Episode 22: Out of the Shadows and Into the ... ?

"Taichi-sempai! Taichi-sem—Taichi!"

Taichi could hear Daisuke's footsteps pounding after him and even further behind his, Veemon's. But for all their shouting, he might have been alone in the tunnels. All he could feel was his own terror curdling inside his stomach. All he could see were the memories flashing through his mind—so powerful it was as if he were watching a movie play out before him. With each step he took, desperation to get back to the others faded into the reality of his past.

With vivid clarity, he watched the faces of the others fall as the gate swirled shut after MaloMyotismon's defeat. With sickening despair, he stared at the blank screen of his digivice in the alley behind Highton View Terrace, empty beer bottles strewn around him. Once more, he glimpsed Hikari's red-rimmed eyes as she ducked into her bedroom after school on the day that Takeru moved away. Again, he saw Koushirou's disapproving face on the screen of his webcam.

"Taichi-sempai! You-have-to-stop-this!"

Daisuke was getting closer. Taichi could hear him gaining ground, could hear each exhale of his laboured breathing. He pushed himself on even harder, ignoring the fiery pain burning in his limbs. He didn't want to talk to Daisuke. He wouldn't understand. He couldn't.

Daisuke had been here in the battle against MaloMyotismon, really been there. He had been an instrumental part of his defeat. That whole year, Daisuke and his team had successfully battled the Digimon Emperor, Arukenimon and Mummymon, and all the rest of their new enemies. Daisuke had led the Digidestined to those victories. Where had Taichi been?

Busy with high school. Working towards a future in one world while his heart yearned for another. He should have been there. Maybe then, none of this would have happened. Maybe then, he could have prevented all this from happening and his friends wouldn't have had to suffer. His sister wouldn't have been hurt. Yamato wouldn't have given up on him. Koushirou wouldn't have been so disappointed. And they wouldn't be battling for their lives right now.

Or for the existence of their world.

The realization of his failure egged him onwards. He had let this happen to them. He couldn't let it happen again. He would stop PhantomDragomon, he decided. Whatever it took. But he couldn't stand to let the others suffer anymore. Look at what had happened already. They had almost lost Koushirou. And now, back in this damn city... He would have to do it alone.

"Sempai, ENOUGH!" With a final grunt of effort, Daisuke propelled himself forwards. Taichi felt his muscular arms close around his waist before he was wrenched to the ground.

He swore as his elbow connected painfully with the concrete. Water splashed from the murky pool covering the ground. Daisuke lay half-sprawled on top of him, crushing the air from his lungs. With an immense effort, Taichi shoved him off. He lunged back to his feet, preparing to take flight again, but keeled over only a second later. He was drenched in sweat and every muscle in his body blazed. He tried to breathe but each breath only seemed to make it worse.

Daisuke scrambled to arrange himself in a defensive position, blocking Taichi's escape. For a moment, the two of them just sat there gasping for air. Veemon's feet splashed through the water as he finally caught up to them. His chest was heaving, eyes bulging in his head.

"—thought-I'd-lost-you," he panted, collapsing in front of Daisuke. Daisuke patted his shoulder without speaking. He had eyes only for Taichi and was considering him darkly.

"You wanna talk about what's going on with you?" Daisuke asked when he had recovered enough oxygen to speak. His voice was ragged with exertion.

Taichi tried again to rise but his leg muscles had adopted the consistency of jelly.

"Taichi-sempai, talk to me! You're not acting like you."

Taichi resisted the urge to scoff. What did Daisuke know about who he was anymore? What did any of them know? At one point, he had been the kid's idol. The others still acted like he was the leader, and he had too because it was the only way he knew how to act. But now he realized that he didn't deserve it. Not after what he'd done, or rather, what he'd failed to do.

"Taichi-sempai—"

"Would you stop that already?"

"Stop what?"

"Calling me that—sempai."

Daisuke blinked at him, perplexed. Taichi felt another flash of irritation as Daisuke exchanged a bemused look with Veemon. They were acting like he wasn't making any sense.

"Don't be stupid, of course you are. What the hell has gotten into you?"

Taichi laughed. It was a hoarse, weak laugh that echoed. Somewhere nearby he could hear water dripping. A pungent smell filled his nostrils. Talking to Daisuke was bringing him back to the present, but it couldn't distract him from the desperation seething inside.

"Why is he laughing?" Veemon whispered to Daisuke.

"Taichi-sem—seriously, dude. You're scaring me. Do you...do you want to talk about it?" Daisuke asked, eyebrows furrowed. "I mean, I know I'm probably not your first choice—"

"There's nothing to talk about," Taichi said brusquely and heaved himself up again. This time, he was successful and managed to support himself by leaning up against the tunnel wall. He exhaled heavily as a cold breeze stirred the dank air of the sewers. It smelled foul.

"Taichi-sempai—"

"I told you not to call me that!" Taichi snapped. Irrational rage flooded through him and he staggered forward a step, catching a hold of Daisuke's collar as he fell to his knees.

Daisuke stared at him in shock, his neck bowed forward under Taichi's pull.

"Okay, okay..."

Mortified by his own actions and overcome with a sudden stab of humiliation and despair, Taichi fell back and buried his face in his bony knees. "You should go, just go."

"Are you crazy? I'm not going to do that!"

"Daisuke-kun, I'm serious," Taichi said, trying to get his voice under control. He could feel the panic roiling inside him again and struggled to hold it back. "Get out of here and find the others. It's not too late. You can still get them out of here. They need you—"

"They need you too," Daisuke interrupted angrily.

"No—"

"I'm serious. If I have to knock you out and carry you, I will," Daisuke threatened.

Taichi raised his face to meet Daisuke's furious gaze. His expression was clear. I'd like to see you try, it said. But Daisuke was staring at him with an equal level of bullheadedness. As another second of silence ticked by and then another, Taichi felt his path consolidating.

"What about Hikari-chan?" Daisuke finally demanded, caving in first as Taichi had known he would. "What about your sister, huh? Do you think she'll be very happy if you go?"

Taichi cringed as Daisuke found his weak spot. Again, images of his sister's hospital rooms threatened to overwhelm him. Even now, she could be hurt and dying. Injured in battle. But Daisuke had said that they were all right, that they were winning. He forced himself to breathe in and out of his mouth as terror made another bid to control him. It would only be worse for everyone if he went back. If he left them now, he could protect them. He could stop this.

"She'll be okay," he forced himself to say. "She'll have the others. She'll have you."

"Yeah, but—"

"She's better off away from me, Daisuke-kun."

"You've completely lost it."

"I can't do anything right anymore."

"Taichi-sempai—"

"You like her, don't you?"

Daisuke fell silent, surprise transforming his face. "What?"

Taichi felt all of his previous irritation and anxiety about Daisuke's affection for Hikari slipping away. Suddenly, it struck him that it could be a good thing. Who else could be as devoted to her? Who else would watch over her as well as he would himself? He could use this.

"My sister. I'm not stupid, you know."

"I don't—I—completely lost it," Daisuke muttered.

"There's just one thing I have to know," Taichi continued as if Daisuke hadn't spoken. He studied him closely with an appraising eye. "Why did you stop talking to her all these years?"

Daisuke looked puzzled and hurt. He was slow to answer. "Because she asked me to."

Taichi raised his eyebrows. That didn't sound like his sister in the slightest. She'd been miserable when the others had slowly started drifting apart. Why would she promote it?

Daisuke was fidgeting now, seeming guilty and uncomfortable. "Well, I mean, it was my fault. I was... I was mad after Takeru-kun left us. I might have said some things... And I kept harassing everyone about Digiworld. Ken-kun even stopped talking to me. He said I was just hurting everyone more. So...she wasn't the only one. And Miyako-san said that she—"

"Daisuke-kun, you're such an idiot."

Daisuke opened his mouth to reply, frowned, and then closed it again. He settled for fixing Taichi with a scowl that clearly communicated who he thought was the real idiot.

"Are we done?" he asked. "The others are—"

"I told you, I'm not going," Taichi said.

"Koushirou-san said we couldn't do anything else here. We don't even know what's—"

"I do," said Taichi.

The longer they sat there, the more and more he could sense it. All his panic had condensed itself into a tight, carefully controlled ball in the pit of his stomach. And for all that he had fought it—was fighting it—he could feel it grasping him, threatening to consume him. But he wasn't going to let it. No, he would use it. See what PhantomDragomon thought when he turned his own plan against him. He wouldn't let any of the others get hurt in this battle.

"What? What are you talking about?" Daisuke demanded.

"Isn't it obvious?" Taichi asked, wondering how he hadn't seen it before. Its shadow had fallen upon him the moment they had set foot in the desert. "The opposite of courage is—"

"Fear," Daisuke realized, his eyes widening.

"Very good," a voice congratulated from the darkness.

Daisuke whirled in shock; Veemon leapt before him with a cry. But Taichi remained motionless as Machinedramon eased into sight from the shadows of the tunnel.

"You should get out of here, Daisuke-kun," he said. It wasn't a suggestion.

"No, I won't—"

"I'll get rid of him for you," whispered Machinedramon's malevolent baritone.

The cannons on his back started to hum.


"Mimi! Mimi, where are you?" Palmon shouted, turning circles in the underbrush.

"Palmon, calm down. We'll find her," Ken tried to soothe her.

"She could be hurt! She could be in trouble! She could be—right there." Palmon froze as Mimi emerged from a ravine hidden in the shadows of the trees. Her clothes were smeared with mud and there were branches and bits of moss in her hair, but she looked to be unhurt.

"Palmon, thank goodness you're all right!" Mimi fell to her knees and embraced her.

"Of course I'm all right. It's you we were worried about." Palmon pulled back from Mimi so that she could get a better look at her, but she really appeared to be okay.

"What happened?" Takeru asked her.

Mimi looked up at the rest of the group. Her face was heavy with exhaustion. "I must have tripped and fallen down the slope is all. I blacked out for a minute, but I'm all right."

"Are you sure?" Takeru asked. "We should get Jou-san to take a look at you."

She shrugged with an indifferent air.

"You were very lucky," Ken said.

Mimi gave a small smile and Palmon thought that it seemed strained.

"Well, we should find the others," said Takeru uncertainly. He and Ken stared worriedly at Mimi but she was too busy trying to untangle the twigs from her long hair to notice.

They fell into place as they set off into the trees once more. Palmon walked just behind Mimi. Her relief at discovering her partner unharmed was quickly fading and she wasn't sure why. She tried to brush away the nagging uneasiness that something was wrong. Mimi had probably just been startled by the stampede and her fall. It would put anyone out of sorts.

Some more than others, she realized as they quickly located the others. It wasn't difficult. All they had to do was follow the sound of their voices ringing loudly through the trees.

"You idiot! The next time you decide to make a decision on your own—don't! You could have gotten us all killed back there," Yamato was shouting at a defiant looking Wallace.

Sora and Jou had already found their way back to them. They were hovering a few feet back from the arguing pair. Jou looked pained; Sora looked ready to berate them both.

"You want to see if MetalEtemon is here, don't you? Well creeping around his camp doing nothing isn't going to lure him out. You have to take action if you want to—"

"I don't remember making you the sole decision maker," Yamato interrupted through clenched teeth. "And who the hell decides to start a rock slide to get the enemy's atten—"

"That was you?" Ken asked in surprise.

"Yeah. I had to do something or else—"

"What would you have done if one of us had been seriously injured?" Ken asked, surprising everyone by taking a step forward. His grey eyes were almost as cold as Yamato's.

For a moment, Yamato looked like he didn't know how to react to his tirade being taken over but after a moment, he stepped back with a passive expression to watch Ken do the work.

"I wouldn't have done it if any of you were nearby."

"And what about the Digimon?" Ken demanded, not pointing out that they had been nearby or that Wallace had not even bothered checking. "Did you think about them?"

"They're working for the enemy," Wallace responded coldly. "If you ask me, that's the risk they take for getting involved with Digimon like MetalEtemon or whatever his name is."

Ken said nothing but Palmon felt more intimidated by him than if he had shouted in response. He was studying Wallace with a look of disapproval so intense that it radiated off him.

"If we all paid for our mistakes like that, hardly any of us would be here," he said finally.

There was a long pause in which words failed the team. Wallace's mouth twisted as he tried to come up with a reply, but he seemed to realize that Ken wouldn't rise to any of his usual retorts. She he remained quiet instead and it was Sora who finally broke the silence.

"Okay, enough for now. What's done is done. We have more important things to worry about at the moment. Did anyone discover anything? We have to start getting back to the crater."

Yamato jerked his head at Wallace. "We were otherwise occupied."

"We didn't find anything," said Takeru.

"Us either," sighed Jou.

"Actually, I might have seen something," said Mimi in a small voice.

They all turned to look at her in surprise. Palmon especially. What was she talking about? They'd been together the whole time except—wait. Was this why Mimi had been so quiet since she'd emerged from the ravine? Palmon worried. What had she seen down there by herself?

"Mimi-chan?" Sora questioned.

Mimi took a breath, wringing her hands together as she stepped forward. "Well, I don't know if it means anything...but you remember those things back in Vademon's tunnels? The ones that captured us and threw us into the dungeons? I thought I saw one in the trees, down in the ravine where I fell. I mean, I might have been a little fuzzy but I could have sworn that—"

"You saw one?" Yamato frowned. "But they were working for Vademon."

"Wait, you fell?" Jou questioned.

"Maybe now they're working for MetalEtemon," Gabumon theorized.

"Are you all right?" Jou persisted.

"Are you sure that's what you saw?" Sora asked.

Palmon stared at Mimi through this onslaught of questions. "Why didn't you say anything before?" she asked quietly as Mimi waved Jou off and caught her eye.

A low flush crept into Mimi's cheeks. "Well, I'd just fallen and I wasn't sure and I mean, I wanted to get back to the rest of you to make sure that you were okay..."

"Where do you think it was going?" Patamon mused. "Do you think it was going straight to MetalEtemon? Maybe that's why it's not with the rest of the camp."

"It's possible," Wormmon said.

"It's definitely suspicious," Gomamon seconded.

"Do you think you can lead us back there?" Yamato asked Mimi.

Mimi nodded, exhaling deeply. "Yeah."

"Do we have time?" Jou asked, looking to Sora.

She looked uncertain. "Well, we did come all this way..."

"It can't hurt to at least look around," said Gabumon. "But let's hurry."

"All right, Mimi-chan. Lead the way."

Mimi nodded at Yamato's request and turned to lead the others back the way they'd come. Palmon was quiet as they walked back through the forest, feeling the tension that still hung over the group. Wallace was walking stiffly at the back, his eyes on his shoes and his expression acidic. Everyone else was avoiding him. Sora and Yamato had put as much distance as possible between themselves. And Ken looked like he was brooding more than ever.

Nobody spoke. From the clearing, they could hear the vague noises of MetalEtemon's cronies resuming their work. Judging by their constant thump-thumping, Palmon guessed they were reconstructing their mountain of stones. For an instant she wondered how Wallace had managed to topple such a structure and then her eyes fell on Terriermon and Lopmon walking a few paces ahead of her. Both of them were still wearing slightly embarrassed expressions.

It didn't take long before they were back at the ravine. Mimi led them to the edge where she paused and rocked back cautiously on her heels. Taking a deep breath, she gestured to indicate that this was where she had fallen. It was easy to see how they'd missed it before, Palmon thought, as she pushed aside the overgrown foliage to make her way over.

"Well, this looks fun," Gomamon remarked, glancing down the steep slope.

"Be careful," Jou cautioned him.

Palmon readied herself for the descent.

One by one, they started down it. Several times they slipped and once Palmon had to throw out her vines to catch Gabumon as he hurtled head first towards the bottom.

"Thanks," he gasped, eyes wide with surprise.

"Be careful," she said, lowering him the rest of the way.

They all made it without injury. Once at the bottom, they stood huddled around in the mossy indenture, not knowing where to go next. Their gazes fell to Mimi, who was looking unhappier by the second for some reason. "Where did you see it?" Sora asked in the gloom.

Mimi pointed at a thick wall of trees with hesitation. "I thought it was in there but..."

"We'll never know unless we look," Yamato said. Squaring his shoulders almost imperceptibly, he led the way in the direction she had indicated. The others stumbled after him.

They walked for an uneventful few minutes. With every second, Palmon's feeling that something was wrong grew stronger and stronger. Something just didn't feel right about this. Why hadn't Mimi spoken up right away? And why would those things have come here? Had they heard about MetalEtemon and come to join him? Why would they float—literally—from one tyrant to the next? Unless that was just the kind of Digimon they were. Palmon supposed there had always been those that gravitated towards evil. Like the Gazimon or Gizamon.

But still...

"I don't think there's much point in going any further," said Takeru after awhile. "That Digimon could have gone anywhere. We're only going to get ourselves lost in here."

"Takeru-kun's right," Sora agreed. "We should turn around. I'm sorry, Mimi-chan."

Mimi bit down on her lip. "Let's go just a little bit further."

"I don't think—"

"I know what I saw!"

"No one's saying you didn't, but—"

Mimi interrupted Sora by pointing over her shoulder. "There! There! Look!"

The other Digidestined and their partners whirled around, squinting into the shadows where she was pointing. Palmon looked too but could see nothing but a tangled labyrinth of forest. She shot her partner a perplexed look but Mimi was already moving. "Quick! This way!"

The others chased after her. Palmon hesitated just a fraction of a second before following.

"Oh!" She gasped as she plunged through the trees and an old stone building reared suddenly from their depths. It was covered in centuries' worth of moss, the walls appearing to be a part of the forest itself. Mimi stood before it, her face beaming with triumph.

Palmon felt her doubts dissipate. So Mimi had been right after all. Embarrassed, she tried to shove away the relief that settled over her and made her way to stand next to her partner.

"It went inside," Mimi whispered to them.

Exchanging tense looks, the group crept to the nearest window. Vines had overtaken the glassless opening and all they could see was darkness through their sprawling leaves.

"Gabumon," Yamato breathed, holding a stick out to him.

Gabumon gave a quiet cough. "Blue blaster!"

The stick ignited. Gesturing for the others to follow, Yamato led the way around the corner—tripping over the thorny bushes which impeded his path—and to the door. This too had been smothered with vines but he hastily tore them away. He glanced back at the others and held up his fingers in a wordless countdown. Jou squeezed his eyes shut as finger after finger bent.

Three, two, one...

The door crashed open. Yamato led the charge inside, Gabumon on his heels. Palmon flexed her vines, ready to attack, but halted several feet inside. She spun around, surveying the interior illuminated by Gabumon's ghostly blue flame. The place was derelict and deserted.

"It's gone?" Sora breathed, still turning. "It must have escaped through the walls!"

"It was never here," said a new voice, a svelte voice purring with pleasure.

The door slammed shut behind them, trapping them inside. Palmon stifled a cry as she saw who was standing there. His metal body glittered in the light from Yamato's torch.

"It's you," Yamato spat.

"Yes, it's me," MetalEtemon said simply. "Dark spirits deluxe!" Black lightning crackled from his hand and leapt towards the Chosen, bouncing from floor to ceiling and back until a grid of electricity pinned them against the wall. All except for Mimi, who was standing next to him.

Palmon's first thought was for her partner. "Mimi!" she cried, trying to reach for her but then recoiling as MetalEtemon's crackling force field sparked at her and stung her roots.

They were all staring at Mimi now and Palmon could feel their confusion fading into fear. Mimi was staring at the ground, avoiding their eyes. What was happening? What had MetalEtemon done to her? Palmon started again to reach for her but just then MetalEtemon started to speak. His voice rang inside the cottage walls, his sunglasses flashing violently.

"Thank you, Mimi-chan. You were quicker than I expected."

"Thank you?" Jou repeated, stunned. "Mimi-chan—are you—you didn't...?"

"I'm sorry," Mimi whispered, finally looking up. Tears glittered in the corner of her eyes despite the rigid look of defiance on her face. "Please, just listen to what he has to say."


Not for the first time in his digi-life did Agumon wish he'd been blessed with longer legs. He splashed after the others as fast as he could but even Armadillomon, who had always been a tad on the rotund side, had no trouble keeping ahead of him. Agumon forced himself to focus on breathing in and out as he chased the others through the sewers. He had to keep going.

Taichi, Daisuke, and Veemon were down here somewhere. The question was where? It would be just their luck to stumble upon the one place the Dobermon had indicated they'd be better off staying away from. Agumon and the rest of the group had wasted no time in setting out in the direction of the water tower, moving underground when they finally located the rusty cover of another manhole. Even if Taichi and the others hadn't come across the danger yet, they could head them off before they reached it. Or so that's what they were hoping.

But what if it was too late? Agumon worried. There was a sense of dread hanging over him that he just couldn't shake. Somewhere deep inside him, he was sure that Taichi was already in trouble. Whether it was because of some instinctive bond between them or simply that Taichi had a knack for getting himself into difficult situations, he wasn't sure. He just knew.

"Stop! We've already been down this way!" Miyako shouted, coming to a sliding halt. Her hair clung to her sweat-soaked face and her pants were drenched up to her calves.

"How can you tell?" Hikari demanded.

Miyako pointed above their heads to a spot of graffiti which had faded over time. All they could make out was a patchwork of green and yellow smudges, the same blur of colour they had passed about ten minutes ago. Agumon waded his way through the water towards them.

"Okay, which way then?" He pointed his nose to either side where the tunnel split before them. For the life of him, he couldn't remember which one they had turned down before.

"It's too easy to lose track of our direction down here," Koushirou said with obvious consternation. "If we're back where we were before, we've already gotten turned around."

"Maybe we should go back up to the street," Iori suggested.

"But the way out is so far back," said Miyako.

Agumon stopped listening to them. What they were talking about was ridiculous. They didn't have time for this! They needed to find the others now. He moved away from them, peering down each tunnel and willing himself to feel something from them. Come on, Taichi...

"What are you doing?" Motimon asked him as he screwed his face up in concentration.

Agumon felt his shoulders sink. He avoided turning around to face the others, trying to conceal the disappointment spelled across his face. Gatomon stepped up to him. She sighed.

"Let me try." Wriggling her dainty cat nose, she sniffed the sewer air.

"Well?" Hikari asked, kneeling next to her anxiously.

Gatomon wrinkled her nose. "It really stinks down here."

"But do you—"

"I'm sorry," Gatomon shook her head.

There was a long silence as they paused, concealed in the shadows of the sewer, not knowing what to do. Agumon was hyper aware of his heart beating a too-fast tempo inside his chest. Why had Taichi had to do this to them? Why did he always have to do this to them?

"I suppose we have no choice but to go back up to the surface," Koushirou finally said.

But just as he spoke, there was a faint rumbling noise from somewhere in the distance. As they stood there, the water around their ankles rippled. A few pebbles fell from the ceiling, breaking the water's surface with a series of rapid "ker-plunks". They exchanged looks.

"Earthquake?" Hawkmon suggested weakly.

Koushirou's voice filled the tunnel. "I don't think that was an earthquake, listen!"

The rumbling sounded again—louder this time and followed by a deafening bang which echoed violently. The concrete tunnels shuddered as dust rained down from the ceiling.

"The others!" Hikari exclaimed, terrified.

"Come on, we have to move!" Gatomon said.

The team jerked to life in response but then froze only a half second later. Their heads turned from side to side, contemplating each tunnel with desperation.

"Which way?" Miyako asked.

"Just pick one!" Agumon said as the panic grew inside him. The tunnels shook again, uprooting his balance and sending him staggering a few steps down the left side.

"That way then," Gatomon nodded.

The two of them led the charge down the tunnel in question but were quickly overtaken. They all ran lightly, fighting to keep their balance as the shaking grew stronger and more persistent. Agumon tried not to imagine what could be causing those tremors, but in the back of his mind, he thought he already knew. It had to be a Digimon. A big one, by the sounds of it.

They hit another fork, but this time Agumon didn't stop to deliberate. There was no logic for him anymore, no orientation. Their best chance was to run blindly and hope luck was on their side. It had worked for them before, after all. He refused to consider the chance that it wouldn't.

But when another ten minutes—or an eternity by Agumon's reckoning—had stretched past, he was forced to conclude that his strategy wasn't working. The tremors had faded and the trembling quieted, leaving them with only an expectant silence. Breathless and exhausted, they drew to a halt again. Hikari's face had turned the colour of bone; Miyako was tearful.

Surprisingly, it was Iori who broke the quiet. "We have to do something."

But that was just the problem. What could they do?

Agumon turned in a circle, squeezing his eyes shut as helplessness engulfed him. It was the same feeling he'd experienced over the past four years, only multiplied ten-fold. Helplesness. Hopelessness. The overwhelming fear that he might never see his partner again. And even as he thought this, the possibility of a world without Taichi loomed before him stronger than ever.

At least before, he'd known that Taichi was out there. Maybe without his protection and companionship, but Agumon had been able to keep his head and try to help the others, safe in the knowledge that his partner still existed somewhere. But now... if something happened to him here... The graveyard flashed in his mind and a cold sensation crept up his spine. No...

"Agumon, Agumon!" Koushirou was shaking him.

"What?" Agumon opened his eyes and found that Koushirou appeared to have grown another two feet. He blinked, startled, and then glanced down at his reflection in the water. The sight of his round, pink, and pudgy body sent another thrill of fear tingling through him.

"Koromon!" Hikari scooped him into her arms. He could feel her arms shaking as she studied him wordlessly. Neither of them spoke their thoughts about what this might mean.

For a moment, dead silence reigned. Then the sewers began to rumble with new intensity.

"What do we do?" Miyako asked, terrified.

"Back to the surface, come on," Koushirou said, face grim.

"But—"

"We can't leave them down here!" Hikari protested fiercely.

"We have to re-orientate," Koushirou said firmly. He opened his mouth like he intended to say more and Koromon saw a shadow cross his face as he eyed the shaking walls. He shut his mouth and pointed down the tunnel back the way they'd come. "Come on, let's go."

They had no choice but to follow. Koromon listened to the frenetic echoing of their footsteps in the water as Hikari carried him with her. Inside his chest, his heartbeat felt too light and fluttery; there was a queasy feeling in his stomach. Why had he de-digivolved? All the thoughts he hadn't spoken pushed their way into his mind. What if...? What if...?

Koushirou led them back through the tunnels to a ladder they must have passed blindly in their flight. They used it to climb back up the road, Koushirou handing Motimon up to Miyako as she pulled herself onto the road above him and Hikari passing Koromon to Iori. Hikari started to climb out as Iori took Koromon into his arms, but paused on the bottom rung of the ladder.

"Did you hear that?" she asked, her eyes going wide.

"Hear what?" Miyako asked. "Hurry, Hikari-chan!"

The ladder shook with a tremor. Hikari started to climb again but then stopped just as suddenly. She turned to stare at something over her shoulder. All Koromon could make out was the top of her head at the bottom of the ladder. Iori stirred uneasily as Miyako called to her again.

"Wait, just wait—" Hikari broke off abruptly.

"Hikari-chan?" Koushirou called. When she didn't answer, he tried again. "Hikari!"

She glanced back up at them. Her expression was dazed.

"Are you all right? What's wrong?"

"I—nothing's wrong. I thought... I thought I heard something. Sorry. Let's go."

She clamoured up to the surface and Koushirou replaced the manhole cover behind her. Koromon glanced at her face but she seemed to have recovered from her momentary shock. She stood with the rest of them, breathing in the clean air. The light was fading and an orange glow radiated from behind the overcast sky above them. Above ground, the tremors were negligible.

"Now what?" Armadillomon asked, looking around.

They were in the middle of the street, their view obscured by high rises on all sides. Koushirou paced back and forth across the road, craning his neck for a glimpse of the water tower. The others did the same and Koromon tried to help as best he could from Iori's arms.

"Can you see it?" Koushirou asked Miyako as she leapt up the steps to a library.

Miyako's eyes narrowed as she squinted but she shook her head. "No, but do you see that building with the long, bronze windows? I think I remember seeing it nearby."

"Are you sure?" Hawkmon asked. "I don't remember seeing that."

"I'm almost positive but—"

Whatever Miyako was about to say, they didn't have a chance to find out because at that moment, a piercing cry split the air above them and a shadow fell over their faces.

Koromon glanced up and his already racing heart gave a few uncomfortable skips. He saw Iori's face go pale above him. Circling over top of them were two Megadramon, their vicious, yellow, reptilian eyes fixed on their party. The one's mouth split into a smile.

"There they are," it cackled.

The other was unamused. "Get them."

The creatures dove. Koromon didn't need to shout at Iori to run—though he did anyway. He threw himself willingly after the others as they darted for the cover of the library.

Hikari and Miyako seized the old-fashioned bronze handles and pulled but the doors wouldn't budge. Iori set Koromon down to help them but it was in vain. They were locked.

"Oh no, oh no, oh no..." Miyako whimpered, turning back around to face the Megadramon who had landed and were advancing towards them.

"Feather strike!"

"Lightning paw—oof!"

"Diamond she—argh."

The Megadramon swatted them away effortlessly. Koromon bounced forward, ready to fight, but was overcome by a dizzying moment of weakness. He ended up tumbling down the steps, landing before the dragon Digimon with a pitiful oomph.

"Koromon!" Hikari called, chasing after him.

He tried to shout at her to leave him but his head was spinning and he couldn't make out which way was up and which was down anymore. One moment, the world around him was a confusing blur of colour and the next he felt something cool and hard close around his body.

It took him a moment to realize it was a claw.

There were screams and cries from the others as the Megadramon caught them. But whatever they wanted, it seemed not to be to hurt them. Yet. Koromon fought the urge to be sick as he found himself suddenly airborne. All sense of balance and orientation slipped away from him and cold air buffeted him on all sides as his captor took flight.

"Where are you taking us?" He heard Miyako scream.

But the Megadramon didn't answer. The only sound was the wind.


Next Episode: Koushirou and his team have been captured by Megadramon. Where are these malicious Digimon taking them? Will they be able to escape and reach the others in time? For beneath the surface, the danger grows. Machinedramon has emerged from the shadows and Daisuke, Taichi, and Veemon are caught in his web. Meanwhile, Mimi and MetalEtemon present the Chosen with a new option. Is it one worth considering? Can they really trust an old enemy? Find out in the next episode of Digimon, Digital Monsters!

I know, I know. I'm terrible and dragging this out. Unfortunately, cliches take a little time to work around. I hope you enjoyed all that unfolded here regardless. You can be sure that the next chapter will be a big one. Do you have any speculations about what's coming? I'd love to hear them! It's not just gratifying, but unimaginably helpful. Your reviews are always, always appreciated. And on this note, a huge thanks to all of you who commented last chapter. You truly make this all worth it. I hope to have the next chapter up in good time. Until then! PS. Happy Canada Day.