Chapter 3

Burning Touch

"I can't believe it's been five days now since we ended up here," Gatomon noted in a moan as she stared out their bedroom window at the heavy rain that fell from the sky and cascaded across the castle.

"Even longer since we arrived in Network," Kari added with a sigh.

It had been raining for three days now, ever since they had spent the day in the garden with Rosemon. Their time inside had given them time to plan and explore the Pyre Citadel, which they had to admit, was pretty impressive. They had run into many of the castles occupants, who had treated Kari with the upmost respect, but not enough to help her escape.

"They're even out there in this rain," Gatomon noted without moving her eyes off of the shapes moving in the distance. "I mean don't they ever get tired?"

She was referring to the guards on the wall who never seemed to leave their posts. Neither dark of night, burning sun, or crash of storms seemed to faze them.

"They seem very dedicated to their positions," Kari uneasily laughed as she stared into the vanity mirror before her, applying her make-up and fixing her hair.

Moving away from the balcony window and closer to the fire Gatomon questioned Kari's actions. "Why are you doing that? If I were you I won't do as that old bag Babamon told you?" Gatomon protested as Kari put the cap back on the crimson lipstick she had just applied. "I can't believe she called us back into court to tell you to make yourself presentable! Who does she think she is? First she has you kidnapped, and then she insults you," Gatomon fumed.

"I'm only doing it for two reasons. First, I have nothing better to do right now. And second, if I don't do it she yells at FlameWizardmon and Rosemon for not getting me to do it," Kari defended her actions. "It's not like it hurts me."

"But still…" Gatomon growled, biting at one of her claws in concern. "It feels like we're getting to complacent here. If we don't get out soon you'll end up married or worse."

"There is that," Kari sighed unhappily as she closed the container of crimson blush. "But after three days of searching the castle we still haven't managed to find a way out, or a hole in the guard's defense."

"I just can't believe that there's as many mega digimon guarding this place as there is," Gatomon sighed unhappily as well, before jumping up to the armchair by the fire.

"What I'm worried about is the others. I just want to know if they're okay or not. Nobody here seems to be able to tell me that; and the not knowing is killing me," Kari balled her fists in anger at all the heart wrenching questions she still had.

"Knowing nothing seems to be the only thing we've been capable of knowing since we got to Network," Gatomon mused, recalling more events before they became separated from the others.

Tai sat up with a loud long yawn. "Is that hand any closer to the symbol of flame?" He questioned once he had stretched his body.

They had been waiting in the lowest platform of the Flame Terminal for the DarkTrailmon to show for over six hours now. It wasn't the most comfortable place in the world, but despite it not being used much it was incredibly well maintained. There was no trash or even hints of dust so it must have been cleaned regularly. The metal rails and wooden floors were polished, so well in fact that if the lights that lined the walls weren't keep at a dim level they would have shined.

"It's almost right on top of it," Davis quickly returned before letting out a big yawn of his own.

"So I guess that means it's almost here. Or we're completely wrong about what that clocks trying to tell us," Tai laughed as he pushed himself up off of the bench he had been laying on and headed over to check on Kari.

"I don't see what else it could possibly mean," Izzy defended their assumption of the clock being a method of tracking the DarkTrailmons movements through the continent of Network.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah… I just hope all this waiting's worth it," Tai waved off the incident as he passed by.

"What going on big brother?" Kari questioned when Tai sat down next to her on the stairs. She had been talking with the other girls about something for the last few minutes, which had peaked Tai's interest.

"I could ask you girls the same thing," Tai said giving them a look that told them he wanted them to share what they had been discussing with him.

Giving in Sora spoke on behalf of the group, "It wasn't anything serious, but we haven't eaten since Trailmon treated us to a free meal in the dining car for being human; which was over twelve hours ago. So we we're thinking it would be a good idea to find something to eat before the DarkTrailmon gets here."

"That's a good idea. I've been starving for the last few hours, which means the digimon have to be running on empty by now," Tai noted, rubbing his empty stomach.

"But the problem is unless we manage to score another free meal, we have no way of buying any food," Mimi sighed tiredly as she tried to imagine under what circumstances they could get a free hot meal.

"There is that…" Tai sighed, letting his head hang slightly in disappointment.

"Speaking of money, has anyone seen how the digimon in Network are getting their hands on it, or even what it looks like?" Matt inquired, cutting in on the conversation.

"Back at Darcmons Bar I saw two digimon leave some cards on the bar with the bill," Kari noted, recalling the large and small digimon she had seen at the far end of the counter.

"Cards?" Tai questioned his little sister with an inquisitive look.

"Yes. They kind of me reminded me of the gift cards we get every Christmas from grandma and grandpa," Kari replied.

"It would kind of make sense to use digital money cards considering we're in the Digital World after all. There's actually a movement in the Real World towards converting to them and doing away with paper money," Izzy added, filling in the groups understanding.

"But then why did they leave them at the bar?" TK asked, joining in.

"I don't know? Maybe they were expended or maybe they use them differently," Izzy rejoined with before he set about thinking about the possible reasons.

"About the other part," Joe spoke up. "I saw some digimon cleaning the platform a few floors above when we were coming down."

"So they have jobs!" Tai said with a surprised tone to his voice. "This place is just so… so…"

"So much like the Real World," Kari finished for him.

"Yeah… It just so strange when you think about it," Tai concluded, bringing a silence over the group. "But that's not important right now. What is important is figuring out what we're going to do about getting something to eat right now. How about half of us go back up to the main floor and see if we can get our hands on some food, while the others wait here and make sure that if the DarkTrailmon shows up they stop it from leaving?"

"Sounds good," Matt agreed verbally while the others nodded silently.

Ten minutes later Kari and Tai found themselves standing outside a restaurant filled with digimon who were happily eating.

"Any ideas yet?" Gatomon asked the two humans hoping for a positive answer.

"No idea…" The two sighed.

"Maybe if we promise to do the dishes they would feed us?" Agumon absentmindedly commented, turning the attention of the other three to him.

"That's actually a really good idea, Agumon," Gatomon said with a surprised tone.

"Okay, let's try it…" Tai began to say before Kari suddenly ran ahead of them.

"I'll ask," Kari said before disappearing into the restaurant with Gatomon.

"Kari seems ready to go…" Agumon commented with a sideways glance.

"She's been acting like she can't sit still since we got to Network," Tai stated.

"Which is strange, since it's usually you who has trouble staying calm," Agumon commented with a tone that didn't sound like he was joking.

"Thanks for that, Agumon…" Tai sighed unhappily.

Three minutes later Kari returned with an unhappily look on her face and a slow weighted walk.

"What happened?" Tai inquired, already having an idea as to the answer.

"Well, first we had to get over the fact that it was an Etemon running the restaurant," Gatomon replied with a defeated tone.

"That must have been a little weird, but how did the rest go? Did we get turned down for the work?" Tai rejoined.

"Not right away. He said if we worked for an hour he'd feed us both. But when I told us how many people and digimon we had to feed, he said he couldn't possible need that many workers. And I hate to admit it, but I can't see anyway someone would need twenty-four workers in the kitchen," Kari sighed tiredly from the mixture of exhaustion and hunger.

"The hour thing would be a problem too. Looking at the clock downstairs I don't think we have the time to work off twenty-four meals," Tai added patting his sister on the head.

"That would be a probl…!" Gatomon never got to finish her though as a voice cut in just then.

"Excuse me. Girl," The voice called out. The four pairs of eyes quickly turned and found an Etemon dressed in a chefs white outfit and hat walking towards them with two large bags of food containers.

"Yes…?" Kari replied, instantly recognizing the Etemon as the one they had found running the restaurant.

"This is for you," he said handing Kari and Tai each a bag loaded down with warm food.

"But why?" Kari questioned in confusion as she took one of the bags from him and Tai the other.

"Let's just say I couldn't send you away hungry," Etemon smiled before quickly turning around and heading back into the restaurant.

"That was a little weird…" Gatomon commented as she looked down at the bag of food Kari was doing her best to hold up.

"Weird, but nice," Kari happily smiled. The other three nodded their heads in agreement.

"Let's go find the others before the food gets cold," Tai cheered as he motioned for them to follow him.

Back in the bar the Etemon watched the pair talk as he leaned against the bar, before turning around and addressing some digimon sitting at the end of the bar, "If you don't mind me asking, why'd you pay for all their food Lady Babamon?" Etemon questioned the small elderly digimon sitting at the end of the bar, making sure to speak with the upmost respect considering who he was talking too.

Babamon didn't answer right away. She just watched as Kari and Tai disappeared from sight as they went to find the other searchers so they could return to the DarkTrailmon platform to eat the food they were just given. Her response eventually came in a released breath, "Because I find that girl… interesting…"

"She didn't seem that special to me, but then again I'm not as wise as you malady," Etemon answered before returning to his place behind the bar.

"Etemon, did she say where she was going?" Babamon inquired without taking her eyes off of the spot where Kari had disappeared around the corner.

"She said that her and her friends were heading for the Dark Area, which was why they needed the food. Why'd you want to know? And for that matter why did you tell me not to tell them you paid for the food?" Etemon answered as he scratched under his chef's hat in confusion.

"Strange… I'll have to keep an eye on this…" She mused to herself, ignoring Etemons question since she no longer had need of him, before hoping down from the bar chair and exiting through a side door followed by a small entourage of digimon.

"That food was really good," Davis said with a satisfied pat of his stomach.

"They do say hunger is the best spice," Ken added as he carefully stacked the empty food containers on a bench in preparation for putting them in the trash.

"Things have been going pretty good since we..." Yolei happily began to muse, but a sudden rumbling on the tracks made her trail off.

The rising vibrations of the tracks turned everyone's attention to the shadowy archway at the end of the tracks. For a minute the vibrations continued to grow with no sign of the train, but when a red light suddenly appeared in the middle of the archway, they knew something was coming. The light continued to grow bigger and bigger with each passing second until a large dark mass crossed under the archway into the station.

"That definitely look like it should be the DarkTrailmon…" Cody noted taking a step back as the jet black Trailmon slowed to a stop right in front of them.

For a moment the DarkTrailmon held still in the platform, not moving or making a sound, then in a blast of steam crimson veins of light spread out across its surface, bending and looping into strange patterns. The lines pulsed every few seconds sending a surge of red light running down from the front of the engine to the back.

"All aboard that's coming aboard…" The DarkTrailmon slowly announced in low drawn-out words.

"Excuse me, I hope you don't mind us asking, but are you the DarkTrailmon? The Trailmon that goes to the Dark Area?" Sora inquired in a polite manner.

However, despite her respectful demeanor and politeness the DarkTrailmon didn't respond. It didn't even look at her with the large glowing red eye on its side. It seemed that it either hadn't heard her, or it didn't care. It just popped its doors open with a whoosh of released air and turned on the lights in the cars which sent yellow light pouring over the polished wooden floors of the platform.

"I guess we should take that as a yes," Tai uneasily laughed while he eyed the open doors.

"I guess so," Matt agreed.

With those final words the Digidestined entered the first car, taking seats on either side of the car. At the back Kari was the last to board. Stopping right before the step up, she turned and looked towards the stairs. From where she was standing she could see up to the next platform and the blue sky beyond it. In the distance she could make out buildings and some kind of massive structure deep within the distant mountain range. Looking out into the horizon Kari was overcome with a singular feeling; the feeling that she would be seeing the Flame Empire again. That somehow it had a much bigger role to play in what was to come.

"What's wrong, Kari?" Gatomon questioned from Kari's shoulder. She was slightly concerned by the fact that she had come to a quiet and complete stop.

Hearing her partners words Kari shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the stray thought before answering, "It's nothing Gatomon… nothing…" Then with a silent pull of the rail she lifted herself up into the car and took a seat beside her brother and Agumon.

As soon as Kari was aboard the DarkTrailmon released another blast of steam before closing the doors and began backing out of the station. It continued to backup until it was under the tunnel arch and vanished into the shadows. The only sign of its existence being the red light in the front and the pale yellow light being cast on the tunnel walls from the car windows.

"It's strange, but I think I knew back then that I would end up here…" Kari whispered herself in the mirror.

"What?" Gatomon asked after hearing Kari talking to the mirror, but not loud enough for her to hear.

"It's nothing, Gatomon… I was just thinking it was about time for lunch," Kari replied with an uneasy smile. She wasn't lying to Gatomon, she just felt that what she had been thinking was nonsense and wanted to drop it.

"Food does sound like a good idea. If there's one good thing about how we've ended up, it's how good the food is," Gatomon commented, doing her best to give Kari a reassuring smile.

"Then let's find Rosemon and FlameWizardmon and get something to eat," Kari concluded before checking her hair and makeup one more time in the mirror before standing up and moving towards the door.

Ever since they had met and befriended Rosemon they had added her to their meal times. The addition of one more member had made the experience more enjoyable than it had been when it was just her, Gatomon, and FlameWizardmon. As the saying went, the more the merrier.

Pushing the door open and heading out into the hall Kari gave her room one last look before closing the door and heading off in search of their two new digimon friends.

"Thanks again for the invite," Rosemon smiled as she, Kari, Gatomon, and FlameWizardmon exited the dining hall.

"We should actually be thanking you for coming. It's much better when we have more people to eat with," Kari returned her smile with a slight bow.

"You have a point. Food does tend to taste better when you aren't eating alone," Rosemon replied before taking a drink of water from the crystal bottle of water in her right hand.

"I don't know how you can say that when all you do during meals is drink water," Gatomon interjected with a sarcastic look.

"How is it that you think I maintain this perfect figure of mine," Rosemon joked as she ran her free hand down her side and over her hips. "But it's also because I'm a plant digimon, so I don't actually need to eat. I just need some clean water and a walk out in the garden to soak up some sun and nutrients from the soil. And the water that the castle brings in from the hot springs on the mountain is the cleanest anywhere," Rosemon added as she lifted the crystal bottle up and showed how the light of the torches passed right through the clear liquid.

"Then how are you feeling with all this rain, because I haven't seen any sunlight in the last three days?" Kari questioned with concern in her voice.

"Thanks for asking," Rosemon honestly smiled at Kari. She had really begun to like how kind and caring the young girl was, which made the fact that she was being held against her will an increasingly difficult thing to deal with. "Without any sun I've been feeling a little rundown lately, but nothing I can't deal with."

"That's good," Kari said with a relieved smile.

"But speaking of the garden, I have to go check on it. So this looks like where we part ways," Rosemon announced before she walked away, giving Kari and the others a goodbye wave.

"Unfortunately, it looks like I must also attend to some other business around the castle," FlameWizardmon stated before bowing slightly and vanishing in a burst of fire, leaving Kari and Gatomon alone in the halls of the keep.

"So what do we do now?" Gatomon questioned, looking about the halls for any sign of movement or a direction to go.

"I guess we can continue exploring the castle and see if we can get into some of the areas we couldn't before," Kari suggested. They had been using all of their free time over the last three days to search the castle, but it turned out to be a much bigger job than they had expected.

While from where they had were at the moment the Pyre Citadel appeared to only be a three story structure built of stone, mortar, and wood; but it eventually proved to be much bigger. Where they had been staying was only the top level of the castle. The massive stone and wood structure was actually built of four separate levels, each serving a specific purpose.

The lowest level, which was the biggest of the four, consisted of a large city that formed a U-shape around the castle. The keeps city was considered to be separate from the capital of the Flame Empire which was built in the valley below. It was constructed to house digimon who served the Empire and held jobs in the castle. The second level was built atop a large stone wall, separating it from the first level. Here vast fields of crops and orchards, which keep the castle and village feed, grew. Above that was the third level, which like the levels below it was built upon a high stone wall, contained all manners of shops, warehouses, storehouses, and unmarked buildings. This level is where many of the jobs within the castle were done; this included cleaning services, cooking, construction, and similar work. This was also the level where much of the governmental work was done since it was the site of the Empires senate.

Then there was the fourth level where the main part of the castle was. It included the guest rooms where Kari and Gatomon had been staying, homes for highly trusted member digimon of the Empire, like Rosemon and FlameWizardmon, the Imperial Courtroom, guards courters, and most importantly the highest floor of the three that made up the fourth level; the Flame Emperors Sanctuary. Whatever was up there besides from a place for the Emperor to sleep the two didn't know since it was one of the places they couldn't go. It actually appeared that only Babamon and Jijimon were allowed up to that level, but from what they had heard the two hadn't been up to the highest level since the Flame Emperor had left.

"From what we've learned Babamon won't let us go beyond the third level, or up to the Emperors Sanctuary. She has guards looking for us at each of those places," Gatomon reviewed their findings.

"It kind of makes you wonder what's up there," Kari noted with a slightly uneasy laugh.

"You'll find out after the wedding," a voice cut into the conversation, making Kari and Gatomon jump in surprise at the realization that they weren't alone.

The two quickly whipped around in the direction the voice had come from and found nothing but the bristles of a broom floating before them. Instantly following the bristles to the shaft and down to the hand gripping it, they found their gray haired jailor, Babamon.

"Babamon!" The two shouted in unison as they took three quick steps backwards until they ran up against the wall behind them.

"How… how… how long…!" Kari stuttered in a mixture of shock and fear. Fear that all their planning and exploring had just gone to waste and of what the small digimon leader would probably do to her and Gatomon now that she knew they were trying to escape. She feared that they would be separated and locked in one of the cold dark cells in the dungeons below the citadel which she had heard one of the guards talking about, only to be released for her 'arranged' wedding.

"Damn it…" Gatomon growled under her breath as she positioned herself into an attack pose ready to pounce on the small digimon or any digimon that tired to touch Kari.

Babamon just looked Gatomon and Kari over with an unfazed look before the ends of her lips curled into an entertained smile. The strange change in the old digimon caused the two to drop their defensive stances in exchange for ones of uneasy confusion and wariness. "Are you worried that I've discovered that you've been searching for a way to escape the castle."

Instantly Kari and Gatomon were back in their defensive stances. Unsure of what the small digimon had in store for them.

"You already tired to find holes in the citadels patrols, as well as blind spots and secret tunnels. I even though that you might try and just fly away, but it seems you're smart enough to realize that your partner and you would never be able to out run the flying mega digimon standing guard on the wall," Babamon laughed.

"You've been watching us?" Gatomon cautiously inquired, cursing that she hadn't noticed eyes on them the whole time.

"Nope," Babamon simply answered with a look that told them she was telling them the truth.

"Then how? And why wouldn't you?" Gatomon shot back.

Smiling bigger Babamon just looked the two over before answering, "I just guessed what you would have tried at this point considering how long you've been here. And as for the reason why I've let you wonder about without surveillance is that I know you can't escape the keeps defenses and…" The diminutive digimon paused and turned to walk away without answering.

Babamon took a few steps down the hallway before she began finishing her explanation, "…if you weren't trying, then you won't make a good Empress and mate for the Emperor," she finished with a haughty laugh which continued to echo in the halls even after she had disappeared around the corner.

"Great… We're impressing her with our determination…" Gatomon sarcastically stated, trying her best to contain her agitation at the situation.

"At least that means she's not going to try and separate us, or lock us up," Kari noted on the positive.

"That's true, but I don't like how confident she was about us not escaping. It just makes me more and more certain that this castles really as secure as that old hag claims," Gatomon growled, biting her nail in annoyance.

"My feet are killing me," Kari groaned as she extended her feet out from the stone bench she was sitting on and out into the cool rain, letting the clear liquid course over her worn and tired feet, bringing with it a refreshing feeling. "I never thought walking around without shoes all the time would be so difficult. I wonder if I could convince Babamon or Jijimon to give me back my shoes," she noted as she watched the water run across her hot flesh.

"It's the least they could do considering what they're putting you through," Gatomon commented with an annoyed grunt as she thought about the two digimon in question, but mainly Babamon.

They had spent the whole morning exploring the parts of the Pyre Citadel they had yet to, which even after more than three days of searching they had yet to check half of it; and that didn't included the levels of the castle below the third tier. Now, they were taking a break in one of the lower gardens they had found during their expedition.

"It's almost lunch time by now. Afterwards we can continue searching the castle," Kari stated, pulling her feet back in from out of the rain and shaking them slightly to rid herself of the water drops that still clung to her soft skin.

"So do you want to look for Rosemon and FlameWizardmon before we head to lunch?" Gatomon questioned, knowing full well Kari intended to.

"Yes, and maybe we'll find a way out of here after lunch," Kari said with the intent of reassuring Gatomon, but the moment the final few words left her mouth a cold chill ran across her skin. It was a strange sensation, as if the words were the precursors to some dark event. And worst of all, Kari was about to find out how true that feeling was when an unfamiliar voice began to speak.

"A way out could be arranged," a cold voice said from within the rain.

"Who!" Gatomon and Kari jumped in surprise for the second time today. Gatomon instantly shifted herself into a defensive position while Kari backed away from the rain covered grass beyond the stone overhang.

Just beyond the overhang three similar figures stood in the pouring rain which cascaded down their black bodies in a strangely frightening way. Their appearance was that of a crow with a human form. Their feet and hands were sharp talons. On their legs they wore a pair of white puffy pants tightened at the ankles by a purple armor. Around their waist they wore a gray cloth held up by a black belt to which a pair of swords, in hilts, were attached. Covering their torsos was a purple metal chest plate with a silver badge over the heart. Black feathers poked out from the armor at arm joints which quickly terminated into a slick red material that ran down to the wrist which were covered by purple bracers. Jotting out of the back was pair of large black feathered wings and a tail of longer black feathers. Covering their heads were purple metal helmets that ran all the way down to the beak and had a gold horn in the middle of the forehead.

"That answer is simple. We are the Karatenmon brother's malady," the Karatenmon in the center of the three introduced with a bow. The one that spoke appeared to have feathers of a much darker black than the two beside it, giving it a more opposing appearance than the other two.

"What do you want?" Kari uneasily questioned, ignoring the urge to run away being sent from her brain to her feet.

"We've come here for you," it simple replied with another bow.

For a moment all fell silent besides from the rain, then with a narrowed stare Gatomon turned to Kari. "Kari, this might be our way out."

"I… I… I don't think so…" Kari stuttered taking a step back from the dark digimon. The longer she looked at them the more certain she became of the feeling that she was much safer in the Pyre Citadel. Seeing and hearing Kari, Gatomon knew her decision and turned back to the Karatenmon with her claws drawn.

"She doesn't want to go with you! So get lost!" Gatomon threatened raising her claws up.

The two Karatenmon in back looked to each other and then to the one in front whose face remained completely emotionless as he stared past Gatomon to Kari. He just straightened out of his bow and narrowed his eyes before speaking, "That is truly disappointing to hear malady. Your decision leaves me no choice but to force you…"

He and the other two turned very serious all of a sudden and reached behind their backs drawing their swords. "Run, Gatomon!" Kari suddenly yelled through the fear, surprising the three dark digimon who had assumed she was too stunned to move.

Taking advantage of the threes surprise Kari and Gatomon turned on their heels and ran through the garden entrance and back into the halls of the castle. They charged down the empty hallways with little thought of where they were going. All they knew was that they had to put distance between themselves and the three digimon. And judging by the crashing and loud footsteps coming from behind them in the halls they weren't that far behind.

"We can't seem to find a way out of here, but those three manage to find a way in easily! And where the hell are the guards?" Gatomon demanded an answer from no one as she tried to ignore the stinging irony of them wanting the help of the guards that had kept them trapped. It was getting to be a very weird time for them.

"I don't know… But something definitely wrong…" Kari answered. Something had been feeling off for the last few days, ever since it had started raining, but she had attributed it to her current situation and nothing more. However, now she thought differently.

Luckily for the two they had just finished checking this part of the castle so they knew how to get around. It was only a few more hallways and corners before they reached the main section of the keep and hopefully some guards. But in a blurry flash of black, one of the Karatenmon appeared before the two, cutting off their escape route.

"That's enough running now," the Karatenmon stated in a cold tone as Kari and Gatomon slid to a stop in the hall. Behind them they could already hear the other two closing in, meaning that in a few seconds they would be surrounded. But they weren't going to go down without a fight, so Kari drew her D-3 from the folds of her dress and leveled it at Gatomon. "However, it seems that you continue to choose to resist, so I will have to be a bit more violent," the bird digimon added with a sneer before swinging his sword at Kari.

Karatenmon proved to be the quicker of the two as it rapidly became obvious that his sword would meet flesh before Gatomon could even start to digivolve. And all the two could do was cringe.

The tip of the blade was mere milliseconds from Kari when a voice came echoing down the hallways, "THORN WHIP," as a golden vine wrapped itself around the Karatenmons ankle. In the next instant the slack when out of it and the Karatenmon was yanked backwards by the leg. It first slammed into the side wall, dropping its sword in the impact, then, it was dragged around the corner, clawing at the stone floor, trying not to be pulled away from its target.

Without hesitation Kari and Gatomon returned to running, right past the corner the Karatenmon had been dragged down. "Get out of here Kari!" Rosemons voice order as she stood between her and the Karatenmon at the far end of the hall. Kari and Gatomon quickly obeyed and ran off knowing that the other two Karatenmon weren't far behind.

Down more halls and corners the two went until a dark voice from behind called out, "FEATHER FLARE!" Turning around Kari and Gatomon were greeted by a flurry of sharp black feathers tearing through the air towards them.

"FIRE CLOUD" A familiar voice called out before Kari and Gatomon could even formulate a reaction to the coming attack. As soon as the words were spoken the flurry of feathers burst into blue flame and was reduced to ash.

"Are you both okay?" FlameWizardmon inquired as he stepped in-between the two hovering Karatenmon and the Kari.

"Yes…" Kari answered in a shaken tone.

In a sudden confused burst a cloud of dust swept into the hall obscuring all from view. For the tense few minutes it took for the dust to settle there was no sound except for heavy breathing. When the dust finally fell to the floor Rosemon was now behind Kari, facing down the lead Karatenmon at the end of the hall.

"FlameWizardmon, where'd these three come from?" Rosemon questioned while she angrily stared down the Karatenmon she had fought throughout the halls of the castle, culminating in exploding through one of the walls and finding themselves with the others.

"I don't know… One second there's nothing, and then in the next their presence suddenly appears within the castle," FlameWizardmon replied.

That statement struck a chord with Kari, making her think back to their appearance in the garden. As they stood there in the rain it was as if they were ghosts. She could see them, but they didn't feel real. And that's when it clicked for her. "The rain…" she stated quietly.

"What?" Rosemon asked, unsure of how her statement was relevant.

"When they came inside and out of the rain…" Kari began to explain before FlameWizardmon finished for her.

"We could sense them. The rain must have been masking their presence," he angrily noted, narrowing his eyes in careful thought.

"But there's only one way that can be true. And if that's the case, then doesn't that mean…!" Rosemon rejoined, but cut short when the three dark digimon suddenly lunged forward with swords drawn.

Instantly Rosemon and FlameWizardmon went into defense mode, parrying and deflecting the three digimons attacks in a flurry of their own.

"Why are you here?" Rosemon growled as she grinded her Thorn Rapier against the dark Karatenmons sword. But the digimon said nothing in return. It just smiled at her with a twisted confident smile before it suddenly slacken its muscles, allowing Rosemon to drive it into the back wall and pin it there.

"HARMONIOUS SWORD" A voice suddenly called out. Turning Rosemon and FlameWizardmon found a fourth Karatenmon standing over Kari, swinging its sword down on the stunned girl, who could only drop to her knees and raise an arm over her head in protection.

The three had been using the fact that they were the same type of digimon to hide the fact that there was in fact four of them. And when Rosemon rushed down the hall to pin the only other Karatenmon she knew of she had left Kari open to an attack from around the corner she had left unattended.

In fear Kari closed her eyes and waited for the pain, thinking the last words she would hear would be the loud, NO, Gatomon, Rosemon, and FlameWizardmon released as they attempted to come to Kari's rescue; but she knew they would never be fast enough, and that her fate was sealed. All sound drained out of her world as she tried to brace herself for what was to come. But when a few seconds past and nothing happened she slowly opened her eyes and looked around.

In front of her Gatomon had stopped dead in her rush to Kari's aid and was staring in shock up over Kari's head. Beyond her FlameWizardmon was no longer fighting, instead he had his arms at his side and was smiling; while behind him the two Karatenmon had become rigid as stone. On further inspection she could see that they weren't actually holding still, but instead were quaking where they stood with wide eyes affixed to a singular location. It was fear that filled their eyes.

As Kari tried to figure out what had happened while her eyes were closed a flutter of brown fabric off to the side caught her attention. Slowly she turned her head, following the brown fabric up to a figure standing over her. The figure had come from out of nowhere and was adorned in familiar red and gold armor. On its back a sword as long as it's body rested, gleaming red in the torch light. The Flame Emperor had just saved her! He had returned to the castle just in time to intervene and save Kari from a bleak end.

Clenched in the extended hand of the Flame Emperor was the wrist of the very scared fourth Karatenmon. Its eyes were swelled up in a mixture of absolute fear and pain as the sound of its snapping bones and tearing muscles filled the silent hall every time the emperor's grip tightened.

"Welcome back your highness," FlameWizardmon and Rosemon greeted him with amused smiles; amused at the fact that they knew what was going to happen next.

"Th… Tha… Thank you…" Kari stuttered in a lowered voice as she moved out from under his shadow and to a safer location.

At her words dull unfocused blue eyes from under the helm looked at her, then, the Flame Emperor let out a long breath before looking back towards the struggling Karatenmon trapped within his grip.

"Let go..!" It demanded of him in an angry voice. It appeared that the digimon had been so preoccupied with the pain in its wrist and not who was actually hurting it. But it was soon to find out who it was addressing.

"Brother! No!" The two Karatenmon beyond FlameWizardmon cried out to their lone brother. However, their words went unheard as the trapped Karatenmon, enraged by the situation it found itself in, swung out a leg and slammed it against its captures chest. Instantly, even before the loud clang of metal could ring out, pain shot up the Karatenmon's leg and buried itself deep its mind. Trying to ignore the pain in its leg the Karatenmon turned to look at what it had struck, quickly finding its eyes meeting with the angry blue ones of the Flame Emperor.

"Flame Emp…!" The Karatenmon began to cry in a terrified voice, but before its words could finish the roar of flames drowned them out. Starting at the wrist the Flame Emperor held flames raced across the Karatenmon, engulfing it in searing heat and radiance. In absolute pain it thrashed about in the consuming fire, unable to even make the hand that held it shift in the slightest. The Flame Emperor held it in place like an unmovable fixed point in space. Then in a final burst of flame the Karatenmon stopped screaming, its body became limp, and it fell to its knees on the stone floor, still being suspended off of the ground by the emperors grip. Finally in a burst of data the flames dissipated and nothing remained of Karatenmon.

"YOU'LL PAY FOR THAT!" Forgetting their fear in exchange for anger the two Karatenmon cried out in rage as they charged past FlameWizardmon, who just let them go, knowing what the only result of their actions could be.

The two rushed the Flame Emperor, swords drawn, ready to exact their revenge for their fallen brother. In flashes of black feathers the two were upon the lone ruler, who made no move to defend himself. He just watched the coming attacks with a look of complete disinterest. The swords bore down on him, milliseconds from his neck. As soon as he felt the tickle of pressurized air run across its armor the Flame Emperor shifted his body and threw his hand out at one of the Karatenmon, dodging both attacks and pinning one of the Karatenmon against the wall by the neck.

From the Flame Emperors feet Kari and Gatomon watched the Karatenmon struggle against the Flame Emperors grip to no avail. These digimon which had given FlameWizardmon and Rosemon so much trouble, and scared her and Gatomon, appeared to be nothing before the lord of the castle.

With a swift movement the armored gauntlet of the Flame Emperor's free hand was wrapped around the sword hilt sticking out over its shoulder. In a flash of silver the sword vanish from his back and found itself driven through the Karatenmon's stomach and a few feet into the wall.

"BROTHER!" The remaining Karatenmon screamed at the sight of his impaled sibling. That singular cry became the last word the pinned Karatenmon ever heard because it was quickly followed by the Flame Emperor twisting the blade and breaking the bird digimon in two. The two pieces fell to the floor in separate echoing thuds before bursting into data in the next second.

Releasing the sword he spun around and delivered a powerful elbow blow to the stunned digimons face, sending its head into the stone wall. The Karatenmon's body shuddered violently under the raw power of the impact as it slowly began to slide down the cold wall. In a big twitch the Karatenmon fell forward off the wall and landed at the Flame Emperor's feet. Without even the slightest hint of change or hesitation in his eyes the Flame Emperor watched the bird's body slump to the floor before lifting a foot up and placing it over the Karatenmon's head. Then with a forceful stomp he brought it down on his foes head, crushing it in a burst of flame and shattered stone. With that act the four enemies had been reduced to one, the leader.

"This is impossible… Our spies would have warned us if you had returned to the castle..." The lead Karatenmon howled in a lost voice.

At these words the Flame Emperor said nothing. He just looked at the Karatenmon with his cold gaze, but in it the Karatenmon found the answer to how the current events had come about. They were dead. The Flame Emperor had somehow discovered the spies watching him while he was away and he had killed all of them. All fifty of them!

The Karatenmon just continued to stare into the cold eyes of the Flame Emperor with his own lost eyes. He knew what was coming. He knew that he was going to die, and nothing could change that.

"I can't defeat you…" the Karatenmon spoke after a period of fear filled reflection, "BUT I CAN CHOOSE HOW I END IT!" It suddenly roared in a madding voice before charging forward past Rosemon.

The Karatenmon ran directly at the Flame Emperor as its body began to pulse and seethe with a dark aura. The darkness grew deeper and darker with each passing second, but despite its fearful change the Flame Emperor did nothing.

"NO! He's going to blow himself up!" FlameWizardmon suddenly cried as he dived forward and grabbed Gatomon near him before kicking off of the ground, getting the two of them as far from the blast as he could.

"Kari!" Gatomon called out to her partner still at the Flame Emperors feet. But in an instant there was nothing for her to do as the Karatenmon got before the Flame Emperor and in the next instant exploded in a powerful blast of black energy.

The blast sent incredible currents of pressurized air rushing over the three digimon and down the hallways of the keep. Shattered and broken fragments of stone that were once walls and floors ricocheted off of any hard surface as they were pushed along by the strong currents of air.

"Kari!" Gatomon screamed into the cloud of dust and debris that hovered where her partner and the Flame Emperor once stood.

A dim gray light now illuminated the blast crater and rain poured upon it from the gaping hole above where a ceiling had once been. The wall on the right had been blown out to reveal an adjoining room, made a mess by the focus of the blast intruding on it. On the left a small courtyard of wet grass covered in gray stone dust was now visible.

"Kari…" Gatomon pleaded of the smoke cloud, her heart sinking at the idea of how powerful the blast had been. It had been small, but it had been extremely concentrated; concentrated enough to turn much of the stone at ground zero to a fine powder.

In a blast of wind from the storm outside the cloud vanished, revealing the Flame Emperor clutching the barely conscious form of Kari wilted in his arm. She was alive and mostly unharmed, but it was obvious that she had taken quite a shock from the blast as she attempted to remain conscious.

As Kari's vision faded her last sight was that of the helm of the Flame Emperor, steam pouring off it with every drop of water that hit it. It remained motionless, eyes hidden in the black shadows, but with a slow turn it looked down at her. Faded emotionless blue eye's looked down at her with an almost confused sense to them. In that moment Kari became unsure of the future. Unsure of what awaited her in the days to come.

Only one though permeated her haziness as she slipped into the black, "His touch doesn't burn… it's almost warm…"

To be continued…