Digital War: Campaign II

Part One: First Contact

[Chapter V]

By T. D. Larson

"You mean to digivolve?"

The lounge-like passenger compartment was large enough to hold their group several times over, leaving Michael and Cotramon room for a private conversation. Cotramon had taken a seat in an oversized, padded chair across a table from Michael. Their surroundings were built for Digimon of much larger sizes, and the Black WarGreymon, Tank, sat across of Isaac on the other end of the compartment, comfortably, drumming his claws on a table.

Cotramon looked out a window at the passing landscape below, and then back to Michael. The hybrid had asked a strange question, that he was not quite sure how to answer. Certainly he meant digivolution. It was only natural for a Digimon to want to become stronger—that was their nature, their most basic instinct to fight. Of course, they had learned to control that urge long ago. Gladiatorial combat was a favorite pastime of Digimon everywhere, allowing them to fight without harm.

Now, instead of conquering each other, it was sport and training. The war had been different though. Digimon had battled each other, and the soulless minions the Enemy had created. Desperation, fear, and sheer force of will had brought out potent digivolutions.

"It's a process of gaining strength," Cotramon continued, distractedly. "Since we're digital matter, we can grow and change. Digivolution is the primary way of doing that." He had not thought Michael would be able to do it though. He was only half Digimon, not a full blooded digital monster. But the awakening of that compulsion raised doubts within him. What would he digivolve into? There was never any way to tell. "You ask because you feel the need inside you, don't you?"

Michael nodded. "I'm not sure I want to. I think I've changed enough." But still… the thrill, the excitement. He had felt Tank's presence, as if the man had an energy about him that filled any space he occupied. Michael could almost believe the Digimon was invincible. "Why does Tank feel so much stronger than anyone else?"

"He does have that feeling, doesn't he?" They both threw a sidelong glance at him, discussing something animatedly with Isaac. The two got along very well, he thought. "He's a mega Digimon. That's why. Digimon are born from eggs into their 'fresh' forms. From there they digivolve to in-training Digimon, then to rookie, where you and I are."

Michael screwed his face up into something that looked contemplative. "There's other levels, too, right? Like something between where we are and what he is." The gap was just too large, he decided. So much power and strength emanating from him had to take years of training. "What about the Sovereignty? Are they megas as well?"

He was a quick study, this Michael. He had already pieced together the archaic hierarchy of the Digital World. Generally, higher level Digimon were revered for the hard work and dedication they put into their training. They also tended to be much wiser than other Digimon. "Yes, to both questions," he said. "First of all, there are two levels between us and them. Champion and ultimate Digimon are a good match for anyone. But the Sovereignty were the first to digivolve during the Liberation War against the Enemy. They led us, and they now advise the Emperor, as he respects their wisdom as much as everyone else."

"I see…"

Champion and ultimate? The classifications sounded almost cartoonish. But Cotramon looked so serious, speaking about it. He had a good mind to forget the whole affair. "I don't like the idea. Look what sort of trouble I caused the last time." Still, he was curious. The Digimon spoke of this evolution almost as if it were a tangible joy.

If Tank were any clue, not all Digimon that powerful were giants. Some undoubtedly were. He imagined, from the unconscious inclination of Cotramon's head when he spoke of them, that the Sovereign Digimon were true giants, towering over anything he had yet seen. Then he wondered what their presence would feel like, and he shuddered at the thought. He felt a certain twinge of doubt at their supposed wisdom. After all, beings that fought and conquered to gain strength had to be trouble.

He let his mind wander for the remainder of the trip, trying not to focus on the trouble brewing in the back of his mind. Michael had never been one to trust his guts, but he had a nagging suspicion that something was about to happen to him—as if he were about to be subjected to a critical test, which his life depended upon. Maybe it did.

The transport landed only a few hours later, setting down in a large bowl-shaped impression in the center of a massive city. Even from the air, the two newcomers were awed by the fact that it stretched as far as their eyes could see. Nearly from horizon to horizon, over an area of several hundred square miles, the city of Anshar sprawled beneath them, its denizens going about their lives oblivious to the gaping mouths of their two newest visitors.

Aside from the enormous area the metropolis encompassed, the buildings themselves were equally gargantuan, much like those they had seen at the so-called weigh-station at the borders of the Digital World. Now, at least, they knew why Cotramon had called it merely an outpost. For, as they now saw, it was nothing in comparison to this place. Curved, domed roofs covered nearly every piece of boxy architecture, all of them as large as a city block. Some were smaller, comprised of shops and open-air markets where giant Digimon mingled with smaller creatures, still comparable to small pieces of industrial machinery.

Cotramon coughed purposefully, drawing their attention to an vast, wide boulevard down the center leading to a cluster of skyscrapers about a mile distant from their landing field. Surrounding it was a wall, circular, encompassing all of the grounds within, and a large central complex divided into five separate wings. Out of the center rose a pillar with a domed observation deck at its peak.

"That is the Imperial residence," he said. "And it is also our destination." He sighed. It had been a while since he had seen Anshar Proper, or the palace. Not since the Emperor had met with him personally, and given him his blessing. The mission he had undertaken was of supreme importance to the Digital World, and now it had taken on even more importance—especially to him. Would the Sovereignty and the Emperor take him as a failure, or would they be glad of the potential ally?

Very few new of the real reason why the Clone Works had been studied so thoroughly, and even fewer of the reason it was activated. Only that it was, and that a call had gone out to the public for the cleverest and most powerful Digimon to be found, ever reached the outside of his little circle. It was a circle, in all honesty, that he had been lucky to have been admitted to at all. His influence there was minimal—almost non-existent, in fact. It included only him, the Sovereignty and the Emperor himself. And Cotramon, as only a messenger and assassin, was the lowest on the totem pole.

He was to speak of it to no one, lest the word get out and panic ensue. But despite the best efforts of the Sovereignty at the end of the war were not enough. Everyone knew that the Enemy had not been destroyed, but they were under the delusion that he was sealed in an inescapable prison—a little piece of the inferno, made just for him.

Cotramon shuddered. A super soldier to fight the Enemy, and they had gotten a human hybrid that was based on his genetic code. Yet there was potential in him, the Digimon knew. His very transformation proved that, harkening back to the most powerful of the Digimon he had ever seen fight. EmeraldGreymon, who had evolved from Pyromon during the war, had fought during the siege on Anshar, the city below them.

The hybrid also came from that stock. Good stock, he decided. So the potential remained that he would be a powerful ally against the Enemy. The seal was beginning to wear thin, and soon war would be upon the Digital World again.

What a terrible war it had been in the first place. Decades of war had ravaged the Digital World. Entire planes had been devastated, stripped of their natural resources and laid barren. Each and every layer to the Digital World had suffered, each plane a different menagerie of disasters. And the casualties had been catastrophic—so many Digimon had been lost to the Enemy or to his generals. So many more had been deleted altogether.

There was a shudder as the transport came to rest in the landing field. He blinked, his concentration faltering, and his train of thought long gone. Immediately, the ground crew began swarming their Digimon transportation as an announcement in a recognizable, but heavily accented English, asked them to disembark. The stairs leading from the entry hatch were, like everything else in the compartment, oversized for humans and smaller Digimon, and the three smaller passengers awkwardly made their way out, took their gaze upon the capital city.

Cotramon was relieved to see it had not changed much since his last visit, more than a year prior. Though, in retrospect, he should not have been surprised. This was the oldest city in the Digital World, and thus, the least likely to change "overnight." He smiled, wondering if some of his old haunts were still around, and decided he would have to look into it later. There would be time, he hoped. Maybe he would take the others with him.

Tank bordered on giddy as he came ashore. Cotramon caught him looking around expectantly, as if he were waiting to be greeted by an even larger entourage. No one came, however, except for more of the ground crew tending to the large, winged Digimon behind them. He quickly realized that, it looked, and gave his full attention to his three charges.

"I assume Cotramon mentioned that our destination is the palace," he iterated, making a sweeping gesture toward the grandiose complex. "You are to be guests of the Emperor himself, an honor extended to a very select few. I recommend an air of sobriety, as the Imperial Guard take their positions very seriously."

Then, quite to Cotramon's irritation, and to the surprise of the others, he pulled a list from a chink in his armor. "The following are to be abided by in all cases: There will be no unauthorized access to palace grounds. You will leave your staterooms only when summoned, or in the escort of myself or another member of the Imperial Guard. You will speak to the Sovereignty and the Emperor only when spoken to. And you will answer any and all questions they ask in truth."

He winked, and grinned under his helmet, replacing the list. "Of course, these are merely guidelines. The Emperor is far more relaxed than we lead you to believe." The others nodded soberly, clearly intimidated by the list of mandates. "Since Cotramon is an officially recognized agent of the Empire, he qualifies as escort. And, if you like, I'll tag along to keep things under control. We don't often get tourists from another dimension." His joking manner unnerved Cotramon again, forcing him one more time to wonder how such a flippant Digimon ever made the ranks of such a prestigious organization.

Isaac had barely paid attention to Tank's speech, only catching the gist of it. Do not stare; do not deviate from your present course. That summed it up well, he thought. And do not interrupt for anything. It only just registered in him, though, as he was completely absorbed in his surroundings. He had never seen such a place, so filled with people, so large that he could not see the end of it.

A mile seemed only a few feet by comparison, when he asked about the distance to the palace. He was grateful for that, after seeing the sheer breadth of the city. He was advised, along with Michael, to stay close to the pack, as there were many people who would be opposed to them being there.

"Your existence," Cotramon explained, referring to Michael, "is not a secret, nor is your heritage. Some would even take your form, Pyromon, as an insult. That's why the Sovereignty provided an escort. And, though our worlds haven't officially had contact, there are Digimon who oppose making contact with Humans as well."

An insult? Isaac vaguely remembered something about a Pyromon being a war hero. As they walked, he asked, "Why is him being a Pyromon such an insult?" Cotramon opened his mouth and rolled his eyes, as if the answer were as obvious as daylight, then closed it and began again, nodding.

"I forgot, you're not from here."

"No, we're not," Michael interrupted, now curious himself as to the question of his insulting figure. He too remembered the reference to a war hero, and had a sense that it would be important later. He might even be questioned about it by the authority of the Digital World's leadership. "So what's the deal with it? What have I done?"

Even now, as they left the airfield, he noticed Digimon of all sizes staring at him, some horrified. A large crowd had gathered at the entrance, word having spread somehow of the hybrid and his arrival. Many boasted signs in a language that neither Michael nor Isaac understood until Michael heard Cotramon mutter under his breath.

"Those dolts think you can read digi-code…"

Michael was glad for their wrong assumption. The last thing he needed was insults, or at least to understand what they meant. He, like Cotramon, rolled his eyes. Many of them shouted angrily in growling, halting English. Some had even learned a few swear words in the human language, and others just stood silently, glaring at Michael as he passed by them.

The varied shapes and forms all had gleaming eyes, bright and glittering in the hot sun. The hybrid noticed a distinct presence of reptilian or dragon-like Digimon. Some looked almost human as well. He found himself staring back at them, wondering just what kind of enemy they were mistaking him for. What could have been so unspeakable and so malicious as to inspire such hatred?

He was human anyway. They should have known that. But how could he explain to a people so unwilling to listen that he was nothing more than an average human being, just coming into adulthood. Then again, he could hardly prove that he was, in fact, human. Just look at me, he thought. He was a freak, even by sideshow standards. Not human, not a Digimon, how could he belong to either world?

Then there was a pop, and a startled yelp issued from Isaac brought him back to the present. He looked at the human, who had stopped, next to a wall where a large chunk had been chipped out of it. Dust plumed out of the gaping hole, which he now took as a small impact crater. He stopped, and turned his red eyes to the crowd.

"Who threw that?" he demanded, some of the Digimon taken aback. "Who threw it?" His voice had taken on its own growling quality as he shouted down the protesters. They may have had a right to protest his visitation, but not Isaac's. "You've got a bone to pick, pick it with me. But leave my human out of it," he shouted. "Now who did it?"

Cotramon and Tank had fallen in with him, surrounding Isaac. Another projectile, a small slab of stone, rocketed toward them, narrowly missing Michael and colliding with the wall. A second pop, and the sound of stone falling to the ground told him no one had been hurt. But the renewed shouts drown out any sort of communication between them.

"You're all traitors," someone bellowed from the midst of the mob. Others took up the cry, and a chorus of threats and declarations of violence against them rose up. Another stone, this time larger, rocketed out from the rabble. It too missed by a mile, but left a yawning hole where the others merely left chipped masonry.

Michael had caught the culprit this time, and pointed a clawed finger towards the offending Digimon. "Hey!" he called, as the roughly human-shaped Digimon tried to duck into the throng of people. "Come back here you coward!" The Digimon halted his retreat and turned, brown eyes alight with rage. Michael started, briefly wondering if he should have phrased his request in a more diplomatic way.

The man-like Digimon came forward, gripping another large rock in one hand. "You hide for years in the Human World? And then have the nerve to desecrate the memory of my city's patron?" the Digimon questioned, his voice eerily calm. "And then you call me a coward!" He came out of the crowd fully now, green skinned and wearing a short tunic of violet fabric. His short, pointed muzzle was drawn into an angry snarl as he reached for an unreasonably large blade.

"So you attack an innocent?" Michael shouted, deciding to stand his ground. He gestured toward Isaac, his other hand clenched into a tight fist. "What has he got to do with it? The only reason he's here is as a witness. He's not related to this enemy of yours!"

He felt a righteous indignation welling within him, burning like a furnace within him. Someone had once told him that he ought to stand up for the helpless, or at least those who chose not to fight. Isaac was a good man; he had done nothing to provoke that Digimon except by being there. He would not have hurt a soul, except in self-defense. And Michael was not even sure of that much.

"How can you justify that?" he demanded.

The lizard-man shot out a forked tongue in irritation and snorted contemptuously at him. "By being in league with you," he said, lacing his words with venomous ire, "he has proven himself to be an agent of the Enemy. And as for you… you don't deserve to set foot on our soil." He unsheathed his blade, the metal glowing eerily in the daylight.

Was he really going to attack, for such a dubious reason as that? The Digimon paced forward. The mob, sensing the oncoming battle backed away, more subdued by the brandishing of weapons. Michael looked back at Cotramon, who had taken a readied stance, and Tank, who stood guard between them and Isaac. He could not let this happen.

"I don't want to fight you. I just want to conduct my business and go home," Michael said, trying to placate the green-skinned native. Suddenly the Digimon made his move, lightning quick, slashing at the draconic hybrid. He dropped to the street and rolled out of the way, only just catching the last remnants of shimmering heat from the furious attack. The crowd leered, snickering at his attempt to dodge.

He rolled again, into the crowd this time. They made way, parting like water, for the Digimon who once again tried to skewer him. Michael managed to scramble to his feet and promptly fell back to the ground again, stumbling over his tail. Cotramon came from the opposite side, and made a slash at the Digimon with his claws, leaving a trail of black flames in his wake.

His "phantom claw" attack missed, alerting the Dinohyumon to his presence. He kicked at Cotramon once, catching him in the chest and sent him staggering back. He drew a second blade, making for the rookie.

No, Michael thought. He climbed to a standing position once more and launched himself at the attacker, sending both of them to the ground. "You don't get it, do you?" he asked, trying to get a grip on the Digimon's struggling hands. "This isn't helping anything!"

His attacker slipped one of his hands around Michael's back and dragged him to a prone position, face to face. He dropped his swords then, opting to use closed fists, as heavy as brick, to pound him. Michael put up his arms to block the incoming punches. But the Dinohyumon was too quick, landing punch after devastating punch on his unprotected body.

He tasted blood in his mouth, and doubled over as an especially powerful blow caught him in the gut. He felt around for the nearest object to try and defend himself. His hands clutched nothing but sand as another fist caught him under the chin. His vision turned dark for a moment and he felt disoriented. The world spun around him and now two more Digimon were attacking him, identical to the first.

Michael grabbed at the sand and threw it into their eyes. The Digimon, startled, screamed profanities and leapt off him. The hybrid laid there, half blind. The buildings were a lot taller than he remembered, and they seemed to be swaying. He moaned, rolled over, and coughed up blood. He had to get up.

Cotramon was already in action as he saw the hybrid roll over and rise wearily to his feet. Dinohymon was a champion Digimon that favored one on one competition. Alone, few Digimon of the same level could outclass him. What chance would a lowly rookie and a half-Digimon hybrid stand, then? Together, they could flank him though, if they were fast enough.

He had tried it, and got a gut-wrenching kick in reward. Their opponent was too fast. And now he was taking aim at Michael again. There was murder in his eyes, the likes of which Cotramon had only seen a few times. "Blazing Fire! " he shouted, unleashing his fireball at the champion level Digimon. The deep breath required made him wince—he had bruised a rib at the very least. It caused his attack to peter out before reaching the target.

So he took a step forward and tried to appeal to the Digimon's sense of reason. "Don't hurt him, you've made your point!" Michael had gotten up by now, but his wounds from the previous night were open now, oozing more blood and staining the bandages still on his arms crimson. "Dinohyumon! He's been summoned by the Emperor! You mustn't hurt him!"

He continued forward, and threw himself into a running tackle, swiping with his claws again. "Phantom Claw!" The humanoid fighter backhanded him, swatting away the attack with little more effort than it took to swat a fly. It took slow, deliberate and menacing steps toward the hybrid. "Michael!"

Isaac watched in horror as his hybrid companion fell to the floor, pummeled by the unforgiving rage of a zealous Digimon. He was a big man—over six feet tall, and a build that would make most humans cower if he ever chose to challenge them. But compared to a Digimon, even one as relatively small as Cotramon, who barely came up to his chest, he was nothing.

He had only managed to stop Cotramon from delivering a killing blow by luck, leaping in at just the right time with a hard enough piece of plastic to warrant the Digimon taking a second thought to him. But what could he do now? That Digimon—Dinohyumon, Cotramon had called him—was far too quick, and much stronger. He wondered why Tank did not intervene. The Imperial Guard only watched, seemingly in fascination, as the Digimon picked up one of his swords and continued to advance toward Michael.

He had risen to his feet completely by now, and turned defiantly toward the Digimon. "I don't want to fight you," he repeated to no avail. "If it'll prove to you that I don't want to fight, I won't even defend myself." He lifted his eyes, bright with fiery determination.

They were only a few paces away from each other now, and Dinohyumon lifted his cleaver. Time slowed for the human, as he found himself running toward Michael, yet again, trying desperately to save his life. The only thought that registered in his mind was that there was something special, not yet seen, about him. And that he needed to be preserved.

Isaac may not have been as strong as the Digimon, but he was massive enough to throw him off balance, into the watching horde of creatures. The Digimon ducked into a roll and came out, facing him. He crouched to a position that suggested he had acquired a new target. Then the reality struck him hard as the Digimon sprung at him.

"No! Stop!" Michael shouted, diving at the champion Digimon. He would not defend himself. He would not defend Cotramon—who would not need it anyway. But Isaac… the human was defenseless, unarmed and hopelessly outmatch by the speed of their assailant. He had to do something. He had to protect him—even if it were just to repay him in kind—he had to do something. Anything.

He felt it again, a burning sensation all over his body, very much like what he had felt the day before. But it was different—the heat was warm, pleasant. It was insistent, though, as if it were an immediate need to be addressed. Or the addressing of an immediate need, he realized. The power he felt building in his muscles was intense—he could match Dinohymon with it. He could do something now, stop the attack.

Then, suddenly, everything stood still, like a photograph as he heard himself shouting some incomprehensible phrase. But it was instinct—like that dynamite rush he had used on Cotramon—except it exponentially greater. "Pyromon digivolve to…" He paused as the name came to him. There was a strength in it that he had never felt before—like a new part of himself. "Helmdramon!"