Kai was the first to notice something was off. He sniffed the air as the group made their way over the pass, his brow furrowing. Colchimon looked inquiringly at his partner, and the two of them stopped, "Guys, wait a minute."
The group had been making their way over the pass, in the hope that they could re-enter a forest area, having decided the mountains weren't exactly the best way to travel. Strabimon had opted to lead them over the nearest pass, but she stopped and turned along with the others at Kai's remark, an irritated look on her face.
"Look, you're nearly home free. Whatever it is, can't it wait a minute?"
The tall youth shook his head, his spiky brown hair swaying to and fro. "It might be important. I think I smell something."
Vulpimon and many of the other Digimon sniffed the air as well, and immediately detected something coming from over the ridge.
Velocimon tensed up. "Something's burning..."
Swiftly, Strabimon scampered up the last few feet to the ridge, and, carefully, peaked her head over. There was a growl and she recoiled back, with a whispered cry of "Bloody hell..."
"What is it?"
Strabimon turned back. "Trouble. It might be best if you don't go this way."
A few of the other Digimon joined her and peaked over themselves. Perimon ducked down just as Strabimon had done, "Ooohh..."
There was a relatively gentle slope down to the forest, which now had a huge black streak snaking through it. At the nearest end of the trail was a small force of Digimon. They were mostly half-monster, half tank creatures, but there were a couple of larger tanks with more draconic creatures hiding inside them. All were heavily armed, brutal looking, and had the manic glowing aura emanating from their eyes.
Jack went to look as well, but Grace pulled him back. He harrumphed at her, before asking, "What is it?"
Perimon looked at his partner. "A small force of Tankmon and Tankdramon. They seem to be searching for something."
Strabimon folded her arms. "Doesn't surprise me. I expect Cephalomon sent them to search for you. From the sound of it he wasn't too happy when you ripped his arm off. Again." She smirked.
Vulpimon peaked over again. "Guys, they're coming."
The mountain rumbled as the tank Digimon, curious as to the creatures on top of the cliff, began to scale the slope. They weren't particularly quick, nor was the climb easy for their limited mobility, but their movements were definite and persistent.
Aaron glanced at Velocimon, feeling a little panicked. "Can we take them on?"
"Only three of us can evolve. There are at least 20 of those things; I'd say we're a little outmatched."
Jack took another step forward, wriggling out of Grace's grip. "What if we can get the rest of you to evolve?"
Velocimon shook his head at the youngest member of the group. "It's not worth the risk. We'll have to find another way."
"Well then, how do we get rid of them?"
Velocimon looked stumped, and the pressure from the oncoming tanks didn't help matters, but Kai stepped forward, smirking slightly. "If we can't beat them, can't we at least knock them off the mountain?"
Kent looked at his partner, "It's our best shot for the moment. You feeling strong?"
Trilomon nodded optimistically, and started tapping around the base of the ridge, looking for a weak spot.
Kai turned to Eloise, "Get Ladomon to help too. Colchimon as well. Everyone else, get back."
Nobody needed much encouragement. Trilomon tapped the spot he'd picked out as the dragons began to charge their tail blades. Trilomon's own front claws extended. If he had had a regular mouth he would have grinned menacingly, "Sorry fellas, no-one's home!"
The multiple blades hit the weak point and a fracture appeared. Slowly at first, the mountain side began to fall away, causing Trilomon to scrabble furiously to avoid being dragged down with it. Everyone got to safety as the mountain face tumbled into the charred forest, taking the oncoming force with it.
When the rumblings stopped, Strabimon took another quick peak below her. The sloping mountain side had been reduced to a pile of rubble, under which were trapped many of the tank Digimon, tracks spinning uselessly in the air. They were still very much alive, but they were now severely dented and, frankly, looked rather silly.
Eloise coughed as she brushed away the dust cloud that the rock-slide had brought on.
"I'm guessing we're not going that way anymore."
Aaron looked worriedly at the purple wolf-lady. "Please tell me that worked."
"They won't be going anywhere for a while, and there's no way they're getting up that slope now. But you'll have to find another way through the pass if you want to avoid them."
Grace slumped. "Great, more mountain climbing."
Strabimon pointed at an embankment behind her. "It's a bit of a trek, but that should take you to a different area of the forest. Just pray there are no more armies waiting for you."
"Us? Are you not coming?"
Strabimon lowered her head. "I have my own group to watch out for here. I'm afraid we have to go our separate ways now." She turned to the group and gave a quick bow. "For what it's worth, I wish you luck on your mission. Bring peace to the Digital World. I'm behind you all the way."
The group thanked her and watched as she scampered away back to her home cave, just stopping for a moment to call back, "Hey Vulpimon, keep an eye on your partner for me, won't you? You can never tell with the reserved ones when they're gonna do something crazy."
She grinned, before vanishing over the ridge, leaving a red-faced Grace in the middle of her peers. Kent chuckled, before saying, "We should probably get going. No good standing here with a bunch of angry tanks at the bottom of the hill."
The going proved to be much harder than everybody expected, with the path winding back and forth at varying levels of altitude. On the plus side, the weather had improved since yesterday, but the altitude meant the temperature was particularly low, causing some of the group to shiver at the cold. Jack was rubbing his bare arms, trying to warm himself up.
Aaron wasn't faring much better, "You know, we could really do with a Fire Digimon around right about now."
Eloise caught up with him, "How long do you think it'll take?"
"Well, we need to find a safe-ish place to get down to the forest, but I have no idea when we're gonna find one."
Jack pouted. "Why can't we just slide down the mountain? That's gotta be pretty easy."
"It doesn't work quite like that, I'm afraid."
"I wanna try anyway. I need to get warmed up."
He began to run forwards, but Grace grabbed his T-shirt yet again, "You're not going anywhere, mister."
"Stop it, Grace!"
Jack wriggled out of his sister's grip. The commotion caused Eloise and Aaron to look round, just in time to see Jack, rather heavily, barge into his sister.
"Ow! Stop it!"
"Well, you never let me do anything fun."
"Well, you shouldn't be running off on your own. It's dangerous."
Jack spluttered. "You did that just last night!"
Grace shuffled a little, feeling a little embarrassed. "That was different. Besides, I'm older than you."
"That doesn't mean anything! You're only three years older than me!"
Perimon glided down and hovered just above his partner's head, "Watch it, partner, you'll boil over at this rate." He chuckled. "Mind you, you'd probably appreciate the warmth!"
Jack humphed, hunching his shoulders like a little toy soldier.
"She's no better than I am," he mumbled, just loud enough for his sister to hear.
Eloise was eager to break up this little sibling rivalry, but before she could say anything there was a sudden, "Oh, for crying out loud!" from Aaron. The group stopped at a split in the path, both snaking around one side of the particularly large mountain in front of them. The range had closed in as they had been walking, and now they were all surrounded by tall peaks and sharp drops.
Perimon flew up higher to get a better look, while Kent just leant against the mountainside. "Why can't it just be simple and straightforward? For once?"
The path to the right was significantly more impressive than the left one, with the ridges and chasms forming a huge, snaking canyon; narrow but long and perilous. Naturally, Jack stepped forward to have a look. "I've never seen anything this big before!"
Grace grabbed him by the arm, "Watch it, you'll fall."
Jack wriggled again, but Grace held on firmly. "I just wanna go see!"
"No, Jack. Just stay with us."
"Let me GO!"
Without warning, Jack spun round and smacked his sister across the face.
She let out a gasp and loosened her grip, causing him to back away, yelling all the time, "I hate it when you pull me around like that. You always grab me and pull me back and you never let me do anything I want to or see anything I want to. I don't want you watching me all the time. I can look after myself."
Grace felt her cheek stinging from where Jack had hit her. "It's dangerous, Jack. I don't want – "
"IT'S ALL DANGEROUS!" Jack had his fists clenched and was shouting at the top of his lungs now. "It's been dangerous since we got here! You don't care about that; you just want to stop me from doing anything!"
Kai watched the argument, unsure what to say. He looked at his partner, who was equally stunned at the little boy's anger.
Vulpimon stood in front of her teary-eyed partner out of instinct as Jack carried on. Grace, swallowing, spoke up when she heard an opening, "Stop it, Jack."
Her brother stopped for a second, so she carried on, feeling the anger rising. "This isn't a game. You're not going to get another chance if you mess up. That's why we need to stay together, and why you can't just do whatever you want. You'll get us all killed if you don't think."
Jack stopped arguing, the reality of Grace's words sinking in. His own eyes were glistening, just like his sister's.
"Just leave me alone. I hate you."
Grace finally burst into tears. "Fine! Go to hell, I don't care."
She ran off, collapsing next to the mountainside, Eloise running over to comfort her.
Colchimon turned to his partner, "Um, what just happened?"
Kai sighed. "Just a bit of brother-sister warfare. Apparently they tend to argue a fair amount."
He watched Jack kicking bits of rubble next to the chasm, and began walking over, "Look, I know you're upset, but you might want to come away from the edge a bit. We don't want to lose you."
Jack snorted. "Why not? You're all the same; no-one thinks I can do anything. Everyone tells me I'm wrong or I'm stupid or something."
Perimon glided down again, "Dude, no-one thinks that."
"Yeah," said Kai, "you're one of us. You're as much a part of the team as –"
He broke off, staring around. Concerned, Colchimon enquired, "What's up?"
"I don't know...something feels off."
Kent sighed and leant his head back, "I really can't be asked to deal with this. Little kid arguments are not my thing."
Trilomon cocked his head in that familiar way, "Didn't you have any brothers or sisters?"
"A younger brother. We didn't argue though. In fact we hardly ever spoke."
"Right." Trilomon aimlessly kicked the wall, "Doesn't anyone get on well with anybody any more?"
There was a clatter as a chip fell from the mountainside, close to where Trilomon had kicked it. Trilomon looked puzzled, "What the...?"
A crack snaked downwards at lightning speed, spreading out across the splitting path. There was a rumble and the ground began to shake. Trilomon recoiled, curling himself into a ball for protection, "Yeeargh!"
Jack stumbled, only just staying standing. Kai, serious now, ran forward, "Jack, get close to us, now!"
Jack had barely taken a step when a boulder hurtled down from above, crashing into the path in front of him. He screamed and crouched down, trying to avoid the rocky projectiles that came crumbling down from the top of the peak.
After a few seconds that felt more like several hours, the rumbling stopped. Everybody present slowly got to their feet and looked at the huge pile of rubble that stood before them, blocking off the right hand path. The air was dusty and the ground still felt uneven, and nobody really knew what had just happened.
Trilomon uncurled himself. Aaron walked up to the wall of rubble and gingerly touched it. Grace looked around, "Where's Jack...?"
Kai joined Aaron, a feeling of dread wrenching his gut. "It can't be..."
Trilomon shrank back against the now majorly cracked wall, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean...no, I didn't know, I mean, I'm so sorry!"
"I'm okay. Don't worry." Jack's voice sounded from the other side of the wall of debris. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
"Um, how do I get back over?"
The feeling of dread returned as it became clear that nobody was going to scale this particular wall. Aaron banged his head against it and punched it in frustration, "Damnit! Why does something like this always have to happen?"
There was an indignant voice from the other side of the wall, "Watch it, will you? You made a load of rocks fall on my head."
Aaron looked up darkly. "Sorry..."
Grace stepped forward, her eyes damp from crying. "Don't blame him. This was my fault." She looked down at her feet. "Again."
Eloise put her arm round the younger girl, "It wasn't your fault. Stop blaming yourself for things."
"It doesn't matter whose fault it is." Aaron stood up straight and faced the group. "The question is how we get Jack back over."
Eloise looked at the three flying Digimon. "Can you lift him over? You managed to get Grace down safely."
Her partner shook her head. "We only stopped her from falling too hard. I don't think we could lift him over something that tall. If we dropped him..." She didn't need to finish.
Kent scratched his head. "Maybe we could evolve our partners and knock the wall down."
There was another worried reply from Jack at this suggestion. "You can't do that! You'll knock me off the cliff!"
"Well, I'm sure if we're careful..."
Kent's musings were silenced by Grace asking her brother, "Um, how close are you to the edge of the canyon at the moment?"
Jack looked back. "Well, if I took two steps back I wouldn't be standing on anything anymore."
Grace took in a breath. Kent, grinning sheepishly, ruffled his hair. "Okay, maybe not worth the risk."
"I've got it! Why don't we call Pteramon?"
This led to mixed reactions from the group, since not everybody was sure about trusting the big blue dinosaur that had tried to kill them last night. Jack looked up at the sky, "I don't think he'll fit. The walls are too narrow. Anyway, how would we call him?"
"Well, what then?"
Aaron was getting ever more irritated that nothing seemed to be going right, Velocimon deep in thought next to him. Suddenly Perimon piped up, "There is a way we can meet back up with Jack."
The others looked hopeful as Perimon continued. "The paths actually meet up again, a fair way from here. Jack's path is shorter, but it's a bit more dangerous. However, I don't think we have a lot of choice."
Kai knocked on the wall, "Did you hear that, Jack? Just follow the path and we can meet up with you later."
Grace looked at Perimon, "How much more dangerous is it?"
To her surprise, it was Vulpimon who answered. "It's probably just a bit of a trickier walk and a longer drop. But, I don't know..." She looked worried as she tried to remember something, "I heard about a similar canyon from Strabimon, a long time ago. She said she lost a friend down there, but her friend didn't fall. She was a Biyomon, she would have just flown away."
Perimon gulped. "So, how did she die...?"
"Strabimon didn't know. But she said something about...things...living under the mountain..."
Now everyone was feeling uneasy, even Jack. Aaron sighed, "If we had another choice, we'd take it. But I think this is the only way we'll get back together."
Perimon flew up, "Jack's my partner. I'll go with him." He nodded at the others, before flying over the wall.
Grace gave Eloise a worried look. "Can't Ladomon and Colchimon go with him as well?"
Jack's voice sounded again, "I'll be fine. Don't worry about me, I'll see you again."
"Just be careful, okay."
The group heard the sound of footsteps as Jack walked away along the path. They stopped briefly, and Grace heard her brother's faint voice.
Aaron beckoned, and the rest of the group headed down their own path.
"Hey, slow down, will you?"
Jack ignored his partner as he kept pushing ahead, edging his way over the narrow path with perhaps too much haste. His partner was hovering beside him, but Jack's pace was beginning to tire him. He fell back a little and watched the nine-year old boy scamper about over the rocks. He let out a huff. Sometimes he really didn't understand his partner.
Jack looked back, "Hurry up, Perimon!"
"It's not a race to the finish, you know!"
"Yeah, but I wanna get – woah!"
Jack stopped abruptly as one of his feet gave way from beneath him. He stumbled for a brief second before steadying himself. He stood still, just catching his breath as his partner landed beside him.
"We need to make sure you actually get to the finish before we worry about the speed, okay?"
Jack leaned back against the impossibly steep mountain side, breathing heavily. "I'll be fine, Perimon. I can get there."
Perimon was worried, seeing his young partner looking as tired as he did. "Just be careful, okay mate."
"I said I'll be fine! You're sounding like my sister."
Before Perimon could answer, Jack was moving again, skipping over the rock. Perimon stumbled a bit before taking off again, catching up with his partner, "Hey, I just want to make sure you get there."
"It sounds like you don't think I can do it."
Perimon exhaled. "I know you can do it. It's just, well, you're pushing yourself too hard. Calm down, okay?"
Jack said nothing, just kept pushing ahead. Perimon stayed next to him, ready to step in if he needed to.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group was heading down their own route. Ladomon had initially tried to fly over the mountain to check on Jack, but the thin air at this altitude made the flight too much for her to handle. This didn't exactly ease Grace's nerves, and Eloise, noticing how much Grace was looking up at the mountain, decided to walk along with her.
"I'm sure he'll be okay, you know. He's a brave little kid."
Grace looked down at her feet. "He's still only a kid."
Aaron looked back at her, "So are you, you know."
Eloise shot daggers at him, but Grace said, "You're right. I blew up in his face, I was stupid. It's my fault. I just don't want my brother to get hurt."
Aaron sighed. "That's not my point." He stopped and knelt down, looking Grace in the eye. Velocimon, not noticing, carried on walking, only stopping when he realised everyone was gathered around Grace. Rolling his eyes, he walked back to rejoin the group.
"Look, I know you're worried about him. If my sister had come here and she got stuck somewhere, I'd feel the same way. But we're all here now, and we all need to be strong, and trust everyone else to be strong, even if we're not around to help them. Like you were, last night."
He paused, and Grace shuffled around a little. "It's not that I don't trust him. I'm just worried if he needs me and I can't be there."
"You're doing it again. You don't need to take sole responsibility for everything, you know." Aaron stood up again. "We're all here for each other."
Eloise nodded, "It'll be fine. You'll see, it'll all work out."
The group headed on again, with Kai trailing behind, yet again. Colchimon, hitching a ride again, scratched himself under his beak with the tip of his wing. "Don't you think it's quieter round here without Perimon?"
Kai shrugged. "It's not the noise that bothers me; it's the constant swooping over everyone's heads. It's like being harassed by an oversized housefly." He grinned. "No offense to him, he's still pretty cool."
"Well...yeah, but he doesn't have to remind us of it every fourteen seconds."
Kai shrugged again. "I guess he's compensating for the fact he hasn't evolved yet."
Colchimon gave his partner a look. Kai raised his hands, "What did I say?"
"It's just a little bit of a touchy subject with him, that's all."
Kai gave up and put his hands in his pockets. "Again, no offense to the guy. Besides, I'm sure when he does evolve, it'll be spectacular."
"We can only hope, partner..."
Grace was still moping a little, worrying her partner yet again. Eloise put her arm around the younger girl's shoulder, "Cheer up!"
"I'm trying." Grace gave a half-hearted smile.
Eloise sighed, "Look, he's probably fine. I'm sure he hasn't fallen off anything yet."
"Well, what about those things that Vulpimon was talking about?"
Vulpimon shook her head, "I only heard that from Strabimon a long time ago. I don't even remember half the story."
Ladomon swooped down and gracefully draped herself over Eloise's shoulders. "Besides, the mountain range is huge. If there is anything out there then they're probably scattered throughout the whole range."
Vulpimon nodded, trying to reassure Grace. Eloise gave her partner a quizzical look. "I hope you're not planning on staying up there. I don't care what Colchimon does, I'm not your personal transport."
Ladomon pouted, "Aw, please. Just for a little while?"
From behind them, Colchimon shouted forward, "Come on Eloise! You look good with the Dragon Scarf outfit."
Eloise was considering, but Ladomon unwrapped herself of her own accord and stared back at her old friend, "Are you saying I look like a scarf?"
"A Dragon Scarf, Ladomon. They're like regular scarves only about thirty-five percent cooler."
"There's something I meant to tell you about Jack."
Eloise stopped watching the two dragons bicker and looked at Grace. "Me?"
"Well, someone. Probably everyone. It's..." she trailed off, as if she was embarrassed. "It's kind of important. It's the main reason I worry about him so much..."
Jack had finally stopped after pressing on for a good while, and he and Perimon were leant back against the mountainside, trying to catch their breath. Jack in particular was breathing heavily, which his partner noted.
"You're a determined little sprite, I'll tell you that."
Jack let out a giggle, the first time he'd laughed since they'd set off. Perimon smiled; it was nice having the old Jack back to bounce off of. All the same, he did wonder about Jack. He had seemed to take his sister's words very harshly, almost as if they had been an insult. Perimon wondered if perhaps there was more to this than he knew.
He decided to brave it. "Jack?"
"About your sister..." He paused, reluctant to go any further, but Jack was still listening, wanting him to go on.
"Do you...get on well with her? I mean generally?"
Jack shrugged. "I guess so. It's just she's always so..."
"Yeah. She doesn't let me do anything I want to and she always went around after me, making sure I was 'okay'."
He kicked a small piece of stone in front of him. "I just want to do my own thing. I'm as strong as everyone else, I can look after myself."
"You know your sister loves you, right? She only does it because she worries about you."
Jack reacted like many boys his age did. "Perimon, don't be soppy!" Perimon let out a nervous chuckle, but carried on. "You know what I mean."
Jack sighed. "I know. I just want to show her I'm okay. I want her to stop worrying. Even though..."
The boy shrank back a little. "Nothing..."
Perimon was about to enquire more when he felt his feathers bristle. He turned and looked down into the canyon, letting out a throaty growl. Jack sat up, "What's up?"
"I don't know." Perimon scoured the canyon, not seeing anything. "I can sense Digimon though. Lots of them, all moving around. Something doesn't feel right."
Jack gulped. "Didn't Vulpimon say something about a Digimon disappearing round here? Weird creatures or something?" He got to his feet and walked over to where his partner was standing. "Could these be them?"
The two listened out for the slightest hint of other Digimon. Slowly but surely, they could hear a rustling, like a flock of bats moving about inside a cave, only this sound was getting louder and louder. There were also horrific scraping sounds like nails down a blackboard.
Perimon looked at his partner worriedly, "I don't think we should stay and find out."
Jack nodded and headed off again along the path, making his way quickly over the rocky path. "Maybe we can get by without annoying them. We can't be too far from –"
Jack felt it coming even before it happened.
There was a dull crack and a familiar jolt of intense pain. Jack cried out and collapsed, falling over onto his front. Perimon was with him in an instant, "What's wrong, what happened?"
Jack said nothing, trying to fight back tears but failing. He slowly rolled over into a sitting position and pulled the left leg of his shorts clear, showing the grey neoprene sleeve. The hole at the front showed his left kneecap and the true extent of the problem. The kneecap was twisted in an odd way and was rapidly swelling. Perimon looked at his partner, not know what to do.
Jack shifted again and his knee shifted with him, making another dull pop. Jack cried out again, the pain biting away at him.
Perimon shuffled closer, looking deadly serious. "What happened, Jack?"
Jack wiped his eyes with his arm. "It's nothing. It's okay now."
"That was not 'okay'." Perimon looked closer; the bone seemed to have gone back to normal, but the swelling was worse than before, the skin beginning to turn purple. Jack tried to move, but the pain was still too much. He bit his lip and sagged back down.
"It looked like it had dislocated or something."
Jack shook his head. "The doctors said it was something else. I can't remember what."
"Doctors?" Perimon turned to face his partner. "Has this happened before?"
"Yes. A lot." Jack shrank back lower. "There's something wrong with my knee. It'll come out for no reason and it hurts every time."
Perimon began to get flustered. "Well, why didn't you tell me?"
Jack flinched at Perimon's outburst. "I didn't want to complain. I didn't want anyone to think I was weak."
"How long were you planning to hide it? This place is dangerous, you can't just ignore something like that! You could put everyone in danger if this happened when we were being attacked."
"You're sounding like Grace."
"Yeah, well maybe she has a point! You don't seem to be taking this seriously, you're just being immature. There's a war on. We need to protect each other, but we can't do that if we don't know about stuff like this."
Jack pulled his legs up and curled into a ball, sobbing uncontrollably. He tried to speak, his sobs choking out the words. "Please Perimon, stop it! I know! I know I can't be as strong as everyone else. I can't even be normal. I know I'm just a stupid little kid, but I just want to help..." Jack spluttered and fell back into sobs.
Perimon faltered. He realised he'd gotten angry again, and looked, shocked, at the whimpering ball in front of him.
"Oh crap, I am so sorry. I mean...I didn't mean to say those things. I..."
Jack continued crying. Perimon let out an exasperated yell and banged his head against the mountainside, again and again, "Why...am...I...so...stupid?"
He stood there, resting against the rock, breathing heavily. Behind him, Jack was quietening down, slowly getting control. He lifted his head and sniffed. Perimon was about to say something when something stopped him.
He listened, before worriedly looking at his partner, "Can you move?"
Jack gently shook his head. "I don't think so."
The two listened, and realised they were in trouble. The rustling and scraping from earlier was louder than ever before, and the two could feel slight vibrations in the rock. Perimon tapped against the rock wall with his hardened wing, only now just realising what had been bugging him. "It's hollow."
"The entire mountain is hollow, there's just a metre or so of rock and then it's all empty space in there."
Jack bit his lip. "So does that mean that something was living in there...?"
Perimon didn't need to answer. From the mountain directly underneath them came a huge blue cloud of wings and claws, letting off cackles and screeches as it billowed out, spreading along the other side of the canyon.
Slowly, the cloud began to disperse, splitting off into individual creatures. They looked sort of like large bats, each one about the size of a cat, with short stubby arms ending in vicious-looking sickles. They had broad, red wings, large ears and a furry ruff around their neck. Their eyes were yellow and beady and their mouths were full of sharp-needle like teeth. They clambered across the opposite wall, hissing at one another as each one tried to find a spot. Then, all of a sudden, they stopped. Each individual face, far too many to count, turned and stared at the human boy and his Digimon, exposed on the rocky path. None of them made a noise. The canyon was completely silent.
Jack gingerly held out his D-Nexus. It beeped for a while, trying to pick up something to scan, but then it came up with the information.
"Pipismon. Armour Level, Data Attribute. Attacks: Crazy Sonic, Sky Jacker"
Jack looked at the creatures before him. "They don't look like Fire Digimon."
Perimon whispered back. "They're not. I've heard of them though, they're simple scavengers that hide in caves, like the one underneath this mountain.
"What are scavengers?"
"They feed off dead Digimon that fall in the canyon."
"Eww…" Jack thought for a second. "Hang on, doesn't that mean we're okay? I mean we're not dead."
Perimon looked worriedly at his partner. "You've hurt your knee, so we can't move anywhere, there's one of me and at least a hundred and fifty of them."
Jack felt his stomach turn as he looked at the hundreds of yellow eyes watching him. A couple of Pipismon licked their lips, bracing themselves against the wall.
Perimon gulped. "We may as well be dead already…"
Jack shook his head, "There has to be something we can do..." He looked all around, and just for a moment he thought he saw something in the mountainside, a little further ahead. He shifted, wincing as his knee flared up again, but he got a good enough look to see the opening of a cave.
He nudged Perimon, "There's a cave up ahead. I'll need you to help me, but we might be safer if we can get in there."
"Can you move that far?"
"I don't think there's anything else we can do."
Perimon wasn't convinced, "But I'm not strong enough to –"
All of a sudden a majority of the oversized bats launched themselves from the cliffside, heading straight for the two. Ignoring the pain, Jack tried to get to his feet, yelling at Perimon, "Fly away!"
Perimon ignored him, launching himself into the air and confronting the oncoming swarm. He breathed in hard before letting out a cry of "Wind Tunnel!"
The air blast cannoned into the oncoming flock, sending the Pipismon scattering every which way, arguing and chattering as they careened into each other. Some of the flock fell from the sky, their wings torn by the sickles of other members, but it did very little to the massive numbers.
Perimon didn't wait for the group to re-convene; he flew straight over to his partner. "Grab on," he said, holding out his claws for Jack to hold onto. Jack grabbed them and, with Perimon's help, hoisted himself up, gritting his teeth as the weight on it sent his knee into agony.
"Go!" Perimon strained against Jack's weight as the boy half-ran, half-hopped towards the cave entrance. Behind them, the Pipismon had sorted themselves out and were careening chaotically towards the helpless partners. Jack and Perimon pressed on, only just reaching the cave entrance before the Pipismon got hold of them.
Perimon yelled, "Sorry..." before he practically dropped Jack inside the cave. Before Jack could reply, Perimon was up at the cave mouth, preparing to take on the flock.
He let out a battle cry and launched himself into them, tearing into the ranks of aerial beasts and driving them away from the cave entrance. His tactics seemed to work as the animalistic creatures immediately focused their attentions on the bird, hacking and slashing at him whenever he flew past.
Perimon released another wind tunnel, dispersing the group again, but they kept coming again and again. Perimon gritted his beak, "You won't take me this easily, you ugly bastards." He headbutted the nearest bat and swiped at another, before he was mown down by teeth and sickles, only just pulling himself away from the throng.
Jack had his head in his hands. He felt completely useless; unable to fight with his partner, or evolve him, or even move. He had been so sure he could get to the other side of the mountain. He had promised Grace as much, but in the end he couldn't keep his promise. He felt tears welling again as the gravity of the situation got to him. Perimon would probably die out there, and then the bats would come in and finish him off as well.
Who was he kidding? He couldn't last on his own, not even with Perimon. If he hadn't been so rock-headed he might not be in this situation. But he had just marched ahead without thinking, as usual. Heck, he probably hadn't even come close to reaching the other side.
Then, from out of nowhere, he heard a voice. It was faint, it was hard to hear, but it was clear enough.
"JACK, WHERE ARE YOU?"
The group was close. He and Perimon had nearly made it after all. Jack wiped his tears and, shaking slightly, stood up. He took small, shuffling steps towards the cave mouth, using the wall to support his weight. He'd never given up before now. He could still rejoin the group. No, he would. He was going to finish what he had started, along with Perimon.
As he left the cave, he caught sight of his partner, tussling with a horde of sickles and claws. He yelled over, "We're close! Head this way and try and lose them, the others can help us."
A few of the bats turned their heads towards the sudden distraction, but Perimon soon redirected their attention with a few good shots of air. He was tired, struggling against so many opponents. He held on however, leading the bats away from his partner as Jack shuffled further and further.
"I'M HERE! I'M CLOSE!" Jack yelled back as he turned the final corner of the mountainside. All of a sudden his confidence fell. He was indeed close to the ledge, but where the path should have carried on round, it instead sunk away. He was stranded with Perimon and the scavengers after all.
He clenched his fist. No, it wasn't going to end like this. After everything he and Perimon had fought for, he wasn't going down standing on the edge of some cliff.
Suddenly Perimon wheeled back round, pursued by the Pipismon. Jack watched as his partner dived to escape them, before being swallowed up by the screeching throng. He felt his D-Nexus beeping in his pocket and took it out, holding in a breath as he saw Perimon's stamina bar at a critical level.
"WHERE ARE YOU?"
Jack held out his D-Nexus in front of him, feeling more determined than ever. The pain in his knee seemed to disappear as he focused on helping his partner.
"We can do this, Perimon. Together, we can do this."
From the other side of the ridge, Grace heard her brother's words. She pointed, and the group watched the trails of red energy rocket into the sky, towards the vanishing dot. They scattered the group of Pipismon and converged, pulsating around a red orb.
Perimon felt a new energy within him, unlike any he had ever felt. Despite the Pipismon arguing all around him, he heard Jack's voice, clear and unwavering in his mind. With a newfound burst of strength, he broke through the flock and soared high into the sky, the Pipismon following behind him. His armour had been scratched and dented all over, and one of his eyes had nearly been taken out by a sickle, but he carried on higher and higher, feeling his energy rising even further.
He grew in size, his wingspan increasing and his tail lengthening, ending in a wicked-looking spear point. His legs grew more muscular, his talons curving round as leather straps wrapped themselves around his feet. Plate armour covered his chest while a purple cape wrapped itself around his neck, blowing in the wind. His headgear grew and morphed into a Roman-style helmet, and his face extended, his expression becoming more regal.
He opened his eyes fully and gazed down at the flock of Pipismon, before spreading his wings wide, wider than he ever had before, and letting out a battle-cry into the sky, one that reverberated through the mountain range and rang in the ears of everyone that heard it.
The bats flew towards the new Champion Digimon, screaming blue murder. Mistramon tilted in mid-air and flew straight towards the oncoming group. For a moment it seemed as if he was going to collide with them once again, but all of a sudden he opened up his wings and let out a cry.
A front of compressed air scattered the bats, sending them spinning off into the aether, crashing into the mountainside or spiralling down into the ravine. A couple of the flock disintegrated into data, but the rest were only angered more.
Mistramon flapped his wings again, cannoning past the flock at breakneck speed, before slowing himself next to Jack's ledge. His partner was agape at this powerful new form. "Right now, you are probably the coolest thing I've ever seen."
Mistramon looked back at the oncoming throng. "Did you ever want to fly, Jack?" His voice was deeper and more majestic than his previous form.
He ducked down as Jack shuffled to the edge of the path. Jack gulped, but seeing the Pipismon closing in, he swallowed his fear and jumped, landing sprawled on Mistramon's back.
Mistramon began to move away from the cliff edge. "Hold on to the cape, you'll be fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Better be. Hold tight!"
Jack wrapped the long red feathers around his hand as Mistramon began to speed up, twisting and weaving like some sort of aerial rollercoaster. The Pipismon weren't far behind, using their sickles to slash at the bird and the boy on his back, and letting off waves of sonic to try and disorientate them. Mistramon gritted his beak and carried on, the wind flowing over his streamlined shape.
Jack ducked down himself, when he spotted something on the ledge below him. He pointed, the high speed making it an effort. "Mistramon, it's the others!"
A sickle swiped past, just grazing his arm. "Ow!" Mistramon twisted round, letting off another wave and knocking the lone Pipismon away, but the others just kept coming in force.
On the ledge below, the group was staring in astonishment at the aerial battle above them. Kai looked down at Grace, her D-Nexus in hand. "I guess flying around on giant metal beasts runs in your family."
Eloise nudged him, "Not now. We've got to do something."
Grace spoke. "There's only one thing we can do, isn't there?"
The rest of the group waited for her response, but she didn't answer, only turning to Aaron.
Aaron closed his eyes. "You're right. We help your brother. We fight."
Kent bent down, tapping Vulpimon on the back. "Hey, weren't you able to talk with Grace last night? I mean through the D-Nexus?"
Vulpimon thought for a moment, "I guess I did…"
Kent looked at his own partner. Trilomon scraped at the ground, thinking hard and fast.
"Each pair of partners is connected by the elements, and the D-Nexus acts as a physical link. So, I guess partners can talk to each other over short distances, through the D-Nexus."
Eloise frowned. "But Jack and, um, Perimon I guess, are both up there. How are we supposed to reach them?"
Aaron turned to Grace. "You're Jack' sister, maybe you have a link with him as well."
Grace nodded before raising her D-Nexus to her mouth, "Jack, it's me. Can you hear me?"
For a moment there was nothing. Then, suddenly, Jack's faint voice could be heard over the sound of static and wind noise.
The group let out a laugh in relief. Grace replied to her brother, "It's me. Grace. Your sister-"
She was cut off as Kent reached over. "Sorry, Grace. I'll just be a minute." The older boy took the D-Nexus and held it up to his own mouth. He spoke clearly and commandingly.
"Listen Jack, we're going to help, but we need you to bring those things over here. Can you get Perimon to turn round and lead them over here?"
The answer came through the D-Nexus straight away.
"Sure. But I'm Mistramon now, not Perimon."
"Nice one." Kent gave Grace back her D-Nexus, and she whispered a quick word into it. "Good luck, Jack."
High in the sky, Jack looked into his partner's eye. "Did you get that?"
"Course. Just hope they leave some for us!"
Jack grinned, before clinging tight to Mistramon's cape as the mighty eagle banked, leading the throng of bats straight towards the waiting group.
On the ledge, all five humans gripped their D-Nexus's tightly. Beside each of them their partners were ready for action. Eloise looked at the twin dragons between her and Kai, "Are you sure you'll be okay as you are?"
Colchimon nodded, "We've taken down worse things than these before."
Ladomon glanced aside, "Really? Have we actually?"
"You'll be fine." Kai grinned at the two. "We're here for you." He glanced at Eloise, seeing her worried expression. He winked, before looking ahead at the oncoming party.
Beside them, Aaron, Kent and Grace each felt the energy rise within them. They stepped backward, swinging their D-Nexus's out, "Primal Control!"
Trails of yellow, blue and green energy flowed through the air into Velocimon, Vulpimon and Trilomon respectively. The small bodies began to glow brightly as the transformations took place.
Mistramon shot over their heads, the flock of Pipismon not far behind. Galvamon locked his hands, the energy building up.
Erratic bolts of electricity careened through the air, striking bat after bat and sending them, smoking, down into the chasm. Confused, the rest of the flock split up, with about a two-thirds of them heading down towards their new attackers.
Galvamon called back to the watching humans. "Get back. These guys are nasty."
The humans backed away as their partners engaged the flock. Galvamon extended his claws and began swiping at bats all around him, paralysing them instantly with each hit.
Alopemon growled as she was soon surrounded by the creatures, leaping out of the way of each sickle swipe. Her tail began to glow blue and she tensed herself, before leaping high up into the air and spinning.
Her attack connected with the bats around her and they disintegrated, letting out pained screams. Their brethren kept up their attacks, and Alopemon began letting off icicles every which way, freezing her targets on impact.
All of a sudden she felt a sharp pain in her back leg. Twisting round, she saw one of the Pipismon clutched tightly onto her right thigh, drawing blood with its grip. She growled and kicked viciously, sending the creature sprawling, but before she could attack it there was a cry of "Strike Thunder!", and the Pipismon was swallowed up by an energy bolt.
Alopemon turned to see Galvamon quickly saluting her, before tussling with some Pipismon of his own. She mumbled to herself, "Show-off."
The numbers of bats were beginning to dwindle, but only just. Each warrior was full on; Galvamon was striking Pipismon down by the dozen, whereas Alopemon was freezing them straight out of the air. Ladomon and Colchimon were holding their own rather well, letting out "Shadow Blade!" after "Sun Spear!" and dissolving their attackers all around them.
Seismon found himself being affronted by a mob of about fifteen Pipismon. He held his staff, ready for the oncoming attack, but instead they opened their mouths and let off a combined burst of sonic. Behind him the humans winced in pain at the shrill noise, but Seismon simply shrugged it off.
"You know I can't actually hear you, right?"
Being an insect, Seismon had no ears to speak of. He tended to pick up vibrations through his feet.
The Pipismon, oblivious to his comment, kept screeching. Trilomon sighed, before swinging and stabbing into the ground, "Seismic Shards!"
The fragments of rock sent his mobsters spinning away. Seismon broke his spear and folded it away.
"Want me to show you how to really cause vibrations?"
He held out his arm, charging energy and bracing himself.
The glowing bullet flew straight into the mob and exploded, sending the members in all directions, shedding data as they flew away (miraculously without the help of their wings).
High in the sky, Mistramon dodged another burst of sonic. The Pipismon were relentless, unable to cease attacking thanks to their hunger for flesh. Mistramon looked back at Jack, "You still holding on tight?"
"Good. This might get interesting."
The blade at the end of Mistramon's tail began to emit a bright pink glow, and let off a trail of energy that burned any of the bats that touched it.
Mistramon all of a sudden banked up, and began to loop-the-loop, the trail of energy growing in intensity as it spiralled out from its centre. The Pipismon yelled as the blades of energy sliced into their ranks (and a fair few of their individual members). Mistramon kept going, with his pursuers unable to get close without being sliced in two. Eventually, Mistramon left the loop, satisfied that his own group had been all but destroyed.
He glanced backward at his now very dizzy partner. "How are you doing back there?"
Mistramon chuckled. "We ought to get back and help the others."
Mistramon headed back to the ledge, where the other five partners were still deep in battle. Galvamon, tussling hand-to-scythe with a rather large and bulky Pipismon, called up to him. "Where the hell have you been? You dumped your battle on us and then you scarpered!"
Mistramon shook his head, chuckling as he landed by the humans, allowing Jack to get off and stumble towards his sister.
"You know, I thought you could handle this without my help. Oh well…"
He flew up against the mountainside, before facing the battleground.
The partners heard him and held on tightly, or scampered out the way. Before any of the Pipismon could follow, Mistramon opened his wings.
The shockwave hit the remaining flock head on and sent them careening off the side of the ledge, where they tumbled, screeching, down into the chasm. Seismon immediately spun his (re-assembled) spear and jammed it into the rock at the edge of the ledge. There was a short rumble, followed by a crashing and a huge cloud of dust as the edge broke and tumbled down after the falling bats. Each Digimon rushed over to the human partners, keeping them together and protecting them from falling rubble. The rockslide continued for about thirty seconds, before the vibrations gradually ceased and the last cries of the Pipismon faded away.
Gingerly, the humans and their Digimon walked to what was left of the edge of the pathway. They tried to see into the chasm, but the dust had yet to settle.
Seismon rested on his spear, looking rather pleased with himself. "I meant to do that this time."
Colchimon made a strange expression. "I'm sure that counts as cheating."
"Oh, lighten up." Mistramon ruffled up his neck feathers and took off into the sky, hovering just in front of the other partners.
"After all, all's fair in love and kickassery."
Before anyone could answer, Mistramon let out another cry, one of celebration. Jack, ignoring the still-nagging pain in his knee and the adrenaline rush catching him up, pumped the air with his fist.
"Woo! You guys rock!"
The group decided to stop, although only briefly, to allow everyone to rest and sort themselves out. One by one, the Digimon began to de-evolve. Most of them were still rather excited after their first real battle together, except for Vulpimon, who Grace had asked to come and help her brother. Although Jack's knee had stuck back in, it was still swollen and painful, so Grace had got Vulpimon to apply some ice around it, just to help the swelling go away. By the time she had finished, Jack was feeling a whole lot better.
"You don't suppose this will go away, do you?"
Grace looked at her brother, "What do you mean?"
"I mean, the Digital World heals things like this, doesn't it?"
Grace gave a look that simply said 'I don't know'. Vulpimon stepped in, "I think the Digital World can only return a body to the state it was in when it arrived. Since you've had this most of your life, I think it's still going to be a problem." She looked down at the ground. "I'm sorry."
Jack looked very deflated. "Not your fault. I guess I'll just have to deal with it."
Grace looked at her partner, who merely shrugged. There wasn't much they could say.
She looked at her brother, "What?"
Jack sighed. Perimon stood beside him, looking pretty dejected himself. "I didn't mean to cause all this trouble. I thought I could manage by myself. I thought I didn't need anyone else. But I just got in trouble, and you all had to save me. "
He leant back, the thin ice coating around his knee still numbing the pain from before.
"I know you only want to keep me safe. I just don't want to be useless here."
Vulpimon looked at Perimon knowingly. "Where have I heard that before?" she said sarcastically.
"You know, Jack?"
Grace sat down beside her brother, leaning against the mountain herself.
"I think you did great today."
"Oh, I'm not saying you should do it more often" Grace looked worried for a moment. "Please don't."
"Don't worry, I'll be careful."
"Good." Grace sighed. "What I mean is, well, you did manage to get through it. You helped win the day just as much as Perimon, or any of us."
"But my knee went, Grace. I could hardly move."
"Did that stop you?" Grace put her arm around her brother. "You managed to do what you said you would. You didn't give up, even when you were hurting so badly."
Jack looked almost embarrassed. "I guess not."
"I'm proud of you, Jack."
Some way away, Kai kept an eye on the siblings, watching as they smiled at one another and embraced. He gave a little smirk himself. By the looks of it the day had turned out for the best. They only had a short distance to go before they could leave the mountain area and get back to the forest. Perhaps things could turn out alright.
His brief smile faded rather quickly. It wouldn't be as easy as that. No matter what, something would always go wrong. He could feel it, every time…
"Aah!" Kai stumbled a little and fell back against the wall. Eloise, despite herself, couldn't help laughing a little. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"You didn't scare me!" Kai blushed a little, turning his normally deathly-pale skin to a slight pink colour.
Eloise shook her head. "Right…course not..."
Kai composed himself and reassumed his position. "Well, it seems like everything worked out, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I suppose so…"
Kai, confused, looked at Eloise, and saw her looking down, obviously bothered about something.
"What's wrong yourself? You're not usually this uneasy."
Before Eloise could answer, Aaron called over, "We're going to head off in a few minutes. We really need to get down to the forest before nightfall."
A chorus of "Okay"s and "Fine"s answered him, and Eloise shook her head. "It doesn't matter Kai."
"Well, it looked like it did…" Kai wasn't sure how to press her.
"Since when were you so concerned about everyone else?"
Kai couldn't think of an answer. Eloise laughed and gave him a small punch on the shoulder, "I was only kidding. I know you care. You wouldn't hurt a fly, I know you'd never do anything to hurt us."
She walked off to talk to Aaron, leaving Kai standing, her last words ringing in his mind.
"Maybe you know that." He shuffled, his eyes pointing at the floor.
"I'm not sure I do…"
Far away, in the distance, a Digimon had all three of its glowing green eyes fixated on the group. It stood, proud and aloof, with its segmented tail waving back and forth, and large glowing beads rotating around its body with a slight hum.
It said nothing, only watching as the group made their way out of the mountain range. The Digimon flexed, basking in the early afternoon sun, before it turned and padded its way back down the mountain.
So these were the guys who had taken down Cephalomon. This might be more interesting than it had first thought.