Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon. Ah, short disclaimers.

neoKOS-MOS: Hey, all. It took me a while, but I finally finished it. Like before, this isn't by Davis or Rika. This is Jeri's chapter, relating the experiences of the third group. And, don't worry, she's the same old Jeri we all know, except maybe a little braver.

Read and enjoy.

Return of the Beast King

Jeri and the others followed the curve of the cliff as they walked away from the night post. She was glad that the group she was with had so many Tamers in it, especially Takato, but she would still miss the safety she felt when all of them were together. In her arms, Katzemon was drowsing, his soft fur shimmering in the dusty wind. She sighed and looked over at her side, where Suzie was walking right next to her, clutching her rabbit digimon's hand.

"Are you okay, Suzie?" she whispered to the little girl.

She nodded and looked up to meet Jeri's eyes. "I'll be fine. I'm a big girl, and Lopmon will protect me."

The older girl nodded too, looking where she was going again. That was what she wished she could feel, a sense of safety in her digimon's capabilities. But she had spent so much time without him. She had seen Leomon killed before her very eyes, and now she felt so strongly that she was the one who had to protect him. He'd only been with her for two months, and she was not going to lose him again.

"Carry me, Matt." Up ahead, Mako was tugging at the older boy's pant leg. His little feet were already dragging tiredly behind him as he paced over the dusty dry ground.

"All right, but only till your rested," the blonde boy answered, bending down and picking Mako up to sit him on his shoulders. His black guitar case, stuffed with supplies instead of musical equipment, rested along his back as the young twin held on.

"Carry me, too." Ai suddenly cried, seeing her brother resting, and wanting the same. She tugged persistently on Matt's shirt hem.

"I'll carry you when Mako is rested," he responded, to no avail, as she kept asking him.

"Here, Ai." Nora stopped for a second to set down Rhyzomon, and then pulled out her digivice.

The floral lizard glowed with a faint green light before changing back into her ultimate form of Delphiniumon. The little girl's eyes lit up as she realized that she was going to ride on the theropod's back. Impmon, who had been walking impassively beside both of his partners a moment before, suddenly realized the same, and spoke up.

"Hey, I could carry you, Ai," the purple mini-devil said, catching her hand and her attention.

"It's okay, Impmon. Come on. We can both ride her together." Holding onto his hand, she pulled the digimon after her as she mounted Delphiniumon and settled herself at the curve of her neck. Impmon rested behind her as Ai made a face at her brother perched on Matt's shoulders.

Jeri smiled and ran a hand over Katzemon's head. There was a thump of someone running up behind her, and her hand was snatched up. The girl glanced over to see Takato beaming at her.

"Hi," she responded, the smile still gracing her features. "Where did you go?"

"Kazu found a cave over the side of the ledge, and he wanted a look inside."

A little horrified at the prospect of what could have happened to her friends, Jeri gripped his hand tighter. "You didn't let him, did you?"

The boy shook his head. "No, but he made Kenta have Marineangemon check it out. There was a huge bone inside."

Again, footsteps thumped up from behind, and Kazu appeared next to Takato. "Look, chumley. I got a piece of it." In his hand, he held a shard of bleached white bone. "Cool, huh?"

"Come on, Kazu! Give me my piece." Kenta grabbed the taller boy by the bookbag and started digging through the back pocket.

"Hey! Don't do that." The two of them fell into a fit of awkward wrestling over the concealed second shard of bone that they had take from the cave.

Jeri dropped Takato's hand and stepped up her pace, trying to put some distance between the fighting duo and herself. Suzie had moved a few yards away by now, and Jeri tried to close the gap a little. The gogglehead stayed at her side as she did so, Guilmon walking next to him and sniffing at the dusty ground.

"Are you okay, Jeri?" he asked, glancing over at her with worry in his eyes.

She smiled and hugged Katzemon tighter. "Yes. I'm just excited about what we're going to find on this journey."

"Hopefully some bread," the rust colored raptor at Takato's side whispered, sending up a cloud of dust as his words disturbed what had been resting on the earth.

The two of them giggled, and the boy affectionately slapped his digimon's side. "Don't worry, boy. We'll find some food soon enough."

Jeri's pace carried them up to walk beside Suzie once again. The little girl was singing quietly to herself, Lopmon humming the tune to accompany her partner. After a few moments, Guilmon added his voice to the mix, and Jeri found a smile spreading across her face.

"The monster tried to scare her, but she didn't seem to care. He wanted her to be sad, but she showed him how to care. They became friends, and since that day, the monster and the girl were never lonely as a pair."

Suzie's made up song came to an end and the little girl grinned at the two digimon for singing with her. Jeri slipped a hand out from around Katzemon and set it on her shoulder.

"That was pretty, Suzie. Do you sing a lot?"

Suzie's pigtails flopped as she nodded. "I sing at home. It makes everyone happier."

"I bet." Takato smiled down at her and slipped his hand back into Jeri's.

-

Up ahead, she could see the tall angular trees of a dark forest. It seemed to come abruptly out of the flat spiky plain they had been walking over for a few hours now. Though Takato had fallen back to be with the boys, Suzie still walked beside her, the little girl humming quietly to herself. She was getting tired now, and would no longer burst out into her creative little songs every once in a while. Jeri knew why Henry's sister was sticking at her side. Before they had left, she had promised the younger girl that she would be her friend. She had tried to promise to protect her, as Henry would have wanted her to, but Suzie hadn't allowed that, insisting that she was old enough to take care of herself. So, they were friends.

Jeri sighed and stopped for a moment, slipping her shoe off to pour dust out of the bottom. Suzie waited for her as she did the same for her other shoe.

"Do your feet hurt?" the little girl asked, eyes shining despite the tired look behind them.

The brunette nodded, walking once again. "I could use a rest. Hopefully Nora will let us stop at the edge of the forest for a while."

"There's a forest?" Suzie asked, standing up on her tiptoes to peer at the horizon ahead of them.

Jeri realized that the smaller girl hadn't been able to see it over the ridge of boulders up ahead. "Here," she said, setting Katzemon on the ground for a moment, and picking Suzie up. "Can you see it now? There's big black trees over there."

"It looks scary," was her quiet reply as she slipped out of Jeri's grip and back to the ground. "You'll be able to fight the bad monsters, right Lopmon?"

The brown rabbit smiled and nodded as the older girl picked her digimon up again. "Yeah. We'll show them for attacking us."

A pale shape streaked toward them from up ahead. Marineangemon beat his little wings to come to a stop, floating in front of the two girls. He squeaked and hummed a message to them before heading off behind them to collect the rest of the group.

"What did he say?" Jeri looked over at Lopmon, only to see the rabbit shrug.

"He said that we should hurry up, because Nora is waiting for us up ahead." Katzemon's too-deep voice said with a catlike yawn.

"Oh, you're awake." The older girl looked down to see her digimon's shining black eyes looking back at her, a smile in their shape.

"Yes. Thank you for letting me sleep. I feel stronger now," he whispered back as she quickened her pace to catch up with the others.

-

Nora, Matt, Ai, and Kenta were waiting for them at the edge of the forest. Still off in the dusty distance behind them, Mako, Kazu, and Takato were trying to close the gap. Jeri sunk down on a fallen tree trunk, sighing as her weight was taken off her feet. Suzie sat daintily next to her, watching Impmon as he fiddled with the toy gun that was strapped to his side.

Nora came over and collapsed next to Jeri as well, letting out a sigh. She stretched out her legs and brushed pale dust off her olive green combat boots. "How are you doing, Jeri?"

The brunette glanced over and found her gaze caught by Nora's kind hazel eyes.

"I'm okay," she whispered. "Do you think we'll be getting into some fighting in the forest?"

The green haired girl smiled. "Probably."

She glanced over momentarily at Delphiniumon. The green theropod stretched slightly, Ai still seated on her back, and looked over at her partner. "Suzie," she called. "Come here for a moment. I want to show you something."

As the younger girl walked over to the plant digimon, Nora turned back to Jeri, setting a reassuring hand on her knee. "I just want you to know that you'll be safe. But, you shouldn't be afraid to let him fight. He's stronger than you think."

Jeri sucked in a tiny breath, her eyes falling to the digimon in her lap. He peered back up at her with shining black eyes, nodding his approval of what Nora had said. "Oh," was all she could mutter as she hugged him tight again.

The three approaching boys broke into a run as they got closer to the tree line and finally collapsed in exhaustion in the scant shade. They all rested for ten minutes, letting their feet stop aching. Matt rested with his back against a tree, drinking from a bottle of water he had pulled from his guitar case. Gabumon had opted to carry the black bag, and currently had it slung over his shoulder so it rested on his thick fur. Ai had fallen asleep on Delphiniumon's back, Suzie sitting quietly behind her and letting the younger girl sleep. Mako slumped next to Impmon as the two leaned against Jeri's log. Takato and Kazu had sprawled out on the less dusty ground, eyes closed as the former thought and the latter dozed. Kenta sat on a rock with his head resting on his knees, so that no one could tell if he was sleeping or just resting.

Jeri looked off into the darkness of the forest before them. The trees were almost black, a sooty color that could have been natural, or could have been dusted over the bark. Their leaves were long and thin, almost spine-like, except broad and sharp on the edges. They too were a black color, a dull waxy sheen over their surfaces. The wind howled strangely through the odd leaves, a spooky sound that gave the girl the chills. She hugged her digimon closer and stood, walking to one of the trees and reaching out a hand to touch the surface. A smear of charcoal came away on her palm, but the bark remained the same black color.

She dusted her palm off and cast a glance back at the rest of the group. Only Nora was watching her, and the green haired girl motioned that it was okay for her to push farther into the woods.

Jeri turned and took a step into the forest, some sort of bravery overcoming her fear. It was cold. Maybe it was the feeling of being alone, but she felt a chill touch her skin. Hugging herself more firmly, the girl pushed deeper into the trees. It was silent. It hadn't struck her before, but now she realized that it was unnatural for a forest to be dead quiet. She swallowed the uneasy feeling in her stomach and again pushed forward. The trees were thin and it was easy to pass between them. A thick log had been thrown into the path ages ago, and she wondered where it had come from. The other trees were too thin compared to it.

Jeri stooped down and let Katzemon to the ground. The little cat poked his nose in the dark leaf little that carpeted the ground. "This is a new forest," he whispered in the silence.

"How do you know?"

"The ground smells of soot," he replied. "It has been burned down recently, and this grew up to take it's place."

"So true." A voice rang out from overhead.

Jeri jerked away from the tree she had been standing next to and looked up. Perched in the sooty branches was a very strange digimon. His body was long and horribly thin. Each of his four legs ended in a hoof like point, from which sprouted three sickle shaped claws. His lizard-like body was a deep crimson red, with two leathery midnight black wings topping his shoulders. His long neck ended in a cruel head, two angular horns jutted from the back of it and his beak shaped face lifted thin lips to reveal a sickly large smile.

Before Jeri could call out, the digimon had her pinned to the tree opposite of his prior hiding place. He clamped his tiny paw over her mouth and held her firm with his horrible claws.

The girl squeezed her eyes shut and tried to scream. But almost as suddenly as she had been pinned, she found herself free again. She gasped slightly as she saw another digimon holding the first at bay. He stood on his two feline feet and held a small sword to the red digimon's throat. His fur was a familiar color, and ripped pants covered him from the waist down.

"Leomon?" The girl stared at the maneless lion before her.

He turned his head and looked over his shoulder at her. "DemiLeomon."

The girl nodded, realizing that his rookie form was only as tall as she was.

A gargling sound escaped the digimon in his grasp. "Let go of me. I'm only relaying a message."

"It seems like an odd way to approach such a task, assaulting my partner."

"Phase Transition," the thin creature called, his body instantly going translucent and slipping intangibly out of the lion's grasp.

DemiLeomon grunted and moved to place himself between Jeri and his opponent as the digimon shifted out of his ethereal state onto a tree branch. He shook himself and then set the two partners in his sights.

"Just know, that Master Zeismon is watching you. Don't think that just because you don't have the seer, that we will leave you alone." He grinned a horrible toothy grin, and then leapt up through the canopy.

Jeri relaxed and dropped to a sitting position on the log that lay in her path. DemiLeomon looked down at her as he sheathed his sword.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. "Yes. He didn't really hurt me. I was just scared."

A feline hand was set on her shoulder, and she looked up into his golden eyes. "I'm glad."

"Who was that, anyway?" Jeri glanced up to the hole in the leaves where their opponent had disappeared.

There was a rustling in the trees behind them, and the brunette turned to see Nora emerging.

"What happened?" the green haired girl asked, eyeing the rookie digimon standing next to Jeri.

The lion helped his partner to her feet and then explained it to Nora. "We were attacked by a digimon. He said he had a message for us."

"He said that Zeismon is watching us, and he'll be attacking us, even though Rika's not with us." Jeri said quietly.

"Hmm." Nora looked around and then shrugged. "It must have been Messengermon. It's interesting that Mesa's joined that side."

"Is he dangerous?" DemiLeomon asked, hand again reaching for his sword.

The green clad girl laughed. "Well, I suppose he could be, but he's more interested in scaring you than killing you. Come on." She waved a hand and then headed back through the trees to where the others were waiting.

"Nora," Delphiniumon turned her head to see her partner. "I can feel water off that way. There may be a stream we can follow through the woods."

"Cool. Lead the way."

The theropod walked off, hugging the edge of the forest and staying in the shade. The others followed behind her, and Jeri dropped to the rear, where Takato was walking with Guilmon. The boy noticed the rookie digimon beside the brunette and looked over at them.

"What happened, Jeri?"

She blinked, hesitating before her digimon took over. "I had enough energy, so I thought I'd carry myself."

The boy nodded and sighed, closing his eyes. "I wish someone would carry me. I didn't sleep very good the night before, and all this walking is too much."

Jeri smiled. "We'll get some rest tonight, Takato."

-

All that walking had taken them to the river. It was wide but slow flowing, and Jeri could see small fish digimon swimming down its length. They walked along the bank in relative silence, all of them watching the surrounding forest in suspicion. The brunette was glad to have DemiLeomon walking next to her. Now that he was no longer so small, she didn't feel as if she had to protect him.

The silence was still unnerving. Suzie had started singing again a while ago, but even that had tapered off in the tenseness of the air. The little girl now sat on Delphiniumon's back, both her and Ai watching the tree line.

Jeri sighed, falling back toward the end of the line. For some reason, she wanted to be alone with her digimon. Not to talk to him, but just to be with him. She watched, almost unconcerned, as the others disappeared around a bend in the river. Just as she had fallen into a sense of safety, a light green vine shot out of the dark forest and wrapped around her waist. The girl screamed as her partner leapt into action.

The Blossomon stepped out of the trees and grinned evilly at his prisoner. DemiLeomon drew his sword and hacked at the vine, but was thrown aside by another coil of vegetation. Jeri felt the air being crushed out of her lungs as the vine wrapped around her tightened its hold. Her digimon pulled himself out of the underbrush and charged the plant digimon again. He dodged as a flower spat out a sharp line of bullet-like seeds, raising his sword to deflect a few of them wide. With another leap of his powerful legs, the lion launched himself over a boiling obstacle of intertwined vines and plunged his sword into the Blossomon's fibrous side.

Jeri felt the bellow through the vine wrapped around her, but the grip didn't lessen. Her vision was blackening around the edges, and she knew that if she didn't get some air soon, she would pass out. The girl struggled, biting down on the green coil. The smell and taste of tomato vines filled her senses.

DemiLeomon sliced through one of the smaller flower stems, sending the violet thing tumbling to the leafy ground. Blossomon reacted, slamming a thorned vine against the lion clinging to it's shoulder.

No! Jeri yelled. Where were the others? Why was this happening to her?

With a scream of yellow light, her vision narrowed. And then, suddenly, the vine loosened and she fell to the ground with a painful thump. Face still to the ground, she gasped in the chilly, smoke scented air.

"Jeri, move!" The order made her jump, and the girl dragged herself away through the leaf litter.

In the slight safety of the shadow of a tree trunk, the brunette looked back to see what was going on. Her digimon, Leomon, not his rookie form, swung his white sword and cut smoothly through a flurry of vines. The Blossomon howled in pain again, green data leaking into the air from the severed appendages. With a growl, Leomon raised his fist, burnt orange energy already emanating from it, and slammed it into the plant digimon.

"Fist of the Beast King!"

The weed burst into a cloud of pale green data, the echo of its final scream still ringing through the clearing. The lion breathed deep, watching the data float away on the wind before turning to his partner's aid.

"Are you all right?" He asked, helping her up with one muscular arm.

The girl nodded, looking up at his powerful face as tears blurred her vision. She threw herself at him. "Oh, Leomon. It's so good to see you again."

-

Jeri and Leomon met up with the group again after a few moments of a brisk run. Oddly, the brunette saw Nora walking casually in the rear of the line, her hands stuffed into her pockets. As the younger girl stepped up next to her, she felt those hazel eyes cast to the lion behind them.

"What happened?"

"Um, nothing." Jeri returned. "There was a Blossomon that attacked us, but Leomon took care of it."

Nora smiled. "So, is he stronger than you remember?"

The other girl looked down, thinking for a moment. "Yes. And you were right. I don't have to protect him."

The green clad girl nodded. "Good."

-

As night fell, the darkness of the forest peaked. The black leaves overhead seemed to absorb any light that might have been. Nora called camp early, having them use the last of daylight to gather firewood. Impmon lit them a nice fire, and then they spread out on the ground for some rest. Jeri found herself watching her digimon even as he was drifting off to sleep, resting against a tree. Delphiniumon stood in the middle of the campground, her foot roots dug snugly into the ground to serve as a watch. As Jeri too felt her exhaustion tugging at her eyelids, she smiled in the safety of the group and relaxed into sleep.

neoKOS-MOS: So, Leomon's back and everything is good. I hope Jeri was okay. I don't really remember her that well.

Dark Qiviut: I'm glad Henry was still himself. That was really the only thing I was worried about. Oh, and if there's any more constructive criticism, go ahead. I need it.

ApricotKisses: Oh my. You've been yelling a lot in your reviews. –laughing- I'm glad his little quirk got you so excited. And I'm glad you thought it fit his character too. I just didn't want anyone to think I was doing it for kicks. I'm glad it was realistic. It really is a sad thing to have, so I'm glad it didn't come off wrong.

I knew his eyes were gray! I had originally written them in as gray, but then I looked it up online, and it said green. Darn false information. I think I'll fix it later.

thegreatwhitewolf: Hey bud. Glad you liked it. And hopefully I didn't ruin this chapter for you with all my ranting about it.

Haylo to the 22 other people who have been hitting this story. –big wave- Reviews are cherished, as always.