Episode 42: Falling Stars

As the kids ran for it -- away from the mountains they had come from, to whatever lay on the other side of the city -- they were in a trance. It was painfully early in the morning, and they were running on so very little fuel, but they couldn't stop.
And they couldn't stop thinking: what was happening to their friends? If they failed, then the ground beneath their feet would begin to shake, if Baihumon was taken by the final Reaper. But... how were Deekamon and his friends faring? There were three of them versus one of him, but... they seemed worried. What was going to happen?

"I can't," Andrea groaned after a while, holding her side, "go any futher."
The others had a hard time disagreeing; the digimon, wherever they were hitching a ride on their human partners, were all either half-asleep or full-on dozing. They weren't to the border of the city yet, not even close, but it was too late, too much, they were too tired to go on. They found an alleyway, a dead-end, but as sheltered as they were going to get without breaking into a building (a feat none of them were feeling up to trying.)

"What are we s'posed to do if..." Toby said, but trailed off, frowning as he looked in the direction they had come from. What he meant was 'if the Sovereign falls', and that was understood without words.

"Kamomon -- or, I guess, Mismon -- and I, if worse comes to worse, I mean..." Emily said, petting the little bird-puff in her arms. "As Rocmon, we're big enough to carry all of you. I'm sure someone will wake up."

"Aye," Mismon mumbled, sleepily cracking one eye open and smiling. "I'll have the energy after a bit of sleep, I'm guessing."

"I'll stand watch first," Simon said immediately; the others looked at him, some more quizzically than others, but nobody complained.

"Your prerogative," Julian remarked, shrugging.

Simon paused and blinked, raising an eyebrow. "What's that mean?"

"It means you're welcome to do so," Paleomon replied, keeping his eyes closed.

"Wake us up if anything goes wonky, O Gogglehead," Faris remarked, slumping down against the wall and falling asleep the moment he hit the ground.

"And wake me up when you need to sleep," Julian added, looking at Simon; Simon gave a thumbs-up in reply.


It was only a couple of hours later; it was still the dead of night, Simon was still sitting up on guard, leaning against one wall at the mouth of the alley. His partner had been awake and alert, ready to go in the event of any sign of a threat or danger.
But there was no sign of danger.

"Hey Efudemon?" he said after a while, one of the first words he has said since the others went to sleep.

"What's up?" the little puffball asked, hopping up alongside his partner.

Simon sighed, resting his head on his hand. "You said that you knew. About the thing Deekamon said, that you and-- and all of you, you're going to die when we win. But... how much of this did you think was going to happen? With the Sovereigns, stuff like that."

Efudemon paused, looking up at Simon. "I don't know. We were told to expect anything, but I donno if I ever thought this would happen."

"You think we're gonna win?"

Efudemon seemed downright offended before the words even finished falling from Simon's mouth. "Of course. It's what we were born to do-- it's why you were brought here. We're sure as heck not gonna lose." Despite the furball's offended tone, Simon smiled faintly.

"Chill, bro. I wasn't doubting us. I just... I don't know if this was what I expected, when I got here, when they told me I was going to be a hero." He sighed, rubbing the back of his head.

"We'll be fine," Efudemon said, smiling. "We always are, and we always will be. If we have to fight tooth and nail to kick Era into the next century, we're gonna do it."

Pause, and then a full smile on Simon's face. "Yeah. ... but I gotta get some sleep, or I'm gonna be no good to anyone."
And it was with that that Simon gently nudged Julian awake, and almost as soon as he had, he fell asleep.


Simon's dreams were... less than pleasant. Though they weren't particularly vivid, nor was he likely to remember them, but they all had a pervasive sense of being lost-- of punching at what he thought was an enemy only to have it dissolve into smoke, resulting in him turning to try again; and then only to be attacked from behind, from where what he had thought was a phantom had been a moment before.

And at the end, when he was about to lay a hit on his unknown enemy-- at last -- he was rudely awoken by an ear-splitting roar, the entire world rumbling around him, and Julian yelling

"Up! Now!"
The last was likely a bit superfluous; everyone was stirring to-- the roar and the rumble was enough of an alarm, without their teammate having to give a wakeup call.

"Jeeze! There's a wake-up call and a half for you!" Faris complained, having to press himself up against the wall to stand up and still hold Finmon with one arm.

"We're on red alert as of ten seconds ago," Julian said quickly, looking to Emily as she stood up. "Now'd be a great time."

She nodded, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, and Mismon -- though still a bit tired -- hopped out of her arms, flapping very fast to keep himself aloft while he was engulfed in white light. "Mismon, kickstart digivolve to... Kamomon!" The bird dropped to the ground, and the group quickly moved from the alleyway out into the street to allow Emily and Kamomon to have the space they needed to digivolve and give them their out.
Emily twirled her D-GEAR in her hand as it began to glow, and she and her partner followed suit.

"Kamomon, genesis digivolve to... Rocmon!"

The newly-formed Rocmon held out a wing to serve as a bridge, of sorts, to enable boarding onto his back. "Get on, an' make it quick!" Those kids and digimon not currently comprising the tremendous avian did not waste any time clambering on. "Hold tight," he warned, and once he felt the weight of all six of his fellows on his back, he began to move. He got a few pre-flight strides in, and then kicked off into the air, clearing the buildings on either side before he began to flap his powerful, not to mention large, wings. Rocmon let loose a long, shrill keening noise, throwing his head back before he began to rise, quite quickly, into the air with only a few beats of his wings.

"Do you see anything?" Toby asked, grabbing tight hold as he tried to peer around without looking down too much.

"Nae," the bird responded, looking around. His eyes were sharp, but the sun was only just rising-- "Wait," he mumbled, narrowing his eyes. Looking in the direction that the building whose basement in which Baihumon had been holed up, he spied a dark shape leaping from rooftop to rooftop, blindingly fast. It ran on all fours, hunched over, with a glowing orb clenched in its jaws.
Zero prizes for guessing who and what it was.

"I see him! Should I--?" Rocmon rumbled, his pupils narrowing. He was half prepared to give chase, or at least send an attack the dog's way.

"No," Julian said immediately, and there was an immediate outbreak of response-- none more vocal than Simon and Efudemon, but even Rocmon let out a sort of surprised squawk. Julian spoke fast, much faster than he usually did. (Maybe it had something to do with the sparing amount of sleep he had gotten.)
"Look, I know this isn't going to be a popular opinion, but just think. What are we going to be able to do if he has the core? Nothing. Even if we defeat him -- and that's unlikely, seeing as how he's got the core, meaning he got past Deekamon, Shamon, and BlackWarGreymon, if not outright killed them -- what would we do? We'd either have to leave it where it was, or we'd be hanging a sign around our necks for any other underling Era wants to whip up to come and take it from us, and they'd win by sheer numbers.
"Javermon is going to take the core to Era; if we follow him, he leads us to Era," Julian concluded. "That was what we were supposed to be doing before the sovereigns became an issue, at any rate."

It made sense, though some were less willing to admit it than others.

"I... guess," Simon grumbled, frowning; there was a lot on his mind, and this wasn't helping. This didn't feel like fighting tooth and nail-- this felt like something he couldn't put his finger on -- but he swallowed his pride.

Rocmon turned in the skies to fly to the north. From the east, the rays of the sun were starting to peek over the Metal City for the last time. There was not a human or digimon among them who didn't feel pained, like they had failed in some way. Perhaps soon it would turn to incentive to face their final challenges with strength, but for now, it was only another sobering reality. The only upside was that, as best they could tell, no digimon were perishing with it; they had been evacuated.
They tried not to think that there might be three brave digimon that fell there. They didn't know for sure; they would not yet let themselves be taken by mourning.

They couldn't see the northern edge of the city from here-- they were still quite to the southern end of the Area. It would be a ways before they got out. Perhaps Javermon noticed them, because he started making himself harder to see, running through alleyways and darker places on his way out -- even if he had to wreck corners of buildings as he bulldozed past.


By the time Rocmon finally reached the edge of he area, it was the early afternoon; most of the group on his back had fallen asleep, and even the bird himself was flagging a little. The city below was crumbling apart behind them, falling into nothingness starting from the center and moving out; it was more than a little bit creepy to watch, truth be told. Javermon had managed to outstrip them some time ago, but they had no doubt that he was headed in the same direction as they. (Call it a hunch.) Ahead of them was a change of scenery, in its own peculiar way; it was a dense cloud of what looked like fog, extending in both directions as far as they eye could see.

"And I'm betting that that's the Proxy Area," Andrea said, sitting up and leaning forward.

Rocmon nodded his head. "I don't see a cave," the bird rumbled. "Are we meant to go straight through?"

"Also betting on that," Cindemon piped up while Andrea began to nudge Faris with her foot to get him to wake up.

"I don't know about the rest of you," Rocmon said after a moment, as they drew closer, "but I for one would prefer not to see what happens if I try to fly through in this form. I'm going to land."

"I'm going to wager that's probably for the better," Andrea said, craning her neck to look behind. "But make it quick."

And so -- while those who were asleep were roused to wakefulness -- Rocmon began his descent, being careful not to drop quickly enough that any of his allies would be thrown off, but not dawdling. His feet hit down on the ground, very near the edge indeed-- the metal pavement was beat and scuffled and even torn up at places, revealing solid rock veined with metal hiding beneath. Even as the land behind them was crumbling apart and decaying on a very base level, collapsing into an abyss that opened up below the ground, they had enough time to get the heck out.

"Up and off, lads and lass!" Rocmon cawed; by the time he had landed, his teammates had been roused, and they did not waste any time in disembarking from the bird's back. With a flash of light, Rocmon separated into Mismon and Emily once more.

And there they stood on the threshhold, trying to gaze into the fog-- to no avail. Behind them, the city was still crumbling apart, granting incentive for them to move forward.

"Here goes nothin'," Simon said, pulling his goggles down over his eyes-- as a safety precaution. (Who knew what this stuff was, if this was indeed a proxy area? ... or, honestly, even if it wasn't?)

"Whoa," Faris remarked; Simon raised an eyebrow as he turned. "I didn't know you ever actually wore those things."

"It is kind of an odd fashion accessory," Julian remarked, holding Paleomon in one arm as he put a hand in his pocket.

"Ah, stuff it, they're cool," Simon mumbled, his cheeks flushing slightly.

"It's a good idea," the elder boy conceded with a shrug of one shoulder. "I'm going to suggest we follow suit and cover our eyes. At least until something inevitably tries to murder us."

Simon quirked his eyebrow again, but did not remark. Instead, he looked to the little furry digimon partner he held. "You ready?"

"As I'll ever be," Efudemon said; if anybody had any objections, they were overruled by the fact that the area behind them was crumbling fast, and if they didn't get moving, they would have a tough time doing much of anything.
And so, moving as one unruly mob, some faster than others, they covered their eyes threw himselves forwards through the fog, and they got a swift and immediate answer to where they were going.

Unlike every other proxy area before -- even the ones on the mountains -- there was no wait here. Every bit of tingling, every ounce of pressure that always accompanied the area change, was not spread out over time-- it was all at once.
The digimon felt it, but not as strongly as their partners did. It was also probably a good idea that they covered their eyes, because a bit of the fog seeped into their noses and throats -- both digimon and human alike -- and burned intensely before dissipiating relatively quickly. They didn't want to imagine what'd happen if it got into their eyes.

But their thoughts about that were short-lived, because the place they stepped into was beyond any they had seen before.

They were standing on a cliff, overlooking a vast abyss of swirling darkness. Ahead and to the right the cliff sloped downwards into a hill, leading to an expanse of solid land. It was jagged and rough, flat land punctuated by craggy rocks, cliffs and mesas that rose out of nowhere and tapered off as quickly as they shot up. All of this covered was in greyish-purple sands, whipped into the air by a harsh, bitter wind that howled as it ripped across the landscape; the wind bit at their skin, but the sand and grit blown into the air did not reach this high. Overhead, a blanket of purple-red clouds swirled like a storm that never came to fruition.
It was not a hospitable-looking place, in other words.

"What the heck is this?" Cindemon grumbled while Simon pulled his goggles back up to look around.

"Were we ever told about anywhere like this?" Fuwamon asked; the other digimon mumbled a negative... except Sampamon, who remained tight-lipped.

"Guys," Luke said after a moment, frowning. "I know where we are. At least, I have a clue."

"Do enlighten us," Paleomon said, looking sidelong at the boy-- a gesture which was quickly mirrored by the other members of the team, though most turned to look at Luke and Sampamon instead of merely glance.

Luke's face was tinged a bit with pink, not comfortable being the center of attention all of a sudden, but he forced himself to speak. "I don't know of anywhere else that looks like this-- we're in the Barren Lands. It's... kind of where Era sets up shop."

So they didn't have far to follow Javermon. Great. Fantastic.

"Why didn't you tell us before? Like, when were in the city?" Emily said, trying to puzzle it out in her head.

"We-- well, gimme a break..." Luke mumbled, lowering his eyes. "We didn't really go directly in and out. I-- don't know if you ever saw it, but usually, we just teleported. I didn't... really know where it was, in terms of in the big scheme of things. Reimon had a lot of power for her size."

"Would that I still maintained the power to move us through shadows," Sampamon said, closing her eyes. "It'd make our job easier."

"Regardless," Julian said, sighing as he turned to look towards the expanse of land being assaulted by sand, "he chose a heck of a place for a final dungeon."

"A what?" Andrea said; it was her turn to raise an eyebrow.

Julian didn't miss a beat. "Nothing," he said, totally deadpan.

Andrea fixed him with a sort of incredulous look for a moment, before she continued. "So, why can't we just tough it out and get going?"

"It's... not safe to go out, when the sands are acting up. Digimon come out if they figure something's roaming around, and they're not the picture of friendliness, usually," Sampamon said, and if she had shoulders she would have shrugged.

"The wind does die down occasionally," Luke provided, quickly, leading off of his partner's statement. "We'll just have to wait for it to calm down, trek through, find shelter, rinse, and repeat"

"While Javermon is probably just toughing it out," Simon remarked, more to himself than anything; in fact, it was hard to hear him over a sudden rearing up of the wind howling away. He couldn't contain it anymore-- he was getting frustrated. His thoughts were interrupted, however.

"It's strongest before it calms-- we might gain some land if we hurry," Sampamon said thoughtfully, looking out at the expanse of land.

Well, better some than none; the still-slightly-groggy assortment of kids, most holding their partners in their arms, took off down the hill at a none too slow pace, even with eyes covered. Occasionally they had to dig their heels down in to avoid falling forward on the sand-dusted slope, and their shoes skidded and slipped a bit regardless. As he always did, Simon was at the front of the pack, goggles once down over his eyes.

It didn't take long for the ground to flatten out, despite the considerable length of the run-- as it was in fact downhill, it wasn't exactly hard going; the wind had, indeed, calmed gradually as they descended, and it was almost eerily calm by the time they hit level ground. Better eerily calm, however, than the alternative.

"So, what-- we just pick a direction and go?" Faris said, shifting Finmon to be under one arm and placing the other arm akimbo.

Luke paused, and looked over his shoulder, towards the ocean-like abyss. "Ssssomething like that."

Well, there they were. Preparing themselves for the lovely experience of trying to run on sand (like they hadn't had enough of it in the Relic Desert, not at all) and holding their digimon partners tight, they began walking in towards the expanse of sand.


They walked at a brisk march for a while-- going on an hour. It was decided that the digimon would hop up to their Child forms, both in case of danger and so the children and digimon would have their hands (or paws, or fins, or wings) freed to cover their faces. This was necessary because occasionally, the wind would rear up for a second or two, blasting them in the face with sand, and then die down immediately.

Aside from these bursts of wind and grit, it was almost disconcertingly quiet; they talked among themselves some, but for the most part, the only sound was the wind howling away in the distance.
The ground, though it appeared even, was only falsely so, it turned out; no doubt due to some peculiarity of the digital world, it was impossible to tell when the grit was a thin coating covering solid ground just below, or piled high, and the travelers' feet would sink into it several inches before being stopped by the compacted sand.

And none of this was what was forefront on their minds.

The time they had spent in the digital world felt so much longer than it was. For all the trouble and pain and setbacks they had faced, they were all but on the doorstep of the person responsible for everything.
And that was a surreal feeling-- like one that they had felt was always far-off, not quite a reality that would happen.

They didn't know if it would end here; they had a feeling it wouldn't. But... here they were.

This was weighing a bit heavier on the minds of some than of others. Namely, it was on the brain of -- of all people -- Simon, and he was a bit frustrated about it. These kinds of heavier thoughts were not, by any means, his wont; he pushed them back and made a note to himself to talk to Egakumon. If anyone would 'get' him, it would be his partner.

The wind around them was finally starting to whip up again; Kamomon flapped his way up into the air to get a better look at one of the craggy upshoots of rock not far from where they were. "I think I see somewhere to take shelter!" the bird announced. (He was then immediately blasted out of the air by a powerful gust of wind, and tumbled back down into Emily's arms.)
They took the last stretch of this at as much of a sprint as was possible with their shoes filled with sand.

Once at the rock, they found the bird's words rang true; there was a smallish alcove there, shielded enough by outcroppings of rock to suffice.
(Really, it was interesting that they were now so used to counting 'a space large enough to hold seven children and seven small-child-sized monsters' as "smallish".)

In they piled, and for a moment or five, they paused to catch their breath and shake the sand out of their shoes (and every other article of clothing they had on their body).

"So," Julian said, breaking the silence. "What Deekamon said-- about what's going to happen. He telling the truth?"

"As best we can tell," Lammon said with a nod.

"Can you explain why? As you understand it," the eldest boy of the company said, sitting back against the rock wall behind him.

"Our makeup is... peculiar," Sampamon said. "Most digimon cannot so easily shift between forms as we can, let alone merge with humans. It makes for an unstable composition."

Julian made a humming noise of consideration. He said nothing more, merely exchanging a look with Iguamon. What he meant by that look was, as ever, totally unknowable to anyone of the company who was not a dinosaur.

Faris groaned, threading the fingers of one hand through his hair. "You know, bro, for someone who got so torked at Deekamon for cryptic conversations, you're sure good at them. It wouldn't kill you to be straightforward, would it?"
Delfinimon, in Faris' lap, shifted a little, but said nothing. In the dolphin's mind, there was absolutely no doubt as to the thinly-veiled meaning of her partner's words. Julian, for his part, merely quirked an eyebrow, but said nothing.

Indeed, nobody said anything for a moment or two. Simon, to break the silence, let loose a string of vowels and guttural consonants, something to the tune of 'urauaouuughhh'. He pushed himself to a standing position, using the rock face behind him to support himself as he did. Everyone was way too on-edge for him, especially when he was having to deal with a bunch of thoughts he didn't have the words for-- a sensation he was not used to, and one that was frustrating him immensely.

"What are you doing?" Emily said, a bit alarmed, as Simon turned to look outside, leaning against the wall.

"I'll be right back," Simon said, then, looking to Egakumon. The rabbit, a confused expression on his face, hopped to his feet with a nod regardless.

"If you get lost, I will hunt you down and drag you back myself, and it won't be pretty," Andrea said, folding her arms and frowning.

"And I'll help," Emily said, huffing a little. "Seriously, don't... like, get lost, or eaten by scorpions, or something."

"Always wanted a good rabbit hunt," Rajamon mumbled absently, smirking; when Egakumon stuck his tongue out, the tiger stuck his out as well in retaliation. Simon smiled faintly, but pulled his goggles back over his eyes, turned, and walked out of the little alcove. It wasn't a full-blown sandstorm yet, but there wasn't a terrible amount of time until it was, and a few of the number were bracing themselves to go fetch the goggle-headed boy if anything went wrong. Simon wasn't the broody type. (That was more of either Julian or Luke's job, depending on the day of the week.)

Luckily, Simon wasn't headed off into the wild blue (more purple-red, really) yonder to try and hunt down Javermon by himself, though he'd be lying if he said the thought hadn't occurred to him. (If Javermon could run straight through this, then certainly Kisekimon could...)
But surprisingly enough, he knew better than that-- at least on some level.
No, he didn't go far at all. He didn't speak a word as he circled around the rocky structure, searching for another alcove to stand in and be protected from the sand in the air. He found one, about a third of the way around the crag, Egakumon hot on his heels.

"So what's going on, Si?" the rabbit asked, wiping a bit of sand off his snout and shaking some grit out of his ear.

"I have no idea," Simon replied, leaning one elbow against the wall of the little alcove and looking at Egakumon as he pulled his goggles up. The rabbit cocked an eyebrow, and Simon sighed. "I've been thinking. I know, that's weird in and of itself!" he grinned, and Egakumon grinned back.
"I donno, man," the boy said, gesturing vaguely with one hand. "Just... we keep running around, and nothing ever seems to work, you know?"

"You're gonna have to be more specific," Egakumon said, twirling his paintbrush around his claws.

"We've just failed, with flying colours, to protect all four of the sovereigns that aren't the big golden dragon of the center... thing," Simon said.

"Fanglongmon," Egakumon provided.

"Yeah, that one!" the boy said, nodding. "But... you know what I mean, right? We can't seem to protect them -- heck, even Deekamon and the monkey and the dinosaur thing couldn't hold Javermon off. And... heck." He thought back-- digimon not aligned with Era attacking them in the cave under the ruins, Pharaohmon-- and even back to the Gekomon distrusting them. "Even digimon that should be on our side are getting fed up. We ran away from a chance to protect the sovereign, and who knows if Deekamon got away from that overgrown watchdog?"

Simon sighed, and shook his head. "I mean, you gotta understand-- I wasn't exactly popular, back home. I didn't even have the excuse of being one of the nerds-- y'know as well as I do that Julian's big words confuse me a bit. Let's be honest-- I'm kiiiind of a bit of a blockhead," Simon said, and both he and his partner smiled at that-- Simon wasn't particularly ashamed or self-deprecating, he was merely stating it. "But so, I donno. I guess maybe I was just a bit too loud, or a bit too dumb, or something like that, so kids always picked on me. Always have." Egakumon was listening with rapt attention.
"So, y'gotta imagine how it felt when I ended up here. It felt like something out of, like, a video game, or a comic book. You take this lame kid who's nothing that special except for being a bit loud, and you tell him, yeah, he's been chosen to be a hero, to save a world, and more than that, he gets a rad little monster buddy, who gets bigger and more hardcore when crap goes down, and he has to team up with a bunch of other kids who've been given the same treatment. He gets to be the hero, and he gets to stand up and fight, and have a chance at winning."
He grinned, and he and Egakumon fist-bumped here. Simon's face fell gradually, then. "But then, after you tell him this, it turns out that nothin' really goes right. Everything the group does turns out to be, like... either all for nothing, or they're being strung along by the bad guy. The creatures-- heck, the people -- they're supposed to be protecting start getting mad, 'cos nothing's working the way it's supposed to. And then, right when they can fight alongside these powerful mentor dudes-- they get told they have to run away.
"But that's not enough!" Here, Simon actually reared back and punched -- not too hard, but not a light tap -- the solid rock with him with one fist. "No, then, you tell him that this rad little monster dude, basically created to be the best friend he's ever had, is gonna die, for good, never to be seen again, if they win!"

Simon pulled the glove off of the hand he had punched the wall with. He rubbed his now slightly-bloodied knuckles, and sat down on the dusty, sandy floor. Egakumon's attention was still one-hundred percent on Simon's words, and -- uncharacteristically -- he did not have any comments or quips.
"I know we're supposed to be heroes and saviors or whatever, but right now... I don't feel much like a hero at all. I kinda feel like I just miss my mom and dad." He frowned, thinking back to when they were almost back in the real world. "Heck, I even kind of miss Sarah, and all she ever did was yell at me. But then that makes me think. ... and boy, let me tell you, I'm not digging this whole deep-thinking stuff," he said, lifting his head with a sort of miffed expression. "But... heck, I miss my family now, and we've only been here for a handful of weeks. The heck's gonna happen when we miss this place?"

He rested his chin on his hand as he continued. "It's not... like, we've only been here a little while, but this place is practically a second home. Even with things trying to kill us at every turn, it's not just about saving our end of things, you know? This place is important, too. But when we leave, we're not coming back. When we're done, you guys... you're gonna die. If you weren't around, we wouldn't last a day here."

Egakumon paused, and thought for a second. It had really never occurred to him, or, really, any of the other digimon, even the cold and rational thinker Iguamon, the compassionate always-thought-of-others Lammon, or the quietly wise Sampamon.
"I... guess, we never really thought of that. We never really had reason to, you know?" the rabbit said, thoughtful. "But I do see what you mean. I'm sorry, for sure, that I don't have the answers. But... I donno. It's not the greatest thing, but it's the best shot we've got. We have to do it because even if it sucks in the meantime, we gotta do it for the greater good, or something like that."
Simon said nothing, merely clenching his fists on the ground. Egakumon sat down and placed one of his broad, clawed hands over the hand of his partner. "And don't forget that we digimon would be grade-A buttered toast without you here. Don't give us all the credit. I said it earlier, and I'm sayin' it again-- we're gonna win. There's no hill that lasts forever, you know? You'll reach the top if you keep climbing and doing what you need to do."

Simon paused, and nodded slowly. "Sorry, I got a bit... wordy, in there. I just didn't want to spill my guts all of a sudden at them, you know? Seems they're already on-edge enough, without me piling it up higher. I guess it just... the thing with Deekamon, it got to me." He didn't want to drag them down with this on his mind-- he felt that, truly, he was there to be the one that yelled 'go', and if he was going to sulk, he'd keep his distance and make it quick, so as not to discourage the others-- or, at the least, so as not to exacerbate any extant tension.

"Me, too," Egakumon conceded, nodding. "You know... it's just a lot to take in all at once. ... I don't think they're gone. Even if Javermon defeated them..." he paused, as if he didn't want to consider the possibility (he didn't), "they'll be back, someday. Everything goes back to Yggdrasil, and Yggdrasil is the force, I guess is the word, behind everything here." Simon nodded slowly, standing up.
"I guess what I mean is that, well, we'll make it."

"I guess, I-- wait a second." Simon cut himself off and squinted his eyes to look out into the barren landscape. The wind was picking up, blowing sand every which way, and he had to shield his eyes a bit, but he saw, moving through towards the horizon, a dark shape-- clutching a brilliantly bright thing in its mouth. Its trajectory was straight ahead, due north; the shape would have been invisible from the vantage point of the alcove the rest were hiding in.

"Javermon," Egakumon said, quiet, looking up at Simon. The boy's hands were clenched into fists, and he closed his eyes.
For a moment, the urge to give chase gripped him, powerful and all but driving him to move automatically...
And yet, he pushed that instinct down.

Simon opened his eyes just in time to see the dark shape that they could only assume was Javermon turn to look at them; the change was a bit hard to see at the distance, but it did not go unnoticed.

What went doubly noticed was that Javermon shifted the orb in his mouth to one giant hand -- Simon scanned his brain and tried to remember if this was what Javermon looked like last they saw him (as, mind-- none of the kids, save possibly Luke, had actually seen Javermon up close in his bestial form; he remembered the sight of when they had been flying above, and concluded his supposing it was the dog was correct). He didn't have much time to think, however, as the distant shape of Javermon suddenly, his mouth free, reared his head back and howled.
It was loud, the same noise they had heard in the city; they could see, even at a distance, that the dog's back was bowed as he craned his head skywards. Javermon began to run, still letting loose his haunting cry as he ran (a bit lopsided, thanks to the orb in one big paw), eyes focused skywards.

"Something tells me," Simon said, slowly, "that this is not going to end well." He pulled his goggles back down over his eyes and stepped out, Egakumon at his side.

Nothing happened-- no digimon emerged from the sands, nothing leapt up to try and murder them.

In fact, when something happened, it was innocent, but Simon and Egakumon both nearly leapt a mile into the air, themselves, when -- after an uncomfortable, tense stretch of confused silence-- a voice came from beside them.
"Are you coming back, or are you going to wait out here until you get killed?"

He turned; standing there were Luke and Andrea both, both accompanied by their respective digimon partners. Andrea had been the one to speak, and she stood with one hand on her hip and a quirked eyebrow. Luke put his hands in his pockets, while Sampamon -- for once -- was down in the sand, near her partner's feet, instead of slung around his neck.

"I came to make sure you weren't getting yourself maimed, when we heard the howling," Andrea said.

"And I came to make sure she wouldn't maim you," Luke said. When the girl shot a sideways glance at him, he shrunk back a bit, uncomfortable, but shrugged one shoulder; it was actually hard to tell if he was being serious, for how deadpan he had said it.
(The truth, not that Simon knew it, was that Andrea had dragged him out with her because it had sounded like Javermon, and she figured he'd have the most answers of anyone.)

"Unless there's more than one giant dog stealing big glowy digicores," Egakumon said, looking over his shoulder, "then yeah, sounds about right."

"He was headed that-a-way," he said, pointing in the direction they had seen the Reaper go. "North... ish."

"Well," Rajamon said, flexing his paws in the sand, "it's better than wandering around lost for a week. Now, can we get back where we're not standing in the middle of a sandstorm?" the tiger said, before spitting out a bit of sand that had found its way into his mouth, mumbling something about 'sandblasting my mouth' through grit teeth.

It was at that point that, in front of them, the sands began to shift-- not a terrible amount, no, but enough for it to be visible, but it was clearly some sort of digimon unearthing themselves. The best bet they had was that it was a response to Javermon's call -- the howl had been a signal that something, someone, was roaming about -- but that thought was overridden by the fact that as the sand fell away, they realized that what was emerging out of the ground didn't stop at simply 'digimon'-- they were tremendous spider-like digimon. Nine or ten of them.

Because of course it was.

Golden, horned masks covered their faces, and coarse hair-like fibers lay on the parts of their bodies not covered by shiny black carapaces-- and still more parts of their bodies were plain purplish skin of sorts. Shocks of red hair emerged from under their masks, and shorter arms -- the first and foremost of their four pairs of limbs, all of which tipped with red claws and most encircled by a number of belts -- were clenched into fists onto clumps of it alongside their faces, for some reason. Their shiny black abdomens were emblazoned with white skull and crossbones; not one for subtlety, clearly.

And what would a hostile digimon be without the D-GEAR diatribe?

Dokugumon. Adult-level insectoid digimon. The computer viruses that course through its body lend kick to its Poison Thread and Poison Cobweb attacks.

"Only adult level, huh?" Rajamon remarked, and the other two digimon seemed to have the same idea. The kids' digivices didn't even get the chance to cool down and turn the light off before they began to glow again.

"Egakumon, kickstart digivolve to... Shokunimon!"
"Rajamon, kickstart digivolve to... Baghamon!"
"Sampamon, kickstart digivolve to... Serpemon!"

"Stomp them into the dust!" Andrea called, cupping her hands over her mouth, but her voice was drowned out by the sound around them.

The howling wind around them didn't really help with audibility, really.

"Come on," Luke said quickly, tugging on both of the other two humans' arms to get them out of the sandstorm and into the little alcove Simon had been standing in a short time ago.

Shokunimon moved so nimbly over the sand that he barely left marks in the sand as he rushed towards the spiders, one hand thrown up over his face to try and protect his eyes from the grit. Serpemon's body left deep grooves in the sand as she adopted a sidewinder style of movement, while Baghamon just plowed through with sheer willpower.

"Tumble Kick!" Shokunimon cried, leaping into a somersault before he smashed one of his clawed boots into the crown of the closest Dokugumon's head, bouncing off nimbly and springing off of the spider's abdomen as he jumped away.

This left the spider stunned; Baghamon darted around behind it, with a yell of: "Fire Cyclone!" His paws left trails of fire where he stepped, even in the sand, and ran in a tight circle to create a funnel of flame right behind the spider, but even that wasn't where the attack ended.

Serpemon, in front of the Dokugumon, opened her mouth, and gathered energy; for a split second, everything went grey, before she fired a blast of black energy with a cry of, "Spectral Blast!"

This had the effect of knocking the tremendous arachnid backwards into the tornado of fire that Baghamon was leaving behind; it let loose a truly unearthly gargling noise of pain, and surged its head around, its body skittering around to follow backwards. (It maaaay have not been terribly smart; after all, it had an enemy right in front of it, but the flames had come from behind, therefore...) The spider, feeling wronged, saw the rabbit and tiger darting over the sand, going for the next spider; with a clacking hiss, it said: "Poison Cobweb!"

Shokunimon was quick and Baghamon was no slouch, but when the Dokugumon they had turned their back on lifted its abdomen and fired therefrom a purplish net-like web, they were caught in it before they knew what was going on.

"Hey!" Shokunimon blurted, suddenly entangled in the web with the tiger alongside, and he held out his brush. "Paint Blast!" he cried, and the corrosive, multicoloured paint fired forth from his paintbrush, dissolving away some of the web, but they could feel it sapping away their strength, and the web quickly began to re-form itself-- and the dokugumon around them were beginning to close in.

Serpemon, meanwhile, took advantage of her position-- and once more fired an attack at the spider. "Spectral Blast!" the snake cried, and this one sent the shuffling Dokugumon flying forward-- towards the two digimon encased in the web.
Shokunimon was preoccupied with trying to hold the spiders at bay with paint sprayed through the fibers of the web, but Baghamon was on alert-- when the Dokugumon that got them into this mess was coming towards them at an alarming rate and, honestly, in a sort of projectile arc, he was on the ball.

"Tiger Gem!" he called, wrenching himself to aim it as fiery energy gathered in his necklace before firing at Dokguumon. Before it even impacted the ground again, the attack hit it, and it dissolved into data and an egg in mid-air-- and the web it had produced vanished with it.

Shokunimon, no longer in the constraints of the web, surged forward, and only barely had the time to move into position to kick the nearest spider in the face and ricochet off.

"Okay, so, this might be a little bit tricky," Shokunimon conceded, turning his head to look as the realization hit them that there were entirely too many of the things to deal with.

But that couldn't possibly be enough, could it?

From under the ground where the first Dokugumon's egg had landed, more sand began to shift. What emerged was not more Dokugumon-- no, it was more like Dokugumon, shrunk down and simplified, and multiplied by a hundred. A veritable swarm of much smaller little spider-like insects appeared, almost as though the spider's spare data went to create them instead of returning immediately to Yggdrasil; their abdomens were striped in gold and burnt red, but aside from the lack of horns, no, they looked like miniature Dokugumon. Fantastic.
Back in the alcove, the D-GEAR units were quick on the draw.

KoDokugumon. Baby I level insect digimon. No attack data found; though they are low in level, their attack power is great, and they attack en masse to great effect.

If en masse meant two dozen of them suddenly flooding out, yeah. Fantastic.

"Fire Cyclone!" Baghamon called, quickly darting over and leaping over, his paws trailing fire that fell to the ground; he quickly made a tight loop, and the flames erupted into a cyclone that whipped up most of the bugs and took care of them in flashes of light, but a few managed to scurry away and quickly threw themselves at Serpemon and Shokunimon. The D-GEAR reading the digimon couldn't hear was true; despite their small size, they were strong little buggers, and though they were dispelled by a throw or a kick or a writhe, the effects of their kamikaze attacks was not to be ignored, especially as it knocked the partner digimon towards the bigger, meaner spiders.

A Dokugumon was drawing uncomfortably close to Shokunimon, its jaws gaping open as it called its attack: "Poison Thread!" it clacked, and the rabbit could see purplish energy beginning to gather.

Cue the cavalry.

"Fast Strike!"

So cried a familiar voice before the raptor-like Velocimon was on the scene, smashing his skull-helmeted head into the side of Dokugumon's head, knocking the spider's aim off-- and then some, as the dinosaur took advantage of the stunned spider to kick off of it with his large-clawed feet before hitting back down on the sand.

"Come on, that's no fair, you can't do this without us," said Faris' voice before his head popped around the lip of the alcove, a grin on his face. He held up one arm to protect his eyes and mouth from sand; right behind him were the other three children, and they wasted no time in worming their way in to get out of the sandstorm -- and the maelstrom of battle around them.

Around them, the others were joining the fray-- Ariamon appeared from a wisp of smoke and smashed her own skull into the side of a Dokugumon that was drawing in on Serpemon, while Kaizokumon rained down a rain of glowing bullets from a vantage point that seemed to be sitting higher up on the rocky crag. Shayumon twirled her body expertly and with one deft movement, used her glowing blade-like tailfin to slice straight through one Dokugumon's hard carapace.

"We figured that something might be going on, if you weren't back yet," Toby said, tugging at the hood bunched around his neck a bit nervously.

"Soooo we decided to see what was going on, going up, and going down," Emily continued.

"And a quick D-GEAR scan showed that you were still on the order of 20 feet away," Julian finished, shrugging.

Outside, they could see from the way that the data of the Dokugumon that Shayumon sliced dispersed that, yes, the KoDokugumon seemed to spawn from the excess data of the Dokugumon once the 'mother' was returned to an egg.
Meaning that Shayumon was now being swarmed by the little bugs, and she had to swipe with her claws and slice with her tail to dislodge them as they tried to gnaw parts of her body off, their venom weak but painful.

"Annoying little things, yeom!" the shark exclaimed, snarling a bit with pain as she swiped the last ones away, while Baghamon helped clean up the area around her by stomping on strays, turning them to flashes of data under his paws.

Not far away, Velocimon smashed his head into another Dokugumon, knocking it onto its back; with its underside exposed, Shokunimon leapt into the air and smashed both of his clawed boots into it before springing off. When it dissolved into data and KoDokugumon, Velocimon swept his tail to throw them away, and -- for good measure -- Serpemon let loose another Spectral Blast, sending stragglers flying in bursts of light.

Ariamon and Velocimon led the efforts in the business of headbutting the spiders to flip them onto their backs, allowing Shokunimon and Kaizokumon to do the most damage with kicks, blasts of paint, and bullets that otherwise would not do much damage to the arachnids' exoskeletons. Shayumon's tailblade, Baghamon's fire, and Serpemon's blasts of energy cut through to the point right quick, and similarly made quick work of the ensuing floods of Kodokugumon.

Watching from the sidelines, the humans crammed into their little rock room were rooting loudly for their partners, cheering on their teammates (even when Toby looked away, as he was not particularly fond of spiders)-- and, especially in the case of Simon, feeling a surge of we can do this. True, these were merely Adult-levels, but seeing the team work together, all seven of them, dividing and conquering, making short work of the creepy crawlies, was... heartening, in a way that was hard to explain.
Not that there was ever a doubt, but they all had each other's backs.

And even though they weren't joined in Mega form, the kids could feel connected to their digimon, as though their support lent actual tangible power to their friends-- and the connection ran both ways. The feeling was more acute than they ever could before they first Genesis digivolved together-- whether the connection was strengthened itself, or their ability to sense it was more well-tuned was up in the air.

It was weird, to be sure, but it was a good sort of weird.

It wasn't long before, out in the whipping winds and sands, the last of the dokugumon was down for the count, seven versus one.
Or, rather, one versus one.
As they fought, they didn't even notice the wind starting to calm-- bit by bit, very gradual.

"I got this," Shokunimon said, twirling his paintbrush, and none of the other digimon were willing to argue-- though they were tense and prepared to help their ally, they would grant him this.

"Poison Thread!" the final Dokugumon said in its clicky, clacky voice, opening its mouth and releasing a spray of purplish thread that functioned more like a spray of energy than true thread.

Shokunimon, in response, leapt out of the way, and as he fell back down, he stuck one foot out and it began to glow as he somersaulted through the air. "Tumble Kick!"

His foot impacted on Dokugumon's abdomen, dead-center on the skull and crossbones, and the spider cried out in indignation. The rabbit bounced off to be standing behind the spider, and Dokugumon followed the bait and turned around, away from the others.

"Poison Cobweb!" Dokugumon hissed, lifting its abdomen to fire another net-like web at the rabbit like its ally had done at the start of the scuffle.

"Paint Blast!" Shokunimon countered, allowing the ... well, blast of paint... to disintegrate the web headed at him, allowing him to throw himself through the hole created before the web began to reconstruct itself. Much more fun than simply leaping over it. He repeated the attack once he was closer to the spider, causing Dokugumon to rear up into its hindmost legs, blinded.

And that was all it took-- one more surge forward and a tumble to make the name of his Tumble Kick appropriate, Shokunimon drove one glowing foot into the spider's underside, causing it to go up in a blast of energy.

Before he could try and deal with the KoDokugumon resulting from this, Velocimon surged forward, bowing his head and lifting the rabbit up onto his back immediately; Baghamon was in hot pursuit (pun definitely intended), and quickly kicked up a Fire Cyclone to swat the bugs once and for all.

"That," Shokunimon said, once Velocimon circled back around to the group of digimon, "was awesome."

"Well, you know, from an objective perspective," Kaizokumon said, and then chuckled. "... ... it rather was, aye."

With swirls of light surrounding them, the seven digimon returned to their Child forms-- and the wind, by this time, had died down enough for the human partners to run out and be alongside their digimon allies.

"Rad work, bro," Simon said, kneeling to give a fist-bump to Egakumon on his level.

"I never want to see another spider," Toby mumbled, but smiled as Lammon nuzzled up against his leg.

Luke smiled faintly, but said nothing, as he lifted Sampamon up onto his shoulders. The snake, instead, spoke up. "Perhaps the threat posed is less than we thought." She went quiet after that and refused to explain, but her meaning was clear enough.

"So... Javermon went that way," Simon said after a while, while the digimon wound down from their battle, pointing the direction they had seen the dog head.

"Let's get a move on it, then," Kamomon said.

Nobody saw fit to word it more extravagantly; a move on it, they got. Though they had no clue what was ahead, they had a newfound feeling-- despite it all, they could do this.
At the very least, they figured they had a chance.

[Chapter 42: End]