Chapter Seven: The Hour of the Wolf

Something was very wrong.

Yamato had known that even before he had returned to the cave to find all of his friends, including Gabumon, missing. It was not so much an abstract feeling as it was profound, overpowering knowledge that evil had come. Yamato had never been able to predict darkness like his brother or Hikari, but he had felt it, and it was a feeling that could never be forgotten or mistaken for anything else.

Following distant voices that echoed back to him in the dark, one of which sounded distinctly like Sora, Yamato raced into the tunnel that led to the cavern they had discovered. The voices grew clearer as he ran deeper into the cave, feet pounding hard on the stony trail. One was definitely Sora, and there was another that sounded somehow familiar but that he couldn't quite place.

Then he heard a sound that made his blood freeze in his veins: Sora screamed.

Lengthening his strides to an all out sprint, Yamato rounded the last turn and came face to face with…himself.

It was like looking into a mirror, except the expression that the other wore was cruel and full of cool arrogance, contorting the normally handsome features into something hateful and ugly. The creature was leaning down toward Sora, looking for all the world as if it were about to kiss her, despite the girl's pleas and desperate struggling to get away.

Yamato felt raw fury blaze up inside of him and he charged forward. "Get away from her!"

The creature looked surprised for a moment, then laughed, shoving Sora to the ground.

"Yamato!" she cried in palpable relief.

"So, you decided to join us at last, Child of Friendship?" It was his voice, but not. "Ah, but can you really have friendship without friends?" The creature gestured to the wall behind him.

And there, illuminated by the light of the orb, which was glowing impassively in the dark, Yamato could see his friends. They were strapped to the wall, even the digimon, and they stared at him helplessly. A few, such as Taichi, were thrashing hard against their bonds, but it was obviously in vain. He sought out Gabumon and Takeru, and was relieved to find that they seemed unharmed, though they both looked extremely frustrated at the situation.

Yamato glared at the creature. "Let them go."

The thing laughed, and Yamato tried not to shudder at such a horrible sound coming from a body that was just like his. "Why would I do that? I'm just getting started with them. You should stick around to watch, you might enjoy it. I know I certainly will."

"I am nothing like you," Yamato told him. "Show your true form!"

"Oh? But what if this is my true form? What if I am the embodiment of the evil inside of you?"

That made Yamato pause. Could it be possible? He knew he had darkness within him, because that darkness had manifested physically as a cave of sorts once, trapping him and Gabumon in a world of despair. Was he the one holding his friends captive now with that inescapably dark part of himself? This was the digital world, after all: anything was possible.

Gabumon's voice pulled him from his troubled thoughts. "Yamato does not have anything so evil as you inside of him, and he never will! The only thing he has in his heart is goodness, and he will defeat you!"

The conviction in his partner's voice, his belief, gave Yamato new strength. "Who are you?" he demanded of the creature. "What do you want with us?"

"Yamato," Sora began, crawling toward him, "his name is Choronzomon and- "

"I thought I told you to shut up!" the demon that was Choronzomon yelled, and sent a wave of dark energy in Sora's direction that flung her against the wall where the others were restrained. She impacted it with audible force, and slid to the ground, unconscious.

"Sora!" Piyomon screamed, tears running down her feathered face.

Yamato tried to run to her, but Choronzomon had changed form into something not unlike a giant black squid with red eyes and a huge, gaping mouth. One of the demon's many tentacles shot out toward the running boy.

"Yamato, look out!" Taichi called to him.

It was too late. Choronzomon had grabbed him about the neck, lifting the blonde up to face him. "If that's the way you want to play, then maybe you shouldn't play at all," he rasped, opening his mouth to seemingly swallow the boy whole.

Yamato leaned back away from him, his feet kicking wildly in the air. He found he could not look away from the creature's mouth, which opened up into a place that was darker than the blackest night. For the first time, he was really, truly afraid.

Suddenly, there came a growl that shook the air like thunder. Yamato's eyes widened in shock: Gabumon had somehow evolved into Garurumon, shattering his bindings. The champion digimon now stood snarling menacingly up at the demon that held Yamato captive.

"What?" Choronzomon cried in disbelief. "Impossible!"

Garurumon leapt, clawing at the demon's face. Choronzomon howled in pain, dropping Yamato to the ground. Yamato quickly ran over the others, first checking Sora's pulse, relieved to find it steady, before turning the others. He tugged at Takeru's binding, but it was useless.

A yelp of pain echoed through the cave, and Yamato whirled around to see Garurumon blasted into a wall by a bolt of energy let loose by a laughing Choronzomon, a shower of rocky debris falling down on top of him. The wolf was clearly outmatched.

Yamato clenched his fists, eyes blazing with blue fury. "Garurumon, evolve!"

The wolf was shook his head. "I tried already, I can't," he said, ducking one of Choronzomon's flailing tentacles. "I'm sorry, Yamato."

Yamato squeezed his eyes shut in frustration. This was his fault: if he hadn't left, this wouldn't be happening. Even as he thought it, a part of him recognized the thought as irrational. He couldn't give in to his despair, not this time. His friends were in danger, because of him, and he was the only one that could do something about it. I am not going to give up!

"Nii-chan!" Takeru suddenly cried. "Look!"

Yamato followed his brother's wide-eyed gaze, and gasped. The sphere of ice, the one in which the Artifact was trapped, had begun to melt. At the same time, Yamato felt his palm begin to warm and he looked down to see the imprint of his crest burning brightly against his flesh. A large crack resounded through the air and his eyes flew back to the orb. It had split in two, revealing its treasure. The flute glistened with drops of water, and the Crest of Friendship inscribed on its surface was lit to mirror the one on Yamato's hand.

"No!" cried Choronzomon, reaching for it. "It is mine!"

But Yamato was there first.

He dove to the ground, the flute clutched in his hands. The moment his fingers touched the cool, blue-grey metal he knew what to do. Bringing the instrument to his lips, he began to play. It was strange, because somehow his hands knew exactly how to move, and though the melody he played was one he'd never heard before, he somehow knew it by heart. The pure, rich sound that filled the cave was nothing like the scratchy notes of his old harmonica.

Garurumon responded instantly to the music, howling in triumph. "Garurumon shinka…WereGarurumon!"

Lowering the flute, Yamato grinned in amazement. "Get him, WereGarurumon!"

"Kaiser Nail!"

Choronzomon cried out in pain and rage, clutching at the places where WereGarurumon's claws had pierced his skin. A black fog filled the cave as what Yamato could describe only as pure darkness seeped from the demon's body.

"He will destroy you!" Choronzomon screamed as his form began to disintegrate. "I shall have my revenge!" Then he was gone, the fog drifting away. The bindings that had been holding the other Chosen Children captive disappeared with him.

Yamato cradled Sora's head in his lap. "Sora…"

She stirred, and opened her eyes. "Yamato." She sounded relieved. "It's really you this time."

He smiled, brushing a light hand over her face, and then frowned as she flinched. "He did this to you?" he asked, noticing for the first time the discoloured patch of skin on her cheek. "I'm so sorry, Sora."

Sora reached up and placed her hand over his, pressing it against her face. "It wasn't you," she said seriously, making sure he met her eyes.

"I'd never- "

"I know."

He smiled at her anticipation of his guilt. "I love you."

She grinned. "I know that, too."

It had stopped raining almost as soon as Choronzomon had been destroyed.

Mimi had been delighted by this at first, tired of soggy clothes and runny make-up, but then Jyou had stated the possibility that the storm had been an invention of the dark digimon to lure them to the shelter provided by the cave, and all of her delight had evaporated like the rain. It had been a trap, and they had fallen for it. What was even worse, though she would never admit it aloud, was that when Choronzomon had taken Yamato's form, Mimi had almost believed it actually was her friend, and she did not like to think that they could be turned against each other so easily.

Mimi rubbed nervously at her wrists where the bindings had cut into her skin, the red marks contrasting strangely with the white outline of the crest that had been burned into her palm. She had never been a tattoo kind of girl, but if she had, the Crest of Purity would have been her first choice as a design, so she supposed it wasn't all that bad. Besides, it made her feel somehow closer to Palmon, an effect to which Mimi would never object.

At the moment, Palmon was standing with Piyomon, watching as the Chosen Children debated the advantages of splitting up to look for the other Artifacts, since Yamato's had proved to be so useful. Mimi, never one to enjoy an argument, had decided to let the other's decide what to do. She lounged on a rock nearby, watching over the proceedings.

"Look," Taichi was saying, "we'd be able to cover a lot more ground if we split up."

Hikari met her brother's eyes. "But we're stronger as a team."

Mimi found herself agreeing with the younger girl, who, she noticed, wasn't so young anymore. Hikari had definitely grown up, and the outfit she wore – a purple tank top embroidered with pink sakura blossoms that had a Chinese-style collar, and a pair of jean Capri pants that Mimi was considering asking if she could borrow once they returned home – accented her slight curviness.

Takeru is either stupid or blind, Mimi decided, though she had never questioned the boy's intelligence.

Of course, now was not the time to be wondering about romances within their little group. She let out a small sigh, and fanned herself with her hand. It was approaching noon and the sun rose hot above them, a great contrast to the freezing downpour of the night before. She wished the weather would make up its mind.

"Technically," Koushiro said, "I agree with Hikari: we have always been able to do the most good when we all worked together. However, we don't have a lot of time on our hands."

"Koushiro is right," Tentomon put in. "The digital world is running out of time."

Mimi glanced over at Palmon, who she could see was nodding ever so slightly in agreement. She pursed her lips- time was something they never seemed to have.

"Maybe we should vote on this," Jyou proposed diplomatically.

"All right," Taichi agreed. "All those in favour of splitting up?"

Only Hikari, Takeru, and Patamon did not raise their hands.


The cat-like digimon shrugged. "Sorry, Hikari, but I think it's best if we find the Artifacts as soon as possible. The digital world is disintegrating as we speak, you see?" She pointed to the sky, and they all gasped at the sight of a distant cityscape, upside-down above them. Mimi thought she could make out the Empire State Building, but she wasn't sure.

"It's settled then," said Taichi resolutely. "We can search in two groups of four."

"Eight," Agumon said.

"Right, sorry. Two groups of eight," Taichi corrected. "How about…me, Hikari, Koushiro and Mimi in one group and Yamato, Sora, Takeru, and Jyou in the other?"

It made sense, Mimi thought, that Taichi would keep the families together, since both older boys were protective of their siblings and would worry. They probably couldn't afford to have distractions like that.

Takeru apparently thought differently. "I don't think it's a good idea to split up the angel-type digimon. Patamon and Tailmon fight best together."

It was a valid point, but Mimi wasn't fooled. Maybe not so blind then, she thought a bit smugly.

Hikari voiced her agreement, and Taichi exchanged a glance with Yamato before consenting. "Okay, fine. Takeru can switch places with Koushiro, if that's all right with everyone?"

Mimi blinked in surprised. She had assumed that Taichi would send her to the other group, seeing as he and Koushiro were much better friends. A little warmth formed in her chest, but she forced it aside.

"That sounds fine," Koushiro replied, then changed the subject completely by pulling out the note Miyako had given him. "I think we should go over the instructions Gennai left us."

"Good idea," said Sora.

"It seems like the last part is most relevant, since the first bit was mostly about Kyoto and what the others need to do there."

"Read it to us," Taichi suggested.

"Eight tools cast to help fight the foe; free the captives or all shall fall to ash and woe," Koushiro recited. "Two are born of shadow, from fire only one, three in forms of water, and two are trapped in stone."

"So the 'tools' are the Artifacts, obviously," said Yamato. "The rest of it sounds like it's telling us where to find them."

"Well," Jyou said thoughtfully, "ice is definitely a form of water, and that's where we found Yamato's flute."

Koushiro nodded. "Right. I guess that means we're looking for two more in water, two in stone, and one in fire- that could mean a volcano or something, perhaps."

Mimi didn't really like the idea of searching in a volcano. It was hot enough out here as it was. "What does 'born of shadow' mean?" she asked, speaking for the first time.

No one had any answers for her, and Mimi shifted uncomfortably in the sticky heat.

"What do you suppose Choronzomon meant when he referred to a 'Master'?" Takeru said quietly. "I don't like that at all, the implication that there's some great evil orchestrating all of this."

Taichi looked to the digimon. "Any ideas?"

Gabumon, having reverted back to his rookie stage, shook his head. "We're not sure. This world isn't the way it was before, so we don't know any more than you do."

"I think the most we can do," Gomamon said, "is to destroy anything that opposes us."

"It's different this time," Tailmon added, before Hikari could protest hurting other digimon. "They aren't being controlled by gears, or rings, or anything like that. These are actual evil creatures, and we have to destroy them to restore the light."

They were all quiet for a moment, realizing the gravity of their task.

"All right, then," Taichi finally spoke up, a determined expression on his face. "We'd better get going." He squinted out over the landscape. "My group will go that way, towards those mountains in the distance. Maybe we'll come across a volcano," he said, winking at Koushiro.

The other boy rolled his eyes. "It's only a theory, Taichi."

Yamato laid a hand on Takeru's shoulder. "Take care of each other."

"We will," Takeru told him. He gave his brother a small smile, before hurrying to catch up to Taichi and Hikari who had already started walking away.

Palmon also followed, calling, "Hurry up, Mimi!"

Mimi stood, wincing a bit as her bare feet touched the hot sand. She wished she worn different shoes, ones that she could actually walk in here, but how was she to have known they were going to the Digiworld?

Sora shot her a sympathetic look. "Good luck."

"You, too," Mimi said sincerely, directing the words at Jyou, Yamato, and Koushiro as well. Then she turned away.

We can do this, Mimi thought, willing herself to believe it. We were chosen for a reason.