A revision of an episode of Digimon Adventure

By Lou Smith (AKA ker-plop)



Splashing along gently on the lake's surface, the swan pedal-boat made its way back towards the shore it had launched from… but on this trip, it drifted more slowly and kicked up more water. Most likely this was because of the girl and her plant Digimon sitting on the top. "Go faster, you guys!" Mimi complained. "I'm getting seasick!"

Tai and Joe both groaned loudly. They were pedaling as hard as they could, but the extra weight didn't help at all, even with Gomamon swimming alongside instead of riding with them. Koromon yelped as water sloshed in and splashed across the boat's floor. "Oh, no! I think we're taking on water, Tai!" he warned.

"No…" Tai grunted as he stomped down on the rusty pedals, "just a lot of hot air."

The boys gave a few last pushes to the pedals, and the boat scraped against the shore and stopped. Both of them tumbled onto the pebbles, panting and swallowing hard. "The next time this place drops a boat in front of us…" Joe mumbled, "I just hope it has a motor."

Koromon hopped out of the boat and Palmon slid down from the top as Gomamon came ashore. Mimi glanced at everyone, then sat waiting. "So… who wants to help me down?" she ventured.

Tai opened one eye. "Are you kidding me?!" he wheezed.

"You're not a princess anymore," Gomamon pointed out. "Get down here yourself!"

Mimi frowned at Gomamon. "…Fine," she replied curtly. With that, she vaulted off the top with a quick "somebodycatchme!" and crashed down on top of the boys, making them both emit high-pitched screams.

"MIMI! AUUUGH!" Tai yelled.

"I think my ribs went into my stomach!" Joe gurgled.

"Well, if you'd just helped me down…" Mimi replied, feigning sweetness.

"Come on, Mimi," Palmon urged as she helped Mimi up, "that wasn't nice."

"Oh, OK…" Mimi muttered and helped the boys get back on their feet. "I was just kidding!"

"So, what now?" Koromon asked.

Tai was about to say they should go look for Matt and TK, but it wasn't necessary; in an amazing display of timing, the brothers and their Digimon appeared on the path nearby, and they had Izzy and Motimon with them, too! "Hey!" Matt called, waving to them.

"Hey!" Joe returned. "Looks like you found Izzy!"

The two groups blended together on the shore, exchanging happy greetings. "Boy, it's been a while!" Palmon said to Tsunomon and Motimon, then scratched her head. "Gee, you guys sure have… shrunk."

"You shoulda seen me yesterday!" Motimon boasted. "I was king of the bugs!"

Gomamon raised an eyebrow. "So, where was Izzy hiding?" he asked. "A beehive?"

"I'll… explain later," Izzy replied, looking oddly embarrassed... but then he approached Tai with an entirely different attitude. "Tai! Where did you disappear to at the pyramid? Was it another new world, or did you just travel through a wormhole to another part of this one?" he asked, sounding like a sugar-high child on Christmas Day. "I want to hear every detail!"

Tai chuckled and pulled back a bit. "OK, OK! I'll tell everybody, once we…" He trailed off and looked around. Everybody was there… except for one pair of friends. "…You guys didn't find Sora? Or Biyomon?" he asked.

Patamon's wings sagged and TK's happy smile faded. "No…" he sighed.

"We thought you guys would," Matt admitted.

Tai scratched at his head. He would have thought Sora would be the first person he'd run into once he landed back in the Digital World. Where was she?

"You think she could be in trouble?" Palmon asked worriedly.

"What if she got ate?" Tsunomon gulped.

"Don't even talk like that!" Joe huffed.

Mimi hesitated, then shook her head. "I think she's OK," she said. "Actually, I thought I saw her back at the castle… but I might have been dreaming…"

The others turned and looked at her. "What do you mean?" Matt asked.

"The night I threw you guys in jail, I had a nightmare," she went on, sounding a bit ashamed, "and when I woke up, or I thought I woke up, Sora was there… She told me to do the right thing, and then I must have fallen asleep again… When I woke up, she was gone…" She looked at Tai and Joe. "It's what made me decide to sing."

"So… she helped you?" Izzy observed.

"Yeah…" Mimi replied, sounding thoughtful.

"Why didn't you tell us before?" Palmon asked.

"I thought it was a dream!" Mimi huffed. "You don't talk about your dreams or people think you're weird!"

"Oh! Maybe it wasn't," Koromon piped up, hopping in place. "Tai! You remember the place where we found TK? The mushrooms?"

Tai's mind immediately jumped back to the empty fun park where they first encountered that pest, Demidevimon, trying to poison TK with mushrooms that somehow caused memory loss. "Yeah, you stopped us from eating those," he recalled. "You said it was a 'voice in your head?'"

"Yeah," Koromon replied. "but actually, it came out of the trees, telling me not to eat them! And now I remember…" he paused either for effect or to catch his breath from hopping, "the voice sounded like Sora's!"

"What?!" Patamon asked. "She was there all along?"

Joe pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "So, Sora's nearby, helping us out when we need it…" he summarized, "but she won't come out? How come?"

Izzy ran his gloved hand through his hair, clenching it in places. "Maybe she can't show up," he theorized. "Maybe something's physically keeping her from coming to us."

"Ooh! Like maybe some bad Digimon cast a spell and she got made invisible?" Tsunomon asked.

"No way!" Mimi objected. "I could see her!"

"…Or maybe she just doesn't want to," Matt grumbled.

TK turned sad eyes on his brother. "Doesn't she like us anymore?..." he asked.

Immediately Matt felt bad for suggesting it. "No, I didn't mean it like that, TK," he apologized.

"Of course she still likes us!" Tai told the younger boy, but even so, he cast a worried look at the line of trees along the path. Why wouldn't Sora show herself? In all the years he had known her, she had never been very secretive or covert. Why had she started now?

The kids and their Digimon fell silent, a veil of depression dropping on their reunion. Finally, Izzy coughed and pulled out his Digivice. "Speculation only gets us so far," he said, poking at the buttons. "There's a scientific way to find her… Ah!"

The others crowded around Izzy and looked. His screen showed six red flashing dots in the center, and another one at the top of the screen. "Oh, yeah!" Tai exclaimed. "Now why didn't we think of that?"

"Is that Sora?" Patamon asked, watching the solitary dot.

"I would assume so," Izzy said, pointing straight ahead, where a nearby path wound into the thick forest. "She's in there."

"Well, what're we waiting for?!" Tai asked, picking Koromon up and unhooking his Digivice from his belt loop. "Let's go!"

"And what if she runs off?" Matt asked.

Tai looked crossly at Matt. "Just come on," he huffed. He didn't want to answer that because he couldn't understand why she would run.

Matt shrugged, took his own Digivice out and chased after him with the rest of the Digidestined.

With a yelp and a screech, Demidevimon staggered backwards and crashed down three stone steps. When he got back on his feet, glowing red eyes bored into him, their owner hidden in the black shadows of the castle stairway. "N-no! Please!" he gurgled, falling on his face in submission. "OK, OK, so I messed up with most of those kids… b-but there's still one left, Master! I know that one will work!"

The red eyes' glare narrowed even further. "Do you understand nothing?" a low, smooth and venomous voice echoed from the archway. "Not one of these children is important. I sent you to harass them only to buy me time… and you couldn't even do that."

Demidevimon nervously got to his feet. "Oh, but… but the last one!" he spluttered. "I made sure that one won't have a glowing Crest! You shoulda seen the look on her face when I fed her my line! I'm real proud, personally; that was totally unrehearsed!"

"Hmm… Yes… yes," the figure said, nodding ever so slightly. "Even so… it's time I dealt with them myself." The glowing eyes looked beyond Demidevimon, down the steps and far off into the forests below. "They're coming this way," it observed. "Lie in wait. Be sure that they enter my domain."

Demidevimon's whole body shuddered. Even though he was an evil Digimon, what was in store for the Digidestined gave him the creeps. "Err… you got it, Master," he said, then flapped his ratty wings and took off for the woods.

The figure watched him go, then turned away and started back into the castle. The Digidestined of Love was not at all the ultimate goal… but she would make a delightful diversion.

"Sora! HEY, SORA!" Tai shouted into the woods, his hands cupped over his mouth so the sound would travel farther.

"Soraaaa!" TK called. "Where are you?!"

"Olly olly oxygen fees!" Gomamon crooned.

Tai looked around hopefully, but no response came from the forest. He stopped and folded his arms, frustrated. If Sora was here, why the heck wouldn't she answer?!

"Oogh… Can't we stop?" Mimi whined as she brought up the rear of the pack along with a staggering Joe. "My feet hurt and I'm tired!"

"Your feet hurt?!" Joe asked, exasperated. "You landed on me! ALL of me hurts! If anyone should be bellyaching, it's me!"

"Well, you are," Patamon pointed out.

Izzy looked at the orange sky; the sun was close to setting. "Perhaps we should make camp for the night, Tai," he suggested.

"What?! No!" Tai argued, waving his Digivice in the boy's face. "We've gotta find Sora! She's gotta be right up ahead!"

"But Tai," Koromon spoke up, "if it gets too dark, we'll get lost too!"

"Hey, maybe she'll smell what we cook and come running," Gomamon suggested. "It sure works for me."

TK shook his head. "Matt, can't we look a little longer?" he asked. "I wanna find Sora, too."

"But TK…" Matt began, but then he noticed something on the screen of his Digivice. The seventh dot, which for as long as they had been walking the forest path had stayed at the same distance away from the rest, was beginning to move down towards the six. "…Is she coming to us?" he asked, looking up the path in surprise.

"What?!" Tai asked, then looked at his own Digivice and confirmed it. "Sora!" he shouted up the road. "HEY, SORA!"

The answer was not what anyone wanted to hear. A harsh, loud buzzing started to their left, and out from the trees burst a big, hairy bee-like creature with only a mandible for a face. It flew right at the Digidestined, raised its behind and fired a sharp, red stinger that buried itself in the road next to Tai. "Holy crap!" he yelled.

Mimi's shriek was everyone's cue to run, and the kids and their Digimon dove this way and that as the giant bee planted three more stingers in the ground.

Joe and Izzy and their partners ducked behind a tree, and Izzy pulled out his laptop. "This is no time for that, Izzy!" Motimon gulped.

Izzy shook his head. "I want to try the program Gennai installed," he muttered. He opened the analyzer and a picture of the buzzing bully appeared immediately. "That's a Flymon, a Champion-level Virus type," he reported. "Its attack is—"

Flymon rammed into the tree and its stinger crashed all the way through, emerging just inches to the right of Izzy's neck. "We KNOW what it is!" Joe hollered, grabbing him and running.

Tai, Matt and their Digimon jumped out from their trees; this thing wasn't going to go away just because it couldn't see them. "Hey, bug-ugly!" Tai shouted, waving his arms. "Over here!"

"Your dad was so ugly, your mom didn't eat him!" Matt called.

The Flymon whirled around and let loose with a hail of stingers, which gave Koromon and Tsunomon all the motivation they needed to Digivolve to Agumon and Gabumon. They answered the stingers with their fiery projectiles and shot them down before they hit anyone. "I've got the ultimate bug repellant!" Agumon boasted, spitting another fireball.

Gabumon spat his Blue Blaster at Flymon, but the giant bee zipped under it and fired more needles. "He's not making this easy…" he growled as he weaved around the sharp sticks.

"Let me have a shot!" Gomamon huffed, and a slew of fish burst out of the ground, flinging themselves at Flymon. Palmon whipped her vines at Flymon from another direction, but neither attack even connected; the buzzing insect was way too fast for the Rookie-level creatures. It somersaulted over them, then dove towards the kids again.

"Run for it, you guys!" Motimon yelped, and everyone raced for the trees again. Flymon singled Tai out of the pack and let fly with another round of stingers, and one of them found its mark; Tai cried out as a stinger pierced his pant leg and pinned him to the ground.

"Oh, no!" Agumon shouted as he turned around and started back, spitting fireballs as fast as he could. Flymon whirled around each fireball and charged at Tai, its fresh stinger gleaming in the sunset. Tai struggled desperately to free himself as the buzzing got louder and louder behind him.

Then a familiar bird's screech rocked woods. Tai strained his neck to look up at the sky and he shouted with excitement. Birdramon flew in over the treetops and grabbed at Flymon with her talons, forcing it to shoot back into the sky instead of stabbing him. Birdramon screeched again and her wings rained fireballs on Flymon, who ignited in mid-air and burned away before it hit the ground. Birdramon lingered for a few moments, then flew back the direction she had came from.

"Birdramon!" Tai shouted at the Digimon, trying to free himself even more vigorously than before. "Wait! WAIT!"

"Hang on, Tai; you'll rip your pants!" Agumon said, running up and sinking his teeth into the stinger. He bit away enough of it that Tai wrenched himself free and immediately started running in the direction Birdramon had gone. "Wait up!" Agumon protested and chased after him.

"If Birdramon's here, so is Sora!" Tai shouted back. "Come on!"

The others raced after him, with Matt, TK and their partners close behind and the rest further back. "Ohh, but we just got chased!" Mimi complained as she tried to keep up. "I'm tired!"

Tai ignored her complaints and raced through the trees, no discernable path in front of him, his eyes looking this way and that. Finally, he crashed out onto the edge of a shallow creek, and a familiar girl with a blue helmet jumped across the dry stones and rushed for a path through the woods on the other side. "Sora! Wait up!" Tai yelled. She looked back, but didn't stop running.

Tai took the stones two at a time and rushed up the other bank, but it looked like Matt's prediction had come true: Sora was running away from him. Instead of fretting about it, though, his adrenaline-charged mind projected a strategy. Instead of chasing her down the path, he jumped into the trees and followed along at a slower pace, trying not to make much noise.

After several minutes, he could hear Sora's plodding footsteps on the path, and then they stopped and she stood there gasping, catching her breath. Tai saw his chance, moved further ahead and then burst out of the trees in front of her. She yelped and staggered back, caught completely by surprise. "You always… were faster…" Tai panted himself, "so I had… to learn to be sneaky!"

Sora turned to run back the other way, but Matt, TK, Agumon, Patamon and Gabumon were just catching up, blocking her escape. "So why are you running away?" Matt asked.

Sora looked at them, then at Tai, then hung her head and sighed dejectedly; she was caught.

"C'mon, Sora, why?" Agumon pressed.

"Don't you like us anymore?..." TK asked, looking anxious.

She looked at him and shook her head. "…No, it's not that," she said, managing a sad smile.

The trees rustled, and Biyomon flew down to Sora's side. "It doesn't look like there are any more Flymon around," she told her partner, then smiled at the others. "Hi, guys!" she said.

"Hi, Biyomon," Gabumon said. "We were all looking for you!"

"You sure did a number on Flymon!" Patamon exclaimed. "You've been practicing, haven't you?"

Biyomon giggled, then tugged at Sora's shirt. "It's good to have everyone together again, isn't it, Sora?" she asked.

Sora, however, didn't answer; she just kept staring quietly at the dirt.

"…What's wrong, Sora?" Gabumon asked.

"Why'd we hafta chase you all over?" Patamon asked. "It doesn't look like you're playing tag…"

"Sora, let's just tell them, please?" Biyomon asked her partner. "I'm tired of all this cloak-and-dagger stuff."

Sora sighed and again shook her head, then looked at her friends with tired, sad eyes. "I just don't know who I'm supposed to be any more…" she said quietly.

Tai scratched his head; what was that supposed to mean? None of the others looked like they understood, either. "Erm… why don't you tell us what you've been doing all this time?" Gabumon ventured. "That might make it a little easier to understand?..."

Sora sighed again, taking her helmet off and running her fingers around its rim. "All right…" she said. "It started when we left to look for Tai on my own. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just really wanted to…" She faded out and spent a moment fumbling with the helmet before she started talking again. "We went along the road, asking any friendly Digimon if they had seen you, but nobody had… Most of them just got confused when I said I was looking for a 'boy.' It's not like they'd ever heard of them before…

"We walked and we walked, but we didn't find any sign of Agumon or you… but when we went into a forest, we did find something else…" She paused and looked around. "There was a voice in the trees, so we went to see who it was… and we found a creepy black mirror floating in mid-air… and watching it was a little Digimon that kind of looked like a bowling ball with wings."

"Ugh, we know who THAT is," Tai grumbled. "So you ran into Demidevimon, too?"

Sora nodded quietly. "…He seemed to be talking with the mirror, but I couldn't hear any other voices," she went on, "but he was talking about our Crests… so Biyomon and I hid and listened. Demidevimon said he couldn't do anything about the first one, but he would make sure the other Crests would never glow… and then he started planning how he would do it for each Crest… each of us. It had to be different for each one…

Tai scratched his head. "Are the Crests really all that?" he asked.

"Of course they are," Matt muttered. "Remember what yours did to Agumon? In both cases?"

Sora nodded. "They are important," she agreed, "and it sounds like each of us got a unique Crest, and each one means something…" She looked at Matt and TK. "Matt, yours represents Friendship, and TK, yours is Hope. Izzy's Crest is Knowledge, Joe's is Reliability, and Mimi's is Purity." She looked at Tai and at the Crest hanging around his neck. "I'm sure you figured it out, Tai, but yours is Courage."

Tai looked at the little orange object, which seemed to gently glow on its own even as the sun was going down. He remembered how it had shone and sparkled brightly when he had braved the electrical barrier in Datamon's pyramid, and it had never quite gone out since. That power was what had made Greymon able to become Metalgreymon. Thinking back on his own experience, he realized that, yes, the Crests really were "all that."

"So what's yours, Sora?" Patamon asked.

Sora put her helmet back on and slowly pulled the tag from her pocket, the small red emblem inside quiet and dull. "Mine… is Love," she replied, her expression darkened.

"Love? Cool!" Tai said, beaming at her. "Of course it is!"

Sora turned on him, her eyes burning. "What do you mean 'of course it is?!'" she shouted. "No it isn't!"

Tai jumped back and almost fell over, shocked by the outburst. "I… but…" he stammered, "you're always looking out for everyone… so I think…"

Sora's face was almost as red as the Crest. "You're wrong!" she shouted. "You don't know the first thing about me! So shut up!"

She heard the others gasp, and Tai's mouth hung silently open. Biyomon shook her head vigorously. Sora panted a few times, then sighed and bit her lip. "…I'm sorry, Tai…" she muttered.

"Sora, what's the matter?..." Patamon whimpered.

Agumon scratched at his nostril. "Um, I still don't know where this is going," he said, "but why'd you almost bite Tai's head off?"

"I wasn't going…" Sora began, then grew quiet and looked at the Crest in her hand again. "It's just that my Crest… It won't glow. It isn't going to glow."

Matt raised an eyebrow. "What makes you say that?" he asked.

"No way!" TK blurted. "That's crazy talk!"

Tai blinked a few times, then shook his head. "Why'd that make you hide from us?" he asked. "I mean, Joe's Crest doesn't glow yet either, and neither does Mimi's… It can't be that big a deal." He folded his arms and looked annoyed. "Man, how come girls get so weird when it's about love?"

Sora groaned quietly and sagged against a tree. "Shut it, Tai," Matt huffed, "that isn't gonna help."

"What? No!" Tai protested, forcing a nervous smile. "I was just joking!"

Sora shook her head. "Demidevimon thought it was a joke, too," she mumbled.

Gabumon motioned for the others to be quiet. "Sorry, Sora, we went off track," he apologized. "Please, continue with your story."

Sora hesitated for a few moments, then took a deep breath. "We saw him finish talking to the mirror, but I guess I must have stepped on a twig or something, because he noticed us and flew right over and got in my face. 'Hey, you heard everything, didn'tcha?!' he asked.

"Biyomon was ready to fight, but Demidevimon didn't attack. He looked me over for a moment, and then he said: 'you're that kid Sora, with the Crest of Love, huh?' in a really mean way, like he thought it was funny. 'Well, I don't gotta worry 'bout YOU!' he said.

"Biyomon told him to get lost, but I wanted to know what he meant, and I said so." Sora hesitated, then looked gloomily at her Crest again. "He just laughed… He said someone like me would never get it to glow… ever. Then he just took off into the sky… like I wasn't even worth his time." She clenched the Crest in her hand and sagged again, looking depressed and sick.

The boys and their Digimon looked at each other, then back at Sora. "THAT'S what's got you down?" Tai squawked, not at all impressed. "Sora, you can't believe a word that Demidevimon says. The little runt's a big, fat liar!"

"Yeah!" TK agreed. "He said nobody was comin' back for me and they didn't like me… but then Tai and Agumon showed up!"

"And he told me that being friendly was letting Joe take advantage of me," Matt added. "Does that sound like Joe to you?!"

"Yeah, whatever he put in your head, you can just throw it out!" Agumon said.

"That's what I told her," Biyomon agreed, looking sadly at her partner, "but…"

Sora shook her head, not looking any more reassured. "Maybe he was lying to you guys…" she murmured, "but what he said about me… that was true. I can't make this Crest glow… I don't have any love in me."

"No way!" Tai huffed again. "Now who's lying?!"

"But why do you say that?" Patamon asked.

Sora sighed. "I… I didn't grow up with a lot of love…" she admitted. "My dad teaches at a college, but he works in another city and hardly ever comes home… and my mom spends almost all of her time at her flower shop; she calls it the 'family business.' She never liked my playing soccer, didn't come to games except to pick me up…" She paused and looked bitterly at Tai's knee, "and a few years ago she tried to make me quit altogether."

"What?!" Tai asked. "When was that? I don't remember that."

"It was before I joined your team, Tai," she went on. "Back in fourth grade, I was on an all-girls team. It was OK, and I played really well… but then in the semifinal, I slipped and hurt my ankle out on the field. It didn't hurt that much, but my mom refused to let me play in the big game. I told her again and again that I was OK, but she just didn't want to listen. And then…" she paused and took another breath, but her voice became quaky, "then she told me she… she wanted me to quit soccer and work in the flower shop instead!

"Of course I said I wouldn't quit soccer. I got really mad about it!" Sora huffed, the quaking giving way to anger. "I said I wasn't quitting soccer to dump water on stinky old flowers. Then she got angry and shouted at me for 'badmouthing the family trade,' and then said there wasn't anything to argue about. Her decision was final. I… I just lost it. I yelled back and said she didn't understand me, and then I ran away. I spent hours hiding in different places, hoping the neighbors wouldn't see me and tell her.

"Somehow I found my way to the soccer field my team had been playing at… It had just ended… and without me there, they had been destroyed… six to three. They were all going home… but as they shuffled by, they wouldn't even… look at me…" Her arms trembled and her hand clenched and unclenched the Crest twice. "I failed them… because she wouldn't let me play! You… you just can't reason with her! That's how she is! All she cares about is… is… that damn flower shop!"

TK instinctively grabbed Patamon's ear wings and pulled them down over his head; the profanity scared him. Matt folded his arms and looked just as mad. "Parents can be really selfish," he agreed, sounding dark.

Sora's hand opened again, and she leered at the Crest in it. "He was right," she heaved angrily, jumping up and pulling her arm back to hurl it. "This is TRASH!" she screamed at the top of her lungs.

"Wait! No!" Tai shouted, grabbing her arm before she could throw. Agumon quickly grabbed her leg, for lack of any better places.

Matt had grabbed her other arm. "Calm down, Sora!" he urged.

Sora stopped moving, her chest heaving and her breath coming in whimpering gasps.

"Even if all that's true, you can't believe Demidevimon!" Matt said.

"Yeah, this's exactly what he wants you to do!" Tai agreed.

Sora's teeth mashed into her lower lip as her eyes spilled over, and then she began to bawl, long and loud wails, gasping hard for air between sobs. "Oh, no, Sora, don't…" Biyomon tried.

The boys pulled back, stunned. Tai had no idea what to do. He had never seen Sora cry this hard, and the sounds she was making frightened him; they made him feel like he might never be happy again. Had he said something wrong? He'd only said the truth!

Matt sighed and leaned against a tree, folding his arms and staring off in another direction. "Matt, what're you doing?!" Tai huffed. "Help me out, here!"

"Nothing we can do, Tai. Let her cry herself out," Matt replied, shaking his head. Sora gave another abysmal wail. "…It sounds like she needs it," he muttered, wincing.

Agumon and Gabumon looked at each other, their hands clamped over their ears to dull the sobbing. "How can anyone need to do this?!" Agumon asked.

Sora's bawling gradually subsided, and she stood there whimpering and sniffling miserably. TK looked sadly at her, and with Patamon in his clutches, he walked up to her. "…Sora?" he asked quietly. "You warned us about the mushrooms, didn't you?..."

Sora stopped making noise and looked at him, her eyes vacant.

"Agumon said he heard you," TK went on, fumbling for words, "and you told him not to eat them. So… thank you. If you hadn't come back and done that…"

Biyomon smiled. "Once we knew Demidevimon's plans for everyone, we couldn't just keep moving forward; we had to come back to stop him. Once we found Tai and you at the park, we followed you and messed up Demidevimon every chance we got." She looked at Matt. "We kept him from making some messes at the restaurant Joe and you were stuck at," she pointed out. "Of course… we couldn't catch him every time…"

Matt scratched his head. "Boy, how long did you hang out there?..." he asked.

"When you guys split up again, we followed Tai and Joe to the Geckomon castle," Biyomon went on, "and when Mimi locked them up, Sora talked some sense into her."

"Oh! So that wasn't a dream?" Agumon asked. "Mimi'll be happy to hear that!"

Tai still couldn't understand his friend's behavior. "But why'd you hide?" he asked the slumping Sora. "Why didn't you just come out and tell us what was up with Demidevimon?"

Sora remained quiet. Biyomon sighed sadly. "She wanted to…" she said, "but at the same time, what Demidevimon said really upset her… She couldn't bring herself to be around you yet. So we were there… but kind of not there, too." She shook her head. "We're really sorry."

Tai frowned. "I just don't get it, Sora," he said. "We coulda told you right away that—"

"Tai, knock it off," Matt interrupted crossly. "Haven't you ever been like this? Just wanted to be alone because you knew other people wouldn't get it?"

Tai opened his mouth to rebuke Matt, but then he did remember a time like that in his own life… a sad, uncertain time when he almost caused a family tragedy. His frown faded away and he sighed. "…Right," he muttered.

TK looked up at Sora again. "But even with all that bad stuff in your head, you came back and you helped everybody," he pointed out. "You're so nice… That's why I like you."

Sora looked at him, her wet cheeks glittering. TK smiled hopefully. "So, please… don't go away again," he said. "When you're here, I don't miss my mom so much."

Sora's surprised eyes wavered, and Tai thought she was going to start crying again. She raised her hand and wiped her face off, a few more sniffles escaping. "O… okay…" she whimpered. "…I'll stay."

"Yay!" Patamon cheered, flapping his little ear wings.

"Thank goodness," Gabumon agreed. Matt quietly smiled.

Biyomon sighed with relief. "Thanks for understanding," she said to Tai.

Tai nodded. "Yeah…" he said. "Welcome back, Sora."

"Hey! Hello up there!" Izzy's voice came from the way they had come. Everyone looked and saw Izzy and Motimon coming up the way. Joe, Gomamon, Mimi and Palmon were following at a distance.

"Oh, good! You found Sora!" Motimon chirped. "That certainly was easy!"

"Says you," Tai chuckled. "I didn't see you running like your pants were on fire!"

"Yes, sorry we're late," Izzy apologized. "There was an, erm, incident at the creek…"

Joe shambled closer, his arms held out in front of him like a zombie, and they saw what Izzy meant. His hair was matted down over his face, and his clothes and the medical bag were soaked completely through, dripping water all over the ground. Gomamon scooted along beside him, shaking himself off from the flecks. Palmon tried to catch the drips in her flower. Mimi had her arms folded and her nose turned up, watching him disdainfully. "You're always slowing us down, Joe!" she huffed. "It's like you try to fall into every wet spot you see!"

"What?!" Joe asked loudly. "At least I keep moving! You kept whining about your feet and making us take a break every five minutes!"

"Come on, guys, don't fight," Palmon tried. "Look! Sora's here!"

"Oh! Hi, Sora," Mimi said, waving sheepishly and sounding embarrassed. "I, uh, guess old habits die hard…"

As Joe spluttered and shivered, Sora couldn't help but smile. After too long, everybody was back together.

"C'mon, Joe, we gotta get you someplace warm," Gomamon said. "It's gettin' cold out here!"

TK sneezed as a faint mist tickled his nose. "Maybe this's why!" he said, looking at the wispy white vapors dancing around their ankles.

Matt looked up and saw the sun inching further down towards the west, but also a wall of dark clouds rolling in. "Looks like a storm's coming, too," he remarked. "We'd better make camp for the night."

"What, out here?" Gabumon objected. "If it rains, we'll all be soaked! And you know what my fur smells like then!"

"And the fog could give you guys colds, too," Palmon pointed out. "Maybe we should keep moving til we find something drier."

"I'd have to agree," Izzy said. "Maybe if we go further on, we'll find a cave in the side of the mountains."

"Yeah, let's do that," Tai agreed. "Come on, guys!"

The kids and their Digimon started walking down the path. However, none of them noticed Demidevimon creeping out of the bushes behind them. He had heard everything they had said, and now he had the perfect chance! He silently jumped back into the trees and flew ahead of the kids as quickly as he could.

He stopped when he reached a fork in the road he knew well: the right-hand path led around the mountains; and the left-hand path led straight up to his master's lair. It was a no-brainer which path the kids had to take. He conjured a long, sharp hypodermic needle and hurled it into a tree near the right-hand path, whose leaves immediately turned brown and started falling from the branches. He fluttered over and gave the tree a hard shove with his talons, and it groaned and crashed down across the road, its roots emanating the stench of decay. He cackled at his work; his Demi-Darts always did their job!

Suddenly, he heard voices and ducked behind the tree. Talking and joking about something, the Digidestined walked right past without even noticing that there had been a path there. He watched them start up the rocky mountain path and snickered with glee. Those goody-goods might think he was a pushover, but his master would wipe those smiles off of their faces.

The clouds overtook the sun and the sky turned a dark, featureless grayish-blue as the kids walked up the rocky road. Twenty minutes into the hike, they hadn't come across shelter yet, and a chilly wind was nipping at their limbs. "I wouldn't mind a sweater about now," Izzy remarked.

"You want me to spit a few Pepper Breaths?" Agumon asked. "That'll warm us up!"

"A little too warm, I think," Motimon gulped.

Joe looked back down the pebbly path at the woods. "Maybe we should go back and make camp," he said. "At least we know we can build a fire down there… Brrr!" He shook his arms again; the sogginess made the wind's chill worse for him.

"No way!" Mimi huffed. "I'm not sleeping in that creepy place! There's too much fog! It would make all my clothes soggy!"

"Still in 'princess mode,' huh?" Gomamon pointed out. "Look out, Joe, she might try to jump on you again!"

Tai chuckled at his friends' antics, then looked over at Sora and his laughter fizzled out. Despite being back with the group, she still looked as gloomy as the oncoming night; she plodded along beside him, looking only at the road in front of her. Matt had said to give her time, but he wondered if there was anything he could do to cheer her up faster. "So, uh…" he tried, "I guess you still got to play soccer, huh? I mean, you got on my team."

"Yeah…" Sora agreed blandly, "but she doesn't approve. I always hear it in her voice… and it's not like she comes to any of the games."

Tai scratched at his head. She had a point; he didn't know if he had ever met Mrs. Takenouchi.

"But, um, she's not saying you can't play anymore," Biyomon tried, also desperate to get her partner to at least perk up. "That's good, right?"

"I guess…" she mumbled.

"It can be tough dealing with your parents," Tai agreed. "I remember when…" He stopped and thought about it for a moment, then grew quiet and pensive.

Sora and Biyomon both looked at him. "When what, Tai?" Biyomon asked.

"Err… never mind," Tai said, shaking his head. Now that he thought about it, there was nothing about that story that would make anyone feel better.

Sora shook her head. "…I don't want to talk about it anymore," she muttered.

"Right…" he replied quietly, and walked on in silence.

"Shouldn't we at least go back and get firewood?" Patamon asked, looking back as the path lurched to the right and grew more even. "I don't see any trees up here…"

"Yeah…" TK started to agree, but then two orange lights in the distance caught his eye. "Hey! What're those?" he asked, pointing.

"Looks like someone else has a fire going, TK," Matt said, peering at the lights. "Actually, two."

The kids and their Digimon walked faster and reached a dilapidated stone archway with two bright torches burning on it, and the remnants of a rusty gate attached to it. The path led through the gates and higher up the mountain towards a building on the very top. It looked like a castle, but not an elegant fairy-tale one like the Geckomon's; this castle looked like it was designed for defense or war. It had two blocky towers and sat precariously on a sheer cliff overlooking the land, looking particularly ominous in the stormy twilight.

"Someone lives up here?" Gabumon asked.

"Maybe they don't like neighbors," Palmon remarked.

Joe looked the castle over, shivering more now than before. "Ohh, great!" he whimpered. "Of all the places to run into, we get THIS!"

"It doesn't look very friendly," Matt admitted, "but it could be a good place to stop for the night,"

Joe turned bugged-out eyes on Matt like the boy had suggested they eat their partners for food. "Are you kidding?!" he asked. "Please say you were kidding!"

"Joe, relax," Gomamon said. "What's the big deal?"

"What the big deal?!" Joe yelped, his voice going up an octave. "This is a horrible-looking castle! Why would anyone want to stop here?!"

"It might be aban… aban… everyone moved out," TK suggested.

"Then who lit these torches?" Joe huffed. "Somebody's in that castle, and I don't want to meet 'em!"

"I don't think we'll find many caves on the top of the mountains," Izzy pointed out. "If it's going to storm, this place may be the optimal form of shelter."

"I just hope there aren't any holes in the roof," Mimi said, starting to walk through the gate.

Joe grabbed her arm and pulled her back, making her yelp. "No! Absolutely not!" he protested. "This is a horrible, bad, evil trap and I don't want to go in there!"

He looked around, but nobody looked very impressed with his complaining; Mimi crossly pulled his hand off of her and started for the gate again. "Don't you guys remember? On File Island?!" he tried, fear killing his coherency. "Devimon!"

"Well, yeah…" Tai said, "but that was a nice mansion that nobody could tell was a trap." He jerked his thumb at the castle. "This place is so creepy, it's way too obvious to be one!"

Joe just stood there, blinking at Tai. "…Did you seriously just say that?!" he squeaked.

"Joe, it's dark, it's cold and we're all tired," Matt said crossly. "I think we'll be fine taking our chances here tonight."

"But… but…" Joe tried, but all the others walked past him through the gates.

"Joe, they aren't listening," Gomamon pointed out. "We'd better just follow 'em."

He swallowed hard, then gnashed his teeth and stomped through the gates, continuously muttering "Bad idea, bad idea, bad idea."

Inside the gate was a long space that could have been the castle's courtyard at some point, but any vegetation had long since withered away. On the left side of the path stood the dry basin of a fountain, complete with a crack-riddled statue of a dancing Digimon. A good chunk of the right side of the courtyard had slid off the cliffside and now dropped off into nothing. The kids made their way over to the other side of the courtyard, where they were greeted by another flight of cracked stone steps zigzagging up the mountainside towards the castle. "Hmph, whoever lives here is a real cheapskate," Mimi huffed. "Look at these steps! Not even a railing!"

They slowly made their way up three flights of crumbling steps, with Joe raising a yelp at the noise of each rolling pebble. At the top they met the castle's imposing entrance: tall, dark-red wooden doors barred by a grated iron gate with sharp spiked tips. "Wow…" Tai murmured, smiling hopefully at Sora. "He must really not like salesmen, huh?"

Sora remained drearily silent. He sighed and shook his head again.

"So, uh, who wants to knock?" Motimon asked, looking up at the door.

The gate shuddered, then slowly rose up on its own with a sad, whiny creaking. Then the doors groaned and slowly opened inward. "I guess there's no need…" Izzy remarked.

"OK, I say we run. Right now," Joe spluttered. "Who's with me? Anyone?!"

Not answering Joe, the kids and their partners inched forward and peered through the doors. They saw a large hall that was old and worn but still bore a regal atmosphere, with faded red carpeting on the floor, once-detailed tapestries and paintings hanging on the walls, and several rusty suits of armor lined up in front of the central staircase.

On that staircase stood a tall, slender figure dressed in a blue suit trimmed with golden emblems of bats and skulls, and complemented with a long black cape with crimson lining. His ears were sharply pointed beneath his short blonde hair. Prominent canine teeth poked out from under his full lips, which looked purple in contrast to his marble white skin. A red mask with bat wing edges obscured his face. His piercing blue eyes, gleaming in the cloudy darkness, fell on each child and Digimon. The kids looked him over too, puzzled. He looked almost human, but at the same time, he didn't. Was he a man or a Digimon?

"…Um, hi," Agumon tried, deciding to speak first. "Is… is this your house?"

The figure watched them for a moment more, and then a smile crept over his lips. "Good evening to you, Digimon and… curious creatures," he spoke in a smooth baritone. "I am Myotismon, and this is my home."

"Oh… you're a Digimon?" TK asked.

"Indeed I am," Myotismon replied with a low chuckle. "But then am I to assume that you… are not?"

"Nope, these guys're humans!" Gomamon blurted out.

"Gomamon!" Joe huffed, grabbing the critter and clamping his mouth shut. "This isn't an interview!"

"Um… hello, Myotismon," Gabumon returned the greeting. "We're sorry; we were looking for shelter, and we thought this place might be empty."

"Ah, yes…" Myotismon said, looking past the group and out into the gloom. "I sense rain approaching from the west, and in these mountains it falls hard, sometimes causing mudslides…" He looked at the kids again and smiled. "Please, enter. To have so many of you caught in such a storm… it simply wouldn't do."

Mimi started forward, but Joe grabbed her again. "Not again, Joe!" she huffed, yanking her arm back.

"Mimi, come on!" Joe gurgled. "Look at him!"

"Err… would you excuse us just a moment?" Matt asked, and motioned for the kids and Digimon to huddle. "…What do you all think?" he asked. "I mean, he looks a little iffy to me…"

"A little iffy?!" Joe whispered angrily.

"He kinda looks like one of those monsters that eat blood," TK said, screwing up his face as he tried to remember the name. "A… a vampire?"

"Eat blood?! Eww!" Patamon winced. "Your world has icky monsters, TK!"

"Yes, he isn't the most savory figure," Izzy agreed, "but he is offering us shelter. I doubt we'll find anything better in our current location…"

"Sora? What do you think?" Biyomon asked.

Sora just shook her head. "I guess so…" she mumbled.

Tai started to put his two cents in, but a cold wetness splashed onto his cheek. The wind picked up, and harsh rain began to spray the mountain path. Mimi didn't wait for the others; she grabbed Palmon and raced inside. "Thanks a lot!" she said to Myotismon, shaking her hat off while giving her best smile.

The others quickly followed her, all of them drenched from the sudden downpour. A bolt of lightning arced through the sky and thunder crashed, making them all jump. Myotismon made a motion with his hand, and the wooden doors drifted closed with a hollow thud. "That's better," he said, motioning for them to follow him. "Please, follow me."

"Did you see that?!" Joe whimpered, pointing at the door. "He…! He didn't even touch it!..."

"Maybe he's got a remote in his glove?" Gomamon suggested.

"Joe, give it a rest," Matt grumbled. "We're staying here tonight."

"But… but…" Joe tried to protest, but the others didn't pay him any mind; they all followed after Myotismon. He shivered and shook his head, then chased after them.

As the thunder rumbled outside, the Digidestined followed the tall figure through several long, winding corridors decorated with strange portraits of royal-looking people, elegant, gleaming candelabras and more suits of armor. Myotismon took the nearest candelabra and started up a spiraling flight of steps. "It's been a long time since I've had visitors here," he said as he paused to light a candle in a wall alcove, "but the guest rooms should still be useable."

"Whatever you can offer us is just fine," Gabumon said.

"Oh, thank you!" Mimi cheered. "Beds beat dirt any day!"

Myotismon smiled. "They most certainly do," he agreed. "Watch your steps; even with the candles it's very dark."

The procession continued up the spiral staircase for another few minutes, and then Myotismon stepped out into another corridor lit by a solitary window on the far end, which flashed with lightning every so often. There was a large tapestry of strange figures hanging on the right-hand wall, but the left side had three wooden doors. "Ah, the guest rooms," Myotismon said, stooping to enter the first one and lighting a candle inside to reveal an elegant chamber with a full-size mirror and a vanity. A queen-sized bed sat in the center of the room, half hidden by a faded red awning.

Mimi gasped in awe. "It's beautiful!" she exclaimed, running up and pressing on the mattress with her hand. "Ooh, satin!"

Izzy ran a finger over the vanity and looked at it. There was no trace of dust. "For someone who doesn't get many visitors, you certainly keep this room clean, Myotismon," he remarked.

Myotismon shrugged. "One has to keep busy when one lives alone," he replied.

"Oh, Mr. Myotismon!" Mimi said, pressing her hands together and using her sweetest tone voice. "Would it be all right if I took this room?"

"What?!" Gomamon huffed. "One room just for you?!"

"Well, Palmon, too," Mimi replied.

"That's still hardly fair; there are fourteen of us and only three rooms," Matt objected. "Come on, couldn't you at least share with Sora and Biyomon?"

"Y-yeah," Joe gulped. "I think sharing rooms is the best idea here!"

Mimi glanced at Sora, who still looked as joyful as a January afternoon. "Err…" she replied.

Myotismon smiled and gave an affirming wave of his hand. "It's quite all right," he said calmly, then stepped out of the room and moved to the next one. The middle door held a room just like the first, but with faded violet trim instead of red. The farthest door was sparsely decorated with six smaller beds. "As you can see, there's enough room for all of you, while still assuring the ladies receive their own accommodations. Chivalry is what sets men apart from beasts, after all…"

Mimi's eyes lit up. "Oh! Thank you so much, Mr. Myotismon!" she gushed, her cheeks flushing pink.

"Isn't that nice of him, Sora?" Biyomon asked, nudging Sora.

"Oh, um… yes," Sora replied. "Thanks…"

"I don't understand," Motimon whispered to Izzy. "There are five boys and two girls. Why do they get special treatment when there are more of us?"

"It's the same everywhere you go…" Izzy sighed, shaking his head.

Myotismon stepped out of the room and looked out the window. "Ah, but the night is young, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to rest on empty stomachs," he said. "Won't you join me for dinner first?"

Joe crossed his legs and bit his lip, like he was about to wet himself.

"All right! Now that's what I'm talking about!" Agumon laughed. "Yes, please, food!"

"Thanks, Myotismon!" Tai agreed. "We'd like that a lot!"

Myotismon led the party back down the staircase and through several more long corridors adorned with eerie old relics. They came to the dining room, which was the size of a tennis court and gleamed with at least a hundred candles and a chandelier. A magnificent spread of food of all kinds had been laid out—breads, chicken, soup, brisket, and salad—along with fifteen plates of and sets of silverware. "WOW!" Patamon yelped. "Look at all that!"

"You must really like to entertain, Myotismon," Palmon observed.

Myotismon smiled and nodded. "Please," he said, motioning to the table.

The kids and their partners rushed and seated themselves on the sides, except for Joe. Sweat rolled down the back of his neck as he pulled at his shirt collar, his eyes darting this way and that. Myotismon had just said he lived here alone! So how had all this food been put here, and the table set?

"C'mon, Joe!" Gomamon urged, slapping his partner on the knee. "Let's get our grub on!"

"I… but…" Joe tried, but he felt everyone's gaze on him and their eagerness to dig in. He groaned and quietly took the seat next to Tai and Agumon.

With a cheerful "thank you" to Myotismon, the kids started eating. "Mmm, this is good!" Gabumon said with a mouthful of brisket. "Did you make it yourself?"

Myotismon nodded as he calmly sipped at a wine goblet. "Ooh, cleaning AND cooking!" Mimi purred to Sora. "I'm liking this guy more and more!"

Sora didn't say anything; she just spread butter on a bread heel and nibbled at it.

Tai cleaned a chicken leg of its meat in five seconds, then noticed that Joe was fidgeting again. "C'mon, Joe, eat something!" he encouraged the older boy. "We're not gonna find this on the road tomorrow!"

"Tai, are you SURE this isn't a trap?!" Joe replied, quickly glancing at Myotismon and hoping he wasn't looking his way. "This is a lot like Devimon's place! A lot!"

Tai smiled wryly. "C'mon, Joe, relax," he urged. "Do you really think we're dumb enough to fall for the same thing twice?"

Joe gave him a dry look. "…Yes," he replied.

Tai's smile fell off. "…That was a rhetorical question," he grumbled.

"You don't even know what that means," Joe huffed.

"Err, uh…" Agumon broke in, trying to stifle a fight, "say, Myotismon, what's it like around here, and east of here? We're kinda new to the place."

Myotismon took the pitcher closest to him and filled his goblet. "This castle is right at the entrance to this mountain range, which has no name as far as I can remember…" he replied, glancing at the rain-spattered windows. "Beyond it is a dreary swampland, which eventually is swallowed by the sea."

"So… we're almost at the end of the continent?" Izzy asked, looking concerned. Had they missed finding Gennai on their way across?

"Indeed," Myotismon replied. "What lies beyond the sea… well, I've never met a Digimon who could tell me."

"Hey, that reminds me," TK piped up, "Myotismon, have you ever heard of this little guy called Demidevimon? He's a mean little jerk who tried to hurt us a bunch!"

"Hmm… I can't say I have," Myotismon replied, looking surprised, "but why would any Digimon want to harm you?"

"It's because—" Gomamon started, but Joe quickly hissed and grabbed him.

"Joe, come on!" Matt huffed.

"Stop being such a wuss!" Mimi said. "Myotismon's not going to hurt us!"

"It's quite all right," Myotismon said, casting a gaze at Joe. "When journeying on the road, one cannot be blamed for keeping one's own counsel… but I hope some of you would be willing to sate my curiosity."

"Uh… well, we can try," Tai said, laying his spoon down. "What did you want to know?"

"Judging by your appearances and your unfamiliarity with this area, it's obvious that you aren't from these lands…" Myotismon said, then paused to swish his cup around and take a sip. "It brings to mind the rumors I've heard of a gateway to another world, hidden somewhere in these mountains… Perhaps you came from there?"

"What?" TK asked. "There's a way home here?!"

"TK!" Joe panted; now the kid had done it! Why did he have to say they were looking for a way home?!

"Err…" Izzy said, scratching his head, "I'm afraid that's not where we came from, Myotismon."

Myotismon raised an eyebrow. "…No?" he ventured. "How very strange…" He took another sip from his goblet.

Everyone grew quiet and thoughtful, and kept eating. Matt dipped his spoon into his soup and tasted it. "Hmm… Excuse me, Myotismon, but have you got some garlic powder around?" he asked. "I'd like a little more punch in this."

Myotismon shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I don't," he admitted. "I'm afraid I don't keep many spices around…"

"Oh…" Matt replied. "Well, how about just plain garlic? I can cut it up myself."

Myotismon smiled and shook his head. "There isn't a bit of garlic for miles around," he said.

"Sora, come on, eat more than that," Biyomon urged her partner. Sora hardly had anything on her plate besides the bread she had buttered earlier. "It's all really good!"

Sora looked up and saw many of her friends watching her worriedly. Even Myotismon cast a curious glance her way. "…I'm not that hungry," she replied quietly.

"But Sora," Patamon tried, "you won't be able to walk tomorrow if you don't put something in there now!"

"He's right," Matt agreed. "Not eating is just as bad as overeating."

Sora bit her lip, the pressure starting to frustrate her. Tai tried a different approach. "The chicken's good," he said, pushing a leg at her. "Try it."

Biyomon almost jumped out of her seat. "What?!" she yelped. "Are you kidding me?! OK, Sora, eat anything but THAT! I can stand seeing everyone else eat it, but… Euuugh!"

Sora looked at Biyomon, then at Tai, and managed a muffled snicker in spite of her mood. "Oh, OK," she surrendered, reaching for a knife. "Izzy, pass the brisket, please."

"Oh, goodie!" Agumon said, cheerfully throwing his hands up. He knocked his soup spoon onto Tai's, making a lovely "ting" noise. Curious, he picked them up and tapped them together, making the same sound again. "Hey, that's pretty!" he said. "Did you hear it, Tai?" He tapped them a third time.

"Yeah, I did," Tai agreed. "That's music you've got there."

"Actually, I think it's silver," Izzy corrected him. Tai rolled his eyes.

"Oh, brother…" Motimon sighed. "We need to work on your aesthetics, Izzy."

By the time the kids and the Digimon had eaten their fill, the thunderstorm had changed into a cold-sounding drizzle that they could hear but not see in the darkness. "That was delicious!" Mimi gushed. "Thank you, Myotismon!"

The other kids murmured thanks as well. Myotismon smiled and dabbed at the edges of his mouth with his napkin. "I'm glad I could feed you," he said. "Ah, now if you plan to cross these mountains by tomorrow, it would be best if you went to bed soon and left with the sunrise… and perhaps you'll reach their end by tomorrow evening."

"Sounds like a plan," Tai agreed, "so we'll say goodnight, Myotismon."

"Did you need help with the dishes?" Palmon asked.

"Please, allow me," Myotismon said, "You are my guests."

Joe cast another nervous look at the slender Digimon, but he feared being rebuked by the others again even more. "C'mon, Gomamon, let's get the corner bed before someone else does," he said, picking up his partner and the medical bag.

The kids and their partners retraced their steps up the spiral staircase and to the guest chambers. "I'm so full! I'll go right to sleep," Mimi observed as she opened her door. "Goodnight, guys. Let me know when we leave, OK?"

"Sure, we'll be your wake-up call," Motimon replied.

"Followed by your wake-up drag out of bed," Matt chuckled.

"Night!" Palmon said, and followed Mimi into the room, closing the door behind her.

Tai turned to Sora, who was still looking glum. "You going to be OK on your own?" he asked.

"Oh… yeah," she replied. "Biyomon's gonna be here, so…"

"Don't worry, Sora," TK piped up. "Mom always says things look better in the morning!"

Sora smiled at the little boy. "I hope so…" she replied. "Goodnight, TK."

Joe opened the door to the boys' room, and they all started inside. Tai shot another glance at Sora, then went inside. Before the door closed, she heard another "ting" from the spoons. "Agumon! Why'd you bring those?" Gabumon asked.

"I dunno," Agumon's voice came. "They just sound so neat, I didn't want to leave them downstairs…"

"Myotismon's not getting those spoons back, is he?" Biyomon chuckled, then fluttered over and opened the middle door. "Well, come on, Sora. Let's get some sleep."

Sora shuffled into the room. Biyomon flew over to the bed and made her way under the covers. "Oh… this is really comfy," she murmured. "And warm, and…" she trailed off, the big meal letting sleep overtake her quickly.

"Goodnight, Biyomon…" Sora said quietly. She blew out all but one of the candles and then sat down on the bed, then pulled the Crest of Love out again. As she looked it over, her eyes began to well up again. Tai and the others were wrong. They meant well with their words, but how could they really understand? Her mother didn't love her, so how could she herself know how to love? She would never make that little thing glow. She clenched it bitterly in her hand, sniffling and crying quietly in the dark.

The hours of the night ticked slowly by, and the children wandered in their own dream lands… but dreams of oceans and waterfalls told Mimi that she had better wake up. "Did you see anywhere that looked like a bathroom, Palmon?" she muttered as she grumpily pulled herself out of the bed.

"Huh… wha?" Palmon murmured as she shook herself awake. "N-no… at least, Myotismon didn't point one out…"

"Great," Mimi grunted. "We'll have to find it ourselves."

"OK!" Palmon said, grabbing a candle off the vanity. "We'll have to find something to light this with, though…"

Mimi quietly opened her door and started out, but suddenly something made her shrink back. Myotismon stood in the hallway with his back to her, hovering near the door to Sora's room. He raised his hand and gently knocked on the wood.

"Mimi?" Palmon whispered, coming up behind her. "What—"

Mimi shushed her and held onto the door, hoping it wouldn't make any noise. Palmon took the hint and joined her in watching.

"Mm… Come in…?" Sora's sleepy, puzzled voice came from inside. Myotismon quietly pulled the door open and stepped inside. Mimi and Palmon crept along the wall and stopped at the hinges, straining to listen. What was Myotismon doing, coming to Sora's room in the middle of the night?

Sora and Biyomon were just as surprised that Myotismon had appeared; she had thought it would be Mimi or one of the boys and had quickly jammed her shoes back on. "Oh! Uh…" Sora tried, looking around cluelessly. "Is… is something wrong, Myotismon?"

"Yeah, shouldn't you be asleep?" Biyomon asked, not at all happy to be woken up.

"I'm sorry to trouble you so late at night; I'm rather an insomniac, and I tend to forget the time…" Myotismon said, looking apologetic. "Forgive me, but I thought I heard crying, and I came to see what was the matter… Perhaps I can help."

"Er… I don't think you can…" Sora admitted. "It's not… Well, it isn't…"

Biyomon watched him warily. She could blow off Joe's fretting and fussing when everyone was together at dinner, but this midnight visit made her more than a little uncomfortable. "It's not something you can fix," she spoke up. "We're fine. Right, Sora?"

Myotismon smiled, looking only at Sora. "It's all right," he said in a soothing, low tone. "Just relax. You can trust my discretion."

"I…" Sora murmured, starting to feel warm and a little woozy. Something about Myotismon's smooth, dulcet voice made her want to trust him, to tell him everything. "OK… I found the Crest of Love, but Demidevimon said I wouldn't be able to make it glow like Tai and the others can with theirs… and he's right. It's because…"

"Sora, stop," Biyomon objected, flying over and grabbing at her partner's shirt, "we don't have to tell him this stuff!"

"It's all right…" Sora replied without looking at Biyomon, her voice suddenly mellow and subdued, as if she were talking in her sleep. "Everything's all right."

Biyomon stiffened at her partner's tone. What was happening to Sora?!

"My mother never loved me," Sora droned on. "I don't know what love is… so this Crest will never glow. The others don't understand…"

"Sora, no!" Biyomon huffed, grabbing at Sora's leg. "Snap out of it!"

"Ah, yes, what a tragedy it is," Myotismon agreed, giving a sympathetic smile. "You're quite right, my dear. A mother's love is something one cannot nurture on her own, and you are fated never to know it. Your friends, though well meaning, will never fathom that. They all came from caring, happy families and never could understand."

"Yeah…" Sora murmured, her eyes starting to lose their spark.

"Sora!" Biyomon objected. "What's wrong with you?!"

"It sounds as if the others want to find a way back to their homes…" Myotismon went on, "but after this heartbreaking tale I've heard from you, why would you ever want to return to a world like that? It would only bring more anguish, and more misery."

"Yeah…" Sora agreed dreamily, her eyelids starting to droop. "I don't want to…"

Biyomon swallowed hard, then turned her glare on Myotismon. "You! What're you doing to her?!" she demanded.

Myotismon ignored the bird. "Even though you would be unhappy, your friends insist that you go home," he went on in honeyed tones. "If they keep pressuring you to do something you don't want to do, then they are not worthy of your friendship."

"No…" Sora agreed, "they aren't…"

"That's it!" Biyomon snapped, taking to the air and getting in Myotismon's face. "You're lying through your overgrown teeth! Get out of here right now and leave us alone!"

Myotismon turned a slightly annoyed smirk on her, and then she was flat on her face on the cold stone floor. He calmly lowered his palm and turned back to Sora. "Owww!" Biyomon wheezed as she pulled herself up. "Sora! He hit me!"

Sora didn't respond. She just stared up at Myotismon with a daydreaming smile and sleepy eyes. Biyomon felt like crying—she didn't know what was happening to her friend—but she pulled herself together. As Myotismon told Sora how her relationship with her friends was only hurting her, Biyomon quietly scuttled backwards and out the door. She couldn't handle this on her own; she needed help.

From her place near the door hinges, Palmon made a disgusted face. "Ugh, what is he saying?!" she whispered harshly. "Does Myotismon think she'll believe him?!"

The response was a contented sigh. Palmon looked up, puzzled. "Mimi?" she asked.

Mimi slumped against the wall, her eyes half closed and smiling. "Master…" she whimpered happily.

"What?!" Palmon hissed, and instinctively slapped Mimi across the leg with her fingers.

Mimi almost jumped about a foot in the air, then steadied herself. "Ow! Palmon! Why'd you hit me?!" she huffed.

"Don't say that!" Palmon snapped. "It scares me!"

"…Don't say what?" Mimi asked, scratching her head. "What just happened?"

Palmon blinked. "You don't remember?" she asked.

"I got up to find a bathroom…" Mimi recalled, "and I saw Myotismon there, and… I must've fallen asleep out here."

"No, you were actin' weird!" Palmon replied. "It's like, the more he talked, the less you wanted to do, and then you said 'master,' which freaked me out, so I hit you."

"Master?" Mimi replied. "But why would I say…?" A light bulb went on, overloaded and burst in her head, and then all the pop culture references she had heard over the years flooded in: the dashing appearance and prolonged teeth; the eloquent speech and manners; the ability to hypnotize people! TK had hit it right on the noggin! Myotismon didn't just look like a vampire; he was a vampire! "We have to save her!" she hissed.

"Let's get the boys," Palmon said, motioning to the door on the other side.

Mimi and Palmon slowly inched their way towards the open door, hoping against hope that Myotismon had his back turned. As they were about to jump across, though, Biyomon stumbled out and almost made them scream. Mimi quickly grabbed her, darted across the portal and back into the darkness.

"Mimi!" Biyomon whispered wildly. "Sora's—"

"We heard everything!" Palmon said. "C'mon!"

Mimi and the Digimon quickly crept to the other door, opened it and jumped inside. "Guys! Wake up!" Mimi shouted.

The response was a lot of grunting and muttering, but no movement. Biyomon was in no mood to wake them up gently; she flew up and blasted them all out of bed and against the wall with her Spiral Twister. "GET UP!" she shrieked.

"Agh! What the heck?!" Matt growled. "It's not morning yet!"

Joe jumped up like a rocket, his eyes wild and frenzied. "What happened?!" he demanded, jamming on his glasses.

"Myotismon's doing something to Sora!" Palmon said. "Hurry!"

Tai was still half asleep, but at the mention of Sora being in danger, he threw off his fatigue instantly. "Agumon! Let's go!" he huffed, jumping over the pile of boys.

"Right!" Agumon said, and started to chase after him… Suddenly, Joe's hand clamped down on his shoulder and made him turn around. "Joe, what?!" he asked impatiently.

Joe smiled nervously. "Agumon, can I borrow those spoons?" he asked.

"My domain is a cold and lonely place… It could use a fresh breath of life," Myotismon spoke calmly to the entranced Sora. "There is no need for glowing Crests within these walls. I invite you to stay here with me forever, far away from your cold-hearted mother and your ignorant so-called friends."

Sora sighed happily. "That sounds… wonderful…" she murmured. "I… I will."

Myotismon smiled too. "Then we shall make this promise official," he said, kneeling and coming to Sora's eye level, "and seal it, as you say… with a kiss."

As she felt his breath upon her, she shuddered with anticipation. "Master…" she whispered, and closed her eyes.

He drew in close to her warm, expectant lips, then lowered his gaze to her young, vibrant, delicious neck. He gently clutched both of her arms and leaned in.

The door slammed against the wall as Tai kicked it all the way open, and the six kids and seven Digimon piled into the room. "HEY!" he shouted at Myotismon, his fists balled.

"What're you doing?!" Agumon growled.

"Get away from her!" Biyomon repeated.

Myotismon glanced back at them, his smile wicked and triumphant. "You're too late, children," he announced. "This girl is about to become a bride."

Tai's face went white. "B-b-BRIDE?!" he yelled.

"No way!" Patamon huffed.

"She's eleven, you sicko!" Matt snapped.

"Age matters not," Myotismon replied. "Once the kiss has been given, she shall become as I am." He thought for a moment, then gave them a ghastly grin and pulled Sora to his side. "You shall all be witness to it," he declared.

"No! Sora!" TK cried.

"Outta my way!" Joe stammered, quickly pushing his way to the front. "You… you let her go right now!" he squeaked.

Myotismon's smile only became smugger. "You are but mice," he replied. "No power you hold can stop me."

His entire body shaking, Joe raised the silver spoons and held them in the shape of a cross. With a furious gasp Myotismon leaped against the far wall, hissing at the shape like an angry serpent. "The… the power compels you!" Joe stammered, sounding like a pair of squeaky shoes on a gym floor. "The power compels you! The power compels you!"

"You… vile little worm!" Myotismon snarled, cowering behind his black cape, his eyes burning red with hatred.

"Woah!" Gomamon exclaimed. "Joe, what'd you do?!"

Joe stayed where he was, still holding up the spoons. "Get Sora out of here!" he barked.

Tai and Matt grabbed Sora and pulled her out of the room. Joe slowly backed out behind them, still holding the spoons up. Izzy scratched at his chin, his eyes wide and analytical. "Prodigious, Joe!" he said. "Despite being a Digimon, Myotismon must abide by the traits of the vampire from our human literature. This is amazing!"

"Not to mention it saved our lives, Izzy," Motimon pointed out.

"Yeah…" Joe panted, watching Myotismon pace around the back of the room like a caged animal, hissing quietly every so often. "I really, really hoped it would work!"

"Wow, Joe," Gabumon said, "for someone who says he's not brave… uh… you sure are brave."

"How'd you know what to do, anyway?" Mimi asked, beaming happily at him.

Joe's cheeks flushed a bit, but he kept his arms steady as he continued to repel the vampire. "I learned it from the monster movies my brother's always watching," he replied.

"Wow, monster movies?!" TK exclaimed. "You really are brave! I can't watch those at all!"

"Not really…" Joe admitted sheepishly. "I was hiding behind the couch."

Both TK and Mimi's smiles faded, and they gave disappointed sounds of "oh." Gomamon chuckled. "Well, back to square one," he said with a shrug.

Tai, Matt and Agumon were trying to get a response from Sora, but she gave none; she just stood there with blank, sleepy eyes. "Sora, come on!" Agumon huffed, shaking her legs. "Say something!"

Matt pulled at her shirt collar and looked, but there were no wounds on either side of her neck. "He didn't bite her," he reported, "so why isn't she back to normal?"

"Hey, Sora!" Tai tried, "I, uh, I let the air out of all your soccer balls!"

Sora still didn't react. "Geez…" he sighed sadly. "Why can't we get her outta this?"

Palmon looked up at Sora and noticed she had a face similar to Mimi's from earlier. "Oh! I can fix this, Tai!" she exclaimed, raising her hand. "Better move away, though!"

The boys moved to the sides. Palmon drew back and put a hard, viney slap across Sora's hip, and she jumped back to life. "OW!" she shouted, rubbing at the sore spot. "Who did that?!"

"Sora! You're OK!" Biyomon cheered, happily hugging Sora's knees.

"I… what?" Sora asked, looking incredibly puzzled. "What am I doing out here?... I was just in my room, and Myotismon came, and—"

"Long story short: we're leaving!" Tai announced to everyone, pointing for the stairs. "Run for it!"

The kids raced away and down the stairs, their Digimon in hot pursuit. His spoon-cross still held high, Joe backed all the way out of the room, and Myotismon snarled and charged. He kicked the door into the vampire's face and ran for his life.

They raced down the darkened staircase, but none of them remembered exactly how to get out of the castle. "Where the heck was the exit?!" Tai demanded.

"At the bottom of the stairs!" Patamon said. "…Or was that the dining room? Uh-oh!"

"Just run!" TK cried. "Joe'll protect us!"

"Oh, sure!" Joe wheezed from the back. "Get as lost as you want! Let Joe deal with the bloodthirsty vampire!"

"You've got the spoons," Gomamon pointed out.

"My arms are exhausted!" Joe wailed.

"Sorry I hit you," Palmon apologized to Sora as they left the staircase and rushed down a hall, "but it was the only way to snap you out of it."

"It's OK," Sora replied. "Thanks for doing it!"

"Why'd he want to bite you, anyway?" Mimi asked.

"I don't know!" Sora replied. "Do you have any idea?"

"No…" Mimi said, looking pouty. "I just think I'd have made a way better vampire bride."

Sora facevaulted. "Seriously?..." she panted.

"You're one messed up girl," Matt grumbled.

Tai crashed through a door, but it wasn't the exit; they were back in the empty dining room. "Aww, nuts!" he huffed. "Now we've gotta double back!"

A chair near the end of the table shuddered of its own accord. "Uh… what was that?" Gomamon asked.

Almost as soon as he had finished the question, the dining room exploded with wailing, ghostly Bakemon. "Holy!..." Motimon gasped.

"Not the best choice of words," Izzy swallowed.

Joe turned around to start running the other way, but more Bakemon were flying down the hall towards them, along with a swarm of red-eyed bats with their mouths stitched shut. "Oh, geez!" he screamed.

"Don't think that mantra's gonna save us now," Gomamon swallowed.

Matt bared his teeth and pulled out his Digivice. "No way out…" he growled, "so we'll MAKE one. Gabumon!"

Matt and Gabumon raced ahead of Joe as Matt's Digivice flashed, and Gabumon became the tall wolf Garurumon. Matt leaped on and Garurumon charged the ghosts and bats, firing off his brilliant blue Howling Blaster. The bats were disintegrated and the Bakemon drew back with angry howls. "Come on!" Matt urged the others as he raced down another hall. He didn't have to say it twice.

Garurumon blasted his way through the castle with the others racing behind, the wave of ghosts filling back in and giving chase behind them. Once in a while the other Digimon shot off their attacks, but they only really destroyed the bats; the Bakemon were Champion-level creatures and unaffected. "Joe, show THEM your cross!" Gomamon huffed. "Maybe it'll work!"

Joe tried his spoon-cross, but the ghosts only laughed and kept chasing them. "Those're ghosts, not vampires!" he rebuked. "Different rules!"

After several false turns, backtracks and blasts through Bakemon throngs, Garurumon and his posse managed to made the correct sequence of turns and arrived back at the entrance, where the door hung wide open. "Finally!" Matt breathed. "Let's get—"

Before he could finish, the great, spiky gate crashed down over the entrance, and another gaggle of Bakemon appeared out of thin air. "Ohhh! We can't get through THAT!" Mimi shrieked.

"We can't," Tai huffed, pulling out his Digivice, "but Greymon can! Go for it!"

"Yeahhh!" Agumon yelled, and raced at the door, transforming into the massive Greymon as he went and scaring the Bakemon out of the way. His helmeted head slammed into the iron bars and the entire wall cracked and toppled, sliding down the hill and making a ramp alternative to the staircases. "That'll speed things up!" he rumbled as he stomped down it. "C'mon!"

The kids ran or slid down the broken wall and out into the courtyard. The rain had stopped and the moon hung in the west, full and a disturbing red hue. Thick fog hovered six inches above the grass, making the sheer cliff on the left-hand side very hard to see. They moved as far to the right as they could and raced for the old gates that floated in the distance. "We made it!" TK panted. "We—"

The fog in front of the gate rose up into a high column, and then fell away to reveal Myotismon, his cape drawn around him and accentuating how thin he really was. The Digidestined screeched to a halt. "WOAH!" Gomamon yelled. "How'd he DO that?!"

"What ill-mannered whelps!" Myotismon sneered. "Not only do you throw my hospitality back in my face, but you destroy my front door as well? Shame on you!"

"We'd have been better guests if you'd have been a better host!" Tai growled.

"Get outta the way!" Garurumon snarled, clicking his teeth.

Myotismon smiled spitefully. "No," he replied. "You fools have a debt to pay."

Joe fumbled for the spoons and raised them; they wouldn't have to fight their way out of this. "The power—" he began.

Something dropped down from the sky with a wild laugh, and Joe screamed and dropped the spoons. Demidevimon grabbed the utensils off the ground, then hurled them off the cliff. "HAH! Good luck gettin' past Lord Myotismon NOW!" he snickered.

"Lord Myotismon?" Izzy asked. "Then, does that mean you—"

"Duh!" Demidevimon taunted, flapping in front of the vampire. "Why else d'ya think I was tryin' to make yer Crests useless?!"

"You were working for him the whole time?!" Matt snarled. "Now you're really in for it!"

"I'm not surprised," Patamon sniffed. "You're way too DUMB to have planned it all by yourself!"

"Why, you little…!" Demidevimon snarled, flapping furiously.

Myotismon held up a hand to stop his minion. "You may have failed countless times," he said with an annoyed look at Demidevimon, "but I shall have satisfaction here!"

He threw open his cape and a great black cloud of bats flew out, covering the kids and their Digimon and nipping them through their stitched mouths. "Ow! Hey! Stoppit!" Motimon huffed.

"Ow! My hair!" Mimi shouted as a bat became twisted in her bang. "Get outta my hair!"

"If you were his bride, you'd be dealing with this every day!" Palmon pointed out as she swatted some bats away.

"SHUT UP!" Mimi rebuked. "Just get rid of 'em!"

The Digimon fired off their attacks as quickly as they could, but there were far too many bats. Myotismon watched the kids flail and struggle against his bat swarm, then he looked at the cackling Demidevimon. "You're not here to be entertained," he snapped. "Do it!"

"Got it, boss!" Demidevimon snarled, and flew above the fracas and produced a fresh Demi-Dart. A trace of blue caught his eye, and then he zeroed in on Sora. "Messier than a bite," he snickered, "but that's how I like it! BANZAI!"

He spun himself around and flung the dart. Biyomon looked up from swatting bats in time to see it coming. "NO!" she yelled, and leaped up at her partner's chest.

Sora was caught off guard by Biyomon tackling her and tumbled to the ground, and with a sickening "thok," the dart found a home in Biyomon's side. "What the?!" Sora asked, pulling herself up. "Biyomon?! What the… No!"

Biyomon struggled to push herself up, but the poison in the dart had already weakened her horribly. "So… ra…" she wheezed. "It's… OK… I'll protect…"

Sora grabbed the needle and yanked it out of her partner, but that didn't make any difference. "No! Biyomon!" she cried, gathering the bird up in her arms. "Why?!"

Mimi turned a furious eye on Myotismon. "OK, that's it, buster!" she yelled, raising her Digivice. "This is over! Now!"

Joe and Izzy also pulled out their Digivices. With three bright flashes, Palmon, Gomamon and Motimon became Togemon, Ikkakumon and Tentomon. "You guys're a disgrace to flying creatures!" Tentomon huffed, zapping the biting bats away.

"Leave them alone!" Patamon shouted, blasting as many bats as he could with his Boom Bubbles.

"Good work, fellas," Togemon said, "but lemme wrap this one up!" She whirled around and launched a rain of needles, sticking almost every bat and driving them back.

Ikkakumon fired a Harpoon Torpedo into the cloud and disintegrated the bats. "So much for those!" he rumbled. "Now…!"

Togemon and Ikkakumon joined Garurumon and Greymon in staring down Myotismon. "Err… I'm goin' on break, boss!" Demidevimon yelped, shooting off into the dark. "You can handle this, right?!"

The vampire lord just smiled unpleasantly. "Those bats were nothing," he said. "Do you honestly think that four of you can stand up to me?"

"Just watch us!" Greymon huffed, sucking in air and belching a Nova Blast. Myotismon produced a shining red bolt of lightning and swung it like a sword, sending the fireball into the air where it fizzled out.

"Ohh, that didn't look good," Joe gulped.

"Izzy, what does your computer say?!" Matt asked.

As Garurumon and Togemon tried double-teaming Myotismon, Izzy quickly yanked out his laptop and ran the analyzer program. He bit his lip as the readout came. "Myotismon's an Ultimate, just like Etemon," he announced. "We're going to need more power!"

Matt cringed as he looked back and saw Myotismon throw both Digimon off of him with ease, then lay into them with the lightning bolt like it was a whip. "…A lot more," he growled.

Ikkakumon lumbered towards Myotismon and launched another Homing Torpedo. Myotismon wrapped himself in his cape as the missile exploded, then walked out of the cloud without being phased. Before Ikkakumon could fire again, the vampire leaped up and grabbed him by the horn. "If your foolish partner hadn't played his tricks, I would have gone easier on you," he mused, then pulled Ikkakumon to the ground and stabbed at his belly with his Crimson Lightning. The big walrus howled in agony. Greymon rushed over and tried to spit another fireball, but Myotismon lashed him across the legs and knocked him flat on his back.

"Geez!" TK gulped. "It's a sword, it's a whip… Who gave him that?!"

Patamon and Tentomon exchanged glances, then flew at Myotismon and fired their strongest moves. Myotismon looked up at them and just shook his head. "There's a time when insane bravery is inspiring, and other times when it's simply pitiful," he remarked to them. "This would be one of the latter. Why don't you two sit down?"

Patamon kept spitting Boom Bubbles, and Tentomon kept zapping at him. "…Very well," Myotismon smirked, and put them both on the ground with one swing of his Crimson Lightning.

"No! Patamon!" TK cried.

"Tentomon!..." Izzy hissed. "I'm sorry!"

"I gave you a chance," Myotismon stated coldly to the fallen Digimon. He looked over at the children and smiled wickedly. "Now… You are defeated. Give me the Child of Love, and I shall spare the rest of you."

"What?!" Joe yelped.

"You really are gonna go there, huh?!" Matt growled.

Tai stepped in front of Sora, as did the other kids. "You know we'd never agree to that!" he snapped.

"Indeed I do," Myotismon replied. "So now… I was generous enough to feed you…" The kids shrank back as he advanced on them, his fangs seeming to lengthen in the moonlight.

"N-no!..." Biyomon whimpered as she struggled to get out of Sora's grip. "I… I have to help!"

"What?! No!" Sora said, squeezing her tighter. "You can't fight like this!"

"But no one else… is left!" Biyomon gurgled, struggling even harder. "I have to do this!"

"Biyomon, no!" Sora repeated, keeping her frantic grip on the bird. "There's no way I'll let you!"

Biyomon turned a bleary, angry eye on her partner. "You don't understand, Sora!" she rasped. "He's going… to kill you! All of you!"

Sora blinked a few times, and then it was like a lightning bolt hit her right in the heart. Her eyes saw her most painful memory, but from the perspective of her mother instead of herself. She saw her younger self crying and running away, still partially limping on her bandaged knee. She had been the one who needed to understand. She knew why her mother had forbidden her from soccer. It wasn't because she cared about the flower shop; it was because she cared about her. She didn't want her to get hurt!

"Sora!... SORA!" Biyomon squawked. "Let me go!..."

Sora snapped back to the present, and the approaching Myotismon. She looked down at Biyomon with worry, but released her grip. "…Go get him," she whispered, pulling her Digivice from her pocket. Biyomon sluggishly flew into the air, and Sora's Digivice flashed.

Birdramon confronted Myotismon, though she flew slowly and unsteadily. Myotismon smiled smugly. "Aren't you the brave one," he mused. "With what's flowing through your veins now, I'm surprised you can even move."

"I will… protect Sora!" Birdramon rasped, flapping her wings and spouting a hail of fireballs. Myotismon threw up his cape and they bounced off harmlessly. She screeched, dove closer and tried it again, but Myotismon just leaped out of the way.

"Birdramon! Stop!" Matt called. "It's no good!"

"Come on, Greymon!" Tai urged, clenching his own Crest in his hand. "Get up! We have to help!"

Greymon struggled, but instead of getting up, he reverted to Agumon. The other Champions shuddered and shrank down to their Rookie forms as well. Tai snarled with frustration; they were going to lose this fight, and then…!

Birdramon again tried her Meteor Wing, but she was so unsteady it landed far behind Myotismon. "Enough is enough," Myotismon cackled, raising his Crimson Lightning like a javelin. "Die with dignity!"

Birdramon tried to fly out of the way, but Myotismon was too fast; he hurled the lightning bolt right through her chest. She screamed as it burst out of her back, and after a horrible second of frozen time, she tumbled towards earth. Sora's eyes went wild, and she shoved past the others, racing for the tumbling creature. "BIRDRAMON!" she wailed.

Suddenly, a brilliant red light emanated beneath her eyes, so bright that it made her stop and look down. The Crest of Love gleamed bright red, like a dazzling ruby. Birdramon began to glow the same color, and then she burst into hot orange flames, which shot high into the sky in a burning cyclone. Everyone instinctively leaped back in shock, including Myotismon.

"Birdramon Digivolve to…" Birdramon's voice echoed through the mountains, and then two massive feathered arms burst from the fire, their claws as long as police cars. After them came a creature that had to be three stories tall, half man, half bird. The talons on its feet dug into the crumbling soil, making more of the cliffside drop away. Two massive wings sprouted from its muscular torso, partially hidden by its long, flowing golden hair. The helmet that covered its head and beak was adorned with symbols and colors that could have been from a Native American tapestry. Its piercing green eyes locked onto Myotismon without any fear. "…GARUDAMON!" she rumbled, and the whole mountain shook.

Tai's mouth dropped open. The others gave similar expressions at the sight of the newcomer. Sora's eyes spilled over with joyful tears. She had really done it! She had gotten her Crest to glow!... and look what it had done for her partner!

Myotismon drew back with an angry hiss. "What a disgusting new form you've taken!" he snapped, drawing a fresh bolt of lightning, "but I assure you, you won't be around long enough to enjoy it!"

Garudamon clenched her fists. "Sora, stay back," she urged. "Help the others gather their Digimon!"

Sora wiped her eyes and regained her old look of determination. "Right!" she said, and ran back to her friends.

Myotismon went on offense, swinging his Crimson Lightning like a blade, but Garudamon's feathers were much sturdier than Birdramon's, and she weathered the blows with less trouble. He tried drowning her in bats, but she flapped her mighty wings and blew them all into the stratosphere, along with a few chunks of his castle. "You wretch!" Myotismon snarled.

Garudamon rose into the air, braced herself and shone a deep crimson, as red as Sora's crest had glowed. "I owe you much, Myotismon; you were what allowed Sora's Crest to glow!" she boomed. "Now take my thanks and be reborn! WING BLADE!"

Garudamon threw her fists upwards, and the glow around her shot skyward, then descended in the shape of a flaming bird. Myotismon snarled and unleashed another drove of bats as it burst upon the ground, destroying the dried up fountain, the chunk of wall Greymon had knocked down, and several more chunks of the ground.

"YEAH!" Tai cheered, pumping his fist. "You rock, Garudamon!"

"Is it over?" Joe gulped. "PLEASE tell me it's over!"

Izzy scratched his chin, intently watching the impact zone.

Garudamon landed again and watched the smoke clear. To the children's dismay, it revealed a giant ball of bats, which fell away to reveal Myotismon, completely unscathed. "Very powerful," he smirked, "but I've been doing this far longer than you have."

"No!..." TK cried, clutching Patamon tightly.

"He's invincible!" Matt growled. "He's freaking invincible!"

Myotismon raised his hand, and a gaggle of Bakemon emerged from the castle and flanked him. "You cannot simply use brute force to defeat me," he mused.

Garudamon shook her head. "You're right," she replied, "but I wasn't trying to defeat you."

Myotismon's smile faded into a puzzled sneer. "Garudamon?" Sora asked. "What do you mean?"

Garudamon smiled and looked to the east. The sky glowed a magnificent orange, and the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. Myotismon hissed at the glowing ball, and his Bakemon wailed.

"I was buying time," she said, "until the one who COULD defeat you arrived."

As the sunlight touched the tips of his boots, Myotismon's knees almost buckled. "No celestial body can defeat ME!" he snapped, beads of sweat starting to form above his mask. He produced a Crimson Lightning much thinner than his earlier ones and threw it, but it fizzled out as soon as it touched Garudamon's claw. The vampire lord's angry snarl almost sounded pained as threw up his cape and quickly started backing away. "This has only just begun!" he warned. "You will never escape me, Digidestined!"

Myotismon turned and fled for his castle, but the Bakemon were still spoiling for a fight. Fifty of them swarmed around Garudamon, punching and biting at her haunches. She flapped her wings and blew them away, but for every ghost she vanquished, it seemed like two more popped up.

She shot off another Wing Blade, destroying several dozen ghosts and throwing up a haze of debris. "There's no point in staying here," she rumbled, turning to Sora and the others and holding out her hands. "Everybody get on, quickly!"

The kids pulled their wounded Digimon up into Garudamon's massive hands, and she took off into the sky. With the frustrated howling of the ghosts in her ears, she sailed east, into the warm sunrise.

With Garudamon's mighty speed, it didn't take long at all to cross the mountain range, and soon she spotted a small, gray lake. Beyond it was a grungy-looking swampland. "That must be what… we heard about," Gabumon said.

"I think we can land, Garudamon," Sora said to her partner. "We're safe now."

Garudamon nodded and came down surprisingly gently for her mass. The kids and their partners hopped off her hands and she shrank back down to the radish-like Yokomon. "Boy, you must be tired," TK said.

Yokomon sighed and hopped over to Sora's side. "It was worth it," she replied. "Being that big is exhausting, but it's fun, too! The look on Myotismon's face!"

Tai grinned at Sora and clapped her on the shoulder. "See? I knew you'd do it!" he said. "You just had to quit worryin' about it!"

"But what happened?" Matt asked. "You were so sure you could never get it to glow…"

Sora smiled as she thought about it. "When Biyomon got poisoned, and I didn't want to her fight, I realized… I was sounding just like my mom," she said. "That's when it hit me: she really did love me, and she always had. I realized that I loved Biyomon just like my mom loves me… That must have done it."

Yokomon beamed. "And it helped me save everyone!" she chirped.

"Yeah…" Sora said, looking at everyone else. "I'm glad it did."

"That makes fourteen of us," Tentomon pointed out.

"Love is super strong, huh, TK?" Patamon asked.

"Sure is!" TK agreed.

Tai smiled and nodded. "Wouldn't mind some of that myself…" he mumbled.

Agumon looked at him strangely. "What?" he asked. "You want Sora's—"

Tai's cheeks burned and he quickly covered his partner's mouth. "I mean like how Garudamon got it!" he huffed.

Sora glanced at him, puzzled.

"It certainly will make a difference," Izzy broke in. "It may sound cliché, but your love is a powerful asset; I could feel it during the battle."

"I did too," Palmon agreed.

"Me too…" Joe said, scratching his head and looking embarrassed, "but it made me feel uncomfortable."

"Hmmph!" Mimi sniffed, folding her arms and shaking her head. "Boys just don't have any sense of romance!"

"…Said the would-be vampire queen," Matt pointed out.

"Quit it! I'm over that already!" Mimi huffed. "How long're you gonna keep bringing it up?!"

"As long as it's funny," Gomamon chuckled.

Everyone burst out laughing as Mimi fumed. Finally, and as usual, Joe put a damper on things. "…We're gonna have to deal with Myotismon again, guys," he pointed out.

The others looked at him like he had said something vulgar. "What?!" Palmon huffed. "Why?!"

"Remember what he said?" Joe asked. "If there really is a way back home in those mountains, then we'll have to go there again…"

They all paused and thought about it, thoroughly sobered up. "…Crap," Matt grumbled.

"Don't worry!" Patamon chirped. "Between Garudamon and Joe's magic spoons, we can handle him!"

"I don't have the spoons anymore," Joe replied. "Demidevimon threw them off the cliff…"

"True, but this whole incident had given me some very important data," Izzy said, taking out his laptop. "Especially what you did, Joe."

"Me? What?" Joe asked.

Izzy hit a few buttons and Myotismon's picture came up on the analyzer program. "Myotismon may be a Digimon, but many of his powers come from our real-world description of the nosferatu," he explained. "His ability to hypnotize, for example: the fact that it worked on Sora and Mimi, but not Biyomon and Palmon, only strengthens my theory of the connections between our world and this one."

"So… Myotismon can do everything vampires can do?" Tai asked. "Turn into a bat and stuff?"

"Presumably," Izzy said, "but what I want to point out is that he most likely has the same weaknesses…" He looked at Joe hopefully. "Vampires do have weaknesses, right?"

Joe thought back to those long nights of crouching in a fetal position while his siblings watched "Dracula" films. "Um… Crosses; that's the first thing I remembered," he started to recall. "Garlic; they don't like the smell… and they're really weak during the daytime; they have to spend it hiding in a coffin full of earth from their home countries. Oh! And you can only kill them by putting a stake through their hearts and cutting off their heads!"

"What?! Eww!" Agumon grimaced. "You can't just blow them up?!"

"Hopefully Myotismon is Digimon enough that we don't have to resort to that," Izzy agreed. "Nevertheless, we can use his weaknesses to our advantage as we venture back into his territory… Move by night and rest by day, for example."

"We'd better be careful, though," Joe said. "I remember they can even create fog and storms!"

Gabumon's eyes narrowed. "…Then I bet Myotismon caused the storm that brought us to his castle!" he reasoned.

"You know what? I think you're right!" Matt agreed. "Ugh, it's sounding more and more like this guy is gonna be our next big problem!"

"Hoo boy…" Tentomon groaned. "Here we go again…"

Tai noticed Sora looking back at the mountains, clutching Yokomon tightly. "Hey… You OK?" he asked, walking up beside her.

Sora nodded slowly. "I was just remembering last night…" she said, then shuddered. "I came really close to being…"

Tai clamped his hand on her shoulder; she was surprised at how clenched his fingers were, but when she looked at him, he gave her a brave smile. "He's not gonna get anywhere near you next time," he assured her.

She blinked a few times. "Tai?..." she asked.

Tai looked down at Yokomon. "Not if Garudamon's got anything to say about it. Right?" he asked.

Yokomon beamed and made a little fist out of one of her roots. "You bet!" she chirped.

Sora smiled. "…Thanks, you guys," she said.