Thousands of soldiers. Millions, even. Laid out in perfect rank in front of the Infernal Fortress, all staring up at the great gates. Hundreds of platoons, each led by their own Captain. Digimon from Rookie right up to Mega level, all waiting. Some stared silently. Others whispered to each other. And there were yet others, eyes glowing red, who bared their teeth, waiting in anticipation for the order to attack. Waiting to fight. Waiting to kill.
It was sadly not an uncommon case nowadays. Nobody seemed quite sure what it was; the scientists had investigated it and the doctors had tried to cure it, but all to no avail. Some among the troops would worry, and tried to talk their friends and comrades out of this rabid state. But eventually they'd give up. They would never be the same again. All they could do was keep on surviving themselves.
By the side of the great gates, the three Elites stood in line, waiting for their general to emerge. Well, strictly speaking only Baricosmon actually stood; clawed hooves together and scaly tail curling as his short mane blew in the wind. He narrowed his eyes and looked to his left, where the other two Elites lay sprawled out.
In fairness, Enterocmon had a good reason; he was getting far too large to be able to stand as straight as he used to. He was much more at home in the lake beneath the fortress, where he and Baricosmon would often get together and plan out new operations. Right now however, the octopus-man lay like a big sweaty ink blot on the grey stone, with only the spherical submarine encasing his body keeping him from just flopping out everywhere. He would have looked more ridiculous were it not for the heavy artillery pointing in every direction from his orbular armour.
Amphisbaemon had no such excuse; he lay sprawled out as if waiting for a lewd portrait, with one finger quite obviously and unashamedly up one nostril. His body curled around on itself multiple times, his midsection impossibly long and covered with diamond ridges. His arms were long and lanky and his face narrow and shrewlike, with wicked curved fangs, beady eyes, and a large frill and headcrest of which he was most proud. He yawned, removed his finger and made a flicking motion. "When is he going to get here?"
"Shut up. And sit up straight; you're embarrassing us."
Amphisbaemon pouted, and fluttered his frill. There was a slithering sound and the serpent's tail end reared up, showing his second head and arms, which seemed to be bored stiff. "But Barry…"
"Don't call me that either." Baricosmon sighed, and adjusted his posture. "Honestly, you are a lost cause."
Amphisbaemon rolled his eyes and straightened up, pushing both heads upright on his slender arms. Within his capsule, Enterocmon burbled. "God, ever since you've evolved that second head you've been insufferable."
Amphisbaemon pouted, his eyes welling up as he unleashed his amateur dramatics on his comrades. "Why is everybody being so mean to me?"
"Because you know something we don't." Enterocmon did his best to adjust his tentacles into a slightly more flattering position. Slightly. "You always know something we don't."
Baricosmon nodded. "Can't argue there. You always seem to be the first to be told of any new plans."
Amphisbaemon drew a single clawed finger over where he assumed his heart would be if he had one. "Honest to Yggdrasil, I know nothing."
"Ssh." Enterocmon flapped a tentacle, and bunched himself together a bit more. "He's coming."
The soldiers' murmurs died down as the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching the gates. There was a rumble, a scraping sound, and the gates opened, revealing the General himself, still hidden by shadow.
Surtremon stepped forward, the great sword Logi swinging from side to side on his back with every step. He stopped, and turned his head to the side, nodding down at his three Elites. All three of them nodded back.
Surtremon turned his attention back forward, and bowed his head again. The Captains returned the gesture, and every soldier followed after by with the Fire Kingdom salute. Surtremon gazed far and wide at the entire army that now stood before him. He took a deep breath.
"My loyal soldiers..."
He paused, and the nation watched with baited breath.
"I wish to thank you for attending this admittedly unorthodox meeting. Quite honestly, I could not be more proud of you all right now. Every single one of you. Your work since I have been in power has been stellar. As peacekeepers, as ambassadors and as a defence force against all evil in the world, I can honestly say I could not ask for a more accomplished nation."
His voice rung out across the battlefield as he continued. "It's true that there have been tragedies. Friends who lost their lives. Soldiers who lost their way. Events we'd rather not had happened and truths we'd rather not have come to light." The great knight glanced to the side at his Elites; they all remained silent, but the General noticed Baricosmon looking away, hiding his expression.
"It's due to events such as these that I've been thinking for a long time now. It's true we've spent the last thousand years as peacekeepers. But honestly, I believe we can be more."
Now everyone was fully paying attention, and a few soldiers were beginning to whisper to one another again. Surtremon felt a twinge of nerves, but carried on regardless. "I'll come to the point; this world is broken. The very threads that hold the Digital World together as a people can be snapped at any time, and they have been. Multiple times, to the point where we have needed to rip this world apart and call upon the assistance of otherworldly beings to save us. Look at us; are we a people who should have to call for help? If we are to stand on our own, we need to be more. No more selfishness. No more injustice. We shall come together, as one, and stand on the same ground as the human race as a world united."
Surtremon paused once again, his words ringing throughout the immense battleplain that made up the fortress's courtyard. His right hand went to his chest, feeling the edge of the seal as his fingers traced the symbol of Fire that burned brightly.
"Once, I was a child, standing by the side of a...a close friend. The world was in turmoil, and we were called upon to save the world. It was then I saw the power of the spirit of her and her kind; the teamwork, strength and determination that eventually led us to succeed. I have never felt as close to anyone as I did next to her." He sighed, the sound clear against the inside of his mask. "Sadly our paths never crossed again. But I swore to myself that I would grow up to be like her. I would grow strong, and fight for a better world. I've been your General for over two-hundred years, and I feel it's time to take a step forward. It's time to change.
"I make a pledge to you, right here, right now. If you still wish to follow me, I will lead a crusade. I will unite the scattered nations and tribes of the Digital World and forge an army worthy of facing any threat. This is not for my own gain, but for us as a people, as a nation, as a world. We deserve the right to stand up against injustice and those who would exploit us, be they within our own world or not."
The Elites gave each other glances as the noise from the crowd of soldiers began to build. Cheers, whistles and even the sound of crying. Surtremon held out a hand, quelling the murmurs.
"Regrettably, it will not be easy. There are those who will likely oppose us. I won't lie to you; I wish it were otherwise, but blood will likely be spilt. But every death I shall take onto my own conscience. If it will help us create a greater world for generations to come, then I shall be the one to take the fall. I take solace in the idea that our descendants can live safely, even if I am not around to see it."
Surtremon stepped back, keeping everyone within his field of vision. With one hand he reached back and grasped his sword, pulling it from its scabbard and raising it high, where it caught the fading sunlight.
"For too long we have been separated; for too long we have watched helplessly as our bonds grow weaker. If you are willing, step forward with me and grasp the new Eden. We will be the fire eternal, and we will lead this broken world into the greatness it was meant for! Who will stand with me?"
The crowd erupted as one, yelling and baying and raising their own weapons skywards as they let out chant after chant. "Surtremon! Surtremon!"
Surtremon nodded, his helmet betraying no expression. "Thank you all."
He sheathed his sword, turned slowly, and headed back inside.
The Captains dispersed their ranks and sent them back to barracks, where they awaited further orders. The three Elites merely headed back to their own quarters, still reeling in shock over what their leader had declared. A crusade for a better future. All-out war in the name of a better world.
Could they do it?
Baricosmon looked first to the serpent, then the octopus. "Well…I suppose we have work to do."
Amphisbaemon rubbed two sets of hands together as he grinned inanely. "This should be very interesting indeed…"
The torches burned low as the great knight stared ahead at nothing. Despite the heat inside the fortress he shivered, his body spasming involuntarily. He knew; he could feel them. They were already here. They would be. It was their way.
He closed his eyes, his own words - his own promise - ringing through his head. An image, fuzzy but unmistakeable, flashed between them. Her face. Her ever-optimistic smile.
The Fire General clenched his fist, feeling the power building within him once again.
"Please, give me the strength I need. Give me the conviction. Give me the courage. We must fight for a better world."
His eyes opened, the torches flared up, revealing the markings and ancient writing aligning the walls of the Infernal Fortress; the same kind of writing, all throughout. Far too old for him to be able to read.
He mumbled to himself in a voice almost inaudible. "I will create that world you wanted to see. I must. Even if I have to go through your own brothers and sisters. I hope you can forgive me, wherever you are."
He stood up, eyes still flickering in the torchlight.
The Red Beast's great armoured paws clicked against the hard metal floor alongside the heavy footsteps of the golem, as the two of them made their way towards the barracks, where bloodthirsty mouths waited, baying for carnage. The flames suspended on the walls flickered brightly, more active now that Surtremon had left his hibernation. Still, it was little reassurance. The enemy was on their doorstep, and Martyaxmon was fully aware of the danger they were now in.
Just for a split second, the torches flashed an eerie blue, and Martyaxmon stumbled as the entire fortress heaved. Only for a second, but it was still noticeable. The manticore spat, and growled to himself. Rinkhalmon's attempts at making these Fire Tyrants were getting ever more risky. One false move and the entire fortress could go up in a big ball of flame.
He sighed, and turned his head, glancing back at Fornaxmon, who had also ground to a halt behind him, seemingly unaware of what was going on. Martyaxmon nodded. "Seems like the serpent's still hard at work, hmm?"
Fornaxmon nodded. "Yes sir."
Martyaxmon waited for a brief moment, as if expecting more, before carrying on. He slowed his pace, waiting for Fornaxmon to catch up, but the golem did the same, remaining just behind him. The Red Beast closed his eyes. "You are my equal, you know. You're a Commander now; Surtremon decreed it. You don't have to follow me like a lap dog. Walk beside me, for crying out loud."
Fornaxmon did so; increasing his pace until he was exactly in step with the manticore. Martyaxmon rolled his eyes. "And don't call me sir."
Martyaxmon halted again, turning to face the mechanical man head on. He stared up at the knight's visor, seeing the blue fire pulsating behind the polished copper. His expression, as expected, was entirely unreadable. Martyaxmon ground his teeth, struggling to keep his composure. "Why are you acting like my slave? You're one of us again. What has Surtremon ordered you to do?"
Fornaxmon remained completely still. "I am to obey you."
"Yes, but I obey Surtremon. Therefore you should obey him as well. So what has he ordered?"
"I am to obey you."
Martyaxmon sighed, his barely-human face mottled with shadows as he lowered his head and mumbled. "If you hate me, that's understandable. Everyone else does; you don't need to hide it."
"I don't understand."
"No, of course not." Martyaxmon turned again. "Change of plan. Go to the front gate and stand guard. If Surtremon posts you somewhere else, do as he says. Understand?"
Fornaxmon stood still for a couple of seconds, the blue pulsating within him. Then he turned, and walked away. Martyaxmon scowled, and was about to carry on himself when the golem stopped briefly.
Fornaxmon walked back the way they had come, leaving just Martyaxmon, staring after his colleague.
The immense spiked barrier that formed the outside of the Infernal Fortress stretched for miles in each direction, betraying nothing of the sinister activities behind. The only signs of life were the Fire soldiers pacing back and forth; perhaps once they had formed some sort of march, but now they just hobbled and lunged at nothing, their minds clouded by insanity. Nothing else lived. No trees. No grass. There was only hard, blackened rock and purple-grey skies oozing with pollution.
There was a shuffling and a skittering of rocks. One of the Fire soldiers stopped mid-step, their hackles rising and their muscles slithering beneath their skin. They stayed like that for a good few seconds, before returning to their prowl.
Behind a nearby rock, Jack held his breath, cursing himself for being so clumsy. There was a slight tittering beside him and he looked down to see a short masked gremlin looking up at him, its shoulders shaking as it held its clawed hand to its mouth.
Jack waved his hand frantically and put a finger to his lips, before gesturing at the wall. The Dracmon obliged, pressing up against the rock and holding its left hand out, the green eye on its palm blinking as it looked left and right. Jack couldn't help but grimace. While all the soldiers from Silicon City had been most helpful, there were still one or two who really freaked him out.
Dracmon must have sensed his doubt, since Jack turned to see the little vampire staring up at him, its expression drawn in a permanent wicked grin. It withdrew its hand and shook its head. Jack let out a silent humph, before beckoning the Dracmon and running further away from the wall, ducking into a nearby trench. There he was greeted by Kai and Colchimon, along with Gargomon and a few other Silicon soldiers.
Gargomon peered over the top of the trench, uneasy. "Any luck?"
Jack shook his head. "No way in over here. Too many soldiers and no nice little holes." He winced, and stretched his right leg out, running his hands over the leg brace and trying to dull the ominous aching in his knee. It had already slipped out of place twice on the journey over here, and he hadn't given it proper time to heal after each one. He was now beginning to regret it, but now wasn't exactly the time to be fussing with it.
Colchimon sighed, running over all the possibilities in his head. "We've been here for days now. Surely someone must have seen something."
"It's not a fortress for nothing, you know." Gargomon hopped down and squeezed her fingers together, her gatling arms each clicking one step round. "I doubt we're the first ones to try and breach their defenses."
Kai groaned. "I guess we should've seen this coming. Starting a big march on the Fire Kingdom and we can't even get past the gate. Typical really."
"Oh, stop being a pessimist, you." Colchimon lightly batted his partner on the top of the head. "It could be worse. They could have found us already."
Kai frowned, and held up his D-Nexus, the Digimon around him listening in. "Howdy-doo."
"It's Kent here. We have good news and bad news."
"That figures. What's the good news?"
"Good news is that I've heard from Aaron and Eloise; apparently they've found a breach in the wall, just on the north-eastern side. Not too far by the sound of it, and it might even have been made by other freedom fighters by the look of it. We may have company."
"I see, I see." Kai licked his lips, his brow furrowing. "That's very good news actually. I dread to ask, but what's the bad news?"
There was no answer. Kai shook his device, but could only retrieve static.
The yell came from above, and the hidden group gazed up to see Perimon hurtling towards them; a dozen flaming projectiles falling down after him. He landed in a disgruntled heap, before leaping to his feet, running around like a headless chicken as he desperately attempted to extinguish the large gout of flame currently engulfing his rear end.
In the end one of the soldiers (a Gwappamon with rubbery skin and headphones constantly blasting out muffled techno beats) waltzed forward and pushed Perimon to the ground, smothering the fire. Perimon let out a sigh of pained relief, before he started babbling. "We've got trouble. Fire Forces headed this way. Kent Grace and others coming. Lots and lots of soldiers. Oww…."
Jack looked skywards, his head tilted. "Something's rumbling. I think they're coming this way."
Gargomon popped her lips. "Now's probably a good time to move then."
Kai, Jack and Gargomon were already running at full pelt when the rest of the group intermingled with them, and they continued their sprint along the underside of the wall. The heat was sweltering and beacons were flaring up alongside the walls, signalling their position as more and more Fire soldiers joined the pursuit.
Kai sidled up to Kent. "I heard something about a breach in the wall. How easy is it gonna be?"
"Compared to now?" Kent frowned. "Apparently it's a rather large hole. If we can make it in time we can all hurry in and the Trilomon and the others can seal up if we need to."
"Could be a problem if they're gaining on us though."
"Then we'll just have to hold them off." Gargomon held up her arms as they began to twirl and click rapidly, before twisting her body into a strange backwards sprint and pointing both arms backwards.
A green barrage erupted from her arms, mowing down the frontrunners of their pursuers. She couldn't help but let out a hiss of triumph, but her ecstasy was short-lived as even more bloodthirsty beasts surged forward. She turned back, and quickened her pace. "Y'know, if any of you fancied doing any of your smooth evolution jazz that'd be great right now."
Eloise and Grace reached for their devices, but Aaron held out his hand. "Not unless we absolutely have to. If we play our trump card too early then they'll figure out our moves before we've even gotten started." He gritted his teeth. "Just keep running, and do what you can to hold them off."
The surrounding Digimon nodded, and began firing in all directions to provide cover.
"I see it!" Ladomon corkscrewed in the air as a dozen fiery arrows shot past her head, before banking over to the wall. The others followed her movement, and saw as well; a section of the wall that had obviously been borken through at some point, given that it was filled with a multitude of rocks and debris. Grace looked up worriedly. "That looks pretty solid. How are we going to break through?"
"Leave it to us." Gargomon raised her arms and whistled, signing two names to the soldiers behind her. They moved forward to flank her; one was a shining seahorse with flamboyant purple fins, the other, a great bipedal beast with a bull's head and one arm encased in a great mechanical piston drive.
"Seahomon, give us an area of cover. Minotarumon, you know what to do."
Seahomon's snout glowed with a heavenly corona, but she hesitated, looking back. "Whereabouts am I aiming?"
Perimon swooped down. "Anywhere! Preferably at the Fire soldiers just closing in. Now, please!"
The floating sea creature fired; a sweeping arc of multi-coloured light that slammed into the oncoming soldiers. It moved at a fast pace, blinding the front-runners and forming a barrier of their own kind. Minotarumon was running at the wall the moment the attack fired, face in an overexcited grimace as he held back his vibrating left arm.
He brought the arm forward with a smack, creating a visible shockwave that rippled across the wall and over the ground, causing a couple of the children to trip over. The wall of debris didn't stand a chance; it shattered in an instant. Aaron held an arm to the left. "Everyone arc round. There are more soldiers in front of us than behind. Turn around, and start shooting."
They did so, the makeshift army moving surprisingly efficiently and pushing their pursuers back with a well-place barrage. They fought their way back to the broken doorway, only to discover the debris had piled up quite high, almost forming a half-barrier between them and safety. Gargomon glared at Minotarumon. "You could have been clearing this away, you know."
"Later." Velocimon stepped forward, and began giving orders. "Everyone, help get the humans over first. Gargomon, Seahomon, keep up the fire. Jack, how's your leg?"
Jack wiggled his foot, wincing slightly. "Feeling weird. Like it's gonna slip at any moment."
"Here, Grace, give me a hand." Kai and Grace reached down and helped haul the boy up the pile of rubble. Jack hopped up like a mountain goat, still trying to minimize the movement in his leg where possible. He winked at Grace as he passed her, and she clambered to the top with him, keeping pace.
The group was about two-thirds of the way up when Vulpimon cried out. "Incoming! From the other direction!
A third squad of Fire Forces were closing in fast, and the inherrant humming and flapping of wings indicated that the aerial squadrons were also on their way. Kent turned to Aaron. "Time's up. We go over now or we're gonna have to fight."
"Everyone else is over, I think."
"There's a problem; we'll need to seal the opening after we get through. If they follow us, we'll be sitting ducks."
Aaron looked at the opened hole, then at the oncoming army, getting ever closer despite the mighty barrage pressing them back. He shook his head. "I don't think we can do that. Not with the guys we've got."
"Well what then?"
"I don't know!"
Velocimon released a volley of sparks, before whirling his head round. "Aaron! Decision, now!"
Aaron bit his lip, and was just about to reach for his D-Nexus when a new voice sounded, cutting the wind and seeming to silence the oncoming throng.
An arc of holy light sliced through the heavy pollution, wiping out at least a dozen oncoming beasts in a single shot. The runners looked up, and gazed in awe as a stunning beast, half-dragon, half-horse, cleared the debris in a single bound and flew high above the throngs. The flapping sound increased, and more and more Digimon erupted from inside the wall; Pegasusmon and ShimaUnimon, MachGaogamon and Cyberdramon, CannonBeemon and Halsemon; all spreading out and letting off waves of attack that forced the Fire soldiers back.
Yet more saviours appeared at the top of the pile of debris, and began helping the refugees over; several dozen soldiers from Silicon City, along with the tamers and their partners. Aaron felt something tap him on the foot, and looked down to see a Monitamon dancing at his feet, waving its arms comically and showing the picture of the Roadrunner. Aaron got the message; he followed the rest of the Resistance as the last of them scaled the wall of rubble.
As he landed the other side, he found himself greeted by a familiar white mask. Yasyamon nodded. "Good to see you. Personally I think you could have made it over a little quicker, but still no harm done."
Aaron tried to think of a suitable comeback, but instead bent double, hands on his knees as he tried to handle the exhilaration of the past five minutes. There was a swooping and a rush of wind, and the aerial defenders, led by Chirinmon, doubled back over the wall. Yasyamon watched them come over, counting them to himself. When the last one had reappeared, he turned back to Aaron. "We'd prefer it if you closed the door when you came in. You know, etiquette and survival and stuff."
Aaron looked taken aback, and Kent reached for his device, only for Yasyamon to hold up a hand, chuckling. "No worries. We've got this covered."
He was right; as soon as the last freedom fighter had gotten over, then a n odd little crature made entirely of ethereal rock stepped up, throwing his arms wide. "Galactic Flare", cried Meteormon, as a volley of beams struck the hole in the wall. The barrage continued for several seconds, glowing so brightly that Aaron had to shield his eyes. When it finally stopped, the hole was sealed again with a thick buildup of meteorite rock.
The boy lowered his hand, blinking from the great light. "Will that hold?"
"So long as we keep it replenished. And so long as nobody fires a great heavy machine at the centre we should be ok."
Aaron breathed a sigh of relief, before looking round, puzzled. "Where are we? This doesn't look like a fortress?"
"It won't do. You're not that lucky." Yasyamon ushered the others on as the group marched down a solid-black road that looked far more sophisticated than anything they'd seen before. The puppet warrior continued explaining as he strode along, obviously glad to have the chance to show off his knowledge.
"The fortress is protected with multiple walls, barriers and outposts. We've gotten through most of them, but there's still one left. There's no way into the actual territory from where we are now, but it does at least give us a temporary safe spot."
"Is this where you and Karatenmon and the others have been holed up?"
"But where is it?"
Yasyamon pointed a wooden sword in front of him. Aaron followed his gesture to see Velocimon, walking steadily and trying not to look at the location around him. The puppet warrior leaned to the side. "He should know. It's his home. This is the central communications hub of the entire world, Grid Central City." The puppet let out an audible sigh. "At least it was once. The place was desolated a long time ago. Nobody lives here now."
There was a muttering through the group as the reality of their location spread through gossip. As they marched on, the black buildings and twisted spires began to appear more frequently; some relatively intact, others bent and out of alignment, and yet others in twisted heaps of metal and polymer on the ground. It was clear the city had once been vibrantly lit, but now everything just hung in a perpetual state of red and grey hue, with a few scratchings of yellow as some of the buildings - alien and mystical, like something on a different planet - still retained a dim yellow glow within the symbols and circuitry that snaked around the outside of them. The wind whistled through the skeletal streets and charred districts as the buildings felt ever more oppressive. Ladomon tightened slightly around Eloise's neck as the girl walked, whispering as she did so. "I don't like this place. I can sense too much death."
Nobody felt quite right here. After the excitement from the chase and the breach had subsided, everybody quietened down. Even the brash Yasyamon seemed to tense up the moment they entered the old city centre. Trilomon kept low by Kent's feet, flinching at the slightest thing. Colchimon clung tightly to his partner. Perimon landed and resigned himself to walking beside Jack, who was shivering from the wind. Vulpimon hung slightly behind her partner, looking frantically left and right at any given moment.
Aaron sped up a little, and kept pace with his partner for a little while. He opened his mouth, then closed it, unsure of what he could say.
"I'm sorry," was the best he could come up with, but the dinosaur didn't even blink.
"Seeing your home like this."
"Seen it before." Velocimon's lizard eyes glanced upwards. "What are you sorry for? You didn't do this."
Aaron couldn't think of anything else to say, so he didn't.
The doors creaked open, revealing a vast interior that may once have been a great hall or even an ambassadorial office. It was certainly grand enough; the windows and doors were lined with what looked like gold, and the same material was laced into the very floor in spirals and whirls so vast they made you dizzy to look at them. It looked spectacular, from a distance, but as soon as you got in close you began to notice the defects; cracks in the rock, tarnished gold and scorched wood.
There were several Digimon jostling about, but two stood up in particular, moving from their place at the big table in the centre. One of them nodded in acknowledgent at the oncoming group and stepped away from the table, picking up his swords as he did so. Velocimon nodded back at the crow warrior, but said nothing.
Karatenmon didn't seem bothered, smiling as he strode over to the group. "So I see you finally made it. Welcome back to Grid Central City." The tengu stopped mid-step, and gave a small bow. "I'm sorry if it's not as grand as it once was."
The other figure got up and ran over, barging past Velocimon and heading straight to Vulpimon. The fox gave a looked of panic as she was plucked from the ground and spun round in a massive mobile hug, with Grace looking on in bemusement.
"Vulpimon! Finally, old friend, it feels like an age!"
Vulpimon blinked, her voice muffled as she replied. "Uh, can I help you?"
"Of course, so sorry. You wouldn't recognise me, would you?" The warrior placed Vulpimon back on the ground, and placed her hands on her hips. She was tall, even more so than Karatenmon, with purple clothing and silver armour over her muscular body, and two silver holsters tucked into her belt. She wore an angular purple mask in the shape of a wolf's head, and her ruffled blond hair was tied back in a loose ponytail. Her neck was swathed in a long purple scarf that reached down to her knees. She looked completely different, but the tough sparkle in her eyes made it clear.
Vulpimon wobbled slightly from the spinning, before looking up, confused. "Strabimon?"
The lupine warrior grinned, and banged her chest. "I go by Lobomon now. I only just evolved last week. Impressive, right?"
Eloise wandered over, her bottom lip raised. "Certainly is. I wasn't aware you guys could evolve just like that; I thought you needed help?"
"Anyone of us can evolve if we have enough energy." Karatenmon sheathed his swords, and gave Lobomon a look. "Please, Lobomon, I appreciate you're glad to see them but we need to take this seriously."
Lobomon rolled her eyes and gestured. "Oh come on, it's not like the world's ending right now. I can say hello to my old friend at least, can't I?"
Vulpimon looked very worried. "Can you say hello a little less roughly next time, please?"
Karatenmon couldn't help but let out a chuckle, as Kent wandered over. "I hope you don't mind, but we've brought some reinforcements from Silicon City. They're not exactly hardened warriors, but they're all willing."
The bird-man nodded. "I appreciate it. I think we're going to need all the help we can get anyway."
He tapped the floor and all the newcomers turned to face him. "By the looks of it you've had a rough time getting here. The whole city is relatively secure, as far as we know, so you should be safe setting up wherever you want, although I would recommend that you stay close to the centre." Karatenmon narrowed his eyes. "You're likely to be here a while, but you may want to get to know each other now, because you may not have a chance later. Sit down, have a breather, and we'll brief you fully on our situation in a few hours or so."
The group nodded, and split up, each wanting to catch up with people or explore the city. Gargomon whispered to Aaron as she walked out. "He is a very warm and pleasant chap, isn't he?"
"He's fine. A bit grumpy, but his heart's in the right place."
The gunbunny sighed, and wiggled a finger as she walked out. "Always the way these days. Always the way."
In a few minutes, only Aaron and Karatenmon were left in the great hall. The crow-man turned, curious. "Are you alright, Aaron?"
The boy shuffled. "Not really. I was just thinking, it's been a while since we've last seen each other, hasn't it."
"About ten weeks, if I've counted correctly." Karatenmon returned to the central table and sat down, shuffling through parchment, maps and tables as he tried to organise his assets.
Gingerly, Aaron wandered over, and sat down a few rows down. He sighed, and leant his forehead on one of his hands. "Ten weeks…"
Karatenmon looked up. "Something wrong?"
Aaron twiddled the fingers on his other hand. "I've just completely lost track of time since we've been here. I had no idea we've been wandering around here that long. It feels like it's gone by like nothing."
Karatenmon straightened up a few sheets, before putting them down, turning his chair to face Aaron. "You miss your home, then."
"Barely even been thinking about it. I've been so caught up in everything it hasn't even occurred to me." He gave a weak smirk. "That's going to be fun to explain."
"I'm sure you'll find a way. You seem adamant you're going to get back home, at least. Did you have a chance to train much in Silicon City?"
Aaron looked away. "Things got a little out of hand." He had a thought, and straightened up. "I should tell you; we found the cause of what's been making the Fire Kingdom go crazy."
Aaron told the crow-man about the leeches, and everything that had happened with Teslamon, Fornaxmon and the Commanders. Karatenmon seemed to lean in closer every minute, his eyes brimming with curiosity. When Aaron finished, he leant back, and exhaled. "Wow, you have been through a lot." He smiled. "Sounds like you came through it stronger than ever though."
"I guess so…"
"You don't think so?"
Aaron leant forward. "Remember when you first met us? You told me that I wasn't fit to be a leader; that I wasn't learning from my mistakes. I've been trying, I really have, but everything we do just seems to land us in more trouble. Babamon, Cerebrumon and Teslamon would still be alive if it weren't for us. Fornaxmon wouldn't have been forced over to their side. It's just all gone wrong."
"And you feel responsible for all of this?"
Aaron sighed, and stared into nothingness. "I just feel I'm doing a terrible job. How the hell am I supposed to win a battle?"
Karatenmon tapped the wood of the desk. "Believe me, I know how you feel. As a leader, you're responsible for everybody on your side. Sadly, it doesn't always work out." The bird-man looked around wistfully. "You met my old troupe, didn't you? Most of them are still around, but sadly one of the Centarumon brothers passed away from his wound on the journey here. And Piddomon…" He trailed off, before clearing his throat. "You are responsible, yes, but you cannot atone by giving up here. You've managed to keep all your fellow humans alive, and your partners. By the sound of it, you're now stronger than ever before. I'll give your kind one thing; you're tenacious."
"Thanks. I think."
Karatenmon smiled, and gestured to the door. "Go and get some rest. Worry's not good for you. Just remember that you're here now, and we're all in this together."
Aaron smiled forcibly, and made to get up. He wandered across the great hall, got about halfway and paused. He turned, and called back up to the tengu.
"I will get it right this time. I promise. I will help save your world."
He turned, and hurried out before Karatenmon could respond. The bird-man chuckled. "Best of luck, boy."
He frowned, as something crossed his mind. His hand went to his chest armour and pulled out a couple of sheets of parchment; old, worn and torn, covered with ancient writing and near-illegible scribbles. He licked his lips and studied them profusely.
"Very familiar. Very familiar indeed. Brother, what were you up to...?"
Journal entry #547. Location, Hollow Mountain.
New symbols appeared a couple of days ago. Should have documented them earlier but very different this time. Only two as of yet; in one corner of the spinal alcove. Difficult to translate as very little similarity to other symbols. New markings also a little sketchy; perhaps the element of Air is undergoing a fluctuation, or maybe an emotional resonance? Maybe Obelimon is waking up. No change to the element itself, but this requires more investigation.
Entirely possible it's nothing at all though, but then again, I'm a scientist. Nothing happens by chance if I can get away with it.
In the dark, dingy underbelly of the Infernal Fortress, Rinkhalmon cackled as he gazed over his work. Leeches writhed and squirmed in a variety of test equipment all around him, and his latest batch of poisons and potions were bubbling away nicely. Gently, Rinkhalmon manoeuvred a steaming syringe of some unidentifiable liquid over to a particularly large and bulbous jar, which appeared to be empty. He added the contents dropwise through the hole in the top, watching with disturbed glee as the contents shifted and released unheard purrs of invigoration.
The syringe emptied, and the shimmering stopped. Rinkhalmon threw the apparatus over his shoulder and clapped his hands rapidly. "Eeeeeeee! This is so much fun! I haven't had something this delectable in a long time!" He licked his lips, and sidled to one side, his oversized fingers caressing the surface of a large, metal vat, with several dials along its lower rim, all going haywire. He leant forwards, pressing the flat of his face against the warm surface.
"It's all thanks to you, my wonderful friend. I do appreciate your co-operation."
His frill twitched; he heard footsteps. Eyes narrowed, he twisted his overly long neck round. "Darn."
With great speed he grabbed a large, grubby canvas and threw it over the whole ensemble; vat, jar, and everything related to it. The corner flicked up, knocking over a quarter of a table's worth of bottles, which promptly shattered on the floor. The serpent winced, and leaned against his desk as Martyaxmon stormed in.
With a cheery smile he waved his hand in greeting. "Hello, good sir. Nice to see you this fine evening."
"It's morning, Rinkhalmon. What the hell are you doing down here?"
Obviously someone had had their fur rubbed the wrong way this morning. Rinkhalmon frowned, and stuck a finger in his earhole. "I'm working."
"No you're not."
"Do you know what my work looks like?"
"No, you never show me."
"Well, that's because it's dangerous. And I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself."
"That's a shame. I'd be glad to hurt you though." Martyaxmon sighed, and scratched behind his mane. The atmosphere down here was chemically thick and it irritated his skin to no end. "The children have arrived; they're with the other resistance members in the ruins of Grid Central."
Rinkhalmon tilted his head, looking confused. "Good for them?"
Martyaxmon smiled. "Rinkhalmon, old buddy, old friend, how many Fire Tyrants have you made so far?"
Rinkhalmon stopped grinning, and pursed his lips. He knew there was something he'd forgotten. Martyaxmon noticed his sheepish look and began to growl, causing Rinkhalmon to laugh nervously. "Eh...they haven't gone particularly well. And we haven't had the resources to waste, right?"
"We have reserves and you know it." Martyaxmon backed up and pointed a paw up the steps he'd come down. "Surtremon's orders were for us to prepare. You are to get up those steps and get outside and do your job, right now, or so help me I'm going to drag you out by your slippery purple tongue. Are we clear?"
Rinkhalmon sighed, and rolled his eyes. When he saw that his colleague was serious, he went to pick up a canister of already prepared leeches, tucked his free hand into his belt, and stomped forward, pouting all the way. "Alright, alright. Don't get your beads in a muddle."
Martyaxmon snapped at the serpent's tail, causing him to rush up the stairs at an accelerated pace. Martyaxmon rolled his eyes, before taking a quick peek into Rinkhalmon's abandoned lab. His eyes fell upon the pipes in the walls, churning out some sort of liquid into two large tanks. There was a groan, and something flew upwards from below the floor, traversing the pipe and landing with the rest of the shimmering mixture.
Martyaxmon furrowed his brow as he stared, before he grimaced in disgust and hurried up the steps as fast as his armoured paws could take him.
Kent wandered round the chamber, stopping only to peek through pillars and twiddle dials. The building had been next to the great hall, and had immediately drawn him in with the multitude of weird technology on display. Trilomon and Velocimon had wandered in after him, and were also exploring.
Kent leant over a strange two-pronged fork device and noticed the dinosaur, who seemed rather disinterested with the whole affair. "I don't suppose you know what this building is?"
"You really want to know?"
There was a shuffling, and Trilomon appeared squeezed between four mounted spheres. He wagged his tail up and down. "Yes please! It's cool; I've never seen anything like this place!"
Velocimon sighed. "It's the central transmission hub. The city was the centre for global communications once; this was the place where messages came in and went out. Was, at any rate." He shrugged, and kicked a nearby pillar. "Not much use to anybody now."
Kent frowned. "Guess not. Although…" His brow furrowed, and he walked over to a flat slab with a great deal of levers, dials and buttons, as well as a panel of gently flashing lights. He hummed to himself. "If this place has no power, how are they still alight?" The boy stood up, and stared around the glowing interior. "Come to think of it, how is anything still alight?"
Velocimon narrowed his eyes, and hopped up onto the panel beside Kent. He tapped the lights, but they stayed lit. With a grunt, he folded his arms. "What do you know? Seems like my people thought up some very durable devices."
Velocimon loosened up a little, sitting down on the panel with his legs poking over the edge. "This place was mostly full of scientists and engineers when I was growing up here. Power, communications and control; those were the main headlines of the time."
Trilomon looked up, his head cocked to one side. "Don't you know how to work any of it?"
The dinosaur shook his head. "I was never into that stuff. The leader of our clan always said I'd never make a scientist. I ran off to join the army as soon as I could walk, talk and fight." He looked over at the flashing lights again, his eyes darting between them. "Sorry I can't be more help. I know a little though; this is the external comms hub. Most of the major areas of civilisation in the world used to have one."
Kent folded his arms, impressed. "Wow. You did get busy; getting your own global network up and running."
The dinosaur chuckled. "Actually I think we borrowed your network. No sense in wasting time, and connecting to it must have been relatively simple given how close our worlds are."
"So you're responsible for all the lag then."
"It seems so." Velocimon leaned over and tapped the lights. "Those are basically recent transmissions; each one contains a message from one of the other comms hubs in the world. Obviously nobody here was quite sure how to read them."
"How recent are we talking?"
"Up to fifty years, I believe?"
Trilomon rested his front claws on the panel, and looked up at his partner. "We can get this running, can't we?"
"I don't see why not. If we can figure out how to reply, we may even be able to nab some more reinforcements."
"I wouldn't get your hopes up." Velocimon sat on the edge, swinging his legs in the air. "Whoever sent them, they're probably all dead by now."
Kent blinked. "Well aren't you just a little ray of sunshine."
"I do my best."
Trilomon looked upset, but Kent smiled and scratched behind his partner's head. "It's still worth a try." He reached behind his back and pulled his laptop to the front. "This stuff is all just one big program. It should be easy enough to figure out how it all works. The very least we can do is listen to these messages." He grinned. "Besides, it's been a while since I got stuck into something new like this. I need to keep in practise somehow."
He sat down, and immediately started typing. Velocimon stared incredulously at him. "Are you sure that's wise? You might go blowing yourself up again."
"I'll be careful." Kent looked up, and pouted his lip. "I don't suppose you could give me a power boost, could you? About 20V if you can manage it."
Velocimon's expression slumped. Reluctantly he got to his feet and held out a sparking finger.
Kai wandered through the empty, desolate streets, completely alone. There was no sound other than the whistling wind and the faint sounds of war from behind the inner wall. He shivered, and pulled his coat up, only to realise that he was sweltering in the heat. He removed his coat and sat down, staring ahead into nothing.
He could still feel them. The shadows. The dark thoughts. The thoughts of a killer, slithering round his head. He'd been able to hold it in, but he knew that wasn't definite. Those thoughts could explode at any moment.
He shook his head. There was no point holding them in; that would just make things worse. Somehow, he needed to control himself. Learn to use his powers, and more importantly, to hold them back.
He thought about going to Colchimon, but the dragon had flown off with Ladomon. The boy was on his own. He frowned, and stretched his legs out. If he wanted to learn proper control, he'd be best to do it with one of the other humans. Aaron would be risky; he still went overboard himself. Grace and Jack were kids; he couldn't force his issues on them.
That just left Kent and Eloise. Kai thought, and decided. Eloise would help in a heartbeat, true, but she'd already risked enough on his account. It was time for him to take a few steps forward on his own.
He stood up, and brushed himself off, before going off to find Kent.
He could still feel the deadly shadows following behind him.
Perimon let out a victory crow as he ducked and dived between the weird twisting buildings. "Oh, it feels good to be here! I am so pumped!"
Jack smiled as his partner swooped around all over the place above him, ducking in between buildings and over rooftops. The setting sun glinted off his bronze armour with every move, making him shine brightly.
The boy hobbled up to a wall and lay down against it, trying to catch his breath. There was a flapping of wings and Perimon landed quite abruptly in front of him. Jack grinned. "You're excited."
"Am I what?"
"Pumped. Exhilarated. Excited." He nodded his head frantically. "You know, getting the whole gang together again. We're finally here, getting ready to kick some serious butt."
Jack blinked, before shrugging. "I guess so. It's kind of hard to believe we actually made it. Haven't really thought about it that much."
Perimon calmed down, and sat down next to his partner. "I would've thought you'd be more into this. You were so excited about saving the world when we started out."
"I was." Jack winced as he pulled his leg up into a better position, and looked skywards. "I guess I thought it would be more fun back then. But I've already been in a bunch of battles, and…well…"
"Don't tell me you're getting bored already!"
"Course not!" Jack laughed, before looking sadly away. "It's awesome when I'm up there, flying around with you. But I'm not as strong as the others."
"Of course you are! Not many people could take on Teslamon one-on-one and win!"
"Yeah, well I got lucky then." Jack sighed, and leaned back, staring at the incredible cloud formations above him. The sun hit his face for a brief moment, and he blinked. "Maybe I'm not supposed to be strong. Maybe I'm just here for backup."
Jack sat up, and looked his partner in the eye. "You know, support. You've gotta have support in a big fight; we can't all just rush in head first."
He sat, comfortably, all the while aware of Perimon staring at him. The bird opened his beak. "Who's gotten to you?"
"Who's been talking to you? I bet it was Velocimon, that scumbag. Always thinking he knows best. Just because he likes to take the lead all the time."
"Perimon!" Jack yelled at his partner and the bird shut up, mumbling to himself. Jack looked hurt. "What's wrong with you?"
"With me? You're sitting there telling me that you don't think you're strong enough to fight. I've seen you; you're fine."
"I never said that! I just said I have problems. You know that; you've had a go about it at me before. I'm just saying, maybe it's best if I don't go all out."
"I've spent my entire life going all out, buster. It's the only way I've been able to keep up with anyone."
Jack glared at the bird, and the bird glared back. Jack gritted his teeth as he leaned forward. "I can't keep up with anyone anyway."
"Sure you can. Just do what I do."
"I can't. I have a bad leg."
"That doesn't need to stop you."
"It's not that easy." Jack threw his arms out. "Anyway, I have an excuse. What about all the times you've messed up? What's your excuse?"
"Oh, screw this."
Perimon hissed at his partner before taking off, flying off over the nearest rooftop. Jack folded his arms, and looked the opposite direction.
Lobomon stretched an arm out. "So whaddya think?"
Grace whistled, and Eloise grinned as the wind rippled through her hair. "It's beautiful."
Her eyes darted sideways, and her face fell. From her viewpoint on the tallest building left standing, she could just see over the great wall. Creatures jostling, fires burning, destruction waiting. Lobomon followed her gaze and patted her on the shoulder. "Don't worry too much about it. One day we'll see them face-to-face. Right now, it's good to appreciate what we have left."
Eloise felt a pang of guilt, and went to speak, but Lobomon stopped her. "I know what you're going to say. It wasn't your fault. These things happen."
Vulpimon's tail drooped. "They seem to happen far too often nowadays."
"That's true." The wolf-warrior sighed, and turned to smile at the two girls and her old friend. "You've got to remember the good things. Dwell too much on the bad, and you're just closing off ways to get away from it."
She whistled, and in a few seconds there was a flapping of wings and a clapping of hooves on rock. Grace turned and yelped as Chirinmon stood towering above her, stepping gingerly from left to right. Lobomon beamed. "You remember these two, right?"
Chirinmon nodded, but Grace shook her head vigorously. "I think I'd remember somebody like him."
"He's changed a bit. Remember Kudamon? The little weasel-ghost who came along with Karatenmon?"
"That's him?" Eloise looked up at the giant dragon-horse, who appeared to blush a little. Eloise's eyes widened. "Thank you. You saved our lives back there."
Now Chirinmon blushed even more, and backed away, taking off effortlessly. Eloise and Grace watched him go, and Lobomon chuckled. "He doesn't say much. He's still very shy. But you know what he said to me, one day? He said that he was going to grow up to be as strong as those humans."
"Think he's managed it?"
Eloise coughed. "He may be outdoing us a bit." She turned her head, looking puzzled. "What did he mean, as strong as us?"
"None of you ever gave in. You never broke down. You were there for all of us. I lost everything that day, and you were there for me. Same with him." Lobomon smiled. "If you can take that onto the battlefield, there's no way we're gonna lose."
Eloise smiled, and gazed out over the ancient city. "Save as many as we can. Keep moving forward. Keep winning."
Vulpimon chuckled, and Grace folded her arms. "I like the sound of that. When do we start?"
Grace bowed her head, reaching out to tickle her partner's chin. "Come on Vulpimon, we should probably find my brother. He's probably getting into trouble again."
"Must run in the family."
"Shush." The two giggled as they left, leaving Eloise and Lobomon alone. Eloise sighed, and leaned on the ledge of the rooftop, her eyes glistening as she watched the hustle and bustle of the freedom fighters below. She closed her eyes, feeling the slight coolness of the breeze as it rustled through her hair. "I'm sure we can make it. I really am. I'm going to make sure of it."
Lobomon laughed uncomfortably. "You're awfully confident."
The girl shrugged. "It's all I can be. I made a promise to get everyone home. I need to try."
Lobomon blinked, before leaning on the ledge herself, her muscular arms flexing.
"Do you mind if I give you some advice?"
Eloise turned her head to face her. "What is it?"
Lobomon sighed. "This is speaking from personal experience. I know I look all playful and confident now but I don't feel it. I just put it on for the other soldiers. Believe me, after you left, after...all that happened...I was a wreck. I wouldn't have gotten through it without Karatenmon's support. Even then, it was hard."
She swallowed, aware of the girl still listening. "Sorry, I'm rambling. I know you're trying to do the right thing, but you shouldn't take the lives of everyone else into your own hands."
Eloise blinked. "Why not? We need to look out for each other, right?"
"Of course. I'm just saying you shouldn't take personal responsibility. Do what you can to help, but remember that it isn't - it can't be - down to you alone to protect them."
She stood up, as Eloise looked up with a blank expression. "Why are you saying that?"
"Because it'll only break your heart when you fail."
She sniffed, and looked away, wiping her eyes. "Sorry, that was uncalled for. I'm just bringing the mood down."
Eloise bit her lip. "Thanks for the advice." Unsure what else to say, she walked off, leaving the wolf-woman alone. As she walked down the rooftop stairs, she mumbled to herself.
"I'm not going to fail."
"Something's bothering you, isn't it…"
Colchimon nudged Ladomon, who tightened her coils, her soft, downy feathers rustling. She closed her eyes. "This whole thing is bothering me. This whole world. This whole mission."
"It's difficult, I'll give you that."
Ladomon looked up. "Am I still a good Digimon, Colchimon?"
Colchimon blinked, and the white dragon looked away. "I've been thinking about what you said. How you've been fighting to stay good all this time. What have I been doing? Have I been doing the right thing?"
"Of course you are." Colchimon shuffled a little closer. "You've always stuck by the right thing. That's what I love about you. You're so sure of yourself, all the time."
"But I'm not now." The white serpent closed her eyes again. "Martyaxmon told me-"
"Don't believe a word that vile beast says."
Colchimon pulled back, and Ladomon continued. "He told me that I was a Digimon of Light who couldn't forgive."
"That's not true."
"What about Kai, then?" Ladomon turned to Colchimon, panic in her eyes. "I was so focused on getting you back and getting Eloise back that I was willing to let Kai go. That's not right. That's sick. That's choosing for the good of myself."
Colchimon mumbled. "We all slip up…"
"It's unforgiveable." Ladomon sighed. "I suppose it makes sense. How can I forgive anyone else when I can't even forgive myself?"
She fell silent, brooding in her little coiled ball. Colchimon wrapped himself around her, but she pulled away. "Just leave me for the moment. I need to figure things out."
"Okay." Colchimon did so, slithering away and looking back, his diamond eyes glittering. "I'll be here if you need me."
With the hustling and jostling and growling from all around him, Rinkhalmon was finding it very difficult to get any work done. The serpent was not too happy about his eviction, and he had taken the time to mutter the fact to himself over and over again while over the lifeless body of his "patient" Marsmon; a vast muscular creature with gargantuan fists and the head of a horned, sabre-toothed creature adorning its own.
The serpent's fingers moved rapidly yet lazily over the still body of the Marsmon beneath them as leeches flew this way and that, letting off silent screams and purrs of pleasure as they burrowed into taut, armoured flesh. Only Rinkhalmon's mumbles were audible.
"Bloody cat, kicking me out, who does he think he is? I tell you, some people have no respect for other people's needs."
He leaned a lanky elbow on the Marsmon's chest and looked deep into its lifeless eyes. "I mean, I'm trying to get some decent work done and he insists on getting me to make an army of you pathetic puppets. No offense." He tapped the Marsmon on the nose and then went back to work, spilling vessels and containers everywhere as he continued his silent tantrum.
There was a streak of light from outside as a soldier promptly set another on fire. Rinkhalmon peered out, watching the hapless victim run around in a mad fury, trying to get rid of the biting flames. It let out a screech, collapsed in a heap and promptly exploded. The serpent closed his eyes, and sighed. Life was so boring sometimes.
There was a shuffle beneath him, and he looked down in puzzlement. He noticed his hand and quickly withdrew the container out of which had marched a dozen or so leeches straight onto the Marsmon's face. Rinkhalmon gave a nervous laugh. "Whoopsie-doodle."
The Marsmon lurched, rolling first left, then right, then arching backwards as half of its already charred fur caught on fire. The serpent wriggled backwards, pressing against the wall as the spasming continued. It died down. The warrior fell still, and a smell of burnt flesh filled the hangar.
Rinkhalmon breathed a sigh of relief, and disappointment. "You guys never work like you used to. All the good ones have already gone." He rolled his eyes. "Ah well, back to the drawing board."
The Marsmon leapt to its feet, fists ablaze and eyes glowing white with fury. It lifted its great muzzle and howled, before it caught the scent of something. Something different. The not-fire. With it's tongue hanging out and letting off steam, the panther-man doubled round and pounded off into the courtyard, aiming straight for the ruined city beyond the wall.
Rinkhalmon waddled out after it, feeling somewhat sheepish. "I suppose, thinking about it, I probably should've shut the door."
Rinkhalmon turned to see Martyaxmon rushing towards him, Fornaxmon following close behind. The manticore looked left and right, taking in all the panic. "What have you done now?"
"Well the good news is that I've made a working, battle-ready Fire Tyrant."
"And the bad news?"
"There isn't any."
"Do I have to?"
"YES!" Martyaxmon lunged and swiped at the snake's head, causing Rinkhalmon to fall backwards. He began to giggle.
"You're so funny when you're angry, you know. Your mane gets all fuzzy."
"Start talking before I rip your tongue out and use it as a necktie. Where is the Fire Tyrant?"
Rinkhalmon swallowed, still grinning, but he didn't have to answer. Behind the furious Red Beast, Fornaxmon extended his bladed arm. "It's running away," he said flatly.
"What?" Martyaxmon looked up, and caught sight of the war god ploughing through hapless soldiers like skittles. "What the hell's he doing?"
Rinkhalmon raised a finger. "He's caught the scent of some of those wacky rebel scum. My guess is he's heading into the city to wipe them all out with much pain and very little mercy."
"The city? You moron!"
Martyaxmon slashed at his colleague again, and Rinkhalmon yelped. "Ow! What was that for?"
"The humans are in there!"
"So? You want them gone, right?"
"They'll kill it, you know. They're strong enough."
"Probably. We'll just make a few more. Eventually we'll overpower them."
"You are just dense sometimes." The manticore rubbed his paw down his face, before reaching out and twisting the serpent's head to look. "That thing cannot fly. It doesn't know how to dig, and probably couldn't be asked to climb. What do you think it's going to do once it reaches the wall?"
Again, Rinkhalmon didn't have to answer. There was a mighty rumble, a crash and the sound of shattering rock erupting on the far side of the battlefield. Fornaxmon pointed again. "It's gone through the wall."
Rinkhalmon shrugged in the manticore's vice-grip. "So? We can build it up again?"
The manticore sighed, and leaned in close. "Once the children dispose of your little toy, they're going to see the hole in the wall. Thanks to you, our final defense has just been breached. We're open to attack and we are not prepared for it. Do you understand why I am so pissed off with you now?"
"Ah." Rinkhalmon popped his lips. "Well, I guess you'd better do something about it then."
Martyaxmon growled. "When we're done with this, I'm going to kill you. Better start running."
He turned round and faced Fornaxmon. "Go and collect as many fit soldiers as you can. We need to defend the fortress."
Fornaxmon swivelled his head as Martyaxmon marched past him. "What should I do with the soldiers, sir?"
"YOU UTTER INCOMPETANT LEECH-BRAINED IMBECILES!" The Red Beast punched the bedrock, causing a mini-shockwave that knocked both Commanders back. He whirled round, all three sets of teeth bared menacingly. With a single paw he pointed at Rinkhalmon. "This is your fault as well. That's twice I'm going to kill you."
"And you," Here he pointed at Fornaxmon. "Form a guard with as many soldiers as you can, that's an order. The children do not make it through that breach."
He galloped away, leaving footsteps of fire in his wake. Fornaxmon stared after him, before stomping away himself. Rinkhalmon merely shrugged.
"You told me to do it."
A loud pulsating siren echoed out through the hollow buildings of the ruined city, causing everyone within it to rush out of wherever they were with alarm. The soldiers already there immediately rushed to their posts, while the newcomers were brought over to the central plinth by the few non-fighters.
Gargomon looked around with confusion. "What's going on?"
"Somebody's spotted something. We're under attack. It happens from time to time." Lobomon hopped up onto a nearby roof and spotted the Digimon responsible. She called over. "What is it this time?"
The Digimon (a Sistermon) yelled back. "I don't know, but it's big. I think we could be in-"
There was an almighty crash as one of the boundary walls was smashed to rubble, the impact causing both the Sistermon and Lobomon to tumble down. The wolf-warrior sat up. "What the hell was that?"
"Bad news I'm afraid." Karatenmon strode over, swords in hand as he gazed over at the smoking rubble. "Marsmon. Mega level. It appears that our friend Rinkhalmon has been working on new Fire Tyrants."
"Fire Tyrants?" Velocimon's eyes widened, and he scurried away to get a look. Marsmon was already getting to work, demolishing buildings left, right and centre with but a single swing of his flaming fists. Velocimon looked back, obviously shaken. "What do you suggest we do?"
"Same thing we usually do." Karatenmon raised his blades, and flapped his wings, ready to jump. "We fight."
He jumped with a rush of wind, and Lobomon quickly followed him. Aaron turned to the others. "This is going to need all of us. Is everyone up for it?"
There were no hesitations. Everyone nodded, and the humans reached for their D-Nexuses. Coloured lights filled the air as they yelled out in unison.
"Primal Control! Soul Control!"
Over in another block, Marsmon bellowed uncontrollably as it slashed at everything around it, surprisingly agile for one of its size. All around the resistance were fending it off as best they could. A lone Centarumon sat atop a wall, firing solar beams down on the creatures fur, singing it. Gargomon and Seahomon wheeled beneath it's legs, attempting to trip it up. Chirinmon led the air forces in formation, swooping round regularly and driving the creature back. For the moment, it was working. But the thing still showed no signs of stopping.
Suddenly, it raised a fist and grabbed onto one of the buildings, hauling itself up. Yasyamon stood atop, wooden blades held wide as he glared at the monstrosity before him.
"Don't take this personally, you flaming ape! Double Strike!"
He flipped forward, landing on the god-man's shoulder, but Marsmon was quick, twisting its body round and sending the puppet flying away. He crashed into a building and swore, only to widen his eyes as Marsmon charged towards him, its entire body aflame.
A red blur came out of nowhere and a shockwave struck the beast in the face, sending it staggering backwards. A fox and a girl darted below, firing shards of ice at the beast's feet as it staggered backwards momentarily. The ice slowed it for a moment, but melted before it could have an effect. It did, however, attract Marsmon's attention.
"Grace, look out!"
Chionemon leapt into a sideways roll as a burning fist came crashing down, shattering the ground beneath her feet. She screamed and fell in a heap, rolling away as Marsmon swept sideways. "This is not going to be very easy," she yelled out, doing her best to put out the flames on her fur cape as she ran away.
"Yeah, no kidding." Galvamon aimed himself and leapt, blades electrified as he brought them down in a single strike. "Strike Thunder!"
The beams converged and formed a blade, crashing into Marsmon's shoulder, but it barely left a mark. Mistramon swooped overhead. "We can't damage it, mate. We've gotta try and keep it in one place."
Ljosamon stepped forward beneath the beast's feet, looking up at the towering creature. "How are we supposed to stop this thing?"
Ljosamon jumped, and saw Karatenmon and Lobomon standing beside her, ready to leap out the way at any time. Karatenmon glared. "It would take us several hours to kill this creature. Thankfully, we don't need to. It's a primal thing powered by rage and leeches; it'll probably fall apart of its own accord."
Ljosamon blinked. "How do you mean?"
"Look there! It's starting." Lobomon pointed up at the beast's eyes. Where the glow subsided, it was clear the mask was being damaged. More than that, it appeared to be melting; great dribbles of liquid flesh and bone falling down. Ljosamon recoiled. "That looks like…"
"Like the Asuramon I summoned?"
Ljosamon jumped again as Cratomon and Dokkamon appeared to her left. Cratomon scrutinised the beast's behaviour. "It can't hold its form. It's going to burn up. I think we have about five minutes."
Dokkamon nodded. "You think it's aware of that? Cause it seems to be causing as much damage as it can."
Lobomon growled, and twirled two loops of metal in her hands. "Then let's teach it some manners for its final lesson."
She rushed forward, Karatenmon rushing after her. Marsmon became aware of the movement and turned to face them, slamming a fist into the ground. A plume of fire flew towards the two, but they split in mid-step, converging on the other side. The plume continued, reaching the waiting hybrid warriors. Cratomon took a step forward, raising his hands.
A great force of bones erupted from the ground, taking the force of the firestorm. They disintegrated in a couple of seconds, and Ljosamon rushed forward, beckoning with one arm and opening a bow with the other. "Come on, they need cover!"
The others did so; spreading in all directions as they began surrounding and circling the monster. Dokkamon took a leap, wheeling back around the god-man's head as his shadow-blades extended.
He slashed past, taking a chunk out of Marsmon's upper bicep, which immediately began to bleed what looked like molten magma. Marsmon roared and sent an arc of fire towards him, sending him a different course than he expected. He landed awkwardly amongst Kuaramon and Gargomon, who were busy trying to fend off the creature from a distance.
"He's seen us!"
Indeed it had, and Marsmon moved quickly, raising a mighty arm to smash the insolent creatures before it.
A bolt of light flew upwards and straight into Marsmon's left eye, causing it to yell out and miss completely. Ljosamon lowered her weapon, aware of a flapping of wings, and she turned to see Aeolumon hovering behind her. He gave her a thumbs-up. "Nice shot, Eloise!"
Aeolumon and Ljosamon leapt in opposite directions as the orb of flame obliterated the ground between them. The explosion sent them both reeling, but Aeolumon managed to recover, arcing back around and aiming for the beast's cloaked back. He smiled, and balled wind in his hands.
He threw in quick succession, the spheres imploding against the beast and sending it lurching forward. It swiped round, but its aim flew wide, the fire spiralling off into the clouded sky.
Marsmon was in bad shape; it's entire body was covered in wounds, scratches and bullet holes from the resistance's efforts, and with every new wound it began to dissolve all the faster. The pain grew intense as it grasped its face, barely able to see out of it's ruined eyes. It could barely even roar.
In a last-ditch fit of fury it raised both fists and brought them plummeting down; where, it didn't care. Not that it mattered anyway, as the blast flew outwards, causing most of the fighting Digimon to duck for cover. Most of them. Two figures sprinted forward, ready to make a leap as the beast's face levelled with them. Karatenmon and Lobomon leapt high, each linking one arm and moving in unison. They jumped, and raised their swords; one ornate and golden, and the other formed of pure light. With a flap of Karatenmon's wings, they began to spin, until they became a shining blade aiming straight for Marsmon's near-shattered mask.
They struck and split, their attack shattering the titan's mask in one blow. For a moment, it remained standing, its face unrecognisable beneath its many wounds. Then, with a guttural groan, it collapsed in on itself. The bulging arms and immense chest folded inwards like paper, with liquid fire spraying everywhere, and the legs fell in opposite directions as they too burned out. The warriors looked on in mild horror as the Fire Tyrant melted before their eyes, until only a burning cape was left, crumpling up as the flames licked over it.
Slowly everybody began to get up, shaken from the battle. Lobomon leapt down and looked round. "Everybody alright? Nobody's been badly hurt?"
The surrounding warriors nodded and mumbled. The city had been wrecked, but amnazingly, there had been no casualties or serious injuries. Lobomon breathed a sigh of relief, and turned to her partner. "That could have gone so much worse…" She frowned. "What are you looking at?"
Karatenmon was staring past the debris and rubble, staring at the large hole leading straight into the Infernal Fortress. He gritted his teeth, gripped his swords, and began walking. Aaron noticed, and ran after him. "What are you doing? We're not prepared for this; not yet…"
Karatenmon looked sideways, keeping his pace. "Things change, Aaron. I've been waiting too long to meet them face on."
Now others were beginning to join them; some adamant, others hesitant. Lobomon ran forward and clasped Karatenmon's arm. "Think about this. We're tired; they've just set a Fire Tyrant on us and there's a whole army behind there. We won't stand a chance."
Karatenmon stopped, and pointed a sword-blade forward. "Take another look. This is what we've been hiding from."
The resistance members, dozens strong, peered through the gap, and saw the sight beyond. Martyaxmon and Fornaxmon stood there, weapons raised and determined, in front of a squadron of no more than five-hundred Fire soldiers. They stood to attention - defiant, feral and ready to fight - but while their numbers were impressive, it was clear that they were spread thinly.
Colchimon's jaw dropped. "My word. They're on their last legs."
Kent looked back, then forward. "I think we might actually equal them."
"See? Our enemy has fallen far. We are not far from the end of this madness."
Galvamon blinked, looking around the courtyard as best he could. "How...how did this happen? There were thousands of them. They marched through this city like it was nothing!"
"As I said, General, things change. You play with fire, you get burned. And thanks to the serpent and that fool of a general, it appears that the once-mighty Fire Kingdom has been burned far worse than we believed."
Karatenmon strode forward, placing a foot inside the smoking remains of the wall. Immediately the Fire Forces turned feral; hackles up and weapons blazing. Wisely, Karatenmon took a step back. Martyaxmon smirked, and called over to the resistance. "You would find it in your best interests to stay put. Our troops are not averse to mindless bloodshed."
"You seem less confident now, Red Beast. Your great empire appears to have fallen."
Karatenmon stood his ground, staring down the manticore as his wings flapped behind him. Aaron, Lobomon, Kent and Velocimon stood up with him, giving him backup. The other side of the wall, Martyaxmon nodded, and Fornaxmon walked forward to support his fellow Commander. Aaron shook his head, whispering to himself. "He can't be doing this…"
Then somebody else strode forward, and Aaron felt Karatenmon tense. He peered forward, and his eyes widened. An angel, with purple wings, silver mask and a golden rod. His eyes were hidden, but they still burned with the madness of the savage beasts behind him. He said nothing.
Aaron looked up at Karatenmon. "Isn't that-"
"Piddomon." Karatenmon's eyes fell to the floor. "As I said earlier, it doesn't always work out. Even the most righteous amongst us can fall."
Lobomon held his shoulder, gripping firmly but her voice gentle. "Karatenmon…wait. Not now."
"We have a chance!" Furiously, the crow-man thrust a sword forward, his eyes blazing. "The longer we wait, the more who are going to die here!"
Martyaxmon licked his lips. "Are you prepared to gamble, Karatenmon? Because I am more than willing to attack, and I can assure you that your little revolution won't last two minutes."
Karatenmon faltered, glancing back at the troops behind him, just waiting for him to give the order. He held his tongue, stepping back as Lobomon clutched his arm. Martyaxmon smiled, but suddenly Aaron stood forward, staring the manticore in the eye. "You're bluffing. You don't have the power that you once did."
Anger flashed in the Red Beast's eyes, and he clenched his front paw. "Don't test me, boy."
"If you're as strong as you believe, why are you holding back? Why haven't you wiped us out already?"
"You idiot. You don't have the smallest clue about war, do you?"
Aaron narrowed his eyes. "I know enough that I know you strike when you have the advantage. You had that, didn't you? You had us all at your mercy, and you did nothing. Why not? I can assure you, we won't go down that easily again." He took a breath, feeling the heat pressing into him. "Why didn't you kill us? Were they orders? Or did you just not have the gall to go through with it?"
Martyaxmon growled, arching his back. "Silence, boy! I underestimated you once, but I shall not make that mistake again."
"Then you don't have the power any more." Aaron folded his arms. "You have no more power over us than we have over you. Face it; you're afraid of us."
The manticore remained silent for a few seconds, before shooting a dark look in Aaron's direction. "Are you really willing to test that, child?"
Aaron gritted his teeth, but Karatenmon stepped forward, gripping his sword tightly. "Are you, Commander?"
A mighty shaking sliced through the tension as Martyaxmon, Fornaxmon and the less blood-crazed forces turned round, as somebody stepped out of the fortress. Somebody huge. Imposing. Powerful. Martyaxmon bowed his head. "General."
Surtremon stepped forward slowly, the eyes of everybody on the battlefield now upon him. He was immense; not as tall as Cephalomon, but yet radiating four times the raw power. He was clad head to toe in golden, purple and bronze armour, bolted tight as the grave. His feet were cloven hooves, and a bladed diamond tail swung behind him as he walked. In the centre of his chest sat a disc, containing a glowing symbol; the elemental seal of Fire itself. His head was clasped in a mask shaped like the head of a ram, with two spiralling horns either side and two impassive red eyes glaring down at the resistance.
Karatenmon was speechless, and he struggled as Lobomon held him tightly. "That's him! That's the monster behind all this! We can finish this, right now! Let go of me!"
"Don't be stupid." Lobomon dragged the crow-man back, and very slowly the resistance began to back into the ruined city, all eyes on the approaching warrior. "I'm sure he's not a General for nothing."
Surtremon didn't break his stride. Instead he reached back, and pulled his great sword from its sheath. Logi; the endless fire and eternal devourer, at least half as long as his body and as thick as his thigh. Still, he wielded it effortlessly, bringing it behind his shoulder in a two-handed grip, as the markings and jewels along it began to glow.
Martyaxmon looked up. "I'm sorry...I...we..."
"I heard everything, Martyaxmon, and I've heard enough. Stand back."
The Red Beast gestured quickly with his head and the Fire Forces scattered, staying well clear of the great warrior as he held his glowing sword aloft. Behind the wall, Kent whipped his head round. "Everybody out of the way!"
The panicked resistance disappeared behind any cover they could find, not even watching as Surtremon's booming voice rang out.
The titan swung, and the sky lit on fire as a hail of flaming projectiles scattered far and wide, slamming into the earth and the wall and blasting through the breach. The slowest members of the resistance only just got out of the way in time as the wall of fire flew past. Aaron gritted his teeth; the heat was near unbearable, and he could feel his skin burning and eyes drying up. There was the sound of panicked screaming and crying. White light. Rushing wind. Devastation.
Then, silence. Deceptive silence. Aaron uncurled himself, and opened his eyes. The ground was scorched. The air carried floating embers. He could hear crying.
Slowly, he stood up, every inch of his body feeling like it was burning. His friends and comrades lay scattered around him, curled up in terror, or pain, or utter stupor. A now devolved Velocimon lay close to his feet, hands clutched tightly over his head. The lizard exhaled, and Aaron noticed his arms shaking.
He noticed a light in the corner of his vision, and he turned to see the breach in the wall ablaze. A barrier of fire, holding them in, protecting the Fire Forces. Protecting Surtremon.
With his mouth feeling dry and a pit in his stomach, Aaron walked to the front of the breach. It was hard to make out behind the roaring flames, but still unmistakable. Surtremon stood behind the fire, sword sheathed, looking down at him. Aaron had never felt so alone as he stood, shoulders rising and falling as he regained his breath. Surtremon didn't move. His eyes pierced the fiery shield and gazed into the boy's soul.
"You're shaking, boy."
Aaron looked down, and noticed that he was. He took a deep breath, and straightened himself up, staring up at the almighty General.
"I've heard a lot about you and what you've done. Forgive me if I'm a little nervous."
A warm chuckle emanated through the gate, before it stopped. "This is not your world, nor is it your war. Why do you strive so hard to defy us?"
Aaron swallowed, and spoke, his mouth dry and his voice rasping. "Because you think you're saving this world, but you're not. You're destroying it."
Aaron waited, not wanting to anger the warrior, but when Surtremon spoke again his voice was calm, almost gentle. "I don't wish to harm you. I have nothing but respect for your kind. But if you will persist this endeavour, I will do what I must to fight for what is right, on my own conscience be it."
Silence for a few seconds. Then the voice again, unbreaking and absolute. "You really believe your path is the righteous one?"
Aaron hadn't the effort to speak. He nodded instead. The titan beyond the wall nodded back.
"Very well. The fire will die down in one week. You have until then turn around and leave this world to its rightful governor. If you do not, I will be waiting."
The giant turned round, and walked away, calling back as he did so. "This is your last chance, boy."
"This is your last chance, Aaron."
He walked away, his shape breaking up through the flames. Beyond the wall, Martyaxmon turned, gazing up at his leader. "You could have destroyed them, then and there."
"Enough blood has been shed today." Surtremon kept walking, scarcely even looking down as the manticore struggled to keep pace. "It is their choice. If they wish to end it, we will end it. Otherwise, we will be one step closer to peace."
"They won't give up, Surtremon. I can guarantee you that."
He flicked his fingers, and the great door to the Infernal Fortress opened up. "Then ready as many forces as can possibly fight. We have only a week to prepare."
Within Grid Central City, Aaron exhaled, and fell to his knees. It was a few seconds before he realised that he too was crying.