by Vashkoda

(Disclaimer: This work of fiction uses characters belonging to Toei and Saban without their permission. I am getting no profit from it. I only do it because I think Digimon is a great show, and I want to keep the story alive!)

"I'm home!" called out Jenrya, sliding off his shoes as he walked through the door of his family's apartment. Terriermon, who was in an especially good mood, jumped off his shoulder and began launching pretend kicks and punches at the sofa.

Jen could smell something good cooking, so he headed for the kitchen. His mother was there, dashing back and forth between the stove and something she was preparing at the table. She looked up briefly as he walked in, mumbled a quick hello, and went back to work.

"Um...anything I can help you with?" he asked, looking around and wondering where his siblings were.

"Mmhmm," said his mom as she spooned rice into a tupperware bowl. "You can bring this food to your father and sister. They'll both be at his office working late tonight."

Jenrya sighed. He had just biked all the way from school and had been hoping to relax in front of the television for a while.

Terriermon was still making battle cries in the living room. Jenrya's mother paused, a frown on her face.

"Jen, has your creature been fighting?"

The fifteen-year old grimaced. He didn't feel like starting another fight with his mother over digimon, so he let the insult drop. "Terriermon caught a guy looking at my bike, like he might be thinking of stealing it. He just scared him off."

His mother looked at him worriedly. "Jen, you have to be more careful. If the police knew that you still had those monsters around.... If the government found out about it-"

"Mom, he just barked at the guy. Probably thought he was a dog and got spooked. Besides, that mess with the D-Reaper was five years ago. They've covered it up with so many stories that nobody knows what to believe any more, and they certainly don't remember that digimon had anything to do with it."

Mrs. Lee looked unconvinced. When she had arranged the food in a paper bag, he grabbed it without another word and headed for the door.

Terriermon grinned when he saw him. "Mmm, your mother's cooking sure smells good, Jen!" he said, loud enough for her to hear him.

"It's not for us," grumbled the teen. With those ears, Terriermon was sure to have heard everything they said in the kitchen. How could the little guy still be so nice to her?

I guess I should be grateful she'll even let me keep him in the house, he thought, thinking about Juri's parents and how they wouldn't let Culumon visit her any more. If Leomon were still alive, he most certainly wouldn't be welcome there. Especially not after having promised Juri's parents that he'd keep her safe in the Digital World, only to have her become the D-Reaper's slave.

They wouldn't let her see any of her friends who were Tamers, either. She moved to a different district so that they didn't go to the same school.

In the months after the D-Reaper and all digimon were sent back to the Digital World, Juri had seemed to recover from her ordeal, and was back to being her cheerful self. But when Takato had found the portal re-opened, and all her friends had their digimon again, Juri lapsed back into depression.

Her parents seemed to think that the answer was to seclude her from any reminders of those dark times. On the contrary, Takato and the others believed that Juri needed her friends now more than ever. Jenrya didn't know what to think.

She called them sometimes, usually on birthdays, though those moments were awkward. It was hard keeping digimon out of the conversation.

Jenrya had climbed back onto his bike, with Terriermon making himself comfortable in the basket at the back. It was dangerous to leave the greedy little digimon with the food, but Jen was still angry with his mother, and couldn't bring himself to care.

The trip to his father's workplace was thankfully short. After the defeat of the D-Reaper, Yamaki and the Wild Bunch had been offered a job by the government, continuing the work Hypnos had started with AI development and control. Mr. Lee would have refused, except that his friends had convinced him it was better that they be the ones monitoring virtual activity than have it be discovered by others that digimon were indeed still living among them.

The apartment building that had housed their makeshift headquarters during the D-Reaper's invasion was renovated to become their permanent new office. Activity was at an all-time high there lately, although Jenrya didn't know why. His sister Shiuchon, who was turning into a computer geek like her father, had been going there a lot after school. Jen figured he would find out what all the fuss was about when he arrived to drop off their dinner.

To his surprise, Impmon was the one who opened the door for them.

"Bah, I was in the neighborhood," he answered when Jen asked what he was doing there. "Hey bunny-ears, mind sharing da food?" he asked when he caught a whiff of what the other digimon was carrying.

"Not a chance!" laughed Terriermon as he raced up the steps. Jenrya cursed and ran after him.

"That's for Dad and Shiuchon!" he called out. But when he'd finally caught up to him, Terriermon was busy chatting with Lopmon at the office landing.

"Hello Jenrya," greeted Suichon's digimon. He had always been a surprisingly polite little guy. It was a wonder that he got along with Terriermon.

"Hi Lopmon. I guess my sister really is here. I don't suppose you know what this big project of theirs is about?"

The little digimon smiled apologetically. "I do, but I think it would be best for them to tell you. You can bring them this," he said, snatching the paper bag away from Terriermon--who looked at it longingly--and handing it to Jen.

"Thanks." The confused teen pushed open the office door and walked inside.

Jenrya recognized several members of the Wild Bunch running back and forth between computer terminals. Shibumi passed by him, then stopped and came back towards Jen with a big smile on his face.

"Ahhh, this will hit the spot!" he said, grabbing the dinner bag before the surprised Tamer could stop him. Jen shook his head and gave up.

"Hey big brother!" called out a familiar voice. He saw Shiuchon waving at him from the far end of the room. Jen walked over to her.

"I'm glad you're here," she said excitedly, leading him to a terminal.

"So do I finally get to see what this big project of yours and Dad's is about?"

She nodded, her expression turning grim. "Do you remember what the Digital World looked like after the D-Reaper took over? How the land became barren, and so many digimons' lives had been lost?"

"I'd rather not think about it, but yes."

His sister brought up a three-dimensional map on the screen. Many areas were outlined in red.

"After five years, more than half of the places the D-Reaper destroyed are still uninhabitable. This isn't too big a problem yet, of course, since only about one-tenth of the digimon population survived."

"Gee, you sure know how to cheer up a guy," grumbled Jenrya. "Wait...don't tell me this is what you've been working on?! Restoring the Digital World?"

Shiuchon smiled. "Why not? It's just data--as easy to restore as it was to delete. We collected all the information we needed from scans made by Ryo's D-Arc. He'd traveled all over the Digital World before the D-Reaper showed up. Now all we have to do is plug that data back in."

"Data.... You aren't just talking about the world itself, are you? The digimon themselves-?"

Shiuchon rolled her eyes. "Of course we'd bring them back, too. All the ones that were killed."

Jen pressed a hand to his head, unable to hide the urgency in his voice. "Sis, you can't do that!"

"Sure we can," she said, misunderstanding him. "There's a place called Primary Village that keeps records on all the digimon that were ever created. They gave us the information necessary to bring them back when we reformat the Digital World-"

"I can't believe I'm hearing this," said Jen, shaking his head.

"Why? I thought you'd be happy. This is good news!" she said, confused about her brother's reaction.

"Shiuchon, some digimon are killed for a reason. Sometimes they're evil and have to be stopped. And some digimon willingly sacrifice themselves for a cause they believe in. Their deaths have meaning. You can't just erase history this way!"

"But not all deaths have meaning," she insisted. "Sometimes they're mistakes."

"Whose to say what's a mistake and what's not?" he argued. "Shiuchon, these changes in digimon and their world is how they've evolved over time--how they've gotten better and stronger. It's survival of the fittest. If you erase all that, make them start over again, you'll undo all the good that's been done!"

His sister folded her arms across her chest. "Well, Impmon just brought back a message from Zhuqiaomon. He and the other Sovereigns approve of the plan."

"Oh right, I'm sure Impmon would love for your project to work. That way he gets to stop feeling guilty about all the digimon he killed as Beezlebumon." Jen looked at his sister more closely. "Hm, and I guess that would suit you too, huh? You make Impmon happy, you make his Tamers happy too?"

Shiuchon blushed, her cheeks as rosy as they were when she was five. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh come on, I know you like Makato. Don't try to deny it!"

"I'm not doing this for Impmon or Mako!" she protested, her whole face now red. "Maybe I'm doing it for Lopmon! He misses the other Devas, you know. They were his friends, until you guys killed them!"

"I'll bet Zhuqiaomon misses them too. That's probably the only reason he went along with this crazy plan."

His sister turned away from him, hiding her face. "How can you be this way? This was supposed to be a good thing!" she sniffled. "We just wanted to make everyone happy."

"How could they do this? They have no right!"

"I'm sorry. I tried to talk them out of it, but it seems the Sovereign have already started making preparations. They can't call it off now without risking some serious consequences."

There was a long pause before the voice on the other end spoke again.

"So it's going to happen, whether we want it to or not?"

"I'm afraid so. Look Juri, I'm just calling because I thought you deserved some advanced warning. Tomorrow all the Tamers are going to be called to my dad's office to be told what's going to happen."

"I'm not a Tamer anymore."

"But you still have a digivice, and you're going to get called. Be ready."

Jenrya heard a click as she hung up. He wondered whether he maybe should have let Takato give her the bad news.

He sighed, then began dialing the next name on the list.

Jen's father stood before the Tamers, with Shibumi on one side and Yamaki on the other. Mr. Lee greeted them all and began to explain.

"For some of you, this will be the first time you hear about our project. I'm sorry we didn't tell you sooner, but we didn't want to risk disappointing you in case we weren't successful-"

"I wish you hadn't been."

Everyone turned around in surprise as Juri walked into the room. It had been years since many of the Tamers had seen her.

"Juri!" cried Takato in happy surprise. "We didn't think you'd come!"

The girl threw Takato an awkward smile, then focused her angry gaze on Mr. Lee.

"I don't approve of what you're doing. I'm only here to listen, since it seems there's no way for me to stop you."

A young boy in the room who Juri didn't recognize stood up and addressed her. "I would think that you of all people would be for this plan. Don't you want your digimon back?"

Juri looked at him furiously. "Who are you? How can you assume to know what I want?"

The boy blushed, but held his ground. "I'm Makato, one of Impmon's Tamers. I've been helping Shiuchon with the project."

"Then I have you to blame for this as well...."

"Wait, hold on a minute Juri," said Takato, a pleading look in his eyes. "They only want what's best for the Digital World. They don't mean to hurt anybody."

"I can't believe you're taking their side Takato," said Juri, sounding hurt. "Don't you remember what Leomon was like? He was always protecting people, not caring if he got hurt. Before I even met him, he'd already done a lot of good for the Digital World. But now you want to erase all that--make it so that his life and death mean nothing!" She screamed out those last words, pointing a shaking finger at Mako who could do nothing but stare at her in wide-eyed surprise.

"All right, you're only here to listen, so I'll make this quick," said Yamaki, stopping any further argument. "Tomorrow at oh-eight-hundred, you're to send your digimon back through the portal. We'll be transmitting a powerful disruptive signal to the Digital World that should cause it to--in simple terms--'crash and reset'. We'll then send a feedback pulse that will wipe any remaining data from the plane. After that it's a simple matter of transmitting the data that we have, bringing back all the digimon and their world."

"Will they be okay?" asked Kenta worriedly, clutching MarineAngemon.

"I don't know about you, but all that stuff sounds pretty painful," winced Hirokazu.

"Pretty painful," repeated Guardromon with a nod of his head.

"They shouldn't feel a thing," Shibumi reassured them. "It'll be like falling asleep, and then waking up to find yourself all refreshed."

"I dunno..." said Ruki worriedly. "Will our digimon come back exactly the way they are now?"

The adults exchanged glances. "Well, sort of," answered Mr. Lee slowly. "Everything that was programmed into them at birth will still be there. But they won't have been through the same experiences they've had now. They probably won't even remember that you're their Tamers."

"But there's a way around that!" added Yamaki before any of the kids could protest. "Your digivices are with you here and won't be erased. They'll keep a record of who your digimon are, so that you can identify them and bring them back with you."

"But I won't remember my Tamer?" asked Guilmon, anxiously rubbing against Takato.

"Your human partners carry a piece of you inside them," said Shibumi, petting the red dinosaur's head reassuringly. "We believe that when this piece is returned to you, your memories should also come back."

"This sounds unnecessarily complicated," said Ryo with a frown. "Why can't our digimon stay here? They don't need to be reformatted with the rest of the Digital World."

Cyberdramon growled in agreement.

Mr. Lee shook his head. "We're essentially recreating their world. Your digimon as they are now would be incompatible with this new version. They'd never be able to return home."

"That's fine by me," piped up Terriermon. "I never liked the place anyway."

"But if there was ever any problem there, you wouldn't be able to go back and help," Shiuchon reminded him. Terriermon, who never missed an opportunity to prove himself in a fight, looked crestfallen.

"That's it. Oh-eight-hundred tomorrow. Don't be late," Yamaki told them.

The Tamers got up and led their digimon out of the office. It was only then that they noticed Juri was already gone.

The cold and drizzly weather mirrored the Tamers' foul mood as they stood outside Guilmon's hideout in the park, waiting for Yamaki to give them permission to go in. Earlier that morning, their partners had passed through the portal after tearful goodbyes and promises that they'd be together soon. But that had been hours ago.

"Mr. Yamaki...."

"I already told you, Takato, Guilmon will be all right. I added his specs to the data we got from Primary Village. He'll be reborn along with the rest of them."

"Um, I was actually going to ask you when you thought we might be able to go in? You see, we've been waiting here a long time and-"

"And as I said before, no one is going in until I can see that it's safe." Yamaki was busy studying transmissions emanating from the portal. His small handheld computer was somehow able to translate the strange signals into something he could read. "I at least promised your parents that much. And right now I'm detecting far too much instability. You should first wait until the Digital World settles down a little."

Ai looked up from under her yellow umbrella and pouted. She and her brother Makato might be twins, but they were nothing alike. Whereas Mako was adventurous and clever, Ai was...

"I don't want to be here. This rain is making my hair all frizzy."

Shiuchon glowered at her. "Why don't you go home, then? No one's making you stay."

"Shiuchon..." said Jen, throwing his sister a warning look.

"I can't go home without Impmon," said Ai sullenly. "Mako would have come instead, but he's stuck at home with a cold."

Which explained why Shiuchon was so grumpy. She had probably pictured this as some grand adventure in the Digital World that she and Mako could share. Only now it would be with his sister instead, who Shiuchon couldn't stand.

"You might as well all go home," Yamaki said to them. "I'll let you know when it's time."

He contacted them again late in the afternoon. Some of the Tamers had been forced to miss dinner, but none wanted to wait a moment longer before seeing their partners again. Mako was still absent, as was Juri--but that really wasn't a surprise to anyone.

"I want you to be careful!" cautioned Yamaki for the third time that day. "These readings are still erratic. It could just be an echo from the feedback pulse, but there's no way to be sure."

"We'll find out soon enough," said Takato, lowering his goggles. The others followed suit and slipped on their shades.

"Don't worry, Mr. Yamaki. We still have your communicator," Jen reminded him, lifting it out of his pocket. Yamaki nodded.

"I can't believe I'm finally going to see the Digital World!" cried Ai in excitement as she crawled into the hole Guilmon had dug years before.

"Try not to get eaten," called out Shiuchon in a sweet voice.


Jen shot his sister another dark look.

"All right everybody, remember how it was last time. Just stay together and don't panic." Takato grabbed Ruki and Jen's hands, as they each in turn held someone else's until they were all linked in a circle. Together they took a step towards the glowing portal.

"Let's go!"

The time they spent floating in the digital field seemed endless. Almost immediately they saw digi-gnomes, hundreds of them--more than they had ever seen in one place before. Ai wanted to reach out and touch one, but Jen and Ryo wouldn't let her break out of the circle.

Then suddenly they were out, plummeting towards the ground. And then it dawned on them that this time they didn't have their digimon there to catch them.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" screamed Ai.

"Well guys, it was great knowing you!" shouted Ryo over the wind as they were about to crash.

And then they were struck by a data stream. Ai continued to scream, long after they had been deposited safely on the ground at a new location.

"Will you quit it?!" snapped Shiuchon, finally losing patience.

"But...we could have been killed!" Ai cried. She looked around and noticed that she was the only one still visibly upset. "Weren't the rest of you scared?"

"Bah, we eat danger for breakfast," smiled Hirokazu.

"Yeah? Well your palms sure got awfully sweaty back there," grimaced Kenta as he wiped his hands on his pants.

"Hmph, I don't know what Yamaki was so worried about. This place doesn't look so bad," said Ruki as she took a look around. They were in a valley of some kind, with tall cliffs on either side of them.

She stopped dead in her tracks and gasped.

"What is it?" asked Ryo, walking up to her. "Oh wow, guys, look at this!"

The others approached cautiously. And then they saw it. Dozens of digi-eggs smashed into pieces.

"Aww, how cute! The little things must have just hatched," smiled Ai.

"I don't think so." Ryo knelt down next to one and examined it closely. "Something killed these guys before they could be born." He got up and dusted his knees. "There's no trace of any data. It must have all been downloaded."

"Who would do such a thing?" asked Ruki angrily.

"Shhh!" said Takato, inching towards the edge of the cliff face. The others followed him, and soon they too could hear voices. Shrill, tiny little cries that made their hair stand on end.

"What are they doing?" asked Ai.

Around the next bend in the valley was a depression where more digi-eggs had been laid out. At first it seemed like small black furballs were crawling out of the eggs. Then it became clear that these creatures were attacking them, trying to break the shells open.

Jenrya took out his D-Arc and pointed it at them. A projection rose out of the screen.

"Botamon, fresh level," he read. Jen shook his head and put the digivice away. "They aren't very strong, but we don't have our digimon with us. So what do we do now, guys?"

"Hey you! Stop it!"

They all turned to see Ai marching angrily towards the Botamon. "You should be ashamed of yourselves, attacking poor innocent babies."

"Oh no," said Ryo, covering his face.

To make matters worse, a strong wind was rising in the valley and dark clouds loomed overhead. There came the sound of something big rushing towards them, and then suddenly it was night.

"Ai, get out of there!" cried Takato. But he only succeeded in drawing attention to himself and the others huddled next to him. The Botamon saw them and their beady little eyes shined brightly in the darkness.

"Ahhhhh!" screamed Ai, running back towards the group.

Then a few of the Botamon began to glow. In their place, frog-like monsters appeared and began slinking towards them.

"Are those-?" began Kenta.

"Betamon, yeah I think so!" cried Jenrya. He ran out to help Ai, who was stumbling in the dark. "C'mon, we have to get out of here!" They rejoined the group and together began running down the valley. A bright flash illuminated the way momentarily.

"They're using their electric shock on us!" cried Hirokazu in horror.

"No you dolt, it's the lightning," said Rika, pointing at the sky. As proof, a loud boom of thunder sounded in reply, sending loose stones tumbling down the cliffs.

They kept running until they had left the valley and were a good distance out on a deserted plain.

"This is so stupid," grumbled Shiuchon. "The last place you want to be in the middle of a thunderstorm is out in the open."

"Would you rather be back there with the Betamon?" huffed Jen as he stopped to catch his breath.

"We wouldn't even be in this mess if Miss Airhead over here had used her brains for once!"

"Hey!" Ai protested. "Didn't you see what those things were doing? I couldn't let them get away with that!"

"Oh yeah, you really showed them," Shiuchon smirked.

"Hey, be easy on her," said Ryo sternly. "This is her first time here."

"Look over there!" cried Takato, pointing to a series of small domes with junk metal glued haphazardly across their surface.

"The Tsuchidarumon's village!" said Jen in recognition. "Hey, I bet they'll offer us shelter!"

They approached the houses warily, looking out for other aggressive digimon. But when they reached the village, there was no one around. The homes were abandoned.

"No sense staying outside," said Kenta, opening a door as rain began to fall. The others followed him in.

Takato looked around the room with a smile on his face. "Hey Jen, remember the last time we were here? Guilmon was playing with all the little digimon, and they offered us those weird mud balls-"

"And Juri actually ate one," laughed Jen, remembering. But at the mention of Juri's name, everyone sobered up and was quiet.

"I wonder why they left?" asked Takato softly.

Shiuchon had a mixed expression on her face. "I...I think I know what's going on."

"Well don't leave us in the dark, kid," said Kazu as seconds passed without further explanation.

Shiuchon looked down, avoiding their gaze. "You told me once, Jen, that the digimon had to evolve over time to become the way they are now. That only the fittest survived."

Her brother nodded, a frown on his face.

"I think what we're seeing here is their evolution happening all over again. Only this time, it was the Betamon who made it out on top."

"Wait, you mean those eggs we found...? Those would have been the Tsuchidarumon?!"

Takato hovered over Shiuchon angrily, his fists clenched at his sides. "Juri was right about you...about your plan! We never should have gone along with it!"

"Hold on, Takato," said Ryo and Kazu, holding him back. Takato brushed their hands away in disgust.

"Don't you see?" he cried. "Those eggs could have been our partners! The whole point was to bring back the digimon that were killed. But a lot of them are going to die anyway!"

"I'm sorry," said Shiuchon.

Takato was so angry that he looked about ready to burst.

Then they heard a beeping sound. Shiuchon looked down and realized that it was coming from her D-Arc.

"What's going on?" asked Jen, curious because no one else's digivice had been activated.

"I...I think it's Lopmon!" she cried excitedly. A projection appeared with a compass pointing north.

"Great, well I guess we at least know Lopmon's ok," said Ryo.

Shiuchon bit her lip, looking twice as sorry as she had been.

"Fine, let's get him," said Takato, seeming to have finally calmed down. He opened the door to the hut and walked outside.

The others followed him out, and were surprised to see that it was already daytime again. The storm also seemed to have passed.

"Weird," said Kazu. "The Digital World really has gone crazy."

They continued walking north until they reached a series of wooded hills. The compass showed that Lopmon was nearby.

"Lopmon!" Shiuchon shouted. "Where are you?"

There was a rustle in the branches of the tree directly above Ai. The girl panicked and ran to hide behind Ryo.

"Lopmon?" called out Shiuchon hesitantly. She approached the tree.

"Blazing Ice!"

A shower of ice crystals flew at Shiuchon. Jen pushed her out of the way and ducked just in time, avoiding the deadly missile fire.

"What are you doing?" she cried. "I'm your Tamer!"

Just then, lightning streaked across the sky, and night once again fell upon the Digital World.

"Not again," moaned Kenta.

"Blazing Ice!"

"Get your digimon under control!" shouted Ruki as she dodged another attack.

"Lopmon, please stop!" pleaded Shiuchon tearfully. She looked up into the tree, but it was too dark to see anything.

"Don't you remember me?"

A shadow dropped out of the branches and landed in front of her.

"Do you remember this?" she asked, holding out her digivice. The Lopmon walked over to it and sniffed it. He looked at her curiously.

"How am I supposed to make him remember?" Shiuchon asked the others.

"Shibumi said that their memories would come back when we returned the piece of them inside us," recalled Ryo.

"Biomerge," said Takato. "That must be what he meant."

Shiuchon looked at her digimon fearfully. Would he want to? Would he trust her enough to let her try?

She reached out her hand, offering it to the little digimon. Lopmon walked up to it, sniffed it, and looked into her eyes. Her D-Arc began to glow. Lopmon put his hand in hers.

"Matrix...Evolution!" she cried.

A ball of swirling light surrounded her and Lopmon. The other Tamers backed away, looking at each other in surprise.

"What do you think they'll become?" asked Kenta.

"From the cards, I'd say Cherubimon," replied Kazu.

"We'll soon find out," said Ruki.

The light began to dissipate. The shadowed form of Atiramon could be seen as they began the final evolution to Mega.

But something happened. A vortex appeared in the sky above them, shooting down some form of energy at the digimon. Antiramon screamed, and suddenly the form of the great angel Cherubimon that had begun to appear was replaced by that of a long sinuous dragon. The digimon roared, and lightning flashed all around them.

"Take cover!" shouted Takato.

They fled down the hill and hid behind a pair of giant boulders. Qinglongmon--the digimon that Suichon and Lopmon had become--continued to thrash about angrily. Then suddenly, everything was once again calm. The storm was over, the daylight had returned, and the vortex was gone.

And gone with it was Qinglongmon.

"Shiuchon!" shouted Jenrya. They searched for her everywhere, but there was no sign of his sister or her partner.

"She's gone, Jen," said Ryo finally, putting a hand on his shoulder in sympathy.

"But where?" cried out Jenrya, his eyes wet with tears. "What on earth just happened?!"

Back on Earth, in the shadows of Guilmon's hideout, a small figure crept. It paused for a moment before the blinding light of the portal, almost in hesitation. Then without another thought, the figure plunged through the gateway and disappeared.

Although it was still light out, the sun had set many hours ago on Earth, and the Tamers were exhausted. They decided to return to the Tsuchidarumon's village to get some rest.

Despite--or perhaps due to Jenrya's anxiety over his sister--he was the first to fall asleep. Takato, on the other hand, felt wide awake. Realizing he was thirsty, he decided to slip out and get a drink of water.

He opened the door to find that night had also now fallen on the Digital World. The light from the Earth sphere overhead was enough for him to find his way to a stream he remembered from his last visit. The water was refreshing, and just what he needed to wash away the bad memories of the past day.

But when he turned around and began walking back to the village, something caught his eye. Between the domes, he could see figures moving back and forth. Were his friends awake and looking for him? He doubled his pace-

And stopped dead in his tracks as he finally came close enough to see what they were. Tsuchidarumon, dozens of them, were walking between the houses, looking and acting as if everything were normal. But Takato didn't let himself be fooled. This couldn't be right. The Tsuchidarumon were...

"Dead," said a voice behind him. "And you are the one responsible."

Takato spun on his heels and came face to face with the village elder, pointing his cane accusingly at the Tamer.

"Wh-what?" stuttered Takato in surprise, backing away. "If you're dead, how can you be talking to me?"

"You are the one responsible," repeated the old Tsuchidarumon. And now the other digimon came forward and began to surround him, repeating the elder's words like a chant.

"No, you don't understand!" Takato cried, swatting away their arms as the digimon reached out to grab him. "We only wanted to help the Digital World! We didn't mean for this to happen!"

Then out of the corner of his eye, Takato saw a different digimon standing apart from the rest--one he hadn't noticed before. It wore a feathered tiki-like mask that covered its face and most of its body. It clutched a long boomerang in one hand and waved it around like a staff, leaving glowing green trails in the air as it passed. The light began to swirl around Takato, filling his vision until the world around him disappeared, and he was swallowed up by a sea of green.

Takato stood up and choked back a scream. What in the-

He was back in his bed. Everyone around him was still sound asleep.

Had it been a nightmare then? It was almost too strange to be real. Yes, it had to be a nightmare.

But he wasn't quite able to convince himself, and for the rest of the night, he stayed awake in bed...wondering.

"But Jen, we've searched all over and haven't found her. She isn't here!" insisted Takato.

"We don't know that! Maybe there's a clue we missed."

Ruki shook her head in frustration at the stubborn Tamer. "All we're doing standing around like this is wasting time. What if she's in trouble?"

Ai tried to block out the noise of their arguing. Instead, she took in the sights and sounds of the Digital World, and sighed in wonder. At first glance it looked and felt just like the real world. When she knelt down to look at a blade of grass or brush her hand against a rock, however, she discovered that they were made up of thousands of smooth pixilated bits. It was as if someone had tried to reconstruct the real world from just pictures, without having ever actually been there. The similarities were striking, but at the same time it reminded her of just how alien this place was, and how much she missed home.

Hearing a strange chirping sound overhead, Ai looked up and caught a glimpse of a glowing white creature--one of those things the others called a digi-gnome--just before it disappeared over a neighboring hill. She looked back and saw the other Tamers still arguing, and decided she had enough time to go check it out.

Ai ran over the hill and cried in delight when she saw the digi-gnome perched on a flowering bush not too far away. But when it saw her, it warbled something and took off. Ai thought that maybe it was calling to her. She dashed after it, and soon it was obvious that the creature was playing a game with her. Maybe it was childish, but Ai didn't care--she felt happier now than she'd been since arriving in the Digital World.

The digi-gnome suddenly flew straight up into the air and disappeared. Ai stared after it in dismay.

Which was why she didn't see the digimon charging forward until it was nearly on top of her.

It was dark green with big eyes and teeth, and it swung a long wooden club above its head.

"Fight!" it challenged.

Ai was initially too surprised to be scared. "Why? I didn't do anything to you."

"Fight! Load data! Digi-volve!"

Now Ai was getting scared. "B-but, I don't have data! I'm just a human!"

The digimon bellowed in anger. Ai wanted to flee, but she was frozen in terror.

The club whirled around its head, leaving green trails of light in its path. Ai could see that it was getting ready to pound her with it. She covered her face with her hands.


Ai looked up when she heard the digimon cry out in pain. Its clothes were on fire, and it was desperately trying to beat out the flames.

"Ha! That's what you get for messin' with my Tamer! Here, have another one! Bada boom!"

Ai couldn't believe her eyes. Impmon was standing next to her, throwing fireballs left and right at the other digimon.

"Impmon!" she cried, reaching out to give him a hug. But the other digimon reached her partner first and started to strangle him. Ai's cry of joy turned into one of horror.

"Ai, get outta here! I'll keep him busy!" Impmon grunted as the green digimon flung him against the ground.


"For cryin' out loud, do as I say! Go!"

With tears in her eyes, Ai raced back to the Tsuchidarumon village. Before she got very far, she ran into the other Tamers, who had gotten worried and started a search for her.

"Don't run off like that again, Ai! Sheesh, I thought you were old enough by now to know better!" said Takato angrily. But his expression softened when he saw that she'd been crying.

"You have to help Impmon! He's being attacked!" she sobbed.

"Impmon?" repeated the others, exchanging surprised looks.

"C'mon," said Ryo, taking the lead as Ai pointed them in the direction she had come from. The other Tamers were quick to follow.

But when they had reached the spot where she'd been, they found no traces of Impmon or the other digimon.

"Check your D-Arc," advised Jenrya. Ai did so, but nothing came up on the screen.

"What if he's dead?" she sniffled, looking ready to cry again.

"I dunno, Ai. Are you sure you saw Impmon? I don't see any tracks around here except yours," said Ryo, examining the ground.

"Did your digivice activate when you saw him?" asked Ruki.

Ai thought back, and shook her head. "No...but I did see him! He was right here, with that other digimon!"

Just then her D-Arc did activate, displaying a compass needle pointing west.

"Well that solves that," said Hirokazu, folding his arms behind his head. "And I guess it means we go west, right Jenrya?"

The Tamer frowned, but nodded. "All right. But once we get our digimon back, we go find my sister."

"We all want her back, Jen," said Takato, looking determined. "We'll help you find her. I promise."

"There, just over that ridge." Ai looked back down at her digivice for confirmation.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" asked Ryo, giving her a gentle shove when she didn't move.

"Ehhhh," she hesitated, burying her heels in the dirt. "What if he's mad that I left him? What if he got hurt because of me?"

"All the more reason to check up on him, wouldn't you say?" prodded Kenta.

"Uh...ok." Ai steeled herself and climbed up the rocky slope. When she reached the top, she took a cautious look at what lay beyond.

There, only a few feet away, was Impmon, fast asleep under the shade of a tree.

"I-Impmon?" called Ai, taking a few steps towards him.

The digimon woke suddenly, then struggled to get up as it saw Ai approach. But instead of running towards her, Impmon snarled and darted the other way, escaping through the dense mountain brush.

"Wait! Come back! I'm sorry I left you before!" she shouted. She started to go after him, then stopped.

"What are you waiting for, kid?" cried Kazu as the other Tamers joined her over the ridge.

"He doesn't want me," muttered Ai dejectedly. "I'm a horrible Tamer."

"Oh no, not this again!" growled Ruki in exasperation. "No, I won't have it! Juri did the same thing, and all her self-pity did was get her into trouble. I won't have it, you hear me?!" she shouted, grabbing Ai by the shoulders and shaking her. The girl was so surprised that she stopped sniffling and just stood there, staring at Ruki.

"Good thing the D-Reaper isn't around this time," muttered Kenta.

"Knock on wood!" smiled Hirokazu, lifting up Kenta's cap and thumping him on the head.


"Impmon isn't mad at you, Ai," said Takato, ignoring his friends' comments. "Remember how Lopmon was? Our partners just don't remember who we are yet."

"But he did know me! He said I was his Tamer!"

"Uh...are you sure you didn't just imagine it?" asked Takato doubtfully. "I mean, I've been having some really weird dreams myself, of the Tsuchidarumon and some creepy digimon in a mask-"

"Like that one?" asked Ruki, wide-eyed and pointing at something directly behind them.

"Spirit Boomerang!"

"Duck!" shouted Jenrya, pushing into them so that they all fell to the ground. But Takato looked up and saw the boomerang pass far over where their heads had been and shoot into the clouds.

"Hey guys, I don't think he was aiming at us!"

They heard a loud roar from the cloudbank, and suddenly a flying dragon-type digimon dove out of the sky.

"Airdramon, Champion level," said Jen, reading his D-Arc. Turning it towards the masked digimon, he read, "Sepikmon, another Champion. Great, as if one weren't bad enough!"

"No, I think that other one's on our side," said Ruki. "Airdramon was sneaking up on us until Sepikmon made him reveal himself."

"Well, he definitely got him mad!" cried Kenta as he bolted for the trees. Airdramon was circling around, ready to swoop down at them.

Sepikmon's boomerang returned to his outstretched hand. He then waved it over his head and began to sway back and forth, chanting softly.

"Spinning Needle!" shouted Airdramon. But just as he was about to unleash his attack, his eyes glowed green and he froze in place. Since this meant he had stopped flapping his wings, his body dropped like a stone and crashed into the forest below.

"All right, the little guy charmed him!" shouted Kazu in triumph.

"Hey, wait a minute--that green glow...."

"Run now, talk later," said Ryo as he grabbed Takato and rushed for the cover of the forest. Airdramon was already beginning to recover. Sepikmon joined them under the camouflage and they waited in terrified silence for the creature to pass. It finally did, emitting a loud bellow of disgust before flapping away.

"Thanks for your help, Sepikmon," sighed Kenta in relief.

"Why did you help us?" asked Ruki suspiciously.

Sepikmon stared at them as if the answer were obvious. At least they assumed he was staring--it was hard to tell what his face looked like beneath the mask. "No fight. Not digimon. No data." He shrugged.

"Well actually, when we go to the Digital World, aren't we all transformed into d- ouch!"

"You're right of course," said Ryo quickly, covering up Kazu's blunder.

"Hey Kenta, that hurt!"

"Are you going to stay and protect us?" asked Ai hopefully.

Sepikmon cocked his head to the side.

"Shhh, Ai, I don't think that's a good idea," whispered Takato. "I think this is the guy who charmed both of us back near the village and fooled us into thinking his illusions were real."

"But he didn't hurt us!" Ai protested. "Please, Takato. What if a digimon attacks us again?"

"She's right," said Jenrya. "If he's willing to help us, we can't afford to refuse his offer, at least not until we get our partners back."

"Partners?" repeated Sepikmon.

"You'll help us? Oh, thank you, Sepikmon!" said Ai, giving him a hug. The digimon looked surprised, but pleased.

"So what now, guys?" asked Ryo. "Do we keep following Impmon?"

"Oh, Impmon!" cried Ai suddenly, releasing Sepikmon as she reached for her D-Arc. "He's still going west," she announced, following the compass. "But...but what if-"

"No 'what if's!" snapped Ruki, grabbing Ai's arm as she began walking through the forest. The others had no choice but to follow.

They hadn't gone far before the curtain of night swept passed them once again. Sepikmon found the Tamers a cave where they could sleep, with a lake full of fish conveniently located nearby. The digimon used his strange powers to summon the fish out of the water so that the kids could catch them. Before long, the meat was roasting on several spits arranged atop a roaring bonfire.

It may have been the smell of the food that first attracted Impmon to their campsite. Ryo was the one who noticed him watching from the bushes, and pointed it out to Ai.

"Careful, now--don't scare him. Remember that without his memories, he's still wild."

Ai took one of the sticks of meat and walked slowly out of the cave. She found a rock that was suitably clean and rested the meat on top of it, then backed away and returned to the fire. After a few moments, Impmon appeared at the cave entrance and watched the Tamers warily, then grabbed the stick and began eating.

"Hi. My name is Ai," the girl called out slowly, trying her best to sound friendly. The digimon didn't seem to be paying any attention to her.

Ai sighed. "How are we supposed to biomerge when he won't even come near me?" she asked the others in frustration. Sepikmon approached her.

"Biomerge...me?'" he offered.

Ai smiled. "Thank you, Sepikmon, but I already have a partner." She pointed at Impmon.

"We all do," said Ruki, tossing her stick into the fire. "That's why we came here--to find them and bring them back with us."

Sepikmon turned his masked face towards Impmon. The little digimon suddenly looked up and snarled, then fled back into the bushes.

"Better luck tomorrow, kid," said Kazu, patting Ai on the back. "I say we all get some shut eye. Hey Sepikmon, would you mind keeping watch?"

The digimon nodded his head, and watched as the Tamers lay with their backs to fire and fell asleep.

No one would have guessed that behind that primitive mask, Sepikmon's mind raced with all sorts of thoughts and possibilities.

"Hey Takato, wake up!"


"You'll never guess where we are!" cried Hirokazu excitedly. "We probably didn't recognize it last night 'cause it was dark."

Takato wiped the sleep from his eyes and yawned. "Kazu, can't this wait until morning?"

"Ha! From the grumbling of Kenta's stomach, we're guessing it's almost noon. C'mon!" he pleaded, and Takato was forced to get up and follow him to the lake.

There were now Otamamon swimming in the water. Kazu pointed at them and began jumping up and down.

"See? This is the Gekomon's lake! This is where we first found Andromon! You think...you think Guardromon might be somewhere nearby?"

Ruki snickered. "He's probably still a Hagurumon."

"No way! We saw two Champions yesterday. If they could evolve, so can he!"

"Don't you find that a bit unusual, though?" asked Jenrya, joining them on the beach. "I thought all the digimon started out at fresh level when they were brought back."

Ruki nodded. "Remember that before they met us, our partners had been in lots of fights and loaded tons of data, but it was only with our help that they finally digivolved past Rookie level."

"So where did these guys get the sudden power boost?" wondered Kazu aloud.

"Maybe we should go ask Sepikmon," Takato suggested.

"I dunno, man. That guy was acting funny all morning--talking to himself and waving his boomerang around. I had an uncle like that once...well, he didn't have a boomerang, but he would start talking to furniture and trees and stuff, warning them the aliens were coming. He finally got sent to the loony bin, but my aunt still believes it was the aliens who really took him."

Ruki rolled her eyes. "Why am I not surprised you're related?"

"Anyways, Sepikmon wandered off somewhere," finished Kazu, ignoring Ruki's comment. "We were thinking of maybe leaving without him."

Takato looked surprised. "But yesterday you guys were all eager to have him come with us. You said we needed his protection."

"Just a quick tour of the lake," Kazu promised. "We won't go far." He already had his D-Arc out, and was pointing it in every direction, hoping to get a signal.

But as the hours passed, the only signal they picked up was Impmon's. Everyone had grown tired and hungry and most began insisting that they head back to camp in case Sepikmon had returned.

"C'mon guys, just a little further?" begged Hirokazu. "I mean, while we're here we might as well give Ai one more shot with Impmon. Her scan shows that he's not too far away."

"But...but I don't want to just yet," she argued, looking worried. "He needs more time to get used to me, first."

"What? Nah, you're a nice kid, I'm sure he can see that. Impmon's just shy," said Kazu, dragging Ai along as he led the group deeper into the forest.

"Impmon? Shy?" repeated Ai incredulously. But Kazu was too focused looking into his own digivice to hear what she'd said.

"Whoa, Kazu hold on there a sec!" warned Ryo, reaching out to stop him. Hirokazu looked up from his D-Arc in surprise.

The forest ended right where they stood, the trees and grass marking a straight boundary with the rocky soil that lay beyond. Even the sky looked different across the border--gray and turbulent, in sharp contrast to the bright blue horizon stretching over their side of the trees.

"No go there. Bad spirits," warned a voice behind them. The Tamers turned around and saw Sepikmon emerge from the bushes.

"Sepikmon! You found us!" exclaimed Kenta in relief.

"Does this mean we can go home now?" asked Ruki, rubbing her feet.

"Wait...what do you mean about bad spirits?" asked Ai anxiously.

"Danger," explained the digimon, waving his boomerang at the angry sky. "No go."

Ai turned to the others worriedly. "But Impmon's over there! What if he doesn't know? What if he gets in trouble?"

"Impmon can take better care of himself out there than we can," reasoned Jenrya. "And maybe he'll follow us back to camp like last time."

But Ai wouldn't hear of it. Without warning, she took off across the border, following the signal of her D-Arc.

"Ai!" Takato shouted. "Dammit, she did it again! What is she thinking?"

"She wants to save her partner," said Ryo. "Wouldn't you?" They all started to run after her.

Thunder rumbled in the distance.

"I'm getting a bad feeling about this," groaned Ruki.

And then darkness fell.

"Bad spirits!" repeated Sepikmon, running past them. A building loomed just ahead. Both Ai and Sepkimon seemed to be heading towards it.

"That's the Gekomon's sake factory!" cried Kazu in recognition.

Drops began to fall from the sky, hissing as they struck the ground. One barely missed Kenta's foot.

Jen wasn't so lucky, and screamed as a drop hit his arm.

"Hurry!" cried Ryo, as if they weren't already aware of their peril.

They finally made it inside the factory. Jen immediately began nursing his arm, which was red and blistering where the liquid had touched it.

"Hey, remember how the sake healed Andromon? Maybe there's still some left around here," suggested Kazu, looking at the giant vats along the wall.

"What kind of messed up rain was that?" cried Kenta, still shaking.

"Acid rain. It falls in areas like this that are still unstable."

Sepikmon jumped in surprise at the new voice, and held his boomerang at the ready. Something growled in the shadows at the far end of the room.

"It's all right, Leomon. They're friends," said Juri, walking into the light.

"Juri! I can't believe it!" cried Ruki. The others called out in greeting, sounding equally surprised.

"Uh...it's good to see you, Juri," said Takato awkwardly. "We didn't think you'd come. When did you get here?"

"Let me see your arm," she told Jenrya, kneeling beside him. She had brought a backpack along and was rummaging through it, at last lifting out a roll of bandages and a canteen of water. She pour the water over the wound and washed it gently, then wrapped a strip of bandage over it.

"At least someone came here prepared," remarked Ryo, sounding impressed.

Juri grimaced, then looked up at Takato. "I've been in the Digital World for almost a month," she finally answered him. "I didn't want to come, but I realized that after what had been done here, the digimon would be more helpless than ever and need Leomon's protection."

"A month?" repeated Ruki in surprise. "But we've only been here a few days. How did you...?"

"I came in the morning after Mr. Yamaki sent you away. No one was watching the portal."

"I think I know what happened," said Jen, testing his arm before nodding to Juri in thanks. "When the Digital World was reset, their timeframe must have fallen out of sync with ours. I guess they haven't realigned yet."

"So we could spend years in here and no one back home would notice?" asked Takato eagerly.

"That explains why my mom hasn't freaked out already and sent a message asking where I am," muttered Kenta.

Jen's eyes widened and he hurriedly dug into his pocket. "Shoot, I almost forgot I had this," he said, taking out Yamaki's communicator.

"Any messages?" asked Ryo, looking over his shoulder. Jen nodded, scowling as he read.

"Only one, and it just arrived. But according to the message header, it was sent only a few hours after we left Earth."

"So one hour over there equals one day here?" asked Ruki. "But then how could Juri be here a whole month ahead of us?"

"It seems the Digital World is catching up with the real world," explained Jen. "So we really ought to hurry and find our partners soon." He read the message over again, then looked up at Juri. "You said you went through the portal before us, right? In the morning some time?" Juri nodded.

"Then I think we have a problem. According to Yamaki, their sensors picked up someone going through the portal after we went in."

"Another human?" asked Takato in surprise. "But who else knows about the portal?"

"I don't know, but we've got to find whoever it is before they get themselves hurt. They may not know anything about digimon or the dangers of this place."

"I'll find them," said Juri, motioning for her partner to approach. "Leomon and I know this region better than any of you."

"I don't think splitting up is such a good idea," said Ryo. "We can help, too. There might be new dangers I don't know about yet, but I'm still familiar with the terrain. And Sepikmon is from this area, I'm sure he could guide us."

"Uh...where is Sepikmon?" asked Takato.

"Guys!" called Ai from across the room, sounding frightened. They all ran towards her.

Ai pointed at Impmon, who was was rolling on the floor only a few feet away, groaning in pain.

"Did the rain touch him?" asked Juri in concern.

"No, I don't think so. He just started doing this a second ago. Oh--careful!" she cried as Juri reached out to examine Impmon. "He's still wild," she explained, blushing in embarrassment.

Juri frowned. "Just because a digimon is wild doesn't mean it can't understand. Usually they're just frightened." She reached out to Impmon again, smiling and whispering words of encouragement. The little digimon froze for a moment and let Juri touch him. "No, it wasn't the rain," she said. "He doesn't have any marks on him."

Ai's digivice started beeping. She looked at it in surprise.

"There's another dot flashing on the screen, but it isn't Impmon!"

Impmon struggled to get up. Despite his pain, he stumbled towards the door.

"Wait, Impmon! I'm coming with you!" shouted Ai.

"This is crazy--you can't go out there!" cried Jen. "That acid rain could kill you!"

Juri looked out the window. "There isn't any falling now. C'mon Ai, Leomon can carry both of us and Impmon." She turned to the others. "You guys should stay here."

"But-" protested Takato.

Leomon gently scooped up Ai and Impmon while Juri climbed up his back and settled on his shoulders.

"That way," said Ai, pointing a direction to Leomon after glancing down at her D-Arc. "It isn't far."

Juri clutched Leomon's mane tightly as the large digimon sped off down the hill. He followed a winding path until it ended in an open field.

Ai gasped. Her brother lay unconscious in the center of the clearing. Hovering over him was the green goblin-like digimon she recognized from before, wielding a wooden club.

"Mako!" she screamed.

The other digimon looked up in surprise at her cry. He hurriedly grabbed hold of Mako's shoulders, lifting him off the ground.

"Leomon!" shouted Juri. She slid off his back and took hold of Impmon as Ai jumped down. Leomon unsheathed his sword and roared.

Something was happening to Mako. He was growing fainter, almost transparent. Fragments of data were spilling out him, being absorbed by the green digimon.

"It's loading his data!" cried Juri in disbelief.

"Arghhhhhh!" screamed Impmon, thrashing in pain as his connection to Mako made him experience everything his partner was feeling.

Leomon charged forward, but he was still a good distance away. A swirling field of energy now enveloped Mako and the other digimon and hid them both from view.

"Impmon! We have to save Mako!" said Ai, reaching out to him. "Will you help me?"

The little digimon shuddered, but nodded his head and grabbed her hand.

"Matrix Evolution!"

Juri glanced behind her at the ball of light that now formed around Ai and Impmon. But looking at the other biomerge taking place, she knew that they wouldn't finish evolving in time to stop it.

The green goblin-like digimon grinned through the swirling light, and suddenly it became the masked digimon she had seen at the factory.

"Sepikmon...." whispered Juri in disbelief. "How could you?"

As Makuramon's silhouette appeared through the light, a dark mass of clouds gathered in the sky directly above him.

"Leomon! Get away from there!" Juri shouted. Her digimon had also noticed the clouds and was racing back to her as fast as he could.

A blinding light shot out of the vortex and struck Makuramon. The digimon's scream became a roar as Makuramon dropped to all fours and grew twenty times his size. The light vanished and in its place, a giant white tiger stood.

"BAIHUMON!" it called out in triumph.

"Beelzebumon!" shouted the double voice of Ai and Impmon as they too finished evolving. The digimon spread his wings and soared towards where the giant tiger stood.

"What did you do to Makato?!" Beelzebumon screamed. "Bring him back! Bring him back or I'll make you pay!" The fingers of his right hand merged to form the barrel of a giant rifle. With the tip he traced an inverted pentagram into the air and aimed the gun at its center.

Baihumon just grinned.

"Okay, you asked for it! CHAOS FLARE!!!" shouted Beelzebumon, shooting round after round of laserfire through the pentagram.

But just before the beams could make contact, the vortex descended over Baihumon. Beelzebumon continued firing at roiling mass, but the attacks bounced harmlessly off the clouds. In moments, the vortex dissipated and Baihumon was gone.

"Come back you coward! Come back!" cried Beelzebumon, landing at the spot where Baihumon had been and raking the ground with his claws. He glowed for a moment, then split back into Ai and Impmon. Both collapsed in exhaustion and despair.

Juri ran up to them to make sure they were all right. Leomon came up beside her.

"Spirits quiet," her partner noted softly, pointing at the sky. The storm clouds had vanished and daylight shined down on them once more. The scene was eerily familiar. The pair had witnessed something like this twice before.

"The West has its Sovereign back," Juri agreed. She looked down sorrowfully at Impmon and Ai.

"But peace always comes at a price...."

"So what did he say?" Takato asked impatiently.

Jen shook his head and looked up from the communication device. "Hold on, I'll read it out to you: 'Hello son. We send our love and well wishes to you all. We hope you find your digimon and come home soon." Jen cleared his throat and skimmed through part of the message. "-As for your question about digimon evolving strangely, we theorize that it is a consequence of the reformatting. The Sovereign must have played a greater role in maintaining the stability of the Digital World than we realized. When they reverted to their de-evolved forms, they left behind a vacuum that needed to be filled by four other powerful digimon--probably the first to reach Mega level. Those four would then have become the new Sovereign in order to restore balance to the digital plane.'"

"Gee, he's taking this awfully well," muttered Ruki.

"Jen didn't tell him Shiuchon and Mako were involved," Ryo told her. Ruki looked at Jen and raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"They don't need to worry about this," said Takato firmly. "We'll get them back."

"But...." began Ai, looking around at those assembled. "Me and Impmon digivolved and we didn't turn into a Sovereign."

"Then they must already have all four," said Kazu. "That would explain why all the storms have stopped. Now the Digital World is stable again."

Juri nodded. "Leomon and I saw Zhuqiamon and Ebuwonmon appear a few days ago. And then today..." she trailed off, avoiding Ai's gaze.

"And we saw Shiuchon and Lopmon become Qinglongmon," finished Kenta. "So I guess it's safe for the rest of us to go to Mega now."

"But how did those first two digimon reach Mega so fast without partners?" asked Ryo in frustration, slamming a fist into his palm. "And how come we've been seeing Champion level digimon around this soon after everyone's been de-evolved?"

"Culumon," rumbled Leomon. The others looked up at him in surprise. Juri nodded with a sigh.

"Yes, that's our guess. If he's back to being the way he was, he still has all the Catalyst's powers, and he can't control them. We've been following him, but we never get close enough to talk to him. Culumon's very good at hiding. I don't think he even realizes what he's doing, or remembers who he is," she added sadly.

"Gee, I feel sorry for the little powderpuff, I really do," sneered Impmon, jumping down from the crate he'd been sitting on. "But do you think we could get back to what's important, here? Two of you humans have been taken prisoner and turned into Sovereign. Are we going to let whoever's responsible get away with it? Of course not! So what's the plan!?"

"Wait, we can't just undo what's been done!" argued Juri. "Weren't you listening? They're Sovereign, now. They're the ones protecting the Digital World from chaos!"

Takato frowned worriedly. "Um, normally I'd agree with you, Juri. But these are our friends. We can't just leave them trapped here."

"And why not?" she countered, anger rising in her voice. "I think it's pretty fitting, don't you? After all, they're the ones responsible for what happened to this place. They should be the ones to fix it!"

"Oh, I see how it is!" cried Impmon, his hands balling into fists. "Is this what you call justice? I took away your partner, so now you're taking away mine?!"

Ai held her digimon back. "Impmon, Juri didn't do anything."

"Exactly!" he shouted, wriggling out of Ai's grasp. "She did nothing! Just stood there while we biomerged and tried to save Mako. If she'd biomerged too, we might have stood a chance! They might have gotten to him in time!"

Juri trembled in what might have been anger or fear. She fled out of the factory without saying a word.

"Juri!" called Takato, running after her. She hadn't gone far. He found her sobbing under a tree.

"Juri," he said, feeling awkward for having followed her outside. He took a seat on the grass next to her. Leomon stood at the door and looked out to make sure Juri was okay, but the digimon did not approach. Then suddenly something in his mind clicked.

"Leomon's still wild, isn't he?" asked Takato in surprise. "You've never biomerged with him." He frowned thoughtfully. "How did you get him to obey you if he doesn't remember anything?"

"Leomon trusts me," Juri sniffled, her head still buried in her hands. "I've been guiding him, teaching him right from wrong and that he should help those in trouble. I want him to become like the Leomon I knew, to keep his memory alive." She wiped away the tears and looked up at Takato. "Do you think...do you think that was selfish of me?"

He sighed deeply. "Juri, I don't know why you don't just biomerge and restore his memories; bring the old Leomon back."

"No! Th-that wouldn't be right. He isn't supposed to be back. He isn't supposed to remember."

Takato looked at her curiously. "But you're his partner. Don't you-"

"No! I don't deserve to be his Tamer!" she cried. "He never would have gotten hurt if I hadn't forced him to be my partner and made him come back with us. He didn't even know what a Tamer was! I know he didn't come to the Real World looking for me. But I wished it, and the digi-gnomes made it happen." She gasped for breath as the sobs racked her body. "Leomon wasn't meant to be anyone's partner. He was a free spirit. He never would have gotten involved in our fight if it wasn't for me."

"He was free, Juri. You never forced him to do anything. He wanted to help, and he died standing up for what he believed in."

"But I made him weak," she insisted. "If I had been a better Tamer...if I had known what to do, I might have saved him. He depended on me and I let him die-"

"Don't say that!" said Takato, grabbing her shoulders and shaking them. "There wasn't anything you could have done!"

"He told me afterwards to be strong," she continued, seeming not to hear Takato's words. "But I failed then, too. I let the D-Reaper take over my mind and do all those horrible things. If not for me, the Digital World wouldn't have needed to be reformatted. None of this-" she said, motioning towards the spot Baihumon had appeared, "-would have happened." She paused and looked directly into his eyes.

"I don't want Leomon to remember dying. I don't want him to remember he's a prisoner of this thing," she said, bringing out her orange D-Arc. "And...I don't want him to be ashamed of me," she admitted softly, looking down at her feet.

"It's time for me to leave him. I didn't mean to stay this long, but I wanted to be sure he'd be be all right. And now that you're here, I know you and the others can watch over him for me."

Takato stared at her in surprise. "But...but you're his Tamer! You can't leave him behind!"

"He doesn't know that! I told you, he'll be better off without me. And he should stay here in the Digital World where he can help other digimon. He doesn't belong in our world, Takato."


Juri sighed. "This is why I wanted to come here alone. I knew that you and the others wouldn't understand." She rose to her feet and started walking back to the factory. Takato hurried after her.

"But without your help, Leomon won't be able to digivolve!" he argued, still hoping to change her mind.

"He already did without my help. Elecmon and I were following Culumon when we got too close and he digivolved to Leomon. It had nothing to do with me."

"Okay, then how about this," said Takato, stepping in front of her so that she was forced to stop and listen. "We obviously can't leave Culumon here--he'll keep evolving wild digimon who aren't ready for the power and end up causing havoc in the Digital World. Instead, why don't you bring him back with you to our world where he can't do any harm? Just come along with us until we find him."

"I thought you were going after Shiuchon and Makato," she pointed out suspiciously. "I already told you that I want no part in their rescue. The Digital World can't afford to lose two of its Sovereign."

"We haven't all found our partners yet," Takato reminded her. "We'll have no chance at a rescue until we do. In the meantime, we can go look for Culumon."

When Takato explained his plan to the others, however, not everyone seemed to agree.

"No way! Ai already has her partner--me! We can't waste time waiting for you guys to catch up! If we have to, we'll rescue Mako from that masked weasel Sepikmon all by ourselves! Right Ai?"

"Uh...right," said Ai, not sounding quite as sure of herself as Impmon was.

"You can't go alone, it's much too dangerous!" argued Jenrya.

Hirokazu spoke up. "Well, if they're headed deeper into Baihumon's territory, there's a good chance that that's where I'll find Guardromon. He's a metal-type, after all."

"I'll go too," said Ryo. "Cyberdramon could also be around here. And if we find them, Hirokazu and I can help out Ai and Impmon."

"Are you sure about this?" asked Ruki. "We don't even know if Mako's still alive. You said Sepikmon loaded his data."

"It looked that way," agreed Ai. "But he used Mako to reach Mega, almost like they were biomerging. Maybe there's still a part of him inside Baihumon we can save."

"Either way, Sepikmon's gonna wish he was never reformatted!" swore Impmon, shaking his fist. "I'll load his data! See how he likes that!"

Takato looked at the assembled group and nodded in affirmation. "All right then, it's settled. Ai, Ryo and Hirokazu will continue west to Baihumon's lair. The rest of us will follow Juri and Leomon until they find Culumon, and hope we find our partners along the way. If the others need our help, we'll join them at Baihumon's lair, otherwise we go east to Qinglongmon and rescue Shiuchon."

"We'll head out tomorrow at first light," said Ryo. "Meanwhile, let's set up camp here in the factory and see what we can gather in the forest. We have a long journey ahead of us, so we should get as much food and sleep as we can."

"Sounds good to me!" cheered Kenta and Kazu in unison, before exchanging an embarrassed smile.

Ruki found Jenrya standing alone outside, staring up at the Earth cybersphere. She dragged her feet noisily in the dirt so that he wouldn't be startled when she came up beside him.

"Thinking about Shiuchon?" she asked softly.

Jen sighed and turned his head to look at her. "Terriermon, actually. I'm wondering whether I'll ever see him again. The Digital World is so big...and it's become such a dangerous place."

"Terriermon may be small, but he's tough. He'll be okay," Ruki said, trying to sound reassuring.

Jenrya smiled weakly. "Not as tough as Renamon. I guess you aren't worried about your partner."

Ruki shook her head. "I know she's okay. I can feel her...inside. I think this is what Shibumi meant when he said that we carry a piece of our partners with us. And I wonder if Renamon can sense it too, and if she might be following it back to me? And if that's true, then it doesn't matter how far apart we are now, because I know we can always find each other."

Jen grimaced. "I've got so many emotions bottled up inside of me right now that I doubt I could feel Terriermon if he was standing right in front of me." His voice choked up as he added, "Man I wish he was standing here in front of me."

"He'll be okay," repeated Ruki, not allowing any of her own doubts to creep into her voice. "They all will. We'll find our friends and bring them home."


on to BOOK 2