A groan filled the sky as the immense mountain, eaten away from below, finally gave way under its own weight. It slowly folded inwards, its vast form hazy from the savage heat, as it sank to fill the gaping chasm all around. Still the glow advanced; a solid line of light eating everything in its path.
A single Digimon ran; desperately flapping with torn wings, his body lined with scorch marks and vicious wounds. Every step hurt, and with every step, he let out a sob, a cry, another indecipherable sound. Yet still he kept running.
"A live one! Over there!"
The bird didn't even look up as a small group ran over towards him. He just kept running, not listening as they jostled around him, trying to block his way. One of them stepped in front of him, holding his head up to look at him. "Woah, woah, soldier. No sense keeping running if you're not looking where you're going. At least get a map out or something."
Pikamon raised an eyebrow. "Um, we're here to help-"
"Get outta my way!" Perimon tried to barge his way past, but Pikamon held firm, his muscular arms keeping the bird's snapping beak at bay. "They're coming…they killed them…all of them, right there…they won't stop…"
There was a muffled shout of "Pyramid Formation!" as a group of PawnChessmon raised their shields on the pathway, forming an invisible barrier. One of them turned round to face Pikamon. "Captain, we can't stay here."
"No problem. Feathers, you're coming with us."
"Get the hell off of me! I don't need your help!"
Pikamon stepped back, wiping blood from the peck wound on his cheek and glaring at the disheveled mass of feathers and anger before him. "Don't be stupid. You carry on by yourself, you're going to die. It's simple as that. Get a grip."
Pikamon grasped his head with both hands, dragging them down his face. "I don't have the patience for this..."
"Well then piss off and leave me alone. I told you I don't need your help."
"I swear, I'll throw you off the cliff if you don't shut the hell up." The rodent waved his hands manically at the bird before him, a slight twitch in his eye. "I've seen about six Digimon die already today; you're nothing new. It's been a long and kinda shitty day for me and you're sitting there not helping, so buck the hell up or-"
"Hey, Dr Feelgood, pipe down and do what you're supposed to."
"Of for the love of Yggdrasil, get off my case, woman!" Pikamon whirled around, jabbing a finger at the creature behind him. "I'm doing as best I can. Just that moaners like these won't listen-"
A firm, clawed hand clamped down on the rodent's shoulder, gripping rather more tightly than was comfortable. Pikamon decided it was in the interest of his health to shut up.
"Listen, you've been doing this all day, you're getting stressed. You're not helping any more than he is. This requires delicacy; something you're not in the right state of mind to give out. So go and do some heavy lifting or marching or something. Let me handle this stuff."
Pikamon waved his hand and stomped off. Perimon made to run in another direction, but one wing was grabbed by a strong, webbed hand. The bird wriggled, hissing and choking as he was pulled inwards, but he suddenly found himself caught in a tight embrace. He could feel the coolness of the other Digimon's body and their heartbeat, conflicting with his own rapid pulse.
They stayed for a few seconds, and all the while, the bird relaxed, his body slumping and giving away to tears. He stood, crying and snorting, as Placomon held him tightly.
"Shh, shh, it's alright. You've been brave to come this far, but we're here now. Let us help you."
Between sobs, Perimon nodded. He pulled back, getting a good look at Placomon for the first time. She smiled, rocking back onto her armoured forelimbs. "Just so we're clear, I'm not hugging you every mile. Feeling good enough to keep walking?"
Perimon could vaguely hear the shouts of those around him, and the deathly sounds of the oncoming firestorm from behind. He sniffed, and nodded.
Black. Nothing but blackness, all around him.
Jack tilted his neck, trying to gain some clue of where he was, but it didn't help. He could feel his claustrophobia kicking in as he moved, but every movement brought about new pain. He couldn't even tell which way up he was; he'd just woken up in this unknown prison, unaware of where he was.
He gritted his teeth, moving one arm as he fumbled around one of the walls. Mostly smooth, yet marked with symbols of some kind. They glowed as he rubbed over them, allowing him the briefest second of clear vision. The same walls, with the same weird writing, trapping him inwards.
He frowned, and rubbed again. No, he wasn't completely trapped. One leg was straight, far beyond the limits of the walls around him. He appeared to be in a tiny alcove somewhere, only thin. He was wedged tightly, but with enough manoeuvering he could wriggle himself out.
He laughed, and began to push, and then the pain hit him again. Familiar pain, this time. He stopped, breathing heavily, as he tried to work out where all his limbs were. Gingerly, he shuffled one arm down to his right leg, where it lay, bent almost double beneath his weight. He winced as he felt over the kneecap, the swollen flesh stinging with every touch.
His knee. Always his damn knee. He tried to move again, attempting to use his arms to shift his weight, but with every movement there was a new spasm of pain through his body.
"HELP! SOMEONE, HELP!"
He called out, and his own voice echoed back to him from the unseen corridors around him.
No-one was coming.
Four days to go…
The electric lights flickered as Karatenmon stared down at the many sheets of paper on the table below him, twirling his pencil in one hand as he did so. He was vaguely aware of Gargomon standing behind him, one hand on the back of his chair.
Without warning he groaned and planted his head on the desk, wringing both hands. "It's too much!"
Gargomon went to place a metallic hand on his shoulder, but hesitated, pulling it back. "Don't push yourself. We still have a little while, right?"
The tengu sat up, looking at the bipedal bunny with worn-out, wrinkled eyes. "Not nearly long enough. It's tough enough trying to figure out who we have at our disposal and where they're best to go, but then we have no idea what the Fire Kingdom have up their sleeves."
The gunbunny frowned, taking a seat next to him and swinging one leg over the other. She tapped the large schematic before him. "Surely it's best to consider the space, rather than who we'll be fighting? There's not much we can do about the latter."
"What do you mean, the space?"
He followed Gargomon's finger as she explained. "Grid Central covers about one-quarter of the fortress's border, right? In that case, wouldn't it make sense to send people in from multiple locations? After all, we're only trying to get to one place; way may as well try and converge."
Karatenmon nodded, humming to himself. "Our main target will be Rinkhalmon's stockpile of those leeches, which are most likely within the fortress itself. What you're saying makes sense; I'm just not convinced we have the man-power." He looked aside for a brief second, the cogs turning in his head. "Possibly…"
"If anyone can get inside the fortress it's the humans and their partners." The tengu gestured, his talons moving over the schematic. "Their forms are fluid. Out of all of us they'll be hardest for the enemy to pin down, and surely at least one or two of them can get inside the fortress itself. And at the same time they don't appear to be affected by the leeches themselves."
"Do you think the humans are going to be okay with switching forms? If they're caught in the middle of the battlefield just as they are…"
"Leave that to me." Karatenmon looked at a door in the far corner of the room. "They probably won't like it, but we can offer them a little protection at least."
Gargomon furrowed her brow, scratching her chin. "Fair enough. So for the rest of us it's just down to keeping the Fire Kingdom busy."
"Yeah, and that's the tricky bit. We're likely to have to deal with at least one Commander, plus however many Fire Tyrants they've ended up making. And the rest of the army as well." Karatenmon held his head in his hands, staring at the schematic as if it would magically come up with the right solution.
Gargomon sidled a little closer, pulling the soldier census towards her. "Let's have another look at who we have. I'm thinking if we split who we've got into militia, cavalry and ranged fighters, we can put together some sort of plan."
Karatenmon looked uneasy. "We haven't got many."
Gargomon raised an eyebrow. "Given how few the Fire Kingdom seemed to have, we might still just have enough…"
Bolts of energy passed through the overhead cables; not a sign of any new power to the city, but more excess from the current display taking place in the "free-to-break corner" of the city, as it had been labeled by most of the resistance. A large group of them were now gathered (albeit at a safe distance), as they watched Aaron and Velocimon attempt to handle a small cluster of lightning bolts between them. Kent was standing by, although it wasn't entirely clear what he was going to do should things get overly static between the two partners.
Gwappamon tapped her foot, giving a dull whistle out the side of her mouth. "So, what's gonna blow up today?"
"Ah, have a little faith." Seahomon flustered a little, her voice shaking just a tad as she warily watched. "At the very least they know what they're doing."
Gwappamon looked sideways at her fellow resistance member. "Yer shaking, trumpet-head. Seems y'ain't as comfortable as you think."
"Shush." Gwappamon felt a tap on her shoulder as Centarumon pointed. "Aaron's changing."
Aaron himself was fully aware of the onlookers taking a collective step back as he felt the energy within him building once again. He exhaled, mumbling to himself in an irritated fashion. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys."
"Oi, focus." Kent snapped his fingers, and the younger boy forced his attention to his evolution once again. He could feel his body shifting, becoming the now relatively familiar form of Kuaramon, though it was clear he was beginning to force it. He held it, the electricity surging through him and threatening to leap out at any moment.
Velocimon stepped forward. "Are you okay? Do you want to stop?"
"Let me try. I promise to hold it before I blow anything up again."
Velocimon raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Kent held up a hand, feeling Trilomon at his feet. "Alright, but slowly. Don't let it all in at once, like last time."
Kuaramon held his breath, tightening his right fist, before letting go, only slightly. He felt the jolt almost immediately; his body beginning to break down as it flickered halfway between a humanoid form and the disjointed, mechanical body of Brontesmon. He could feel the strain on his arms; of hundreds of little motors threatening to spin the limbs into overdrive once again.
He relaxed, pushing the energy away from him as he reverted back to human form. He opened his eyes, aware of Kent, Trilomon and Velocimon looking concernedly at him. He gave a reassuring smile. "Not this time. It's still too…I don't know, it doesn't feel right yet."
Kent nodded. "That's fine. Hopefully it'll come in a day or so, with a bit of practise. If not, well, we'll figure something out."
Trilomon poked his head out from behind Kent's feet. "Hey, on the bright side, you managed to keep your promise. Nothing's exploded!"
Aaron shrugged, before stumbling back as a bolt of energy shot out of his D-Nexus, resulting in a collective gasp from the onlookers, a bunch of crude static, followed by an electronic pop. Aaron winced, and looked up. "You had to say it…"
"Electrostatic discharge. A lot of energy built up that you haven't done anything with yet. I suppose it's not surprising." Kent placed one hand on his hip, tilting his head as he looked up at a smoking bauble atop a nearby roof. "I'm guessing that wasn't important."
He looked down again, aware that Aaron was blushing. "I…don't think I can move. It's going to jump out again."
Velocimon rolled his eyes, before scurrying over to a pile of rubble and chucking a long pole over at the boy. "Hold this against the ground for a few seconds."
The boy obliged, feeling the excess energy leaving him. He sighed with relief. "Thanks Velocimon. I mean it."
"Nothing to it." The lizard folded his arms, hiding a small smile. "Hey, if you're this determined toelectrocute yourself, it's the least I can do."
Aaron scowled, but his partner simply chuckled. There was a small cheer from nearby and the boy turned to see the onlookers giving him a generous round of applause. He let go of the pole, giving a small dramatic bow. "I'm here all day, every day."
"There you are."
The onlookers parted as Kai pushed through, apologizing as he did so. He appeared to be out of breath.
Kent folded his arms. "You're late. You're the one who wanted to start this whole training malarkey."
"Jack's gone missing."
Kai held his arms wide. "A bunch of us have been looking; we haven't seen him since last night, when we saw the others off."
"Well what about Perimon?"
Kai looked up, the clouds holding relatively still above him. "The last I saw he and Jack were arguing. Colchimon's off looking for him, but we figure he's just sulking."
"Oh for god's sake." Velocimon planted his face in one clawed hand, exasperation in his voice. "When I see that bird next I swear I'm going to punch him so hard…"
"Hold that thought, Velocimon." Aaron looked over at the gaggle of resistance members. "We need to find him. It's possible the Fire Kingdom have been up to something again."
The watchers all nodded, and began to scatter. Aaron turned back to Kai. "You don't suppose he's just off sulking somewhere, either?"
Kai hesitated, before shaking his head. "He may be a kid, but he's not stupid. He wouldn't just wander off when we're this close to war."
"My thoughts as well." Kent clenched his fists. "Damn. Well, we'd better start looking."
They rushed off, following the others as they spread out over the city. Seahomon and Gwappamon were the last to head off, heading to the northernmost part. The kappa whistled once again. "Those girls are not gonna be happy if they come back before we find the kid."
Seahomon flushed. "Not funny, Gwappamon."
It took Colchimon a while to find Perimon, so long in fact that the sun had broken through and was beating its oppressive light directly down on the city. Eventually the dragon struck gold, finding the bird halfway up a conduit inside one of the unused generators. The bird was hunched, muttering to himself when the dragon forced his way inside.
Colchimon coughed for attention. "Okay then, let's hear it."
Perimon raised his head. "What do you mean?"
"What did you say to Jack?"
"Oh don't you start. I've taken enough crap from everyone else without you joining in. Piss off."
Perimon turned away, crouching even more. Colchimon sighed, and pushed even closer. "Alright then, let me start slightly differently. Get your arse outside and look for your partner. He's gone missing."
Here Perimon turned fully around, looking accusingly at the dragon. "What the hell do you mean? I saw him last night."
"I'm sure you did. But he isn't here now."
Perimon huffed. "He's probably just moping somewhere."
The bird didn't answer. Colchimon sighed, before carrying on, an edge to his voice. "We've been looking all morning. There's no sign of him. No sign of a struggle or anything either."
Perimon gritted his beak, anger flaring in his eyes. All of a sudden, with a grunt of "Shit…" the bird barged his way out and took of skywards before Colchimon could stop him. The dragon let out an exasperated moan.
"This is just getting better and better, isn't it…"
The light was dim, but eventually, Jack's eyes had adjusted to it and he could almost make out where he was. Two corridors split off either side of him, and the smooth floor was littered with odd bits and bobs. Bolts, wires, bars, strange electrical devices; all of them seeming as if they'd fallen from the walls. Indeed, he could just make out what appeared to be panels or something lying just a few metres away.
Jack braced himself, holding his back tightly against the wall. He could feel an odd sensation when he did that; the wall vibrated; a slow swell, resonating against him, then dying away. A repeated pattern. Almost like the wall was breathing.
He shook his head, forcing himself to focus. He flattened his hands directly behind him, feeling his arms pushing into his back as he did so. He could still feel the aching pain in his knee from the last several attempts, but he braced himself nonetheless, biting down on his lip. There was no point in stopping now.
He waited briefly, then all of a sudden pushed back against the wall, forcing his body forward. He screamed inwardly as his knee flared again, biting down on his lip as he forced himself forward nonetheless. He was held by the thin wall; his hips and arms caught by the walls, scraping against them. Holding them in place, he swiveled his body as far forwards as he could bear, gritting his teeth all the way. Then, he pulled one arm, throwing it forward. The edge of the wall scraped along it, but it did the trick; his body fell forward, releasing him as he fell flat on his belly.
Immediately he curled up, the pain in his leg so intense he couldn't even tell if it had snapped into place yet. For what felt like an eternity he lay there, feeling tears falling across his face. He waited, not moving until his breathing had returned to normal, or at the very least something like.
Looking ahead, he could see one of the discarded poles, and he reached out for it, pulling it towards him. He already felt out of breath, seeing lights dancing in front of his eyes.
He held the pole parallel to his body, before rolling onto his back. With some effort he forced himself to sit up, then pulled his good leg up. He inhaled and exhaled, holding the pole against the ground, before he forced himself up onto his good leg. He stumbled as soon as he was up, pressing down on the offending limb and crashing into a wall. He felt something slip within the kneecap and he yelled again; something like a cross between a swear word and general angsty yelling.
Again he waited, forcing himself to calm down. Looking ahead, he noticed small, blinking lights at the end of the corridor. He stared down the other one; they were there as well, but smaller. Much further away.
"This might be the wrong way, I guess…"
He hummed to himself, his contemplative thoughts slowly melding into the tune of a song he'd learnt at school. That helped. Something catchy in his head to take his mind off the pain.
"Then again, it might be the right way…"
He squinted, but the light really wasn't doing him any favours.
"Doesn't seem to be anyone else here. If I end up down there, I can always come back, right? Try again?"
The walls didn't answer; only the blinking of the lights seemed to acknowledge his question. For a brief, terrifying moment, the darkness shifted in Jack's mind, holding all sorts of nasty fates. Pitfalls. Booby traps. Savage Digimon, like the last time.
He had a thought, and reached for his pocket, breathing a sigh of relief as he felt the lump of the D-Nexus there. He took it out, and looked at the screen, only to blow a short, annoyed raspberry. No energy at all. He shook it, whacked it against the wall, and even tried the whole Soul Control gesture, only to stop when his leg swung forward a little too far. No response at all. He couldn't even communicate with anyone else.
He frowned, and pressed a button again. Actually, something was happening. Every time he tried to use it, his hand lit up. He stared at the wall against which he was leaning, and pressed the button again. There was no mistake; there was a pulse, tracing along the symbols ingrained in the walls.
He stared ahead, still aware of the lights blinking at him. "I guess all I can do is go forward then."
He waited for the response that didn't come, just out of habit. Then, with one arm holding the pole, and the other clutching the wall to take the weight off his right leg, he set off, humming the same, catchy song all the way.
Given that the buildings having been made for vast creatures of all shapes and size, Surtremon was rather miffed that he still had to duck slightly to enter the barracks. Still, he was obligated to, just to check the work of his Commanders. After the questionable judgements they'd made a few days ago, he was feeling less confident all the while.
However he was pleasantly surprised at the sheer number of Fire soldiers, all preparing for war with an unexpected amount of competence and almost no spontaneous combustions. All around him was a hustle of activity. Vast creatures, such as Tyrannomon and WarGrowlmon, tussled the great, scarred mannequins that hung from the ceiling. Smaller warriors like Shadramon scuttled between them, avoiding the various projectiles and hand-to-hand attacks from their comrades and retaliating with a barrage of non-lethal friendly fire. All around him were the air forces; ranging from huge Saberdramon to the agile Mosquimon, shooting at targets all around. Even the specialised forces were getting in on the action.
Surtremon noticed Rinkhalmon scuttling past and he crouched down, catching the serpent's attention. "Is this all your work?"
Rinkhalmon jumped, dropping a bunch of sheets he was carrying as he fumbled a salute. "Yes…no, I mean…hello General." He grinned cheekily, before bending down to gather up the scattered documents. "Not all of it. Marty did most of the technical stuff; I just helped here and there with a serum or two."
"I must say I'm impressed." Surtremon placed a hand on one knee, feeling the oppressive heat of the barracks pressing down on him. "Looking at this, we might actually have a chance of winning this battle after all. Where is Martyaxmon, anyway?"
"Taking a lunch break?" Rinkhalmon shrugged. "He just said he had to take care of something. I'm guessing he's in another one of the barracks. Oh, while I remember…"
Rinkhalmon rolled up the schematics and handed them up to his general, who took a quick glance. He was silent for a couple of moments, before looking down at the serpent again. "You've positioned me in the centre of the fortress, rather than on the battlefield. In fact, you three are just within the fortress as well. Is there a reason?"
"The fortress holds our greatest resource." Rinkhalmon tapped his soul jar, causing a little ripple of data as the leeches inside swirled. "We simply thought to position us Commanders and yourself as a last line of defense. They're very unlikely to get past us if by some reason they get past this crazy rabble."
"Be a little respectful, please." Surtremon stood up again, scratching the chin of his mask. "I'd have faith in you three to protect against any infiltrators. But I don't know; I feel I should be out on the field itself. I have to be there for…"
He trailed off, the words failing him briefly. Rinkhalmon shook his head. "We'll change it if you think we should, General. But this really is the best way."
Surtremon wanted to argue, but the oppressive heat was giving him a headache. He stepped back, grunting to himself. "Let's discuss this later. In the meantime keep up the good work."
He backed away, his footsteps making the ground shake slightly as Rinkhalmon folded his arms, whistling cheekily.
"Thank you for your never-ending faith, General."
Martyaxmon was not in one of the other barracks, nor was he taking a lunch break. Instead he and Fornaxmon stood in the entrance to Rinkhalmon's basement lab, with the continued whirring of equipment and silent screeching of leeches greeting them. Fornaxmon looked left and right, his inner mechanics whirring with nervous rapidity.
"We aren't supposed to be here. Commander Rinkhalmon warned me. It's dangerous."
"Everything we do is dangerous." Martyaxmon took a deep breath, and stepped forward, eyes darting all over. "But the day I pay attention to that serpent again is the day I know exactly what it is he's been working on."
He turned back, seeing Fornaxmon still standing in the lab. He nodded. "Come in, now."
The golem moved; slowly, but deliberately, until he stood level with Martyaxmon. He shook his head. "We shouldn't be-"
"Quiet. As long as you're here, you do as I say. That's all you're good for now."
Fornaxmon fell silent, the leech pounding in his head. For a moment he glimpsed the manticore's eyes; heavy-lidded, with irises that shook with every movement. Then the Red Beast turned away, stepping back from the central table.
"Open the passage."
Fornaxmon vented. "I can't."
"I really can't. I don't have a key."
Martyaxmon glared at the mechanical man. "You don't need one. You have one in your body. Touch the panel, and the leech should do the rest."
Fornaxmon stared at Martyaxmon for about a second, before he reached down, carefully uncovering the locking panel on the table. He held his mechanical hand out, feeling his insides going into overdrive. For a moment he considered just walking away. Maybe telling Commander Rinkhalmon.
He glanced sideways, aware of Martyaxmon still glaring at him.
No. Fornaxmon steeled himseld. He was loyal to one Digimon only. This had to be right.
He pressed down, and immediately jerked and fell to his knees, a great cloud of smoke erupting from his back. Martyaxmon went to run forward, but held back, not wanting to disturb the process, or risk injuring the golem more. Still Fornaxmon pressed down, feeling an essence coursing around him, through him. Down from his head, around his torso, through his arm. He looked down, seeing an ethereal presence squeeze out and into the track around the panel, disappearing almost immediately. The panel lowered, and the golem fell back, crashing into a nearby piece of machinery as the central column rose.
Martyaxmon's eyes widened as he watched the doorway unveil itself, vaguely aware of the leech pulsating downwards, into the very belly of the fortress. Gingerly, he stepped forward, mouth open as he gazed around at the stone staircase.
"The hell…how long has this been here?"
There was a clatter as the golem made to stand up, shaking under his own weight. Martyaxmon paid him no heed, instead slowly walking down the steps, staring at the ethereal blue glow down below. He could hear the screeching of a thousand leeches, and he stopped, shivering.
There was another crash behind him, and the manticore turned around, seeing Fornaxmon in the passageway entrance. "You don't need to follow me. Just wait for me here. I'll check myself."
"I said stay here!"
The Commander frowned, watching as the golem held one hand to his head, his entire body vibrating. He stumbled sideways, crashing into the side of the entrance.
"Fornaxmon, are you…"
"What did you do to me?"
Martyaxmon's eyes widened, watching as the mechanical man unsheathed his cleaver.
"Why did you bring me here, you murderer?"
Martyaxmon stepped back, aware that in his current position, he was utterly trapped. "How the hell did you-"
Another crash, and stumbled as the staircase vibrated around him. He looked up, and his face turned to one of horror as the entrance grew smaller, leaving the shaking form of the golem beyond. Fornaxmon loaoked left and right, desperately slamming the panels, but to no avail. The Red Beast ran forward just too late to fit through the closing gap.
For a single moment, Fornaxmon caught sight Martyaxmon's face. Fear. Rage. Betrayal. And yet, somehow, relief.
Martyaxmon watched the golem hold out a hand, helpless to do anything. Fornaxmon's trembling voice mingled with the scraping stone around him.
Then the gap closed, leaving Martyaxmon alone. He cursed, striking the entrance again and again. Of course. Why didn't he foresee this? He wrung his head with both forepaws, appalled at himself for being so stupid.
Hearing the ferocity of his own breath, he forced himself to calm down. After a few moments he stood up, before turning and looking, once again, down the steps. The mysterious blue light hung just around the corner, enticing him forward.
Martyaxmon swallowed, and bit by bit, staying close the outer wall, he began to descend into the unknown abyss.
Jack hadn't really been expecting to find a way out in any reasonable length of time, but after what felt like hours he was getting tired and irritated. The corridors were strange; twisting up, down and all over the place. Some led to small caverns, like the inside of a sphere, whereas others had corners so narrow he'd nearly gotten stuck again several times. Some were pitch black, and yet others were illuminated by the strange, blinking lights all around, as well as the dim glow from the symbols on the walls; the only constant in this hellish labyrinth.
He lay back against a wall, which promptly started pulsating blue, most likely as a deterrent. Jack didn't know how or why, and at this moment he didn't really care. Slowly he sat down against the wall, feeling the area around his kneecap. It had definitely swollen; he was sure of it. Not that there was a lot he could do about it other than keep off of it as much as possible.
Sighing, he leant his tired head back against the wall. For a moment he felt as if he was going to doze off in the darkness, but the shimmering symbols in front of him caught his attention. The opposite wall was angled slightly differently, made of the same weird stone.
He narrowed his eyes. "You're made of that same stuff as the clocktower in Silicon City, aren't you?"
The symbols pulsed, one after the other. Jack had no idea if the building understood him or whether it was just pretty lights. Still, now that he'd stopped moving for a moment he was beginning to think.
"You're very like that clocktower. I think someone said something about it being very old. Are you very old?"
He waited, and was surprised to hear something groaning. Only quietly, and far away by the sound of it, but it caught him off guard. "So you can hear me."
No response again. Jack raised a finger. "You know, you're also very like that other building. The temple in the woods."
The building groaned again, this time much closer and sounding far more distressed. Jack hurried as fast as he could to his feet as the wall symbols flashed faster and brighter, ranging from bitter red to acrid yellow. He raised one hand, holding onto the wall with the other as he tried to reason with whatever it was.
"What did I say? I didn't mean to…are you really…"
Before he knew what was happening, the floor tilted and he found himself sliding down the corridor to heaven knows where. Desperately he scrabbled, trying to slow his fall, but the more the corridor tilted the harder it was to stay in control.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
The labyrinth paid him no heed; shaking and juddering and moving up and down, taking the boy along with it. Presently he crashed into what seemed like a ledge, and held onto the stonework with both hands, gripping for dear life.
The juddering went on for minutes. Then, it slowed, and the corridors stopped shifting, albeit at a completely different position to where they were. Jack breathed a sigh of relief, and used the ledge to help him stand up; his pole having been dropped somewhere far away.
His bad mood wasn't helped when, on pushing himself up, he whacked his head on the stone above him. Muttering to himself, he looked up, and noticed something. Light. Streaming in from just under the ledge. Peering closer, he noticed it wasn't just a ledge; it led to a way out of the darkness.
For a minute or so he peered along, trying to gauge his movements, as well as calm his leg down a bit. Carefully he pulled his body up, wedging it tightly in between the ledge floor and the low roof as he gently shimmied himself along. All the while he prayed the building wouldn't decide to move again; if the gap closed up while he was still in here…
He decided not to think about it and began to whistle again, but the morbid thought of Jack pancake continued racing around his mind. He moved as quickly as he dared, not wanting to disturb the sleeping giant again. His right leg hit the edge of the ledge and fell down, causing him to yell and bang his head again as his knee twisted awkwardly again. Still, he pushed himself the last few feet and down the ledge entirely, tumbling out into the light.
Perimon could feel the pressure of the smog and cloud cover as he flew over the illuminated city below, threatening to bring him down at any moment. Still he forced himself on though, scanning every road, every alleyway and every rooftop for any sign of his partner.
"Jack? Jack? For god's sake, where have you gone?"
The metal of his wings creaked and groaned, making him realize that he had to land for a rest, otherwise he'd pass out. Reluctantly, he descended, landing on top of a small factory near the northern sector. He held his head low, trying to catch his breath. All around him he could hear the seemingly disembodied voices of the other resistance members, many of them also calling for the lost boy.
Perimon tensed, gripping the stonework tightly. "Damnit. Damn every bloody thing."
The bird turned to see Colchimon floating up behind him, looking worn down himself. The bird shook his head. "Nothing. Not a single poxy thing. No tracks or anything. He's just vanished."
He gritted his beak again, looking away. Colchimon watched him intently, before speaking up. "Don't blame yourself."
"I recognise that look. I promise you; Jack won't have run away because of anything you've said."
"No, of course he won't have, will he!" Perimon snapped, spreading his wings as he faced the dragon, eyes blazing. "He would never run away or leave me, even when he should. He deserves better than me because he's gonna be one of the saviours of the world!"
Colchimon blinked. "Perimon…"
The bird continued, paying the dragon no heed as his voice began to crack. "He's like all of them; he's selfless, he's talented, he strives past his weakness to save the world. He's human; they're all the same. They get the job done when we can't. Because that's what humans always do. And what does that make the rest of us? Useless, pathetic creatures with no reason to exist."
Colchimon tightened his coils, eyes wider than usual. "All this…all this anger, just because you're jealous?"
Perimon laughed a biting, spiteful laugh. "Jealous. Yeah, right. Jealous is for kids." He looked out over the rooftops, tears glistening in his eyes. "My entire life I've done nothing but fail. I failed to save my parents, to save Placomon, and Pikamon. Even Jack; I couldn't protect him in Silicon City and I couldn't protect him here. And yet I saw him take on Teslamon one-on-one, and stand with everyone else, despite having such a frail body. And all the time, he can smile. I want to be like him, but I just can't, Colchimon. I can't be the hero that he is, and I hated him for it. And now he's gone, and the last things I said to him…"
At this the bird broke down, his head hitting the rooftop again and again as his words turned into indeterminate babbling. Colchimon intervened, pulling in close and holding the bird. "It's alright. Stop hurting yourself."
Perimon sniffed, looking up at the sky. "I promised that I'd never give up on him; that I'd never let him die on me. Shows how bloody useless I am, doesn't it. One single promise, and I screw it up."
He pulled away, but Colchimon hovered in front of him, staring into his eyes. "I never thought you'd be one to give up like this."
Perimon hunched his shoulders, looking away. "What else am I going to do? What else can I do?"
Colchimon shrugged. "What we've always done. Fight with our partners. Yes, you're right, the humans are amazing. Better than we ever could be." He leaned in close. "But that doesn't make us useless. Jack needs you as much as you need him. You two are perfect together. And right now, I think he needs you more than anything."
Perimon sniffed again as Colchimon pulled back, giving him a small smile. "You put your trust in each other, right? No matter how you feel, that trust – that link you share as partners – that's the most important thing, isn't it? To stick by each other and support each other through everything. He's done it for you, and you've done it for him. And right now, I think he needs you one more time."
The dragon held out a wing, nudging the falcon's shoulder. "You're not useless; you're just panicking. Take a deep breath, and think positive."
For a moment the bird looked down, still hearing the beat of the dragon's wings. His eyes narrowed. He looked skywards. "You're right. I'm not done yet."
Colchimon grinned, but before he could continue he heard someone call his name behind him. He looked down, and saw Kent staring up at him, Trilomon at his feet. "We think we've found something?"
Perimon rushed to the edge of the roof. "Is it-"
The boy shook his head. "Sorry. But it might well be a clue. Follow me."
The bird and the dragon did so, until they found themselves in what looked like a massive courtyard, with Aaron, Velocimon and many others gathered round, looking puzzled. Perimon was confused as well. "What are we looking at, exactly?"
"Nothing. That's the point." Trilomon pointed at a point in the dust where there was a clear line in the dust; some was tan, some bleached. Almost as if something had been there for ages.
The insect crouched low. "I've been feeling weird all day. Strange rumblings and everything; quite far away at the moment. But this; all this open space, it can't be right."
Velocimon and Aaron walked in, as the dinosaur interjected. "He's right. This is a complete waste of space."
Perimon glared at him. "We're here to find a missing child, not discuss your architectural requirements."
"When you've quite finished…" Velocimon rolled his eyes, before pointing to his right. "See the rest of the city? Everything's laid out efficiently and is interconnected. But here? Mounds of open space, disconnected cables, clear marks and indents? It's almost as if there was a building here and now there isn't."
Colchimon frowned. "And you think that could be where Jack is?"
Velocimon shrugged, but there was a sudden disturbance and Karatenmon entered the clearing. "What's wrong-"
He stopped, staring around him, before settling his eyes on the vast imprint. Aaron noticed his look; shock, uncertainty, and…familiarity?
"Is something wrong?"
"I…" Karatenmon turned, before pointing at Gargomon, who was standing nearby. "Gargomon, can you rush back to the town hall and grab me the scraps of paper below my chair? Quickly; this is important."
"Will do." The gunbunny rushed off, leaving the tamers and surrounding resistance bewildered. Yasyamon scratched his head. "So was there a building here or what?"
"I'm sure of it." Karatenmon folded his arms, his wings flexing a little. "I'm almost certain I've seen it on the charts; it was here since the city's founding. The Grand Library. Store of data and historical records, or something, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that it's somehow disappeared, and if I'm right, I might know how."
With everyone staring at him, the tengu looked gravely around. "This might sound ridiculous, but it's possible that building was alive, and it's taken Jack away."
The resistance blew up into frantic whispering and chattering at the sudden revelation. Colchimon turned to Perimon, only to find the bird wasn't there. Perimon was shooting skywards, eyes narrowed against the windspeed and smog as he tried to gain height, stopping just underneath the cloud cover. This time, he looked outwards, beyond the city walls, and into the Infernal Fortress, still blocked off by the immense curved wall of solid rock. He looked out further still, far into the wastegrounds. After a few seconds of searching, he saw it. A black mark on the horizon; shimmering from the heat atop the desolate plains. He squinted, holding his breath. Whatever it was, it was large, and it was moving, slowly away.
He dived down again, banking just before he hit the ground as the group around him scattered. "I see something! It's in the wastegrounds, about a mile away."
Kai looked at Aaron, who looked at Karatenmon. "You think…"
The bird man nodded. "Perimon, you're the fastest; go and check what it really is. Aaron and Kai, take your partners and follow him."
Kent turned to Karatenmon. "What about me? Neither me or Trilomon are particularly quick."
"I need to check something. It's to do with my brother's research, and you might be able to help me." He nodded at the other two tamers and the three Digimon partners. "You five need to go now; your friend is almost certainly waiting."
Perimon shot off again before anybody could even respond; arcing over the wall to Grid Central and heading towards the black form as fast as he could manage.
"I'm coming, Jack. Hold on…"
Jack's eyes widened as he gazed around the chamber. It was very different to the cramped corridors; lit with a dim, almost electronic glow, with far reaching walls and strange generators pointing everywhere. Now he could see properly, he noted that the entire place was made of a strange black rock, exactly the same as the clocktower in Silicon City. The writing was everywhere as well, and like before, there were two kinds. One was an angular, structured language forming rows, whereas the other was an archaic scrawl, tearing through the rest.
Jack hobbled forward, scarcely believing just how large the chamber was. He stopped in front of a vast ornament in the centre. Like the torch in the forest temple, it stood high like a centerpiece, with sloping sides and a gap in the centre, just big enough for him to stand up straight in. Not that Jack would attempt it. He didn't particularly want to be dragged away by any Shadramon.
A yellow glow caught his eyes, and his attention was drawn to a panel on the structure, just off to his left. He walked over, carefully, looking closely. The glowing symbol pulsed regularly, and despite the dust and the cracked screen, it was clear what it was. It was the seal of Electricity.
Martyaxmon heard the whispers as he continued down the steps, with the eerie blue light growing in intensity around him. He shivered, his body feeling cold, despite the heat haze that obscured his vision.
He turned again, and stepped out into the chamber below the dungeons. For a while he looked around, frowning. The vast, wide room seemed to be empty at first glance, but Martyaxmon had been working with Rinkhalmon long enough to see the influence of the leeches. They were everywhere; up the walls, over the floor, and hanging from the ceiling, their bodies shifting in translucency and their inaudible screams making his ears pop.
He felt a presence squirming beneath his front paw, and recoiled, watching as a flash of blue slithered away. He growled under his breath. "You dare defile me and I will burn this place to the ground."
There was a panicked shuffling, and suddenly the floor in front of him was clear. He took a step forward, and the leeches pulled away, hissing and spitting from a distance. Vile and revolting they may have been, but they certainly had an animal instinct. Martyaxmon smiled cruelly. Perhaps Rinkhalmon had informed them. The Red Beast was not a creature to be messed with.
His eyes flickered to the far right corner of the room, and he swallowed, feeling the anxiety hit him. The leeches were heavily built up there, so much so that the outline of the mound was actually visible. The wall behind it was grey and fluid, with a faint glow around the edge, almost as if it were to fall to pieces at any time.
"What in the world are you…?"
Jack looked up at the structure, biting his lip. "You…there's more than one of you, isn't there…"
There was a rush of electronic whispering, and the pulsing element stopped. Jack frowned, but suddenly there was a flash of electricity and a bolt surged between the upper and lower portions. Jack stared as the bolt converged into a yellow sphere, pulsing with electrical energy. Then the light shifted, folding over the sphere and pulling it back down into the centre.
"The element was here?"
Another groan. Jack put a finger to his forehead, making thinking noises.
"No…the element came from here? I don't know what you're saying."
The glow subsided briefly, before flaring up again. This time the yellow sphere split into ten, with each light forming an elemental seal. A single piece of each remained, circling around each element. Jack held onto the side of the panel as he nodded, pretending to understand.
Without warning, the bottom-most seal (and one Jack didn't recognize) began pulsing rapidly and violently. The smaller dots converged, all travelling up to a single (and again unfamiliar) seal and circling around it. Jack watched, curious, as one by one the seals flickered out. First the original one. Then the seals of Light and Darkness respectively. Then Air, then Earth, followed by Ice. The remaining four seals grew larger, coming into focus, as the ten smaller dots drifted away. The seal they surrounded disappeared soon after, followed by another one. The boy looked at the only two symbols remaining. One was the seal of Electricity. The other he hadn't seen before, but he knew immediately what it was.
"Fire? What happened to that?"
The image flickered, and for a brief second the bolts turned blue. Jack recoiled as the electrical whispers grew more frantic, and the image of the seal of Fire was grabbed by…something. Something without form, embracing it, smothering it. He became vaguely aware of something in the corner of the room, but when he turned, he was shocked to see that there was no corner. One wall somehow joined another in parallel, despite them not even being in line. On the interface in between, something flickered. The rougher symbols spread out from the invisible crack like a twisting vine, digging into the black stone.
Gingerly, the Red Beast stepped forward, keeping his feet close together. The mound pulled back , the invisible creatures shrieking in terror as the Commander approached. Martyaxmon glared at the mound. "I always thought he made those things..."
Who are you?
Martyaxmon jumped, looking behind him, before he realized that he hadn't actually heard it. He looked ahead, watching as the mound shifted before him, leeches blending into each other as their ethereal bodies jostled.
I don't know you.
"Who are you?" The manticore pulled back a little. "How are you doing that?"
I don't know you.
"You're talking to me, but…not. You're in my head."
I want my daddy.
Martyaxmon flinched, his eyes widening. He'd heard those words before. Long ago, during his first mission with the other two Commanders. Elites, as they'd been back then. He twitched, the painful memories flooding back. Of betrayal. Of madness. Of a monster, standing before him, loving him like a child loves a father.
Looking around, Jack saw many such places of decay in the walls, reaching out across the floor and the ceiling. There was a rumble, and a cloud of debris came from nowhere. Jack turned back, only to see the image had disappeared. The central structure stood; dusty, cracked, and definitely worse for wear. Gingerly, Jack put out a hand, and stroked it over the panel.
"You're hurting, aren't you…?"
The building groaned again, causing the floor to vibrate. It didn't sound healthy.
Jack exhaled sadly. "Sorry. I wish there was something I could do." His eyes flickered downwards, only for him to notice something else. In the dip in the centre of the structure was an old, tattered manuscript, with pages stuffed in at various angles. Seeing it triggered something in his memory.
Jack coughed, before pointing. "That's Karatenmon's, isn't it? The old Karatenmon, I mean. He visited you guys? I know his brother."
The groaning turned into a low, humming growl. Jack popped his lips. "You know, he'd find that very helpful. Please could I take it back with me? I promise to keep it safe."
The growl deepened, becoming almost inaudible.
There was no response. Jack swallowed, and attempted to pull himself up, reaching for the journal. The ledge made it awkward, and his fingers only just scraped the spine.
The reaction was instant; a charge erupted through the structure and narrowly missed Jack's hand. Nonetheless he was thrown onto his backside, and he sat, looking around frantically as the symbols began to warp and flash, with bolts passing every which way over the walls and the ceiling.
Eyes wide, Jack raised his arms. "I don't want to hurt you! I'm stuck in here; I just want to get out! I'm sorry-"
There was a roar and a blizzard of bolts flew past him. He crouched down, feeling the heat and the terrifying electrical screams as the building began to panic.
With a judder and a flash, the chamber began to move, bucking every which way. Jack didn't even have a chance to stop himself before he was sent tumbling once again around the very centre of the living labyrinth.
Martyaxmon tensed his paws. "How long have you been here?"
He went away. I want him back
"Rinkhalmon? Is here your daddy?"
Daddy help me
"What are you doing here? What even are you?"
No I don't want to
I'M SCARED HELP
Martyaxmon drew back, gasping for breath as the pain hit him. His mind flashed with fire and fear as he fell to one side, the leeches around him still drawing back. "What are you…doing…"
DON'T COME NEAR ME YOU'LL DIE I HAVE TO KILL YOU I DON'T WANT TO DIE LET ME OUT GO AWAY LEAVE ME ALONE
The Red Beast's eyelids felt heavy as flashes of vivid colour flashed in front of his retinas. He could feel his limbs jerking, the presence of the leeches closing in. He attempted to speak, but his mouth moved of its own accord, and he couldn't hear his own words; only his own ragged breathing. The symbols flashed across the walls in a savage scrawl as the mound opened up, something unfurling from within.
GO AWAY FROM ME I HATE YOU
The panic set in as Martyaxmon lost all energy, watching hopelessly as something reached out towards him.
He felt the touch of cold fingers on his face.
Then the fire set in, and he screamed.
Perimon squinted as he shot over the wastergrounds, paying heed only to the form in front of him as it grew ever larger. As he grew closer, he could make out its movements as it dragged itself slowly across the rough ground, shaking its vast bulk all the while.
He veered up, staring down at the huge, stone building below him. From his high vantage point, it looked loosely humanoid, looking almost like a man crawling along the ground, but it was entirely mineral, with misshaped limbs and features. Great spires protruded from its back and its rectangular limbs were long and multi-jointed. Perimon swooped around to what appeared to be the front, and gazed into the creature's asymmetrical face, with one, great circular eye gazing directly at him.
"Stop! Hold it!"
The giant's pupil contracted, shaking wildly as the goliath dug into the ground, launching itself back. Its entire body lifted, and for the first time Perimon noticed several large discs, embedded into the ground below it. Without warning, they moved, levitating up and touching down into the rock ground, and the giant's vast mass moved with it.
Perimon blinked. "Electromagnetism…so that's how you just disappeared over the wall…" He looked up. "You belong in the city, right? Stop running; you've stolen my friend. I don't want any trouble; I just want him back."
The creature groaned, the ring around its eye spinning. All of a sudden an intense beam shot out, straight towards the falcon, who veered out of the way just in time. He cursed, swerving back round. "Alright, is that how you wanna play it? Barrel Drive!"
He shot forward, aiming for the creature's head as he braced himself for impact. He crashed just above the behemoth's eye, and bounced off harmlessly. Gritting his beak in pain, he back off again. "This is gonna be hopeless…"
There was a groaning again, and the creature shook, the bird's attack having irritated it. Perimon's eyes widened in horror as the vast torso tilted from side to side. "STOP! YOU'RE GONNA KILL HIM!"
The vast Digimon didn't notice, simply backing away more and more as it fired its energy beam again and again. Perimon ducked and swerved, avoiding the blasts, until he saw More figures below him. Aaron and Kai dismounted from Dimetromon and Achromon, the former's body glowing with exertion and excess power. Perimon swooped down, shaking his head. "I have no idea what this thing is. It doesn't seem to understand me."
Aaron reached into his pocket and pulled out his D-Nexus, holding it out to scan the giant. He shook his head, shaking the little device to no avail. "It recognizes it, but it won't identify it. I have no clue what this thing is."
There was a glow from beside him as Dimetromon reverted to Galvamon, who folded his arms. "I don't like this thing. It makes me feel weird. Almost like it's pulling something from me."
Aaron looked up, puzzled. "Me too, come to think of it."
Perimon was beside himself. "That's not the problem right now; isn't there anything we can do to stop it?"
Achromon shook his head. "We can try, but I don't think we're going to be able to make a dent in this thing. The only Digimon who might stand a chance would be Cyclomon."
Perimon paled. "Even if I could become him, I can't just destroy that thing with Jack inside!"
"You don't have to." Kai pulled out his own D-Nexus, pointing it upwards at the retreating giant. "That's its head, right? Perhaps I can get inside and try and calm it down."
Achromon held out an arm, placing it on his shoulder. "Will that even work?"
"It's worth a shot."
"Look out!" Aaron cried, and everyone jumped to the side as another laser beam shot towards them, impacting with the ground and crystallizing it. Kai was on his feet first, holding his glowing D-Nexus out in front of him.
"Soul Control! Evolution Activate!"
His glowing form rose before he'd even finished changing form, leaping forward with trails of shadow dissipating behind him.
The rogue touched down briefly on the ground, before leaping high above the creature's head, with the glowing eye following his every move. His body turned gaseous and he hung for a second, scanning the massive head for the best place to aim. Then, he descended, with his body spreading out, enveloping as wide as he could.
He hit, and the creature buckled, shaking its head wildly. The onlookers ran forward, watching for any sign of Dokkamon coming out. There was a black flash, and a figure fell from below the goliath's chin, impacting with the ground below.
Achromon rushed forward, avoiding the creature's trampling feet as he zoned in on the fallen boy, now back to human form. He rushed in and scooped him up in his arms, pulling him away just before the giant's vast magnet came crashing down.
Aaron and Perimon looked on worriedly as Achromon descended, laying Kai out. The boy was twitching, spasms going all the way up his arm. Aaron leaned in. "Oh god, are you okay? What happened?"
Kai smiled weakly. "I'm fine. I've just...I've seen some shit."
"That thing is not normal. It's not just a regular Digimon, its…" He trailed off, staring up at the vast building as he tried to catch his breath. "I don't know what it is. Its mind is a bunch of fragments and memories; I couldn't make sense of any of it. But what I can tell is that it's hurt and that it's scared." He slowly sat up, holding his shaking arm. "It just wants us to leave it alone."
Perimon stared hopelessly as the goliath began to turn, looking ready to run. "But we can't just leave it…"
Kai turned to Perimon. "I saw Jack. He's in the central chamber. But the entrances are all sealed; we can't get in."
Perimon narrowed his eyes. "Maybe not, but he can get out."
Without warning he took off, zooming over the leviathan's head and circling around its main body, trying to get as close as he could. He landed, struggling to hold onto the shifting stonework but holding on nonetheless, as he pressed his head to the wall.
"Jack, I know you're in there. I know you can hear me, and I wanted to say I'm sorry."
The world spun around him but he shut it out, focusing entirely on projecting his voice.
"I'm sorry I forced my own failures on you. I expected so much of myself and so much of you, and it wasn't fair. I wanted to feel like I deserved someone like you. But I see now, I never needed to. Because you'd never give up on me."
His back claw slipped and he looked down, seeing the spires and rooftops beneath him. He could feel his grip weakening as the creature bucked and shook, roaring all the time.
"I can't get in, Jack. I'm not strong enough. But I know you are, and I trust you. I know you can make it and I'm not giving up until you're free. I promised, didn't I?"
The building shook, and Perimon stumbled, his other claw scraping uselessly against the stone. He fell, the shifting spires crashing into him as he fell toward's the creature's shifting back.
Jack held his D-Nexus close as he held on for dear life in one corner of the chamber as the world spun around him. He closed his eyes, listening to his partner's plaintiff cries from outside.
The floor trembled again and a new spasm of pain shot through his body, but still he held on, determination over his face. To his right he could see the central monolith, ablaze with furious lightning. He let out a breath, holding one shoulder as he reached for his pocket.
"I'm sorry. But I have to get out. I have to keep my promise."
Once again he held his D-Nexus in front of him, feeling the symbols all around him flash in rejection. He shook it, holding it out.
The room increased in ferocity, throwing stray bolts everywhere, but still Jack held the static device, his knuckles turning white.
He could feel the heat from the symbols as they shifted, reaching out with visible tongues of energy to surpress him, to hold him down. But he could feel it coming. He could feel the link building.
Outside, Perimon hit the monstrosity's back, chipping the stone. The chip grew wider, forming another crack in the behemoth's old, old body. The crack spread, joining with another, forming a gap.
One gap was all it took. The elemental link burst into life; Perimon yelled out as he felt the energy flow from him, abandoning him as he fell. He landed to the side of the goliath, looking up as he did so. "You can do it, kid. I believe in you."
The energy shot through the labyrinth, illuminating the walls and causing the maze to shift once again. It was a futile effort; the energy entered the main chamber and found its target, surging into Jack's D-Nexus and through into his body. The boy yelled, shockwaves emanating from his small form as he clutched his arm.
The boy opened his glowing-white eyes, watching as his hands turned into static energy, that was whipped away by an invisible wind. The rest of his body followed, dissolving and spiraling into a pulsing sphere of energy, about the size of a football. Jack could feel it all; there was no pain, but instead a constant adrenaline, fuelling his transformation.
The football floated up, increasing in size and becoming more angular. Slowly the round shape began to split apart, with four jagged pieces of the energy shell flying away to reveal a central form. The red energy faded, revealing a floating figure. He had no legs, and no arms; just a head and torso, covered with intricate armour. Around him flew the four red shield plates; each lined with a different shimmering metal. He raised his head, revealing aqua, falcon-like eyes behind an avian mask, with golden wings jutting out from the helmet. The excess energy spiralled towards the centre of his chest, forming the elemental seal.
The room grew yet more chaotic as the winds began to pick up within. Ventimon looked up as the top half of the central monolith glowed a vivid yellow, charging up to release an energy blast directly at him. A split second before the bolt struck, Ventimon crouched, the four plates coming back around him and forming a sphere, which spun on the spot. The bolt struck, crackling harmlessly over the surface as the orb moved forwards, crashing into a nearby wall. It bounced off, picking up speed and momentum as it moved, chipping the interior walls. There was a click and the sphere spun apart, sending Ventimon's main body crashing into the wall instead.
The warrior hung upside down, looking around as he tried to get a bearing on his surroundings. He turned right side up, before shrugging his shoulders, gathering the four plates once again.
"I need you to let me out. Now."
The monolith glowed once again, lashing out with savage bolts repetitively. One of them sent the body spinning away, but Ventimon was beginning to get the hang of it; he righted himself, and closed his eyes, the four plates converging in front of him.
"In that case, I'm sorry, but I'll find my own way."
There was a series of clicks as the plates locked, forming a curved, solid wall. Ventimon began to move, and as he did so, air currents moved over the curved surface, forming whipping eddies behind him. He strained, forcing the makeshift shield forward with all the force he could muster, until the very air before him was being parted. He angled his movements, heading for the furthest wall and pushing harder, gaining speed.
He didn't see the wall as it came up rapidly to meet him, but he certainly felt it. The shield crashed through the solid stone and carried on, picking up momentum all the way. Ventimon felt the wind roar past his ears as he felt the impact again, and again, as he smashed his way out of the labyrinth. He was dimly aware of some crackling around him, and could feel the heat from the bolts as they lashed out from the sides. But he was a bullet. Nothing could stop him now.
A final smash and a flash of light, and suddenly, Ventimon could breath. The outside air hit his face as he flew high, the shield splitting before him. He slowed, and looked down, feeling almost disorientated in free space. He could see Aaron and Kai down below, along with the two Champions, and for the first time he took in the whole of his prison.
"Wow, you're huge."
There was a long, melancholy cry as the goliath fell back to earth, a massive, gaping hole in its shoulder. It raised a front arm, but it just swung uselessly.
"I'm sorry. Really I am."
Ventimon descended; carefully, but with haste, trying to keep his body upright. He caught sight of a flash of red and veered away, heading towards his partner, who flew up (albeit unsteadily) to meet him.
"Jack, you're alright! And…different…but you're alright!"
Ventimon laughed, the shield plates clicking around him. "It feels kinda weird. But on the plus side I don't need to worry about my leg not working."
Perimon giggled. "You're kind of leaning to one side at the moment."
Ventimon huffed, and righted himself as best he could. "See, I do do things myself from time to time."
"You flew through a wall. I could do that on a regular basis."
"Come on, that was cool, that was!"
Perimon stuck his tongue out, leaving Ventimon kind of irritated that his current headgear prevented him from doing the same. He giggled anyway, and the two floated down to where the others stood a reasonably safe distance from the fallen giant. Ventimon landed carefully, touching base on the ground. His armour fell apart, and Jack stepped out, brushing himself down. Looking up, he saw Aaron and Kai gaping at him. He grinned, and took a step, before falling to his knees. Aaron rushed forward to help him up.
"Easy, easy. Looks like you've had quite a time of it."
Now that he could see himself properly, Jack looked down at himself; at the cuts, grazes and bruises all over his arms and legs, not to mention his decidedly purple looking knee. He winced, and held his arms close. "Sorry. I didn't know that thing was…that thing…"
He looked up, and the goliath's great eye looked down at him. The boy could feel the creature's pained mumbles through the ground. For a moment the eye seemed to glow, as if it was about to fire again. Then it subsided, the pupil looking down.
Kai stepped aside, looking at the creature's body and taking in breath. "It's disintegrating. Mainly around that hole you made."
Jack looked up sadly. "It didn't want to hurt me. It didn't want to hurt anyone. It was just scared, I think."
"Scared and hurt." Achromon scratched his head. "It was acting weirdly all along. If it's a building, I don't see why it would just run away with you."
"Maybe because it thought I was doing something bad?" Jack's head fell. "Inside the main chamber, it was damaged. Something was eating away at it; it looked like something to do with those leeches."
Aaron looked away from the dying giant. "All this time, in so much pain. No wonder it was scared."
Colchimon held his wings close. "What do we do? We can't just leave it here, dissolving slowly and painfully."
Perimon looked skywards, before sighing. "There's only one way. I can end it quickly." He looked at Jack. "Do you think you can muster enough energy for one more evolution."
Jack nodded, and went for his D-Nexus, but he hesitated. Holding out an arm, he beckoned for Aaron to help him up, and together the two of them walked forward, with the giant's eye following their every move. Jack held out his free arm.
"I'm sorry, for what I did. And for whatever else happened to you. But it's over now."
For a moment the eye remained staring at him. Then, just as he was about to turn away, there was a rumbling from within the belly of the beast. The eye shook, as lights lit up all over the giant's face, before there was a muffled thud and something shot out, crashing on the rocks at their feet. Jack bent down, and picked it up; it was the manuscript; a bit battered, a few pages hanging loose, but still somehow intact.
He looked up, smiling. "Thanks. We'll take care of it."
The giant eye softened briefly. Then the pupil faded, leaving just a great black circle. Jack and Aaron walked back, Jack beckoning as he did so. "Come on. We should get far enough away."
They walked, with the goliath's strained breathing following them all the way. Eventually they reached a nearby hilltop, before they turned, taking in the fallen behemoth in all its majesty. Jack took out his D-Nexus, holding it in his hand for a second. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up to see Kai nodding at him.
"It's the best thing to do."
Jack sighed, before holding out the glowing device, as Perimon took off beside him. Jack's voice wavered as he cried out over the wastegrounds.
Karatenmon clasped his hands beneath his chin, frowning as he took in Jack's story. The boy sat opposite the raven, along with Kent, Kai, Aaron and their partners.
"That poor creature. But I suppose it had to be done."
Jack looked down, unwilling to answer. Kent reached over, nudging the bird-man slightly. Karatenmon coughed, breaking the silence. "Actually, I think I've found out what it might have been."
Kent pulled over some old drawings and scraps of parchment, around which everyone gathered. The boy pointed at one of the diagrams; a piece of architecture that looked very similar to the giant.
Velocimon frowned. "Did you know about this?"
"I know very little about it. This is the only bit of my brother's research I've managed to recover as of yet." Karatenmon pointed at the drawing with a thick talon. "It's called an Obelimon. They're a very rare, very ancient sort of Digimon. From what I can gather, there were ten of them, and each one of them housed an elemental power."
Trilomon looked up. "Wait…I thought the elements had been spread between the Digital world's inhabitants for a long time now?"
"That's not strictly true." Karatenmon leaned back, gesturing as he explained. "According to my brother, the elemental power was split between us, but the very core of the elements themselves was kept safe within one of these great behemoths. Well they did, at least, before they ended up with you."
Aaron placed a hand to his chest, feeling the energy within him as it pulsated. Beside him, Kent shifted the pages around, pulling out a map as he did so. "Is this where they all were then?"
Aaron pointed. "That's Silicon City! There was one right in the middle of there? That looks like the seal of Earth."
Kai nodded, also reaching over. "Also that one. Jack, you remember that temple in the woods, right? Although I'm not sure what that seal is…"
Perimon hopped over, nodding. "No wonder we found all that stuff in there. All those pages and...feathers..."
Karatenmon looked up. "You found more pages? What did they say?"
Perimon scratched behind his head, grinning sheepishly. Luckily Jack came to his rescue. "We sort of got caught up in something, and we had to blow the building up."
"Oh." For a moment Karatenmon's face betrayed a twinge of annoyance, before it faded. "That's a shame. I've been looking all over; they might have come in useful. No matter though."
Kai carried on pointing out locations on the map. "There's another one, in the Spokes, and the mountain range we passed through…is that the Silver Citadel? Where Vulpimon's headed?"
"It seems so."
"But if we've met them before, why did this one go berserk?"
Karatenmon shrugged. "I expect most of them are dead by now. As I said, they're very old."
He sat back, but across the table, Jack shook his head. "I don't think they died just like that. I think something happened." Everyone watched with curiosity as the boy shuffled forward, leaning his elbows on the table. "That Obelimon seemed very sick. There were...it's hard to explain...parts of it looked like they were missing. Every time it moved, something else broke." He thought for a moment, before snapping his fingers. "Oh, and it showed me something; those ten symbols, with little dots around them. The dots all moved around that symbol…" Here he pointed to the angular symbol next to the Spokes on the map. "Perimon, you guys; that's where you all found your elements, right?"
Here the Digimon nodded. Perimon hopped in for a closer look.
Jack carried on. "Then the dots started disappearing, one by one. It was like they were being eaten away by something. Something in the corner of the room; it didn't look right, at all."
Jack leant back. "Well, then there were only two dots left. Electric, which was that one, and that one right there."
Kent exhaled, looking at where Jack's finger was pointing. "The Infernal Fortress…"
Jack shook his head. "Something weird happened to that one. After that the Obelimon went crazy."
Every sat in uncomfortable silence, looking among the documents. Karatenmon reached over, pulling the journal over in front of him. He sighed. "I thank you for rescuing this. Perhaps with Trilomon's help, we can find out a bit more about these things. It sounds like it has a lot to do with the chaos we're in now."
Trilomon nodded in agreement, both front legs up on the table. Aaron clenched his right fist. "Maybe it does. But one thing's for sure; whatever's going on, it has something to do with the fortress. And somehow, we need to get inside, and we need to stop it for good."
The group left Karatenmon to his own devices and split up; the night was closing in, and it had been a hell of a day. Kind of typical, really.
Jack wandered through the streets with Perimon hovering just above him, watching as the factories and generators around him buzzed into life. The bird sniffed. "I could never live here. Too much going on; too busy. How that lizard managed I'll never know."
Jack giggled, sticking his hands in his pockets. "I heard what you said back then."
Perimon looked down. "Really? You did?"
"Yeah. Thanks; I really mean it." Jack shrugged his shoulders. "You don't need to be sorry. I got so used to not being able to do anything, I guess I felt that was what I was best at. But in there, I didn't have a choice. And you gave me the strength to do it."
Perimon nodded. "You're still on two feet. That's a plus, isn't it?"
"I am, aren't I?" Jack stopped, lifting his right leg and gently circling it. The pain was still present, and the purple and blue swelling around the kneecap definitely didn't look good. The boy sighed. "It still hurts. It'll always hurt, for as long as I live. There's nothing I can do about that, but I can live with it. And maybe sometimes I can even work with it. Maybe."
Perimon laughed and swooped down, landing lightly on Jack's head. "I shouldn't have pushed you. That was wrong of me. But sometimes you've gotta take a step on your own."
The boy smirked. "So, do you reckon I can fly better than you yet?"
"You little scamp!"
Jack giggled. "Gettoff!"
"Never! You're mine now!"
"I mean it!"
"Ooh, look what I've got!"
"Hey!" Jack swiped, but it was too late; the bird had already swiped his hat and was parading it around the sky, letting out caws of delight. Jack began laughing as well; great rollicking chuckles that echoed out into the night.
Nearby, Gargomon whined, and clamped her hands over her oversized ears as she rolled over. "Haven't they heard of social decency? Bloody hell, they're as bad as each other."
Martyaxmon could still feel the burning as he opened his eyes, lights dancing in front of them. Feeling the pain all over his body, he got to his feet, trying to work out where he was. Some sort of building. The entire interior was ablaze, and one wall had collapsed, revealing the smoggy sky outside. There was the scent of death in the air.
His mind clicked and he remembered it all. The leeches, the invisible creature, the grasping fingers; everything. He whirled around, making to run inside the fortress, but stopped when he saw Surtremon looking down on him.
"General…" Martyaxmon shook himself, standing to attention. "Sir, I saw what Rinkhalmon has down in his lab. You have to see-"
"I don't need to hear anything more from you, Martyaxmon."
Martyaxmon stopped, crouching down at the bitterness in his General's voice. He looked around again, and it suddenly clicked. He was standing in the blazing ruins of one of the barracks, next to the fortress. Another building was on fire not too far away, with pained cries coming from inside.
Mortified, Martyaxmon looked up. "What happened here?"
"Don't you remember?"
The manticore shook his head. Surtremon crouched down, his red eyes gazing down at the Red Beast.
"You left your post, without permission. Half an hour later you reappeared, and since then, you destroyed two buildings and killed eighty-three soldiers. All this? This is all your doing, Commander."
Martyaxmon stepped back, shaking his head in disbelief. "No, it can't…it can't be true…"
"On top of that you personally attacked Commander Fornaxmon, maiming him and all the while screaming for his death."
"That's a lie!" Martyaxmon whipped his head around, eyes blazing. "I would never do that!"
"I watched you!" Surtremon leaned in close, his eyes narrowing. "I was the one who had to chase after you and subdue you. You're lucky I didn't kill you right here and now."
"But…but I don't remember…"
"Woops. Someone's in bother."
Martyaxmon whipped his head around, growling as Rinkhalmon sauntered towards him, with Fornaxmon bringing up the rear behind him.
"What have you done..." He roared, and made to leap, his claws bared. "You son of a -"
"ENOUGH!" Martyaxmon felt a blow to the side as Surtremon down him, standing up straight. The Red Beast reached forward, pointing a paw at the serpent.
"Sir, it was him! He's behind this! I would never-"
The manticore halted as he caught sight of Fornaxmon, who looked away, hunching his shoulders as he did so. He held his left arm close to his body, and even from distance Martyaxmon could see the hand had been savagely ripped off.
The manticore got to his feet again as he felt Surtremon's shadow loom over him, along with the accusing looks of the other Commanders. The giant general crouched down, his eyes glowing with furious fire.
"I trusted you. And you have betrayed me."
He stood up again. "Commander Rinkhalmon, take Martyaxmon and lock him up securely below the fortress. I will see to it that he receive his penance."
He strode off, the flames illuminating his ornate armour. Martyaxmon heard the slam of the main gate as he stared around, the flames blurring together in his vision.
"What have I done…?"
He stood, frozen, as Rinkhalmon walked slowly towards him, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Commander Martyaxmon. General's orders."
He beckoned, and the two walked off, passing Fornaxmon as they did so. Martyaxmon stared ahead, not even noticing the golem pull back as he walked by. Rinkhalmon sighed, and leaned in close, whispering into the manticore's ear.
"I told you it was dangerous…"
Journal Entry #796: Spokes Archives
Met with my contact here and relayed the situation. It turns out the situation is worse than I thought; already Obelimon are dying, and the damage to them is beginning to spread to the surrounding environment. There's no time to try and decipher the language now; we need to take action. Our first priority is to secure the elements; as yet there appears to be no damage here, and the elements will be the most secure. My contact has already gathered the elements of Light and Darkness from the courier; we must reach out immediately to secure the rest. I suggested heading to the Hollow Mount first; likely the damage there has already spread.
While we're doing that, I have asked my apprentice to scout for a suitable location to break through to the Interface, for I'm sure whatever is behind this has come from there, or perhaps in one of the dimensions beyond. He's a bright lad; he should find a solution quickly. I hope he does, at any rate.
We don't have much time. If we're not careful, this world will be swallowed up and we won't even see it coming.