At the end of the school day, quite the crowd of students had gathered around the postings of the test score rankings. There were hushed and confused whispers as they looked at the order of the posted names. The small mob of gray uniforms pushed against itself as the ones in the back tried to get a better look to confirm what the rumors had been saying.

"What is the deal with Ichijouji? His scores went way down."

"Maybe he just stopped caring about tests entirely?"

"But he doesn't look like he's slacking off... If anything, it looks like he's working harder than before..."

The whispers of speculation suddenly stopped as they heard the sound of footsteps coming down from the nearby stairwell. A sudden hush passed over the crowd, and a few looked over their shoulders to see none other than Ichijouji himself walk down. He gave the crowd and the postings the briefest of glances before continuing on.

While it was true that he now had other matters to worry about, before he had been able to not only keep up but even excel with seemingly no effort. It was not like he was applying himself any more vigorously before his defeat. Something about him had changed. His mind and his thinking all felt slower than before. Problems that had seemed so simple before, whose solutions felt like second nature, had become somehow more complicated and difficult to understand.

"But it's fine," he muttered to himself. "I didn't really care back then. I have even less reason to care now." He continued his walk home in silence, but at a brisk pace. There were only so many hours in the day, and he needed to be efficient with his traveling time if he was to get as much done as he intended to.

Yet it seemed that for all his planning, there was a sudden obstacle in his path that he had not expected. Ken slowed to a full stop as he saw that boy with the pair of goggles underneath messy dark hair standing in front of him.

Daisuke smiled shyly and waved. "Yo!"

Ken's eyes briefly darted side to side to make sure that there were indeed no one else on the sidewalk with them. Since it was late afternoon and before the workday had ended, there were few cars passing by on the main road beside them. It was as if the world contained only them.

"Yes?" said Ken quietly. His hand strayed to his pocket. "What do you want?"

"I just wanted to talk," said Daisuke simply.

"The subway from Odaiba to Shinjuku is not exactly cheap. You really came all this way just to talk?"

"Well... yeah." Daisuke smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "I mean, I also wanted to say thanks for helping us out the other day. You saved Miyako's life back then, and things probably would have ended up going a lot worse if not for your help."

"Where are your friends anyways?" asked Ken, his eyes still glancing around as if expecting someone else to jump out at him.

"Well, I let Chibimon ride along in my bag," said Daisuke, pointing back at his backpack over his shoulder with his thumb. As if to make a point, Chibimon's little blue head popped up into sight over Daisuke's shoulder, and the little Digimon waved too. "As for Miyako and the others, well, they don't know I'm here talking to you."

Ken frowned and shook his head to clear his mind. What was he thinking? Daisuke was no threat to him. Ken knew all about the boy in front of him from their previous battles, particularly the upright and direct nature that had once been so frustrating before, but which Ken now found, though he hated to admit it, slightly endearing.

"Well," said Ken. "If you want to talk, let us talk."

"Um, well..." Daisuke scratched the back of his head and awkwardly kicked his foot back and forth against the ground. "I was thinking, we're not exactly enemies anymore, right?"

Ken thought in silence for a moment. Slowly, he nodded his head. "There is no reason for us to fight anymore."

The other boy's face lit up almost immediately. "Great! So, I was thinking, maybe you could go apologize to my friends and the Digimon for all that stuff you did before? I mean, I could set something up. Once that's all cleared, maybe we could start working together to help fix the Digital World up and..."

"Apologize?" interrupted Ken. He stifled a laugh as he lowered and shook his head. "Don't be ridiculous. I can't apologize."

"Come on," said Daisuke. "I know it might be hard at first, and the others will probably be reluctant to forgive you at first, but in time..."

"You misunderstand," cut in Ken. "I will admit that I regret certain... mistakes... that I made in the past, none of that matters anymore. I don't care about nonsense like finding forgiveness or being forgiven. Any mistakes I made are mine to live with, and I don't give a damn about what anyone else thinks. I have my work to do, and you have yours. Just because we are not enemies anymore does not mean we are suddenly friends either."

He turned to go. Daisuke quickly spoke up. "Hey, hold on. We're not finished here."

"Actually, I think we are," said Ken, not even bothering to look or turn back as he began to walk away. "We have a mutual understanding and there is nothing more to be said. You should keep doing what you've been doing, and I will keep doing what I am doing, and that will be all."

"And what are you doing now?" called Daisuke, but the other boy was already far away, and did not make any answer.

Daisuke sighed and crossed his arms. For a moment he considered going after the other boy to try to disucss the matter further, but he felt his D2 Digivice vibrate against his leg, and turned his attention there instead.

Maximum 17.0 Pure Black

Aquilamon vs Stingmon

The situation was becoming desperate at a dangerously fast pace. Takeru had no choice but to call the others for help.

At first it had seemed like just another border dispute between two bands of refugees trying to re-establish themselves in a fertile but limited area that could only barely support both of them. Originally, after a few skirmishes the two groups had settled into something of a compromise with a river as a mutual border. But then the hydroelectric dam had been discovered.

It was a tall black structure, a legacy of the Kaiser's rule, installed with the intention of powering a whole network of Dark Towers in the area, all of which seemed to have mysteriously disappeared in the past few days. Now it was the crux of the dispute between the two refugee groups. The two sides could not come to an agreement as to how they would divide the power production of the dam between them, and the matter had quickly come to blows.

Takeru, Galgomon, and Pegasmon had been the first to arrive and had managed to restore some measure of order on their own, but then something had happened which had completely reignited the chaos.

"What is he even trying to accomplish?" cried Galgomon angrily as he leaned over the edge of the dam and looked down at the newcomer currently climbing up and punching the side of the dam.

"Well at least his sudden appearance has caught the attention of the crowd," said Pegasmon. "They're no longer fighting each other."

Below them, on the side of the dam and slowly climbing up was a large golem creature that seemed to be made of black and grey stone. Its large fists were smashing against the dam at a steady pace, slowly but surely causing large cracks to spread throughout the structure. Both bands of refugees had ceased fighting because of this third party, and those with ranged attacks were beginning to take potshots at the attacker from above despite Takeru and Pegasmon's insistence that they were only damaging the dam further.

From his position between Galgomon and Pegasmon, Takeru glanced over the edge, his fists tightening on the railing. "We've got to stop this soon. Even if the guy below doesn't break the dam, this rioting crowd may end up breaking it themselves while trying to protect it. Galgomon, Pegasmon, you sure you don't sense any of the others coming?"

Galgomon's ears twitched. "It's hard to hear anything specific with all the commotion around us."

"We're running out of time," said Pegasmon. "At this point we have to intervene directly."

Takeru slowly nodded. "Pegasmon, you're our only flyer then." He turned to Galgomon.

Galgomon briefly glowed and then reverted to Terriermon before hopping onto Takeru's shoulder, while Takeru in turn climbed onto Pegasmon's back and held on tight as he jumped over the railing and swooped down to confront the attacker.

Golemon: Adult level. Rock Type. Virus Attribute. Metal Empire. Melee Attack: Goleum Punch. Heavy Attack: Curse Crimson.

"Remember, we've got to be careful not to hit the dam," said Takeru.

"I know," said Pegasmon. He spread his wings wide and flapped, sending down a wave of golden stars that convered and crashed into the attacking golem's back.

The black Golemon briefly swiveled its head up and blasted a massive stream of fiery red gas at Pegasmon. Takeru held on tight as Pegasmon swerved to dodge, and then desperately tried to gain a level altitude as the superheated air currents disrupted Pegasmon's balance.

"We didn't even make a scratch in his rock skin," said Terriermon.

"Should have known, considering how he's been shrugging off all the other attacks from above," muttered Takeru in frustration. "There are adult levels up there in the crowd, but this guy's defense is so high he doesn't even seem to notice. This is why I wanted to wait until we had more back-up."

"I could try a Silver Blaze," offered Pegasmon. "It packs a bit more of a punch."

Takeru frowned. "I'd prefer not to risk damaging the dam further, but at this rate, we may not have much of a choice."

Terriermon scratched his chin. "Well, there is another possibility..."

Both Takeru and Pegasmon visibly tensed.

"If the dam breaks, it'll be a lot of trouble," said Terriermon.

Takeru bit his lip. Terriermon was right. It would be an utter disaster if the dam collapsed. Both groups of refugees above would fall, and those who couldn't fly would quickly drown. Moreover, there was the settlements downriver to think about. Countless bands of refugees had set up their camps in the rich land revealed by the drained water. If the dam was suddenly broken, they would be utterly wiped out too.

But on the other hand, he had no guarantee that they would be able to save the dam even if they did resort to their usual plan of utter desperation. There were many risks involved.

He felt his twin D2's vibrate. Terriermon leaned over his shoulder and pointed to the top of the dam. "Hikari, Tailmon, and Lopmon have arrived."
"Thanks," said Takeru. "What about the others?"

Terriermon shook his head. "They're not here yet."

There was the sound of rushing water. Water had suddenly began to gush out of a small leak from one of the large cracks.

"No choice," said Takeru. He glanced up to the top of the dam, and silently cursed the fact that his old message had set the rallying point there. The entire area was in danger of becoming a disaster zone. "Come on, if we don't stop him now, a lot of Digimon are going to die."

The message had clearly been urgent, but Miyako and Iori both waited for a while at the computer lab, expecting Daisuke and Chibimon to appear at any moment to travel with them. After some ten minutes, they quickly decided that they could not afford to wait any longer, and went in without them.

"Any idea of what's going on?" asked Miyako after they crossed.

"Something about a dam," replied Iori, re-reading the message on his D2. "It's not far."

Hawkmon donned his armor and carried them there as Flybeemon, Miyako directly on his back while Iori and Armadimon rode on Flybeemon's abdomen, gripping Miyako's shoulders. As they drew near, they surveyed the situation. The area seemed to have grown unusually bright, and Miyako had to shade her eyes to get a good view and find Hikari amidst the gathered crowd.

Miyako directed Flybeemon to land down beside the other girl. As she dismounted, she quickly asked Hikari the situation.

"As far as I can tell, there was a fight between these two groups until that Golemon appeared out of nowhere and began attacking the dam," said Hikari.
"Which, interestingly enough, has actually had an unusual positive side-effect," quipped Tailmon. "The two sides have put aside their differences and are now working together to try to stop the new attacker."

"There is no stronger bond of friendship than a mutual enemy," said Lopmon quietly.

Miyako frowned and looked around. "Where's Takeru? He's the one who sent the first message, isn't he?"

"He and Pegasmon went and tried to engage the Golemon, but it seemed to have just shrugged off their attacks," said Tailmon. She pointed out toward the sky, seemingly at the sun. "So they're trying a different approach."

Miyako shaded her eyes and looked out toward where Tailmon was pointing. As she did, she thought she saw two suns in the sky. But then she realized what the second sun actually was.

The terrifying six winged angel gently floated in the sky, golden staff in one hand while carrying the black-cloaked Takeru on his other arm and shoulder. Terriermon sat perched on Takeru's head. Miyako felt a shiver run down her spine, followed by a strange oppressive aura crushing down on her.
"What are they doing?" asked Miyako, suddenly stricken with a strange anxiety.

"When you didn't show up right away, they became afraid that you didn't recieve his message," said Tailmon. "And because of that, they decided to take matters into their own hands." She sighed and looked down sadly. "You see, if the dam collapses, it will be an utter disaster. Both groups of refugees currently on top of this dam will fall, and those who cannot fly will be drowned. Downriver there are settlements that would be wiped away if the river were to be unleashed."

Iori suddenly rushed forward. "What are they going to do?"

"Ah, that's right," said Tailmon. "You haven't really seen them go all out before, have you?"

"We're here now!" said Iori. "Call them off! Armadimon, let's go!"

"It's too late," said Hikari quietly. She pointed out to the sky.

The golden staff in Angemon's hand had vanished, dissolving into a growing aura of white light around Angemon's fist. With a single heavy warcry, Angemon punched the air, and a beam of energy erupted forward and collided straight into the black golem below. Everyone instinctively shield their eyes.

Nothing happened.

The completely unphased Golemon raised its arm again to make another punch into the gradually weakening dam.

Miyako blinked and looked to Hikari. "Um..."

Hikari's eyes were wide in disbelief. "That's... that's impossible..."

Iori was the first to regain his composure. He drew his yellow D2, and a moment later Ankylomon was jumping over the side of the dam, ready to crash down into Golemon below with his great bulk.

But there was a sudden flash of white, and Golemmon was no longer below Ankylomon, who crashed unceremoniously in the water below. Angemon had suddenly tackled the black golem, driving its re-materialized golden staff into its chest. The two vanished into the trees.

Hikari had lost no time in directing not only Miyako and the others, but the gathered crowd as a whole to rush down to try and salvage the situation. The cooperation between the former rival groups first born from the mysterious attacker continued to survive so long as the dam remained unstable. As she watched the two groups work together to try to seal the leaks and repair the cracks, Hikari silently hoped that the fragile peace would last a while longer. Miyako and Flybeemon seemed to have dived into the activity well enough, Flybeemon's flight capabilities proving invaluable in reaching and helping others reach various points on the side of the dam.

Iori on the other hand, did not seem so calm. Flybeemon helped him down to rejoin Ankylomon, but the two did not go to help the others. Instead, they took up a position at the base of the dam, on the edge of the forest beside the stream, clearly waiting.

Above, Hikari shifted nervously as she watched Iori and Ankylomon. Tailmon guessed her partner's thoughts. "I think you should leave him be for a while, at least until Takeru and his partners return."

Hikari crossed her arms, and nodded.

As if on cue, Takeru at last began to emerge from the trees and make his way back to the others. Neither Patamon nor Terriermon were with him, perhaps hiding away and recovering using the D2's healing functions. Iori and Ankylomon watched in silence as he slowly walked up toward them.
"You two seemed to be growing comfortable with evolution," said Takeru. He sat down nonchalantly on a nearby piece of debris. It was a jagged concrete shard dislodged from the dam. Takeru slumped slightly forward, his elbows on his knees while his black cloak hung from his shoulders. He looked very tired.

Iori went straight to the point. "Angemon killed Golemmon, didn't he?"

Takeru nodded.

"Why? How could...? How can...?" Iori trailed off and frowned. He couldn't find the words.

"It needed to be done," said Takeru.

Iori's hands tightened into fists. "No, it didn't. There had to be another way."

Takeru shrugged. "Maybe there was, but that was our choice, and we stand by it."

"You're different," said Iori.

There was a strange tone of grave finality in Iori's voice, which bothered Takeru. "What do you mean?"

"Something about you is different," said Iori. "Ever since... No, I'm not sure when it started, but you're not who you were before. More and more, it feels like I don't know who you are anymore."

A chill seemed to settle over the group, which Miyako found unsettling. It felt like their little team was beginning to fracture apart.

As a whole, they hadn't been much of a cohesive group, conceded Miyako. They had never been a group of five children and their partners, but an alliance of three plus two. Yet the rift seemed to growing all the wider. Ever since the final battle, Takeru seemed to be more and more withdrawn, off doing other things, and now it seemed to be reaching the point that the "plus two" division of their five-man band was beginning to split into "plus one and one." She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen any direct conversation between Takeru and Hikari.

And there was the matter of Daisuke's absence. When he did eventually come, he apologized profusely enough for missing the action, but he didn't explain where he had been or what he had been doing, and for some reason Miyako just felt too tired to ask. So now, even their little core trio was beginning to weaken along with the periphery duo.

They came in again the next day to continue the reconstruction of the dam. As she watched the former rival refugee bands now working together to cover up the holes leaking water, Miyako couldn't help but sigh. She had thought that the only reconstruction they would be doing would be fixing the damage left behind by Ichijouji Ken. But then she remembered the rogue Tortomon that Daisuke had fought, and then the other day when the Thunderballmon had attacked them, and her surprise gradually faded away.

Every day a disturbing thought continued to weigh heavily on Miyako's mind: peace had not really been restored after all, and it had nothing to do with the fact that Ichijouji Ken had made his return to the Digital World. True, there was still a certain ruthlessness about Ken, such as when he had sent Stingmon to not simply join the fight but to outright kill and absorb the attacker. But it did not like Ken was actively seeking out victims or taking enjoyment out of the fighting, as he had been as Kaiser. The whole matter with Ken seemed more and more confusing the more she thought about it.

"Like this?"

Miyako pulled herself from her thoughts and looked over as Hikari held up the little woven bag to show her. "Yeah, that's right," said Miyako. "You're a natural at this."

"Thank you," said Hikari softly. She set down the bag and turned her attention to weaving the next one.

The two of them were kneeling side by side at a work bench, putting together the bags that would be distributed out to the two refugee bands so that they could carry supplies with themselves on an individual basis instead of having to depend solely on handouts from supply depots and thus be unable to travel. Miyako smiled slightly to herself. At least there seemed to be one thing about their little band that seemed to be improving: her relalationship with Hikari. Somehow they seemed to have ended up working together relatively frequently the past few weeks.

Lopmon was with them as well, folding and weaving in complete silence. As Lopmon and Hikari both continued to work in this manner, Miyako took a moment to watch them, thinking about how similar they seemed. Both were soft-spoken, but carried themselves withsuch quiet dignity that it seemed like there was something great and powerful hidden behind their gentle demeanor. Of course, as Miyako thought about it more, she remembered the early days when she and Hawkmon and the others had almost fought with Hikari and Tailmon, so in truth, she had already seen something of the dangerous power of the other girl.

As Lopmon began a new bag, its paws slipped and became tangled in the thread, and attempts to disengage the paws only caused the tangle to become more and more complicated. Hikari laughed softly and began helping her partner escape from the threads.

Miyako set down the bag she was working on and stared at the scene. Hikari noticed her staring, and looked at her. "What?" she said.

"It's nothing," said Miyako.

"No, really, what is it?"

"Really, it's nothing. I just think you're kind of cute when you laugh like that."

Hikari's cheeks flushed pink and she looked down at her feet and fidgeted. "Idiot. Don't say things like that."

Miyako put a hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh. "That just makes you look cuter."

Though Hikari's cheeks managed to turn even pinker, she forcibly lowered her head and pretended to focus entirely on her weaving, and did not say anything more. Miyako turned back to her work as well, as Hawkmon had briefly dropped off another load of threads with which to make the bags, before flying off to gather more.

Within a few more minutes however, Miyako found that she could not bear working in silence like she was, and tried to think of something to say.
"You know, Daisuke was talking to me earlier, about Ichijouji Ken."

Hikari briefly glanced up from her work, but said nothing.

"I've been thinking," continued Miyako. "We've never exactly talked about what we would do about Ichijouji Ken. I mean, in retrospect, we probably should have discussed things. Even though we supposedly beat him, it didn't really change his abilities or anything. He's still free to come to the Digital World and do whatever he wants. There's really nothing stopping him from attacking us and rebuilding his little Empire again."

"That's true," said Hikari quietly. Her expression looked troubled, but her eyes seemed distant, as if she were actually thinking of something else.

"Daisuke said he wanted us all to just talk it out with Ichijouji Ken, and somehow settle everything. He said that Ichijouji Ken isn't our enemy anymore, just because he happened to help us back when we were attacked. But... I don't know... what do you think, Hikari?"

For a while Hikari was silent, and Miyako thought the other girl might not have heard her. She was about to ask again, when Hikari finally spoke. "I think he is being naïve."


Lopmon suddenly spoke up from its seat next to Hikari. "Ichijouji Ken will not talk it out. He is too proud."

"Huh?" Miyako blinked and looked to the Digimon with some surprise. She realized then that she had barely ever heard Lopmon speak before. And the fact that Lopmon spoke so little seemed to give the words Lopmon spoke now a degree of severity and gravity.

But Lopmon did not speak again, much to Miyako's disappointment. Hikari picked up the conversation instead. "Daisuke is naïve, but in a way that is a special charm of his. He is innocent."

"Hmm," grunted Miyako. "Innocent is one way of calling it. I always preferred 'simple-minded.' You have to admit, he's not very bright."

"Bright lights burn out more quickly," said Lopmon.

Once again Miyako waited for some elaboration, and once again Lopmon did not continue.

Miyako looked at the Digimon and shivered slightly. It was as if the entire purpose of Lopmon's existing was to say the strangest things at the strangest times and then nothing else. Miyako looked up at Hikari and tried to think of a diplomatic way of saying "Your partner is really weird and kind of depressing sometimes. Why is that?"

In the end she settled for "Hey, what's Tailmon doing?

While the girls and their partners worked on weaving, Takeru stood some distance away, sweeping some floors of a shelter just downstream of the dam. It was unusual for him to be doing this sort of work, but he felt like he needed a break from his usual duty. Or, to be more accurate, his partner Patamon had decided that he needed a break, especially after the events of the previous day. After donning the Armor of Pegasmon, he had flown off to run the errands by himself, leaving both Takeru and Terriermon behind. Takeru could have perhaps tried to stop him by trying to recall the Digimental, but in the end he had only sighed and shook his head, deciding that if Pegasmon cared that much, he should probably just go along with it and do some less intensive work for the day.

"He only does it because he worries about you," Terriermon had said.

"I know," Takeru had replied.

"Second brother's always such a worrier."

"I know."

Now Terriermon had gone off too. Takeru vaguely remembered something that Tailmon might have needed help with. He was not alone, however. There were a few Baby levels in the shelter, playing little games with each other while Takeru stayed out of their way and swept. Every now and then he would take a break from his work and watch them. If he and Patamon hadn't acted as they had, perhaps those Baby levels and this shelter would not have been there today.

He sighed and pulled brim of his hat low over his face, and tried to forget what Iori had said to him.

But the very next moment, he felt his hat suddenly lift up from his head. Takeru stiffened briefly and spun around. The next moment however he relaxed and even let out a soft laugh as Daisuke smiled at him and gently dropped the hat onto his own head. Iori and Armadimon were there as well, standing just behind Daisuke.

"Well, this is rare!" said Daisuke. "I would have thought you would have been off doing whatever it is you do nowadays."

Takeru only swiped his hat back from Daisuke's head and put it back over his head, pulling the brim down low as it was before. "Daisuke," he said with a little smile and nod. He turned to the others. "Iori, Armadimon."

"What are you doing here anyways?" asked Daisuke.

"What does it look like? I'm sweeping."

"Right, right," said Daisuke, nodding. He fell silent, and for a moment no one spoke. Then he cleared his throat. "Hey, it's nice that you're around for once. There's something I actually wanted to talk about."

Takeru continued sweeping. "Sure thing. What is it?"

"Well, it's about Ichijouji Ken."

Takeru briefly stopped and blinked, but the next moment he was sweeping again. He did not say anything, so Daisuke continued.

"So, I was thinking, last time, when he showed up, well, it showed that he's still coming to the Digital World, right?"

"Indeed he has," said Takeru quietly. "He has been for a long time now."

Near the back, Iori started up and stepped forward. "You knew?"

"One of the reasons you haven't seen me that often is that I've been trying to track his movements."

"Why didn't you say anything?" asked Iori. His voice had risen very slightly, but still noticeably.

Daisuke coughed, and the attention of the others shifted back to him. "Anyways, since he's still coming to the Digital World, I was thinking, maybe we should try to talk with him, and, I don't know, put some things to rest? He's not an enemy anymore."

"Says who?" asked Iori.

"Says him," said Daisuke. "I went to Shinjuku and talked to him."

"You what?"

"It was only a short talk, but he said that he wasn't our enemy anymore."

"When did he get to decide that?" said Iori.

"Hey, he didn't attack us last time. He outright helped us."

"Yes, by sending Stingmon to kill the attacker! And did you see his eyes as he watched? They were cold, impassive, like he was just throwing out some trash. That's what life is to someone like him. He's a killer."

"I'm a killer too, remember?" said Takeru quietly. Iori and Daisuke fell silent and looked to Takeru in surprise, but Takeru kept his back to them and continued sweeping as before.

"You get it, don't you, Takeru?" said Daisuke. "I mean, Miyako said that since a lot of the current mess is, well, Ichijouji's fault, it only makes sense that he helps clean some of it up. And we could use his help. Think about all we could get done with the extra power?"

"Stop it, Daisuke!" snapped Iori. He turned toward Daisuke, and the older boy was stunned by the intensity of the emotion in the younger boy's eyes. "You can't just keep pretending that none of this happened!"

"Wh... what?"

"You can't act like Ichijouji Ken is suddenly someone to work with! He did horrible things! You saw so yourself, didn't you? You can't just magically undo the crimes that he committed. And we don't even know if Ichijouji Ken even feels the slightest bit of regret for what he has done! He could easily be just as evil as before. We haven't seen a single thing to suggest otherwise!"

Daisuke hesitated. He suddenly remembered what Ken had said to him when they had briefly met on the street. There had not been a single sign of doubt in the former Kaiser's eyes.

"Iori," said Takeru. His voice was soft, but startlingly powerful and authoritative. The other two boys looked at him.

Takeru turned to them and gently motioned toward the nearby Baby levels with a nod of his head. "Please keep your voices down, so as to not to disturb the residents."

Iori blushed and lowered his head. He turned toward the Digimon and bowed. "I'm sorry for disturbing you all. That... that was very immature of me..."

Daisuke looked over to Takeru with a hopeful look in his eyes. He was thinking about the confrontation that Takeru had had with Ken on the mountain side. "Hey, Takeru, what do you think?"

Takeru shrugged. "My thoughts? My thoughts aren't really that important..."

"Come on, they're important to us," said Daisuke.

Takeru sighed and thought for a moment. "If a child steals sweets, and he is punished, he may feel very sorry and be good afterward. But that doesn't entitle him to steal sweets, does it? Nor does it entitle him to be given sweets."

"The problem is not about taking or giving 'sweets,'" said Iori, softly but with finality. "The problem is that this 'child' we are talking about is not sorry at all. Nor does it seem he intends to be good afterward."

Takeru shrugged again and went back to work, his words clearly not been very well received by either side of the debate. Iori kept his arms crossed and looked away. Daisuke looked down at the ground, and scratched the back of his head. No one could not think of anything more to say.

When Pegasusmon returned, he went straight to Takeru and whispered in the boy's ear. Takeru's expression darkened, but he only nodded and climbed onto his partner's back. He left without saying a word to the others.

Miyako hummed to herself quietly as she and Hawkmon walked through the forest, carrying an empty basket bags between them. They had delievered some of the finished bags to some of the outposts near the fringes of the settled forest, while Hikari and Tailmon remained back near the main settlements to weave more. Now they were on their way back.

"No, that's not what I'm mean Hawkmon," said Miyako. "I wouldn't call it fear. It was something different."

They were passing the time in conversation as they walked, discussing the events of the previous day. Specifically, Miyako was sharing her feelings, which she insisted was not fear, when she had watched Angemon fight.

"I mean, maybe I was afraid the first time, back during that fight we had in the desert railroad," continued Miyako. "But this time was slightly different. There's just something about this aura about Angemon, and honestly from Takeru for that matter. I didn't really notice it until Iori pointed it out, though."

"Iori is very observant," said Hawkmon. "He seems to have an extra sense, one that rivals even my own senses."

"Yeah, you Digimon tend to have really sharp senses, don't you?"

"Some of us," said Hawkmon. "And it usually ends up being somewhat specialized. My hearing is probably relatively average by most standards, though my eyesight is top notch."

Miyako smiled and adjusted her glasses. "Kind of ironic that we ended up together, then."

Hawkmon shook his head. "No, I do not think there is anything ironic about our partnership. We are a good fit for each other. We are very similar, and in the ways that we are different, we complement each other rather than oppose."

Miyako turned slightly pink and laughed. "Well, you sure are more eloquent in your speech than I am."

They continued on for a while, and Miyako suddenly said, "You know, speaking of Takeru and Iori, what do you think about Ichijouji Ken?"

"He is the former Kaiser," said Hawkmon. "What is there to say?"

"He and Wormmon saved us that other day."

Hawkmon frowned. He did not like being reminded of how he had essentially failed to protect Miyako on his own.

"Daisuke keeps on saying he isn't our enemy anymore," continued Miyako. "And, well, I think it'd be nice if things turned out that way..."

"Oh," said Hawkmon with a slight chuckle. "Perhaps you still have designs on him?"

Miyako flushed completely red. "I am absolutely over that little schoolgirl crush! It's all in the past!"

"Aren't you still a schoolgirl?"

Miyako looked away, pouting.

As they neared the main settlement, however, they both saw something strange. A thin plume of smoke had appeared off to the side that had not been there before. Both Miyako and Hawkmon thought the sight strange, and decided to make a slight detour to check it out. It wasn't that far off from their main path. They continued their casual conversation as they went, and thus were caught completely by surprise when they entered a small clearing within the trees and found Ichijouji Ken and Stingmon right in front of them.

They were not along either. In front of them was a dying Digimon, dissolving into black smoke that was being sucked up into Stingmon's arm bracer. There were several burned down trees nearby, the source of the smoke from before, and a short distance away there was a perfectly square hole in the ground.
As soon as the remains of the dead Digimon were absorbed, Ichiijouji Ken slowly turned toward Miyako and Hawkmon, having heard their approach.

Miyako instinctively froze under Ken's harsh gaze. Without the usual dark glasses that Ken had worn as Kaiser, Miyako was caught off guard by the severity and depths of his dark eyes. She hadn't been able to get a very good look at him, despite his saving her life their previous meeting. Now she saw that he wore some sort of cloak, like Takeru did, only white instead of Takeru's black.

No, it wasn't actually white, Miyako realized. As she got a better look, she realized that each thread of the cloak was a different color, different shades of red, yellow, blue, and green, such that as a whole the cloak gave the impression that it was white, but seemed to shine and glimmer like a rainbow reflecting off water. It was disorienting to stare at it for too long.

Miyako slowly straightened and took a step back. Beside her, Hawkmon drew a few feather blades and took a defensive posture, eyes quietly darting around to look for any other possible signs of danger.

"What are you doing here?" asked Ken quietly.

Miyako glanced at where the burning trees and vanished black smoke. "I should be asking you that question, shouldn't I?" said Miyako. "You... you two just killed someone, didn't you?"

Ken glanced down at the square hole in the ground. "It's none of your business. Please leave this place. You're getting in the way of my work."

Beside him, Stingmon turned and glared at them, but did not say anything.

"Miyako, I should armor myself, just in case," said Hawkmon quietly.

"Alright," said Miyako. She slowly drew her red D2, and in a flash, Hawkmon was arrayed in cloth armor as Shurimon.

"What is that, a threat?" asked Ken.

"Just a precaution," said Miyako harshly. "I did just watch you two commit murder."

"It wasn't murder," said Ken.

"Really? Was it self-defense?"

Ichijouji Ken tensed, and he turned back toward the hole. "Forget what you saw."

"Just explain what you're doing here!"

"It's nothing!" snapped Ken. "Forget what you saw and leave."

Miyako and Shurimon remained still, continuing to stare at Ken with suspicion eyes. This seemed to greatly anger him. He whirled around again, and was all but shouting. "Don't look at me with those judgmental eyes. You have no idea what's going on. Forget what you saw and leave. Leave now!"

For a moment, Miyako felt like she had been in a similar situation before, but all other thoughts were pushed aside by the overwhelming power of Ichijouji Ken's presence. "No," she said quietly. "I think I have an idea of what's going on here."

"You do not!" said Ken. "You don't understand!"

"We don't understand, but you do?" fired back Miyako. "In that case, why don't you just take the time to explain things to us instead of acting all high and mighty!"

Ken's shoulders were practically shaking in aggravation. He waved his hand forward to direct his partner. "Enough! Stingmon! If they won't leave, then remove them by force!"

With the barest of nods, Stingmon obeyed and charged straight at Shurimon.

The insect and the cloth-armored plant mutant clashed, glowing stinger spike against metal star. But as Shurimon pressed forward in his attack, Stingmon suddenly flickered and vanished.

"What?" Shurimon just barely had time to express his surprise before he fell forward, his blade stars hitting nothing but air. And as he fell, he suddenly felt a painful blow against his back. Stingmon had suddenly appeared behind him, driving the stinger into his back. Only the large Kusanagi star on his back had saved Shurimon from being completley impaled.

On the sideline, Miyako chewed her lip until it was almost bleeding as she watched helplessly. She was supposed to be helping her partner, watching for openings and giving advice, but Stingmon was just too impossibly fast for her to keep up with. Yet when she turned her attention to Ichijouji Ken, she was both impressed and horrified to see the other boy seemed to be following the battle completely. His eyes darted back and forth, carefully tracking the flow of the battle as Stingmon continued to fly circles around Shurimon, and every now and then he would whisper a communication into his black D2, upon which Stingmon would dutifully strike, glowing stinger blade slashing through Shurimon's rapidly weakening armor.

"How?" said Miyako helplessly. "How is he so fast?"

She quickly shook her head. This was no time to let her emotions take control. If she did, she wouldn't be able to help her partner. She needed to keep her thoughts clear and think of some plan.

"It's useless," said Ken. "A typical Armor level cannot stand up against the power of an Adult level. You cannot draw enough power from that Digimental to match Stingmon, and you cannot make your partner evolve to Adult either. Give up."

Miyako's fists tightened. "Don't listen to him," she told herself. "He's trying to mess with your head. I have to stay focused, keep my head clear."

Ken made a slight wave of his hand, and Stingmon grabbed Shurimon from the ground and threw the Armor level into the air. Then Stingmon shifted yet again, vanishing and reappearing just above Shurimon and bringing his two arms, fists together, directly onto Shurimon's chest.

Miyako's eyes widened in horror. "Shurimon!"

The mutant type crashed into the ground, his cloth armor suddenly shattering into pieces, leaving Hawkmon lying on his back amidst a pile of torn cloth, leaves, and broken metal. Miyako ran to her partner's side, practically throwing herself over him.

"I'm sorry," said Hawkmon weakly. "I've failed."

"Don't apologize," said Miyako. "You did everything you could." She took up Hawkmon into her arms, then stood and glanced toward her opponents.
Stingmon slowly hovered in front of her, but only turned to look toward Ken, as if awaiting further orders.

Ichijouji Ken brushed off the gray dust collecting around his shimmering white cloak. He sighed sadly and shook his head. "You can't beat us. Take your partner and go home. The Digital World is not a place for you. Come, Stingmon. Let us get back to work." He and Stingmon turned to go.

Miyako turned her attention to the scattered pieces of the broken Armor of Purity. For some reason, it had not come back to coalesce into its Digimental form. However, the nearest piece of the armor seemed to be glowing with a faint green light. Miyako reached out toward it and picked it up.

The broken pieces immediately flew together, but as they did they did not form the egg like shape of a Digimental, but instead seemed to collapse in on itself, forming a small golden tag, bearing a little green crest at its center with the symbol of a little tear drop. Hawkmon gently let himself out of Miyako's arms and stretched his wings and legs, feeling suddenly invigorated.

Ichijouji Ken stopped as he saw the green light out of the corner of his eyes. Slowly, he turned his head and glared at the light coming fromMiyako's hands. His eyes narrowed.

"Hawkmon, you're healed," said Miyako, yet oddly without much surprise.

"Huh, I am." Hawkmon blinked and looked down at his body. "And yet, I also feel... a bit different..."

Miyako looked down at the new object in her hands. She would have to ask Hikari or Takeru about it later, but for now she was not going to question a second chance. Her fist tightened around the tag, and she stood up straight. She was feeling a bit different herself. "Hey, Hawkmon, since we're both feeling a bit different, maybe we should try something a little different?"

Hawkmon nodded. "As you command."

Opposite them on the field, Ichijouji Ken remained silent, watching and thinking.

Miyako remembered what Daisuke, Vmon, Iori, and Armadimon had told her about their own experiences, and hoped for the best. She held out her D2, and as she did a great white light emerged from it and from Hawkmon's body.

"Stingmon!" called Ken.

Stingmon dutifully rushed forward, but the next moment a pillar of light erupted around Hawkmon. From the light emerged a great red eagle, with two large horns on its head, like those of a great ram.

Aquilamon: Adult level. Bird Type. Data Attribute. Wind Guardians. Ranged Attack: Blast Laser. Heavy Attack: Glade Horn.

Stimong drew back, as if suddenly unsure. Even Ichijouji Ken seemed unusually unsettled by the evolution.

"Miyako, get on," said Aquilamon. "Let's have round two in the sky."

"Right!" Miyako mounted her partner's back, and Aquilamon promptly jumped up and took flight even faster than Stingmon had moved before, and began flying circles around Ken and Stingmon below.

Miyako glanced down at the two of them from on Aquilamon's back. "Come on!" she shouted to them. "Our battle's not over yet!"

Ken quickly recovered himself, and his face focused into his usual stern gaze. "If you insist on continuing, then don't expect us to hold anything back."
"We wouldn't have it any other way!" fired back Miyako.

Ichijouji Ken waved his arm forward, and straight away Stingmon rocketed up toward the sky, fibrous insect wings beating furiously on his back. Miyako smirked as she watched the insect type climb up towards them, and then signaled her partner to move with a light squeeze of her legs. Aquilamon flapped his great wings and flew aside, out of Stingmon's line of attack, and then turned his head and unleashed a blast of energy rings from his beak. Stingmon twisted his body aside, but the attack grazed his side and left a scorching and smoking black mark on his green exoskeleton.

"First hit is ours," said Miyako.

"We have the advantage now," said Aquilamon. "The sky is my domain. Stingmon may be fast, but he can't match my speed in the open air."

And their opposition seemed to know it. Below, Ichijouji Ken was calling out more orders to his partner, and Stingmon dutifully began drawing down low instead of giving chase up toward them.

Aquilamon however continued to circle around overhead, like a vulture over a dying animal, occasionally taking further attacks of opportunity whenever he could. Each time, Stingmon managed to swerve away, but every now and then another blast would graze him, and the damage was slowly adding up. Stingmon slowly drew back, and his stinger blade withdrew back inside his black bracer.

"One more good hit should finish things," said Miyako as she surveyed the damage.

"Then let's end this up close," agreed Aquilamon.

Aquilamon's horns began glowing red. With a great cry, he folded his wings and dove downward. But as they fell, Stingmon suddenly straightened and unleashed his stinger blade. An instant before they collided, Miyako glanced toward Ichijouji Ken, and saw that he was smiling.

It had been a trap. Stingmon was ready for them, and his Spiking Finish attack clashed with Aquilamon's Glade Horn, sending out great spherical shockwaves of energy all around them.

Miyako screwed her eyes shut and clung onto her partner's neck for dear life as the shockwaves passed over her, rippling over her body and threatening to send her flying away. Aquilamon tried to hold firm as well, keeping his body as rigid as possible as he continue to push his glowing horns against Stingmon's arm blade and bracer. But Stingmon held firm as well, and slowly, every so slowly, began to push them back.

And then he flashed and vanished.

Aquilamon cried out in surprise and panic as he crashed forward into the ground. Pain ran from his head through his neck, but he quickly staggered upright as best he could, knowing what was coming next. He was still too slow. Stingmon came slidling in from the side, sending him flying again with a strong and heavy kick.

It was the same trick Stingmon had used against him when he was armored as Shurimon, and as before it was too much for him to handle. Aquilamon gave one last cough before glowing and reverting back to Hawkmon.

As Hawkmon fell, Miyako fell beside him and cursed. Her plans had failed. She had been both outsmarted and overpowered. She and Hawkmon had both given it their all, but it still wasn't enough. All her planning and fighting had been for nothing.

Yet she didn't feel angry or upset. Instead, she felt a great calm. She and Hawkmon had both done their best, and she was satisfied with that. Slowly she crawled up to her knees, waiting for Stingmon to strike again and finish the both of them off for good.

But the attack never came.

Miyako slowly lifted her head. She could see Stingmon, but he was not moving towards them. Instead, he drew back, clutching the black bracer around his arm. Miyako blinked and focused her eyes on the insect. The stinger blade broken off, and a large glowing crack ran down the side of the bracer. From it seemed to emerge thin black smoke.

Ichijouji Ken ran forward to his partner's side, clearly concerned. Stingmon knelt down and held out his arm to let Ken study it. After taking a moment to do so, Ken whispered something to Stingmon, who nodded and began to fly away, clutching the cracked black bracer with his other arm as he went.
Ken meanwhile turned to Miyako and Hawkmon.

"You've forced me to retreat today," he said. "But don't misunderstand. You did not win. You lost. Remember that in the future, and don't challenge me again. I don't want to have to fight you, but if you ever try to stand in my way again, I will beat you down just as I did today. Remember that."

With that, he turned and walked away. Miyako helped Hawkmon back up, and did not say anything. She did not even watch him go.

Hawkmon looked at his partner. "Miyako, are you alright?"

Miyako smiled. "What are you talking about? I should be asking you that. You're the one who did the fighting."

"But what about what Ichijouji Ken said?"

"Let's just get back to the others for now, alright?"

Hawkmon frowned, but nodded. "Let's go."

Hikari, Tailmon, and Lopmon met them halfway as they made the slow walk back on foot. Miyako tried to explain what had happened and that despite being a little sore, she and Hawkmon were fine, but eventually gave in to Hikari's proddings to use the D2's healing functions on Hawkmon and let Hikari look her over for serious wounds.

"I didn't know you were studying to be a doctor," joked Miyako as she pulled up her shirt and let Hikari gently prod her back and sides to check for bruises and internal wounds.

"This is more like a medic's work than a doctor's," said Hikari. "But yeah, it was a useful skill to have, back during the war. Takeru taught me most of the basics."

"Well that explains how you learned it. But how did he learn it then?"

"From a friend, who learned it from his father, who was a doctor. Anyways, you're right, you don't seem to be hurt." Hikari straightened and helped Miyako get her clothes back in order.

"That's good to hear."

Hikari however remained sitting beside Miyako, which Miyako found a bit unusual.

"Um, Hikari," said Miyako slowly. "Is everything alright?"

"You two did great today."


"Against Ichijouji and Stingmon, I mean. You and Hawkmon did a great job."

Miyako laughed and shook her head. "What are you talking about? We totally lost."

"Sometimes defeat can achieve victory," said Lopmon quietly.

"You forced them to flee, and you did it on your own," said Hikari. "That's quite the accomplishment, don't you think?"

Miyako thought about this for a moment.

"I don't want you to get discouraged by what Ichijouji said to you," continued Hikari.

"It's alright," said Miyako with a laugh. "I think I know what you're trying to tell me. You don't have to worry. My resolve has not wavered a bit!"

Hikari smiled with Miyako, but she also said "That's not exactly what I meant."

"You didn't let me finish," said Miyako quickly. "Not only that, I'm going to try to be as honest with my own feelings as I can."

"That's still not what I meant."

"Uh..." Miyako crossed her arms and thought. "Alright, I give up, what did you mean?"

"No, I think it's more fun to have you keep on guessing now."

Both of the girls laughed in unison, and for a moment, everything felt perfectly calm and normal to Miyako. She was enjoying herself with a friend, and Miyako took a moment to marvel at how far she and Hikari had come to feel so comfortable together as friends.

As their laughter slowly dimmed, Miyako noticed Lopmon standing aside, watching them with the same blank expressionless face as always. For a moment, Miyako returned Lopmon's stare with her own. Then she nodded to herself and turned to Hikari. "Alright, you know what? I've really got to ask. Hikari, what exactly is the deal with Lopmon?"

It was as if the forest itself was trying to swallow the wreckage whole. Since Ken had last been there, the number of vines stretching over the rock and metal of the crashed fortress seemed to have increased by a factor of ten. The surrounding trees had also grown much taller, and their branches were stretching out wider, as if trying to hide the sight of the crash from the sky above.

Despite the change in appearance, Ken still found the old main entrance easily enough. The memories of walking through them with a dying Wormmon in his arms was too strong for him to forget his way that easily. But as he approached, he suddenly realized he was not alone. There was someone sitting atop the gate in front of him.

"You know, I thought you might come back here," said Takeru. He jumped down and landed in front of the other boy. "I just didn't think you'd be so bold as to try to openly walk through the front gate."

"When a man returns home, he does so through the front door," said Ken quietly. "Why should I try to sneak back into my own house?"

Takeru stared at Ken in silence for a moment. He saw that Ken's hands had slipped into his shimmering cloak, and was probably grabbing his black Digivice, ready to pull it out at a moment's notice. Takeru sighed and lifted his own hands in the air, showing that he was not holding his Digivices at the ready. "Ichijouji, I am not here to fight you. I'm only here to talk."

"That seems to be what everyone wants to do these days."

Keeping one hand in the air to indicate that he still meant no harm, Takeru slowly used his other hand to reach into his cloak and pull something out, which he threw down on the ground at Ken's feet.

Ichijouji Ken glanced down. It looked like the head of the Golemmon from before. However, at its severed neck, it could be seen that the outer appearance of the face was like a mask pulled over a black mechanical head, composed of the exact same material as what made up the Dark Tower.
"So," said Ken, looking back up. "You've realized. How did you figure it out?"

"I realized as soon as I saw Angemon's attack did no damage against it. The Light of an angel inflicts damage proportional to the evil in the enemy's will. There are only two ways for someone to be completely immune to Angemon's attack: either the target must be completely pure of heart, or the target must not have a heart at all. That was when I realized that thing had no mind of its own. It was a puppet in the shape of a Digimon. That does leave one question though." He looked up at Ken. "If it's a puppet, who's pulling the strings?"

Ken met Takeru's gaze. He merely shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine."

"How do I know you're not the one pulling the strings?"

"How do I know that you're not either?"

Takeru let out a soft laugh. "Fair enough, Ichijouji. I have another question though. You've started wearing a cloak."

"What of it?"

Takeru's face hardened. "Where did you get it? Folder Continent?"

"What are you babbling about?" snapped Ken.

Takeru blinked. "Nothing."

"Good," muttered Ken. He kept his hand in his cloak. "Now, if you're done talking, I have somewhere to be." He took a step forward.

"Wait!" said Takeru suddenly. "We cannot let you enter."

Ken stopped. His eyes narrowed. "Why not?"

"What lies buried inside there should not be dug up again. I ask that you please turn back."

"And if I refuse?"

"Then my partners and I will have to stop you."

"You know, thanks to your friends I've had to put up with outside interference twice already now, so I'm not exactly in the best mood right now. Do you really insist on standing in my way?"

"If I must."

Ken looked back up and stared at Takeru, and yet again two dark eyes were set against one blue. A gentle breeze passed over them. Both sets of cloaks, one black, the other a false white of countless colors, rippled in the wind.

"Very well," said Ken. He drew his black D2 Digivice. Its screen flashed like a brilliant white fire.