The Searchmon network wasn't fast, but it was reliable, as was the case with much of Dallurmon's province. In the span of a couple of hours, the initial message from the village had reached the nearest of the reigning Digimon's administrative outposts, where they would be forwarded onto the main keep itself. Through the dozens of messages coming through every hour, priorities had to be made. Dallurmon's administrators often found themselves busier than the leader himself, having to rush around to fix all the problems in the realm. Not that it was a chaotic system or anything. The administrators were handpicked for the job, and very good at what they did. So good that they often headed off to fix the problem without needing to wait for a response.
In this particular case, if they had waited, perhaps things would have been different. Perhaps they would have turned out less catastrophic than they did.
But instead, it came to pass that two small Digimon were making their way down the winding hillside pass towards the village of EtaVerde (as it was known to the people who pretended they knew what they were talking about, as opposed to the actual residents of the village who just referred to it as 'the village').
Despite their stature, the two small Digimon were highly trusted. One, a junior administrator, was a sandy-yellow cricket, with three bright blue eyes and clear fluttering wings. The other, an advisory intern, was a tiny snake with a green webbed frill and a very annoying habit of talking too much, as he was doing right now.
"...and IotaVize is actually in a far more geographically interesting area due to the old Diginome streams that run between the faults where it's located."
"Really," stated Jiminymon, with all the enthusiasm of a bucket of salt. "Has there been any incident recently?"
Atop her back, Neonamon coiled himself slightly, and sucked the end of his tail. "Not reeeeally. Maybe...three thousand years ago?"
"I don't think we have to worry then." Jiminy gave a little trilling sigh, and looked back over her shoulder. "You know too much. Way too much for an In-Training level. I worry about you."
"I can't help it. I'm an interested person."
"Yes, well, I'm not."
"Your loss," said Neonamon, and he leaned back, staring at the sky. "I take this job just as seriously as you do. I'm just grateful for the extra travel, that's all."
"What travel? You always ride on my back. And you don't keep still." Jiminymon rolled her eyes as she plodded on, steadily and briskly despite the complaints. "Just please try and focus on what we're doing? I've probably gained five new assignments since we left to check over here; I'm sure it's going to be another waste of our time. You know EtaVerde is always jumping about finding new and unusual threats. What was it last time? A Patamon. Who freaks out over accidentally capturing a Patamon?"
"You'd think somebody would at least have some common sense-"
The cricket snapped out of her rant, and glared upwards. "What was that? I'll make you walk!"
Neonamon simply pointed with his tail, and she looked down the pathway. The village was now in sight, right in the middle of a picturesque view of rolling valleys and rushing rivers. The landscape was wonderful. The village, decidedly, was not. Jiminymon's eyes fell on the great black patches, and the piles of white rock and rubble, and the plumes of smoke that curled skywards, mingling with the purple cloud.
"Oh. Oh...oh dear..."
Neonamon bit his bottom lip and let in an intake of breath. "I think we should probably hurry up a little."
For once, Jiminymon didn't argue.
Arimon rubbed his eyes, and stared at his friend's new form. "I...don't believe it...he evolved? Right here? Right in front of me?"
The other side, Yvonne blinked. "Ali...what the heck-"
The onlookers ducked as Fangmon shot the dragon point blank in the chest, sending him writhing back. The wolf shook his head, and grinned. "As if you'd have any chance. You're all weak! You've grown weak and fragile, and you hide behind ridiculous wooden traps. You are all-"
He frowned, and looked back to see Fafnirmon's jaws clamped over his hind leg, the same place where Wyvermon had held him a few seconds earlier. The dragon grinned wickedly. "Nobody wants to hear from you anymore."
With a roar he swung his head up, dragging Fangmon off his feet and slamming him over the rubble. The wolf rolled, battering his body on the rocks, but he landed on his feet and snarled downwards. "So...you've got a little bit more to you..."
"More than you can imagine..." Fafnirmon smiled, and he rushed forwards, clambering over the rocks with the dexterity of a spider. Fangmon snarled, and began running himself, his claws glinting.
The attack missed, with Fafnirmon simply rolling his body out the way. His tail rolled with his spine, and lashed out like a whip, stabbing the wolf in the flank. Fangmon howled, but Fafnirmon was still moving, his body undulating with the grace of an oarfish. His right forearm came slamming down, buckling Fangmon's legs and pressing him into the rocks below. The dragon leaned forwards, whispering in his ear. "You are to go away and never – never – come back here again. You are a coward and a worthless abuser, and you cannot win."
"Ha!" Fangmon laughed suddenly, and twisted as he bit hard into Fafnirmon's hand. The dragon withdrew, and Fangmon rolled, black fire already in his mouth. "You think you have command over me? Blast Coffin!"
The wolf fired shot after shot, making the rubble explode into pieces around them. Two shots hit Fafnirmon on the shoulders, driving him back. He arched his back, and flexed his wings, his body glowing in a rainbow of hues. "I warned you..."
"This land belongs to us! It's only a matter of time! That fool Dallurmon has no power here!"
Fafnirmon's irises flashed orange, and he began to undulate, his skin rippling with energy.
Fangmon's legs were shaking from the injuries and the strain, but he braced himself, his maw dripping black. "Give me your worst, reptile..."
The wyvern convulsed, and from his body burst forth a storm of tiny, razor-sharp scales that shot forward in waves, absolutely engulfing Fangmon. The wolf held his ground admirably, locking his legs and firing shots into the oncoming storm.
But he never stood a chance.
Starting with his muzzle and carrying back over his neck, his forelegs, his torso; Fangmon's body was torn to shreds. His data mingled with the green cloud; specks of red and white in the glistening aurora. Fafnirmon stopped moving, and the wave ceased. Only Fangmon's hindquarters were left; standing only temporarily, and then toppling over. Down below, the onlookers watched, aghast, as the lifeless corpse rolled down the rubble, and entered the pond with a restrained splash.
Up above, Fafnirmon closed his eyes, lingering in the green scales that still hung in the air. He could hear Arimon and the others down below, running up towards him. But the rush was going. He could feel his body about to fall apart.
"So this...is what it's like..."
He burst in a flash of data just before Marsuamon could reach him, leaving Wyvermon there, battered and unconscious. Marsuamon put a hand to his shoulder, then his chest, before turning back. "He's...okay...I think..."
Chupamon held back, glancing first at the dragon, then over at the humans, who were searching themselves. The devil narrowed his eyes. "What on earth did you do?"
The children weren't paying attention, as they scrambled over the rocks, looking around. Lizzie was beside herself. "Where did he go? What the hell happened?"
She clutched Yvonne's hand, but the other girl gave her a haunted look. "I...I think he was-"
"I've found him!"
The others crowded around to where Rachel was standing. Alasdair was lying on the rocks, face up. His entire body was shaking, and he was murmuring under his breath. Yvonne was last to arrive, and she saw it; the red data particles studding his skin, glittering in the bright sunlight.
"I...I was...a dragon..."
George fell to his knees. Joel and Lucy just stood there, stock still. Rachel got to her feet, and left the circle, her hand over her mouth as she stared down at the ruined cave. Just there, poking out, was the corner of the D-Port. It was no longer shaking. No energy was there. At least, there seemed not to be. But Rachel's stomach was tight. She could definitely feel it.
She looked to the left, to where Dinohyumon was standing. The dinosaur man was clutching his side; clearly in bad shape, but stable for the minute. He eyed the little girl, and his face was stern.
"What happened here?"
"I..." Rachel held her sleeve. "...I don't know. None of us know."
"Wyvermon evolved. Nobody just evolves; not in the blink of an eye. It's not part of our world." He stumbled as he held back an arm, the blade glinting on it. "What...did you...do?"
Rachel flinched. Dinohyumon staggered, nearly toppling over. He looked up, and saw all the children staring at him. All of them, except for Alasdair, whose eyes had closed. George reached out and felt his forehead. "He's out cold."
"How could you?"
Yvonne stood up, and her eyes were narrowed. She pointed a finger at the lizard man. "He saved you."
Dinohyumon looked at her defiant face, and then down at Rachel, who was still standing there, expecting the strike at any moment. He lowered his arm.
"Arimon. Call Seasarmon and Unimon. Right now."
He looked back up at the smoking village, and then across at the children.
"We all need to have a talk..."
The aftermath of the attack had been severe. Buildings and stores had been wiped out, and an entire south part of the village had rolled away down towards the winding river. Not that the children really paid attention to the damage. They simply moved, obediently, as Dinohyumon ushered them into one of the few surviving buildings. They were locked in, but not before the dinosaur took the D-Port with him. Only Rachel questioned why, but he refused to answer.
There they sat, in partial light and near silence, into the night, as the sounds outside kept banging. The more they lay there, the more it was clear that they were never going to wake up from this. Eventually, as darkness fell, they fell into slumber one by one.
Only Alasdair woke up, shaking and screaming. The others were too exhausted to notice. And eventually, he too fell back into a fitful sleep.
It was early the next morning when somebody finally came to check on them, knocking on the door as they entered. The children woke up, more refreshed, but still silent. It was Dinohyumon, along with two other Digimon they didn't recognise; a winged unicorn with a red helmet, and a tusked white lion with wisps of light whipping at their feet. They were Unimon and Seasarmon, the other overseers, and they looked even sterner than the lizard-man did. He was currently holding himself up on a long pole, his legs still injured from the fight with Fangmon.
Seasarmon's large eyes scanned the room, and they were the first to speak. "So these are them? They look..."
"I know how they look. But that's irrelevant now." The lizard-man crouched down. "Can I speak to one of you? Please?"
Yvonne looked down at Alasdair, but he was barely able to sit up. She was about to walk over, when George went instead, sitting cross-legged in front of the overseer. "We're listening. Though I can't promise we can give you much."
Dinohyumon glanced over his shoulder, and signalled. The other two overseers left the building, their faces grave. The dinosaur looked back. "Kabuterimon is severely injured, but she'll survive. The same with the other two. None of the village died, so you have that to be thankful for."
George pressed his jaw together. "How so?"
DInohyumon didn't answer. He instead ran a fingernail over his buckled arm blade. "I will show my gratitude on behalf of the village. If you hadn't intervened, it's very likely we wouldn't have been so lucky in avoiding casualties." He blinked. "But still, what you did was immoral. I have never before seen anybody breaking the laws of Yggdrasil to such an extent."
"We don't know who that is." George clenched his fists on his knees, his fingernails digging in. "We don't know what Yggdrasil is, or what happened. Alasdair's still in shock. You have to believe us...sir...we didn't mean for any of this to happen."
"Then what do you mean to happen?" Dinohyumon clasped his hands, staring at each of them in turn. "Why did you come here?"
There was a cough, and behind George, Alasdair sat up. His eyes were rough and full of sleep, and his lips were cracked. He choked a couple more times, as Yvonne patted him on the back. George looked back at the dinosaur.
"I don't know. But right now, we just want to go home."
The lizard looked among them, and they all nodded. "So where is home?"
"From here, I think it's a whole other world."
Dinohyumon shook his head. "That's impossible."
"From where I'm sitting, you're impossible."
The lizard's eyes flashed angrily and George sat back, suddenly wary. But nothing happened. Dinohyumon stood up, and looked down at them. "Please try to understand. Nothing like this has ever happened in this world before. I...can't guarantee a thing." He turned away. "Wyvermon and Arimon are outside. They wanted to speak to you. May I..."
George nodded, but Lucy leaned forwards beside him. "Chupamon!"
Dinohyumon glanced back. "What?"
Yvonne stood up. "Chupamon, and Marsuamon too. They were with us. They fought Fangmon. Please tell me...can we see them too?"
Dinohyumon shook his head. "You'll see them soon enough. But as long as you're here, I'd advise you to pick your alignments carefully."
He hobbled out the door, holding it open as Wyvermon and Arimon stepped inside. The door closed behind them, leaving them standing awkwardly in the entrance.
Joel was the one to break the silence, folding his arms at the back of the room. "I hate him," he grunted.
"You be quiet." Lizzie said, from her hunched-up position against the wall. "You heard him. Now's really not the time to make him angry."
"You're just scared of him."
"I am," replied Lizzie, adjusting her glasses, "But in a world with dinosaur men who don't try and kill us right away and giant red monster wolves who do, I prefer to pick the former."
Yvonne rolled her eyes, but had the faintest of smiles on her face. "Keep arguing, you two. It's good for you." She looked over at the little dragon by the entrance. "So how are you? We didn't...see what had happened-"
Wyvermon raised a claw. "I'm flattered, but I'm fine. I assure you. Only a mild inconvenience."
Beside him, Arimon blew a whistle. "He says that. He was up all night, babbling about the ancestors' hidden power and rubbish like that."
"It's true! It obviously just awakened."
"You're not fooling anyone. Not even yourself."
Wyvermon's coat lost a little of its sheen, and his body slumped, his shoulders relaxing a little. He looked away.
"How's the...how's...Alasdair?" He looked up. "May I?"
"I'm right here, Wyvermon."
Uncharacteristically sheepishly, Wyvermon trotted over, and looked up at the boy's face. It had finally regained some of its colour, although he still looked decidedly harrowed by the whole affair. Wyvermon sat down, and scratched at his chest. "I...uh...thank you. You saved us back there. Big time." He glanced over his shoulder. "The overseers won't admit it properly but they're thankful. I can tell these things."
"You're welcome." Alasdair nodded. "But I still don't understand what happened."
"Whatever happened, it's not supposed to." The dragon looked almost embarrassed, although his eyes were betraying the seriousness of the situation. "You forced an evolution on me. That's almost unheard of, except in cases of criminals from the Dark Area. No wonder everyone's seeing it as taboo."
"Evolution?" George adjusted his glasses. "Doesn't that take millions of years?"
Arimon stepped forwards. "Maybe where you come from. But for us, it's sort of like...growing? The longer we live, the more we change. But it's supposed to be representative of your power; one day in the future, you just...evolve, and you stay that way for a long time. All being well." He looked aside. "Wyvermon and I are both still young, and we're certainly not powerful. Nobody should be able to just...evolve like that. Or return again straight afterwards."
Alasdair looked at the ground, and at his hands. For a moment he stared at his palm. Then he looked over at Rachel. "Could this be the D-Port's doing?"
The girl shrugged. "I don't know what it does back in our world, let alone here. But it must be. It glowed just before you disappeared."
In the corner, Lizzie crouched tighter. "So it won't send us home. It'll just turn us into...monsters."
Alasdair managed a weak smile. "Hey...don't worry. I'm still here, aren't I?"
"That's not the point." Lizzie looked up, her glasses fogged up with tears. "We're not supposed to be here. What if the longer we stay here, the more we change? This whole place will mess us up."
Joel ran a finger round his ear. "I don't know. You were cool as a great big dragon." He grinned. "I'd love to beat up other monsters."
"Well don't go trying anything, please." Alasdair put his head in his hands. "I don't want you all to go through what I just went through."
Rachel clasped her hands. "Did it hurt?"
"No. It felt...good."
The boy looked back at the dragon, whose expression gave away the fact that he felt the same. Arimon cleared his throat. "Whatever it was, I don't think you'll be allowed near that machine again. Not while you're here."
The conversation was beginning to feel heavy, so Yvonne interjected. "What happened to Chupamon and Marsuamon? They were helping too, weren't they?"
Wyvermon and Arimon looked at one another. After some nudging, Arimon spoke again. "They're...in trouble. They were affiliated with the Nightmare Soldiers and will be treated as such. Although Marsuamon will probably be okay since she can argue it was slavery."
Wyvermon's face stretched into a half-frown. "He's a Nightmare Soldier, through and through. That's all they need." He looked down. "We found him. Trying to sneak into the village, cause trouble. Us two are the ones who stopped him and got him thrown in there."
Arimon raised his eyebrows. "Not...really, Wyvermon. That was mainly Dinohyumon."
"Well yes, but we found him in the first place."
"Well yeah. He was in one of the snares. We were checking them."
"Don't defend him; he was going to steal stuff! He admitted it himself!"
"I'm sure he had a reason."
Wyvermon glared up at his friend, his snout twitching. "What do you mean why? He's a Nightmare Soldier! He doesn't need a reason."
The children looked among each other, puzzled. Yvonne leaned forwards, biting her lip and asking gingerly, "Is there...a war or something going on here that we don't know about?"
Arimon sat down, and shook his head. "Nothing so terrible. And hopefully not in our lifetimes."
"What then? He seems nice enough, but everybody all seems to hate him. What's this 'Nightmare Soldier' thing you keep talking about?"
Arimon scratched behind his head. "Us Digimon, we're not all the same. Our data is different; some of us are naturally benevolent, and some of us...aren't. Chupamon's part of a family called the Nightmare Soldiers. They're rogues and villains, all throughout the land."
Alasdair's expression changed, just momentarily. "It can't be that bad."
Wyvermon glanced up at the boy. "They steal. They form gangs and attack; they even kill. It's in their nature. Over the past few years they've tried to take over the world again and again."
"All of them?"
"Only the very worst. But the ones hiding amongst us...they get their own ideas. All we're doing is protecting ourselves, and protecting Dallurmon's land."
"Dallurmon?" blurted Lucy, raising her head.
Arimon cocked his head. "Do you know who he is?"
Yvonne rubbed behind her head. "Er...not really. We've heard people bringing him up all around though. Is he your leader or something?"
"He's the ruler of the Echo Quadrant." Wyvermon went to point, but obviously in the hut it was little help. He cleared his throat instead. "This whole island is under the dominion of his keep. Dinohyumon oversees this village along with Unimon and Seasarmon; they all keep it running and pass back produce to the keep. But Dallurmon's the one who looks after it all. He keeps the Nightmare Soldiers away."
In the corner, Lizzie puffed. "He obviously doesn't do that good a job."
"Don't you dare-"
Arimon held an arm out as Wyvermon flared up, calming his friend down. He peered inside the cage, puzzled. "How did you hear about him?"
"We...uh..." Yvonne looked around for support, but everyone else was looking to her for the same thing. "I don't know. We may have spoken with him, but I can't be sure who it was. We definitely spoke with someone through the D-Port, just before we were brought here."
In the corner, Lizzie glanced up. "Whoever it was, I have a hunch we may have ticked them off."
Yvonne nodded. "Indeed. That machine we were with," here she turned to point at the D-Port, before remembering wasn't there, "the one that brought us here...we don't know why or how, but it was designed to get in contact with your world from our one."
Arimon whistled. "Sounds impressive. We always heard legends of another world but...we've never seen anything like you."
"Yeah, well...we kind of had an accident. We didn't mean to come here."
Rachel peered up at the mention of her father's machine, her eyes red and baggy. "We don't know how to fix it. But if we can, maybe we can go home again."
Lizzie flinched, and pulled herself tighter. "Don't say maybe. We will. We have to get out of here."
Suddenly all seven children looked incredibly tired, as they stared out up the two Rookie level, still standing in the entrance. Wyvermon and Arimon looked at one another. "They're really just children, like us, aren't they?"
Wyvermon bit his tongue in thought. "Should we talk to Unimon? He should know the most."
"Will he know about technology like that though?"
"Even if he doesn't, he might know somebody who does." Wyvermon shrugged. "Maybe even Dallurmon will help them. He's wise. He might even have seen them coming."
Lizzie bit her lip, and breathed in sharply. "If that message is anything to go by, I don't think he wants to see us."
"I wouldn't worry about that right now." Arimon pointed. "They're meeting to decide what to do with you." He shuffled awkwardly. "There are...calls going around that you should be...you know..."
Yvonne blinked. "What?"
Lizzie's eyes widened. Alasdair's face hardened. Yvonne was the one to stand up, stamping her foot on the ground, "We didn't do anything wrong!"
Wyvermon raised a claw. "I'll vouch for you. So will Arimon; I know him. But it's not that simple; you've broken taboo and messed with the workings of the Digital World, intentionally or not."
Lizzie sniffed in the corner. "I wanna go home..."
Yvonne sat down, still seething. "How much time do we have?"
"They're waiting on some people." Arimon pointed behind his back. "Two of Dallurmon's staff, on their way from the local outpost. Impartial jury. After that...well, I guess we can only hope they're reasonable."
Joel folded his arms. "I don't like this Dallurmon guy. He sounds nasty."
Wyvermon put a claw to his lips. "Don't say that too loud. He's done a lot for us." He glanced backwards again. "They don't like you back-talking our ruler."
All of a sudden, Alasdair looked tired. "So what you're saying is there's nothing that we can do? At all?"
Neither Digimon had anything else to say. Instead it was Lucy who answered, as she lay back, her arms behind her head.
In the end, there really was nothing else to do.
The impartial jury in question were busy making their way towards the village in determined haste. At least, that was the idea, but due to the sudden advancement of the necessary arrival deadline, Jiminymon's internal schedule and localisation capabilities had been somewhat compromised.
To put it bluntly, they were lost.
On the bug's back, Neonamon let out a breath as he rested his head on the smooth of her neck. "Are we there yet?"
Jiminymon's head twitched, and her voice took on a scratchy tone. "If you're so worried why don't you direct us for once."
"I have been. I told you to follow the great plumes of smoke heading up into the sky."
"Oh, how clever of you." Jiminymon stopped in her tracks, and pointed sharply towards the sky. "I can't see it from down here; there are trees in the way."
Neonamon puffed his cheeks out. "We'd have been there by now if you hadn't started panicking."
"What was that?"
"Nothing. The last thing you need is another thing on your mind."
The cricket stopped, and bent down, wiggling her antennae back and forth and letting out little pops of sonic. "It had to be in a place like this. Too many trees...too much interference..."
"Too much nature?"
Suddenly, Jiminymon jerked upwards, causing Neonamon to wobble unsteadily. "That's something! I hear a voice. We must be close."
The little snake rolled off her back, and flicked his own frill back and forth in the air. He couldn't hear anything. Unsurprising really, given that even Jiminymon's heightened senses were being heavily suppressed in this area. He frowned. "I wouldn't bet on it."
"What, you don't believe me?"
"I believe you're hearing something. I'm just not sure they're necessarily from the village."
The cricket tilted her head. "Do you have any basis for that?"
The snake raised his eyebrows, and pointed with the end of his tail. Jiminymon turned and looked. Then yelped. Then backed up a few metres, before squatting in the undergrowth, only just peeking out. "Okay, I believe you."
Neonamon joined her, before peeking out just slightly. They were very near a clearing, in the centre of which sat a Digimon. Well...more than one. It seemed to be a clearing or a temporary settlement; bivouac, burning fire, several shiny objects which appeared to be stolen artefacts of indeterminate function. One of them was a large cage, which wasn't empty, and, as it turned out, was the source of the voice that Jiminymon had heard. Inside the cage was a large bird-like Digimon, sporting deep blue plumage streaked with yellow. She was talking incessantly at the Digimon outside the cage, who merely sat in silence, rubbing a hook over a rough rock.
On closer inspection, the hook in question turned out to be his left hand, and his right was a huge, bell-shaped musket, hanging down by his side. He wore a snappy blue trenchcoat and a pristine tricorn, emblazoned with dinosaur skull and crossbones. One eye was covered with a metal patch; the other was bright blue, and intensely focused on the hook sharpening.
The scraping noise was very noticeable now, and Jiminymon shuddered, physically shaking from the harsh sound. "I assume they're not friendly."
Neonamon squinted. "Well I assume that bird isn't supposed to be there."
"Don't Hookmon usually travel with companions? They have a bossy nature; it's not uncommon."
"Perhaps." The snake looked up at Jiminymon. "I would have thought if they were there by choice they might not be in a cage."
"Well do you want to ask him?"
"Or her. It could be a her."
"Who? The bird? Or Hookmon?" Jiminymon rubbed her cheek. "Who is that bird anyway? I've never seen a Digimon like that before."
"I think we should probably find the village before we get in trouble."
The cricket shook her head, and fumbled around in her backpack. "No, we need to do this properly. A virus type is wandering around with a potential prisoner. Dallurmon must be informed. I need to record this."
"Can't we note it down later?"
"We'll be busy later. Why?"
"Cause he can see us."
Jiminymon put her leg down, and peered into the clearing again, and straight into the piercing gaze of Hookmon. The pirate swivelled his posture, and raised his musket arm.
There was a boom, and a cracking sound as a cannonball embedded itself in a nearby tree. But Jiminymon and Neonamon had already legged it. Inside the cage, the bird looked up, confused. She whistled, watching as one of the smaller trees came crashing down.
"You're a regular shot with that thing, aren't you? How long was that? Forty metres? Fifty?"
Hookmon shrugged, and repositioned himself again, going back to sharpening his hook.
Merely sixty metres away, Jiminymon was going at breakneck speed through the undergrowth, with Neonamon clinging for dear life onto her back. "I think we might have lost him!"
It still took a few seconds for Jiminymon to calm down. When she finally stopped, she looked behind, taking great gulps of breath. "That...is an offense...against an appointed ambassador..."
Neonamon smiled, and tapped her on the top of the head. "I don't think he really cares."
The cricket buzzed angrily, her hind leg tapping repeatedly against the ground. "I hate field work!"
"It's only outdoors. Most Digimon are able to cope, you know."
"Well they're stupid then. They should all come and live in nicely regulated outposts. And even so, that thing is way too close to the village territory." She looked around, trying to spy any hint of smoke or trail towards the village itself.
"Honestly, how do they deal with living here?"
Unimon pawed the ground in an irritated manner. "Honestly...we just deal with it."
Jiminymon pointed back out the main gate towards the forest. "You have psychotic monsters living out there! This is not at all healthy for your citizens."
Unimon looked around at the piles of rubble that had once been buildings, and shrugged. "It happens. Only once in a while, but we've gotten used to it. We have procedures. Really, we very rarely get any deaths nowadays."
The cricket sat down, and drooped her head. "For crying out loud...I will be having words. Not your fault, of course, but...you cannot be expected to do your jobs correctly under such conditions."
Unimon cocked her head. "This is just a...a wild stab, but...do you not get, you know, 'bad Digimon' out near the outposts?"
"Not ones that are living this close by!"
Beside her, Neonamon cleared his throat and flicked his frill. "Please excuse her; we've had a long day and she really doesn't like field work." He looked back and forth. "If I'm completely honest, you seem to have everything under control here."
"Oh this? This is just regular damage; we can handle this." The horse bent down, and squinted behind her visor. "You look somewhat young to be one of Dallurmon's auditors."
"I get that a lot."
"Aha! Visitors!" Seasarmon bounded up, smiling as they looked between the cricket and the little snake. "We were wondering when you'd arrive. You didn't have any trouble coming here, did you?"
Jiminymon humphed. Neonamon looked a little sheepish. "Only a little, but your friend tells me it's relatively normal around here. I'm honestly surprised you called us out; it sounds like it was only a smallish incursion."
"Weeeell..." Seasarmon scratched behind their mane, looking somewhat perplexed. "We don't really have much in the way of combat-ready members here. We got caught at a bad angle. But yeah, nobody's overly hurt. Thankfully. But we called because of something else."
"Ah yes..." Jiminymon reached into her backpack and pulled out a transcript of the Searchmon message they'd received. "Unknown or unidentifiable creatures captured. Request examination." She peered over the top of the slip, trying to look incredulous. "Are you sure you didn't just pick up some foreign Digimon and you just didn't notice?"
Unimon growled. "We may not have fancy jobs for Dallurmon like you do, but we're not stupid."
Jiminymon's antennae fell flat, and she put the slip away, laughing sheepishly. "What I mean is...well...uh..."
Neonamon leant against his superior. "What I think they mean, dear Jimmy, is that they'd know whether or not they were dealing with mere out-of-towners. Not everybody's as sheltered as you."
"I'm not sheltered! I know my Digimon lore." She sighed, and looked up at the two bemused overseers. "You'd better show us."
"Come this way then." Seasarmon led the way, with Neonamon and Jiminymon following behind. Unimon brought up the rear, still looking slightly peeved.
Seasarmon looked back, and tried to break the mood. "I'm sure it won't take you too long. It's nice to finally have someone here who knows what we're dealing with..."
"I have absolutely no idea what we're dealing with."
There they were, all standing in the small yard just outside the counting building. Jiminymon and Neonamon wandered around, peering at each of the children in turn. Nearby stood the three overseers, as well as Wyvermon and Arimon.
Neonamon seemed to be having a whale of a time, making little remarks and comments of wonder as he moved around. Jiminymon, unsurprisingly, was slightly less blasé about it all.
"So you're saying you came from another world? As in...really, another world? Not another branch of the Digital World?"
Rachel cringed, and held her sleeve. "That's what I've been saying..."
"For heaven's sake, girl, what's wrong? I am not going to hurt you."
The cricket trilled, and Rachel grimaced. "I don't like bugs."
Jiminymon bristled. "I find that offensive."
The bug turned round, and glared at the overseers. "You let these things into your village? Do you realise how dangerous that is?"
"Lots of things were happening very quickly." Dinohyumon glanced at Alasdair, his claw rubbing against an arm blade as he did so. "They arrived, then we got attacked, and got sidetracked, and then they...helped us. But in doing so one of them merged with one of our villagers, forcing an evolution."
"That's preposterous. It can't be done."
Wyvermon stepped forwards. "It's true. I actually evolved. Most everyone here can attest."
"Wow..." Neonamon shuffled over to Alasdair, and smiled up at him. "So you have secret alien powers as well? That's amazing."
Alasdair forced a half-smile. "Trust me, it wasn't intentional."
Off to the side, the cricket chewed on her wrist, buzzing thoughtfully. "This is serious. Very serious." She looked up at the overseers. "Was there anybody else who saw what went on?"
Dinohyumon signalled at Seasarmon, who ran off to get the other prisoners. The dinosaur man sat down, holding his bandaged hip. "I have to speak. I've been thinking and...I don't think they mean any harm. Not to us. They don't know anything about what we do here."
"That's as may be," replied Jiminymon, looking back at the nervous faces, "and I can believe you on that front. But forced evolution is unnatural. Good intentions aside, they cannot stay here."
The cricket jumped, and turned to see Alasdair stood up, fury showing on his face. "We don't want to BE here in the first place!" He glared at the cricket and the overseers in turn. "We didn't ask to COME here! We just want to get home. It sounds like you want us to sod off as well, but we don't know HOW." He folded his arms. "Can you help us or can't you?"
There was the sound of sliding metal, and Alasdair went silent as Dinohyumon glared at him, his non-injured arm on the verge of unsheathing his sword. "I've spoken for you, boy. I'd advise you not to antagonise Dallurmon's staff. They may be your only hope."
"I've brought the prisoners."
Seasarmon appeared with a bound, Chupamon and Marsuamon in tow. Neonamon's eyes widened. "Looks like you had quite the party going on here."
"Don't start, Neonamon." Jiminymon sat down, tapping the side of her head. "I don't know what to do here. I've never dealt with anything like this before." She glared up at the overseers. "It would help immensely if I wasn't being attacked by your rogue neighbours or given sarcastic remarks from-"
"Excuse me? Rogue neighbours?"
Seasarmon gave Marsuamon a short side kick, for she had posed the question. Jiminymon looked up. "I'm assuming you know there are monsters out there, given your current situation?"
Unimon patted the ground. "I, uh, don't think this is relevant-"
"I outrank you. I decide what's relevant."
Unimon snorted, and glared at Neonamon, who just shrugged. Yvonne leaned in towards George, a look of puzzlement on her face. "Do you reckon this is how all diplomacy works here?"
The boy just watched intently. "It's no less angry than my father's work meetings."
Yvonne stifled a laugh. Over to the side, Joel had sat down on the dirt, looking bored out of his skull.
Eventually Jiminymon turned back to Marsuamon. "I'll ask again. Do you know what's out there? Because given your current situation, I don't think another random attack is really what you want right now."
Dinohyumon put a hand on Unimon's shoulder. "She's right. Kabuterimon's out of action, as am I. We're vulnerable at the minute."
Marsuamon stamped the ground. "Who did you see?"
The bug glanced back at Neonamon, who slithered forwards. "A Hookmon. He had another Digimon in a cage. Why, do you know him?"
Marsuamon dropped her arms, and Chupamon clasped his fingers together. "Well, that was fast."
Seasarmon looked down at the two of them. "What, there's someone else coming? Why didn't you say?"
"You never asked. Apparently I'm evil and not to be trusted."
Seasarmon's face puffed out with anger, but Jiminymon rose a foot, silencing them. She turned back to Marsuamon. "What is it? Are we in danger?"
The wallaby sniffed, and shuffled her feet. "Fangmon didn't have me for that long, so I don't know much. But he'd sometimes bump into Hookmon around this area; they'd sorta split the territory and any spoils they found." The wallaby looked up at the overseers. "Hookmon never spoke as much as I saw of him, but he was far smarter than the big red puppy. Fangmon spoke about stabbing him in the back, but he never got the chance. It was like Hookmon had eyes in the back of his head."
"So you think Hookmon's coming?"
Marsuamon looked around. "Your village is already wrecked. It's easy pickings."
Lizzie raised a hand. "Wait...you're telling me there's another horrible monster coming to kill us all?"
The overseers looked nervously amongst one another. "Well when you put it like that, it sounds like we live in a really dangerous area."
"You think?" buzzed Jiminymon with stunned irritation. "Your whole crisis department seems to be built on sticky glue and electric dreams! Why didn't you say anything?"
Unimon gave a small whinny. "It was my position. I didn't notice. I'm sorry."
"So what? We wait?" The bug was getting louder, now pointing at everyone in earshot. "Dinohyumon, you can't do squat about this. Is there nobody you can use? Nobody who's a sort of adept fighter here?"
George raised a hand, and the bug turned to face him. "What!?"
"Pardon me, but I don't get it. Can't you all, you know, fight? I saw Marsuamon and Wyvermon and everyone using special powers earlier."
Wyvermon looked a little smug, but Arimon was less so. "It's not the same. None of us know how to fight here. Not properly. Dallurmon forbids conflict in his realms."
George raised an eyebrow. "You seemed to be doing fine."
"We, uh...Wyvermon and I would...practise. Out of sight." The knight turned to the overseers and gave a quick bow. "I'm sorry."
Dinohyumon rolled his eyes. "Trust me, we already knew what you two were up to. But carry on."
The sheep raised his arms. "Even then it wasn't enough. Fangmon was only a Champion level, but he lived outside Dallurmon's jurisdiction. He lived by life and death; that's why he was so powerful. Even if we do sort of know how to fight, Rookies like us stand no chance."
There was a grunt, and a cloud of dust as Joel kicked the dirt. "You're all useless! I'll fight this guy if I have to!"
Alasdair whirled upon him. "You'll do no such thing!"
"Oh yeah? Why not?"
Alasdair narrowed his eyes. "I'm older than you. And I know your mother."
All the while, Neonamon was looking between everyone in interest, humming as he did so. The corners of his mouth were twitching by the minute, curling upwards uncontrollably. A flustered Jiminymon finally noticed, and nodded over at him. "I know that look. Spit it out. What do you have in mind?"
Neonamon climbed on top of a rock so he had a bit of a better view of everybody. "Clearly the villagers here are useless."
"Thanks a lot."
"Just an observation." Neonamon smiled over at the children. "Maybe you could take their place? We can't get reinforcements way out here in any short time, and by the sounds of it this Hookmon could strike at any moment."
"And you want us to fight?" Alasdair shook his head. "We're not like you. We wouldn't stand a chance."
"Maybe not on your own. But if what you're saying is true..." The serpent trailed off, and his gaze slid back towards Wyvermon, who all of a sudden wasn't standing quite as tall as he had been.
Jiminymon was the one who interjected, stomping over to the base of the rock and practically crimson with fury. "Are you out of your mind?"
"Come on, Jimmy, it's a good idea! We've got to be adaptable!"
"Don't call me Jimmy!" yelled the bug, utterly beside herself. "You want to put the fate of this village, a village under our jurisdiction, I might add, under the control of aliens? Do you want us to drown in paperwork?"
Some way away, Lizzie puffed out her cheeks. "Great, so that's how much we mean to you."
The cricket stammered. "Of course, your safety is important as well..."
Alasdair folded his arms. "We don't even know how this evolution thing works. It was almost certainly a fluke."
"Maybe not." Rachel stood up behind, clenching and opening her fists nervously. "We know the D-Port had something to do with it. Maybe if we did it, we could find out more about how it works."
Lizzie's head snapped up. "And after everything that's happened, how in god's name would that be a good idea?"
Rachel swallowed, and her voice dropped a little. "We could figure out how to get home."
Lizzie shut right up. She looked over at Alasdair, then at Rachel, then at Jiminymon who was still busy getting flustered. However Neonamon was unmoved. "It makes sense. One Digimon, one...human, was it?" He grinned. "They can go down and see what they can do. Even if they get seen, they won't be an immediate threat. We could probably get quite close."
"We? What do you mean we...?" Jiminymon chirruped, and her wings fluttered. "You only suggested this so you could get to see it happen, didn't you?"
Neonamon fluttered his eyelids.
Alasdair raised a hand. The chattering stopped, and the boy posed a question towards Marsuamon. "Is that Hookmon thing the only other monster around here?"
The wallaby bit her lip. "He's the only one I ever saw. At least, the only one of any threat."
Yvonne looked up at her friend. "Ali, what are you thinking?"
"Some way to get us out of sitting around in locked rooms doing nothing." The boy cleared his throat, and addressed the overseers. "Can I make an exchange with you? Given that I have already saved your village once."
Yvonne whistled, and a couple of the other kids chuckled under their breath, despite the tension. The overseers didn't seem to find it so funny. Seasarmon let out a purr. "We're listening..."
"We don't want to bother you or wreck your lives or anything, I promise. But we've caused you some misfortune. I'm sorry." He swallowed. "If we help you again, and get rid of this...Hookmon...thing...would you let us go?"
"Release you? All of you?"
"All seven of us. And the D-Port. We need it."
The overseers glanced at one another, and pulled back, whispering. Alasdair turned around, and gave the others an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. It's the best I could think of."
"And what about me?"
The boy looked over at Wyvermon, who was stomping over, looking slightly peeved. "I didn't sign up for this."
"Would you help us? Please?"
The dragon grinned. "Are you joking? I'd love to do that again."
He laughed, and Alasdair joined in half-heartedly. The overseers pulled apart again, and Seasarmon stepped forwards. "Your final goal...it's really to go back to where you came from, isn't it?"
Alasdair nodded. The divine dog sat down, and looked down at Jiminymon. "I understand the taboo, but honestly, we have no reason not to trust them. And frankly, they're our only option at the minute."
Neonamon grinned sideways at Jiminymon, who ignored him. She looked back at Alasdair, who stood aloof, but shuffling his feet slightly. "You're the only one who evolved, aren't you?"
The boy nodded. "Just me and Wyvermon. We should be able to handle it."
"Uh, excuse me..." Yvonne stood up and clamped a hand on Alasdair's shoulder, turning him around. "What do you mean just you two? You're not going down on your own, are you?"
Alasdair swallowed. "We're the only ones who need to. I don't want to endanger you guys."
"And you and I both know that kind of baloney doesn't fly with me." Yvonne jabbed her chest with a thumb. "I'm coming."
Rachel stood up. "You'll need the D-Port as well. I don't want you to break it."
"You already broke it."
"I still want to come."
Joel leapt to his feet. "I wanna beat up a monster!"
Marsuamon pumped her fists together. "Me too!"
Lizzie crouched up, keeping her head purposefully down in this grand discussion. Chupamon opened one eye, and raised a claw. "I can offer my services."
"You're staying where we can see you, devil."
"Alright, stop, STOP!" Alasdair shouted everyone down, looking at everybody in turn. "You can't all come! That defeats the purpose! Wyvermon and I are the only ones who need to do this; none of you need to help! We'll be fine! We've done this before; we know what we're doing!"
There was silence all around. Lucy ceased her nail-biting for a moment, and raised a hand.
"I'm coming too."
So it came to pass (eventually) that a small group of humans and Digimon were making their way down the hillside towards the dense thicket. Alasdair and Wyvermon were there, of course. Yvonne was joining them (having been adamant) as well as Arimon (who decided he worked well with Wyvermon). Marsuamon had been temporarily released as well, with the idea that she could at least guide the children in the right direction. Rachel brought up the rear, with the D-Port slung over her back with leather straps. She too could be quite determined when it mattered. The overseers had stayed behind, along with George, Lucy, a relieved Lizzie and a very irritated Joel.
Only a couple of other Digimon were joining the group on their little manhunt, and one of them was decidedly not best pleased with the situation.
"WHY am I HERE? AGAIN?"
Neonamon smiled, and patted Jiminymon on the top of the head. "I'm doing research. And I need you to look after me. It's protocol."
Jiminymon let off a very menacing buzz. "I'll protocol your adorable face in a minute."
"Come on. You love being around me."
Under her breath, Marsuamon smiled, and glanced behind them. Rachel was dragging her feet a little, the device on her back slowing her down. The wallaby dropped back herself, and peered in closer. Rachel looked sideways. "What is it?"
"I was wondering what that thing was." Marsuamon smiled. "How'd it give Wyvermon all that power? Do you...press things, or...what?"
"Don't touch it!"
"I'm not gonna!" The kangaroo shuffled, but kept pace. "But you've gotta tell me what it's for. How it works."
"It wasn't meant to." Rachel shrugged, pulling the D-Port further up her back as she looked ahead. "I don't know what it was meant to do, but it definitely wasn't meant for this."
"You're stuck here, huh." Marsuamon patted her feet, rubbing beneath her chin. "I know the feeling. Stuck doing something I didn't wanna do."
"Yeah. He just kinda showed up one day and stole me away from my folks. You saw the way he dealt with people."
Rachel tilted her head. "Why did you stay with him?"
"Cause the more I said no, the more he beat me."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"Not your fault." The wallaby grinned, and punched Rachel lightly on the arm. "Besides, with your help I can finally get back at these Nightmare Soldier jokers."
"Was that too hard? Sorry."
Up ahead, Alasdair held up a hand, and the entire party bunched together momentarily as the members walked into one another. The boy waved harshly, and they all crouched, hiding behind a particularly dense bit of thicket. Yvonne was the first to poke her head out, pulling her goggles over her eyes as she scanned the area. Alasdair pulled her back towards him, shaking his head. "What are those for?" he whispered.
Yvonne shrugged. "It looks cool?"
"It looks stupid. Look properly."
Yvonne stuck her tongue out, but she obliged, pushing up the goggles and looking again. She shuffled over to the other side, and beckoned with a hand, holding a finger from her other one up to her lips.
Alasdair moved, as did Arimon, and Wyvermon, and Marsuamon who had manoeuvred her way towards the front of the group. Jiminymon stayed back, muttering under her breath. "Nobody here knows what they're doing."
The others ignored them, peering through the gap in the thicket. It was Hookmon alright; lying on his back against a tree-stump, with his hat down over his face(?). The whole area was still littered with plunder, and in one corner, a cage lay on its side with a conked-out bird inside it. Marsuamon made a face. "I guess they had an argument."
"What do we do?"
Yvonne looked around the area, her chin out in concentration. "So...some of us go rescue the bird. Some others..." She glanced back at the sleeping pirate, and frowned. "Is it really right to leave him there? Shouldn't we wake him up?"
Alasdair blinked, and Wyvermon's paw went to his face. Jiminymon was livid, her back legs shaking together as she hissed, "Are you insane? You want to make it more difficult for us?"
"Well it's not very fair. Or very sporting."
"We're already overpowered. It's not sport; it's life or death!"
Marsuamon pointed behind her back. "We'll probably be loud enough to wake him just by having Wyvermon evolve."
The dragon and Alasdair looked at one another, and looked away. Wyvermon went slightly red. "I, uh, I'm not sure quite how we did this."
"It'll be fine. It'll come to you." Jiminymon sighed, and looked behind them at Rachel. "Come on; put the device down so we can get this nightmare over with."
Rachel wasn't paying attention. She was kneeling up, looking behind them all. Jiminymon sighed, and clicked her leg. "Oi, you girl. Over here. You're needed."
"There's something behind us."
"It's looking at us."
All around, everyone stopped what they were doing. Rachel held the device in her hands, suddenly gripping it very tightly. Alasdair and Yvonne stared back into the undergrowth, then at one another. Jiminymon became very quiet indeed.
"It's been watching us as soon as we entered the woods."
Behind them was a rustling, and a small rumbling. With a grinding of gears and a shower of mud, a creature pulled itself out of the ground, as smoothly as if emerging from a pond. It was a great deal bigger than Hookmon; like an immense brick-red earthworm with grinding drills and broad augers adorning its body, slowly spinning down. It had a flattened metal head like a shovel, on which were two perfectly round eyes and several smaller vestigial ones.
It sighed, revealing a wide mouth edged with serrated blades.
"And here I was enjoying your conversation."
The group was deathly silent. Then there was a yelp, as the D-Port slipped through Rachel's grasp, crashing heavily on the dirt beneath. Alasdair and Yvonne looked back into the thicket, and watched Hookmon sit up, fast as anything. He reached up, and pushed his hat back, revealing his single eye, which moved directly to where the group was crouched. From his position behind them, the worm tutted to himself.
"Well, I suppose if you weren't going to tell him then I was. My name's Oligomon, by the way."
There was a commotion within the cage, and the blue bird sat up. "Oh, do we have visitors?" she twittered, peering out as best she could.
Hookmon said nothing. He simply raised his musket.
TO BE CONTINUED...