Takeru could feel his body begging for sleep, exhaustion weighing down his muscles and making his eyes itch unpleasantly. Yet, for what seemed like hours, he found himself staring up at his ceiling without really seeing it. He stopped looking at his clock sometime after midnight, as each time he looked at the glowing numbers and saw the night steadily ticking away from him, he felt his frustration flare, making him more awake and aware of the unpleasant feelings churning in his chest. He could hear Patamon sleeping soundly by his head, against the pillow. The rhythmic, reassuring sound of his partner's breathing provided some comfort, but it did little to help his restless mind go quiet. A small voice whispering in the back of his mind simply refused to let him sleep.

When Takeru closed his eyes, he could see the events from earlier that day play in his head. The monsters plagued him with their shifting faces and screams, but in particular, the way Angemon's melting head begged him for help twisted his heart. Yet, that monster was not what plagued him the most. As horrific as the creature was, he could justify its existence as another monster to face. If he compared it to Apocalymon being a composite of all the Digimon that were unable to evolve, he could almost understand its existence. Perhaps the creature was the Digimon Kaiser's attempt to recreate Apocalymon. It would hardly surprise him given how unstable the tyrant was.

It was going to the world of darkness that haunted Takeru the most. If it had been just a world in shades of black and white, he would never have given it another thought, but that place was far more than that. He could not forget how hopeless he felt in that world, how quickly it stripped him of his will to fight and left him listless, practically lifeless. He doubted that he could have mustered the strength to care if Digimon had been lying in wait to kill him in that world, and the thought utterly terrified him.

Such a lack of hope made Takeru feel as though he betrayed himself, and, worse than that, his very crest.

"That place…," Takeru murmured, keeping his voice quiet so as not to wake Patamon. "Where was that?"

No voice in the dark offered Takeru any answers or advice. There was only quiet grumble in his head that told him what no matter what it was, or what it had done to him, he had ultimately failed to meet its challenge, which could have gotten him, Patamon, or anyone else killed.

There was also the matter of that mysterious girl. Just thinking of her prompted Takeru to trace his cheek where she had slapped him. Although he had been in a stupor, he could now recall vividly the sharp sting that brought him back to his senses, as well as how cold her touch had been in that brief instant. None of that short encounter made any sense. Why was that girl there? Why were her clothes so similar to Hikari's? Why was she crying and why did his presence enrage her enough to attack him like that? Most importantly of all, how did her slap return him to Factory Town, or was it just a coincidence? Was the email a coincidence as well? The email was exactly like the one he received not long ago about how to use the Digimentals, right down to rendering his D-Terminal completely unusable.

Takeru shifted his gaze to the broken D-Terminal resting on his nightstand. Tomorrow he would go ask Koshiro to fix it, though he had no idea how he was going to explain what happened to it. "Was that her, too?" he whispered. His instincts told him that it must have been. The timing was too coincidental, as the email directly referenced his visit to the strange world, though he had to wonder why she chose to send such a strange type of message that would completely ruin the device that received it. "Just who is she…?"

Takeru let out a frustrated breath. All the questions refused to give him any rest and he was no closer to answering any of them. He flicked his D-Terminal open, as though its black screen might have some hint, some clue the girl left behind for him to find to solve the mystery. The device was as dead as it had been after the email she sent, offering him nothing. He intended to show the D-Terminal to Koshiro when they got back, but he had completely forgotten it in all the chaos involving the giant monster and the subsequent confrontation with his brother and the others. It was only after the flames of his temper had died down to glinting embers that he remembered.

That was another thing that troubled Takeru – how quickly he lost his temper with Yamato.

Takeru made it a point to keep his patience, to try and not lose his cool. He had learned the folly of childish temper tantrums a long time ago. He was pretty proud of his maturity, how long he could suppress his anger even in the face of terrible people and keep a level head. Even in the face of the two gossiping boys making awful insinuations about Hikari, he managed to keep his calm for a good long while, probably longer than he needed to. Losing his temper in that situation was inevitable, and even Patamon had snapped. However, that situation was a far cry from the way he went off on his brother and friends. What he did was inexcusable. Even if they were being pushy, they were just concerned for his well-being. Did he really have any right to get so angry?

They were calling me a liar.

The errant thought stopped Takeru dead. "A liar..?" The word hung in the air on an awkward note, as a small voice inside him insisted it was true, even as part of him warred against it.

Concern is all well and good, but after I told them I was fine, they should have backed off.

The thought played in Takeru's head in a loop, bringing him back to the earlier conversation. It stretched out far too long, especially after such a traumatic event. Anger twisted his gut as he recalled how distressed Hikari looked while suffering under Miyako's relentless interrogation, all for the sake of a dumb splotch of gray. Thinking back on it now with a clearer head, he realized that she did not seem merely uncomfortable, but in pain. In all the worry over such a trivial injury, none of them noticed that something was wrong with Hikari, not even him. The idea that they could make him overlook something as important as that only rekindled the heat of his anger. The worst part was that he could not even send her an email until he got Koshiro to fix his D-Terminal.

"Yeah," Takeru he muttered, bitterness creeping into his voice. "They weren't listening to me. If they would have just listened, then…"

They were listening, they just didn't care. They' 'knew' that I was hurt and wanted to keep rubbing it in my face.

Takeru stared at the wall for a long time as the notion burrowed itself into his brain and took root. When he closed his eyes, he saw Yamato lunging at him again to practically tear off his shirt despite his wishes, and he relived the anger and mortification, only now it felt more pronounced. Yamato tended to act recklessly, especially when it came to his little brother, no matter what Takeru said. The idea of Takeru being injured was too much for Yamato to handle – it always was.

He doesn't trust me. He's never trusted me. Rather, he's never trusted that I've ever been capable of anything.

Takeru's eyes snapped open and he immediately sat up, nausea churning his stomach like a storm. He turned to focus on Patamon before he carefully slipped out of the bed, mindful not to wake the slumbering Digimon, and then walked lightly to the kitchen. Some milk might ease his upset stomach and help him sleep.

When Takeru opened the refrigerator door, a throb of pain resonate through his shoulder and he held the side of the cold milk carton against it as he hissed through his teeth. He scowled and moved the carton away a moment later when he thought of how Yamato would react after catching him like this.

All my training… all my work… and for what? For everyone to turn on me the second I make even the tiniest mistake? Is their faith in me really that fragile? Or did they just never have any faith in me to begin with. Did this whole thing just confirm that I'm still that stupid little kid they need to watch out for?

Takeru shook his head as though to dispel those thoughts before he went to fetch a glass. "I'm over-thinking this. I am… definitely over-thinking this. They were panicking, I was panicking… that's all."

Just the same, I shouldn't mention what happened – don't mention that other world, don't mention that girl, don't mention a new email, nothing. They'd just take it as another excuse to freak out at me. Patamon probably won't mention it, so if I don't say anything then neither will he. I'll see if I can reboot the D-Terminal to get it going again, so I won't even have to let anyone know that it crashed.

The more the thought repeated itself in Takeru's head as he drank his milk, the more reasonable it became. "I guess that'd be best," he muttered into his empty glass. "I don't need to worry anyone else."

I'll deal with this myself.

"I'll deal with this myself," Takeru said. "Either way, it's nothing to worry about." After putting the glass in the dishwasher, he winced as he closed it with more force than he intended. "It's just… more Digital World stuff."

A small part of Takeru still felt troubled as he rubbed his shoulder. He nearly pulled back his collar to take another look at it, but quickly squashed that impulse and the temptation to get medicine or an ice pack for the pain. He knew whatever this spot was, it was not 'gangrene' or anything ridiculous like that. If anything, it reminded him of what had happened in that other world, when his hands slowly turned to gray. The color came back when he returned, no harm done. He had no reason to believe that this would be any different.

Still, that nagging doubt refused to leave Takeru alone, no matter what that small voice in his head whispered against it. "If I start to feel any worse, I'll go to a doctor or something."

As if a doctor could help me. It's ridiculous to even consider it. Even if this thing is dangerous – which it isn't – what exactly do they think they're going to do about it? Jou's medicine could only treat the symptoms, and that's it. Honestly, am I the only one who thinks about things at all, without getting all hysterical?

Takeru paused and shook his head, dispelling such thoughts. Wordlessly, he went back to his room and silently slipped back into bed. It was late, he was exhausted, and it had been a very trying day – it was only natural that brooding about this would make his mood take a turn for the worse. Thinking too much about the situation was not going to accomplish anything. It would be better if he went to sleep and looked at the problem with fresh eyes in the morning when he was well rested and calm.

If only Takeru could get any sleep.

Hikari was dreaming again. She was standing in the middle of an empty dirt road that cut between buildings made of wood and stone. She stood as the only spot of color in this monochrome world. The sky did not seem to have clouds, but instead a fine gray mist that grew steadily darker further and further from the ground until it was black. Looking at the sky from the horizon allowed her to see the gradual change from light to dark, but staring straight up showed her nothing but blackness. Although the light should have been muted or nonexistent, she could see her surroundings just fine.

This place was the Dark World. Although Hikari had never heard anyone in her dreams call it that before, a part of her somehow felt certain that it fit. There was never any sun or stars – nothing to indicate if it was night, day, or something in-between. The sound of waves striking the shore in a steady rhythm came from all around her, giving her no hint as to where the ocean was located. The smell of something foul mixed with salt lingered in the air, which felt thick with moisture and clung to her skin like a slimy film.

The buildings that surrounded her were rustic, as though something she would find in a seaside village, but far less welcoming. They stood silent and empty, completely devoid of life. The many signs hanging outside the buildings gave the impression that there were businesses, hotels, and the like in this town once upon a time, save for one small detail. Every single sign had the same exact text written on them, no matter how cheerful or warped the font may have been painted.

Although Hikari had made it a point to learn the meaning of the glyphs used in the Digital World a long time ago, nothing on the signs made any sense. She would have been certain that it was nonsensical gibberish if not for the fact that every sign displayed the exact same phrase.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Huanglongmon ph'n'ghft wgah'nagl fhtagn.

Hikari knew that whatever the glyphs meant was something significant. One such sign hung from a streetlight with a blackened bulb beside her, the wooden placard worn from years of water and wind. She tried to read the words aloud, as she did many times in dreams that came before, but the lack of vowels made the phrase completely incomprehensible, and the mangled syllables never came out the same way twice. The only word that came close to making sense to her was Huanglongmon, but she had no idea if it was a real Digimon or just another jumble of gibberish that happened to have 'mon' at the end.

When it was clear that Hikari would not solve the mystery of the strange text this night, she looked behind her to locate another staple of her dream. Less than a meter away stood shadow that appeared nearly as solid as she was. Although she could not make out the shadow's face or other fine features, its size and shape made her think of Tailmon. The shadow followed her as she made her way down the street, as it always did in every dream she had in the Dark World, and always at the same distance away. The shadow would never come too close or lag behind, and she could never outrun or hide from it, though she tried many times before. At times, she braved approaching the feline shadow, but it backed away every time to keep that gap of empty space between them.

After weeks of dreaming with the shadow always her side, Hikari ultimately decided it was merely unnerving, but not truly frightening. Perhaps because of its company or the way it reminded her of Tailmon that made the shadow oddly comforting at times, particularly when compared to the other horrors lurking in the Dark World. Sometimes she would forget that it was even there if she tried not to look behind her.

Hikari had lost track of how many nights she spent wandering aimlessly through the Dark World. She had grown somewhat familiar with the empty buildings that made up the town, but she never failed to lose track of where she was whenever she wandered the streets. Landmarks always seemed to relocate to different areas the instant she lost sight of them. What she found inside the buildings would change as well, sometimes in small ways, and other times more dramatically.

A vivid example was a café that at one time was closed off to her because it had no doorknob. The first time Hikari entered, there was food wafting steam but no smell, and countless overturned chairs littering the floor. It was as though a crowd of Digimon had been ready to eat, only to flee moments before her arrival. The second time she came to the café, it was completely shambles, the inside decimated as though a hurricane had passed through, and two of the walls along with most of the ceiling were completely gone. Through the gaping hole, she could see the ocean and a trail of rubble leading along the shore to the water's edge. The last time she entered, the building was entirely intact, but run down from age and time. There were no traces of tables or food, just countless old newspapers covering almost every wall and floor. The only wall that was devoid of papers had large letters scrawled on it in a dark, thick fluid, spelling out the one phrase that haunted the Dark World.

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Huanglongmon ph'n'ghft wgah'nagl fhtagn.

There would be no searching the café this time for Hikari. The doorknob was stuck in place and refused to open. A sense of relief washed over her at the discovery, as she dreaded what she would find inside this time. Unfortunately, the feeling was short lived, and she moved on to the next building, knowing that she needed to brave the unnerving nature of the town in order to find answers. Maybe then she would end this dream once and for all and finally leave the Dark World behind her forever.

More than once, Hikari had attempted to escape the town, but each time she always reached the ocean, no matter what way she turned. She would try to run straight in the opposite direction, only to get lost in the town. The sound of waves always haunted her, as clear and present as when she stood on the edge of the shore. Even when she dared to walk down to the bottom of a basement with over four dozen sets of stairs, the ocean seemed to follow her every step in the way.

The worst times were when the fog rolled in from the water. Things lurked in the fog – horrible, unspeakable things. The few times she saw Digimon in this world were when the fog came in, and it never ended well, no matter how hard she tried to save them from the abominations hunting them in the gray mist.

Hikari rubbed her arms as she made her way along the streets, but she could not banish the chill that slid through her skin and settled deep down in her bones. When she turned a corner and spotted the ocean in the distance, she turned in the opposite direction.

As frightening as the town was, the shore was far, far worse.

There was a particular landmark Hikari searched for in every dream. It was rare that she would ever find it, but she lucked out this time it would seem. The building was a fun house, or at least that was what she assumed it was. The faded images of smiling Digimon on the outside and decorative carvings in the worn and damaged wood gave her the impression that was what the building was originally used for. There was no door, just a yawning opening waiting for her to wander inside into the dark.

Of all the buildings in this monochrome town, the fun house was the only one Hikari failed to search every time she came to the Dark Ocean. It was not because of her fear of what might be inside – though the place did give her a sense of foreboding – it was something on the outside that always drew her attention until the moment she woke up. Beside the entrance was a large mirror with a warped surface that should have shown her distorted reflection, but it was never her inside the mirror.

Hikari recalled that the first time she discovered the mirror was after the initial encounter with the Digimon Kaiser. When she passed in front of the fun house mirror, she stopped immediately when she notice the girl inside the bubbled, dirty glass that appeared so different from her. She initially mistook the girl as a distorted reflection of herself, wearing an outfit all in black that matched the one the Digital World gave her, save for a few minor details, such as replacing the Crest of Light accents with moons. The girl in the mirror even had a dark shadow of a cat following her, just like Hikari, only the shape was not quite right to match Tailmon. Other details about the girl were different as well, such as long black hair and skin even more pale than hers.

The girl in the mirror mimicked Hikari's every movement as perfectly as a real reflection whenever they encountered each other, up until the moment their red eyes met. In that instant, her expression would change, showing sorrow or anger. The first time it happened, Hikari jerked back with a scream and nearly ran away. Only the pain etched on the black haired girl's face kept the Chosen of Light frozen in place, watching as the girl in the mirror pounded on the glass, as though desperately trying to escape.

The girl in black was the only thing in the Dark World that still held any trace of color, even if it mostly came from her vibrant red eyes. That alone made Hikari almost certain that the girl in the mirror was important. Though doubt still lingered and whispered to Hikari that there was nothing here beyond her subconscious fears and perhaps the whispers of Tenraimon and the Digital World's influence, she felt certain now that this dark girl was the only thing real. Hikari was also sure that the girl was trapped and needed her help. Unfortunately, she had no idea how to help the other girl. She could never get any answers from the girl, not even a name, as no sound came from the mirror, no matter how much the girl screamed.

When Hikari saw those red eyes this time, the girl in the mirror's expression twisted up in agony before a flood of tears trickled down the dark girl's cheeks. The Chosen of Light felt her heart wrench at the sight, and she instinctively reached out for the other girl, but only felt cold glass against her palm.

"It's okay," Hikari said softly, though she wondered if the girl in the mirror could even hear her. "I'll get you out of there… somehow."

This was a dream, every bit of it. Hikari knew that even if she felt as lucid as though she was awake. Yet, the plight of this girl who was only present in her darkest dreams was a dagger digging into her heart, every bit as genuine and painful as the suffering of all the Digimon enslaved by the Digimon Kaiser. "You're real… aren't you. You're not me – you're like me. You're another Chosen Child."

In a sudden burst of clarity, Hikari remembered the moment in Factory Town when the Digimon Kaiser screamed pure hate at her, and she now understood why. "You're her, aren't you? You're Keiko… right? You're the reason why the Digimon Kaiser can't stand to look at me… because I'm wearing your clothes."

The girl in black spoke, but her words never reached Hikari. She wiped away the tears on her cheeks, but more came swiftly to take their place.

Though Hikari was aware her efforts to communicate with the other Chosen Child were futile, there was little else she could do. The thought of breaking the mirror crossed her mind, perhaps with the chair behind the ticket booth. She discarded the idea just as quickly as it came, as she feared that she might hurt the other girl.

A part of Hikari had hoped that the realization of the girl's identity would change something, perhaps free Keiko. This was still a dream after all. She only felt a bit foolish for hoping as the seconds ticked by and nothing changed between her and the girl in black. If nothing else, she took some solace I the sound of her own voice in this otherwise silent and world.

"Are you the reason why they appear on me?" Hikari asked. "Are you doing this somehow?" She hesitated when a terrible suspicion began to form. "What happened to you?"

The dark girl dragged her fingers, wet with her tears, along the surface of the glass. Hikari placed her hand over that hers, wanting to offer some faint sense of comfort to the captive. When the black haired girl continued moving her hand, Hikari realized with a jolt that she was writing something on the glass.

Hikari removed her hand immediately and tried to make out the letters written in tears, but the dirty film coating the rippled glass made it hard to decipher such a faint message. Squinting did little to help make any sense of the streaks of water, and her frustration grew when the other girl finally stopped writing. "I don't… I can't read it. What are you trying to tell me?"

The sudden sound of a siren chilled Hikari to her core. "Oh no…" Reluctantly, she turned away from the mirror towards where she was certain the ocean lay, and watched as the white fog slowly rolled in. Her instincts told her to run and hide, but she felt certain that she was close now to having some sort of answer from the girl in the mirror.

Hikari shivered as the fog slowly erased the features of the town around her, limiting her visibility to only a few meters around her. Shadowy figures of varying sizes emerged from the dull white mist, but she knew from previous experiences that they were not the danger that was coming – that would be what came later to hunt them down. When the shadows came close enough, she could see that they were Digimon, panicked and in ragged condition, and all of them in shades of monochrome. Some looked her way, but before she could say anything, they let out ghastly screams as they fled from the fun house.

This was not normal. While sometimes these gray Digimon were afraid of Hikari, they almost always spoke to her whenever she approached them, even if their rambling did not always make sense. At worst, they would shout accusations at her, or babble disturbing things as they looked at her with hungry eyes. None of them had ever reacted this way to her before.

A terrible sense of dread seized Hikari and she turned back to the mirror. She choked on a scream of her own and covered her mouth as she stepped back.

The dark girl's tears had turned to blood, dying the near white of her skin a vivid shade of crimson. The message she wrote on the glass was now frighteningly clear in large red letters.


That was when Hikari heard more screaming coupled with laughter, crying, and static, as the tide came in.

Hikari awoke with a cry she barely choked back from turning into a full-blown scream as she wrestled with the sheets tangled around her. For one terrified moment, the blankets were the wave that had flooded the town and pulled her down into the depths of the ocean of madness. Once free, she tossed the sheets aside and bolted upright as it slowly registered that she was back in her bedroom and not the Dark World.

The sensations of the dream were still fresh and clear in Hikari's mind. The last few seconds she experienced made her skin crawl as though her veins had been filled with ice water. Despite how her body shivered with cold and revulsion, her body was sticky with sweat. She struggled not to think about what happened when the dark water reached her, how she had been flooded with horrifying sensations and those voices

It took Hikari nearly a minute to calm her breathing, though her heart took a little longer to return to its normal pace. She kept looking around at her bedroom in the sparse illumination granted by the small television on her dresser. She must have forgotten to shut it off before she went to bed and now it silently displayed nothing but static and the word "MUTE." Somehow, the static made her feel uneasy, and she groped blindly for the controller to shut the television off, plunging the room into darkness.

It took some effort for Hikari not to turn on the light and banish away the shadows that distorted the shapes of her familiar possessions. Her family was already worried enough because of her sickness without alerting them that she was suffering from nightmares on an almost nightly basis. She had to be strong and suffer through this on her own.

A tremor ran through Hikari as she remembered the intense terror that permeated the final moments of her dream. Her insides churned painfully with the threat of nausea and she fumbled to find her water bottle in the dark.

A whisper of movement made Hikari flinch, and she instantly focused on the foot of the bed where a pair of bright blue eyes gazed back at her.

Tailmon watched Hikari silently, her expression unreadable in the dim illumination from the streetlights that slipped in through the edges of the curtain. She waited for her partner to calm down from the brief jolt and realize who she was before she got up. She took her time in stretching, giving Hikari a moment more to relax before she moved to the head of the bed. She easily snatched the water bottle from its place on the nightstand and placed it in Hikari's hands before flopping down on her side beside the Chosen of Light. She moved her long tail to drape it across Hikari's waist. The gesture was light, but undeniably protective.

Hikari could feel her insides slowly unclench with the reminder that she was not alone. Tailmon would never leave her to fend for herself, even against a foggy nightmare town. She smiled gratefully at the feline Digimon before drinking deeply from the bottle, hoping the water would calm her nerves and ease her troubled stomach.

When Hikari was certain that she was not about to get sick again, she eased herself back down to the bed. She pulled Tailmon close after a moment's hesitation. Normally, she tried not to get too close to her partner when she was sick for fear of spreading her illness, but she needed Tailmon's comforting warmth right now.

Tailmon closed her eyes as she relaxed against Hikari, offering no complaint – not that Hikari expected any. Tailmon was a constant source of strength, even when her partner was at her weakest. There was never even a question about it.

Although Hikari felt a little better with Tailmon in her arms, she could not shake the unsettled feeling fluttering in her chest. Dream or no, she was now convinced that there was another Chosen Child out there who was suffering some horrible fate at that very moment and was calling out to her for help.

Hikari just wished she knew how.

Normally, Takeru would be asleep so early in the morning. The sun was only now beginning rise over a city that was just starting to awaken. He should still be in bed, squeezing every minute of rest he could so he would not be bone tired when class started in only a couple hours, but he had given up. Sleep was just not in the cards for him right now. The little voice of cynicism in his head simply refused to shut up.

Takeru stretched before squatting down, exercising his legs with the help of the outdoor concrete stairs leading up to his new apartment complex. His body groaned in protest, his muscles stiff with fatigue. There were gaps of time that he had slipped into a dream-like state that might have been sleep, but images and sounds of the ocean filled his thoughts, making him feel almost as though he had stepped back into that other world. Remaining awake and listening to his own doubts on loop was a restful vacation in comparison.

"Okay!" Takeru said, forcing out more cheer than he felt as he straightened up. He turned to Patamon, who was still half-asleep, leaning against the railing as he sat on the bottom step. "You didn't have to come with me, you know. You should get more rest."

Patamon yawned, stretching out his mouth as large as he did when firing an air attack. He blinked away sleep from his eyes, making him look more alert as he regarded Takeru with a look that reminded the Chosen Child that the tiny Child Digimon was also sometimes the imposing Adult Angemon. "So should you."

Takeru blinked before letting out a chuckle. "I guess so. Ready?"

Patamon fluttered up on to Takeru's shoulders, distributing his weight on both sides of his partner's body while he rested his arms around Takeru's neck. "Ready! Patamon, evolve to weight training assistant!"

Takeru laughed. Then there were times when Patamon was still every bit of a Child as they both were back during their first adventure. "What a powerful evolution!"

"Right," Patamon said, his voice so serious that Takeru could not help but laugh again. "The most powerful of all."

Takeru continued to chuckle even as he began his morning jog, moving from the apartment complex at a brisk pace. He had no interest in doing his usual exercise routine, especially when he felt so exhausted. With his luck, he would wind up falling asleep in class. A brisk jog around the block would get his blood moving and hopefully help him shake off his fatigue so he could get through the school day without getting in trouble.

"Hey, Takeru?" Patamon leaned forward as he fanned his wings slightly, bringing a cool breeze to Takeru's neck.

Takeru kept his gaze focused on the sidewalk ahead of him. "Hm?"

"Where do you think the Digimentals came from?" Patamon asked.

"I don't know," Takeru said, feeling a little relieved. For a moment, he thought Patamon was going to ask if something was bothering him. He was not in the mood to talk about it, or lie to his partner. "I would have thought Gennai, but he never mentioned them."

Patamon let out a thoughtful hum that tickled against Takeru's neck. "Maybe he didn't think we'd need them?" The odd note to his voice suggested to Takeru that he did not believe that to be the case.

"Then why make them at all?" Takeru asked.

"They would've been helpful against Vamdemon or the Dark Masters," Patamon mumbled.

Takeru considered that as he rounded the corner. "No, I don't think so. Strong as they are, I can't imagine any of the Digimental evolutions being able to hold their own against an Ultimate like the Dark Masters, or even against Vamdemon. The Crests are better in many ways, even if only their special Chosen can use them."

Patamon turned his gaze skyward, watching the occasional cloud drift by between tall skyscrapers. "I wonder which came first, the Crests or the Digimentals?"

"Good question," Takeru mumbled. He paused, his train of thought derailed when he noticed a familiar face across the street – it was Iori, jogging with weighted bands strapped to his ankles and wrists. Takeru quickened his pace to reach the edge of the crosswalk. "Iori! Good morning!"

Iori snapped out of his meditation and turned his sharp eyes to Takeru and Patamon. A beat later, he recognized who addressed him and smiled as he changed direction. He paused only to wait for the traffic to stop and allow him to cross so that he could join the pair. "Good morning. You jog as well?"

Takeru flashed the other boy a smile that was stronger than he felt at the moment. "Yeah, especially when I have tension to work out."

Iori nodded, his eyes telling Takeru silently that he completely understood. "That it does. Do you mind if I join you?"

Takeru smiled. "Of course not. Be my guest."

The two boys soon settled into a steady rhythm as they jogged together down the street. Although Takeru focused on the ground and his feet, Iori's gaze constantly strayed to Patamon. The Digimon felt increasingly uncomfortable under such intense scrutiny, but hesitated to say anything.

Eventually, Takeru noticed Patamon shifting uncomfortably against him and Iori's staring and turned his focus to the other boy. "What's up?"

Iori realized he had been staring and looked away. "I'm sorry. It's still quite a shock that Digimon exist. I suppose I'm simply curious."

Takeru raised his eyebrows, mildly surprised by the pinked cheeks ruining the normally neutral façade of the newest Chosen Child. A thoughtful hum escaped him as he reminded himself that Iori was his age after all, and not some world-weary middle-aged samurai like the other boy tried to act most of the time. "It's a lot to accept. I'm sorry it was all thrust at you so suddenly."

"Do not apologize," Iori said. "It's just how Miyako is."

Takeru tilted his head, feeling his own curiosity grow. If there was anything he had gleaned from Miyako's attitude as Class Representative, it was that she was a stickler for the rules. It was hard to imagine someone who lectured him about keeping Digimon a secret would act impulsive on a regular basis. "Really? That's… surprising."

"I know Miyako better than anyone," Iori said with a wistful smile that almost seemed out of place on the face of such a usually sober child. "You get used to her recklessness."

Takeru made a noncommittal noise as he considered that. He was new to the area, so it was not all that surprising that he did not know much about Miyako beyond her role as Class Representative. Their classmates certainly did not seem to think there was anything more to her than that. He knew that he had to fix that now that she had been revealed to be a Chosen Child like him.

With a shake of his head, Takeru put his mind back on the topic at hand. "Still… It takes a lot to just trust someone when you're staring down giant melting monsters and things like that. No one would blame you if it was too much for you to take."

Iori shook his head slightly."As I said, I know her, and have known her for a long time." His voice was soft as he stared straight ahead, his gaze focused somewhere beyond the streets before them. "This is actually not the most outrageous thing I've had to deal with, if you can imagine that." At noticing the shocked look on Takeru's face, a hint of a smile tugged at his lips. "You would be surprised at the things you don't know about Miyako."

"Like what?" Takeru asked, his curiosity growing.

"That outfit she wore in the Digital World," Iori said, as he returned his voice to the path ahead of them. "It suits her."

Takeru nearly stumbled when he outright gawked at Iori, but fortunately caught himself before he could face plant into the ground.

"Really?" Patamon asked, blinking. "With the way she kept going on and on about it, I thought she was planning on ripping it off and setting it on fire."

Takeru shook off his confusion and quickened his pace so he would not lag behind Iori. "Same here."

Iori smiled at Takeru, his expression surprisingly playful. "I would owe Miyako a million ohagi if she knew I told you that, however, so please don't mention it to her."

Takeru silent for a moment, taken aback by the newfound knowledge and the crooked grin Iori wore. He realized that he did not really know the two newest Chosen Children at all, but he was looking forward to finding out. He returned the smile with one of his own. "My lips are sealed."

"Not a word!" Patamon said before covering his mouth with both his wings for good measure.

Iori chuckled. "Thank you."

Sora knew this was not the right mentality to have, that it would only make time move that much slower. Yet, no matter how much she tried to make herself enjoy the school club activities, all her efforts came to nothing. It was impossible to feel joy when there was none to be had.

So this is what a 'girl' spot feels like, Sora thought, bitterly. It was not so much that tennis was a bad sport – she could see what drew people to play or watch it – she just had no interest in it, or skill, for that matter. Her mother had told her that if she could be good at soccer, clearly she would have no problem with tennis. Her mother was very encouraging, telling her repeatedly that could do anything she put her mind to.

That may have been true, but Sora simply did not have the 'mind' for tennis.

Of course, that's probably because of my teammates, Sora thought.

Sora did not have to look around to know Rie was present – the other girl's obnoxious laughter did that for her. She knew that Rie was trying to get her attention by 'innocently' giggling too loud while pretending to be discreet, occasionally whispering to some other girls standing close by.

Although Sora felt twinges of curiosity and unease at not knowing what Rei found so funny, they were smothered by an overwhelming sense of apathy. Whatever someone like Rie found funny would most likely anger her, which was the entire point. The bully was clearly baiting her to get some sort of reaction, but Sora had no interest in falling for such an obvious trap.

The more Sora dealt with Rie, the more tired she became. She hated that their relationship had become something so poisonous, but when compared to the anguish she felt over Piyomon's capture and all the horrors going on in the Digital World, Rie felt miniscule, microscopic. As it was, she was already questioning why she continued to try to find something to enjoy about a sport that failed to hold her interest. If she was being honest with herself, the only reasons why she kept coming back were because she did not want to disappoint her mother, and because being part of school clubs were good for college transcripts.

Sora closed her eyes and focused on the sound of tennis balls striking the rackets and asphalt in a rhythmic pattern, only occasionally broken up when someone scored. The chatter from her teammates and the squeak of sneakers created white noise that almost drowned out Rie's increasingly noisy attempts to get her attention. The world slowly, reluctantly started to slip away as she tried to empty her thoughts, when a sudden beeping brought her crashing back to Earth.

Sora jerked, eyes flying open, as she instantly recognized the particular chime.

"Why Sora!" Rie said too loudly, her voice scandalized. "You brought a cell phone to practice and left it on? Don't you know how rude that is?"

A couple of the girls giggled while more started whispering, but Sora ignored them and the disapproving look from the coach. She abandoned her place in line and dove for her bag. Her friends knew her schedule, which meant that the only reason why they would send her a message was if it was important.

Anxiety churned in Sora's stomach as she whipped out her D-Terminal, feeling equal parts dread and hope as she opened up the email from Koshiro. The message was short, but its impact on her was profound.

Jijimon wants to see us immediately. How soon can you get here?

"Sorry, but I have to go," Sora said rapidly as she hastily shoved her stuff into her bag. "It's an emergency!"

"Sora!?" the coach said, her voice almost a squawk. "Wait just one minute, young lady!"

"It's an emergency!" Sora shouted without looking back. She was already at the door to the school before anyone could think to come after her. She felt no guilt as everyone gawked at her, no concern for what they would say tomorrow or what questions they would throw her way, and she knew mother would understand.

Sora was a Chosen Child.