Episode 43: Brothers in Arms

"Needle Cannon!" HebiDramon cried, rearing down and digging her claws into the sand, as the hairs on her back stiffened, before being shot out rapid-fire. They were aimed at a digimon the group was currently found themselves wrapped up in fighting-- a tremendous skeletal scorpion, by the does-just-what-it-says-on-the-tin name of SkullScorpiomon.
The kids (and non-combatant digimon) were staying back, huddled down in a rock alcove, to avoid being shuffled or swept away; they were against what seemed like the tip of a mostly-buried cliff, dotted with little alcoves and caves and other such nooks and crannies.

Despite the lack of flesh on SkullScorpiomon for the dragon's needle-like hairs to sink into, they quickly dissolved into paradoxically black light that was absorbed into the skeleton's bones.

The beast let loose a roar and swung out with its massive blade-tipped tail. "Poison Pierce!" it rasped, but its movements were slowed and dulled by the dark energy from the snake-dragon's attack to the point where it was easy to avoid. it had a flaming cat to attend to, leaping at its face with paws ablaze.

"Bagha Comet!" BurningBaghamon roared, the crackling flames that perpetually licked at his front feet burning bright and rearing higher as they engulfed his entire front half. The tiger smashed paws-first into SkullScorpiomon's face, pushing him back; they could hear the scorpion's bones creak as they resisted collapse.

"Blackout!" SkullScorpiomon retaliated, and from the aether it summoned a heavy black fog; the fighters found that it stole away their sight, shrouding their eyes in darkness.
Except for the third (and final) of the partner digimon engaged in battle with the beast, for he was too tall for the fog to reach him, when both heads were craned high.

"Twin Flare!" Triassimon's twin heads growled, as their mouths opened to spill blue and red flames into the air, aimed at the hostile digimon. The streams met and turned blinding white for only an instant before impacting SkullScorpiomon-- and by the time the light of the flames dissipated, it replaced by SkullScorpiomon's body becoming a swirling mass of data that shot into the clouds, cutting a vivid streak across the dark and stormy skies.

"You can only buy so much time," the skeletal arachnid rattled out in a breathy voice before it was gone-- and then an egg fell to the ground, nestled in the purplish sand.

As it quieted down, the only sound being the howl of wind in the distance, BurningBaghamon growled low. "I'm getting tired of all these digimon with attitude problems," the giant cat rumbled.

"Yes, we have more than enough attitude with only you around," Triassimon's red-haired head said coolly. When BurningBaghamon turned to look at the dual-headed dinosaur, both of the reptile's faces were calm and collected-- but there was just a hint of a smirk on the blue head's lips. The cat responded by scoffing, before all three Perfect-levels returned to their default forms in a quick flash of light. Tiger, dinosaur, and snake alike were quick in returning to their partners' sides.

It was two days they had spent in the Barren Lands -- two nights spent huddled in craggy caves and on constant alert -- and it was fast coming on a third. Nearly three full days of sand, wind, and no shortage of digimon out to rip their faces off (or, rather, some out to rip their faces off, and some merely out to stall them, but in the heat of battle the distinction wasn't exactly something on the forefront of anyone's mind). Needless to say, tension ran high.

"It's getting too late to do much," Toby said, looking out and up to the sky; it was beginning to darken (well, darker than it usually was, at any rate), and the less light they had, the probability of them straying off-path approached one. Straying off-path would mean getting lost -- in the dark, mind -- and attacked or (more likely) ambushed. In other words: staying active was a grade-A Bad Idea.

"I don't know how much more of this I'm gonna be able to take," Emily said, sitting on the ground with her back to the wall of the little alcove, and she pushed against it to get herself to her feet. "I mean the whole... on the doorstep of the enemy thing, not the waking up every morning with a mouthful of sand thing, though I'm not terribly fond of that either."

"Seconded," Faris groaned, stretching out and craning his neck to peer out of their little hiding place. This little alcove was hardly enough to comfortably shelter all fourteen of them for a night -- it'd be hard-pressed to house even half of them without feeling cramped -- but it was hardly the only little cave lining the wall of rock. "Any input on how close we are?" he said, then, turning to look at his older brother.

Julian was standing near the back of the alcove, looking down at his D-GEAR unit. The projected map was up, illuminating his face with blue light; the map on the digivices, with its lack of scale and occasionally rough sense of positioning, was their only guide. The first night -- not long after the Dokguumon swarm -- Luke had told them that Era's stronghold was all but dead in the heart of the area. Julian was making some quick estimates, between where they were now and, a general idea of the center of the area (as best he could tell, with no discernible borders on the map image to facilitate this effort), and where they had come into the Barren Lands.

After a moment, the eldest boy spoke, but did not look up. "Assuming that the winds don't act up more than usual, we stay on-course the entire time, that we leave at sunrise, and that I'm anywhere near correct in my guess of where he is, we should reach Era by tomorrow by sundown."

"In other words, if everything goes according to plan," Faris drawled, running a hand backwards through his hair.

"Which it never does, yeom," Delfinimon provided.

"We'll make it, whether it does or doesn't," Andrea said, definitively. Rajamon tilted his head up at her, expression inquisitive. "If we're going to get that close, then stopping would make us even more of sitting ducks than we are. We don't know what's going to happen."

"Or how long it's going to last that we have... protection, from being killed," Luke added.

"We're going to need a plan," Kamomon said, stroking his beak thoughtfully. "We can't run in blind."

Human and digimon alike nodded, and then twelve pairs of eyes turned to look at Julian and Iguamon as though on-cue. In equal measure, both boy and dinosaur raised a brow.

"What?" Julian said.

"Don't play all unawares," Simon said, grinning lopsidedly. "We're lookin' for a plan, and you're our man."

"That rhymed, yeom~" Delfinimon piped up from within Faris' arms with a giggle, but she was much lost under the sound of Julian breathing out heavily.

"You're asking me to come up with a plan for something when we have no idea what we're up against. Even if members of our number," Julian said, and Luke shifted, "could tell us about the stronghold itself, we have no idea what it is that he's planning, or what he's using the cores of the sovereigns for. That's not feasible. I'm not psychic."

Iguamon bowed his head. "We are the Warrior of Adaptability, not of precognition."

"That said," Julian said, before silence could set in, "we can prepare ourselves with educated guesses. If he just wanted to take the Sovereigns out, then he likely wouldn't have taken the cores. If he's using the cores of the sovereigns, it is likely as a power source for something."

"It wouldn't surprise us," Sampamon said. "A digicore, particularly an extraordinary one, houses great amounts of power."

Her reasoning was sound. Though much of the team was not given details about the incident that the snake and her partner had in the Dark Woods, an extraordinary core had been the difference between the Forbidramon that six perfect-levels could not defeat, and the Forbidramon that was defeated by one perfect-level alone, after all.


"They're close, then?" Era said, adjusting his glasses with one hand. In the other, he held the glowing orb that Javermon had delivered at his fingertips, turning it slowly to look at it and make sure it was what he was expecting.

"Further than I'd expect of them" Javermon answered, his eyes flicking to the thing on the pedestal astride the man. It was pulsating, now, an ever-shifting mass of Data; in the heart of the swirling light, he could see a symbol, the sigil of one of the children's virtues, glowing faintly, as though it were weak and dying. "I did as you said."
He had been directed by Era to, in fact, defy his first instinct-- to throw the children off of his trail. No, Era told him -- quite explicitly-- to lead the children to his doorstep. He did not question it; he only hoped it mean that he would soon see the day that he could rip them apart.

"Lead them tomorrow-- make sure they reach here," Era said, throwing Javermon out of his reverie. The canine looked up, and set his jaw. Whatever Era asked of him, he would do. "But take your time-- tomorrow, at nightfall, should suffice. No sooner. Once they are here," the man continued, sounding nearly bored, "the digimon are free game. The children are not, until I say so. Am I understood?"
Javermon, meanwhile, could not have been happier. His face split into a nasty grin, teeth sharp and eyes glistening.

"Yes, Lord Era, sir," the dog said, and wasted no time-- with a flourish of his cape, he left Era's chamber and set off for his own roost to bide his time until he set off.
He'd have no trouble finding them, of course-- nothing escaped him.

"... idiot," Era hissed under his breath once all traces of the Reaper were gone. A vicious, bloodthirsty idiot; not wholly dissimilar when compared with, well, the entirety of the Digital world's population, as far as he was concerned. He buried that emotion, though, looking at the core he held, feeling the pulsing energy that bathed his fingertips in warmth.
This was it; he needed nothing more but time, and not much of that. The hours were numbered until it would all fall into place.

It was all downhill from here.

Era smirked, his eyes gleaming behind his glasses; he ran his free hand backwards through his hair. He had work to do.

"Prepare yourself," he murmured to nobody in particular, leaning back to look up at the ceiling, obscured as it was by dark shadows. Soon, he would be rid of this world, and the last-- the worlds that had so wronged him, filled with mindless beasts so convinced of their own sapience.


"... trust us when we say," Sampamon said, speaking of Era's stronghold, "it's not going to be hard to find it. If we are anywhere near it, we will see it." The group was sitting in a semi-circle, rather cramped in their little alcove but not yet readdy to move.

"So then we can focus our planning on the getting-in part," Egakumon said, tapping a claw to his snout thoughtfully. "... it's possible to get in, right?"

"Yes," Sampamon said. "Though the only door is guarded, and crystal protects all of its other faces from entry."

There was a momentary pause. "So, it's guarded by digimon, then?" Julian said.

"A tremendous number," Luke confirmed, with a nod.

"It's probably going to be for the better, then, if we try not to fight all of them," Toby said. "Uhm... we just need to get through, right? We don't want to get in, and then have nothing left to fight with."

"Right," Rajamon said. "Especially because I'll bet my tail that Javermon is going to be waiting for us."

"Then we'll have to be in Mega form on the approach," Kamomon reasoned, then quickly amended himself with a look at Sampamon and Luke. "Those of us that can. Though Delfinimon and I aren't really built for maneuverability into tight spaces, we're a mite hefty in Mega form..."

"We can clear the area," Emily said, looking sidelong at Faris; he smiled and nodded, "so that you guys can get in without being, like, dogpiled."

"And if you guys can't get in after us?" Julian said, sudden, sharp, raising an eyebrow. He was looking particularly at Faris when he said it.

"... we'll be fine," the younger brother dismissed, shrugging one shoulder. "We're a shark the size of a schoolbus and a bird the size of a commercial jet."

"I'm pretty sure we can bash enough heads to clear the area long enough for us to shrink back down and get in, yeom~!" the dolphin of their number chirruped, waving her fins around cheerfully as she flopped backwards onto Faris' lap. Julian pressed his lips thin, but kept his face impassive and said nothing.

There was a moment's pause, before Andrea broke the silence. "So if they're holding them off," she said, jerking a thumb at Faris and Emily, "then it'll be up to Toby, Julian, boy-scout and myself to take care of Javermon, if he's there." Pause again, and she looked at Luke and Sampamon. "No offense. You just, you know. Can't reach Mega yet."

"None taken," both boy and snake said as one. They were merely glad to be of use-- tremendous use, actually, as the only agents on the team with any first-hand knowledge of what they were headed into.

"So," Simon said, interrupting. "Any more input on the layout?"

And so it went-- they debated battle tactics and plans; Luke and Sampamon shared what knowledge they could about Era, his stronghold, and his security measures. Julian laid out a few battle plans and possible configurations of the order of events, though he was the first to admit he was working on pure speculation here, and that just as likely as anything working out, they would end up in a madcap flurry where the goal would simply be 'try not to hit anyone on your side'.
Simon, Andrea, and Julian butted heads more than once over how to approach Era himself (like big dang heroes, with as little ceremony and as much raw power as possible, with cool heads and attempts at diplomacy?), while the other four kids and their digital companions could merely watch in confused awe.

Faris in particular remained rather quiet in general, really, sitting with knees pulled to his chest (once he evacuated Delfinimon from his lap) and eyes flitting between speakers. Both dolphin and dinosaur took note of this, but said nothing.


Some time later, they finally reached as close to a consensus as they would end up reaching. They dispersed into three small groups-- Simon, Luke, and Toby (plus their respective digimon) stayed in the small cave their little conference had been in; Andrea and Emily clambered their way up a sand dune to a cavity in the rock a few yards down the wall in one direction; Julian and Faris, to another, in the opposite direction.

"Why were you so quiet, Far'?" Julian asked once they had sat down in the little alcove. His voice was a bit more relaxed than it was amongst the group.

And it was driving Faris up the wall. He didn't let it show, and affected a cheerful tone before saying, "I was thinking about stuff. Couldn't you smell the smoke?"

"It's not like you," his older brother said, quirking an eyebrow. "You didn't have one smart remark to make, even through Andrea's punch his face until he bleeds proposition." The girl had made said suggestion in full jest, rolling her eyes and voice dripping with sarcasm; it was Faris' natural habitat in terms of conversation, in other words.

"What, the thinking? Yeah, I know," Faris replied, smirking.

"As entertaining as I find your beating around the bush," Julian said (and -- for a bit of irony of which he was surely aware -- his face was as stoic and unamused) as ever, "you're avoiding reaching a point."

Delfinimon and Iguamon stood to the side, occasionally exchanging glances but keeping close-mouthed.

Faris, meanwhile, was just bubbling over-- inside. He tried to keep his face even, but it was met with mixed success.

"You could try being up-front yourself, you know, Faris-- yeom," Delfinimon said quietly, lolloping over and nudging her partner in the leg with her nose.

For a moment, the only sound was the noise of the wind picking up and, from a ways down, Simon hatching some ridiculous theory or idea, to the great amusement of Luke and Toby.

Faris was lost in thought when Julian began to speak again. "You know, you've been hinting at being angry with me for a while. I mean, you're my little brother, so of course you're going to hate me from time to time, but."
Both brothers' minds turned to the same thing-- one time, when Faris was freshly-turned five and Julian was seven, they had gotten into an argument over a game they had been playing. Faris had gotten upset, and angrily told Julian that he was going to hate him for the rest of his life. He did a pretty good job of it, too, by little kid standards-- he refused to speak to his older brother for two whole days. (Hey, it was a long time for a little kid.) There had been no formal apology-- the brothers just sat down alongside one another and sat in an awkward silence until Julian suggested playing a video game together. All was well.

It hadn't even been a week later that their parents broke the news to them about the divorce.

For the remainder of the time they had together, Julian and Faris -- at the elder's insistence -- were nigh inseparable; but all too soon, their father took Faris and left.

"How's mom doing?" Faris said suddenly, and from the way he reacted to himself, it was blurted out-- not entirely thought-through before he spoke.
Delfinimon slapped a fin to her forehead. Why couldn't he make this easier? Iguamon, though, reached over and placed a claw over the fin that was on the ground-- when she looked at him, the dinosaur shook his head.

"This is how they do things," Iguamon said in a hushed tone.

Julian paused. It wasn't odd of Faris to ask-- he'd ask whenever they met up, since their mother and father did not part on the most amicable of terms, and things were rocky between them. Their mother tended to drop Julian off, and then do her own thing around the city for a few days, avoiding their father as much as she feasibly could. She viewed any interaction with their father, Julian got the impression, as a sort of unpleasant chore that had to be done a couple times a year for the sake of her sons.
Or, well, two of her sons, at any rate.
(Julian cringed a bit as that thought struck him.)

"She's... fine. She gets by."

"She's still with Mike, yeah?" Faris said, smiling faintly. Mike -- Michael, but neither Faris nor Julian ever actually called him anything but 'Mike' -- was their mother's new husband, and the reason for Julian's (and, by extension, their mother's) differing last name. Faris had never actually met him, and Julian's reaction to being asked about him was usually a shrug and an eh, he's okay. Julian nodded, shrugging, and moving himself so he was sitting with his back to the wall.

"He hasn't tried to run off with our stuff, yet, at least, so there's that. ... well, at least, I think he hasn't."

Faris quirked an eyebrow, then smirked. "You can joke? Colour me surprised." His brother smirked back. Faris, himself, leaned against the opposite wall, and chewed the inside of his mouth pensively. He was fidgeting; clearly, there were things he wanted to say. The body language didn't go unnoticed, but Julian said nothing, merely raising an eyebrow of his own. It again fell silent; Iguamon, to the side, actually had to clap a claw-gloved hand over Delfinimon's mouth (or rather, around her bottlenose snout) to keep her mouth shut.
"So... how about Seth?" Faris said after a heavy silence punctuated by howling wind, and the howling of the wind was the only thing to be heard for quite a time after, and Faris was looking pointedly at the floor. When he looked up again, he saw his elder brother doing much the same thing, flexing his fingers in the dust silently.
After a moment or two of awkward silence, Faris mumbled: "Hey. Uh-- forget it--"

"No!" Delfinimon yelped, forcing her mouth open and slapping Iguamon's claws away. At the exact same time, Julian said the same-- though in a much more subdued tone of voice. The elder boy turned to look at the dolphin, and blinked; she continued. "You're not going back on this, yeom!"

"I think she wants us to talk about it," Julian said, eyelids sliding halfway down. He looked to Iguamon; the dinosaur nodded once, silent, and -- without looking to his brother -- Julian sighed, closed his eyes, and spoke. "So, you know, then?"

"Overheard a couple of the digimon back right before the whole... SkullSatamon mess," Faris mumbled, rubbing the back of his head. (Delfinimon squeaked a defiant 'I knew it!', but only got half-way before Iguamon once more clasped a hand around her snout to silence her, leading to her outburst coming out as more of I knemfpfpmmf.) He paused for a moment, searching his brother's face. "Why the secret?"

Julian looked up at Faris for the first time since he posed the initial question. Now there was a doozy of a question. Why? Well, he couldn't just come out with what he knew was the real reasoning, could he? It wasn't even anything to do with the digital world, or anything of the sort.
It was just that I don't like that we have a half-brother, because I just want everything to go back to the way it was, and he's living proof that it never will was... contrary, to say the least, to the spirit of his Virtue, and... well, Julian was not the emoting sort.

When his older brother did not respond, Faris sighed, but it was an understanding sigh. "It's okay. You don't have to explain, I just... I don't get it." The corner of his mouth tugged into a half-grimace. "I wish I had a brother I actually lived with, or at least, something."

"What?" Julian said, his eyebrows shooting up.

Faris gave a dejected sort of lopsided smile. "I heard them say, when I overheard about it... Shorty reminds you of whatshisname, Seth, right? And I don't get why that's a bad thing. When we go home -- it's gonna go back to normal, you know?" He folded his arms and sighed. "Toby reminds you of Seth, so it's not like that's changed. You get to keep being that big brother figure, you know? I go home, and all I have is my computer and some faceless goons on the internet." Pause, and a look over to Delfinimon and Iguamon. "As opposed, that is, to monsters with faces made of data that may or may not be on the internet, I'm still not sure I get the whole digital world thing..."
Iguamon smirked just faintly, and Delfinimon gave an appreciative 'hmrphp', even with her mouth held shut.
Faris cleared his throat and shrugged. "I just... You've got something, when you go back. I don't want things to just go back to normal, you know?"

But Julian didn't know; Julian had been wishing things would go back to normal for seven years.

"No, I don't," he admitted, and Faris looked at him, expression incredulous. "No, I mean-- I do know what you mean. You don't want to go home, after... all of this. I don't, either. Not after everything that's happened-- I don't know if I can. I get it. I don't want to leave them, either," he said, and looked to the digimon standing aside, and somewhere deep within he felt a pang of pain. "But Far', you don't know how much I just want things to go back to normal. That's why I didn't tell you about hey, we have a half brother, okay?"
His voice was getting more heated the more he spoke; it sounded like it was literally breaking through, the emotions cracking his stoic veneer and forcing their way out. He breathed out heavily.

It took a moment for it to register in Faris' head, but he sighed and lowered his eyes. Outside, the last natural light was long gone; the wind howled.
Faris said nothing for a long time, before: "I-- that makes sense, I guess. I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head.

"Don't," Julian said, quickly, a bit more loudly than he maybe needed to.

"Well, no. See... I know, you were older than me. I don't know if I was really old enough to... you know, get it. So that's always been my normal." He paused, and thought hard for a moment. "... but I sure as heck understand what's going on here." He looked to Delfinimon, who looked at him and beamed, though he could sense a sort of sadness.
The digimon were going to die. The past days had felt like they were going in slow-motion as he -- really, all of them -- tried to process this idea.
This wasn't fair, and Faris felt like he could scream.
He didn't know what he was expecting-- he knew, on some level, that it would have to end, once Era was taken care of. But... he never realized it would have been so permanent.

He let out a breath, and if he were feeling particularly honest he might have said later that it was like a half-choked sob, forced back and held down. "This sucks, Julian."

"But what can we do about it?" Julian said after a moment. He didn't speak with malice or and sort of harshness; merely a quiet resignation.

Faris paused, and looked out into the darkness.
"I have no freakin' clue."

Again, a short silence followed, but it felt less... heavy. What could they do? Not much, but go ahead and fight Era-- but simply saying it made it feel less threatening. There were some things that sucked, some things that were out of their control, but it was what they made of them, after all.

"We do not know the affairs of humans," Iguamon said, suddenly. "But speaking simply from what we have seen..."

"You've all grown up a lot since we met you, yeom," Delfinimon said, once the dinosaur released her snout.

Julian laughed a short, breathy laugh. "We can't say you're not to blame for it, though," he said, and Iguamon moved to sit astride him.

"If we can provide a service such as that," Iguamon reasoned, "then clearly, we have a reason for being alongside you, beyond simple battle strategy on the part of the Sovereigns."

It was a good note to end on. They sat in silence for a while; before long, they were drifting off, tired and exhausted and amped up for the morning all at once. It was in his final moments of lucidity that a thought hit Faris.
Things were never going to go back to normal, after this-- even when the Digimon were gone, and he tried to shake the thought that it would be sooner rather than later on that front. Even without the digimon, they were... well, friends. All of them were. A bit ragtag, a bit odd, and yes, they fought amongst themselves.
Friends -- maybe even a family of sorts, of certain definitions-- forged by the fire of wandering this world together.

What a weird family.

And yet for Faris (and, though they may not have words for it, and though Faris himself may not know it much of the rest of their ragtag team), it was a good feeling.
From Simon -- who felt trapped, alienated, and wholly apart from the real world around him-- to Toby, who felt suffocated and stunted, unable to stand on his own two feet; from Andrea, who had a more permanent loss than even Faris or Julian knew that haunted her mind and her family, to Emily, who felt invisible and alone, lost in a stormy sea; and as for Luke... well, that was an issue for another day.

This world, full of danger and suspense and monsters and living day to day -- it felt more like home to all seven children than anything any of them had ever felt. Though they had known each other for so short a time, this rag-tag group of misfit kids felt bonds, to both their monster partners and to eachother, as strong as anything.


"Up and at 'em! It's go time!"
As he ran up to the little alcove the girls were dozing in, and then bounding down to awaken the brothers in he same manner, Egakumon's voice was loud enough to raise the dead. The children and digimon were not, however, dead, and so woke up quite readily-- but for once, nobody woke grumpy or resentful of their rabbit-esque alarm clock. Most of them had slept lightly, mind awash in battle plans and a sort of excitement crossed with dread. The sun was only a short distance into the sky, and as the clouds were thinner near the horizon, it was surprisingly bright-- though still, of course, marred by the constant swirling storm of clouds above.

As they began to set off into the sands once more, none of them noticed -- nor had any reason to look for -- the form of Javermon sitting atop the exposed tip of the buried cliff, watching with narrowed eyes. The Reaper clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to dissipate some of the energy.
Impatient was not the word.
And after all, he didn't have to contend with Epidemon or PicoDaemon; he could deal with that. More for him.

The canine rumbled with barely-contained laughter.


The day went in slow motion; everyone's heads buzzed with the rhythm of waiting and movement, avoiding conflict (so as to save energy), but making the most of what time they could use to cover ground. It was a long day, and much of it passed in relative silence, each child and digimon lost in his or her own mind. It was when the sun was beginning to drift to the west that they caught a glimpse of their destination, peeking over the horizon and growing ever closer-- but it was dark, poorly silhouetted against the dark sky, and so they had to draw closer to truly see it.
And though it too much of the day, it felt all too soon that the seven children and their seven digimon partners were standing on another mostly-buried cliff. The sun was drifting lower and lower, beyond a vast expanse of nothingness to the west.

Imagine, if you will, a tremendous, ornate cathedral, its towers reaching to the sky; then imagine that centuries ground it down, breaking it apart and turning it into a shadow of what it once was; then, furthermore, imagine that it had been rebuild, repurposed, by someone with entirely different intentions than its builders.
Some unseen force was holding parts that should have fallen down in place-- the upper half of one of its (many) spires outright floated, disconnected from the rest of the structure. Its outside was covered in its entirety by crystal, not unlike that they had seen in the cave under the mountain or that comprised Wisemon's stronghold castle. In places, it stuck out at angles; sometimes, it replaced walls, others it merely reinforced them. It glowed only faintly, pulsating with a gentle light. Unlike the blue they had seen, its crystal was violet-red, though perhaps it was merely reflecting the colours around it that led to that appearance.

Of course, that was merely part of the package. The half-wrecked, re-formed cathedral was not the only unusual thing about the stronghold; the entire structure appeared to be suspended on a mass of ground separated from the rest, floating a few hundred feet out into the air, floating over a black ocean-like abyss-- much like the one that they had seen beyond the cliff when they entered this Area. On the underside of the small island, a tremendous inverted pyramid was affixed. It was not quite the same as the crystal coating the outside of the cathedral, or at least it did not look it; it reminded them more acutely of the crystalline pyramid that was fixed to the underside of the Floating Ruins, though vastly smaller.

And then it was silent. The abyss churned below, and the clouds stirred above, but the wind had died down, leaving them to look. It was quiet and calm. They knew -- all of them did -- that it would not last.

Emily broke the silence. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more," she quoted, fidgeting a bit with the pocket on the front of her overalls.

Before they could say anything more -- or even prepare for battle -- their suspicions of the silence not lasting were proved true. An ear-piercing howl rang in their ears, and they whipped around just in time. There, coming up the slope behind them, was Javermon. He slowly padded his way up, not in any rush; the children were tense, their D-GEARs held in hand, every digimon prepared to fight.

"I've waited a very long time for this," the dog said, lips curled into half a snarl and half a smile.

If they dared look (and they did not dare, but they could hear it well enough), below them -- the land between them and the floating island suddenly erupted with life, digimon of every size and shape and level-- ones that flew, ones that rose up from the shadowy depths, ones that rose from the ground. They were stuck here on this cliff-- Javermon in front of them and an army behind, and the dog didn't feel like wasting time.

"BLOOD OATH!" Javermon screamed as though the sound were torn from his throat, slashing glowing-red claws through the air as he surged forward.

[Chapter 43: End]