Episode 22: Zero Hour

The strangled noises coming from StarShokunimon's throat were almost unbearable. The other digimon were torn; to attack Forbidramon would be to catch their friend in the crossfire. Loromon, in Emily's arms, was flapping his wings and squawking, beyond words.
Simon was almost frozen to the spot.

BurningBaghamon was the first to act, though it took perhaps ten seconds, as he was frozen in shock. Andrea jerked herself forward, and BurningBaghamon leapt forward, snarling, at Forbidramon. He didn't even get a chance to call an attack name-- in the blink of an eye, Forbidramon threw up his red hand to deflect the tiger's attack. He effortlessly batted the cat away, but it was a reflexive motion that cost him.

StarShokunimon jerked himself away, all but ripping his way out of Forbidramon's other grip-- even one-handed, it was powerful.

"No," Forbidramon hissed, his pupils contracting, pushing himself onto his hands as well as his feet, an awkward sort of bear-walk.
He rushed at the rabbit, then. StarShokunimon barely had time to push himself to his feet and put his blade up in defense before his foe collided with him, Forbidramon's driving the spikes on the lone spaulder on his right shoulder into the rabbits' abdomen.

"What is your problem?" StarShokunimon huffed, completely winded as he hopped backwards to avoid being bulldozed into the nearest tree.

"Not going to lose," Forbidramon replied as he pushed himself up right, his wings twitching. "Kill each of you one at a time if I have to, I'm not going to lose." He was slumped over, his arms hanging loose like those of a ragdoll.
StarShokunimon took a step back, clutching his sword tight. He grit his teeth, breathing out slow.

"Crap," Simon said low, shaking his head. "This guy's out of his mind."

"What do we..." Toby mumbled, looking around frantically.

None of them -- not Toby, not the combatants, none of the other humans, none of the partners, not even Sanmon, seemed to notice the slow phase-in of a figure, standing in the trees.

Deadlocked in a silent wait for the first to strike, StarShokunimon and Forbidramon stood; each breath was tense, Forbidramon's tattered wings fluttering behind him.
Ospreymon was the first to take a step closer, but the rabbit spoke simply, not even turning his head.


"Let us help you, yeom!" MetalShayumon said, taking a step closer; again, the rabbit said the same.


The other five looked at eachother; what was he doing? Forbidramon could wipe the walls with any of them alone.
"He's Honor," Triassimon said after a moment. That was it-- it was a perfect level versus a perfect level. As far as StarShokunimon cared, it was even, and he wouldn't take part in an unbalanced fight.

"Your partner's nuts, man," Faris said from beside, putting his hands in his pockets. Simon smiled a bit shakily.

The battle began in the blink of an eye-- almost when they were expecting that nothing would happen, he lurched forward.
StarShokunimon immediately kicked hard on the ground, his feet blazing with energy.

"Astral Bolt!"

He crashed back down to earth without hitting his target, as Forbidramon proceeded to leap into the air, his wings not making a noise as they beat the air.
"Idiot," Forbidramon said quietly. "Nightfall!"
In almost a twisted copy of the rabbit's move, Forbidramon threw himself down to the ground, striking out with only one foot. Around him grew a black aura; perhaps surprisingly, he didn't actually aim for StarShokunimon, but instead hit the ground next to the rabbit. The aura burst with an explosive level of force on contact with the ground, sending the rabbit reeling.

"Haven't seen that one before," Ospreymon muttered under the chorus of yells of encouragement that humans and digimon alike were giving. He, and his fellows, were still having to fight every instinct in their bodies to rush forward into the fight.

"You don't think that he's shown you everything he can do," Sanmon said quietly; the humans and digimon alike jumped. They had almost forgotten she was there.

"Screeching Howl!" StarShokunimon countered, opening his mouth wide and releasing an ear-splitting sound; the onlookers covered their ears hastily, except for the ever-stoic Sanmon. Forbidramon actually growled, taking the full brunt of the attack.

It didn't quite register yet in his mind:
This was the first successful attack that any of them had gotten on Forbidramon.
It had quite well registered in Forbidramon's mind, though.

And it became quite obvious that it did, because he snarled deeply.
"I'll kill you," he spat, low and deliberate. "I'll kill you," he repeated, stepping forward.
It became a mantra-- he kept repeating the phrase under his breath, each step deliberate, until...

"Claw Crusher!"
He threw his red hand forward, catching the rabbit around the breadth of his body, and began to -- indeed -- crush him. StarShokunimon, his arms pinned to his sides and the breath being forced out of his body, couldn't move to defend himself.


Faintly, ever so faintly, his body began to gain the glow of data.

The word ripped from Simon's throat; he almost began to rush forward, but he was beat to the punch by five huge bodies rushing past him.

"Seeker Torpedo!"

"Twin Flare!"

"Nimbus Crash!"

"Seagull Dive!"

"Bagha Comet!"

MetalShayumon, Triassimon, and Nimbimon's attacks collided with Forbidramon, followed by both Ospreymon and BurningBaghamon smashing both of their bodies into him.
He had no choice but to let StarShokunimon go.

Forbidramon panted, skidding backwards and digging his heels into the ground. He looked... ... like he had just taken five near-simultaneous attacks, but not at all like he was about to go down.
It wasn't a heartening fact.

StarShokunimon looked at his allies, unsure what to make of it; and yet he turned and took a step back, stepping into line with his teammates.

"Oh, come on now," Forbidramon said, his voice dripping, "six against one? Oh, whatever will I do?"
He laughed a breathy, mocking laugh. "Save me time."

There was time for a momentary staredown, before Forbidramon said, throwing out his hands:
"Har Megiddo!"

The ground beneath the six began to shake, the borders of the attack a mere ten feet away from where their human partners stood; even so, they could feel the vibration, like the worst earthquake any of them could ever have known.

The earth began to crack, and from the gaps there sprang up tentacle-like shadows, grabbing at the legs of six partner digimon. Ospreymon was able to lift himself out of their range-- initially. The tendrils followed him straight up into the air, curling around his legs and dragging him back down. They didn't move their captives at all; while the digimon were busy looking down and trying to escape, they didn't notice Forbidramon.

From both hands he released powerful blasts of... interestingly enough, pure white energy. It swept over the digimon, and they cried out in agony, even as the tendrils were disintegrated by the light.

They were outright paralyzed -- it hurt to move in the aftermath. They braced themselves for follow-up attacks from Forbidramon.
That much did not happen.

He was snarling, and holding onto his red arm, which was pulsating with the white light that had struck them moments before, immobilized.

"The virtue talisman," Julian said quickly from behind, his eyebrows going up; when his fellows looked at him, he explained. "If the surge of data that he gave the other digimon could make them lose their minds, there's no way that connection with Yggdrasil isn't doing something to him."
Sanmon bowed her head, but said nothing.

Loromon nodded hastily, and spoke fast: "It's the Sovereigns-- trying to force the connection shut."

Andrea put it together in her head first, and cupped her hands to yell out.
"You don't have to beat him!" she called, and Forbidramon's head snapped up to stare as their partners carefully turned to look.

"You just have to stall!" Emily joined in, catching on.

"Aye," Ospreymon mumbled. "Sounds like a plan."

"If we don't get totally creamed first, yeom," MetalShayumon said, but nodded her head and prepared herself.

"I'm not going to lose," Forbidramon snarled. "Not to the likes of you." He took a lurching step forward, slow and forced, ilike he were trying to walk through setting concrete. "Lord Era was wrong to let you last this long." Another slow, deliberate step.
He stopped, and laughed.
"You hadn't done anything yet. Nothing important. You were just taking down cannon fodder. You couldn't even find your last teammate. 'Not a threat until they find him,' he said. And he said you'd never find him." He chuckled, holding up his hand, the Virtue sigil still burning white on his hand. "And you won't. But you've become a liability."

Deep breath.

"And I can't let you win. Har Meggi--!"

Forbidramon was stopped in the middle of his attack by a white shape smashing into him.

"Stop." Sanmon stood over Forbidramon after she crashed into him, sending him off-balance and to the ground-- for just a split second.

"Shut up," Forbidramon said back decisively, not looking at her.

"Then fight me," she said, totally even of tone and of expression.
There was a complete dead silence-- one could hear the rustling of the leaves of the trees around the razed area they fought in, the sounds of digimon a distance away.

"No." Forbidramon shoved past her-- acting like she wasn't there -- and leapt into the air. "Nightfall!"
Once more, he smashed to earth, the attack going off like a bomb. Sanmon stared after him, but did not move.

Shaking off the effects of the last attack, they didn't have time to avoid this one-- and so took the brunt of it as well.
"We're not doing the stalling thing so great, yeom," MetalShayumon drawled, shaking her body as though to rid herself of pain.

"Best defense is a good offense, and for one, I'm getting tired of his smug mug," BurningBaghamon reasoned, and breathed out heavily, and proceeded to rush at Forbidramon. Sanmon vanished out of the way and back behind the children, falling silent again. Each, in turn, fell into line after, rushing at their enemy; StarShokunimon held back the longest, until there was no other option.

What happened then was a series of back-and-forth; one of the partners would get a hit and be countered by a strike in return-- and it seemed like no ground at all was being gained. The human partners played cheerleader, yelling out words of encouragement; Sanmon stayed close-mouthed.

"Starlight Blade!" StarShokunimon bellowed, jumping towards Forbidramon and bringing his sword down from over his head.

Forbidramon let out a roar, stepping backwards and clutching at his chest-- as the blade crossed, there was a huge gaping wound in its wake, glowing purple.

Forbidramon froze. He stumbled his way backwards, mouthing words with no sound. His eyes slowly faded from red to yellow.

And then suddenly, they heard a slow clap.
The figure that nobody had noticed stepped out of the trees, and everyone turned to look.

Standing before them was...

A man.
He was tallish, and scrawny, and looked like he was in his mid-thirties. His hair was dirty-blond, and he had square glasses perched on the end of his nose, in front of slate-grey eyes. He wore a white buttoned-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a pair of dirty sneakers, and black pants. He looked so thoroughly out of place in the Digital World -- not least of all because he was another human face.

Regardless, the team tensed.
The man laughed, a good-natured laugh. "Hello."

For a second, their guards were down.

And then Sanmon snarled, her lip curled. The man turned, raising his eyebrows and looking quizzical. "You're in a foul mood, aren't you?"

"Who are you?" Simon said, not relaxing. Of all the hundred questions running through his mind, that was the only one he could find the words for.

The man paused. He smiled at the humans, and then looked at their partners. He nodded in acknowledgement.
He kept smiling as he turned to Forbidramon, and adjusted his glasses. "I think I've seen enough."

The man snapped his fingers.

Sanmon suddenly screamed out in pain, her body engulfed by white light. Forbidramon, just as suddenly, forced his way past the line of partner digimon, almost stumbling.

For a moment, Forbidramon's eyes widened.
With a flash of light, Sanmon was no more-- and in her place lay the little black creature that was Reimon, unconscious. In the man's hand, he now held a pure shining-white orb, about the size of a Digicore, if not a little bit larger.

"What--" Triassimon growled, all four eyes narrowing.

"I'll be taking this back, now."
The man looked down at Reimon on the ground, turning the sphere over in his hand.

"Touch her, and--" Forbidramon snarled, rearing over as though preparing to attack.

"You'll what?" the man replied, raising an eyebrow and putting one hand on his hip.

Loromon -- who had, by this point, shuffled off to hide behind a log, flapped his way over to Reimon, gently picking her up, looking up with confusion at the odd man.
Without a moment of pause, the man grabbed the black digimon out of Loromon's wings, clutching her tight and holding her entirely by her tail.

Forbidramon stared at the man, and then once more reared over.
"If you touch her," he said low, every single word said with the utmost seriousness. "I'll fucking kill you."

The man stared the digimon straight in the eye, his expression one of contempt and disgust.
"Disgusting. Is it just the Virtue going to your head, or does your dedication to it override your loyalty to me?"

Was Era?

The entire group was struck dumb.

"Well, I've got what I need," he said cheerfully, holding up the orb in his hand. He put the limp Reimon on the ground. He placed the heel of his foot on her, and like Forbidramon had done to the digicore, he pressed down.
Reimon exploded into bits of data, a pitch-black egg all that was left.

Forbidramon roared, surging forward-- before he was frozen in his paces with the slight wave of a hand.
"Down, boy. Really, you'd think you'd learn by now."

Era -- if it was Era -- laughed, putting his hand on his hip again. "You know, now that I've got this," and he indicated the thing in his hand, "I think I'll be taking this back, too. After all, it won't make much of a difference anymore."

Forbidramon suddenly crumpled to the ground, a blaze of shining white light overtaking him. Bit by bit, the light sapped from his body and into the thing that Era held, though it didn't increase in size.
The kids didn't even look to see what was left behind; they just stared at the man in front of them.

Era smiled.

"Nice to meet you, kids," he said in the most pleasant voice. Coming from anyone else, it might have seemed genuine.
Nimbimon, of all digimon, was the first to step forward, her eyes narrowed-- another wave of the hand later, she found herself frozen, along with her teammates.
"I hope you don't mind me being so quick to leave, but I'm a busy guy! Of course, I could just obliterate every single one of you on the spot," and he pointedly let his eyes drift to the kids here -- he did mean every single one, not just the Digimon, "but at this point it'd just be a waste of my time. Be grateful."

And with a surge of white light, the man was gone.

They couldn't say anything. Every child and digimon present was completely, utterly dumbstruck, left staring where Era stood a moment before. ... that was what they were up against.
They were so hosed.

And then a noise ripped straight through their trains of thoughts, derailing them in the most impressive way possible.


Forcing himself off of the ground, the dark shape left over from Forbidramon stumbled up in a graceless way. He barely made it the five feet to the digitama on the ground before he fell back down, pulling the egg up into his arms and onto his lap.

As blind as they had been a second ago, the boy was just as blind to the outside world, hugging the dark egg to his chest.

Julian let loose a swear word, putting his hands in his pockets.

The new boy turned his head, suddenly. His face was covered in dirt and grime, his long blond hair thoroughly unkempt, his wide eyes murky green and framed with tears.
He met the gaze of the six children standing behind him, the six digimon slowly approaching, and scrambled to his feet. He looked almost like he was going to fall down, like he had little control over his limbs. Breathing hard, he stared straight at -- almost through -- the others...

"... I--"

And still clutching the egg to his chest, took off like a shot into the trees.

"Oh, frick!" Simon blurted out, jerking his own body forward.

"At the risk of sounding like we're chasing a criminal," Faris said, slowly, thoughtfully. "... don't let him get away for the love of god!"

A flash of brilliant light followed the announcement-- all six digimon returned to their child forms, and darted alongside their partners as they took off running after.


"Do you think they'll believe him, Lord Era?"

Era smirked, looking over the orb in his hand.
Would those brats ever believe it, if told what he had done?

It hadn't been mind control. It hadn't been more than mind control. It had simply been breaking down the little brat's identity, reformatting his shell of sorts. Everything the children had seen was a shell-- a projection, a character created. He could have made a hundred Forbidramon with the exact same personality-- even memories.
But really, that wouldn't have given him... he looked at the orb in his hands. He couldn't have created one specific property.

But then, it didn't really matter if they did or not. He had what he needed from this equation. And that aside, this was far more amusing.


oh god oh god they're going to kill me they're going to kill me and im going to die oh god


but it wasnt me it wasnt i swear oh god im sorry

"Slow down!"

"We're not going to-- frig!"

"Please, stop!"

His heart was pounding in his ears. How on earth could he explain it? He couldn't-- he had a hard time even putting it to words, himself. But it hadn't been him. It hadn't. Era-- had used him as a vessel but it hadn't been-- oh, what on earth was he even talking about?

He clutched the egg closer to his chest, disregarding that the lack of use of his arms was making it almost impossible to keep his balance. He couldn't care less. It wasn't important. All that was important was getting away, and--

Thmp. Over a root and into the ground. It was almost inevitable that he'd trip, in retrospect.
The egg had fallen out of his arms just soon enough to avoid being under him, almost as though it acting out of self-preservation. It rolled to a stop about two feet away.

The pounding of feet was amplified with an ear to the ground; twelve sets of feet were on the approach, carrying their owners closer. It felt like being a fox, cornered by the hounds of the hunt.

There was a general murmur from behind, as the footsteps came to a stop.
He couldn't find it in him to move. He closed his eyes tight and waited.

"C'mon, Egakumon."

Footsteps drew closer. The next thing he felt was a heavy weight on one shoulder, huge claws on a big, rounded hand.
"Hey, c'mon, broski."

He cracked an eye open-- sitting in front of him were something that... maybe, in some odd alternate dimension, could have been called a rabbit(?), with one of his hands outstretched; and beyond him, a boy, sitting in a crouching position. A pair of goggles rested over his beanie cap, and this boy was peering at him, smiling faintly... and he was holding the black egg.

The blond boy's eyes widened, and he forced himself up, pushing himself up with his hands.
"Give me that!"

"We're not going to do anything to you, geeze," a girl said from behind.

"At least pretend to be sympathetic," said another boy's voice, dry and even.

"Coming from you."

The boy in the hat laughed, looking at the others; and then he set the digitama down. He rose. The rabbit backed away, and the boy walked over, and once again he knelt.
He held out a hand, still faintly smiling.

"Name's Simon," he said, "and I think you're who we've been looking for."

The new boy stared up at Simon, and scrambled to his feet without the aid, starting to back up. "Ah-- I--"

"Oh, just shyaddap and let us help you," said the rabbit, putting his hands on his hips.

He turned around, back to Simon; there stood five others, each with a digimon at their side. They waved awkwardly, some distinctly more uncomfortable than others; others were acting like they were greeting old friends.
A girl with overalls and a high ponytail, a seagull standing at her side: "My name's Emily." It was hard to tell how she was feeling-- her voice was chipper, but...

A boy with dyed-green bangs and a headband, holding a dolphin in his arms: "Faris, yo." He sounded casual, but there was a hint of unease.

A very short boy, the hood of his hoodie almost covering his mouth, a sheep standing guard: "'M' Toby." He was completely at ease.

The only other girl, long-haired and darker-skinned than the others, with a tiger circling her legs: "Andrea." She seemed the most uncomfortable of all.

The final, a tall boy with spiky hair, a dinosaur standing stoic nearby: "Julian." He was completely even of voice, and like the first girl, it was difficult to tell.

The new boy took a step or two back, and was stopped when the digitama was shoved into his arms. Simon stepped to the side and threw one of his arms over his shoulders. There was a short silence. Twelve pairs of eyes were fixed on him, digimon and human alike.

He let loose a heavy breath.

"... Lukas. Luke."

[Chapter 22: End]