Episode 30: Swamp Gases

"I can't be the only one who's sick of all this cryptic crap, am I?" Julian said in low tones to Faris, as the group sat on Garudamon's hands for the descent. It was still a ways down to ground, but even being able to see the falling island, sinking ever closer to the earth... they wanted to be far away, and so Garudamon was taking care to put distance between them and it. The sun was sinking down behind them along with the island, the sky a flurry of pink and orange, and the multiple moons were starting to rise.

"How do you mean, broski?" Faris asked, putting a hand on Delfinimon's head next to him. Iguamon, on the other side of Julian, inclined his head to show he was listening.

"Nobody's telling us anything," Julian replied, frowning. "I'm getting a bit sick of just running wherever Deekamon tells us to, in hopes that something happens. The Sovereign guy just basically told us we'd know what to do. Deekamon never explains a freakin' thing. Era's lackeys are delighting in being completely cryptic."

"... and Newbie probably knows more than he's gonna let on. Understandable, I guess, but..." Faris sighed, sitting back a bit and casting a look over at Luke, who was looking off into the sky on the other side of Garudamon's cupped hands. "It's a bit annoying, yeah. I'm sure it'll make sense eventually. I mean, we're running around with talking monster-things, that still doesn't make sense to me."

"I'm getting sick of it," Julian said, shrugging and sitting back as well. "Someone owes me an explanation before I run off to play hero too much longer."

"Time will tell," Iguamon said, bowing his head.

"Yeah, tell us jack squat, probably, yeom."

"You are so not helping," Faris mumbled, smirking.

Meanwhile, the other kids seemed to be lost in their own thoughts, peering into the distance. Emily had her legs drawn up against her chest, and she let loose a little huff.

"Kamomon?"

"Yes?" the bird said, scootching a bit closer to his partner.

"Does it feel like we're actually making any progress?" she said, leaning on one hand. When her avian partner gave her a sort of quizzical look and tilt of his head (in that way that only birds can), she elaborated. "It... hmm. Well, I donno. It just feels like wherever we go, Era's always one step ahead of us, y'know?"

Kamomon paused to consider. "I've not noticed."

She smiled a bit. "I don't see how, though. I donno. It's just a bit discouraging, y'know?"

The bird bowed his head. "I know. I just know we're going to figure a way around it! Virtue Warriors and all that. Chosen by the Sovereigns, even! It'll work out."
Emily smiled again and nodded once.

The remainder of the trip down to ground was quiet-- they put as much distance between themselves and the vast abyss into which the island would crash as possible.
They heard a fantastically loud rumble, so intense it even shook the air and made Garudamon waver.

Toby was the first to crane his neck to see; the others followed suit.

The island had hit-- and immediately went up in a supernova of bright white light, data swirling around every structure until it was blinding to look at. With a rushing sound -- like they had heard in Azulongmon's temple? -- light shot into the sky just like when a digimon was defeated, only a hundred thousand -- a hundred million -- times more so, more data surging into the sky.
And then, it was over. Beyond the cliffs... the remains. It seemed that the pyramid-like crystalline structure they had seen on the underside of the island was, in truth, a diamond -- an octahedral structure -- of impressive size. The bright light that had emitted from it when it was intact with the island had faded, and its colour was dull, but it glowed faintly as it sunk slowly into the cloudy abyss.

"It returns to the Tree. The data of the area returns to the branches; its core, to the trunk," Garudamon said, unbidden. "It, like all things, will be made anew someday."

Well, that was nice and cryptic.

They were flying over an area they hadn't seen before-- Garudamon seemed prepared to land here. Overgrown with foliage, both woody and herbacious, and saturated with water, it appeared to be a swamp-- and indeed, that's what it was.

When Garudamon landed, his great talons digging into the vegetation that covered even the dry land, insect and amphibious digimon dove into the trees to hide. The sun had sunk below the horizon by now, causing the temperature to drop; however, it was humid enough on the ground that it didn't seem that cold would be an object. There was an expanse of shallow water before them, and thick trees behind.

"This is the Overgrown Swamp," the large digimon informed them, speaking lower than usual. "It is as far as I can bring you-- I am not of it, nor do I wish to be. It is an Area under his control," and by 'his', just by the tone in his voice, it was clear he meant Era, "so I give my caution; but it is where the purple one told me to bring you."

"Thanks for that," Simon said, no trace of irony or sarcasm in his voice; he gave Garudamon a thumbs-up, and Egakumon copied the motion. "We, uh, probably would not be fit to do much if not for your... transportation services." A general murmur of thanks and assent rippled through the group.

Garudamon bowed his head and brought one hand to his chest. "I am a servant of the Sovereign. It is my duty and my honor to serve you, especially in their stead. I wish you luck. The Digital World will be in your debt."
And with that (and an incredible amount of leaves, sticks, and general decaying vegetable matter dug up by his talons), Garudamon knelt and leapt into the air.

And then it went quiet, save for the chirping of insects and the croaking of frogs as his shape vanished into the sky. They watched Garudamon's form grow smaller and smaller, until they could see it no more.

Simon (as ever) was the first to speak up, tugging on his hat. "We should pro'lly find a place to hunker down, yeah?" He had already started walking-- away from the water and towards the trees behind them; Egakumon was hot on his heels, of course.

"It would make sense," Iguamon offered evenly, and Julian nodded along, tight-lipped.

"And be quiet," Toby added, looking around and flinching slightly. It was dark and damp and one could almost feel the presence of digimon watching them -- digimon whose status as friend or foe was impossible to discern.

They walked around for a short while-- it was getting hard to see before long, forcing them to come to a stop lest they get separated (or stumble into water). The poor part: they couldn't find any place that seemed particularly sheltered. Once they reached a (relatively) dry spot, they were forced to stop.

"Who's ready to get eaten by a gator in our sleep?" Faris said entirely too cheerfully after they had settled down. It was half-sheltered by thick plant life, but it was dark-- the only light was that reflected by the moons overhead; it was almost hard to see one another beyond vague dark shapes.

"I volunteer you to be eaten first, yeom," Delfinimon said, smacking her partner lightly with her tail fin and grinning; in return, Faris bopped her on top of the head with a smirk.

Their joking was interrupted by Toby, speaking up (quietly, of course): "Who's going to keep watch first?" It was a valid question-- it was hostile land, and they weren't exactly in the safest of places. It was quiet for a moment; Julian was about to speak up, as was Andrea, but in the end it was in fact...

"We will," Sampamon said, before anyone else. She spoke matter-of-factly, her eyes closed. Luke nodded his head wordlessly.

Though a few shuffled their feet a bit, Simon gave a big thumbs up. "Sounds good. Wake me and bunny-boy up when you get tired, we'll take over."

That was that.

***

It was a good deal later on in the night, Luke and Sampamon still up on guard duty. It was quiet -- mostly -- and tranquil -- mostly. In the distance there was the croaking of frogs and the creaking of bugs, and Luke could almost swear that he had heard music from somewhere far away. Occasionally, beams of bright light would shoot into the sky into the distance-- Digimon being defeated. It was never an easy sight-- the stomaches of both boy and snake never quite sat right for a while after each ray split the night. They were a while yet from needing to switch out on 'shift', so to speak, but aside from the events in the distance, the night was mercifully uneventful. Sampamon was draped lazily over the branch, while Luke sat with his back against the trunk.

In a moment of silence, Sampamon looked up at her partner. He looked back at her, and let loose a sigh.
"You don't suppose that what he's doing is--" he began, and his heart sank when the snake bowed her head.

"I do," she said, solemn-- a trace of worry was in her voice. "Do you think we should tell them?" she said, then, looking down at where the others slept.

Luke frowned deeply. "Yeah. If it's... it's important. I just don't know how we're supposed to say, oh, hey, and by the way, Era is trying to kill the Sovereigns to--" he sighed, cutting off. "And we helped. That's gonna go over great."

Sampamon stayed silent for a moment, before shifting forward and nuzzling her head against Luke's leg. "We did. But no longer. You know that some of them will still take our side." She looked up, and smiled faintly. "And we have to lend what knowledge we can."

There was a momentary pause, before Luke smiled back, placing a hand on the gem on his partner's forehead. "How is it you manage to be right so often."

"Practice," she said matter-of-factly; Luke rolled his eyes, barely visible in the dark.

***

The sun was a good time past risen; earlier in the night Luke and Sampamon had switched out places for Emily and Kamomon to be on-watch. The light had krept its way over the trees and heated up the swamp, and what traces of music hung in the air were long faded away, only to be replaced by an increased chorus of croaks and chirps.
And in one case, a pronounced, loud squawk.
Kamomon's wake-up alarm was not, by any stretch of imagination, the most dignified one, but it was effective-- the seagull fell backwards out of his perch in a tree, only barely managing to beat his wings hard enough to orient himself before he touched ground.

If that didn't wake up the others, the deafening sound, like a tremendous horn -- a short distance away, yes, but loud enough to shake the trees -- sure as heck would. Without warning, mere seconds after it brought the kids and their partners to a horrifically rude awakening, the sound died down almost as quickly as it had come, leaving the swamp vastly more still than it had been a moment before.

"It just-- all of a sudden!" Kamomon blurted, clearly flustered (and not speaking in full sentences), flapping his wings furiously and gaining a few inches of lift before he plopped back to the ground.

"I'd ask what's going on," Andrea said, mostly to herself, removing her hands from over her ears, "but I already have a hunch."

"Era's lackeys screwing something up. Again, yeom," provided Delfinimon, pushing herself up onto her fins. She looked up to the sky, squinting. "Where was it coming from?"
It was hard to tell, admittedly-- it had been such an overwhelming sound, it had seemed to come from all directions.

"That way," Iguamon said, pointing one claw through the foliage; through the mass of vegetable matter, there was a shallow, wide body of water; looking close, one could see ripples still disturbing the surface.

And then the sound returned, ear-splitting and deep, and all threw their hands -- or paws, or hooves, or wings, such as it was, and in Sampamon's case curling her head under her body -- over their ears to protect them. Egakumon even twisted up his big floppy ears with his claws as though it would help. Once more, as quickly as it had come it was gone again, leaving only ringing in their ears.

"Pretty!" Faris remarked, groaning as he removed his hands from his head. "Let's figure out what it is before we go deaf, huh?"

Some slower than others, the group got to their feet and brushed themselves off, and with many a grumble and a moan and preparing to clap their hands to their heads at any moment, they began to push through the brush to the water. It wasn't far by any stretch of the imagination, but the going was slowed significantly by the fact that the ground was damp and the foliage was thick, and thus easy to get caught up in. Faris picked Delfinimon up without even being bid to, scooping the dolphin into his arms and receiving an affectionate bonk on the chin from her bottle-nose.

It opened up almost immediately onto the water, with almost no grace period between the land and the water. True to form, the moment the foliage eased up, Egakumon didn't, and proceeded to accidentally lunge forward into the water. It was thankfully shallow, not even enough to submerse him when he laid on his face, but the rabbit was considerably soggier than he was a second before.
And then there was a very soggy tiger right alongside him, as Rajamon had likewise not expected the sudden let-up of how difficult it was to move forward.

Kamomon stifled a snicker and even Iguamon cracked a smile as tiger and rabbit both spit out mouthfuls of mud and moss, while Lammon waded in (careful as she could not to get her wool wet) to help drag them out.
"I hate water," Rajamon grumbled, the fluffy tuft of fur on his head lying flat and damp. The cat shook himself off while Egakumon shook the water out of and wrung his ears.

Across the water -- it was shallow, yes, but wide, and it seemed to be waist-deep (even higher, if using Toby as a measuring unit) at low spots -- there was a rustling and the ground shook. It was impossible to see much beyond it, thanks to the thick, tall collection of trees, but it was clear that whatever was going on, it was going on over there.
"How are we supposed to get anywhere?" Toby said, frowning a bit and burying his face in his hood. "I-- I mean, I don't think any of us are... too excited to go wading."

As if on cue, a pair of what appeared to be crocodiles -- or alligators? -- drifted by in the water to the group's left, barely eyes and mohawk-like spikes peeking out from under the water. They did nothing, barely even seemed to notice the kids, but the motion was notable enough in the relative still.

Nobody was terribly enthused to go wading, no. Delfinimon and Kamomon could, respectively, swim the distance in a heartbeat or just fly over, but that left not much in the way for the other five digimon, nor all seven humans; it was starting to look like hoofing it was their only option. This deliberation only lasted for a few minutes, of course -- they were not the sort to stand around and hem and haw for too long-- but it was still a stagnant couple of minutes.

The monotony was broken spectacularly when, out of the water like a little blue bullet, a digimon sprang with a mighty splash, flailing as it travelled in an arc through the air, and collided straight with Luke's chest.

The boy gave a surprised yelp, throwing up his arms to hold the digimon in place, while Sampamon reflexively curled tighter around his shoulders protectively. He stumbled backwards a few steps, while the rest of the team tensed, ready to leap into action if they had to do so.
After a moment, the excitable digimon ceased its writhing and clawing at Luke's clothing, and allowed them to get a good look at it. Its eyes were round and big black pupils looked up; its forelegs were developed, with three clawed fingers each; its hind legs were vestigial at best. A fish-like tail twitched on its end-- no, not fish-like. Tadpole-like. It was like a tadpole just beginning to grow up, except... the size of a basketball, and blue.

And it looked up at Luke and Sampamon like it was completely oblivious to how it ended up where it had.

"Uh. Hi?" Faris said from close to Luke's side, blinking a couple times.

"Who are you!?" the tadpole snapped, beginning to writhe anew. Due to reflex or whatever else, Luke held fast. "You're with him, aren't you!? We don't want you here!"

"Aaand any suspicions of Era are once again proved correct, I'm assuming," Julian remarked dryly. "Why am I not surprised." The tadpole furrowed its brow, looking scrutinizingly up at the human boy who was holding him (instead of the one who had spoken).

"You're not with him?" the amphibian said, a bit skeptically.

Egakumon grinned. "The exact opposite, matter of fact."

There was a moment of pause, before the tadpole made a small noise. "Let me down," it said; Luke looked to the others. Simon shrugged, Andrea gave a 'heck if I know' expression. After another second, he set the tadpole down on the damp ground. Almost instantly, it hurled itself back into the water, and it was quiet again.

Only for a minute, though.

Before they had any chance to comment, the ground on the other side of the water was alive, a dozen and a half more tadpoles, accompanied by dozen bipedal, green, somewhat frog-like creatures with curled brass horns attached to their necks. All of them peered over at the group suspiciously, hiding half in the water, behind trees, in amongst the cat-tails and bulrushes and reeds.

As quickly as they appeared, the new digimon suddenly ducked into hiding again as the blasting noise rang out again, louder than ever (though possibly just due to proximity). It made the trees shake and the water ripple once more, and shook the kids and their digimon partners to the very core; it was very nearly unbearable.
Once the noise died again, the amphibian digimon peered out again, scrutinizing.

"They look like Gekomon -- the green ones, I mean," provided Lammon, quietly. "I'm assuming the others are Otamamon."

"Hi!" Emily was the first to speak loud enough for those on the other bank to hear, and even though her ears were still ringing she waved a friendly hand.

"Who are you?" croaked a voice from the other side.

"A motley crew of misfits, losers, geeks, and the occasional trans-dimensional hero," said Faris, more to himself than anything, and was unsurprised (and in fact grinned) when he got an elbow in the rib from his brother.

"The Virtue Warriors!" Egakumon said over the top of the wisecracking human, brandishing his brush like a blade, and Simon grinned, placing a hand on the rabbit's head.

"Heroes what do nothing!" the croaking voice replied in short order, and the speaker stepped forward; she was one of the green digimon -- Gekomon -- and she was holding a knobby wooden staff that looked too big for her.

What?

"What?" Simon said, faltering visibly. He adjusted his hat, out of nervousness more than anything else. "Uh, care to explain that?"

"We see the Ruins fall yesterday!" the amphibian said, and she smacked the water with the staff; though the splash could not have reached the kids in any way, shape, or form, it still made an impressive clapping sound. "What heroes can't stop Era? He make the island fall, then his cronies comes here and turns our leader--"

The Gekomon was on a roll, but she was interrupted by the bellowing noise and the sound of stomping.
"No heroes to us!" she continued the moment she could be heard again.

"Fantastic," Iguamon said, even of tone, but clearly less than amused. ... less than usual, at any rate.

"What can we do to prove ourselves to you?" Julian said, suddenly, putting his hands in his pockets -- ever the quick thinker. He didn't sound pleading or anything other than completely confident, his face almost impassive.

"Whatever we have to do!" Kamomon chimed in, hopping up into the air and flapping his wings hard to stay aloft.

The response that they got was not an encouraging one: the leader (or so she seemed to be) smacked her staff onto the water again, glaring. "Gets out! Gets away!" The Otamamon and the other Gekomon around her joined in a chorus, hitting their feet against the ground and croaking to show their distaste.
They were once more drowned out by the painfully loud sound-- was it becoming more frequent?

Yeah. Definitely.

And its source was suddenly much clearer to see as it stumbled into view.

"They mentioned a leader?" Delfinimon mumbled, looking up and cringing a bit. "Money says that's it, yeom."

It was big. It was red. It looked really, really irate.
It was an oversized version of the Gekomon; bigger and much much more... round. Twin brass horns curled out of its back, and a ruff of what looked like leaves were around its neck. Two bandages were criss-crossed over a protruding navel, and mustache-like protrusions (Antennae? Whiskers?) twitched on its face. What almost look liked a fleshy topknot -- red, tipped in purple -- hung over its decidedly not-aligned eyes.

And the gang of local digimon? They immediately dove into the water with helps, their anger forgotten as they moved in a flurry away, almost covering up the sound of the kids' D-GEARs.

ShogunGekomon. Perfect-level amphibian digimon. Called The Sleeping Tyrant, it is the leader of all of the Gekomon and Otamamon in its swamp. Though it doesn't use its hands, the Musical Fist blasts from its horns hurt just as badly as any real blow.

Just after that, ShogunGekomon indeed opened his mouth, and bellowed out:

"Musical Fist!"

The sound was even more deafening-- as it began rumbling out a wordless melody, before a quite visible disturbance of air blasted forth from its horns. It was aimed, it seemed, at the fleeing digimon, judged by how he downturned his head and focused his eyes (as best he could) on the digimon without human partners.

What happened then was rather unexpected to all but the digimon in question and his partner.

With a flash of light, Rajamon grew in size as he stepped forward, teeth bared.
"Rajamon, kickstart digivolve to... Baghamon!"

He had grown in size at least partially before he kicked off the ground, and his more powerful haunches carried him quite a distance through the air-- to the point where he took the brunt of the Perfect-level's attack, sheltering the gekomon and otamamon underneath him. He let out a roar and was knocked backwards, back-first, into the water.

The now incredibly wet tiger tumbled back until he was upright and nearly on the bank near the kids, digging his claws into the sod under the water and breathing through clenched teeth.

"The heck?" Simon mumbled, looking sideways at Andrea-- who was not there. The girl had suddenly launched herself forward, clambering onto the back of her soggy partner.

"Well, I'm not gonna be left behind-- don't know about you," remarked Kamomon with a sort of faint smile up at Emily. She smiled back, as her D-GEAR began to glow-- and like a domino effect, so did five others.

"Kamomon, kickstart digivolve to... Kaizokumon!"
"Shokunimon!"
"Ariamon!"
"Serpemon!" (Sampamon, of course, slithered off of her partner's shoulders beforehand.)
"Velocimon!"
"Shayumon!"

Those who could -- Julian, Faris, and Toby -- climbed onto the backs of their partners. Simon, Emily, and Lukas were content to stay where they were.

"Get them to safety," Julian said, as though it were necessary to. "First priority."

With that, the team jerked forwards; Velocimon and Ariamon both waded into the water, while Shayumon -- seeming a bit dismayed at how shallow the water was, while Faris clung to her dorsal fins -- pulled herself in as Serpemon slithered in alongside her, the snake keeping her head above the water while moving her body below it.
The two humanoid Adult-levels (Shokunimon and Kaizokumon) merely reared down and leapt, crossing the most distance the fastest as they threw themselves with powerful jumps, landing smack-dab in the middle of the water, where they immediately began to push forward towards the opposite bank.

It was a flurry of water and shouts as the seven digimon surged ahead, trying to make headway in the water without running into any of the fleeing, flailing amphibians-- which was made harder as ShogunGekomon began to trundle forward, sending fresh waves of panic through the Gekomon and Otamamon (and fresh waves through the water, for that matter).

The first of the Gekomon -- the one holding the staff -- reached the bank where Simon, Emily, and Luke were standing; she let out a few huffed breaths and looked up at the three, but said nothing.

"Can you explain what's going on?" Luke tried, kneeling down so he was more on her level. "I know you're not exactly our biggest fan right now," he said; his tone of voice had become slightly more confident than usual, or at least faux-confident, "but if you can explain it we can try to help."

"No heroes comes to save us when Era crony comes and wakes up our leader!" she croaked, glaring. "Attack digimon all through swamp-- new digimon, biggers, Perfect levels and Mega levels not here before. Gone crazies!"

Emily considered for a moment. "It sounds like... Era... ..." she paused, remembering the thought they had had when Forbidramon had force-evolved Rajamon. "Is forcing digimon to higher levels than they should be-- they lose control. Using the Virtue he stole."

"That'd explain the lights I kept seeing last night," Luke mumbled. "They must be attacking the digimon around them."

"And then those out of control digimon woke Big Red up on the wrong side of the bed," Simon provided; the Gekomon nodded.

"Ruins falls! Digimon outs of control! No heroes to us!" she repeated, waving her staff around; Luke had to lean back to avoid being smacked in the face. She paused, then, and looked over her shoulder.

In the water, Shokunimon and Kaizokumon had just reached the other shore, and were shaking the water off of themselves; Velocimon and Baghamon were on their heels, while Shayumon, Ariamon, and Serpemon were herding the last of the fleeing digimon (the former two having dropped their human passengers on relatively-dry land).

The Gekomon furrowed her brow, drawing her lips back. She looked back to the trio of humans. "You helps our leader?" she said, questioning, as a flurry of otamamon and gekomon rushed past the small group.

"Absolutely," Emily said, smiling. The amphibian scrutinized the girl's face, before she suddenly turned and smacked her staff into the water to create the slapping noise once more.

"Gekomon! Otamamon! Stays here!" she called out; a flurry of green and blue faces poked out of the trees, listening to her.

From the other side of the water, on the opposite bank, Shokunimon and Kaizokumon had already taken off like shots to help distract the giant digimon, buying their compatriots time. Julian cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled back to the stragglers. "You guys coming?"

At that, Shayumon and Ariamon padded their way up to the three (four, counting the makeshift-leader Gekomon) on the bank. "All aboard, yeom," Shayumon said cheerfully, then looked at the Gekomon. The shark smiled.

"Come on," Luke offered, still kneeling as he turned around; the Gekomon scrambled onto his back, piggyback style, as Simon and Emily both climbed onto Shayumon and grabbed hold of her fins.

"You're like a digimon courier service, Lukey," Simon remarked, grinning, "between this and Sampamon." Luke smiled faintly and rolled his eyes, gently lifting himself onto Ariamon's back.

The sheep and the shark began once more their tredge across the shallow, muddy water; not having to worry about crashing into fleeing digimon made it much quicker going, and before long they were once more alongside their fellow human teammates and the three digimon (Baghamon, Velocimon, and Serpemon) still on the bank.

"No defeats him," the Gekomon said, peering over Luke's shoulder. "Nots bad digimon. Just angry. Just needs to calm him downs."

Julian peered at the green digimon for a moment (possibly biting back a remark about whatever happened to 'get out'), before he nodded. Any comment was cut short by the sudden rush of the rabbit and seagull jumping into view alongside their partners.

"Ach, I think we've just made him grumpier," Kaizokumon said, twirling his pistol around a finger.

"What do we have to do to calm him down?" Toby said, moving over to Ariamon's side.

They didn't get an answer to that, as they had to move -- very quickly -- to avoid a big red webbed foot crashing down, coming through the trees and right into their midst.

"Tiring him out should work," Baghamon provided as he skidded to a stop near Velocimon, Andrea hanging tight to the fur on her partner's back.

"Try not to over-do it," Velocimon said, totally dead-pan, more than a little condescending, and the tiger growled.

"Cram it. Hang on tight, Andrea," Baghamon said; his partner nodded, and as the tiger sprang towards ShogunGekomon again, Andrea's D-GEAR began to glow and vibrate hard.

"Baghamon, virtuous digivolve to... BurningBaghamon!"

Andrea hung tight to her partner as he suddenly reared back, smashing his paws into the ground with a yell of "Burning Earth!", causing the soggy earth below him -- and more importantly, ShogunGekomon to suddenly turn brittle and crack, spewing up flames that caused the amphibian to roar, turning his attention to the big cat.

ShogunGekomon didn't even bellow an attack, merely growled low and deep, creating the deafening noise once more, before he struck out with one webbed hand at the cat. It sent Andrea tumbling off his back as the cat -- who, recall, had already been struck by the brunt of the frog's attack before, in a lower stage -- flying backwards.

In a mad dash, Velocimon suddenly threw himself forward, scooping Andrea up with his neck before she hit the ground. "Told you not to overdo it," his partner remarked.

"Not a word," Andrea grumbled.

At the same time as this was happening, from behind the giant digimon, two voices cried out.

"Shayumon, virtuous digivolve to... MetalShayumon!"
"Kaizokumon, virtuous digivolve to... Ospreymon!"

The shape of Ospreymon rising over ShogunGekomon's body blotted out a bit of light. When ShogunGekomon roared up at the bird, he released another blast of attack.

"Musical Fist!"

In retaliation, Ospreymon keened loud and long, tucking his wings into his body and screeching out: "Seagull Dive!" as he smashed, head-first, into the giant amphibian's belly, knocking the big red grump onto his rump. He flew backwards as quickly as he could, opening the door for a second attack from the cyborg shark running in from the side:

"Seeker Torpedo, yeom!"

Faris put his hands on his head and groaned. "Oh my god, it's gotten worse, she's putting it on the end of her attacks now." This was overridden by the mechanical whirring of MetalShayumon's chest-plate opening to fire off shark-shaped torpedoes at ShogunGekomon's belly, and the bellowing roar he released in retaliation.

"Well, heck," Shokunimon mumbled from his vantage point, looking at Simon. "I don't wanna be left out of this."

"Word," Simon chuckled, grinning.

***

Wearing the big digimon out proved to be... an undertaking, in light terms. Even when all of them (sans Serpemon) had pushed themselves up to Perfect level, it seemed that the big angry frog was just never-ending in his ability to remain torqued off and absorb attacks with his big, rubbery body.

"This is nuts," StarShokunimon growled from his vantage point, holding his sword out as he rode on Ospreymon's back, high above the battle. Triassimon's heads were spewing out flames, Nimbimon was firing beams of light from her orbs, BurningBaghamon was smashing burning paws into the big digimon, MetalShayumon was releasing electric bursts like they were going out of style, and even Serpemon was doing her part with blasts of dark energy... all the while accompanied by a chorus of cheers and encouragement from their human partners, and croaking squawks of "No hurts! No defeats!" from Gekomon.

It didn't seem to be an issue-- the big old digimon took their blows like they were nothing. It was almost ridiculous.

So... it may have been understandable that kids and digimon alike were surprised when, suddenly, ShogunGekomon let out a noise. Not a loud noise, not the bellow they had become used to, but a strangled one, and suddenly fell backwards, his eyes closed tight.

Ospreymon, with his lapine passenger, swooped down to the ground, alongside the rest of the team-- had they succeeded? It seemed... too sudden. Nobody had attacked ShogunGekomon the second before he had fallen over.

Something was all kinds of fishy-- and they got an answer to what it was very quickly.

"You can stop now," a voice said, calm and quiet; it seemed to come from nowhere, until a swirl of darkness appeared in the air.
A shape, wrapped up in webbed wings, drifted slowly down from the air to land on ShogunGekomon's bellly. It was very small, only about two feet in diameter, and it seemed that most of its body was spherical in shape, save for two long legs (arms?) on which it stood, with two smaller feet tucked close to its body, with two curved horns atop its head. ... body.

"Who are you!?" snapped both of Triassimon's heads, but Serpemon and Luke's breath both hitched noticeably.

The small digimon spread his wings, and though he was small, it was hard not to be intimidated-- the air seemed to get colder, drier, with his very presence.
He was covered in coarse greyish-red fur, with blue-grey skin where the fur didn't cover. A hood-like structure, looking like a monster's head, of black fur curved over his head, while similar black fur was located in ruffs around its wrists. Its wings were black with pale-blue, tattered webbing, with red claws -- similar to those on his hands and feet -- atop. Its blue eyes were dull, not shining at all, and the gaze was chilling.

The kids' D-GEARs chirped to life.

PicoDaemon. Mega-level demon demigod digimon. Smaller than its namesake Daemon, but only barely less powerful, PicoDaemon packs a powerful punch for its tiny size. With attacks such as Dark Swarm, Inferno Typhoon, and Cross Nail, it may be small, but it's earned its title as a demon demigod.

"Another Reaper?" Nimbimon said, frowning deep.

PicoDaemon turned his dull eyes on her, but said nothing, before looking to the group again. "You've shown us where you are. Thank you for your he--"

"Symphony Crusher!"

With a cry, Gekomon launched herself at PicoDaemon, releasing a high-pitched noise from the horn curled 'round her neck, and striking out with her staff. Perhaps unsurprisingly, but no less disturbingly, PicoDaemon... was not even touched. Before she could reach him, he slashed through the air, hissing:

"Cross Nail."

Red whips of energy extended from his claws, and the moment they impacted with Gekomon, she was gone in a flash of light, her digitama tumbling off of ShogunGekomon's belly, her staff clacking after it.

"As I was saying," PicoDaemon said, closing his eyes. "Thank you for your help. Dark Swarm!"

He spread his wings wide, and from what almost seemed like within, a swarm of black... insects? flooded, towards the kids and their digimon, blindingly fast. There was a rushing noise, and then...

It went dark.

***

When the Digimon came to -- as they did so well before their partners -- the digimon themselves were... smaller than before. They were back in Baby II form, the same ones their partners had met them in. It was... if it were possible for an environment to be groggy, it was. It seemed as though their surroundings were shimmering or covered in fog, fading in and out. There were sounds, from far away-- beeping, rushing, talking, strange music.

"What's going on?" Cindemon mumbled, groaning a bit as he cracked his eyes open.

"I don't know," Plumon replied quietly, looking around with worried eyes.

Before they could orient themselves or try to rouse their human partners, there was the sound of screeching tires and a pair of blinding lights headed straight for them.
A car was rushing at them, and within an instant, it was upon them, and...

Phased through human and digimon alike harmlessly.

The small digimon were dumbstruck, but peered around. Tall shapes were walking around, and they could catch glimpses of multicoloured light here and there.

Those shapes looked like humans.

"You guys," Efudemon barely breathed, "I think we're looking at the Real World."

[Chapter 30: End]