DISCLAIMER: I don't own Digimon or any video games, books, films, TV shows or pieces of music referenced in this story. Original characters owned by me are stated in my profile.
And here's the epilogue. Sorry for the rather long wait, but I've been ill more times in the last seven weeks than in the rest of the last seven years put together. Anyway, it's only about 1,800 words (I did say it would be a short epilogue), but here it is. Thanks for reading and keep an eye on my profile for updates on Book 2 of Taming the Third Lion.
Monday 29th November – 11:47a.m.
Kirkfield Park, England
"Rika, look out!" Takato cried suddenly, the redhead ducking as a snowball sailed over her head. A snarl of irritation left the girl's throat as her own snowball went horribly wide, slamming into a tree trunk several metres away from her intended target.
"Damn it, Gogglehead," Rika growled as she took cover behind a nearby bush. "Would it have killed you to warn me that Cam and Steph were this good at snowball fights before I challenged them?"
"I tried, but you wouldn't listen!" the boy protested as he pulled his goggles down over his eyes, leaning out from behind the tree trunk he was using as cover to take aim at Cam with the snowball in his right hand. Just as he was about to throw the ice-cold projectile, the boy caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye, turning to look at it just in time to catch a snowball right between the eyes.
Today was meant to have been the Tamers' first day back at school, but thanks to two days of heavy snowfall, they had been granted the day off. Cam and Steph had decided to take full advantage of the situation by tricking Rika into challenging them to a snowball fight, Cam revelling in the chance to get revenge on the redhead for all the times she had beaten him at cards and on video games. Takato had been roped in by Rika to help even out the teams, though his input seemed to be doing little to help stave off their inevitable defeat.
"That's it, I give up!" Takato moaned and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender as he shook his head to clear his vision. "You win again."
"Damn right we do!" Cam chuckled and emerged from behind a small bush, Steph dropping out of a nearby tree to join him. "What about you, Rika? Are you gonna admit defeat, too?"
"Doesn't look like I have much choice, now that it's two against one…" the redhead grumbled with a mock glare at her begoggled friend. "Nice work, Goggles."
"I told you this wouldn't end well…"
"Wow, what's this strange, new feeling?" Cam wondered with an ear-to-ear grin. "Could it be the taste of victory? It's been so long since I beat Rika at something, I can barely recognize it."
"Yeah, yeah …" the defeated girl sighed and rolled her eyes. "Don't get used to it. I'm still gonna totally destroy you at Armored Core every time we play."
"One of these days I'll get lucky," the boy shrugged and glanced at his watch. "Man, kicking arse really helps you build up an appetite. I'm gonna go get some lunch, meet you guys back at Guilmon's den at about twelve-thirty?"
"Sounds good," Steph nodded, blushing bright crimson as her stomach suddenly rumbled loudly. "Actually, I think I'd better get something to eat, too. See you guys later."
"See you," Takato replied, turning to Rika as Cam and Steph set off towards their respective homes. "Hmmm…I think Henry said that he'd be stuck over at his grandparents' house until after lunchtime, so I guess it's just us for a while."
"Bad luck for Brainiac, getting stranded all the way over in Bradford," the girl chuckled and shook her head.
"Yeah, missing out on getting slaughtered by Cam and Steph…" he grinned and rolled his eyes. "So, how are the Digimon doing?"
"Well…" Rika began as she gazed in the direction of her house and reached out to touch minds with her partner. "Surprisingly enough, they've all managed to stay on my mum's private property, so they're not in danger of being seen by anyone. Renamon's been roped into a snowball fight and is pretending she doesn't enjoy it…and I think she just got knocked off of the branch she was sat on by Calumon."
"How did the little guy manage that?" the boy laughed.
"Renamon insists it was just luck. The guy is pretty well camouflaged in snow, though – at least, as long as he hides his ears."
"You wanna go join in?" Takato suggested with a small shrug. "It might be fun to actually have a chance of winning for once."
"Sure. If we circle around a bit we should be able to get the drop on Renamon."
"Wait, why are we ambushing Renamon?" he asked with a puzzled frown.
"Because the look on her face will be priceless," the redhead replied with a smirk and set off walking.
"Heh, good enough for me," the begoggled Tamer chuckled and fell into step a couple of paces behind her. The pair walked without speaking for about a minute before Takato spoke up again. "Hey, Rika, can I ask you something?"
"Sure," she replied with a glance back over her shoulder.
"When you were Bio-merged…what did it feel like? I mean, Steph couldn't remember much of what she did when she was Valdurmon, and you weren't making a lot of sense on the Ark back from the Digital World."
"Yeah, I was pretty exhausted," Rika agreed. "It was mostly that last move I used. I didn't expect it to take so much out of me…and I mean me, not Sakuyamon." The girl paused briefly to try as she tried to find a way to put her experience into words. "It felt…incredible. It was like Sakuyamon's body was my body, but at the same time I was floating in a data sphere inside us…or her, or whatever. I could see through both of our eyes at the same time."
"Cool," Takato breathed, blinking suddenly as a question occurred to him. "So you didn't get that weird feeling Steph did? Like she wasn't controlling her body when they were merging?"
"A little," she nodded. "I mean, most of the merging was just pure instinct, but I still felt in control up until I started floating in mid-air."
"Yeah?" he asked with a thoughtful frown. "Weird. Maybe it's something to do with you and Renamon having used your bond before you Bio-merged."
"I guess that's as likely as anything else," the redhead shrugged.
"Yeah…so, what was it like having all the power of a Mega-level Digimon?"
"Amazing," Rika replied simply. "I could think faster, move faster, hit harder than I thought was possible. Using all that magic was so…it just felt so right. And then-"
Takato frowned as the girl suddenly stopped in her tracks, her mouth snapping shut as a light blush appeared on her face. "And then…what?" he asked.
"I…uh…" she began hesitantly. "Look, if you ever tell anyone what I'm about to tell you, I'll let Renamon use you for target practice."
"My lips are sealed," the boy promised solemnly.
"Okay…" Rika mumbled and took a deep breath. "When I was Bio-merged I could feel this…this need to help things. I felt like I needed to protect everyone and stop all their pain and…stuff. I wasn't even that angry at HiOrochimon, either. I just felt…" Once again, she struggled to find the right word to describe what she had felt. She glanced at Takato with a pleading look as she sifted through her vocabulary, and was struck by inspiration as he opened his mouth to reply.
"Love!" the girl blurted, flushing bright crimson as she realized what she had said. "I mean, friendship love! Not the kind where, um…you know…I mean-"
"Hey, slow down! I get it," Takato laughed and raised his hands as if in surrender. "Come on, we'd better get moving or the snowball fight's gonna be over before we get there."
"Uh, yeah," Rika agreed, indescribably grateful for the change of subject. "This way!"
Takato grinned and shook his head slowly as he fell into step behind her once again. Man, Rika talking about love? I'd never have thought it was possible a few months ago, he thought with an internal chuckle. Heh, I think it was as much of a surprise to her, as well. She's kinda cute when she's embarrassed…
GAH! Where the hell did that come from?
Digital World, Sovereign Level – 5:32p.m.
Seven days after the death of Majiramon, Makuramon finally plucked up the courage to report to his lord. Zhuqiaomon had gone mad with rage when he heard about the failure of his latest plot, the flames of his wrath reducing his opulent tower to rubble and scattering the debris over the surrounding five miles. The only part of the tower to survive the explosion was the Sovereign's underground lab, which had been built in the days before the fall of Yggdrasil and was designed to resist attack from all of the Royal Knights simultaneously. Nearly a hundred of the Sovereign's ForgeTankmon guards had been destroyed in the explosion, and Makuramon once again gave himself a mental pat on the back for having the sense to send a messenger in his place to deliver the bad news to the irritable phoenix.
Hopefully the news I bring today will improve his mood, the monkey thought warily as he strode across the shattered remains of what had once been the Sovereign's audience chamber. Zhuqiaomon himself stood unmoving at the centre of an enormous, black scorch-mark, flames continuing to burn around his clawed feet despite the lack of anything to fuel them.
"My lord, I bring news from your servants in The Forge," the Deva began, waiting for his master to reply.
"How many dead?" Zhuqiaomon asked after several minutes of silence.
"Ninety-six ForgeTankmon, plus the Goblimon messenger," Makuramon reported hesitantly.
"How long until their replacements are ready?"
"That is what I came to tell you," the monkey answered, continuing when he was fixed with an irritated glare. "The new foreman, SkullGreymon, reports that he has achieved a breakthrough on Project Gilead."
"Gilead?" the Sovereign exclaimed with a shocked look. "But that project was a failure! Research was abandoned years ago, before the fall of the Royal Knights!"
"SkullGreymon was searching through the old database and found the details of our research, Great One. He managed to correct a few errors and put the project back on track," Makuramon explained. "He's remarkably efficient."
"Indeed…" Zhuqiaomon muttered and stared at the ground thoughtfully before launching into a bout of maniacal laughter. "Oh, this is MARVELLOUS! Tell me, how long will it be until everything is ready?"
"Taking into account the time needed to replenish the Genesis Guard, it will take approximately three months, oh Sacred One. The plan will commence as soon as you give the order."
"Then it is given! Tell SkullGreymon I want Gilead completed within two months, or I'll have his head mounted on my wall," the colossal phoenix cackled. "And get me some slaves, I need a new tower!"
Soon…soon I shall have my vengeance, Zhuqiaomon promised himself as he felt his rage settling down, leaving him with a clear head for the first time in a week. I am not so arrogant as to be unable to learn from my mistakes. Gambling so much on the success of HiOrochimon was a mistake, and I intend to rectify it. What's that old human phrase? Something about eggs and baskets…