A/N: Well now – it had been a while, hasn't it?

In recent years, as you might have guessed by my other stories' update times, I sort of completely fell off the face of the Earth for a while. Having to contend with university, job-searching, work and personal projects left me little time to write as opposed to the occasional read.

But recently the itch has returned. I wanted to write a story, job and all, just to see how far I've come since last I published a story. Constructive criticism is, therefore, more than welcome. I wish to develop and see how much further I have to go to be at a pro's level.

Now – just to be fair to you from the start – I cannot promise completion. I was unfocused before because that's what teenagers do. I'm better at pushing forward now, though obviously working five-days-a-week means that I can make promises. I do want to prove to myself that I can finish what I start, however, and I'll do my best to do just that.

July 27th, 2002

Saturday

Digital World

There was much they could've discussed, though neither would speak while the other remained silent.

This went on for quite some time and saw them quite some way down the shaft's earthen stairway, coiling down on and on into what seemed like the very bowels of the Digital Word. Their every step sounded triple in the narrow shaft, parting with their owners to make a bid for the freedom of the now-distant surface.

In a way, Izzy envied his footsteps. After such a long time descending the stairs in silence, even the mildest of his friends would have long-since turned back. It was only out of respect for his guide that his patience had lasted this long; yet Izzy was beginning to wonder whether all those debts he owed Gennai were worth the effort.

'You seem agitated,' his companion suddenly said over the clicking and clacking of their shoes on the rocky steps. 'I'm used to making these sorts of trip alone, so I apologise for the quiet. I've been thinking a lot lately, and the quiet helps me to do that.'

'It doesn't bother me at all,' Izzy lied, relieved by the end of the silence. 'I've been waiting to hear from you ever since the gate reopened. I'm just happy that I can see you at all.'

'Has the Digital World been shut off for long?'

'For three years,' said Izzy. 'Didn't you notice when I got here?'

Gennai's descent paused a moment as he turned to face Izzy, who stopped also.

'Now that you mention it, you are taller than I remember…'

'Well, I am thirteen now; it's only logical that I would have hit a growth-spurt sooner or later.'

Gennai half-opened his eyes, the pools of blue seeming to almost ripple with surprise.

'Thirteen, you say?' he blurted, as if only now seeing any difference in Izzy at all. 'You'll have to excuse me, my young friend… I've just been so busy these last few years that I lost track of the time.'

'I'm not angry about it or anything,' said Izzy. 'That said, you seem quite different yourself. You don't exactly seem like a frail old man anymore.'

The wizened old man chuckled.

'Yes, and I have you to thank for that.'

'You do?'

'Of course; if you hadn't defeated Piedmon, I'd still be growing older and weaker. Being able to travel's nice, though I have to admit that I miss my afternoon naps…'

Izzy hummed. 'Well, it isn't all bad: you should be able to provide greater support to the new kids if you can be there with them, shouldn't you?'

'You're past needing my help,' Gennai told him as they continued their spiralling march. 'I've a great many things on my mind as it is. You older children will be much better teachers for them than I could be.'

'We wouldn't have gotten very far without your help, Gennai.'

'You know the path they'll have to walk first-hand,' the old man said sagely. 'I trust that you'll all help them if they should stumble.'

Izzy worked his mouth as if to argue, but he had no words with which to do so. Though he disagreed with Gennai's assessment, he trusted him to change his mind when whatever he had on it currently was settled.

Moreover, it was difficult to argue when his legs felt as though they were being pricked at with a thousand needles. After a few more steps, he had to stop.

'Gennai, would it be okay if we took a break?' I'm not used such big stairs…'

Gennai halted and turned, his silver moustache lifting with a smile.

'Take as long as you need, my young friend. There's no need to rush.'

Izzy practically crumpled upon hearing this and parked himself down on the step behind him. It had been three years since the adventure, and what little stamina he had developed then was lost to him now. His leaving the soccer club for computer club certainly hadn't made the walk any easier for him.

Out of sheer curiosity, Izzy peered carefully over the edge of the stairs and to the sharp drop below. As he'd feared, there was still no end in sight. Due to the quirks of the Digital World, the shaft was dimly-lit despite having no light source. Even so, there was nothing to see below except darkness.

'It doesn't look very inviting, does it?'

'Not really, no.'

'That was likely the point: to put off any unwanted visitors,' Gennai opined as he sat himself down alongside Izzy. 'Only those like us who want to head all the way down will; anyone else would have turned back a long time ago.'

Izzy supposed that the theory had merit. He himself had been thinking of heading back only a few minutes earlier. The shaft certainly would have been off-putting for any of File Island's bad Digimon had they ever come across it.

Izzy had never considered the possibility that Centarumon's maze had hidden such thing. The thought that one of its many walls was false had never once crossed his mind. He had been too concerned with surviving at the time. The only reason he knew of now was due to the centaur pointing it out. Had it not been for that, he would never have realised.

'How are your young friends doing?' Gennai asked abruptly. 'They are busy destroying these Control Spires Centarumon has told me about, are they not?'

'Well, they'll be pretty busy over the next few days,' Izzy admitted while kneading his aching legs. 'They're going to stay in the Digital World until the Digimon Emperor is defeated once and for all.'

'Is that so?' Gennai muttered as he tugged on his moustache. 'It sounds as though they don't really need my help.'

'I wasn't trying to imply anything,' Izzy quickly clarified. 'They've been doing great. I just thought that you'd want to see them is all – to help them like you helped us.'

Gennai rose to his feet with his hands at his back. 'They have all the help that they'll need already. You're a finer mentor for them than I ever was for you.'

'Gennai-'

'We're actually rather close to the bottom, all things considered,' the old man stepped over the nearby shaft wall and pointed to some Digi-Code carved into its surface. 'I put this here to tell me that. We've a few more minutes to go if you feel ready for it.'

Izzy's legs still throbbed, but the news that their march wouldn't be for much longer helped him ignore it for the time being. It proved a struggle to stand, but he did so nonetheless.

'Let's go.'

It was as the old man had said in the end. After three minutes more, Izzy happened to peer over the edge and see a base to all the darkness below: solid ground. He had to wonder how far they'd down they had come… At a guess, he placed them at least two or perhaps even three kilometres below ground. The thought of it alone was incredible.

Even more incredible was that he could see in the shaft at all. It was as if it were riddled with thin cracks through which sunlight could just manage to peek through.

Stranger still was its abundance of oxygen. By the time Izzy had reached the bottom step, he was panting and heaving air which – going by the taste on his tongue – was pristine and plentiful.

The Digital World's oddities certainly did seem to shine through at the handiest at times.

Despite this, Izzy knew one thing for an absolute certainty: he wasn't looking forward to the return-trip.

'You've done well to make it this far,' Gennai congratulated without showing the slightest sign of fatigue himself. 'Unfortunately, we have a short way to go through here. The hard part's finished, but we still-'

'P-please,' Izzy wheezed, 'just a… just a minute. Please.'

'Oh… Of course. Take all the time you need.'

Izzy lacked the breath to even thank him. He doubled over with his hands on his knees, struggling for each and every breath. It had been a long time since he had felt so completely exhausted – not since last he'd played in one of Tai's weekend soccer practices, if he wasn't mistaken.

After moment, the ache in his leg began to dull a little. It would be unsteadily, but he felt confident that he could walk a little bit further.

'I'm okay now.'

Gennai nodded and led on to what looked like a small entrance hewn into the rock of the wall. Izzy followed shortly after, his forearm dashing at sweat which crawled down his face. It felt strangely hot all of a sudden. The further into the narrow passage he went, the stronger he found this heat to be. It felt more and more as if he were walking toward a foundry with every step.

On the other side of the passage, he discovered what the source of it all was. He was agape at the sight, the heat of which worked quickly to make his open mouth run dry.

'The ancient Wall of Fire,' Gennai said of it in introduction. 'Toasty, don't you think?'

Carved into the rock was a spacious cube of a room. At its centre was a narrow cleft which stretched across the floor to the walls and even across the ceiling. It wasn't easy for Izzy to see this split, however, due to the great blasting flames which erupted first up-and-down and then side-to-side.

Such a place was utterly impossible, Izzy told himself, though it didn't much matter. Impossible or not, there was no question of what he was seeing. It was right there in front of him.

'The Wall of Fire is one of the Digital World's many secrets,' said Gennai, whose wrinkles were much more pronounced in the angry glow of the flames. 'You, my young friend, are now one of the few who know of it.'

Upon hearing its name, Izzy was immediately curious.

'Is it a firewall?'

Gennai closed eyes tightened in a blink, turned to the flames and back to him again.

'I don't mean a wall made of fire,' he clarified, squinting against its light. 'I mean the kind of firewall you'd find on a computer preventing any unauthorised access.'

'Well, it certainly doesn't appear to be very inviting,' the old man remarked. 'I can't tell you how frightening it was when I found it. Do you recall when last I mentioned it?'

Izzy had to think on it a moment before the memory came to him.

'It was just before we battled Apocalymon,' he said. 'You told us about it. Apocalymon came from behind it, didn't he?'

'That he did,' said Gennai. 'As you said, this wall's purpose is to prevent access to the Digital World from what waits beyond it.'

'Does that mean that Apocalymon wasn't a Digimon?'

'He was definitely a Digimon on this side of the Wall. What he might have been on the other side of it, however, I couldn't tell you.'

Izzy lifted an arm to shield his eyes from the Wall's fury. 'But Gennai, where did you get your information about him from? You pretty much told us who and what he was like you knew him.'

'At the time, I had plenty of myths and legends to base it all on; but it was the Wall that told us that those stories were true. Had Centarumon not stumbled upon this, then we wouldn't have even had that.'

'… But why show me it now?' Izzy enquired. 'We defeated Apocalymon a long time ago. What's the point now?'

'Apocalymon is gone – that is true,' the old man sniffed. 'But the darkness he represented endures. He emerged from behind this wall – it stands to reason to think that others could follow suit.'

That was a thought that Izzy didn't relish. 'But where would they come from? And just what is there behind this wall, anyway?'

'Have a look.'

With a muffled snap of his gloved fingers, the fires were extinguished as easily as the flames that danced atop a birthday candle. In their absence, the room grew considerably cooler, much like hot steel when it is suddenly dipped into water.

'Prodigious…' Izzy blurted in absolute awe. 'H-how did you do that…?'

'A story for another time,' Gennai dismissed. 'The flames won't stay out for long. We must be quick.'

'Oh… Okay.'

'Follow me.'

They approached the small cleft in the centre of the room, which couldn't have been more than three-foot-wide. Gennai and Izzy leapt over the divide with ease, though the latter did so half-expecting the flame to resume mid-jump.

On the other side, they found the secret the Wall had been hiding.

Embedded into the back wall of the room was a very large and frightfully foreboding gate. It was made of a tyrian-purple metal and held upright by what looked to be the skeleton of a gargantuan ram-like creature. At its centre, the gate bore a heptagon shape made up of seven strange-looking symbols.

'It's like the one at Myotismon's castle,' Izzy observed, 'only this one is a little… Um…'

'Gaudy?' Gennai offered.

'I suppose that's one way of putting it, yes.'

The entire thing was gaudy, yet somehow its most innocuous-looking features managed to unsettle him far more than the skeleton.

'Are those… crests?'

Gennai chuckled quietly to himself. 'We think in very similar ways, you and I. That was my first thought as well.'

'But how can there be crests?' Izzy challenged him. 'I thought only us kids had crests!'

'There are as many crests as there are people to use them,' the old man told him as he took a few steps closer to the gate. 'Your crests allowed you to channel your energies and share them with your Digimon, which then allowed them to Digivolve. So long as the thing that the crest represents is passed on, then so too does their power.'

'Like the new kids and their Armour Digivolutions?'

'Precisely.'

'Then what do these crests represent?'

'By the feel of them, these crests channel powers far darker than your own. For every desire to do good, there will always be a desire to do harm. Put simply, your crests channel the good and these crests the evil.'

'We've come across something like that,' Izzy conceded reluctantly. 'When Tai made Agumon Digivolve into SkullGreymon, it definitely wasn't done out of courage…'

'Yes, such powers are dangerous,' Gennai told him as he gentle rapped his knuckles on the purple metal. 'And by the look of them, they make for powerful seals. They're keeping the door closed, so far as I can tell.'

'To keep Apocalymon from escaping?' Izzy proposed, though he dismissed the idea after two seconds of thought. 'No, that can't be right… It wouldn't still be all in one piece if that were case.'

'Which brings us to the reason that I brought you down here,' Gennai said suddenly, pointing to the arrangement of the seven crests. 'This gate is sealed, yet Apocalymon came through it regardless. If he could do it, then others like him might do the same. If the seals are growing weaker, then we could be faced by two or three of them at the same time.'

'That's not a comforting thought…'

'My thoughts exactly.'

'Okay… So, what do you want to do with it?'

'We have two choices, my friend: we can either leave it or we can bury it. Centarumon cares for the ruins above, not below. Were we to bury it, he wouldn't much mind.'

'Well, why not bury it?' Izzy scanned the gate with his eyes and saw nothing good that could come of its preservation. 'In all honesty, it seems like a pretty easy choice.'

'At first glance, yes,' said Gennai, who himself was inspecting it with half-closed eyes. 'But if we bury it, we'll never learn where it is that Apocalymon came from. If we knew that, then we might be able to nip the problem in the bud. Then again, there's no guarantee that a burial would be any good, either.

'I'm of two minds, my young friend. You've as much right to decide as I do. Say the word and I'll see whatever it is done.'

Izzy was mindful of Gennai's warning about the flames, and so considered his options carefully. Burial so far beneath ground would certainly make escape difficult for any Digimon. On the other hand, studying the gate might well reveal its secrets. In Gennai's hands, he trusted that any research carried out would turn over a stone or two. In summary, he was choosing the one which would be best in the mid-to-long-term.

With a quick tallying of the pros and cons in his head, Izzy's decision was made.

'We should bury it, if only to be safe.'

'Then bury it we will,' Gennai accepted without issue. 'I had hoped to learn its secrets, but it can't be helped. Protecting both of our worlds is more important than anything we could learn from this new one.'

With this said, the old man headed back to and leapt across the room's cleft with Izzy following shortly thereafter. Upon landing, he posed the obvious question.

'Should I let the others know?'

'They've enough to worry about,' said Gennai. 'Besides which, it will soon be completely unreachable. Why trouble them with a problem that you and I have already resolved?'

Izzy nodded, though his smile didn't survive long. As he had feared, the way up the stairs was twice as challenging as the way down. The moment his head met his pillow, his brain went into sleep-mode as easily as with the flick of a switch.

April 3rd, 2005

Sunday

Real World

Without a single cloud anywhere in the sky, Shiokaze Park was left entirely at the mercy of the sun's glare. It was high-noon in mid-Spring, and so the day was set to be the hottest of the year thus far. Park-goers hid beneath any canopy or tree they could find while passers-through frantically fanned themselves as they went. The surrounding buildings appeared to wave in the hot air; such mirages could be seen throughout Tokyo, the city seeming more and more like a concrete desert the longer that the day stretched on.

Not that the Digidestined were about to let a little heat get in the way of their yearly get-together. Having survived true deserts, such weather seemed almost mild by comparison; it had barely even registered. Even if it had, there was simply too much worth celebrating to really worry about it.

'Congratulations on your graduation, Cody,' were the first words out of Joe's mouth upon his arrival. 'I know I'm a little late in saying it, but I figured that I'd do it anyway.'

'Thank you, Joe,' the polite young boy rose from their picnic bench, taking Joe's offered hand into his own. 'I heard about your being accepted into Fukuoka University – congratulations.'

Joe smiled at the boy as they broke their handshake. After so many years of study and due diligence, his struggles had just recently paid off. Everyone he knew had been heaping praise on him as though he were the greatest thing since sliced-bread. Success wasn't something he was accustomed to, and so he was hesitant about letting it go to his head.

'Huh,' he blurted in realisation. 'I just realised that Cody's graduation means that none of us are in elementary school anymore.'

'Well, yeah,' said Mimi, who had used a Digi-Port in America to emerge in Japan. 'I don't they can hold anyone back that long, Joe.'

'I know that,' Joe said with a good-natured chuckle. 'It's just seems strange that we were all in elementary school when we first got started and that it's behind us all now.'

'Great way of putting it,' Tai said sarcastically. 'It's great that Cody's in the big leagues now, but it is a little weird. The Digiworld was a part of us as kids, and now we're pretty much grown-up.'

Sora seemed to find something he had said very amusing, for she erupted with titters.

'I'm sorry, but you – grown-up?'

Her words earned her his ire.

'Right here!' he protested, slapping on the empty section of picnic bench beside him. 'I am sitting right here!'

'I know, I know,' she cheekily countered. 'It's kind of hard to miss that mop-top you call a head.'

Tai recoiled slightly but had nothing with which to respond. Sora's smile stretched from ear-to-ear. The opportunity to tease her oldest friend was something she'd never been able to pass up.

'Why's it always come back to the hair?' Tai grumbled. 'It's a big part of the Tai package.'

'… Did you really just say that out loud?'

'… I didn't realise how bad it sounded 'til after I said it,' he admitted with a sudden grimace, looking now to his greatest ally for support. 'C'mon, Matt, back me up!'

The blonde rocker tensed suddenly with the expression of someone who had desperately tried not to stand out and failed.

'Why should I?' he demanded in a voice sharper than a cracking whip. 'Don't drag me into this!'

'Oh, c'mon! Don't flake out on me! Remember the rule: bros before schmoes!'

Thin lines wrinkled the blonde's brow. 'Watch it.'

'Why?' Sora blinked, looking between the pair. 'What did he say?'

'Tai subtly insulted you.'

'Dude!' Tai leant back in his seat as though struck. 'Don't just rat me like that!'

'You reap what you sow, man,' Matt shrugged before resting his chin on his palm and looking elsewhere. 'Whatever.'

There were a few friendly chuckles, though not nearly enough to conceal Davis' whispers across the table to TK.

'Dude, your brother's so whipped!'

'Hrgh…' Matt growled, fixing the boy with a chilly glare.

'Uh… I meant it in a good way.'

TK snickered as his friend squirmed. '"In a good way".'

'Y-yeah! In a totally cool, Matt-not-killin'-Davis kinda way!'

'Just shut up, you idiot,' was the elder blonde's advice, though his girlfriend appeared less than impressed with him. 'What?'

'Matt, we've talked about this,' she scolded. 'You shouldn't insult a friend like that.'

'Yeah, yeah…'

'Matt-'

'Look, I'm sorry, okay?' he said in a petulant tone. 'Can we drop it now?'

A sudden tittering drew all eyes to Mimi, who had herself adopted the same posture as Matt; unlike his chilly blue, however, her honey eyes almost seemed to gleam in the sunshine.

'Sora, Sora, Sora…' she sighed with a small shake of the head. 'If you had just told me that you were giving him obedience training, I would've come and helped.'

'W-what? No!' the redhead's face flushed at the accusation. 'It isn't – I haven't been… Matt, say something!'

'"Obedience training"… Give me a break…'

'Matt!'

'Ugh – what now?'

'Just like an old married couple,' Mimi giggled with glee. 'Any-who, I'd say that it's about time to dig in.'

'Don't have to tell me twice!'

Davis quite happily took the cue and seized the nearest available sandwich, scarfing it down in two big bites.

'Why do I even bother?' Kari breathed as she hid her face in her hand. 'The one thing I asked him not to do, and he does it anyway.'

'You must have seen it coming,' TK whispered behind both hand and rice-ball. 'Some things never change.'

'I know, but I tell him to mind his table-manners every single time; I just wish that for once he might listen.'

'Then don't,' TK said before taking a bite of his snack. 'It's not like he'll ever remember, even if you're the one telling him; I mean, this is Davis we're talking about.'

'Give him a little credit,' she urged, 'He changed how he treated his sister when we asked him to, didn't he?'

'When I asked: no,' TK said with a final and dismissive bite. 'When you asked: yes.'

'Aye erd dat!'

'Davis, the food!' Tai barked at him. 'Don't spit half-chewed crumbs on everything!'

'S-sowbie…'

'Don't be sorry – be careful!'

The younger boy swallowed so loudly that his idol could hear it.

'You got it, coach!'

'Huh…' TK mumbled out of interest. 'Apparently the old 'Kari Magic' is more like 'Kamiya Magic'.'

'You guys?' Cody spoke suddenly. 'If you don't hurry up then Davis will eat your share of the picnic.'

It was a valid point, and so the pair put their conversation to rest for the time being and grabbed something to eat.

Everyone had their own way of enjoying their time together: Davis and Yolei, for instance, warred over the ever-dwindling spread before them; Mimi and Tai went on teasing Matt and Sora; Ken, Cody and Izzy chatted at length about academia; and good Ol' Reliable Joe – having been last to arrive and last to be seated – did his best to keep a conversation with TK and Kari going.

Sometime into their picnic, however, their voices were all suddenly overruled by loud and synchronised beeping noises. They all moved as one to withdraw the sources, be they in their pockets or in the bags that they had brought with them.

'Huh?' Tai blinked. 'My Digivice – it's reacting to something.'

'It's not just yours,' said Joe, holding his in the palm of his hand. 'They're all reacting.'

'Historically speaking, that never means anything good,' Izzy remarked. 'Although, it has been a while since anything's set them off like this…'

Davis nodded. 'Last time was Diaboromon, right? How long ago was that?'

'How could you forget something like that?' Ken asked him as the beeping suddenly ceased. 'Oh – it stopped.'

'That can't be good.'

'Let's get packing, guys,' Tai instructed, attaching his Digivice to the back of his shorts. 'Better safe than sorry; let's go see what this is about.'

Matt hummed agreeably. 'I'm with you, Tai – let's go.'

None debated the issue and set about putting their bento boxes and other such Tupperware back in their bags. As the Takaishi apartment was the nearest, the group decided that it would be quickest to use TK's PC as their access point and so hurriedly set out to reach it.

'Huh,' was Davis' immediate reaction upon arrival. 'That's weird; no TV set?'

Surrounded by indistinct earth and purple-barked trees, it was quite plain to see which world they were now in. Ironically enough, however, the absence of a TV in that place proved stranger than its actual presence would have been. The computer screen and the TVs were interconnected, after all. Without one or the other, there could be no travel between the worlds.

Yet, just as Davis had noted, the other side of their Digi-Port was missing.

Tai, however, didn't want them getting side-tracked.

'Worry about it later, Davis,' he told his protégé. 'We need to make sure everyone's okay first.'

'I get that, but how'd we get here without a TV?'

'Davis,' Matt said much more pointedly, 'later.'

'Alright already! No need to go bitin' my head off, I just thought it was worth mentionin'…'

A reassuring hand fell upon the boy's shoulder.

'Don't take it personally, Davis,' TK said comfortingly with a smile to match. 'My brother has a problem expressing how he feels; he didn't mean anything by it.'

The brothers made eye-contact, the elder's frosty lakes clashing with the calm pools that were the younger's.

'Alright, alright,' TK coalesced, his hands lifted in mock-surrender. 'We aren't here to fight each other, remember?'

'I don't think we'll be fighting at all,' Izzy said quite suddenly, pointing toward something beyond the trees to one side of their path. 'Look – over there.'

Everyone approached the specified trees and took a peek at what lay beyond.

'That,' Davis said, 'is a whole lotta Digimon.'

It was by no means an overstatement. A large clearing in the forest lay ahead, occupied by a variety of Digimon: Andromon; Leomon; Meramon; Frigimon; Monzaemon; and Ogremon to name but a few.

'Our friends?' said Mimi, giving voice to their shared confusion. 'What are they all doing?'

A gravelly noise then filled their ears and drew their eyes to Leomon. The proud lion was drawing slowly to his fullest height, lifting a boulder-sized piece of rubble with him as he went. Such a piece was part of a collection, taken from what looked like a collapsed mountain of both debris and rock. All of their friends were lending a helping hand in this, taking from one heap and setting it to one side in another.

'Cleaning, I guess?' Joe unconfidently supplied.

'… You said they're your friends – right, Mimi?' asked Yolei.

'That's right.'

'Then why don't we just go up and ask them what they're up to?'

'That… is actually a good point,' Joe conceded.

With this settled, the Digidestined pushed their way through the shrubbery around the trees and pushed on through into the clearing. To make themselves known, they all shouted out to their nearest digital friend at the top of their lungs – but none were louder than Tai.

'HEY! OGREMON!'

'Hrn?' the green giant turned around, his wide eyes going that little bit wider upon spotting them. 'What the-? What're you kids doin' here?'

'We could ask you the same thing,' said Sora. 'What are you all doing here?'

'We're on clean-up duty. What're you guys doin' here?'

'Our Digivices told us there was trouble,' Cody explained. 'We came to make sure that everything was okay.'

'And how'd you plan on doin' that, short-stuff?' the ogre's already fallen jaw looked to fall just that little bit lower. 'Where're your Digimon pals?'

'They've gone on vacation.'

'"Vacation"?!' the Digimon's gruff voice rose to an unnaturally high-pitch at the word. 'What were you guys gonna do if there was a bad Digimon? Throw twigs at it?'

'Now, now, Ogremon,' came a third voice. 'That's no way to greet an old friend.'

Far younger than the iteration they were most accustomed to, it took some of the Digidestined a second to recognise the young man approaching them as Gennai.

'What are you kids doing here?'

'Our Digivices told us there was trouble,' Izzy explained simply. 'I mean, it definitely looks as though there was-'

'Not of the sort you're thinking of,' Gennai assured them, regarding the heap of rubble with a calm gaze. 'File Island has simply had a small earthquake is all.'

'This is File Island?'

'That would explain why these guys are here,' Sora remarked.

'Has anyone been hurt?' Kari enquired, her worry etching wrinkles into her lovely face. 'You're not digging any Digimon out of there, are you?'

'No one has been hurt – you can trust me on that,' said Gennai. 'However, Centarumon is rather upset.'

'Why is that?' asked Ken. 'Did something happen to this Centarumon?'

'You see that big ol' pile o' rubble, don'tcha?' Ogremon furthered his point by again jabbing a thumb in the direction of the wreckage. 'It was the ol' pony's temple 'til recently.'

'Thank you for that, Ogremon,' Gennai said peaceably, his eyes straying somwhat. 'Ah… Would you mind giving Elecmon a hand? It looks as though he might need it.'

'Huh? That scrawny rat? Leave it to me.'

With great thumping footsteps, Ogremon hurried on over to lend the small mammal Digimon a hand. The digital agent watched him go with a weary sigh and wearier whispers.

'As tactless as ever...'

'Gennai, where's Centarumon?' Mimi pressed, closing the distance between them and tugging at his sleeve. 'Tell me that he's okay.'

'Hm? Oh, yes – he's perfectly fine,' Gennai said with a smile. 'He was foraging at the time. In fact, he just took off for a stroll not that long ago.'

Relief flooded through the girl's veins, her tiny frame deflating of its worry.

'Oh, thank goodness… Would it be alright if I went to see him?'

'Of course,' the agent encouraged. 'A smile like yours might be just the thing he needs right now. Do you see those trees?' he asked, pointing out a particular grouping to them. 'He went that way; you can still catch up to him if you hurry.'

'Then that's what we'll do!' Mimi determinedly declared. 'Come on, you guys! We have a man-horse to find!'

'I think the word you're looking for is 'centaur', Mimi.'

Izzy had meant it as a friendly correction, though it ultimately fell on deaf ears as Mimi – beaming as brightly as the sun – spun on her heel and started toward the trees. Everyone hurried on after her, feeling in a way like a royal retinue trailing after a spirited princess.

They wouldn't get it very far, however.

Without warning, the ground at their feet began to roil like a sea at the heart of a storm. Most fell to their knees with the abrupt tremors, with those lucky few able to catch themselves mid-step hither and thither until they, too, lost their balance and fell.

'W-W-WHAT'S GOING O-ON?!' Tai yelled, his voice trembling with the earth.

Without thought, Matt's hand reached for and seized Sora's own. 'EARTHQUAKE! HANG IN THERE, YOU GUYS!'

The tremors grew more and more violent until at last they cracked the earth around them. They were thin cracks at first, like streaks of lightning crawling across the ground, but they grew wider and deeper as one second gave way to the next.

After a moment or so of this, the most peculiar thing imaginable happened: the earth not feet away from them had actually begun to swell. The lump grew and grew until, incredibly – unbelievably, even – it burst.

As dirt and detritus rained down, the Digidestined and Digimon all went low to the ground, shielding their eyes and – in some cases – those beside them. Only when the last of the earthen flecks had fallen did they dare to look up once more to where the ground had all-but erupted in front of them.

'Is… Is it over?' TK dared to ask, his hands never once loosening their grip of Kari's shoulders.

It was not from his friends, however, but from the newly-formed pit that his answer would emerge in the shape of a giant's arm; it thrust first toward the heavens and then crashed back down, claws rooting themselves deeply into the surrounding soil.

Davis gasped so hard that it felt as though his heart had lodged itself in his throat.

'W-WHAT IS THAT THING?!'

'CHILDREN!' despite the commotion within the hole, Gennai's voice managed to reach them. 'YOU MUST COME BACK – QUICKLY!'

Unfortunately, his warning reached them just a moment too slow. The ground was gouged as the claw drew back, heaving the enormity of its body up to the surface.

It was a truly monstrous creature with a shell darker than and an air about it colder than a moonless night. It had no eyes to speak of, yet the direction of its misshapen, almost tusk-like pincers made it all too clear that the titanic insect could 'see' them all quite clearly.

Tai's mouth fell open. 'Is that Kuwagamon?!'

To his eyes, the creature was definitely a Kuwagamon of some description – on that the Digidestined could all agree, having met its other family members. Be it the insect's mammal-like mouth or the innate ability of its kind to shake them right down to their very cores, there was only one family it could have belonged to.

Its teeth parted and freed a horrid roar, like that of a dinosaur but with the rhythm one would expect of a cicada's song. Hearing it shattered the spell, prompting the children to scramble to their feet and put a wider berth between them and the monster.

It was as they were retreating that their friends came back into focus, racing to and bracing in front of them in an arrowhead formation. Even Gennai had rushed on over to help make up the defensive rank.

'Children!' he urged, eyes never once straying from the creature. 'You must find the portal you used and return to your world for the time being!'

'No arguments!' Leomon commanded as he withdrew his gladius from the scabbard fixed to his belt. 'It isn't safe for you here, so go!'

The creature released a second roar, the pitch of which seemed to almost ripple throughout the air.

This one proved far shorter than the first, however, as the giant gave an odd squeak before its roar stopped, not unlike a car when it grinds to an abrupt halt. It turned ever-so-slightly, but it was more than enough to reveal to all what had been hiding behind the insect and its hulking form.

Having never seen anything like it, not even in a horror movie, Davis felt a bead of sweat trail down the side of his face, eyes open wide.

'What is – that?'

'I don't know,' Matt answered, his eyes narrowed and his brows twitching nervously. 'Knowing our luck, it can't be anything good.'

This Digimon was miniscule in comparison to its insect friend, no bigger than the average human adult. Its height was somewhat boosted, however, by the pair of long golden stingers it had for arms and used for its legs. Cloaked in purple and clad in a golden mask, there was little way to distinguish what exactly it was. It looked very much like an oversized marionette, though this one came without any accompanying strings whatsoever.

'That thing's a Digimon?' TK blurted out of sheet disbelief.

Gennai shook his head without turning. 'No – something's… something's different about that one…'

'Digimon or not,' Joe cut in, 'that Kuwagamon doesn't exactly seem to mind that it's there.'

'It must be a friend,' Cody presumed, his palms slick with sweat. 'I don't like the looks of this…'

It was a sentiment shared by all, the File Island Digimon among them all anxiously bracing as if the pair were a strong gust on its way to sweep them aside.

But, despite their worries, the pair seemed utterly disinterested in them, each casting what counted for a gaze to the sky.

At that moment – without the slightest bit of warning – the marionette creature dipped down on its stinger arms and, with enough force to whip up a cloud of dust, leapt up into the heavens without returning.

'Hey!' Ogremon bellowed as the creature continued to rise higher and higher into the heavens. 'Where's he think he's goin'?'

A strange squelching sort of noise denied any attempt to answer the ogre: the wing-cases of the Kuwagamon creature had parted to reveal a set of four veiny wings. Gargantuan in size, the rapid beating of creature's wings kicked up not a cloud but a veritable storm of dust and dirt as it, too, lifted off into the sky.

'They're gone,' Tai said through gritted teeth, his eyes immediately training first upon his sister and then upon their friends. 'Is everyone okay?'

'We're still here,' said Matt, dusting Sora's shoulders clean of dirt before casting a foul-tempered glare toward the heavens. 'Those guys seemed to take off in a hurry.'

'Well, they were outnumbered,' Joe offered without confidence.

Izzy had to disagree. 'I'm not sure that that's it. If anything, I would assume that they simply decided not to bother with us.'

'I think Izzy's right, you guys,' Yolei countenanced. 'Lucky thing, too; we'd have been toast if it had attacked us without our partners here.'

'Hey!' Ogremon protested. 'I'm right here, y'know!'

Davis shrugged half-heartedly. 'No offence, but that's probably why she said it.'

'That's not very nice!'

'Ogremon, now isn't the time for this,' said Leomon as he replaced his gladius into its scabbard. 'We've two suspicious Digimon on the loose; you can worry about your pride later.'

'That is a good question,' Cody agreed, eyeing the pit from which they'd come with interest. 'Where did those two come from?'

'I've an idea,' said Gennai, whose eyes appeared oddly glassy in light of all that had just happened to them. 'Come with me.'

A/N: And there you have it: the first chapter is complete after its fifth – yes, fifth – revision and proof-reading. First it was 7100, then 4800 and finally 6989.

Very tiring experience, honestly. I feel as though I might legitimately hibernate for a little while.

I'm just going to take a day to myself just to recover. Too bad I already watched the final Digimon Tri. movie this morning before posting.

Whoops.

I've already got four other unedited chapters done, so the second shouldn't be too far off into the future.

May I just say that – even if I do in the end fail to finish this story – I've had a lot of fun doing this again. Hope you guys familiar with my older stuff feel the same way.

Later!