Imperialdramon's warm cabin vanished in the flash of green, and Yolei shouted on instinct as bitterly cold snow clung to her legs. Her coat didn't help at all; it felt like the time she had gotten stuck in the store's walk-in freezer. "Coldcoldcoldcoldcold!" she yelled as she flailed and struggled to get loose, but the fluffy snow was amazingly hard to crawl out of.
"Hang on, Yolei, I'm coming!" Hawkmon shouted from nearby, though he also had trouble digging himself out.
Izzy, Mimi, Tentomon and Palmon were in the same predicament, half-buried in the frozen white mass. All of their suitcases stuck out of the snow like plush tombstones. "Palmon! My legs! My stuff!" Mimi howled, shaking her fist at Imperialdramon. "You stupid dragon!"
"Mimi, take it easy," Palmon urged as she tried raking her roots across the snow for grip. "That's our ride back, too!"
As Mimi started into cussing on par with Davis's, Izzy looked up at Imperialdramon and waved sheepishly. "Don't worry, we'll be fine!" he said, "hurry and go!"
"Y-yeah, see you later!" Yolei agreed, also waving.
Imperialdramon slowly turned and then sped off across the sky, blowing a wave of snow right into their faces. "Oh, COME ON!" Mimi screamed, spitting.
"Ugh, right down my collar," Izzy muttered. "Tentomon, are you all right?"
Tentomon tried to flap his wings, but he was packed in too deeply. "I see why bugs are supposed to hibernate," he grumbled.
"Plants, too…" Palmon groaned, the leaves on her head starting to stiffen. "It never got this cold in the Digital World!…"
Yolei strained to look around, but there wasn't much to see; the tall, thick pine trees that surrounded them hid most of the night sky. "Well, now what?" she asked. "How're we gonna find that gate?"
Hawkmon's eyes suddenly locked onto something behind Izzy; a gray timber wolf with bright yellow eyes stepped out of the trees and eyed the group. "We seem to have bigger problems," he gulped.
The others turned around and burned with fear. Mimi let out a wild shriek, making the others grab their ears in pain. The wolf wasn't thrilled, either; it yelped and tore off into the forest. "Good going, Mimi," Palmon said.
"Yeah, but that was a wolf, and those travel in packs," Izzy said. "Who knows how many more are out here?"
"And how hungry they might be?…" Tentomon gulped.
"Not to mention what else might be out there," Yolei gulped. "What about polar bears? Or yetis? Or penguins?"
Mimi blinked. "You're scared of penguins?" she asked.
"Do YOU trust something with wings that doesn't fly?" Yolei shot back.
Izzy tried to free himself again. Though he made a little more headway, he still couldn't quite loosen his legs. "We need to get moving," he urged, "or we'll get frostbite."
"But where?" Yolei asked. "It's all trees! And wolves!"
"She's right," Hawkmon said, finally managing to get one of his legs loose. "Which direction should we even go in?"
"Why'd they pick this place?!" Mimi complained loudly. "Couldn't they have put the gate on a beach?!"
Yolei struggled again, but her hands sank down everywhere she tried to grab, almost like she was in quicksand. Suddenly a light stung her right eye. She looked up and froze; someone with a flashlight had emerged from the nearby trees. Whoever it was looked to be about Davis's height, wearing snowshoes to keep from sinking. Entombed in brightly colored thick clothing, mittens, a scarf and a hat, the facial features could not be seen.
Everybody stared at the figure for a moment. "Who're you?" Tentomon asked.
"Tentomon, shh!" Izzy warned, then nervously looked at the figure; would other humans want anything to do with the Digimon?
"Who cares?!" Mimi huffed. "Hey, can you help us out?! We're stuck!"
Instead of freaking out at the talking bug, the person shined the flashlight on each person, then started towards Yolei. "Here now, you'd better not be a troublemaker," Hawkmon warned, though he was clearly too buried to do anything.
Yolei gave the person a puzzled look. "Are you a guy? Or a girl?" she tried, then chuckled weakly. "Or should I even ask?"
The figure regarded her for a moment more, then put the flashlight away and extended two thick mittens. She hesitated, then took them and let herself be pulled out of the snow. The person then went to Hawkmon and did the same, then around to the other four. Mimi grabbed Palmon and tried to warm her up. "Thanks!" she said to the stranger.
"But who are you?" Palmon asked.
The figure took its flashlight out again and started back the way it had come, then turned back and waved to them. "You… want us to follow you?" Izzy asked.
"I don't know…" Yolei said, "this seems kinda too timely."
"It's better than wolves!" Mimi said, gingerly stepping through the snow so she wouldn't sink again. "Come on, you guys!"
"She has a point, Yolei," Hawkmon said, "and if there's trouble, I can manage."
"All right," Izzy agreed, picking Tentomon up and looking at the stranger, "then lead on, please."
The covered figure turned around and kept marching, waving its flashlight back and forth. Stumbling and crawling through the snow, the Digidestined followed the person through the woods for about half an hour. Whoever the figure was seemed compassionate—it stopped every so often to let them catch up, and even went back and helped Mimi up when she fell into another deep snowdrift—but it remained silent for the whole trek. "Hey… you think it's a ghost?" Palmon asked.
Mimi swallowed. "N-no," she said quickly, "I, um, I mean, whoever heard of a ghost with a flashlight? A-and snowshoes?"
They walked for another fifteen minutes, the frigid snow and wind starting to numb their bodies. Finally Yolei saw a light up ahead, and then the trees gave way to a modest gray cabin with smoke rising from its chimney. She exhaled a cloud of relief; they weren't beyond civilization after all.
"Now that's more like it!" Mimi chirped, a smile returning to her face.
The stranger put his snowshoes on the little porch, then opened the door for the others. They entered a wood-scented room with a stove, a sink and cabinets along one wall, a table with some hard chairs in the middle, and a fireplace on the other wall flanked by a couch and a cushier-looking chair. A fire danced behind the grate, and two gas lamps hung from the ceiling. A kettle sat beneath a flickering flame on the stove. It wasn't very warm, but it felt much better than standing outside. "Whew!" Tentomon said, hopping out of Izzy's grip and fluttering his wings. "Any longer out there and I would have lost an arm!"
They turned to the stranger, who was pulling off mittens to reveal young-looking hands. "Thank you so much," Yolei said, "but… who are you?"
The figure reached up and pulled off the scarf and the hat to reveal a boy about Yolei's age with short blonde hair and bright blue eyes; Both Mimi's and her face immediately burned as he smiled at them. Then he turned to Izzy and spoke in thickly accented Japanese: "konnichiwa, Izzy!"
Izzy blinked a few times, but then his eyes lit up. "Willis?!" he exclaimed. "You're Willis, aren't you!"
The boy grinned and nodded excitedly. Izzy laughed and the boys exchanged a warm handshake. Mimi scratched her head. "Uh… who's Willis?" she asked Tentomon.
The bug shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine," he said.
Yolei thought for a second, then remembered what had happened in the fall. "Oh, I know!" she said. "This's the guy who helped you get into my D3, right?"
"Yes, this is Willis," Izzy said, turning to them. "He's incredibly smart; he's only your age, Yolei, but he takes college courses like Joe does."
"Wow! Joe's brain in Yolei's body?" Palmon asked.
"That sounds… potentially dangerous," Hawkmon said.
"But what're you doing here?" Izzy asked. "I thought you lived in Colorado, and that's nowhere near here…"
Willis blinked a few times and awkwardly shook his head. "Uh… is he OK?" Palmon asked.
"Willis, can you understand me?" Yolei asked, but the boy still looked confused. "I don't think he speaks Japanese," she concluded.
Mimi sighed. "Oh, boy," she grumbled, "well, who knows English?"
"Not much…" Izzy admitted.
Yolei thought hard, trying to think of more English phrases. "Um… Willis, you get owned?" she tried.
"What?" was all Willis said, raising an eyebrow.
"Err… you see digiter goat?" Izzy ventured in broken English. "We find digiter goat."
"New York, New York?" Mimi attempted. "Cheeseburger? Baseball?"
The Digimon just watched with confusion; they only knew one language themselves and couldn't offer anything. "I wish I understood what was going on," Tentomon said.
Hawkmon looked at Willis, who didn't look like he understood any better. "I think he shares the sentiment," he muttered.
The kids sighed; none of their English was good enough to get a response. "So much for that," Izzy sighed.
"At least he's not shooting at us like the air force did," Mimi grumbled.
Willis held up his hand to wait, then ran over to a backpack on one of the chairs by the table. He came back with a handful of notepads and mechanical pencils, then handed them to Izzy and the girls. He kept one pair for himself and scribbled something, then handed it to Izzy. It read:
Let's speak this way.
Izzy nodded; he may not have been able to speak English, but thanks to talking online he could read and write it well enough. "OK, try writing instead," he said to the girls.
"I can't do that, either!" Mimi protested. "Are you trying to make him think I'm stupid, Izzy?!"
"You don't need Izzy to make you look stupid, Mimi," Yolei chuckled. Mimi bopped her with the notepad.
The kids began a long notepad conversation. Mimi couldn't contribute very much, but Izzy and Yolei were able to communicate with Willis very well. Why are you here? Izzy wrote. You said you live in Colorado.
Soon after you told me about Digital Gates, weird signals began to come from this area, Willis wrote. I heard about it from paranormal radio shows, and I thought you might come. So I hitchhiked from Colorado and borrowed this cabin. Then I heard your dragon.
You waited for us? Yolei wrote. Thank you!
Willis chuckled, then kept writing. I've heard lots from Izzy, but I want to see Digimon for myself, he wrote.
Izzy smiled at his friend's curiosity. "Tentomon, Palmon, Hawkmon, can you introduce yourselves to Willis?" he asked. "He'd like to meet you."
"Sure!" Palmon said, going up to the blonde boy. "My name's Palmon!"
"Hawkmon," Hawkmon said, offering a wing. "Thank you for helping us."
"I'm Tentomon," Tentomon said, buzzing his wings a little. "I'm Izzy's partner."
Willis happily shook Hawkmon's wing, holding onto it and running his fingers through the feathers. Then he walked around the three of them with fascination, kneeling down, looking them over and even gently touching them. He poked at Palmon's leaves and her belly, making her snicker. Then he tugged at Tentomon's antennae, adjusting them this way and that. "Err… I've got good enough reception, don't I?" Tentomon asked.
Willis looked excited enough, but Mimi thought she could do even better. "Hey Palmon," she said, "show him your Poison Ivy!"
Palmon looked questioningly at her partner, but then shrugged and said: "well, OK." To Mimi's dismay, though, she flung her vines around the surprised boy and lifted him upside-down off the floor. "How's that?"
"I didn't mean HIM!" Mimi huffed. "I meant grab the wall or something!"
"Oops, sorry," she said, and promptly let Willis go.
Willis, thankfully, laughed excitedly, and the kids' worry eased. They're amazing, he wrote. How many are there?
Hundreds, maybe thousands, but only eleven of us have them for partners, Izzy wrote back, then he remembered his laptop and its drained battery. Where is an outlet? I need my computer to find the gate.
Willis looked at the note, then shook his head. No electricity here, he wrote. These cabins only have power in the summer. It's why I brought lamps.
"No power?!" Yolei yelped as she read the words. "How can anyone live like that?!"
Don't worry, we have everything we need, Willis wrote quickly. I also scouted the woods a little; we won't get lost. Tomorrow we can start searching.
That's good, Izzy wrote back, but we didn't come well prepared; our coats are too thin.
Not a problem, Willis wrote, then went to a nearby closet and opened it. The kids and the Digimon were shocked to see a pile of big mittens, furry hats, shiny ankle-high boots and at least half a dozen thick coats. "Good grief!" Tentomon said, "this guy comes prepared!"
"Or the cabin's owners are really forgetful," Mimi said. "I hope they don't show up while we're here…"
The kettle on the stove began to whistle. Willis went to the cabinet and got out seven mugs and a tin of cocoa mix, then made hot drinks for everybody. You must be tired, he wrote after he had passed the cups around. Izzy can have the couch, and the girls can have the bedroom.
"Thank you, Willis!" Yolei tried with a big smile, then turned to Mimi. "He says we get the bedroom!"
"Oh, good," Mimi said, gently blowing the steam off her mug. "I'm exhausted…"
Hawkmon coughed awkwardly. "I suppose I should stay out here, then?…" he asked.
Yolei remembered how upset he had been back at the roach motel and looked at Mimi and Palmon hopefully. "Hey, can Hawkmon share with us tonight?" she asked.
"That's OK with me," Palmon said, then looked hopefully at Mimi.
Mimi sighed. "Does he behave himself?" she asked.
Hawkmon almost said that Yolei was the one to watch out for, but he just nodded. Mimi sipped her cocoa for a moment, then said "oh, all right."
Hawkmon sighed with relief. Yolei smiled. "Thanks, Mimi," she said.
They finished their drinks and headed to bed. The girls disappeared into the other room and Willis found a spare blanket for Izzy's couch. Izzy wasn't too tired yet, so he stayed up trying to recall his notes on the gate. Willis studied Tentomon again, lifting his arms and feeling his wings. "Izzy, I don't want to complain," Tentomon said, "but can you get him to paw you for a while? I want to go to bed!"
Izzy chuckled at Willis's curiosity. Ever since he had met him online, the American boy had helped him with his computer programming, his uncanny knowledge challenging Izzy to learn and practice more complicated languages and algorithms… and to Izzy's surprise, he had listened to his stories about electronic monsters and even helped Izzy with his research. Now, even though they had never met face to face, Willis had journeyed far from his home to help find the Digital Gate. They had been lucky to meet, Izzy realized; not many others would have accepted the idea of monsters living in computers so easily.
A strong wind rattled the darkened windows, making everyone shiver on instinct. He took out his laptop and turned it on to try and get a fix on the gate, but to his disappointment he couldn't get any kind of wireless signal, and what little battery was left was fading fast. He hoped Willis had scouted a lot of area; his computer wasn't going to be any help.
He closed the laptop to find Willis standing over him with another note. Tentomon is amazing, he had written, but how does he fight?
It's thanks to my Digivice, Izzy wrote back on his pad, then took the device out to show it to Willis… but something on the screen suddenly caught his eye. "Tentomon!" he said, holding out the device.
"What?" Tentomon asked, then looked and saw the oddity. Three dots sat in the middle of the screen, which he knew indicated Izzy, Mimi and Yolei, but off in the upper-left corner was a strange fourth light, a small dot that blinked every few moments. "That's funny," he said, "did you bang it into something?"
Izzy turned the Digivice around and the pulsing light rotated with the others, consistently staying in one direction. "Which way is that?" Izzy asked out loud, turned and looking out the nearest window.
What's wrong? Willis handed him a note.
A weird signal, Izzy wrote back, then showed him the device. Willis looked at it, then stared thoughtfully out the window.
Tentomon yawned loudly. "Well… whatever it is, can't it wait until morning?" he asked.
Izzy managed a smile. Tentomon had a point; they wouldn't be able to investigate if they were tired. "Yeah, I guess so," he said, bringing Tentomon onto the couch and pulling up the thick fur blanket. "Good night, Willis."
Willis smiled and nodded. "O… oyasumi nasai, Izzy," he brokenly uttered. He went and turned off the lamps, put on his coat and lay down on the floor next to the couch.
… … …
Although they still needed to wear their clothes, Mimi, Yolei and the Digimon finally started to feel warm beneath three thick blankets in the double bed. The room's walls were decorated with all sorts of strange pictures and objects: a single deer antler; an oar; a yellowed map of the Boundary Waters; photographs of people carrying canoes; and a painting of a large boat stenciled with the name 'Edmund Fitzgerald.' "I say, the owners' tastes are rather… curious," Hawkmon remarked.
"What were your parents thinking, wanting to move here?" Palmon asked. "It's so cold!"
"Well, they were thinking more like on the coast," Mimi admitted, "at least, I hope they were…"
"Yeah, not much fashion up here," Yolei chuckled, "but maybe you could learn how to make your own fur coats."
"Oh, shut up," Mimi huffed, but then she sighed and calmed down. Silence fell on the room, and she felt Palmon's breathing ease; she must have fallen asleep. "Hey, Yolei? Thanks for coming with us," she whispered, looking over at Yolei. "I thought you might want to go with Sora instead."
"Well, I thought about it," Yolei said, "but you asked me, so…"
Mimi shook her head. "I'm sorry I was so mean to you," she apologized again. "But what I said before? That's still true; now you're one of my best friends… and I want to make up for it. With everyone, but especially you."
"Thanks, Mimi," Yolei said. Another long silence came, and she could tell that Hawkmon had nodded off. "So… what made you want to forget about the Digital World?" she asked.
Mimi sighed deeply. "So many friends… died the first time," she said. "Once I was home, that was all I could think of… I couldn't go through it again…" She gave a little sniffle. "I never thought you could understand… but I know you do now."
"Yeah…" Yolei murmured.
They were quiet for a long while, listening to the breathing of their partners. "What do you think the temple will be like?" Yolei finally whispered.
"Probably really dangerous," Mimi said, "but… we have to do it. If the Deadmon come back…" Her body started to shudder as she imagined it. "Oh…!"
A warm hand grasped hers under the covers, and she looked over to see Yolei smiling quietly. "We'll do it," she murmured as she stared at the ceiling. "We got this far. We can do it…"
The strong grip made Mimi's shaking slowly ease, and this time her sigh was a relieved one. "Thanks, Yolei," she said. "It's been a long time since I had a confident friend like you… I was wrong. You don't need to change. You're wonderful just the way you—"
Yolei's mouth opened in a loud snore, cutting off her heartfelt words. "Hey," Mimi grumbled, but she couldn't stay too upset; Yolei's hand still clasped hers, and that helped her fall asleep, too.
… … …
Several hours of blissful unconsciousness later, the girls' noses twitched to the delicious scent of frying meat. Their eyes opened on the windows shining into the cabin, the snow amplifying the mid-morning light. All the wooden fixtures in the room, even the walls, took on an almost golden hue. Mimi yawned and found she was smiling; it was a wonderful scene to wake up to. "Good morning, Palmon," she said to her stirring partner.
"Oh, man, something's yummy!" Yolei's first words came, and she almost pulled Mimi across the bed as she leaped out. "C'mon, you guys!"
"Goodness!" Hawkmon exclaimed, "at least let me open my eyes first!"
They came out of the room to find Izzy, Willis and Tentomon hard at work around the sizzling stove, cracking eggs into the skillet and flipping finished ones onto paper plates along with slabs of thick bacon. "Good morning!" Willis said with a smile.
"You're just in time for brunch," Izzy added, motioning to the plates.
"Oh, boy!" Yolei panted, almost spraying drool. "Thanks a ton, you guys!"
"I love a man who can cook!" Mimi beamed.
"You can have him if I get your food," Palmon said. "C'mon, let's eat!"
They crowded around the little table and ate heartily with plastic forks, washing the eggs and bacon down with more hot cocoa. The kids had never eaten bacon before, and two pieces each later, they wondered why they had waited so long. Willis noticed Yolei wolfed down her portion and grinned. "Good?" he asked.
"Mm-hmm!" she nodded with a full mouth.
He stabbed the thickest piece of bacon off his own plate and put it on hers with a wink. Yolei chuckled and blushed a little, then devoured the offering. "Huh, well," Mimi chuckled, "I guess you didn't need my help after all!"
"I think I could get used to this kind of living," Hawkmon said as he swallowed the last of his egg.
"There're no flush toilets up here," Tentomon said.
"What's your point?" Hawkmon asked. "I'm a bird."
"All right, now that we've eaten," Izzy said, getting their attention, "last night I got a weird signal on my Digivice, coming from the northwest. I think we need to go that way."
"What was it?" Palmon asked.
"I don't know," Izzy said, "but without my laptop to get a better idea, it's the best plan I can think of."
"Sounds good to me," Yolei said, swallowing the rest of her cocoa. "Let's get equipped!"
I can't write outside because of the cold, Willis wrote, but I'll take you where you want to go.
Izzy nodded, then took out his Digivice and pointed to that strange dot. Willis nodded and went to get his gear.
Izzy, Mimi, Yolei and their Digimon rummaged through the closet and came up with a patchwork of thick clothing that clashed in color but warmed them much more than what they had brought. Even the Digimon got in on it, looking as mixed-up and puffy as their partners. "OK, Hawkmon, are you ready?" Yolei's voice fought through a thick red scarf.
"I'm Tentomon," said the gray cap and orange coat in front of her.
"Yolei, I'm over here!" a purple scarf and puke-green cloak spluttered near Mimi.
"What?!" Mimi asked, pulling her fur hat out of her eyes. "Palmon, get over here!"
Izzy pulled a black face-mask over his head and stuck his hands into bright yellow chopper mittens. "It must be hard to distinguish robbers from normal people in this weather," he said.
Willis waited patiently while they put on boots and prepared themselves. "All OK?" he asked, putting a hand on the doorknob.
"OK!" Yolei replied with a thumbs-up. "Let's-a go!"
They shuffled outside into a forest colder than they had ever known, but much less menacing in the noonday light. Snow topped every tree branch like cake frosting, the wind making glittering dust float down every so often, carrying the fresh scent of chilly pine. As cold as it was, Mimi couldn't help but think how beautiful it was. "Oh, wow!" Palmon said, sharing the sentiment. "Can we build snowmen later, Mimi?!"
"Sure, why not?" Mimi laughed. "It'll be fun!"
Hawkmon hopped off the steps and sank deep into the snow. "Oh, I forgot about this!" he huffed, struggling furiously as he realized the coat wouldn't let him fly. "Some assistance, please!"
Yolei rushed down and scooped him up. "Looks like you're getting a ride today," she said, mounting him on her back.
Izzy and Mimi did the same with their partners, suddenly looking like the family that owned the cabin. Willis went down the stairs and walked to the left, motioning for them to follow him. "OK, lead the way, Willis," Izzy said, starting after.
They followed Willis around the cabin and into the woods. Though the others didn't have snowshoes, their thick boots let them tramp along without stumbling. Aside from the kids, there wasn't another living soul around. No birds called, nor did the wind whistle; the only noise in the world was the whump-whump crunch of their boots.
After half an hour of walking, Mimi started to look back and forth; the silence and the emptiness of the forest unnerved her. "Um… does anyone see anything yet?" she asked.
"Not yet," Izzy said. "What's the matter?"
"Well, it's kind of creepy…" she admitted with a shiver.
"Really?" Palmon asked from her arms. "I was just thinking how nice it is; it reminds me of the forests in the Digital World."
Izzy looked around and understood what Mimi meant; after all, they were city kids at heart, used to being surrounded with people and activity. "We really should camp more often," he said.
"Maybe once this is all over," Tentomon said. "It could be just like when we traveled before!"
"Well, maybe not that crazy," Izzy chuckled.
"Hey, whatever happened on your camping trip, anyway?" Yolei asked. "You know, when went in on our first long mission…"
Izzy coughed and chuckled. "Well, you see…" he began.
"Hey! Izzy!" Willis's voice came, and suddenly Izzy realized the boy had turned down a different path, and the rest of them were about to walk onto a frozen stream. He quickly scooted backwards and rejoined his friend.
"I guess it's easy to get lost in here," Hawkmon said, looking around. "If not for our footprints, I couldn't even tell which way we came."
"Where are we supposed to be going again?" Yolei asked.
"Here… Willis! Wait!" Izzy said, then took out his Digivice. "See?" he asked, pointing to the strange blip. "We're looking for that."
Mimi took out her Digivice and looked too. "Oh, I see," she said, looking in the indicated direction, "but there're so many trees…"
"Just have to walk around 'em, I guess," Yolei said, producing her D3 and looking at the screen. She saw the three dots that indicated the Digidestined, but to her confusion the mysterious signal wasn't appearing. She shook her D3 a few times, but it never showed up. "What the…?" she asked herself.
"Pardon me, Yolei, but we need to catch up," Hawkmon said.
Yolei realized she had stopped walking, and the others were disappearing into the pines. "H-hey, wait!" she called, stuffing the gizmo in her pants and vaulting through the snow.
They walked on through the ankle-deep snow for another hour. Even though the temperature had to be below zero, their borrowed warm gear kept them from feeling much of it… however, the constant goose-stepping through the snow made them sweat and pant; Yolei actually felt too hot and tried to take her scarf off, but winced as it tried to peel away a layer of ice that had formed on her skin. "Ow!" she huffed, "my own breath turned against me!"
"Some would say that's always been the case," Hawkmon chuckled.
"Well, you're not sayin' it, are you?" she retorted, jerking her shoulders and almost making him fall off.
They rounded another corner and Willis finally stopped. In front of them the trees gave way to a wide, long frozen lake lined with shining cracks; the air was so quiet they could hear the ice breaking new lines in front of them. Willis pointed across to the line of trees on the other side. "Canada," he said.
Mimi's eyebrows raised. "Really?!" she asked. "We're THAT north?"
Yolei looked up and saw a swath of mysterious lights glowing in the sky like a shimmering rainbow curtain. "I guess so," she said, pointing to them. "Aren't those the Aurora Bowling Alleys?"
"It's 'Borealis,'" Izzy corrected her, but then fell quiet as he watched the phenomenon. Finally, he looked at Mimi. "Mimi, do you recognize it?" he asked.
Mimi watched the colors change from green to blue to indigo, then her eyes widened. "Omigod!" she exclaimed, "it is!"
"What?" Palmon asked. "What is it?"
"When we first were pulled into the Digital World we saw those lights in the sky," Izzy exclaimed. "I think we found the gate!"
Willis gaped at the lights, then at his new friends. As Yolei stared at the lights, her face crossed with confusion. Why was an entrance to the Digital World in a place like this, where there were absolutely no electronics? And more importantly… "How do we get there?" she asked. "There's no computer!"
"That's how," Mimi said, pointing at the rainbow.
Hawkmon gave her a blank look. "I'm not following you," he said.
Yolei still didn't understand. "What, is it under the rainbow?" she asked.
"It IS the rainbow," Izzy said. "Digivices out, everyone!"
Yolei wasn't sure what he meant, but she took her D3 out as Izzy and Mimi produced their Digivices. The shining lights responded by gleaming more brightly, and to everyone's surprise they formed into a rainbow-colored pillar and shone down on the kids. Mimi yelped as she felt her feet slowly leave the ground. "P-Palmon!" she cried.
"Woah!" Palmon shouted, floating alongside her partner.
"Fascinating," Izzy said as he felt himself being tugged through the air. "I think we're on our way."
Tentomon looked back. "Well, not all of us," he said, pointing. "Look!"
Willis wasn't rising, which made sense because he had no Digivice… but Yolei and Hawkmon weren't going anywhere, either. She ran out of the pillar and then back in again, but still nothing happened. "Hey, what gives?!" she demanded.
"Don't leave us behind!" Hawkmon shouted, trying to fly but the coat again hampering his wings.
Izzy and Mimi looked at each other with alarm. They tried to swim back towards her, but the pull was getting stronger. "Shoot!" Mimi huffed. "Palmon, can you get her?"
Palmon flung her vines as far as she could, but she was already too high up for Yolei to grab. "Come on, guys! This isn't funny!" Yolei shouted in a panic, grabbing Hawkmon and jumping frantically for the tendrils, missing by just centimeters.
Suddenly, she felt two arms around her middle, and with a great groan Willis lifted her as high as he could. Palmon managed to wrap her vines around Yolei's wrist and pulled her along, straining loudly and making Izzy, Tentomon and Mimi hold onto her. Yolei and Hawkmon swung helplessly in the air like a crate beneath a crane, looking up at the magical lights and the boots of her friends. She glanced back at the lakeshore and saw Willis waving energetically. As her vision was completely entombed in rainbows, she could just make out his shout of "good luck!"
The next thing she knew, she stood before a thick, steamy forest of exotic trees and plants, the sky bright and gray above her… and immediately her skin turned filmy and hot. "Oh, jeez!" she yelled, tearing at her scarf and hat.
Izzy, Mimi and the Digimon reacted the same way, throwing off their coats like they had caught fire. "Was that climate change?" Palmon asked, dropping her scarf on top of Mimi's mittens and hat.
"I guess you could say that," Izzy said, "though I think we're the ones who changed climates."
"Five more seconds and I would have been a puddle! " Mimi panted, rubbing at her glistening forehead. "What's with this place?!"
"We must be in the Digital World again, but…" Hawkmon began, turning to Yolei, but then he stopped and stared at her. "Yolei! Your clothes!" he exclaimed.
Yolei blinked and looked down at her blazer and sweatpants. "What?" she asked.
Izzy scratched his head, then he understood. "Wait, you usually get different clothes when you enter the Digital World," he remembered.
"Yeah, that pilot hat and the parachute pants!" Mimi said, "but this time…"
Yolei looked again and her eyes widened. They were right; her clothes hadn't changed. "Woah, freaky!" she said, tugging at her shirt. "Why's that?"
"Maybe they knew it'd be too hot for those other clothes," Tentomon said, swatting at his antennae. "I sure wish I could shed my shell a few times…"
"Why didn't they give US anything?" Mimi complained, tugging at her pink sweater. "Forget melting; I'll just explode if I spend much longer here!"
"But where IS 'here,' Mimi?" Palmon asked, turning and looking up at the sky.
Everyone walked around and took in the surroundings. Ahead of them was the thick forest, but not too far behind them the land ended abruptly, dropping off into a void of clouds… but in the distance Izzy could see another wide swath of brownish-white land on top of more sheer cliffs. He thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "We're on that floating island in the far north!" he announced. "Tentomon, you remember, right?"
"Oh, yeah!" Tentomon agreed, "but there are a lot less bugs this time."
"So those other islands we saw could be temples also," Izzy said, scratching his chin. "Prodigious…"
"Can we leave the thinking for later?" Mimi huffed, rolling up her sleeves and even daring to expose her navel. "Let's do what we came to do and beat it!"
They left their pile of coats behind and ventured into the sweltering jungle, the air alive with the clicking and hissing of insects. Waves of heat washed over Yolei instinctively as she heard the familiar drawn-out buzz of cicadas. Gaggles of mosquitoes and black flies filled the air just above the heads of the kids, and every so often a few dove down to take nibbles of them. "OW! Go away!" Mimi shouted, slapping at her shoulders and chest.
"Cannibals!" Tentomon shouted, swishing his wings.
"I'm just glad there aren't any bees," Palmon muttered.
Yolei let out an angry huff; the little flies hurt more than she thought. She swung her arm wide and fast and hit Izzy right between the eyes. "Oh, no!" she gulped. "Sorry!"
Izzy groaned, then noticed a black stain above his nose. "Well, at least you got one," he said.
"Maybe you should let Izzy slap his own—" Hawkmon began when his leg hit something and he stumbled. He looked down and saw a rectangular gray stone jutting out of the ground. Then he noticed several more ahead, spaced like they were forming a road. "I say, what's this?" he asked, starting to follow the trail.
All curious, the others followed Hawkmon and the stone trail around two snaking corners. They came out of the underbrush and their mouths dropped open. Standing beneath the jungle canopy was a large, moss-covered stone building that resembled a capital "T," with conical turrets on its two edges and a long covered hall leading up to them. Much of it was cracked and crumbling, but the architecture was still ornate and imposing. Chills ran down Yolei's spine in spite of the heat; there was some otherworldly magic about the ancient-looking place.
"Is this the temple we're looking for?" Hawkmon asked.
"It sure looks like one to me," Mimi said.
Izzy looked it over and scratched his head. "It reminds me of something I saw in history class," he said. "I think it was called Angkor… Angkor Wat?"
"Anchor… what?" Palmon asked.
"Yes, that's it," he said, then looked at it again. "The way this world utilizes structures from ours keeps surprising me."
The party walked up to the entrance—a strangely out-of-place rusty revolving glass door—and pushed their way inside. The hall was a lot bigger than it looked from the outside, but it also looked strangely empty. "Nobody home?" Palmon asked.
"Just remember what Gennai said; it's going to be challenging," Tentomon said. "There could be a lot of boobytraps."
"We certainly don't want to trap any of those," Hawkmon agreed, starting to step forward. "Let's be careful—"
His foot found a weak tile stone that cracked loudly, and then came an angry buzzing. Out of every crack and hole emerged all types of dangerous bug Digimon: Roachmon, Snimon and Kuwagamon, to name a few. Mimi's face went whiter than usual. "Oh, God, no!" she squealed.
"It's the roach motel all over again!" Yolei said.
"Looks like we have to prove we can still fight," Izzy said, gripping his Digivice. "Tentomon!"
"OK!" Tentomon agreed, electricity sparking between his arms.
"Mimi! Let's do it!" Palmon urged.
Mimi nodded and raised her Digivice too. Tentomon and Palmon became Kabuterimon and Togemon and charged into the stream of insects throwing fast punches and electric balls. The bugs flew every which way, bursting into pixels, but more and more kept crawling out of the stonework. Izzy gnashed his teeth; the creatures were regenerating just like the bugs in the air had!
"Come on, Kabuterimon, tell 'em to bug off!" Mimi shouted. "They're like family, aren't they?!"
"I tried that before," Kabuterimon muttered as Roachmon grabbed onto his legs. "Get off!"
Yolei wasn't about to let the others get overwhelmed. "Hawkmon, let's help 'em out!" she said, raising her D3. "DigiArmor Energize!"
"Right!" Hawkmon said and braced himself.
The familiar surge of power didn't come. He looked back at her questioningly. She looked at her D3. Nothing was happening. "DigiArmor Energize!" she tried again, but there was no response. She snarled and shook it like a rattle, but the screen remained blank. "Come on! Is Shurimon on vacation?!" she huffed.
A Kuwagamon and a Snimon both jumped on Togemon. "Any time, Yolei!" Mimi shouted.
Yolei winced. "Fine! Don't be a ninja!" she snapped, and just raised her D3 normally. Hawkmon transformed into Aquilamon and flew at the swarm firing his Blast Rings. Just like before, though, more bug Digimon appeared as others fell. Needles flew everywhere as a group of Flymon shot after Aquilamon and Kabuterimon, and one of them almost stuck in Yolei's foot. "Ugh, this's crazy!" she snapped. "What're we supposed to do?!"
Almost in response, the floor behind them groaned, then began to crumble away tile by tile. Mimi caught a glimpse of what lay beneath—a pit full of thousands, maybe millions of buzzing insects—and she screamed like a train whistle. Before either Izzy or Yolei knew what was happening, she had both of them by the arms and was charging down the hall. "Mimi, stop!" Izzy yelled.
"We're going right into the bugs!" Yolei shouted.
The Digimon saw Mimi coming and moved quickly. Aquilamon and Kabuterimon flung their energy blasts in front of her to clear a path, and Togemon raced behind the kids, slugging any enemies that tried to chase after. Mimi hauled her protesting luggage through the grand door on the other end, which slammed shut as their partners came through. Silence came over the world again. The Digimon shrank back to their Rookie forms and collapsed, gasping for air. Mimi let go of her friends and crumpled to the ground, wheezing like an asthmatic. "Goo… goo… Good… grief!" she whispered.
"Ow ow ow ow…" Yolei winced as she tried to straighten her arm. "How about some warning next time?!"
"I was impressed, actually," Izzy said, massaging his pulled limb. "Have you considered being on the track team, Mimi?"
"I… I…" she tried, then had to stop and swallow a few times.
"Well, we're safe for the moment," Hawkmon said, turning back to the door, "but I wouldn't count on going back that way."
"We'll worry about it later," Izzy said. "For now, let's concentrate on the other challenges."
Yolei looked around. The hall they stood in was wide instead of long, its walls engraved with ornate carvings of grinning faces and dancing figures, all Digimon the kids could recognize. Three doors stood on the other side of the width-long hall, the two on the sides bearing odd stone symbols above them and the central one decorated with even grander carvings. She recognized the teardrop-like symbol over the right-hand door. "Mimi, there's your Crest!" she exclaimed.
Mimi slowly got back on her feet. As she looked at the symbol, her eyes widened. "Yes," she said softly.
"We must have reached those challenges," Palmon said.
"Sure enough ye did," a voice echoed through the hall, making them all jump. "Welcome, Chosen Children, to the Temple o' the North! Ye passed the test of combat well enough, but don't be pattin' yerselves on the backs just yet."
"Aye," a lower second voice came after, its accent just as thick as the first one's, "that was the easy one."
The kids looked around, but the speakers couldn't be seen. "Who's there?" Hawkmon asked.
"Are you the Digimon gods we heard about?" Tentomon asked.
"Ye bet we are, Question McInquiry," the first voice said with a chuckle. "We're Xuanwumon, keeper o' the Crests o' Knowledge and Purity."
"But I thought there was only one god at each temple," Izzy said. "There are two Xuanwumons?"
"If yer really curious, ye should start on yer trials," the first voice said. "If ye pass 'em both, the grand door will open."
"Aye," the second voice said, "and then we'll meet face to face… to face."
Yolei looked at the symbols over the doors: the pair of mismatched glasses and the teardrop. "What kind of trials are they?" she asked.
"Tests," the first voice said, "tests to prove ye still be worthy o' the Crests ye were granted so long ago."
Mimi's eyes glossed with worry. "Still worthy?…" she asked quietly.
"Go on, then," the second voice said, "enter the doors."
With cracking groans and showers of dust, the two side doors slowly opened and beckoned to the Digidestined. "Goodness," Hawkmon said, "they certainly have a lot of pomp around them."
"What was with that accent?" Palmon asked. "Is that how they really speak somewhere?"
"You've got me," Yolei sighed. She understood the Digital World reflected things in the real world, but sometimes she couldn't understand how it chose what it did.
Izzy folded his arms and looked thoughtful. "Well, how should we do this?" he asked.
"Let's just do them at the same time and get it over with," Mimi said, starting for the Purity door.
"Wait, what about me?" Yolei asked. "Do I just wait out here?"
"And what if the test is dangerous?" Palmon asked. "Maybe there'll be more bugs."
Mimi cringed, then pulled at her sweating hair. "Err…" she muttered.
"Why don't we all go into one at a time?" Tentomon asked.
"Can we do that?" Yolei asked.
Izzy thought for a moment. "Well, they didn't say we couldn't," he concluded. "So…"
"Y-yeah, let's do that," Mimi agreed, "so, uh… I volunteer to go second!"
"Gee, thanks, Mimi," Yolei muttered. "Well, then… Izzy?"
"Pressure's on now," Tentomon chuckled weakly.
They walked through the left door into a dark room that felt to be the size of a basketball court. They had only gone a few feet when the door slammed down behind them with a painful echo. "Wonderful," Hawkmon muttered.
"Well, I'm definitely going second now," Mimi said.
A low growl came from the far wall, and then two golden eyes appeared. "Humans…" a venomous bass voice came, "closer… come closer."
Palmon winced. "Do we have to?" she asked.
"It's not like we can go back," Yolei said, motioning to the door.
Izzy swallowed hard, wondered just what he had dragged his friends into, then started forward. "Izzy, wait!" Tentomon chirped, quickly flying beside him. Not wanting to be left behind, the girls and Hawkmon followed after.
On the far wall they found a curious sight; an alcove in which was carved an ornate relief of a sphinx, its eyes emitting the glow they had seen. "Child of Knowledge," it spoke again, "now you shall undergo your test."
Izzy scratched his head. "Wait," he said, "sphinxes come from Egypt. I thought Angkor Wat was in Cambodia?"
The sphinx sighed angrily. "You've spent much time in our world, yet this surprises you?" it asked.
"Err… I guess not," Izzy said. "Sorry. Please, continue."
"Geez, touchy," Mimi mumbled.
"You have proven your skill in matters of technology," the sphinx went on, "but surely you must know it takes more than that to survive in this world. Now you shall prove the extent of your knowledge to me… or you shall all pay with your lives."
There came two loud groans, and then a harsh grinding noise. Palmon saw clouds of dust kicking up at the bases of both walls. "Mimi!" she yelled. "The walls!"
"Oh, shit!" Yolei shouted, "we're gonna be pancakes!"
"Izzy, do something!" Tentomon urged. "Do the test!"
"Yeah, I'm thin enough!" Mimi added.
Sweat beaded on Izzy's brow, but he turned back to the sphinx. "All right," he said, "what do I have to do?"
"The Trial of Knowledge is three riddles," the sphinx said. "You must answer them before you are consumed by the stones."
"Riddles?!" Mimi shrieked. "I'm awful at those!"
"Good thing it's Izzy's trial, then," Hawkmon said.
"If it's my trial, then let them go," Izzy urged the sphinx. "They've got nothing to do with this."
"They are also part of your trial," the sphinx chuckled darkly. "A lack of knowledge can destroy not only oneself, but those around him."
Yolei gnashed her teeth against the awful grinding noise. "Dammit, that's not fair," she complained. "At least let us help with the riddles!"
"Yes, that seems fair," Izzy argued. "Let them help me. We all get crushed anyway, right?"
The sphinx sighed angrily again. "When did this become a negotiation?" it grumbled. "Very well, they may assist you… but beware of giving incorrect answers."
"There's more to beware?" Tentomon huffed. "Geez!"
"That's enough, Tentomon," Izzy said, then looked at the sphinx. "Please, begin."
"Finally," the sphinx muttered. "The first riddle: what room has no walls?"
Izzy bit his lip. The sphinx had a point; he was great with anything that had to do with computer software, but that didn't mean he was could quickly solve any puzzle. "U-um…" he swallowed.
"Izzy, what's wrong?" Tentomon asked. "You know this, don't you?!"
"Come on, everyone, think!" Hawkmon urged. "What kind of room doesn't have walls?"
Palmon shuddered as she glanced at the incoming stones. "This room in a minute!" she said.
"Incorrect," the sphinx growled, and the walls groaned louder. "You may have help, Child of Knowledge, but for every wrong answer, the walls shall increase in speed."
"Oh, no! What'd I do?!" Palmon cried, yanking at her flower.
"Don't shoot your mouth off!" Mimi said. "We don't have much room as it is!"
Izzy's eyes flashed. "Mimi, that's it!" he exclaimed. "It's wordplay! The answer is a mushroom!"
"Very good," the sphinx said. "That is an acceptable answer."
"R-really?!" Hawkmon asked. "That was… oddly easy."
Mimi blinked. "Are you kidding me?!" she yelled. "We're solving kid jokes?!"
"Each of my riddles is different," the sphinx growled. "Now for the second…"
"Can't the walls back up a little when we get one right?" Yolei asked, glancing at the approaching stone panels; they couldn't have been less than ten feet away.
"No," the sphinx said bluntly. "The second riddle is this: a man gave his son a small amount of money and told him that what he bought must fill an entire room, otherwise he would not receive an inheritance. However, the boy had enough money to do just that. What did the boy buy to fill the room?"
"Money problems?" Palmon asked. "I've got no idea…"
"How can you buy anything like that with just a LITTLE money?" Mimi asked.
Yolei chewed her fingernails; she had no clues at all, and she was afraid to say anything lest the walls speed up even more.
Hawkmon thought for a second. "Ah, what about chips?" he asked. "Those are the cheapest thing at Yolei's store! Oh, the off-brand ones, of course!"
Yolei almost choked on her own spit. "Hawkmon!" she yelped.
"Incorrect," the sphinx cackled, and the grinding got louder.
"Oh, dear," Hawkmon gulped, his feather sagging. "Sorry, everyone."
The walls crept closer and pebbles began to drop from the ceiling. "This isn't gonna be a nice way to go…" Tentomon complained.
Izzy couldn't agree more. Seeing those walls getting closer really wrecked his concentration. He wished the room didn't have as much light; maybe in the dark he could think better and… His eyes sparked again. This time he had given himself the right answer. "Light!" he exclaimed. "The boy filled the room with light! He bought a light bulb!"
Tentomon's wings flashed. "Really?! Wait, yes! That works!" he said.
"Hmm… yes, that is acceptable," the sphinx growled. "The original answer was a candle, but I suppose riddles must change with the times…"
The walls ground so loudly the kids could barely hear anything else, and they were so close that none of them could put their arms out anymore. "Can we have the last riddle, please?" Izzy asked as a pebble hit his forehead.
"Very well," the sphinx boomed maliciously. "Here is the final riddle: what one thing, had you done it, would have spared you the agony of being crushed to death?"
"What?!" Mimi shouted as she turned sideways and raised her arms. "That's not a riddle! You cheat—MMPH!"
Palmon squeezed her vines around Mimi's mouth as the girl muttered angrily. "Don't talk unless you've got an answer, Mimi!" she urged.
"Izzy, hurry!" Tentomon urged as he had to land; his wings just wouldn't fit.
Izzy sweat bullets as his mind raced. Was there an answer to this one? Was the sphinx just being wicked because they were almost out of time? How could he think of things he hadn't done?! He felt the wall pressing against the tips of his shoes and gasped in alarm. "I… I don't know!" he admitted. "I don't know!"
Mimi was pushing and kicking at the wall as hard as she could, but it kept moving. "No, no, NO!" she wailed.
The wall was right against Yolei's forehead, and she could feel her glasses getting ready to crack. She was about to be smashed into jelly; she couldn't stay quiet any longer. "For God's sake!" she yelled. "We shoulda JUST STAYED HOME!"
The walls stopped moving. "Is that really your answer?" the sphinx asked cruelly.
There was a terrible silence. Yolei grit her teeth and waited for her head to explode. The sphinx gave a low chuckle. "Correct," it said. "The Trial of Knowledge is passed."
The walls immediately pulled away, and the kids and their Digimon crashed to the floor. "W-wow!…" Palmon gasped.
"I was almost a Hawkmon sandwich," Hawkmon said.
"More like sandwich spread," Tentomon shuddered.
Izzy got back on his feet and rubbed at his head, then looked at Yolei, who was sitting on her butt with her legs splayed, looking dazed. "I… good thinking, Yolei," he said, going over and helping her up. "How did you come up with that?"
Yolei laughed nervously as her face burned. "W-well, we were gonna get smashed anyway; I just said what I was thinking," she said.
"Seriously?!" Mimi asked, scrambling to her feet. "'We should have stayed home?' That was the answer?!"
"In life, there isn't always a single answer. True knowledge is the skill to think for one's own self… and also knowing when to enlist others for help," the sphinx said. "You have clearly learned both of these truths, and thus are still worthy of the Crest of Knowledge."
Izzy took in the words and found he was smiling. The sphinx was right; between getting to know the new kids, investigating the D3s, hunting down the Crests and temples and working together with Willis, he really had grown. "Thank you," he said, "I won't forget this."
"Now, continue to the remaining trial," the sphinx boomed, "and have a nice day."
The walls stopped where they had begun, the sphinx's eyes went dark and the room fell silent. The door slid open again with a loud crack. "Well… I guess that's that," Tentomon said. "Good job, Izzy."
"I couldn't have done it without you all," Izzy said, nodding to his friends. "Thank you."
Yolei laughed again. "Any time, Izzy!" she said with a thumbs up.
"Now it's our turn, Mimi," Palmon said to her partner. "Let's go!"
The six of them turned and walked out of the room, headed for the other end of the hall. Mimi's stomach started to gurgle. Izzy's challenge had been frightening enough, but thinking of what might await her made her legs ready to liquefy. After all she had put the others through, even she wasn't sure if she still deserved the Crest of Purity.
… … …
Arukenimon hissed and huffed as she tramped through the foliage towards the massive structure, angrily swinging her sweat-slicked arms at the cloud of flies nipping at her. The things she had to do to get at those children! Plan or no plan, they would be sorry to see her.
She shoved her way through a large crack in the wall and stopped abruptly as she noticed a squirming pit of bugs. A Roachmon emerged from the other wall and bared its nasty teeth. "Defiler! Leave at once!" it snarled.
Arukenimon sneered. "And just who is going to make me?" she asked coolly.
A dozen more bug Digimon materialized. Arukenimon just laughed, shed her human disguise and scuttled onto the wall, lashing the guards with ease.
More bugs appeared with each one she destroyed, but made her way towards a door on the end without much care. With so many insects, she lamented, she could have had the children devoured in seconds if she hadn't broken her flute… but that wouldn't be half as fun as doing it personally.
… … …
Mimi stopped before the door beneath her Crest symbol, staring at her shoes. "What's wrong?" Palmon asked.
Mimi swallowed a few times, the sweat on her back feeling heavy. "I, um…" she stammered.
Yolei clapped a hand on her shoulder. "Relax," she said, "we're all doing this together, remember?"
"That's right," Izzy agreed. "We'll help you, Mimi."
Mimi smiled weakly; maybe the trial wouldn't be so bad after all. "Thanks, guys…" she said.
"Why's she so nervous?" Tentomon asked Hawkmon quietly. "Did something happen?"
"Well, from my understanding…" Hawkmon began, but then he noticed the others were going into the room. "Never mind, we'll find out now!" he said, rushing to catch up.
They walked into a dark, quiet room that felt no bigger than a closet. Mimi shuddered once, then swallowed again. "Hello?" she called.
The door slammed shut behind her and everything went black. When she opened her blurry eyes, she found herself standing back in her favorite hallway at school, surrounded by chatting, happy teenagers. "Hi, Mimi!" a girl called to her.
"I… wha…?" Mimi asked, rubbing at her muddled head. Was this right? Hadn't she just been somewhere else? She tried to think, but just couldn't remember.
"Don't study too hard," the girl said, beaming. "There's a party at Yukiko's tonight! See you there?"
"Um… yeah! Sure!" she agreed, smiling. Of course she'd be there; after all, Yukiko always threw the best parties.
"Hi, Mimi!" two more girls said in passing. "Great cheerleading yesterday!"
"Thanks!" Mimi said, "I came up with it myself!" Technically, the routine had been a group effort, but since she was the face of the cheerleading squad and everybody knew it, she could easily call it her own.
"Hey, Mimi," a tall boy with tight muscles and slick black hair purred, leaning against the locker in front of her, "I was gonna grab a smoothie. You wanna come?"
Mimi's cheeks flared at the masculine perfection before her. "Gee, I don't know, I've got such a schedule…" she lied sweetly. "Oh, why not? Sure!"
"All right," he said, "lemme get my gym bag and I'll be right back."
Mimi giggled as more of her peers came by with warm greetings and invitations to other parties and dates. It was the perfect life: she loved being the center of attention, and she loved being loved.
"Mimi! Hey, Mimi!" an awkward yell came from behind her.
Wincing at the volume, she turned and recoiled as she saw two nerds push their way through the crowd. "There you are!" the boy with bristly red hair said. "We must have been separated."
"Geez, this's weird," The girl with pungent purple hair said. "What're we doing back at school?"
Mimi made a face. "Who're you?" she sniffed. "I think you're in the wrong place; the computer labs are upstairs."
The girl blinked. "Mimi? Are you OK?" she asked.
"Ask yourself first," Mimi said, folding her arms. She didn't know why the girl talking as if she knew her; she didn't look like anyone Mimi wanted to associate with.
"Yolei, wait!" another voice came from the crowd. "Ugh, please watch where you're going!"
Mimi screamed as a bird, a bug and a walking plant pushed their way out of the moving crowd and surrounded the nerds. "What the hell are those things?!" she demanded, pointing at the plant.
The plant's mouth fell open. "Mimi?… You don't remember me?" she asked.
"What's going on?" the bug asked. "You were OK a second ago!"
"I don't think it's her fault," the boy nerd said. "This trial seems to be messing with her mind."
"There's nothing wrong with my mind!" Mimi huffed indignantly. "Now take your weird things and go away!"
The attractive boy returned, a blue gym bag slung over his shoulder. "Awright, ready to go, Mimi?" he asked.
"About time," she said, putting her arm around his and starting to leave.
"Hey, hey, no, wait a minute!" the purple-haired girl objected, grabbing Mimi's other arm. "Mimi, snap out of it! This isn't real!"
"We're not at school," the bird said, "we're still in the temple."
"And you're not a prom queen," the boy said, "you're a Digidestined."
Mimi's whole body spasmed at the word; it was like her heart was trying to recall something her mind had stuffed away. She had to get away from it. "Let… let go of me!" she shouted at the girl. "I've… I'm not… whatever you said! Now leave me alone, you… you freaks!"
The girl's face soured. "I tried the nice way," she growled, then pulled back and slapped Mimi across the face. "Now WAKE UP!"
As the palm connected with her cheek and she watched a trail of spit fly across the hall, Mimi's mind rattled back to life. She knew these people, and those Digimon. She was a Digidestined. And she had been on a journey… a terrible journey, where… "Oh, no…" she whimpered.
The school halls darkened and fell away, and the other students faded like smoke vapors. The world became a ravaged plain beneath a dark gray sky, the only landmark a towering mountain of weird terrains mashed together. All around them were sounds of combat, roars and screams of agony, and the stenches of blood and decay hung in the air. "Wha… what's this?!" Yolei asked, her head darting around.
Izzy looked dark. "I remember this…" he muttered, "this is when the Dark Masters…"
Mimi grabbed her head and cried out, and other beings materialized around them. A black devil laughed and hurled gears into the air. A vampire sneered and swished his blood-red cape, then flung a bolt of red lightning through Birdramon. Two metallic warriors—an orange version of Blackwargreymon and a wolf—crashed in mid-air as younger versions of Tai and Matt pounded on each other in the dirt. On an ocean they couldn't see, a giant serpent blew a hole through a whale with an energy beam. All around them, various Digimon collapsed and dissolved into pixels, their death groans mixing into a sickening one-note melody.
"Oh, my," Hawkmon said as he looked around, "Mimi has her share of nightmares…"
"These were the worst parts…" Palmon said, shaking her head. "But Mimi, you remember the good parts, too, right?"
Mimi whimpered and took in the awful montage, but then turned and looked at her friends. Slowly her breathing eased and the panic subsided. Sometimes she wished she could simply forget everything about the Digital World and being a Digidestined, and be a normal teenager with normal problems… but Palmon was right. In spite of all the terrible memories, she had a lot of good ones about that world, too, and the friends she had made there. She forced herself to think hard, to drag up the good memories through the storm of bad ones.
Slowly, the awful sounds and smells faded out, and the landscape changed to a green meadow full of white flowers under a blue sky. The figures around them changed, too: young Tai, Joe, Agumon, Gomamon, Palmon and a troupe of other Digimon happily watched young Mimi sing. Another Mimi rode on Togemon's boxing glove, laughing. A third one stopped crying as young Sora helped her to her feet. A fourth, the same age as the real Mimi, played beside Yolei on an out-of-place arcade machine. "Woah! Is this some kind of show?" Tentomon asked.
"I think we're seeing Mimi's memories," Izzy said. "At least she has enough good ones to balance the bad."
Izzy's words brought tears to Mimi's eyes and an understanding smile to her lips. If she really could forget, as the illusion had made her, she would lose those precious memories of her friends along with the bad ones… and that was too high a price to be rid of her nightmares. "I… I want to keep them," she said, finally looking up. "All of them."
A gentle breeze blew across her face, and then the landscape drifted away, leaving them all standing back in the temple's hall. The door with the Crest of Purity over it was shut tight, but the central door slid open with a great groan.
Mimi just stared at the open door, tears flowing freely from her eyes. Palmon came up and put a hand on her thigh. "I think you passed," she said quietly.
Mimi sniffled and nodded, then turned to the others with a smile. "Th… thank you," she said. "I'm OK now."
Yolei beamed. "Glad to hear it!" she chuckled, then coughed awkwardly. "Sorry I hit you."
"N-no, I needed it," Mimi said, shaking her head. "I never want to forget about the Digital World again!"
Izzy smiled. "I'm sure everyone will be happy to hear that," he said. "Now… I guess we can meet Xuanwumon."
They turned and stared into the door. Unlike the other two doors, which led to dark rooms, what lay beyond gleamed with sunshine. "I wonder what happens next?" Tentomon asked.
"One way to find out," Hawkmon said. "Shall we?"
"Yeah…" Yolei agreed, "c'mon, guys."
Their hearts nervous but their legs stalwart, the six of them passed through the door into the light.
… … …
Flinging her attackers left and right, Arukenimon scrambled along the wall looking for an escape. She could easily deal with the insect guards, but they were coming in such numbers that she was beginning to breathe hard; it was time to get away.
A Snimon fired its Twin Sickles at her, but she moved away and the purple beams sliced into the wall, leaving a small crack. She sneered gleefully and thrust two of her legs into it, opening it enough for her to crash through. She landed in another room and watched the Roachmon and others clamber to come after her, hopelessly becoming caught between each other in the hole. "Fools," she cackled, "you're as stupid as humans!"
"Who is there?" a low voice demanded. Arukenimon looked in front of her and saw a statue of a sphinx sitting in an alcove in the wall, its glowing eyes trained on her as it gave a low growl. "You are forbidden from this place," it said. "Away with you!"
The walls groaned and rumbled, then quickly began to move closer. "I go wherever I want, you pathetic rock lapdog," Arukenimon said. "Now tell me where the Digidestined are!"
The sphinx was disdainfully quiet for a moment as the walls rumbled in. "If one lives by treachery," it finally said, "then how shall one die?…"
Arukenimon's eyes bulged with rage. "You little…!" she screeched, and wildly lashed the statue to pebbles with her whips. Without the sphinx to control them, the walls slowed to a halt, and the door on the other end slid open.
Arukenimon pushed her way out of the room and noticed the giant open door in the middle of the next hall. A malicious smile crossed her fangs and she clenched her fists. She wasn't going to die… but they were.
… … …
Beyond the door was a huge garden in the middle of the temple complex. Nature had completely taken the place over: it had a canopy of jungle trees instead of a ceiling, and thick brown roots jutted up everywhere among the tall grasses, dwarfing stone blocks and benches. Aside from the occasional swishing of grass in the gentle breeze, it was completely quiet. A strange feeling came over them as they looked around; something about the garden felt ancient and sacred, like Yolei had felt when she first saw the temple.
"Watch your step," Hawkmon said as he almost stumbled over a root. "I don't think there's a path."
"What do we do now?" Palmon asked, scratching her flower. "I don't see anything very special in here."
Tentomon flew higher up and looked ahead. In the center of the garden sat a deep rectangular hole. He couldn't see the bottom, but he noticed a trail of stone steps leading down its sides. "There's something here!" he said, flying towards it. "Izzy, come look!"
Izzy started after him, gingerly stepping over the chaotic roots as he wondered just what lay ahead. Mimi pushed her limp hair out of her eyes and followed behind him with Palmon, strangely quiet. Yolei and Hawkmon brought up the rear, still taking in the eerie atmosphere.
They descended into the crater, going slowly and carefully to avoid falling off the railing-less steps. It went a long way down—maybe five stories, Izzy estimated—and as they went the tree roots jutting out of the earth grew longer and thicker. Some trees grew out at weird angles in the wall, but they weren't what the big ones were connected to. "For all these roots, I've yet to see a tree large enough for them," Hawkmon said.
"Maybe it's growing under the ground?" Yolei asked.
"I suppose it could be…" Izzy said.
They reached the last step and looked around. The roots all seemed to convene at the center of the crater, beneath a large stone platform with two small columns on either side, one bearing the symbol of Izzy's crest, and the other Mimi's. "So… no tree?" Palmon asked, tilting her head.
"Did they cut it down?" Mimi asked.
Low, gentle laughter echoed through the crater. "Oh, no, Child o' Purity, I haven't been cut down," a familiar voice said.
"Nope," the other voice said, "just watch a moment."
The kids stepped back in surprise as a gigantic creature materialized on the platform: a two-headed golden turtle with a thick, tall tree encircled with glowing pearls growing from its deep brown shell. Its entire body emanated a gentle green glow. Izzy had to shut his gaping mouth. "I'm going to guess that you're Xuanwumon?" he asked.
"Goodness!" Hawkmon spluttered, then politely bowed low to the Digimon god. "How do you do, sir… erm… sirs… um… your worship? Worships?!" he tried.
Both heads chuckled. "Take it easy, Doormat McKowtow," the left head said without moving its mouth, as if it spoke directly into their minds. "Ye've earned the right to see us; we don't need much more praise than that."
"Aye," the right head said, "that's praise enough."
"Oh… well, if you say so," Hawkmon said, and got back up.
"Now… Children o' Knowledge and Purity," the left head said, turning to Izzy and Mimi, "ye've done well to pass yer trials. Ye've proven yer still worthy of yer Crests."
"Aye," the right head said, "so we'll restore 'em for ye."
"That's wonderful!" Palmon exclaimed. "Thank you, Xuanwumon!"
"We didn't do it alone, though," Mimi admitted, smiling at Yolei.
Yolei suddenly found four turtle eyes trained on her, and her face burned. "U-um, well…" she gulped.
Xuanwumon looked her over for a thoughtful minute. "Aye, and thanks to ye too, young lass." the left-head spoke.
"You're, uh… you're welcome," she said with a nervous wave. "No problem!"
"Now, then," the left head said, turning and looking towards a pedestal. "Place yer Crests on these, and we'll start restorin' 'em."
"Might take a few minutes," the right head said, "but they'll be good as new."
"OK, Izzy, let's do it!" Tentomon said, his wings buzzing more cheerfully than usual.
"Right," Izzy said, producing the piece of his Crest. Mimi got hers out, too, and they walked up and placed them on their respective columns. The little fragments glowed weakly purple and green, like they were trying to imitate Xuanwumon's aura.
"Now…" Xuanwumon said, and the heads closed their eyes. Gentle snowflake-like dots of green and purple energy began to drift through the room, slowly spiraling like lazy fireflies. The pieces on the pillars glowed faintly, and slowly started to regenerate along the broken spots. "Finally, we can regain our full power," the left head said.
The kids and their Digimon all looked confused. "Full power?" Izzy asked. "What do you mean, Xuanwumon?"
"Ye see, Child o' Knowledge," the left head spoke, though its eyes remained closed, "yer Crests are part o' the essence of us gods. While ye traveled in the Digital World, we shared our power with 'em freely… but when ye had to leave to chase Myotismon, and took the Crests with ye, well, we couldn't keep connected. It was like tryin' ta live in a house with only three walls."
"Aye," the right head said, "and that's no good in a storm."
"What?!" Palmon asked.
"I'm afraid so," the left head continued. "We know yer intentions were good… but losin' the Crests took such a chunk out of our power, those Dark Masters had no trouble beatin' us, and then shapin' the Digital World how they liked it."
Mimi swallowed hard. "Their taking over… was our fault?!" she whimpered.
Izzy shook his head sadly. "We really messed up," he said. "All those Digimon…"
"Now, now, don't feel too bad about it," the left head said, "ye didn't know it would happen… and ye would've had to face them eventually; it was just a matter of time."
"Aye," the right head said, "and ye came back and beat 'em soundly."
"I guess…" Izzy said, wondering how the others would react to such a revelation.
"It was so awful…" Mimi said, hugging herself. "Xuanwumon, I… we won't let that happen again!"
"Aye, we know ye won't," the left head said. "With the Crests restored, we know ye'll use them well and triumph o'er yer nemesis."
"You got it!" Yolei said, making a fist. "Dagomon's goin' down!"
Xuanwumon looked ready to say something, but before suddenly one of the trees on the wall rustled violently. With a triumphant snarl, Arukenimon emerged, diving right for the column with Mimi's Crest. With shouts of alarm, Hawkmon and Palmon flung feathers and vines at her. She lashed them away and landed, her teeth flashing. "I still have time," she sneered, "but yours has just run out!"
"You again…" Izzy muttered.
"How'd you even get here?!" Yolei demanded.
"When have I ever told you anything?" the spider woman snarled. "Give me those Crests!"
"No deal, sister!" Palmon huffed, rushing in front of Mimi.
Mimi looked hopefully at the giant turtle. "Can you get rid of her, Xuanwumon?" she pleaded.
Both of Xuanwumon's heads shook. "Sorry, Child o' Purity," the left one said, "but if we attacked, it would destroy everyone here. Ye'll have to keep her away from the Crests while we work."
"Aye," the right head said, "it's too dangerous."
Mimi bit her lip. Yolei clenched her fists and yanked out her D3. "You heard the turtles!" she said to the others. "Let's get her!"
"Yeah!" Tentomon said, his wings sparking. "Come on, Izzy!"
Hawkmon balled his wing fists. "I'm with you, Yolei," he declared.
The kids raised their devices and the crater filled with light. Kabuterimon, Togemon and Aquilamon all rushed Arukenimon. "Fine," Arukenimon said with a wicked smile, "I could use a snack!"
"Then here's a knuckle sandwich!" Togemon shouted, charging with her fists flying. Arukenimon leaped back and laid her whip across the cactus's face three times in as many seconds while she sent her other whip towards the Crests.
"Tentacles off!" Kabuterimon said, flying down and grabbing the flailing appendage. Aquilamon dove over Togemon and tried to impale Arukenimon with his horns, but she pulled her whip back and hit him with Kabuterimon, then bounded onto the wall and disappeared into the branches.
"Great," Aquilamon grumbled, "she's doing this the hard way."
"I know that way," Togemon said. She slammed her fists into the walls, trying to knock her loose. "Come down, you creep!"
The answer came in a spray of thick white gunk that covered Togemon's whole body and pinned her where she stood. "Ugggh!" she snarled, "this had better not be—"
Arukenimon leaped out from her hiding spot and stomped on Togemon's face, bouncing onto Kabuterimon's back and throwing her whip around his neck. "Hope you liked air," she cackled as she yanked, "because you're not getting any more!"
Kabuterimon flailed and gurgled, and trails of drool flew from his maw, but the spider held on tightly. "Kabuterimon!" Izzy yelled. "Shake her off!"
"Aquilamon, help him!" Yolei shouted.
Kabuterimon tried to fly backwards and ram the wall, but Arukenimon's strangling was getting to him. Aquilamon fired Blast Rings at her, but she leaped back onto the wall and the shots hit Kabuterimon instead, sending him crashing to the ground. "Sorry!" Aquilamon winced.
Kabuterimon coughed and wheezed as he tried to get back on his feet. "You old fogeys can't stand up to me!" Arukenimon laughed as leaped towards the altar. "I don't even have to steal your Crests; you'll be dead before they're finished!"
A gooey fist flew by her cheek and she jumped away; Togemon had pried herself loose and was back for another round. "Web on me, will ya?!" she snarled, swinging for Arukenimon's teeth. Aquilamon flew over and tried to hit his mark.
"Get up!" Izzy called to Kabuterimon. "You can do it!"
"Get her!" Mimi shouted, punching the air herself.
"Come on, Aquilamon! You've hit her before!" Yolei urged, clenching her D3 tightly. She didn't notice a significant amount of the green and purple energy particles that Xuanwumon released were drifting into it.
Togemon released spinning volleys of both punches and needles, but Arukenimon flipped on her back and sprayed her with webbing again, making her stumble back flailing. "I wish these gloves had fingers!" Togemon yelled, trying to pull the gunk from her face.
Aquilamon grabbed at the webbing on the top of Togemon's body and tried to pull it loose, all the while still shooting Blast Rings at Arukenimon. The spider woman simply scooted left and right, dodging them without much effort. "Is that all they can do?" she laughed at the kids. "Some Digidestined you are!"
"Shut your trap!" Yolei yelled. "We've beaten you plenty!"
Arukenimon ignored her, training her triumphant yellow eyes on Mimi. "I warned you, but you didn't listen," she said. "Now I'll chew you to bits with all the others!"
Mimi scowled. "This is my responsibility," she growled. "I'm gonna help my friends, and I don't care what some ugly old spider says!"
Arukenimon's teeth flashed. "That does it!" she hissed. "You're first!"
Mimi screamed as the spider woman leaped at her with glistening fangs, but then a shaggy ball of webbing got between them with Aquilamon still on top of it. Togemon roared and threw two uppercuts, but Arukenimon lashed her away, again leaving Mimi and the kids open.
Izzy thought fast, scooped up two handfuls of dirt and threw them into Arukenimon's eyes, and she hissed and drew back, rubbing at them. "You little!" she said, rolling onto her back and shooting webs at them.
Izzy and Mimi ducked and ran different directions as it rained sticky threads. Yolei jumped away as the white gunk splattered on the wall behind her, a few flecks landing in her hair. "Aquilamon! DO SOMETHING!" she shouted.
Aquilamon unhitched himself from Togemon and dove at Arukenimon, but she regained her sight and grabbed his horns before he could collide with her. He madly flapped his wings and tried to push her back, but she dug her six feet into the ground. "Why… won't… you… leave us alone?!" he growled.
"You brats have to be shown when you aren't wanted!" Arukenimon shot back, her grip on his horns tightening. She twisted her arms and Aquilamon began to tilt. He flapped harder and flailed his talons, but he clearly was no longer in control as she put him at a ninety-degree angle, then hurled him to the ground with a sickening thud.
Izzy tried to throw another heap of dirt, but Arukenimon snared him with her whip. Mimi panicked and tried to run, but Arukenimon grabbed her too. "Well, you stinking little tramp," the spider woman said to Yolei, "what will it be? Shall I eat them before you surrender, or after?"
"Yolei! Togemon!" Mimi cried.
Izzy kicked and flailed, but he couldn't free himself. "Damn it…" he growled.
Yolei cringed. Aquilamon was splattered on the ground, Kabuterimon still lay wheezing, Togemon was completely stuck to the ground by the disgusting webs, and now Izzy and Mimi were about to be sucked dry. Even with her friends, Arukenimon was still way too strong. If only Paildramon could measure up to her, what chance did they have?… She swallowed once, then clenched her teeth in determined rage. Paildramon wasn't here, but Aquilamon and she were. If they could buy Xuanwumon a little more time, and Izzy's and Mimi's Crests were restored… "Aquilamon!" she yelled, squeezing her D3 so hard she heard the plastic crunch. "Come on! Just a little more! You can do it!"
Suddenly, the D3 made a weird noise like a dial-up modem, and she noticed the purple and green energy flowing into it. She looked at Xuanwumon, then stared back the flashing screen. "What the…?!" she managed.
An agonized roar grabbed her attention. Aquilamon was curled on the ground, his body glowing white and twisting in all sorts of directions, none of them natural; his head was on backwards, and one of his wings was going through the rest of him. One of his legs changed into Shurimon's giant star, then turned back in a different color. His loose wing kept changing into Halsemon's head. Feathers flew everywhere. His roars became intermixed with electronic sounds like she had heard when she spilled soda on her keyboard. "Aquilamon!" Togemon shouted. "What's wrong?!"
"Oh, God," Mimi whimpered, fighting the urge to vomit. Izzy just stared wide-eyed in amazement.
Arukenimon leered and dropped her victims; she couldn't resist kicking foes when they were down. "Relax! I'll put you out of your misery!" she cackled, picking the writhing bird up and hurling him across the room.
Yolei's D3 spat a shower of sparks as she watched him sail through the air. Her mind raced. Something big was about to happen; Davis's D3 always sparked before… "AQUILAMON!" she screamed, lifting the short-circuiting Digivice as high as she could.
As he flew towards the wall, Aquilamon's glow turned blinding, flashing violently between purple and green, and the writhing shape took on a more human form. The new shape bounced off the wall and landed on its feet, twitching violently and fizzing in and out of existence as its glow dissipated, almost the same way Paildramon had first appeared. It was a freaky-looking mixture of a creature: it retained Aquilamon's talon feet and brown feathered legs, but above its belted midsection it sported white wolf-like claws on arms lined with red-tipped white feathers, and thin silver armor across its midsection and shoulders. Its head was distinctively human, with a silver visor covering its eyes over a swath of brown hair and long white ears with purple tips. Arukenimon hissed; who was that disgusting new opponent?! Xuanwumon's eyes snapped open and stared.
Yolei had to pick her jaw up off the ground. What the heck had her partner turned into?! He looked as mixed up as Kimeramon! "Are you OK?!" she yelled.
Izzy, Mimi and the others were also flabbergasted. "What ARE you?…" Izzy asked.
The new Digimon's spasms eased, and it straightened up and struck a combat stance towards Arukenimon. "I am Silphymon," it spoke with both Aquilamon's and Hawkmon's voices at once. "Arukenimon… your time is up!"
Yolei's brain finally registered what had happened. Had Aquilamon just gone through the same thing Exveemon had? Then… that meant she had an Ultimate Digimon, too! "Yes! Yes! YES!" she cheered, imagining she was doing somersaults as she jumped up and down. "Get 'er, Silphymon!"
Arukenimon snarled like a rabid dog. "I'm not losing to a freak!" she roared, charging and swinging her whips.
Silphymon grabbed the purple appendages, and with one swift motion Yolei's eyes couldn't keep track of, Arukenimon was embedded in the wall behind him. Arukenimon hissed and dislodged herself, even angrier. Silphymon drew back and clenched his hands, a bright pink ball of energy sparking to life between them; Yolei had played enough fighting games to know what was coming next. "STATIC FORCE!" he shouted as he flung his arms, and Arukenimon screamed and twitched as waves of electricity shot through her body, crashing onto her back as trails of smoke drifted off of her.
"WHOOOO!" Yolei howled, jumping up and down even harder and spinning in place. Izzy scratched his head, and Mimi chuckled weakly; Yolei sounded even crazier than when she had got Shurimon.
Arukenimon didn't stay down for long; she quickly rolled over and raced up the wall. "Xuanwumon, please keep charging the Crests," Silphymon said with a quick bow. "I'll hold her off!"
"Aye, that we will," the right head said, and they closed their eyes again. Yolei had to smile; even with that wacky new form, her partner was still himself.
Arukenimon disappeared into the branches and more gooey webs began to fly. "That won't help you this time," Silphymon growled, leaping over the splatters and thrusting his arms. Another blast of electricity—this one shaped just like Silphymon—shot out of his body and flew into a thick patch of leaves, blowing Arukenimon out of hiding. "Nobody can hide from the Astral Laser!" he said, leaping after her with his claws out.
"YEAH-HAH-HAH!" Yolei whooped, punching her fists and stomping her feet. "Get 'er, Silphymon! You're the king of the bug zappers!"
Izzy and Mimi watched with open mouths, their attention turned from Yolei's antics to the abilities of her new partner. "What happened?!" Mimi finally asked. "How'd he…?!"
"I… I don't know," Izzy admitted, watching Silphymon's shining claws rip through the air.
"That was some serious juice!" Kabuterimon managed as he got to his feet. "How'd he get electric moves?!"
"Hey, if it helps us out, it's good, right?" Togemon asked, shaking off bits of web.
"I suppose, but—" Izzy started, but then Arukenimon crashed down between the kids and the Digimon and made him jump back. Silphymon landed right after her, charging another electrical ball.
Arukenimon sneered wickedly. "That's a strong new body you have," she purred, "but how good's your aim?"
"You still need to see?" Silphymon asked, hurling another Static Force. Arukenimon leaped away and raced around on the ground, racing between the other Digimon and the kids and shoving them into Silphymon's way. Silphymon gnashed his teeth; he knew he could hit Arukenimon if she was alone, but…!
A spray of web shot past his ear, and he spun around and fired immediately… but his blast hit Kabuterimon instead, sending the bug high into the air. Arukenimon laughed and raced away from her place behind him. Silphymon threw his Astral Laser instead, but she snared Togemon and threw her into the shot. "You're despicable!" he growled. "Have you no sense of decency?!"
His answer came in a loud groan, and then he saw Arukenimon dislodge one of the thicker tree branches from the wall, right above Izzy and Mimi. He pushed them out of the way and was pinned beneath the newly dead wood himself. Yolei cringed as the branch smashed into the ground; Silphymon wasn't the magic bullet she had hoped for. "Get up, man!" she yelled. "You can do it!"
Silphymon struggled to push the tree off, but it was too heavy; it became clear that he was built for speed instead of power. Arukenimon landed beside him, the most horrible grin on her face. "I would say it was a pleasure knowing you," she said, "but that would be a lie."
Silphymon struggled harder as Arukenimon leaned over him. "Now let's see if you taste better than you fight," a set of razor-sharp, dripping fangs whispered before opening wide with a hot hiss.
"Son of a… no!" Yolei yelled, too far away to tackle Arukenimon herself. "Somebody do something!"
Suddenly, Xuanwumon's eyes opened again, and the glowing particles disappeared with a bright flash. "It is done!" both heads declared loudly.
As Arukenimon's fangs cracked into Silphymon's visor, Izzy and Mimi wasted no time running for the pillars. The two Crests rose into the air, restored to their original trapezoidal shapes, and floated into the palms of their owners. Mimi clutched the Crest of Purity tightly to her chest, feeing its welcome warm glow, then gave Izzy a determined look. "Now it's our turn!" she said. "Togemon!"
Izzy nodded. "Kabuterimon!" he shouted, holding up the purple emblem.
Their Digivices flashed with a familiar light, and Kabuterimon and Togemon glowed as brightly as the Crests. "Oh… I know this feeling!…" Togemon gasped.
"It's about time!" Kabuterimon laughed. "Here we go!"
Arukenimon looked up in alarm as her two other opponents transformed in bursts of hot wind. Kabuterimon quadrupled in size and grew a thick red shell with a gleaming green jewel on its top, while Togemon peeled away to reveal a gorgeous flower maiden. As they came onto the scene, Xuanwumon faded away to allow them more combat room.
"Megakabuterimon!" Izzy chuckled. "It's been a while since I had to say that."
"Welcome home, Lillymon!" Mimi cried.
"You… you filthy brats!" Arukenimon snarled angrily, though her eyes bugging and sweat flecking off her horns. Quickly she turned back to Silphymon and went for his throat. Lillymon put her hands together and fired a bright green shot that knocked the spider woman away. Then Megakabuterimon grabbed her with one of his many arms. "Let go, you overgrown roach!" she screamed. "Let me go!"
"Whatever you say," Megakabuterimon said. He tossed her into the air, then shot upwards and rammed her with his giant stag beetle horn. She sailed upwards screaming and disappeared into the canopy above the garden, leaving behind a small hole of gray light. "That should get her some airline miles!" he chuckled.
"Amazing!" Izzy said, smiling widely. "You've still got it, Megakabuterimon!"
"Hey, I'm here too!" Lillymon pouted, then flew over to the tree that had Silphymon trapped. She thrust two thorny vines into its side and pulled it away. "Are you OK, Silphymon?" she asked.
"I certainly am now," Silphymon said, getting up and dusting himself off. "Thank you."
"No, thank you," Megakabuterimon rumbled. "You bought us enough time to Digivolve."
"And you're no slouch, either," Lillymon said. "I mean, wow!"
Silphymon nodded and walked over to Yolei and the other kids. "Are you hurt, Yolei?" he asked.
"Nope," she answered with a grin, "but geez… look at you, huh?"
"Yes… I'm just as surprised as you," he said, looking himself over. "But if it helps everyone, I'll take it."
She nodded. "We're gonna kick so much ass!" she declared happily.
Silphymon smiled, then shimmered and shrank down. Yolei was left with a pink blob with a beak staring up at her, the same thing he had briefly become after one of Blackwargreymon's attacks. "Poromon?" she asked, scooping him up. "Did someone deflate you?!"
"Nope, I'm Pururumon," the little thing said, then groaned and sighed. "Boy, Veemon's right: that really takes it out of you," he said.
She grinned and squeezed him tightly. "You were so AWESOME!" she laughed. "I mean, the jumping and the kicking and the zapping, I mean, WOW! That was just—"
"Yolei! Take it easy!" Izzy urged.
Yolei looked down and saw Pururumon's little black eyes almost popping out of their sockets. She loosened her grip and grinned sheepishly. "Err… sorry," she muttered.
Pururumon coughed once, then smiled. "Well… I'm just happy you're acting like yourself again," he said.
Megakabuterimon and Lillymon glowed and reverted to Tentomon and Palmon. With the giant beetle gone, Xuanwumon reappeared. "It looks like the ritual was a success," the left head said.
"Aye, it worked," the right head agreed.
"Yes… thank you," Mimi said, hugging Palmon tightly. "But… what happened to your Digimon, Yolei?"
"I have no idea," Yolei said, looking at her D3. "But it looked like whatever Xuanwumon was doing, some of it got into my D3."
"Did you grant Aquilamon more power to Digivolve, Xuanwumon?" Izzy asked.
Xuanwumon hesitated. "That's how it appears, Child o' Knowledge," the left head said.
Izzy scratched his chin. That response was more vague than he expected of a god.
"Now ye've regained yer power, Chosen Children," Xuanwumon spoke again, "and so ye must return to yer own world and prepare for yer enemies. There is precious little time left…"
"Aye," the right head said, "not much time now."
"Thank you so much!" Mimi said with a polite bow. "I'll never forget this!"
"Yeah, thanks a lot!" Palmon said.
"Yeah, thanks a ton!" Yolei agreed. "You rock, Xuanwumon!"
Xuanwumon's heads exchanged glances. "Erm… aye, thank you, lass," the left head said. "Good luck to ye."
The kids were surrounded in greenish-purple light for a few moments, and when it cleared they were standing back outside the jungle, their pile of winter gear left undisturbed. A shimmering aurora pillar reached into the sky nearby, signaling the kids' way back to their own world.
"Well, that went better than I thought," Izzy said.
"No kidding!" Yolei said. "I thought it was gonna be something insane, like doin' a no-damage run, or singin' an opera!"
Mimi looked at Izzy. "Did you understand any of that?" she asked.
Izzy blinked. "You've been hanging out with her more than me," he said.
"Good thing there wasn't any singing," Palmon chuckled, "or we'd never have gotten Mimi to leave."
Mimi folded her arms and looked pouty.
"Can you believe it, Izzy?" Tentomon asked, his voice bursting with excitement. "I can Digivolve again! No more hiding in your room!"
Izzy laughed. "I hear you loud and clear," he said. "We'll actually get out and help from now on."
"And we'll help too, right, Mimi?" Palmon asked.
"Y-yeah…" Mimi panted, starting to sweat hard again from the humidity.
Yolei peered into the jungle, wondering where their enemy had gotten to. "Where'd Arukenimon go?" she asked.
"More importantly, how did she get here in the first place?" Izzy thought out loud. "She certainly didn't follow us through the woods…"
"Can we think about this later?" Mimi complained, pulling at her hair. "I'm all hot and sticky!"
Izzy sighed. "All right, Mimi," he said, "let's go back…"
"Oh, but don't forget your coats and stuff," Pururumon chirped.
Mimi shot him a terrified look. "Do we have to?…" she asked.
Everyone tiredly put the thick, heavy winter clothes back on, fighting the urge to pass out from heat exhaustion. "OK… let's…" Yolei wheezed, starting to raise her D3.
"Wait, Yolei," Izzy said, then locked arms with her. Mimi remembered what happened before and held her other arm.
They raised their Digivices and they lifted off the ground, both almost losing their grip as Yolei again didn't rise with them. With Tentomon and Palmon holding onto their partners, Izzy and Mimi holding on to Yolei, and Yolei holding on to Pururumon, the six of them floated up and vanished into the rainbow.
… … …
Arukenimon stumbled again and leaned against a tree, panting angrily as she stared back at the temple. Why did that smelly little brat's bird have to Digivolve right at her moment of triumph?! That meant there were two more Digimon who could turn into Ultimates and challenge her, too! She didn't care what the boss's plan was; her own plans were scuttled, and that was unforgivable.
She heaved and fumed for a few moments more, her joints still stiff from the electrical shocks. She wanted to smash those little gadflies into gray paste. She needed more power… but she couldn't erect Control Spires in the real world, and it didn't look like anybody was going back into the Digital World any time soon. She pushed herself off the tree and headed back for the rendezvous point, gnashing her teeth in thought. There had to be some way…
… … …
The frozen forest welcomed the children back with a cold gust of wind in their faces. Even in her thick coat Mimi almost fell over in shock. "Why does it have to be so different?!" she lamented.
The sky was turning orange, and the trees' shadows stretched together and made the snow look dark blue; night was coming. "Did we really spend that much time in the temple?" Tentomon asked, surprised.
"I guess so," Izzy said, looking around and seeing no sign of his friend. "Willis must have gone back to the cabin."
"Can't really blame him there," Yolei said, shivering as she felt her breath congealing on her scarf again. "Let's do that, too."
"Hurry!" Mimi urged, grabbing Palmon and stomping through the snow as quickly as she could. "I don't wanna see any more wolves!"
Izzy and Yolei had to agree. They followed the tracks in the snow back through the forest, reaching the cabin as the first stars began to twinkle through the trees. They found Willis at the stove, mixing a bowl of white batter. He turned and smiled widely as they pulled their coats off. "Izzy!" he said, excitedly running to them. "All OK?"
"Yes!" Izzy said, taking his purple Crest out of his pocket and showing it to him.
Mimi took out her green Crest, and beamed. "We got 'em back!" she said.
Willis didn't look like he understood, but he kept smiling; he must have been happy that they were happy. He looked at Yolei like he expected her to show him something too, but she just chuckled and shrugged, holding up Pururumon. "Um… hi," he said with a little wave.
Willis scratched at his head, then waved it off and gestured to the table. He poured the batter onto a skillet on the stove, and soon everyone was eating a hearty dinner of pancakes and more bacon. "Yummy!" Palmon exclaimed, chewing two pancakes at once. "We've gotta learn to make these, Mimi!"
"It can't be too hard," Mimi said, looking over at a box on the counter. "If they're instant, then it's like anything Mom cooks."
Pururumon pecked cheerfully at his pancake while Yolei stuffed more bacon into her mouth. "So Izzy, what now?" she asked as she swallowed. "Do we just wait for Imperialdramon?"
"That doesn't sound too bad," Tentomon said, finishing one pancake and grabbing another. "But who knows how long it'll be?"
"We should keep watching the sky," Pururumon said, "and make sure Davis knows where we are."
"In the meantime, we can relax for a bit," Mimi said, suddenly smiling. "Let's build those snowmen, Palmon!"
"I thought you were too cold?…" Yolei muttered.
Izzy didn't respond; he was scribbling on one of Willis's notepads, trying to write down what Xuanwumon had told them word for word: essence of the gods… Dark Masters… Our enemy… A lot of it was just elaboration on their first adventure, but some of the other things the giant turtle had said were more cryptic.
"What're you doing?" Mimi asked, looking over his shoulder. Yolei and Willis looked too.
Izzy hesitated, put the pen down and took a piece of bacon. He had some more new theories, but he didn't want to make anybody worry yet. "I'm just thinking," he said.
"Well, don't think too hard," Yolei said, making cheerful fists, "'cuz Silphymon's gonna tear Dagomon a new one! You shoulda seen him, Willis! He was flyin' around, clawin' the hell outta that spider woman, and the electric blasts! DAMN, he was so awesome! He—"
Willis didn't understand a word she was saying, but upon her saying his name, he beamed and offered her another stack of flapjacks, and she happily began stuffing them into her mouth. "THANK you, Willis," Mimi said, rolling her eyes.
Palmon looked at Pururumon. "Say, what did that feel like, anyway?" she asked. "It didn't look very nice."
"Yeah, you were glitching out something fierce!" Tentomon said.
Pururumon's beady eyes scrunched up in thought. "It was weird, that's for sure," he said. "It hurt at first—a lot—but once I actually turned into Silphymon, I felt amazing! Better than I ever have!"
"Really?…" Palmon asked, scratching her flower. "I wouldn't have guessed that!"
"Me neither," Mimi said, wincing. "I'm getting goosebumps just remembering it…"
Izzy looked thoughtful, remembering Agumon's freak Digivolution into Skullgreymon and all the damage it had caused… but unlike that, Aquilamon's weird transformation had actually been helpful. He thought a little more, then went back to writing on the notepad. Why had Silphymon Digivolved the way he did? Why hadn't Yolei risen up towards the temple with Mimi and him? He sighed and rubbed at his forehead; he had hoped the visit to Xuanwumon would answer all of his questions, but it had just given him more… and in conjunction with Ken's autopsy report…
"Izzy," Willis said, and he looked up to see Willis push a note towards him. Do you feel OK? It said. You've hardly eaten.
Izzy blinked, then chuckled and took some more pancakes. Yolei had the right idea; until Imperialdramon returned, it was time to regain strength.
"Whew, I'm still sweaty from that jungle," Mimi panted, tugging at her collar. "Where's the shower?"
"Hang on," Izzy said, and scribbled a note to Willis. Willis looked at it, then winced and wrote back. Then Izzy winced. "Uh… remember how there's no electricity, Mimi?" he asked. "There's, uh, no running water, either. He's been melting snow from outside for all the meals."
The pancake in her mouth dropped back onto her plate. "WHAT?!" she screamed.
"Wait, then how do we use the bathroom?!" Yolei suddenly asked.
Izzy groaned as both girls freaked out. One more problem that needed solving.