Disclaimer:'Tis the disclaimer that never ends! I still don't own Digimon!

Many apologies for the long time between chapters, I was attacked by a vicious Writer's Block.

Digimon: Butterfly

By Lord Puppetmon

Chapter 2: Boku no Tomodachi (My Friend)

"So Fladramon and Horusmon fought the Tyranomon, and Digmon covered for us, and we ran into this little cave. Do you know what we found?"

"I have no idea."

"Two Digimentals da'gya!"

"Two Digimentals?" Fumiko repeated, taking her eyes off the vegetables she was chopping to glance at her son and his Digimon. Iori and Upamon had insisted on telling her of their daily adventure in the Digital World while she made dinner. "I thought only three of you have the new Digivices."

"Yeah, that was true until today," said Iori. "But Takeru-san and Hikari-san's Digivices reacted to the Digimentals, so now they have the new Digivices and Digital World clothes too!"

"Oh, I see! So Patamon and Tailmon can Armor Evolve too?"

Iori nodded. "Patamon can evolve into Pegasmon now, and Tailmon can evolve into Nefertimon. They're a winged horse and a sphinx, they look really cool. Oh, and guess what! Takeru-san let me ride Pegasmon with him!" He beamed. "It was awesome!"

Upamon stopped munching on the melonpan Fumiko gave him earlier and glared at his human partner, who quickly added, "of course, they're nowhere near as awesome as Digmon." Iori smiled at his Digimon. "And I really mean it." Satisfied with Iori's answer, Upamon nodded and resumed eating.

"In any case, they really helped us out with those Tyranomon," Iori continued. "So now we have five Armor Digimon who can give the Digimon Kaiser a fight!"

Fumiko smiled at the two. "So your team is all ready and set?"

"You bet dagaya!" exclaimed Upamon in a muffled voice, mouth full of melonpan.

Iori grinned proudly. "Yeah, I think we got it covered. He's going to have to work real hard to bring us down."

His mother chuckled. "Well, it's great to hear that the Digital World is in good hands. Now, since you've finished your story, do you think you could help me set the table?"

Iori was about to answer when the doorbell rang. Fumiko started undoing the strings on the back of her apron, but Iori jumped off his chair and held his hand up to stop her. "No, mom, it's okay, I'll get it," he said, and rushed out of the kitchen towards the entrance. He unlocked the door and opened it slightly, peeping outside. Upon recognizing the person standing outside, he pushed the door wide open, breaking into a wide grin. "Mummymon!"

"Hey, Iori! How's it going?" Mummymon grinned back, giving him a short wave. At first glance, Mummymon seemed like a handsome young man; only his tousled silvery-white hair and golden eyes hinted at his not-quite-human nature. He had broad shoulders, a narrow waist and was over two meters tall, towering well over Iori.

Elated, Iori practically launched himself at Mummymon's waist, making the man laugh. "Whoa, looks like someone missed me!" He beamed, kneeling to Iori's level to hug him back.

"Of course I did!" Iori exclaimed when Mummymon let go. "I haven't seen you all week! Or Arukenimon... where is she?"

"Here." The speaker, a beautiful young woman with long bluish-white hair and pale skin, stepped up from behind the open door to reveal herself. Unlike Mummymon, she didn't look very happy, frowning and crossing her arms. Despite this, Iori smiled and ran over to hug her as well, but Arukenimon extended an arm and blocked him. "No hugs, please. I am not in the mood."

Disappointed, Iori glanced back at Mummymon. "Bad day?"

Mummymon stood up, looking a bit awkward. "Oh, I wouldn't say bad, myself. I think what bothered Arukenimon was that it was a bit... uneventful."

"More like flat-out boring," said Arukenimon bluntly. "We spent all day guarding the Village of Beginnings. What's to guard? No one ever bothers attacking the place anyway! And we had to listen to Elecmon lecturing about the correct way to ensure the babies' safety or something for two hours... talk about a waste of time," she muttered.

Iori raised an eyebrow. Mummymon just shrugged.

"And I bet Hiroki-san isn't here to pick up the stupid chip we're supposed to deliver to him." She fixed her bright golden eyes on Iori, who was shifting uncomfortably. "So I'm right?" When he nodded, she glared at Mummymon. "I told you."

"Aw, don't worry about it," said Mummymon, patting her shoulder. "I'm sure Fumiko-san will give it to him when he comes back."

"Mummymon-kun! Arukenimon-chan!"

Arukenimon stiffened as Fumiko appeared at the doorstep. Iori stifled a giggle; Arukenimon hated it when honorifics were applied to her, but his mother never really caught on. "I should have known this was why Iori didn't come back," Fumiko said with a smile. "What a pleasant surprise!"

Mummymon rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Ah, good evening, Fumiko-san! We're sorry to bother you right before dinner..."

"Oh, not at all, you know you're always welcome in our house," she assured him. "What brings you here?"

"Oikawa-san got this chip in America and he wanted us to deliver it to Hiroki-san," explained Mummymon.

"But we can just drop it off and go," offered Arukenimon, looking hopeful.

"Wait, you can't go yet!" Iori protested. "I have something really neat to show you!"

"Oh! In that case, I suppose we can stay here for a while," said Mummymon. He smiled at Arukenimon. "Right, Arukeni?"

She frowned, and then shrugged. "Eh. Not like we have anything better to do."

Iori grinned. "Great, let's go! Oh, wait..." His face fell as he looked at his mother. "I have to help you set the table..."

Fumiko stroked his hair. "Don't worry, Iori, it's nothing I can't handle by myself. Besides, I know you can't wait to show him off." She smiled knowingly.

Iori's face brightened. "Really?"

She nodded.

"Alright! Thanks, mom!" the boy cheered. "Come on, guys!" he grabbed Arukenimon's hand and led her inside, Mummymon following suit.

O

After Arukenimon and Mummymon took off their shoes, he led them to his room. He made sure that Upamon followed them unnoticed and got in safely before he closed the door. "Please, sit down, make yourselves comfortable," he said, gesturing at his bed.

Arukenimon sat on the small bed and leaned back on the wall, crossing her arms and looking very unimpressed. "If it's about school, I'm leaving," she warned.

Mummymon sat next to her, struggling to find a comfortable position for his long legs. "Arukeni, don't be so quick to dismiss the idea that something interesting could happen in school! But..." he gave Iori a quizzical look. "Wait, is it about school?"

"No," said Iori. "Hold on, I'll show you." He walked up to Upamon, who was trying to be very quiet and still by the door, and picked him up. Turning back to Arukenimon and Mummymon, he smiled and held Upamon out. "Okay, guys, this is it!"

The two simply stared at Upamon. After a moment of silence, Arukenimon spoke. "So, you dragged us here, acting all excited, to show us your new plushy?" she inquired venomously, narrowing her eyes.

Iori shook his head. "I know he kind of looks like one, but he's not a plushy." He looked at the small Digimon in his hands. "It's alright, Upamon, you can speak now."

Upamon remained still.

"So... you gave your plushy a Digimon name? Is that it?" Mummymon guessed.

Iori sighed, shaking his head again. "Upamon," he addressed his Digimon again, "do you remember those half human, half Digimon hybrids I told you about yesterday? The ones my dad and his friend created to help their research?" He nodded in Arukenimon and Mummymon's direction. "That's them."

After a moment, Upamon opened his wide mouth to speak. "Hi! You're really Iori's friends?"

Mummymon smacked his fist into his palm. "Aha, I see what you're trying to do!" he exclaimed. "You're training to become a ventriloquist, aren't you?"

Iori looked exasperated. "What?! But-"

"I have to admit, you're pretty good," said Arukenimon, eying the small Digimon curiously. "I didn't even see your mouth move."

"But Upamon is not a dummy!" Iori protested and stepped forward, outstretching his arms to give Arukenimon and Mummymon a better look at Upamon. "See? He's a real Digimon!"

"That's right da'gya!" cried Upamon.

Mummymon chuckled. "That's Nagoya dialect, right? You're really pulling it off!"

"Hiroki-san ordered it, right?" Arukenimon asked, pointing at Upamon. "He and Oikawa-san ordered custom-made things for their experiments before. What are they going to do with this one after you finish playing around with it?"

"It'd be a good place to hide a security camera," said Mummymon. "Didn't Oikawa-san say something about installing one in the Village of Beginnings?"

"Now that you mention it..."

Iori groaned. "Ugh, you don't get it! He's really a real Digimon! Why do you find it so hard to believe?!"

"Because Hiroki-san and Oikawa-san can't open Digital Gates," Mummymon pointed out.

"And while we can open Digital Gates, we can't bring anyone to the Real World or vice-versa with us," Arukenimon continued her partner's line of thought. "Also... if your plushy is supposed to look like a real Digimon, it's not very convincing," she added, waving her hand dismissively

"Not very convincing?!" Iori cried in disbelief.

Arukenimon leaned forward and reached for Upamon, poking his snout. "It doesn't even feel real... too rubbery. And the fur is obviously synthetic, it's too soft to be a Digimon's fur." She proceeded to tug on one of Upamon's fan-like ears. "And the ears are too elastic to be believable."

All the poking proved too much for the small Digimon, who screamed and unleashed a stream of pink bubbles that hit Arukenimon right in the face. She yelped and fell back, the back of her head hitting the wall on the way.

"Arukenimon!" Mummymon gasped. He helped Arukenimon sit up and promptly started fretting over her. "Oh, pumpkin, are you okay? Can I see? You're not bleeding, are you?" He sent a hand to the back of her head, but Arukenimon pushed it away and grumbled, tentatively feeling the sore spot.

Iori winced. "I'm... really sorry about that, on Upamon's behalf." He bowed his head apologetically. "He was just... distressed, that's all. He didn't mean to hurt you."

Upamon scowled.

"Although it really wasn't nice of you to poke him like that," he added.

"So it is a real Digimon, is it...?" Arukenimon muttered.

"Thanks for noticing da'gya!" Upamon shouted.

Iori sighed. "That's what I've been trying to tell you."

Mummymon stared at Upamon, astonished. "You mean those were Acid Bubbles?" he asked, looking at Arukenimon.

"No kidding," she said, rubbing her cheek. "Normal bubbles don't sting like this."

Mummymon leaned in closer to get a better look at her face. "Your cheek really is getting a bit red," he observed.

"Ugh," she complained, pushing him away.

"I'm sorry..." Iori apologized again.

"But Iori, where did you get him?" Mummymon asked. "Has Hiroki-san found a way to bring Digimon from the Digital World?"

Iori shook his head. "Nope. I brought him with me."

"You brought him with you...?" Mummymon looked puzzled. Arukenimon raised an eyebrow, unconvinced.

Iori nodded. "Yeah, I brought him, with this." He took his Digivice out of his pocket and showed the two hybrids.

They stared.

"No," said Arukenimon in disbelief.

"Yes," the boy insisted.

"You?!" Mummymon exclaimed, his eyes wide.

"Yes!" Iori said, grinning.

"But why you, of all people?" Arukenimon wondered, shaking her head. "I mean, you're a decent kid and all, but..."

"Well, you can't say I haven't been in contact with Digimon," reasoned Iori. "I see two of them on an almost daily basis."

"But we're hybrids, we don't count!" cried Mummymon. "Well, at least, I think we don't..." he added hesitantly.

"Even if you don't count, you're not the first Digimon I've seen," said Iori. "Remember? Before dad and Oikawa-san created you? The Digital World appeared in the sky, and I saw the Digimon at Tokyo Bay. That's why dad and Oikawa-san got so motivated to contact the Digital World again in the first place."

Arukenimon and Mummymon nodded quietly. They couldn't argue with facts.

"When did you find out that you're a Chosen Child?" Mummymon asked.

"On the first day of school," Iori explained. "Turns out we can open a Digital Gate in our computer lab. I couldn't bring Upamon with me after my first trip to the Digital World, though."

"But he brought me back yesterday!" Upamon grinned. "I was so happy da'gya!"

"You're not the only new Chosen Child, are you?" asked Arukenimon.

Iori shook his head. "Nope. You know Inoue Miyako and Takaishi Takeru?"

Mummymon scratched his chin in thought. "They're... your neighbors, right? The girl with the purple hair and the blond kid that moved in last year?"

Arukenimon stared at him. "You bothered to remember all that...?"

Iori giggled. "Yeah, that's them. They're Chosen Children too, and..."

"And Daisuke and Hikari!" added Upamon.

"Yeah, they're Takeru-san's friends. Takeru-san and Hikari-san have actually been Chosen Children for several years... almost four, I think."

"I guess they chose you all to fight that Digimon Kaiser," said Mummymon. "He's been causing trouble for a while now, but he only became a real threat about a week ago."

"And now we're all over the place doing stupid guard duty," Arukenimon sneered. "You kids are lucky you get to fight him. I'd like to kick his ass, myself."

Mummymon gasped. "Arukenimon!"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't be such a prude. You want to do it too."

"Even if I do, I wouldn't use that expression! I mean, Iori..."

"Iori's a big boy, he can handle it. And I don't feel like sugarcoating anything when it comes to the Kaiser. That little bastard..."

"Arukenimon!"

Arukenimon groaned and was about to say something (Iori guessed she was going to throw more expletives in Mummymon's direction just to rouse him) when his father opened the door; it was obvious that he had just arrived, as he hadn't yet taken off his police jacket.

"Wow, Yukio wasn't kidding when he said Arukenimon was in a bad mood," Hiroki said, amused.

"H-Hiroki-san!" Arukenimon and Mummymon stammered.

"Welcome home, dad," Iori greeted his father, smiling.

"Welcome home!" echoed Upamon.

Hiroki walked in and ruffled his son's hair. "Hey there, Iori. And Upamon," he smiled at the Digimon. "So, how are you kids doing?" he nodded at Arukenimon and Mummymon. "Haven't seen you in a while. Enjoyed having the apartment to yourselves?"

"Y-yeah," Mummymon mumbled, his face flushing. Arukenimon looked vaguely uncomfortable as well, but was doing her best to look indifferent. Iori thought she was terrible at it.

"I see you've met Upamon!" Hiroki grinned. "He's a great little guy, isn't he?"

"Not really," Arukenimon grumbled, rubbing her reddened cheek. "The little shuttlecock Acid Bubbled me."

Hiroki gave Upamon a scolding look. "Upamon, really."

"She pulled on his ears," explained Iori.

"Oh, I see!" said Hiroki, crossing his arms and nodding. "She deserved it, then."

"Hey!"

Iori, Mummymon and Upamon laughed. Arukenimon scowled and smacked the back of Mummymon's head. He just winced as she struck him and gave her an apologetic look.

"So, I've been told you have something for me," Hiroki said.

"Oh, right!" Mummymon pulled a small package from his pants pocket. "Oikawa-san asked us to deliver it to you. He's still jetlagged."

"Ah, thank you!" Hiroki reached for the package. "I really appreciate it, you know. I know you don't like acting as delivery 'mon. So, how bad is the jetlag this time? Yukio's never been good with flights."

Mummymon nodded. "I think he had a really bad flight this time. The first thing he did today when he came back from work was fall asleep on the couch."

"Sounds right," said Hiroki, chuckling. "Poor guy."

At that moment, they heard Fumiko calling from the kitchen. "Hiroki, dinner! Did you ask them yet?"

"Ask us what?" Arukenimon inquired.

"Oh, we just wanted to ask if you'll stay for dinner," said Hiroki. "I mean, you're already here, and we haven't had a meal together in a while. What do you say?"

Arukenimon got up. "I think I'll pass," she grumbled, walking past Hiroki and towards the door. "We've stayed too long, anyway."

Iori and Mummymon stood up at once, crying in protest.

"Wait, don't go!"

"Arukeni, why can't we stay?"

The glare she shot at them was so sharp that they immediately quieted down and bowed their heads guiltily.

Hiroki rolled his eyes. "'Stayed too long', she says... if we didn't really want you to stick around, we wouldn't have you over for dinner four times a week."

"Today will have to be one of the three days we eat at home, then," said Arukenimon, pushing the door wide open.

"Are you sure, Arukenimon?" Hiroki called. "It's yakiniku night."

She stopped and looked back, biting her lip. "Well... I suppose we could stay a little longer..." she glanced at Mummymon. "If Bandages here doesn't mind."

Mummymon laughed. "Of course I don't! I'd love to stay for dinner."

Arukenimon sighed dramatically and finally let out a smile. "I guess we're staying."

"Wonderful!" Hiroki exclaimed as Mummymon walked past him to join Arukenimon. "I hope you have some interesting things to tell us! Couldn't have spent an entire week locked up in the apartment, right?" As the two left, he turned to Iori and Upamon. "And I hope you'll fill me in on what you already told your mother. It sounds like you had quite the adventure today."

Iori and Upamon beamed and followed Hiroki out of the room.

O

The next day, Miyako stayed behind. After they had returned from the Digital World the previous day, Koushirou took her Digivice to scan and retrieve data from it, in an attempt to find out more about the new Digivices. Iori wanted to tell them about his father's research; Hiroki had done the same thing with Iori's Digivice in the last two evenings, connecting the device to his laptop and analyzing the data stored inside. He had managed to retrieve some sort of a monochromatic grid map of the Digital World, composed mostly of white and grey squares with black clusters strewn around. Neither of them were sure how to interpret it, but Hiroki was certain that they would figure it out eventually.

But Iori remembered his old promise to his father and kept it quiet; when his father was ready, he would tell the other Chosen Children of his research himself. In the meantime, he tried to give Koushirou vague hints as to what to search for ("maybe there's a map, Koushirou-san? If the Digivice can be used as a tracking device, then surely it has a map..."). He wanted to help the other kids as much as he could without revealing his father's work.

While Koushirou was analyzing the Digivice, the new Chosen Children had their own missions. During a routine patrol, Tentomon and Piyomon located what seemed to be a top-security prison. The new Chosen, along with Taichi and Agumon, went to infiltrate it and rescue any prisoners. Surprisingly, the entire mission went along smoothly; they got in, rescued the group of ten Gotsumon that was locked up inside and got out in no time, and not a single brainwashed Digimon tried to stop them.

"That was so easy!" Daisuke laughed after they got out. "Bet the Kaiser's too scared to attack us, now that Takeru and Hikari-chan have Armor Digimon too!"

"It was too easy," Taichi sighed, looking back at the concrete building. "I mean, you'd think he'd send someone to stop us."

"There were cameras all over the place," Takeru pointed out, absently straightening the high collar of the new jacket the Digital World had conjured for him. "He should've been able to see us coming and going..."

"He probably lost interest in us," said one of the Gotsumon solemnly.

"Lost interest? What do you mean by that?" wondered Taichi, raising an eyebrow.

"After he caught us and imprisoned us here, he pitted us against each other and made the rest of us watch..." explained the Gotsumon, hanging his head.

"But that was only for one day," said another Gotsumon. "We were stuck here for two more days till you came."

"Good thing there's plenty of rocks here," added a third Gotsumon. "We would've starved otherwise!"

"That's terrible!" Hikari gasped.

"That's the kind of thing the Digimon Kaiser does," said Tailmon grimly. "I've heard of many Digimon who were tortured by him and left for dead."

"Did you see the Kaiser?" Iori asked the Gotsumon.

All ten Gotsumon shook their heads. "He never shows up!" exclaimed one of the Gotsumon. "He controls everything from far away!"

"Like this giant, evil remote control," muttered Daisuke. "Man, that Digimon Kaiser is really gettin' on my nerves!"

"Don't worry, Daisuke! We'll take care of him!" exclaimed V-mon, pumping his fist.

"Not today, though," said Taichi. "First of all, we have to get these Gotsumon to a safe place so the Kaiser won't get them again."

"I think I know a cave that's a good hiding place, for now," offered Agumon. "I can take you there, it'll be okay!" he grinned at the Gotsumon. The rocky Digimon nodded, looking somewhat happier than they did when the children found them.

The group started moving, preparing to follow Agumon to the cave. Iori was about to go as well, but suddenly, he sensed something moving behind him. He turned around quickly, but there was nothing there, save for odd Digital bushes. "Huh...?"

"Oi, Iori, why'd you stop?" Daisuke called. The others stopped to look back at Iori.

"Is something wrong, Iori-kun?" Takeru asked.

"I don't know, I thought there was something in the bushes..." Iori scratched his head in confusion.

"Eh, you're probably just imaginin' it," Daisuke dismissed his concern, crossing his arms behind his head casually. "The Gotsumon said he lost interest, right? An' we would've heard somethin' if anyone was there!"

"I guess..." Iori said, uncertain. He looked at the bushes again. His grandfather had been training him in the art of kendo since he was young, and one of the things he'd taught Iori was to sense sudden movements, so he could anticipate and avoid his opponents' attacks. He was sure he sensed something like that in the bushes... was someone following them?

He shook it off. Perhaps Daisuke was right and he really was imagining it. Being a Chosen Child was proving to be a rather stressful job, and it wouldn't be too far-fetched to think that he was just a bit tense... Shrugging, he followed the others.

O

"Dad, Arukenimon is being gross again!"

"Oh I am not! Iori's just being a wuss!"

"Ugh! Dad, make her stop!"

"Don't listen to him, I'm not doing anything!"

Hiroki tore his gaze from the grid map on the screen of his laptop and sighed. He liked Arukenimon and Mummymon (they were his and Yukio's creations, after all), and he liked it when they came over... but sometimes, putting them in the same room with Iori was a recipe for disaster. There was a reason Hiroki tended to refer to them as 'the kids'.

"Guys, please shut up, I'm working!" he shouted. "Iori, honestly, don't cry for me every time Arukenimon bothers you!"

After a moment of silence, he heard Iori calling out, "I'm sorry, dad!"

"And Arukenimon, don't flirt with Mummymon just to mess with Iori!"

He counted to three silently. On three, Arukenimon stomped into the living room. "How the hell did you know I was doing that?!" she demanded with a frown.

Hiroki smirked. "Oh, I don't know. Maybe because that's your favorite thing to do when the boys are playing their fighting games? I know it bores you, but please try to be patient and don't do that."

Arukenimon huffed. "Fine," she snapped, making her way back to Iori's room.

Hiroki glanced wearily over the small table. "Dad, was I that bad as a teenager?"

Chikara looked over the book he was reading, raising an eyebrow. "No, I don't think you were nearly as bad, all things considered" he replied.

Hiroki chuckled, despite himself. "Thought so."

O

"You're such a spoilsport," Arukenimon accused Iori when she returned to the room. The boy was sitting on the floor in front of his small television set, next to Mummymon, who was tapping at a game controller. A second game controller lay on the floor, discarded.

Iori glared at Arukenimon. "You're the one who's a spoilsport," he muttered. "Mummymon won't play the game with me anymore because of you."

"He's still playing something," said Arukenimon, displeased.

"He's helping me beat this boss in Dragon Quest instead," Iori explained, his face flushing a bit. "I'm really stuck on that one..."

Arukenimon groaned, but Mummymon smiled at her reassuringly. "Don't worry, Arukeni! It'll be easier to divide my attention between the two of you and the game, now that I'm playing against artificial intelligence. Besides, it's a turn-based RPG."

Arukenimon raised an eyebrow.

"It means the gameplay is relatively slow," he explained. "I don't have to react to the enemies immediately."

She rolled her eyes. "I know. You're forgetting I live with you and Oikawa-san, the King of Games," she mocked. "That's why I can't believe you still feel the need to explain to me exactly why your playing Dragon Warrior is much better than--"

"It's called Dragon Quest," Iori corrected her.

"Whatever," Arukenimon grumbled. "In any case, slow gameplay or not, now you're just pretending to beat some imaginary monster into a bloody pulp instead of pretending to beat Iori into a bloody pulp. Huge difference, I'm sure."

"At least we're not very occupied, so you don't have to waste your energy trying to distract us anymore," Mummymon offered, unaffected.

"Oh, please, like you didn't enjoy it," Arukenimon scoffed. Mummymon turned his attention back to the screen, but his sheepish smile and slight blush said it all.

"How can you even focus on playing when she's all over you like that?" Iori asked, making a face.

Mummymon's smile was now wide and goofy. "It's a talent I have."

Iori stuck his tongue out in disgust. "It's gross."

Arukenimon walked over to Mummymon and kneeled, leaning forward onto Mummymon's back and wrapping her arms around his neck; Mummymon certainly didn't seem to mind. "Trust me, Iori," she said, giving him a smug grin, "five years from now and you'll wish you'll have what he has."

"No I won't," said Iori, incredulous.

"Let's change the subject, alright? I don't want you to start bickering again," said Mummymon, glancing at Arukenimon disapprovingly. "So... did those Gotsumon you told us about during dinner tell you anything important?"

"Oh, the Gotsumon?" Iori's gaze wandered to the small basket Upamon was sleeping in. "Well, they told us the Kaiser pitted them against each other and made the ones he wasn't controlling watch their friends fight. And then he just left them there without food for two days."

"So he's a fan of cockfighting, too?" Arukenimon rolled her eyes. "Why am I not surprised."

"Those poor Gotsumon," muttered Mummymon, frowning. "And the Kaiser wasn't there?"

Iori sighed. "No, we didn't see him, but..." he stopped. He thought about the feeling he'd had as they led the Gotsumon to the cave... even though he'd tried to dismiss it as stress, he couldn't help but think there was more to it. He hadn't told his family about his suspicions, but... could he tell Arukenimon and Mummymon?

"What is it?" Mummymon asked.

Iori hesitated. "Well... as long as you promise you won't tell dad about it..."

"Sure," Arukenimon said, shrugging. "So what happened?"

He took a deep breath. "I think the Digimon Kaiser may be following us," he said.

The two hybrids stared. "The Digimon Kaiser? Following you?" Arukenimon repeated.

Iori nodded. "Yeah... when we rescued the Gotsumon, I felt like someone was hiding in the woods and watching us. I can't think of anyone who'd want to follow us other than the Kaiser."

"Is that so..." Mummymon mumbled. Arukenimon leaned backwards abruptly and he looked back at her; they both seemed troubled.

"What if he's planning and waiting for the right time to attack us directly?" Iori frowned. "I know I've been saying that we can beat the Kaiser now since we have five Armor Digimon, but we still don't know how he manages to put so many Digimon under his control, or why the only evolution type that works is Armor Evolution... we can't fight him head-on yet."

"You're probably just imagining it," Arukenimon said quickly.

"Huh? But I really think someone is following us..." Iori mumbled.

"Don't worry, it's not the Digimon Kaiser's style," said Mummymon, in the same quick manner as Arukenimon. "Or else someone would've seen him by now. I don't think you have to worry about him now, in any case."

"But-!" Iori tried to disagree, but Arukenimon shook her head and Mummymon patted his shoulder.

"Don't worry," Mummymon said, smiling an odd smile. "It's definitely not the Kaiser... trust us on this."

Iori sighed, but didn't try to argue any further. For the next hour, he watched Mummymon play the game. Arukenimon and Mummymon asked him some questions about his previous trips to the Digital World, and Arukenimon chided Mummymon every once in a while for using Heal too much, but they were mostly eerily quiet. The two were usually incredibly talkative, so Iori was sure that their sudden silence had to do with his observation that someone was following the Chosen Children. Was there something they weren't telling him?

However, he decided to let it go for now. Surely, if they thought it was something as dangerous as the Kaiser, they would have told him about it...?

O

The next day, Koushirou returned Miyako's Digivice, finished with his examination of it. To Iori's relief, Koushirou showed them the same grid map Hiroki had secretly discovered earlier, and they all tried to figure out the meaning of the black clusters that marked it. However, their speculation was brought to an end when the Digital Gate program flashed in the control panel, indicating that they received an SOS signal. On the grid map, a square flashed white in the middle of one of the black clusters.

"Interesting," mumbled Koushirou, scratching his chin. "It seems to be indicating the source of the signal on the map."

"Hey, maybe those black clusters are areas controlled by the Digimon Kaiser!" speculated Iori. "An SOS signal means trouble... and the Digimon Kaiser is nothing but trouble."

"So whoever it is that sent the signal is in major trouble!" Miyako concluded. "We have to go to the Digital World, Koushirou-senpai!"

Koushirou minimized the grid map, bringing up the Digital Gate. "Right. While you're there, I'll monitor the computer lab, and..."

Suddenly, a tall teen wearing the Odaiba Middle School uniform stormed into the computer lab, slamming the sliding door behind him. His long blond hair was in a complete mess, and his striking blue eyes were directed at Takeru and Koushirou. "Did you get the signal?" he panted.

"Oniichan!" Takeru exclaimed.

"Yes, Yamato-san, we got the signal," Koushirou answered. "Did you...?"

Yamato pulled an old-school Digivice out of his pocket. Several kanji letters flashed red on the screen; a call for help. "Taichi told me the same thing appeared on his Digivice when Agumon sent him an SOS signal," he said. "Gabumon is in trouble, I know it."

Daisuke, Miyako, Iori and their Digimon stared at the exchange with wide, inquiring eyes. "Yamato-san is Takeru's older brother, and he's also one of the Chosen Children," Hikari explained to them. "And Gabumon is his Digimon partner."

"Wait, so his Digimon partner's in trouble?" spluttered Daisuke. "Then what're we waitin' for? Let's go help him!" He hastily dug into the pocket of his cargo pants for his Digivice. "Come on, come on..."

"I'm coming with you," said Yamato. "I can't just sit here and twiddle my thumbs while my own Digimon partner is in danger."

Koushirou nodded. "Alright. Like I said, while you help Gabumon, I'll monitor the computer lab and try to find out more about the grid map."

The younger Chosen and Yamato stood in front of the computer, pointing their Digivices at the screen. "Chosen Children, let's move!" Miyako exclaimed enthusiastically, pointing a finger in the air. With a flash, they were gone.

O

They found Yamato's Digimon partner sprawled in front of the television set they had arrived through. Gabumon, a Digimon with a yellow, reptilian body and a blue wolf-like fur pelt covering his head and back, was immediately energized upon seeing Yamato. It appeared that he had sent the SOS signal through the television set, much like Agumon unwittingly had almost a week earlier.

Gabumon led them to the outskirts of a large city built up on the bottom a tall mountain, with white buildings and flights of stairs instead of streets. Gabumon explained that this was Santa Geria, a peaceful city inhabited by Veggiemon and Gazimon, which he had been guarding for a while. However, the Digimon Kaiser recently took over the city, enslaving the Veggiemon and imprisoning the Gazimon. How he did it was a mystery; all Gabumon knew was that Santa Geria was free when he went to sleep the previous night, and when he woke up, the Veggiemon of the city were rounding up the Gazimon in the name of the Digimon Kaiser, their bodies encircled by what the Kaiser apparently called "Evil Rings". Gabumon tried to break out with several of the Gazimon he shared a cell with, but his attempt was thwarted by the leader of the Veggiemon, RedVeggiemon, who beat him up and chucked him off a cliff.

And then there was the Dark Tower.

"Dark Tower, is it?" Yamato looked at the top of the tall mountain Gabumon pointed at. The shape of something tall, thin and black stood out in the rocky landscape.

"I think the Kaiser built it," said Gabumon. "He must have. It wasn't there yesterday."

"Now that you mention it, I think we saw something like that in the distance when we were saving the Gotsumon yesterday," said Tailmon.

Iori squinted at the tall shape in the distance. "Does it have a purpose?"

Gabumon shrugged. "None that I know of."

"Maybe it's just a marker for the Digimon Kaiser, to show that he's in control of the area," suggested Miyako.

"So it's not important," decided Daisuke. "C'mon, we've got some prisoners to rescue!"

"Hold on, Daisuke, I have to make this clear..." Yamato started. Iori heard him scolding Daisuke for rushing, and Daisuke moping when Takeru, Hikari and Miyako agreed with the more experienced Chosen Child, but didn't pay much attention; someone was watching them again.

"Iori...?" Armadimon looked up at his partner, puzzled.

"Someone's here," Iori mumbled, looking around carefully. Maybe this time, he would be able to catch whoever it was...

The bushes rustled. He stiffened.

A slimy green creature crawled out of the bushes, with round eyes supported by stalks and a swollen red tongue hanging out of its open mouth. Iori made a face.

"Don't worry, it's just a Numemon da'gya," said Armadimon as the Numemon crawled behind a tree trunk.

"I know," mumbled Iori. He had already encountered an entire swarm of Numemon on his first visit to the Digital World, before he'd reached Takeru and the others at the Mayan pyramid. Arukenimon and Mummymon had told him once that Numemon were absolutely harmless, if a bit of a nuisance... so that was it? The creature who was following them all along was just a weak, slimy Digimon with no bad intentions? For some reason, Iori felt rather disappointed.

"Oi, Iori, you agree with me, right?!"

"Huh?" he looked to his side to find Daisuke and V-mon there. Daisuke was crossing his arms and pouting, while his Digimon looked at him with concern.

"Really, what does it matter what RedVeggiemon looks like?" Daisuke grumbled. "He's probably red, that's all we need to know!"

"Oh... well, it's information we can use, then," replied Iori. He ran off to join the others, who stood in a circle around Gabumon to listen to his description of RedVeggiemon.

O

Not far from the city gate, they found an inexplicable vending machine that sold rope and thick rubber bands. Yamato put a coin in it, but nothing happened until V-mon used his V-Head attack on the machine. The attack caused a swarm of startled Numemon to slide out and crawl away in a hurry, giving Daisuke and Miyako a huge shock. Iori was rather amused, reminded of his own reaction to his first swarm of Numemon. After the Numemon, a coil of rope and dozens of huge rubber bands rolled out of the machine, which was perfect for the plan they had hatched to get into the city.

Passing five black rubber bands off as Evil Rings, the younger Chosen's Digimon dragged the children and Gabumon to the gate, tied together by the rope, and claimed that they had captured the escapee and his human accomplices. After the Veggimon guards let them through, the Digimon led them to the town jail, even throwing the children into the cell to keep up the act in front of the jailers. Before the Veggiemon could even thank them, however, the children's Digimon attacked, subdued the jailers, and freed the children and the Gazimon.

The streets of Santa Geria were filled with enslaved Veggiemon guards. Daisuke thought it would be a good time to have V-mon Armor Evolve. However, Yamato didn't want the Gazimon involved, so Gabumon suggested taking the road to the top of the mountain and escaping from there. Everyone agreed that it was a smarter move, except for Daisuke, who sulked the whole way up.

The top of the mountain was completely flat and featureless, giving the children a good view of the entire area. On the far side of the mountaintop stood the Dark Tower they'd seen earlier, a foreboding dark obelisk. The children started searching for an easy way down, but getting off the mountain proved to be a harder task than they had anticipated. They gathered at the base of the Dark Tower and looked over the edge of the mountain, seeing the rocky ground many meters below.

"It's too tall, we'll never make it!" said Hikari, disappointed.

Yamato frowned. "If only we had rope..."

"Hey, there's the rope we left in the jailhouse!" exclaimed Daisuke, sounding pleased with himself. "V-mon and I'll just go back and get it!"

Yamato made a face. "Daisuke, think for a minute! All five of you can't possibly fight all the Veggiemon at Santa Geria on your own, let alone just you and V-mon. Besides, that rope is too short for climbing down."

Daisuke pouted.

"There's still the vending machine back in the forest," Takeru reminded his brother. "We could send a flying Digimon there with a coin to bring us more rope!"

Yamato's expression brightened. "Good idea, Takeru. It just might work." He turned to Miyako. "Miyako-chan, do you think Hawkmon could take on this mission?"

"Of course!" Miyako grinned at her partner. "Ready, Hawkmon?"

Hawkmon bowed. "Yes! I will do my best, everyone!"

Yamato gave him a coin. "Use this. If it doesn't work... I suppose you could just attack the machine." Hawkmon nodded, catching the coin in his beak and taking off. However, as soon as he turned in the direction of Santa Geria and the forest, he called out in alarm. The children turned around, startled, to see around two dozen Veggiemon blocking the only way down the mountain. The yellow, plantlike Digimon tittered impishly, using their Poop Throw attack to make Hawkmon plummet to the ground.

"No way you're getting through!" laughed their leader, who was obviously RedVeggiemon. Just as Gabumon described, RedVeggiemon's body was similar to Veggiemon, red where a regular Veggiemon would be yellow. The leaves on top of his head were green and weedy, the markings on his face were dark and jagged and there were lime green bulbs with small spines at the ends of his long, vine-like arms. Like all the Veggiemon, his bulbous body was encircled by an Evil Ring.

Without warning, V-mon rushed in. "Watch me, Daisuke, I'll cheer you up!" he cried, running up to RedVeggiemon.

"What? Hey, V-mon, hold on!" Daisuke shouted, but V-mon didn't stop. Before he could make a move on RedVeggiemon, the plantlike Digimon knocked V-mon back with a spiny bulb.

"Don't underestimate me or you'll get injured! Red Hot Machinegun!" With that, RedVeggiemon fired red chili peppers that exploded in V-mon's face, making him fall over.

"Come on, Armor Evolution time!" Daisuke declared, taking his Digivice out. However, three Veggiemon jumped him, tying his arms close to his body and preventing him from moving.

"This will stop them! Hazard Breath!" RedVeggiemon opened his mouth, letting out a foul-smelling cloud that caused everyone to cough and choke. Within seconds, the Veggiemon had everyone captured.

RedVeggiemon wrapped his vines tightly around V-mon. "He's going to get a hundred lashes!" RedVeggiemon exclaimed nastily, slamming the small dragon to the ground. "Watch closely! One!"

V-mon cried out. Unfazed, RedVeggiemon continued. "Two! Three! Four!"

Grunting, V-mon scrambled to his feet, glaring at his aggressor. RedVeggiemon smirked.

"Not too bad, if you can still get up. But I'll always knock you back down!" With a loud yell, RedVeggiemon smacked V-mon in the face. "Five! Six! Seven!"

"I can't watch this..." murmured Gabumon, shutting his eyes tightly. The other Chosen and their Digimon averted their eyes as well, unwilling to see their friend suffering.

"Ten! Eleven! Twelve!"

"We can't do anything..." muttered Yamato, struggling against his restrainers.

"Thirteen! Fourteen! Fifteen!"

"V-mon!" Daisuke cried, trying to move forward. However, he fell and landed hard, the three Veggiemon tightening their hold on him.

"Eighteen! Nineteen! Twenty!"

"If only I could evolve..." Gabumon looked at Yamato hopefully.

However, the blond teen frowned as he looked at his Digivice. "There's no signal," he said, gritting his teeth. Gabumon grimaced.

"Twenty-five! Twenty-six! Twenty-seven! Twenty-eight! Twen-"

"STOP IT!"

It was Iori. There were sounds of protest coming from the Veggiemon that had been holding onto him as the boy kicked him in the jaw and wriggled out of his grasp. The Veggiemon tried to grab him again, but Iori was faster. He stumbled a bit as the plant Digimon's vines tried to trip him, but didn't stop running until he reached Daisuke.

"Wha...?" the spiky-haired boy looked up, confused, as Iori barely dodged the vine one of Daisuke's captors sent after him.

"He can't do this to V-mon!" cried Iori, avoiding another vine. "I gotta free you so you can help V-mon!"

"What the hell are you doin'?!" Daisuke screamed, wriggling. "I don't want V-mon to get hurt, but I don't want you to get hurt either! Get outta here"

The others joined Daisuke in a noisy chorus of yells and shouts.

"Iori-kun, listen to him!"

"Don't stay here, go and get help!"

"Run, Iori-kun!"

"Go get Koushirou!"

As the Veggiemon that had held him before skipped towards him, and Daisuke's captors launched vines at him, Iori realized that the others' idea was much better than his own. He really hadn't thought this through, had he...? But he'd have to scold himself for it later, he decided, starting to run towards the mountain road. The Veggiemon were slower than him, he could make it...

"You're pretty good, aren't you, boy? Escaping like that?" Iori halted as he found himself facing RedVeggiemon. He looked back; V-mon was pinned to the ground by one of Daisuke's captors, looking on helplessly.

"Trying to stand up to us? You're really something!" RedVeggiemon continued with a menacing smirk, dragging himself forward with his bulb-ended vines. "You're gonna pay for that! Oh, you are!"

"IORI!!!" Armadimon called out, his high, scratchy voice filled with terror.

Iori recoiled. He really hadn't thought this through.

Without warning, RedVeggiemon swung his vine-like limb and struck hard.

Iori couldn't see or hear anything. He could only feel the pain in his arm, and his body flying through the air...

But he didn't hit the ground. Something – someone – had caught him, and was carrying him away. When they came to a halt, the person that had caught him let him down and steadied him on his feet, supporting him with a pair of huge hands.

"That was close... you're okay, right?"

That voice... Iori opened his eyes immediately. He was still a bit disoriented from the blow he had received, but he instantly recognized the face in front of him; almost entirely covered in bandages with only the left eye and mouth visible, grey skin, long, pointy ears, a purple bandana and a shock of silvery-white hair...

"You...?" Iori mumbled in disbelief.

"Oh, you recognize me! So you are okay." Mummymon stood up and grinned, his wide mouth full of pointed, shark-like teeth. He was even taller in Digimon form than he was in human form, and true to his name, he was wrapped in bandages from head to toe. He was leaning on a rifle that was almost as long as he was tall, as if it were a crutch.

"You?!" Iori repeated, gawking at Mummymon's form.

"Yes, him, I think you covered that already," said Arukenimon; in his daze, Iori hadn't even noticed she was there. She was also in Digimon form, a beastly demon with the upper body of a woman and the abdomen of a colossal red-and-purple spider. Though the red mask that covered half of her face limited her expression, Iori could tell that she was rather irritated. "Mummymon, when I tell you to wait, you wait."

Mummymon pouted. "I just didn't want him to get more injured than he already was..." he gestured with his bandage-covered chin at Iori.

Arukenimon glanced at the boy; one of his sleeves was a bit torn at the shoulder where RedVeggiemon struck, the exposed skin purple and bruised. She sighed. "I guess that's fair."

Iori's gaze shifted between the two hybrids, and then strayed to the other Chosen. The expressions on their faces conveyed varying levels of puzzlement and shock. The Veggiemon gaped at Arukenimon and Mummymon, trembling with fear. RedVeggiemon's jaw dropped and quivered violently. "What?! Who are you?!" he shrieked, flailing his vines frantically. "Who gave you the right?!"

Arukenimon turned to face him, smirking. "Oh, were we supposed to ask if we could interfere?" she asked with contempt. "I had no idea! And I don't particularly care, either."

She extended one of her arms, pointing it in RedVeggiemon's direction. "Spider Thread!" she called, and a red wire shot out from the gem on the back of her hand. RedVeggiemon barely managed to dodge it, and the wire hit the rocky ground, digging into it and leaving a dent.

"Wh-what?!" RedVeggiemon stammered, staring at the dent.

Arukenimon nodded, pleased. "Now, is there any chance your lackeys will let those kids go?" she pointed at the quivering Veggiemon. The Veggiemon didn't even wait for RedVeggiemon's order, releasing the children and Digimon immediately and stepping back.

Mummymon grinned. "That's better! No need for all that violence, right?" He walked past a stammering RedVeggiemon and stopped in front of Daisuke, extending a clawed hand to him. "Need help?"

Daisuke stared for a moment, and then reached up to Mummymon's hand. Mummymon pulled the boy up onto his feet effortlessly.

Arukenimon looked at the terrified Veggiemon with satisfaction. "Being a Perfect Digimon sure has its perks," she commented.

"Who are you guys...?" Daisuke asked, bewildered. The others gave the hybrids inquisitive looks.

"Uh, us?" Mummymon rubbed the back of his head with one huge, clawed hand, his eye shifting nervously. "Oh, well, we're just..."

Before he could reveal anything, Arukenimon shrieked. "Mummymon, behind you!!!"

Mummymon quickly twisted around on one foot and fired without even aiming, a wide, wicked beam of energy missing the attacking RedVeggimon completely. RedVeggiemon's vines missed their target as well, merely tangling around the bandaged Digimon's ankles. Mummymon lost his balance and fell hard on his back, firing all the while. The rifle's beam hit the Dark Tower, blowing its pointed top right off; electricity started crackling through the damaged obelisk.

"That's just GREAT," hissed Arukenimon as the Veggiemon started to encircle them again. "You've hit their little totem pole and now they're angry!"

Mummymon sat up and rubbed his sore back. "Obelisk," he mumbled.

"Oh, whatever," she snapped.

"Everyone, it's time to fight back!" called Yamato, raising his Digivice.

Takeru blinked at his brother, confused. "Oniichan, but you can't..."

Yamato grinned. "I've got a signal," he said simply, letting Gabumon rush past him.

"Gabumon, evolve! Garurumon!"

The younger Chosen watched, awestruck, as Gabumon became a gigantic wolf. Garurumon snarled at the terrified Veggiemon, who were scrambling to get away despite RedVeggiemon's protests.

"If he can evolve now..." Iori mumbled, feeling a sudden wave of optimism hit him.

"Come on, guys!" Daisuke exclaimed, beaming. "We've got some Veggiemon to catch! Digimental UP!"

The other Chosen followed Daisuke's example, and soon the Armor Digimon joined Garurumon in halting the Veggiemon's movement. Daisuke and Fladramon went after RedVeggiemon, who tried to fire a Red Hot Machinegun attack at Fladramon. Unimpressed, the Armor Digimon blocked the attack and punched RedVeggiemon in the jaw, to Daisuke's delight. In the flurry of attacks, Iori spotted Arukenimon and Mummymon shooting threads and bandages at small groups of unconscious Veggiemon, tying them up. Within minutes, the mountaintop was filled with cocoons full of defeated Veggiemon.

"That'll do it," said Yamato, stroking Garurumon's fur. "You did a great job out there."

"How come Gabumon managed to evolve?" asked Hikari. "You didn't get a signal earlier."

"That was before the Dark Tower was hit, wasn't it?" said Garurumon, looking at the damaged Dark Tower. Nasty cracks ran through it, but it remained standing.

Iori looked at the obelisk, thoughtful. So the Dark Towers weren't just for decoration; the Digimon Kaiser set them up to block evolution. But surely this wasn't their only purpose? There were only so many Digimon with the ability to evolve in the Digital World. Perhaps they had another use...?

Then he remembered Daisuke's words: Like a giant, evil remote control.

"Digmon, do you think you can destroy this Dark Tower?" Iori asked his Digimon.

Digmon nodded. "I got it! It's my turn da'gya!" He walked to the base of the Dark Tower and raised his drills. "Big... CRACK!" He dug each of his drills into the tower, and more and more cracks spread across the smooth, dark surface. Soon, the obelisk crumbled into nothing.

All around them, the Veggiemon began to free themselves from their restraints. However, they didn't seem hostile now; instead, they all started taking their Evil Rings off and looking at each other in confusion. A dazed RedVeggiemon looked at his ring and scratched his head. "Huh? What have I been doing?" he wondered aloud, looking to the Chosen and their Digimon for answers.

Miyako made a sound of surprise. "Oh, so that's how they work! The Dark Towers are like antennas, to receive control signals from the Digimon Kaiser," she explained. "That's how he blocks evolution and controls Digimon with Evil Rings!"

Iori nodded. "That's what I had in mind. I'm glad I was right."

"So, it seems that the Chosen Children's mission is clear now," said Yamato. "We have to destroy those Dark Towers the Kaiser's put up, to free the areas he's taken. We can count on you guys, right?"

"Sure you can count on us!" said Daisuke, beaming. Fladramon nodded eagerly.

"Yeah, we're going to bring down all those Dark Towers!" Miyako exclaimed. At her side, Horusmon took a small bow.

"Yeah..." Iori nodded, suddenly feeling drained. The Gazimon the Chosen had protected approached them timidly to thank them for all their help. While the other children were distracted, he turned to look at Arukenimon and Mummymon, who observed quietly and looked rather pleased with the outcome of the events. As he caught their gaze, Mummymon gave him an uneasy smile, while Arukenimon shrugged and looked away.

It occurred to him that they had been right; the Digimon Kaiser wasn't following the Chosen Children around. It wasn't a Numemon, either, but it – or, should he say, they – were definitely harmless... and more than a bit of a nuisance.

O

Following the battle, the citizens of Santa Geria led the team, including Arukenimon and Mummymon, to city hall, where they sat in the foyer and got a well-needed rest. The hybrids refused to sit, insisting on standing to either side of the double doorway, away from the children. While Miyako sent Koushirou an update on her D-Terminal, the others fretted over Iori's bruise. Though Iori insisted that he was alright, he grudgingly let Yamato examine his arm, if only to get everyone to shut up.

"He'll be fine," said Yamato after a minute. "All he needs is an ice pack. Hey, Gabumon, do you have ice packs here?"

"What's an ice pack?" asked Gabumon.

"No, huh? Ah, well," Yamato shrugged. "You can bear it till we get back to the Real World, right?" he smiled at Iori.

"Yeah..."

Miyako's D-Terminal beeped. She flipped it open. "Ah, Koushirou-senpai wrote back! About the map... oh!" she exclaimed, beaming. "Everyone, the black square in our location – he says it's gone!"

The team cried in surprise. "Gone?! Really?!"

Miyako nodded. "Right! He says it's a white square now. He thinks that the black squares must be areas that have a Dark Tower set up."

Another D-Terminal beeped. "That's mine," called Yamato, pulling it out of his vest and flipping it open. "From Taichi... he just arrived at the computer lab. He wants to go back and destroy the Dark Tower from the Gotsumon's area."

"We should head back, then," said Hikari. "He can't get in without the new Digivice, and it's already sunset."

Mummymon glanced outside, looking at the pink sky. "It is getting pretty late, isn't it?" he commented. "Looks like we'd better be off too." He looked at Arukenimon, who nodded.

Yamato held his hand up. "Hold on," he requested. "Before you go, we'd like to thank you for your help."

"If not for your attack, we wouldn't have figured out the Dark Towers' purpose," said Hikari, smiling.

Mummymon laughed, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "Aw, no, that was just an accident on my part! I'm sure you would've figured it out without me."

"But we figured it out because of your help!" said Miyako.

"And you scared the Veggiemon half to death," added Daisuke, sniggering. "That was awesome. I thought they'd have me tied up like that forever!"

"And you helped us restrain them later," said Takeru. "So we really owe you our gratitude."

"Aww..." Mummymon grinned, blushing a bit. "Not at all, guys. We were glad to help you."

Arukenimon rolled her eyes, though Iori knew her well enough to notice the smile she was trying to hold back.

"So... who are you guys, again?" asked Daisuke, raising an eyebrow.

Iori gulped. They'd better not tell anything about Dad...

Mummymon gasped. "Oh! We never properly introduced ourselves, didn't we? I'm sorry, where are my manners... I'm Mummymon, and this is..."

"Arukenimon," she cut him off impatiently.

"Right!" Mummymon broke into a goofy grin.

"And you helped us because...?" Miyako inquired, raising an eyebrow.

"Miyako-san!" Hikari exclaimed in shock.

"It's alright, Hikari," said Yamato. "It's not the best way to go around asking it... but it is a good question."

Miyako flushed a bit. "Yeah, I mean... no offense," she said to Arukenimon and Mummymon. "It was really nice of you and everything, but it's a bit... strange, that you'd come out of the blue to help."

"Oh, well..." it seemed like Mummymon was grasping for an answer. "I guess we just... feel it's our duty to protect the Digital World."

"Your duty?" Takeru repeated, surprised.

Mummymon scratched under his bandanna with one of his long, black claws. "Yeah, well, it's not like you Chosen Children, who were... you know, chosen to. We just feel that the Digital World is our home. We don't want the Digimon Kaiser to make it a bad place to live in."

"I don't think he'd give us much leeway to work around here if he was in charge," Arukenimon added.

"Work? What kind of work?" Miyako asked, increasingly interested.

"Research," Arukenimon said quickly.

"Right! We get to translate all sorts of ancient texts and go around excavating things, it's great," said Mummymon with a grin. Arukenimon snorted. "Though lately we've been doing lots of guard duty. Gennai says the inhabitants of the Digital World need all the help they can get, so..."

"Oh! You know Gennai-san?" Hikari exclaimed. Yamato, Takeru and their Digimon seemed to recognize the name as well, much to Iori's surprise.

"Uh, yeah..." Mummymon mumbled, exchanging an anxious look with Arukenimon. He tried to catch Iori's eyes, but Iori looked away immediately.

"Gennai is... a digital being that isn't a Digimon, for lack of a better term," Yamato explained to the new Chosen Children. "He looks pretty much human, really. He guided us four years ago... helped us figure out what we were up against."

"How is he doing?" Takeru asked Arukenimon and Mummymon. "Our friend Koushirou stayed in touch with him, but even he hasn't heard from Gennai-san in a while."

"Oh, he's... he's okay! Perfectly fine, yes..." Mummymon babbled.

Arukenimon rolled her eyes. "Okay, I really think we should be going," she said, grabbing Mummymon's hand and pulling it harshly. "Come on, Bandage Brain, we're off."

"O-okay..." Mummymon flashed the Chosen an awkward smile. "Guess it's goodbye, then."

"Thanks again!" Yamato called out as Arukenimon started dragging Mummymon out the door.

"No problem!" Mummymon called back, waving. "Always glad to help!"

When they were gone, V-mon mumbled, "Those guys are kinda weird."

"A bit, I guess," Takeru chuckled, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.

"It was really kind of them to help us, though," said Hikari.

"And they know Gennai!" exclaimed Patamon from his perch atop Takeru's fisherman hat. "That's never a bad thing, right?"

"If they work for Gennai, they're definitely on our side," commented Gabumon. "Anyone who works with Gennai can't be a bad guy!"

Daisuke make a face. "That Arukenimon had a bad guy attitude, if you ask me."

"Daisuke, she helped us," said Yamato in an almost scolding tone. "Even if she isn't the most pleasant Digimon to be around, her intentions are good."

"Yeah, yeah, sorry..." the goggleboy scratched his head, looking a bit regretful. "Her partner looked like a pretty cool guy... guess he wouldn't hang out with her if she was bad."

"It was nice to have other Digimon helping us, in any case," Miyako said with a smile. "We can definitely do things on our own, but it'd nice to know that we have support and get some assistance every once in a while."

"That's true..." Takeru sighed. "We should've asked them if there's a way we could contact them. Mummymon did say they feel it's their duty to help..."

Iori didn't join the conversation. Anything he had to say would reveal too much... and there was no way he could explain to the other Chosen Children why he was so angry with Arukenimon and Mummymon, and why he was so frustrated by his teammates' positive reactions to their involvement in the mission. He was glad that, at the very least, the two had avoided revealing their connection to Iori, ruining his father's work... he should have trusted them to keep their mouths shut on the subject, really. But to come here and get involved with the Chosen at all...

He hoped that today would be one of the days where Arukenimon and Mummymon ate dinner at Oikawa's. He was certain that if they came over for dinner tonight, he wouldn't be a very good host.

O

After the Chosen arrived back in the Real World, the others encouraged Iori to go home and take care of his injury. He did, not feeling up for another mission. When he arrived at home, he was greeted by his mother, who couldn't help but notice that he was in a sour mood.

"Iori, are you alright?" she asked with concern as he handed Upamon to her.

"I'm okay, mom..." Iori muttered, kneeling to take off his boots. "I just bruised my arm a little in the Digital World. I'm not too late for dinner, right?"

Fumiko gasped. "You're hurt? Oh, Iori! Let me see, I'll take care of it..."

Sighing, Iori set his boots next to the door and got up. "Mom, it's alright, it's just a bruise."

Fumiko frowned. "Iori, it's never just a bruise! Come on, let's go to the kitchen, I'll make you an ice pack."

"But it's not that bad..." Iori insisted, following his mother helplessly. However, he stopped as they entered the living room. His father and grandfather were sitting at the table with another person, a tall and thin man with a long face and short-cropped dark hair. As the man noticed Iori enter the room, he smiled a familiar, weary-looking smile.

"Oikawa-san!" Iori exclaimed.

"Hello, Iori," Oikawa Yukio greeted him. "Long time no see."

Beaming, Iori approached the men. "So you're not jetlagged anymore?" he asked Yukio.

Yukio laughed. "Not so much that the only thing I want to do after I come home from work is collapse into bed, no."

However, Yukio looked worn-out and paler than usual, with prominent dark rings under his eyes. Iori gave his father an inquisitive look. "He's lying," Hiroki clarified with a grin. "But he's too impatient for his own good."

"Can you blame me, though?" Yukio asked his friend. "After all these years..." He looked at the small Digimon in Fumiko's arms. Though he was tired, his eyes sparkled with excitement. "So, you're Upamon, aren't you?"

"You know my name da'gya!" exclaimed Upamon, delighted. "You're Iori's dad's friend?"

"Yes, yes, I am!" exclaimed Yukio, beaming; he seemed to be very energized just by Upamon's words. "It's so nice to meet you! My name is Oikawa Yukio... oh, I can't believe I'm talking to a real Digimon!"

"Why wouldn't I be real da'gya?" asked Upamon, perplexed.

Yukio shook his head. "I just never imagined we'd see a Digimon in the Real World so soon... or that Iori would bring you here, as a Chosen Child, no less! Oh, speaking of which..." he turned to Iori. "Do you have your Digivice, Iori? Could you show it to me, please?" he requested, sounding desperate.

"I'm sorry, Yukio-san, but I'm afraid you're going to have to wait," Fumiko said decisively. "Iori will be glad to show you everything after I treat his injury."

"It's just a bruise..." Iori protested weakly, looking to his father and grandfather for help. But Chikara shook his head and Hiroki gave him a look as if to say 'do what your mother says'.

"It's alright, Iori," said Yukio, smiling. "We'll have plenty of time to talk later. I'm staying over for dinner."

"Really?!" Iori grinned. "That's great, Oikawa-san!" However, his face fell as he considered what it meant. "Wait... so Arukenimon and Mummymon are coming too?"

Yukio blinked, perplexed. "Why, of course they are... why wouldn't they? They told me they have some stuff to wrap up in the Digital World, but they're going to be here soon."

"Stuff to wrap up, huh..." Iori murmured. His anger, which had dulled a bit by now, was beginning to resurface.

Suddenly, something crashed in one of the bedrooms, followed by the sound of laughter. None of those present were particularly fazed, but Yukio sighed heavily. "Goes in through one ear and out through the other," he muttered.

"It's alright, Yukio," said Hiroki, trying not to laugh. "You know we don't mind."

"Still, it's incredibly rude," Yukio insisted, looking at the direction of the kitchen. "How many times do I have to tell you two that doors exist for a reason?"

Arukenimon and Mummymon stood at the door to the kitchen, back in their human forms. "Sorry, sorry!" said Mummymon, throwing his hands in the air in defense. "But, uh, getting here straight through Hiroki-san's computer is faster," he added apologetically. "We didn't want to be late..."

"It's not like they mind or anything," Arukenimon pointed out.

"We've had no choice but to get used to it," said Chikara, only half serious.

"Hey, Yuki! If it bothers you so much, I'll make a doorbell app for the computer," Hiroki suggested with a manic grin.

Fumiko chuckled. "There's an idea."

Yukio groaned. "Don't encourage them, please."

Arukenimon and Mummymon stifled their laughter. However, they both went quiet the moment they noticed Iori. Arukenimon's smile disappeared, and Mummymon's grin suddenly looked unnaturally wide and very forced.

"Oh, uh... hello, Iori!" Mummymon greeted him in a very unconvincingly cheerful tone. Arukenimon just nodded in acknowledgement and proceeded to concentrate hard on staring at the floor.

"Are you two okay?" Hiroki asked, raising an eyebrow in puzzlement.

"Oh, perfectly fine!" Mummymon exclaimed, a little too loudly. "Why do you ask?!"

"Hiroki's right," Yukio said with a frown. "Your mood's completely different all of a sudden. What's wrong?"

"Nothing, nothing at all!"

"Nothing at all, huh..." Iori grumbled. Ignoring his mother's silent protest, he walked up to the hybrids, fists clenched. He stopped right in front of them, glaring up. Despite being much shorter than the two, he felt as if he was intimidating them with just his glare. He could tell they were anxious; Mummymon, whose posture was always very relaxed, was as stiff as a board, and Arukenimon shifted her weight from one leg to the other, when she usually stood confident and firm.

"What in the world were you thinking?!" he demanded.

"Uh," said Mummymon eloquently.

"Why did you come?!" Iori shouted. "We didn't ask you to! I don't care how bad the situation looked! Don't you think we could've handled it on our own?!"

He heard the adults rushing over, and felt his father's hands squeezing his shoulders. "Iori, that's enough," Hiroki ordered. "Calm down."

Iori wriggled out of Hiroki's hold. "No, I won't calm down!" he cried. "Not after what they did!"

"What did they do, exactly?" Yukio asked, eying Arukenimon and Mummymon.

"We were on a mission to save this town," breathed Iori, "and we were facing these Veggiemon, and suddenly they decided to pop up and save the day!"

Hiroki raised an eyebrow. "They helped you...? And you're angry about it?"

Iori growled. "They shouldn't have helped at all! They should have a little more faith in our abilities!" He glowered at Arukenimon and Mummymon, who both avoided his glare and bowed their heads almost guiltily. "Gennai told you about the Chosen Children, you should've known what they're capable of! We were chosen for a reason! Whoever it was that chose us thought we could save the Digital World from the Digimon Kaiser on our own! Someone thought we could rise to the challenge and really make a difference... but you just had to jump in and do our job for us! Don't you trust us at all?!"

He stopped, trying to catch his breath. He was already weary after the events at Santa Geria, and he felt like he'd just wasted what remained of his energy lashing out at the hybrids.

He felt his father squeezing his shoulders lightly. "I can understand why you're angry, Iori. Now, I don't think they don't trust you... But," he stressed, as Iori opened his mouth to protest, "I think we should hear their side of the story first."

"Hiroki's right," said Yukio. "We should hear their reason to following you before we jump into conclusions. So," he addressed Arukenimon and Mummymon. "What do you have to say for yourselves?"

After a long, uneasy silence, Mummymon finally spoke up, raising his head slightly to look at Iori. "I'm sorry," he said, sounding remorseful. "We didn't mean to make you feel that way..."

"Mummymon, quiet," Arukenimon hissed.

"Arukenimon, I can't lie to Iori! Now that he knows we were following him..."

"So it was you!" Iori cried. "You were in the woods yesterday, when we rescued the Gotsumon! And before we left to Santa Geria today!"

"It wasn't a Numemon da'gya?" Upamon wondered, perplexed.

"Now I understand why you looked so troubled when I told you yesterday," said Iori, gritting his teeth. "'Don't worry about it', you said! You just didn't want to get caught!"

"We didn't want you to find out..." mumbled Mummymon.

"Why?"

Mummymon sighed. "Iori, please don't get the wrong idea... Arukenimon and I know what it means for you, being a Chosen Child. We know you and the others can do it! Especially after the last two days." He smiled awkwardly. "We were really impressed with you guys."

"If you thought we could do it... then why did you follow us? Why did you help?"

Mummymon bowed his head, looking at Iori uneasily. "Well... we were just... worried."

"Worried?" Iori looked at Arukenimon. "Is that true?"

Arukenimon returned his gaze, expressionless, and shrugged. "If he wants to call it that."

"We know the Digital World better than anyone," said Mummymon. "For better or for worse... It's true that it's a beautiful place and it's full of all sorts of cool things... but it can be really dangerous. Even at times of peace... and especially now that the Kaiser is controlling so many Digimon. We know you're capable of dealing with it," he assured Iori. "You're brave and smart, you can hold your own in a fight, and you have Armadimon and the other kids, but..." he sighed, rubbing the back of his head. "It's just that... we can't help but feel concerned. I mean, you're... we like you."

This took Iori by surprise. "You... like me?" he stammered.

Mummymon's face fell a bit. "I thought that'd be clear after almost three years..."

Iori shook his head. "No, no, I know that! But—that's really why you guys...?"

"Well, yeah..." Mummymon mumbled. "I mean, I'm really proud of you for being a Chosen Child, but I was still worried... I guess in the same way your parents and your grandpa and Oikawa-san are worried."

Iori felt his father squeezing his shoulders again. He glanced at Oikawa and his mother and grandfather, and noticed that something in their expressions softened. Mummymon was right; they felt the same way as he did.

"And Arukenimon suggested we follow you around and see how you do for a few days..."

"Just so Mummymon would stop fretting over it," Arukenimon added, sounding very defensive. "He was getting annoying. I thought he'd stop it if we saw Iori making short work of the Kaiser's minions. Nothing much happened yesterday, so we came back today."

"This was supposed to be the last time, really!" Mummymon insisted. "I wanted to see you handle a big mission just so I'd be less concerned... I'm so sorry." He sighed, hanging his head down again. "I shouldn't have barged in, you were all doing such a great job, but when I saw RedVeggiemon hurting you..."

"A Digimon hurt him?" Fumiko asked, shocked. The others seemed alarmed as well.

"I-it's just a bruise..." Iori mumbled. Mummymon winced and bit his lip, giving Iori a contrite glance.

Arukenimon sighed. "Even if Mummymon hadn't barged in, all Iori would've ended up with in addition to that bruise is a bump on the head," she said. "A Digital body is much sturdier than a regular human body, and that includes digitized humans. RedVeggiemon isn't even that strong a Digimon, anyway."

"I shouldn't have barged in..." Mummymon repeated, head hanging below his shoulders. Arukenimon looked away from the others, looking uncomfortable.

"Don't say that."

Everyone stared at Iori, who continued. "I... I'm sorry I yelled at you. It... it was really great that you helped, even if I didn't ask for it."

Mummymon raised his head to gaze at Iori with wide eyes. "R-really?" he asked. Arukenimon looked back at Iori as well, eyebrows arched in surprise.

"Yeah..." Iori moved forward towards the hybrids, slipping from under his father's hands. "I mean, I would've liked it better if you'd told me first, but... I really didn't know you did it because you care so much. I thought... well, you know what I thought. But when I think of it now, knowing your real reason... it's great to know that you care so much... and you really did help us a lot."

"Everyone said so da'gya!" Upamon chimed in.

"The other Chosen...? Mummymon hazarded.

Iori nodded. "They said it was good to have allies... especially ones that know Gennai-san. And they were sad they didn't know how to contact you. I didn't agree with them at first, but now that I look back... they're right. It IS good to have allies. Especially ones like you." He smiled at them, all his anger completely gone and replaced with gratitude.

Arukenimon and Mummymon exchanged looks, and shared small, proud smiles.

"I just hope you won't make them accompany me to all our missions," Iori told the adults, nervous. "I made a really stupid mistake so I got hurt, I promise I won't make it a habit..."

"We won't," Hiroki assured him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Everyone makes mistakes. Learning from them is what makes the difference... and you're the kind of kid that learns from his mistakes. We have full trust in you. You don't mind me speaking for you, right?" he addressed the other adults.

They all shook their heads. "I won't lie, I'm still worried," said Fumiko. "But I completely trust you... they didn't choose you to save the Digital World for no reason, right?"

Chikara nodded. "The more I hear about the Chosen Children, the more I'm convinced that you can do it, Iori. I said I will have trust in you... and I am not a man that breaks his word."

Yukio shrugged. "Don't let me stop you, I'm just your dad's old friend. But I'm behind you, if it makes a difference," he said, smiling.

"I trust Iori da'gya!" Upamon shouted, bouncing in Fumiko's arms.

Iori felts his heart practically swelling with pride. "Thank you, everyone," he said, beaming.

"Iori." Arukenimon looked unusually subdued. "You really do make for a good Chosen Child. Good call with the Dark Tower today." Beside her, Mummymon nodded meekly.

"Thank you..." Iori flushed a bit. "Listen... would it be alright if I told the other Chosen that I figured out how to contact you? Like I said... it'd be good to have allies. Of course, if you don't want to fight the Kaiser..."

The hybrids' faces lit up. "Of course it'd be alright!" exclaimed Mummymon, smiling broadly. "I meant what I said back then, we do want to protect the Digital World!"

"I've been wanting to give the Kaiser what's coming to him for over a month," said Arukenimon, grinning impishly. "He's going to be sorry he ever tried to take over the Digital World when I'm through with him."

Iori smiled. "Okay, that's settled then... you're officially allies of the Chosen Children."

Mummymon cheered, giving Arukenimon a tight hug. Iori thought he heard her call him an idiot under her breath before hugging him back.

"Hmm. You know, that explains why the Village of Beginnings was unguarded during the afternoon shift two days in a row," Yukio said, addressing Hiroki.

Hiroki nodded. "Right, that... we did wonder," he said, narrowing his eyes menacingly at the hybrids.

"You did what?" Iori asked, raising an eyebrow.

Mummymon yelped, letting go of Arukenimon. She just groaned. "Come on, this was more important than guarding the Village of Beginnings!"

Yukio crossed his arms. "Was it, now."

"I'm sure Elecmon would love to hear that," Hiroki smirked. "He almost suffered a nervous breakdown. Good thing Centarumon offered to take the afternoon shift until the situation clears up. Gennai is quite unhappy, you know."

Yukio nodded in confirmation. "Very unhappy indeed. Oh, did we mention you're grounded?"

"What?!"

"For abandoning your duties two days in a row."

"How about a week of night shifts, in addition to that?" Hiroki asked Yukio. "I think Meramon would appreciate it."

Yukio chuckled. "Great minds think alike, Hiroki."

"NO!!!"

As Arukenimon and Mummymon tried to bargain their way out of their punishment, Chikara and Fumiko exchanged meaningful looks, deciding that it would be best to leave the area for a few minutes. With that, Chikara retreated to the master bedroom and Fumiko ushered Iori and Upamon to the kitchen. As Fumiko prepared an ice pack for Iori and Upamon devoured a rice cake as big as his own body, Iori leaned on the kitchen counter and smiled to himself. Even if he was a Chosen Child, and it was his duty to protect others... it felt incredibly nice to know that there were people who felt it's their duty to protect him.

O

"So, they figured it out."

In the middle of a dark room, with computer screens on every wall, stood a tall, dark figure. The figure chuckled.

"No matter. It wasn't very important, strategically. Still, very interesting..."

It smirked.

"This is going to be fun."

To Be Continued...

Notes: Food notes. Melonpan is a type of sweet bread popular in Japan, made from brioche bread covered in a thin layer of crispy cookie dough. It is named melonpan because its shape is reminiscent of a melon. Yakiniku refers to a way of grilling bite-sized meat and vegetables (as the name suggests – yakiniku means "grilled meat"), and is sometimes referred to as "Japanese BBQ".

I should probably explain why Arukenimon dislikes the –chan honorific so much. -chan is one of the more informal honorifics, used mostly to address girls and children, and which can be considered rather cutesy in some contexts. Arukenimon hates cute (or so she claims) and being treated like anything other than an adult, and thus finds it very patronizing. Of course, Fumiko is just being a polite person; she calls Miyako "Miyako-chan" as well, simply because she's a younger female.