Silently, the creature glided through the canopy, its ethereal hindquarters phasing through twigs and branches with a slight whooshing sound. Without warning, it stopped, alighting on the nearest branch as it focused on the figure below it. It blinked its large golden eyes and twitched its small, keen nose, before silently raising its tail, which coiled around a strange, metal canister, and gave a small flick.
The sudden shout from the figure below caught the creature off guard, and the sudden barrage of ice shards flying past its head didn't help the situation. It swivelled down to the understory, trying to get away unseen, but it soon found itself face to face with a flat, expressionless armoured face.
Without a word, Seismon reached out a hand and grabbed the creature around its midriff, stepping out to meet with Grace and Alopemon as the little ferret-like creature squirmed and wriggled in the insect's grasp.
Kent folded his arms. "Well, this is new. I've never seen them send anything this...non-threatening before."
The little ferret squeaked in indignition as it waved its tail around frantically. Alopemon chuckled, "Gently now, you might hurt its feelings. This is a Kudamon."
Grace eyed the little beast. "It doesn't look like a Fire Kingdom soldier. In fact it looks kind of cute."
"It's certainly unusual." Kent frowned, "Although we can't rule it out. Anything could be in the Fire Kingdom these days."
Before the fate of the Kudamon could be officially decided, there was a movement in the bushes and a whisper of "Shinku Kamaitachi!" Seismon let out a yell and drew his hand back as the air blade slashed his wrist, cracking the armour and allowing the Kudamon to wriggle free and skate off into the forest.
Grace pointed, "After him!"
The Kudamon swerved frantically as bullets of ice and earth flew past it, until it found itself emerging into a clearing, decorated with tents and a strange, slightly charred wooden tower in the centre. It all seemed very familiar.
It whirled around as another two figures walked towards it; a human boy in a red beanie and a bipedal lizard with glowing claws. The lizard raised said claws as lightning crackled between them.
"You've got some nerve…we don't appreciate seeing the likes of you around here."
He took a step forward but was immediately floored by the mysterious assailant from before; a fox with a spiritual mask and a wicked bladed tail. Galvamon threw it off with relative ease and it ran to the side of the Kudamon, hackles up and snarling.
"Don't you dare touch him..."
Aaron stood at his partner's side. "That doesn't particularly look like one of the Fire Forces. It looks more like a peed-off parent to me."
Galvamon upped his electrical charge a little more. "That still doesn't mean we can trust it."
There was another flurry of movement as Seismon, Alopemon and their tamers stepped out from the thinning forest. Alopemon blinked. "Ah, I see you found our mystery monster."
"You call her a monster and you deal with me."
The voice made everyone turn as another Digimon leapt down from the treeline, its body flopping like that of a puppet. It was tall, blue and humanoid, wielding two sharpened wooden swords and wearing a white mask. Its eyes were brimming with fury as it raised its weapons. Galvamon did the same, gritting his teeth. "I don't know what's going on here but you have some explaining to do."
The Yasyamon simply spat, flexing aggressively. "You want to talk? Come and talk."
Seismon and Alopemon stepped forward, preparing to fight themselves. "Not a good idea, mate. We overpower you at the moment."
The Yasyamon snorted. "I highly doubt that."
"Oh really? You didn't expect us then, did you?"
With a flapping of wings, Mistramon and Luminemon descended from the sky to complete the group, and they rounded on the three mysterious Digimon.
The Yasyamon looked surprised, then straightened up. "Frankly, it makes no difference."
With a rustle, more creatures seemingly came out of nowhere. Three small dwarf-like creatures leapt out of nowhere, surrounding the smaller group on the ground. They were like little dwarves wearing what looked like old computer monitors on their heads, and they waved their arms in a silly yet strangely menacing manner, producing little orbs of water, wind and electricity.
There was another flapping of wings and a humanoid figure flew in above the scene; an angelic figure adorned with bright pink (and rather tasteless) ribbons and wielding a short staff. To the left and right of the group stepped out yet more Digimon; bodies of half horse and half armoured man, each with one eye embedded in a Greek helmet and a biomechanical arm glowing with solar energy, pointed at the humans and their partners.
Eloise swept her D-Nexus around, trying to capture all their adversaries.
"Monitamon…Piddomon…Centarumon…you're right, I don't think these guys are with the Fire Kingdom."
Galvamon wasn't convinced. He stepped forward, causing all the strange Digimon to tense up. Yasyamon raised a sword. "Don't push me; you have no chance against us."
"We've taken things tougher than you before." Galvamon stopped, glaring at the swordsman. "What are you doing here?"
"Us?" The Yasyamon blinked. "What are YOU doing here? You don't belong here!"
"What do you mean?" Aaron stepped forward next to his partner, hands raised as a peace offering. "We don't mean to cause you any trouble."
One of the Centarumon raised his free hand, like a schoolchild asking a question. "'Scuse me, but we live here."
The other nodded. "Yeah, this is our home."
Galvamon snorted. "Home? It was abandoned when we got here."
The Yasyamon seemed to be taking offense to everything that was being said, as he wrung his hands in frustration. "Gah, that's not the point! We live here, and you're not supposed to be here, so piss off!"
"They do have a point, you know." The Piddomon brushed one of his ribbons out the way as he looked down at his comrade. "We were gone for quite a while."
"Well, we need this place more than they do."
"You can't just shift us off like that! We need this place as well!"
"We have rights."
The entire congregation turned as another Digimon walked calmly out of the forest. As he stepped out into the morning light the humans and their partners took a step back, unable to believe what they were finally seeing.
The Digimon was tall, with purple armour and jet black wings. Two golden swords hung from a scabbard at his belt, and his feathered face was obscured by a dark purple mask. It was an image the group had seen many times before, although they couldn't believe it was really in front of them.
There was no doubt about it. This was Karatenmon.
The crow-man gently walked up and put his hand on his comrade's wooden blade, his face serious but his voice gentle. "That's enough. Whatever these people may be, they are not our enemies."
Yasyamon grumbled, but sheathed his weapons nonetheless. Gradually, everyone relaxed, with the exception of Kudamon and Reppamon, who still kept their wary eyes on Seismon.
Karatenmon stood up to his full height. "I think we may need to talk."
The remaining forest was aglow with an orange light as the two groups sat around in a vague circle, members from each occasionally giving each other dirty looks. Nearest to the centre sat Karatenmon; eyes closed and legs crossed. Across his lap lay the two twisted swords, which he had almost immediately recovered from underneath the central tower. Aaron could remember his angry glare when the boy had told him about the fate of the mask, but he'd said nothing.
Aaron watched as he gently aligned the spirals of the swords; they were so perfectly matched they might have been moulded that way.
"So this is your original home?"
Karatenmon looked up, his face dead straight.
"Not original, per se. We simply decided to set up here when the Fire Kingdom drove us out of our respective homes. Then for some reason they decided to drive us away from here, as well."
"I thought there was something fishy about this place when we arrived," said Kent, deep in thought.
The two Centarumon nudged each other, before one of them plucked up the courage to speak, "This place is safe. Safe against the soldiers. The only forest left."
Yasyamon shook his head. "Not any more, I'm afraid. I don't know if you two bozos have noticed the state of this place recently."
"We ain't bozos!"
"Yeah right," Yasyamon ran a finger along one of his blades, impatient. "You two only have one set of brain cells between you."
"Quiet." Karatenmon gave his second-in-command a sideways glance, causing the swordsman to snort and look away. The bird-man continued.
"We've been travelling ever since, staying out of the way of the Fire Kingdom. Then we heard something in Silicon City; apparently Martyaxmon and Cephalomon were gathering an army down here. I decided we should come back and try and retrieve what we'd left behind before." He narrowed his eyes. "Unfortunately for us you people had already gone and lost it."
Perimon pouted. "Trust me, if we could have held onto it, we would have."
"One thing I don't get." Eloise readjusted herself and nodded at the swords on Karatenmon's lap. "Those things are the swords and the mask of your kind, right? But you already have a set; where did they come from?"
"They belonged to my brother."
The Digimon looked amongst themselves. "Wha…"
"My older brother. He was a travelling scholar; he'd traverse the Digital World recording every development he could find. I never knew much about what he did."
Jack turned to Perimon, "That must've been what we found in the temple. You know, the scrolls and everything."
"You found some of his work?" Karatenmon looked genuinely interested.
Perimon raised a wing behind his head, laughing nervously. "Well, we did, and then, kinda, we-"
"I see. Don't bother."
Aaron pressed. "So what happened? Was he…"
"He was mostly likely killed." Karatenmon blinked, his face showing no emotion at all. "The last I heard of him was that he was going to the North to settle something. The next I knew I had these delivered to me by some anonymous Digimon. Nobody knows what happened to him up there."
The group was solemn. "I'm sorry," said Aaron, "It must've been hard."
"We do what we can to survive. Despite everything, we must move on."
He sighed and stood up, flicking the twisted swords into his belt with one swift movement.
"That's all I have to tell you. I'm very sorry to do this to you, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Velocimon blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"He said get out, cloth-ears." The blade-happy Yasyamon prepared to leap to his leader's defense, but Karatenmon raised a claw and silenced him. Then he turned to the shocked group.
"This place belongs to us. We have divulged in information for you to carry on with your quest, but that is as much as I will do for you. You must leave this forest as soon as you can. It isn't safe for you to linger."
Eloise, laughing uncertainly, raised her hands, "Hang on, hang on, back up; what are you talking about? You can't just kick us out like this?"
Karetenmon stared at her, his eagle-like eye burrowing into hers. "I'm afraid that's your problem."
"But that's not fair!"
"Fair?" Now Karatenmon turned to face her, his black wings fluttering slightly with irritation.
"Let's look at this logically. You came across this place in our absence, and decided to stay. That's fair enough. Then we came back. I've just offered you information regarding my brother which should actually come in pretty useful to you. And in return I would like this place back for myself and my group. Given that you attacked us without precedent when we arrived, I believe that's fair exchange."
Around him his group nodded in agreement. Piddomon clutched his staff, "You do see the logic, don't you?"
"No, I don't." Aaron stood up and faced the bird-man himself. "You have more right to this land than we do. However we have a common enemy right now. Is there a reason why we can't stay here together?"
This got mixed responses; the tamers seemed happy to do this, and even a couple of Karatenmon's posse seemed to be considering it. More numbers meant greater defenses. Now that was logical.
Karatenmon shook his head almost immediately. "I will not share my land with your kind."
"What is your problem?"
Aaron stepped forward, genuinely angry at this sudden act. The Yasyamon leapt to his feet but Aaron simply knocked the puppet aside, squaring up to face Karatenmon.
"We've been sent here to defend the Digital world from the guys that are currently walking all over you and chasing you all over the place. We have enough problems to deal with without you being selfish. You obviously have a problem with us, so come on! What is it?"
Karatenmon closed his eyes, considering for a second. When he opened them again, the pupils had narrowed into dangerous slits.
"Very well. You want the truth?"
Aaron stood defiant, but behind him the others braced themselves for the inevitable torrent of abuse.
"I've spent the last several months running for my life and trying to keep my tribe safe from the monsters trying to destroy our land. When I heard that six children had been summoned to our world, I hoped you'd be able to turn the tide. Now I see you, I'm actually appalled with you. All of you. I can appreciate you have a task to do here, so I gave you the opportunity to leave without incident. But if you think you have any sort of right here then you are greatly mistaken."
The humans flinched, not expecting this sudden outburst. Karatenmon's voice was laced with pure hate as he carried on.
"Tell me something; what have you accomplished since you arrived? There are still three Commanders out there, there are still hundreds of Digimon being mercilessly slaughtered, and you've done absolutely nothing. Heck, all you had to do was keep hold of a single mask. You must have known it was important, and yet you still allowed it to be taken from you. You're all pathetic, and you-"
Here he pointed a sharp talon at Aaron, "You are the main cause."
Velocimon was on his feet in an instant, "How dare you…"
Aaron took a step back, "Yeah, I've made mistakes! I'm only human. You can't just blame me for everything; I've been trying to help!"
"Ha!" Karatenmon spat. "Mistakes are only acceptable if you learn from them. Tell me, were you able to defeat Martyaxmon by learning from your past mistakes? In fact, I do believe you're even worse off than before. How is that other boy doing; the one who abandoned you?"
Aaron felt the bird-man's eyes burrowing into him, as if they were digging up every single sin he'd ever committed and thrusting them through his face.
"You need to get off your ass and start saving us. Or do you not plan on returning home again?"
"Shut up!" Aaron snapped, stepping forward and taking a swing at the bird-man, who hopped back out of the way.
In seconds everyone was on their feet, hackles up, weapons bared, or simply trying to calm everyone down. Velocimon rushed to Aaron's side, guns glowing as he aimed both fists at Karatenmon. The crow-man glared at him, "I am not your enemy."
"Neither are we yours. But don't start picking fights with us. We don't have time for you."
Karatenmon smiled sarcastically. "Sorry, I forgot. You have important work you need to be doing."
"We're not leaving."
"Then you take it up with me." Karatenmon unsheathed his two good swords, sticking one into the ground in front of Velocimon.
The bird-man looked at first Velocimon, then at Aaron. "Since you won't leave quietly, we shall duel for this place. If you so accept, that is. Me and the lizard. One on one."
Aaron looked at his partner, who looked ready to explode. He sighed, and nodded. "Very well. If we lose, we'll leave quietly. If we win…" Aaron paused and looked around the clearing, at the motley group under Karatenmon's wing. They were all silently supporting him; staying loyal, even the baby Kudamon. Say what you wanted about their leader's attitude; this was a group that worked as a team.
"If you win?"
Aaron turned back to Karatenmon. "If we win, we'll talk about this further. Deal?"
Karatenmon stood up high, spreading his wings.
"It's a deal, human."
The bird-man and newly-evolved Galvamon stood opposite each other, swords raised against hand blades. The rest of the group was gathered some way away from them, and the area had been cleared as best as it could. Eloise pouted as she turned to Aaron, "Are you sure this is really a good idea?"
Aaron looked deep in thought, so Eloise nudged him.
"Galvamon can hold his own in a straight fight. Besides, there's nothing else I can really do. I can't exactly kick them out."
Grace huffed under her breath, "You know, I think they deserve it."
Yasyamon was on her in an instant, swords unsheathed and eyes blazing with fury, "So, this is a conspiracy, huh? You planning on breaking the rules?"
Grace yelped and Eloise turned to the puppet-swordsman, more out of annoyance than out of self-defense.
"Come on, we wouldn't do anything like that. Can you please put those things away for more than 10 seconds?"
"You dare insult me, wench?"
Any further tirade was halted by Piddomon twisting round and punching Yasyamon straight in the gut, causing him to woof and collapse like a rag-doll (which, Eloise supposed, was pretty accurate).
The angel let out a grunt of exasperation. "Will you shut up already? Nobody cares."
Jack let out a slight giggle, and a couple of the Monitamon turned to each other, flashing ":P"s at each other. Standing near the back, Kent whispered to Piddomon. "Pardon me for enquiring, but you don't seem like the kind of guys to try and evict people without a reason. What's up with your leader?"
Piddomon sighed. "I'm not really sure. Probably something about personal pride." He turned to Kent, his expression unreadable beneath his iron mask. "Personally I don't have a problem with you guys. You're just doing what you can."
"Maybe." Aaron acknowledged the angel before turning back to the warriors before them. "He does have a point though; we could be doing a lot more."
Any further discussion was halted as Karatenmon and Galvamon raised their blades, determined looks in their eyes. Karatenmon gritted his teeth, "As I said, my problem is not with you, General. You have a chance to back away from this."
Galvamon shook his head, "My greatest apologies, but you do not slander my partner and expect me to accept it."
"Very well. Then let's begin."
In a split second Karatenmon had disappeared, and Galvamon, out of instinct, threw himself away as well. He felt a breeze along the back of his neck as Karatenmon's blade sliced past, trimming a couple of his blue feathers just slightly. Despite himself, he swallowed. He may have been experienced, and may have been powerful, but he was still only a Champion level, whereas Karatenmon was an Ultimate of skill he didn't quite know.
There was another movement of air, but Galvamon heard it coming; swinging himself round and bringing his arms up in a cross shape. The yellow blade clanged down, just inches from his face. Galvamon launched a kick and sent Karatenmon spinning away, recovering quickly and strafing around the wary lizard.
"You fight well for a Champion level."
Galvamon smiled. "You're not bad yourself. Let me guess; you were a soldier once?"
Karatenmon smiled back, before spinning forward and launching a swipe at Galvamon's head. Galvamon ducked, but Karatenmon veered away at the last moment, instead swinging his foot out in a sweeping arc, knocking Galvamon off his feet. He rolled away immediately, not even stopping to look as Karatenmon's blade came down again. The lizard got to his feet and held out his hands, charging up the electricity within him.
To the side, Jack was beside himself. "That's cheating! He can't do things like that!"
Beside him, the Monitamon exchanged question marks. Galvamon hopped back and blocked another blow, looking rather annoyed.
"He's got a point, you know." Duck. "I was under the impression…" Slide "…that this would be a proper swordfight." Jump.
Karatenmon shrugged as he spun in a circle, causing his wings to spread out like a cape behind him.
"All's fair in battle, general. I seem to remember you using rather…unorthodox tactics during your warrior days."
Galvamon leapt back. "So you were a soldier."
"I served under you. It's quite possible that you trained me back then." Karatenmon smiled as he spread his swords wide, taking a quick pause for breath before leaping up into the trees.
"Excellent…" Galvamon's blades glowed blue as he brought them together. "If you were trained by me, that means I can go all out on you." He leapt to the side as a blade flew down next to him, before he raised his clasped hands high.
The electricity flew in wide arcs, but Karatenmon effortlessly jumped down and simultaneously threw one sword whilst grabbing hold of the other, all while avoiding the electricity jumping around him. Galvamon was quick as well, swinging his tail round and knocking the sword off into the bushes, before delivering a roundhouse that caught Karatenmon on the side of the head as he stabbed forward.
The bird-man blinked from the impact but kept at it, yelling, "Harmony Swords!" He began to throw blow after blow, striking at a seemingly impossible speed. It was all Galvamon could do to stay in one piece, but suddenly without warning he thrust his hands forward.
Karatenmon was thrown off by the twin beams and leapt up high again, flipping himself upside down and driving towards Galvamon's head. The lizard twisted away again but stumbled slightly, the blade breaking the skin on his right arm. He ignored the sharp pain and leapt up to the trees himself, his breath beginning to slow.
"You really are an adept fighter. We could use an ally like you."
"Thanks, but it would never work. Difference in opinion. You might say."
"Suit yourself. Strike Thunder!"
Lizard-man and crow-man leapt from branch to ground, zooming past each other and throwing bolts and sharpened black feathers at each other with each passing. Eloise had her jaw wide open, "Okay, this is bloody impressive."
"What did you expect?" Yasyamon pulled himself to his knees, trying to get a good view of the action himself. "This is Karatenmon. He's had military training and he's been protecting us for at least a year now. It figures he might be able to go up against his old general."
Kent whistled. "You know, I almost don't want either of them to lose."
"Me neither." Aaron fiddled with the band in his pocket, deep in thought. He'd been deeply hit by Karatenmon's harsh words. Not that they were entirely unwarranted; the boy had to admit that the bird had a point. Ever since they'd come to this place, all they'd done was sit around and delay the inevitable. Perhaps it was time to move on regardless? But then, where would they go?
It was Kudamon who first noticed something was off. He sniffed the air, then put his head to the ground and gave a loud whine. Reppamon stood up immediately, nudging her child, before looking up to the sky and growling.
Kent noticed it first, nudging Piddomon and pointing at them, "What's their problem?"
Piddomon frowned, before he tapped one of the Monitamon on the shoulder, "Is there anything coming at the moment? Reppamon and Kudamon seem very on edge."
The Monitamon saluted, before putting his ear(?) to the ground, his screen buzzing with static. Then it switched to loudspeaker, and the whole group was suddenly made aware of a deep droning wail, coming from beneath the earth. Piddomon leapt into the air, holding his arms out and yelling, "Time out! Match postponed! We've got trouble!"
Galvamon turned, and Karatenmon, seeing his opportunity, lashed out with a vicious kick that sent the lizard sprawling. He felt the blade against that back of his neck and a voice in his ear, "I win, General."
"You idiot." Galvamon snarled as the blade was removed and he twisted round to face his adversary. "We don't have time for that now. Didn't you hear? Something is coming."
The whole group stood up and listened in silence, as the deep droning got louder, more threatening, and closer. One by one, all the humans got out their D-Nexus's, preparing themselves for what was coming.
With a sudden loud crack and a spurt of yellow liquid, a Digimon burst out of the ground in the middle of the clearing. It looked like a large, bloated mosquito, but it was about the size of a pony and its whole body was adorned with pipes, tubes and nozzles that constantly squirted burning yellow liquid over everything. Atop its back it carried two huge tanks; probably reservoirs for the liquid it was busy spraying everywhere.
Karatenmon opened his beak in horror. "I didn't think they were still around…"
"What is it?" Aaron raised his handheld device and scanned the creature as it lazily swung its elongated head back and forth.
"Mosquimon. Champion Level, Virus Attribute. Attacks: Scalding Surge, Sulphur Plume"
Grace made a face. "That's nasty."
"It's more than that." Piddomon turned his head slightly, keeping his staff raised and prepared to attack. "These guys have caused more destruction than anything else in the Digital World."
Kent blinked. "What, they're really that bad?"
"You haven't seen them in action." Piddomon gritted his teeth. "They don't stop. They have no will other than to keep flying onwards, spewing their vile toxins wherever they go."
"WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!" cried Yasyamon, before drawing both swords and leaping up towards the hovering menace. "Double Strike!" he called as he flipped over, bringing both swords down upon the oblivious insect. The Mosquimon staggered backwards, buzzing irritably, before righting itself and continuing its seemingly bored surveillance of the area. Yasyamon landed, and Karatenmon gave him a look.
"Nice going. Now it knows we're the enemy."
One of the Monitamon displayed a face-palm emoticon, before the ground began to shake. The Mosquimon raised its head high and let off a sound somewhere between a leopard's growl and the sound of nails down a blackboard. The sound was immediately echoed a hundred times from beneath the ground.
Eloise clutched her device tighter. "That doesn't sound good."
In a matter of seconds there were Mosquimon bursting out from the ground all around them. Scratch that; the insects were bursting out from all across the forest, leaving great holes and chasms as they rose higher in the sky, congregating into a single black mass. Galvamon clenched his fist, "So that's what those damn tunnels were for."
Aaron turned to the others, "Get ready to fight!"
The other tamers nodded, swinging their arms wide as the energy built within them.
Karatenmon watched as the Rookies began to glow, each taking on their larger and more powerful forms.
The bird-man turned to Aaron, anger in his eyes. "What do you expect to do? You really hope to lead an attack against this monstrosity?"
"Yes. I do. That's what I always do."
"You never learn, do you?"
Aaron turned to him, eyes blazing. "Okay then, what do you suggest we do? You won the duel, fine. You tell me I've been doing a crap job, fine. But right now we're under attack and I need your help."
Karatenmon flinched, taken by surprise. He tried to think of a comeback, but the incessant buzzing made it hard to think.
"I…" Karatenmon faltered briefly. "I suppose we can't just run away from this. Not after coming all this way back home."
Yasyamon strode up. "But Karatenmon, there's no way we can take all these guys out. Half of us can't even fly."
"Well then, we attack as best we can." Karatenmon pointed a finger skyward, "Everyone, fire!"
A barrage of projectiles flew towards the swarm; earth cannonballs and pulses of sunlight, heavenly arrows and mystic icicles, blades of wind and bolts of thunder. A few members of the swarm spiralled down, dissolving as they were hit, but the sheer number of Mosquimon was still overwhelming.
"There's a problem!"
One of the Centarumon pointed upwards, "They're not attacking."
Kent stared up with confusion as the swarm seemed to get further away. "That's weird. Why would you go to the trouble of summoning a swarm if you're not even going to use them?"
"They look like they're going somewhere in particular." Piddomon flew slightly higher, squinting beneath his mask. "I think there's a mountain range over there."
"Mountain range?" Eloise and Jack looked at each other. "Didn't we just come from there?"
Alopemon was shaking, her breath coming in short gasps. "They're not here to take us out! They're going to kill Strabimon!"
Piddomon glanced over at their leader, who placed his head in one clawed hand. "Nothing that lives there will stand a chance against a swarm that big."
Kent clenched a fist. "Martyaxmon and Cephalomon. They knew Strabimon was there."
Mistramon nodded. "And they knew we'd have to help our friend. They're just trying to pull us out into the open."
"Wait, wait." Karatenmon faced Aaron, sword in hand. "You aren't seriously thinking of going over there, are you?"
"We have a friend there, with her own group of refugees. She saved us once. We owe her the same."
"This is so obviously a trap."
"I know that. That's why I'm thinking."
Karatenmon slammed his sword into the ground in anger. "Whoever she is, she's all but dead! There's nothing you can do! For God's sake, wake up and take some responsibility-"
"I don't care what you think!" Aaron shouted, causing Karatenmon to flinch. Aaron stepped forward, "I know this is a trap. I know that thing'll be pretty much unstoppable. But I don't do things the way you do." He glanced around, getting reaffirming nods from the others in his own team.
"I'm not perfect, but I do the best I can."
All of a sudden, Aaron began to give out orders. He pointed at Jack, "Do you think you can get Perimon to reach Ultimate level again?"
Jack quavered. "Uh…I guess so?"
"Good enough." He nodded at Eloise. "Your two are the only ones of us who can fly. I want you to fly over to Strabimon and see what you can do."
He glanced at Grace, "We might need some extra help. Can you reach Pteramon?" She nodded, and called into her D-Nexus, "Pteramon? Where are you? Jack's going to need you."
A pause. Then, "Grace, is that you? I'm on my way."
Aaron smiled. "Good. I'll be counting on you five." Than at Kent, "I have a feeling we're going to need to hold down the fort over here. We're gonna need Tectonamon."
Kent nodded, smiling in admiration.
Finally, Aaron turned back to the bird-man, who was looking on in bewilderment.
"This isn't your battle. You don't need to stay here if you don't want to."
Karatenmon blinked, then turned to his own followers, then turned to Galvamon.
"He is one of your boys, isn't he."
Galvamon nodded. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Of course not." Karatenmon sheathed his swords and began pointing himself, "Piddomon, Reppamon, you're coming with me. We're going to help stop that swarm. The rest of you, stay here and protect this place. Protect…our home. Any problems?"
Nobody had any objections, although Yasyamon grumbled something about 'that damn human kid'. Karatenmon turned his head towards Aaron, "Me and my guys are ready when yours are."
Aaron smiled. "Well, we'd better get started."
Grace helped her brother to mount Mistramon, a worried look in her eye. She stood back as he stared down at her.
"Are you gonna be okay, Jack?"
He shrugged, "Hey, it's Mistramon who's doing all the work here." He smiled gently, remembering the events from the previous day. "It's not like I'm gonna be any help."
"Oi, we'll have none of that!" Mistramon bucked slightly, making Jack jump. The bird twisted his head around, "I need you to stay strong back there, okay? As they say in the movies, this is not a drill."
Jack stammered slightly. "I…I'll try…"
Without warning, Grace hopped up onto Mistramon's back and gave her brother a kiss. He flushed a little, but she simply grinned at him. "You'll be fine. You're always fine in the end."
The smallest hint of a smile played along the edge of Jack's mouth. "Thanks."
"Jack? We're heading off." Eloise had mounted Luminemon and was steadily climbing higher into the air. Jack wobbled a little as Mistramon turned himself, spreading his wings.
Jack grinned, feeling the adrenaline within him. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be!"
With a couple of flaps, Mistramon took off, joining Luminemon, Karatenmon and Piddomon as they aimed themselves towards the forest. Reppamon had already left; zooming through the forest at lightning speed, with Kudamon clutching to her back.
Aaron cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled to the retreating warriors, "Good luck!"
Karatenmon turned back. "Take care. I don't think you'll be out of danger here."
Aaron frowned as the bird-man flew out of range.
"I know. I have a horrible feeling something's coming for us."
The remaining warriors gathered together, standing in a circle and watching for the slightest sign of movement.
Cephalomon vented with pleasure as he saw the dots on the horizon head towards the fleeing swarm. He turned to his partner, who was watching the proceedings calmly.
"It worked. They took the bait. They've split up."
"True, but I suspect they know what we're going to do." Martyaxmon narrowed his eyes, "They seem to be good at lucky guesses."
Cephalomon raised himself up to his full, impressive height as the roars, cries and squeals of the prepared Fire armies bellowed out all around him. He pumped his fists together, "It makes no difference. The plan is still going perfectly. But I think it's time for us to move."
Martyaxmon nodded. "Have the demolishers been sent yet?"
Cephalomon pointed, far behind the assembled ranks, into the distance. There was a faint orange glow across the horizon; a telltale sign of an oncoming storm.
Martyaxmon frowned. "Unfortunately, unlike you, I can't see over the treetops. But I'll take your word for it."
"Excellent. That gives us one hour to do what we must. You take your soldiers and take out the settlement; I'll meet the others at the mountain range."
"Will you be fast enough without swimming?"
"You underestimate me." Cephalomon let off another vent of steam, billowing out from beneath his mask. "I can attack from a range, as can my cohorts. Besides, the Mosquimon should keep them busy long enough."
Cephalomon leaned down again. "One more thing on your end; don't enter the battle yourself unless you absolutely have to. Let the forces tire them down first."
Martyaxmon was unsure. He pawed the ground out of instinct. "Are you absolutely sure about this? If this doesn't work-"
"We've come too far to turn back now. You know that."
Martyaxmon sighed. "Very well. You know I'll do my best." He stretched a paw out and gave his colleague a salute.
"Please." Cephalomon waved a hand dismissively, "You know I don't deal with those kinds of formalities."
Martyaxmon glanced at the ground, in a way that might have been down to nerves. The look was familiar to Cephalomon; that slight uncertainty before a final assault. It was a look he could remember from many years back, when they were both young and energetic.
Then it was gone. Martyaxmon straightened up, his face dead serious.
"Good luck, anyway. I think we'll need it."
Cephalomon chuckled, before sweeping one oversized arm and pointing towards the mountain range.
"My platoon, follow me!"
There was a collective growl of acknowledgement as Cephalmon marched off, his vast footsteps accompanied by a wide variety of different Digimon wielding various kinds of ranged firearms. Martyaxmon grunted and addressed his own platoon.
"Squad One, take the lead! Find the settlement and wipe the remaining fugitives out!"
He blinked as the hordes of Fire Digimon swarmed past him, roaring and bellowing with fury as they disappeared into the doomed forest. Rosary gently spinning, he walking after them, the second squad obediently following behind him.
As he walked, Cephalomon felt the heat of battle giving him a surprising amount of exhilaration. He almost felt dizzy, but that might have been the fact that he hadn't been in his pool for nearly two days now. Ah well, if all else failed...
Beneath his mask, his rubbery jaws contorted into what might have been a grin, the movement creating sounds very similar to a steam train. His eyes burned with fury as he fixed the mountains in his sights.
"Well fellas? Let's bring them hell…"
"Look over there."
Jack pointed and the entire followed his gaze, their eyes falling upon the far-away figures. "Is that…"
"That's Cephalomon." Pteramon zoomed out of nowhere and joined the group, a serious look on his scarred face.
"I got your message. From what I can tell, they're making a move on you. They're gonna wipe this place clean."
Karatenmon sneered, "Just when we'd gotten back home too. I did say this was a trap."
"I know." Eloise brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "Okay, plan is this. We go in, find Strabimon and her group while staying out of too much combat, then we get them out of there and head back. Personally I think we ought to leave this place as soon as we can."
Karatenmon nodded. "Alas, my lady, I believe you are right. This will be the last time we will see the Painted Woods in all their glory." He smiled sadly for a second, before raising his voice, "Did everyone get the strategy?"
Everyone around him nodded, including Reppamon, who briefly jumped above the treeline to give her answer, Kudamon clinging possessively to her neck.
The group sped up as they entered the mountain range. Eloise gulped, and Ladomon felt her stomach turn to ice as she saw the great wall of mosquitoes emerge in front of her eyes. Whatever happened, this was going to be tough. She closed her eyes and prepared for the worst.
In one swift movement, the Mosquimon, as if commanded by some unseen force, all turned and droned at the newcomers. Then, they moved forwards as one, spewing acidic napalm from their nozzles and the tips of their legs, pumping it through the arrays of pipes on their bodies. The smoke was thick and acrid as the liquid burned into the rock below, and the group were forced upwards, straight into more waiting insects.
Eloise pulled her hand away as a globule of liquid flew past, before Karatenmon burst through the top of the wall of Mosquimon and bellowed at the top of his lungs.
"As warriors, we shall not falter nor fail to fight! Now is the time to let loose your power!"
With a cry he spiralled down, blades in hand as they glowed a purple glow.
He hit the swarm bang in the centre, drilling through them with ease and slicing through members left and right. At his cue the others joined the fray as well. Pteramon growled as he let off a volley of missiles, whereas Piddomon was skilfully using his staff to fend off his assailants. Down below, Reppamon was leaping from Mosquimon to Mosquimon like stepping stones, releasing air blades with each flick of her powerful legs.
Luminemon was affronted by a wall of the beasts as they exhaled plumes of yellow, sulphurous gas in her direction. She and Eloise began to cough as the gas hit them, and she quickly spiralled out of its range.
With a twist she released tentacles of light that bound and burned the insects before them, causing them to let off ear-splitting screeches. She hesitated, seeing the beasts writhe in pain in her searing embrace. Eloise saw her and gave her a whack on the side of the neck.
"They don't have any control or will left in them. There's nothing you can do except kill them." She flinched, realising what she'd just said. "I'm sorry…"
Luminemon knew her partner was telling the truth, but she couldn't bring herself to end a life, even one as wretched as these. If only Colchimon was here…
A blade of pink energy sliced through the creatures in her tendrils, and Mistramon hovered down in front of the traumatised wyvern.
"You've got to keep on your toes, love. I won't be here all the time."
"All the time." Mistramon turned serious. "We need to take our partners down to the ground; we're not gonna have time to find Strabimon at this rate."
Luminemon nodded and the two broke away from the battle, depositing their tamers next to Reppamon on the mountain path.
"You go and find them, then call us and we'll come to you. We'll try and keep them busy over here."
Jack and Eloise nodded, "Right."
The two wheeled back into the chaotic swarm. Jack swallowed with worry, but he forced himself to stay strong.
Reppamon turned to the two, Kudamon shaking on her back. Eloise put out a hand and stroked the youngster, "It'll be okay. It'll be over soon."
Reppamon nodded. "Follow me."
The remaining warriors raised their weapons as, with a roar, dozens of Fire soldiers suddenly burst out from the broken forest, charging towards the waiting group. Boarmon, Lynxmon, Meramon; the variety was incredible, yet they all bore the same wild eyes and bloodthirsty nature of every member of their army. Aaron raised a hand, and the Digimon all around him readied their weapons.
The two Centarumon fired first, each letting off a burst of light from their mechanical arms, which pummelled into the sides of a Tyrannomon's head, making it roar and collapse into data bits. The Centarumon chuckled and gave each other high-fives, but Kent yelled at them, "No appraisals. Not until we've finished."
Aaron led Kent and Grace away from the centre of the clearing as the battle began to heat up. Galvamon, Yasyamon and the three Monitamon dived straight in; swiping and slashing at the soldiers all around them as they began to drop like flies. Galvamon leapt up high, fists balled and clusters of electricity crackling over them. He snarled as he landed, bringing both fists to the ground with an audible bang.
It was unorthodox, but still effective as the bolts of lightning leapt all around him like spears, paralysing about twelve oncoming soldiers. He soon set to work taking them out with precision slashes and kicks, but was rather annoyed to find Yasyamon taking out his quarries as well.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?"
Yasyamon snorted as he buried the wooden blade into a Musyamon's face. "All's fair in love and war, General."
"You're supposed to be working with us."
"I am. But Karatenmon didn't say I had to like it. I'll steal your kills if I want to."
"Thanks." Yasyamon spun round and cleaved an oncoming Meramon neatly in two, before turning back to the lizard, "That still doesn't mean I enjoy working with you."
Galvamon rolled his eyes, muttering "Suit yourself."
A few metres away, one of the Monitamon (the one wielding an orb of water at the moment) found himself being pinned to the ground by the armoured foot of a Musyamon, who raised his blade high. The blade never actually made contact as it was blasted out of the creature's hands by two unseen projectiles, before it felt something hot pass through one shoulder and something cold pass through the other. It roared instinctively and turned to see the other two Monitamon, wielding blades made of lightning and ice. They flashed up an F and a U respectively on their screens, before they leapt forward and ended the hapless creature.
Alopemon was attempting to stay out of harm’s way, flinging mystic icicles left and right, before she backed into Seismon who was blasting out green punches at everyone around him.
She waved her head back and a Meramon behind her froze in his tracks. "Sooo…how are you doing so far?"
"I'm holding up. I'm trying to pace myself. Duck." Alopemon did so as Seismon wheeled round and delivered a glowing fist into the face of a Shadramon, which promptly took the hint and disintegrated.
"Well I hope you are; you're the one who's gonna have to evolve soon. You don't want to mess that up."
Seismon turned his head, catching a glimpse of his partner watching from outside the fray. He quickly scanned the area, looking for something else in particular, before returning to grapple with another persistent soldier.
"I know. And we haven't even seen him yet. You think he's gonna show up?"
"Positive. We just need to be ready."
The "him" in question stepped back as the forearm of a Greymon landed at his feet, before it dispersed, its former owner not far behind. Martyaxmon quietly cursed under his breath. Despite the strength of the Fire Kingdom, his soldiers were beginning to dwindle in number. He needed to step in and he needed to do it soon. He just needed an opportunity…
He got one. Just as one of the Centarumon turned his body (no doubt to congratulate his partner, the fool), the great flaming blade of another Musyamon erupted through his shoulder from behind.
The other Centarumon turned and gasped in horror, "No! Solar Ray!"
The blast of light hit the assailant in the face, and the second Centarumon galloped over to his injured companion.
"Can still fight."
Martyaxmon slowly walked onto the battleplain, eyeing the children all the way. Those foolish horse-men had just given him the perfect opportunity.
"Sorry, Cephalomon, but these guys are mine."
Aaron saw him first, his proud form unmistakeable even in the chaos of the battle. Aaron yelled out, "He's here!"
Kent swung his arm out, "Primal Fury!"
Martyaxmon roared and rushed forward, his cover blown. He barged past his own soldiers left and right as his front paws glowed a deep, burning red. The three children before him stood stock still, rooted in place. Martyaxmon leapt up high, letting gravity bring his massive bulk back down to earth. His voice was powerful and his eyes brimming with fury as he landed with the force of a meteor.
Strabimon sniffed the air, swore, then quickly ducked back into the little alcove she and her posse had found as a couple of Mosquimon flew past, spewing lava and looking for any signs of life they could decimate.
Hidden away, the Monodramon with the torn wing bunched up tight, trying to keep his panicked breathing down. Strabimon noticed his look and quickly slapped him across the face.
"Focus, man. This is no time to get emotional."
"But…but they're gonna find us…"
"No they won't. And if they do then we'll just outrun them." Strabimon clenched her gloved hand into a wickedly sharp fist. "I didn't raise you guys to be cannon fodder. We're getting the hell out of here."
"Strabimon, look!" The Gabumon pointed as Strabimon peered over the rock ledge. Her eyes widened in first surprise, then joy as Jack and Eloise turned the corner, obviously looking for them. She stuck out a claw and waved frantically, breathing a sigh of relief as Jack, Eloise and Reppamon scooted around to meet them.
"Where the hell have you been? You're supposed to take care of stuff like this!"
Eloise gave a nervous laugh. "We've had some…issues. Unfortunately they keep popping up to say hello."
"I know the feeling." Strabimon smiled at the others in her group, who were now looking slightly more reassured. Jack got out his D-Nexus and began to speak into it. "Mistramon, we've found them. Can you come and find us?"
"We'll be there. Just stay out of sight and we'll come to pick you up."
As much as Mistramon would have liked to have kept his word right then and there, he was kind of struggling right now with three muscular biomechanical insects trying to partake in what he could only assume was an attempt at the infamous piggyback-ride-of-death. The swarm had maybe thinned just a little, but it was still one hell of a tough battle. Karatenmon was battle on with blood running down his left leg, two of Piddomon's resplendently feathered wings had been scraped half bare, and Luminemon was circling around a teetering Pteramon as the old fossil tried to ignore the suspicious splutterings coming from his air jets.
With a growl of anguish, Mistramon twisted round, but only ended up with one of the Mosquimon clawing at his face, liquid fire dripping into his helmet.
"Agh! Luminemon! Help me!"
The white wyvern heard his plea and swung her wings round, "White Lightning!"
With great dexterity she plucked the insects off one by one, before throwing them straight back into their own kind. She nuzzled up to Mistramon, who was holding one eye tightly shut.
He ignored the pain, "They've found Strabimon. You need to go right now. I'll try and make a path for you."
"Don't you think this'll be a good time to evolve?"
"No time like the present." Mistramon concentrated, trying to project his thoughts through to Jack's D-Nexus.
"Jack, I need you to lend me your power. Can you do that?"
Jack swallowed, but nodded, gripping the D-Nexus tightly. Eloise held onto his shoulder as he concentrated, trying to feel the power within him as it began to surge and grow.
Mistramon spread his wings, backing away a short distance.
"Better watch yourselves, guys. This is gonna be big."
He rushed forward as the energy hit him, dispersing his body into thousands of iridescent particles, that all rushed as one into the oncoming swarm.
The trail of red energy spiralled upwards, dispersing a good number of the insects as it began to take shape yet again. Golden wings spread wide and serpentine tail spiralling behind him, Cyclomon keened as he looped back around.
Karatenmon whistled to himself. "Okay, that's impressive."
He flew to the side, a stunned Piddomon and Pteramon following his lead as Cyclomon's giant maw rushed towards them for a second time.
His serpentine body suddenly split into three great dragons, made entirely of air, which roared savage roars as they carved through the swathes of Mosquimon. It didn't do much against the numbers of the swarm, but it kept them at bay just long enough for Luminemon to rush forward past their ranks.
"Thanks!" she cried back, as the three air dragons intertwined themselves into their flesh and blood form once again. Cyclomon grinned (that is, as much as you can grin when you have a beak the size of a bus), as he flew up high once again.
"No problem, m'lady." Then his right set of eyes caught movement, and he felt the colour drain from his face.
Cephalomon was stood there right outside the range, arms folded, two tentacles raised, and with a vast army of Digimon soldiers either side of him.
He raised his arm high above his head, steam billowing from beneath his helmet.
"Ready your weapons!"
With a series of mechanical clicks, the rows of Tankmon, Tankdramon, WarGrowlmon and MetalGreymon, among many others either side of him raised their respective firearms one by one, aiming them directly into the mountain range before them. They were going to reduce this place, and anything still left inside it, to utter rubble. Cephalomon began to spin his great cannons up himself, the napalm building within them.
Cyclomon screamed down at everyone, "GET THEM OUT OF HERE! NOW!"
Blinded by panic, Luminemon soared forward, looking desparately for her partner.
The tamers and Digimon hiding away in the alcove had heard the squid-monster's voice loud and clear. Jumping to her feet, Eloise took action, "Change of plan! Move!"
The group did so, scooting across the mountain path at a frightening rate. All of a sudden, another Mosquimon emerged before them, spewing fire along the path. The group yelled and jumped to the side, but the Monodramon with the damaged wing felt the ground beneath his feet crumble as he began to slip down into the ravine.
Eloise was with him in an instant, grabbing onto his hand as he lost all footing. "Don't you dare fall in!" she bellowed, teeth gritted as she tried to pull him up. Strabimon was by her side in an instant, helping to pull her fallen comrade out. The wolf-woman turned to the girl, "Go! What are you waiting for?"
"We came here to rescue you! Like hell we're gonna leave you now!"
The lone Mosquimon was rushing towards the three, spewing lava from every orifice as it prepared to burn them alive. There was a rush of wind and the three flinched, but no blow came. Instead a voice rang out with the fury of a thousand solar flares.
The Mosquimon was struck with a beam of intense light, vaporising instantly. Luminemon charged down, her expression on of mortification at what she'd just done. Jack stood up and waved his arms, "We're here! You saved us!"
Jack turned back and saw that Luminemon's intervention had been just a fraction of a second too late. The wind fox was sprawled out on the rocky ledge, her entire hind quarters being melted away by the Mosquimon's last attack. She'd leapt in at the last second, taking the blow herself. Her body was shaking as she tried to move, but failed, her burned flesh oozing and letting off lone data particles.
Kudamon was stood next to her and she nuzzled him, whispering in his ear, "Go on."
Kudamon shook his head. "Get up! Come on, get up! Mum?"
Karatenmon's face morphed into one of horror as he flew onto the scene. Piddomon flew behind him, "We have to get out of here now!"
"No…" Karatenmon shot forward, "She's still alive! We can…it's not too late…"
"Get away!" Cyclomon turned his head and witnessed the final members of Cephalomon's army ready their weapons. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a fiery glint in the Commander's eye, before Cephalomon threw his hand forward.
Instinctively, Cyclomon dived down towards the waiting Digimon, ignoring the wind shooting past him and the mountain edges cutting into his wings and body. There was a muffled 'ftoom ftoom' as missile after missile was launched at or over the mountain range.
Cyclomon rushed forward, bringing savage winds with him as he whispered the words, "Vortex…Breaker…" Eloise screamed and held Jack close to her body as the mountains around her shattered into hundreds of fragments. Boulders fell all around them as the ledge they were standing on crumbled and fell into the ravine below. High in the sky, a great rain of fire lay almost dormant, just waiting to fall down and end it all. Cyclomon was practically upon them, the air distorting around him as his great body blotted out the firelight. Fire, air and earth swirled around her, and she could feel her blood racing around her body.
There was the sound of hell falling to earth.
Then a rumble.
TO BE CONTINUED…