The insect scuttled through the undergrowth, his little legs shaking and rattling as he weaved from side to side. He paused, ducking behind a rock as a fireball landed nearby. There was the sound of maniacal sniggering, jeering and jiving, and Invemon could hear every word, every movement, every footstep. The gang of Agumon and Coronamon marched ever closer, their breath hissing and spitting as flames erupted from their mouths. They could smell prey. It was close, and though they'd been toying with the poor creature for a long time, perhaps it was time to bring it to an end.
Invemon scuttled backwards, vaguely aware of the gaping drop behind him leading to the sea below. The gang was so close now he could almost smell them, such malice were they emanating.
Presently one of them gave a shout, and the footsteps multiplied. Invemon braced himself for the inevitable end.
But it never came. The footsteps rushed away, although the shouting increased. Invemon poked his head out just in time to see a bouncing pink lop-eared creature run away as fast as it could, with the fire-breathing mob following close behind. Invemon waited instinctively until the last one was out of sight, before he ran, making his way to the rock wall at the other end of the plateau. He found a crack and nestled himself inside it, taking note of ways in and out.
Then, he lay there, shaking. He could dimly hear the sound of screaming, followed by the sound of something being torn to pieces. Invemon turned around, facing away from the crack. He was exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to rest, but sleep wouldn't come.
Not half an hour ago he'd hatched out. He couldn't speak. He could barely see. He didn't even know what was happening.
But already the little insect knew exactly what fear was.
Five days to go…
Closing the door to Surtremon's chamber, Fornaxmon was somewhat surprised to see his colleague Rinkhalmon rush past him, holding several vials and syringes as he scarpered up the nearest ladder to his rooftop quarters. Fornaxmon twisted his head as Martyaxmon ran down the corridor after the serpent, fury written like big, black permanent marker over his face.
"You son of a bitch! You stupid, vile creature! I'm going to tear your head off and use your face as a necklace!"
There was no reply. Evidently Rinkhalmon wasn't entirely without common sense.
Gingerly, Fornaxmon cleared his throat, causing Martyaxmon's head to whip round. "You! Report back to General Surtremon that Rinkhalmon has been disobeying direct orders and wasting resources out of negligence and likely his sense of humour."
Fornaxmon tilted. "I shall."
"What has he been doing?"
Martyaxmon sighed, calming himself down. "First it was that rogue Fire Tyrant. Now Piddomon's crossed the wall and has also fallen. As soon as I try and build up any semblance of a resistance against those…children…the bloody serpent just ruins it again."
"But what has he done?"
The manticore looked up, his eyelids heavy and his beard looking stragglier than ever. He shook his head. "You wouldn't understand."
"Can I help?"
"I doubt it."
Fornaxmon raised his hand but Martyaxmon turned his head. "Go. Just…go. Follow your orders."
The mechanical man just stood there, gears and pistons whirring over his body. He didn't move a muscle. Martyaxmon stood up and leered into Fornaxmon's visor. "Didn't you hear me?"
"Do you want to talk, Martyaxmon?"
The manticore's expression froze. He flushed a little redder than usual, taking a step back. "You…do I…?"
"My orders." Fornaxmon let off a little puff of smoke, a bright note in his voice. "General Surtremon told me to be there for you. Do you need my help?"
Martyaxmon blinked, repeating the golem's words through his head over and over again. For a few moments his face remained one of blank shock, before he shook himself out of it and lunged forward. "I told you to go!"
Fornaxmon saluted and marched away down the corridor with some rapidity. Martyaxmon watched him go, the Commander still reeling from the shock and bluntness. His eyes drifted up to the trapdoor where his other colleague was hopefully doing what he was supposed to.
The manticore smiled bitterly, shaking his head. "You really do know how to piss me off, don't you Rinkhalmon…"
For a couple of seconds, he contemplated firing a laser into the hole above him and burning the quarters to the ground. Preferably with the serpent still in it.
Then the manticore's professional streak snapped him into gear, and he calmly walked away.
Aaron lay sprawled out on the makeshift bed as Kent sat beside him, listening to the bustling sounds outside. The younger boy forced himself up, shuffling back on his elbows, but Kent raised a hand.
"Don't push yourself, Aaron. You shouldn't be out for long; I'm pretty sure you'll be back up and moving again in less than a day. Sistermon also said she'll be on hand if you need anything."
Aaron sighed, winced, and slumped back down, clasping his hands in front of him. "The pain's less. It's just more annoying than anything."
"So you're gonna be keeping everyone in check for a little while?"
Kent laughed, looking away. "I still don't think I'm cut out to be a leader. You've been doing a far better job of it that I could ever hope." He sighed, looking down at his feet. "I guess I don't have a choice though. Although Eloise is on hand; I'm sure she'll be happy to work with me."
"You seem to have a lot going on at the minute."
Kent nodded, counting off on his fingers. "Somehow we've got to get people ready for war, Kai's asked me to help him control his Soul form better, and then there's this whole business with Vulpimon's family. I just don't know what to do; I'm no good at handling things like this.."
"I wouldn't worry about it. Neither can I. Hell, it was everyone else who decided I was going to tell them all what to do; I just went with the flow." Aaron raised a hand, giving a weak thumbs-up. "Just do what you think is best for everyone. That's my only secret."
"But what if I don't know?"
"Then keep trying." Aaron grinned, before yawning. "You'll do fine. I know you will."
He slumped back, staring weakly up at the ceiling as his eyelids flickered. Kent stood up. "Sorry, I've been keeping you up. Get some rest; we'll talk later."
Aaron nodded, his eyelids falling down. Kent turned and headed for the door of the quarters, stopping as he caught sight of Juramon, crouched up in a ball on the counter. The lizard was already sleeping silently, his tiny form swathed in bandages.
Gently, Kent reached out and brushed a finger over the Digimon's rigid crest.
"It's alright, Velocimon. We're not mad at you. Just remember that we're all here for you. You don't have to rely on your pride alone."
Kent sighed, and walked out, not noticing the lizard's tiny limbs flinch as he did so.
The morning sun was a rare sight in this region, but it had decided to appear on this special occasion, prompting many a Digimon to get out and about, a new feeling of motivation within them. Of course, a good few of them had already been called into the main hall to discuss certain matters. It was no secret what those matters might be, and a small gaggle had already congregated outside, attempting to eavesdrop.
There was a thump as one of the Monitamon dismounted from the other's head, shaking it's head as it did so. Seahomon groaned, rolling her eyes. "Why does everything have to be not-broken whenever anything interesting's going on?"
Beside her, Minotarumon's eyes brightened. "You want me to break stuff?"
"No, dimwit." An armoured hand clocked Minotarumon gently over the back of the head, causing the mythical beast to hunch over. Centarumon placed his hands on his hips, looking stern. "They're talking about stuff in there. They'll see you if you break stuff."
Minotarumon slumped. "Sorry."
"Oh, do lighten up." Seahomon chirruped, bobbing upwards slightly. "It was all so much easier back in Silicon City. Everything was broken then; it was more of a community. Nobody kept secrets or anything. I loved it."
She became aware of the Digimon around her giving her incredulous looks, and flounced, bouncing back down to earth on her springy tail. "Okay, I like knowing what's going on."
There was a snigger as Gwappamon, bobbing her head as she leant against a nearby wall, raised a headphone. "I figured your nose was just for show, but it turns out you do enjoy sticking it into everyone else's business."
"Say that again?" Seahomon turned on the kappa, who nonchalantly replaced her earphone and was humming to herself again. "My nose is perfectly fine, thank you."
Another snigger. Seahomon glared at the others, who shuffled sheepishly. The laugh had come from above; Seahomon glanced up to see Dracmon sitting on the roof, swinging its legs back and forth as it grinned like a mad thing.
"And you can shut up as well!"
Dracmon grinned all the wider, as something large and emerald unfurled from behind him. Chirinmon peered over the edge of the roof, surveying the scene as the six Digimon below looked even more sheepish.
Chirinmon huffed, flapping his wings a little and letting off a small gust of shining scales, gently buffeting the group. It was enough to send the message; the six of them trudged away, muttering to themselves. Centarumon stopped mid-trot, and pointed up at the kirin. "Hey, how come he gets to stay around here?"
Another gust, sending the centaur cantering off. "Alright, alright. Meanie."
Chirinmon gave a snort of satisfaction as Dracmon leant back, hands behind it's head as it shuffled up into Chirinmon's soft wing. The holy beast curled back round, eyes closing as he rested his head.
It certainly was quite a nice day.
Kent stood up, and cleared his throat, nervously. He had called the other tamers for an important meet up in Grid Central's main hall to discuss recent events. In front of him sat the remaining tamers and their partners expectantly, along with Lobomon, Yasyamon, Karatenmon and Gargomon. Everyone appeared to be very on edge. Not that it was surprising, really.
Kent felt a little nudge at his feet and looked down to see Trilomon looking up at him encouragingly. The boy exhaled, and planted his palms down on the table. "Right, okay, so firstly, I'm afraid Aaron and Velocimon aren't going to be around much for a day or two. The incident with Piddomon knocked them around a fair bit, so they're recovering at the moment."
Yasyamon folded his arms and looked the other way. "And I wonder whose fault that would be…"
Karatenmon reached over docked his comrade gently over the head, causing the swordsman to raise his arms defensively. "What did I say? I didn't say anything, that's what!"
Eloise buried her head in her hands. "Can we not start randomly blaming people, please? It's not helping."
Yasyamon squinted, pointing with a wooden finger. "There are many things that aren't helping round here and they all tend to walk on two legs, wear weird clothes and speak with funny accents. So shut up."
Jack shrank back a little in his seat as Perimon launched himself forward, striding right up to Yasyamon and thrusting his head out. "You'd better watch your tongue or I'll be removing it."
Eloise groaned, gesturing to the people present who were actually paying attention. "See? This is what I mean. And my clothes are not weird!"
Kai felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to see Gargomon leaning over, looking quite bemused. "Is this usually how discussions go between you guys?"
The boy shrugged. "To be frank, this is new to me as well."
"Everyone, just shut up for one moment!"
The accusing voices died down as Kent grunted irritably. "I get it. I really do. We're under attack in less than a week and most of us, if not all of us, have no idea how to deal with it. That's the reason I got everyone together; we need to come up with plans and tactics otherwise we're just going to be overwhelmed. The first step towards doing that is not all having a go at one another."
He took a deep breath, before turning to Karatenmon. "We need to know who we've got on our side, and how we're best to use them. Karatenmon, you seem to have that mostly handled."
"You've been keeping everyone here in order." Kent place dhis hands on his hips, swaying gently. "Rather than just everyone rushing in at once when Surtremon pulls the barrier down, it'll help to have a vague idea who to send where.
The crow-man nodded. "That's true, and I do have a fair grasp of military layouts. I'm sure we can come up with something." He frowned."But there's a lot of new resistance members now since you brought the Silicon City lot in."
"I can help you with that." Gargomon leaned forward, one chunky arm rested on the table. "I spent a lot of time in the Homemade Army organising people. I doubt I'd be much good at laying out an army but I can definitely give you the low-down on our guys."
Karatenmon nodded, and Kent clapped his hands together. "Excellent. You two can work together and figure out how we're going to attack; you'll probably come up with the most solid plan out of all of us."
Gargomon tilted her head. "That's fair enough, I don't mind. But what are we supposed to do with you guys?"
"What do you mean, with us?"
Lobomon harrumphed gently. "You're the anomaly here, all twelve of you. No offense, but this whole attack could succeed or fail based on how you can hold up."
Grace and Jack looked nervously at the wolf-warrior, but Kent simply nodded in acknowledgement. "I'm aware of that." He turned to the people on his side of the table; the people and Digimon he'd been with since the beginning. He gazed briefly at their expectant, worried faces. Somehow this was even more daunting.
"Guys, we need to be under complete control of our evolutions. If we can switch between them at will, we can keep the enemy on their toes. But we need to be bang on; no sudden power losses or freakouts. That goes for our partners as well as us."
Eloise leant back, looking suddenly tired. "I get it. You want us all to evolve again, but Aaron's been injured, again, because of it. And we don't have the leisure of time anymore; I seriously don't think it's a good idea us pursuing these higher forms any further."
"I understand that." Kent leant forward, placing his palms on the table. "I agree that we shouldn't force it or go out of our way to find new levels of power. That's just asking for trouble. But we need to make use of every opportunity that comes up." He held up a hand. "For now, let's just focus on controlling and switching the forms we're comfortable with. If anything else happens, well, we'll just have to deal with it."
Eloise folded her arms, looking away. It was clear that she wasn't happy but at the same time she made no argument.
Kai leaned forward. "How do you suggest we go about it?"
The older boy grinned. "How I usually suggest we go about things. Practise. Get together, practise shifting between forms until it feels natural."
Kai looked uncertain, as did the younger children. Kent exhaled. "Look, I know it's not going to be easy. But frankly, we have to try. As Lobomon said, the whole battle will probably be dependant on us. We were brought here as the last hope for the Digital World; it's our duty to give it everything we've got."
A rhythmic hum of acknowledgement buzzed around the table, everyone looking determined to prove themselves. Even Yasyamon seemed to be more willing to co-operate than usual.
Kent sat down, before turning to Vulpimon. "Now the other thing we need to talk about is you. You want to rescue your family, don't you?"
Vulpimon looked unsure for a millisecond, before nodding earnestly. "I really want to go. I left them before, I-I have to try-"
"I understand." Kent looked around, aware of Karatenmon's uncertain gaze in his direction. "If…when you found your parents, would they be willing to send reinforcements?"
"Definitely. They provided many troops during the last great attack on the Fire Kingdom."
Perimon gave a muffled squawk of indignation at this. "A lot of good that did us."
"Perimon, quiet." Kent clasped his hands, putting his forefingers to his lips. "The problem is one of time. The Northern Tribes are a fair way from here, aren't they…"
Ladomon swooped in, nodding. "They're about the same distance as Silicon City from here."
"And that took us about five days to travel. One way."
"I could evolve into Alopemon. She's fast."
Vulpimon looked around, aware that she sounded as desperate as she felt. Kent shook his head. "Even if you ran quickly it would take a long time, and you'd just wear yourself out. I want to let you go, but I just don't see how it's possible."
Everyone was quiet for a moment, before Lobomon interjected, snapping her gloved fingers. "Of course! Chirinmon! He's faster in the air and he's strong enough to carry you." She frowned, biting her thumbnail in thought. "I'd probably have to go with you since he's slightly nervous, but I'm sure that would cut down the travelling time a great deal."
"We could avoid the terrain, and if we take the high air currents...maybe to about a day, flying non-stop?"
Kent ran the numbers in his head. "A day there, day back, and a short stay at the Silver Citadel. You'd probably be better flying by night so you're less likely to be spotted. I'd say you could get there and back in three days at the max."
Grace blinked, stroking Vulpimon's head. "So…you'll let us go?"
Kent looked at Karatenmon, who reluctantly nodded. "Just to be clear, I don't like the idea. But it appears it's something you need to take care of."
Vulpimon gave a little yip of celebration, turning to her partner. "It's fine! We can go; I can introduce..."
She trailed off, her smile fading as she noticed Grace's uncertain expression. The girl gripped the elbow of her sleeve. "Even with Lobomon and Chirinmon I'm not sure I'm confident us going on our own. What if we run into trouble?"
Gargomon interjected again. "Why don't you get someone else go with you? Your brother, maybe?"
Here Perimon perked up, launching himself into the air. "Hell yeah, brother-sister rescue team spring into action yet again."
Not everyone was convinced, but surprisingly it was Jack who raised his hand, his voice soft. "I-I'm sorry Grace...I really don't think I can..."
Perimon's head swivelled round, his eagle-eyes shooting daggers at the boy. Grace's eyes widened. "I would have thought you'd be excited to come."
"It's not that I don't want to. I really do." Jack clasped his hands, looking down at the ground. "But this is important, and you need people who know what they're doing. I don't think I'd be a very good partner. Sorry Grace."
Perimon glared down at his partner, who shrank back even further. "Don't you dare pull this crap-"
"Perimon, shut up!" Colchimon yelled up at the bird, who snorted and fluttered off to the corner of the building. Colchimon looked at the boy. "I think Jack has a point; he may not be completely at ease with his Soul form yet. If something happens out there, it's a long walk back to the city."
He bit his lip, glancing quickly over at the boy. Jack looked forlorn, but the shadow-dragon could see that he understood. Colchimon swivelled. "Perhaps it would be better if somebody who can already control their evolutions went instead; I mean, Grace and Vulpimon seem to have it under control. That way the rest of us can try and catch up."
Ladomon pouted. "That's an annoyingly sensible suggestion."
"Well, I am just that good."
"Although if you wanted me to go away so badly you could have just said so..."
Colchimon flushed purple. "I never meant that! I just..."
He floundered, but Ladomon simply giggled coyly. "I'm joking. It's a good idea." The white serpent turned to Eloise, coiling herself over the girl's shoulders. "What do you say; should we?"
"I'm up for it." Eloise planted one fist into the other, grinning at Grace. "Sounds like a plan. When should we head off?"
Kent smiled. "I reckon leave it until evening. That should give you time to prepare."
Kent sighed with relief. "Alright then, is everyone clear on what's going on? If so, then let's get to it."
The warriors around the table nodded in unison, and one by one began to drift away. Kent sat back, feeling somewhat exhausted. He felt a tug at his leg and reached down to help Trilomon up onto the table. "Sorry about that; I guess you couldn't see particularly well."
"That's alright," chirruped the insect happily. "By the sounds of it you have it all sorted anyway."
Kent laughed, and resigned himself to staring at the ceiling. Just for once, it felt as if everything was going according to plan.
"I like this feeling. I could get used to it. I should run meetings more often. Perhaps I could provide flowcharts and custard creams."
"Maybe later, when we haven't got rabid living flamethrowers at the door." Trilomon hopped down, his pointed claws making little tip-tap sounds on the illuminated floor. "Come one then, we have work to do."
He stepped down, hands in his pockets as he marched across the hall, with Trilomon trotting cheerfully along next to him. Kent opened the door and the two stepped out, the boy shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight. Despite the fog and pollution it was a surprisingly nice day, and several of the resistance were out and about.
Kent frowned, looking around as he and the insect walked through the streets. Trilomon looked up, concerned. "What's wrong?"
"I didn't realise how many soldiers we actually had here." He stopped walking as a gaggle of small Digimon – a Gazimon, a Gotsumon and the two Monitamon – ran past, laughing as they did so. Kent stared after them. "Even children. Don't tell me they're all involved in this as well."
"You guys are kids as well, you know." Trilomon hummed to himself. "Well, I suppose you're nearly an adult."
"Yeah. Nearly. That's the worrying thing; everyone's expecting me to know what I'm doing."
"Well, you do such a good job of it."
"Of fighting a war?"
Trilomon paused, staring ahead. "I guess so."
"You know, when I was younger I made a vow that I'd never get involved in the military. I never had any problem with it; I just knew I could never bring myself to fight in a war. At least I thought I knew." Kent sighed, running his right hand through his mop of black hair. "It's not right. How many innocent lives have been lost since this whole mess began?"
Trilomon shrugged. "Who knows?"
The insect sat down, looking up with his tail bobbing up and down. "Yeah?"
Kent crouched down, looking directly into his partner's giant green eyes. "What was life like here before this whole war started?"
Trilomon tilted his head. "I don't really know."
"You must know. It can't have been going on forever."
The insect gave a low trill. "Well, it's been going on as long as I can remember. Ever since I was born there've been gangs of wild Fire Digimon trundling about. Of course, I wasn't there for the big battle that Velocimon, Perimon and the others were involved with, so I don't think I ever saw the worst of it."
Kent blinked. "I realise I should have asked this before, but...how old are you?"
Trilomon shook his head. "I don't know. Not long though. Maybe about a year?"
"A year?!" Kent stood up, hand over his mouth. "Geez. That's not right."
"What's not right?"
The two continued walking, Kent obviously flustered. "See, you shouldn't need to ask that. You mean to say you've been living in this hell for your whole life?"
Trilomon went quiet, his claws digging into the sandy ground. He turned his head away, mumbling. "I was scared. Every day I would have to run. Then the others found me, and the next thing I remember I was involved in bringing you here." He looked up, worried. "But it's alright, really. I'm glad I met you. I wouldn't take these past few months back for anything."
"That's not the point." Kent's eyelids drooped low, his feet trudging. "The truth is, in a week's time we could all be dead. Even if we win, we might not make it."
"Don't say that."
"But it's true, and you know it. You might have lived your entire life without ever being truly happy. Without ever having had a chance to be a kid. To have a family."
Trilomon clicked contemplatively. "I guess I won't." His head fell, his eyes narrowed. "It's never really bothered me. But I suppose it wouldn't, would it..."
Kent sighed. "I could have gotten to know you back then. Back when we met. I should have taken that chance, but I was too bogged down in my own issues to even think about yours. Of all the partners you could have had, you had to get me."
"Kent, please, don't say that!" Trilomon jumped up, resting the flats of his claws on Kent's shins. The two stood, frozen in time as the world walked by. "You are a wonderful person. You're kind, you're clever and you're always willing to help. If meeting you ended up being the highlight of my life, I wouldn't be sad at all."
Kent stood awkwardly for a few seconds, his expression unreadable. Then he smiled, bending down and scratching his partner behind his head. "Thanks mate. You're a really good friend. You're just far too accepting of what's happened to you. And far too accepting of me."
The boy stood up, readjusting his laptop. "Come on, Kai'll be waiting."
Unaware of the drama already taking place outside, Juramon and Aaron sat quietly within their quarters. Aaron put his hands to his face, letting out a low, almost inaudible groan. "Oww..."
Juramon looked in his direction. "Are you okay? What's wrong?"
The boy shifted his hands, staring up at the ceiling. "I swear I can actually feel my bones moving around."
"Yeesh." Juramon raised an eyebrow. "I'm sorry...I didn't realise how tough that body was on you."
"It wasn't that bad. It just went slightly overboard."
Aaron laughed, holding up a hand above him. "Alright, so arms aren't supposed to bend in six directions at once. It's not like we have much of a choice though. I just have to learn to suppress it, like I did last time."
"You don't have to do anything." Juramon crossed his front claws, giving Aaron a stern look. "I've told you before; you're not meant to evolve. Go to that level again and it could kill you."
Aaron rolled his eyes, before pushing his body up a few notches to get a better look at his partner. "You know, it would have been a lot easier if you hadn't gone crazy yourself. So let's not start pointing fingers, right? We're both as bad as each other."
Juramon pouted, looking down. Aaron was sure he could see the faintest tinge of red spreading over his diminished partner's cheeks.
"I suppose I did let the stress of being back here get to me. I was having a go at Karatenmon and everyone else for let their emotions get to them, but in the end I just did the same."
He frowned, turning away slightly. Aaron reshuffled himself into a lying position, hist head feeling heavy. "You must miss your home."
Juramon nodded. "My home. My friends. My family. No matter how much I try to stay focused, they're always there. Another remnant of the past holding me back, and I can't even do anything for them now." He stared blankly. "I'm a bad soldier."
Aaron smirked. "We're all bad soldiers." His mouth curved up in a smile, giving his partner a reassuring look. "But we all care for each other, even those we've lost. That's nothing to be ashamed of."
Juramon closed his eyes. "It might just get us killed."
"Maybe." Aaron's eyelids drooped as he rolled over, exhaling heavily. "Even if it does, it's still worth hanging on to. It might just be what allows us to win."
Kai stood awkwardly as Kent placed his laptop far out of the way, leaving them and their partners undisturbed in the ruined courtyard. Trilomon tiptoed slowly forward, avoiding the shifting rubble. "Marsmon sure did a number on this place, didn't he?"
"True that." Kent wandered back, twirling his D-Nexus in his hands. "But at the very least, it means we can practise here without fear of breaking much."
Colchimon twisted, his eyes rolling skywards. "You say that, but you haven't really seen this guy in action, have you?"
"First time for everything." Kent clapped his hands together, before facing the younger boy. "Right, we're going to start slow here. Let's start by just evolving our partners, okay?" He gestured, and Kai followed his movements without a word. "Okay, slowly. Keep your eye on me, hold the D-Nexus out."
Colchimon swooped forward, pouting slightly. "This seems a little arbitrary."
"Ssh, Colchimon." Kai whispered to one side, eyes focused completely on Kent. "I trust him. He knows what he's doing."
Kent raised an eyebrow. "I can assure you, I really don't. But I'll do my best. Right, you can feel the energy, can't you?"
Kai nodded, his hands gripping the small device tightly. Kent exhaled, before nodding. "Okay, I'm going to count to three, and we're going to evolve our partners to Champion, alright? One…two…three…"
There was a brief flash of light and a flurry of energy, and Seismon and Achromon stood where their Rookie forms had been. Kent nodded. "Excellent. How do you feel?"
"Not bad." Kent nodded over at Achromon, who had his head bowed in concern. "I feel like he's pulling me towards him or…something…I don't know."
"That appears to be normal. I feel it as well." Kent looked over at Achromon, who appeared troubled. "How about you? What do you feel right now?"
The black dragon twisted. "I'm feeling the same as him. It's like he's pulling back."
Kent frowned. "Seismon?"
The insect shook his head. "I don't feel that at all. My guess is that Kai's subconsciously resisting the evolution."
Kai blushed. "Sorry. I don't mean to."
"It may not be just him." Achromon shrank back a little, a twinge of annoyance in his voice. "I'm not particularly in favour of this right now either. I can't explain it, really, but the more I stay like this the more I feel I don't want to fight."
"Well in that case, don't think about fighting." Kent held out a hand, lowering his palm. "Forget the battle. Forget the Fire Kingdom. Just…try and forget the negatives. Concentrate on each other; feel the bond you two share. It should just be natural."
Seismon gave a sideways glance. "Maybe for us. It might be different for a different element."
Kai shook his head. "Possibly. But we can still at least try. Achromon, are you focusing?"
The dragon had his eyes closed, his wings beating in time with Kai's heartbeat. At first it was unsteady; Kai tilted from side to side, and Achromon shifted the opposite direction. Kent bit his lip, watching for any sign.
Slowly, very slowly, the beats began to get more regular. Kai visibly relaxed, his arms falling further. Kent smiled. "That's it. Just let it come naturally. Any better?"
Kai nodded, breaking the sync just slightly. "A little."
"Alright then, onto step two. Hold out your D-Nexus; we're going to evolve ourselves."
Kai tensed, and for a moment he looked as if he wasn't going to move. Then, slowly, he held out his hand, the energy building within the screen of the tiny device. Kent gulped, but held out his own D-Nexus, feeling the now-familiar cool breeze flowing through his body.
Cratomon opened his eyes, feeling the weight of his armoured body. He looked forward, aware of Dokkamon's shimmering form. The earthen warrior took a step, but landed slightly heavier than he would have liked, causing a small rumble. The shadows fluctuated in front of him and he groaned. "Sorry..."
Seismon giggled. "Geez, Kent, get your act together!"
Cratomon rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the help." He turned his attention back to the dark elf in front of him. "Kai, are you okay? Can you hear me alright?"
Dokkamon didn't answer; his breathing was ragged behind his mask, and the shadows at his feet whipped out in spiky trails. Achromon backed away, worry in his eyes. "He's pulling even more now. He's trying to draw my energy away."
"Don't back away from him." Seismon stepped forward, pointing with a clawed finger. "The more you pull, the more he's going to pull back. You need to support him. Work with him."
"But I…" Achromon shook his head. "You're right. I know you are, but this just feels…wrong. Really wrong."
Cratomon took another step forward, more gently this time, as he held his hand out. "Dokkamon, walk forward, slowly. You have it under control."
Dokkamon pulled back, his voice rasping. "I don't…I can feel him…I hate him…"
"He's not here."
"But I can feel him…"
"Your dad isn't here. He doesn't know you're here. You can't let him get to you." Cratomon clenched his fist, looking down. "It's down to you and Achromon. You can't let anyone else get to you; focus on the people who really, truly care about you. They're here for you - we are here for you."
Achromon sidled closer, holding out a long, bony arm as he grasped his partner by the shoulder. "Come on, let's move forward. I'm with you."
Dokkamon flinched, the shadows instinctively pulling away from his partner. Still, he took a step. There was a pause, then he took another. Then another. The shadows began to retract, swirling at his feet and the tips of his fingers. He and Cratomon reached each other, and Dokkamon held out the palm of his hand. Cratomon rested his against it; it felt deathly cold, and the shadows whipped through his own fingers like blades. Still, Cratomon held firm.
"Now it's time to let it go. Release the energy. From you and from Achromon. It's time to calm down."
Cratomon felt a hand on his shoulder as Seismon stood beside him, nodding in encouragement. Cratomon closed his eyes, feeling the energy swirling around him. A minute passed. The warmth returned to his body.
Kent opened his eyes to see he was back to normal, as were Trilomon and Colchimon. Kai's human form was still veiled in shadow. Colchimon floated down, staring into his partner's face. "It's over. You can let go now."
Colour returned to Kai's body, and he looked up, slightly dazed. "Did I do alright?"
"Great work." Kent hummed to himself, scratching his chin thoughtfully. "A little unsteady. But I suppose that's what practise is for."
"It felt better that time." Kai smiled at his partner, who wrapped himself around Kai's neck like a scarf. "I could feel you next to me; I didn't feel so afraid."
"I'm always here, mate."
Kai grinned, before his smile faded. "Although that does make me think of something."
He looked down at Trilomon, who was watching the tamers above him intently. "When you Fury-evolve; how does it feel? I mean, you take all the elemental energy, don't you?"
"Well I don't steal it!" Trilomon huffed indignantly, before looking away. "I guess it feels…I don't know, I feel less complete, somehow. When I'm in my Champion form I can feel Kent beside me, powering me regardless. But when I'm Tectonamon he's just…there. He doesn't give me anything."
"Thanks for the gratitude." Kent nodded. "That does make sense though. As Tectonamon, the elemental link is controlled by you alone. All the power is yours."
"That's what I was worried about." Kai frowned, looking down. "Colchimon and Trilomon, you guys are Digimon. You can probably handle that much energy just fine. But us humans…well, you saw what happened to Aaron, didn't you? It just took him over. I must admit, I'm with Eloise; I don't think it's a power we're supposed to use."
Kent pulled his cheeks in. "Maybe it's just another thing we need to work on."
Kai nodded at the older boy. "You'd probably be okay with it. You're okay with everything." He looked down, scratching Colchimon under his chin. "If I evolved, I'd be all alone with all that power. I can only stay secure when Colchimon's there to keep me in check. If he couldn't do anything to stop me, there's no telling how much destruction I might cause."
Kent breathed out, unsure exactly what to say. Colchimon nudged his partner, tousling his hair. "Let's not worry about it for the moment. You haven't even reached that level yet; what are you worrying about? LEt's just take this one step at a time."
"Good plan." Kent rubbed his hands together, glancing up at the sky. "We've still got a fair while. What do you say we do another practise run."
Trilomon wagged his tail. "Sounds good to me. And after that you can give me and Kent some fighting practise. He still needs to work on his aiming."
"Will you stop bringing that up?"
"Well it's true!"
Journal Entry #778. Location, Infernal Fortress
Didn't get much of a chance to look around the fortress; Muspelmon's in the process of stepping down as General, and preparations are going on for Surtremon to take over. Still, they were generous enough to let me investigate on my own. I must thank my new partner for his excellent people skills; he can be very persuasive. He also seemed to form a strong friendship with Muspelmon's charge. I'm sure they will work well together in future. I did ask the Muspelmon whether he'd noticed any strange goings-on inside or outside the fortress, but no luck on that front.
Physically, very little appears to have changed inside the fortress. A few new markings, the same kind as last time. Now that I take another look, they almost appear to be a very archaic form of Digicode; the shapes loosely follow some older systems. I might have to check the Spokes archives but it shouldn't be too hard to decrypt. I will leave in a few days, but for now I am preparing an energy signature of my own to add to the markings here. Nothing complex; just basic communication. Who knows; maybe I'll get an answer from whatever's behind this?
Martyaxmon's tail swept lazily from side to side as he plodded through the empty courtyard. Before it had been bustling with soldiers preparing for battle, but after the last two unwanted excursions Martyaxmon had bid the remaining soldiers be confined to the multiple ramshackle barracks now spread out just beyond the fortress. Even more forces lay in the depths of the great powerhouse itself, just waiting to spring forth.
It wasn't ideal. The soldiers would still eat each other or just spontaneously explode on occasion. But at least it went some way to preserving the number they had.
The manticore looked up, his eyes scanning the sky. He could vaguely remember a time when the tiniest shaft of blue would poke through the cloud cover, most of which was generated by the many geysers and small volcanoes around here. It had been so simple back then; a military academy for those willing to defend the realm. Now the constant workings of the fortress simply smothered the entire battlefield, and with it, the feeling of justice and honour had slipped by the wayside, turning first into blind duty, then vengeance, then a single, solitary need to win. No matter the cost. The air tasted bitter, turned acrid by smog, chemicals and hate.
He squinted, and turned to face the great wall of fire; the only barrier between him and the resistance beyond. Despite himself he let out a growl, his eyes narrowed. "It's all your fault. You could have just agreed to unite, and nobody would have had to die. Surely nobody would have had to die."
He raised his voice, the flames seeming to rise and grow more vicious with his anger. "But you couldn't accept it! You had to hit back; you had to turn this into a war! Why?"
With a roar he slammed a paw against the ground, creating a tremor that resonated around the arena. He immediately pulled back, the edge of the wall of fire licking the tips of his claws. A Fire-elemental he may have been, but Surtremon's pure flames still burned him as they did any other. Martyaxmon took a step forward, pressing his face as close as he dared to the burning barrier. It was faint, but he could just make out the half-ruined city beyond. Nobody was about. Nobody had heard him.
But he could hear them. Every one of them; talking, laughing, joking, planning, training, getting ready to fight him. Together with their friends – perhaps in some cases their family. The nearest of them less than a hundred metres away.
The Red Beast had never felt so alone as he sat down, staring beyond the impossible barrier. His mind began to wander; to Rinkhalmon, to Surtremon, to Fornaxmon, to Cephalomon. His back hunched at the memory of his last conversation with the giant; the forlorn look in Cephalomon's eyes as he'd submerged for the last time.
"This is for the good of the glorious Fire Kingdom, whether they think it is or not."
"You fool. Your own actions…your own emotions…you went to your death when you didn't need to…" He trailed off, his mumbling getting quieter.
"Why did you do it?"
"You never changed."
"There was no reason…"
"Why did you throw your life away out of some stupid plan for vengeance?"
"Keep fighting the good fight."
Martyaxmon looked up in a hurry. "You knew. You knew before any of us, and you took it into your own hands. You knew these children would turn the tide, and cause us so much loss. And I kept doubting you…" He shook his head. No. In his mind he had never doubted in his comrade's intuition, but his heart had belonged to Surtremon. There was only one way to victory. He had been sure of it.
He twitched, clenching his front paws as his rosary began to spin ever faster. That path to victory had led them to ruin. Had Surtremon's honour blinded him to the danger? Or maybe Rinkhalmon and himself had underestimated the children's progress. At any rate, standing here and letting the resistance perfect their army would surely only lead them to disaster.
The manticore looked back, the fortress looming in his vision. He was sure he could see lights from within, but he didn't care. This couldn't go on for any longer. Somebody had to make the first move.
He turned back, the light of the fire glistening in his damp eyes. There was the sound of laughter beyond the barrier; almost like children playing.
Martyaxmon growled. "You've stolen everything from me. From us. How dare you talk of victory."
Staring deeply into the forbidden flames, he reached out, his paw tapping the very edge of the barrier.
Kent sat alone, staring up at the vaguely flashing circuitry of the buildings around him. He was breathless, the morning's training having taken a lot out of him.
Normally he would have left it at that, but as much as he tried to calm his mind, the more troubles brewed to the top. He sighed, closing his eyes.
"We've done good work today. Nice one, partner."
The boy opened his eyes, although he already knew it was Trilomon. "How do you always know where I am?"
The insect shrugged, slightly worn out himself as he coiled up next to his partner. "I guess we're just that in tune with each other."
"Well, maybe." The bug looked up, his eyes bright. "Kai said it himself. He really is grateful to you, you know that?"
The older boy chuckled. "Not sure why, to be honest. He's the one making good progress."
"You're showing him how to do it."
"I'm just doing what I think is right." Kent leant forward, clasping his hands in front of him. "I'm still not cut out for this. Everyone thinks I'm doing amazingly but I just don't see it."
Trilomon cocked his head. "Then what do you see?"
Kent sighed, staring blankly ahead with cold, brown eyes. "I don't know. Waster potential? I guess I just thought I was always struggling to get anywhere." He leant forward, clasping his hands together. "You know, I always figured, once I saw Taylor again, I'd ask him. I'd show him just how much better I'd become. But he's not stupid. He'd surely figure it out."
Trilomon lay down, coiling his body. "I've been with you since you came here; trust me, you've changed for the better. You do love your brother, don't you?"
"Of course. Both of them. They're far better people than I could ever be." His head lolled forward, his hair drooping low as he exhaled. "And yet my whole life, everybody's always come to me. Why is that? Why does everyone think I have the answer to their problems? I don't even have the answer to my own."
Trilomon fumbled for an answer himself. He stayed silent for a couple of seconds, and was about to respond, when he suddenly paused, pressing his front claws against the road.
Kent noticed something was wrong almost instantly, standing up. "What is it?"
The insect put his head low to the ground, eyes darting left and right as he listened for vibrations. "Something's watching us…"
A heavy blue bead flew out of nowhere, slamming his partner's body away. Kent held out a hand, yelling "Trilomon!"
With a roar, Martyaxmon leapt out in front of him, his body lithe and agile as he squared off against Kent. The manticore's eyes twitched as he snarled maliciously. "You. You're all responsible for this. You will be the first."
He leapt without warning, fangs bared, but Kent had spent enough time in this world to gain more than a few survival instincts. He leapt back, bringing a fist forward as he did so and striking the Red Beast in the eye. Martyaxmon roared, and Kent scrambled backwards, making a run for it as he waved his D-Nexus. "Primal Control!"
"Evolution Activate! Seismon!"
Martyaxmon whirled round, only to take a heavy blow of green energy directly to the face. Seismon stood there, arms outstretched and glowing as he strafed around the predator. "What are you doing here? Your General made an ultimatum. He has some nerve to break it."
"Out of my way. I'm not here for you. Royal Flint!"
Martyaxmon swung his head, sending a hail of blue stones clattering into Seismon's body. The insect was blown back, letting out a cry of help as Martyaxmon disappeared, chasing after Kent. Seismon cursed internally, scuttling away to try and intercept the manticore.
Meanwhile Kent found himself in the entrance square, disorientated from the sudden ferocity of the attack. The flaming barrier burned high behind him as he turned, looking for the best exit.
"Found you! You're not escaping this time!"
Martyaxmon landed with a crash, sending splinters of rock flying as he stood, legs apart, facing towards the burning wall. Kent stood in between, eyes darting left and right as he reached for his D-Nexus. "How did you get in?"
The Red Beast didn't answer, but Kent could see he didn't need to. Great scorch marks and welts smothered the front half of his body, signifying his struggle through the barrier. Kent gritted his teeth. "Are you really so desperate to kill us?"
"You've ruined everything I ever stood for. I'm not standing by and letting you destroy my life anymore!" Martyaxmon grinned, letting out a sadistic chuckle. "First you. Then, one by one, I'll pick off the rest of you pathetic humans. Only then will the world be saved."
Martyaxmon gnashed his teeth as a barrage of green struck the side of his body. He whirled around, seeing Seismon walking towards him, limping slightly. "You really didn't think this through, did you? The entire Resistance will be coming for your head shortly. You have nowhere to run."
"That's where you're wrong! Crimson Wrath!"
Martyaxmon leapt, pressing both paws into the centre of Seismon's chest before the bug could even move. Seismon let out a woof, forced backwards by the flaming shockwave and crashing into a nearby building.
Kent gritted his teeth, raising his D-Nexus again as his body began to glow. "Soul Con-"
"Not so fast!" Martyaxmon leapt again, barreling straight into Kent's slender form. The boy was thrown backwards, straight into the burning wall, with Martyaxmon following after him. The flames lashed out, swallowing the pair up immediately and growing in height, heat and ferocity.
From the rubble in which he'd landed, Trilomon climbed out of a much larger indent. His eyes widened, reflecting the firelight as he stared beyond the barrier.
Kent screamed as he passed through the inferno, the holy flames biting and tearing at him from every which way. He landed in a pile, white lights dancing through his seared retinas as he struggle to get to his feet. There was the sound of something landing nearby and the boy swung uselessly, but every movement brought new pain.
"You thought you were safe, didn't you. You figured you could stand up to me with the help of your army behind you."
Kent blinked, desperately trying to get a clear view from around him, when something slammed into his side, sending him rolling away. He winced, finding himself staring down at the ground as Martyaxmon padded up to him.
"Go on then. Show me. Show me the true power of a murderer like you. Face me."
Another slam, sending Kent flying onto his back. His vision had returned to the point where he could see the manticore staring down at him, bitter vengeance lighting up the Red Beast's eyes. Kent opened his mouth, tasting blood as he went to speak. "Are you really that desperate for revenge? Look at yourself. You're a wreck."
"Silence." Martyaxmon growled, and lunged, but Kent rolled away just in time, the manticore's claws only grazing his arm. The Red Beast landed, and Kent could see that his movements had been slowed by his own trip through the fire. His wounds were greater than before, and his breathing was ragged.
Focusing immediately, Kent's hand went straight to his D-Nexus. Before Martyaxmon could move, the boy had it held out in front of him, green energy congregating.
"Soul Control! Evolution Activate!"
Martyaxmon leapt, but his movement was stalled as Cratomon's great fists plowed into him, grinding him to a halt. The Red Beast snapped and lashed out with his tail, but the earthen warrior's great scythe merely batted his attacks away.
"You really think you can stand up to me for long, wretched human?"
He drew back, strafing around Cratomon, who kept his arms low, ready to swing at a moment's notice. The warrior looked down at his hunter. "If you're so powerful, why haven't you destroyed me already?"
Cratomon ducked as a barrage of beads flew at his head, but his movement gave Martyaxmon enough time to run past, swiping at his stomach with a great bejeweled paw. Cratomon staggered back, clutching his side. Evidently his earlier wounds were still limiting his movements.
Martyaxmon circled round again, his remaining beads swirling viciously, almost haphazardly, around his midriff. He laughed, his wild mane and beard bobbing up and down.
"You don't understand, do you? No matter; I'm going to make you understand. You humans…all of you will die here. Nobody to support you. Nobody to help you, or save you. No comrades, no friends. No power. I will make you stare into my eyes as you lose the last of your hope, and then I will tear you apart. Then, in your final moments, you will understand what you've done to each of us."
His eyes were blank; hardened, like stone, as he stepped forward.
Cratomon flung his free arm forward, sending a wall of bones erupting from the ground. Martyaxmon dodged to the left, but Cratomon turned as well, the bones following the manticore's movements. Cratomon's eyes narrowed behind his insectoid mask. "All this you talk of is your own fault! You have caused countless others to lose their lives. You have no moral right here!"
"This war could have been avoided!" Martyaxmon lashed out, breaking through the bone barrier and slamming a flaming paw into Cratomn's chest. He struck, again and again, driving Cratomon backwards as he spat the words out. "We offered order, and you returned violence."
"You're wrong. You stole their freedom, oppressed them, and sent them running. You watched the world burn, and maybe you didn't realize but even your own people are burning as well!"
Martyaxmon ignored him, slashing down on Cratomon's shoulder with his scorpion tail. Cratomon fell back, crashing against the inside of the wall that held him prisoner. Martyaxmon stared down at him, venom in his gaze. "We offered an end to this. And then they sent mercenaries. They sent you. And you've ruined everything."
He raised a paw and slammed it against Cratomon's neck, pressing hard against the black stone. Cratomon coughed, his breathing sporadic, but still he kept on. "You've got it wrong. We're not mercenaries. We're only children. All we're here to do is protect those who need our help."
"Ha!" The Red Beast laughed savagely, dragging Cratomon up the wall as he did so. "What do you know about protecting others? I watched you from the beginning. You never really cared about the others, did you? You were just hoping to get home yourself; to end this madness."
"That's a lie!"
"Is it? Did you really think you were helping them out of kindness? Or was there another reason. Pride? Reward?" The beast's eyes narrowed. "Maybe guilt?"
"I've felt it myself. Perhaps you were trying to atone for the wrong you did somebody long ago. But let me tell you, it's worthless." His grip slackened a little as his voice dropped to a murmur. "My soul is beyond redemption. And so is yours."
Cratomon's voice was strained, but he forced the words out regardless. "I…never…wanted…REDEMPTION!" With this he brought his great blade up, slashing Martyaxmon across the flank. Martyaxmon howled in pain, and Cratomon raised his enclosed fist, smacking the Red Beast squarely in the jaw, before pushing back with both feet.
Martyaxmon cursed, spitting blood as the warrior before him stood up. The bone armour was cracked, and falling off in places, revealing the green energy beneath. Still, Cratomon stood tall, his mask beginning to crumble.
"I was a bad person. I never tried to get to know anyone. I abandoned my own brother and ignored him when he needed help. I've done so many wrong things with my life you wouldn't believe, but don't you dare tell me that all I've done since I came here has only been to clear my name."
Martyaxmon snarled and made to jump, but Cratomon slashed, sending an arc of green energy clattering into the beast's armoured feet, sending him leaping backwards.
"Whatever I've done, it's done. Finished. I can't change it. But right now, there are people – good soldiers, and good friends – depending on me. Whatever reason I'm doing this, I'm doing it for them. They're important to me, every one of them. They deserve better than me, but I can still give them everything I have. And I won't back down on them."
The last flecks of his armour faded away, revealing Kent standing there, D-Nexus in hand. He was bruised, battered and scorched all over, but he still stood firm, his breathing in sync with his heartbeat.
"These people are protected. I won't let you hurt them anymore."
The Red Beast roared as the green glow increased, the energy from the D-Nexus travelling up Kent's arm and smothering his whole body. Kent's voice echoed around the vast battlefield as his form began to shimmer with a static glow.
From beyond the flames, Trilomon watched as his partner shone brightly, more of the resistance gathering around him, gazing and pointing at the spectacular display.
Far away in the Infernal Fortress, Surtremon rested on the windowsill as he watched his Commander and the boy face each other off.
Kent's form remained fully human for a couple of seconds, before it began to stretch. The torso, arms and head reached upwards, taller than they had been before, nearly rivaling Tectonamon. They stretched; long, thin and skeletal, with great spikes of bone erupting out. The legs fused, sinking into the ground as they melded into a jagged mass.
The static subsided, leaving the only glow from inside the new Digimon himself. His body was firmly attached to the ground, buried in a base of green mineral and twisted rock. From out of the top of the stone grew a spine, followed by a thick, curved ribcage which housed more minerals, shining bright greens, turquoises and blues, as a swirling seal of Earth swum within the creature's chest. His arms were long, ending with skeletal claws that grasped an immense halberd, which he held effortlessly, like a sentry. His face was that of a primal skull, but the eyes behind the mask were soft, almost gentle, and brimming with life.
Martyaxmon grinned wickedly, taking a step backward. "You'll never win if you can never learn. Look at yourself; you're an abomination. You're not meant to exist in this world."
Paleomon's voice was calm and focused, and he spun his halberd above his head, the great weight of the blade emitting a sound as it swung through the air. "What I am isn't important. I believe I told you before; these people are protected."
"Not for much longer…" Martyaxmon's beads formed a circle in front of him, spinning at an immense rate as he roared in fury. "Rosary Cyclone!"
The beam exploded out, flying straight towards Paleomon's frail form. The ancient warrior closed his eyes, feeling the weight of the weapon in his hand, judging its motion. He could feel everything else as well; the footsteps of his opponent, of those behind the wall, even of Surtremon in the faraway fortress.
The axe struck true, the flat of the blade catching the oncoming beam. Martyaxmon's face fell in horror as his attack soared skywards, dispersing in the atmosphere. "Impossible…nobody can deflect…you…what are you?"
The Red Beast didn't even stop to look; he bolted as the ancient warrior brought both hands down, the blade of the halberd striking the ground with an immense bang. Immediately the ground in front of him split in half, creating a fissure that erupted with wickedly sharp crystals. Martyaxmon veered away, his escape route blocked by the sudden geyser of gems. They flew in all directions, some of them biting into him, ripping at his fur and flesh. He howled, backing away. "You're a monster!"
The barrage stopped, as Paleo removed his axe from the ground. Martyaxmon watched warily as the warrior stared. "Your General gave us an ultimatum. Please pass on a message from me...from us. I know he's watching right now."
Martyaxmon's eyes widened. "Stop this now..."
"We're not giving in; not now, not ever. This world doesn't belong to you, and we're either going to take it back, or die trying."
"I said stop!"
Paleomon held his axe up, while with his free hand, he reached down and touched the rock, releasing green energy in circular shockwaves around him. "Return to your fortress and tell you General that we're waiting. How this ends is now up to him."
The Red Beast ran towards Paleomon, but the earth around him began to buckle and warp, sending him skittering away. The earth rose and fell in waves like water, but only within the confines of the fortress arena. Then, the waves converged, rising up like a tsunami around the warrior, and around the entrance to Grid Central, still blocked off by the flames. The Red Beast watched in stunned horror, his last glimpse of Paleomon's stoic face disappearing behind the seismic waves, leaving only a vast wall of rock, blocking all entrance to the city.
Martyaxmon stood up, feeling the pain all over his body as he stared around the now-wrecked courtyard. His eyes darted up to the fortress, where he saw movement in the windows of the main hall. Surtremon's head, unmistakeable, walking away.
His head low, Martyaxmon walked back. After all, there was nowhere else to go.
Beyond the gem wall, Paleomon bent at the spine, holding himself up with the shaft of his axe. The crystal he was embedded in began to fracture, slowly dissolving as he shrank back to his regular height.
Kent fell to one knee as the last of the energy left him, breathing steadily. His arms felt heavy and his entire legs had pins and needles, but aside from a little dizziness he felt fine. Well enough to carry on at least.
After a couple of minutes, he became aware of voices behind him. He stood up, gently, staggering a little, and turned to face the wall of flame. Trilomon was staring at him, surrounded by the others, all crowding as close as they dared to the barrier. Kent blushed a little, and held out a hand. He was okay.
Something grabbed his other hand, and he looked down to see a small, furry monkey-like creature. Phoukamon winked at the boy.
"Good performance. A little corny, but we can work with it. Just a few more steps to go."
"Wait, how did-"
Kent blinked, and found himself back inside the walls of the city. He looked around for Phoukamon, but was quickly swamped by onlookers. There was a yell and Trilomon leapt at Kent's legs, his entire body shaking.
"I thought you…you weren't going to…please, don't ever…ever…I'm so glad you're okay…"
The boy's eyes widened at the shaking bug at his feet. Then, Kent smiled sadly, crouched down and held the spiky little creature in an embrace.
"It's alright. I'm back. I meant what I said. I may not show it very well, but you're important to me. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."
Trilomon looked up at him, and Kent noticed tears in the bug's eyes. "Please don't let them take you again. Not you. I don't care if you're not perfect; you're the only family I ever had. Please...please don't let them take you away..."
His head fell down into Kent's chest as the boy stroked him gently.
"I promise. I'm never leaving you ever again."
Martyaxmon's head hung low as he stood directly in front of his superior's pedestal. The torches were flickering lower than usual, but the manticore could still feel the burning weight of Surtremon's gaze upon him.
There was the sound of sniggering to one side of him and Martyaxmon cursed Rinkhalmon under his breath. Fornaxmon stood to the other side, silent as usual.
The Red Beast exhaled. "I'm sorry for what I've done."
"Regardless, it's done." Surtremon's eyes narrowed behind his mask, his voice deceptively quiet. "You've wasted enough time and resources already. I would have thought you'd know better than to challenge one of the humans directly."
He sighed. "As Commanders, you must remain level-headed at all times. Is there anything you have to say regarding your behavior?"
Martyaxmon opened his mouth, but was interrupted by Rinkhalmon bursting out into giggles again. "Marty's been a very naughty boy."
Surtremon's head moved to one side. "Quiet Rinkhalmon. Martyaxmon?"
The manticore's front paws clenched. Out of the corner of his eye he could still see his colleague grinning away.
"I have nothing else to say regarding myself. I made a stupid mistake. It won't happen again, I promise." The manticore looked up, face filled with fury as he launched a paw towards Rinkhalmon. "But I will not cover for this lunatic anymore!"
Rinkhalmon jumped, stepping back a little. "Wow, hello, where did this come from?"
Martyaxmon ignored him, staring up at his General, who gripped the hilt of his sword tightly. "General Surtremon, Rinkhalmon has been taking wild risks that have cost us hundreds of Fire soldiers, and his disgusting experiments are causing the ones we have to go insane. Can't you see that?"
"Hey, hey, HEY!" The serpent stepped up to the manticore, pointing a finger of his own. "You're the one who's been leading them into stressful situations."
"They're soldiers; they can handle it. Or at least they could, before you got your hands on them. I've kept quiet until now; I have no idea what you've done to affect so many, but you have been singlehandedly destroying each one of them."
Rinkhalmon raised both hands. "So I've also made mistakes. Give me a break."
"I would if I thought you were still loyal." Martyaxmon glared up at the General again, who was busy sheathing his sword. "Sir, I have reason to believe Rinkhalmon is taking part in experiments that are going against the original cause."
"Oh Marty, now you're just jumping to conclusions."
"Then tell me! What the hell are you working on? Care to explain all the shit you've brought us? Those rebels in Silicon City? Why did you lead Cephalomon to his death?"
"I never touched him!"
"He'd still be alive if it wasn't for you!"
"SILENCE!" Surtremon's heavy foot clanged against the floor of the main hall as he stared down at his three direct subordinates. "I am very disappointed in the both of you. In any other situation I would demote you for your consistent disregard for our purpose, but thanks to you that is no longer an option. Now we have only five days before we go to war. We've wasted enough time, so get back to work!"
He began to stride off as Martyaxmon turned, his multiple jaws clattering together. "But Sir, you can't let him-"
Surtremon whirled round, pointing an accusing finger. "You are no more blameless than he for this mess. I've been understanding this time out of necessity, but I will not tolerate another damaging blow. One more incident like this, one more, and you will leave this army for good. No more chances."
Martyaxmon's mouth fell wide as Surtremon turned again, and strode out of the room.
"Are you sure you're going to be okay?"
Eloise held Kent's shoulder as she looked up at him, the wind whipping through her hair. The boy smiled warmly. "Of course. We'll be absolutely fine now. We have time."
"I meant with you." Eloise laughed, and crouched down to pat Trilomon on the head. "Look after this doofus, alright? Make sure he doesn't do anything crazy."
Trilomon nodded, slightly embarrassed, as Eloise grinned heartily.
"It's not him you need to worry about."
"Aaron!" Eloise and Kent turned as the boy walked over towards them, Juramon in his arms. He was limping slightly and his arms and legs were still showing marks from the encounter, but he seemed bright enough. Kent grinned. "You seem a little more with it."
"I do?" Aaron smiled, tilting his head to one side. "Maybe I'll be well enough to join you for training tomorrow."
Eloise went pale. "Don't even think about it!"
"He'll be fine. I promise."
Aaron nodded. "Besides, we've got Kent looking after us. If anyone can keep everything in check, it's him."
Kent turned around, a look of annoyance on his face. "Hang on, don't think you're calling in sick all week. You're still technically leader."
Aaron stuck his tongue out playfully, as Eloise and Trilomon chuckled to themselves. Juramon raised a claw. "I think your ride's ready to go."
Eloise turned, watching as Chirinmon landed, bending at the knees ready to take his charges. Aaron nodded. "You'd better get ready. This'll be your best chance to leave."
Eloise did so, and walked off towards the holy creature as all around them the leavers said goodbye. Kai ruffled Ladomon's head as she and Colchimon took part in one last embrace, both of their eyes glistening with tears as they were pulled apart again. Lobomon shared a farewell with Karatenmon, giving him a quick hug.
Perimon looked down from the rooftop as Jack said goodbye to his sister and Vulpimon, before the four warriors all clambered up on Chirinmon's back, Ladomon flying up and wrapping herself around Eloise's body.
The clouds above began to shift as Lobomon reached forward, tapping the holy beast's mane. "It's time. Get up high and catch the thermals. We're going north."
Chirinmon nodded, and spread his wings as he stood up, gauging the jumping distance. The warriors atop his back waved at the people down below, who reciprocated the action. Kent crouched down, wrapping one arm around his partners as the two looked up. "Good luck, all of you."
Without warning, Chirinmon bent at the knees and thrust himself into the sky, almost going up vertically. For a moment he stalled in mid-air, legs drifting behind him as he tried to find his angle. Then his bejeweled wings caught the thermals, and he began to move north, picking up speed with every movement of his beating wings.
The oranges and purples of the sunset caught Trilomon's eyes as he stared at the leaving dragon. "They'll be okay, right?"
"Of course they will. I just hope Vulpimon finds who she's looking for." He smiled. "I hope she finds her family."
He felt a tug on his arm as Trilomon beamed up at him.
"I hope so too. I'm glad to have finally found mine."
Martyaxmon's expression darkened as he heard somebody enter his quarters. He turned, beads swimming loosely around him as Fornaxmon's visor glowed in front of him.
"What do you want?"
The golem shifted slightly, looking very awkward. The manticore sighed, and waved a paw. "Whatever, just go away."
"Do you need any help?"
"I said go away."
"I'm here if you-"
"JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!" Martyaxmon thrust out a paw and smacked the golem away, sending him to the floor. Fornaxmon's head twisted from side to side as Martyaxmon stood over him, breaking out into hysteric laughter. "I see what this is. Rinkhalmon's playing dirty again. Because there's really no other use for you, is there? You're nothing here. You were once one of our greatest soldiers, but now you're just another puppet. Like me."
"I…I don't…I don't understand…I just want…"
"NO YOU DON'T!" Martyaxmon pressed one paw down on the mechanical man's chest and held another over his head, his claws glinting wildly. "You hate me. You hated me from the moment you ran away, and you spent all those years working to defy me…defy all of us. You should have died with your conviction and your hatred. But that bastard brought you back, and why? So you could replace him? Replace the only other one in this world who ever cared about me? I should end your miserable lie of an existence right now!"
He raised his shaking paw, ready to bring it splintering through Fornaxmon's mask. The golem didn't retaliate; he barely even reacted. For a moment the two remained, the killing blow waiting to come. Martyaxmon closed his eyes, hearing Surtremon's words once again.
Fornaxmon shifted a little, letting out steam. "I'm sorry…"
"Just leave me alone. Never speak to me again. All you ever do is remind me of everything I hate about myself." Martyaxmon stepped off his colleague and ran out of the room, not even looking back.
Fornaxmon sat up; scared, shocked, but mostly confused. He held up his hand, feeling the comforting pulse of the leech within. He would always be there for Martyaxmon. He would be there to protect him. That was who he was.
Somehow, he would make things right.
Perimon was standing alone on the rooftop when he became aware of someone shouting up at him. He looked down, only to see his partner glaring up at him. "Why haven't you been talking to me?"
Perimon shrugged. "Leave me alone. You don't need me to talk to you."
"Well what the heck have I done?"
"Nothing." The bird turned his back. "Just go away."
Jack sniffed, and folded his arms. "Fine. If you're just gonna be childish then I will."
"Childish?" Perimon's feathers bristled as he flew down, hovering just in front of Jack's face. "You're the one ducking responsibility now."
"Oh, don't give me that!" Perimon barged the boy, sending him walking backwards. "You don't need me. You never needed me, but instead you pretended that we were going to save the world or some bullshit. Well I can see now that everything I've done has been pointless. So why the hell should I bother?"
Jack flared, clenching his fists. "Hey! I never said any of that! I've been fighting with you since we got here!"
"Yeah, and I've only been able to do shit because you've been the one powering me. Everything I do is a failure; it's all on you now." Perimon turned his head, his voice taking on a mocking tone. "Oh, but I'm sorry, you don't want to fight any more, do you? You think you're better off sitting back and letting everyone else do the work."
Jack shook his head "I don't, I promise I don't, but I really-"
"You really just want to give up, don't you! Never mind that everyone else has given up loads just to get this far. I'm sure they'd be just fine with the idea of you abandoning the fight."
Perimon bobbed back and forth, his voice taking on a mocking tone. "I'm Jack and I'm going to let my sister leave without me because I don't think I'm good enough, despite everything she's done for me!"
Jack's mouth fell open, as Perimon glared at him disapprovingly. "I'm getting real tired of this, Jack. If you're going to give up, I'm going to go on without you. I don't need you. I don't need any of you perfect humans for anything."
The boy's lip trembled as he threw a punch at his partner, who just flew upwards out of the way. "Arsehole! I don't need you either! I hate you!"
He ran off; he didn't care where, he was too busy crying. The glowing walls whizzed past him as he turned corner after corner, until he found himself in an unfamiliar part of the city. He wiped his eyes, sniffing as he looked up at the building in front of him. Somebody stood in the doorway, somebody very familiar…
Phoukamon raised a hand. "Yo. You look happy."
Jack's eyes widened. "I know you!"
"Maybe you did. Maybe we didn't like you. You'll have to find us. Maybe. I'll be waiting."
He turned and strode back inside the large, flashing archway, as Jack ran towards him. "Hey, wait! Who are you? Why do we keep seeing you?"
The boy rushed inside the great structure, looking left and right. But Phoukamon had already gone.
He felt a sudden twinge of energy, and looked down as his D-Nexus burst into life, illuminating his surroundings for a second. There was a dull thud as the door slid closed behind him. He turned round, the last thing going through his vision being strange, archaic symbols adorning the walls.
Then the light faded, and the ground began to shift.