"I believe in fantasies invisible to me
In the land of misery, I'm searching for the sign
To the door of mystery and dignity
I'm wandering down…I'm searching the secret sun."
.hack/SIGN: "Key of the Twilight"

Recommended Music:
The past/The present—"Liminality," full version
Shopping for Mom/Mishio's entry/Alice—"Key of the Twilight"

Track 01: "Key of the Twilight"

Outside, the battle was raging on as Takato, Rika, Henry, and Ryo fought desperately to drive back the D-Reaper. But inside, Jeri wasn't sure she was going to make it. Already the red sludge was up to her ankles, threatening to consume her. She would drown—if the chaos didn't possess her first. It had already taken on her form in order to cause such destruction, so what would stop it from taking her over completely? There would be no stopping it then.

"It's getting higher!" she cried, clutching Calumon all the tighter. The chaos looked and felt like coagulated blood, but it was hot, hotter than even the fires of Zhuqiaomon back in the Digital World. "I…don't know how much time we have." Both she and Calumon had red tinges to their faces, but not from the heat. It was the fear and the realization that their journey was over—and it was to end like this. Her friends were supposed to be there to save her; why weren't they? "Oh, Takato, where are you?" Her fear intensified even more. She wasn't going to be able to see her naïve but brave friend Takato or her tough-hearted yet understanding best friend Rika. And she wasn't going to be able to tell Beelzemon just how sorry she was that she brought him into this. It wasn't his fault Leomon was killed. It had been Leomon's choice to take up that destiny. Beelzemon had just brought it about.

And as she tried to keep from crying, a strange reflection was present in her eyes. The eyes were the windows to the soul, and her windows showed the face of the D-Reaper's Jeri-type Agent.

One Year Later
A group of seven adults and eight children gathered around a long table, looking long and hard at the evidence before them. One of the children, a thirteen-year-old boy with brown hair and goggles, stared at the file folders in devastation. Hadn't it been only a year ago that he revealed his true feelings to her? And now she had betrayed them all and run away to God knows where.

"I'm sorry."

The two words came from a black-clad girl of his age in front of him. Her normally expressionless ice blue eyes were filled with sympathy. She had been warning of this for months, and they'd all been too stubborn to believe her. It wasn't she who should have been sorry; he was the fool. His only answer was a terrible shake of his head to prove that it wasn't her fault. But this sign forced the tears from his eyes, spilling them around him. She could no longer look at him without guilt; she couldn't look at any of them without guilt.

A tall blonde man removed his dark sunglasses to expose his brown eyes, eyes that were just as emotional as theirs. He stood up and placed down one of the files, unable to make his speech if he had to hold it and stare at the photo of the young girl.

"She's escaped to another world now, so that is what we must worry about. Ryo, do you know anything about this dimension?"

A fifteen-year-old boy with brown hair and cerulean eyes shook his head. "And even if I did go out there and try to find out about it, you wouldn't be able to bring me back. Your technology's too limited. And I haven't actually dimension-hopped since ZeedMillenniumon's fusion with Monodramon. I honestly don't want to chance having to do it with Cyberdramon out of fear for what the Millenniumon half of him might do. And I don't dare leave him unsupervised. He's hard enough to handle when I'm around."

"All right," the man agreed reluctantly. They couldn't afford to risk anything like that; from Ryo's stories, Millenniumon had been just about as—or even more—dangerous as any of the Four Digimon Sovereign. It was too much of a gamble that a return to back-and-forth dimension crossing might entice his wilder persona to take over completely. "We'll need to send someone to investigate and stop her."

"I…I should go," the boy with goggles decided. A lump caught his voice in his throat, so he swallowed repeatedly to regain his nerve. "If anyone should stop her, it should be someone she knows and trusts."

"But that gives me just as much of a right as you to go," a red-haired girl of his same age argued. "Besides, that Agent already fought you at your best. She's never faced me and Renamon."

"You Tamers are needed too much to leave," the Gothic girl informed. "I don't have a Digimon, and neither does she. I don't have to worry about leaving our world one or two Digimon short. Besides, I'm the only one with any right to go. I was the one that saw this coming long ago. Therefore, I know that I can track her best without my emotions clouding my judgment. I hate to say it, but you would all fail too easily because of it."

There was a long silence as they all stared down, unable to speak. She was right, but nobody wanted to admit it—just like how they wanted to admit the tragedy that had just struck them. It was their emotions that had blinded them to this in the first place. Their emotions could easily create an even worse situation if they were to go.

"All right," the blonde man decided. "We have the dimensional gateway set up here along with a COM-device that will allow you to contact us when everything's safe. When it is, we can transport her parents and brother there."

"But she needs an anchor," a red-haired man with a bushy beard reminded them. "Crossing worlds even Ryo's way isn't as easy as it sounds. I had to be comatose just to go to the Digital World."

"And I lost my memories when I followed ZeedMillenniumon," the boy earlier addressed as Ryo added. "Mr. Mizuno's right. Without an anchor, she could suffer the same."

"Then we're back to where we started," a blonde woman replied. "There's no one we can send who could act as the anchor without suffering the same results."

"Not really, Daisy," another redheaded man—much older than the rest of them—protested. "I can act as the anchor. I can just burn the instructions for what to do on a CD-ROM. The memory loss isn't permanent anyway, and Alice can remind me of everything just the way Monodramon did for Ryo."

"Still, Dolphin," a Chinese man with graying hair argued, "the ramifications might not be just mental. Ryo was a lot younger than you are when he passed through space."

"Yeah," the man's son agreed, "and he was unable to be hurt because of being connected to Millenniumon."

"I understand your concern, Janyu, Henry, but I have to do this," the man identified as Dolphin informed. "Alice is my granddaughter, and I can't let her be permanently left in another world any more than you can let Henry do the same, Janyu. And I'm the only family she has left."

"Besides, if I remember correctly, Ryo also traveled through time as well," his granddaughter added.

A bald African-American man groaned slightly and muttered, "Never argue with a McCoy."

"You're both fools, you know that?" an Indian woman asked.

"Yes, but so were they, Curly," Dolphin answered, pointing to the children. "They were foolish to believe that they could fight against beings with the powers of gods and an anti-god, and yet they still succeeded. And if you know it's so futile to argue with us, Babel, why don't you warn the others beforehand?"

"Can't, Teach. They don't listen to me any more than the kids listen to us."

"But what's going to happen to Jeri?" a small eight-year-old girl questioned.

"Yeah," a brown-haired boy wearing a visor agreed. "Just what are you going to do, Alice?"

"I'll try all I can," she promised. "If necessary, I'll ask their DigiDestined or Tamers for help."

"How do you know there will be Tamers or anything like that there?" a black-haired boy with glasses checked.

"I don't, but if Ryo's adventures are any indication, there's a set of DigiDestined or Tamers in every world so long as you look for them."

"If everything's settled," her grandfather interrupted, "I'd like to get started now. Yamaki, if you'd be so kind?"

"I have the instructions burning right now," he informed. "It'll give you just enough time to say goodbye."

Dolphin turned to his granddaughter and explained, "I'll be waiting for you to come. When I get through, pack our stuff—Yamaki and the others'll help you—and I'll call for you in a couple of days."

"Okay," she answered. She knew everything was going to be fine, but she still felt as though she would cry. Her mother had died giving birth to her, and her father died when she was ten, leaving her grandfather as her only family. She could not lose him.

I won't, she promised herself. Nobody's going to die, and I'll see to that.

It took only a few minutes, but it seemed so much shorter when Yamaki handed over the burned files and COM device to Dolphin and the other adults prepared the dimensional gate. She stood in front of the glowing vortex, looking at the white X of lightning as it danced between two steel columns. Her grandfather entered it and waved goodbye to her, forcing her to wave goodbye with a small smile despite the tears in her eyes. For a long time, everything was fine and operating nominally, but a loud scream of pain and terror erupted out of it, nearly shattering sensors with its intensity. Somehow despite it all, she managed to scream even louder:


One Month Later
"Are you absolutely sure that's the one she wants?"

"Of course I am. She's been staring at it forever, sighing as she walked past the store. She's just never had the money for it."

"It better be the right one. You may have had to save up a little longer, but at least you didn't have to pretend you were buying something small."

A lower tone, more sympathetic. "Dad's still not happy about this?"

A shake of the head. "I understand that he doesn't want me spending too much on Mom when I've only seen her a few times in my life, but I can't keep from doing this."

"Well, if he asks, say it was my fault."

"That's what I was planning on anyway."


"You know I have no sense of humor."

Silence. Then…

"Shut up, Koji."

Eleven-year-old twins Koichi Kimura and Koji Minamoto stood in a department store in downtown Shibuya, attempting to buy a present for their mother's birthday. Of course, this was a lot easier said than done. Koji, having grown up for ten years with his father (three with his stepmother as well), had no idea what he was supposed to buy, and Koichi, having grown up with their underpaid mother, knew what to buy without having enough money for it. To add to the problem, their father wasn't entirely pleased with Koji's desire to spend a little more time with his mother, and Koji was still a little bitter about the lie he'd been told his whole life about his mother's being dead. Koichi was a tad angry over that as well, as was his mother. The only member of their family who wasn't annoyed by the whole situation was their stepmother Satomi. Or Koji's dog for that matter.

The gift in question was a satin-lined faux fur coat—not very expensive, but a bit beyond the budget of a sixth grader. The boys' mother, Tomoko, had tried it on often during trips to the store but had to forlornly leave it behind due to her lack of funds. Koichi had checked the price himself and determined he'd have about half of the money necessary just before her birthday in November. But remembering that his younger twin was having trouble picking out a gift, he suggested that they save up together and jointly buy the coat. The scheme was perfect, utilizing Koichi's observations and the higher allowances Koji got weekly from their lawyer father.

The twins took the coat up to the cash register and counted out their money before adding it together. But Koji took notice of the brightly colored wrapping paper behind the cashier and asked, "Should we get it gift wrapped?"

Koichi took note of the price of gift-wrapping. While Koji had enough to pay for it, he didn't. And he didn't want Koji to pay too much for this, so he shook his head. "We're better off doing it ourselves. I know where we can get some good wrapping paper." And at a reasonable price, he added to himself, but he wouldn't dare say this in front of his brother. He too had a good deal of pride to maintain, and for that, he would not force himself or those around him to feel inferior to others.

The coat was placed in a box and then a shopping bag. Koji accepted the bag when it was handed to him and walked out of the crowded shop just a few minutes ahead of his brother. Once he felt like he could breathe again without feeling closed in, he met Koichi's questioning gaze.

"I hate this time of the year."

"Too crowded?"

Koji nodded. "I still don't like being pushed around in a crowd."

Koichi stared up at the skyscrapers around them as though he'd never seen anything like them in his life. "I don't blame you. We spent the most important part of our lives in a place where there were no huge cities to confine us. Now that we're back, it's like we can't adjust. It's weird." When he looked down, he noticed that his brother was bent over, holding his chest and straining to breathe. "Are you okay?"

Koji held up a single finger, indicating for his brother to wait a minute. He coughed for a couple of minutes before righting himself. "I'm okay."

"Sick again?"

"I'm fine," he insisted.

"This is the sixth time since we got home. First a cold, then a stomach virus, then bronchitis, then a panic attack or something, then another stomach virus, and now this. Maybe you caught something in the Digital World?"

"Koichi, I'm all right. I'm a little tired, and I'm coughing a little. It's fall—allergy season. Nothing to worry about."

"Never really thought you were one for allergies. You withstood nature at its fullest in the Digital World."

"Maybe I didn't develop any until recently. There were different plants there. Or maybe my body's still adjusting to being home."

Koichi risked another peek at the sky, overcast by gray clouds. It meant rain was coming, but he was thinking currently of another type of gray cloud that hung over cities. "And there wasn't any pollution. You're right; it's probably just your body getting used to this bad air."

"Let's just get to that store already. I'll breathe better when we're inside."

"It's in Harajuku—are you sure you'll be okay to take the train?"

"Koichi, you're my brother, not my babysitter. I'll be fine."

"If you say so."

A thirteen-year-old girl with fawn-colored hair and eyes of the same color stood at the window of a store, watching and waiting. She had not bothered to buy anything, and all attempts to ask her to leave had ended rather painfully for the shopkeeper. Finally, the police got involved, and she merely knocked them out cold with a single blow to the chest area. Too afraid to do anything again, the shopkeeper meekly continued business while only the most desperate customers bought cards.

"Miss Mishio?" a female voice questioned. The girl at the window turned to see a familiar blonde teenager standing directly behind her. "Are you finished with your little crusade?"

The girl called Mishio grinned without pleasure, her dead brown eyes reflecting nothing. "Heh heh" came out of her lips, but it held no meaning.

"Enough," the blonde replied. "I can't bring you home, but I can stop you here."

"You may think so, Alice McCoy," Mishio answered in a flat tone. It was only then that the blonde, Alice, observed a device similar to a one-touch light affixture in her hands.

"Oh no," she realized. "Everybody in the back!"

After a couple of train rides and a little more arguing over Koji's health, the brothers arrived at the card shop in Koichi's hometown of Harajuku. At first, the two didn't think to suspect any danger, but old instincts developed in the Digital World suddenly resurfaced, allowing them to hear the just audible shout from inside and step far enough back as the glass window was blown away.

A blonde teenage girl dressed all in black fell out of the gaping hole that had been the window, coughing from the explosion. A brunette of the same age—except she wore a light gold dress, a brown leather jacket, and dirtied slippers—then roughly picked her off the sidewalk and threw her against the wall, using impossibly sharp nails to slash across her chest. The blonde slumped to the ground, frantically trying to breathe as a red substance—not blood—burned at her wound. Finally, unable to do anything else, she cast modesty aside and removed her shirt.

It only took a fraction of a second for the boys to react. Koji quickly removed the coat from the shopping bag and tossed it toward the girl, who put it on quickly. He and Koichi were about to try to reason with (and if necessary, fight) the brunette, but she was gone.

"I didn't think she'd leave so soon," the blonde commented. "She was definitely waiting here for you two, but why she'd just leave without doing anything is a mystery to me." She carefully picked up her old shirt with two fingers as if it was something disgusting and glanced from it to fallen people within the store. "Just as I thought. She reserved the active chaos for me."

"Chaos?" Koichi repeated.

"You two need to come with me," the girl informed.

"What about them?" Koji questioned, gesturing to the unconscious people within the store.

"They'll be fine for now. I asked other customers to call for help just before the explosion. I'll have to mention this to Grandfather." She turned and began to walk away. But when she noticed nobody was following her, she stopped and requested, "Please don't lag behind."

The twins glanced at each other with a suspicious gaze. Neither knew what to make of this situation. First, a mysterious vanishing girl had apparently taken it upon herself to be their stalker, and now, an equally mysterious girl was telling them to follow her to who knows where.

"You owe us an explanation," Koji informed.

"Just as blunt as Rika," the blonde murmured. She turned around, revealing very pale features. "My name is Alice McCoy, and I need you to come with me."

"But why?" Koichi asked.

"I'll explain everything when we get home. My grandfather is waiting for us." She began to walk away again. "Are you coming?"

Koji, who had a reputation for not trusting people he'd just met, asked his brother, "Do you think we should?"

"I guess," Koichi replied. "At least until we get some answers."

I own neither Digimon nor Ms. Kajiura's songs. All song quotes used are from Yuki Kajiura's CD Fiction, unless otherwise stated (two quotes later on are not from the CD, but the titles are from music pieces). Some songs are from .hack/SIGN, others from Noir. The ones that say "original" are songs created just for the CD; the music pieces "Zodiacal Sign" and "Awaking" (aren't quoted because they're in a made-up language, I think) are from the anime Aquarian Age. All recommended music is the title of the chapter, from .hack/SIGN, or from .hack/Liminality. For now, I can't say where some information came from. But the name Mishio is from the original planning packet for Tamers. A thousand points to the person who can find who Mishio is by going through Chris McFeely's Digimon Encyclopedia. And using Harajuku as Koichi's hometown is only from my warped little mind, just like my habit of having Koji live in Yokohama. In addition, there is another Alice/Kouichi fic out there by Rocker Starlight called "Faith in Darkness," so let it be known that I am not this pairing's sole creator. Till the next!