Jack closed his eyes as the world flew past him in a blur. His heart was in his mouth as he felt himself falling, attached by chain as he was to a maniac with magnetic powers. Either side of him the walls whizzed upwards at a terrifying speed, seemingly threatening to take off his ears or nose if he leaned too far. Then he felt a jolt, followed by a horrible screeching sound as the freefall abruptly slowed. He opened his eyes again, only to find the shark-lady grinning inanely at him.
"Feeling okay? Not too travelsick?"
Jack wriggled, but Teslamon shook her head and waggled her finger. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. It's a teensy bit of a drop from here."
Jack looked down, and was quickly able to verify how far above solid ground he was by the apparent lack of it, replaced instead by a vast black abyss. He decided to stop wriggling and instead hold on very, very tightly to his captor.
"Where are you taking me?"
Teslamon raised her free arm, causing a section of the other wall to glow yellow, before she frowned. "Seems I still can't do anything about this. Ah well, any second now..."
Teslamon hung in anticipation; one hand pressed against the inside of the great metal wall, the other holding onto the chain that held the boy close to her body. She didn't even seem to have a proper grip; her hold was entirely due to her magnetic field. Jack hoped it was as strong as she seemed to think it was.
Moments passed, then minutes. Then a great clanking started up, and Jack felt the whole mechanism begin to shake. He yelped and clung on tightly to his kidnapper, who patted his head affectionately. "Aw baby, it's alright. Teslamon's got you."
The boy let go hurriedly, but still kept a tight grip on the chain that was currently wrapped around him. Both he and the shark-woman watched as the great metal cylinder began to rise, taking the city above ground. Below, there seemed to be only empty space; a massive indent in the landscape that held the home for so many. Jack held his head back as the lower rim of the city passed them, then carried on upwards. The great disc ceased moving, and somewhere in the distance an alarm sounded. A new day had begun.
Teslamon sighed, and scoured the underbelly of the city. "Let's see if I can remember how to do this..."
Jack swallowed, and tried his hardest not to look down at the gaping drop where the city had sat comfortably. "Where are we going?"
"Aha!" Teslamon held out a hand and began to shimmy along the curving wall, holding one hand against it to prevent her from falling. All the while she remained her usual chit-chatty self. "I used to spend a lot of time down here. It's nice and quiet and means you can avoid all the nasty people who try and arrest you. Although it's a tad lonely, I suppose."
Her feet touched solid ground and she stood up, Jack opening his eyes again. They appeared to be stood upon a bridge of some kind, high above the unseen wasteland below. There were many just like it all protruding from the central column holding up the city; in fact, the more Jack looked at them, they weren't so much bridges as they were supports, obviously holding the hole open whilst the city was raised during the day. Despite the current situation, Jack whistled. The city really was incredibly clever.
Nonchalantly, Teslamon strode along the bridge while Jack dangled in her right arm like a sack of compost. He gazed up with a look of more annoyance now than anything. "You're not gonna be able to keep me here, you know."
Teslamon blew a short raspberry. "You're not one of those 'good will always prevail' types, are you? Honestly, you're so boring."
Jack pouted. "Well...you're not one of those 'evil actually always wins' types, are you?" He glared at Teslamon as she stopped and looked at him curiously. A moment passed, then he looked away. "That's all I've got."
The shark-lady grinned. "You know, I like you. I'm glad I picked you up; your sister's absolutely useless, you know that? No fun whatsoever."
"Leave my sister alone, you...you...bitchy lightbulb!"
Teslamon sniggered. "You're funny though. I might hang onto you for a little while, just for entertainment, y'know?" Having reached the innermost end of the bridge, she hopped down, skirting round the rim of the central column. "You see, I'm not just crazy, much though you may like to think I am. I believe only in what I see before me. I believe I can win against you because literally everything in this city is in my favour. It's only logical."
With a smug grin, she rapped a couple of times on a sheet of metal and it fell open, revealing a dank metal alcove, dimly lit, with gears grinding beyond the walls. Teslamon waltzed in, taking in the interior as she did so. "Honey, I'm home!"
Nobody answered. Teslamon rolled her eyes, before throwing the boy into one corner of the underground room. Jack tried to struggle to his feet, but the shark-lady merely raised her arm and he found himself being dragged backwards. His legs flopped around uselessly as he was tied to one of the many metal beams adorning the room, using the chain and Teslamon's magnetic attraction to hold him in place. As much as he pulled, he wasn't going anywhere.
Teslamon pressed a panel on the wall several times, before whacking her fist against it. The room began to glow with a dim, artificial light, and Teslamon leant back against the wall. "Ah, it's good to be home." She noticed the boy staring at her, and she waved her arm as if presenting a new house. "I hope you like it. It's not the most comfortable place, sure, but it's out the way of most trouble, and gives me time to think things through. Can only move around during the day though."
Jack wriggled, before spreading his legs and sitting down against the cold metal floor. It was obvious he wouldn't be going anywhere soon. He may as well refrain from wearing himself out, deciding instead to take in his surroundings as best he could. The room appeared to be directly below the clocktower; in fact, they might have all been the same column. He could hear the whirring of gears needed to keep the city elevated during the day; obviously much of the mechanism was hidden. He frowned. There wasn't that much more he could see.
"You bored or something?" Teslamon was leant back against the opposite wall, hands behind her head. She opened her eyes and lazily looked down at the boy. "If you don't mind, I wanna ask you a few things."
Jack shrugged. "Go ahead. I don't know enough to be any help."
"That's up to me." The shark woman snapped a finger. "Question one. What year is this?"
She was greeted with a blank look, and promptly placed a hand to her temple. "Come on, it's not difficult."
Jack looked away. "I'm not from around here..."
Teslamon muttered, "You wouldn't be, would you," before knocking on her head a couple of times. "Okay, that Fire-Kingdom-war-thing's still going on, isn't it?"
Jack nodded. "For about a hundred years or something?"
"Aha." Teslamon giggled, before her eyes widened. "A hundred years? Blimey, that's a bit of a wait." She snapped her finger again, causing a small dent in the wall behind her from the sudden flux. "Question two then: who's winning?"
Jack blinked. "Hopefully us?"
"Come on, come on, who's 'us'? Who brought you here?"
Jack blinked. "You did?"
"Funny!" Teslamon waltzed over, brandishing her metal claws suggestively. "Don't push it, mate."
"I don't know!" Jack pouted. "I told you, I don't know anything."
Teslamon raised an eyebrow. "I can see that. Okay then, so how do you plan on winning? What's your secret weapon?"
Jack looked genuinely annoyed. "What secret weapon? What are you talking about?"
"Come on, I know you're doing something. You're able to evolve your partners to Ultimate level on a whim, and you can also evolve yourselves. It's all really rather interesting."
Jack looked away. "Well, I can't really do that yet."
The shark woman stuck out her tongue. "Honestly, you are useless. No wonder you got caught so easily." She sighed, running her hand down her face as the boy stared at the floor.
Jack looked at her with a glare of scrutiny. "What do you even want?"
Teslamon sighed. "It's all very well, y'know. You think I know everything; I've been trapped in a cage for a hundred years with only the dumb ramblings of Silicon City drilling into my ears every day. Do you know how stupid you all sound?" She banged her fist against the wall, causing another dent as she looked skywards. "At any rate, I know there's something out there. Something important, and I'm gonna find it. You're no help, and I guess the rest of you won't be either."
"Good!" Jack stuck out his tongue, before reconsidering his position. "So, if you don't need me..."
"I need to go exploring for a little while. I hope you don't mind if I leave you here for now."
Jack shrugged. "I don't exactly have a choice."
Teslamon giggled, and waved coyly. "I'll be back, sweetie!" Then she stepped out the door, and closed it behind her, leaving Jack alone in the underground room, with only the mechanical sound of the city to keep him comfort.
"Come on, push!"
Fornaxmon let off several jets of steam as he pressed his mighty bulk against the metal disc embedded in the ground, trying his hardest to shift it. Beside him, Kent and Cratomon were doing the same, and Galvamon stood atop the broken dome offering his strength as well, but even their combined might was barely making the slightest difference. All around them several Digimon looked on; some worriedly, others holding back a silent apprehension.
Fornaxmon stood up, staggering a little. "That's it, I need a break."
"We can't!" Cratomon turned to the blacksmith as the disc shifted back a little. "Jack's down there with a psychotic Digimon; we can't just let him go! We don't have much time before-"
"Breathe, Kent." Seismon looked round at his partner, hands still pressed against the metal as his legs dug into the sandy ground. "Remember, she took him alive. She wants to know things. She might do many things but she's not going to kill him."
"That's still not a good thing in any sense. Isn't there another way we can get down there?"
Fornaxmon shook his head. "You'd think, but there's no way us regular citizens can get down there. The mechanism's all automatic, and the elevators are heavily armoured."
Cratomon stamped his foot, causing a mini-shockwave that sent the onlookers scarpering. "Who the hell would design something like that? Doesn't it need looking after?"
"When you've quite finished, yes, there was a reason for it. It's designed like that to stop outsiders entering the city from below."
Galvamon scoffed atop the useless elevator. "A lot of good all that protection does you when your criminal is inside the city."
Fornaxmon looked up, exasperated. "I didn't know. None of us knew. I don't know how she got there or why, or even where that bloody tower came from in the first place."
Galvamon humphed. "Convenient."
The great golem heard him, and turned towards him, venting again. "Are you accusing me?"
"Not at all." The lizard looked aside. "Although I must say, when you're angry you do remind me of a certain acquaintance."
"Galvamon, shut up. You're not helping." Cratomon narrowed his eyes. "We don't have time to argue."
Galvamon rolled his eyes, but Fornaxmon turned and nodded. "I know."
"We need to work faster. Jack's in danger."
Fornaxmon sent out a fist that collided with the solid metal of the lift. "I know!"
Seismon looked aside, still trying to move the disc himself. Fornaxmon waited, head down, until the clanging resided. Then he lowered his arm. "I'm sorry. I know you're worried about your friend."
Cratomon looked away. "No, it's me. I'm panicking. I just hope he's still alright. We all do."
"He's a strong boy. He'll survive. All we can do right now is keep going."
The great metal golem placed his hands against the metal once again, and began to push. Cratomon did the same, but Seismon pulled back briefly, noticing Fornaxmon's great metal gauntlets. "What's that? Are you…bleeding?"
Fornaxmon stopped, and pulled his hands away, rubbing them together to wipe away the flecks of red and orange that had adorned them. "It's fine. Just overwork, that's all." His head twisted, and he stared back at the disc. Galvamon narrowed his eyes, but said nothing, instead reassuming his position pushing the platform.
Fornaxmon let off a sharp whistle. "Come on, let's move this thing. I think I felt it shift."
Eloise sat on the doorstep of Babamon's house, watching the empty streets before her. Ladomon hung over her, hovering silently with a sombre expression.
Eloise looked up, and the dragon looked away. "Sorry about...you know...I should have stopped her..."
The girl shook her head, and reached up to caress the serpent's chin. "It wasn't your fault." She looked down. "Things just got out of hand, that's all."
She heard the door open behind her and turned to see Aaron and Babamon step out, looking grave. The girl nodded in gesture. "How is she?"
Aaron held his arm awkwardly. "She's still there; we made sure of that. She still won't talk to me though."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?"
Aaron sighed, and sat down beside his friend, Babamon leaning against the wall nearby. The boy looked down at the ground. "I know, I know. I said some horrible things before. There's not much I can do now other than say sorry." He smiled. "Some leader I am. We're more split apart than ever."
Babamon tapped his shoulder. "Don't blame yourself entirely, young man. If it weren't for Grace's actions we wouldn't be in this mess to begin with."
Eloise leant further forward. "I'm sure she's fully aware of that herself."
Ladomon, who was swaying gently, decided to blurt out what was on her mind. "What about Vulpimon?"
Babamon shook her head. "She's been in my room the entire time. She's mostly thawed out but...well..." The old puppet rubbed the back of her head, looking uncomfortable. "They've both had a rough night, in more ways than one."
Aaron sighed. "I just don't understand why. Why would she even go that far to begin with?"
Eloise sat up. "Aaron, you have no idea what she's been through."
"Do you?" Aaron placed a hand to his forehead, the midday sun beating down upon him. "She's putting herself in danger, and it's affecting everyone else as well. We can't go on like this. She needs to grow up or she's gonna get us all killed."
"Hey, lay off!" Eloise snapped, whipping her head round. "She's a twelve year old girl; not all of us are as heroic as you are."
"It's not about being heroic. It's about being part of the group, and not trying to take on the world by herself."
"Like you were doing not too long ago?"
"I..." Aaron trailed off, going slightly red. "I made my mistakes. I don't want her to make the same ones."
Eloise sighed. "I can't defend her. But I can understand how hard it must be for her."
Behind the three, Babamon stood tall (well, as tall as she could given her diminutive stature). "It's easy to walk around playin' the blame game all you like, but the fact is one of your friends is currently trapped beneath the city. What happened, happened. Now it's time to do somethin' about it."
Aaron and Eloise looked at each other. Ladomon gave a small cough, "Perhaps we should go and see if we can offer a hand."
Aaron stood up, and stretched. "That's probably a good move." He beckoned the girl and the dragon, before turning to Babamon. "What about Grace? Do you know when she'll be able to...when she'll be...?"
The mage raised a hand. "I don't know. That's up to her. But I'll stay here and keep an eye on her, don't you worry. I promise I'll do a better job than last night." She grimaced. "See? Even I'm to blame for this."
She waved wearily as the tamers and the dragon set off, before heading back inside her home.
The Homemade Army were nothing if not efficient. That was what Teslamon thought to herself as she peeped out from a gap she'd made in another elevator. Three…no, four guards were stationed outside, green sashes blowing in the wind. She'd checked around all the nearby elevators, and there seemed to be a few soldeirs at every potential gap in which she could escape.
She frowned, and hung lazily beneath the device, scraping a nail along the cable as it whirred past. Somehow, she needed to get past these guys. It was just a case of how.
Very gently, she picked out a bolt from the mechanism, being careful not to disrupt its movement. She gently positioned it in the gap, before rubbing her hands together, building up charge. Then, quite deliberately, she gave the bolt a quick tap. It shot off into the distance as if fired from a railgun, crashing into a building several metres away. Two of the guards immediately ran over to where the noise was, one of them being the agile Kabuterimon she'd been worried about. Perfect. She could almost definitely manage the other two.
With one hand she held the moving cable; the other she pressed against the smooth metal of the elevator casing. She gave it a short, sharp bang, before laying her palm flat, concentrating her power.
Just outside, the Unimon guard heard the noise and walked over, beckoning her comrade. "I think I heard something."
His colleague, a Rinkmon, placed his hands on his hips. "It could be anything, you know."
The Unimon bent down, her single red eye illuminating the metal surface. "You never know-"
Teslamon flexed her knuckles and the metal flew outwards, repelled by the incredible force. The Unimon was batted aside by twisting metal, with scarcely time to yell. Teslamon stepped out as the Rinkmon, quick on the uptake, skated towards her showing his wicked-looking blades. "Spinning Cutter!"
"Not today, I'm afraid." Teslamon danced to the side, dragging the cable as she did so. Rinkmon failed to stop in time and careened into the elevator mechanism, his blades making horrific screeches against the metal. The was an ominous snap, and Teslamon looked up to see the platform begin to fall.
"Well now look what you've done."
She grinned, before leaping towards the nearest rooftop as the platform landed on top of the two unfortunate soldiers. With great skill the shark-woman leapt from roof to roof, avoiding the eye-contact of the citizens and the guards below. It wasn't long before she'd reached the clocktower, where she stopped. Obviously she wasn't getting in this way; not with several dozen guards round the base. Not that she needed to get in that way, she thought to herself. After all, that girl hadn't needed to.
Teslamon thought more about Grace as she snuck towards the hidden entrance, winding her way through the back alleys. Somehow that girl had gotten hold of the key to her escape, and it almost certainly hadn't been by her own intuition. Someone else had retrieved it for her. She'd sensed it, from within her impenetrable prison. Something familiar…
Teslamon frowned as she entered the hidden house and tiptoed down the stone steps. Something about all this struck a chord with her memory. The other being who'd retrieved the key; hell, the key itself had carried an enticing feel about it. Almost as if it belonged to her. She wanted it. All of it.
She stopped at the bottom of the steps, aware that she could feel it right now. Crouching down, she placed an ear to the cold, smooth floor, and listened. There was no noise, not even a vibration. But even so, she was certain she could feel something.
Her eyes darted up, as she noticed the steps begin to spiral up again; up the inside of the clocktower. Taking them two at a time, she ran towards the source of the strange feeling. She found it soon enough; a heavy-set door in the wall. With her keen night-vision she could see more similar doors further up. She placed her head against this one; there was no mistake, that was the same stuff she could feel. Whoever was behind here might just be able to help her. Perhaps they were even more than that. Family, perhaps?
"Nah." She stuck out her tongue with revulsion at the idea. With one movement, she raised a leg and struck the door, causing the stone to shake. She hit it again and again, until finally it gave, opening just enough for her to sneak inside. The room seemed not too dissimilar to her old living quarters, minus the large window obviously.
She twirled around in the centre, her arms outstretched, before she saw it. Two things, in fact. Two containers; a huge, locked chest, and a tightly bound jar. She sauntered over and picked up the urn, giving it a shake. "What, was someone mummified in here or something?"
Sticking the tongue out the corner of her mouth, she tried twisting the top, before giving up and throwing it against the wall. It didn't really do much; the jar remained unbroken. Holding it one handed, she curled a finger around her chin. "Whoever you are, someone really doesn't want you to come out."
She shrugged and tossed it to one side, before setting to work on the chest. This proved more successful, as by fiddling around with the lock she soon had it open. Her eyes lit up as she saw what lay inside.
She reached in and pulled out several pieces of red and golden armour pieces, obviously fashioned for a giant. Some of them seemed very odd, like a five-sided chest piece adorned with red and yellow buttons, red and blue jaws holding long, black coils, and two very ornately carved pieces shaped like the head of a gargoyle. She smirked, and turned the gauntlet in her hand around. Each finger seemed to end in a golden barrel, like those of a gun. She slid it on, the armour fitting loosely over her arm.
"A bit gaudy for me, but still, cool stuff in here."
She giggled, and made like a cowboy, firing off at imaginary enemies. She clicked, and blew the tip of the first finger, causing a thin trail of dust to come off it.
She watched in curiosity as the dust seemed to swirl and dance, forming a little slithering trail before her eyes, before darting over to where she'd dropped the jar. She rushed over and knelt down, watching as the dust wrapped itself around the lid and began to spin. The lid glowed and there was the smell of burning, until finally the stone top fell away, the molten rock sticking to the floor.
Teslamon stood up and watched in awe as more of the plasma spilled forth from the jar, swirling around her and the chest, and swimming around and through the armour like fish through weeds. The armour shook, knocked and budged, before it lifted itself up into the air, rearranging itself until it seemed to form a vaguely humanoid shape. Each piece clicked and whirred, and little lights danced through them.
The figure stepped out from the chest, easily dwarfing the shark-girl. In truth the armour only covered about half of his body; the rest of it was the same purple plasma that had come out of the jar. His feet were golden claws, and he carried the toothed coils on his back. Strangely enough the ornate bat heads acted as his shoulders, while his real head sported impressive red horns and a square metal jaw. The eye sockets swirled, and little purple and blue lights flashed within them, moving left and right as he looked around. His pupils settled on Teslamon, and he turned towards her, contorting his body into something resembling a bow.
"Pardon me, missy, but ah reckon that's mah hand you're holdin' right there."
When he spoke, his lower jaw moved up and down crudely, like someone holding a sock puppet. His accent was most definitely Western.
Teslamon raised an eyebrow, before remembering what she was holding and lifting up her arm. "This thing? I figured they were part of a cool costume or something." She shrugged and the gauntlet slipped off, the shadow-demon quickly picking it up and flexing his fingers. He winked, the metal of his helmet clicking together.
"Almighty thanks, l'il lady. It's a hell of a drag being cooped up in someone's shelf ornament fer so long. Reckon ah lost all idea where ah am." He looked quizzical for a moment, before pointing a barrel-like finger at her. "Ah remember you; you were the newbie, weren't ya? Tessamon or somethin' like."
The shark-lady winced, and folded her arms. "Teslamon. And don't call me newbie."
"Sure y'are." The shadowy cowboy chuckled, before bending low, this pieces of his armour folding down in an elaborate bow. "The name's Daigambilastmon. Ah believe we met before?"
Teslamon shook her head, and tapped her mop of sparky black hair. "My head's all full of fuzzy crap nowadays. I remember something important but I sure as hell don't remember you." She pointed upwards. "Still, judging by the other doors I'm guessing there are more of you?"
Daigambilastmon held is lower jaw thoughtfully. "S'pose you wouldn't remember that much. We got shoved aside soon after you came." He looked around, his shadows pulsating slightly. "Where are the others, anyway?"
"You're a bit behind on the times, aren't you..."
"And you aren't?"
Teslamon shrugged. "Fair point. Right now, we're in a clocktower in the middle of Silicon City. You, me and whoever else is a part of whatever we do; we all seem to have been locked up in different rooms for some reason." Her eyes rolled for a second. "Also the Homemade Army want to kill me."
The armoured giant was silent for a couple of seconds. "You've…sure been busy."
Teslamon shrugged, "Well, I had to do something. Is there any way you can show me the others? I'm curious."
Daigambilastmon chuckled, his voice resonating around the room. "It's sure been a while. Alrighty then, let's give everyone their centennial wake-up call."
He walked to the broken door, Teslamon sauntering along after him, hands behind her head. "So, got any ideas on how to get them out, big guy?"
Daigambilastmon raised a finger, a trail of shadow coming out from the end. "L'il lady, there ain't a lock, door nor cell in this whole darn city that can resist mah particular brand of charm."
"So how come you couldn't get out of your jar, then?"
Daigambilastmon paused, halfway up the steps to the next cell, searching for an answer. Teslamon giggled, and skipped up the steps past him, stopping at the door and giving it a little rap.
"Come on then, tin man. Show me the rest of the family."
In a dark room within a dry city, Grace lay in solitude. Despite the burning sun outside there was very little light in the room. There were no windows. No openings. Even the door was shut tight. Basically, this time, there was no way out. There was only a girl and her thoughts, alone in a room.
Grace moved her shoulder again, feeling it crack and wincing. She was lying beneath the blankets in a vain attempt to rest; to heal the multitude of injuries she'd sustained. Several bruises, grazes and cuts, and an arm that had been nearly crushed outright by her partner's accidental assault. She'd protested, but they'd lain her down and let her sleep. Despite her ever-increasing worry, she'd slept. The night had been too much, even for her.
Right now though she lay awake; staring up at the blank ceiling as if it held the answers she was looking for. She could still feel the Digital World working its magic; her arm still hurt, but many of the pains across her body had gone, replaced by a comforting tingle. Not that she felt much comfort. Not with her brother in the hands of a tyrannical woman somewhere below the city. And Vulpimon.
She convulsed, and pulled her head back under the covers. She'd heard the others talking outside; Vulpimon had still been frozen solid to the clocktower by the time they'd gotten there. The fox was in another room right now. Grace hadn't heard from her for far too long.
"What have I done?"
The girl asked herself the question again and again, but she still couldn't form the answer. She muttered, trying to pull herself upwards, but her body felt completely drained and she simply fell down again. A jolt of pain ran through her but she ignored it, focusing on moving.
Inch by inch, she forced herself to sit up, before leaning forward, breathing heavily from the effort. Very slowly, she swivelled her knees round, before pushing herself up on unsteady legs, until she was standing. She swayed, trying to take a step, but being unsuccessful. Getting her bearings, she looked around, her gaze settling on a mirror in the corner of the room. Very slowly, she began to walk forward, coming into her own field of vision as she stood in front of the glass.
She looked terrible. Her eyes were dull and dark, her hair was matted and fell all over the place, and her clothes were crumpled and still damaged. For a while she simply stood there, staring at the image of a girl she barely recognised.
"What have I been doing?"
A glint caught her eye, and she looked down at the silvery cord still around her neck; the flash drive. She pulled it out from beneath her sweatshirt, but something else came with it. A blue stone set within a silvery teardrop. It was the necklace she'd been given three years ago. The necklace from the day when everything had started to go wrong.
She almost laughed, but her laugh caught in her throat, bringing up long-due tears. She choked, and held her hands in front of her mouth. Why her? What had she done to be brought up in all of this? Her life was under threat, she'd been hurt multiple times, and she even seen someone die horribly in front of her eyes. It wasn't fair; it never would be, and never had been. She could kick herself for trying to convince herself that she deserved it.
Slowly, the question in her head began to change shape, forming something new. The flash drive let off a faint red glow around her neck as she clamped her hands to the side of her head, trying to clear her mind of everything that had clouded it. Everyone who had taken advantage of her. Everyone who had deceived her. Everyone, including herself. In the end, only one question was left.
"What am I going to do?"
She opened her eyes, before stifling a yell as her reflection grinned back at her. It billowed out, darkening to black as it began to shimmer, stepping out from the flat glass. The girl backed away, speechless in terror, as the shadow reformed itself into a tall, gentlemanly form.
Cerebrumon chuckled, and tipped his hat. "I'm glad to see you're still well."
Grace backed away, stumbling over her own bedding as the shadow drifted closer. "How did you get in here? How did you get past Rinkhalmon?"
The shadow man chuckled. "I can be very resourceful when I need to be. Although my encounter wasn't without its losses." His smile faltered as he brushed his cape away. Grace noticed his hand as he did so; the ethereal flesh seemed to be discoloured in places, and didn't move as smoothly as the rest of his fluid form. He also appeared to be missing his cane.
Cerebrumon continued to saunter across the room, Grace edging around the edge, trying to keep him away. The illusionist carried on talking as he moved. "You've been holding something that I need. I need it back, right now."
"Don't question me, child." Cerebrumon gritted his teeth, his attitude not quite as smug as before. "You don't want to get involved in this."
He reached out a shadowy black hand that split into three, reaching towards the girl. Before he could reach her, she flinched back, covering her head as she cried out, "Stop! Please, just...stop."
Cerebrumon paused, but after a moment he did so, pulling back as Grace sat up, still shaking. "You're too late. I'm already involved."
Slowly, keeping an eye on the illusionist's movement, she reached around her neck and removed the flash drive, holding it in her left hand. "This is what you want, isn't it?"
Cerebrumon reached for it, but the girl held it back. "Just tell me, yes or no. Otherwise I'll crush it."
She dropped it and placed a foot on it quickly to emphasize her point. Cerebrumon looked uneasy, but pulled back, nodding. "I need that device, girl."
"Grace. It may be the only thing that can bring this endless war to a conclusion. I mean neither you nor your kind any harm, I promise, but I must take the flash drive."
He paused again, watching Grace as she contemplated his words. "You were working against Rinkhalmon. That and you did let me and Jack go."
"I couldn't let him find it. If he did then all my plans would fail."
Grace closed her eyes, before removing her foot and gently kicking the flash drive towards Cerebrumon. "If you really need it that badly then take it. I never wanted it in the first place, and it's only brought me trouble."
She waved her hand almost dismissively, as the shadow-man bent down and picked up the device, as it glowed warmly in his cold grasp. "Just take it and go."
She watched, heart beating fast, as he stood there, turning the little device over in his grip. She pointed at the mirror, "Get out!"
"What do you mean you're already involved?" Cerebrumon waved the device before her. "Where did you take this? I swear, if the Fire Kingdom know about this-"
"Well, maybe you shouldn't have found it then!" Grace folded her arms, before stepping back, aware that the shadow-man's power outclassed her own strength. "Maybe you shouldn't have attacked me and my brother and stolen one of my memories."
Thankfully, he didn't seem to feel threatened, and neither did he take much offence. Cerebrumon simply placed a hand up to his non-existent face, sighing. "You stupid girl...you don't understand..."
Grace's shoulders sagged. "You're right. I don't understand. I don't understand why that thing's so important, and I don't understand what you want, or what Rinkhalmon wants, or what Teslamon wants, but I-"
Grace stopped, and raised a quizzical eyebrow. "You know her?"
Cerebrumon faltered, seeming to have run out of things to say. Now that he'd got what he'd come for, he'd returned to his condescending self. He pressed his lips together, and leant back against a wall. "Oh hell, what have I done..."
He hung there for a while, before Grace slowly sat herself down, staring up at the shadow-man. In truth, he could have just left, but something obviously kept him here. Some semblance of responsibility.
She breathed, and decided to talk. "I don't know what you've done, or what that is. But I get the feeling you know things that will help."
Cerebrumon looked up from underneath his hand. "I could have stopped this. If I'd only had this from the beginning I could have prevented all this chaos from ever happening." He turned his head towards Grace. "When did she get out?"
Grace looked down. "Last night. That was my fault. She's now underneath the city, and she's got my brother."
Cerebrumon hummed. "She'll still be disorientated, I expect. Although knowing her it won't be long before she makes a move, and then we will be in trouble."
"Who is she?"
The illusionist bit his lower lip. "It's a long story. I...I..." Quite unlike is former persona, the shadow-man struggled. "I shouldn't be telling you this. You're safer if you don't know."
"Somehow I doubt that."
Cerebrumon shook his head. "All you need to know is that she's been around for a long time, and she has a vendetta against the Fire Kingdom for...everything they've done."
Cerebrumon raised a finger, before lowering it sheepishly. "She's more like me than I particularly care to admit."
"So what? What is she going to do?"
"I don't know. She could be anywhere, but whatever she's planning, I doubt she'll stay static for long." Cerebrumon stood up hurriedly. "I've already told you too much. You need to find your brother, then take your friends and get out of this city before it becomes a battleground."
The girl stared up at him, before shaking her head. "Whatever it was before, this is my...this is our fight now. We need to get to the bottom of this." She nodded at the red glow in Cerebrumon's hand. "There's nothing I can do with that though; I'd probably only get into more trouble. I meant what I said; if you need it, it's yours."
Cerebrumon's grip tightened, and he smiled. "I thank you, young lady." He turned towards the mirror, before looking back. "If it makes you feel any better, we're in the same boat right now."
"How do you mean?"
"In trying desperately to make things better, we've only ended up making things worse. 'Tis so often the way of the world."
Grace walked up, and forced a smile. "That's what happens when you try and solve everything yourself." Tentatively she reached out, offering a hesitant handshake to the illusionist that towered above her. He stared for a few seconds, before a hand reached out from beneath his robe and took hers. She felt his skin; cool and liquid, but rough and crusted where his wound was. He pulled away quickly, coughing to himself.
"I don't expect you'll want to see me again."
"Not really." Grace held her shoulder, still feeling the dull ache. "Still, we won't be going anywhere. ANy help you can offer would be..."
She trailed off, not wanting to seem presumptious. Cerebrumon looked at the device in his hand again, feeling torn. Eventually he absorbed it back into his shadowy mass. "I'll let you know what I find. If it comes to it, you'll need to know. But you really should get out of here."
Grace nodded him away. "Good luck."
As the magician disappeared, Grace wondered if she'd done the right thing in trusting him. Surely the enemy of her enemy could turn out to be her friend, right? She shook her head, and placed her hand to her chest. At any rate, that was one burden off of her neck. She could begin from scratch. It was time to focus on getting her brother back.
But first, there was somebody she needed to see.
"So y'say this is the girl?"
"That'd be the whole shtick of it, old friend."
"I'm not impressed."
"Frankly, Dai-dearest, I expected more. I'd never expect somebody so short to be such a help."
"Short short not a bad thing."
"Aw, did I hurt your feelings? Are you jealous 'cause your little lightshow doesn't hold up to my radiant beauty?"
"Turn off lights lights would make you more pretty pretty."
"Don't be cheeky, you weird little creature, or I'll happily pull out all your lightbulbs."
There was a snigger, followed by an irritated sigh. Teslamon picked at her nails as she lay sprawled out on the stone steps at the bottom of the spiral staircase, well aware she was being judged. Of course, she was happily judging as well. Multicoloured lights flickered around, illuminating the dank cavern and showing the four other Digimon in all their glory. Teslamon grimaced. It wasn't exactly a pretty sight.
One was a heavily-built humanoid leopard, wearing Greek-style armour and carrying an ornate double-ended spear. His hands and feet were webbed, and his tail, much like her own, was that of a shark's; waving from side to side. His name was Chieftriaskismon, and from what she could tell he was an experienced warrior, with a prideful spirit and just the tinest bit of a temper.
The one currently giggling was called Neomon; a strange, clown-like creature and the smallest of the four. His limply-stuffed body was held together with teeth-like clasps, and he had a single cross-shaped eye that glowed menacingly. He was also the source of the weird dancing lights, caused by the neon markings and baubles that adorned his black fabric body. Teslamon wasn't quite sure what to make of him; his childish demeanour seemed to hide a deeply twisted spirit. The shark-woman was certainly wary.
The other Digimon was large; while not as tall as Daigambilastmon, she more than made up for it in monstrosity. Latroditmon's head and upper body was that of a beautiful woman (albeit one with green, scaly skin, three eyes and four wicked fangs protruding from her mouth). Below her midriff however was a horrifying concoction of writhing snake coils, huge serrated claws and a grotesque, bloated spider's body, that seemed to move independently of her top half, causing her to sway back and forth as she talked. Despite her physical appearance she seemed quite polite and friendly, although there were definitely hints of a crueler nature.
Daigambilastmon himself was leant back against a wall, his plasma agitated and pulsating from picking so many locks. Teslamon couldn't help but smile. They were certainly an eclectic lot.
Chieftriaskismon stood up, and folded his arms, looking distinctly irritated. "Seems like our little wench woke us all up for nothing. Can't say I'm particularly impressed."
Teslamon pouted. "Oi, I heard that." She flipped herself onto her feet, testing the floor. "Obviously the fact that I got out before you all means I'm automatically better than the lot of ya, so I suggest we stop dawdling and get to work."
She stuck her tongue out, and the leopard shark growled. "Who made you captain? You've done nothing!"
Latroditmon half-smiled. "Far be it for me to agree with sea-kitty, but he does have a point. You do seem rather adamant that we'll do what you ask."
Teslamon folded her arms. "Well that's gratitude!"
"That's the way we work, dear. If you don't like it I'm afraid you won't fit in very well."
Neomon sniggered, lolloping to one side. "You won't fit fit together very well well."
Teslamon backed up a little as the unfamiliar monsters began to edge closer, claws and weapons ready to kill. Her eyes glowed yellow as she raised her arms. "Don't make me take you all on, cause I can and I will."
A wall of plasma formed between Teslamon and the others as Daigambilastmon's armoured figure tumbled into view. Latroditmon held back, looking almost tired. "Dai, what are you doing?"
"Ah reckon ah should be askin' you the same thing. All of you. You're gettin' rusty. Predictable. All that hangin' around in cages has made you trigger-happy."
Chieftriaskismon grunted. "Rusty? You're one to talk."
The shadow-demon ignored the blatant insult. "The fact is no single one of us knows full what's brewin' right now. This l'il lady might by our ticket to be doin' just that." He turned round, holding out an oversized hand at the (somewhat blushing) shark woman. "She is the reason we're all wanderin' around right now, and besides, ah'm interested in what she has in mind..."
All eyes turned to Teslamon, who bowed just a little. "I'm touched." She lowered her head, and the others moved a little closer. "You know the Fire Kingdom's been throwing their stuff around for far too long. It's time we stepped up and did something about it. It's our turn."
Neomon tipped his head to one side. "Fire Kingdom very very big. Not easy."
"But that's the thing…" Teslamon leaned in close, barely hiding her excitement. "I know their weakness."
The others were now listening intently as she carried on. "They come through here. The stupid citizens think they're safe but the Commanders actually have the run of the place. And I've heard them talking. Just brief snippets, but I know they're hiding something. Something big, and something powerful. Something that could just give us an edge."
She leant back, running her hands down her body. "Something that, with a bit of clever thinking, we can take back."
Chieftriaskismon grinned. "Sounds like a prize…"
Teslamon held up a hand. "Exactly. Now, all we need to do is-"
"Before you go on, I have a question." Latroditmon folded her arms, swaying as she shook her head. "Look, girl, it's all very well claiming to be able to take down the Fire Kingdom, but frankly unless you have proof that just won't fly."
"The proof's right there lady."
Latroditmon shook her head. "You really are new at this, aren't you. I've been up against the Fire Kingdom; they're no pushover. They managed to overpower my whole troupe and lock me up for however long. Taking them on is just a bad idea, and I'm sure the others will testify.
Teslamon looked around, and the others were nodding as well, with the exception of Daigambilastmon, who simply listened. Teslamon pouted. "Aw, come on, you've gotta trust me with this! This is gonna work."
Daigambilastmon raised a hand. "Asides from your antics last night, what 'xactly have you done t'make you capable of pullin' somethin' like that?"
"Done? Well, I..."
Latroditmon began to smirk. "Have you ever led a group of personal followers?"
Chieftriaskismon joined in. "Have y'ever fought for the right cause?"
"Of course not."
"Ever ever won won?"
The shark-woman raised a finger. "I did win last night! Against a...an ice monster and a human kid..." She trailed off, frowning. "You know, that sounded cooler in my head."
"So really, y'haven't done anything, then?"
Teslamon opened her mouth, but found herself unable to answer. Latroditmon sighed. "Unfortunately, I like freedom. You won't see me going up against the Fire Kingdom anytime soon."
He pointed behind him. "So would this be the way out?"
Lazily, she spun around and began to walk off up the steps before Teslamon could stop her. She stamped her foot. "Hey? Where are you going, you coward?"
The others made to follow the chimerical woman, Latroditmon looking back tiredly. "I'd learn to pick your battles, sweetie. You've got no chance against the Fire Kingdom. None of us did."
"Hey!" Chieftriaskismon glared at the scaled woman as she climbed the steps. "Speak for yourself. They only caught me due to a dirty trick."
"Can it, puppet." Chieftriaskismon looked back. "In any case, I'm not interested in y'flights of fancy. Do what y'want, but I fight my own battles."
He trudged off up the steps, the same way Latroditmon had gone. Neomon looked back, shrugging his shoulders in an over the top manner, before skipping up the steps himself. The multicoloured lights faded, leaving just Teslamon and Daigambilastmon alone.
Teslamon's arms fell, and she blew a raspberry after the others. "You'll only end up feeling stupid when I find this thing on my own."
"They were always stubborn, that's for sure." Daigambilastmon sighed, and rubbed the plasma where the back of his neck should have been. "Though that'd be a shame since they have a point."
"Not you too."
"Make no mistake, ah'm grateful. But ah don't go well with others, if y'catch mah drift. Good luck newbie." Daigambilastmon gave a quick, two-fingered salute, before carrying on up the steps, his metal legs making clacking sounds all the way up. Teslamon could hear him calling back on the way up.
"Ah'll be rootin' for ya."
She sat back down again, face in her palm. That hadn't gone particularly as planned. Although she had to admit, they had a point. It was all very well her making big plans, but she also had to be able to pull them off. As much as she'd heard in her prison for all these years, there was still a lot she didn't know, especially regarding the Fire Kingdom's hidden agenda. That, and she wasn't exactly experienced with the world-domination thing.
No worries though. Everyone had to start somewhere.
Gently, she meandered back up the steps towards her old room, deep in thought. She needed a starting point. Whatever was going on around here, she was a part of it, as were the other four. They were all part of some big, crazy conspiracy, and had probably been locked up because of that. Which meant whoever had locked them up would know something. Or, more importantly, whoever had the key.
She paused mid-step, and smiled wickedly. Of course. The key that had broken her prison. The key that had given her power.
The key around the neck of that lovely little girl.
Teslamon rubbed her hands together, causing them to create sparks. She had her starting point, and coincidentally, she also had her bait.
The young fox stared at the door as it slowly opened, revealing the little girl behind it. Grace walked in, struggling to look her partner in the eye, as Vulpimon sat up, looking away. Save for a few scratches and bruises she seemed unharmed, but Grace knew differently.
Grace knelt down, wanting to reach out and stroke the fox, but unable to bring herself to do so. Vulpimon glanced in her direction. "What do you want?"
"I'm sorry." Grace swallowed, and straightened up, hands on her knees and looking her partner in the eye. "I'm sorry for everything I've put you through."
"Well, you got me to evolve. That's one thing."
Grace looked down. "How did it feel?"
Vulpimon looked distant for a second. When she spoke, she seemed distant.
"It hurt like hell."
Vulpimon raised her head. "You hurt me, Grace. I felt your anger when you forced me to evolve. So much rage...you turned me into this...mindless...I lost my mind when I turned into Tupilamon. I forgot where I even was until I woke up here. I didn't even realise you were there."
Grace felt a twinge of pain in her arm and held it gingerly. Vulpimon nodded gravely. "Sorry. I...I never meant to hurt you."
"Don't blame yourself." Grace clenched her fists over the fabric of her skirt. "I wasn't thinking. Teslamon got into my head; blinded me." She shook her head. "No, that's not right. I let her get to me. If it wasn't for me, she wouldn't have gotten out. And she wouldn't have my brother."
Vulpimon shuffled round to face her, her necklace glinting. "You screwed up."
"You got other people hurt."
"You put yourself through hell."
"So what now?"
Grace steeled herself. "I won't punish myself any more. It's not worth it. I can't carry the entire weight of the Digital World on my back just 'cause of something stupid I did when I was younger. I'll only end up causing more pain."
She paused, as Vulpimon waited patiently. "Right now, I just want to put things right. If you'll help me."
Vulpimon smiled. "Now that's more like it."
The corners of Grace's mouth turned up ever so slightly, and she leant forward to embrace her partner, wincing slightly from the now dull ache in her arm. The fox felt comforting and strangely warm in her arms, and their connection felt somehow stronger than she'd ever felt before.
There was the sound of something flapping in the corridor, just before Perimon tumbled in, looking incredibly flustered. He widened his eyes as he saw the two partners in their reconciliatory hug. Vulpimon opened her eyes. "Yes?"
Perimon cleared his throat. "We, um…may need your help. But only if you're ready. I mean…you know, last night…"
He scratched behind his helmet as he drifted off into awkward silence. Grace sniggered, before standing up, checking she still had the D-Nexus in hand. She turned to Vulpimon, who nodded. "Let's go save your brother."
In the noisy darkness beneath the city, Jack lay sprawled out at an angle, still wrapped around the pillar. His arms and legs were aching and he felt the darkness pressing down on him like it always did, but for the most part her was just bored. Teslamon had been gone for an awfully long time.
His mind began to wander, to other, less mundane areas. He'd done it again. Rushing in and trying to be the hero, only to end up needing rescue. He gritted his teeth, feeling immense anger at himself. Why could he never get anything right? Why was he too stupid and too weak to be of any help?
He shook his head rapidly; now wasn't the time to beat himself up. He tried again to examine his surroundings, but it was no help; just the same mechanical parts as always, moving hypnotically up and down. He had no D-Nexus, no partner and nobody else around to help him. All he had was a chain around his wrists and a knee that broke on occasion.
He thought of the others up there, desperately trying to get him out. He had a vision of himself, fighting his way past Teslamon and breaking out of the sealed elevator, watching as the crowds applauded his bravery. Not that that was going to happen. Without his D-Nexus he couldn't call Perimon, and he sure as heck couldn't evolve himself. He wasn't even certain that it would help if he could.
He banged his head back against the metal and yelled the loudest, worst swear word he could think of, causing it to echo around the metal chamber. It sounded good. Felt good as well, but it did nothing to help. When he'd started this journey all those weeks ago he'd been scared, but he'd tried to keep up with the others. Maybe, just maybe this adventure could have helped him overcome his weaknesses; helped him really grow up and become strong.
So much for that plan.
He narrowed his eyes, grunting as he tried again to yank the chain apart. Somehow, he had to try and get out of here. He had to prove he could do something…anything other than get caught like a useless sack of-
The chain budged.
It was just a link, but Jack felt it shift, and felt the pressure on his hands loosen. Gingerly, he pulled again, and the metal held fast, but there was no mistake. The chain was coming apart; the induced magnetism from Teslamon beginning to wear off, and the links starting to shake loose.
His arms were aching but Jack ignored it, instead standing up and pressing his good leg against the pillar, pushing and pulling with all his might. Somehow, he would get out of here.
He was going to win.
Grace, Vulpimon and Perimon rushed outside, where they were greeted by a crowd of citizens, all jostling. Babamon seemed to be struggling, banging her broom on the ground to try and settle them.
Grace turned to the old puppet. "What's going on?"
Babamon looked back, teeth gritted, but before she could answer Grace noticed a familiar, unpleasant sight. Scuffed black and white fabric over an ugly, misshapen body. She stared at Pandamon, and Pandamon noticed her and stared back. Then he raised an accusatory paw.
He turned back to the crowd, yelling above the ruckus. "People like her! Humans! Leeches! They take all we got and kick us aside!"
His yellow eye glinted, and his blood-red claws unsheathed just a little. "I'm gonna have ya thrown out and show the Digital World just how worthless y'are. All of ya!"
There was a flash and a projectile of some sort went flying away. Grace felt Vulpimon nudge her leg, Vulpimon looking worried. Grace asked Babamon, "Are you okay-"
Babamon smiled. "Just go. I can handle this."
Grace nodded, and she and the two Digimon ran off down the road. Pandamon broke free and began to pursue them, flailing wildly. "Come back you coward! Face me! You need to be punished!"
There was a shockwave and Pandamon was sent sprawling. He turned round, only to have Babamon's broom hold him down on his back, the old woman showing a lot of strength for her age. Pandamon spluttered, his eyes wild. "Babamon…"
"You've been causin' enough trouble. I've been dealin' with your shit for too long. The humans are here to stay; they're puttin' their lives on the line to save this world so we can get out of this prison you hate so much. They're not perfect. Nobody is. But at least they're tryin', unlike somebody I could mention."
Pandamon smiled an unconvincing smile. "We never needed them before…y'could help us, Babamon. Ya have the power and the know-how to be king. Ya could take on the Fire Kingdom without them."
Babamon sighed, and turned to the rest of the crowd. "I don't want to do this, but you don't leave me a choice. All of you will leave myself, the humans and their partners alone. Any harassment will result in an immediate arrest, do I make myself clear?" She huffed, the heat of the day pressing down on her. "Right now there is a maniac runnin' free and the children are our only chance of stopping her. So leave them alone. They don't need you makin' life difficult."
She raised her broom for emphasis, and one by one, the crowds dribbled away. Babamon watched them go, until it was only her and Pandamon on the empty street. She turned, and the Pandamon flinched back, no longer so brave. "I...I was just tryin'-
"To what? You keep talkin' about revolution and a king, but do you really think you're words have any weight? You're not a life-changin' prophet or a noble warrior or anythin' of the sort. You are a citizen here, with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. You want to make a stand, go outside and do it yourself. Otherwise keep your bullshit to yourself. We don't want to hear it."
Pandamon quailed. "But-"
"Not another word." Babamon simply sighed. "You really are a sad, entitled little creature, aren't you…"
Without another word, she entered her house and shut the door, leaving the citizen alone in the middle of the street.
Grace, Vulpimon and Perimon hurried to the elevator where the others were standing around, looking nervous. Perimon landed hurriedly, looking excited. "Have you managed it? Did you get it open?"
Cratomon scratched the back of his armoured head. "Kind of?"
"What do you mean?"
Fornaxmon stepped out the way, and gestured to the hole in the metal. "That's the best we could do. We could only shift the plate a little and the rest of the elevator was too heavily armoured." He sighed, before rapidly pulling his heavily marked hand out of sight. "She's certainly efficient."
Perimons stepped up, and looked inside. "I don't see a problem. I can go in now and-"
"It's not that simple." Galvamon walked forward, arms folded, as the bird looked up angrily.
"What now, lizard boy?"
"Think about it." Galvamon held up a finger. "Jack's been caught, is probably restrained, and doesn't have his D-Nexus. Even if you found him, what's the likelihood you'll be able to free him as you are? Or fight off Teslamon if it comes to it?"
"So you're suggesting we leave him?"
"We don't have much time. For all we know she may be nearly finished with him. We need to do something as quickly as possible, but one of us would need to go down in order to help. One of us with hands." said Aaron, almost reluctantly.
Perimon raised an eyebrow. "But…the hole's not big enough for you humans. It's enough of a squeeze for me. None of you would fit…"
"One of us would."
Grace stepped forward, and looked up at Aaron. "Is that what you needed me for?"
Aaron clenched his fists, and looked away, stiff. "You're the only one. I know you'll want to save Jack, but I need to know I can trust you before I let you go. If you…well…"
"If I lose it again?"
Aaron flinched, and looked back at Eloise, who coughed surreptitiously. Grace glanced back at her own partner, who nodded.
"I'll do my best, Aaron. And I'm not going to lose focus again."
Aaron exhaled. "Okay. We'll give it a shot. Find your brother, and let us know if you need us. We'll carry on working to get in. And take this." He held out Jack's D-Nexus, and Grace took hold of it, rather hurriedly.
"Just try to get him out of there. Don't take on Teslamon; you're not ready."
Vulpimon chuckled as she stood next to the hole. "You can say that again. Coming, Perimon?"
With a lithe movement she wriggled inside and vanished. The falcon followed after her, flying in with a shallow divebomb. The surrounding group heard a clang and a yell, and they winced. Fornaxmon beckoned Grace and she got up from his oversized hands, standing next to the gap herself. She couldn't see anything from inside; only darkness. She took one last look at the group outside. Aaron nodded. "Good luck. We believe in you."
Grace smiled, and gently wriggled inside feet first, edging in through the gap, until she finally disappeared from view. Aaron sighed, and put his hands to his temples. Eloise walked up and put a hand on his shoulder.
"They'll be okay. Promise."
"I wish it were up to us."
Grace felt her feet swing out into nothing and clung tightly to the metal ledge, her field of vision poor in the dim light. Down below her partner called up to her. "Watch your footing. There's a metal bridge down there but you'll need to be careful on the way down. It's a bit of a drop."
Holding on tightly with one hand, Grace pulled out her D-Nexus and switched on the light, getting a better look. Slowly, bit by bit, she followed her partner down the erratic steps to where the metal crossing lay. Perimon hovered down with her, ready to catch her should she fall.
"More climbing up and down dangerous ledges. Just like old times."
Grace smiled. "Don't think I won't attack you again if you make any comments about my speed."
"Wouldn't dream of it." The bird banked away as Grace landed squarely on the bridge below. She looked around, obviously impressed. "This must be quite the system to be able to raise and lower the city every day."
"Lower?" Vulpimon looked down. "That's a thing; the city comes down at night."
"What happens when it comes down?"
The fox gulped. "I'm not sure we want to be under here when that happens."
Grace nodded. "You're right. Let's find where Teslamon's put my brother."
"Ooh, so near and yet so far, darling!"
Both girl and fox ducked as a figure swung over their heads, before landing acrobatically on the metal bridge and giving a little twirl to show her face. Teslamon grinned as the two partners readied themselves.
"I had a feeling you'd get here sooner or later. I'm quite glad actually; I've been meaning to ask you something."
Grace took a step backwards, trying to find a way out. There weren't many options. The shark-woman held out a hand. "That thingamajig. Round your neck. Gimme."
Grace looked surprised as Teslamon leant forward, squinting. "That thing that was around your neck. Where the hell is it?"
Grace shrugged, overemphasising the arm movements. "I guess I dropped it?"
"Hehehe." Teslamon chuckled briefly, before her face turned deadly serious. "That thing is my ticket to power, not to mention peer respect. Tell me where it is."
"None of your business, you maniac." Grace held up her D-Nexus. "Where's my brother?"
"Wouldn't you like to know." The shark-woman took a step forward, snickering menacingly. "Tellya what, let's have a trade. You tell me where the flash drive is and I'll tell you where your brother is. Sound fair?"
Grace put a finger to her temple. "How about we haggle a little?"
Perimon shot out of the darkness, aiming straight for Teslamon's head. She ducked, a look of surprise on her face as the bird shot past, leaving a glowing pink trail behind him. Grace took her chance, as her partner looked uncertainly back at her.
"You still focused?"
"Yeah, I'm good."
"Are you still angry?"
"Like you wouldn't believe." Grace closed her eyes as she moved the device before her, feeling the power inside her. "Shall we give it another shot?"
Vulpimon gripped either side of the metal tightly as the energy hit her; no longer so aggressive, but instead with purpose. Whatever it took, they had to get past Teslamon and save Jack. That was their mission. They wouldn't fail again.
Teslamon leapt back as Tupilamon brought her hand down on the beam, causing sheets of ice to erupt outwards, providing her with a larger surface for battle as well as making the surface a tad more slippery for her opponent. Teslamon raised her eyebrows and gave a slow clap. "Impressive. You're learning. But have you learnt enough?"
With lightning speed she moved forward, skirting round the monster as she swiped, drawing blood. Grace shimmied back as fast as she dared, the battle before her consisting of flashes of blue and yellow as the two Ultimates brawled. All the while she was looking around desperately for her brother. He had to be somewhere. Perimon pulled up next to her, looking slightly disorientated. "She's fast. Too fast. Vulpimon won't be able to hold her for long."
"That's why we find Jack first. After that you can join in all you want. Any luck?"
"I'm on it."
The falcon flew off as Tupilamon roared and swiped, but the shark-woman held up a hand and the snow beast's arms were held away. Teslamon looked almost bored. "I swear I did this last night; aren't you going to try anything new?"
Tupilamon responded by bringing her head forward, the skull-mask connecting with Teslamon's midriff. She was catapulted away, and Tupilamon gripped the bridge with both hands, her spines glowing white. Grace and Perimon heard a voice in their ears simultaneously.
"Cover your ears."
Grace did so, and Perimon flew out of the way as fast as he could, preparing for the worst.
Teslamon was barely sat up before she took the full brunt of the attack, yelling as she was flung back further by the inhuman screech and the biting blizzard. She landed awkwardly at the central column, trying hard not to fall off from the dizziness.
"For god's sake, take some singing lessons!"
Jack started as he heard the noise outside, and his eyes widened with relief. "Grace!"
Pressing both legs against the pillar he pushed with all his strength, feeling the chain burrowing into his wrists but ignoring the pain. He strained, tears in his eyes from the effort. "Come on!"
The chain gave, and Jack shot forward, crashing into the floor. "Yes! Take that, lady!"
He leapt up as if nothing had happened and pumped the air in victory, before running to the entrance of the lair to see what was going on. He stood in the opening, trying to see amidst the chaos. Teslamon lay below the entrance, nearly sliding off the bridge. About halfway along, balancing on ice, was a huge, lumbering beast who appeared to be Vulpimon's Ultimate form, and behind her…
"GRACE! OVER HERE!"
The brother and sister's eyes met, and Grace nearly collapsed from relief. Her brother was up there, standing fine, unharmed. Perimon noticed him, and gave a victory crow, before turning and heading back to Grace. "Hand me his D-Nexus." She did so, and Perimon shot off towards his partner.
Teslamon looked up with annoyance, blowing hair away from her eyes. "What are you doing out, you brat?"
Despite the situation, Jack couldn't help but look a little smug. "Looks like you're not very good at kidnapping."
"Cheeky. We'll see about that." Teslamon winked, before planting a hand on the bridge behind her.
There was the sound of splintering metal, before suddenly the whole bridge lurched as one end dissolved in a flash of sparks. A magnetised hand on the metal, Teslamon cackled as she ran along the side, sending the thing swinging away from her lair. Jack wobbled from the vibrations, and hung on tightly to the archway.
Grace held on for dear life as the great beam swung sideways, and even the steady-footed Tupilamon swayed. Before she could get her footing, Teslamon swung out from beneath the bridge, landing a two-footed kick in the monster's side.
Tupilamon roared and swung wildly, sending herself perilously close to the edge.
Meanwhile, Perimon zoomed towards his partner, D-Nexus in claw. Jack reached out, beckoning his partner. "Quickly, before she gets you!"
"Relax." Perimon winked. "It'll take more than a broken bridge to get me-"
Perimon was silenced as half a dozen shards of metal (stolen from the broken bridge, no doubt) flew past him, launched from below by a smiling Teslamon. The D-Nexus fell from his clutches, Jack only just managing to catch it, before steadying himself again. "Perimon, no!"
The falcon spiralled down, trying to regain balance, as Jack fumbled with the device, his chest glowing red.
"Primal Control! Evolution Activate!"
From the darkness below, he could see a faint glow of red, before the great eagle shot up once again, cape blowing in the tailwind. "Mistramon!"
Jack grinned. "I am glad you're – Look out! On your back!"
Mistramon's smile froze, and he turned too late as Teslamon wrapped her arms around his neck, her right eye letting off sparks as she gripped tightly to his metal armour. "Where do ya think you're going?"
Jack watched helplessly as his partner struggled, while on the swinging bridge below, Tupilamon held tightly to his sister, trying to prevent them both from falling. He felt the D-Nexus in his hand, light yet powerful. So much power, and yet there was nothing he could do. Yet again, he could only stand helplessly on the sidelines.
With a feral caw, Mistramon twisted and tried to buck off the shark-woman, but she bit down on his left shoulder with her pointed teeth. He cried out in pain and fell, his body connecting with the swinging beam with aan immense clang. Teslamon dismounted and spat, feathers coming out of her mouth. "Take a bath at somepoint, won't you?"
Teslamon swore as she felt ice form around her feet, and smashed it apart before Tupilamon could reach her, skipping back over to her earlier battle. Grace called over to the downed eagle. "Are you okay? Can you reach my brother?"
Mistramon struggled to his feet, but with every movement he made his left wing was on fire. Teslamon's assault had wrenched the metal support of his wing upwards, causing it to bend out of all shape. As he tried his hardest to get airborne, his eyes looked pitifully at the boy he was trying to protect.
Jack could tell the eagle wouldn't make it. Even if he did, the wounded wing would only put both of them at risk. Tupilamon was deep in battle. Grace couldn't make the jump. He was on his own up here. He had to find the way down himself.
With a shaking hand, he held up the D-Nexus in front of him, a residual red glow still within. He closed his eyes, holding the device two-handed as he whispered into it.
"Please, for once, just let this work. Please, just let me win."
Despite the noise of the battle, Grace heard the words emating from her own device. Even from this distance she could see the red glow in the archway. She stumbled forward and yelled out. "You can't evolve him to Cyclomon! There's not enough room!"
Mistramon looked up helplessly. "That's not me…"
Grace's eyes widened in horror as she saw the eagle struggling to take off, looking ever more desperate. There was no sign of a glow around him. Teslamon, grappling with Tupilamon, looked up to see the little boy begin to glow, and whistled. "Well well, seems our little chick is getting his first wings. You should be proud." She nodded over at Grace, who desperately tried to run past to help the eagle. "I actually wanna know how you guys do this."
Mistramon tried for a third time and failed, simply hopping uselessly into the air. He called up to his partner, "Jack, think about what you're doing!"
Grace ran up to the edge of the beam, next to the eagle, and called up to her brother. "STOP!"
It was too late.
Her brother was engulfed in spiralling red energy that illuminated the whole cavern, the transformation sending out whipping winds that buffeted the beam, causing everyone on it, even Teslamon, to wobble precariously. Up above, the glow brightened, shifted and subsided, leaving the Digimon that had once been Jack standing in the centre of the archway.
He stood still as tall as Jack had been, but his body was covered in sheet armour and mail, making him look far more imposing. He wore a deep maroon tunic over which was a layered bronze chestplate, making him look much like a Roman soldier, and his boots were thin fabric, with tufted feathers sticking out from the back. His right arm and leg were covered with thick bronze armour, while his left in a copper-coloured mail. On his left wrist was a small circular shield, with the insignia of Air engraved in the centre. He wore a large bronze helmet with more red feathers on the back, but the rest of his face was uncovered, revealing a determined expression and two blue, pupil-less eyes. On his back were two bronze spikes that splayed out, holding a maroon cloth between them like a cape.
The two segmented spikes shifted further, and it became clear that it wasn't a cape. Grace's mouth fell open in awe as she watched her brother spread his wings.
He stepped forward, looking down into the seemingly endless chasm below. He could see Mistramon and Grace staring up at him, desperately trying to talk him out of it. He smiled down at them, knees bent and fists clenched.
"Don't worry. I'm coming."
Without another word, he jumped, feeling the air beneath his wings as he did so. He exhaled, and flapped.
The segments retracted, pulling the cape away. Jack felt a jolt as they pulled in, one moment before he felt the fingers of gravity pulling him down.
Mistramon yelled and threw himself from the end of the beam, flinging his own wings wide open as the boy-turned-Digimon shot downwards towards the unseen ground far below.
Silence ringing in her ears, Grace stared down as the bird and her brother got smaller and smaller, before being swallowed up by the abyss.
TO BE CONTINUED...