Digital War: Campaign II
Part One: First Contact
By T. D. Larson
His muscles tightened, twitched and relaxed, all with newfound strength. And suddenly, as a golden light enveloped him, he was taller, without the awkward clumsiness of his prior form. Even as a human he had never been as keenly balanced, and the exhilaration was as tangible as the ground he walked upon. Then, as he renamed himself, Helmdramon, Michael opened his eyes.
Time had stood still. There he was, a foot or less from Dinohyumon—the hostile Digimon charging at Isaac, sword aglow with furious energy and ready to cleave him in two. Only seconds remained to avert the tragedy. Cotramon's voice echoed from behind him, almost incomprehensible, distorted by some reverberated side effect from the transformation. Barely standing, the Digimon had caught the brunt of one of Dinohyumon's devastating blows, leaving Cotramon sputtering, trying to call for help.
Michael swung at the advancing Digimon, his fist ablaze. He felt heat, but it stubbornly refused to burn him. "Nova Punch!" He dived forward, leaping at Dinohyumon and releasing the pent-up energy in his arm. The flames arched from his fist, roaring to life as they left a scorch mark where his attack had collided with the other Digimon's jaw. The lizard-like Digimon spun once around from the force of the attack and then regained his balance, glaring menacingly.
The Digimon stood motionless, eyes fixed on the new digivolution. Michael caught his breath, hoping that it would sink into the Digimon that he was not willing to fight. He motioned for Isaac to leave, and caught him nodding out of the corner of his eye. The crowd had now formed a wide circle in the avenue leading to the palace complex, giving the two champion Digimon ample quarters to duke it out.
Cotramon stood breathing heavily to one side, Isaac next to him, trying to ease him down to a sitting position. Tank stood behind them, watching carefully—expectantly, Michael thought—to see what would happen next.
He turned just in time to see Dinohyumon lunging at him, sword at the ready, and narrowly missed the edge. Michael whirled out of the way a second time, leaping high as the blade came back for a second bite at his legs. He flipped once in the air, forcing all his strength into the downward turn. "Blindside Inferno!"
The concussive force sent Dinohyumon flying through the crowd, which barely managed to take flight from the impromptu missile. The Digimon careened into the same building which he had chipped away at before with a crash and an audible crack as several of his bones broke. The sword fell from his hand and he collapsed, leaving an eerie hush in his wake.
The hybrid had digivolved.
The report from their agent in Anshar had come in only moments ago, and Millenniumon had only had a brief moment to scan for details. He gathered the digivolution was powerful—a sure sign that he was indeed of the Master's blood—but it had been triggered by a human of all things. It puzzled him. They knew hardly anything of the hybrid, and less of the human world. Only now had it occurred to the Master that the humans might be just as easily conquered.
So there he brooded, the Black Diamond, his dark eyes scanning the report. Their agent had been detailed, and what once would have been a trickle of digi-code on the political climate was now three pages of comprehensive analysis on fighting technique, potential and records of any Digimon matching his description. So far, none of this came as any surprise to either the Master or Millenniumon. No one surprised them.
"Your initial supposition was correct. The union of those two bloodlines was indeed very powerful." The table before him contained a map, this time of Earth, the Human World. The prospects for conquest were ripe with possibilities. Their scattered governments, warring armies and their petty religious and political differences made them weak. But paired with the Digimon of the higher planes, an alliance would certainly spell disaster. "I must have him, or destroy him."
The Enemy turned to him, staring at him through dark eyes, almost unbearably black. They called him the Black Diamond for that reason. Millenniumon chanced a fleeting look into them and inwardly shuddered. A thousand deaths stared back, filled with bitter hatred.
"I do not think he will side with you," Millenniumon said, cautiously. He unconsciously took a step backward, feeling the wall against his back. He bowed deep, apologetically. The Enemy motioned for him to continue. Letting out a breath, he said, "His digivolution was triggered by a bond between him and that human interloper."
Yes, he thought, the one that fouled up their original plan. They would have been glad to let the Digimon destroy the hybrid—but no one had accounted for the slim chance that a human would successfully interpose himself. But it had opened up new avenues to both Millenniumon and the Digital World. A potential ally that could go either way—toward the Enemy or against him—had thrown the dynamics of the Enemy's plotting off kilter.
"I propose caution, Master. I would not destroy him so hastily." Therein he pinned his hopes. He would exercise care to give as much berth to the hybrid as possible, only subtly manipulating his actions, guiding him to where they needed. "See what fate awaits him with the Sovereignty first, Master."
"Do you propose that you know better than I do, Millenniumon?" The Enemy stood. Suddenly the room became immensely crowded, the massive presence of his master descending like a great shadow from the sky. "Remember," he said icily, "I see through you. I know your thoughts, your plotting and your futile hope ridding yourself of me. Nothing you do is secret to me. I allow you to continue existing only because a mind—even one as foolish as yours—is a terrible thing to waste."
Footsteps clattered up the corridor leading to Baihumon's chamber. The striped Digimon sat patiently on his hindquarters, waiting for the messenger to catch his breath long enough to speak. He bore the seal of the Emperor, pinned to his chest and emblazoned with gold.
Inwardly, Baihumon wondered what would be so important that the Emperor would send one of his personal messengers to him. Undoubtedly the others would be receiving similar communications of equal importance. It was only the contents of the message that were in question. The hybrid had arrived, he knew, along with a human witness to the exchange. He had seen to their safety personally. The Imperial Guard would assure a safe arrival to the palace.
And yet he sensed trepidation in the messenger before him. "What news do you bring?" he asked, beckoning the rookie to speak. The Digimon bowed, as was the custom, and greeted the Sovereign. "Skip the formalities and tell me what happened."
"He… he digivolved," the rookie panted. "After they landed in Anshar, they were attacked and the hybrid—he digivolved! The Emperor has summoned the Sovereign Council to Anshar to discuss the matter in person."
The tiger-ish Digimon sat silently, statuesque in his stillness. Then he grunted once and dismissed the messenger. "Tell the Emperor it shall be as he commands," he said. Minutes later he sat before the communications console, the large viewing screen illustrated with the faces of the other council members.
"This is highly irregular," Zhuqiaomon said. He did not like traveling, nor did he like leaving his territory unprotected. The others concurred with various grunts and assents. Baihumon would typically have agreed. But the situation was very unusual in itself. "More and more covert enemies are breaking through the seal. Leaving the planes without leadership would jeopardize the integrity of the Digital World."
"Normally I would agree with you," Baihumon replied. They had known the risks of tampering with the Clone Works, and it was their responsibility to deal with the consequences, good or bad. "Need I remind you, however, that the Emperor is not, in fact, requesting our presence, but commanding it."
"He is right," another voice broke in. Victory Greymon, a relative newcomer to the council, had been appointed by the Emperor himself in recognition for his personal valor. He was loyal to the Emperor—almost blindly so. "This meeting is not for debating that mandate, but for what we will advise."
Victory Greymon's eyes shifted under his helmet, looking as if he were personally staring down each council member. Many of the Sovereignty had resented his appointment, but Baihumon had to admit that the Emperor had chosen wisely. The Digimon had proven himself a stabilizing influence on a council that was often divided by petty differences of opinion. Even now, Baihumon could see him at work, subtly working his way around the Digital World's leadership.
"Whatever we decide," he said, and his eyes came to rest on Baihumon, "I propose we come to a complete consent as to what we will tell the Emperor. Now is not the time for pettiness." Several council members growled. That had been a personal jab at them—those who often took a diametrically opposed view to the Emperor.
Azulongmon protested the loudest. "We cannot consent to something we know nothing about. We must wait to interview this creature before we can come to a decision. It is the only sensible course of action." At least he had finally agreed to wait to see what the hybrid had to say. That had been a hard won victory. And many of the others agreed with him. It only made sense, the feline mega decided, and he added his approval as well.
The debate rambled on, back and forth, for another quarter of an hour before the council reached a consensus. Despite passionate arguments from Victory Greymon, the council would not prematurely advise the Emperor, one way or another. Were Boreamon to ask their advice before they had a chance to discuss the matter, they were each to give the same response: we must deliberate further.
At last the screen shut off and the communications line closed. Baihumon sighed. All of the political nonsense they had had to undertake since the Liberation War ended had taken a toll on them. Where once they had been mighty generals, the Sovereignty were now a mass of squabbling children. That had been the reason why Boreamon was made the Emperor: to provide strong, central leadership. But he had insisted on the council of the Sovereignty. Inwardly, Baihumon wondered how they had ever defeated the Enemy in the first place.
Leading an army seemed a lot simpler a task than leading a world. He had not even led an army. His role in the war had been simple. He fought, and bled, and fought some more. Of course, he remembered, he had been unique. It was with him that the war had begun, back in the mountains of Gaia, when he had only been a rookie slaving away in the Enemy's production lines.
He had heard legends of other worlds, of other creatures, passed down from generations that existed before the first Digimon Empire. Creatures not like them existed, and they held a power and a force within them that could make Digimon spontaneously digivolve. It intrigued him, and caused him to dream. Humans had come to the Digital World before—he knew this. He had known one of them.
What had brought him there, Baihumon had never discovered. But the result had been the beginning of a revolution. The first time they met, Baihumon had risked everything to save his life. And the results had been nothing short of a miracle. It had caused him—like it had caused the hybrid in Anshar—to evolve.
The mega padded around his chambers, thinking. When the full details of the battle in Anshar came through to him, he had known there was more to this hybrid than anyone of them had thought. No son of the Enemy would have risked his life for anyone. He stopped pacing, staring at a glass case in which a small device had been placed.
To many, it would merely have been a keepsake. But to him, it represented a bond that even death could not break. His human partner had passed away long ago—it had been many decades since the Liberation War. Over fifty years had passed, and humans, from the little he learned from his partner, were short-lived compared to the Digimon. But this device was the legacy of that partnership.
He wondered, could it save the Digital World now?
The walls of the palace had been immense—the sheer size of them putting to shame any of the ancient castles of human kings. Made of polished stone, they rose one hundred feet from the ground at their lowest point between bastions. The gates themselves had been made of the same sort of stone, encased in metal framework that struck the two visitors as not particularly strong. Digi-chrome, Cotramon had told them, had been used to reinforce the stonework. It was the strongest material available.
The slid open soundlessly and effortlessly, only the hum of some great motor underneath them giving any clue as to the real weight and size of the doors. It would have taken an entire artillery battery a hundred years to break through, he thought. No huge Digimon pulled at them, like they had at the outpost on the edge of the Digital World. This was civilization, and grand elegance, the likes of which no human had ever seen.
Inside was exactly what the two visitors expected. A large courtyard, crisscrossed with paths and gardens, fountains and statues, laid before them like a great green desert—a remarkable contrast to the true desert outside the city proper. Attached to the wall on the inside were outbuildings and dormitories, supply houses and storage. Digimon of various sizes shuffled from one to another, and guards patrolled the paths leading to the central building.
What had appeared to be a cluster of towers at the center of the city was actually one large tower, terraced to five different levels, with the observation platform at the apex of the highest spire. Tank led them to the nearest of the five wings, great stone cliffs, rising out of the earth, twice as high as wall itself. This, the escort told them, was the guest wing.
Two rooms had been set aside for them in the wing opposite the Emperor's suite in the palace complex. Isaac, though, had though the description of "room" had been a vast understatement. The hospitality of the Digimon Emperor had been nothing short of incredible. The Emperor had not been present at their arrival, but he had made provisions for them. Their escort, Tank, had been joined by three other guards, all with the same seal emblazoned on their armor.
After seeing that all three of them had been properly examined by a physician—though Cotramon had protested he would serve well enough in that capacity—their injuries had been seen to, and now Michael's hastily done bandages were properly washed, sterilized and dressed. Cotramon had also been seen to—he had been bruised badly, but suffered only minor damage. And Isaac had merely been made to be studied. Apparently, human anatomy had been of great interest to them.
Then it was onto their staterooms, which had actually been comprised of several rooms apiece. Lavatories, living rooms, private balconies and bedrooms had made up an apartment that would have made the richest of earthlings jealous. All of it had been handsomely appointed with furniture and fabrics that made the human feel as if he were in a dream. All of it was on a scale much larger than he was accustomed to, however.
Chairs that were designed for Digimon larger than Tank had been scattered about, and he had required a helping hand from the large Digimon just climb into one of the sofas. In the end, when he had mentioned the problem in passing, more Digimon came to remove them and replaced them with furniture more suitable for human proportions. Tank merely took several of the cushions and sat cross-legged whenever he felt the need.
"Why so much extravagance?" Isaac asked him, still trying to take in the vast dimensions of the room. He had pulled himself up a chair behind the mega and sat, watching over his shoulders, as he worked away at a computer terminal. Even the various monarchies of Earth would have paled in comparison to this.
Tank laughed once, deep and rumbling, as if the question were silly. "This palace was originally the Enemy's. It was designed as a fortress and a palace." It was so large though, he could hardly think of what use any one person, even a Digimon, could have for such a place. "During the war, this was his central point of operation. His generals, his leading scientific minds, and a complete garrison all resided within these walls."
"It must have been some war…" Isaac said softly. He had seen murals and statues in the corridors on his way through. Some depicted the city—he could recognize it only from the tower, prominently displayed in the center of each painting—in total ruin. Only the dominating sight of a black structure in the distance remained. Others were much less devastated scenes. One showed a city surrounded by plains with a high wall around it, as if it were a larger version of this very palace. "Was your entire world destroyed like that," he asked.
Tank stopped his clicking and turned to him. "Most of it," he said. "The two cities that faired the best were Ea Prime and Valhalla. Their locations were both of strategic importance, so the Enemy left them intact. When the rebellion swept through, the Sovereignty did the same." He turned back to the terminal and pulled up file. A picture of a Digimon came up, along with writing in the same language as the protestors' signs.
"Is that your language?" the human asked. Tank nodded silently, as if concentrating. Isaac almost thought to leave him be and explore the stateroom some more. There were several more rooms yet for him to peek at, and it was attached by a shared lobby to the other suite where Cotramon and Michael had been placed.
Still, he was curious about the black Digimon's dealings on the screen there. It looked as if it were some sort of index of various digital monsters. "That's precisely what it is," Tank told him, surprised. "You have a great gift of perception, especially for a human. This is a categorized list of all the known digivolutions we have compiled. Thousands of Digimon exist in this list."
"What are those, then," Isaac queried, point a finger at the lists and boxes next to the photograph. "It looks like a list of some sort. I noticed that the Digimon we've encountered all shouted a name before they attacked. It had something to do with their specific powers."
Tank smiled, nodding. "The words we speak are very powerful. It's true of all people, even humans. In your world, they can create history and shape the future. In the Digital World, they have a direct impact on the physical world around us. That's why Digimon have names that reflect them so perfectly—as you and I discussed earlier. When Digimon attack, they name them so because it directs the energies of the attack into a physical form."
Here the Digimon called up a picture of Cotramon. "I've been searching for Helmdramon, the evolution that Michael achieved. But so far I haven't been able to find it. I called up Cotramon as an example, though." Isaac saw the writing suddenly transform as Tank tapped another series of commands. Now it read in perfect English the Digimon's name.
"Digimon," Tank said, "come in varieties. Because we are partially evolved from computer data in your world, we have developed distinct attributes reflecting our strengths. Virus Digimon, like myself, are robust and adaptable. Data Digimon like Cotramon are also adaptable, but have greater speed in combat. You saw that before. And vaccine Digimon are the least susceptible to corrupted data."
It made sense, to a point. Cotramon had mentioned that Digimon were physical manifestations of computer data, but not anything else. And he had heard snippets of his conversation on Digimon evolution. The file called him a "rookie," and, despite the initial thought that it might be a reference to fighting ability, he guessed that was not so. Cotramon had not been a rookie by any stretch of the imagination—not if he was chosen specifically for that task.
The other boxes on the screen made much more sense. Types, attacks and elements, he gathered referred to exactly that. Cotramon was listed as a dragon type, and the attacks were the same that he heard the Digimon announce during his fight with Michael. And the element listed was one of the natural elements in mythology.
"So Digimon have a connection to the physical elements as well," he supposed. "Their attacks, when they announce them, give form to those elements." The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Michael had used two that referenced fire to some degree. Both of them had a potent effect.
Cotramon's file returned to the cue of scrolling names. None of the rest showed any resemblance to Helmdramon. "Have you tried running a reverse search?" Isaac asked after several minutes. "Search by his attack, or by his element or by his level. Or look for unknown Digimon that fit that description."
Tank eyed him for a second or two, as if the idea had been novel to him. "That could work. We know he was a champion level Digimon, with two attacks." The scrolling list stopped, and, after a two keystrokes, the language returned to digicode. Tank began typing.
A knock on the door broke Michael's concentration. He studied intently the mosaic patterns plastered over the walls. Intricate designs, stringed together like pearls, wreathed the washroom in bright colors. He thought he glimpsed the connection, but on a second and third look, it was lost to him again.
As he studied, he rested in a warm bath, his strength having left him. He had returned to his previous form, Pyromon, while being examined by the Emperor's physicians. Many of them were surprised to see his reptilian face, but they gave him no sign of hostility or fear. Michael was thankful for their professionalism. They had asked politely to take blood samples, examine his anatomy for comparison with a baseline human and Digimon counterpart. Then when they had finished, they gave him clothing, seeing that modesty was not as natural to him as full-blooded Digimon.
The cloths fit snugly, but comfortably, and his tail had, formerly confined to a small slit with fraying fabric and uncomfortable seams, swished lazily about, at ease with the rest of him. Once shown to their room, he had quickly found the washroom and taken them off to ease his tired, aching muscles into a hot soup of milky water.
The knocking became more insistent. He moaned, feeling the sting of myriad cuts and bruises and burns he had taken. He had taken great care to wash himself this time, not with the same haste or trepidation he felt at Isaac's home. Slowly, he rose out of the water and grabbed a towel he had set aside for himself, draping it around his midsection and tying it firmly in place.
"Michael?" Cotramon's baritone voice called softly. He waited for a reply. None came, and he opened the door. "Michael?" he asked again, not expecting a reply this time either. Was the hybrid still angry with him, or was he just not there? Steam rose out of the bath, obscuring the room in a thick haze. "I wanted to talk."
There… the Digimon breathed easier. A shape coalesced in the steam, defined itself, and became Michael. He wore the garments provided for him now. What a strange creature, the Digimon thought. Just that morning neither he nor Isaac had known anything about him. Cotramon had rarely ever kept allies close at hand, let alone true friends. He could count on his left claw how many people he had trusted in his life.
A paltry few.
Up until their arrival in Anshar, he would have still turned on the hybrid, given a reason. Even knowing he had to leave his family behind, Cotramon still had not been totally convinced. The contemptible idea that he would have still given over the hybrid only hours ago rankled his nerves. He had heard stories of humans performing great acts of self-sacrifice. Never had he seen it though. Many Digimon would not have done the same.
He supposed it had much to do with the fight with Dinohyumon. The quickness of his attacks had outmatched them both. Tank should have stepped in to stop the attack, yet he knew—somehow—that Michael would evolve. He should have seen it as well. The bond forming between him and Isaac had been growing since they met. And now he could feel it forming between him and the hybrid as well.
The trouble was, he was not sure he could handle that. Despite the growing admiration for him, and the lessening fear that he was the Enemy, Cotramon had reservations. A nagging suspicion in his mind plagued him, as if someone were hiding something. And it pointed to the hybrid in stark contrast to what he had observed. The Digimon was a slave to his own conditioning.
"Michael?" he said louder, a growl creeping into his voice. He needed to talk, to say something. What, he did not know. But now the hybrid had turned to him, and he looked uneasy himself. The growing self-anger deflated and Cotramon let out the breath he had unconsciously been holding. "Thank you," he said.
"For what?" Michael looked at him quizzically.
"For forgiving my mistake…" came the reply. "…And for stopping that attack," he added hastily. He tried to sound commonplace, as if he were merely being polite. It sounded weak and artificial, and his bravado faltered and failed entirely. "The truth is I think the Sovereignty was wrong to anyone after you. You aren't the Enemy."
The puzzlement faded, and a twinge of anger flashed in Michael's eyes. Of course he was no enemy. He had tried to explain that countless times to him, and he only just got the point? Then again, what would he have done in Cotramon's place? "I told you so," he said, feeling the heated steam draw the ire out of his voice.
Michael had never been able to hold a grudge. At times, he felt physically incapable of it, as he had tried several times and had to give up. "It's okay," he decided. "I know you were just doing what you thought was right." Anger only made people more miserable. Right now he just wanted to rest. "Just remember to tell the Sovereignty that."
Cotramon gave him a fleeting smile. "I'll tell them tomorrow."