Innocent Games

Chapter Twenty-Six

Everything was quiet. Worry and fear crept among them like predators, hunting their joy. There was nothing else that could be said to comfort those around her; they were all sinking in despair.

Matt hung over TK's bedside and his crossed leg bounced up and down mechanically as he chewed on his fingernails. Sora was beside him, looking completely overwhelmed. Nothing she could say or do got through to the worried elder brother. Any attempts she made to speak to him just seemed to infuriate him further, as if he were upset she was trying to make him feel better.

Tai was sitting up watching them. His remaining arm draped over Kari's shoulder as she curled up beside him on the small twin bed. He had given up speaking awhile ago; he looked like he still didn't have the energy anyway. His face was pale from the loss of blood.

His sister looked almost as sickly. Kari hadn't cried or said a word since Joe completed his examination over TK's comatose body. She was an empty shell.

And then there was Yolei, so close to the brink of death that they feared losing her at any moment. Joe sadly said the best they could do for her at this point was make her comfortable. Unfortunately, with the lack of medical supplies, there was only so much comfort that could be given. Ken and Iori continued to hover over her and poor Joe was wandering between them all, running himself exhausted and denying the need for sleep.

For the first time in her life, Mimi wanted to fight.

Sitting around babying her injured ankle made her feel completely helpless. She wanted nothing more than to run up to whoever was responsible for bringing them to this world and punch them square in the jaw. Then have Togemon body slam them with her needles.

Joe was speeding past her and Mimi reached out her hand, grabbing his wrist. He stopped moving, but she could tell by the look in his eyes that he was only waiting patiently for her to release him.

"What is it, Mimi?"

"You're going to faint if you keep going like this."

Joe pursed his lips, looking offended. "I am not going to faint."

"There's nothing else you can do right now. Why don't you rest awhile?"

"I-I can't. Everyone's counting on me."

Mimi could see the distress behind his wire rimmed glasses. He looked as if the weight of the world were on his shoulders. The urge to fight grew stronger, but right now there was nothing to fight but Joe's stubbornness.

"Have you eaten anything besides that one bite of egg this morning?"

Joe pursed his lips again, meaning that no, he hadn't, and Mimi used his arm to help herself stand. "We're going to the kitchen!"

"Mimi, I have to-"

"I need your help getting down the stairs and I'm hungry."

"But, the others-"

"Joe, you better listen to your woman and get something to eat," Tai interjected. "We'll be ok without you for a few minutes."

A blush crawled across Joe's cheeks. "But-"

"You heard him," Mimi said, pushing him as she leaned on his arm for support. "Food now, Dr. Kido."

"I'm not a doctor," Joe grumbled as he finally allowed Mimi to drag him out of the door. "Just, uh, scream if you need me," he called back to the quiet room.

"Go eat!" Tai hollered.

"Yes, listen to your woman, Joe," Mimi said as they disappeared into the hallway.

Now even Joe's ears were red, but the look of worry and exhaustion continued beneath his embarrassment.

"I'm really proud of you, you know." Mimi smiled gently, squeezing his hand as they slowly started down the steps.

Joe swallowed. "I just did what I had to do."

"That's why I'm proud."

"Thanks Mimi."

"Are you ok?" she asked as his eyes turned downcast. "I know what you had to do to Tai's arm was awful…"

"I don't really want to talk about it."

Mimi didn't take offense; she honestly didn't want to talk about it either. It was hard enough just seeing Tai like this, he had always seemed so invincible, but then again… so had Davis. Her bottom lip trembled just thinking about the energetic goofball who had followed so proudly in Tai's footsteps. She angrily batted away a small tear.

"I'm so mad," she said. "Somehow we've survived saving both worlds a hundred times, but we get sucked into this stupid place and everyone's hurt or dying! If we ever get out of here, I'm going to teach the creep who did this to us a lesson they'll never forget!"

She stomped her foot in frustration and yelped, having forgotten about her sprained ankle.

"You need to be more careful," Joe mumbled. His red cheeks turned a deep scarlet as he wrapped his arm around her middle so he could bear most of her weight. He was warm through his blood and dirt-stained dress shirt and Mimi clutched to him tightly, enjoying the peace and protection she felt as she was enwrapped by his tall lanky frame.

It was funny. Years ago, when they first met, she would've probably bet her family's entire fortune against it if someone had told her she would feel safe in the arms of Joe Kido. But the Joe at the beginning of their adventures had grown into this Joe, still the same, but braver, calmer, and more reliable than ever before.

When they entered the kitchen, clear from anyone's view that might wander the hall upstairs, Mimi wrapped her arms around Joe's neck and used it to pull herself up so she could reach his mouth. She kissed him softly and he obediently allowed her to, but she could tell he was distracted. She pouted against his lips. He was about to belt out an apology when she began kissing him again, catching his bottom lip between hers, teasing him into accepting it fully. His long arms wrapped around her middle, pulling her closer to him, and Mimi entertained the thought of what it would be like to be completely at one with Joe Kido.

She finally pulled away, face flushed and smiling as Joe panted to catch his breath.

"Sit down while I make you lunch," she ordered breathlessly, throwing her hair back over her shoulder.

Joe collapsed in a chair as he readjusted his askew glasses.

Mimi began burrowing through the cabinets, pulling out mixing bowls, pans, and rice. She limped to the refrigerator and returned to the counter with arms full of vegetables and eggs.

"How about a stir fry? Would you rather have rice or noodles?"

When Joe didn't answer her, Mimi swung around to see that his eyes were closed and his head was hanging slightly to the side. Small tears stung her lids as she watched him sleep. She turned back to the gathered food and prepared it as quietly as she could, trying not to wake him.

She silently wished for peaceful dreams. Or, maybe even better, no dreams at all.

The ceiling was shaking so often now that he could literally pinch away the layers of dust and debris that had settled on his skin. If he got asthma or something from breathing in this stuff, he was going to be pissed.

"So our real bodies have been in the digiworld all this time? In this prison?"

Davis groaned in annoyance. TK had probably asked the same question fifty different ways by now. And people called him dumb…

"I'm assuming that this is Animamon's base. By the sound of his footsteps, he goes up a flight of stairs when he exits this room. I've concluded we're in some type of bunker or underground dungeon." Izzy began coughing as another round of dust rained down on them. "Th- that would explain the lack of light."

"Definitely a dungeon," Davis chimed in, kicking a metal bar.

"So our other bodies…" TK trailed off and for a moment Davis thought he was going to stop talking. "Am I dead… that other body? The copy, I mean. Do you have to die to come back?"

"Well, Animamon meant to bring you back, TK," Izzy said. "Davis was an accident."

Davis felt something tighten in his chest and he swallowed back the subsequent lump that formed in his throat.

"As far as the copy of your body is concerned, we can't be sure what happened to it," Izzy finished lamely.

"Well, it sucks either way, doesn't it?" Davis grumbled. "Everyone either thinks he's dead or in some kind of coma."

"They've been through enough," TK said. "I don't want to put them through anymore pain."

Davis knew that by 'them' TK really meant Kari, but instead of tense jealousy he felt a surmounting anger.

"We can't let Animamon do this to us," he growled. "We've got to defeat him somehow and get them back."

"I'm chained to a wall and you're in a cage," Izzy spat bitterly with his weakened voice. "There's no escape and fighting isn't an option. He's a digimon. Without our partners we're useless against him."

"He's planning to use my soul to create another monster," TK said. "What is it like?"

Izzy didn't answer and Davis ground his teeth. "I'm not gonna sit around waiting for Animamon to play his soul voodoo on us. We gotta do something!"

"Last time you tried to fight him, he injured Kari."

"He what?!" shouted TK.

Davis clenched his fists. "He used her as a shield," he muttered shamefully.

"She's fine, TK," Izzy reassured. "It's a small puncture wound and it'll heal in a few days, but it's something we should remember. We can't risk doing anything rash in our situation. Animamon is too powerful and our lack of vision is a severe disadvantage. He seems to see just fine in the dark."

"Where is she?" TK's voice was demanding, unconcerned with anything but Kari's well being.

"Over here," Davis mumbled, waiting for TK to follow his voice to Kari's bedside.

TK inhaled sharply when he attempted to move. Davis heard him fumbling around and he knew he was attempting to remove his IV.

"Leave it," he ordered. "I haven't been given anything to drink or eat since yesterday…I think it was yesterday." The reminder made Davis attempt to swallow, but he found his dry mouth poorly lacked in saliva.

"The battle outside has preoccupied Animamon and his minions enough that they seem to have forgotten about our need for nourishment," Izzy added weakly.

"Hopefully it made him forget about using blondie for his soul cocktion too," Davis grumbled as he heard the wheels of TK's IV post rolling on the ground.

"Concoction," corrected TK.


There was a small thud and "oof" as TK ran into someone's cot.

"Walk straight," Davis guided irritably, grabbing the air blindly to find TK's arm so he could tug him along the path he had memorized. "Here," he said when they reached Kari's side.

TK pried his arm from his grip and Davis was sure, after he fumbled for a moment, that he had found Kari's lifeless fingers.

"Kari, I'm here with Izzy and Davis too, he's alive!"

"She can't hear you."

TK ignored him. "Don't be afraid, I'm going to get you back."

Davis grumpily collapsed on his cot, hoping his presence would make TK feel uncomfortable if nothing else. Instead, he only found himself feeling worse, realizing that he didn't really belong there, that his time holding Kari's hand was over.

"I know things seem pretty dark right now, but don't give up, ok? I'm not letting you go."

Just as Davis felt his nails biting into his palms a deafening blast knocked him to the floor. His ears were ringing and he choked on the dust, opening his eyes after he wiped away the coat of dirt covering his face. A ray of light pierced through a gaping hole in the ceiling, illuminating their black prison, and through the cloud of falling debris, Davis thought he saw a flash of feathered wings speeding overhead.

It was as if light itself had answered the bearer of hope.

She walked past TK's bedside in silence, keeping her body rigid in order to prevent her own collapse. She didn't glance at his sleeping form or dare approach him for fear of falling apart. She had to be strong. Tai needed her still.

But for all Kari's pretense of strength, she couldn't utter a single syllable to indicate she was alright. Tai had asked her multiple times, narrowing his tired eyes when she remained silent. She had only stared into the space ahead, sinking further into the hold of his remaining arm.

Being so close to the sleeping blonde was only making things worse. Kari's steps quickened as she passed by Matt's tense back, which only stiffened at the sound of her feet on the floorboards.

She felt like a zombie, dead and disjointed, following no thought or planned motion as she moved to where Ken and Iori sat over Yolei's dying body. The stench of her festering wound was strong enough now to smell from a distance. Yolei's lips were dried and peeling and her face was both flushed and pallid, blotched with sickness.

"She isn't going to make it," whispered Ken as Kari's hand involuntarily pressed against Yolei's burning forehead.

"Don't say that," Iori fired back.

Ken didn't respond, but Kari saw his hand cling more tightly to Yolei's loose hold. Suddenly all Kari could think about was how Davis died saving Yolei only for her to end up like this days later. A burning pit enveloped the cold undead inside her.

"Don't you dare die, Yolei," she ordered, speaking for the first time since TK's body went comatose that morning. "He wanted to keep you alive. Don't you dare make his death mean nothing."

"Kari…" Tai's voice tried to call her back, but Kari fell to her knees, still cradling Yolei's forehead in her palm.

"Don't give up," she whispered. Unlike her last words, full of despair and anger, these words came from someone else. They were to her, fanning the flame in her chest until it engulfed the hopelessness and the zombie she had become completely.

Yolei's small puffs of air became strangled, but her eyes tightened and then slowly peeled open to stare blindly at the faces that surrounded her.

"Yolei," Iori breathed.

It was easy to see that Yolei wasn't really with them, but still trapped in some kind of fever dream. Her parched lips opened and a cracked struggling voice emitted unintelligible words. Her chest rose shallowly and her eyes became glossy.

Kari became vaguely aware of Ken calling Joe's name, of the college freshman and Mimi joining her by Yolei's side, but it was as if they were a million miles away. Kari refused to leave her DNA partner, refused to remove her hand from Yolei's forehead as she let out a final breath.

Hope reached out to her and she latched on as the burn inside her grew like an unquenchable fire. Kari finally recognized it, the bright substance the flowed through her core, filling her with compassion and life and a fiery desire for justice.

The Light blazed in her soul as darkness fell upon them all.

The black had been penetrated, revealing their underground cell as something more comparable to a dank warehouse with mazes of metal bars. Strangely, the ability to see his sleeping friend's faces didn't make this place feel any less like a dream.

A loud clunk pulled TK's attention to the rafters above where Davis was swinging, using his upper body strength to hoist his boots onto the wall and climb his way on top of a support.

"Careful," TK hissed as Davis's foot slipped.

"I'm fine," Davis said before muttering something under his breath that TK couldn't quite make out. He thought he said, 'like you care.' Despite everything, the comment sounded hurt. TK wasn't sure how to feel. Another explosion shook their prison just as Davis wrapped his legs around a beam, but he managed to hold on.

TK gazed back down to Kari's soulless body, dusting a piece of debris from her silky hair. It had been both a burden and a relief to see her face again.

When the blast had opened a hole in the ceiling, the conditions of their circumstances seemed a bit more dismal than before, if that was even possible. Seeing the long IVs running into the sleeping chosen's arms and the poor condition of Izzy's chained body gave TK a real idea of what type of monster they were dealing with. Bruises and cuts covered the redhead's face and his wrists were raw from days of hanging in his restraints, but all Izzy's injuries didn't compare to the deadened look in his eyes.

Upon seeing his friends in such condition, Davis had ranted that he wasn't waiting for rescue, which was why he was scaling the rafters, attempting to reach the only exit available.

TK took in the sight of the empty cells that lined the barely lit portions of the warehouse. There were at least ten of them the size of the one that held the sleeping chosen, maybe more. Izzy had explained that this was where Animamon had held captive digimon until their souls and bodies were sacrificed to create the creature that he had been a part of.

There was another loud clunk and TK's eyes bolted up to see Davis lying flat on a rafter, hugging it tightly, eyes wide as he stared at the ground below him. TK lightheartedly asked him if he almost fell, but Davis didn't respond. It was as if his vision had been sucked into a black hole, making him oblivious to TK's voice. TK followed his line of sight and realized that he was watching Yolei.

Her eyes had opened.

Yolei's lips were shaking and wet tears glistened in the sunlight on her cheeks, but she remained silent, watching Davis balancing above her.

Just as the harsh reality of what had happened to her hit, a door burst open and TK could hear claws scraping against the floor. Davis pressed a finger against his lips to order Yolei to be quiet, but she still hadn't spoken. TK briefly wondered if she thought she was still locked in some sort of fever dream before he felt his body fly into the air.

"I will not allow my world to go unfilled," Animamon shouted, his voice verging on desperation.

TK struggled, but his entire body was frozen, dangling in the air as if held by a noose. Izzy begged with Animamon, arguing that this creature would just die like the last. Then Animamon stepped into the light and they saw their captor for the first time.

He was not a particularly large digimon, a bit smaller than Angemon in height. A pallid hand reached out from beneath a black robe, long fingernails upturned as if he were holding something. A large hood shielded the majority of Animamon's face, but his jaw line was human in appearance. He reminded TK of images of Death, the reaper of souls. The claws on the floor were not unlike the three-toed foot of a demon, pale with red markings that ran up his ankles until they disappeared behind the dark robe. TK noticed that one foot dragged behind him as if he were injured.

"Hope is strong in you," Animamon growled as he opened their prison door with a simple flick of his wrist. "You may last longer than Izumi and your sacrifice will destroy the light's vessel. I will not lose this battle."

TK clenched his jaw and his eyes flickered upward. Davis, during Animamon's fury, had continued climbing and managed to make it to the hole in the ceiling. The smell of something rancid brought TK's eyes back to Animamon, who was just inches from his face. His jaw lifted and a pair of lips curled back to reveal a row of straight pointed teeth. In an instant, Animamon had grasped TK's skull, digging his long fingernails into his scalp.

"You won't win," TK spat defiantly, fighting the fear in his voice. "You are going to pay for what you've done."

A sadistic chuckle blew rotten air in his face. "Maybe I will…"

Animamon's hood rolled back. Besides the abnormally pale complexion and designs of foreign writing in red across his skin, his hairless face looked human. His high cheek bones and prominent brow were like features TK had seen on men in the street. It was Animamon's eyes that threw him; the dark pupils were clouded by a heavy film of white, wandering aimlessly, unable to meet TK's gaze.

Before TK had a chance to decipher what it meant, the memories came spilling forth, not unlike they had before he woke in this place. All the moments that made him who he was: playing building blocks with his big brother, watching his family split apart, meeting Patamon for the first time, protecting Kari from Piedmon, returning to the digital world with the second generation of chosen, his first kiss, betrayal and forgiveness; it was as if everything was being ripped in two.

The pain was unbearable, but in no way physical. There was no feeling in the world to describe the sensation of being pulled apart internally, destroying a part of him that should never be altered by another's hand. TK began to scream, but his throat was constricted, barely able to get out a sound.

Somewhere in reality, outside of the ripping of his soul, TK heard a cracking collision and then he sprawled unconscious to the floor.

Red roses were cradled in her arm like a child.

Gatomon had picked them out after Sora explained their meaning. Red was a strong and courageous color, red was passion and love. The heartache and tears in the feline's blue eyes gave away the symbolism she connected to most.

As they entered the Fuji television station, Kari steadied herself with her brother's hand, feeling herself weighed down by the overwhelming guilt and grief over the sacrifice that Wizardmon had made here years ago. It hurt to remember, but it was wrong to forget. Everyone became silent as their footsteps echoed on the tile floors, entering the only memorial the fallen digimon would ever have.

Kari was thankful for the warm steady embrace of Tai's strong hand. He looked so young and healthy with both arms there to catch her if she fell, so unlike the broken boy with the bandaged stump.

The thought caught Kari so sharply that she gasped.

How was it that she was comparing his future to the memory of her past? When the others had been pulled into their memories, they didn't mention being able to think freely in them. They were more like movies, replayed perfectly with the same endings they had always had.

"Tai…" Kari whispered, but he didn't seem to hear her.

She glanced around at her fellow chosen and came to tears as she saw Davis standing there, looking so innocent and uncomfortable with the thought of death, but also respectful enough to keep his mouth shut for once. He was so young, still rash and careless as he struggled to lead their newly formed rag-tag team against the Digimon Kaiser.

This was the place where Wizardmon's ghost would come to tell them of the prophecy. At the time it was gibberish, some code for an event they didn't understand, but now Kari knew it was about him, the boy her brother had passed his goggles on to.

She wanted to say something to him, to tell him how much she cared about him, even if it wasn't the same love he hoped to receive from her, but the words were caught in her throat. She found her eyes wandering to TK, whose blonde hair was smashed beneath the white hat he insisted on wearing until they got into high school, and he gave her a sweet, sympathetic smile.

There they all were, the three boys she cared most about in the world, alive, whole and well. It was bittersweet, seeing them like this again, but it was only a memory. Davis was gone, her brother mutilated, and TK… lost.

Suddenly a rush of hot light surged through her soul, speaking hope, and promising a future. It was brilliant – comforting and fierce, gentle and powerful. Its words were silent, but understood.

The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

Kari held onto her brother's hand tightly and waited to wake.

The moments following the collision were chaos. His eyes still hadn't adjusted to the bright light that streamed in through the ceiling, but even squinting, Izzy could see consequences of the courageous action that released TK from Animamon's grip.

Davis had loosened a large chunk of debris from the ceiling and flung it with all his might at the digimon. The force caught Animamon completely off guard, causing a bit of digital blood to trickle down the monster's forehead, but it also clipped TK.

He still hadn't woken.

Izzy watched helplessly as Animamon retaliated, prying Davis from the rafters with a simple movement of his hand and dangling him the air, not unlike the way Puppetmon had controlled their bodies with invisible strings. Izzy pulled the cuffs against his chaffed wrists, tearing open scabs in his attempt to escape, to distract Animamon before he killed one of his friends for good, but what use would he be if he broke free? Izzy wasn't even sure he could stand on his own.

That's when the screaming began.

Izzy hadn't known she was awake until that moment. Yolei cried out like a crazed animal. Her wild eyes darted behind her glasses and her parched lips begged for this all to end, claimed that she had been tortured enough, pleaded for death before she had to watch him die again. She didn't seem to comprehend that this was real or notice the pained expression in Davis's eyes, not caused by Animamon's grip, but by her words.

"You've been dropping like flies," Animamon laughed maniacally. "It is just as well, only more souls for use before the end. My world doesn't need memories any longer, it is so near completion." He smiled in Yolei's direction, revealing a row of sharp pointed teeth behind his lips. "Come, girl."

"No!" Davis roared, his hands twitching to fight against the hold he was in.

Animamon reached for Yolei with his other hand. Just as a new scream escaped her, the whole building shook. Collapsing stone, warping metal bars and intense heat licked at Izzy's face, drenching him with sweat.

An enormous brown horned skull tore through the wall, stopping only feet away from where Izzy hung. Red eyes widened in surprise and the burning that was building in the massive mouth died away. A huge tear bubbled inside the skull as the head lifted, breaking carelessly through the ceiling. Debris fell all around them.

"They're here!" its voice growled with a kind of choked emotion.

"You better not have squashed them, Greymon! We're supposed to be on a rescue mission!"

The second voice had Izzy sharing Greymon's tears. Kabuterimon. Their partners had come to save them, but it wasn't his partner that he saw walk through the rubble Greymon created.

A tan hand drew back a fawn hood from the figure's face. Gennai was still in his younger form, but he had aged some since he had last seen him. Wrinkle lines flecked the corners of his mouth and eyes as he smiled sadly at Izzy.

"Sorry we took so long."

Behind him, Izzy could vaguely make out the other chosen digimon as well as a number of digimon allies he recognized. Some were still engaged in battle, but most were waiting to break into their prison. Animamon halted his attack on Yolei and Davis dropped to the floor, letting out a painful gush of air when he landed.

"You will not defeat me," Animamon said. "The others are still hostage in my world."

"Not all of them," the deep majestic voice of Angemon boomed as he stepped through the rubble. He was cradling something in his large arms and upon seeing TK's unconscious body, he handed the bundle to Gennai. Gatomon slumped into his arms, her pure white coat stained with red around her shoulder blade.

It was hard to see the emotion in Angemon's face. His mask shielded his eyes, but his mouth was stretched into a tight thin line. "Prepare for justice," he said.

Animamon laughed as Angemon stood still before him. "A champion, even an angel of the chosen, will not defeat me."

"You're right."

The words that seemed like defeat were accompanied by a blinding white light and Izzy had to close his eyes so he remained unsure of its source. All sound became dull and soft and only Yolei's desperate wailing pierced through the calming tone that deafened him. Then the light faded just enough for him to dare to open his sensitive lenses.

It was as if a ball of sunshine stood before him, its flames dancing off the skin of the small girl. A large winged figure was beside her, hand outstretched as if holding the wraps of light that were binding Animamon's body to the wall. Only the stain of blood on the winged creature's shoulder helped Izzy recognize that this was Angewomon, and beside her was her partner, awake and powerful and wrapped in light.

"But the vessel was too weak! How are you using her?" Animamon cried out.

"It only takes a single flame of hope to spark a light in the darkness," Kari replied, her voice far older than her years, both beautiful and terrifying.

A final binding of light wrapped around Animamon's mouth, silencing his cries of hatred and then the glow left Kari and she collapsed in her partner's arms.

"TK! TK! You promised you'd be fine! TK!"

Davis moaned, willing for the screeching voice to stop, and then sucked in a sharp breath as he moved his arm to smack it away. His face scrunched up as the pain shot from his wrist to his elbow, something was definitely broken.

He opened his eyes to see Patamon batting his little ear-wings ferociously, hovering above TK's unconscious body. Davis was relieved to see the blonde stir, happy that he hadn't killed him.

"Patamon?" TK mumbled, clutching the lump on his head as he sat up.

The little pig flew into his arms. "I felt it, TK! He was trying to tear you to pieces. I thought I was going to lose you forever!" Patamon sobbed.

TK squeezed his partner gently as his eyes darted around the room, trying to piece things together. He caught Davis's gaze and Davis tore his eyes away quickly, pushing himself to his feet.

There were minor explosions rocking outside, someone was still fighting, but it sounded more distant than before. Davis scanned their surroundings. Rubble littered their prison. Andromon had joined the chosen digimon and cut through Izzy's chains, causing the weak redhead to collapse into Gennai's arms as Tentomon hovered over him, looking about as emotional as a digital bug could.

Animamon struggled against bindings of light in vain while Greymon growled hot breath over his body.

Davis searched for his partner, but didn't see a sign of the blue dragon anywhere.

"ExVeemon and Stingmon got caught up in a fight with some devidramon. Centarumon is helping them out," Patamon squeaked from TK's arms, noticing the distress on Davis's face.

Davis could only nod voicelessly, and he almost took off to assist his partner when he remembered what had happened before he fell. Clutching his injured wrist, he turned to see Yolei in a daze, her face covered in smudges of dirt streaked with tiny rivulets. Hawkmon was holding her hands in his wings, urging her to snap out of it.

"Tai! Your arm!"

That was Sora's voice. Davis whipped around to see Tai remove his right hand from his forehead and stare at his arm in bewilderment.

The others had woken up.

"Yolei!" Without a concern about where they were or what had happened, Ken had yanked himself out of his cot and crushed Yolei into his arms. "You were… I saw you- are you ok?" he gushed, checking her forehead to see if she had a fever, her chest for the gaping wound that Davis had seen the creature inflict on her before he dived in the way.

Yolei's eyes wandered over Ken's shoulder and Davis found himself staring into them, watching hopeless tears fall from her unblinking lids. Her lips moved as if she was trying to speak and then finally, he heard one word scratch its way from her throat.


Ken pulled away from her and turned around sharply.

Davis slowly lifted up a hand in greeting. "Hey."

"You're dead…" Yolei breathed.

"No more than you are," Davis said, attempting to joke, but his voice came out thick and shaky.

A hand clamped his shoulder from behind and he looked up to see Gennai who had left Izzy in the care of Tentomon. "You're all alive," he reassured them, looking around at the confused, disoriented children attached to IVs. "We'll explain what happened once we have this building secured."

Gennai released Davis's shoulder and made his rounds to the freshly woken children, gently removing the needles from their arms.

Davis took a staggered step forward.

Yolei didn't wait for Gennai to reach her; she yanked the IV out of her arm, ignoring Hawkmon's protests and the blood and stumbled until she collapsed in Davis's arms, bawling uncontrollably. He held back small gasps of pain as she pressed against his injured wrist. His other hand found its way to her long tangled hair and he wove his fingers into it.

"You jackass," Yolei sobbed into his shirt. "You promised me you wouldn't do anything stupid."

"I-I'm sorry..."

Another pair of arms wrapped the two of them up and Davis felt his eyes sting at Ken's presence. He winced as he shuffled his injured arm out from Yolei's tense grip and wrapped it around Ken's middle, overwhelmed at how happy he was to see their bodies filled with life again.

There were shouts of reunion and unbelief as Gennai freed each chosen from their IV, the others had begun to realize he was alive, that Yolei and TK were alive. Davis glanced over Yolei's shoulder to see TK grasping Kari tightly as she came to.

"You called me," she was whispering to him, finally returning the hold he had on her. "You told me not to give up."

Then those beautiful bright brown eyes flickered up to Davis and every muscle in his body tensed. He felt Ken and then Yolei slowly release their hold on him as TK glanced back in his direction.

There was a nonverbal communication between them. TK nodded and the corner of his mouth lifted slightly as he whispered something in Kari's ear. Davis wasn't sure who ran to who, but when his arms tightened around Kari's petite frame and her happy cries that he was alive filled his ears, Davis felt a heavy weight lift from his shoulders.

"I'm sorry I was such a jerk," he mumbled only to be more tightly embraced.

There was a firm slap on his back as Tai joined them and Davis saw joyful tears swimming in his mentor's eyes. When Kari released him to embrace her brother, crying violently upon seeing his restored arm, Davis let out the breath he had been holding.

After all the chosen children were released, Gennai had explained what they knew about Animamon's plans and Izzy painstakingly filled in the gaps while Joe treated his external injuries.

Tai was furious, pacing back and forth in front of Animamon and flexing the fingers on his right hand, still in disbelief that it was back. He patted Greymon's huge skull firmly and felt pain shoot through the limb.

"I should let Greymon tear into you," Tai growled. "One bite at a time."

The hooded figure's cloudy eyes only stared past him, his mouth still bound by a layer of light.

"He looks disgusting," rumbled Greymon, "but I'd force myself to chew slowly."

Their words got no rise out of their prisoner and Tai blew out a loud huff of frustration before returning to the cot where Izzy now lied. Joe had bandaged one of his raw wrists and was rubbing a salve that Gennai provided on the other.

"I'm sorry about your arm," Izzy muttered when he saw him approach, his dark eyes were sunken and distant.

Tai still couldn't believe that his friend had somehow been inside the creature he killed. It made him sick to his stomach. "It's not your fault, Izzy."

"Yes it is. If I hadn't developed that program none of this would've happened."

"I'm sure that creep would've pulled something eventually," Tai spat, glaring in Animamon's direction.

"He should've only taken me, none of you deserved this."

"Shhhh," Mimi soothed. She was holding Izzy's hand and Tai felt his eyes threaten to water at the memory of their conversation, the worry that they may never see the redhead alive again. "Don't talk like that. You've suffered enough."

Izzy closed his eyes as if to block out her voice and Tentomon buzzed in the air, landing on the foot of the cot.

"I dreamt about you," Tai blurted. "That you were trapped here."

Izzy slowly opened his lids. "Your subconscious wanted to find me I guess."

Tai had to bite his lip to keep from yelling. The spaced out look in Izzy's eyes reminded him so much of that dream, of the time that he had seen Izzy pop up on his computer screen so many years ago, telling him not to come back, to let them all succumb to their fate.

"I'm not letting you suffer for this!" Tai burst out, unable to contain himself. "That damn monster is going to fix whatever the hell he did to you!"

"He won't."

The sureness in Izzy's voice made Tai storm off in the direction of Animamon, fists clenched tightly. He had no qualms about using his knuckles to solve this problem. He was only inches away from the creep when he lifted up his hand only to have a wave of vines wrap around his wrist, yanking him backward. He fell on his backside and jerked around, trying to pull free.

"Damn it, Palmon!"

"Mimi told me to do it," the green digimon defended, looking apologetic.

Tai fixed his glare on the girl still holding Izzy's hand.

"Tai, don't," she ordered. Her normally sparkling eyes were hard. "We'll take care of him, but right now we need to worry about Izzy."

"Yeah, we'll take care of him alright," Davis spoke up gruffly from the other side of the cell where Yolei and Ken were working on bandaging his broken wrist. "Leave some for the rest of us, Tai."

"What are we waiting for?" Tai huffed. "Let's just finish him off now."

"No," Kari said and Tai unclenched his fist. He gave his arm a little jerk and Palmon finally released him. "He can't be destroyed until he releases the souls he's gathered," she continued as she stroked Gatomon, who had curled up in her lap like a housecat.

"We need to understand how he did it," Iori added. He and Armadillomon were picking through debris. "He didn't just create a world and take our souls; he took us from our homes and brought us into the digital world, he made copies of us. How?"

A mad muffled chuckle rose from beneath the binding of light that held Animamon to the wall.

Tai's face wrinkled with fury as he turned to the captive digimon, but before he could make a move, a small hand reached in front of his face. He let out an audible breath through his teeth and politely took it, allowing Sora to help pull him to his feet. He could barely hide the blush on his cheeks as her fingers traced the lines of his palm, as if checking to make sure it was real.

"I'm sorry," she murmured quietly so the others couldn't hear. His fingers slowly slid from her grasp, one by one. "I just wanted to make sure I wasn't dreaming."

"It's over." The declaration from Matt drew the red from Tai's face and he turned to see the blonde riding Garurumon back through the rubble.

They were accompanied by Centarumon, the masked horse-man whose body was flecked with purple muscles that acted as armor. His hoofed feet echoed as he climbed the debris. "All Animamon's allies were taken prisoner or destroyed. We acquired minimal casualties."

"Casualties?" Tai asked without daring to ask who.

"Many brave digimon willingly gave their lives to save the chosen children. We owe you everything," Andromon's robotic voice carried from where he was guarding the entrance.

Matt's eyebrows knitted together as he slid from Garurumon's back. "It's a war zone out there."

The thought of digimon dying, of their friends fighting for them while they lied sleeping, their minds occupied with their teenage drama, made Tai wish he could take back everything he had done over the past week. His right hand clenched and he swore he could still feel the throbbing agony of the limb that had been cut away from him. If only he had found a portal, some way out of that place, before lives were lost, before he was mangled, before Davis and Yolei had to suffer through death.

"How did we get back?" Tai asked suddenly, trying to make sense of the questions in his head. "We tried to find a portal, we tried to fight it, but we couldn't. If Animamon didn't bring us back, who did?"

Gennai reappeared through the rubble, holding the tiny sleeping forms of DemiVeemon and Minomon in his arms. Ken left Davis and Yolei to grab them and when he returned to Davis to deposit DemiVeemon in his arms, Davis's good hand balled into a tight fist.

"The Light," answered Gennai.

Tai felt his eyes drawn to his sister, who at fifteen was still just a child. Her fingers were gently rubbing Gatomon's ear. So he hadn't imagined her glowing then. It wasn't the first time Kari had possessed (or been possessed by) some remarkable power that they couldn't explain.

"What is it?" asked Iori.

Gennai's tired face grew reverent. "The master of the Sovereigns, the creator of worlds."

"Light gives life to the world," TK murmured, repositioning the ice pack on the lump on his head.

"Azulongmon told us that once," Patamon added.

"It's why so many have threatened Kari. She is its vessel, the only one open to receiving its power."

"Why didn't you tell us this before?" Tai practically shouted at Gennai.

"Do you mean all the times… Myotismon… the dark ocean…" Kari seemed to be forming her thoughts aloud, "they were trying to keep the light from using me?"

"Or harness the power themselves."

Tai jabbed a finger in Animamon's direction. "Is that what he was trying to do?"

Gennai and the others looked to the bound monster. "No, I don't think so."

A deep throaty laughter rumbled beneath the binds of light and Animamon's clouded pupils rose to the ceiling, as if seeing some invisible force. The sunlight that streamed in through the holes in the warehouse stopped shining as a dark cloud rolled in overhead, but something foreboding in Animamon's laughter warned Tai that this was no normal storm.

Soon, nothing illuminated their prison except for the light that held Animamon captive. Greymon's breath grew hot as a nova blast formed in the back of his throat.

"What are you doing?!" Tai shouted at their prisoner.

The gag of light slowly dissolved away from Animamon's mouth and his pale lips peeled back to reveal a smile of sharp teeth.

"I only wanted to see."