The events that underscored the Digital Revelation of 2002 and 2003 would never be forgotten in human memory.

For it was during the Digital Revelation that the Twelve Chosen Children triumphed once and for all over BelialVamdemon, their victory guaranteed by the support of a million lights. Yukio Oikawa, a most compunctious pawn, offered his own life for the sake of the Digital World and gave it to restore it into its pristine state. Into a world of wonder, awe, and mind-twisting reality.

The barriers between both worlds were torn asunder during the days of the Digital Revelation, presaging the population explosion of the monsters inhabiting this alternate plane of existence and public awareness of a sentient, alien race, albeit one born from humanity's unending mission to exercise dominion over the natural Earth.

In commemoration of this victory, in dedication to their dream of true, harmonic coexistence, and in response to growing tensions between the two races, the Chosen Children went public and broadcast their journeys across all media. Their joys and tears. Their trials and tribulations as they faced down difficulties no pre-adolescent child should have encountered.

At its end, the Twelve made known their hopes and dreams for the future. They believed every person would have a partner digimon in the foreseeable future. They believed our increasingly digitized society would eventually come to assimilate digimon into everyday life. Never again would the barriers between worlds rise again. The Digital World and the Real World are now connected at the hip, and there was no going back.

Young the Chosen Children were, so optimistic for the future they imagined a genuine, authentic, and truly symbiotic coexistence with the digital monsters by 2027. Twenty-five years after the Digital Revelation.

Yet each of them, each and every Chosen Child, had placed far too much faith in the goodness of humanity.

Fear of the digital monsters spread. Their equality to the human race—their intelligence, their free wills, their liberties and freedoms had all come under question. To complicate matters, mankind splintered into multiple, dissenting factions, the vast majority looking down on the digital monsters.

Despising them.

Deriding them.

Abusing them.

The Chosen Children did not back down from the challenge of human nature. The Twelve gave this epic fight their best, and they were not alone, for they were aided by hundreds—by thousands of supporters and friends across the globe.

Yet what can a few thousand—a few ten thousand children and their families accomplish, when their adversaries numbered in the millions? In the billions? What can they do to assuage the rising fear, the growing hatred, and the pervading discrimination committed by the overwhelming majority of their species, as more and more are brainwashed by Hollywood, by Mass Media, and by the soulless machine of capitalism?

And so it was inevitable that, fueled by fear, greed, and detestation, the digimon's trust and love for humans were reciprocated not with warmth and care, but with first blood and a war that the Twelve could not stop, even as they grew well into adulthood.

Now, these Twelve heroes, once the saviors of the Digital and Real Worlds—once celebrated as the shepherds of tomorrow, have been scattered by the winds of change. Many of them live as fugitives, stranded forever in the Digital World or cowering powerlessly in hiding, while few had been claimed by the jaws of death…


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PROLOGUE: TAICHI'S CALL

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October 18, 2013

Real World – Stronghold of the Digidestined

Japan

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Pebbles and small stones snapped beneath the boots, tickling a pair of ears with sharp crunches echoing throughout the cavern. Tungsten lamps illuminated the rocks, permitting their stony faces to face the man walking among them with their natural colors, who, in another time, might have appreciated the way the lighting gifted this dreary and depressing tunnel a semblance of life, of civilization.

His arms slid constantly against the length of his chocolate-hued cloak, its sheer density an annoying burden to overcome with every step yet a clear indication of the protection it afforded its wearer, for it had been woven in the Digital World with nanotubes of Chrome Digizoid. The man raised a hand, stopping at a pair of goggles dangling on his neck for a moment, before brushing it against the short bristles that were his hair. Detecting no coat of sweat from trekking through the cavern, through what was actually a network of tunnels, was an observation that brought a smile to the adult's lips.

After all, this was one of the very few times Taichi Yagami did not rue the day he had the afro everyone had known him for cut short. The day he astonished his closest friends and family by conquering his wild, unruly hair after years of delaying the inevitable.

A raspy voice called out from his side. "Taichi…"

The Child of Courage brought his gaze down to the right and locked eyes with an orange dinosaur striding along him, its body built almost exactly like a Tyrannosaurus Rex but with muscular, prehensile arms. Fear did not grip the man, for it was impossible that this creature would even think of hurting him. If it did, it had countless opportunities to do so in the ten years it lived with him, in his family's apartment. In his own room. In his very own bed.

This was Taichi's digital half. His digimon partner. His surrogate brother and best friend all rolled into one. The steps he took were no less straight and assertive than the Chosen Child's, indicating the two of them had endured and weathered countless hardships for years and years, and survived whatever the world has heaped over their shoulders one after another.

But that was another story for another day.

Not that it stopped anyone from looking him up on Wikipedia anyway. Taichi Yagami and the other eleven Chosen Children—his colleagues, his friends—have become celebrities and political figures in their own right since the Digital Revelation, when the barriers between the Real and Digital Worlds were permanently torn asunder, when the digital monsters began populating the Earth in droves, realizing next to partners of all ages, races, and walks of life.

"Do you think she'll be okay?" wondered the Digimon of Courage, worry evident in his voice. "All those injuries listed on Mrs. Ichijouji's report…" He shuddered, unable to describe how horrible they were.

Taichi hoped he wasn't expecting him to downplay this. "I don't know, Agumon. Renamon's a tough one—the toughest non-Chosen we've ever met—and I really want to tell you she's a digimon too and she'll recover just as quick as you do, but…"

Most of her bones were broken, including her spine, he wanted to retort.

She suffered Grade 2 internal hemorrhaging, he wanted to add.

Her condition was already bad to begin with, to the extent the yellow fox was diagnosed with minor pixellation on arrival, he wanted to inform.

"…But the fact she hadn't been deleted outright from that beating can mean one of two things. Either Renamon got lucky or," Yagami shut his eyes for a second and trembled from a recent memory, one he would never, ever forget for the rest of his life. "Well, you know what I'm banking on."

"Are you talking about our 'guest'?"

The Chosen Child nodded, almost snorting at the word. A guest who bullied his way into getting free stay here for who knows how long! "Honestly, buddy, I'm more concerned about Rika. I was so relieved she survived that clusterfuck three days ago, but she hasn't woken up yet. You remember what Tailmon said, don't you?"

"No way!" Agumon's sharp fangs bared themselves in a grimace. At their core, digimon were sophisticated computer programs. Artificial intelligences with incredible processing power. Most of them, if not all, enjoyed borderline eidetic memory. "It's a miracle they managed to escape Shinjuku—even get to the lodge alive." Renamon, if the report was accurate, shuffled in, covered in blood, exhausted and wavering close to a blackout while desperately holding on to her unconscious partner, as if something might just take her if she didn't keep a close eye on her. "Tailmon told me they looked like they fought for their lives until they got out of Tokyo."

They escaped Shinjuku and went straight to the lodge, but by the time they found Tailmon, Renamon was covered in blood and barely had the energy to move; and her partner was unconscious and just as hurt. Like they'd been fighting for their lives until they got out of Tokyo."

Taichi clenched his fists. Rage was building up in his narrowing eyes. "Or until someone got too f*cking bored," he snarled, willing away not only indignation and contempt but also a deflating sense of helplessness before something far, far beyond his control.

Agumon did not bother replying, and it was just as well he didn't. The Chosen felt the exact same way he did about the subject and between the two of them, verbal support was meaningless. If there was any response at all to the emotions brewing within his human half, it would be the warm hand the orange dinosaur wrapped around Taichi's, and carefully so—without any of his long, sharp claws causing a messy accident.

Its message was clear. "We're in this together," said the gesture.

A few minutes later, the cavern twisted to the right, leading to a much larger tunnel packed with more people. Tamers, their partners, and free digimon wandered the wide, hollow corridors, minding their own duties and responsibilities to maintain the life they all made for themselves under the leadership and support of the Chosen Children and their families. Some roamed the corridors in groups, discussing some problem related to their assigned responsibilities. Others kept tabs on the latest news popping up on various media outlets and blogs.

Very few bothered to litter the corridors, not only out of respect for the people running the stronghold of the Digidestined, but also out of the desire to make this place as best as it could be. It wasn't like they had anywhere else to go, with most of humankind inimical, out for their blood, one may say, just for being connected to the Digidestined.

For supporting a society of free digimon.

All of them recognized Taichi Yagami on sight, for he was a living legend. A master of strategy who yielded to no fear. A former United Nations ambassador who protected the interests of the people he represented from his counterparts. A great leader whose devotion and ideals continued to inspire thousands worldwide.

And thankfully, all of them had been desensitized enough to his presence. No one bombarded both Chosen of Courage with the ridiculous fanfare often accompanying Hollywood stars and famous artists. Many of the passersby, human and digimon alike, nodded at the two and received similar gestures in return. Some noticed the way his feet hurried through the illuminated tunnels and gave him and Agumon space.

"Thank you," the 24-year old adult verbalized occasionally, aware it was impossible to give everyone who yielded his thanks without delaying their transit. Taichi swore one girl he addressed squealed excitedly as soon as she thought he was out of earshot.

Fortunately, they soon reached their destination, where a solid, clunky curtain came into view. Its hue was unmistakably mahogany, and the red cross nailed on the rock beside it was no less visible. "Here at last," Taichi muttered, raising one of his hands to pull it aside. His black gloves were fingerless, and despite the apparent solidity and weight of the screen it was soft. Smooth to the touch. One might say it was even luxurious. Plus one for Momoe Inoue's interior design.

Taichi's heart skipped a beat the second his brown eyes swept the chamber, overlooking the scores of empty mattresses and unused medical equipment as they landed on two adjacent beds containing Rika and her digimon partner. To his dismay, whoever Mrs. Ichijouji assigned to her was nowhere in sight, perhaps attending to the needs of the other infirmaries scattered across the tunnel network. The Child of Courage conjectured—he hoped the nurse watching over the Rising Star of the Digidestined at least had the professionalism to monitor her charge remotely.

But for now, Rika Nonaka was stable, her expression a peaceful one in spite of all her bandages and the IV's plastic tube slithering into her wrist. Seeing her asleep and safe like this brought emotion to the Chosen Child. Teardrops threatened to tumble down his cheeks, but instead the venerated general of the Digidestined and the most famous of Japan's Twelve Chosen Children redirected his joy and brought a hand to the sleeping tamer's cheek.

"You're alive," he said, still unable to believe the warmth radiating from her soft, unblemished skin. Taichi's hand shifted through her smooth scarlet hair, for once rolling down the woman's shoulders instead of jutting up in spikes, upheld by a hair tie. "I thought I was never going to see you again." Relief uplifted his voice, and his heart fluttered as though the unmatched dread plaguing his thoughts for the past day or two had simply vanished. Taichi sniffled. "I thought you died too…"

"Hello, Agumon."

Taichi turned the instant he heard Renamon greet his digital half, who went straight for her as the human did for her tamer. "You're awake," he said. It was a statement more than it was a question, but the unspoken query was evident in the silence that followed.

"Harmonious Ones!" The orange dinosaur rejoiced. "You're okay!" Agumon crouched for a second, preparing to lunge at the yellow fox and embrace her out of sheer relief and happiness.

She raised her paw. "Not too strong now." Only now did Taichi notice the purple sleeves Renamon usually wore on her furry arms were folded neatly on top of a bedside table, next to plastic containers of medicine, diagnostic machines, and other clinical supplies. Who knew the fur behind them turned white just before the wrist, its transition flawless? "I'm still… I'm still recovering."

I'm still weak, Renamon meant to say. Taichi observed her body did not seem all too clear under the bright, tungsten lights. Minor pixellation, just as the doctor reported. It was a state normally found in digimon in critical condition, and if the digimon's natural recovery rate was slow or compromised, it had a high chance of preceding deletion if the underlying causes were left alone.

Agumon did not seem to notice the digimon's hidden meaning. As usual, the Digimon of Courage gave her a fanged grin. "Heh, just checking to see you aren't all that hurt."

It elicited no response. Not a verbal one, to be exact, as Renamon sent the dinosaur a smirk of her own before a pair of crystal blue orbs pierced Taichi Yagami where he stood. "You're here," she stated. Like the Chosen Child before her, Renamon allowed the silence to ask the unspoken question within.

"I am." The former ambassador began leaning towards the Rising Star, ready to send out a question of his own, but Rika's digital half had been quick to overtake him and overwhelm his words.

"Hikari. Is, i-is she…"

Yagami gulped at his sister's name. A small frown formed on his lips, though the adult hoped the fox's weakness prevented her from noticing. "She's fine," the Child of Courage lied. He didn't want to think about his precious treasure. Not now. Not while he still had trouble accepting the events that had taken place just yesterday.

Renamon put a little more force into her words. "What happened—

"I said she's fine," Taichi was quick to rebut. "Don't worry about it! She's at our building right now, overseeing the preparations."

"Preparations for what?"

A genuine smile on Taichi's face was an answer she did not expect. "A reunion two years in the making."

"Because we're connected with the Digital World again!" Agumon beamed.

"Glad to learn something's finally going right for us," she heaved a sigh of relief. "And, what about Veemon? Where is he? Is he okay?"

Thinking about Daisuke's partner caused Taichi to grimace. He hesitated to answer her question, not because he refused to think about the blue dragon himself, but because the circumstances surrounding Veemon were the reason Taichi Yagami was ensnared in dread whenever his mind wandered, ruminated—speculated on what the next month held for the Chosen Children, the Digidestined, the digimon, and humankind as a whole.

"Four Gods!" Renamon snapped the Child of Courage away from his thoughts. "Taichi, please tell me Veemon is—

The sound of the curtain parting violently interrupted the conversation.

It was followed by a masculine voice Taichi did not expect to hear today.

"There you are!"

All three of them turned towards the entrance to the clinic. Between Taichi, Agumon, and Renamon, it was the yellow fox who reacted the most as soon as her eyes saw the blond man on the other side. He wore a long coat, its blue fabric as bright and vibrant as Veemon's skin and, from a far distance, seemed no less hefty than the cloak wrapped around Yagami's body.

A pair of goldenrod orbs surveyed them all, their owner exuding an emotion Taichi recognized as renewed determination.

"Y… you!" Renamon managed to growl, her body beginning to shake at his approach. She bared her teeth, and immediately Taichi knew the only things stopping Rika's digimon partner from leaping out of her bed to maul the newcomer were her horrendous injuries. "You're not supposed to be here! Get out."

The blond man was nonchalant. "Make me." He challenged her, his glare so fierce the Child level flinched. He had a black vest underneath his coat, and from what little Taichi learned about him, it had blue Chrome Digizoid fibers woven into it. But such protection was not the source of his confidence—his arrogance.

The more Taichi Yagami eyed this newcomer, the more he felt like he stared deep into a void, into something that was out of place. Something that was not supposed to exist. An aberration. An anomaly whose nature screamed at his instincts every second, urging him to flee as far away as possible. This was not the first time Taichi felt pure, undiluted fear reverberate his very being, and this was not the first time he sensed it emanating from this man.

But this was the first time he had given this exogenous aura his full attention and it was something Taichi didn't think he would ever get used to.

"Mr. Yagami," this stranger articulated. He found it truly bizarre, listening to an obvious foreigner somehow speaking fluent Nihongo as though he'd been living in Japan all his life. "I was looking for you."

Taichi maintained eye contact, avoiding the silver gauntlet on the stranger's left arm or the blue gemstone embedded into its base. Swallowing his apprehension, "Why?" His countenance reverted to a neutral, impassive state. The face once worn by the Chosen Child when he had been a part of the United Nations as its first, and its last, Permanent Representative of the Digital World. "What do you want?"

"We need to talk."

"NO!" Renamon screeched. The digital half of the Rising Star threw the sheets off her bed and rose to her feet—or rather, she attempted to. The fox struggled to remain standing, but in spite of such weakness she was defiant and barely managed to hold her ground, facing the blond poised in a combat stance. "The Digidestined are done with you, monster. After what you did to us the other day, you seriously think we'll still cooperate with you?"

Agumon clutched her thigh. "Renamon, you need to let your body—

"I can care less about my body!" She shrugged off the Chosen's arm and nearly fell to the floor from the effort. "Christopher isn't welcome here!" The digimon trained her penetrating glower at the greatest Champion of the Twelve. "Don't you know what he's done? He crippled Mr. Ichijouji—forced the docs to cut off his hand, he nearly killed Mantarou, he's the reason I'm this hurt right now, and he"—Renamon coughed, doubling over in pain and spat blood on the stone floor—"h-he threatened—took the entire base

"I know," Taichi cut her off. "Tailmon already told me, and Hikari showed me the message on her D-Terminal." Brown eyes directed a nervous stare at Christopher, who had simply crossed his arms during the entire spectacle and ogled the three of them from fifteen feet away. Either he was oblivious to the fox's hostility or he casually dismissed the threat all digimon posed to humans, even at the basic Child level. Unfortunately, Taichi Yagami had already seen the blond in action. The man was anything but human, and the diplomat in Taichi knew antagonizing Christopher was the last thing the Digidestined needed. "Renamon, just get back to your bed. We'll take it from here."

He sauntered towards her, putting a hand on her furry shoulder. It was matted and stiff, as it had been a day or two since her last bath. "C'mon," he encouraged. "You need to rest."

"I," she stammered. Renamon was torn between defending the person her human half respected the most and allowing the living aberration in front of her access to the venerated general of the Digidestined. "I, I… but—I can't—

Christopher advised, "I will wait here if I have to. I'm not leaving this room until Taichi and I finally get to speak." He smirked. "Hopefully you're not stupid enough to call someone in. All three of you already know what I'm capable of." Then he ogled Taichi, jolting the elder Yagami by surprise when his goldenrod eyes flickered with intense azure light for a second. "Especially you."

Hearing his words, Renamon wilted at the man's stubbornness. "All right," she conceded, "I'll let you have your talk." The digimon turned to her bed. "Agumon, please help me in."

"Sure."

Taichi and Renamon locked eyes, her cerulean against his hazel. Tension saturated her posture. Fear and anxiety settled within her gaze. For a few seconds, the two of them did not speak, and it was only until Agumon started pulling her to her bed did the fox lean towards Taichi's ear and whisper her recommendation to him.

"Please, Taichi, don't pin all your hopes on him. You'll only be disappointed if you do. Christopher is not the kind of person you want to rely on. He's just too self—

"Is there anything else you'd like to say?" the man in question replied. "I can hear you clearly, you know."

"No."

"Good." Nodding, "Now keep your trap shut or I'll rip your tongue out."

"Understood," she grumbled powerlessly.

Christopher paced slowly, closing in on the three of them. Renamon trembled at his every step, wincing each time his footfalls echoed in this largely empty clinic. Agumon's steely gaze stayed on him, wary, while his human half scrutinized the imposing blond in a futile attempt to overlook the repellent aura he emitted.

He had heard Renamon whisper into Taichi's ear, discerning each word with impeccable clarity. His eyes were illuminated by a blue glow momentarily. And now that Christopher was standing so close to him, Taichi was curious of the white staff hoisted to the back of his coat, inscribed with runes and ornate patterns. But a golden medallion on Chris' neck drew the Chosen Child's eyes, immobilizing them for moments before they focused on a gun holstered on his waist, hidden behind his coat.

This person was strange enough as it was. Certainly it didn't help that his gut was begging him to run away, to cease this talk and stonewall the blond as much as possible. That a digimon—that an actual, living, breathing, non-human creature called him a monster did nothing but magnify his worries. They knew barely anything about Christopher, and with the famous Taichi Yagami standing in front of this enigma, the stakes, the tension was no different from that felt by a naked man stepping over a floor strewn with eggshells and broken glass.

Suddenly, the blond's own hand thrust itself into his line of sight. Taichi looked up and found the man standing in front of him. "We've never been introduced properly, right?" he said, trying to break the ice.

"With all the hell happening around us that time, I don't think so." Taichi clasped the outstretched palm. It was heavily calloused. The grip, extraordinarily firm. On its own, it spoke volumes of the conflicts the blond's been in, the hardships he's endured. "Taichi Yagami," the respected leader introduced himself. "Chosen Child of Courage, former UN Ambassador, and current general of the Digidestined."

"Christopher Van Numen, as you already know." He received in kind. "Some call me the Fifth Crusader. I am a, ahhh…"

Chris paused for a second, to find the proper words. "An outsider, a third party, and a potential ally. I'm a wildcard like no other, and surely you've seen for yourself exactly what that means."

"No doubt about it." Taichi hid his frustration. Christopher's reply revealed nothing about himself. His lone title had been a call sign given to him by the enemy, while the rest merely regurgitated the role he's played so far, reiterating what everyone among the Digidestined had known since his involvement—his intrusion in a war between men and monsters. A war he knew absolutely nothing about and had no business meddling in. "So what brings you here? What did you want to talk about?"

"A partnership."

Taichi blinked. He said what now? The adult found himself speechless for a time. The shock stretched for a little longer, because he expected Christopher to say something else—to say a name. A partnership was the last thing he would've wanted to discuss.

"You heard me right." Taichi's disbelief must've been that apparent. "A partnership between myself and the Digidestined, including its affiliates. I will fight this war with you—I will help you win, but in exchange, I need your support restoring the balance and retrieving a certain artifact from the DSI."

Something was wrong here. There was no reason why someone like Christopher would even need their help. It simply didn't fit; that was reason enough for Taichi to protest immediately. "But you're practically a one-man army! You have the technology andthe abilities to waste anything in your way. Why would you consider working with us when we'll hold you back? When we'll only slow you down? Besides, haven't you already accomplished your objectives?"

"No, I haven't." Chris grimaced. He bowed his head and turned a way, the expression on his face suggesting some degree of self-loathing. "I can't deny everything else you've said. On paper, I guess it does look like you and your group will only get in my way, but the situation…" He balled his own fists as Taichi Yagami himself had done on the way here, during a private conversation with his digital half. "It was a race against time, to be honest. I went as fast as I could to do the things I had to do before it was too late, but in the process, I overlooked plenty of details. Did things… did terrible, unforgivable things that I never should've done."

For a second, the man faced the observing Renamon, whose blue eyes held nothing for him but a combination of hatred and fear. Taichi caught the flash of what looked like remorse on Christopher's countenance, but whatever it was it vanished in a blink of an eye. This enigma of a man surely would have made a skilled politician, and a ruthless one at that.

"Because of my rush—because I got too careless, I failed, and to make things worse, everything has changed! This, this war you're all in: it's gone so far out of control. Now, I can't rely on my own power. Not anymore."

Christopher Van Numen was already infamous among the ranks of the Digidestined. He attained the reputation of a demon—an unstoppable monstrosity that drained the light and presented only rage, apathy, and egotism to all around him. All things considered, the three of them were lucky to witness the blond admit his own weakness—suffer the tragic helplessness that epitomized the human character.

But Taichi did not consider himself lucky. Already he felt apprehensive at glimpsing the Fifth Crusader's desperation. Where were things going to go from here? How would it affect the Digidestined? How would it impact the Chosen Children still alive going forward, hiding in the shadows or in the isolation of the Digital World?

What Vice-Chairman Yamaki announced yesterday already put a ton of pressure on Yagami's shoulders! He didn't need damn outsiders to multiply his stress!

It was only thanks to his experience at the United Nations that the Child of Courage maintained a straight face. "And how can we help you then? What do you want from us?" When you don't even need our help, he almost added on impulse.

"Your connections."

Agumon raised his voice. "But that's the same thing!"

"Not exactly. What I'm really after is coordination. A seamless optimization, if you will. We can make a ton of progress by working together and performing missions in either world according to tactical importance, especiallyif everyone isn't rejecting me or going out of their way to f*cking piss me off."

"Everyone?" the orange dinosaur sought clarification.

"Hikari's done a very good job making sure I don't feel welcome here," Chris said. "But many of the lackeys under Ken feel the same way about me."

They brushed off the insult. "I don't think you—

"—did anything to get them to like me," the blond waved Agumon off. "Yeah, I know that. I just can't give a shit about any of them, honestly. But if I'm going to work with them for real, trust me, you wouldn't want humans or digimon screwing up a critical operation just to spite me."

Taichi Yagami astutely discerned the hidden message. Because you won't get what you want and you'll end up holding several funerals with nothing left to cremate or bury. He shuddered.

Agumon nodded in understanding. "Right."

His surrogate brother cupped his chin. True, Christopher Van Numen had an excellent point. By offering himself as a weapon, he was offering Taichi an instrument to all but guarantee his strategies considering the irrecoverable losses the Chosen Children have taken through these past ten years, all without risking what little remained of Hikari's innocence.

But something nagged at the former ambassador. "You also need our network in the Digital World?"

"Yes! I need to wipe out all traces of my influence. Having access to your entire information network in both worlds will make it a lot easier to do this and undo almost all the innovations made by your enemies."

Taichi wasn't so sure about that. There had been an attempt to contact his fellow Chosen at the Digital World, as they had been stranded there since early 2011 with no possible way to return to Earth, let alone communicate with their friends and family, without tripping the Digital Dive System and jeopardizing both their digimon and human allies at once. But whoever was assigned to track communications coming in from the Real World refused to discuss anything—to connect him to his old friends without the encryption provided by Koushirou's so-called Orange Box, no matter how many times Taichi insisted—Taichi yelled it was safe to talk.

"You can do the same with just us," the Chosen Child said. He eyed him suspiciously. "You're after something else, aren't you?"

Christopher grinned. In an impressed tone, "Sharp."

Taichi crossed his arms, gesturing the blond to continue.

"You want to know what I'm after? Why I want your connections in the Digital World?"

Yagami waved in reply, gesturing for him to proceed.

Mockingly, "Well, Child of Courage," and the aberration dropped a massive bomb on his face. "What I really want is an audience with the Harmonious Ones. If, when, and as soon as they're found."

Taichi gaped at the blond demon, staring into his goldenrod eyes. It was astonishing to hear someone express a wish to meet with the gods who ruled over the Digital World and articulate this desire—this demand with the assurance all four of them would entertain this meeting without protest. Absurd!

Agumon's jaw had dropped so much it was almost unhinged—Taichi bet it would've reached the floor if it were anatomically possible. Clearly he and his surrogate brother were on the same page. Just who the hell did this bastard think he was? And why was he so upfront with the intention? Why didn't he deny? Why didn't he evade? Why didn't he lie—no, he must've been lying! What's his ulterior motive?

"You got to be kidding me," Yagami shook his head. "There's no way they'd even want to meet with you." He glimpsed the arrogant doubt grace the man's goldenrod eyes. "I won't deny you're strong. You're powerful. There's no way I'm putting it past you to completely overwhelm plenty of digimon all on your own, not after what I've seen you do."

What Taichi Yagami, the great champion of the Twelve Chosen Children, learned over the course of 24 years and the wisdom accreted from his experiences with the Digital World and the unrepentant, unrelenting, and ever-expanding nature of humankind was the difference between "strong" and "special".

Power was not a tie-breaker. Supremacy and domination were never the determining factors of a person's worth—of a person's station in life. All throughout human history there were personalities who have become noteworthy not because of the influence wrought by pure strength—by riches or might, but by their ideals. By the philosophies they lived and preached.

By the courage they displayed in the face of fearsome odds.

By the creativity they used to maneuver around and through problems encountered in life.

By the desire to change something for the better, for the happiness and prosperity of the faceless strangers around them.

Indeed, by the very characteristics that truly glorified the goodness of mankind. That defined each and every one of the Twelve.

"But you aren't a Chosen Child, Chris. You're not even a digimon. I don't see any reason to think you're connected to the Four Gods in any way."

To his shock, the blond simply laughed. "Ha!" Condescension at its best. It took all of Taichi's willpower not to assault him. There was no doubt about it now: this anomalous Christopher was also a freaking lunatic.

However, his digimon partner treated this request more seriously than the adult did. "I dunno… even if they wanted to meet up with you, isn't it a bit, pointless? You are working with us."

"That's none of your business," Chris deflected, cocking an eyebrow. "The both of you are merely Chosen. Two pawns, out of twenty-four."

"Pawns?" Agumon snarled at his flippancy. "We're Chosen! We're special! Don't you even know what that means? We—

"Have the authority and skills to handle problems appropriate for your position," the aberration verbalized coldly. He said it so matter-of-factly it was as though he could shove all the responsibility and glory of the Chosen Children up their own asses without a damn for the relevance—the importance they held as a single cohesive unit. "To answer your question, I plan on discussing personal affairs with your Governors, so until the day you give me a run for my money in a no-holds-barred fight, my concerns are far above your level, beyond your jurisdiction, and have absolutely nothing to do with your duties."

There. That was it. That was the crux of points nagging at the Child of Courage. The man's unnatural aura. His nebulous replies. His insane demands and his equally ridiculous confidence. All of them led Taichi to one direction.

To a single question.

"Christopher, are you also from 'beyond the edge'?"

"I am. Honestly, Taichi, I do not like to meddle with local affairs like this, but yesterday, I realized a 'hands off' approach won't help me and it certainly won't help you. Right now, I must act as a counterbalance before things really start spiraling out of control."

"Sounds reasonable."

Chris brought his hand forward. "So do we have a deal?"

Taichi looked to Agumon. The orange dinosaur was his anchor. He was his best friend. He was his brother. A partner who stuck with him from day one, who shared life with him, leaping down cliffs and climbing mountains alike. "What do you think?"

There was something wrong here, Taichi knew. But he couldn't pinpoint the gap—the loophole here since his instincts were as frightened animals. They were demanding he reject the partnership. Pleading him to evolve his digital half and drive out the aberration before his eyes. As far from this underground stronghold as possible.

He needed a second opinion. A second voice. He hoped Agumon could provide some color.

But the digimon took a while to answer. Agumon's emerald gaze swiveled between the two of them. Back and forth. Back and forth. From the demon to his human half and back. It was tense, and for every second it lasted, the heavier became the burden on Taichi's shoulders and the more he felt like cutting off the conversation there and putting off the decision for another day.

At last, the Digimon of Courage broke the silence. "We can't overlook what he's done, Taichi." His tones were hushed. "He manipulated our friends. Used them for whatever he wants and threw them away when they weren't needed anymore." Private. "And we both know Chris isn't above murdering anyone who gets in his way. You haven't forgotten what he did the other day, have you?"

"Of course not," Taichi clenched his fists. "I will never, ever forget what he did to my little sister."

Christopher's voice crashed into their hushed conversation. "It was just a warning shot," he dismissed. "I never intended to hit her."

The Chosen Child delivered his rebuttal, snarling with all the ferocity of an overprotective older brother. "You would have if I didn't jump in and give you what you wanted!"

"That girl's stubborn. Highly persistent."

That was not what Taichi heard. In his mind, the subliminal message behind those words was far more sinister and cruel. And she was starting to piss me off.

"You didn't have to point your damn gun at Hikari and threaten her!"

Taichi shook his head. He leaned back on the cavern wall, his arms crossed in disgust reserved only for avaricious tyrants and hopeless degenerates. "It's because of this…"

This was why Chris couldn't be trusted.

"It's because of this I can't accept your proposal."

Christopher's goldenrod eyes dilated, the condescension within as strong as ever. Taichi struggled to restrain himself, from showing even a sliver of all the anger bubbling inside him at the sheer disrespect done to the General of the Digidestined, the Chosen Child of Courage!

Then the Fifth Crusader broke Taichi's back with the following words. "So you're rejecting my offer—a fighting chance at winning this war, because of a personal issue?"

Deliberate or not, genuine or not, Taichi decided right then and there that this aberration crossed the line. "Because you, don't, care!"

"You don't care about others. You don't care about the people your actions hurt. You just do whatever the f*ck you want! It's impossible to control you! You'll bulldoze anything standing in your way, and if the Digidestined—if any of the Chosen Children ever partner up with you, you're just going to use us all, squeeze us dry, and then abandon us the instant you see a better opportunity!"

Chris frowned.

In the corner of his brown pools, the Child of Courage noticed Agumon tensing up at the direction this conversation was heading. Even Renamon, observing their dialogue from her own bed, visibly flinched at the way Chris' lips curled downwards at Taichi's accusations.

The Digidestined's leader, of course, was just as apprehensive, with one hand gripping the square digivice clipped to his belt and the other ready to dip into his pockets for something that might actually give him a chance at hurting Christopher Van Numen, at inflicting anything worse than a shallow wound on an enemy like him.

He glared at the blond standing in front of them. He deliberately ignored the constant feeling that Christopher didn't belong there. That he shouldn't be speaking with them right now, let alone standing right where his eyes could see him.

Did this pull Taichi into a wellspring of paralyzing fear?

Did this stop his tongue from dispensing more harsh words and critical overtures?

Well, Taichi Yagami wasn't destined to be the Chosen Child of Courage for nothing.

"Don't even bother. You already proved my point Thursday morning when you involved thousands of innocents!"

Agumon took a risk and looked over to his human half. "Are you sure that was Chris?" He asked

"I saw the ray of light for myself, Agumon." Taichi snorted. "Besides, haven't you seen the JNN streams? The videos on Youtube? The hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts?"

Body posture shifting to one of contempt, "Hundreds died. Thousands were injured. Our economy's been stalled and the fact Tokyo's public transportation is largely nonfunctional doesn't help the families trying to live with this! The NPA's still quantifying the damage, and Nomura estimates are so bad Shinzo Abe himself compared it to the Great East Japan Earthquake!

"The incident three days ago shook the entire world, and people are blaming digimon for it! Public anger's being directed to all the related industries. Both DSI Peacekeepers and the police are trying to keep people from attacking both liberated and enslaved digimon on sight! Some of our friendlies in Tokyo are saying their neighbors are lynching the pets! Our networks in Osaka, Nagoya, and other major cities are all reporting similar reactions.

He thrust an accusing finger at the blond standing before the three of them. "And this catastrophe falls on YOUR head! It's YOUR fault! Because of YOU, all the progress we've made to get the idea of liberated digimon integrated with society is gone and now I've got a giant P.R. problem in my hands. The way you operate, Chris, I can't think of anything you can do to salvage this."

Christopher Van Numen took a few steps closer, and everyone but the unconscious Rika Nonaka jumped at the movement, having expected something far more severe and deadly than a harmless stride. Those goldenrod eyes were alarming.

"The way I operate, Mr. Yagami," the blond pronounced his name angrily, vexed and possibly feeling the urge to murder the Child of Courage where he stood, "yields results. The DSI's military and R&D capabilities in Japan have been significantly crippled, Mitsuo Yamaki's credibility is under question, your little group's reconnecting with the Digimon Tactician's militia in the other world, and you're here right now amongst friends instead of waiting for your next waterboarding in a secret government prison."

Renamon reacted faster than Taichi sent out his response. "But all those people, all those digimon, t-they didn't have to suffer—

She clamped her muzzle down at the way Chris looked in her direction. "Didn't I just tell you to stay quiet? One more time and I will kill you, dog."

Agumon swallowed loudly. Was he as anxious as his surrogate brother? Or was he so astonished by the lack of empathy being exemplified before his wide, emerald spheres?

"While you were bringing Veemon back to us, didn't you see what was happening out there?"

"Yes."

"And you don't feel anything?"

"Of course not," he replied, apparently believing the Child digimon's series of questions were pointless. "What's your point?"

"You brought all that on those people and you don't feel guilty? Even when the humans were hostile to digimon like him, Veemon empathized with them and wanted to—

Chris was quick to cut off Agumon's attempt to induce an emotional reaction from him. "Why should I? They—

"And how couldn't you?" Taichi covered for his partner. "If you're not feeling any sort of remorse at all, then at least do something! Those people deserve justice. They need help! They didn't have anything to do with our conflict. They shouldn't be suffering—

"So f*cking what?" The blond had no qualms cutting Taichi's speech short. "There's something you don't understand about me, Mr. Yagami. I don't give a damn about them. That isn't going to change, even if I'd wiped Tokyo off the map by accident! Life is overrated. Ethics are overrated. The only things that matter are results."

Why didn't he care? Why was he so apathetic? Why did Christopher look at life through this cold, heartless lens?

"You were a diplomat once, weren't you? I think you know a little bit about politics."

Chris was right about that, at least. Politics was the reason Taichi Yagami ended up "quitting" his diplomacy stint at the United Nations years ago, although the world didn't exactly see it from his point of view.

"History is written only by the winners," the blond continued. "And in the final analysis, the one thing historians value above all are accomplishments. No historical figure changed the world without giving something up to the darkness. Abraham Lincoln, Oda Nobunaga, Jose Rizal, and anyone famous enough to immortalize themselves in collective memory! There is simply no exception.

"People here may see me as a god. Maybe they'll look at me like I'm a demon. Or, most likely, they'll just think I'm a powerful digimon that coincidentally looks human. Whatever! The reality is, I don't need to care about this shit! My real goals don't have anything to dowith this little war you're waging; as long as I ensure your civilization doesn't develop prematurely, whether you 'digi-folks' win or lose is none of my concern."

"Then this partnership you're offering…"

"I will do whatever I want, whenever I want, to secure our objectives, with your full cooperation and transparency."

How could he?

"But that means we'll have to put our faith in—No! We can't even trust you!"

How dare he?

Christopher grinned. A grin indicating how much he knew he pinned Yagami in an inescapable trap. "Well, there's no way in hell I'm letting you boss me around."

What a manipulative bastard!

"'Boss you around'? Partners work in tandem! They're equal with each other."

"The very fact I'm officially siding with you guys is enough commitment from me." His smirk widened all the more; Yagami found it difficult to keep his body still, to stop himself from lunging at the blond despite the overwhelming possibility it'd be tantamount to a gruesome suicide. "Take it or leave it, Mr. Yagami. Either you trust me to do whatever it takes to help you win, or you stay out of my goddamn way unless you want a repeat of Thursday morning right here. You do NOT want me as your enemy."

This was the most ridiculous proposal he's ever been given! If accepted, it would be a completely one-sided relationship! Didn't Chris realize how much of a difference he could make if he wasn't so focused on his obligations, on his side of the picture? With all his technology—with all his power, so many lives could be saved. So much change could be enacted it would effectively transform the war and shift the odds towards the Digidestined's favor.

So many digimon, spared from a life of slavery and mindlessness.

So many families, living free from their miserable lives and without fear of ostracization and discrimination.

The ideal world envisioned by Hikari Yagami—by the Chosen Children, fully realized through true coexistence between humankind and the digital monsters instead of the travesty it was today.

All accomplished probably without a shred of real effort from the selfish, stuck-up prick of an aberration sneering at him with his detached, utilitarian outlook of life.

"You piece of shit."

Taichi's fists shook.

"Why…"

They quaked.

"Tell me…"

They trembled.

"Why do you do this?"

From outrage indefinable at Chris' unwillingness to help them without returns on his invested time and effort.

From absolute incomprehension at the sheer waste all of Christopher's power—all of that technology—all those abilities—were on this accursed madman.

"Don't you know how many people wish for just a little bit of the things you're taking for granted? A small slice of the gifts you're abusing?"

And deep down inside, the Child of Courage knew he was one of those people too. Otherwise, those people would be alive right now. They wouldn't have died. They wouldn't be haunting his dreams every waking night, reminding him of his failures, of his own human imperfection, of the limits even the great and legendary Taichi Yagami couldn't surpass in the ten years that followed the Digital Revelation.

Countless what-ifs, inestimable hypothetical scenarios clouded the former ambassador's mind. Each one stoked a jet of anger directed at the mockery Christopher's very existence made on Taichi's past tribulations. The deaths Taichi has endured. The sacrifices he was forced to choose. The hardships brought down on him by the very horror that was human nature and his accursed helplessness in spite of his unparalleled talents, instinct, and luck.

If Taichi had even a sliver of the abilities and technology this blond anomaly in front of him was blessed him, perhaps the adult wouldn't be weighed down by much sadness and regret.

"You could've been a hero, Christopher! You could've had our respect. You could've had more friends. Maybe we'd have a better idea of where Daisuke's being kept. Maybe you and Veemon—

"Enough!"

"Look, if you just unconditionally help, because it's the right thing to do—

Two simultaneous, bright, incandescent flashes of blue.

"I said enough!"

At the last word, a gust of wind drowned out every word coming out of Taichi's mouth. It was a violent, invisible force, sowing his lips tight, rustling the blankets and pillows of the clinic, pushing the steel beds back, shoving away the cloak, inadvertently revealing a second, white digivice sticking out of the hand in his pockets, and even buckling the entrenched position dug in by Agumon.

Signature goggles dangling on his neck, the greatest champion of the Twelve now saw a black sword in Christopher's left hand, held as though he had slashed the formless air between them. Where did he—

"My choices and underlying motives are none of your business. The only thing relevant in this conversation is the fact this partnership binds me to help you. It can be your search for Daisuke. It can be missions directly against the DSI. Or it can be something else in the Digital World. You just don't have a say in the matter. Now answer, Mr. Yagami. Yes or no?"

Taichi hoped he concealed his grimace well. Putting Christopher Van Numen on a guilt trip turned out to be a failure, and because of this risky gambit, the man now found himself between a rock and a hard place.

Chris made the terms of this partnership painfully clear. Regardless of the Chosen's choice, the outsider would do whatever he wanted to fulfill his own objectives. If there was anything—anyone—standing in his way, it would be obliterated regardless of any inconvenience it would cause, whether it was a friend of the Digidestined, a soldier of the government, or an innocent civilian caught in the middle.

The only real benefit Yagami gained from these lopsided terms was the implicit guarantee he wouldn't touch anyone associated with the Digidestined, the Chosen Children, and whatever name Ken Ichijouji had apparently labeled his own group. After all, there was no reason why Chris would offer a "partnership" in the first place unless his and their interests were mutual. To someone as wise as Taichi, this meant ensuring the Digidestined's victory was translatable to securing the outsider's own goals, whatever they happen to be.

"I will not give you another chance to make a decision, and I want it now."

It was too risky.

Christopher was beyond his control.

The man's moral code was out of whack. He pursued goals with the ruthlessness of a despot. He answered to a different set of ideals, exhibiting a level of commitment no less stubborn than Daisuke Motomiya's preferential treatment of his "gut feeling".

Worst of all, there wasn't anything in Taichi's disposal to ensure Chris meets his own commitments, stop him from doing something dangerous, or at least keep the damn aberration in check.

Not weapons.

Not digimon.

Not even compassion.

"Yes or no? You have ten seconds."

Taichi was piloting this plane practically blind, surrounded by clouds that held either a straight path to his destination or a great, solid mountain of death. He despised this kind of situation when he was forced to pick between one and the other. When a third or fourth option remained out of reach. When his choice could make or break the odds of emerging from this war triumphant. When the alternative was nearly as bad as the choice itself!

The Child of Courage gritted his teeth. Christopher Van Numen wasn't the only outsider intruding into their war. His own problems followed him and caused a massive upheaval in the status quo, and now the stakes were higher. Now the difficulty was greater, and the pressure more enormous than ever before.

This was no longer a war for the egalitarian treatment of digimon by a digitally-integrated society. No. This was now a war to restrain humanity. A war to prevent irreversible catastrophe to boththe Real and Digital Worlds. A war not only for equality and the ideal that was harmonic coexistence, but for worldwide sustainability of virtually every strata of modern civilization.

It was a burden even someone as distinguished and renowned as Taichi Yagami might not even want to bear, not by himself. But with the person who instigated this exponential transformation ostensibly showing his refusal to take responsibility for his choices, the man had no recourse but to take up the blond's cross and put it on top of his own.

To leave it alone meant abdicating the responsibilities and power bestowed to him and the Twelve by the Four Gods.

Why was this conflict so complicated?

Why was this war happening?

Why couldn't have things gone the way all twelve of them hoped they would?

Taichi barely comprehended how the situation progressed from the scant years the citizens of Earth coexisted with the digital monsters—from the short time known among the Chosen Children as Hikari Yagami's Golden Age. How it had devolved, how it had degenerated into a false mirror, a fuddled echo—an imperfect reflection, eroded not by the ravages of time. Not by Mother Nature. But chipped slowly and microscopically by tiny shards of crystal.

By the piercing needs of humankind.

By the omnipresent reality that Catholic theologians have deemed "original sin".

By the shades of gray that dominated the bleak world of adulthood, the world that yesterday's youth inherited through their maturity.

Was their situation truly so desperate, truly so fragile, that the Chosen Children—that allwho support a society—a coexistence that respects the individual sovereignty and rationality of each digimon—must turn to an uncooperative and unstoppable outsider for help? That they must deign themselves to accept Christopher Van Numen's inequitable "partnership"?

He ground his teeth. Had someone forewarned him about the enormous weight he now endured alone ten years ago, in his innocence—his ignorance of how the real world operated a 14-year-old Taichi would have simply laughed it off. His trust in his digimon, in his battle-hardened experience as a champion of the Order and the Four Gods against various evil digimon and overlords, never prepared him for the tragedies of the human condition.

.

.

Indeed, ten years ago, he was shaking hands with Junichiro Koizumi. He, a 14-year old nobody, greeting the 87th Prime Minister of Japan as an equal in an auditorium at the United Nations University. He, a mere teenager, earning the respect of not only his nation's Permanent Representative to the United Nations but also multiple, high-ranking officials of the world's governments.

How he was thrilled to stand with all eleven of his closest friends and comrades, with their digimon partners, with his surrogate brother, showered in camera flashes, surrounded by reporters from Time, CNN, Reuters, and many more news firms, and basked in an optimistic outlook for the future, one that heralded the realization of their dreams.

Taichi remembered the comfortable coolness of the auditorium that day. He remembered that they were not only being honored for their unsung heroism in other worlds, but also being looked upon as guides—as potential shepherds to a world swamped in uncertainty.

With the world economy still struggling to dig itself out of the hole that was the dotcom bubble, in late 2003 humankind had yet to regain its ability to cope with the influx of digimon in the Real World.

Once Taichi and the rest of the Chosen Children were presented by the Prime Minister, he beckoned Agumon forward, who trotted to the Chosen Child's side. Junichiro Koizumi and the Permanent Representative both sprung out of the way with a little more edge in their step, while their nearby bodyguards ogled the orange dinosaur warily. Though many among their group barely restrained themselves from huffing and rolling their eyes at the officials' reactions—Daisuke and Veemon were the most blatant among them all—Taichi resisted the urge to join them.

Because this was the dawn of a new age.

Because this was the beginning of what was truly a Digital World on Earth, where modern life was growing increasingly integrated with computers and mobile phones. With the digimon's home world in sight, much care and caution must be taken to court mankind without causing irreparable, irreversible, and inconceivable damage.

The Child of Courage adjusted his blazer and introduced Agumon to the world. "This is Agumon," he said, prompting the Child digimon to wave his hand at the cameras and smile.

"We've known each other for nearly four years," Taichi began, glossing over the fact he and Agumon had been separated from 1999 to early 2002. "We played together. We fought together. We grew up together. We went through a lot of trouble, and I—and there's no one else I would rather have next to me." The teenager sidled closer to the digimon and patted the reptilian snout. "We're brothers—partners for life, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Yeah!" the Digimon of Courage cheered, rubbing his partner's hand affectionately. "That's right!"

Already Taichi observed his audience relaxing. Tension ebbed away. Now was the perfect time to educate the world. He smirked. "Agumon here is what you call a 'digimon'. A 'digital monster'. He is a living, breathing computer program, made from binary and computer data. Honestly, I don't understand how something like him can stand beside me as flesh and blood. I don't even understand how his biology works"—he brought out his digivice—"much less understand how flesh-and-blood humans like myself can enter his home world with something that looks like a toy."

Pocketing it, "There are plenty of things we don't understand yet. A lot of matters we'll have to figure out together if we need to know how we can move forward from here. But we don't have time for that now." He panned his gaze across his limited audience, certainly millions around the world had eyes on him at this very moment. Had he been the same child he was before his first "Digimon Adventure", he might have crumbled under the heavy pressure. "As you all already know, digimon have been appearing across the globe for weeks. While few of them are emerging in our world alone, we know thousands are coming to people of all ages, in all countries, and from all walks of life, as I speak."

He gestured at the 22 individuals standing behind him. "All twelve of us—each with our own digimon partners—were called by the Digital World a few years ago, to defend it from evil and preserve the barrier between our world and theirs. Their gods chose us for very specific reasons, so at first we believed this population explosion of digimon was due to massive numbers of Chosen being exposed to the Digital World." He eyed another auburn-haired teenager in the group.

A slightly shorter teen with dark and intelligent eyes and a laptop bag hanging from his hands. "Koushirou?"

The Chosen Child of Knowledge gave his esteemed leader a respectful bow and marched to the front of the stage, his eyes settling on the cable sticking out of the lectern. Methodically and with the mechanical movements of one accustomed to the job, Izumi brought out his good old laptop and plugged it in.

It was a four-year old computer that began whirring to life at the push of a button. Taichi Yagami noted sadly that it was time for that blasted old thing to go. The device took its sweet time to boot up, and several times the teenager gazed at the audience with a gauche smile plastered on his face while the processor hummed loudly in an attempt to open Microsoft PowerPoint. "Hahahaha," he chuckled awkwardly. "Sorry for the delay, everybody. My computer isn't as good as it used to be."

Just like your typical high school student in a typical encounter with "technical difficulties".

Unfortunately for Koushirou, his audience wasn't merely populated by high school students.

To ease the tension, Taichi grinned and gave his colleague a jocular nudge in the ribs. "You might as well grab a Macbook after this."

He recoiled at the suggestion. "B-but, but Taichi, I can't just replace this! I'd have to migrate all the data I have and, and, and—

Tentomon, who accompanied his human half, also flinched from it. "But we used it during our Adventure! What about all the memories—

Never thought Tentomon could be this sentimental, the elder Yagami mused. "Relax, you two! No need to take it seriously. I was joking!"

Izumi pouted. "Well, you still made a good point…"

Whatever the Digimon of Knowledge had prepared for a response, all thought of it vanished when he began leaping up and down. "Hey, heeey, the presentation's up!"

The Child of Courage pushed his friend to his place behind the lectern. "That's your cue."

Koushirou Izumi initiated his presentation with a photograph of the lone Destiny Stone Daisuke's team had managed to save in late 2002. Hikari had provided the shot, of course, since she had a camera on her nearly 24/7.

It was an imposing sight. A giant mass of rock, encircled by what was surely one of the largest Holy Rings that ever existed in the Digital World. The depiction alone seemed to radiate power, in spite of the fact the Destiny Stone itself was far away, locked in a parallel world and guarded zealously by allies of the Twelve.

"This is a Destiny Stone," Taichi's colleague started. "One out of seven. It regulates the boundary between the Digital and Real Worlds and makes sure digimon do not cross over into Earth. However, the other six have been completely destroyed last year, as our team on the field was being overwhelmed by the enemy, and it was only thanks to a miracle that we managed to save the last one.

"Our friends in the Digital World promised us the missing Destiny Stones will be replaced, but unfortunately, none of us expected what was coming next: Armagemon's second strike." The slide changed from one photograph to another, each portraying the Twelve's battle against Diablomon and Armagemon alike. "This is a monster we've faced twice, and in two different forms. When Armagemon invaded the Real World a few months ago, it tore the barrier apart and somehow rendered it impossible to fully repair."

Switching to a photograph of Wormmon and Veemon being swept away by a flood of the grey blobs that were Kuramon, "Otherwise, this wouldn't have happened. Armagemon itself could've been the only one to realize."

"There are a lot of things going on here, and even our friends in the Digital World aren't done investigating all these. Nobody knows what Armagemon had done to the boundary. Nobody knows for sure how it affected the Destiny Stones' programming. But, the theory circling around is, an extremely sophisticated malware attached to Armagemon infected the underlying code of the Digital World itself, replicating the way bacteria would: exponentially.

"In other words, the boundaries between the two worlds can't be closed completely anymore and our friends can't keep it separate forever." A portrait of Gennai. The young man he was now, of course. Definitely more photogenic that way rather than the snotty old geezer he had been back in the day. "Gennai, one of our principal connections, confirmed the best possible repairs were patchwork at best, as the virus infecting the source code of the Digital World is proving impossible to attack and increasingly difficult to detect. This probably explains why it took some time before hundreds of digimon started emerging in the Real World.

"But regardless of what and how this occurred, the fact remains this is permanent. More digimon will be coming, and most—if not all—are going to be paired up with a human partner." A sweeping gesture to Taichi, Agumon, and the other 20 Chosen manning the rear. "Just like us. However, considering the sheer number and variety of people acquiring digimon partners of their own, I don't think we're seeing a massive emergence of 'Chosen'. I think we're seeing the birth of something else, because none of these people have connections to Gennai or the gods of the Digital World. Because from what I've seen so far, none of these digimon can evolve beyond the Adult level, though I am making room for the rare exception.

"I'm calling these people tamers, which means they possess, care for, and are completely responsible over a digimon partner."

"Thank you for the explanation, Koushirou." Taichi decided to jump in again. Now was the time to return this thing back to the contested issue at hand, namely how humankind would proceed from this point onward. "With entire communities of tamers appearing throughout the world, we think it's too dangerous—it's irresponsible to stand by and do nothing while our civilization is changing before our eyes."

Taichi panned the group of eleven humans and eleven digimon on the stage. One by one, his brown spheres hovered over each pair, and for every pair of Chosen his eyes passed, the teenager received determined nods and confident stares. Daisuke and Veemon, of course, gave him a couple of thumbs-ups, and so did Ken Ichijouji, after a bit of muffled heckling from the Child of Miracles.

Hikari Yagami was fidgeting in her place, those coquelicot eyes intermittently focusing on Taichi, Prime Minister Koizumi, the UN Permanent Representative, and the vast audience filling up the auditorium. He knew exactly what she felt like saying, and for sure he was going to say it.

"We are the Twelve Chosen Children. While we were blessed with digimon partners and endowed with the duty to protect the Digital World, we are ultimately the world's first tamers. We have taken care of our partners for over four years. We've lived with them, so we know what it's like to have this huge responsibility on one's shoulders. We know how digimon act, how they think, and what they need from their partners. And currently, we are your only liaison to the higher authorities in the Digital World.

"For these reasons, we would like to work with the world's governments and other tamer communities in making sure everyone—our city—our nation—our continent—our entire Earth, coexists peacefully and symbiotically with the digital monsters." He turned to his colleagues and grinned. "Isn't that right, guys?"

What resulted from this question was the loudest cheer the group of 22 managed to yell to the heavens. Twenty-two voices from man and monster were screaming into the quiet air, echoing through the auditorium and past the doors, coming right out of the speakers dotting the United Nations University and perhaps, out of the innumerable television sets tuned to the local news networks.

Then the audience broke into applause, their hands guided by the contagion that was human optimism. Things were looking bright. Things were looking good. Mankind had not been abandoned to deal with the ramifications of creating computers and the Internet, for the Twelve elected to go public and shepherd them all towards the ideal, the dream, the Golden Age of harmonic coexistence.

And that was all it would ever remain.

A dream.

An unreachable ideal.

The final fantasy of the Chosen Children.

.

.

The so-called Golden Age lasted only two years before disaster finally struck, before human nature decided to run its course.

"Hello? Taichi?"

The fifth of July 2005 was a morning he would never forget for the rest of his life.

"Taichi! Are you there?"

"Ugh, it's two in the morning! Who the hell is—

"It's Mimi."

"MIMI!" A seventeen-year old Taichi suddenly sat up from his bed, kicking Agumon awake. "What're you—do you realize how expensive it is to call from the US—

"This is important. We have a huge problem!"

Agumon perked immediately. The orange dinosaur turned towards his human half, emerald eyes demonstrating full attention as the words were verbalized, with hearing sharper than a human being catching them in full clarity.

Taichi did not notice this. Neither did he realize his grip on his Nokia N70 was beginning to shake. "A huge problem?" he muttered. What could it be? What was going on?

Koushirou hadn't forwarded him any troubling reports from Gennai or the Four Gods. Hikari and Takeru's extracurricular lectures were well-received in Odaiba and the surrounding communities. Daisuke's and Ken's own efforts to curb mischief and neighborhood violence had become thrice as effective when some concerned tamers volunteered themselves into their ranks. Miyako and Iori recently found themselves some political allies among the 民主党, a political group consisting of at least four liberal and socio-democratic parties that banded together in hopes of unseating the current party in power.

As far as the Chosen Child was concerned, there wasn't anything to be worried about right now. "What happened?"

Mimi took a deep breath.

And two more after that.

"Mimi—

"There's been a massacre in Texas last night."

"A massacre?"

"Yes. An entire family, Taichi. A full clan."

Taichi was getting a bad feeling about this. "You mean…"

"Exactly what you're thinking. Parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents… just about every person in the house is dead. Murdered right on the Fourth of July."

"That's horrible." The words came out faster than Yagami could think. Yes, it was among the worst news he's heard all year. Imagining everyone in his family, including the digimon, dead was enough to make Taichi's heart leap out to whoever the next of kin was.

But was it enough to compel Mimi Tachikawa to spend over $3 a minute on an international call? Taichi knew she wouldn't do something so financially stupid if it was uncalled for. The aspiring diplomat shuddered at the thought of her underlying reason.

"That isn't the worst part."

Taichi held his breath. This was it. This was why Tachikawa reached out to him. Why she needed to talk to him. His honed instincts, his irreplaceable talent for strategy was already anticipating the Child of Sincerity's next words.

Agumon was keen on unraveling it. "Taichi, do you think—

Mimi laid it out before them, like a peddler spreading out her wares for all to see. "The police found a survivor, barely alive. It's a fifteen year old girl, and she's saying a tamer broke into her home, murdered her entire family. I think he even raped one of her

Expecting it was one thing.

Allowing reality to sink in was another.

Utterly stunned by the news, Taichi Yagami's N70 fell from his hands. "What the f*ck…"

He cupped his face. He nearly vomited from the atrocity committed in the United States. Thousands of miles away, far beyond the eyes of the Chosen Children. Far beyond their control. Beyond even the influence being generated by their meager attempts to spread the word, educate, and empower tamers to realize the dream of harmonic coexistence.

"It's okay, Taichi." Agumon lifted his clawed hand and clutched the Child of Courage's arm in a show of emotional support. It was endearing and comforting, and the gesture would surely result in a positive response had Mimi's news not been a strong indicator of the challenges to come. "It's okay."

The degeneration of their Golden Age.

"No, it's not okay!" Taichi ignored his partner, for his chocolate gaze landed on the textbooks he was studying for his application as a UN diplomat. In an instant, the teenager realized there was nothing in there that could help the Twelve salvage the political explosion. "F*ck…"

This was the worst thing that could happen! "F*ck, f*ck*, F*CK!"

Worse than a dark digimon laying waste all over the Digital World.

Worse than Demon teaming up with Dagomon.

Worse than an evil tamer trying to conquer the Digital World without any external influence whatsoever.

This was a high-profile crime. An event of such magnitude the brilliant mind of Taichi Yagami was unable to envision just how far the consequences could possibly go. Literally anything could happen from here on out, and the grand uncertainty was impossible to resolve. All of a sudden, the comfortable air-conditioning of his bedroom had become an ominous, penetrating cold.

"—hear you over there! C'mon, pick up the phone. I need to know what I—

"I'm here," said the Child of Courage. He fumbled for his phone. The silver Nokia N70 slipped in and out of his trembling fingers. That the fabled Champion of the Twelve, the greatest of the Chosen Children, was reduced to a shivering mess emphasized his humanity—stressed his imperfections—indicated how much he teetered over the brink of despair.

Taichi's breaths were long and stressed. His heart was pumping rapidly, for adrenaline and sheer terror coursed through his veins despite the fact he was not in any imminent danger. "I'm here, Mimi," he managed to say. Taichi hoped his tone at least sounded reassuring. He didn't want to demoralize Mimi any further than she was.

Though even if it was, it wouldn't have worked. "What're we going to do? You know this means a digimon—

He still couldn't accept this. "Don't say it, Mimi." It was like being in a dream. A nightmarehe couldn't escape from—couldn't wake up from.

"Taichi—

"I said don't say it. Please."

"I will. Even if you're still in denial now, all the newspapers and social media will report that a digimon brutally murdered a family on the orders of a criminal. You don't want to see some of the uncensored images I found through Google. They're horrific."

For the first time in a long time, the Chosen Child couldn't speak. Taichi Yagami was in a stupor. Speechless.

Everything they built as a group was beginning to crumble. Months of effort. Weeks and weeks of empowerment and cooperation in concert, undermined by a single person on the other side of the world.

Two and a half years of work spent building their dream of harmonic coexistence, blown away in a fraction of the time.

"We have to do something! People all over Myspace have been comparing this to 9/11 since the news came out! They're even starting to call it '7/4'."

Mimi was sagging, he could tell. Trapped by cliffs of hopelessness. Solid, insurmountable walls that climbed higher and higher the more she drowned in her assessment of the situation. "I don't even want to guess what President Bush will say about this, Taichi. I know America's still glued to Iraq, and nobody has access to the Digital World except Daisuke's team. There's really no way he can wage 'war' on digimon, but…"

"I don't know where we're going," her voice flickered—whimpered. "I don't know what'll happen next. And I…"

She hesitated, almost as though the Chosen Child of Sincerity was biting her lip. As though she found her own inner courage from just unloading on Taichi Yagami and was desperately trying to fight back the very desolation that has stupefied the teenager she hoped would have an idea how to resolve this crisis.

They faced down Apocalymon.

They faced down Vamdemon.

They faced down the Dark Masters.

They faced down Armagemon.

They faced down Demon.

All the worst people the Digital World could produce were thrown at them, and the Chosen Children turned it around to their advantage and ushered in an era of peace and happiness. Certainly they could do the same with the hordes of humanity, right?

Right?

"I, I'm scared," Tachikawa finally admitted.

Scared for the tamers and their digimon.

Scared for their beloved partners and families.

Scared for themselves.

Then Mimi broke, her shivering cadence collapsing into incomprehensible sobs.

She was crying. It was the first time Taichi had heard her weep like this.

The Child of Courage himself was at a loss, unable to console her. He felt the temptation—a strong urge to hang up on his colleague and dear friend, so that he, too, could cry. So he could burrow underneath his blankets and pillows and pretend this was all a dream. A cruel but unreal manifestation of his subconscious. Nothing more.

Only now did Taichi register Agumon's clasp on his arm. He felt the weight clinging on him, and the elder Yagami looked into his partner's wide emerald spheres underneath the soft, bluish light of the N70 in his hands. The concern—the care brimming within them was like a lighthouse in the darkness. A shining sigil that would pull at him constantly, refusing to give up the fight until the last breath.

Putting on a smile, Taichi reached for his digital half and hugged him. He nuzzled Agumon's snout lovingly. Thank you, he thought to his surrogate brother, as he finally climbed the daunting cliffs responsible for Mimi's state.

"I have an idea", Taichi said. Mimi ceased crying when she heard the words.

"…Yes?"

"First, damage control."

She sniffled. "Okay…"

"You're the only Chosen Child nearest her, so you have to visit the girl. Fly to Texas as soon as you can and show some moral support. And make sure Palmon goes with you."

"Palmon? That's a good idea." A hiss of hesitation followed. "But… But I don't know. She's been traumatized. She might even faint at the sight of another digimon."

Taichi closed his eyes. Tachikawa had a point. "I'm aware of that." This was going to be the greatest challenge the Twelve has ever faced. "But it can't be helped. She needs to know digimon can still be trusted. She needs to know the tamer was ultimately responsible for this."

"But if we go with that, won't people start doubting the digimon's independence?"

"Not if you give probable reasons why the digimon obeyed the murderer in the first place. Look at our partners, Mimi. Look at Palmon."

She hummed. "All right. I get the idea. Hopefully that'll work. But, what are we going to do about the public? We can't ignore them."

"We won't. I'll hold a full meeting tomorrow in the Digital World, but I'll pick the location later in the morning. If you're free, you can join us. I can ask Hikari to connect a digiport to your computer so you access the Gate. Just don't forget to send me your MAC address so I can make the arrangements."

And it was a productive meeting, Taichi remembered. A meeting that led to a series of brainstorming sessions and consecutive days of thinking and strategizing, even as the more politically visible of the Chosen Children expended their best efforts to put out the raging fires of humanity.

Eventually, several methods had been conceived to address the catastrophe and avert the public from further escalating the tensions between humankind and digimon.

.

.

It was depressing, but not surprising, that the only good the Twelve ever accomplished was delay the inevitable.

Because once humans were dead set on something as a collective whole, there was nothing that could be done to stop them from rolling the ball all the way to the end. And just as all the enemies they faced were unable to thwart the Chosen Children from overwhelming them, so too were the Chosen Children unable to dispel the changes sweeping across the social order of the human race.

In spite of the terrible hardships each and every one of them faced alone, in spite of all the trouble it took to bring the whole group together and fight back against society as one cohesive unit, the Twelve persisted and kept fighting, garnering the support of allies and sympathizers in their fight for digimon and their right to exist among humankind.

Bloggers all over the Internet speculated their perseverance—their overflowing determination to win came from a deep-seated belief of their own uniqueness, from the fact that they were the Chosen Children, that they took it upon themselves to become the shepherds of the world, that they could treat this battle for equality the same way they won every battle before it.

Had they been right—had these observers been correct on the mark, then these twelve teenagers surely felt the crushing and relentless cruelty of the true "Real World" slap them all in the face three years after the Fourth of July massacre. For in the year 2008, the Twelve organized a protest against the Japanese Government and discriminatory policies newly promulgated across the nation.

A peaceful protest attended by sympathizers and tamers.

A nonviolent procession of digimon and humans being led through the streets of Shinjuku by the so-called shepherds of tomorrow.

"Everybody, Adult level now!"

Taichi remembered how quickly it descended into a mess.

"Daisuke, get up! Taichi just—hey, Daisuke! DAISUKE!"

And what a mess it had become.

Sunlight bounced off the goggles on his bushy head, while the Child of Courage stood tall behind Greymon's gigantic leg. Taichi Yagami peeked back, where a bipedal dragon—Daisuke Motomiya's partner—was gripping the teen's shoulders and shaking him rigorously in an attempt to snap the Child of Miracles out of his stupor.

Taichi felt his heart clench at the liquid saturating Motomiya's clothes, each drop as crimson as Veemon's eyes. The blue dragon paused in his antics and made eye contact with Taichi, his white muzzle bearing a worried frown. "Please, help! I can't get—

"This, this isn't…" Daisuke said suddenly, slowly raising his hands to his face. Tears formed from his brown eyes, cascading down his cheeks like rain, but they did nothing to completely wash the blood off of him. He stared at blood staining his fingers. The blood seeping into his fingers.

Dripping down his wrists.

Coloring his entire body red.

"No… no… t-this, this can't…"

He choked, unable to break the stare. "None of it's real! I, I'm dreaming. I'm dreaming!

Unable to wrench himself away from the blood on his hands. "A, and—a-a-a-and, I'm—I'm not—

Yagami's successor, the Child of Miracles, could no longer restrain himself. Without warning, Daisuke Motomiya collapsed and retched. Disgusting, foul-smelling liquid poured out his mouth onto the asphalt. He regurgitated every single thing he had eaten that day and more. His digimon partner stepped away from the rush of vomit, the foul liquid almost staining the large yellow 'V' mark on his forehead. "Four Gods! Pull yourself together! We got to do something—

An earsplitting shriek interrupted the blue dragon. "AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" A dreadful cry to the heavens begging for reason, pleading for a reversal—a divine miracle.

Taichi Yagami did not dare seek the screamer. He did not dare look further beyond Daisuke, beyond Stingmon, where he knew Ken Ichijouji knelt. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no…"

The Child of Kindness cradled an object Taichi's eyes deliberately avoided. He shut them, wishing for Buddha to give him the focus—the inner strength to lead the Chosen Children through—

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Ken screamed at the top of his lungs. He screamed until he could scream no more, only to take another deep breath and wail and howl and beseech to the heavens, as if his anguish could spur them into action.

Like snapping out of a trance, the venerated champion of the Twelve barked at Daisuke's surrogate brother. "Veemon! Get Daisuke the hell out of there. Bring him behind Greymon! We can't have anyone out in the open!"

"Screw that, Taichi!" Yamato Ishida raised his digivice. Indescribable fury crossed his face. "I will not hide behind my digimon like a f*cking coward!" The blinding light of digital evolution flared and blinded many of the stunned bystanders for a second before fading away to reveal a huge, anthropomorphic wolf. "WereGarurumon, sniff out the son of a bitch!"

On his command, WereGarurumon bent down without tearing his jeans and leapt high into the skyline, bouncing from building to building. A white cat bounded away to catch up with the Perfect level, its golden tail ring shining in the light as it dashed ahead on all fours. "I'm helping," declared the feline. "He can't do it alone!"

Tailmon rushed towards the crowd following their lead, towards the policemen and SAT teams loitering behind them in what was probably an attempt to separate the Chosen Children and any tamers from regular citizens.

"Tailmon, come back!"

The sight of Hikari—his younger sister—sent unbridled fear coursing through Taichi's veins. He sprinted towards her and reached for her just as she started following her digimon partner. "Hikari, no!" Pulling her back, "It's too dangerous. They might shoot you!"

Thankfully, the white cat deviated from her path and swiveled towards a narrow alley darting between the Shinjuku offices. With a display of great strength and agility, the Adult bounded up the walls. She dug her claws deep into the concrete and pulled herself up twenty—thirty feet at a time.

"Shoot me, brother?" Hikari was just as quick to react. "Shoot me?" Her incredulous gaze was impossible to ignore. "I'm human! All of us are!"

"But we're tamers! We're the Chosen Children!"

His heart pumping rapidly, the Child of Courage swept his gaze across the wide street. The SAT squads were turned towards their direction, their glares hidden behind their headgear. But there was no mistaking the nervousness gripping them, the way their fingers hovering above the triggers. The stiff tension of their muscles was noticeable, anticipating chaos of unimaginable proportions.

The gigantic forms of a helmed dinosaur, a white walrus, a brown ankylosaurus, and a tall angel stepped forward, creating a wall of Adult digimon to separate the Twelve from the police force. In reply, the humans raised their weapons.

"Don't come any closer!" a man from the SAT barked. "We don't want any trouble. We've got enough problems as it is."

Problems exercising order.

Problems calming down the frenzied crowds, including the other tamers and their digimon scampering among the streets—some ensnared by panic, others quivering from rage.

A riot was about to happen and the Japanese police literally did everything in their disposal short of lethal force to maintain the peace.

Greymon, Ikkakumon, Ankylamon, and Angemon stood guard over them all, towering over the humans. Their sights were trained on the various guns aimed at each of them and their human halves, but they did nothing. They refused to cave into their instincts. They couldn't afford jeopardizing interspecies relations any further.

Taichi did not let this scene stop him from assailing Hikari. "You can't just assume they'll treat us equally!" Not when we have several WMD's standing right beside us, he bit his tongue from saying.

"But that's not fair! Since when was this about 'us' and 'them'? That's just messed up! We're the victims here, aren't we? Don't we have the right to justice—

"We do, Hikari, but you know the people come first." Bitterness stained his next sentence. "That's how governments think."

Yamato gazed at his best friend. Understanding and at the same time, critical. "Taichi," he advised. "If we don't do something—anything—whoever's behind this will get away and—

"I know that!"

"WereGarurumon and Tailmon can't do this by themselves," Hikari fought back.

"And we don't have enough digimon to protect us. What if that person's not the only one? What if there are others involved? What if they're just waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike?" Brown eyes passed over one building after another. "There's just too many…"

"Too many…"

Too many openings.

Too many uncertainties.

Too many ways this can still go wrong.

Suddenly, the road behind them was illuminated in bright flashes of light, casting their dark shadows towards the policemen beyond the wall of Adults.

Three of them.

"What the?" The three Chosen Children swiveled. Shock ran its course for a second as they all absorbed the sight of Kabuterimon, Birdramon, and Lilimon appearing beside their colleagues, all sporting expressions no less somber than the serious frowns adorning their partners' faces.

Hurling a wary glance at one of the towering buildings, Yagami sprinted towards Ankylomon, whose humongous tail rested close to the azure insect and the redhead beginning to climb its exoskeleton. Taichi clung to the Adult's body as close as possible, hoping Iori's partner provided more than enough cover for him.

"Koushirou," he yelled, quickly noticing just how much taller the adopted son of Masami and Kae Izumi had gotten in the three years since the Fourth of July massacre. A strong breeze blew past them, fluttering the lapels of Izumi's green polo. The Child of Knowledge ceased his climb before those dark and intelligent eyes locked with Taichi's own once again. "What the hell are you all doing?"

Of course, Taichi knew the answer to that the instant those words escaped his lips.

"Helping our friends."

The shadows of Birdramon and Lilimon fell above them for a split second. He glimpsed the forms of Sora Takenouchi and Mimi Tachikawa riding their digimon. Sora was curled around Birdramon's leg while Mimi herself wrapped around her partner's arms.

Exposed.

Too exposed…

"But you're all out in the open," the Child of Courage reproached. "If you're not careful…"

"Trust us, Taichi. We know what we're doing." Koushirou Izumi smiled.

And before Taichi could even come up with a reply, "KABUTERIMON!" called Izumi.

"Koushirou, wait!"

But it was too late. At his command, the Digimon of Courage plucked Koushirou from the ground as easily as a giant would pluck a flower from its stem. With his partner safe in his hands, the giant blue insect rose into the air and joined his colleagues, moving far too fast for anyone to carefully aim at.

Taichi leaned into Ankylomon's tail. He buried his face in its brown plates, trying to hide the anxiety forming on it. He clasped his wild, untamed hair and forced them down, as though they had the power to shut him out from the world.

"Don't worry," boomed the ankylosaurus' guttural voice. "They'll catch them before you know it."

Yet even the digimon's reassurances were drowned out. His brain was thinking. His brain was cogitating. Pondering over their options. Speculating about the ramifications—the consequences.

What was Yagami going to do now? How was he going to smooth this over with the government? With the politicians? With the United Nations? How was he going to supervise his friends now? How could he restrain them, now that they're probably blinded by blood, compelled to move by the desire for justice, the yearning for peace of mind, for…

"Taichi!"

He snapped out of it. Who was calling?

"Taichi!"

The Child of Courage turned to see a young man in yellow and teal, his blond hair peeking out from underneath his Gilligan hat.

Takeru Takaishi, the Chosen Child of Hope.

"What is it?"

"Big trouble!" That did not sound good.

Preempting the elder Yagami, "It's Stingmon! He's—

A loud unearthly wail thundered across the air, reaching out towards them all. It raced past the vanguard of Adults at the speed of sound, striking every man, every digimon in the street. As a single cohesive group, every living thing—every human and every Child digimon—bent over in agony, hands cupped to their ears as though they had the power to shut out the terrifying screech.

Giant, booming footsteps louder and deeper than any bass drum rumbled. And with each and every one, the asphalt beneath their feet trembled, threatening to crack under repeated assault.

"Behind us!" He heard Angemon cry out.

The Digimon of Hope and his three comrades whipped around to face their assailant. Taichi turned to follow their gaze, to see what was happening, only to catch the navy blue hair of Joe Kido in his peripheral vision.

Sprinting towards the police officers.

Sprinting out into the open.

Joe, that damn idiot! Didn't he just tell him to stay behind cover?

The Chosen Child waved his hands, palms flailing outwards frantically as though his command over his own special trait—over his reliability was enough to shoo away the crowds. "Get out of here! Get everyone away! It's too—

Another roar interrupted the man, and this time a grisly digimon smothered in white bones barreled through the entire vanguard of Adults, crashed into them and forced them apart like they had been merely a group of bowling pins. Taichi didn't have time to look back and be transfixed by the three menacing yellow eyes or the deformed scorpion's tail sheening portentously under the sun.

One of the policemen shouted. "What the f*cking hell is that?"

Ikkakumon's voice called from behind the Child of Courage. "JOE! LOOK OUT!"

"What—oh shit!"

Taichi watched him close his eyes and wait for imminent death, wait for the massive beast to slam its foot down on him. But Yagami had been running towards the medical student the instant he saw him run out of cover. Barely two seconds had passed when Taichi leaped and tackled Joe Kido out of the way.

He heard the sickening crunch of Joe's spectacles being ground into dust a moment before they tumbled into the road. Taichi felt his skin split open as the two of them rolled across the asphalt. Yet he couldn't wipe the blood off and check where he'd been scraped when he could finally do so, because he was staring at the gigantic monster before them, releasing a guttural roar vibrating the very bones of all within range.

It triggered chaos.

Screams and shrieks emanated from the crowd as every human in the vicinity dashed madly away, seeking safety at all costs. A rushing stampede. To his horror, Taichi Yagami witnessed various men, women, and Child digimon stumble and fall. Heads and bones cracked like eggs by the hundreds of feet, human and otherwise, mashing their bodies with the full force of gravity and mass.

The SAT and the police force began opening fire. Handguns, assault rifles, and shotguns of various manufacturers unloaded bullet after bullet at the bone-clad digimon before them, but they did nothing. Nothing but enrage the beast and give it targets.

Give it prey.

He heard one of the Twelve shout. "Somebody stop him!" Disoriented, neither he nor Kido could discern who.

Takeru came into view and stopped in front of Taichi and Joe. "Angemon, go!" the Chosen barked before bending down to help his two friends up.

Brown eyes glimpsed the large, armored and spiky form of Ankylomon chase after the intimidating insect on all fours, gritting his teeth before pivoting, letting his momentum flow into his tail, where an iron sphere covered in gigantic spines sped towards his adversary. "TAIL HAMMER!"

Taichi shuddered.

The attack had been futile.

The Perfect digimon caught Anyklomon's tail in its bony pincers and, in a display of unparalleled strength, lifted Iori's partner of his feet and swung him towards the other three Adults coming to stop it. Taichi swore his heart stopped for a moment when he watched all four digimon soar into the air. Fright gripped him as his eyes followed them all. If they landed in the wrong place, one of their own would die, squashed into a pile of red.

Fortunately, that had not been the case. Rather than the five other Chosen, the group of partners crashed into the next street, spawning clouds of dust and debris as the collision demolished the small office building.

"W-who," he heard Joe stammer. "Who's—what's going on?"

…but whatever relief Taichi felt from the apparent safety of Hikari, Yamato, Iori, Daisuke, and Ken evaporated as soon as his ears caught Takeru's response. "That was Stingmon."

"You got to be kidding me," Taichi gasped. He shuddered. "He's turned into that thing?"

It was just like that time.

Just like that day all over again.

The day Taichi Yagami yielded to his inner darkness.

The day Agumon became SkullGreymon.

Undeterred by any opponents and free to do whatever it wanted, the Perfect digimon reared its pincers and charged, wailing as it did so. It cleaved through cars, through vans, through scores of people and Child digimon all at once as every person in the vicinity tried to escape.

Torn bodies were left behind. Showers of guts, blood, and the occasional digital particle. Then digital evolution basked the streets, causing bright flashes of light to flare over the throngs of people fleeing for their lives. Soon, various digimon of the Adult level stood tall above the rushing crowd. They were as islands. Safe havens in the middle of a deadly current of bodies that would sweep hapless victims into its flow and mercilessly smother them.

Some of the tamers stood back, finding their inner courage to face a digimon they knew their partners couldn't beat, all to buy even a sliver of time for all those fleeing the scene. One of the Adults charged the abomination, but its bladed tip sprang into action. It impaled the digimon and pinned it to the pavement for a couple seconds before releasing its victim.

Taichi Yagami saw the black liquid dripping out of the tip. The digimon it stung started thrashing seconds later, doomed to die an agonizing death from what was evidently a potent poison. And to compound this tragedy, its tamer couldn't do anything but watch as the Adult accidentally crush someone who was clearly that person's friend, someone sweet enough to stay behind and provide moral support.

Taichi heard him scream, crying and saying the deceased's name again and again and again. It pulled at the Chosen Child's heartstrings to see the volunteer tamer run to the fresh corpse.

But the creature was not yet done. The Perfect abomination eyed the multitude fleeing the area with malice before releasing a dark gas that billowed swiftly towards them. To his horror, Taichi watched the cloud engulf the defeated tamer and the new corpse, and before long the human went into spasms, convulsing for a few moments before falling to the ground, as still as death.

Shit.

"Damn it, we can't let him kill anyone else!"

An explosion suddenly swamped the gigantic scorpion and interrupted it. One look back was all it took to realize Greymon, Ikkakumon, Ankylom, and Angemon were returning to the fight. Takeru's partner took to the air, one hand rotating his golden staff with the full intent of creating a tornado. "We're on it!"

Taichi Yagami fished a first-generation iPhone from his pockets and punched a few numbers. Mimi Tachikawa was on speed dial—and she had been since he'd worked with her on 7/4's lone survivor. In the meantime…

"Everyone, subdue him! We got to stop this before it gets any worse!" Turning to his sister's significant other, "Takeru, move Angemon up to the next level as soon as he's done. We might need Magna Antidote." Then the leader of the Chosen Children trained his eyes on the rest still standing. "Someone go check on Ken and Daisuke. I'm calling the others back—

A person tapped his arm, and it was neither Joe nor Takeru.

It was Iori Hida. His face was still wet from fresh tears, and his expression was quivering. It threatened to break. His lips, shaking from the desire to cry out and the need to stay calm and composed despite the grim situation. "Taichi, we can't just abandon the search…"

"I know," he growled. "But it's either that or we…"

Lose all those people.

Lose all their credibility with the global community.

Lose whatever support they have gathered from the public.

"Or we lose everything!"

With his other hand, the Child of Courage clutched a square digivice. Standing straight and tall, the greatest champion of the Twelve mustered within himself the energy, the will to bring Greymon up another level. They had to stop this now. "Greymon, EVOLVE!"

But despite attendance by the Twelve Chosen Children and the evolutions of their digital halves, even the world's first tamers couldn't defeat that monstrosity without preventing all that collateral damage. Without showcasing to the world that tamers in real life were a little bit like the trainers in Nintendo's Pokémon series: every monster was a living weapon, capable of wiping people off the face of the earth without effort and in a fraction of a second.

Such destructive capacity, as demonstrated visibly during what had become known as the Shinjuku March and in countless events before and after, prompted governments to take drastic measures. Containment methods and regulatory protocols that debased the dignity and liberty of innumerable digimon in the Real World. Shadow operatives, secret agents, and even radical extremists to directly handle high-profile targets, such as the Chosen Children themselves.

The nightmare did not end there. It continued to grow larger. It continued to escalate, to balloon greater and greater as the Twelve split apart as fugitives on the run—

"It's time."

.

.

Christopher Van Numen thrust his hand out at the Chosen Child of Courage, snapping the adult out of his memory-induced torpor. His movement glowed with the edge of finality, letting Taichi know this was truly his last chance at ensuring the blond associated himself with his faction.

"Your call, Taichi Yagami."

Whatever this conflict had become, whatever hardships the Chosen have endured and shall continue to in the foreseeable future, only Taichi had the ability to make a choice that would completely alter the war as it now stood. And so steel pools of brown gazed into the frigid, ruthless goldenrod gaze before him.

In this moment, Taichi Yagami, the champion of the Twelve, the venerated leader of the Digidestined, finally came to a decision. Touching his goggles for good luck, the man opened his mouth to verbalize his response. His reply. His answer.

And as Taichi's call was verbalized a single thought coursed through the speaker's head. A thought expressing incredulity at the glaring fact this chaos—this improbable frenzy involving outsiders and stakes of magnitudes immensely greater than the war for true harmonic coexistence, to turn their fantasy into reality, all started out last week as an innocuous encounter between Christopher and Veemon.

An unexpected meeting between a wounded stranger and the digimon partner of Daisuke Motomiya.

A first contact with…


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THE INTERLOPER

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Author's notes:

[1] Hello, everyone, and thank you for deciding to read The Interloper.

The first thing I'd like to say is that this story is not for the faint of heart. I am a writer who takes pride in reader immersion and detail, and the very first thing you will notice is that my project's chapters are extremely long, as I enjoy writing descriptively, letting the emotions of the characters guide my fingers as I type each scene one by one. The average chapter length, especially after the eighth chapter, comes out to 15K to 20K each, a length that is three to four times longer than the typical fanfiction you would see on this website, and for the Digimon fandom no less. If you cannot handle each chapter on a single sitting, please adjust.

Next, several things in the prologue may have, I hope, arrested your attention. Things that elicit certain questions. Who—no, what is the DSI? How has humanity evolved alongside digimon? How has society—how has technology adapted to the very existence of an alternate universe, one that operates on a different yet similar laws of physics? Why is Taichi holding the leadership role? Where are the others? What happened to the others?

If you haven't figured it out by now, you are about to immerse yourself in a very intense and emotive story. It will be intricate. It will have conflicting relationships, emotional and actual, on collective and individual levels. It will be unforgiving. Most of all, it will be brutal. There is a reason why I rated this project mature. The storyline has already been planned out in great detail from beginning to end, and I try to be unpredictable after I stop spoonfeeding hints and foreshadowing during the second story arc.

While it may not look like this until you hit chapter ten, The Interloper represents my attempt at breathing real life into the Digimon concept. Because it takes place in 2013, exactly ten years after the ending of Zero Two, there will be references to real people, to real events, and to real technologies and corporations. In addition, the society that exists in The Interloper reflects my belief on how our increasingly digital, capitalist civilization would evolve if it was forced to coexist with digimon early on in the new millennium, which was a signature of the "fairy tale" epilogue infamous among us fans. In other words, I write with realism as my guiding principle. Of course, this does not mean fluffy and lighthearted scenes associated with warmth and happiness do not exist here. They are merely uncommon—a brief respite from the no-nonsense seriousness going on here and a sign that not all is screwed up in my story's sociopolitical context.

Third, as you have no doubt worked out from the prologue, I am employing an OC for a major protagonist. He is deliberately overpowered relative to the power scale of the Digimon fandom, and he does go along with Daisuke's Veemon for a majority of this story. However, The Interloper is not about Christopher. While he has a backstory of his own and will undergo legitimate character development, THIS IS NOT CHRISTOPHER'S STORY. Rather, this is about the externalities, the sweeping ramifications his presence unleashes upon what remains of the Chosen Children and how every major faction copes with the consequences.

I know readers have had problems with OC's, particularly when mixed with canon, and many would rather jump to conclusions and assume Christopher, my OC, is one of those run-of-the-mill, poorly-written, and badly-designed Gary Stus thriving in this hellhole of bad fanfiction than take the plunge and risk feeling disgruntled and taken advantage of after spending God knows how many hours reading.

Which brings me to the reason why this prologue exists, and why current followers will notice this update focuses on strengthening my exposition. Certainly I could have made a story without Christopher, but I wanted to make a statement with this project: that even a fanfiction that features an OC showing all the warning signs of poor character creation as a main protagonist can not only be compelling and thought-provoking, but also turn the OC into an interesting character without hogging the spotlight from the other canon cast as many of the stereotypical Sue/Stu abominations do.

But if you wish to skip straight to the good stuff, please skip ahead to the ninth chapter, Partners by Circumstance, as this is the chapter that formally introduces the antagonist organization and transitions to the Real World, where most of the action takes place. The acronym SCAI (pronounced like "Sky") is also explained there. However, I warn you that you run the risk of being railroaded by some details from the first eight chapters… because those really just comprise the introduction and many of the developments unfolding in the later story arcs occur because of events written here.

Moving on to conventions, I will be using original names most of the time. Same for digimon and their attacks, with very few exceptions. The personalities of the canon cast reflect how their Japanese voice actors portrayed them, as I had grown up with an English dub that closely follows the original version. In fact, the only material I imported straight from the US English dubs are Veemon's name and anything related to his attacks. In The Interloper, both Japanese and US level systems are used. The antagonists use the In-Training - Rookie – Champion – Ultimate – Mega system to classify digimon, while the protagonists use the Baby – Child – Adult – Perfect – Ultimate – Super Ultimate system to classify digimon. Also, "Digidestined" and "Digital Monsters" correspond to political groups, as you will learn in the later chapters.

To clarify the writing, I use Italics for thoughts, though centered italics are for emphasis or for overlaid narration, similar to songfics, or to the narrators used in some movies and TV shows. Italicized and bold writing in conversations and narration are used for emphasis, though words in bold are stronger than the former. Complete sentences in italics, along with the quotation marks, represents recall of past conversations or a flashback I decided to isolate instead of blending it in seamlessly in the writing. Context will help discern thoughts from flashbacks, and rest assured, I proofread enough to prevent confusion. And as for signature attacks made by digimon and other individuals, they are ALWAYS CAPITALIZED if and when verbalized. An unusual spacing (denoted by periods in between paragraphs/lines) generally means a lapse in time, or a pause used for dramatic effect.

Once again, thank you for reading The Interloper and I hope to see you around in the chapters ahead.

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[2] The unnamed digimon in the snippet of the Shinjuku March is SkullScorpiomon.

[3] Finally, the following are the Real Life references used in this chapter:

» Shinzo Abe is the current Prime Minister of Japan as of February 2015, winning the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election in September 2012 and the LDP's landslide victory three months later. Abe is the first former Prime Minister to return to office since 1948. Occasionally considered a right-wing nationalist, following his victory in December 2012 Abe declared massive fiscal and monetary expansion to focus on the economic and demographic illnesses that still plague Japan as of writing. Whether Japan will stand tall on its feet once again after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and in spite of its depressing demographics remains to be seen.

» Nomura refers to the Nomura Research Institute, a Japanese think-tank and systems integrator established in 1965, employing nearly 5,000 people and is currently the nation's largest consulting and IT firm. The NRI is a publicly-listed corporation on the Tokyo Stock Exchange (Ticker: 4307).

» The Great East Japan Earthquake refers to the damage wrought by a magnitude 9.0 undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011—the most powerful earthquake to ever hit the nation. It triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights no greater than 133 feet and traveled up to 6 miles inland, causing nearly 16,000 deaths, 6,000 injured, 2,600 missing people, and over 1 million damaged buildings, including extensive, structural damage in Northeastern Japan, nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, and massive shortages of food, water, shelter, medicine, and fuel for displaced survivors. The World Bank has estimated the economic impact of this disaster at $235 billion.

» Waterboarding is a form of water torture where water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized prisoner, simulating drowning. Other than sudden death, it can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, lung and brain damage from oxygen deprivation, and great psychological damage. This method has been used by the United States' CIA during the recent "War on Terror". In January 2009, President Obama banned waterboarding despite his opposition to legal prosecutions of CIA interrogators who have employed this method.

» The JNN refers to the Japan News Network, a commercial news network run by Tokyo Broadcasting System, Inc.

» The NPA refers to the National Police Agency, an agency administered by the National Public Safety Commission and is the central coordinating arm of the Japanese police system. As a corollary, the SAT (Special Assault Team) falls under the NPA's authority as its paramilitary counter-terrorism unit and can be considered the Japanese equivalent of US SWAT teams.

» Facebook is one of the most prominent online social networks in existence today, boasting 1.23 billion active users on January 2014 month-end and generated $1.5 billion in net income in the year 2013. Celebrating its tenth anniversary on February 2014, the service was founded by Mark Zuckerberg and four of his college roommates at Harvard University. Membership in Facebook was originally limited to their fellow students, but eventually expanding to other Ivy League schools, colleges in Boston, growing and growing until reaching a critical mass they possess to date. Facebook went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange on May 2012. Its IPO was one of the largest and most anticipated in technology, but also a highly controversial one, as it had been compared to "pump and dump" schemes common among penny stocks. Until now, Facebook continues to impact the world through several aspects of our society today.

» The website Youtube is a video-sharing site created in February 2005 by three former employees of PayPal. The company running the website—owned by Google since 2006—operates from San Bruno, CA and is currently the dominant provider of online video in the USA, sustaining a market share close to 50% and over 14 billion views since 2010, accumulating 800 million users per month, 60 hours' worth of videos every minute, and over 100 million video views per day. This one company alone has changed virtually the way private individuals, multinationals, and governments interface with the masses and back at relatively little cost or effort.

» Twitter is another social network created in March 2006, providing a microblogging service limited to 140 characters. Twitter gained worldwide popularity quickly after the 2007 South by Southwest Interactive conference, when the Twitter staff placed plasma screen TV's in the conference halls, constantly streaming tweets, allowing hundreds of people to keep tabs on each other constantly. Its value seen by the masses, the company has since accumulated 500 million registered users by 2012, who post a collective 340 million tweets a day. It is now one of the ten most-visited websites in the Internet.

» MySpace is a pioneering social network of its time, inspired by Friendster's rise to popularity. It was the most visited site from 2005 to 2008, surpassing even Google during those years. At its peak, the company possessed over 100 million accounts and had significant influence on pop culture and music. Through Myspace, companies and artists have come to embrace unique URLs and its foray into gaming eventually led to successful ventures such as Zynga. Even Facebook's emergence did nothing to diminish MySpace's popularity, as the former had targeted only college students at the time. Unfortunately, the service's decline began when the management stuck to a strategy that focuses solely on entertainment and music, even as other social media placed more emphasis on the user experience and the very essence of social networking. Shawn Gold, a former head of marketing and content, placed the blame on overextension, as MySpace tried to provide everything internally and failed to do so with high level of quality, whereas Facebook outsourced its application development to outside parties.

» Junichiro Koizumi is the 87th Prime Minister of Japan, who served three terms from April 2001 to September 2006, the fifth longest serving PM in the nation's history. He is considered by the Japanese public as a maverick leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, gaining eminence as an economic reformer, a supporter of US policy during George Bush's War on Terror, and for campaigning the expansion of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in 2001. The former Prime Minister was extremely popular among the Japanese at certain points during his service, well-known for his wavy, gray hair, his outspoken nature, and his colorful past.

» The Nokia N70 was once a very popular smartphone in 2005, having been a stylish, feature-rich 3G phone. It was one of the first Nokia handsets for the so-called "N-series", which delivered broad market appeal and elevated the company's reputation due to lackluster 3G offerings before its release. In 2005, it had sold 45 million units.

» The 民主or the Minshu-to is the local name for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which is currently Japan's second largest political party after the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). It was formed in 1998 as a result of a merger of several anti-LDP parties, effectively bringing a wide swath of political beliefs under its fold. The Japanese public typically considers the DPJ as moderate-left.

» The United Nations University is the academic and research arm of the United Nations, with diplomatic status as a UN institution. The university is situated in Shibuya, Tokyo.