The irreverent night, clad in black, purple and gold; the night of a city that refuses to sleep.

Night belongs not to virtue or innocence. Night is the time for sin, for those who wish to indulge the way they cannot allow themselves to do under the light of the sun.

Darkness belongs to the tainted.

Darkness, hued with the pale artificial lights of the ever-busy metropolis, but darkness nonetheless: fluorescence cannot conceal the murky depths of human decadence.

It is the nature of humans to sin. Nonetheless, hopeless parents hurry to tuck their children in their beds every night, silently praying the darkness will fail to claim their children's innocence if only for a little longer.

Yes, good parents make sure young children do not stay up late. However, once they tuck their children in bed, kiss their foreheads and close the bedroom door behind, they somehow assume their job is done for the evening.

What about this child, then, who quietly watches the dark ceiling of his bedroom every night?

He is slow to sleep, which causes him no little trouble every morning.

Light sweeps in from the window and past the translucent curtains, drawing alien shapes on the featureless ceiling. Shadows dance a wicked ritual; a libidinous mating of amorphous celebrants like the festivals of a time before civilization.

The boy watched the shadows dance with empty, tired eyes.

He had a headache.

It was an intense palpitation, as if someone were hammering nails deep into his white matter. Then again, he remembered reading somewhere that the brain had no pain receptors, so poking it directly would not hurt at all.

The boy sighed and licked his dry lips. He needed to sleep. He had school the next day, and it was not just any school day.

But, it was quickly becoming apparent to him that sleep was not an option that evening.

"Haa…"

Nobody heard his dejected sigh. The shadows continued their shapeless fornication on the ceiling, unbothered by the boy's tribulations.

"So it's really you guys again…"

He spoke with his eyes closed, addressing no one and expecting no response.

"…it's been a while."

A car honked in the distance. Two—no, three—girls laughed shrilly. A cat shrieked after a poor landing on a metal trash can, causing to topple down and roll around on the closed alley behind the boy's residence.

"…do whatever you want."

A sliver of nightlight made his honey pupils flicker. There might have been a hint of vermillion, but with nobody to see it, it might as well not exist.

"…I'm here."

The rubbing and rustling of thick sheets dispelled the gloomy silence of the bedroom as the boy turned his body towards the window. His pupils danced almost imperceptibly, excited by an evanescent shower of lingering photons from the world of sin outside his four walls. The meaningless sound pollution of the urban nightlife made for a poor lullaby, yet somehow he found it suitable.

It was a quiet, sleepless night for Matsuda Takato.


GARDENS OF BABYLON

Prelude

Morning Mayflower


Makino Ruki was a strong girl.

With a steady gait and a steely expression, she could weather whatever the world would throw at her. And the world had so far had put a lot of effort into throwing stuff at her.

Makino Ruki was a headstrong, determined girl.

She was proud of herself, and her attitude showed it. She did not put herself on a pedestal, but she understood her worth and did not tolerate being looked down upon.

Makino Ruki was a strong girl.

Some ignorant bimbo had brought up the fact that the entire world had seen her in her birthday suit when she fought against the digital entity, D-Reaper, in some pathetic attempt at embarrassing her and humiliating her.

How many teeth did that girl have to replace? Two? Three?

Makino Ruki had a nasty right straight.

Her reputation at her elementary school did not change much after her "second life" as a Digimon Tamer was revealed to the world. If anything, it made her even more untouchable. She was still kept at a distance, only it had become as much awe and respect as it used to be fear and contempt.

Makino Ruki was a strong, independent girl…except for a number of days every month.

"Ugh…"

"Ruki, you have to get ready. School begins today."

Groaning, the twelve-year-old girl turned around in her sleeping bag; groggy eyes easily finding a smooth, oval-shaped head covered in platinum blonde fur and sharp, narrow spring-sky blue eyes.

"…Renamon…"

"Come on, Ruki. Breakfast is ready," the fox-like creature, kneeling to her human partners left side, gently prodded at the larva-like body wrapped in the synthetic sleeping bag. It was an odd quirk of the female Digimon Tamer; her preference for the camping implement over a futon or an actual bed.

"…shut up."

There was no outward reaction from the Digimon. There was a time, long ago, when those words would have bothered her.

But she was not the same Renamon from back then. And her Tamer was not the same Tamer from back then, either.

She just had a bad morning.

"Ruki…"

"Cramps," was the young girl's only response. Renamon's expression still remained unchanged, even if she actually pitied her Tamer a bit. Ruki's grandmother had explained to her the series of strange, uncomfortable physiological phenomena female humans have to overcome as part of physical maturity.

Why girls have to suffer so much to make their bodies suitable for reproduction was beyond her.

"I will bring your medicine, then," Renamon acquiesced. "I expect to see you out of that bag when I return. Understood?"

"…yes, mom."

The vulpine Digimon's right eye actually twitched a bit at that. It was a particular brand of human humor—sarcasm, it was called—she did not particularly like.

Ruki moaned some more when Renamon "forgot" to close the bedroom's door behind her, allowing the morning sun to shine unhampered on the suffering girl's round face.

It was the first day of middle school for thousands of children in the land of the rising sun.


"I went to the Digital World. Don't wait for me! –Takato."

She had kept the note for some reason. Takato's mother had found it on his desk one morning he was late for breakfast, and somehow it had ended up in her possession. She had stuck it on the bottom side of the photo frame on her desk, the one with the picture of the whole team, taken on that incredible day some eight months ago.

On a basket near the corner of her bedroom, Culumon snored peacefully.

Katou Juri tied a rather big green ribbon on the back of her head. She had allowed her hair to grow into a ponytail in the last two years; her friends agreed long hair suited her. Of course, Takato had showered her with praise.

That boy would probably speak wonders of the way she puked.

The idea made her giggle, and her eyes gently fell on the picture. They were standing next to each other in the very center of the picture, and she had Culumon in her arms, pressed against her chest. While her smile was drowned by the sheer joy in the others' expressions—yes, even Ruki's—, it was there.

That day was a happy day for everyone, including her. Her friends' happiness was most definitely her own as well.

And in the middle of the picture, just like he deserved, that boy. He was in the middle of everything, was he not?

In the picture, he looked haggard, and his clothes were a mess, but he, too, offered the camera a rather awkward, tired smile. Juri guessed he just was not photogenic.

She glanced at the sleeping Digimon. Culumon was not her partner—she doubted it even had any combat ability at all—but that did not matter. The time for fighting was over.

She was happy. They were all happy, reunited with their precious Digital Monsters.

"Thanks to you, Takato-kun."

After smiling one last time at the boy in the picture, she grabbed her bag, hung it over her shoulder and left the room.

It was the first day of middle school.


Many children like to believe themselves to be special, unique, different from the others.

Necessary.

Maybe it is a natural need to find a place, a role in this world. Maybe it's a psychological effect of natural animal competition. Maybe it's just another element of a child's blatant need for attention.

Humans daydream all the time, and children are particularly good at it.

Matsuda Takato was a normal kid, born of normal parents, living in a normal house which also acted as the location of a normal family business.

And since he had memory, he daydreamed about being special: having a special, unique talent, for example. Or maybe his parents were actually former secret agents hiding from their bloodstained past. Or superpowers—those were always cool.

Matsuda Takato was a dreamer. But he was also normal.

A miserable speck in the unfathomable whole that is "humanity": Matsuda Takato.

Until a certain day.

So, he lived on, normally, the way normal kids do: he went to school, made friends, fooled around, did his homework and helped his parents like a good boy. He lived as he was expected to.

He did not dream anymore.

He did not need to; he no longer needed dreams to repel the monotonous normalness of his everyday life.

Because he was special.

Takato checked the time on his alarm clock as he tightened the belt around his navy blue pants. He would have to get used to wearing a uniform to school.

"Alright," he muttered to himself as he grabbed his bag. "This should be interesting, at least."

It was the first day of middle school.


"So, you got everything in your bag?"

"Yeah…" Lee Jianliang muttered distractedly as he tried to fix his hair in front of the mirror.

"Pencil?"

"Hmm."

"Eraser?"

"Hmm."

"Condoms?"

"Hmm—wait, what?"

Terriermon placed his tiny paws together as if in prayer. "Good to see you're paying attention, grasshopper."

"…what?" the boy repeated, still trying to compute.

The door opened, revealing a smiling young girl and a Digimon perched on top of her head.

"Nii-san, you're gonna be laaate~"

"No, I am not—" Jian glanced at his little sister. "Xiăochūng," the boy began his scolding, switching to Chinese—some people have a scolding tone; Jianliang has an entire language—for emphasis. "You can't take Lopmon to school with you."

"Nii-san!" The nine-years-old girl refused to switch languages, however. "If he changes into Kokomon—"

"No means no, Shao," Jian insisted. "Don't make me bring mom."

"Muu—aaah!" The girl suddenly pointed at something on the boy's bed. "Then, why is Terriermon going with you? Nii-san, you cheater!"

"Wha—?"

The small whitish rabbit-dog-thing-like Digimon had the decency to look guilty as he was caught sneaking into his Tamer's schoolbag.

Jienrya raised an eyebrow. "You do realize I would have noticed the moment I lifted that bag, right? You're not that light. Or small."

"Tch."

While his sister walked away giggling—and still carrying her own Digimon, Jenrya gave up on his hair and reached for his wallet and cellphone on the desk in front of the computer.

His eyes then fell on a particular photo. The one from that day; the day they were reunited again, Tamers and partners.

His pupils flitted from face to face, basking in the fond memories they brought to the forefront of his mind.

"I'm gonna miss them," he realized.

His father had offered him the choice to attend the same middle school as Takato, Hirokazu, Kenta and Juri. The latter three appeared visibly excited when he brought it up, but…

"Why would you do that? You can do so much better!"

"That guy…" Jien muttered, his eyes falling on the tired-looking boy in the very center of the picture.

"Come on; don't let us hold you back, Jen. It's not like we'll never see each other again, right?"

With his smarts and his parents' efforts, Jianliang could attend a top-class junior high school, cleanly stepping onto the road to a top-class university, maybe even abroad.

"You have to get some quality education so you can knock everyone's socks off with that brain of yours, huh? So go! Go, I say! I RELEASE YOU!"

Jenrya chuckled at Takato's weird attempt at drama. But, still, for Takato to say such things…

"He's a cool guy," Terriermon spoke in an amiable tone, having noticed the focus of his Tamer's attention.

"Hmm," Jenrya agreed, not taking his eyes off the photo. "You said it, didn't you? What was the word…?"

"Dunno, I've used many adjectives to describe Goggles: Awesome? Amazing? Bad-ass? Unbe-fucking-lievable?"

The dark-haired boy chuckled. "Yeah, yeah…"

Grabbing his bag—devoid of Terriermon, of course—Jenrya allowed himself one last look at the photo; at their unofficial fearless leader. At the person who stood aside for the sake of his, Lee Jianliang's, dreams.

I have to do my best, right? His smiled widened just a bit. Takato.

It was the first day of middle school.


The sheer size of her bedroom spoke leagues of her upbringing: a room large enough to house an entire family, at least within Japanese living standards.

She tried her best at hiding her disgust as she carefully got dressed. It was by far the most plebeian set of clothes she had ever worn, this…uniform.

But this was what she had asked for, right? All of things, she assumed happiness was worth a few sacrifices. Still, she had done right by having breakfast before getting dressed—she would only wear such horrendous clothes the absolute minimum time it was required of her to do so.

They did not flatter her body at all!

Considering her body was small, undeveloped and, admittedly, utterly flat, the disgusting plainness of the white shirt/navy blue skirt combo made her look drab.

Still, she spun in front of the mirror, allowing her long, lustrous light brown hair to sway and catch the sunlight leaking through her curtains.

"Beautiful, if I may say so myself."

She was proud of her hair, and she devoted lots of time to it every day.

The wisp-like girl watched her reflection, for once ignoring the boring uniform.

"School, huh…"

So far she had enjoyed a very thorough private, home-based schooling, with the very best instructors her pompously wealthy family could afford. Replacing that with the overly standardized and somewhat oppressive Japanese schooling system seemed almost an outrage. Her parents had complained very loudly, indeed.

Of course, she was not interested in the quality of Japanese public education.

She was looking for a social experience.

Yes, that sounded good enough. Her parents bought it, after all.

Two knocks on her door caught her attention.

"Takako-sama," the maid, Mariya, called from the other side. "The car is ready."

"Wonderful," the girl responded. "I will be there in a minute."

"Understood."

The young girl, twelve years old, looked at herself in the mirror one last time.

"Alright," she whispered, allowing her lips to curve into a mysterious smile. "This will be interesting."

It was the first day of middle school.


"Gigimon…did everything Gigimon had to do. So, now Gigimon has to say buh-bye…"

"Wai—Gigimon! What are you—!"

"It's okay. Gigimon was happy to be Takato's partner. Gigimon…was happy to be friends with everyone. So, this is good. Gigimon…is really, really happy now."

"Gigimon!"

"Hafta go back to Takato now. Buh-bye…"

Renamon opened her eyes focusing them on the high road ahead. It would be embarrassing to crash on a lamppost or something.

It had been so long since that day, when Guilmon—no, Gigimon—disappeared before their very eyes, disintegrating into a feeble cloud of meaningless data.

The day D-Reaper was stopped; the day Shaggai closed the boundary between the Digital World and the world of humans; the day they were separated from their human partners.

That day, Gigimon never made it to the Digital World.

Invisible to the eyes of humans, she followed Ruki to her new school. She tried to pretend it annoyed her, but Renamon knew her Tamer appreciated the company, even if it was solely within the shadows.

"So, Ruki, have you thought of which school you'd like to go to?"

Ruki's mother, Makino Rumiko's, words from several months earlier.

"…don't care."

Ruki's response.

"Is that so~?"

Her partner would never admit it, but she and her mom were very similar, if only at times.

Renamon was fairly certain that, had he seen the smirk Rumiko-san displayed that time, Matsuda Takato would wholeheartedly agree with her.

Matsuda Takato.

The vulpine Child Digimon did not think often of the unofficial leader of the Tamers but, when she did, she did so intensely.

Some time ago, during dinnertime at the Makino household, she had brought this up before the rest of the family, meditating on the fact and pondering whether it meant she had a romantic interest in Takato.

If anything, it was worth the look on Ruki's face.

But, still, that boy…

Renamon loved Ruki; she knew this with utmost certainty. The desire to follow her, to stand by her side and support her whenever she was needed or not; this was most definitely the sentiment humans called love.

She wanted to be part of Ruki's "family", like Ruki's mother and grandmother.

So, yes, she loved Ruki.

She respected Lee Jianliang, and acknowledged his intellect and maturity, for a human so young.

Takato…

He impressed her. He awed her. She admired him.

When they fought the Devas and D-Reaper, she found him a good person and a good companion; he loved his Digimon partner, and he was willing to risk himself for the sake of the world he had to protect.

But he was still "just a normal guy". Somehow, Ruki and Jenrya felt…bigger to her eyes. Whatever that meant.

When did that change?

Why did that change?

She was not sure, but whenever she looked at Matsuda Takato these days, she felt like she was looking at a titan.

Renamon somewhat understood why Lopmon had taken to call him "Takato-sama."

Terriermon and Suzie also used "-sama", but the Digimon only meant it as a joke and the girl did it to go along with her partner.

"Gigimon…did everything Gigimon had to do. So, now Gigimon has to say buh-bye…"

Gigimon's last sentences lingered in her head.

What did he mean by that? It was almost like…


"Ooooi! Takato!"

"Kazu," Takato greeted without bothering to turn around. He continued his slow-paced walk until his friend, Digimon Tamer Shiota Hirokazu, caught up with him. An additional set of steps told him that Kitagawa Kenta was with him as well.

"Yo!" The taller boy greeted, slapping Takato's back and making him stumble, which elicited a grimace. "Ugh, damn, man."

"Excuse me for being small and frail," Takato uttered with mock-irritation.

"Yeah, yeah, like anyone's gonna believe that crap from you."

"Huh?" Takato frowned. "I am small and frail."

"No offense, Takato, but that's bullshit," Kenta intervened. "And good morning, by the way."

Takato returned the other boy's smile with a weak one of his own, and then glanced at the shifting bulge on Kenta's navy blue blazer's pocket.

"Hello to you too, MarineAngemon."

A muffled trail of chirps implied the little Ultimate Digimon acknowledged the greeting.

"Make sure the teachers don't see him, okay?"

Kenta stopped in the middle of the walkway to make a rather exaggerated salute.

"Yes, fearsome leader, sir!"

Takato stared at the stiff boy for two long, silent seconds.

"…what the hell?"

Deciding to ignore Kenta's oddities, the goggled boy turned his attention to his other friend.

"Can I hope Guardromon is not following us?"

Hirokazu actually looked miffed.

"Takato, I'm not that stupid."

"Good to know."

"Right—eh, I mean, oi!"

The three friends walked together, gradually becoming aware of more and more young boys and girls in uniform as they approached their new school.

"Man, I don't like wearing uniform," Hirokazu declared. "And the pants are itchy."

"I like the color," Takato muttered idly, seemingly more interested in finding landmarks in his route to his new school. It was a part of the city he had not visited often before. He would have to get acquainted with it quickly.

But, now that he thought about it, wasn't this rather close to Ruki's place?

"And we have to take the subway!" The other boy's complains continued. "I have to wake up earlier than before!"

"It's just two stations…" Takato muttered.

"I miss elementary school already."

"You cannot possibly mean that," Kenta argued. "It's a new school, Kazu; you do realize what that means…"

As if performing an arranged script, Hirokazu's expression immediately brightened at those words.

"Right! No more Asanuma-sensei! Woo-hoo!"

My deepest apologies, Asanuma-sensei.

Takato's mind sent compassionate words to his former teacher.

"Yeah!" Hirokazu's sudden bout of euphoria persisted. "Nobody can stop us now!"


A meeting at the school's front gate.

"Buh!" Hirokazu's reaction.

"Geh." Kenta's reaction.

Takato glanced from side to side, at his two friends' horrified expressions, and shrugged.

"Hmm…ugh?"

Ruki held back on face palming.

"You don't have to follow up, idiot."

"Ahaha, my bad…" Takato apologized, chuckling uneasily. "Morning, Ruki."

The red-haired girl raised an eyebrow in suspicion. "You don't look very surprised."

"Ah…no…I guess I'm not…" Takato went for a conciliating grin. "It's the kind of thing Rumiko-san would do, yeah."

Ruki's eyebrow shifted just a little higher. "'Rumiko-san'? Since when are you in such good terms with my mother?"

The left corner of her mouth twitched in a disturbing manner.

"And you know her so well, it seems…? Oh, such good friends, aren't we?"

"Ah…aha…ahaha—please don't hurt me."

That bothered Ruki somewhat. Just what kind of person did this boy think he was?

"Makino," Hirokazu muttered.

"It's Makino-san," Kenta muttered with about the same amount of fear.

"She's here."

"Yeah."

"And she's wearing a skirt."

"It's like a part of my soul just died."

"What kind of strange world have we just stepped into, Kenta?" the taller boy moaned, clutching his best friend's hands desperately.

"I don't know, Kazu, I don't know!"

"It's called 'school', morons."

Takato looked up, at the top of a pole some five meters behind Ruki.

"Good morning, Renamon!"

The fox Digimon almost lost her footing on the spot. By the time she was done re-phasing into existence, though, she was her usual regal, immutable self.

She acknowledged Takato with a nod, and the boy's smile gained a few watts.

Ruki turned her head to look at Renamon for a moment, ignoring the poorly disguised awe of people around them as they looked up at the vulpine apparition. Some idiot was already readying his cellphone camera.

"How did you know she was there?"

Good question, Ruki.

Renamon also wanted to know.

"Lucky guess," Takato immediately replied. He did not notice how Renamon's eyes narrowed even more at those words.

"How did you even know she came along?"

Takato's expression went completely flat.

"Please, Ruki. She's always along. I already pity your non-existent boyfriend, and I can't believe I just said that."

Renamon had to shove her paw in her mouth to keep all sounds within.

Hirokazu and Kenta gasped in unison.

Ruki…went awfully stiff.

"Wha…wha…you…wha…"

And red.

"You piece of…huh?"

"Guh…argh…uhhh…"

Many eyes—a little audience was forming around the Tamers' scene—turned towards Kenta, who appeared to be struggling to stay on his feet, the soles of his shoes rubbing against the concrete underneath as he leaned closer to Takato.

"Kenta!" Hirokazu exclaimed in obviously faked alarm. "Kenta, what's wrong, man?"

"Can't…resist…ugh!" A trembling feebly attempting to get a hold of Kazu's blazer. "Too…strong…the pull…of Takato's…colossal…balls!"

"You're embarrassing me, Kenta," Takato muttered half-heartedly, doing his awful best to ignore the round of chuckles and giggles from their audience. He would rather focus on Ruki.

"Can I hope you will direct your anger towards—oof! My…kidney…"

Ruki stepped past the boy clutching his left side in pain to properly stand in front of the other two stooges. Since unlike the three boys, she was already into her puberty, the girl was in fact the tallest of the group, which only added to her intimidating factor.

"Alright, let's set up some rules. First, there will be no further mention of my wearing a skirt. We clear?"

"Ugh…buh…uhh…" this could be either of the two, really.

"Just nod if you get it."

Hirokazu and Kenta nodded eagerly.

"Good. Second: don't pretend we're all buddy-buddy and crap; I don't want people to think I favor the company of idiots. We clear?"

More nodding.

"Wonderful. Third…um…I'll come up with more rules later. Be good, boys."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Ugh…" Takato pouted. "How come you don't hit them?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Goggles, that would be bullying."

Takato could only gape at the girl's audacity. "Then, why—?"

"Because you're a friend of the family," Ruki promptly responded, all the while wearing a diabolic smirk. "That gives me punching rights."

"I bet your mom doesn't have many friends—oof! My pancreas!"

"Pancreas?" Ruki muttered.

"Ruki! Everyone!"

"Juri," the taller girl turned to look behind her and then voiced the name of the newcomer. "Thank God."

She would not have to spend the next three years alone with the Three Stooges.

Takato was mock-pouting for some reason.

"So I'm just part of 'Everyone' now. I've fallen so low…"

"About time you realize the opinion the rest of the world has of you, Gogglehead."

"You're a horrible human being and I hate you," Takato deadpanned just before the other girl reached them at the school gate.

"Ahaha, what are you saying, Takato-kun?" Juri giggled, knowing better than to take Takato's words seriously. Her assumption was confirmed when both boy and girl smiled at her. Of course, the boy's smile was far more noticeable than the girl's.

"Good morning, Katou-san…?" Takato's greeting ended as a question when the girl pouted most noticeably, her cheeks inflating in childish frustration.

"Mou, Takato-kun, really! I keep telling you: it's Juri! Juuu-ri!"

Takato promptly ignored the amused glances from the girl next to him.

"Ahaha…sorry."

"Really." The ponytailed girl's pouted receded into just her lips poking out, which Takato found amazingly cute. "Kazu-kun and Kenta-kun have no problems calling me by my first name." She quickly looked over Takato's and Ruki's shoulders. "Good morning guys!"

"Good morning, Juuuu-ri-chaaaan~!"

"Please don't compare me with the likes of those shameless two, Katou-san."

"Buu…"

However, in that very moment, Juri's smile caught a mischievous undertone.

"Takato-kun, you're not fair."

"Wha—why?"

"You have no problems calling Ruki by her name…"

"Ooooh~!"

Takato and Ruki rolled their own at the impromptu chorus from the two boys behind them.

"Without my permission, if I may add," the former Digimon Queen commented.

Juri ignored the other girl's comment. She was waiting for Takato's answer. The boy was aware of that.

"Buh—wha-why does that even matter? It's…like, a completely different thing."

"How is it any different?" Juri countered. "We're both girls."

"Yes, Gogglehead, how is it any different?"

Takato would have glared if it had made any difference. Instead, he could only blush and look away nervously.

"Well…I mean…it's…she is…"

"She is…?" Juri insisted, her smirk most unsuitable for the normally very sweet girl.

"I am…?"

"She is…anyway, she's just Ruki—guh!"

Even the surrounding audience winced at the harsh blow that brought Takato down on his knees.

"Ugh…lost…both…kidneys…need transplant…"

"…jerk," Ruki spat in disgust before walking into the school grounds. Even Juri had a frown on her face.

"That was awfully rude, Takato-kun. You don't know how to talk to girls at all."

"Must have…missed…that lecture…urk."

"Saa, we have to hurry. Let's hope we are all in the same class!"

Like that, Juri hurried to catch up to the other female Tamer.

"Thanks, guys…" Takato whined to his two friends who helped him get back on his feet.

"Takato, I really don't know whether you're ballsy or just plain stupid," Kenta stated. "Seriously, what the hell were you thinking?"

"Not helping, Kenta."

"Takato, buddy," Hirokazu patted the Tamer captain's right shoulder almost affectionately. "Do the rest of us guys a favor and marry Makino. Seriously. The world's men will thank you forever. We'll build you a statue or something."

"We can give your name to a street."

"Ooh, nice idea, Kenta!"

"Why are we friends again…?"


The Digimon Tamers—plus Takato and Juri, who were no longer Tamers by "virtue" of no longer having Digimon—have gotten mostly used to everybody being aware of them. It could be unsettling at times, especially when they were in the company of their partners, but they had learned to ignore the inquisitive eyes of the world around them. They had their Digimon, yes, but they no longer had to fight to protect the world.

They did not see themselves as special.

Even then, while they checked the lists to find their class, they pretended most of the other students were not staring at them and acted like mostly normal pre-teens.

"Aww, we're not in the same class, Ruki…" Juri looked very disappointed at the splitting of the team.

"I did not think it possible, but that actually saddens me a little."

"The probability of all five of us being in the same class was pretty much zero. I'm surprised we're just split into two classes"

"Oh? Trying to take over Jenrya's role now, Goggles?"

Takato responded with a powerless glare.

"Oh well…" Juri turned to the one Tamer she would be sharing classes with. "Please take care of me this year, Kenta-kun."

"Ah…please! Take care of me as well."

After an exchange of polite bows, Juri turned to Takato.

"I'll leave Ruki to you, Takato-kun."

"Joy."

"I'm also here, you know…" Hirokazu muttered bitterly.

"Wait, Juri, what the hell is that supposed to mean?" the other girl Tamer inquired heatedly.

"Ah, Kenta-kun, we should get going! We have to take our bags to the classroom before the school assembly."

"Uh, yes!"

"See you later, Ruki, Takato-kun, Hirokau-kun! You guys better get along, okay?"

"She ignored me," Ruki concluded.

"She ran away," Takato added.

"Definitely snuck away," Hirokazu finished.

Ruki sighed. "Whatever. Let's get going."

"Don't tell me what to do."

The girl glared at Takato. "Gods, it was just a simple sentence! Are you gonna throw a hissy fit on me?"

"It would help if every single sentence you said did not sound like you're barking orders!"

"Well excuse me for not being an example of girly-ness like Juri!"

"Sheesh! I'm just asking you to be nice! You know, like, for a change!"

"I think I'm nice enough, thank you very much!"

"My internal organs strongly disagree!"

"Somebody help me," Shiota Hirokazu moaned some steps behind the arguing couple. He was not looking forward to three years of this.

He dearly missed the times when Takato would not talk back to the fearsome Digimon Queen.

"Balls of steel indeed."


Takato claimed the seat at the far back, by the window.

Everybody knows cool guys seat at the far back by the window.

He promptly raised an eyebrow when Ruki placed her bag on the desk immediately to his right.

"…why?" he whined.

"Don't get ideas, stupid," a slightly reddened Ruki quickly retorted. "I've always sat at the back. You actually just took my usual place."

"Haa…"

Ruki's cheeks inflated as she turned her gaze away from Takato in a huff.

"I-It's not like I want to be close to you or anything."

Takato flatly stared at the girl for several seconds, something Ruki suddenly found extremely uncomfortable for some reason.

"Ruki."

The girl glanced at the messy-haired boy out of the corner of left eye.

"Wha-what?"

"If you appreciate our friendship half as much as I do—and I really, really do…really—," Takato stopped short of placing his hands on her shoulders. He was shorter than her, so it was kind of a hassle. "Please, oh please, never say those words again." There was a strange fervor in Takato's voice. "Not even if you really mean them."

Ruki could only frown at that. What the hell?

"I don't know why, but they sent shudders down my spine," Takato explained. "They were not nice shudders."

"…haa."

Before Ruki could say anything else, the bell rang loudly and clearly throughout the entire building, announcing it was time for the entire school body to gather for the starting year's protocols.

"Let's move, guys," Takato declared, walking past Ruki and towards the door…

"Uhihihihihihi~"

Until all other sounds were drowned by the high-pitched giggle of a young girl, reaching his ears from behind.

The alarmed boy immediately turned, only to find Ruki's startled face.

"Wha…what the hell, Gogglehead?"

The boy blinked, utterly confused by what just happened. Did Ruki not hear that?

Then…

"No…my bad."

One more time, he reached for the door…

"Buhihihihihihi~" The same shrilly, somehow wicked-sounding bout of giggling. "Fouuuuund ya~!"

His hand froze before reaching the handle; his body paralyzed by the chilling cold that inexplicably struck his back.

The desks, chairs, shelves; everything disappeared. So did Ruki, Hirokazu and all the other future classmates whose names he still did not know.

Takato was alone in an all-consuming darkness. Unable to move; unable to speak; paralyzed by a chill without source; a fear beyond understanding.

He tried to gasp, but the sound got choked in his throat.

Where there was just one a moment before, suddenly there were legion.

He could not see them, but he could feel them, behind him; reaching for him with arms, tentacles and all other sorts of aberrant appendages.

However, something prevented them from seizing him and pulling him into the abyss. Something greater than them.

Something far more terrifying.

"I fiiiiiinally found ya, o-nii-sama~," a delighted, feminine voice spoke before bursting into a fit of childish giggles.

"Wha…what…?" Sounds finally escaped out of Takato's mouth, but further attempts at speech were disrupted by a sudden, unsettling feeling.

A pair of invisible arms reaching from behind and roamed his chest, eliciting all sorts of oxymoronic feelings in the boy: debilitating cold and suffocating warmth, unbridled delight and incontrollable repulsion, comforting safety and nerve-wracking terror…

Something/Someone in his mind told him the owner of those hands was the source of the voice, but the knowledge was of no help to him, for the figure remained unseen.

He could only feel her: her hands somehow reaching through his clothes and caressing his skin; her hair soft like feathers tickling the back of his neck; her breath gently stroking on his left ear…

"…let us enjoy each other from today onwards, nee?"

As the world returned to normal around him, Takato quickly spun around once more, this time ignoring Ruki's confused and slightly annoyed expression to look past her and towards the window.

Please don't—!

Just a second later, a pillar of light split the uneven horizon into two. He could not see the base, hidden as it was by the plethora of constructions that make up Shinjuku.

The pillar disappeared just as quickly as it had first emerged, but it was then followed by a familiar gray fog, rapidly covering entire blocks of buildings in the same area where the column of light had appeared.

"No-No way…" Hirokazu muttered; mesmerized by a scene they had not seen in almost two years.

"Why…?" Ruki also muttered as she witnessed something that was supposed to be impossible: Shaggai had done its job perfectly; there were no gates anymore, no means for wild Digimon to emerge.

Sure, Takato had somehow pulled it off and brought back their partners, but he always had the annoying tendency to screw the rules. It just came with the package named "Matsuda Takato".

It was a good thing everybody was watching the ominous scene beyond the window. That meant nobody could see the deep sadness which filled Takato's expression at that momentous event.

That morning, the world around Matsuda Takato began to fall apart.


PRELUDE END