Disclaimer: If you haven't figured out that I don't own digimon by now...
A/N: I know the last chapter wasn't the best, but I still wish someone had reviewed, if only to tell me what I could fix. Even though no one reviewed, I decided to just go ahead andcontinue the story, since it was so near completion. Now, please enjoy this chapter of The Guardians of Hiata, and if you don't, please tell me why.
A low rumbling filled the sky as the two armies stared each other down from separate sides of the battlefield.
Takeru had been right in what he'd said to Denzo about Isan; only a day after Larin's soldiers arrived, Isan's made their appearance. Clearly, they wanted to get this over with quickly, before the Guardians' army had time to train together. While this put the good side at a slight disadvantage, the Guardians believed that it could be overcome.
Surveying the other army, Takeru was glad to see that Tejuku was not exactly like RedCoyote and had not chosen to side with Isan in order to get his revenge. Or, if he had joined Isan's ranks, Takeru could neither see nor sense him.
"How long is this standoff going to last?" Denzo asked Takeru quietly, both atop a wolf. So far, they had been simply staring at each other for twenty minutes.
Rage shifted slightly under Takeru as his master answered. "I'm not sure, but we're going to let them make the first move."
"That could take forever," Denzo sighed under his breath.
However, Takeru heard. He looked over seriously. "We're here to stop a war Denzo, not to start one."
Matching Takeru's seriousness, Denzo nodded in reply. Still, though, he wished something would happen soon. Beneath him, Tempest seemed to mirror his anxiousness at wanting a battle. Suddenly, Denzo turned his head slightly as Rage stealthily slipped away, carrying Takeru towards Hikari.
"Were our assumptions about their army correct?" he asked the Wind Elemental.
Hikari's second-sight-colored eyes turned to focus on him. "Yes, the numbers for Mages, Elementals, and humans are what we estimated, and there are about two hundred Shadowlore. Have you finished your analysis of their powers?"
Takeru nodded slightly, focusing on the horizon behind the opposing army. "Most of their magical fighters are of average strength, with a couple dozen or so who may stand a chance against us. The humans are fairly skilled with weapons but should not pose much of threat. All in all, we're equal, as we had suspected." The two fell silent again.
Suddenly, Hiroki came over. "They're moving," he said quietly.
Looking over, they saw that Isan's forces were indeed making some kind of move. The archers in the front were shouldering their quivers and testing their bow strings. The creatures with wings were stretching and testing them as well. Obviously, they planned to launch an aerial assault soon.
"Make sure everyone is ready," Takeru said to Hiroki softly as he drew his swords and set them across his lap.
Hiroki nodded, hand resting on the top of one of his axes, as he walked off quickly, making sure that the soldiers had not decided to relax after having to stand still for nearly half an hour. As he had expected, many of Larin's forces were laughing and playing cards, completely off guard; exactly the people they didn't need on their side. Wanting to make a point, he drew an axe before he was noticed. Pulling his hand back, he threw it, embedding it in a tree trunk less than a foot from some of the mens' heads.
The terrified men, thinking that they were being attacked, jumped up and grabbed their shields and weapons. Then, they saw the young teenager. Hiroki ignored their glares he received as he walked up to the tree and pulled his axe free effortlessly.
"If I had been the enemy, you would all be dead," he said coldly. "Count yourselves lucky that I'm an ally. Now, prepare for battle, and wait for the signal to move out." Without another word, he turned and stalked away, leaving bewildered soldiers in his wake.
Returning to the front of the ranks of soldiers, he saw that the other three Guardians, the four former Guardians, Denzo, Siara, and Meersa were all standing together. He walked over and joined them silently.
"Parts of their forces have started to disperse, moving to the east and west," Takeru stated solemnly. "Denzo, you and Siara will take the left wing of our soldiers to meet them in the west, Meersa, you and our parents will take the right wing of our soldiers to stop any advances they might try to make from the east. Both groups will take two wolves and two lionesses to assist them and to keep us informed. While those groups are doing that, the four of us, and the rest of our soldiers, will make a stand here. Any questions?"
"Where will Miyo and Akio be?" Meersa asked, glancing back at the two.
"They will stay with us," Takeru answered. "Any other questions?"
No one spoke, as they had no objections. With a last curt nod, Takeru began walking forward slightly, and the others began to disperse as well, going to carry out their dictated orders. Revenge, Storm, Serenity, and Miracle went with Denzo's group while Poison, Hysteria, Patience, and Dawn accompanied Meersa's. The other Beasts and the two birds stayed loyally with their masters and mistresses.
From behind the group, Akio and Miyo walked up quietly. Miyo moved to Hiroki's side and huddled against his side. Akio did the same with Takeru.
"Daddy, I'm scared," Miyo whimpered quietly, looking at Isan's army. "I don't want to fight."
"Me either, Papa," Akio echoed.
Hiroki sighed slightly and pulled Miyo a little closer. "I know. We don't want to fight either, but we have to. If we don't, lots of people will get hurt or even killed. Do you two understand?"
The two small children nodded slightly, still dissatisfied; however, the elder children could do nothing to ease that dissatisfied feeling, as they were experiencing it themselves. They continued to watch Isan's army with sharp eyes, waiting for the inevitable attack. Seconds later, as they had predicted, a flock of winged beings rose into the air and a wall of arrows come rushing towards them.
Calmly, they drew their weapons and mounted their Beasts and Animals. It was time to fight the final battle, winner take all.
To the west, Denzo and his group were unaware that the attack had started, as dense foliage hid their view of the armies. They treaded cautiously, ever watchful and alert. They knew that an attack could come from anywhere at anytime and they were at a disadvantage.
Denzo inwardly cursed as one of the human soldiers stepped on a large stick, causing it to crack loudly.
'Just give away our position, why don't you?' he thought angrily, though he showed no emotion outwardly; he simply kept walking as if nothing at all had happened.
However, the magical beings around him were fearing for their lives, and they did not take kindly to this...this human jeopardizing them. They glared deeply, a glare which was returned by all of the human soldiers. There might have been a brawl, had Siara and Denzo not stepped in-between the two groups, sending warning looks to each and every member. Grudgingly, both sides backed down and they continued on their way.
Siara sighed and placed a hand Serenity's shoulder. The lioness purred softly, encouraging her not to be afraid or frustrated. It worked, and Siara calmed. Suddenly she felt Serenity go stiff beneath her hand, and the cat's purr was replaced with a low growl. Looking around, Siara saw that the other Beasts were acting the same way.
"What is it, girl?" Siara asked softly.
Serenity didn't bother answering in human tongue, she simply gestured to up in the trees with her head. Siara and Denzo, who had noticed the signal as well, looked hard, but could see nothing. The rest of the group seemed confused, not sure what was going on. Then, Rhianna called out suddenly.
"Denzo, look out!"
Denzo's head shot up again and he was just barely able to dodge an arrow that had seemingly come from nowhere. No archers could be seen. The rest of the group, especially the humans, clustered together. Denzo moved in-front of Siara. She whispered to him.
"Next time they shoot, use your control over time to evade, then let me handle the rest."
He gave her a slight look of confusion before nodding. They didn't have to wait long for the next shot. Several shots, actually. The two Faerie spell-casters that were with the group immediately put up a shield around the small clustered group, all were protected, save for the vampires. That wasn't a problem, though, as they had tremendous speed. However, instead of running recklessly deeper into the forest to try to find and slay the archers, as they would normally do, the vampires simply obeyed Siara's request and dodged. As soon as they had done so, a soft, haunting melody filled the grove they were in.
Denzo looked over and saw his sister singing. He immediately understood her plan. She was going to use her power of Song to lure the shooters out; why hadn't he thought of that? He kept his guard up and crept closer to his sister, hoping that her plan would work as it was the only way to give them a fair shot at winning; after all, the spell-casters couldn't hold up the shield forever.
Eyes closed, Siara was completely focused on the illusion she was weaving. She was forming the image that the archers' arrows had hit their targets, and most of the small group was dead or dying, herself and Denzo included. She made sure to completely hide the alive group from enemy eyes, and she made extra sure that the enemy was the only one seeing this image. They couldn't afford to have their own soldiers think they were going crazy and seeing themselves dying.
As Siara's voice grew in confidence and pitch, the vision began to elicit the wanted effect. As the group watched, small figures, just larger than children, but with adult faces and bodies, clambered down the trees cautiously, bows and arrows in hand. The one in the head of the group fired an arrow at a soldier that Siara had portrayed as still alive. Siara altered her voice to show that soldier's death.
She started to breathe heavily as the extended and specific use of her power began to drain her energy; however, she couldn't back down yet. The enemy was completely tangled in her web of deception, she only needed to keep them there for a little bit longer until her brother and the others could slay them.
Seeing how exhausted his sister was becoming, Denzo knew that they couldn't waste another second. Giving the signal to be silent, lest they expose the illusion, he raised his dagger and quietly plunged it into the nearest archer's neck. As the archer fell dead, he heard Siara alter her voice slightly to make sure that the archer was still alive in the illusion. He could see the sweat beads on her forehead; she had never had to use her power this extensively before and he didn't know how much longer she could hold out. They needed to be fast and deadly.
Moving quickly, he and the other two vampires attacked the remaining archers, Siara's voice altering every time one fell, as the rest of the group simply looked on. After only a minute or two, the group of shooters had been totally decimated. Denzo walked over to his sister and swiftly moved to support her.
"It's done now," he told her quietly.
Immediately, her voice cut off. She swayed a little, and leaned into Denzo, recovering her strength. Knowing that their were most likely many other members of Isan's army around, Denzo decided that they needed to move now, to help avoid being tracked down; however, it was obvious that Siara was too weak to walk just yet. Scooping her up, he placed her on Serenity's back.
"Let's move," he called to the rest of the soldiers.
With only slight hesitation, they obeyed and continued their trudge through the forest. As they walked, Rhianna placed a hand on Siara's shoulder as the younger girl laid down on Serenity's fur, trying to rest.
'Gather your energy soon, little cousin,' Rhianna thought, 'Without you, we may not survive this battle.'
Meanwhile, at the main battle field, Hikari was being attacked in the sky by several raven-winged individuals that reminded her of the Caelon; she winced at the memory. Also, she was being shot at by many archers on the ground. She was able to dodge the attacks, but was not able to go on the offensive with either her bow or her dagger.
Inwardly sighing, she decided that she had had enough. She had planned to save her Wind Energy for later in the battle, but now seemed as good a time as ever to employ it. Dodging one last round of attacks, she called upon a great amount of energy, sending a hurricane-like gust towards all of her attackers. It successfully blew the archers' weapons away and downed about three of the raven-winged creatures, stunning them. However, four of the raven-creatures seemed almost unaffected by her Wind.
The largest one laughed sharply. "We are powerful angels of the air, do you truly think that your Wind attacks would harm any of us save for the juveniles?"
"You're not angels," Hikari growled. "You're demons. The true angels of the air are gone."
"And just who would the 'true angels of the air' be?" one of the others, a female, asked mockingly. "The Caelon? Oh please, that race was weak, not fit to rule the sky; unlike us."
"Don't speak of them like that!" Hikari replied angrily. "They were noble and brave. A far better race than you could ever hope to be!" She accentuated her anger by unleashing another gust, this one much more powerful than the first.
She watched with grim satisfaction as the self-proclaimed 'angels of the air' were thrown backwards towards the ground. They flapped their wings in a frenzy, trying to regain balance before they slammed into the ground. All their attempts were for nothing, however, as Hikari's attack had been far too powerful for them. They hit the ground with a sickening thud, blood pooling around their heads. Hikari felt another pang of pain as the scene reminded her again of what had happened with the Caelon.
Shaking off the feeling, she instinctively scanned the battlefield, searching for the others. She saw Takeru and Katya fighting with some of the more powerful Mages; Hiroki was near them, fighting with some of the Shadowlore. Miyo and Akio were being protected by Rage and Star not far away. At least they were all in the same area, she thought, it would sure come in handy when Isan and Shaukaka decided to show their ugly faces.
While all this was happening, Meersa's group to the east was having their own battle as well. Their trek had started out calmly enough, like a morning hike through the woods, but then they had been attacked.
The attackers were a group of a couple dozen Shadowlore and humans; not particularly skilled individually, but together they formed a deadly unit. Moving as one, they attacked the group using both weak magic and razor sharp weapons.
BlackWolf dodged as the assault wave came, just barely missing being hit by several energy balls. Tightening his hold on his sword, he decided to take the offensive. Leaping towards a small group of humans that had separated from the other attackers, he swiped with his sword several lightning fast times, killing all five of the enemies.
He turned just in time to see an angry mob of Shadowlore and humans rushing towards him. Leaping into the sky, he nimbly avoided their attack. However, he hadn't anticipated that the first attack was merely a decoy and the real attack was coming from behind. By the time he noticed it, it was too late to dodge. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the certain impact. However, it never came.
When he opened his eyes seconds later, he found himself in another part of the clearing, watching the group that had just attacked him being attacked by the other three previous Guardians. Looking behind him, he saw Meersa glaring.
"Stupid man, don't you think?"
BlackWolf smiled slightly, knowing that Meersa was really just worried. "Of course not, haven't you learned that by now?"
Meersa shook her head in what appeared to be anger before looking sharply up towards the battle in the sky, surprised look on her face. BlackWolf followed her gaze and saw why she had looked so surprised.
The enemies in the sky had simply stopped moving and were staring into space, seemingly in a daze. The three previous Guardians who had been engaged in battle with them, looked on, confused. Suddenly, the head Shadowlore stated one word: "Master."
The utterance of that one single word elicited a reaction from the entire enemy group. Still moving as one, they all began heading away from the group, not even looking back. Within seconds, they had all disappeared.
BlackWolf was the first to come out of the slight shock of the change of events and let what the Shadowlore had said sink in. It hit him hard.
"Come on!" he called urgently to the others, "We have to get back, Isan has arrived!"
Takeru grunted quietly as he struck down yet another Mage. This one had had some control over Illusion, but had still been relatively easy to defeat. However, though all opponents he had met had been weak compared to him, they were still draining his energy little by little. He never thought he would think this, but the sooner they met up with Isan, the better.
Hearing a loud noise from behind, he spun around, and wished he had never thought that meeting Isan would be good. For there, across the field, Isan towered, Shaukaka next to him. All of Isan's army had stopped fighting and was now bowing towards their master and mistress. All was deathly silent until...
"Papa! Mama!" "Mommy! Daddy!"
Takeru whirled around towards where the terrified screams had come from. His heart practically stopped as he saw Rage and Star on the ground, seemingly unconscious, and Tejuku flying away with Akio. Keitya was flying next to him, holding the struggling Miyo.
Anger consuming his mind, Takeru changed into his true form and leapt into the air. The other Guardians immediately followed his example. As they neared the two carrying their beloved charges, Irika and Rioku appeared between the two groups, smiling arrogantly.
"Don't try anything unless you want your precious children dead," Rioku threatened.
Looking behind Rioku, the Guardians saw that the threat was not an idle one. The two small children were being held in uncomfortably tight grips and a dagger was pressed against each of their tiny throats. They looked terrified beyond belief.
"Now, be good little pets and go to your master," Irika said in a sickeningly sweet mocking voice while indicating Isan.
Resenting it, but realizing that they had no choice, the four Guardians reluctantly began to glide over to the large Shadowlore, the other four children flying beside them, not relinquishing their hold on the Keys in the slightest.
"When you left the Abbey we thought you had changed," Katya spoke softly. "Become more honorable people, more worthy enemies. But now we see that you were really only moving from one demented master to another. We should have known."
Rioku, who had been flying the closest to her, scowled and backhanded her. "You know nothing of us, so don't pretend you do!"
"You know nothing of yourselves," was the quiet reply.
This remark was followed by silence, only broken by the soft whimpers of Akio and Miyo. Takeru looked over towards Tejuku and Akio, who were only a few feet away.
"It's alright Akio," Takeru soothed calmly. "Everything will be fine."
Akio whimpered again, struggling slightly against Tejuku's death hold.
"Papa, I'm scared," he admitted quietly as soon as he was able to get slightly away from Tejuku's knife.
Surprisingly, his captor didn't tighten his hold or threaten him or anything like that.
"Don't be scared, I promise you'll be okay," Takeru replied, hoping that he could keep that promise. Then, his gaze turned towards Tejuku. "Does this make you feel good?" he asked, anger clear, though his voice was placid. "Do you enjoy hurting innocent children for a gain that isn't even your own?"
"What would you know?" Tejuku shot back, his own anger rising. Then, looking ahead, his face became calm. "Not that your opinion will matter soon anyway. Once Isan is through with you, he's promised to let me deal the fatal blow."
Takeru had no time to reply as they then landed in front of Isan and Shaukaka, Takeru instinctively standing slightly in front of the others. The four Guardians sent the two a glare that was returned tenfold. Isan slithered towards them and crouched down, looking Takeru in the face. The Shadow Mage stared back defiantly, not moving, as Isan grabbed a handful of his hair.
"Well, well, my pet," Isan started in a dangerously low voice. "You've been very bad. I think you need to be punished, don't you agree?"
Takeru didn't dignify that threat with a response. He simply stood stoicly as Isan suddenly whipped his back with his spiked tail several times. He could feel the other Guardians tense anxiously and could hear the two children crying. Surprisingly, Tejuku seemed a little agitated too.
After hitting Takeru about fifteen or twenty times, Isan slithered back around to the front of the boy.
"Are you ready to beg for my forgiveness pet?"
"Why should I?" Takeru asked quietly. "I've done no wrong."
"You betrayed me, you little bastard," Isan hissed.
"How could I betray you when I was never loyal in the first place?" Takeru questioned.
As he raised his gaze to look at Isan again, the Shadowlore was shocked to see a small smirk on the boy's face and Shadow Energy dancing in his eyes.
"In case you've forgotten, you're not the only dangerous one here Isan," Takeru stated, almost unnaturally calm. "Perhaps we should remind you of that."
With that last warning, an immense wave of Shadow Energy radiated from the boy, succeeding in knocking Isan backwards slightly. Taking advantage of all of the enemy's bewilderment, Takeru quickly darted to the left and snatched Akio from Tejuku. Opposite him, Hiroki was able to retrieve Miyo. As he flew upwards, clutching Akio, he felt the boy tighten his arms around his neck.
"Papa, he's coming!" Akio said fearfully, looking down and seeing Tejuku gaining on them.
"Don't worry," Takeru soothed. "He won't get us."
Akio was about to ask how his Papa knew that when suddenly, Tejuku was knocked out of the sky by a blur. No, scratch that, it wasn't a blur, it was Denzo!
"Papa, it's Denzo!" Akio cried excitedly.
Takeru smiled slightly. He had known Denzo wouldn't let him down. He had felt the boy and his group coming right after Isan had 'punished' him, and that was the only reason he decided to take a chance and use his power. Looking to the east, he saw that Meersa's group had arrived as well. BlackWolf immediately flew to Takeru's side, frowning as he saw his son's bloody back.
"They're only scratches," Takeru replied quickly in a no-nonsense tone, immediately picking up on what had irritated the elder. He then place Akio in BlackWolf's arms. "Here, take Akio down to the Meersa and the Beasts where he will be safe."
Deciding that it would be faster to do as Takeru had ordered rather than argue it out, BlackWolf obeyed.
Once BlackWolf and Akio had left, Takeru turned his attention back to the battle that had now continued. The soldiers of Larin's army were exhausted, but were still fighting with the humans and very weak Shadowlore. Denzo and group were dealing with some of the stronger magical beings, and Meersa's group was guarding the two Keys. That left him and the other Guardians to deal with Isan, Shaukaka, and their four counterparts.
Takeru waited grimly as Tejuku flew back up to him, glaring. The two stared at each other silently until Takeru broke the silence.
"Well, this is what you wanted, isn't it?" he questioned, keeping his eyes on his twin. "A fight to the death, just you and me."
"Damn right this is what I wanted," Tejuku growled, drawing his swords. "Now let's go!"
Glancing down one last time to see that the other Guardians were having duels of their own while the elder Guardians were heading towards Isan and Shaukaka, Takeru drew his swords as well and blocked Tejuku's attack. Backing slightly, he launched an attack of his own. Tejuku blocked this one and they were again in a stale-mate.
"Y'know," Takeru started almost conversationally as they viciously sparred, "we always seem to have the same problem when we fight. By the time it's finally just the two of us, neither can get the upper hand."
"So what's your point?" Tejuku growled, swinging his sword hard from above.
Takeru blocked with ease and countered. "Well, it makes you wonder if it's all worth it. I mean, we've been enemies for nearly a year now, and our fights never turn out any differently. Is it really worth it to spend our lives pursuing a battle that we most likely will never finish?"
"Of course it is," Tejuku snapped. "That's the only reason I'm here."
"I don't believe that," Takeru replied before attacking from the left. "No matter what RedCoyote's intentions were when he created you, you still have a choice in your life, you're no different from anyone else."
"You're wrong! I'm stronger than everyone else! I have to be." He pushed Takeru's blade back and hovered, trying to catch his breath.
Takeru didn't give him the opportunity as he immediately attacked again, both verbally and physically. "Why is that? Why do you have to be stronger?"
"Because! It's my destiny. You of all people should understand destiny!"
"I understand that you make your own destiny. Your father didn't make this life for you, you made it. Don't you understand? You don't have to do anything because of what your father did. You don't have to be the best unless you really want to be. And you and I don't have to finish this feud. I mean, come on! It isn't even between us! Why must we be enemies just because our fathers were?"
All throughout his ranting lecture, Takeru had taken the offensive in their fight, not giving Tejuku the opportunity to do anything but defend. Waiting for a response to what he had said, Takeru was very surprised when he received none. Looking down slightly at Tejuku, he was shocked to see remorse in the other boy's eyes. Stopping his attack, he pulled back slightly.
"Do you understand?" Takeru asked softly. "Do you finally see it now?"
"I-I don't know," Tejuku replied unsurely, sounding weary, not at all like himself. "If what you say is true, then my whole life has been a lie."
"That's not true either and you know it. You made some mistakes in the past, but those will only help you in making a future," Takeru advised, almost feeling as though he was speaking to a friend, or at least a non-hostile acquaintance.
Tejuku looked ready to say something else, when two terrified screams came from below, stopping him. Takeru automatically looked down and his heart skipped a beat. His father and the other previous Guardians were sprawled on the ground, obviously seriously hurt. Some of his wolves and some of Katya's lionesses were spread on the ground as well. He could also feel that Meersa was lying in the fray.
However, it wasn't necessarily that sight which made his heart jump; it was when he had noticed that Akio and Miyo were in the grips of Isan and Shaukaka that his heart leapt into his throat. Not even looking back at Tejuku, Takeru darted down towards them, swords ready. He stopped dead when Isan placed a blade against Akio's throat. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Shaukaka trace a razor-sharp nail across the whimpering Miyo's throat. The other Guardians flew up behind Takeru, not sure what to do.
"Leave them be!" Takeru called. "They're only children, they've done nothing to you!"
"They're the Keys," Isan replied calmly. "That's the only reason I need to hurt them."
"With their power, we can easily defeat you and conquer all of Hiata with no resistance," Shaukaka continued, still tracing a path across Miyo's slender neck.
"Let them go!" Hikari cried out, pleading now.
"I don't think so, child," Shaukaka sneered. "Now, say good-bye because this is the last time you'll ever see them alive."
As the Guardians watched in horror, Shaukaka dug her nails across Miyo's throat and Isan pulled the dagger across Akio's. A surge of power spilled from each of the now limp children, along with their blood.
"NO!" the Guardians cried as one, diving for the bodies of the children as the two monsters let them fall while they absorbed the released power.
Takeru reached Akio's body first. Snatching it out of the air and cradling it as gently as he could, he landed. Looking down at the still, bloody form in his embrace, burning tears began to well up in his eyes. He let them fall without a fight. What was the point now, now that he had failed Akio? It was his fault the precious boy was dead, he was supposed to protect him, but he hadn't.
He felt Katya next to him and felt her tears on his skin as she leaned against him for support. Hikari and Hiroki were cradling Miyo's body only feet away.
"Akio, wake up," Takeru whispered, voice cracking, knowing it was futile. "You can't leave me, you can't leave us. We need you. Please, don't be dead. I'm so sorry I couldn't protect you, and I know it's my fault that they got you, but I'll do anything to get you back. Anything."
Suddenly, as he looked upon Akio's cold face, and idea came to him. Closing his eyes, he descended to his Life Force Crystal rapidly. Once their, he took a deep breath and called out with his mind.
At first, no reply came to his call, but then the area around him began to feel odd; cold...dark...he recognized it at once. Ascending back to his body, he opened his eyes and saw that he, the other Guardians, and the two Keys had entered the Underworld. The Portal of Death stood in front of them in his 'human' form, the swirling gate no longer there. The Angel of Death was also absent.
"You called for me, Shadow Mage?" he rumbled.
Carefully passing Akio's cold, stiff form to Katya, Takeru nodded and stood.
"I wish to make a deal," he started quietly. "These two children do not deserve to die. Since it was my responsibility to protect them, and I failed, I offer my life in place of theirs." He heard Katya and the others gasp behind him, but paid it no mind.
The Portal of Death looked down at him, considering. "These children are very powerful and very important, it is not a fair trade to take just your one soul in return for their two."
"Then take me as well," Katya said quickly, standing with Akio, and moving next to Takeru.
"And me," Hikari put in, joining the other three.
"I offer my life too," Hiroki finished, completing the group.
The Portal of Death still looked down at them. After a moment, he replied. "Very well, in return for your lives, I will return these two children to life, no strings attached. Place the two children on the ground in front of you and draw out your Crystals."
Nodding somberly, the Guardians did as they were bid.
"Now," the Portal said. "Surrender your Crystals and everything you are to me."
Nodding again, they stepped forward slightly, holding their Crystals in front of them. Concentrating, they began to descend their minds into the Crystals, as they had done when it was time for their six-month payment. They had nearly finished when a voice rang through the void.
Takeru was the first to react as he jerked back to his body and whirled around.
"Father, what in the world are you doing here? And you others as well?" he asked incredulously.
"We have come to help you," EvenBreeze answered calmly.
Then, BlackWolf turned to address the Portal of Death.
"Death, as these children have offered their lives in place of the others, we offer our lives in place of theirs."
"Father, no!" Takeru protested.
"You can't!" Hikari chimed.
Katya and Hiroki nodded their agreement, not sure what to say. BlackWolf walked up to Takeru and cupped his cheek, making him look into his eyes.
"Son, we have lived our lives, and even lived past that. You still have a mission to accomplish. You still have to defeat Isan and destroy the Chaos stone that he wears around his neck, the stone that is absorbing the Keys' powers and will destroy all if not stopped. That is your destiny. Ours is to do this."
"But, I can't lose you," Takeru argued weakly, feeling his eyes fill with tears again. "You can't give your life for us."
"How do you think Akio and Miyo would feel if they awoke again only to find that the people they think of as parents are dead so that they could live?"
Takeru had no answer for that. He felt a tear trickle down his cheek and he felt BlackWolf gently brush it away. Then, his father drew him into an embrace, wrapping his wings lightly around the boy.
"Do not fret, my son, things will work out. I am sure that we will meet again, and even if we do not, the world will not end. Life will go on after I am gone, that much I can assure you. Here, I have something for you."
He pulled back slightly and removed a pendant from around his neck. It was a circular piece of flat ebony with a wolf's head engraved on it, hanging on a thin leather rope. BlackWolf gently put it around Takeru's neck.
"Just to make sure you remember," he said softly. "Also, don't forget, I do not want you to be sad when I am gone, I want you to be happy and care-free as a child your age should be. Do not feel sorrow, and do not forget to smile. Will you promise me that much?"
Takeru took a deep breath to steady himself. "I will try father," he said sincerely.
"Good," BlackWolf replied. "Then good-bye, for now."
"Good-bye," Takeru replied, just above a whisper.
Looking around, he saw that the other Guardians had said similar farewells and had received trinkets from their parents as well, as tokens of good-bye. Hikari had received a ring with a bird etched into it, Katya had received a choker with a silver lioness charm attacked, and Hiroki had received a thick metal armband with a depiction of a phoenix carved on it. All had watery eyes, and deep sorrow was etched on their faces.
"It is time now," the Portal of Death said.
Nodding, the previous Guardians stepped forward and the current Guardians knelt by Akio and Miyo. They watched with sad awe as the Portal of Death stepped forward and gazed down at each of the previous Guardians. Raising its hands, the Portal of Death murmured something in the Old Tongue, but the Guardians couldn't make it out.
Then, its hands began to glow a slight gray color, as did the bodies of the previous Guardians. The elder Guardians closed their eyes and breathed slowly. With each breath, more of the glow surrounding them transferred to the Portal of Death. Their bodies began to fade little by little.
The Guardians watched wide-eyed as their bodies became completely transparent. It was clear that the exchange was nearly complete. Opening their eyes again, the former Guardians turned to cast one last encouraging look at their children, a look that would haunt the four teenagers for the rest of their lives, before they disappeared completely.
Katya and Hikari both gasped and buried their faces in their hands while Takeru and Hiroki held it in. They looked down sharply as, all of a sudden, Miyo and Akio's bodies began glowing. Catching sight of the glows, the girls raised their heads and looked as well. While they watched, the wounds on the childrens' necks sealed themselves until there was no physical evidence that an attack had occurred.
The small children let out tiny groans as they opened their eyes. Immediately, they were swept up by the older children, who stroked their hair and checked them over, making sure that they were really there.
"The deed is done," the Portal of Death spoke suddenly. "Go now, back to the battle."
With nothing more than that said, the landscape around them faded and changed again until they were back on the battlefield. It appeared that time had been frozen while they had been gone, as everyone was in the same exact position.
Seeing Isan and Shaukaka caused all of the Guardians' blood to boil with undefined rage. Placing the two Keys gently on the ground and ordering the two birds to cease fighting and protect them, the Guardians launched their attack on the two powerful Shadowlore. They shot as many high voltage blasts at the two as they were physically able to, but the Shadowlore were able to dodge most of the attacks, and a shield prevented the rest of the attacks from reaching them.
Isan laughed evilly while looking down at them. "Your puny attacks cannot harm us," he gloated. "Not when our Chaos Stone is protecting us with more power than every before."
Looking up wearily, the Guardians saw that it was true. The support of the shield that had been blocking their attacks was the large dark stone around Isan's neck.
'We have to get that away from him and destroy it...but how?' Takeru thought, desperately trying to formulate a plan. Suddenly, his gaze rested on Katya and it all made sense. 'Of course! The Light Mage can destroy the dark stone. If the three of us can get it away, she can spiral and destroy it and then Isan and Shaukaka will be vulnerable to direct attacks...I hope.'
"Katya, be ready," he said quietly.
She looked over, surprised. "Ready for what?"
"You'll see," he replied vaguely, "And you'll know what to do."
Saying nothing more, he darted into the sky, heading straight for Isan as quickly as he could. Suddenly, Shaukaka appeared, blocking his path. She swung one of her massive clawed hands at him, gouging him deeply in the side. He clutched his side as she prepared for another attack. However, she never got the chance as, at that moment, Hiroki barreled into her, knocking her off balance. Hikari was not far behind.
"Go for it," she called quietly as she passed him, the two Elementals having somewhat caught on to his plan.
Nodding, he wasted no time in moving on towards Isan. The beast was looking at him with hatred now, waiting for the boy to get in attack range. As soon as the young Mage was within arms-length, Isan attacked, swiping at him with deadly sharp claws. He managed to catch the boy in the shoulder, but did not seriously injure him.
Not deterred, Takeru advanced again, dodging Isan's claws and making his way towards the glowing stone around the monster's neck. Receiving only a few more scratches, he reached the object he had been heading for.
'Well, that was easy,' he thought as he reached for the stone, ignoring the now-thrashing Shadowlore who was trying to get a hold on his body.
As soon as his skin come in contact with the stone, a searing sensation flooded his body. He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood to keep himself from crying out. He pulled desperately, trying to break the chain holding the stone. He barely noticed as the Shadowlore's hands found their way around his chest and began squeezing, trying to dislodge the boy. Takeru winced as he heard an audible crack.
Paying the pain no mind, he pulled one last time, this time also shooting a link with his draining Shadow magic. It snapped and he pulled the stone free. Unable to break free of Isan, Takeru threw the stone as hard as he could towards Katya. It was up to her now.
Seeing the stone coming towards her, it immediately clicked in Katya's mind what she had to do. Closing her eyes and descending to her Life Force Crystal, she immediately went past the glowing markers and she began to feel her power engulf her. She tried to push it out of her mind as she went further and further. She continued down until she knew she would pass out if the pressure on her mind got any greater.
Gathering all the energy that she could at that level, she focused on the stone she could feel coming towards her. Bracing herself for the pain she would feel when she released this power, she let it go.
As the power flowed through her veins, she could barely form a conscious thought, do to the agony she was in, However, she knew it was a small price to pay for what it would hopefully accomplish. No..she told herself...for what it would accomplish. She had to believe in herself one-hundred percent if it was to work.
Forcing her eyes open, she saw her Light surrounding the stone, but it was still unclear whether Takeru's plan would work or not. Wait...Takeru! Vision darting around quickly, she found him still in Isan's clutches, though the monster was not concentrating on him at the moment. She also saw that Hikari and Hiroki were on the ground, recovering as they too watched the stone.
Katya then turned her attention back to the stone, knowing that she had done all she could. As she watched, the stone seemed to absorb her Light energy. It seemed as though she had failed, but she wasn't ready to give up hope yet, as she could still feel her energy present. Moments more passed.
Suddenly, to the amazement of all there, the Chaos Stone began to chip and crack from the inside. More and more cracks formed. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, the stone shattered, shards flying in every direction before disintegrating. Small relieved smile on her face, Katya sank to her knees, completely drained.
Meanwhile, Takeru had taken advantage of Isan's distraction to free himself from the Shadowlore's hold and fly down by the other Guardians. Now that they had destroyed the Chaos Stone, they only needed to destroy Isan and Shaukaka.
All of a sudden, Takeru's mind flashed back to the other four enemies. Looking around quickly, he saw that they had vanished. Oh well, he figured, four less things to worry about. Now they could concentrate solely on the two Shadowlore.
"So, any ideas?" Hiroki voiced quietly, looking up at the Shadowlore, who were still in shock.
"Use us, Daddy," Miyo answered, walking up behind him. Akio was next to her.
"We can help Mama," Akio told Katya. "You just have to use our power combined with your own."
"How do we do that?" Hikari asked.
"The same way we stripped Karina's power, only we use it instead of dispersing it, and we don't take it all," Takeru answered instantly.
The others nodded, seeing the sense in his explanation. They all knew that they needed to work fast though, it wouldn't be long before Isan and Shaukaka snapped back to reality. Sitting the two children down in front of them, they each placed their fingers on the temples of their respective 'children.' Concentrating, they descended inside of the small figures, searching for their power.
It didn't take long to find it, as every part of the children was completely brimming with energy.
"Take it," the children mentally said together. "Use it with your own. Take as much as you can."
Mentally nodding in reply, the four teenagers set to draining the childrens' energy, quickly but carefully. They each took an equal amount, feeling it envelop their entire bodies. They had never felt so powerful in all of their lives. When the maximum amount they would risk taking had been taken, they released their mental hold on the Keys, lying their unconscious bodies on the ground gently.
They then stood, as one, and faced the two Shadowlore, who were just coming out of their daze. Wanting to waste no time, the four Guardians set upon doing what they had been born to do. Calling the Keys' power to the surface, they also called upon their own, all but Katya spiraling deeply, Katya spiraled only a little. Going until they could go no further, they released the power, still moving as one, and directed it towards the two evil beings.
They had no intentions of holding back now and letting the Shadowlore fight back. If they did that or showed mercy, the sacrifices of their parents, the Caelon, and all of the other soldiers who had died would mean nothing. No, they had to be swift and deadly in this attack. It all came down to this one assault.
As the energy ran through them, they couldn't help but scream. This power...it was so much...so overwhelming...they had thought they knew pain before, but this was unbearable...they were sure that they would die...be destroyed from the inside...but if they won...that didn't matter.
It took nearly a minute for the energy to stop flowing, the time length showing just how powerful it had been. When the last of it had been released the Guardians, still running on stamina alone, looked at the scene in front of them. Their attack had mostly worked, the two Shadowlore were near death. Now, they only needed to finish the job.
Pulling out their weapons, the Mages lunged at Isan while the Elementals headed for Shaukaka. They drove their weapons in cleanly and deeply, killing the Shadowlore instantly. The bodies of the two Shadowlore and all of their army, disintegrated, seemingly blown away by the wind.
Sagging back down, all adrenaline and energy gone, Takeru finally noticed what a toll this fight had taken on his body. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move, could barely see or think. He wasn't even completely sure that he had survived. As his numb body collapsed to the ground and his heavy eyelids began to close, he could have sworn that he saw his father leaning over him, care in the elder's eyes. However, even in his daze, he knew this could not be so, and with a heavy heart he let his eyes close the rest of the way, wishing to sleep and never return to this nightmare of life.
When Takeru next awakened, he found himself in a familiar soft bed in a familiar room. He was at Castle Shuuko again. Struggling to sit up, he found that the room was empty, and seemed as though it had been for a while.
With a little effort, he tried to remember exactly why he was here. Then, it all came rushing back to him.
"No," he mumbled, not wanting to accept it. "No, it must have been a dream...just a horrible dream."
Throwing back the covers and scrambling out of bed, ignoring his weakness, he darted into the washroom and looked in the mirror. The pendant, it was around his neck, and there were bandages on his shoulder and chest, even though the damage had been done to his other form. The reality of it all began to sink in and he gently held the pendant with shaking hands. Then, something in the mirror caught his eye..or, rather, something that wasn't in the mirror caught his eye.
His collar, the one that Isan had put on him, it was gone.
/It came off right after Isan was destroyed./ Rage said quietly from behind him.
Takeru turned around and spotted the great wolf standing behind him. As he looked at the wolf's sorrowful face, all of his exhaustion came rushing back to him. His legs buckled and he would have fallen flat on his face if Rage hadn't rushed over and offered his support.
/Rage, what happened to the others/ he asked wearily.
/The other Guardians and the Keys are all resting, as you were. They all used a dangerous amount of energy./
/But, they'll be alright/
Rage nodded mentally.
/What of the Vampires, Faeries, and humans/
/They have all rested and gone home. The Vampires wanted to stay, but the Watcher told them that their city needed them now more than ever./
/I see/ he replied quietly. He could say and think no more as he drifted back off to sleep, blissfully forgetting what had happened once again.
Two weeks later, the Guardians all stood somberly in the courtyard, watching the rain fall. They had healed physically, but mentally and emotionally they were still heavily broken. The farewell that they were supposed to give each other was not helping their state at all.
It seemed that while they had been resting, Meersa and the Watcher had been working on a way to get Takeru and Hikari back to Earth. Now, they had finished. The two digidestined had already said tearful good-byes to the crying children, and given promises to meet again, but they could find nothing to say to the other Guardians.
They had all known this day would come, had known since they first met, but that didn't mean they were ready for it. With what had happened, they felt that they needed each other more than ever. But, the Watcher and Meersa had said that the two Earth dwellers needed to leave that night, they couldn't wait any longer.
Sighing sadly, Takeru decided that if he was going to say good-bye, it needed to be now. However, it would be better in private; nothing against the two Elementals, of course. Moving slightly, he gently grasped Katya's hand and pulled her into the rain, towards a corner of the courtyard. When they reached it, they looked upon each other silently again. They could still find no words to express the grief and sorrow they felt about parting.
"This is...harder than I thought," Katya finally started quietly, moving closer to Takeru until her head was resting on his shoulder. "I don't want you to leave me, but I know you must."
Takeru embraced her fondly. "We will meet again, lover. Just have faith."
"I-I know," she replied shakily. "It's just...we've already lost so many friends, I don't know if I can bear to lose you to."
"You won't lose me," Takeru comforted, trying to be strong. "As long as you remember me, we'll always be together."
Katya let out an unnatural laugh and pulled back slightly. "That sounded so corny," she teased softly, running a hand through his damp hair.
Takeru allowed himself a small smile. "I know, but it's true."
"Mmhmm," Katya murmured, moving back into the embrace. She tilted her head up and engaged a farewell kiss.
After a few moments, they pulled back again and Katya cocked her head slightly.
"Do you feel that?" she asked quietly. "It feels like...mother."
Takeru looked at her strangely before concentrating. Surprisingly, he found that she was right. He could feel his father's power. 'I guess it makes sense,' he thought. 'After all, a Forgotten's power is dispersed throughout Hiata after they're...gone. That must be why we can feel them.'
"See?" he whispered to Katya. "You won't be alone when I'm gone. You'll have the others with you always," smiling a little, he decided to try to lighten the mood. "And I'm sure that spirits will do more to keep Larin in line than I would."
Katya couldn't help but smile back at his joke. This was one thing she loved about him, he always thought of other's feelings and tried to make them feel better before he considered himself.
Suddenly, a voice rang out, breaking her train of thought. "Guardians! It's time."
Takeru and Katya looked up to see Meersa calling from a high window. Sighing, the two walked back through the courtyard in the rain, never releasing their hold on each other's hand. As they neared the entrance back into the castle, they caught sight of Hiroki and Hikari breaking off a passionate kiss. From the looks on their faces, it seemed as though the Elementals had had a hard time saying good-bye as well.
All soaked from the warm rain, the four walked slowly up to the third floor of the castle. They found the Watcher, Meersa, Alitea, the Keys, and all of their Shadow Beasts and Spirit Animals in one large room. There was a light purple stone in the middle of the room.
"Are you ready?" the Watcher asked softly.
Giving their lovers another quick kiss, giving the Keys another hug, and mentally saying farewell to their beasts and animal, the two Earth dwellers nodded and stepped forward. Nodding in return, Meersa stepped forward and placed a hand on the light purple stone. When she murmured some type of spell, the stone began to glow. Standing up, she flicked her wrist and a portal opened in the air. It was much like the portals that allowed her to travel throughout Hiata, except this one led to another dimension.
After making sure that the portal was secure, Meersa stepped back and out of the way.
"I will miss you Guardians," she said sincerely. "But I'm sure you'll find your way back again. Go now, the portal will not hold for long."
Nodding their farewells to her, the Watcher, and Alitea, they looked back at the other two Guardians and the Keys one last time before stepping through the portal and disappearing from sight.
Matt and Tai walked down the dark streets of Odaiba slowly, having just finished cleaning up from Matt's latest concert.
"You did a great job tonight, man," Tai complimented quietly, though he knew the blonde's thoughts were elsewhere.
It took Matt a moment to register what had been said. When it sunk in, he looked over and replied. "Thanks." Then, he went back into his own little world and let Tai go into his.
Usually, he would have said more, thanking Tai for the help and for coming, however tonight just wasn't a good night for him. His thoughts were dwelling on his little brother again. Concerts always made him remember because TK had always been at every concert, cheering Matt on. But, TK was never at concerts anymore, because TK was gone.
Matt internally winced at he thought that last sentence. It still pained him to think it, though it had been just over a year since his brother had last been seen. It wouldn't be so hard, he told himself, if he had closure; if he knew for sure whether or not TK was...was dead. But, they had nothing, and that hurt most of all.
It was that pain that had caused him to give up music for a while after TK vanished; he couldn't take the memories. But, about six months ago, his parents had convinced him that if he really wanted to honor TK, he would keep playing, because TK wouldn't have wanted him to quit. It still hurt every time he played, though.
Glancing over at Tai, he could tell that his friend was currently thinking some of the same things about Kari. Kari had always been at Tai's soccer games, so when she disappeared, the elder brother had given up soccer, just as Matt had given up music. However, he later continued to play, using the same reason as Matt, he knew Kari wouldn't have wanted him to quit, and he wanted to honor her wishes.
As they walked down the quiet side streets, they weren't surprised to find them deserted. After all, who else would be out this late on such a chilly night? Suddenly, a voice broke the silence.
"Hey, wait!" a boy's voice called.
Matt paused, he knew that voice...but he couldn't place it. He hoped it wasn't one of his crazed fans who still liked to follow him around. Maybe it would be better just to keep walking.
"Wait up!" a girl's voice chimed, when the two elder boys didn't stop.
This time it was Tai who felt a flash of recognition. Passing it off as a soccer fan, he still didn't stop. He just wanted to be alone right now, he didn't need or want anyone to talk to.
"'Nii-san, wait!" the two voices chimed together, causing the boys to stop dead in their tracks, the call echoing in their heads.
It couldn't be true...it couldn't be true...Turning slowly, still in shock, the two boys had no time to look at the figures running towards them as they were both bowled over in enthusiastic hugs.
Matt stared down at the figure who was clutching his chest as they landed on the ground. He could make out blonde hair. The only young boy he knew with blonde hair was...
"T...K...?" he asked, unbelieving.
The figure looked up at him and Matt caught the gaze of the familiar blue eyes. "I'm home Yama," he replied simply, quietly.
At that time, all the emotional walls Matt had built up to try to cage his sorrow when TK had disappeared came crumbling down. He clutched his little brother tightly, tears flowing freely down his cheeks and into the hair of the smaller boy.
"TK, it's you...it's really you..." Matt mumbled, rocking TK slightly as he still held him tightly.
Next to them, Tai had recognized Kari as well and had her in a crush hold.
"God Kari...you're back...you're actually back..." he murmured, tears rolling down his cheeks now, though he really could care less if anyone saw. All that mattered was that his baby sister was back in his arms.
"Did you miss me big brother?" Kari asked softly, tightening her hold on the older boy.
Tai couldn't reply, his airway had constricted too much. He simply held her close. After a few minutes, everyone had pulled themselves together enough to stand up again.
"What happened to you two?" Tai asked softly, still holding Kari's arm, not quite willing to let her go just yet.
The two younger siblings stayed silent for a moment, inwardly debating on a suitable answer. Takeru found one first.
"A lot," he replied simply, truthfully. Then, he turned to Matt. "I'm tired 'nii-san, can we go home now?"
Realizing that the two children...no, the two teenagers, weren't going to say any more that night, Matt nodded and wrapped an arm around TK's shoulders as the group began to walk down the street again. He briefly noticed an odd-looking armband, but decided to say nothing, as it really wasn't important. What was important was that his brother was back, safe and sound. And for as long as he lived, Matt planned to keep it that way.
A/N: well, there it is. My first really long story. I have an idea for a sequel in which the other digidestined get involved, and both old and new enemies appear. If anyone wants it, I'll write it, if not, I won't. It's that simple. Also, if you do want it, feel free to throw out any ideas or anything you want to see in it. I'll try to accomodate you.