Digital Shuffle
By Famira Damaris

Disclaimer: Don't own Digimon Tamers
Author's Note: It's been forever since I've updated. Been gobbled up by work and other things. I apologize for how long it's taken me.

Reviews are verymuch appreciated, but they don't determine how long I take on chapters.

Archive: Go right on ahead – but ask me first.
Bold for implied feelings, mostly for the Juggernaut
"Dialogue" is similar to telepathy

Digital Shuffle

(Assault on Odaiba)

Ryo didn't sleep.

Instead he wandered the length of the tunnels, aimless at first but finding himself checking up on the others. The Lees huddled together, blankets bunched over them, Terriermon fast asleep on his partner's stomach. The Matsudas were not far away with Reika. The Makinos had their own little area, Renamon standing by - but he could see her starting to nod off as he walked by, tired. Her watch wasn't necessary: Rosemon kept guard, and for tonight, at least, Ryo knew there was no safer place in the world for these Tamers. It wasn't every day a Mega magically appeared and offered her services, free of charge.

It also wasn't every day the same Mega turned to you and stomped all over everything that mattered to you.

He didn't know what to believe.

Ryo found himself in the room where they had the briefing a few hours ago. Silently he held up his broken hand, willing himself not to wince as he tried to flex bandaged fingers that should've been shattered, wishing they wouldn't move. He willed them not to. It didn't matter. He watched with a sick feeling in his stomach as they actually started to curl, fresh pain shooting up his hand. He was definitely healing faster than he should - with all the trauma he'd been putting it through since he'd punched out that window, it shouldn't be this far along and yet there it was, staring him in the face like a messed up joke. His other hand reached up and began to unwind the bandages around his forehead, where something, either glass or just general shrapnel, had been embedded.

The bloodied gauze fell to the floor.

Ryo hesitated, but he was already angry at himself for suddenly being this afraid, and he reached up, clapping a hand to the spot where the injury was. There was only a bump of knitting skin, not the gaping hole that should've been there. It was proof, at least, that the Knight of Thorns was right. There was something wrong with him. It wasn't as simple as it'd been a day before, when his biggest worry was getting Black Growlmon back and hoping he'd live long enough to see this mess through. So what if he was a fast healer? Ryo stared down at the bandages he didn't even need anymore. That didn't mean everything else the Royal Knight said was right too, was it?

But why would she lie?

If anything, she'd given him warning what to expect. Kinda.

Ryo had always prided himself on not being dragged down by family, by friends. He did things his way, got them done and that was that. He lasted longer in the Digital World than any of those nine original humans had, without their backup, without being watched by those in the Real World. All by himself. But sitting here, with Rosemon's words echoing in his head, Ryo finally knew what it really felt like to be alone.

It wasn't fun.

He reached up to touch the scar on his cheek. Why hadn't that healed all the way? If he was supposed to be some kind of not-human, not-Digimon freak, than was the deal with that? Why wasn't this even consistent? Was he defective? Lifting up his black shirt, he looked down at the ugly scar covering his chest and his side. He'd thought the attack was unprovoked, that his partner had suddenly turned wild and attacked him out of feral rage. Now he wasn't too sure. Ryo wished he'd waited on asking for the whole truth until after Odaiba.

After awhile, Ryo got to his feet and quietly headed back to the Lees. He wasn't on the best terms with Jenrya after the last fight with Black Growlmon, but he didn't really feel comfortable joining the other families either. He gazed down at the sleeping boy's face, mouth set in a line. It seemed like a long time ago that Jenrya had come up to him, all naively earnest, and said he'd be there if Ryo ever wanted to unload. If what Rosemon said was true about him, then...

He didn't know what he wanted to do. Even if he unloaded on Jenrya, what was he even going to say? He had no idea if what he thought happened was the real version of how things went down, especially when Rosemon said he'd somehow concealed this from everyone and himself. Especially himself. But whatever he'd done, apparently he could expect it to lose whatever power it had since he was in the Real World now. Apparently he had a pretty crappy warranty once he stepped outside the Digital World. Nice.

There was no telling if it'd just be bits and pieces or all at once, if he'd just remember this "truth" himself or if it'd be physical too, if one day he'd look in the mirror and no longer see Ryo Akiyama.

Ryo lay down uneasily. It took a long time to fall asleep.


Jenrya was awake by the time Alice and Dobermon came back. Despite being out all night, Alice looked exactly the same as she left, every hair in place, no sign of exhaustion in her pretty face. She slid down from Dobermon's back as dawn broke.

"Rosemon's right," she said calmly as she walked next to him in the tunnels. "They've set up base in Odaiba, near the Fuji TV station. Garurumon is guarding Rainbow Bridge with Kaminmon, Zudomon is in the bay patrolling, and I spotted Vajramon near Fuji TV, so it's possible Black Growlmon's being held there. We observed reinforcements arriving." She handed him a paper, sketched out with a precise hand.

Jenrya slowed as he studied it. It was a quick map of Odaiba and the surrounding bay. Five Brimpmon, forty Airdramon and Coredramon covered the skies. As the easiest way into Odaiba, Rainbow Bridge was even more heavily guarded, with Zudomon patrolling, Garurumon and Kaminmon stationed there and Jenrya guessed the other Digimon there probably answered to those two: there were a flock of Darcmon, one Diatrymon, one Reppamon. More Digimon in one place then he'd ever seen before. The list went on with more Champions. Jenrya stopped short when he saw what was on Dai-Roku Daiba, one of the battery islands. Vajramon had a Mega, too. There went their advantage. Chaosdramon was stationed on the battery island, probably to serve as artillery...but uncharacteristically, Alice had written a question mark there. He looked up to see her gazing at him expectantly.

"I think it was a Chaosdramon, but I've never seen one look like that before. He's probably the one with the strongest offensive and defensive abilities, but he has the disadvantage of being landlocked. He can't make it onto Odaiba-main."

Jenrya frowned, not even noticing Leomon passing by. The Champion paused, overhearing their conversation.

"You said it looked different?"

Alice described what Chaosdramon looked like. It was more armored than the typical one, two giant cannons off its back, all angles and metal, more so than the normal kind. Bigger and heavier too. It looked meaner, if that was even possible.

"He might have been infected by the 'X' virus," Leomon said. "Usually Digimon are deleted by the virus, but we've had the rare case where the victim survives and mutates. We call them 'X' Digimon."

"Chaosdramon X?" Jenrya asked. "Can Rosemon handle him?"

Leomon shrugged. "For a while, at least. They're not known to be too stable, however, perhaps from whatever antibody they have trying to fight off the 'X' virus. Don't worry about him," he clapped a hand on Jenrya's shoulder. Jenrya staggered under the weight. "That's their first mistake, deploying that particular Mega - they were so concerned for his defense that while it's difficult to get to him since he's surrounded by the sea, he himself won't be going anywhere. We'll just need to hit Odaiba and then he'll be unable to strike unless he's willing to risk friendly fire."

Jenrya shook his head. It seemed to him like just getting to Odaiba was going to be hard enough, but he knew he had to trust everyone to do their part. Already he could see some of the others heading for the end of the tunnel, coming the opposite way. He felt Rosemon before he saw her, that weird pressure like a wave pushing at him. He paused, keeping his distance. Ryo had been kneeling off to the side, putting some stuff in a backpack and checking the straps as the Mega stopped and knelt down next to him, too far away to hear anything. Ryo replied back, his face blank with that look Jenrya knew was him not telling the whole truth. She said something back...and Ryo was the first to look away, upset.

Jenrya looked down and pretended he was fishing for his cards in his pocket as he passed Rosemon and joined Ryo.

"Ready?" Jenrya asked.

Ryo looked up, black eyes unreadable. "Yeah." He paused, and Jenrya was sure he was going to tell him all over again this was a bad idea. "Sorry I've been a jerk." It came out in a rush, Ryo looking just as surprised as Jenrya. Flustered, Ryo's expression settled back into that neutral one and he made a point of staring Jenrya in the face almost confrontationally, unwilling to be the one to look away first. Without looking away - without even seeming to blink, either - the other boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a few cards, holding them out. "My best cards. I've had them since I was in the Digital World, so don't go dropping them or anything. Don't forget to combo them together."

Jenrya took them hesitantly. His eyes widened as he took a quick glance at them.

These were priceless, the kind you'd find behind collector cases; the set was slightly dog-eared, flecked with little dark-red spots, but these were the sorts of cards you didn't just go giving away whether or not they were in mint condition.

Watching Jenrya, Ryo's mouth opened like maybe he was going to say something but when the Tamer looked up again, he was just shrugging the backpack onto his shoulder and awkwardly waving away Jenrya's equally uncomfortable "thanks".

"Let's get this over with," Ryo mumbled.

Jenrya followed him outside where everyone was almost ready. Ruki rode on Kyuubimon, Alice on Dobermon. Rosemon stood with her arms across over her breastplate, with Leomon and Juri by her side. Gargomon turned as Jenrya joined them and waved. Ruki even had a smile on, which sort've creeped Jenrya out because she only got that way when she was expecting a good fight that was a long way coming. What made it worse was everyone was, again, looking at him like he was some kind of leader. Jenrya swallowed as he headed for Gargomon.

"Good luck," he said. No way was he going to be able to do a speech. "Don't forget, when you see the signal, we either have Black Growlmon or it's time to retreat."

"We'll get him," Rosemon had that same quiet, self-assured air as before. "It's not a question of if."


This wasn't the job that Diatrymon had signed up for.

Guard duty. Boring and, as she chatted to Reppamon, not exactly full of glory. So much for the promise of purging the humans here and having Glory and Honor (important, that Glory and Honor be in capitals – said so right on the posters they'd put up, the very same ones that convinced Diatrymon to biomerge here). Sometimes she wondered what the Council was really up to. The few humans she had killed hadn't seemed particularly evil to her, just…in the way. Harmless, really. Underfoot. Tended to run screaming at the sight of a few Digimon. Where were the tanks and other killing machines? The armies and viruses and malware and everything the Council said they were here to take out?

Diatrymon shifted her clawed legs. Watched the sun for a bit. Even craned her bird of prey's head, the armor plating gleaming, to preen under a wing. Bored, she preened the other wing just to be thorough.

She looked up just in time to see death bearing down on her. Diatrymon squawked a strangled alarm as Leomon blotted out the sun, his sword arcing. Diatrymon crumpled to the ground in two thumps before exploding into data.

So much for guard duty.


Ryo held on for dear life as Dobermon ran at full tilt across Rainbow Bridge. If there was a way for Alice to pull away from him, she would've. Instead she tolerated his arms around her waist. Barely.

It suddenly made a lot more sense why she wasn't exactly his biggest fan.

And maybe, just maybe, he thought she was right. If Rosemon was true, he was only a fake, in every sense of the word.

But instead Ryo kept his mouth shut, his knuckles white as he held onto Alice's waist, the two bouncing as Dobermon huffed and growled forward, claws sending pavement chips flying. The battle was already getting underway, fresh columns of smoke drifting up into the sky. As Ryo watched, a massive howling ball of light sailed through the air. It exploded into the harbor's water, the sea itself hissing and boiling as Chaosdramon X aimed a potshot at the party taking out Reppamon and missed. There was a deafening grinding of gears and metal as Chaosdramon X adjusted his position on the battery island, compensating for the targeting error. Ryo could hardly believe how downright big the Digimon was – it was so big it almost looked ridiculous. He couldn't even compute it, his mind kept wanting to blank out at the sheer mass.

"They should be drawing more of the forces away from the bridge," Dobermon yelled. "Hold on!"

Ryo tightened his legs around Doberman as the Digimon loped forward. Another blast of fire went overhead. Even from here he could feel the wave of heat, this solid thing pressing down on them, the air shimmering. Honestly, he was amazed they'd made it this far and that was before Chaosdramon X ground to a halt, his cannons lowering, adjusting, and then the muzzles flashed. There was a moment of silence, a puff of blinding light, and suddenly the air cracked open. A section of Rainbow Bridge vanished behind them. Chunks of pavement tumbled into the water. That was close! Ryo could feel his teeth rattling as they raced forward, risking a glance over his shoulder.

As he watched, a blur of red suddenly rocketed in the air at Chaosdramon X, looking so tiny and frail he expected Rosemon to bounce off.

Instead she hammered into the other Digimon like a bullet. His shoulder plate shattered into car sized chunks as he staggered, fell back, and almost crushed the battery island out from under him. Rosemon was relentless. She didn't wait for him to get to his feet. That whip arced out, looking like a string of silver. One of Chaosdramon X's shoulder cannons sparked and slid off as the Royal Knight pressed the attack. Out came the whip again. One of his shoulders seemed to be hanging off now by a thread of data, the roar turning pained as Roseman danced around the larger Digimon.

Even when a lucky shot caught her point blank, she kept on coming. Rosemon tumbled head over heels, righted herself, and charged through the smoke cloud to meet Chaosdramon X.

Ryo was reminded all over again why he was glad the Knight was on their side.

Glancing over his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of Alice checking her D-Arc. It displayed a general map of the area, with their little team tracked by glowing dots: Kyuubimon and Ruki were already further up ahead, with Jenrya still lagging with Gargomon because that was so Jenrya. Probably double and triple-checking something. Leomon was securing a foothold in one of the office buildings with Juri and if the map was right, it looked like some of Vajramon's forces were starting to pull back in a tight ring around where they assumed Black Growlmon was being kept. Ryo was privately amazed they'd even made it this far. Maybe, just maybe, they'd underestimated the strength of a Royal Knight and they'd actually make it through this. So much for their artillery!

But that was now. Actually getting to Black Growlmon, though…


Jenrya couldn't believe this was going as well as it was. In fact, he was surprised they made it through the first line of guards. After the luck they'd had so far, he kept waiting for this to fall on its face.

They were bringing up the rear, and had barely crossed Rainbow Bridge before it got taken out. Concrete and suspension cables splashed into the sea. Jenrya couldn't tell if Chaosdramon X was actively aiming or working on a close enough kind of thing. Either way, they had no choice but to go forward and press in. Hopefully with all of them hitting the island at once, they could distract Vajramon long enough to get the job done. That's what Ryo had called it. A "job".

Gargomon deposited him on the floor near a dumpster as they took cover from one of the second-line guards. One Darcmon, trying to keep them pinned down so that whatever was left of that flock of hers could catch up. The digital field's spreading fog made it hard to see more than a few meters out, even with his glasses. Jenrya began flipping through his cards, ducking instinctively as shrapnel bounced off the wall a few meters up. Gargomon popped up, returned fire, and then ducked back down next to his partner. He panted slightly, but even now managed one of those smiles of his, soot covered bunny face and all.

"I think we're doing pretty good! Y'know, considering I thought we were gonna be creamed for sure."

"So we're slightly less creamed?" Jenrya's tone was dry. He huddled up against the wall and held up a card. "Ready?"

Gargomon bared his teeth in a grin. "You bet."

Jenrya slashed the card. "Digi-Modify! Slot Blast!"

One of Gargomon's gun-arms glowed, the metal casing expanding with a thrum that Jenrya could feel in his teeth and rotating out into sectioned plates. Gargomon didn't even have to really aim with the upgrade: all he had to do was point and shoot and suddenly they were minus a wall across from them. There wasn't even rubble – it wasn't there. The screech of the Darcmon and the clatter of her sword told them that he'd more or less got a direct hit, the sharp scent of ozone wafting as she flopped out leaking data. A large chunk of her wing and side had been vaporized. Sparks of data spiraled off as she spit and snarled curses at them, in no position to fight back.

Gargomon trained his gun on her, Jenrya hesitating. He should do it. Call it. Gargomon would do it if he did. Ryo would probably be pushing him to finish the job and say this was a war, that the Digital World had started it.

"You're a traitor!" Darcmon squawked. Her fingers clawed at the ground, too-green eyes glaring up in pain at them through her helm's slits. "Nothing but a traitor!"

She cut herself off, choking up more data. It drifted up and dissipated. She probably only had minutes. Jenrya suddenly felt sorry for her, even though he knew she'd have no problems trying to wipe them off the map if she could. Despite whatever Ryo might've said, he wondered what made her come here – what she'd risked leaving behind to go on a mission for some Council she'd probably never even met. Just how bad was it there that this was better? And that was before he really looked at her, and realized that it wasn't just rage and pain and that she really did see him as poison.

Darcmon was scared. She knew she was dying. Everyone did. Gargomon deleting her would be overkill.

The terrified look she shot at Gargomon said all it needed to: she didn't want to be deleted and uploaded.

Jenrya suddenly thought she didn't want to be deleted at all. Whatever she'd told herself about being deleted for the cause, now she was having second thoughts.

"You," Darcmon's eyes fixed on Gargomon. "We need – we need more of you to…"

She coughed and writhed.

"Filth, you should be fighting by our side!" Whatever was left of Darcmon's wings gave a weak flutter. "It's their fault the X-"

She couldn't finish what she was saying. Darcmon froze, stiffened, and began to fade away into data, the streams spiraling off. Jenrya glanced over at Gargomon, only to find his partner was looking at him, no longer smiling. Yeah, he understood how he felt. Jenrya looked away at the accusing glare, her words ringing. When he looked back, she was gone.

A small egg sat there.

Jenrya had to brace himself against Gargomon as the ground shook under their feet. The others were still out there fighting and if they wanted to get to Black Growlmon, they'd have to get going before the rest of Darcmon's sisters arrived.

"Let's take her with us," Gargomon said, subdued. "Okay?"

Jenrya was thinking the same thing. If they left the egg here, there was a really big chance something would happen to it with all the fighting out there. "Okay."

Crouching down, he picked up the egg. It was smaller than he would've thought: about the size of a grapefruit, and almost burning to the touch, stripes slashing across its surface. He stuffed the egg in his backpack, swinging it around so he could cradle it in his arms before Gargomon picked him up. Jenrya had no idea what they would do with the egg, when it would hatch - if it would hatch at all.

Just felt like the right thing to do.


Ryo hoped Jenrya had this under control. Far as he could tell, everyone was still in one piece and they were doing way, way, way better than he expected.

So far.

Ryo hunkered down next to the back door of Fuji TV, Alice next to him, almost close enough to brush shoulders and even now somehow still able to give that impression she was leaning away from having to touch him. Time to pull his weight as the one Tamer without a partner. Ryo figured he'd had all this experience running away and worming into places he didn't belong that this wasn't any different. In fact, he was probably the best qualified here.

It sounded easy on paper. Sneak in on foot and scope out the place himself, make sure Black Growlmon was there and check for any extra guards, any changes in the intel from last night. Anything that they could use. He figured Alice had seen what he had: Garurumon hadn't been near the bridge. Neither had Kaminmon. If that had changed, what else was different?

"If I see anything or I need to get picked up, I'll hit you with this," Ryo patted his D-Arc. He saw Alice's eyes flicker down to it with recognition, her pretty little face darkening. For a moment, she had an ugly look, like she wanted to swat it out of his hands.

Alice's face smoothed over. "You do that. We'll be there."

She didn't say anything like "don't get killed" or "be safe" or even "good luck". She just turned away from him and began consulting her D-Arc, checking on Dobermon's progress and working out her card combos with an efficiency that was both graceful and borderline robotic. Ryo took that as his cue to get going.

It was getting closer to street-fighting at this point, whatever was left of Vajramon's guard digging in and fighting smarter. Ryo darted across the alley, keeping to the shadows and as light on his feet as he could. He pressed himself against the wall as something flashed overhead – Rosemon – and slammed into one of the Brimpmon trying to fly out of range. If she was gunning after them, he had to assume she'd dealt with Chaosdramon X, or crippled him enough that he was licking his wounds. That was great and all, but at this point, Ryo was dying to know what Vajramon was doing, and hey, why don't you throw in Zudomon while you were at it? You think a huge walrus with a stupidly big hammer would be hard to lose.

He didn't dare break a window, even with the explosions seeming to go off closer and closer. Ryo waited until he could find one that had already been shattered by shrapnel, careful to mind the glass shards and working his way along the walls inside. He held his breath, hearing his heart going at it in his chest. It took him awhile to find the fire escape, Ryo navigating his way through the rubble and overturned desks, half expecting to run into a Digimon lurking in the shadows. They should be out there fighting, but…

Ryo swallowed. Alone like this and it was starting to bring back some of Digital World. All the sneaking around, living from day to day. Hoping that shadow really was just a shadow. Hoping Cyberdramon would bust in and not –

- and turn on him because he finally looked hard and saw that -

He paled without realizing it, licking his lips. Took a breath. Ignored the two seconds of vertigo. Kept on trucking. Ryo picked his way up the stairs, stepping over what smelled an awful lot like something dead that had been here way too long, and came out on the fourth floor. The air here was choked with the smell of brimstone and ashes: Black Growlmon, if he had to place bets. If he was here, he was close by. Ryo paused by one of the windows, glancing out. The Brimpmon the Royal Knight had charged was now sinking fast in the sky, listing over as pieces of useless propeller crashed to the ocean below.

It was around the walkway that Ryo hit the jackpot. Creeping up to peek through the corner of the window, he caught a glimpse of Black Growlmon down below, literally spitting fire and looking steamed as he struggled against the chains tethering him in place, unable to talk with the muzzle in place. Apparently he hadn't bought the whole song and dance Vajramon must've told him.

Ryo almost wanted to slap him on the back. Then he remembered he'd probably get his head bitten off if he ever got that close.

As he watched, Black Growlmon craned his head to follow the battle above him. A yellow snake's eye contracted, then dilated. His nostrils flared. Tossing his head, he went back to jerking at the restraints like the world depended on it.

Yeah, you keep doing that, buddy, Ryo thought. Knock yourself out.

First half of his job done, Ryo focused on ninjaing out again. It bothered him Vajramon wasn't right there trying to brainwash Black Growlmon into being useful and he guessed it was possible maybe he'd run off to deal with the Tamers himself. All the more reason to haul butt back to Alice. The building by now was shaking every couple minutes, one of them hard and close enough to knock him to his knees. Picking himself up, Ryo struggled not to cough on the dust. Direct hit on the building somewhere. Trying to move faster, Ryo opened the door to the fire escape and found that his way back had collapsed. Great.

He'd have to pick find another way down. The dust was thick in the air, forcing Ryo to cover his mouth with his sleeve as he felt his way along the walls. Place like this had to have more than one fire escape, right? He was so busy focusing on trying not to cough that he almost didn't see the shapes up ahead. The voices nearby caught his attention. Ryo caught himself and stopped, barely daring to breathe.

"I've swept for any enemy Digimon. We're still clear. Are you sure it's almost primed?"

It was that ugly one's voice – Kaminmon. The Digimon Renamon and Ruki were totally gunning for. The one that was all tusks and a horse's skeleton twisted in on itself. From here Kaminmon was a bony shadow, his back to Ryo. His tail swished in agitation, those blue eyes of his fixed on the Digimon he was bossing around. They were a bunch of Rookies Alice's report hadn't accounted for, so small that they'd probably been holed up inside Fuji TV for who knew how long.

"Positive!" One of the Rookies said.

"How long?"

"A few minutes to finish up and then we can start the countdown," the same one said. Probably the leader. To his credit, he wasn't cowering in front of Kaminmon's ugly mug. "How long do you need?"

"Long enough for us to get out of ground zero."

"We can do that. Easy-peasy."

To Ryo's surprise, Kaminmon sounded almost…regretful? It was downright freaky coming out of him. "My Mistress isn't here to thank you for your sacrifice, but I'd like to pay my respects."

"Don't mention it. Least we could do." The Rookie fell silent for a moment, tinkering away. "It's pretty bad back home, you know."

"How bad?"

"It's been spreading and …"

The Digimon continued to talk some more, but Ryo heard enough to decide he didn't like where this was going. It sounded seriously like trap material here. As in "bait in the Tamers and blow them sky high" trap material. Fun stuff. Maybe they'd got tired of letting the humans run around blaspheming all over the place; y'know, the usual. Looked like Vajramon planned to sacrifice some of his forces and they'd book it with Black Growlmon before this bomb – or whatever it was – went off in their faces.

Not exactly evil mastermind level stuff, but Ryo had to admit, it seemed effective to him. Nice and straightforward.

It might even explain why Black Growlmon was trying so hard to free himself. Obviously he wanted the honors of killing Jenrya and uploading Terriermon himself, so of course he wasn't backing this.

Ryo started to inch away, his D-Arc signaling to Alice, when his heel kicked against a piece of broken rebar on the floor he'd missed in the dust. It went skittering. Kaminmon whipped around.

Yeah, he was in trouble.


Gargomon groaned. "Him again?"

"Me again," Garurumon bared his fangs. He blocked the way further at the base of the Daikanransha Ferris Wheel, eyes blazing. "I was hoping I would run into you two. Maybe this time you'll see what it's like to be free!"

Those tails of his lashed again, whipping himself into a snarling frenzy. The Wolf pawed at the ground, that blue fire from before swirling around his muzzle as he paced back and forth like a caged beast. Suddenly he danced to the side and snapped to face them:

"Howling Blaster!"

His target wasn't Gargomon. Instead Garurumon shifted his head to the side:


Gargomon clumsily threw himself to the side to protect his partner. The blast glanced off his gun arms and splashed into his face, a chill burning into his chest and past his fur. Garurumon didn't wait for them to recover – he definitely wasn't going to wait for Jenrya to slash a card – and he barreled right at them, that same blue fire now blazing around his muzzle again.

"Freezing Fang!"

He was only feet away when something slammed right back into him with all the force of a train, sending the Wolf sprawling with a yip. Jenrya rushed to try to put out the patches of Gargomon's fur that were still smoldering, risking a glance up. Leomon was covered head to toe in soot and it took a second to realize Juri was jumping down from his back and sliding down to help Jenrya.

"Think I'm okay," Gargomon said from the ground, only it was more of a pained wheeze. His teeth chattered. "I'm not on fire, am I?"

"We can handle this," Juri crouched down next to Jenrya. "You – "

Leomon let out a bone-splitting roar. They turned in time to see the librarian draw his sword, quick as lightning, and deflect the attack. Garurumon snarled in rage. This time he'd taken a potshot at Juri. The fire flared harmlessly to the side to spray against a shed nearby and suddenly there wasn't a shed, just a pile of frost-covered ash.

Garurumon's targeting us.

It hit him then. They were a liability unless they could get some breathing space, all because Garurumon thought they were the bigger threat than anything else. Gargomon had pushed himself shakily to his knees.

"Could use a boost," Gargomon wobbled to his feet. "Something that has payback written all over it, okay?"

Jenrya nodded, trying to keep a level head and not focus on how Gargomon was staggering and looking like he'd like a good nap right there on the spot, or how his fur was singed and blackened in places. He rifled through his cards as Leomon kept his opponent busy. The two were dancing around each other, temporarily at a stalemate: Garurumon trying to sneak past and get to the humans and Leomon blocking him at each turn. They clashed with the deafening sound of sword meeting fangs, Garurumon trying to worry the weapon right out of Leomon's hands. The next second he fell back, feinted to the side, and tried to rush at Juri again. Leomon met him again with a roar. Sparks flew as metal ground against the Wolf's teeth.

Leomon threw his weight forward. His muscles bunched as he strained to hold his ground.

"Garurumon! You don't have to do this! Remember what Yamato Ishida meant to you!"

If there was anything that could distract Garurumon, it was that. Even snarling around the blade, he looked like he'd been kicked in the gut. Surprise and hurt flashed across his face. The last one to come was anger, boiling over as Garurumon's eyes went wild.

"He means nothing to me!" It was almost a scream. Garurumon threw himself at Leomon all over, forgetting about the children entirely.

Jenrya took the opening Leomon gave him. Both he and Juri slashed their cards at the same time:

"Digi-Modify! Defense Plug-In G, activate!"

"Digi-Modify! Sniper Phantom, activate!"

Gargomon sighted the scope on Garurumon. Even going berserk, Garurumon knew a bad deal when he saw one, the Wolf suddenly letting go of the sword and dancing backward, making sure to keep Leomon between him and Gargomon as a living shield. The shot narrowly missed Garurumon as he darted around the base of the Ferris Wheel.

Leomon turned to give Juri a look and a nod, and then took off after Garurumon. Jenrya was already checking through his guards and Gargomon hung back – in the shape he was in and the fact that Garurumon was all for taking out the humans first if he thought he could get away with it, it made way more sense for him to stand guard. At least with the Sniper Phantom, he'd get the drop on Garurumon instead of the other way around.

"Don't worry, Jenrya," Gargomon said over his shoulder. "We've got this!"


Ryo hit the floor with a thud that knocked the wind right out of him. He didn't even see Kaminmon turn and nail him with his tail, only registered suddenly being on the floor and the taste of blood pooling his mouth from where he'd bit himself, his shoulder feeling like it'd been popped right out of the socket. He spit the coppery taste out, rolled onto his back, and…found Ugly looming over him.

"I've been waiting for a chance to get one of you to myself," Kaminmon said. The shapeshifter straddled Ryo, hooves on either side. "Can't have you running back to the others, can we?"

Trying to regain his breath, Ryo caught a glimpse of the Rookies peering at him around their pet project. None of them looked like they were willing to suddenly jump ship, the lead engineer even smiling. Justice. Yeah, he guessed this was all justice to them. According to them, humans had brought the X-Virus with them…right there with everything ever that was wrong in the Digital World. Because humans were totally the boogie monsters to all the Rookie boys and girls these days.

"Make it count," the leader Rookie chanted, sounding alive instead of resigned like before. "Make it count for us!"

Kaminmon sucked in a breath through his deformed fangs. "Oh, I will. It's a shame we don't have more time." He planted a hoof with deliberate care onto Ryo's shoulder, leaning down. Ryo grunted as pain bloomed out underneath the weight. "I suppose I will have to kill you quickly. It's more than filth like you deserve."

The Digimon pressed down harder, Ryo's vision whiting out as the pain evolved into something else entirely. He felt something crack under the pressure and heard someone cry out. Him. It was him. Jeez, he sounded like roadkill, he thought vaguely. Even writhing away instinctively he couldn't throw Kaminmon's full weight off him. Without realizing it, Ryo grabbed at whatever of Kaminmon he could, hands white-knuckling around his hocks. It was the blind kinda thing you did when you were hopped up on adrenaline.

Kaminmon jerked away from his touch, tearing his leg out of Ryo's grip.

The hoof came down again. This time Ryo lost full use of his arm as it went limp on him. Before he could flail around with the other one, one of the Rookies scurried over and held him down. Kaminmon tossed his mane.

"I won't have you spreading your contamination to me," Kaminmon said. "Nice try."

Ryo wanted to laugh in Kaminmon's face. Contamination? Did the idiot think he was infected with the X-Virus? That only applied to – oh. Digimon. And, maybe, just maybe, anything else digital. For all he knew, he'd been infected, and it was going haywire with whatever else kept him ticking. All he knew was he couldn't use the "I'm a full-blooded human" as a defense here, not since last night. Ryo settled for glaring back up at Kaminmon, trying to keep a game face on. Best he could do. The joker wanted to see him react.

Kaminmon lifted his hoof and positioned it over Ryo's head.

He had a feeling Ugly was going to drag his death out as much as he could, fast or not. Probably his sick way of making it up to the Rookies who'd signed up for a suicide mission.

"I wouldn't, if I were you. Grau Lärm!"

Kaminmon jerked up at Dobermon's voice. Ryo opened his eyes just in time to see Dobermon tilt his head back and howl. The effect was instant – Kaminmon backed away with a whine, shaking his head from side to side and spitting curses. The Rookie pinning him down scuttled off, leaving Ryo to get rescued by one of the last people on Earth who wanted to play hero for him. He managed to throw out his arm as Alice leaned down, Dobermon sprinting past. He had to kick with his leg to get settled behind Alice, and it was all he could do not get thrown off as Dobermon turned and booked it out of there like hell was on his heels. It took him a second to realize they'd come back for him; probably tracked him with the D-Arc, which was cool, except -

"Turn around!" Ryo yelled into Alice's ear. "Take out the Rookies!"


"Just do it!"

To her credit, Alice didn't argue. They were wheeling around and charging back the way they came the next second, Dobermon easily leaping over the ruins of a desk. Ryo hoped they'd make it.

It wasn't turning out to be their day. By the time they made it back, Kaminmon had recovered his abilities and now he was playing it by the Good Little Minion's Handbook: he'd ushered the last of the Rookies through that portal of his already with their mystery bomb and he was about to canter in himself. He turned as they came at him, flashed them his dentist's nightmare of a grin, and vanished into the portal with a smug flick of his tail. Dobermon skidded to a halt.

"It's probably a short jump if they're still planning on setting it off on Odaiba," Ryo gritted his teeth. By some miracle he was still holding onto Alice with his good arm. "But at this point they could be anywhere."

"We'll have to warn the others," Dobermon said as he turned. "Black Growlmon?"

"He's under the walkways. Are you serious?"

Alice shifted in front. "He's what we're here for. Did you at least find out the blast radius of this device?"

"Sure, Kaminmon was going to tell me before he caved in my skull," Ryo spat back.

"We'll have to assume at least all of Odaiba," said Alice, unfazed. "If it is a trap, they'd want to make sure we were at ground zero before any detonation."

Dobermon gave them a warning to hold on as they charged at one of the windows. They landed on the ground outside, Ryo about to say that maybe they should be making sure all their escape routes were still open when he cut himself off. He didn't think there was much to surprise him anymore, but seeing the Daikanransha epically going down was pretty up there. A series of explosions went off at the Ferris Wheel's base, each bigger than the last, blue fire rippling up the seams like the world's biggest fireworks display going off at once and lighting it up from its very core.

Ryo shielded his eyes from the flash.

Less than a blink later, and the whole structure imploded on itself.

"It's Leomon, Juri, Gargomon, and Jenrya," Alice consulted her D-Arc. A blast of energy seared through the air before she finished speaking, needle thin, and yet even from here Ryo could smell the ozone from that one. It pierced through the debris cloud where the Ferris Wheel had been. This time there was a loud animal's whine that translated to a snarl.

If those four were tag-teaming like that, then Ryo figured they might still have a fight on their hands. He tried to ignore the feeling of a timer already ticking away…


"I tagged him!" Gargomon crowed.

Despite the sucker punch before, actually getting a shot on the Wolf had done way more for him than any upgrades Jenrya could've given. Gargomon's arm glowed before returning to its normal size.

Jenrya was starting to feel better about this again. He'd never really fought next to Juri before, but she was focused in a way that he could see his martial arts teacher nodding and going she'd do well in one of my classes. Some of her card choices were…weird (he was starting to suspect she might be going off the pictures), but they were so weird it somehow worked. Anyway, they were enough to keep Garurumon off-guard and give them some breathing space.

He wished they hadn't taken out the Daikanransha while they were at it.

Garurumon vanished again through the cloud of smoke and rubble, limping badly, and howling for reinforcements who would probably be here in minutes. Leomon dropped back to join them as Jenrya checked his D-Arc. The number of enemy Digimon on Odaiba were halved, but for some reason a lot of the aerial forces kept out of the fight and were now pulled back to hover over the mainland. He could see the blip of Rosemon heading over to join Ruki and Kyuubimon.

Dobermon was breathing hard when he joined them, his flanks slick with sweat as he snorted and came to skidding stop. "We've found Black Growlmon!"

Jenrya's face lit up. "Really?"

"Don't get too excited," Ryo chimed up. He looked like he'd been rolled into a dirt pit and then kicked back out, his face covered with a layer of gray dust. He was holding himself awkwardly and didn't slide off Dobermon. "He's the bait. Odaiba's a trap."

"I already told Ruki. Rosemon's on her way to clear them," Alice added. Jenrya could see that going down well – Ruki and Kyuubimon weren't the type to be the first to leave a fight and he could picture Ruki spitting fire about it.

"Probably got one shot at this. Either he comes or he doesn't."

"Garurumon's called in some friends," Jenrya said and knew before he finished speaking that Garurumon wasn't even on the table.

Ryo shook his head. "Bet you anything he's not even coming back. Even he's not that gung-ho to get deleted. C'mon!"

The group set out, Dobermon in the lead and rushing. Jenrya had no idea how this would turn out. They'd made it this far and it really had been too easy….but this was probably their one last chance to get Black Growlmon back. Jenrya focused on holding onto Gargomon as they charged Fuji TV. Gargomon was all focus now like the others and there was next to no talking. If this was a trap, Jenrya couldn't see Vajramon sticking around to hold the fort either, if he was even still on Odaiba. Then again, this was an Ultimate they were talking about. Maybe he could ride it out.

They hit the plaza, Fuji TV's distinctive globe hanging overhead.

Vajramon stood over Black Growlmon with Kaminmon by his side, the shackles around the prisoner's legs removed. One of those portals was already open. Vajramon snorted and cantered forward, not at all nervous about the fact he was badly outnumbered. Jenrya could feel that swell of energy around him like before.

"Ah, so I'm sure you've figured it out by now," Vajramon said. He hadn't bothered to unsheathe the twin swords at his side. "Not entirely surprising. You Tamers are more resourceful than we anticipated."

Kaminmon hissed in the back, Black Growlmon making angry noises behind his muzzle. Vajramon ignored them.

"I'd even give you the honor of fighting me personally, but we're on something of a schedule."

Jenrya could feel Black Growlmon's eyes pick him out of the group, settling on him and…staying there. He'd stopped struggling. Now he zeroed in on Jenrya, Jenrya doing his best not to get too creeped out.

Jenrya surprised himself by speaking up. Even Ryo looked pretty close to gaping at what came out of Jenrya's mouth.

"Or maybe you're running because Rosemon's on her way and you're afraid of her like everyone else."

There was a long moment of silent, Vajramon's eyes narrowing. His tail flicked to slap against his flank, one of his hands now resting on the pommel of his sword. Jenrya had hit a nerve he hadn't known was there. But it wasn't just anger at this point. An Ultimate like Vajramon knew no matter what connections he had, he didn't stand a chance against a Mega like Rosemon if it was one-on-one. That tail flick was both anger and nervousness. Vajramon wanted to get out of Dodge after all.

"Her actions haven't gone unnoticed," Vajramon said. "You should be more worried about yourselves."

With that, he wheeled around and cantered through the swirling portal Kaminmon kept open for him. Kaminmon snapped at Black Growlmon. "You're next. I'll cover us."

Jenrya could see that Black Growlmon was on the edge, his head weaving as he glanced at the portal and then at Jenrya, like he was sensing this might be his last chance to get at the human. They all knew how he was itching to kill him, he'd made that clear the first time they'd ran into each other. It suddenly dawned on Jenrya what he had to do.

He felt like dirt. "Black Growlmon! Are you really going to let him get the last shot at me?"

The Shadow was on the verge of making a decision, wavering on that knife's edge. Jenrya only had to push a little more.

"Come with us and you can get all the cracks you want at me. It beats this, doesn't it?"

That did it. Black Growlmon suddenly lunged away from his bodyguard, his head low as he charged the Tamers.

"No! What are you doing, you idiot!" Kaminmon's blue eyes went wide. He darted forward to sink his fangs into the meat of his charge's tail and started to drag him back. Black Growlmon roared in pain.

That was the signal for the group to dog pile on Kaminmon. Gargomon was the first to attack, followed by Dobermon. The first salvo of gunfire convinced Kaminmon to let go of Black Growlmon, the red beams of the Schwartz Strahl lancing out and forcing him to leap and dodge back even further. Leomon blocked Black Growlmon before he could make it to Jenrya, catching him with his claws.

"Think about it!" Leomon snarled into Black Growlmon's face, only inches away. "If you waste your energy trying to kill him now, you won't be able to save yourself and find your Tamer!"

Jenrya couldn't make out Black Growlmon's response with the muzzle in place, but it was probably as freaky as last time. That yellow eye of his fixed on Jenrya, burning with hate, but after what seemed like an eternity he eventually stopped trying to shove Leomon aside with brute strength. Jenrya was glad all over that Vajramon hadn't removed restraints on his arms. With his arms and jaws free, it might've been a different story.

Kaminmon was doing his best to hold his ground, trying to fight his way back to his charge. Now that he was over the initial surprise, he was already starting to recover, shaking past Dobermon's jaws snapping in for the kill, and about two seconds from going all out on Gargomon, his wings opening for another attack.

There was a low, rolling bong then, a sound like a big bell ringing close by. Kaminmon's wings perked. He immediately began backing away.

"Fine. Die with them if you insist!" Kaminmon hissed. He turned and jumped through his portal as it snapped shut behind him.

Jenrya didn't have to tell everyone to move. Whatever the trap was, that was probably the signal. Gargomon picked him up like he weighed nothing and began booking it toward Rainbow Bridge with the others. Dobermon was the first to pull away as the fastest, Black Growlmon lagging behind almost as if he was keeping a possessive eye on "his" future kill. Jenrya tried to ignore the saliva trail oozing down out of the muzzle's seams, like the Champion was drooling at the thought, and turned to look to his right. Leomon had Juri on his back again, the girl's forehead smeared with soot. She had that shell-shocked look that said she was still getting used to being a Tamer. There hadn't been much time for her to get used to it before she got shoved into a battle.

He focused on the escape. If they didn't find a way off Odaiba fast, then they were going down with it.

"Head's up!" Ryo yelled.

Jenrya looked up. The remaining Darcmon had caught up, the flock soaring overhead, their shadows flitting on the street. Instead of attacking, they flew right over them and it took a moment for Jenrya to realize where they were going – they were blocking off one of the tunnels, closing the escape routes still left fast. His hunch was right as they pounded down the pavement only to find the tunnel entrance blocked by still-smoking rubble. The Darcmon were flying faster than they could run. Jenrya bit his lip, trying to think of ways out. He hadn't really gone that much to Odaiba before and now he wished he had. If Ryo knew any way to ninja out, he wasn't sharing, and it was one of the rare times Jenrya had seen Ryo looking about as lost as he was.

Alice came to the same conclusion. "Rosemon's on her way, but even if she arrives on time, she can't carry all of us!"

Jenrya refused to say what everyone else was thinking. Their best bet was whatever remained of Rainbow Bridge. Maybe they could swim across. It sounded flimsy even to him, but since none of them could fly, there weren't many other options and it was at least trying something. He could feel Gargomon's breathing as they ran, his hand reaching up to touch his soft fur. The gun-bunny looked down at it him, offered him a tired smile, and kept on running. Whatever happened, they were in it together.

They reached the Odaiba side of Rainbow Bridge after what felt like forever. It was probably only a few minutes, but he kept waiting for the other ball to drop and for Odaiba to start imploding out from under them or something.

And just like that, he was totally proven right. Fuji TV flashed behind them.

It distorted upward like someone had grabbed it, digital lines flashing along its surface, the building a silhouette next to the tower of pulsing light that shot up to touch the barrier. With a snap it squashed down onto Fuji TV; steel screamed, the gas lines exploding as the buildings were pulled down on top of them, that invisible piston punching it down under sea level. The whole island shook. The digital lines began to spread like an infection, grabbing at anything they could reach and dragging them into the chasm growing where Fuji TV had been. Jenrya could hear the roar of the water rushing into the pit even from here. The aftershock hit them, a blast of Other, surprisingly cold and alien, that made the skin of his arms raise in goose bumps, and nearly bowled over Gargomon – he could feel his partner staggering and trying not to fall on him or the egg. For a second Jenrya saw digital after-images burned before his eyes.

It was sink or swim at this point. Literally.

The digital net spread and spread fast, gobbling up Odaiba into the pit. Most of Rainbow Bridge had been taken out by Chaosdramon X already. The Airdramon left concentrated their fire on whatever was left on their side. The barrage was nonstop, their mouths a glowing line. Jenrya didn't even know how they were going to face that. All he knew was if they made it that far, he'd be surprised.

"Hold on!" Gargomon shouted. There was a second to grab onto his fur as Gargomon took a running start at Rainbow Bridge's rubble and jumped off. Jenrya had a glimpse of Black Growlmon almost on top of them before they hit the water.

The cold smacked into him, Jenrya choking on sea water until the next moment they bobbed up. Without Jenrya weighing him down, Gargomon could've probably swam a lot faster, but he refused to let go of his human. Jenrya spit up sea water as he was carried along, looking to his left and getting a bad shock when he saw Black Growlmon only a yard away – the Shadow was doing pretty good considering he was still shackled at the arms, his head raised up so he could breathe, his tail slashing at the water and making him look like the meanest crocodile to ever exist. The others splashed into the ocean after Jenrya.

The current was strong, the kind which tugged and tried to pull you under, Gargomon having to fight to keep any forward momentum. Leomon looked like he'd manage, but Dobermon was carrying two. Alice and Ryo were barely able to keep their heads above the water.

We're not gonna make it.

Jenrya tried to use his free arm to splash along with Gargomon; he knew in the back of his head it wouldn't help him swim much faster, but still. Trying not to drown shot so fast up his priority list that he forgot about the bomb or the Airdramon waiting for them. He was so busy trying to do something, anything, that Jenrya didn't immediately register the splash ahead of him. It was the suddenly hot water churning into his face that made him look up.

The Darcmon flock circled overhead. Now that the Tamers were all stuck in the water, they were having a little fun keeping them from going any further. One of them hefted her sword, the weapon glowing white hot. She cawed out something to her sisters, who responded with a peal of laughter, and spun her blade with a flourish of her wrist before she took aim.

The giant hammer flying through the air shut her up.

Darcmon exploded into a cloud of data as the warhammer ripped through the flock, boomeranging back to its owner. Jenrya tried to blink the sea water out of his eyes, not sure if he could believe his eyes. Several hundred yards out a huge hand emerged from the water, the hammer smacking into its palm with a meaty thunk. Jenrya couldn't believe what he was seeing. Zudomon? If he didn't know better, he'd say the Ultimate was helping them.

The feeling of something settling under Gargomon's feet answered that question. Jenrya clung to his partner as something surged up underneath everyone's feet, pushing up against the water with enough force to make that tidal current a joke. Whatever it was, it was massive.

"Ice!" Gargomon shouted. He fought to keep standing as the ice continued to push up.

The glacier bridge forming between them and the mainland crackled underneath their weight. It probably wouldn't hold forever and looking around frantically for Zudomon, Jenrya realized he might as well give up. The ocean was too choppy to make out any sign of Zudomon, the foam swirling past the ice bridge's columns toward whatever was left of Odaiba. For some reason one of their enemies had given them a way out, no questions asked. They might as well take it.

Dobermon once again led the group, Alice and Ryo clinging on. Jenrya spit out the last of the sea water as Gargomon pounded away, trying to ignore the heavier footsteps of Black Growlmon behind them.

"Hurry, Tamers!" Rosemon had caught up to them, a red and black streak in the air. If she was surprised at Zudomon's help, she wasn't showing it. "Don't look back! We'll handle the Airdramon!"

The Royal Knight dipped lower in her descent as she spoke, her battle-torn cloak snapping violently in the wind. She went for the humans, plucking Ryo and then Juri in each hand before tilting her face up and rocketing up and away.

Jenrya had to resist the urge do exactly what she said they shouldn't. He failed.

He looked back.

His face paled.


Ryo didn't think he was afraid of heights, but when you were shooting up hundreds of feet all of a sudden, you totally had second thoughts.

Somehow he didn't puke.

Ryo craned his head, trying to make sure Rosemon had a good hold on his shirt. The Royal Knight gave him a scare when she let go for a split second, his stomach dropping out as she looped her arm around his chest and caught him again, this time in a better grip than before, as if he was a sack of flour and that was it. He could see why she'd picked him up – he was injured, weighing Dobermon down – but Juri? Glancing over, he caught the look on her face. She didn't know either. Then again, she was probably too busy clinging onto the Knight's arm for dear life to start asking questions.

The bridge and the ocean below continued to get smaller and smaller.

"Where're Ruki and Kyuubimon?" Ryo had to holler himself hoarse to be heard over the wind. "They're going to get creamed out on that thing!"

"In place. I told you we would take care of the air support. Now be silent."

Ryo's mouth snapped shut. When a Mega told you to stop mouthing off, you tended to do it. Or at least give it a rest.

Up this high he finally had a chance to get a good look at Odaiba. Or what's left of it, he thought, because that was all you could say about the place. It was going down. What started out as an explosion at Fuji TV had expanded into a giant digital sinkhole big enough to dwarf Chaosdramon X several times over, the ocean rushing into the chasm. Huge waterfalls tumbled into the sinkhole and then blipped out with the pop-hiss of static. If it wasn't for Zudomon's help, the Tamers would've been pulled right into it. As he watched, more of those digital lines slapped up against building after building: pulling in apartments, parking structures, anything it could keep its hands onto. Those Rookies he'd seen had must've been deleted instantly.

Most of the island was gone. The ice bridge itself was already under attack, the first support where Zudomon saved them now twitching and then collapsing into data.

Rosemon didn't turn to look. The Airdramon had shifted at seeing their prey on the verge of escaping the trap and were now gathering to fire salvos at the bridge where its ice engulfed a dock. So fare they didn't notice the Royal Knight…

"Excellent," Rosemon said. "Hang on!"

Ryo took a page out of Juri's book and clung onto Rosemon as best he could. He had the impression of wind rushing past his ears, his eyes watering, and suddenly they were diving toward the mass of Airdramon. The Airdramon scattered at the sight of a Mega, some of them turning on their tails and trying to shoot at the blur.

Kyuubimon's voice rang out below. "Foxtail Inferno!"

Blue fire sprayed up from the ground and blasted into the Airdramon who'd fled lower than they should have. Sensing they were under attack from multiple fronts, the Airdramon spread out, their formation disintegrating as those at the edge wavered. For all Ryo knew, they were reconsidering this whole biomerging thing. It was one thing to round up some humans with sheer numbers at your back. Doing it with a Mega and her allies wasn't worth being deleted for. Several of the Airdramon outright ran away, booking it for the hills.

"They won't get far," said Rosemon. She ignored the rest as she descended, cradling her passengers gently.

When they landed, Ruki was out of the shadow of the warehouse to meet them. Juri stepped away from Rosemon with wobbling legs, Ryo annoyed to find that he wasn't doing much better. Rosemon was about to launch into the air again when Juri caught her by hand. She leaned down to listen to the human.

"Because Leomon asked me to, Juri Katou, in case it was needed," Rosemon said with a smile. With that she crouched and then shot back up into the sky. The backdraft kicked everyone back a step.

"What was that about?" Ruki asked.

"I wanted to know why she took me instead of anyone else when we were running from Odaiba," Juri's face went red. She might be new to the whole Tamer thing, but Ryo could see that her and Leomon already had that the whole partner, it's-us-forever thing down.

Ruki snorted. She looked like taking potshots and wiping out a horde of Airdramon wasn't her idea of a good time – she was probably sore about being given the luggage treatment by Rosemon. The look on her face softened slightly as she took in the other girl's expression before she turned to Kyuubimon, ready to slash another card. Kyuubimon was firing indiscriminately at the Airdramon, her fur glowing with the amount of data she had already uploaded. A red streak blurred past as Rosemon took on the last of the Coredramon, her whip cracking in the air loud as thunder.

Ryo turned back toward Odaiba. A final burst of light forced him to shade his eyes.


The ice bridge buckled underneath Gargomon's feet.

"Oop!" Gargomon jumped the giant crack splitting right where he'd been about to step, giving an awkward half-hop over it before he continued charging after Dobermon.

Jenrya held on. There wasn't much he could do aside from that and keep glancing over his partner's shoulder: Odaiba was totally gone now, what had been a row of lights and skyline a big nothing. The sinkhole had expanded to eat up the entire island and now cast off a sickly green light. He didn't need to look down to know that digital net was about two seconds from destroying the bridge out from under them.

Black Growlmon was still plugging away within biting distance. Naturally.

The sinkhole flashed then with a final pulse. Jenrya had a split second's realization to see they were almost within reach of the bridge's end – Dobermon was already crossing over, when the aftershock hit them. Dobermon went sprawling. Leomon made a last ditch jump for the concrete corner of the dock and barely, just barely, made it. The ice under their feet disintegrated, dumping Gargomon, Jenrya, and Black Growlmon into the churning ocean waiting for them.

The water rushed past, sucking Jenrya out of Gargomon's arms like it was nothing. He couldn't make out where the surface was, trying to fight his way to air and trying not to panic as he tumbled through the water.

It didn't seem to matter what he did.

His lungs burned. Jenrya couldn't hold his breath any longer – it exploded out of him all on its own. The next thing he sucked in was sea water. The burning continued, getting worse, the kind that started in your chest and bled everywhere –

Suddenly he was being scooped out of the water. Jenrya was distantly aware of being dropped off on what felt like solid ground, real solid ground, before that arm from before stepped away. He coughed and hacked up sea water, Gargomon rushing to his side as he doubled over.

"Jenrya!" Gargomon hovered over him, anxious. Jenrya had to wave him off as he got through another coughing attack. His ribs by now were beyond just aching.

It took him a bit to feel better, looking up. Gargomon looked like he'd been tossed into a washing machine and left on spin, but – Jenrya did a head count – it looked like everyone was here. Everyone except – nevermind. There he was. Jenrya turned as Rosemon came back with her last catch from the ocean: she lifted Black Growlmon like he weighed nothing, the water running from her armor.

"It's stopped," Rosemon said. "For the time being, anyway."

Black Growlmon's eyes were narrowed distrustfully through the muzzle at the Royal Knight. No matter his beef with the Tamers, even he had to know he couldn't pull anything with a Mega here. Jenrya wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Thanks, Rosemon."

"Of course."

"We better pull back," Ruki interrupted, busting in before this could get all wishy-washy. "In case they decide to actually make sure we're dead."

Jenrya couldn't argue with that. He also didn't argue when Gargomon reached down and picked him up, even though he didn't ask. At this point, he was too tired to care. It hadn't even really sank in they'd done it. They had Black Growlmon. Despite Odaiba's destruction, despite the trap and despite going in with a plan that could've fallen apart at any second, they'd won.

Now came the hard part…convincing him to actually help them.


They shifted in their safe corner of Tokyo. Safe was relative, of course, according to Jenrya, but most importantly they had resources. Resources that their Masters were foolishly squandering.

Enough was left to feel Odaiba black out on them, permanently. All their connections went offline at the same second.

Jenrya was distracted by that, sitting next to him and going over the damages to their systems. He even nibbled at his finger as he frowned. It would've been convincing if it wasn't for that fact that the nail was over an inch long and curved like a beast's claw. Takato Matsuda sat next to him, shoulder touching shoulder, feeling the new mutations on Jenrya's body from here – more armored plates where there should've been skin, like Jenrya wasn't even trying to pass as human. He didn't dare look over.

He remembered.

Takato remembered what Jenrya told him days ago. He remembered the lie. Jenrya offering two deaths. Having to say yes but thinking "no" with everything he had. Maybe he'd cried then. Someone used to call him a crybaby, hadn't they? Takato had no idea what to do with the fact he was still here, or the fact somehow Jenrya hadn't picked up on it, hadn't turned those alien eyes on him and read him like before. Maybe he was too busy. Maybe it had to do with Odaiba? He'd no idea.

In fact, Jenrya didn't even seem to notice him there at all. He must've thought everything went just like it was supposed to.

Jenrya wasn't everywhere. He'd lied about that too.

Odaiba is lost. Jenrya concluded. Where is our partner?

Black Growlmon's my partner!

To be continued...