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Just when they thought the unexpected events would be dimming down on them, they came back all the worse.

If only he had known...

Masaru opened his eyes to find that whatever warm and cozy atmosphere had been coming from the dojo was replaced with the ominous and barren atmosphere of some unknown place. The mats and resting pillows were all gone. The other Digimon were all gone.

In fact, everything was gone. Everything had gone pitch black. He couldn't see a thing, not even his own self.

Jolted awake from the abrupt change, he immediately stood up and looked around him frantically. Or at least he tried to.

Nothing. He saw nothing. He could sense that he was no longer in the dojo, but he had no idea where he was now, what else was with him, how much space he had... if he was trapped...

But his hearing was still there, and right then he could tell his heart was pumping like a maniac. He seemed to be standing on something, but if he took a step somewhere, where would he end up?

He bent down to touch the ground, which was bumpy and cold to the touch. It was likely some kind of pavement...

He told himself to calm down, to figure out what had happened to him instead of panicking.

Focusing on his hearing, he heard someone mumble below him.

...Tohma.

Tohma was there, just waking up as well.

For the meanwhile, he let out a long breath. Maybe the others were there.

" Agumon! If you're there, wake up!" he shouted. Echoes came back at him.

" Masaru... I can't see anything... where are we..."

" Somewhere where we can't see anything."

Masaru heard Tohma sigh.

" Gaomon! Minervamon!!" Tohma called out. He only got echoes back at him as well. " Sounds like we're the only ones here."

" This is really freaky... Even if it's the Digital World, if this still IS the Digital World, this is still..."

" Where are the others..."

" I'm sure they're fine somewhere, Tohma. Let's just figure out where the hell we are first."

He heard the sounds of Tohma moving around. " Shoot, both my Digivice and Digiwindow... We'd have some light if they'd just respond."

Masaru reached around his chest area to grope around for his Digivice. " My Digivice isn't working either..."

" Then keep talking. I'm heading over to you."

" Eh?"

He heard a couple footsteps close by. He turned towards the sound, still feeling odd that he couldn't even see that he was turning.

" You're not that far away. Keep going."

He heard a couple more footsteps. Actually, they sounded more like shuffles across the ground. He could tell Tohma was being pretty cautious. Even if they couldn't see anything, even if they knew they were on solid ground still, that didn't mean there might be something else there, after all...

" Keep going, Tohma..."

There were a couple more shuffles.

" Masaru, what do you really think about the filming crew?"

" What??"

" I just need a subject for you to keep talking about."

" Mm... okay, whatever. But where can I start... Oh, THAT girl! I think one of them has a major crush on you or something because she always ends up talking about you whenever they get bored enough to bring the topic up, and..."

He felt something pull on the front edge of his jacket.

" Is that you?"

" Yeah. That's my jacket."

" All right."

Masaru felt the weight on his jacket move to his waist. And then all of a sudden, he felt himself get whisked into Tohma's warmth. He couldn't see it, but he could feel Tohma's arms coming around his back and embracing him. His chin bumped into what was probably Tohma's shoulder.

" Hey, what are you doing?!"

Tohma didn't reply at first, but shifted Masaru around in his embrace so that his back was up against Tohma instead of his front.

" Tohma...?!"

" Sorry... was that too tight?" Masaru felt Tohma back off a little, but his hands remained around his abdomen.

" Err... that wasn't what I meant."

" I figure this would be the best way to move around until we figure out where we are."

" ...Why?"

" It'll reduce the possibility of us running into something harmful if one follows the other's tracks, and this is the only way to make sure of that."

" Oooookay. So why am I in front?"

" ...We can switch if you want to. It doesn't... really matter..."

" Tohma, don't tell me..." It wasn't like the genius was showing any sign of it from what he could tell, but something was hitting Masaru's gut feeling. " Are you scared of being in the pitch black?"

" No, a-absolutely not!" Tohma said hastily. " It's not like some kind of ghost or something is going to show up here... Shouldn't it be common sense just to be more cautious when you can't even see the territory around you? Hurry up and get moving. It's also really cold here, so I figured you could use the warmth, but if we stay here too long, things'll still get troublesome."

" ......"

Although he knew for himself that they should get moving, he stood there for a moment longer, grinning for no one to see.
If a ghost really were to show up, he'd sure love to see Tohma's reaction... Sometime, he'd definitely have to take him through a ghost house.

But for now, those arms around him were a little distracting.

He took a couple steps, then halted. He hadn't gotten a chance to walk himself, and just now he was starting to realize how nerve-wrecking it was to walk around and have no idea what was around him. Was this how people who suddenly turned blind felt like when they woke up after the occurrence?

...Had THEY suddenly turned blind?

He couldn't even see his hand in front of his eyes, and there was no change in blackness when he covered them.

No... that would be too ridiculous. He was perfectly fine the day before.

He reached his hand outwards, bracing himself in the case he were to come into contact with something.

" You heard those echoes in this place, right? My guess is that this is some large, enclosed area, like a long hallway, and we're at one of the ends."

" Heh, you can tell that much?" Masaru said, fairly impressed. " If you're so confident about what kind of place this is, you should be up in front."

He turned around in Tohma's grip and reversed their positions, quite a feat in the pure dark if it weren't for him.

" But........ fine."

Tohma continued from where Masaru had left without another word.

...That was a lot easier than he thought it'd be. Maybe Tohma really wasn't that scared after all?

" HELLO?! IS ANYONE THERE?!" Tohma shouted. They listened for the echoes. " This way."

Masaru tagged along as Tohma took his cautious steps.

Correction. His... overly cautious... shuffles. For a while, Masaru would keep bumping into Tohma because he'd grow impatient and was hoping he'd move ahead more.

" ...Yai! That does it. Switch back! We aren't getting anywhere at this rate." He went to reverse their positions again, but this time, he met up with some resistance.

" No, it's fine here, don't bother."

Tohma was trying to keep him behind as Masaru pushed forward. " Then at least you could pick up the pace! Or are you that freaked out that you'll run into something?"

" No, I'm just..."

While they were pushing against each other, Tohma suddenly stepped on Masaru's foot and lost his balance. Masaru felt a hand grab his arm and soon they were both sent tumbling onto the ground... but not before he heard Tohma hit upon something else.

" W-Wha!!"

A flash of light invaded their vision just then. Masaru closed his eyes at first, then slowly opened him to find that he could suddenly see where they were. It was dim at first, but his eyes quickly adjusted.

They were behind steel bars. Apparently, when Tohma's back had hit the bars, it had triggered the light.

Naturally, Masaru thought it was an ordinary prison at first, but as his eyes adjusted to his surroundings, he slowly wished more and more that it had really been just an ordinary prison. They were inside some cell that was about the size of the dojo, except much taller, with nothing on their side of the bars except the hard rock floor below them. The light was coming from odd-looking "torches" lined along a huge hallway down one side of the cell, although the bars were obviously blocking their path. Those "torches" were just digital projections of flames embedded in square panels across the dark, brick walls. A small but eerie fog hovered over their feet, adding to the noisome atmosphere of the area.

" Tohma, where the heck is this place?"

" I know only as much as you do about this," Tohma replied with narrowed eyebrows. He had his Digiwindow out, and it was functioning properly now. " Our devices seem to be working now, but I'm still not getting any information about this place. Someone must be playing a rather nasty prank on us."

Masaru looked around him some more as Tohma gave up on his Digiwindow and stowed it away. A prank? Was this setting all an illusion then? And who was doing this? It couldn't be that Digimon who was with them... Minervamon, could it?

Sure, they'd met fist-to-fist, and he knew the best way to understand a man was through their fists, but Minervamon wasn't a man. He felt like he had his limits for understanding females.

' What the heck is going on here...'

" Oh, so they really did fall for the bait. Marvelous, just marvelous~!"

Masaru lifted his head at the new feminine voice. It was coming from the hallway. And she didn't sound anything like Minervamon.

" Who's there?"

Two massive, shadowed figures appeared in the hallway. Masaru clenched his fists instinctively as the figures approached the cell.

" Just a couple Demon Lords~" One of the figures stepped out into clearer view, and the sound of half a dozen wings shuffling against each other echoed through the hall. " I wonder if you're familiar with us?"

Tohma suddenly stepped forward in front of Masaru with an upset expression. " Demon Lords... like Belphemon."

" EH?!" came Masaru's shock at hearing the familiar name.

" We're looking for one of our missing pets," the feminine voice said. She too stepped out from the shadows into clearer view. " His name is Belphemon. Have you happened to have seen him? Leviamon says his scent is all over you human filth."

Masaru saw Tohma clench his fists as well.

" Lucemon Falldown Mode and Lilithmon..." the genius said darkly. He didn't even need his Digiwindow for these guys.

Masaru switched his view back to the Demon Lords. One of them looked like some holy angel, except half of him represented devil wings. The female stuck out to Masaru like some exotic purple-themed Cleopatra with a really hideous-looking arm. Even though they stood as tall as perhaps four or five times his height, he... wasn't all that impressed. After all, ShineGreymon was even bigger than them.

" What's the big deal? Let us out!" Masaru roared. " Belphemon's gone! There's no point in looking for him."

" Oh, but there is," Lilithmon said. " Surely his Digiegg must still be in your realm."

" His Digiegg?" Masaru looked at Tohma. " Tohma, what happened to his Digiegg..."

" It's still under DATS's custody," Tohma said, carefully keeping his tone low. " And giving it to the other Demon Lords is out of question anyway."

" I don't believe you're in any condition to refuse. You know what we can do to you, I take it?" Lucemon said knowingly.

The DATS member in blue didn't back down even one step. " Well, I have my suspicions. How come you're asking for Belphemon NOW of all times? How come it took you this long?"

" Hmph!" Lilithmon shook her head, her hair ornaments ringing as they knocked into each other with the motion. " We've no reason to tell you. If you won't hand over Belphemon's Digiegg..."

She lifted her demonic-looking hand, each long fingertip spilling with dark aura. Masaru peered at it curiously as she made curling motions with her fingers, one-by-one.

And then he felt something heavy upon his neck. He turned... and Tohma had his hands around him.

" Tohma, wha-..."

Tohma's hands tightened firmly around his neck and cut off his breath.

" M...Masaru... Move... away..." Tohma muttered. Masaru's eyes opened wide as he saw Tohma struggling against his own body. " No... I..."

Tohma was... choking him...

Tohma cringed, struggling against Lilithmon's control. Even if Masaru wanted to say something back, he couldn't. He brought his arms up to pull Tohma away, but his body froze up midway.

" Oh no you don't," Lucemon sneered. He too was swinging his hand and fingers in curling motions.

" You're in the realm of the Demon Lords now. Anything that touches the fog in this trap will have no choice but to be at our utter wits. Now swear that you'll bring Belphemon's Digiegg to us!"

Masaru fell bottom first to the cold floor, bringing a resisting Tohma down with him. The fog started enveloping them. Masaru tried to shake his head as much as he could, refusing the Demon Lords.

" How tiring. You humans won't be any use to us if we kill you, so we'll just have to punish you in other ways until you give in."

" St... Stop..." Tohma struggled to say. He was kneeling between Masaru's legs and his arms were shaking, but his grip on Masaru's neck didn't let up.

He knew Tohma wasn't doing it on his own will, yet seeing Tohma like this seemed to hurt him in so much more than his blocked airways.

Suddenly, Masaru felt a pain in his legs and chest. It started off insignificant at first, but it quickly got worse as Masaru saw a dark aura creep up from the fog from where the pain was growing. His eyesight started getting fuzzy. He was running out of oxygen... it hurt...

And then he felt something in his legs practically explode.

He wanted to shout out, to wail, but Tohma's grasp on him only caused him even further pain and he could only end up contorting his face in cruel silence. He couldn't even see what had happened to him through the fuzziness and fog.

" Masaru...!" came Tohma's cry, as if trying to shout in his stead. Yet Masaru heard it as a distant voice.

Tohma was still fighting, yet he looked like he wanted to sob out in tears.

" Huh! Lucemon, you should take more time when you've got prey like this. It's more effective if you make the pain worse more gradually."

" Hmph. I'm not as interested in that kind of pleasure as you are. I just want to get rid of this regret I've had for being sealed for so long as soon as I can, and it starts with REVENGE!"

Masaru could sense his consciousness fading out. If he faded out here, he knew it would be his end, he could feel it. No, he didn't want to die like this...

Not with Tohma like that...

Masaru was in horrid pain. Not just himself, but Tohma as well. He could still see that clearly in his dimming eyesight. He couldn't even feel the pressure on his neck anymore, just Tohma's pained expression...

No, not like this.

He still had so much to do. So much to find out. So much to explore.

So much he wanted to know...

" Ma...sa..."

As long as Tohma was right there fighting with all he could to free himself, Masaru didn't want to give up either.

The next moments passed in a strange, dream-like flurry for Masaru. He remembered hearing several loud crashing noises, one that resulted in the cell bars disappearing. The Demon Lords gave distraught sounds of disappointment, and he remembered Tohma slowly loosening the grip on his neck. He remembered Tohma using his chest as a head rest for a while as the blond panted in exhaustion.

And then Tohma got up, the fog had started to clear up, but his fuzzy sight could only vaguely see the colors and outlines of the objects around him. He saw BanchouLeomon, Minervamon, Agumon and Gaomon. BanchouLeomon and Minervamon seemed to be holding back the black and white figure that was likely Lucemon. Lilithmon was right next to them, but her outline indicated that she was no longer her easygoing self.

Ah... the other Digimon had found them. Thank goodness.

It took Masaru all of his remaining strength just to lift his head to see Tohma pull out his Digivice and perform a set of Digisoul Charges he hadn't seen before. Or whatever he could make of it...

Gaomon's figure transformed, and a blaze of blueish light flashed through the entire cell and hallway, giving Masaru nothing to see but white for a moment. When it cleared out, Lucemon was gone, and Tohma was still standing in front of him.

Was that... Tohma's doing...?

Lilithmon said something to them, but the voice sounded so distant to Masaru that he could hardly tell what she was saying at all. He did, however, hear "Mercurimon." Minervamon attacked her with furious swipes of her broad sword, but Lilithmon dodged easily. Minervamon spun a giant twister-tornado with her sword and sent it towards Lilithmon, but Masaru and Tohma were in the twister's path as well.

Tohma picked him up and dived away just in time. The movement gave him more pain, but he was too beaten in to even react, save for cringing.

Even when Lilithmon vanished into thin air, escaping the scene, and Gaomon returned to his original form, Minervamon continued her vicious attacks, leaving everyone to defend for themselves. Tohma had to dive away with Masaru in his hold a few more times. BanchouLeomon had to step in and physically stop the berserk Minervamon.

Normally, Masaru was used to withstanding huge amounts of pain, but the sudden movements made him lose his ability to hold himself together. As he saw the familiar Digimon in the distance, and as Tohma stared down at him, his sense of alertness fell and he went out with it.

----

When he regained consciousness, he found himself staring at a white, tiled ceiling. His entire mentality remained fuzzy for a few minutes until he finally realized that he was in a hospital bed. His ponytail hair had been undone and he was no longer wearing his DATS uniform, but a set of light blue robes instead.

And he couldn't get up. It hurt like no tomorrow when he tried.

He slowly remembered what had happened just earlier to him.

" Masaru..."

He recognized Tohma's voice. He slowly turned his head towards the direction of the voice, and he smiled with faint relief as he saw Tohma there along with the other Digimon, as well as his mother and Chika.

They hadn't even waited for Masaru to say anything before covering him with affection. His mother was the first to come up to him, hugging him with extra care and crying out in joy. Chika made a similar hug afterwards, and then the others had to restrain Agumon from doing too much to his Aniki, but he got his hug too.

It took him a while longer before he found himself able to speak anyway. He looked towards Tohma and BanchouLeomon who was standing behind him. " What... what happened... back in the Digital World?"

Tohma and the others looked like they weren't sure where to start. But Masaru found somewhere to start anyway.

" My legs..."

His voice came out like a toad's croak, and his neck still hurt.

Masaru watched as Tohma pressed a button on the side of the bed, which shifted the mattress's angle so that Masaru was sitting up without having to move his legs. " You'll be okay, Masaru. Your legs are just wrapped in castings. Lucemon had fractured some bones in there, fortunately nothing too drastic. We implanted some internal fixation devices that'll be absorbed into your body as you heal. It'll be a painful recovery, but you'll recover, I'm sure."

That brought a small grin to Masaru's face. With his family around, looking like they'd cry again, he gave it his all to stay positive. " Heh, of course. You're talking to Japan's number one toughest man, after all. How long did they say I'll need?"

" Although I said they weren't drastic, there were... a lot of fractures. Under usual circumstances, someone your age would need more than a month before they can even start moving again. That's not including physical therapy afterwards. But for you..." Tohma raised his eyebrows. " I doubt you'll need that long."

" Hmph! I won't need the physical therapy either," Masaru retorted. He was feeling pretty awake already, even though his voice was still groggy.

" Oh yes you will. I'll personally see to it."

" Huh, what? Are you going to be my doctor or something?"

" As a matter of fact, yes, I'll be your physician. Don't underestimate the physical therapy, since that's a lot more complicated than the healing. I'll be in charge of your diet too. You could even say you're going to have the swiftest fracture recovery of your magnitude in the history of mankind."

Masaru just looked up at the blond with a blank expression. He wanted to ask if he was joking, but he already knew the answer, and it wasn't worth asking with his voice hurting him. He could almost laugh at the last sentence, but he didn't.

" You better listen to Tohma-kun, Masaru-niichan! He even gave us a list of things to bring you every few days," Chika said, proudly sticking the paper list in front of his face.

" But besides that..." Tohma paused. " I'm sorry, Mrs. Daimon. Would you mind if we had some private conversation? You're free to come visit him again afterwards. And you can take Agumon back with you then too."

" That's certainly all right with me."

" Aniki..."

" As nice as it'd be to have company, you'd be bored out of your mind spending all day here," Masaru told his partner. " Looks like we just won't be able to cause a ruckus for a while. But I'll be back, I promise. Keep enjoying the human world for what it is, okay? And protect Mom and Chika while I'm not around. Can you do that for me?"

" S-Sure, Aniki..." the yellow dinosaur said, eyes watering up.

" Now that's being a man." Masaru knocked the Digimon's head softly with his fist.

" I'm just glad to see you're all right, Masaru. You had me so worried."

" Sorry, Mom..."

" There's no need to apologize to me at this point. Just make sure you recover well, got it? Tohma-kun's going to be doing a lot to help you, so be grateful!"

" ......" Masaru wanted to give her a look to show that how he obviously didn't want so much help to hold for his manliness, but the expression seemed to go right over her head and she just continued smiling in concern as she left with Chika.

" See you later, Masaru-niichan!"

" Get better soon!"

Tohma escorted them to the elevators and came back, sitting down on the visitor's chair next to Masaru's bed. Gaomon sat down on one of the other chairs, while BanchouLeomon and Minervamon preferred to remain standing. Minervamon had her sword and shield minimized as hairpins on her forelocks, the shield hairpin aligned next to the mysterious, hexagonal one. Naturally, there were no other patients in the room, and Tohma explained to Masaru that their wing was specifically reserved for DATS facilities, so the Digimon were free to roam around as well.

" Now to the matter at hand..." Tohma started. " What happened back in the Digital World was... BanchouLeomon, Minervamon and our Digimon came to rescue us from that cell, and then BanchouLeomon found us a Digital Gate so we could go back to the real world."

" Yeah, I can tell that much at least. But where the heck were we and how did the two of us end up there?"

" That cell and the hallway... are not from the Digital World we know."

" ...Huh?"

" It's actually another partition. I doubt you'd understand if I tried to explain the details right now, so just to cut down to the chase, that place is called Asgard. The Digital World we usually roam around in is the partition called Midgard."

" O... Okay."

" If it's easier for you, think of Asgard as the land above where lords like THEM live, and Midgard as the middle land where we usually are."

" Heaven and Earth? Although that place was no Heaven."

" Hmph, indeed. Anyway, the Demon Lords were able to set up a bug in Midgard that would create a sector where anything that enters within that sector could be instantly transferred to Asgard. And that bug happened to be in the dojo. They only wanted to lure us humans in, to get Belphemon's egg from us."

" I had the dojo rebuilt after you received your Burst Digivices, but I hadn't returned to it since," BanchouLeomon added. " After Belphemon's defeat, they could have easily set it up without my notice."

" Yes, but now we've contained the bug. Err, that is, BanchouLeomon did, which is how the rest of the Digimon were able to come rescue us. Anyway, now we can use the transfer capability between Midgard and Asgard to our own advantage."

" Eh? Why do you even want to get near that Asgard place ever again?" Masaru questioned.

BanchouLeomon stepped in to fill the details. " The Seven Demon Lords aren't at their full power yet, so they're weaker whenever they transfer out of their original partition, Asgard. That's why they brought you INTO it, since they can use more of their power there. Even so, they're still not in full power until a full year passes after the seal's broken."

" A full year after the seal's broken..." Masaru repeated. " Wait, what seal?"

" The seal on Belphemon that human bastard broke when he brought the Digiegg out of that sacred temple and back to the human world." Minervamon growled all of a sudden. It was the first time she had spoken since Masaru woke up.

Quick flickerings of the berserk Minervamon popped into his memory. He could tell something was definitely going on with her.

" Yes, that seal," Tohma said solemnly. " Actually, that seal doubled as a seal for the Demon Lords in Asgard as well. It had kept it locked in some sort of frozen state. Now the lock's been gone for what... how many months?"

" They've started getting quite a bit of their power back, that's for certain," BanchouLeomon commented.

" Master and I were able to defeat Lucemon," Gaomon spoke up, doing a not-so-good job of hiding his accomplished mood. " With our Burst Mode."

Burst Mode... Tohma's? That was... what Tohma had done back there?

" Yes, I managed to activate Gaomon's Burst Mode and we defeated Lucemon," Tohma said, although he didn't sound nearly as enthusiastic as his Digimon partner. " But Lilithmon escaped."

" And she left a message for Minervamon," said BanchouLeomon. " About Mercurimon."

Minervamon gritted her teeth, and her two long ponytails seemed to defy gravity as they slowly rose behind her.

" I... I won't believe he's dead!" she growled.

" And now she's refusing to acknowledge it after going berserk about it back in Asgard." BanchouLeomon looked down at her as she refused to look back.

" Something like that could never happen to him. He was the bravest of all of us... The one who cherished his friends the most..."

" Face up to it! You're a warrior, aren't you?! Stop being such a child!"

She stared back at BanchouLeomon in shock. " A child..."

The others just stayed still as the two Ultimate Levels stared at each other. ' Ah, so she may not be a man, but she has her pride as a warrior,' Masaru noted for himself. ' Heh, it's pretty much the same thing.'

" Minervamon... even warriors are allowed to cry for their lost comrades." BanchouLeomon placed a massive paw-like hand on Minervamon's shoulder. " But denying them will do them no honor. You'll only end up stuck in the same place, unable to move on."

At that point, even her serpentine eyes lost their upsetting glow and Minervamon was reduced to tears, letting BanchouLeomon's hand support her. The tall lion man brought her closer and she cried into his chest.

The others watched silently, knowing all too well the sorrow she was experiencing and feeling remorse for having been unable to prevent it. If only they'd been stronger back then...

" Minervamon, let's take a little walk out of the room, just the two of us," BanchouLeomon suggested. " The two of us have things that we can only reminisce alone."

" Mm..." Minervamon let herself get led out of the room by BanchouLeomon, leaving Masaru and Tohma with their Digimon.

" BanchouLeomon and Minervamon... They must all be really, REALLY old friends," Agumon said sadly, " How old do you think they are?"

Masaru really didn't think that was a good subject to be thinking about. Although he was a bit curious too, honestly.

Tohma seemed to be thinking a similar thing as well, but he changed the subject. " Masaru, I'll give you details about how we're going to proceed with things on a later visit. I'll need to approve some plans with Satsuma first."

" Approve? So you've got things figured out already, eh? All this happened so quickly, I can't tell what's started or ended at all..." Masaru admitted. He turned his head to look at his legs again, wistfully observing the constraints of the casts on him.

" Precisely another reason why I'm leaving the rest of the details for another day," said Tohma with a hint of his cocky smile. " What you need most right now is solid rest and good nutrition, so I'll make you get those. If you need to change the mattress's position, just use that button I pressed earlier, and press this button if you need any assistance from the nurses. You'll need it for going to the bathroom at least. If there's nothing else you need, I'll be leaving for today...... Get some good rest, Masaru."

The blond stood up and patted Masaru's head. At the touch, Masaru felt a sharp déjà-vu of what happened back in Asgard and he instinctively flinched.

Tohma noticed and pulled his hand back with a look of regret on his face. He turned away and started heading for the door, Gaomon following at his heels.

" Tohma," Masaru said heavily in the back of his throat.

Tohma paused.

Back then, Tohma had nearly suffocated him to death with his own hands. Even though he knew it wasn't of his own free will, it was still a shocker for the fighter to see his teammate in such a position. And yet so sadly familiar...

But this time...

" You... You broke out of Lilithmon's body control on your own, didn't you. The others had nothing to do with it. You stopped and fought back with the Burst Mode. That's how it really went, right?"

" ......"

An intense silence covered the room for a while.

And then Tohma turned around just enough to throw Masaru gently raised lips. " Perhaps I did. Just shows how strong I am as a man, doesn't it?"

Masaru had seen that smile before. He was hiding something behind that smile...

" See you later, Masaru."

" Ah. Bye."

They'd told each other to forget about those times, yet why were those memories haunting him even more than before?

----

The next day when Tohma came to visit, he indeed did have news of his plans to share with Masaru.

He explained everything "from the top" to refresh the more... hard-of-comprehending boy.

For DATS, the main issue at hand was what the Demon Lords had been after: Belphemon's egg. The release of the seal on Belphemon's egg had also unlocked the seal on the Asgard partition where the other Demon Lords reigned. However, those Demon Lords would need a full year to regenerate all of their previous power. Several months had already passed since the unlocking.

Unless they were to use a method such as Kurata's and destroy the Demon Lords completely without even leaving a Digiegg, they had only one real solution. They'd have to re-seal Belphemon's egg as well as access from the Asgard partition once more.

The previous seal had been done by the Twelve Olympian Gods ages ago, which included Minervamon and Mercurimon. But now that Mercurimon was gone, they no longer had all twelve...

Tohma noted that the natural balance of the Digital World would probably be restored and a new Mercurimon would arise one day, but they had no telling of how long it would take. They frankly couldn't afford to risk the wait. Once the Demon Lords fully replenished their powers, they would be able to cross over to the Midgard partition and possibly even the human world with no complications. DATS needed to stop every one of them before it was too late.

Lucemon had already been taken down. However, since they DID simply return him to being a Digiegg, there was no telling when he'd become a menace again.

Tohma's logic was that in the end, the Olympian Gods had used some kind of digital code to seal away the Demon Lords. The previous code had made it impossible for other Digimon to even see Belphemon's Digiegg, and thus they would be unable to take it away from the temple it was hidden in. Of course, humans like Kurata weren't affected. Tohma had proposed to Satsuma that he should program a similar code, in fact, a code that would prevent even humans from breaking the seal. It would involve establishing the biochemical link between the digital data of Digimon and humans-- that is, in a way that wouldn't be harmful to either party like Kurata's methods involved-- meaning that tons of testing and hit-and-miss experiments were in sight. It seemed pretty ambitious to Masaru. And Tohma seemed exceedingly ambitious about it when he was explaining it. It did seem just like the job for him. Still, Masaru thought he was getting a little too excited about some technical junk...

But the other issue at hand was the Demon Lords themselves.

Meanwhile, Yoshino and Ikuto would be put in charge of keeping the Demon Lords at bay. The Demon Lords were still free to enter Midgard at their own risk, after all. Now that they had seen first-hand the strength of the humans, they were sure to be more careful, but it left them no reason not to wreak havoc in other ways. Since the ability to transfer to the Asgard partition was in their hands now, they would have the chance to invade and make the pre-emptive strike. It was just that the threat was greater in the Demon Lords' home partition.

With the new turn of events, things were again changing drastically in DATS. Satsuma had made arrangements with Ministry of Confidentiality so that the producers of the television program wouldn't interfere, labeling the event as a "long-term, dangerous crisis" and almost literally shooing everyone involved with the program out of Tohma's mansion. Re-construction of the old headquarters that Omegamon had destroyed was to resume at a faster pace, and it would become a type of public affairs building, at least until the crisis was over. The TV program producers and broadcasters had plenty of fits with DATS by now, but at least they could be steered out of the way with the new public affairs building.

Masaru didn't really get all the details Tohma mentioned around that area, and before he knew it, he had started getting sleepy just listening to the blond.

" Masaru, wake up. I'm almost done, okay?"

" Mmm..." He was still dozing off...

...Until he felt Tohma's hand on him again. He jolted back awake, nearly moving his legs as a result. A short sling of pain ran through his body.

Tohma just pulled his hand back and looked at him somberly.

" Satsuma has ordered that none of us enter the Digital World as a single pair while the Demon Lords are still loose. We are always to be with at least one other Digimon with the power of the Ultimate when entering the Digital World, he says."

Masaru hesitated for a moment. " Who are you going with then?"

" I've asked Minervamon or BanchouLeomon to accompany me if it's ever necessary."

" ......."

To be honest with himself, the thought of Tohma going into the Digital World without him now wasn't settling very well with him. Sure, Tohma had been going to the Digital World on his own anyway, but with the challenge of the Demon Lords right there, waiting for him...

" I've offered Minervamon and BanchouLeomon rooms in my mansion to stay in while they're here in the real world. They're free to come and go as they please. Other than that, for the most part, I'll be working on the Digital Code instead of going after the Demon Lords anyway. The Digital Code is... kind of our name for the programming project."

" Ah..."

" Think of it as me saving some action for you, all right?"

That caught Masaru's attention.

" We're going to defeat the last of the Demon Lords together when I've completed the Digital Code and you've fully recovered. Sounds like a deal?" Tohma brought a hand up in a fist, waiting for the brunet's response.

Finally, a solid smile arose on Masaru's lips. " Hmph. You sure know how to motivate someone."

Masaru knocked his fist with Tohma's, still lying down on the bed. This quick physical contact, he didn't flinch to, but it hadn't even slipped through his mind in the first place. It was simply a natural action for them at the time.

And how thankful Masaru was to have that motivation. He looked at his heavily covered legs for a brief moment.

" How about we make it a race while we're at it then? Whether I'll complete the program first, or if you'll recover first..."

" Heh, a race?"

" Although since I'm your physician, that would be kind of strange, wouldn't it?" Tohma scratched his chin in contemplation. " I don't want to encourage you to rush your recovery to the point that it puts you in a more dangerous position."

" Hmph, you've definitely improved in being considerate, that's for sure. But I'll be fine. I don't want to make things worse for myself either."

" Good to hear. I'll leave you the rest of the day to digest everything. Your family will probably come visit you later in the day too, so I'll let you have your time with them too. See you later, Masaru."

" Yeah. Thanks, man."

Again, Tohma stopped momentarily at the hospital room door. " No need... I've done nothing to deserve it."

" Huh?"

Tohma left.

Masaru was sure he'd heard him clearly that time. Hadn't they made that other deal that they wouldn't keep playing those kind of games with each other? Not like Masaru really got what kind of game was going on, but...

It was kind of unfair when Tohma kept tossing it in at the end before Masaru could do anything about it. There was a limit to the amount of selfishness he could take.

No wait, he couldn't call that selfishness. It was anything but, really. Either way, it still pissed him off. Of course, Tohma himself probably didn't notice. Masaru had complimented him on being a more considerate person, but in some other ways, that genius nobleman still had a long way to go.

Yet, it didn't piss him off as much as it used to, before they had worked some things out. But it was still there. Something irritating him. And it only happened when he thought about Tohma. Only Tohma.

He'd figure it out some day. Right now, he had a lot of other things to think about first.










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Author blab
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He sucks at this whole concept called forgetting. I don't blame him. 8|

And yes there's Midgard again (reference to old fic). It's not my fault that both Digimon and RO involve so much Norse mythology~
I totally need to play the PS2 Digimon Savers game someday since it has all the Demon Lords in it as part of the storyline, I hear. I played the sidequest with them in Digimon Story/World DS, but that's different. AND I WANT TO SEE THE STORY... AND RENAMON. But that's another issue.