The Adventures of Mary

The little girl was crying.

Leyomon was sure of that. She also held in equal conviction that she had to do something about it, but what, exactly, failed to present itself. She had only heard of humans, and never seen one, but she knew from the stories the Champion digimon loved to tell to make Baby and In-Training digimon's eyes grow big, that humans, as a rule, don't like it when little creatures that resemble stuffed animals (whatever those are) come up to them and start talking.

So, what to do?

Creeping through the bushes as stealthily as a round, furry ball with longer-than-bunny ears can creep, she sought a better vantage point from which to study this odd creature. On the way, she tripped over her own ears so many times that she was certain the girl knew she was there.

The basketball sized, gray-green fuzz ball had digivolved from her baby level the day before, and while her ears had been somewhat long then, they were nothing compared to the outrageous monsters protruding from her head/body now. Getting used to them would take some time, although she hoped to have digivolved to her rookie level before she had to put up with these awful things much longer.

She slowly became aware that while she had been thinking the crying had stopped.

"Who's there?" a small voice asked.

Oh boy, here we go, the digimon thought as she carefully rolled out of the bushes.

The two stared at each other for a few seconds, and Leyomon relaxed somewhat; maybe this human was different.

"My name's Leyomon, what's yours?" she ventured to ask.

With a yelp, the little girl, still alarmed and confused at being thrust out of her world and into the next one, flung herself backwards and started running. Before she could get very far, she tripped and fell on her face with a thud. She lay there, not moving, and Leyomon, now feeling somewhat protective of this poor, wayward soul, bounced to her side.

"Are you okay? I'm sorry I scared you. Oh, please be all right."

The human lifted her head and stared at the digimon, the look in her eyes betraying her hurt and confusion. Leyomon smiled comfortingly, and the girl said at last,

"My name's Mary."

"Hello, Mary! Nice to meet you."

The girl sat up.

"Where am I?" she asked. "And what are you?"

Leyomon gave a snort at the naive question. "This is the digital world, of course. Everybody knows that. And I'm a digimon, a digital monster. What are you?"

"I'm a human girl, of course. Everybody knows that. You know, you don't look like a monster to me."

"Oh, I'm just a little thing." This was said very modestly. "I'm only at the In-Training level. The levels go all the way up to Mega, and those guys are really scary."

"You level up? What is this, a video game?" Mary was growing confused.

"What's a video game? Never mind, I'm not sure I want to know. Anyway, digimon come from digi-eggs, and after we hatch, we're babies. Then we digivolve and become In-Training."

"Wait a minute, hold on." Mary was seriously confused now. "What's digivolving? What's the digital world? And what exactly is a digimon? Oh, wait a minute, you're just a little thing, so you wouldn't know, would you? Oh, I just want to go home! That's all. Just go home . . ."

The lost one gave into her tears again. Leyomon bounced lightly into her lap.

"I'm sorry you're scared. I don't know the answers to any of your questions. I don't know anything at all, for that matter, but I promise you this: I will protect you as long as I live, and nothing can ever make me stop. You're the only friend I've ever had, Mary. Friends forever?"

"Friends forever," the girl agreed. She hugged the digimon tightly and shed a tear of happiness at the devotion of this small creature. Though her pride would never allow her to admit it, she, too, had never had a true friend before. And her dorky, blue-haired cousin didn't count, either. Not in the face of this blind dedication.

Moments like these are either supposed to be sacred, instinctively left alone even by the most heartless villain, or cruelly interrupted by one who cares nothing for such tender moments. In this case, it was neither. The Rockmon that lumbered through the clearing in which they were vowing to each other eternal friendship was just looking for lunch, albeit he had decided that such was Mary and Leyomon. Hey, everyone gets hungry, right?

Rockmon was a dingy, yellow color, with big hands, and a body structure that allowed him to walk on both two feet and four legs whenever he chose. His various body parts looked sewn together, and gray cord covered his wrists and ankles. Metal plating, secured by a belt, protected his face, and several spikes rose from his head, shoulders, and back. Four tubes situated on his back spewed smoke that made it difficult to breathe. His reddish-brown eyes smoldered in anger, and he towered above most trees.

All in all, he was a pretty nasty digimon, and having him target you as lunch was not a most desirable thing. The two that were now in danger of being eaten had every right to be frozen with terror.

Mary chose not to be.

Rising from the dust and pine needles she and her new found companion had collapsed in, Mary tied her hair up in the pink ribbon that dangled loosely from around her neck, to keep it out of her face and mind; jauntily she straightened the bigger one around her slim waist, and kicked off the dress shoes that would impede her.

She dropped into a ready stance.

"Mary, what are you doing!" Leyomon cried in horror.

Her human companion paid her no mind. She had always been a fearless little girl; standing up to bullies twice her age and three times her size had never been a big deal to her. The tiny girl ran headlong toward the massive titan, and before either digimon could react, had leaped nimbly up Rockmon's arm and onto his head. The rock digimon, who was not known for his brains, cast about wildly for his lost prey, which made Mary quite uncomfortable.

"Mary!" Leyomon yelled again, unsure of what else to do. This only alerted Rockmon that he had one tasty morsel left, and he set off to pursue the clumsy In-Training digimon once more.

Getting used to her ungainly ears quickly, Leyomon bounced away with surprising speed and agility. Her only thought was of escape.

"Leyomon!" Mary called from atop the lumbering beast. "Leyomon, you have to stand and fight!"

"He's too strong!" she screamed back, dodging tree stumps and bushes. "I have to keep running!"

"If you keep running he'll just catch up with you," Mary called to her diminutive guardian, somewhat perturbed about her promise being forgotten, even momentarily, "and you'll have to fight him anyway. Better to do it now, while you're still strong! Fight now! For me, Leyomon!"

With a start, Leyomon remembered her promise to the little girl only moments before, and immediately felt remorse. She pushed this feeling away in favor of the resolve growing in her heart. A steady flame, one that would never die, flickered into existence. Leyomon stopped dead.

Rockmon skidded to a halt, spraying up earth and pebbles in his wake. With steel eyes Leyomon watched his ungraceful approach and did not so much as blink when his giant toe stopped a mere inch from her face.

All of her existence, in past lives, and in this one, the little digimon had run away from her demons, be they real, or simply in her mind. She had never had a cause to fight, to put anything at risk, to help someone, to do anything except keep her own hide in one piece. Now, all of a sudden, she had a reason not to just give up and walk away. Mary had sparked something in her little heart, had given her something she had never had before.

A friend.

And, a reason to digivolve that was more noble than her ears.

"Leyomon, digivolve to . . . Lizzimon!"

In a flash of light, the basketball sized fuzz-ball changed into a long, lithe, very muscular green lizard with a high attack power and obvious attitude.

Rockmon paused, his tiny brain seeking an explanation. He didn't pause very long.

Lifting his giant hand overhead, he grinned before smashing it onto the ground where his next meal was standing.

The ground shook mightily, and for a brief second Mary's heart was in her mouth; then she grinned at the green lizard on her shoulder. Lizzimon opened her mouth and released a huge bout of flame into the face of the one upon whose head they were currently sitting.

A deep roar of pain cut the air, and Rockmon shook and clawed at his face, but he still didn't seem ready to give up.

Mary got her companion's attention and pointed to the four tubes on their enemy's back.

That was all she needed.

Leaping nimbly, the lizard digimon stuck her head down the nearest one and flamed as hard as she could.

"Fire Blaster!"

Miles away grazing Mammothmon raised their heads in wonder and fear at the painful scream that echoed throughout the digital world.

Mary and Lizzimon dropped down off the writhing digimon and watched as he ran away, dazed and obviously deciding to seek a less resistant meal.

Mary turned and watched as her exhausted little friend de-digivolved back into Leyomon.

"What happened?" she asked, picking up her deflated looking companion.

"That attack took so much energy that I just couldn't stay in my Rookie form. I'm sorry, Mara."

"What're you sorry for?" Mary asked, smiling at her friend. "We defeated him! Actually, you defeated him. All by yourself. I'm proud of you, Leyomon."

Leyomon looked up at her first friend with tired, puzzled black eyes, and said, "I didn't do it all by myself. You told me where to flame, and you helped me to digivolve. We did it together, like I hope we always will be. Won't we?"

"Of course," Mary told her softly. There were tears in her eyes. Even her eight-year-old mind could see the sweetness of this tiny, innocent creature in her arms. "We will always be together. Always."

At this point, it seemed to the pair that the only thing to do was to try to get Mary back to her native world. After several minutes of questioning and false information, Mary finally learned that her partner did, indeed, know nothing about anything, not to mention digital gates. This revelation made Leyomon very put out, which caused her to give Mary wrong directions. When the girl found herself in entirely the wrong place (a giant factory that somehow seemed to make nothing, and yet look very busy), Leyomon merely replied that asking someone that knew nothing for directions was not a good idea.

Their whole journey went along these lines.

About a month later, worn out and much better friends and worse enemies than they had been before, the girl and the digimon managed to find a Sukamon and Chuumon who had a friend in Server who knew of an old man who probably knew everything, and therefore where to find someone who knew where to find a digital gate, whatever that was. This precious information could be theirs for only a small kiss.

"Aw, come on, sweetheart, you wanna get home, right?"

Mary sighed.

"Leyomon," she said, leaning against a rock, "I'm never going to get out of here, am I?"

Leyomon did not have time to answer, for the rock wall that Mary had been leaning on suddenly opened up and swallowed the girl. The digimon stared, too shocked to hear the spluttering of the Digi-Losers behind her. Instinct came over alarm, and Leyomon dove after her partner, the wall closing behind her. The two digimon looked at each other and decided not to eat spicy food right before bed-time anymore.

Meanwhile, Mary and Leyomon were speeding down a huge rock slide, howling at the tops of their lungs. The cavern stretched on for what seemed like forever, and still the young ones screamed and hung onto each other for dear life. Eventually, however, a light could be seen at the end of the tunnel, which appeared to be leveling out. The two girls gave one last scream, for the kicks, and prepared for their ride to end.

A scream came from below the solid ground, and the fish all darted away. The man smiled and stood up. He walked over to the source of the sound and opened the hole in the earth. The girl and her digimon, who, though they didn't know it, had gone all the way through the center of the digital-world, were spat out of the ground. They flew up, still using the gravity of the tunnel, and then slowed as up and down rearranged themselves, stopped, and came falling back down. This earned another scream, but the man was calm. He pressed another button on a small device in his hand, and a net appeared to catch them.

The young girls looked around, safe and unharmed, eyes wide and blinking. They were still clutching each other. The man was behind them, and when he spoke they were startled to hear a human voice.

"Hello, my young friends." His voice was gruff, but not unkind. "My name is Gennai. I am the one that brought you here. I have some questions for you."

They slowly turned around. The sight that met their eyes was altogether unexceptional: Gennai turned out to be a middle-aged human dressed in a leather jacket, a tie-die T-shirt, blue jeans, and high-top sneakers. His eyes were hidden by a pair of dark sunglasses, and his long brown hair that was pulled back in a pony-tail was sprinkled with gray.

Though Mary had never seen a hippie, she had heard enough about them to know that he was one, and she stared. Leyomon stared for entirely different reasons. She knew that the strange person in front of them was, in fact, a digital guardian, neither human nor digimon. She also knew that digital guardians did not dress like that.

"You-you're-" they started in unison. Gennai cocked an eyebrow slightly.

"I'm what...?"

"You're old!"

"You're Gennai?"

These exclamations were made in unison, and the eyebrow went up all the way.

"I think I'll choose to ignore the part about being old and answer Leyomon's question." Mary blushed. "Yes, I am Gennai. The only digital guardian to ever get kicked out of the order. Truth is, I'm glad to be out of there. They never would have let me wear these!" He fingered the leather fringes on his jacket and laughed. "Well, anyway, I suppose you two are hungry?"

The young ones looked at each other, and then at their very empty stomachs. (In Leyomon's case, she was all stomach, so she was looking a little deflated.) Drooling, all they could do was nod. Gennai laughed again, and led them into his house.

It was then that Mary noticed the fish.

It took all of Gennai's persuasive skills and Leyomon's coaxing to get the frightened human out from under the table. Shaking and whimpering to herself, she huddled in relative safety inside Gennai's house. Seeing the water on all sides, swimming fish, and only a limited amount of space for air had greatly startled her.

When the poor girl was calm enough to crawl out of her hiding place, Gennai had already gotten dinner on the table. Seeing all the food spread out before her, just for them, was enough to make her temporarily forget her fears. She and her friend dug in, virtually inhaling the first real meal they had had in at least a week. Gennai sat back and waited for them to finish, a smile on his face.

Mary leaned back and burped loudly. It did not seem quite as rude in Gennai's house as it did in other places. Leyomon finished a second later, now comfortably round, and belched even more loudly than had her partner. Neither seemed ready to talk, so, since night was coming on, Gennai put the little ones to bed. They fell asleep almost as soon as their heads hit their pillows, and were soon snoring.

The grizzled man, who was just beginning to become old, shook his head in awe. He had not known it possible for such little girls to look so peaceful and snore so loudly at the same time. He sat back in his favorite chair and looked up at the stars, watery and wavering, as seen through several tons of water. It had been one of his prouder moments, thinking this place up, being surpassed only by actually building it. He would've bet his best bandana that they would never find him here.

Gennai sighed and shifted in his chair, trying to find a comfortable position. He allowed his mind to wander, darting from thought to thought as he sought sleep. His eyes closed and he began to amble down the corridor of memory. He often wondered why the old adage called memory a lane; in his mind, the past was a huge marble corridor with big wooden doors on either side: open one up, and there was a memory inside. He never knew where the corridor would lead, for it had many twists and turns, and looped around on itself, and made very little sense, as had most of his life. But there was a section, though rather short, that ran straight and true, and it was down this path that his thoughts led him tonight.

He ought to have known he'd be drawn to this part of his life. Seeing the girl had brought back so many memories, some of them unwelcome.

But not all of them, Gennai thought. Not all of them.

He fell asleep with a faint smile on his face.

Mary yawned and stretched. For a moment she had the sensation of floating, but then memory returned and she realized that she was in a feather bed in Gennai's house. She sat up and nudged Leyomon, who mumbled in her sleep and rolled over. Mary looked down at her friend and decided to let her sleep. She got up, wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, and went to explore her surroundings. Looking around the house, peeking in doorways, poking in cupboards, and seeing the general mess, she began to understand what 'bachelor quarters' were, and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. Though she hated cleaning, and loved mud, she did appreciate the merits of a clean house.

"I suppose I'll get around to cleaning it someday," Gennai said. Mary whirled around; she had not heard him come up behind her. "Maybe when Hogmon fly."

He grinned at her and she stared uncomprehendingly, which made him laugh.

"Are you hungry?" he asked. "Do you want some breakfast? It isn't every day that I have guests over, you know."

Mary glanced at the heaps of junk and slightly moldy clothing, and had to agree. Gennai laughed again, and led her to the kitchen.

"So what brings you to this part of the digital world, eh?"

Mary looked up sharply, brought abruptly out of fantasies involving food. The sizzle of the eggs and the smell of the toasting bread was making her drool, and it was difficult to think of anything else.

"What?"

"What brings you here?" Gennai repeated patiently. "Why did you come to my home?"

"I thought you brought us here," the girl said. She cocked her head and gazed at the adult across the table. "It was you, wasn't it, that made that slide?"

"Oh, no, no, no, not me, not me at all. It was much older things than I that made those tunnels. I simply make good use of them."

"I mean, you were the one that brought us here, weren't you?"

"Sunny-side up, or over easy?" he asked suddenly.

"Over easy please. And don't change the subject."

Gennai chuckled and flipped the egg over with difficulty. Such difficulty, in fact, that he decided to just make scrambled eggs that morning.

"Yes, yes, that was me. I was the one that brought you here."

"But I thought you said-"

"I intended you to come here, but it was you who allowed me to actually bring you." He glanced over at her and saw that she did not understand. He wasn't sure he did either. He decided to change the subject. "What do you remember of your parents? Your real parents, I mean?"

The human girl's eyes widened, and her mouth hung open slightly. What could it mean, that this old man knew something that even her best friend did not?

"H-how did . . .?"

Gennai's eyes sparkled.

"Leyomon!" he called. "Breakfast is up!"

The meal was, overall, a silent affair. Gennai never spoke, and Mary was lost in her own thoughts. Leyomon, noticing nothing, ate ravenously, and called for thirds before either of her table companions had finished their first helpings. Finally, Mary couldn't take it any longer. She put her fork down forcibly on the table and looked at Gennai.

"I think you owe me an explanation," she said.

He set down his utensil as well and looked at her in a very direct manner. He stared at her for several seconds, making her squirm, but she was determined not to look away. Finally Leyomon caught on that something was happening between them, stopped eating, and watched.

Gennai sighed.

"I suppose I do, little one," he said at last. He leaned back in his chair and studied the human girl with less intensity, and she gazed back unflinchingly. "What do you want to know?"

Mary took a deep breath before answering. "How did you know I was adopted?"

Leyomon's mouth dropped open, which was not a good idea, since that was how she was holding her fork. It clattered loudly to the table. No one noticed.

Gennai cleared his throat, and suddenly looked uncomfortable.

"Mary, I . . . Well, I- that is . . . well, I'm not entirely sure, but . . . well . . ."

Mary stared at this uncharacteristic behavior with mouth slightly slackened. Whatever he had to say had to be pretty important for him to act so strangely.

Gennai stopped talking and looked at Mary with an intensity in his brown eyes they had never held, and said, "Mary, I believe you are my daughter."

The said girl's mouth, where it had been only somewhat open before, dropped. Her eyebrows went up, her eyes went wide, and that was all. She did not move, do, or say anything for several seconds. Then she laughed.

"You can't be my dad," she said. "You're data, and I'm not." Sobering, she said, "You are data, right?"

Gennai nodded.

"Mind, you, Mary, I am not entirely sure you're my daughter. But so far, you seem to . . . fit."

Mary thought about that for a moment.

"Well, if you're my father, then why don't I live here with you?"

Gennai sighed, and his brown eyes held emotion untouched for nearly nine years. He got up suddenly and began clearing off the table. Mary helped, sensing that her question would be answered in due time. Leyomon helped as well, and when all the work was finished, and the dishes done, Gennai took them into the living room and sat down in his favorite chair.

"When I was a young man," he began, "I fell in love with a beautiful digimon named Kimimon. She was the digimon of a digidestined by the name of Jensuke Yamada. She returned my love, and we decided to run away and get married. Falling in love was forbidden for both to us; I, because I was a digital guardian, and had sworn my life to the keeping of balance in the world; she, because she was a digimon, and her duty was to her digidestined. We did not care about that, of course. But sometimes I wonder if maybe we should have listened to those who tried to stop us . . .

"Anyway, we escaped our old lives and lived happily together down here under this lake. After a while, we decided to try to have children. Kimimon had always loved taking care of little ones. Her favorite thing to do was help out at Primary Village. But digimon are not capable of giving birth, and we desperately wanted the child to be ours. So I, thinking myself to be above the laws of nature, took it upon myself to rewrite both of our programs.

"I am sorry to say that it was a success. She got pregnant right away, and we waited happily for our first child. But she was never meant to give birth. She was a digimon. It overloaded her matrix. She couldn't hold on . . ."

Gennai put his head in his hands while his thin shoulders shook. Mary and Leyomon looked away. The young girl had never seen a grown-up cry, and she felt embarrassed to watch. After a few minutes Gennai composed himself enough so that he could go on.

"I managed to save the child, you, but Kimimon was just too damaged. I couldn't save her. I killed her!"

He looked intensely at Mary, tears in his eyes.

"It was all my fault! I was too arrogant. I thought I could change her. But I just killed her. I killed her."

He sat back, spent. Mary thought about what she had just been told. He had not answered her most burning question, but she was apprehensive about asking it when he seemed so sad.

"What happened to me then?" she said in a small voice. "What did you do with me?"

"I couldn't keep you. You looked so much like her . . . I just couldn't have that kind of a reminder. So I gave you to Jensuke. It was only going to be for a while, until I recovered, but things just . . . kind of . . . slipped. I forgot. I'm so sorry Mary. Please forgive me. Can you do that much? I'd like to take your being here as a sign, an omen that things will work for us. I would really like to have a daughter."

Mary could not believe what she was hearing.

"Please?"

She looked at Gennai, no, her father; no, not her father, Gennai, and was tempted to laugh.

"You think that after you killed my mother-" Gennai winced. "-gave me up, and then forgot about me, that I'm just going to come back here and forgive you? And live with you?"

Any thought of laughter was now gone. Her eyes burned with the kind of hate that only an eight-year old can harbor.

"You must be out of your mind!"

Thinking of nothing else to say, Mary stormed out of the house, ran up the stone steps, and fled from the lake as though being chased. Leyomon, with a sorrowful look in Gennai's direction, followed.

Gennai put his head in his hands and sobbed as only old men can do. When at last he stopped, his hair was much grayer than it had been, and the creases on his face had deepened and spread. He knew he had passed the threshold from middle-age to old age, and he felt worn-out and useless.

He got up from his chair, bones creaking that never before had, and went into the small courtyard behind the house. He leaned over the small pool and spoke words he had long ago been forbidden to speak. A face shimmered into focus in the water. When it saw Gennai, it glowered.

"I thought I told you never to use this line again!" the man shouted.

"Shinzikai, old friend," Gennai said, ignoring the man's tone. "I'm afraid I have seen the error of my ways. I've realized that I was wrong, and if you'll have me back, well, I think this time I can get it right."

Shinzikai's face softened when he heard the sincerity in his friend's voice.

"Well, if you really want to, I suppose I could work something out. What happened? I didn't think anything could make you change your mind. And, I must say, Gennai, you look terrible."

Gennai scowled deeply.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, all right, old friend. You know I'm here if you ever change your mind."

"Thank you, Shinzikai." Gennai's face softened. "By the way, just between friends, do you still have any of that anti-aging potion left?"

"Of course I do. You know, though, that I'm not really supposed to have it," Shinzikai's eyes darted to the sides nervously, "so if you could keep it's use discreet, that would be fabulous."

"Sure, sure. Anything for an old friend."

They talked of other things, catching up on the latest news and rekindling their friendship. All the while Shinzikai had noticed a strange emptiness in his friend's eyes. He wondered, but did not comment.

Mary and Leyomon traveled across the digiworld for the next year or so, exploring and having adventures, their friendship all the while growing stronger and stronger. As is the case with many souls dropped into a world not their own, Mary became quite the warrior, entering many competitions, and often placing high in the ranks, sometimes even first. Leyomon was ever by her side, and they always entered as a team.

They never again mentioned Gennai.

Eventually their travels brought them to the continent of Server, and through something more tangible than chance, came upon the coliseum that was the home of the great warrior and master of his trade, Piximon.

The tiny, pink digimon was more than happy to accept the pair for training, and after making them scrub his floors for more than a week, he began the task of turning these prize-fighting vagabonds into respectable warriors.

"That's it, that's it!"

Mary paused and reached up her hand to wipe the sweat from her brow. There was a lot. Shaking off the excess moisture, she settled back into her ready stance.

"High kick left, right jab, then fifth kata, Lillymon Dances Before the King, Piedmon Throws His Knives, and finish with a back-flip."

Mary hastened to follow her master's instructions, executing each command flawlessly. This had been going on for some time, each string of moves more taxing than the last. Finally her master called for a halt. Mary sat down gratefully, completely exhausted, and poured water over her head and into her mouth.

"Good you are, yep, yep," the teacher said in his tiny, yet commanding voice. "Come a long way since you came to me, you have. But being merely good will not defeat your enemies, and besides, I have taught you all I know. Only hinder your progress staying with me would. Soon overwhelm my skill, you will."

Mary looked at her master. She knew where this line of talk was going, and she didn't like it very much. She loved Piximon, and never wanted to leave him. He obviously had different ideas.

He stood and motioned for her to follow him. She did, without hesitation, except to allow the gray-green fuzz-ball to wrap one of her lengthy ears, long since found to be prehensile, and not as annoying as previously imagined, around her forearm and clamber up to her shoulder, a favorite perch.

Piximon drifted toward a big stone archway that Mary had never entered before. Inside, rows and rows of statues, many stone, some of wood, others carved out of precious gems, stretched into distant blackness. It was dark and dusty, and the walls rose up into darkness so high that the ceiling was imperceptible. A few torches scattered along widely dispersed columns provided just enough light to keep you from falling flat on your face, but nothing you could read by without damaging your eyes.

Leyomon sneezed, and the sound echoed for many minutes before completely dying down. Piximon gave the digimon a look that made her keep her silence from then on.

They trod endlessly through ancientness, past so many statues that Leyomon stopped counting at well over a thousand. When Piximon finally halted, Mary had been walking for so long that she barely noticed in time to keep from running him over. The pink fuzz-ball looked solemnly up at the statue in front of them. Depicted in the stone therein was obviously a mighty warrior.

A giant cat digimon, with powerful looking legs and a long tail ending in a tuft, stood, looking noble and fierce, his claws extended, and ears almost quivering in readiness. A wicked looking sword was slung across his back, the buckled strap traveling crosswise up his muscular chest. He was clothed only in blue pants supported by a black belt.

Mary and her companion stared in awe, drinking in the sight of this muscular fighter.

"He looks like Leomon," Leyomon breathed, having never forgotten the single glimpse she had once gotten of the guardian of File Island.

"This is Pantheramon," Piximon said reverently. "He is the brother of Leomon."

There was a hushed silence for a time; then Mary chanced to ask, "What is this place?"

Piximon turned to her sharply, a look on his face she had never seen before. She bowed her head, and waited for his answer.

"This is a place where digimon who are no longer needed come to rest."

Mary waited for a while before stating, "He looks needed."

"He is resting," came the answer.

There was more silence.

Then, slowly, slower than Mary had ever seen her agile master move, Piximon raised his small staff and spoke words that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.

She had never witnessed a spell like this before, (for she knew that's what it was) and certainly not such a solemn one from her comic teacher. The majority of his spells were show-offy, and Mary suspected that the baton twirling that preceded each small wonder had nothing at all to do with the actual spell-casting. Such was not the case here. Every motion, every word uttered, was important; nothing unnecessary was performed. Though everything about his movements made Mary want to watch him, what was happening to the statue was even more amazing.

As gradually as clouds shifting, the chilly stone was slowly becoming warmer; had Mary put her hand to it she would have gasped and pulled away, surprised at the warmth that felt like body heat. As the nine-year-old stared, her eyes wide, the lifeless representation painstakingly began to metamorphose into a living being.

Mary was sure of this by the time his fur had begun to turn purest white; she had suspected it since she thought she saw the tufts of his ears flutter slightly in a draft that whistled through the massive cavern.

The girl wondered for a time why it was such a lengthy process, and then she caught on to the idea that thawing out of stone was very much like thawing out of ice, a meticulous procedure requiring skill and patience.

After what seemed like hours, and probably was, the hulking warrior seemed complete, the last bit of granite washed clean from his colorless fur, the last shred of lifelessness replaced by vibrancy. For the first time in perhaps centuries, the massive digimon warrior moved his head and looked down at the three watching him. His electric green eyes bored into the human girl, making her feel very insignificant. She shrank under his gaze, though she found herself unable to look away. After studying her for several long seconds, the newly awakened digimon slowly turned his head toward Piximon, long since frozen in his stance of spell casting.

"Is she the one?"

Piximon blinked. He turned his head slowly over to Mary, who was still in a daze, and nodded. The big cat's voice was deep and majestic, and held a power Mary had only heard in his brother Leomon's voice. He stepped off of the pedestal he had been standing on and strode over to the human girl who suddenly felt very tiny. He took her chin in his strong fingers, and though he was gentle, she could feel a deep power in his hold. His eyes peered into what seemed her very soul, and she felt as though she were being tested. After intensely green eternities, he let her go. Her relief at being released from his uncomfortable grip was nothing compared to the release she felt at being dismissed from his gaze. Pantheramon turned back to Piximon.

"She is the one."

After a little persuasion she consented to travel with Pantheramon as his apprentice. They were to leave immediately.

She had only five minutes to say goodbye.

"I'll miss you, sensei," she said tearfully. Piximon looked at the dirt.

"As will I, Mary," he said in a small voice that, strangely, seemed close to tears.

"Oh, Piximon!" the girl exclaimed, and flung her arms around him, holding him close. She gushed into his fur, and Piximon did something he had never done. He stroked her hair, and told her it would be all right.

Mary smiled.

After Leyomon and Pantheramon had said their goodbyes to Piximon, the trio left him and began their journey west. Piximon waved morosely and one might say, if they looked close enough, that there were tears in his eyes.

Over the next few years, Pantheramon taught them everything he knew about martial arts, surviving in all the harsh environments of the digital world, diplomacy, farming, building, computer programming, tracking, and much more besides. He became a father to them, where Piximon had been a very good friend; as well as survival he also taught them the history of the digital world, the story of the very first digimon, and every legend he knew, including the legend of the Digidestined.

Upon hearing this story, Mary wondered if maybe she might not be one of the humans destined to save the digital world, and Leyomon her digimon.

Pantheramon shook his head.

And that was that.

Many months after that, they were walking leisurely through a grassy field, enjoying the warm sun on their faces.

"Let me show you something, Mary," Pantheramon said suddenly.

He cupped his hands together and closed his eyes. Brow furrowed, he appeared deep in concentration. Between his fingers, rays of bright light emanated. He held up the perfect blue sphere and to Mary's delight began to shape it into a beautiful flower.

"This is becoming a lost art, you know," he told her as he worked, peeling the individual petals from the mother sphere with his mind. "It used to be almost second nature, and instead of picking real flowers to show their love, digimon would grow these from their own life-force, and the longer it lasted, the greater their devotion. Because, Mary," he said, looking straight at her, his face a mask of profound meaning, "the feelings of one's heart are deeply intertwined with one's physical body."

Mary pondered that as she watched two Kapurimon frolicking through the sunny meadow they were standing in. The male picked a daisy with his bushy tail and handed it to the blushing female. They scampered off, laughing and enjoying youth. Mary bent down and plucked a tiny yellow flower native only to that region of the digital world. She twirled it between her thumb and forefinger, contemplating life.

"Here," Pantheramon said, breaking into her thoughts. He was holding the completed blossom out to her. She smiled and took it. She had a feeling it would last a long time.

"Please, teach me to do that," she said, looking up at him. She squinted in the bright sun framing his face. He smiled.

"Of course."

It was a crisp morning on the high plateau that her mentor had chosen to teach her energy focus, and Mary rubbed her palms together and breathed into her cupped hands. Her breath swirled around her like a cloud. She might've asked why he hadn't chosen a warmer spot, but she figured it would be harder to focus energy in cold weather, and she expected no less from her teacher who had no qualms about giving her challenges. Leyomon lay curled at her feet, napping.

Pantheramon stood near her on the flat tabletop ridge that stretched high into the sky. From the peak they could see for miles in all directions, giving them a perfect vista of the digital world.

"Close your eyes," he directed her. "Look deep inside yourself and feel your blood coursing through your veins, bringing you energy. Feel that energy. Sweep it up in your mind, and bring it all to your palms. Hold them out in front of you. Push that energy out through your skin, and hold onto it with your mind."

Pantheramon could see the pink light flickering in her cupped hands. She was doing well.

"Now, take the chaos and make it order."

There was a pause as she digested that vague statement. Then the teacher noted with pleasure the light coming together to form a perfect sphere. He took in a breath, about to instruct her further, but stopped when he noticed the globe in her hands already forming a distinct shape. He was pleased that she was learning so quickly, and even more so when he saw what she was shaping.

The big digimon laughed heartily at the comic representation of Piximon; the spear too big for the tiny hands that protruded from the bulging head contrasted hilariously to the huge feet that stuck out weirdly. Mary smiled abashedly, and then grinned wickedly and laughed with her teacher. Leyomon snored loudly and turned over, evoking further merriment from the instructor and his student.

Suddenly Pantheramon stopped laughing. Mary continued for a few seconds, and then ceased also, realizing that her giggles echoed eerily.

"What is it?" she asked, almost silently. Pantheramon shook his head.

"I don't know. Stay here and stay low. Wake up the little one. I'll be back shortly."

The powerful cat digimon leaped off and left his two pupils. Mary woke her friend gently and apprised her of the situation. They sat in tight silence, wondering fruitlessly. To pass the time Mary started making her figure move around, doing flips and singing badly. It moved strangely and she and her companion soon had to suppress giggles.

Pantheramon leaped from rock to rock, descending ever downward to the canyon floor. Once there he opened himself to the heart of the digital world, plugging himself into the consciousness of the earth, increasing his senses until he could hear the mountain tops sigh, and smell the air quivering a mile above. The danger, he found, was not as far away from the little ones as he had thought. Something like panic began to swell up inside of him as he found just how close his proteges were to the threat, whatever it was.

Roaring, he gave three mighty leaps and gained the plateau just in time to see the psuedo-Piximon, now swollen to about twice the size of Mary, grab the little girl by her head.

"Stop!" Pantheramon bellowed. He slashed at the not-so-comic monster with his sword, but instead of defending with it's own weapon, the energy based entity held up the girl Mary in front of him, and her teacher barely stopped his blade in time to keep from slicing into his beloved pupil.

Pantheramon broke out in sweat.

The thing, for it was not Piximon, chuckled evilly.

"Don't worry about her. I won't harm my little creator. I need her to draw my energy from."

Pantheramon briefly considered yelling something like, "Give her back," or "You won't get away with this," but he had never been one for talking, unless it was with a sword, and so he brought his down again, this time making sure it hit it's target.

The entity roared in pain, and Pantheramon saw that Mary also winced. His ice blue eyes widened. They were connected!

"So you've figured it out, eh?" it gasped through the pain. "What happens to one of us happens to the other. You can't kill me, you'll only kill her!" It broke into hysteric giggles while Pantheramon thought about what to do. The only logical course of action, he decided, would be to separate Mary from that . . . thing. Doing that without harming either would be a tough challenge. But Pantheramon lived off tough challenges.

He attacked with greater fury and more control than he ever had in his life, harrying the creature without actually hurting it. Fighting one-handed, with only Mary's knowledge to draw upon, gave the creature a distinct disadvantage. But it also had her tenacity and ingenuity, and Pantheramon had taught her well, especially in the art of defense.

But, the master thought to himself, with an invisible smile, he had not taught her everything.

The white cat was slowly wearing his opponent down, carefully biding his time until his adversary was too exhausted to go on. So far it seemed to be working, but Pantheramon had learned that saying "So far, so good," is bad luck.

The lithe warrior thrust his sword forward, making the huge Piximon block with both grotesque arms. When it lowered them again, the cat was no longer there.

It felt a tap on it's shoulder, and it spun around, again to face nothing. Suddenly Mary was no longer in it's grasp. It looked around wildly, attempting to find an explanation. Pantheramon gave it one.

With one power-packed swipe of his sword, the enraged warrior dissipated the ugly menace like a fan through smoke. A distant, furious howl ripped through the air, then faded away, leaving only a chill on the warrior's spine.

Carefully, he set down his unconscious charge. Checking for injuries, he found only cuts and bruises, most of which, he realized, he himself had caused in his fury. She seemed merely to be recuperating. He looked around and found Mary's little companion lying limp some distance away, apparently knocked out trying to defend her partner. He picked up the little digimon in one clawed hand and held her close to his chest.

"What was that?" he murmured to unhearing ears.

That night, as he sat by his daughter-at-heart, holding her best friend in his arms, he pondered that question. His sapphire eyes gazed into the fire, seeking answers and finding none.

Mary stirred.

Pantheramon, absorbed in his own thoughts, didn't notice as the little girl stood, picked up her staff, and lifted it, poised to deliver a killing blow. Then, equally unnoticed, she froze. A battle seemed to wage inside of her, and before it could be decided, Pantheramon turned and saw her.

"Well, it's good to see you awake." He smiled. Mary frowned slightly. The teacher continued, "But you really should lie down."

When she didn't react, her father-of-sorts grew worried.

"Mary?"

With a shrill yell the girl swiped down with all her might. Pantheramon was barely able to block the blow, even dropping Leyomon, who didn't stir at all. The warrior stood up, confused and angry.

"What are you doing?!" he thundered.

That seemed to bring the girl back to her senses. She lowered her weapon and stared at nothing, seemingly surprised. Then she looked up at her mentor, and tears were in her eyes.

"I'm sorry," she whimpered. "I don't know . . . what made me . . . do that. I'm sor-"

The girl cut herself off. She froze again. Her _expression transformed many times, too quickly for Pantheramon to make sense of it, before finally settling on rage. She grinned wickedly, and her eyes glowed an eerie red.

"You thought that destroying that monster would end me." The voice that spoke was not her own. "But that was only a temporary body. This one suits me much better."

Pantheramon had a sudden flash of realization, and he drew his sword threateningly.

"I know what you are," he spat. "You're a wandering virus, a Velleriummon."

The Velleriummon cackled.

"You finally figured it out? I would have thought that earlier battle had provided sufficient evidence for you to at least guess. Oh well." She twirled her staff nonchalantly. "If you will let me go, I promise to take good care of this little body. After all," she said, running a hand down her stomach, "we wouldn't want anything to happen to our little girl, would we? And you know what's really delicious? You can't hurt me. Ha ha ha!"

Pantheramon felt sick. Then he had an idea.

Bound, gagged, and slung over Pantheramon's shoulder, all the Velleriummon could do was glare at Leyomon, who was hopping behind them, trying valiantly to keep up with Pantheramon's lengthy strides.

"Where are we going?" the little digimon asked of the larger one, panting.

He stopped, looked back, saw her condition (near exhaustion), and picked the small one up.

"We are going to the digital guardians, to ask their advice," he spoke as he continued.

"What can they do?" Leyomon asked.

"It is said that the digital guardians know everything. I believe this to be true. If I am right, then they most certainly can help us. I hope," he added, giving Velleriummon a worried glance.

The residence of the digital guardians was difficult to find at the best of times; the rain that gushed from the sky as though from a giant bucket as night fell did nothing to help matters. Wandering through the field of giant columns called, aptly, The Forest of Stone Pillars, even Pantheramon seemed uneasy. Leyomon, riding on his untaken shoulder, shivered, and pulled a blanket-like ear around her body. As an after thought she lifted her other one to cover Pantheramon's wet head. He smiled.

After a while the Velleriummon closed it's eyes and it's breathing became shallow, but Pantheramon knew that it was only faking. No enemy of his would ever dare to sleep in his presence. Thinking of his little girl in such terms, however, only made his heart ache, something it had not done in many years. The very thought of his little protégé being controlled and manipulated, and worse, him having to fight her, made him want to do something violent. But even warriors have to know when fighting is useless.

Pantheramon sensed that the sky was growing darker, and he called for a halt next to some fallen pillars that would provide good shelter from the storm.

"We're going to have to spend the night here," he told Leyomon.

The rain stopped somewhere around the witching hour, when magical digimon are at their strongest. Pantheramon glanced uneasily at the Velleriummon, who had given up the pretense of sleep. He had decided not to feed her, something which nearly broke his heart, but lack of food would make her easier to deal with. Thinking in such terms about his apprentice was painful, so he steered his thoughts to other planes.

Such as the nature of Velleriummon. He had never seen one, or if he had, he had been unaware, but his teacher had included the characteristics of the fiendish soul-suckers in his own education, and Pantheramon thought this a good time to go over exactly what he was dealing with.

Velleriummon were invisible viruses that wandered throughout the digital world, seeking a host. The easiest targets were digimon with weak and impressionable data, such the dying, or newly hatched. Usually the host completely surrendered and the Velleriummon took total control, but sometimes the digimon fought back, and this made the matrices of both unstable, causing it to act in a crazy manner. There was only one way to remove the Velleriummon from it's host, and that was a well kept secret, supposedly known only to the digital guardians.

Studying his captured apprentice, Pantheramon could see no sign of Mary fighting back. This worried him. She was a headstrong little girl, and not one to give up easily, or without a fight. Then he considered the fact that perhaps she was being forced unconscious by the parasite. Or maybe she was just confused. His thoughts raced in a blur of confusion and worry until he wanted to turn his brain off.

The massive cat lay back and laced his fingers behind his head and stared up at the stars. Through the clouds he could just barely pick out the constellation Aquila, his favorite one, which he always gazed at when his mind was troubled. For some reason, it helped him clear his head, and think. Tonight it held no solace.

He passed the rest of the night without sleep, and he knew in the morning that both of his companions had done the same.

The sun was a fiery peach as it rose above the horizon. Pantheramon gazed straight at it, unblinking, wondering what that day would bring. Suddenly he heard a muffled noise, and he turned his eyes to it's source, not bothering to move his head. The Velleriummon was struggling against it's gag and making grunting sounds behind the cloth, obviously trying to say something. Pantheramon shifted his gaze back to the rising sun, not wanting to hear whatever it was that the foul bloodsucker wanted to say.

The Velleriummon increased it's efforts to be heard, and finally Pantheramon's pity got the best of him and he unloosed the gag, carefully.

"Do you remember the prophecy of the last Velleriummon?" it spat through Mary's mouth. Pantheramon scowled and said nothing. It continued, "It is spoken by the prophets that when the last Velleriummon is destroyed, by the digidestined children with the golden digivolution, that the host digimon will have one moment of true happiness, and then be utterly destroyed. Do you think that just because it is the last Velleriummon that it will be defeated differently? All Velleriummon die the same way: taking their hosts with them!"

Pantheramon decided that he didn't want to hear any more lies and replaced the gag roughly. He woke up Leyomon, seized the Velleriummon and set off briskly, the tiny In-Training just barely keeping up. The mood was tight all that day, and Leyomon, exhausted though she was, didn't dare ask for a ride. The next night was the same, and the next, and soon a whole week had passed, each day exactly the same as the last. On the seventh, or seventieth, or seven-hundredth day (by that time, no one could tell, nor had any wish to), Leyomon stumbled, bounced, and when she landed was no longer Leyomon.

"Pantheramon," her tiny, baby voice squeaked. "I can't go on any more. I hardly have any strength left. I have to rest, and eat food. Aren't you even a little tired? Pantheramon?"

The big cat digimon did not say a word. He had stopped at the first sound of the Baby digimon's voice, and now he slumped to his knees and bowed his head, obviously exhausted.

"Leyomon," he rumbled, in an unused voice coated with the dust of hard travel and no speech. "I . . ."

He did not finish that sentence. Peeking out from behind a stone column was a hooded figure, who swiftly ducked back out of sight when Pantheramon's gaze fell upon him.

"Come out where I can see you," Pantheramon said tiredly. "I won't harm you." To himself, he added, "I'm not sure if I would have the energy if I even wanted to."

The figure timidly emerged, his movements like that of a bird. His face was hidden by a deep, cream colored hood, and he wore a long robe of the same color, trimmed with dark brown. He studied them for a long moment, and then pushed back his hood so that they could see his face.

He was fairly young, perhaps twenty years old, and he looked as much like a bird as he moved. His hair was golden, his nose small, and pointed, and his eyes were a gray like a storm over the sea. His gaze was furtive, and his manner apprehensive. Pantheramon smiled kindly.

"Are you the gate keeper for the realm of the digital-guardians?" he asked kindly. The man looked at him warily.

"Yes," he said. "What do you want?"

Pantheramon sighed. "You don't mince words, do you? I'm here to see about removing a Velleriummon from my apprentice here. Could you-"

At the word Velleriummon, the man had started, and now he dove back into the crevice from which he had emerged, leaving Pantheramon impatient and annoyed, but not surprised. He had had dealings with the digital-guardians before, and he knew that they often did things without an explanation. He knew that the man would be back, and he also knew that it could take all day for him to do so. He set down Mary and sat next to her, glad for the respite. Leyomon, who was now Tiwimon, hadn't moved since she had stumbled. Pantheramon picked the diminutive digimon up and held her close.

"It's okay now, little one," he murmured softly. "You can rest."

They waited for what seemed like hours, but was probably only minutes, the time distorted by their aching feet (where such a term was applicable). Even the Velleriummon was fatigued, though it's feet probably didn't hurt quite as much as Pantheramon's did. Finally the man returned, and beckoned to the travelers. The weary cat digimon staggered to his feet and followed the nimbler guardian into a cleft in the stone that he had not noticed before. The tunnel sloped downward, and before it grew too dark to see, torches appeared, one on each wall, every two yards or so.

Before long it widened out, and the torches became more widespread, until they stopped completely, there being no more need for them. Even though Pantheramon had been here before, he was still awed to silence by the cavernous expanse that spread out before him. Tiwimon lifted her head slightly and would have gasped had she possessed the energy. Even the Velleriummon seemed impressed.

The entire cavern was filled with rows upon rows of computer equipment. Identical robed figures entered data and flipped switches and did various other tasks essential to the keeping of balance between the forces of light and darkness. Digi-eggs grew attached to digivices in glass cases. The entire place was silent but for the low hum of machines and the occasional necessary dialogue between guardians.

Their guide led them out of the huge main room and into a smaller one, where he directed Pantheramon to lay Mary on the table that was in the center of the room. He then offered beds for the two weary digimon, which they both refused, Pantheramon speaking for both of them when he said,

"I won't leave Mary."

The digital guardian shrugged, and excused himself for a moment. Pantheramon lapsed thankfully into a chair. He would have closed his eyes, but he knew that if he did he would fall asleep. Tiwimon was already frolicking in the land of Nod, rebuilding her strength.

The digital guardian reentered, followed by six more. The oldest one introduced himself as Shinzikai, and asked Pantheramon to tell him his story. He did so, eyelids becoming more and more weighted as he went on. Finally he finished, and relaxed into the chair, his need for sleep second only to his need to see Mary safe. Shinzikai thought deeply.

"You are aware of the girl's parentage, are you not?" he said.

Pantheramon nodded.

"That complicates things," he continued. "She is a blending of two very different matrices, making her unique in a very dangerous way. If she were fully digimon, we could do this quite painlessly. Even if she were one of our kind we could figure something out. But this . . ."

He shook his head.

Pantheramon roused himself and stood up. He drew himself to his full height and glared down his snout at Shinzikai, who, for a moment, wished he were somewhere very far away.

"You are just giving up, then?" Pantheramon demanded. "You will not even try?"

"Well, we'll certainly try," said Shinzikai, relieved at having the right thing to say. "I'm just pointing out the risks and limitations, which you, as her guardian, have the right to know."

Pantheramon deflated.

"Oh."

"Yes," Shinzikai continued, nodding, "I'm afraid we're going to have to bring in Gennai. He was the one that programmed her, after all."

"No!" the Velleriummon exploded. "Do not bring Gennai in here. I have the girl's full backing on this one. She hates him so much that I myself am beginning to loathe him, whoever he is."

"Gennai is Mary's father," Pantheramon stated, his mind muddled from lack of sleep. "Why would she hate him?"

"That is the very reason for her hatred," said the Velleriummon. "Ask Gennai yourself, and he will agree, she holds no love for him."

"It does not matter how anyone feels about Gennai," Shinzikai broke in, feeling the need to assert himself. "He can save Mary, and that is all that matters. Bind her to the table," he added to the digital guardians behind him. They moved to do his bidding.

"Stop!" the Velleriummon yelled, standing up. "If anyone comes near me I will . . . I'll . . ."

"You'll what?" Pantheramon sneered. "You can't harm any of us, and I don't think you would damage your fine body unless you were truly desperate."

"I am desperate!" it shrieked. "You're trying to kill me!"

"And well we should," Pantheramon said coldly. The six younger guardians bound the Velleriummon's wrists and ankles to the table, as well as fitting a collar around it's neck. It looked up at Pantheramon, fear showing in it's eyes for the first time.

"I have a right to live too, you know," it whimpered. The cat digimon started. He had never looked at it that way. Still, his warrior resolve saved him from a long moral battle, and he replied,

"Not when you endanger my daughter."

Gennai arrived, and Shinzikai informed him of the situation. Pantheramon stood back and watched the masters go to their work.

Several hours later Leyomon woke up, opened her eyes and saw her best friend floating in a tank of greenish goo. She sat up, rubbing her eyes, and tried to figure out where she was. The last thing she remembered was going down a long, dark corridor and into a huge cavern. Why had she been doing that? Oh, yeah, the digital guardians. But what did that have to do with Mary being in a vat of hair gel? Looking around yielded more confusion. Eight big people were standing around a computer, and another was sitting in front of it. They seemed to be arguing about something complicated. One of the figures was Pantheramon, and the other seven were digital guardians. Pantheramon rubbed his eyes and looked over at Leyomon.

"Oh, you're awake," he said tiredly. He stumbled over to where she was sitting and sat down heavily next to her. "By the four gods, I need sleep."

"Why don't you?"

Pantheramon shook his head.

"I wish I could. But they're doing the extraction now, and I have to be here in case . . ."

"The extraction?" Leyomon said, puzzled. Then, "Oh, I remember. The Velleriummon."

The said parasite was now hanging limp amid the dense gunk. In the beginning it had struggled, first straining against the bonds of the table, then beating it's fists against the walls of the tank, all to no avail. The six young digital guardians were in their prime, and more than a match for an angry little girl. The sedative helped too.

Shinzikai called Pantheramon back to the group.

"Pantheramon, I'm afraid you have a decision to make." The cat digimon sighed. Shinzikai continued, "We have narrowed down our choices to two different methods: The first, though used most often, would be the more hazardous one. It involves isolating the Velleriummon's data and deleting it. With a normal digimon we could do this quite simply, for it is easy to tell the difference between a digimon's data and that of a Velleriummon. But in Mary's case, the difference is not clear. Too many vital portions of both their matrices overlap. If we accidentally delete some of Mary's data, the results would be dire."

Pantheramon digested this.

"And the second choice?"

"Our only other viable option would be to separate, not delete, the two matrices. Then, if any data is lost from either Mary or the Velleriummon, we can simply move it back. The drawbacks to this, however, are many. First, we've never separated two matrices before. Second, we don't know if Mary's matrix could survive having any of it's data accidentally extracted, and even if it does, we don't know if we could put it back successfully."

Pantheramon thought deeply. Never before had the risks been spelled out for him so clearly, and never before had they been so great. If he chose wrong, Mary could die, and he didn't think he could live with himself if that happened. There was even the possibility that there was no right choice. He deliberated back and forth, grateful that there was no time limit, that he could give this decision all the time and attention it needed . . .

"Sir, the sedative's wearing off," one of the digital guardians said. Indeed, the Velleriummon was beginning to move sluggishly. Shinzikai looked to Pantheramon urgently.

"We need to do something quickly. Please, you must decide now."

Pantheramon closed his eyes and sighed. Okay, Pan, he said to himself. Time to go with your gut instinct. You've always trusted it before, and now is no time to stop.

He took a deep breath and said,

"Separate them before you kill the parasite."

Shinzikai nodded.

"Let's get to work."

Gennai punched a few commands into the computer. He placed his finger over the enter key- and stopped. A million thoughts raced through his mind, the foremost of these being,

Can I risk harming my daughter? I know she hates me, but I love her anyway, and I want a chance to make everything up to her.

"Gennai, what are you waiting for?" Shinzikai demanded. "Start the program."

Gennai's finger hovered over the keyboard. He turned his head slowly and looked at Pantheramon. The digimon gazed solidly at him, sensing his indecision. Gennai took a deep breath- and pressed it.

Immediately an inhuman scream filled the room, permeating all who heard it to their very bones. The Velleriummon writhed in agony, screaming and screaming as though she were being ripped in half, which she pretty much was.

"What are you doing to her?!" Pantheramon thundered, almost drowning out the screeching. He grabbed Gennai by the collar and pulled him up out of his seat. The young man squirmed as Shinzikai yelled,

"Put him down, Pantheramon! We need him to operate the program! Please, this is all according to plan."

The enraged warrior dropped Gennai and turned to Shinzikai.

"You planned to harm her?" He would have been shrieking had his vocal cords allowed such a thing. Shinzikai suddenly wished he had gone into accounting.

"How do you think you would feel if you were being ripped in half?" he muttered. "Extraction is a very painful process."

Though Pantheramon knew he was right, his anger would not be so easily appeased. He turned back to Gennai.

"How could you do this to your own daughter?" he shouted. Had he not been so enraged by this attack, Gennai would have probably been very frightened. Instead he shot back,

"I am willing to do whatever it takes to rid her of this evil! Can you say the same?"

"You fool! I was more of a father to her than you ever could be!"

"How dare you!"

Gennai moved as though to attack Pantheramon, but at that moment the screams stopped, the silence after noise cutting through to the two infuriated men better than noise after silence. All eyes turned to the tank.

There floated two Mary's, one, eyes closed, floated angelic and pure; the other, eyes glowing an evil red, hung, warped and twisted. The Velleriummon grinned a sick looking grin and pointed, first to Mary's chest, and then it's own. It took a moment for those watching to understand, and when they did, cold horror gripped their hearts.

Gennai leapt to the computer and began typing furiously, cursing his own stupidity, and other such matters. Pantheramon stared in shock, completely helpless in a situation he knew all too much about.

The Velleriummon, though deformed and ugly to behold, was, at least, whole. The real Mary, on the other hand, had a small hollow in he chest where her heart should have been. Though it was only about two inches across, for all the good it did Mary, it may as well have been a gaping chasm.

Then the Velleriummon turned and reached for Mary. No, not Mary. Something on Mary's belt. All present wondered with nauseating dismay what it could be.

Pantheramon went cold when he saw what the Velleriummon was drawing from the sheath on Mary's belt. It was the only blade she owned, a small curved dagger, only six inches long.

It was long enough for what the Velleriummon had in mind.

As all looked on in frozen horror, it raised the blade above it's own, perfect chest. It paused, grinned evilly, and struck.

"No!" Gennai stood up sharply, though this action did nothing. The Velleriummon was already gone, and with it, Mary's heart.

Pantheramon could not even make a sound. If he had tried to move, he would have found himself unable to. Leyomon, who did not understand, cheered at the passing of the menace to her friend. All eyes turned to her, grief-stricken and disbelieving.

"What?" she asked, wide-eyed. "The Velleriummon's gone, isn't it?"

"Yes," Gennai said bitterly, pounding his fist on the computer, "So it is, little one."

"So then what's the problem?"

They all cringed at Leyomon's child-like innocence.

"It has taken Mary's heart with it," one of the digital guardians said. Though he had no attachment to the little girl who's life he had tried to save, yet he was touched by the anguish so many others felt. "As long as she is in the tank she will live, but without her heart, there is no hope for her survival."

Leyomon gasped as her small mind took this in.

"You mean she's going to die?"

He nodded. Leyomon moaned and started sobbing. In a room full of males, she was the only one openly mourning her companion. None of the digital guardians, save Gennai, had any cause to lament the passing of the little girl, though that did not stop them from bowing their heads in grave silence. Mary's two fathers, though deeply attached to their mutual daughter, could not bring themselves to shed any tears. A minute passed in somber stillness. Leyomon's soft weeping was the only sound but for the hum of machinery.

Suddenly Gennai shouted and leaped up. Heads turned toward him, but he took no heed.

"That's it!" he shouted exuberantly. "That's it! Of course!"

Ignoring all attempts to discover the cause of this abrupt change in temperance, Gennai started typing furiously. Pantheramon went over to him and bent down, putting his muzzle close to his ear.

"If you have an idea concerning the survival of my daughter, I suggest you make it clear to the rest of us."

Gennai frowned at Pantheramon's dangerous tone, and replied,

"And I suggest you remember who it was that created her."

"You may have given her life Gennai, but you gave her little else. You did not even bother to give her a name, much less the love a father is supposed to give his child."

Gennai reddened.

"For all your talk of raising her, may I point out that it was not you who gave her shelter and food and guidance when she was first growing up. You came upon the scene rather late, Pantheramon."

"Well," said the cat, "that was hardly my fault, now was it?"

He straightened up and crossed his arms. Gennai gritted his teeth and continued typing.

"Well," he said a few minutes later. "I believe I can save her."

Despite Pantheramon's dislike for the digital guardian, Gennai's announcement sent thrills up and down his back, like tiny spiders with cold feet.

"But it involves someone giving up a part of their own matrix and infusing it into hers. I, of course, will be donating my own heart. But I need someone to run the program, and I'm not sure any of you here can handle that."

"What makes you so sure you're going to be the donor?" Pantheramon said. "If your so concerned about who's going to run the program, why don't you just use my heart instead?"

"Because I am her father!" Gennai shouted. "I am the only one that matches her matrix type!"

"Gennai, Gennai, there's no need to get so upset," Shinzikai soothed. Both of them ignored him.

"Are you sure about that?" Pantheramon asked. He stuck Gennai with a stare that made the digital guardian feel as though his soul were being weighed. "Are you willing to risk Mary's life on a foolish claim?"

Gennai fumed for a moment before sitting down huffily at the computer and typing, the notes of the keyboard pointedly more staccato than they had been previously. The screen flashed, and Gennai stared at it in disbelief.

"I may not be an expert on such things," Pantheramon said smugly, "but it seems to me that you are not a match."

"This says her heart is a digimon's," Gennai said faintly. "But I gave her her heart, and it was not a digimon's, but a digital guardian's."

"You may have given her her heart," Pantheramon said, smiling sadly. "But I gave her my heart."

Gennai turned on the cat, his face a mask of ugly hatred. With a wordless yell he flung himself on the digimon, landing several blows before recoiling in pain and dropping to his knees. Pantheramon looked down pityingly at the broken man who was cradling his fists to his chest.

Leyomon bounced over to the two men, tears staining her gray fur.

"Why do you two hate each other?" she asked, holding back sobs. "You both love Mary so much, even more than I do, so I would have thought that you would have been friends, for her sake. At least stop trying to hurt each other. Please?"

Mary's fathers looked at each other, contemplating the little one's words. Gennai smiled painfully.

"From the mouths of babes, eh?"

"For Mary's sake I will agree to a truce," Pantheramon said solemnly. He extended a paw. Gennai put his least swollen hand in his, and the big cat digimon shook it delicately. Gennai stood up and took a deep breath.

"Are you ready?"

"One moment." Pantheramon turned to Leyomon and knelt before her.

"This I will entrust to you, little one," he said, unbuckling his sword. "Please make sure it gets to my brother Leomon."

The small digimon nodded soberly, tears following the deep tracks already engraved in her fur.

"Tell Mary I love her."

He turned to Gennai.

"Perhaps we could have been friends, had circumstances been different."

The digital guardian nodded.

"Perhaps."

"I am ready now."

"Please step into the tank," one of the young men directed him. He did so, erect and noble. Never had Leyomon seen such grace, such dignity. It brought tears to her already wet eyes. She clutched the sword to her, holding back loud sobs that fought to be heard. Her mentor even floated majestically.

Gennai typed the final sequence into the computer and this time he did not hesitate before pressing enter.

Mary opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was Leyomon lying in a heap on the floor, bawling without abandon. She attempted to move toward her, but found that she was floating in a tank of sticky green goo. Suddenly she heard a noise like a giant vacuum cleaner and felt herself being sucked out of the tank. She squeezed her eyes shut as gallons of water were suddenly emptied on top of her. She fought her way out of the blast of air that nearly blew her over and, dripping wet, but goo-less, ran to Leyomon and gathered her up in her arms.

"What is it, Leyomon? Oh, my sweet baby, what's the matter?"

"P-P-P-" Leyomon gave up trying to talk through her sobs and pointed. Mary looked up and saw a sight that would never leave her. She screamed.

"Pantheramon!"

She stood up, spilling Leyomon from her lap onto the floor. She glanced around wildly, and when her gaze fell upon the digital guardian sitting at the computer, she snarled.

"What have you done to him?" she shrieked. Gennai winced.

"Mary . . ."

"Did you do this?" she demanded.

Gennai struggled within himself. This was not how it was supposed to be. He was supposed to be making up with his daughter, not defending himself against dire accusations. Then again, did she even know who he was? The last time they had met he had been an old man, and now he was young and unrecognizable. This could work . . .

"Yes," he said, bowing his head. "It was me."

With an animal screech Mary flung herself at the luckless guardian. He flung up his arms, a poor defense against an enraged little girl. It took all five of the young digital guardians to pry her off the already battered man, and when they did it took several tense minutes to get her back under control.

"Why . . . why would you do this?" Mary asked, her voice breaking. Tears were streaming down her face. Gennai was at a loss for words. This was the worst thing that could have happened. His own daughter, blaming him for the death of the one person in the world she called father. And rightly, too . . .

Gennai now realized that he had no right to call this girl who stood before him, in more pain than a child that young should ever know, daughter. He was no father. He had been a fool to even think such a thing. He turned away from Mary and stared with empty eyes at nothing.

With a strangled sound, Mary turned and ran out of the room. Glancing sorrowfully back, Leyomon followed.

Gennai bowed his head and wept.

Leomon stepped out of his house on File Island and stretched luxuriously, as only a cat can do, in the early morning sunlight.

What a beautiful day, he thought to himself. The birds are singing, the sun is shining . . .

Suddenly the sun was darkened, overshadowed by a pair of enormous bat-like wings. Leomon swore and drew his sword, prepared for the worst.

Dracomon landed.

This sentence, albeit a short one, is enough for anyone who has seen the sight. Dracomon landing looked wrong to Leomon's relatively small eyes because it seemed to him that it should thunder more, that the earth not shaking and dividing asunder attested to the revocation of the law of gravity. The weirdness was further compounded by the sight of a young girl leaping off the back of the dragon. Actually, she did not leap right off the back of the beast; such a feat would have surely killed her. Rather, she climbed down to a suitable height, about the top of it's smallest claw, and slid down to the ground.

Leomon re-sheathed his sword slowly. He was still wary, but at the same time sure that if he was meant to be dead he already would be.

The girl was about twelve years of age, with long brown hair and intense, sad blue eyes. She wore a very worn, black dress that was much too small for her. She held in her hands a sword, and she held it to her as though she considered it something very precious. Leomon knew that sword. He also knew that in the hands of anyone but his brother it was a message of very sad tidings indeed. His breath caught.

The girl walked to Leomon slowly, hesitantly, as though she was being made to do something she did not want to. When she reached the lion digimon she paused, looking down at the blade. Then she held it out to him with trembling arms, eyes downcast. Leomon took it, feeling numb. Before he could say anything, the waif had dashed back to the giant lizard digimon and they were both gone.

Leomon stood there for a very long time before walking thoughtfully back to his house. He grabbed a digging tool and went outside, behind his humble dwelling. He began to dig.

When the hole was of an adequate size he gently lowered the sword into it. Invoking the prayers of the dead, he covered the hole again, and placed a rock at it's head. Then he wept, and when he was finished he went back into his house to have breakfast.