Chapter One: A Glimmer of Hope

"SALVATION CANNON!"

For one brief moment in history, the world of the Dark Ocean became completely illuminated. The dull blacks and grays of the twisted world were obliterated by a blinding light with no recognizable color.

Takeru Takaishi raised his good arm to shield himself from the flying beach debris, the wind howling against his ears, his coat flapping wildly. The Child of Hope struggled to stand, already suffering from exhaustion, blood loss, and numerous broken bones. But he stood his ground as best he could, planting his boots into the sand as he struggled to catch sight of the combatants. He had to see it, what they had given everything to attain. He had to see that bastard get deleted.

A stray log thwarted the Digidestined's efforts to stand. Takeru cursed as it crashed into his already shattered shoulder, causing him to lose his footing. The winds swept him up, drowning out his screams as they sent him crashing into the cliff. Rubble piled over Takeru as he grew weaker with each second.

His eyes took a glassy sheen as he drifted in and out of consciousness. Between this realm and the next. He would join the others soon.

No! he thought vehemently. I can't... die… Not until it's finished!

Coming back to his senses, Takeru realized his sight had returned. He peeked through the cracks between the rocks to see the light withering. Taking deep breaths, he pushed the stones off of him. Blinking rapidly, Takeru surveyed the battletorn beach.

His eyes first came upon the motionless, decapitated form of Neo Saiba. Blood dripped like syrup from numerous wounds, seemingly the doing of a wild animal's teeth. Takeru knew better. One such injury had almost severed the left arm from the torso.

Dimly, he thought his DNA partner would like to keep the head as a trophy. Though it wouldn't be recognizable given the last Takeru had seen, the nose had been bitten off. The thought of his partner struck Takeru as he rose to his feet, swaying. He looked frantically for the only other human on the battlefield.

In a heap of tattered blacks and reds lay Takato Matsuki. His chest rose and fell weakly, breaths coming in gasps... but he was still alive. Takeru didn't have the time to fully heal him after Neo impaled his lung, but it had kept Takato from choking on his own blood until he could get sufficient treatment.

His vision stopped spinning. His body became numb to the pain, as it always did. His breathing calming, the Chosen Child looked to the last of downed combatants.

The Brave Shield lay in fragments on the sandy shore. Every inch of his armor was battered, the flesh beneath butchered. Even the Dramon Destroyers had been broken off and cast into the black waters. Each wound and chip in the chrome digizoid a mark of the fierce battle waged against the remains of Daemon's forces, particularly his final battle against Daemon's adviser, Barbamon, who struck him down. Takeru could only hope that there was enough time to pay his respects after viewing the result of the battle.

Takeru looked up into the darkly hued sky. The light receded to the source now, allowing him to confirm his greatest desire. It was a sight that brought more than deja vu to Takeru. Floating high in the sky as their forms dissipated from bottom to top, were Daemon, the self-proclaimed overlord of all existence, and Paladinmon, the DNA Digivolved form of Seraphimon and Gallantmon.

Unlike a decade ago, when this exact event occurred between Devimon and Angemon, no maniacal laughter could be heard. The demon lord Digimon stared in horror at his body, realizing his Ultra Digivolution had failed him. Daemon wailed chillingly as agony in its purest form made itself known to him. His data was not simply dissipating. The Salvation Cannon was completely decomposing him. He would not be reborn into the Digital World; his data would not be reformed. This was truly the end for him. All his planning and power... had failed him.

Paladinmon watched passively as the virus was exterminated, just as inexplicably calm as Angemon had been when he first died. Devimon had warned the Ultra's angelic half that more powerful foes were to come. And he had finally torn through the last of them. If one could see through his helmet, they would note his expression of complete acceptance. It was the look one attained after becoming at peace with fulfilling their purpose in the world.

Takeru watched with a twisting stomach as Paladinmon dissipated. But his subconscious absorbed with vindictive pleasure as Daemon howled with pain unimaginable. After one final cry, the colorless, divine energy engulfed Daemon, erasing him from existence like an unwanted email.

Having seen his mission to completion, Paladinmon stopped his struggle to hold what was left of his Ultra form. The colorless light enveloped him as he De-Digivolved, splitting into two Digieggs. One egg a deep blue with a golden, holy symbol on it. The second a dark crimson with a black hazard symbol.

With nothing to support them, the two eggs plummeted towards the dark ocean. Takeru knew that he had to act quickly.

Move, he commanded his weakened body. Move dammit! The Crest of Hope glowed faintly on his chest, his eyes glinting red as he struggled to fly. Love.

He hovered an inch or two off the ground, pushing the wind beneath his feet. A fraction of his usual capability, it would have to be enough. Drawing on the last of his Digisoul, Takeru jetted forward over the deadly waters below, his desperate flight creating rippling waves.

Icy eyes tracked the Digieggs as they neared the surface.

I'm not going to make it.

That simple thought of despair caused Takeru to waver, almost sinking into the water as the Crest of Hope flickered.

No! No, I will make it. I will! Takeru continued forward. He flexed his arms, wincing as his broken humerus objected. He stopped directly under the falling eggs, throwing his arms up to create a small gust to slow their descent.

He caught them gently, palming them before cradling each in the crook of an arm. Releasing an exhausted sigh, his eyes glowed grey as he stepped onto the water. Reliability. Takeru created a small wave that carried them back to shore.

Takeru staggered onto the sands, almost slipping. He made it to Takato's prone form. Setting the Digieggs down, he sat the other boy up by his shoulders, placing him against a large stone. Takato said nothing, still unconscious, still a bloody, satisfied smile on his lips.

Takeru placed the Digieggs into Takato's crooked arms. Standing, he stared down at the sight. It came to him in a slow trickle of realization that he at first did not compute. But the irrefutable truth came to him. It was finally over.

The war had ended.

Takeru was on his last legs. It would only be moments before he blacked out, possibly to never wake again. But he had to bid farewell to an old friend first. He stumbled his way over to BlackWarGreymon before collapsing to his knees, panting. He was vaguely aware of kneeling in the dark fluids excreting from the synthetic warrior's injuries.

His breath was shallow. Takeru knew that the control spire Digimon didn't have long. As if sensing his presence, the virus type opened its golden eyes, turning them to Takeru.

"Is it done?" BlackWarGreymon asked in a strained voice.

"Yes. Paladinmon destroyed him." His voice was deeper now, as one would expect form the sixteen-year-old leader of the Virus Busters.

"Good." The Digimon chuckled his dark laughter for a moment, a sound that once chilled Takeru's bones. "What of the hamster and the glutton?"

Takeru gave a ghost of a smile. "Reverted back to Digieggs."

The virus nodded slightly. What little armor remained on his head creaked. He jerked, coughing up some black substance. "I am not long for this world."

He looked down at his faithful ally, his expression stoic. "Yes... I'm sorry."

"Do not be," the Digimon said, stronger in voice. "In this second life I have gained true purpose. Once he has hatched... tell the hamster I thank him for resurrecting me. Tell my story to any who ask to hear it: both the benevolence and the misdeeds. Leave none of my actions concealed, and let me be judged accordingly."

Takeru laid a hand on the Mega's spiked shoulder. "You've done great work, BlackWarGreymon. We couldn't have done this without your help. You're beyond judgement now." The Digidestined grinned humorlessly. "And on Patamon's behalf, thanks a lot, lizard-lips."

BlackWarGreymon chuckled as his eyes glazed. "You're welcome... rodent."

Takeru knew what came next. The warrior's head tilted. His breathing stopped. The Digimon made from one hundred control spires burst into a black cloud of corrupted data.

The Digidestined watched with a range of emotions, the strongest being surprise. Unlike his brethren, BlackWarGreymon had dissipated in data instead of simply falling apart. That meant he would be reborn in Primary Village... whenever it was rebuilt.

Takeru stood and started making his way towards Takato. He froze, his injuries latching onto him. His eyes rolled back as he crumpled, landing face first into the black sands. Darkness claimed him.

(Digimon)

Takeru's eyes snapped open the moment he regained consciousness. He instantly sought out his D-Ultima Digivice. He found it lying on a dresser, its gold and white design glinting from the lamp. He opened his hand and clutched his fingers. The D-Ultima flew into his grasp.

Sitting up, Takeru looked to his left, relief flooding him as he saw the blue Digiegg, resting peacefully on a pillow near his head.

Takeru only had to glance out of a window and see a school of fish swim by to confirm he was in Gennai's house.

Now all he needed to know was how he got here, and where Takato was.

He picked up the scent of baking. A lot of baking. It made him realize how hungry he felt.

Some tension faded from his body. Takato's okay... But how did we get here? He was certainly in no shape to carry me. Or did he do it anyway?

Takeru threw the covers off of him, feeling the bandage on his left arm and ribs. He was otherwise uninjured.

I'm almost completely healed... How long have I been out?

He sat fully upright, noting he was wearing Gennai's robes and underclothes. He stared at his sleeves, unused to seeing anything but the green of his uniform for the past two years.

And considering what he'd done to the hermit who had owned the clothes, it felt doubly uncomfortable.

Takeru swung his feet off the bed, his body moving automatically to start another day of fighting. Or was it night? The time simply blended together from his perspective. His life was one long battle interrupted by intervals of occasional eat and sleep and healing. All that mattered was finding a way to kill Daemon and end his madness.

But as he rose, the images that had recently carved themselves into his memory surfaced. Takato with the Digieggs. And Daemon… destroyed.

His legs lost their strength. He collapsed onto the bed. He was suddenly awash with the greatest exhaustion he had ever known. His head ached. Takeru wanted nothing but to lie down and never get up.

What would be the point anymore?

He was tired of it all. Tired of being marked as the Digidestined of Hope when none remained. Tired of leading his friends and allies into their deaths in pursuit of the only goal that seemed to matter.

Takeru rummaged through his spiky blond hair, feeling the goggles had been left strapped to his head. His fingers grazed the damaged lense, his mind's eye perfectly replicating its web of cracks.

He sighed, not for the first time wondering how they would have handled it, and if he had done the right thing. Not a day went by that he didn't wish Tai or Davis were around to take up the fight once more. He was not a leader, not like they were.

From a military standpoint, Takeru had succeeded where they failed. His leadership had accomplished one mission of their army. But to do so, he had to abandon the other other, what Tai and Davis considered the most important.

Takeru's Virus Busters had ended the war. But who was left to see it? Who could call it a victory? He didn't feel victorious. He didn't feel anything.

Nevermind being leader, was he even fit to be human anymore?

In the days long past, days that seemed to belong to another life entirely, he had been something of a go-to-guy, a second-in-command even. But those situations weren't marginally as dangerous as the terror Daemon and his army presented. It hadn't been a simple, random ambush or minor skirmish. It had been a Goddamned war that crossed the borders of numerous dimensions.

But then, who would have thought that Daemon had been building his forces after Ken sent him into the Dark Ocean? That he had followed the same rift that Ryo had between this Digital World and the other? That he would find the D-Reaper program and adapt it to himself? Who would have thought that he would have raised Hell's army practically overnight?

No fucking one, apparently.

It was quite an interesting story if one wasn't too emotionally scarred to hear it. The seeds of the conflict were sown long before a group of children had been summoned from camp to combat evil.

The original Digital World, the one in which Takeru and his late friends had their adventures, had become massively overpopulated by Digimon. Yggdrasil, the closest thing the Digimon had to a God, sought to remedy the situation by creating another Digital World where there would be enough space for Digimon to continue growing.

It succeeded, copying only the bodies of the four Sovereigns and a small number of other Digimon into the second Digital World, while taking almost half of the Digimon in the original DigiWorld with them, erasing all of their memories of the original Digital World. Thus Yggdrasil created enough space for all to thrive.

This feat left Yggdrasil too weak for a return trip back to the original DigiWorld, or even to close the rift that connected both Digital Worlds. Without the strength to maintain its form, whatever it had been, Yggdrasil broke down, reformatting into the creatures known as DigiGnomes and a Digimon known as Calumon, the greatest source of Digivolution in all the worlds.

Life in the second Digital World was not designed to recycle as it had in the original. The data belonging to defeated Digimon, instead of reformatting in a safe haven such as Primary Village, was simply up for grabs. A crude but effective way to keep the population under control. It also meant that any Digimon within the second Digital World could upload the data of another, even if they were from the original DigiWorld.

Apparently, Yggdrasil had created contingency plans of Digidestined coming to the original DigiWorld in case they were ever needed. The 'god' did not have time nor power to relay this message to the Digimon Sovereigns of the second Digital World, which lead to a parallel Real World. This lead to a single DigiGnome finding and implanting the thoughts and programs of Digimon into the mind of Shibumi, one of the 'Monster Makers' of the parallel Earth that the Tamers hailed from.

That one DigiGnome must have been the strongest incarnation of Yggdrasil, because it maintained some connection to the original DigiWorld, enough to see its Digidestined save it time and again.

The DigiGnome relayed visions of the Adventure Digidestined and the hardships they faced, up until they destroyed Armageddemon. Shibumi had not only started the program to 'make up' Digimon, but had also written the 'storyline' for the 'television series' of the parallel Earth. None of which he ever got credit for. This was all in accordance to Yggdrasil's plans to bring the Tamers into the second Digital World should they be needed.

The only thing the 'god' had not anticipated was the creation of the D-Reaper program. This single miscalculation lead to the near destruction of both Digital Worlds and Real Worlds alike.

Searching for methods of gaining more strength, Daemon had found the rift connecting the two Digital Worlds. Daemon had located this portal only months after the D-Reaper had waged war on the second Digital World and destroyed over half of it.

Impressed as only a psychopath could be, Daemon and his followers had blended in stealthily, searching for what had caused such destruction. Inevitably, Daemon had found the D-Reaper program and adapted it to himself, giving him a frightening boost in power, and the ability to upload some of his own data and power to his disciples. The Demon Lord then fought and killed the four weakened Digimon Sovereign, uploading their data.

That had truly marked the beginning of the end. With more power than any Digimon ever before, he waged war against three unsuspecting worlds. The Daemon Corps were no longer a small band of Ultimate level Digimon; among their ranks were numerous Megas.

The parallel Earth had offered no suitable resistance. The outbreak of Tamers was generally confined to Shinjuku and surrounding areas, due to their proximity to Hypnos, where Digimon originally emerged. There were no Tamers or Digimon to combat them outside of Japan.

With such a small cluster of resistance, and the complete uselessness of modern weaponry, the Daemon Corps spread like an infection to all corners of the globe, almost completely taking over Takato's world. But ultimately, thanks to the Adventure Digidestined, they failed.

Things had been far more complicated in the Adventurer's Real World, though not necessarily better. With so many more Digidestined in this world, the battles were far more grand in scale, and so to was the collateral devastation.

They had been disorganized. That was their most grave mistake, Takeru had realized. At first, it was practically every Digidestined and Digimon partner for themselves. Daemon was merciless and unrelenting, fully using that to his advantage by ordering the slaughter of straggling, isolated Digidestined one by one.

But Davis had eventually managed to rally them all together in the Digital World, forming a massive army known as the Digidestined Alliance.

The governments of the world were of little to no help. The first target Barbamon marked was the United Nations headquarters. By destroying the center of unity that a large portion of the modernized world held, he created an era of distrust among allies. Some of the most politically close nations even turned on one another, blaming other countries for the destruction. Divide and conquer, as they say.

Utilizing the mounting distrust, Barbomon's second goal was to capture the capital of each nation, destabilizing world governments at unprecedented speeds. Titles of office transferred rapidly as Presidents, Chancellors and Prime Ministers were slaughtered one after another. The authority and power never stayed in the hands of one person long enough to make the crucial differences that may have saved lives.

Every Digidestined fought valiantly, but it was a losing battle. With so many Mega Digimon to combat, only a handful of the Digidestined could make a difference. Their numbers dwindled.

The Alliance's Megas, Imperialdramon, WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon were among the few that could combat the strongest of the Daemon Corps. But there was one other Digimon who proved capable of singlehandedly defeat Daemon's Mega-level henchmen.

MagnaAngemon, while Ultimate level, he was still as strong as WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon. Perhaps even stronger. For this reason, Takeru, along with his brother Matt, Tai, and Davis and Ken together, lead the four platoons whenever they were not stationed in their home base. In desperate cases, they needed to last long enough for backup to arrive.

Davis and Tai wanted to focus the attention of the army on destroying all the Mega Digimon first, theorizing that the Daemon Corps could be picked apart without them. But their primary concern was protecting as many people as they could. They realized that they either needed more numbers, more Mega Digimon on their side, or, preferably, both. With little other choice, they turned to the Harmonious Ones for help.

The four Mega Digimon, still weakened from being sealed for so long, decided that they could open a portal into the second Digital World and search for help there. But their strength was limited to send four beings: two Digidestined and their partners.

Takeru had volunteered for the mission, claiming to have the most experience jumping into portals of unknown destinations. Kari then volunteered, reasoning that she and Takeru worked well together. As a testament to his maturity as a leader, Davis did not shout an objection or try to knock off Takeru's hat. He considered the reasoning before nodding, telling them to be careful.

That mission had not... ended well. But after a grueling trek through the Daemon controlled world, the two Digidestined had managed to find the Tamers. After stunned silence and disbelieving stares, and several explanations of their quest, the Tamers became convinced that by attacking with the Digidestined, the assaults on their world would cease. Most of the Tamers had gone to fight with them, but Kazu, Kenta, Suzie and a number of others stayed behind to continue the battle on their front.

The Child of Hope and the Tamers returned to the original Digital World to find their theory correct. While the Daemon Corps had not completely withdrawn from the parallel Real World, all Mega and most Ultimate level Digimon returned to the first Digital World's frontline. That had made things significantly less demanding for the Tamers of parallel Earth, who won more struggles than before, even with a smaller force.

With their forces fully assembled, they began to turn the tide of war. Battle after battle, they were victorious, taking back cities and reuniting what was left of the world's countries. Naturally, there was some loss of life, but they were outweighed by victories. It seemed inevitable that they were going to be triumphant.

If only things could have been that simple...

During all that time, during their victories and defeats in those two and a half years of war, Daemon had not been resting. He was reformatting and mastering the immense amount of data he had acquired during his conquest of the second Digital World. He had Digivolved to the Ultra level, something they hadn't even known existed.

He had revealed himself to the entire army as they gathered at their stronghold. With a mere flick of his wing, Daemon created a ghastly wind that slew over forty Digidestined along with their Champion and Ultimate level partners.

Experienced in the art of war and knowing when to run, Davis ordered a full evacuation.

Daemon had no intention of allowing them to escape. He pursued, planning on finishing the Digidestined once and for all.

So few survived that attack. That massacre. It had taken the sacrifice of four Digidestined and Imperialdramon Paladin Mode fighting with all of his strength to allow their escape. Were it not for the Demon Lord's inexperience in fighting in his newly acquired form, he would have to destroyed them all. As it was, Imperialdramon had reverted Daemon back to his Mega form at the cost of his life.

With their leaders and most powerful allies defeated, the Digidestined had been forced to retreat for some time. Divided and disorganized, without the protection of three Megas, they fell again, one by one.

Takeru had tried to lead what was left of their army as best he could, but he was no Davis or Tai. Rallying a group of people into a powered frenzy in those circumstances wouldn't have been easy for anyone, and for Takeru, it had been nearly impossible.

Nearly.

Desperate and with a faction of their original numbers, Takeru methodically rebuilt what was left of the Digidestined. His first step was to abandon the prime doctrine that guided every decision of the Digidestined Alliance: to save as many lives as possible.

He told the others, that in order to stop the Daemon menace with finality, to protect their loved ones, or the loved ones of others, they would have to discard the value of their lives, and fight only for victory. Fighting not for themselves or their comrades' survival, but for the survival of all other peoples and Digimon, for that was their sacred calling.

He formed rules, battle plans and contingencies and escape strategies, renaming them the Virus Busters. He turned to the Sovereign, imploring them to each contribute as much of their power as they could for the survival of all worlds. They were able to scrape together enough for seven.

Takeru selected six of the dozens left to join him in undergoing the grueling trial of receiving the new powers.

The blood and Digisoul of each of the seven were extracted and combined with the amalgam of power cores from the four Sovereign and the last of Calumon's power. This was infused into their Digivices, and from this union was forged their greatest weapon, the D-Ultima.

The Harmonious Ones had given a power core for five of the seven. Takeru and the only other Adventure Digidestined to have survived both received something different… and it had been a near thing. Azulongmon had been more than a little reluctant to render to Takeru the Sphere of Hope.

Takeru's eyes narrowed as a feeling finally crept into his spirit. Anger, cold and hard like stone. Now he knew why the power had been kept from him, and he was going to give that arrogant dragon a piece of his mind.

He stood suddenly, only to quickly sit back down as his ribs groaned. Ugh. After I'm feeling better.

Grunting, he threw on some of Gennai's old boots and made his way to the kitchen, the scent of baking becoming heavier with every step. He could hear the sound of furious munching and the occasional swearing. He almost smiled.

So that's who saved us.

Takeru slid open the door to see Takato wearing identical robes under his pink 'Kiss the Cook' apron, baking in blurred motions. Beelzemon sat on the matted floor, spraying crumbs as he griped about there being no chairs and his spiked boots not going well with Japanese styled housing.

Takeru understood quickly why there was a growing mountain of baked goods being assembled. Baking was Takato's productive way of remembering his parents, repressing painful reality of a world without them. Probably because, like Takeru himself, Takato didn't know what else to do. He'd seen the war through to the end. He'd avenged his lover. What else was there for them?

They both looked at him as he entered the room.

The two humans locked eyes, a thousand thoughts racing between their gaze, each having more than a mouthful to say to the other, but neither sure where to begin.

Before either could speak, Beelzemon greeted him in his usual friendly manner, his voice carrying its usual heavy New York accent. "So youse finally decided to wake up, you lazy bum?"

"Nice to see you too," Takeru answered in deadpan.

"You're damn right it's good to see me again! What would your sorry carcasses have done if I hadn't swung by? You'd still be bleedin' to death on that damn beach, that's what!" He shrugged his shoulders in what seemed to be a sympathetic gesture. "Honestly, youse humans. Never lookin' before you leap. You owe Behemoth a good scrubbin' by the way; all that damn sand..."

Takeru blinked, his face still expressionless. "I hadn't planned on things getting so bloody for us, but perhaps that was optimistic. Still, being attacked on two fronts made them weak enough for us to get by. If you and the other Digimon had come with us instead, their forces wouldn't have been divided enough to penetrate. At least not without expending too much energy."

The virus devil gave a mock salute. "Whatever youse say, General Wing Zero. Probably right though. If I'd known where youse two was really headed, I would have tagged along." He punched his palm. "Man, what I wouldn't give to have seen that asshole deleted."

Takato cut in as Beelzemon groaned. "How are you feeling, TK?"

"I could ask you the same thing," he answered. "You were in much worse condition."

"You can thank the Sovereign for that," Beelzemon answered as he snacked on a muffin, not noticing their darkening gazes. "They sent that Sorcerymon to heal youse two. Seeing as to how youse both still kickin', I'd guess he did ok."

Takato released a short, bestial growl his Digimon would have been proud of. "I guess we have something to be thankful to the Sovereign for... That's a change."

Beelzemon blinked his three eyes. "What?"

Takeru responded calmly. "Let's just say we discovered an… unsavory truth about the Harmonious Ones. More importantly, how long have I been unconscious? And what's the status of the Real and Digital Worlds?"

Beelzemon leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms. "First, tell me what happened to Daemon. I want details, dammit!"

Takeru walked to the stove as he set a kettle of water to boil. "I could find out about everything from, well, just about anyone. But I'm the only eyewitness to Daemon's death." While not entirely true, Patamon was still egged, and since Guilmon wasn't scarfing down massive amounts of bread at the moment, Takeru assumed the same for him.

Beelzemon held his clawed hand up in mock surrender, yielding to the thinly veiled threat. "Fine, ya grimy little punk. Youse will be glad to note that all of the Daemon Corps are dead. I guess it happened when the bastard died. And youse been a lump for a good two weeks now."

Takeru felt his brows hike. Two weeks? He'd always been a fitful sleeper when things were stressful, and that's all his life had been for four years. Since acquiring his power, he'd rarely sleep more than twice in as many weeks. Perhaps his body was catching up on lost rest. Or deciding whether to wake up at all.

"Anyhow," Beelzemon continued, "your Real World and DigiWorld is all safe now." He turned to Takato. "And I assume the same for ours."

The blond accepted with a nod. "Good, good." He then went on to describe the battle he, Takato and BlackWarGreymon waged against the world of the Dark Ocean.

Beelzemon whistled. "'Salvation Cannon' huh? Sounds killer. Well good riddance to the bastard." He grimaced and looked down at the table silently, thinking of his fallen rival. "So that was it for old metal-snout..." He looked up carrying a roguish smile. "Heh. Well, it's not like we could do any more body count contests anyway. At least he didn't go out like a punk. Good on 'im."

He stood, grabbing a rough handful of baked goods as he prepared to leave. "Well, I'd love to stick around, but some of us got work to do." He paused at the door. "When youse two are up for it, how's about sending me back, eh? I wanna see my kids again," he said, his tone ringed with longing.

Takato smiled, thinking of how those two kids must have grown in their absence. "Sure thing."

The mega swallowed a lump in his throat that had nothing to do with the pastries he'd eaten. "Cool. Ah, and before I forget, tell pineapple-head and Patamon I said," he snapped his fingers, giving a double thumbs-up. "Aaay."

Takato's face twisted. "That's never gonna catch on..."

"Yeah it will! Later chumps."

Takeru sat quietly, sipping on his cooling tea. Takato ate a muffin in silence, opting to drink coffee instead. They ate inaudibly for a time that seemed to stretch into hours. It was their way of silently thanking one another for the support they gave each other in battle.

Takato finally spoke up. "I want to check on my world. Make sure everything is taken care of."

Takeru stared at the wisps of smoke coming from his tea. He wondered if Takato would now leave him and go back to his home world. It hadn't occurred to him that he might have his partner at his side when all was said and done. But he also never intended to survive this far.

Why wouldn't he leave me? I took everything from him.

"Takeru?"

"We'll open a portal."

"Right," Takato said., standing and pulling out his D-Ultima. Each D-Ultima was unique in design. The powerful devices performed almost all the functions of the D-3s, D-Terminals, and the D-Arcs... and so much more.

Takato's was shaped like a crimson dragon's head, a blood-red fang-like pattern running down the sides of both white grips. The end of the dragon's mouth, located at the bottom of the Digivice, held a slot for Card Slashing. In the center of the D-Ultima was the same hazard symbol from Guilmon's chest, a square screen in the middle of it. To top it off was a horn-like antenna. The clip on the back allowed it to be strapped similarly to the D-Arc, or to the wrist. In a circle around that clip was the Digicode from his second D-Arc.

Takeru wordlessly mirrored Takato's action. His D-Ultima was a near duplicate of the hilt of MagnaAngemon's Excalibur, complete with a metallic wrist strap. The angelic runes held the tales of all his past battles and adventures. Two wing-like protrusions were located on the sides, along with two antenna shaped like the wings on Seraphimon's helmet. The Sphere of Hope was contained where MagnaAngemon's center gem would have been, taking the shape of a golden jewel that projected a viewing window when necessary.

They each left to grab their Digieggs, old habits of paranoia unwilling to leave them in the house unprotected. They met outside the stairs of Gennai's house to get the best reception possible.

Once there, Takeru stared at Takato.

"What? What is it?" he asked.

Takeru shook his head. "Nothing, it's just... Are you really going to greet the forces of your world in an apron? A pink apron?"

Takato flushed in embarrassment, scratching his head. "Oh, uh, hold on for a second." Balancing the Digiegg and his D-Ultima, he tore the apron off, then tossed it up. He held up his Digivice and said, "Digitize!" The apron disappeared into the D-Ultima.

"Okay," he said, "let's do it."

Takeru nodded, smirking slightly. As Rika used to say, no matter how inhumanly strong he became, Takato would always be a goof.

They both held their D-Ultimas to the same point in the air. As one they called out, "Digiport open!"

Their order carved a vortex in the space-time continuum. But it was not a normal Digiport; this one was strictly for communicating, unable to travel to the parallel Earth unless in the second DigiWorld. These portals also happened to be extremely bright.

Takato placed his red goggles on, his old blue ones ruined in their early battles. Takeru reached into his robes and pulled out a pair of shades with dark yellow lenses and a crooked, zigzag frame around the ears.

Not long after forming, the portal showed a startled G-man with blond hair and dark sunglasses.

The man's eyebrows became visible above his glasses, a clear look of surprise on his face. "Takato! Takeru!" He calmed, saying, "We haven't heard from you for so long."

"Uh, hey, Yamaki," Takato said, rubbing the back of his head. "I know I'm like a year past deadline, but we have something to report."

Yamaki glanced at their forms, noting their drastic changes in appearance. "Those must be Digieggs... and you're both injured." The man flicked his lighter for a moment. "You've come from a battle recently. I suppose that has something to do with the destruction of the Daemon Corps?"

"Yes," Takeru confirmed in monotone. "We've called to affirm the successful destruction of Daemon, as well as the Daemon Corps in World One and DigiWorld One. By what you've just told us, Daemon's army has been destroyed in your world as well?"

Yamaki adjusted his dark glasses. "That's correct. At first we suspected it was some kind of trap. They just started to dissolve, like the D-Reaper's agents."

Takato sighed in relief. "Makes sense. We've learned that Daemon uploaded some of his data to his cronies. Since this was after he uploaded the D-Reaper program to himself, they were all connected to him."

Whether they knew it or not, Takato thought. He wondered if Daemon informed his subordinates of that nasty little surprise. Or if he himself had been aware of it. Oh well.

"I see," Yamaki muttered, satisfied with the report. It quelled so many suspicions. "Well, as the liaison between our world's governments and the Virus Busters, I formally congratulate you on your victory."

Takeru felt his teeth clench. "Our victory?" the young man whispered hoarsely. "This is too hollow to be called a victory. No one walks away from this a winner. And the ones who walk away at all… have lost everything. All the Digidestined could do was make sure others could survive. If there is any victory in this, it doesn't belong to us."

Yamaki simply stood, staring. "I... I knew you had suffered casualties but... all the others..."

"What others?" Takeru asked, livid. "Yamaki. We're the the only two left."

"Yeah," Takato grossed out dejectedly. "Two years ago, when Takeru called and told you we were now the Virus Busters, Daemon had just attacked us. By that time," Takato's head slumped, "there were only about forty of us left. You probably noticed that you couldn't reach any of us after that. The rift that connected the two Digital Worlds, the one that allowed you to contact us, was... closed. Without that rift to pull in our messages to one another, the Daemon Corps could easily sense when we made, or attempted to make contact. We had to go dark."

The G-man flicked his lighter vigorously. "I see your reasoning. But... there were hundreds of you before you reformed into a small group. How could Daemon have defeated so many?"

Takeru just stood silently, having no further use for speaking.

Takato drummed his fingers on the egg. "You see, Yamaki, Daemon reached a new level of Digivolution: Ultra. He killed off most of us when he attacked that day. In order to beat him, we had to become stronger than ever. And that... that took time." So much time…

"A level beyond Mega," Yamaki repeated in shocked awe. "I didn't even know such a thing existed."

"It doesn't," Takato said. "I mean, it does. But it didn't before."

"And so you managed to reach that level of power in order to defeat Daemon." Yamaki almost gaped. "Incredible. You two don't disappoint."

"Yes," Takeru contradicted flatly. "We do."

Yamaki cleared his throat. "So… Takato," he said, turning to the shorter of the teens, "when will you be returning? My superiors will want to discuss the security of our world with you when they hear you're alive."

Takato simply blinked, an unseen action. He gave a sad smile, shaking his head. "Yamaki I... I'm not coming back. There's nothing left for me there."

"...Takato, we need you here."

"I can do good for everyone by staying in this Digital World. No powerful enemies will come there looking for revenge or anything. And here, I can stop real threats before they start."

Yamaki drew in a shuddering breath. "Takato, I implore you, please return to your home world."

Takato turned his head to Takeru, and the taller man felt the stare of his red eyes. Dread crept into his stomach. Here it was, their departing.

And he would have to let him. Takeru didn't have the right to ask anymore of his friend.

"Takato…"

The brunette turned back to Yamaki. "I am home," he answered.

Takeru stilled, then released a breath he hadn't known he was holding.

"Dammit you selfish clod," Yamaki snapped, "think about Suzie and the others! Do you really want all the burden to be buried on an eleven year old girl?"

Managing to resist the urge to scoff, Takato merely grunted in frustration. "Don't try to play me, Yamaki. Kazu and Kenta are still alive. They'll handle things."

Yamaki flicked the lighter. "I thought you didn't have any contact with our side?"

"I haven't."

Yamaki frowned. "Then how can you know who's alive and who isn't?"

Takato smiled peacefully and closed his eyes. "Because I can feel them. Besides, I know neither you nor Mr. Wong would let that happen to Suzie. And Henry made the Tamer manual for just this occasion. There will be others to take up the task." His face softened then. "And… give the Wong family my condolences."

Yamaki sighed, flicking his lighter for several tense moments. "And there's nothing I can do to change your mind?"

"When has that ever happened?"

Yamaki squirmed uncomfortably. "I feel like, I'm not sure, I should say something more. I guess... goodbye and good luck." He saluted them. "Thank you both for everything. You've saved us all."

Takato returned it. "Same here." He nudged the immobile Takeru, whose ribs found the elbow quite unwelcome.

Takeru gave a salute. "Your assistance was very appreciated," he said without feeling.

Yamaki dropped his hand. "All right then. Could you, maybe, get this thing out of my office?" he gestured to the portal.

Takato grinned slightly. "Sure thing. Later, Yamaki."

The portal between dimensions closed an instant later.

Adventurer and Tamer stood quietly for a moment as they removed their eyewear.

"Now what?" Takato finally asked. Before, there had always been an immediate objective to address. But now…

Takeru turned on his heel and began walking in the opposite direction of the house under the lake. "I've got questions. Only the Dragon of the East can provide the answers." He stopped, turning back to Takato. "If you don't think you're up for it..."

He sighed. "Let's go. There's no stopping you now anyway."

Takeru nodded and continued his route. In their condition, it took them a few hours to reach the edge of the shore. Once there, Takeru whistled loudly. After a few moments of what seemed to be nothing happening, the waters began to bubble. A large, red, serpentine creature emerged from the ocean surface.

"MegaSeadramon," Takeru called out in what he intended to be a congenial voice, "I need you to take us to File Island."

The Ultimate looked at them for a moment before nodding silently, its sharp horn bobbing with its head. It swam closer to the shore so they could hop on. They smiled jumped onto the creature's neck. That was singularly the most consistent pleasantry of the DigiWorld.

You could always get a ride.

Going at top speed, they arrived in two hours. MegaSeadramon let the two humans onto land.

"Thanks," Takeru said after landing. "I'll be sure to bring you a snack the next time we meet."

The Ultimate nodded before shooting up into the air and diving into the ocean.

"Talk about a mon of few words," Takato muttered. He turned to see Takeru already walking away. "Hey, wait up!"

They stopped to rest a few hours later. It happened to be the same lake where Gabumon had first Digivolved to defeat Seadramon. Takeru sat, quietly meditating with his back to the surrounding woods. Takato sprawled out on the ground, thinking. Both held their eggs protectively.

The Child of Hope began to fidget as his felt his second-in-command give him curious glances. "What?" he snapped, turning his head to give a look bordering on anger.

Takato looked away, grinning. "Oh, nothing. Didn't mean to stare."

"No," he shook his head, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have... What's bothering you?"

The other boy drummed his fingers on his leg. "I'm just wondering... how exactly are you going to approach the situation?"

"Bluntly." Takeru answered, er, bluntly.

Takato hummed thoughtfully. "With Daemon finally dead, maybe starting a new war with the Sovereign isn't the best thing to do," he advised sagely. "I'm just saying a little tact won't kill you." Takato felt Takeru's eyes roll toward him.

"I will not act on anger. But I didn't get a chance to ask, how do you feel about it?"

"Seriously? For them to judge you like that… To keep that power from you for that reason, what it's caused is nothing short of a heinous crime," Takato said. He hummed again. "Maybe we should just kill them since they keep screwing up like this."

"We'll see," Takeru answered. "For now, I'll keep my cool. By the way, we may have to climb Infinity Mountain."

Takato gaped. "Climb the mountain? In the condition we're in? Are you kidding me?"

"No. But it's unlikely." He stood. "Let's move out."

Soon enough they were at the foot of the mountain, where they had first battled Devimon. Faint tears and cracks could still be seen where Black Gears had poured from.

Takeru looked around. "Damn. No sign of them. I thought for sure they'd be waiting for us to get here."

Takato chuckled. "What, you were expecting them to be following your every movement?"

"..."

He blinked. "Oh."

Without warning, both Digieggs began to glow: Patamon's a bright gold, Guilmon's crimson. The two lights shot into the sky like beacons. The sky and clouds began to shift colors between gold, amber, and ruby-red.

"Weird," Takato muttered as he stared. "Even for these guys." He looked to the Digieggs as their glows began to fade.

Takeru silently agreed.

The sky settled back into what was considered normal in the realm.

"Ooookay," Takato drawled. "What was the light show for?"

As if in answer of his question, four herculean presences approached. One coiled through the air from the east. Another ran across the water from the west. The third swam from the north. The fourth swooped in from the south.

Hovering above Infinity Mountain with audible power were the Dragon of the East, Azulongmon, and the Phoenix of the South, Zhuqiaomon. The two-headed Tortoise of the North, Ebonwumon, lodged itself onto the beach. The Tiger of the West, Baihumon, jumped from the water and landed with an assassin's grace.

The Harmonious Ones glanced about, looking for the source of the beacon. "What is this?" Zhuqiaomon demanded. The Phoenix of the South turned to Azulongmon. "Some pitiful excuse for a reunion?"

"Nice to see you're as magnanimous as ever," Azulongmon quipped. "But no, I did not summon forth the beacons of light." His four eyes landed on the two Digidestined. "But I have some clue as to who did." He directed the tip of his horn towards the humans.

They both tensed slightly, knowing the horn to be among the deadliest weapons in existence. Both were ready to move, to fight and kill.

"Ah," one of Ebonwumon's heads spoke, "that be explainin' it."

Baihumon remained silent as he watched, resting his massive paws on the island.

Zhuqiaomon landed on the island. "So then, it was you who summoned us? What is it? We're very busy with the restoration of our world."

It still surprised Takato that while the Zhuqiaomon of this world was less... temperamental, than the one of his DigiWorld had been, he still had a difficult attitude.

Takeru just stared coldly at the feathered Mega. "There would be no need to rebuild if you hadn't allowed darkness to claim your world to begin with."

Takato smacked his forehead, the resulting sound that of tact flying out the window.

"What is the meaning of this, human?" The phoenix's red aura burned to life. "The Harmonious Ones did not allow the dark forces anything!"

"That is correct, young one." Azulongmon stated calmly. "We have taken every precaution possible to preserve the nature of our world."

"Did you?" Takeru asked, voice becoming colder than Frigimon's Subzero Ice Punch. "Did you really? Can you honestly say that you each did as much as possible to help the Digidestined, when you still hold five of the Crest Spheres? No, I think not."

"Then you know," Baihumon stated more than asked.

The other Sovereign caught on to the meaning of Takeru's accusations, and the severity they held.

"I know everything," Takeru continued, voice becoming an arctic chill. "I know that you four were the partners of the original Digidestined who defeated Apocalymon. I know that Daemon was the fifth member. I also happen to know that before Daemon became the monstrosity we knew... he was once a Seraphimon."

Azulongmon sighed, accepting that Takeru and Takato now knew the truth they had concealed for so long. "I will not deny it. Daemon was not just the fifth member, but also our leader. Together with our former partners we defeated Apocalymon. But then Daemon... changed."

"He was the greatest of us at one time," the North Tiger said. "But he fell from grace, becoming a fallen angel. This was sometime after our human partners had departed for their world. Together, we managed to defeat Daemon and seal him away."

Ebonwumon spoke next. "Ai, boyo. But things weren't that simple. Once the Dark Masters sealed us, Daemon was set free. With so much chaos and the Dark Masters running a muck, he was like a kid in a candy store."

His second head nodded. "A really twisted kid in a candy store."

"None of that matters to me," the Child of Hope said flatly. His eyes moved to Azulongmon. "You held out on us because you thought Patamon would end up the same way as Daemon."

Feeling compelled to defend his actions, the Dragon of the East continued. "It is not that simple, Takeru. Your Crest, that of Hope, is different from the others. In order to reach its full potential, it must be in complete harmony with the other nine, for it is composed of elements from each. Love, Courage, Darkness, Light, Friendship, and all the rest. Without them to balance you... I did not think you could handle the power without corrupting your partner's data."

Takato ground his teeth. "Well obviously you were wrong, seeing that TK mastered the Sphere of Hope when the others were dead... because of you."

"...I have come to realize that perhaps my decision to keep the Sphere of Hope from Takeru was not the best. But please," the Sovereign requested, "Try to understand our reasoning. With the loss of the Child of Light compounded by other dire experiences you've undergone, we believed that you having that power would result in the darkest of Digivolutions."

"The creation of another Daemon was an unacceptable possibility," Zhuqiaomon clarified. "As you know, when we first decided to bring humans back into the Digital World, we each chose two Digimon to battle the forces of evil. We each implored Azulongmon to reconsider his choice of Patamon. But he did not waver. We did manage to convince him not to give you the Sphere of Hope."

"And we know how marvelously that turned out," Takato muttered with disdain.

Ignoring the human, Zhuqiaomon continued. "We are just as much to blame for the outcome as Azulongmon."

Takeru's cold demeanor did not falter in the slightest. "If you had trusted all of us with the power of the Spheres, instead of just Tai and my brother, then we could have stopped this all from happening. We could have been strong together. We would have had the balance you cherish," Takeru spat. "Instead, you gave only the bare minimum to keep as much of the power for yourselves as you could."

"Our power is key to this world's balance. We are the pillars that support it, and will continue to support it," Ebonwumon said.

"That's the problem. You rooted yourselves so deeply into this world that it can't survive your absence, then claim you are indispensable." He stared at the godlike creatures with open contempt. "The circular, selfish logic of relics clinging to their diminished power and authority."

"I will not be lectured by you, young thing," Zhuqiaomon said with seething. "We are the Harmonious Ones. We four saved this world before you were born!"

"And what good have you done since?" Takeru asked sharply. "What's your purpose? To select others to fight your battles? Who has saved this world as you've done nothing but watch?"

"You are correct Takeru," Azulongmon admitted. "Many choices we made were mistaken. But now is not the time for such things. There is something of far greater importance to discuss than placing blame."

Baihumon continued. "Because of the imbalances that Daemon and his army has created in the four worlds, the Digital World is beginning to come apart."

"It does not end there," the Phoenix of the South continued. "All of reality has begun to unravel itself."

Takato's red eyes bounced from one Mega to another. "What does that mean?" he asked, a familiar, sick feeling rising in his gut.

"This world," Baihumon said, his claws digging into the ground, "has sustain far too much punishment in too little time for it to recover. The wrath of the Dark Masters and the destruction of the Destiny Stones, and so on. Each catastrophe has contributed in defiling the balance. It can no longer sustain itself."

"And Daemon's rampage has ravished numerous other worlds, each connected to worlds beyond it," Azulongmon said.

"The destruction of these worlds at once will create a domino effect. All worlds will crumble away into nothingness," Ebonwumon said.

"One head can't survive if the other is cut off," the second head stated.

"Be it in months or minutes," Zhuqiaomon, said, "it will in time be as if nothing has ever existed."

Takeru stumbled back as if he'd been struck. His eyes couldn't see the world before him. They were settled in the past on a computer screen he and the others were hovered over. Streaks of separated colors, each representing a world, swirled in together and imploded, turning everything black.

He fell to his knees, his mind just barely functional enough to keep hold of the egg. But a part of him wanted to throw it away from him, as far as possible, before he destroyed it too.

"Then it was for nothing," he whispered. "I killed them all... for nothing."

He dimly heard footsteps approaching. His head turned mechanically to Takato, who stood over him, his face without anything to interpret.

The one thing Takeru had promised those who followed him, that everything was for the safety of all worlds. That they would sacrifice themselves and each other in order to defeat the Daemon Corps, to protect people they would never know, and people who would never know them.

He swore to them on his life that everything they did would be worth it if it ensured the future from being ruled over by the powers of darkness. He believed it. He believed their cause righteous and just.

But it was all for naught. In the end it hadn't made a difference. Everything would be gone. Their sufferings and deaths would be meaningless.

Takeru stared up with wide and haunted eyes at his longtime friend and second-in-command. The man whose world burned because of Takeru's failures. The man whose lover he had caused to die.

He said all that he could, all that came to mind, that came closest to expressing the sorrow buried inside of his soul like a cluster of worms.

"Takato… I'm sorry."

The Tamer pulled his red goggles over his eyes. He bent down. "Hold this for me, TK," he said.

Takeru numbly accepted Guilmon's Digiegg without thought. "Takato, what are you…?"

"You might have to run with them."

Takato walked forward, staring into the distance at some point far beyond the Harmonious Ones. When he was near enough to feel the heat of their power circulating in the air, he faced them, alternating his gaze between the four holy beasts.

He flexed his fingers. "You know, TK has always blamed himself for," he spread his arms out to the world, "all of it. He feels responsible for everything that's happened and everyone that's died because of Daemon. Even in my world. Especially in my world.

"Here's the thing, though." The mark of the Digital Hazard burned itself onto his forehead. "I don't blame him."

Takeru inched his eyes over to the Tamer, the words stunning him into incomprehension.

"I blame you," Takato snarled. "TK could have stopped it… if you had given him the power to do so."

"Warrior, what is your intention?" Baihumon asked, feeling his every hair stand on end with the approach of the forbidden power.

"That should have been obvious the moment you saw my mark. But I guess you guys really are too dense to see anything coming. It's all going to come crashing down, right?" A burning aura bled off of Takato. "There's no way I'm going to let you fuck ups live to see the end of it."

He hunched his back into a primal posture. When he next spoke, his voice was only barely recognizable as belonging to a human.

"I'll kill you all now."

"Foolish boy!" Zhuqiaomon roared, flashing his four mighty wings, his own aura burning to life. It was enough to create a gust that blew the waters away from island's shore and slapped the branches from trees. "You think are a match for the four of us? We are the gods of this realm!"

Takato stood nearer to the blast than the water and plants, but didn't budge. A terrible, tooth filled grin replaced his mouth. "Yeah, that's the way. Keep it. Keep that superior attitude of yours right up to the end." A hazard symbol the size of a pool appeared beneath Takato's. The ground trembled as if from an earthquake. "Right up until I tear your beak off and jam it into your heart."

"Tamer of Hazard, it need not end like this!" Azulongmon pleaded.

"I know. But I really wanna kill you. There's no one left for this power to poison. That means I have no reason to hold back anymore. If it's ending… it's ending on my terms."

The island trembled, boulders dislodged from the mountain and crashed to the ground. The ground split open near Takato's feet. Magma burst from the crevices, shooting up like geysers. Another hazard symbol appeared, connecting to the one beneath the wielder, then another and another. Dozens and dozens then hundreds then thousands, each connected until every inch of land bore his mark, the mark of Digital Hazard.

Takato bellowed wordlessly at Zhuqiaomon with unrestrained rage. A wave of pure force shoved the Mega from the island. The Phoenix of the South cawed and smoothly transitioned to flight. There he found that the Hazard symbol had leapt from the earth and hungrily expanded into the clouds. The mark spread until it consumed all space visible from File Island, land sea, and sky.

Takeru and his Digiegg had built an immunity to Digital Hazard by this point. But the Harmonious Ones did not. Their enormous bodies began to bubble as if boiled from the inside.

Zhuqiaomon screeched, four red eyes bearing down on Takato. "This is precisely why humans cannot be trusted with power!"

The Tamer matched Zhuqiaomon with a feral glare beneath his goggles. "Don't think your end will be quick, you feathered fuck. You're last. I want you to see your fellow gods die ugly. Have just a taste of the pain we've suffered."

"Calm down, boyo!" Ebonwumon howled, his shell bubbling like boiling asphalt. "We've a plan to restore the balance! But it won't work if you blast us to hell!"

"You'll say anything. Say anything and do anything as long as you remain in power. No more." He stalked toward them, his every step creating another fissure from which lava spewed. "You four have been tolerated far too long!"

His body consumed by the living fire, Takato decreed, "Today you die."

"Takato. Stop."

His head snapped toward his general. "Why?" he asked, his voice booming as if a god had demanded explanation from a peasant.

Takeru stared at the Tamer ready to go critical. "You're not in the wrong, regarding those four. And I've got no right to tell you what to do anymore. But you need to stop. You can't end like this."

"What does it matter anymore? Why shouldn't I be the one to end it?"

Takeru saw a tear leak under the goggles before it vaporized. He knew one of the many lost faces fueling Takato's rage. "Because we promise her," Takeru said, watching as Takato stiffened. "You promised not to lose control. And I promised not to let you."

"I am in control!" he snarled. "I'm choosing to kill them."

"I understand. But Rika wouldn't want you to do it. She wouldn't want you to be responsible for the end, even if it was inevitable."

Uncertainty crept into Takato's expression.

"Let's hear what they have to say first. If it doesn't work out, kill them. Then we find a way to stop this. We are the Digidestined, and they aren't the ones who make us that. Our choices do.

"We will find a way. If there is no way, we will make one. We cannot despair. Not when we are needed."

Takato stared at the sky, his fists clenched with enough pressure to bend steel. He ripped his goggles away, revealing eyes redder than normal."Okay," Takato said.

His aura dimmed then faded, and the Hazard marks retreated in reverse, dissipating until only the one beneath Takato remained. Then it too vanished. The four holy beasts stopped boiling, clearing the haze of agony from their minds.

Takato panted, his body not in the prime condition to contain the Hazard. "Damn you for making sense, TK." He sat on the ground and looked at Azulongmon. "You have one minute to live. Make it count."

One of Ebonwumon's heads sighed. "Well that was excruciating."

"Aye, I'd forgotten what true pain felt like."

"I do not believe the warrior is bluffing," Baihumon noted, shaking his fur to get rid of the strange stinging sensation that lingered. But he realized it was not in his fur, but within very Digicore. To restrain such power...

"Indeed not," Azulongmon said. "So let us commence with our plan."

"There is a way to reverse the process," Zhuqiaomon said, his tone now far more subdued.

Takeru looked at them, stonefaced. "What is it?"

"Our creator," the four Mega Digimon uttered in unison. It sounded like a gong rang by heaven.

"…I thought Yggdrasil created the four of you," Takeru said suspiciously.

"Indirectly, yes," the North Tiger answered. "Yggdrasil created the Digimon who sired us. He has slept for thousands of years in the center of the Digital World."

Takeru looked down at the soil. "And File Island is the center of the DigiWorld. But if you're creator has been asleep all this time, how do you intend to wake him?"

Zhuqiaomon took off into the air. "By combining all of our energy, our creator will awaken. I'm not certain what he will do, but... he will set things right. He must."

The Harmonious Ones gathered in a diamond-formation on the water, facing one another with their backs to their respective territory. Powerful auras enveloped their bodies as they began to channel energy. Takeru and Takato watched from the shore.

Their auras expanded, enveloping their entire bodies as they shot forward. They met above the water, swirling together as one. The mass of energy shot into the depths of the ocean, straight to the center of the Digital World.

The island began to shake violently. In fact, the entire Digital World trembled from the ancient being's reawakening. Massive tidal waves formed as something appeared from the ocean depths.

The two humans found it difficult to stand and hold the Digieggs, but they managed. A colossal landmass emerged from the waters. It seemed to be covered in brownish-yellow thorns and prickles. The land was somewhat shaped like a giant bridge, easily ranging from File Island to the Server Continent, six skyscraper-sized spikes, three on each side, protruded from the sides.

Takato whistled. "Okay, so they weren't bluffing. Good thing I didn't kill them. So... the creator is going appear on this bridge?"

Takeru's eyes widened as realized what they were looking at. "No. Because it is the bridge."

The start of the 'bridge' began to lift up, revealing a massive, gaping maw. A pair of red eyes opened. Then another. And another. All six of them set on the two petrified warriors.

Takeru Takaishi has seen some sights in his time. He once witnessed a poo-wielding Numemon shove its waste into the eyes of a Daemon Corps Mega and live. But this... Was it even a Digimon? It was not huge. It was positively gargantuan.

But, in the years of war, he had learned to keep a cool head, so he did not tremble. Takato, on the other hand, when not in the mindset to slaughter everything in sight, was a bundle nerves.

Holycrapholycrapholycrapholycrap!

Then it spoke, in a booming voice that echoed throughout the entire realm. Like the four beasts who had summoned it, its mouth remained still. "I am Fanglongmon, creator of the Harmonious Ones. I have watched you for some time, Takeru Takaishi."

He almost quivered. "I... I thought you were sleeping down there."

"I have seen you in my dreams; visions of your journey. Your losses... your pain... I have seen them."

Well that's... not the least bit disturbing, Takeru thought. "Yes, well... Zhuqiaomon said you'd fix the imbalance Daemon created."

"I do have the means to do such a thing, but it is a last resort. My Tai Chi technique will separate both light and dark, and erase all existence. The Digital Worlds and Real Worlds will start anew, and the balance will be restored."

"That would solve the imbalance? Save reality?"

"It will."

Takeru frowned. "But then... all of our friends and family… It will be as if their lives never happened?"

"Nothing will remain," the god beast confirmed. "Not life or memory."

Takato clutched his head. He punched the ground. "Dammit! I don't want to live in a world that's forgotten the people who've sacrificed for it."

"I don't think we'd be there either," Takeru said.

Takato shook his head. "That's not the point. If it was just about us not living, I could deal. But if everyone that's survived this nightmare is gone, who's gonna carry on the memory of our friends? Who's gonna remember their sacrifices?"

Takeru watched his friend, then turned narrowed eyes to Fanglongmon. "Is there another way? We cannot accept any path that does not honor the lives lost in this tragedy."

Either Fanglongmon nodded, or the island was bobbing up and down. "I hear your anger. Your dedication to your fallen comrades. Very well. There is another way that I may use Tai Chi. It allows me to create portals that bridge space and time between realities. This would accelerate the imbalance and decay. But with it... I could send you... to any time and place that you wish."

Takeru lost his composure. His jaw trembled as his mouth hung opened. Takato absently stood and stared ahead at the Digimon that could pass as his own landmass.

"T-t-t." Takeru failed to form any coherent words.

"To travel back... and see the ones we've lost?" Takato asked in little more than a whisper. He gave a longing look in no particular direction, gently palming his Digiegg, thinking of how happy it would make Guilmon. "You can do that?"

"I can. But if I do, you must stop the destruction that the Daemon Corps will inflict on the worlds. You must destroy Daemon. He is the lynchpin of this imbalance. If you fail, all existence will unravel itself. Not even I will be able to correct it."

Takato asked, "How far back could you send us?"

"You may return to any time that you wish, and I can send you each to your own worlds. However, you must both return to the same time. How I use Tai Chi," he bowed his massive head, "I leave to you."

A teary smile found its way to Takato. He turned to Takeru. "Did you hear that? This is the opportunity of a lifetime! TK we could… TK?"

"We..time..back...could..go..." he stammered incoherently.

Takato instantly became worried. I haven't seen him like this since Kari died... "Takeru!" he shook him by the shoulder with his free hand. "TK, snap out of it!" He didn't respond, simply staring blankly into the sky. Sighing, Takato reared his hand back and delivered two powerful slaps to Takeru's face.

The blond stumbled, but came to his senses. He blinked. "Sorry about that. I just…"

"Yeah."

"So," he said, standing up straight, "this is really happening? A... second chance? We could go back and save everyone?"

Takato nodded, his eyes misty at the thought. "Fanglongmon will let us decide when to go. I mean, which when to go to. I mean, ah you know what I mean!" he said, deliriously happy.

"But he said that if we failed, everything will end." He stared at his hands, still wet with the slickness of Kari's blood on them. He had failed so many times before... "Can we risk it?"

"That only means one thing." Takato looked him in the eye. "We just won't fail." He smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. "Of course, if we do, it's not like anyone will be around to get mad at us."

Takeru smiled faintly. Even if it put the universe in further danger, it had to be done.

A chance to do things over... to make things right. Takeru steeled himself. This time I can succeed where I failed. He envisioned all of his friends together, alive and well, relaxing in the peaceful DigiWorld that was supposed to have been their future.

He would make that come to fruition. No matter what it took.

"Then all that's left is to decide the time at which we should return," Takeru stated.

"So... which when do you think we should go back to?" Takato asked, rubbing his chin. Rika. Henry. Mom and Dad…

Takeru stared down at Patamon's egg. "I considered just going back to when we first entered the Digital World and killing all of our enemies starting with Devimon. But.."

"But if you fought all the battles, they wouldn't become strong on their own. And if anything happened to you, they would be crippled," Takato finished

"Right. And the fact that we have to return to the same time..." He turned to the god beast. "Fanglongmon, do all the worlds run parallel to each other in time?"

"Yes," he answered. "After Apocalymon was defeated the second time, all known worlds became parallel in time. Therefore, events of this Digital World and its Real World and events of the second Digital World and its Real World happen in tandem."

Takeru made a contemplative noise. "Can you tell me... exactly... at the time the D-3s were first unlocked from the Digiegg of Courage... what was happening on Earth Two?"

Takato glanced at Takeru before focusing on the Mega. What was the crafty blond planning now?

"At that moment, an ancient power that had long since remained dormant was finally tapped into." Fanglongmon's booming voice answered. "Takato Matsuki first harnessed the forbidden element of Digital Hazard and used it to form his Digimon partner."

"I see." Takeru took a deep breath and thought quietly to himself. Images and flashes of memories raced through his mind. "One month," he announced quietly, almost to himself. Eight pairs of red eyes fixed themselves on Takeru.

"Huh?" Takato asked.

Fanglongmon peered at the contemplating child before him.

"I will need... a one month reprieve. Thirty days before I reunited with the others. That is how far back I need to be sent," Takeru clarified. "That will give us both enough time to make any preparations needed."

"So... you want to go back after your first adventure finished, but just before your second began... one month before Guilmon's egg hatched?" Takato asked, catching on to the idea.

"Right," Takeru answered as he elaborated. "I believe that time period was the critical junction for us. Any further back would be pointless, but any more forward might be too late. It's the perfect time. Agreed?"

The Tamer nodded devoutly "I once vowed that I would follow your lead, Takeru, and I will."

After a moment, Takeru nodded as well. "Understood."

Takato gave a bemused smile. "I kinda always thought at least of us would be dying when it came time to say goodbye."

"There's always tomorrow," Takeru said in deadpan.

Takato chuckled. "Yeah, until there isn't."

"That won't come to pass," Takeru vowed.

Sobering, the Tamer nodded. "We'll make sure of it," Takato said.

"Take care of yourself, Commander."

"Same to you, General."

The blond smiled slightly before turning to the god beast. "We've decided. Please send us back one month before the D-3's were released and Guilmon was born."

"Let it be done," Fanglongmon commanded. "Farewell, Digidestined. And good luck. Tai Chi!" The Yin-yang symbol appeared under the humans. It began to rotate around them, increasing speed until the black and white patterns were blurred.

"Thank-you, Fanglongmon." Takeru bowed, which Takato mirrored.

"We won't let this chance go to waste," Takato said.

"The fate of existence rests with you and the decisions you make. I always felt the Harmonious Ones chose wisely when they selected you and your friends as Digidestined. Do prove me correct." The ground beneath them morphed into a vortex and pulled them in.

Adventurer and Tamer, Takeru Takaishi and Takato Matsuki, were gone. Vanished into the past... for the chance at a brighter future.


(11-30-13) I have rewritten and proofread the first chapter thoroughly, and will do so for the rest as well. I hope there is a noticeable improvement in quality.