June 24, 2027 A.D. Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan.

On the corner of one of the quieter streets in town was a large apartment complex. On the third floor of that complex was a sparse residency. In that residency were a kitchen, a television, a small bedroom, and one other smaller room.

In this room was almost nothing; there sat only a hard, wooden chair beneath a flat desk with a pile of papers on its top and three drawers on its right side. Across from it was a brown easy chair. The setting sun's gentle, orange rays shone through the one large, glass window on the far side, lengthening the three shadows enough to make them stand on the bare, whitewashed wall.

In the easy chair sat a man of about thirty-six years old with short, mussed, straw-colored hair. He nervously fidgeted with his hands and leaned forward in the seat, his bright, blue-slate eyes staring intently towards the wooden chair, waiting for something and, to an extent, dreading it.

In the wooden chair sat a woman, also of thirty-six, but with short, smooth, chocolate-brown hair. Her elbows made a precise angle on the desk as she pored over one of the paper stacks. Her eyes—as brown as her hair—slowly moved across what was written on it, absorbing the words carefully. The only sound that she made was the rustle of the paper when she turned a page.

She read each page slowly, then moved on to the next, taking care not to miss anything. The man watched her as hard as she watched the papers; this had been going on for what seemed like an eternity to him.

Finally, she put down one last page and, with a little sigh, looked up at him. The man sat even more rigidly than before, looking at her hopefully. "…Well?" he asked, breaking the silence. "What do you think?"

The woman hesitated for a moment, then slowly shook her head. "Sorry, TK," she apologized, "but I don't like it. Not at all."

His heart stopped for a moment, and he stared at her in terror. "You… didn't?" he asked in almost a whisper.

"No…" she answered. "I didn't… and I don't think others will, either."

Flabbergasted, TK stood up, staring off into space. He was used to criticism, but with a project as close to his heart as this, it shocked him to his core. He stiffly walked to the window and stared out at the darkening sky. "…Why?" he asked quietly.

The woman rubbed her forehead and sighed wearily. "You really have to ask? You changed it… You changed everything," she mumbled. "It's a totally different story…"

TK sighed. "My publisher said that if I was going to write a sequel, I had to make it more dynamic," he explained. "He said I should surprise the readers… keep them glued to the story…"

"This ISN'T the way to do that," she retorted. "Nobody likes sudden changes like this!" She slammed the papers back on the desk, accentuated her point. "I know how your fans think; I work with them all the time! It's too different than before… They'll hate it."

TK remained silent. She hung her head. "Not only that, but if you publish this, you're gonna hurt your friends' feelings… You changed what they went through… changed their personalities…" She looked up at him again. "And most of all, you kept—"

TK winced. "Some things are too painful to write about, Kari," he interrupted, still not looking at her. "I can't do it."

Kari frowned. "You can't… or you won't?" she asked.

"Does that really make a difference?" TK scoffed.

"TK, you wrote the first book about our adventures and the lessons we all learned," she pointed out. "You were absolutely honest and fearless about what you put in… and they loved you for that! You did us proud."

"That was our first adventure. It was different," he said, staring out the window again. "Back then, nobody…" He drifted off into silence.

Kari gave him a knowing look. "You don't want to go through it again by writing about it," she concluded.

He nodded slowly.

"I understand…" she replied, standing up, walking next to him and putting her hand gently on his shoulder, "but isn't pretending it didn't happen hurtful to his memory?"

The words made TK pause. He looked at her thoughtfully.

"Think about it," she pressed. "Everything you changed… you've made it total fiction… a lie… You're running from what happened… from us… me."

The golden ring on her finger shimmered in the sunlight, almost making him feeling heat from its twin on his own hand. He gave her a sad look. "I don't want to run…" he admitted, "but how can I write something like this?…"

Kari's frown gave way to a quiet smile. "We're a team, right?" she asked, moving closer to him. "When one of us has trouble, we all pitch in…"

He turned around as she returned to the easy chair. "…What're you suggesting?" he asked.

She stretched her arms and sighed contentedly as she sank into the chair. "I might not be a storytelling expert," she said, "but my memory's pretty good. How about we put all of that away and try again?"

He glanced at the desk and all of its papers, then at her. "Right now?" he asked. "But it's almost night."

"The kids are at camp for the next two weeks, and I'm not working summer session this year," she rationalized. "We've got all the time in the world."

She was right, as usual; the kids were gone, and even with such a daunting task before him, he had the perfect atmosphere to write in. He stared at the papers again and bit his lip; he knew that what he had written was garbage, and he had hoped she wouldn't care… but as he looked at it, everything she said made perfect sense. He had to write it again, and with the truth. Maybe getting it down would finally ease his troubled mind.

He sighed and plopped down on the stool, pushing the old papers aside. He reached into the bottom drawer and got out a notebook and a box of pencils, then reached into the middle drawer for a pencil sharpener and an eraser. Finally, he reached into the top drawer and pulled out a half-empty bottle of clear liquor and two shot glasses.

Kari couldn't help but chuckle. "Gotta have your supplies, eh?" she joked.

"All right, then," he declared, jamming a pencil in the sharpener, "let's do it."

"That's the spirit!" she declared. "We'll help you write a new one… and it'll be exactly what we all need!"


The Story We Never Told

Written by Lou Smith (AKA ker-plop)

Chapter 1

Courage Rekindled

The year was 2004, five years after our first journey…

The world had changed almost overnight, and was not the friendly one I had grown up with… but such things were beyond my comprehension.

For us children, five years was forever, and we all grew and changed…

Tai became the captain of our high school's boys' soccer team…

Sora became the captain of the girls' team…

Matt traded his harmonica in for a saxophone, and joined the jazz band…

Izzy mastered dozens more computer languages and headed the computer club…

Mimi finally did learn how to cheerlead, and was a prime member of that clique…

Joe, the oldest, started medical college across town…

Kari began her first year in the junior high connected to the high school…

My mother decided to move back into town so Matt and I could be closer together.

At first, I saw it all as a grand reunion…

But little did I know what fate had in store for us.

… … …

"AHH! Run! It's the Emperor!"

Up on the rocky cliff and in front of the tall, black obelisk, the scream reached his ears and brought a smile to his lips. The lone boy, clad in a midnight-blue uniform with a matching midnight-blue cape triumphantly stared down at the darkened forest through his dark-purple sunglasses. He paused for a moment to let the wind ruffle his wild, midnight blue hair. Today was a perfect day… for conquest.

With that, he yanked out a long, leather whip and cracked it on the stone, the snap echoing through the tense air. Instantly a barrage of small, black rings rose up from behind him and shot into the forest like tiny UFOs.

The forest's population descended into chaos, every being fleeing this way and that, every one hoping that those rings would miss them. Their hopes were for naught, however; there were enough rings for every one. The first ring caught its victim: a small, gray rabbit. The next one latched onto a fleeing rock creature. A third wrapped itself around the neck of a helmeted, flying unicorn, sending it plummeting to the ground in shock. The throng of black rings mercilessly rained down upon the forest, each one finding a host to attach itself to.

The worst was yet to come, however; a mysterious language appeared in red on each ring, and their victims rose, their eyes glowing with a wicked, blood-red light. Though they still breathed and moved, their lives were over; they were now only the soulless servants of the Emperor.

Though most of the forest's inhabitants were now enslaved, one creature still fled: a small, white cat with purple frills on her ear tips, a glittering gold ring on her tail, and a weathered old whistle hanging around her neck. She was a traveler, but every place she visited met the same cruel fate; it was almost as if the Emperor were pursuing her personally. Still, she kept on running, never looking back.

She zipped around a tree and yelped as a ring shot down from above, but her tail's ring sparkled, and the onyx menace crumbled into dust. She sighed wearily; her own ring was the only thing she knew could destroy those things, but there was no way that she could take on the Emperor on her own; with more than half of the world at his feet, he had plenty more firepower.

She looked at the dark-gray sky, her eyes filled with longing. She knew of an intrepid group of adventurers just like her who had all the power they needed to stop this madman… but they had long since left her world. If only she knew how to call them, if only she could reach out to them, then maybe…

A nearby crash snapped her from her thoughts, and she turned in terror to see the unicorn that had fallen earlier, its visor glowing evilly. She frantically looked around, but saw only thick trees; she was cornered.

The unicorn gave a cruel, gurgling chortle as it advanced on her and opened its mouth, a powerful sphere of energy building. Her hair stood on end; it was about to use its devastating Horn Buster attack.

Not knowing what else to do, the white kitten snarled and threw herself at the beast, screeching only one word into the darkness:


… … …

"TK!" came a sharp call from outside of the small room. "Hurry up! You don't want to be late your first day!"

TK grunted as he jammed his new schoolbooks into his backpack and threw it on. His mother was certainly right about that; it wouldn't do to start off at a new school tardy. He had been delayed at breakfast, when he had been presented with a bowl of his mother's infamous oatmeal, which was so thick that it could choke a horse.

"New apartment, new school… but the same old lumpy oatmeal," he chuckled to himself, turning and grabbing his hat off of the desk. It was a white sailor's cap that he had been given when he had outgrown his old, green cap. TK loved hats; he was always seen with one. Without something over his straw-blonde hair, he felt naked and incomplete.

"OK, I'm going now, Mom," he announced as he stepped out of his room and jammed on his shoes in the doorway.

"All right, dear," his mom replied from the den, where she furiously typed away at a computer. "I'd see you off, but I've got a tight deadline on this article about the historical significance of toilet paper."

"No problem, Mom," he replied as he opened the door. "See you later."

TK shut the door and started towards the stairs. Being on the twelfth floor of an Odaiba apartment gave a nice view, but it took a lot of time to get out of the building. He could have taken one of the elevators, but he was faster zipping down the stairs, and time was of the essence.

Bounding down the steps—going two at a time in some places—he reached the ground floor in record time. Glancing at his watch, he grinned; he had been so quick, he could afford to walk instead of run. Everything would turn out just fine.

Just as he left the stairwell, though, something knocked him on his side. "Owww!" he groaned, trying to move. "What the?!…"

"Arrgh!" someone huffed. Whatever had hit him was on top of him now, struggling and growling crossly.

He was presented with a short pair of legs, and he looked up. The short legs belonged to a short boy, who now stared down at him. The boy had small, sharp eyes and dark bowl cut of hair. He looked cross.

"Um… hi," TK greeted him.

"Hello," the boy replied, then turned his attention to whatever was crushing TK. "Honestly," he muttered.

TK felt something roll off of his back, and he gratefully righted himself. He was looking at a tall, gawky, skinny girl with thick glasses and an embarrassed smile. Her hair was a strange lavender hue, which loudly clashed with the blue kerchief in it, as well as her salmon vest and red undershirt. "I'm so sorry!" she apologized, bowing quickly. "I was in such a hurry I just shot outta the elevator! First day jitters, y'know…"

"No, it's fine; don't worry about it," TK replied. "It's my first day, too."

The girl looked at him for a moment, then gasped with excitement. "Oh! Oh! Oh!" she exclaimed. "You must be the new kid!"

A strange scent wafted from the girl; it was the smell of someone who hadn't bathed in a few days mixed with cheap strawberry perfume. "Well, um, yes," he replied. "I just moved in a few days ago. My name's Takeru Takaishi, but everyone just calls me TK."

"TK? Sweet!" the girl replied, grabbing his hand and shaking it excitedly. "Mine's Miyako Inoue, but you can call me Yolei!" She paused, then looked at the smaller boy. "Oh, and that's Cody."

The boy turned a harsh eye on her. "I am Iori Hida," he corrected her. "Nice to meet you, Takeru. Welcome."

"Yeeeeah," Yolei replied, turning back to TK with a bright grin; he could not help but notice the slight yellow hue of her teeth. "So, are you going to the school right up the street? So are we! Let's all go together!"

TK agreed with a smile, and they started walking. He could not believe his good fortune; he had just gone out the door, and he already had met two of his schoolmates, and they even lived in the same building!

"You probably don't know the neighborhood yet," Yolei chattered as they walked. "Relax! I know this place like the back of my hand. We'll be at school before you know it!"

"Calm down, Miyako," Iori said. "Don't freak him out on his first day."

TK regarded the two. Yolei was energetic and quirky, and Iori- or Cody; he wasn't sure which- was quiet and kind of rigid. He chuckled to himself; they were strange, but maybe they could be his friends. After all these years, it was about time that he made some more.

… … …

With Yolei chattering all the way, they reached the school just as all the other students were strolling in. "…So the school board decided to do an experiment on 'the connection between student achievement and the level of organization,'" she said, doing her best impression of a stuffy bureaucrat, "and that's why us junior high kids don't need uniforms!… Well, this year, anyway."

TK nodded. "I wondered why they didn't send me the dress code," he said. "I thought once you got into junior high, it was always uniforms."

"I'm glad it's your class and not mine," Cody said. "I hope they reinstate them by the time I'm old enough to wear it."

"Man, you're the weirdest kid on the block," Yolei said. "Only one I know who WANTS a uniform."

"It's a sign of dignity and respect," Cody replied. "Anyway, we should hurry; I don't know how long we've got."

"Oh, we're fine, Cody!" Yolei said as they walked through the gate, pointing at the lawn to the right. "Look! They've got time for soccer, so we're golden!"

TK followed her finger, where a lively group of kids were booting a soccer ball around in an impromptu match. He smiled as he looked; watching soccer always reminded him of his older friend, Tai. That boy was nuts about soccer. He was always out on the field, tearing around after the ball in his favorite blue shirt and the trademark pair of goggles that rested in his wild hair, just like the kid who had the ball right then…

…The kid who had the ball right then? TK froze and looked again. The ball was being punted along by a boy his own age, who wore a cocky grin on his lips, a blue blazer over his shirt, and a pair of futuristic-looking goggles in his short, spiky, chocolate-brown hair. TK sighed as both logic and nostalgia came to him; it had been five years since he had last seen Tai, who certainly was older now, and most likely had changed his wardrobe. This boy wasn't Tai, but he looked similar enough to befuddle him for a moment.

A sudden yell snapped him from his musings, and he looked up just in time to see the soccer ball bean Yolei in the head, whereupon in bounced right into his hands. Yolei howled as she fell on her butt, grabbing at her face. "What the hell?!" she demanded.

The Tai doppelgänger raced over to them, panting heavily. "Whew, sorry 'bout that…" he started, but then saw whom he had hit and instead grinned wryly. "Well, Yolei, looks like your face is good for somethin', huh?" he laughed.

Yolei's face burned. "Dammit, Daisuke!" she snarled as Iori pushed her back onto her feet. "You did that on purpose!"

"Nah-ah-ah… What did I say?" the kid asked, mockingly shaking a finger. "It's Davis, remember? Like the great soccer master? Sheesh… This girl; in one ear and out the other, huh, Cody?" He then turned to TK with a smirk. "Nice catch, there," he complimented. "You done that before?"

TK grinned and tossed him the ball. "I like those goggles," he replied.

Davis raised an eyebrow at the remark, but a call from the other players caught his ear. "Later!" he called, and raced off to rejoin the game.

"Wow…" TK murmured as he watched for a bit longer. "Who was that?"

"That's Daisuke Motomiya," Iori explained as a whimpering Yolei inspected her precious glasses for damage. "Of course, he's such a big-shot soccer player that everyone calls him 'Davis.' Apparently, it sounds cooler."

"Soccer player, huh?" TK asked, smiling again. "Well, he looks pretty good…"

"You bet he is," Yolei answered as she jammed the glasses back on her reddened nose. "He's the top shooter on the junior high team… Of course, off the field, he's a total asshole."

"Miyako!" Iori hissed. "That's very rude!"

"Big whoop," Yolei replied coolly. "It's not like he can hear me."

"You're always shooting your mouth off!" Iori reprimanded. "One of these days, it's going to get you in a world of trouble."

"Lighten up, Cody," she rebuked. "You're such a stiff."

TK wanted to interject, but the bells rang; classes were beginning. "Whoops! Guess we'd better go," he broke in.

"Well, nuts," Yolei mimicked disappointment. "I was just getting into that one…"

"My classroom is on the far side of the building," Iori said as he walked away. "I'll see you two later."

"Good thing our classrooms are right next to each other, huh?" Yolei chuckled to TK. "C'mon, I'll walk you there."

They headed into the school along with the rest of the student throng, Yolei grabbing his arm so they would not be separated. Along the way, TK decided to make more conversation. "Iori and you are friends, right?" he asked.

"Sure we are," she answered. "Why?"

"Well," TK admitted slowly, "you two… seem to be… at odds. A lot."

Yolei chuckled. "He's stiff as a board, but he's a good kid," she replied. "You just caught us on an off day. Anyway, he helps me with homework, and I help him with his computer."

He blinked. "He helps you?" he asked.

She shrugged as they arrived in the seventh-grade hallway. "What can I say? He's smart… Of course, he's clueless about computers, and his is so old it should be on life support. That's where I come in. Give it time; he'll warm up to you." She stopped at a door marked 7-B. "Oh, this is me. You're in 7-A, right?" she asked.

"Yeah. Thanks a lot," he replied, heading for that door. "See you after school."

As he walked away from her, he realized that the air was suddenly cleaner, with a faint scent of chalk. With relief, he realized that her "aura" must not have been so bad if he had gotten used to it so quickly. With this in mind, he opened the door and entered his new classroom.

… … …

A dozen glowing screens greeted the Emperor as he returned to his central viewing room. With a satisfied sigh, he sat down on a velvet throne and raised his finger, the screens activating like magic. The Autumnal Forest was a fine victory to start off his day, but he felt the urge to seek a more challenging territory. Nothing pleased him more than a place where the locals fought back; it made crushing them all the more satisfying.

His eyes fell on a lake with a small island in its center, and he scratched his chin with interest. This was one part of File Island that he had never been able to take before; eight varied creatures had always driven off his minions. Of course, that was before he had programmed the rings to seek hosts on their own. Within one week, he had caught three of the eight by total surprise, and now they were his strongest warriors. He smirked as he looked at the monitor; today, he would finish the job.

As he watched, a small, orange dinosaur with wide, green eyes appeared, looking around warily. The Emperor cackled; here was one of them now! It looked like it was alone, but that was no matter; he would find the others soon enough.

He pointed at the screen and it moved right in front of him. "There," was all he said.

Instantly a swarm of black rings came down from the sky, the first one snapping around the dinosaur's neck. With a cry, the creature fell and grabbed at it in a feeble attempt to pull it off, but it was too late. The language appeared around the ring, and the monster's struggles ceased. It rose to its feet, its eyes as violently red as the others. The other rings scattered off into the distance, searching for whatever other life forms still roamed free on that island.

The Emperor sighed crossly and drummed his fingers on the throne's arm as the screen moved back into the darkness. That was far too easy, just like the other captures. Without a challenge, he felt annoyed and unfulfilled. Was there no being in this world who could keep him interested?

… … …

The classroom was just like every other classroom TK had ever been in: musty-smelling, whitewashed, and sterile. It was also jam-packed with kids; he must have been one of the last to come in.

He was not the absolute last, though; someone else tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around to see the goggled boy from the soccer field. "Oh, hi," he said.

"Err, hi," the boy replied. "Uh, you're kinda blockin' the door, dude."

"OH! Sorry," he apologized and scooted to the side, beginning the confounding task of finding his seat. If he was lucky, the seats would be marked with their names. If he was not, then he just hoped he didn't end up in a spot where he could not see the blackboard, or worse yet, next to a gassy fat guy. He saw the goggled kid land in a desk and his jaw locked; what if that was the last one?

Fortunately, he spied the kanji that spelled his name on a nearby desk and quickly planted his sitter in its seat. As he raised his backpack to get his pencils out, the sack caught a side of the desk and spilled its contents onto the floor. With an exasperated groan, he leaned over to start picking them up.

Another hand touched the notebook that he had just put his fingers on. "Here, let me help you with those," a soft, feminine voice said.

"No, that's OK, I've got it…" he began, but looked up and trailed off. He was staring at a girl with reddish-brown eyes, a small nose, and short, smooth, chocolate-caramel hair. He blinked. "Well, if you insist…" he finished, his cheeks gaining a little pink.

"You're the new kid?" she asked, grabbing a handful of pencils and putting them on his desk. "You must be pretty nervous, huh? Don't be; everyone here's really nice."

"Thanks," he replied, looking her over again. It was not just his newly discovered hormones that made him do it; there was something else. This girl seemed familiar to him.

She looked TK over, too. She also sensed that there was something about him. "I… Sorry, haven't I seen you somewhere before?" she asked.

As they both stared at each other, his eyes scanned her, looking for some sort of clue to end the awkward silence. She wore a pink-and-white-striped shirt with pink detached sleeves; no, that wasn't familiar. A tiny digital camera hung from a strap around her neck… wearing something shiny on a strap? Wasn't there someone else who…? Something in his brain snapped, and a wave of memories washed over him. This girl was one of his best friends from five years ago: Tai's little sister, Kari!

"…Kari?" he ventured.

She blinked a few times, and then her eyes lit up. There was only one person she knew with straw-colored hair, blue-slate eyes and a hat. "TK?" she asked.

He grinned excitedly. "Wow! It IS you!" he laughed, grabbing her hand and shaking it wildly. "How've you been?!"

"I haven't seen you in years!" she replied, pumping his hand just as hard. "You're gonna be here?! This is awesome!"

"Yeah! I moved in down the street," he explained.

"Wow!" she laughed. "This is just great! Wait until the others hear! Oh, everyone'll be so glad to see you!"

TK's smile went from one ear to the other. It was only the first day of school, and he had already made two new friends AND had been reunited with another, and all his old friends were around as well. Could this day get any better?

Unbeknownst to both of them, someone else was watching. Davis glared daggers at TK; the kid had just shown up today, and already he was putting the moves on HIS girl! His fists clenched as the teacher came in, and the offensive one whispered something to Kari and she laughed. First thing after school, this kid was going to learn a different kind of lesson.

"Mr. Motomiya," the teacher's gruff voice suddenly broke into his thoughts, "you may be getting a break from uniforms, but you know my rules: the goggles come off."

Davis swallowed and yanked the goggles out of his hair, his cheeks burning.

… … …

Though they had a 95% rate of success, the Emperor's rings did not always ensnare every creature in an area. This might have allowed for resistance if not for the simple fact of the rings' properties; those who were lucky enough to avoid the fate of servitude quickly met the alternate one of being ripped apart by the unfortunates.

Such was the case back in Autumnal Forest, which the Emperor had left in the care of his new servants. Three creatures still tore through the woods, desperate to get out of the area while they could. They flew among the trees, trying hard to drown out the shrieks from the animals who had just met their maker.

The pink bird, the red beetle and the strange, flying pig were almost out when they took a wrong turn and ran straight into a large, green mantis with scythes for limbs and a ring around its abdomen. It buzzed at them angrily and started in.

"It's a Snimon!" the red beetle panted, whirling around and zipping the other way. "Run for it before-"

Before the beetle could finish, the mantis raised its hands and slashed in its cleaving Twin Sickles attack. The bird and the beetle cried in pain and tumbled, leaving the pig to flee on his own.

Unwilling to leave without his friends, the pig faked right, then flew left and into the underbrush, where he scrunched up as tightly as he could and peered out.

His friends lay on the forest floor, struggling to get away. The Snimon planted its feet on each one, keeping them restrained. "Zzzzzo…" it rasped in its buzzing voice, "here are two more of them… The mazzzter will be pleazzzed…" It gathered them up in its hands and flew off into the clouds.

"No…" the pig gasped sadly. "Biyomon… Tentomon!…"

Suddenly, something tapped him on the wing, and he whirled around defensively. He found himself looking at the white cat. "Relax; it's just me," she whispered. "You OK, Patamon?"

"Yeah, but…" Patamon mumbled as he looked at where his friends had been sadly.

The cat sighed. "I know. I saw," she sympathized. "Look, we have to get out of this forest. It isn't safe anymore."

"What're we gonna do, Gatomon?" he sobbed, rubbing at his eyes with his small paws. "Our friends are all gone, the Emperor gets stronger every day, and we can't even Digivolve to protect ourselves…"

She frowned darkly. "Yeah, that sucks the most," she agreed, glancing off into the woods. "If we could do that, the Emperor would've been dust a long time ago…" She paused, then shook her head. "Never mind that; we have to get outta here!"

"It's gonna take a miracle to get out of this one…" Patamon whimpered.

… … …

What Patamon and Gatomon did not know was that, at that very moment, they were being watched. The Emperor chuckled as he watched them on one of his many screens. No miracle was going to come to them as long as he was there.

He sighed as he fingered the small, black-rimmed device in his hand. The black Digivice, combined with his rings and the obelisks, prevented the animals from strengthening themselves. Only those who were under his power could achieve their full potential as battle monsters. Those tools were what made it so easy to put the world under his boot.

He looked at it a moment more, than sighed. Perhaps it made the job too easy. After all, where is the fun in controlling small, weak creatures? As he watched the two on the monitor again, he almost wished that a miracle would happen; at least then he would have a worthwhile experience.

… … …

The day went as any first day of school went: it started as total chaos and descended into safe, predictable mediocrity. By the time the 2:30 bell rang, most everyone was ready to call it a day.

Yolei, however, was not. She was sitting in the junior high's computer lab, eagerly awaiting the computer club meeting. She usually raced right home, but once a week, nothing could pry her out of the building until she had spent an hour exploring the inner workings of an electronic brain. On top of that, she loved to bask in the presence of her tutor- and by far the sexiest-looking nerd on the campus- Koushiro Izumi. She was as crazy about the rest of him as she was about his brain.

It was because of this routine behavior that Cody knew exactly where she was. "Miyako," he said even before he came in, making her jump. "I have a favor to ask of you."

She sighed, clutching her chest. "I really hate it when you do that…" she grumbled. "What's up?"

He coughed and broke eye contact. "…My computer is acting up again," he replied. "Would you mind repairing it, please?"

She grinned wryly. "Help me on the biology work and get me some of your mom's brownies, and we have a deal," she replied.

"Very well," he replied. "I'll go and fetch them." With that, he was gone.

She cackled and spun around in her chair, satisfied with the victory. Cody could be demanding sometimes, but his mother's brownies could sucker her into anything. Cracking a computer's brain while chowing down on that chocolate goodness was as close as she had ever been to heaven. She put her sleeve to her lips to wipe away the drool from just thinking of it.

However, as she pulled the sleeve back, she noticed something strange on her monitor. Simply shaking away the connecting drool string, she pulled herself closer and stared hard. A new application had opened up, depicting a strange mapping program. On the left side was a grid of black and white squares, and on the right was a small screen and a large, red sphere. One of the squares on the grid was flashing, and the sphere glowed brightly. Bewildered, she stared down at the program's name. It was simply labeled: "digitalworld."

"Digitalworld?…" she whispered. Maybe it was an online game she had never heard of. That intrigued her even more; she loved computer games of all shapes and sizes. Still, it had appeared so suddenly that it might be a virus, too; she didn't want to risk breaking the school's computers just for a bit of fun.

She thought for a moment, then grinned and commanded the machine to print the screen output. As the mysterious thing emerged from the nearby printer, she snapped it up and raced out of the lab. If anyone knew what this was, it would be Koushiro. She just had to find him.

… … …

"Well, that was… about the same as any school," TK admitted as he jammed his school shoes into his cubbyhole and strapped on his regular ones. "I'm just amazed that I'm in your class!"

Kari was shelving her own sneakers next to him. "This is going to be such a great year," she agreed. "Come on, we'll go see Tai. He'll be glad to see you, too!"

"Yeah, that sounds-" he began when the goggled boy appeared in the doorway. He looked exceedingly angry.

"Hey! Buddy!" he snapped at TK, rapping his hand on the cubbies. "First day here and yer already on thin ice!"

TK looked at him, puzzled. "…I am?" he asked.

"I'm a nice guy, usually, but there's one rule everyone's gotta follow," Davis said, cracking his knuckles. "Ya don't hit on Davis's girl!"

TK blinked a few times. He had hit on this kid's girlfriend? When? The only two girls he had talked to today were Yolei and Kari. He turned to her for some sort of explanation.

Her face was red, and not from embarrassment. "One, Davis, I am not 'your girl,'" she snapped, holding up a finger, "and two, this is TK, and he's an old friend of mine."

This, of course, just made Davis angrier. "I don't care WHAT his name is!" he snarled, glaring at TK and raising his fist. "He n' I have a misunderstanding, and we're gonna settle it!"

"Misunderstanding?" TK asked, recoiling; he didn't know exactly what was going on, but this kid was furious, and he seriously believed he was in for a beating. "But—"

Davis took another step forward, but at that moment Yolei charged in and crashed right into him, killing all tension. They hit the floor, hurling both their limbs and obscenities like an overturned, rude octopus.

TK and Kari immediately came to the rescue, pulling the two apart. TK cringed as he saw that he had Davis by the shoulders, and that the boy was making fists again; what would happen next?

"Ugh…" Yolei coughed, glaring at Davis. "Again with the knocking me over, Daisuke?!" she yelled.

"Davis! DAVIS!" Davis yelled back, "and YOU knocked ME down, you crazy bitch!"

"I'm not even gonna dignify that with a response," Yolei retorted, then noticed Kari. "Oh! You're Hikari Yagami, right?" she asked.

Kari was surprised; she had never met this slightly malodorous girl before. "Y-yes?" she asked.

"You know where Izzy is?" Yolei pressed. "I mean, your brother IS best friends with him!"

"Um, I think Tai's outside," Kari answered. "What's wrong?"

"Something's gone nuts in the computer lab, and I've gotta find Izzy!" she said, motioning to the paper she held, then tearing off outside.

"Ugh… Crazy," Davis snorted, then noticed that TK's hands were still on his shoulders. "Yo, three-second rule!" he barked.

TK started and let go. "Sorry," he apologized.

"Anyway, Tai ain't outside," Davis replied. "He went in to grab a water keg for practice."

TK looked at him. "You know Tai?" he asked, surprised.

Davis saw that he had the new kid's attention and grinned. "Hell, yeah!" he said, thumping his chest. "You're lookin' at coach Yagami's one-and-only protegé! He says I play as good as he does!"

"I said you have the POTENTIAL to play as well as I do," a familiar voice came from the inside doorway. TK was delighted to see a mop of wild, chocolate-brown hair appear, followed by an older boy with matching chocolate-brown eyes, a blue headband, and a set of round goggles. He was taller than TK had remembered, and he now wore the drab, green high school uniform. He saw TK and beamed. "I heard you were back in town," he chuckled.

"Tai! How are you?!" TK laughed, running over and slapping palms with the boy. "It's been too long!"

Davis was caught completely off guard. "WHAT?!" he demanded. The straw-headed doofus knew his hero? His edge was gone!

"Nice to see you; you're gonna have a great time here," Tai said. He then looked at them quizzically. "Why was that girl looking for me?"

"She wanted to ask you where Izzy is, because something's up in the computer lab," TK answered. "I wonder what spooked her so badly?"

Kari hadn't said a word since Yolei left; she was staring straight out the door, a haunted look on her face. TK noticed and looked worried. "…Kari?" he asked. "You OK?"

"The Digital World…" she whispered.

Tai and TK froze. "Say what?" Tai asked.

"That paper she had…" she repeated, turning to them. "It said something about the Digital World!"

TK's eyes almost popped out of their sockets. "The Digital World!" he repeated.

A cloud of memories fell over Tai, Kari and TK as they recalled that mysterious world. They didn't understand where it came from or why, but it was a wondrous place full of mysterious landscapes and amazing creatures. They had gone on a grueling adventure in it with their other friends, and though it had been a dire mission of preserving the peace of both worlds, they had had an amazing time.

Davis, however, was completely in the dark. "…The hell are you guys talkin' about?" he asked.

"We'd better get to the computer lab," TK suggested. Tai and Kari nodded and they all rushed back into the school.

Davis, both bewildered and furious at being ditched, chased after them. "Hey, come on! What?!" he yelled. "Wait up, dammit!"

… … …

The nearly empty hallways made it easy for the four of them to charge up the stairs towards the lab. Tai, Kari and TK needed to see this thing with their own eyes; if what was on that paper was true, they might be able to get to the Digital World once again. Davis was just along for the ride, thinking that this must be a huge deal for Tai to forget about soccer practice all of a sudden.

"Refresh my memory," Tai barked, "where's the lab?"

Kari was about to tell him when a door opened and Tai almost slammed into the person who had come out. He sprang backwards with a yelp, startling everyone.

"Whaaagh!" the red-haired boy huffed as he regained his breath. "Tai, what was that for? I don't feel like wetting myself today!"

Tai clapped him on the shoulder. "Izzy," he said, "we've got to get to the computer lab. The Digital World!…"

Koushiro "Izzy" Izumi's jet-black pupils widened. "The Digital World?!" he hissed. "Are you sure?!"

"We've gotta go find out!" TK added, practically running in place.

Izzy paused and smiled at him. "Oh, hello, TK," he said. "It's good to see you again."

"NOW!" Tai huffed, grabbing Izzy's arm and yanking. With a yelp, the young computer genius joined the race.

Davis scratched his head as he ran. So the mega geek Izzy was in on this thing, too? How much weirder could this get?

All five of them piled into the lab, where Yolei's screen was still on and flashing. They all crowded around it and stared as Izzy sat down and tried to figure it out. "So? What do you think, Izzy?" Kari asked.

He hit some keys, but nothing happened. "I suppose we should try to make it work," he replied. "Does anyone have his Digivice?"

Tai, Kari, TK and Izzy all pulled out some things, and Davis's eyes bugged. They were small, clear-colored plastic gizmos that looked like strapless watches with a strange language written all around small monitors in their centers. This was getting wilder by the second!

"All right, should we get going?" Izzy asked. "Davis, guard the door."

"Hey, woah, woah, wait just a goddamn minute!" Davis snapped. "What the hell's goin' on?! Clue me in, will ya?!"

Kari shook her head. "Sorry, Davis, but you can't help here," she said.

"What?!" he roared. "I'm yer pal for three years, and suddenly I can't help?!"

"It's nothing personal, Davis," Tai replied, showing him the device, "but you don't have one of these… You need one to do anything in that world…"

"You, too, coach?!" Davis snapped, getting even angrier. "Look, I don't give a rat's ass about your stupid toys! Whatever you guys are doin', deal me in!"

Izzy was about to respond when the computer glowed even brighter. "What the…" he started as he turned to it.

The computer flashed blue, then yellow, and then red, and three small things burst out of the screen and flew across the room. One hit Davis in the face, and the other two clattered against the wall and fell into a trash can.

Everyone was stunned. "What was THAT?" Kari asked.

As Davis swore, TK picked up what had clocked him. It was a strange gizmo, larger than their Digivices and with a blue ridge. Still, it had that same language on it, so it had to be a Digivice of some sort. "I guess it's a Digivice," he concluded.

"A Digivice?!" Tai exclaimed. "But…"

TK looked at the sore-cheeked Davis, smiled and offered it. "Looks like you're getting your wish," he said.

Davis hesitated, then took it. "Right, then!" he laughed. "Let's do… whatever it is we're doin'!"

"I wonder how we use them to get in…" Kari remarked, holding her Digivice up so that its screen faced the monitor. Almost like an answer, there was a bright flash, and she was gone. Davis's mouth could have touched the floor.

Stunned only for a moment, the others readied their own devices. "OK, in we go!" Tai announced, lifting his Digivice and vanishing.

"Right!" TK added, repeating the motion and disappearing.

Izzy glanced at Davis, who was still gawking at the screen. "Your turn," he said, raising an eyebrow, "unless you're scared, of course…"

That was enough to snap Davis from his shock; he had never seen a person get sucked into a computer before, but nobody ever could call him scared and go unchallenged. "Scared? No way!" he stated, lifting the new Digivice. He vanished just as the others had.

"OK, then," Izzy said, getting out of the chair. Now it was his turn to raise his Digivice and—


A shout from the door practically sent him into the ceiling. He whipped around to see Yolei, hunched over and wheezing like a triathlete. Behind her stood Cody, looking stoic as usual, a brown sack in his hands. "Oh! H-hello, Yolei," he stammered, quickly jamming his Digivice back into his pocket. "You, uh, surprised me."

"I've been all over lookin' for you!" she panted. "Something showed up on the computer and—" she paused and looked at it. "Oh. I guess you saw it already," she finished. "What was it?"

"Heh? Oh, nothing… Just some game a kid left on yesterday," Izzy lied, though he knew it was a lousy one; he was the smartest of his friends, but certainly not the craftiest.

Yolei raised an eyebrow. "There wasn't anyone here yesterday," she pointed out. "The schedule on the door says so."

"Huh? Oh, you're right," he replied, scrambling for some way of changing the conversation. "Well, maybe it was this morning, then…"

"Nobody was in here this morning, either!" she snapped, getting mad. "This place has been locked up since last spring! The blackboard is bare, the desks are dustless, and the trash cans are empty!"

She emphasized her point by kicking the wastebasket, which made a rattling, less-than-empty noise. She paused, then kicked it again and listened, muddled. Something or a few things were banging around in it.

"How about just looking instead of making noise?" Cody muttered as he walked over and looked into the can. As soon as he did, though, his expression changed from grumpy to puzzled.

"What? What is it?" she asked.

He reached in and pulled out two more odd Digivices, their forms just like the one Davis had been beaned with. One of them had a yellow ridge, and the other had a red one. "Strange…" he said, tossing the red one to Yolei and looking at the yellow one, "people don't usually throw their game machines away so carelessly…"

Sweat poured down Izzy's face. Yolei was going to demand to know what the things were, and what the Digital World program was all about, and he really didn't want to answer. He had been sworn to secrecy about the Digital World, but Yolei could pry him open like a bear shelling oysters. What was he going to do?

"Izzy…" she said slowly, glancing at him and holding up the Digivice, "do you know what this is?"

His mind raced. He could lie and say they were game machines, but that would still leave the program question unanswered. How was he ever going to keep his promise not to talk about the Digital World to people who weren't Digidestined?

At that thought, a light went off in his head. These three Digivices had fallen out of the computer for a reason; they sought out Digidestined, just as the first ones had. One had clocked Davis, so that meant he must have some special purpose in the Digital World, as did Yolei and Cody… sort of; those other two had landed in the trash, after all… He shook his head wearily. If they were Digidestined, then it wouldn't hurt to tell them… In fact, they SHOULD know.

"OK, I'll tell you," he said almost as a relieved sigh, "but you have to keep it quiet, OK? Both of you!"

Yolei frowned, but nodded; she hated being told to keep something quiet, but she also liked secrets. Cody simply shrugged and closed the lab door. "All right, then," he said, opening the sack, "but there's no sense chatting without refreshments."

Yolei's nose spun to the sack like a compass, her brain forgetting everything except the word 'brownie.' "Oh, yeah!" she laughed, grabbing one and sitting down. "Dig in!"

Izzy sighed and took the goody that Cody offered him, thankful that, when there were brownies around, Yolei had the attention span of a gnat.

… … …

The next thing the four travelers knew, they stood in a lush forest of gray trees with dark-green boughs, though all around was the aroma of dead leaves. A gentle wind blew through them, carrying the cries of far-off birds.

Tai, TK and Kari took a few steps forward and looked around, puzzled. Though they were certain they were in the Digital World—where else could one go through a computer?—they had no idea where they were. With their friends, they had spent months traversing this land before, and had seen plenty of exotic and wonderful places: a forest full of road signs that led nowhere; a vast desert full of upside-down pyramids; and even a tall mountain made up of both earth and sea… but they had never been in a green forest that smelled like it should be orange.

"I don't remember this place at all…" Kari voiced their thoughts.

"Well… there's definitely more to the Digital World than we know," Tai replied, trying to keep everyone calm. He had been the leader before, and still felt the need to live up to those expectations. "Izzy showed us a whole map once, remember?"

"Someone could have changed the landscape, too," TK pointed out. "Remember how the Dark Masters changed it?"

"And where're the Digimon?" Kari asked, looking behind her. "I… was hoping they'd be here to meet us."

"I don't know…" Tai admitted. "Who knows how long it's been…" He stopped himself short of saying he didn't even know if their monster friends were alive.

"Maybe they're just somewhere else," TK said. "I mean, that's not how we got here before, and…"

While those three discussed the place, Davis just stood there like a mannequin. He could hardly believe what was going on; a few seconds ago, he was standing in the musty computer lab, and now he was in a forest where the colors and the scent didn't match, and his friends were already experts on it.

He looked toward the ground and noticed something else; his clothing had changed somewhat. The bottom of his blazer was now adorned with bright, orange flames, and its top boasted a light-blue frill, like a bomber pilot's jacket. He also wore yellow leather workman's gloves. By the time his brain registered all of the changes, his hands were shaking violently.

"Davis?" Kari asked. "Are you OK?" She did a double take as she noticed his new look. "Wow!…"

TK raised an eyebrow. "Man, since when does the Digital World grant new threads?" he asked, looking at his own clothes; nothing had changed on Tai, Kari or himself.

Davis did not seem to hear them; he trembling all over now, with occasional utterances of the sound "uh."

"…I guess that was pretty traumatic, being 'downloaded' for the first time," Tai suggested, scratching his head. "I mean, it wasn't the way we usually get here…"

Davis shook for a few moments more, then fell on his knees with an exasperated wheeze. "WOAH… damn…" he managed. "What a trip!…"

"Are you OK now?" TK asked, helping him up.

"OK? OK?!" Davis snapped, shooting an angry eye at him. "Does it LOOK like I'm OK?!"

TK looked him over. "Um, well, yes," he replied.

Davis paused, then scratched his head. "Oh. Then I guess I am," he admitted with an embarrassed chuckle. "OK, forget about that."

Tai sighed, then looked around with a frown. "We should figure out where we are," he announced, turning and starting to walk. "Come on."

Tai, Kari and TK started off into the woods. Davis sighed with exasperation. He had just transcended time and space and jumped inside a computer; he could not shake the feeling that that was only the first of many crazy surprises for him.

Of course, if he didn't catch up with the others, getting lost would be the only one he would get. "Agh, dammit!" he swore, chasing after them. "Why're you guys leaving me behind today?!"

… … …

Bored with the easy conquest of the dinosaur, the Emperor crossly cycled through his monitors, looking for something interesting. In a way, he regretted progressing his enslaving technology so far; just like his black Digivice, it made things so easy that he hardly had anything to do anymore. What could possibly get him out of this rut?

Suddenly, his eyes fell on the Autumnal Forest monitor and he stood up. Walking along the path were four humans. Though his face didn't show it, his brain registered shock. No humans were able to reach this place aside from him; how did one- let alone four- just waltz in without his knowing? This was an outrage!

He raised his hand to dispatch his guards, but then stopped; he should watch them for a while and see what they were up to. He sat back down and brought the monitor to the front. Maybe these children were here for a reason. Maybe they could keep him entertained.

… … …

"Huh…" Tai muttered as he stood on a high tree branch, using a pocket telescope to look over the trees. He had looked past the forest in every direction, but he still didn't know where they were. He chuckled at this; on his first adventure, he had scaled a tree just like this in search of exactly the same answer. This time, he knew where he was, but not… where. He chuckled even more, wondering if it was possible to be only half lost.

"Hey, Tai! Do you see anything?" Kari's voice came from below.

He pocketed the telescope and descended the tree. "Nope, I don't recognize a thing," he replied. "We must be in a new place entirely…"

TK frowned. "So we don't know where we are, or why we're here in the first place…" he reasoned, "and to top it all off, we don't know how to get home!"

Kari sighed and glanced over at Davis, who was wandering around and gawking at stuff. "Not to mention we have to keep an eye on him…" she added.

At that moment, Davis's eyes fell on something, and he cried out in surprise. Sitting against a shrub was a red, metal soda machine, boasting ads for all of the best American and Japanese soft drinks. His mouth suddenly felt dry and parched. He had never heard of sticking a soda machine out in the forest, but at the moment, he didn't really care. The coin slot was marked at only ten yen; what a bargain!

"Hey, I'm gonna get a pop," he said as he pulled a hundred-yen coin from his pocket. "Anybody else want one?"

Tai turned just as he plopped his coin down the slot. "No, wait, Davis," he started. "I don't think-"

Before he could finish, the machine puked out a slew of small, bug-eyed, foul-smelling green things. They crawled right over the mortified Davis as they fled into the woods, belching and gurgling.

"WHAAAGH! Damn! Shit! Agh!" Davis swore as he struggled to get away from the putrid stampede, but he was quickly lost beneath them.

TK couldn't help but laugh, remembering when those same things had assaulted his friends and him on their own adventure. Tai and Kari started to snicker, too. For the moment, all their worries vanished as Davis was given a thorough stomping.

When the last of the creatures had left, they walked over to where he lay on the ground, twitching. "Ohhhhh…" he groaned as he slowly got to his knees, "what the hell was that?…"

Tai looked at the coin slot, then grinned at Davis. "I think you needed exact change," he joked.

"Yyyyyeccch!" Davis retched as he got up and swung his limbs around, trying to clear the air. "Those were disgusting!"

"Those were Digimon," Kari corrected him.

Davis paused and looked at her. "…Say what now?" he asked.

"Digimon," she repeated. "The Digital World is full of Digimon; that is, Digital Monsters."

"All the towns here are run by them," TK elaborated. "There aren't any humans here, and nothing is what it seems."

"Yeah, so think twice if you see a candy bar machine," Tai chuckled. "Come on, let's keep moving."

They walked a little longer in the forest, not one of them knowing where they were headed. Finally, they reached a clearing and stopped. Something had definitely happened there; almost all of the grass was either trampled or ripped up, and broken limbs dangled from some of the trees.

"What a mess…" Tai murmured as he knelt and felt the dirt.

"Looks like there was a scuffle here…" TK said, eying the trees, "a big one."

Davis set his jaw. They were in a world full of monsters that loved to fight? That sounded cool to him, but others might not be so glad of it. He looked over at Kari, who was looking at the clearing with concern. If some monster came along looking for a fight, he would personally show it the door. That would keep her safe and—this was the part that he liked—would make him look cool.

Suddenly, the bushes behind them rustled. Davis whirled around, his eyes wide; something was coming already! Now was his chance! He reached up and pulled down a broken branch and held it out. "OK, who's there?!" he yelled. "C'mon!"

Two creatures jumped out of the underbrush, looking just as defiant as Davis. One was a small, white cat, and the other was a pig-looking thing with wings for ears. "Who're you?!" the cat asked.

Tai, Kari and TK reacted with shock, as did the monsters. "Hey!" TK exclaimed. "Patamon!"

The pig laughed and starting to fly towards them, but Davis leaped in front of him and swung the branch, almost hitting him.

"Back off, ya psycho flyin' swine!" he snapped, swinging again.

"YOU back off!" the cat snarled, charging at him.

It leaped and branch met claw; he gasped as the appendage sparked with electricity; this monster had magical powers! Terrified but still adamant, he swatted it away and raised the stick for a blow of his own. The cat hissed and rushed at him again.

"Stop it!" Kari huffed, jumping between the cat and him. She grabbed the branch and snapped it on her knee. "Davis, these are friendly!" she stated, tossing the pieces aside.

He hesitated, then looked at her angrily. "Friendly?!" he asked.

"I'm serious," Kari said, turning to the cat. "This is Gatomon, one of my best friends."

Gatomon smiled at Kari, then frowned at Davis. "Yeah, and don't you forget it," she warned. "Kari, who's the wack job?"

"That's Davis," she introduced him. "He's another of my friends, and he won't hurt you…" She frowned at him. "Will he?"

He blinked, then sighed wearily and dropped the stick. "This place is startin' to get to me," he muttered.

"TK!" the pig laughed, flying over the mess and into the boy's arms.

"Patamon!" TK returned, hugging the monster happily. "It's been too long!"

"Let's try this again," Kari said, smiling and opening her arms. "Gatomon!"

Gatomon eagerly leaped into the hug. "I've missed you!" she laughed. "You're so big I feel like an actual cat now!"

"Oh, you kept my old whistle!" Kari beamed, looking at the shiny bauble on the cat's neck. "Still in good shape, too."

Tai smiled. "It's good to see you guys again," he said. "So, uh… where's Agumon? And what about the others?"

Patamon's smile faded as he glanced at Tai. "Well, um…" he started.

Kari heard a strange noise, like a broken electric cord. She glanced down at Gatomon's tail and gasped; the golden ring was covered with cracks and sparking with blue electricity. "Your ring…" she said, looking at her friend. "Tell me what happened!"

Gatomon nodded, but then leaped from Kari's arms. "OK, but we've gotta move," she announced, starting to run. "It's not safe here."

"Not safe?" TK asked. "What do you mean?"

"Just come on," Patamon urged them as he flew after Gatomon. "There's a cave nearby!"

Anxious to hear what they had to say, the four kids took off after them. Davis was especially curious; this was the first time he had ever heard that Kari had a freaky, talking cat for a friend. Even after three years of hanging out with her, he figured, there were still things he didn't know about her. Either way, he figured he should say something.

"Hey, Kari?" he asked as they ran. "Uh, sorry 'bout that…"

She shook her head. "You didn't know," she replied.

It wasn't the response he was hoping for, but it was all he was going to get. He sighed sadly; how could he ever get back into her good graces? He cursed at himself as he turned back to what was happening. He was in an unknown land full of monsters, running into God knows what kind of danger; this was no time to be thinking about that sort of thing.

Suddenly, the forest ended and the foursome found itself at the bottom of a high, rocky hill. A huge cave mouth opened before them, beckoning. Patamon and Gatomon stood just inside it, doing the exact same thing. "Come on! We'll be safe here," Gatomon said.

The four kids ran into the cave and leaned against the walls, heaving for air. "Safe… from what?…" Tai managed. "What… were we… running from?…"

Gatomon frowned darkly. "…The Digimon Emperor," she said.

The kids looked at her, puzzled; none of them knew how to respond. "The whoza whatsis, now?" Davis asked, scratching his head.

Gatomon sighed and signaled for them to walk. As they moved deeper into the cave, she tried her best to explain it. "Ever since you guys left, things were peaceful here… until around a month ago," she said. "First of all, there was this crazy earthquake. When it was over, the whole planet looked different… And then, all of a sudden, this bossy human appeared and started turning Digimon into his slaves! He calls himself 'The Digimon Emperor,' and he's already conquered half of the world!"

Tai, TK and Kari were astonished. "Another human?" Tai asked. "Others can get here, too? How?"

Gatomon shook her head. "I don't know," she answered. "All I know is that he has a black Digivice, and it looks different from yours."

"So, he's a Digidestined too?… That's kind of creepy," TK admitted, glancing at Patamon. "It sounds like he's more of an anti-Digidestined…"

"Wait, you said it looks different?" Kari asked, then looked at Davis. "Davis, show her yours."

Davis fumbled around in his pocket and yanked out the blue-ridged gizmo. "What, this?" he asked.

The cat's ears pulled back. "That's it!" she hissed, her claws extending. "You work for the Emperor, don't you?!"

He recoiled, not wanting to be on the business end of those electric nails. "Hell no! No way!" he argued. "I ain't never heard of this Emperor! I just got this when it shot outta the computer!"

"He's right," Kari added. "He's our friend, Gatomon. Calm down!"

Gatomon hesitated, then her ears swiveled back into upright position. "If you say so…" she mumbled. "Anyway, that black Digivice has some kind of effect on us, like it's sucking up our energy… The Digimon in his territory are all as weak as newborn kittens… unless they're his slaves."

"You said that before," Tai said, kneeling before her. "How does he enslave the Digimon?"

"He's got these nasty, flying Dark Rings to do the job," Patamon broke in. "They fly around looking for something to grab onto… and when they get you, you're his slave for life!"

Tai was sweating now. "Tell me…" he said slowly, reluctant to hear what had become of his own Digimon partner, "is Agumon…"

Gatomon sighed sadly. "When I last saw him, the Emperor had already caught Palmon, Gabumon and Gomamon. He stayed at the lake where we all said goodbye to you guys while the rest of us split up…"

Patamon looked even worse. "He just caught Biyomon and Tentomon today," he mumbled. "I saw the whole thing…"

Tai hung his head. His little friend was now in the control of a ruthless dictator, and helpless to resist him. "I see…" was all he could say.

"What?!" Kari snapped, furious. "Who does this guy think he is?!"

"The Digimon Emperor, apparently," TK replied.

"Digimon Emperor!" she said, stamping her foot. "I'll slap a Dark Ring on him!"

… … …

From his throne, the Digimon Emperor heard this and chuckled, his screens giving close-ups of each of the kids' faces and his speakers recording their every word. "Oh, you will, will you?" he asked quietly. "Well, this is all just a game to me… and if you can't enjoy yourself, I'll have to ask you to leave."

He glanced to his side and raised his hand, and a red chart appeared with what looked like several names and statistics. His eyes fell on one and he beamed. "Monochromon, go and smash them," he said, pushing a button.

On the Autumnal Forest monitor, a hole opened up in the ground, and a large, gray dinosaur with a steel-ridged back emerged. With a bloodthirsty roar, it stomped off into the woods.

"Now, let's see what you're made of…" the Emperor said as he turned back to the monitors, but the kids had disappeared. Surprised, he stood up. "What? Where'd they go?!" he asked.

… … …

There had been a loud rumble in the cave when Kari had stamped. For half a second, the kids saw the floor crack, and then there was a giant hole. Kari lurched forward to try and get away, but it was too late. Panicked, she grabbed TK's arm and pulled him down with her. He grabbed Davis's arm in shock, and he grabbed Tai's. Screaming, all four of them plummeted into the crater.

"Kari! TK!" Gatomon and Patamon shouted, sliding down the side of the hole after them. They found the kids in a heap, groaning and twitching.

"Owww! My ass! MY ASS!" Davis cursed.

"I guess we fell to another level," Tai said.

"TK, get your knee off my foot!" Kari said.

"…That's not my knee," TK grumbled.

Somehow, they untangled themselves and got back on their feet. They now stood in a medium-sized chamber shaped like a craggy beehive. One small hole at the top let in a beam of sunlight, which shone down onto the room's exact middle.

"Boy, where are we?…" TK asked. "Kind of looks like a sanctuary or something."

Kari squinted where the beam touched the earth; something was there. "Hey, look," she piped up.

On a small mound, bathing in the sunlight, was a small, oval-shaped, red object. It was decorated with orange flames and a long, metal blade jutted out of its top. An emblem of a bright sun glittered on its middle.

The party approached it, curious. "Is that… an egg?" Davis asked.

Gatomon scratched her head. "Must've been rough on the chicken that laid that thing," she remarked.

Tai's eyed widened as he noticed the sun symbol. That was one of the emblems of power in the Digital World, and to top it off, it was the one that he had been presented with: the Crest of Courage. "…It's a DigiEgg!" he announced.

"A DigiEgg?" Kari asked, staring at the symbol. "Yeah, you're right!"

"It has the Crest of Courage on it; maybe it's for you," TK pointed out.

Tai nodded solemnly. Gatomon had basically said that all of their old friends had been captured by the Emperor; maybe this was something that could help him get them back. His thoughts turned to Agumon, his happy little dinosaur friend, and he was filled with resolve. He walked over to the egg, stooped down and clasped it.

Suddenly, the egg flashed with black energy. Tai shrieked as electricity shot through him, and forced himself to let go. He fell on his back, gasping for air.

"Tai!" Kari gasped, running to her brother's aid. TK and Davis ran to him, too. "What happened?!"

"I… I… I don't know…" he managed. "I touched it… and I got zapped!…"

"Really?…" TK asked, looking at the strange thing. "But if it has your Crest…" He got up and walked to the DigiEgg and touched it. Instantly he was electrocuted by the same black energy and toppled on his butt. "Yeowch!" he hissed.

Kari frowned and approached it. "Fine, let me try," she huffed, kneeling and clutching the egg. In a moment, she was also on the ground gasping and twitching.

Davis didn't know what to make of it. Who had ever heard of an egg that fried people? Usually it was the other way around.

Tai huffed crossly. "That's one nasty thing, whatever it is," he grumbled.

"But if Tai can't get near it, and neither of us…" TK thought aloud, "who could?…"

Kari was about to say something when she noticed Davis still standing there, bamboozled. There had to be a reason he was given a Digivice; maybe this was it. "…Davis," she started, "why don't you try?"

Davis turned a shocked eye to her. "What?!" he demanded.

"You're the only one who hasn't," TK pointed out, "and you've got that new Digivice… Maybe you can move it."

"Oh, no! Hell no!" Davis argued, shaking his head furiously. "I've been through enough today without gettin' my eyeballs toasted!"

"Please, Davis?" Kari asked, getting back on her feet. "Moving that egg might be the key to helping the Digimon and stopping the Emperor…"

Davis snorted and folded his arms, but his mind chewed it over. He really had nothing to do with this world, or its inhabitants, or this Emperor. He could have just as easily tossed the Digivice in the trash with the other two and left, writing them all off as nut jobs. Still, when he looked at Kari again, she seemed desperate. He glanced at Patamon and Gatomon, who eyed him expectantly. Their home had been ravaged by this Emperor, and even someone who Tai called a friend had been enslaved. Kari—and Tai and TK, too— must have really cared about this place… and yet, they could do nothing. They were depending on him.

He sighed wearily and shook his head. So he might get zapped; that was the worst that could happen. "Shit… Fine, I'll try it," he agreed, walking over to the egg. "But if this thing zaps me, you guys owe me big!"

"Right, right," Tai replied. "Just give it a shot, Davis!"

Davis stood over the egg and glared at it. Sure, it could blast him with some dark-looking death beams, but it was just a stupid egg. He could move one stupid egg. With that mindset, he snarled and quickly put both his hands on it.

Nothing happened. There was no black energy or electric fizzle. Everyone waited for five, then ten, then fifteen seconds, but nothing came.

Sighing with relief, Davis yanked the egg off the ground. "See?" he told himself aloud, "just a stupid old egg!"

He noticed the others staring at him in astonishment. "…What?" he asked.

Just then, a bright, orange light shot up from where the DigiEgg had been, making him fall on his keister. It filled the whole room with a valiant, bright glow, forcing the others to shield their eyes. A dark blotch formed in the center of the light and took the shape of a small, blue, bipedal lizard critter with a small horn for a nose and a yellow V on its forehead.

As Davis stared at it, it opened its eyes to reveal large, bright-red pupils. It looked down at him and its mouth curled into a big, happy smile. With an ecstatic cry, the thing bounded out of the light and started to dance around him. "YEAAHHHH! Free at last! Free at laaaaast! You moved that DigiEgg!" it cried happily. "You're so cool!"

Davis was struck dumb.

The little creature stopped in front of him and beamed. "My name's Veemon, but you can call me Veemon!" it stated, flashing a toothy grin.

"Uh, hi… I'm Davis," Davis replied, not knowing what else to say.

Veemon laughed. "Nice ta meetcha, Davith!" he said, lisping the name.

"Davis," he corrected; he hated it when people didn't get his name right… although since his actual name was Daisuke, this was a common occurrence. Still, he had never heard anyone lisp it before.

"That's what I said! Davith!" Veemon said.

"…Davis," he repeated.

"Boy, what are ya, hard of hearing, Davith?" Veemon laughed.

Davis just sighed.

"Veemon, eh?" Gatomon asked. "I've heard of him… Supposedly, he's a fun-loving, adventure-seeking little Digimon that brings good luck…" She paused and frowned, puzzled. "But I thought he was just a legend…"

Veemon laughed yet again. "Nope, I'm real! An' I'm very glad ta meetcha, Davith! We're gonna be great partners from now on!"

Davis facevaulted. "What?! Partners?!" he asked.

"Yep, yep!" Veemon answered. "I'm the partner of whoever moved the DigiEgg of Courage, an' that's you!"

Tai, who was watching the whole spectacle, was both amazed and shocked. He, the one entrusted with the Crest of Courage, couldn't get close to that egg… and yet, Davis lifted it with hardly any effort. His own partner was gone, enslaved by the Emperor… Did this mean that Davis was his replacement?

He didn't have any more time to think, however; the whole cave shook violently, startling them all. "N'gahh!" TK yelped. "What is that?! An earthquake?!"

Kari looked up and pointed. "No, it's that!" she answered.

They all looked up. Knocking through the hole on the ceiling was the Monochromon that the Emperor had dispatched. One more ram and it fell freely towards them, a black ring around its midsection and its blood-red eyes blazing.

"MONSTER!" Davis screamed, scrambling to his feet.

"No, that's a Digimon!" Kari said.

"Monochromon…" TK elaborated, then raised his Digivice. "Patamon! You ready?!"

"You got it!" Patamon said, flying in front of his partner and preparing to change shape… but the familiar warmth of evolution didn't glow in his belly like it had before. As Monochromon landed in front of him, he looked back worriedly. "Uh, TK? Any time now!" he urged.

TK raised his device again, but it just beeped angrily. In dangerous times before, its screen would glow brilliant green and Patamon would Digivolve—or transform—into a stronger being. But now, nothing happened. He shook it and tried a third time, but still it did nothing but complain at him. The Monochromon gave a furious roar, a huge, swirling ball of fire forming in its mouth.

"RUN!" Tai shouted.

All the kids and their Digimon took off. The Monochromon belched a stream of burning magma across the walls. Panicked, everyone ran for the other side of the room. The monster's earthquake had opened up another hole, and light could be seen streaming from the end of its conjoining tunnel. The monster wasn't finished; it sucked in air for another salvo.

The last one in the pack, Davis tore down the tunnel, still clutching the spiky egg and Veemon panting at his side. "Davith, ya gotta open the DigiEgg!" the blue lizard yelled.

"I don't know what the hell yer talkin' about!" Davis heaved. All he was thinking about was not getting barbecued.

They leaped out of the cave and into daylight, and he paused at the edge of a steep hill to catch his breath. "S… shit…" he gasped. "This… this's too wild for me!…"

"Davis!" Tai shouted, turning back with a horrified look. "Keep running!"

Davis was about to when he heard the Monochromon stampede up behind him. As it screamed its attack again, his heart practically stopped. He turned around to see a giant, burning sphere coming right at him…

…And then he was rolling down the hill as Veemon clung to him for dear life. He smacked against a few rocks, then landed flat on his back at the bottom just in time to see the fireball fly overhead.

"Aww, geez! Davith, tell me, what hurts?!" Veemon asked, nervously grabbing at his new partner's shoulders.

"Urrgh… Everything but my goddamn earlobes…" Davis growled.

"You need to open the DigiEgg!" Veemon pushed. "Just hold it up an' say 'DigiArmor Energize!'"

Davis heard footsteps approaching. "Davis!" Tai's voice came to him.

With a groan, he pulled himself into a sitting position. His goggles had been smashed from the fall; one of the lenses barely hung onto the rest.

TK looked around nervously. "We all dodged that… Where's Kari?!" he asked.

"Over there!" Patamon announced, pointing.

Kari was on her stomach near a tree with gnarly roots above the ground, struggling and grunting. One of her legs was caught in the roots. Gatomon yanked at the roots, but they wouldn't budge.

Monochromon leaped over Davis and his mouth glowed orange again, aiming right for Kari. Her red eyes widened in horror as she saw her fate. Furious, he scrambled to his feet.

"I can Digivolve if you have courage," Veemon said, tugging at his pant leg. "Use yer courage, an' open that DigiEgg!"

He looked down at him, then back at the doomed Kari, and his lips curled into a determined snarl. "Ya want courage?!" he yelled, raising the spiked egg. "I'll GIVE ya courage! DIGIARMOR ENERGIZE!"

The egg flashed brilliantly orange, blinding Tai and TK. Davis, shocked yet again, watched as the egg split apart and flew at Veemon, who was engulfed in its light.

"Veemon Armor Digivole to…" the blue lizard said, and then he was no longer Veemon. He grew to twice his original height. Egg pieces stuck to his feet and became sharp toes. More stuck to his kneecaps to become armored pads. Two more slapped onto his hands and became menacing three-nail claws. One strapped itself to his chest like a breastplate, and the final part applied itself to his head as a brilliant helmet with a huge scimitar blade in its center. The light faded, and a dangerous-looking warrior stood before Davis. "…Flamedramon; the Fire of Courage!" he finished.

Tai and TK's jaws dropped. "Fla… Flamedramon?!" TK gasped.

"Amazing…" Tai whispered.

Davis was flabbergasted, too, but he was focused more on Kari's assailant. "Go get 'im, pal!" he ordered, pointing at the Monochromon.

"Right, Davis," Flamedramon answered in a much deeper voice. "I'll broil him like a well-done steak." He turned and threw himself right at the beast.

… … …

"Hmm… Armor Digivolution?…" the Emperor repeated to himself as he eyed the screen with amazement. "They shouldn't be able to Digivolve at all!"

He stared a moment more, then sat back in his throne, scratching his chin and grinning wickedly. Fate had granted him some competition. This was going to be a lot more fun than he had thought.

… … …

Kari's life flashed before her eyes as Monochromon's fireball rocketed at her, but the flashback was cut short by a tall, blue figure leaping in front of her. With one swing, Flamedramon snuffed out the attack.

Monochromon roared, furious. Flamedramon raised his claw and made a taunting gesture, infuriating the beast even more. Monochromon charged, and Flamedramon grabbed him and tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of marshmallows. The gray monster heaved another round of fireballs, but Flamedramon punched them all out as if he were popping bubbles.

Kari couldn't believe her eyes. "Wow…" she gasped, "that's Veemon?!"

There was a snap behind her; Gatomon had broken the roots. "Gawk later!" she snapped, grabbing Kari's arm and leading her to safety.

Monochromon was at the end of his rope; he charged straight at Flamedramon and gored him with his horn. The blue Digimon flew up into the air, but even then he had a trick up his sleeve. He slowed to a hover, and his whole body suddenly engulfed itself in flame. "FIRE ROCKET!" he declared, barreling down at the monster at breakneck speed.

"Just the ring, Flamedramon!" Gatomon cried. "Hit the ring!"

Flamedramon altered his drop and crashed onto the black ring around Monochromon's belly. The wicked device disintegrated at the touch, and Flamedramon bounced to a halt on the ground nearby. He glowed, then reverted back to Veemon, his armor dissolving into orange light and shooting back towards Davis.

As Davis gaped, the energy flew into his Digivice and something appeared in his other pocket. He reached in and found a gray, square gizmo that looked like a handheld game machine. He opened its lid to see a screen with a small, black egg on it. "Huh… What's this?" he asked aloud.

"Man, that's a weird-looking thing," Tai remarked. "Maybe Izzy can figure it out when we get back."

"Yeah, maybe," Davis said, then pocketed it and grinned. "Well, that was just awesome, savin' Kari and all… Ain't that right, Kari?"

There was silence. "…Kari?" he asked again.

TK coughed and pointed. Kari was rubbing and petting the now-gentle Monochromon and talking softly to it, like it was an old friend.

"That's a good Monochromon…" she said. "Now, you run along home; you've had enough excitement for one day."

Davis hung his head. "Damn," he swore. "I just don't get no respect…"

… … …

The doorway opened, and in hobbled a small, green worm Digimon. He shuddered as he approached the throne; he never had liked this dark chamber. "You summoned me, o evil one?…" he asked.

The Digimon Emperor chuckled to himself, still looking at the Autumnal Forest monitor. "I believe we've found some worthy foes at last," he announced.

"…Great," the Digimon replied, not sounding at all as excited as the Emperor was.

… … …

"Bye, Monochromon!" TK called as the oversized monster lumbered off to its home. He then sighed and turned to his friends. "I can't believe that such a gentle creature like that can be turned into a killing machine…" he said.

"No kidding," Kari agreed. "We have to stop this maniac before he takes over the whole Digital World!"

TK looked at her, then smiled. "Well, I was wondering what kind of after-school activities I'd be doing this year," he laughed.

Davis and Veemon exchanged a handshake. "Heh! Nice workin' witcha, Davith!" Veemon said, once again lisping the boy's name. "Let's do it again sometime!"

"Well, sure," Davis replied, looking puzzled, "but, uh, why couldn't you just stay Flamedramon? I mean, you were a lot bigger an' stronger… and you said my name right."

"I ain't got the energy, Davith," Veemon replied. "Ta Digivolve, I gotta share YOUR energy, an' that can only last fer so long!"

Davis scratched his head. He hadn't noticed it before, but he did feel a bit tired. "Oh," he replied. "Well, I guess it's OK now. We whupped that monster, so everything's fine!"

"Not at all, Davis," Kari corrected him. "We only saved one of the Emperor's servants."

"Yeah, this is going to take a lot more than one fight," TK added. "You've signed onto a lifelong commitment, here!"

Davis recoiled. "WHAT?!" he bellowed. "LIFELONG?!"

"That's right," Kari agreed. "Veemon and you are partners for life now!"

He shook his head furiously. It was one thing to risk life and limb in a psychotic world once, but to be doing it for the rest of his life was way, way more than he had bargained for. "What the hell?!" he yelled. "But… but… I've got hobbies! Homework! Soccer practice! I've got a life, ya know!"

"You'll just have to fit this in," TK replied. "This is important, too!"

"Yeah, this is about life an' death," Patamon piped up. "You're the only one who can stop the Emperor!"

"You walk out on this, you might as well get Veemon sized up for a Dark Ring," Gatomon grumbled.

His fists clenched and unclenched as he stared at the ground, tensely silent. Veemon looked at him, confused. "Davith," he chirped, "don'tcha wanna be my partner?"

He looked at the blue lizard and sighed wearily. When that Monochromon had almost fried him, he had tasted absolute fear. He had been afraid of losing his friends, and his own life to boot. If he stuck around in this world, he may not live to see the end of puberty. Still, looking down at the energetic little Digimon, he remembered Kari's plea and what had made him move the DigiEgg of Courage in the first place.

He shook his head, smiled and patted Veemon's head. Some voice deep inside of him knew that this was a special, important place, and he now had an obligation to it. "Sure, I wanna be yer partner, dude," he replied. "I just… don't know much about this place… but between my human pals and you, I'm hopin' I'll figure it out."

Veemon beamed at him. "Great!" he laughed. "We're gonna have so much fun!"

Davis chuckled halfheartedly. "Yeah… if you wanna call it that…" he mumbled.

Just then, he noticed that Tai had approached them, a sad sort of smile in his eyes. "Davis, this is really brave of you," he said. "I know you'll learn to love this world as much as I do. Even though I can't help much, I know you and the others can stop this guy."

Veemon laughed. "You bet! Leave it to me n' Davith!"

Davis eyed his mentor, puzzled at where this was going. "…Tai? What's up?" he asked.

"I noticed you broke your goggles," Tai went on, pointing at the busted set still perched in his hair, "and a Digidestined just wouldn't look right without them, so…" He reached up and pulled his own goggles out of his hair and offered them. "I… want you to have mine."

TK and Kari gasped; Tai would never, ever give away his prized goggles… would he? Davis looked equally shocked; he couldn't imagine his hero without goggles. There was a long, tense pause.

Finally, though, Davis just laughed and gently pushed Tai's hands away. "Ahh, that's OK, Coach," he said, pulling off his own goggles and grinning. "I can tape these right back up! These babies were built to take a beating; they've been smashed a million times already! See that little crack there? That's from a 50-MPH soccer ball!"

"That explains a lot," Gatomon whispered to Patamon.

Tai, surprised, looked around. "Oh, uh, well, OK, if you say so," he said, slapping his goggles back on his head, a slight blush on his cheeks.

"It's just as well," Kari giggled. "You just wouldn't look right without them, big brother!"

Everyone laughed, but then a relieved sigh from Patamon caught their attention. "What's up, Patamon?" TK asked.

Patamon pointed at the sun, which was setting in the distance. "Sunset," he said. "Now we can relax!"

"Really? Why?" TK asked.

"The Emperor only appears during the daytime," Gatomon answered. "We don't know why, but we're all thankful for the night."

Tai scratched his chin in thought. "I see…" he said again, then grinned. "Well, maybe night would be the perfect time to do a major strike!"

The others looked at him, baffled. "Tai, are you nuts?" TK asked. "It's night! We've gotta get home, or our parents will freak out!"

"Not to mention the lack of firepower," Kari added. "We've only got Flamedramon. I mean, he's great, but he can only do so much."

"Yeah, and I'm beat," Davis continued, yawning deeply. He had been full of energy before the battle, but now he felt almost ready to collapse. "I'm no good right now."

"Besides, we don't know enough," TK finished. "We've gotta learn about this Emperor before we do anything rash…"

Tai heard them all and sighed; it was a silly idea. "Yeah, you're right…" he agreed. "Fine, let's go home."

"…Oh, yeah!" Davis yelped. "If I'm not home right quick, the 'rents'll think I got detention and my goddamn sister'll never let me hear the end of it!"

"I guess we should be getting home," Kari agreed. "Of course, I'm not sure how we can…"

"Maybe if we go back to where we landed, we'll find something," TK suggested.

They started to go, but Gatomon tugged at Kari's sock. She looked down and her cat took off the whistle and offered it to her. "I know you said I could have it, but…" she said, "well, it's been weighing me down a bit… and let's face it, you just don't look the same without it."

Kari smiled and accepted it. "I'll hold onto it for you, then," she agreed.

The kids and their Digimon hiked back to the grove where they had landed. Much to everyone's surprise, a small, old-fashioned TV set now sat in the grass. "What's that doing here?" Tai asked.

"Either this's a way back home, or someone's a litterbug," Kari remarked.

"Ya think there's cable on this thing?" Davis asked, kneeling and turning it on. Much to his surprise, an image of Yolei, Cody and Izzy sitting in the computer lab appeared.

"So, Izzy, can we go to the Digital World now?" Yolei asked.

"The gate might close," Izzy replied, taking the brownie that Cody offered and biting into it. "It's not safe… Mm-mm-MM! MAN, this is the best brownie I've ever tasted!"

"Aha…" Yolei replied crossly, then glanced at the screen for a moment. "By the way, what does it mean when that red button lights up?"

"What do you mean?" Izzy asked, still engrossed in the brownie.

"Just like that," Yolei said, pointing right at Davis. She then realized that he was there and shrieked in surprise.

"Hey, guys!" Davis said, then frowned. "Aww, man, they've got brownies in there!"

Just then, the TV screen lit up, and the four kids were sucked in, leaving their Digimon friends behind. As fast as bullets, they shot out of the computer and landed in a dogpile on the lab floor, with Izzy right on the bottom.

"Is this going to be a regular thing?" TK asked.


… … …

The monitors switched off for the night, the Digimon Emperor sat at his computer, planning his next move. He was sure the children would come again the next day, and already his mind was hard at work. This time, he would plan accordingly.

"This is going to be more challenging than I thought…" he said, looking over his plan with a sinister smile. "…I love it!"