A/N: Holy crap I finally finished it!

First off, I want to give a huge, huge thanks to ChrisCrossed, who helped me with creating and putting together the Norwegian team. In fact, I'd like to say that aside from Einar and some of Tonje, they are pretty much his creations. Thanks so much for the help, and for bearing with me on this, seeing as it's been many months since they were created.

Secondly, a few random notes... Snimon's dialogue style is intentional, I'd like to thank the Borderlands 2 and the Durarara! soundtracks for the audio encouragement, and a reaction by a certain character sort of led to a lot of things spiraling off in a direction I didn't expect. But it's what this character would do, and gives me more opportunity to explore this city's politics. So it should be quite fun.

Hope you enjoy!


22 – View from the Shadows


"Relax and breathe," came Ailbemon's soothing, firm voice. "That's it."

Kari inhaled, trying to focus on the warm light that flickered at her core. It was alive, stronger now, but still reluctant to heed her summons if she called too hard; it responded more as she let her body remain relaxed but at the ready. She released a breath and the power shyly uncurled, following the direction of her pulse as she nudged it out into the open air…

"No," Ailbemon replied gently, placing a branch-like hand on Kari's arms. "You're still drawing it inefficiently."

Kari paused, feeling confused. She let her focus drop and the light vanished from view. "But it's coming from the core…"

"The core of power from your crest is from your heart, yes?" Ailbemon nodded kindly at her. "As it is with Digicores in digimon. But your true center, where power in your body pools, which is best used as your base and source of energy, is at the stomach."

Out of the corner of her eye, Kari caught sight of Tai perking up a little at the advice.

"The… stomach?" she asked tentatively.

"Yes," the digimon pointed right at her navel. Kari blinked down as she tried to imagine any source of energy coming from her gut. "You are still using the core from your heart. Use your stomach, legs, lower back, any of those that will help you move your power from your center."

"Um…"

It sounded like something Ken had once spoken about during the attempt to train everyone in combat. Kari understood why it made sense if she was physically trying to fight something, but she had more difficulty trying to conceive why Ailbemon wanted her to focus on it for her power with light…

The digimon seemed to notice her misgivings. "I forget sometimes," she shook her head, "that humans do not normally have any special abilities outside of physical ones like digimon do. Let me explain. While it matters the strength of heart and mind, the body also plays a great role in using non-physical attacks. In humanoid digimon, this center of power, physically, is the stomach. Assuming that humanoid digimon and humans retain much of the same anatomy, this also applies to you."

"But she's not a digimon," Tai commented from the side. He still sat in a half lotus position, clearly failing at the meditation exercise that Ailbemon had given him.

"No," Ailbemon acknowledged, "But considering her abilities and the little I know of human training, I must treat her as one for the time being. You yourself said you once did the same?"

Tai blinked. "I… yeah."

"And there you have it. Please focus on your meditation, Tai."

Kari stifled a giggle as her brother grumpily turned back around. He wanted to watch her and try to glean as much as he could from the lesson, but Ailbemon was currently having him go through the same preliminary exercises that she, TK, and their partners had two weeks earlier.

Well, at least it was two weeks on human world time. According to records being kept by Izzy, it had been just over four weeks in the Digiworld since they began keeping track.

Miro Sanctuary had changed from the late summer to early autumn, with a few yellowed leaves already littering the stream that both Kari and Tai sat at the bank of, while the rustling trees above displayed an array of reddening hues. The air was colder now too, more crisp, and the breeze carried with it the scent of ripe apples and berry jam. The lack of any major recent events had returned some of the chatter and laughter that Kari had been accustomed to before the disappearances began.

She closed her eyes and tried again. Unsure as to how moving from the center actually worked, she straightened her back while focusing more on her breathing, trying to think of her stomach as a pool of strength. It took a few moments for her to recognize that it felt a bit more like a core where her limbs extended from, almost as something that helped give structure to her movement.

The light came shakily at first, unused to another force aiding it. But then it seemed to recognize the physical part of herself, and suddenly Kari was shocked at how much more it responded, how its power rose within her, how oddly familiar it felt…

"Yes, that's much better," Ailbemon spoke, and Kari allowed herself to halt the flow of light from her core. "It may be unsmooth in the beginning, but ease will come with practice, and you will understand better how your center focuses your power and movement. Therefore, it goes without saying that…"

"I should practice," Kari finished, nodding. She fully agreed.

Ailbemon smiled knowingly in reply. Then she moved to turn her attention to the older boy on the bank.

Kari focused again, trying again to let her body aid the other power within her. It was tricky, but several repetitions allowed her to recognize how certain things felt. Those same motions, but with subtle changes, ones that worked for her human self and her sense of individuality – they helped her repeat the effects and how the light flowed through her.

She felt energized now, excited about this new improvement. With her cupped her hands before her, she let the light manifest into a ball, marveling at how much easier it was when this had strained her only weeks earlier. She wondered if this was similar to how other digimon felt as they fought and grew stronger.

Then Ailbemon was speaking again, and Kari jumped as she heard her name. "Yes?"

Tai laughed, and Kari turned to see him grinning, both hands folded behind his head. "Guess you really were practicing, huh?"

Ailbemon looked both pleased and amused as she spoke again. "I was just saying that we should be done for the day. I have finished the exercises with Tai, and you Kari, have made good progress today. Pass the lessons on to TK and Patamon, will you?"

"Of course," she replied, letting the light fade from her hands. "Does Gatomon already know what you taught today?"

"Instinctually, yes. Hmm, it may still be a good plan to review with her as well so she can recognize it."

Kari had noticed many differences in how Ailbemon trained Gatomon compared to herself, TK, and Patamon. She was sometimes curious about them, but she did realize that Gatomon's past with Myotismon's forces had likely given her an edge in terms of combat. Ailbemon had mostly assigned the other digimon specific exercises and techniques for her to use in sparring practice.

It reminded Kari that Gatomon and Agumon had been released from training earlier. She wondered where they had gone.

She thought back to the light again, subtly letting the muscles in her torso adjust to her movement. Hmm…

"It's different, all of this," she remarked, wiping her forehead. "Learning how to manage this, using my physical center, when in the tower it kind of just… came."

"I bet," Tai nodded, and she glanced to note the look in his eye that meant more than just his comment. He was thinking of crest powers again.

Ailbemon smiled at them both. "It will be some time," she replied. "From what I have been told, it seems that what came from you was raw power; your strong will was what allowed you to control it as you did. Returning to the basics however, will give you a much fuller grasp over it and hopefully let that potential thrive."

"It's always the basics," Tai stretched his arms above his head. "Basics, basics, basics. Even I know that."

"Yes, I'm sure you do," Kari giggled. Very old memories of her brother fumbling with a soccer ball at the beginning of the season sprang to her mind.

Tai gave her a lopsided grin. "Well!" he exclaimed, and he pushed himself to his feet, "Awesome, so we're whoa - "

He promptly fell over. Kari stifled another giggle as he sat there scratching his head.

"Well, I think we know where else to work with you," Ailbemon chuckled. "You must be tired after those exercises, take your time."

He laughed, rising again. He tottered a bit but kept his balance this time. "I plan to. Phew, sitting after all that, makes it hard to move. Hey, is there someplace that's okay for me to wash off? Maybe not the waterfall."

"You could try the bathhouse here you know."

"Oh yeah, I did know about that, haha," Tai replied, rubbing his arms and shoulders. "Awesome, thanks for everything today Ailbemon."

The digimon nodded in acknowledgment again, while Kari also stood. She felt oddly energized despite the hours of training, and it made her almost sad that they were done for the day. There would definitely be more practicing at the base later. Quietly though, perhaps in the temple. Her mind was already racing with ideas and TK's delight when he too learned.

The three of them started together down the path from the top of the waterfall. Tai in particular seemed very relieved; he, like Kari, TK, and their partners, had been asked to climb down the cliff face, though Kari had been very impressed with how far he made it before falling and being caught by Ailbemon. She breathed in the autumn air, thinking that she heard Agumon cheering from the village, and she wondered how the rest of the Chosen would fare if they chose training here in Miro Sanctuary.

Ailbemon suddenly spoke. "Pardon my memory, but where did Patamon and TK go today, again?"

Kari glanced up. "They're at Vestia City doing recon with Arisa and Dracmon."

The digimon's eyes widened. "Ah, yes, I recall you Chosen were involved in that. No relation to Dracomon, I assume," she added with a smile.

"No, pretty sure not," Kari replied with a giggle.

They continued walking. "How has that been going, by the way?" Ailbemon asked. "I understand the situation's been… tenuous, at best?"

Kari and Tai exchanged glances.

"That's one way to put it," Tai shrugged nonchalantly, and Kari could tell he was struggling to hold back his usual sarcastic complaints and grimaces about the entire thing. She was glad that they had decided to at least let their digimon mentor know the basics of the issue. "We're mostly just keeping tabs on it right now. Normally Davis and or Ken, sometimes someone else, goes in to check. We also send in random Chosen for the city 'mons to chase out. Keeps 'em on their toes and their eyes off our routes."

Ailbemon had an approving look in her eyes. "It seems appropriate for the time being. So this is what TK and Patamon are doing… checking the status of things."

The siblings nodded. "Yeah," Tai confirmed. "Well, more of acting as a powerhouse backup on the street if things go really south. Hope he got that message, not sure if I made that clear."

"He's good at reading into things. He can figure it out if you didn't."

Ailbemon's brow furrowed with some concern. "Will they be all right? I cannot imagine the task as particularly safe."

"It's not," Kari remarked, cringing a little. "But Arisa and Dracmon can sneak around really well. And they're not alone, Izzy and Tentomon are with them too. I'm actually not that worried about them." She rubbed her head, thinking about the others involved in the day's mission. "Davis and Ken though, with Paildramon…"

Ailbemon tilted her head. "Distracters for the day?"

"Yeah. With the Norwegian team, who's never done this before. I'm kind of nervous."

"Oh come on," Tai grinned with a wave. "If Paildramon's involved, then Davis and Ken and anyone else with them are fine. I'm sure of it."

Kari frowned. Her brother's faith in their team was impressive, but he was missing her point.

"That's not quite what I'm worried about, Tai…"


"THIS IS SO COOL!" Davis whooped, pumping his free fist in the air. Paildramon let out an excited roar along with him. Ken suspected that the ExVeemon part of him was responsible.

Being on Paildramon's other shoulder, he was too far away from Davis to tap him. "Hey! Davis!" he shouted, and the boy turned to him. "They're chasing us around the city, you can't think that this is 'so cool'."

Davis blanched. Paildramon's excited roar turned into a slightly more aggressive sounding one.

"You don't think they heard?"

"Paildramon's roar probably covered it. Besides – heads up, here they come."

A graveled shout cut through the air. "Damn you Chosen!"

Devidramon rounded the corner of a skyscraper, accompanied by several Soulmon and other digimon that Ken didn't recognize as Corrosives. He did however recognize them from having been chased in the air for the last ten minutes.

Regular residents then. 'Defending the city from oppressive authority of the Chosen', I bet.

Paildramon did an impressive double-take and immediately set off flying again. Ken held on tightly as the wind blew through his hair, squinting as it dried the moisture from his eyes. He could hear those digimon behind him, their seemingly justified anger loud within each battle cry. It still hung heavily on his heart, knowing that those he and his friends were sworn to protect hated them so much right now… but at least, he personally had suffered this in the aftermath of his downfall as Digimon Emperor. He could steel himself against it. He worried more for Davis.

They came to a large square and made one lazy loop around it. The lack of water on his face made for both relief and strangeness, because it was one of those odd, lucky times when the torrential downpour of Vestia City ceased. It meant that for once, Ken was actually dry. He could still imagine Einar wanting the rain, if only because it created a significantly more dramatic backdrop for their very loud and highly visible frontal assault.

Then a golden feathered, flying digimon suddenly dove down to float beside them. Two humans and a small Rookie digimon sat on its back. The boy had orange war paint artistically streaked across his face.

Einar, leader of the Norwegian team, had just made his appearance.

"We have done nothing wrong!" he shouted from his perch, blond hair blowing in the wind. "But if you insist…"

"We shall FIGHT!" the digimon beneath him crowed.

The pair made a very impressive sight. Einar was a muscular, well built teen, standing tall with ferocity in his face. His clothing, consisting of a worn leather jacket with fatigues and combat boots, suggested that he was used to seeing some type of action on a regular basis, Digiworld related or not; the war paint however was a new accessory. Vidofmon complimented him, proud with his head thrown back to show his spiked crest, while his golden plumage fanned out in display.

Devidramon roared, and the digimon with him joined into a great symphony of intimidating sound. Vidofmon released a loud, brassy battle cry back at them. Einar lifted his fist and crowed with his partner.

The girl sitting right behind him, blond like Einar and dressed similarly, though without the war paint, contrasted them with a rather strained grin on her face. The small squirrel-like digimon beside her mirrored her exact expression.

"Cousin Tonje!" Einar bellowed, fist still raised. "Shout with me!"

Tonje looked nowhere near as enthusiastic as Einar. Regardless, she glanced at her partner and pumped her own fist.

"Hyaaaaaaaa!" she yelled theatrically. Despite that, even Ken could see the incredulous wince on her face.

"More, cousin!" Einar urged her. "And you as well, Toskmon. Shout, sing proudly for your honor as Chosen!"

Devidramon chose that moment to charge. The air was suddenly filled with flying digimon coming from all directions, all shooting to the Chosen before them, and Ken had to grip hard onto Paildramon's pauldron to keep himself steady. He himself could see the angles and trajectories, and he squinted as Einar let out another shout, this time commanding…

Aha. He sees it too.

Paildramon and Vidofmon darted in opposite directions, right through the holes of the oncoming charge. Digimon shrieked and cried out in bumbling panic as they collided with one another, some falling out of the air entirely. Ken turned to watch.

It was very, very amusing to watch Devidramon unable to follow them as he was pelted by his own flailing allies.

Paildramon swept beneath the mass of confused digimon and back out of the square, following the corridors created by the high-rise buildings. Mobs rose and roared at them from below as they passed, and again Ken was reminded of that disastrous night. Fission Ruins, Kouta's team, and Vestia City. He had to mentally steel himself again with the reminder that they were using this to their advantage, and that if all went well, the animosity would be temporary…

A duo of Chosen digimon, with their partners and one more Chosen pair perched on top, burst from behind one building.

Another flock of Vestia City digimon swarmed behind them.

"Peacockmon, get 'em!" one teen dark-haired girl shouted to her mount, and the mechanical blue-plated bird spun on a wingtip to face their pursuers.

"Rainbow Shower!"

A rain of multicolored light burst from holographic feathers, shards that shot through the crowd. The many digimon immediately scattered, diving backwards and away from the Chosen at the fore. Ken suspected they were regrouping just out of sight.

"Vilja!" another boy of the same age, sandy-haired and lean, called to her from his own partner ShimaUnimon. He sounded annoyed. "Be careful, will you?!"

"We are, Vinar!" she shot back. Ken caught her rolling her eyes as she and Peacockmon drew past.

ShimaUnimon landed deftly on an outcropping of one of the buildings, glancing back at Peacockmon. Vinar grimaced as he gripped his partner's zebra-pattered mane, and then both shook their heads in unison. Behind him sat another, younger boy with darker hair and a blue windbreaker, much smaller and more nervous looking. His partner, a small white bear with a golden Holy Ring as a collar and an ornamented head crest, was settled solidly in his lap.

Almost immediately, a small group of Soulmon flew up to greet them.

"Necro Magic!"

ShimaUnimon leapt off his perch just in time before the burst destroyed the outcropping entirely. He charged straight at Soulmon, shouting and kicking as he went past.

Vinar held fast, but the pair behind him yelped as their mount spun to face their attackers.

"C'mon Brage, hold on!" he shouted as released one hand to grab the younger boy.

"I'm trying!" Brage yelped back, practically squashing his partner between them. Poor Kunikmon let out a very un-bearlike squeal in protest.

Paildramon sped forward to help, forcing Ken and Davis to hold tightly onto his armor. He came to a stop beside ShimaUnimon, lowering his head slightly in a show of intimidation.

The group of Soulmon paused, staring at the two floating digimon with some trepidation. Ken caught sight of both Vinar and Brage nodding at him in gratitude.

Then the moment of tension was broken by Vidofmon diving straight between them.

"Hail, comrades!" Einar called with a hearty grin. Tonje smacked her forehead behind him.

One of the Soulmon squeaked. "Too many!"

"We gotta fall back!" another one wailed in a grating voice. "Don't got – it's Devidramon!"

Ken whipped his head to the side to see Devidramon and his fleet of angry digimon appearing over a building's roof. They were clearly following Vidofmon.

He was sure Einar had had Vidofmon do this on purpose.

Well, if he knows what he's doing… Paildramon's still here for intervention, because I can see two ways this can go, and Einar had better be taking the smarter route.

Peacockmon fluttered down to greet them with a loud, cheerful squawk. "Hiya Captain!" Vilja saluted, a large grin on her face.

Einar nodded, then glanced at everyone to make sure he had their attention. Then he raised one hand.

"Spread out, to the sides!" he shouted, pointing in different directions as he held tightly to his partner's feathers. Ken noted that one included several good perches for ShimaUnimon. "Vilja, forward and prepare to flank from the right!"

"On it!" the girl saluted, and Peacockmon sped up the corridor.

Paildramon followed Einar's instruction, taking the far left side as ShimaUnimon landed on a nearby fire escape and Vidofmon remained in the center. Devidramon's flock of digimon had gathered with the Soulmon, looking defiant as they faced those who apparently threatened their city.

Ken had to admit, he did actually enjoy using this misconception to manipulate the opponents before them… even if it was very un-Child of Kindness-like to do so.

Regardless, their particular group was only in the city for one reason. If the meeting prior to the 'attack' was anything to go by, then those currently on the streets needed any manipulative distraction they could get. He just wasn't entire sure how long they could keep up the charade.

Einar let out another battle cry, and Vidofmon's crow echoed through the air. Then Davis and Paildramon roared in unison, with the rest of the Norwegian team following. Ken inwardly grinned, feeling his blood pump as he shouted with them.

Devidramon's digimon replied in kind, angry and unwilling to submit. The noise from both sides built to one cacophonous sound until it filled the sky with one defined need to fight.

Then, as one, they charged.

Ken hoped the others down below to found the information they needed.


TK grimaced as he watched Paildramon rampage through the sky along with the rest of the Norwegian team. They were doing an extremely convincing job of looking like flying menaces, at least from the ground; the large number of digimon tracking, chasing, or simply just attacking seemed proof of it.

"'Kay, Mr. Gung-ho Odin's good at this, I admit it," Arisa's voice chuckled from just ahead. "Sure helps us."

"No kidding," came Izzy's from behind. "Are you sure that this is completely safe?"

A pair of digimon galloped past, all attention on the skies. "They spotted us yet?" Sangloupmon echoed from all around them. He sounded slightly annoyed.

Izzy sighed. "Good point. Forgive my anxiety here, I'm just unused to this."

"No worries Izumi," Arisa replied. "We all start out as newbies. Now get quiet, we should move. Sangloupmon?"

"Yep."

TK was fully aware that he was technically sitting while holding onto Arisa in front of him, but he found the rest of the experience strange. Their view moved, slinking away from the darkness behind the brick wall and gliding close to the ground. Yet they remained within the boundary where the sun's light failed to meet the pavement, almost hovering in that refuge.

Then shadow met shadow, and Sangloupmon followed the path, creeping along to the adjacent building.

No one saw them. Digimon ran past and flew above, but paid them no heed. Their ride was adept at merging with the dark in this manner, traveling within it and unnoticed by any.

This ability was the exact reason why Arisa and Sangloupmon were so good at reconnaissance.

Today, the girl had agreed to share with the other Chosen just how she was able continue surveillance in Vestia City despite the dangers and digimon who could sense differences in digital signatures. It worked perfectly in that they needed some extra insight into the workings on the street, combined with the need to test out the Norwegian team's distracting abilities. It was fairly clear however, that only Sangloupmon could do this safely.

TK wasn't entirely sure why he and Patamon were here with them. Izzy and Motimon were present because they were the Ultimate escorts for Makoto's team for the time being. With Makoto being so focused on the Vestia City conflict, his team had taken to sneaking around the area rather than being active with the Drethmon, as the other teams were; naturally, it meant that their escorts would come with them. As for TK and Patamon though? Paildramon was already in the sky if Morodemon appeared or a Drethmon emergency occurred. He supposed that Tai had wanted extra ground support for safety reasons.

Despite having been on the Sangloupmon for the past hour, TK still felt a little uncomfortable in this odd darkness, unable to see himself or any of the others in their group. He retained the sensations of his position, but not the sight. It made him feel like an oddly disembodied pair of eyes just moving along, watching the world through a camera.

He absentmindedly readjusted the brim of his hat as they slid from shadow to shadow, feeling an odd relief at his physical sense. Then he reached one hand right in front of his stomach and touched Patamon's wings, just for reassurance. The digimon flapped them in silent response. Still here.

The group watched as various residents of the city ran past, still paying no heed to those hidden in the dark. TK recognized none of them, but he had very little experience here compared to the other Chosen, especially in regards to the pair he was currently with. He wondered if Izzy and Motimon felt the same.

One large herd caught his attention. Then he blinked as he recognized the digimon at the head of it.

"Come ye, take down the Chosen, they shall not escape before we exact our righteous justice!"

Doumon, in all his fox-like Shinto priest glory, bellowed in a dramatic, hammy voice as he led the herd in a mad chase down the street. TK just watched in dumbstruck silence as the entire group charged after Vidofmon's flying figure.

"… ain't he on our side?" Sangloupmon asked unsurely.

"He is," Izzy replied, sounding amused. "He's probably helping us by keeping those digimon busy."

"I think he and Einar would work well together," TK commented, chuckling.

"Um, Arisa?" came Motimon's voice. "You said there was something you and Sangloupmon wanted to check during this?"

There was silence, during which another several digimon ran by. Then they were moving again, slinking in the darkness from shadow to shadow.

"Yeah," Arisa answered. "Corrosion. The ones who aren't going after our distraction. Hope y'all remember 'em."

TK mentally went through the images he had been bombarded with outside the city. Some were easy to recognize – Snimon, Devidramon, Soulmon as Bakemon with a wizard's hat… others, not as much. He held onto anything familiar to help him recall members. There was one with hot pink gauntlets.

Morodemon however was not easy to forget. He was a cyborg digimon, WarGreymon's size, metallic and reptilian, blades and turrets built into his armor. The energy he emitted hovered visibly around him like a shield, and then there was that intimidating face mask, with its green glowing horns and the menacing stare that seemed to penetrate all the way through the screen of Izzy's laptop…

No wonder Corrosion followed him.

Thank the Orc Hands for the intel.

"If we need a primer, Izzy's right here with his computer," Motimon said helpfully.

"And give away our position?" Izzy muttered back. "I have faith that all us down here remember."

"I do, if that's comforting at all," TK chimed in, hoping that this relieved tensions a bit.

"Me too!" Patamon chirped as well.

"That's great. Now y'all shut up," Sangloupmon growled at them.

They continued on. More digimon passed, some in groups, others solitary. More than one seemed to be fleeing the conflict rather than running towards it; the regular city inhabitants, perhaps. None of them matched the Corrosion digimon, not even the many Soulmon that existed in that gang.

TK continued his lookout. They were in the city to get a better sense of the situation, spy on Corrosion, find clues to understand more and move forward. He hoped they found at least something useful.

Then they rounded the corner onto a small street… just in time to nearly collide into Snimon.

"Gah - "

TK had to stifle Patamon's mouth and barely held in his own gasp of horror. They were still the loudest out of the group somehow though; the relative chaos of the sky was the only thing that masked it.

Being able to melt into shadows did not make them immune to physical contact with those standing in the shadows, as Sangloupmon had explained to them much earlier. Being unable to see his own body also made the anxiety of ruining their cover much stronger.

In any case, they had found a Corrosive. And he was, from first impressions, not interested in the commotion above.

They sat in silence for a good while, watching. Snimon had his back to the wall, blades crossed as he glanced up every few minutes. It was times like these that TK wished digimon like him had facial expressions; at the very least, it would make discerning the situation a bit easier.

High ranking member of Corrosion. Not going after Chosen when the gang's on a 'kill all humans on sight' policy. He's paying attention but the Norwegian team isn't his biggest concern. Which either means he has something else he needs to deal with… or, he suspects something.

The latter seemed the most reasonable. TK wondered if the digimon was aware that there was a group of six Chosen sitting in the shadows with him.

They didn't have to wait much longer. The sound of something bouncing through puddles echoed against the crumbling brick, and another digimon slid around the corner and into the shadows beside Snimon.

TK recognized it from the briefing. This was a Weedmon, gourd-shaped and a dark green rather than its yellow and red colored Vegiemon cousin, and somehow it seemed to fit perfectly into the mold of a Vestia City gang member.

"'Bout time," Snimon grunted. "What took ya?"

The other digimon chuckled. "Trickster. Fangmon, the pushover. He wasn't even goin' after the Chosen – hiding. Couldn't help myself."

Snimon snorted. "Tricksters, ha. Some legacy they have. How the mighty have fallen."

The two laughed, as though sharing some inside joke. Sangloupmon twitched beneath the Chosen in the shadows.

"Anyway," Weedmon shook off the last of his chortling, "What'd ya need me for? More fun at the plant?"

"Nah, got enough greada and stuff for now. Boss might want more stocked up for us and new recruits though," Snimon shrugged. "I'll letcha know. Keep sellin' our other shit. Nah, got somethin' different. What's yer opinion on the Chosen comin' through these days?"

TK thought this an odd question, coming from a Corrosion member. Now he had to agree with Arisa's judgment on finding these particular digimon.

Weedmon scoffed. "Chosen? Some legends. They try an' fly in, everyone goes wild an' tries to chase 'em out. They walk in, they get attacked. Still I bet we only got their grunts comin' in. Drethmon keepin' em busy for us."

"Ha, no kidding," Snimon muttered. "Those things are a damn nuisance. You hear what happened in the Server desert like, two, three weeks ago? Whole team of specialists got wiped out. Lotsa Chosen patrollin' everywhere all night."

"Well, it's about the only thing the Chosen're good for now, damage control," Weedmon gave a derisive snort. "Stoppin' those things from getting' too outta hand. Maybe they'll wipe each other out?"

"We can only hope," Snimon chuckled. "Save us a lot of trouble. The Digiworld for the digimon, and unless there's some big ass Mega who tries to conquer it or screws up the world balance. That's when the Chosen come in. That's when they're supposed to. Not this shitty covert cop thing they got going. Getting involved, and, and now…"

He trailed off, his voice cracking slightly.

Weedmon didn't seem to notice, or if he did then he hid it. "Drethmon, man. I'm still goin' by that theory, the one where the Digiworld made those things and is tryin' to drive the Chosen out. Maybe digimon'll retake this place."

Snimon shook his head. "Sure hope so. The traitors can go with 'em, bastards. Still gotta worry 'bout those things though. But lemme get this straight – you're guessing it's their grunts comin' here?"

"Tch, yeah," Weedmon rolled his eyes, and TK caught sight of him leaning back and resting his green gourd body on a couple of intertwined vines. "The Dark Masters team is still active, why would they get personally involved here?"

"Good point. Their job's with the Drethmon, whatever the purpose of those things is…"

The two were quiet for a moment, the roars from above and the streets around oddly dimmed.

"I need to talk with some of 'em Chosen," Snimon replied. "Vilemon's dead. That one human I talked to… he knew 'bout it, but not details, didn't seem to be involved or know what was really goin' on. I'm startin' to think the Chosen might be in factions – they ain't all together on things."

Weedmon was quiet, glancing up at his fellow Corrosive. "Ya think so?"

"Just all suspicious to me, that's what," Snimon grunted. "We got the ones flyin' in like damn lunatics. We got ones like Arisa and Dracmon. Then we got… the wimpy looking human with the Gomamon."

TK felt both Sangloupmon and Arisa twitch a bit at their names, but they were otherwise silent. He assumed the 'wimpy looking human' was Joe. He himself disagreed greatly with that designation. Joe was usually cautious and controlled, but he had a tendency to pull off absolutely insane stunts when things looked bleak.

Weedmon just stared incredulously at Snimon. "'Wimpy lookin' human with the Gomamon'? That's who ya talked to?" At Snimon's nod, the digimon let out a surprised squawk. "He's on the Dark Masters team, didn'cha know?! He ain't wimpy, he's… damn Snimon, you realize ya got off lucky?"

Snimon seemed much more astonished now. "He was?" he commented, sounding a little more awestruck. "… damn. Damn, you're right. Caught 'im by surprise, guess I really was lucky. He cared a lot about his traitor friend."

"Course he did. They helped take down the Dark Masters together. Dammit mon, ya can't judge any humans by how they look," Weemon berated him as he waved a vine. "They got grit, they do. They gotta, to be here. Seriously, ya need to know the Dark Masters team by face, all of 'em. Webmaster'll probably give it free, try 'im." He paused for a moment. "But one of the Dark Masters team comin' into town… he with anyone 'sides his partner?"

"Couple other humans, with Lopmon and Terriermon partners," Snimon replied. "They were there the day Vilemon got taken, though I ain't never seen 'em here before then. But this Chosen, he came in late, didn't know anything 'cept somethin' 'bout the Old Bex. I told you 'bout that, right?"

Weedmon bobbed up and down, looking bewildered. "Yeah. Old Bex, eh. We been doin' our normal thing, 'cept for recruiting and pest control. Needed to bring in the heavy guns for the pest control too. Shit, who else did we piss off besides the Chosen?"

"Really, ya missed all the hints and Chosen off in their territory? Orc Hands," Snimon growled. "Sneaky thieving gang, makes sense they'd ally themselves with humans too. They can die too, traitors."

"If you can find 'em," Weedmon inserted with a wry smile. "Unless you wanna take on the Red Troll?"

"… 'kay, Fugamon and his bar can stay. After some time with the Boss and Base Gorn."

"Maybe. That still in the honor code?"

"Killing ain't. That don't stop me from wantin' to. 'Sides, humans ain't digimon, they'll probably just pop back up in their world or somethin' if they die. Not like they have a Primary Village here."

"Get 'em outta the way for a while at least."

TK jolted. Something had just become very apparent.

He could feel both Arisa and Izzy freeze as well, and they were silent as they watched Snimon and Weedmon still leaning against the wall. With even greater attention now, he listened in and tried to remember every single word the two digimon spoke.

Weedmon huffed. "Well, all this is pretty suspicious to me. Looks like you might onto somethin' there… huh, Chosen in factions. Reports say they weren't always cool with each other back in the day. Might be useful. I could go get more info."

"I'll report it to the Boss," Snimon nodded. "And… help me out on this," he suddenly growled in a very low voice. "That human, keep an eye out. Figure out where he stands, who else he's friendly or close with. See if that team… see what they're about. Don't go to the Webmaster 'til I get an okay from the Boss."

"Roger that," Weedmon replied. "We'll get to the bottom of this."

"Yeah. We will."

There was something dark and vengeful in that word. TK was suddenly very aware of his heartbeat, and he sat there in the shadows willing it to quiet.

Even Weedmon seemed to notice. He glanced at Snimon worriedly.

"… you doin' okay, Snimon? What, with… Vilemon an' all."

One of Snimon's blades slammed into the wall behind him, the metallic clang echoing through the alleyway.

"Orc Hands… Chosen… any o' those involved," he snarled. "They're gonna' pay."

There was tense silence, broken only by the shouts of digimon still chasing the Norwegian team in the air.

"He'll come back after bein' reborn," Weedmon said reassuringly. "I'm sure of it. He's always been a Vestia City 'mon since he came as a Rookie leavin' Primary Village."

"Just hope he remembers everything," Snimon grunted. "And that he does come back here. Good 'mons are hard to come by."

"Good friends," Weedmon finished.

The two were quiet for a moment.

"I'll buy you a drink," Weedmon waved a vine at him. "C'mon."

Snimon exhaled. "Sure. Later. Let's see if we can join in on the fun," he jerked his head up just as ShimaUnimon glided overhead. "See if Devidramon and the boys got one yet."

Weedmon cackled. "Sounds good."

The digimon's vines extended and wrapped around one of Snimon's arms. After an emphatic bounce, Snimon bounded straight up the wall, casting a brief shadow on the ground as he rose up out from between the buildings. Then he vanished from sight.

The small street was silent for a good minute.

"So," Motimon began lightly, "That was illuminating."

"Extremely," Izzy replied, sounding very intrigued.

"Well, feel like a quick review or should we get going?" Arisa asked. Her voice wavered a bit as though she was slightly unnerved.

"Review," TK immediately answered. He heard the others reply with him.

Considering the several new pieces of information, he hadn't expected anything other than the review. They had a fair amount to remember.

Izzy audibly sighed. "We could use it," he commented. "Okay, well among the info we learned, Snimon thinks we might be in fractured into factions, they've stockpiled greada, believe they're within the honor code, and most definitely dislike humans. However, they apparently really respect any of us who saved this world from the Dark Masters, even if they don't necessarily like us."

"And at least Weedmon knows which of us was there," TK finished, wondering how this might affect things. "Who's the Webmaster?"

There was a moment of silence.

"Dunno, actually," Arisa said, sounding curious. "We've heard the name a couple times around, but otherwise… nope, nadda."

"Judging from the conversation though," Sangloupmon rumbled from below, "I'd figure a very knowledgeable digimon who knows a lot about Chosen. Spider digimon, maybe?"

The first thing that came to TK's mind was an image of Arukenimon. But no, she was dead, killed by MaloMyotismon months earlier in that dream dimension, and with no hope of being reformatted into the same form.

It reminded him of another point that had appeared during the conversation. Digimon who died were reformatted and reborn at Primary Village, or in the case of Patamon… in his arms. Despite the memory of his partner's death, TK couldn't help but focus on that moment when his digiegg hatched. It was what happened when digimon died, and only in particular circumstances did they not come back.

But it led to another thought.

What does happen if a human dies in the Digiworld?

"The digimon here aren't aware that when humans die, they die – no rebirth or reformatting at some respawn point… are they…?" he spoke, brows furrowing. "That's not common knowledge?"

There was a brief pause. "What's a respawn point?" Arisa asked.

"Uh, gaming term. Place you come back to life at after getting killed."

"No wonder you and Yuki get along," Izzy suddenly interjected tiredly. "Maybe you can help me decipher half of what she says or insults me with…"

"Um, hello?!" Patamon burst out. TK yelped and had to hold onto him as his wings flapped uncontrollably against his torso. "You guys don't come back if you die! Is this not a big deal to you?!"

Arisa let out a tired sigh. "Of course it is, we've just had our whole lives to get used to the idea. I thought you knew about this already."

"Well… yeah… but…"

"I try not to dwell on it," Motimon said quietly. "It's… well it's… it's not good to think about."

Motimon had apparently had a conversation with Izzy at some point about mortality. TK suspected it had to do with being adopted. Knowing Izzy, he had a feeling that it had not been a very consoling talk.

"As a digimon, it's disturbing," Sangloupmon stated in oddly finite way. "Killing another digimon's bad, but killing another digimon and making it so that it can't be reborn ever? That's the worst of the worst. Only time anyone'd think it's okay is if the digimon was really, really evil, like Dark Masters kind of evil. And humans skip the rebirth stuff go straight to dead. No backup, no reformatting, just straight to full deletion. Actually, the fact that you stop working and sorta… rot is scary too."

Motimon made an unhappy 'urk' noise. Patamon shuddered and muttered something about zombies.

TK inwardly cringed. It seemed evident that Patamon was still traumatized from what Matt liked to call 'the Zombie Movie incident'. At least some explanations involving dead things had been dealt with as a result.

"Well it's nice hearing it from the digimon perspective…" Izzy commented. He sounded slightly hesitant, as though worried that he might offend Motimon somehow. "And informative to know. This makes me curious as to what other cultural differences there are and potential misunderstandings resulting from them…"

"Like the grunt thing," TK said. He recalled that now, and he thought it was a strange interpretation of their distractions. "We don't have 'grunts'. We're made up of teams. Not to say that Snimon speaks for all Vestia City digimon, but…"

"'Do Vestia City digimon think we work that way?' Is what you're asking," Arisa finished. TK sheepishly nodded, then remembered he was technically invisible. She went on anyway. "The answer is yes."

"Even Orc Hands," Sangloupmon continued. "They're just think they're gettin' help from specialists."

TK made a face, though he was perfectly aware no one could see it. Patamon seemed to share his thoughts.

"There really aren't a lot of us though," the digimon argued. "And I thought everyone knew that?"

Arisa made a throaty, unsure noise. "Mmm. Dunno. Not like we got an army after all. Maybe check in with our allies on that?"

"I will at least," Izzy commented. He sounded curious. "I wonder how that was conveyed. Rumors, social thinking, something else?"

"But we are all specialists if you think about it," Motimon chimed in. "It gets important to know everyone's strengths and weaknesses and anything else they can add."

"It's important because there's so few of us."

"So it comes down to a numbers game," TK shook his head. "Corrosion thinks they're up against an army, so they're recruiting to build up to that. Great."

"Now you're thinkin' right," Arisa said approvingly. Then she released an audible sigh. TK could imagine her pausing and looking back up at the sky. "Right, so we good with our review? We got more Corrosives to look for."

Sangloupmon spoke before anyone could put a word in. "Yeah, we're good. Y'all quiet down again, time to go."

He seemed anxious. TK could understand; they were idling by the side of this building in the shadows, and while Sangloupmon was invisible while melded with them, and could cloak the digital signatures of others, he was not invincible or beyond detection. Even if this was normal work for him, he still had the pressure of keeping his riders safe.

TK absentmindedly fingered his D3. Another good reason for his and Patamon's presence. And if they ran into Morodemon…

He felt a gentle lurch forward, and then they were moving through the shadows again. The shouts of digimon in the streets and the sky still echoed around them, and distant explosions told him that the chaos continued. He worried as Sangloupmon slunk from shadow to shadow, wondering how they were faring - the Norwegian team, whom he barely knew and could only infer their success based on the angry streets, and then both Davis and Ken atop Paildramon, backing these Chosen from the air. It gave him something more to watch for, a city skyline to let his eyes patrol.

His skin tingled with adrenaline, his nerves were jittering, and everything around him grabbed his attention. Whether it was the normal sense of combat mixed with a fear of being found, or the results of a mind overcompensating for a lack of good sleep, he couldn't say.

They slid past stampeding digimon, past broken lampposts and faded billboards. Windows shattered, brick crumbled, and the distant booms over the furious battle cries seemed amplified by the hard building surfaces. More than once, TK caught sight of Vidofmon or Paildramon above, and even Peacockmon flashing in the presence of Devidramon's charge. Yet signs of other Corrosives not in combat were lacking. No idle Soulmon, no digimon with hot pink gauntlets, but thankfully no reptilian cyborg Mega…

Sangloupmon finally ducked into a small alleyway and paused. "I ain't seen no one," he panted. "What about y'all?"

TK shook his head and joined in a quiet chorus of 'No's.

They could barely hear each other over the sound of a volley crashing into the building above. Sangloupmon instinctively drew to the cover of a broken, rusted dumpster as flaming debris came raining down.

And now we have burning garbage. Awesome.

They sat there in the protection of the large trash bin, breathing through mouths and trying not to inhale the smoke. It was still safer than being in the open where remnants of the attack could both hurt and expose them. They preferred repulsive smells to that.

TK leaned to the side to gaze up past the dumpster, watching the debris fall. He could see flashes of two digimon tumbling through the sky, but not enough to identify either. One had to be from the Norwegian team, as he could spot Paildramon from glimpses… it made him nervous, watching from far below.

Something else caught his eye as well. There was a cloud of darkened mist floating by a fire escape at the third floor. It seemed suspicious, and if not for the fact that it reminded him a little too strongly of the fog in the Dark Ocean, he might not have noticed it.

He was about to try and whisper about it to Arisa, but the sound of madly scampering feet echoed in the alleyway. With a slight grimace, he glanced further down to see what digimon was running towards them.

It was a single digimon, a large chameleon with red and green stripes along its hide. A helmet and light leather armor on its back gave it some protection from the last of the falling debris, but it didn't seem to notice as it gasped and stumbled, taking desperate, fearful looks over its shoulder.

The Chamelemon looked absolutely terrified.

TK held his breath. What's he scared of? No way, couldn't be one of us, then who…

Then the air moved and two cackling Soulmon were in the alley.

Chamelemon stumbled at the sight and fell, landing hard against his chin. The Soulmon just continued forward, bearing down on the digimon as he clambered to his feet.

"Necro Magic!"

The attack exploded just behind Chamelemon. TK felt Sangloupmon shrink backwards and out of the way, just beyond the blast radius; Chamelemon was thrown and let out a frightened cry as he tumbled back to the hard pavement.

A breath left him. "He needs help."

"No," both Arisa and Sangloupmon echoed as another dark explosion drowned out their voices from the others in the alleyway.

TK felt his heart thump. "What?!"

Chamelemon struggled to his feet as the two Soulmon reached him. They began circling around him, two ghostly arcane wisps that created a tightened symmetry. Their victim, trapped in the middle, flashed his eyes wildly back and forth between them, following as though trying to find some desperate way to escape.

Then his entire body faded from view.

"Necro Magic!"

Chamelemon yelped and reappeared in the same place, now gingerly leaning to the side with two legs recoiled from the darkened spot on the ground. One of the Soulmon laughed and gave him a hard shove, toppling him over to a startled crash.

"C'mon!" he called up into the air. "We got 'im!"

TK looked up, following the Soulmon's shout. Then he felt his eyes widen as the dark mist by the fire escape suddenly moved.

It descended as a cloud, coalescing at the same time. Droplets merged, water parcels grew, and the orb of darkened water grew until it became a swirling amorphous thing floating in the air.

TK recognized it from the pre-mission briefing. It was one of Corrosion. Porunamon.

This is bad, Chamelemon needs help, but this is Corrosion, we can't be seen, it'd mess things up, but Chamelemon –

What looked like two coiling, clawed arms of water came from Porunamon's body. They hovered for a moment, then shot down at a blinding speed. Chamelemon let out a scream as water splashed down onto the pavement, over him, becoming a great torrent of whirling power.

TK tapped Arisa's shoulder, feeling his heart pound at the sight. "We can't do nothing, we have to - "

He felt a hard elbow jab into his stomach, barely missing Patamon. "Shut up," Arisa hissed. "And sit tight."

"But he's - "

She twisted in front of him and a hand violently slammed over his mouth. "It's just an interrogation, Takaishi," she replied acidly. "No interfering. We're not actually here."

TK felt outraged, yet too aghast to react against her. He was already horrified to see this unfolding before him, but to choose not to act…?!

Both Soulmon had already retreated, gazing up as the sloshing water came together again into focused coils. This time though, the arms lifted up, bringing Chamelemon with them.

He struggled, helpless with the coils wrapped around his body and each individual limb. Only his tail remained free, thrashing in panic as the rest of him was suspended in the air by the force of the water binding him.

Porunamon raised the digimon towards its main body as though intrigued by the being it held in its watery grasp. It turned Chamelemon from side to side inquisitively, and released an amused hum from somewhere within its center. Then the orb's surface rippled, the wave moving from sphere to the arms.

The action seemed deceptively harmless, but Chamelemon let out startled, fearful shout when it reached him. He writhed for a moment, trapped by the water, then became almost completely still as the coil around his right front leg subtly bent.

"What do you want?!" he yelled, his voice still low and gravelly in its fear.

A deep rumbling, clear as though being projected through the water as its conduit, answered.

"What you know about the Digidestined and their recent movements. Traitor."

Traitor. That word, the one that Corrosives had been calling Chosen digimon and those who allied with humans. Now TK had even more reason to detest his position, the situation before them, and Arisa's order. She had not removed her hand from his mouth, and her nails dug into his cheek. He could feel Patamon rustling uneasily before him for the same reasons as himself. Izzy and Motimon seemed petrified to stone.

Chamelemon's eyes widened. "I ain't a traitor. They saved our world more than once and this is how you thank 'em? What'd they do to you before Morodemon gave out that 'kill 'em all' order? One of you used to work for the Dark Masters or somethin'?!"

The rumbling voice sounded puzzled and aloof. "Brave words from someone at my complete mercy…"

The coil tightened, twisting.

Chamelemon earlier bravado faded, and he whimpered. "No, s-stop, stop it, let go, stop…"

He faded out of and then back into view, then again, trying to camouflage himself in an instinctual response. His tail was flailing again, and the rest of his body was struggling, trying to escape in a futile effort.

Porunamon's surface rippled again, but this time it focused into the arm and coil holding Chamelemon's leg. The digimon yelped, louder and more pained than before, and his head shook vigorously as he tried to yank the leg away.

"No, no no no no, stop stop - "

There was a loud snap.

Chamelemon cried out. The two Soulmon watched in neutral silence, their earlier glee gone. Porunamon gave a deep rumble of satisfaction.

TK had a very sudden flashback, one where he lay half-broken on pavement, while a wrathful demonic being crouched over him, its claw outstretched with the crackle of black lightning.

He grabbed his D3 and knocked Arisa's hand off his face. "Patamon, we're going - "

Arisa turned completely. There was a blow to the side of his head, and he reeled back from the sudden ringing pain and the white in his vision. But the hand was on his mouth again before his voice could escape, her elbow was curled around his head and digging into the back of his neck, and then he was aware that his entire right arm was pinned by another, stronger and more muscular arm.

"Don't you dare, Takaishi," she hissed furiously. "Don't you dare don't you dare don't you dare…"

He was so taken aback at being subdued that he barely registered Patamon's madly flapping wings.

"What are you doing to him?!" Patamon shrieked, trying to free himself from between Arisa and TK's bodies. "Let him go - "

A pair of arms from behind encircled him, coming to the front and firmly holding Patamon down, and abruptly silencing him. The digimon let out a couple muffled cries in protest, struggling against both hands and torsos, squashed into submission.

"I'm sorry TK," Izzy's voice whispered into his ear. "But you have to stop. We can't give away our position or compromise this mission in any way. Do you understand?"

TK didn't feel like he had a choice. Arisa had him restrained from the front, and with Izzy's arms wrapped around him, trapping his left arm as well as keeping Patamon down, the only thing he could do now was kick Sangloupmons' flank.

And he felt more betrayed than anything else. He hadn't expected this from either of them – especially not Izzy, who had been with present since the beginning, who was always there with information and support when they needed it. Izzy, who was right now stopping him from leaping off of Sangloupmon.

"Do you understand?" Izzy whispered again. "We can't mess this up. Get Patamon to calm down somehow. Please."

He breathed hard, having to exhale from the nose. He was still upset, angry, and wanting more than anything to break free with Patamon and go after Porunamon itself, because he saw no justification in hurting Chamelemon like that, and…

The two Soulmon and Porunamon were turned in their direction. He froze, some logical sense taking over what anger had driven him, and he immediately tried to project his thoughts in some way to Patamon. Calm down, calm down, we can't be found, we'll find some way to help Chamelemon I promise –

Those feelings must have made it to Patamon in some way, because the digimon stopped struggling. He instead shivered, burying himself into TK's stomach. TK felt a sense of sadness emanate through their bond, and echoes of a faint, simple plea.

Why, why are we doing this...

"Somethin' over there?" one of the Soulmon asked, bobbing up and down in the air.

The other glanced at him. "Go check it out."

"Right."

Arisa's hold had not loosened; if anything, it grew even tighter as the Soulmon floated towards their spot hidden in the shadow of the dumpster. Sangloupmon immediately retreated, gliding backwards away as far as the darkness allowed him.

The Corrosive hovered to the spot they had just been within. TK heard Izzy inhale sharply as the digimon inspected it.

"Eh, nothin' here."

"Must've been a passing civ, ran out" the other Soulmon snorted. "Let 'em watch and see what we do to traitors."

"Or toss the traitor out for the mob to slaughter, eh?" the other laughed.

"I would not be unopposed," Porunamon replied, sounding curious. "However, we are not here to engage with the populace."

"Oh c'mon, Porunamon," the first Soulmon waved as he turned from the spot by the dumpster and began floating back. "We all know why we gotta do this."

"Indeed we do," Porunamon rumbled back, and the coils twisted. Chamelemon let out a barely held cry.

TK watched with a hot fury building in his chest. He clenched his fists hard, the only thing he could do now with these Corrosives only meters away and two people restraining him. He knew that they had to remain hidden. He knew their mission took precedence, but here was a digimon who needed help, and they were standing by, watching.

He hated this. The Chosen were supposed to protect and defend the normal digimon of the world, and keep the balance between different planes. If they couldn't protect Chamelemon here, then what were they here for?

He sat there with Izzy and Arisa on him as Porunamon held Chamelemon high in the air. He kept envisioning in his mind ways for them to somehow swoop in and pluck the digimon from Corrosion's grasp, a sudden digievolution from Patamon, a signal to Paildramon, something, anything to not be trapped by this detail of remaining unnoticed by all at the cost of what was before them, because this wasn't right, it just wasn't…

There was a second loud snap, and Chamelemon screamed. TK jolted, but Izzy held him sturdily fast. He realized that he could feel Motimon squashed between them, shivering.

"You know these Chosen above us. You know why they assault our city," Porunamon stated.

Chamelemon gasped. "N-no! I ain't seen 'em before! I don't know who they are!"

"That is a lie."

A watery coil twisted one of the broken limbs. Chamelemon gurgled, his eyes bulging as he shut his mouth defiantly.

"Will you cooperate?" Porunamon asked in a disturbingly pleasant voice. "You need only tell us these Chosen's plans. Why the assault. Why challenge us who own this city?"

Chamelemon suddenly hissed. His eyes narrowed and sharpened, and in one move, he pushed his head forward towards Porunamon's spherical body.

"You don't own this city," he snarled. "We all know who really does, and it ain't Corrosion."

"He's right, you know."

It was a different voice this time, an echoed flanging one closer to their end of the alley. Sangloupmon jerked and slid forward back towards the dumpster, with just as much haste their earlier retreat. TK tried to look over his right shoulder, straining against Arisa's suddenly cold, clammy hand. His anger at her left the moment he saw the digimon there.

Reptilian, cyborg, the size of WarGreymon. Spiked and bladed metal, turrets, the green energy field, the intimidating face mask, that stare…

TK nearly felt his heart stop.

Morodemon strode forward and past their hiding place, all attention on his fellow Corrosives and the one digimon they held. Each movement made the light mechanical sound of whirring motors, and an audible electric pulse came from his field. Yet despite his size, his steps were muted against the pavement as though he was used to quiet movement.

"Let me see him," he ordered.

Porunamon obeyed, rotating and bringing the coils and Chamelemon with it. Then the arms twisted around so that Chamelemon faced the Corrosion leader.

The lizard digimon looked petrified now. His body visibly trembled, his eyes wide and fixed on the masked being approaching him. Short, shallow gasps sounded from his mouth, disturbingly loud in the small alley.

Morodemon came to a stop, barely an arm's width from his subject. He lowered his head so that his gaze was level with the other digimon.

"Chamelemon," he addressed coldly. "Supporter of the Chosen, friend to the humans, defender of their actions. Traitor to the city. What do you have to say for yourself?"

Chamelemon was silent. He glanced away towards the ground, not meeting Morodemon's eyes.

"Nothing, then?" the Mega asked. He suddenly reached out with a metallic claw and placed it firmly on Chamelemon's throat.

The digimon gurgled. "I-I… I…"

"Really?" Morodemon gave a derisive laugh. He lifted the claw gently upwards; Chamelemon's head followed, leaning backwards in a vain attempt to escape. "You're not much, are ya?"

Chamelemon struggled for a brief moment. But then he exhaled, growing strangely calm and quiet in Porunamon's coils.

He strained to meet Morodemon's quizzical gaze, but his eyes were narrowed in a show of defiance.

"The Chosen weren't involved until you provoked 'em. And they ain't takin' this lyin' down. So just remember when the time comes… you started this. You started this. You'll have this on your head. You ain't the only Mega in this town. You'll go down the same way the Spirals did."

Morodemon's eyes flashed. And then as everyone watched, he suddenly chuckled.

"You been here a long time, eh?" he replied, releasing Chamelemon's throat. "So you remember 'em then… the first Chosen, those five humans, those five warriors. You remember how they killed the Spiral leader then?"

Chamelemon's glare never wavered. "Do you?"

Morodemon tilted his head. Porunamon made a slight watery noise, but Morodemon lifted a claw in a stopping motion. He seemed very curious now, watching the other digimon with a great amount of intrigue.

"Looks like you do have a spine. You gotta, to live in this city as long as we have, eh?" he murmured, squinting a bit. "It's not often I run into the old crowd… but it also means you may know more than… hmm."

He paused as though thinking. Then waved his claw, glancing to the side past Chamelemon and at the digimon holding him. "He'll be a hard one to break. Do what you do best."

Chamelemon hissed angrily, but Porunamon pulled the digimon in closer to its orb-like main body. He yelped as rushing water wrapped around him in a crushing embrace, pinning and engulfing all four limbs, tail, torso, and head, until he had become completely suspended in liquid. Only a bubble of air remained around his nose and mouth.

"At your command, Boss," Porunamon rumbled.

To TK's surprise, Morodemon let out a mildly exasperated sigh and rubbed his head. "You're never gonna' lose the formality, are you?" Porunamon sat in baffled silence. "Whatever. Go do your thing. Soulmons, you go watch and report for me, will ya?"

The two Soulmon, having been mostly quiet since Morodemon's appearance, perked up in happy acknowledgement. "Sure thing Boss!" one chirped. It was the same one that had investigated their spot by the dumpster. "Regular stuff? Anything extra?"

Morodemon nodded. "Regular stuff. You know the drill. Oh yeah, but one more thing," his glowing eyes suddenly narrowed, and in a single moment the mask was shaded, the aura of green energy buzzing with intensity. "What he saw the day the Spirals went down for good."

The Soulmon looked at each other.

"'Kay Boss, whatever you say," the other one shrugged. "Something happen back then?"

Morodemon glanced back at them. "Find out what he knows first. Maybe I'll tell you if he says anything interesting. I'll catch ya later at the base… gonna' watch these Chosen a while longer. Maybe make an appearance. The idea's appealing."

Chamelemon, trapped within Porunamon's watery embrace, looked horrified. The two Soulmon only laughed.

"Roger that then, Boss," the second Soulmon replied. He grinned. "Don't work too hard."

The Mega snorted. "We'll see. C'mon y'all, git."

The two Soulmon laughed again, while Porunamon silently turned and began to swiftly float towards the exit of the alleyway, still holding Chamelemon to itself. Behind its back, the Soulmon gave cheerful waves to their leader, then quickly spun to catch up to their fellow Corrosive.

Morodemon crossed his arms, watching them go almost fondly. He chuckled to himself, then sighed as he turned around to leave in the opposite direction. His head was slightly lowered though, his gaze on the pavement before him as though preoccupied by something.

As he walked, motorized gears whirring at each movement, he briefly paused just as he reached the dumpster.

Everyone hidden in the shadows simultaneously froze. TK held his breath, almost glad that Arisa's hand was still over his mouth; his heartbeat was loud enough in his ears that he was sure that Patamon and Izzy could both hear it.

But Morodemon hadn't truly seemed to notice them. He tilted his head to the side, gazing upwards in thought. Then a loud battle shout cut through the air, and he sighed, immediately marching past the dumpster, past their shadow, and right out of the alley.

They stayed silent and petrified in their hiding place. TK had no idea how long, only that everyone was equally shocked by how close they had come to being directly face to face with the Corrosion leader. Sangloupmon's abilities were the only reason they hadn't been detected.

It was after several explosions and angered passing digimon later that they began to move again. Sangloupmon slid along the ground, smoothly and methodically like before, but there was a slight stiffness to his body. He seemed less graceful and more cautious, pausing at corners and jumping every time a mechanized digimon passed them.

Many things were tumbling in TK's mind. Morodemon, Corrosion, mention of the Spirals, Porunamon… Chamelemon…

He could not let go of that burst of fury. He knew the trigger, he knew why Arisa and Izzy had stopped him, but yet… despite it all…

We just watched Corrosion kidnap Chamelemon and did absolutely nothing.

It was one thing to hide when overpowered. TK remembered it well, Pumpkinmon and Gotsumon trying to stall and fool Myotismon, or the minions that Puppetmon had mercilessly killed in his search for the human he was 'playing' with. But Matt had sent out WereGarurumon in a rage at Myotismon, and a small boy with no powers could not stand against a Dark Master. This had been different. There was a reason he and Patamon were in the city that day, and that reason had walked right by them in that alley.

He understood the absolute need to remain undetected. Considering Morodemon's presence, that need had become even more important, but something inside him simply could not accept what they had allowed with Chamelemon. He thought Arisa and Sangloupmon were wrong. They could do something – they still could –

They turned into an empty street. Sangloupmon immediately ducked in through the shattered glass of a wall-spanning café window and stopped, as though surveying the abandoned and broken tables.

"Clear."

TK felt Arisa's grip finally loosen. She released him and pulled her arms away, brusquely pushing against him to stabilize herself. Izzy was much more gentle, though his hands were still firm as they rested briefly on Patamon's head, and then TK's own shoulder in a silent message. I know you're angry, but don't blow up. Stay focused.

He didn't answer, only touched his cheeks and rubbed his arms and neck where both Digidestined had restrained him. He grit his teeth, feeling a lot of resentment towards them.

If Izzy noticed, it wasn't reflected in his voice. "That was… too close," his breath quivered. Then he paused for a moment and inhaled sharply. "Morodemon. Einar. His team's up there, they should get out."

"Good point, send the note," Arisa replied. She sounded shaken.

There was movement, and then the shining light of a D-terminal suddenly lit up their shadow. TK turned to look, and he could barely see the outline of Izzy's head and bent shoulders as he pressed buttons furiously, the screen itself illuminating just his stomach, hands, and Motimon's nervous face.

He turned back, realizing he could now see Patamon's outline as well. His partner pressed himself backwards into his torso; he wrapped both hands around Patamon's stomach, feeling fuzzy wings flutter against his arms. A sense of comfort suddenly came through their bond, and it was only then that TK recognized his hands trembling.

Arisa took that moment to grab his shirt by the collar.

"Goddammit, Takaishi, you will never do that again," she snarled, ignoring Patamon's alarmed squeal. "Do you know just how damn close we came to getting found out?!"

"Yes," he answered immediately. He could make out her shape as well. "Where are they taking Chamelemon?"

"The hell, kid?! We're not going there! Once Izumi gets the email sent, we are getting the hell outta this city!"

"Chamelemon's innocent!" TK nearly shouted back. He could barely keep his voice down, and he almost didn't care. "He doesn't know anything about us, he's not in any of the gangs, he just… trusts us! And we're just leaving him?!"

Arisa gazed back furiously, but in silence. Then she abruptly released his shirt, pushing him back. "Yes."

TK stared at her. Now he was outraged.

"Why… why would we - "

"Sit your ass down, they won't kill him," she interrupted, eyes narrowed. Yet she seemed unhappy. "Base Gorn's a shitshow, but he's a Vestia City 'mon, he'll be fine. He's probably done this before if he's really been around here as long as he has."

"That doesn't make it any better!"

"That's Vestia City 'normal' for ya," she shot back. "I know this city way better than you, newcomer. This is how it is. Get used to it."

TK wanted to reply, but the idea of 'normal' stopped him. He had to remind himself that this was Vestia City – a place of gangs, petty crime, and rain. The city lived by its own rules, and what was unacceptable to him could easily be celebrated here. Those in the gangs stayed because they chose to. He had no idea about the others.

He still didn't like it.

Then Arisa's words came back to him, and the implications hit.

"Wait, Base Gorn, that's where they're taking him? Where it is?!" TK yelped. The anger came surging back. "And you know exactly what's going to happen!"

She glared at him in response.

"Of course I do," she said darkly after a moment. "And we're still not going."

"Why not?!"

"Morodemon's not going. The Soulmon know to shut up, and if you didn't notice, Porunamon's good at what he does and Chamelemon doesn't actually know anything useful. We can get all our Spiral info from Zeramon. So unless you wanna' hear lots of things snapping, we ain't going."

TK grit his teeth, feeling something in his head boil. "And this is normal."

"Just… shut up!"

Her voice echoed in the empty café. TK leaned backwards from her, staring at her darkened figure.

"You think I'm happy about this?" she continued, her voice lowered once again, but the quiet fury bubbled under it. "You think I like it? Hell no! But we don't got much choice kid, this is recon, and you don't interfere. This is life, and it is shitty. You can't save everyone, and if we're gonna' do our job right we can't screw around. Sure you coulda taken the Corrosives out, saved Chamelemon, whatever, but we got more at stake than one innocent digimon when half the city's on Morodemon's side. So stop being a damn idealist and grow up.

"And if you want normal," she suddenly added with a scathing laugh, "Let me tell ya something kid. You'd be surprised how normal this is out in the real world. In our home city. Tell me how normal it is next time you end up on the bad side of four girls with razor blades in a back alley."

TK had no idea how to answer. He wanted to, but couldn't. He knew what it was like to be a victim, how it felt being helpless, and he had sworn to empower himself so he would never be in that situation again. He caught Arisa's implication, already knowing that she herself had a rough history with her own life at home. Something had happened to her too.

But how could he reply? Everything he knew about was focused on the Digiworld. The human world, with all its complexities and nuances, was beyond him, slowly becoming something he only heard from others or learned about in school…

That realization had just dawned on him when Arisa suddenly yelped. "Shit! Izumi, close that thing!"

The light from Izzy's D-terminal vanished immediately, and they melded back into the shadows.

"Email sent, what's up?" he asked urgently.

"Trickster."

TK's gaze shot to the side, through the shattered glass windows and out onto the street. A thin wolf-like digimon with a thin snout was prowling just beyond, looking irritated.

"… Fangmon?" Motimon whispered. "But wasn't he - "

"Shhh!" Sangloupmon hushed him.

TK just watched as they once again began to move, this time in a definite maneuver to follow. Moments from the conversation between Snimon and Weedmon came back, as well as a report he had read a few weeks earlier. Weedmon messed with him earlier. That explains the irritation. He also ran into Davis and ExVeemon when they were luring Vilemon… and the Tricksters…

Fangmon seemed to have a goal in mind as he purposefully trotted down the sidewalk. Sangloupmon slid back out of the café, hiding amongst the shade of the doorway. He slunk from door to door, beneath coverings, keeping Fangmon nearby and easily in their sight.

Yet they didn't go far. The Trickster stopped at the corner, tilting his head at the menu and the plastic food displays in the window.

"Yo Digitamamon, you in there?" he called through the open door.

There was no answer.

"Digitamamon, I know you're there. You're not a Chosen hater. Come on, no Corrosion around, and we gotta talk about that payment you're late on."

The top of an egg popped up from behind the main counter. "F-Fangmon? Oh, how, how good to see you," the digimon stuttered, slowly emerging from his hiding place.

Fangmon sighed and marched into the small restaurant. Sangloupmon quietly followed the shade, and TK found his view slipping just behind the Trickster, delicately sidestepping the light from the window and settling beneath a large table.

It was a nice place, one that TK could see himself eating at casually with friends or even a fun night with his mom. The tables and tiled floor were clean, several booths sat along the walls, and a variety of quirky posters and decorative advertisements filled the bright space. It easily seemed the most normal and maintained place out of everything he had seen so far in Vestia City.

Digitamamon stood fully now, and he tentatively moved around to the front of the counter. The glowing eyes in the darkness of his shell were very nervous. "S-so, how can I help you?"

Fangmon rolled his eyes. "Payment, like I just said out front. You didn't send it with our courier. That steak deal you have don't look too bad though. But we got business. Sorry to be blunt."

The large egg digimon stood very still. "Oh… okay. That."

Fangmon tilted his head forward and gave Digitamamon a pointed look. "And?"

He answered by looking at the floor and remaining silent.

The Trickster's eyes immediately narrowed.

"Okay. Whatever happened, you still gotta deal. We know you got enough to pay, why the hesitation?"

Digitamon shifted back and forth from one clawed foot to the other. "Well I… I…"

Fangmon glared. "Yes?"

"I… I… I can't pay!" he finally blurted. "I don't have it!"

Fangmon stared for a solid few seconds. Then he prowled straight up to the now terrified Digitamamon and shoved his snout into the front of his shell.

"Listen, egg," he snarled, baring his sharp teeth, "You borrowed, now you gotta pay back with interest and the protection fee. Besides, you're almost done paying off the loan, and your business is good, you got the money to do it, so don't give me this 'I don't have any money' shit."

TK knew this was a different Digitamamon than the one he had met years ago and whose restaurant many Chosen now frequented, but it was still a bit disconcerting to see this one here and also running his own food service. Maybe this was a common thing among Digitamamon. He found it ironic that this one was being intimidated about money.

But Fangmon's temper and actions here… were nothing like he had expected.

He had read up on all of the mission reports and information that Arisa, Makoto, and anyone familiar with Vestia City had given. None of them reflected the Tricksters, much less Fangmon, demanding loan money from a shopkeeper.

Digitamamon stepped back from Fangmon's insistent growl, just to bump into the counter behind him. Fangmon's snout pushed in, teeth still bared.

"B-b-b-but how – I don't have - "

"You have the money. We know you do. Wanna' know why? Here's a hint: your business is good because we made sure it was good," Fangmon stated, jabbing the nails of his paw at Digitamamon's unprotected foot. "We could do the opposite if we wanted. You don't want this booming business to go up in flames like Vieri's, do you?"

Digitamamon squeaked.

Fangmon just cackled at him. "Well, you do make some pretty mean food. Maybe we'll only burn a third of it. That's how much of the loan you got left, anyhow."

"I'm sorry!" the other digimon suddenly wailed. "It's not my fault, honest! I'm sorry I'm sorry, I was gonna send the money, but Corrosion came and took it from me! Three days ago! Just as I was getting it ready! Nearly killed me!"

Fangmon paused, and for the first time, his brows furrowed in confusion.

"… you don't say. Which ones? What else happened?" he asked, his voice low but curious.

Digitamamon gave a couple loud, shaky breaths. "Four Soulmon, Rearemon, and Devidramon. There was that. Had to send your courier off, didn't have it ready. Then I found over half my food stores gone. Over half! And all my imported expensive spices and ingredients! I can't keep up supply here, have to restock, I don't have money to do that and pay! I don't know how they did it. Or who. Maybe Orc Hands, they do this kinda thing."

Fangmon took a couple steps away and growled. "Look, I don't know what happened to your food stores, but I promise you it was not the Orc Hands," he replied impatiently. "Your place is off limits to 'em, and they know it. Corrosion though…"

He was silent for a brief moment, glancing away with an angry scowl.

"Damn them…"

Then his gaze shot back to Digitamamon. The digimon jumped at the sudden movement.

"'Kay. Listen here. Corrosion was already at the top of our shit list, and this just made that bigger. We'll deal with them. Now, I can't make an exception for you just because this happened. You still gotta pay. But you'll get a refund once we beat their asses into the ground, and we'll get someone to keep an eye out around here. We cool?"

Digitamamon made a little gentle bob. "O-okay, but, my business - "

"Will be fine. Now, are you gonna' make me wait all day for that payment, or do I have to eat food or something, it'd be pathetic if our courier came around and I was still here. And he's not patient, if you remember."

If eggshells could pale, TK was sure that Digitamamon would have turned chalk white. The digimon wobbled in fright. "I'll – get it together, give me a few minutes!"

He immediately waddled straight to the back room.

They waited in relative silence but for the sound of things being bumped and Digitamamon's loud cursing. Fangmon looked mildly bored, but irritated; something to do with Corrosion, TK guessed.

The entire situation felt off to him. Corrosion was the gang plaguing the city… yet they had the support of other gangs and residents. The Digidestined had become involved first on a request for help by the Orc Hands, then pulled in further when anti-human sentiment spread. And here was Fangmon, 'the pushover' according to Weedmon, demanding payment and acting as though it was the Trickster's job to deal with Corrosion…

And somehow, Digitamamon's arrangement with the Tricksters did not seem new. It had been made long before Corrosion became the driving force on the streets.

No one knows what a Trickster is thinking except another Trickster. They have a courier. Corrosion's on their bad side. The Tricksters dealing with debts and money – this wasn't in any of the reports. Is Fangmon bluffing, or what is this that we're watching…?!

TK's thoughts were interrupted as Digitamamon burst through the door, a large envelope held before him. He still didn't know how Digitamamon was able to hold things or cook or function despite lacking prehensile limbs.

"Here you go, sir," the digimon panted, bowing as he passed it to Fangmon.

The Trickster took it neatly with his teeth, and with one paw flicked the envelope open. TK caught a flash of several bills as Fangmon flipped through them, making several satisfied murmurs as he did so. Then he slid the money back into the envelope, closed it, and with agile flexibility, tucked it into his belted legwraps. He left no edge or crease visible; there was no indication that he was carrying an extra item.

"Thank you for your business," he nodded courteously. "Remember, mum's the word. And don't worry – we're working on the Corrosion problem. We'll make sure you're protected. Keep that steak deal up."

With a flick of his tail, Fangmon turned smartly and trotted away, slinking out the open door. He glanced through the window, gazing straight at Digitamamon with aloof, warning eyes – and then he was gone.

Digitamamon gave a harrowed breath, sinking down briefly by the counter. "Protected, right," he muttered angrily, banging his shell against it. "Better than the alternative…"

He sighed, then stood and moved towards the door. TK suddenly found his sight and everything around him rushing past as Sangloupmon darted forward, and they slid neatly through on the shadow just as Digitamamon reached it.

They backed away to the barred windows of the bar next door, watching with bated interest as the door shut. The sign in the window flipped, and TK could barely make out 'Closed' from their slanted viewpoint.

Then wind blew past them as they suddenly vaulted back down the street, past broken glass, past cracked brick and sunken pavement, and within moments they dove directly into the abandoned café again.

The moment they came to rest behind a large fallen table, Sangloupmon's voice exploded.

"Okay, what the hell was that?!" he exclaimed, though still hushed. He seemed almost overwhelmed. "That's protection racketeering there, with loans, and they got a courier?! Corrosion's on their 'shit list'?! They're working on the Corrosion problem? Orc Hands know not to steal from certain restaurants and stores – okay, they're in good with the Tricksters, they'd know – but no, they might've told us that the Tricksters do this kinda shit, and they ain't known for it, they're known for their battles, man. Tricksters are good at battles 'cuz they cheat, and no one knows what a Trickster's really thinkin' and yeah, the older digimon know they were pretty bad back in the day, but – they hang out in the sewers! They ain't known for this! Everyone knows the Orc Hands are the thieves - "

"I didn't know," Patamon mumbled.

"You haven't read the reports carefully, have you," Izzy commented, his voice shaking slightly. "You can infer it from there, even if the Orc Hands and Makoto, for that matter, never told us this information."

TK hadn't even recognized it, and he considered himself a decently critical reader. He wondered how many Chosen had figured it out for themselves, and whether Tai was aware. Even if they were allied with the Orc Hands, he felt that information like this was better told up front.

"Not everyone is as up to date as you are, Izzy," Motimon spoke knowingly.

"And it's normal knowledge here in the city," Arisa added. She sounded concerned. "Okay. Tricksters do loans and protection racketeering. They have a courier. Sounds higher up on the underworld chain than your everyday street gang."

Guess you'd know, TK thought dryly. He didn't say it out of an urge to remain polite.

"Higher up…?" Izzy asked. "Can you clarify? What kind of… lawlessness does this city deal in more?"

Arisa sighed, and her voice sounded muffled as she spoke. "Most gangs here – turf wars and street battles – that's where it's at. Different gangs do different things though. Like, with the big gangs, Corrosion's got their drug thing, Orc Hands do petty thievery, Veritas has their stupid 'police' crap, Z-Swords pretty much has collateral destruction down to an art, Tricksters… are basically everyone's butt monkey. Well, at least we thought they were…"

"… 'Cuz the gang of pathetic losers ain't supposed to do shakedowns like this," Sangloupmon continued with just as much confusion. "I ain't ever seen anyone in this city do this. Guess the Tricksters got more going on than we thought."

"And they pretty much own the sewers," Arisa finished.

The café was quiet for a moment.

"They used to have a lot of influence in the city, right?" Motimon asked tentatively. "Only the Spirals had more."

"… Morodemon wanted to know more about the Spirals that day, didn't he…" Sangloupmon murmured.

"Because the Spirals were… not good," Patamon whispered with a shudder. "Before, in the days of the first Chosen. So that day…"

"Hey, listen," Izzy suddenly spoke. He sounded a bit surer and more confident, in the way he did each time he wanted to share a conclusion. "I'm not entirely certain what relevance the Spirals have to all this, but it looks like something we should ask Zeramon and any of the older Vestia City digimon who were around back then. We should also get the full story on the Tricksters too… because I'm thinking back to their reputation and what we know about them. I'm starting to think they might have a lot more influence than they want everyone to believe."

It did made sense. And while the Tricksters were not their main focus, if that gang was concerned with Corrosion and seemed more involved in certain deals behind the foreground of the other gangs…

"So if we want a good summary," Motimon began with a deep breath, "Vestia City digimon don't know about human death, Corrosion is anti-human, Morodemon wants to know something about the Spirals, who were really bad back in the day along with the Tricksters, who are not happy with Corrosion and might have kept doing some of those not so great things they supposedly stopped doing. I realize that wasn't very eloquent, I'm just trying to organize my thoughts…"

"That's fine, it works," Izzy reassured him. "Along with that, I'm curious about this Webmaster character too… who from a first look, is a knowledgeable digimon that knows a great deal about us. If he's really telling Corrosion everything about us - "

"He ain't telling it for free," Arisa huffed. "Either this Webmaster's got a mutual deal with Corrosion, or he's getting something else out of it. Maybe money, maybe the dirty on another gang's secrets."

"Maybe we should go talk to him then."

Arisa was silent for a moment.

"Might be worth a shot if we can find him," she finally said, though she sounded unsure. "But… dunno, might have to play by some rules if we do."

TK felt exasperated. "That's all this city is. It's all rules that are… just off kilter."

Arisa grunted. "Get used to it. Kid, are you still sulking?"

"I'm still upset, if that's what you mean."

She let out a very loud, irritated groan. TK didn't care to snap back.

"Whatever. Anyway. Everyone get quiet for a sec."

It felt directed at him, and he hadn't even been talking. He rolled his eyes and looked away, out past the broken café windows and to the street.

The group fell to silence. The din of angry digimon and explosions had faded from earlier, though there was still a constant murmur of activity that echoed throughout the moving air. An energized tension lingered in the sound.

"Looks like excitement's over," Arisa commented after several long moments, her voice back to its usual nonchalant drawl. "Guess our Valhalla folks got the email and got out. We should follow."

"I agree," Izzy replied. "We have plenty to report on."

She snorted. "Heh, no kidding. TK, give me your digivice."

TK jumped and stared at the space before him where he knew Arisa was sitting.

"What? Why?"

"So you don't screw everything up with your sense of justice," she growled.

His mouth dropped. This was crossing the line. Digivices were a Digidestined's lifeline to everything involving the digital world, from access to digievolution. Taking that away…

"No."

"You'll get it back when we get out of the sewers. Or if Morodemon figures out we were in that alley and comes after us."

"I am not giving you my digivice."

"We ain't leaving 'til you hand it over."

"That's enough," Izzy suddenly interjected, sounding tired but intensely firm. He seemed frustrated. "Arisa, unspoken rule: we don't confiscate each other's digivices. You should know why that is. TK, and Patamon, you're included in this, we all said we'd defer to Arisa and Sangloupmon for this mission at the beginning. You can't intervene or attack unless it's a last resort and it's due to our endangerment."

"And deferring to me means I get the damn digivice or we aren't moving!" she snarled back.

His tone didn't change. "No, it means we follow your judgment for the sake of this mission and for ease of operation. It doesn't mean you have complete command. Remember, we're technically your seniors. I could call out MegaKabuterimon if I really wanted to, because I have that authority."

Arisa didn't answer, though TK took her silence as some kind of displeased obedience. Izzy seemed to as well.

"And TK," he continued, "I'm sorry for being rough with you earlier. But you understand why, right? Why I had to do that?"

TK could hear the unease there. Izzy had not enjoyed their lack of action in that alley either.

"I do," he replied, nodding. Then he frowned. "That doesn't mean I agree with it."

The other boy sighed. "I know. I'll try to find some way to make up for that. You too, Patamon. I'm sorry for handling you like that. We were just… too close to being detected."

Patamon remained quiet. Somehow, TK had the inkling that his partner was busy trying to glare at Izzy, despite being hidden from view and invisible to the world.

"That doesn't excuse that we actively chose not to help," he stated.

"I know," Izzy spoke. "Trust me, I know. I just hope this will be worth it in the end."

I hope you're right.

They were silent for a long pause.

"Let's get going then," Izzy finally said, releasing a tense breath. "We have some ways to go."

Sanlgoupmon began moving without a word. TK saw his view glide from their hiding place towards the window, then into the shadows of the street. He touched his D3 just for security. This would be an awkward ride for all of them.

It gave him time to mull over events in that alley though, as they moved across darkened paths and past gossiping digimon. Just because he could understand an action didn't mean he could condone it. And now, with revelations on everything and his sense of morality, he was fairly certain that he really did not like this city.

But what exactly had happened there? It was more than Porunamon's treatment of Chamelemon. TK could reflect on that moment, and he knew his response had been triggered by something else.

How long had it been? Several months now, and he had sworn to himself that he would move forward, looking to the future, while the events in the Dark Ocean would act to spur him on in his quest to become stronger and one day free that realm. He would not pity himself.

Yet he couldn't stand seeing others helpless, not when he stood mere meters away. He knew far too well what helplessness was like, from watching others fight on his behalf as a young child to experiencing the horror of a demon's wrath. Seeing Chamelemon on the street had felt like watching a mirror. Despite time to heal the hurt, the memories in his mind and physical body had not faded.

He wondered what kind of will Arisa had to remain hidden and not attack Porunamon herself. Then he wondered just how much of the human world he was ignorant of. There was a disconnect there, one that he felt less able to bridge. He knew far more of life and dangers as a Digidestined than as a boy living in Odaiba.

And apparently, some of those traumas refused to be reconciled.

TK shuddered as they wove through the streets, wondering if he would ever truly be free.