Disclaimer: All things Digimon belong to Saban. I made up Chiaromon and the mutant, and gave the kids names and personalities.
The rest of it is not mine. This is something of an experimental work - that means I'm posting this part just to see if this is something
people will actually read. If someone does, more parts will follow.

The Mutant in the Basement
By: SilvorMoon

"Mamaaaaa! He's doing it again!"

"I was not!"

"Were too!"

"Quiet, both of you!" Miyako shouted over the chaos. The children became still at once,
looking innocently up into their mother's eyes, and Miyako sighed. She loved all three of her
children, but there were times...

"That's better," she said, looking from one boy to the other. "Now, what is it this time?"

Natte, the youngest boy, pouted. "Kaze was pinching me."

"I was not!" said Kaze. "I was barely touching him. He just wants to get me in trouble."

"Do not! You were hurting me!" Natte insisted, and his Minomon bobbed his head in
agreement.

"He was crying," said the Minomon.

"Shut up, Crawler," Kaze snapped. "You always take his side!"

"You were being a little rough," his own Digimon, a Wormmon called Larva, said.
"Couldn't you just... you know, say you're sorry and forget about it?"

"Three to one, Kaze," said Kaiya. She was the oldest, and enjoyed her superiority over her
brothers. "I don't know what you thought you were doing, but even Wingblade noticed."

Wingblade, her Hawkmon, shot her a look over the rims of his sunglasses. "I notice
everything. I just don't tell you, that's all."

Miyako sighed again and rolled her eyes. She would have thought that after all these
years, her little brood would have adjusted to their circumstances, but there were times when it
seemed like things were never going to settle down. For the past three years, ever since her
divorce from Ken Ichijouji, the two oldest children had gone to live with their father, while Natte remained with his mother. That was a situation that worked out to everyone's advantage: Ken was a good father and loved all of his children dearly, making sure to pay frequent visits to his youngest child. Miyako's part of the settlement involved having the children come and visit her every so often, usually spending the weekend. However, with a teenager, a pair of feuding
brothers, and three extra Digimon in the house, things tended to get a little hectic.

"Kaze, Kaze, Kaze," she sighed, "why do you keep on doing this? Natte never does
anything to you."

"Natte's a pain," said Kaze sullenly. "I want to go home."

"I don't know what's gotten into you lately," said Miyako. "You were never like this
before."

"He's just reaching that crazy age," said Kaiya philosophically.

"She didn't ask you," said Wingblade.

"Shut up!"

"Make me!"

"All of you be quiet!" Miyako shouted. "Honestly! Why did I ever think I wanted a dozen
children?"

"If you don't want us here, send us home. I want to go back to Dad anyway," said Kaze.

"Under the circumstances," said Hawkmon quietly to Miyako, "perhaps it might be
advisable."

"Maybe you're right," she agreed. "Ken's probably home now, anyway. He won't care if I
bring the kids home early. Come on, kids. Let's head for the car."

"Us too?" asked Larva, looking up at Miyako with worried blue eyes.

That was enough to make her laugh, releasing a bit of tension. "You didn't think I'd leave
you here, would you?"

"I don't know," said Larva, flicking his antennae in a caterpillar shrug. "We weren't the
ones causing the trouble."

Kaiya laughed. "You couldn't get Wingblade to stay here if you tried. He left his hair gel
at home, and he's been fretting all weekend."

"You're the one who forgot!" Wingblade retorted. "I told you very specifically to bring it!"

Hawkmon sighed, and Kaiya and her mother both exchanged knowing looks. For all they
were the same type of Digimon, it would have been hard to find two creatures with more
different personalities. Hawkmon was ever polite and reserved; Wingblade made it a point to be obnoxious and act tough, complete with his ever-present black glasses and his feathers slicked and dyed into a red mohawk. The only thing that they had in common was their absolute
devotion to their respective partners.

"Can I come, too?" asked Natte. "I want to see Daddy!"

"You stay out of it," Kaze said. "You don't belong with us."

"Kaze, that's not nice," Miyako scolded. "I can't leave Natte at home alone. He's coming
with us."

"Well, I could look after him for a bit, if you want..." Hawkmon offered.

"No, thanks," Miyako replied. She gave one of her darkest looks to Kaze. "This boy is
going to learn how to get along with his brother - and like it!"

So that was how they all ended up piling into Miyako's minivan - her and Hawkmon in
front, Kaiya and Wingblade in the middle, and Natte and Kaze in the back, with their respective
Digimon trying to keep them from hurting each other. Miyako drove grimly, ignoring the sounds
of scuffling in the back. When they escalated, there was a feathery sort of whap, as if
someone had been hit by a stiff, bony wing, and then there was only whimpering that faded into
silence.

*I wish I knew what was wrong with those two,* Miyako mused.

When Natte had been born, he had been the darling of the family. Kaiya had been
delighted at the prospect of a baby in the house, and Kaze, at the time too young to know boys
were supposed to be tough, had been equally pleased. The youngest of the Ichijoujis had learned to crawl and talk under his brother's doting eye, and Kaze had been looking forward to the day when they'd both be old enough to go to school together. He had spent hours looking after his little brother, reading him stories or just talking to him. The divorce, not easy on anyone, had been particularly rough on Kaze.

*Maybe he blames it on Natte, somehow?* Miyako wondered, glancing in the
rearview mirror. The two boys were both staring out the windows, pointedly ignoring each other and hugging their partners. *The break happened not long after Natte was born; maybe he thinks it was Natte's fault. He couldn't really understand what drove his parents apart... or could he? Could I tell him? Would it help?*

She didn't have an answer by the time she arrived at Ken's apartment building, so she
simply contented herself in thinking that she wouldn't have to deal with the problem for another
month, not until it came time for them to visit again. Maybe she could talk things over with Ken
before them, ask him if he thought the children were old enough to hear the whole story.

She continued musing as she piled everyone on the elevator and began the ride to the top
floor. Most people would have preferred not to live in such an environment - always too hot in
summer and too cold in winter - but Ken loved the view, not to mention easy access to the roof
and the sunlight. It was a good take-off and landing place for Stingmon and Wingblade, too.
When they had finally reached the last floor, Miyako herded the small troop down the hall and
knocked on the door. There was no answer.

"Hello?" Miyako called. There was silence. "Hello? Ken? Wormmon? Anyone home?
Hello?"

Still no answer. Curious, and a bit worried, she tried the door. It was locked.

"He must have gone out," she said to herself. "But where could he be? He knew we were
coming over today..."

"I suppose he could be out doing the shopping," Hawkmon suggested. "We should have
called first."

"Guess we'll have to go home again," sighed Miyako. "Drats. It'll be rush hour back
there, too. By the time we get back home, it will be time to turn around and come back!"

"I have a key," Kaiya offered. "We could go inside and wait for him, if you want. I think
there are some cookies in there, if Wormmon hasn't eaten them."

"Yeah! Cookies!" Natte cheered, and Crawler hopped up and down excitedly.

"I guess we'll stay," said Kaze. "Dad won't be gone too long, will he?"

"I wouldn't think so. After all, he is expecting us," Miyako replied.

"Good," said Kaze. He shot a dark look at his brother, which everyone ignored.

Kaiya unlocked the door and led everyone inside. As usual, Ken had left the place
spotless, and Miyako smiled a little in reminiscence.

*Always the neat freak,* she thought wryly. She had always been a casual
housekeeper, and so it had fallen out that Ken had done most of the work himself. The only place that wasn't sparkling was his art study. The door stood slightly ajar, showing her a clutter of frames, canvasses, bottles of paint, easels, palettes, lamps, half-finished works, and other odds and ends that only an artist would understand. A window stood open, curtains flapping in the breeze, but it could only air out some of the heavy scent of paint and turpentine. She went to shut the door, listening absently as the boys clamored around the kitchen, forgetting whatever
disagreement they had in the face of such a dazzling prospect as chocolate chip cookies.

Suddenly, the phone rang.

"Should we get it?" asked Hawkmon.

"Why not?" she replied. "For all we know, it could be him calling to see if we're here."

"What if it's none of our business?" Hawkmon asked.

"Then we'll hang up." Miyako grabbed the nearest phone. "Hello?"

"Hi, this is Taichi," said the voice on the other end. He sounded a little rushed; he was
talking fast. "Ken wouldn't be in by any chance, would he?"

"No," Miyako replied. "We were just waiting for him."

"Oh, well, if he turns up, let me know right away, okay?" Taichi replied.

"Why? Is something wrong?" she asked.

"I don't know," said Taichi vaguely. "I don't want to worry you..."

"I'm already worried. Tell me."

"Well, it's like this: Ken and I went to the Digital World for a little while. I turned my
back on him for a minute, and next thing I know..."

"No Ken," Miyako finished.

"Right. We tried tracking his Digivice signal, but so far, we haven't had any luck. I
thought he might have decided to go home or something, since it doesn't look like he's in the
Digital World anymore, but if he's not there..."

"I'm sure he'll turn up," said Miyako, more bravely than she felt. "Ken's strong. He can
take care of himself. And he does have Wormmon with him, doesn't he?"

"Always," Taichi replied. "That's true; he's pretty safe as long as his partner is with him.
Most things would think twice about messing with Stingmon."

"He'll turn up," Miyako said reassuringly. "In the meantime, I guess I can look after the
kids a little longer."

"Oh, you've got them with you?" asked Taichi. "Say hi to them for me. My Hoshi's just getting to the age where he's figured out Kaiya's cute."

Miyako rolled her eyes. "Kaiya's gotten to the age where she thinks every guy is cute.
Maybe Hoshi will get lucky... Kids these days. Was I ever like that?"

"You don't really want me to answer that, do you?"

"No, not really."

"All right. See you, Miyako. And let me know when Ken gets back. It'll take a load off
my mind."

"Bye, Taichi. I'll give you a call."

Miyako hung up and immediately went fishing in her purse for her D-3. Even though she
seldom needed it these days, it was still comforting to have around, and now she was glad to
have it. She picked it up and scanned the area for Ken's signal, but the screen remained
frustratingly blank. That could only mean he wasn't in the real world, but if he wasn't there and
wasn't in the Digital World... where was he?

*******************************************

A few hours later, Ken had been following Taichi and Agumon over the hills of a digital
plain, watching a small group of young Kiwimon playing tag on the grass. He tilted back his head to enjoy the sunlight on his face and stretched, careful not to dislodge the large caterpillar that rode proudly on his shoulder.

"Thanks for bringing me along, Taichi," he said. "I really needed a break."

"No problem," Taichi replied. "I'm always glad for some company... especially when I have
to go to boring meetings. You wouldn't believe how much a Floramon can talk!"

"What's the problem this time?" Ken asked.

"Oh, you know, the usual - people wandering around who aren't supposed to be here,
picnicking and making a mess," said Taichi with a grimace. "As if I can do anything about it except
maybe cut this area off from public access... maybe that's not a bad idea. How about we cut off
everything except... oh, I dunno. The tops of the mountains, the middle of the ocean, and that
swamp where all the Ogremon hang out."

Ken laughed. "That would be one way to solve the problem. I'm not sure you could get
everyone to agree to that."

"True. That's life," Taichi sighed. "Maybe I'll get somebody else to be ambassador. You
want to give it a try?"

"Not me! I've had quite enough of worrying about how the DigiWorld ought to be run,"
said Ken. "Maybe I'll sit the meeting out... just walk around for a while. Clear the cobwebs out
of my brain."

"Okay. Just don't wander off too far," Taichi replied with a wink. "Wouldn't want you to get
lost or anything."

"Who, me? Lost?" asked Ken in mock-offense. "I'll have you know there was a time
when I had every tree and bush of this place memorized! Of course, I can't remember much from that time now..."

Taichi laughed. "Well, have a nice time. I'll see you later. Come on, Agumon, let's go find
that meeting. If we're lucky, maybe they'll have refreshments!"

Ken smiled as he watched his friends hurry off. Much as he liked the company of the
other Digidestined, there was still a part of him who enjoyed his solitude. He had certainly seen a great deal of the Digital World back in the dark days, but he always looked forward to a chance to look at it again with new eyes, not the look of one who was considering ownership, or even the look of someone determined to protect, but just a simple gaze of appreciation. The Digital World was, to him, the most beautiful form of art there was, constantly in motion and ever surprising. At the moment, the Kiwimons had finished their game of tag and were now converting a few vines into jump ropes. For a moment, Ken and Wormmon stopped to watch them, and even took a turn at trying to jump over the twirling rope themselves, getting their feet tangled up and laughing.

When the Kiwimon had grown tired of playing and returned to their nests and Taichi showed
no signs of returning, Ken began to grow restless. He began to wander closer to the edge of a
forest he could just barely make out in the distance. Dangerous things had been known to lurk in forests, but nothing had been known to enter this valley that was more deadly than a few rogue Woodmon, and once a very lost Triceramon. He doubted he'd encounter anything his partner couldn't handle.

"What do you think?" he asked. "Feel like doing a little exploring?"

"As long as we don't go too far," Wormmon replied. "Taichi will get worried if we wander
off."

"We won't go far. I just want a change of scenery."

Inside the forest, the air was cooler and damper, smelling of pine needles and fir boughs.
A few flits of motion, small woodland Digimon, darted in and out between the trees. Ken waved to a few of them. However, the further they walked, the darker the woods grew, and the fewer creatures they encountered. Emerald moss grew on the ground, hidden here and there by rusty needles and itself hiding the roots of trees, forcing Ken to walk carefully lest he trip. His footfalls made no sound, and the absolute silence was eerie. Ken was just beginning to think he should turn back when he heard - clear and sharp in the still air - a sound.

It was music. Somewhere up ahead, someone was playing what sounded like a wooden
flute, the melody too muffled by the forest to be made out clearly. Curious, Ken began making
his way closer to the sound, dimly surprised that Wormmon wasn't objecting. They were going
deeper into the woods, and he had felt the little worm's tension, but a quick glance showed that
his partner's antennae were pricked forward with interest. Obviously, he was just as curious
about the noise as Ken. That was all the encouragement he needed; Ken picked up the pace,
listening to the music becoming clearer as he ran. He tripped on a root and almost fell, skidded
on some damp moss, righted himself, and then came to a sudden stop as a beam of light struck
his eyes.

He was standing at the edge of a clearing, a place where the trees seemed to have been
rudely pushed out of the way to make room for a bit of meadowland that didn't seem to belong
there. If Ken had been paying close attention, he would have noticed that not a single pinecone or even a needle had fallen into the glen, nor did the moss encroach on it anywhere. However, he wasn't looking at the glen at all. He was looking at what was in it - or rather, iwho/i was in it, for the occupant was very nearly, if not completely, human. He wore a coat of sapphire blue, underlaid with sky-colored trousers and pale purple boots. It never stuck Ken to wonder what a creature like this would be doing here, or why it should look vaguely familiar, or why it should have its face covered by a mask. He could only stand and stare, watching this bizarre figure as it danced with inhuman grace through the clearing, leaping and spinning in a swirl of ribbons and light. He carried a set of pan pipes in his hands, and he played a rollicking melody on them, a complex set of notes that made Ken feel oddly as if his brain was turning somersaults, disrupting any conscious thought. The dancer went on playing, seemingly oblivious to his audience, even though Ken and Wormmon stood blank-eyed at the edge of the glen, close enough to reach out and touch him if only they could have moved. Finally, though, the strange performer seemed to tire of his location, and he turned and began dancing off into the shadows of the woods, and Ken followed stiffly after him, eyes dull and unblinking. Soon they were gone, and the clearing vanished, soaking into the scenery like a drop of water on a cloth, leaving no trace of their passing.

**************************************************

"Where is he?" asked Kaiya, for what must have been the fifteenth time.

"He'll be back," Wingblade answered. Even with his sunglasses on, he was refusing to
look his partner. "He has Stingmon to look after him, doesn't he? That bug would rather die than let anyone set a finger on Ken."

"I know that!" Kaiya snapped. "Everyone keeps telling me that, and it doesn't do a bit of
good. If whatever he'd run into really wasn't something Stingmon couldn't handle, he wouldn't
be... wherever he is now! He'd be home with us!"

"Keep it down!" said Wingblade. "If you yell, Kaze will hear you, and you'll never get
him to shut up."

"Too late," said Kaze from the next room.

Kaiya sighed; why did she always end up with the responsibility? Miyako may have
divorced her husband, but that didn't mean she wasn't deeply worried at his disappearance. She
had locked herself in her room, giving her oldest child orders to look after the others. There were quiet murmurs from the room that sounded like Miyako was making phone calls on a desperate search for an answer, a clue, any kind of help. Natte was keeping close to Kaiya, hugging Crawler for comfort, expressing himself only in silent presence and wide, worried stares. It seemed Kaze had gone into his room to sulk, but that didn't seem to mean he wasn't paying attention to what was going on around him.

Sure enough, Kaze came sauntering into the living room a moment later, an odd
expression of triumph fixed on his face. Larva crawled behind him, looking worried.

"What are you looking so cocky about?" Kaiya demanded.

"Bet I know where he's gone," answered Kaze. "He's dumped us."

"What?" asked Kaiya.

"He left us," Kaze replied. "He waited until we were gone, and then he left."

"Kaze, that's an awful thing to say. If mom were here, she'd make you wash your mouth
out with soap," said Kaiya.

"So what?" Kaze snapped. "He left her, too. Left her, left that little creature-" He spat the
words at Natte, making him flinch. "-and now he's left us. We shouldn't be surprised."

"Why would he want to leave us?" Kaiya asked, shocked and horrified.

Kaze shrugged. "Probably because we remind him of her." He narrowed his eyes,
sharp violet orbs that were so much like his father's. "He hates her."

"Kaze..." Larva whimpered. "Don't say things like that!"

"Quiet. You know as well as I do what's going on," Kaze replied.

"What does he know?" asked Kaiya suspiciously.

"Nothing!" said Kaze, looking suddenly guilty.

"Oh, no you don't!" Kaiya replied. "I've had about enough of this high-and-mighty act of
yours, and I'm going to get some information out of you. Wingblade?"

"Right." The hawk Digimon nodded and made a dive for Larva, who squeaked in fright.
There was a brief tangle as he struggled to worm his way out of the larger 'mon's hands, but
feathers were not very good for gripping, and the Wormmon was able to escape. Kaze scooped him up protectively and shot a dagger-look at his sister.

"Don't ever do that again," he said.

"If you don't want it to happen, you'd better start talking," Kaiya replied.

"It's all right," said Natte quietly. "I know he hates me. You don't have to make him
explain it."

Everyone turned to stare; that was more than the little boy usually said at a time. The
youngest boy was only four years old, but there were times when they all wondered if he wasn't
as smart as any of them. His eyes, the same soft blue they had been since he was a baby, stared
at them all sadly. Kaira couldn't resist the impulse to drop on one knee and hug him.

"Kaze doesn't hate you," she said. "He's just a little tense right now."

"Kaze hates me," Natte repeated.

His eyes locked on Kaze's for a moment. Something about the look seemed to enrage the
older boy, and he turned his head with a look of disgust.

"You know what I think?" ventured a timid voice, breaking the silence. Five shocked
pairs of eyes turned to look at Crawler the Minomon. "I think Ken's in the Digital World, still."

"But you heard what Mom told us," said Kaira. "Mr. Kamiya couldn't find him there."

"If he were in the real world, the Digivice would find him," said Crawler.

"Same goes for the DigiWorld," said Wingblade.

"What if it's magic?" Crawler suggested. "A magic thing has trouble getting into the real
world, but there are plenty of magic things in the Digital World. One of them could hide your
father there."

"Or he could hide himself," said Larva timidly.

"Hm," said Kaiya. She reached in her pocket. She had been Digidestined since the day
she was born, the day a tiny Pururumon had appeared next to her as she slept. As such, she had a Digivice of her own, seldom used but always present. Even if it was nothing more than one of the little blue boxes carried by the first Digidestined, not one of the fancier sorts like what her mother carried, it was still a comforting thing to have around. She turned it over in her hands. It might have been only her imagination, but she thought she could almost feel its power
thrumming against her fingers, as if begging to be used.

"Do you think we could go to the Digital World?" asked Natte. "I've never been!"

"Yes, you have," said Kaze. "You were just too little to remember, that's all."

"Mom might get mad if we vanished, too," said Kaiya. She glanced at the closed door her
mother hid behind.

"She won't notice," said Kaze. "Let's go to the DigiWorld! We can use Mom's
computer."

They all looked over to a desk in a corner, where a computer sat innocently. Hesitantly, as if
she thought it might bite, Kaiya walked over to it and turned it on. It hummed to life, showing a
cheery screen with a selection of icons against a wallpaper of soaring eagles, and yet she still
hesitated.

"I've never done this before," she said uneasily. Her brothers only glared at her, clearly
ashamed at her cowardice. Wingblade was giving her similar looks over the rims of his glasses.
"Oh, all right! Here goes nothing. Digi-port, open!"

The computer made sputtering noises, as if it didn't trust her. Then there was an electric
Icrack/I as a bolt of lightning seemed to sizzle through it, and the screen glowed a brilliant,
eye-searing blue. Then there was a shifting feeling that made all their stomachs lurch. Then they
were gone.

***********************************************

Ken came awake with a headache worse than any he could remember in his life, worse than
the one he'd had after that college party Daisuke had insisted he go to. His eyes refused to focus on anything clearly, and he could only be grateful that the room he found himself in was dark. He was sure light would only have made him feel much worse, and as he became more aware of his surroundings, he began to feel that he didn't really Iwant/I to see where he was. Only vague and random details were making their way to his addled brain: a cold, smooth floor, a smell of dampness, intense shadow. Then something occurred to him that made him snap awake with a jolt.

"Wormmon!" he shouted.

In reply, there was a tiny groan that could only have come from a caterpillar in as much pain
as his partner. Ken tried to scramble toward the noise, feeling his stomach clench in worry; Ken
would forgive someone who hurt him, but anyone who tried to harm Wormmon would swear Ken had never completely gotten over the emperor's violent streak. He crawled around blindly in the darkness and ran into something cold and hard, adding a fresh ache to his already pounding head. He put up a hand and felt bars, each about an inch and half thick, smooth as glass but hard as steel, set at intervals no wider than his palm. A chill ran down Ken's spine as an indefinable horror stuck him. He recoiled instinctively, then forced himself to reach out and touch the bars again, following them, searching for the boundaries of his confinement. It didn't take long for him to find the first corner, then the second and third. The darkness made it impossible to be sure, but he guessed he was in a cage no larger than four feet square. Even worse, his partner wasn't in it.

"Wormmon?" he called again. "Where are you?"

There was another whimper, then a weak voice. "Ken? How come I'm not with you?"

"I'm in a cage," said Ken. "Please tell me you aren't."

There was a scuffling noise and a faint rattling.

"Sorry, Ken," Wormmon sighed. "It looks like I'm stuck, too."

Ken sighed. "Don't apologize, Wormmon. It's not your fault."

"But I'm supposed to protect you. If I'd been doing my job, neither of us would be in cages."

"Don't talk like that. You never would have let something like this happen on purpose," Ken
replied. He frowned. "How Idid/I we end up here, anyway? Last thing I can remember, we were walking in the woods, and we were just about to turn back... and then everything goes
blank."

"I'll tell you how you came here, your highness," said a mocking voice from the shadows.

The lights suddenly came on, and Ken winced as his sensitive eyes were momentarily blinded. However, it only took a brief minute for him to recover, and it seemed his host didn't mind waiting for Ken to get the full effect. When he could see again, what he found was just as gloomy as he'd expected: a large room made of crudely carved stone, a dungeon of some sort judging by the chains that hung from the walls and ceiling. Ken could now see clearly that he was caught in a boxlike cage of some glossy black material, and Wormmon hung from the ceiling in what looked like a large birdcage of the same material. None of this was very surprising, however, so Ken focused his attention on his captor.

Standing at the foot of a staircase, dramatically illuminated by the light of a torch, was what at first appeared to be a human man. He had refined features, slightly spiky blonde hair, and bright blue eyes. His clothing was mostly black with only a collar of white and long white gloves and boots, all of it fitting over a muscular body like a second skin. His most remarkable features were a pair of wings that sprung from his shoulders. One was white and feathery, shimmering in
opalescent colors. The other was black and ragged, bringing to mind Devimon and other such
unpleasant beasts. He wore a smile that Ken knew well; he'd seen it on his own face many times, reflected in mirrors and computer screens as he'd mused on something particularly diabolical. Now he had to remind himself of the futility of trying to get up and smack this arrogant stranger into humility.

"I see you have finally recovered," said the stranger. "Allow me to welcome you to my home. I am Prince Chiaromon - inferior, of course, to such an exalted person as yourself, Emperor..."

"Don't call me that," Ken growled. "Don't Iever/I call me that!"

"Whatever you say," answered Chairomon airily. "I hope to change your mind, however, about your acceptance of that title. The Digimon Emperor would be a valuable ally for me, but Ken Ichijouji the angst-ridden penitent is pathetically useless."

"Then let me go," said Ken. "I'd rather die than become the Emperor again."

"Ah, yes. That goes with the territory," Chiaromon said. "You always did have a bit of a
death-wish. When offered your fondest dream, all you could think of was death and destruction, even when you thought you had recovered from those nasty emotions."

"Don't twist my words," said Ken. "Or my thoughts. I know what I meant, and I'm not letting
you mess with my mind. I've had my fill of that already."

"I've no doubt of that, either. That's why I brought you here," answered Chiaromon. "Or rather, had my servant bring you here. Useless creature that he is, he does have some skills at
entrancement. It was so kind of you to come today, Ichijouji. It was such good timing - I'd been
wanting someone who was full of darkness inside. A dark Digidesined." He spoke the words
caressingly, as if he were on the verge of drooling. Ken felt sick.

"What are you talking about?" he asked, trying to distract the creature. "And how do you know so much about me?"

"I know all about the Digidestined," Chiaromon answered. "I've spent the last several years
finding out everything about them I could - I'll wager I know more about them than you do. It's
sort of a pet project of mine. You see, I've had a goal in mind for some time now. Can you guess what it is?"

"I suppose you're one of those types who think taking over the Digital World would be a good thing?" asked Ken in tones of disgust. "Let me tip you in on something: it's not as much fun as you think."

"It all depends on your motive, dear man. Actually, taking over the Digital World is only my
secondary objective - a nice little bonus if all other things go well. What I actually want is
something only you, or someone like you, can do. I want the door to the Dark Ocean opened."

"The Dark Ocean?" Ken repeated in a whisper. Other exclamations clamored around inside of him, but they all seemed to be catching in his throat. A distant part of his mind wondered what this elegant, arrogant creature would do if Ken threw up on Chiaromon's boots.

"You remember it, of course," Chiaromon replied. "You've opened the door before."

"I was nearly lost in darkness doing it. I would have gotten lost if my friends weren't there to
help me."

"That's exactly what I want," said Chiaromon, smiling greasily. "That is my great experiment. I want to see, once and for all, whether Good can stand up to the unleashed forces of Evil. Whether one can open themselves to the dimension of pure darkness and come through unscathed. I want to see it with my own eyes - the ultimate clash of good and evil: the purity of the Digidestined against the evil of the Dark Ocean."

"You can't open the door to the Dark Ocean," said Wormmon. "Black WarGreymon's seal
would prevent it. He sealed this world against evil influences."

"True," said Chiaromon. "A valiant effort, that. But that doesn't seal the Digital World from
evil forever. It only means that nothing less powerful than Black WarGreymon can break the seal. I don't pretend to be as powerful as him, but that doesn't mean I can't find a loophole. According to my calculations, the door can be reopened if a certain amount of dark energy is collected and properly focused. Further research has shown that those Digivices you and your friends carry are the perfect keys. All I need is to bring out enough dark energy - enough hate, jealousy, anger, and despair - to overwhelm seven pure spirits, such as, oh, say, the Digidestined. You seemed like the logical first choice."

"You're insane! I'll never give in to darkness!" Ken shouted.

"The darkness is already in you. You've used it before, and you'll do it again if I give you the
right prompts."

"Nothing doing," said Ken stubbornly.

"Oh, really? You mean to say there's nothing that could ever make you lose your temper, or
push you into self-doubt or hopelessness? What a very overconfident man you are," said
Chiaromon.

"The same could be said for some Digimon," Ken spat back.

"Ah, yes. Speaking of Digimon," Chiaromon replied, "what does this little insect mean to you? Would it bother you if I hurt him?"

Ken kept his mouth shut, aware that the creature was baiting him. It wasn't easy.

*I'm sorry, Wormmon,* he thought.

In the next instant, there was a shout and a sizzle of red lightning that just barely missed
Wormmon's cage, and the little Digimon yelped in alarm.

"No!" Ken shouted. "Stop it! Don't hurt him!"

Chiaromon smiled nastily. "Try and stop me."

"Gladly." Ken had had enough of this place; he was ready to do just about anything to get
away from this madmon. He held up his Digivice. "Wormmon, digivolve!"

There was a flash of light and a shimmer of energy, and then... nothing. Wormmon just sat in
his cage, looking confused. Chiaromon grinned.

"What's going on?" asked Ken, though he was getting a sinking feeling that he already knew.

"My, my. Your memory really must be short, if you haven't figured that out by now," said
Chiaromon. "Or can you really not have noticed what's right in front of your face? Can't see the
cage for the bars, Ichijouji?"

Ken's eyes went wide as he realized just why the bars looked and felt so familiar. "The
Spires... this cage is made of the same substance as my... as the Control Spires!"

Chiaromon applauded. "Very good! I knew you'd figure it out. This is, of course, something of an improvement on your old design. Not as good for controlling large areas, but more than
sufficient to break up the connection between you and your little friend there. No, there'll be no
digivolving in here. He's not very impressive as a Rookie, is he?"

"On the whole, I like him a lot more than I like you," said Ken. "At least he's not afraid to face someone in a fair fight."

"It's not a fight I want, Ichijouji," Chiaromon replied. "It's you. Your soul. Now, the choice is
very simple: you can give in to me now and agree to do as I want, or you can watch me torture
that little creature to death three feet away from you, and let Ithat/I drive you to despair and madness. Which would you prefer?"

"You're a monster!" Ken screamed, throwing himself at the bars of his cage.

Chiaromon laughed. "See? It starts already. It's so easy to manipulate you humans. I could
learn to enjoy this. I'll give you a little time to stew over the situation. Hopefully you'll make this
easy on both of us."

The Digimon strutted away, laughing, and Ken had no choice but to break down and sob.
Wormmon tried to comfort him, but the words were already beginning to sound far away, as
darkness began to creep slowly into Ken's mind.

******************************************************

They had no way of knowing it, but the Ichijouji children appeared in the forest not far away
from where Ken had been captured. It was just as dark and gloomy as it had been when he had
passed through, and the children didn't care for it at all.

"Is all of the Digital World this spooky?" asked Natte.

"I hope not." Kaze's cowardly caterpillar was surveying the terrain from a safe spot under his
partner's jacket.

"It isn't," said Kaiya firmly, watching her own partner fidget; the woods were too dim for him
to be able to see with his shades on, and it was annoying him. "Most of it is pretty; I don't know
how we wound up here."

"Well, let's find one of the better places," said Kaze. "All these trees are going to get boring
real fast."

"This is boring?" asked Crawler. "I don't want to see what you'd call scary, then."

Kaiya was checking her Digivice signal. "Still no sign of Dad. No Digidestined at all, as far as I can tell. Nothing interesting at all."

"What about this?" asked Natte, holding up his own Digivice. His was showing the faintest
blip off in a corner. "This looks interesting."

"Huh?" Kaze stared at his own device. He shook it and looked again. Now his was picking up the signal, faint, but growing stronger even as they watched. "How come he gets to find
something first?"

"Because Natte pays attention to things," said Kaiya distractedly. "Do you think this could be Dad? And how come nobody could see him a minute ago?"

"Who knows anything about anything about the DigiWorld?" answered Wingblade. "And are
you going to hang around all day, or are you going to maybe do something about this?"

"Well, it's the only lead we've got," said Kaiya. "I say we follow it. What do you two think?"

Kaze gave a half-shrug. "Better that than just wandering around, I guess."

"I want to find Daddy," said Natte. Kaze gave a snort at that, but everyone ignored him. They checked their bearings to make sure their signals were all in alignment, and, keeping close
together, they set out.

Hiking through the forest of the Digital World was an experience. Having spent very little time in the DigiWorld before, they weren't used to the great outdoors. Natte tripped and stumbled on his short legs as he tried to keep up with his older siblings, once nearly squashing Crawler. Kaze had snickered about that until he'd fallen over a Gotsumon napping beneath a bush, an accident that had given everyone a fright. Kaiya squeaked loudly, and then ordered everyone to be quiet, while Larva had apologized profusely to the annoyed Gotsumon. Yet despite the setbacks, they managed to make progress. Very soon, they became aware of a voice up ahead of them - no, two voices, both deep and male. Kaiya shushed her brothers and the 'mons as they tiptoed closer.

"Do you really think he'll let you have any power at all once he comes into control?" one voice was asking. It sounded dry and tired, as if it barely had the energy to argue.

"It's inevitable," said the other voice. This one was stronger, with an edge of pride to it. "I've
always been warden of the Powers of Darkness. His rise to power can't help but help me."

"If he's willing to share power with you at all," said the first voice. "This isn't Myotismon we're talking about anymore."

"Ah, yes, you would know about him, wouldn't you?" the proud voice sneered.

The children had crept close enough to see who was talking, and they were just able to stifle
gasps of surprise. Standing among the trees were two people, but not two men. One seemed an
ordinary human sort, but they didn't let that deceive them; they knew only Digidestined humans
were allowed past the borders of the Digital World. Anyone else was not what they seemed, so
the children could be forgiven for looking on this man with suspicion. He had very pale skin, very dark eyes, and silvering black hair that hung lankly around his face. He was dressed in white robes worn beneath a black cloak, and a nimbus of pale purple light surrounded him. That was strange enough, but his companion was enough to give them chills. A frightening mutation of a human, it had a skull-like face, a fanged mouth, the horns of a bull, two disproportionately long arms, wickedly clawed hands, and ragged bat's wings. Its eyes held a red light that reflected nothing gentle or sane.

"Devimon?" Larva whispered. Several people shushed him.

"Who's that with him?" asked Kaiya.

"No one I know," Wingblade replied. "Definitely not one of Gennai's crew, that's for sure. Not a proper human, either, or he'd have a Digimon with him."

"He's no one good," said Crawler.

"What I know about Myotismon is none of your concern," said the pale man. "He's dead once and for all. We must concern ourselves with the living."

"The living are hardly your concern," said Devimon.

"They are entirely my concern," the pale man replied. "Particularly this one survivor. He's not
what you think he is, Devimon. It's in both our best interests if you avoid him. You don't want to
wind up dead again, do you? I know how hard it has been to recover your powers. Angemon took a lot out of you, didn't he?"

"Don't press me. You're a little lacking in power yourself, I could observe," Devimon snapped. "I will make my own decisions, old man. I happen to know a few things you don't, for all you think you're so clever. Furthermore, I am bound to serve the lord of demons whether it's in my best interest or not."

"You'll regret it," said the pale man, but he didn't sound very sure of it. Devimon caught the
tone and smirked.

"As if you could stop me from doing anything," he said, "much less the lord of demons. Even
when you were at full power, you had nothing against him."

"True," the pale man sighed, "but I did at least hope you would listen to reason."

"Reason is an aspect of Light," said Devimon. "You've been weakened. I see there's no use
talking to you. I'm off. You won't bother me again if you know what's good for you."

With that, the demon Digimon spread his wings and leaped into the air, slashing through the
trees and bringing down a shower of leaves and twigs. The pale man watched him impassively,
then dropped to the ground with a sigh of pure exhaustion. The violet light around him seemed to waver, and for a moment the children thought they could almost see right through him. Then his eyes snapped up and locked on them, piercing their thin cover, and there was no doubt that there was a powerful presence behind those eyes.

"You might as well come out," he said. "You'll find I'm very difficult to hide from."

The children hesitated. Then Kaze stepped out from behind the bushes, carrying Lava with
him. There wasn't much choice but for Kaiya, Natte, and their Digimon to follow. They huddled
together, watching the pale man with varying degrees of suspicion, fear, and defiance. He stood
up and looked them over, sizing them up.

"You'll be Ichijouji's children," he said. He stared at them again, and a glimmer of surprise
crept into his expression. "Well, after a manner of speaking."

Kaze looked shocked, and the others looked from him to the man in confusion.

"Well, I see that's one secret that remains under wraps," said the pale man. "I won't disturb it. It would probably disrupt things even more right now than they are already."

"What do you mean?" asked Kaiya. "What's going on? Who are you? How do you know my dad? Do you know who he is?"

"So many questions," the man sighed. "I will try to answer what I can. The most unimportant
first. I am Maro. You can call me that, for now. I am... well, think of me as a warden of sorts. I
watch everything that goes on in the Digital World. Lately it has come to my attention that a great evil is rising, a creature called Chiaromon, who styles himself Prince. It is he who has taken your father. He will not be the last."

"Where is he?" Kaze demanded. "Tell me where my father is, or I'll-"

"You won't," Maro replied. Instead of explaining that remark further, he reached over to the
nearest tree and put his hand through it, ghostlike. The children's eyes widened. "I am present as a spirit only. I don't think you can hurt me. As for where your father is, I really don't know.
Chiaromon has many dark talents. Hiding things is one of them."

"Don't listen to him. You can't trust him," said Kaira. "You can't trust anyone who's on friendly terms with a Devimon."

"Friendly," Maro repeated. "Wouldn't that be a surprise? No, he's no friend of mine. He isn't a very powerful demon, and he'll listen to me from time to time if I'm persuasive enough, but even I wouldn't try to persuade Devimon of anything unless I was desperate. I fear the powers of evil as much as any sane person. Maybe more."

The children stared at him, trying to fathom his motives. Natte was the first to speak.

"I think we can trust him," he said. "He doesn't look that bad to me."

Kaiya nodded silently. From a distance, the pale man had been frightening, but a look into his eyes showed something else. Whoever this man was, he had seen levels of pain and longing and joy that were alien to a creature so innocent as a child, things Kaiya, standing on the edge of adulthood, was just coming to understand. This man wouldn't betray them; she wasn't even sure he had that capability.

"I won't harm you," said Maro, echoing her thoughts. "I can't. As Devimon said, my power is very limited. You will always be stronger than I am. If you let me, though, I can be a good friend. You'll need friends in the future."

"What do you mean?" Kaiya asked.

"A war is beginning," Maro replied, "and you, as Digidestined and children of Digidestined,
will be caught in the thick of it. Before it's too late, gather others to your side. Beware of the
powers of darkness, and do not give into temptation. Chiaromon will try to win you over, offer
you everything your can wish for, your heart's most desperate desires. If you give in to him, you
will be lost, and so will the world."

"What do you mean?" asked Kaze.

Maro turned his penetrating gaze on him, and Kaze, for once, quailed.

"Be aware of what it is you want," Maro said. "It may not be what you think it is. My advice
to you is to learn forgiveness. As for the rest of you... I can't see the future. If I could, this would all be much easier. The best I can tell you is to be on guard. Look for the others - don't let Chiaromon get to them before you do. Warn people. That is all I can say."

"Wait, what about...?"

Kaiya never got a chance to finish her question. The pale man had simply melted into the
scenery, leaving her staring angrily at an innocent tree.

"That was strange," said Kaze. "Did anyone else get the feeling there's more than he's telling
us?"

"I've got more than a feeling," said Kaiya. "Anyone who doesn't give his right name is trouble."

Maro. The name meant, "myself." With that little information to go on, it was hard to
be trusting.

********************************************************

The torch had burned down and become cold before Ken managed to get a grip on himself.
Crying was useless; it would only make him feel worse, and that was the one thing he couldn't
afford to do. He had to keep himself fortified against despair, or it would take him. He
could handle that. He had faced darkness before and won it out. All it would take was a little
concentration to force himself to keep his mind set on hope. He had worked all that out in his
mind as he dried his tears and curbed his sniffles. As he did so, he let his eyes, closed in the face
of the overwhelming darkness, flutter open.

He yelped, for there in the shadows were a pair of blue lights. They were moving, keeping a
set distance from each other and staying the same general height from the ground, bobbing
slightly. They were eyes, and someone was walking toward him.

"Who's there?" Ken demanded. He was pleased that his voice sounded steadier than it was.

"Only a humble servant," came the reply. The voice was male, a rather pleasant tenor, well
modulated but a little quavering, as if the speaker were nervous about being alone down there in
the dark.

"Come out and show yourself, then," Ken replied. "Or are you afraid to face me?"

He thought the final words might goad the speaker into acting, but instead, whoever it was
cringed away.

*Interesting,* Ken thought, as he listened to the stranger fumbling around for
something to light a torch with. There was a faint reddish spark and the crackle of a fire being
struck, and a flame began burning merrily in a nearby sconce, giving Ken a clear view of the
newcomer.

Used to encountering mainly beastlike Digimon, Ken had been expecting to see something
along the lines of a large talking animal, or at least hoping not to see another humanoid type like
Chiaromon. However, it seemed that fate wanted to deal him a double blow, for this being was
definitely humanoid - it was the same creature that had enchanted him in the magical glen. Now,
though, his brain was processing the details he should have seen earlier: the brightly colored and
oddly cut clothing, the trailing ribbons, the crossed wands strapped to his back, the harlequin mask covering a pale face. There was only one Digimon in the world that looked like that. Ken felt his stomach sink. Could things get any worse?

"Piedmon," he whispered.

The Digimon shrieked. It dropped the plate it had been carrying with a loud crash and
jumped into the nearest shadow, where it sat whimpering incoherently, peering out with its
intensely blue eyes. Then it seemed to realize something and let out a sigh of relief.

"Don't scare me like that!" it said plaintively.

Ken was stunned. "What did I do?"

"You said that name."

"What? Piedmon?"

The creature squeaked again and cringed. Involuntarily, Ken found himself smiling.

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I won't say it again," he said soothingly. The creature looked up
at him piteously.

"You promise?" it asked.

"Cross my heart," Ken replied. "What are you doing down here, anyway? And who are
you? You don't seem like the sort to be hanging around a place like this."

"I don't, do I?" the creature sighed. "My master told me to leave you alone, but when he
started talking about what he wanted to do, I just felt so sorry for you, and I wondered... you
wouldn't happen to be hungry, would you?"

The creature looked at him beseechingly, and Ken didn't have the heart to refuse. This
Digimon, whatever it was, clearly needed comforting more than he did.

"I could do with a snack," he said.

"Oh, good," the 'mon replied, beaming. "The plate's broken, but the food is still clean.
See?"

It crouched briefly and picked up two slices of bread and jam from where they had fallen
and offered them to Ken, who accepted them gracefully, reaching through the bars of his cage to offer one to Wormmon. Then he bit into his own. The bread was slightly stale, and the jam was not jam at all, but just berries that had been mashed until they were spreadable, slightly sour.

"Is it all right?" asked the 'mon anxiously. "Master doesn't eat much, so I had to make do
with what I could find."

"It's delicious," said Ken, and the strange 'mon positively glowed.

"Thank you," he said happily. "You are kind."

"I try," said Ken. "So, you haven't told me who you are yet. You obviously don't like
being called... that name. What are you called?"

"Nothing in particular," said the creature with a shrug. "Just 'hey, you,' mostly.
Occasionally, 'you lazy good-for-nothing.' The usual things. Do you want to hear my story?" The last question was asked with a peculiar excitement, in contrast to the mournful tone he had used for the rest of the monologue.

"Yes, please," said Ken, sensing he was about to hear something interesting.

The 'mon smiled again and went to sit next to Ken's cage. Now that they were eye to eye
with each other, Ken was beginning to feel that he never should have confused this creature with
Piedmon. The general shape was there, but there were distinct subtle differences: the cool blues
and purples of his clothing in contrast to Piedmon's garish red, green, and yellow; long locks of
purple hair where the elaborate yellow headpiece should have been; wands in place of swords; and above all, the absolute innocence of his luminous blue eyes. Ken had never seen anything so blue, like the westward sky just after sunset, just before true darkness set in, vivid and glowing. No wonder they glowed in the dark!

"Once upon a time," the clown began, "my master, Chiaromon, was beginning his rise to
power, seeking to set himself as a prince greater than any who had come before him. He knew
that in this quest for power, he would need powerful allies, the likes of which no longer existed in the Digital World, for the last great powers of darkness had been slain or driven away by the
Digidestined children. History tells us that the greatest Digimon ever to hold sway over the world was the master of the Dark Masters who ruled over Spiral Mountain. Chiaromon wanted such power for himself, but he was only an Ultimate Digimon, and would never be able to control such a powerful Mega Virus. Instead, he used knowledge of DNA and data manipulation to create me, a mutant version of the being he wished to copy, just as powerful but easier to control. Unfortunately, his experiment didn't go as he'd expected. What he got was a pure Vaccine Digimon - powerful, yes, but without the drive to use that power. Chiaromon was furious; he had wanted a deadly warrior, and instead he got a peace-loving creature that couldn't stand to cause harm to anyone. He tried to destroy me, but as my power exceeds his own, he could work no harm upon me. Loath to let me wander on my own to let the whole world see his failure, he ordered me to remain within his palace and work as his servant. Thus am I bound to serve as a drudge to Prince Chiaromon."

Ken was listening silently, caught up in the story. If there was one thing that could be said
for this creature, it knew how to tell a tale. His hands never stopped moving, carving shapes into
the air until Ken thought he could almost see what was happening. His intense eyes held Ken's,
keeping him from even thinking about anything else. He had eaten his bread without thinking
about it and swallowed a seed along with the jam.

"The truth is," the mutant finished mournfully, "I'm an abysmal coward. Everything
frightens me, and the one thing that terrifies me most is P-P-Piedmon himself." He stumbled over the name with difficulty. "There! You see? I can hardly say the name. I'm afraid of my own
shadow, because it looks so much like him. I've had a premonition since the day I heard
my own story that someday he and I will meet, and I'll be destroyed. How can I not be, when I
can't even fight back?"

"But you said you were just as powerful as he is," said Ken.

"Well, I think I am," the mutant replied. "It's hard to know for sure. I know I'm
very hard to hurt - nobody's ever done it yet, and Harmonious Ones know but they've tried. Not even Chiaromon can do more that scratch me. It's my job to keep him contained when he... well, never mind about that. But the point is, I can't ever fight back. Just watch."

He took the two wands from his back and raised them over his head, swinging them down
in a pair of wide arcs.

"Sorcerer's Circle!" he shouted. Nothing happened. The wands struck each other,
the twin crystals at their tip striking sparks as they clashed, but that was it.

"I see what you mean," said Ken.

The mutant sighed deeply. "I don't mind much. I'm afraid of hurting people, too. I would
feel just awful if I could use my magic, because Chiaromon would just make me go out and - and - and fight people with it!"

"If you could use your magic, couldn't you stand up to Chiaromon?" Ken asked. "If
you're a Mega and he's just an Ultimate..."

"I couldn't!" said the mutant with a shudder. "Stand up to Prince Chiaromon? It's just not
done! I mean, it's not in my nature. He designed me to obey him, remember?"

"Oh, that's right," said Ken. "Too bad. You're too nice to be stuck working for a chump
like him."

"You're too kind," the creature answered, blushing brightly behind his mask.

"Looks like we're all a little stuck," Ken murmured, half to himself. "There's nothing you
can do for me, and I can't think of anything I could do for you..."

"Well," said the mutant shyly, "there is one thing."

"Oh?"

The mutant looked at Ken with pleading, childlike eyes. "Tell me a story?"

"What?"

"A story!" the mutant repeated. "I do love a good story. They're the only bright things in
my life."

Ken recalled the rapt fascination he'd listened with earlier and nodded. "I noticed. You're
a wonderful storyteller."

The Digimon blushed even brighter red, hanging its head bashfully. "You think so? Really?
You wouldn't just be saying that, would you?"

"The best I've ever heard," Ken replied.

"Oh... thank you!" the creature gushed. Ken stared - yes, the mutant was definitely crying
now. "That - that - that's the kindest thing anyone's ever said to me in - in all my life!" He pulled
a purple silk handkerchief from his sleeve and dabbed at his eyes.

"Pull yourself together," Ken urged. "You really are sensitive, aren't you?" The mutant
nodded timidly. "Well, don't look so ashamed of it. It's a good thing. It means you have a caring
heart. I'm glad to have met you... I really don't think I know any stories, though. I never had
much time for stories when I was young."

"Everyone has a story," said the mutant. "I told you mine. Just say 'Once upon a time,'
and tell me about yourself."

"I could do that," said Ken slowly. He stared off into the shadows, his eyes growing
distant as he let the past come back to him. "All right. Once upon a time, there was a little boy
named Ken Ichijouji, who lived with his brother Osamu. Osamu was his parent's favorite child,
and he always got all the attention, and even though Ken loved him, he was always just a little bit jealous..."

Ken didn't know how long he spent talking, reliving his life for the sake of a lonely clown
monster in a dark basement. It was a painful process, though made better by years of separation, and at least he had a good audience. The mutant never took his luminous eyes off of Ken's, hardly even blinked, and he gasped, cried, and cheered in all the right places. He bawled so hard at the part of the story when Wormmon died that Ken had to pause several minutes for him to collect himself again. When it was all over, though, the clown sat back with a long, satisfied sigh.

"That was amazing," he said softly. "Absolutely amazing. Do I have your permission to
tell it again?"

"Be my guest," Ken replied. He realized that it had already been given as soon as he had
agreed to tell the story at all. "Somehow, I feel like I can trust you not to tell it at the wrong time
to the wrong people."

"Yes... yes... you've trusted me with a lot, haven't you?" said the mutant thoughtfully. "I
should do something to repay you. Do you want out of the cage?"

"What?" The question was so sudden and unexpected that Ken wasn't sure he'd heard
right.

"I could let you out. You'll have to help me cover my tracks, though," said the clown. "My
master would be terribly unhappy with me if he thought I'd betrayed him."

"You'd betray Chiaromon just because I told you a story?" asked Ken. "And this from the
man who says he's an abysmal coward."

The creature blushed again. "You shared your heart with me. That's worth a lot. Stand
back."

Ken did as he was told, watching as the clown Digimon took one of the wands and tapped
the door of his cage with it. There was a soft click, and it swung open. Then he did the same for
Wormmon's cage, and the caterpillar sprang out of it and ran to Ken, who scooped him up and
hugged him. The sentimental reunion sent the mutant crying again, and Ken gave him a tissue,
which only seemed to make him cry more. It took a moment to get everyone organized.

"Break the locks, please," said the mutant, hiding the damp tissue up his sleeve.
"Chiaromon knows I can do the unlocking charm, or could blow up the cages if I get angry
enough, but I couldn't break the lock on my own."

"Not a problem, if Wormmon can Digivolve," Ken replied. "Give it a try."

"Right," Wormmon replied. "Wormmon, digivolve to... Stingmon!"

The clown jumped back into the shadows with a startled cry, staring with eyes that seemed
to have doubled in size at the sight of the great wasp-creature. Stingmon made short work of the locks, reducing them to piles of chipped stone.

"It's a shame we can't destroy the cages," he said. "I'd hate to see them used again on
someone else."

"Chiaromon would just make more, anyway," said Ken philosophically. "Thanks for
everything, um... whatever you call yourself. I'll never forget your kindness."

"Nor I yours," the mutant replied graciously, though he continued eyeing Stingmon with
distrust. "You'll find the way out just up those stairs - it's not hard to get to the exit. Good luck,
Ken Ichijouji. I hope we see each other again someday, under better circumstances."

"Good luck to you too," Ken replied. "Take my advice and find some way of getting
away from Chiaromon. You're too good for him. Goodbye!"

He leaped onto Stingmon's back and flew away. The mutant watched him sadly, quiet
tears slipping unnoticed behind his mask as he realized he'd just lost his first and only friend.

**********************************************

Wingblade was watching his partner with concern - not the full-blown worry that came
with something important, like the time her first boyfriend had dumped her for a blonde
cheerleader who smiled a lot, or the time Kaze had dropped her take-home exam down the
garbage chute, but the concern that meant she was being pushed slowly toward the breaking point and it was only a matter of time before she exploded at someone.

"Can we go home yet?" asked Kaze.

"My feet hurt," Natte whimpered.

Kaiya gritted her teeth and bore the complaints silently, but there was a glimmer in her
eyes that meant the silence was only the calm before the storm. Having lost the only lead
they had, they had taken to just wandering the countryside, looking for any sign that a human
had been by recently. It was clearly futile, but Kaiya's stubborn streak was as great as her
mother's, and she was not giving up withough a fight, no matter how much her brothers
complained. Wingblade knew his first duty was to protect his partner, but he was beginning to
think that he might be needing to protect Kaze and Natte before long. He looked around for
something to distract her, and his sharp eyes fell on the D-3 that she carried distractedly in her
hand.

"Is that a signal?" he asked.

"Huh?" The children reached for their Digivices and checked; sure enough, there was a
blip moving rapidly across the screen.

"What is it?" asked Crawler, peeking over his partner's shoulder.

"Is it Dad?" asked Kaze, surprised out of his sullenness.

"I don't know," Kaiya replied, "but it looks like it's coming straight toward us!
Wingblade, can you get up there and get take a look?"

"Could be interesting," Wingblade replied. He adjusted his sunglasses, trying to look as if
he were only casually curious, and then shot up into the sky like a feathery rocket. The children
and the remaining 'mons waited in a nervous huddle. A minute ticked by, then five, then ten, then fifteen, and hope became a painful tension. Kaiya fidgeted; if the signal they'd picked up had been something dangerous, and if she had sent her partner off to face it...

There was a sudden crashing above them, and leaves and twigs rained down as something
fell out of the sky. It was indeed something dangerous, but luckily, it was on their side. It was
Stingmon, with Ken and Wingblade riding proudly on his shoulders. As soon as the wasp touched down, Ken leapt to the ground and looked around.

"Daddy!" "Dad!" There was a clamor of voices, and Ken found himself being mobbed by
children. Laughing, he threw open his arms to hug them all.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Where have you been?" asked Kaiya.

"We were looking for you," Natte said. "What happened to you? Why couldn't we find
you?"

"I was kidnaped," said Ken. "Though it could have been worse. It's been before. Next to
being nabbed by Oikawa, this was nothing."

"So that business about Chiaromon... that wasn't for real?" asked Larva.

Ken's expression turned shocked. "Where did you hear that name?"

"We... met someone while we were looking for you," said Kaiya carefully. "He said that
you'd been imprisoned by someone called Chiaromon. We weren't sure we could trust him."

"Well, he had that much straight," Ken replied. "I've met Chiaromon, and he's definitely
trouble. This isn't the place to talk about it. Come on, let's go find a gate home."

A few minutes later, Miyako was just trying to think of somewhere else she could call,
when she was startled by a loud thump coming from her living room. She opened the door of her room and looked out just in time to see Ken and the children picking themselves up off the carpet and dusting themselves off.

"Ken?" she exclaimed.

Ken offered her a wry smile. "Hi, honey, I'm home!"

Miyako rushed at him and hugged him, getting a smile from her former husband and a
confused look from Kaze. "I've been so worried about you! Where have you been?"

"Just got a little held up in the Digital World," Ken replied. "I'll explain it all in a little
while... I think the others should hear about this."

"Is it that serious?" asked Miyako.

"It looks that way," Ken replied. "We've definitely got a new enemy again. Excuse us,
kids. We need to talk for a while." The two of them slipped out of the living room, heading back
to Miyako's room. The children looked at each other.

"So much for Mom and Dad hating each other," said Kaiya.

Kaze looked as if he'd bitten a lemon, but declined to comment.

"Glad Daddy's all right," said Natte. "He and Mom will make the monsters go away,
right?"

"Maybe not," said Kaiya thoughtfully. "Maro didn't say anything about Mom and Dad.
He said it would be us doing the fighting... us and others like us."

"So what does that mean?" asked Kaze, interested in spite of himself.

"It means," Kaiya replied, "we have to look for the others."