Hello, friends, fans and lurkers! I have returned, and I've brought an old friend with me!

Everything that can be said about my infrequent updates has already been said, so I'll just say the Idea Factory was acting up again, and leave it at that.

Not much else to say here, so I'll let you guys and gals do what you came here to do.

On with the story!


(End of the Schoolday - 3:34pm)

"For the last time: I don't even know her!" Takato insisted, obviously frustrated.

Kazu and Kenta, as expected, had been pestering him ever since lunch, and showed no signs of stopping anytime soon.

"But you remembered her name; her full name." Kazu pointed out, for the twentieth time.

"Shioda Hirokazu, Kitagawa Kenta. I remember your full names, too; wanna read too much into that as well?"

"That's completely different." Kenta said. "You see and talk to us for hours on end pretty much every day, both in and out of school. And that's been the case for three years. When's the last time you talked to Sayuri?"

"I said 'hello' to her when we came into class this morning." Takato replied.

"See? Why is it that everyone else in the room, Ms. Asaji included, didn't notice her, but YOU did?" Kazu asked, going into full "detective mode".

"And speaking of Ms. Asaji, when she took attendance and overlooked Sayuri, you pointed out that she was present." Kenta added.

"Everytime I see her, she's always alone. She never talks to anyone, and nobody talks to her. She's an outcast, just like us."

"She's an outcast by choice; she doesn't WANT to hang around anyone." Kazu said.

"Are we any different? Before Henry, when have we even thought of extending an official invitation to join the group?" Takato countered.

Both Kazu and Kenta looked contemplative, stroking their chins as they looked up at the ceiling.

"Huh...He's right, you know." Kenta said.

"So what, does that mean you want to invite Sayuri? I'm sorry, dude, but I can't back that up." Kazu shook his head. "She may be less girly than, say, Jeri, but she's still way too creepy for my taste."

"Just like you're way too weird for everyone else's tastes?" Kenta snickered.

"..." Kazu sent a scathing look Takato's way.

"What? Don't look at me like that, he's got a point. According to most, you're too weird, Kenta's too nerdy, and I'm too mean."

"Okay, I get the weird and nerdy, but you, mean?" Kazu scratched his head, ignoring the look Kenta was giving him for the "nerdy" comment.

"My reputation followed me from elementary school, which isn't surprising, considering that a lot of the kids that went to my school back then go here now. And, since I don't bother saying more than 'hi' to anyone else around here, I really haven't given them much reason to think any different of me." Takato shrugged.

"It doesn't help that you've beaten up eight people in the past year." Kenta remarked.

"All of whom were bullies." Takato quickly pointed out.

"Doesn't matter. All it shows is that you don't shy away from fights, and that you can take on pretty much any student in the school and win. Combine that with the rep that your past 'breathe too close to me and I'll hurt you' attitude, and you see why everyone thinks you're mean." Kazu explained.

"I wasn't that bad..." Takato mumbled.

"You once knocked me out cold for poking you after the teacher asked me to wake you up. You weren't even asleep, you were just brooding!"(1)

"You startled me..."

"Fine. Then what about that time our kickball rolled over to you, and you launched it right at my face when I asked if you wanted to play?"

"..." Takato had nothing.

"Uh-huh. That was pure malice." Kazu nodded to himself.

"Yeah, well, that was then, this is now. I still don't see how beating up a few bullies qualifies me as being 'mean'. If anything, I should be freakin' hero around here!" Takato scowled

"I don't think you're mean..." a monotonous feminine voice replied from behind the trio.

"GAH!" Kazu and Kenta yelped in unison and immediately pressed their bodies against opposite sides of the hallway.

Takato just flinched ever so slightly, then turned to see none other than Sayuri Miyamoto staring at him just like she had during lunch(2). He couldn't help but lock eyes with her, and immediately noticed two things upon doing so. One, the girl was very short; four-foot-seven at the most. Two, the irides of her eyes were such a dark shade of brown that they looked black unless light was shining directly onto them, giving the appearance of aniridia.

After a couple seconds of pure awkwardness, at least for Takato, the boy finally replied.

"Well thanks, Sayuri. Nice to see that the mob mentality in this place hasn't gotten to everyone." Takato paused for a second, then shrugged and turned to Kazu. "You know Kazu and Kenta, right?"

"...I know of them." Sayuri replied.

"Figured as much." Takato sighed. "Anyway, I wanted to ask you a question."

"What?" Sayuri's voice came out like a whisper as her cheeks turned pink.

Takato rose an eyebrow at that, but decided not to point it out, lest he give his friends more ammunition.

"What you said during lunch...do you really think demons are behind what's been going on here?"

"...I think that, if demons really did exist, they would have better things to do than torment a school filled with some of the most gullible people in the entire city." Sayuri answered.

This caused all three boys' eyes to widen in shock.

"So...this whole time, you've just been messing with everyone?" Kazu asked. He was starting to like this girl.

"More or less."

"But you sounded so...serious..." Kenta furrowed his brow.

"Things like sarcasm often aren't conveyed properly when you speak like I do." Sayuri gave a small shrug.

"So you don't really believe in all that stuff, then?" Takato asked.

"Not really. My interest in it stems from the beliefs of others moreso than my own."

"Huh..." Takato still didn't fully understand what she meant, but decided save any other questions for a later time. If they didn't hurry, they'd be late for detention. With Ms. Uzari. "Well, we're going to be late for detention if we don't get a move on."

Kazu and Kenta both took a glance at their watches, then yelped and ran off down the hallway towards the detention room. After school detention, with Ms. Uzari, was bad enough without giving the woman an actual reason to go out of her way to torment you.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then, Takato." then, with another half-wave, Sayuri walked down the hall towards the school's front door.

"Yeah, see you tomorrow..." Takato wanted to say something else, maybe offer to eat lunch together sometime. But he just couldn't figure out how to word it without making it sound like something more than it was. "If you ever wanna hang out with me and the guys, you can find us at the park playground after school..." he mumbled to himself. "Bah, that's crap."

"See? I told you he talks to himself!" a male student whispered to his friend as they walked by Takato in the hall.

"You told me? Please. Everybody knows that Matsuki's a psycho." the friend replied, also whispering.

"What was that?" Takato asked, glaring daggers at the two boys.

"Oh! Hey, T-Takato, I, uh, I mean we d-didn't see you th-there..." the taller boy, whom Takato now recognized as Reiji "Ghost Boy" Fuda, stammered.

"Really? Well that's odd, seeing as how you looked right at me just a second ago," Takato then looked at the...wider of the two, Hitani "Alien Boy" Keido, "and I heard you say my name."

"No, no, I was, uh...looking at that poster!" Reiji pointed enthusiastically at the so-called "motivational" poster that was taped to the wall next to Takato.

"Uh-huh..." Takato glanced at the poster and his frown deepened. It was hardly eye-catching, and at the angle from which Reiji had been looking, Takato's body would've been blocking his view of the poster anyway.

Reiji began to sweat, knowing that Takato didn't buy his admittedly lame excuse.

Hitani wasn't faring much better. "I-It wasn't your name I said, oh no!" he gulped. "I said, uh, 'Natsuri'! Yeah, Natsuri...She's my aunt...kinda crazy if you ask me."

Takato's eyes narrowed a bit, then he nodded, as if he actually believed what he'd been told.

"Well, I could've mistaken 'Natsuri' for 'Matsuki'. Understandable, seeing as how you two were whispering." Takato smirked when he saw the two boys sigh in relief. "That's what I would've said if I believed you." he walked up to them, biting back a chuckle as the two boys backpeddled until their backs were against the wall. "See, I never specified which name I heard you say. You assumed that I heard 'Matsuki', even though you just called me 'Takato' a second ago...I don't know about you, but I find that kinda strange."

"..." the two boys looked at each other, then pushed off the wall to get around Takato and proceeded to dash to the exit, not daring to look back.

Takato made no effort to catch them, choosing to let out a snort of contempt before heading off to his "appointment".

(Afterschool Detention Room - 3:44pm)

"Ah, Mr. Matsuki, so glad you finally decided to join us." the normal detention "warden", Mr. Kizani, greeted Takato as he walked through the door. "For a minute there, I thought you weren't going to show up."

"The thought crossed my mind." Takato replied.

"Good thing you didn't listen to it." Mr. Kizani smirked. "You're smarter than your presence here suggests."

"Hey, it's not my fault I'm here." Takato sent a pointed glare at Kazu, who was sitting at a desk right up front.

"Yes, I know all about how Mr. Shioda single-handedly sent all three of you here. The other staff and I had a pretty good laugh about it." Mr. Kizani turned to Kazu, who was resting his head on his arms. "You might be interested to know that Mr. Miyagi does an excellent impression of you, Mr. Shioda."

"I know." Kazu smiled a little.

Toji Miyagi was easily the most liked teacher in the entire school, with Ms. Asaji being the only one even close to his level of popularity with the students. He was very laid back, almost to the point of having an altogether aversion to seriousness. No one was surprised to find out that he moonlighted as a stand-up comedian.

Kazu and Mr. Miyagi had a particularly special relationship, stemming mostly from the fact that Kazu's father happened to be one of the man's best friends. It also helped that Kazu and his group were a never-ending source of new material.

"Well, I know you haven't been here in a while, Mr. Matsuki, but I trust that you still remember the afterschool detention procedures?"

"Yeah, Mr. Kizani, I know." Takato sighed, then dropped his backpack behind the desk, beside Kazu's and Kenta's. He then unzipped a compartment on it and put the contents of his pockets inside.

In afterschool detention, students weren't allowed to have anything that would qualify as "entertainment". No paper, no writing utensils, no electronic devices, no reading material and so on. Even the room itself was devoid of anything stimulating. There were no windows, the walls were stark white, the floor was spotless, and even the desk for the "warden" was as plain as could be.

After Takato had relinquished everything that could possibly provide any kind of entertainment, including his goggles, he took a seat at the desk closest to the door, and farthest from Kazu.

"Well, I'm off, gentlemen." Mr. Kizani said as he stood up. "Ms. Uzari will be any minute now, and despite you're being here indicating the contrary, I know you'll stay put."

"You got it, Mr. K." Kazu gave the teacher and thumbs-up.

"Oh, and Ms. Uzari takes shoes now, so I suggest you not give her a reason to."

"Shoes?" Kenta rose an eyebrow.

"Someone in the last batch of students she had for detention found something to do with his shoes to pass the time." Mr. Kizani informed.

"Tch, figures. One idiot ruins things for everyone else." Kazu scoffed.

"...Dude, you've been that idiot I don't know how many times." Kenta remarked as he used his shirt to clean his glasses, idly wondering if Ms. Uzari would take them, too.

"Oh, so I'm an idiot now?" Kazu demanded, eyes narrowed.

"You said it, not me." Kenta replied, looking very pleased with himself.

"..." Kazu remained silent, realizing that he had set himself up for that one and didn't have a comeback at the ready.

Takato made no effort to hide his amusement.

"This is your fault. All your fault." Kazu then proceeded to brood.

"Technically, it's your fault." Takato chuckled.

"How's that?"

"I may have gotten Kenta to put his mind to jokes, but you did the same for me." Takato readily admitted that he had a sense of humor on par with a brick before Kazu came along.

"...Have I told you that I hate it when you make valid points?" Kazu frowned.

"Only on days that end with 'y'."

The sound of the door closing brought the three teens' attention to the front of the room, and what they saw caused the color to drain from their faces.

For the next few seconds, the sound of heels clicking on the tiled floor was all that echoed off the blank walls. Just by looking at her, you'd never guess this was the most intimidating member of the school staff, according to students and teachers alike. When students would complain about the woman to their parents, most envisioned a crabby middle-aged woman with wrinkles, frown lines, possibly a wart or two, and a gigantic chip on her shoulder. Huge "coke-bottle" glasses optional. Few managed to hide their looks of surprise and even out and out shock when they saw a very tall and very attractive woman in her mid twenties at school events and parent/teacher meetings.

Her long brown hair was always pulled back and tied into a simple bun, she always wore modest brown reading glasses, and she was the only member of the school staff who wore a "uniform". The only time her outfit didn't consist of a white blouse, brown knee-length skirt, dark stockings and black heels was when it was too cold for such attire. In those cases, the blouse was traded for a sweater, the skirt and stockings for slacks, and the heels for loafers. Combined with her fair complexion, deceptively delicate facial features and hourglass figure, Maya Uzari pulled off the "Hot Librarian" look perfectly.

"I know that I haven't had the...pleasure of your company for a while, but I trust that you remember the ground rules?" her voice was soft and even. Again, hardly what one would expect considering the numerous "legends" surrounding her.

But the boys knew that it was just a front. They could feel the ominous undertones, and it was something akin to survival instincts that made them automatically sit properly in their seats and straighten their postures.

"Yes, ma'am." Takato answered, surprising even himself when he didn't stutter.

"Then why were you talking when I entered the room?" there it was, the sharp edge and forcefulness they had come to associate exclusively with this single woman.

"I...It's Kazu's fault." Takato pointed at said boy.

Kazu just glared.

"Don't look at me like that. At this point, if Japan is invaded by the Mole People and their Martian allies tomorrow, I'm going to blame you for it."

The quick glance to gauge Kazu's reaction caused Takato to miss the tiny smirk that graced Ms. Uzari's lips for a fraction of a second.

"Are you done, Matsuki?" the woman asked as she placed a book, a notepad and a cup of coffee down on the "warden's desk".

"Yes, ma'am." Takato gulped, his overactive mind running wild and creating a scenario in which the woman pulled out a rather large pair of scissors and "confiscated" his tongue to keep him from talking.

"Good. Now, for the next two hours, I expect absolute silence." Ms. Uzari said as she sat down and opened her book.

The boys just nodded and sat like statues, hesitant to do so much as scratch their noses.

Of the three, Takato fared the best. His imagination alone was enough to keep him occupied, though Ms. Uzari and those kitchen shears kept popping up in his daydreams.

Kazu and Kenta weren't so lucky as to be "gifted" with such a mind, and found Ms. Uzari herself to be the only thing in the room that was even remotely interesting. Of course, with them being at the age where girls were starting to look like more than just daily annoyances, their daydreams were a bit more on the perverse side of outlandishness. The woman may have terrified them in ways they previously thought only their mothers could, but she was easily the finest specimen of the opposite sex they had ever seen outside of a movie or magazine.

Takato fantasized about Ms. Uzari cutting out his tongue, slathering his face in makeup, shaving his head bald, and parading him around the school for everyone to laugh at. Kazu's daydreams involved Ms. Uzari looking him straight in the eye while she cut her own clothes off with scissors that looked remarkably similar to the ones in Takato's "daymares". And Kenta...Well, as soon as his thoughts turned "naughty", he was immediately brought back to the past weekend and ended up actually fainting on the spot.

Ms. Uzari looked up at the sound of Kenta's head falling onto his desk, one eyebrow raised curiously.

"...Is he alright?" she asked no one in particular, not caring which of the two conscious boys answered her.

"We, uh, don't really know." Kazu chuckled nervously.

"This is the second time he's done that today, and the third time this week." Takato shrugged.

"Right..." Ms. Uzari was in the middle of mental debate about whether or not to care about Kitagawa's possible concussion and/or the large lump that was sure to form within the next few minutes.

While she did this often, she didn't know that it caused her normally stoic visage to morph into a sort of confused pout. It was an expression that could cause even the most faithful of married men to do a double-take.

Takato and Kazu shared a look as they both squirmed in their seats slightly.

Fortunately for them, the pout disappeared once Ms. Uzari reached a decision. If Kitagawa shared even an ounce of the resilience of his two friends, especially Matsuki, a bump on the head like that was nothing. Usually, she'd see to it that the boy was awakened, but she was in a somewhat good mood at the moment, and remembered that Shioda was the one who snored, not Kitagawa.

When she looked back down to her book without another word, both Takato and Kazu blinked in confusion.

"Uh, Ms. Uzari?" Takato ventured as he raised his right hand to get the woman's attention.

"What is it?" came the curt reply, accompanied by a "light" glare.

"Should someone wake Kenta up?" Takato almost squeaked, looking like he wanted nothing more than to hide under his desk.

"If you want to."

"...So, we can take naps?" Takato perked up at the prospect, his previous fear forgotten for the moment.

"As long as you don't snore and/or talk in your sleep." Ms. Uzari said, her tone indicating that her patience was wearing thin.

Takato looked at Kazu and snickered quietly, then laid his head down on his arms and hoped for dreams that didn't involve Ms. Uzari...At least, not if she was wielding scissors.

Kazu just scowled and muttered, "So unfair."

But Ms. Uzari's seemingly superhuman ears still picked up the noise.

"I hardly think it's fair that I have to spend two afterschool hours a day babysitting you three for the next two weeks. Contrary to the rumors, I do have a life outside of the school grounds." Ms. Uzari's glared hardened at the mention of the rumors surrounding her, several of which she knew the boy she was speaking to had started.

Kazu gulped, knowing exactly what that look meant, and wisely chose to keep his mouth shut for the remainder of his time in the detention room.

And for the next two hours, silence reigned, challenged only by the occasional turn of a book page and the quiet, rhythmic breathing of two sleeping teens.

Let it be known that Hirokazu Shioda abhors silence. Comfortable silence, awkward silence, deafening silence, Dead Silence(3); he hated all varieties. He didn't like being able to hear his clothing rustle with every movement. He didn't like being able to hear himself breathing. And he most certainly didn't like not being able to do anything about it.

Fortunately, he had his fantasies to keep him company. Unfortunately, Ms. Uzari was far from oblivious to his, ahem, less-than-appropriate thoughts. The staring, the blushing and the heavier breathing; it was all pretty hard to miss.

However, Kazu's breathing had another effect on the sleeping Kenta. Somehow, the sound permeated his dreams, turning them into nightmares like the ones that had plagued him ever since Sunday. And just as Ms. Uzari snapped her book shut and started to stand up to confront Kazu, Kenta awoke with a shriek that caused Takato to topple over, desk and all, as he was violently ejected from dreamland.

Thoughts of scolding Kazu for his perversion banished for the time being, Ms. Uzari walked over to Kenta, who was now curled into a ball on the floor and whimpering.

'Saved by the scream.' Kazu sighed in relief, knowing exactly what Ms. Uzari was about to do and say.

"What the hell, man?" Takato said as he extricated himself from the desk and stood up.

"Language, Matsuki." Ms. Uzari gave him a quick glare. "And pick up that desk."

Takato did as instructed, but winced and rubbed the right side of his torso with his free hand. He'd fallen on the armrest on the right side of the desk, and felt like he might have cracked a rib, maybe two.

His pained grimace didn't escape Ms. Uzari's notice.

"Are you alright, Matsuki?" the woman asked in a rare moment of giving a damn.

"Ah, might've fractured a rib or two; nothing to worry about." Takato waved her off and sat down again, flinching when he pressed on the injured area too hard. 'Yep, definitely cracked. I think it's the seventh, and the eighth is at least bruised.'

"...You say broken bones are nothing to worry about?" like all the other staff members, Ms. Uzari knew that Takato was into both "extreme" sports and mixed martial arts. He'd come to school with casts and/or bandages many times in the past.

But that still didn't mean she could let him just brush off an injury like that.

"Fractured, not broken. Believe me, if they were broken, I'd still be on the floor." Takato said, reminding himself to take shallower breaths to avoid expanding his ribcage too much.

"Doesn't change the fact that you should go to the infirmary." Ms. Uzari insisted.

Takato almost chuckled, but remembered how painful that would be. "Sorry, but I seriously doubt Mr. Osore will be any help. He's great with fevers, upset stomachs and small scrapes; but show him something like the bruise that I'm sure is forming right now, and he'll be the first one to call an ambulance."

Mr. Osore, the school "nurse", had this "thing" about injured children; it was why he applied for the job in the first place. He hated seeing a child in anything less than perfect health. That said, anything more than a minor cut would have him in hysterics. Takato and his group had quite a bit of personal experience with that. Once, Kenta had tripped while running to second base during a kickball game, and a small rock had torn a good-sized gash in his left forearm. When Mr. Osore got a look at it, he immediately scooped Kenta up in his arms and ran him to the infirmary, screaming at people to get out of his way. All the while, Kenta's eyes were wide with terror and confusion, sort of like one of the school rabbits when you picked them up too quickly.

To this day, that single event remained one of the most hilarious things Takato and Kazu had ever witnessed. But neither of them were in a hurry to experience it firsthand.

"You know he knows what he's talking about, Ms. Uzari." Kenta said as he stood up, still visibly trembling.

"Yeah, I just need to get home." Takato gingerly stood from the desk, making sure to use only his legs to do so. "My dad's perfectly capable of patching me up himself."

Before getting into MMA, Takato's stepfather had been training to be a paramedic, and found that those skills lent themselves very well to his hobby. Intimate knowledge of the human body made both fixing it and breaking it relatively simple matters.

Ms. Uzari gave a sigh of resignation. While she had never seen him get injured in person, she knew, from Mr. Osore, that Takato could be incredibly stubborn about getting treatment at school. And forget taking him to a hospital, unless you had him restrained Hannibal Lecter style.

"Fine, you're free to go." Ms. Uzari said as she waved the boys off dismissively.

"See you tomorrow, Ms. Uzari." Takato replied, visibly grimacing as he stooped to pick up his backpack.

"Don't rub it in." the woman grumbled as she watched Kazu and Kenta file out before their friend.

Takato let out a low grunt before walking out the door. He actually resented that remark somewhat. They had all been perfectly cooperative and obedient the entire time, as they always were in her presence. Then again, perhaps that was the problem. Not only was she being forced to stay behind to watch over them, their excellent behavior left her without anyone to torment for her own amusement. Even with her book, she was probably just as bored they were, if not moreso.

'Still doesn't give her the right to be such a bitch.' Takato actually flinched at the sudden feeling of dread that settled in the pit of his stomach.

Chancing a look over his shoulder, he saw that Ms. Uzari was standing in the doorframe of the detention room and giving him "The Look". His legs quickened their pace automatically, carrying Takato away from the woman who was second only to his mother when it came to inducing primal terror.

'If she can read minds, I don't even want to think about how screwed we are.' the boy gulped.

(Matsuki Residence)

Takato entered his home just as Mei was walking by with an empty tray. As she turned and prepared to greet him, she noticed his pained expression and the fact that he was holding his right arm against his torso.

"What'd you do?" she asked, sitting the tray down on the floor against the wall.

"Hi, Mom. My day actually kinda sucked, but thanks for asking!"

"Shirt." Mei ordered.

With a slight frown, Takato complied, lifting up his shirt to expose the reddish-purple bruise that had formed over the site of his injury.

"How bad?" while she did have some decent training under her belt, Mei wasn't nearly as well-acquainted with bumps, bruises and breaks as either her son or her husband.

"One cracked for sure, and another at least bruised." Takato replied.

"Was it a fight?"

Takato shook his head. "No, I just fell over in my desk during detention and landed on the armrest."

Mei's eyes instantly snapped away from the bruise. "Detention?" she demanded with a glare.

"The Look" cowed Takato into spilling his guts barely a second later.

"It was Kazu's fault, I swear!" the boy all but squeaked. "When we got to school, we noticed that everyone was crowded around the football field, so we went to go take a look. We found that the field had been vandalized, and Mr. Hido blamed us for it as soon as he saw us. Then Kazu got mouthy and now all three of us have two hours of after-school detention every day for the next two weeks!"

Mei shook her head and sighed. "I don't know why you insist on hanging around with that boy and his sidekick." actually, she was one of the few people who DID know, but it still puzzled her at times. "Takehiro!"

"Yeah, hon?" Takehiro seemed to appear out of thin air behind his wife, actually causing both her and their son to jump and look at him strangely. "What?"

Even after twenty-seven years of friendship, and five years of marriage, Mei still wasn't used to the way Takehiro just seemed to pop up whenever he was needed. The habit had proved itself invaluable over the years, but it was still a little unsettling.

"Your son hurt himself. Again." Mei said, then picked up the previously discarded tray and went back into the kitchen with it.

Under normal circumstances, Takato was "Their son". But when he did something stupid that resulted in an injury, he was "Takehiro's son". Inversely, when his report card came in with all A's and B's, he was "Mei's son".

"Technically, I didn't hurt myself; I was startled and fell." Takato pointed out. It had been a while since he'd been injured as a direct result of his own conscious actions, and he felt that was something to be proud of.

"Mm-hm...I'll take your word for it." Takehiro shrugged. "Let's go get that bandaged." and with that, he placed his hand on Takato's back and firmly guided him up the stairs. He was actually quite surprised when his son didn't offer any resistance, a departure from his normal response to bandages.

(The Next Day - 8:14am)

Takato yawned for the fifth time in as many minutes as he walked alongside his two friends.

"How late did you go to bed last night?" Kazu asked after yawning himself. 'Maybe yawning IS contagious.'

"I actually went to bed pretty early. You know how my mom is when I get injured, she won't let me do anything. Unfortunately, that led to me waking up at five in the morning." actually, Takato had set his alarm clock to wake him up at five, so he could have some time with Guilmon to make up for not visiting him yesterday.

"Ah, I know what that's like." Kazu said. "How are your ribs, anyway? You don't look like you're hurt." since they'd met up, Takato had stretched several times without so much as a wince.

"Fine, surprisingly enough." Takato poked the afflicted area somewhat forcefully. "I don't feel any pain at all." though he didn't show it, that fact alarmed him. In his experience, the pain from bruised/fractured ribs lasted for weeks on end. But with this injury, the pain had started to subside mere hours after it had happened.

Perhaps his D-Arc was doing something beyond just "downloading" information into his brain? If that was the case, then maybe Henry had experienced something similar.

"I mean this in the nicest way possible, Chumley; you're a freak." Kazu chuckled and pointed to his shiner. "You can heal from cracked ribs in a day, while I can't even heal from a black eye! So unfair."

"..." unable to think of a proper retort, Takato settled for glaring at his friend.

Suddenly, he felt something tug on the right leg of his pants, near the pocket on his thigh. Whipping around, he expected to see some little kid or even a dog. Instead, nothing but an oddly deserted sidewalk greeted him.

Startled by Takato's sudden movement, Kazu and Kenta both gave the boy questioning looks when they, too, saw nothing to be alarmed about.

"You okay, Chumley?" Kazu asked.

"...Yeah, it's just...I could've sworn I felt something pulling on my pants." looking down at said pants, Takato didn't see anything amiss, nor did he see anything for them to brush against or snag on.

Of course, just because you don't see something, doesn't mean it's not there. Had he looked a little closer, Takato would've seen a slight distortion in the air, like a heat shimmer, poking out from behind a telephone pole about twenty feet away. Two of them, actually, though one was better hidden than the other.

"It's all in your head, as usual. Now come on, we're cutting it close as it is." Kazu said before jogging off down the street, followed closely by Kenta.

"Yeah...guess so." Takato mumbled, taking one last look around before heading off as well.

Once all three boys were out of sight, the two "heat shimmers" spoke.

"You fool!" one of them hissed in a high-pitched, somewhat nasally voice. "What in Goddramon's name were you thinking?"

"What? I just trying to get his D-Arcs!" the other replied, it's voice a bit deeper, but overall similar to the first.

"I know what you were doing, you dolt; what I want to know is WHY!" the first shimmer all but shrieked, then suddenly moved closer to the other shimmer. And with a sound akin to two pieces of paper being rubbed together, both vanished into thin air.

"Hey, what're you doing? We're gonna lose him!" the other shimmer complained as they reappeared in a darkened alley about half a mile away.

Then, almost like flipping a light switch, their true forms were shown. Both looked like stereotypical Halloween ghosts, resembling tattered white bed sheets draped over a balloon, or something. However, both had the additions of "arms" and large mouths full of suitably large, dinosaur-like teeth. The only difference between the two was that one was wearing an almost comically large witch hat, which covered everything above its mouth.

"He can wait; you and I need to have a little chat first." the Soulmon said as it slowly advanced on its companion.

Said companion, a Bakemon, floated backwards at the same rate, keeping the distance between them. "Listen, listen! Getting those D-Arcs would mean we'd both be set for life!"

"But Lord Phantomon didn't tell us to get them. If he believed we could, I'm sure he would've told us to."

"Whatever." Bakemon snorted, now standing his ground. "It doesn't matter who gets them, as long as they're separated from the kid. And I would've had them if you hadn't butted in!"

"No, you would've botched it, like you botch everything, and would've revealed our presence to him, thus compromising our mission. Do you know what a compromised mission equates to? A failed mission. Do you know what that equates to? A death sentence. And I will NOT get myself deleted because of YOUR screw-ups!"

"MY screw-ups? I...You...ARGH, ZOMBIE CLAW!" a large, ghoulish hand shot out from Bakemon's right "sleeve" as he finally got fed up with his partner's attitude and attacked her.

Soulmon yelped in fright and teleported herself out of the claw's path, leaving it to strike the wall of the building behind her. The attack tore through the solid brick with ease, scoring four deep slash marks.

"You..." Soulmon growled as she reappeared next to Bakemon, hat lifted just enough to expose her furiously glowing eyes. "You little pissant. You dare attack ME?"

"You're damn right I dare!" Bakemon snarled back. "I'm tired of your rotten attitude, and I'm through letting you boss me around!"

"Hmph, I don't give you enough credit; you're even dumber than I imagined." Soulmon mocked as the rest of her body took on the same ethereal purple glow as her eyes. "You seem to have forgotten your place, so let me remind you of a couple things. One: I was put in charge of the entire horde by Lord Phantomon himself, so I can boss you around all I like. Two: Even if that wasn't the case, I can still do as I please with and to you. This hat isn't just a fashion statement, you worthless waste of data. It means that I'm better than you. It also means that I can do this..." Soulmon's eyes locked with Bakemon's and the light shining from them pulsed brightly for a split second.

Bakemon felt a sudden sense of disorientation, akin to vertigo, and wobbled in midair as he struggled to keep himself afloat. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.

Bakemon laughed derisively. "What, you can make me dizzy? Wow, good for you." both hands extended from his sleeves and clapped mockingly a few times. "I think I'm going to start shredding you now." the ghost digimon grinned maliciously as he brandished his deadly claws.

"No, you don't think. Not unless I allow it." Soulmon said calmly.

"Tch, staring death in the face and still barking; a true bitch if I ever saw one."

"Well, you should know that this bitch's bite is FAR worse than her bark." Soulmon's eyes pulsed once again and Bakemon froze in his tracks.

"Wha-What? What h-have you d-done?" Bakemon forced out, finding that even moving his mouth was incredibly difficult.

"As I said, you don't think unless I allow it. You don't do anything unless I allow it. Do you know what the primary role of a Soulmon is? It's to be the commander of a group of Bakemon, like you. We are the ones who organize your sorry asses, telling you what to do and when to do it. We're the brains to your brawn, and as such, we are gifted with the ability to telepathically control your kind. As of right now, you're my puppet, and I can make you do anything I want."

"I...I'll break out o-of th-this...And th-then I'll tear y-you apart!"

"Please. The only way you'll accomplish that is if you digivolve right here, right now..." Soulmon trailed off, her left sleeve coming up to rub her non-existent chin. "But, stranger things have happened, so why take the chance?"

Bakemon's right hand, against his will, came up and pointed its index finger right between his eyes. Then, to his horror, it pressed forward until the claw was touching him, and kept going. He whimpered as the claw dug into his body, penetrating the sheet-like outer shell and causing a viscous, purple-ish liquid to ooze out and run down his face. As it dripped from his body to the ground, it dispersed into small plumes of data, which were quickly absorbed by Soulmon(4).

"Perhaps it's time to find out if you really do have a brain." Soulmon giggled. "If so, I think I'll make you give yourself a lobotomy. Get rid of that pesky free will of yours and make you into a nice, obedient little sla-!" the hat-wearing Champion stopped abruptly and looked over to her right, seemingly staring right through the building at some phantom foe. "Wonderful. Because of you, someone has sensed us." he eyes stopped glowing as she released Bakemon from her spell. "Lucky you, you get another chance to prove yourself useful. But make no mistake, the next time things go South because of you, nothing short of Lord Phantomon himself will save you from me." and with that, Soulmon teleported them both away from the area.

And not a second too soon, as Renamon appeared on the rooftop above immediately after the two Champions had vanished.

'Strange...I know I felt two fairly powerful digimon around here.' the anthropomorphic fox thought, narrowing her eyes in suspicion. Her sensory abilities were never off; something had been here.

She leapt down to examine the area more thoroughly, checking for even the slightest traces of energy left behind. Within seconds, her senses led her to the large claw marks left by Bakemon's attack. That told her that a digimon had indeed been there, and that it had been a Virus-type, but didn't provide any clues beyond that. There were literally hundreds of different digimon that could've made marks like that, many of them of them Viruses.

However, it appeared as though whatever it was had teleported as a means to escape her, and that did narrow down the list. There weren't that many digimon who could teleport, and even fewer who could do it so discreetly.

"Hmph, I hope running away isn't all this one can do." Renamon muttered aloud, then took to the rooftops again to resume her patrol of the city. 'There's no reason to bother Rika about this, not when I haven't actually found anything yet.'

(With Takato - 3:34pm)

Marching through the halls of the school towards the detention room, the "Terrible Trio" all had identical scowls on their faces. Having gotten over the circumstances of their sentencing, Takato and Kenta were now thoroughly behind Kazu about the unfairness of the whole situation. Yes, Kazu had been completely out of line, but two weeks of after-school detention, with Ms. Uzari, was nothing short of overkill.

"Matsuki," a familiar male voice called out from behind the three boys, "a word, please."

"Uh, yeah, sure Mr. Hido." Takato turned and walked over to the principal.

Kazu and Kenta made to do the same, but were stopped cold by a glare from the man.

"I said 'Matsuki'." Mr. Hido glared, sending both boys scampering away like squirrels. "Now then, walk with me."

Takato complied without hesitation, though he noticed that he was being led away from the detention room.

"So, um..." the teen rubbed the back of his head nervously, not knowing what to say, or even if he should speak at all.

"I'm going to be blunt with you, Matsuki; I know you and your 'crew' weren't the ones who defaced the football field yesterday."

"Eh? Then why..." Takato paused when Mr. Hido gave him an "are you serious?" deadpan stare. "Kazu, yeah...Nevermind."

"I also know that the punishment I gave you was far too harsh, and I've been told as much by several faculty members. That said, I'm giving you an out."

"What's the catch?" Takato asked immediately. If it seems too good to be true, chances are it isn't.

"You're going to be working for your freedom. Call it 'community service'." Mr. Hido just barely managed to keep a smirk off his face when he saw the boy's shoulders slump.

"Do we at least get to choose what we'll be doing?"


"Just thought I'd ask. What am I doing, then?"

"You will be feeding the rabbits." Mr. Hido didn't bother hiding his amusement at the look on Takato's face.

"B-But...I HATE those things!"

"Ms. Asaji has told me as much."

Takato's jaw dropped. He never knew the school principal could be so...unflinchingly cruel.

"There has to be something else, anything! Please?"

"Well, if the rabbits are too much for you, you could always just serve your full two weeks of detention. With Ms. Uzari." by now, Mr. Hido was borderline grinning. It was always entertaining to watch the reactions of a person stuck between a rock and a hard place. Doubly so if said person happened to be a child, as they tended to overreact more often.

'Detention, or "community service"...Rabbits or Ms. Uzari...Rodent Hellspawn, or the Devil's Mistress...I shouldn't have to make these kinds of decisions; I'm only thirteen, dammit!' Takato looked at Mr. Hido, who was smiling pleasantly over his shoulder with his hands behind his back as they walked. 'Y'know...I always felt bad about putting that laxative in his coffee last year...Not anymore.'

"Have you made your decision?" Mr. Hido asked as he finally stopped.

"Yeah...I'll feed the rabbits." Takato replied dejectedly.

"Excellent. I'm sure two weeks will be more than enough time for you to work out whatever issues you seem to have with them."

"T-Two weeks?"

"Of course. Feeding the rabbits is easy enough as it is, regardless of your 'hatred' for them. I'm not about to make it even moreso by letting you go after doing it once or twice. Two weeks, non-negotiable." Mr. Hido said firmly, all traces of humor gone for the moment.

"I...Fine." Takato sighed , then started to make his way to the exit.

"Going somewhere?" Mr. Hido asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Uh...home?" Takato was really starting to hate the principal's evil little smirk.

"After detention, you mean."

"Wha...I still have detention?"

"Mm-hm. The rabbits have already been fed today."

"But...why did you make me walk to the other side of the school?"

"Why indeed..." came Mr. Hido's cryptic and blatantly smug response.

"..." Takato's right eye twitched uncontrollably as visions of the principal laid out on the floor with a broken jaw danced around in his head. However, the thought of being late for detention soon drove all others from his mind. If it was one thing Ms. Uzari hated more than noise and insubordination, it was tardiness.

Giving Mr. Hido a look that could curdle milk, much to the man's amusement, Takato shot off like a Top Fuel dragster down the hall.

Or, at least he would have, were it not for the principal's parting words, "No running in the halls."

Takato stumbled mid-step, but managed to recover before suffering a very painful fall for the second time in two days. His first instinct was to whirl around and give the principal a piece of his mind, but he could hear the sound of the man's dress shoes on the floor heading away from him.

'Seriously, I take back EVERY nice thing I EVER said about that guy!' Takato thought angrily as he half-jogged down the hall. "...You know what? Screw it." and with that, the Matsuki Typhoon was unleashed once again, this time unrestricted by crowded hallways.

(Detention Room)

"Hm, I see that Mr. Matsuki had decided not to join us today." Ms. Uzari said as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose with a finger. "I suppose he has a good reason for that?"

"Uh...Last we saw, he was talking to Mr. Hido." Kazu answered.

"Really? Well...His absence can be excused in that case..." Ms. Uzari blinked. She didn't expect them to have a legitimate reason.

"I wish." Takato said as he opened the door and sat his backpack next to his friends'.

It was easy to tell he was in a bad mood, what with the perma-scowl and the tense, needlessly forceful movements. The reason for his anger was anyone's guess, but Kazu and Kenta came to the conclusion that Mr. Hido had added something onto Takato's sentence. Now the question was: why Takato?

'What kind of crap is this? We already got two weeks of A.S.D., with Ms. Uzari, for basically no reason, and now they're tacking more on?' Kazu thought. Looking over at Kenta, he saw a perturbed look that confirmed they were both on the same page.

But neither dared to verbalize their outrage. If Mr. Hido was on some kind of malevolent power trip, the last thing they wanted was to give Ms. Uzari a real reason to get on their backs.

(Shinjuku Park - 7:00pm)

"Ah man," Kenta groaned as he stuffed his phone back into his pocket, "that was my dad, reminding me about my new curfew."

Kazu's body went ridged at the mention of a curfew; he'd forgotten about the one imposed on him.

"Ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap!" the visor-wearing boy was a blur of motion, tearing around in all directions like a headless chicken.

"...You got a curfew, too?" Takato asked needlessly.

"..." Kazu stopped dead and turned to level a somewhat creepy deadpan stare on his friend. "You didn't get punished at all, did you?"

"Nope!" Takato beamed. He loved it when he had something to rub in Kazu's face.

"Why do you have to have such understanding parents?" as if by magic, Kazu appeared in front of Takato, their faces uncomfortably close.

"Uh...Maybe it's because I don't try to hide stuff from them?" in Takato's humble opinion, Kazu likely wouldn't have gotten punished so frequently or severely if he told his parents about what happened before the teachers called.

"You can't hide things from your parents; your mom is psychic." Kazu said as he turned away from Takato and hoisted his backpack over his shoulder.

"Which is why I don't even bother trying." Takato replied. "But your dad's mustache gives him ESP, yet you still think you can get away with stuff."

In the past year, Kazu's father had decided to grow a mustache. It had come in surprisingly quick, going from "peach fuzz", to "mutant caterpillar" in just a couple months. Since then, the man seemed to have developed some kind of sixth sense bordering on telepathy. A prime example was just last month when Takato and Kenta had been at Kazu's place for a gaming marathon. Takato had taken a break and went into the kitchen to get a can of grape soda. He hadn't announced his intent, nor the flavor he wanted, yet as soon as he entered the kitchen, Kazu's father was there with a can of grape soda held out to the boy.

Just as Takato had opened his mouth to ask the man how he knew, Hirofumi Shioda gave him a creepy, knowing smile that sent Takato nearly running back to Kazu's room. Kazu's father had always been pretty "out there", which was where Kazu himself got his own eccentric personality from. But on that day, he went from "weird, but cool", to "scary as hell, but cool" in Takato's book.

"Hey wait a minute," Kenta turned to Takato with a confused expression, "you said you don't try to hide things from your mom, yet you agreed to Kazu's crazy mall scheme. What's with that?"

"I...Um...Well...D-Don't you have to get home?" Takato had forgotten about Kazu's plan, and was mentally slapping himself for going along with it.

Instead of seeing the tactic for what it was, Kenta's fear of additional punishment for coming home late fueled a frantic dash towards the nearest park exit.

"I gotta get going, too. I'll see you guys tomorrow." Kazu then rounded on Henry. "Be ready for a rematch." and with that, "The Mastermind" ran off through a patch of bushes, taking a shortcut that Kenta had apparently forgotten about.

"...Telepathic mothers, mustache ESP, the principal being possessed by evil spirits...Never a dull day with you guys, huh?" Henry chuckled.

"Nope. And the evil spirits thing was a joke." Takato replied.

"With the things you guys talk about, it's kinda hard to tell when you're being serious."

"That's Kazu for ya'. I would tell you to just assume that he's joking and roll with it...but that's how you end up getting roped into things that'll get you grounded until you're a legal adult." Takato sighed, he was NOT looking forward to whatever Kazu had planned for the mall. 'Who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and he'll forget about it...Yeah, and maybe Pineapplehead won't sic her fluffy, yellow assassin on me next time we meet.'

"Whew, I thought those two would never leave!" Terriermon said as he hopped out of Henry's backpack. "You have no idea how cramped it is in there."


"Don't say sorry, just get a bigger backpack." Terriermon grumbled, massaging his sore ears.

"Takatomon!" came a sudden jubilant shout as red, black and white blur barreled out of the bushes and tackled Takato to the ground.

"Guilmon's here." Terriermon giggled.

"Thanks, I hadn't noticed!" Takato grunted out after pushing the heavy digimon off. "So, how was your day?"

"It was great, Takatomon!" Guilmon cheered. "I saw a whole bunch of squirrels! But I didn't chase them, or burn them." the reptile added quickly when he saw Takato frown and raise an eyebrow.

"What about eating them?"

"Terriermon..." Henry warned, though he did find the expression on Takato's face pretty funny.

"...You haven't eaten any squirrels, have you?" Takato asked his partner hesitantly.

"Huh? You can eat squirrels?" Guilmon questioned, putting a claw to his lip.

"No. No, you cannot."

"I don't know. Grilled on an open fire, with the right barbeque sauce, I've heard squirrels are delici-" Terriermon paused when Takato glared at him and pulled out a roll of duct tape. "Joking. Eating squirrels is like eating rocks...Rocks that explode after you swallow them."

Takato nodded in agreement, then looked over to Henry expectantly.

"Oh yeah, it's common knowledge that squirrels are tiny, living bombs..." Henry said, trying desperately to hold in his laughter.

"See? Squirrels aren't for eating, either. It would be sorta like swallowing your Pyro Sphere."

"Auu..." Guilmon groaned at the thought.

"Yes, very unpleasant, let's stop talking about it." Takato said quickly. "Anything else happen today? Not involving squirrels or any other woodland rodents, Terriermon excluded?"


"Uh...Oh! I saw another digimon!"

"You didn't get into a fight, did you?"

"Pretty dumb question, since the park hasn't been burned down." Terriermon said with a huff, none too pleased about the "rodent" remark.

"...Point. So, did you make a new friend?"

"No; he was too noisy and mean." Guilmon frowned at the memory of the short-tempered purple digimon. He never thought something so little could be so big on attitude.

"Noisy and mean, eh? He didn't happen to be purple, did he?"

"How did you know? Oh! Is Takatomon telepathic?"

"Holy cow, he just said 'telepathic', AND used it correctly!" Terriermon gasped, genuinely astonished.


"What? You are gonna stand there and tell me that you're not surprised?"


"Thought so."

"I guess there really is an Impmon running around." Takato mumbled to himself.

Of course, Terriermon heard him, and had something to say about it. "An Impmon? Great, just great; just about the only digimon with a bigger mouth than mine."

"You think he was the digimon you sensed this morning?" the blue-haired Tamer asked.

"Doubt it. It was a Virus-type, but stronger than any Impmon I've ever met."

"You sensed a digimon?" Takato asked as he turned to Terriermon.

"More or less." the rabbit-like digimon shrugged. "It was just a short pulse, most likely an attack, then it was gone. If you ask me, Renamon got another one."

Both Takato and Henry frowned at that. It was quite disconcerting to know that "Death by Renamon" was such a common occurrence that it was basically the default conclusion for a digimon coming through to their world.

"Well, looks like we'll have something to talk about next time Rika comes after us." Takato said as he sat down on the grass next to Guilmon.

"What, you don't think she's learned her lesson about messing with you and Big Red?" Terriermon asked, giggling at the fact that Renamon, the big, bad digital assassin had gotten her tail handed to her not once, but twice by the "newbie" Guilmon.

"It's not even about that anymore, I don't think. For her, it's personal now." Takato sighed before explaining the situation to his friends. "Remember the guy that helped us avoid the suits yesterday?" getting a nod from Henry, he continued. "Well, it looks like he stole Rika's cell phone, used it to call me, then returned it to her without bothering to erase the last call entry. She redialed, I answered, and now she thinks I had something to do with her phone being stolen."

Henry and Terriermon just stared at Takato, gaping in astonishment at someone having such horrible luck. Tamer and digimon shared a look, then burst out laughing.

Takato wasn't at all amused. "...I was hoping for a little sympathy, and maybe some ideas for a solution...But I suppose this is the next best thing."

"S-Sorry, but..." Henry started, now in tears from laughing so hard. "But this is just...too much!"

"O-Only you, Ta-Takato!" Terriermon guffawed. "Th-This could only h-happen to y-you!"

"...Fine. You two are now officially my accomplices in the dastardly plot to steal Pineapplehead's phone."

"Well, this certainly is a problem." Henry's attitude did a complete one-eighty, as did Terriermon's.

"I'm sure that we can come up with a plan if we put our heads together!"

"That's more like it." Takato smirked.

Guilmon, of course, was completely oblivious to what was going on. But he figured it was something important, since everyone had suddenly gotten so serious.

'Aww, I liked it better when they were laughing.' he thought.

(The Next Day - Shinjuku Junior High School - 3:45pm)

With a bucket full of shredded lettuce and carrots in-hand, Takato shoved open the school's Northern exit door with enough force to rattle the frame. Looking to his left, he spied the, in his opinion, needlessly large enclosure that the rabbits were housed in. It looked much like a greenhouse, with chain link fencing in place of glass. And if Takato had his way, it would be a greenhouse. Delicious garden tomatoes trumped malevolent vermin any day of the week.

But, as was usually the case, Takato didn't have his way, and likely never would when it came to the rabbits. He seemed to be the only person in the entire school who had a problem with them, just like he seemed to be the only person that they had a problem with.

As he walked up to the enclosure, the rabbits caught sight of him and immediately congregated at the door. To anyone else, this would've been seen as indescribably cute; but Takato knew better. The rabbits weren't waiting to be fed, they were waiting for an opportunity to escape. As soon as he opened the door, they would flood out en masse, knowing that he couldn't stop them all. And the ones that he did manage to block would make it their mission to shred his pant legs and shoes with their teeth.

"Not today, you glorified rats. Not today!" Takato hissed as he stared the rabbits down.

Not a single one of them so much as flinched. If anything, a couple of them moved a little closer to the door.

The boy contemplated just leaving the bucket on the ground, to taunt the things, and leaving. But then he'd just end up making things worse for himself. Of course, single-handedly losing all of the school's rabbits wouldn't do him any favors, either.

'Damn you, Mr. Hido! Putting me in a position like this...' Takato thought angrily, slowly reaching for the door handle. To make matters worse, both Kazu and Kenta had gotten their punishments "upgraded" for returning home after their imposed curfews. Now they had to go straight home after their school duties were taken care of. 'Well, on the upside, I'll be spending the day with Guilmon.'

Suddenly, the rabbits took a collective look to their right, then dashed over to the far end of the enclosure. Huddled together in absolute terror, some rabbits tried to burrow inside of the pile, while others actually tried to climb up the fencing to the ceiling.

"What the...?" Takato trailed off as he looked to his left, nearly jumping out of his skin when he saw Guilmon standing about two feet away, staring at the rabbits in confusion. "What are you doing here?" the brown-haired Tamer whispered after he got over his shock, frantically looking around for anyone who might see his partner.

"I saw that purple guy again today, and he asked me where you were. I told him that you were feeding rabbits and he said that you were really fighting rabbits because they're really dangerous and like to eat humans!" Guilmon's brow furrowed and he put a claw to his lip in thought. "I don't know what a 'human' is, but I didn't want you to fight the rabbits alone, so here I am!" he then turned his attention back to the white furballs. "But they don't look very scary."

Takato pinched the bridge of his nose in annoyance. 'Terriermon was right, stuff like this only happens to me.' but, as he went to tell Guilmon that there was nothing to worry about, he had a Light bulb Moment. 'Thank you, Impmon!' "Don't let their looks fool you, boy. Terriermon doesn't look like much, but he's pretty strong, right?" Guilmon nodded in understanding. "Never judge a book by its cover."

"What's a book?"

"...Nevermind. Just know that rabbits, especially these rabbits, are pure evil to the core. But I've been tasked with feeding them, and I'm going to do it. Since there's two of us now, I don't think they'll try anything, but if they start attacking me or try to get out..." Takato looked at the animals and grinned evilly. "You have my permission to burn them."

"Okey-dokey!" Guilmon beamed, the turned a glare on the rabbits, daring them to make a move towards his Tamer.

Takato chuckled as he opened the door and walked into the enclosure. "Hello, rats. Hungry?" he walked over to the metal feeding tray and dumped the contents of the bucket into it. "Good, 'cause after rigorous searching, I found something even lower on the food chain that you guys. Straight from the cafeteria, choke and die."

The rabbits' food was supposed to be fresh produce from the nearby grocery store, but Takato felt they didn't deserve it. So, he cooked up a plan with Kazu, who was stuck on cafeteria duty for the next two weeks as his punishment. The school had served fish tacos for lunch earlier in the day, and their was still literal bucketloads of shredded lettuce and carrots left. Some of it looked to be days old, and was likely tainted like everything else that came out of the school kitchen. So of course, a bag full of the stuff found its way out of the cafeteria and into Kazu's backpack. From there, it found its way into Takato's backpack, and was now in the rabbits' feeding tray.

"Well, it's been fun, rats, but I've gotta go. Don't worry, I'll be back tomorrow...and so will he." Takato pointed at Guilmon, who was still glaring at the rabbits. "So behave if you don't wanna get fried. And who knows, you might even get your normal food back if you're good."

As he stepped out of the enclosure and closed the door, Takato suddenly felt like he was being watched. Turning around, he spotted Henry standing there, with Terriermon on his head, giving him an odd look.

"Well...that wasn't creepy at all..." Henry said.

"You don't know these rats." Takato replied.

"I've never had a conversation with them before, but they can't be that bad."

"I'll tell you what I told Guilmon; these things are pure evil, wrapped in a facade of cuteness to lull you into a false sense of security."

"I'll bet." Henry deadpanned, then looked around Takato to see that the rabbits hadn't taken their eyes off of Guilmon and were still cowering in the corner. "If you're done, I think we should leave. They're not going to eat until Guilmon's out of sight."

"Alright, I've just gotta put the bucket back." as he turned around, Takato was greeted by two large, green eyes just inches from his face. He gave a high-pitched yelp and fell flat on his ass while trying to backpeddle away.

Of course, this over-the-top reaction had Henry and Terriermon in stitches, as well as the newcomer.

"Takato fall down, go boom!" Calumon giggled.

"What is this, Sneak-up-on-Takato Day?" Takato raged as he got to his feet and dusted his pants off. He half expected Renamon to show up next and try to take his head off.

"Hey, don't blame us for your lack of situational awareness." Terriermon remarked, though most of his attention was on the strange new digimon that had just shown up.

Takato just grunted and turned to Calumon. "You, stay right there. I'll be right back." he said before running back into the school to return the bucket to its proper place.

"Hey, little guy, what's your name?" Henry asked with a smile as he walked over to the floating white and purple digimon.

"I'm Calumon!" the answer was accompanied by a quick series of loops in the air that ended with Calumon upside down in front of Terriermon. "Who're you?"

"I'm Henry, and this is Terriermon; we're friends of Takato."

"Me too, me too!"

Henry and Terriermon shared a look. If this "Calumon" was really a friend of Takato's, even knowing his name, why hadn't they ever heard of him?

(Thirty Minutes Later - Shinjuku Park)

"Yay!...Yay!...Yay!..." Calumon cheered as he was juggled by Takato.

"Just warn me when you start feeling sick; I don't want to go home smelling like vomit thanks to you. Again."

"Aw, come on, that was a long time ago!" Calumon said.

"A month isn't a long time." Takato countered. "...Well, maybe it is for someone has hyperactive as you."

Henry, who was leaning against one of the walls inside of Guilmon's shed, had a slight frown on his face as he watched the two interact. Takato had told him that not only had he known about Calumon for months, the digimon was living in his house, AND his parents were fine with it! They even knew about Guilmon, and made dinner for him! Needless to say, both Henry and Terriermon were understandably jealous.

"I guess I've gotta take back what I said about Takato only having one kind of luck." Terriermon mumbled.

"Hm. Must me nice to have such understanding parents."

"You haven't even talked to your parents about it!"

"Hey, that isn't exactly something that I can just bring up out of the blue!"

"Come on, do you really think they'd freak out over something as cute as me?"

Henry had to give it to Terriermon, he could be sickeningly cute when he wanted to be, and that would certainly help in keeping his family calm.

"See? You know I'm right. You need to talk to your parents about it, and soon. I'm tired of pretending to be a plush toy even in the privacy of our own home!" Terriermon fumed.

"He's got a point, y'know." Takato said as he tossed Calumon behind his back and over his shoulder, surprising himself with how easy and smooth it was. "You never know unless you try. I mean, my parents didn't believe me when I first started seeing digimon. It took Calumon raiding the donut rack for them to finally accept that they were real."

That wasn't the whole truth, as Takato's parents didn't really accept the existence of digimon until Lillymon showed at their home, having tracked Calumon there. Kinda hard to dispute a six and a half foot tall woman with impossibly large black eyes, vines for hair, a living flower for a hat/helmet, and the ability to turn her hands into energy cannons. But Takato didn't really trust Henry enough to tell him about Lillymon or his other digimon partners.

"I suppose..." Henry trailed off, thinking of possible ways to broach the subject to his parents. 'Maybe I could start off by asking for a pet?'

Seeing Henry's familiar "deep thought" expression and posture, Terriermon decided to drop the subject.

"Anyone up for a game of hide and seek?" he proposed, getting nods and cheers of agreement all around.

Not a single one of them had even the slightest clue that they were being watched.

'Looks like the beginnings of a pretty good team, though Takato seems to be playing it safe.' BlackGatomon thought, her keen ears having picked up everything that the boys and their partners had said. As Calumon, Terriermon, Guilmon and Henry poured out of the shed and took off in different directions, the feline digimon smiled; it seemed Takato had been chosen to do the seeking. 'Have fun, Takato. Things are going to get serious soon enough.' something caught her eye off to her left. 'Maybe sooner than anyone feared...'

BlackGatomon's eyes narrowed as she focused on a single tree about a hundred feet away from Guilmon's shed. Behind the tree, hidden from anyone stepping out of the shed, she saw the telltale distortion of a digimon using the camouflage trick that she'd been taught. She could make out the general shape of the digimon, and it was just about the last one she wanted to see.

'Damn, a Bakemon.' BlackGatomon thought, flexing her claws in preparation of a little pest control.

Now, the average Bakemon was almost laughably weak as far as Champions went. In the Digital World, it wasn't uncommon for other digimon, even Rookies, to hunt them for sport(5). Just one of them wouldn't be a threat, but that was the problem; there was never just one Bakemon. They tended to hang around in packs, ambushing victims and overwhelming them with sheer numbers. They may have been weak individually, but that didn't much matter when you were fighting twenty of them, or more.

But even that wasn't what had BlackGatomon concerned. Bakemon were dumb, and that was putting it nicely. Stalking someone, under active camouflage, wasn't something one of them would think of doing on its own. It being there despite the presence of Guilmon and Terriermon made that even more unlikely, as Bakemon didn't risk confrontation when they were the ones outnumbered.

No, this Bakemon had to be under orders, and that meant there was a fairly powerful digimon pulling the strings.

"Hopefully, it'll just be a couple of Soulmon." BlackGatomon mumbled as she dropped from her tree and activated her own active camo.

"Bah, this sucks!" Bakemon hissed to himself. "What's the point of following the brat? Why can't we just kill him now? Do they think we can't handle a couple of Rookies?"

"'They' would be right." that was the only warning the ghost digimon received before something pounced on it from behind. Just after the object made contact, Bakemon found himself being teleported for the second time in the day.

A split second later, he was floating in the middle of a dark tunnel.

"Alright, who the he-AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!" Bakemon shrieked as electricity coursed through his body, lighting up every single nerve in a surge of white-hot agony.

"No matter how many times I delete your kind, it still surprises me that you can feel pain." BlackGatomon said as she stood over the downed Bakemon, her right paw still crackling with electrical energy. "You'd think that, being a ghost and all, you wouldn't have a nervous system."

"W-What do you want?" Bakemon wheezed out.

"Information." BlackGatomon replied. "I want to know how many of your kind are here, why you're here, and who you're working for."

"Fine. In order: Nunya. Damn. Business." Bakemon laughed, mentally patting himself on the back for such a clever comeback. Oh, if only that bitch of a Soulmon were there to have heard it.

Of course, it's not so clever to say something like that when you're facedown on a concrete floor, with a digimon capable of frying you standing less than two feet away.

Unamused, BlackGatomon's tail lashed about behind her, showing her irritation, before she swung it around and laid it on the other Champion's "skin".

"Hm, a ghost with a deathwish...Is that ironic?" she adopted a "thinking pose" before channeling electricity through her tail and into the Bakemon, causing him to scream once more.

"I'M NOT TELLING YOU ANYTHING!" Bakemon managed to yell, surprising his tormentor.

"Y'know, in my time, I've destroyed hundreds of your kind. But not one of them was as stubborn as you." a diabolical glint shown in BlackGatomon's eyes. "That's why I don't think it's really you who's being so defiant. I'll bet that, in reality, you want nothing more than to tell me everything you know and save yourself from a metric ass-ton of pain. But something, or someone, is keeping you from spilling the beans."

Bakemon tensed, making BlackGatomon think she hit the nail on the head. However, it turned out to be a sign of the surprise attack that followed a second later.

"Poison Breath!" Bakemon exhaled a plume of foul, purple smog right in BlackGatomon's face.

On instinct, she closed her eyes, covered her nose and mouth, and held her breath. While that protected her from the spore-like vapors, it left her vulnerable to the follow-up attack. Through the smog, a monstrous hand plowed into BlackGatomon, two of its claws impaling her through the torso, and smashed her against the wall of the tunnel.

"Hehehe, and you call ME stupid!" Bakemon cackled as he floated up off of the floor, his Zombie Claw still outstretched and keeping his prey pinned. "What kind of idiot just stands there, so close to a live enemy?"

Bakemon's celebration was cut short when the smog from his first attack cleared, revealing that something had gone horribly wrong. His hand was stuck in the wall and the BlackGatomon was nowhere to be found. It didn't seem possible; he KNEW he'd hit her! But there wasn't a single bit of evidence to support that supposed fact. Not even the smallest bit of data floating around, waiting to be absorbed.

"Damn it all!" Bakemon growled. "What kinda shit is this? You drag me down to a damn sewer, acting all big and bad, then you run awa-!" he was quickly silenced by and electrical shock so powerful that he couldn't even cry out.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk, what kind of idiot just stands around screaming at an enemy he can't even find?" BlackGatomon mocked, then took a look at her right paw. "Well, that's a surprise; you can bleed." she said as she shook the disgusting purple-ish fluid from her claws. Said fluid turned to data upon contact with the floor, which she unconsciously absorbed.

This new discovery changed things quite a bit, and most certainly for the worst.

Since joining up with the being known only as "The Boss", BlackGatomon had learned many things. These ranged from relatively trivial, to things so momumental that they'd turn the whole of the Digital World on its head should they become public knowledge. One of these was what happened to most digimon when they reached a certain age. Now that, in itself was common knowledge, but no one had ever come up with an answer to how it happened. The Boss provided that answer.

When you took away all the fantastic elements, Digital World was created to perfectly mimic the Human World. To this end, normal animals, natural weather patterns, and even tectonic plate movement were put into it. Water was painstakingly made to perfectly replicate the properties of real water, as was air, wood, stone and metal. Everything was made to be identical to its Human World counterpart, down to the nearest decimal point. That included the digimon that inhabited it.

According to the Boss, Digimon were originally only supposed to have the need to eat, drink, sleep and, ahem, release waste. But, somewhere along the line, someone decided that everything needed to be perfect. Once a digimon had been alive long enough, its data began to mimic every property of a living being. Blood, muscles, organs, bones; all of it. Digicores became actual hearts, and artificial neural networks became actual brains(6).

Normally, this process took years to even begin in the Digital World, and several months to complete after that. But, when a digimon crossed over into the Human World, it took mere weeks from start to finish. That was why some digimon went through so much trouble to find a way through, even when they didn't really know why: an innate desire to become "real".

Knowing that, BlackGatomon deduced that the Bakemon had to have been in the Human World for at least three weeks if he could bleed. Afterall, a Bakemon that old was unheard of in the Digital World, for obvious reasons. And if that was the case, it meant that the Boss' fears had been well-founded; he'd waited too long to make a move.

'I've gotta get this info back to the Boss. We just might be two steps behind instead of two steps ahead.' BlackGatomon thought with a deep frown. 'But first thing's first, gotta find the nest and destroy it. Hopefully, I'll find out who's using these clowns in the process.' she then used her foot to flip the Bakemon over. "Looks like you're going into shock." seriously, who thought it was a good idea to make ghost digimon organic? "Don't worry, I'll finish you off soon, since you've just about outlived your usefulness. I just need one more thing from you..." BlackGatomon trailed off as her eyes began to give off a bright pink glow.


Within the basement of a vacant office building on Shinjuku's West side, a lone Soulmon appeared to be meditating in the darkness. Anyone who didn't know better would think the creature was asleep.

Suddenly, it's body jerked, as if it really had been asleep and had woken from a nightmare.

"Damn." Soulmon muttered. "One of the links has been cut." she wasn't at all concerned by that particular link being her "partner". In her mind, if he was dumb enough to get caught, and too weak to fight off his assailant, then he deserved whatever happened to him. "Meh, no need to trouble Lord Phantomon with something so trivial." Soulmon then went back to monitoring the other Bakemon connections.

She was mildly concerned that she hadn't been able to see just who or what had gotten to her partner. Somehow his signal had weakened without her noticing, and by the time she saw that he was in trouble, it was too late. Of course, Soulmon wouldn't have wasted any effort trying to help him; she'd had enough of bailing him out. But she could've at least seen what happened through his eyes.

"Is something wrong?" a familiar voice, calm, cool and sinister, echoed through Soulmon's mind, thoroughly startling her.

"L-Lord Phantomon! N-No, nothing's wrong, sir!" Soulmon stuttered, forgetting that there was no need for her to speak out loud.

"But I have sensed that one of the Bakemon, specifically the one I partnered with you, has had his connection terminated."

"Y-Yes, but it's nothing to be concerned about; which is why I chose not to contact you...I thought that you would have more pressing matters to attend to."

"While I do appreciate your thoughtfulness, you do not decide what is beneath my concern and what is not." there was no detectable edge or underlying threat to his words, but Soulmon knew better. That was a warning, and it was most likely only one she'd ever get.

"Understood, Lord Phantomon! Forgive me!" Soulmon all but whimpered.

"If that Bakemon was deleted, then you do have a problem on your hands." Lord Phantomon said, seemingly ignoring his subordinates fearful apology.

"I...I don't understand, sir."

"Then perhaps I was wrong to put you in charge." Soulmon winced, but remained silent, sensing that her Lord wasn't finished. "If he was destroyed, then that means he came into contact with a hostile digimon of at least moderate strength. It is common knowledge that Bakemon prowl in packs, so it is safe to assume that the enemy will now be on the lookout for more; perhaps going as far as to actively hunt for them. Now that is bad enough in itself, but the alternative is even worse."

Soulmon couldn't help but feel that she was being talked down to, but didn't dare let even the slightest bit of discontent enter her thoughts.


"There is a chance that the connection was not terminated via Bakemon's destruction, but rather cancelled out by a mental attack. If that is the case, then it is possible that this new enemy now knows the whereabouts of your base." Lord Phantomon explained.

"Um...Sir, with all due respect, I still don't see a reason to be concerned. Even if this digimon does know about this place, it would be suicide for anything short of an Ultimate to come barging in here. The Bakemons' strength lies in numbers, and if it's one thing they've got here, it's numbers." Soulmon may have constantly belittled and mocked the Bakemon, but even she would admit she couldn't take on any more than ten of them at once and have a chance. That number went down to five if some of the older, stronger and comparatively smarter ones jumped in.

It was when she thought about things like that, that she was thankful for Lord Phantomon assigning five other Soulmon to assist her in commanding and controlling the Bakemon horde.

"And how do you know that it was not an Ultimate that attacked him? And even if that is not the case, who is to say that this mystery assailant will show up alone? Remember, there are two sides to this conflict, and that Bakemon may very well have had the misfortune of meeting a powerful agent of the opposition."

Soulmon blinked slowly. Something like that had never even crossed her mind. Though, who could blame her, considering that more than three weeks had passed with not so much as a minor skirmish.

"...What do I do, then?" Soulmon asked, finding that she didn't really know what to do now that things had potentially gotten serious.

"The way I see it, you have two options at the moment. You can hope that either the enemy has not discovered your base, or that they are indeed weak and foolish, and will be walking to their death. Or, you can assume the worst and abandon the base."

"But what do I do with the Bakemon? I can't very well take them all with me." the building had been prepared with spells that kept anything outside from detecting the digimon within. But if Soulmon were to take all the remaining Bakemon outside to find a new base of operations, every remotely powerful digimon within fifty miles would be on their ghostly asses within an hour.

"Well, you and your colleagues could always just delete the Bakemon. That would make it far easier to move about undetected, and you would get a respectable power boost out of it as well. A 'win-win', as they say. We can always 'recruit' more of them to bolster the ranks if needed. But, to be honest, I do not know how useful they will be if the opposition is done biding its time."

Soulmon actually cringed at her Lord's words. She hardly valued the lives of the Bakemon, but to hear someone talk about wiping them all out so casually...It was unnerving, to say the least. But that's just how Lord Phantomon was; cold, logical and rational. At least he gave her a choice in the matter, something many digimon couldn't say about their leaders.

"I...I need some time to think, Lord Phantomon..."

"Of course. But whatever you decide, just make sure to get yourself and the other Soulmon out, should the enemy prove too strong. The Bakemon may be a mere drop in the bucket, but you and your kind are so much more valuable. It would be a shame to lose any of you."

"Understood, sir." Soulmon felt her Lord's presence fade from her mind and sighed deeply. "Damned Bakemon. Even in death, you're causing problems for me...But at least that's one nuisance I don't have to worry about anymore."


And there you go!

Despite the lack of action and whatnot, I feel pretty good about this chapter. But all you adrenaline junkies out there have nothing to worry about, for the next chapter will have fights galore! BlackGatomon vs Soulmon, Guilmon and Terriermon vs Vilemon, Renamon vs Allomon, Renamon/Kyubimon vs Dokugumon, and perhaps a bonus! Though, with how long it takes me to update, maybe you do have something to worry about...

Moving on.

(1) Takato may be a nice guy now, but he used to be a violent little bastard. Talked more with his fists than his mouth.

(2) I'm surprised no one mentioned this, but Sayuri's family name is Davis' from the Adventure 02 series flipped around(Miyamoto - Motomiya). This is pure coincidence, as I didn't even remember Davis' family name when I came up with Sayuri's character.

(3) Seriously, that movie sucked.

(4) Told you there would be blood.

(5) Think RPG level grinding. Also, I'm not really sure how powerful Bakemon are Digimon canon, but in this fic they're basically cannon fodder. I also don't know how powerful Soulmon are, or if they can really control Bakemon. But they can here, and that's all the matters.

(6) And now you know how and why digimon will bleed in this story. Also, I don't know what really serves as a Digimon's brain, but here it's artificial neural networks, sort of like the "Neural Net CPUs" in Terminators.

Well, I think that's about it. As usual; if you've got questions, ask away.

Jason Out!