Dallurmon recoiled, pulling his hand away from the vision pool as it shimmered. Standing shakily, he began to pace, the keys on his metal arm clicking around continuously.
"It still approaches...but how...I've done everything...right..."
There was a knock at the door, and his head snapped to the side. "Who is it?"
"Senior administrator Phorusrhamon, my lord."
Dallurmon's hand ran over his beard as Phorusrhamon gingerly stepped inside. She winced briefly at the sight of him, the burned side of her face starting to smart once again. She ignored it, bowing her head.
Dallurmon frowned. "The children still live."
"Your soldiers are engaging them. Groundramon is overseeing their destruction."
"Groundramon..." The giant knelt down and reached out towards the pool, as if confirming something. His expression was unreadable.
"Why are you here? You're needed. All of you are needed. The children must not reach-"
"My lord, I have...somebody..."
Dallurmon paused, and stood up again, clenching his fist. Phorusrhamon lowered herself even further. "Please forgive me! I...it was just...I took it upon myself to save someone...my skilled worker from among them-"
Phorusrhamon pulled away, as Jiminymon stepped forwards, tiny step by tiny step. Dallurmon watched her, his markings swirling. "You were with those creatures."
"Lord Dallurmon, I...needed to speak..."
Oligomon inhaled sharply as his head broke the surface, before looking all around him at his handiwork. The attack had gone successfully; while he was able to fracture fault-lines and cause all sorts of chaos, he'd never know what exactly would occur when he tried. Plus he had to be underground while it all took place.
Still, all seemed to work nicely. He turned back, and focused his attention on the two children before him. Yvonne and George held themselves together, keeping the D-Port behind them. Oligomon raised an eyebrow. "That's an interesting device you have there. I don't suppose you'd lend it to me?"
Yvonne chuckled, insincerely. "What on earth would you use it for?"
"Oh, I don't know. A bit of power here and there. I could maybe gain a leg up on that scaly boss of mine." He licked his lips. "Here's the deal. Give me the device's power, and I let you live."
George swallowed, but Yvonne stood firm. "Tempting. But there's one thing you don't know."
"It's already on."
"Don't touch my partner, you creep."
Oligomon turned just in time for Arimon to land a punch on his triangular face. The worm reeled back, digging into the pedestal on one side and back out the other. "What the..."
Yvonne grinned, and brought her fist down on the top of the metal. In a flash of spiralling purple energy she'd disappeared. Arimon sheathed his dagger, and held his arms out as the purple energy cascaded into him.
"Arimon, Soul Interlock!"
The burst of energy hit Oligomon square in the face, and he retreated quickly, muttering under his breath about cheaters as the sheep morphed up above him. "Strikedramon, help!"
On the rocks below, the dragon man looked up, and sniffed the air. "Oh finally...a proper challenge..."
Before any of the other Rookies could stop him he'd leapt sideways, and began to climb the pedestal, digging his claws into the rock and hoisting his body up with little effort.
George shuffled backwards as far as he could, holding his hand in front of his face, "Watch where you're stepping, okay?"
The sheep smiled back. "Do you want a lift down?"
"I don't think I can. I burn easily."
The sheep frowned, and was about to reply when Strikedramon cleared the rock behind him, holding a burning arm back. "Strike Fang!"
The sheep was downed in an instant, but quickly rolled back onto his feet. He reached back, and pulled the burning sword out just as Strikedramon's arm came down again, colliding with a clang. The dragon man laughed. "Finally, something worthwhile! That worm can deal with the rest of you jokers; I have a proper brawl to win!"
George shuffled to the edge of the pedestal as far as he dared, holding the D-Port tight against his body as the dragon and the ram clashed before him.
Taking advantage of the chaos, Mynahmon attempted to traverse the new labyrinth of columns and chasms, until she spotted the group of humans, crowded round on one such pedestal.
There was a burst of heat from up above, and the bird squawked as drops of fire rained down around her. Careening wildly, she managed to curve round and half-land, half-crash on the human's pedestal, before turning to look up at the ensuing battle. "Yeesh...they're really going at it."
The bird turned to see Rachel staring at her, her eyes wide. "Where are the others? Are they okay?"
Mynahmon nodded. "Stuck. But Strikedramon just upped and left. I can see he's a bit busy now, or maybe he's keeping Arimon busy; I don't know, but at any rate they're trying to find another way around to get over to you. Or down to you. Not that it matters without the D-Port-"
Lucy turned and put a finger to her lips. "Shush."
"Oh, I uh..." Mynahmon cawed to herself, before hopping forwards slightly? What is it? What's going on?"
Alasdair leaned to one side, and Mynahmon gasped as she saw Joel lying there, out cold and bleeding freely from his head. The older boy wiped his brow. "I don't suppose you can get us to safety?"
The bird shook her head. "He's too heavy for me. I'm sorry."
The others turned to see Lizzie screaming up at the battle above, her words just getting lost in the wind. She turned towards them, her glasses askew and her hair wild. "We need to help her! She's on her own up there!"
Alasdair turned back. "We need to help Joel first."
"But Yvonne is-"
"There's nothing we can do. She's the only one of us who can fight at the moment."
Lizzie clenched her fists, with Mynahmon watching, concerned. "Lizzie..."
"I thought she was your friend!"
In a sudden burst of anger and strength, Lizzie hoisted Alasdair up and slammed him against the rock wall by the scruff of his neck, to the shock and panic of the others. Rachel gasped, and stumbled, nearly going over the edge but holding herself just in time.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Alasdair reached up, trying to wrench Lizzie's arms away, but the girl was stronger than she looked, and she held firm. "DO something! She's your friend isn't she? She cares far more about you than she should so do something!"
"I said there's nothing we can DO! She's the only one of us who can fight at the minute! I need to help the boy who got hurt 'cause you didn'tget him away in time!"
Lizzie stammered. "T-t-t-that wasn't my fault!"
"It sure wasn't his!"
Lizzie gritted her teeth, and pressed harder against the wall. "She's in danger! Do you want her to die up there?"
"We're all in danger, Lizzie! I'm trying to save who I can right now! Why the hell are you so fixated on Yvonne?"
"'Cause she's all I've got!" Lizzie yelled, and threw Alasdair back, bringing her hands up to her head as she stood in the rain. "I need her! She's the only one who kept me safe and now she's the one in danger! She's...she's the only friend I have...and I kept on going with her because I didn't want to let go...I didn't want her to leave me and hang around with people like you. She's nearly died once, and I can't see her nearly die again."
She broke off, her shoulders heaving, and glared up at Alasdair. The boy was staring, holding one shoulder. Lucy and Rachel were looking too, their gazes penetrating even in the darkness. Lizzie looked between them. "What? What are you all looking at me for?"
"People like me?"
Lizzie turned back to Alasdair who brought a hand up and held it against his own cheek.
"People like us?"
Lizzie opened her mouth to speak, but the words wouldn't come. Alasdair took a step forwards, and she flinched, holding up her arms, ever so slightly. Alasdair stopped.
"Is that it? Are you scared of me, Lizzie?"
Still no answer. Alasdair swallowed, and turned away, kneeling back down at Joel's feet. Lizzie took a step forwards. "I'm...I'm sorry..."
"Don't be. I need to take care of my friend."
The boy didn't even turn around, leaving Lizzie staring at nothing. She reached out with a hand, searching for something – anything – but the person wasn't there. The sounds of battle still raged atop the high tower; sword against claw, flame against flame.
Down below, Lizzie felt the rain still beating down upon her. Yvonne wasn't there for her. Not this time. She was alone.
Mynahmon shuffled forwards, her feathers drenched from the rain. "Lizzie?"
The girl's head fell, and she turned, looking down into the chasm. Her feet were planted together, and she put her palms over her mouth, tears welling.
"What am I doing..."
The children gasped as sharp pellets shot out of nowhere, penetrating the wall behind them. Lizzie yelled and stepped back as the rock beneath her feet opened up, revealing Oligomon's cackling body.
"Well well, I thought I might find you all here." He turned, staring up at the pedestal, and the flames flying from the top. "You're all nuisances. If I take you out of the equation, that'll get me into the boss's good books. And I can take your precious little device for myself."
The distracted worm hiccupped as Mynahmon flapped her wings behind him, showering him with razor-sharp petals that dug into his skin. He turned, grinding his teeth. "You're all beginning to annoy me."
With a serpentine movement he snapped up at the bird, who just barely flapped out the way. She attacked again, keeping her distance, but she was far from the stronger fighter. Lizzie backed away, looking between the fight, and the others behind her. They sat huddled, with the exception of Alasdair, who was stood up, holding his arms out. His eyes fell on the girl, but he said nothing.
Another explosion from the pedestal, and another rain of fire amidst the drizzle. Mynahmon was caught off guard, and she ducked lower than intended. Low enough for Oligomon to strike.
The bird squawked, but the worm had his prey by the wing, and he shook his head, causing her to cry out in pain. "You should have died back then! You'll be the first."
"Get off of HER!"
Without reason, or warning, Lizzie found herself running, her arms widening and her stance lowering as she rushed towards the serpent. She crashed into him at full pelt, sending him reeling backwards, and he gagged, releasing his hold on the bird's abdomen. Mynahmon flapped upwards, just out of reach. Below her, the earthworm was already writhing, his coils wrapping around Lizzie's body, but she was stronger than she let on, and Oligomon's body, ideal for slipping through the tiniest of tunnels, was nonetheless struggling on the wet rock. He lashed his tail, which suddenly broke free of the rock wall, leaving him dangling over the long drop that he himself had created. He gnashed his teeth, and chomped down on Lizzie's shoulder. She stepped forwards.
Mynahmon flew down, hovering in front of her face. "Lizzie, what are you doing?"
Lizzie turned her head, seeing Alasdair on his feet, looking all around. The girl shook her head.
"You need to help Joel. You need to get yourselves away from here."
"Please, you don't need to-"
Lizzie smiled, closing her eyes.
"I'm sorry. You know she'd do the same."
She gritted her teeth, and pressed against the rock, pushing both her and Oligomon over the edge.
Jiminymon flinched, although she wasn't sure why, and she looked behind her. "I've come on my own. Everybody else is...back at the pillars."
Dallurmon was silent for a few seconds. Then he turned back to Phorusrhamon. "Guard the fortress. Use your skills; take the children down where they stand. They will not reach the keep."
Jiminymon flinched, aware of Phorusrhamon's gaze on her briefly. The bird left the room, leaving only the cricket, feeling impossibly small in Dallurmon's presence. However the giant was calm; at least, he appeared to be.
"You mean a lot to the senior administrator."
"She means a lot to me."
Dallurmon reached out, running his hand down a wall. "I remember you. You thought it prevalent to bring the children to me, ignorant as you were." He tilted his head. "So you no longer remain loyal to those creatures-"
Jiminymon shuffled as she felt the intense eyes upon her, unable to return the gaze. She carried on though.
"They have their own desires, and feelings, and their own lives. They're humans. They talk like us and think like us; they're not just...vermin..."
Dallurmon clenched his teeth. "Are you still here to reason?"
"I'm here to understand." Jiminymon finally looked up, and her pupils were shaking. "I've followed you for this long. There must...be a reason why. Why they can't return."
Her wings fluttered, and she took a step forward. "Lord Dallurmon, what is so crucial that the children must die?"
Dallurmon exhaled. For a moment he looked at his palm; every line worn deep from past battles. Then he lowered his arm. "Child, are you aware of why the keep is in this place? Why I must remain here? Have you seen the wall between worlds?"
Jiminymon faltered, but shook her head. "N...no, my lord."
The giant's hand drifted over to a panel next to the great door at the end of the office, and he pressed his hand in. Slowly, the door opened, revealing a mysterious aura beyond.
"I dedicated myself to protecting this place. Everything I've done here, I've done to preserve the peace, and to build a world with no harm. But moreso, I've done to prevent catastrophe. None of you needed to know."
Dallurmon held out his palm to the cricket.
"But if you so wish to understand my burden, then come with me..."
Strikedramon grunted in laughter as he hopped backwards, away from Khrysomamon's sword strikes. He spun round, and brought one of his heavy trident claws with him in a massive hook, but it connected with Khrysomamon's horn, the impact rattling back through both their bodies.
Khrysomamon swivelled the sword around and lunged, the metal setting alight and lapping at Strikedramon's skin. The dragon man brought his head down, catching the metal with his mask, before spinning and throwing a brutal kick at the ram's neck, sending him clopping backwards.
"You're good. Real good. I haven't had a challenge like you in years."
The sheep grunted, and ran around striking again but having the blow glanced off by a metal claw. The two were evenly matched, it seemed. Although he had the sneaking suspicion that Strikedramon was holding back. His body had been cut and bruised, but he still held an adrenaline fuelled grin on that tapered snout. Khrysomamon snorted. "A challenge? Aren't you supposed to be protecting the peace?"
"A guy's gotta have hobbies. Dallurmon doesn't know. He wouldn't care anyway, traitors like you."
Strikedramon hopped on his toes, before leering forwards, bringing his arm up. Khrysomamon dodged, but it was a feint, as the dragon man's other claw came out of nowhere and caught the ram on the side of the head, sending him staggering to one side. Strikedramon let out a breath of steam, as the metal of his head cooled down, and he turned his attention to the corner of the pedestal. "A shame you can't go all out, isn't it?"
Khrysomamon cursed inwardly. It was true. He kept having to throw glances to one side, as George was still there, crouching, with his body firmly between the battle and the D-Port.
The sheep only just reacted in time, his legs springing upwards and catching his opponent in a brutal headbutt. He twisted his sword in mid-air, preparing to bring it down with a mighty strike, but Strikedramon rolled away and the sword embedded itself in the rock. Khrysomamon's back flared up, providing temporary defense as he spun around, twisting the shaft away, but the immobilisation had given Strikedramon the advantage; he curved around, spinning his arms in a clothesline that hammered against Khrysomamon's skull.
With momentum behind it, the last blow struck hard, sending the sheep down. He rolled, his flames flaring up, and he heard a yell of pain. Getting to his feet in an instant, he was forced to bring his sword up again, pressing back against Strikedramon while he tried to look behind him. George had been caught by the flames, the top of his forearm scorched as he tried to tap the last of the flames out. He looked up, smiling weakly. "Don't worry about me!"
"Worry about me!"
Strikedramon pulled back unexpectedly, catching the sheep off balance. The dragon man threw his arms wide, and wrapped them around Khrysomamon in a bear-hug, driving him forwards towards the edge of the pedestal, with George right in the pathway.
Khrysomamon dug in, and George grabbed onto his flank and pushed with all his might. With the two of them together, they shifted the balance. Strikedramon's feet slipped. His grip loosened. With a great bleat, Khrysomamon heaved...and one of his hind legs slipped.
He recovered, but he knew he'd hit something. As his great power forced Strikedramon backwards, he looked backwards to see George reaching, his efforts futile. There was nothing either of them could do except watch as the D-Port tipped backwards, and into the chasm, trailing wires behind it.
Lizzie held tightly to Oligomon's body as she slid down the steep slope, their bodies tumbling together against the smooth rock. The roughness was painful, but brief, as soon enough they were past the slope and in freefall. Lizzie jolted, feeling a tension on her shoulders, and she heard the panicked flapping as Mynahmon, having grabbed her, was trying to pull her up.
Lizzie slowed, but she was too heavy. Her grip on Oligomon loosened, and with a quick flick he was out, burrowing back into the rock with a cackle. Mynahmon cawed breathlessly. "Grab...on..."
"Don't! You'll go down as well!"
As they descended, Lizzie pointed at the shining device up above, coming towards them with incredible speed. Her eyes widened as she realised what it was. "The D-Port!"
Oligomon's head burst out from below her, reaching out with open jaws as the device tumbled down, ready to catch it and steal it away for good. She reached out, but knew she could never reach it from where she was.
Mynahmon looked down, then looked up. She pressed her beak together. "Can you catch it?"
Lizzie closed her eyes. "I will."
Mynahmon flapped with all her might, using all her thrust to throw the two of them forwards, as Lizzie reached out with open arms. She felt the bird's grip on her shoulders disappear, and she looked up, the device all but upon her.
Oligomon's jaws crunched into her side.
Trailing spiralling blue particles above it, the device fell into her arms, and she pulled it close.
"I'll do it."
Oligomon's jaws closed around nothing as the girl disappeared from his grasp. He cursed, watching as the device tumbled down further, with Mynahmon in freefall beside it, her body beginning to glow.
"They're nothing but trouble."
The bird flew above a sea of torment.
Aggressive laughter. Harsh words. Even harsher hands. A man in a white coat, staring down, holding his hands around his daughter in comforting oppression.
"They're all out to hurt you."
The bird spiralled round as people rushed past, but the man pulled the girl away from them again and again.
"Do as I say and they won't hurt you."
Again and again, pulling the girl away. And again and again, the same comforting words.
"You don't need to know people like them."
"You can't be friends with people like them."
"You're better than people like them."
The father dissipated, leaving the child standing alone, still moving away, avoiding every contact. The bird descended, and hovered just above, as a hand came out of nowhere. A smiling face. Bright eyes. Yvonne's hand clasped around the girl's and she took steps. One. Two. Just a little.
But Yvonne let go.
Mynahmon landed beside Lizzie, who was crouched up, watching it all take place. As Yvonne walked away, joining with the others, the light faded again.
"Dad always told me...I was better than her. I was better than all of them. But she was better than me. I always knew it. That's why I tried so hard to hold onto her."
The darkness closed in, pressing down. The girl watched as the others moved further and further away.
"I was scared that if I let go, she'd never come back to me. I was scared that they'd take her away from me."
The world became pitch black, and Lizzie's head fell into her lap.
"I'm a terrible person. They don't need me to help. They don't need me as a friend."
Mynahmon hopped forwards.
Lizzie looked up, and saw the bird smiling at her, cocking her head.
"I like you. You're stronger than you want to believe. You know the right thing to do. I like you, Lizzie." She looked out, to where the light was rising once again. Lizzie turned to see the others, standing and waiting, waving towards her.
"Thank you, Mynahmon."
"What do we do now?"
Lizzie stood up.
"I'll join the fight. My friends are waiting on the other side."
"All of them."
Lucy saw the blue flash first, and pointed, turning to the others. "Down there!"
Rachel had her hands over her mouth, shaking her head. "It can't be...it can't be gone..."
"Hush." Alasdair placed a hand on the girl's head, crouching down. "Wait for it...she's stronger than that."
"Mynahmon, Soul Interlock!"
There was a burst of blue light, illuminating the rain, and the three stepped back, holding their hands against the rock wall. Seconds passed by, feeling like hours, as the blue light faded. Then, just as their hope was about to dissipate, something flew up from below with lightning speed. The figure thrust her wings open, and turned to face the others on the cliff.
Mynahmon had changed shape completely; more humanoid now than bird. She was the smallest of the evolutions by far, only slightly larger than a normal-sized man, but she held herself tall. Her plumage was more marvellous than ever; broad royal-blue wings that spread out either side from her shoulders, with trails of blue down her back and sides, as if she wore a longcoat, with the ends tapering off into eyes like the tail of a peacock. Beneath that were feathers of scarlet, orange and yellow, billowing out in dazzling flame-like patterns. Her forearms and lower legs were the only parts of her body uncovered in feathers, with hooked claws at the end; sharp, yet dextrous. Red feathers like the centre of a lily fell down from her head like locks of hair, and a large orange crest was folded over her face, covering most of her features, aside from her deep, piercing green eyes. She was a sight to behold; elegant yet deadly.
She spread her wings, and leapt forwards, clutching the edge of the cliff and fluttering to balance herself. It was then that Rachel saw what she'd been carrying.
"The D-Port! You saved it!"
"Only just. It's a little worse for wear." Paradismon straightened up, and addressed the others. "Let's get you all out of here."
It took two trips, both of which were calculated and careful due to the fractured D-Port and Joel's condition. But Paradismon was quick, flying in short bursts with a child in each arm, hopping from cliff to cliff almost effortlessly. Within minutes the children were off the cliff, back with their partners on more solid ground. The sprite nodded at Alasdair. "Get everyone to another shelter. I'll join you soon."
"Where are you going?"
Paradismon winked, as she rose up towards the towering pedestal above.
"Where do you think?"
Khrysomamon stumbled as he landed, the blaze spreading out behind him, but it did little to Strikedramon, who rolled out of the way, the flames only lapping at his face. He brushed them away, and grinned, letting steam out through his teeth.
"You're getting slow, renegade."
Khrysomamon tuend, bringing his sword up as Strikedramon rushed forwards with both claws, but he only deflected one blow. The other caught him in the centre of the helmet, disorientating him.
"You've fought well. But you never stood a chance against me."
Through the pain, the ram laughed. "You really thought you were my target?"
Strikedramon tilted his head, frowning as Khrysomamon circled him. "I saw you battling the others. You didn't care about them; you only cared about getting a good fight. As long as you've been here with me, you've left the others alone." The ram looked up. "And I think it's paid off."
Strikedramon turned, as Paradismon rose up over the pedestal, her plumage glistening from the rain. She nodded at the sheep. "They're safe. They're away from here."
George pumped his fists a little, and Khrysomamon smiled. Paradismon thought she could see a little bit of Yvonne staring out at her through those sapphire eyes.
Strikedramon hissed, and wiped some blood from his mouth. "Damn that Oligomon...He is utterly useless." He straightened up, and punched his chest with both claws. "Come on then! We'll finish this either way! I'll take you both on!"
Paradismon's hands went to her back, and suddenly she was brandishing two impossibly thin ornate daggers with bejewelled handles, the blades etched with the patterns of a feather. She tilted, hovering for a second, before spinning forwards at a blinding speed.
A flurry of razor petals caught Strikedramon in the face, and he rolled out of the way as the bird woman shot past him, one of her daggers opening up his shoulder. He cursed, and watched her arc back around, but her speed surpassed even his. He opened his claw, the metal glowing white-hot.
"Out of the way!"
Khrysomamon rushed forwards, bringing his horns up and directly into Strikedramon's muscular chest. The dragon-man went down, but he leapt to his feet again, grappling with the ram's horns.
"Come on, come on!"
He lashed out with a foot, and immediately turned to have one of Paradismon's daggers pierce his cheek. He ducked, and countered with a sweeping arm that knocked her off balance. The two traded blows, with Paradismon whittling away with feints and rapid strikes, while just barely avoiding crunching blows and brutal kicks from the far stronger opponent.
The blow glanced off her shoulder, and she spun up into the air, twisting the daggers in her hands.
Paradismon arced round, her movements impeccable and her agility phenomenal, and she caught Strikedramon in the back. He turned, letting out a roar of pain, but he was too late to stop Khrysomamon's charge.
The flaming longsword entered his chest, bursting from his back. He choked, and staggered back, pulling himself away from the blade. His whole body was steaming now, too hot to even bleed. Paradismon hovered down next to Khrysomamon, and the two of them watched as he stumbled back.
"You're gonna see Dallurmon, right?"
He grinned, and his feet stumbled on the edge of the pedestal.
"Give him hell for me."
He fell backwards, and his broken body was lost to the pillars. Paradismon landed, sheathing her daggers. "Who was he?"
Khrysomamon shook his head. "Someone else we'll never know."
The two turned, and saw George waving at them. The boy smiled sheepishly. "Can you get us down now?"
Jiminymon felt a chill in her exoskeleton as the plasmic entity reached out, energy surging through it. Dallurmon stood back, grimacing.
"As it gets closer, it gets worse." He glanced down at the cricket, who was staring. "Take a good look, child. This is the fragility of our world right now."
Jiminymon didn't answer. She just stared at the wall between worlds; an ever-moving, ever shifting wall of liquid crystal, through which she could see another place. A world so similar, yet different in its very makeup. She tried to reach out and touch it, but an unseen force drove her back, rejecting her. Yet at this distance she could see the cracks in the corners of the seal, and through the images of another beautiful world, she could make out terrifying images of something else entirely.
Dallurmon clenched his fist. "The wall must be protected. Conserved. Nobody knows what would infect our world if this was to shatter."
The cricket looked up. "Have you been here all this time?"
"I discovered it. The decay is recent, but the wall has been constant, albeit growing all the more." Dallurmon gestured around the study, at lines and lines of parchments. "Once I was like you. I wanted to know more. I watched intently, writing down the events behind. Learning what I could about that world. But the more I saw, the more it scared me. The more they terrified me."
The giant stepped back. "I saw...fire. Raining from the sky, from great metal contraptions. Violence and terror unlike anything I ever saw in our world. These creatures looked so alike, yet they would kill each other so easily. And then...they began to knock. And the cracks began to form. And through one of those cracks, a few have finally arrived." He pointed at one in the corner, which pulsed with light, as if in response. "They should never have come. Any trace of them must be disposed of."
Jiminymon looked down at the floor, her pupils darting back and forth. "But...they're living beings..."
"They are primitive. They are beneath us." Dallurmon knelt down, placing his palm over the insect's back. "I understand your pain, but there is nothing to save. They are mere vermin. They know no other way."
Jiminymon flinched. "I...I..."
"Do you understand now, my child?"
Jiminymon was shaking now, holding her body close to the floor and feeling the presence of the giant above her, as he waited, silently and patiently.
The children and the Digimon regrouped behind the new pillars, as the sun began to poke its head over the horizon. Yvonne and Arimon were tired out, but none the worse for wear, all things considered. Lizzie threw her arms around her as soon as she landed, mostly blubbering and apologising, but their reunion was brief. Yvonne rushed over as soon as she saw Joel, with Alasdair shaking his head. "It's not good."
Lizzie peered over Alasdair's shoulder, her cheeks slightly flushed. "Damn it."
The boy leant back, peering back at her. "It wasn't your fault. Really, you...we were all stressed back there." He smiled. "Besides, you did save us all. Finally, one of us can fly. That would have been useful beforehand."
Chupamon ran his hand over his face. "Tell you what; Yagamon would be useful right about now."
"Yagamon..." Yvonne nudged Lizzie. "Didn't she give you something?"
Lizzie's eyes widened, and her hands went to her breast pocket, pulling out one of the little blue stones. Rachel frowned. "What is it?"
"Yagamon was using them earlier. Maybe..." The girl stepped forwards, and leant down, shuddering a little at the sight of Joel's head wound. She thought for a minute, then rubbed the stone in her hand, crushing it into a rough dust.
"My dad's a doctor, but he never used anything like this. This, uh, might hurt."
That was an understatement. Joel woke up gasping and wincing as Lizzie kneaded the powder over his forehead, but immediately his cuts began to heal over and the swelling died down, the skin pixellating slightly. Lizzie pulled back, slightly repulsed but at the same time slightly proud. Joel lay there for a moment, seeming somewhat stunned. Then he looked up at the girl, who blushed.
"Was that you?"
"Not really. That was a guess."
Joel pouted, and looked away. He muttered under his breath. "Thanks..."
Alasdair laughed, putting a hand on Lizzie's shoulder. "If you were being this useful from the start, we could have got here in half the time."
Lizzie went red, and suddenly put her hands together. "I'm sorry!"
The boy blinked, as Lizzie blurted out profuse apologies. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said...anything like that but it's...I...I'm sorry I was wrong and-"
Alasdair held up a palm, gently hushing her. "It's okay, it's okay. And thank you. Really."
George stepped forwards, looking around. "Um...where's Jiminymon?"
Lizzie's face fell, and she became aware of everybody looking towards her. "Jiminymon...she's-"
"There you are!"
The group turned to see Oligomon, half buried in the rock as he leered at them. Wyvermon sighed. "Not you again...didn't we already kick your arse?"
Oligomon tutted, swaying back and forth and grinning smarmily. "Correction; you've been wasting your time. And now we really know how you fight."
The ground began to shake, knocking everyone off their feet, and they stared in horror as the leering form of Groundramon rose up behind Oligomon; giant claws, mace tail; the lot. He chuckled, and took in a deep breath. "It's a good morning."
Oligomon chuckled. "There you are, Groundramon! I found them! They're weak; you can destroy them all. It's perfect!"
"Perfect?" Groundramon shrugged. "Well...nearly..."
The worm jerked as the dragon's claw curled around him, hoisting him clear of the ground. "Urgh...what are you...you're crushing me..."
"That's the idea."
Oligomon went white as a sheet, and began squirming, babbling away in the giant beast's hand. "I don't understand...I brought them to you..."
"Oh shut up!" Groundramon grinned. "You did nothing of the sort! You're nothing but a liability; a traitor and a terrible worker to boot. You're only one use to me now..."
The dragon's great claw-wings pressed against the ground as he brought his other claw up, grasping Oligomon by the head and pulling. The children watched in horror as the Ultimate level held the worm in his claws, Oligomon's terrified babbling muffled and inaudible.
The worm's body broke in two, and Groundramon clenched his fists, the body exploding immediately into red data. He closed his eyes, and breathed in, the red dust flowing into his scales, his mouth, throughout his body.
He reared up, and stared down at the ever-so-small group before him, his teeth pulled back in a demonic grin.
"Now...time for you to die! Giga Crack!"
The great dragon laughed as he slammed his claws into the earth, shaking the ground to the core. The children ran, dragging their companions as fast as they could as fissures snaked between their feet. As rocks burst out, Yvonne and Alasdair found themselves ducking behind one of them, already out of breath.
"We can't run from him." Alasdair peered back. "He's too big. Too powerful."
Yvonne peered down at Arimon, who was next to her, clutching his dagger tightly. He looked up, shaking his head. "We can try. But there's little we can do."
"No. We can fight. We'll do what we can."
"What about George? Or the D-Port? If that gets broken you'll never get home."
The earth rumbled again, and Rachel and Lizzie rushed over, the taller girl carrying the D-Port close to her chest. It was clattering, the energy within reaching ridiculous levels. Alasdair looked up.
"There are six of us now. We can put up a fight..."
Rachel blinked. "It doesn't sound like much of a plan."
"It's all we've got."
Yvonne nodded, but Lizzie held out a hand. "Not again-"
The girl shrugged. "You've gotta learn to trust me, Lizzie. We've got this."
The children sprinted again as Groundramon slammed a huge claw-wing down, leaving an imprint in the earth. He tutted, and swung his head high. "Are you spent? Have you got nothing else to show me? Pitiful."
The dragon frowned, and looked down at the attacking Rookies, almost with a look of mirth on his face. "Truly pitiful."
Wyvermon grinned, and dug his claws in. "You want to see more? We'll gladly oblige."
The D-Port burst into life once again, rattling worryingly but brewing an immense storm of energy within. The four Digimon sprinted, taking advantage of Groundramon's slow movements as they rushed either side of him.
Yvonne and Alasdair peered to one side, where Lucy and Joel were staring at them, waiting for the signal. Joel clenched his jaw, trying to numb the pain in his head.
Rachel clutched the sides of the device as it threatened to blow itself apart. "Now!"
"Wyvermon, Soul Interlock!"
"Arimon, Soul Interlock!"
"Placomon, Soul Interlock!"
"Chupamon, Soul Interlock!"
The torrent of energy burst forth; red and yellow, pink and purple, all swirling together and reaching out towards the four children, who held their arms out as one, vanishing in a trice. Groundramon watched as the energy spiralled up into the sky, split into four, and rained down on each partner in turn. They grew in a matter of seconds, the almighty bond bringing them new life. New power.
The light overwhelmed Groundramon for a split-second, giving Fafnirmon a chance to rush forwards. But something was wrong. He slowed, and glanced around him. There were only four of them.
Behind the rocks, Rachel grasped the sides of the device, grinding her teeth. Lizzie leaned over. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Ow!" Rachel pulled her hand back, and pointed. "It's smoking! It's stopped working again!"
"Do you think I don't see you there?"
Groundramon licked his lips, and turned his attention to the rocks. He raised a claw and brought it down, sending immense cracks rushing towards them, catching up.
"How sad; has it all gone wrong?"
Groundramon noticed himself sinking, and looked down to see himself standing in the centre of a symbol on the ground, his immense bulk sinking downwards. He pulled a paw out, but it was like quicksand, and his weight was making him fall all the faster.
The dragon looked up as a torrent of jewelled scaled rushed past his face, biting into his skin, followed swiftly by Fafnirmon's body, as the far smaller dragon wrapped his serpentine body around Groundramon's neck and clamped his teeth into his flesh.
Lizzie, George and Rachel looked up as Khrysomamon appeared before them in a flash of orange and yellow. "Go! Get the D-Port out of here; go to the keep. We'll keep this guy busy."
Lizzie stood up, clenching her fists. "I can't leave you again..."
Khrysomamon smirked, and for a brief moment Lizzie could see Yvonne's golden irises in those giant eyes.
"It's four against one. How hard can it be?" He turned serious for a moment, looking down at George. "Head to the keep. Try and get inside if you can, and find Jiminymon. And keep yourselves safe. Neonamon, can you show them the way?"
"Of course." The snake looked down. "I want to see Jiminymon myself..."
The three children weren't happy, but they nodded, having little other choice. Lizzie pulled the steaming device over her back, and Neonamon slithered up George's body, balancing himself on his shoulder.
Over on the pillars, Groundramon and Fafnirmon were still tussling tightly. The earth dragon stole a glance upwards, noticing the other three children running away, straight towards the spiralling tower. He sighed. "Ah damn...Phorusrhamon's gonna give me hell for this..."
In a sudden movement, he twisted his neck and brought his skull down, pounding Fafnirmon's body into the ground below him. The serpent unravelled, beginning to sink himself, but with an almighty thrust from his flightless wings the earth dragon pulled himself free, leaping and landing outside of the sigyl with an immense impact. All four Champions were facing him down; Khrysomamon with the blade, Osteomon with the claws, Ahuizomon rising from the solidifying ground, and there, Fafnirmon, back on his feet, his scales shimmering in the morning light.
Groundramon sneered. "You really think you have a chance after what you've just been through?"
Fafnirmon pawed the ground, his scales shimmering in the sunlight.
"We've only just begun..."
With a roar that resonated across the entire plateau, Groundramon charged. The rock split as he slammed his huge bulk downwards, sending seismic waves all around that shook his four opponents to the core. He snarled, and swung his tail mace at Fafnirmon, who ducked out of the way, scuttling to the side.
A torrent of water erupted from between the fissures, striking Groundramon with enough force to shift him back, although not by much. The dragon turned, digging his hind legs in and bringing a great claw-wing in to guard, but Osteomon had marched forwards and she struck with her bone gauntlet, the blow digging beneath the scales. Groundramon hissed, and swiped with the other, deflecting the sea monster's second blow and forcing her backwards.
"You're out of your depth, freak!"
Osteomon noticed too late the pistons in his elbows drawing back, and was caught full in the chest by both claws at once, the pistons slamming forwards and amplifying the blow. She staggered back, reeling, and watching as the great claw wing swung in a wide arc towards her.
"Are we all freaks to you?"
Groundramon's wing suddenly felt heavy, and he looked up to see Ahuizomon clutched onto it, claws digging in as he stared down at the dragon with those soulless eyes.
"Get off of me!"
Ahuizomon spun himself into a red tornado around the wing, ripping the scales away in a flurry of blood. Groundramon yelled, and thrust the appendage back, interrupting Ahuizomon's attack and nearly flinging him off. The demon slithered around, trying to find a safe spot but with the great dragon making it rather difficult.
Both claw-wings folded in at once, slamming together in a fashion that would have crushed Ahuizomon outright had he still been in between. The good news was that he'd managed to narrowly escape, rushing behind the dragon. The bad news was his current proximity to Groundramon's mighty tail mace.
"Megaton Hammer Crush!"
It was a direct hit; Ahuizomon was sent rolling cross the ground, his spindly arms wrapped around the heavy blow to his abdomen. Groundramon laughed, and reared up, cocking his piston arms once again and swinging his tail. "You are all insects to the will of Dallurmon!"
Khrysomamon and Fafnirmon lined themselves up side by side, blocking his path to the fallen Ahuizomon. Fafnirmon growled. "Dallurmon? A true leader would never condone this sadism."
Groundramon smirked. "Maybe. But power brings its own authority. There's nothing you can do to me. Scrapless Claw!"
Both claw-wings shot forwards, but Fafnirmon's tail whipped out, deflecting them away. Khrysomamon rushed forwards, sword held high. "Burning Blade!"
The arc of fire came down, and Groundramon brought his claw up, but the sheep bounded away, pulling his sword back before the blow. The dragon frowned.
Groundramon's eyes darted down as Fafnirmon's body spun upwards in a wheel, the claws and shimmering scales ripping into him as he spun. The larger dragon roared, and brought a claw down, cracking the earth, but Fafnirmon coiled around him, bringing both claws around his neck and wrenching his head to one side, where Osteomon was waiting with a primed claw. The sea monster slammed her fist forwards, slamming into Groundramon's skull and cracking his horn.
The dragon reared up and flung his body down into the rock, opening up new fissures as he forced his way underground, very nearly crushing both Fafnirmon and Osteomon. Half-buried, Groundramon turned around and came rushing out, spinning his tail as he did so.
"Megaton Hammer Crush!"
Khrysomamon leapt from out of sight, his blade raised again, and this time the attack was true; the red-hot metal sliced into the thick flesh of Groundramon's tail, cutting deep, but not entirely. Still, it was enough of a shock for the mace's trajectory to run wild, missing its targets by a wide margin and sending Groundramon's rear half careening to one side, spraying blood as the momentum of the mace caused the tail yet more damage.
Khrysomamon backed up a safe distance, looked around for any sign of his sword, which had fallen out in the attack. "Come on...come on..."
"You'll pay for this! Giga Crack!"
Khrysomamon bleated as Groundramon slammed his body down, opening up new fissures and nearly sending him down into the earth. Groundramon whipped his head around, and began charging, each movement causing him more pain in his tail. Still, despite his size he was terrifyingly fast, and he was on the stuck sheep in an instant.
The ground liquefied, freeing Khrysomamon who bounded away, but Groundramon was less lucky; his body slammed downwards into the trap, which immediately sealed around him, with Ahuizomon's claws reaching out, wrapping around his arms, legs and tail, digging into the wound. Groundramon struggled, thrashing and writhing, and nearly threatening to pull the demon from the ground again. But his attack had been successful. Groundramon was in place.
Groundramon couldn't move as the attacks rained down upon him, each one striking true. He roared in pain, pushing himself free of Ahuizomon's grip and lumbering forwards, each of his footsteps causing more minor tremors. He turned, and stretched out his wings, glaring at the others in turn. The attacks had left their mark; great swathes of his scales had been wrenched away from his body in patches, leaving red-raw flesh bubbling beneath from the fire and water. One eye was half-closed, having taken a direct hit. He ground his teeth, his entire upper body in pain.
"What manner of monsters are you..."
There was a quiet whoosh as Ahuizomon rematerialized, catching his breath amongst the others. "We have more power than you understand. You'd do best to run."
Groundramon's good eye narrowed. "I have a duty. And it will be my pleasure to carry it out." He raised his body up, ignoring the waves of pain through his arms and shoulders, and pulled his arm pistons back again, pointing them directly below him with all the power he could muster.
Rachel felt the tremors beneath her feet as she ran, stopping herself from looking back. To one side, Lizzie kept pace, with Mynahmon up above and the D-Port in her arms. To her other side, George was barely managing, holding Neonamon on one shoulder. The snake looked up at the fortress as they got ever closer, frowning.
"They've set off the alarm. They know we're here."
Marsuamon bounded up, rolling her neck as she did so. "We can take 'em. What are we looking at?"
"More than three of us could handle." Neonamon pouted. "Even if George could evolve."
The boy cursed under his breath, and the snake blinked. "Sorry...I didn't mean..."
"Where's Jiminymon? Shouldn't we find her?"
Lizzie peered over, her expression difficult to read through the run. "George, she..."
"I know, you said." The boy slowed, shaking his head. "I just...thought we could get through to her. How can she still love Dallurmon so much?"
Neonamon swallowed, and changed the subject. "I can take you all round the back. I know a secret way inside; only a few of us know about it."
Now the other two stopped, and stared at the snake, who flushed a little, feeling the pressure upon him. Marsuamon tilted her head. "You know an awful lot for somebody who's just an intern."
His frill flicked, and his eyes turned towards the main gate. "The guards...quickly!"
They rushed forwards, the great spire looming up above. Now all of them could hear it; a deep, booming horn inside, and a lot of commotion. Lizzie closed her fists, her hand hovering over the button of the D-Port. "Is this going to work?"
"The wall between worlds is in Dallurmon's study. We'll have to meet him sooner or later." Neonamon's eyes darted left and right, before he turned back to the girl. "Our best bet is to clear the way for the others."
Rachel held her body against the wall, edging around according to his instructions. She seemed deep in thought; so much so that George nudged her. "What is it?"
"I don't get it. If Dallurmon wants us dead, why wouldn't he send everyone he has?"
Neonamon turned around. "Because he has."
"All those Digimon inside and they can't all rush us at once?"
"They're admins. Not fighters. Dallurmon's world is a world of peace; true adept fighters in this region are few and far between. That's what's making you such a spanner in the works." The little snake giggled. "It's his own fault, really."
He held his body up, in a signal for them all to stop. "There. It's underneath the overhang."
It certainly was; a narrow opening in the wall, far too thin for someone of Dallurmon's girth to fit through. But certainly enough for three children. Rachel gently stepped forwards. "Is it safe?"
Lizzie looked to the side. "It's chaos in there, Rachel. Nowhere's safe."
"Don't be mean."
Mynahmon hovered forwards, peering around the corner. "I don't see how we could have a problem here-"
The bird shot away with a squawk, trailing chopped feathers as a spike shot past the entrance, straight towards the children. They ducked, Marsuamon being their saviour as she jumped up, narrowly elbowing it out of the way, though not without slicing open her shoulder. The children rushed back, as Phorusrhamon stepped out of her cover, her half-ruined face twisted in fury.
"You will not take one step closer to either my lord or my subject."
Neonamon blinked. "You knew about this place?"
"I know things about Dallurmon's keep that even he doesn't."
"Seems a not-very-loyal thing to know."
Phorusrhamon's wings shimmered. "That's rich. Coming from a traitor. Jiminymon has no more need of you, serpent. Lord Dallurmon will-"
"Oh shut up!"
The others turned to Marsuamon, who had her arms folded, grinding her teeth. "Dallurmon this, Dallurmon that; why don't you marry him? Can't see he's a tyrant and a moron."
George cleared his throat. "I, uh, think you might have made her angry."
"Good. I'm done with talking anyway." The wallaby brushed her nose, and looked back at Rachel. "Is it ready yet?"
The girl felt the warm metal, and nodded, bracing herself.
"Fire it up!"
The two girls closed their eyes, and the D-Port responded, sending out orange and blue trails that pulled them in simultaneously, before reaching out towards their partners.
"Marsuamon, Soul Interlock!"
"Mynahmon, Soul Interlock!"
George stepped back, holding Neonamon close as the two Digimon morphed in front of him, growing in size and power. Phorusrhamon was unfazed; bladed feet clicking against the rock, she stepped forwards, rippling her feathers and breathing heavily.
"I won't let you kill this world."
George shrank back as the three warriors rushed forwards, with Neonamon whispering in his ear.
"This is gonna get messy."
"You're wrong! You...you have to be wrong... I can't believe that!"
Jiminymon took a few steps back, her wings trembling in fear as the giant stood up to his full height in front of her. "You may have watched humanity through the wall, but you could never have spoken to them. You could never have gotten to know them. These creatures...humans...children, they're just like us. They laugh, they cry, they feel fear and sorrow and pride and mirth just like we do. They're imperfect, just like us. And together...together we could unlock massive potential."
"Their presence will destroy this world."
"Only if we force it!" Jiminymon curled her feet. "If...if we just helped them return to their home...we could open up new possibilities..." She felt her voice cracking, but carried on regardless. "Please...they're only children..."
A touch of anger tainted Dallurmon's voice. "And once they return with others, what then? Their kind...there are those among them that would seek to destroy us!"
"There are those among ourselves who would do the same! Have you not seen the Nightmare Soldiers hiding from your cull? Didn't you see the willingness of your own subordinates to kill without mercy?"
"The children betray our order!"
"They only wish to be safe. Why can't you grant them that? Please!"
Dallurmon reached out suddenly, grasping the cricket around the neck and hoisting her off the ground. He marched back towards the main study, the metallic pool coming into view. "You poor, foolish child...if you had only seen what I had seen..."
"Those creatures will end this world! I have seen it! I have sacrificed my own body to prevent it! And for the crime of their very presence, they must die for it!" He threw the bug down on the surface, where she skidded, looking around in panic as he raised a palm, his tattoos glowing purple.
"If you will not believe your ears, then you must see for yourself!"
Dallurmon brought his hand down on the pool, and with a rush of clarity, Jiminymon's mind was flooded with the flames of the future.
TO BE CONTINUED...