Digital War: Campaign II

Part One: First Contact

[Chapter VII]

By T. D. Larson

Michael rested easily that night. The oversized bed and thick comforters enveloped his weary body and he sighed contentedly. It had been the first time in weeks where he had not been in constant pain. He remembered the pressure and aching leading to his initial transformation—the pounding in his head had been unbearable and nothing he had tried seemed to relieve the tension. Now, while still exhausted, he realized now just how much better he felt.

His wounds, properly dressed now, were only a dull pain in the back of his mind as he wondered about everything that had happened to him over the past twenty-four hours. Had it really only been one day? It felt like a lifetime. He had started to get used to the idea of being a Digimon. His natural equilibrium had adjusted with remarkable speed.

Michael felt like himself again.

He opened his eyes. The hybrid had been possessed of a keen sense of hearing as a human, and now he realized it had only gotten better as a Digimon. Something whispered outside his window, on the balcony that looked over the courtyard and the outer wall of the palace. He unwrapped himself from the blankets and tiptoed out to the balcony. Only the twinkling lights of the city and the lighted paths in the courtyard met him.

The heat from that day had melted quickly into a cool, breezy night. He took in the fresh air happily, a nice relief from the mud, dust and sand he had been through earlier. Whether it was the fresh air, or the two companions that had now started to think of as friends, he felt better. He wondered what his family would say when he saw them again. It would be nice to go home again, he thought.

He had often enjoyed summer nights like this, sitting out on the patio with a book and a cool drink. The boy had never had friends over, nor did he have many friends to invite over in the first place. He read his books and did his studies and kept to himself, and he had thought himself content with life.

He had never needed much. Computers, video games and the latest techno-babble to come out of the "all-you-can-save" computer outlet store had never interested him. The pop-singers and movie-stars ran the lives of his companions in the human world (he would not have called them friends except in the loosest definition). They read the dribble in the tabloid papers; he read substance.

A few stars twinkled above him. The light from the city prevented anything but the brightest in the sky to shine, and a waning gibbous moon hung over the palace, casting a pale peach light into the courtyard. None of it was familiar to him. No one told him what to expect, except pensive glances and hostile accusations.

"Admiring the view," a voice asked. Ten feet from him, on the balcony next door, loomed a menacing silhouette. A dim light in the background illuminated only the glossy edges of his armor, but Michael recognized Tank. "It's a nice night for reflection, isn't it?" the Digimon said.

The hybrid breathed in relief. He had almost thought it was another Digimon trying to kill him. "You startled me," he said, and then thought for a moment. "I was just thinking about home. After all that's happened, I don't know if I'll ever be able to return."

The mega's eyes flashed an acid yellow, luminescent in the watery light from below. "It's been a long time since I have been home as well." Michael nodded, not that he expected the Digimon to see it. He looked back to the stars, wondering if they were other planets or other dimensions, floating in an endless void. Tank looked up as well, drumming his claws on the railing next door. "Maybe you will return home," he said.

"How do you mean?" Michael asked, curiosity piqued by the sudden declaration. He could not possibly mean for him to go home. Life could never return to normal after this. He was branded, marked by this transformation. If the natives did not shoot him first, he would end up in a vat in some science lab.

Tank chuckled, almost as if he sensed the hybrid's thoughts. "No, I suppose you couldn't ever return to that life." He turned toward the boy and leaned onto the stone railing. "I don't know why you would want to, when there's a life of excitement and adventure waiting for you here. Or there, even. You could do anything you like."

He had always wanted to go somewhere, entertain himself, and do something exciting. But he had never gotten the chance until now. Usually he read of adventures, wondered what it would have been like to be there, and then shut his book. That was where it always ended. Now, though, maybe Tank was right?

"Think about it," the Digimon told him. Michael could hear a smile in his voice. It sounded edgy, almost dangerous. Had that always been there, he wondered? It unnerved him. "The human world is ripe with possibilities for an enterprising Digimon like you. Humans can be easily swayed, I think. It makes me doubt their usefulness."

Usefulness? What was he talking about? Humans were not chattels to be shoved around like some sort of commodity. Isaac was a good man, and he had proven himself very useful in the past day. At least to Michael. Somehow, he thought, that was how he was able to digivolve. At least one of them was his friend.

"I don't think so," he replied, trying to hide his initial disgust. He made an attempt at dismissiveness, trying to turn the conversation somewhere else. "How come I never see any maps? Or if I do, they never include the other cities you mentioned—Ea, Gaia, Musplshiem… Where are they?"

The Black WarGreymon tilted his head, curiously at the hybrid. "They're on other planes—dimensions of the Digital World. Each is connected to the next like a string of pearls." He took the helmet from his head, revealing a broad, scarred muzzle in the moonlight. He had seen a lot of battles, Michael decided. "Do you suppose the humans will accept you back into their world?" he asked.

"I don't know," the hybrid replied. No, he decided. Not at first. But eventually, when they realized he was the same person as always, they would take him back. And Isaac would be there to help him. Cotramon—after getting to know him—would probably be just as welcome. While not exceptionally gifted in the arts of hospitality, his family did know how to make a stranger feel welcome.

"Of course they won't. The Sovereignty, once they find there's nothing wrong with you, will likely advise the Emperor that your world would make an excellent ally against the Enemy." Now he removed his armguards, laying them gently to the side and producing no noise. His arms were scared just as badly. Michael winced, imagining suddenly what might have caused so many wounds. "They would find earthlings meaningless allies. They have no fighting capability, and their land is stripped of resources already."

Michael grimaced. He did not like the turn their chat had taken. "That isn't true," he said, almost defensively. He sighed, and tried once more to redirect their conversation. "Where did you get so many scars? I don't mean to be rude, but they look painful."

Tank almost laughed. "Scars are a natural part of being a Digimon. You'll understand that soon enough." His chest armor came off next, revealing a loosely fitted shirt under a layer of padding. He discarded the padding also, and breathed deeply. "These came from the Liberation War. I once encountered the Enemy in personal combat."

"Who is he," Michael asked. Cotramon and the protesting Digimon had all said he was the son of this enemy of theirs. His partner had told him the story, but he still found it nearly impossible to believe, but for the fact that he stood there now transformed. "Cotramon told me that I'm his son. Is it true?"

"Yes and no," Tank said, white teeth glinting. "He is very powerful. Some say he's not a Digimon at all—some sort of demonic influence that crept over the Digital World and plunged our world into darkness." Something in his eye told Michael that they were not merely legends. "I was lucky to escape with my life. I bear these scars as testament to his power."

Michael blanched. The Black WarGreymon was a mega, Cotramon said. One of the most powerful citizens of the Digital World, he had not intervened in the battle with Dinohyumon for that reason. His powers might have caused serious collateral damage—and not just to the surrounding buildings. And this enemy had throttled him, leaving him barely alive. What kind of monster was he?

What kind of monster was Michael? Suddenly he understood the hostility, the barefaced hatred that had overwhelmed outside of the airfield. What if he were to turn out like that tyrant? If it were true, and he digivolved into something like that, he could well see disaster for both worlds. Then another thought struck him. It was not just the Enemy who had contributed to his bloodline, Cotramon said.

"Who was Pyromon, then?" he questioned, drawing a surprised look from the dark Digimon. "Cotramon said he was some sort of war hero—something about saving lives. I never got the whole story from him. I look like him, right?"

Tank nodded slowly. "Partially. He was a beast Digimon. Your human lineage made you a human-shaped Digimon. But the resemblance is uncanny." He smiled again. Somehow, Michael concluded, it looked as battle-scarred as the rest of him. But for reasons he could not fathom, it had a different quality to it—practiced, fake, like a veneer that had been worn to the bone. "He died preventing an attack on a field hospital. Pyromon had been dealt a serious injury and was a patient there when Apocalymon, the Destroyer of Worlds attacked."

Apocalymon? The Destroyer of Worlds? Was that the Enemy? "Who is Apocalymon?" he asked, glancing down at the paths below. A few Digimon scurried about, bringing supplies in from the outbuildings, preparing for the next day. "Why was he called the Destroyer of Worlds?" It sounded almost prophetic.

"Great gods!" Tank laughed, grinning broadly. "You really don't know any history, do you? Not from this world at least!" He slapped his knee once, chortling at Michael's ignorance. He calmed himself after a few last deep breaths to steady himself. "Apocalymon was the Enemy's chief tactician, and a brutal warrior. When he attacked the hospital, Pyromon took it upon himself to digivolve to his highest level to fend him off while the patients were evacuated. He was killed in the process, but never forgotten."

He digivolved? Another battle, in another time, apparently. Cotramon, he sensed, had been there. After all, he said he was a medic. Michael shook his head. That was why he had been so angry—almost psychotic with rage. What an insult that would have been. It seemed nothing was going right for him.

"Cotramon is a good man too," he said reflectively.

"I always did have a soft spot for Pyromon," Cotramon said from behind him. Michael turned, embarrassed. "What are you doing up? You need to sleep, Michael." He knew the Sovereignty was going to test him. He knew it was going to be much more than just a few questions. This was going to take a physical toll on him tomorrow as well. "I heard you talking. Now what are you thinking being up at his hour?"

"Just needed some air is all," he answered. "Tank and I were talking…" he trailed off, turning to the other balcony. The armor and the Digimon had vanished—not even his ghostly silhouette stood in the backdrop. "He was there a minute ago."

Cotramon leaned out over the balcony, seeing nothing as well. "As far as I know, he's been working on his report to the Sovereignty." Perhaps it the stress had caused him to imagine things. He had heard the hybrid talking, but no replies, as if he were talking to himself. "Having a little midnight crisis, eh?"

He had only caught the last details of the one-sided exchange. If Michael were still unsure of himself, why not talk to him? Cotramon could help as easily as anyone else—probably better. After all, he had known Pyromon—at least in passing—being present at that hospital. The Digimon had saved him. Michael should have asked.

"I don't know what was going on out here, but I could tell you that story," he said. Perhaps he was unsure of Cotramon—still. He would not blame him if it were the case. "It started about twenty years ago," he started.

"Tank told me the story," Michael cut him off. "You were a medic, and Apocalymon came to destroy the place. Pyromon digivolved and sacrificed himself to save everyone." The exact details were still a mystery to him, but he at least knew the story. It should have been proof enough that someone had been out there talking to him. He was tired, but far from delusional. These were not the hallucinations that Cotramon took them for.

The Digimon assented. Yes, that had been proof enough for him. Cotramon had never disclosed the story—only mentioned it passing. So who would have been out here? Hold it—what was that? The Digimon craned his head toward the night sky. Faintly, the beating of wings reached his ears and he growled once. Michael had gone silent as well, also straining his ears to hear the belligerent, intrusive sound.

He was a dark Digimon himself. Cotramon could see better at night because of it. And his eyes shortly picked out a black form against the deep velvet sky. Four wings and four red eyes glared back at him maliciously. "I see it," he murmured, holding a claw up. There was a crimson flash, and suddenly half the terrace on which they stood exploded into stone shrapnel. "Devidramon…"

"Crimson Claw." Another flare, and this time the flourish of his claws was visible to both Digimon. Both of them dodged the attack in time to watch the rest of the veranda shatter. Cotramon was the first to regain his wits and launched a fireball. It struck the dark dragon square in the chest, leaving scorched scales. "Crimson Claw."

"Phantom Claw!" he shouted once, leaping with all his strength upward, and catching the low flying attacker with his own razor-sharp points. An alarm sounded deep within the palace and a troupe of Digimon below scrambled to take up positions to combat the intruder. Tank stood motionless, watching once more the battle unfold. Isaac took refuge behind him.

Devidramon swatted the attack away. He was fast. Far too fast for a Devidramon, Cotramon decided. Something was disturbingly different about him. He attacked again, sending another fireball careening into the enemy's chest. Still it kept coming, taking aim again at the room where Michael stood.

"Michael! Get out of the way!" He was after the hybrid… not another protesting Digimon, but an assassin. He had seen them before; they were the agents of the Enemy, their wills crushed and their minds turned to mush. They lived only in the biological sense, with no personality or minds of their own, completely under the Enemy's control. "He's after you!"

The hybrid heard him, but still did not move. The Devidramon dived at him, his claws gleaming darkly. "Crimson Claw." At the last moment, Michael leapt to one side, using the ruined arch of the doorway as a springboard and flung himself at the Digimon.

"Dynamite Rush!" He tucked himself into a ball and walloped Devidramon, knocking him off course and sending him crashing into the floor below. A salvo of other attacks rose from the courtyard, enveloping the dragon in burning fire. Michael sprung off the dragon's muzzle as it crashed, landing back on the floor of their room.

"That won't help!" Cotramon shouted from above. "That thing doesn't feel pain, and has no will other than to destroy you!" The guards below should have known better. The bloodied Devidramon picked itself up, mindlessly ignoring the barrage of attacks from the courtyard. Its eyes focused on Michael, the hybrid staring in shocked awe of how much damage it had sustained. "Michael!"

"Crimson Claw."

"Phantom Claw!" He dove onto its back, piercing its ebon hide. "Blazing Fire!" Cotramon roared, pelting it with attack after attack. He gripped the monster and tore at its wings before he felt a crushing grip around his neck and his still aching ribs. How could he have been so stupid! The tail, he thought, struggling for breath. "Michael…" he gasped.

No, not again, Michael thought. He had seen this twice already today, and now he was forced to watch it over again, as another friend face destruction in the glare of a mindless minion of a faceless enemy. He tried to digivolve, but the same heat and exhilaration he felt before never came. He felt cold, afraid. Cotramon had stopped its attack, succeeded in distracting the monster. But now he was going to pay for it. The Digimon was indeed a good man.

"Cotramon! You can digivolve!"

His lungs burned and his head swam as he held on relentlessly to the black dragon. Faintly he heard Michael's voice, calling to him. He had to protect him, somehow. If only to make up for his earlier mistakes, he had to protect the hybrid. It was his duty—he had made a promise. "Cotramon digivolve to…" His grip tightened and he gritted his teeth as the tail around his body also increased its strain. He could not lose.

Michael looked at him intently and let out a roar of his own, feeling the excitement and power radiating from the newly digivolved champion. His limbs were longer, and his scales had turned a deep forest shade of green. A golden mane, close cropped to his scaly head fluttered in the breeze and a quiver of arrows hung to his back.

"Huntmon!" Cotramon opened his eyes and realized he was no longer a rookie. He relaxed his grip, feeling himself flung to and fro by the attacking champion's tail. He grabbed it, vice-like and heard a shriek as the first hint of pain registered in the Devidramon's tiny mind. The hold on him slackened and he reversed their momentum, swinging the dragon into the open air. A deluge of attacks hit him at once, sending him spiraling into the ground below. Slowly, he dragged himself back to his feet, this time setting his eyes on Huntmon.

"Fight me instead," he said to the dragon. Devidramon launched himself forward, claws outstretched. Huntmon closed his eyes and let out a breath. "Shadow Game!" A moment later he disappeared and the dark Digimon struck thin air. "You missed!" he shouted, pulling an arrow from his quiver. A bow formed in his hands, ebon black as the obsidian head of the missile. "Phantom Arrowhead!" The point shone a deep violet as he drew the bow. Then he released it, sending it screaming through the night, piercing the Devidramon.

The monster crumpled, clutching the wound in his chest, smashing into the ground. It shrieked, the last vestiges of his mind trying to grasp the sudden, painful release from the Enemy's control. Then, to the shock of both Isaac and Michael, it disintegrated. Nothing but the rubble caused by its attack, and a faint echo of its screeching cry remained.

The convoys had arrived late that evening, accompanying each of the Sovereignty from around the Digital World. Baihumon stepped out into the night air, weary of traveling, ready for a rest. If the journey from Valhalla were any indication, the next day would be even more taxing. His caravan had joined two others on the desert path into Anshar; that belonging to Azulongmon had been the largest. Victory Greymon had joined them as well, with a procession of only himself and two guards.

Humility was a quality the older council members sometimes lacked. He regretted his own choice at that thought, wondering why it was necessary to announce their presence so loudly. Azulongmon had harrumphed at his self-admonishment. They had earned it, he said, leading the Digital World to freedom. Baihumon was not so sure.

At the Emperor's orders, however, Anshar had not greeted them as a city. Only a small contingent of the Imperial Guard met them at the city gates to escort them to the palace. In transit, the tiger Sovereign had asked the reason for this, as the Emperor nearly always extended prolific greetings upon his guests.

"The palace was attacked earlier this evening, sir," one of the guards informed him. "The Emperor is safe, and the attack did only minor damage to the guest wing of the complex." The guest wing, he said? Logically, then, the Emperor was not the target. He asked who was staying there. "They hybrid and his companions, sir."

"So someone else had the same idea," Azulongmon growled.

"We believe it was an agent of the Enemy," the guard replied, addressing the dragon mega. That took them both by surprise. Only Victory Greymon seemed to take the news without any indication of shock. "There was no way to tell how he got here, only that he was an agent. The garrison stationed there said he took their most powerful attacks and didn't flinch."

Baihumon eyed the other Sovereign for reactions. Victory Greymon remained calm, as ever, taking in the news with analytical patience. Azulongmon, to the contrast, looked livid. His pale, scaled face was paler than usual, and his long beard twitched irritably. It proved his theory wrong, the tiger realized with some relief. If the Enemy was willing to destroy him, then there it was likely that the hybrid would side with the Empire.

"There's more, sir," the same guard interrupted, breaking the mega Digimon's concentration. Baihumon glanced down at him and beckoned him to speak. Any information would prove valuable in their interrogation tomorrow. But it seemed to him that it might only be a formality now. "Cotramon also digivolved."

Ah! So that was the trepidation he had observed in Azulongmon. He must have found out sooner than he, with all the communications equipment he lugged along with him. Those who had known the humans of the Liberation War knew. This was not just a spontaneous evolution. Something incredible had happened, and whether or not they wanted it, the humans were now inextricably a part of their lives.