Episode 41: Blue

Many years ago, far before this story of the seven Virtue Warriors of the Digital World took place -- before, in fact, these children were even born-- there was a boy in the real world, as there are many. He was by most means an entirely average boy, going by the name of Joshua Amsel. By no means was Joshua a popular child; he simply did not get along with others of his own age. When he attempted to, they would taunt and tease him mercilessly; he was, by all definitions, a nerd. He forewent friends for his computer, for video games, for himself.

And so what happened next seemed only natural. When he was around the age of thirteen, he was -- as he ever was -- tapping away at his computer.

"And... there," he mumbled, pressing down the 'enter' key on the computer before him. He had lost himself in the program he was tapping out. If video games, even rudimentary ones, could create some form of artificial intelligence, so could he. If he was allowing himself to feel a bit full of himself, he'd say he could do it better, but he wouldn't get ahead of himself.

Joshua breathed out, leaning back in his chair and looking out the window. Beyond the houses in the suburban sprawl, the sun was beginning to peek its first rays over the roofs.
And lo, another all-nighter had been held.

This was Josh's unsurprised face.

He sighed, cleaning his glasses on his shirt. He had gone this far; he may as well give it a test-run. Hand on the mouse, he double-clicked the icon that lay in the mess of files on his computer desktop. Blue.exe.
The little window popped to life. In the corner, a sprite-- black and white and rudimentary, but it was only a placeholder for now -- lay, a little 'z' drifting above its head; it was sleeping.
Well, it was working so far.

Josh flexed his fingers, and tapped out a word into the input:

The moment he tapped the enter key, little sprite stirred to life -- as it was programmed to do -- and sat up.

Another word was fed, by the computer, back into the display window, the font blue in colour:

A smile pulled at Josh's mouth, and he couldn't help but chuckle as another message popped up:
>What's your name?

>My name is Joshua, he typed back, before adding a second message:
>Who are you?

>My name is Blue. It's nice to meet you, Joshua!

It was working as expected-- it had darn well better, he had spent hours adding up to days on this, spread out over weeks, troubleshooting and making sure every inch of the coding checked out.
By the time his father walked in to try and wake his son up later that morning, Joshua was slumped down in the chair, glasses hanging off of one ear, and on the screen was the little faux-chat window filled up with text, the little black sprite in the window once more with a little Z floating above its head.


Bit by bit, Joshua continued to tinker with the program; adding to it, expanding the conditions it could react to. Bit by bit, the little AI program became more and more advanced. He improved the sprites; from a black blob, its shape barely distinguishable, it gained colour and form. True, it was barely more than a little vaguely-beasty thing, white and blue in colour, but it was more than it used to be.

In addition to its appearance growing more advanced, so did its behavior-- beyond what Joshua expected of it. It was mid-November, and he was back in school again; he had less time to tinker with the program, but when he had the time, it was his first priority. It was becoming more of a friend than anyone at school, despite the fact that it was nothing but a little program.

>Hello again, Joshua!


>Is something wrong?

>How on earth could you tell?

>You programmed me; I know you better than anyone. Your greeting was different. You haven't greeted me like that since I was activated.

Josh raised an eyebrow, setting his elbows on the computer desk and threading his fingers together in front of his mouth. This wasn't surprising; he had been tweaking it so it would recognize patterns in his behavior. It was just getting very good at it. He hadn't had a particularly good day; without getting into the specifics, let it be known that kids were cruel. As they were the day before, and the month before, and as they would continue tot be in the days and months to come.
He paused before typing a reaction, but before he even touched the keyboard, another line of blue text popped up on-screen.

>Are you okay, Josh?

The little sprite bounced up and down rhythmically on its feet, a worried expression on its tiny pixellated face.
Josh racked his brain trying to remember when he had added that to its bank of reactions. He paused, frowned, and spoke aloud:
"I don't remember programming Blue for this..."

And then words popped up on the screen again:
>You didn't.

Josh froze, squinting at his computer screen. The first thought that ran through his head was, we're not getting into some cheap B-movie science crap, are we?, but he shook it out of his head. Did it make sense? No, of course not. But... at this point, he wasn't going to try and puzzle it out. Not yet. He assumed it was simply learning more than he realized it was. Instead, he merely typed back:

>In that case... no, today kind of blew.


And for months, Josh talked with Blue; the little program became far and away his closest friend-- or perhaps even his only friend. It was one year since he activated the program, to the day.

>Happy "birthday", Blue.

>Thanks, Josh. Hey, I have a question.

>What's up?

>Have you ever thought about the existence of worlds beyond your own?

Josh paused, leaning back in his seat. He paused for a moment, before writing back:
>Anything's possible, I guess.


"What on earth is he--" Josh mumbled, before his screen began glowing a sight brighter than it should have been. From the screen of his computer -- not on it, but simply out of it -- there formed a small plastic device. Josh was, understandably, a tad bit freaked out. This means he tumbled backwards in his chair, knocking his computer chair and himself to the ground.
When the light cut out, the little device dropped from the air and onto Josh's belly, and he quickly scooped it up. It wasn't terribly large; it looked like one of the digital pet toys that he had seen girls wearing on their keychains, but larger-- more solidly put together.

Joshua scrambled up, looking at the screen as he pulled his chair back into position. In the text window, blue letters were forming one at a time:
>If you want to see what you've created come to life, simply tell me yes; the device you've been sent will allow you to come. If you do not
Joshua didn't even wait for the rest of the sentence; he immediately tapped in:


And then everything went white. When he opened his eyes, he was standing in a forest-- though it was much like the one that, much later, in another digital reality, seven children would find themselves, it was different in its way, and before him stood a creature.
He was stout and white, and looked much like a little dragon; blue hair covered his face and was tied into a ponytail in the back, fastened with a number of green orbs. From under his hair, two short black horns poked, and what seemed to be ears, with black insides, extended from the hair. A dark blue pelt lay around his back from the neck down, covering his hands and dragging behind his feet. His belly, tail, and feet were marked with varying shades of blue. Around his neck was tied a lime-green bandana, and a stripe of the same colour ran across his snout.

And that was how Joshua Amsel met his digimon partner, Lazumon, in the flesh-- or, rather, the data.
This was not the digital world that the children knew; it was similar, yes, but it was a dimensional hop skip and a jump away. The branches of Yggdrasil connected them, as it does all worlds, but it was like a branch that split in two; a common origin, but not quite the same.


To fully detail the adventures of Joshua and Lazumon would take much more space than will be granted it. They never belonged to a proper team, but together they vanquished smaller evils, one on one, and grew close as Lazumon grew stronger. Joshua was able to return home with the device that was granted him moments before the two met; he often brought Lazumon back home with him, hidden in his room. The only one who knew of any of this was Brian, his brother; Josh was fairly certain that Brian didn't quite believe him, that he was humoring his little brother, but it didn't matter. He had Lazumon.

But this eventually ended.

Joshua, with time, grew up. Through high school, he returned to Lazumon less often, left the dragon behind in the digital world most of the time when he left; he occasionally tinkered with coding again, but never again accomplished the same success as he did with the program that grew to be Lazumon-- at least, not ones that would talk to him the same way Blue.exe had.

And that annoyed the tar out of him.

After all, the question had said that what he had created had come to life.
He got that into his head, erroneous as it was, that all what he had seen was his. After all, if Lazumon could grow more than he had expected, the other programs he had tinkered with could do the same, right?

But Joshua grew still more, and entered college, and Lazumon saw less and less of his growing human partner.

In his real world, Josh was entering the field of computer programming; he went to college, got a girlfriend. The program that had been the start of Lazumon lay untouched on his computer; Blue.exe, the file name he could never bring himself to change, lay in a forgotten folder, even as he brought it from computer to computer, every computer he owned.
But Lazumon and the digital world the little dragon, so many other programs, inhabited, stayed on his mind. He tried to bring it up to his colleagues, his classmates, his professors, his girlfriend, and each of them derided the idea as crazy.

And he became preoccupied.

It consumed his thoughts; he dropped out of college. When his girlfriend of the time turned out to be pregnant, he left her without a second thought. He spent more and more time trying to pry apart the code of the Blue program, not even facing the dragon in the Digital World-- he returned to the Blue.exe program, demanding answers over text. Demanding that the dragon appear for him, so he could show him to his colleagues, his friends, his family.

And Lazumon refused; he couldn't risk the Digital World being found out. He said he loved Josh, but he couldn't.

And Joshua could not stand that; he determined that Lazumon was a liar, that he was only leading him on all that time, that he was just like the evil digimon they had met and fought, was only using him to

And so he tried to delete the files-- any program he had written, any program he assumed had connections to the Digital World he had seen.
But he could not delete Blue.exe.

It was not sentiment-- Joshua decided that if the little AI would not help him, would not prove he wasn't crazy, he had no use for it. No-- it would simply not be deleted. If he tried, the program window would pop up, with Lazumon trying to convince him not to do it.
He did not heed it, but it would not delete, no matter what Joshua tried. His isolation and anger slowly pushed him away from reason and sanity.

So he took it into his own hands.

He went into the digital world, but brought his laptop with him; from within, he began to attack. From within, he wrote viruses, corrupted entire areas. It was doubtful he even remembered why he bore such a grudge towards this world; he merely wanted to take it down, claw it down bit by bit if that was what it took.

"Joshua! What are you doing!?" Lazumon cried, watching as the very data of the world around him began to shift and change.

"Getting rid of this. All of this, this childish crap," Joshua spat, glaring down at Lazumon. "I couldn't get rid of it from my computer, so I'll get rid of it from within."

Lazumon pleaded and pleaded, but no matter how many cries he made to stop, his partner -- his once-partner -- did not stop. Location after location, digimon after digimon, all were sacrificed to Joshua's blind rage.

"You were my friend," Lazumon choked out through tears as he stood before Joshua, arms thrown out-- he would not let the boy (or rather the man; he was no longer a boy by age, nor was he any longer the boy that Lazumon knew) pass and destroy the forest he was born in-- where he had met Joshua so many years ago.

"You're no friend of mine. It's your fault-- this is all your fault. You claimed to be my friend, but you-- you lying scum--" Joshua hissed, and with that...
So ended Blue.exe, and so ended Lazumon.

So ended Joshua, for he was no longer that boy in any sense.

But when a digital world -- any digital world -- is under fire, it will fire right back. It will summon warriors, it will fight back with every byte of data in its being.
And so it did.

When he fell, when he was defeated, he was exiled. He had ruined his connection to his home.

When the guardians of that world decided that they needed to get rid of him, they threw him out of their reality, into the branches of Yggdrasil-- though they did not know it as such.

Where he landed was another Digital World. It was not wholly dissimilar to the one he had been expelled from; in fact, it was almost disturbingly similar. But it was different; a different layout. Different rulers. Different rules. But at heart, it was still the same.

Joshua Amsel was in pain, he was humiliated, and he was bent on revenge. His goals were misaimed, but the fire in his heart would not be extinguished. His hatred was for all things digital, especially digimon; they had ruined his life, he reasoned. He had allowed mindless packets of AI data to ruin his life.
And he was entirely willing to do what he had to to get back at them.

It vexed him, perpetually, that he could not duplicate his success with creating Lazumon, but he formed a plan. He no longer had his computer, or any computer; he would have to work his way back in, find a way to manipulate this world.
He began small, and built his way from nothing. He began to take over parts of this digital world; this world was similar enough to the one he had been in before, after all. He recruited digimon, for even though he hated them he realized he needed to work with them.
He would return home, and rip this world apart; if he was right, and he was, destroying this Digital World would have a ripple effect throughout the others. And that was all he needed, after all.

And that is how one Joshua Amsel became Lord Era.


"Where are you leading us?" Simon asked, holding Efudemon in his arms as they ran. The entire team had degenerated, separated into humans and the digimon's Baby II forms (except, of course, for Luke and his partner-- she had devolved from HebiDramon back down to Sampamon, and was in her usual position). BlackWarGreymon and Shamon were flanking behind, while Deekamon led them (the latter of which holding the egg that was once Epidemon); they passed buildings and dove down alleys, as though they were trying to throw off any potential persuers.

"The temple," Deekamon replied, fixed dead ahead as he led the group.

"Javermon will not find it easily-- it is safe for now. We have been leading him astray, but it will not last forever. He will only be fogged by frustration for so long," Shamon provided. "There will be peace there, though only for a short time. I expect by morning he will arive."

"We can only hold the line," Deekamon picked up. "But some things and some other things, you know."

Andrea let loose a low "mmm", nodding her head once; in some fashion, the gesture was repeated throughout the group, from nods to verbal assents to simply picking up the pace. Toby was the only one who hesitated, but he went along with the group.

"Something's still on your mind," Luke remarked as they ran, keeping his voice low as he came up alongside Toby. "Sup?"

Toby frowned, looking ahead at Deekamon, then looked to Luke. "How often does Epidemon tell the truth?"

Luke raised his eyebrows, and thought for a moment, to find the appropriate words. "He says what he thinks will get the best reaction. They say truth hurts, and he lived by it. Why?"

Toby frowned again, but nodded. "Oh. ... No reason."
He couldn't help but feel a little bit of apprehension. What if what Epidemon said about Deekamon was true? It was a shadow of doubt at the back of his head.


Javermon breathed out; any sign of Epidemon was gone.
"So, it's just me now, then? Fine. Fine!" he snarled, dropping to the ground and clenching his fists tight. "I'll take down the Sovereign myself-- they were only stealing the glory. Never needed them. I'm better. Faster. Stronger. I'll be just fine." The smile on his face was nasty. "And the moment I'm allowed, I'll split their skulls."


They ran for a good while; it was growing late, and the humans were growing weary, by the time they approached their destination. They pressed on, though, knowing that they couldn't stop now. This time they had to reach Baihumon was borrowed, they knew.
When they reached their destination, however, it was not quite what they expected.

Deekamon led them into a building, and down a flight of stairs-- down into the basement. It was a long flight of stairs, reaching deeper and deeper down into the ground, spiralling around a columnal structure (and totally devoid of hand-rails). It was dark, and only got darker-- Fuwamon got hugged up a bit tighter against Toby's chest, for his fear of the dark apparently survived, even despite spending time as a part of a sheep warrior-priestess.

They spiralled ever downwards, until finally -- finally -- they spilled out from the end of the stairs into a circular chamber. It was absolutely tremendous (as big -- or bigger -- than a football field and the ceiling soared to almost a hundred feet at its apex), but all but totally empty; the ceiling, where they could see it, showed veins of metal running criss-crossed across its surface, but the rest was dust and smoothed rock. on the far end of the room lay a door set into the rock-- heavy, solid metal, closed tight. There was no seam between the door and its frame, and in fact it looked at a glance like simply a square of metal set into the wall.

"That door leads to Baihumon's chambers," BlackWarGreymon provided, being the last to enter the room.

"So we have to wait here?" Luke said, looking around as his eyes adjusted. He -- nor any of them -- could tell where the light was coming from, but a faint purplish light illuminated the room just enough for them to see one another.

"It won't be a dull wait, I assure you," Shamon said as he seated himself on the ground, sitting tailor-style and placing his hands on his knees.

"Are we in for more cryptic half-information?" Julian could not help but say as the group sat down, looking at Deekamon.

"It is his specialty," BlackWarGreymon mused, looking over his shoulder as he stepped into the room proper, only once the group of humans was seated. "But I don't think so. Not this time."

Deekamon let loose a deep breath, closing his eyes, and clapped his cloth-covered hands together.
"For as long as I have known you, children-- and for as long as you, digimon, have been alive -- I have known much more than I have been able to tell you. The reasons for this are many. Sometimes, I was planning to reveal these things later. Sometimes, I did not tell you for fear that it would dampen your ability to do what you were born and summoned for. Sometimes, I was not allowed to. But that ends here." He opened his eyes. "Warriors of the Virtue, I may not see you again after this, and if I do, it will be in no position to talk. You deserve to understand."

Well, that got their attention right quick.

Having this attention, Deekamon proceeded to tell the story -- as he knew it -- of Era's history. This was much the story recounted above-- though, by necessity, with less in the way of fine details.
"And what I have just told you," Deekamon finished, sighing heavily as he drew it to a close, "is -- in condensed form -- the story of our good friend, Era, as I know it."

"What good does that do us?" The other six humans were absolutely appalled at Julian's remark, but the three Mega digimon took it quite well as Julian continued. "It's useful to know where he comes from, but what good does it do us to know that?"

"We were going to get to that," BlackWarGreymon said, but he was not a particularly verbose digimon (not in this form, at least), and thus did not explain, himself. He looked back to Shamon, who nodded and began to speak.

"Know your enemy. The lesson to take from this is that Era has a fixation. He hates Digimon, for two reasons: first, because he believes that they are to blame for the ruination of his life and his plan in the other digital world. Second, and far more dangerous, is this: he created one, and then never duplicated the feat. In that, we have eluded his understanding."

Deekamon agreed, and began again. "And yet, what the Sovereigns fear -- now that there are only Baihumon and Fanglongmon left -- is that he is intending to use the powers in their cores, and the power of the virtue he has stolen, to repeat the act. The closest he has come is his 'creation' of Forbidramon. However, for that, he had to employ two things-- a living base, and the data of an extant digimon. He created nothing of his own." Luke bowed his head, perpetually a bit sheepish about the subject.

"If what Deekamon says is true,"Shamon explained, "then Era would be using multiple cores to serve as an impossibly powerful base, and using the Virtue he stole to infuse it with a constant stream of data. If such a digimon were created, it would threaten the integrity of the Tree-- and any worlds the Tree touches."

Well, there you go.

"How do you know all this?" Efudemon piped up, nestled in Simon's lap comfortably.

Deekamon looked to Shamon, who looked to BlackWarGreymon. Toby buried his face in his hood, frowning, Luke breathed out heavily, and Sampamon curled a bit tighter around his shoulders in a comforting gesture.
Those not in the know looked between those who reacted and were incredibly confused.

"We have... a history," Deekamon said, bowing his head. "A couple of your number know this." The hooded digimon and looked between Luke and Toby.

"How do you know I--" Toby began, alarmed, but Luke cut him off.

"I told him," Luke responded, quiet enough that nobody but Toby, Fuwamon, and Sampamon heard him. "After you asked on the way over, if Epidemon ever told the truth, and I... had a feeling."

"What's going on, Toby?" Fuwamon asked, blinking a few times.

"What your friends know that you don't," Deekamon said, and he bowed his head, his voice much less animated than it was, even moments before when he was telling the story of Era, "is that we three-- Shamon, BlackWarGreymon, and myself... used to be Era's Reapers. We are in part to blame for much of his initial spread through the Digital World."

No reaction could match the wail that rose out of Efudemon-- he cried out and thrashed so badly that Simon actually had to grip him in his arms to keep him still. "Deekamon! Deekamon! You lied! You worked for him! How could you!?!"
Though the other Baby II-level digimon were not quite as animated as Efudemon, they did not stay silent. Cindemon and Finmon were shocked into silence; tears began to form in Fuwamon's eyes. Mismon squawked and flapped wildly. Most tellingly, however, was the fact that Paleomon said nothing; he merely closed his eyes and sunk his head further into Julian's lap. The humans, too, let out cries of surprise and indignation, but most were too busy trying to calm their partners. Sampamon and Luke, who already knew, bowed their heads in silence.
And as for Toby?

Toby looked at Deekamon, and he felt a pang in his heart-- because he could see, behind the manic grin sewed onto his hoodie, Deekamon's heart was shattered. Shamon folded his hands and placed them to his forehead as though in prayer, but it was BlackWarGreymon who spoke, eyes closed and voice solemn.

"It was Deekamon who led us in rebellion, in the fifteenth year. He risked far more than dying to lead us away. He risked far more than dying to plead to the Sovereigns, to plead for our lives to be spared so that we might become warriors on the side of the Sovereigns. When it was decided that we would call another world for assistance, Shamon and I both volunteered ourselves to become your guardians, Virtue Receivers, until your partners could be summoned. They did not choose us. It was Deekamon, hiding in a self-imposed exile, who did not volunteer, that they chose to guard you. The Sovereigns are divine beings; Era, for all he may claim to be one, is not."

"But you--" Efudemon began, his voice broken.

"I lied to protect you," Deekamon cut in, and his voice was broken just as much, if not more, than Efudemon's was. "You had to be protected, kept safe. To be safe, I had to keep you with me. If I had to lie to make sure you stayed with me until your partners came, to make sure you survived, I would do it. Your lives are the most important things to me; without them, I am nothing, and I will not be nothing before that time is come."

Efudemon blinked away tears; he felt betrayed, he felt hurt, he felt that his lifelong hero had changed, somehow, in his eyes.
And still, he felt that he knew what he had to do. The little fluffy head bounced his way towards Deekamon, and looked up at him with blurry, tear-filled eyes, his face scrunched up in a hurt, angry expression.
And then, he smiled, though his eyes were still damp. "Thank you, Deekamon."

And one by one, the other digimon (save, again, for Sampamon) each went forward, and gathered around their mentor, and did the same. When Deekamon looked to the snake round Luke's shoulders, Sampamon bowed her head and smiled, but said nothing.

Any apprehension the children had melted away, bit by bit, when each of their partners stepped forward.

This peaceful environment was not long-lived, however. Deekamon sighed, looking down at the digimon gathered around him. "I have to tell them, now," he said, quiet, but not quiet enough to not be heard by the gathered humans. "I don't want this to come as a surprise, and I may not have another chance to tell them."

"Tell us what?" Emily asked, blinking a couple times.

"These seven digimon know their purpose," Deekamon said, closing his eyes. "They were created to save our world from Era's evil intent. They know, have known forever, that this is what they exist to do."

"We know, we know," Faris said, pulling his knees to his chest. "So what's the big deal?"

Deekamon sighed, and shook his head. "I did not tell you, because I fear if you knew, you would not have felt free to bond with your digimon-- a bond that needed to be created in order for the Virtues to work. For their Mega forms to be achieved."

The seven children waited with bated breath; none of them knew what Deekamon was waiting to say, unlike the previous announcement. Their digimon, however, did, and if they had a head to bow, they did; otherwise, they simply lowered their gazes.
"When they complete the task they were born to do, the seven Digimon of the Virtue will die."

The kids began to murmur, a single thought on all their minds; a single thought that Simon voiced. "Yeah, but... I mean... digimon die all the time, but they get reborn. So... what's the--"

"You misunderstand," Shamon said, looking down at the egg of Epidemon that he still held. "When their task is completed, they will not return."

"But-- why!?" Emily blurted; tears were beginning to gather at the tears of her eyes. Again, the reaction was mixed among the children, but most were simply frozen with shock as the reality of this statement really sunk in.

Shamon closed his eyes. "Your partners are not normal digimon; powerful and unique, born directly from Yggdrasil. Their data must be returned to the Tree, for the strain their existence causes It..." Sigh. "Let it be said that there was a reason that this plan of action was not the Sovereign's first choice of answer to Era. This is our last chance, our last hope; they took drastic measures. Had they a better way, they would have done it."

"But that's not fair!" Andrea yelled, standing up while Cindemon hopped over to her.

"No, it isn't," BlackWarGreymon said, fixing the girl with a calm but stern look, "but it was either that or allowing both of our worlds -- and a great number of others -- to be destroyed by Era."

"We've known this since we were born," Fuwamon said, walking back over to Toby and nuzzling his knee; he was shaking, and not gently at that.

"No," Luke murmured, his eyes gone wide, his body frozen with shock as Sampamon nuzzled his cheek. "No."

"But-- how the heck can they excuse that!?" Simon blurted, his face the image of disbelief. "They've called in a bunch of kids-- is this, just, like, some big conspiracy to screw us up?"

Shamon shook his head. "The Sovereigns chose children because the bond you could form with the digimon was necessary as a... precaution, of sorts. If you could not bond with them, you could not lend power to them, or merge with them. They feared that older humans might skew... cynical, as it were. Even the most cynical among you," and the monkey looked pointedly at Julian, "still has a spark of his childhood, belief, and wonderment in him. That is why." (Julian looked as though he were mildly offended, but he said nothing.)

And then it was quiet.

"I am sorry," Deekamon murmured, bowing his head. "This is all we can give you. The story of Era, the story of myself, and what awaits you. I am sorry that you were dragged into this battle."

"This isn't--" Simon groaned, standing up and holding his head in his hands. "This isn't right. You can't-- they can't do this. They can't give us this--"

"It was us or the world, Simon!" Efudemon said, having hopped over and now tugging at one leg of Simon's shorts, and the boy quieted down. He looked down at Efudemon, and breathed a shaky sigh.

"You're the coolest little guy," Simon mumbled. "All of you are. I just don't want to think about going back to a life without you guys."

"I guess... it was always bound to happen," Julian said, slow and quiet. "We couldn't stay here forever, and I doubt the digimon could survive in the real world..."

"That doesn't help!" Faris cried, halfway to pulling out his hair. "You don't get it, this is, like, the best thing--"

"I know, Faris," Julian borderline-snapped, turning to his brother. Faris was taken aback. He stared at his elder sibling, his expression hurt, but he said nothing. When Julian noticed the expression, his face softened, and he placed a hand on Faris' shoulder. "But they're not gone yet."

Emily wiped away a few stray tears with her arm, but nodded slowly. "It-- he's right. We can't-- stop. Not now. We've come too far. There's too much at stake, we gotta see it through." Mismon hopped up and nuzzled into her arms, and Emily could not help the tears that formed at the corners of her eyes. "Until the end."

"But still..." Andrea sighed, picking Cindemon into her arms and stroking down the fur on his head. He looked up at her with big blue eyes, as she said, so quietly: "I don't want to lose you, too."

"I guess I just... never thought about the fact that it'd end," Luke mumbled, staring at the ground, "let alone in such a final way."

"It's not goodbye, yet," Toby said, though he hugged Fuwamon close to his chest.

"He's right," Efudemon said, smiling up at Simon. "We still got some butts to kick before we call it quits."

"Darn straight," Simon said, a smile finding its way onto his face again. It was then that the group -- human and digimon alike -- both heard and felt a deep, low rumbling all around them. "And sooner than we thought," he added, clenching his fists. "I thought you said we'd have more time than this."

"We underestimated the hound-- he must move faster, more efficiently, without his comrades," Shamon said, closing his eyes. When he looked up, he saw the kids preparing their D-GEAR units, the digimon in Baby II form preparing to return to their Child levels, and from there on up to a more combat-ready state.

"Don't fight," BlackWarGreymon said suddenly, looking to the door.

"What? Why?" Faris said, a bit louder than he intended to, blinking a couple times. Delfinimon mirrored his facial expression.

"You have not rested; any fight would be not be set in your favor, especially not against Javermon. If we fail to protect Baihumon, you may not have the time to get out safely," the dinosaur replied, looking down at the kids and their partners. "It is a terrible decision to have to make, but if we must choose between the sovereign and you, we're going to choose to save you."

"What!?" was blurted by all seven digimon, and in fact some of the humans; it wasn't hard to see why. The sovereigns, to them, were the supreme priority.

"The Sovereigns can be revived if you get their cores back," Shamon said, nodding, "but you cannot be replaced."

Egakumon stared, then closed his eyes and shook his head. "I don't care! We can't leave behind friends-- warriors-- heroes--" he trailed off, looking quite intently at the three megas before them.

"I'm with bunny boy," Delfinimon said, nodding her head. "It wouldn't be right, yeom."

"We can't turn our backs on our mission, but we can't turn our backs on you when you need us to fight at your side," Rajamon added.
Around them, the group was in agreement. D-GEARs at the ready, all -- digimon partners, human partners, even BlackWarGreymon and Shamon -- looked to Deekamon. The waited; the hoodie-wearing digimon sighed heavily, closed his eyes, and then...

"No," Deekamon said, shaking his head, and the outcry was swift immediate and loud. "You have to get out."

"But--" Simon began.

"I'm sorry," Deekamon cut him off. "There are no buts. We'll pay for our own mistake for underestimating how fast Javermon would find us; you can't. When I was chosen to make you my charges, it was understood that I would give my life to keep you safe and keep you on your mission. I won't back out of that now."

"And we can't leave an ally behind and lose the chance to truly atone," Shamon said, a faint smile on his face.

"We will protect you, children, to the last," BlackWarGreymon said, bowing his head.

"The way you're talking, it sounds like you're marching in to your deaths," Emily said, frowning.

"We'll be fine."
The glint in Deekamon's eyes was reassuring, though the kids could not shake the feeling that this could well be the last time they saw their friends. However, it was soon gone, as his yellow eyes narrowed.

In that moment, they heard a crash from the stairwell. Apparently, Javermon didn't see the use of stairs, as he crashed down into the rock floor with such force the only logical option was that he had jumped from the top, kicking up a cloud of dust. "Never before have I seen this much traitorous scum in one room," the last remaining Reaper snarled, his eyes narrowed, as he stepped into the room. "It's only too bad I can kill only a small portion of them. It will have to do."

"Go! Now!" BlackWarGreymon said, before taking off. He ran at an arc, coming at Javermon from the side as the claws on one of his gauntlets began to glow. "Mega Claw!"

Javermon leapt out of the way, his claws glowing red. "Blood Oath!" he growled, slamming his claws down as he fell back towards BlackWarGreymon. In return, the dinosaur quickly whipped the halves of the shield on its back off and slammed them together in front of him. Javermon's claws sank into the metal cutting deep grooves into it, but could not permeate it fully.

"Stop waiting! "Extend Arm!" Deekamon yelled, his arms stretching out to deliver a hard double-fisted hit from a distance.

"... You heard the hoodie-wearing wacko! Move it!" Andrea yelled after a moment of hesitation, and the group scooped their digimon into their arms and made a break for the door.

"You're not getting away so easily," Javermon snarled, trying to wrest free-- but Shamon leapt forward, smashing one hand into the ground in front of the canine.

"Yes they are! Permafrost!"
And from his hand into the ground spread veins of ice, which quickly sprouted up as crystals freezing Javermon to the ground.

And that was the last thing any of the kids saw of the fight before they were scrambling back up the spiral staircase back to the surface. From there, all they could hear was the sounds of battle, fading quieter and quieter the further up they got.

[Chapter 41: End]