One moment, George found himself staring down a killer avalanche of rock. His life rushed before his eyes, and he clung tightly to anything he could, closing his eyes and awaiting the end.
The rock shifted. He felt the sensation of falling, the rumbling rocks still loud and devastating in his ears. He opened his eyes, but saw nothing. Only darkness, although he was faintly aware of other figures falling alongside him. The space was cold. Forbidding.
He closed his eyes again, and suddenly he was no longer falling, having landed on his back in a less-than-gentle manner. He groaned, and opened his eyes again. There was still very little light, but he could make out a couple of things. He was in a tunnel of some kind; rough, rocky walls, smothered with some sort of green algae which was letting off a faint bioluminescent glow. Here and there were bones and pieces of armour. Not the most inviting of places.
Behind him he could hear more groaning, and he turned to see the others, all spread out down the tunnel. Some of them were pushing themselves upwards. Others lay still. The boy closed his eyes, trying to remember what he had seen. Who had been hurt the worst?
There was a screech, and he looked again to see Lizzie sitting bolt upright, shuffling backwards as another figure walked into view. It was large, and illuminated the room by its very presence, due to two green flames emanating from both of its shoulders. It looked like a large wolf, with jet-black skin and long, sickle-like claws on its paws. Its tail was long and pointed, whipping back and forth like the tail of a lizard, and it had a mess of interlocking teeth in its blood-red jaws. George's eyes widened, and he looked around for any sign of the D-Port. Not that he knew what he was going to do with it.
Lizzie and George watched as Chupamon walked forwards, nodding at the new arrival. The hellhound looked up, and for the first time George noticed the circles dotting the ceiling; pure-black rings that swirled and emitted the same cold emptiness he'd felt before. Cerberumon looked up, and his eyes flashed yellow. The portals closed just like that, leaving just the smooth rock surface.
"I wasn't expecting this many."
Chupamon shrugged apologetically. "We've been rather hurried." He looked back. "Some of us are in deep trouble. Can you help get us back?"
The hellhound humphed, and looked among the others. "Those of you who can walk, help those of you who can't. Follow me."
George looked down at Lizzie, who was looking remarkably shaken. He reached down and helped her up, where she immediately ran towards Yvonne, who was lying worryingly still. Cerberumon looked up, and sniffed.
"I can see what you meant when you contacted me. I could smell Groundramon a mile off. We'll need to hurry."
Alasdair's first thought on opening his eyes was of the immense pain throbbing through his head. He sat up gingerly, rubbing his scalp through his hair, and became slowly aware of voices. He was somewhere dark, although there were patches of eerie blue and green light, as if he was in some deep, underwater cavern.
He soon realised that he wasn't far off. He was certainly underground, seemingly far from the arid canyon where they'd all been moments before. He turned, and saw a group huddled around the other side of the room. He went to call out, but one of them, George, turned towards him and waved. "Ah, we've got another member."
The others turned. Alasdair recognised Lizzie, a very disgruntled Joel, Chupamon and Mynahmon. The others were completely alien; what looked like a huge armoured hellhound, a red-ochre demon wielding a permanent scowl and a wicked-looking club, a small, ethereal-looking tapir, and several others. All of them looked immensely lethal and far less welcoming than even the charming fellows at the village had been. Standing up front were two larger Digimon, who seemed to be the leaders of the group.
Alasdair yelped, and half-fell out of his makeshift bed, banging his head on the rock and causing the pain to flare up again. George hurried over and helped him up, walking him over to where they were.
"Where...where are...the canyon...the canyon! Where is everyone? Yvonne!"
Lizzie tensed, and held one sleeve. "It's been a day since then. They're still out."
"Oh my god...what...what happened?"
Chupamon tapped his knee and put a finger to his lips. "It's going to be fine. They're going to be fine. My family are doing everything they can."
Alasdair bristled, and looked up at the motley group of hellish creatures before him. "Your...family?"
Chupamon took in his breath. "I'm glad you woke up before Wyvermon. It would be nice if you could help me explain this to him."
"How did we...get here..."
"You followed me. I was planning on going this way to see them initially. You know, we have to hide out because of...all this..." He gestured at his own demonic body.
"So...these people are-"
"Nightmare Soldiers. Virus types. Like me." The demon gave a small smile beneath his mask. "Don't be frightened."
Alasdair held his breath, and looked properly upon the other two figures before him. Neither of them were a particularly pretty sight. One was hovering about three feet off the ground, crouched in what appeared to be a giant clay bowl. She was roughly humanoid, and very haggard, though didn't seem to be frail in the slightest. Her clothing appeared to be made entirely of bones, including a tiny ribcage as a hairnet and, rather disconcertingly, bracelets formed of what appeared to be teeth. The front of her withered hair drooped down over her eyes and her angular face, though they did little to cover up her impossibly sharp nose, which protruded like a crow's beak from between her locks. In her floating pot she held a huge bone like a bird's leg, one end with a clenched claw and the other broad and scuffed, like a club.
The other figure was far taller, and just as intimidating. He too was vaguely humanoid, but with six arms instead of two, sticking out in pairs around the three great rings making up his chest, which seemed to be something between muscle and rock. His legs were even weirder, sticking out from his pelvis in a manner akin to a spider, and as well as the great armoured head sticking out between his broad shoulders, there were two others as well protruding from the shoulders themselves, each with their own shoulder-pad (helmet? It was hard to tell). The whole being seemed not quite organic, put together like a huge Rubik's cube, and in fact when the creature shrugged his shoulders and spun his top set of arms around with an audible click, it made Alasdair jump. Still, the Digimon held out one red-raw hand.
"I'm Geryomon. This is Yagamon."
Alasdair didn't respond, his eyes darting between the two. Geryomon stiffened (more than usual) and pulled his hand back. "I see the infamy of our family extends to other worlds as well."
"No, I meant...I'm just surprised."
The boy kept one eye on the floating witch, who said and did nothing throughout the exchange. Geryomon sighed. "I suppose you aren't to blame, with all you've seen and heard up on the surface." The creature turned his head one-hundred and eighty degrees and nodded at the others devilish creatures, who quietly left the chamber, leaving only him and Yagamon. The witch tilted her head, and gingerly floated forwards, reaching out and placing a gaunt hand on Alasdair's shoulders. The boy's eyes widened, but she merely peered at him all over, her eyes hidden but her head moving around like a pigeon's. It was...odd, to say the least, but the more she did so, the less threatened Alasdair felt. Eventually she let go, and whispered something in Geryomon's nearest head's ear. The main head nodded. "You're still injured. You should rest."
"We can talk later. Yagamon must tend to your companions."
The two walked off without a word. Well, only Geryomon walked off, swivelling his whole body around smooth as you like. Yagamon just bobbed after him, using the great bird's leg like a paddle on a barge as she floated a few feet off the ground. Alasdair was left bewildered, and he turned to Chupamon. "Your parents are, um, nice."
"They're not my parents." The devil shrugged. "We don't really have parents or...I don't know...blood family here. But they've looked after me for a long time. They look after all of us. I knew they lived beneath the canyon, so I sent them a message last night when I realised we were being followed." He bowed his head. "I'm sorry for deceiving you."
George put his hands in his pockets. "Don't be. I think you saved our lives."
"Did he?" Alasdair folded his arms, his head low. He tried to stand tall, but it was getting harder and harder as the reality of yesterday's events grew clearer in his mind. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lucy, who was standing apart from the group, leaning against the wall. She looked uncharacteristically down.
Alasdair turned back to the others. "So we all made it? We're all alive?"
Lizzie nodded, but she still looked glum. "We did, but..."
The girl looked up, and swallowed. "We've lost the D-Port."
Alasdair was stunned into silence. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised, what with everything else, but even so he hadn't even twigged.
The D-Port – their only method of survival in this godforsaken world, and their only possible way back home – was gone.
As he walked through the underground halls – so small and yet so intensely lit they were practically neon – Chupamon couldn't help but feel some semblance of nostalgia. Every now and then he'd pass by off-cuts in the walls where shadowy figures would huddle together, or have a few impish-eyed In-Training levels bounce past his feet in a manner which he remembered doing himself a long time ago. The catacombs weren't exactly the most conventional of homes, but they were a home. He was definitely glad to be back.
He was acutely aware though that not every one of his companions was going to share his warm, fuzzy feelings.
He came to a stop, and looked to the left, at an entrance to another cave. This one was more familiar than most; he could recognise the webs of blue and green around the entrance anywhere. His old room. His old sanctuary.
Gingerly he stepped inside, and held his breath. It wasn't empty. Wyvermon was curled up on the far side, seeming smaller and colder than he had above ground. Chupamon took a step back, not wanting to get any closer.
"Nice place you have here."
The little devil ground his teeth, and turned back, his tail sweeping along the ground. "I always thought the ceiling was a little askew. But yeah. It is."
Wyvermon uncurled himself, and raised his head to look directly at Chupamon. Neither of them moved; they just sat at opposite ends of the room, staring at one another. Even in the dim light Chupamon's sharp vision was able to make out the dragon's face. He noticed the heavy skin under his eyes, and the deep, ingrained look of hurt, but he said nothing.
"No apology? No...nothing?"
Chupamon's skull was so white it was almost glowing; a sigyl of death hanging in the doorway. He clenched his claws. "I have nothing to apologise for."
"I guess you don't."
"And neither do you."
"Then who are we supposed to blame?" Wyvermon blinked, his eyes burning a vicious orange. "We could have died back there. Half of us almost did."
"Wyvermon, I swear, I didn't know about Dallurmon."
"Who of us did?"
"I never wanted anything to do with him in the first place, but I...I wanted to help the children. I wanted to help Lucy."
"Lucy? Not the others?"
"You must have felt it too. With Alasdair. You know there's something more there." Chupamon rolled his fingers. "I'll be honest, I don't like many of you guys. But I can't abandon her. I can't explain it."
Wyvermon looked away. "You don't need to." He sighed. "Maybe Dallurmon's right. Maybe their being here is bad for everyone. Bad for all of us. They're changing us and they don't even know it."
"Are you going to say that to Alasdair's face?"
Wyvermon chuckled. "I still need to get him home. If nothing else, I still have my pride."
Chupamon rolled his eyes. "It must be easy for you."
"To be so dedicated to your pride that you don't need to think about anything else."
"Screw you too."
Chupamon shrugged. "Hey, I thought we'd established we didn't like each other."
"We don't. You're an arsehole, you're rude, insensitive, and I don't know if anyone else has brought this up but I find you really, really creepy."
"There we go."
The demon turned and walked away. Wyvermon grinned. "What? No come-back, devil?"
"Don't need one." Chupamon stopped, and stared back with one pale eye. "First rule of being somebody like me; most people are going to hate you and they won't even bother to think of a reason. Grow a thicker skin and you save yourself a lot of heartache"
Though it was impossible to see in the darkness, he smirked, and sashayed off before Wyvermon could retort.
Alasdair sat with his head in his hands, feeling the oppressive darkness around him, when he heard faint footsteps walking up to him. He'd thought he was alone. He'd tried. Tried so hard to think of a solution. Anything they could do. But without the D-Port, any move they made was all but useless. In the end, everyone else had departed. Honestly, nobody felt particularly motivated.
The boy glanced up from his hunched position, and saw Lucy staring down at him, her mass of curled hair lying to one side and her thumbnail in her mouth.
"Oh. It's you."
The girl nodded. Alasdair put his head back in his lap, ignoring her as she knelt down next to him. He said nothing, but after a few minutes of silence she broke the ice.
"Are we looking for it?"
"What? The D-Port?" Alasdair shook his head. "No point. It's probably broken by now."
Lucy pointed out to the caves. "It'll be-"
"What the hell do you know where it is? You don't know anything!"
Lucy slowly lowered her hand, instead bringing them together in front of her. Alasdair glared up at her. "I don't think you even know what we're doing here. All the bloody time you're running off and doing your own thing, not caring about our safety or even your own. You're nothing but dead weight."
Lucy blinked. "I'm sorry."
"Whatever. You're wasting my time."
He folded his arms and looked the other way, ignoring the girl in front of him. Already he was feeling the regret, but his head pushed the thoughts right down to the bottom. There was no room in there for empathy right now.
After a few moments he noticed that Lucy was still kneeling next to him, fumbling around in the darkness. Her hand placed something small by his feet, and Lucy stood up, closing her bag. "They're nice."
She wandered off, back into the catacombs. His eyes closed again, but eventually they drifted downwards out of pure curiosity. He fumbled on the ground and picked up something small and round, wrapped in paper. A toffee. He stared at it, and turned it round. On the paper there was a smiley face, and a word, scrawled in horrendous handwriting. A single word.
Alasdair ran his fingers through his hair.
"What the hell is wrong with me?"
He popped the confectionary in his mouth, and began to think.
"It's quite something isn't it?"
Mynahmon hopped shoulders as Lizzie leaned over her friend, keeping a watchful eye on Yvonne as she lay flat out, still unconscious, as well as half an eye on Yagamon, who was busily paddling between her and several other patients. In truth, she'd done a marvellous job. Marsuamon and Rachel had already woken up once, and Placomon was very nearly fit and healthy, although she was currently snoring in the corner. Yvonne and Arimon needed a little more work though. A lot more. Lizzie had seen the stab wound in her friend's shoulder, and had very nearly fainted.
Yagamon looked at Mynahmon and clicked her fingers, pointing at the bird's plumage. Mynahmon beamed. "Sure! Anything! Hey Lizzie, watch this!"
She plucked out one of her shorter flight feathers and held it out towards the witch, who immediately set about fumbling inside her mortar and pulling out trinket after trinket, like a child with a toolbox. Lizzie had to admit the process was quite mesmerising, as Yagamon took the feather, a couple of stones, a piece of Arimon's wool (the sheep had been unable to complain at its removal) and a handful of some foul-smelling mould which emitted data like paint fumes. The witch brought the ingredients in her hands together, and clasped them tightly, the action letting off a small bang. When she opened her hands again, it was to release a series of crystals that fell to the bottom of the mortar. Yagamon sighed, and leapt up, her clawed toes clutching the rim of her vessel and her gnarled hands holding her pestle up high. With a huff she brought it down once, twice; three times was enough to cause whatever was down there to ignite into purple flames, then blue, then suddenly go out.
Lizzie stepped back as Yagamon barged in, scooping out the substance from the bottom of her mortar; it now resembled a fine powder, so fine it was almost liquid. As she went about applying it to Yvonne's forehead, sternum and around her wound, Lizzie couldn't help but peek over the lip of the witch's mortar, curious as to what was inside. The bottom seemed to be liquid, which shimmered and spat at her face. The girl wasn't completely sure what she'd been expecting.
Lizzie jumped and looked up at Mynahmon, who gestured frantically. "You've been spotted."
Lizzie backed away, aware of Yagamon's long nose pointed in her direction. The witch sniffed, and pulled the rim of her mortar up indignantly.
"Sorry. I was just curious." Lizzie removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "My father's a doctor. He tells me a lot about what he does, but it's nothing like what you do." She bit her lip. "I loved what he did. Saving people. I wanted to be a doctor myself but this is...beyond me..." She shuddered, not finishing her sentence.
The witch, silent as ever, simply carried on treating Yvonne. The powder was dissolving in, healing skin and flesh as it did so. The girl let out a more ragged breath, then relaxed, falling back into a deep sleep. Mynahmon hopped beside her. "She looks peaceful."
"Most people do, when they're like this. At least, far more peaceful than she usually is." Lizzie smiled. "She'd have loved being a hero like that. It's only right."
Mynahmon blinked. "I'm sure she can tell us all about it."
"I hope so." Lizzie looked up at Yagamon, who had finished her treatment, and was brushing the residue off her hands. "She will be okay, won't she?"
The witch stopped, and looked up at Lizzie again. She tilted her head, and stayed still for an uncomfortably long time. Lizzie felt pressured to say something, so she said something on her mind. "I said some nasty things to her. I never take her seriously, but she saved my life." Her hands went to her skirt, closing around it as she stared down. "I'm so useless...so useless here...I can't even do anything when my best friend's about to die..."
Mynahmon looked on helplessly as Lizzie's shoulders began to shake and she began to sob; great fat tears rolling down her cheeks. The bird was about to hop over, but Yagamon beat her to it. For a moment she seemed as if she was going to put her arms around the crying girl. But instead she leaned forwards, pulling back one side of her long hair. Mynahmon didn't catch a glimpse of the witch's eye, only uncovered as it was for a second. Yagamon reached out and curled one hand over Lizzie's forehead, causing her to stop crying out of confusion and, oddly enough, comfort. The witch held her palm there for a few awkward seconds. Then she pulled it away, and shook her head.
Lizzie sniffed, removed her glasses and wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm going off again."
Yagamon's hand went to her mortar, and she fished around, before pulling out a couple of the small, turquoise crystals. She gestured at Lizzie's palms, and when the girl opened them out, dropped them in, closing her hands afterwards. Lizzie blinked. "But...what for? Who for?"
Yagamon reached a single finger out, and tapped it first against Lizzie's chest, then against the side of her nose, once, twice. Then she reached for her pestle and paddled away, not even giving the girl a chance to respond. She just stared at the crystals in her hands, with Mynahmon hopping up onto her shoulder for a better look.
"Sweet! Witch gunk!"
It was some time later. Nobody knew quite when it was, but it had been sufficient time for a few of the injured to have joined them. Alasdair looked around the motley crew around him, which was still looking distinctly sparse. Marsuamon had now pretty much recovered fully (if still distinctly pissed off), and Joel had finally convinced Placomon to join the 'productive' members of the group. Along with George, Chupamon, Neonamon, Lizzie and Mynahmon, Wyvermon and himself, that made nine. Nine out of fourteen wasn't the perfect number for a group meeting, but it was at least a start.
Less productive was the ever-growing realisation that none of them actually knew either where they were, or where the D-Port was. Alasdair was feeling somewhat relieved that Rachel had yet to recover; he couldn't bear to think how hard she'd be taking this.
George was being unhelpfully blunt about the whole affair. "Surely it will have been broken by now."
Lizzie swallowed, and looked at the ground. "Maybe someone can fix it."
The girl clenched her fists. "If no-one does, then we're stuck here and we're probably going to die."
"Please, don't start pointing fingers." Alasdair sighed. "We don't know for sure."
George looked up at the other boy. "You've used it to evolve, you and Wyvermon. Can't you track it in some way?"
The dragon looked up at his partner, shaking his head. "I haven't felt anything in particular."
Neonamon bit his lower lip, looking between all the solemn faces. "Maybe you don't really need it to pass through the wall between worlds."
"We needed it to get here in the first place."
"The wall is a physical thing here, deep within Dallurmon's keep. If you're able to reach it, you may even be able to press through it with some help."
Chupamon raised an eyebrow beneath his skull mask. "And who do you expect is going to help in that regard, brainiac? Dallurmon? He probably has other priorities, like our imminent deaths."
The snake went blank. Everyone went even blanker. Alasdair groaned, leaning back against the wall. "Let's face it. Without that device we've got no hope." He glanced amongst the others, counting in his head. "Where on earth is Lucy? Has anyone seen her?"
Everybody shook her head, with the exception of Joel and Placomon, who looked at one another. "She was walking the other way when I last saw her."
"The other way?"
Joel pointed. "Back that way. Into the caves where they found us." He rummaged in his pocket, and pulled out a paper wrapper. "She left me a sweetie. Didn't say anything though."
Marsuamon looked concernedly at Chupamon, who scratched beneath his chin. "That's awfully close to the edge of the catacombs. Our catacombs. There used to be dangerous creatures beyond there."
"There still are." Neonamon tilted his head, staring off into the darkness of the caves. "I had a talk with Geryomon; he said there are Nightmare Soldiers around who still do their own thing."
Lizzie rubbed her forehead. "What the heck was she doing all the way out there? Is she dense or something; why is she always running off like that?"
Alasdair bit his lip. "She wouldn't run off that far. Not unless..." His eyes widened, and he sat up straight. "Don't tell me...I've done it again..."
"What?" George looked at Alasdair. "What have you done?"
"I...might have shouted at her a bit. I said a few things...she wanted to know what we were..." The boy closed his eyes, and buried his head in his arms. "Of course. She's gone off to..."
Chupamon leaned forwards, tilting his head. "Do what? Where's Lucy?"
"She must have gone off to find the D-Port." Alasdair looked up. "Gone off into the catacombs."
Chupamon didn't hesitate; he leapt from the circle, sprinting for the exit in great bounds. Wyvermon and Marsuamon rushed in his direction, but he turned in an instant, holding out one clawed hand.
"She may be okay. I know these caves; I can find her."
Wyvermon grunted, but Marsuamon put a hand out. "Chupamon, you know Dallurmon's people are still after us. And the other things that are out there. It's not safe."
"It's my fault you're all down here to start with." Chupamon turned away, his skull flashing fluorescently in the darkness. "Keep the others safe. I'm going to bring her back."
In a flash of red and purple he bounded away, disappearing into the shadows.
Lucy had managed to cover some considerable distance in the past half an hour, though in which direction she didn't know. She had a vague recollection of coming back this way before, but once you've seen one rainbow-glow wall pattern you've pretty much seen them all. She made her way carefully down the passage, keeping one hand on the wall at all times. Her bag swung freely beside her, all the trinkets within rustling around.
The tunnel split, just up ahead. Not that she noticed in time; blinded by the new batch of algae she walked right into it, stumbled, and fell backwards with an oddly muffled yelp. Lucy sat up, shaking her head and humming in an annoyed fashion. She often hummed to herself whenever things were going like this. It was easier than trying to find the words sometimes. And the sound of her own voice was somewhat of a comfort in these lone areas.
She stood herself up, kicked stones from her shoes, and looked back. The tunnel behind her was bright and inviting. For a moment she considered going back, giving this up as a lost cause. The others would forgive her. They'd know she tried. They would be fine.
"It's not fine."
The girl sniffed, and turned back, picking a path at random. The ground here was rougher, and she moved more cautiously, taking care not to fall.
"I'm not stupid." Lucy swallowed. "I'm not...dead weight."
She ran the words around her mouth, repeating them under her breath. They still seemed so unfamiliar, like much of the English she had to speak. She picked up her humming again, trying to distract from the stubborn thoughts going round her head.
The path dipped suddenly, and she went flying forwards again, crashing into the wall. This time she sat, her eyes bunched up tightly as she screamed under her breath.
"It's not fine! I'm not dead weight!"
Her voice carried in the tunnel, and she slowly opened her eyes, listening to it fade. But it didn't fade completely. She frowned, sticking her thumbnail in her mouth as she turned and looked further down the tunnel. There were other sounds here; in fact, other people. She squinted in the low light, and through the pinks and greens of the algae she thought she could see something flickering. Gingerly she stood up, and, keeping her back against the wall, she edged forwards, until more of the flickering light came into view.
It was a fire. That much she had guessed. Not a large one, but with a bright blue flame, enough to illuminate what appeared to be the source of the algae (or at least some of it) hanging down from the ceiling in great bulbous blobs, occasionally dripping luminous material on the ground below. The blobs seemed to seep into the cracks, leaving faint trails behind the rock; rock that was shiny and smooth, much like glass or flint.
There were creatures in the cavern. Digimon, she guessed. Three of them; all moving around the fire in a...peculiar way. She sucked in her gut, and tried to peer around just a little bit more. One of them was illuminated in the fire, and she had to stop herself from gasping.
It looked, for all intents and purposes, like an oversized teddy bear, albeit one that had received a makeover from an edgy grunge kid. Its skin was a patchwork; half smooth and rubbery, and half course and leathery, with red stitching holding the two halves together. Jagged spikes protruded from random areas of its limbs, and at the end of its muzzle there was a hose, which twisted down a short way before reattaching to its chest, straight into a crudely marked pink heart. It had no eyes, only two enormous staples where each one should have been, crossed over one another as if the creature were supposed to be dead. Maybe it was. It certainly didn't look alive as it hobbled around the fire, swaying from side to side.
There were giggles and jeers from one side, and the other two leapt after their friend, pushing and poking him and laughing all the while. The middle one tilted its head way too far to one side, and let off a sound like a foghorn, or like the air being forcibly removed from whatever ghastly things it kept inside its chest.
"Make it glow. Make it glow again, we says."
"You promised! You promised!"
The middle Porcupamon, for that's what they all were, took a massive step, and within seconds was the other side of the room. From her hiding spot, Lucy held her breath. These things were deceptively fast when they wanted to be.
"It needs something, yes it does. Something else. It doesn't listen."
The Porcupamon reached down, then jumped back as if stung by a wasp. It began to giggle, and shuffled forwards, rubbing its hands(?) together.
"It listens! It glows!"
The other two stayed back, lolling from side to side, as their friend reached into to corner of the room and pulled something away. Lucy stepped back, and allowed herself a few breaths. She'd recognise that glow anywhere. The D-Port was here.
Her initial joy was curbed somewhat by the sounds of the three Porcupamon squabbling amongst themselves; she may have located the device, but it was currently in the hands of three creatures that, she guessed, would be less than willing to hand it over.
She peered out again, trying to think. The puppets were lurching around the device, kicking and scratching at it, or trying to scoop up the weird pink light which was hovering around the screen. Pink. That was a new one.
Presently one of them stood up, and they all fell deathly silent. The rightmost one turned around, and sniffed the air. Lucy just stared. She didn't dare make a move.
"It didn't glow, and yet it glows. Something was missing, and now it's not missing."
The leftmost one nodded slowly. "So something is here that makes it glow."
"Something is here..." The central Porcupamon's head moved slowly from side to side. "Someone sees. Someone knows. Someone..."
All three of their heads snapped in the same direction all at the same time, and Lucy knew her time was up.
"WE MUST HAVE IT! HAVE IT NOW! HAVE IT HERE!"
The girl turned and ran, but she stumbled, her feet scrabbling on the loose rock. Something curled around her right arm, then her left, and there was a rushing sound and the sound of maniacal laughter, and she was out in the open, the fire bright against her face. The two Porcupamon who had grabbed her let her go, and she swayed, dizzy from the rush. The puppets sat down, and tilted their heads in unison, staring at the girl as she clutched her bag nervously.
"What is it?"
"Digimon? But it makes the glow."
"So different..." The leftmost one (she couldn't be sure if it was the same one as before) shivered. "So wonderful."
Lucy swallowed, and pointed behind them. "That's...mine."
"It says it knows. It does know! It does!"
"But why doesn't it have it? We have it. It doesn't have it." The rightmost one lowered its head, and growled. "Thieves. Thieves here. It could be a stealer. A liar."
"I dropped it."
"And we finds it."
A quick shuffle, and all the Porcupamon were on their feet again, all gathered around the device.
"We finds it. You shows it. Make it glow."
Lucy gingerly tiptoed forwards, aware of the three gremlins looking at her. "Why?"
"Why it says?"
"Why make it glow?" She looked between them, not sure whether she was trying to stall them or just genuinely curious. "What does it do?"
A growl from the three of them. "It says it's hers, but she doesn't know. She lies."
"But it glows." The central one looked up at her. "It glows and makes us happy. Makes us feel strong."
The three took a step back, and Lucy knelt down, finally getting a good look at the device. It didn't look good, having clearly taken a battering from the fall. Two of the panels were loose. One wire was missing, and a few of the meters had stopped moving. But the glow was constant; a fluffy, pink energy that swirled back and forth when she moved her finger in front of the screen.
Lucy blinked, ever more fascinated by the device. All around her, the three Porcupamon jumped up and down, clapping. "It glows! It glows! Give us the glow!"
One of them stuck its hand forwards, but the pink vanished, leaving just the black screen. The Porcupamon looked at its hand, then at the other two, then up at Lucy. "Give it to us. Give us the glow."
"She steals it. She wants it.
"But we finds it."
"We has it! Give us the glow!"
"I don't have it!"
Lucy jumped up, but the moment she turned there was a Porcupamon in front of her. It raised its right arm, and razor-blades stuck out at odd angles, glinting in the firelight.
"SHE HAS IT."
Lucy bent down, pulling a stick from the fire and holding it out in front of her. "Get away!"
She noticed a movement behind her and swung backwards, but the makeshift weapon was batted from her grasp, and cold, rough metal lashed over her knuckles. She screamed, and backed up, holding her injured hand as the three gremlins swayed in front of her, each of them looking far more spiky than before.
"Find the glow!"
A wall of red spines erupted from the ground in between the girl and the puppets, some of them impaling the legs of her attackers. They didn't seem too put out; in fact, they didn't seem to feel the pain at all. But all of a sudden they were on edge, staring around with their razors extended.
"We're seen! Who sees?"
Lucy felt herself breaking out into a smile. Even in the low light, she could recognise the skull mask as it stepped out of the shadows.
The demon growled at the puppets. "Kindly leave my friend alone."
"MORE THIEVES! MADNESS BROACH!"
Chupamon leapt back, but he could only dodge the attack from one puppet at a time. The other slashed him at the elbow, and he scarpered backwards, climbing up the rock wall and leaping down from above, biting and ripping. Another puppet rushed behind him, both claws extended, but Chupamon turned at once, his mask glowing.
The Porcupamon stopped. It swayed, and stumbled. Then it shook its head, and carried on advancing.
"Mind games don't work. You can't scare us."
Chupamon hissed, and rolled, the puppet bringing its razor down on its companion, who batted it away.
"Get it! Get it now! Open it up!"
The chupacabra glanced over towards Lucy before it was bombarded again, this time by all three of the Champion levels. "Run! Get out of here, now!"
"Chupamon!" Lucy pointed. "The D-Port! They have it."
Chupamon managed to glance in the direction of her hand, seeing the device nested in the rock. "Would you look at that?"
The chupacabra cursed, and tried as best as he could to roll away, summoning spikes all around. But he had three opponents, and they were all stronger than him, and far nastier. He shot another glance at Lucy from within the skirmish, and grinned beneath his mask.
"You did good. Go...tell the others..."
The girl stared, as Chupamon was swallowed by a flurry of sharpened claws and maniacal cackling. She closed her eyes, and shook her head.
"No. Not now. Not...I'm going..."
She began to run, but not towards the exit. The three demons were occupied. She had a free shot. She sprinted across the cavern, straight towards the D-Port, praying internally that she wouldn't fall. Not this time. She'd reached it before she knew it, skidding on her knees as she fumbled with the strap, but she could already hear worrying sounds from behind her.
"The thief! The thief!"
"It'll take the glow!"
"Take it from her! Open her! Take the glow back!"
Lucy looked over her shoulder, and shrieked; Chupamon had managed to keep hold of one of the puppets, but the other two were right behind her, their razors unleashed. She jumped to her feet, her fingers tightening around the strap.
As a blade scraped over her hip, she yanked the device up and away from its nest, trailing wires and losing bolts, but still very much in one piece. She backed up, holding it close to her chest as the puppets whispered in front of her, unwilling to risk damaging the device even in their frenzied state. Lucy looked up at Chupamon, who was still holding firmly to one of the Porcupamon, despite many obvious scratches and gouges over his body.
The nearest Porcupamon to her hissed, and jumped forwards, more and more razors appearing from its body. "Give it baaaaack."
"We wants it. We finds it."
"It's not yours. It's ours. We're going home."
Lucy felt a warm energy on her torso, and looked down to see the same pink glow lighting up within the screen once again. It fizzed, and swelled, pushing itself out through the glass and hovering near her hands. The two Porcupamon stopped, transfixed. One of them began to reach out, a growl in its throat. The girl stepped back, and stared at Chupamon. Tired as he was, he nodded.
Before the Porcupamon could take it, Lucy's hand closed around the pink energy, and within seconds, she was gone. The device clattered to the ground, and the two Porcupamon shrieked.
"WHERE IS IT?"
"SHE STEALS IT!"
"Wrong." Chupamon wrested his assailant away, and rolled onto his front, looking above him at the trail of pink energy slithering down from above. "She's right there."
Before any of them could reach him or even make a move, he was swallowed up by the energy, and he too disappeared.
"You dense or something?"
"God, you're stupid."
"Don't mind her; she's not right in the head."
"I'm sorry to say your daughter is abnormal."
Everyone else was fuzzy. Everyone else was in their own world. The proper world. The world where everyone understood each other just fine. Where everyone knew the right words. But she couldn't hear them. Couldn't understand.
Only a few words. A few sentences, here and there. Each one like a dagger to the chest.
Her hand went to her bag, but it wasn't there. No distractions. No escape. No comfort. She took a breath. Brought her hand up to her mouth, but her fingernails were rough and bloodied. Slowly she sunk down, as the noise grew more and more intrusive. She crouched, her hands over her head, trying desperately to block it out.
the noise the noise the noise the neverending, biting noise all around and worming its way inside and
A hand. Curling around her shoulder; not too tight, so as not to hurt her. She unfurled, looking over her shoulder.
"You too, huh?"
The hand reached up, and ever so gently wiped away the tear in her eye. Then it ran down her arm, and clasped her hand. Chupamon smiled next to her.
"I'm here with you, Lucy."
"Chupamon, Soul Interlock!"
The Porcupamon heard the words, and they looked left and right, hissing and lashing out at nothing. But the evolution was different to previous times. The occasional pink bolt of energy, darting out of sight. A limb protruding from nowhere, extending, growing more joints, then disappearing into the shadows. The glimpse of a mask that morphed into something terrifying, or pink and green markings over the walls, or something scuttling away like some massive bug.
"We sees them!"
One of the Porcupamon pointed at a mound in the centre of the cavern, where the pink energy was finally dissipating. It seemed like a haystack at first, albeit purple with green markings all over it, and long red spines flexing as it breathed. Then the creature unfurled. Revealing huge spider-like limbs with grasping fingers like a monkey's. Two...four...no, five. A tail swooped left and right, it too ending in a clawed hand. At the boundary between leg and body were gaping skulls of some ferocious animal, and as the creature turned around the Porcupamon saw that Chupamon's skull mask had morphed into that of a serpent's. Though much more of his true face was now visible, it was still alien; furred, and yet distinctly reptilian, with four red horns curving out from the back and two snake-like eyes, acid-green and perfectly circular, and staring unnervingly at the three gremlins. Despite their own appearance, they stepped back. That was the gaze of a hunter, and suddenly they felt far less confident about their own position.
In a flash of red and purple the creature vanished, seeming to melt into the very rock of the cavern floor. One of the Porcupamon leapt forwards, its arms covered with serrated blades.
"WHERE IS IT? OPEN IT!"
There was the sound of a sigh, and a deep, Latin drawl echoed around the cavern.
"You have no purpose here, nor power. But you have your lives. Should you wish to retain them I would suggest you run."
The larger puppet glanced at its companions, and pointed at the D-Port. "We can takes it. It is ours. We finds it."
The others looked uncertainly amongst themselves, but they edged forwards, grasping the device and hoisting it up between them.
The larger Porcupamon hissed, staring around the cavern. "We keeps it! And if we finds you, we keeps you!" It yelled and threw a swipe at nothing. "Show yourselves!"
"You're not looking in the right direction."
"Look up, look around. And last of all, look down."
The nightmare toy did so. The ground seemed to be moving; a strange black ink shifting all around and sketching out symbols and spirals, which now covered the entirety of the cave floor. The lines touched in the middle, and somewhere out there, something held its breath.
"Too late. Abominable Snare!"
The Porcupamon tried to jump, or to run, but its legs and lower body were held fast by the rock as it gradually sunk. It hissed, and sliced at the ground, taking out chunk by chunk which just melted away in its grasp.
"We will KILL you! We will KILL YOOOU!"
"I'd watch your threats there."
Arms sprung out from the sinking rock; the same long, spider-like arms that Ahuizomon had wielded. They latched themselves onto the largest Porcupamon, even as it kept swinging, and tore great gouges from its body. And they held fast, and began to pull.
"Nobody will ever know you were here."
The Porcupamon screamed, and it was pulled under. The other two watched, unable to do a thing, as the sigyl shifted back and forth on the ground. Suddenly there was a distant screech of pain, and the snare glowed a deep, blood red, before dissipating, forming Ahuizomon's corporeal form once again. He cracked his neck left and right, and turned to the others.
"I warned you."
The two dropped the D-Port and rushed forwards, all sense of reason gone from their minds. They moved quickly and efficiently, flashing at the furred devil before them, but it was like trying to attack an octopus, for with every hit they made, two or three other limbs came round and sliced them across the face or chest. One attack severed the hose on one of them, leaving it crawling gasping on the ground.
"GIVE IT BAAAACK!"
Ahuizomon's eyes flashed, and he crouched his body close, before springing to one side. Then again. Faster and faster, he began to circle his two opponents, the spines on his back glowing brightly and rising up.
Ahuizomon's body became a blur as he seemed to travel like a liquid vortex around the two Porcupamon. One of them tried to leap out the way, but was caught by the swirling spins and sucked back inside. They clung to one another, and ever so slowly, the vortex began to shrink, the red spines getting closer and closer, beginning to tear away at their bodies like a saw, stripping away ribbon after ribbon of data and-
In a minute or so, the vortex dissolved, and Ahuizomon was alone. He caught his breath for a minute, looking left and right and trying to catch his bearings. He only needed a moment; once he was ready he walked casually over to the D-Port and, taking care not to damage it further, picked it up in his mouth and held it close.
Without a word, he left, scuttling silently back down the tunnels, and leaving the cavern practically empty. There was only a small pile of fine, silvery dust to mark that anybody was ever there, and even that was dissolving.
Rachel straightened up, and grimaced, holding one hand to her thigh. Kneeling on the ground wasn't really doing anything to help the pain, although thanks to Yagamon's help - and, she suspected, a bit of help from the world itself - both she and Marsuamon had practically healed up. In fact Yagamon had seemed quite insistent she stay immobile for another day or so, but once the news had reached the girl that the D-Port had been found, there really was going to be no stopping her.
She looked up at George, who had his hands in his pockets. "How is it?"
"Well it works." Rachel's left hand held her right arm awkwardly, and she looked down at the beaten device. "Though I don't know how long it'll work for."
"It's better than nothing."
George leant back against the wall, and glanced over towards the main group, who were all huddled together. Even Lucy was with them, seeming to be listening intently, a barely hidden smile on her face. He had to admit, he'd been kind of shocked when they'd all been approached by a giant-purple-people-eater holding the key to evolution, but Chupamon had soon explained what had happened. Somewhat. He'd mentioned some troublemakers, but when Alasdair had enquired what had happened to them, the little demon became somewhat restrained.
"It's probably best you don't know. I am a Nightmare Soldier after all."
Alasdair had decided not to pry. It was good to have the D-Port back, though Rachel had been somewhat miffed with the water demon carrying her precious device back in his mouth.
"You'd better not have left any tooth marks in this!"
George chuckled to himself, and wandered over to the main group, leaving Rachel alone with the device. All in all things had gone better than expected. Everybody had healed up. Yvonne had caught up with a rather emotional Lizzie, Marsuamon, Wyvermon and Arimon had congratulated Chupamon on his newfound power (of which they were only slightly wary), and a humbled Alasdair had pulled Lucy to one side and thanked her profusely. Not that she'd seemed bothered in the slightest. She'd even had more toffees to hand out in celebration, although most of them were a little tough at this point.
Only Jiminymon was missing. She still hadn't come out of her room.
George smiled at Yvonne as he sat down, "So what do we do now?"
"The statue and Miss Bones seemed okay with us staying here." Yvonne shrugged. "We are on the run, and it's a safe place. But I don't know...maybe just as long as it takes us to come up with a plan?"
Alasdair leant over, his face grave. "I don't know if we can get the D-Port to last that long. If we stop using it or it breaks, we could never get back."
"Well, aren't you a little ray of sunshine."
George shrugged. "He has a point. Even with the D-Port, we have the little problem of Dallurmon hating us all. I doubt it's a viable option to get him to just let us through the wall between worlds."
"But we do at least know there is a wall between worlds. And where it is."
Neonamon slithered up with a grin, looking at each of them in turn. "If we can get you all to the keep and sneak you inside, maybe you won't need to ask him after all. You can go home, and nobody's any the wiser."
Yvonne gave a half-smile. "You're talking like it'll be that easy."
Joel piped up from the other side. "Why not? Five of us can evolve now. We're stronger now."
Beside him, Placomon raised an eyebrow. "You're very optimistic for us having nearly been squashed."
Joel grinned, and pulled the fish over towards him. "We can take him!"
She didn't look convinced. "We can? Now? Do we have to?"
Alasdair laughed, and leant back, looking at the motley group all around him. He had to admit, he felt good. Very good. Probably far better than he should. He stood up and cleared his throat, and everyone's attention turned to him.
"So things are probably gonna be a bit more difficult for us now. But thanks to Lucy, we have the D-Port back. And thanks to Dallurmon, we know where we need to go to get back. We might need to improvise, but I think we can do better next time they come for us. I know we can, 'cause we have each other, and we have a bunch of really brave, really strong little guys helping us out." He folded his arms. "Are you guys ready to go home?"
A small cheer erupted around the cave; perhaps not as strong as it could have been due to Lizzie's hesitation and Rachel's embarrassment, but still a good start. Right now, that was all they needed. The will to carry on. The will to get themselves home.
The actual plan would come in time.
Hidden in the shadowed ceiling above, a small conical head poked out, peering down at the excited people below. He stifled a laugh, hardly believing his luck. Fugitives. Not just the sanctuary for the Nightmare Soldiers, but the humans as well. He could get his revenge. Or rather, he could make sure that some rather interested parties could get revenge on his behalf. Surely that would get him a good position, handing over such juicy information. What an opportunity this was.
Oligomon carefully backed himself into the rock, before digging his way around, hiding in the chamber wall. He chuckled to himself as he moved forwards, in the direction where he knew the keep was waiting.
"Oh Lord Dallurmon, do I have a story for you..."
TO BE CONTINUED...