Jack gently moved the stick back and forth, etching lines and strokes into the soft earth. He'd been doing it for some time now, and the lines had merged into a surprisingly accurate picture of Pteramon, wings at an angle and beak open in a battle cry. Next to him was an equally majestic Mistramon; the two seemed to be battling side by side against some unnamed threat. Jack tilted his head; there was something decidedly off about his partner's leg, and the way it veered off at an angle.
Normally he would have been bored out of his mind, but frankly he felt too distracted to be bored. Everyone had been feeling that way for some time now; ever since the incident with Kent's computer. Kent had been the worst, simply sitting silently, Trilomon often curled up next to him. Trilomon himself had taken some time to recover as well. Apparently whatever had taken hold of Mandrimon had overpowered him to a stupidly dangerous level, and the poor insect had taken the brunt of said power.
Right now none of the humans felt like training. They were spread out over the whole settlement, barely talking to each other, perhaps everyone just thinking to themselves. Even the Digimon had gradually drifted away from the group; Jack hadn't seen Perimon in a little while now.
Jack lay back, spreading his arms out and letting out an exasperated sigh. Every time they seemed to be getting somewhere then something else would just crop up and knock everyone's confidence back down again. Hadn't anyone heard of teamwork?
"That's actually pretty good. You're quite the artist."
Jack opened his eyes and saw Kai's figure standing above him, his grey raincoat making him look like some sort of hunched-over statue. Or maybe that was just the angle Jack was looking at him. The young boy frowned, and turned his head to the side, before pushing himself up into a sitting position. Kai smiled down at him, his ice-blue eyes seeming unusually warm. Colchimon, draped around his neck as usual, flapped his wing in greeting.
Jack waved back half-heartedly. "Why are you so quiet all the time?"
Kai shrugged. "Habit, I guess. I'm good at being inconspicuous."
"You should be a spy or something." Jack crossed his legs and looked closely at his little piece of artwork. The more he looked at it, the more he decided it really wasn't that good after all.
Kai crouched down next to him. "What, so I can sneak up on people with my 'evil powers of darkness'?" He lowered his head and waved his fingers for dramatic effect.
Colchimon stifled a laugh, before joining in himself, raising his wings over his head like some demonic creature. "I am always watching from the shadows."
Jack laughed. "You're pretty funny sometimes." He twiddled the stick absentmindedly. "And pretty cool."
Kai gave a smirk. "Where's your partner? Off training somewhere?"
Jack nodded. "He said he was 'fed up with everyone being so down', and that he was 'going off to beat up Velocimon' or something." He accompanied his Perimon impression by pressing the sides of his lips together.
Colchimon rolled his eyes. "Well, that should at least keep them busy for a few weeks."
Jack leaned back again. "It's annoying though."
"Everyone's trying to be really 'serious' and 'grown-up'. They all seem to be shouting at each other and talking behind each other's backs. I'm sure they're saying I'm a dumb kid or something."
"Come on, it can't be that bad."
Jack looked straight at Kai. "I miss the real world. I think we all do. But it's still not bad here. I just want everyone to get along like we're supposed to."
Colchimon twisted round and looked at his partner. Kai's expression was nigh-on unreadable, as it usually was, and he seemed to be staring into nothing. Jack waited for him to answer, before waving his hand in front of his face.
Kai snapped back to reality and gave Jack a small smile.
"At least someone knows what they're talking about round here." Kai twisted round a little. "Just remember to keep on fighting, and you'll be okay."
Jack looked confused. "Sure, but..." He extended his bad leg, feeling the neoprene sleeve against his knee. "I'm not sure how much I can do to help."
"Keep on smiling. Keep everyone going. Sometimes we all need just a little bit of motivation."
Kai stood up and stretched, Colchimon ducking out of the way of his arms.
"It was nice talking to you."
He walked away towards the surrounding woods. Jack blinked, before calling after him, "Hey, Kai!"
"Wha-whoa!" Kai lost his footing as he turned to answer, sending him sprawling on the ground. Colchimon, quick as he was, managed to slither away just before his tail got squashed beneath his partner, although it was a close call. Jack stifled a laugh, "Sorry about that."
Kai got to his feet rather rapidly and brushed himself off, trying to retain some of his dignity.
"No problem at all. Anyway, what was that?"
Jack grinned. "Just wanted to say thanks. You know, for helping and everything."
Kai stared at Jack, taken aback a little by his remark.
"Um…thanks. You too."
He turned and walked away, leaving a bemused Jack staring after him.
"You okay, mate?" Colchimon was looking into his partner's eyes with some concern. Kai had seemed distracted for a long time now; ever since the Asuramon incident in fact. The dragon was beginning to worry more about his partner.
"I'm fine. Why'd you ask?" Colchimon jumped at Kai's response. He'd half expected him not to answer.
"You just don't seem quite yourself, that's all."
Kai shrugged. "Given what I've seen and had to fight through since I've got here, I'd say I'm doing pretty well." He gave a small, humourless chuckle, before smiling at his partner. "I'll be fine though. Don't worry about me."
Colchimon frowned. Whenever he asked, his partner always gave the same words. Each time, they seemed further and further from the truth. Colchimon had even seen his partner wincing from time to time. Was he in pain, or was something else...
He realised he wasn't going to get an answer, at least not right now. He bunched his wings up slightly. "Look, you need to know I'm here for you to talk to."
Kai remained silent for a couple of minutes. Then he stopped and turned his gaze to Colchimon. "You know, it's not good for you to worry about me so much. I'm tougher than you think."
"Maybe so, but at the same time you're not as tough as you seem to think."
"Fair point." Kai brushed his hair away from his eyes. In the week (or something like) he'd been in the Digital World, his hair had somehow gotten messier. "Have you seen Ladomon recently?"
"Me neither." Kai looked around. "Or any of the others, for that matter. Maybe you should have a look around."
Colchimon was about to argue, but saw that it was pointless. He gently unwrapped himself from his partner's neck and bowed his head. "I'll see what I can do. Take care."
He glided off into the forest, leaving Kai alone. The boy watched his partner slither through the thin tree trunks and disappear into the viridian undergrowth.
Colchimon gently weaved through the trees, a lot on his mind. To be honest, he was angry. He'd sworn to protect Kai, but he also felt like his partner was making it very difficult for him. He knew he had a point; Kai was not as tough as he thought he was, but he seemed adamant to push through everything on his own.
It wasn't just since the Asuramon incident either. It was clear that something was up; something that Kai didn't want to share. During the SkullGreymon incident, when Colchimon had evolved into Achromon, he had felt Kai's inner emotions through the elemental link. Yes, they had given him the power he needed, but he could still remember Kai's anger powering him, his partner's rage fuelling him as he pierced SkullGreymon through the heart.
Perhaps Kai had realised. He'd certainly seemed quieter for a few days afterwards, and had almost been avoiding him.
"Oh Kai, why won't you talk to me?"
Colchimon started as he collided with Ladomon, coming the opposite direction. The white dragon apologised profusely as the two untangled themselves, but Colchimon shrugged it off.
"That was my fault. I was...thinking. That's all."
"No, I...never mind." Ladomon blushed a little. "Anyway, Velocimon sent me to find you. He's gathering all of us together; says we need to talk about something."
"Sounds very organised. Trust Velocimon to make everything work like a war briefing." Colchimon chuckled, and the two dragons set off back the way Ladomon had come, flying in a very leisurely fashion through the undergrowth.
"You said you were thinking before. What about?"
Colchimon sighed. He knew Ladomon didn't exactly trust Kai at the best of times, but to be honest he needed to talk to someone.
"Ladomon, what do you think I'm supposed to do?"
Ladomon blinked. "Is this about Kai?"
"Yes. I mean, he's supposed to be my partner, but he's always so distant. I worry about him, and frankly, I worry about what he's capable of."
"What do you mean?"
"I've felt it, Ladomon." Colchimon closed his eyes, trying to remember. "You must have felt it too; Eloise's emotions flowing through you when you evolved into Luminemon."
Ladomon nodded. "I did. But not just hers." Colchimon looked puzzled, but she explained. "I felt your power as well, and even some of Kai's. I know what you mean."
"I see." Colchimon sighed. "I don't think he's a bad person. But I don't want to risk him becoming one." He looked at the light dragon, desperation in his eyes. "What do you think I should do?"
Ladomon considered. "I think all you can do for him right now is just be there for him. He may not realise it, or possibly may not want to admit it, but he needs you right now. And don't forget that I'm here to help, as is everyone else."
"Are you okay with that?"
"Of course." Ladomon nudged up against the shadow dragon. "I may not trust him myself, but he's your partner. I know you'll do the right thing."
Colchimon was surprised, but he smiled and rubbed heads with Ladomon. "Thanks."
Ladomon blushed. "I'm always here for you as well, just so you know."
"And me for you. Together we can rock this world." Colchimon suddenly stopped and looked around. "Um, by the way, where are we meeting Velocimon?"
Ladomon started to speak, before looking around herself. "I...can't remember where exactly..."
Colchimon looked around, before grinning. "You know, Velocimon'll be so annoyed if we're late..."
"Will you stop pacing already?"
An irritated Vulpimon looked over at Velocimon, who was being unusually fidgety, pacing back and forth along the clearing he'd picked out for his little 'meeting'.
"I know, I know. But when are Ladomon and Colchimon getting here? I know I managed to lose our partners but it won't be long before they wonder where we've actually gone."
Perimon, roosted in the tree above, sighed. "Look, it'll be fine. They trust us, and it's not like we're doing anything dodgy." He paused, before giving Velocimon the eye. "Right...?"
"Of course we aren't. I just think we all need to talk about something."
Perimon waited for a few seconds, before fluttering down to the ground. A couple of leaves fluttered down with him, landing on a curled up Trilomon, who merely shook them off.
Perimon marched up to Velocimon and stuck his wing out, stopping the lizard in his tracks.
"Look, calm down, okay? I know things have been painful the last few days but there's really no point panicking about every little thing." The bird looked into his comrade's eyes and smiled. "I seem to remember you telling me that once."
Velocimon, tense as he was, smiled back regardless. "That was a while ago. How things have changed since then."
"We've certainly gotten to know each other better since then." Perimon huffed, then nudged Velocimon with his wing. "This isn't the Velocimon I know. Now pull yourself together."
Vulpimon watched the two talk as she stretched. She smiled to herself; with as much as the two argued, it was sometimes hard to remember that they did in fact care for each other. Maybe even more so all the time they'd been together, even for the months between summoning the children and actually finding them.
Of course, neither of them would ever admit it.
"What are you looking at?" Vulpimon jumped as she realised she'd been staring at her two comrades. She blushed a little, before bowing her head. "I guess I was just remembering old times."
"Old? You mean..." Perimon looked away. "Before all this mess started?"
Vulpimon nodded. She avoided his gaze; she knew about everything Perimon had been through ever since the Fire Kingdom attacked. Everything and everyone he’d lost. She couldn't imagine the pain of losing her family. Of course, she had no way of knowing whether or not they were even still alive.
She shook her head, trying not to think about it. Trilomon wandered over to the group. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, we'll be okay." Velocimon nodded at him. "I forget, you don't even remember before the war, do you?"
Trilomon shook his head. "I wasn't even hatched back then. My first memory is falling down a hill being chased by an Agumon." The little insect poked the ground, remembering the traumatising incident like it was yesterday.
Vulpimon looked down. "Each one of us, each of us with different lives before the war. How did we all get here now?"
"At least we all have something worth fighting for."
Vulpimon turned, and smiled at the new arrivals. "Hello, you two, get lost?"
Ladomon flushed. "Umm...just a little."
Colchimon laughed. "That's fine. It's not as if the world's in danger or anything."
Velocimon didn't seem to think it was particularly funny. "Now we are all here, I think we need to talk about something."
"Oh come on, dino-boy. Lighten up a little." Perimon nudged him again. "I know there's a war on, but we don't need to keep acting like it."
"That's the thing though; it isn't just the war." Velocimon folded his arms. "I mean the Asuramon. You all saw it, didn't you?"
Perimon's smile soon faded. "How could I forget? That thing was seriously messed up."
"You can talk. You weren't the one being pulverised by it." If Trilomon had a visible mouth, he would have frowned disapprovingly at the bird. As it was, he settled on a simple, intimidating stare.
Velocimon carried on, "That's the thing though. It wasn't natural. I mean, maybe Mandrimon was before, but then he came out of that computer, and...I don't know..."
Ladomon tilted her head. "Surely it was what Kent was doing with the code that did that?"
Trilomon shook his head. "I really don't think so. When we tried the coding before it didn't do anything like that. If the whole of the Digital World's made of data, it shouldn't have made a difference if he was only scanning something in. It certainly shouldn't have let out a Lovecraftian monkey."
Trilomon looked a little embarrassed. "Something Kent told me about. It's like..." He thought about his answer. "You know what, never mind. It's not important."
"Whatever's going on, it's something more than just a war." Velocimon looked around at his comrades. "Has anyone had the feeling that we're being watched?"
"Of course we have, oh smart one." Colchimon rolled his eyes. "We're being targeted by Surtremon and his three goons, as well as countless soldiers. I dare say they're watching our every move. Hell, Pteramon said as much."
"Exactly. So why haven't they attacked us since SkullGreymon?"
"Because..." Colchimon faltered. This had come up beforehand as well.
"Because they have other plans?"
Velocimon shrugged. "I don't know. All I know is that something is definitely wrong around here. The Fire infection, the laptop, the Fire Kingdom not attacking; it's all bad news." While talking, he backed towards one of the bushes, before turning and pulling out a familiar object.
"To top it all off, there's this." The dinosaur slid the Karatenmon mask over to the group, and they all gathered round it. The digicode was visible for all to see, still reading "It hurts".
Velocimon rubbed his head. "I have a feeling we're going to need to look further into this. I think something may be working to sabotage our efforts. There's something going on with the very workings of the Digital World, and it's going to screw us all over if we don't do something about it."
None of the other Digimon seemed particularly happy about this, but they nodded in agreement. This wasn't something they could just ignore, war or no war.
Perimon posed a question. "Why are you being all secretive about this? Wouldn't it be easier if we told the humans?"
Velocimon looked uneasy. "I don't know. Personally though, I don't think it's fair to get them involved in something like this. I mean, we need to protect them and be there for them. Compared to all this business, defeating the Fire Kingdom seems like child's play."
The rest of the group gave each other confused looks. It didn't seem like child's play at all.
Hesitantly, Vulpimon nodded. "I guess... " She looked over at Perimon. "I do think we should keep any investigation quiet for the moment. We don't want to get them too involved."
"I see what you mean, but as far as I can see, they're already involved." He lowered his head. "Hiding this stuff is just gonna make it difficult." He sighed. "But, if that's what you want, I'll keep my beak shut."
Trilomon nodded. "Freedom fighters by day, paranormal investigators by night. I like it."
Ladomon posed a question. "Um, where do you plan on starting? We can't exactly go round scanning things again; we don't have Kent's laptop any more, and I don't want to unleash anything like that Asuramon again."
"Good point." Velocimon frowned. "We really need to start with something physical, like the mask. Where did it come from again?"
Ladomon looked at Colchimon, then back to Velocimon. "It was the pillar in the middle of the settlement. I think there's a couple of poles left. The swords were there as well."
"Well, there's a start." Velocimon looked at Trilomon. "Do you think you could have a dig around there secretly? Maybe there's something else which we missed. Be careful though."
Trilomon nodded enthusiastically. "I'll see what I can find."
"Good." Velocimon addressed the rest of the Digimon in his usual commanding tone. "The rest of us should probably keep an eye out. If we see anything odd, we'll report it back. Maybe we'll be able to get to the bottom of this."
The group nodded, and Velocimon was about to disband them all when Colchimon raised a tentative wing. He'd been listening intently over the past few minutes, and his expression had darkened considerably.
"There's just something I want to check with you, Velocimon."
"So, we're keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. Anything that shouldn't be there. Anything distinctly alien."
Velocimon nodded. "You've seen the kind of thing. Glitches, things changing for no reason, infected Digimon like the Asu –"
The group all stared at the shadow dragon, whose eyes were glowing an ethereal lilac in the still air.
"I see now. Why you wanted to keep this a secret from the humans. I mean, I know you worry about Aaron but you'd never just up and admit it like that. Not professional enough, is it?"
Velocimon turned to face him. "You want to say something. Carry on."
Colchimon nodded. "Okay, here's my theory. Technically the humans don’t belong in this world. That’s why they were our last resort; the whole point of bringing them here was to give us an otherworldly advantage. They don’t know anything about this world. But on the flipside, we don’t know anything about them.”
He took a breath, before carrying on. “You think there's someone among our partners who can't be trusted. That, for whatever reason, they're the reason everything's going to crap right now. And, right now, the partner who falls under category of 'suspicious and mysterious' happens to be my own. In addition, the Fire Kingdom know exactly where we are, so you think my partner might be in cahoots with them. Am I on the right track?"
The atmosphere grew extremely thick and spiny. Colchimon stared at Velocimon, almost daring him to agree. The lizard remained silent, before turning away from the group.
"I think it's a definite possibility. In all honesty, we barely know them. Any one of them could be in on it." He turned back, staring coldly at Colchimon. "I don't want to believe it. But it's not impossible, and I don't want to take any risks."
"I suppose you're right."
Vulpimon and Ladomon turned to Colchimon with shock. Ladomon glared at him, "What the hell do you mean by that?"
"I mean that he's right. It's only logical that one of our partners could be a part of this whole mess. We can't rule that out."
He lowered his head, shooting daggers at the dinosaur. "Just bear in mind though; if you can't bring yourself to trust those close to you, don't be surprised when we don't trust you either. It's only logical, after all."
The dragon turned and headed back into the forest. "Come on, Ladomon. We've got humans to spy on."
Slowly, the group disbanded. Soon Velocimon was left alone. He brought one of his hands up to his face, letting out a sigh. This was not a good sign.
Oh well, he had some investigating of his own to do, anyway.
Some way away, Colchimon flew on angrily, Ladomon struggling to keep up. In truth, he had his own doubts.
Trilomon sighed to himself as he pulled himself out of the dusty earth. He'd dug around just like Velocimon had said, but there had been nothing under the tower or anywhere nearby that could give them any sort of a clue to this whole mess.
Overall, he thought to himself, it had not been a particularly good day so far, and it wasn't just due to the hard ground. He really wasn't a fan of arguments at the best of times, but seeing the group of Digimon just pull apart like that made him feel really uncomfortable. As much as Velocimon could be cold and heartless, he did actually have a point about the humans.
This only served to make Trilomon feel even worse. He wasn't one for being suspicious of people, but if there was anybody who was responsible for unleashing something terrible, it was his own partner. Trilomon thought he knew Kent well enough that his partner would never willingly do anything like that, but still...the thought nagged at him, as he was sure it did with the others.
Trilomon looked up into his partner's eyes, before screaming and leaping backwards, accidentally getting his back legs stuck down the hole he'd come out from.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't...I mean, I wasn't doing any...thing..." Trilomon decided to keep his mouth shut before he came off looking more suspicious.
Thankfully , Kent didn't seem to notice. He gave a small chuckle and bent down to help his partner out.
"Relax, mate. It's only me. I don't bite."
"I know." Trilomon clambered out and shook the dust away. "Sorry, I wasn't thinking straight."
"Don't we all know that feeling..." Kent tilted his head, "Actually, what were you doing down there anyway?"
Trilomon tried to think up a clever lie, but failed. He settled with good old-fashioned ambiguity. "Just, um, looking for something."
"Anything in particular?" Kent frowned. "You seem ill-at-ease. Is something wrong?"
"What, apart from everything else that's going wrong at the moment?"
"Ah." Kent shifted round and sat himself down next to his partner. "This is about the Asuramon thing, isn't it?"
"No. Well, yes. Well...a little." Trilomon relented a little. Whether or not Kent was responsible for the mysterious happenings, Trilomon was sure they weren't his intention. Besides, he couldn't just sit quiet and watch the group tear itself apart.
"Everything that's been happening, with the weird glitches and things, as well as the Fire Kingdom being unusually quiet; Velocimon thinks it's all linked somehow. Some sort of major league conspiracy, even bigger than we brought you guys here for. There was an argument and everyone kind of fell out with Velocimon."
Kent smirked. "You have to admit, he's a stubborn git at times."
"I know." Trilomon leant his head on his front claws. "Personally though, I tend to agree with him. There's been far too much weird stuff going on ever since we brought you guys here. Almost everything's been against us ever since we got here."
Kent nodded "I can see that. Not just with the monsters, though."
"What do you mean?"
"We've only gotten this far because we've stuck together as a team. That's how we've been able to grow stronger, and why the Fire Kingdom weren't able to defeat us. So it would make sense that they're trying a different tactic."
"Divide and conquer..."
"If they're somehow behind these weird events, it would make sense for them to be trying to spread unease. As soon as we're separated, we're automatically easy prey."
Kent stretched, looking up to the sky. "That's why we need to stay together no matter what. This may be a completely different world to my home, and it sometimes scares me. But the basic method of survival still rings true."
Kent turned to his partner and smiled. "Strength in numbers."
Trilomon felt a little more relaxed. Kent was right; no matter what was going on around them, they only had to stick together and they'd get through it. Now if only they had some more information on the strange events, maybe they could begin to fight back.
A thought occurred to him. He turned back to his partner, "Um, Kent, what did you do with your computer after...you know..."
Kent looked pained for a couple of seconds. He stared forward, seemingly into thin air.
"It's in pieces in one of the tents." He smiled. "I guess I couldn't get rid of it after all. It's funny though..."
"Well, even though I severely damaged it, the pieces seem to have fixed themselves." He shrugged. "I guess it's like our bodies and our clothes. Our original digital template or something."
Trilomon clicked nervously. "So, you might be able to put it back together...?"
Kent gave him a wearing look, causing the insect to shrink back slightly, apologising under his breath. Kent sighed. "I probably could, I just don't want to. I couldn't deal with the risk."
He stood up and stretched. "I'm going for a wander. I'll contact you if I run into any trouble." With that, the tall boy headed off towards the forest.
Kent didn't look back, but his mind was racing. Trilomon was definitely hiding something, and whatever it was, all this secrecy was bad news.
He rustled his hair, trying to clear his mind, when all of a sudden he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. Something was glinting in the bushes on the edge of the clearing. He casually walked over and picked it up, turning the object over in his hands.
To his surprise, it was a mobile phone.
A small, black touch screen with a camera; nothing particularly out of the ordinary in the real world. He guessed it must have belonged to one of the others; he knew he should hand it over, but he hadn't seen one since he'd been here. He'd assumed they'd all been left behind in the real world.
Curious, Kent tapped the power button. The phone sprung into life, and the default screen came up. Inbox. Kent tapped it, wondering if he could get a clue as to whose it was. The most recent message came up.
Soul transfer complete. Proceed. Thank you.
He pocketed the phone and turned, only to find Kai standing there, looking at the ground around him. He seemed nervous, almost a little paranoid. Kent hadn't even heard him walk over.
Kai did a double take, as if he'd only just noticed the older boy. "Sorry, got distracted." Kai stared at Kent intently, "Were you looking at something just now?"
Kent felt the phone in his pocket, but said nothing. So this was Kai's phone after all.
"Not really, just faffing around with this thing again." He held up his D-Nexus to emphasise a point. Kai broke eye contact, smirking a little. Kent couldn't tell whether he bought it or not.
"Why do you ask, anyway? Are you looking for something?"
Kai shrugged. "Nothing in particular. Just thought I might have dropped something round here. I'm sure it'll turn up." He smiled at Kent, although his smile carried no genuine feeling behind it.
"Just tell me if you find anything, okay?"
Kent nodded. "Okay."
Without warning, Kai simply turned and walked away, perhaps a little too quickly. Kent watched him go, before walking off in the opposite direction. This was something new. He knew that something was wrong with the Digital World, but nobody seemed to know why. But a mysterious phone with a text talking about 'soul transfer'? That might just be the lead he was looking for. Kent swallowed as he remembered Kai's frantic look.
Was it possible these strange events had something to do with him?
Kai swore as the feeling died down again. This was getting worse each time it happened; he wasn't sure how much longer he could hide it.
He didn't want to be here. Not around everyone else, at least. But for some reason, he found he couldn't just up and leave. As much as he tried to stay away from them, they still treated him as part of the group, whether he deserved it or not. To be honest, he liked at least being near them. It was kind of nice to be kind of accepted.
He felt a twinge of pain in his head and stopped, clamping his hands against his thick brown hair. Everything just felt so cluttered nowadays; no matter how much he tried, he couldn't relax. Couldn't get the thoughts out of his head. He wondered whether that had deteriorated his appearance; he'd certainly felt physically awful for the last week.
Checking to make sure nobody was watching, he scoured the surrounding foliage again. He guessed he must have dropped his phone when he'd fallen over earlier. Just his luck. He just prayed that nobody had found it.
As he moved aside another bush, he caught a glimpse of something. Some sort of hole, embedded into the earth. It seemed to have been made rather recently…
Kai started, and quickly drew back. This was not a good sign. Hurriedly looking around again, he briskly walked away from the scene, leaving the pawprint alone. After all, he didn't want to get caught on his own, not by something that made a print that size. He'd just have to forget the phone for the minute.
"What do you think it means?"
Kent was looking thoughtfully at the phone he held in his hand, with Jack, Grace and their Digimon gathered around them. Kent had initially been reluctant to show the younger children, but he figured that they at least might be better at keeping secrets than the older ones. Well, Grace would be. Jack seemed to do whatever the hell he pleased.
Grace peered over to get a better look. "What's it talking about, this 'soul transfer'?"
Kent shrugged. "If I knew that, I'd have confronted Kai by now. It may not even mean anything, but…I just have a feeling that that boy may know more than he's letting on."
Vulpimon frowned. "I'm sure I've heard of something like that before, but I can't exactly pinpoint where from."
Perimon shuffled a little, feeling uncomfortable in the group's cramped hiding place. "I remember one thing. When there were humans here before; there was always a link between the humans and their partners."
"Like the Elemental link?
"I think it is the Elemental link. The energy from the partners that travels through the D-Nexus and allows us to evolve."
Trilomon nodded. "Evolution energy. Sometimes called soul."
Thin shafts of light pierced through the trees, a couple falling on the strange phone. Kent felt confused. "So…if this phone was transferring soul, then…"
Jack finished his question. "Was Kai using this as a D-Nexus?"
Grace shook her head. "Why would he? He already has one."
"Unless…" Kent scratched his chin, trying to piece it all together.
"Okay, there are two scenarios. Either Kai didn't have his D-Nexus when he made this transfer, or he didn't want us to see it."
Grace sat back, giving Kent an incredulous look. "I think the second option's a given."
"But we all got our D-Nexus's when we came here. Which means that he sent this text before we came."
The group were silent as they all pondered their various thoughts. Vulpimon and Perimon looked uncomfortably at each other. They had a feeling that they knew where this was going.
Grace hesitantly raised his head. "Um…Kent?"
Everyone looked at the younger girl, who looked uneasy.
"Um…I don't really know, but…you don't suppose that, maybe Kai might be...in with...with someone else...do you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that he might be talking with someone else behind our backs. If he doesn't want us to know, could it be that...that he's working with the Fire Kingdom?" Grace's voice died away as she spoke, making the accusation in barely more than a whisper.
Jack looked around him at the sea of solemn faces. "He wouldn't…would he?" He didn't sound confident.
Kent sighed. "He's giving something, probably some kind of digital energy, to someone here. If one of our partners had evolved since Asuramon, we'd have known. The fact is we don't know where that energy went."
Perimon nodded. "As bad as it seems, it's possible that Kai's been aiding the Fire Kingdom all this time."
Jack leapt to his feet. "Wait…he can't be. Kai's a good guy; you can't think he's a traitor."
Nobody was convinced. The Digimon had already heard Velocimon's accusation; they had to admit the evidence seemed to be pointing towards treachery. Kent got to his feet himself.
"You know, we could always ask him."
"Think about it," Kent raised his hands. "If Kai's innocent, he shouldn't have to hide anything. I highly doubt he'd try and keep it a secret if doing so would lead to him being found out as a traitor."
Trilomon looked around incredulously. "Remember, this is Kai we're talking about."
Kent shrugged. "At any rate, we need to find him, otherwise this is gonna get way out of hand. Follow me."
He walked off into the forest; Grace, Jack and the Digimon following close behind him.
"I'm sorry, Eloise, but I don't know who else to talk to."
The sun was setting over the edge of the horizon, causing the forest to glow as rays of light past through the trees. Eloise sat cross-legged listening to the shadow dragon, her own partner sat nearby, as Colchimon lay coiled in a tight heap, his eyes closed.
"I take it this is about Kai."
"Well...mostly." Colchimon swallowed, before slowly telling Eloise everything that had been brought up in the little "Digimon meetup". Eloise sat listening, trying to take it all in. Finally, when Colchimon had finished, she sat back, letting out a deep sigh.
"I can't believe that Velocimon would so readily accuse someone like that. It just doesn't seem right."
"I know, but..." Colchimon lowered his gaze. He didn't want to say.
Ladomon hovered by her partner. "I don't think Colchimon completely trusts his own partner, is what he's trying to say." She almost seemed embarrassed by her words.
Eloise whirled round. "Ladomon! Don't-"
Eloise turned to face him, not quite sure what she was supposed to say. Colchimon straightened up and carried on.
"It's not that I think he's a bad person, but lately he's been incredibly distracted. He seems exhausted, but he won't sleep. I watch him at night; occasionally he'll wander off and spend hours just standing, like he's trying to concentrate on something. And he won't talk to me about anything; he evens sends me away if I ask now."
"I know he's not exactly with it, but still..." Eloise trailed off, not exactly sure what she could say in Kai's defense.
Colchimon twisted his body round a different way. His eyes were filled with an anguish that barely showed on the rest of his face.
"I need your help. I need you to help me look after him."
The shadow dragon looked at Ladomon as well. "You too. I can't do this on my own."
"I don't know what's going on. I don't know about all this digital glitch junk or all this Fire Kingdom plotting. But I know that my partner's in trouble and I can't do anything to help him. Please."
Colchimon lowered his head down to the ground, as if her were begging to a queen. Eloise smiled gently, and put her hand out onto the little dragon's head, stroking behind his frill.
"Don't worry. Of course I'll be here to help." She thought for a moment, a vision of a laughing Kai reappearing in her head. "He needs someone there for him, after all."
Ladomon flew over to him. "Me too; you know I'll never leave you."
"You guys, we've got trouble."
Eloise and the two dragons looked up as Aaron walked swiftly over, furiously fiddling with the elastic band around his left hand.
"I can't find anyone around here. Kai's gone walkabouts as usual, Kent and the kids and their Digimon; even my partner's gone."
Eloise got to her feet. "Surely they'll be okay though? I mean, there hasn't been any danger for the past week or so. And anyway, they'll be able to fight off anything, won't they?"
Aaron looked around, before giving Eloise a stern look. "Follow me."
"What is it?" Eloise had to speed-walk in order to keep up with Aaron, the two dragons circling along beside them.
"These. They've been all around the settlement. Something's been watching us." Aaron pointed at a patch of earth on the ground, still barely visible in the waning light. Eloise bent down for a closer look.
"It looks like a footprint of some kind-"
"AH!" Ladomon launched herself back. "It's him. I recognise that footprint. He leaves them deliberately when he's about to strike."
Aaron whirled around. "Who does?"
"The Red Beast."
Colchimon's eyes widened. "We need to find everyone now. Otherwise we're all majorly screwed."
Before even waiting for an answer, he set off into the forest. "We need to find Kai! I have a horrible feeling about this."
Aaron turned to Eloise as they all set off after him. "What the hell is going on here? What's the Red Beast? I thought we were supposed to be working together here?"
"Well, maybe you could tell that to your partner."
Aaron started. "Velocimon's in this as well?"
Eloise caught her breath. "Apparently he's blaming one of us for all the crap we've been going through."
"Probably, but whoever it is this isn't the right time for everyone to be at each other's throats." She nodded forward at the rapidly moving dark dragon. "Now let's get a move on, before things get even worse."
Aaron gritted his teeth.
Kai leant back against the tree, breathing heavily. This wasn't good; he was feeling worse every time it happened. The sudden flood of pain coursing through his body every time he started thinking too heavily. He sighed, and stood up straighter. He'd just have to deal with it.
Suddenly he heard a rustling, and he started, looking around him. The forest had gone dark by this point, but he could just make out a small shape in the bushes. Slowly and deliberately, the shape stepped forward.
The dinosaur nodded up at the boy in the raincoat, but said nothing. There was silence for a couple of seconds, before Kai carried on.
"What are you doing here?"
Velocimon snorted, and looked up at him with one disapproving eye.
"I could ask you the same thing. But that would be pointless, since I wouldn't get an answer."
Kai's expression didn't move; he simply stared down at the dinosaur.
Velocimon decided to continue. "I should be asking you a lot of things, actually, but I highly doubt I'd get any sort of coherent answer from the likes of you."
"What are you getting at?"
"Perhaps nothing." Velocimoin slowly started walking towards Kai, never turning his gaze. Kai clenched his fists within his pockets, more out of instinct than anything.
"But you must admit that since you've all been here, things have been going pretty damn insane."
"I wouldn't know, but I'll take your word for it."
"Would you also admit that you yourself have been acting generally suspicious recently?"
Kai stopped. He hadn't been expecting this. His face remained impassive as he answered, "Let me cut to the chase; are you accusing me of being a traitor?"
Velocimon stopped in front of the boy. Ice in his voice, he replied, "Nothing's impossible, Kai."
Kai shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea what you're on, but you're mistaken." He made to walk off.
"Am I really? In that case, what are you hiding?"
"It's none of your business."
Kai stopped as the flurry of sparks flew past his head. Slowly, he turned around, his eyes falling upon Velocimon's claw gun pointed in his direction.
"I missed on purpose. I didn't come here to hurt you. But I need answers. You're going to tell me what you're hiding."
Kai stayed completely still. Velocimon waited for any sign that he was getting through to the boy, but Kai's face didn't even crack. He didn't shake, he didn't glare, he barely even looked surprised. Velocimon felt Kai's ice-cold gaze boring into him, and he felt a bead of sweat fall down his forehead.
Velocimon shook his arm, "I'm not kidding, Kai. I'll shoot if you don't-"
Before things could get any messier, Aaron's voice broken through the trees.
"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?"
Kai and Velocimon turned to see Aaron and Eloise storming towards them, Ladomon and Colchimon winging either side of them. Colchimon took one look at the scene, before he swooped down towards Velocimon. Ladomon pleaded, "Colchimon-"
Her pleas fell on deaf ears as the shadow dragon rammed into the dinosaur, driving him into the ground. Velocimon coughed, but didn't resist as Colchimon leaned in closer, whispering with fury in his voice.
"I don't care what kind of bullcrap theories you have about the humans, Velocimon, but you do not point a gun at my partner."
Aaron stood over his partner. "What the hell's going on around here? I can't even trust you anymore?"
Velocimon coughed again. "He's the one you can't trust, the one standing over there."
"Oh for crying out loud..." Colchimon dug in deeper, while Ladomon hovered just behind him, "Colchimon, stop! Let him speak!"
"I've had enough of this asshole and his self-righteous-"
"Hey!" Eloise stepped forward and grabbed Colchimon by both wings, pulling him away from the dinosaur. He tried to escape, but Ladomon wrapped herself around him, yelling in his ear "CALM. DOWN."
Velocimon got to his knees, before glaring at the dragon. "Are you so blind that you can't see your partner's hiding something from all of us? Even you?"
"I trust Kai!" Colchimon looked over at his partner, who was standing there, staying out of the way of the scuffle.
"Really? Is that why you've been talking to Eloise?"
"I –" Colchimon faltered, looking to everyone around him for help.
Aaron pointed down at his partner. "Whatever your reasons, you had no right to go on the offensive like that."
In one movement, Aaron was suddenly pointing at Kai. His face was sullen; weathered by too many late nights and too much worry, and his eyes were glistening with fury. Despite this, he still looked better than Kai.
"You need to talk. Now."
Kai shrank back just a little. "I have nothing important to tell you."
"Kai, stop." Eloise walked towards him, her arms raised in defense. "All these secrets, they're tearing us apart. If we want to stay strong, we need to share whatever we know." She stood looking up into his cold blue eyes. "I have faith in you. I know you're not working for the Fire Kingdom. But you need to tell us the truth."
Kai's stony visage fractured a little. Aaron stood stock still, still staring at him.
"What are you hiding?"
"I might be able to help, Aaron."
The current group turned to see Kent walk onto the scene, Jack, Grace and the Digimon just behind them. Kent stood in front of Kai, and held out the phone, "I don't suppose you've seen anything like this before?"
Kai looked at it for a second, before his eyes widened. He didn't speak, but his reaction was enough for Kent.
"Okay, tell me straight then." Kent's deep brown eyes burrowed into Kai's ice-blue ones, as the older boy raised his hand and pointed a steady finger at him.
"You've been transferring energy behind our backs. Special energy; the type used to give Digimon new levels of power. If that's the case, where is the energy going?"
"Who have you been working with? Is it the Fire Kingdom?"
Velocimon folded his arms. "Well, so the truth finally comes out."
Aaron shushed his partner. Kent lowered his hand. "It's just a theory. If so, please tell me I'm wrong. Please tell me I've made some huge stupid mistake here."
Kai closed his eyes. His breathing had hastened, his chest rising and falling erratically.
Eloise grabbed his arm, shaking her head, "For God's sake, Kai, answer him! Tell us! It's not true, is it? Please!"
Kai lowered his head. "I didn't want to tell you. You didn't need to know, but it looks like I have no choice."
Aaron glared at the older boy. "Tell us. What have you been doing?"
"Yes, I've been in contact with somebody. I don't know who, or why I can and nobody else can, but I do know it's not just energy that I’ve been sending."
Kent looked confused. "What? But…the Digimon told me that soul was the evolution energy we gave to our partners. Of course it's energy."
"Yes, it is. But where do you think that energy comes from?"
Eloise stepped back. "I don't understand…"
Kai put his hands in his pockets. "This text…it wasn't an energy transfer. It was us. The 'souls' are us, moving between worlds."
Everyone was silent. Nobody had expected this.
Aaron put two and two together in his head. "Wait, so you sent a text to someone, which led to us being transferred..."
Kai held out a gloved hand towards Kent. Hesitantly, the older boy passed over the phone. Kai gave a small smile as he read the message.
"Basically, I'm the one who brought us to the Digital World."
It was just a message. One of those stupid pop-ups. Except, well, it seemed real somehow. Like whoever was on the other side really needed my help. Our help; the message asked for a group, but I was to make the choice. They simply asked if I accepted. I pressed yes. I saw the energy travel through, breaking through the barrier. Then, I got more messages. The date, the time, the location. I could help, I could do something right in my stupid life.
I went on that day, preparing myself as best I could. I was so nervous, I barely even noticed you were there, I was just waiting for it to happen. I got one final message, "Your life will never be the same. Are you sure?" I didn't even hesitate, I just sent back.
Aaron remembered seeing Kai with his mobile phone back then. "And that was when the portal opened."
Kai nodded. "I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know you'd all be dragged through as well. Especially the children. I tried to help, like you did, but by the time I'd sent the text, it was already too late to turn back."
"But you were the one who persuaded us to join you. If you didn't mean us to come, why did you get us to stay?"
Kai shook his head, his eyes at the ground. "I didn't persuade you. I just didn't stop you when I should have. I guess I thought I needed your help."
The boy stood straight as a pillar, everyone else around him. The Digimon looked uncomfortably among themselves; so this was what had really happened. They shouldn't have been able to summon the humans; they didn't have enough power in the elements. So Kai had brought in on the plan as well, opening the gate from the other side.
Kai struggled for a moment. "For what it's worth, and I know that's virtually nothing now...I'm sorry. I'm really...really sorry."
Eloise was shaking. "But…why?"
"I can't tell you."
"No, you don't understand." Eloise looked Kai square in the eye, eyes blazing. "Why would you do that? You…whether you meant to or not, it was your fault that we came here. You've been hiding that from the start, but...what possessed you to decide to come here?"
Kai backed away slightly. "I swear, I didn't mean-"
"Kai, you ruined my life! You ruined everyone's lives; hell, you ruined your own life!" She breathed, trying to calm herself down. "I'm sorry. Look, I don't believe you meant for all this to happen. But it was because of you that we were all sucked from our own lives into this...this god-awful war. We at least deserve to know why, and I'm sorry, but you don't get to walk away from this one!"
Velocimon got to his feet. "To be honest, I still don't buy it. You'd better give a decent answer or I'm blasting through your kneecaps.
"Don't you dare!" Colchimon squared up to Velocimon. "Whatever he's done, it's not up to you and your stupid judgement."
Velocimon turned to Colchimon. "Why the HELL are you defending him, after what he's just admitted?"
"Because no-one else is!" Colchimon whirled round, staring at Eloise. "You said earlier. He needs someone there for him! And anyway," he turned back to Velocimon, his voice steady but brimming with fury, "you decided that you were going to take matters into your own hands and threaten my partner!"
The group began to crowd around Kai as comments and accusations were thrown from every direction.
"But it's his fault! We need to know, NOW!"
"Somebody ELSE sent the first message though. Somebody else is controlling the elements."
Kai stood up. "I still chose to come here. Whoever else is involved, it's my fault that we're all in this mess."
"Who is the other person? Could they be in the Fire Kingdom perchance?"
Kai glared at Velocimon, "Shut the hell up. Whatever miserable creature I am, I'm not a traitor."
"How can you expect us to trust you now?"
Jack felt on the verge of breaking down. He fell to his knees, Perimon running towards his partner. Vulpimon followed, before something caught her eye, and she suddenly screeched to a halt. "Oh no..."
Jack and Grace turned to see the large, bestial Digimon walking casually towards them, completely ignoring the argument in the middle of the clearing. Vulpimon saw the giant figure for a split second, before a massive paw came seemingly out of nowhere and connected with her small body, sending her flying into a tree.
Grace screamed and fell back, the great beast giving her a petrifying stare. She lay there, shaking from the sudden brutality, but the beast simply ignored her and walked on. Grace could barely move from fear, but she turned her head and noticed her partner's limp form at the base of the tree.
Grace snapped out of her paralysis and ran after her partner's still body as Perimon tried to gain height. The beast didn't even bat an eyelid; in one swift moment the paw grabbed the bird round the throat, his partner too shocked to even move. Perimon, despite feeling the choking grip, managed to open his eyes and see their attacker.
Grace's horrific scream pierced through the clearing and brought everyone shouting to an abrupt halt. Wide-eyed, unable to speak, they watched the Digimon throw Perimon to the ground, before batting him towards the group like a ragdoll.
The beast walked towards them, having not even broken a sweat. It was like some sort of large lion; about six feet at the shoulder, certainly tall enough to look Kent directly in the eye. It wore bands of armour around its paws, neck and midriff; armour studded with glowing turquoise stones. Its tail tapered off into segments, and ended in a wicked-looking blade, very much like the tail of a scorpion.
It stopped, looking at every member of the group in turn. Its face was an amalgamation of lion and human, with two beady, almost bored-looking eyes. Two short horns curved up out of its shaggy mane, which enveloped its face and fell down into a beard, making it look very much like a devil. Around its midriff circled six large blue-glowing beads, a seventh of which was embedded in the middle of its forehead. The whole beast was adorned with deep crimson and royal blue; looking incredibly regal, but no less monstrous in the waning light.
Everyone was now looking at the creature, even Grace and a barely-conscious Vulpimon from across the clearing. The beast raised itself to its full height and spoke; a deep, commanding voice that reverberated round the whole clearing.
"I am Martyaxmon; 2nd royal Commander of the Fire Kingdom and loyal servant to General Surtremon." He licked his lips, relishing this moment much more than he'd anticipated.
"I believe I am also known around this region as the Red Beast."
The group slowly bunched together as Martyaxmon began to circle around them, almost as if he were stalking them, working out which one of them to pounce on.
The manticore smiled, almost lazily so.
"I've been meaning to have a little talk with you..."
TO BE CONTINUED…