Chapter 5

Into the Sanctuary

Kari awoke that day with a new sense of purpose. She was no longer a prisoner in this place. Instead, she was the rescuer coming to the aid of the boy; and that gave her actions meaning.

"Okay, don't give up, Kari," she cheered herself on as she pushed herself off of the bed and headed over to the closet to get a new dress. After five days she had mastered putting it on without having to call for Rosemon's help.

The silky fabric ran over her soft hands, reminding Kari of how much they had burned the day before, but now they were fine. After parting ways with Rosemon the other day she had returned an hour later with a special ointment that healed Kari so well that it seemed like nothing had ever happened. However, Rosemon had made one strange comment before she had left. She claimed that she was sure they had run out of the ointment the previous week and were awaiting a shipment from one of the merchants; but somehow a bottle just showed up in the clinic. It was strange, but Kari could feel that the Flame Emperor was somehow involved in a bottle just happening to appear.

"Have I said how much of a bad idea I think this is?" Were the first words out of Gatomon's mouth as she awoke, stretching her body on the soft fabric of the bed.

"I know, but I believe this is what I have to do. It's almost like this is the reason I came to Network," Kari smiled back at her partner despite how unsure she felt inside. "But thanks for worrying about me so much."

"Whatever… If you think this is the right thing to do, then, I'll support you however you want," Gatomon gave in, hoping that Kari really knew what was best. "But I can't believe that the Flame Emperor is human. I've never seen a digimon as powerful as him and to find out he's human… I wonder if it was a situation like when Ken was the Digimon Emperor…"

"I don't think that's the case," Kari spoke up to defend the fiery leader. "I know you've noticed how highly everyone here regards and cares for the Emperor. I don't believe he could invoke that kind of love from everyone with force or mind control."

"You have a point. Rosemon and FlameWizardmon seem like smart and kind digimon, and maybe even Babamon and Jijimon, and they seem to respect him. I've never heard them or anyone speak ill of him," Gatomon begrudgingly agreed with her partner. She didn't want to think of the Flame Emperor as some kind of beloved ruler since she needed to make sure he wouldn't hurt Kari again; and that meant being defensive and wary of him.

"What bothers me is what FlameWizardmon told use our second day here. He said that the Flame Emperor slowly became more and more despondent as time passed, until he stopped speaking to everyone. And from what I saw in the sanctuary, when he looked so lost and confused, I think that thing behind him was responsible for him changing," Kari remarked before pressing her lips together to spread the lipstick evenly. She was no longer required to dress and put on the make-up she had been ordered to in the beginning, but she had decided to keep up with it for her own sake. The dresses were very beautiful and were one of the most comfortable things she had ever worn. The jewelry was amazing and she felt that as long as she had an opportunity to wear such incredible things, she mine as well. However, she wasn't sure why she was continuing with the make-up. She barely worn any back home, but here she was putting on enough to improve all her aspects and give her a passionate, yet refined, look.

"When you say, thing behind him, what exactly do you mean?" Gatomon questioned back, showing a great interest in the large shadowy figure Kari had spoken of last night before she had fallen asleep.

For a moment Kari stopped her morning prep and stared off into the ceiling, trying to recall what she had seen. "I couldn't make out much of it since it was mostly shadows, but from what I did see of it was this hulking shadow that looked like it was burning. It was much larger than the Emperor and seemed to be hovering over his back, trying to draw him away. I could feel him trying to escape it, but once it became visible I lost any chance of getting through to him," Kari stuttered at the memory.

"And you plan to take that thing on again? Though to begin with I'm not sure how you're going to go up against a shadowy figure possessing an extremely powerful boy," Gatomon retorted, surprised by Kari's determination.

Kari's shoulder sank slightly at the thought before she looked into the mirror and sighed. "I really have no idea how I'm going to defeat that thing. In truth, I don't think I could beat it even if I could confront it. I'm pretty sure that even the two of us together couldn't even hurt it… I think the only thing we can do is help him defeat it by helping him remember who he is."

"I guess that makes sense, and getting him to tell you his name seems like a good place to start," Gatomon had to agree with her partners thinking even though she didn't like the idea of Kari having to confront the Flame Emperor more. "But if he starts to become dangerous or hurts you again, we're out of this place."

"Okay…" Kari smiled at her partner, praying that it wouldn't come down to something like that because it would force her to take back her promise to Gatomon. Kari had no intention of leaving the keep without the boy with her, no matter the pain and fear she had to endure.

*KNOCK* *KNOCK* Two quick raps against the thick wooden door announced the arrival of a guest on the other side.

"Come in Rosemon," Kari smiled towards the door, already knowing who was on the other side without hearing the voice. The flower digimon had shown up every morning at her door since they had first meet and today was no exception.

"Good morning," the door opened just enough for Rosemon to stick her head in and smile at the girl sitting before the mirror.

"Morning," Kari warmly greeted her back and prepared to stand up, but her movement was quickly stopped by Rosemon placing her hands on her shoulders and pushing her back down onto the chair.

"So pretty and soft, but you're not taking care of it right," Rosemon sighed as she stroked Kari's brown hair.

"Well, I…" Kari tried to justify the fact that her hair had become bunchy and was starting to develop split ends due to ill care. Who really had the time to care for it with everything that had been happening to her lately?

"If you don't take care of it you'll regret it," Rosemon smiled as pulled a jade comb from one of the vanity tables drawers and began running it through the young girls hair.

Kari sat in the chair, staring into the mirror with a light blush in her cheeks, brought about by the personal care Rosemon was giving her. Looking up higher into the mirror she spotted a soft nostalgic smile on the flower digimons face as she continued to brush and stroke her brown locks.

"Rosemon?" Kari said her name with a questioning tone.

Without losing the happy look on her face or coming out of her reflective state Rosemon responded with a calming, "Yes."

"I know it's probably none of my business, but you look like you're remembering something happy, yet somehow you also look a bit sad," Kari noted, blushing a bit more deeply at how forward she was being.

"Ahh… yeah… sorry," Rosemon's smile faded to a weaker version as her work on Kari's hair slowed.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you stop. I just thought you might have something you wanted to talk about," Kari quickly apologized when she felt she had ruined the digimons moment.

"It's… It's nothing…" Rosemon sighed as she returned to working on Kari's hair. "I was just remembering the past a little…"

"Do you think you could tell me about it?" Kari looked at the reflection of Rosemon in the mirror with a gentle smile.

"I was just remember back when I first started working for the Emperor. Only a few days before then I had finally digivolved into Lillymon and I couldn't wait to start serving the Flame Empire. Imagine my surprise when my granny tells me that my job would be to be the personal maid of the Flame Emperor himself, just like my granny before me. I was so excited. Every morning I would help him get ready for the day along with FlameWizardmon. One of my duties was to brush his hair to a manageable state. He would just sit there and stare into the mirror while I talked his ear off," Rosemon really seemed to be enjoying sharing her story, near the end she felt the comb pulled from her hand as it became tangled in Kari's hair as she whipped her head around to quickly to face her.

"You were that close to the Emperor! Wait, does that mean you know what he is? That you've known all this time?" Kari looked at her with a shocked expression.

"You mean did I know he was a human? Of course I did. A lot of people in the castle know that. Didn't you ever wonder why no one questioned the idea of you baring his children? Humans and digimon aren't exactly compatible in that respect," Rosemon tilted her head and questioned Kari back.

"I guess the fear of being married off at sixteen was too much to think about anything else," Kari sighed, realizing that she could have spared herself a bit of worry and surprise if she had asked someone to begin with.

"I can imagine; but it's not like you could ask for more in a mate. He's powerful, cute, royalty… and funny… and kind… at least that's how I remember him…" Rosemon's voice turned to a whisper near the end as her smile turned sad. Kari had to listen hard to catch all of it.

"I'm sorry to ask this, but what happened?" Kari questioned as Rosemon pulled the comb free from her hair and returned to running it through her light brown tresses.

"What do you mean?" Rosemon slowed her pace to give the question more consideration.

"What happened to the Emperor? And if you were his personal maid, why are you now tending the garden instead?" Kari wasn't one to pry, but she needed answers if she was going to figure out how to help the boy she had just met the day before.

"It's a long story and the two are actually connected. It all started a long time ago when I was still a Palmon. Every day I would go out and play in the courtyard, soaking up sunlight and the feel of grass between my roots. And every day the Flame Emperor would come out to play with me. He was fun to be around and everyone in the castle loved him absolutely; but one day, everything changed. He left the castle for a whole month and something happened while he was away, some say it was a big battle or some new terror that attacked Network, but when he returned, he seemed different. He stopped coming out to play with me and the other young digimon and he began spending long hours in his room or on the royal throne; a place he rarely sat unless he was conducting official business. Everyone eventually just contributed it to him becoming more serious, but the problems only grew from there," Rosemon started the story with a smile, but as it progressed it drooped into a frown.

"You don't have to continue if you don't want to," Kari saw the pain in the flower digimons face and didn't want to push her anymore.

"No, it's important that you know. If you're going to help him, then I want to help you," Rosemon forced a renewed smile before continuing. "As you already know, I eventually started directly serving him when I became Lillymon, and for a while everything was great. He didn't say much, but I started to feel like things could go back to how they were in the courtyard years ago. For a few years things were fine, but one day he became very distant… and then violent…"

"Violent!" Gatomon had to chime in when that word came up.

"Unfortunately…" Rosemon sighed.

"I'm sure he didn't mean it. There must have been a reason," Kari suddenly found herself defending the Flame Emperor; and the strangest part was, she wasn't sure why.

"I'm sure he didn't either. The person that he was could never hurt those that are close to him. But one day while I was brushing his hair he got angry and released his flames. FlameWizardmon only got lightly burned since he's a flame type digimon, but me, I got it really bad…" At that thought Rosemon ran her hands over her flesh, obviously recalling the feeling of having her body as Lillymon burned. "I spent three days in a concoction of pure spring water and that healing ointment I used on your hands. After I got out I couldn't wait to get back to my duties."

"You couldn't wait to get back to your duties!" Gatomon gasped in surprise at the floral digimons claim. "He almost burned you to a crisp and you couldn't wait to go back to serving him!"

"Of course. I loved serving him, even if it meant I might get hurt. He's given everyone of the Flame Empire so much, and my job allowed me a chance to repay what he's done for us," Rosemon stated as if her determination should have been obvious. "Unfortunately, my granny claimed it was too dangerous for me to return to him since I was a plant type digimon, and hence, very susceptible to fire. FlameWizardmon got to say on because he's got a natural immunity to fire, but even he couldn't survive a real blast from the Emperors flames."

"I'm sorry about what happened," Kari looked up at her with watery eyes.

Rosemon didn't say anything as she dropped to her knees and clasped Kari's hands between hers before making a solemn plea. "Don't be sorry, just save him okay. Promise me."

"I promise," Kari gave Rosemon a serious look as she made her deep resolution.

"Thank you," Rosemon leaned forward and hugged her tight for a few seconds, before standing back up and returned to finish brushing Kari's hair.

"Did Babamon ever say anything to you about what happened? Like why he lashed out like that," Gatomon questioned, wanting to know what might set the Emperor off if she was going to left Kari get near him.

The rose digimon paused for a few seconds to think and reflect on the day before coming back with, "She didn't say anything directly to me, but she did say something as she left my room. She only whispered it with her back to me, but I heard an apology to me slip from her mouth. She said that she was sorry, then something about knowing it could happen and some kind of bond growing increasingly unstable."

"Bond growing increasingly unstable…" Kari repeated to herself as she let Rosemon finish with her hair.

"I'll ask again. Are you sure about this?" Gatomon questioned her human counterpart.

"Yes," Kari gave her a simple but decisive response as she kept her eyes locked on the stone and wood staircase rising up before her.

She, Gatomon, Rosemon, and FlameWizardmon were standing at the base of the stairs that led up to the Flame Emperors Sanctuary. Only Kari had been given permission by Babamon and Jijimon to ascend the stairs and seek out the Flame Emperor. FlameWizardmon would also be going with her, but only because he was still the attendant of the Flame Emperor.

"Then if you're ready, shall we go?" FlameWizardmon took one step up the stairs and turned to Kari, waiting for her to begin ascending as well.

"I don't see why I can't go as well," Gatomon grumbled from Rosemon's shoulder.

"Because too many new faces at once might set him off and even if you're with her when that happens you won't be able to do anything against him. So it's best that we don't do anything to provoke that kind of response, okay," Rosemon explained, hiding the fact that that wasn't the only reason.

The other reason she wasn't given permission was because Kari had requested of Babamon that she not. Kari knew that Gatomon was a very loyal friend and she could be very protective of her. She also knew that if anything happened like the day before with the Flame Emperor and the bed, Gatomon wouldn't be able to hold back lashing out in her defense; which would end badly for her partner and derail her attempts to reach him.

"She's right, Gatomon. While I try and talk to him I want you to take some time and look around the city. See if anyone around the city's heard anything about the others," Kari quickly cooked up a way to kill two birds with one stone. She could get Gatomon's mind on something else and hopefully learn even a little bit about her missing friends.

"No way! I can't leave you here by yourself!" Gatomon protested, surprised by the very fact that Kari would suggest such an idea.

"Don't worry, Gatomon, I'll have FlameWizardmon with me, so I won't be alone. Instead, you can go and put some of our worries about the others to rest. And if you find some of them we can use the royal resources around here to bring them to us. We mine as well use them while we have access to them," Kari pleaded with her partner to realize that they both had things they needed to do.

"I can't believe I'm agreeing to this, but I'll do it. Just, please, be careful. Don't do anything drastic and if that psycho starts to act even the slightest bit weird, you get away from him. Promise me," Gatomon stared into her human counterparts eyes, praying for her to be safe.

"I can promise to be careful, but I can't promise the rest. Getting through to him isn't going to be easy or safe. I'm going to have to put a lot on the line if I want to reach him, so I'm sorry Gatomon," Kari took a step back from her partner, up the first step, but never broke her determined gaze.

"You just couldn't lie to me to make me feel better about this, could you," Gatomon sighed in defeat under her partner's resolute stance. "Fine, I'll still go, but I beg you to be smart about this."

"Right," Kari nodded in confirmation before she turned and indicated to FlameWizardmon to lead the way.

"I'll do my best to look after her, but I still believe there's enough left of the old Emperor that he won't harm her. Either way you have my assurance that she'll be safe, even if it should cost me my life," FlameWizardmon swore his oath to reassure Gatomon's stressed mind. After that he began ascending the staircase ahead of Kari while she followed a few steps behind. Gatomon and Rosemon continued to watch them until they vanished at the top and down the hallway.

"There's no point in standing around here. Let's get down to the city and see what we can learn about those missing friends of yours," Rosemon tried to change Gatomon's focus as soon as she could. She could already feel the feline digimon tensing up on her shoulder; fighting the urge to charge up the stairs after the child of light.

"…" Gatomon said nothing as she continued to stare up the empty stairs.

Rosemon sighed to herself and came up with another idea to try. "I'll have a guard posted here with the instructions that the moment she returns, or something happens, that they come and find us in the city. I'll even make sure they're a fast flier so you'll know right away."

Gatomon seemed to respond to this idea and some of the tension left her body. "Fine, but make sure they're really fast."

"Of course. I even have the perfect one in mind," Rosemon smiled warmly at her as they turned and headed for whatever position the guard she planned to use was posted. Gatomon gave the staircase one last look over her shoulder before Rosemon turned a corner and it vanished from sight behind a wall.

"Be calm… Be calm…" Kari repeated over and over again in her head.

Despite her brave front before Gatomon and the determination in her heart, she was still terrified. She had no misconceptions about the fact that the boy she was seeking out was very dangerous. He had power that rivaled the strongest digimon she had ever seen and deep down, she had a sinking feeling that he had yet to show the limits of that power. In short, she was pretty sure that if he went after her with the intent to kill, she was going to die.

Ahead of her FlameWizardmon walked alone calmly. Every so often his eyes would shift back to Kari with a bit of concern in them, but they were only glances which she expected were him checking to see if she was thinking about chickening out. At each door they came across in the hallway he would slowly open the door and duck inside, instructing Kari to stay outside. Each time so far he would exit a few seconds later, shake his head no, and close the door behind him.

"Is this normally how you track down the Flame Emperor?" Kari questioned her guide. She felt it was strange that considering the Emperor was the lord of the castle and the most important person in all of the Flame Empire that even his attendant didn't know exactly where he was.

"Yes, with most digimon in the castle I can track them with my senses, but when the Emperor isn't engaged in combat or venting his flames, no one can detect him," FlameWizardmon admitted as he eyed the next door.

"How's that? How does he hide a power as big as his?" Kari found it hard to believe FlameWizardmon's claim that it was possible to sense every digimon in the castle, no matter their level or power, but not the greatest one in the whole castle.

"It's not a matter of suppression or an inability on our parts. It's that the Emperor's power is different. Like all of the ten leaders his powers masked to all but to the other rulers," FlameWizardmon replied.

"I see…" This time Kari followed his eyes to the door he had been staring at for the last minute. It was like every other door in the Sanctuary, a heavy piece of dark brown wood studded with black metal rivets, but this one had a little something extra. Hanging from the middle of the door was a green sign, obscured by a thick layer of dust, meaning it hadn't been cleaned of maintained in years. "That door? Are you going to check it too?" She looked to the small man for an answer.

FlameWizardmon paused and thought for a few seconds before answering her. "No, he wouldn't be in there." With that he began moving on again, only stopping when Kari called up another question.

"Why not? What's in there?" She was trying her best not to pry, but something about the way FlameWizardmon had been looking at it told her that he wanted to talk about it.

Again the fire-type paused and thought before he answered. "The past…"

"The past?" Kari inquired after the strange response.

Not wanting to push FlameWizardmon any further she walked over to the door to get the answer herself. She took the sign down from the door, closed her eyes, and gave it a powerful blow of air, blasting a cloud of gray dust into the air. After a few second, when she felt the dust had settled again, Kari opened her eyes and looked at what she held. The sign was a lighter green than it had originally appeared to be with white flowers running along the frame. In pink letters in the middle of the sign she found the answer to her question.

"Lillymon's Room," Kari read off the sign. Looking up from the sign she inspected the door. The handle and space beneath the door and the floor were caked in just as much dust as the sign had been; meaning that no one had come or gone through the door in a long time.

"This was her room back when we both served the Emperor. Before that day happened," FlameWizardmon didn't dare continue on with his story.

"It's okay. Rosemon told me all about it this morning," Kari looked over to the slightly dower digimon.

"I see. That means she must really trust you, you know," FlameWizardmon smiled at the thought along with Kari.

"I'm glad. She's a really nice digimon and she did save my life against those Karatenmon yesterday… or was it two days ago? I'm still not too clear on how long I was out," Kari laughed nervously.

"You were only out for a few hours, so it was last night," FlameWizardmon answered her.

"That's good. I'd hate to think I slept through a whole day," Kari rejoined before her eyes returned to the sign, something about it bringing up a new question. "Who gave her this sign?"

"The Flame Emperor did. It was an evolution day present for her. It was her favorite gift, past and present," FlameWizardmon explained, a flash of remembrance shooting across his face.

"That was nice of him," Kari smiled, more confident than ever that deep down the Flame Emperor was a good person. "But if it's her favorite gift, why'd she leave it behind?"

"She wasn't too happy about being forced to leave her position after the incident. So when she was forced to leave she left everything she owned in the room, claiming that there was no point in moving it since she would be moving back in some day. Unfortunately, that day still hasn't come despite her higher evolution," FlameWizardmon continued to explain.

"I see. That sounds just like her," Kari smiled warmly at the sign as she carefully hung it back on the door and straightened it out.

After that the two reached a bend in the hallway. The door beside Kari was one she remembered from the night before; on the other side of it were the Emperor's personal quarters. Around the bend the boy in question had vanished behind the other night was a long hallway with three more doors. There was one on the right and one on the left, and both looked exactly like the others in the hall; however, the door at the very end of the hall was the only exception. It was a large set of black metal doors the same size as the hall. They almost appeared as if they were impossible to open into the limited space of the passageway.

"What's with that door? Where does it lead?" Kari inquired, pointing to the end of the hall. Something about the big black door screamed for her attention.

FlameWizardmon diverted his eyes and hand away from the door to the Emperor's room and looked to the girl. He didn't have to look down the hallway or follow her eyes to know what door she was talking about. "It's the door to the Flame Emperor's personal training room. Why do you want to know?"

"Because I think he's in there," Kari responded, mystifying herself with her own statement.

"Are you sure?" FlameWizardmon seemed surprised by her statement as he stepped ahead of her and stared at the black doors. "What makes you think that?"

"I can't really explain it, but the moment I caught sight of the door I was sure that we wouldn't find him in any of the other rooms," Kari responded in a distant voice, her mind trying to make sense of the feeling she was having.

"I wonder…" FlameWizardmon watched her from the corner of his eye for a few seconds before returning them to the door. "If that's the case, then we'll have to wait for the lord to come out."

"Why?" The fire digimons statement was enough to finally pull Kari's attention from the door.

"Once the lord goes into that room the doors seal to protect the castle from his power. If they didn't, he'd destroy the castle in the process of his training. After he's gone in the doors they can only be opened from his side," FlameWizardmon explained as he continued to eye the door. "Which being the case is our way of checking if you're right."

At the statement FlameWizardmon walked down the hallway, Kari following a few feet behind him, and up to the doors. He then pressed against them hard, but despite the pressure he was exerting the doors neither budged nor made a sound. They were obviously locked down tight, maybe by something other than locks.

"It looks like you were right," FlameWizardmon sighed at the fact that they couldn't do anything now. "Maybe we should come back later?" He turned and suggested to Kari, but left the decision of what to do next to her.

"I'll stay here and wait. I don't want to miss him when he comes out," Kari stated before taking a seat against the wall.

"Are you sure? He could be quite a while," FlameWizardmon replied with a tone of concern.

"I'm sure. Something tells me that I should wait for him," she smiled up at the small man.

"Understood," FlameWizardmon smiled back at her before he started walking down the hall. "Let me get you a few things so that you'll be comfortable. These floors aren't exactly comfy and they can get kind of cold when you're just sitting around."

"You don't have to," Kari felt like he was making too much of a fuss. The wooden paneling of the floor and the smooth stone of the wall really didn't bother her that much.

"You forget malady, but I am an attendant to the Emperor; which means I can't possibly have one of his treasured guests putting up with such uncomfortable conditions. It would be an insult to my profession, predecessors, and the Flame Empire itself, if I did. Especially if that guest might someday be our future Empress," he added the last part with a playful smile filled with stitches before disappearing behind the corner.

It took Kari a few minutes to remove the deep blush from her cheeks that FlameWizardmon and caused to arise. It wasn't only the fact that he was actually suggesting that the marriage might still happen, the marriage to the cute and power boy, but the way he was acting. She had only even seen such pride in a position of servitude in movies about ancient royalty, but here was FlameWizardmon, acting like there was no higher calling in all the Digital World; and when she thought there was a possibility that same respect could be directed towards her someday, she just had to blush.

With FlameWizardmon's departure Kari was left in the hallway alone. Up until that moment she had never been alone in the castle; even when she took her nightly bath she had Rosemon sharing the hot springs with her. Now that she was alone in the silence, she could feel the true immensity of the castle around her and the challenge that lay ahead of her. Both seemed insurmountable, but beyond the surface of the problems she knew that the reward was so much greater.

"You can do this Kari. You're the only one who can…" she encouraged herself forward as she gazed at the black doors, awaiting the moment they would open and things would finally begin anew.

Sometime around sunset Kari awoke after a short nap. Sitting in the hallway all day, wrapped up in the light blanket and resting on the large pillow FlameWizardmon had procured for her, she was left with little to do but watch the door and take small naps. The one she had just awoken from had been the ninth one today.

"I'm not even tired, but I keep falling asleep. I might be getting lazy in this place," she yawned as she cast off the blanket and wearily got to her feet. Since coming to the palace she hadn't had to do a thing for herself. Her food was cooked and served for her. The bathes were drawn before she even set foot in the bathroom; and the cleaning was done on hourly rotations that were finished before she could even pick up a rag. In this place all of her chores were done for her.

Taking a deep breath and exhaling it she began doing a few stretches she had learned in yoga class to get the feeling back in her body and get the blood flowing again. It was slightly painful in the beginning due to hours of sitting with her legs cross in what was only a comfortable position for short periods of time, but was apparently agonizing after hours. However, she eventually worked them out and was back to her old limber self.

"So much better," her voice turned more pleasant when the aches were gone. "He still hasn't come out of there. Could he really be training for all of this time? I haven't done anything but wait all day and I'm starting to get sleepy," she added with a growingly annoyed glance towards the doors.

When her thoughts turned to sleep she began wondering if the Flame Emperor needed to sleep, he was human after all. He had a bed in his room, but she had no proof that it was ever used. Actually, the sheets she had slept on after being knocked out looked and felt pretty new; but that could have just been due to FlameWizardmon cleaning duties. Rosemon had mentioned something about him spending a lot of time on his throne, maybe he slept there. Maybe last night he had been sleeping in that armchair, which is why she was able to get so close to him.

Thoughts like those were quickly banished from her head when the pressure in the hall suddenly began to change. Somehow the air in the hallway felt heavier… and warmer too. However, Kari didn't have time to think about that as a loud metallic clicked echoed forth from the doors and they began to open. As they did, she could only stand thirty feet from the doors with a stunned expression on her face as the Flame Emperor emerged, pushing the two doors open slowly.

Kari's astonishment gave way to observation after the Emperor's first step. His armor was heavily scratched, in steep contrast to the pristine state it had been in last night, and his tattered cloak that fluttered behind him was quickly being devoured by flames. All of these things could be contributed to some tough training, but it was the first step out of the door that he took that revealed something was seriously wrong. The commanding and strong stride he had exhibited in the past was gone and now replaced by a shaky and uneven gait.

He took the second step too quickly and teetered to one side. To correct his movement he planted the third step as quickly as he could, saving him from falling over. The fourth was an attempt to remain moving forward as his cloak tore from his body and fell to the floor in a burning pile. The fifth and sixth were increasing unbalanced until he had to use the seventh one to steady himself and stop his movement. However, the attempted failed and he had to take a ninth and tenth one to keep from falling forward.

After ten steps the Flame Emperor found himself staring into Kari's crimson eyes, now level with his dull blue ones thanks to the fact that he didn't appear to be able to straighten out. His strange behavior brought out a question from Kari, who had been worried for hours that she wouldn't be able to say anything to him when he did show up. But concern now flood over and drowned her worry.

"Are you okay?" She was able to talk, but didn't know how to handle the situation. She didn't even know if this was a situation or was it normal for the end of his training.

"…" In response to her words the Emperor eye's flickered between blue and brown and he forced himself to straighten out and for a few second it appeared like he planned to answer her, but before he could his legs gave out and he fell forward into Kari.

"Whoa!" Kari yelped as he collapsed into her chest.

The sudden weight of him hitting her was too much for her to handle and sent her back and down onto her butt on the cool floor. The fall slung the Emperor's head over her shoulder, dislodging the helmet from his head and sending it tumbling down the hall with hard metal knocks. Free from the helm his incredibly long locks of dark brown hair spilled out across her and onto the floor.

"Hey, are you okay? What's wrong?" Kari fought through the blush at the idea that this might turn out similar to her encounter last night to ask her question of the boy slumped over her.

When she didn't get an answer she reached back and placed the hand she wasn't using to prop herself up on his forehead, hoping that she's be able to lift him enough to see his face.

"OWWW! He's burning up!" She yelped as she pulled her hand away from the flesh of his forehead like someone who had just touched a hot stove. Acting out of instinct she did her best to quickly lay him on the floor and examine him.

When she had first touched him she had contributed the heat to him being the Flame Emperor, but upon seeing his face she could see that something was definitely wrong. The boys face was twisted up in pain and sweat was soaking into his hair and running down his face. Seeing him like that Kari couldn't think of anything else to do but what she did.

"FLAMEWIZARDMON! ROSEMON! HELP! COME QUICK!" She cried out as loudly as she could as she fussed over the writhing form of the Emperor.

For a few seconds only the pained moans of the Emperor could be heard, but in no time at all the sounds of footsteps came beating down the hallway.

"Kari! Are you alright?" Rosemon cried as she came sliding around the bend with Gatomon barely clinging to her shoulder and FlameWizardmon a step behind her.

From the looks on all of their faces she guessed that they believed that she was calling for help for herself. It was understandable considering they were all somewhat worried that the Flame Emperor might do something to her, but when they saw him lying on the ground with Kari over top of him, they didn't know what to think.

"Help! He's burning up," panic was evident in Kari's voice now.

"What happened?" FlameWizardmon and Rosemon questioned in perfect unison as they stepped in on either side of their fallen lord, trying to figure out what to do.

"I don't know. He just came out of the doors, took a bunch of shaky steps, and then fell over on me," Kari explained.

"This can't be good. The hallway's hot and the air's getting hotter and thicker," FlameWizardmon called attention to the changing environment.

"Is this what I think it is?" Rosemon looked to the fire digimon with eyes that said there was an answer she didn't want to hear.

"Yes. He's got a fever," FlameWizardmon responded.

To be continued…