Frontier 02: Rebirthing – Chapter 44: Room of Angel
madjack89: Hey guys! Took a while, but here's chapter 44!
Takuya: What took you so freakin' long?
madjack89: You sound tense, Takuya.
Takuya: You're damn right I'm tense! Just look at the cliffhanger you left us on!
madjack89: Heh, yeah. Sorry. But just think how much more awesome this chapter will seem because of the wait!
madjack89: So…how is everybody?
Shino: Actually, we were just talking about the last two episodes of Xros Wars: Hunters.
Kira: And this, readers, is how Madjack's youtube video ties into the story. You thought she stuck me in there randomly? Pshaw!
madjack89: …Oh. Is that why Kouichi looks so annoyed?
JP: Yeah, he's refusing to acknowledge the crossover.
Kira: No shocker there. Most of you may not have gotten lines, but Chief was completely shafted by Toei on this one.
Zoe: Hey, it's okay, Kouichi. Maybe Hunters will get a continuation and they'll include the rest of us!
Zoe: Okay, that might be wishful thinking…
JP: Personally, I'm still trying to figure out how I can be Beetlemon in one place and Kouji can be MagnaGarurumon in another.
Kouji: *shrugs* Who really cares?
madjack89: Actually, JP makes a valid point. I mean, MagnaGarurumon is probably considered your least likable Digimon form among fans, so why would they include it in the episode, even silhouetted?
Kouji: That's my least likable form?
JP: You're surprised by that? Dude, MagnaGarurumon is weird!
Kira: I'm with JP, that thing's annoying as all get-out! Like, what's the point of giving him such big guns if he runs out of ammo in five seconds and has to shed all the dead weight?
Dai: And he kinda looks like a girl underneath all the armor!
Kira: Exactly! And then there's the whole "we're stealing everyone else's reason for being here by taking their Spirits and leaving them defenseless" thing. At least EmperorGreymon is halfway likable so you don't want to throw a shoe at your computer screen every time Taki evolves into him!
Kouji: That's not seriously what the fans think, is it?
madjack89: Why do you think I haven't included any Unified Spirit Evolutions in the story?
Shino: Because the rest of us would be sitting ducks?
madjack89: Yeah, and I don't really like MagnaGarurumon.
Kouji: How did I not know about this…?
madjack89: Aw, it's okay! One sucky evolution doesn't detract from you being an awesome character!
Kira: Yeah! Your personality does that for you!
madjack89: Alright, it's review time!
Immortal Fallen Radiance: Don't worry, there will be a threequel! And thanks for reviewing!
Asarikou-chan: Hey, it's not my fault that they're drama magnets. (Kouji: Hmph.) (Kira: Ha, even the fans agree with me, pretty boy!) (Kouji: Again, hmph.) Thanks for the review! (Duskmon: Come at me, bro. Come at me.)
GarnettFox: Look, he's here now! Yay! (Darkgramon: Is she always this hyper?) (Duskmon: Yes.) (Darkgramon: Fantastic.) Thanks for reviewing!
CrossoverxToxThexDarkxSide: Ha, nice username! (Takuya: Yes, yes I will.) Heh…thanks for reviewing!
cherrrysakura: Well, there could still be an epic fight between Tommy and Shinya… (Tommy: *sweatdrop*) (Kouji: *sigh* Of course I will. I always am.) That's the spirit! Thanks for the review, cherrry!
supersaiyandigidestined: (Ilsemon: I'm a villain. It's what I do.) Wow, that's sounds like one randomly awesome crossover! I'll try to give it a look-see sometime. Thanks for the review! Long live me! XD
GoldenDragon326: If you thought that was plot relevant, keep reading. Shinya is Takuya's younger brother. He was a minor character in both my fanfiction and the actual series. Anyway, thanks for the review!
Aldamonburst: Thanks for the belated wish of birthday happiness! No, this story won't have anything to do with the other Digimon seasons…for now. (JP: Wait, what?) Thanks for the review, Burst! And thanks for that interesting tid-bit of information, Kaito!
Zanzibar1: Thanks for the review!
TobiGB: (Patamon, Salamon, and Lopmon: Yay big brother Cas!) Wow, you three would go behind my back and grab them. Oh well, it was nice of you guys to leave a review! (Zoe: We'll be sure to keep your advice in mind. Thank you!)
Musical Darkness: Yay, my plot twist worked! (Takuya: *glares*) I'm sure Xemy is glad to be here. (Xemnas: No.) Anyway, thanks for the review. (Sorry I kept the suspense up for so long, by the way!)
Twinfactor: (Dai: Yay cookies!) (Kira: You're already one of our favorite reviewers!) Not hard to win your hearts, is it? (Dai and Kira: Nope!) Thanks for the review! Oh, and I like your username. :)
Digigirl(0202): (Kouji: *sigh* I get it.) Ha, thanks for the laugh! (Kouji: *glares*)
silver fire wolf: You only kinda expected Shinya? (XD I thought I made it obvious!) (Xemnas: …I'm going to ignore that comment you just made about me and give you permission to challenge Marluxia.) Oh, sounds like a hardcore fight's about to go down. Anyway, thanks for the review!
madjack89: Okay, let's get to the chapter before any more vaguely threatening PMs are sent to me!
Takuya: I'll do more than vaguely threaten you if you don't get on with it.
madjack89: Heh, chapter time…?
Author's Note: Since you're about to be officially introduced to him below, there's no harm in me saying I don't own Darkgramon, who was mentioned back in chapter 34. He's owned by GarnettFox, but don't worry SOPA, I got her permission to use him. :P
"Well, here it is, finally."
The small black Digimon sat up on his haunches, regarding the "Rose Morning Star" with a critical eye. Cocking his head, he couldn't help but wonder at the structure's rather non-menacing façade. Shouldn't the base housing the largest, most powerful threat currently terrorizing the Digital World be a little less…pink? He chose to shrug off the design choice, though, figuring one shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Lord, did he understand that…
Examining his crimson claws, the miniature dragon pondered what he should do next, now that he'd found this place. He hadn't pressed any of his sources for more details about this "Ilsemon" character than what would be necessary to locate her. After all the hear-say floating around the Digital World about her plans to revive Lucemon, he hadn't needed much more convincing to see what was taking place in the Dark Continent for himself. It wasn't as if he felt any sense of loyalty to Lucemon or to anything he represented. He just wanted to place himself in the middle of all this red-hot action, to feel his data stirring with pleasure as he rent creature after creature wide open with his claws…
That was when he felt it. A bright, shining presence he'd been cringing away from for years, a face that haunted his best dreams and worst nightmares. Here. She was here. But why was she here? She'd never go along with these high-flung resurrection schemes, not in a million years…no, surely she'd want to stop Ilsemon's plans.
His pointed teeth gleamed in the faint light cast by the RMS. This could definitely work to his advantage. From what little he knew about his prospective employer, he'd gathered that a show of strength or loyalty would be the only way into Ilsemon's ranks. And if his meddlesome sister was here causing trouble, surely stopping her would be considered a worthy show of both loyalty and strength.
Darkgramon unfurled his wings, a menacing gleam in his eye. "This should be fun."
Peering inside Ilsemon's chamber, BurningGreymon's gaze instantly settled on the two dark-haired humans standing in the middle of the room. His limbs shook so much that he was afraid his claws, which he was using to grasp the edge of a window, would produce too much noise as they scrapped against the RMS's hard surface, thereby exposing him. But he couldn't calm himself enough to steady his arms, nor any other part of his digitally-enhanced body. Inside this chamber, glaring down their worst enemy with such defiant courage, were two of his best friends. Kouichi…Kouji…
Seeing the twins alone with that winged psychopath had almost made BurningGreymon dispense with caution and burst into the room like a bat out of hell, but not only would that be reckless and stupid in his condition, he'd also be endangering his friends' lives if he fired his attacks so randomly. There was nothing he could do at the moment besides observe the situation and wait for the right opportunity to strike. But if Ilsemon made any threatening moves toward his friends, if she even looked at them the wrong way…
Ilsemon didn't appear to be harming the two, though. In fact, it looked like they were just having a conversation. The wind had picked up outside the RMS, carrying the sound of Ilsemon's voice away so that BurningGreymon couldn't distinguish what was being said inside the chamber. He was, however, able to pick out a few words: light, dark, elements, power. Whatever their captor had said to them using those words hadn't gone over well with the twins, as Kouji appeared to bite back a retort at her, Kouichi standing stony-eyed and silent beside him. Ilsemon responded to their glares, but suddenly stopped and turned as if someone had interrupted her. Taking advantage of her distraction, BurningGreymon lifted his head over the window's edge in order to better observe the chamber's surroundings.
Both the twins and Ilsemon were facing the doorway that led to the RMS's long, winding stairwell, the opening through which he and the others had burst into this chamber just five days ago. Now there were two burly-looking digital guards at the entrance, but at Ilsemon's command, the hulking Digimon stepped aside, allowing two figures to enter the room. One of the figures was Renamon. The other was…
BurningGreymon's claws nearly slipped from the stone and sent him plummeting to the ground. But even though his grip remained steady, his mind had spiraled into a confusing abyss. No, that couldn't be who he thought it was. This was a trick of the eyes, the chamber was filled with shadows, he was seeing things. No, no, and no. There was no denying who the boy was that stood before the twins. The wind changed, carrying Ilsemon's voice back toward the window, but her introduction was unnecessary. Takuya would have recognized that child anywhere.
"Kouichi Kimura and Kouji Minamoto, I'd like you to meet Lucemon's catalyst, Shinya Kanbara."
Shinya. What was he doing here? What was Shinya, his brother, doing here? In this world? With Ilsemon? No, this didn't make sense. This wasn't happening. It couldn't be. No, no, no. Shinya was at home, safe in the human world. Takuya had made sure of it. He'd waved Shinya goodbye. Nothing else had happened. His brother was safe…but what was he doing here?
These questions all flashed through Takuya's mind in an instant. It didn't matter how or why Shinya was here. That was unimportant. All he saw in that chamber was his little brother, so small and vulnerable, with Ilsemon just waiting to pounce. No, he would not let that happen! If there was any time to come out of hiding, it was now. He had to save Shinya. His older brother was going to protect him. "Sh—"
Suddenly, two invisible hands clamped onto BurningGreymon's shoulders, shoving his head down until he could no longer see inside the chamber, could no longer see his brother or friends. Then the hands multiplied, pushing him forward and pinning his chest hard against the RMS. His legs, wings, and tail were held taut, and though his claws still gripped the ledge of the window, they were frozen in place. Even his mouth was clamped shut, while his eyes remained wide and fixed with a look of confused horror. What was going on? Why couldn't he move?
That was when an unfamiliar chill began to creep slowly through his body, freezing each of his limbs so that he couldn't move even if he managed to break his invisible bonds. Takuya's thoughts spun as he began to panic. He was somehow being held here against his will, unable to get to his brother or friends. How was that possible? Could Ilsemon be doing this? Perhaps his Spirit could provide some answers. Agunimon?
Instead of Agunimon's warmth, Takuya's head was filled with a high-pitched female voice as chipped and cold as the ice in his limbs. This new presence sent a thrill of unidentifiable fear through Takuya, but at the same time, it all seemed familiar. The icy chills, the excitable energy emanating from the voice in his mind, it was something he'd experienced before, albeit in a half-dazed state. This overpowering sensation, this…darkness.
She giggled, once Takuya had figured it out. ~Very good, Warrior! Yes, you're correct. I am the true face of Darkness, known by the name Nina. And you, Goggles-chan, are now my prisoner!~
Tommy held himself flat against the dungeon walls, limbs stiff with apprehension as he watched Wizardmon poke his head around the corner, just to make sure the coast was clear for their group to proceed. Luckily, unlike their last disastrous rescue mission inside the RMS, the Resistance members now had a guide to follow through the maze-like hallways, and Wizardmon was even fairly sure where Ilsemon would be keeping her captives. For these reasons, Tommy was willing to trust the wizard Digimon, much more so than his companions. The other Digimon in their group, who'd been introduced to Tommy as Terriermon, Elecmon, and Gazimon, were trying their best to give Wizardmon the cold shoulder, occasionally asking him questions or giving advice, but mostly keeping their mouths shut. (Well, Terriermon was admittedly more outspoken than the others.) Gotsumon in particular seemed to have a grudge against their newfound ally, no doubt thanks to Gaomon's murder at Wizardmon's hands. But for the sake of the mission, Gotsumon kept his thoughts to himself, and Tommy could tell it was killing him to do it.
Terriermon, however, seemed to have no trouble voicing his opinions. "Can we get on with it already?" the dog-like Digimon groaned, rolling his eyes at Wizardmon's back. "Sheesh, how long can it take you to check a hallway for guards?"
"It doesn't hurt to be careful," Wizardmon replied softly and, Tommy noted, without a hint of his former arrogance. No one was entirely sure why Wizardmon had decided to defect from his former mistress (he hadn't chosen to reveal his reasons to anyone but Witchmon), but since he'd become an ally of the Resistance, the wizard Digimon had certainly changed. His pride, his cockiness, all of it seemed to have been beaten from his system, only to emerge slightly in the presence of his sister. Mostly, though, he kept to himself, revealing information when he could and agreeing to participate in this rescue attempt.
No, not attempt! They were going to get his friends back, Tommy was sure of it. Still…the suspense was beginning to get to him, despite the brave front he was putting up. That's what this world had taught him to do; swallow his fears and stick up for his beliefs. But this fear he felt now wasn't directed toward his own safety. His friends had been trapped in Ilsemon's madhouse for one long, excruciating week. It wasn't that he didn't have confidence in their ability to cope under such circumstances. He'd just seen firsthand the condition in which Ilsemon typically left her prisoners…
Motioning his comrades forward, Wizardmon finally plunged around the corner, followed by the rest of the Resistance group. Tommy clutched his D-Tector tightly as he ran, almost hoping for a reason to Spirit Evolve and beat a gang of Ilsemon's underlings black and blue. But there was no need to get hasty. As long as he remained in human form, they could still pass as prisoners of Wizardmon's…maybe. Somehow, Ilsemon knew of her former follower's treachery, putting a slight dent in their plans. At least Witchmon and Dragramon were taking care of the guards outside. Their intrusion wouldn't be discovered for a while yet.
Suddenly, Wizardmon held up a warning hand, signaling the others to stop. Terriermon stifled a groan as they all pressed themselves against the wall, allowing Wizardmon to peek around yet another corner. After scrutinizing each individual shadow looming between the lights on the wall, Wizardmon turned back to the others and whispered, "These cells down here may be where Ilsemon's keeping the other Legendary Warriors. It's where she usually houses high security prisoners."
Tommy had to press a hand against his mouth to contain a shout of joy. If there was even a chance that his friends were in that hallway, that he was so close to rescuing them…
"We are not going to try to squeeze Dai between the bars, JP!"
The sudden shout that echoed down the hall made Wizardmon flinch and duck behind the corner, but a huge smile lit Tommy's face as he recognized the clearly irritated female voice. "Zoe!"
Before anyone could stop him, Tommy had rounded the corner, glancing inside barred cell after barred cell as he rushed down the dungeon hall. Most were empty, and his anxiety grew until it overshadowed his caution. "Zoe! Where are you?"
A long, tense moment passed as Tommy awaited an answer. His companions had caught up to him and were about to grab the boy and shuffle him out of the hallway, when a hesitant reply came from a few cells down. "Tommy?"
Relief flooded through Tommy with hurricane force when he saw a small, clearly human hand poke itself between the bars of its cell, waving tentatively as an indication of its owner's presence. Tommy wondered why Zoe would be acting so cautious until, with a smirk, he realized that she wasn't completely sure it was her friend speaking to her. As the Warrior of Ice let his feet carry him toward Zoe's cell, he happened to catch Wizardmon's muttered warning to Gotsumon. "All that shouting might have attracted some unwanted attention. I think I should go check the surrounding hallways for possible ambushes."
"Take Terriermon with you," Gotsumon replied hastily, falling into step behind Tommy as they made their quick way down the hall. Normally he wouldn't have been so trusting of his former enemy, but unlike the other Digimon in their rescue squad, Gotsumon was an old friend of the Legendary Warriors and, much like Tommy, he was more worried about them than he seemed.
"Guys, it is Tommy!" And like that, Tommy and Gotsumon could release their held breaths as they found not only Zoe, but Dai, JP, Kira, and Shino sitting within a rather small cell for a group their size, looking relatively unharmed. Their eyes did seem a little blood-shot, and they looked rather bedraggled, but that was only to be expected from spending an entire week in such cramped quarters. Tommy had expected worse.
At first, the collective impression of the group inside the cell was that of surprise. "Gotsumon and…Tommy?" JP muttered, appearing absolutely dumbstruck by his young friend's presence. "Where in the hell have you been?"
"I think what JP means is that we couldn't find you during the fight against Ilsemon, and we were worried," was Zoe more diplomatic response.
Tommy had to fight back tears of joy as he replied, "It's really good to see you guys, too."
"It is," Gotsumon added, struggling to put his serious face back on. "Unfortunately, now isn't the time for heartfelt reunions. We have to get you guys out of here."
"Before that, tell me one thing." Both the groups inside and outside the cell jumped when Kira suddenly spoke up. Now that his attention had been directed toward her, Tommy could finally see that, despite his initial conclusion, his friends were far from fine. From her position in a rather dark corner of the cell, Tommy could just make out the expression of hopelessness clouding Kira's normally bright features. Taken aback by her out-of-character melancholy, Tommy realized that now all of his friends' eyes were trained on him, each of their faces mirroring Kira's. Then she asked her burning question. "Is Taki okay?"
Suddenly, Tommy understood what was wrong. Physically, his friends were unharmed; mentally, they'd been pushed to their limits. Beaten soundly by Ilsemon, watching helplessly as Takuya was felled by Duskmon's attack, forced away by the enemy while their friend, their leader, lay dying before them…these truths couldn't have been pleasant to reflect on all this time. What his friends needed after the torturous week they'd endured, Tommy realized, was simply information. They needed to know what had happened on the outside, what state the Resistance was in after their battle, whether Takuya was alive or…
"Huh, stunned silence. Not a good sign," JP muttered, chuckling briefly. The others followed his lead, plastering nervous smiles on their faces. But seeing his friends' attempts to hide their exhaustion from him didn't fuel Tommy's pity, as it should have; rather, it fueled his anger. They always, always do this to me! Why can't they just stop babying me and realize I'm not a kid anymore? I'm the one who came to save them! I saved Takuya, all on my own! Sure, it was Kouji's plan, but…
Something that should have been glaringly obvious occurred to Tommy then. "Guys, where's Kouji? And Kouichi?"
"Hotaru's missing too, but I expected as much after what Takuya told us," Gotsumon added, glancing at Kira with a small smile on his face. "He's alive and well, back at the base."
At this news, Tommy noticed his friends begin to perk up, looking again like their normal, cheerful selves. Kira, in particular, beamed as relief flooded through her. "Finally, we get some good news in this hell-hole!" she exclaimed, prompting the others to shush her enthusiasm. In a more contained tone, Kira said, "Heh, sorry. Anyway, we don't know where the heck Taru is, but pretty boy and Chief are off playing martyr, as per usual."
"Playing martyr?" Tommy didn't like the sound of that.
"Ilsemon came and took them somewhere a little while ago," Shino explained, for some reason glancing apologetically at Zoe as he said it.
A strange melancholy descended over Zoe's features at the mention of the twins. "Ilsemon said she wanted Kouichi and Kouji to do something for her. She threatened our lives if they didn't comply. We didn't have a choice but to let them go…"
Tommy wasn't as shocked by Zoe's statement as he was by the tears he could see beading in her eyes. Sympathy for his friend began to flow through Tommy, washing out his earlier burst of anger. Still, that seed of frustration remained within his mind, unsettling Tommy with its ferocity. Where had all these bitter feelings come from? Unwilling to follow this train of thought, Tommy distracted himself with Kira's next comment. "Don't worry about Zee, guys. Chief just pulled at her heartstrings earlier in his little Chief-y way." To Zoe, she added, "I can smack him for it later, if you want."
"Oh, now she's suddenly Chatty Kathy again?" Shino mumbled under his breath, prompting a smirk from JP and Dai.
Ignoring the boys, Zoe rubbed at her eyes until they were dry, and then flashed a smirk Kira's way. "Thanks for the offer, but if anyone's going to smack Kouichi, it's gonna be me."
"Oh boy, looks like Chief's a dead man," JP muttered, mockingly joining his hands in prayer. "So young and full of life…"
Kira and Zoe both shot JP a glare. "Shut up, JP."
While the others bantered amongst themselves, Tommy and Gotsumon turned to each other and smiled. It seemed there was nothing to worry about after all. With a little rest and recuperation, their friends would be fine. But first, they had to release them from their prison. Raising his hand above his head, Gotsumon motioned Elecmon and Gazimon forward. The two Digimon hadn't wanted to intrude on the gang's reunion and had stood a ways back from the others, but now there was work to be done. Addressing his captive companions, Gotsumon said, "Guys, this is Elecmon and Gazimon. They're members of the Resistance. We brought them here to take down the barrier around your cell. Once we do that, it should be a simple matter to break through the bars and get you out."
"Barrier?" Dai, along with the others inside the cell, seemed confused by Gotsumon's statement. "What barrier are you talking about?"
Sighing heavily, Elecmon stepped up to the cell and tried to grab one of its bars. To the prisoners' shock, when his paw was mere inches from touching a bar, it came to a halt seemingly in mid-air. But everyone could see the strain in Elecmon's muscles as he pushed against the invisible wall, and the others realized that there was indeed some sort of barrier surrounding the outside of their cell. "You really weren't kidding, Gotsumon-sama," Elecmon muttered, glancing between his paw and the metal bars. "This barrier won't be easy to break."
"Let me see if I can claw my way through it," Gazimon said, lifting her claws to…
"Whoa, you're a girl?" JP exclaimed, noting the clearly feminine tone of Gazimon's voice. The others tried to shush him, but even they, particularly the veteran gang, were surprised by this Gazimon's gender.
Gazimon was clearly agitated by their shock. "Yes, I am a girl. Is that a problem?"
"Of course it's not a problem, it's just…we didn't know that there could be female Gazimon," Zoe replied sheepishly. "You're the first girl of your species we've met."
"How could you think my species was exclusively male?" Gazimon retorted angrily, blushing a bright red. "There are males and females in almost every species of Digimon!"
"Actually, I was a little surprised that you were a girl, too," Tommy mumbled, placing himself behind Gotsumon in case Gazimon decided to lunge at him.
"We should get back to taking down the barrier, Gazimon," Elecmon said calmly, trying to soothe his partner's anger before she ripped Tommy apart.
Crossing her arms over her chest, Gazimon huffed. "Fine. We'll break this barrier…then I'll be sure to give these children a little 'talk' once they're free."
The gang didn't like the sound of that, but they were nonetheless elated at the prospect of regaining their freedom. Their excitement caused them to fall silent and watch as Elecmon ran his paw across the invisible barrier which had gone completely undiscovered by them during their time of imprisonment. This was what puzzled Dai the most about their situation. "So there's been a barrier around our cell this whole time, keeping everyone away from us. But then how can we stick our hands through the bars?"
To demonstrate his point, Dai slid his hand between two of the bars, wiggling his fingers at the others for emphasis. The rest of the gang, including Tommy, was puzzled by this phenomenon. "If we had our D-Tectors, we'd be able to break the bars and get out from inside," Shino muttered thoughtfully. "But we don't."
"So she did take your Spirits," Gotsumon mumbled, confirming the information to himself. Turning to the gang, he explained, "When we split up in here to rescue Masumon, Tommy and I came across a hall of cells similar to these. Elecmon and Gazimon are our experts on force fields and such, so when we got back to the base I asked them about the barrier we'd discovered. They had a good idea what we'd be dealing with from my description."
"The barrier is flexible," Elecmon stated, brushing his paw against Dai's hand. Flinching, Dai withdrew into his cell. Elecmon smirked sheepishly. "My apologies. But you understand now, right? This type of barrier is a double-edged sword of sorts; outsiders can't force their way in, and neither can prisoners escape, even if they manage to break through their restraints."
"I didn't feel his paw at all," Dai muttered, still staring dazedly at his open palm. "What would've happened if we'd managed to break our way out of here earlier?"
"Well, you'd have made our job a lot more complicated," Gazimon replied curtly. "You wouldn't have gotten far, anyway. This barrier's flexible, but it can only stretch so much before…snapping."
The gang collectively gulped at the image Gazimon presented. "I told you not to squeeze Dai through the bars," Zoe stated smugly, glancing at JP.
"Yeah, maybe that wasn't my best plan," JP mumbled, running a hand sheepishly through his hair. "Sorry 'bout that, Dai."
"It's fine," Dai replied, a nervous smile planted on his face. Sobered by the danger they'd nearly put Dai into, the imprisoned gang settled down to watch Elecmon and Gazimon go to work on the barrier.
After several more moments of careful observation, Elecmon lifted his paw from the barrier's invisible surface. "It's just as we thought, Gazimon," he told his partner, who nodded in response. "Wait until I give the signal, then claw at the central point."
"Right," Gazimon replied, lifting her claws menacingly as she turned toward the bars. This was hardly a reassuring sight for the gang, and the rabbit-like Digimon smirked at their apprehension. "Relax, kids. I'm not going to hurt you."
"I'm ready to begin, Gazimon," Elecmon said, standing before the silver keyhole set into the wall on the right side of the gang's cell. It wasn't shaped like a normal keyhole would have been, instead resembling a long, thin rectangle, the same shape as the "key" the others had noticed Sagittarimon using before. Carefully, Elecmon placed one of his claws into the hole, and the gang wondered for a moment whether he would try to pick the lock. However, they soon noticed electrical sparks pulsing along Elecmon's tail. The mammal Digimon winced slightly as these sparks traveled through his midsection, passing the length of his arm before making their way into the lock. The prisoners jumped back when the barrier around their bars, which had been invisible previously, flashed as if struck by a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, Elecmon's actions made sense. Using his body as a conduit for the electricity stored in his tail, he had managed to pass that power through the lock of the cell and, in doing so, had penetrated the barrier's internal structure, perhaps even weakening it.
Once she saw a second flash light up the barrier, Gazimon raised her claws and drilled them into the barely-visible barrier, slashing away at it until the electrical charge burnt itself out. Several times during this assault, the barrier had seemed about to give way, but a quick test from Gazimon's claws showed it was still up and running.
"Damn it," Gazimon cursed, frustration clouding her features.
Elecmon, who appeared to be the more stoic of the two, merely gave the cell's bars a determined look. "We'll just try again." They did try again, Elecmon running electricity through the barrier's inner structure while Gazimon battered away at the surface, but their efforts were in vain. Four different times they attempted to break through the gang's prison, and each time the barrier visibly bent under the Digimon's assault, but nonetheless stayed in place.
Both Elecmon and Gazimon were exhausted by this repetitive process, and everyone could see it. "Maybe you should take a break…" Zoe began tentatively, not wanting the two to overexert themselves.
Gazimon growled in response, shooting Zoe a cocky look. "You kidding? I could keep this up all day!"
"This is more of a challenge than we'd originally anticipated," Elecmon muttered, giving his partner a stern look to cool her annoyance. Turning to Gotsumon, he added, "We could be discovered any minute now by Ilsemon's remaining forces, or worse, by Ilsemon herself. Gazimon has weakened this barrier to the point of collapse, but it won't seem to break. Perhaps you could give us some assistance, Gotsumon-sama?"
Gotsumon smiled in response, seeming to have anticipated this request. "Leave it to me, Elecmon. Just give me a moment to Digivolve."
"Wow, you can Digivolve?" Dai exclaimed, staring at Gotsumon with a look of shock and amazement. "That's so cool!"
The rock Digimon's smile widened, his pride fed by Dai's praise. "Well, I did help Kouji out once with this evolution. We took on the Royal Knight's henchmen single-handed."
Dai's eyes sparkled with awe, and even Kira and Shino looked impressed by Gotsumon's story. The fact that Kouji had needed help at all, and had gotten some from this little Digimon, must mean that his evolution was pretty powerful. Tommy, Zoe, and JP hadn't actually seen Gotsumon Digivolve that time, so everyone leaned forward, expectant to find out what form Gotsumon would take. Spurred on by their excitement, Gotsumon allowed his Fractal Code to flare up, wrapping his body in a stream of data. A light flashed from within the data-filled cocoon, blinding everyone momentarily. When they'd recovered their senses, Meteormon stood in their presence.
Everyone was shocked silent by the transformation. Meteormon was about a foot taller than Gotsumon and covered in a bright, almost metallic type of rock. The dungeon hall was lit up in Meteormon's white brilliance for a moment, or at least he thought it was. Giving the others a sufficient amount of time to take him in, he finally said, "So? What do you think?"
The gang glanced at each other, not knowing how exactly to put their thoughts into words. Kira spoke before they could come up with anything. "So you're an albino Gotsumon now? That's it?"
Meteormon was appalled by Kira's lack of respect. "What do you mean, 'that's it'? My power is increased at least ten-fold in this form!"
"Wow, different colors give you different abilities," Kira retorted, egging her ally on. "Hey, if we painted you pink, would it give you a gay-dar?"
Fuming, Meteormon signaled Elecmon to retake his position at the lock and prepare for another assault on the barrier. "I'll show you how strong my Digivolution is!" With that he raised his fist, awaiting Elecmon's signal to strike. Soon everyone could see electricity coursing along the outer edge of the bars, prompting Meteormon's attack. "Big Bang Blow!" Charging forward at an unnaturally fast speed, the rock Digimon's fist collided with the barrier, setting off an explosive surge of power which kicked up so much dust that everyone was momentarily blinded. Meteormon smirked, positive that his attack had managed to dismantle the barrier, but when the dust had settled, he found his fist still suspended mere inches from the bars of the cell.
The others were disheartened by the barrier's fortitude against such a powerful attack, but Kira was in such high spirits that she began to chuckle. "Oh no, Albino Gotsumon's punch was ineffective! Maybe we should get the Red Ranger in here to help you out, or possibly Johnny Yong Bosch. Whatever makes the fans happy."
"Do you really think we should be making Power Rangers references, Kira?" JP asked, sighing heavily.
Meteormon, on the other hand, looked about ready to explode from Kira's comments. "That does it!" Furious and embarrassed, Meteormon raised his arms in order to form his most powerful attack. Slowly, a strange vortex of dark energy grew above his palms, and from this vortex fell a volley of flaming rocks, all headed toward the gang's cell. Seeing this, Tommy dashed forward in an attempt to halt Meteormon's attack, but it was too late. The meteors were already making a beeline for their intended target.
"Kouichi and…Kouji?" For once getting Kouji's name right on the first try, Shinya cocked his head at the twins, not as if he were surprised by their presence, but rather confused. However, to the twins slowly growing horror, instead of questioning them about the situation, Shinya turned to Ilsemon and asked, "Where's my brother?"
Ilsemon was unfazed by the question, despite her direct involvement in Takuya's absence. Putting on one of her characteristic smirks, she coolly replied, "Unfortunately, the Warrior of Fire could not be here due to…extenuating circumstances."
Yeah, extenuating circumstances that you caused! After seeing the look of rejection that descended over Shinya's features, this and other much nastier insults formed in the twins' minds against Ilsemon, but they were both still shell-shocked by the strangeness of the situation and thus refrained.
"So he isn't coming, then," Shinya muttered, a bitter smile crossing his face. "Not even for me…"
"No need to fret, child." Kouji and Kouichi could feel their cool slipping as Ilsemon placed her hand lightly on Shinya's shoulder. He didn't even flinch at her touch, a touch that would have sparked the twins' unease and fury. Obviously, Ilsemon wasn't Shinya's enemy, or at least he didn't think she was. Kouji had already realized what was going on, and he was sure Kouichi had as well, but Ilsemon's next statement only served to confirm their suspicions. "I can see how special you are, even if Takuya cannot."
And like that, the twins snapped. Their Fractal Codes all but burst from their palms as they each raised their D-Tectors, preparing to start the evolution process, then proceed to rip Ilsemon apart. "Spirit—"
The guards by the stairs made a motion toward the boys, but Renamon was much quicker. In a flash of speed, the fox Digimon had her arms curled around Kouichi's and Kouji's necks, abruptly cutting off the air circulating to their lungs. Kouji dropped his D-Tector in his panic, clawing at Renamon's fur in an attempt to free himself. It was a useless struggle; his inescapable human frailty was no match for Renamon's digitally enhanced strength. White spots were forming at the edges of Kouji's vision when Renamon finally released both him and Kouichi. She watched the two fill their lungs with much-needed air for a moment, then muttered, "Don't try that again, or I'll be forced to do something more drastic."
More drastic. Kouji wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. After checking that his brother was okay, Kouji crouched to retrieve his D-Tector, making a mental note to keep one eye on Ilsemon, and the other on Renamon.
Shinya had watched the twins' defiant display with a strangely disapproving, almost fearful, look on his face. "I see. So now you're trying to kill me?"
"What…?" Kouji could hardly form a coherent thought, let alone an entire question, after that. It seemed that everything was spiraling further and further out of his control, and to make things worse, Ilsemon was just letting this conversation run its course. She merely stood by her "catalyst," hands dangling carelessly at her sides, black wings twitching in that annoyingly cocky way. She hadn't even cared when the twins had tried to Spirit Evolve; the smirk had never left her face. Finally, Kouji managed to ask, "Shinya, what are you doing here?"
Shinya's expression was twisted with bitterness as he glared the twins down. "You mean, why am I here in your world, in my brother's world? Because I'm not wanted here, right? Because I can't become a Digimon like you, right?"
Kouji flinched at Shinya's accusations, not understanding where all this was coming from. "No. I mean, why are you here with Ilsemon? Takuya told you about her, didn't he?"
"He mentioned the name before you left," Shinya replied, sporting a casual tone as if to make up for his over-emotional outbursts. "He told me you still didn't know what she was capable of, and that I should be careful in case she sent more Digimon to our world. Heh, looks like he was right."
Shinya's eyes softened at the memory, but his cold expression soon returned. "Takuya's warning wasn't enough. I was no match against Hallucimon when he came for me."
"Hallucimon?" Kouji's eyes narrowed to slits at the mention of the name. "Damn it…"
The ghost of a smile lifted Shinya's lips. "I don't like him either. He's way too sneaky." In a more serious tone, the boy added, "He brought me so close to you, just to snatch me away at the last minute…"
"What do you mean?" Kouichi asked gently, trying to sound at ease in order to calm Shinya down. This conversation seemed to be restoring the younger boy's good humor, and the twins assumed this might break Ilsemon's hold over him.
However, Kouichi's question seemed to have the opposite effect. With resentment blazing in his eyes, Shinya gave Kouichi his response. "Isn't it obvious? You ran into Hallucimon at the Fortune Telling Village, didn't you? What did you think he was doing there?"
Kouji's eyebrow rose in confusion. "We thought he was tailing us."
Shinya laughed at Kouji's assumption, a broken, cold chuckle. "Don't flatter yourselves! Ilsemon knew you would come to her. She didn't need to have you followed."
"We met some other hostile Digimon along the way," Kouji retorted, bristling at Shinya's boastful tone. "Most said they worked under Ilsemon. Riddle me that, kid."
"Calm down," Kouichi muttered, cautioning his brother to remain cool. To Shinya, he said, "If Hallucimon wasn't following us, why was he at the Fortune Telling Village?"
Either Shinya was ignoring Kouichi, or he'd lost himself briefly in his own recollections. "I heard your voices," he muttered, eyes focused on what must have been an intriguing crack in the floor. "I knew you wouldn't find me, but I was just too hopeful for my own good. Takuya was there, so everything would be okay. That's what I thought."
A mirthless smile distorted Shinya's young face. "But nothing was okay. Don't bother patronizing me, you two. I'm here because I want to be."
Bullshit. Kouji breathed sharply through his nose, trying to control the anger simmering inside him. "Hallucimon brought you here, right? Against your will?"
"I told you, I'm here because I want to be!" Shinya repeated himself impatiently. "Why is that so hard for you to believe?"
The twins gave each other a long look. Then Kouji turned to Shinya and asked their unspoken question. "What has Ilsemon been telling you?"
Shinya had to hold his sides as laughter shook his small frame. "Oh, now I see what it is! You don't trust me."
"We trust you, Shinya," Kouichi stated firmly, his gaze settling on Shinya's supposed "benefactress." "We don't trust her."
From her position beside Shinya, Ilsemon pouted mockingly at the twins. "And I was under the impression that we were getting along so well now. You both answered my invitation, after all."
"What are you talking about?" Kouji half asked, half growled this question at his adversary. "What 'invitation'?"
"Don't act as if you don't know," Ilsemon scolded, wagging a playful finger at Kouji. It took an extreme amount of willpower on Kouji's part not to respond to his enemy's teasing. Chuckling at the boy's furious glare, Ilsemon proclaimed, "Of course you both understand what a special day it is! This, after all, will be the day when my dear catalyst," here the winged Digimon placed her hand once again on Shinya's shoulder, "will rise up and assume the form of the legendary ruler and savior of the Digital World, Lucemon! My brother will be reborn, and Shinya will finally have what he desires. Isn't that right, Shinya?"
Shinya nodded, not a hint of doubt or fear betrayed in his expression. Kouji had to admit that, in his moment of conviction, the young boy looked just like his brother. Takuya would have been proud. "It's a win-win situation. Ilsemon wants her brother back, and I want to become a Digimon like the rest of you. Then he'll have no choice but to notice me."
"You're doing this for attention?" Kouji bit his tongue before a string of insults could tumble out of his mouth. He had to choose his words carefully in order to earn back Shinya's trust. So, taking a calming breath, Kouji explained, "Shinya, Lucemon was a tyrant. He plotted the destruction of his own world, and he nearly broke his way into ours to do the same. Reviving Lucemon won't be the same as what we do with our Spirits. You won't be in control. He'll take over."
"I know who Lucemon is. Don't you think I paid attention when Takuya told me all this Digital World stuff?" Shinya retorted, his voice harsh with raw emotion. "You're right. Lucemon probably will take over. I won't be me anymore…but I'll be something even better. Something that Takuya can't help noticing!"
Before Kouji could tell Shinya how stupid his logic was, Kouichi intervened. Holding a hand out to halt his brother, Kouichi turned and shook his head slowly, almost solemnly. Then he took a small step forward, testing the limit of Renamon's patience. When she didn't immediately lunge at him, he began, "If you've ignored everything we've said up to this point, at least listen to me now. Shinya, you are being used. Ilsemon will use you to get what she wants, and you'll be helpless to stop her."
Shinya smirked. "Why would I want to stop her?"
Gee, I don't know, because you'll end up hurting the person you're trying to impress? Kouji was burning to chew this kid out now, but he'd decided to let his brother handle the situation. For Kouichi, this had clearly become personal. Though his twin's expression remained calm, Kouji could see the pity he felt for Shinya unmasked in his eyes. "It's like we're kindred spirits," Kouichi murmured just loud enough for his brother and possibly Renamon, who stood behind them, to catch.
Shaking his head slightly, Kouichi pulled himself out of his dark recollections. "I suppose you have a point there. Why would you stop the one who's trying to help you reach your goal? Nothing else has worked, and this is sure to grab your brother's attention, so why not go for it? Even if you lose yourself, at least then you won't have to feel the constant sting of rejection."
Shinya had to admit that he was startled by Kouichi's incite. How did he seem to know all of this? How could he so poignantly describe Shinya's feelings? Beside Kouichi, his brother—Kouji, right?—had actually lowered his gaze from Ilsemon for a second, staring guiltily at his feet. All of this sensory information swirled around in Shinya's head, confusing him, angering him. "What do you know? You have your awesome twin brother who's always by your side, always there for you when you need him!"
"Not always." Shinya was struck dumb by Kouji's curt statement. The guilt in the younger twin's eyes had spread to the rest of his face, until his entire expression conveyed the agony of his conscience. What in the world wasn't Shinya getting here?
Kouichi shot his brother a short, worried glance before his gaze returned to Shinya. "Believe it or not, I do understand, Shinya. I get how frustrated you are with Takuya. You think he's ignoring you unintentionally…or maybe not. Maybe he knows exactly what he's doing. Maybe he's found someone to replace you."
"Tommy." The name slipped through Shinya's lips before he could stop it.
Kouichi didn't seem surprised by the information. "Takuya and Tommy, the perfect pair of surrogate siblings. But wait, aren't you Takuya's real brother? He's replaced you with someone better, is that what you think?"
"Stop," Shinya muttered, limbs trembling with fear.
"You have to face this, Shinya. It's the only way to fight her." Kouichi gave Ilsemon a pointed glare, pressing forward, "And Tommy's your friend. You've been betrayed on all fronts, haven't you? Takuya, Tommy, they're both laughing at you behind your back, amused at how stupid you are."
"Stop it now." Shinya's eyes were wide and gleaming with painful tears.
Kouichi tried to ignore the boy's pleading look as he continued, "It's a lie, Shinya, and you know it. Maybe it's hard, but you have to talk to Takuya and Tommy. Tell them what you're feeling. They'll help you, but only if you give them the chance."
"H-how do you know?" Now a stutter had formed in Shinya's voice. Tears hung at the corners of his eyes, his breath came in short gasps, his mouth was dry with apprehension. They'd reached the climax now. Shinya would either be tipped one way or the other. To Kouji's annoyance, Ilsemon's hand still rested securely on the younger boy's shoulder.
Takuya and Tommy were both unaccounted for, possibly even dead, but Kouichi nonetheless planted a smile on his face. "You know your brother. Takuya would never betray you, and neither would Tommy. They'll listen if you just tell them the truth."
The word shot through Shinya like a bullet, shattering what was left of his self control. With tears of frustration streaming down his cheeks, he shouted, "Oh, you want to know what the truth is? Okay, here's the truth! Takuya never paid any attention to me, even before Tommy came along! I've always idolized him, so it was no shock to me when I found out he was practically a superhero. I wasn't scared; I was too proud of him to think he was a monster…but Tommy was a hero too. He got to be part of this special club that I could never join, no matter how hard I tried! And boy, did I try. I've always, always tried to get my Nii-san's respect, but all we can ever do is fight and argue with each other! But Tommy! Oh, he's just the absolute paragon of greatness! How could I ever hope to compete with a gang of superheroes when I'm just plain old me? The harsh fact is that I'm not good enough for my brother, not good enough for Tommy, not good enough for Nanami—"
Shinya clamped a hand over his mouth, cutting himself off a second too late. He watched as the twins' identical blue eyes slowly widened, recognizing what Shinya had always fought to conceal. But he could no longer conceal the terror in his eyes, nor the blush spreading across his cheeks, and the revelation finally formed in Kouji's and Kouichi's minds.
Shinya has a crush on Shino's little sister...
Suddenly, a huge tremor shot through the chamber floor, causing nearly everyone to stumble or fall. Reacting quickly, Ilsemon unfurled her wings, grabbing Shinya and launching them both into the air, then shooting toward a point somewhere behind the twins. Kouji couldn't track her speed with his eyes, so he concentrated on helping his brother back to his feet. As soon as they were up, though, another tremor knocked them back to the floor, this time producing cracks in the stone around them. The twins watched as a particularly dense series of fissures shot out from the stone below Ilsemon's hulking guards, traveling down the length of the stairs and disintegrating the structure in a matter of seconds. With nothing to support them, the two huge Digimon fell along with the crumbling stone, their shrieks quickly becoming lost in the abyss.
The twins barely had time to panic before the floor underneath them lurched, tipping slowly toward where the stairs had been. With no other hand or footholds for support, Kouji grabbed Kouichi's arm for dear life as the two began to slide down the smooth stone, heading toward the darkness below. Just as they were starting to pick up speed, though, something grabbed them both from behind, digging its fingers firmly into their jackets and shirts. Turning his head as best he could, Kouji found their savior to be Renamon, and he briefly wondered how the fox Digimon had managed to hold her footing on the slippery stone. Then his vision adjusted to the particles of dust and rock shooting out from every inch of the chamber, and he noticed Ilsemon's dark wings flapping in the background. Her arm was wrapped securely around Renamon's waist, suspending them all in mid-air. In her other arm, she held Shinya.
But something appeared to be wrong with the young boy. Ilsemon was struggling to keep Shinya in her grip as he convulsed, shaking wildly and uncontrollably from head to toe. His eyes were strangely blank despite the spasms wracking his body, but Kouji was more interested in what was happening to Shinya's Fractal Code. It was visible, floating around him in a never-ending ring of data-filled energy. But there was something odd about it. Every couple seconds, the outline of a larger, clearly more powerful Fractal Code flared up around Shinya's, completely eclipsing the boy's data. Even as Kouji watched, the Code was becoming more solid, chipping away at Shinya's defenses. Slowly, it was taking over…
"Renamon, do it now!" Ilsemon shouted, clearly realizing Kouji's intent. It was too late, though. Lobomon's data was already swirling around him, enhancing his strength, making him…
Kouji's mouth opened in a silent scream as something, he didn't know what, tore through his back and into his chest, ripping out what felt like the essence of his entire being. His strength, his power, it was all being forcibly sucked out of him, leaving him limp, weak, lifeless.
~What does she think she's doing? She'll kill you both!~
Light…that was why he couldn't see. He needed more light…
~Just hold on, okay Kouji? Hold on…~
"Mm…" That felt good. Slowly but surely, his limbs became suffused with warmth, life-giving warmth. Now he could see a figure rushing toward him, fire blazing from its armor. The image came and went, and Kouji finally lost consciousness.
"Guys!" Tommy called for his friends, brushing away the dust that threatened to clog his eyes. Stifling a cough, he tried to make out shapes among all the fallen stone and debris. Of course, most of the lamps had been shattered in the aftermath of Meteormon's attack, and now the entire hallway was nearly pitch black. He'd just have to yell until someone heard him, if someone heard him… "Guys! Are you okay?"
Seconds later, Tommy got his answer. "Damn, Albino Gotsumon! I guess you're pretty badass after all!"
Tommy breathed a sigh of relief as he recognized the distinct groans of each of his friends. Sidling forward, he tried to pick out the shapes of their bodies in the dirt and gloom, only to lose his footing over an outcropping of rock. "Ow…" Tommy groaned, lying flat on his face, his nose pressing painfully into the dust. Pushing himself back to his feet, the young boy resolved to be more careful and continued his trek through the hazard-strewn hallway.
Soon, he found someone among the wreckage. "There you are, Tommy!" Zoe exclaimed happily, her outfit a pale pink blotch in the near-complete darkness. Once he was in range of her arms, Zoe wrapped Tommy up tight, holding her younger friend as if she'd never let go. But she did let go a few seconds later, realizing that he still needed to breathe. Then, after giving Tommy a brief once-over, she said, "I can't really tell in the dark, but from what I can see, you look like you're in one piece."
"You too," Tommy replied with a smirk; he wasn't sure, but he thought he could see Zoe return his smile. To his relief, the strange resentment festering inside him didn't choose to lash out against Zoe's blatant babying. "Where's everyone else?"
"We're here!" JP's voice drifted from somewhere farther back in the rubble, and soon the rest of the gang mimicked his call. "Where are Gotsumon and the others?"
Suddenly, a huge piece of stone was flipped onto its side, and everyone could make out the faint glow of Meteormon's white-hued body in the gloom. There were some groans, and then Meteormon stated, "Elecmon and Gazimon are okay. I managed to shield them from the worse of the aftereffects."
"'Aftereffects'?" Shino repeated incredulously. "You call all of this the 'aftereffects'?"
"What else am I supposed to call it?" Meteormon retorted, sounding defensive. Soon, though, his maturity won out, and he sighed. "Okay, I'm sorry. I lost my temper and behaved recklessly. Forgive me?"
The others pretended to give this some thought, but the answer was obvious. "It's fine, Meteormon," Zoe reassured the mollified Digimon. "At least now we're free."
"Ah, freedom," JP proclaimed, waxing melodramatic. "Honestly, I didn't expect it to taste so much like explosion-blasted rocks."
"Then let's high-tail it out of here and get some fresh air!" Kira replied energetically. "Besides, Albino Gotsumon's attack probably attracted some attention, so instead of talking, we should really be running like hell before psycho bitch's henchmen show up to kick our Spirit-less asses."
"What about Hotaru, and Kouji and Kouichi?" Dai pointed out, more than a hint of worry evident in his voice. "Like you said, we don't even have our Spirits. We can't leave them all behind."
"Wow, you guys sure brought the house down!"
A bright green light suddenly descended over the ruined hallway, bouncing off the dust in strange patterns that made Tommy feel sick. Shutting his eyes to escape the glare, he listened as what sounded like hoof prints pounded toward him, then a booming, strangely familiar voice said, "Hey, you didn't have to go to all this trouble, guys. I have a key!"
"Sagittarimon?" Okay, that name he recognized. Tommy blinked once to test his vision, then when he was sure the dust had settled enough for light to seep clearly through it, he found his gaze settling on none other than the bumbling thief, Sagittarimon. Much like the last time they'd met, the centaur Digimon had a brown sack hanging from his shoulder, along with a rather clueless look on his face, and the green moss in his hand was casting its soft glow across the gloom. Suddenly wondering how Dai had known this creature's name before, Tommy shot Zoe a curious glance.
"He's supposed to be our guard," Zoe muttered a quick explanation just as Terriermon hopped nimbly from Sagittarimon's back, a broad grin on his face.
"Well, looks like this rescue mission went off without a hitch," the dog-like Digimon proclaimed with a slightly sarcastic edge to his voice.
Gazimon's sarcasm was more than slight. "Oh yeah, this is going so smoothly."
"What's going on, Terriermon?" Meteormon asked, transitioning quickly to business mode. "Who is this Digimon?"
"What, this big guy?" Terriermon said, patting Sagittarimon's leg a couple times as a sign of good faith. "No need to worry, Gotsumon, or whoever the heck you are right now. Sagittarimon's on our side."
"What?" JP's voice instantly rose in protest. "This guy works for Ilsemon! He's been keeping guard over our cell for her! What makes you think he's with us now?"
Terriermon didn't respond, nor did he have to respond. Hotaru did it for him. Landing with a resounding thump next to Terriermon, the Warrior of Steel glanced over the shocked faces of his friends, finally settling on Dai. "Hey guys. Sorry I was captured early."
Ironically breaking the silence, Hotaru's words managed to thaw the others. "Hotaru!" Unable to contain his joy, Dai bounced eagerly up to his cousin, broad grin lighting up his face.
Hotaru returned the smile, reaching out a hand to ruffle Dai's hair. Warmed by his cousin's energy, he muttered, "I guess I had nothing to worry about. Should've known better than to think Ilsemon would get to you."
Dai's grin turned mischievous. "Of course not! I'm too tough for her!"
Once this reunion had been shared, the rest of the gang followed Dai's example and crowded around Hotaru, asking questions left and right. A bit embarrassed by all the attention, Hotaru raised his hand to stop the onslaught of voices. "I can tell you everything later. Right now, we have to escape."
"Yeah, but you don't happen to have your D-Tector on you right now, huh Taru?" Kira retorted, hiding her growing concern for their Spirits behind her nonchalance.
"Actually, he does," Terriermon interjected, gesturing for Sagittarimon to hand him something. The centaur did as instructed, removing the sack from around his shoulder and placing it on the ground before the others. Terriermon lifted the bag and held it open, giving the gang a full view of their D-Tectors nestled safely inside, along with various other items stolen from the former prisoners' pockets (aside from JP's chocolate, which had been evenly distributed among Ilsemon's followers).
There was silence for a moment, everyone's mouths agape in shock. Then Kira said, "I freakin' love being a Digidestined. Everything's so convenient for us!"
"Well, I knew where Ilsemon was keeping your friend from the start," Sagittarimon muttered, awkwardly trying to justify the convenience of the situation. "But Terriermon and Wizardmon found your obsessions."
"I guess you never learned the difference between 'obsessions' and 'possessions,'" Tommy mumbled to himself.
The others were more concerned with the name Sagittarimon had mentioned. As if receiving a sudden jolt, Shino flinched, looking past Sagittarimon's midsection to his upper back. "Wizardmon."
It took several moments, but Wizardmon reluctantly answered Shino's call, jumping down from Sagittarimon's back to stand before the gang. Guilt shone unrestrained from his eyes in the presence of his former adversaries, but at the same time, Shino could feel relief coming off the wizard Digimon in overwhelming waves. Unable to grasp what Wizardmon was playing at, Shino's expression hardened, not allowing himself any sympathy for his…whatever he and Wizardmon were at this point. "What are you doing here, Wizardmon?"
"Does it matter?" Kira retorted, grabbing her D-Tector from inside the sack. "I say we skip the questions and go straight to the pummeling."
"Fine by me," Zoe agreed, eyes blazing with anger.
Before they could do anything, though, Tommy and Meteormon put themselves between the gang and Wizardmon. "Guys, it's okay," Meteormon reassured, holding up his hands. "He's with us now."
"Bullshit," JP spat back, eyes trained on the pointy tip of Wizardmon's hat. "That thing's an absolute monster."
"I'm not denying that," Meteormon consented quietly. "Still, he gave himself up to us, and he hasn't yet given us a reason not to trust him."
He gave himself up? Shino shot Wizardmon a confused look, seeking an explanation for his strange behavior.
Before any answers could be given, though, Zoe growled, "He's beyond our capacity to trust, beyond any hope of redemption at all! After what he did to Kouji…it's unforgivable!"
Oh, right. What Wizardmon had done to Kouji, to Seiko…how could that be forgiven? Shino wanted to remain loyal to Kouji and his friends, but still, he couldn't quench this persistent gnawing of…sympathy…for what was supposed to be his most hated foe. It didn't ease his confusion when Tommy said a moment later, "Guys, Wizardmon led us here. He helped us find you, and he found your D-Tectors. Doesn't that count for something?"
"Tommy has a point," Hotaru added, glancing thoughtfully at the wizard Digimon. "He threatened Sagittarimon earlier, when he saw me with him."
"Speaking of which, what's your deal?" Abandoning Wizardmon for the moment, JP turned his distrustful gaze onto Sagittarimon. "Why'd you break Taru out of his cell and bring him here? You're working for Ilsemon, aren't you?"
"Not anymore!" Sagittarimon announced proudly, puffing out his chest. "I'm a changed mon! (These are the jokes, people…) From now on, I'm gonna help you guys, just like one of those human world heroes Dai told me about!"
"I just said that I was excited for the Avengers movie," Dai mumbled, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "But I'm glad we don't have to be enemies, Sagittarimon!"
"Seriously, convenient as heck," Kira muttered to herself.
And like that, the true extent of Meteormon's "aftereffects" became clear to everyone. The sound of splintering rock was so devastating for a moment that it caused everyone to cover their ears in pain. Then, just as suddenly as it had come, the noise stopped. But this wasn't the end of their problems, for soon afterward a tremor rocked the RMS, sending nearly everyone toppling to the ground. Spurred by the fissures spiderwebbing up the walls on all sides, Zoe shouted, "Run!"
Not needing to be told twice, the gang jumped up and sprinted after Wizardmon and Meteormon, the former knowing the fastest way out of the crumbling building. Tommy was about to follow when something grabbed his leg, holding him back as his friends turned the corner and dashed out of sight.
"Damn it, Albino Gotsumon, why couldn't you just pick the lock like a normal person?" Kira exclaimed, fighting to be heard against the crash of falling stone.
"I had a key!" Sagittarimon added exasperatedly.
"Is this really the time to be talking about this?" Meteormon retorted, rounding a bend with Wizardmon…
…and running straight into Witchmon's chest. "Holy crap, pervert!" the witch Digimon shrieked, raising her arm in preparation for a slap when she recognized her would-be assaulter. "Gotsu…no, Meteormon! Geez, what are you doing?"
Either ignoring or totally ignorant of Witchmon's profuse blush, Meteormon replied, "We're trying to get out of here before this whole place falls on top of us!"
"Yeah, we were kinda wondering what was up with that," Dragramon said, feigning nonchalance. "Oh, looks like you found the kids! Wait, aren't we missing a few?"
"Ilsemon took the twins," JP explained, using his arms as shields against the bits of stone falling from the ceiling like a demented hailstorm.
"My count says Tommy's gone, too," Dragramon stated, using her claws to keep track of the numbers. Looking around, the others realized that she was right; Tommy was missing.
"We have to go back for him!" Zoe cried, making a move to sprint down the hall in search of her friend. Witchmon, however, grabbed the girl's arm before she could get far.
"Hold your horses, Zee," the witch Digimon cautioned, flinching as her sprained arm, dealt by the annoyingly over-armored guards outside, became agitated by the strain of holding Zoe back. Noticing the look of concealed pain on Witchmon's face, Zoe ceased her struggle and listened. "Me and Dragra will go get him. Maybe we can find the twins, too."
"You two can't go back there alone!" Meteormon shouted, outraged by the mere thought of Witchmon's plan. "Let me stay; my body's not gonna be bothered by a few falling rocks."
"We can handle ourselves, Rocky," Dragramon retorted, giving her friend a toothy grin. "We're smart, we're tough, and we can fly, plus Witchy can create a barrier around us which'll be pretty useful when we're getting the kids out of here."
"But you could…" Unable to find a sufficient argument in his panic, Meteormon met and held Witchmon's eyes, trying to smolder her resolve with his silent pleas. It almost worked, but Witchmon managed to shake off the effects of her crush's desperation and mutter just loud enough for him to hear, "Wait outside, Meteormon. We'll meet you there."
"Wait!" With a nod from his sister, Wizardmon grabbed Meteormon's arm, dragging him further down the hall. Normally, Meteormon would have easily been able to shake off the physically weaker Digimon, but his limbs felt limp under the weight of Witchmon's decision. "Don't do this! Witchmon, Dragramon, please! I don't want to lose you, too!"
Witchmon flinched, but her resolve stayed firm as the rest of the group shuffled past her, shooting her and Dragramon encouraging looks as they continued to race toward the exit. Once they'd been swallowed up in the dimly lit hall, Witchmon let out a heavy sigh. "That definitely could've gone better."
"Eh, Gotsu's just flashing back to what happened with Gaomon," Dragramon said reassuringly, adding with a wink, "Hey, at least this proves he cares about you!"
Witchmon's mouth twitched into a cold smirk. "Yeah, we're best friends. That's all we ever were."
"Witchy…" Dragramon's sentence trailed off as something, a gut instinct of sorts, acted up inside her. It had been dormant for so long that she almost considered shrugging it off, but this feeling was there to tell her, to warn her, of his presence, and she couldn't take it lightly.
"You okay, Dragra?" Witchmon asked, simultaneously erecting a barrier over their heads to protect them from the falling stone as she watched her friend's tail go taut, her wings flick open, and her eyes grow wide. Pulling out her broomstick, Witchmon muttered, "This can't be good. What's going on?"
Dragramon took a deep breath, trying to release some of the tension in her muscles. The fright in her eyes remained as she turned to Witchmon and said, "It's Darkie."
"Palmon, wait!" Tommy shouted, pulling desperately on the plant Digimon's arm as he was all but dragged down the hall after her. She didn't stop, as he'd wanted her to, but she did slacken their pace a bit. At least now Tommy didn't have to strain so hard to keep up without tripping over cracks in the floor. Now he could voice his questions. "Palmon, what's going on? Where are you taking me?"
"There's no time for explanations." With this curt reply, Palmon quickened their pace, leading Tommy down a seemingly random maze of hallways.
Fed up with his companion's mysterious behavior, Tommy dug his heels into the ground hard, steeling himself against any forward movement until his questions were answered. With barely-contained annoyance, Palmon stopped and let Tommy vent his confusion. "Palmon, where are we going? I can't follow you if you don't tell me why we're running around a building that's on the verge of collapse!"
"That's exactly why we have to hurry!" Palmon retorted, eyes blazing with a determination Tommy had never seen in her before. Then again, they'd only met once, and she'd been Ilsemon's prisoner at the time. But wait, wasn't she still Ilsemon's prisoner? Had she somehow managed to escape in all this chaos? Realizing that an explanation was in order if they were to get anywhere, Palmon began, "I was imprisoned in the cell next to the Legendary Warriors. They didn't know I was there, and Ilsemon threatened me not to speak to them. I suppose I was asleep when you came, since I woke up to a hole being blown through the wall by that Meteormon fellow. I heard your voice right away, but I bided my time until you were alone. The others don't need to get involved with this; in fact, the fewer of you, the better."
"What are you saying?" Tommy could barely keep up with her rapid words, but Palmon didn't intend to slow down and elaborate.
Instead, she pushed forward with her explanation. "When Hallucimon captured me near the Fortune Telling Village, he had someone else with him, another 'prisoner' of sorts. This prisoner didn't want to be free, though. For some reason, he wanted to see Ilsemon, and until recently, I had no idea why. But now I understand everything; Ilsemon's plans, his resolve, Takuya's involvement, and especially how to change his fate, even without his brother to slap sense into him."
Tommy had no idea how to respond to any of this. Who was she talking about? How was Takuya involved with this? Whose brother…?
"It all rests on your shoulders, Tommy," Palmon stated, a brief smile lighting up her weary face. "I know you can stop him. He talked about you all the time. If anyone can save him in Takuya's place, it's you. He'll listen to you."
"Who…?" Tommy still didn't get it. This person that Palmon kept mentioning, the one supposedly connected to both him and Takuya; who was it? Perhaps a Digimon they'd met before? But there was that word, "brother," that Palmon had used. Not a bond between Digimon, no, she'd used the term in a human sense, indicating a flesh and blood relation, a human relation. Was that it? Was there a human here? One that he and Takuya knew… "You don't mean…?"
"Hate to interrupt your conversation, but I'm looking for someone."
Surprised by this new voice, Tommy spun sharply on his feet, coming nose-to-snout with a sneering creature. Tommy backed up quickly, observing this newcomer with a wary eye. It was obviously a Digimon, dragon-like in appearance, but rather small for its menacing features. As it lowered itself onto all fours, Tommy counted down the row of red spikes running along the Digimon's back, eventually ending in a sharply-pointed tail. Its claws were the same blood red color, as were its leathery wings. What intimidated Tommy the most, though, were the dragon's scarlet eyes, glowing with an unmasked desire for carnage.
However, the dragon seemed at least partially subdued, so much as his obvious impatience would allow. "Not very talkative, are you? Fine by me, as long as you answer my question; where is my sister?"
Tommy and Palmon glanced at each other, not knowing what to tell this seemingly lost creature. "Um, I'm afraid we don't understand," Palmon replied after a moment.
The dragon's eyes narrowed to slits. "You're lying. I can smell her stench on you. You know exactly where she is. Admit it, and I might leave you be."
Tommy tensed as the dragon Digimon stepped forward, claws scraping anxiously against stone. This creature wanted to pounce, to tear, to mutilate, but for the sake of information on this "sister," he was holding himself back. He's psychotic, Tommy realized, coming to the conclusion that they needed to get away from this thing as soon as possible.
Palmon seemed to share this sentiment. "We'd love to help you find who you're looking for, but we're in a hurry. Please, let us be on our way."
"Wrong answer!" In a flash of teeth and claws, the dragon suddenly lunged, aiming straight for Tommy's unprotected chest. Tommy knew he wouldn't be able to Spirit Evolve fast enough to block the attack, and not even adrenaline could get him out of the way in time. The boy had about a second to prepare himself, and then…
Red claws stood poised just inches from Tommy's chest. With wide, panic-filled eyes, he had to force his legs to move backwards, putting some distance between his body and the dragon's lethal barbs. Once he deemed himself safe, Tommy had the wherewithal to wonder how he'd been saved in the first place. It wasn't long before he got his answer.
What had gone unseen by Tommy in his fright was now fully visible; a large, yeti-like creature towered before him, muscles rippling underneath its snow-white fur. Knotted braids of spike-tipped hair fell down its back in a cascade broken only by the intrusion of several bloody red talons. The creature's powerful arms hung limply at its sides, and as it swayed on its feet, Tommy knew the dragon had dealt irreversible damage to his savior.
Of course, he instantly recognized the Digimon standing before him. There was no mistaking that massive build, those brown, thick-skinned paws and feet, that blindingly pale fur. He held up his D-Tector, not knowing how this could happen. But the images of his Spirits flashed across the screen as if to tell him "No. We're both still in here."
Suddenly remembering Palmon, Tommy turned to his right, unable to watch as the dragon pulled its claws slowly, maliciously, out of its impaled prey. However, the plant Digimon was no longer standing beside him. He scanned the room several times, afraid that Palmon had panicked and run off alone. Fissures were snaking their way along the floor now, and it would only be a matter of time before this hallway succumbed to the rest of the building's destruction. He didn't want Palmon to get stuck by herself in the chaos, so he was about to go and look for her, letting this Warrior distract the dragon while he made his getaway.
However, something the dragon Digimon said next stopped him. "Ah, I see. A shape-shifter. I thought your kind was wiped out."
"Shape-shifter?" Was he talking about Tommy? But he hadn't gotten the chance to Spirit Evolve in all the confusion. Did the dragon already know who he and his friends were?
The red and black creature wasn't looking at Tommy, though. Its amused gaze was trained on the yeti Digimon as it continued to sway in place, clutching the data-filled hole in its chest as its Fractal Code swirled around it. Tommy was terrified by the sight, but he soon found he couldn't take his eyes away from his savior's lurching body. Pity for the dying creature held him in place, along with its strange resemblance to…
Suddenly, the yeti spoke, though its voice was much different from what Tommy had imagined. It sounded almost…feminine. "You…won't harm…this boy…he is…"
"Yes, I know who he is," the dragon interrupted, rolling its eyes. "I can tell by the thing he's holding. One of the Legendary Warriors, here to save the day." Shooting Tommy a cocky smirk, it added, "Good job helping out this thing. You're just grade-A hero material, aren't you?"
Tommy didn't respond, no longer paying any attention to the miniscule dragon. (Darkgramon: Miniscule is going a bit far…) Now all his concentration was focused on his rescuer as its muscular body slowly began to shrink. Its white fur turned a greenish hue as it got smaller and smaller; in fact, it ceased to be fur at all, but rather a green, plant-like skin covering the now Rookie-sized Digimon. Turning her flower-topped head around, Palmon gave Tommy a weak smile. "Sorry…I didn't tell you…"
"Palmon!" Tommy rushed forward, catching the plant Digimon before she hit the ground. To his dismay, there was a hole ripped through Palmon's chest as well. A shape-shifter…a supposedly extinct race of Digimon, destroyed due to their power… "Hallucimon…?"
Palmon nodded her head slowly, tears forming in her beady black eyes. "I went into hiding…in the Fortune Telling Village…as a Palmon. Forgive me…I couldn't tell anyone…for fear of discovery…"
"It doesn't matter," Tommy said quietly, hopefully sounding more reassuring than he felt. He thought he should add something more to ease Palmon's guilt, but he didn't know what to do anymore. Palmon was dying in his arms, and there was nothing he could do…
Meanwhile, the dragon Digimon stood above the two, its snout drooping with boredom. "I suppose you don't know anything, or you wouldn't have blown your cover by transforming. Oh well, I suppose you've given me some entertainment, so I'll let the boy live…for now." With that, the creature slunk back into the shadows, headed for the crumbling passages Tommy and Palmon had left behind. Tommy hoped the dragon got buried in the rubble.
"At least I saved someone…" Tommy's attention returned to Palmon once their adversary was out of sight, listening intently to her final words. "I apologize, Tommy…my choice of transformation…was in poor taste. I haven't changed forms…in so long…with you standing there…it was the first thing that came to mind…"
"None of that matters," Tommy repeated, his eyes glistening with regret. "Palmon, I'm sorry. I…I couldn't save you…"
Palmon, with some difficulty, lifted her leafy hand to Tommy's mouth, halting his apology. "Don't worry…about me. My death…was inevitable…I'm a fugitive of genocide, after all. But…that's not important now. Tommy…he still needs your help…he's been tricked by Ilsemon…you have to save him from her…"
Momentarily swallowing his grief, Tommy asked, "Is he a human, like me?" Palmon nodded. "He's Takuya's brother?" Again, Palmon nodded.
With his suspicion confirmed, Tommy listened ever more closely to Palmon's words. "I didn't know…about Shinya's relation…to you, or to Takuya…he never told me. I thought he was just…some random human child…he wanted to be here…I didn't think there was anything you could do…"
Taking a big, shaky breath, Palmon finally made her confession. "When you found me last time…in my cell…Shinya was imprisoned right across from me. He hid in a corner…he didn't let you see him…he only told me afterwards…that he knew you…"
Tommy's eyes grew wide with shock. "He was there the whole time…?"
"It wasn't your fault," Palmon said sternly, conviction shining in her gaze. "I didn't tell you he was there…I've played right into fate's hand…but no more. Tommy, I thought my prophecy foretold Takuya's death, when really…the flame…it was Shinya's humanity. Ilsemon will use him…to resurrect her brother."
"What do you mean?" Tommy asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"Palmon!" With this last chilling message, Shamanmon's apprentice disintegrated into fragments of data, leaving her Fractal Code swirling atop Tommy's lap. Fighting through his tears, the boy lifted his D-Tector and scanned Palmon's Code, promising to keep it safe. Tommy was so focused on this task that he didn't notice Palmon's data disperse into the surrounding area. No Digi-Egg was left behind.
He also didn't notice the hallway beginning to crumble around him until Witchmon cried, "Hey Tommy, you might want to consider high-tailing it out of here, like, right now!"
Tommy's head shot up in surprise as bits of stone rained down from the collapsing structure around him. Before he could even jump to his feet, Witchmon swooped down and plucked the young boy off the floor, wrapping her arm securely around his waist as he settled himself on her broomstick. Once she deemed him safe, Witchmon announced, "I don't think this place's gonna hold out much longer, Dragra! We'll just have to trust that Ilsemon's keeping the twins safe…gosh, I hate saying that!"
Past the rocks bouncing off Witchmon's barrier, Tommy saw a large purple dragon swoop into view, a creature he could only assume was Dragramon's Champion form, Drakemon. Swinging her head around, the dragon Digimon shot her friend a beseeching look. "He was here, Witchy. I know he was. I can feel it!"
"Well, he's not here now!" Witchmon retorted, her voice rising in panic. "At least we know he's in the area. We have a lead. But if we run around here looking for him, we'll be squashed flatter than a bunch of little beetles!" (Obscure episode 33 reference FTW!) (JP: Seriously, why?)
Drakemon's head swished back and forth, caught between what she wanted to do and what was best for everyone else. Finally, she conceded defeat. "Okay, Witchy, you're right! We'll look for him later, though!"
"Of course," Witchmon replied, her arm tightening around Tommy as they ascended toward the collapsing stone roof. "Hang on, kid! This might get a little bumpy!"
Ilsemon's Rose Morning Star was falling down at an alarming rate. Everywhere, the structural support of the building was cracking along the fault line created by Meteormon's attack. It was a miracle it had lasted this long, but now, surely, it would fall to its demise. That was a good enough reason for Darkgramon to get the hell out of there, sister or no sister.
Weaving his way easily through the wreckage and rubble, the dark dragon looked for an opening through which he could make his escape. His search proved fruitless; there were no chinks in this chaotic mess. Soon, he'd be buried alive…
"As if something as petty as a collapsing building could take me down," Darkgramon chuckled, letting a power-filled string of data surround his body cocoon-style. He emerged from the data stream in a much larger, more menacing form. Flexing his huge red claws, DarkDrakemon let out a growl of satisfaction. "Haven't used my Champion form in awhile. Pity I have to waste it on a bunch of falling rocks."
Just as he was preparing to make his escape, something in the rubble caught DarkDrakemon's eye. Shoving effortlessly through the heaped piles of stone, he finally found the object he'd seen before. It was an eyeball, rather large in size, with a small red-rimmed pupil. DarkDrakemon flinched as the eye began to rotate in its socket, finally locking its gaze on him. Staring down his snout at the strange item, the dragon muttered, "Either Mad-Eye Moody's head is way bigger than I thought, or you're still attached to something under that rock."
"Go away," a voice suddenly spoke from underneath the wreckage, muffled but nonetheless intelligible enough for DarkDrakemon's sensitive hearing to pick up. "Leave me here," it continued harshly. "I told her I'd stay…no matter what…"
"'Her,' huh?" DarkDrakemon cocked his head, sensing a familiar aura tickling at the back of his mind. He spent several moments trying to decipher this sensation, and then it came to him. "Of course, Nina! You're one of hers!"
The voice was silent, refusing to acknowledge its connection to Nina. But DarkDrakemon could now feel the darkness surrounding this creature like a thick fog. Crouching down, the dragon tried to peer past the creepy eyeball in order to get a better view of its owner. "Wow, no wonder Nina picked you up. Not many Digimon could survive under a weight like this for long. You got industrial-strength armor or something?"
"Leave," the creature repeated, its outline barely visible underneath all the stones. "I deserve this…just let it crush me…"
DarkDrakemon sat back on his haunches, the eyeball following his movements the entire time. This was certainly a predicament he'd gotten himself into. Not only had he stumbled upon Ilsemon's show, but Nina was involved in all this scheming as well. He hadn't met with Nina in years, not since that day…why was her new host skulking around the RMS, anyway, and why wasn't she with him? DarkDrakemon had questions, and this dying creature was the only link to his answers.
Using his powerful wings as a barrier against the crumbling stone, DarkDrakemon lifted his paw into the air. As it rose, red sparks began to flicker at the tips of his claws, then tongues of flame licked around his skin. Smirking at the trapped creature's eye, he said, "You may not think so, but this is your lucky day, Mr. Eyeball. I owe Nina a favor, and saving you should cover my debt."
With that, he slashed at the stone with a flame-engulfed paw. "Demon's Claw!"
Kouji opened his eyes to find the world around him falling. Rocks of varying sizes rained down from the sky, or so it appeared. But Kouji quickly realized the truth. It wasn't the overhanging dark clouds that were causing this downpour, but rather the stone roof of the RMS breaking apart, with him lying in the center of the fray.
Gathering what little strength he still possessed, Kouji gripped his D-Tector tightly (he hadn't dropped it after losing consciousness, miraculously) and, with his other hand, tried to push himself into a sitting position. Concentrating on this task, he was unprepared when the floor split along a ragged crack in the stone. Part of the floor remained attached to the wall. The other part, upon which Kouji sat, wasn't so lucky.
Gritting his teeth, Kouji tried to find a groove or crack in the floor to serve as a handhold, but the stone was as smooth as before, and as it tilted on its side, so too was Kouji's body forced to obey the laws of gravity. He scrapped his feet against the stone, hoping to at least slow his descent, but to no avail. Soon there was no more floor to support him, and he felt himself freefalling into the dust-laden air. The sensation was familiar (he'd been pushed off every high precipice imaginable in the Digital World…), but this time he couldn't muster the strength to Spirit Evolve. Lobomon felt miles away from him, farther away than ever before. The Warrior couldn't save him now. He was on his own, but he couldn't do anything to save himself.
~Kouji!~ Ellie's voice came to him, but even that was muffled by the whooshing of air past his ears as he fell. So, this was it. In the end, all the hard work he'd put into this, all the trials he'd gone through, all the things he'd learned, had amounted to nothing. Now his adventure was over. Eventually, the ground would come, and then the splat…
Suddenly, Kouji's descent was halted. There was a moment of intense pain, as if his shoulder had been wrenched free from its socket. However, the pressure on his arm soon decreased, miraculously leaving it intact. Now his body was swinging like a pendulum, back and forth, suspended by some mysterious force.
Tearing his gaze away from the unforgiving abyss into which he'd nearly fallen, Kouji looked up and immediately met the passive eyes of his rescuer. Frozen by the creature's icy stare, Kouji watched as a smirk distorted the monster'sface. It was holding itself aloft in this chaos, flapping its deceptively pure white wings, holding Kouji's weight with obvious ease.
Seeing this demon floating above him, with such a look of triumph on its face, Kouji knew that they'd lost. Ilsemon had what she wanted now. Shinya was gone, and in his place…
Quickly tiring of Kouji's horror-struck face, Lucemon let the boy's arm slip from his grasp, allowing him to sink farther down, farther down, into the black…
Once more, Kouji was snatched out of the air, and then half-crushed against the armor plating of his digital rescuer. He couldn't get a good look at the creature from his position, but he could feel the warmth penetrating through its armor. It wasn't just the unusually high body heat; he recognized the armor covering the Digimon's chest, the sharp metal claws pressed firmly against his side, the strength of the arm holding him in place. "Takuya."
"Yeah." BurningGreymon gave a curt reply, beating his wings rapidly to keep himself aloft, staring at the spot where Lucemon had been seconds before. "He's gone."
An image of Shinya flashed through Kouji's mind, and with it came thoughts of his own brother. "Oh crap, Kouichi!" Fighting through the exhaustion clouding his brain, Kouji let his senses run wild in the chaotic surroundings, searching desperately for that one glimmer of light in all the darkness, that pinprick of calm sunk within vast oceans of bleak insanity. On the verge of passing out, Kouji soon stopped this erratic hunt for his brother. Losing consciousness wouldn't help Kouichi now. At least he knew he wasn't dead. If Kouichi were dead, he'd feel much worse.
Having heard Kouji's exclamation, BurningGreymon muttered in a slightly deadpan voice, "I've got him." The Beast Warrior shifted Kouji's weight in his grasp, giving him a better view of his twin. Kouichi was also cradled in BurningGreymon's grasp, though he seemed to be taking special care not to jostle his friend's limp body. Strangely, even in this unconscious state, Kouichi's D-Tector was still clutched firmly between his fingers.
Kouji let the tension in his muscles relax, seeing that his brother was unharmed. Then he clutched BurningGreymon's arm tightly, preparing himself for their escape. "Okay. Let's go."
Kouji barely had time to wonder how the others would break free from their cell before BurningGreymon shot straight up, heading for the only clear opening out of the RMS. It was harder, Kouji observed, for him to dodge through the falling rocks without the use of his arms, but he seemed so blindly focused on his task that the inconvenience barely fazed him. Kouji's head swarmed with possibilities for his friend's rather blunt attitude; it wasn't like Takuya to be this distant, especially after what they'd all been through. None of Kouji's conclusions were very pleasant, but one in particular terrified him above the rest. Had Takuya seen Shinya?
Finally bursting into the open, BurningGreymon paused to stare at the crumbling remains of Ilsemon's fortress. Kouji noticed the Digimon's eyes darting desperately through the rubble. Observing his friend's panic, Kouji realized that his speculations weren't so far-fetched. Mere seconds earlier, he'd probably worn that same look on his face, desperately searching for his twin. The truth showed plainly in his friend's eyes. Takuya knew that his brother was here. And now he was looking for him.
Realizing an explanation was inevitable, Kouji hesitantly began, "Takuya…Shinya is…"
Kouji's words were carried off by the wind as BurningGreymon zipped through the air, shooting like a missile towards the nearby woods and the safety of the Resistance tunnels. Clutching his friend's digitally-enhanced arm, Kouji squeezed his eyes shut. Maybe it's better that I don't tell him.
It seemed as if they'd only been flying for a few seconds when Kouji's eyes were wrenched open, his guts twisted by the stomach-churning sensation of freefalling. He was still in BurningGreymon's clutches, but already streams of data were devouring the fiery creature, leaving nothing between Kouji's body and the rock hard ground. Luckily, BurningGreymon hadn't been flying at a very high altitude, but Kouji's collision with the ground still felt like a sharp punch to the gut. Several more blows descended as his body skipped and flailed across the dirt's surface like a stone across water. Then, thankfully, he came to a halt, lying with his limbs haphazardly splayed around him.
The Digital World was extremely kind or Kouji was just abnormally lucky; either way, he regained his senses moments after hitting the earth to find that none of his limbs were broken. He'd certainly attained a few bumps and bruises, but it was nothing from which he couldn't recover. Though he was fully conscious, it took his vision a few extra seconds to stop spinning, and when it did he found Kouichi's crumpled body lying several feet away. To Kouji's horror, he wasn't moving.
"Kouichi." Kouji forced himself to stand, and then ran as quickly as possible to his brother's side. Up close, Kouichi's condition didn't seem as dire. Instead of the unnerving stillness he'd observed from far away, Kouji could now see the slight rise and fall of Kouichi's chest as he breathed. "Kouichi?"
As if in answer to an unspoken question, Kouichi's hand began to twitch, his eyelids fluttering and pushing against some invisible force of drowsiness which had taken hold of his body. Aided by Kouji's coaxing, Kouichi soon won the struggle to wakefulness, his eyes snapping wide open. "What happened?"
"Don't…" Kouji's caution went unheeded as Kouichi planted the palms of his hands face down in the dirt, trying unsuccessfully to push his body upright. Hooking an arm under both his brother's shoulders, Kouji helped pull him into a sitting position, though he had to lean heavily against Kouji for support. Despite his outward exhaustion, Kouichi's eyes burned a fiery blue. "What happened?" he repeated, his gaze resting on the demolished remains of the RMS, sticking out like tombstones on the bleak horizon.
Kouji's silence was answer enough. "Damn it," Kouichi cursed, hanging his head in weary defeat. "Damn it all." Though he said nothing, Kouji was inclined to agree with his twin. Damn it all.
Huff, huff. The sound of labored breathing soon caught Kouji's attention. Turning to his right, he watched as Takuya tested his obviously shaky balance. It had taken a vast amount of effort for the goggle-head just to rise to his feet, so great was his fatigue. But he brushed his weariness aside as he began to stagger forward, eyes trained on the ruined RMS. Realizing what his friend intended to do, Kouji shouted, "Takuya, stop!"
To his surprise, Takuya did stop, though it took some effort for him to halt his forward momentum. He didn't turn, so Kouji continued speaking to his friend's back. "You can't go back there. Look at yourself! You can barely stand, and we're in no better shape. Blindly rushing in and getting yourself killed won't help him…" Kouji trailed off there, unable to state what they all knew. No one stirred for what felt like hours. Then suddenly, Takuya whipped his head around and spoke.
"He's back there…my little brother…she had him all along…and you helped her destroy him! Light, darkness, you both gave her exactly what she needed to finish him off! Now he's gone! My brother is gone, and you didn't save him! It's your fault! You killed him! You killed my—"
"Taki!" Kira launched herself at Takuya's back, locking him in a tight embrace before he even had the opportunity to turn. His wide eyes momentarily gleamed with shock, and then he lowered his head, his expression becoming unfathomable.
The rest of the gang soon shuffled around Kira and Takuya, anxious to check that the twins were unharmed. Though they were eager to see Takuya as well, they'd let Kira have her moment before cutting in.
Kouichi was all but wrenched from Kouji and pulled into Zoe's arms, her annoyance with him overshadowed by her relief in his safety. Rather than verbally respond to her soft coos of affection, Kouichi wrapped his arms tightly around her, pulling her closer, absorbing her heat. He felt ice cold, and her body was like a furnace.
Unable to comprehend all the questions bombarding him, Kouji had resorted to taking a mental headcount of all his friends, just to make sure no one was missing. He saw right away that Tommy wasn't among them, but he could very well be waiting back at the Resistance base; there was JP, Dai, Hotaru, Shino, and Zoe, of course; he could see Gotsumon, Sagittarimon, three other Digimon he couldn't identify, and…
Shino noticed Kouji's gaze settle on Wizardmon, and without a moment's hesitation, he placed himself between the two. At first, Kouji seemed bewildered by this gesture. Then his eyes narrowed to slits. "What are you doing, Shino?"
"He's with us now, Kouji," Shino replied in a surprisingly calm voice. He almost couldn't believe that, despite the glare Kouji was shooting at him, he could retain such composure. All for Wizardmon's sake. "He turned his back on Ilsemon and helped rescue us. We don't need to fight him anymore."
Kouji snorted contemptuously. "You think I'll kill him right here? I'm in no condition to give him a proper sendoff. Besides, he doesn't deserve such a swift ending. It's actually better for me that he's not with Ilsemon. Now I can draw it out."
By now, everyone's attention had turned to the inevitable confrontation unfolding between Kouji and Wizardmon. Though the others would rather have this argument put off until they were somewhere safer, they were willing to let it play out. Even those who'd shown signs of warming up to Wizardmon didn't defend him now, believing Kouji's wrath was justified in its intensity.
Knowing he'd be on his own, Shino glanced back at Wizardmon, trying to decide whether this creature's life was worth ostracizing himself from his friends. All he could see of the wizard Digimon was the tip of his pointy hat, so low was his head bowed to the ground. His eyes were hidden, but this one gesture told Shino everything. Wizardmon was more than willing to endure whatever form Kouji's vengeance took, realizing that the boy deserved some closure for his murdered friend, and that he deserved punishment for his involvement in her death. For that reason, Shino was going to defend him.
"If you want to get to Wizardmon," Shino stated, his face lit eerily by his D-Tector's glowing screen, "you'll have to take me down first."
Everyone else seemed shocked by this announcement, but Kouji's mind was sharp as always. Glancing back at Wizardmon, he smirked. "So, that thing finally managed to corrupt you."
Wizardmon's head shot up. "No, that's not what's going on!" he said, the words tumbling from his mouth almost faster than he could form them. "Please, don't hurt comrade on my account. I don't know why he's doing this…"
Shino kept his eyes fixed on Kouji, but he could practically feel Wizardmon's pleading gaze boring through his back. Nevertheless, he continued, "Do you think I'm being manipulated right now, Kouji? Can you really not see how strongly I feel about this? I thought you were smarter than that."
Kouji's arm began to twitch, as if it wanted nothing more than to lunge out and shove Shino out of the way, but he held himself back. "Shino," he muttered, a hint of indecision lacing his voice. "Don't make me do this to you."
"You don't have to do anything," Shino replied. "Just let it go."
Noticing the anger that descended over Kouji's face, JP managed to grab him before he had a chance to throw himself at Shino. Gotsumon, Hotaru, and Dai moved in to help while Kouji hurled furious epithets at his friend. "You idiot! You think I can just forget what that bastard did when now I have to see her every single day! You're defending a murderer, Shino! You're like his accomplice! You—"
"Shut up, pretty boy!"
"Hey, there are the others!" Witchmon proclaimed happily, seeing their friends grouped close to the edge of the forest.
"I guess Gotsumon had to make sure you were safe before heading back to the tunnels," Drakemon remarked, swooping closer to her friend's broomstick and giving her a conspiratorial wink.
Tommy chuckled slightly as Witchmon's face turned crimson. "Would you just shut it already, Dragra? He was worried about you, too!"
"Whatever," Drakemon muttered with a smirk, flapping her wings to catch a sudden gust of wind. "First one to the forest gets to give Gotsumon a peck on the cheek!"
"What?" Witchmon exclaimed, watching as Drakemon caught a ride on an air current which shot her far ahead of her "competition." Indignantly, Witchmon gripped the handle of her broomstick tightly. "Hang on, Tommy. This could get crazy."
Not knowing how her flying could get crazier than their escape from the RMS, Tommy flattened himself against Witchmon's broom, hanging on for dear life as she zipped forward at what he thought was probably an unsafe speed. Note to self: never take rides from Witchmon, he thought as they careened ahead, the wind threatening to whip the hat off his head. He cautiously reached up with one hand to hold it in place, and as he did their pace began to slow until they finally stopped altogether, hovering in midair.
Tommy's eyes blinked open, settling on the one who had brought Witchmon to this sudden halt. Both his and Witchmon's gazes were trained on Takuya as she lowered them down to the earth. He was wrapped in Kira's arms, his head resting on her shoulder as his body shook from crying. No one else was talking, so it was easy to hear his pitiful whimpers, even from the air. Kira was rubbing her hands methodically across his back, comforting him in any way she could, not understanding where his grief was coming from. But Tommy understood perfectly, recalling what Palmon had told him. Once their feet hit the ground, they could hear the name being mumbled over and over between Takuya's sobs, and Tommy's suspicions were confirmed.
madjack89: Yay, I finally finished chapter 44!
Dai: Cookies all around!
madjack89: Heh heh…so, did the rest of you enjoy the chapter?
JP: Well, we're not captives anymore, but…
Zoe: Now we have him to deal with.
madjack89: Yup, we had a couple new villains introduced this chapter, though I'm sure you're all familiar with Lucy here!
Lucemon: *raises eyebrow* Lucy?
madjack89: Darkgramon also finally made his way into the story. Sorry it took so long, GarnettFox!
Darkgramon: Looks like I get to have some fun now…
madjack89: And now that I've gotten this major plot point out of the way, the story can finally start moving toward its conclusion, and then it's on to the threequel!
Kouji: Oh god, there's going to be a third one of these…
madjack89: *mockingly* Wah, I'm Kouji Minamoto, and I have to whine about everything! Wah!
Kira: *laughs hysterically* Madjack, you rock my socks!
madjack89: Why thank you, Kira!
Shino: Wait, I just realized something.
Shino: Well, at the end of chapter 42, Duskmon was about to stab Hotaru.
Zoe: He was, wasn't he? But Hotaru is fine…
Shino: Remember how Duskmon corrupted Kouichi for Nina? He was stabbed…with a glowy sword…
Zoe and Kouichi: *read that part of chapter* Oh shit…
Dai: Don't be silly, guys! Hotaru is a-okay! Right, Taru?
Zoe and Kouichi: Oh shit…
madjack89: See ya next time, everyone!
Tommy: And R.I.P., Palmon.
Kouji: Your cryptic predictions will be missed…kind of.
(PS: Please tell me some of you recognize the song reference in the title. If you don't, I suggest you look it up post-haste!)