|All Seems Beautiful
Author: Fizzing Wizard PM
After a bizarre incident at the camp, Taichi learns he's vanishing from his own world and becoming part of the Digital World. Meanwhile the Chosen take hits from every corner: the Spore Children, plus an enemy or several on the digital plane. To top that off, they can't keep their personal lives from tangling. With lives at risk, the Chosen must put themselves to the test.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Drama - Taichi Y./Tai K. - Chapters: 17 - Words: 160,093 - Reviews: 181 - Favs: 89 - Follows: 93 - Updated: 04-21-13 - Published: 08-03-08 - id: 4446177
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Hey kits! Thanks so much for the fabulous feedback last chapter! I felt warm and fuzzy for a whole week. Thanks to y'all, I think this is the earliest a chapter has ever been posted. A lot happens here – like I said, everything promised in chapter eleven now comes to fruition. And the fun does not stop there.
By the way, how come no one noticed that up till now, I've been referring to Infinity Mountain as Mount Destiny? This is a biggie! I've done it like a million times and I don't even know how I got it into my head that the mountain was called Destiny! All of a sudden the other day, I was reading and heard Matt's voice in my head saying "Infinity Mountain!" from like episode 13 or something. And I was all, "Oh my gosh! How did I even do that?" So, I've edited it in chapter 11, but it might take some time for the others. Ooh boy, has the fail boat sailed or has it sailed!
Also, congrats to Potgenie, the 100th reviewer! A hundred reviews - I can't believe it! Thanks a bunch to you all.
Now, please enjoy – and R&R!
A Most Heroic Rescue
"Do not protect yourself by a fence, but rather by your friends."
- Czech Proverb
TO: Izumi Koushirou
FROM: Ishida Yamato
MSG: Might've found something. We're at a dead end but there's a wall down here with what Garurumon and I think is Digicode. I'm sending you a photo. Unless you can make heads or tails of this, I don't know what to do next.
Frowning at his computer screen, Koushirou opened his Digi-Analyzer and imported Yamato's photo of the cavern wall. Working out the cipher would be a lot less daunting if his own knowledge of Digicode weren't so rusty, and if the picture weren't so dim. There was a chance the Analyzer would miss the shadowed parts of the message. He might be able to enhance the image. It was also possible that he or the computer could figure out the missing code on their own through deductive reasoning.
"… taking his sweet time even letting us know where he is – and we were really hampered by that storm… Koushirou-kun, you're not even listening!"
"What?" Koushirou murmured, bent over the screen. "Oh – no, I'm listening, I just –"
Mimi tapped her foot. "You look like a vulture, all hunched over like that."
He tried to hide his discomfort by reminding himself that clashes with Mimi were nothing new. Whenever Koushirou and Mimi ended up alone together for any length of time, their good relations sank about as quickly as a leaky canoe patched with fishnet in a turbulent river.
They were friends. They were. But he was a shy, somewhat reclusive techie who tended to sound condescending even though he never meant to (because really, while there was nothing especially difficult about defragmenting a hard disk, explaining how it's done, after explaining what exactly a hard disk is, took up a lot of time, so why not just let him take care of it?). And she was an outgoing, beautiful starlet of a teenage girl with droves of admirers; not to mention that when he'd first tried out the Linux OS, she'd said: "Oh, I know that, isn't he the guy who always carries around a blanket from Charlie Brown?"
Newsflash, Izumi – different people are different. In their case, it was just a bit more in-your-face. He did love her, of course he did – she had a way about her that put little giddy smiles on the face of everyone around her – but she could also be so… Mimi.
He heard her sigh and plunk down behind him. During the storm, gushing mud and rocks tumbling down the mountainside had forced them to abandon their campsite and fly off on Kabuterimon to a safe spot. They were now good and soaked through, and left with little else to do but worry about Yamato and Garurumon.
There was the root of the problem. Mimi was mad at him for letting Yamato take off on his own.
"I'm not trying to ignore you," Koushirou said in an attempt to make peace. "It's just that deciphering this code requires a lot of attention."
"How do we even know that it's important?" Mimi demanded. "What if it's just as useless as those stupid signs? Then we'll be sending Yamato-san on another wild goose chase."
"We don't know that we sent him on one to begin with," Koushirou protested. "He might be near Taichi-san right now."
"And he might be a thousand miles away, and instead of helping look we're sitting here while you tap away at that computer."
Apparently it was still a little early to discuss a ceasefire. He felt awkward and socially inept. Well, being better with code than with people wasn't all bad, most people thought his tech know-how made him pretty damn awesome. But there was some secret embarrassment in not being able to interact smoothly with a girl – doubly so since he hated fitting an outdated stereotype.
And it wasn't even true. He got along with girls just as easily as with boys. They were all just people in the end – in Mimi's case, more than a person, a friend – and he could feel just as awkward around a guy too. But for some reason both he and others always zeroed in on the times he floundered around a girl, probably because they thought they were supposed to – some kind of social conditioning –
He sighed, resolving to ride out her sulk, and went back to working on the code.
Tentomon, relaxing on his backpack, lifted his head. "You know she's not really mad at you, right?" he whispered.
Out of the corner of his eye, Koushirou saw Palmon put an arm around Mimi's shoulders. Mimi pulled her partner closer, and Palmon worked on the tangles in Mimi's hair. An irrational sense of guilt struck him. He did know. How often had he sat helplessly while Taichi or one of the others set off on some dangerous task and he could do nothing to help but worry?
His emotions were all in a knot – concern for Yamato and paralyzing fear for Taichi and whatever Vademon had done to him tangled up with his frustration with their grating inactivity. But expressing those emotions was hard. And often not worth it. Calm, calculating, steady – that was the Koushirou he tried to show the world, because otherwise his insecurities stood out too starkly, and sometimes it felt like his computer whiz reputation was all that mattered. And this – right now, this… situation was invalidating all of that. What good was being a computer whiz and holding a pristine record when one of his closest friends was lost, and in very real danger of having his curiosity stolen (how they'd explain that one to the neurologists was beyond him), or being attacked by a monster, or never coming home?
At least now they had the code. At least he felt useful for the time being, even if his analysis turned out to be useless. Mimi had it worse. She could no sooner help him with his work than she could tunnel through the earth and drag Taichi away from Vademon's mania with her bare hands.
"… I'm sorry about all this," Koushirou said after a while.
At first he thought she wouldn't answer, but then she peered at him over her shoulder. "About what?"
"All this," he repeated, gesturing around them. "About getting separated. About Taichi-san falling off his rocker. About your summer break turning into people fighting, changing plans, getting lost in another world…"
"I don't mind any of that," she said softly. "We're Chosen. This is part of what we do."
"Yeah, it is. But we were all looking forward to you coming. We were planning on picking you up at the airport together. Jou-san even cleared his schedule so he could meet you. And then that fiasco with Takeru's D3 happened, and we were up all night, and seeing double of everything the next day. It's been downhill ever since."
He trailed off because her face suddenly lit up.
"Jou-senpai was going to come meet me?" she asked, starting to smile.
"Yeah, I'm not actually sure why he changed his mind, but Sora-san wanted everyone to come to the airport and got him to free up the time."
"Aww, even you, Koushi?" she said in such a sweet voice that he blushed. "I'm so touched. To think that little old me could tear you two from your busy lives."
"My life is not that busy." Koushirou rolled his eyes. "Yamato-san's the busiest of all of us. I don't know how he balances school, his band, and voice lessons, plus all the extras that come with being an upcoming star."
"He seems tired," Mimi said with a sympathetic tilt of her head. "That's why he snapped at us before. And probably why he fights with Sora-san so much, too."
"I don't know what's up with them. They never came clean about why they broke up."
"Sora-san said she broke it off because they were never on the same page. But I always thought that was kind of a flimsy excuse."
"Well, it's none of our business, anyway." He turned back to his computer. The Analyzer was almost done processing the code.
"… I broke up with Michael."
He glanced at her, sidelong. What a surprise. That's what, the third time now? "Oh, really? That's… too bad."
"He wanted to get more serious," she sighed, arms wrapped around her knees. "I told him I wasn't ready for that, he gave me an ultimatum… I chose to end it."
Koushirou exchanged a look with Tentomon. "By wanting to get more 'serious,' you mean he… tried to pressure you… to h-have –"
"No," she groaned, exasperated. "Michael's not that kind of person." She left it at that and went back to gazing at the clouds.
"Oh, Mimi," Palmon sighed.
Tentomon interrupted them with a cry. "Koushirou-han! The code – it's complete!"
Mimi and Palmon jumped to their feet and hurried over. Koushirou punched a few keys while the analyzed data loaded. Within a few seconds, a series of criss-crossing colored lines appeared, marked by various symbols. A compass loaded in a corner.
"It's a map," Mimi breathed. Then, with a squeal, she threw her arms around Koushirou's neck. "Koushirou-kun, omigod! You're a genius!"
Red to the tips of his ears and rather awed by the way Mimi's mood had so unabashedly done a 180, Koushirou gave her a hesitant pat on the back. A map it was indeed. An intricate, three-dimensional map lay before them, with danger zones marked in red, entrances and exits gleaming green. Pathways spidered out like veins, some too small for passage, some leading to dead ends. But there was something systematic about the layout of the roads, something deliberate about their design.
"It's a map of the caves," Koushirou realized. "And they could easily be Vademon's – in fact, it'd be an amazing coincidence if they're not – they aren't random like naturally formed caves. They all lead here, to this central chamber."
Mimi and the Digimon stared at him, each face asking the same question: What does it mean?
"It means I can find out where Yamato-san is," Koushirou explained as a grin spread wide across his face. "And if we're lucky, I can find Taichi-san too."
His cell phone beeped, making Yamato jump, then pounce on it while accidentally spearing Garurumon with his foot in the process; the wolf gave a grunt – "urf" – and laid his ears back. Wincing at the first flash of light, Yamato wasted no time tabbing over to his inbox.
With each word of Koushirou's message, his spirits rose. This was better than he'd dared to hope for. An entire map.
"What is it, Yamato?" Garurumon asked with interest. Yamato realized he'd stood up without meaning to.
"Koushirou made a map out of those symbols," he relayed to his partner.
"A map of where?"
"El Dorado. He's sending us treasure-hunting. We will return draped with enough riches to buy Taichi from Vademon, and you can have a diamond-studded collar. A map of the caves, Garurumon." Yamato scanned the rest of the message while his partner groused at him under his steamy breath. "Koushirou says the map is too large and involved for him to cap it and send it to my phone, but apparently there's an inner chamber that all the tunnels are connected to… and it's just beyond this wall."
They both turned to gaze at the high carved wall. "Beyond it?" Garurumon repeated, sounding doubtful. "Well, that explains why we've only gone straight up until now, but how does Koushirou know that we're at the right place?"
"He says he locked onto the signal from my Digivice and pinpointed us on the map. And the dead end's a trick… this is not a wall, it's a door."
Garurumon got to his feet. "If it's a door, there must be a way to open it."
Yamato frowned, thinking. His cell phone beeped again.
OK, I unscrambled the encryption by assuming it follows the same decoding key that is used in Factorial Town, where Tentomon first digivolved. Remember how changing a stroke in the code affected the entire complex? I think the carvings you found are part of a battery which runs similar to that one. Prodigious, really.
Here's what I want you to do: look closely at the images I'm about to send, then find their matches on the door. There are three key stones. Find a sharp rock and make a diagonal line from right to left through the first one. The second you just need to push in, and the third you might as well erase completely, to secure your way out.
I couldn't tag Taichi-san's Digivice in the inner room, but to be honest, I can't get much of a read on it at all. The Digicode is likely interfering. After you open the door, text me if you get Taichi-san's signal on your Digivice.
There's a chance that someone will be alerted by your operating the door. But Vademon seemed quite the loner when he caught me. Ever heard of idée fixe? An old concept, but fitting. Vademon is obsessed with collecting curiosity to the point that he's disassociated from everything else. It makes him a dangerous character, though. Be careful and contact us often. Mimi-san and I are regrouping with the others to be your back up.
After Yamato read the email to Garurumon, he stretched out his palm and they stared at the phone as if the Virgin Mary had appeared to them within the pixelated screen.
"If only Koushirou would apply himself more," Yamato joked, though with undisguised admiration.
"Are we actually going to do all that? I could just blast through it."
Yamato smirked, watching Garurumon pace in front of the door, beating his tail back and forth in anticipation. "You know what, buddy, I think we should just follow Koushirou's instructions for now. But I promise you can blast something to smithereens later, just for good measure."
He took Garurumon's silence as a sign of agreement and looked at the picture of the first symbol on his phone, then at the wall. There must have been hundreds of delicately carved code on that slab of rock. "Your vision is much better than mine. See if you can find this." He showed Garurumon the picture. Lifting his brow as if to say Blasting it would not only be satisfying, it would also spare us these tedious moments of our lives, Garurumon gave the picture a quick glance, then scanned the wall.
"Up there," he said, gesturing with his nose.
Yamato padded at the ground until he found a good-sized rock with a tapered end like a crude spearhead. He positioned himself on Garurumon's back and gave the first symbol, which looked like an ampersand turned upside-down, several diagonal strokes with the stone. A green-blue glow filled the carved grooves like running water and glittered like a star even after Yamato pulled his hand away.
"The second is over here," his partner said, maneuvering them a little to the left.
The directions for this one were weird. Uncertain, Yamato pressed his hand to the stone and waited.
"Um, it's not doing anything."
"What did Koushirou say to do?"
"Just push it in. But it's not – waaugh!"
The second carving glowed the same way as the first, and then the square of rock slid backwards, until Yamato's arm was elbow-deep in a hole. He struggled to keep his balance, tottering forward and treading on one of Garurumon's ears.
"You're doing this on purpose," Garurumon grunted.
Yamato recovered his footing, beginning to reconsider blasting through, and thinking that this was exactly why he never jumped for a full-scale spruce tree during the Christmas season.
The third symbol took the longest to find, and Yamato added back ache and eye strain to his list of grievances he was going to take out on Taichi the minute they found him. But they finally stumbled upon it in one of the bottom rows by their feet. It was box-shaped with what resembled a curly X in the center.
"I'll blast through this –"
"Yeah, no. Koushirou said erase it, not stick a hole in it. We wouldn't need a door if we were just going to climb through the wreckage of everything you destroy. Besides, what if Vademon wanders by and notices that a chunk of his door is missing? Think he'll blame it on some mischievous baby cave troll?"
While Garurumon tried to puzzle out what sort of Digimon a cave troll was, Yamato set about disfiguring the last symbol with his crude chisel. Mud and grime stained his elbows and knees as he crouched, scratching at the wall. It was a painstaking task, and he didn't know what to expect afterward. Would the door just open on its own?
They didn't have long to wait. As Yamato made one last slash with the rock, each of the hundreds of symbols took on the same greenish glow as the key stones, until the entire slab shimmered and the outline of a door appeared. Dust heaved into the air as the door slid noisily away. They coughed and shut their eyes as light streamed in. When the dust subsided, Yamato brushed hair out of his eyes and peered cautiously beyond the door.
Where the door had once been, the hard earth had given way to a wood-paneled floor. Shelves upon shelves of garishly colored jars were arranged along every aisle. Sharp prongs, a can opener, and something that looked like the unfortunate cross-breeding of a coffee pot and a unicycle were scattered among other odds and ends on the shelves. Yamato's eyes hurt as he stepped into the well-lit room.
"Quick, de-digivolve," he said in a low voice. "You're too bulky to make it around this without knocking something over."
"Excuse me, I happen to be in top form for a Digimon my size," Garurumon harrumphed. His body began to shine and contort, leveling down to the more appropriately built Gabumon, whose stomach gave a loud growl the instant he materialized next to Yamato.
Gabumon blushed and gave a sheepish smile. "Sorry –"
Yamato fumbled in his jacket and pulled out a couple granola bars. "Don't mention it."
While Gabumon happily made short work of his snack, Yamato unclasped his Digivice and glanced at the screen. His heart leapt at the sight of a familiar red dot blinking in and out somewhere in the same vicinity.
"We've found him," he said.
"Where?" Gabumon licked crumbs off his chin.
"Can't be sure, but he's nearby. We'll just have to look around. Quietly."
They skirted along the walls together. Yamato examined several jars of a pinkish-gray, gel-like substance as they passed by. He wrinkled his nose at the thought that one of them might contain Taichi's curiosity. In a moment of rage, Yamato entertained himself with images of forcing Vademon's gigantic head into one of his own jars. And then replacing Takashi's snare drum with it.
Immature? Probably. But such was the flavor of victory.
They rounded a corner into a narrow room of counters and more Frankenstein appliances. There was soft whirring sound, like an AC on Low. Yamato's Digivice began going haywire.
"Yamato, look!" Gabumon hissed, pointing.
Yamato followed his line of sight. There, lying innocently among the gizmos and gadgets, was a Digivice. It didn't take a brain of Koushirou's caliber to figure out to whom it belonged. He muttered a curse. At least they could recover that much – but if it the Digivice was here, then where was its holder?
Crouching low, Yamato slid across the floor, intending to swipe Taichi's Digivice off the counter with Gabumon guarding him from behind. Then he noticed the whirring noise getting louder. No, coming closer. He hesitated, but scooted back into a hidden corner with Gabumon, just as the door swung open.
A spindly, multiped Digimon with fish eyes and cables plugged into his enormous brain walked – slithered – tentacled inside. Vademon, Yamato registered instantly, recognizing him from his entry in Koushirou's Digi-Analyzer. Vademon came in with his ray gun tucked under his arm, carrying some kind of machine and a tiny vial, maybe an inch in length, filled with a bubbling, iridescent liquid. Picking up a palm-sized black chip, he snapped the vial into place between a pair of teeth on either end. He inserted the chip into the machine like an old school floppy disk.
Yamato watched the scene play out, feeling stuck. All his instincts rallied for an attack. But if he kept hidden, Vademon might let on why he abducted Taichi and what he'd done to him. He might lose the chance for ambush, though, and then they wouldn't get the drop on him.
Damn, did he want to punch something.
Vademon sashayed towards their hiding place, wearing a complacent smile on his pinched lips, on his way to bathe in other Digimon's curiosity, Yamato thought morbidly. He was still weighing his options when Vademon paused, reached out with one tentacle and swept up Taichi's Digivice.
Screw it. Leave being rational to Koushirou.
Gabumon caught his eye. Yamato gave a nod. As a unit, they leapt out from their hiding place, Gabumon hitting Vademon dead on with a burst of blue fire from his mouth, while Yamato made a mad dash for the Digivice waving around at the end of one tentacle. He was immediately smacked in the face by two others, but succeeded in knocking the Digivice out of Vademon's grip.
"Vagrants! How dare you! How did you find this room?" Vademon sputtered, golf ball eyes narrowed with fury.
"Gabumon, digivolve now!" Yamato cried.
A moment later Garurumon had returned, but Yamato was discouraged to see how worn out he looked. A granola bar (plus a handful of Takeru's lamented trail mix) might be all right for a Digimon of Gabumon's size, but they had intended to eat something more substantial before taking on an Ultimate-level opponent. By exploring the caves on their own, they'd cut themselves off from the rest of the group, and the provisions.
Hang in there, partner, Yamato sent mentally. Determined to do all he could to make things easier on Garurumon, Yamato dove again for the Digivice while all of Vademon's limbs were occupied with the wolf's lethal teeth. This time he managed to grab it, and hooked it to his belt beside his own without a second thought.
Garurumon roared and unleashed a second stream of blue fire at Vademon, now far more damaging. Vademon retaliated with his ray gun. The two forces collided into each other and exploded, knocking Yamato back against a far counter.
"You're no match for me," Vademon said indignantly. "I am the master of my private universe." He pressed his bony fingers to his lips and blew Garurumon a provoking kiss. Garurumon jerked back like he'd taken a hit to the ribs. Dazed, his head lolled to the side.
"Garurumon!" Yamato shouted in warning as Vademon's grand finale fired at the wolf out of thin air: energy-infused bullets in the images of planets and meteors catapulted straight toward him. Garurumon couldn't keep on his feet. His head hit the floor and he tumbled over. For one terrible moment, Yamato wondered if this could be it for them.
He swallowed hard. Now was not the time to lose faith in their team. "Digivolve again," he forced out.
They had gone so long unable to reach the Ultimate level that after Gabumon had absorbed the power of Azulongmon's Digi-core, they had to retrain themselves to think of digivolving to Ultimate as an option. The Digi-core's energy had stayed with them even after MaloMyotismon was soundly defeated, but in peacetime who needed it?
He knew Gabumon didn't have the strength to warp to Mega right now. Not without Agumon around to give him a boost. WereGarurumon might be a stretch for his partner too. But no matter how he looked at their dilemma, Yamato couldn't find any better way out of it.
"Garurumon, get up! Digivolve again!"
"You presume a lot, pretty boy!" Vademon wrapped his tentacles around Garurumon's snout, effectively trapping his most dangerous weapon. Garurumon was still stunned, legs twitching in erratic spasms.
"Now, hand me that Digivice – and yours as well. I promise that after I extract your curiosity, I will allow you to spend the rest of your life within an educational and politically correct dreamscape. What would you like to absorb? Ceramics of the Bronze Age? The life cycle of the carpenter beetle? Or perhaps mathematics is more to your liking; let's see how long it takes you to discover ten odd perfect numbers!"
Imprisoned forever in the soul-sucking drama that is high school? No curiosity would be a blessing.
"What did you do with Taichi?" Yamato demanded from his undignified position sprawled out on the floor. So what if he didn't look too intimidating, with his hair disarrayed, much less visual kei and more Labyrinth-era David Bowie. He didn't abuse the rebellious rock star with entitlement issues persona as a rule, but it had its uses now and then. Like when his embarrassingly gung-ho agent tried to force him to say something sappy and superficial on the radio to make the fan girls swoon. And when ugly digital aliens threatened him with ray guns.
"Return the Digivice to me," Vademon said, waving said gun at him.
"Get that out of my face," Yamato snapped.
His anti-authority intimidation technique didn't appear to be working. Time to resort to empty threats.
"That machine has something to do with all this, right?" Yamato thought back to the vial and the black chip. His eyes narrowed. "I would tell the truth if I were you. You'll be swarmed by a horde of fully-evolved Digimon any minute now and they won't bother to take names before they kick what little ass you have. But if you come clean to me, I'll see what I can do to iron things out."
"I hardly think I'm at your mercy," Vademon scoffed. He gave Garurumon a poke in the side for emphasis.
"Glad I'm not you, then."
"Ya… mato…" Garurumon managed in spite of his muzzle. He scrabbled at the floor with his hind legs. An instant later, he'd recovered from the daze Vademon's attack had put him in. Thrashing against him with all his weight, he sent Vademon hurtling in the other direction. The ray gun went flying. Snarling, Garurumon glared daggers at his enemy, before he was enveloped in light and transformed into WereGarurumon, ripped, armed, and powerful to the nth degree. Before Vademon could react, he pounced, snapping at his face and laying him flat with his brass knuckles.
"Waaugh – Alright – Alright!" Yamato smirked as Vademon capitulated and worked on hiding his relief. The maniac had been bested by a Chosen's Ultimate-level Digimon before (and MegaKabuterimon wouldn't mind another go, Yamato thought wryly), and anyway, he had no spine to speak of. "I'll tell you whatever you want, just let me go!"
With WereGarurumon playing bad cop to his good cop, Yamato squatted next to Vademon's swollen head and calmly folded his hands.
"I think we got off on the wrong foot… Or tentacle." He peered over Vademon and bared his teeth. "Hello."
"… Hello," said Vademon.
"Hello," rumbled WereGarurumon, and Vademon squeaked.
"Gentleman that I am, I'll ask you nicely one more time," Yamato said. "What. Did. You. Do. To. My. Friend."
Vademon licked his lips. His attention kept darting to the black chip and the vial.
"Did you take his curiosity? Is that what you put in there?"
"I was strictly ordered not to," Vademon replied, sounding put out. "It would have made a lovely addition to my collection. Not quite the same quality a specimen as that other human's, but –"
Yamato cursed. "I don't wanna hear about your sick pastimes. Who ordered you?"
"I was commissioned. I have many talents, you know, that a simpleton like you could never fathom. But now that I have what I was instructed to obtain, I don't need the boy anymore. You're free to get him. I would not have stopped you if you hadn't attacked me first."
Mouth open with a ready retort, Yamato's shock must have registered on his face, because Vademon shot him a patronizing smirk and rolled his eyes. "That was another of my orders, to allow the boy to escape by his own means after I finished with him. I pride myself that he remembers nothing of what went on up until now. He's just through that far door. What's left of him, at least."
With a vicious growl, WereGarurumon leaned more of his weight on Vademon's windpipe.
"I like it when you're feisty," Yamato told him.
"Thank you," his partner said graciously.
"Ack – you – get off –"
"Not until you tell us what's in that vial." Yamato fought the urge to just have WereGarurumon knock the Digimon out. There could be a time limit to how long Taichi could last without whatever it was Vademon had stolen, and if so they needed answers now.
"Guh… data," Vademon choked out.
Yamato frowned, and gestured for WereGarurumon to ease up. "What? Data? What kind of data?"
"… A code – a… blueprint of sorts…"
Before Yamato could order him to knock it off with the riddles, before WereGarurumon even had a chance to pick up the new scent, they heard the door creak open, accompanied by the sound of tinkling bells. Yamato turned with his brow raised to face the newcomer, but a heavy stick to the side of his head required that he come up with a different plan.
He heard a POP and a THWAP and WereGarurumon started howling, Vademon reclaimed his ray gun and pulled the trigger, dust mushroomed in the air and a jar of something-or-other, probably radioactive, spilled green and oily at Yamato's feet. He covered his head and rolled into a ball, blinded by the dust cloud. Someone let out an ear-splitting screech. Vademon, tripping over his own excessive limbs, shouted, "No!" only to be silenced by WereGarurumon trampling him to get to the door. The air clearing, Yamato caught a glimpse of a small, monkey-like creature with a long nose dart out the door with all the agility of a frightened hare. Only it wasn't frightened, it was cackling.
"Toodles, uglies!" the critter called over its shoulder. WereGarurumon made yet another energetic leap to grab it, but it disappeared in a puff of pinkish smoke and the werewolf ended up crashing head-first into a wall.
"It got away!" WereGarurumon roared, latching onto either side of the doorframe and sticking his head outside. His claws left deep grooves in the wood.
"Well, you get points for enthusiasm," Yamato said with a shrug. "What was that thing?"
"Whatever it was, it took the chip," WereGarurumon said.
Yamato stared at him, horrified. "What?!"
A low chuckle came from under a nearby counter. Vademon dragged himself into the open, too exhausted to keep his head up off the floor. Furious and scared, Yamato bent over him and grabbed his clammy shoulders.
"Why are you laughing?" he demanded. "What's gonna happen to Taichi without the data in that vial?"
"I don't know!" Vademon wheezed, his head rolling side-to-side. "It's none of my business! I am only a mere collector – a connoisseur, if you will – and my commissioner is far, far out of your league!"
"Who? Who commissioned you?" Yamato gave Vademon a rough shake. "Who, Vademon?"
"Guhhh…" Vademon gasped; Yamato realized with a jolt that he was dying. His heart raced. Yes, he and WereGarurumon had been severe with him, violent – but not to the point of killing him. Not that he was likely to stay dead. MegaKabuterimon defeated Vademon to the point of deletion once before, but over the many years that passed in Digiworld during their Earth-based battle against Myotismon, he'd regenerated, retaining most of his past memories and predilections. Some Digimon, the Chosen had observed, were just very stubborn. It often happened that the stubborn ones were also huge pains in their collective ass.
"He's out," came WereGarurumon's voice, gently breaking through the fog around Yamato's head. "Yamato. Let's go get Taichi."
Taichi. Yes. He stood up, staring at the limp body of Vademon which had yet to erase itself. Maybe he would still recover. Normally Yamato wouldn't get too hung up on losing a creep like Vademon. He clearly never washed, for one thing. Yamato had a lump the size of a melon on his head because of him. But if he died, their first and only real clue as to what they were fighting would die with him.
Pivoting on his heel, Yamato headed towards the room Vademon had identified as Taichi's prison. The door was metal and covered in inscriptions. With a flash of insight, Yamato pulled out his cell phone and took a picture of the new code.
He put a hand on the knob, but pulled it back with a hiss. Sweltering heat emanated from the metal. Which could only mean one thing.
There's a very good chance that my group has found Vademon's hideout. Yamato-san has taken an underground trail and discovered a series of tunnels. I was able to map the tunnels – they're placed way too sensibly to be the products of nature. They are constructed passageways all leading to the same mainframe.
This is the first real clue that we've had. Yamato-san is going on ahead. I suggest we meet up and take an alternate route to meet him, and hopefully Taichi-san, inside. I am sending new coordinates based on the map.
"Looks like we're finally on the right trail," Sora announced with a smile as she read Koushirou's message aloud. "Good thing too, I'm exhausted. It's already after five."
"At least it's cooled down since it rained," Biyomon said cheerfully, trekking along beside her partner.
"We should eat something before heading off," Sora said. "Replenish our strength, because it's probably worth it to digivolve and get there faster. Let's see, I've got sandwiches for everyone. Hikari-chan, which do you want, turkey or veggie?"
Hikari wasn't listening. Hadn't been since Sora got to the part where Koushirou wrote "and hopefully Taichi-san." She was walking on air. Pretty soon she thought she'd transcend the atmosphere itself.
"We are going to find him," she said confidently, twirling with her arms stretched out. "We're going to find my brother soon. I can feel it."
"I'm sure you're right," Takeru said, sounding the exact opposite. "But we should still be wary. This is a clue, like Koushirou-san said, but who knows what we'll find inside the caves?"
"Ta-ke-ru-kun," Hikari repeated in a tone of friendly mocking. She walked over to him and squeezed his cheeks between her palms. "I'm telling you. I know we're going to find him and he's going to be okay. And that goes for your brother too. I'm usually right, aren't I?"
"Yes, you are – usually," he mumbled, rolling his eyes.
"This time too," she insisted, and moved his head up and down in a nod.
"Geez," he said when she released him. "With all that positive thinking, maybe you should have the Crest of Hope instead of me."
"I'd probably put it to better use," she said lightly, wishing he'd come out of his funk already. She'd missed him while he'd been grounded, but now that they were back together he seemed determined to find nothing but plague and pestilence everywhere.
"Right now all I want is the Crest of All-You-Can-Eat Buffets!" Miyako burst in, lunging between them with one hand on her hip and the other pointed at the sky. "Taichi-san owes us a treat after all this, am I right? Give it up for delicious free food!"
At least someone knew how to celebrate. Hikari joined Miyako in a chorus of cheers. The girls grabbed hands, locking Takeru in the middle of their circle, and pranced around him in wild laughter.
Takeru lifted his arms above his head. "Um, ladies, what are you doing?"
"You're a May Pole!"
"A May Pole!"
"It's not even May!" Takeru objected loudly above their clamor. "Cut it out – what – oh, come on, that's just unfair," he sighed, as Patamon and Hawkmon spun up in spirals around his head, making odd animal noises. He dropped his arms dejectedly and looked around for support.
"Delicious free food!"
"Free cake and pastries!"
Takeru spotted Gatomon perched on a rock outcropping nearby, watching them. "Gatomon! Please tell me you know how to turn them off," he pleaded.
The feline Digimon regarded them with the look of a world-weary mother who had quite given up on her uncontrollable children. "Trust me, Takeru, the pain'll pass quicker if you just indulge them," she said.
Hikari broke away from Miyako and swooped down on her partner, crushing her in a hug. "Can I help it if I'm happy? This is the first good news we've had all day!"
"And it'll be the last if we don't move out!" Sora shouted. "Come on, everyone grab a sandwich and let's go."
They dutifully ate their sandwiches, and Gatomon, Patamon and Hawkmon armor-digivolved to Nefertimon, Pegasusmon, and Halsemon. Sora joined Miyako on Halsemon's back. They each plugged Koushirou's coordinates into their D-Terminals and took off.
From her seat on Nefertimon's back, Hikari watched the steep mountainside merge into parched sandy desert. They were flying east. The mountains there were more densely populated with trees and plant life, she noted; Mt. Senrei was almost entirely barren. She clutched her pack, thinking of her brother's shoe stuffed inside. Presenting him with that matchless shoe (after hugging him so tight that his lungs popped) was all she wanted in the world.
"We never ran into any desert on File Island, did we?" she heard Takeru ask Sora. "It's Server that has that big desert with the pyramids and the Sphinx with the dislocated jaw."
"There's some desert on File Island." Sora shook her head. "Remember? At Mt. Miharashi, where we found that village of Yokomon. It's mostly savannah, but parts of it are definitely desert. File Island's got a little bit of everything."
"Oh, right. I guess my memory's a bit hazy."
Hikari listened with interest while they reminisced. And perhaps a little envy. If she hadn't been sick that fateful day – August 1st, 1999 – those memories of File Island would be hers too. Her friends had taken her and the other junior Chosen sight-seeing in Digiworld before, so she'd visited a lot of the places the first seven had encountered on Server. But they rarely made a trip to File Island. She herself had never been, and plus the older Chosen were conflicted about going back – Taichi, Sora and Koushirou were usually fine with it, but the others felt their darker memories were of that island, rather than of the continents.
Takeru in particular had issues with it. After all, Infinity Mountain was on File, a place that still haunted his sleep. He'd once said that if Primary Village weren't there, he'd stay away from it completely. She was surprised he'd brought up File at all.
He was really acting weird.
"I can't imagine what it must've been like to wander around in Digiworld all alone, without a guide," Miyako said as they soared over a narrow brown river. "My early days were scary enough, and I had you guys for mentors."
"They weren't alone, they had us," Biyomon protested.
Pegasusmon nodded. "We didn't know much of anything either, but we protected them with everything we had."
Warm feelings rushed through her. Her fingers reached to the scruff of Nefertimon's neck and gave her a scratch between her armor. Something Daisuke had said a little over a week ago came to her mind – a simple thing, but very true:
"I like Digiworld. I like Veemon. I don't think it's their fault that… you know."
I like you too, Nefertimon, Hikari told her partner in her heart. I don't regret a thing.
Not even the horror of being separated from her parents by Myotismon's legion of flunkies. Not even the pain of watching them hurt her friends, or giving herself up to save them. Not a single thing.
Well, of course there was one thing. A friend. A friend who had helped her, saved her, risked everything for her before he even knew she was worth the effort.
A friend they'd lost. Wizardmon.
She fell silent for a bit while the others traded stories. Nefertimon kept the ride smooth, occasionally talking to Pegasusmon; Hikari wasn't really following their conversation.
"Are you okay?" her partner asked, drawing Hikari from her thoughts.
"Mmm? Yeah, I'm fine. Just quiet," Hikari said.
Nefertimon allowed Pegasusmon and Takeru to pass them. "I want to go back to Fuji TV," she said after a moment.
Hikari marveled at the way their thoughts lined up, like they always did – Hikari feeling so deeply and her partner empathizing. And this, of course, this was different from anything else. Especially for Nefertimon – for her even more than for Hikari herself.
"Yeah," she said, "it's about that time, anyway. Mimi-san is here, and Takeru-kun's allowed out again. Let's go this weekend."
"Okay," Nefertimon nodded, her face expressionless as ever, but Hikari could sense her thanks.
Her eyes flitted back to Takeru, scanning the sky from Pegasusmon's back. His usually smiling mouth was a hard line of worry. Not like him at all. She thought back to visiting him after they'd recovered his D3, how she'd meant to make him feel better after such a harrowing ordeal and how instead he, in his Takeru way, never leaning but always lifting others up, had listened to her fears for her brother and kept telling her things would be all right. Really, he'd never faced what had happened with Hosoda Seiki. Not in front of her at least, and she doubted he'd dealt with it much while he'd been boxed in at home. Natsuko was just being a mother, but she'd probably done more harm than good by punishing him when what he really needed was to be with friends who understood what had him freaked out.
Now he couldn't get Hosoda off his mind. Some thought was consuming him, something he wouldn't share, but it had been incubating this whole past week and honest to God it scared her. If Taichi weren't in trouble right this very moment, Takeru would be her number one priority.
She was a little mad at her brother for getting in the way.
It was really, really hot.
Sweat soaked Taichi's underarms, down his legs, on his face. He wondered how much time had past. Not enough for him to pass out from smoke inhalation, but he had to be getting close. The fire was closing in on him. Though he could no longer walk through it without getting burned, he'd noticed something else peculiar about the blaze: it appeared to come out of nowhere. The entire room was stone and metal, with nothing in it – not even a mound of charcoal or wood. And he couldn't smell any gas. Besides, the smoke was the wrong color.
He looked at the symbols on the door again. He'd listened to Koushirou lecture about Digicode so often that he had no trouble recognizing them. But analyzing them was another issue. He parsed them as best he could and came up with nothing. Koushirou would know what to do. But his cell phone was missing, along with his Digivice.
He was out of ideas.
Wish you were here to give me a hand, Agumon. Taichi bent to a squat and buried his head in his arms. You'd digivolve and we'd be out of here in no time, and Sora and everyone would come running over panicked with worry and we'd make fun of them for being so uptight. How am I ever going to prove to Yamato that he's got a stick up his ass if I'm the reason he thinks that everything must always be Serious Business?
He kind of laughed, but it faded into a sigh. Long ago he'd decided that if he died in some kind of tragic accident, it would be a drowning or a fall off a cliff or a club on the head. Never by fire. Fire was Agumon's element; burning alive seemed almost treacherous.
He didn't move for a while, sitting still like a weird garden statue and letting himself feel miserable. And then there was a BANG.
And then another BANG.
bang – bang – bang – bang –
Taichi counted ten consecutive bangs, coming from outside the door.
He jumped to his feet. "Hey! I'm in here! Get me out!" he cried between hacking coughs, not really expecting anyone to hear him. The metal had to be thick, after all…
"Yamato!? Holy crap." Without thinking, Taichi pressed up against the door to better hear the muffled, but extremely welcome voice. The heat made him back up a step, but still he leaned closer to the metal than was probably safe. "Yamato, is that you?"
"It's me. Are you in one piece?"
"Yeah, er – maybe two or three."
"Stay out of the way. WereGarurumon's gonna break you out."
Taichi leapt to the side. The banging took up again and enormous dents appeared in the door. Taichi grinned at the mental image of WereGarurumon judo-kicking the hard metal. Suddenly there was a huge noise – more of a POW than a BANG – and a protrusion the shape of WereGarurumon's skull jutted out.
"Er, Yamato, is your partner all right?"
Taichi slapped his forehead. "This is the worst rescue I've ever had the embarrassment of playing the damsel for!"
"Hey, if you hadn't gone all loopy and insane, you wouldn't need rescuing in the first place! So keep the criticisms to yourself!"
"Sorry," Taichi said sheepishly. "Um. Can I do anything to help?"
"Do you wanna head butt solid metal?"
"Aw, Yama, you haven't changed a bit. Always so practical."
"Shut up." Taichi heard his friends murmuring to each other but couldn't make out what they said. Then Yamato called out again.
"Stand back. We're trying again."
He heard WereGarurumon pound across the floor. With a deafening howl, he flung his entire body into the door, hitting first with his slashing claws and then pushing all his weight against it. Taichi watched as the metal ripped open as if it were paper-thin, and two giant lupine hands took hold of either side to tear it further. Once he'd made a good-sized hole, WereGarurumon stuck his head through and looked around for Taichi. Taichi rushed over and gave his snout a grateful pat.
"Quick, climb over," the wolf rumbled, taking hold of Taichi's shirt and helping him over the gap without touching the scorching metal.
He'd barely set foot on the other side before Yamato grabbed his shoulders.
"You idiot! We got so lost, I can't believe we actually found you." Yamato squeezed, too hard, too tight, and Taichi loved him for it. "Tell me the truth – are you hurt?"
"Just tired. I smell like smoke. And I lost my shoes," Taichi said.
Yamato looked at his feet. "Wow, so you did."
"Somehow I kept all my toes even in that fire. It's weird, I held on to the same pair of shoes the whole time when we first came to Digiworld. I think I'm losing my touch."
"You're definitely losing your touch. Of all the hare-brained things you've ever done, this takes the cake and eats it too."
"Yeah, well." Taichi scratched his head. "Sorry, man."
Yamato's grip slowly loosened. Taichi didn't know what his friend had gone through to find him, but it was obvious from the look of him that it had been rough. His clothes, including a jacket Taichi knew he loved, were dirty and coated in grime. There was a little smear of dried blood on the side of his head. WereGarurumon was slouching a bit, still on his feet but drooping with exhaustion.
"You can punch me tomorrow," Taichi said by way of thanks.
Yamato's mouth tipped. He gave Taichi's shoulder a good-natured clap.
"Okay, so you've rescued me," Taichi said, tapping into an energy reserve he could barely believe he still had. "I am eternally in your debt. You may have either my hand in marriage or my first born child, yada yada yada."
"What, we don't get any money? No lifetime's supply of chocolate?" WereGarurumon managed to actually look upset.
"Guys!" Yamato held up his hands. "In case you haven't noticed, this place is still on fire. Save the banter for when we're somewhere safe."
He handed Taichi his Digivice, but his cell phone was nowhere to be found. Vademon's body was still lying like a heap of rags on the floor. Taichi stepped up to it, wide-eyed.
"You have no idea what he did to you?" Yamato asked.
Taichi shook his head. "I don't even remember how I got here. Wait… alright, I was on a mountain somewhere, and I guess he caught me…"
He frowned and touched his head. Remembering hurt. The last clear memory he had was of wandering aimlessly around some wasteland, and losing his shoes.
"He took something," Yamato went on. "I figured it was your curiosity, but he said it wasn't, and you don't seem any different at least. He said he was commissioned by someone to take it," he said with an anxious look.
Shrugging, Taichi ambled away without answering, keeping it casual. "Did you email the others?" he asked.
Yamato blinked. "No, not yet. Hold on. WereGarurumon –"
"On it," said his partner, and de-digivolved to Garurumon. He led the way to the exit. The Chosen followed, Yamato tapping out a text on his cell.
"You look bushed," Taichi said to Garurumon.
An amber eye rolled on him. "It was worth it now that we've found you."
"Thanks, bud," Taichi said, and meant it. "By the way, why didn't Agumon come along?"
"Gennai said it'd be better to leave him behind," Yamato answered. "And, actually, we didn't see him at all at Gennai's house."
"He wasn't there." Garurumon cocked his head at Yamato, confused. "He left days ago. Gennai sent him on a mission with Centarumon."
"He didn't mention that." Yamato raised his brow. "I've texted Koushirou. Get on, I need a sandwich and a nap ASAP." He'd already settled himself on Garurumon's back.
Taichi made a face at the thought of riding a wolf bareback for a long time. He wasn't used to it the way Yamato was. "What should we do about this?" he said, jerking his head in Vademon's direction as he mounted Garurumon.
"Leave him? He's out cold. I just want to get out of here."
Taichi nodded and Garurumon carried them into another room. Yamato showed Taichi the map, and together they plotted the most convenient path out of the cave. Unfortunately, it meant going back through the tunnels. But there was nothing else for it, so into the dark mountain underbelly they went.
Closing in on Mt. Iwakaze
Almost there. Any news from Yamato-san?
Nothing yet. Sora-san's group and mine have joined up. How quickly do you think you can get here?
Approx. 30-40 minutes? It's hard to be certain because our pace varies. FYI, we have injuries. We'll hurry as much as we can but it might take a while. Keep us posted on any changes.
Injuries? What happened? Who did you fight?
I'll explain when we get there.
"We are being herded," Daisuke hissed to Ken, who had to force himself not to remind his best friend for the umpteenth time that the Digimon had hypersensitive ears. "In the 'flocks of sheep the shepherds watch by night' sense of the word."
"Daisuke, we were trounced by Baihumon last time," Ken shot back, annoyed. "In the 'completely and utterly destroyed' sense of the word."
"So we're just going to follow him around and do whatever he asks? How is that accomplishing anything?"
"Centarumon asked us to, and he's the only one with any idea who this guy is. Look, don't think of it as surrendering. Think of it as strategically biding our time."
"Strategy, Daisuke!" DemiVeemon chirped. Since waking up he'd been a non-stop chatterbox. "You like strategy."
"No, I like pounding the guy who hurt my friends until he's flat as a pancake and I get to eat him for breakfast," Daisuke growled, throwing Baihumon a look of contempt. Ken decided telling him that look only made him seem five years old would be an exercise in futility.
DemiVeemon bounced. "Will you eat him with maple syrup? Or with cinnamon? Or with blueberries? Or with –"
"I'll eat him plain in one big bite," Daisuke proclaimed.
"You'll hurt your teeth that way," Minomon piped up, sounding genuinely concerned.
"I'll replace every tooth I lose eating him with one made of titanium."
"For goodness's sake, Daisuke, don't you know any other metals?" Ken sighed.
Daisuke turned his scowl on him. "So what if I do? Titanium is awesome. Titanium was named after the Titans."
"Titanium is what everyone uses for dental implants," Ken said under his breath.
"Are you talking about the football team?" DemiVeemon asked.
Daisuke launched into an explanation of the Titans in Greek mythology and Ken fell behind with Minomon. The sun was obscured again but the clouds looked far less threatening. They were puffy and white, lazy-looking cumulus clouds.
They looked like sheep.
"Gomamon still hasn't woken up," Minomon said.
Ken glanced over at Jou, dragging his feet behind Centarumon, gingerly carrying his unconscious partner. He'd only let someone else hold him once since their trek started, and that was only so he could redo the bandages on Iori's arms.
It wasn't that Ken didn't sympathize with Jou and Gomamon, or that he didn't feel the same frustrating anger that kept hounding Daisuke. He did. But he couldn't help being careful about it, waiting to see what Baihumon would do, following Centarumon's directions. If they fought, they would not win. But Daisuke wouldn't accept that without a fight… ironically.
His best friend was fidgeting with pent up energy and Jou was itching to dash off to Gennai's at the first sign that Gomamon was getting worse. He, Ken, needed to remain steady, to make up for the lack of balance among the others.
Well, not all the others. There was Iori. Firm, stoic, reliable Iori. He brought up the rear along with Baihumon and had said barely a word since they'd set off.
Ken watched him for a second before noticing that he'd broken his silence. Baihumon was talking to him and he was talking back. Snippets of their conversation drifted Ken's way: Baihumon said something about "Oikawa" and Ken's head snapped up.
He maneuvered to the back of the group and fell into step with Iori. This close, he noticed how the blood had drained from Iori's face. Baihumon abruptly dropped off mid-sentence and fixed his penetrating, wild eyes on Ken.
"You," he said in his deep, resonating voice. "You are Ichijouji Ken."
Ken and Iori shared a glance. "Yes," Ken replied cautiously, mentally preparing himself.
"You are the Digimon Emperor," Baihumon pressed on.
"Was the Digimon Emperor," Iori countered hotly. Ken couldn't help a small smile.
"I'm a Chosen," he said. "First and foremost."
Something in Baihumon's expression hardened. "Do you think you're some kind of victim? Hundreds of Digimon suffered greatly under your hand."
The smile died. "I have a lot of things to make up for," Ken said softly. "That's why I'm here. Because I… I want to change the damage I did."
"Ken-chan is a good person," Minomon put in, waving his stubby arms frantically. "The Emperor was just how he expressed all the pain he was in. And he was manipulated by Digimon too!"
"What manipulated?" Baihumon demanded, baring his teeth, each roughly the length of a baseball bat. "Were you brainwashed? Threatened? Attacked?"
"Emotional abuse is still abuse," Iori said in Ken's defense.
It was hard for Ken to keep his cool under these conditions. What had he just been thinking about balancing out Daisuke's and Jou's unstable moods? "I know nothing can fix what I did. I just want the chance to seek forgiveness."
"So your quest for absolution is selfishly motivated after all," Baihumon snarled. "And I thought there was a human involved with you. Oikawa Yukio."
"Who was possessed by MaloMyotismon," Ken said.
"Oikawa Yukio, who was so bitter that Digiworld rejected him, that he forced his own way in, creating digital abominations in the process."
Ken's mouth went dry. Abominations? Arukenimon, Mummymon – certainly he hated them, they'd helped manipulate him for years, but they had cared about each other in their own way. BlackWarGreymon was still a sensitive subject for all the Chosen. And as for Oikawa…
Ken peered down at Iori and saw a muscle working in his jaw. His hands were balled into fists at his sides.
"They weren't abominations," Ken retorted, meeting Baihumon's sharp stare with an equally unyielding look of his own. "They were Digimon with hearts. And maybe if Oikawa hadn't been rejected all those years ago, he would never have become vulnerable to MaloMyotismon's possession."
Baihumon breathed heavily through his nostrils, suddenly tight-lipped but keeping an unblinking eye on Ken. Iori tugged on Ken's sleeve.
Ken nodded. He felt miles away. This was only the second time he'd come to Digiworld in weeks, and both times something had happened to remind him of those painful days as the Digimon Emperor. Usually, he was accepted wherever he went, not only because he was with the heroic Chosen Children but also for his own merits. He'd always be grateful for the Digimon who let him in whole-heartedly. But maybe he'd become complacent, starting to think his crimes were forgotten as well as forgiven.
"He's wrong, Ken-chan." Minomon pressed his face into Ken's shirt, nuzzling his chest. "You were as much a victim as anyone. It's not okay to use anyone like that, especially not a kid. And we've put our lives on the line for the world over and over. If that's not enough atonement for what we did, I don't know what is."
Ken cupped a hand around Minomon's pint-sized body and gave him a soft, grateful squeeze. He didn't trust himself to speak.
"Hey!" Daisuke came running up to them. "Guess what – Mesa Forte is right around the corner here! We're really close!" He stopped a few paces away and instantly looked concerned. "Ken, what happened?"
Swallowing hard, Ken tried to compose himself. Daisuke opened his mouth to say something when all of a sudden Baihumon took off. His enormous shadow fell over them as he took a flying leap into the air and landed a few yards ahead.
"Oh no," Jou said with a gasp. "Guys, look – Takeru-kun and Hikari-kun are out there!"
They watched in horror as Baihumon bounded towards the airborne Pegasusmon and Nefertimon, their partners surely nearby. Squinting, Ken could just make out a group of people who could only be the other Chosen. None of them had noticed the immensely powerful and bloodthirsty Digimon racing their way.
"We have to stop him!" Iori cried. "Armadillomon –"
But Centarumon trotted over to them and held out an arm. "Wait." He swiveled his single red eye on Baihumon. "Don't do anything yet."
Baihumon bellowed with such strength that splinters of rock cracked and fell from jagged formations. Pegasusmon beat his wings and blasts of energy rained down from them. Light beamed from Nefertimon's headdress and concentrated on Baihumon. The two attacks combined, hitting Baihumon with staggering force. Baihumon barely flinched, and actually quickened his pace.
"This is bad," Daisuke cried.
The two armor Digimon were now joined by Halsemon, Birdramon, Kabuterimon, and Togemon. The Chosen were wasting no time amping it up. But all Ken could think of was Paildramon, frozen in time, encased in gold from head to toe and unable to fight back. As if fulfilling his dire predictions, every attack the Digimon made rebounded on them and gave Baihumon the opening he needed. He dived in on Pegasusmon and slashed at him with his armored claw. Nefertimon pushed Pegasusmon aside and took some of the blow herself; the two Digimon immediately de-digivolved and fell from the sky.
"That's it, we have to help them." Daisuke gritted his teeth and pulled out his D3. "DemiVeemon, I know you're beyond exhausted, but do you have it in you to fight one more time?"
"Definitely," his fiery partner squeaked, somehow managing to look deadly serious in spite of his marshmallow-y body.
"And you guys?"
Armadillomon and Minomon nodded.
"This is not how I was hoping things would play out," Ken said, retrieving his own D3.
"Me either," Daisuke admitted, "but if we can join up with the others and hold Baihumon off for a while, maybe Taichi-san and Yamato-san will –"
"Stop," Centarumon interrupted.
They all stared at him. "Put your Digivices away," he said.
"How can we?" Iori cried. "Centarumon, look, they don't stand a chance – !"
"You have no choice. You must leave them to fight on their own."
"Have you lost your mind?" Daisuke exclaimed, incredulous. "He'll kill them. We're going."
"You cannot." The centaur placed himself between the Chosen and their friends and spread his arms. "If you do, you will be in direct violation of Gennai's agreement with Baihumon. You must watch. You must trust Gennai."
Jou's mouth fell open. "Gennai says we can't fight back?"
"I told you," Centarumon said, "that what I would ask you to do would go against all your instincts. This is your test. But rest assured that it is all part of Gennai's plan."
Daisuke looked at Ken. In the late afternoon light, his goggles gleamed like a pair of beacons. Iori was practically shaking, and Jou's hand on his shoulder seemed like all there was preventing him from tearing away from the group completely. His Jogress partner had just been attacked, after all.
"There's really nothing we can do?" Ken asked, feeling torn.
Centarumon bowed his head. "We can only wait."
1.] According to the Digimon Wiki, what's called a "fractal code" in Frontier is referred to as "Digi Code" in Japanese. Similarly, what I'm referring to as Digicode, a written syllabary for Digimon, is called "Digi-moji" ("digital written characters") in the original. As far as I know, Digicode was only referred to once or twice in the dub of Adventure, though you can see it all around Digiworld and on Digimon, but if someone remembers otherwise please let me know. So I'm willing to take a little bit of liberty with both terms, but here a fractal code is essentially the same as in Frontier, and Digicode is mainly a writing system.
2.] Visual kei: style of Japanese musicians that includes elaborate costumes and hairstyles.
Thanks again for reading and all your wonderful feedback! Now that camp's started again, I spend most of the time chasing small children to prevent them from doing fun things like eating paste and hammering their own thumbs in the woodcraft room. So it may be a while for the next chapter, but I'll be working hard on it. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you.
Also, er, why do I fail so hard thinking up chapter titles… – Fizz