A/N: Whew! Got this one done fast, though admittedly one part near the end was already pre-written and just needed some editing. Anyway... with this chapter we are finally caught up with chapter one. Next chapter I'll be wrapping everything up, though there may be a slight delay due to... story reasons. Don't wanna say anything about it yet, but I'll be mentioning it in the notes at the start of the next chapter.

Digital Hazard – Book Zero: Fallen Angel

Chapter 5: Allegiance

Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything, and you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.

Nakamoto wasn't usually a public speaker, though it wasn't that he lacked the ability so much as the interest. He'd always been a firm opponent of mixing roles, especially in military and security matters. Far safer for everyone involved. Much less reason to kill a diplomat with no actual control over strategic affairs, and much harder to kill those who had the power. No one could argue that he was far safer inside the Hunter base than he was standing out in the open square, in front of hundreds of people, plus all the countless others watching on television.

"Ladies and gentlemen,"

Nakamoto never even bothered to write any speeches. They were always written for him. Double-checked for his approval, of course, but that didn't take nearly as long as writing it from scratch. This particular speech was just the same, though slightly different than most he had done in the past. Firstly, it was kept extremely short. He asked the person who wrote it to make it simple, direct, and provocative. Smart or stupid, that was the point, after all. Provoke a response from the enemy.

And Nakamoto could think of nobody better to write that sort of speech than one Katsu Fang...

"We've won."

It even read like the way the boy spoke, enough so that one might have mistaken him for Katsu if they had never seen them in person.

"The war has ended. The self-acclaimed 'King of Odaiba' has been chased out, his armies have been reduced to ruins and the door he opened into our city has been closed. Whatever battles await us in the future, whatever further invasions our enemies may attempt... today, we are victorious."

The boy was good, he had to give him that... this was a slap in the face to Etemon's pride and everything he'd sought to accomplish. It was as close as they could get to mocking him without doing so outright, and it was worded to give them a little leeway if the enemy tried to attack again soon.

"However, I must remind you all not to let your resolve waver. We must continue as we have been. To expand our knowledge and improve the tools which protect us to secure the safety of our future from any-"

The Director was suddenly cut short as a loud, distorted screech rang out across the area. It was followed by a crashing sound as both halves of a mounted speaker struck the ground nearby, drawing the attention to the culprit who was currently levitating in the air above it.

Back at the Hunter base, Katsu stood in the command room, watching the speech on one of the screens, along with most of the other officers stationed there. Even he wasn't quite prepared for a counter-attack as swift as this, but still he was the first to react. Before the cameras even spotted the one responsible, he was already taking command.

"ATTENTION! CLASS ONE EMERGENCY ORDER, ALL FORCES! ASSUME COMBAT-READY POSITIONS, NOW!"

To hear Katsu screaming an order caught everyone off-guard, and it kicked everyone's adrenaline to their peak. In an instant the room was practically manic with activity, though not enough that the noise could drown out Katsu's next words.

"Somebody get word to the square! Evacuate the Director! GET HIM OUT OF THERE!"

Katsu slapped the console ahead of him, switching the volume up high enough that he could hear it over the din of the officers speaking or shouting all around him. By now the cameras had caught sight of the attacker, and they were picking up his voice. He looked like the grim reaper, and sounded just about the same...

"So proud of your... tiny victory... war one, over... but are you ready for round two...?"

Suddenly he was gone, moving faster than the cameras could follow. Screams rang out, followed by a storm of weapons fire, and between that and the shaking cameras Katsu couldn't see a damn thing. Shit...! Don't fire, idiots... if he's that fast, he's likely perfect-level. Focus on getting everyone out, your weapons are useless against him...

"Emergency! Report from the square! The Director is down! I repeat, the Director has been struck by the attacking digimon!"

Katsu spun back suddenly to face the speaking officer, eyes wide with shock. He was... no! Dammit! Looking back to the screens, the cameras had settled on where Nakamoto had been standing and giving his speech, and his body could be seen extending out from the side of the podium, the blood stains clearly visible across the ground. All around him the soldiers were scrambling, trying to grab his body while others took useless shots against the attacker...

And then suddenly the feed cut to black.

What the... oh, son of a bitch... SERIOUSLY?

Military protocol. Cut the news feed to prevent 'security leaks,' as if that was even an issue... their enemies were right there in the middle of the fight as well. Shit...

"Do we have any camera feed on the square?!"

"Negative, sir! All cameras have been disabled! We're blind!"

Shit... again! They needed to know what was going on, and the soldiers couldn't report in and fight at the same time. Too much was happening, all at once...

"GET THAT NEWS FEED BACK UP! I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE PR! WE NEED TO SEE WHAT'S GOING ON, NOW!"

As one officer got to work on that, Katsu rushed to another console, where they usually kept an eye on the sensor net from.

"We have sensors all over that place! How did he slip past the grid?!"

"I don't know, sir! He's still not showing up! We're getting nothing from any of our sensors...!"

Nothing at all? How was that possible? Even if the enemy was somehow invisible, their own weapons would-

Oh... SHIT!

"All field troops, report! Any sign of further digimon attacks?!"

"Sir! Three sectors are currently hot! Teams reporting dozens of digimon in each area, type previously unseen!"

Katsu's fist striking the table echoed through the room, his anger and frustration hitting their peak. Too many, too strong... this wasn't Etemon. There was no way he could pull this off after all his past defeats. Round two, he said... they were facing someone else, and this new enemy was far more dangerous and better organized. No time for playing games... he had to assume the absolute worst-case scenario.

"ATTENTION! AS OF RIGHT NOW I AM ASSUMING THE ROLE OF ACTING DIRECTOR OF ALL HUNTER FORCES! All troops in the hot sectors, withdraw immediately! Do a hard reset on the sensor grid, figure out what we're dealing with, and call all teams back to the Network-secured sectors to eliminate any enemies that might have slipped in! As of right now, we are assuming all sectors not previously on the grid are lost!"

With that he rushed out into the hall, which was now completely deserted with all the soldiers rushing about securing the rest of the building. Two guards followed him out, apparently determined to keep him safe. They didn't realize that he actually had no intention of going anywhere. Instead he pulled out a cellphone and started dialing immediately.

"Both of you are hereby ordered to forget everything you're about to hear."

Nakamoto had provided Katsu with a secure cellphone around the time they had gotten to setting up the network security. It was set up so that only the Director and a few of his closest aids would know about who Katsu was calling. However, not satisfied with that, Katsu had Ken mod it to let call through the network, using his encryption algorithms to mask the signal completely. The only flaw was that he could only call someone else who had a similarly modded phone, and there was only one person like that... fortunately, that was exactly who he needed right now.

"Ken, the enemy is in our network and we don't have time to figure out how to block them. Secure it – lock it down, shut it down, I don't care! Just keep them out of this city!"

Turning back, Katsu pushed past the guards and into the room. The television feed was back up, and the scene was just as chaotic as before... fewer people around, with most civilians having fled, but the soldiers were still there, fighting in vain while trying to pull out all the people that mattered.

"Sir, the network stopped responding! We've lost all links to the sensors!"

Oh damn it to hell...

"Are we still connected to our field teams?"

"Yes sir! Network controls and sensors are down, but everything else is still up!"

Back on the phone, Katsu turned away from the other officers so that nobody could overhear him, and fortunately the din wasn't so loud anymore as to make it difficult for Ken to hear him.

"What did you do?"

"Complete lockdown. The only system still active in the network is the one with overriding authority – mine."

"Can you get access to the sensor feed?"

"Umm... I think... yes! Looks like they just did a hard reset, so some are still coming back up, but-"

"Send the data to the command room. We need it, now."

Katsu turned his attention back to the room, double-checking to make sure they had everything they needed before he cut off the call to Ken. He'll be able to handle himself for now. Katsu couldn't afford to split his attention between him and the others right now...

"Sir, our troops in the square report two more members of the command staff are down, and the rest have been evacuated!"

Damn it! Two more... it was enough to lose the Director, but two on top of him... that could cripple the Hunters' nerve center for weeks or months to come. He could hope that they were only injured, not dead, but given that psycho digimon's weapon, odds of that didn't seem good...

As if on cue, the digimon's face came up on the camera. It appeared that most of the fighting had stopped and everyone had evacuated the area... which included the people controlling the cameras, which left the enemies there to say or do whatever they pleased with them.

"Attention, human race... I am Phantomon... general and ambassador of the great Lord Myotismon... know now that all you have done... all that you have... is meaningless... your soldiers, your weapons... your guardian children... they shall all fall before us... this world shall become my Lord's kingdom, this city, his throne... and your blood shall be poured out as his wine... your future is not secure... here, now, today... your future ends..."

And then a single swipe of his scythe and the feed went black again, soon cutting over to whatever news reporters the station had. No doubt some people would criticize Katsu for letting the people hear that message for fear that it would hurt their morale, terrify them... but for his part, he was just fine with that. They didn't need the people hopeful to rally behind them. Right now they needed them to be terrified so they understood to sit down, shut up, and let the Hunters do their work.

Katsu turned his attention back to the field reports and sensor feed. Some enemies were spotted in their secured sectors... quite a few, in fact, but according to the troops' reports they weren't strong. Distractions... most of the enemies were focused on the unsecured sectors, driving the Hunters out so they could take total control.

No terror tactics like Etemon did in order to intimidate... this new enemy, Myotismon... he knew he was stronger, and he was smart enough to focus on his strengths. Superior numbers and firepower; brute force tactics worked depressingly well, and spelled out a grim future for the city if they couldn't improve their weapons and defenses quickly.

Still, the barriers were secured and none had fallen yet. Though it was only a matter of time, it would at least slow the enemy down, give humanity a chance to catch its breath and prepare some kind of answer to this crippling blow.

No sign of the children yet, either... Katsu had to wonder what their fate might have been, but he wasn't going to waste time worrying over it. For the time being he simply wrote them all off as dead and prepared to act accordingly. He was still assuming the worst in all cases.

It took a couple hours, but eventually the small fry were cleared out, after which the troops were re-deployed to the sectors bordering the ones they had lost, their new front line... Katsu ordered the main tunnels to be kept sealed for everyone except Hunters in order to keep everyone from rushing out of those sectors and clogging the roadways. He sure as hell wasn't going to let panic disrupt their military operations.

Control was turned over to the other commanders as soon as they arrived, after which Katsu promptly called for Masaharu and made a trip to the hospital where the worst of their injured had been rushed to. Those with minor injuries could be treated in the field by their own personnel, but for anything requiring long-term care or surgery this was their best option.

Of course, the entire building had been locked down by military personnel. All the visitors had been forcibly evacuated, leaving only the patients and the medical personnel caring for them. It was safer for both sides – less chance of infiltration this way, and if the enemy somehow did get in there wouldn't be as many people caught in a crossfire.

When Katsu walked in there were a dozen soldiers standing guard, waiting for him. Most seemed to be fairly fresh, but a few had some bloody marks on their uniforms that indicated they had been fighting before deploying here. The ranking soldier stepped up to greet the boy. Whether or not he was expecting him, he apparently knew he had taken command.

"Sir, they said you've taken command as acting Director."

Katsu flipped his phone open, checking the time briefly before nodding.

"For the next three hours. Do we have a report on the commanders?"

Nakamoto had explicitly given Katsu secondary authority in the Hunters for twenty-four hours, but that order had been given in the afternoon so it would be several hours before it ran out... until then, he held rank since the primary authority was in unknown condition.

"Not from the doctors. We lost at least a five men just trying to grab them, and another two pulling them out. Several more are injured, and those that aren't are stationed inside. They know what condition everyone was in when they arrived."

Katsu simply nodded and followed the soldier in. None of the soldiers saluted as they passed, though that was more to maintain the boy's cover then out of any lack of respect. Further in, they soon reached the team that had brought all the commanders in. Four men stationed outside a set of double-doors. Beyond them was a sterile area which only the doctors and nurses were permitted in, and likely where the surgeries were taking place.

"Whoever has rank, give me a full report."

The one who stood was also the most injured, with one large bandage across one arm that was now held in a sling, and multiple other bloody spots all across his uniform. How much of that blood was his and how much belonged to others, however, wasn't immediately clear.

"Eight men lost during recovery, two more currently in surgery. Civilian casualties from the square nonexistent as far as we know. The enemy's main target was the command staff."

"And their condition?"

The silence that followed painted a grim enough picture on its own, but the boy had to hear it with his own ears... to know it was certain, and not just his strong speculation.

"...Commander Sato is in critical condition, currently in surgery. We don't know his chances of survival. Commander Yamada received severe injuries to his left arm but is otherwise fine. The doctors said there is a small chance they will have to amputate, but his survival isn't in question."

Katsu nodded to each statement but said nothing. His eyes told all that needed to be said. He was waiting... waiting for the news that was most important. The other commanders were good, but they weren't at the level of the Director. He was their singular most valuable strategic asset, excluding Katsu himself.

"The Director is dead. He was dead before he was ever pulled from the square. We recovered his body so that it wouldn't be left to the enemy, but his injuries were severe enough... there was no chance of him surviving."

Katsu closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as a familiar swell of anger rose up in him. Angemon, all over again... damn it all, why did they keep losing their best? Their smartest, Osamu... their most skilled, Nakamoto... their most noble, Angemon... again and again! Every! Damn! Time!

As he reopened his eyes he noticed one of the other soldiers was not standing beside the first. He was in better shape, but not by much... like the leader he had a large bandage on his arm, likely from a swipe of the digimon's scythe, though he didn't have it in a sling. And to think that he had been one of the fortunate ones... one who hadn't taken a direct hit like many of their fallen comrades had.

"Sir, I was with the team that initially recovered the Director, before he died. He asked us to give you a message."

Katsu glanced to the rest of the soldiers a moment, noticing none of them were moving to stand with the man, raising an interesting question...

"Did any of the others in that team survive?"

"No, sir."

Katsu sighed heavily, feeling the weight of all the death starting to press down on him... and this was only the beginning of their new fight. How long would it be before the pressure utterly crushed him, especially with their leader gone?

"Alright. What's the message?"

"Sir, he said... 'earn your name'."

Katsu went silent, simply thinking for a moment. Katsu... victory. Nakamoto knew from his wounds that he wouldn't survive. He was making this, his final request, to Katsu... it was such a simple concept, but so vast and complex all at the same time. He wanted Katsu to win.

He wanted Katsu to save the world.

"Thank you."

The boy straightened up and saluted, waiting for each of the men present to return the gesture before relaxing and turning to leave. He quickly returned to the other men by the entrance and reestablished contact with the Hunter base to get a report on what was happening. As expected, nothing... the enemy was holding their line but making no other moves.

They were consolidating control... figuring out what to do with all of their prisoners before they would advance on the barrier line. There was nothing the Hunters could do within the next few hours that would make any long term difference, so Katsu wasn't going to waste the energy trying to.

Instead he remained at the hospital, sitting in one of the waiting rooms and writing up a series of instructions and protocols on several sheets of paper. Nothing overly fancy, just the basics. Most of them wouldn't be implemented for some time, some not at all... they were simply ideas. Brainstorming. Something to do with his time while he waited for news on the commanders and the soldiers in surgery.

Many of the original concepts for the SP series were birthed in that hospital, along with ideas for many new types of weapons. All theoretical, of course... nothing there was based off anything out of the theorems, it was all just abstract ideas for things that would help them expand their options in the long term. They needed more than soldiers on the ground with digital guns. They needed tanks, planes, artillery... weapons with higher yield and wider scope. Combined arms tactics, digimon-resistant armored vehicles...

The ideas from the think-tank would help him figure out which were actually viable options, and which to prioritize. The important part was getting the ideas out... to start branching their weapons development so that they could possibly catch the enemy off-guard. He'd spent so much time trying to predict the enemy's actions that he'd completely failed to notice one massive problem – their defense was just as predictable.

Eventually the news came in. Commander Yamada was alive and well, with his arm still intact. He'd be out of commission for a while, of course, but after his initial recover he could still operate as strategic support, offering his ideas and insights into the war so long as he wasn't given any work that was physically taxing.

Commander Sato was not so fortunate. He survived into surgery, but the injuries were too extensive and they weren't able to stabilize him. Ironically, Katsu might have been happy to hear that news had it come weeks beforehand. Sato was one of Katsu's biggest critics before Nakamoto gave him an official rank and position, and being rid of him would have made the boy's life much easier. However, regardless of how annoying he was he was still a competent commander and his loss would be felt by the Hunters now more than ever.

As for the soldiers who helped retrieve the commanders, they made it through, though their careers were likely over. It would take months of recovery and physical therapy before they would be able to live normal lives, and even then they wouldn't be able to handle the physical load that military work required of them.

As soon as they were moved to their rooms, Katsu made a brief visit to the rooms of each of the injured soldiers, albeit against the doctors' wishes. They weren't awake, and they wouldn't remember any of this, but this wasn't for them. It was for him... for Katsu himself, as well as Nakamoto. Stepping into each room, he approached the unconscious man in the bed, looking them over once to get an idea of what they had endured to save the body of the Hunter's leader, their hero... before standing at attention and saluting.

He caught sight of the soldiers on his way out. They had been watching him. Perhaps they would tell the others what happened later. That was fine... he wouldn't be seeing them again anyway. As soon as his time as leader was up he would be disappearing again, falling under the radar so that nobody among the enemies could find him.

When Katsu returned to the Hunter base he immediately noticed the somber attitude. Everyone knew by now what had happened. Their leader and arguably most brilliant mind was dead. Katsu was still there, of course, but he lacked the experience that Nakamoto had... besides, it was the Director that helped Katsu achieve as much as he did. Alone he was less dangerous. Still dangerous, of course, but he'd likely have to fight the system now to achieve everything he wanted to do.

He'd have to work extra hard from here on out to prove himself to everyone. His division couldn't simply operate as a sub-group under the main commanders. He'd have to improve it... turn it into the most dangerous weapon in Odaiba...

With that, he added one final note to his list of orders... since his term as temporary commander of the Hunters was running out, he was putting out a list of commands now, while he still had the ability to do so. He was revamping a large number of protocols and making several questionable orders, starting with one to have the Hunters take control of all buildings belonging to any company that had closed its doors in Odaiba, whether temporarily or permanently. They could be reimbursed later. Right now the Hunters needed all the emergency storage space they could get, both for equipment and for the refugees that would soon be moving out of the front-line sectors. No resource could be wasted.

That was the thought of his final order as well... the one to improve the power of his personal army, Special Division Zero. All Hunters who had any behavioral issues, particularly with anger, aggression, or general problems with the chain of command, were not permitted to be dismissed from their duty. Instead they were all to be reassigned under Katsu's command. He wanted to gather all the most aggressive and violent soldiers he could. Those too crazy to care about risks, who could test all their latest weapons directly in the field, and who could be relied on to carry out the most dangerous missions without hesitation.

That group, after being reworked into Katsu's own division, became the precursor of Katsu's elite taskforce... The Devil's Arms. Named in honor and in hatred of the most dangerous being Katsu himself had ever known – Devimon.

It was something of a joke to Katsu, or... at least the closest thing he could make to one. After all, nobody else in the Hunters knew who Devimon was. Therefore, the only devil they knew was Katsu himself...

What would Devimon say if he were there watching? Would he laugh and tell the boy how he had become everything he hated? But what difference did it make now? Katsu was already dead. He had been since before he had even taken on his new name, and Devimon, the one who started all this madness... he was a deplorable creature, but he had done more to harm than anyone else. Without him, the others couldn't have even gotten started.

There was only one way to win this fight. Not the fight against Etemon or Myotismon... it was a fight against Devimon, to save the world from war he had sparked. He had to do everything that the abomination did, but better. Devimon had beaten the children and ran them off, but Katsu would massacre all of his enemies, without mercy. Where Devimon scared the children into avoiding a fight with him, Katsu would turn Earth, and Odaiba in particular, into a no-mon's-land that no digimon would ever dare set foot in again. Where Devimon had made himself seem unbeatable, Katsu would turn himself into a walking nightmare...

No more fighting for peace. Instead, Katsu would fight for ruin... for the complete destruction of every single invader he set his eyes on. He'd tried protecting people and failed... he knew now that those methods wouldn't work. The innocent would only be truly safe when everyone else was dead...


Katsu didn't hear the man speaking, all he heard was the rain... he didn't feel the cold outside, for his heart was far colder than his body could ever be... and he didn't see the casket holding Nakamoto's body. All he saw was a reflection of himself.

The boy stood at afar, drenched by a frigid downpour, watching the entire funeral until the military ceremony was finally finished, at which point he turned to walk away. He came to honor the dead, not to cry or leave gifts... his only gift would be an offering of death, poured out from the lives of every digimon under Myotismon's command.

Instead he headed over to another part of the graveyard, to a large statue placed in honor of those fallen in Etemon's first assault. It had actually been his parents' idea... of course it was. It had to be. Nobody else knew enough about what happened to know to make it an angel.

And the name carved on it... Takeru Takaishi. But this wasn't his memorial... not really. This was Angemon's. Or at least... it was the closest thing he'd ever get to one.

"Magical game."

Katsu felt the shift and immediately turned back, noticing the cloaked figure standing beside him. One he'd not seen in some time, in fact... normally he would have been pleased to see this friend, but now, today... more than ever, he felt... angry.

"Where... the hell were you? Nothing from you for weeks, and then when Etemon was driven out...! you're the only decent source of intel we have from the digital world! Why didn't you warn me about Myotismon's attack?!"

The digimon didn't recoil at the boy's anger. If anything, his eyes seemed to reflect his own. He was no more pleased about this situation than Katsu was...

"I didn't have time! He had kept all of his preparation secret until the last moment! As soon as Etemon's base was destroyed, Myotismon sent a taskforce of digimon to kill the digidestined, and regardless of what you may think of them, they're too important to lose!"

Katsu's eyes narrowed. The digidestined... so they were still out there?

"Are they still alive?"

"Currently. On the run... they only barely survived the first ambush, thanks to my warning. I disguised myself as one of Myotismon's minions and ambushed them early, alerting them to the approaching army."

"Then Myotismon doesn't know you're working with us?"

"Better than that... I'm actually on the inside now."

Katsu paused, a warning light going off in his head. Letting himself be seen wasn't something Wizardmon typically did... he preferred to spy from secret. If he was doing this now, that meant something had changed.

"How did you get in?"

Wizardmon sighed, his eyes falling. There... the boy could see it. He was hiding something...

"I have not been entirely forthcoming with you about my intentions. Though I have been aiding you and the children in your fight, my motivation is not simply to save the world."

Katsu said nothing. His gaze was hard. He simply waited, his icy stare telling all that needed to be said. Keeping talking, wizard... keep talking until I'm satisfied with your explanation.

"I have a friend... her name is Gatomon. She's been taken by Myotismon, forced to serve him... brainwashed, if you will, but she still remembers me enough that she welcomed me under her command. I want to save her."

"Her life isn't as important as the rest of the world."

"Is mine? She saved me from death when nobody else cared. I owe her everything... if not for her I would have never been here to help you, so you owe her as much as I do. Besides..."

Katsu raised an eyebrow. Besides... what?

"...she may well be as important as the rest of this city. Even more so..."

"Why do you say that?"

If Katsu wasn't convinced that Wizardmon was going to cut to the chase eventually, he'd have been pissed about all this pussy-footing about. But he knew this digimon... he was used to these sorts of delays.

The answer, however, was well beyond what Katsu might have ever expected. He reached into his pocket and pulled out something. A... a crest? What?

"This isn't the original. It's a copy made by Myotismon. He holds the original, though I know not where. What I do know, however... is that he's hunting for a child in the human world. Digidestined. Not with the others."

Katsu reached out to take the crest, looking it over a moment before finally glancing back up to Wizardmon's face, not having lost sight of the main issue...

"What does this have to do with Gatomon?"

"If the child isn't with the others, then their partner wouldn't be either."

Silence. It didn't take him long to figure out what that meant, but it did take a while to fully process the implications. Another child... another digidestined, not a part of the main group. Not... a traitor. A new child, who could actually be what they were meant to be from the beginning. One who could live up to the destiny they were given. It almost made him ecstatic... before his memory caught up to him. Closing his fingers around the fake crest, he held it back out to Wizardmon.

"The child is dead."

Wizardmon didn't take the crest back immediately. He seemed skeptical at that, especially with the speed at which the boy jumped to that conclusion.

"Why do you say that?"

"Ken's brother, Osamu, had a digivice. He died during the first attacks."

Wizardmon nodded, apparently unshaken by the revelation.

"I remember. And Ken still has his digivice, correct?"

"So what? Can his destiny be passed on to someone else?"

"No... of course not. But if he does have the digivice, then I must ask... what this is."

And then the wizard pulled his second magic trick... out of his robes emerged a digivice. Not Katsu's, not Osamu's... but a new digivice. As soon as he saw it, Katsu seized it and began inspecting it.

"Much of the last few months has involved searching the city for any sign of another child. I eventually found that in a bird's nest in one of the residential areas."

Totally inactive... it couldn't be his or Osamu's... both of those were used at various points. As far as he knew, a digivice became active once it was touched by its chosen owner, which meant...

"...we have to find this child."

Katsu closed his fingers around the digivice and crest together, now thinking over the entire matter of the search. It wouldn't be easy... they had no means by which to detect the child, so they had to essentially do a blind search...

"The crest, even being a fake, will react in the presence of the child. Myotismon is checking everyone in the captured sectors, but it's taking time."

One crest wasn't enough. They needed more... dozens. Hundreds. But they had no means by which to produce them. They needed... they needed...

Tech. New tools.

Holding them back out, Katsu quickly handed both objects to the digimon.

"Take these to Ken, tell him what you told me. I want him to figure out how to make something that can study them, then use that data to produce copies of the crest for us. Are you sure that Gatomon is the new child's partner?"

"Nothing is certain, but there are... signs. Stories she told me about her past, searching for something, but she knew not what. I suspect that it is her partner that she seeks. I have also been searching for any other digimon that show signs of being one of the chosen ones, but have yet to find any. She is the most likely to be the one."

"Then keep her safe. When you talk to Ken, tell him where you found that digivice. I want him to put together a rough map of that area so I can start going over civilian records of every child who lives remotely close to there. If a bird grabbed it first, it might not be anywhere nearby, but it's a place to start."

"I understand. I will also procure what information I can from Myotismon's forces that might aid us in improving our search methods. However, I will not be able to aid you as much as I used to. Myotismon's army is extremely secure. If I sneak away regularly I will almost certainly be cause eventually."

"Do what you have to... I'll hold the line on our end. Now that I know what Myotismon wants I may be able to put together a strategy to slow him down. It's going to cost us a lot of people, though... make sure it's worth it."

Wizardmon nodded, sensing the boy's inner fire rising up once again. That was what they needed now, most of all. Even as he grew so dark, the boy was still their first and best hope to win the war. He was the door to everything else that they needed. The anchor to which all else was connected. Ken, Wizardmon, the digidestined, the new child, and the Hunters... he influenced the war more than anyone, human or digimon, and his actions would ultimately decide their fate.

"Do not worry. I have as much of a personal stake in this as you or any of the destined children. I will make sure I do not fail. And... Takeru... thank you."

Katsu paused a moment, not quite accustomed to hearing that old name anymore... still, he nodded in reply before turning back to the gravestone, inspecting the inscription for a moment. Angels fall first... indeed. First, and last.

Kneeling down, Katsu reached into his pocket, pulled out a small metal chisel, earning a raised eye from the digimon standing behind him. Moving up to the monument, he jabbed the chisel into the stone, taking a few minutes to carve out a rough inscription, an addition to the original text.

HOPE RIDES ALONE

No longer one of the digidestined, no longer one of his own family... he lost Angemon, he lost Nakamoto... separate from Ken and now separate from Wizardmon. Though they all fought for a common cause, he was now alone... and he made the choice that he would forever be so. No more watching anyone die for him. Never again... he'd carry the weight of his own destiny from that moment forward.

Then he stood and turned around, walking away from the graveyard and moving to a concealed area where Wizardmon was able to remove the cloaking spell. Then he went to find Masaharu to get a ride back to the Hunter headquarters. Back into the war... back into hell.


There was no swift route to victory this time. No perfect key by which they could unlock their future and salvation. War was hell, and hell was Katsu's life for many months to follow. The digidestined eventually made a reappearance several weeks later, but they could do little to help except warn the humans of an impending attack.

They weren't strong enough, as Katsu knew they wouldn't be, so for now they were simply dismissed as a side player in the war. Though after several failed attempts to give humanity backup, Katsu finally got fed up with their nonsense. They didn't have the power to help. They needed to prioritize finding their crests... that led him to sow the seeds of suspicion about the children – in secret, of course – that would eventually lead to them being designated as rogues, untrustworthy and unwelcome.

As for the Hunter research, between Ken, Katsu's think-tank, and the R&D department their tech began improving rapidly. Their weapons remained somewhat weak due to the limitations of their structure – namely, their inability to channel the extremely high levels of power necessary to match the power of the digimon's attacks – but they developed their own workarounds.

Asymmetric data streams were one of the most valuable advancements. Originally developed for the barriers in order to disrupt enemy attacks, it also allowed their attacks to bypass some of the enemies' natural armor by behaving simultaneously as a data, virus, and vaccine attack. With that, the child digimon were no longer a threat. Combine that with their tanks and other armored vehicles, armed with higher-power weapons, even many adults could be driven off without causing much damage.

Of course, between Myotismon's numbers and his perfect-level digimon, he still had a distinct advantage, but the Hunters were able to slow the enemy's momentum and start bleeding them out. It wouldn't win them the war, but it gave them the confidence they needed to keep fighting and not abandon the city entirely.

Of course, there were also problems. After the Hunters managed to reform the chain of command, the new commanders gave Katsu... issues. They didn't know him or his history so they didn't respect him, even while everyone else in the organization feared him as much as Myotismon himself. The end result was that everything he managed to get authorized was done with absolute efficiency by those in the lower ranks, but he often had to deal with political red tape and other crap that slowed his progress.

Fortunately, his most important work within the Hunters – the development of the new tech and the advancement of SDZ into a fully self-sufficient division – worked along with the commanders' goals as well. Having Katsu's division operate outside the chain of command was convenient at times, because it meant that the rest of the Hunters didn't have to deploy their own resources to his goals. It also gave him at least a little autonomy, which kept him from needing to bother them as much with operations requests.

And the most important work of all – the new scanners and the crest copies – was coming along rather well. The scanners were the easy part to make, the copies... not so much. Ken didn't have the resources or equipment he needed to produce anything at that level, so he had to get... creative.

Fortunately, there was a growing black market in Odaiba for independently owned digi-tech arms. Civilians wanted their own private form of protection, and certain groups were more than happy to provide what they could, when they could. The challenge was, of course, getting said arms in the first place, as nearly every one of them ended up in the hands of a soldier.

The solution? Make them yourselves. Ken managed to make contact with several Yakuza and inform them that he had access not only to the blueprints to the weapons, but also the technical expertise to work within the Hunter Network to help them keep their smuggling concealed. In exchange, they agreed to make several purchases from companies around the world at his request. Through that, he got his hands on the equipment necessary to help him produce the more advanced manufacturing equipment that could create the crest copies he needed. Plus, since it doubled as being able to produce components of their digital weapons, he was able to share its use with the Yakuza. Mutually beneficial in all areas.

The Yakuza took care of having a factory set up in another city a good distance from Odaiba and the conflict, where it would remain safely outside the range of both Myotismon and the Hunters. Once it was finally finished, Ken started getting in a regular – albeit slow – stream of crest copies. These copies went straight to the SDZ, which started deploying them all over the city.

Of course, by the time they were actually able to make use of them, Katsu already had a strong suspicion that he knew who the child might be...

He had pored over hundreds of civilian records, looking for any commonality with all the other children. He set a few aside as notable, but no one really stood out, until... Hikari Yagami.

The parallels between himself and her were clear on so many levels, from the age to the fact that she was one of only two siblings, with the other being an older brother who was digidestined. However, even that didn't fully convince him, seeing as how Jou also had siblings of his own and it was doubtful that either of them were digidestined. It wasn't until he really dug into her background that he found the one piece of information that brought everything together.

She was part of the same school group that had gone out to that summer camp. The one where all the children were dragged into the digital world. However, she hadn't gone with them. According to the records, it was because she was sick...

She should have been there. She would have been there, except that something happened... perhaps destiny intervened, knowing that she would be necessary later on in order to save them all from Myotismon. Then again, since her partner hadn't been on File Island in the first place, there wasn't really anything there for her, was there?

Still, even after he was sure she was the one, he couldn't simply recruit her. He didn't want her to be just another member of SDZ... she needed something more. More than mere duty. She had to want it... she had to carry herself into the conflict on her own, otherwise she was just a soldier.

So Katsu prepared a plan... he assembled his... play of sorts. A giant stage, using all the Hunters and the war as his backdrop. The digivice dropped in the hands of the R&D team or 'study', the crests in the tunnels departing the sector where she lived to detect her, the database set to react to any time her record got pinged, the safe house prepared in advance with cameras watching everything so he could observe her once she got there...

Though everything played out as total random chance, she was literally under his gaze constantly from the moment the news went out that their sector was under attack. Even the announcement itself came early in order to ensure she had ample time to flee, thanks to Ken hacking the network and tricking the Hunters into believing that the barrier was weakening faster than it actually was.

The hardest piece was the final one... setting up a meeting with her in person. He didn't know what she was going to do, so many of the final steps were ad-libbed, with him even rushing to the shelter and around to the back halls to intercept her as she wandered, and then... then...

Then what? What the hell was he supposed to do?

The choice to call Masaharu was an impulsive one, but it paid off. He asked for him to bring up the data on the evacuation so they could plan their next step, right there. It was completely outside of his normal protocol, as he would never normally discuss such things over the phone, but screw it. He didn't care, and Masaharu didn't question it.

He knew she was coming down the hall. Hopefully she would be listening, so he simply switched back to military mode, letting everything play out naturally. He didn't want Masaharu suspecting too much of what he was actually doing, either... he wasn't nearly as good an actor, and besides that he likely wouldn't have approved of such an extreme level of manipulation.

"The evacuation was nearly perfect. The early warning gave them ample time to escape, though some people who lived closer to the barrier were still trapped on the other side."

"Estimate how many captured?"

Not a hugely important question strategically, but relevant to anyone who wanted to know about the evacuation. A bait for the hook, so to speak...

"Two to three hundred, and nearly as many pulled out by the DA teams after the lockdown. Do you want them to prep for a rescue operation?"

"No. We have no assurance that such an operation would succeed, and we can't spare the manpower. Finish current rescue operations, then withdraw behind the barriers."

"Are we expecting a follow up attack?"

Masaharu sounded genuinely surprised and even worried about the possibility of a second attack so soon. It was unusual for Katsu to withdraw all forces so quickly. Usually they hung around to harass the enemy for a bit before finally getting out once the enemy started hunting for them.

"No. If the pattern holds, they'll secure their control of that sector first before launching their next assault. Make sure all the DA teams are positioned for immediate deployment as soon as possible, but don't attack. Do we have any leads on the rogues?"

They didn't show up very often anymore, only when there was a major problem... however, Taichi's sister lived in that sector. It was very likely he'd try to come in and help, and Katsu had even ordered the Hunter tech teams to double up on the security just to make sure they couldn't. He didn't want them wasting their power too early...

"There were a few security pings to the network in that sector around the time of the attack. More than usual. Nothing got through, though... it's not a strong lead, but it's the most we've detected in a while."

"Good. That should be enough. Hopefully they'll raid that sector and give Myotismon's troops a bit of hell for us. Once they're reeling, send in the DA teams immediately for a follow-up. Combat Protocol Zero."

"Zero? Are you thinking that we can push the enemy back out?"

Combat protocol zero was a special protocol designed for members of the eponymous Special Division Zero, specifically the DA teams. It was simple enough – scorched Earth. Kill all enemies and destroy anything that they can use. It gave the sociopaths under Katsu's command free reign to be as aggressive and bloodthirsty as they desired.

"Doesn't matter. Recapturing that sector is likely impossible now anyway. I just want them to bleed Myostismon for every troop they can. If he's going to take that sector, I want him to suffer for it."

"Following an attack by the rogues will look suspicious, especially since we'll be bypassing the normal chain. They'll know we're working with them instead of trying to catch them as regular protocol designates. Nobody's gonna be happy about this."

"Make sure nobody knows. Cover it up, classify it, I don't care. Myotismon's the real enemy. We're not turning our guns on a potential asset just to satisfy some idiots over in PR. They want something to advertise, get a recording of the DA teams at work. They don't even have to know about the rogues' involvement."

Typical command. Katsu wanted something done, and to hell with the chain of command. He'd done this enough times that Masaharu was familiar with it, and was used to handling the clean up afterward. Not a pretty job, playing diplomat between the commanders and SDZ, but it helped get the job done.

"...alright, I understand. I'll get some of my old friends to push for some good publicity from this. It should be enough to keep the people upstairs quiet, at least."

"Good. Then I'll leave it in your hands – I have another lead to follow up on. Report to me as soon as there's something to report."

With that he hung up and switched his phone over to log into the Hunter network so he could check the security cameras in the surrounding halls. Hikari was still nearby... good. And she noticed the camera, too. He almost cracked a smile at seeing her expression when she did... almost. But he wasn't one to smile anymore... hard to remember the last time he actually did.

"That was clever."

"Hm?"

As she rounded the corner he glanced up, making a conscious effort to act as oblivious as he could. He didn't want to give her anything to use... no hints of his real intentions. Everything that was happening here was a test. Every moment, every word... he was judging every single thing about her. Her mind, her character, even her overall appearance...

"The camera. You knew I was there all along."

"And you pieced it together without any help. I guess we're both clever."

Admittedly, he found this situation slightly amusing. The way she was trying to put on such a confident face, thinking he was just some Hunter schmuck. She had less than no idea who she was dealing with... she knew nothing about what the digidestined had gone through, about File Island, Infinity Mountain... and even less about the work of Katsu inside the Hunters.

"So I guess that whole conversation was an act?"

"Only the part where I pretended you weren't there."

Okay, not entirely true... the fact that he was here at all was a part of the act, but the conversation was indeed authentic, and the orders he gave her real. Regardless, he had to phrase it that way so as to be able to judge her reaction. He was setting her up, adding a hook to each answer he gave to see if she'd bite. She clearly wasn't thinking on his level... yet. But he could already see she had the potential to do so if she just stretched herself a bit.

"Why would you pretend that?"

"It seemed like a bad idea to let an officer know that a civilian was spying on our conversation."

"Why would you let a civilian spy on your conversation?"

"You already know the answer to that."

Just from her tone he could tell that she understood who and what she was to him... her brother's position as one of the rogues was always on her mind, and she viewed the entire world through the lens of being his sister. That was a plus in this case, as Katsu was doing exactly the same thing...

"Okay, why would you let the sister of one of the rogue six spy on your conversation?"

"I didn't. I gave you a choice. Walk away immediately, or stay and listen. The fact that you did the latter means you have an interest in what was being said."

"So? What does that matter to you?"

"You're clever. Piece the rest together yourself."

Tutorial over, girl. Start thinking. Figure it out. I don't need another follower, I need a counterpart... I need someone who's smart enough to see the truth and clever enough to keep it secret. There are too many secrets in this war that need to be kept so. If you can't dig them up on your own, you'll be helpless once you're in the thick of things.

Her expression showed clear frustration, on top of being generally unnerved, but that was common for anyone who talked to Katsu nowadays. When she sighed and turned away he let himself relax slightly. Good. She was getting those mental gears working. The seconds ticked by and he continued to watch her expression, her eyes... there was something there. She was piecing it together, slowly but surely...

"...you want to recruit me."

She seemed more curious than unnerved now. Good... enthusiasm, plus she was on the right track.

"But... why?"

"You heard the conversation, and you've put this much together..."

No freebies. If you want it that badly, prove it.

The way she huffed and turned away was actually a little cute. He wasn't used to seeing people behaving so... personally? So much time spent in SDZ had acclimated him to the military life, to the point where conversing with a normal civilian – that is, one who wasn't terrified of him – was something of a breath of fresh air.

"When you said that thing about a 'potential asset'... you were talking about my brother and his friends, weren't you?"

Closer... you're almost there. Just one more step, girl...

"...you want me... to be your... what, diplomat to the six?"

"Liaison... but close enough."

And done. She'd reached the goal and still appeared willing to continue. That was all he needed in order to know that she could make it. It would take time, of course... she'd have to be trained. Sharpened. Molded into a weapon not unlike himself... but she had the potential to be the best of the digidestined.

"How? And more importantly, why? I mean, I understand about my brother... he might not trust you, but he'd definitely trust me, but... you could still send him a message, at least. You don't need a... liaison or whatever, so there's got to be more than that."

"We can't communicate with them directly. All the data channels outside of our secure network are likely being watched by Myotismon's people, and nobody in Hunter command would approve of giving the rogues open access to our network."

"You didn't answer my question."

That response actually pleased Katsu more than he showed. She took a sharp attitude with him, more so than most people, minus the commanders... yet she also respected him more than any of them did. Plus, she saw through his attempt at misdirection. She was clever, and that would be useful.

"No, I didn't. And I won't. Not here. I have to show you, and for that, I need you to come back to Hunter command with me."

Okay, now that was a complete lie. He could have simply explained it all to her right there, but that wouldn't have maintained the same level of control as the rest of this act had. It would have put too much control in Hikari's hands which, given their current timetable for the upcoming operation, might have caused problems. For now he had to use her as a tool to help them get in contact with the rogues. After this next operation was finished... then he'd start opening doors for her.

"My parents are planning to leave the city to get away from the fighting... I doubt they'd be happy with the idea of me going to Hunter command to join the war."

"Then we'll bring them with you. I already have everything prepared. We can leave whenever you're ready."

The flash of realization across her face told him that she had suddenly realized a bit more of what was going on, and just what kind of test this was. Not just a recruitment exam, but something much bigger... how much bigger, of course, she'd have no way of knowing. Not yet. She had to come into that on her own, over time. Directly educating her in all the workings of the war would have been too... artificial. If she was indeed destined to save the world, then he wanted to draw out her natural potential, not make her a copy of himself or anyone else.

"Alright... just one question-"

His hand extended almost instinctively. This was the one question he had actually expected a lot sooner, and the only one left to ask at this point, so he knew already what she was going to say.

"Katsu Fang. Pleasure to meet you, Hikari Yagami."


Hikari sat back, slouching slightly as she stared up at the night sky, simply listening as she compared everything he was saying to her own memories of that conversation. All the things she never knew the first time... which made her realize more than ever something she had learned since then.

"...you're a bastard."

Takeru actually chuckled at that. Yeah... yeah, he deserved that, but he wasn't sorry.

"That's why I'm still alive."

"That's why we're all still alive... but you're still a bastard."

Hikari sat up, adjusting herself slightly as Gatomon shifted in her lap. The feline had been more idle during the latter parts of the story, with all of this being material she already knew... after all, she had lived it herself, and what she hadn't Hikari and the others had mostly filled her in on.

"You treat your friends like they're enemies; you-"

"Some of them are."

Hikari sighed and prepared to settle back into her slouched position. She was too tired to argue this sibject again... to her surprise, however, Takeru interrupted her and grabbed her hand, pulling her up to stand instead.

"Come on. It's late and there isn't much more to tell. We should get you home. We can finish the story there."

Honestly, Hikari hadn't even been thinking of the time... in the worst case scenario, she could just stay over with Takeru's family. Most of them were practically her own family anyway. But he was right... not a whole lot left to say except things she mostly knew. Besides, it would be less for her to explain to her own parents later. It might seem suspicious if she stayed out all night with Takeru, and she didn't want to explain what they were actually doing. Taichi and the others didn't even know about her journal, which might make the act of giving it to Takeru seem... questionable?

Then again, given his history and the picture that was being painted of his personality... maybe they weren't wrong to think so.