Yamaki leaned over the control panel, eying the various sensors and monitors. He pressed the intercom button, and addressed the passengers of the ship, which was sitting on the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.
"Transphotic accelerators are green." Said Yamaki. "Flight systems are stable. Valkyrie is cleared for departure in t-minus three minutes."
Valkyrie was the name of the new arc designed by the Wild Bunch and members of Hypnos. Its design was significantly more advanced than Grani's. It was larger and more maneuverable, and took advantage of the inherent AI in the digimon's base code in order to fly and navigate. No longer would they need to spend weeks calculating the path of the arc, they simply had to rely on the ship to fly itself between the two worlds. That was what Grani had ended up doing on their first attempt, after all. Valkyrie was also equipped with an auto-cannon that fired a lighter version of the Yuggoth blaster, so it was capable of dealing with any threats that the digital world had to offer.
The only thing standing between the Valkyrie and the digital world was the icewall. Yamaki himself had put it in place to keep the boundary between worlds stable. It had kept new digimon from realizing, but it also prevented new portals from forming. Even from programs like Shaggai couldn't create them. It made travel between worlds impossible. Takato had punched a hole in the barrier once, using only his D-Arc, but Yamaki had stopped him before he was able to enter the portal in the gated shelter where he used to hide his digimon.
The icewall had been reinforced with multiple redundancies and failsafes after that. It was no longer the type of program that one could simply turn on and off. That was why Yamaki had created a virus to destroy it. Once the wall came down, it wasn't going back up again.
It had taken him a long time to come to this decision, but Yamaki knew that he couldn't keep the real world and the digital world separate forever. If there were new threats like the D-Reaper waiting just beyond this reality, then it would be foolish to ignore them. Better to confront these new challenges then let them fester and grow until they overwhelmed his pathetic defenses. If past experience had taught him anything, it was that he couldn't protect this world on his own. He would need those kids and their digimon, and lots more like them.
It was time to stop hiding behind this cowardly icewall, and face the new age of tamers and digimon.
Yamaki slipped the CD with the icebreaker virus out of its case, and inserted it into a drive connected to Hypnos' main server. Warnings and error messages started to pop up all over the bank of monitors in front of him.
The intercom speaker hissed to life. Jian's voice came through.
"Are sure about this, Mr. Yamaki? I know my father was opposed to this plan. And from what I've heard, so are your superiors."
"A kid like you doesn't have to worry about me." Said Yamaki. "I can handle the consequences of my actions."
"Still though." Said Jian. "You've gone a long way to help us. Are you sure it's all right?"
"It's nothing." Said Yamaki. "While you kids were fighting to save the world, we adults were hiding behind computer screens. You've risked and sacrificed more than we ever could have asked you to. This is the least I could do and still keep my pride as an adult."
Ruki's voice sounded through the speaker. "Geez, it almost sounds selfish when you say it like that."
"Come on, Ruki, don't be like that." Takato's voice now. "Mr. Yamaki is helping us, remember?"
"We would have been able to do this a lot sooner if he had just stayed out of it in the first place." She retorted.
"He can still hear you, you know." Said Jian.
Whatever the children would have said next was cut off as Valkyrie lifted off from the rooftop, rising straight up on glowing thrusters.
When the ship touched down again, it was on the soil of a different world.
Takato, Jian, Ruki, Hirokazu, Kenta, Ryo, and Juri stepped out of the hatch that opened on the craft's side.
"Do you think they're around here somewhere?" Said Takato.
"Well, we're near the center of the big hazard symbol we saw from above." Said Jian. If you're right about it being a message from Guilmon, I'd say this is a good place to start looking."
"Hey, check it out!" Said Hirokazu. "There's a big hole in the ground over there."
The hole was surrounded on all sides by large slabs of stone, and instead of going straight down, it led to a gently sloping tunnel, like the burrow of some massive animal. The stones around the entrance were all marked with the hazard symbol.
"Are you sure about this?" Said Kenta. "It could be something really dangerous in there."
Takato climbed up on one of the stones and peered into the tunnel.
"No way. Look at those claw marks on the stone." He pointed to the wall. "I bet Growmon dug this."
"If you're wrong, we're going to be in a lot of trouble." Said Ruki.
"Don't worry." Said Juri. "I trust Takato."
Takato clicked on a flashlight.
"Come on, everyone." He said. "Let's go find our partners."
Jian turned to the ship.
"Valkyrie," he said, "guard the entrance. You know what our partners all look like, but don't let any dangerous digimon come near here."
He got nothing in the way of affirmative response, but if this new ship was anything was like Grani, then he knew it heard and understood him.
As the group made their way into the depths of the burrow, Jian shined his flashlight across the walls.
"There are veins of volcanic rock and glass all around us." He said. "And these stone blocks look like they were once part of some underground structure. I wonder what happened here."
Eventually, they came to a larger chamber with different pathways branching off in all directions.
"Which way now?" Said Kenta.
"I'm gonna call out for Guilmon." Said Takato. "Our digimon have always been able to find us when we needed them. If he's close, I know he'll hear me."
He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted.
"Guilmoooon! Hey, Guilmon!"
Somewhere in the dark, Guilmon opened his eyes.
"Takato's right." Said Jian. He followed his friend's example.
"Terriermon! Are you there?"
Everyone else did the same, calling out the names of their digimon. A sharp ping sounded out over their voices. Takato checked his digivice.
"Look!" He shouted. "It's the locator. Guilmon is close! Come on, everyone. This way!"
He ran off in the direction his digivice pointed, with the rest of the tamers on his heels. His bouncing flashlight beam caught two points of yellow light. Takato ran ahead in the dark, until something collided with him, knocking him backwards into the other children.
Takato was on the ground, pinned under whatever had run into him. His flashlight had been knocked out of his hands, but he recognized the voice.
He reached up and hugged his friend around the neck.
Large, wet tears fell from Guilmon's face onto Takato's shirt.
"Takato," he said, "I knew you'd come back. I knew it."
"Sorry it took so long." Said Takato.
Everyone crowded around Guilmon. Hirokazu gave him a slap on the back.
"Hey buddy. Good to see you again."
"It's been a while." Said Jian.
Juri gave Guilmon a hug.
"Guilmon! I missed you!"
Even Ruki smiled.
"Glad to see you're okay."
Guilmon sniffed. "Guys, everyone's okay. They're waiting to see you again." He choked out the last few words through a rising bubble of joy and relief. "They're going to be happy you're here."
Guardromon was the next digimon to come into view, his large frame and heavy footsteps unmistakable, even in the dark. He was followed by MarineAngemon, Terriermon, Culumon, and Impmon.
Hirokazu ran up to meet his partner.
"Guardromon!" He said. "Man, it's been forever."
"It's been forever." Guardromon echoed back.
"Hey, don't copy me."
"I wasn't copying." Said Guardromon. "I was already thinking it, and you just said it first."
MarineAngemon flew straight into Kenta's chest.
"MarineAngemon, you didn't forget about me, did you?" He said.
"Pyu po, pi pu pa po,"
"Yeah," said Kenta, "I know you wouldn't. Never doubted it."
"Jian!" Terriermon jumped into his partner's arms. "What the heck took you so long?"
"Sorry, sorry." Said Jian. "I would have come sooner if I could. I never stopped thinking about you."
Terriermon hoisted himself up on top of Jian's head.
"Gosh, I missed the view from up here." He said. "Hey, did you get taller?"
Culumon flew several excited circles around Juri's head before finally settling in her arms.
"Hi Culumon!" Said Juri. "Have you been doing well?"
"Pretty good, culu!"
Impmon hung awkwardly to the periphery of the happy reunion. Juri noticed him, and smiled.
"It's good to see you again, Impmon." She said.
"Really?" Said Impmon.
"Yep. You've been playing nice with everyone, right?"
"I guess so." Said Impmon. Then, with a little more confidence, "Yeah, I have."
"Where is everyone else?" Said Jian.
"Yeah, where's Cyberdramon?" Said Ryo.
"Cyberdramon and Antylamon went on some errands in one of the higher worlds." Said Terriermon. "They'll get back sometime today."
"What about Renamon?" Said Ruki.
"Um, well, Renamon sort of comes and goes as they please." Said Terriermon. "They might not be back for a few days."
Ruki turned around, back towards the burrow's entrance.
"I'm not waiting around that long." She said. "I'm going after them."
"Do you want me to go with you?" Said Guilmon. "I think I know where they might have gone."
"No, stay here with the others." Said Ruki. "Just tell me where to find them."
Renamon sat in the branches of a cherry tree in full bloom. Ostensibly, they were here to forage for food, but it would be a few hours before anything in this orchard bore fruit. In this realm, seasons passed quickly, so much so that it might go through two or three yearly cycles a day. The entire world was like an endlessly-renewing garden, with vegetables, fruit and grain-bearing plants, and even vines that grew unidentifiable cuts of meat, still on the bone.
Renamon liked it here. Not many digimon knew about this place yet, so the chances of having to evade a foe were low. It was also nice to be somewhere where it felt like time was passing. The wasteland was barren and stagnant, with no identifiable natural cycles other than the abrupt, sweeping onset of night and day.
It was no mistake that Renamon liked to come to this spot at this particular time. There was something calming about watching the cherry blossoms drift gently through the air. It reminded Renamon of being together with their partner as Sakuyamon. Whenever they were in that form, there was always some evil to overcome; some danger that threatened their lives and everything they loved, but still, those were happy memories.
Renamon's ears twitched as they picked up an unfamiliar sound; the roar of an engine and the rushing of air. They looked up.
There was a ship approaching. Some elements of its design were reminiscent of Grani, although its shape was different, and it was much larger than the arc that they remembered. Renamon's eyes went wide. Could it be? They jumped down from the tree branch, and rushed to the center of the dirt path that ran down the middle of the orchard.
The ship slowed its approach, and landed just a few yards in front of Renamon. The side hatch opened and Ruki stepped out.
The two stared at each other for a few seconds across the short distance between them.
"Renamon, you jerk!" The words burst out of Ruki's mouth.
"How could you leave me alone like that?"
Ruki looked away. "Do you have any idea how much it hurt, convincing me you were my friend, and then just disappearing like that? I thought we were supposed to stay together. I thought that's what being partners meant. What kind of no-good digimon can't even understand that?"
Renamon opened their mouth to reply, but Ruki cut them off.
"Do you know how lonely I've been? How many nights I couldn't sleep, wondering if I'd ever see you again? How could you do that to me? I thought you cared about me, but you're even worse than my dad."
Ruki's eyes filled with tears. She couldn't bring herself to look back at her partner.
"I hate you." She said. "How am I ever supposed to forgive you?"
It was a long moment before Renamon spoke, but when they did, their voice was full of delicate warmth.
"Ruki." They said. "I'm here."
That was all they said, and it was everything they needed to say.
Ruki ran at her partner, and threw herself into their arms. She buried her face in Renamon's mane of white fur and cried.
"I missed you." She sobbed. "I missed you so much."
Renamon said nothing. They just held their partner's heaving shoulders, and pulled her in even closer.