Devil's Advocate

Chapter Ten: Changing Point

Part Three

XxXXxX

It wasn't until hours later that Andromon noticed something odd.

The numbers weren't adding up like they were supposed to.

He was missing some of his Guardromon.

No, not some.

He was missing a lot of Guardromon.

He hadn't really noticed at first—or rather, despite noticing that there were less Guardromon than he would have expected, he'd just figured that they were in some other part of the city.

But the longer he'd worked, the more he noticed their absence and the more it bothered him.

Eventually, it bothered him so much that he stopped working on the Guardromon and began searching the city for his missing charges.

He didn't find them.

He searched the city in person, he scanned it through the city's security systems, and he even scanned it again with his own power, but he didn't find them.

Dozens of Guardromon were missing and he had no idea where they could be.

His suspicion immediately turned to the Kaiser. He was the enemy, after all, and this area had only just been removed from his control. He was the obvious suspect.

But…

How?

How could he have removed all those Guardromon without anyone noticing?

And more importantly, why?

It might have made sense if he'd known that the city was about to be freed and he'd decided that he'd remove as many of his servants from the area as he could before the Tower was destroyed and they were freed.

But he had no way of knowing that.

Things had been going his way until the end! Andromon wasn't proud of it by any means, but he'd been crushing the Chosen before Hikari had managed to get through to him!

Rather than removing his forces, wouldn't it have made more sense to crush his opponent while he could?

And even more than that, why only a few Guardromon? He was glad to be free of the Kaiser, but from a logical standpoint, wouldn't he be the preferred choice? Didn't it make sense to make him leave if the city was about to be freed? Or, at least, to 'save' more Guardromon?

And how would he have 'saved' them, anyway? He'd need to have removed them from the city and transported them to another area controlled by the Dark Towers. That meant at least getting them out of the city. By the time things had taken a turn for the worse for the Kaiser, was there really enough time left for him to do that?

He doubted it. After Hikari had gotten through to him, things had happened very quickly. Even if the Kaiser had noticed immediately that something was wrong, he would have had, at most, minutes to do something about it before the Tower fell.

Not much time for a group of Guardromon that had been hunting the Chosen in the middle of the city to escape.

And even if he had noticed the problem that early, wouldn't it have made more sense to have done something about it? Like, have those Guardromon attack the Chosen.

If they could have left the city, then they could have circled around the block and pulled a sneak attack.

No, things weren't adding up. The Kaiser didn't make sense as the culprit; he didn't have the time, he didn't have the means, and he didn't even have a reason.

So the disappearance of the Guardromon didn't make sense—

A thought dawned on Andromon.

It didn't make sense…

At least, not if you started from the position that the Kaiser did it.

And but a moment after the thought crossed his mind, it began.

He came in silence.

He gave no statement of intention; no declaration of battle.

He did not even demand surrender.

Predators did not give such things to their prey.

A pillar of fire cut through the night sky and hit Andromon without warning and the hunt began.

XxXXxX

The blast lifted Andromon from his feet and threw him down the street.

In a fraction of a second, his back connected with the wall of a building.

For moment, that instant in which he was caught between fire and steel, it seemed as if Andromon would be stopped by the impact.

Then the moment ended and he crashed violently through the wall. He flew once more through empty space before crashing into—through—another wall into a hallway, across it, through another wall, through another room, through one final wall, and out into another street.

He flew further, even as the blast finally ran out of power and released him. He connected with the ground moments later, hitting it with a resounding and painful clang, but his forward momentum didn't let him stop there. He bounced across the surface of the road like a rock across a lake, continuing all the way down the length of the street, and finally coming to a halt after connecting with another building on the far side of it with enough force to crack the outer wall.

For a moment, Andromon laid there, silent and unmoving.

Then he moved slightly, focusing on something far beyond the range of human vision. Through the smoke and the dust and the still falling debris, he could see something. He didn't know what, except that it was big and red and had just attacked him.

But then, that was all he really needed to know to see where this was going.

He rolled over onto his hands and knees after confirming that a follow up attack wasn't immediate. Either his opponent was waiting for something or he didn't have the same visual perception Andromon was gifted with.

There was really no way to tell, though Andromon suspected the latter, simply because he didn't see anything in particular to wait for.

Either way, he probably couldn't do this.

With his hands on the ground, he extended his senses into the Digital World beneath him.

It took only seconds to find what he needed.

Two beings he didn't recognize were moving through the city.

One was so large and heavy that it could only be a Digimon.

The other…

It could be a small humanoid Digimon; Andromon couldn't think of anyone in particular that both fit that description and would be likely to be here, but in the Digital World, as a rule, anything was possible and dismissing possibilities out of hand was technically classified as 'stupid and dangerous.'

However, if Andromon had to guess…

He'd say it was a human child.

And he could only think of one human child that had any reason to attack him.

The Kaiser.

The issue of the missing Guardromon was quickly filed away and shoved into the back of his mind.

The Kaiser was here and judging from the sheer power of that blow, he'd brought powerful company.

Possibly even a perfect like himself.

But that didn't matter.

If the Kaiser was here, who he'd brought with him didn't matter.

Why he was here didn't matter.

Even the fact that he was a human child didn't matter…did it?

Andromon thought about what he'd done to the Guardromon.

What he'd done to the city.

What he'd done to the Digital World.

What he'd done to Andromon himself.

Steel finger cracked the ground beneath them.

No.

It didn't matter at all.

Twice now, he'd nearly killed humans. His friends, even.

Once under the control of Devimon's Black Gear.

And again, just earlier this day, his will stolen by the boy now within his reach.

The boy had been willing to kill Hikari and her friend and willing to use him as the weapon to do it!

He'd nearly killed his friends twice under the control of others.

He could kill this boy of his own free will.

He didn't like to kill.

But he knew when it needed to be done.

He'd been willing to fight and kill those that served the Dark Masters.

What difference did it make that this foe was flesh and blood or came from another world?

His will decided, Andromon rose to his feet.

Maybe it was just his perspective as a Cyborg Digimon, but…

Flesh was born to die.

He looked at the metal parts of his body with a careful, noting all signs of damage. He flexed his fingers, then, observing how one of the most important systems of his body—his main weapon—responded to his will. A quick roll of his shoulders determined the state of his swinging arm, even as a quick check of his chest plate tested his secondary weapons condition.

All systems operational.

Andromon tilted his head to the side then, cracking his neck for no reason other than the fact he could.

"Ow," He said. "That hurt."

There was nothing in his voice to imply this was true and the Kaiser probably couldn't hear him anyway.

"But enough about me," He continued.

His hand became a storm of motion as it suddenly began rotating at tremendous speeds.

"Let's talk about you. Spiral Sword!"

XxXXxX

"Holy!" Takato exclaimed at the sight.

The blade of energy cut through the building Andromon had crashed through as easily as it had gone through the air before it.

In its wake, the Building was cleanly split diagonally and was in the process of falling. Not only that, but the blade continued through the building without even slowing down.

Takato frowned after a moment.

Had Andromon been that strong down in the sewers? Takato didn't think so; an attack like that would have killed Guilmon. Well, it had been a cut scene, but…

"You bastard…were you holding back?"

Well, maybe he was just fighting off the control of the Evil ring, but it didn't really matter one way or another; the result was the same.

"…Hmph. So what? It doesn't change anything."

It didn't.

Because…

Andromon may have been holding back a little bit in the sewers…

But…

So had they.

XxXXxX

Andromon's feet connected with the side of the building just as it began to fall, he moved so fast. He rode the tilting building down, feeling a hint of satisfaction as it shook when it connected with something.

A fraction of a second later, he was forced to slide back a step as a massive red arm broke through the building, grasping claws reaching for the Cyborg Digimon.

He narrowed his eyes and grabbed the offending limb with both hands. Planting his feet and twisting his hips, the Perfect Digimon turned away, pulling the arm over his shoulder. He grit his teeth and, with a mighty heave, tore his opponent straight through the Building, smashing his back into the side of the building at the same time the Building hit the ground.

The force of the impacts proved too much form it and it immediately collapsed beneath the two Digimon.

Even as the building broke apart beneath his feet, Andromon's focus was still on his opponent.

His first thought was as simple as it was frightening.

I have no idea who this is.

Andromon wasn't arrogant enough to think he knew every Digimon in the Digital World, even with his data banks. That was nigh-impossible, because new Digimon species appeared with some frequency.

Even so, it was always a bit unnerving to meet a Digimon you didn't recognize from the first time.

And when that first time consisted of said Digimon trying to kill you, it was flat-out dangerous.

As such, he immediately gathered as much information as he could.

Large, Andromon noted. Very large, and likely very strong as well; considering its musculature, it was probably strong, even for its size. Reptilian, as well, reminding Andromon briefly of the Greymon species.

But that was where the similarities ended.

It had no helmet, as the Greymon line often did, though he had a head of white hair that reminded him distantly of MetalGreymon. His skin was red and his build was slimmer than Greymon's. His body was wrapped in black band-like tattoos, some of which glowed with Digital Code.

But the feature that most firmly distinguished him from Greymon in Andromon's eyes, were the creature's own. Large, yellow, catlike eyes that glimmered with something dark.

It was at that moment that Andromon noticed the beast had no Evil Ring.

As if in response to that realization, the beast gave him a smile with far too many teeth.

For a moment, time seemed to halt as Andromon and the creature faced each other, airborne in the middle of a collapsing building.

Then the unknown Digimon opened its mouth and Andromon could see the red glow at the back of its throat.

It didn't really surprise Andromon, since he'd been on the receiving end of this attack already, but knowing the exact source of the flames was useful. He added it to the mental list he was making about things to watch out for.

Known weaponry: Claws, teeth, and the ability to exhale fire. Possible weaponry: those bladelike protrusions on its arms and its tail.

Even so, Andromon wasn't worried. He would grant that this Digimon was large and probably strong, but that didn't matter. The Digital World wasn't so simple a place as to equate size and power; the biggest, strongest looking Digimon weren't necessarily actually the strongest.

Point of fact, they generally weren't the strongest.

That wasn't to say this Digimon wasn't powerful, but if he was, it was because of his own power, not because of his size or shape.

Andromon wouldn't be intimidated by size alone.

So when it looked like he would be on the receiving end of an attack that had already sent him crashing through walls and streets, Andromon didn't flinch.

He moved forward.

Pulling on the arm he still held, he pulled himself closer to his opponent, and then past him, flinging himself downwards and covering the remaining distance to the ground before his opponent could unleash his attack.

Andromon's feet slammed into the ground at the same a tremendous blast of fire rent the night sky. The force of connecting with the ground drove Andromon into a crouch, which he immediately made use of by jumping, returning the way he came.

His metal foot slammed into the beast's stomach, knocking him even higher into the air and literally knocking the breath out of him—along with a tremendous gout of fire.

Andromon didn't stop there, though; if an opponent was in a bad position, following up was natural.

His hand immediately began spinning.

Above him, the Kaiser's monster was spinning end over end, completely off guard.

Perfect.

"Spiral Sword!"

The blade of energy exploded out of the ruins of the building and streaked towards his target.

Flipping through the air, end over end, the monster should have had no chance of countering or avoiding.

It did so anyway.

"Fire Blaster!" It said, coughing out a blast of flame when the blast was close. Even Andromon felt the force of the resulting explosion as the attacks cancelled each other out. The monster itself, airborne as it was, was simply tossed away, out of Andromon's sight.

The Cyborg

quickly followed, jumping out of the wreckage and into the streets.

At first glance, his target was nowhere to be seen.

Then he lifted his eyes.

The red Reptile 'stood' on the side of a building, standing on all fours. His claws had sunk deeply into the metal and he'd gripped handfuls of it as if he were kneading dough.

Their eyes met before the larger of the pair snarled.

"Dragon Spine!"

XxXXxX

Growmon ignored the feeling of his hairs removing themselves. It didn't really hurt; it just felt unusual, just like the sensation of the new hair rapidly growing in their place.

The hairs glowed white and hardened, floating in midair for a long moment before an effort of will threw them forth.

The lethal hairs streaked through the air towards their target. Andromon quickly moved backwards, showing his experience.

The unwritten rule of the Digital World was that appearances could be deceiving.

In Growmon's eyes, his Tamer and Creator embodied this rule.

But it applied to Digimon Attacks just as it applied to everything else; just because something happened to look weak had absolutely nothing to do with whether it was strong or not.

The hairs drilled themselves into the ground after missing their target. A moment later, they were gone—not because they had faded away, but because they had cut so deeply into the surface that their entire length was hidden.

Growmon wasn't particularly bothered by the fact that they'd missed; he hadn't really expected them to land.

They'd served their intended purpose wonderfully.

While Andromon was briefly distracted by the attack, Growmon was already following up.

He felt the power gather in his throat. He knew, logically, that it was extremely hot—it was fire, after all—but he felt none of its heat.

Even so, it was uncomfortable. The power gathered in his throat grew and grew until he felt like his entire neck would blow apart.

Of course, he knew that would never happen. His throat wouldn't be affected in the slightest. It was just his mind interpreting the data of the sensation into something he understood.

It meant that he was 'fully charged.'

He unleashed the built up power with a roar, splitting the sky with fire once more.

"Exhaust Flame!"

Andromon saw it coming, but that didn't mean he could simply dodge. Growmon had timed his attack well and the Cyborg was in mid-step and off balance.

Even so, a Perfect would not be so easily defeated.

"Gatling Missile!"

His chest plate opened and released a pair of his signature missiles—

Which curved in midair and hit the ground a few meters away.

The resulting explosion was immense and its concussive force threw Andromon through the air.

More specifically, it threw him right out of the line of attack.

Growmon narrowed his eyes.

That move—quickly deciding on which attack to take and which to avoid, judging the best place to cause an explosion that would throw him out of the line of fire but not hurt him badly, responding so quickly to the mere sight of Growmon's attack—it wasn't something he'd made up on the fly.

That was the countermeasure Andromon had decided on for his Exhaust Flame.

That told Growmon several things; that having felt the attack once before, Andromon had no desire to do so again. Moreover, having felt it once before, Andromon had decided he would rather risk a nearby explosion than feel it again.

Growmon took a bit of pride in that fact, but it faded quickly. Because not only had Andromon decided that; he'd been able to make it work. He'd judged the pros and cons and decided on his course of action—to dodge via an explosion. He'd then calculated the exact positioning needed for the explosion to avoid personal harm while allowing for a quick dodge. He'd proceeded to prove the success of said tactic in a stressful situation, in response to a surprise attack.

And he'd done all of this in the midst of battle.

Growmon considered that.

Perhaps he should have felt afraid.

But he didn't.

He was his Creator's weapon and Takato wanted Andromon dead. So Growmon wouldn't back down, even if it meant he would die.

It did, however, mean that his most powerful attack would be largely useless in this battle, at least under normal circumstances.

XxXXxX

Andromon twisted in midair with the precision only a Digimon could have, turning his flight into a skillful landing.

Even having minimized the impact of the blast as much as possible, the explosion had hurt—a sign of his power as a Perfect level Digimon.

It was even more telling that he preferred such pain to feeling his opponents attack again.

Andromon frowned thoughtfully. He couldn't be sure, as he didn't recognize his opponent, but…

He was definitely Perfect level in power.

So the Kaiser had the power of another Perfect on his side.

…That was very bad.

The Chosen had managed to survive him, in that Hikari had brought him to his senses. However, even before that, he'd been resisting the Kaiser's control.

Even so, they'd been left with no choice but to run or die.

Well, perhaps that wasn't completely true.

Prior to his deployment, all of the Chosen had exhausted themselves battling the Guardromon. Most of them had managed to flee and come back a few hours later, a bit rested—though there was only so much that one could recover in the space of a few hours. Hikari, Takato, and their partners, on the other hand, had been forced to continue to run.

So, Andromon would be fair. The Chosen had been weaker than him when they were all exhausted.

Perhaps if they were all well rested, they could fight him even at his full power…though that was only a maybe, as it was unsupported by any actual evidence, as the new Chosen, to his knowledge, had never fought an actual Perfect.

It was just as possible that they were weaker, even then.

Which made this opponent so dangerous.

If the Kaiser truly had a servant with the power of a Perfect, the Chosen were in very real danger. Andromon couldn't say who would win that fight, which basically meant that his friend's survival relied completely on chance and luck.

Even if it was possible they'd be victorious, Andromon didn't want to bet the lives of a group of children in what was basically a coin toss.

Not even the lives of children that had proven themselves.

Hell, especially not those children. More than warriors or the saviors of this world, they were his friends.

He absolutely could not allow this opponent to survive.

So he would fight with intent to kill and if pursuing that goal were to cost him his own life, then he was more than willing to sacrifice it.

He met his opponent's eyes despite the distance that separated them.

"Gatling Missile." He intoned.

He fired the missiles from his chest and the larger Digimon reacted immediately, releasing his hold on the side of the building and dropping to the streets below.

Andromon almost laughed.

As if dodging would be enough to save him.

The missiles immediately curved in midair, readjusting their course to head towards their moved target.

The massive beast sucked in a quick breath before spitting out three consecutive blasts of flame. Two connected with the missiles with pinpoint accuracy, impressing Andromon despite himself.

He didn't have much time to linger on the feeling, however, because the third ball was aimed at him.

His hand began to rotate again and when the ball had drawn close enough, he stuck his right hand into it and dispelled it, sweeping his arm to the side as he did so.

"Spiral Sword."

The blade covered the distance between then in a second.

But even that was more than enough time to allow his opponent to react.

The blades on his arms extended and glowed brightly as they were covered in plasma. He quickly brought his arms up to slice through Andromon's attack.

When he brought his arms back down, the torrential gout of fire that was his strongest attack gathered in the Dragon's throat.

Andromon was ready to react the moment he saw it, but what the beast did next surprised him.

He released the attack as he swept his head from one side to the other.

And with that one motion, every building near Andromon came crashing down.

In the seconds he had before he was buried beneath the falling rubble, Andromon quickly searched for escape routes and found only one.

And at that moment, he realized his opponent's plan.

The only path to 'safety' took him straight towards his enemy.

XxXXxX

Growmon knew Andromon had noticed what he'd done. He wasn't surprised or disappointed, either; that had been the idea. And he hadn't actually tried to hide his intentions, either; only Andromon's side of the street had been damaged by his Exhaust Flame—his own side was completely untouched.

He had never intended to trick Andromon into doing something—he was going to force the Perfect to obey his will.

And indeed, the Cyborg began to run towards him.

Growmon opened his mouth and drew in a deep, deep breath.

Andromon had figured out a way to dodge his Exhaust Flame, regardless of his own position—he'd knock himself to the side with an explosion and avoid the blast completely.

But what if dodging to the side meant being buried alive beneath a mountain of rubble?

If you couldn't move backwards and you couldn't to the side, then the only directions left were forward, up, and down.

And Andromon couldn't dig, much less fly.

Of course, the dangers of moving forward were obvious, but if he let himself be trapped beneath the rubble, Growmon was more than willing to kick him while he was down.

He was a Demon Dragon. He didn't have to fight fair.

With a roar, he unleashed a river of fire.

He was ready for Andromon to try to dodge. He figured he'd probably try jumping over him, since dodging around him was unlikely to work; he was big, but in this wide street he could always just turn with Ardromon as he tried to move past him and that required him to get fairly close to the blades on his arms. Rolling under him seemed fairly cartoony, and with his tail it wouldn't work anyway.

Andromon would probably rely on the fact that there was only so far back that he could throw his head. Andromon would be right.

But he would also be surprised. He didn't need to see behind him; he could fire his Dragon Spine without looking, if he needed to. It wouldn't beat Andromon, but it would distract him long enough for him to turn around, and when he did so, he fully intended to cut the Cyborg to pieces with an assault of Plasma Blades.

But Andromon surprised him.

Instead of trying to dodge, he faced Growmon head on, running straight for the mouth of the beast.

For a moment, Growmon was surprised, not understanding the action. Did Andromon think he could go through him without being hurt?

No, he wasn't that stupid. Growmon had more than proven his own strength.

And yet, the Perfect Digimon was still charging him.

For a fraction of a second, Growmon entertained the thought of his opponent having gone insane and just as quickly threw the thought away. He'd proven himself, but so had Andromon. He was dangerously intelligent.

But then why?

And suddenly, he understood.

Andromon knew he couldn't get to safety. Just as Growmon respected him, in his own way, Andromon also respected his opponent. He knew that there wasn't any easy way around this attack and so didn't even bother trying to dodge past him.

Instead, he'd decided on something else.

If he could not dodge the attack, then he would meet it with all of his strength.

Growmon's feral yellow eyes gleamed brightly with excitement.

He would meet the challenge head on.

He'd already acknowledged Andromon and this did nothing but reaffirm his respect.

Andromon was a worthy opponent.

Worthy to fight and worthy to die.

XxXXxX

Avoiding damage was impossible.

Andromon realized that the second Growmon's attack tore through the buildings around him.

He'd fallen into a trap and escaping uninjured wasn't going to be an option.

That's why it was a trap.

But if the only option was to get injured, then it was obvious what he had to do.

He had to make sure that his opponent got hurt worse than he did.

So he ignored all the 'escape routes' which took him too close to the Dragon to be anything but another trap. Instead, he threw himself into the throw with calm resolve.

He saw his enemy's eyes widen.

He saw them narrow again in understanding.

And most importantly of all, he saw the fire building between its jaws.

He knew what was about to happen would hurt.

He knew that it might even kill him.

But…

He didn't care.

His hand began to spin furiously as he funneled as much of his power as he could into it. He pushed his mechanical parts to their utmost limits as he drew nearer to his target.

He wanted to get a close as he possibly could before he attacked, knowing that this clash could decide the battle.

At this range, he couldn't possibly miss—not completely, at least. Even an attempt to dodge would just mean the attack would hit somewhere else.

What's more, at point blank range, his attack would be at its most powerful.

He thought the beast knew that as well, because he allowed him to draw closer and closer still.

He was five steps away when the clash began.

He drew back his blade, ready to bring it down and end things. The monster unleashed his own power with a roar that, at this range, Andromon felt as much as heard. The wave of fire swallowed up the distance between them in an instant.

Andromon could have brought down his arm and contested the attack with his own.

But doing that would have done nothing but proven whose attack had the greater power and Andromon had nothing to guarantee that the winner would be him.

So he didn't.

He didn't even try to dodge. At this distance, he'd never make it and trying would have done nothing but ruin his plan, anyway.

Instead, he brought up his other arm and took the attack on a Chrome Digizoid covered forearm.

In the moments after the impact, Andromon felt no heat. He felt nothing that even implied that he was blocking fire.

All he felt was a force that he felt could have shaken mountains.

That force that had thrown him through buildings like he weighed nothing…it hurt so much more at this range.

It could have blasted him away again, in any other situation.

But this was why he'd purposefully gotten so close.

He'd put himself in a position where the blast couldn't take him straight on. He'd be washed away by the attack like a leaf in a river.

But with him this close, the much larger Digimon had to aim at him at an angle. The force was still the same, but he was being pushed against the ground rather than mere air.

It hurt a lot more—like he was being flattened.

But Chrome Digizoid was made of stronger stuff than that.

Slowly, Andromon straightened against the torrent of flame.

It was then that he began to feel the heat. Chrome Digizoid was incredibly strong…but it was still a metal. It was a very good conductor of heat. It could even melt, it if got hot enough.

Andromon hoped it wouldn't get that hot. He had no experience with melting while still alive and he'd be perfectly happy to keep it that way.

He took a step forward, fighting against the tide. He was close—maybe four steps away, but against this much force, every inch seemed like a mile.

He took another step as the heat made his armor glow red.

With his third step, the organic parts of his body began to ignite, setting his nerves on literal fire.

When he took his fourth step, he carefully turned his body to shield his still spinning arm. Even if the rest of his body boiled and burned, he had to at least keep that part safe, or it all would be for nothing.

He took the final step and was in position.

But he still couldn't attack. Not as long as the torrent of flames lasted. The sheer force would counteract most of the attack and he had to make this count.

So he had to either stop the attack or wait it out.

He chose the one that didn't involve staying on fire for who knows how long.

He lifted the arm he was using to shield himself.

"Grasp Hang."

His left arm extended suddenly, plunging through the fire with tremendous speed, right into its source.

Into the mouth of the beast.

The attack ended with a sudden choking sound. The beast seemed stunned to have an arm of heated Chrome Digizoid shoved into his mouth.

Andromon saw his chance and took it, leaping forward with all his strength.

The beast's jaws closed down suddenly on the arm and began crushing it between them.

Andromon didn't pay it any mind—he'd known from the beginning that he'd probably lose his arm.

He brought his spinning hand up for the attack.

His opponent's yellow eyes widened in sudden realization and—

Andromon could have smiled.

Fear. He understood what was about to happen and he was scared.

Even so, the creature brought up his two massive arms in a futile defense as Andromon brought down his arm.

A moment later, two objects hit the ground and exploded into data.

The monster looked at the stumps of his arms in disbelieving shock.

And then he began to scream.

XxXXxX

Growmon was nearly blinded by pain. It was hard to even describe and he had nothing to compare it to.

He was sure how a human would have felt it. He was vaguely aware of the concepts of bones and nervous systems, but he had no such thing himself. He didn't know how a human would have felt the same wound, or how it would have felt to have flesh, muscle, and bone cut through.

Maybe it would have hurt even more than this.

Maybe it would have been nothing in comparison.

He didn't know.

All he knew was that he didn't need a nervous system to transmit information to his 'brain'—or rather, as a completely digital life forms, every part of his body was capable of transmitting such information.

He felt the pain over every inch of the wound. For a few extraordinarily long moments, he even felt the other side of his arms, the side that had been severed, still transmitting data easily through the equally digital air that separated him from them.

It was almost a relief when they exploded into data, simply because it nearly halved the pain. He loaded the data almost unconsciously, distantly remembering the value of data, but it did nothing to heal the wound.

He couldn't focus, couldn't see, couldn't even think

So he fell right into Andromon's trap.

If he had been in a more rational state of mind, he would have realized the truth. He would have figured out that while the loss of his arms was horrible and crippling, he'd accomplished his intended goal and survived an attack that could have been lethal. He'd have realized that while the loss might have cost him the battle, it had not cost him the war.

He'd have realized that he needed to fall back and return later.

By losing his arms, his Tamer's plan would have fallen apart—but so what?

Plans did that sometimes.

Even he knew that.

Moreover, there would be other plans and other days. After he'd healed, he could have returned to combat Andromon another day. He might be too late to prevent Andromon from telling the Tamer's of his existence, but if he had thought about it rationally, he'd have realized Andromon didn't know anything. Not even his name.

Any following attacks on the Perfect level would be more difficult—he'd be ready, prepared, and likely have help.

But difficult was not the same as impossible.

He could wait days, weeks, even months if need be, biding his time in the secluded regions of the Digital World, preying on Digimon that wouldn't be missed, getting stronger all the while.

If he hadn't been blinded by his defeat, he would have realized that he'd fought well today. This fight had been close—if things had been different, it could have been Andromon who lost.

He'd fought equal to a Perfect today.

If he were to grow even further in strength, the next time they fought, victory would be his for the taking.

If he was calm, if he wasn't in so much pain, if his arms hadn't been lost, if defeat hadn't seemed so certain…

He might have realized all of that.

But here and now, he was engulfed in pain that seemed without end and a defeat which seemed unassailable.

When Andromon, almost as weakened and injured as Growmon himself, stepped forward, moving to end the fight quickly before his opponent could recover or realize the damage he'd caused his opponent, Growmon didn't even see him, such was his pain.

But that had been the trap.

When Growmon first moved to defend himself, Andromon realized a lethal blow was impossible.

He hadn't even bothered aiming for one, after that acknowledgement.

The simple truth of battle was that half of it was fought in the mind.

The winner of a fight wasn't necessarily the stronger fighter. A more powerful opponent could be brought down by any number of things.

A moment of distraction or hesitance.

A flash of uncertainty or fear.

Or perhaps, just a great deal of pain.

If something hurts enough, then most people will stop. Even if it's not lethal, even if it's not even crippling—if it hurts enough, it can make someone stop.

It was easy to say that one could fight on, even if they lost both their arms, or legs, or an eye.

Actually doing so, however, is another matter.

Even for those who could ignore the pain, their ability to act affectively would naturally plummet.

Andromon didn't need an attack that killed in a single blow.

If his opponent couldn't defend himself against the following attack, a death in two blows was fine, too.

And Growmon couldn't defend himself in his state.

He didn't even acknowledge the attack at all.

But…

"Spiral Sword!"

That was okay.

It was okay that Growmon wasn't in his right mind.

It was okay that he was distracted and lost in his own pain.

It was okay that he couldn't respond to the attack on his own.

Because it didn't matter.

Because there was something that Andromon didn't know when he began to fight Growmon.

He was out numbered.

So it was okay that Growmon raised no defense.

He didn't need to.

XxXXxX

"Card Slash! Meramon!"

XxXXxX

Growmon's distant eyes suddenly snapped into focus as he was engulfed in flames.

The flames quickly flowed outwards from him like a wave, swallowing Andromon's attack as it would air, and then washed over Andromon as well.

As if a puppet on strings, Growmon rose to his feet in awkward, jolting motions, unable to use his arms.

But he rose all the same, and stood amidst the flames.

But though he walked through fire, he was not burned.

He hurt.

The pain from his arms had not decreased in the slightest.

But pain didn't matter to him, anymore.

It was not that he didn't feel it, for he did, in excruciating detail, but somehow, it no longer had any hold over him.

He moved for his Tamer wished him to move.

He heard his Tamers will, not with his ears, not even with his mind, but with something much more basic than that.

There was something in his code that spoke to him—carried Takato's message to him.

The Hazard marks on his body began pulsating, flashing red as if in warning.

Takato's message didn't come to him as words.

There was no voice quietly speaking in the back of his head.

Maybe his Tamer had spoken the message aloud, wherever he was in this city.

But what reached him in the end were not those words.

Like a high-level programming language being converted into machine code, what reached him was something more basic, which he had no need to assemble back into actual words to actually understand. It lacked, perhaps, the nuance of the spoken language, where a single word can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on usage and context.

But it was also exact and precise. He didn't need context or emotion to understand—the data conveyed that just fine. If it had meant something else, the message would have been different in a dozen little ways—even if the same word couldn't mean the same thing, everything was detailed precisely in the message that reached him and needed no interpretation.

The emotion behind his message.

The details of his plan.

The exact distance and direction in which he was ordered to move, in three dimensions.

And a simple order that told him to kill.

He had lost his arms. And he couldn't defeat Andromon in a fight, as he now was.

That didn't matter.

He didn't need his arms for this, his Tamer 'told' him. He didn't even need to beat Andromon…yet.

Growmon moved as soon as he received the entire message.

He had his instructions; all he needed to do was carry them out. Quickly, if possible, for the power he had stolen from Meramon's data would not last forever, and it was the only thing with which he could keep Andromon at bay.

The plan was simple.

He could not defeat a foe as powerful as Andromon.

He should instead seek weaker prey.

He'd lost to Andromon twice this day, but the third time he would win.

Even if his arms had been lost, he could recover the same way he had earlier.

So really, Andromon's strength meant nothing in this situation.

If he could not beat the Cyborg, then he would hunt and prey on the weak until he was strong enough to win.

He didn't even need to leave the city to do it, either.

After all, Andromon was nowhere near the only target in this city.

Growmon inhaled deeply.

He smelt fire and smoke and the burning of metal and flesh.

He searched with his eyes and saw nothing but flames and the illuminated steel of the city.

But Growmon did not need his eyes or his nose.

His Tamer told him who to hunt first. Told him where.

As Pyocomon before them, the Guardromon couldn't run and they couldn't hide.

XxXXxX

Takato observed the battle through his Digivice. He was basically seeing through his partner's eyes, so his ability to keep track of his partners own condition was limited, but it was the best he would get at this distance.

"So Growmon can'tbeat a Perfect on his own, yet, huh…?"

Lucemon, as always, was quick to respond.

"Of course, Takato. If this game was easy enough to require no input on the part of the player, it goes without saying that it would be a failure on my part, right?"

That was a good point, Takato had to admit. Interacting with the other characters in this game was fun, of course, but until now, there had never really been any danger for them. If things had gotten dangerous, they'd always had the option of blowing their cover and abandoning ship.

Before Andromon, that is.

They'd always had the option to evolve to Adult and shoot their way out of any situation. Things had gotten a bit risky several times, but it was always for the same reason—Takato had consciously chosen to keep his cover.

But there had always been the option.

And for that reason, he'd never felt as if he were in any actual danger. Even on missions into the Kaiser's territory, he'd purposely left behind all of his cards except the one necessary for evolution.

Sure, carrying all of his cards with him would have been dangerous and, perhaps, even foolish. But if he'd felt like he was in danger, it would have been the logical thing to do. If the Chosen had seen them, it would have raised a lot of questions he simply couldn't answer, but he could had hidden them. It's not like he was regularly given a pat down or anything.

But he hadn't.

Because he'd felt safe enough with just Growmon.

But now, Growmon was already in play.

No, more than that. Takato didn't want to admit it, but he couldn't ignore the facts.

Growmon had been beaten back.

It might have been a close fight, but when Growmon had fought Andromon, Andromon had won.

And if Takato hadn't brought his cards with him, Growmon would be dead.

His partner had nearly died and he'd nearly lost the game, and the reason was as obvious as it was simple.

He'd been arrogant.

Not just in the fights before now, but in this fight as well.

It was obvious, right? He could have interfered before now. It would have been easy; he could have done it exactly the same way as he had just now and slashed a card at a useful moment.

But he hadn't.

Because he'd wanted to see if he'd have too.

Maybe he'd actually thought Growmon could just win.

Or maybe he'd known that he couldn't.

But either way, he'd stepped back and watched, because he'd needed to know how this fight would end.

Well, now he did.

He didn't really like the answer, but he had it now, at least.

Growmon couldn't beat a Perfect by himself.

Yet.

Takato may not have liked the answer, but he wasn't overly bothered by it, either, because of that one simple word that was like a shield for his pride.

Yet.

At the moment, Growmon couldn't beat a Perfect by himself.

But that would change.

Maybe even today.

Takato would get his act together for the rest of this fight and do what he should have done from the beginning.

He was a Tamer. He'd support his partner to the best of his abilities.

And every Digimon in this city would die and become Growmon's. Including Andromon.

But first, he needed to heal Growmon's wounds. And he knew just the way to do it.

Just like they had earlier, the Guardromon would heal his partner.

The closest one to Growmon was less then fifteen meters away, through a building and on an adjacent street. He was one of the one's Andromon had activated and was the first of the slow Digimon to be attracted by the noise of the fight.

But that wasn't his target.

At the moment, Takato just wanted two things.

Easy prey and a way to get Growmon back into the fight quickly.

There were three Guardromon some thirty meters away. They hadn't moved all during the fight and Takato assumed them to be deactivated.

They wouldn't run.

They wouldn't hide.

They wouldn't even fight back.

They were perfect.

XxXXxX

Growmon took off in a dead run, wasting no time. Every moment he took was another moment for Andromon to recover—something which could prove fatal.

He swallowed up the distance to his targets in seconds, each of his great strides covering meters.

Reaching the desired building, he didn't slow down, nor did he hesitate.

He crashed right through its pathetic walls, fire already spewing from his mouth.

He drenched two of them with flames in an instant and was loading them almost before they burst into data.

Behind him, Andromon had finally recovered and, perhaps realizing his intentions—or at least his targets—was already in hot pursuit.

Growmon finished loading the deleted pair, but had no time to stand around while loading the third. He leaned over quickly, spreading his gaping jaws wide, and, biting down on the metallic upper body of the remaining Guardromon, lifted his unresisting victim and began to run, taking him 'to go.'

He crashed out the other side of the building, into the street beyond, nearly stumbling, but managing to recover. He clenched his jaw over his meal, grunting for a moment as the lifeless Adult's armor held, before suddenly giving way as he exploded into data.

While his mouth was full, he whipped his head back and forth as his Tamer had commanded, unleashing a rain of hardened hairs on a startled Guardromon in the street.

Despite being reactivated, the Adult Digimon had no time to respond. Proving its worth, the literally hair-thin spikes slipped easily past their target's armor.

The Guardromon stiffened.

Briefly.

Growmon was already moving past him when he exploded into data. He loaded them both without pause, his mind already on his next targets.

Inhaling deeply even as he ran, he released his strongest attack with a thunderous roar, bringing down the buildings across the street in a cascade of falling rubble and broken data. He leapt in the destruction, loading the data from the buildings and—more importantly—the Guardromon that had been right where his tamer had said they'd be.

Suddenly, he received a warning.

Growmon was annoyed, but not really surprised.

He knew Andromon would catch up to him eventually.

Honestly, he was just surprised it took him this long.

Still, it was too soon to fight.

Growmon looked down at his 'hands.'

They didn't even deserve to be called such, yet. Really, they were just masses of vaguely cohesive data coming out of the stumps of his arms. With every Guardromon he absorbed, they began to take further shape and solidity. A few more and he'd have definite fingers, and a few after that, his skin would return and his hands would be back.

But not if Andromon killed him before he got a chance to get them back.

A quick check proved what he expected—the effects of the Meramon card were gone.

But he wasn't worried.

His Tamer had a plan.

He just had to find more Guardromon.

Takato would handle the rest.

XxXXxX

Takato frowned as he looked at his cards.

Growmon had killed a lot of Digimon, but many of them had been repeats—that is, they'd been Digimon he'd already beaten.

As such, he really didn't have many cards. And even less of them were useful.

He'd have to do something about that, at some point.

Sadly, he didn't have much of a chance at the moment, which could prove really dangerous.

Because all his cards were shit.

He knew the reason—he and Guilmon had been laying low, trying not to attract attention to themselves.

It was kind of hard to do that while killing high profile Digimon.

Especially since this was their first time reaching past Perfect level.

Still…they'd just have to make use with what they had.

Takato chose two cards that he thought would be useful and put the rest away.

All he had to do was buy some time. With those two, it shouldn't be too difficult.

One could be deadly if he used it right.

And the other…

Well, half the battle was in the mind.

Takato was confident that Andromon would find that particular card unnerving.

But for now…

"Flymon, Activate!"

XxXXxX

Growmon felt the card take effect and realized instantly how to best use it.

He immediately looked back at Andromon, seeing that he was in hot pursuit.

…And too far away to be an effective target.

Growmon briefly considered waiting for his opponent to catch up, but discarded the idea a second later for being stupid.

Andromon was running towards him; there was no need to slow down, because he'd catch up eventually.

More importantly, his priority was recovering, not fighting Andromon.

Not yet, at least.

Speaking of which…

Growmon narrowed his eyes as a plan began to form.

Turning down an intersection, he came across a fairly large group of Guardromon; seven of them, all activated.

He was going to simply bypass them, but with all of them right here, wouldn't that be a waste? He stopped right in front of them.

"Fire Blaster!"

Turning his head in an arc, he exhaled the flames over the machine Digimon. He didn't focus on any particular one of them long enough to cause deletion—he didn't have the time—but he stopped them all in their tracks

Stopping his attack, he immediately took another deep breath and counted in his head.

One…two…three—

Andromon was close enough.

He called upon Flymon's data.

"Poison Powder!"

Exhaling quickly, he filled the area with a thick mist of poisonous dust, hiding everyone within it from each other's view.

But Growmon didn't need to see to do what he had planned.

He charged.

Right out of the mist.

He didn't really expect the poison to have that much effect on the mostly metallic Digimon. Flymon's poison wasn't all that strong to begin with, serving to weaken, rather than kill.

It did put a lot of stuff that was flammable in the air, though.

He exhaled another wave of fire at it and it lit up like a Christmas tree.

XxXXxX

Takato had to shield his eyes from his vantage point.

"Wow. I can't really say that any of that was part of my plan, but it's just so beautiful, it doesn't seem right to complain."

"I think you'll find, Takato, that as a strategist, a large part of your role is taking advantage of situations that turn out surprisingly well." Lucemon advised.

XxXXxX

Growmon didn't need his eyes to tell him he'd deleted the Guardromon.

Their data told him that.

Sadly, Andromon survived, but he hadn't actually expected that to kill him—it was just a distraction.

Which reminded him; he should be running.

Dashing away quickly, Growmon put the second part of his plan into motion. If, between the poisonous fog and the explosion, he could cause Andromon to lose track of him, the Cyborg Digimon would have to waste precious time tracking him back down.

Precious time that Growmon could use to recover and prepare for the inevitable confrontation.

He turned down a street, hoping to gain top speed upon the long, open stretch. Crashing through buildings may have been a faster route, but it would also leave behind a trail that was easy to follow. Better then, to take the longer path and be safe, then to rush in foolishly.

His Tamer had provided him with the location of a number of Guardromon in the area, but after some deliberation, he chose to ignore them. All the Guardromon in this area were in small, scattered pockets—probably those few that had been unlucky enough to be alone or inside when the Dark Tower had been destroyed.

Most of them had probably been deactivated simply because they were so out of the way that Andromon hadn't gotten to them yet.

But logically, there were those he had gotten too, right? Where were they, then?

Growmon had thought it through. The Guardromon Andromon had probably reactivated first were the ones that had been together in large groups. Logically, it would be more efficient, as they'd all be together in one place.

And what was a machine if not efficient?

From there, Growmon had simply had to think about where the largest group was, and the answer was obvious.

Hadn't the Kaiser sent pretty much all of the Guardromon after them just earlier today?

If he assumed for a moment that all the Guardromon in that area were activated, then the question arose…

Why hadn't they come to Andromon's aid?

If he tried to think about it from a machine's point of view, even that began to make sense. Andromon was a powerful Perfect level Digimon and any Digimon that could give him trouble—as the explosions they'd cause would surely attest he had—would, presumably, be equally powerful, if not more so.

An Adult Digimon would have no place in such a fight—in fact, they would more like be a hindrance to Andromon, as he'd have to watch out for and protect the weaker Digimon.

But that was only if they were alone.

An army of Adult Digimon, on the other hand, could be a serious threat to even a Perfect Digimon, especially if headed by Andromon himself. On their home turf, they would likely crush a Perfect Digimon.

But armies, to be truly effective, required a degree of organization. The Guardromon would need to create a plan, get into position, and then execute said plan.

But before all of that…

They'd need to gather together.

And where was the best place to gather?

A location where most of them already were.

Growmon was heading towards the site of the earlier battle to confirm his theory, ignoring all the minor snacks along their way as distractions from the real prize.

It would be dangerous, taking on an army that could wear down and defeat a Perfect level Digimon.

But Growmon had an advantage they didn't know about.

He could load data for more power. As such, simple numbers were not enough to deter him, for each fallen opponent would do nothing but grant him more strength; the best strategy against him was to force him into single combat against a more powerful opponent.

Against a group of weak Digimon, though, he was unstoppable. He would not weaken or tire—or if he did, his enemy's own data would revitalize him.

Moments later, Takato seemed to catch on to his plan and feed him a stream of information that made him smile.

The hunt was on.

XxXXxX

Takato frowned, unsure of this change in events.

He understood his partner's actions, of course. Maybe even agreed with them—consuming that many Guardromon would heal Growmon completely and that would just be the beginning.

It wasn't even that he didn't believe his partner could win.

But…

As the Tamer, it was his job to think things through. While Growmon could think for himself in battle and quickly react to sudden developments long before he had a chance to give orders or slash cards, it was his job to make the long term plans and preparations that would hopefully result in victory. Lucemon had said that quite often and he'd taken it to heart.

As such, while Growmon charged in fearlessly, it was Takato's responsibility to think about this calmly and logically.

Was there something he was missing? Was there some hidden flaw in this plan? Some downside he wasn't seeing?

If there was, it was his job to figure out what they were—preferably, before it screwed them over.

Would Andromon catch up to fast? Was this a trap? Were they being lured towards the Guardromon?

And more importantly…if this was about to blow up in their faces, what exactly was he going to do about it?

Takato grit his teeth.

He still had only one card of use—he really had been woefully unprepared for this day. He'd known from the beginning that they would eventually have to fight an opponent they couldn't just effortlessly crush, but…

Why had he been taken so off guard, then?

XxXXxX

The Guardromon were in sight. If he moved any further, he would be noticed in moments.

But…Growmon didn't hesitate for even a moment.

He fell upon the first one even as the others saw him for the first time. In that brief moment of hesitation that followed suddenly seeing a giant red dinosaur, Growmon's jaws closed around his first victim.

To the Guardromon's credit, they reacted with the quick efficiency of machines. The moment they saw his hurting one of their own, their surprise seemed to vanish. In eerie unison, a dozen pairs of arms were raised in his direction as the Guardromon closest to his position prepared to attack. But—

In this case, their numbers got in their way. The offensive power of this many Guardromon was more than enough to kill Growmon, but in their current formation, they could not attack a target all at once—if they tried, their attacks would likely hit their fellows.

Meanwhile, Growmon could probably fire in random directions with his eyes closed and still hit something.

He easily avoided the twenty-something attacks that were launched his way by leaping into the air even as he crushed his captive in his monstrously powerful jaws.

Almost literally swallowing the destroyed Guardromon's data, he reopened his mouth to reveal a frightening red light gathering at the back of his throat.

"Exhaust Flame!"

The pillar of dragon fire struck a particularly closely packed section of Guardromon before he swept it in a wide arc, destroying everything in its path. The ending point of the arc was the place he was about to land—focusing the blast there for a long moment, he cleared it completely of Guardromon, as well as tossed up a great deal of smoke and debris.

Landing, his entire body was completely hidden within the smoke and fire. Pausing for just a moment to initiate the process of loading data, fire gathered between his jaws again.

In that instant, his Tamer transmitted everything needed to know, just as Growmon had known he would. Despite his eyes being clouded and the smoke rendering his sensitive nose useless, Takato transmitted the location of every Guardromon in the area.

Despite being blinded, Growmon continued his ruthless attack, hitting opponents both near and far with impossible, deadly accuracy, loading a continuous stream of data all the while.

When Andromon finally got here, Growmon would see that he was met with nothing but scattered clouds of data and a ruined battlefield.

And then Andromon would die.

XxXXxX

Andromon arrived to a scene of destruction.

The streets were either melted into weird shapes or cracked beyond repair. Windows all along the street were shattered; scorch marks and craters littered the walls of buildings, signs of explosions.

But the ruins of the street were not what drew Andromon's attention.

Yes, without a doubt…this had been where all the Guardromon had been gathered. And yet…this street was empty.

No…almost empty.

He couldn't see him, but…

The creature that did this had to be around here somewhere.

Andromon was tense—it wasn't very long ago that he'd been ambushed, after all. He wouldn't put it past that monster to do so again and in his current condition…

Well, he wasn't in a position where he could let himself suffer any more time.

And yet…that monster had killed his friends. Not just ten or twenty, though that would have been bad enough, but into the hundreds.

Even if it meant risking his life, he would hunt that monster down and kill him.

Though, it's not as if his motivation particularly mattered, in this case. Even if he'd wanted to, it's not like he could run in this state—he'd be hunted down in no time. And even if he'd managed to escape…where would he go?

He wanted to send a message to the Chosen; it was quite possible that he'd die in the coming battle. If he did, he wanted to at least pass on what he'd managed to learn here today.

But…that didn't seem like a possibility.

Though…even if he said that…it didn't matter in the slightest unless he could actually find his opponent.

Where was he? The red bastard was the size of a small house—how could a creature his size be hiding?

XxXXxX

This was it. Andromon was all alone and probably tense enough to react without even thinking.

And he had the perfect way to exploit that.

With a last, fleeting glance at it, Takato slashed his final card.

"It's time to end this, Growmon. Guardromon, Activate!"

XxXXxX

"Destruction Grenade!"

Andromon spun around instantly at the voice, having been ready for the attack—

Only to freeze as his tracks as his brain registered the actual words.

For a brief instant, he allowed himself to dare to think that maybe there had been survivors—that he hadn't failed his entire city…

Which was exactly what Takato had wanted him to think.

The blast took him full in the chest, sending him stumbling back and blinding him with an explosion. Even if it hadn't really hurt, Andromon knew he was off balance.

Worse, he was pretty sure his attacker knew it too and that it had been the intention behind the otherwise weak attack.

Which meant he was more than capable of realizing what would happen next.

So he wasn't at all surprised when a sudden force slammed into his chest.

He was, however, surprised when it didn't send him flying back. He was surprised when his armor didn't begin to heat. He was surprised when the force that flamed into him was not an enormous lance of fire.

But all of that together did not compare to how surprised he was when the fingers of an enormous hand wrapped around him and lifted him high into the air, above the smoke that had been caused by the explosion and shrouded his sight.

His eyes met one's a nearly feral yellow. Half-lidded, his opponent looked like a highly satisfied cat.

"Tell me…can a machine like you experience fear?"

XxXXxX

Growmon was elated.

Today had been a very long and painful day for him. He'd been chased all around the city, then he'd been nearly bisected, and then both of his arms had been chopped off.

And yet…

He'd never felt this good in his entire—admittedly short—life. With the power flowing through him now, he felt like he could do anything. In absorbing the Guardromon, his limbs had been remade—but more than that, the loading of so many Adult Digimon had given him a might he hadn't even dreamt of before. Holding a Chrome Digizoid Perfect level in his hands, he felt like he could crush him with a quick flex of his fingers.

Was this what it felt like to be truly powerful?

He liked the feeling. He liked it a lot.

And more than anything…he wanted to feel that way more and more. He felt almost addicted to the sensation and for the first time in his life he really had a wish of his own, besides to obey his Tamer.

He wanted to see his power grow. He wanted to see opposition crushed. At his Tamer's command, he had devoured hundreds—thousands—and now he wanted to thank his tamer for pushing him to do so.

It hadn't felt that way at the time, but just a short time ago, when he had just been born, he'd been so…weak. And now he was strong. And strength felt so much better than weakness.

But with that desire also came a fear.

Would someone take away his power as he had done to others? Would they devour him and make his power their own.

The thought truly terrified him. He had only one purpose in life—he had been designed to 'grow.' Or rather, he had been designed to 'consume.'

A part of him wondered, as it always did, if that was truly the only purpose his existence held. Was he not a living being? Was he not able to think for himself? Could his existence really be so basic as to be summed up in a single word?

And yet, as it always did, Lucemon's voice rose up in response to his question and gave the reply that he'd been given when he'd first voiced his question.

'Wasn't that purpose enough? If you grow and consume and destroy, you will definitely be able to stay in this world. And if you can't, then Takato has no need of you.'

Perhaps that was what he was truly afraid of.

As long as he was strong…as long as he was the best…there was definitely a reason for him to exist in this world.

And there was definitely a reason for him to stay with Takato.

So for that reason…he would definitely become the 'strongest.'

For if he couldn't do that, there was no point to him.

"This fight is over, Andromon." He said. "And I'm the winner."

Ignoring his words, the Perfect level immediately began to struggle. Growmon casually tightened his grip, electing a cry of pain.

Then, Andromon suddenly stopped.

"Gatling Missile!"

Growmon lifted an arm to cover his face, not at all surprised by the attack. It connected with a thunderous explosion, casting up smoke and debris. In response, he released Andromon—not because he had too, but simply because it didn't matter anymore.

He flung a single huge limb through the smoke, sweeping it away, just in time to see Andromon's charge.

"Spiral Sword!"

Wordlessly, Growmon extended the blade on his right arm, and it began to glow with electromagnetic waves. As Andromon's blade swung at him, he swept his own out to meet it.

A moment later, there was a metallic echo, a burst of data, and a sudden, startled cry of pain.

Andromon stumbled back, clutching the stump of his arm.

—This fight was already over. It had ended the moment he had been given time to recover.

Andromon was wounded where he was now whole.

Andromon was exhausted where he had been rejuvenated.

And most of all…

Andromon was defeated where he was victorious.

He nearly gloated, but…he had no more words for the dead.

But…Andromon still owed him another arm.

The blade on his left arm extended and began to glow as he slowly approached. Andromon watched his approach with weary eyes.

He knew that Growmon's slow pace was nothing but a way of gloating. If Andromon tried to escape, it would disappear in an instant and the hunt would be on.

He couldn't run.

He couldn't hide.

And worst of all, he couldn't win.

Acknowledging that fact probably hurt more than his wounds—Growmon could see that much in his opponent's eyes.

But…

Even so…Andromon would not back down. Growmon knew that much from simply fighting him—he may not be an expert tactician, but he could at least tell if someone was the type of person to back down or run away.

So he wasn't even slightly surprised when Andromon's chest plate opened.

In fact, he didn't even slow his stride.

Instead, he literally spat a burst of fire, catching one of the missiles in midair, causing an explosion. The other missile just sailed straight through the smoke, opening it's 'mouth' to reveal a small Gatling gun, which began releasing a spray of bullets.

Closing his eyes, Growmon just let the rounds bounce harmlessly off his skin. Tilting his head to the side, he let it fly straight past him and opened his eyes—

To see another pair of missiles coming towards him.

Feeling a flicker of annoyance, he swung an arm, splitting both missiles with a single blade and weathering the resulting explosion.

Striding out of the smoke, he saw Andromon rushing towards him. Which he immediately realized was ridiculous, since the Cyborg's close range weaponry had been destroyed. As such, it was probably a—

Ah. A trap.

Growmon's tail flicked up, meeting the missile that had stealthily been approaching from behind, even as Andromon leapt, firing another pair of missiles from his still open chest plate in the hopes of scoring a point blank shot.

If the previous attack had connected and taken him by surprise, it might have even worked. Instead, an exhalation of fire connected with the missiles just as they left Andromon, exploding right in front of him.

Of course, it was right in front of Growmon too, but the attacks of a half dead opponent wouldn't hurt him, even if it was from a half dead Perfect.

Of course, at this point, he might be more than just half way to the grave. Unlike Growmon, Andromon had taken that blast's damage completely—and with his protective chest plate open and unable to actually defend him. The blast had thrown him away, sending him crashing into a building and leaving his chest a scorched wreck.

Andromon tried to stand up, but his body had finally succumbed to damage and he fell back down, defeated.

Growmon felt almost…disappointed. Not quite because Andromon had been defeated, or even that the fight was finally over, but because of something he couldn't quite put into words.

Maybe it was a fleeting feeling of regret. Even if it was to increase his power…this really had been a nice city, once. Before he'd destroyed it.

He crushed that feeling mercilessly and approached Andromon. The Cyborg's face was blank and expressionless, unwilling to show any fear, even before death.

Leaning down, he severed Andromon's remaining hand with a plasma-like blade. Andromon released a not-quite suppressed cry of pain and glared angrily at him.

After all, what did he have to fear at this point? Growmon had already killed everyone he cared about and removed both his arms. He was about to die and he knew it. Nothing Growmon could possibly do could hurt him any more than he already had been.

Before that simple realization, Growmon felt a flash of something that may have been guilt.

"You took my hands," Growmon said. "And I took yours."

Rather than gloating, it felt almost like he was trying to explain his actions.

Andromon just glared.

The Dragon and the Cyborg traded glares and Growmon looked away first.

What he felt didn't matter. He'd won and it was over. All he had to do was make it official.

"Exhaust Flame." He said.

But for some reason, he felt no pleasure in doing so.

It was odd how quickly the high of power had faded.

XxXXxX

The Digimon Kaiser sat silently in his room, Wormmon his only company.

It was late—quite a bit past midnight, in fact. If he stayed up much later, it would noticeably affect him in the morning; it didn't really matter to him, though, except that people might annoy him by asking why he looked so tired.

But…this was more important.

Andromon had failed.

No—worse. An entire city of Adult Digimon had failed. He'd split the Chosen up for hours and it still hadn't been enough to beat them. In fact, the only one who had come even close to succeeding was Andromon, who at least had them on the run for awhile. Truthfully, he was probably the only one who'd come close to winning.

And perhaps that was why Ken's thoughts were focused on him.

He had failed…but not because he was weak. In this case, Ken had to swallow his pride and admit the truth—the fault was his.

His Evil Rings weren't good enough.

He had managed to control hundreds—thousands—of Adults and Childs. In that regard, his Rings worked almost perfectly; while at first, there had been a few errors until he'd improved and corrected the design, the Rings were now completely reliable.

Except on Perfect Digimon.

He'd controlled Andromon for a time, even infecting him with the same virus he had the Guardromon and using his mechanical nature against him. And for a time, it had seemed to work.

But the Chosen had broken through, somehow, and freed him. Not only had he lost his only Perfect Digimon, but he'd lost one of his most valuable cities; few, if any, of the areas he controlled had as high a concentration of easily controllable Adult Digimon.

With its loss, it was impossible to continue denying the truth.

He was losing. The Chosen had freed too many cities, building up a momentum that he was helpless to stop. He had his armies, but they had theirs, too. The areas they freed had been largely on the defensive, but it was a very good defense, leaving him unable to break through the borders of their territory in any way that would be worth the cost.

However, while it rendered him unable to go on the attack, it also required the full might of the freed areas, which would have resulted in a stalemate if not for the Chosen. Using portals, they entered areas he controlled, freeing them and turn them to their side. Soon, the simply difference in numbers would allow the freed Digimon to put together an army separate from their defensive forces. Ken could just imagine the Chosen riding into his territory at the head of a huge mob of Digimon.

If that were too happen…

It would be the end of him. He would lose the moment they managed to put together a force that large. If he had to devote his own forces to counteract their army, he'd leave important locations undefended and the Chosen would literally be able to fly around and take a territory. Once they established a foothold anywhere deep in his territory, he'd have to defend against multiple fronts—if that happened, it would only be a matter of time before he fell.

If he wanted to have any chance at victory, he had to turn the tide. He no longer had enough time to contemplate option after option and slowly decide which to use. He needed to choose his next course of action right now if he wanted to have any hope of being able to actually implement it in time.

In that regard, perhaps he was lucky, because the answer was obvious.

There was only one real option. Adults would no longer cut it. They had proven ineffective, both alone and in numbers.

His only option would be to make use of Perfects.

But he'd already proven that his Rings wouldn't be enough. He'd used both a Ring and a virus on Andromon and it hadn't worked—against Digimon that weren't Machines, he'd have only the Ring and he'd probably find even less success.

He'd need something better, but making a successful model would require testing—preferable not on an actual Perfect Digimon, who could break loose if he failed.

In which case, he'd need to test it on someone of lower level—or, even better yet, on a Perfect that would not lash out, if it broke free.

In which case…the choice was simple.

And yet, for a brief moment, he hesitated to make it.

And so, it was made for him, by someone who knew him so well as to know what he was thinking—by the only one who knew him that well.

"Please, Ken-chan…" Wormmon began. "Use me. I will definitely not fail you. I will definitely continue to be…your strongest soldier."

For a moment, Ken could think of nothing to say. Closing his eyes, he nodded once, and made his decision.

"—Of course. Then, tomorrow, our counteract will begin. I'll rely on you to lead it to victory, Wormmon."

XxXXxX

Takato sighed as he exited the game.

He was tired. He shouldn't have stayed up so late and he'd probably be regretting it tomorrow—no, at this point, it would be 'later today' wouldn't it?

Given how he was on the best of day, it would be a miracle if he managed to get to class on time in the morning.

Still, he couldn't say he regretted it. The game obeyed a normal progression of time, even when he wasn't playing, which was cool, but also meant he would miss things while he was gone.

Which, if he knew Lucemon, would result in him being screwed over somehow, no matter what he did.

But all things considered, today had gone very well.

From his stand point as an 'ally of the Chosen,' he'd helped release an entire city of enslaved Digimon. Not only that, but it was a very valuable area that the Kaiser would definitely feel the loss of. Not only that, but he'd insured that the Kaiser would never be able to take control of that area ever again.

Or, at least, that even if he did, it would be absolutely useless to him.

And, more importantly, from his true position, today had been immensely profitable. In fact, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that he'd benefited more from today than he had from all his work prior. Between the acquisition of Growmon and the loading of any entire city of Guardromon, he'd shored up his own power. The additional loading of Andromon had proven immensely useful as well, both due to the inherent power of a Perfect Digimon and the card that had resulted from his death.

Without a doubt, Growmon was no longer simply a powerful Adult. He was well into Perfect territory, which meant he was far stronger than anyone that either the Chosen or the Kaiser had on their sides. Regardless of who he fought, Takato felt his partner would not be defeated.

He'd even voiced his certainty of victory to Lucemon, pondering whether it was time to end his disguise and challenge the Chosen and the Kaiser.

And yet…Lucemon's response had made him nervous.

'Don't be so hasty, Takato. The Kaiser's up to something.'

It made sense that as he got stronger, the game would get more difficult, of course. He'd known it would do that. But it didn't make it any less frustrating when Lucemon did stuff like that.

What could the Kaiser do at this point? They had him on the run and everyone knew it. Takato couldn't think of way real way for him to make a comeback, especially considering Growmon's newfound power.

But what worried him? He was pretty sure Lucemon could.

Takato sighed at the thought.

It was pointless to worry about it. What happened would happen; the game was no fun without a challenge, anyway.

As he left the computer room, he was surprised to find that all the lights were off. Well, his parents had probably gone to sleep—

"Takato?"

Takato winced and turned around. He was busted.

His mother frowned at him.

"Where have you been?" She demanded. "You didn't even come down for supper!"

"Sorry, mom," He apologized. "I just so wrapped up in the game that I lost track of time."

Her frown deepened.

"You've done that a lot lately. Every day you come home and spend hours on that computer…I'm worried about you, Takato."

"It's just a game, Mom." Takato defended. "There's nothing wrong; I'm only having a lot of fun."

"I'll be the judge of that." She declared firmly. "Tomorrow, I want you to show me this game you've been so addicted to. If there's nothing wrong, that shouldn't be a problem, right?"