"Ken!" Wormmon gasped, eyes going wide. He instantly Digivolved to Stingmon without a DigiEgg to guide him elsewhere, and took off into the sky after the flying dragons. Strikedramon gasped, forced to follow on foot, and took off after Rika and Renamon.

Atsushi shook his head, looking down at his Digimon. "Let's do it!" he commanded, getting ready nods from all three of them. The small glowing apparatus by his head started to spin quickly as all three of them began to glow. The small monkey-like Monmon turned into Hookmon, a humanoid Digimon in a pirate get-up with a hook for one hand and a cannon for the other. The silent Kotemon shed most of his armor, becoming an almost human-like, but still strikingly reptilian Digimon, Dinohyumon. Covered in green scales but with a humanoid face and body shape, including a lack of a tail, wearing traditional tribal clothing, and with blades on both of his arms and a huge sword strapped to his back. Lastly, Bearmon Digivolved to Grizzlymon, a huge bear covered in blue-gray and white fur, with a cresent moon shape on his forehead and armor covering his front paws and one shoulder. Once they were all Digivolved, Atsushi jumped on Grizzlymon's back and ran up alongside Rika, Renamon, and Strikedramon. "Jump on, it'll be faster!"

Rika nodded and jumped up behind Atsushi. She allowed Renamon to choose between riding and running. Renamon had always been incredibly swift and could no doubt carry herself on her own feet. Hovering around the tower, the Airdramon were taking a closer look at Ken. At first they just picked him up from the group of trespassers, but now they were starting to recognize him. "Hey, this is that same kid who put those collars on us," one of them growled, red eyes studying Ken's face.

"He rode us around like lowly steeds," grumbled the other. Both were clearly insulted by the memory and were good at holding grudges.

Ken just whimpered, trembling as he dangled from the dragon's teeth. "I'm really sorry. I never should have treated you like that..."

Grizzlymon kicked up his speed once Rika was safely on his back as well. Atsushi held tight to his Digimon's thick mane as the bear dashed full-speed towards the tower. Hookmon, Renamon, and Dinohyumon kept pace alongside him, but Strikedramon did not seem content to stick with the pack. A low growl had started at the back of his throat as he watched the Airdramon get further and further away with Ken, and now that they'd landed at the tower, he'd gotten down on all fours and started to pull away from the pack, dashing off after Stingmon, who was approaching the quickest in the air. "Moon Shooter!" he buzzed, shooting at the Airdramon that wasn't holding Ken from afar.

The Airdramon hissed when the attack struck. Ken gasped and tried to get a look at his Digimon. "Stingmon! Stingmon help!" he begged.

The Airdramon holding the boy captive took off into the air while the other stayed behind to fight. "Wing Cutter!" it roared and flapped its wings, sending the dual blades of air at the insect.

"Renamon, I think you should go ahead and evolve," Rika instructed. "See if you can sprint up the side of the tower and use your Dragon Wheel on it."

Stingmon dodged the blasts of air expertly, and again attempted his Moon Shooter. Renamon, meanwhile, nodded her head and took a good leap into the air as Rika's Digivice began to screech. She hit the ground with four feet, having Digivolved into Kyubimon, now with four white paws carrying her swiftly towards the tower. She surpassed Strikedramon, who snarled and started to run faster. Kyubimon was much lighter on her feet, however, and reached the building quickly. As instructed, she started to run up the side, and once she reached the top, she leapt at the Airdramon. "Dragon Wheel!" She began to spin mid-air, the flames on the ends of her many tails growing and eventually enveloping her body. The firey wheel slammed into the Airdramon's back.

The Airdramon growled this time. Getting ganged up on was making him angry, which was a dangerous thing. "Spinning Needle!" it roared again, this time sending out the air spears in numerous directions, attacking all his enemies at once.

The second air serpent watched all of this with a grin on his face. "You all don't stand a chance. My brother and I are Champions." Ken was about to insist that it was three Champions against two, but then he remembered how violent the dim dragons could be when contradicted.

"We didn't come here to fight with you," the boy tried to insist. "We only want to meet with Wingdramon. We want him to stop help leading the war."

The Airdrmon laughed. "That's a stupid idea! Besides, we don't owe the Kaiser anything." Its tone had turned bitter. Then the Airdramon tossed Ken into the air, causing the boy to yelp fearfully. When Ken started to drop, the Airdramon caught the human's arm in his sharp teeth. Ken cried out painfully, now dangling by the one limb.

Kyubimon cried out as she was hit with one of the spears, sent flying back into the roof of the tower. Stingmon managed to dodge and continued his onslaught against the dragon. On the ground, Strikedramon was attempting to scale the wall of the tower, though it was taking him longer than it took Kyubimon. Atsushi was watching the fight with a scowl on his face. "Grizzlymon, get underneath Ken," he instructed. The bear nodded and rushed over beneath where the boy was dangling.

"Hookmon, now!"

"Super Shooter!" the pirate Digimon exclaimed, shooting a flaming bullet from his cannon arm at the Airdramon holding Ken, aimed to go right through its heart.

"Kyubimon!" Rika shouted. There was concern in her voice, but also a tone of firm authority. One attack wasn't nearly enough to take her Digimon down like that. "Get up!" she instructed and then offered encouragement with, "Stand your ground! Fox Tail Inferno!"

The Airdramon toying with Ken was too distracted by its brother's attacks to see the one coming for him. A blazing orange blur was the last thing it saw before giving a thunderous howl and bursting into pixels. Ken immediately began to drop. He closed his eyes and waited for the ground to meet him, only a pair of arms were suddenly wrapped around him. Indigo eyes blinked quickly and then looked up. "A-Atsushi?"

The remaining Airdramon didn't seem to notice Strikedramon yet, rather its attention was on Stingmon who was zipping around this way and that. "Hold still! Wing Cutter!" it growled, sending another two blades of air at the insect assassin.

Kyubimon got to her feet quickly, and started to prepare her attack as she was commanded, the flames on her tails growing bigger and brighter. Strikedramon scrambled onto the roof at the same time, and, still running on all fours, took a flying leap off of the roof towards the second Airdramon. Hookmon had turned and shot another precise bullet, cleanly taking out the second Airdramon. "And you guys thought you wouldn't need me," Atsushi preened with a smirk, looking over his shoulder at Rika smugly as he caught Ken in his arms. The Airdramon dissipated from underneath Strikedramon, and he let out a roar as he started to fall towards the ground. Dinohyumon and Stingmon both gasped, one leaping and the other swooping towards Strikedramon from both ground and air. Both grabbed one of his arms, and safely brought him to the ground. They both seemed relieved until Strikedramon started to writhe and snap at them. They let go of his arms and jumped back, and Strikedramon took off like a shot towards the tower again.

Rika only stared at the goggled boy with a bit of a grim line on her lips. "Don't get cocky, we're not done yet," she warned. Rika believed firmly that any and all congratulations only occurred after the total win. Ken winced at the pain in his arm. He'd had terrible luck with that limb so far, having been burned, broken and now bitten. Ken watched as Strikedramon charged in a rage back towards the tower. Why on earth was he so rampant? None of the enemies here were even Virus types. Ken didn't have long to dwell on the matter before a deep rumbling was heard from inside the tower.

It grew louder and more violent until a huge blue dragon burst from the roof, throwing off any Digimon that had been perched up there. Wingdramon was covered in blue scales with red stripes going down his back, tail, and elbow wings. There was white plating on his chest and face which bloomed into sharp orange spikes. Growing from its back was a long narrow lance, and gripped in each hand was a yellow stone. Wingdramon hovered effortlessly in the air thanks to the scales on his much larger back wings, defying gravity itself. "Why have you attacked my soldiers?" he asked, voice booming through the air.

"Holy shit," Atsushi breathed, his eyes going wider when he saw Wingdramon emerge from the tower. Kyubimon had been thrown into the air by the roof exploding, but landed on her feet near Stingmon, Hookmon, and Dinohyumon. The four stood their ground with Grizzlymon looking on from behind with all three kids on his back, and Strikedramon now at the base of the tower, trying to climb its destroyed walls to get to Wingdramon.

Why have you attacked my soldiers!" Wingdramon bellowed once more, almost making the ground shake with his tone.

Rika hissed and nudged Ken in the shoulder. "That's your cue, Violet."

Ken jumped slightly since he too had been caught in marevling the beast's size and strength. "O-Oh! Um..." He sat up a bit more in Atsushi's lap, hoping to be seen and heard better. "I understand you are the Colonel of the Vaccine army?"

Wingdramon flapped his wings once; not because he needed to, but to exhert his authority. "I am," he answered calmly. "I oversee the attacks on behalf of the Cleansing and report back to the General." His fiery orange eyes narrowed at the group. "I've heard through the ranks that a human and his Digimon have been removing our officers from their position of power. That wouldn't happen to be you, would it?"

Now Ken swallowed nervously. "Well, we aren't doing it to weaken your forces. We've been doing the same thing on the Virus side. Colonel, we only ask that you listen to us. We want the war to end. Can't peaceful negotiations be conducted instead of all this fighting?"

Most of the Digimon were listening to Ken's words, tense and ready to spring back into action at the faintest sign of Wingdramon going to attack. Atsushi was even getting off of Grizzlymon, to place Ken on his feet and let his Digimon join the line of their makeshift army, which would have looked even more impressive if it wasn't short one of its most intimidating members. Strikedramon had climbed up onto the highest part of the wall of the tower that hadn't been destroyed, and was now swatting angrily at Wingdramon's long, whip-like tail, even though it was moving far too quickly for him to even hope to wound. "Virus types can hardly be reasoned with," Wingdramon insisted. "It was only a matter of time before they turned on us."

Ken shook his head. "But that just isn't true. Look at us," he insisted and gestured to the line of Digimon. "Our group has Virus, Vaccine and Data all working together."

Wingdramon actually seemed to be considering this. He did indeed see two Virus, two Data, and at least one Vaccine Digimon standing together. His soldiers were now dead, so clearly this team could work together properly. "The decision to end the war is still not mine to make," he said, trying to make all points on his side clear as well.

Ken nodded. "We understand that. Our goal has been to encourage each officer to resign peacefully. We've had some success, but at other times we had to use force. We would much rather do this peacefully. With your permission, we want to seek out Alphamon, have council with him." Strikedramon was snarling and trying to catch Wingdramon's tail, perhaps hoping to get onto it and climb up the huge dragon's body to attack his face. Kyubimon growled under her breath and started to run towards the tower to try and get him down. The rampaging Digimon could completely ruin their chances at getting past this officer without a fight.

"Kyubimon!" Rika snapped, but it was too late.

Wingdramon was well aware of her movements. He even interpreted her path, turning to see the dragon-man ready to pounce. "What is this!" he roared. "You would attack a soldier from behind? Coward!"

"No!" Ken cried, desperate to fix the situation could get any worse. "Please, he's not thinking straight! We'll get him down! Just-"

Only Wingdramon would hear none of it. He'd been betrayed and that was that. "Blaze Sonic Breath!" he roared, opening his mighty jaws and releasing a wave of scorching fire. Ken shouted for his Digimon to help. To do anything. Rika was suddenly shuffling through her cards, looking for something that would empower her own Digimon against the strong foe.

"Digivolve!" Atsushi shouted. The device by his head started to spin. The firey breath flooded over Strikedramon, completely engulfing his figure where he stood. Kyubimon skidded to a stop, her eyes going wide. Atsushi's Digimon all changed in a flash, ready to fight. Hookmon turned into Armormon, who looked like a cyber solider centaur, covered in thick black armor and appendages armed with guns. Dinohyumon Digivolved into Kyukimon, a large, pink weasel-like creature with blades for arms and a thick blue mane and tail. Grizzlymon stood upright and became GrapLeomon, a lion-like Digimon with saber teeth, an armored body, and turbines on her arms and legs that immedietely began to spin once the light of evolution dissipated. But the stream of fire had already set the tower ablaze, and Strikedramon had become lost in the embers.

Ken screamed, horrified at the idea of an egg being the only thing left standing when the flames would eventually die down. Rika finally pulled out her AncientMermaimon card. She swiped it through the D-Arc, relying on the Great Maelstrom attack to help put out the raging inferno, or at the very least, allow her Digimon to go in and get Strikedramon out. Meanwhile, Wingdramon turned his attention on the rest of the group. "You may stand together, but you stand together against my cause, and for that I cannot show mercy. Wing Blast!" He took off at a dangerous speed then, swooping right over their heads and bringing the shock wave with him.

A huge tornado of water, like a whirlpool that stood on its own, suddenly touched down in the center of the tower, effectively putting out the flames, but spinning faster and faster with no signs of dissipating. Kyubimon grit her teeth and turned to shout something at Rika, only for all of the Digimon to let out frustrated cries as Windramon swooped over them and knocked them all over. Atsushi's Digimon quickly got back up onto their feet. Kyukimon and GrapLeomon started to run after Wingdramon's retreating form, while Armormon simply stood his ground and aimed every gun he had at the dragon's back. "Justice Strike!" he shouted in a mechanical voice, firing all of the guns off at once with a defeaning boom.

"You're making it worse," Ken hissed at Rika, watching her Digimon's attack spin out of control.

Violet eyes glared back at him. "I don't see you doing anything to help," she snapped back.

"You want to see what I can do? Fine." Ken pulled out his D-Terminal, flipping it open and pulling up the eggs folder. "Stingmon, get on the landing and get ready to freeze the maelstrom!" The DigiEgg of Frienship was selected and then activated. "Digimental Up!"

"Blaze Sonic Breath!" Meanwhile, Wingdramon had turned to face the barrage of ammunition. In one fiery breath he whiped out the attack. "Explode Sonic Lance!" he roared and started to dive straight for them, quickly gaining speed as he went.

Stingmon landed as he was instructed, de-Digivolving to Wormmon only to be quickly engulfed by the light of evolution again. "Wormmon Digivolve to... Togemogumon!" The blue mole was revealed, and stomped his feet, sending his crystals in all directions. "Crystal Guard!" A huge, icy barrier was raised in front of Wingdramon's face, and the excess crystals that shot towards the watery tornado froze it perfectly.

Wingdramon roared again as he went crashing through the barrier. The lance on his back pierced it first, weakening the ice enough for his body to break. The mighty dragon crashed head first, skidding across the ground, sending rubble and dust up as he went. Ken's attention was still on the frozen maelstrom. Besides, he knew Astushi could handle it. "Use your Infrared Ray to see if Strikedramon is in there!"

Rika scoffed. "Of course he's in there. We need to hurry and get him out. Kyubimon, Fox Tail Inferno! Melt that ice."

"Wait!" Ken gasped, "You might hurt him!"

Atsushi's Digimon all shouted and scattered when the dragon came crashing through the barrier. Wormmon De-Digivolved, preparing to evolve into the next armor form, but realized Ken was too busy watching on in horror as Kyubimon spread out her tails, preparing to melt the ice. She hesitated, however, eyes widening when she realized that the ice tower was starting to quiver. It suddenly exploded in a shower of sharp ice crystals that rained down onto the battlefield. From within the ice tower shot a huge figure, covered in shimmering silver and black armor and being carried towards Wingdramon at an alarming rate with ragged, blood red wings. "Cyberdramon," she gasped, watching as he shot past her like a bullet, claws extended and teeth bared.

"Desolation... Claw!" he roared, producing a super-oscillatory wave with two swipes of the blades on his arms. There wasn't enough time at all for Wingdramon to take off into the air again. The scales on his wings might have blocked gravity, but he was a heavy beast to get off the ground, even for his own body. So when Cyberdramon came barreling at him like that, the blue dragon didn't stand a chance. Some screeching wail of a roar was heard before Wingdramon exploded into pixel dust.

Cyberdramon landed on the ground where Wingdramon had been lying, landing on one knee. He stood up and lifted his head as the pixelated dust fell down around him, tail lashing from side to side. All of Atsushi's Digimon devolved then, and Monmon tried to approach Cyberdramon to congradulate him. "Hey, good jo-!" he started, running towards the dragon. Cyberdramon let out a loud snarl and instantly got down on all fours, snapping his jaws at the small green monkey, who fell backwards, eyes wide with surprise and fear. Bearmon and Kotemon quickly rushed over to him and dragged him away before Cyberdramon pounced, landing where Monmon had been.

"Don't!" Ken shouted. Indigo eyes looked toward the other boy. "Don't let your Virus Digimon near him!" Those same eyes then glanced towards his own Digimon, giving the little worm a silent instruction to stay put until Cyberdramon was under control. Ken approached the black dragon, taking slow steps with his hands raised, trying to show he had no weapons. "Ryo... Ryo, it's me, Ken. Can you hear me?"

Atsushi quickly ran over and scooped Monmon up in his arms, running over towards Wormmon to stand back where he was, a safe distance away. Cyberdramon turned his slavering jaws towards Ken, seemingly staring at him as he spoke, though it was hard to tell when his eyes were covered by a silver helmet. He roared again and pounced, this time at the boy. "Get back!" Kyubimon shouted, running towards Ken and butting her head into his back, flipping him onto hers before gracefully darting away. "You can't reason with Cyberdramon like you can with Strikedramon," she said in a quick, firm voice.

"You didn't even let me try!" Ken yelled and attempted to climb off her back. "I have to talk him down! It's the only way. We might be able to hold onto Ryo for a little longer. Just let me try!"

"Do you want to get yourself killed?!" Kyubimon barked, fanning her tail to try and keep him from going past her. "We've seen this happen enough times. Unless you've got Ryo's whip to force him to calm down, you're just going to need to let him rampage for a little while." Cyberdramon, meanwhile, was standing in the middle of the circle, looking around at each person and Digimon in turn, nostrils flaring.

"But I do have a-" Ken stopped himself right there. Suddenly, he wasn't so sure he wanted to share that information. He wasn't confident in his ability to use it properly. Last time he brought out the whip, Strikedramon turned on him and they both got buried in rubble. Meanwhile, Rika was standing in her spot apart from the others. She very simply had her arms over her chest and was staring Cyberdramon down when he looked her way.

Kyubimon gave Ken a critical look, pawing at the dirt and glancing nervously over at Cybedramon as he stared down her partner. "If you have something that could help, it would be greatly appreciated," she said flatly. Cyberdramon had locked his gaze on Rika, taking in her defiant stature, and began to approach her slowly, flapping his torn and ragged wings and baring his teeth in an intimidating display.

Rika didn't turn her gaze away for a second. She didn't relatiate or put on her own display. Rather, she just stood her ground. "Why don't you just calm down," she said to the dragon.

Ken watched hestitantly as the two head strong personalities began to face off. "I... I don't know that I should..."

"If he attacks her..." Kyubimon murmured, her voice trailing off. She was starting to become tense, ready to jump in if things got ugly. Cyberdramon took another few steps towards Rika, then got back up onto his hind legs, absolutely towering over her as he rose to his full height. His tail smacked against the ground angrily and he let out a defeaning roar.

Rika waited until he was finished. She fixed a few hairs that had been displaced and then calmly she sighed, "Yeah, yeah, you're a big scary brute. We all get it, but the show is over." When Cyberdramon hunched down at her again, Rika reached out boldly. One of her hands cupped beneath his jaw while the other began to pet down the metal mask on his face. Ken gasped. That was supposed to be his thing! Rika hushed the dragon gently, moving her hand slowly and in one direction so as to calm him. "The fight is done now. You did your job. Good boy... The fight is done." It was the opportunity she had been waiting for, really. Ryo never gave her the chance to prove she could handle his Digimon. Rika naturally held command, but she'd learned to be soft as well. The perfect combination.

Cyberdramon continued to growl, but his tail slowly became less active. It came to rest on the ground, the end occasionally flicking in annoyance, but its showy lashing completely done. His wings gave a flap and he continued to bare his teeth, but he'd seemed to calm down, and his growl steadily got quieter. Kyubimon and Atsushi both seemed to relax as well, though the tension in the air didn't truely dissipate until Cyberdramon closed his black lips over his teeth.

"You good now?" the girl asked, still petting the plated face. "We'll set off again really soon. Can you wait?" Ken felt sick to his stomach. In one swoop Rika came in and tamed the beast. He had been traveling with bio-merged Digimon for months and she just joined the them the other day, yet already she earned control over him. It wasn't fair! What was it? Why did Cyberdramon hate him so much? Was it because of the infection? Cyberdramon was infected, too! Ken could feel himself shaking as he watched Rika cooing at the dragon, yet still able to be so firm with him.

Cyberdramon nodded his head slightly before pulling it away from her hands and standing upright again. Atsushi stared at him more a few moments, and though the huge dragon seemed calm now, he decided to keep holding Monmon. Just in case. "So now what?" he finally decided to ask, after silence had prevailed for a few moments.

Rika looked over at Ken, expecting an answer from him. When the pale boy just continued to stand there, she snapped her fingers at him. "Violet? Violet? ...Ken!"

"Wh-What?" Ken finally snapped to attention. He looked around at everyone, seeing their expectant faces turned upon him. "O-Oh... Um, we have to go confront the Infection General, Gaiomon. He lives in the Dark Area." Ken frowned at Atsushi as he said this. "I'm sorry, but... it's off the continent."

Atsushi frowned gently, but then put a smile back on his face. "Well... I expected that. I can at least travel with you guys and offer my help until you need to leave. Make sure you take off safe." All of his Digimon nodded then, pumping their fists.

Ken nodded as well. "We'd appreciate it."

"Well let's stop standing around talking about it and actually get to it," Rika said. She nodded for Kyubimon to devolve and then motioned for Cyberdramon to follow. "We're going for a long walk," she told the dragon. "Don't run too far ahead or you'll tire out, got it?"

Ken just approached Wormmon, picking his Digimon up and finally congratulating him on the fight. "You did a good job, Wormmon."

Cyberdramon didn't give any indication of paying attention, just started to trudge off. Kyubimon devolved to Renamon in a flash of light, and passed Ken as she went to join her tamer.

"In the end, it's just best that no one got hurt. No matter who resolved the issue," she said sagely, before darting up towards Rika.

Ken wanted to ask why is was so easy for Rika, but then he figured out that there was probably no answer. At the very least, it would be an answer he didn't want to hear. Cyberdramon reacted better to Rika, which meant the Digimon half really did trust her and the human half really did recognize her. It seemed neither rang true for the pale boy. Ken decided to turn to Atsushi instead as they began to move. "Your team was amazing."

"Thanks," Atsushi said, smiling gently. "They've been with me through a lot, these three. There's little they can't handle." He was petting back Monmon's tuft of hair, still holding him closely. "But that Cyberdramon... he did what my Digimon could have done as a team with a single attack..."

"There's a lot more to Cyberdramon than what you see," Ken tried to explain. "That's what makes him so incredibly powerful, and so dangerously wild..."

"I figured," Atsushi murmured gently. "There seems to be something... wrong about him." Cyberdramon kept swinging his head from side to side, as if expecting something to try and attack him. Or perhaps hoping for it.

Ken nodded. "Have you... heard of Millenniummon, Atsushi?"

"No, I don't think so," Atsushi answered, shaking his head. "Why?"

"Well, you would understand why Cyberdramon is the way he is if you did, but it's a long story to tell." Ken sighed. "I guess... All you need to know is that Cyberdramon is... Kind of possessed. I think that's the best way to put it."

"Possessed?" Atsushi echoed. He thought about it for a moment, but then sighed and rolled his eyes back. "Well, if it's a long story, I'm okay with just knowing that. I'll just... have to be extra careful with Monmon."

Ken nodded again. "He shouldn't attack out of the blue. I'm hoping there's just enough of Ryo left in him to keep that basic level of control. Otherwise, Monmon shouldn't approach Cyberdramon or engage him while they're in battle." Indigo eyes looked down at the insect in his arms. "I came close to losing Wormmon to Strikedramon."

Wormmon had a bit of a worried look on his face, antenna twitching gently. "And that was just Strikedramon," he warbled. "As much as we hope Ryo's still awake in there... I think we're seeing way more of Cyberdramon now."

"Rika calmed him down like it was nothing..." Ken murmured softly. "He responded so well to her..."

"You appeal to Ryo, but she appeals to Cyberdramon. He's known her longer," Wormmon pointed out.

Ken exhaled heavily. "Or maybe Ryo is just that happy to have her back."

"You can't really know," Wormmon murmured gently. "Cyberdramon can't talk."

Ken wasn't so convinced. Ken wasn't doing himself any favors, either, being paranoid like he was. Rika was the monkeywrench in his plan. She'd come in at the worst time. Ken was supposed to bond with Cyberdramon, learn to control him, gain the dragon's trust. Now none of that was going to happen. With Rika's elegant command over Cyberdramon, Ryo was bound to notice while inside. He would no doubt be reminded of all the reasons he loved her in the first place. Well... Ken wasn't going to get heart broken again. He just wasn't. "It's really brilliant... the way you direct all three of your Digimon," Ken said to Atsushi, putting on his kind and flirtacious face once more.

"Thanks," Atsushi said, looking down at Kotemon and Bearmon, who were walking neatly in line behind him, as they usually did. "Too bad we were a bit out of form in that last fight. I was hoping we could help you guys a bit more."

"Are you kidding?" Ken leaned over and touched shoulders with the other boy. "You guys were amazing. You took out those Airdramon like they were nothing. And..." Ken smiled, even blushed. "You were so brave to catch me like that. My hero."

Atsushi blushed a little too, shuffling his foot as he took his next step. "You think so?" he answered, laughing gently.

He nodded. "Of course. You could have sent a Digimon in to catch me, or even let me fall and fend for myself. You charged right up under that Digimon, right into his line of fire, just so you could catch me." Ken gave Atsushi a kiss on the cheek suddenly. "Definitely my hero for that."

Atsushi gasped and put a hand on his cheek. He was so dazed by the sudden event that he didn't notice that Cyberdramon had stopped- not until he bumped into the huge dragon and nearly jumped out of his skin for it. "Wh-why'd he stop?" he asked, and recieved as an answer frantic shrugs and shakes of the head from his Digimon, and a snarl from Cyberdramon.

"I don't know, it's so hard to tell why Cyberdramon does a lot of things." Ken stood closed to Atsushi, their shoulders still touching. He looked up at the black dragon and shrugged. "Maybe he smells a Virus around here somewhere."

Cyberdramon continued to snarl over his shoulder, but made no move to run off after a scented enemy. "I don't know, I think he might just not like Monmon," Atsushi murmured. He backed away from the dragon a few paces, and that seemed to appease the Digimon, as he let out a snort and then started trudging forward again.

Ken frowned a little. "I'm sorry about that. I don't doubt he'd be friendlier under different circumstance. Just don't take it personally. After all..." Ken leaned over to gently pinch one of the red marks on Monmon's cheek. "Who could hate such a cute little guy?" Monmon giggled a little, and from the ground, Bearmon pointed into his open mouth with his claw to show his disgust with the statement. Wormmon was just giving his boy a weird look. He knew Ken was acting, and it bothered him a little in how obvious it was to only him. "So, what do you do outside in your world?" Ken asked Atsushi.

Rika glanced over her shoulder from where she led the pack. She kept a little further ahead of Cyberdramon, but not so much that she couldn't see what he was up to. She frowned at the pale boy's behavior. "It's like he's not even taking this seriously."

"Uh, well, I usually just hang out with my friends, Teddy and Ivy. They play Digimon Online too, but not as much as me." He fixed his goggles, smiling a little then. "I play sports sometimes too, and go to school. Nothing really exciting. I spend most of my time in here."

Renamon glanced over her shoulder, watching the boy for a moment before turning to her tamer. "He's very disturbed by us joining the team," she said flatly.

"You don't happen to play soccer, do you?" Ken asked with something of a knowing smirk.

The observation only made Rika frown even more. "Well that's his own issue that he needs to work out. Unless all our heads are one hundred percent in this game, we're going to lose."

"Yeah, how'd you know?" Atsushi asked.

"It is, and that's true," Renamon murmured, "But he's not going to realize that on his own." Her tail flicked as she carefully chose her words. "I know you're used to being one of the backseat leaders to a timid figurehead, but this kid isn't Takato. He doesn't know you. You're going to need to talk to him."

The pale boy laughed. "Every boy I know who wears goggles plays soccer as well," Ken replied. "It seems to be a rule the universe has set into place."

"About what?" Rika asked, her tone on the verge of scoffing. "I'm not his therapist or his mother. He can carry his own baggage."

"Huh, weird," Atsushi answered, raising his brows.

"About working together as a team," Renamon said with a flick of her tail. "Once we leave Atsushi and his Digimon at the border, it'll be just us, Cyberdramon, and that boy and his Digimon. We won't have all of our usual teammates helping out. We'll need to carefully formulate any attack plans, and that won't work if he's pointedly ignoring you."

Ken shuffled his feet a bit as they walked. "So, do you have any brothers or sisters? I bet you have a sister."

"I get the feeling he'll want to start a cat fight with me instead," Rika said. She sighed and nodded, though. "You're right, Renamon. With Ryo too dormant to make decisions, it'll be up to me and Ken. Sometimes working alone is so much easier. If it was you and me against the world, Renamon, I don't think I'd mind."

"Nah, no siblings," Atsushi laughed, finally letting Monmon down and putting his hands behind his head. The green monkey rejoined the line behind him, following at his tamer's heels.

Up front, Renamon smiled gently. "It was like that for a while, wasn't it?" she hummed. "But even if working alone is easier when it comes to making choices, there's power in numbers. And this... as much as we may want to, we can't do this one alone."

Ken set Wormmon down as well, letting the insect walk alongside side the boy like he usually preferred. Then Ken took Atsushi's arm, lacing his own with it, and leaning his head on Atsushi's shoulder. "So did you pick your Digimon, or were they here waiting for you?"

Rika was quiet for a few minutes. Her eyes were fixed on the horizon ahead of them. She was thinking about the task ahead and who she had to rely on. "I wish Lee was here," she murmured, the affection coming through in the way she said the name that not many people knew.

Atsushi smiled a little, swallowing dryly. "I picked them. There's nine different Digimon offered to Digimon Online players when they first start out, and you pick three of them. From there you can recruit more and switch your team around, but I always stuck with these guys."

"Lee?" Renamon echoed, thinking for a minute about who she was referring to. The jolt of recognition in her eyes said that she remembered that Lee was Henry's traditional name. "Ah... We couldn't contact him for help, could we?"

Ken nodded. "Where do they get all the Monmon or Bearmon?" he asked. These Digimon were still the same as Wormmon or Veemon, alive individuals, who just happened to find an alternative method to getting partners. They had to come from somewhere.

"Of all the summers to visit China for schooling," she sighed. "He had to miss my big shoot, too. I can only call him Sunday nights. It's not enough time, either. I miss him," Rika confessed, but only loud enough for her own Digimon to hear.

"Beats me," Atsushi answered. "I'm guessing they must get their hands on their eggs somehow and hatch 'em themselves."

Renamon nodded gently, ears flicking back a bit. "I see." She looked at Cyberdramon, and then at Ken, and then back to her tamer. "I think there's a really easy way to fix the problems you and Ken are having."

"Ryo says all the eggs come from a tree of life somewhere in the Digital World," Ken said a bit dreamily. "I wish I could go see it."

Rika looked up at her Digimon. "How's that?"

"Why don't you?" Atsushi asked, smiling. "If I could leave this contintent and go see it, I'd do it in a heartbeat!"

"He's jealous," Renamon said simply. "This tension could be explained away."

Ken shrugged a little. "I don't know where it is, exactly, and Ryo's not in a position anymore to take me. Maybe at the end of all this, when he's back to normal and the war is over..."

"I don't have to explain my personal relationships to him," Rika huffed.

Atsushi looked down at the boy leaning against his shoulder with a bit of a forlorn expression. "That sounds like it could be nice."

"Then you can both go on not understanding each other and can ultimately ruin any semblance of a collaborative effort with stubbornness and jealousy," Renamon said flatly.

"I wish I could take you with me," Ken said quietly.

Rika opened her mouth to argue, but she closed it when nothing came out. Violet eyes turned back on the horizon for a while before she said anything again. "When did I start taking steps backwards?"

"Yeah," Atsushi answered, in a voice that was just as subdued.

"When you started to worry," Renamon answered sagely.

Rika smirked slightly. "Me, worry? Renamon, I think you have me confused with someone else."

Renamon laughed gently. "If the inner you is someone else entirely, then I suppose I have."

They walked until dusk when finally they reached the ocean on the other side of the continent. In the morning they would have to venture out, but Atsushi wouldn't be able to go with them. Ken hung onto the boy, though, wanting the company. Rika started a small fire that kept them warm despite the cool breeze coming up off the water. "Lay down," she said firmly to Cyberdramon and pointed at the ground beside her. "Lay down." Atsushi and his Digimon sat around the fire, with Ken and Wormmon on his other side. Renamon was sitting lotus style on the opposite side of the fire, watching as her tamer fruitlessly tried to get the dragon to comply. Cyberdramon was standing tall, determinedly not listening to her command. He even turned his nose up the second time he demanded it. "Hey," Rika frowned and snapped her fingers. "Lay down, Cyberdramon. We're going to sleep now and then go in the morning. We need our strength to fight. Now, lay down."

Ken just rolled his eyes. Cyberdramon was his own Digimon, so good luck with that. Ken took Atsushi's hand and stood, taking the boy with him into the cover of the reeds that grew tall all along the shore. "You're so great... Having come all this way with us. I'm just sorry you have to turn around and go back tomorrow."

Cyberdramon just snarled, tail lashing, and flapping his wings to kick up sand. Atsushi followed after Ken, looking decidedly confused. The poor guy had been recieving more mixed signals than he knew what to do with. "Well... there's not much to be done about it, sadly," he murmured. "I can't leave the continent, even though I want to."

"Atsushi..." Ken slowed to a stop, "can I tell you a secret?"

"Sure," Atsushi answered, his voice still reflecting his confusion.

"The thing that lives inside Cyberdramon... it lives inside me, too." As Ken said this, he turned and moved his hair, revealing the angry scar on the back of his neck.

Atsushi's eyes went wide as Ken revealed the scar. He lifted his hand to touch it, but thought better of it and awkwardly folded both of his hands in front of his torso instead, wringing at his fingers. "Does it... change you, too?"

Ken nodded. "It did once, in a way." He let his hair fall back into place and turned to face Atsushi again. "I became an evil tyrant known as the Digimon Kaiser. I enslaved Digimon and did horrible things to them. Luckily, the other Chosen Children saved me. I'm afraid the influence still lingers and makes me a bit of a brat sometimes. I get depressed now and then, too. It's hard... having this thing inside me. No one else quite knows what I go through, so... I get lonely more than anything. I want to be with other humans so badly so that I can feel like one, too."

"Oh..." Atsushi didn't seem to know how to react to that. The story was unlike any he'd ever heard. He knew of Digimon becoming corrupt, but people? It seemed hard to believe, and he probably wouldn't have if not for that scar. "I guess... I can understand that," he murmured, putting his hands in his pockets instead and turning towards the water that would seperate them come the next morning. "I can't say I can really understand how that would feel, though..."

"Atsushi..." Ken followed the other boy. He could see the flicker of the fire through the reeds. He could also see that no one seemed to care they were still gone. "If I told you I didn't want to be lonely tonight, what would you do?" Ken asked and touched Atsushi's arm.

Atsushi seemed to jump a little, eyes flicking over to Ken surprisedly and a blush searing his face. "Um... I'd ask you to clarify," he answered, throat sounding a little dry.

"My heart was broken by the one person I learned to trust after years of suffering alone in the darkness. He chose a girl over me and hasn't approached me since. Now, the person I was learning to love had turned into a beast and his affections are waning from me. He's going back to her. That Rika girl." Indigo eyes looked up at the boy in the backwards cap, gleaming as the big full moon reflected in their dark depths. "I know you like me, Atsushi. You're very charming and heroic. Can't you save me from my saddness and lonelieness, just this one night? I want... need... to feel someone's hands. I have to be touched. I have to know a human somewhere cares about me. Even just a little."

Atsushi swallowed, tearing his eyes away from the ocean to look down at Ken. A cold wind came up off the water then, rustling his short brown hair and giving him a foreboding chill. "But... you still care for him, right?" he murmured, reaching out a hand and resting it against Ken's arm. "What if you come to regret it?"

Ken knew in his heart he would regret it. Already he was regretting asking, but he was just so desperate. Ken's selfish need to be loved was so crippling and overwhelming. He was surprised he hadn't strayed sooner, and with less caring, less forgiving strangers. "Why does it have to be like this?" the pale boy whispered as he fought back tears. "You and I have been given a chance, only to know that it won't... that it can't be real..."

Atsushi could see those tears threatening to crest, and offered his arms to pull the other boy close, letting his head rest in the crook of his neck. "I'm sorry, Ken."

Ken wrapped his arms around Atsushi and cried very quietly into the front of his shirt. He didn't sob or shudder like he usually did. It was almost like a quiet resolve or a private mourning. Ken just wished he could make a human relationship that lasted long enough to mean anything. Osamu was taken too soon. Davis broke his heart. Ryo hardly recognized him anymore. And now Atsushi would have to leave because there was no outside relationship to be had. Ken's shoulders shook slightly as he cried, taking comfort at least in the fact that the other boy had a warm embrace. "I'm sorry," he finally managed. "I've been so inconsiderate."

"Don't apologize," Atsushi answered. "I couldn't imagine being in your place. This is... so much more real for you. I'm sure you've all been through more than I'll ever experience in my life. And I'm sure it's hard." He hesitantly reached his hand up and started to stroke down Ken's hair, which had become slightly displaced by the wind.

The boy made a quiet noise and leaned into the touch ever so slightly. "Atsushi, could I have a kiss? Just on the cheek. It's all I want. Please..."

Atsushi smiled softly, nodding his head. That was harmless, and if it would make Ken feel better, he wasn't complaining. "Yeah, okay." He leaned down, placing a chaste peck on the other boy's tear-streaked cheek. And, feeling a little bold, he also brushed back Ken's bangs and left another on his forehead.

Ken sighed softly. "Thank you, Atsushi." He pushed up on his toes to leave a kiss on the brunet's cheek as well. They emerged from the reeds together, finding most of the camp to be asleep. All of Atsushi's Digimon had piled together with Monmon snoring quietly on top. Wormon was curled up next to the fire while Renamon sat in her usual lotus style with her eyes closed. Cyberdramon was lying down away from the group, both on guard and keeping himself at bay. Only Rika was still awake, poking idly at the small flickering flames. She watched them approach with a strange look in her eyes, but Ken paid her no mind. Instead, he just laid down beside his Digimon and closed his eyes.