The sounds of the battle continued outside as the warriors of ice, earth and air entered the fortress. Immediately they slowed, taking in the great breadth of the silo. Aeolumon whistled, staring around. "It looks bigger inside."
"I know." Cratomon rubbed the base of his mask. "How many levels must this thing have?"
"The better question is, what's that horrible smell?" Mistramon landed next to a vast metallic heap of wires and molten metal, with several hooks poking out of the top. Gingerly he poked it with a talon, surprised to find he could tear the surface away relatively easily.
"Hey guys, come and look at-"
He stopped, and turned decidedly green as the others crowded around the fallen cocoon.
Chionemon peered closely, then immediately turned away, grasping her head in her hands. "Why, Mistramon? Just…why?"
Cratomon gently reached out and poked the premature Fire Tyrant with the end of his sabre, prompting repulsed reactions from all around him.
"Well the good news is it's definitely dead."
"I'd hope so! Frozen Daggers!"
The others backed away as a lump of ice hit the torn cocoon, immediately sealing it up. Cratomon turned to Chionemon, who folded her arms, harrumphing. "I'm not looking at that thing any more than I need to."
Alopemon wandered over to her partner, nudging her slightly. "Calm down a little. We have a job to do."
Seismon gave a thoughtful expression. "They must have been drained of all data and were meant to be powered only by the leeches. Rinkhalmon sure is clever in his own hideous way."
Mistramon shivered. "So the fact that these guys are lying here and not rampaging everywhere means that all the leeches are now out on the battlefield inside Fornaxmon?"
Aeolumon paled. "That's horrid…"
Seismon nodded, clicking in agreement. "But it does mean that they're all out of our way. We can focus on finding the rest; I doubt Rinkhalmon would have used them all just for Fire Tyrants. He's too sneaky for that."
"Which means our best option would be to find him, wherever he is." Alopemon peered around the silo, her eyes lighting up the dimness. She pointed inwards, and the others followed her gaze.
"How about the trail of melted destruction that way?"
Aeolumon immediately flew forward, landing on the ledge surrounded by destroyed lab equipment. "It's still quite hot up here."
Cratomon called up. "Be careful, Jack."
"There's a door. Although it's locked…maybe I can..."
The others ducked as the impact racked the silo, followed by a creaking and a splintering. Aeolumon flew back down. "It's open now."
Chionemon and Seismon rushed forwards as the silo door – already weakened from Fornaxmon's rampage – collapsed in on itself with an immense groaning and twisting, blocking out the sights and sounds of the battlefield behind. As the dust settled, the warriors turned to look at Aeolumon, who puffed his cheeks out, a little sheepish.
"It's fine. We're going that way anyway." Cratomon marched forward. "Come on everyone, let's go and find that snake."
"Everybody get down!"
Fornaxmon's immense cleaver struck the ground, sending fissures in every direction as the resistance scattered. The great golem heaved, sending great spurts of fire billowing from the ruptures in his body as he pulled his weapon free. The cylindrical head moved left and right with a horrific grinding sound, the eye darting up and down as it looked at every opponent in turn.
Dimetromon stood at the front of the resistance, sending a barrage of lightning bolts straight into the mechanical man's chest, where they snaked over his body, sending his limbs into spasms. The armour bubbled, spat, and reformed where the bolts hit, barely slowing Fornaxmon down.
Fornaxmon moved forwards, but his movement was blocked by rings of light around his limbs. Slowly and jerkily, the head twisted round again, catching sight of Lyublanamon as she backed away, trailing light behind her.
"Circle of the Void!"
Fornaxmon turned back too late as Azdajamon completed the circle around him, forming the great black hole. It stretched, threatening to engulf the golem, but a movement from Fornaxmon's blade caused ruptures in his celestial snare. The twin dragons regrouped, just out of harm's way.
"It's not working! There's no way we're going to be able to hold him."
In a sudden, fluid movement Fornaxmon's chest bent sideways, releasing an intense laser of molten metal and fire that seemed to cut through the very sky. Lyublanamon dodged it, but Azdajamon was just too slow, the beam catching him on his back left foot.
The black dragon fell, spreading his wings just in time as he landed in the crowd of assembled warriors. Kai immediately rushed to his fallen partner, as Aaron looked up. "That's impossible. He must have the entire power of the Fire Tyrants in there. Where do we even begin?"
He heard people running over to him, and turned to see Yasyamon, Eloise, Karatenmon and Lobomon. The wolf warrior looked shaken. "What's the plan?"
"Keep moving back until we think of a plan?"
"It's not gonna work, genius. Look." Yasyamon pointed behind the assembled resistance; while they had thinned out somewhat, the Fire Forces were still fighting away at the edges of the large group, and the great walls prevented them from leading the Fire Tyrant away from the battleground.
"Whatever we're gonna do, we need to do it now."
"Aaron, look." Eloise pointed up, where Fornaxmon was still chasing after a running Lyublanamon. "He can move really quickly, but most of the time his movements are really jerky. Is it possible he's holding back?"
Aaron bit his lip. "He has done. Maybe…maybe he is trying to help us."
Yasyamon folded his arms. "He's doing a pretty lousy job of it."
Lobomon elbowed him in the side, as Aaron buried his head in his hands. "I don't know; Kent's the one who comes up with these great strategies…" He looked up, scanning the monstrous form of his old friend once again.
"Those bits on his body, where the leeches have burst out; I think they're unstable. I don't think we can get through his armour, but if we focus our attacks on those bits, maybe we can chip away at his power."
Karatenmon raised his eyebrows. "Can't he regenerate?"
"Maybe not if we hit them hard enough." Aaron clenched his fist. "All those leeches has given him an immense amount of power, but it's so great that it's made itself vulnerable. It might just be our ticket to taking him down."
"So the plan is we hit him until he falls over?" Yasyamon cracked his wooden knuckles. "Sounds like a plan."
There was a flash of light as Luminemon crashed into the ground beside them, trailing data particles behind her. She looked up weakly, as Fornaxmon bore down on the crowd, running forward at a tremendous speed. "I'm sorry…too much…"
"Watch out! Lyublanamon!"
The newly evolved Ljosamon leapt in front of her fallen partner and brought up her arms just in time, the wings spreading wide and forming a dome of light as the flames hit them. The immense power and heat sent them both hurtling backwards, rolling over the scorched earth. Still more was reflected back at Fornaxmon, who recoiled, the leeches inside him shifting again and making him stumble.
Ljosamon thrust her arms wide, staring skywards. "I can't believe I'm still doing this."
"We can't waste any more time!" Karatenmon drew his swords, thrusting one forwarda s he yelled out to the assembled crowd. "AIM FOR THE BLUE FLESH! KEEP ATTACKING UNTIL HE FALLS!"
Fornaxmon's eye went into overdrive as he tried to keep track of the sudden rush of soldiers, all flinging projectiles, lasers and blades at him from every angle. With a growl he swung first his blade arm, then the gelatinous flesh that made up his other arm, in great, burning sweeping arcs. The attacks caught some soldiers, sending them crashing backward, but yet more kept coming.
Aaron and Dimetromon got in close behind Fornaxmon's left leg, where they were greeted by the pulsating mound of taloned blue substance, which seemed to screech and writhe in pain. Aaron stepped forward, holding out his D-Nexus. Dimetromon, out of breath, peered up.
"Remember Aaron, keep it quick."
The two warriors flashed, leaving Galvamon and Kuaramon standing behind the writhing giant. Kuaramon's motors whirred as he glanced back at his partner. "I know."
Kuaramon lunged, his coils stretched out and piercing the gelatinous mass, sending several thousand volts inside.
And several dozen tentacles lunged outwards in retaliation, striking Kuaramon full in the chest and holding him fast.
Chionemon shivered as she and Alopemon walked down the corridor, flanked by Cratomon and Seismon and followed by Aeolumon and Perimon (who had devolved soon after entering the corridor, and was currently moaning about the lack of flying space). The nomad wasn't really paying attention to the bird's complaining, and was more focused on the eerie silence of the inside of the fortress. The battle was now inaudible; everything was deathly quiet, save for the flickering of torches along the length of the corridor.
Seismon peered around. "Still no sign of Rinkhalmon."
"He has to be somewhere." Perimon harrumphed. "I know him. He wouldn't have disappeared if that was his only plan. He has backups; I know it."
"Guys, look." Alopemon stopped, her eyes illuminating the corridor ahead. On one side a staircase led downwards, heading into darkness. On the other the corridor split off into another, far larger chamber. The way ahead led up. The group stopped, peering left and right. Chionemon dismounted. "Maybe we should split up?"
"I don't think so. It's not worth putting ourselves in more danger than we need to." Cratomon put his hand to his chin. "Which way…?"
"Why don't we take a guess?"
The others turned to Aeolumon, who'd suggested it. He shrugged. "One in three. It's not awful odds."
Chionemon looked up at Cratomon. "It's as good as any other idea we have at the moment."
Aeolumon was already getting to work, flitting between the different pathways with a thoughtful expression. He raised both hands into L-shapes, contemplated, and then pointed. "Let's take the one on the right."
They did so, and presently found themselves in another large silo, overlooking a great tunnel the led off under the ground. The base of the silo was submerged in scalding water, bubbling and foaming, waiting for its next occupant. Had the children been familiar with the fortress, they may have recognized this as Cephalomon's old haunt. As it was, they merely peered over the edge. Perimon grimaced. "Let's agree to not fall in there."
"Look guys, it's a ladder."
Chionemon pointed up towards the ceiling, and the others gathered round, looking at the trapdoor. Alopemon looked between them. "It's a trap. It has to be."
"That's not really the issue right now." There was a flash, and Cratomon devolved, leaving Kent staring upwards into the blackness. He turned to Aeolumon. "Grace and I can probably climb up there; could you give Vulpimon and Trilomon a hand?"
Aeolumon grinned, giving an amateur salute. "Of course."
As the fox and bug devolved, Chionemon sidled up to her brother. "Are you still okay? You not too tired?"
The little soldier shook his head. "Not really, but I don't want to devolve if I don't have to. Sorry Perimon; I don't wanna hold you back."
The bird shrugged. "I don't deal well in enclosed spaces anyway. But don't worry; I'm here to keep an eye on you both."
The two youngest warriors quickly scaled the ladder, regrouping at the top with their two Rookie partners and Trilomon next to them. Kent was the last one up, taking the ladder slowly but steadily. He brushed himself down, staring into the blackness.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we may have just gotten lucky."
Gently the six stepped forward, looking around at the dimly lit laboratory. It was huge, with great beams across the ceiling and coloured windows spotted around up high. Desks lined every wall, interrupted by alcoves and projections that were smothered with parchment, scrawled calculations and many glowing samples, which were providing the majority of the light. Books, vials and random pieces of junk littered the floor, making each step a hazard.
Kent walked over to a wall, and plucked off one of the pieces of parchment. Holding it up to the light, he could just make out lines and lines of Digicode, along with a couple of overly complicated diagrams. He angled it down towards his partner. "Can you make anything from this?"
"Maybe if I had time." Trilomon squinted, then looked around at the wall, his large eyes working better than Kent's in the low light.
"From what I can see it just seems to be a load of experiments. Using the leeches to get more power."
"Well we know that worked."
"I don't know…" The bug sat down, tilting his head. "Whatever it is they're talking about, they all seem to be saying it's a failure." His head snapped to one side, and he pointed. "That one, over there! It mentions Teslamon!"
"What?" Chionemon rushed over, summoning her power to light up her own eyes, though not as effectively as her partner's had been. "She was a failure? I suppose she did run off, but what did he need her for in the first place?"
"And Latroditmon. And Daigambilastmon…all these different Digimon. And look, Volcdramon."
Perimon hopped down, leaning in to have a look himself. "How was Volcdramon a failure? That thing was virtually invincible."
Vulpimon swallowed. "Maybe he just wasn't looking for that kind of power."
"Oh, quiet you, before you blab all my dirty little secrets."
The six warriors flinched, and immediately regrouped, facing outwards. Kent held out his D-Nexus, the little light at the end illuminating the lab as he swung it round. He became suddenly aware of a figure in the far end of the room, sitting on a chair, arms draped over the backrest and legs spread wide as he stared at his pursuers. A dim lightbulb flickered on, revealing the serpent in all his ghastly glory.
Immediately Chionemon and Aeolumon raised their weapons, but Kent placed a hand on each of their shoulders. "Don't be rash. We'll go in together."
The snake man suddenly burst out into loud laughter, throwing his elongated neck back and cackling at the ceiling.
"You know what gets me? You know what still gets me? That out of all the warriors that crow's amassed, he still sends the children to go after me. The human children. That is glorious. That's just wonderful; it makes this job so much more worth it."
Chionemon clenched her fists. "You should know we're not as weak as we look."
"Oh I know." Rinkhalmon hopped to his feet, and the warriors caught sight of a swinging, crescent-shaped blade twirling around the tip of his tail, as well as the multitude of blades adorning his person.
"That's the funny thing about war. It makes soldiers out of all of us. In some ways it's quite boring, but when I find myself up against people like you…well…" The blade spun rapidly again, and was suddenly in Rinkhalmon's right hand, pointing at the group. "Let's just say you make very interesting soldiers."
Perimon gritted his beak. "You did lead us here. You just wanted to fight us yourself."
Rinkhalmon sighed, waving the blade absentmindedly. "Fight is such an inelegant word. But I did want to see you all together. Comrades in arms; the bond between friends giving you power beyond measure."
"It doesn't matter." Rinkhalmon's eyes narrowed as he scanned the warriors. "None of you lot need to worry about it. But I must say, I am looking forward to discovering more about you. Would any of you consider taking part in an experiment?"
"I've heard enough. Primal Control!
In flashes of greens, reds and blues, suddenly three Champion level partners stood facing Rinkhalmon in the great chamber. Kent brought the device back, still glowing, and suddenly Cratomon stood among the others, ready to fight.
"You've been running this war for far too long. Martyaxmon has deserted you. Fornaxmon's gone mad. You're alone, Rinkhalmon. You can't win."
The serpent grinned. He raised his free hand, and snapped his fingers.
And the lights went out.
Kuaramon's wheels whined painfully as the warrior attempted to drive himself backwards, but Fornaxmon's tendrils clutched him tightly, wrapping around his limbs and digging the red talons into his flesh. He groaned in pain, data bits trickling out.
"Hold on! Strike Thunder!"
Galvamon rushed forward, bringing his arms down with the blades fully extended, trailing electricity behind them in a huge arc. Kuaramon twisted, but so did Fornaxmon, the tendrils pulling the warrior back.
A blast of flame struck the lizard man, slamming him into the ground. He lay for a moment, stunned, with his armour glowing red from the heat. Kuaramon struggled again, trying to slash through the blue flesh, but it kept pulling him back, threatening to squeeze the life from him.
Yasyamon's swords slashed at an angle, severing most of the tendrils at the base. The leech segments of Fornaxmon squealed and recoiled, causing the body to turn and bring its hand down with a shattering blow to the ground. Yasyamon only just got out of the way in time, pulling Kuaramon to safety. The electric warrior coughed for a minute, holding his knees.
"No need to thank me." Yasyamon saluted. "It's my job to save your skins, after all."
Kuaramon looked up, and pointed. "Your hand's on fire."
Yasyamon looked down at his right fist. "Oh for god's sake…"
He ran off, shaking the wooden fist as he did so, as Kuaramon repositioned himself, the goliath now looking down at him. "Right, let's try this again. Circuit Sphere!"
The electric orb struck Fornaxmon in the central vent, causing the blue flesh to spasm, spitting bits and pieces everywhere. Fornaxmon swung his great blade, while bringing his other hand up to his chest, trying to cauterize the wound.
The great arm was suddenly yanked away by cable of light, trailing from Luminemon as she pulled with all her might. Fornaxmon's head shifted to the left, focusing on her, but his attention was caught again by the hefty laser that hit him square in the chest, burning out a good chunk of the flesh. He looked back to see Lobomon, pointing her cannon arm up at him as she prepared to fire again.
"Don't make this harder than it needs to be, big guy."
Fornaxmon responded by swinging his arm towards her, with Luminemon still attached. The dragon crashed into Lobomon and the warriors flanking her, sending a good number of them sprawling. Fornaxmon roared, and spewed liquid fire from his face, strafing left and right and causing quite a bit of damage to the ground.
The two swordsmen flew either side, swords raised high as the great golem turned. They brought the blades down simultaneously, carving great, crescent-shaped gouges out of the commander's flesh. He writhed, the wounds retaliating immediately with gushes of flame and molten metal. Still, Yasyamon and Karatenmon landed on their feet, although Yasyamon rushed back to brush the flames off from over his body once again.
Karatenmon glanced up, seeing Fornaxmon covering his shoulders. The mechanical man groaned, his visor glowing white.
Without warning, he rushed forwards, breaking through the ranks of soldiers with minimal effort. He ran a short distance, the attacks following him, before he stopped, his entire upper body spinning round and belching smoke.
The beam cut through the air, splitting the resistance down the middle. Leaping high, Dokkamon heard the short cries of those unlucky enough to be caught in the onslaught, and landed lightly on the ground again. His eyes narrowed.
"Can't you see what you're DOING?"
He made to leap forward, but he felt a hand on his shoulder. Ljosamon turned him round, shaking her head. "Calm yourself. You know it's not his fault."
"I know." Dokkamon flexed his fingers, forming a long blade from his right arm. "But maybe I can help him see sense."
Ljosamon loaded her bow, nodding behind the rogue. "He's coming again. I'll cover you."
Dokkamon leapt high once again, the shadows propelling him forwards as Ljosamon pointed her bow at the oncoming golem.
She fired three times, each arrow completely on target, but Fornaxmon blocked them easily, seemingly unaware of the arrows slowly dissolving the flesh over his hand. The same hand reached backwards, and swung towards her with the speed and power of a wrecking ball.
The dome shield protected her momentarily, before it shattered, sending her skidding backwards. Fornaxmon screeched, ready to run again, when black lines formed in front of his visor. His head spun, just in time to see Dokkamon wheeling around towards him, his body already turning corporeal.
The shadows slammed into Fornaxmon, sending him staggering backwards. For a moment he hung there, on the brink of toppling, as Ljosamon waited.
With an almighty explosion a ball of shadows shot out from the golem's head, reforming into a spinning, burning mass, who crashed into the ground some way away. Ljosamon immediately leapt, but Fornaxmon had seen him first, and immediately rushed towards the limp figure, whose Digimon form was slowly disintegrating.
"Get away from him! Darkfire Pulse!"
Achromon rushed in front of Fornaxmon in a wave of purple and black, but the old warrior simply swatted him away, the flames dissipating where they had sprouted.
Beams and projectiles struck the rampaging beast from every direction, but no matter how much the leeches screamed his movement was not slowed. His fire simply grew hotter and burst out in great waves, forcing the attackers back with the burning heat.
Ljosamon reached Dokkamon just in time as the great cleaver came down, but she was already running, dragging the disintegrating form away as the golem chased after her and her alone.
For a brief moment she glanced backwards, seeing the great eye bearing down on her. In that instant, a thousand leeches stared back, their gaze converging on her.
In her arms, the now-human Kai looked up. "Eloise…don't…"
Galvamon and Achromon stormed forwards, aiming low this time in an attempt to trip the goliath up. The attacks hit his knee joints, making him stumble, but he corrected his step and brought his right leg down with a crack.
The ground split again, and the sudden impact forced Ljosamon forwards. She and Kai landed in a heap, and rolled to the side, only to stare up at the immense titan bearing directly down on them.
The cackling filled the empty chamber up to the rafters as the six warriors spread wide, peering all around for any sign of the serpent. Alopemon bristled as something moved next to her; she whirled around, firing icicles in an arc, but the presence simply disappeared into the darkness. "He's toying with us."
Aeolumon held out a hand, an orb of wind spinning rapidly, but the light it generated was dim. He sniffed, wrinkling his nose. "Something seems off…"
"I know what you mean. There's something wrong with the air."
Beneath his mask, Cratomon gritted his teeth. "Stay focused everyone. He could be any-"
There was a shuffling, and Cratomon turned to see Rinkhalmon's grinning visage, staring at him through the blackness.
The warrior lunged, but his blade made contact with nothing. Rinkhalmon dissipated as the light hit him, and immediately his voice appeared elsewhere.
"I do like a little game of manhunt, don't you? Mind you, the teams are a little unfair, so I figured I'd even the odds."
"Get back here!"
A flash of blue and another cackle signified Rinkhalmon's appearance near Chionemon. The girl came running through the blackness, her feet making little noise against the floor as she summoned more daggers, looking left and right.
"Where is he? He was just here!"
"I…don't know…" Mistramon blinked, swingin around as the laughter came again. "I don't know what he's doing."
Cratomon gasped. "Poison!"
"Whatever he's done with the air is messing with our focus!"
"Oh, well done…"
Cratomon felt the presence behind him and immediately whirled round, bringing up his sword arm as Rinkhalmon's serrated blade came crashing down.
The sharp metal dug into the bone, and Cratomon winced as the acid began to bite in, glowing lime green and letting off an acrid stench. He yelled, thrusting his other arm forward, but it only hit blank space as Rinkhalmon adjusted himself, bringing his right foot round and slamming it into Cratomon's head.
Cratomon yaned his sword arm back, the momentum carrying it away from the biting blade, but it swung towards him again in a flash of gold. This time Cratomon turned side on, bringing his arm down when he saw the glint. It connected, pinning the blade to the floor, where he planted his foot on it, avoiding the burning edge.
There was a hissing in his ear, and he turned to see Rinkhalmon's reptilian eyes staring into his.
"Ooh, you are a smart one, aren't you? Marty warned me about you."
Cratomon swung round again, but something slashed at his stomach and he went staggering back, falling to the floor. He looked up, seeing the burning blade flash before him once again.
"I do love a bit of competition…"
Cratomon's hand smashed into the floor, but nothing happened.
"Whu…" Cratomon looked up in horror. "Crap, I'm too far away from the-"
"Woops! Too slow!"
Cratomon rolled sideways as the crescent blade came down again, but something wrenched his arm, stopping him in his tracks. He looked to one side, seeing the glowing blade edge digging once again into the obsidian encasing his right arm. Rinkhalmon giggled. "That was a very silly move."
"Get off my partner!"
Rinkhalmon blinked as two strong arms wrapped underneath his, yanking him away. Seismon brought his head crunching forward into Rinkhalmon's back, causing him to hiss in pain, but before he could do it again the serpent had wriggled from his grasp, clamping both hands over his head with both feet on his chest.
Seismon writhed in pain as green fire flashed around him, igniting on his head and torso. He swung his arms desperately, but Rinkhalmon pushed off of his chest and flipped backwards, sending the great insect to the ground with an added kick to his chin.
Rinkhalmon's laugh was cut short as he ducked, avoiding Cratomon's blade as it swung towards his head.
"Now now, no need to get rough."
Rinkhalmon clicked his fingers and summoned the green fire again, before swinging his legs in a flaming arc, catching Cratomon completely off guard. The earthen warrior flipped and slammed into the floor, as Rinkhalmon finished his manoeuvre, looking as smug as ever.
"Good effort. Actually, I tell a lie; that was a piss-poor effort, but marks for futile bravery. Don't take it personally though. There aren't many who can keep up with me."
Cratomon coughed. "Yeah? Well there's one thing you've forgotten."
Rinkhalmon rolled his eyes. "Let me guess; the power of friendship?"
"No. The fact that everyone else can see you now."
Rinkhalmon looked slightly absentmindedly at his flaming arms, before it clicked.
"Heads up, smartarse! Pressure Wave!"
Three tones of pissed-off bird crashed into the serpent's back, followed by a shockwave that catapulted him across the room. He skidded on the ground, hissing as he drew his blade, but a sudden movement made him duck as Alopemon's tail swung at his head. The serpent wriggled away, laughing gently. "Now that's more like it! Bring it on!"
His eyes darted left and right as he heard Chionemon and Aeolumon running at him, and he spun on the spot, swinging his arms out as he did so.
Blades of ice and orbs of wind crossed the paths of daggers and needles. Chionemon went down first, clutching her shoulder as two diamond blades stuck out of it. She ripped them out and tried to stand up, but the snake blurred before her eyes, before turning completely black. She staggered, clutching the wound, and tried to thrust her arm forward, but it didn't respond.
Aeolumon curled up just in time, and the needles and blades bounced harmlessly off. He swooped in mid-air, turning to see Rinkhalmon rushing towards his sister. He cried out, but his voice locked up in his throat. He felt a sharp pain, and noticed a single needle sticking out from the gap in his armour, just above his ankle.
With silent fury he rushed forwards, flinging his arm back and connecting with Rinkhalmon's head. The snake stumbled, but his lanky arm reached out and he grabbed the little soldier by the chin, pressing him down into the ground. Aeolumon stared up, unable to speak, as Rinkhalmon's tongue flickered menacingly.
"You're all so interesting. I wonder what your data's like?"
Chionemon stood up, clenching her fists as they glowed blue. "Shut up…"
"It's not you guys I'm looking for, but I'm sure I can find a use for you."
Chionemon blindly rushed towards the voice, but she tripped and fell to the ground at Rinkhalmon's feet. He smirked, and focused his attention back on her brother, when he felt a cold grip around his left ankle.
Rinkhalmon frowned, trying to move, but his foot was frozen in place. Rolling his eyes, he swung his other foot round, knocking Chionemon away, but before he could turn back to Aeolumon there was a shout from nearby.
Rinkhalmon twirled his blade, blocking Seismon's projectiles, but he was suddenly distracted as Aeolumon's fist came up, slamming into his jaw with the force of a gale. He twisted and fell flat on his back, seeing the little warrior fly up out of his reach. Aeolumon turned, and made to shout something at the serpent, but when that didn't work he merely resorted to certain choice gestures.
Chionemon got to her feet, pressing her shoulder tightly as her vision began to return. "I saw that, Jack. Do it again and I'm telling Mum."
Rinkhalmon swerved left and right as Alopemon and Seismon attacked simultaneously, slashing and punching and sending energy blasts flying everywhere. Rinkhalmon countered consistently and accurately, his blades and limbs flying in every direction as he slipped in between every move, laughing all the while.
"You're never gonna catch me! I've been running this race for hundreds of years and still no-one's ever taken me down!"
The serpent raised his hands as Mistramon's immense body landed on top of him, pinning him to the ground. Mistramon leaned in, his eyes piercing and vengeful. "That's why it's our turn. You need to feel the pain we've felt all these years."
Mistramon's talons clamped down on Rinkhalmon's blade arm, but the serpent's tail wrapped around his other leg. He squawked as the commander yanked him away, headbutting him square in the forehead as he did so. The bird shook his head as Rinkhalmon hopped away, shaking his arms. "No, please, keep going! This is the most fun I've had in years! You have no idea how bored I've been!"
"See how fun you find this! Silurian Sabre!"
Rinkhalmon turned just in time as the arc of energy slammed into his chest, sending him flying backwards across the room. Cratomon's blade swung back, and he fistpumped. "Finally, I hit you."
Rinkhalmon groaned, staggering to his feet. "Aaah…that felt good." He raised his arms, cracking the bones one by one as he bent his back from side to side. In a flash he was straightened up again, and lunged for his blade, just dodging the various icy projectiles that shot towards him.
"Thanks for that. Seriously; I'll forget what proper pain feels like if I'm not careful."
Seismon lowered his spear, clearly out of breath. "You're insane. Like…we knew you were insane, but you're actually properly nuts."
Rinkhalmon bowed. "I'm so glad you finally noticed." His eyes glinted as he beckoned with a finger. "I'm still up for more. What about you?"
Cratomon clenched his fists. "I've had about enough of this. Aeolumon, Mistramon, hold him back. Chionemon, let's bring out the artillery."
Cratomon and Chionemon held their arms out, their bodies glowing as the bird and the aerial soldier swooped in, the air flowing chaotically between them.
Rinkhalmon ducked, lunging forward with his crescent blade as Kent and Grace backed away, Kent holding his arms out in front. The serpent grinned, swerving left and right, seemingly hesitating to go in for the kill.
"I don't know how fragile you are. What am I best to do here?"
"Shuddup!" Rinkhalmon reached up and grabbed Aeolumon by the ankle, swinging him round and throwing him into his partner. The two fell, yelling in pain, as Grace found herself backed up against a wall. Her eyes widened, and she grabbed Kent's arm. "Anytime now!"
Rinkhalmon stopped, and frowned, looking down at his feet as they remained frozen firmly to the floor. Tupilamon stood in front of him, growling down at him as her eyes glowed a sinister yellow.
"Get away from them."
"Nobody asked you, gorgeous! Venom Arc!"
Rinkhalmon's arm flew forwards, throwing the biting blade towards the ice spirit. She batted it away, but the serrated edge caught her forearm, taking a great gouge out of it. She immediately double over in pain, the wound already letting off data particles, but the serpent wasn't finished yet; he rushed forwards and grabbed the antlers of her mask, pressing one foot against her forehead.
"Maybe I'll raise the stakes a little. You don't all need to get out of this alive, now, do you?"
Grace rushed forward, but Kent held her back. She yelled out, desperation in her voice.
Kent held her tightly. "Tectonamon! Do it!"
Unseen, Tectonamon raised his immense front sickles as the green glow illuminated the chamber. With all his effort he brought them down, ready to pierce the fortified floor.
The cleaver struck the dome with an almighty crack, sending a shockwave far and wide. Luminemon stumbled against the ground as she tried to fly forwards, but the dust and the heavy air was disorientating her, and she was already limping from a wrenched leg.
Fornaxmon pulled back, looking down with curiosity as the shield faded away. Ljosamon's form crumbled, then dissolved, leaving Eloise holding a barely moving Kai. Fornaxmon vented a little, and for a moment seemed to hesitate. Then he stepped back, raising the blade once again.
The blast hit the golem's arm, and he turned, gazing at the white wyvern stumbling towards him, hair fluttering behind her as she fired again and again. A blast struck him in the chest and he stepped back.
"I WON'T LET YOU TOUCH THEM!"
Another blade cleaved into the battlefield, separating the mechanical man and the two teenagers, who suddenly found themselves being dragged away. Eloise drearily opened her eyes, looking up as Gargomon helped her to her feet.
"You've been keeping yourself busy over here. You alright?"
A groan from Kai answered her question, and she hurried along as Chirinmon banked sharply, avoiding the fire blasts that came from Fornaxmon again and again. His flanks of aerial soldiers followed him, firing and attacking whenever they could.
Fornaxmon changed tactics, sweeping his blade arm wide and sending a great blade of fire arcing into the air. Chirinmon banked, and the others followed suit, but the attack still caught victims, sending them spinning lifeless to the ground. The holy dragon's eyes flashed, and he swooped over again, but it was clear he was beginning to tire.
Gargomon delivered Kai and Eloise back to Lobomon, before saluting Karatenmon. "We thought you might need our assistance with this guy."
Karatenmon nodded. "Go for it. But keep your distance; we've lost enough warriors to this mad creature."
Gargamon clenched her fists, reloading, before whistling behind her. She led the charge, along with the Monitamon scouts and Dracmon, and together they strafed the golem with lasers, fireballs and black lightning, hitting at the leech flesh again and again. The resistance worked smoothly, dipping in and out alternately as they tried to wear the Mega level down.
Karatenmon watched from a distance, biting his lip, as the former commander brought his foot down again, letting off waves of acrid fire.
"It's not enough. Every time we hit him he just keeps regenerating."
He sighed, turning to Aaron as they stood over the others, Kai beginning to get to his feet.
"This isn't your battle. You need to go inside and stop Surtremon-"
Aaron shook his head. "This is going to be too much for you."
"I saw something…"
The tamers and partners looked down at Kai, who held his head, tightly.
"He's in so much pain…those leeches…" Kai shook his head. "Haven't you noticed that our attacks have had more of an effect on him?"
Eloise blinked. "What?"
"When he was about to hit us. Luminemon jumped in and saved us; he should have been able to ignore her blasts, but instead she drove him back. Same with all of us. Aaron; you were able to stun him when you attacked him. I could barely last a second within his head but I managed to stop him in his tracks."
Galvamon leant down. "Get to the point."
"Sorry." Kai ran his fingers through his hair. "It's us. Humans. The leeches are rejecting us. Or at least, our influence, which is why you, Luminemon and Achromon are having more luck than the rest of the resistance."
Achromon frowned. "Sure doesn't feel that way."
Karatenmon glanced upwards. "I hate to say it, but he has a point. For some reason the rest of us can't even slow him down."
Aaron leaned in. "So you're saying that if one of us can get in close and really damage him, that'll destabilize the leech's influence on him?"
"Maybe not. I don't know. But it might just give us the opening we need."
Eloise looked around. "But we're all completely spent. There's no way we can hit him that hard."
Achromon gritted his teeth. "Maybe if you fury evolved?"
Karatenmon nodded. "One massive hit in the right place. That might be all we need."
Aaron sighed, removing his helmet and dropping it beside him. "Then it's gonna be down to me."
The boy held out his hand, shaking his head. "Neither Kai nor you have evolved yet. Sorry, we can't depend on that."
Eloise drew back, clenching her fists. She drew in breath. "I know, but..."
"One hit, Eloise. I promise, I'll pull back after one hit."
The girl nodded, getting to her feet. "Alright. Alright, but you're going to need cover. Luminemon?"
The dragon nodded. "Achromon and I can clear a path."
"We all can." Galvamon beckoned to Aaron. "Stay close to me; I can get you through everyone and back to where we were."
"Then we have a plan?"
Karatenmon drew his swords, his breath heavy and red spreading over his tunic. "Let's finish this."
Eloise and Kai thrust their D-Nexuses together, and they burst with energy once again. Power surged through their partners, and once again Lyublanamon and Azdajamon stood high. Eloise and Kai climbed atop Lyublanamon's back (Azdajamon, by his own prior admission, was slightly to spiky for riders) and the twin dragons rocketed up into the sky.
Galvamon grabbed Aaron's wrist. "With me! Stay close!"
There was a roar as a blue hand reached out, clamping around Chirinmon's wing. The holy beast struggled, but the hand began to glow red and his wing began to steam, causing him to thrash more violently.
"Let him go! Spectrum Shift!"
Holy rings flashed towards Fornaxmon, binding his limbs and pulling him back down to earth as the qilin landed roughly. The resistance on the ground pulled back, aiming their fire carefully so as not to hit the aerial riders.
Lyublanamon veered right, away from a red-hot laser that shot towards them. Fornaxmon roared, and fired again, sweeping through the sky, but Lyublanamon flew in close and kicked him square in the head.
As one dragon pulled away, the other flew downwards, shadow enveloping his body and lashing out in serrated waves. Fornaxmon stumbled back as the shadow slammed into him, ripping into the blue flesh and burrowing beneath the metal.
As the golem was occupied, Galvamon and Aaron arrived just behind the golem, looking up at his immense size. Galvamon nodded at his partner. "Keep it under control, Aaron. Remember how you did it."
The two partners reeled back as flames spurted from Fornaxmon's body, purging Azdajamon from his body with a pained growl. Immediately the giant's head swiveled around, visor burning as he stared down at the boy. In one fluid movement he raised his cleaver once again, ready to bring it down.
Karatenmon arrived in a flash, holding both swords upwards as they struggled against the base of the cleaver. He yelled back "Do it! Now!"
Galvamon held an arm out, ready to fire. "Aaron, get back-"
"No! There's no time!"
Aaron held out the tiny device, feeling the rage coursing through. His old friend roared once again at him, all semblance of reason and honour gone from the giant's mutilated body.
Tectonamon's impact shook the chamber, and shafts of light split the darkness as cracks snaked over the floor and walls. Rinkhalmon looked left and right, before rushing towards the great insect as he reared up again.
"I don't think so, skippy!"
Rinkhalmon leapt, taking his short, curved sickle from his belt and thrusting it into the giant insect's neck. Tectonamon cried out, lurching sideways, but his great sickles piereced the floor once again. This time it moved; great chunks of stone fell through, revealing the chamber below, with the scalding water still running. Rinkhalmon yelped, and ran for one of his pillars of notes, but it disappeared down the rapidly expanding hole before he could get to it.
"You sons of…DON'T YOU CARE ABOUT SCIENCE!?"
He lunged at Tectonamon again, this time holding him in a choking headlock as he dug his claws in deep beneath the heavy armour plating. Tectonamon writhed left and right, but every movement made the floor more unstable.
"Let go of him!"
Mistramon flew in, his talons ripping at Rinkhalmon, but the snake-man flung an arm, spraying the bird with needles. He cried, tumbling over as he lost all balance, a nasty rash developing where he'd been struck.
Kent gritted his teeth, tapped Grace's shoulder and pointed. "Get to your brother and get to that part of the room; that's where the ledge was. Try and get down there safely."
"Wait, what are you doing?"
"Helping my partner."
Fury in his eyes, Kent rushed forwards, looking left and right for a relatively stable piece of ground. He positioned himself, holding it his D-Nexus.
The insect dissolved almost immediately, causing Rinkhalmon to fall flat against the ground. He looked up, dazed, as he saw Trilomon scuttling away over the rubble.
"Come back, you little bastard!"
The serpent rushed after him, but a lance suddenly blocked his path. He turned, confused, as Paleomon stood attached to a piece of rubble. He twisted his arms and swiped again with the great weapon, but Rinkhalmon simply slipped out of its range. He giggled. "Really? That wasn't very smart of you. Do you need lessons in combat or something?"
"I manage just fine on my own." Paleomon twirled the great axe, raising it high above his head.
Rinkhalmon dodged to one side as the blade split the rock he was standing on, but the shockwave continued, shattering rubble and beam and causing the entire floor to cave in. Both Paleomon and Rinkhalmon flailed, unable to stop themselves from falling downwards. Paleomon winced in pain as the rock on which he was fixed cracked, threatening to break apart, but he swung downwards, suspended on a metal beam. The entire floor opened outwards, depositing its contents in the boiling rapids below.
Paleomon opened his eyes, and found himself suspended sideways, pressed against one of the walls of the underground cavern. He was somewhat disorientated by the experience, but he managed to peer around and noted that Grace, Aeolumon, Mistramon, Trilomon and Tupilamon had all made it to the entrance ledge. Good. That was something.
"Do you know how much work you've just lost me?"
Paleomon looked up, and quickly raised his axe as Rinkhalmon jumped down on him, feet curling around his body as he swiped again and again with his tiny sickle. All the while his eyes grew more psychotic, and his grin curled around, trembling at the edges.
"The stupid thing is you think you've beaten me, but you have no idea how much I've been working on. All you've done is set me back. That pisses me off. You won't like me when I'm pissed off."
Paleomon twisted, threatening to throw the serpent off, before reaching out with one hand and grabbing the sickle. Rinkhalmon slashed again and again, but the blade simply glanced off his rock body. Paleomon shrugged. "Look at you. Stuck on the side of a wall with a guy who can't move, and you still can't hurt me. Face it, Rinkhalmon, you're done."
Rinkhalmon's eyes narrowed, and he stood up, throwing the sickle to the waters. "You have no idea how much pain I can cause."
"Your poison doesn't work on me!"
"But this will, dead man! Incineration Soul!"
Rinkhalmon's hand went to his soul jar, and for a moment there could be heard the sound of screaming and crying. Green fire arced over his fingertips, and he leant down and clamped his hands over Paleomon's head.
"I can cause you more pain than you can even imagine, and you know the best part? You can't even run away!"
Paleomon jerked, screaming as the fire rippled over his entire body, fracturing the rock and making his bones shudder. He swiped again and again, but the attacks were wild and useless, landing harmlessly in the wall.
Grace shuddered, holding the rail tightly. "He's gonna kill him! Somebody, please do something!"
The others looked amongst themselves, but only two were fit to fight; Trilomon stood with Grace, able to move but unable to help in his current form. Mistramon lay on the ledge, barely moving, his breathing ragged from the barrage of poisons.
Tupilamon looked at Aeolumon. "You distract the snake. I'll try and save Kent."
Aeolumon glanced at Grace quickly, before flying off towards the two. Tupilamon rushed towards the wall and slammed her palm against it, her markings glowing white.
The ice snaked over the wall, traversing the rubble and reaching Paleomon in no time. Rinkhalmon frowned, puzzled, as he looked down and saw the ice wrapping around the skeletal warrior.
Aeolumon's fist slammed into the serpent's cheek, sending him staggering. He lost his footing and fell from Paleomon's back, arms flailing wildly, but before Aeolumon could pull away he felt the serpent's cold grasp around his right foot. He winced, feeling the pain building already as another claw dug beneath his armour.
Tupilamon rushed to the rail again, but she gritted her teeth as the commander and the aerial warrior struggled. "I can't get a proper shot."
Grace pointed "They're coming this way!"
They were, and the two warriors of ice backed away as Rinkhalmon and Aeolumon crashed into the ledge, causing the whole thing to shudder. Rinkhalmon held Aeolumon's wings tightly, stopping him from flying off, but the little soldier twisted and punched him continuously.
Rinkhalmon twisted himself, both hands wrapping around Aeolumon's right arm.
"You think I'm gonna let you go after that? It's not nice to punch people. It hurts." The serpent leaned in closer, eyes shaking in their sockets as he whispered. "Let me return the favour."
In a single movement he wrenched the plate armour in opposite directions, causing Aeolumon to fall to his knees, crying out in pain.
"LET HIM GO!"
Grace ran forwards, fumbling at her belt for the dagger she was carrying, but Rinkhalmon's hand came back and sent her flying backwards into the rail. She lay there dazed, when the bolts suddenly came loose. She yelled, falling backwards, before grabbing onto the edge, screaming as her legs dangled over the boiling pit.
Rinkhalmon laughed out loud, when he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. Trilomon moved before he could be swatted away, slashing at Rinkhalmon's neck with his trembling claws. "You…you won't…I won't let you…"
Rinkhalmon was sent to the ground, and was immediately rushed across the floor as Tupilamon roared in his face. He soon found his own head dangling over the edge, and he laughed, swinging his head from side to side. "You know this is only making me happier."
Rinkhalmon bent his head back, out of range of the blast, as he watched it hit the scalding water below. His expression soon turned to one of panic as the two temperatures collided, creating a geyser of steam that rushed up towards the edge.
Tupilamon drew back, the acrid spray billowing out over the ledge and causing her to fall over, squinting through damaged eyes. She rushed forwards, looking left and right as he breathing grew panicked.
"OH THANK GOD YOU CAME TO MY RESCUE!"
One of Rinkhalmon's hands reached up and grabbed her skull helmet, while the other slashed at her stomach. She bent double, as Rinkhalmon hauled himself up, adjusting his grip on her helmet as his claws dug into the eye sockets. For a moment she couldn't see his face due to the whiteness all around, but then he leaned in close. If she could move she would have recoiled; the steam had ripped the flesh from his scalp and one side of his face, leaving it red-raw and blistered. One eye was severely bloodshot, and both were trembling in their sockets as he increased his grip. He smiled, his teeth clacking against each other as he spoke.
"You think something like this will take me down? I'm not weak-willed like that giant squid. I don't give up after a few paltry wounds. I remember each one, and I take pride in them. I take pride in those skilled enough to harm me, just before I rip them apart."
Tupilamon's skull-mask cracked, and she howled, when suddenly she felt her form dissolving. As Vulpimon she lay, still in the serpent's grip. He didn't seem to notice that she'd devolved, or more likely, didn't care, so engrossed was he in his bloodlust.
"I could steal your life right here and now. But that would be boring. Passé. I need to mark you like you felt you had to mark me."
Vulpimon spat, the fog growing in intensity once again. "Go to hell, serpent. I've seen worse creatures than you."
Rinkhalmon pursed his lips out. "If I were to slowly crush your skull, I wonder how long it would be before your brain stopped working..."
Vulpimon struggled, but she could do nothing as Rinkhalmon raised a hand and placed it over her muzzle, pressing down.
"You're irrelevant to me."
Rinkhalmon yelped as something grasped his ankle, gripping tightly and digging in with diamond claws. He turned, scrabbling away as the wraith-like mask of Marzamon rose above the balcony behind him, her cold eyes staring into his insane ones. He stood up, shivering and tapping his wounded foot, the flesh blackened and cracked from where she'd grasped it.
"This is new."
"Are you ready to die?"
Rinkhalmon blinked. "That's a little personal, isn't it?"
Marzamon stood up, her sword blade extending. "This girl hates me. For you to force her to call me forth, truly you must be ready to die."
Rinkhalmon smiled, and lunged forwards, slashing with three more blades. Each one penetrated, drawing blood, but the poisons had little effect as Marzamon hit back, wounding him with her crooked blade.
The snake man jumped, the attack blurring the air behind him as the shockwave rang in his ears, but he found himself at the feet of Aeolumon, who was just about standing, his shield raised.
"You've been doing this for long enough, Commander! We're gonna stop you, no matter what!"
"Ha!" Rinkhalmon lashed out, but his claws connected with Aeolumon's shield. The little soldier brought his other fist forward once, twice, before twisting and slamming his armoured boot into the commander's chest. Rinkhalmon rolled, hissing as he did so.
"You still haven't been able to finish us off. Not one of us." Aeolumon grinned. "You suck at this."
The snake-man stood up, blades in hand, when a blast of snow struck him in the feet. He staggered back, only to see Vulpimon and Trilomon marching towards him, wounded and tired, but still standing.
The ball of armour hit Rinkhalmon and he stepped back, only to feel the edge of the ledge. The fog began to clear, and he could just see the figures standing in front of him, staring him down. He glanced left and right, but the warriors had cornered him. He could hear the scalding river behind him, calling his name.
There was an almighty crash as the riverbed moved, slamming into the walls of the chamber. Rinkhalmon toppled, grabbing onto the edge himself. He glanced to his right, aware of a figure still suspended. The data floating away signified that Paleomon was now gone; only Kent was left, still holding his hand against the wall, having used up the last of his power.
The serpent chuckled. "Oh, you're so cute when you think you're about to win. Malign Gambit!"
He scuttled sideways, athletically flipping himself upwards and throwing needles as he did so. They struck their targets, and half his opponents went down. The snake man lunged forward and grabbed Aeolumon, twisting his injured arm up his back and holding him right next to the edge.
"Checkmate. I will not be the only one to die here today. What do you say?"
"Get your hands off my PARTNER!"
The fog cleared as Mistramon reared up, spreading his wings wide and letting out a cry. For a split second he looked at Jack. Then he brought his immense wings forward as the other warriors scattered.
The force knocked both Rinkhalmon and Aeolumon away, and Aeolumon immediately shot up, almost breaking the serpent's grip. Almost. The claw held his right wing, and he wriggled in mid-air, trying to shake his opponent off. Rinkhalmon jabbed again and again, his claws beginning to crack and dent the plate armour.
The serpent timed it perfectly, using the force to thrust himself upwards. Aeolumon spun away, crashing into a wall and only just keeping himself away from the water.
Rinkhalmon meanwhile leapt, reaching out to grab the ledge once again.
As his outstretched hand separated from his arm, Rinkhalmon's hideous face was burned into the minds of all present. For a moment he hung suspended, his claw reaching out, his face a grotesque, scarred visage of insanity and bloodlust, much like the creatures he had created.
His claw bounced along the balcony. His arm cracked against the edge, and flipped back over. The rest of him fell beneath the ledge, tumbling down to the scalding rapids below.
The noise was ear-splitting and nightmarish; Rinkhalmon's screech made the warriors double-over, clutching their ears.
Slowly, the scream faded, drowned out by the sound of rushing water. They stared down, but the rapids had already moved on. Vulpimon's eyes turned to the severed hand, and she pulled back, revolted, but it was already fading away. Green data particles floated away down the tunnel.
It was over.
Marzamon was the first to topple, falling to her knees and clutching her body. Her breathing was ragged and hoarse, and she shook, as if trying to expel the metal and poisons and potions from her body. Slowly she dissolved, and Mistramon followed suit, gasping for breath. Aeolumon managed to pluck up the strength to fly up to Kent, and just managed to drag him over to the ledge, before collapsing himself, holding his injured arm as his armour faded away. Kent lay there for a moment, staring up at the ceiling. He was shivering from where the ice had been holding him, and the vision of the green flames still danced through his mind, but he was alive. They were all alive.
For a while no-one said anything, just listening to the water. It was Trilomon who stood up first. "We need to keep moving. We still didn't find what we came here for."
Grace held her brother close, staring out into the tunnel. She glanced back. "Didn't we find Rinkhalmon?"
"We were looking for leeches." Kent looked up. "Although I sure as heck didn't see any up there."
"I don't think they were ever up there." Trilomon pointed. "Look; on the walls. They're glowing. I think they're pipes; they head down."
"Down to where?" Kent frowned. "The other room, perhaps?"
Vulpimon burst out laughing. The others turned, puzzled, and she wiped her eyes. "You mean we could have avoided all of this if we'd only picked the other room?"
The others joined in with her laughter, and one by one stood up, hobbling slowly across the corridor. Grace stole one last look back down the tunnel, as she and Jack supported each other by the shoulders. Jack looked up at her.
"So…anything you need to tell me?"
"Your creepy-as-hell evolution?"
Grace suddenly felt very heavy. She shook her head. "Maybe later. When we get home."
Slowly, out of pained necessity, the six made their way back down the corridor, the humans clutching the walls, and the Digimon holding onto each other. They reached the other pathway and began to make their way slowly down towards the dungeons. The only sound came from their footsteps and the flickering torches.
It took a while to find the underground lab amongst the rows of cells, but eventually Kent spotted the glowing door and led the others towards it. Once inside, they sat down, catching their breath and looking all around. Perimon grinned. "Now that's more like it. Chemicals, machinery, weird, creepy vats; now this is a lab."
Grace helped her brother up onto the central table, before leaning against it herself, holding her hand against her side. "It doesn't help much though; where are the leeches?"
"Even if they were here once, Rinkhalmon would have cleared them out. I guess they're somewhere hidden away. Maybe even further underground." Kent sighed. "Let's face it; it was a bit of a stretch imagining we could find them."
"Don't give up yet, Kent." Trilomon scrambled up onto the table, peering around. "There's definitely something here. Something familiar. I can feel it."
Curious, Grace began to wander around, gently moving the apparatus and paperwork still scattered around. Her eyes drifted towards one of the large metal vats in the corner, and she walked towards it, carefully keeping an eye on the dials at its base. There was a switch in between them.
"Well, there could be something here?"
Vulpimon, Kent and Trilomon walked over, looking curiously at the vat. Kent nodded. "Flip it."
"But what if it's a trap?"
"We've already been in one trap." Kent scratched his head, before leaning forward. "If Aaron asks what happened, you can blame me."
It was too late; Kent flipped the switch, and the vat burst into life. The shielded front split open, the two metal sheets pulling apart and curving backwards, revealing the contents. The watching tamers gasped; the vat was full to the brim of hundreds upon thousands of leeches, pressed against the glass and squirming. They reacted immediately to the light, their activity increasing as they let off silent screams. Vulpimon recoiled. "They're even more hideous than I remember."
"Wait…" Grace pressed a hand against the toughened glass, squinting as she did so. "There's something else in there…"
There was. Kent put a hand on Grace's shoulder and pulled her back, as a dark shape began to form behind the glass. For a moment it was formless. Then it spread out, reaching out to the corners like a black web. The protrusions bulged, and morphed into spindly hands, pressing against the glass.
Grace held her hands up to her face. "I don't believe it."
The head forced itself forwards, deforming itself against the curved surface. For a moment it was black and featureless. Then, very slowly, it split apart, revealing a pair of bright magenta lips, and a set of perfect teeth.
The shape smiled. Everyone else gazed in awe. Even Jack had jumped off the table to see. When he did, he gasped.
The electrical goliath stared up at Fornaxmon as the mechanical man thrust Karatenmon aside and barreled towards him. Already the leeches over the golem's body were reaching out, furious at Brontesmon's appearance.
Brontesmon reared up, bringing both his claws forwards to meet with the golem's attack. One claw blocked the blade, while the other slammed forwards into Fornaxmon's chest, clamping on the writhing metal. His single eye enlarged, and his wires began to glow bright blue.
The blue light spread from Brontesmon's wires, silently smothering the golem's body. The effect was immediate; Fornaxmon reeled back, his exposed flesh going haywire as the leeches were excited by the charged haze. His leg, arm and the patches over his head and chest pulsating erratically, tearing apart and thrusting themselves in every direction. Pieces of metal began to fly everywhere, unable to withstand the internal pressure, and Fornaxmon reared back and let out a roar that turned into a beam that split the smog-laden sky.
As the golem staggered back, Brontesmon pressed forwards, but still the golem didn't yield. His blade arm pressed down, and Brontesmon's arm began to shudder as the superheated blade melted into the armour and circuitry.
"Aaron!" Velocimon stepped forwards, pointing at the struggling giant. "Keep attacking! Don't give him a chance to retaliate!"
One by one the resistance stepped forwards, converging their attacks back on the golem as his body sparked and spluttered. Beams and lasers and bullets struck him from every angle, yet still he kept standing. But something had to give eventually.
With a metallic groan, Fornaxmon's left leg succumbed to the relentless barrage and electricity. The leeches fell apart, sending the golem toppling forwards, the metal stump digging into the rock. The eye darted left and right as the golem swung uselessly behind him, but as he did so the rebuilt arm destroyed itself with the movement, spraying dying leeches in every direction.
As they stood, interlocked in a deadly embrace, Brontesmon's eye shot down to Fornaxmon's chest. The front panel had popped open, revealing the workings inside. Pipes, gears and pistons, all still working, despite the twisted metal and insane forces that now powered the mechanical man. And there, suspended in the middle, just below Fornaxmon's head, was a compact vessel, letting off steam and burning with the heat of a furnace. The heat was pure. No leeches touched it. It was the golem's mechanical heart, still beating away.
Slowly, as Fornaxmon's blade pressed further and further into his arm, Brontesmon drew his remaining claw back and snapped the talons shut. He looked sideways at his partner, who nodded, and turned to everyone else.
"HOLD HIM BACK!"
The twin dragons flew in, grasping out with rings of light and talons of shadow that wrapped around Fornaxmon's body. The golem jerked, swinging left and right and letting off great bursts of flame that scorched the ground and the warriors around him. But still the dragons held on, pulling the golem back until his chest was exposed.
Brontesmon roared a great static roar, bringing his spinning claw forwards and piercing the golem's mechanical heart. The shock reverberated throughout his body, causing bolts to erupt from his limbs and his visor.
The heat burst out from the opening, catching Brontesmon full in the chest. He cried out, shimmered, and dissolved, leaving Aaron kneeling atop Fornaxmon, his shaking arm still inside the golem's chest.
Slowly, the glow faded, and the machinery slowed to a halt. Aaron pulled his fist out, sliding back down Fornaxmon's vast torso as the energy left him. Velocimon, Kai and Eloise immediately ran over to him and pulled him to a safe distance as they watched Fornaxmon.
For a moment, the golem remained kneeling. His visor glowed dimly as the blue flesh shriveled away, the molten metal already cooling to a blackened mass. He stared ahead, his head focusing on Aaron.
He stared in silence, save for a few mechanical clicks. The wound in his chest showed the extent of the damage. But he didn't need to speak. With help, Aaron sat up, and held his hand out. There were tears in his eyes but he barely even noticed. He smiled, and stuck out his thumb. The rest of the resistance followed him, save for a few.
Fornaxmon slumped. He fell forwards, the metal clacking against the rocky ground. The light in the visor dimmed, flickered, and finally went out.
And there he lay; a hollow shell sprawled out on the battlefield, joining the number of other casualties from the mighty brawl. Already he was beginning to fade as orange specks of data drifted away.
Aaron sat back, holding his hands over his face. Both of his arms were sporting nasty burns but he didn't notice. He simply sat for a little while, until somebody nudged him from the side. He looked, and Velocimon pointed. "We kind of need to move. The Fire Forces are still moving in."
Aaron sighed. "I know. It's not over yet."
"The gate is unguarded. We can get inside now."
The boy nodded. He looked behind him, giving his friend a final glance, before he nodded at the tamers either side of him. "Alright. Let's go break down that door."
Kent was speechless. "You…you're dead…you have to be dead…"
Cerebrumon's mouth shifted into a thoughtful position as he hung, like a marionette, in the tank. Then he nodded. He opened his mouth and spoke, but his words were inaudible.
Grace shook her head. "I don't believe it. Rinkhalmon stole him. He must have been keeping him here all this time. But why?"
Cerebrumon looked somewhat annoyed. He brushed the leeches aside and held up a hand against the reinforced glass. He looked between each tamer in turn, before pointing at the outstretched palm. Grace gasped. "I get it. He can show us."
"What do you mean?"
"When Jack and I first met him. He…he showed us things. Through our minds. Maybe he can explain what's up with the leeches?"
Kent looked warily at the outstretched palm. "I don't know if we can completely trust him…"
"Well he did steal your memories and bring forth a dangerous creature that led to Teslamon nearly destroying Silicon City."
Jack popped his cheeks. "Well he did say sorry…"
Kent felt a tug at his trousers, and looked down to see Trilomon beckoning him. "He may be able to help."
Kent exhaled, running his hand through his hair. He turned to face the smiling shadow, and walked towards the glass, pressing his own head against it. "We're sorry. It's our fault you're here in the first place."
He closed his eyes. For a moment nothing happened. Then, there was the faintest glow around Cerebrumon's handprint, and Kent winced, his fingers tensing as he held them against the glass. Then it was done. He stood up, Cerebrumon watching his every move.
Perimon hopped up on the table. "Well?"
"Rinkhalmon's work. You know he experimented on Cerebrumon before?" Kent turned, looking almost pitiably at the black shape. "He's been using his body to modify the leeches. The darkness can suppress their influence; that's how he was able to create the stable Fire Tyrants."
"Until Fornaxmon took over?"
Kent nodded. "That was too many leeches. There's no way anything could remain sane with that amount of power, Fire Digimon or no."
The boy frowned. "Rinkhalmon kept coming back here. He wanted more power; Cerebrumon wasn't enough. He was working on something right up until the battle."
Grace held her hand up against the glass. "Did Cerebrumon see what it was?"
"Maybe…I don't know…" Kent winced, holding his temples. "He definitely showed me something…but it was just a mass of swirls…I couldn't make out anything. It was just…I can't explain it…"
The others remained silent, looking around the room as if it might attack them at any second. Vulpimon shivered, and turned back to Kent. "Can we do anything about the leeches?"
The boy nodded, and pointed to a couple of levers. "This stuff is all homemade. It has weak areas. If we close that seal and open that valve, Cerebrumon's presence will force the leeches into that area. The pipe will break, the leeches will spill out and will dissolve in the air."
Jack looked over at the vat. "What about Cerebrumon?"
The others turned to look, but the answer was already obvious. The once proud illusionist shook his head, acceptingly. There was no coming back from what the serpent had put him through.
Kent turned to the two younger children. "I'll do it. You don't have to watch."
"We've seen Digimon die, Kent."
"Doesn't mean you have to watch any more." Kent pointed at the exit. "Come on, give us some privacy. I'll join you in a minute."
The children looked at each other. Jack smiled, and waved at Cerebrumon, before hurrying out of the room. Grace hesitated for longer, pressing her head against the glass, before she called her partner and also left. Only Kent and Trilomon were left. Kent stood aloof, staring into the vat as the shadowman stared back.
Trilomon sat down, looking up at his partner. "Are you crying?"
"Probably." Kent looked down, his hair covering his eyes, and he pulled off the makeshift helmet and rested it on the table.
"I barely even knew him. But he didn't have to die for this. None of them did."
Slowly, he walked over to the control panel. Trilomon trotted alongside him, his eyes as wide and innocent as ever. "It's not your fault. You know that."
"Thanks; that's gonna make this so much easier." Kent leant over the control panel, staring into nothing.
"Sorry; I didn't mean it like that."
"God, I'm only seventeen. Remind me again how I got myself into this?"
Trilomon hummed. "Staying to help a dying world out of the goodness of your heart? If it weren't for you, we'd never have come this far."
Kent laughed. "Can you stop being more mature than me? You're only a year old."
"There's a war on, Kent."
"I know, everyone says that. I hate that excuse now."
"Then let's stop it." Trilomon sat down, looking around the lab. "Let's find Surtremon and end all of it."
Kent didn't respond. He gave Cerebrumon one last look, but the illusionist had already been swallowed up by the mass of leeches. Kent closed his eyes, and flipped the switches.
He and Trilomon joined the others outside. Kent gave one last glance in, and noted that the pipe was indeed beginning to bulge under the mass of so many leeches. He closed the door, and pointed.
"The main hall is up this way, through the corridors. Let's go."
The others followed him up the stone steps. Jack looked up at him. "Are we going to find Surtremon now?"
Some of the larger members of the resistance banged against the great door, to little success. Still, they were beginning to dent it. Aaron turned back to Karatenmon and Lobomon, wincing as he opened and closed his right hand. Lobomon folded her arms. "This is taking too long. We need to get back out there. The Commanders may have gone but we're still getting pummelled."
It was true. The resistance and the Fire Forces were still fighting away all across the broken battlefield. Karatenmon and Lobomon had given the tamers and their partners some cover as they reached the great door, but the forces were closing in once again, threatening to drag them back inside.
The tengu seemed to notice his concern and placed his hand over the wound. "We're still here if you need us. But if any of us can take down Surtremon, you can. Just be wary. He's the General for a reason."
"We've got it open!"
Surprised, the others turned to see the great gates swinging open. A few small figures stood in the doorway, looking ridiculously small. Grace raised a hand. "We're back."
"Kent! Grace! You guys; you made it!" Eloise rushed over, a new energy in her step. "Did you manage to find the leeches?"
"Found. Ditched. Ran into a couple of hiccups." Perimon stared around the desecrated battlefield. "As did you, by the looks of it."
Lobomon pressed her hands together. "Right. Door's open. Hurry up, hurry up, I've got to get cracking." She twirled, drawing her cutlasses in a smooth movement and rushing down to aid her comrades. Karatenmon looked over the tamers again. "You sure you don't need help?"
Aaron looked back at Eloise, Kai and the others, and nodded. "Thank you for getting us this far. But I think it's up to us alone to take down Surtremon. Don't worry about us; just stay out of trouble yourself." His eyes darted down to Karatenmon's side, which was still bleeding profusely and letting off data.
The tengu nodded. "Alright. Good luck. And no pressure."
Perimon poked his head out. "Psst! We're not holding the door 'cause we feel like it!"
Vulpimon's voice echoed out from behind the great fortified gate. "You're not holding the door at all."
Aaron smiled at Karatenmon one last time, before he disappeared inside, the door closing behind him.
Kai wandered over, with Colchimon draped over his neck. "Well, we're all together again. As it should be."
"What are you doing up there?" Ladomon flustered, hovering just above her partner's head.
Colchimon grinned. "I may not have a chance to do this again. I'm enjoying luxury travel while I still can."
Velocimon looked up at everyone. "Are you all ready to do this?"
"We've come this far." Aaron ruffled his partner's head feathers, as the twelve of them stepped through the vast fortress. "If we're not ready now we never will be."
"I don't care if we're ready or not."
Kent led the party through the great entrance hall. He raised his D-Nexus, and the other tamers did the same. Their partners flanked them, exhilarated and ready to fight.
Kent's eyes were focused on the great doors at the end as the group moved forward as one.
"We're coming, General. We're going to end this."
TO BE CONTINUED…