"When we finally found our missing friends, we realized they've been taken in by the Sin Digimon and turned evil! We've faced this kind of problem before, and I knew that the power of our Battle Crests could reverse the spell put on our friends. My plan started to work, and we got Jun and Kari back; but Pridemon's power was too strong on the others, and they ended up destroying Metal Garurumon. Now that the bond between us is officially over, the Digi-Keepers no longer control the Digital World!"

-Tai

DIGIMON: THE DIGITAL KEEPERS SAGA

Book Twenty-Four: "Crossovers"

The process was slow, but steady; a thick layer of darkness was beginning to blanket the digital world, and wherever it settled, there was chaos.

It swept through sea and land like the wind, or more accurately, like a computer virus.

When it touched the sea, a series of hurricanes and tornadoes appeared with blind fury.

When it touched the mountains, some would crack open and spurt out balls of magma and rivers of lava.

When it touched the forests, everything that was once green crumbled to dust.

Digimon everywhere- whether they were Data, Vaccine or even Virus- were fleeing for their lives. Some escaped their impending doom, while others dissolved in the wake of volcanic debris, or thunder, or tornadoes, depending on where they were.

And yet, even during all this turmoil, there was at least one voice that seemed like it could be heard throughout the digital world, with a tone so peaceful and hopeful it nearly blocked out all despair.

It was coming from Yolei… she was sitting on a log near her weakened friends, who were all hiding in one of many desolate forests. And she was singing.

("I Shall Believe," by Cheryl Crow)

"Come to me now

And lay your hands over me

Even if it's a lie

Say it will be alright

And I shall believe

I'm broken in two

And I know you're on to me

That I only come home

When I'm so all alone

But I do believe

That not everything is gonna be the way

You think it ought to be

It seems like every time I try to make it right

It all comes down on me

Please say honestly you won't give up on me

And I shall believe

And I shall believe…"

From the darkest corners of the digital plain, creatures great and small were scrambling for shelter, perhaps in caves or in trees, as Daemon's wrath poured down on them.

Even those who had recently betrayed their friends- TK, Ken, Joe and Sora, and their digimon- were beginning to feel an emptiness inside them as they patrolled the blackened skies. It was as though they had forgotten why they were wreaking havoc, or why they were even there. Something inside them just didn't feel right, but there was nothing they could do about it.

Still, as she rocked Poromon in her arms, Yolei sang on. Nearby, as they tried to catch their breath after running for their lives for hours, her friends listened. And for a moment, there was peace.

"Open the door

And show me your face tonight

I know it's true

No one heals me like you

And you hold the key

Never again

Would I turn away from you

I'm so heavy tonight

But your love is alright

And I do believe

That not everything is gonna be the way

You think it ought to be

It seems like every time I try to make it right

It all comes down on me

Please say honestly

You won't give up on me

And I shall believe

And I shall believe…

I shall believe."

Of course, not every hero and heroine was accounted for; Joe, Sora, TK and their partners have gone missing from the team's sight, Cody, Armadillomon, Izzy and Tentomon haven't been seen for almost a day, and poor Matt was standing all alone, with no partner, by the side of a lake in the forest's clearing.

It was quiet only for a brief moment after Yolei's soft singing, but then Jun broke the silence. She was sitting back-to-back with Penguinmon, and began to speak to Kari, who was standing by her with Gatomon in her arms.

"So," Jun peeped, "you say that this kind of thing happened before? I mean, friends actually turned on you guys?"

Kari frowned, "Well, everybody's got a good and bad side- digimon do too."

"It's true," added Gatomon; "I wasn't always Kari's partner. When I met her I was working for a real pain-in-the-tail baddie named Myotismon."

"And Ken had his bad days as you know," Kari added.

Jun then asked, "But how was it that the others changed? I mean Angemon and them; they looked terrifying last time we saw them."

Kari's eyes softened, "Well, I know that sometimes, when a digimon is pushed to the limits, it can "dark digivolve.' What that means is, the digimon becomes an evil version of its next level's form.

"Take Agumon, for instance," she continued as her face turned slightly around to where she could see her older brother and his knee-buckled partner in the distance. "We've seen what happens when someone forces him to digivolve; he becomes Skull Greymon- a real terror that no one could control."

Jun gulped, "Then if nobody can control them, how could we stop them?" she was obviously still on topic about their recently brainwashed friends.

Kari could only answer with, "I don't know."

Then, as if coming out of a trance, Yolei opened her eyes and looked to her girl friends and muttered, "It's just as she told me."

"Who?" blinked Kari.

"Lustmon," Yolei frowned. "She told me… that our digimon have no choice but to follow us, even when we turn evil."

Hearing this, the nearby Tai became curious and turned to her. "What does that mean?" he asked with a glare in his eyes.

Yolei replied, "She said all digimon have programs… or they're all programmed to do something. And whether we know it or not, we as their partners have been guiding them, helping them decide what to do."

Matt, who stood alone by the small lake, listened without budging, as if he didn't want to show interest in anything other than his loneliness.

Jun replied to Yolei, "What, so she's saying that digimon have no free will?"

Yolei shook her head, "I don't even understand what she was trying to say, but I think there's some truth to it. I mean, it's like what you said about Skull Greymon; if he digivolves out of anger, then that anger incarnates into… well, him!"

Inside his head, Matt could only think one thing: "I don't believe in total control over our partners… I didn't control Gabumon… I didn't tell him to die."

Meanwhile, Tai was beginning to think. "Okay, so let's see here. If we focus on turning Joe, Sora and TK back to normal, then that should make their digimon turn back to normal too. That is what this all boils down to, right?"

Yolei nodded, "Yeah. That may be."

"Fine then," Matt finally spoke out, and with a clenched fist.

The others turned to him, surprised that he spoke, and heard him say, "You guys try to find Sora and Joe. I'll go look for TK."

Tai turned to his old friend with great concern. "Hey Matt," he said solemnly, "I know how hard this is for you, with losing your brother and Gabumon n' all… but we're all in this together, we're a team. If we're gonna split up, you might as well take someone with you."

Matt then turned around and faced Tai; he had a look in his eyes so defiant, it was just the kind of look that he grew out of a long time ago. "Look Tai," he replied sternly, "I know I don't have a digimon partner, but I can take care of myself! I do have my own battle gear now, you know."

"I didn't say you couldn't take care of yourself, buddy."

"And anyway, the others could be anywhere. There's more than enough people here; we can cover much more ground if we all go our own separate ways."

"And singling ourselves out could be exactly what those Sins want!"

"What choice do we have?" Matt's eyes were burning with rage at this point.

"…Matt," Tai said with a softened voice, "don't take this personally."

Matt just gritted his teeth; how could he NOT take this personally? His own brother, and Sora- whom he still cared very deeply about- have turned on him and his friends, and now Gabumon was gone. From where he was standing, the whole universe was against him.

Then Kari's voice was heard: "Maybe Matt's right."

"Huh?" became the universal response as everyone turned curiously to Kari.

She explained, "We've got a lot of problems here guys; Cody's missing, Ken's missing, Izzy's missing, and digimon everywhere are in danger of being deleted. Splitting up seems the best way to go, since it would buy us some more time. The least we could do is find out if everyone else is safe."

Both Tai and Matt took a sigh- Matt sighed in relief, feeling that someone at last was on his side.

"Alright," Tai then said, "We'll all split up, but as soon as something goes wrong-"

"We'll have out digivices to communicate," nodded the brainy Kari.

The first to step up to this new challenge was Davis, as DemiVeemon and Wormmon stood by him. As the three of them seemed to creep up behind Tai and company, he announced, "Alright! Me, Veemon n' Wormmon will go look for Ken."

"How do you know where to start looking?" wondered Yolei.

"I can try," peeped Wormmon; "He is my partner after all."

"Okay," nodded Tai. "Then we'll all go right now."

Then they went their separate ways, until the forest felt empty once again.

Deep within a blackened forest not too far from the plateaus of Rock City, another creature was running for his life. He was being chased by a barrage of fireballs which were launched by another creature in the distance.

Though the creature was small, he ran at cheetah speed, just barely dodging one red fireball after another. But each time he took one leap forward, he became all the more frantic and breathless.

Finally, after running for Heaven only knows how long, the little creature took a rough tumble down a steep grassy cliff and came to a halt at last on the bottom. He then paused to recollect himself, and shake off the dust that now covered his almost child-like face.

This creature could best be described as Mickey Mouse's evil cousin; he had purple skin almost from head to toe, save for a ghost-white face and a yellow evil Smiley face on his tummy. He had long pointy devil horns that could have passed for ears, and had a short forked tail. He wore red gloves and a matching red bandana around his neck. On top of all that, he bore big green eyes and small claws on his cartoony feet. This creature seemed to have a healthy mix of cute and devilish attributes, and for one good reason: his name was-

"IMPMON!"

Impmon's bent horns lifted up like antennae in reaction to Pridemon's shrewd scream; he jumped up and gasped as he saw her looming over him from atop the cliff. It seemed as though she was the one chasing him all along.

The red and black Sin then yelled again, "You just keep on running, you poor disgrace for a Virus! For as long as you've been here, you've done nothing to promote our Master Demon! But now you'll pay for it; you are hereby banished from our lands!"

"And," she quickly added, "if I ever see your sorry face around here again, I'll show you how a REAL demon-type Digimon works her stuff!"

Finding his feet, the little Impmon then spat back with a voice strangely similar to that of Joe Pesci; "Oh yeah? YEAH? Well bring it on, sista; you ain't so tough once I digivolve!"

Pridemon narrowed her eyes, "You don't even know how to digivolve."

"I do too!" argued the Rookie demon with balled fists. "I'm just waitin' for the right time, THEN you'll be sorry ya ever messed wit me, Miss High n' Mighty-mon!"

FOOM!

"WAH!"

Impmon then jumped out of the way just in time, before another copy of his own fireball attack, launched by Pridemon, collided with him. He then stared at the new pint-sized crater in the ground in awe.

Then he looked back up at where Pridemon stood and hissed, "And another thing, if you' so tough, why don'tcha use your OWN attacks for once, instead o' copyin' mine?"

Pridemon just huffed as she twiddled her extra-long fingers, "I could do just that right here and now, only you won't be alive long enough to see the end results…"

Then she got serious again; "Now beat it!"

"Fine," huffed Impmon as he started to turn away. "I'll leave; I know when I'm not wanted… But just wait. I'll be back, and I promise, you will be sorry you ever pushed me around!"

Impmon's voice was fairly weak at that time, and Pridemon just couldn't take him seriously. She gave a small "Hmph," as she coldly watched Impmon's humble retreat.

By the beach on the continent of Server, the largest in the digital world, Slothmon continued his pursuit of Izzy and Tentomon. He had been tracking them for days now; but then, on this gray and dismal looking terrain, he was finally losing steam.

Dragging his huge golden pendulum in the sand, the ghostly Slothmon started to breathe heavier and heavier; his long gray tongue was now dangling from his partially stitched mouth.

"Come out… wherever… you are," his voice muttered weakly. Surely no one would answer. Again he beckoned, "Ally ally oxen-free? …Aw come on, you guys. Game's up, jig's over."

Izzy and Tentomon were there after all, hiding under a marooned rowboat at the beach's edge. They watched silently through a hole in the toppled boat as Slothmon dragged himself slowly past them.

"Think he's on to us?" whispered the little beetle next to Izzy.

"Shh," Izzy hushed him; "Just wait, Tentomon… Any minute now he'll leave, I'm sure of it."

Izzy really wasn't that sure; for all he knew, Slothmon's tiredness could have been a bluff.

But the Sin wasn't bluffing; he was, after all, the embodiment of sloth.

Finally, the tired Sin threw down his pendulum in frustration and moaned, "Fine! Be that way, you guys. Go ahead and hide for all I care…" Then he gave out a long yawn, as if he was preparing to fall asleep.

"Great," whispered Izzy nearby; "If he falls asleep, we may never get out of here."

But that was when Izzy and Tentomon realized that they weren't alone; something underneath the sand below them was stirring!

"Did you feel that?" gulped Izzy.

"I did," Tentomon said with a sweat drop. "I hope that was your stomach."

"My stomach growls, not pokes."

Then a most inconvenience occurred; a Crabmon's pincer sprouted up from the sand beneath them and pricked Tentomon's back legs.

"YAAH!" squealed the little beetle, who took flight in reaction to the pinch; and with that, their hiding place was tossed up into the air and landed in the water.

Slothmon was just closing his eyes when he realized that a human and two digimon were now standing in plain sight. As the scared Crabmon crawled quickly back to sea, the human and the Tentomon just stood there in surprise.

At that moment, Tentomon just couldn't help but blurt out a bad pun: "Oh no, now we're really in a pinch!"

Enraged, Slothmon let out a ghastly roar, taking up his scythe-like pendulum and raising it over his head in mere moments. But just as Izzy and Tentomon clung to each other, ready to meet their maker, Slothmon suddenly stopped in his tracks, just inches away from them.

Then, he collapsed.

Izzy and Tentomon paused, as they had come to realize that their enemy had used up all that was left of his energy, and was now unconscious.

"That was close," sighed Izzy.

"Super close!" came a voice nearby.

Izzy and Tentomon exchanged glances; what they heard was a very unfamiliar voice. It was high-pitched, almost like that of a baby.

Izzy started looking around. "Who… what… Where are you?"

Again, the little voice spoke: "Momentai!"

"Huh?" reacted the human and his partner.

Then the little creature finally revealed itself by floating down from atop a dying palm tree, using its extra-long bunny-like ears like parachutes. The little digimon had beady black eyes and a pushed-in, puppy-like snout. Also on his baby-shaped head was a tiny horn that looked almost like a unicorn's. He was pale green with slightly darker green stripes on his neck, ears and appendages. But of course, what stood out about him the most were his lop ears.

He floated down right in front of Izzy and Tentomon, who couldn't believe what they were seeing.

"Your name's… Momentai?" asked the confused Tentomon.

"No," giggled the new face. "Terriermon."

It was dark as night in the deserts of the digital world, but unlike most places it was rather peaceful. It was a moment for Daru, the Preserver of the dark realm, to take advantage of.

He knew exactly where he was going, even though there was nothing to see but endless sand. He needed not a compass or a map, but he did have with him one special object: the Crest of Power.

It was designed like a Battle Crest; circular, the size of a tennis ball, and attached to a chain that would fit around a human's neck. But Daru would dare not wear it, for it was not his to bear. But he would need it nonetheless, for he was expecting company.

He stopped in the middle of nowhere; "Ah," he murmured, "this is the spot at last."

Intrigued, he gazed at was appeared to be no more than a pile of sand, but he could see that it was somewhat stirring, as if a tiny gust of wind was scraping at its skin.

"It won't be long now," he thought out loud; "Soon the cycle will be complete, and Millenniumon will rise again."

Just when Daru was beginning to feel like a child on Christmas morning, his attention was then turned away; he heard footsteps. He turned around, and there in the distance he could see a lost soul wandering in the desert. The elder man smirked; this wasn't who we had expected to find, but it was an opportunity he couldn't resist.

The lost soul was a young man who couldn't remember his own name. He wandered aimlessly, hoping to find answers to his many questions. Something kept pecking at his head; he somehow knew where he was, but he couldn't figure out why or how.

He stopped at the bottom of a dune; by this point he was at the edge of the desert, where rock formations started to bloom from the sand, paving the way toward solid ground. He stared at the earth, as if his instincts were telling him to search for footprints. But none were there.

Then suddenly, he heard an older man's voice behind him. "You look lost."

The boy turned around and there, sitting comfortably on a rock formation just several feet away from him, was a tall adult human garbed in a long white robe lined in violet. He had pale skin, long silky black hair tied in a ponytail, and sharp, wicked eyes.

The boy narrowed his eyes, "Who are you?"

The man grinned, "I am Daru. And I know who you are; you're Ken Ichijoji."

The boy was doubtful; "Why should I believe you?"

But then, the boy's eyes locked onto the man's face. He studied it; the long round nose, the broad chin, the sinister eyes. And that smile…

"You look familiar," he muttered in disbelief.

Daru's eyes brightened. "Do I?"

Ken turned to face him head on. "Have I met you before?"

Daru replied patiently, "Perhaps I remind you of someone else. If you care to listen to me, I'll tell you a story."

Ken narrowed his eyes. "What if I don't trust you?"

"You want to know who you are?"

"…….."

"Then let me tell you my story."

Ken had no choice; his mind ached with questions, and no one else was around to give him answered. So he silently gave Daru a nod, and so the story began.

"There once was a man named Yukio Owikawa. Like you, he was from the Real World and was connected to the Digital World. But he was misled by a wicked digimon named Myotismon."

"Myotismon?" Ken echoed.

"Yes. You see, Myotismon was a world conqueror, but he needed a human to help him breach the borders of the Real World, so he hired Owikawa. By the time he realized his error in judgment, it was too late; Myotismon succeeded in reformatting himself and became stronger than ever. But as always, the forces of good triumphed over him.

"And as for Owikawa, his heart was freed from the darkness within, and with his help the Digital World was never again threatened by Myotismon."

Ken grew curious. "What does all that have to do with me?"

Daru explained, "You were part of the story, Ken. Like Owikawa, you were taken advantage of by the forces of evil, but eventually you saw the light and became part of the Digi-Destined."

Ken was still confused. "And what does all this have to do with you?"

Daru looked into his eyes; "Well… you did say I look familiar, didn't you?"

Ken gazed back at the strange man's eyes. Then all at once, it hit him. Those eyes. That nose. That chin. That hair. It was all the same.

Ken jumped back in surprise; "Are… are you saying… you're Owikawa?"

Daru just giggled.

Ken grew impatient and growled, "What's so funny? Is this a joke?"

"No," Daru replied; "I just find it humorous that it took you very little time to figure it out."

"So you are Owikawa."

"No… I am from another time frame of Earth; the Digital World is like a bridge between alternate realities. And in my world, Owikawa was blessed with descendants. I, Daru, am one of them."

Ken approached the man curiously. "I'm confused… How could there be more than one reality? Is there more than one Digital World too?"

"Now, now," Daru warned, "let's not try to answer all of life's little secrets. Let's just focus on the here and now, shall we?"

Ken hung his head. "Yes… I still need to know who I am, where I belong."

"It's not that difficult, Ken." Daru crossed his arms and began to lecture him like a school professor. "Everyone is free to make their own choices; it's what we choose that makes us who we are. As for me, I've chosen to side with the forces of darkness."

"Why?"

"Because my boy, I understand that this world needs a little darkness. Just as there can be no light without dark, there can be no good without evil. It's not that I wish to destroy the world; quite the contrary, by being evil I help keep the balance of nature from falling into chaos."

Ken was still confused. "So are you saying that deep down, everyone is actually good?"

Daru kept his sinister smile; "Everyone is good and evil, Ken. It all really depends on how good or evil you wish to be."

Ken still frowned. "Let me see if I've got this right… You're saying that this world is in a never-ending struggle between good and evil. Does that mean the war's just going to go on forever and ever?"

Daru patiently replied, "There's always a time for peace as there is a time for disruption, Ken. As you can see, now we are in the age of darkness; my Master, Daemon, has dominion over this world just as he's always wanted. Sooner or later he'll be defeated, and a new age will begin. It's a never-ending cycle, yes, but it's a cycle worth keeping."

Ken was still in doubt, and it showed in his sad eyes. "I don't think I want to fight a war that's never going to end. It feels… pointless."

Daru's smile finally dropped. "You wanted answers, and I have given you some. What you choose to do now is up to you. I'm not going to intervene, but I will say this: if you decide not to join in the war, then you will have no purpose at all. And that, my boy, would be a great tragedy."

Daru was then finished with the discussion, and he disappeared from sight; to Ken, it was like he faded out like a dream- only he wasn't dreaming.

But still, he felt lost. Here he was, a young man without a past, without friends, and more importantly without a digimon partner. Finding his way all alone was not helping at all. He decided to look for others.

Elsewhere, in a desolate wasteland that was once a paradise, another creature found herself alone and distraught. The lavender-skinned Lustmon sat atop a mountain, where her ghostly hair levitated through a gentle but chilling breeze. Though there was no ice or snow, the temperature there was deathly cold. But for a Sin digimon, this was home.

She was lonely and confused, proof that she had not yet gotten over the fact that her desired prize, Ken, had no memory of her. As she stared blankly toward the empty sky, she sighed.

What is wrong with me? She began to think deeply to herself.

Why am I acting like this? So what if he doesn't remember me? He's just a human, and I'm just a digimon. We have nothing in common; and besides, we're not even the same species. …But still, I had hopes that he would at least show interest in me. …Even though I don't fully understand what that means.

Perhaps it's his inner darkness that I'm so attracted to. Maybe because I'm evil…

She then glanced down at her human-like hands.

But, I don't feel that evil when I'm near him.

Then those hands clasped, as her face hardened.

No! I can't start thinking that way. I'm a Sin, and it's my sworn duty to guard the forces of darkness! I can't show weakness, especially not now, not when my Master needs me! I can't let some human make me a fool!

Then her face softened again.

Still… He promised me… Master Daemon promised me that Ken would be mine. I know he's true to his word; he never lied to me… But even if I do get Ken… what then? What will I do with him? …What should I do? …How could you represent a sin if you don't fully understand what that sin is?

Just when Lustmon was about to put her mind at ease, a shadow crept up behind her in the form of Pridemon.

"Lustmon!" she called, startling the lavender one. "We must leave at once; Slothmon is in danger."

"Oh no," gasped Lustmon worriedly. "Where is he?"

"Follow me," commanded the darker Sin; "One of our new troops is about to make a diversion. We must move now."

Lustmon gave her a nod; there wasn't much else for her to do anyway. And so they headed off in a flash.

There were places in the Digital World where one couldn't tell if it was day or night, but some places remained unclouded. In one place it was obviously night; for the sky was a midnight blue and the full moon and stars gave what little light was left.

One lone digimon was in this Serengeti-like land; she stood atop a steep hill, overlooking the terrain like a wolf on the prowl. Only she wasn't a wolf- she was a fox.

On her long, sleek hind legs she stood; a humanoid vixen whose fur was golden like the sun, and whose arms bore violet sleeves with Yin/Yang symbols on them. Her knees had a similar mark on them, also violet to match her arm sleeves. Most intriguing about this creature was her eyes- they were diamond-shaped, and while the corneas were pitch black, the irises were a clear crystal blue. If she were to stare at anyone, it would be a stare that would pierce through the soul.

Those piercing eyes of hers were aimed at the sky. It seemed as if she were waiting for something. Her tail was catching the wind just as all seemed hopeless. But then, the fox-like digimon finally caught sight of something in the night sky. It looked like a comet in flight, but the digimon sensed it was something else.

She was convinced; "That's it."

Then she took a flying leap and skidded down the hill with ease. At the moment her paws touched ground, she took off on both two and four legs, speeding past everything in the form of a yellow and white blur. She leapt through trees, tore through tall grass and at one point she even ran across the wall of a giant rock formation like a ninja. Nothing seemed to stop her from following what she saw in the sky.

Nothing that is, until she overlooked a small creature hiding in the thickets of an open field. It was at the moment his bent horns perked up from his hiding place that the fox digimon realized that it was going to trip her. She nearly did just that, but her reflexes caused her to jump just in time.

Impmon then realized that he had been nearly trampled on and called out, "HEY! Why don'tcha look where ya GOIN', ya MANIAC?"

The fox digimon recognized that voice in an instant, and skidded to a halt. She stopped just five feet away from him.

"Eh?" he blinked in surprise. "Renamon?"

"Impmon," replied the fox digimon, and steadily she approached him.

Impmon tapped his foot in frustration. "How d'ya like this? Of all people to run into… Do you have any idea what I've been through lately? Rocks, fireballs thrown at me, not to mention some Prima Donna orderin' me around an' crackin' da whip."

"Did you find Him yet?" was all Renamon could say.

"Did I find Him yet?" mocked Impmon, who then retorted, "OF COURSE I DIDN'T FIND HIM YET! Ya think I'm hidin' 'im in my pockets? Huh? I got a hard time just findin' my feet. Or in case ya didn't notice, IT'S PITCH BLACK AROUND HERE!"

Renamon rolled her eyes; "Nevermind."

Impmon went on to say, "You know what, foxy? You're on your own in this one! I got enough problems on my hands; I ain't got time t'play Hide-And-Seek with some Digi-Owner."

"Digi-Keeper."

"Whatever! I don't even know what the big deal is; we ain't never heard of him before! How do you know so much about 'im anyway?"

Renamon explained sternly, "It's instinct; I can feel it. You'd feel it too if you weren't so brash."

Said Impmon, "Ah, you talk too much like a fortune cookie." But then the brash Impmon's tone changed; "Okay, so where do you think he's hidin', this guy?"

"I thought I saw something in the sky that looked like a fractal code. But I've lost sight of it once the clouds rolled in."

Impmon knew what a fractal code was; a visible stream of data that was part of the digital world's inner workings. The news of one seemed to interest him.

"You think a fractal code's gonna bring out the Keepers?"

Renamon explained, "It could be a gateway; the Keeper we're looking for may appear through one."

"An' how exactly are we supposed to know what he looks like? Huh? What if they're a dozen of these guys and we pick the wrong one?"

Renamon's eyes glared at him. "If you keep asking questions, we'll never get anywhere."

"Look toots, you're cute n' all but sometimes you really get- YAH!"

She grabbed him quickly by his neck-worn bandana and suspended him in the air. "I have asked you repeatedly not to call me 'toots.'"

Impmon grinned sheepishly, "Sorry. It won't happen again, I promise."

Just when Renamon let her guard down he joked, "Can I call you baby instead?"

She dropped him harder than bad habit; "Oof!" went Impmon as he crashed on the ground.

Then Renamon's keen ears picked up the familiar sound of explosions, which were miles away; "…There's a battle going on."

"Where?" coughed Impmon as he forced himself back on his feet.

Renamon looked ahead; "There, in the East."

Then she took off like a flash of yellow lightning; "Hey! Wait up!" called Impmon, who trailed behind. "Oh, WHY did I leave my old motorbike behind?"

Meanwhile, back on the graying beach on the edge of Server, Izzy had begun an experiment that was both chancy and daring. After finding a weak spot in the back of Slothmon's bony neck, the wiz kid inserted a small plug into the Sin's neck which was connected to his laptop. Then, just as he did with the hearts of Gluttonymon and Wrathmon, he began to download a part of Slothmon's data. Luckily for him, Slothmon was still in a deep sleep at the time, but there was no telling when he would wake up, so Izzy had to be quick.

Meanwhile, the two Rookie digimon sat nearby, getting acquainted with each other.

Terriermon began with, "Wow! I was hoping I'd find more good guys around here, what with everything going dark all of a sudden. I can't wait 'till my own partner gets here."

"You have a human partner?" Tentomon asked curiously.

"Yep," nodded Terriermon, "I sure do."

Tentomon then turned to his preoccupied human friend and said, "Hey did you hear that, Izzy? Terriermon's got a partner!"

Izzy momentarily paused from his research and glanced their way. "Oh! Are you Willis' partner?"

"Willis?" Terriermon cocked his head. "What you talkin' about Willis?"

Apparently, he was mistaken. "Sorry," Izzy apologized. "I've been informed of an American teen with his own Terriermon named Willis."

"Oh no," shook Terriermon's head; "my human partner's in Japan, and his name's Henry."

Tentomon then hovered over to Izzy; "So what're you doing Izzy?" he asked.

While tapping laptop buttons like crazy, Izzy replied, "I've been trying to decode the data inside the Sin hearts we've had, and now that I can see into Slothmon's data stream, the code's much clearer now. I can see that the binary code system that Daemon's used to build these Sins is based on an older font. That could be one reason why it's hard for us to beat them, because of a difference in formats."

"I'll ask again," blink Terriermon, "what are you talking about?"

Izzy replied, "Binary, or fractal codes, are to digimon as DNA is to humans. Alone they mean nothing, but when pieced together they can make a living life form. These codes are what I'm scanning now, to see if I can find a general weakness in the Sins."

Terriermon turned to Tentomon and asked, "Is he always like this?"

"Yeah," Tentomon replied, "but you get used to it."

Izzy replied monotonously, "There's really only one code that matches all three Sins so far. At first it was written in digi-code, but when I deciphered it, it spelled out an old saying."

"What saying's that?" asked Tentomon.

"I think, therefore I am," was Izzy's reply.

"Hmm," Terriermon purred. "That doesn't make much sense."

"It does," Izzy responded, "in a way. It must have something to do with the Sins' thinking process. If they're convinced that they are in fact the seven deadly sins, then that would explain why they act the way they do."

Izzy then turned his laptop's screen to Terriermon so that the little green Rookie could review the basic binary codes on it. As he watched, Izzy went on to say, "Look. The same code is repeating over and over again."

Terriermon observed. "So you're saying these Sins aren't as smart as us?"

Izzy explained, "It's more than that, Terriermon; what it means is that they don't have as much free will as you and Tentomon do. You guys are capable of making your own decisions, and it seems that the Sins don't. And if it's true, then defeating them may take more than just a few battles."

Izzy would have gone on, but then a familiar voice interrupted the mood. "There you are!"

Izzy and Tentomon gasped in surprise as Matt, in his WereGarurumon battle gear, seemed to have appeared before them out of nowhere. "Matt!" Izzy exclaimed.

Matt made a smooth landing on the sand after nearly flying across the sky for miles. "We've been looking for you everywhere, Izzy," he said. "We were really worried."

Izzy cracked a humble smile, "Aww, I'm sorry about that. Me n' Tentomon just got a little preoccupied."

That's when Matt realized that there were others in their midst- Terriermon, whom he had never seen before, and Slothmon who was now attatched to Izzy's laptop.

Matt's eyes lit up with shock when he saw the sleeping Sin digimon. "What happened?"

"Oh," Izzy blinked, "Slothmon was chasing us and then-"

"And then he ran out of steam," buzzed Tentomon excitedly, "literally!"

"Is that right?" Matt replied, his eyes glaring intently on Slothmon.

Izzy and the others then watched curiously, as Matt marched himself over to Slothmon. Then, with plated paws that mimicked those of WereGarurumon, he clutched onto the collar of Slothmon's robe and raised him into the air.

"Uh, Matt?" blinked Izzy, "what are you doing?"

Matt growled, "As soon as he wakes up, I want him to tell me where the others are."

"Others?" gulped Tentomon.

Matt then quickly explained, "Some of our friends are under the Sins' control, and I wanna know where they are!" Then he impatiently shook Slothmon. "Come on you, wake up!"

"Matt," frowned Izzy as he slowly approached his friend, "we can't fight him. His data's too complex, and-"

"They killed Gabumon!" hissed Matt as he glanced furiously at Izzy.

Izzy took a big step back and his mouth began to gap open. If Tentomon had a mouth, his would likely gap too.

Matt's voice softened slightly as he further explained, "TK… Sora and Joe. They and their digimon are all corrupt now, and we gotta find them as soon as possible."

"…Matt…" was all Izzy could say. He just wasn't prepared for all this information.

Terriermon, meanwhile, stood his ground and listened to the humans as they talked. He never met these humans or this Tentomon before, but already he was starting to sympathize for them.

Matt's grasp on Slothmon started to tighten as his patience wore thinner by the second. "I won't let this guy get away. He knows where they are, I know he does! …And as soon as he tells me…"

Then Izzy boldly stepped forward. "Matt," he sternly advised, "I know you're upset about Gabumon and the others, but you can't just bully him around."

"What do you know?" Matt responded harshly. "You never lost your digimon partner. You don't have a brother or a girlfriend!"

Izzy took a breath and tightened his fists. "I can only imagine what you're going through inside, Matt, but you've got to keep it together. The sooner we get Slothmon's data deciphered, the sooner we can find out how to beat the Sin digimon once and for all... You just have to be patient."

"I can't," murmured Matt. "I can't wait. I'm tired of waiting. I gotta free TK and the others now!" And with that, his grip on Slothmon's collar weakened and released him.

When he hit the ground, Slothmon almost woke up; his eyes fluttered. But then again, he fell right back to sleep.

Izzy observed this and grew worried that his time with Slothmon was running short. "Matt," he advised, "if you wanna go find TK and the others, you go ahead. I need to stay here and learn as much as I can from Slothmon."

Matt was losing it already; his balled fists were shaking as he gritted his teeth. He couldn't take his eyes off of Slothmon.

"…I just… I just wanna finish it," he murmured. "I just wanna take him out myself."

"You can't," frowned Izzy.

Then Matt hung his head, as if he had finally come to terms with his fate; that he couldn't succeed where an army of Mega digimon would fail. "…I know," he replied sadly. "…It's just-"

"He's your brother," said Izzy sorrowfully. "I know."

Matt fell silent. It was clear to him now that Izzy understood his pain more than he realized. Even though he was an only child- once an orphan, in fact- Izzy could still sympathize with him. He took a deep breath, looked his friend in the eye and said, "I'm sorry, Izzy."

Izzy smiled, "Hey, it's okay."

That's when Terriermon's lop ears perked up in alarm; "Uh-oh," he peeped. "I hear a battle."

Indeed there was a battle brewing; Renamon heard it, and now Terriermon heard it. All at once, heroes from two sides of Southeastern Server were coming together, for only one purpose. It was Joe, with his once adorable partner now the merciless Plesiomon, chasing down a rogue digimon who ran on foot while they hovered in the air like a cloud of doom.

They were located in a grassland just a few miles west of the beach where Izzy and company were; that Terriermon sure had an impressive sense of hearing.

The digimon they were chasing was unlike any Joe had seen before; it was reptilian, red with black stripes and a white underbelly. That was all he knew of this creature, but Joe was in fact uncaring of his prey. He and Plesiomon were chasing it, perhaps for fun, for they hadn't really struck it down yet, when striking it down would be so simple.

But then, Joe gave the order. "Show this lizard no mercy, Plesiomon. Fire away!"

"SAD WATER BLAST!"

Plesiomon exhaled a torrent of water in the form of a twister at this small red creature, and it went tumbling into a blanket of tall grass, then disappeared into it. Just when Joe and Plesiomon were feeling good about themselves, the stranger fired back-

"PYRO SPHERE!"

Suddenly the dried grassland was set aflame by the strange new digimon; Joe and Plesiomon had to pull back or risk getting singed.

Not long after that, the fire died down, and exposed at last was the red dragonic digimon. His yellow eyes were piercing like a cat's in sunlight; his claws, seemingly too heavy for his arms to carry, extended fiercely. But his growl was most intimidating; it sounded bloodthirsty.

Nevertheless, he was just a Rookie, and Joe knew this. "Ha!" he laughed. "You think a little bonfire's going to scare us?"

Then he heard a hauntingly familiar voice coming his way: "Maybe not, but how's about a little thunder?"

Joe turned around; here it was Matt and Izzy, both in their battle gears in the forms of WereGarurumon and Mega Kabuterrimon. And they weren't alone; along for the ride were the puny Terriermon and the humongous Hercules Kabuterrimon.

"Give him one for, Hercules!" commanded Izzy.

"MEGA ELECTRO-SHOCKER!"

The force of Hercules Kabuterrimon's attack was enough to paralyze Plesiomon for a moment, and the giant sea monster went crashing onto the ground.

But Joe was not out for the count yet, as he quickly dismounted from his partner, ready to do battle with his own battle gear.

Izzy had no choice but to leave Slothmon unsupervised, so there on the graying beach he stayed helplessly. But help would soon arrive for him; Pridemon and Lustmon appeared through a mysterious dimensional vortex.

Pridemon sneered at him. "Ugh. Couldn't pick a better time to sleep, could he? Well, let's get him back home before those brats get here."

As Pridemon flipped Slothmon on her back, Lustmon looked on with a certain emptiness in her eyes. It was as though her mind was elsewhere. Pridemon noticed this and hissed, "You, go see what's happening with Joe and Plesiomon. See to it that they succeed in killing those brats!"

Lustmon came back to reality and muttered, "I thought their part in this was just a diversion."

"So what?" Pridemon answered. "It'd be even more delightful to know that they actually did something useful." Then Pridemon disappeared with her unconscious brother in the same fashion she entered the scene.

Lustmon just stood there for a moment, confused and unsure of herself. But she had her orders; she took off toward the grasslands.

Meanwhile, the battle was just heating up. Matt and Izzy both had their hands full with Joe, who moved quickly with a weapon that mimicked that of Zudomon's Vulcan hammer. Matt and Izzy tried to attack from opposite sides, but even this wasn't enough to slow Joe down.

In fact, he turned the tide when he blocked Izzy's staff with his hammer, and kicked Matt in the gut at the same time.

Hercules Kabuterrimon had his hands full as well; while he had Plesiomon grounded, the two Megas were now looking like sumo wrestlers, each taking their time in an attempt to toss the other one around.

Meanwhile, Matt recovered from his injury and latched his arms onto Joe's collarbone while he wasn't looking. "Joe!" he growled in frustration, "listen to me, we're your friends! You just gotta snap out of it, buddy!"

"Enough!" Joe barked, as he slipped out of Matt's grasp. Then he turned to his preoccupied partner and said, "Plesiomon, it's time to wrap this up!"

"You got it," replied his partner, as the sea monster now had a grip on Hercules Kabuterrimon's mouth. Plesiomon then turned to the humans that opposed his partner.

"Finish them off," commanded Joe.

Plesiomon was just about to, when suddenly Joe was hit in the back by a small yet unbearably hot fireball. He howled in pain, and then he turned to see who it was that hit him.

It was the red dragonic one. "Hello," said the Rookie with a babyish voice that just didn't seem to fit his bulky body. "Did you forget about me?"

Joe stared his opponent down; clearly this creature had some fight in him, and it was impressive even for one so tainted as Joe. "Alrighty then," grinned Joe. "If it's a fight you want… HAMMERING BLITZ!"

With that, Joe's hammer shot out a bolt of lightning that could have rivaled that of Zudomon's Vulcan's Hammer attack. Joe's challenger took the full hit, but as he did Izzy and Matt were taking aim.

"This is it," said Izzy to Matt. "We may have only one shot at this."

"This let's do it," replied Matt with fire in his eyes.

"No," growled the nearby Plesiomon, "I won't let you!" He was then preparing to fire another Sad Water Blast, when suddenly-

"BUNNY BLAST!"

Terriermon exhaled a small green ball of light from his mouth, and it hit Plesiomon right on the forehead. Unfortunately, it wasn't very effective; Plesiomon nearly began to laugh as he saw the tiny floating bunny nearby.

"How pathetic," he sneered. "You call that an attack?"

"No," smiled the little bunny, "I call it a diversion."

Plesiomon cocked his head; "A diversion, for what?"

"DIAMOND STORM!" replied Renamon, who seemed to have come out of nowhere. Her attack unleashed a barrage of diamond-shaped lasers that cut like knives, and they went straight for the back of Plesiomon's head.

Joe witnessed this surprise attack, and was so stunned by it that he froze.

"NOW!" hollered Matt, who was obviously taking advantage of Joe's distraction. "ICI-CLAW!"

Izzy added with, "THUNDER SPEAR!"

Together, a freezing cold back scratch and a thunderbolt to follow up struck Joe right in the back. He took the full hit and fell.

Plesiomon would have responded, but he was too busy trying to swat three very annoying Rookies. The Rookies gave Hercules Kabuterrimon more than enough time to pin down his rival.

Matt then turned Joe on his back, seeing that he was temporarily stunned.

"Sorry Joe," murmured Matt solemnly, "but it was for your own good."

"Speaking of good," added Izzy while his battle crest began to shimmer purple, "it's time we got you back on our side."

Just as Joe's eyes began to flutter, Matt and Izzy teamed up to chant, "Knowledge and Friendship's light, energize!"

The battle crests that once destroyed the Power Spines were now working their magic on Joe, who was enveloped in a halo of bright light. At first he howled in pain, as if the effects were burning him, but in mere moments, the light show came to a sudden halt, and Joe was asleep again.

Matt and Izzy took a moment to wait and see if they had succeeded… But then, they were given a sign of hope.

"Hey, look over there!" exclaimed Izzy, pointing toward the area where Plesiomon and Hercules Kabuterrimon once stood.

In their place now stood two In-Trainees, Izzy's Pabumon and Joe's Bukamon. Either the battle weakened them to the max, or the mission was a complete success. Either way, Izzy and Matt exchanged satisfied smiles.

Meanwhile, an uninterested Lustmon looked on in the distance. She was leaning against a dead tree with her arms crossed.

"Hmm," she cracked a smile, "someone decided to crash the party. Wait till Master Daemon hears about this."

She didn't seem to care that she had just lost not one but two powerful allies. The truth of the matter was, she was only there to observe, not interfere. Besides, these new digimon were unknown to her, and she fears the unknown. So with that, she left without a trace.

Renamon, the tall fox-like digimon, escorted Terriermon over to where the red lizard and the humans were, while carrying the tuckered out In-Trainees.

Finally, another newcomer had arrived; it was Impmon, who tried and failed to keep up with his foxy friend. When he finally did arrive, he collapsed and moaned, "Ugh… aguh… I shoulda kept that ol' motorcycle when I had the chance…"

Matt and Izzy took a moment to observe the new arrivals: one bunny, one fox, one reptile and one (exhausted) demon.

"Oh-kay," said Matt slowly, "You guys all introduce yourselves, and we can get up to speed."

Terriermon started. "Well you know me, I'm Terriermon."

"I'm Renamon, and that is Impmon."

Then finally, the red lizard introduced himself. "I'm Guilmon."

"I'm Matt, this is Izzy, that's Joe, and these are our partners."

Guilmon then asked, "Why were you guys fighting? I thought all Tamers got along."

"We're not Tamers," Izzy shook his head. "We're Digi-Destined. And why we were fighting is a long story."

"We'll tell you later," said Matt, "but what I really want to know is how you all got here."

"We're looking for someone of great importance," said the blue-eyed fox. "Perhaps you've heard of him. He's known as… the Gate Keeper."

The humans were beside themselves. It was strange enough that they were staring down not one, but four unfamiliar digimon, but on top of that, these digimon knew something that they never did.

Could it be? Another Digi-Keeper?

TO BE CONTINUED