**Somewhere in the Digital World**

Stupid Tai...

Sora sat atop Jennai's overstuffed armchair with her face cradled in her hands. Tears rolled down her rosy, dirt-streaked cheeks like pouring rain, threatening to turn the inside of the digital enigma's ranch home into something rivaling its underwater surroundings. As it was, they were already soaking her favorite pair of jeans and soft pink blouse. Tears of sadness, tears of heartbreak, of rage, depression, and simple exhaustion...right now, the sixteen year old girl couldn't decide just what they were, and she didn't particularly care at the moment. She was too busy trying to figure out just what had happened, and why. Why? Why had Tai pushed her out?

"Go back..." she heard herself whisper. "Further back."

It had all seemed so innocent at first; Jennai had sent Izzy a short e-mail telling the children of a new riddle's appearance in the digital world. Some sort of tower, or castle of some sort. Naturally, it was their job to check it out, and with summer vacation's arrival, it was a simple matter of finding a working computer and opening a digiport up. Davis, Yolei and Cody were left behind, outside of the Digital world. Tai had been through enough bad experiences to know that a backup team wasn't a bad idea. Sora couldn't help but wonder if they would have made a difference. Something told her it wouldn't have mattered.

Jennai himself had led them to the fortress. It was hardly necessary, though; whatever the new threat was, it could be seen for at least a hundred miles away. It had taken them a full two weeks just to cross the rough terrain that had appeared in the surrounding region of the towering structure, battling their way through Rookie henchmen, Champion guardians, a few Ultimates here and there...it was hardly anything new to them. Even Ken and Stingmon had been able to hold their own. It was only until after they had entered the fortress that they realized just how out of their league they were.

Tai had done his best, and the rest of them had given their full support and confidence. Still, Sora couldn't remember the last time one of their battles had ever gone so very, very badly. She wasn't sure what had frightened her most. It wasn't the cold, sterile interior; the feeling of being trapped inside of an endless, soulless machine that threatened to devour your spirit. It was the kind of setting that had come from the back of her mind, where the nightmares lived. She had always loved the outdoors, and the fortress seemed to stand for everything she was against. Still, that hadn't been what had made her blood run cold...

It had been the monsters.

They weren't like anything she had ever seen, or ever wanted to see again. Izzy had tried desperately, but his Digianalyzer refused to give any data on the hoardes that had descended upon them, ravaging them like a bloodthirsty hoarde. Strange purplish rats, screeching birds, and walking mushrooms...those were only a handful of the ones she had seen before the Digidestined deleted them. It had been a hard fight, but each time the odds grew greater, they digivolved again and again. By the time they had reached the spires high in the clouds, the Digimon had each gone to the Ultimate level, with two exceptions: WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon.

"It wasn't enough..."

A cat. A small, pink, cute, flying cat with a long, wispy tail. That was what they found in the final chamber... How could something so innocent have been so vicious? The company the cat had chosen was worse: dragons. She couldn't be sure how many there were. It all happened too fast.

"Too fast." she sobbed, "Too fast..."

One or a thousand, they were all obviously at the Mega level...maybe even higher. They had made short work of the Digidestined and their Digimon, who were already exhausted from the battles beforehand. What followed was what TK always jokeingly called "One of our famous 'tactical withdrawls' from the scene." It seemed more like a hideous marathon, with the gift of life being the prize. It must have been a hundred flights down those damned stairs, with the ravenous dragons behind them every step of the way. The entire way down, she wasn't sure how many of them the dragons had gotten...the only people ahead of her were Kari and a few of their Digimon, and even then it was just barely. After what seemed an eternity, they finally saw the gateway, and beyond that, the sweet techno-nature of the Digital world. The only problem was, it was closing, fast.

And then she had tripped...

It wasn't her fault. One of the dragons had launched a furious attack, blasting a good chunk of the tech-castle's wall, sending it skewing right into her path. It wasn't as if she had fallen flat on her face. It had been more of a stumble, something that was harly worth mentioning on an average day. This time, though, it meant death. It should have been her death, but it wasn't.

"Tai..."

Yes. Yes, now she had gotten her train of thought back on track. Stupid Tai. Stupid, stupid, noble Tai. The door was nearly closed, and she had slowed her pace to regain her footing, when something from behind gave her a vicious shove through the door, catching the teen completely off guard. Sora managed to twist in the air as she flew through the rapidly closing portal, catching a glimpse of a sight that would haunt her dreams for the rest of her life; Tai, on his knees, giving her one last smile. He called out to her, but couldn't get his voice to rise over the thundering din of the battle. Nevertheless, Sora had been able to read his lips, which had only broken her heart further.

*I love you!*

Sora sobbed again, her wail carrying throughout the house with frightening volume. As Sora carried on, her tears drew the attention of three small, bizarre creatures that she had called 'friends' for some time now. They stood on the threshhold of Jennai's living area, watching her silently. "Tai...Biyomon..."

"Y'think she's all right?" Gomamon peered around the corner of the bay door, scratching his reddish-orange fringed head with his massive foreclaw. The oceanic Digimon turned to his two companions, looking at them with worry in his large, feral eyes.

"Of course she's not all right!" Tentomon cried out, waving his sharp arms and feelers in the air wildly. He quickly covered his mandibles, hoping that Sora hadn't heard him. "Of course she's not all right." the gigantic bug said more softly, "She's heartsick."

Agumon scratched his head as well, more confused than ever. "Heartsick? Is she going to need an operation?"

"I hope not." Tentomon exclaimed in earnest, "Jennai may be smart, but he's got a terrible bedside manner."

The soft thudding of footsteps brought the attention of the Digimon away from the sobbing Sora over to Matt. The tall, lanky sixteen-year-old was yawning and working the kinks out of his shoulder through his tattered green army jacket as he approached the trio of troublemakers, eyeing them suspiciously. "What's going on?" he mumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, "I was trying to catch a few Z's..." He recieved his answer with one look into the living room. "Oh no..."

"Sora's crying again." Agumon confirmed sadly.

Matt nodded, pondering. This was the fifth time since their battle that Sora had broken down. Five times in only two days. He had never seen her like this; Sora was always the calm voice of reason. She was the heart of their group...the love. This wasn't like her at all. They were all beginning to worry. Still, if crying is what she needed to do, then crying is what they would let her do. He didn't mind being pulled from his slumber. He just hoped that her emotional fatigue didn't wake up-

"Matt?" Kari mumbled softly. She had emerged from her room down the hall of the ranch, just as he had. Dressed in her rumpled cutoff shorts and sleeveless T-shirt, she looked in about as bad of shape as the rest of them. "Matt, what's wrong?"

"It's Sora."

Kari glanced over, her face contorting with sadness. "Oh no..." The petite woman crossed the threshhold into the living area, plopping down next to Sora. She tried in vain to comfort the heartbroken teen, speaking to her in soft tones. "It'll be all right, Sora. We'll find some way to save them. I know we will."

Matt quickly followed suit, opting for leaning against the back of the couch rather than sitting on it. He sighed, brushing a lock of sandy blond hair out of his eyes. "I'm not so sure. I mean, let's face facts; those guys had us out-gunned and out-classed. I'm not sure we could have beaten them, even with-"

"Matt!" Kari cried indignantly, tilting her head towards Sora, who was becoming more upset.

He looked between the two, becoming confused. "I'm just saying, we don't even know if the others are still alive. We might have to come to terms with the fact that they're...not coming back."

Something inside Sora snapped. Everything about her that was calm and collected simply shattered, making way for despair and rage. "How could you even say a terrible thing like that?" she sobbed. Her features grew twisted with anger as she made a vicious leap for Matt. It was only Kari's last, desperate grab that kept her from throttling the other Digidestined. "How DARE you!" she roared, "Who are you to give up just like that? If Tai were here-"

"Tai ISN'T here, Sora!" Matt shouted back. This seemed to strike a chord with everyone, quieting the room. The silence was broken after a few moments by Agumon, who abandoned his hiding place from around the corner. The three-foot dinosaur padded in, trying to encourage the disheartened group.

"C'mon, guys...it can't be that bad. I mean, we're still here!" he exclaimed. "We just go back there, do a little Warp-Digivolving, and everything'll be hunky-dory, A-OK." Tentomon and Gomamon rushed after him, both becoming entangled in each other as they tried to squeeze through the door at the same time. "So cheer up!" Agumon finished his pep talk, grinning his toothy smile.

Matt, who was on a hot-streak at the moment for pointing out the negative, despondently shot Agumon's theories of victory apart. "Sorry to break it to you," he said with arms behind head, "But our Digivices aren't exactly interchangable..."

"Yeah," Gomamon exclaimed, shoving Tentomon aside and joined the discussion, "That's right! It'd be like hooking up a nuclear battery to a solar generator in the Starship Enterprise's warp core. The whole thing would go totally wonko in the Plutonium Dilythium Crystal Cells."

"Uh...right." Matt scratched his head, trying to figure out exactly what the amphibious, mohawked Digimon had babbled about.
"Anyway, we still don't have a plan, and all I can think of right now is 'Run Far, Run Fast,' and that's a terrible plan." He grumbled, hating to admit his own shortcomings as replacement leader. He and Tai had always been sort of a team when it came to battle: Tai wrote the songs, and he played them. The only problem was, these new Digimon on the block had just cancelled their latest show and stolen his best songwriter. Worst of all, he couldn't seem to stop thinking in music industry metaphors for battle. "We need to get the others here, and fast."

"No can do, my young friends."

The haggard, grizzled old voice of their mysterious host drew their attention once more to the door. There stood a wizzen old man of a mere three and a half feet, dressed in samurai robes and sporting a rusty katana on his back. It was rather ridiculous at first glance; the mere thought that this old man could be a warrior! The Digidestined knew better, though. Jennai, the ancient master of the Digital world-or servant, depending on which way you looked at it-stood his full height proudly as he addressed the children. Even with the virus he had received years before in a battle with Piedmon, he was still formidable. "I'm afraid that the digital gateways to your world are currently sealed...probably a courtesy of our new neighbors. It seems that Davis, Yolei, and Cody will not be in this fight."

"The Digiport's closed!" Kari cried out. She could literally feel the last remnants of hope slipping out of her body, as if it was something tangeble that she had just lost. She slumped down into the couch, the glimmer disappearing from her eye. "Then it really is over..."

Tentomon waddled over to Jennai, who was remaining motionless in the doorway. "Jennai," the gigantic beetle warbled worriedly, "Isn't there anything we can do? We can't just give up now..."

"I'm afraid I don't have many tricks left up my sleeve, Tentomon." Jennai chuckled. He tossed his rusted katana off to the side, then entered the room and plopped down into an ancient armchair. Filled with holes and stains, the piece of furnature looked nearly as old as Jennai himself, if not older. He seemed to melt into the cushion, exhausted from his 'scouting mission'. "In fact, I can only think of one last thing..." Jennai left the children in suspense for a moment, waiting to see which of them cracked first.

Surprisingly enough, it was Sora. "Jennai, what is your plan?" she asked softly. The tears were wiped from her eyes as she sat up straight, looking focused and ready for the first time in two whole days.

The old man smiled; just as he had hoped, Sora was fine once she had been given a purpose...for now. Only time, her strength of heart, and possibly Tai, would determine her future from here. "I would think it obvious, child: We need more Digidestined." Again, he waited for their reaction with bemused anticipation, and again he wasn't disappointed. The children and their mismatched Digimon friends fairly exploded in an uproar, bombarding him with questions and indignant outbursts.

"How can that be?"

"You said the gate was closed!"

"Where are they?"

"Who are they?"

"Why didn't you mention this earlier?"

"Do they like computers?"

This last question from Tentomon quieted the others of the group, and the beetle Digimon soon found himself being stared at curiously. "What?" he asked, shrugging his tiny shoulders. "I didn't think it would hurt to ask."

Jennai chuckled again, holding up his hands to quiet child and Digimon alike. "Calm yourselves, peace, please! The gate is indeed closed, and it will be impossible to bring any of the existing Digidestined from your world to the Digital world."

"But you said-" Matt cut in on his explination, and was instantly silenced with a mere gesture from Jennai.

He smiled a secret, all-knowing smile. "I said the gateway to *your* world was closed, young one. There are many other worlds linked to the Digital world. Indeed, my world is a culmination of all their technology and data combined...not just that of your world."

Kari was the first to recover. "But Jennai," she raised her hand as if they were in a class, "What about Digimon? If they're to be Digidestined, then where will we find the Digimon to become one with them?" Her thoughts drifted to Gatomon, her beloved battle-cat. Losing Gatomon was just as painful on her as losing Biyomon had been to Sora. Also as Sora did, she, too, grieved for her brother. Kari hoped desperately that Tai was all right. Knowing him, he was probably already planning their escape, assuming that they were still alive.

"Fear not, child." his eyes glimmered with a knowledge that he could not yet share with the Digital world's saviors...not just yet. "I assure you, I'll have everything worked out by morning." He hauled himself out of the chair with a grunt and a groan, readjusting his spine after the maneuver. "For now, you should rest. By tomorrow morning, I should have everything ready."

"But Jennai-"

"Conserve your energy. You may not be able to fight in this battle, but the new Digidestined will still need your help." He turned to leave, exiting the room filled with curious children and baffled Digimon. They no doubt wondered how he could magically produce a new team of Digidestined. Truth be told, he wasn't sure how he could do it either. But Jennai always spoke the truth; he knew of a world where the perfect Digidestined awaited...the same world where their new foes hailed from, in fact.

And the three children he had his eyes on would indeed need the help of Matt, Sora, and Kari...as much help as the Digidestined could provide.

TO BE CONTINUED...