Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon.

A/N: Sorry it took me a little longer to get this chapter posted! Had a couple of setbacks, but here it is finally!

Following the Footsteps of Destiny

Chapter 235: Gateway to Darkness

Makiya 'Mickey' Takaishi

Sever, Eastern Hemisphere, Digital World

Mickey quickly explained the events of what had happened earlier during the night to Leomon as they continued to make their way towards the Spirit Chip on Dragermon, and glancing at his D-Coder he was surprised to see that Sam's signal had ceased to continue moving on the screen. From the looks of it that must have happened a little while ago, and since then Sam had pretty much been standing relatively within the same area. According to the D-Coder, Sam must have finally reached his desired destination, and as a result Mickey was worried about what might have become of his troubled friend.

I wonder what he's doing now. Please be careful, Sam. Please stay safe until we can reach you.

"What are you up to, Izzy?" Kara asked, gazing curiously at the computer expert as he continued to type furiously on his laptop.

"I'm sending Taniko and the others an email about what happened earlier. They'll be worried, but we need to keep them updated on the situation in case we require some assistance."

"Poor Miya and Nao. They're going to be so upset," Rosa sighed, making a face.

"I know, but it needed to be done," Izzy replied, a sober expression marring his normally calm features. "I only sent them a brief email last night informing them that we had arrived safely in Modem, so I'll need to update them on having met the partners of the original Digidestined as well."

"Well, that's at least one piece of good news we can give them," Mimi said, making a face. "How are we doing, Ryoko? My crest is getting pretty bright."

Ryoko glanced at his glowing D-Coder, which was reacting to the Spirit Chip, and a sigh of relief escaped his throat. "We're almost there. It should be just up ahead."

"Considering how brightly the three crests and your D-Coder are glowing we had better almost be there," Matt grumbled, glaring indignantly at the small gadget shining brilliantly in his son's hands.

"Do you think Sam will be there?" Glowmon asked hopefully, the tone of his voice filled with obvious fear for his partner.

Mickey glanced at the little rookie in his arms, and hugging Glowmon tightly, he said, "I don't think so, Glowmon. I'm pretty sure he's stuck somewhere in the World of Darkness. He'll be there, but somewhere on the other side. We won't be able to see him, and somehow I don't think we're going to be able to reach him very easily either."

"We'll find him," Yolei said firmly, her eyes sparkling with fierce determination. "We're going to rescue him no matter what it takes."

Yolei...

Mickey glanced at the female Digidestined, and witnessing what he knew was her obvious determination to save her son he reached out to give her hand a quick squeeze. Yolei smiled in response, and returning the gesture she gave him a firm nod, an indication that she was refusing to allow the fear she felt for her son's safety to overwhelm her.

Though initially she had been extremely upset, Yolei had bounced back quickly, and Mickey was relieved to see that stubborn look in her eyes that made it quite clear there was no way she was going to give up so easily on her son. Yolei had always been a strong woman, ever since Mickey could remember, and watching her now it was inspiring to see just how strong of a person she really was.

I need to be more like her. I can't give up on Sam so easily. He would never give up on me, so it's only fair that I return the favour.

He could still remember the old Sam. Kind and sympathetic, and always so calm and easygoing. Mickey wanted the old Sam back, and he was going to make sure that happened no matter what it took.

"It should be just up ahead through those trees," Ryoko informed them, squinting up ahead.

"Dai, I think it would be best if we landed here and walked the last part of the way," Leomon suddenly spoke up, a serious look on his face.

"How come?" Dai asked, glancing curiously at the lion digimon.

"As anxious as I am to reach Sam, we have no way of knowing what's waiting for us up ahead. I think it would be best if we approached the Spirit Chip with caution."

"Leomon's right," Izzy agreed, finishing his email and hitting the send button. "Sam might be our main priority, and rightfully so, but we can't forget about Vampiramon and her allies. We have no idea where they are right now, nor do we have any idea what they're doing. They could come upon us at any time. We'll need to be careful."

"We haven't seen them at all since we came to the Digital World," Matt added, a frown marring his handsome features. "I don't know about you guys, but that seems just a little bit suspicious to me."

"Which is why we need to be extra careful," Cody agreed, keeping his gaze focused on the forest up ahead.

"Once we land, make sure you all keep your eyes peeled for signs of any unwanted visitors," Leomon warned as Dragermon proceeded to head towards the ground.

Where could they be?

Mickey hesitantly turned his gaze on Ken, and he winced at the sight that greeted him.

Unlike Yolei, the former Emperor hadn't bounced back quite so easily. Ken's face was even more pale than usual, and though he too was gazing in the direction of the Spirit Chip, his sapphire eyes were focused on the trees. He appeared to be lost in his own thoughts, his mind trapped in a nightmare that he could not escape.

In his arms Wormmon looked absolutely miserable, not that Mickey could blame him. The little rookie was looking up at his partner, and Mickey could tell he was extremely worried about Ken.

I wish there was something I could do...

"Prepare for landing!" Dai called out as Dragermon landed with a jarring thump and a strong gust of air from his wings.

Mickey smiled in thanks at his Uncle Matt, who gave him a helping hand to reach the ground, and gathering the three celestial digimon around him, he said, "Do any of you guys feel DarkAngelicmon close by?"

"I don't feel anything, but then again I haven't met this DarkAngelicmon of yours yet," Kenji's Halomon said soberly, giving him an apologetic look.

"Don't feel bad," Celestimon replied, glancing sympathetically at his fellow angel. "I don't feel anything either."

"That's odd. I was sure he would have come after us by now," Matty said slowly, frowning at the tall trees looming all around them.

"It is odd," Izzy agreed, sounding unusually hesitant. "I can't see him missing a golden opportunity to steal one of the Spirit Chips from us. In the past, they've always been there to try and thwart us every time out. I don't see why this time should be any different."

"That's true," Embermon said slowly, exchanging a look with Kibomon. "Somehow they've always managed to figure out what we were planning before. Why would that suddenly change now?"

"Something is definitely up with them," Alopemon said firmly, glaring at the trees. "Don't let your guard down now."

"We should hurry," Aiwemon spoke up. "Sam could be in serious danger."

Aiwemon was right of course, and moving quickly the group began to make its way through the trees.

Walking next to Ken, Mickey put his arm around the raven-haired Digidestined and whispered softly, "We'll find him, Ken. Just give us a little bit more time."

Ken looked at him, and Mickey could see the haunted look in the raven-haired Digidestined's sapphire eyes. "I've failed him, Mickey. I've failed my own son. How could I have let it come to this?"

"That's not true!" Wormmon protested, shaking his head in denial.

Mickey nodded in agreement, and speaking softly, he said, "You haven't failed anyone, Ken. You and I both know what Sam is like. I just can't believe he's lost himself completely to the darkness. I know we can find a way to bring him back to us. I refuse to believe anything else. We can't give up on him. Not when I know deep down inside he's fighting as hard as we are."

"If we lose Sam, I... I don't know what I'll do," Ken whispered back, the look in his eyes making Mickey wince in pain. "Sam, Miya, and Nao. They're everything to me. I can't bear to lose any of them. How will I be able to live with myself knowing how terribly I failed my son? How will I be able to keep going if I lose something so precious to me?"

Mickey stopped, and tugging Ken around to face him, he said firmly, "I can't answer that for you, but even if I can't there is something I can do. You say you don't know what you'll do if we lose Sam? Well, we're all going to make sure you never have to find out."

"He's right, Ken," Dai spoke up as the group stopped to look back at them. "We're going to save Sam no matter what."

"We won't lose our son without a fight," Yolei insisted, reaching out to take Ken's hand.

The former Emperor accepted it, and glancing at each of them in turn, his sapphire eyes sparkling with tears, he whispered, "I know. Thank you, all of you."

"The Spirit Chip is just up ahead," Velinemon called out, coming back from where she had been scouting the trees up ahead with Leomon and Gotsumon.

"It's just through these trees," Leomon confirmed.

Mickey could see streams of purple light shining through the leaves up ahead, and tugging Ken along with him he quickly followed after the others, who were almost running now to reach the Spirit Chip.

The group burst through the trees, almost tripping over each other, and stumbling to a stop they found themselves huddling together in a large clearing, their gazes immediately going to the pedestal standing watch over the forest at the end furthest away from them. The Spirit Chip itself appeared to be surrounded by a glowing orb of purple and green light, and gazing at it Mickey felt a sense of awe beginning to build inside his chest.

"Kindness, knowledge, and sincerity," Mimi said softly, pulling out her glowing crest. "Myself, Ken, and Izzy will have to break the first seal."

"I think we'll wait on doing that until we find Sam," Izzy said, glancing curiously at his own glowing crest. "We don't want to put the Spirit Chip at any kind of risk."

Ken was holding his own glowing crest tightly in his hand, and moving across the clearing he let his fingers wander over the encrypted message that represented the second seal, which could only be broken by Sam's D-Coder. As he stared at the little trinket, a frown appeared on his face, and it was obvious to Mickey that his mind was focused on something else entirely. Once again the seal representing the crests glowed almost like a mist, and following after Ken, Mickey stared down at the little chip resting on the pedestal in awe.

It was purple, and a symbol of a half moon was etched onto its surface. To Mickey it was every bit as beautiful as Dai's, and gazing at it he still couldn't believe that such power could come from such a tiny trinket.

"Sam's not here," Glowmon whimpered, tears in his eyes.

"Just like we thought," Matty sighed, frowning at his D-Coder. "According to Sam's signal we should be almost on top of him, but he's nowhere to be seen, which means..."

"The World of Darkness," Ken said quietly, his voice barely above a whisper. "There's no other explanation. The World of Darkness exists alongside the human world and the Digital World, along with many other possible worlds, such as the World of Dreams. Sam is here, but not here. He's trapped on the other side all alone..."

"Then we need to find a way to get there," Embermon insisted, having de-digivolved to his rookie form.

"But how?" Gessmon squeaked.

"Well, how did T.K. get there?" Takara asked hesitantly, glancing at each of the adults in turn. "I mean...how exactly did he find a way to get there to rescue Kari?"

"We're not really sure," Yolei replied, clearly frustrated. "I don't think even T.K. himself knows exactly how he managed to do it. Even Izzy never really found a clear explanation as to why a portal suddenly opened for him, allowing him to get through."

"Kari was calling to him, and somehow her voice managed to reach him," Hawkmon said slowly, thinking the matter over in his head. "Somehow his overwhelming desire to find Kari helped him to break the barrier between worlds. We're just not exactly sure how."

"Or maybe it was Kari's desire to be saved that caused a rift in the barrier?" Rosa suggested. "Who knows."

"But it's happened that way before," Matt interrupted, a meaningful look on his face. "When I was trapped in that cave, Joe and T.K. were able to help me get out, and in turn we were able to rescue Sora. Maybe it's a little of both. Maybe it's a combination of the one who is trapped and their true desire not to be alone, and the strong will of those who want to rescue those who are suffering in the darkness."

"So combined those feelings have the power to breach the barrier?" Tentomon asked.

"It's a theory anyways," Izzy agreed.

"The only problem is we don't have time for theories," Alopemon said bluntly, a determined look on his furry face. "We need to get Sam out of there as soon as possible."

"Any suggestions?" Cody asked, glancing at each of them in turn.

There was a moment of silence, and then Ken suddenly spoke up, his face turning even more pale than it was before. "What if we open a portal to the World of Darkness ourselves without waiting for it to respond to our needs?"

"What do you mean?" Matty asked, frowning in confusion.

"Most likely due to my past experiences, including the time I spent as the Digimon Emperor, I have the ability to open a portal to the World of Darkness at will," Ken explained, avoiding their eyes. "If you remember from the stories you were told, I did exactly that in order to send Daemon to the Dark Ocean. I can do so here again, only...I know I won't be strong enough to open it on my own, especially this time. I will need help from all of you in order to make it work."

"Ken, are you sure?" Yolei asked, pulling him into her arms. "I know how you're feeling about Sam. Are you sure you'll be strong enough to do this?"

"We have no choice," Ken replied, his hands trembling as his arms went around her waist. "We need to reach Sam quickly."

Mickey was more frightened than he could have ever imagined at the thought of entering the World of Darkness, but he knew they didn't have a choice. They needed to be strong for Sam.

I can do this. For Sam.

Taking a deep breath, Mickey stepped forward, and gazing at the frightened couple, he said firmly, "What do you need us to do?"

Ken jerked his head up in surprise, and as their eyes met the former Emperor was actually able to manage a small smile. "Mickey...Thank you."

"I knew you were going to say that, Mickey," Matty groaned, slapping a hand against his forehead. "Fine then. Ken, how can we help?"

"Just say the word," Dai added, making a fist.

The look of gratitude on Ken's face spoke more than words ever could, and holding out his hand, his D-3 facing the sky, he said, "I need all of you to believe in me and to focus on reaching Sam."

Yolei quickly put her hand over Ken's, and Mickey quickly stepped up to place his own over the lavender-haired Digidestined's. Matty's hand followed, and then Daichi, Takara, and Ryoko were quick to add theirs. Izzy, Cody, Rosa, Matt, and Mimi joined in as well, and concentrating on Sam, while putting all of their faith in Ken, they waited in anticipation.

Responding to their feelings, Ken's D-3 suddenly exploded with light, and a stream of purple energy shot into the sky. As Mickey watched in fascination a portal slowly began to open, showing a glimpse of a dark sky and the waters of a murky ocean.

The Dark Ocean.

"Hang on, Sam! We're coming!" Dai called out.

The portal quickly grew large enough to allow their digimon to fly through, and sweating from the effort Ken finally let his hand drop. He was about to speak when a nasty female voice said, "And just where do you think you're all going?"

Vampiramon!

Mickey whirled around, and sure enough he spotted Vampiramon and Spritemon standing at the edge of the trees.

Right on cue...

"There you guys are. We were wondering when you were finally going to show up," Matt snorted, glaring at the two female megas. "What took you so long?"

"A minor setback," Spritemon shot back, sticking her nose into the air. "Not that it's any of your business."

"Spying on Gennai and his friends again, were you?" Palmon demanded.

"If you know that much then you should know exactly what we came here to do," Vampiramon hissed, her crimson eyes flashing.

"As if we couldn't figure it out," Ryoko muttered, rolling his eyes.

Ignoring Ryoko, Spritemon said, "We actually got here just before you fools, but we wanted to get a sense of what you were up to before we announced ourselves. Planning to sneak into the World of Darkness, are you? That doesn't sound like a very smart thing to do."

"What's it to you?" Gotsumon asked.

"Do you really think we're just going let you out of our sight that easily?" Vampiramon said calmly, moving elegantly into the clearing. "Jestermon and BlackWidowmon are on their way here even as we speak, accompanied by Ivymon and a group of Vilemon who are eager to do our bidding. They should be arriving soon. Four megas, an ultimate, and several champions to fight. Are you so ignorant to think you can defeat us all?"

"Are you willing to test your chances?" Spritemon smirked.

Mickey added the total up in his head, and processing their words, he said slowly, "Where's DarkAngelicmon?"

His question must have struck a nerve because Vampiramon glared at him, her crimson eyes sparkling with rage. "Your guess is a good as ours, fool boy."

"Aw, darn. We were hoping you guys had seen him," Spritemon pouted, making a face.

So they don't know where DarkAngelicmon is either. Could he really be with...Sam?

Mickey let out a gasp, and exchanging a meaningful look with his fellow Digidestined, he whispered, "We need to reach Sam now!"

Dai nodded, and turning back to Vampiramon, he said, "So what if your buddies are going to be here soon? In case you didn't notice, Sam's not here with us. Attacking us isn't going to do you any good. It isn't going to get you Sam's Spirit Chip."

"Perhaps not, but we can worry about the little Emperor later. I assume, judging by this portal you created, that the fool wandered into the World of Darkness?" Vampiramon said coldly, her small knife appearing suddenly in her hand. "No matter. If my instincts are correct then DarkAngelicmon has probably gone after him. He can deal with the Ichijouji boy for now while I deal with all of you."

"What do you mean?" Matt asked suspiciously.

"Let's see," Vampiramon said slowly, motioning for Spritemon to join her. "What does my master desire the most? The Spirit Chips, of course. It's all well and good to want to steal the little Emperor's Spirit Chip, but at the moment that isn't an option. So while I wait for that foolish angel to return to me with our prize, it would make more sense for me to take advantage of our other options."

"Other options?" Armadillomon responded, frowning in confusion.

"What's even better than trying to steal a Spirit Chip stuck in a pedestal?" Vampiramon mocked, a nasty smile on her face. "What would please my master and help me to redeem myself in his eyes? Why, stealing a fully functional Spirit Chip, of course."

"Oh! Good idea!" Spritemon squealed, hopping up and down in excitement. "Sometimes even I have to admit you can be a total genius, Vampiramon."

"Huh?" Dai replied, scratching his head in bafflement.

"You, Daichi Motomiya," Vampiramon hissed, pointing a finger at him. "While I wait for DarkAngelicmon and the little Emperor to return, I'll just steal your Spirit Chip!"

"Then once we get our hands on the Ichijouji boy's Spirit Chip we'll have two of them to bring back to our master!" Spritemon said excitedly.

Dai, who was at the front of the group, took a step back, and glancing back at them over his shoulder, he muttered, "Everyone, digivolve now. Ken, you take Yolei, Matty, Mickey, and Glowmon with you, and go rescue Sam."

"I'm going with them, too!" Kenji's Halomon cried.

"Alright," Dai agreed. "You can go with. The rest of us will stay here and keep Vampiramon busy."

"But-"

"Don't argue," Dai interrupted, frowning at Ken, who had just tried to protest. "If they want my Spirit Chip let them try to steal it. It'll keep them busy and out of the way while you guys try to rescue Sam. And don't give me any flack about us being in danger. You guys will be in just as much danger traveling to the World of Darkness. Maybe even more so since you guys will have no idea what you're getting yourselves into."

"Fine, but you guys had better be careful!" Matty complained, pulling out his Digivice.

"Nothing to say to that?" Vampiramon mocked, gazing triumphantly at the goggle-headed leader.

Dai let out a snort, and holding out his Digivice, he said, "You want my Spirit Chip? Come and get it! Everyone, digivolve now!"

The clearing lit up with flashes of light as all of their partners digivolved into their highest forms, and holding Glowmon tightly in his arms, Mickey said to his partner, "Take me to Sam."

Matty took it upon himself to carry Kenji's Halomon, and the two of them were lifted into the sky by Angelicmon. Yolei quickly mounted Aquilamon, and JewelBeemon took Ken. Mickey clung tightly to Gabrielmon, Glowmon held tightly against his chest, and together the group made a break for the portal.

"Hey, get back here!" Spritemon squealed.

The little pixie and Vampiramon made an attempt to stop them, but the two megas were blocked from doing so by FireDragermon and MetalGarurumon just as they burst through the portal into the World of Darkness, much to Mickey's relief.

Hold on, Sam! We're coming for you!

Hugging Glowmon as tightly as he could, Mickey glanced over Gabrielmon's shoulder just in time to see the portal closing ominously shut behind them.