A slight breeze shook the iron-barred gates and fencing as CuSithmon soared clean over it and into the front car park of the power plant.
Dismounting, her wary, slightly shaken up passengers stretched and adjusted to being back on firm ground again.
"That will take some getting used to." Amy commented, as she and Joey both surveyed the empty, silent building ahead. "Now we're here, how do you propose we get in?"
"Raijumon said that he'd been blocked in, and that a... former colleague of his, who has done this, is showing signs of being infected. We'll need to break in, and work quickly." Joey replied, before noticing Manimon fidgeting uncomfortably.
"I have a bad feeling about this, Joe... I mean, I saw the Agents during the evening gearing up, so they must have done some last minute training and prep for this situation, right? Why not leave it to them?" Manimon asked, wringing his paws anxiously. What Tarockmon had told him previously was still at the forefront of his mind, and regardless of whatever was 'meant' to happen, Manimon would prefer nothing happen at all - whether it was integral to the future or not.
"That won't do. Raijumon has placed his trust in us, and for good reason... the Agents will separate him from Monica. As much as I think Monica would benefit from a secure, human home... I can't just let that happen. They have a history and I don't think there'd be anyone that would truly understand what she's gone through, or how to help her, better than him." Joey sighed, rubbing his arm. "I can't do that to a young child. She needs him."
Manimon felt like he was going to break down crying any moment. Every second felt like time was running out for someone in their group. And he had a strong feeling it would be one of the human partners.
He looked up at CuSithmon. She looked stoic, but set in her confidence. She would be giving it her all, even if their success rates hadn't been perfect, she was starting to believe more in herself and her abilities, as was Amy. He wondered if they would still be confident after tonight's mystery event, where someone would inevitably have a meeting with destiny.
"Whatever happens inside, we press on. It seems like we're going to be on a time limit, then. Against an infected digimon, and the Agents arrival, whenever that will be." Amy started off towards the entrance, before turning to CuSithmon, "Do you think you have enough energy to last for a battle?"
"Of course. The run here pumped me up more than it wore me out. I'll be fine." The big dog turned her head to peer at Joey and Manimon, her thick mane billowing like silk in the soft breeze that seemed to accompany her everywhere, "If you two gentlemen would be so kind as to bust open those doors? I have a feeling even these ones are sealed."
Joey nodded and initiated Manimon's digivolution. In the next minute, he was Dvergamon, and ready or not, now was the time they were due to enter and face their fate. Biting his lip, he gingerly approached the door and revved up his drills, before smashing through the doors.
He had no further time to brace himself as CuSithmon lunged forwards, driving them both on ahead, their tamers following closely behind.
The sound of crumbling stone and concrete, the loudness of Dvergamon's whirring drills and the sounds of voices and footsteps combined ensured Teslamon heard the intruders coming.
Had his mind not been slowly deteriorating, he may have regretted not disposing of Raijumon for his inevitable betrayal. All he remembered now was his immense hatred of Monica; it was all the fault of the little whelp Raijumon had tailing him so closely she'd need to have been pried apart from him. But he'd needed Raijumon to help, though all of that had fast been pushed out of mind as the infection had taken it's hold.
Raijumon, Elecmon and Monica were poised at the top of the catwalk, preparing to come down the grated stairs to make a break for it, and Teslamon knew he refused to go down without taking them - specifically, Monica - down with him.
As well as the infection, rage and fury were fast clouding his mind however, and it drove him to rashly lunge forward, right for the catwalk. Monica cried out and clung to Raijumon, as he threw his arms around her protectively... but just as the great snake went to destroy the platform, CuSithmon had thrown herself at Teslamon, knocking him flat on his long, serpentine belly, her wind sword against his throat.
Raijumon took the opportunity to make down the stairs, Monica clinging to his back, with Elecmon at his side. He made straight for Amy and Joey, too relieved that he forgot his usual gruff, aloofness.
"Yggdrasil be damned, that was too close for comfort!" Elecmon wheezed, where his stubbier legs had him needing to run at double-speed just to keep up with the more lithe Raijumon.
"And not a moment too soon. He's completely lost his mind... I don't know what will happen to him next, but I want Monica as far away from here as possible." Raijumon growled insistently, looking anxious and impatient. He felt useless, where he was unable to digivolve and help hold Teslamon off. Had he been able to digivolve from the start, he may have been able to avoid putting Monica at risk in the first place, though right now he was too focused on the present to feel guilty.
CuSithmon raised her head, the wind sword's hilt gripped between her teeth, as she prepared to drive the blade down through the back of the snake's neck, and that would have been the end of him then and there, had he not reacted quickly to his vulnerable position.
CuSithmon didn't see the thick tail lash against the side of her face, knocking the sword clean out of her hold and knocking her off her feet. Teslamon was soon back up, his long body and neck arched, his frayed hood displayed wide, and the metallic ring that always floated above his head like an angel's halo crackling with electricity.
Hissing, he shot passed her and made for the crowd of humans and rookie digimon laying unguarded, and as the entire body of the group hurriedly scattered to avoid him, Dvergamon was on him next.
"Quickly, get Monica out of here!" Joey yelled over the sounds of the clashing champions, where he and everyone bar Amy had managed to get back towards the hole that had been their way into the room.
Raijumon had little time to thank Joey as he, Monica and Elecmon were urged through.
As the fleeing three began their escape, Raijumon faltered once the exit was in sight. Moonlight flooded in through the smashed open doors, Elecmon and Monica silhouetted against the outside world.
"Raijumon, come on, mate! We're free!" Elecmon urged, on turning and seeing Raijumon holding back. His heart sank as he knew what was surely coming.
"Teslamon is dangerous. Even with those digimon protecting them, his attacks could still easily find the humans and kill them." Raijumon murmured, looking back over his shoulder anxiously, back to where the sounds of fighting echoed through the empty complex, "Get Monica out of here, Elecmon. I need to cover the humans... I need to repay them for helping me get her out of there."
Monica's eyes widened in confusion on seeing that her beloved 'father' wasn't coming with them. Elecmon blocked her from running to him by standing in front of her.
The raiju digimon approached and wrapped his arms around the small girl, holding her tighter than he'd ever done before. He felt her fingers curl and cling to the thick ruff of fur around his neck, fearful and desperate.
"Be a good girl, Monica, and stay with Elecmon. I promise I'll be back soon." He reassured them, his voice softened from Monica's worry.
With that, he reluctantly let go of her, her small hands still lingeringly holding his mane as he slipped away from her like sand. All she could do was stare on helplessly as Raijumon ran back towards the dreadful snake, the monster that so terrified her, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
The metallic ring floating above Teslamon's head loosed off bolts of lightning, the loud crash of electricity striking Dvergamon's metal drills, which drew in the snake's attack like a lightning rod. The giant rabbit's scream was barely audible over the sound of the charges, and once the attack finished, Manimon was left laying, his body charred and smoking, where Dvergamon had previously been.
CuSithmon swung her blade, sending out a whirling hurricane of biting winds that slashed and tore Teslamon's skin open up and down his back, and slicing holes in his patterned hood. Hissing, and without turning, his electrified halo struck her, forcing her back as she did everything to resist against it, which left Joey pinned into a corner with no means to escape.
Joey felt a painful static shock as he grabbed Manimon, holding him to his chest as he backed off, but as Teslamon focused his attention back on him, he realized there was no way he would be able to outrun the lightning Teslamon wielded.
"CuSithmon, you have to stop him!" Amy urged, her voice almost shrill with panic and frustration. She, too, was unable to rush to her friend's aid, forced to take shelter behind her digimon, the constant barrage of shocks administered by her opponent constantly forcing the white dog back bit by bit, and increasing the distance between them.
All CuSithmon could do was snarl in response through her clenched teeth, the wind aura around her beginning to die down. Her sword dissolved away, where she was now forced to purely focus on defending herself and Amy. Her head bowed, she took the constant lightning strikes head-on, her body smoking and her head white-hot to the touch, she dare not tell Amy she was near-blind from the pain.
Teslamon loosed off more sparks as he prepared to strike down Joey next. The charge would kill him in a single blast, and take Manimon down with him, and there was nothing Amy or CuSithmon could do to get past the stream of electricity firing at them.
Teslamon's slitted eyes burned with cold flame, and Joey felt like he was staring into the very eyes of madness. The snake's wild-eyed glare fixed down on he and Manimon, and he braced himself for the worst. Everything overhead grew bright as the halo's electricity roared towards him, threatening to swallow them up.
But the electricity never reached Joey. A gold-coloured blur leapt in front of him, and drew Teslamon's attack to himself; it was so sudden that Joey barely had time to register that Raijumon had taken the entire charge, and saved his life.
Raijumon yelped like a wounded dog, and collapsed onto all fours, his fur standing on end from the strike, and crackling all over with electricity. Teslamon's charge had done a number on him, where he had willingly absorbed the entire attack into himself, but due to sharing an element, he took the hit better than Manimon had.
"Get out of the way... hurry... go!" Raijumon snapped, urging the blonde man to move. Joey quickly found his feet and rushed to get out of the corner, hurrying towards the hole in the wall.
"Amy, I need to see to Manimon, he can't fight like this!" Joey yelled, "You need to get out of there, too! CuSithmon can barely stand any more!"
"Don't be absurd! We'll never get away in time!" Amy refused to back down; she knew that to turn and run would give Teslamon an opening, and she dare not risk that happening. He could easily pursue and outrun them, even if they got a head start through the tunnelling Dvergamon had done.
Amy's frustration made her deaf to Joey's yells, and she kept urging and pushing CuSithmon to fight. The big dog's eyes were glazed and unfocused... she could see nothing but whiteness, now. The strikes had damaged her sight, and it took everything she had to hold it together and not panic in front of her tamer.
CuSithmon's body burned with the green-blue mystical fire, and she aimed, projecting the flames off of herself towards where she could smell Teslamon coiled up like a spring ready to strike. She missed the mark completely, and Teslamon was on her before she even knew what was happening.
"CuSithmon!" Amy yelled, watching helplessly as Teslamon flipped the white dog onto her back, pinning her down by her throat. His fangs pierced the soft flesh of her throat, and he administered more torturous jolts, the shocks coursing up and down her body, through her veins. The only sounds that escaped her gaping mouth were sharp, agonized and breathless gasps of pain.
Raijumon went shooting into the side of Teslamon's head like an electrically charged cannonball, the sudden hit cancelling Teslamon's attack on CuSithmon, and causing him to release her throat from his fangs.
Raijumon landed on the other side of Teslamon, his sharp eyes sizing up his former colleague. Whilst there was no love lost between the pair, the raiju digimon did not find fighting his past ally easy. This wasn't even the same digimon anymore.
The infection had drawn out all the hatred, anger and fear that had boiled away inside him, until it had consumed everything Teslamon had been; now he was an empty shell, a puppet to the virus that warped and destroyed his brain.
"I'll put you out of your misery, you old bastard." Raijumon breathed, through clenched teeth. He'd known, sooner or later, he and Teslamon would have fought.
Behind him, he could hear Joey's voice yell out, catching him off guard. As he turned, he could see Monica stumble out from the hole. The gold-furred digimon's eyes widened in surprise and horror.
"Daddy!" She cried, calling for him. She'd seen the fighting, wide-eyed and fearful, and wanted it to stop. She wanted to get him away from the snake.
"Monica, get out of here!" He yelled, his back now turned to his foe. He'd lost himself in his alarm, and that had given Teslamon a window of opportunity to strike him down; and he took the chance eagerly.
Monica's ears filled with the roar of agony that tore itself from Raijumon's throat, her eyes fixed on the great snake absolutely thrashing the raiju's weaker body with his thick tail. Raijumon's body began to flicker, an aura of faint static barely visible in his unconsciousness.
"D-Daddy!" Monica cried, her eyes filling with tears. She wanted to run to his side, to hold onto him tight. The flickering and static, and the faint streams of data confused and frightened her, where she didn't understand digimon mortality.
Raijumon was barely conscious. He could just make her out, across from him, but she seemed so far away. He tried painfully, with the last of his strength reserves, to crawl to her, to be by her side, if that's what it would take to get her to leave to safety.
He didn't get far when Teslamon's tail came crashing down on top of his weakened body, crushing him into the floor. When the snake's tail lifted, Raijumon wasn't moving at all. His tail had already faded half way, and now so too were his legs beginning to fade.
He was dying, fading away right before Monica's eyes.
Her scream was the only sound that happened, where everyone else was too shocked to react, the sound causing a lull in Teslamon's action, as he stared directly at Monica, his mind struggling to catch up with itself, but still remembering her as the being he so wanted destroyed.
But she didn't run away. She stumbled forward, before breaking out into a staggering run, her vision blurred from tears, running straight for Raijumon.
Teslamon raised himself up to strike, a shrieking hiss escaping from his rasping throat, before he felt teeth biting down into the base of his tail. CuSithmon had managed to roll onto her side, and had, with the last of her own strength, clamped her jaws tightly into the snake, one of her paws pressing down with her claws digging in, desperately trying to hold her foe off from attacking Monica, with Amy doing her best to support her digimon in this endeavor.
Raijumon's eyes opened, just barely enough to see Monica coming from him. He thought, running beside her, he could make out a second figure, hazy, faint, but distinct. His eyes watered slightly as he stared in disbelief.
Thanks to the immense shock and the need to look again, it was then that he could see light radiating from Monica's pocket, where she had been holding on to her mother's dead D-Drive. But as the D-Drive had come back to life, so could Raijumon feel himself coming back from the cold, dark edge he felt he had been moments from passing over.
Teslamon broke free of CuSithmon's hold, knocking her back, before taking the chance to launch himself towards Monica's tiny, frail form, which triggered the glowing digivice she now held, shielding herself with her arms in fear.
"Raijumon, look out!" Amy cried, before the wailing of Hannah's D-Drive cut her off.
In a burst of light, which seemed to engulf and swallow up the room, Raijumon's form grew and expanded. He was digivolving.
"Raijumon, digivolve to..."
His golden coat turned to pure white, with gold lightning bolt-like jagged stripes marking his body. Tiger-like gloves formed over his large paws, black with gold stripes, which had his claws exposed, fit for mauling and tearing. The whiskers on his face grew long, almost the length of his body, coiling and sparking like live wires.
His tail grew long and whip-like, with jagged striping near the tip. A tiger-pelt sash seemed to float freely about his neck and arch over his shoulders, matching his new gloves in colour, with three large gold rings decorating the sash.
A howl ripped from the newly evolved champion's throat, as the now-giant raiju digimon soared clean over Teslamon, landing down in front of Monica, his body shielding hers.
"Da... Daddy...?" Monica whispered, staring up at the giant white and gold figure towering over her. Such a thing, in all her life, had never happened.
"I made a promise to your mom... I'd always take care of you." Denkoumon nuzzled his snout against Monica's face lovingly, "Nothing will get in the way of that promise."
Hannah must have enabled this. She's watching over us. He thought, slipping his eyes closed briefly. The loud, enraged hissing from Teslamon had him look up, and lock eyes with his deranged enemy.
Teslamon's eyes had clouded over completely black, with tar-like liquid dripping down the sides of his face. The virus and his wrath had completely eaten him alive inside, and the digimon he'd used to be was completely gone.
Denkoumon opened his mouth and fired off a jagged javelin made of pure electricity, which pierced through Teslamon's underbelly and burst through his back, spraying blackened data everywhere. The wound began to slowly close up; this strain of virus was being extremely aggressive.
CuSithmon had regained her footing, though was still unable to see, where she was blinded. The repugnant stench of decay emanating from Teslamon is the only thing that helped her hone her attacks. Razor winds slashed and tore at Teslamon's body, and like before, the wounds were slowly closing back up.
"This is no good. He keeps regenerating, and the Agents will be here any time now!" Amy called out, having to yell over the fighting digimon. She was carefully making her way to Monica, and Denkoumon nodded gratefully at the blonde hurrying Monica to cover behind the generator.
"Amy, try to get Monica over here! As soon as you're both out, we'll all make a run for it!" Joey yelled, where he and Elecmon had been forced to spectate from the sidelines helplessly. Even with Denkoumon's power, Teslamon's determination and drive to kill seemed to fuel the virus plaguing him to increase his own power immensely. Joey was worried; the more he saw of infected digimon, and the strange properties of the virus, the more fearful he felt of it.
It seemed it fed off of everything a digimon was. Their minds, emotions... everything.
"Jupiter Spear!" Denkoumon fired off another attack, as Teslamon unleashed another beam of electricity from his metallic halo. The powerful bursts of electrical energy clashed and gathered, swelling immensely as the lightning ravaged the entire room.
The energy struck the generator, which whirred to life until it threatened to overload and explode, the small rift that Teslamon had been vainly trying to open now tearing apart and distorting the entire corner the generator was situated in.
Amy screamed as she felt the inescapable pull of the rift forcing her and Monica both towards it, trapped in it's iron grip. No matter how hard she dug her feet into the ground, it pulled irresistibly, and there was no escape from the swirling, glistening vortex of light. Joey was yelling at her helplessly from afar, rooted to the spot in fear, with the distance being too great between them for him to have even gotten far enough to help.
"Amy!" CuSithmon howled, turning towards the rift. Although she couldn't see what was happening, she could feel it; the surging energy, the swirling data, the call of another world beyond the rift.
"Monica!" Denkoumon roared. Both he and CuSithmon were forced to abandon their fight with the infected Teslamon as the rift swallowed their partners whole. Without any hesitation, both champion digimon went dashing for the rift, allowing themselves to be swallowed up, too.
Joey and Elecmon could only stare in shock and horror as this happened, too lost in their terror to realize that they had now been left alone with an infected, powerful, and very hostile snake.
Amy stirred slightly at the sound of wind chimes sounding gently in a soft breeze.
As she opened her eyes, it took a little while for her to realize it wasn't a dream, nor had she remembered going to sleep in a forest of some kind; and then it came flooding back, and had her sitting up with a jolt.
They were no longer in the plant's generator room... the rift had pulled them to somewhere else. And she had a feeling she knew where she was, though in the vaguest terms.
The digital world's sky showed that it was evening, whereas in the real world, it had been coming close to dawn. The entire forest of dead, burnt-out trees were bathed in orange hues from the setting sun, the ash-coloured grasses rustling slightly in the breeze.
Every tree around her, for as far as she could see, had the distinct japanese shimenawa ropes tightly encircling them, red paper lanterns hanging from the branches containing candles that even the wind could not extinguish.
The wind chimes sounds, she discovered, were being made by small bell-shaped flowers, which tinkled lightly every time the breeze shook them. Some kind of imprint, like a computer's motherboard, was embedded in the sky, and also the very ground beneath her. Small lights sometimes flickered in the tree bark, which, when observed up close, had texturing akin to circuitry.
The tranquil atmosphere, and the shock of being in an alien setting was the only thing preventing her from panicking.
She also suddenly felt how heavy her body felt, as though she'd had an out-of-body experience and her soul had been shoved forcibly back into her body. Peering down, she could see Monica fast asleep beside her.
And then came Joey... worry began to set in as she wondered if he'd gotten out alright. It was just him, Manimon and Elecmon against Teslamon, and with Manimon out for the count, he had no means to defend himself...
When she looked around again, she was startled out of her thoughts and almost fell backwards in fright; a strange young man, his face shrouded by his cloak, was crouching beside her.
The young man's eyes were obscured, but from the way he smirked playfully over Amy's surprise, he seemed harmless. Amy felt her cheeks flush all the same over her startling, which had in turn woken up Monica. The younger girl hid slightly from nervousness behind Amy's arm, peering out shyly at the cloaked newcomer.
"No need to be alarmed," the stranger spoke, his voice breaking the quiet stillness of the dead forest around them, "You're in a safe place. If you come with me, I can get you something to eat and drink."
As Amy got to her feet and helped Monica up, she became acutely aware she'd forgotten about the digimon, both of whom were absent. The stranger seemed to anticipate this, as he added, "Your digimon are both safe. They're up at the shrine. Come along!"
As they followed the stranger up a progressively forming slope towards a giant tree growing up on a distant hill, Amy felt the need to try getting information from the strange man who was escorting them to goodness-knows-where.
"So, this is the digital world?" She inquired, wanting at least this part confirmed.
"Correct." Was the response he gave, in a matter-of-fact tone.
"You're human?" She asked, feeling stupid for asking, but also oddly doubtful. She knew nothing about the digital world, but she felt humans were definitely not native beings here, and yet from the way he dressed, and how familiar he was with things...
"Maybe." He replied. Even with his back to her, she had the distinct impression he was smirking. She wasn't sure whether to feel frustrated, or just sigh... she got the feeling in regards to himself, he would be keeping tight lipped. She persisted anyway, however.
"Do you have a name?" She asked, fiddling with the hem of her t-shirt. Monica was keeping good step beside her the whole time, her hands clasped together in silence.
"You can just call me 'Sage'. That's what I am. One of Yggdrasil's Sages." the Sage replied, peering over his shoulder at her. Long strands of dark hair slipped out from under the hood, which he didn't bother to brush back, though his eyes remained hidden from view. He'd definitely piqued Amy's interest, though.
Before she could ask any more questions, he spoke first, finally bestowing a bit more explanation on her.
"The tree we're going to is a Holy Tree. It's the only safe place in this area... you guys happened to land bordering a quarantined zone, you're lucky that no digimon come near here normally." He explained, as they crested the first half of the hill.
"Quarantined zone?" Amy questioned, before the Sage stopped and pointed back past the way they had just come.
Turning, they could now see a charred, blackened landscape not far off in the distance. Smoke and fumes rose ominously up, as far as the eye could see, causing thick black clouds to hang in the sky. A visible energy field surrounded the decayed-looking area, rippling like blood-red, oily water.
Amy felt Monica reach for her hand and squeeze onto it tightly from nervousness and fear. Amy found herself squeezing back on the small hand gently and protectively, and thanked whatever gods that existed here that they had landed in a safe area.
Turning back on track, the Holy Tree's leafy boughs shimmered as though coated in a fine layer of dew, and depending on where the light hit, gave a burst of pastel colours, as though a rainbow would form over it at any second.
There were small stones strewn about, as the dirt path gradually was replaced with a cracked stone brick path. Weeds and small flowers poked through gaps in the paving, and they began to climb up steps which seemed old and worn.
The steeper they climbed, the more the surrounding trees looked healthier, and the more leaves were on them. The grass grew greener, and the air felt sweeter, and Amy felt positive this was thanks to the Holy Tree.
The tree itself was surrounded by a small japanese-style shrine, black tiled roofing with red and white outer walls. The shoji sliding doors were pulled open, showing inside the hexagon shaped building that encircled the Holy Tree. Inside, resting on one of the tatami mat flooring, they could see Raijumon curled up and dozing, but otherwise awake, and he immediately sat up on seeing everyone arrive.
"Daddy!" Monica cried out, rushing into his arms. Amy watched her bury her face into Raijumon's mane, and sigh deeply.
"I'll get you and the younger one something to eat and drink. You're going to need it in order to get out of here." The Sage spoke, watching the little display with a chuckle. Amy said nothing, where she was anxious to find Laelapmon.
After the Sage wandered off to an adjoining room, Raijumon looked over and noticed Amy. Patting Monica's head gently, he whispered something to her before approaching. Monica obediently sat down and allowed Raijumon to talk with Amy alone.
"Do you know where Laelapmon is?" She asked, unable to keep the worry out of her voice, "Why isn't she here? I would have thought she would have been waiting for me..."
"About that..." Raijumon began. He felt unable to look Amy in the eyes; whilst he didn't know her, he felt partially responsible for what she would shortly discover, "She wanted to be on her own... I haven't let on that I know, I didn't want to upset her, but..."
"But...?" Amy felt her stomach twisting into knots. She had a strong feeling that there was something very wrong, and tried to brace herself and keep calm.
Raijumon turned and nodded his head towards a small door through the next room that lid outside, his voice quiet and serious, "She's out there. She asked the Sage to bring her to a quiet place where she could be alone."
Amy clutched a hand over her heart. She felt afraid, for reasons she couldn't explain, and Raijumon's reluctance to spit out what was wrong wasn't helping. She prepared for the worst as she headed towards the door, the evening sun still shining deep red rays into the spacious rooms.
Standing in the doorway, she found herself looking out over a beautiful oriental moss garden, with a pond in the center full of strange, exotic fish. Laelapmon was laying on the ground overlooking the pond, her chin resting on her paws. She looked distant and morose, staring off into space. Amy noted that something seemed off with her, and not just her mood; her eyes seemed unfocused and slightly paler than before.
Laelapmon lifted her head, her ears perking slightly at the sound of her tamer's voice, before lowering her head back down. Amy felt a sharp stabbing pain in her chest; Laelapmon was usually so eager to come over to her, and now...
The blonde nervously stepped over and took a seat beside the small dog digimon. Putting her arm around Laelapmon's smaller self, she pulled her up into her lap and wrapped her arms around her in a firm embrace. Laelapmon rested her chin despondently on her human's shoulder, her eyes slipping closed.
"Laelapmon... I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault... you were worried about Joey." Laelapmon sighed, her unseeing eyes slipping closed. She could feel Amy shudder, her breathing coming out shaky and strained. "Manimon was out for the count... It felt like it was resting on me to get the job done..."
"But your eyes..." Amy pulled back, lifting Laelapmon's chin so their eyes met. Although Laelapmon couldn't see Amy, her partner faced her guilt and stared into the pale aquamarine eyes of her digimon remorsefully. "I'm so sorry..."
Amy rested her forehead against Laelapmon's, and the small white dog knew from the wet droplets dampening her face that Amy was crying. The shock of getting pulled into another world, wondering if Joey had escaped, and then to discover the damage that had been done had finally been too much for her, and she broke down.
Raijumon paced back and forth near the door. Monica was sleeping soundly, still feeling slightly sickened herself. Getting away from Teslamon had helped immensely, and the girl had adjusted to being in the digital world much faster than Amy and Laelapmon had.
Speaking of the other two, Raijumon constantly finding himself peering out into the garden at them. Amy had calmed down now, but both she and Laelapmon were lost in such morose moods. The raiju's honour had him feel indebted to them for their help, and he felt useless and frustrated, idling away.
His ears perked as he heard the Sage approaching from behind, and looked around.
"Dinner's ready. I'm guessing the girls are still out in the garden?" the Sage enquired, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
As the strange human went to walk past, Raijumon found him blocking him off hurriedly.
"Can nothing be done for them?" He asked, inwardly knowing the Sage knew more than he was letting on despite having politely kept quiet on it, "They got my girl out of a dangerous situation. And now they're paying the price for my... inadequacy..."
"Don't worry about that right now, friend. Just go and get yourself something to eat, and let me deal with Laelapmon, alright?"
Raijumon bowed his head, hesitating on leaving, his front paws padding back and forth on the floor before taking his leave. As he reached the door to where a small dining area had been set up, he glanced back once more, before heading through.
"Well then, seems you two have hit a bit of a snag." the Sage voiced, standing on the wooden decking leading out into the garden area. Both Amy and Laelapmon started out of their thoughts and looked up in surprise. "Mind if I have a look, there?"
Amy was unsure of what to say, and before she could think of a response, the Sage was kneeling by her side, lifting Laelapmon's chin to gaze into the little dog's eyes. His own face was still covered, and so it was impossible for Amy to tell his expression.
After an agonizing silence, he spoke.
"You're fortunate that you came here. The Holy Tree has healing properties... we bring many injured digimon here for them to recover their wounds, corrupt data... everything bar the virus infection can be restored." he explained, this knowledge making Amy's heart pound from hope and anticipation, "Her eyes are badly damaged... it will take a few days, but she should get her sight back."
Both Amy and Laelapmon were overcome with relief on the good news. However, the Sage was quick to add; "Make sure she rests a lot. I'll make up some medicine she can take once a day, for a week or so. It will repair the damage done to her eyes... until then you'll probably need to stick together with Raijumon. But even then... it may not be enough... the road to the exit will be difficult with your partner in that state."
Amy's mood fell on hearing that, as did Laelapmon's. They knew it wouldn't have been a walk in the park, but to know that even Raijumon would not be enough to get them through was a crushing blow.
"In any case, come inside and have something to eat. I'll tell you how to get home, and the help I've arranged to meet you over dinner."
And with that, the Sage led a slightly crestfallen Amy and Laelapmon back inside.
Dinner consisted of a vegetable and noodle soup, bread, and fresh spring water from the well located on-site. It wasn't much, but it was otherwise very filling, and everyone present ate without complaint. The only one not eating was the Sage.
"It will take a few days travelling, but to the north of here, there's an Antenna Tree out over the Data Plains." the Sage spoke, whilst everyone else continued to eat, listening intently, "You'll need to get there to get home. It's the only way to contact the Operator, and he in turn is the only way to get you back to the real world. The guide I've arranged to take you part of the way will help keep you on the right track."
"The Operator?" Amy asked, reaching to clean Laelapmon's ear after she'd accidentally dunked it into her noodles.
"He's the entity that maintains certain things here in the digital world. His main area of expertise is keeping watch over data-attribute digimon, and currently maintaining all links in and out of the digital world." He explained, the others focusing on him in curiosity as he continued,
"And currently he alone manages the D-Drive functions. That's why he chose the name 'Operator', because most of his work revolves around the connections between D-Drives... which wouldn't be too severe on him, had Arch Angel not mass-produced their own ones."
Raijumon felt the need to interrupt, then, which turned the topic from off of the Operator onto the subject of Arch Angel and the D-Drives.
"The D-Drives from Arch Angel are fake. Why do they cause him so much trouble if they're not legitimate by the blessing of Yggdrasil?" Raijumon asked, narrowing his eyes. Like most digimon native to the digital world, he was not fond of Arch Angel.
"Oh... but they're not fake. I can assure you, the Arch Angel D-Drives are very real and authentic; 100% digital world D-Drives." the Sage smirked, as Raijumon shot him both a confused and infuriated look, "Just mass produced beyond what would normally be needed."
"How can that possibly be?" Raijumon snapped, standing up in his seat, "They're man-made, are they not? They can't be true D-Drives. Arch Angel are the enemy! D-Drives are reserved for those chosen by the will of the digital world!"
Amy, who hadn't known much about the origin of D-Drives, was both lost in this conversation, intrigued, and feeling slightly scared at the debate going on between the raiju digimon and the mysterious robed young man.
"I never got to find out how they're doing it, but they're somehow making authentic, completely legitimate D-Drives. That's something I was investigating before I came here." He responded, cool and calm in the face of Raijumon's ire, "Actually, Amy, there's something you need to do when you go back to Japan."
"E-Eh? What is it?" She asked, startled slightly at suddenly being addressed, as she got the feeling some responsibility would be placed onto her shoulders.
"There's something a colleague of mine was researching at Arch Angel. Something important. I can imprint the access codes to his old research files, and give them to you to pass on to Joey. He'll get more use out of it than anyone else, I believe." The Sage explained, before getting up out of his seat, "if I may, I'll put them onto your D-Drive. I'll have this back to you come the morning."
Amy hesitantly passed her D-Drive across the table to the hooded figure, watching him interestedly. Although she'd known him only a very short while, she knew that he was all for mystery and suspense, and he certainly delivered that.
"What was he researching?" She asked, brimming with curiosity and intrigue.
"He believes he may not only have found out what ruined the world in 2012, but what may come to destroy everything as you know it in the near future."
Amy, Raijumon and Laelapmon found it near impossible to sleep after taking in the bombshell dropped by the Sage at dinner.
"I don't like it. Not one bit. I'm taking Monica and we're going our separate ways after we get back to the real world." Raijumon murmured quietly, keeping his voice low where Monica was fast asleep beside him; she'd been the only one to get to sleep easily, where most of the discussion had been a bit too complex for someone her age.
"Oh sure, go ahead and play ignorant, but no amount of pretense or ignorance or running will save you or her in the end if those research files are any merit." Laelapmon snapped back in frustration; she still felt that Raijumon could have been a bit more co-operative, considering the state of her eyes.
Raijumon sensed her aggression and toned it down, though Amy could tell he was obviously worried about his daughter and was trying to get her as removed from dangerous situations as possible.
"It really would help, having you around. That would bring our team up to five... that's more people to help look after you and Monica." Amy suggested, her hands clasped against her chest as she turned from staring up at the ceiling to face the gold-furred digimon in the futon beside hers, "You and Monica are always welcome to stay in the second bedroom in my apartment. It's warm, clean and safe, I promise."
"I don't need anyone's 'help' to take care of Monica." He started off, before a low snarl from Laelapmon cut him off.
"...Which is why you didn't need us to come and help bail you out against that snake, right?"
"You got over-turned by the snake. Had we not been pulled into the digital world, I could've beaten him myself. If you recall, I digivolved."
"...After almost getting killed, and putting your daughter through panic. I don't need sight to know she was terrified; I could sense it."
"Are you suggesting I did that on purpose?! That I enjoyed her suffering?!"
Amy had to sit up in a flash as Laelapmon and Raijumon almost went for each other. Laelapmon had been irritated due to her vision problems, and the bitter medicine she had to take often left her in a sour mood. Raijumon's pride was grating on her, too.
"Listen, Raijumon... I think you're mixing up help as taking away your responsibility... and that really isn't so." Amy said, doing her best to soothe both digimon's tempers by gingerly stroking their heads. Raijumon ducked his head to avoid her hand, looking as defiant as ever.
"And you can speak from experience, can you?" He snapped, laying back down and closing his eyes, letting out an indignant snort.
"Maybe not as harsh as you've experienced, but I can definitely identify with Monica." She replied, a lot more firmly, still watching him. "My father raised me on his own, too. He faced similar challenges as you. You're both quite alike, especially when he was younger."
Raijumon opened his eyes at this, turning to, for once, look at Amy as she spoke.
"I was 12 when it happened. My parents had been on an expedition in the Amazons, way out in the heart of the rainforest. It was just them, and a very small team... around five in total. Despite vaccinations, my mother got very sick. My dad thinks she may have been bitten by a venomous snake... nobody realized until it was too late. They never made it back to civilization in time, and she died in hours." Amy began, wringing her futon cover in her hands, staring up at the ceiling. This was a story she hadn't even shared with Laelapmon yet.
"My dad was heartbroken, and distraught. It put him off of travelling, and researching the jungle. When he came home and told me the news, I couldn't process it. I couldn't accept it, and it was clear he couldn't accept it either. He felt responsible. He felt guilty. It wasn't long before he picked up smoking and drinking again, habits he'd quit before I was born but had flared up again because he couldn't cope.
He struggled with work and wound up quitting, trying to focus on me. I guess he felt his time with mom had been fleeting, because now he tried devoting his time to me. But it was hard on him... draining. He stopped seeing friends, or having any kind of life at all. He fell into depression, and shut us both away from the outside.
Had it not been for his friends, like Joey's grandfather, Garrick, and my dear friend Hiro and his family, as well as our relatives... I think my father would have continued to shut himself off and gotten worse and worse in his habits. His protectiveness over me, and from shutting us both away, meant I had few friends. There was really only Joey... he'd pulled me out of school, so he could do everything he felt he should do, or do the things mom would have done.
I guess I got off to a poor start in life... I couldn't socialize well - I still can't, if I'm honest - very doubtful of myself, where I never got to push myself or challenge myself, where he was afraid I'd get hurt. I only started to really live properly when we got our lives back on track.
I guess, what I'm saying is... don't be like how we were. Don't pile everything on yourself. You will always have your responsibility, but don't turn down the opportunities for something better. My dad did for so long, and I feel in some ways, we're both still paying for it now... once experiences have molded someone, it can be impossible for them to change, sometimes."
Raijumon lay in silence, still looking up at Amy's face with eyes that were shining ever so slightly. In a lot of ways, he felt he could identify with her and her father those sorts of struggles... being more protective of Monica, taking on too much responsibility... it gave him a lot to think on, and Amy could tell he'd probably sleep on it.
"Regardless, whatever you decide to do when we get back to the real world, the offer still stands, and me and Joey's doors are welcome to you." She concluded, patting one of his soft, thin ears. Surprisingly, he did not growl or move away as he usually did, but allowed her to continue her action.
"You won't... interfere in my responsibility as a parent...?" He asked, quietly, "My... duty, as her father?"
"No. You'll always be her father. I promise you'll have better living arrangements, and without interference." Amy replied, as Laelapmon wriggled under her arm to sleep at her side.
"Then... we'll come to your place. But your place only. I'm still unsure of Joey and that Darren..."
"I'm sure you'll warm up to everyone eventually." She smiled, watching him wrap his arm around Monica, who was using his fluffy mane as a pillow.
"We'll see." was his response, before everyone managed to finally drift off to sleep.
When morning came, Amy had almost completely forgotten where she was. She was not in her single bed, with it's heavy blue blankets, but on a futon on the floor. Where as daylight normally didn't penetrate her room until midday due to the positioning of her bedroom, and her bedroom's blinds, she had woken up with the morning sun that day.
She almost startled when she took in her surroundings, before it came flooding back to her. It hadn't been a dream at all... she really was in the digital world, and last night had really happened.
Raijumon was already awake, sitting by the open shoji doors, looking out over the landscape towards the rising sun. Not too far left, the corrupted, decaying barred-off quarantined zone could be seen, plumes of black smoke and smog spewing up into the atmosphere ominously.
"You're up early, I see." Amy called, walking up to sit beside Raijumon. His cheeks pinkened slightly through his fur as she reached to playfully tweak his ear. "That's very admirable. Any clue when our guide gets here?"
"The Sage left to meet him ahead of time. I don't think he slept at all... he was still up when we bedded down last night, and he was the first one up this morning." Raijumon commented, his tail curling slightly at the tip in thoughtfulness, "I really don't think he's human. He doesn't feel human. He feels nothing like you or other humans have felt like... tell me I'm not the only one that feels like that?"
"No, I definitely feel like he's something else. Maybe something more." Amy replied, glad that she wasn't alone in feeling that their mysterious host did not appear as human as first appearances seemed.
They sat quietly side by side and spoke a bit, going over the events from last night again, as the sun continued to crawl up over the horizon, spilling rays of yellow across a cloudy sky. Eventually, Laelapmon came crawling out from under the covers to sit with Amy (after accidentally bumping into her back), followed by Monica.
Amy felt only a fraction more hopeful now that she had a clearer idea of what she was going to do. She decided that as well as making sure Joey received his files, she would definitely keep more in touch with the Resistance and keep them up to date, especially on whatever Joey could dig up.
She hoped - prayed - he, Manimon and Elecmon were somewhere safe. Reflecting on things, aside from Laelapmon's sight, they had gotten off lightly. She couldn't even guess whether or not he'd gotten out in one piece... even if the Agents found him, hopefully he wouldn't be punished too severely, but it would be better than coming back and discovering he'd gone missing, or worse, been found dead at the plant.
She tried her best not to think about it. It didn't take long before Laelapmon provided that distraction.
"Laelapmon? What's wrong?"
Laelapmon was suddenly up on her feet, almost bursting with excitement. Whilst her face usually keep an expression of dignified reservation, her wagging tail and perked ears betrayed her true emotions.
Before Amy could stop her, Laelapmon went tearing off down the pathway, with Amy, Raijumon and Monica hot on her heels.
"I-It's him! It's him!" The little dog barked, rushing on and onwards, causing the little bell flowers to chime noisily as she ran passed.
Around a bend, Laelapmon bumped right into two big, heavy black paws. Yapping, she hopped up on her feet, balancing on her hind legs and leaned against Barghestmon's powerful leg.
"Long time no see, Amy, Laelapmon. I've come to take you home."