The encounter with the human, Marcus Gray, had taught him much in the way of his enemy. The humans were, if anything, a curious bundle of tightly wound springs. He rubbed his jaw thoughtfully at this, remembering the uppercut that Marcus had landed on him. He had the food tray with is cranial impression indented into it mounted on his wall as a reminder. Do not underestimate them.
And his interrogation of the traitorous ExVeemon had been an interesting excursion as well. The information had proven accurate, much to DoyenGraymon's satisfaction. That was aside from the initial shock at what had been going on under his nose out here the entire time.
It seemed that while the slave trade blossomed out here, and the plantations on the other side of the district developed nicely, another form of trade had also been booming. The Kellogg—and while he detested the indecency of it, he allowed it to remain as a hub of back-dealing commerce from which he received ample information—had merely been a front of the rebellion of all things.
He smiled amusedly at the irony. But, apart from all this wonderful news he had gathered, one thing topped all the others. He had finally learned the identity of the Baron of the West, from a rival franchiser in a neighboring district, who had developed a grudge. Greed could be a powerful ally if properly harnessed. That BlackWarGreymon had practically sold him the information at whole-sale. He only asked for one thing—to lead the party that would collect his bounty.
And a hefty bounty it was, DoyenGreymon mused. Fifty thousand credits for the Digimon that could track him down, and possibly bring him back intact. Intact, he had said, emphasized that point. Machinedramon was not to be taken lightly, but nor was he a Digimon like any other.
Now he stared at his monitors, seeing the empty base. Yes, he knew this would happen. And he knew their likely path across the desert. Corbet would chase them down for him, and destroy them with the small army he had been provided. By daybreak it would be done. All the humans, dispatched. Their partners, destroyed. And his prize returned to him.
Oh yes, this was going to be a good day.
The state of Pat's condition weighed heavily on Mason. That was his brother. They argued, and their philosophies on life and living varied drastically. They had also been known to come to physical blows on many an occasion. Pat was the smarter, Mason the stronger—which lead to their disagreements.
He begged the question, pondered it over in his mind as they traveled. The desert, by day, was a hot, dry hell. By night, it was nearly frozen in stillness and cold. His joints ached, his feet hurt. But all that paled in comparison with the burden he carried in his mind. Why had he agreed to let Pat go in the first place, knowing that the ExVeemon was physically weaker?
Even with a human partner, that unfathomable strength that Marcus possessed, they were both inexperienced compared with him. This was despite what the human asserted. Now the both of them were crippled, unconscious, and being dragged across the desert. No, he should have gone and let those two take the supplies.
He could see their father now, still in the prison, rotting in a cell not even large enough to stretch out in. Irresponsible, idiotic… incalculable foolery. He might as well have signed over the three of them in writing.
And worse, they would be followed. DoyenGreymon would know exactly where they were, and where they were heading. The probably trajectories across this desert were few, and even if they had done the unexpected—that is, travel outside the established trade routes—the heat and sand would have killed them regardless.
By now, the sun had fallen well below the horizon, leaving a familiar chill in his bones. Even under his fur, he shivered. Mason glanced behind him, trailing behind the others. How could he have let this happen? He growled under his breath, cursing his lack of forethought. He should have known.
The hunters would soon catch up with the prey. Then it would be a slaughter. He wondered how many would be coming—probably an army of those plastic Digimon. Mech had told them of a colony of Airdramon that had taken shelter in a valley not far away—a remnant crater of some long ago disaster. He traded with them frequently and thought they might give them shelter.
Nonsense! DoyenGreymon would come and destroy them as well. They would bring death to that colony as well. No. He had to stop them, to turn and go back. He could stay them off for a little while at least.
"Ooh," he heard a moan and turned to the Machinedramon who carried his brother—and a disproportionate amount of their supplies. Pat's eyes had open, though they were dulled and looked distant. "Where am I?" His tail twitched once.
Pat's head throbbed and his body hurt in places he had not thought existed. He remembered the prison, the room and its chrome, sterile instruments. The glint of moonlight off of Mech's armor made him recoil violently until he realized he was outside in the fresh, cool air. He moaned again, trying not to move.
Mech ceased his motion and set the Digimon on the sand. He swayed unsteadily, and braced himself against the metal mega. Where was he? Where was Marcus. He saw the human briefly before waking up here. But everything was a blank between the two points. He looked up at the giant and nodded, his head clearing a bit.
"Thanks," he grunted, standing by himself now. He looked around for his human—the spirited presence of his human absent from inside him. Pat felt weak, and began to worry until he felt a sharp pain in his shin.
"You stupid dragon!" Marcus shouted, dropping his pack and balling his fists. "You—you—ugh!" He cursed himself, then cursed aloud at his partner, lacking the ability to articulate himself. Shortly after his botched landing he had decoupled from Pat and saw his partner crumpled up in the claws of that metal monstrosity that Jerry called a Digimon.
Oh yes, Mech had told him that Pat was definitely alive, if only barely. But when he checked for a pulse, he found nothing. He could not even hear a heartbeat. All that effort to get him out, and Pat was going to die on him then and there? No way!
"You scared the crap out of me!"
"Marcus." Pat looked down at him, feeling the wounds he had sustained even more pronounced now that his head was clearing. He put two claws around Marcus' shoulders and lifted him off the ground. "Don't let anyone ever tell you that you can't amount to anything." He lowered his voice as he set the human down again and kneeled to be on eye-level. "I owe you one."
The human sputtered once, unsure of what to say, before slugging him in the arm as hard as he could with his off hand. He felt the recoil in his right shoulder—still sore from his exertions earlier—but ignored it. "That's one down, and one to go."
Mason glared at them. "You still didn't manage to get Dad out." That was unfair, and he knew it. But what did he care? He was angrier with his brother for having a partner than anything else. Pat was undeserving of the responsibility. At first he thought it might be a lesson for him, an opportunity for the Digimon to progress and evolve—in more ways than one.
But after all this, he barely managed to escape alive, the mission a failure, and his partner had been captured worst of all. Marcus had regaled them with the tale of how he walloped the tyrant of the Digital World. An underhanded punch to the jaw and then a metal plate to his face had knocked him unconscious.
No. That was too much. The human could handle himself, but Pat could barely handle Marcus! "You nearly got yourself killed, too. Is that how a warrior is supposed to wage war? Barely escaping, and letting your partner get captured? What would have happened if Marcus hadn't saved you! You're still as weak as ever."
Marcus thought for a moment, then screwed up his face into a deep set frown. "Wasn't that your idea? You sent us to go get him." Granted, he did have to save his partner. And yes, he had been captured. But none of that was Pat's fault. He doubted the Leomon would have fared any better, especially as he probably would not have been able to get out again.
He heard Pat rumble, half in agreement. Why was he so doubtful of himself, Marcus wondered. He had felt the strength within him, the first time the merged. Weakness was not his problem.
"Maybe you're right," the ExVeemon assented, lowering his head. After all, he was still a little groggy from that interrogation. He and Marcus could both use some time to recuperate. "But we can still go and scout them out," he suggested. Marcus nodded. They had to make themselves useful somehow.
"Absolutely out of the question." Darius had now entered the conversation—and as the senior most member of this band, he had the right to overrule any decision he saw fit. That included those that would endanger any or all of their company. "You can barely stand, and your human is exhausted. We need someone who is relatively fresh, small, and knows the terrain."
A chorus of amens rose up from the group. "I calculate," Mech began, tipping his great head toward the Leomon, "a much higher probability of success if we were to send Mason for that task. He can take a radio from our supplies and keep in regular contact with us."
"Someone without a human partner you mean," Mason said, perturbed by the notion. Expendable. Was this what he was to be relegated to? He could see his position slipping out from under him. And after all he had done for Resistance, for Pat! His brother would not even defend him?
Darius pointed his metal claw at the leonine Digimon, cutting off any more complaints. "No, that's not it," he replied, trying to hide his growing frustration. He had heard of Mason before. A great fighter; a champion—but wild and undisciplined. The Digimon had grown used to being in charge of his small band, and had grown complacent in his authority.
"Besides you, there are Pat and myself who have any experience fighting," the ultimate told him. "Your brother, and his partner, are in no condition to do anything at the moment. And I'm too large to make an effective scout."
Mason had not thought of size as a factor. He should have—and he chastised himself for a lack of insight. Of course Pat was in no condition, nor was Marcus. He looked at his brother, sighed, and tried to imagine what must have happened to them.
But they need not have to fight at all. If this were just a scouting mission, they just had to get in and get out. Surely one of the others could go. The BlackExVeemon and her partner—Casey and Alice. Or the little one and his Garurumon. They might make even better scouts for their size.
No, though, he decided, watching them. They were as inexperienced as children, having come from a slave background. And their humans were just children—at least in his eyes. He could not have known their circumstances, how they might prove themselves.
Despite all of this, he still hated the idea of being forced to go himself. He was the leader. He always had been. Even in their youth, he had taken the lead over his older brother. That was why he should have a partner. Not some egghead financier like his brother. It was just not fair!
"I'll go," he said at length, with a resigned roll of his eyes. No matter how he sliced it, they were right. He was the logical choice. "I'll try to see this as a testament to my prowess." And he smiled wryly at them before turning and bounding off the way they had come, alone.
The others had been silent since Mason left. They had to be thinking of the argument between him, his partner and the Leomon. Marcus looked up at Pat, who had his concentration on something else. Probably the same thing, though he had no way to know for sure. It weighed the group down like a lead balloon.
"Do you think he'll be alright?" Marcus asked at length.
"He'll be fine." Twice in the past week, he had seen his brother get into a tight spot. He would make it out this time too. Pat clenched his teeth and fists. But he was arrogant. He could do anything! Well, let him get into trouble. Cocky, unwilling to listen. Unreasonable, even.
Well that was just fine by him. Mason had never listened, even when they were young. He had gone around ordering Pat about as if he were some sort of soldier, forcing the younger sibling to do his chores around the shop. The ExVeemon growled inwardly, remembering the few times he had tried to say no. What had that gotten him but the occasional black eye?
And when he had tried to help his brother? Oh yes, that had worked so well for him! Do this, do that. It had only made him worse off. As far as he was concerned, that Leomon could get himself out of any jam he got into. Why should he care? He, who had risked his life and his partner's life on an idiotic plan and had gotten blamed for its failure. Marcus certainly seemed not to care…
Pat glanced down at the human. Maybe he did, though. He was troubled, that much was sure. About Mason, though? Will he be alright? Marcus had asked. Damn. Mason had gotten them out of District One. No doubt, they would have been caught without his brother's assistance. Damn… "Marcus, he's a strong fighter."
"That doesn't mean anything if he's facing an army." Marcus stopped, crossing his arms. "I'm a fighter too, but even I can't do that. He'll need help." Yeah, sure it was only a scouting mission. But from what he knew of Mason, the Digimon was anything but stealthy, and he had no talent for blending in. He was doomed from the start, just like they had been. So it was up to them to bail Mason out.
"You can't be serious," Pat pleaded, catching an inkling of his partner's train of thought. "After all that, you want to help him?" Marcus only stared at him, arms still crossed, daring him to say no. He was human, weak, and still braver than Pat had ever been.
He's your brother, you have to help, Pat mused. What would father have said otherwise? How would he live with himself if he refused to help? And still, Marcus glared at him, silently ordering him to turn around and go back for the Leomon. He is your brother, the ExVeemon decided, hating himself for it.
"Alright," he said, picking up Marcus. "We'll get in, grab him, and then get the heck out of there." The human nodded, then the two slipped quietly into the night. If they hurried, they might yet catch him.
Mason crept over the sand dune, trying to keep to the unlit side—the moon was now just past midway on its arch over the Digital World, casting shadows westward over the desert. He felt as if it was a vast ocean of still waves, and he was completely alone in the sandy water. Very alone, he decided.
The Leomon tried not to think about how he had parted with the others, only on the task for which he had been sent. He wondered, vaguely, just how much of a party DoyenGreymon would send after them, or how much information he had gotten out of his brother before Marcus had rescued him.
Damn that human! Why his brother of all people? He growled softly under his breath, startling himself with even that noise in the airy silence. Sand cascaded down around his feet, pooling by his pant leg. It should have been him. Stronger, faster—maybe not smarter, but certainly not stupid.
Focus, he told himself, still trudging up the dune. But if he had had a human partner, he was sure they could digivolve. He felt it—that at least he was near that threshold. There was no way Pat could come close to him in that regard. I could digivolve if I had a partner. What a waste…
He crested the dune, spying a wide valley below him between this and the next ridge. On the wind came the smell of plastic suits, and down below in the valley was a mass of Digimon, a veritable army of white plastic suits with no souls inside them. And one lone figure out front, he realized, was not the telltale Oswemon commander.
Mason narrowed his eyes, and cursed himself for not bringing a pair of binoculars. It looked like a… "Oh no…" and he gasped, and scrambled down the shadow-side of the dune for a closer look. He must have imagined it. There were so many variations of Digimon and so many subspecies of Greymon that it was entirely possible he was mistaken.
Surely—and he felt certain from the tyrant's reputation—he would not have led this hunting party himself. DoyenGreymon was a hands-off leader, unless he had taken a personal insult. The one flaw, among his many others, that was his weakness was the fact that a Digimon of such great intellect and cunning was far too prideful.
He nearly fell, trying to get down and around to another dune, almost tripping over his tail. But he had to make sure, and get an accurate count of the Shutzdramon in company. At the bottom of the hill, he peaked around the corner, closer to the leading edge of the troupe. At least a thousand Shutzdramon brought up the middle and rear of the army, marching in perfect step across the sand.
At its head—and Mason breathed a sigh of relief—was not DoyenGreymon. He recognized the species of Digimon, if not the particular individual. A BlackWarGreymon strutted proudly in front of them, his acid eyes and silver helmet glinting menacingly in the moonlight.
Whomever it was, he was not a tactician, Mason thought. Or else he would not have made himself such an easy target for bombardment. Surely he knew he was going to come across the Airdramon village? And if so, he knew he would be laying siege to it, under bombardment from the town's defenders.
He rolled his eyes and turned around, crouching so as to avoid being spied by the approaching invaders. If this general—he almost gagged at labeling him that—was half even half as stupid as he looked out there swaggering with the proverbial bull's-eye painted on his back… Mason suddenly found his train of thought derailed as the sand in front of him exploded once, twice and then a third time behind him.
The Leomon fell, caught himself and flipped over midair to land on his feet again. Two Shutzdramon had summited the dune and aimed their pistols down at him. How had they seen him? He jumped to the left, avoiding another volley of electric zaps. He had been downwind, well hidden in the shadows.
Of course! He cursed his foolishness. I should have known there would be advanced scouts… he chided himself. The ruckus had not gone unnoticed by the main bulk of the army either. Muffled shouts and orders came from behind his attackers, then the electric assent of a squad of plastic Digimon.
Zwap came another salvo. Mason weaved this way and that, trying to find an opening for escape. The Shutzdramon countered, much to his surprise, trying to flank him from behind. He saw the armored Greymon standing atop the dune now, glaring down at him. "Bring him to me," he said. Then two pairs of strong, mechanical claws grabbed him before another clocked him good behind the neck.
His vision faltered and for a moment he could not move. It was long enough for the rest of the troops to seize him. Then his eyes cleared, and the menacing, polished visage of the BlackWarGreymon stood looking down at him.
"They were smart enough to keep an eye on our movements," he said, and Mason could hear the grin in his voice. "And wise enough to send someone of so little strategic value." Mason jerked in the clutches of his captors, trying to yank himself free to at least give one good belt to their leader. "Yes, I've been briefed on your party."
"Then you know I'm not so invaluable," Mason growled.
Corbet laughed. "You caused DoyenGreymon a minor headache with your raiding parties," he said, putting a claw down on his head gently, as if he were a child. "But that is all. The humans, you see, they can't do without. And Darius—and his tactical abilities and leadership qualities—are an asset even he appreciates. But you"—Corbet leaned forward—"you're nothing."
Mason renewed his efforts to break free and earned even more derisive laughter. "You don't even know where they're going!" he shouted. "By the time you find any trace of them, they'll all be long gone and you won't have anything but dusty footprints in the sand." He spat.
Corbet backhanded him, hard. Even a champion as strong as Mason was no match for a mega-level Digimon. He knew it. And the resulting force sent him flying, the Shutzdramon letting go of him out of preprogrammed survival instincts. He rolled to a stop, laid still for a moment, then slowly picked himself up. Behind him was clear of any enemies, and in front, they were all lined up in a row.
Mason wiped the sand from his mouth and smiled. "You know, my first impression of you was that you were cocky, arrogant and far too stupid to lead an army properly." Then he drew his sword and laughed mildly, ready for the challenge. "I was right."
No. Mason may not have been the target that this Digimon was looking for. Nor was he any major player in the resistance. But one thing he did know was how to exploit weakness in battle—be it physical or mental. Though, and he thought it over quickly in his mind, how he was going to take down a mega was beyond him.
"You think you can take on a whole army by yourself?" Corbet sneered, readying himself for a fight. "You are either very brave or very stupid yourself." And in any case, all he needed was to land one decisive blow to the Leomon—Mason, his dossier read—and it would be all over.
"Mega Claw!" Corbet launched himself forward with a speed that would have left any lesser Digimon torn to ribbons. Mason barely managed to evade, leaping to the side and throwing a punch at the mega's back as he rushed past him with uncontrolled momentum.
"Fist of the Beast King!" Mason roared, the burst of energy careening into Corbet's turned back. It exploded on impact, lighting the sands red for a moment before dissipating. The black clad dragon grunted and stumbled before he straightened up and turned round. Mason smirked. "I do believe I scuffed your armor!"
Corbet lunged again, the razor edged armguards he wore, sparking in the moonlight as the clashed together. "Black Tornado!" He spun into another attack, kicking up a whirlwind of dust and rock, drilling through the sand and out the other side of the nearest dune.
He appeared again an instant later, striking from above. Mason raised his sword and widened his stance to parry the blow. "Did you think I was only some rookie in a suit of armor," he ridiculed. "You thought I was vain, and unprepared… That's your mistake then! Mega Claw!" Mason saw the flash of metal, held his breath and tried to brace himself. He felt the wind beaten out of him and his sword shattered. Then, with a blur of motion, Corbet dropped one of his armguards, delivering an uppercut to the Leomon's jaw.
He landed with a thud on his back, dazed and vision swimming until he saw the BlackWarGreymon looming over him, casting a long shadow. He attempted to get up, but was forced down with a swift kick to the abdomen. Mason coughed, sputtered as he rolled over, and spat blood as he tried again and met the same result.
"As I said," Corbet stated, looking down at the lion Digimon. "You are nothing." He sighed, as if their fight had been nothing but a light exercise. "That metal imposter is who I'm after. DoyenGreymon wants him, and I have a personal matter to attend to with him. This little distraction, amusing as you were, needs to end."