Slowly, threateningly, the manticore circled all around the group, never taking his eyes off them. The group bunched closer together, Jack hiding behind the others. Vulpimon and Perimon were struggling to get to their feet; Martyaxmon's brief assault had knocked them about pretty badly, but they were determined to place themselves between him and their tamers.

Martyaxmon turned and faced them directly. He almost seemed bored.

"You know, you've been causing me a great many problems since you've arrived here. I don't appreciate taking the flak for your interfering."

Eloise looked the beast in the eye, trying not to reveal how much she was shaking. "I can assure you, we meant nothing personal by being dragged here against our will." At the last part she shot a quick glare towards Kai.

Martyaxmon simply humphed and sat on his haunches. He licked his lips in consideration.

"I wish to know a few things before I get rid of you. I suggest you answer me quickly and truthfully."

Perimon coughed in pain, before squaring up to the group's adversary. "Suppose we've got nothing to tell you?"

"I'm afraid you misunderstand," Martyaxmon smiled, keeping up the polite façade. "I'm not asking for your cooperation. I simply need answers. There are many ways I can get them but it would be easier for you if you just answer me directly."

Perimon was about to decline, but Velocimon stepped forward himself.

"So can we assume that you do know something about the strange goings on around here?"

Martyaxmon raised an eyebrow. "I thought I was asking the questions." He considered for a moment. "If you're referring to the Asuramon, then yes, I was aware of the incident. But that also tells me that you've had close contact as well."

Aaron looked uneasy, "With what exactly?"

Martyaxmon licked his lips, again considering the query. "You may not recognise it, so there's no point in me telling you." The beast glanced to the side. "See, it's much easier on both of us when we exchange information like this."

From behind the main group, Kai furrowed his brow. "I don't see that we have a lot of choice here. You seem to know an awful lot about us."

Martyaxmon squinted, trying to get a better view of Kai. "Ah yes, the outsider. You've been quite the enigma, haven't you? I dare say you still have information that would be helpful to me."

Kai glared at the manticore, who merely shrugged. "It can wait. But there is one thing I am particularly interested in right now."

Martyaxmon flexed his tail, before straightening up, maintaining his professional look.

"The relic. You found it. Where is it?"

The children looked amongst themselves. "What do you mean; the relic?"

"Oh come on, you're not that ignorant." Martyaxmon sighed. "The mask. Karatenmon's last message. That relic. You found it, and it might be very useful to the Fire Kingdom." His voice was monotone, almost as if he were giving a brief as opposed to threatening the last hope for the Digital World.

None of the humans or their partners said a word. Velocimon kept his face completely emotionless; only he knew where the thing was right now. Martyaxmon noticed the defiance in their eyes and rolled his own.

"I can tell what you're thinking. You’re thinking you’d rather attempt to fight me off than just tell me. Okay, let's look at this. The six of you in Rookie form were able to maim my colleague. I can assure you he wasn't happy about that, but that's not important. Anyway, you are now all able to reach the Champion level. You've also been training, thus you've grown in strength even more."

Martyaxmon waited for his lecture to sink in, before carrying on.

"Okay, now let's look at the flipside. Firstly, you don't own the concentrated forms of the Elements anymore, so you can't just power yourselves up like that. Secondly, I am both much stronger than my aquatic colleague, and also much more suited to this terrain. And lastly..." At this he scrutinised the humans, watching their reactions. "To fight at your best, you need to transfer your will to your partners, right? But I've seen you over the past few days. Your will's been sapped; you feel there's no way you can win. Of course, it doesn't help with all the discord you've been sowing amongst yourselves."

The manticore stretched, before standing up and looking down on the assembled group.

"I must thank you, actually. You've made my job easier than it needs to be. But I really should get down to business. You have no hope in fighting against me. Either you retrieve for me the relic, or I'll find it myself. As I've mentioned, it would be easier if you co-operate."

Martyaxmon waited for the response. His face showed no emotion, he simply sat and stared. Perimon looked at Velocimon, shaking his head. Velocimon himself looked doubtful. What on earth were they supposed to do?

Aaron felt his heart pumping furiously against his chest. Whichever way you looked at it, they all seemed totally screwed. He was pretty sure that whatever any of them did, this creature would get what he wanted. And yet...

He felt the D-Nexus pressing against his thigh, as well as the rubber band around his left wrist. This wasn't right. He felt himself walking slowly forward, fists clenched, legs shaking. No matter what they'd all been through, humans and Digimon, they all had a world to protect and they all had a home to get back to. As helpless as he felt, he'd be damned if he was going to let this oversized kitten walk all over him.

D-Nexus in hand, he looked the manticore square in the eye.

"We're not going to hand it over. And I don't know about everyone else, but I'm not letting you wander around doing whatever the hell you want without a fight. Whatever we've been through, we're still a team, and we were brought here to kick your fiery asses back to hell!"

He glanced behind him; the other tamers, while still uncertain, nodded determinedly as they prepared their own D-Nexus's. At their feet, the Digimon braced themselves.

Aaron looked back at the red beast, who was patiently listening. "Besides, you've told us just what we need to know. So long as we have the will, we have the power, right? Don't think you can count us out just yet."

Martyaxmon waited for Aaron to finish, then chuckled to himself. "I was hoping it might come to this, actually." He stood up, his rosary spinning ever so slightly faster, a faint excitement burning in his eyes.

"Very well, I'm game."

Aaron's heart was in his mouth. "Here goes..."

Every human swung their arms as one, the energy coursing through them, making their D-Nexuses glow brightly.

"Primal Control!" they shouted in unison, and all of a sudden the air around them was filled with flying colours, swirling and twisting, making their way towards their waiting partners.

"Evolution Activate!"

The six partners fanned out as the changes took hold of them. Martyaxmon watched as their small bodies grew, smirking at their unrivaled defiance. Within seconds, he was surrounded by six determined Champions. Luminemon and Mistramon hovered above him, talons bared, while the swift Alopemon had moved round behind him, busy charging her ice powers. To his left Seismon swung his spear menacingly, while to his right hovered Achromon, swinging his bladed tail almost lazily as he prepared to strike. In front of him, Galvamon stood steadfast, his blades unsheathed and his eyes full of fury.

Martyaxmon simply shrugged. "I see. Then let us begin."

The humans didn't waste any time as their partners closed in.

"Pressure Wave!"

"Photon Cannon!"

"Abyssal Beam!"

With a single fluid motion, Martyaxmon broke the circle of Champions, easily dodging the incoming attacks. He hopped slightly as he felt the aftershock from Mistramon's attack, but he quickly righted himself and turned to face the others.

"If you're going to waste my time like this, at least be somewhat entertaining."

With a roar, Galvamon leapt forward, lightning bolts dancing around his bladed hands. He slashed at the lion, who just kept skipping backwards, all the while keeping the same bored expression on his face. Galvamon was furious, "Fight me, you scum!"

Martyaxmon made another leap out of the way, making Galvamon's attack swing wild. "Come now, General. As a soldier it's your job to set an example. Language like that is unprofessional."

The manticore frowned as he felt a cold breeze from behind him. He turned his head to see Alopemon running towards him, preceded by several incoming icicles. He growled as the projectiles hit him, the ice spreading across his fur.

Galvamon wasted no time; he brought his claws forward and grabbed a hold of Martyaxmon's horns, before slamming his head to the ground.

"You don't have the right to call me General. You don't deserve to call yourself a soldier. You're merely a monster, nothing else!

"Galvamon, calm down!" Luminemon and Achromon hovered above the dinosaur, Achromon having just spoke. "We can't let him get to us."

Martyaxmon began to shuffle, so Luminemon dived in quickly, her wings glowing. "White Lightning!" she cried as tendrils of light erupted from her wings, binding the great beast to the ground.

There were several icy impacts as Alopemon continued her own ranged assault, the ice spreading across Martyaxmon like a cocoon. In a few seconds, he seemed completely bound to the ground.

Mistramon flew overhead. "We've got him! Hit him with all we've got!" He flew down, preparing to attack himself. Around him, the others charged up their own attacks.

Within his apparent prison, Martyaxmon smiled gently. He could handle a little pain if it meant he could play with these fools a little more.

With a roar of his own he reared up onto his hind legs, swinging Galvamon behind him, straight into the path of the oncoming Alopemon. The two crashed to the ground together, and Mistramon, caught off guard, tried to bank upwards. Martyaxmon noticed him and leapt into the air, grabbing the bird's tail in his mouth. Mistramon screamed as he was sent spiralling away, his tail now adorning several tooth wounds.

The manticore landed again, only to find Seismon standing right in front of him, arm raised.

"Earth Cannon!"

Martyaxmon ducked and the attack flew over him, nearly crashing into Achromon. The beast laughed openly, showing three full rows of sharp, human-like teeth.

"You must be new to the world of combat. I've seen you fight; your style is archaic. Obvious. You need to learn to catch your enemies by surprise."

Seismon nodded, his hands glowing green. "Like this?"

He brought his hands forward, letting off punches of green energy, like the time he'd fought the Asuramon. However, he was caught off guard by Martyaxmon's bulk slamming into him, sending him sprawling. The insect tried to raise his hands in defense, but they were suddenly swatted away by some heavy projectile.

Seismon barely had time to duck as one of Martyaxmon's beads came flying towards his head. Another one managed to hit him in the shoulder; deceptively heavy for its fragile appearance. He was sent spinning, and the bead arced back to its owner.

The manticore smiled. "Always keep your opponent guessing. I may not have hands like you, but I can still provide heavy blows myself."

His speech was cut short by Galvamon, Achromon and Alopemon coming from behind him, slashing and swiping at him themselves. He jumped back from Achromon's claw, taunting them all the way.

"My, we are getting desperate, aren't we?"

With a swift movement, he brought his bladed scorpion tail down, the point slicing into Achromon's wing. Beneath his helmet, the black wyrm gritted his teeth at the pain. The trio was quickly knocked back by another barrage of Martyaxmon's beads.

Galvamon swore under his breath. "He hasn't even thrown a single proper attack yet."

Out of nowhere, Mistramon flew overhead, yelling "Spiral Force!"

The bird flipped over in mid-air, the trail of red energy emanating from his tail slicing downwards. Galvamon had to push the wounded Achromon out of the way as Mistramon's attack swung past, just missing Martyaxmon. Alopemon yelled upwards. "Are you crazy? You could have hit us?"

Mistramon flew backwards, not looking back. "You know, I think we have bigger concerns than each other at the moment.

Achromon put his claws together, spreading his wings. "In that case, we'll just have to go all out."

Around the manticore, the Champions got to their feet, charging their attacks to the limit.

"Charge Bolt!"

"Icicle Barrage!"

"White Lightning!"

"Seismic Shards!"

"Pressure Wave!"

"Darkfire Pulse!"

Staying away from the battle as much as they could, the humans were still forced to duck as waves of black fire, chunks of rock and bolts of lightning came flying from all directions, ricocheting off of each other and turning the clearing into a literal bullet hell. Eloise held her hand to her mouth. "They're crazy...they're going to kill each other at this rate!"

Kent turned on her. "Well, what do you suggest we do? Run in ourselves and stop this battle?"

"Kent, not now..."

"Well, what?" Kent was glaring at the battle scene, as Martyaxmon jumped around, barely hit by the multitude of projectiles. "I don't want to see Trilomon get smashed to pieces here. Not again."

"None of us want that, Kent." Aaron stared at the battle as the mass of projectiles began to thin out. "All we can do right now is watch."

Kent muttered under his breath. "You brought us into this."

He whirled round, pointing at Kai. "Actually, I tell a lie. You brought us into this. I hope you're happy."

Kai said nothing, only looking back at the older boy. Jack ducked as a tiny shard of bone flew above his head. "Guys, don't start fighting now..."

"Shut up, Jack, you don't understand."

"Hey!" Kent suddenly had Eloise turning on him. "What is your problem? No matter how stressed you are, now isn't the time to be picking fights with everyone."

Seismon knew something was wrong when he saw the glow around his hands subsiding. One by one, the barrage of attacks stopped as the Champion levels felt their energy draining away.

Achromon flapped his wings, in an attempt to release more shadow fire. "What's going on?"

Martyaxmon, catching his breath for a second, smiled. His fur had been nicked by the multitude of hits he'd taken, but he seemed barely slowed by the onslaught.

"It seems you're already beginning to fall into discord, whether you like it or not. Without the strength from your partners, you're nothing."

Lazily, he looked over at the humans, who were listening to his every word.

"I've grown bored of this current battle. Besides, I'm interested to see how far I can take this." With a sinister grin he smiled back at Galvamon. "What do you think, general? Shall I bring your partners into this?”

Galvamon scrambled to his feet, blades at the ready, "You son of a-"

He was silenced by Martyaxmon's tail slamming into him, knocking him to the ground. Around him, the others began to ready their attacks again. Martyaxmon sighed, "I'm sorry, I need you all to stay down for a couple of seconds.

He slowly reared up, a faint red aura swirling around his forepaws. Before anyone could move, he fell back down to the ground, his paws making contact with the solid earth.

"Crimson Wrath!"

A wave of fire flew out from beneath his feet, expanding out into the clearing and up into the sky above him. It hit all the partners square on, sending them flying away, before it dissipated, leaving a circle of scorched earth and burning pillars in its wake. The Champions were downed, barely moving, their bodies burned by the attack.

Amid the chaos, Martyaxmon turned and walked slowly towards the children. Flames danced in his eyes as he watched the group back away from him.

Aaron swallowed. " monster..."

Martyaxmon huffed. "They'll probably be fine." He lowered his head, his grin showing far too many teeth for one mouth.

"They'll be okay. But you won't be. Not when I include you in this magnificent purge of all your last hopes. So follow my advice."

He stopped before them, his paws glowing again. He reared up like a stallion, the fire growing behind him.

"Run! Scatter now! Save yourselves!"

The group broke apart, as everyone ran from the maniacally laughing monster. Terrified, Grace looked around, trying to see Jack, but he'd already long disappeared into the undergrowth. Eloise yelled out into the forest. "Don't you see? He's splitting us apart! We've got to stay together!"

Her words fell on deaf ears all around her. She heard the beast's cruel words and felt the heat from his flames closing in behind her. Against her inner judgement, she ran.

Kent found himself being hampered more and more by the forest as it got steadily thicker. He ducked behind a tree trunk, quietly cursing to himself. The three moons were full in the sky and he could feel the cold light they pasted over him. Breathing heavily, he looked around for any sign of movement.

"Damnit, Seismon, where are you?"

He remembered his D-Nexus, and quickly pulled up his partner's stats screen. The insect's health and power were both heavily depleted, but they were both stable for now. He sighed in relief; at least his partner was alive for the moment.

A rustle came from behind him, and he jumped, peering round to get a better view. He was trying to focus, but he couldn't keep his head clear. Martyaxmon really had chosen the wrong time to attack, what with everyone blowing up at one another. He realised that he hadn't been too helpful himself.

Still keeping an ear out, he raised the D-Nexus to his mouth, remembering Pteramon's words about contacting the others.

"Seismon...I...Where are y-?"

His plea for help was cut short as Martyaxmon charged through the forest next to him, before turning and regarding him with cold, glowing eyes. Kent thought about running, but his legs wouldn't move.

Partially hidden in the shadows, Martyaxmon smiled.

"You think you can get away from me just by running?"

Martyaxmon stepped forward, beads swirling gently around him. At his full height he was able to look Kent dead in the eye.

Kent swallowed, trying to collect himself. All he needed to do was think this through logically, right? The beast was right; running wouldn't get him anywhere, and there was no sense panicking. He cleared his throat, trying to sound more in control than he felt.

"I...I don't know who you are, or anything about you. But I get the sense you're not here to kill me."

Martyaxmon raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? What makes you so sure about that?"

"It's a logical conclusion." Kent coughed, feeling the heat emanating from Martyaxmon standing so close to him. "I've heard you've been holding your forces around this whole forest. If you wanted us dead, wouldn't you have done so before now? Hell, you even said you'd leave us alone if we gave you the mask." He noticed Martyaxmon eying him as he mentioned the relic, "For the record, I don't know where it is, so it's no good asking me anyway."

Martyaxmon chuckled. "Look at you, so wrapped up in your world of logic and facts. You think you can take on anything this world has to offer if you simply disprove it with words. However, I'm afraid it doesn't work like that."

Kent shrank back a little. "What are you trying to do?" He gripped his D-Nexus ever tighter, praying that Seismon had heard his message.

The manticore licked his lips. "Take a look at what you've done here. You keep trying to find some area of this world that you can control, that works the way you want it to. I saw you messing with the very code of the Digital World, all because you want to truly know something here. For once in your life, you want to have control."

Kent felt more and more uneasy as the beast's words bored into him. "I destroyed my laptop. I...I'm not touching the code again..."

"I remember. As soon as you lose control, you panic. That's why you can't handle it here. You can never accept something so different from you."

"No, I..."

Martyaxmon carried on, seeing he was getting to the boy. "You lose control and you run away. You're afraid of what you don't understand."

Kent slid down against the tree, Martyaxmon's gaze following him. He felt the whole forest pressing on him; the whole, unfamiliar forest in this unfamiliar world.

"It makes me wonder, Kent. Are you really so prepared to fight for a world you can't accept?

I needed you. Why didn't you help me...

"What about your comrades? Can you really lay your life on the line alongside them?"

We were just too different, weren't we...

Martyaxmon leaned in close, his voice still bold and commanding.

"Your partner, young Trilomon. Do you really care about him? Or would you abandon him the moment you found yourself at risk?

Only focused on yourself. The rest of us are only human. You never cared about anyone. I needed you. Only human. Yourself. Where were you...


In the space of about a second, Martyaxmon had to leap back as shards of rock flew past his head. He whipped his head round, seeing Seismon advancing on him from behind, right arm raised and glowing fiercely.

"Get away from my partner you monster!"

Seismon fired, the green missile crashing into the ground at Martyaxmon's feet. The manticore growled as the earth erupted, shards of rock flying everywhere. He considered staying and fighting, but then he remembered there were five more children out there for him to find. Without a word, he ran off into the undergrowth.

Seismon ran over to his partner, who was pressed firmly against the tree, unable to shake his gaze.

"Kent? Kent! Oh hell, what's he done to you...?"

"What's going on?"

Seismon turned to see Galvamon rushing onto the scene, claws glowing with miniature lightning bolts. Aaron ran in behind him, his clothes all torn from pushing through the harsh undergrowth.

"What the hell happened here?"

"No time." Seismon pointed. "He's after everyone. He's trying to pull us even further apart. You need to go and stop him."

Galvamon nodded and ran off. Aaron hesitated, wanting to stay with Kent, but he quickly followed his partner. "Make sure he's okay, Seismon."

"I will. I promise."

Kent looked at his partner. " came to protect me."

"Snap out of it Kent!" The insect pulled Kent to his feet, the boy feeling a little unsteady. "You know I wouldn't just leave you."

Kent nodded. "I know. I...I know you wouldn't"

Seismon put his hand to his mask. This was very bad.

"Come on, we've got to find the others. Follow me."

Martyaxmon powered through the thick forest, the trees providing little resistance to his assault, his breath escaping in short growls. It had been a while since he'd done much 'field work' himself; after all, he'd usually send a soldier to do the heavy stuff. He was probably getting a little complacent in his old age.

He kept the mask clear in his mind; that was the object which might just sate Rinkhalmon's strange plan and allow him to really take out these annoyances. Still, he couldn't deny that he was having just a little bit of fun. Was there really any harm from getting a little job satisfaction?

He saw a flash of blue alongside him and slowed slightly. A few metres away, a small shape ran away. Martyaxmon smiled, turned lazily and gave chase to the fleeing object.

Jack had never run so far and so fast in his life, and he knew it was taking a toll on him. His breath was ragged and his muscles were aching, but he knew he couldn't stop now. He heard the beast catching up behind him and he tried to turn, to find cover. Suddenly, he found himself in a more open part of the forest. Well, it hadn't been up until now, but although Martyaxmon was keeping his flames to a minimum, there was still the odd patch of scorched earth where there should have been trees and bracken.

Jack tried to run for cover again, but he was promptly stopped by Martyaxmon leaping out in front of him. Jack screamed and tried to back away, but Martyaxmon wasn't letting him go anywhere.

Desperate, Jack fumbled with his D-Nexus, raising it to his mouth, as he'd done before when fighting the Pipismon.

"Peri – Mistramon, can you hear me? Can you-"

He was caught off guard as Martyaxmon lunged forward, swiping at the boy's outstretched hand. Jack cried out as the device went skittering off into the undergrowth. He backed away slowly, his (luckily) only slightly-grazed hand pulled close to his chest.

"What do you plan on doing now, boy?" Martyaxmon circled him, never breaking eye contact with the shaking child.

"You appear lost. This isn't a place for the young and incapable."

Despite the fear, Jack felt a pang of anger at the beast's brutal comment.

"Hey, I can l-l-look after m-m-m-"

"Yourself? Don't fool yourself, kid." Martyaxmon walked slowly forward, forcing Jack to back away, towards the thicker forest.

"You honestly think you stand a chance here? Even with your partner rescuing you at every turn, you'll never survive. You're a pathetic excuse for a human merely depending on everybody else."

"W-w-why should I listen to you? You're a bad guy; you want me to be scared, and weak."

Martyaxmon shook his head, like a disappointed teacher. "Can you really deny it, boy? You are weak, yet you try and stand up with the strong. Come danger, you will be the first to fall, and everyone else will topple around you."

"No, I-"

The manticore slammed his armoured paw on the ground, looking the terrified boy in the eye.

"Then prove it to me! Show me you're not weak!"


Martyaxmon suddenly reared up high as two sets of talons dug into his back. Mistramon flew up, trying to pull the Mega level away, but Martyaxmon merely shrugged. "You again? How tiresome."

Jack scrambled to his feet while the beast was distracted, when he saw Alopemon's sleek form enter the burned clearing from his right. Grace sat atop her partner's back, her hair matted and sweatshirt torn. Holding her D-Nexus in one hand, she called out to him.

"Run! Get out of here, now!"

Much though he wanted to stay and help his partner, Jack found himself running back towards the thick forest. He turned at the last minute, just in time to see Martyaxmon's beads slamming into his partner's body, bringing him to the ground.

" can't-"

Jack's exclamation came to a halt as his right leg gave way beneath him, sending him crashing to the ground. A few metres away, Grace put her hands to her mouth. Not now...

Jack felt the pain emanating from his knee. "You STUPID..."

He twisted round, aware that Martyaxmon was looking in his direction, somewhat amused. He tried to shift himself out of the way, but every small movement he made sent the same damning pain through his kneecap. He cried out despite himself, as Martyaxmon walked over to him, looking down disapprovingly.

"I rest my case."

Before Alopemon could even move, her partner had dismounted and was running towards her injured brother. The fox started, "Hey, Grace, no!"

The fox rushed forward herself, aiming straight for the Red Beast. He noticed her coming beforehand and swiped with his scorpion tail, but she dodged it, summoning a cold aura around her tail.

"Tail Frost!" she cried as she swung the blade round, but Martyaxmon ducked and countered her return spin with a headbutt, sending her sprawling. The beast smiled and turned his attention back to Jack, only to find Grace standing in front of her brother, body shaking but eyes full of fire.

"I won't let you hurt him."

Martyaxmon leaned in closer. "Young lady, you might want to examine your stature before you get in my way."

She took a step back, but remained in front of her brother. A short distance away, but too far to be of any help, lay the two partners, struggling to get to their partners. Mistramon supported himself on a damaged wing as he tried to get up, "Grace, just go! Just take your brother and run!"

Martyaxmon ignored the bird. "Look at yourself, child. Do you really think anything you try and do against me is going to matter."

Grace gulped. "I saw what you were doing. You're not here to simply kill us. You're here to completely destroy us, from the inside out. That way, we'll be no threat to you." She lifted her D-Nexus, as if by some miracle that could protect her.

Martyaxmon blinked. This girl was annoyingly stubborn. "How very observant of you. Mind you, I'm really just here for the mask. If you could just hand it over, I'd happily leave you alone. If not, I might just have to break you."

Grace shook her head. "I don't know where it is. And whatever you're planning, it's not going to work. You're not going to break us apart like this. I'm not leaving my brother!"

Martyaxmon sighed, looking at the determined young girl in front of him. For a moment he looked like he was about to speak, then he simply raised a paw and slammed it into the side of Grace's body.

It wasn't a particularly heavy hit for him, but it still sent her tumbling into the scorched earth. Alopemon, on her feet again, yelled, "YOU BASTARD!" She rushed forward, only to be downed again by another rain of Martyaxmon's beads.

Grace felt like she'd been hit with a cannonball. She moved slightly, still clutching the device, for all the good it would do her. A sharp pain rocketed through her arm where she'd been struck, and she coughed.

Jack tried again to get up, ignoring his still unconnected knee. "Grace, just run! Just-"

Suddenly he was roughly pinned down by one of Martyaxmon's massive paws. He felt the pressure on his chest and he began to panic, looking at the creature's uncaring eyes. Lazily, the manticore looked towards Grace, who was struggling to get up herself.

"You're actually right. I'm not here to kill you. However, I have no orders about letting you go unharmed."

Grace's eyes widened, seeing her brother squirm under Martyaxmon's paw. "You...let him go! Jack!"

The beast gave a chuckle. "Ha, you're both as pathetic as each other."

Tears running down her face, Grace began to plead, calling into her D-Nexus. "Aaron...Eloise...anyone, help us...please, Jack, he' us!"

Jack tried in vain to escape his prison but the manticore just pressed harder, making him cry out in pain. Martyaxmon looked at the boy's damaged leg. "That leg of yours doesn't seem to be functioning right. I wonder what would happen if I were to break it further."

Jack began to scream himself. "GET OFF!"

Alopemon was on her feet running forward, but Martyaxmon's beads simply held her back. Sensing Mistramon behind him, the manticore growled. "One step closer and I'll crush him."

Mistramon and Alopemon were practically shaking with anger, but they reluctantly held back, sharing desperate glances with each other.

Grace was practically screaming into the device, still trying to get to her brother despite the pain in her arm. "Pteramon, Aaron, Kai, anyone!"

Martyaxmon whipped his head round, his lips curled back in a snarl, his other paw hovering only inches above Jack's leg. "Face it, girl. Nobody's coming for you now. Nobody else is around to hear you cry for help."

Somebody was.

"Missile Storm!"

Martyaxmon roared as a dozen small explosions erupted from his back. In the brief second he was distracted, he lifted his paw slightly. Jack, with a desperate burst of energy, rolled clear, crying out as his leg flared up again.

The manticore prepared to pin him again, this was just the opening the others had been waiting for. The beast suddenly had to deal with an enraged Mistramon crashing into him from the side, his wings folded up, storing energy.

"Pressure Wave!"

Alopemon ducked as the shockwave ballooned out, rustling the nearby trees. She limped as fast as she could over towards Jack, ducking down beside him. "Quick, use me and get up."

Wincing, Jack pulled himself up onto her slim body, before she ran over to her own partner. Grace was badly bruised but just able to stand, and she looked up at the sky. Up above, a familiar blue plane-like silhouette flew around, one yellow eye glinting down at her.

"He came..."

"We can't hang around. Mistramon and Pteramon will do what they can but we need to get both of away from him."

"Right." Grace got onto the fox's back herself, and, exerting herself but determined to get the children to safety, Alopemon backed away from the battle. She got a few dozen metres before she suddenly stumbled, collapsing to the ground. Her own leg had taken a fair bit of punishment, it seemed.

She quickly limped to the deeper forest before settling down, feeling the weight of the children on her back. "Sorry, doesn't look like I can get you that far after all."

Jack raised a hand, trying to ignore the pain that racked his body. "Grace...I'm sorry."

Grace felt herself tearing up again. She leaned forward and gripped her brother tightly. "What the hell are you sorry for?"

You're both as pathetic as each other.

Another round of missiles struck Martyaxmon in the back, but he merely shrugged off the explosions, instead concentrating on subduing Mistramon before him. The mighty red eagle was holding on as best he could, but the constant amount of being struck with various claws, beads and scorpion tail was wearing his energy down yet again. It didn't help that he could barely feel Jack's energy powering him anymore. He hated not being able to be there for his partner, but he knew he couldn't just up and leave.

He grunted as he was thrown into the trees for the fifth time. Seeing Pteramon still circling up above, he called up angrily, "Hey, Robosaurus, you could come down and help!"

Pteramon called back down. "Sorry, I can't get low enough. I'll get stuck in the canopy."

Mistramon sighed. "Fine, just keep firing at him with all you've got."

Pteramon felt a pang of anger as he saw the flash of red fur beneath him, a reminder of his own violent encounter. He grinned a hateful grin, "My pleasure."

Martyaxmon leapt left and right, dodging the oncoming missiles and growling up at his airborne assailant. He rushed towards Mistramon again, who tried to escape, but found his wing being pinned by the great beast's ferocious mouth.

"Don't interfere with me. You don't stand a chance."

Without a word, Mistramon brought his head forward into Martyaxmon's, causing the manticore to fall backwards, taking a chunk of his feathers with him. Mistramon cried out in pain and tried to take to the air, but he felt something was off. Looking back at himself, he saw his long flight feathers disintegrating into iridescent particles.

"Oh snap..."

Seeing Martyaxmon looking up at him from the ground, he swooped down and put all his remaining energy into one last attack, the pink energy spiralling out from what remained of his tail.

"Spiral Force!"

The attack flew wide of Martyaxmon, although it sliced deep into the ground next to him. In a flurry of light, Mistramon was back to Perimon, and he banked sharply, trying to gain height. Martyaxmon was smiling up at him.

"Looks like you won't be bothering me anymore, you stubborn creature."

Perimon glared down at him from above. "Go to hell."

From within the deeper forest, another voice could be heard.

"Don't worry Perimon, we'll send him with an invitation."

"Photon Cannon!"

"Abyssal Beam!"

Martyaxmon flinched as black and white beams of energy struck him in the face, their source being Luminemon and Achromon from the deeper woods in front of him. Eloise and Kai stood behind their partners, willing them forward.

High in the sky, Pteramon looked over at Perimon. "You should go to your partner. He needs you."

Perimon wanted to argue, but decided that the ancient bird had a point. He wasn't going to make a difference in his current state. He swooped down, the same way Alopemon had gone, while calling behind him, "Don't you dare let him get away."

Down below, Achromon and Luminemon were doing their best to dodge Martyaxmon's attacks, but the manticore was still going strong. Eloise clenched her fist, "Is there nothing we can do to win?"

"Don't give up now. We can't..." Beside her, Kai felt completely helpless.

Martyaxmon sensed the presence of the two humans and turned his attention on them, keeping the light and shadow dragons at bay.

"So, you're the receivers of Darkness and Light. How quaint; they really thought you humans were ready for this power."

He was temporarily silenced by Achromon's claws locking themselves around his throat, the black wyrm looking into his adversary's eyes with pure rage.

"Your words won't work here, monster. Not while we've got you in our sights."

"Oh. Really?"

A swift move from Martyaxmon sent Achromon spiralling away through the air. The manticore landed and began to laugh.

"This is the legacy of the two most powerful of the elements? What can you do against me?"

Luminemon flew towards him, wings glowing, but Martyaxmon downed her with one precise paw.

"Luminemon, no!" Eloise called out to her partner, who was slowly getting to her feet. The girl felt her insides turn to ice as she watched the two dragons getting slowly but surely beaten down by the mighty creature. These were the ones who had taken down SkullGreymon, and yet they may as well have been attacking Martyaxmon with water pistols for all the damage it was doing.

They couldn't win this. There was nothing they could do to hold him off.

She turned towards Kai, only to gaze in shock at the boy's reaction. Kai gripped his D-Nexus tightly, his lips curled back in an inhuman snarl.

"Kill him, Achromon. Don't let him get out alive, no matter what."

"Kai, they can't..."

"I don't care." Kai's voice was as flat as always, but Eloise could feel the fury emanating from her comrade. Achromon could obviously feel it too; he winced under his helmet as Kai's anger hit him.

Despite the best efforts of the twin dragons, and Pteramon flying above, Martyaxmon could not be downed. He carried on speaking as he fought.

"Well, children? Do you honestly think you can make a difference here? Look at your partners. Look around you. It doesn't matter what lengths you go to, this world is going to burn!"

"You're wrong!"

Eloise flinched at the sudden ferocity of Kai's voice. She watched as he stood yelling at the beast, hunched over like some wild animal.

"This world is going to be purged of monsters like you. I'll see to it myself if I have to. You've caused so much suffering here. I'll see to it myself that your kind is brought your due judgement."

Eloise turned on him. "What is wrong with you? Look at our Digimon, Kai! We can't beat him!"

"Don't you back down on me now!" Kai turned on her, his hair sticking up in angry spikes. Over on the battleground, Luminemon and Achromon felt the discord between their partners yet again, draining them of power.

"I'm not-"

Kai ignored his friend. "Have you even seen what's been going on here? I don't know what you're thinking, but we can't just let him go, not when he's destroyed so many lives."

"I don't want to just 'let him go', Kai! I'm in the same position you are, we all are. But think about it; we can't beat him like this."

"I won't let a monster roam free, Eloise. I won't let you just leave this world to burn, either." There was a wild look in the boy's eye as he opened his arms wide. "We received the power to save this world, it's time we used it! So don't you dare leave this world to die!"

Eloise snapped.

"You're acting crazy, Kai! You know what? I never asked to come here. As far as I remember, that was your choice."

"So you do want to just leave?" Kai laughed a short, harsh chuckle. "It figures. You know what, yes, I did choose to bring others here. I didn't know who you were at the time; I had no idea you and Aaron would be among them. But I saw what was happening here and knew I had to come and fight. At the time I honestly didn't care if it meant others would suffer. I'm fighting to get rid of evil. Right now I don't see you fighting for the right cause."

Luminemon cried out as the anger rocketed through her body. She fired another laser at Martyaxmon, leaving a massive crater where he'd just been standing.

"You've got to stop now! This's not right! Stop fighting!"

Eloise didn't hear her partner; with fury in her eyes she brought up her hands and grabbed Kai by the coat, slamming him into a nearby tree.

"Don't you dare, Kai!" She stared furiously into his eyes, her own gaze being met by one of utter contempt. "I've fought alongside the others since I got here. I seem to remember you running away, hiding from battle like a coward."

"Let go."

"Believe it or not, I'm fighting for the same thing as you, Kai. But I'm not trying to get my partner or anyone else killed in the process."

Kai swallowed as Eloise pushed harder. "Let me go, Eloise."

"No. Not until you calm the hell down."

"Let me go..."

In her rage, Eloise slammed the boy against the tree, her hands shaking. "GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF, DAMNIT!"

She stopped, watching as Kai's head bowed down. Achromon felt something change in his energy. He shoved Martyaxmon away and looked over at Kai, but all he saw was a completely black aura smothering his partner.

Eloise took a step back. "You...what are you..."

"I'm here to kill these monsters, Eloise."

He opened his eyes. Eloise saw shadows dancing in his icy irises.

"I'm sorry, but you're in my way."

In one movement, he threw the girl from him. She landed roughly next to him, her head knocking against the hardened earth. Dazed, she looked up as he stepped forward, putting a hand to his head. Eloise stared at him, shaking. She could taste blood in the corner of her mouth, where she'd hit the ground.

"Kai, bastard...what are you..."

Out of the corner of his eye, Kai looked down at her, lying on the ground, backing away from him. His head felt like it was spinning out of control, but through his swirling vision he could see the abject terror on his friend's face. His eyes widened. He reached out his hand, the horror of what he'd done hitting him like a cannonball to the gut. Black and white spun around him, thoughts and memories that he couldn't control. Couldn't stop. Wooden rail. Broken glass. A blue bird striking down a yellow one in mid flight, bringing it to the ground, shattering its tiny body.

He'd lost control. He'd hurt one of his friends. He...he was just...

With a scream that ricocheted through the entire forest, Kai threw his hands over his head and collapsed to his knees. Eloise flinched and the battling parties looked over in his direction. Achromon called his name and went to fly over, but something was wrong. He looked down at himself, and saw that he wasn't Achromon anymore. He was Colchimon. All his energy had gone.

No, not just gone. Colchimon could feel nothing coming from his partner; no power, no emotion, no anything. It was as if his partner had just ceased to exist. Looking over, he could only see a shadowy aura swirling around Kai's shaking body. Kai himself was backing towards the forest, panicking from some invisible force.

"No, I can't! Not now! It''s not meant to, go away!"

Martyaxmon frowned. "Well, that was unexpected." He turned his head, looking towards the white wyvern, who was staring over at the scene with a terrified look on her face.

"Unexpected, but perhaps not unhelpful..."

In a flash he'd grabbed onto Luminemon by the throat, pinning her down. She writhed, trying to pull the manticore away with tendrils of light, but without the support of Achromon, added to the lack of sunlight, she had virtually no energy to call on.

Colchimon slashed in vain at the Mega, but Martyaxmon just ignored his attacks. In his jaws, Luminemon began to flicker and shimmer, her data losing form.

"Let her go!"

Martyaxmon leapt out of the way as green pellets and yellow lasers shot out of the forest, closely followed by Seismon, Galvamon and their two partners. Martyaxmon sighed. "Haven't you given up yet?"

Aaron yelled at the beast. "No, we're not just letting you go. Galvamon!"

Galvamon ran forward, closely followed by Seismon, but the insect suddenly stopped, turning back to his partner. "Kent, what now-"

Kent was staring around at the scene. He saw Jack and Grace, lying injured on top of an exhausted Alopemon. He saw Perimon and Colchimon looking on helplessly, no energy left to carry on fighting. He saw Kai having some sort of panic attack, and Eloise hunched over him, her face full of fear. In the middle of it all stood the catalyst; Martyaxmon, still without a scratch after all this time.

Kent stepped back, clutching his head. "I don't know what to do..."

Seismon felt a horrible feeling as his partner began to slip into utter terror. He turned back, "Kent, you can't! I need to stay evolved! Trust me, I can help, but you need to have faith!"

"You don't understand...I can't help them...I don't know how to help them..."

Kent was shaking his head, overwhelmed by the horror around him. Seismon reached out towards him, but his hand disintegrated in front of him, the rest of his body quickly following suit.


The boy fell back to the ground, the now-powerless Trilomon running towards him. Kent was murmuring to himself.

"There's nothing we can do. Not anymore."

"Oh, Kent..."

Martyaxmon raised his paw as Ladomon lay choking, Colchimon quickly dragging her to safety. Aaron and Galvamon glared at him as he turned to face them directly, an unimpressed look on his face.

"Look around you, general. There's nothing else you can do. No other way you can fight me. So just hand over the mask and I'll leave you for now."

Galvamon gritted his teeth. "Never. Not after hanging on this long." He raised an electrified blade, the bolts crackling as he passed it through the air.

"It's just you and me. One on one."

Colchimon managed to drag Ladomon over to Eloise, who held her partner in her arms as she knelt beside Kai. Colchimon nudged his partner, who was still breathing heavily, his skin paler than ever.

"Please mate, snap out of it."

Eloise gave the dragon a fearful look. "It was horrific. I don't know what, but...he changed. Something happened, he tried to get you to kill that thing, he-"

Colchimon nodded. "I know. I felt it." He looked sadly at his partner. "I wish I knew what's going on."

Gradually, Kai relaxed, pulling himself up. Colchimon felt a brief feeling of relief as he felt his partner's spirit once again. Although, he figured, it wouldn't be enough to evolve again, and he wouldn't be much help if he could.

Kai looked down at himself, then at Colchimon, then at Eloise. His eyes fell up her terrified face and the cut on her lip, and he hastily turned away.

"I'm sorry..."

Eloise wiped her chin and shook her head. Now wasn't the time.

Galvamon swung his arm in a wide arc, the bolts jumping from him to Martyaxmon, but the beast barely registered what he was doing. Nonetheless Galvamon carried on, holding surprisingly well against the Mega. He fired off a volley of lasers before swinging himself round, his bladed tail clanging into Martyaxmon's armour. THe beast swiped at him, sending him rolling away, but he quickly recovered, bringing his fists together with a click.

"Charge Bolt!"

The tendrils of electricity scoured the battle area, a few finding their target. However, before they could converge on the manticore, he was already running towards Galvamon, swinging his tail downwards. The blade sliced downwards, breaking Galvamon's circuit and sending him stumbling backwards. The lizard held up his left hand, seeing that the metal bands had been cracked and scorched.

The beast began mocking him again, "Your technique is flashy but your positioning is sloppy, General."

Martyaxmon landed and struck out with his tail, the bladed penetrating Galvamon's left hand. Galvamon roared and pulled away, clutching his hand close to his chest. Martyaxmon rushed at him, but the nimble dinosaur leapt up and delivered a kick to the manticore's head, sending him veering in another direction.

Martyaxmon swerved and glared at Galvamon. "For crying out loud, just stop it! How are you even still going?"

Galvamon glanced towards his partner, who was standing right behind him, not ready to give up anytime soon. He felt Aaron's energy flowing through him, giving him enough power for his attacks.

He charged up a gauntlet, pointing it straight at Martyaxmon, "I guess our bonds aren't as weak as you think they are, commander."

"Strike Thunder!"

It was only a single beam, but somehow it managed to connect with Martyaxmon's head. The manticore growled, shaking his mane as the electricity scorched it, but, to the dismay of everybody watching, he merely shook off the attack. Even a direct hit couldn't touch this guy.

Martyaxmon's paws glowed red for a second time, and he reared up. "If I can't break your spirits then I can still burn you to the ground! Crimson Wrath!"

The wave of fire, smaller but still deadly, spread out through the forest. Galvamon grabbed his partner and hid behind a tree, the slight dampness providing minimal protection. Others weren't so lucky; the humans were mainly out of range, but the blast still got Perimon, Ladomon, Colchimon and Alopemon, who turned her body in an effort to protect the two youngest children.

The wave subsided and the damage could be seen; with the barely conscious bodies of the partners (except for Galvamon), strewn out across the battlefield. Vulpimon, lying on her side, raised a paw, still feeling the burning sensation from the wave passing over her. "That's going to hurt in the morning."

Galvamon and Aaron, still undeterred, stood defiant. Martyaxmon prepared to launch another attack, when suddenly something caught his eye. Quick as a flash, he leapt into some of the exposed undergrowth, Galvamon following his movements.

"What's he doing?"

Then it hit him. Out of all the places they could have chosen to battle, this was the one where...

"So, this is where you were hiding it, General."

Mask clutched in one great paw, Martyaxmon strolled out, surveying all before him. "I'll be taking this, if you don't mind."

"No!" Galvamon rushed forward, his good claw ready to strike, but Martyaxmon, tired of the theatrics, merely grounded him with a quick strike and a few hits from his orbiting rosary. The dinosaur coughed, his body severely beaten and barely holding form. The manticore huffed and turned to leave.

"You won't win, Commander."

The beast looked back and saw Aaron, still standing, still resisting his power. The boy's arms and legs had been cut and scratched to no end, his hair was matted and he was breathing erratically, but he was still trying to fight? Martyaxmon had to give him some credit; he was a determined little git.

"Go home, kid. There's nothing left for you to do here. If you had any sense you'd leave the Digital World for us."

Aaron shook his head. "Not after what I've seen. Not while there's still an enemy like you."

All around him, the rest of the group watched as their leader tried desperately to resist, but it was clear to them that this wasn't going to happen. They had lost.

Martyaxmon shook his head. "You think I'm merely another enemy for you to defeat? You think you can defeat me with the combined power of your will or some crap like that?"

His response was interrupted by another barrage of missiles coming down from above. The beast looked up, and groaned inwardly. That infernal fossil Pteramon was still here as well.

He shrugged. "Maybe you'll understand if I show you the full power of the Fire Kingdom."

Without saying a word, he moved his beads into a circle in front of him, which began to rotate, a bright light forming in the centre. The surrounding humans and partners watched in horror as they felt the energy emanating from the charging weapon. The light spread out, and in one quick movement, Martyaxmon angled the disc upwards, pointing towards Pteramon.

Wincing in pain, Grace called into her D-Nexus, "Pteramon, watch out!"

"Rosary Cyclone!"

The blast was phenomenal. A vast spiralling beam of energy shot up into the sky, as if it was trying to shoot down the moon. Pteramon, moving only just in time, was still knocked completely off course by the beam and he spun, armoured body smoking from the heat, into the canopy below. The blast wilted the trees around it and sliced clean through the trees in front of it, burning so thoroughly that there wasn't even enough wood left for flames.

The blast stopped, Martyaxmon's rosary returning to its original orbit. Aghast, Aaron looked up through the gaping hole in the canopy, at the three moons beyond. Then he looked back at Martyaxmon. The beast was expressionless; merely looking at him, as if waiting for him to respond.

Aaron's shoulders sagged, his arms hanging limp. He felt like all the energy had been sucked out of his body and fired up into the sky with that blast. In front of him, Galvamon's body shattered instantly, leaving Velocimon lying powerless on the ground.

For a minute, Martyaxmon stared at the boy, his expression unreadable. Then he turned, and walked off into the deep undergrowth, Aaron staring helplessly after him.

The forest was silent. In a time that felt almost like an aeon, the group managed to pull themselves into the new clearing (the battle had managed to enlarge it quite a bit). Nobody knew quite what to say. Kai was standing aloof, looking up to the moons.

"I'm going."

Aaron turned to him, his face looking grey and sullen in the moonlight. "No. You're not going anywhere. Not after whatever the hell just happened here."

Kai smirked, a humourless smile across his face. "I'm sorry. To be honest, it couldn't be a worse time. But I can't stay here." He looked around him, his gaze settling on Eloise. She stared back, her eyes still showing the fear she felt that time.

"I can't stay with you. Any of you."

Without a word, he ran off into the forest, away from the direction Martyaxmon had gone. Aaron called after him, "WAIT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

Eloise grabbed Aaron by the shoulder.

"Let him go."

Aaron looked at his childhood friend, and she shook her head solemnly.

"Let's just go back to the settlement."

Reluctantly, the group began to head back, supporting each other the best they could. They'd all taken a heavy beating, humans and Digimon alike, and nobody was in the mood to even talk. In the end, only Eloise, Ladomon and Colchimon were left in the clearing. Colchimon was staring after his long-gone partner. Ladomon nudged him, and he looked at her with sad, confused eyes.

"I don't know what to do, Ladomon."

Eloise and Ladomon shared glances. They knew what had to happen now.

Ladomon wrapped herself around him tightly, tears in her eyes. "Go to your partner, Colchimon."

"But Ladomon, will you be-"

Eloise rubbed the shadow dragon's head. "She'll be fine. We all will. Just promise me that you'll look after Kai, won't you?"

Colchimon looked up into the smiling face of the girl of Light. He didn't want to leave his lifelong soul-mate, but he couldn't just leave Kai out there to fend for himself either.

The dragon hovered up to Eloise and rubbed himself against her, feeling her tears on his smooth skin.

"Goodbye, Eloise. Goodbye Ladomon."

Hesitantly, he turned and flew away after his partner, the girl and the white serpent watching until he'd vanished.

Eloise rubbed her eyes, feeling the dirt and the pain all over her body.

"Keep him safe for me, Colchimon."

With a gentle nudge, she and her partner headed back to the settlement.