A bird rushed down the corridor of the keep, her metal claws clacking against the stone floor. She turned a corner, keeping her balance with a wide gait, and nimble, yet powerful legs. She swept her long neck from side to side, her beady eyes on the lookout for one – any – of her subordinates.
She eventually found one; an Anomalocarimon, hanging upside down in the assistants' quarters, fast asleep. The bird Digimon stopped in the entrance, and banged harshly on the doorway, causing the giant bug to unravel and crash to the ground. He looked up, dazed. "Whazzat?"
"A request. You're needed, scout."
"Five more minutes..."
Another bang, and the scorpion rolled over. He blinked, and finally saw the Digimon in front of him, staring down with a maliciously narrowed eye. He shuffled back slightly, and quavered, "I'm very sorry, Phorusrhamon, ma'am. I'm listening."
Phorusrhamon allowed herself a little moment to bask in her own power. It wasn't much, and neither was it helpful, but gosh darn if it wasn't satisfying to be grovelled to. She waited for a moment, before the more rational side of her brain took over.
"We need to gather a platoon of Searchmon. And a few others. Specialists." She reached into her plumage and dropped a short list in front of the bug, which he picked up, and scoured through. He reached up with a claw, and scratched beneath one of his eye stalks.
"This seems excessive. Is there a war on, ma'am?"
"Thankfully not. But it is important. Lord Dallurmon himself requested it."
"What, now?" The scorpion turned, tapping the top of the list. "It's difficult. We can spare him, but that's about it, at least for the next day or so. And I don't know how helpful he's gonna be."
Phorusrhamon peered down. "He's good though, isn't he? Very clean, and very efficient."
"Yeah. On paper." The bug made a worried creaking sound. "He's...volatile."
Phorusrhamon rubbed her beak together. "It might have to do. But Lord Dallurmon was awfully insistent."
"Oh, of course. If Dallurmon requires it, we can sort it. Just not instantly." Anomalocarimon looked up, slightly puzzled. "I wonder what he's seen...in that pool of visions, I mean..."
"Just get on it, will you?" Phorusrhamon turned, her toes clicking against the stone. "I don't want to let him down."
"Yes ma'am. It shall be done."
The bird was already gone, marching back down the corridor and mumbling under her breath. She stopped, and glanced back, looking down the corridor at the depths of the keep.
"It's probably nothing. Just a reconnaissance. Or a rogue Nightmare Soldier."
Still, as she kept walking, she felt distinctly more nervous. There was an odd feeling in her gut that just wouldn't budge. Her lord never told her much, but he was always relatively transparent with his commands. And far less agitated than he'd been this most recent time she'd seen him.
"Maybe I should go as well? Just to make sure..."
Sure of what? What was so important?
She shook her head, and carried on down the corridor, not even looking back.
They'd searched down the river for Joel. Wyvermon and Chupamon had jumped into the shallows, scouring every nook and cranny. Mynahmon had flown over to the other side, but all with no luck.
Exhausted, and emotionally immobilised, they remained where they were. Alasdair had said nothing; he simply sat away from the others, not responding to anything. Nobody approached him, not even Yvonne.
Chupamon had been all but forgotten for the most part. He sat on his own, scouring the ground with his claw, when he became aware of a Digimon in front of him. He looked up, and into Wyvermon's cold eyes.
"I hope you're happy."
Chupamon didn't respond; he simply looked back down, drawing a lazy line in the dust. Wyvermon shoved forwards, and held a paw on the demon's chest. "This wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for you!"
"Does it make you pleased with yourself?"
"Pretending you're in the right all the time."
Wyvermon pulled his paw back, and narrowed his eyes. "You know I'm right."
"Possibly." Chupamon sat back, and his eyes seemed glazed over. "Why are you angry though? You know I'm a horrific monster."
Wyvermon bit his lip. "I thought...you were-"
"Different?" Chupamon laughed, but the noise was bitter and bestial. "You beat me. Blamed me. You made me know I was lesser, and vile, and wretched. Every time you saw me. But now because I made a mistake, you suddenly feel I've betrayed you?"
The dragon was shocked into silence, as Chupamon stood up, brushing the dust from his knees. He leant forwards onto his knuckles, and peered over Wyvermon's shoulders.
"Your friend could use you." The chupacabra smiled, and patted Wyvermon on the back as he walked past. "Everyone's blaming themselves enough. Even me. And you. Maybe you could do to be with them rather than just adding to the blame."
As he walked away, Wyvermon turned, glancing over his shoulder. "Hey..."
Chupamon stopped, but didn't turn around. Wyvermon did, facing the devil's back.
But he just shook his head, and walked away himself.
Further down by the river, Yvonne sat down beside a crying Lizzie. She said nothing, just staring out over the water, and gently putting her hand on her friend's shoulder.
"Don't touch me."
Yvonne drew her hand back like she'd been stung, and turned away. "I'm sorry..."
"What are we doing here?"
The other girl looked up to see Lizzie staring directly at her, the girl's glasses misted up and the undersides of her eyes red with tears. "We're going to die here, aren't we? One by one, we're all going to be picked off. We're all going to...to..."
Yvonne forced a weak smile. "We'll find him-"
"He's dead, Yvonne!"
"Don't say that!"
"I can't take this." Lizzie bunched herself up tightly, and stared out across the water. "I can't take you. Not now."
"Please." Lizzie looked up again, but she was struggling to meet the other girls' gaze. "I know it's not your fault. It's never been your fault. But you've always pulled me into trouble like this. I've always been scared; why do you do it to me?" The girl sat up. "Do you hate me or something?"
Yvonne sat still, her expression oddly blank as her hair fluttered in the wind. "Lizzie...you know I don't. You less than anyone. I just...things have gotten crazy..." She shuffled around, sitting up on her knees. "I didn't think this would happen, that we'd come here. If I'd known...you know I wouldn't have brought you here. I'd never do anything to hurt you."
Lizzie pulled off her glasses, and wiped her eyes. "No. You wouldn't. On purpose. But you always do nonetheless." She stood up, her hair blowing in the riverside breeze as she stared down at her oldest friend.
"I've had enough. With you. When...if...we ever get home, never talk to me again."
She walked away before Yvonne could stop her, not looking back. Yvonne sat, stunned. She slumped back, and her hands went to her eyes.
"That was well handled."
The girl looked back, and saw Arimon beside her, sitting alone as if in a daze. The sheep had clearly been crying. His dagger lying beside him, as was his helmet. He rubbed his eyes, and smiled.
"What must you all be going through..."
Yvonne sighed, and shuffled up closer. "What are you moping for? You were trying to save him."
"Trying's not good enough." Arimon looked down. "I wanted to be a hero. That's why I came with you. I wanted to be a knight and protect this land. But the more I travel, the more I can see that I can't."
Yvonne opened her mouth, but she couldn't think of anything to say. She turned back, and huddled up closer. "I think you're pretty brave." She exhaled. "But what do I know? Everything I do just gets us into more trouble. I'm pretty sure half of us wouldn't have been stuck here if I wasn't dragging everyone along." She looked down. "It feels like an adventure. Like we're supposed to save the world or do something. But it's not like that...not really." Her hand went to her goggles, and she ran her fingers around the rim. "I wanted to save the world. Somebody I loved did it for me. I wanted to return the favour."
She looked down the river, at the currents whipping back and forth. "Maybe...just maybe...he's still out there."
"He was a tough little tyke."
"He is..." Yvonne clenched her fists. "He has to be...just over there...on the...horizon..."
The boy snapped out of his trance, and stood up, looking at the group before him. There was a cough by his feet, and he looked down to see Jiminymon and Neonamon, looking solemn. Jiminymon pointed at her backpack. "We can still get to where we're meant to before it gets dark."
"No. We're carrying on looking."
"Alasdair, please..." Jiminymon looked away. "Whatever that was, it was far beyond our control."
"Maybe. But it's because I lost control that this happened." Alasdair shrugged his shoulders, a look of determination on his face. "This is how we do things. We look out for each other where we come from. I don't care how long it takes; I won't give up on him until we know for sure..."
Joel's first thought as the water hit him was of his imminent bloody death. The world was a mass of white foam, then deep blackness, as something dragged him downwards, something sharp digging into his arm.
His second thought was of his imminent death by drowning, as he had lacked the forethought at the time of his submersion to take a deep breath.
His third thought hadn't occurred due to a nasty knock against the base of the flooded canyon, which had sent him into rapid unconsciousness.
When he'd awoke, the three thoughts were still running around his head, although much like the aftermath of a dream, they were beginning to slot into place. The fact that he was here and very much not dead meant that the first and second thought were becoming less likely possibilities.
Then the second one returned as he realised he was still very much underwater. He screamed, and did his best to hold his breath, only to realise that he was able to breathe just fine. The second thought grabbed its newfound friend rational logic and dove screaming into the deep recesses of his brain, leaving the majority of it finally clear for him to look around his surroundings.
He was in an underwater cavern of some kind. Actually, less of a cavern than a sideways alcove, dug out of the side of the canyon wall. It was relatively light, and for some unknown reason he was able to see clearly, the water not even stinging his eyes. It was still icy cold though, although the currents from outside were occasionally rolling inside, providing some warmth.
What was less friendly was the large black shape that constantly swam past, back and forth, like a dolphin circling its prey. Joel tried to peer out for a better look, then immediately backed up as it swum very close, revealing a large, teal eye, followed by an icy-blue serpentine body. It twisted, its agility phenomenal, and promptly rammed the alcove, causing the whole wall to shudder. Joel closed his eyes, waiting for the killing blow, but although he was knocked around heavily it never came.
"She can't get inside."
Joel turned around, and saw something curled up further inside the shallow pit. It was a large fish of some kind, although like no kind he'd ever seen before. Its body was long, and studded over the back with bony plates and a smooth spine. Where its front fins were supposed to be were two long columns of brown bone, with spikes at the elbow. The head was partially helmeted with more bone, and the eyes were sweeping, the irises glowing bright gold in the dim light. The fish waved a half-hearted webbed hand.
"Just stay away from the edge. She'll torpedo us eventually but she's dumb. It'll take her a while to figure it out."
Joel looked behind him. "That's a she?"
"Tylomon." The fish unravelled herself, and stretched out, supporting her body on her two column-like arms. "She got stuck in the river a while ago so she's angry. She's been chasing me a long time."
"Because I keep annoying her."
Joel looked back, and blinked. "Why? And who are you anyway?"
The fish yawned, showing two rows of rough bone where her teeth should have been. "I'm Placomon. And to be really fair, she did eat both my friends last week."
"Oh." Joel crossed his legs. "Sorry."
"It might have been last month..." Placomon didn't seem to be too torn up about the incident; honestly, she seemed half-awake, her head swinging from side to side. "Anyway, I annoy her whenever I can. She was gonna eat you. I pulled you in here. Although she probably still might eat you since you don't look like you can get out of here." The fish turned her head to one side. "What are you doing in here? And what are you, anyway? You don't smell like a Digimon."
"I'm not. I'm a boy." Joel crossed his legs, and stared at the rock wall. "I was trying to get home."
There was another bang as Tylomon bashed her helmeted head against the alcove, before swimming along, still letting off a growl. Joel was feeling the oppression and the constant threat getting to him, but he swallowed his fear.
"Do you live underwater?"
Joel shook his head. "I was trying to get over the river. I just fell in."
"That was stupid of you."
"I am stupid." Joel looked up. If there were tears in his eyes, they were lost in the murky blue that surrounded him. He shivered. "There are six other kids. We're all trying to get home, but I was being annoying." His eyelids drooped. "Everyone calls me a brat. I get mad and do stupid things."
"Anger's no good." Placomon put her arms behind her head, swinging her tail lazily. "You've just got to take things as they come."
"It's alright for you. You haven't got things trying to kill you."
"No. Only one stupid monster." Placomon smiled. "So I'll deal with her, eventually, and then we'll see." The fish nodded. "So what do you want to do first?"
Joel thought. "I wanna get out of here. I wanna go home." He peered out, then pulled his head in as Tylomon swam past again. "I want us all to go home. But maybe they could go home without me."
"I could live here." Joel looked up at the closed-in rock ceiling. "Not many people would miss me."
Joel got the distinct sense that Placomon was only half-listening, so he stopped talking. He just stared, occasionally peering out at the monster still curving around outside. He sniffed. "Please. I just wanna go home."
Placomon unfurled herself, and yawned again. "Don't worry about anyone else. You can get home. Eventually." She shrugged. "Just work towards something big and stupid and you'll get there eventually."
Joel looked beside him. "Do you really want to take down Tylomon?"
"Of course. I hate her." Placomon waved her tail. "I'm just patient, I guess. But there's nothing I can do. Look at me."
Joel's eyes flicked upwards, just briefly. "Maybe...maybe there's something I can do."
"Maybe. Don't push your limits though." Placomon leant back. "It's not worth it."
"If I help you, you could help me."
"And if you die, you can't."
Joel pouted. "Are you always like this?"
Placomon popped her lips, blowing a bubble. "Everyone used to say I was annoying. Didn't stop me though." She smiled. "You can't let that stop you."
He poked his head out, and looked back and forth. There was a distant banging sound, as if the monster was after something further down the river. Placomon joined him, swimming a little further out. "Huh. Maybe she got bored with me." She looked up. "You could get up to the rocks now, maybe. Can you swim?"
"Sort of. Not really."
Placomon helped him, holding onto his arm as she pulled him upwards. They surfaced amongst the rubble, and Joel sat down, taking deep breaths even though he didn't really feel like he needed to. Tylomon was still nowhere in sight, but Joel's heart sank as he looked up the canyon walls. They were steep and wet; a perilous climb at worst and a difficult one at best. He looked at his arms, which were looking decidedly stringy at the moment.
The boy looked up, and saw Placomon's fin moving away. He called out. "Hey."
The fish surfaced, her skin glistening. "Yeah?"
"Are you okay?"
For the first time, Joel could get a good look at the fish's face. She was looking away. Constantly pulling faces. Not meeting his eyes.
"You're mad, aren't you..."
"At Tylomon." Joel sat forwards. "You really want to get her."
Placomon raised her arms. "What can I do? Look at me. I'm a lazy, entitled wreck."
"That doesn't matter." Joel smiled wickedly. "Maybe I can help you."
Joel stood up, and looked down the canyon. "You've gotta get angry..."
The sudden splash caught everyone's attention as the waves climbed up the rocks, striking them all. Alasdair looked down, and saw Yvonne and Arimon running back up, waving their arms. "It's back!"
"No..." Yvonne ran faster, as the waves crashed up behind her, revealing a deep blue fin and a spear-like tail. It disappeared again, but the silhouette was still there, gliding through the water. The girl reached Alasdair, turning on her heels and pointing. "That's what took him. I'm sure of it."
The children and the Digimon ran back, away from the water's edge. There was a deep, melancholic moan, and the ripples broke briefly, as a metallic fin pierced the water's surface. The creature arced around, watching their every move.
Jiminymon shivered, and nudged Alasdair's leg. "Let's get away from here. This river's lethal."
But the boy didn't move. He clenched his fists, muttering under his breath.
"I've had enough of this world."
He marched forwards, as Yvonne turned after him. "Ali?"
The boy stood, a few metres from the shore, and brought his hands to his mouth.
"You! Monster! What have you done with our friend?"
His voice was booming. Commanding, even. The ripples stopped across the surface, as the beast, whatever it was, lay still. It seemed confused. So did the rest of the group. Lizzie backed further away, and Jiminymon went to step forward. "Don't provoke-"
She stopped, as Neonamon nudged her on the back. "Let's see what happens."
Alasdair was unmoved. He shouted out again. "I know you can hear me! I know you can understand. If you don't bring him back, I swear, I'm coming for you."
George blinked, and whispered aside at Rachel. "Is he...picking a fight?"
The low roar from the river indicated the intention of the beast. The waters foamed, as the great silhouette began to shudder. All of a sudden there was a bang as the creature slammed into the shoreline, causing great cracks in the rock. Rachel yelped, and the group shimmied a few metres further away. All except Alasdair. He turned and marched towards George, who found himself standing straight.
"Yes, er...what? What do you want?"
Alasdair pointed. "The D-Port. Put it down."
George did so, but his expression was one of concern. "Are you sure this is wise?"
"I need to save somebody. If we keep running away, we're going to end up picked off one by one." His gaze was firm; steely, and highly dangerous. "If I'm going to get Joel back it's up to me to take the initiative."
"You're going in alone?"
"That's the thing. We're not alone." Alasdair looked behind him, to where Wyvermon was standing up, a new look on his face. Not pride. Not uppity. It was the look of somebody about to do something very stupid, and going in head-first.
Rachel leaned down, flicking a few of the switches as the device whirred into life. There was another bang, and a chunk of rock fell from the riverside, sending up waves as it did so. Rachel peered up at Alasdair. "I don't know if this is going to work again."
"We'll be fine." Wyvermon stood beside the boy, a small grin on his face. "We're going to rescue your friend."
Alasdair looked down. "Together?"
For a brief moment Rachel stared up at the boy and the dragon. They looked so right together. The bond between them was strong, trusting and complete. Jiminymon was busy yelling obscenities and cautions and what-the-hell-do-you-think-you're-doings from the sidelines, but they seemed so distant at the moment. Nothing could wreck this bond. Nothing could come close.
Rachel nodded. "Go."
She slammed her hand on the red button, and the device burst into life. The energy tornado spun out, a bright red once again. This time there was no hesitation; Alasdair reached out and grabbed it before it even had a chance to find him. It was different this time; the energy swirled around his hand, slowly unravelling it rather than pulling him instantly inside. He and Wyvermon turned and ran towards the shoreline, where the beast was waiting; its roar ever-present.
The group watched in shock. Some of them yelled to turn back, although they knew it was already too late.
Yvonne raised her hands to her mouth, a smile widening on her face. "GO ALI! BRING HIM BACK!"
Alasdair's body evaporated mid-step, and the energy rushed alongside Wyvermon, as he braced himself and leapt from the crumbling riverside into the raging waters below.
"Wyvermon, Soul Interlock!"
The dragon's body glowed red as the energy engulfed him, already bursting through the skin as he entered the white waters below. Yvonne rushed to the edge, followed by Lucy, George and Arimon, then the rest, as she watched one dark silhouette beneath the water's surface become two, and the two beginning to twist and dance, already circling one another.
Then one of the broke the surface. Mane spraying water, horns glistening, wings spread wide and teeth bared, the dragon reared up, ready for battle.
The waves whipped left and right as Fafnirmon spun forwards like a corkscrew, slamming into Tylomon's huge form. The pliosaur responded in turn, twisting around and dragging her sharpened fins down the dragon's flank. Fafnirmon reared up, and Tylomon turned and sunk her teeth into the great dragon's wing.
"I don't think so!"
Fafnirmon twisted again, and the water suddenly flashed red. But he was free, and he circled back around, slashing at Tylomon's back.
As the two titans clashed, the rest of the group looked onwards from the shore, shouting out advice where they could. Fafnirmon was certainly agile, and provably strong, but he was not in his element and it was showing. Rachel crouched down, her hand atop the D-Port as it churned, data moving back and forth within it. She stared at the screen, flinching as the two monsters crashed into the cliff yet again.
Marsuamon stood next to her, clenching her fists. "I can't swim," she offered helpfully."
"Me neither." Rachel looked out, further down the river. "Please...don't tell me this is how it ends..."
Fafnirmon roared and pounced Tylomon, pressing them down into the raging currents below, his mane streaming out behind him as he powered the pliosaur down.
"Where is Joel? What have you done with him?"
The titan's mouth convulsed, in a manner almost as if she was laughing. She pulled back, causing Fafnirmon to crash into the riverbed, and look up to see her circling above. She had the high-ground, and it was enough. Tylomon growled, and twisted her body, aiming it straight down.
Fafnirmon tried to scramble out the way, but he was in deep trouble from the moment she fired. The elongated projectile sunk into the riverbed, just missing them, but then it exploded, and the force of the blast sent Fafnirmon careening up towards the rocks. He slammed into them, his body bending backwards and lying draped half in the water, and half out. Tylomon wasn't finished with him yet though; her jaws clamped over his tail, and she flung him over her shoulder. He crashed into the opposite shore, and sunk further in, his movements far slowed.
Yvonne took a step but George held her hand, shaking his head. "You can't do anything here!"
"He's going to die! We're going to lose everyone at this rate!"
"No, but..." George pulled back, staring as Tylomon toyed with the exhausted Fafnirmon like an orca toys with a seal. "What can we do if we're not strong enough, even when we evolve? How can we possibly win?"
As if in response, the D-Port burst into life once again, shaking on the ground. Rachel held her hand out, expectantly, but it didn't call to her this time. The swirling colours were different once again; bright white and yellow, moving like fluid. Rachel's eyes widened, and she looked back upstream once again.
"It couldn't be..."
The voice came from Mynahmon, who was flying just over the edge, pointing with both feet as best she could. She yelped as Tylomon flung Fafnirmon towards her, but she quickly rejoined the group, babbling as usual.
"It's him! The boy! He's there, I saw him, and he's coming towards us and he's brought...a...fish?"
Something stirred in Fafnirmon's fatigued form. He watched as the group ran down the shore, yelling at the boy who rode atop something small, straight towards the battle.
"I knew...you would come back..." He chuckled. "Little...brat..."
Joel held tightly onto Placomon's sturdy arms as she dragged him through the water, avoiding the worst of the ripples and circling around. Already Tylomon had noticed her, and she was mad as all heck. The monster's twin fins cut through the water, nearly slicing Joel's legs off, but Placomon was agile despite her temperament, and she quickly turned back around, opening her mouth as she faced the huge beast.
She fired; three pellets of pressurised water that slammed into Tylomon's flank, strong enough to put her off her stroke but not much more. Pretty soon, the pliosaur was bearing down on them once again. Placomon's head rose above the water's surface as she swam for dear life. "I hope you do have a proper plan."
Joel looked up at the cliff side, where he could just about see the others, now cheering him on as well as Fafnirmon, who had climbed up onto the rocks for rest. Joel could see Rachel, and beside her, the D-Port, which seemed to stare down at him in judgement.
"So do I..."
Joel reached out his hand to the sky as Tylomon's huge form bore down on the both of them.
"I want to fight too! Please!"
The D-Port answered, the stream of data bursting forth. It was less twisted this time, instead flowing like a river of light, which spilled over the edge and twisted through the waves straight towards Joel. He gritted his teeth, and reached out, ready to grasp it with his palm.
The white river coarsed through him in an instant, and his data fell away, caught up in the currents. Placomon's eyes widened, and she spun around, watching as the trail shot up into the sky. Tylomon was still approaching, and she was knocked aside, spinning around underwater.
"We have a plan...we have a plan..."
She opened her eyes, and saw Tylomon's open jaws, another torpedo brewing in her throat. Placomon raised her arms, holding them up in front of her.
The white stream struck the river, and shot downwards, straight into her back and coursing through every fibre of her body. One second later, Tylomon's torpedo struck her arms, blasting her body into the riverbed as it already began to glow.
"Get out of here! Stupid kid!"
Placomon watched as the boy was thrown down again and again, and yet every time, he stood back up. Even when the kids disappeared, and the adults came forth, he wouldn't back down. He wouldn't let them break him.
Joel was sat beside her, glaring at the scene before him. He didn't say anything, but his face told many stories. The plasters on his face and arms added their own little bits to the tale. The scene changed; a boy and his mother. Yelling. Shouting. Doors slamming.
Then Alasdair was there. And Yvonne. And Rachel, and Lucy, and even George and Lizzie. No longer jeering, or ignoring. Alasdair held out a hand, and the boy hesitantly reached out and took it.
Joel began to laugh. "I always got angry. All the time. I never knew why; it just felt right."
"Do you know now?"
Joel leaned back, and looked over at her. "Yeah. A bit."
His hand went to his cheek.
"Sometimes you need to get angry, so you can stand with the people that make you happy."
Placomon nodded. "Do you wanna get angry?"
"Let's do it."
"Placomon, Soul Interlock!"
Tylomon swerved, hovering in the centre of the stream as she became aware of a bright yellow light coming from beneath. She backed away, watching as Placomon's body spun upwards, drawing the water into a frenzy.
As the fish spun, her outward data flaked off, and to the spectators she became little more than a ball of light, bouncing up and down on the water's surface. Then the ball grew, and grew, and as it did so it slowed, unfurling into something else. Her arms grew longer, and broader, and her tail split into three, two of the branches forming huge legs with the girth of tree trunks. And still she grew, surpassing even Fafnirmon's size.
The yellow energy fell away like water droplets as she flung her head back and forth, roaring as she did so. To the watching children and Digimon, it appeared as if a new monster had just appeared from the depths, for this was no longer the chilled-out fish that had been there just moments before. She had a long, rough-skinned tail, and a huge barrel chest. The ends of her arms, hands and tail were adorned with clawed gauntlets, and a spiny armoured breastplate encased her torso, ending with a sharp fin on the back. Muscles rippled beneath her huge limbs, and around her neck and under her chin were draped small, fleshy fins, which flicked back and forth. A great helmet curved over her muzzle, and beneath that was a strong jaw filled with triangular teeth, and bright orange eyes that stared forwards with perpetual rage. She was a sea monster to rival Tylomon herself. The beast had been awakened, and she was utterly furious.
The giant trod water as Tylomon circled her, both of them baring their teeth. Tylomon ducked down, and re-emerged the other side, but Osteomon was already watching her every move.
There was a scrabbling, and Yvonne and Jiminymon backed up as Fafnirmon pulled himself back over the ridge, collapsing at the top in the centre of all the others. The D-Port gave a rather rude buzzing sound, and suddenly Fafnirmon was gone, leaving Alasdair and Wyvermon stretched out on the cliff. Yvonne rushed over to him, kneeling down beside him. He gave a weak smile. "That could have gone better."
"You were right though." Yvonne stood tall, and grinned. "Joel won't go down so easily."
"Of course he wouldn't. He's a kid. They're indestructible."
Tylomon swerved round, and her sharp tail rolled towards Osteomon, ready to impale her in the stomach. But the sea monster ducked down, the tail glancing off her armour, and she rose again with an immense uppercut, cracking Tylomon's snout armour beneath the chin. The pliosaur reeled back, but dove again, circling to build up momentum.
The brawl was now on, and it was brutal. The blows weren't precise; they were great, sweeping attacks between titans. Tylomon's tail wrapped around Osteomon and pulled her over, and she spun around with her huge jaw to take a chunk out of Osteomon's arm. But Osteomon brought her elbow back, knocking Tylomon aside, and landed another crunching blow on the sea dragon's mask, buckling it inwards.
"You took everything from me!" Osteomon roared, as she rose both arms above her head, clasping them together. "You're going to pay!"
She brought the fist down on Tylomon's back with a crack, and the dragon sunk beneath the waves. Osteomon waited, her eyes following the silhouette beneath, before reaching down again and grabbing the monster as she swam past, wrestling her free from the water.
Tylomon's maw opened, and she fired, the projectile glancing off Osteomon's helmet and smashing into the rock wall behind. There was a rumble, and it collapsed, sending rubble coursing into the river and throwing both of them off balance.
Osteomon recovered, and raised her hands just in time as Tylomon leapt down towards her, her jaws aimed for the sea monster's throat. Osteomon raised her hands, and pushed, throwing the pliosaur into the path of the falling rock.
Tylomon was disorientated. Rubble struck her on the flank and head as she stared around, trying to gain her bearings. She didn't notice Osteomon raising her free hand, nor the water swelling behind her.
A wave rushed forwards, curling over at the top like a huge blunt claw. Osteomon roared as she brought her hand down, and the wall of water followed suit, folding over and pressing Tylomon, and the falling rubble, into the riverbed. There was a boom as the crushing forces collided and the water was displaced, sending water in every direction, even reaching the top of the cliff and soaking the onlookers.
Then the waters calmed. Osteomon's breaths were heavy as she stared beneath the fallen cliff. The data was already rising from beneath the rock, and a thin trail of red was making its way down the river.
Osteomon looked up, and waved at the sodden spectators. Her rage had disappeared, and, for a nine-foot-tall fish monster, she looked quite amicable all of a sudden.
"Do you want a lift across?"
Despite many complaints from Jiminymon, they all decided it was the most sensible option, provided they did it quickly. Osteomon ferried them across in small groups, and once on the other side, they moved quickly inland to the relative safety of the canyon ahead. A dazed Joel took a lift on George's back, and Placomon, not used to much land movement, was busy being helped along by Marsuamon and Arimon. Once they were confident enough that they were out of danger, they stopped, for the battle and the journey had soaked all of them through to the skin. The sun was just dipping down over the lip of the red rocks above, casting strange shadows over the sandstone.
Not everybody was so willing to stop, of course. "We might just get lucky. We can probably get at least halfway through the canyon this evening." Jiminymon looked up optimistically. "The sooner we can get you to Dallurmon, the better."
Alasdair looked up. "Really? Tonight? Jiminymon...we're exhausted."
"I think it would be a big waste of time if we just hung around."
The boy glanced around, at the tired children and Digimon around him. He stood up. "We'll do it anyway." He put his hands to his mouth as he turned. "Everyone, we're staying here for the night. We'll tackle the canyon in the morning."
There was a collective sigh of relief, and, slowly, the group went their separate ways. Jiminymon stared up at Alasdair. "You do want to get home, don't you?"
The boy shrugged, as he walked backwards. "I'm not pushing anyone. Not now. Not after that."
The cricket sat down, muttering beneath her breath as she rolled up the map. "Of course nobody listens to me. Why would anyone listen to me? I'm only your guide."
George sat down beside her, peering over. "Technically we're off route-"
"Oh, buzz off. I can do without you lot rubbing it in." She trilled in an annoyed fashion. "I suppose it wouldn't do any harm. We're in an open area, and we haven't run into any trouble so far."
George wasn't really listening, merely looking around; at Arimon and Yvonne trying to scale some of the smaller walls; at Lucy, rummaging through the various objects in her handbag, and at Neonamon, who was busy keeping the two youngest children amused by twirling on his body and cracking jokes. He smiled, and turned to the cricket. "Can I ask you something?"
"You said you work for Dallurmon, didn't you?"
The cricket finished packing away the map, and straightened up, her body taking a prideful posture. "I am a junior ambassador for our lord, yes. Neonamon is below me; he's an advisory intern."
"Aren't you both...well, kids?"
The cricket's posture deflated as soon as it had risen, and she spluttered, "Excuse me? I'm more qualified than you!"
The boy chuckled, and adjusted his glasses. "I'm just curious. It seems like a lot of responsibility."
Jiminymon tilted her head, and her back leg thumped a little. "I suppose you're right. We aren't common, although Dallurmon has a lot of Digimon working for him. He runs the region as a whole, but he obviously can't be everywhere at once." She paused in thought. "Actually he probably could, but it's easier this way." She looked up. "He scouts us out and trains us from a young age if we're suitable. Neonamon's extremely bright for an In-Training level."
George had pulled out his notepad and was jotting things down, clearly interested. "My father runs something...like a region, I suppose? We call it a business. I do get special treatment; he's looking at me to run it one day." He stared up into the sky, squinting a little. "I'd like to meet him. Dallurmon, that is."
Jiminymon laughed. "I'll admit, it's a long time since I've spoken to him in person."
"What's he like?"
"He's amazing. He built this region from the ground up and runs everything like-"
"No, I mean...what's he like? As a person? Or Digimon? Whichever."
Jiminymon sat in thought, her wings buzzing. It took her a little while to answer, and when she did, she didn't sound at all certain.
"He's...experienced a lot. You definitely noticed it. I mean...I wouldn't put anything against him. But if I were to say, it would be that he was always somewhat distant."
"But still fair?"
"Oh, of course." Jiminymon nodded. "He's extremely good at what he does."
"So are you, by the looks of it."
The cricket trilled shyly. "Why thank you."
Chupamon had found himself a nice rock to curl up beneath, and was currently huddled tightly, grumbling inwardly about the afternoon light. Still, he was able to get about one minute of shut-eye before he became aware of somebody walking up to him. He opened one eye, and saw Wyvermon, looking down at him.
The dragon coughed, and sat down. "I, um, I have a feeling that, you know, I might have..."
"Words. Use them right."
"Right, yes..." The dragon bowed his head, his tail flat on the ground. "I feel like I should apologise for some of the things I might have said."
"Yes you should."
"Right. Well, yes, I am. I apologise for...blaming you. For everything. And for calling you a devil. It was wrong of me."
Chupamon blinked, and unfurled himself, facing the dragon head on. "I accept. And to be perfectly honest, I am a devil, so don't worry about that."
"I thought you didn't like being called that."
"I don't mind. I just didn't want you calling me that."
"Oh." Wyvermon flicked his tail up. "I take back some of my apologies. You can be rather vexing at times."
"Great. We're finally on the same page."
"I'm not...never mind." Wyvermon exhaled loudly, and looked forwards, at where Lucy was sitting a few yards away. He sat down, smiling a little. "Look at them. So different and yet so similar to us." He looked to the side. "Do you reckon they go through things like this?"
"Who? The humans?"
"Yes." The dragon rubbed beneath his chin. "They come from different worlds, and yet they seem just like us. Like they're Digimon at heart, really."
"Perhaps. Or perhaps we're human at heart."
"Either way, we keep making mistakes." The dragon lay down in the sunlight, watching as Lucy stood up, stumbled over her feet, and wandered over to the canyon wall, where Alasdair was sat, catching some shade.
"I wonder how similar our worlds are. Our people are. Do they go through similar problems?"
Chupamon stared ahead, his expression hidden by the mask. "Pinning their lives on a fool of a leader? Tyrants and maniacs walking around, doing nothing but causing destruction? And those oppressed just because of how they are born?" Chupamon shrugged. "I wouldn't know. But it wouldn't surprise me if every world is really just the same with different players."
"Indeed. Though I would remind you not to refer to Lord Dallurmon as a fool."
"Moody figurehead then."
"Or that. Though it would be nice if he showed himself a little more often." Wyvermon yawned, and as he did so, his ears twitched. He glanced down, and saw Chupamon's nostrils flare, just suddenly, but noticeably. The dragon wriggled sideways just a little, half joining the little demon in the shade. He leaned up, speaking in a whisper. "Can you..."
Chupamon's eye darted towards him, and he spoke nearly silently. "We're being followed. We have been since we entered the canyon."
"How bad do you think it is?"
"They haven't attacked. Not yet. What should we do?"
"We don't know who or what it is." The dragon looked amongst the others. "They've had a hell of a day. Let's not start a fight if we can help it. Just be prepared." Wyvermon stood up, looking down at the demon. "I'm glad we've made up."
He winked, and Chupamon nodded, barely but visibly. As the dragon walked away, Chupamon closed his eyes, all the while keeping his ears and nose fully open.
The presences didn't go away.
Placomon had been rather excited to join the motley group on their journey at first, but a few steps into the hot, dry rock she realised she may have made a big mistake. Not one to grouch, she kept it relatively quiet, but still she was lying flat out in the shade, taking great gulps of air like...well, like a fish out of water.
Joel was having no such problems; full of energy, bouncing between Marsuamon and Neonamon and Rachel and anyone else who wandered past, ready to exclaim for the umpteenth time how awesome it was to be a giant fish monster. Rachel had given up trying to calm him down, and was sat down between the D-Port and Placomon, an exasperated look on her face. She looked down at the stranded fish, and gave a short chuckle. "This can't be easy for you."
Placomon didn't answer, but gave a weak thumbs-up. There was a plonk on the other side of the D-Port as Marsuamon sat down, finally succumbing to the heat. She grinned over at the girl and the fish. "How do you guys manage it?"
"The energy?" Rachel shrugged. "It's a boy thing."
Marsuamon sniggered. "He's very pleased. I did mention a few times how we evolved before he did, but I don't think he heard me."
Placomon sat up. "You evolved too?"
"Three of us at this point; Wyvermon did it first." Marsuamon reached out and knocked the top of the D-Port. "Thanks to this awesome thing."
Rachel reached out, and Marsuamon pulled back, looking glum. "Sorry. I forgot."
The wallaby looked at the girl, one hand still held tightly around the device, which seemed to be rattling even more the longer they travelled with it. Marsuamon looked up quizzically. "You're awfully attached to that thing. It should last long enough to send you home."
"It's not just that." Rachel sighed. "I want to bring it back to daddy. He spent a long time with it; I don't want to just...lose it."
"It is an interesting thing."
Rachel jumped as Neonamon slithered up in front of her, with a finally knackered Joel in tow. The boy crouched down, but the snake moved slightly closer, peering around the device. "You're saying you can make these in your world?"
"My dad made this one. But it's the only one." The girl shrugged. "He could probably make another, but I don't think he'd want to send any more people here."
"The amount of technology it must take to punch through the barrier between our worlds..." Neonamon whistled. "It truly is a remarkable piece of engineering."
Joel blinked, and squinted at the serpent. "Did you know our world existed?"
"Vaguely?" The little snake sat back, his frill fluttering. "We heard stories all our lives, of Digimon who just disappeared in a flash of light or something. But when we joined Dallurmon, he let us know about the truth the centre of his keep; a wall between worlds, he called it." He frowned to himself. "Which, come to think of it, I suppose must have been our world and your world." He shrugged, "Digimon who disappeared must have ended up in your world, though it didn't happen often."
Rachel and Joel looked at one another. The boy was crouched up, holding his heels. "Maybe they were our monsters?"
"The monsters in the myths and legends of our world?" Rachel's eyes widened, and she nodded. "Maybe. That would be cool."
Joel grinned, and turned back to Neonamon. "So then we must be the scary monsters to you."
The boy smirked, and waggled his fingers back and forth in the air, making woooooo noises. The snake hissed in what was most likely a small giggle. "You must be. Though I wouldn't call you monsters. You're too interesting." He frowned. "Dallurmon was always warning us to stay away from monsters."
"Do you like him?" Rachel leant forwards. "Dallurmon, I mean?"
"Well I do work for him."
"My daddy worked for a lot of people. It doesn't mean he liked them." Rachel looked aside. "And they definitely don't like him."
Neonamon looked wistfully to the side. "I suppose if you put it like that, I do complain about him an awful lot. Though don't tell Jiminymon. She'd have a fit." The snake looked left and right, and leaned forwards, beckoning the others to do the same. "Though you hear gossip. Dallurmon's nowhere near as popular as he's made out to be. A lot of Digimon don't like what he's done to the region."
Marsuamon folded her arms, huffing. "You can say that again. Damn arse never did anything to help me." She nodded. "But what about you?"
The serpent looked down, seeming nostalgic, and rather forlorn for someone so young. "I just do what's asked of me. And hopefully it gives me a chance to see the world. Find what I'm really meant to do."
He sighed. "I've been like this for a long time; small and weak. Far longer than most Digimon, in fact. I think I'm more experienced than some of the Rookies I've met. And yet I don't know why, or what my true calling really is. I think I once knew, back when I was a baby. It's there, I can feel it. I know it. But I can't remember."
Rachel nodded. "I wish you luck."
"You know, I wouldn't mind seeing your world one day."
All of a sudden the little snake looked up, his head lopsided, and his face smiling with a two-fanged smile that appeared slightly too wide to be completely sincere.
"That would be really interesting."
The evening grew dark quicker than expected, and the winds began to pick up through it, making strange, eerie sounds like a pipe organ. Although they were dry by now, the group became very aware of their surroundings. As it got darker, they huddled around beneath the canyon walls, using some of the dead shrubs nearby for fire. One by one the group began to fall asleep, the day having taken its toll on all of them, physically and emotionally.
Alasdair sat next to Joel, both of them slightly worse for wear but keeping together. The older boy sighed. "I owe you an apology. I guess this was the right way to go after all."
Joel looked away, and folded his arms. "I thought you didn't want me around. I was gonna ask you." He glanced back. "I wouldn't run away."
"Yes, well...don't do it again."
Joel stuck his tongue out, but his face was playful, not bitter. Alasdair realised that was the most he was going to get out of the little tyke, so he lay back, staring up at the canyon walls.
The area was quite peaceful after the sun had gone in. George lay next to Jiminymon and Neonamon, sketching away in his notepad. Lizzie lay further away, her back turned to the group. Rachel was already fast asleep, with the D-Port lying next to her, dormant.
Yvonne looked amongst all of them with a smile on her face, tinged with sadness. She became aware of Lucy beside her, who was sitting in silence, as if in deep thought. Perhaps she was.
"We nearly lost people today." Yvonne remarked. "How far can we go with this?"
Lucy looked among them, her eyes glowing bright green in the dying flames. "They're good. They're all good people."
"So are you, you know."
Lucy pulled her knees up. She glanced up at Yvonne, who was looking at her with concern.
"I don't count."
"Of course you do."
"Never have." The taller girl stood up, brushed herself off, and wandered away, before Yvonne could say anything. There was a shuffling behind her, and Chupamon walked over, staring after Lucy.
Yvonne looked down at him, at his bright, pale eyes, and his red spines which seemed to glow even more in the dim light. He grunted. "I know it's been a day of it, but just think; you could still have several weeks of walking to look forward to."
"I know, I know." The girl smiled. "Are you coming with us?"
"I guess it's always fun with you people. Yeah, I'll help you get to the keep." Chupamon nodded forwards, to where Lucy was currently lying, and whispered, "Is she okay?"
Yvonne lowered her shoulders, her confidence drained. "I don't think anyone is. Not really."
"Should I...?" Chupamon sighed. "I heard what she said just now. She's a good kid. She shouldn't have to go through anything like that."
He wandered forwards, and joined Lucy. Yvonne watched as the two of them lay back together, the little demon's spines still glowing gently.
Yvonne laid back herself, looking over at Arimon. He'd been quiet all evening. She knew he was still blaming himself. Even Digimon had crises of confidence, it seemed.
"It'll be okay."
The last flickers of the embers went out, leaving Yvonne alone in the dark. Vulnerable, and unaware of the many red eyes watching the group, as large metal bugs scuttled noiselessly over the canyon walls, sending silent messages to entities unknown.
"Everything will be okay..."
TO BE CONTINUED...