Bolts erupted in all directions as Dimetromon barrelled through the oncoming ranks of fire soldiers, sending them falling away like skittles. Aaron hung on tightly to one shoulder of his motorized partner, keeping his body in and his hands away from the great spinning generator. The battlefield around him was a blur; a mixture of explosions and noise and burning heat.
The boy yelled as a Sagittarimon galloped up alongside swiping with its horned bow. Aaron fumbled for his sword, but he didn't need to, as Dimetromon veered, his huge tail swinging out and sending the creature down. Aaron let out the breath he didn't realise he'd been holding. "Thanks."
"Stay focused on the battle, Aaron."
With a growl Martyaxmon reared up directly in front of them, clamping both armoured paws on Dimetromon's shoulders. The two great beasts skidded across the smooth rock, Dimetromon's eyes blazing as he roared and lunged forward. Aaron leapt off as quickly as he could, moments before Martyaxmon twisted, driving the Ultimate level into the ground. The dinosaur opened fire with more rending sparks, but the manticore merely turned again, his thick armour deflecting the projectiles.
"You're weak, false General. You always underestimate me. Crimson Wrath!"
Martyaxmon's paws came down with a pound, sending the flames wide, but Galvamon had already leapt high out of their reach. The lizard's arms came up, the blades on his hands extending even as he fell.
Galvamon cursed as his blades hit solid rock, the manticore having already leapt out of the way. Martyaxmon turned, surprisingly lithely for someone of his bulk, and lashed out with his rosary, catching Kuaramon off guard. The warrior rolled backwards, but the surprise had been lost and now the Red Beast was bearing down on him, keeping him constantly deflecting and dodging just to stay alive. Martyaxmon suddenly lunged, and the beads slammed into him, joining into a chain and binding his arms.
"You son of a…" Galvamon leapt high, electricity crackling in his fists. "Strike Thunder!"
"Try again!" Martyaxmon grunted, thrusting his head as the rosary – along with Kuaramon's struggling form - launched around in an arc. Galvamon's shots flew wide as he was catapulted to one side from the impact, sending both him and Kuaramon into a rolling heap.
Martyaxmon retracted the rosary, only to lunge forward again. "Royal Flint!"
The beads struck true, and Galvamon cried out in pain, having taken most of the impact.
"You'll never stand up to me at my true strength!"
Martyaxmon turned too late as Cratomon's immense left fist slammed into his jaw, sending him staggering backwards. He lashed out with the rosary again, but Cratomon held back, holding his hand high. "Ancestral Army!"
The beads struck hollow rock and bone as the ancient soldiers erupted between the two, but already the Red Beast was moving, lunging forward with both armoured paws ready to eviscerate the earthen warrior. His hands came up just in time, catching the paws and holding the manticore back, but the impact sent him backwards, his heels digging into the rock as he strained against the Commander's power.
Martyaxmon hissed as the attacks struck him, and all of a sudden he found himself with Seismon on one side, and Karatenmon on the other. Seismon yelled back to Galvamon and Kuaramon, who had since picked themselves up. "Keep going! You need to get to the fortress. We'll hold him off."
Kuaramon hesitated for a second, but Galvamon grabbed his wrist and pulled him away, and they disappeared into the fiery throng.
Martyaxmon growled, and the metal around his claws glowed red-hot, scorching Cratomon's hands. Cratomon yelled, and let go, but not before pulling his right arm back and pummeling the manticore's face with the great sliding blade. The Red Beast landed awkwardly, shaking his head, as Cratomon retreated, holding his blackened hands.
"You can't stop me. Not this time."
"Watch us. Soul Fury!"
Martyaxmon made to run, but as he did so a great wave of earth shot up right in front of him, sending him veering back round. He caught sight of Paleomon, embedded in the rock where Cratomon had been, with his great axe in his hand.
"You won't hold me again, abomination. Crimson Wrath!"
Paleomon's eyes widened, and he raised his axe horizontally, just in time as the manticore's flaming claws slammed into him. He felt his body being ripped from the earth and sent crashing back into the soldiers behind devolving as it did so. Struggling to get up, he watched the manticore land with a satisfied smile, only to turn to an expression of puzzlement as his hindquarters sunk into the earth. "What the…"
Trilomon shot out of the hardened earth, striking Martyaxmon on the back of the neck. The manticore took a step, and the ground collapsed beneath him, the tunnels formed by the insect giving way.
Cratomon got to one knee. "Nice work, Trilomon!"
The little insect gave a laugh, only to turn to a screech as something else erupted behind him; the yawning grimace of a Salamandemon. The insect had barely taken a step when the jaws clamped over his body, preparing to drag him beneath the battlefield.
The Salamandemon screeched and dissolved instantly as its chest was pierced by two golden blades. Martyaxmon was already running forward to finish Trilomon off, when Karatenmon landed in front of him, longswords crossed and legs taking the impact. Trilomon ran back to Cratomon, before there was a flash and Seismon once again stood with his partner.
The Red Beast glared around him. "You've improved."
Karatenmon leaned to one side, bringing one blade out to stab at Martyaxmon, but the manticore countered, holding the blade down with one paw as he slashed himself. Karatenmon cursed, feeling the impact of the claws across his chestplate.
A green projectile struck Martyaxmon on the flank, but he only just shifted to one side. Still, it was enough, and Karatenmon pulled the sword out, holding them both across Martyaxmon's armoured neck.
"We're determined to stop you."
Martyaxmon snarled. "One at a time or all at once, it doesn't matter. I'll still destroy every last one of you!"
Karatenmon pulled away as the bladed scorpion tail stabbed forward, only grazing his hand. He circled round, and with a quick nod to Cratomon and Seismon, the three of them all rushed forwards.
The skies were filled with fire as hordes of Birdramon and Shadramon ducked and swooped, letting off burning trails in a lethal net. Chirinmon ducked left and right, avoiding the worst of the heat as his body shimmered.
"Jinsoku no Kokoroe!"
The soldiers pursuing him suddenly found their quarry splitting into five, before dispersing in different directions. The real Chirinmon veered left, only to find himself aiming straight for the jagged tusks of a couple of Sethmon, bearing down upon him in a pincer movement.
Chirinmon ducked sharply as Mistramon shot out from behind him, his wings letting off a showckwave that buffeted the Sethmon's flight paths. One of them recovered, releasing a blast of heat in the direction of the red falcon, singing his cape.
"Hey, leave him alone! Hurricane Pummel!"
Aeolumon's energized foot caught the Sethmon in the flank, sending it spiraling earthward. The young warrior turned, raising his tiny shield as the other one crashed into him, sending them both tumbling away. Aeolumon punched and kicked, but the striped beast clung on tightly, its tusks embedded in the metal of the engraved shield.
Suddenly, the two rose up, clutched as they were in Mistramon's strong talons. The falcon winked downwards at his partner. "Feel like going for a spin?"
"Just get this thing off of me!"
Mistramon angled his wings sharply, wrenching the pair of them sideways. There was a crack and suddenly the Sethmon spiraled away, screeching from the loss of one of its tusks. It turned, eyes burning with fury, as it caught sight of Aeolumon in Mistramon's clutches. The little warrior bit his lip.
A burst of light erupted from ground level, catching the hellish creature on one wing and sending it earthwards. Mistramon peered down, but Centarumon was already caught up in another battle. He nodded regardless. "Thanks."
He let go of Aeolumon, and the two of them barreled through the sky, keeping an eye out for Chirinmon or the others. Aeolumon frowned, finally yanking Sethmon's tusk out of his shield. "This is crazy."
"I know; we're getting ourselves lost in here. I don't know where we are."
Aeolumon swung sideways, balling wind in his hands and thrusting it behind him at the inevitable pursuers. "Maybe we can help to clear things out a bit."
"We'll need a bit more firepower."
Aeolumon grinned. "You first?"
"Why not? Get above me."
Aeolumon obliged, pounding his fists together as the cracks within his armour glowed.
In a rush of wind his Digimon form blew away. For a moment Jack hung in free-space, arms flailing slightly. Then he landed on the rapidly expanding body of his partner as the two of them veered straight upwards. Cyclomon's serrated beak burst through the cloud cover, and he let out a cry as his smooth movement plateaued out. Jack held onto his partner's golden mane as he peered over the edge, whistling at the view. His eyes darted downwards, falling on several specks rapidly coming towards them in formation. He leant down, tapping the great sky-serpent on the neck. "We've got company."
"Not for much longer. Hold on; this could get a little bumpy."
Jack obliged, gripping the feathers so hard his knuckles went white, as his partner's immense body dipped downwards, picking up momentum like a roller coaster as it angled towards the oncoming soldiers. Cyclomon's beak opened wide as his body shimmered like water.
The grounded soldiers looked up as the pegasus rose above them, with her turquoise wings spread wide and her eyes glowing a harsh white.
Lyublanamon lurched forward, her wings sending rings of light shooting in all directions. Clutching onto her partner's back, Eloise grimaced as she heard the pained growls from all around her, her view of the surrounding battlefield blocked quite heavily by her partner's many adornments. "Sounds like it's going well."
"It's fine. I'm fine, I promise."
"I didn't say you weren't!"
Lyublanamon flinched, staying quiet as she glided effortlessly over the soldiers, kicking and swiping at any aggressors who got too close. She felt it best not to tell her partner how sick she was currently feeling, and instead she just tried to limit her attacks to non-lethal levels.
A boulder-like fist slammed into Lyublanamon's front shin, causing her legs to buckle and her body to tumble. She crashed earthwards, looking up to see the Volcamon standing over her partner, who was scrambling wildly on the ground in an attempt to get out of the way.
"Big Bang Tackle!"
A blast of light struck Volcamon in the chest, as Seahomon and Gwappamon rushed in front of the girl, but the beam had little effect. In response the brute's fist came crashing forward, striking the armoured seahorse in the chest. There was a crack, and she flew backwards, rolling on the ground.
"Hey asshole, it's not nice to hit people! Gwappa Punch!"
Gwappamon's fists shot out, striking the brute on the face one after the other, but the rubbery attack had little effect as Volcamon just kept coming, grinding its broken teeth. Gwappamon backed away, holding her arms out in front of her fallen comrade in vain defense.
Ljosamon rose up behind the kappa, bow in hand as she fired, sending an arrow of light straight into Volcamon's shoulder. This time the armoured giant did react, clutching the wound as the light began to spread. It stared at Ljosamon's unfeeling face as she loaded again.
"Don't come any-"
With a roar, Volcamon drew its fist back, only for another arrow to strike, this one piercing its neck. It went down without a sound, already fading as it fell. Ljosamon retracted her bow, bending down as Gwappamon helped her friend up. Seahomon was sporting a nasty looking webbed crack across her breastplate, but was conscious, and could at least move. Ljosamon nodded. "Keep moving. Try and stay out of trouble."
Gwappamon saluted her. "Thanks. You too. We owe ya."
They ran off into the crowd, as Ljosamon ran in another direction, looking left and right for any sign of her partner. "Ladomon? Where are you?"
A shadow fell over her and she turned swiftly, bringing up both arms in a reflex as the vibrating bulk of a Mosquimon bore down on her.
A shield came up, protecting her from the worst of the burning fluid that smothered her, but she still felt herself being forced downwards onto one knee as the insect stabbed at her with its drill-like proboscis. She ducked lower, swinging out a leg and forcing the fly back, before rolling out of the way as it fired its lethal fluid once again.
Ljosamon didn't even have a chance to fire before the Mosquimon exploded in a burst of light, leaving fragments that fluttered to the ground. Luminemon stood behind, breathing heavily. Ljosamon rushed forward, grasping the wyvern around the chest. "Thanks."
Luminemon bit her lip, looking at the ground. "Don't be so…you shouldn't…"
"Nothing. It's not your fault." The dragon shook her head. "Try and stay with me, alright."
"I know." Ljosamon flipped over onto her partner's back as the great dragon got ready to fly once again. "Let's keep moving."
Lobomon rushed quickly between opponents, her cutlasses swinging every which way and consistently meeting their mark. She rushed forwards again, holding both outwards and bringing her arms forward in an arc. She skidded to a halt, turning to watch as the Allomon fell sideways, great gashes in the side of its leg as flames bubbled in its mouth. Lobomon quickly raised her hand to her head, before rushing forward once again.
She became aware of a presence alongside her, and raised a sword once again, only to look and see Dokkamon, easily keeping pace with barely a step. Slightly out of breath, she still chuckled. "So your partner's trusting you to go solo now. Playing a little dangerously, aren't we?"
"Hey now, there's a war on."
"Of course." Lobomon glanced back, seeing the trail of fallen Fire soldiers behind the two of them. "Do you know which way you're going?"
"Have you seen my partner?"
Lobomon slowed, taking the opportunity to look around, before noticing a swathe of black arcs over to her right. She pointed, already rushing towards it. "Honestly, you guys would be lost if it weren't for me."
"I'll bear it in mind. See you over there."
Dokkamon leapt forwards, trails of darkness spiraling off behind him as he flew high, angling himself just above where his partner was dealing with a swarm of Shadramon and Flamedramon, all firing at the wyrm as he dipped and looped, sending off arcs of black fire as he did so. Dokkamon hovered in mid-air for a moment, before diving, the sharp shadows lunging forward with him.
The shadows caught a few of the fiery menaces, dispersing them in seconds, but most of them scattered before the blades hit, only to reconverge on the dark elf as soon as he landed.
Achromon fired a swinging beam of shadow, but it flew wide, the agile Fire soldiers simply ducking out of the way and firing again. Dokkamon raised his arms, the shadows coming in to block the attacks, but several fireballs still punched their way through, catching his chest and shoulders. He spun away, ducking behind his partner, who was looking slightly singed himself.
"You've gotten yourself in a bit of a mess."
"Yeah, well, it wasn't my fault."
"Do you need a hand?"
Achromon smiled. "If you wouldn't mind. Just stay out of the way."
"No problem. Primal Fury!"
The Shadramon and Flamedramon arced out of the way once again as Achromon grew, his serpentine body bulking out into the hellish form of Azdajamon. Kai crouched down, staying as close to the centre of the mob as he could as his partner began to stir into a frenzy, with razor shadows whipping over his limbs and wings.
The demon beast curled into a swirling mass of shadow-matter, before lunging wide, swinging with great swords and sickles as it arced around. The Fire soldiers had nowhere to run; simply firing in futility as they were swallowed up by the black juggernaut. Azdajamon completed his arc, spinning to an admittedly-dizzy stop back next to his partner.
A couple of hisses sounded from nearby as the last two stragglers found themselves bisected by Lobomon's blades, as the wolf-warrior shot into what remained of the fray. She shook her hands, looking somewhat irritated. "That's it?"
Kai cracked his knuckled. "I'm sure there's plenty more for you to get your hands on."
Lobomon rolled her eyes. "Screw you guys; I'm off to find Yasyamon."
"Good luck." Kai tapped his partner's shoulder, and the great beast lowered down as Kai climbed on, pulling himself up the great mane. "The gate to the fortress is close. Let's head around the edge as best we can."
Azdajamon nodded, bounding forwards past the already advancing soldiers. "Are you feeling okay? Not too stressed out?"
Kai puffed out his cheeks. "Honestly, at this rate the little voices in my head are the least of my worries."
The long, low cry caught Grace's attention, and she looked up, shielding her eyes as Cyclomon swooped above her. She winced as she noticed the flurry of enemies following them. "I do hope they're okay up there."
There was the sound of footsteps beside her, and she turned to see Gargomon keeping pace, firing off a barrage behind her to the sound of chattering soldiers. "What, the massive sky dragon? Yeah, I'm sure they're finding it real hard."
"Well he does get cocky every now and then."
"Don't worry about it. I'd keep yourself out of trouble." The gunbunny grinned, staying close as she glanced around. "Where's your own partner?"
Grace ducked sideways as a frozen blast exploded in front of her, smothering the tall form of a RizeGreymon as it marched forward in spite of the ferocious attack. Tupilamon rose up, raising both muscular arms as she grappled with the great dinosaur, trying to force its huge metal arm to one side. She snarled, her yellow eyes glinting in the metalwork.
Grace ducked behind her partner, her hand twitching between the D-Nexus and the combat dagger strapped around her waist. She settled for the D-Nexus, but her partner's voice stopped her.
"Don't worry, Grace. I can handle this."
"Don't force yourself to evolve. I can tell you don't want to."
A blast of fireballs spinning off into the sky did little to reassure Grace of this fact. She yelled up, staying out of the dinosaur's view. "He's a strong one."
"So am I. Screaming Storm!"
Grace covered her ears as the frozen blast bellowed out again, managing to drive the RizeGreymon to the floor. It rolled, only to find itself faced with Gargomon's spinning fists.
The fist came down, denting the RizeGreymon's helmet. Tupilamon rushed forwards as well, bringing her great arm back and slamming it into the dinosaur's shoulder. It cried out, its eyes flashing red for a second, before lying still. Grace, Tupilamon and Gargomon rushed forward, leaving the fallen soldier sleeping where it lay. Gargomon clicked her gun-barrel, trying to get a feel for how much ammunition she had left.
"You're gonna get in trouble if you hold back like that."
Tupilamon glanced down, taking great strides hext to her running partner. "You haven't seen us battle before. Trust me; we'll get in trouble if we don't."
The gunbunny rolled her eyes, veering away back into the battle. "I'll be watching you. Keep each other safe."
Grace stayed close to her partner, feeling the comforting coldness of her fur.
"Don't worry. We will."
Kuaramon rushed up towards the inner gate, holding his hands out against it. "Damnit, this is gonna be tough to get through." He looked up, seeing a great swathe of flames circling around the rim of the immense wall. "Nigh-on impossible. We'd need all of us to force our way in."
Galvamon rushed up next to him, slightly out of breath. "We know he's sending out Fire Tyrants, don't we? They have to come from somewhere."
Kuaramon nodded, before concentrating, trying to picture Jack through the elemental nexus.
"You're in the sky right now, aren't you? Can you see an entrance to the fortress?"
"It's hard to see. It just looks like the fortress, although there are quite a few big doors off to the side..."
There was a static whispering, then Jack's voice reappeared. "Cyclomon's telling me that they're silos of some kind. Probably for the Fire Tyrants. The leeches are probably in there."
"Then that's where we need to go." Kuaramon clenched his fists. "But how-"
Kuaramon rolled instinctively, dodging the flaming cleaver as it sliced the air where his head had been just milliseconds before. He stared up as Fornaxmon bore down on him, and his eyes widened. "You…"
Electricity crackled around the golem, causing him to spasm and shake, but with a mechanical rapidity he turned, his chest already glowing as he pointed towards Galvamon. "Furnace Burst!"
The red hot beam cut the air, melting into the ground as Galvamon jumped back, cursing from the heat. He landed, and began to run as he shouted out at his partner. "Aaron, he's been taken over! Snap out of it!"
"Right…" Kuaramon shook his head, before rushing behind the mechanical man as he bore down on the dinosaur. Kuaramon's generators began to spin rapidly, and he flexed his arms, the cables obeying his every command.
The spiraling spears lashed out, wrapping around Fornaxmon's arms and legs. The golem ground to a halt, dragging Kuaramon's feet into the rocky ground. The electric warrior focused, sending hundreds of volts of electricity through the white-hot cables, but Fornaxmon turned and slashed at them with his cleaver, sending them reeling back towards Kuaramon.
The warrior skidded away, holding up the short blades one after the other as he parried the golem's flaming blows, squinting through the burning fumes that gushed from the mechanical man's body. Fornaxmon swung his cleaver again in a sweeping arc, but Kuaramon dodged sharply, swinging out with his left cable instinctively and yanking sideways. Fornaxmon toppled, venting furiously as he landed in the rock, making sparks.
Kuaramon backed away, building up his charge as Fornaxmon got to his feet, using the rough stump where his left hand had once been to support himself. Kuaramon could hear his own ragged breathing, and forced himself to calm down. He'd recognized Fornaxmon's moves from back in Silicon City, and had fought against them then. But this was different. Back then, the golem had been holding back. Here he was out for blood. And he was a Mega level. A Commander. An entirely different league.
Fornaxmon stood tall, turning his head away momentarily, his visor falling upon the great wall. Then it turned back to Kuaramon, and his body vented once again.
Kuaramon skidded to one side. "Galvamon!"
Fornaxmon raised an arm, blocking one of the lightning strikes, but the other caught him in the shoulder, sending him reeling back. He lunged forwards in retaliation, firing a jet of flame from his visor that caught the dinosaur on the tail. Galvamon landed beside Kuaramon, cursing and whipping the bladed appendage back and forth. "Keep him running?"
"Until we figure out a way inside, we have to."
Cyclomon whirled around again, the eddies running over his coils and disrupting the air behind him, throwing his pursuers into chaos. Still, even more appeared where they had fallen, firing relentlessly at the mighty sky serpent. Jack looked back, holding on tightly to his partner's head feathers.
"Damn; They got me again."
Jack looked down, and noted the growing patch of flame smothering the base of one of his partner's wings; struggling against the wind, but remaining alight.
Cyclomon hummed; a rumbling sound that made Jack's whole body shudder. "I can't keep this up."
Jack thought for a moment. "Maybe if we weren't so big we'd be less of a target. And anyway, you must be getting tired."
Cyclomon hummed in response. He had no way of knowing how long he'd been up here but the constant flight and oppression was taking its toll on him. He called back up to his partner. "If I devolve now, we'll both be sitting ducks."
"Not if I get them out of the way first."
"Can you do that?"
"I can try."
Cyclomon closed his eyes for a second, before nodding. "Okay. If you think you can do it, go for it."
Jack stood up, holding onto the feather as he turned himself around, staring at the enemies behind. "You head straight up, and give me ten seconds."
"Roger. You ready?"
Jack smirked. "Ready."
He let go of the feather and ran, making a beeline down his partner's serpentine back. He could already feel the great sky serpent begin to tilt upwards after him, gaining just a little extra height. His shoes gripped the soft down, and he stayed near the centre, bracing himself as the end of the tail - and the oncoming enemies - got closer and closer.
"This is nuts."
Adrenaline rushed through him with every footstep. Clutching his D-Nexus tightly, he reached the end of the tail, closed his eyes and leapt.
There was a flash of light, and the sky serpent dissolved nearly instantly, the sudden energy blast forcing the front line enemies back slightly. A ball of shield plates materialized in mid-air, but it did not unveil. Instead it spun rapidly as the flying soldiers barreled towards it. A few of them veered away at the last minute, but most were caught in the trap; sucked in by the spinning orb as the winds whipped around it, creating a wide area of vacuum.
With a massive boom the sphere ruptured, sending flashes of pressurized air in all directions. The trapped soldiers tumbled; a few of them shedding data as they fell, and almost none of them sky-worthy. Ventimon spun to a stop, looking down at his fallen pursuers. Beneath his mask, he grimaced.
Perimon hovered beside him, clearly out of breath but still flying. Ventimon nodded. "We should head down. We're out in the open up here."
"They're coming up again."
"Not for long. Get behind me."
Perimon did so as the fours shield plates rearranged themselves, forming a barrier below the two as they moved downwards.
Gravity and thrust intermingled, and Ventimon sped up exponentially, until the two Digimon and the shield were hurtling downwards like a meteorite, the air force buffeting the soldiers out of the way with minimal effort.
Ventimon was almost going to laugh with the sheer exhilaration of it, until a sudden thought rushed through his mind.
Perimon glanced at his partner. "What is it?"
"I can't stop! I'm gonna hit the ground!"
"You moron...you should have thought of that beforehand."
Perimon peered downwards.
Perimon tried to fly forward, but the air pressure near the edge of the barrier prevented him from moving. His claws shot out and he grasped his partner's body, spreading his wings as far as this speed would let him. "Break up the shield!"
Ventimon focused, and in front of him the shield jerked, fractured, and finally split apart, the shield plates spinning away. Ventimon had a few seconds to brace himself before he crashed into the earth below.
Thankfully the high wind speeds cushioned the impact somewhat, but it was still a disorientating experience. The impact sent him rolling away, spinning on his tail end as the world blurred around him. He blinked, forcing himself upright and trying to still the violent winds around him. When the movement stopped, he opened them again, hovering up slightly as he eyed the battlefield around him. "Perimon?"
Ventimon turned, panicking as the weapon of a SkullMeramon caught him in the chest. He felt the impact again, and reeled, rolling away through the air as the brute raised his fist.
There was a red blur and Perimon struck the SkullMeramon in the chest at an immense speed, sending it backwards one step. The falcon fell to the ground, looking slightly dazed as he wriggled backwards. "Jack? Where are your weapons?"
"I-I don't know! They fell away!"
With an aggressive grunt Centarumon leapt over them, planting both front hooves firmly into SkullMeramon's chest and sending it to the ground. Before the giant had time to react, Centarumon's cannon was pointed right up to the eyehole of its mask, the cylinders glowing. Ventimon and Perimon looked away as the blast fired, disintegrating the giant from the inside out.
Ventimon concentrated, feeling out as he tried to locate the lost shield plates. "Thanks Centarumon."
The horse man pointed straight up. "It's dangerous down here. You should-"
A crushing blow from Martyaxmon's rosary sent Centarumon to his haunched, writhing in pain. The manticore circled with a roar, looking around, until he caught sight of the little soldier and the falcon. His eyes widened in recognition and rage.
Martyaxmon glanced back, dodging as the attacks from Karatenmon, Cratomon and Seismon followed him. He looked between the warriors of Earth and Air, cursing, before making a move towards Ventimon. The warrior fell back just in time, and the manticore's tail blade clanged against the returned shield plates.
Ventimon pressed forward himself, swiping and slashing with the hard-edged metal as he rose in height, bearing down on the manticore. Martyaxmon made a leap, smacking one of them away, but with a cry of "Blast Front!", the other three pressed down again, sending the Red Beast earthwards.
The manticore spat as a blast of light struck him in the shoulder, but the metal protected him, and he turned, glaring at the fallen centaur. "You're not worth my time! Crimson Wrath!"
Ventimon rushed forwards too late, as Martyaxmon whirled around, slamming his flaming paw down on Centarumon's waist. The centaur jerked, crying out in pain, before disintegrating in a flash.
Ventimon backed away, frozen by the act of sudden brutality. Martyaxmon stood alone, surrounded by data bits as his front paw glowed all the more.
"You murderous son of a bitch! Harmony Swords!"
Karatenmon leapt forward, both blades swinging towards the Red Beast at different angles. With a sidestep the manticore deflected them, bringing his own tail blade forward as Karatenmon slashed again and again, fury in his eyes.
"When will you be satisfied? When you've killed all my comrades?"
"No." Martyaxmon's gaze hardened, and he clenched his front paw, absorbing the last of Centarumon's data. "When I have enough power to get my vengeance on you!"
The paw flew forward with a slam, once, twice, before sending Karatenmon flying to one side with a third shattering punch to the jaw.
Ventimon rushed forwards, but Martyaxmon was ready, rearing up and planting both front paws on the oncoming barrier as his rosary spun around him. Ventimon split the shield, ready to slash again, but Martyaxmon brought his head forwards with a crunch, slamming into the little soldier's chest.
A biting storm suddenly caught the manticore side-on, sending him rolling away before he could damage Ventimon anymore. He rolled to his feet, growling in the direction of Grace and Tupilamon, who was crouched on all fours, bleeding in several places but still strong enough to fight. Grace gripped her D-Nexus tightly, her gaze dark through the eyes of her helmet.
"Get your hands off my brother."
Martyaxmon lunged, roaring, as he rushed towards the exposed girl. "I will destroy you all! Who dies first means nothing to me!"
The girl flashed before his eyes, her form shifting along with her partner's bulk. Chionemon stood up, holding both arms out as Martyaxmon's armoured form launched himself at her.
The Red Beast cursed as the nomad's hands clamped down on either side of his helmet, causing the hot metal to crack and fracture. He swung his head away, lashing out with the rosary, but Chionemon had already run to safety.
The projectiles hit at his feet, sending him sliding away, growling as his opponents came at him from every direction. His rosary span rapidly, hovering just in front of him and glowing red as his inner power built up.
Fornaxmon's blade swung in an arc, crashing into Galvamon's raised arm. The armour protected the dinosaur, but the impact still sent him sideways, clutching his wrist and swearing.
Fornaxmon turned, bringing up his other arm as the orb of lighting hit it, the electricity barely affecting him. In a single movement his blade came down, slamming into the ground at Kuaramon's feet. The warrior overbalanced, falling backwards and watching helplessly as Fornaxmon bore down on him, spewing flames left, right and centre.
"You're not getting me that easily. Quantum Coil!"
Cables shot either side of Fornaxmon, digging into the ground. Kuaramon turned his wrists, retracting them quickly and pulling himself forward, between the golem's legs. He felt the cables jerk as Fornaxmon ran into them, and quickly pulled them back, rolling to his feet. Turning, he saw Galvamon running towards the mechanical man, spinning rapidly as his claws and tail slashed at Fornaxmon's metal body. He fell back quickly; aside from a few scorch marks, there was no indication he'd even attacked at all.
Kuaramon ran his hands over his mask. "We can't keep up with him. He's too strong."
"What do you suggest we do?"
The two did so, dodging the beam of fire that cut the air between them. Galvamon yelled over. "Maybe one of us should evolve?"
"That won't be enough, and it'll mean the other one of us is defenseless."
"Well we need to think of something."
Kuaramon was aware of Fornaxmon's glowing visor pointing in his direction, and prepared to leap forward.
Flashes of white, orange and black danced in Kuaramon's vision as he hit the ground, looking up quickly. Dokkamon and Ljosamon floated up to him, quickly helping him to his feet as Luminemon and Achromon squared off against the giant, eyes glowing.
"You looked like you were in trouble."
For a moment Fornaxmon stood stock still, looking between his opponents, machinery still chugging away. He stepped back, for a moment looking confused. Then, as the six warriors circled him, he let out a mechanical groan, flames spurting from his head.
"You will not get past me! I will protect General Surtremon!"
Ljosamon hesitated, clenching her fists. "He really has gone…"
"We need to take him down." Kuaramon's generators spun into overdrive as the cables across his body turned white. "It isn't right, what he's become."
Fornaxmon raised his blade with a roar, striking the ground again. The rocks exploded in a flaming fissure, sending his six opponents back. He followed up quickly, his visor and chest heating up once again.
Rinkhalmon's claws tapped against the metal wall of the silo as he listened to the fighting going on outside, bobbing his head up and down.
"I wonder how Marty's getting on?"
He shrugged, kicking off from the wall and walking forward, gazing over the rail at the great, metallic cocoons that hung from the ceiling. The incubation chamber was large, with two great hangar doors at one end and several wires and tubes lying all over the floor. The chamber did look a tiny bit barren, but only a tiny bit. There was still enough firepower here to wipe out the silly little creatures.
He shrugged, and backed up, scuttling up the ladder to his ceiling lab. "I suppose I should actually do my job."
With nimble and precise movements he whipped between console and panel, pressing buttons and pulling levers as the great machinery outside began to grind. The nearest of the cocoons, fashioned from the very metalwork of the chamber, began to light up and shiver, the base end peeling back. A stream of lava poured out from beneath as the cocoon swung back and forth, shaking ever more violently. Rinkhalmon rushed to the other corner of the room, quickly grasping a floor-level lever and pulling it.
"Nah-ah, we wouldn't want to drop you, would we?"
There was a jet of steam as the cocoon was lowered to the floor. It ruptured as it was moved, lava spilling down over the chamber as Rinkhalmon watched it fall. The cocoon splintered violently as it hit, releasing a torrent of magma, surrounding a curled-up shape that pulsed and morphed. Slowly parts of it grew and solidified, taking up nearly half the area of the massive chamber. Rinkhalmon pressed a button and the doors at the end creaked open. He rubbed his hands, giggling gleefully, as the first of the new Fire Tyrants staggered into the battlefield outside, letting out a croaking roar and dripping lava everywhere.
It was always so much fun when things actually worked.
The three hybrids separated as the burning laser swooped towards them, the beam just catching Dokkamon's cloak. He leapt up, ignoring the flames, before rushing downwards with the shadows whirling around him like a sawblade.
Fornaxmon raised his blade arm, blocking the shadows as he swung his club upwards. Dokkamon was caught in the chest, and was launched skywards, still spinning away like a Catherine wheel.
There was a thunk, and the golem turned to see an arrow sticking out of his right shoulder. He looked up, as Ljosamon loaded and fired again, the next arrow striking him in the knee. With a quick shake, the arrows dissolved, and Fornaxmon angled himself again. Galvamon ran up beside Ljosamon, who was fumbling for a third time. "That's not working on him. He's too well defended."
"Maybe. But I can distract him."
Fornaxmon's head turned round as Achromon lunged at him, flapping his skeletal wings as arcs of black fire rushed forwards with him.
The golem staggered backwards, only for his movements to be stopped as Luminemon and Kuaramon bound him from either side, pulling with all their might against the bindings that held him. Fornaxmon looked up again as Achromon swung, his crescent blade slicing into the golem's chest and actually leaving a mark. He veered away as Galvamon unsheathed his blades.
"It's working! We can take him down!"
Kuaramon felt the golem writhe in his and Luminemon's cables. He clenched his fists as he kept pulling. "I'm sorry about this."
Fornaxmon wasn't paying attention to him, or the white dragon. The golem's attention was focused off to the side. Far away from the boarded-up entrance to the fortress, another door was opening. Slowly, and quietly, away from anyone's attention, but the golem could see the lava already seeping out from beneath.
It had begun.
Galvamon's electrified claws struck Fornaxmon dead in the chest, causing him to reel back with the shock and impact. The dinosaur held on, twisting his claws further as the golem's machinery began to grind and complain. Fornaxmon looked up, his visor burning brightly.
"You can't win this battle!"
Galvamon grimaced. "Watch us."
"No, watch me!"
The dinosaur's eyes widened as Fornaxmon glowed white hot, his entire body steaming and venting. With a groan he forced his arms together, forcing Kuaramon and Luminemon to the ground and breaking free from their bindings. Galvamon scrambled backwards, yelling out as he did so. "GET DOWN!"
The explosion rocked the area, sending everyone nearby crashing to the ground. Ljosamon lay, dazed and looking along the ground, only to feel the giant's footsteps alongside her. She braced herself for the attack, but it never came.
Feeling the pain racking through her body, she struggled to her feet, watching as the battle raged on behind her. She saw Fornaxmon rushing away from them, towards…towards…
The six warriors stood up, and gazed at the monstrosity entering the battlefield. It was huge, at least fifty feet high, and it walked slowly and almost majestically on its four sturdy legs. It's body was made almost entirely of rock and burning fissures, that spilled magma over the battlefield with each movement. Six miniature volcanoes pointed out of its back, spraying even more molten rock and gas in a wide area, blocking out the sky. Only its head seemed alive; a ruff of feathers and a metal frill over a feral, growling jaw, with two yellow eyes that burned with madness.
Galvamon hobbled over, rubbing at scorch marks over his chest and legs. "It's a Volcdramon. A peaceful creature from the Southern Daggers." he said bitterly. "And I thought Surtremon still had some semblance of respect for life."
The Volcdramon's great elongated neck swayed as it released a torrent of lava from its maw, carving a great swathe through resistance members and Fire Forces alike. The sounds of pained cries and death screams tinged the air, along with the distinct smell of sulfur and burning metal.
Kuaramon closed his eyes. "It's already started. If this carries on everything will be wiped out before we've even got inside."
"Then we have to protect what we can." Dokkamon shook the dust off his arms as the shadows began whirling once again. "There's only one at the moment. We took out Marsmon; if we work together we can take out this one. You said they were unstable, right?"
Galvamon bit his lip, reluctant to go. "The others have handled this before. We should go inside…"
"But we can't just let this thing kill everyone!"
Achromon and Luminemon hovered beside the dinosaur, concern in their eyes. "What should we do, General?"
The dinosaur clenched his fists, sparks running along his claws. "I've seen too many good friends die to these monstrosities. We'll bring it down. We're not just here to win this battle; we're here to save everyone. Everyone, with me!"
He rushed forward, and the others followed suit as Volcdramon turned in their direction, eyes narrowing and mouth dripping with lava.
The great chamber doors closed silently behind it, as Fornaxmon, unnoticed, slipped inside.
"To the left!"
Galvamon led the other warriors sideways as Volcdramon opened its maw once again, spraying molten rock in their direction. Already the ground around it was half flooded and bubbling away, with a few wayward streams of data signifying the unfortunate fate of the first victims. Still, other members of the resistance were pressing back, doing as much as they could to quell the leviathan's rampage. There was a flash of light as Lobomon opened fire, and many others followed her lead, but they were quickly forced back by the great dragon.
Ljosamon bowed her head. "We're not even gonna make a dent in that thing."
Galvamon called back, while keeping his gaze ahead. "Maybe not. But if we can, it might be all we need."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember Marsmon? These things are unstable; if we can cause enough damage it should hopefully self-destruct."
"We may well need more firepower." Kuaramon looked ahead at his partner. "Galvamon, how hard can you hit this thing?"
"Hopefully hard enough."
"Then let me give you a hand. You two?" He signaled back at Ljosamon and Dokkamon, who nodded in unison.
The six warriors flashed, and in their place sat the tamers, riding atop their powered-up Digimon partners. Lyublanamon and Azdajamon split immediately, taking to the air as they circled wide around the behemoth. Dimetromon took a more direct approach, weaving through the resistance and emerging from the front of the crowd. Lobomon noticed them from not too far away, and rushed over towards them, weaving underneath the futile attacks of Seahomon, Gwappamon, Sistermon and others.
With a war cry, Yasyamon shot out of the throng towards the great beast, bringing both blades down in a cross-shape. They hit the rock with a thunk, before bouncing away again, sending the wooden warrior back where he came from. He retreated quickly, joining Lobomon, who simply shook her head.
"That was stupid."
"It was worth a shot."
There was a tutting nearby as Sistermon rolled her eyes. "Yeah, hit it with a stick. That'll work."
"So much for gratitude." Yasyamon placed his hands on his hips, in oddly high spirits despite the imminent danger. He turned to face the approaching tamers. "So you decided to join the party?"
Dimetromon skidded to a stop, allowing the humans to dismount. The dinosaur growled. "We're not about to abandon you here. And maybe we can give this thing enough of a jolt to bring it down."
Lobomon gave a mock curtsey. "Be my guest. Frankly, we're getting nowhere."
There was a rumbling growl as Volcdramon swung its vast neck, trying to rid itself of the nuisances flying all around it. Among them were the two dragons, who reared up either side of the monster's head.
Kai brought up his D-Nexus, trying to ignore the great yellow eye staring at him. "I'm guessing we aim for the head?"
"Sounds like the best shot."
Kai gave a worried look. "Are you going to do what I think you're going to do?"
Azdajamon didn't answer; instead he just flew in closer. Lyublanamon followed his lead, the gems already spinning around her. Another rumble came from the belly of the beast as the lava pressure began to build once again. The holy dragon ducked sideways as a few flecks of molten rock came right at her. "Anytime now!"
"Here goes nothing! Novus Tenebrae!"
Down on the ground, Dimetromon's mighty tail cannon was already spinning at full speed, pointing directly at the underside of Volcdramon's mask.
The three attacks connected, slamming into the Fire Tyrant's head with a mighty explosion. The goliath swayed, letting out a baleful, almost piteable sound as the ash from the impact spread out.
Aaron squinted. "Did it work?"
His questions was answered as a torrent of lava fell from above towards the waiting resistance, splitting them like the Red Sea. The air was filled with the screams of those not lucky enough to get out of the way in time. Eloise turned as she ran, just in time to see Minotarumon help up a fallen Meteormon, before both where hit with the full force of the molten flood.
"GET OUT OF THERE!"
The girl's head snapped upwards again as she watched her partner flap forward, rainbow beams erupting around her as she slammed into the great rock body, yelling in fury. "You monster! You don't belong in this world!"
Eloise was about to call up, when there was a flash of black and Azdajamon yanked the pegasus out of the way, just as a burst of lava flew out. Lyublanamon struggled, but Azdajamon held tightly until she'd calmed down.
"Let's fall back."
"No! We had it! We had it!"
"It wasn't enough!" Azdajamon held her close, feeling her rage dying down. "Pull back, and we'll go in again together."
From ground level, Kai peered up as the embers began to clear. Volcdramon was still standing. It's metal mask was cracked, most of its feathers were singed, and about half its face had been blown away. But it was still alive and growling, and as Kai noticed the red glow around the creature's wounds, it became clear that it was doing more than that.
Aaron looked at his partner. "Hit it again! We almost had it!"
"I can't. I need to charge up again."
Lobomon placed her hands on her hips. "Well that's not fair."
"It never is."
Aaron stared at his partner, who stood stock still, staring at the ground. The dinosaur was shaking. "Every time we gained the upper hand...they would keep coming. Until we were all dead. They were relentless. They are relentless. They're a walking, mindless engine of destruction." His eyes darted up towards his partner. "Don't you see? We can't kill it. Even if we kill one, they'll just release more. This is the horror of the Fire Tyrants."
The surrounding resistance looked worriedly between tamer and partner, as Volcdramon stepped forward again, the lava pressure building. Lobomon bit her lip. "Then what can we do, General?"
Dimetromon didn't answer. Kai looked back, then looked at Aaron. "What do you think?"
Aaron paused, unsure. He laid a hand on his partner's shoulder, gripping the firm muscle. Then he looked up. "Keep backing up. Stay away from its attacks and keep firing. We'll charge up again. Aim for the same place and we might bring it down."
Lobomon and Yasyamon nodded, and began beckoning the warriors backwards, out of the way of Volcdramon's wrath. Eloise and Kai stayed with Aaron, calling commands to their partners as the white and black beasts continued circling around the behemoth's neck.
Dimetromon backed away with the others, his generator beginning to rev up again. "But what do we do if we can't beat it, Aaron?"
"We can. We always have. We have to."
"But if we can't?"
Aaron remained firm. "Then we do what it does. We keep fighting regardless. In the end, something has to give."
Rinkhalmon cackled as he darted back and forth, keeping an eye on the great cocoons above all the while he was running. The lights were in full force now, and the sounds of creaking and pumping bellows mingled with the steady gurgle of pipes coming from beneath the floor, from the great vat of the laboratory below.
All of a sudden, something flashed in the darkness, catching the serpent's attention. Rinkhalmon leant over the rail, resting his chin on his forearm as he stared at the floor of the silo, which was already scorched and singed from Volcdramon's release.
"You're looking a little lost."
Fornaxmon peered up at him, his inner fire burning dimly but still visible in the darkness. He said nothing. Rinkhalmon sighed, pointing a lazy finger at the doors. "The battle's that way, genius."
"Not my battle."
"My battle's with you."
Rinkhalmon smiled, and neatly flipped his legs over the rail, sliding down the wall to meet Fornaxmon face-to-face on the silo floor. "Why am I not surprised?" He leant forward, and the golem stepped back, holding out his cleaver as Rinkhalmon's long neck peered around, the beady eyes examining him.
"You never did take particularly well. Still, I'm impressed." He waggled his fingers briefly, nodding as he did so. "Even three of my little buddies couldn't make you see sense."
"Sense? Do you think I'm stupid?" Fornaxmon let out a bitter laugh, swaying back and forth. "Although I'm beginning to suspect that you're not doing this purely due to General Surtremon's commands."
Rinkhalmon shrugged. "The Digital World belongs to those with the gall to reach out and grab it." The snake-man leant forwards, tapping his foot against the rock floor. "I can assure you, Commander, that I have no interest in controlling the Digital World.
"I've seen enough. This madness ends now, Rinkhalmon."
The serpent looked up with a bored expression, still waggling his hand. "You're boring. But you're right. I don't have time for this either."
Without warning he lunged, the leeches writhing at his fingertips with the movement. But Fornaxmon was watching, and lashed out himself, his cleaver burning red with an intense heat. Rinkhalmon pulled back at the last second, feeling the leech wriggling back up his arm as the cleaver swiped down. The serpent twisted and tried another angle, but a spurt of fire blocked him again. He pulled back, looking almost hurt. "What are you trying to do, kill me?"
"I can't say that'd be a bad idea."
Rinkhalmon grinned, the fire flashing in his eyes as Fornaxmon repositioned himself again, his military prowess clearly superior to the serpent's. Still, Rinkhalmon remained confident. "It's no good, you know. One touch and you're mine once again."
"Is that so?" Fornaxmon moved his arm, releasing another burst of fire from his chest that Rinkhalmon effortlessly dodged. The golem swayed, the red fire burning with a cruel edge.
"Then come on. Take me over, once again. I dare you."
Martyaxmon could hear the ear-scraping groan of the Fire Tyrant behind him, and he smiled, licking his lips as the bombardment continued. "See this? This is the power of the Fire Kingdom. No matter how hard you try, you will never surpass it. This is the new age of the Digital World."
The burst of wind came from the ground next to him, but he was unmoved, simply striking upwards with his great bead chain. Aeolumon pulled away, only to loop around again with another couple of wind orbs. These ones struck true; catching the manticore on the shoulder and hip and pushing him to the ground. The rosary lashed out again, this time hitting Aeolumon and wrapping around his leg.
Karatenmon's blades swung downwards, shattering the chain and releasing the warrior. Martyaxmon threw his head back, lunging at the tengu's dual swords as they went for his throat. He caught one of them in his triple jaw, biting down with the force of a vice, but a swift boot from Karatenmon sent him backing away again. The Red Beast circled around, spinning his rosary once again and trying to find the right moment of attack.
A wall of bone erupted in front of him, and Martyaxmon reared back, before swiping at it. Seismon stood behind, his glowing fist already rushing forwards and connecting with the manticore's face. Martyaxmon leapt high, his claws already pulsing with red energy.
"You insolent wretches! Crimson Wrath!"
Chionemon's attack struck him in the flank, causing him to overbalance on his landing. The red energy spilled outwards clumsily, easily dodged by his attackers.
"Stop doing that!"
"What happened to the power of the Fire Kingdom?"
The manticore looked up, eyes blazing, as Chionemon, summoned more icicle daggers. "I don't know about anyone else but your power isn't looking very powerful."
"Silence, little girl. Your opinion is irrelevant." Martyaxmon's rosary swirled rapidly, the colour of the beads flipping rapidly between deep red and royal blue. "You know nothing of war. You know nothing of the sacrifices we have made, and you have no right to take it away from us."
"You're wrong." Alopemon appeared the other side of Chionemon, with her own icy weapons hovering around her body. "She's been through this war as much as you and I have. We all have. We've all fought the same battle; the only difference is that you're the only one who's learnt nothing."
There was a clicking sound, and Martyaxmon turned again as Chionemon circled around him, her daggers brushing against one another. When she spoke, it was as a warrior far beyond her years.
"Can't you see you're fighting for the wrong side, Martyaxmon? Your general wants to destroy the world. Even if he wants to rebuild it, it doesn't give him the right to tear it apart. You've been following him so intently that you can no longer see when he's wrong."
"I said silence!"
Chionemon raised her arms. "You're nothing but a murderer, Martyaxmon!"
Martyaxmon turned too late as Alopemon slammed into him, her hardened tail causing another dent in his armour. The rosary lashed out blindly, scattering on the ground far away from Martyaxmon's influence. The manticore looked left and right for his weapon, finally noticing it, but too late to stop Seismon edging up to it.
From the other side, Cratomon raised his arm. "Primal Fury!"
The manticore whirled round, but a flapping of wings and lashing of talons from Mistramon stopped him in his tracks. The green energy flew past, entering the oversized insect and making him grow all the more.
Martyaxmon finally batted Mistramon away, running towards Tectonamon, but found himself rearing back as the battlefield sprouted emerald green fissures, swallowing up his rosary into the earth. Fuming, the Red Beast turned, eyes locking on the now-human Kent, who stared at him defiantly.
He rushed forward, his bladed tail lashing out with all its might.
"I'M GONNA KILL YOU!"
A black shape slammed into him, blocking his scorpion tail and sending him to the ground. Karatenmon stood over him, the dual longswords glinting in the firelight as the other warriors surrounded the Red Beast, who struggled to his feet. All of a sudden he could feel the wear of the battlefield; every muscle ached and every movement hurt. Still he stared up, eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.
"You can't defeat me like this. I surpass you. All of you."
Kent stared down, shaking his head as he too tried to regain his breath. "Maybe once. But we've grown. We're stronger than you now; stronger together than anything you or your army can throw at us. You've merely held onto ancient morals and you've fallen behind. You're old. Irrelevant." He leaned forward, his unblinking eyes burning into Martyaxmon's. "Surrender. It's over."
Martyaxmon growled, the muscles in his claws tensing as red energy erupted over his whole body. "I will not be lectured to by a HUMAN! CRIMSON WRATH!"
The blast of ice, wind and snow knocked the manticore off of his feet before he could even make a move, sending him rolling away along the ground. He struggled up once again, staring at the group of warriors still standing over him; tired, bruised, but defiant. Kent's words swam in his head, mingling with the words of everyone around him.
"Well, if you do need a little extra help…"
The Red Beast's eyes widened, and his hand went to his chest plate. It was still there. The canister. Rinkhalmon's last gift. He could feel it, pulsating in his paw, only moments away from shattering and releasing the creature within.
"It might just give you the edge you need."
Then Cephalomon's voice.
They killed me. They will kill you too.
As his paw closed around the canister, he felt the picture beside it; the old photo, with the three of them together.
"Sorry Cephalomon. This is what I chose to fight for. I will see this through to the end, even if it kills me."
Karatenmon stepped forward, limping slightly. Martyaxmon looked up, and for the first time saw the extent of the tengu's wounds. The breastplate in particular had been sliced right through. Data particles trickled out from beneath.
Martyaxmon got fully to his feet, holding his paw beneath his breastplate. Volcdramon roared behind him as if in encouragement.
"You dare belittle my power? I am above all of you! I…I am a Commander of the Fire Kingdom and I will fight until my last breath!"
The warriors in front of him readied their own weapons as the manticore pulled the canister out.
Orange and green fire clashed as the two Commanders fought, striking again and again in rapid succession. Rinkhalmon backflipped, throwing needles and small blades as he did so, but Fornaxmon blocked them easily and sent the great cleaver lunging forwards yet again.
The heavy blade crashed into the floor once again, leaving a great gouge in the rock. Rinkhalmon still remained at a safe distance; the serpent was faster and more slippery, but it was clear that hand-to-hand combat was not his forte, and without his curved blade he found himself running away more often than he would have liked. The leeches cowered within his soul jar, unwilling to come out.
The needles shot forwards again, but Fornaxmon simply raised an arm and the metal clattered to the floor, the poisons and potions leaking out of the tiny syringes. Fornaxmon grunted. "Good luck piercing metal with metal. Face it; you don't stand a chance against me."
"If that's the case, then why haven't you beaten me already?" Rinkhalmon gave a bow as another burst of fire flew towards him, and he ducked just in time. The serpent placed his hands behind his back and walked nonchantly around the commander. "You're not as immune as you think. Even now, you're a servant to the little voices inside you."
"I feel them, but I do not bow to them." Fornaxmon suddenly rushed forward, bringing the great blade in from the side. "Neither do I bow to you! Clay Divider!"
Rinkhalmon swerved out of the way of the blade, crouching as he giggled maniacally. "You're slowing down, big guy. You can't keep this up for much longer."
Fornaxmon tensed, backing up towards the wall. "You'll be surprised what I can do."
"I'm sure. But mostly I'm just interested." Rinkhalmon twiddled his fingers, sauntering forwards with nary a breath out of place. "Do you know what I don't get? Why did you come back here? You inexplicably managed to free yourself from the leech's influence, and you had a chance to join the 'good guys' and you didn't take it. You didn't even warn them. How selfish are you?"
Fornaxmon felt the wall pressing against his back, his legs almost giving way from the strain of fighting Rinkhalmon. The serpent was quick, and despite his disadvantage he obviously enjoyed his close combat. Still, the golem didn't rise to his taunts.
"I've made mistakes. I ran away when I should have stood up to you. But this time, I can take you down from the inside."
"Is that so? So you came to fight me, only to be turned into a mindless puppet once again?" As if in emphasis, Rinkhalmon raised a hand, the leech writhing between his fingertips. "That's so stupid it's almost insulting."
"But you forget one thing."
"And that is?"
"I'm already dying."
"I don't need to save myself."
With a rapid movement, the great cleaver swung down, stopping just short of the great pulsating pipes. Rinkhalmon stopped. This was unexpected.
Fornaxmon peered down. "You've already released one Fire Tyrant. How many more of those leeches are waiting to get out, I wonder? Enough for a whole swarm of Fire Tyrants? No wonder you need to keep those little critters under control."
Rinkhalmon grinned. "Nice try, but there's nothing you can do. They go where I command."
"No they don't. They follow each other."
Rinkhalmon's face fell.
"If I were to break this pipe right now, they'd sense their brethren inside me. They would swarm. I will be the prime target. And where would that leave you?"
Rinkhalmon laughed again, although far more nervously. "You're bluffing. You'd never do that."
"Destroy the Fire Kingdom's power source? You're right; how stupid of me."
"You'd only become a Fire Tyrant yourself. Insanely powerful. You'd be unstoppable. You'd only serve to bring about the destruction of your friends quicker."
"Powerful, yes. But also unstable. And one Fire Tyrant is better than a whole army." Fornaxmon's blade pressed lower, causing Rinkhalmon to wince. Fornaxmon continued. "And one more thing. I have faith in their power. I know the humans and their partners. I know they can stop me. And if they can stop me, they can end you."
He raised his cleaver, just as Rinkhalmon held out his hands in desperation. "Wait! There's still a chance for you!"
Fornaxmon turned his head as Rinkhalmon babbled on, tumbling over his words. "That power…it's more important than you can imagine. If I have that power, I can remove the leeches from inside you. You can go back to your old life. You can be free." He smiled, almost sincerely. "Don't you want to be reunited with those children? Your friends?"
Fornaxmon turned his head away. He spoke, and his voice was a mumble, but Rinkhalmon still heard every word.
"My old life is gone. You stole it from me. I died back in Silicon City; no, I died when I ran away, all those years ago. Ever since then I've been a monster. Your monster. Another creature that blindly succumbed to the Fire Kingdom." His fire dimmed just slightly as he continued. "It's too late for me. I had to fight those children because I couldn't give them false hope that they could save me. To them, I'm dead. But I can still give them one last chance."
"I may die as a monster, but my final choice will be a noble one!"
The great cleaver split the pipes with a splintering crack, sending blue liquid everywhere. Immediately alarms started sounding and lights flickered all over the place. Rinkhalmon yelped and bolted back up to the control panel, rushing between consoles as he frantically pressed buttons, all to no avail.
"No, no, no, NO! YOU MANIAC!"
Fornaxmon didn't answer. The leeches swam around him, already swimming into the cracks and holes all over his body. Up through his legs, his arms, his chest, his head. More and more bolted towards him, away from the great cocoons above, which silently deflated, the artificial life draining away from inside.
For a moment, Fornaxmon stood silently. Then his entire body jerked. And again. Great flames erupted from his entire upper body, tinged with greens and blues. The metal contorted, swelled and burst. The pure forged Digizoid melded with scrap metal and the ever present leeches, as they pressed against the new vessel which held them. Pressed, squeezed and molded. Fornaxmon remained standing as he spasmed again and again, great growths appearing all over his body, pushing out through his pistons and his vents and his broken arm. He gasped, staring up at Rinkhalmon as his consciousness left him.
Rinkhalmon ran. Cursing under his breath, he bolted from the room and slammed the door shut, before leaning back against it, scraping his head in his claws. For a moment he stayed there, his eyes darting back and forth wildly.
Then he bent his head back and laughed.
Then he ran back to his upstairs lab, as the door to the silo began to glow.
Wallowing in the depths of his leech-fuelled insanity, the creature that had been Fornaxmon stared down at the melting control panel. For a moment, he considered pushing his way further through the fortress.
Then something more interesting caught his scent, and his entire upper body swiveled, until he faced the great doors to the silo. He could sense fire. Metal. Blood.
It was irresistible.
It happened spontaneously.
One moment, the battlefield was dwarfed by the Fire Tyrant, still marching through the vain efforts of the resistance.
Then, the silo doors splintered open with an immense bang, and another fiery juggernaut barreled out.
Fornaxmon slammed into Volcdramon with a crack, and the dragon went down, its rocky body splitting along the back as magma spewed out. Volcdramon roared, feeling pain for the first time.
The resistance stopped fleeing, and watched as Fornaxmon opened his arms wide and bellowed to the sky. Aaron stared in disbelief, for the golem was not the same one he'd fought earlier. He stood nearly three times as tall, as if he'd grown, but the growth had been rough and uneven. His limbs were split, and where the metal had broken sprouted bubbles of molten metal and great fungal projections, melding with his inner workings to form a biomechanical monstrosity. The fires that burned within him were tinged with bright blue, and he juddered with every movement, like a broken automaton. Pulsating pipes and bubbling metal embraced his torso and head, and where the metal of his visor met the boiling fungus, a single eye peered out, darting left and right as if it had a mind of its own.
Fornaxmon raised his blade arm high, and without hesitation brought it down into the Volcdramon's neck. The monster stiffened, gurgled, and promptly fell into spasms, its head falling some several metres away.
Fornaxmon simply watched, satisfied, as the first Fire Tyrant's body lay melting.
The rest of the battlefield had noticed something was wrong. Everyone had turned to watch as Fornaxmon singlehandedly destroyed the seemingly invincible behemoth. Kent's eyes were wide as Fornaxmon stood still, almost basking in the heat from his victim.
He remembered their own peril, and turned back, ready to face Martyaxmon. But the manticore wasn't paying attention to him. He stood, canister still in his claw, and stared at the Commander. His eyes were wide, the pupils shaking. His mouth hung open just slightly, but no sound came out.
He was vaguely aware of his opponents converging on him once again, ready to bring him down once and for all. He could still feel the leech pulsating in his claws, and he threw it away like poison, sending it skittering across the battlefield.
The voices blurred into one another. Colours melded together in his vision. He stared at the ground, unaware of anything except the horrific sight, pulsing against his retinas. The inhuman roar that still rang in his ears. The battlefield, ablaze with blue fire as it crept ever closer, the abomination that was his former colleague – his former subordinate – turning to face him, that one eye fixated on him alone.
And the abomination turned to him, and seemed to speek.
Is this what you want to become?
And then one more word.
Martyaxmon, the Red Beast and one of Surtremon's Royal Commanders, turned and bolted. His heavy paws, still weary from the battle, carried him at unbelievable speed over the rock. He could barely see or hear, and had no idea where he was going. He didn't so much as glance back. He simply ran.
For a moment the warriors were distracted by Martyaxmon's retreat, as they watched him go.
Then Karatenmon rushed forward, nudging Kent as Aeolumon, Chionemon, Mistramon and Alopemon drew near. "The silo's open. You can get into the fortress."
Chionemon looked up. "But…Fornaxmon…"
"We can deal with him. This is your chance to get inside and stop this madness."
"That's right; the leeches. Although by the looks of it somebody's already found them." Kent held out his D-Nexus, and all of a sudden Cratomon and Seismon stood together once again. The earthen warrior risked another glance at the molten golem. "Could it be...?"
He shook his head, and turned to the two younger tamers, who had already mounted their partners.
"Come on, we need to find Rinkhalmon."
The others were too tired to answer. They simply nodded. And the six warriors darted away through the throngs, making their way to the open silo, and to the secrets that lay within the fortress.
Karatenmon joined up with Aaron, Dimetromon and the others, as they stared up at Fornaxmon. "What happened?"
"I…don't know…" Aaron winced, glancing left at the tengu as Fornaxmon began to move, his eye darting down towards the resistance.
"You should get inside. The others have already gone; it's up to you-"
"Trust me, you'll never beat him alone." Aaron held up his D-Nexus, and behind him, Eloise and Kai did the same. "Besides, he risked his life to save us once. I need to make sure we end this. For him, if for no-one else."
A growl emanated from Fornaxmon's body as he strode forwards; jerkier than usually, but still with purpose.
Kai clenched his fists, watching as Lyublanamon and Azdajamon swooped in the air, bearing back towards their new opponent.
"Brace yourselves everybody…"
Martyaxmon ran faster than he'd ever run in his life.
And the gunshots and fireflashes slowly faded away, giving way to dead stone buildings, and even further, into dead lands, away from the battlefield.
And the roars and growls and screams and noises faded, becoming dimmer and dimmer and falling away to nothing.
And suddenly Martyaxmon was alone in the Wastegrounds, unseen by his former General, and former colleagues. Unseen by anyone.
And still he kept running, until only the fear remained.
TO BE CONTINUED…