(Author's Notes: Finally, here's Chapter 41. Now that I'm done writing a difficult series of chapters, I hope I can update a little faster. We'll see. As always, I'll post Part 2 of this chapter in about a week.
The Demon Lords are closing in. Enjoy!)
Chapter 41: Brave Heart (Part I)
An engine growled as it pushed a bulky metal body up an incline. The hissing of steam, the metallic pattering of rotating gears, and the snarling of pistons polluted the serene, mountain air.
"Hurry up, Bolgmon," a cold voice said from ahead of him. "We don't have much time before the Demon Lords make their move. We have to find him before we get caught in the crossfire."
Bolgmon panted as he struggled to mount the steep, rocky pathway that led towards a familiar plateau. He glared ahead at Blitzmon, who was already standing at the peak of the incline. "I'm going as fast as I can! I'm in first gear, here!"
Blitzmon leered at him, his arms folded, tapping his foot impatiently. He carried a satchel over his shoulder, holding it carefully so as to not damage the precious cargo within. Inside was the Yggdrasil Codex.
During the night, Blitzmon and Bolgmon used the stolen keys to sneak inside the Timeless Library and steal the precious text. The heist went off without a hitch. He knew how valuable the Yggdrasil Codex was, so he made sure to cushion it within his bag. He knew that Bagramon would want it in one piece.
"You eat too much street food. You're out of shape," he scolded, impatient at Bolgmon's slow movements. He eyed Bolgmon's midsection demonstratively.
Bolgmon grunted and rolled his eyes. After straining himself, Bolgmon reached the peak of the hill. Upon cresting the incline, he sighed with relief when he finally found himself on level, unobstructed terrain.
The pair of insect mercenaries looked across the flowery plateau that was embedded in the side of Yggdrasil's Mount. They saw Bagramon's hut in the center, surrounded by overgrown patches of flowers and grass.
"So… What happens if Wizardmon's not inside?" Bolgmon asked, folding his cannon arms.
"Why wouldn't he be? That's where he's supposed to meet us."
Bolgmon shrugged his shoulders: an action that looked like bobbing naval mines. "Maybe he pissed his pants when he heard about the demon army and hightailed it outta here or something. Or maybe he went down to New Terminal for some grub. Dunno, just thinking out loud."
"Then we look for him until the demons attack," Blitzmon explained matter-of-factly.
"And if we can't find him? There's not gonna be much left of New Terminal once they attack; personally, I'm putting my money on the side with the giant ass crocodile," the trigger-happy, insect tank said. "Plus, I can see the pipsqueak mage being particularly squishy and flammable in a fight, can't you?"
"Then there's nothing we can do. We'll just give Bagramon the book and hope that Wizardmon hasn't been crushed under a building or something," Blitzmon responded, shrugging with cold nonchalance. "Now come on."
Bolgmon shifted into gear and began rolling towards Bagramon's hermetic hut. His grooved and mechanical tank treads crushed the patch of flowers before him without even a second thought. The continuous, metal tracks tore the yellow petals and mashed them into the dirt below.
Blitzmon quietly walked beside him and made his way up to the wooden entrance of the hut. He raised his hand and prepared to knock, but his knuckles stopped just short of contact with the slab of wood. "…Do you hear that?" he asked Bolgmon.
Bolgmon leaned his head towards the door and listened closely, concentrating his auditory receptors. He could hear a faint shuffling sound inside. "Yeah… There's definitely somebody in there…" Bolgmon agreed.
The humanoid beetle nodded and placed his hand on the curved, metal knob that was shaped like a snake. He twisted the serpentine handle and pushed the aged, timbered door open.
Blitzmon walked inside, followed by Bolgmon. They were greeted with the warmth of the indoors as well as the faint perfume of herbs and tea leaves. At first glance, everything seemed natural. The shelves and furniture were all in the right place.
However, as the pair of mercenaries turned their gazes to the right, they saw something that they weren't expecting.
On the far side of the hut's main room, Wizardmon was lying on the ground. His body was tightly tied to one of the wooden chairs with a long, glowing cord of light. In his haphazard struggle to escape, he had managed to tip the chair over so that it had fallen on its side. All the mage could do was lie on the floor and continue to squirm futilely. With his wizard hat having fallen off his blond head, he was rather a sad sight.
Upon hearing the door creak open, he cast his wide, frightened eyes over towards the entrance of the abode. When he saw the familiar forms of Blitzmon and Bolgmon, Wizardmon huffed out a sigh of relief. "Blitzmon! Bolgmon!" he exclaimed.
Bolgmon blinked and cocked his head curiously. "Wizardmon? What kind of kinky stuff are you into?" he jokingly asked, wondering why the demon mage was in such a curious state.
"Don't be an idiot. Somebody did this to him," Blitzmon told the bulkier insect. He frowned deeply and walked over to Wizardmon. The mercenary reached down and pulled the chair back onto its feet, and Wizardmon along with it. After the chair was upright, Blitzmon walked around behind it and tentatively prodded the radiant rope, making sure that he wouldn't get burned if he touched it. Feeling only smooth, solid, light data, Blitzmon was satisfied and he began to work on untying the knot.
"What happened, Wizardmon? Who did this to you?" Blitzmon inquired in a voice that calmly demanded an answer. After a few moments, Blitzmon untied the knot and began pulling the rope off of the frightened wizard.
"I-It was Alphamon!" Wizardmon nervously explained, relieved at being able to move his arms again. He hopped out of the chair and stood to his feet, dusting his cloak off.
"…Alphamon? That Alphamon?!" Bolgmon asked, rolling over to them. "From the Royal Knights?"
"Y-Yes, Alphamon of the Royal Knights…" Wizardmon murmured. He shyly picked up his hat and placed it on his head, pulling it down over his face slightly.
Blitzmon glowered gently. "Why?" he asked, his words point blank, like a bullet.
"He knows all about Bagramon!" Wizardmon explained, the glare making him wither just like Alphamon's did previously. "He knows that Bagramon was the one who was responsible for the Demon Lords' escape!"
"What? How could he know that?" Blitzmon wondered, frowning pensively. He looked at Wizardmon accusatorially. "What did you tell him?"
"I bet he sang like a Piyomon," Bolgmon thought out loud, looking at Wizardmon with suspicious eyes.
"I d-d-didn't tell Alphamon anything about Bagramon's plans!" Wizardmon ardently insisted, defensively raising his hands up. "I only told him what I did! He already knew everything else! I don't know how!"
"So, he didn't ask you anything?"the human-insect mercenary dubiously questioned.
Wizardmon ducked his face behind his up-turned collar. "He didn't have time. Alphamon seemed like he was in a hurry… He mentioned that there was a demon army on the way and that he would come back after he was finished dealing with that. That's why he tied me up," he explained.
"I see… Lucky for us then," Blitzmon noted. "Come on. Get your things. We don't have much time."
"What?" Wizardmon asked hesitantly. "Where are we going?"
"Bagramon told us to bring you to him after we obtained the Yggdrasil Codex," Blitzmon told him, handing Wizardmon his magic staff that had been leaning against the wall.
"W-What? You mean w-with the S-S-Seven Great Demon Lords?!" the sorcerer scientist balked. "But- but-"
"Let's get moving," Blitzmon responded, uninterested in Wizardmon's nervousness.
"Wait! I can't! I'm supposed to wait here until Alphamon gets back!" Wizardmon maintained in a panic.
Bolgmon turned and stared at him incredulously. "Are you fucking serious?" he asked, unable to believe what he was hearing. "You want to wait around to get arrested by the Royal Knights?!"
"I-If I'm gone when Alphamon gets back, he'll be angry with me!" Wizardmon timidly insisted. "I don't want to be a fugitive like you! Bagramon doesn't even need me anymore now that he's done with the dark rifts!"
Blitzmon shouldered his bag and turned around to face Wizardmon fully, causing the mage to take a step back with fright. The mercenary levelled a firm, emphatic stare with the protesting wizard. "Whether you're needed or not is for Bagramon to decide," he explained in no uncertain terms. "Bolgmon and I have a job to do. We were told to bring you. You're coming with us, even if I have to tie you up again. Understood?"
Wizardmon gulped but submissively nodded, clutching tightly to his staff. "Y-Yeah. I understand…"
"Great!" Bolgmon exclaimed, rolling into reverse and turning around so that he could face the front exit. "Let's move our asses already. The demons will probably attack soon."
"We'll need to be careful with the Royal Knights around…" Blitzmon mused. "What do you think would be the best plan, Bolgmon?"
"Well, if the Demon Lords are attacking from the north, there's gonna be a pretty strong defensive presence along the northern walls of the city. The gate's probably sealed off to civilians too. I'm not sure I trust the eastern route along the river either… We could escape through the southern gate, but we don't know how many Royal Knights there are and if the whole Order is here already," Bolgmon explained, putting his logistical abilities to use. "I think we should take one of the paths in the Argent Mountains. We can head west and then hook around. That'd be safest. Barely any chance of meeting either armies there."
"Sounds like a plan," Blitzmon affirmed. He placed a hand on Wizardmon's shoulder and led him out of Bagramon's hut, as if to remind him that he would always be nearby.
Wizardmon walked along hesitantly, though compliantly. He certainly didn't want to get on the wrong side of either of the mercenaries. Although, he couldn't help but feel that he was as much of a captor now as when Alphamon had him.
"…Did you find the Yggdrasil Codex?" Wizardmon asked them timidly.
"We did. We stole it last night," Blitzmon answered, gesturing to the satchel. "I doubt anybody will notice with everything that's going on. At least, not until it's too late."
"Did ol' Bag of Bones tell you what he wanted it for?" Bolgmon asked, looking at Wizardmon inquisitively.
Wizardmon fingered at his collar. "You probably shouldn't call him that…" he murmured. "And I don't know. Bagramon didn't tell me anything about this stage of the plan. Just the dark rift-related stage…"
"It doesn't matter. We're getting paid for it. He can do what he likes with the book: read it, burn it, whatever," Blitzmon replied with disinterest.
Bolgmon shrugged. "I guess…" the tank supposed. As the group of three walked out of the hut and onto the mountain plateau, Bolgmon turned his head and looked out over the vast city of New Terminal. "You think New Terminal's gonna survive the night?"
"Don't know. Maybe," Blitzmon responded, walking over the field.
Wizardmon frowned and looked up at the two bug mercenaries in front of him. "Don't either of you mind if it doesn't…?" he asked, a tinge of sadness in his voice at the prospect of the city being destroyed.
Bolgmon simply shrugged.
"…There's no room for sentimentality," Blitzmon said after a momentary pause. "Towns come and towns go… They're just buildings in the end."
"Buildings with memories attached to them…" Wizardmon put forward.
"What use are those…?" Blitzmon murmured bitterly. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "The only thing is that New Terminal's destruction might be bad for future business, so I hope that the Demon Lords have enough sense to keep it untouched. I'm sure they're smart enough to know that they need the city mostly intact for it to have any use to them."
"Yeah. A bit of a fireworks display might be fun though," Bolgmon added with a chuckle. "Heheh…"
Wizardmon turned his head and looked out across the city as they began making their way down the mountain path. He looked across all the buildings and his sad eyes tightened.
He remembered Alphamon's words to him about how he still played a part in Bagramon's plans. He suddenly felt incredibly guilty and selfish. If the people of New Terminal were going to suffer just for the sake of his own curiosity, he wasn't sure if he could handle the guilt.
Wizardmon grimaced and gripped his staff. Quietly, ashamedly, the mage followed the pair of Black Pincer Company mercenaries. There wasn't anything he could do about it now…
The grey clouds continued to blanket the sky, yet rain did not fall. The sun was blotted out by nebulous, smoky overcast. A shadow was cast across the landscape, earning it a bleak, dingy atmosphere.
Four kilometers north of New Terminal was a village. It was a small village of about one hundred or so buildings. Running through the center of it was a single road leading north from the northern gate of New Terminal. It was just a simple stopping point for travellers who were headed to and from New Terminal along the Grand Highway.
The village was known as Hope's Crest.
And it was in the Demon Lords' way.
The army of the Seven Great Demon Lords was temporarily stopped in a grassy field. The few-thousand-strong army was halted in formation, with the demon soldiers chatting amongst themselves excitedly. The adrenaline was palpable among them, as they all knew that their attack was going to begin soon. Blades and claws were sharpened, guns were cleaned and loaded, and inner energy was focused.
The Demon Lords' carriages were set aside at the rear of the army. All of the Demon Lords were out and preparing for the attack. However, there were only five Demon Lords present. Leviamon was nowhere to be seen.
Lucemon, Demon, Lilithmon, Barbamon, Beelzebumon and Bagramon, were all present. They all stood at the front of the army, looking down the road towards the village. Beelzebumon leaned against his motorcycle, boredly spinning one of his shotguns around his finger. The rest of the Demon Lords were positioned at the front, observing the village of Hope's Crest with ambitious eyes.
Lucemon peered down a hand-held spyglass, observing the movements of the village's occupants. Being only a kilometer away, the Digimon villagers had quickly noticed the demon army at their doorstep, and many were beginning to flee. A company of defenders from the Republic's military were positioning themselves outside of Hope's Crest, putting themselves between the Demon Lords and the village. It was only about fifty Digimon to protect the couple hundred Digimon within the village. The fit and combat-able villagers were hanging around the town while the young and old escaped first.
The Demon Lord of Pride smirked victoriously and lowered the handheld telescope. He then passed it off to Demon, who stood beside him. "A paltry force," he declared.
Demon raised the spyglass to his shrouded eye to view for himself. "Hmm… four Ultimates – the commanders, most likely. The rest, Perfect and Adult levels," he observed.
Barbamon looked down his own telescope at the Republican military contingent. "A token force, to be sure. This is clearly a sign of weakness…" Barbamon mused. "The enemy strategist – Gaioumon, was it? - isn't confident enough in the strength of their army to face us in a field battle. Instead, he is planning to fortify their positions behind the city walls and goad us into laying siege to them. He knows that we can't fully encircle and besiege the city, so he expects us to lay a partial siege. He plans to stall for time and wait for reinforcements – the Royal Knights – to arrive with the hopes that they will drive us off."
"It's a good thing that we aren't planning to lay siege to them then, isn't it?" Lilithmon mused with a confident grin.
"Yes, well, as for this laughable village defence…" Barbamon continued, lowering the spyglass and leaning on his staff. "Clearly this is just a voluntary sacrificial force intended to save the precious little civilians within the village. Very heroic, I'm sure, but pathetic and futile. A waste of monpower."
Bagramon's right eye glowed with a bright, ruby glimmer as he used his Invisible Snake-Eyes. "There are no tricks or hidden troops that I can see…" he informed them. "It is as it seems."
"It would be ideal if our attacking the village would draw the soldiers out of the city, but I very much doubt it," Barbamon explained. "Either way, we will have to go through it to reach the gate. We will have to rely on your bug once we reach the city gates, Bagramon."
"Can we trust him?" Lilithmon wondered, folding her slender arms across her abdomen.
"I trust GrandisKuwagamon for now," Bagramon responded. "He is desperate and alone. If he thinks this will help him, he will do what he must."
"And if not, then there is still Leviamon," Barbamon reasoned. "I do hope that the big lummox didn't get seen by any patrols when he broke off in the dead of night."
"Leviamon may be a fool, but he is a soldier. He should know how to get into position properly," Demon responded, lowering the scope. The cloaked devil turned to the other Demon Lords. "And what of this village? I say we destroy it."
Lucemon nodded and brushed a lock of his long, blond hair back from his face. "Kill them all," he callously decided. "The soldiers, defenders, and civilians alike – any who get in our way. We must show the Council of Seven as well as the world that we are not to be trifled with. They will take us seriously, and hopefully they will know not to resist us."
Bagramon glanced at Lucemon with hesitation, but he didn't speak up. He knew sacrifices would have to be made. This might be one of those times.
"I concur," Barbamon said. "Psychological warfare is an important part of strategy. We will crush this puny force so utterly that we will crush the defenders' spirits. Let's load their data for maximum effect."
"An excellent idea, Barbamon," Lucemon declared, smirking as he folded his arms. "We had might as well make that our policy from now on. It worked well for us in the Heavenly War."
Lilithmon cupped her hand to her mouth and chuckled in a dignified manner. "Ohoh. It's a dirty job but somebody has to do it."
Bagramon closed his eye and turned away, gazing towards the lone village. "…So it is," he stated, a hint of solemnity in his voice.
"We needn't attack with our full army. It is such a small village that that would merely cause disarray among our own forces. Send in the Sixth Legion. They are eager," Barbamon suggested, folding his bony hands on the head of his staff.
Lucemon placed his hands on his hips. "There is no reason for me to get involved in the attack. Demon, Beelzebumon, you two lead them."
Beelzebumon glanced over, in the middle of picking his ear. "Eh? Me?" he asked, pointing at himself. He folded his arms and shrugged. "Nah. Not interested."
"What do you mean you're 'not interested'?!" Barbamon complained. "You have been constantly bitching about wanting to have some 'real action' ever since we left the Dark Area."
"And you call a handful of civvies and some stationary targets 'real action'?" Beelzebumon rhetorically responded, grinning. "Snooze-fest. I'm savin' up for the frontal attack on the city. That's where the action is. If you don't like it, tough shit. Pick Lilithmon or somethin'."
"Hah! Me?" Lilithmon asked mockingly. "My skills are better suited as an assassin. I will fight if I must, but if I don't, then I would prefer to leave it to the ones who get their rocks off doing so."
Demon snarled gently. "Lazy incompetents. I'll do it myself," he coldly said. He cast a captious eye onto Beelzebumon. "You could have been a great commander, but you always flout your chance. You have no sense of responsibility, even now… You just keep indulging your pleasures…"
"Oh, I plan to, D," Beelzebumon promised, smirking and sticking his tongue out at him.
Demon scoffed. "The rest of you just watch as I bathe those fools in flame."
"Yes, yes. Very well. Give it your all," Barbamon stated half-heartedly. "'Do your best!' and other such motivational slogans."
Demon nodded and took off his robes, revealing his brawny, beast-like demon body that he had been hiding underneath. He passed his vestments to a PicoDevimon minion. "Very well. They will flee like pearls before swine…" he darkly promised. After a moment, Demon frowned quizzically.
Barbamon rolled his eyes. "Almost got it," he dryly murmured. He stood up straight and shouldered his staff. "We shouldn't waste any more time. It's the afternoon now."
Lucemon turned to Bagramon. Bagramon noticed his gaze and nodded at him, accepting the plan. Bagramon wouldn't lack in any determination, no matter how much the deed made him uncomfortable.
Demon spun around and began marching towards the demon commanders and the gathered troops. "Loyal demons of the Sixth Legion! Prepare yourselves!" he shouted out in a gruff, commanding voice that gathered the demons' attention and amplified their adrenaline.
"We attack that village! Prepare to slaughter them all! Today we feast on blood and data!" Demon roared. "Let loose and gorge yourselves on a banquet of carnage!"
And then the demon horde roared and hollered with ravenous fury, excitement, and bloodlust. They were ready to unleash their pent up rage.
They were ready to attack.
SaviorHackmon wandered down a large road that stretched from the southern gate to the northern gate – one of the main arteries of New Terminal. He shuffled along behind Gankoomon, who strode ahead of him by a few paces.
All of the stalls were shut down, and all of the shops locked and abandoned. Most of the civilians were busy evacuating, though many still lingered defiantly inside their homes and businesses. Most of the Digimon out in the open were soldiers, law enforcement, or fleeing civilians. The tension in the air was thick.
SaviorHackmon's bladed feet trudged mutedly over the stone pavement, scratching against the rough surface. His arms hung at his sides, his head was bowed, and his cape hung listlessly against his back. A squad of Republic soldiers marched by him and his mentor, but he barely reacted to their presence. SaviorHackmon's expression was distant. He was absorbed in his thoughts.
"Hey!" Gankoomon roughly said, peering over his shoulders with a strict gaze. "Pay attention! Are you listening to me, SaviorHackmon? This is important."
SaviorHackmon blinked and looked up, tearing his gaze away from the cracks in the stonework below. "Yes, Sensei. I'm to follow your orders and stay by your side at all times," he half-heartedly answered. "If I see a Demon Lord, I'm not to engage. I'm to provide support for the Strike Forces and listen to my superiors' commands."
Gankoomon's piercing stare lingered on SaviorHackmon's subdued eyes. He looked forwards again, continuing to lead the way down the street towards the southern edge of New Terminal. "Good. Make sure that you do. If you thought that Black Pincer Company was tough, you aren't even scratching the surface of what the Demon Lords can do," he explained.
SaviorHackmon frowned bitterly at the mention of that mercenary group. His mind was still spinning from everything that was going on. GrandisKuwagamon's betrayal of their trust, their confrontation, and everything that the mercenary had admitted still weighed heavily on his mind. He had to keep reminding himself of Sleipmon's encouraging words to him. Just as long as he could help Digimon… SaviorHackmon quietly told himself that he had to hold onto that.
Even so, it wasn't easy.
The caped dragon man raised his steel head and looked around. It was strange seeing the streets so vacant. Usually, this street was full of bustling Digimon and lively merchants selling their wares. Now all that could be seen was the orderly marching of soldiers as panicked civilians were herded down the main roads. A Greymon with a whistle directed foot traffic, while a Birdramon did the same in the air. It was like a different city from the one that he and Gankoomon and the Sistermons had visited so many times. It felt like everybody was on a knife edge. There was an unspoken fear that permeated the city, as if the whole city was about to collapse at any moment. It didn't help to lift SaviorHackmon's dwindling spirits.
"SaviorHackmon," Gankoomon said suddenly, drawing the steel dragon's attention. The Royal Knight didn't turn around. "You aren't still thinking about GrandisKuwagamon, are you?"
"…I'm trying not to, Sensei," SaviorHackmon responded.
"Good. You can't afford to waste your focus on him," Gankoomon said firmly. "Whatever he did, whatever he said, he made his choice. This is going to be a fight for life and death. When you asked to come, you said that you wanted to help Digimon. If you're going to sulk about that bug rather than focus on what you promised to do, then go home right now. Otherwise, you'll just get in the way."
These harsh but honest words seemed to snap SaviorHackmon out of his introspective trance. Gankoomon was like a hammer sometimes. He was hard, blunt, but he always knew how to make an impact with his words. He smashed through pretenses and got right to the truth. Although slightly hurt, SaviorHackmon nodded. He realised that his mentor had a point. He needed to focus on what he set out to do.
"Yeah, okay, Sensei," SaviorHackmon agreed, nodding. "I'll focus."
"Good…" Gankoomon murmured, readjusting the white jacket that rested on his shoulders. "Come on. The guard said that the others are at the military base. We'll meet them there."
SaviorHackmon nodded and reached up to tug at the crimson fabric that collared his neck. Despite this renewed intention to focus on what was in front of him, the situation they faced in front of them was grim. His heart stirred, knowing that the Seven Great Demon Lords, the ones who destroyed his town and killed his family, were just a few kilometers north of the city. Not only that, but they were threatening to do the same thing to New Terminal.
SaviorHackmon closed his fist around his cape collar. Without realising it, his claws gripped the fabric tightly. He felt restless. He felt helpless. He felt like he needed to act, even when all of his logic was trying to rein his emotions in.
Suddenly, he heard a distant voice coming from behind him. The pitch was high and the cadence was meek and fearful. It sounded extremely familiar…
"Noir, don't!" the voice pleaded.
"Here I go!" a second voice announced. This one was brash, confident, and cheeky. It could only be…
Before SaviorHackmon could fully process what was going on, he felt a small hand press against his caped back. A short but acrobatic figure suddenly lunged up behind him. A second hand grabbed hold of the toothy hem of his hood. SaviorHackmon was about to turn when, without warning, the hand pulled the goggle-clad hood up and over his horned head, pulling it down hard over his face.
"Gah!" SaviorHackmon cried out in a muffled voice. He reached up to his covered face, his nose horn sticking through its slot in the hood's hem. He grabbed hold of his goggles and used it as a grip to hold onto the cloth, pulling it up and out of his eyes.
As his vision became unobstructed, SaviorHackmon looked down at the offender. A short girl clothed in black and white vestments stood in front of him with a familiar, impudent grin on her face. A second figure, a shorter girl clad in white and pink rank up behind SaviorHackmon and pulled his hood back down so that it wasn't bothering him. She timidly hid behind his tall, caped body.
At the same time, Gankoomon spun around on his wooden sandals to see what the commotion was all about. His eye began twitching behind his visor at what he saw.
"…SISTERMONS?!" he shouted in disbelief.
"N-Noir-chan?! Blanc-chan?" SaviorHackmon stammered, blinking and looking between the two Sistermons.
"Yo. What's with that sad, pathetic face, Hackie?" Sistermon Noir asked, grinning as she propped her elbow up against him and leaned against his much taller form. "Just looking at you makes me want to blow my brains out. What gives?"
"Noir, don't be insensitive!" Sistermon Blanc urged her forthright, older sister. She looked over at Gankoomon and let out a squeak, immediately withering under his furious glare.
"Never mind that!" Gankoomon shouted, swinging his arm out emphatically. "What the hell are you girls doing here?! I didn't say that you could come! Explain yourselves!"
Sistermon Blanc practically wilted, holding SaviorHackmon's red cape up to her face and only just peeking her grey eyes over top of it. Rather than replying, she merely let out a high pitched series of mumbles that were nearly incomprehensible.
Her older sister, however, was much more shameless. Sistermon Noir turned around and shrugged, spinning her pistol around her finger. "Well, SaviorHackmon got to come, so why can't we?" she countered. "We didn't want to sit around on our butts back at the castle, so we thought we'd tag along. My aim is starting to get rusty."
Gankoomon raised his hand and began rubbing his vein-bulging forehead with frustration. "How did you even get here?!"
"We came on the Locomon, same as you," Sistermon Noir explained, bold as brass.
"You stowed away!" Gankoomon corrected. He lifted his visor and turned his piercing glare to Sistermon Blanc.
"Eep!" Sistermon Blanc squeaked in response to his narrowed eyes, hiding behind SaviorHackmon fully now. "I'm sorry! It was Noir's idea! I was just trying to stop her! But you know how stubborn she is!"
"Hey! Traitor!" Sistermon Noir complained, shooting her younger sister an annoyed leer.
"You're both in serious trouble!" Gankoomon chastised them. "Do you know how dangerous this situation is?! It's bad enough that I have to look after SaviorHackmon when I should be focusing on the Demon Lords! I can't look after all three of you at once!"
SaviorHackmon felt guilty that he was just barely allowed to come while the Sistermons had to stay back at the headquarters. "Uh… If I can I just say, I think it's only fair that—"
"No, you can't," Gankoomon decisively shut him down. He extended his arm sideways and pointed to the side of the road. "Go stand over there! I need to have words with the Sistermons. No arguments."
SaviorHackmon winced and turned his head. He looked over in the direction that Gankoomon was pointing. There was a street lamp overlooking a street corner. Standing nearby was a squad of Republic soldiers who were tasked with patrolling the streets.
"Yes, Sensei," SaviorHackmon reluctantly obeyed, beginning to walk away from the group of three. Sistermon Blanc futilely reached out to him as her shield suddenly walked away. Feeling exposed, she ducked her head and twiddled her fingers shame-facedly.
SaviorHackmon could hear Gankoomon beginning to chew them out, particularly Sistermon Noir, for yet another reckless stunt. Knowing what it was like being on the receiving end of one of Gankoomon's lectures, he didn't envy them. He sighed and walked over to stand beside the black, metal lamp post. As he positioned himself against the metal, he noticed a closed down food stand to his right, though all of the contents were emptied by the owner.
SaviorHackmon glanced over to his left, curiously eyeing the squad of soldiers. Among them were a Garurumon, a Kabuterimon, and a Kyubimon. They all had serious expressions, and they seemed to be discussing their current duties.
"So we're to do a final sweep around the central district and then rendezvous with the Captain at the base?" the Garurumon confirmed. "It looks like we'll be getting orders to head out and get into position soon…"
"Great… I don't exactly like our chances. Going up against the Demon Lords…" the Kabuterimon pessimistically said. "Next stop, the Village of Beginnings. That is, if they don't absorb my data first…"
"At least the Royal Knights are here," the Kyubimon assured them. "They'll probably soak up the Demon Lords' attention away from the rest of us. We just need to focus on the foot soldiers."
"It could be worse. We could be in Tenth Group," the Garurumon supposed.
The Kabuterimon nodded. "Going out to Hope's Crest… it's a damn suicide mission. Heard even a few insane Digimon volunteered to join them. All to try and buy the civilians there some time. It's pointless… I don't know what Gaioumon and the commanders are thinking."
At this overheard revelation, SaviorHackmon's idle eavesdropping suddenly morphed into undivided attention. He turned fully and stared at the group of three Digimon.
"Don't say that. They're heroes," the Kyubimon chastised, shaking her head. "Everyone in Tenth Group must know that they're walking off to die. They're doing it anyways so that they can save those poor civilians from the Demon Lords."
"We need to have faith in our commanders," the Garurumon responded. "They wouldn't send them out there just to die for no reason."
"What I mean is that it's pointless thinking that they'll even be able to save those civilians. Do you know what the Demon Lords did to the Sky Colonies?" the Kabuterimon bleakly explained. The insect soldier turned his eyeless face when he noticed a Digimon approaching them. "Huh?"
"Excuse me," SaviorHackmon said urgently, walking right up to the group. "What are you talking about? The Demon Lords are going to attack Hope's Crest?"
"Huh? Are you with the Royal Knights or something?" the Garurumon asked, tilting his head at the unfamiliar dragon warrior. "I guess you don't know the situation yet, huh? Yeah, the Demon Lords are about five kilos north of here. The only thing between their army and the walls of New Terminal is a little village on the Grand Highway called Hope's Crest. It doesn't take a genius to guess that the Demon Lords are gonna flatten it to get to us."
SaviorHackmon's golden eyes widened with shock. "What? Didn't they evacuate?!" he demanded worriedly.
"Didn't have a chance. The Nightmare Soldiers moved quickly and they travelled through the night, so the next thing anybody knew when we woke up this morning was the Demon Lords on the doorstep of Hope's Crest," the Garurumon explained. "Seems like some of them are trying to evacuate, but…"
"It's a bit of a lost cause," the Kabuterimon finished, shrugging. "The commanders already sent a team of soldiers up there to be a shield for the civvies, but it's just a token force. There's only fifty of them plus a few volunteers; if the Nightmare Soldiers were to attack, Tenth Group wouldn't even stand a chance. I know they've got an order to retreat if it gets too rough, but if a Demon Lord attacks, it'll be over in minutes. I guess we can't afford to move the bulk of our forces away from the safety of the city,"
"So, it's just them and the civilians against the Demon Lords?!" SaviorHackmon urgently pressed. "They'll be slaughtered! Why isn't anybody doing anything?!"
"We have our orders," the Kyubimon explained. "Our military is already at a disadvantage going up against the Demon Lords. Our defences here are our only advantage against them right now. We can't afford to give that up by running out to Hope's Crest, even if it is for a good cause." She frowned and shook her head. "This is the best we can do for those civilians. Tenth Group is giving them a chance, even if it slim…"
SaviorHackmon winced and clenched his fists. "Yeah, I know, but… just leaving them there?" he protested.
"Look, it's not up to us," the Kabuterimon soldier said. "As far as I know, we're keeping the northern gate open to free passage for two more hours. Any survivors who make it back will be allowed in. After that, we're closing it for good. It'll be too dangerous to leave open any later, with the Demon Lords and their spies closing in. That's just what I heard from the gate captain. If you want to do something about it, go ahead, but don't expect to come back in one piece."
"Let's go, guys," the Kyubimon said to her two fellow soldiers. "We need to get moving." She glanced at SaviorHackmon. "Good luck."
SaviorHackmon nodded slightly as the patrol of soldiers began walking down the street. He turned around on his bladed heel and looked up the road that he had walked down. In the far distance, obstructed by the movements of more soldiers, SaviorHackmon could see the northern gate.
The pained grimace returned to his face. He thought about all the soldiers and civilians that were about to die in Hope's Crest… They hadn't done anything wrong. They didn't do anything to the Demon Lords. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time… They hadn't done anything to deserve to die.
SaviorHackmon placed his clawed hand on the lamp post and shut his eyes. In the darkness of his mind, memories began to flicker. He remembered the screams, the terror, the confusion. He remembered that burning piece of debris falling towards his village. Worse than that… he remembered waking up to find that everything was gone. His village… his parents… everyone. All that was left was a smouldering crater of ruins. He remembered being terrified, distraught, and alone…
His eyes snapped open, glossy with moisture, but passionate and determined. SaviorHackmon turned his head and looked towards Gankoomon.
The Royal Knight had his back turned to him. Gankoomon was still in the process of scolding the Sistermons. Gankoomon's focus was entirely away from him.
SaviorHackmon frowned. Despite the burning emotions that he felt, he allowed himself a moment of reflection. He remembered what had happened the last time he ran off to do something on his own. He got captured and he put himself and Gankoomon in danger. He had allowed GrandisKuwagamon to escape. This gave him reason for pause. He didn't want to be reckless again. He couldn't allow another mistake…
However… As soon as SaviorHackmon talked himself out of it, the niggling in his heart intensified. His conscience burned. He imagined all the terrified Digimon, running for their lives as the Demon Lords cut them down. He thought about the soldiers of Tenth Group, willing to give their lives to protect those villagers. They all needed help, and if the Republic military couldn't do it…
He remembered Sleipmon's words to him. And he remembered his own pledge. There was a reason why he was trying so hard to become a Royal Knight. It wasn't for the prestige or the respect… it was because he wanted to help people. He wanted to help Digimon just like those who were out at Hope's Crest.
"I have to do something…" SaviorHackmon whispered. He clenched his fists and tightened his jaw.
The dragon man turned his head and warily eyed Gankoomon and the Sistermons. They were so focused on each other that none of them were looking at him… He wanted to ask Gankoomon, but he knew what his sensei would say. He would probably tell him 'no' flat-out. An argument about it would take too long and time wasn't something that those civilians had. If he was going to act, he needed to act immediately. That's how he rationalised it to himself.
SaviorHackmon slowly pulled his goggled hood up and over his metal, draconic face. He began to move slowly, quietly, up the road, so as to not draw attention to himself. As he edged up the sidewalk, he peered at his mentor out of the corner of his eye, his face shrouded by the hood. He moved with feather steps, his bladed feet barely touching the stone surface.
"And another thing!" Gankoomon continued ardently, looking at Sistermon Noir. "It's no wonder Hackmon's always running off doing reckless nonsense! Your bad habits are rubbing off on him!"
Sistermon Noir folded her arms. "Uh, I'm pretty sure that he gets all of that from you," she countered. Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed SaviorHackmon inching away. "And Gankoomon?"
"I've had enough back chat from you. I'm the one doing the lecturing here!" Gankoomon interrupted.
Sistermon Noir smirked and decided to keep her mouth shut. "Well, okay… If you're sure…" she playfully replied.
"And another thing!" Gankoomon continued, not even pausing for breath. "You wonder why I let Sistermon Ciel travel the world on her own while you two have to stay with me! It's because she's more mature than you two! She wouldn't do something as irresponsible as this! You're lucky that I don't—"
SaviorHackmon slowly made it a few more meters up the main street. He gave a final glance over his shoulder to make sure that none of them had caught on to him. Seeing that he was in the clear, SaviorHackmon moved forwards and hid behind the vacant food stall. Once concealed, SaviorHackmon crouched down and bent his legs, preparing himself to sprint.
He took the moment to center himself and close his eyes. "I'm sorry, Sensei. I know what I promised, but these Digimon need me…" SaviorHackmon thought to himself, glancing over his shoulder with a flicker of conflicted guilt. "I'm not doing this for myself this time… I'm doing this for them. I can't let them suffer and die at the hands of the Demon Lords…"
SaviorHackmon's eyes flicked open and he burst with energy. He took off in a mad sprint, zipping up the street at full speed. His cape flapped and fluttered behind him and his athletic legs pumped like high-pressure pistons. He set a goal for himself and he fully intended to see it through. This was reflected in the look of determination in his eyes.
He ran off, bolting down the street like crimson lightning. When he picked up enough speed, he leapt into the air and began skimming the ground as he soared.
Sistermon Noir watched with amusement as SaviorHackmon ran off. Sistermon Blanc, however, was too busy staring at her feet, thoroughly abashed by Gankoomon's collective rebukes.
Gankoomon grunted and folded his arms, his disciplining castigation finally winding down. "Okay, I think the two of you get my point… Anything to say for yourselves?"
"W-W-We're really sorry…" Sistermon Blanc reiterated for the twentieth time.
"Yup, won't happen again," Noir chipperly agreed, carelessly placing her arms behind her head.
"It better not. Now I just need to hammer home those points to Savior…" Gankoomon turned around and blinked. The place where he left his student was suddenly vacant. The Royal Knight turned his head and looked all around, but he was nowhere to be seen. "…Hackmon…?"
Gankoomon spun around. "Where is he?!" he demanded, his fire suddenly returning.
"I dunno. I think he ran off," Sistermon Noir said with a mischievous shrug.
"Why didn't you say anything?!"
"You told me not to interrupt," Sistermon Noir explained with a smug grin.
Gankoomon's eye began twitching yet again. He looked around the expanse of the spacious street, but the silver and crimson form of his pupil was nowhere to be seen. Gankoomon clenched his fists, his arms beginning to tremble with frustration.
SaviorHackmon tore down the street like a bladed comet. The further north he got, the more soldiers there were on the New Terminal streets. Not wanting to get in the way or be obstructed himself, SaviorHackmon soared a few meters off the ground. He whizzed past the empty shops and abandoned stalls that lined the edges of the road.
At the end of the road, he saw the northern gate and the sturdy city wall. The gate contained a pair of massive doors that towered over the street. They were made of durable, studded metal and the gate itself was tall and broad enough to allow Digimon of any size to enter the venerable city. On the interior side of the gate, there was a vast courtyard. The courtyard was a large, axial road junction connecting five branching, principal roads to that central point.
Above the gate, bridging the ramparts on each side of the gate, was a fortified gatehouse. A pulley system of chains, cogs, and levers, used for opening the heavy, metal doors, was connected to the interior of the gatehouse. Inside was the gatekeeper, who operated the system and decided when to open and close the gate. Typically the gates would remain open all day, but these were exceptional circumstances.
There was a heavily fortified guard post on the interior of the gate. Soldiers were hurrying about the area, moving things out of the way or into position. Some were getting into their defensive positions in strategic locations both overlooking the gate and on top of the walls. They knew that the Nightmare Soldiers would probably attempt to both storm the gate and fly over the walls.
SaviorHackmon grunted and continued speeding towards the gate. He was almost there. He just hoped that they would let him through. If not, he would have to act quickly. Time was against him…
With the wind blowing against his body, SaviorHackmon swept down the road, flying over a Tankdramon and a MetalGreymon who were positioning themselves at the corners of the crossroads. As he neared the gate, SaviorHackmon sharply slowed his speed. His velocity waned and he came to a gradual crawl in the air. With his speed decreased, SaviorHackmon touched down on the ground of the courtyard around the gate. Once his bladed feet hit the ground, he shuffled for a few more steps until he came to a full stop.
Directly in front of him was the guard house and a roadblock. Beyond it was the gate, the colossal doors of which were firmly shut. The appearance of the crimson caped dragon began to draw the attention of some of the nearby soldiers.
"Hey, you!" the stout, iron body of a Guardromon called out from ahead of him. SaviorHackmon looked further on across the courtyard to the robot Digimon, who was standing beside the small form of a frog with a trumpet around his upper body. The iron robot cupped his hands to his upper body where his mouth vents were. "What are you doing here?! Are you a civilian?!"
A sharp grunt escaped SaviorHackmon's nostrils. He couldn't afford to be held up. The longer he waited, the more danger the beleaguered town would be in. For all he knew, the Demon Lords could already be attacking it. There was also the pressing knowledge that if Gankoomon caught up to him, then he would never be allowed out of the gates. He had to act quickly.
"No! I need to get through!" SaviorHackmon called out to the pair of Adult Digimon manning the guard station.
"For what purpose?!" the Guardromon challenged, leering and watching as the approaching dragon slowed before them.
"The road ahead is closed!" the Gekomon added in an almost musical voice. "There's a whole army of Demon Lords a few kilometers ahead! You can't go out that way; it's too dangerous!"
"I'm with the Royal Knights!" SaviorHackmon pleaded passionately, hoping that name-dropping his superiors would lend him a certain authority and legitimacy. "The Demon Lords are going to decimate Hope's Crest and everybody in it! I'm going out there to lend on-the-ground aid to the civilians and soldiers out there!"
The Gekomon turned and looked at the Guardromon for permission. "What do you think, boss?" he asked the ironclad Digimon. "If he's with the Royal Knights and it's for those civilians… They need every chance they can get…"
The Guardromon folded his pipe-like arms and the dark port of his eye squinted. "Hmm… I am under orders not to allow any civilians out this way, but if he is not a civilian…" he murmured in a mechanical reverberation. "I suppose it would be better to save as many of those villagers as possible…"
SaviorHackmon jogged over and stopped before the pair, right in front of the mouth of the closed gate. He looked at the Guardromon with intense, begging, yellow eyes. "Please, let me through."
The Guardromon stared at SaviorHackmon and saw the earnestness in the dragon's eyes. He sighed and rubbed his dome-like forehead with his metal hand. "…Very well, but we cannot keep the gate open forever," he conceded, staring at SaviorHackmon to make sure that he understood the seriousness of his words. "We are under strict orders to lock the front gate one hour before the sun hits the horizon. The demons will be trying to infiltrate once they get close enough. Once the gate is shut, it stays shut. Up until that point, we will allow any villagers or soldiers from Hope's Crest to enter the city, but after…? You and anybody else will unfortunately be on your own."
SaviorHackmon winced softly but nodded with understanding. "…I understand," he complied.
"Make sure that you do… Once you see the sun setting, hurry back with whoever you can as swiftly as possible," the Guardromon advised him. "If you're still alive by then, and you come running back with the Demon Lords nipping at your heels, I'm afraid we can't help you."
SaviorHackmon took in a calming, meditative breath to center himself, just like how Gankoomon and the Sistermons taught him. "…I know," he serenely and maturely answered. "I know what I'm getting myself into. Still, I need to help them."
"Very well." The Guardromon extended his hand to SaviorHackmon. SaviorHackmon glanced down and took it with his claws, shaking it firmly. "Good luck. You'll need it."
"Thank you," SaviorHackmon replied.
The Guardromon turned to Gekomon and gave the amphibian a thumbs up motion with his metal fingers. "Do it."
The Gekomon nodded and sounded the brass horn that was curled around his neck. The horn unleashed a deep, baritone resonance that rippled into the air. The sound waves echoed around the courtyard and caught the attention of the gatekeeper, who was stationed in the gatehouse above the pair of doors.
After about ten seconds of silence, a mechanical commotion began rattling from the gate. The chains and pulleys began moving and the aggressive gyrating of an unseen axel started to resound like an engine. The locks unbolted and the pair of doors began opening outwards towards the city exterior.
The thick, reinforced gate slowly heaved open to reveal the long, stone road that stretched off into the distance. On the far-away horizon, there was a cloud of dark smoke, intermittently illuminated by flashes of light.
As SaviorHackmon stood before the threshold and set his eyes on the distant destruction, his insides began to twist themselves into knots. The black smoke was a like a dark beacon, a herald of death. The road leading out of the confines of New Terminal suddenly seemed like the long path to the gallows. The path was forbidding and the stark landscape of grey and green was ominous.
Doubt and uncertainty crept into SaviorHackmon's heart. He began to have second thoughts. Was he acting on reckless emotion again? Was he racing off to meet his own destruction? Was there any point? These thoughts were enough to give the dragon man pause.
As he considered turning right around and sheepishly going back to his mentor, something stopped him. It was a nagging feeling in his heart. This feeling was the cries of those Digimon in need. He could feel them reaching out for somebody to save them. SaviorHackmon's fire was reignited by their plight.
"I'm going…" SaviorHackmon said, staring through the gate and down the outbound road.
He bent his legs and bolted off without another second of hesitation. SaviorHackmon passed under the gate and raced out of New Terminal. His legs pumped and his feet scratched against the stone surface.
SaviorHackmon lunged and took flight. He had a mission. He had Digimon to save. Nothing would stop him…
Just as the crimson hem of SaviorHackmon's rippling cape disappeared behind the stone arch of the gate, a dark figure emerged from an alley.
The black, humanoid form of an insect stepped out into the dim light from within the shroud of the grotty passageway. After checking for military patrols, GrandisKuwagamon emerged, having only just missed SaviorHackmon's departure.
GrandisKuwagamon quietly walked onto the street that ran parallel to the city wall. The road was one of the five that branched out from the courtyard, so it was positioned directly in the shadow of the wall. It gave him the perfect view of both the courtyard and the length of the northern wall.
The scarab mercenary stared at the gate, observing the guards from a safe distance. GrandisKuwagamon's eye drifted from the mouth of the gate, up to the gatehouse. He listened as the gate master began to close the gate once again. The chain pulleys and gears droned noisily as the doors were pulled shut.
"There it is…" GrandisKuwagamon thought as he spied the gatehouse that rested up on the ramparts. From his position below, he scanned the parapets and saw several guards patrolling and keeping an eye on the distance. "Guess there'll be a lot of guard activity. Makes sense since the Demon Lords will be coming from that direction… Well, didn't expect this to be easy."
GrandisKuwagamon took a few steps backwards into the shade of the alleyway. He kept a close eye on the gatehouse and noticed a doorway leading inside from the ramparts. He placed a hand on the wall of the building and gripped the stone surface.
"No turning back now. I can't afford to make an enemy of the Demon Lords along with the Royal Knights. I just have to do my part… Get in there, take out the guards, wait for the signal, and open the gate… He said I wouldn't miss the signal. I better not…" the mercenary reflected.
He dragged the firm tips of his fingers against the stone, scratching into the firm foundation. "…No turning back. No second thoughts. No second chances," GrandisKuwagamon told himself, beating down any of his misgivings. "This is it, GrandisKuwagamon. This is your job."
"This is the only way you can live."
As the gentle footsteps of a patrol came into hearing range, GrandisKuwagamon took a step back. The shadow of the dungy alley washed over his face, leaving only his gleaming, crimson eye still visible. The ruby glow faded and he turned away.
Without another thought, GrandisKuwagamon receded into the darkness.