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 There is no sky.
 Smoke and ash billowing from clusters of active volcanoes blanket the heavens above. In this sunless place, the only light comes from rivers of flowing magma, casting everything in a glowing red. Rocks stretch as far as the eye can see. Just rocks on rocks on rocks.
 The dull pop of bubbles forming from the lava and the savory sizzle of the molten stone serve as makeshift background music. Although the temperature isn't felt, the visual information from the game environment alone is enough to induce dehydration.
 Perhaps this is what hell looks like.

 This is Ruby Mountain, a high-level area within Lacuna.
 It is located far from the central city, on the distant outskirts of the realm.
 In this place where not even NPCs are positioned, there was a young girl and a Digimon shorter than half her height.
 Though there was no one to see them, anyone would recognize them as a Tamer-partner duo at a glance.
 Well, if there was one thing that might cast doubt on them being partners...

"I'm sorry! I really mean it!"

 It would be the fact that the girl was profusely apologizing to the Digimon sitting on the ground.
 The Digimon seemed to be in quite a bad mood, yet the girl,
 named Yuuki, maintained an optimistic smile despite her apparent unease.

DEBUG.1-1 Yuuki

 Yuuki is wearing a blue-violet camisole top paired with black shorts, and an oversized white jacket. Her bright magenta-dyed hair is styled in a half-up, half-down look with braids on the sides.
 She is also wearing her favorite red sneakers.
 On top of this, her makeup is immaculate.
 She nods firmly to herself thinking, “I’m on point today.” Sporty with a hint of elegance. She should log out this instant, dash off to Harajuku, and feel utterly confident snapping selfies for social media.
Styled to perfection. Bright and adorable Yuuki –if she’s speaking modestly, she’s unstoppable.

 ...But still!

"Shut up! I'm not gonna budge!"

 Even at her most unstoppable, Yuuki found it extremely difficult to improve her partner's mood.

"Please, I'll buy you some cute accessories next time, so please forgive me, Impmon!"
"Ha! No way! I won't forgive you until you reflect on what you did!"
"But what if it's like...mad cayuute?"
"I don't need no darn cute accessories! And what do you mean by mad cayuute? Just say it's 'really cute'!"
"'Aw,' what? I've been meaning to say this for a while, but the way you talk is messing up my mood and that's why we always fail..."

 Impmon sighed deeply without turning its small, deep purple body toward her. A level 3 Evil Digimon, Impmon is characterized by its two long, clown-like horns, red gloves, and scarf.
 Having been with Yuuki since the beta-testing days, Impmon has been communicating with her like this for over half a year. There is no longer any reserve between them, and they're close to inseparable.
 Yet, despite the closeness of their relationship, Yuuki had never managed to get the hang of how to cheer up this little devil.

"I know, I said I'm sorry, okay?"

 She was fully aware that the fault was her own.
 It was clear that their mission had failed because she charged in impulsively.

 The mission:

The certain issue mentioned here that they are taking care of is NPCs recently going rogue. As members of the debug team in the game Digimon Liberator, Yuuki and Impmon are tasked with investigating and addressing a certain issue.

 When NPCs go rogue, they indiscriminately challenge any player they see, regardless of any gap in ability. This is considered a bug that severely hinders enjoyable gameplay.
 Yuuki and Impmon are there to eliminate these bugs and ensure that Digimon Liberator operates as the peaceful and enjoyable game it should be. However, as mentioned already, Yuuki and Impmon failed in their mission.

 They were defeated by two rogue NPCs known as Metallicdramon and Volcanicdramon.

 "Man, they were strong," Yuuki mused.

 Indeed, they possessed incredible strength.
 While they weren't Conditional Battle NPCs, it was clear that a better strategy against their Deck was needed.
 There was almost no chance of winning without meticulously formulating a deck to counter them.

 "That could've turned out real bad, huh?"

 Usually, losing to a rogue NPC could corrupt a player's character data. However, as part of the debug team, Yuuki's data is protected by her "Novel Emblem."
 If not for the emblem serving as a backup, they wouldn't be able to bicker like this now.


 Ideally, if the emblem functioned perfectly, it could be distributed to all users. However, this feature is still considered an unstable test version.
 This means that even with the emblem, there's still a chance that user data could be corrupted upon defeat.
 That is precisely why Impmon is so angry.
 As long as the emblem's backup isn't a 100% reliable feature, in other words, as long as there's even a slight chance that they could be separated upon defeat, the mission must absolutely succeed.

"...Darn straight it could've been bad, Yuuki."
"Yeah... Sorry."

 All she could do was sincerely apologize.
 There was no defending such recklessness. What had she been thinking, launching into battle without doing the necessary groundwork? It was her fault. There was no doubt about it.

"Will ya ever stop being so impulsive?"

 "...Oh, just a little bit more," thought Yuuki.

 Even Impmon was growing tired of sulking. Its previously stubborn demeanor had softened. Previously, only the back of its head was visible; now, its gaze slightly met hers.
 "Just one more push." Not wanting to neglect the opportunity to reconcile with Impmon, Yuuki poured forth with more expressions of regret.

"I'll change! I swear! I'm super sorry! So, let's head back to town, okay?"
"...Do you even have a plan?"

 Once again, her partner lets out a heavy sigh.
 With a resigned shrug, Impmon continues.

"I don't want to deal with risky and annoying stuff anymore. If you're really sorry, then come up with a plan for them. How confident are you that we can beat them next time, huh?"
“I’ve got no plan yet. The planning starts now!”

 “After all we just lost to them only a moment ago,” Yuuki honestly responded.
 It had been less than an hour since the NPCs had defeated them. And since their defeat, she had been entirely devoted to appeasing Impmon, leaving no time to devise any strategy.

"Yeah, you're on your own."
"Aw, come on!"


 As Impmon turned its back to Yuuki again, she saw the tears in its eyes. It was clear that she had inadvertently upset her partner with her thoughtless remark.

"Stop being like that! Let's think of a plan together!"

 It might have been an unnecessary thing to say, but she wanted Impmon to accept the reality. It was truly impossible to reflect on and revise their battle strategy in only an hour.
 It would be easy to lie to try and smooth things over, but without a real plan, it wouldn't be very meaningful. If Impmon asked to hear the plan and she had nothing, her lie would quickly be exposed. Her only choice was to be honest.

 And hence, the current situation.

"Come on! I said I'm sorry!"

 She exploded.
 The intense environment of Ruby Mountain's outskirts was tiring her out, and after the relentless battle and repeated unsuccessful apologies to her partner, Yuuki had reached breaking point.
 Even the "ever-cute and cheerful Yuuki" couldn't keep her emotions in check anymore.

"Apology not accepted!"
"Impmon, you stubborn little..."
"Whatever, meathead!"
”Well sorry for being meathead! Guess I’m a girl who’s naturally athletic and only good at sports!” "Self-conceited, much? While you're at it, why don't you work on getting better at these card battles instead of just sports!”

 Impmon turned toward her and cracked a sly grin. Knowing Impmon well from their long time together, Yuuki instinctively knew that this was a taunt.

"I suppose it's impossible for you to get good at card games because, well, you're a bit dumb!"
"What did you say?! Is that how you talk to a friend?! I see how it is..."

 Yuuki quickly pulls out her D-STORAGE and activates it. A translucent blue user interface emerges from the device.
 Having had enough attitude for one day, she decided to put Impmon in her D-Storage and summon a portal an Instant Item. With it, she'll head back to town.

"Hey, that's not fair!"
"La la la, I can't hear you. Naughty children who don't listen get a time-out. I'm tired and want to log out soon, so let's go home, Impmon."

 The exchange of sharp words had worn her out.
 She was about to navigate the menu with practiced ease—when she paused.


 Something felt off.
 There was a red notification icon next to "Items" in the pull-down section of the main menu, indicating the receipt of a new item.

"What's the matter? I thought you were logging out!"

"Shh, shut up a sec," she said, holding up a hand to quiet the flustered Impmon.
 She had no recollection of acquiring any new items. They had yet to stop by any shops today, and aside from their battle with the rogue NPCs, they hadn't engaged in any significant activity.
 Usually, acquiring items without purchasing them from a shop would imply that they had defeated an NPC and the item had dropped. But they had lost their only battle with the NPCs.
 If that was the case, then...

 They lost, yet still acquired an item?

 The very act of NPCs going rogue was a bug. It wouldn't be strange for unusual things to happen under such circumstances. Yet, it was still peculiar. The only conclusion was that they had acquired an item from the NPCs they had lost to. While feasible, such irregularities make figuring out what's going on much more challenging for the debuggers.

 "...Should I open it? Do I risk it?"

 After some deliberation, Yuuki decided to check the item.
 Without verifying its contents, it would be difficult to report accurately to the GMs.
 With caution, she tapped on the notification section of the Item Box.

[You got an ability item for a Tamer Card.]

 A familiar message window pops up.
 Tamer Card ability items:
 These are considered highly significant items in Digimon Liberator.
 When players first log into the game, they receive a blank Tamer Card depicting an image of themselves.
 After that, by using ability items, players can unlock and acquire new abilities for their Tamer Cards. This is a crucial element for progressing through the game.
 What kind of ability item could they have obtained? Yuuki, unable to guess what the item might be, tapped the [Confirm] button on the interface.

"Hey, Impmon..."
"What do you want!"

 Perhaps irritated at being ignored, Impmon responded in a rough, aggressive tone.
 Yuuki, unfazed, continued with her question,

"Impmon, you're Evil Type, right?"
"What kind of question is that? Obviously!"
"And the level 6 Beelzemon is a Demon Lord?"
"Again, duh!"
"Not a Dark Dragon or Evil Dragon... Right?"

 Softening its prickly attitude, Impmon realizes from Yuuki's odd questions that something is going on, and walks over.

"What's with these weird questions all of a sudden?"
"Can you take a look at this?"

 Yuuki asked, crouching down so the shorter Impmon could see her interface. Impmon nonchalantly peers at the item details.

"What the heck is this?"
"Right? What the heck?"

 Both of them tilt their heads in confusion.
 Ability items typically drop randomly, but it is not entirely random. The system evaluates the type of deck being used and selects a related ability from a relevant pool.

 Their main deck is naturally centered around Impmon's card.
 Using cards in the trash as resources, they use the level 3 Impmon to bring forth or digivolve into Beelzemon, a level 6. This strategy allows them to lay waste to the playing field and Security in the early stages of battle.
 Impmon is classified as an Evil Type, and Beelzemon is a Demon Lord Type.
 Therefore, if an ability item were to drop, typically it would be related to these types.

 However, this item was different.

[Main: If you have 4 or fewer cards in your hand, by suspending this Tamer, 1 of your Digimon may digivolve into a Digimon card with the [Dark Dragon] or [Evil Dragon] trait in the trash.

 Dark Dragon and Evil Dragon aren't entirely irrelevant. However, they are quite a mismatch for their main attacker, Beelzemon.

"Hey, look at this!"

 Impmon pointed at the menu screen, where a new notification icon had appeared.
 The glowing red circle on the card list indicated the acquisition of new cards.

 This system is riddled with bugs.
 How could someone receive new cards just by viewing an ability item's details when they haven't even set it yet? This was unheard of.
 However, both of them had already failed to exercise caution.
 Drawn in by the bizarre events unfolding before them, Yuuki and Impmon opened the list to check the newly acquired cards.

"Whoa! What is this card?"
"I have no idea..."

 Several unfamiliar Digimon cards were added to her card list.
 Among the cards were Dark Dragon and Evil Dragon Digimon with names they had never heard.

"I think I've got it," Yuuki suddenly realized.
 This could be the very thing they needed. The thought filled her with a sense of certainty.

"Huh? What did you get?"
"Isn't it obvious? Just like you wanted, this gives us a strategy for taking down those rogue NPCs!"

To be continued.