It was a gorgeous day to stay inside.

The rain had begun earlier that morning. Like many a summer storm did, it sat there into the afternoon, thoroughly drenching Akihara and showing no sign of letting up. The sky was a solid gray, not even a ray of sunlight penetrating the clouds. Below, the outdoors were dark and uninviting.

And so, a trio of Netbattlers who resided in that town did what they considered to be the next best thing to hanging out-an all-afternoon chat marathon. If the power went out, they were sunk, but the majority were feeling lucky.

"When do you think the rain's going to let up?" wondered one of the humans in attendance, an eleven-year-old boy whose red headband held his black hair out of his face. Since it was summer, he wasn't wearing his normal yellow jumpsuit, perfect for helping his dad at his job as a mechanic. But since school wasn't in, why wear it all the time when it was hot and there was a better opportunity to change clothes? Instead, he was dressed in a yellow t-shirt with a red stripe across the chest and red cargo shorts.

Shrugging his metallic red shoulders, his Net Navi informed him, "The weatherman says that it'll last all week, Kaita-kun." Turboman recalled, "The storms'll just keep coming in at night and dumping rain on us in the morning."

"Geez," sighed the yellow-clad Navi girl sitting across from him. "Is it always this boring during the summer, guys?" Ring asked bluntly.

The third Navi, a huge, red-and-yellow being that resembled an ape more than a man, thought over this for a long time before responding, 'hmmm'-ing loudly all the while. "It depends, de gutsu," decided Gutsman. "Last summer was that heat wave, when nobody wanted to go outside, de gutsu... and the summer before that was... what was it again?"

"That summer... was when nothing happened," recalled Chisao, the Navi's Operator. "Unless some net mafia's causing trouble, I guess summers here really are boring..."

Ring's Operator, a green-eyed girl with a head of wavy blonde hair, frowned. "Well, boring as it is, I hope that Nova doesn't cause any more trouble. Although after that virus they let out, it'd be strange if they didn't follow it up with something worse..."

"Hey, don't worry!" said Kaita. "The Net Police are going to safeguard Internet City against those kinds of viruses."

"Yeah, de gutsu!" seconded Gutsman.

Despite her friends' reassurances, Mary was still worried. "But they said that this was the first computer virus that emulated a transmittable disease-nothing to attack to get rid of it," she pointed out. "What if they're like the real thing, and the cures all have to be different?"

This got Turboman a bit concerned as well. "Well," he said, thinking aloud, "they're linked by their method of spreading, but the exact bit of code that triggers it hasn't been found yet."

"I heard that too-they think the creator encrypted it somehow," Chisao pointed out.

"If they caught that Black creep, he'd be able to show the scientists what to look for... But it seems like he's gone," said Kaita. "Up and vanished with the rest of Nova." The last time that Kaita had seen the brown-haired hacker, Turboman had nearly been deleted by his powerful Navi, Punk. It had only been thanks to Net Saviors Sakurai Meiru and Roll, as well as a Dream Virus's attempts to wipe out every Navi in the area, that he'd made it out in one piece. Kaita and Turboman both knew the day would come when they'd end up facing Punk alone. The question was, would they manage to pull through and defeat him?

"Kaita?" As his friend yelped in alarm, Chisao laughed, "Looks like we lost you for a minute there!"

"I was just... huh? Hey, what's that Program-kun doing there?" The Navis all turned to see one of the little green assistants floating next to the entrance to Kaita's webpage. Program-kuns were usually not used as messengers; though they could have most of the personality of Net Navis and performed whatever functions were coded into them admirably, they couldn't enter a PET without permission or use Battlechips (not to mention their off-putting lack of gender). This one was slightly more customized than usual. A smart blue hat rested between its yellow-and-green ears, and a tan mailbag was slung around its shoulder. It was clearly there to deliver something, waiting politely for the chat session to finish before interrupting.

"I'm sorry!" Turboman apologized quickly. "How long have you been waiting there?"

"Oh, not too long," replied the Program-kun jovially. "Only about... one and a half hours," it said, not sounding angry at all. The Navis and Operators' eyes widened. "No, no, it's all right!" it reassured them. "I had to wait all morning for the first person I delivered to. He was Netbattling his Operator's customers all morning long, and he didn't get a chance to see me until noon!" It peered into its mailbag. "Anyway," it said, materializing three envelopes to hover in midair, "these are for Ring EXE, Turboman EXE, and Gutsman EXE, along with their Operators. That's you three, right?"

"Mm-hm," Ring answered for all of them. Their identities confirmed, the Program-kun sent the three e-mails toward their recipients. "Huh?" she wondered next, opening the envelope to pull out two separate text boxes-one with plenty to read, and one with nothing but a green circle and a red circle on it. "What is this, some kind of invitation?" She scanned the top of the page, reading, "The Grand Championship of Netbattling at Castillo de Jalero..."

"Exactly!" replied the Program-san brightly. "Take your time to read your invitations and think it over. I'll be in front of the Higureya homepage in two days to collect your responses. Fill in either the 'yes' circle or the 'no' circle on that ballot, put it back in the envelope, and give it to me there."

Turboman laughed, "Are you kidding? We don't need all that time to decide - Kaita-kun and I are going!"

"I'm glad to hear it, but I've got loads of other stops to make in Japan's Internet. That doesn't even count the rest of the world!" said the Program-kun. "I might misplace it if I take it now, what with all of the invitations I've got in here. Speaking of those, I've got to get 'em delivered! See you later!" With that, it floated over to the entrance warp and promptly vanished in a blue flash of light.

"'The rest of the world'? We'll be up against Netbattlers from around the world? This is great!" exclaimed Kaita excitedly.

"I'll show them all my power, de gutsu!" proclaimed Gutsman proudly. "Like Turboman-kun said, de gutsu, there's no need for two days to decide."

"We're going too, right, Mary-chan?" asked Ring. "Everyone else said yes..."

Mary thought it over, telling her Navi, "Well... I don't know..."

"Pleeeeeeease?"

"I want to hear what the invitation says before I make a decision," Mary said more firmly.

"So would I," decided Chisao, causing Gutsman to nearly fall over in the middle of one of his muscleman poses.

"All right, all right, here we go," said Ring, taking out the invitation and sitting down again to read it.

"'Netbattlers young and old,'" she began, "'I extend my greetings to you! I cordially invite you to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in a Netbattling tournament unlike any before it! I could tell you all the details... but that would spoil the surprise! Our Netbattling technology is top-of-the-line. Even in your wildest dreams, you've never imagined seeing your Netbattles like you will in our tournament! Myself and the rest of my staff simply cannot wait to see the fighting spirit you bring to our event, and we hope to see as many of you participating as possible!

"'Unfortunately, we're set up on an island just off of Japan, and unless they got an invitation, no bringing your parents. If you're still a kid, you might want to ask them before you run off, since we must ensure that nobody can enter or leave the island during the tournament. Please remember that we can't be held responsible if anything happens to you during your stay. If that makes you worried about comfort, don't be, as you'll all be excellently housed for the rounds of the tournament. They will take place in the center of our five-star Castillo de Jalero, your home away from home-and then some! My staff is out of this world and more than ready to address your concerns. Injury? Medical problems? Not a problem here!' See, Mary-chan, there's no reason that we couldn't go! Just ask your mum, and we'll be all set! And..."

Ring frowned as she arrived at the next paragraph. "Hey, what's this about? 'Those of you with the power to arrest other contestants for crimes real, false, or suspected may not exercise that power while the tournament is in progress. Doing so will prompt me to disqualify you in a quite revolting manner.' Weird.

"Anyway... 'When you've made your decision, simply fill in the proper bubble and hand it to our friendly Program-kun. Please remember that once you've entered, there's no turning back-your decision is final after you've given your response to us. If you decide that you don't want to go, I will find a way for my staff to get to wherever you may be hiding from them and have them take you to the tournament site, no matter how much or how hard you may kick and scream in the process. Both you and the staff will appreciate your cooperation.

"'I hope to see you all fighting to reach the top!' And it's signed, 'Your Gracious Host'."

Mary thought it over for a moment longer, then nodded her head. "We'll go-it sounds exciting!"

"I knew you'd see reason, Mary-chan!" Ring said triumphantly as she filled in the bubble next to 'yes'.

"So all of us are going then," Chisao realized. Gutsman still looked gloomy, so he added, "That means we are, too."

Gutsman's demeanor did a one-eighty. "All right, de gutsu!"

Kaita grinned at his friends. "So, we'll be up against each other..." His expression took on a more thoughtful look. "I wonder what other Navis we'll be up against?"


A/N: Welcome to Grand Championship! This picks up after where Neo Alliances left off, and Kaita's inner monologue mentions the basics of what you need to know about previous events. However, if you'd like to see it all for yourself, you can check out the fic for yourself via my profile page; chapter 7 onwards serves as the first major arc and contains the stuff that's most important for you to know later, so if you want to get to the point, that's where you should start.

Last time, I didn't do many author's notes, since this is meant to go up and stay up for years to come. However, if more reviews come in, I'll be answering them a lot faster and more in-depth than I did last time. Whether I do a round of responding to reviews every one, five, or ten chapters depends on how many reviews I get - though this is all already written, I always enjoy seeing reader reactions, so I'd love to hear what you have to say!

Updates will be every Wednesday and Sunday, until we catch up with dA in about four or five weeks' time. Enjoy the fic!