The Southern Daggers. Rough and foreboding at the best of times, with great razor-sharp peaks that split off every which way, great rifts with spikes lying like a death-trap at the bottom, and beyond, the harsh and unforgiving global ocean, with each wave possibly hiding a dozen more fatal pillars of rock, and possibly not. Now though, they were more ragged than ever, with great peaks broken off and cast aside, and the sea-level dwindling day by day. Not to mention, the normally lifeless daggers were harbouring unwelcome visitors.
One such intruder rose up, staring at the afternoon sun through lifeless eyes, as the tentacles adorning its back and shoulders writhed, soaking up the light. It raised a limb and clambered over the peak, eating away at the data of the rock as it did so. It was a golem; a puppet much like Nithhogg's first 'partner'. However, this one was far more refined, and far more deadly. Four disproportionately long legs tipped with thin, star-shaped bone claws allowed it to move easily over the terrain. Its body was short by comparison, but still thin, almost like a single spine out of which grew its legs and the various flailing tendrils that grabbed onto everything in range. Its head was little more than an angular stump, out of which was sticking various tubular eyes, feelers and mismatched jaws that seemed to shift and morph into a different arrangement every second, each one just as terrifying as the last.
The golem halted its movement, and sniffed the air, its head rotating ninety degrees to give it a better angle. Digimon. Nearby. Three of them. Advancing very quickly.
A series of icicles struck the beast in the head and it whipped around in an instant, one of its limbs lashing out like a spear and embedding itself in the rock where Alopemon had been standing moments before. The behemoth roared; a guttural collection of screeches and roars that were as mismatched as its face.
"Yeah, screw you too, arsehole. Licht Sieger!"
There was a crack, and the attacking claw was promptly severed from the body at the elbow joint. The golem raised its stump, looking almost perplexed, but there was another noise and it swung around again, striking another dagger and causing the thing to split in two. Lobomon stopped her run just in time, bracing herself and facing up at the great monstrous head.
The golem retched; a mixture of mucus and data particles that streamed down towards her. She leapt out of the way, but a few particles just caught her scarf and hair, immediately eating away at them. The rest of the mixture hit the dagger, melting through it in an instant.
The golem turned back to where its arm was still embedded, and the strange blackness spreading over it as it was encased in ice that froze it to the core. Chionemon reeled back and landed a punch, cracking the armour and bending it. The golem screeched and pulled away, its second forearm hanging loosely and promptly disconnecting. Down two limbs, it was finding it difficult to stay upright on its stilt-like legs; more durable than Nithhogg's first attempt it may have been, but its regenerative abilities were less potent.
Chionemon landed by Lobomon, who was patting away at her shoulders, the residue from the chemical torrent having left pock-marks in her armour and black dots on her hair and skin. "Have I ever said that these things are gross?"
"Yes you did. But we ought to finish it off while we can. Well, close as anyway."
Alopemon stood on a ledge, spraying the slender golem's body with icy projectiles that caused it to writhe and contort, its tendrils waving in protest. A bunch shot out like spears, latching onto the rock and dislodging it. Alopemon leapt, but her leap was off and she found herself ensnared by two pulsing tentacles. Alopemon roared, her skin going ice cold and freezing the snare in place, but she was still held tightly.
There was another twin flash and the tendrils shattered, Lobomon carrying her friend to safety once again. The wolf warrior stood tall, sheathing her cutlasses and raising an arm.
"Lights out, handsome. Licht Kugel!"
An orb of light shot from her arm and struck the golem's face, causing it to blow apart. With no perception left, the creature's body contorted and tumbled down onto the spiky death-trap beneath. There it lay, twitching and juddering as bits and pieces of its armour began to flake off.
Lobomon let out the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding, and bent her right knee, the bone cracking ominously. "All this running isn't doing me any good."
"You're telling me."
The wolf-woman turned to see the last flecks of data fly away from Alopemon's form, leaving not Vulpimon, but Lagomon sitting breathless on the rough rock. Chionemon landed next to her, and picked her up, scratching behind her ears. "You didn't need to come with us, you know."
"Where you go, I go. We work well together." Lagomon smiled. "It's okay. I can do short bursts."
"Well, get some rest for now. I don't think there are any others nearby." Chionemon looked up at the sky. "Good thing we caught him; he would have marched right through the hideout."
"You know these guys; he's not down yet." Lobomon pointed to where the giant's body had all but flaked away, the gooey insides beginning to squirm and writhe. "It's okay. We have a couple of hours, but we need to get moving."
Chionemon nodded, and the two Digimon began to bound across the daggers, weaving inbetween them to stay out of sight. There was nothing really close-by, but the telltale screeches in the distant proved that the golems' unstoppable march was still on its way.
Chionemon paused behind a pillar of rock, and placed Lagomon down, rubbing the insides of her arms. Lobomon stopped a ways ahead, and looked back. "Do you want me to take her?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine."
"Bollocks. You're not allowed to be fine; the rest of us are beaten up."
Chionemon smirked. "Maybe, but I'm still okay to carry my partner, thanks."
Lobomon peered back, before leaning back against the rock. "You know, she was my friend before she was your partner, so don't go taking that tone with me."
There was a cough from between them. "Excuse me, 'she' is right here and 'she' has a name. If you're gonna be like this I'll evolve again and I'll get back before you."
Lobomon chuckled. "Okay, okay, we'll behave."
Lagomon puffed out her cheeks, before sighing. "God, this is degrading. I hate not having legs." She looked up. "Sorry for being a pain."
"Don't be like that, Vulpimon." Chionemon bent down, scooping up her partner once again. Her form shimmered, and she was Grace again, hugging the little ball of fuzz close. "You were a big help back there; thanks to you we can keep the others safe while they get better."
"I just wish I could do more. If I hadn't been beaten down that much before I'd be able to hold my form better."
Lobomon folded her arms. "Look, you're doing just fine out there. Karatenmon can't fight and Jack can barely move. You being out there might be the difference between winning and losing. I'm sure…no, I know your family would be so proud of you for keeping on the fight like this."
Lagomon looked up, and Lobomon stuck her thumb up. "You guys really are the best hope for this world. I think I can trust you with that. So keep at it. You're doing great. After all, we're not dead yet."
Lagomon blushed. "Thanks…I think…you always did have a way with words."
The wolf-woman placed her arms behind her head, snickering to herself. "Words suck. You've just gotta keep moving."
"Talking of which…" There was a rush of wind, and Lobomon turned to see Chionemon back and running across the rocks ahead of her. "Race you back."
"Oh, you little…"
When the three scouts finally reached the cave (which, to be frank, was barely a cave as much as it was a small hollow in one of the daggers) they found Jack in a strange position and Karatenmon leaning against one wall, arms folded and a stern look on his face.
"I am holding it."
Jack wobbled, his legs worryingly far apart as he twisted his bruised body slightly further.
"Hold it better then."
Chionemon devolved again, and leaned down to place Lagomon on the floor. "Dare I ask what you're doing to my brother?"
Karatenmon gave her a quick wave in salutation. "Training. Physical endurance. The sooner we can get him up and running again, the better."
"Training? I thought the big battle was behind us now?"
Karatenmon snorted. "Yes, well, to be frank I really should have made you all do this then. But you were doing your own things, and my focus was elsewhere. But honestly, endurance and suppleness are important in a warrior. You should really be doing exercises as well; I was made to do them every morning back when I joined the resistance."
Grace blinked, and looked over at Jack. "You agreed to this?"
"It was my idea. I wanna be out there with you. So does Perimon, but he doesn't want to leave me alone."
He wobbled slightly too far and fell over onto his palms, changing to a sitting position and catching his breath. Grace rolled her eyes and sat next to him. "I don't mind, but don't stretch yourself too much. You won't be happy if your knee goes any further."
"I know." Jack laid his right leg out in front of him, the bruising having swollen a good twenty centimetres in both directions. "I've gotten used to it now. I just kind of walk in a way that makes it less painful."
Lagomon shuffled over, laying her body next to the boy's knee like a mini ice-pack. "So where is our guardian falcon, anyway?"
Karatenmon pointed skywards, as Lobomon pretty much forced him to sit down himself. "Still playing lookout. He said he thought he knew where we were, and he was going for a check."
Lobomon peered up into the purple sky. "How long's he been gone? You don't think he's in trouble, do you?"
Jack waved dismissively. "He's fine."
"No more trouble than we are, at least." Karatenmon nudged Lobomon's palm away and cupped his own hand over his side, which was still shimmering and letting off dark red particles. He coughed. "What's the situation?"
"Same as always. They're on their way. If we move as soon as we can we can probably get another day's lead on them."
"Any idea where we should be heading?"
Lobomon scratched the back of her head. "Not a clue. If we carry on in a straight-ish line we'll either hit the wastegrounds or the sea, and from there we can figure out what way to go to find shelter. To be honest, if Perimon can find out where we are that would be most helpful." She peered up, blocking the sun from her eyes as she squinted. "Speak of the devil…"
There was a manic flapping of wings and Perimon landed roughly in the middle of the cave, trailing bits of feather behind him. "Hi guys. I'm back. Miss me?"
"No more than usual."
The bird glared at Grace, who stuck her tongue out cheekily. "No less than usual either. Glad you're okay."
Perimon shrugged, before shaking himself off and gesturing with both wings. "The sea is that-a-way, a couple miles walk. We're not that far from the Stone Halo either."
Jack looked over at the others. "Stone Halo? What's that?"
"The mountain range you passed through when you were first heading inland." Lobomon stuck a thumb out towards her chest. "That's where you first met me, remember?"
Grace huffed under her breath. "Great...more rock-climbing..."
"Stone Halo…" Karatenmon looked up. "If we can get over the other side of that we might be slightly safer for a little while. I have a feeling the slender golems will just follow the range around."
Lobomon sighed. "It's better than no direction at all. Come on then; we ought to make a move."
There was barely any time wasted. The six of them knew they had little time left; all they'd been doing for the past three days had been to run. From the moment they'd landed amongst the daggers the slender golems had already been upon them.
They moved quickly; sometimes Chionemon and Aeolumon skipping across the rocks carrying their In-Training partners, and sometimes Grace and Jack following Vulpimon and Perimon across slightly less treacherous bits. Lobomon kept the lead, aiding Karatenmon alongside her, who despite lacking one wing and finding the going tough was still easily able to keep pace. Still, they couldn't relax. Every step they took there was a baleful sound behind them, and every time they looked back they could see another layer of the daggers slowly dissolving away. The world was dying, and soon they'd have no place left to run. And they knew it.
It was nearly pitch-black when they finally decided to stop, having judged that the golems were a suitable distance away. The cave they'd found this time was slightly larger, but it still wasn't great cover from the elements, with great holes eroded out of the top. It was colder as well, and the sound of the sea was closer; great waves crashing against the red rock.
There was little to warm them, but Lobomon had (carefully) inserted one of her cutlasses into the floor to provide ample light to see by. The other she kept by her side. She wasn't about to go defenceless just yet.
The six of them sat around the light, exhausted from the evening's walk but too breathless to sleep just yet. While the night was still young it was better to be alert anyway, rather than risk being swallowed up in their sleep. Nobody had slept much for the past couple of days anyway. In this world, you got used to it.
Karatenmon sighed, and shifted the two swords beside him slightly. Grace noticed the movement, and pointed with a finger. "How come you still have those?"
The group looked at her in a puzzled fashion. The girl sat up, running her hand through her ponytail. "I thought I saw them broken when we were battling Nithhogg."
"You did. These aren't mine; they're my brother's." Karatenmon raised one of the twisted blades, the cold light glinting off the golden metal. "When I was brought here I found them next to me."
Perimon ruffled his feathers slightly. "Can you use them?"
"Not really. I could try, I suppose." The bird-man placed the blade back down, staring into the light. "They just remind me of him. Also I think I'm supposed to keep hold of them. Don't know why." He chuckled. "Is this how it feels? Being told to do good but having no idea how to do it?"
Perimon let out a short whistle. "You have no idea…"
"We try. We're just no good at it. Neither of us were." Jack shuffled forward, glancing back at his sister. "Sorry we couldn't save your world."
Grace gave a half-smile, devoid of passion. "Jack's right. Us two; we were never able to help. Not really. You've done far a far better job than we did."
"That's not fair." Lobomon leant forwards, grinning in encouragement. "You've done so well…"
"To get this far? To stay alive?" Grace looked down, her eyes heavy and her voice flat. "I suppose we could survive pretty well. But we weren't heroes. None of us were. We were only ever kids; we were stupid to think otherwise."
Lobomon looked across the faces of the tamers and their partners, and saw the same reserved forlornness on each one. She was about to speak again, when Karatenmon gave a humph.
"You know what Yasyamon once told me?"
The five turned to him, and he sat, cross-legged, looking at each one of them in turn. "When we'd survived the first onslaught, we were escaping with Piddomon and Reppamon into the Painted Woods. I remember him turning to me, right then, and saying, 'One day I'm going to end up dying to save you. If I do, you'd better get out of there; if you don't I'm gonna chase after you and haunt your arse.'"
He chuckled, and Jack and Perimon joined in. The crow-man continued. "To this day, I'll never understand what it is he saw in me. But I guess I must have given him hope, even if I didn't mean to." He leant forward, his eyes betraying his age and weariness. "You may be children, but people still had faith in you. People still do, and they're right to do so. I'd be stupid myself if I didn't; out of all of us, you've come the closest to bringing this world to order."
Beside him, Lobomon smiled, looking at Vulpimon. "Hey you, didn't you once tell me you wanted to save this world?"
Vulpimon looked away, both from embarrassment and guilt. The wolf-warrior sat back. "Don't think we're going to leave you. Not now. Wherever you end up heading, we're going with you. I certainly want to see this through to the end."
Grace looked up. "But we don't have anywhere to go."
Karatenmon closed his eyes. "As long as we still have a world, we'll always have somewhere to go."
He peered up, through one of the holes in the roof. "You ought to get some rest while you can. I expect we'll need to move again tomorrow."
The two young tamers and the two young Digimon all nodded obligingly, too weary to argue. They headed deeper into the cave as Lobomon nudged the crow-warrior. "You should join them. I'm not too sure you're doing your wound any good."
"Thanks, but I'm okay for now. Besides, you've been moving all day."
Karatenmon looked up at his friend's concerned expression, and smiled. "Honestly. I'll be fine. As you said, I don't plan on falling anytime soon. Beside, someone needs to keep watch, just in case. I'll get you if there are any problems."
Lobomon took her cutlass from the ground, the erratic light casting angry shadows on the rock walls. "We should be fine. At least catch some rest." She smiled. "You know, Yasyamon had a point. Maybe you're more important than you realise."
"I was never anyone special. I was just surrounded by good people." Karatenmon gave a weak smile. "I'll see you in the morning."
Lobomon grinned, and went to join the children deeper in the cave. The light flickered angrily for a second, and then went out, leaving only Karatenmon's keen eyes staring out into the blackness.
Injured he may have been, but few things could dull Karatenmon's senses. Just the faintest rush of wind within the cave and he had one blade out, the golden steel glinting briefly in the starlight, then fading into blackness again.
The tengu looked left and right, checking that the others were all there. They were, still asleep, and none the wiser. Karatenmon turned his attention forwards again.
"I can hear you breathing."
In the darkness, a whispered voice let out a quiet sigh.
"Those things have been severely messed up. They can't be easy to fight with."
Karatenmon narrowed his eyes. "They're all I have. Besides, they're still sharp enough to cut you. Want to find out for yourself?"
The presence in front of him chuckled, and spoke in a singsong manner. "I could have sworn you had your own the last time we met."
"Yeah, well, I've lost a lot of things. My swords, much help though they were, were not at the forefront of my mind."
"Then why do you carry those around?"
The birdman raised an eyebrow, and let down his guard a little. "When I was sent here, I found them next to me. They were my brother's. Somebody said, a while ago, that I needed to keep hold of them, just in case." He leaned forwards a little. "Although I have a sneaking suspicion that you already know all this."
There was silence for a couple of minutes, just the sound of the breathless creature in front of him. It stepped forwards, and Karatenmon could make out the silhouette; part goat, part monkey, with three eyes shining in the starlight.
"Nothing gets past you. Still, we are pleased you listened."
Karatenmon sniffed. "Don't thank me or anything. I couldn't care less who or what you are; I kept them for myself, not for you." He lowered the twisted blade, and brought the other one out, laying them together. "When you gave them to me, you said we might never need them. I take it that's no longer an option?"
Phoukamon shrugged. "Things happen. Sadly. We need to keep those safe, until the time is right."
"And you aren't going to tell me when that is, I assume? If you really needed these, why did you leave them with me?"
"I was caught up in something. The safest hands are still your own, even in your current state. Besides, I wouldn't want to defy your brother's wishes." Phoukamon sat back, hands on the rocky floor as they stared up. "I came to give you a message. Well, directions, at least."
"So it is you. I was wondering whether I'd hear from you again." Karatenmon looked back. "Is this message regarding the children?"
The spirit nodded, and pointed out the cave door. "Over there is the ocean, and about where we're pointing is the Lapis Cavern. They must reach there. You're close; I'm sure they can find it easily."
"They?" Karatenmon folded his arms. "You're suggesting I tell them where to go and then abandon them?"
Phoukamon sighed. "We shouldn't get involved. Our responsibilities lie with the anomalous. But I feel I can't just leave you to die." The spirit leaned forward, an earnest expression on their face. "It will be hard on them, but the children are smart. And they have to do this on their own, only them and their partners. The Digital World is going to change, and if you want to survive you must hide yourself away. You and Lobomon both. I can at least help you do that; give the children their instructions and then come with me. Please."
Karatenmon scratched the feathers on the back of his head. "You know, there's a time when I would have. I know now the children are capable of far more than I am. They will be the ones to save this world. I was stubborn before, but now I accept that."
Phoukamon nodded. "So let them. Please, I wouldn't want-"
They were silenced by Phoukamon reaching out, holding both twisted swords. "Even so, I must accompany them. Lobomon wouldn't leave them and I won't either."
"But we need you. If you follow them-"
"I won't survive?" Karatenmon gave a half-smile in the darkness. "You don't need me. You only need these. Please, take them with you. I've looked after them for as long as I can but it's time I did something of my own will for once."
Hesitantly, Phoukamon reached out and took the blades, carrying them easily despite each one being as long as the spirit's body. Karatenmon stretched. "The Slender golems are still advancing. I'll help the children get past them and reach the Lapis Cavern. If I get any further…well, I'll go as far as I can. I always wondered whether I'd be around the see the Digital World change."
Phoukamon clutched the swords tightly. "You don't have to do this. Nobody will blame you for riding out this storm."
Karatenmon smiled, and shook his head. "I've ridden it all this way. It's time I actually faced it." He raised a hand. "Please, take them and keep them safe. I don't need them any more."
Phoukamon sat silent in the darkness for a second or two. Then they stood up, and turned to the cave door. Just before they reached the edge, they stopped, and turned, their silhouette striking against the night sky.
"Your brother was always proud of you. I know He'd be even more so now." The goat-spirit grinned, and gave a quick salute. "Good luck."
The figure vanished, leaving Karatenmon staring at the night sky again. There was a shuffling behind him and Lobomon moved towards him, placing her hand on his shoulder.
"How long were you listening?"
"Long enough. Ready to step in if you even thought about leaving now. But I know you better than that."
Karatenmon turned his head. "You're okay with this? We were never meant to come this far."
Lobomon snickered. "That's why I'm still here. To defy the whims of the Digital World. I don't just want to survive; I want to live. I want to look back on this when we get through it and think, 'yeah, I actually did something'. Maybe the Digital World didn't choose me, but I want to be there anyway."
Karatenmon smiled, and put an arm around his comrade. "You know, Lobomon? I'm so glad I met you."
"Likewise." The wolf-warrior grinned. "Sounds like tomorrow's going to be a big day."
"One more fight." Karatenmon looked back at the sleeping children and their partners. "One more day."
The group left as soon as everyone was awake, making their way swiftly over the rocks as the sun broke the spiny peaks. Lobomon assisted Karatenmon over the rough terrain, while Grace and Vulpimon kept at a steady pace, not wanting to use too much energy. Perimon had evolved and was gliding carefully above, with Jack holding onto his feathered ruff, face tight in concentration.
Mistramon banked slightly, and looked back at his partner. "Are you alright?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah. For now. Say if you want me to get off."
"Hopefully we won't need to." Mistramon grinned, while sneaking a look back even further. There was a distant rumble, and another peak crumbled from the horizon, this one closer than before. The bird winced.
"Guys, we're not the only ones who decided to get up early."
Lobomon laughed humourlessly. "We're fine. We've managed to stay ahead of them all this time; we only need to make it to the cavern.
Vulpimon held back a little, trotting beside her old friend. "Do you even know where this Lapis Cavern is?"
Karatenmon made the leap, and stood next to the fox. "Not exactly, but I read of it. My brother wrote it down in his journal; I'm guessing it was where one of the Obelimon once stood."
"Obelimon?" Jack pondered above his avian friend. "Water? Or Earth?"
"What do you mean?"
"Each Obelimon held an element. I'm trying to think which one this would have held."
Grace held onto the rock face, slightly out of breath. "Well, we are by the sea." She peered through the gaps in the peaks, squinting. "At least, we should be by the sea. Mistramon, I thought you said you could see it yesterday?"
The bird waggled his head in an unsure fashion. "Well…sort of. I could see where the sea was supposed to be, but I couldn't see the sea itself. See?"
The girl gave a blank look, and shook her head. Mistramon let out a breath.
"The sea bed seemed to be there, but…no sea. And further out, the horizon just…sort of…stopped. I don't know, it's hard to explain…"
Lobomon leapt ahead a short bit, making her way over a small ridge. "I'm sure we'll see when we get there." She gave a quick wave, and disappeared over the other side of the rock. There was a pause, and then a voice.
The other five hurried to get over, with Karatenmon joining his lieutenant. "What is it?"
Lobomon pointed, but it was pretty obvious. There was only one line left of daggers between them and the ocean, or at least, what was left of it. Jack and Grace gasped; the water which had been so vast when they'd first arrived had dropped by several dozen metres, leaving the craggy stumps of the daggers dry and bleached. There were large pools scattered about, up to some way out, but the breaking waves themselves were several hundred metres away, trapped between grey rock and nothingness.
Grace placed a hand over her mouth. "Yikes…was this all Nithhogg? Has it moved that quickly?"
Karatenmon folded his arms. "Considering the persistence of our pursuers, it wouldn't surprise me." He glanced sideways. "Mistramon, can you see anything that looks like a ca-"
He stopped, catching sight of the bird's sudden look of horror. Jack sensed something was wrong, and leaned over, looking into his partner's eyes. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I know this place."
Vulpimon raised an eyebrow, before looking out over the horizon herself, in curiosity. There was a moment of silence. Then she gasped.
"Oh god. You're right."
Grace knelt down beside the fox, who was suddenly tense. "Vulpimon?"
The fox shook her head, rapidly. "We were here…it must have been…" She looked up at Grace, her eyes darting back and forth. "We came this way when we were going to summon you. This is where Placomon died."
Mistramon suddenly twitched, and he glared at Karatenmon. "Is this some sick joke? Where's Phoukamon; that bastard told you to bring us here. What the hell are they playing at?"
Karatenmon raised a palm, his face stern. "Save your anger. It's nothing to do with me."
The giant bird looked furious for a split second, before letting his breath out through the sides of his beak. Jack held his neck tightly, stroking his large feathers. "Sorry."
"It's not your fault." Mistramon nodded towards the shimmering horizon. "I've had so many nightmares. Just seeing her leaping away through the water, with that monster Cephalomon chasing after her." He hovered forwards, just slightly, his great wings effortlessly keeping him aloft. "Every time, exactly the same. I'm still up here and I can't reach her in time. I can't-"
Mistramon's eyes snapped into focus and he banked instinctively, zooming out of the way as a great bony spear very nearly impaled him in mid-air.
The golem's hand crashed into the rock as its body leered forwards, misshapen head dripping with all kinds of strange fluids and eyes darting all over the place. Jack held on for dear life as Mistramon looped back around, eddy-currents whipping from his wings.
The air-blast caught the golem in the face and it staggered backwards, but it caught its fall and straightened itself. It snarled, its back opening up as a multitude of blue tendrils shot skywards like a vast anemone, lashing out at the great eagle.
"Down here, ugly! Feather Flare!"
Four of the creature's eyes pointed down at the rocky ledge where the others stood, only to be soundly impaled by Karatenmon's feathers, spewing blood as they deflated. Lobomon had already leapt into the air, with a newly evolved Alopemon just behind, her tail glowing with white energy.
Both wolf and fox got one front leg each, and the great insectoid toppled forwards, screeching in indignation. Alopemon landed first, and held her head over the ledge, several dozen rough ice shards materializing in front of her.
The golem had barely raised its head when the ice shards made contact, covering its upper body and snapping it in several places. The hind legs swayed, trembled, and finally clattered to the ravine floor. Alopemon let out a gasp of exhaustion, and sat back, reverting to Vulpimon as she did so. "How the hell did they learn to hide like that?"
There was a bump as Mistramon landed beside them, and Jack leapt off as his partner devolved, slightly dizzy. The boy ran up to Karatenmon. "We have a problem."
The boy pointed. "A couple along this ridge but there's a whole bunch on the beach, just wandering around."
"Ah crap." The great tengu buried his head in his hands. "This wasn't part of the day plan…"
Jack put his hands in his pockets, swaying slightly. "If it makes you feel any better, they weren't waiting around or anything. They seemed to be looking for something."
Grace walked up, scratching her chin. "What are the odds that they're looking for the Lapis Cavern as well as us? It must be something quite important."
The birdman opened his eyes, staring out across the vast dry sea-bed. "That might be even worse for us. It means we can't just wait for them to leave or they might find it. Or at the very least, they'll still be here by the time our friends behind us show up."
Lobomon smiled. "So basically, we're trapped, right?"
Karatenmon rubbed his face beneath his mask, his one wing shivering slightly.
"Okay, so we don't have a choice. We find this cavern, force our way through and make sure you children get there. Sound fair?"
Grace grinned sarcastically. "Sounds nearly impossible, but okay."
"Nice. Can you all evolve?"
Grace looked at her brother, who wiggled his legs a little. He gave her a slightly hesitant thumbs-up. Perimon spread his wings and Vulpimon flexed her back, both of them carrying determined looks. Grace looked up at the birdman, getting out her D-Nexus.
"We'll be fine. Tell us what you need."
"For now, stay close to us and keep an eye out for this blasted cavern. We'll use this guy as a cover over to the next ridge."
He looked down, and was about to leap off when Lobomon tapped him on the shoulder. He turned. "What is it?"
Lobomon raised a hand, holding one of her cutlasses. She grinned. "It's easy. Just flick the switch and the blade comes out."
Karatenmon hesitated. "Aren't you far better with these together?"
The wolf-warrior shrugged. "Well, yeah, but you need something out there. Besides, you're a far batter swordsman than me anyway. You need something to fight with."
The one-winged tengu blinked, before taking the device, testing the weight of it in his hand.
"Thanks. Okay, on my mark everyone. And…down!"
The two seasoned fighters leapt, and in a flash of red and blue they were followed by Chionemon, Aeolumon, Mistramon and Alopemon. They landed together (aside from the warriors of Air, who floated just above) and made a break for the final line of daggers, squatting behind the fallen body of the golem to keep themselves covered.
It wasn't overly successful.
Lobomon twisted, holding out her palm at the charging behemoth as an orb balled with it.
The ball shot upwards, but it only caught the approaching devil a glancing blow, leaving it free to open its jaws and spew forth the chemical data. Everyone leapt out of the way, but Aeolumon was the first to swoop back, ducking beneath the giant's head and balling wind in his hands.
He brought them together either side of the beasts neck, and was immediately blown back downwards as the air pressure erupted. The golem's neck ruptured and the front of its face blew off, causing the acidic spray to be reduced to a clumsy dribble.
"Nice one Jack! Now out the way."
Aeolumon obliged, zooming out from beneath the giant's legs as Mistramon flew skywards, trailing the pink energy behind him.
The wind blade sliced through the immense body almost lengthways, causing it to collapse in on itself. The bird righted himself, grinning, but Karatenmon was shaking his head. "No time for celebration. Get up on the daggers, before more of them come."
It wasn't long coming; already there were sounds of furious squeals from further along the ridge in both directions. Lobomon assisted the tengu up, while Aeolumon rejoined Chionemon, assisting her up the rocks.
"Hehe, it felt good to be able to punch something again."
Chionemon gave him a look. "You know, punching things isn't always the best option."
The two reached the top, where Alopemon turned to them. "Um…we seem to have attracted a crowd."
Chionemon looked, and gasped. Apparently there'd been more than just one or two of the golems combing the new beach, there were one or two dozen, spread out as far as her keen eyes could see. The nearest ones had already turned to face them, and were marching forward in an ungainly fashion, trying to get a better look at the specks on the edge of the daggers. They were trapped.
Alopemon glanced up at Mistramon. "Can you see any sign of the cavern?"
The eagle, temporarily distracted, shook himself back into focus and scoured the base of the rocks. Alopemon planted herself in the nearest crag, just out of sight from the golems, but not for long. "Any time this week, please!"
"I see something. I can't really tell from this angle. It's like an opening in the rock; that might be it."
Chionemon brushed her hair from her shoulders. "That doesn't sound too hopeful."
"It may be all we've got." Karatenmon peered out over the beach for a second, before turning to the others. "Alright, on three, we leap down again."
"But won't they see us?"
"Keep quiet then. But they're going to see us at some point anyway."
Chionemon raised a hand, but Aeolumon nudged it down. "Sis, don't worry."
Another roar, this one incredibly close and just behind them. Alopemon stifled a yelp as one of the great angular heads poked its way around the corner just behind them. "Guys!"
"Go! Get down there!"
Lobomon jumped first, followed by Aeolumon and Chionemon, then Alopemon. The fox turned her head as she bounded across the rocks, but she stopped as she noticed Karatenmon heading in the opposite direction; standing atop the nearest peak with his single cutlass drawn.
Alopemon turned in a second, "What do you think you're doing?" Her eyes wide, she prepared to leap back up. But a torrent of data fell in front of her, and she instinctively leapt back as the golem from behind the ridged began to clamber over, its tendrils eating away at the rock as it stared down at her.
The ice shards slammed into the great head from beneath, but this time the golem shook its head rapidly, merely shaking the frozen casing off. A great claw slammed down, catching the fox off balance and sending her tumbling down, but a strong armoured hand grabbed her foreleg and she scrambled back up, assisted by Aeolumon. Lobomon stood in front, cutlass drawn, but she was already cursing as the great claw lifted up, instead releasing a new batch of tendrils that threatened to engulf her.
The light ball flew wide, and the daggers had nearly as much effect as Alopemon's attack, but the golem suddenly keeled, the front half of its body severed from its back. Karatenmon landed, his one wing spread wide for balance as he turned to stare down the several other golems now bearing down towards him. Lobomon gritted her teeth. "Son of a bitch…"
Alopemon rushed up next to her old friend. "Lobomon, we need to go!"
The wolf-warrior looked into the fox's eyes, and she gave a half-smile. "No, you need to go."
"Shush. Carry on down, reach the cave and don't you dare look back."
The fox looked up at where Karatenmon was leaping again, wielding the light blade expertly, but clearly far more slowly than he had fought in the great battle before. "He's not coming with us, is he…"
"Bastard apparently never planned on it. It's up to me to give him a hand."
Alopemon closed her eyes for a second, before nodding. "Give them hell."
The wolf-warrior grinned, and gave the four of them a quick salute, before she leapt backwards and back up the rocks towards her comrade. In a few seconds she landed next to him, promptly slapping him upside the head. "Oi, dipshit, if you're going to go all solo hero distraction business, at least don't keep me out of the picture."
The tengu chuckled. "I had a feeling you'd want to join me."
"Well, these swords are meant to fight as a pair." She looked out, focusing on the nearest golem as it reached out its great star claw. "The others are on their way to the cavern. Let's give these beauties a run for their money while we've got their attention."
The two held hands, and leapt, as the golem leapt at them, its talons digging into the rock. Above it, Karatenmon and Lobomon twisted in mid-air, as they'd done many times before, each holding a light-cutlass and bringing it down completely in sync with the other.
Alopemon ground her teeth beneath her mask as she watched the whole thing, and the vast army of golems preparing to swarm the two brave warriors. She turned to see Chionemon and Aeolumon waiting. "I'm sorry. We're on our own."
The winged warrior raised his right hand to his mouth, whistling. "Hey, Mistramon! Give them some space to work with!"
The great eagle stared down, judging the situation instantly. His tail glowed again and he twisted in mid-air, pulling his body in tight circles as fast as he could. Then, he released himself, diving sharply and aiming as accurately as he could, angling himself for maximum effect.
The energy shot from his tail like a cleaver, and he tore a line through the approaching ranks, chopping the legs off two golems and managing to split one in half. He banked up again and looped back round to his partner, where they were already making their way down the rocks as fast as they dared. Chionemon tried to clear her mind, trying to picture Lobomon in her mind.
"Please don't wait for us. Once you can't see us, get out of here. Get yourselves safe."
A pause, then, "We'll be fine. Get yourselves where you need to be. Sorry we couldn't join you all the way."
"Thank you for everything. Now go and save this world."
Lobomon refocused her attention on the battle before her, and she leapt high, just dodging the spearing tentacles as they rushed towards her, In a rapid motion she unleashed three lasers in a row on the golem's body. It staggered but didn't fall, but its movement made it crash into its neighbour, causing both to get temporarily tangled.
The wolf-warrior ran beneath the two, dodging the legs as she brought up her single blade. The light slashed into the first beast's leg, half-severing it and causing it to bring the both of them down. As she slid out the other side, she caught a glimpse of Karatenmon leaping high.
"This is for my brother, demons!"
The tengu's leg crashed into one beast's neck, violently snapping it, as the other's head fell several metres from its body. There was a roar and a torrent of data as three more golem's scrambled forwards, trying to overrun their assailants with the hunting prowess of jaguars. Karatenmon leapt away again, as Lobomon climbed atop the downed bodies of the other golems, both her arms outstretched.
The central golem was halted, the projectiles blasting pieces out of the front of its body, but the two on the side kept going, forcing the wolf-warrior to retreat again. Karatenmon landed a few metres away, twisting as he prepared to attack again, when a sudden pang of pain sent him to one knee. He placed a hand on his side, feeling the data leaking faster than ever.
"Please hold…for now, at least…"
He gritted his teeth, thrust his hand against the wound, and leapt forwards again with a roar.
On and on the two of them battled, against an onslaught of golems nearly scrambling over one another to finish the two Digimon. But the two were skilled, and slowly, the numbers of golems were whittled down. Karatenmon and Lobomon worked in tandem, slicing through the heavy armour and blasting away the savage claws. Even as they grew tired, they kept on, merely pushing themselves harder and their energy to the max.
In the end, two golems remained nearby, as the bodies of their kin lay in pieces around, reconstituting at a snail's pace. Lobomon straightened her mask and leapt forwards once again, swinging her sword in great arcs across the creature's back. The armour split, releasing a volley of tentacles, but they too fell to the purifying blade's attack, and as blue ooze sprayed from the golem's body it collapsed, half of its eyes hanging off of its face.
Lobomon hit the ground, clutching a large open wound on her shoulder and grinning. "This isn't so hard."
She turned, watching as Karatenmon tussled with the last standing golem. It was already half-blinded and was spraying blood and acid everywhere, keeping the birdman hopping around as he chipped away at the thick armour.
The golem suddenly lunged, its front claws impaling the ground where Karatenmon had been standing a moment before. The birdman was airborne for a second, twisting in mid-air using his one remaining wing, and landed just behind the golem, preparing to make the final strike.
It didn't happen. Lobomon watched as her comrade's body collapsed at the knees, and she heard the distinct sound of a large bone breaking.
"Son of a bitch…"
The wolf-warrior raised her arm, but the energy within her was drained, and she couldn't summon her laser. She cursed again, and ran, her left arm flapping uselessly but her right still gripping the sword tightly, as the golem in front of her released its claws and turned to bring them down again on the broken Karatenmon.
She rushed beneath the creatures legs, bringing her sword down in an overhead swing as she came out the other side. A crash behind her signified the beast's downfall, and she stood up, breathless. She turned to Karatenmon, whose left leg was severely twisted and bleeding heavily.
"Jeez, tell me when your body's going, alright?"
Karatenmon looked up, panic in his eyes. "You missed-"
Lobomon coughed, and looked down, suddenly aware of the huge sickle-claw poking out from her abdomen. Instinctively her right arm came down again, the sword severing the end of the spear and causing the front half of the creature behind to recoil in pain. Her legs felt suddenly cold, and buckled, sending her to her knees. She looked up at Karatenmon, her bloodstained face twisting into a half-smile.
"Sorry…I mucked up…"
Her body fell backwards, and she stared up as the golem's ruined face leered over her, drops of acidic saliva falling onto her damaged chestplate.
Karatenmon suddenly let out a cry and leapt forward with all the remaining strength in his legs, twisting and damaging the ruined one even more. The golem looked up just in time as the tengu latched onto its head, grabbing one of its teeth and with his free hand plunging the sword straight down its throat.
The golem gave its last gargle, and finally fell, dragging the tengu with it. As it landed, its jaw snapped shut like a vice around the tengu's arm, nearly severing it.
Karatenmon barely noticed, as he pulled himself away and fell onto his front. There he lay, breath erratic, and staring out past the field of shattered golems, at the glittering horizon.
Alopemon shivered, and just stopped herself from glancing back, instead running along beneath the rocks. Chionemon kept pace beside her, looking worriedly.
The fox flinched. "It doesn't feel right…"
"They told us to go on. We need to find the cavern."
There was a rush of wind, and Mistramon descended, his hover jerky from exhaustion. "I can't see anything!"
"It has to be round here somewhere! We have to keep going-"
Chionemon looked forwards, and saw more of the golems lined up along the beach; still pretty far away, but the heads were turning towards them and the legs were starting their ungainly sprint. The warrior backed away, looking back and forth. "We're trapped…"
"We can't be!" Alopemon glared up at the bird. "You said you'd seen the opening!"
"We're standing next to it! See for yourself; it's a dead end."
Everyone looked at the rocks next to them; there was indeed an indent, and another pool on the sand, but it was nothing more. Aeolumon let out a yell of frustration and flew forwards, feeling the wall. "It has to be here! We can't let them down; they're fighting to let us get here!"
Chionemon stepped forwards, holding out a hand. "Jack…"
The small soldier struck the wall, creating cracks, but nothing else, as the rock face held fast. Chionemon rushed forward and pulled his arm back. "Jack, it's not here."
Mistramon cleared his throat from outside. "The golems heard that! They're coming this way!"
Chionemon nodded. "We need to get out of here."
"Where are we going to go? There's nothing!" Aeolumon broke free, flying up and scanning the rocks in every direction. "There's absolutely nothing!"
"Jack, watch out!"
The soldier ducked as a golem's claw flew at him, but the golem righted itself and angled itself between him and the rocks.
Aeolumon felt the scratch on his shoulder armour. "You were fast…"
The golem seemed to agree; it charged again, and Aeolumon, messing up his moves, found himself backed up into the alcove, along with Chionemon and Alopemon, who were launching icicles and daggers with little effect.
"No…we have to survive this…"
In the back of his mind he heard a groan; something like the call of an ancient beast, far away. Slowly, despite the imminent danger, he turned his head.
There was a rush of water and a rush of sand, and suddenly the two golems were struck down by great serrated spears of water, rushing from the alcove. Mistramon twisted mid-air, staring down at the sudden movement.
The bird flew downwards, trying to see through the wall of water, but to his shock it reached out to meet him. Waves wrapped around him and he was suddenly pulled downwards into the sand, and then further, his whole body twisting and contorting, moving so fast he couldn't even scream.
Outside, the golems tried to scatter, but the water hunted them down like a predator, binding them and ripping them and breaking their brittle carapaces until they lay stunned and motionless on the sea bed. There was an immense rumble as the water pulsed violently, sending ripples along the outer edge of the Southern Daggers. In a few seconds the rumbles increased as rocks began to tumble, impaling the sand and stacking up on one another like broken glass, as the water writhed and struck the ground.
It only took a few seconds. Then the tremors stopped, leaving the daggers broken on the sea bed, the alcove buried beneath a ton of debris, and the four warriors nowhere to be seen.
Lobomon felt the rumbles as she stared up at the sky, and chuckled to herself. "That sounds like our guys…"
She coughed, feeling a lot of pain in her chest and not a lot of anything further down, aside from the slight tingle of her own data floating away. There was a slight shuffling, and she turned her head to see Karatenmon dragging himself towards her with his remaining arm, pain on his face.
"You are stubborn, aren't you…"
The birdman fell to his elbow, breathing heavily. When he spoke, his voice was rasping.
"Always have been, always will be. Do you know if the children and the others made it?"
Lobomon chuckled. "Given the massive earthquake thing, I think they definitely found something. They'll be okay."
Karatenmon sighed. "That's a relief." He glanced behind him. "The next lot of golems are coming."
"Too late to do anything about it now. We'll be gone by the time they reach us." Lobomon tried to raise an arm to block the sun, but it didn't move. "Damn. I was interested in seeing this new world. That's just annoying. I suppose one muck-up really is all it takes."
"I'm scared." Karatenmon fell fully to the ground, his face pointing sideways and his single arm outstretched. "I've been running for so long I have no idea how to just accept this. I've lost everything. I don't know what to do now."
Lobomon smiled, and tried again to hold out an arm, this time just managing. She ran her hand along his forearm and clutched his shaking claw. There was a distant roar as the golems broke through another layer of the daggers.
"It's alright. I'm here."
He let out a long breath, his grip loosening slightly. Lobomon smiled, blotches of white appearing in her vision.
"Hey, we had a good run, didn't we?"
There was no answer. She squeezed his hand in hers, only to find it was no longer there. A few specks of data slipped through her fingers, floating past her eyes and heading up to the sky.
"Just me, huh?"
She closed her eyes, watching as the blackness of her eyelids faded to white, the pain fading away.
"Good luck…saving…the world…guys…"
Bright light. Her body tingled, all the pain now gone. She smiled.