself up onto his elbows as he stared at what remained of the boulder. Broken chunks of it were embedded in the wall, surrounded by a spider web of cracks that let in thin streams of light. “Whoa…” For a moment, he could imagine what would have happened if he had remained behind the boulder or if V-mon had failed to save him, but almost as quickly, he chased the image away, unwilling to picture such a grizzly fate. “Th-thanks, V-mon.”

        V-mon nodded, but his eyes were not focused on Daisuke. He stood crouched between his partner and Kabuterimon, his glare boring into the enslaved Adult Digimon. He watched as Kabuterimon’s wings began to move and the insect took to the air. “It’s an Adult Digimon. I…” He was young, but he knew the difference between his power and Kabuterimon’s was vast. Even still, he knew that Daisuke was depending on him. “I’ll try my best, though!”

        Daisuke got back onto his feet and clenched his fists. “Right. Think you can evolve to Adult too, V-mon?”

        V-mon balled his hands into fists as well. “I… I’ll try!”

        The Digimon Kaiser chuckled, idly twirling his whip in slow circles. “Forget about it.” Kabuterimon hovered above his head, casting a dark shadow over the tyrant. “You can’t evolve. None of you can.”

        Daisuke directed a baneful gaze towards the Digimon Kaiser. “Oh yeah? And why is that?”

        The Digimon Kaiser’s smile slowly stretched, showing off his teeth. “Because I won’t let you.”

        Daisuke’s glare faltered due to his confusion. “Huh? You won’t let us? What’s that supposed to mean?”

        “It means,” the Digimon Kaiser said, his voice slow and patronizing, “that so long as I am in control of this area, you’re completely useless.”

        “Hey!” Daisuke pointed at the Digimon Kaiser. “You’re not the one in control here! Centarumon told us that this place belongs to him and his clan! You’re not the boss of them or anyone else!”

        The Digimon Kaiser regarded Daisuke, his eyes unreadable due to his glasses, but the twist of his mouth clearly conveyed his disgust for the other boy. “Of course I am. I own the entire Digital World. My Dark Tower proves my control over this whole region.”

        Daisuke blinked, as the retort he half formed in his mind was chased away by the strange new term. “Dark Tower?”

        Tension crept into the Digimon Kaiser’s face and stance. He snapped his whip taut between his hands, the sound echoing through the shrine. “Surely you’ve noticed the giant monoliths to my greatness.”

        Taichi stumbled back a step when he realized Kabuterimon had gone still. He cast a suspicious gaze towards the Digimon Kaiser. “What’re you talking about?”

        The memories of the arena were still fresh in Mimi’s mind after what happened to Palmon. She remembered the giant black obelisk that loomed over the coliseum, but had barely given it much thought. “You mean that big black building that looked like the Washington Monument?”

        Suspicion prickled at the back of Takeru’s mind. The tower had seemed strange when he first laid his eyes on it, but so many unusual things appeared in the Digital World almost at random that it did not stand out terribly much to him. “So you made that?” That fact bothered him quite a bit, as it begged the question of what the obelisk’s purpose was and how many more there were. Were they a sign of the Digimon Kaiser’s control, or did it serve a more sinister purpose?

        Daisuke’s eyes drifted to the ceiling and after a moment’s thought, he realized what the Digimon Kaiser was talking about. He arched an eyebrow, one eye squinting slightly as his mouth twisted into an odd expression. “Oh, you mean those big black stones. I thought you were just compensating for something. You know, like those guys who buy big fancy cars because they’re too ashamed to shower with other guys.”

        The Digimon Kaiser jerked back, his jaw dropping in shock as he gawked at Daisuke. His surprise only lasted a moment, an ugly snarl marring his features as he struck the ground with his whip, leaving behind a deep groove in the floor in front of him. “Compensating!?

        Daisuke’s expression smoothed out, save for a wry grin that tugged at the corner of his mouth. “You heard me.”

        The Digimon Kaiser tensed until his body began to twitch. He cracked his whip into the air and raised his voice into a ragged, almost bestial snarl. “Kabuterimon!”

        Kabuterimon reared back and turned in Daisuke’s direction as he curled up, building a massive ball of crackling energy in front of him. “Mega… Blaster!”

        Daisuke yowled as the giant ball of energy flew towards him and grabbed V-mon’s wrist, dragging the little dinosaur Digimon along as he retreated as fast as he could. He barely dodged the blast, which created a large crater as it impacted with the floor. The air pressure and chunks of rock knocked into his back, sending both him and V-mon skidding across the ground with a cry.

        Takeru tensed, his breath caught in his throat when he saw how close Daisuke and V-mon came to being hit and turned to his partner. “Patamon!”

        Patamon knew what Takeru wanted from him, which pained him. “I’m sorry, Takeru. I can’t.”

        Takeru jerked slightly, not expecting that response. “What? Why?”

        “I can’t feel your energy,” Patamon said. “I’ve been trying, but I can’t find it. I can’t evolve!”

        Takeru reeled at the news. “It’s just like before…” he muttered.

        Patamon turned his disheartened gaze towards Kabuterimon, who was reading another attack on Daisuke. “What are we going to do, Takeru? I don’t think we can defeat Kabuterimon even if we all work together as long as Tailmon is hurt and the rest of us are stuck in Child level.”

        “We might not have to,” Takeru said. “We only need to destroy that Evil Ring around his neck.”

        The Digimon Kaiser’s wicked laughter barely carried over sounds of destruction as Kabuterimon tore through the shrine in pursuit of Daisuke. “You run almost as fast as you run your mouth, insect.” He placed his hands on his hips, watching the devastation from a safe distance. “Keep running, for all the good it will do you!”

        “Daisuke!” Taichi shouted. “Duck left!”

        Daisuke pulled V-mon against him as he changed direction abruptly, taking a blind leap to his left, tumbling across the floor. The action barely saved him not only from a sideways swipe of Kabuterimon’s hand, but a giant slab of stone that fell from the ceiling and collided where he had been running. The large Adult batted the stone away, sending it crashing through one of the walls only a couple meters away from Mimi, who shrieked and darted in the opposite direction. Daisuke scrambled onto his feet quickly, shaken from the near miss, but kept running, only sparing a brief glance towards Taichi over his shoulder. “Thanks, Senp–”

        Another swipe of Kabuterimon’s hand cut off Daisuke’s words as the tip of his fingers collided with the boy’s back at the arc of his next attack, sending the boy tumbling end over end across the room.

        V-mon cried out Daisuke’s name then cast an angry and suspicious gaze towards Taichi. then snorted before focusing on running with his partner.

        The Digimon Kaiser smirked as he pulled his whip tight with his hands. “Thank you for your assistance, Senpai.”

        Taichi cringed as he watched Daisuke fall and jogged over to Takeru, lowering his voice. “We’ve got to distract Kabuterimon and the Kaiser. It’s the only way to give Daisuke a chance to get away.”

        Takeru nodded, his expression grim. “Maybe it can give our Digimon an opening too.”

        Sweat trickled down the back of Daisuke’s neck. His breath was rough from exertion. Though he was in good shape from playing soccer, running for his life drained far more energy than a simple game. “V-mon,” he said between pants, “think you can break the ring with your head butt next time he takes a swipe at us?”

        V-mon nodded sharply. “You bet!”

        Taichi put some distance between himself and the others before waving his arms wildly. “Hey! Hey! Over here, Tough Guy! Did you forget about the rest of us or what?”

        “Go for it, Patamon!” Takeru said in a harsh whisper.

        Patamon nodded and flew towards Kabuterimon.

        Taichi frowned when Kabuterimon paid him no mind, so he refocused his attention. “Hey! Digimon Kaiser!” He pulled down an eyelid and stuck out his tongue when he saw the other boy look his way. “If you were really any good Chosen you wouldn’t need to steal someone else’s partner!”

        The Digimon Kaiser’s cheek twitched again, his lips curling up in a snarl. “I don’t need to take that from the likes of you! You, who abandoned your Digimon in enemy territory without a second thought!” He pulled out his whip and pointed. “Get him, Kabuterimon!”

        Kabuterimon whirled about before charging at Taichi with a feral snarl.

        Taichi felt as though the Digimon Kaiser had struck him someplace deep and vulnerable. Unfortunately, he had no time to stand reeling from the verbal jab, as Kabuterimon was coming for him. A yelp slipped out before he ran in the opposite direction of his controlled friend as fast as his legs could carry him.

        Daisuke slowed to a halt when he realized that Kabuterimon was no longer after him and eagerly took the moment to catch his breath. “G-go for it, V-mon!”

        V-mon nodded and chased after Kabuterimon. Patamon flew around the large Adult’s head, but the fact that Kabuterimon would not hold still made it difficult for either Child Digimon to catch up with him.

        Mimi felt as though her heart was caught in her throat as she watched Taichi barely evade repeated attacks from Kabuterimon. She stood with Palmon at her side, a growing sense of helplessness keeping her still. She, like Takeru and Patamon, had found out only minutes ago that none of them could evolve in this place.

        A sudden beep caught Mimi by surprise, eliciting a shriek from her. She realized a heartbeat later that it was her D-Terminal, and fished it out, hoping for some word from the others that might help them. She blinked at the message, reading it a second time. “Slow him down?” she muttered. “But how…”

        Inspiration struck and Mimi when she saw Kabuterimon land. He did it every time he encountered the ceiling and had to crush more of it. She pointed towards the Adult’s legs. “Palmon! Grab his legs! Hurry!”

        Palmon nodded, and darted forward, stretching out her vines to their fullest. “Poison Ivy!”

        Kabuterimon stumbled to a stop as Palmon’s vines coiled around his legs. Before he could yank himself free, Patamon’s Air Shot struck the back of his head, just above the control collar. He turned and took a blind swipe at the flying Child Digimon as Patamon flew past his head. This gave V-mon the chance to jump onto his back. His struggles against the smaller Digimon struck the children as something akin to a kaiju movie, where the giant monster battled against tiny tanks and planes.

        V-mon climbed halfway up Kabuterimon’s body. When the Adult twisted about and tried to grab him, he jumped, aiming for the Evil Ring. “V-mon Head!”

        Unfortunately, Kabuterimon turned in time for their heads to collide. The Adult’s armor was stronger than the diminutive dragon’s skull and he fell with a cry, striking the ground hard enough to leave cracks in the stone. He lay against the broken tile, dazed from the pain running through his limp body.

        Daisuke was instantly at V-mon’s side, scooping his partner up and running again before Kabuterimon could take another strike at him. “V-mon! Are you okay?”

        “Daisuke…” V-mon moaned, disoriented. “I didn’t do it, did I…?”

        The Digimon Kaiser laughed. “No, you didn’t. You’re nothing more than an irritation,” He then paused as his smile widened. “It’d be in your best interests to leave now before I’m forced to hurt you.”

        Taichi’s breath came in and out as a hiss between his clenched teeth. “You say that like you’re not trying to kill us!”

        Daisuke jerked back. “What? Kill?”

        The Digimon Kaiser paused before his eyes narrowed. Tension flooded his features, his jaw clenched. “If that were true, you’d be dead now.”

        Takeru gestured widely at the damage about them, glaring hard at the Digimon Kaiser. It was impossible to miss the wreckage of the temple, the crumbled walls and deep gashes created by Kabuterimon. “Then how do you explain all this!?

        The Digimon Kaiser tugged his whip repeatedly, creating a sharp snapping noise each time he pulled it taut. “Enough. Enough! If you won’t leave willingly, I’ll send you out on your ungrateful asses!” He pointed at Kabuterimon. “Stop messing around with that pathetic plant already! Break her fingers if you have to!”

        Mimi shrieked and pulled Palmon back, breaking her partner’s concentration. “Palmon! Let go!”

        Palmon yelped and retracted her vines out of instinct, freeing Kabuterimon just before he lashed out, his hand driving into the ground and splintering the rock where her fingers had been only an instant before.

        Patamon took advantage of Kabuterimon’s momentary distraction to fire a blast of air at the large Adult’s exposed neck. The attack grazed the edge of the Evil Ring, splintering off a few mere slivers of it. A crack of the Digimon Kaiser’s whip was his only warning before Kabuterimon focused on him and threw a large ball of energy in his direction. He dodged most of it, but a tendril of electricity grazed his wings, sending him falling to the ground with a cry.

        Takeru bit back the instinctive urge to cry out his partner’s name as he clenched his fists. “Damn.” He raised his voice. “Scatter!”

        The Digimon Kaiser cackled as he watched the Digimon and children race in different directions. “Yes, scatter!” He moved at an idle pace to get a better look at the fleeing children and came to a stop at the entrance of the shrine. “Scatter like insects!” The sun shining at his back cast dark shadows over his face, but they did nothing to hide his twisted smile. “Little gnats fleeing from a much larger fly!”

        Taichi ran in the direction opposite the way Patamon fell and waved his arms around, though he kept his glare focused on the Digimon Kaiser. “Insects, insects, insects! If we’re so insignificant to you then why don’t you swat us yourself instead of brainwashing someone else to do the dirty work for you?”

        Daisuke caught on to Taichi’s plan and jeered at the Digimon Kaiser. “It’s ‘cause he’s too much of a whiny coward, Senpai!”

        The Digimon Kaiser growled deep in his throat. “You–”

        Palmon’s shout drowned out whatever threat the corrupt child had been about to say. “Poison Ivy!”

        The Digimon Kaiser tensed just as the vine-like fingers nearly ensnared him and darted to the side at the last second to evade them. Palmon tried to redirect the path of her vines to follow his movements, but missed as he surprised her with a jump that cleared at least two meters. He snatched her fingers once he landed as she made another attempt at him and flashed Mimi a terrible smile before he jerked Palmon towards him. The plant Digimon shrieked as he yanked her off her feet then spun her around high in the air in a wide circle. Palmon barely had time to feel dizzy before he abruptly yanked her about, sending her crashing into the wall close enough to Mimi that the shocked girl’s pink hair whipped about in the breeze generated when Palmon flew past.

        Mimi shrieked and dropped her D-Terminal from her suddenly numb fingers. She ran to Palmon’s side as her partner slid down the wall. “Palmon! Are you okay?”

        The Digimon Kaiser was not finished. He had not released the plant Digimon’s vine-like fingers and instead swung his arm backwards, forcibly pulling Palmon back away from the wall and past Mimi. Then, he whirled his arm forward again, slamming Palmon in to the wall once again with an audible crunch. The wall cracked and splintered as the Digimon’s body hit the hard surface with a scream.

        Mimi shrieked Palmon’s name as she watched her partner was battered repeatedly against the wall. Heedless of the danger, she tried to catch Palmon when the plant Digimon came near her, but the Digimon Kaiser yanked Palmon back at the last second, just inches away from her outreached hands.

        Taichi froze, his entire body rigid as he watched the Digimon Kaiser beat Palmon without mercy. “Stop it!”

        Hikari could not bear to look, tearing her eyes away from the scene, as she hugged Tailmon closer. Every scream Palmon made was a knife through her. She could not imagine the pain her friend was experiencing, or how much Mimi suffered from being forced to watch.

        Takeru attempted to rush the Digimon Kaiser, only to be cut off by Kabuterimon. The Chosen of Hope scrambled away as the insect Digimon lashed at the ground in front of him, narrowly missing the boy. “Damn it!”

        Patamon almost sent an Air Shot towards the Digimon Kaiser, but he had no clear shot due to how the boy flung Palmon about. The chance was too great that he would miss. Instead, he forced himself to take advantage of Kabuterimon’s inattention and made another attempt at destroying the Evil Ring. Unfortunately, the Adult moved at the last second to intercept Daisuke, who attempted to charge the Digimon Kaiser as well. The air hitting the back of Kabuterimon’s head caught the controlled Digimon’s attention and he turned towards Patamon, forcing the smaller Digimon to dodge another attack.

        The Digimon Kaiser laughed as he pulled his arm back yet again, as Palmon struggled uselessly against him. “This is what happens to those that defy me, insects!”

        A gruff voice cut through the Digimon Kaiser’s laughter. “My, my. That’s not very kind of you, is it?”

        The Digimon Kaiser faltered in his swing, losing his momentum so that Palmon fell limply to the floor rather than impact against anything with any real force. He stumbled slightly before straightening up, whirling to stare at Jijimon as the Ultimate Digimon left his hiding place and stood on the altar. “J-Ji... Jijimon!”

        Jijimon smiled crookedly. “Why dontcha let the girl go? I think you made yer point.”

        The Digimon Kaiser gazed at the Ultimate in silence before he straightened up as he tightened his grip on Palmon’s fingers. Palmon twitched, too dazed and disoriented to do much more than lay on the ground in a crumbled heap. “I don’t take orders from you.”

        “Now, V-mon!” Daisuke shouted. He and V-mon ran around Kabuterimon in opposite directions, which forced the Adult to hesitate in choosing which to go after first. This allowed them to barely slip past Kabuterimon’s grasping fingers.

        The Digimon Kaiser glanced over at the charging Chosen and his Digimon. He scowled as his fingers tightened around Palmon’s fingers, which he still held captive as the plant Digimon was unable to resist. He crouched as he brought his arm back, then swung Palmon around horizontally, using the nearly unconscious Palmon to strike both V-mon and Daisuke as they came close. “Insects!”

        Mimi felt as though her heart was being squeezed with each blow Palmon took. She held her hands close to her chest, her eyes so full of tears she could barely see her partner any more. “Stop it! No more! Let her go! Let Palmon go! Please!

        The Digimon Kaiser paused at that, turning to look at Mimi. His expression was unreadable for a moment before he suddenly tossed away Palmon’s fingers, allowing the vine-like tendrils to land on the ground beside him. “Hmph.”

        Mimi noticed and did not hesitate to race over to Palmon’s side, heedless of the danger. To the surprise of the others watching her, she made it and pulled her partner into her arms, holding Palmon as delicately as if the battered Digimon was made of glass. The bruising already starting to form on Palmon’s green skin made Mimi’s heart ache all the more and her breathing hitched as she repeated Palmon’s name in a strained litany.

        The Digimon Kaiser watched Mimi, his face a blank mask that made it impossible to tell what he was thinking. After a few moments, he turned away from Mimi and back to the others. “Get out now, or I’ll be forced to keep hurting you.”

        “My, my, so there is some kindness left in you,” Jijimon said, his smile widening even as there was no amusement in it or his voice. “And here I was, thinkin’ it’d take a miracle to get through that darkness.”

        The Digimon Kaiser tensed, a shudder running up his spine. He turned to stare hard at Jijimon, his jaw clenched. The Digimon returned the stare, and the two looked at each other for several long moments before the human child finally broke the gaze and proceeded towards the ruined entrance of the shrine.

        Hikari looked from Tailmon, who was still covered in bandages, to Palmon, who was covered in darker blotches of green – bruises no doubt – and barely conscious in Mimi’s arms. A swell of emotion rushed through her, sorrow, anger, and even a desperate sense of confusion. “Why are you doing this? If you’re really a Chosen Child like us, how can you be so cruel to the Digimon?”

        The Digimon Kaiser twitched and his fingers clenched into fists. He kept walking as he ignored Hikari, heading outside of the temple. Once he was past the doorway, he raised his right hand and snapped his fingers. Instantly, an Airdramon flew down into view and lowered its head before the human tyrant. The Digimon Kaiser leapt up on top of its head before turning to glare balefully at the Chosen, feet planted firmly on the flying dragon Digimon. “Kabuterimon. I expect results.”

        Kabuterimon answered with a mindless roar before he began generating electricity between his palms. The Chosen were forced to start running again, lest they become the target of their friend’s attacks. Even Mimi had been forced to blink away her tears and carry Palmon away when Kabuterimon began to turn her way.

        Takeru grit his teeth as he glared after the Digimon Kaiser as the other boy flew away. It was infuriating. The whole thing infuriating to the point of being maddening. The way the Digimon Kaiser tortured Palmon in front of them was inexcusable. However, he did not have much time to think about what had happened nor its implications beyond his intense rage, when he found himself ducking behind a smashed pillar to avoid a glancing blow of electricity. “Damn it!”

        Takeru tried his best to focus on the situation, but it seemed equally frustrating. Battling Adult level Digimon with only Child Digimon was difficult, but it was much harder when their opponent was as experienced in fighting as Kabuterimon. Palmon and Tailmon were far too injured to fight, Agumon was still a captive of the Digimon Kaiser, V-mon had no fighting skill, and Patamon was forced to spend most of the time dodging Kabuterimon’s attacks whenever he got close to hitting. They needed to evolve, but how could they do it when the Kaiser was obviously blocking it somehow?

        At that moment, the D-Terminal in Takeru’s back pocket beeped. It was the sound that played whenever an email had arrived, but it sounded strange. There was a distortion to it, as though the sound card was undergoing some sort of error. The Chosen of Hope paused and blinked, uncertain if he had heard it correctly. For a moment, he debated whether or not he should check his D-Terminal, especially given that the situation at hand required his full attention. When he realized that it could have been an important message from his brother and the others in the real world, he quickly pulled his D-Terminal out.

        To Takeru’s surprise, instead of seeing a notification that he had an email and who the sender was, his new message was already open. The areas that should have listed the email addresses and title were blank, the corners of the message screen flickering slightly as though there was some sort of glitch. The font in the body of the email was of a strange jagged font, though the words were legible enough to read.

        

        

       &nbspSay “Digimental Up.”

        

        Takeru read the message three times to make sure he understood the distorted letters correctly. “Digimental… Up?” The words felt strange to say, and he had no idea what to make of them. What was the email talking about? Even more, who was it from and what were they saying about the Digimental?

        Tailmon’s harsh words pierced the Chosen of Hope’s concentration. “Takeru! Pay attention!”

        “Look out!” Patamon shouted.

        Takeru remembered where he was and looked up in time to see Kabuterimon forming another attack in his direction. He ran parallel to the giant Adult, just barely escaping the Mega Blaster. He kept moving to make sure that he would lessen the risk of becoming a target again, but his mind swiftly returned to the email. The message was strange to the point of being somewhat unnerving – he did not like the feeling he got from it. A mysterious email from an unknown sender was incredibly suspicious even without the creepy vibe, but under these circumstances, he did not see any alternatives. He could not simply let Kabuterimon remain the Digimon Kaiser’s slave.

        Takeru would not allow evil to prevail.

        “The worst that could happen is that… nothing happens,” Takeru muttered. Inwardly he had to retract the statement, as he really had no idea what would happen. He did not want to consider the worst-case scenario when Patamon had already died once before. However, Centarumon did bring them there specifically for the Digimentals and, eerie email or not, if these were instructions on how to use them, then he would trust not the mysterious message, but Centarumon. Holding the Digimental tightly in his fist, he raised it skyward and yelled, “Digimental Up!”

        The Digimental shined brilliantly, growing so bright that it hurt for anyone to look at directly. It transformed into light that beamed directly into Takeru’s Digivice. Sparks the color of gold overflowed from the Digivice before a golden shaft of light connected directly to Patamon. The orange Digimon was overcome with energy that filled him to the brim as it covered him like a second skin. “Patamon, Armor Evolve!” The light wove itself around his body, forming into the shape of angel wings that grew in size as he did. When the wings opened wide they belonged to a Digimon that was no longer Patamon, but a magnificent armored horse clad in gold. “Pegasmon!”

        The transformation stunned Takeru, but only for a moment, as surprise quickly gave way to excitement. “Alright, Pegasmon! Let’s do it!”

        Hikari stared at Pegasmon, not believing her eyes. “That’s…!”

        Taichi slowed his running to gawk at Pegasmon. “A new evolution?”

        Daisuke jumped, pumping his fists into the air. “Alright!”

        Pegasmon swooped down towards Kabuterimon as he unleashed a beam of holy light from his forehead. “Silver Blaze!”

        The attack hit its mark, striking the Evil Ring, which shattered to tiny pieces. The force of the blow hit Kabuterimon hard, knocking him to the ground where he slid back to the entrance of the shrine, destroying what remained of the wall surrounding it. He lay there, dazed, before de-evolving in to Tentomon.

        Tentomon twitched faintly, but could not manage the strength to raise his head. “K-Koshiro…?”

        Taichi was the first to reach Tentomon, wearing a smile from ear to ear. “Tentomon! You’re back!”

        Jijimon watched as most of the Chosen gathered around Tentomon then turned his gaze to the horizon, where the Digimon Kaiser was barely a speck in the distance. “Hmph, kids these days,” he grumbled. “Wearing leotards and capes, what do they think they are? Whatchamacallitmons?”

        Centarumon left his hiding place and hurried to join the group. “Chosen Children!” He turned towards Takeru. Though his expression was unreadable thanks to his mask, his voice betrayed his excitement. “You’ve figured out how to use the sacred treasures!”

        Takeru glanced at Centarumon then looked up at Pegasmon. More like someone told me how. He decided there was little point in saying so. He could tell the others about the strange email later. Right now, he felt too thrilled by the fact that they freed Tentomon. “Now we can evolve, even in areas under his control!”

        Pegasmon landed lightly in front of Takeru. “We just need to free Piyomon so she and Sora can use the Digimental of Love, and find the other Digimentals.” His voice was more masculine than it was when he was Patamon, but not quite as much as when he was Angemon. It struck Takeru as somewhere in between.

        Tailmon could barely look at Tentomon and the others, her gaze fixated on Palmon, who rested uncomfortably in Mimi’s arms. Her ears and tail hung low as her heart felt heavy. She was still too weak, too useless to be of any help, and now Palmon was as injured as she was. “If only I…”

        Hikari pulled Tailmon closer and gave her partner a tender smile. “It’s okay, Tailmon,” she said gently. “You’ll recover soon.” She moved to join Mimi and Palmon, crouching beside them so that she could get a better look at the plant Digimon’s injuries. Palmon was barely holding onto consciousness, while Mimi was trembling with the effort not to fall to pieces. “Hang in there, Palmon. Jou will fix you up as soon as we get back to the real world.”

        Mimi nodded, her vision hazy through her tears. “That’s right! You’ll be as good as new in no time.” Her voice wavered even as she tried her best to sound cheerful for her partner’s sake. “So… so just… Just rest now, okay?”

        “Mimi…” Palmon murmured. She tried to smile, but a twitch of pain from even that small movement made her groan and close her eyes tight. Instinctively she curled against Mimi, who gently stroked her petals and made soothing cooing noises.

        Taichi’s gaze lingered Palmon before he turned to Centarumon, a scowl on his face. “Do you know where the other Digimentals are? We’re going to need them if we’re going to save the rest of our friends and pay back the Digimon Kaiser for what he did.”

        “Our temples are scattered across this world,” Centarumon said. “Each one contains sacred treasures just like these. However, which the specific temple houses which Digimental is beyond my knowledge.”

        “Of course,” Taichi muttered. After the trouble they went through to find their crests years ago, he did not find it surprising that they would have to go on a quest to find all of the Digimentals the same way.

        Takeru brushed back his bangs. “We’ll have to visit them all anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”

        Taichi nodded. “In the meantime, we should probably let Koshiro have a look at the ones we’ve got already.”

        Takeru turned to Centarumon. “Do you have the coordinates of the other temples?”

        Jijimon let out a loud snort. “Bah, coordinates. In my day, Chosen found temples by walking.”

        Centarumon inclined his head towards Jijimon. “That is not so easily done these days, Elder. The Digimon Kaiser’s influence is extensive.”

        “Bah, and bah again!” Jijimon waved his staff around, at no one in particular. “Kaisers, Digimon, I don’t care! It’s always dangerous and kids these days always wanna do things easy! I walked up hill both ways in the snow to get to my temples!”

        Centarumon exhaled deeply enough that it was almost a sigh. “We’ve never had snow in these areas, Elder.”

        Daisuke blinked at Jijimon. “In your day?”

        Hikari’s eyes widened slightly as she caught the implication. “You don’t mean… You met Ryo and the others?”

        Daisuke stared blankly at Hikari. “Who’s Ryo?”

        Jijimon sniffed with disdain. “Damn right I did. Spiky haired punk – needed a good haircut.”

        Hikari glanced at Daisuke. “He’s another Chosen Child we met years ago, but we haven’t seen him in a long time.” She returned her attention to Jijimon, deciding to explain the story in more detail after they returned to the real world. “Does that mean that Ryo and his friends found their Digimentals back then?”

        “‘Course he did,” Jijimon said. “Fat lot good it did ‘em.”

        Hikari noticed how Jijimon’s voice quieted slightly at the last part with some emotion she could not readily identify. “What do you mean?”

        Jijimon did not respond immediately, and even though no one could see his eyes, they all felt that he was not looking at any of them but at something very far away. Every second that ticked by in silence added a strange weight in the air that settled over everyone. He tapped his walking staff on the ground for a few moments, as though trying to stave off the oppressive quiet, but it was a number of moments before he shook his head and brought his attention back to the Chosen. “Anyway, give ‘em the coordinates already so they can get the hell out!” His voice was unnecessarily rough, but it held little weight to it.

        Centarumon nodded before he turned to Takeru. “I will send the information to Koshiro.”

        Daisuke crossed his arms over his chest, brow furrowed. “We can’t leave yet! There’s still one thing I wanna know.”

        “Hm?” Takeru glanced over to Daisuke. “What?”

        Daisuke looked sharply at Takeru and Pegasmon. “When are you going to try and knock down that Dark Tower already?” He made wild gestures before finally pointing at V-mon. “How am I supposed to see what kinda awesome Adult V-mon changes into with that Dark Tower stopping him, huh?”

        Takeru blinked three times at Daisuke before an awkward note of laughter bubbled out from him. “Right! Of course!” He turned to his partner with a smile. “Pegasmon?”

        “Right,” Pegasmon said. Though his helmet obscured his face, there was no mistaking the amusement in his voice. A moment later, he was in the air, soaring in a wide circle around the shrine until he spotted the Dark Tower looming in a crevice a number of meters behind the temple, half-sunken into a crevice. The Chosen left the shrine so that they could watch him approach the evil monument. He spread his wings, which turned a dark shade of blue, covered with twinkling dots of light that gave them the illusion that they were made of segments of the night sky. “Shooting Star!” Stars flew off from his wings, striking the Dark Tower and shattering its foundation.

        As the Dark Tower slowly teetered, the broken shards that touched the grass and ground at the bottom of the crevice surrounding it bled away all of the color, turning them to a dismal shade of gray. Blackened sparks danced across the pieces and charred the grass away just as the tower struck the ground. Darkness danced across the pieces of the tower with a strange hiss of static before disappearing completely. At once, the solid chunks of black that made up the tower glistened before it liquefied and flooded the crevice, creating a small pond of gray water with foaming waves that crashed along the rocky walls in all direction, painting the cliffs almost entirely in dingy shades of gray. Slowly, the ominous looking liquid evaporated before their eyes, black bits of data floating up into the sky in front of the Chosen before disappearing altogether.

        Takeru watched the tower disintegrate with a grin on his face. The smile faltered when he noticed the strange reaction the area around the tower had when it fell, his eyebrows furrowing. “Hn.”

        Daisuke scratched his head. “What’s that? Why did it become water? And why’d it turn everything gray?”

        Mimi sighed as she looked sadly, as she focused her attention on some wildflowers that grew on a small ledge along the edge of the crevice. The flowers not only had lost all their color, but they too were slowly dissolving into data. “I hope this doesn’t happen when we destroy all of the Dark Towers…”

        Tailmon had left the safety of Hikari’s arms when the Dark Tower began to fall so that she could get a better look over the edge of the crevice. She stared hard at the tower’s remains as the water drained away from down below bit by bit. Slight movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention back to Hikari and she jerked when she realized that her Chosen Child was trembling. “Hikari?”

        Hikari’s eyes were distant, fixated on the dark water far down below. She had been unable to look away since she witnessed how liquefied Dark Tower crashed against the canyon walls like ocean waves crashing hard against the shore. At the sound of her partner’s voice, she snapped back to the present and noticed how her body was shaking. She stilled herself and wore a smile for Tailmon, but the expression was weak and unconvincing. “I-it’s nothing.”

        Tailmon’s eyes narrowed as she stared at her partner, but she refrained from saying anything more.

        “Well, it’ll take care of itself,” Jijimon said before pointing his staff at the Chosen. “So get outta here already!”

        Daisuke dusted his hands together. “Okay! Now with that outta the way…” He turned to V-mon and clenched his fist as a wide grin appeared on his face. “I want to see you show your stuff, V-mon!”

        V-mon nodded then clenched his fists in a clear mimicry of Daisuke. He strained hard, furrowing his eyebrows. A vein appeared as he pushed hard, trying to force out the evolution for his partner and the others to see. “Evolve… evolve! V-mon…!”

        “V-mon… evolvvvveee… toooo…!” V-mon continued to strain as sweat trickled down his brow, the pressure building until suddenly… it expelled with a noxious sound of gas. V-mon’s eyes bugged out as his face turned red, a small green cloud lifting up behind him.

        Daisuke choked on the smell for a moment and pinched his nose as he waved the stench away. “V-mon!”

        Takeru gawked at the sight, then covered his nose as he turned away, wisely trying to hide his laughter. “W-well then…”

        “What the hell was that?” Jijimon asked as he stared hard at V-mon. “You challenging me, boy? Well, let me tell you, my body odors are second to none.”

        V-mon could not possibly look any more mortified, his ears drooping. “D-Daisuke…”

        Daisuke laughed, feeling rather embarrassed for his partner’s sake and knelt down to pat V-mon on the head. “Right, right. You’re just not ready yet, V-mon. You’ll evolve next time.”

        V-mon sniffled and drooped. “R-right! I’ll try really hard!”

        “Let’s go,” Tailmon said as she covered her nose.

        “It takes practice, boy,” Jijimon said, sagely. “Practice and a good diet. Like so!”

        The old Digimon crouched as he lifted his staff over his head, straining. An aura of fire seemed to appear around him, as he focused his energy. “Nnnnnnghhhh…! Hah!” With a mighty war cry, Jijimon lifted his staff skyward just as a horrendous trumpet blared out, followed by an equally horrendous cloud of fumes.

        It was the vilest mixture of smells in existence, a bastard child of skunk, rotten eggs, and spoiled cooking grease. The smell alone caused the ground around Jijimon to crack and splinter. The Chosen Children and Digimon choked on the horrific stench and were forced to cover their mouths and noses lest they be overwhelmed.

        Tailmon covered her nose with both her paws, her eyes watering. “Go! Now!”

        “I… I can taste it!” Takeru choked out as he fanned vigorously at his face. “It’s… augh…!”

        Hikari nodded as she fumbled to find where the pockets were on her new dress while using one hand to cover her mouth and nose.

        Taichi turned a little green, the smell getting to him even as he tried to use his shirt as a filter. “I’m gonna throw up!”

        “Hahaha!” Jijimon laughed proudly, hands on his hips. “Now that’s how you do it! Taking notes, boy?”

        Over half the Chosen Children drew their Digivices at the same time, all crying out between coughs for the gate to open. Only Hikari and Takeru’s Digivices reacted to the command.

        “D-Daisuke…!” V-mon choked out before he de-evolved to Chibimon. “Bleeeugh…!”

        “O-old Fart!” Daisuke said just before they disappeared in a flash of light.