The walls of the canyon loomed ominously overhead as Mynahmon flapped between them, dodging and ducking through crevasses and overhangs, and generally having the time of her life. She cawed, listening to the sound of her angelic voice as it bounced through all the rock walls. There was a scuttling, but nothing more.
She flew back down and circled repeatedly around the first person she could find, which happened to be Lizzie, who was trudging along at the back of the group, her arms held tight and her head down.
"Isn't this place awesome? It's like an assault course, or a flight training place or something! Did you see me? Did you see me go through the loop?"
Lizzie threw an annoyed look at the bird. "No. I didn't. I'm busy trying to not have rocks fall on my head."
Mynahmon giggled. "Don't be silly! The rocks won't fall down."
"Don't say that!" Lizzie looked up, and then looked down again, her face pale. "You'll jinx it. This is already a very bad idea."
Mynahmon pouted, and hovered just above her, keeping an eye out on the group in front. "You're not very exciting, you know that?"
"Don't you get bored?"
Lizzie gave a hoarse laugh. "I haven't been bored in this world since I got here."
"That wasn't a positive."
"Oh." Mynahmon peered up, the wheels spinning in her head. "Great!"
"I...didn't...never mind." She hissed underneath her breath. "I don't do heights. Or tall things. Or...anything like that."
Mynahmon blinked. "It's fun up here. You can see a lot. If you go high enough you can see more!"
Lizzie looked up, and her face finally gave way into a smile. "You're ridiculous." She looked down. "You're just like Yvonne. Nothing gets you down."
"Who?" Mynahmon thought again. "Oh yes, the girl with the orange hair tentacles."
The bird faltered. "Isn't that what you call them?"
Another smile from Lizzie. "No. But it should be." She and the bird both laughed, and they marched further forwards, trying to keep up with Rachel in front. Lizzie saw Yvonne's hair tentacles bobbing up and down at the front of the line, and she looked down, her face grim.
Mynahmon noticed her, and flew a little closer. "Don't you like her?"
"Of course I do. She just...brings me into stupid situations. But then she always gets me through them." The girl dragged her feet. "I need to apologise."
"You are impossible!" Lizzie looked up, and took a deep breath. "I said some mean things back at the river. Nasty things. I need to apologise. It's not her fault; any of this. I was just...scared. As usual."
Mynahmon bobbed up and down, looking all around. "There's a lot in this world. Too much to be scared of all of it." She leaned in, and perched atop Lizzie's shoulder. "You can't dwell on it. Focus on something good happening. Like when you apologise to her, and then become the best of friends forever."
"It's easy when you say it. Does anything phase you?" Lizzie looked up. "Also why are you riding up there?"
"My wings get tired."
"My legs get tired!"
"Well maybe after a bit you can ride on my back."
"Can you carry me?"
The bird looked away. "Maaaaaaybe."
Lizzie sighed, and crouched as the two of them ducked under an overpass. The canyon had widened out a little for the latter half, and everybody seemed in high spirits. Alasdair and Wyvermon were leading the party, holding the map and asking Jiminymon or Chupamon when things got tricky. Yvonne stayed up front as well, although her ever-present voice was somewhat lacking in its usual presence. Even Alasdair noticed this, and handed the map over to George, dropping backwards to join her.
"You okay? You've been remarkably quiet."
"Hmm?" Yvonne looked up, seeming distracted. She smiled. "Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I was...thinking."
Alasdair blinked. "I've known you for three years now and you've never once talked about girl stuff."
"You're a boy. I wouldn't have talked to you about girl stuff."
"You told me about your dad, about all your friends at school and about the fact that you found a dead fox in your bathroom once."
Yvonne pouted, and Alasdair raised his hands.
"Look, if it's girl stuff, it's girl stuff. I won't poke. I'm just surprised, is all."
He shuffled forwards a bit again, when Yvonne clenched her fists. "It's not girl stuff."
"I had a feeling it wasn't."
He dropped back, and Wyvermon tilted his head, raising an eyebrow. He surreptitiously whistled at Arimon, and leaned in. "What the heck is girl stuff?"
The sheep shrugged. "Humans are weird."
Yvonne and Alasdair ignored them, walking together through the rocks. Alasdair's face was serious. "You've been quiet ever since the Tylomon problem. You don't blame yourself, do you?"
"It wasn't that." Yvonne exhaled. "Well, not just that. This whole journey's been a bit of a blow, honestly."
"You've got that right."
"You read stories, don't you? Kids who get whisked away to faraway lands and get caught up in grand adventures."
Alasdair put his hands in his pockets. "I've read a couple. They make it all look so easy, don't they?"
Yvonne looked ahead, her eyes far away. "I want to be a hero. But I also want us all to get home. And I want to get home myself, but I also see everything that's going on here and meet all the people around here and I want to help them and..."
"I get it. I do."
"You don't." Yvonne grinned. "But I'll pretend you do, if that helps."
"Fine." Alasdair breathed out. "It's a big world, Yvonne. You can't fix everything. I'd love it if you could; it would make mine and others' life a lot easier." He looked up, and smiled. "But the fact that you're here, and you talk to me and talk to the others and you're so friendly with it all; that's not nothing. That's helping in its own way. Maybe you're more of a hero than you think."
He smiled sincerely, his eyes meeting the girl's. She blushed, and looked away, her lips curling up in a half-smile. "That sounds so corny."
"Corny's good, once in a while. It helps break up all the nastiness."
"Hey, I'm not complaining. I love corny." Yvonne's hand went up to her helmet, her fingers curling around the glass of the goggles. "I wonder what my dad felt, when he was saving the world."
Hers and Alasdair's thoughts were interrupted as they walked into the backs of the people in front, nearly tumbling over them. The effect rippled back through the group like a concertina, everyone letting off huffs of surprise and annoyance. "Wassat? What's going on?"
Alasdair peered over George's shoulder, and the other boy held the map out, pointing at a path. "That's where we're supposed to be going, isn't it?"
Alasdair looked closely at the map. "I...think so." He looked up. "Though I can see the problem."
Where a wide, sloping section of canyon was indicated on the map, there was instead a wall. Not a whole wall; it was rough and haphazard, as if a section of the surrounding canyon had collapsed in on itself. In fact, almost exactly like that. A huge pile of rocks, piled up in the centre of the path, too high to climb easily and with no easily accessible gaps.
George huffed, and put his hands on his hips. "Well that's unfortunate. But I guess it happens." He checked the parchment again, and looked to his right. "There is another path. We can rejoin where we were going."
He smiled down at Jiminymon, who was standing motionless, her antennae flickering. She caught him staring, and jumped, turning to face him. "Yes, um, that would be...a good idea..."
On her back, Neonamon giggled. "You must excuse her. She doesn't deal with changes to her travel plans."
The group carried on, following the other path round. Only Yvonne, Arimon, Wyvermon and Alasdair held back, looking up at the wall of rocks. Wyvermon ground his teeth, and Yvonne reached out, running her hand down the sandstone. "It's an interesting place for it to fall."
"Right where the path splits."
Arimon's ears flickered, and he looked behind him. Wyvermon noticed, and pointed down the other path. "We should catch up. It's easy to get lost in here."
"But I think-"
Yvonne caught the dragon's worried eye, and looked back herself. She grabbed Alasdair's hand, and they hurried back to the group, who were slightly quieter than usual, all of them glancing around. The canyon was very exposed now, the harsh sides giving way to great sloping ones. Sides which, in all honesty, seemed much less prone to rockfalls than they actually seemingly were.
Wyvermon's eyes darted backwards, and he brought his shoulders up a bit, his claws digging into the dirt. Alasdair looked down, then looked forwards again. But he whispered. "What is it?"
"You're all tense."
The dragon looked up. "It's...uh..."
The group stopped again, huddling slightly closer. Up ahead of them, once again, was a rockfall, this one twice as high as the other. Yet again, there was another path; a narrower one this time which led beneath more tight cliffs.
Yvonne gestured to the others, and they all gathered together. "Okay, once is unfortunate, but twice is deliberate. Someone's following us." She glanced down at Wyvermon and Chupamon, her voice taking on a firm edge. "Am I right?"
Lizzie bit her lower lip. "Shouldn't we go back?"
"If we can..."
Joel raised a hand. "I heard a bang behind me a while ago."
"Yeah. Like a bunch of rocks breaking or something."
Jiminymon tapped her foot nervously. "That settles it then. We're walking straight into a trap."
Lizzie went pale. "Can we not? Please?"
Wyvermon sat down, scratching underneath his chin."Surely if they were just going to kill us, they'd have done it before when we were all stuck and defenceless."
He felt a nudge in his side from Arimon, and looked up to see the terrified faces of Rachel and Lizzie. He coughed. "Not that they would have killed us. We're too powerful and would easily win in a fight."
He glanced up at Arimon for confirmation, who gave a sarcastic thumbs-up. Alasdair sighed. "Does this ever stop...alright, votes we carry on?"
There were no votes. Only blank stares. Marsuamon raised a hand. "What are the other options?"
There weren't any.
They pressed forwards, the only sounds being their footsteps and the sounds of whatever was following them. Said sounds grew in number and intensity, until it was as if a million cicadas were lining the rocky walls, which were growing steeper, and more hazardous. Yvonne held the D-Port tightly, her hands hovering over the buttons, although it wasn't as if she knew how on earth it worked.
They turned right at the next blockade. Then right again. Then left. Then, finally, but inevitably, they were completely closed in; a narrow pass, where even the lowest points were jagged, and where the children and the Digimon pressed themselves together, looking all around.
The humming sound increased, and the group tensed themselves. Then, inexplicably, it stopped. George swallowed. "I think we've reached our destination."
Mynahmon peered up from her perch on Lizzie's shoulder. "Do you think I could fly up?"
"I think you could. I don't think it would be a good idea." Lizzie crouched, looking nervously all around. "Someone's watching."
Joel pointed, as something stepped out of the ravine with a click-clack. It was an insect, like a huge, bulky beetle, chrome-plated with beady red eyes. Its back was flat and plate-shaped, engraved with an odd symbol and tilting back and forth. The insect stared at them, but said nothing. Not that it needed to, as Wyvermon gasped. "That's a Searchmon."
The dragon looked up at Alasdair. "The region uses them to communicate between villages."
The beetle remained staring, but all around, more and more Searchmon were appearing as if from nowhere. Some of them clambered out from behind the rock. Some of them dropped down from above, some of them followed them up the path behind them, blocking the way out, and yet more seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Rachel squeaked, and crouched down next to Marsuamon. "Not bugs! I hate bugs!"
The beetles remained all around, staring, and letting off that mysterious hum as their plates all moved randomly. Alasdair swallowed. "They're not attacking."
"They don't attack. They simply talk. Somebody brought them all here."
Jiminymon stepped forwards. "I don't know. But these are Dallurmon's scouts."
She stared around, peering up at the top of the canyon. The cricket squinted against the bright sunlight, before buzzing irritably. "Whoever you are, you're interfering with my work."
A silhouette stepped out; slightly too far to make out clearly, but instantly recognisable for Jiminymon.
The cricket nodded. "Phorusrhamon."
"This is a bit of a...threatening greeting, don't you think?"
The terror bird hopped down a couple of steps, so the children could get a good look at her. She was tall, with thin, yet powerful legs and a long neck, all covered with chain-mail. Her wings unfurled to reveal more limbs; slender arms with sharpened talons all along the outer edge. Her face was thin-beaked, steely, and immensely stern, with sharp eyes darting between each of the members down there in turn.
"I was sent to meet you. With an escort of my choosing."
Yvonne looked down at the cricket. "You know each oth-"
The bird's rough voice echoed through the ravine, harsh enough that even the Searchmon quivered just a little. Yvonne immediately shut her mouth, but she felt Neonamon slither up her back and perch on her shoulder. He whispered into her ear. "She's one of Dallurmon's senior administrators."
"So she'll help us, right?"
Phorusrhamon narrowed her eyes. "Didn't you hear me?" She pointed a wing, extending a claw at Neonamon as she did so. "You're a little inexperienced to be dealing with a situation like this, aren't you?"
Neonamon went red, but Jiminymon interrupted. "He's my responsibility. I allowed him."
"Under what authority?"
"Under the understanding that, given a situation unable to be solved in a manner covered in training, I was to rely on my own judgement to determine an appropriate course of action. Given the unpredictable circumstances I maintained that it was necessary to procure an appointment between this party and Lord Dallurmon."
George raised his eyebrows and looked down at her. "Impressive."
"Of course. I take pride in what I do." The cricket chirped in a satisfied manner, before looking up at Phorusrhamon. "I haven't broken protocol. The children are my responsibility between now and when we meet with Dallurmon."
"You say you will take responsibility?"
"Of course." Jiminymon bowed her head. "Please. Allow us passage. We will only be a day-"
"That will be unnecessary."
Jiminymon flinched, and spoke again, although her voice was less confident. "Phorusrhamon, I have already seen several incidents-"
"I'm very well aware of what you've seen, and of your handling of the situations. I will not question your motives, only your approach. These...creatures, as you've no doubt seen, are unknown in power and motive. We cannot allow them such simple access to the interior of the keep. Do you understand?"
Jiminymon looked down, mumbling.
"I said do you understand?"
"Yes, senior administrator."
"Excellent. As your own methods were invalid a new one has been established-"
Alasdair clenched his fists, and stepped forward, with Wyvermon holding out a claw in vain. "Alasdair, no!"
It was too late. Phorusrhamon stopped talking, and fixed her gaze on the boy. "Yes?"
Alasdair got to one knee, bowing his head. "Please...we just want to get home. We mean you no trouble, or harm, to you or this world. We're lost, and we just request co-operation. No more." He closed his eyes. "Please may we meet with Dallurmon?"
The canyon was silent for a moment, which felt like an hour. Phorusrhamon raised her head, looking down her beak. "I was getting to that."
The boy looked up, and the bird gestured. "All of you, turn around."
Slowly, they did so, and noticed that the Searchmon were vibrating, the hum increasing. The plates on their back, so chaotic before, were now moving in unison, like a wave, and glowing.
The air shimmered, as if a window of water had appeared in the sky. As the Searchmon shifted millimetre by millimetre, it expanded, as horizontal and vertical lines streaked back and forth, like the screen on a TV set. A silhouette appeared, fuzzy grey against the blue sky. It swayed, and rippled, getting ever so slowly clearer. Jiminymon had pushed her way to the front of the group again, squinted, then gasped and bowed downwards. Alasdair looked down, and saw that Wyvermon and Arimon had done the same, and Neonamon, and even Marsuamon, although she was merely keeping her head low. Yvonne turned to the rest of them, and gestured. They all lowered themselves, touching the burning rock below them as the figure finally entered crystal clarity.
The hologram reached up to the height of the canyon, but even if that was an exaggeration, the figure's proportions indicated him to be very tall indeed. He was more humanoid than anyone they'd met, with a chiselled form like that of a Greek athlete. He had three toes on each foot, each with a blunt claw, and engraved silver rings around his ankles. He wore simple clothing, seemingly made out of the pelts of animals, and a sealskin over his back, the upper jaw sling back like a hood.
One arm was long and muscular, with three broad fingers and a thumb clenched together. The other arm was missing just above the elbow, replaced instead by a cylinder of metal, with pegs sticking out at random angles, like a large key-shaft. The figure had a close-cropped beard and a four-horned helmet of beaten iron, and his eyes were hidden under more leathery fabric. The entirety of his skin seemed to ripple; partly with the fuzzy picture, and partly due to several tattoos that shifted back and forth like liquid, and swirled into mystical patterns.
He stared down into the ravine, his expression unreadable. On the ledge at the end, Phorusrhamon bent her legs and bowed as well, effortlessly keeping her balance.
The mighty holograph peered down, having a perfect view of the group despite being many miles away. Nobody spoke for a few moments. Eventually Alasdair could take no more, and he went to push himself to his feet, when the lord of the region finally spoke.
His voice was harsh, making everyone jump. Slowly, Jiminymon raised her head, clearly in some distress. "Lord, I-"
"What on earth do you think you're doing?"
The cricket flinched, and looked down. "I...I-I...I made a...judgement of..."
Phorusrhamon cleared her throat. "In her words, she was bringing the...humans...to see you, my lord. She wished for your guidance."
"She can speak for herself."
Phorusrhamon nodded, and Jiminymon chirruped nervously. She felt a hand on her back, and glanced back to see George, giving a small nod of support. "It's true I was looking for your guidance. This is a...situation outside of one I am familiar with. Having deemed the children to be of no threat, I was going to ask for your assistance in aiding-"
Dallurmon raised his palm. "On what grounds?"
"I...I don't understand-"
"On what grounds did you deem the humans are no threat?"
"They...aided in the suppression of Nightmare Soldiers-"
"That's odd. I would have deemed that to be a very large threat, if they were able to take down rogue Digimon."
"We...decided...with the overseers-"
Dallurmon leaned forwards, the ink on his clothing shifting like liquid. "You are the administrator. If you are going to make decisions, you need to be able to back them up. So tell me. On what grounds are these creatures not a threat?"
Jiminymon stammered. Under pressure, she couldn't get any words out. Neonamon poked his head up from beside Wyvermon. "Excuse me? Dallurmon, sir?"
The giant shifted his head sideways, as the serpent continued. "We've travelled with them. Spoken with them. They harbour no ill will towards the Digital World, and have aided us in many times of crises." He quickly smiled at Alasdair, before continuing. "They wish to return to their world. Nothing more."
Dallurmon straightened up again. "I see. Then there is nothing to discuss."
"Thank you, my lord."
"Apart from the fact that you have NEGLECTED to ANSWER!"
The Searchmon hummed with such ferocity that even Neonamon paled, and shrank back down. The leader of the region paced back and forth, his form shimmering in the sunlight. "It appears to me that you have misunderstood your duties as administrators. You are to maintain the world as it is. On discovering these creatures, you have neglected to inform me directly despite obviously realising the significance of their being here. Instead you have integrated yourselves, allowing yourself to become personally attached." He stopped, and his head swept from Digimon to Digimon. "All of you; you have neglected your duties as citizens. You are jeopardizing order."
Arimon clenched his paws, and he gingerly stood up. "There were incidents-"
"More important than this?"
"Lives were at risk!"
"Enough!" Dallurmon's booming voice shouted the sheep back down to his knees. The holograph stood tall, and his voice took on a softer tone, although no less aggressive.
"Shall I tell you what I have seen? Because I've been watching. I watched these creatures rip a hole in the fabric of our world, and from what I saw, they endangered your village. Not only that," and here he pointed a claw at the D-Port, which was humming gently, "THAT infernal contraption has interfered with the purity of the Digital World. Not one, but three of you have been forcibly fused with alien material, corrupting the process of your evolution. And you have the gall to tell me this doesn't pose a threat? That the core of Yggdrasil itself isn't threatened by their presence?"
Wyvermon glared up. "We weren't forced! We were-"
"Silence!" Dallurmon splayed his palm, grinding his teeth in anger. "I've seen enough! The carnage they have caused while being here. These creatures will destroy this world and you will-"
A muscle in Dallurmon's face twitched. "Who was that?"
No answer. He surveyed the group before him; tiny, crouched-over figures, all staring at the ground. "You are young. Foolish. You don't see the dangers of these alien monsters."
Without warning, Yvonne stood up, her face red with a rage that even Lizzie hadn't seen before. She splayed a palm and slammed it against her chest. "Humans! Children! People! We are not monsters! Or creatures! Talk! To! Us!"
Jiminymon yelped, and reached forwards, tapping Yvonne on the leg. "Uh, no, not a good idea-"
Yvonne wasn't listening; she pointed straight at the holograph's face. "I've been listening to what you've been saying and what you're like, and truth be told, I don't really like you. And I can tell you don't really like me, or any of us. But for god's sake; acknowledge us! We're lost! That's all there is to it!"
Dallurmon stared down at her, and his face was unreadable beneath his mask. Still, Yvonne could feel the steely gaze that she couldn't even see boring into her skull. She stepped back. "We just want your help. That's all. Nothing more." She bowed her head. "Please."
Dallurmon turned away. He raised his single arm to his chin. Yvonne could see the stub of his other one, the keys twisting and turning and shifting up and down; a perpetually changing combination. She clasped her hands together, and raised them up to her forehead.
Dallurmon turned back. He looked up, and nodded at Phorusrhamon.
"Kill them. Now."
The group looked amongst themselves in horror. Lizzie turned around and screamed as she saw the bird leapt down, her sharpened wings glinting. But Marsuamon and Mynahmon leapt up before she could reach them, holding their bodies wide. "Please, stop!"
Phorusrhamon did so, her beak twitching. "Stand aside. You heard."
"Get between us!"
Phorusrhamon tried to dart around, but the Digimon were fast, holding out their arms and legs and staring out at her, lying directly between her and the children. Wyvermon snarled, and swiped at her legs as she came close, causing her to drop back, her eagle eyes staring down. "You'd do well not to obstruct me!"
"Shut up! This is wrong!"
The great holograph clenched his fist, as Alasdair stood up with Yvonne, yelling up at him. "Please! You don't have to do this!"
"Yes I do. You were warned."
"When? We've never met you-"
Rachel yelled out, and reached out to Yvonne. "The computers...they-"
The girl was already there; she stared up in horror at the Digimon lord. "So that was you?"
"I warned you! You have no right to complain!"
"It was an accident! We didn't realise we'd come here; we don't even know how we did it!"
Lizzie was on her knees now, and she shuffled around, staring up at Dallurmon's form. "Please...we just want to go home..."
"Let us go!"
"We'll never come back!"
Dallurmon's face twitched, and he slammed his fist down on something just out of shot, making the entire image shimmer.
Everyone stopped. Even Phorusrhamon backed up, looking up at the imposing figure. Only Arimon still glared up, defiant, his hand curled around his dagger.
"Why, Lord Dallurmon? Why do you want them dead? There must be..." He looked down at the Searchmon, then up at Yvonne, who was waiting with baited breath.
"...some mistake. Some...horrible, horrible mistake."
Dallurmon's arm went up to his shoulder, and he winced, as if remembering a painful memory.
"I can't tell you."
Yvonne glared up. "You'll just murder us? And expect us to be okay with it?"
"If I told you the truth, it would cause you pain before you died."
"So now you care about us?"
"No. I don't." Dallurmon rolled his shoulders, and stood to his full height. "I care about my world. The Digital World. Yes, it was me who spoke to you. I see you, through my own power, and through the wall between worlds. I know about your kind. Not much. But what you are like, and how you live. I'm sure you wish to go home, but that's impossible."
Yvonne opened her mouth to protest, but she was silenced by Dallurmon's palm. He looked down at his hand, and began clicking his fingers, as if trying to remember something.
"How do I put this...I believe, in your world, you have...what are they called...rodents? Rats. Vermin. They are clearly intelligent, and survive how they can. That is how they live. There's nothing wrong with that. And yet you...when they enter your homes, you kill them. Why is that?"
Yvonne pressed her lips together. She didn't want to answer. It was George who spoke up, his voice quivering a little.
"They...steal our food. Breed. We can't live with them; they cause too much...damage."
"I thought so." Dallurmon's arm fell to his side, and he turned slightly, turning his head away. "You judge them when they invade; not out of malice, but of self-preservation. You exercise your right as the greater species. I cannot fault you for that. And you cannot fault me for doing the same."
"You already have." Dallurmon's head snapped back, and he leant down on one knee, the ink on his face swirling as he glared at them. "You have disrupted this world. Violated its residents. Broken the wall between worlds and killed several. Children or no, you are damaging this world through your very existence, and you cannot be allowed to continue."
Yvonne stepped back, raising her arms. "Then let us leave! We'll never come back, I...I-I-I promise!"
"But you will. Or if not you, then more of your kind." Dallurmon sighed. "It's your way. It's how you live. This stops, and this stops here."
"Will you just-"
"Please understand. You are to me as rats are to you."
"I am only protecting my world."
"-just LISTEN TO US!"
Yvonne stared up, desperation and horror on her face, as Lord Dallurmon stood to his full height again. He looked up at Phorusrhamon. "Like I said, kill them."
The bird bowed her head, then looked up. "The Digimon?"
"If they will not stand down, kill them too."
"This goes beyond them." Dallurmon turned, facing back down the canyon. "End this. Now."
He shimmered, and disappeared. The Searchmon dispersed as quickly as they had gathered, rushing back down the canyon, into the rocks, over the ravines. Phorusrhamon was left facing the group of children, and the loose circle of Digimon around them. The bird scraped her foot against the rock, swaying. "You Digimon heard. Step away if you value your lives. Abandon these...children. They mean nothing to you."
Lizzie was crying. So was Joel. George was rocking back and forth, his eyes wide and darting. Lucy's arms were across her stomach, holding her sides. Rachel had her arms around the D-Port, glaring up at the bird as she marched forwards, rattling her sharpened wings and sharing glances with the assembled Digimon.
"I outrank you all in level. If you face me, you won't survive."
Alasdair turned to Yvonne, who was staring down the canyon, where Dallurmon had been just seconds before. "Yvonne...what do we do...?"
There was no answer. The girl just dropped to her knees, her shoulders sagging like a ragdoll. Alasdair could hear her mutter to herself. "This is it then...this is where we die..."
Phorusrhamon was closest to her. Jiminymon and Placomon were between them, tensed up.
Still no reaction. Only the scraping of metal as Phorusrhamon raised her wing.
Alasdair's hands went to his sides, and he looked down at his partner. "You guys go."
Wyvermon glared up. "Alasdair-"
The dragon jumped, and all the Digimon around turned to look at him. He inhaled with shaky breath.
"Thank you, all, for getting us here. You don't need to do anymore for us." He forced a smile. "It's the will of your lord. It's only right."
"You...need to run..."
The boy looked over his shoulder. "Where to?"
Phorusrhamon pulled back, waiting for their response. Jiminymon hung her head, and walked away. Neonamon poked his head out, and slithered after her. Then, one by one, the Digimon pulled themselves back. Placomon. Mynahmon. Wyvermon, holding his head lower than it had ever been. Marsuamon. Arimon, joining his friend, gripping his dagger so tightly his knuckles were white. Lucy reached out and nudged Chupamon, who slunk away, his tail dragging on the rock.
Phorusrhamon nodded at the group of Digimon, as they stared helplessly. "Forget this ever happened. For your own sakes."
She reached out. Yvonne glanced to the side as she felt the cold steel of the bird's feather on her shoulder, sliding towards her neck.
"It'll be painless. For all of you."
She pulled back, as the feather extended.
Yvonne flinched, but the blow didn't come. Instead there was a thud, and she opened her eyes, looking at her would-be executioner, now writhing on the ground. Chupamon was pinning down one leg. Marsuamon the other. And there, standing above the bird's chest, with his dagger locked with Phorusrhamon's bladed feather, was Arimon. He looked over his shoulder, and shouted through gritted teeth.
"Get back! All of you!"
Phorusrhamon screeched, and lunged with her massive beak, slamming it into Arimon's shoulder. "What are you doing?"
Arimon braced himself against the pain, and pushed back, his dagger glowing all the more. "I'm fulfilling my duty." He glared aside, at where Wyvermon and the others were standing. "The question is, what are you doing? Help us!"
Jiminymon quailed, and Wyvermon gritted his teeth. "Dallurmon said...there's nothing left we can-"
"Are you kidding me? You never listened to him before!"
The dragon's eyes snapped open. Mynahmon and Placomon looked at one another, spurred from their inaction. Arimon forced a smile as he was forced backwards by the stronger Digimon yet again. "What Dallurmon said doesn't matter! What matters is doing the right thing! If he won't do it, then it's up to us!"
Phorusrhamon's eyes widened. "You're...rebelling?"
Wyvermon grinned, crouching down. "Is that what we're doing now? Finally, we have permission!"
The bird raised a wing as the dragon shot towards her, the blades bouncing off his hardened exterior. She clattered to the side, as Chupamon and Marsuamon rose, brushing the dust away. Marsuamon laughed out loud. "Finally, an excuse to beat on these bastards!"
The wallaby twisted, lashing out with a knee that crashed against Phorusrhamon's attack. Marsuamon came off the worst, and the terror bird lunged again.
Marsuamon rolled away, but the terror bird's attacks kept coming, although far less controlled than they had been. The terror bird was confused. She was shaken. She couldn't comprehend this.
"This wasn't supposed to happen-"
A shadow fell across her vision, and a white skull burned itself into her mind. She lashed out, wildly, but Chupamon's damage was done as he bounded forwards, slicing at her legs with his crimson talons.
Wyvermon looked back, grinning as Placomon and Mynahmon rushed forwards into the fray, their attacks crashing into Phorusrhamon once again. Only Jiminymon was left, backing slowly away, and saying nothing.
Under fire, Phorusrhamon steeled herself. Enough was enough.
She ducked from Placomon's second attack and her legs shot out as she spun in the air, her feet glowing. A trail of white light burst out from them, shooting outwards in a spiral all around her. Mynahmon lost a few feathers with a squawk. Arimon caught the flat of it, buckling his armour. The others, and the children, ducked just in time as the attack shot over their heads, crashing into the rock behind.
Phorusrhamon was up again in an instant, knocking away Wyvermon and Chupamon like they were nothing. "If you've gone rogue, you will all face the same fate!"
Arimon swung his sword, releasing an arc of fireworks that flew towards the terror bird, but she swung her wings, knocking them away effortlessly. Her eagle eyes landed on him, and she rushed forwards, bringing up three metallic blades before he could even react. He was thrown backwards, miraculously staying on his feet, and only just able to bring up his dagger in time to block her twin blades aiming at his neck.
The sheep gritted his teeth as he pressed back, but the pressure was all upon him. His eye flickered back, and he saw Yvonne still kneeling there, staring at him.
"Why...why are you risking...everything...?"
The sheep chuckled, still struggling. "Come on, Yvonne. Let's see a smile."
Phorusrhamon's leg lashed out, catching him in the sternum. But before she could follow it up, there was a blast of light and a flapping of wings from Mynahmon, who flew past cawing. Arimon hopped back while the terror bird was temporarily distracted, and smiled at the girl, still watching him.
"We're gonna get you home. No matter what."
Something was triggered inside Yvonne. The corners of her mouth turned up, and she stood tall, bringing her goggles down. She turned to the others. "I don't know about you but I've had enough!"
"I quite agree!"
Phorusrhamon leapt back away from Wyvermon's attack, and glared at everyone before her. "I was going to be considerate to you, but there's no reason to show mercy to traitors!"
Yvonne turned to Rachel. "The D-Port! Now! Full throttle!"
The younger girl didn't hesitate; her hand slammed down on the buttons, and instantly the vortex reached out. Alasdair turned, and reached his hand out, only to catch Phorusrhamon leaping towards him from the side.
"I won't let you! Silent-"
Yvonne rushed forwards, throwing her whole body at the bird and knocking her just far enough for Alasdair to roll away. The girl managed to hold onto the terror bird's torso for a magnificent two seconds before she too was thrown away, rolling in the dust. Alasdair pulled her up, and they faced the bird now turning towards them, arching her back and splaying her feathers. Alasdair grimaced.
Yvonne got to her feet, smiling at him. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
The girl glanced down at Alasdair's arm, seeing blood running freely down it from when Phorusrhamon had jumped him. He went to raise it, but she held it down, holding out her own palm towards the advancing enemy.
"Let me take it from here."
"Do you know how?"
The girl smiled, and her arm went to the vortex as it whipped towards her, the data stream turning from burning red to vivid purple. "How hard can it be?"
She closed her palm, and the energy swallowed her before Phorusrhamon could reach her. The bird turned on the others, only for Arimon to rush forwards, blade in hand and blocking the bird's swipes again. Phorusrhamon had learned by now, and she lashed out, her leg catching him in the midriff and sending his blade clattering away. She was on him in an instant, her voice croaking.
"You rely far too much on that little pinprick of a weapon."
Arimon forced a smile. "It hasn't let me down so far." He stretched out his arm, looking behind Phorusrhamon.
"And neither will she!"
The terror bird turned too late, as the purple energy rushed past her ear, blasting her aside and burrowing straight into Arimon's chest.
The woman stood on the lawn, holding her two-year old daughter in her arms. She gently rocked the toddler up and down, all the while making sure to keep looking away, so as not to betray the tears falling down her cheeks.
The lady didn't answer. She just kept rocking her daughter back and forth. The girl wriggled, trying to look down from her vantage point. She reached down, towards the single, white slab that lay in the earth, one of hundreds just like it.
Slowly, the girl's mother placed her daughter down on the grass. She nudged her forwards, and the girl hobbled, unsteadily, reaching out towards the stone.
"Say bye-bye, my love."
The toddler reached out, her hands brushing against the lettering on the smooth rock. She had no way of knowing what it said, but she followed the lettering regardless, from the beginning to the end.
Colin McMillan. 1921-1945. Rest in peace.
The little girl turned around, reaching out towards her mother.
"I want to see Papa. Where's Papa?
Her face cracked, and she began to cry; loud sobs that echoed through the quiet park. Her mother reached down, and scooped her up once again, patting her on the back and hushing. She leant forwards and kissed her daughter on the forehead, her lips wet from her own tears.
"Papa's a hero, my love. Your papa saved the world."
The moment seemed lost in time, the edges flickering, like in a poor photograph. Yvonne and Arimon were sat together, watching the scene unfold. Yvonne's hand went to her cheek, her knuckle brushing against the grey strap of her helmet. She could feel the tear running down, even here. Even out of time and space.
"I'm going to be a hero."
Arimon stood up, and unsheathed his sword, in one hand. The girl looked up at his face; half scared, but half fearless. He unfurled his other hand. "Shall we go?"
The girl reached out, and her hand curled around his, releasing sparks from the very touch.
"Heroes together. Forever."
"Arimon, Soul Interlock!"
Arimon fell to his knees, his back arching and his arms buckling with the pain. He was just aware of Phorusrhamon coming towards him, and he crawled back, reaching out towards his dagger in the brief moment he had.
The sheep brought the blade round just in time, and he glared up, his eyes dazzling with a purple light.
Another wave of energy sent the terror bird backwards again, stumbling over and crashing into the dust. She watched, as within a manner of seconds Arimon's body changed, his wool sparkling and shimmering and letting off particles of light. His body swelled; not so much as the others had done, but enough. His arms and legs cracked, shifting positions into a quadrupedal form. His eyes glowed with determined anger as he swung his head upwards, shaking off the purple energy.
The large ram stood where Arimon had been seconds before, pawing the ground with broad, clawed feet. His skin was darker, and the wool no longer covered his entire torso, instead merely draped over his back, with moulded armour plates covering his shoulders and the tops of his thighs. The wool itself was far less fluffy and welcoming than his previous form; it glowed a bright yellow, and shifted angrily, as if composed of a liquid flame. The Digimon had two great curved ram's horns, pointing downwards, and nestled between them was a helmet of purple and black steel, with a single horn and golden rims around the eyes. The sheep stared ahead at Phorusrhamon with his indigo-blue eyes, full of conviction.
Phorusrhamon was physically shaken, and she raised both her wings, her eyes darting around the new creature. "It's true...you have...desecrated your own data..." Her feathers extended, and she growled. "What kind of monster are you?"
"I'm not a monster. I am a soldier, and I will become a hero!"
Khrysomamon tilted his head back, and from his wool he drew a longsword of black metal, with the edges glowing red-hot. He reared up, then landed again, pointing the burning tip directly at his adversary.
Phorusrhamon rushed forwards with blades in hand. Khrysomamon stepped back, moving his sword back and forth with an incredible expertise, but the spinning attack was still far too fast for him to deal with unscathed. One leg slashed into his shoulder, and another came close to his eye, only just missing and leaving a scratch in his muzzle. He twisted the blade in his mouth and barged forwards, stopping the terror bird's attack in its tracks. Phorusrhamon turned, bringing her head forward in a savage peck, but the sheep tilted his head and her beak connected with his horn. The two of them turned, kicking up dust in a standoff.
The bird ducked, feinting with the first blade and sending the second one into Khrysomamon's flank. She grinned, but her mirth was short lived as the flames leapt up the metal, scorching her wing. She pulled away, hissing as she did so. "Why are you laying your lives on the line for these creatures?"
"They're people!" The sheep leapt forward, bringing his horned head into the bird's chest in a gutwrenching impact. She staggered back, her movements disorientated, as the sheep rushed behind her, twisting at the last second and thrusting his hind legs out with an immense force. She was grounded, and she glared up as Khrysomamon glared down at her.
"They have as much right to life as we do! No matter how different they are! Neither you nor lord Dallurmon has any right to deny them that!"
Phorusrhamon spun on the spot, her sharpened legs slashing at the ram's. One foot caught him in the ankle, sending him over, and she got to her feet in that instant, bringing one blade forwards. The ram turned his head at the last second, sword in hand and eye glinting.
"I will fight for their right to live! And I will keep fighting, no matter what you threaten me with!"
The edges of the blade blade began to glow even more ferociously, and the flames spring up again; bright orange and lashing out all around.
Khrysomamon twisted his head and wrenched the bladed feathers away, the sword now white-hot in his grip. He threw himself forwards, lashing out with hooves and sword alike, landing heavy hits on his opponent's armoured body and leaving great black gashes. She tried to lash back with immensely quick stabs and whirling legs, but at this moment, Khrysomamon had the upper hand; he reared up and punched outwards with both front legs, sending her juddering back into the fractured wall. Off her balance, she barely raised her wing enough to block the blade as it swung for her chest.
The blades extended just in time to prevent her immediate decapitation, but they were sliced in half, and the firepower was enough to send her rolling in the dust.
Khrysomamon leapt over her, twisting his blade in his mouth as he stabbed downwards, holding it just above his opponent's chest. They remained for a second, with the ram's burning eyes facing directly into her steely ones.
"You hold no power over us. We will get these children home. Retreat, and tell our lord."
"I will not take orders from you!" Phorusrhamon's leg lashed out, and the ram dropped to one knee, shuffling backwards as he saw the other one coming.
The attack was more vicious, taking gouges out of the ram's shoulder. The terror bird stood up, and glared at Khrysomamon. "I'm so disappointed in all of you...it's a waste for you Digimon to die here..."
"We're not going to! Tidal Pressure!"
The bird's head whipped around, and she squawked out loud at the sudden towering form of Osteomon, sending a rush of dust-laden water towards her.
Procoptomon's feet lashed out, striking the terror bird on the back of the head. She groaned, the metal unscathed but her pride seriously dented as she slashed backwards. The kangaroo jumped away out of her reach, perching on the nearest outcrop of rock. "Missed me, birdie!"
Phorusrhamon looked left and right, before back at the sheep. "Where the hell is everyone?"
"You think we're just going to let you pick us off one by one?" The sheep shrugged. "There's three of us now; I think that's fair given your level."
The bird was livid; glancing at the three Champion-level traitors in front of her, and the group of remaining humans and Digimon hiding amongst the rubble. She had been pretty sure she could overpower one of them in a fight, given her advanced level, and all the times before she had felt a sense of honour in fighting personally for her lord. But these Digimon...they were different. The power here was unnatural. Her reservations were gone.
She leapt backwards gazing down at all of them as she perched on the cliff-edge. "You will go no further!"
Her leg stamped against the rock below, cracking it, as the three before her got closer. Khrysomamon leapt up a few steps with all the grace of a mountain goat, his sword hidden amongst his wool. "You're out of options. You can't stop us."
Down below, Alasdair looked around; at the Digimon, all with expressions of triumph on their faces, with the exception of Jiminymon, who still looked shell-shocked. He closed his fist. "Something doesn't feel right..."
The boy turned, and looked back down the canyon. He couldn't see anything. But he could feel something. Something big.
Phorusrhamon's beak twisted itself down into a focused scowl, and she brought her leg up and down again, piercing the red stone. Unaware of the imminent danger, Procoptomon took a few hops forwards, standing just below Khrysomamon. "Out the way, lady."
"You seem mistaken."
The kangaroo bristled. "How so?"
"You seem to be under the impression that I came without backup."
With an almighty splintering and shattering, the canyon behind them fell in on itself completely, burying their only exit under tonnes of debris. The kids were stopped in their tracks, trapped inside the great pail of rock, with their three friends, and one, terrifying senior administrator who wanted them dead.
Khrysomamon turned, standing tall on the outcrop. "Forget Phorusrhamon! Just get everyone out of here!"
Osteomon wasted no time; with an immense roar she rushed at the rock wall, opening her arms wide and preparing to bulldoze it away.
Jiminymon started. "Wait! It's a trap! I know who-"
The others soon found out who, as a vast green claw sprouted from the ground, right into Osteomon's pathway. The sea-monster's momentum outweighed her self-preservation, and in an instant she found herself plucked up like a ragdoll and thrown against the wall.
The giant shimmered, and dissolved, splitting into two very disorientated, and far smaller, beings. George rushed for the D-Port, but the ground beneath him gave way and the device slid out of his reach.
Procoptomon looked over and saw the boy in peril. She prepared to jump, as yet another green claw emerged behind her, digging into the ground and pulling out a great, scaled head, with a bright red blade mounted at the front of his snout.
The kangaroo gasped, and stopped in her tracks, suddenly aware of the huge silver blade sticking out of her thigh. She looked up at Phorusrhamon, who had just let another feather fly. The terror bird had played her cards close to her chest. Whilst perfectly capable in hand-to-hand, with a lethal and efficient style, she was even more so in her true prowess; long-range warfare.
The second blade hit its target through the shoulder, and Procoptomon fell back, her body dissolving before she hit the ground, leaving Marsuamon and Rachel both unconscious.
Khrysomamon stood up on his vantage point, staring in aghast disbelief at the battlefield; where a few seconds ago they had been on top, now they were trapped in a collapsing arena with no possible escape. Fish in a barrel. All around, there was utter chaos. Mynahmon was trying desperately to fly, but couldn't decide on a direction and flew straight into a falling rock, which knocked her down instantly. Lucy's feet gave way, and she pulled Lizzie down with her, the both of them unable to stand on the rupturing ground. Alasdair and Wyvermon were fairing little better, and George, in his attempts to reach the D-Port, had blinded himself from the rising dust. And all of them were sliding, ever closer, towards the centre of the pail, which was dipping down, the rock weakening and cracking beneath, leading to god knows where.
The green beast behind all of this had raised himself up, and grinned down at the scene before him, his clawed wing-hands waving gently above it. "I'm glad you called me out, administrator; I was worrying that I wouldn't get to see them."
"Take a good look, Groundramon." The bird narrowed her gaze. "It's the last you'll see of them. The world is about to be saved."
Khrysomamon turned, and charged up the near sheer cliff face towards Phorusrhamon, his blade already primed. "Let them go! Right now!"
As he reached the bird, she stepped back, her gaze not on him, but behind him. "Oh look. Too late."
There was a monstrous crack, and the ram's gaze flicked to behind him. The ground had all but given way. The group was pinned together, unable to move, and with nowhere to run even if they could. He could hear the screaming from up here, and the sobbing, and the-
The ram coughed, and dropped his sword. He could feel the cold steel of the blades going in at one shoulder, digging into his chest. Phorusrhamon simply stared at him, effortlessly holding him up.
"No more mercy."
He struggled, but the bird held him close, staring down her sharpened beak at him.
"Nobody disrespects Lord Dallurmon."
In a swift movement, visible to all below, she threw her wing wide and the sheep fell, rolling down the rocks and into the pit.
Alasdair yelled, holding out his free arm.
The ram had disappeared when it reached them; only the girl and Arimon remained, both of them bleeding profusely. The ground shifted again, and Phorusrhamon turned to Groundramon, who was smirking. "Impressive as always."
The bird seemed unappreciative of his snarky compliment.
"Bury them all."
Groundramon reared up, much to the horror and awe of everyone below, and the pistons on its arms pulled back, straining with potential energy. As it fell, he brought not only them down, but his huge claws as well, all of them striking the rock at the same time.
The effect was instantaneous. The rock descended. It tumbled inwards, and the outer walls crumbled inwards as well, as smoothly and finally as water descending down a plughole. It carried on for several minutes, with the dragon effortlessly digging against the flow, pulling himself up and out. As the rumbling and the destruction finally ceased, he turned, shook himself off, and admired his handiwork. A large chunk of the canyon was now residing in a sizeable hole in the ground, no sign of life anywhere to be seen.
The dragon became aware of Phorusrhamon landing beside him, and chuckled. "Think that'll do the trick?"
The bird's wing reached up, and brushed against her chest, where the scorched wound from the earlier fight had remained.
"I hope so."
TO BE CONTINUED...