In a fraction of a second, the strange black digimon was rushing at the group. Black smoke trailing off its body, it hissed:
The black shape and the one vivid-yellow eye on Nimon's chest was the last thing the kids and digimon alike saw before everything went black.
Unlike with the humans, there was minimal delay between the attack and wakefulness for the Digimon. The sun was still slowly sinking overhead, but... they were nowhere near the proxy cave.
"I feel like I got blind-sided by a truck," Egakumon groaned as he sat up, holding his head between his hands. He wobbled a bit, his eyes squeezed tight-closed.
"Imagine how I feel, bunnyboy," piped up a high-pitched voice from beside, little Sinjmon lying flat on his back -- or, the side opposite his face -- in the dirt. Egakumon rubbed his forehead, rocking himself onto his feet. He waddled over to the smaller digimon and picked him up, setting his tiny teammate upright.
Sinjmon gave a little grunt of thanks, before--
Egakumon turned to look where his teammate was looking, and indeed-- sprawled on the ground were both Simon and Andrea, breathing, looking mostly unharmed, but out like lights. Egakumon's pupils contracted.
"Si!" he yelped, and both he and Sinjmon bounded towards their human partners-- Sinjmon's bounces almost kept pace with Egakumon's longer strides.
At their human partners' sides, the two gently nudged at them.
"Get up!" Sinjmon urged, almost digging his head into Andrea's side; she turned over to lie on her side, facing Sinjmon, but didn't respond otherwise.
Egakumon actually up and shook Simon by the shoulders.
Simon's eyes barely cracked open; Egakumon could see no sign of consciousness in the clouded-over gaze, but Simon's green eyes meet with Egakumon's big blue ones for an instant.
The boy cracked a bit of a smile, before his eyes slid closed again.
Egakumon chuckled, but then a thought hit him.
"Sinjmon?" he said, taking a step away from his partner. The little red puffball looked at him. "What the crap do we do?"
Sinjmon looked around; they were in what appeared to be a dense jungle. "Well, at least freakjob and his pet were nice enough to send us into what I'm gonna guess is the Deep Jungle," he remarked. When Egakumon looked at him funnily, he continued: "Instead of, say, straight to Era, where we'd all be killed on the spot."
Egakumon blinked slowly. "You're really bad at optimism." Sinjmon would have shrugged if he could, and Egakumon carried on. "But still, what are we supposed to do? Just... wait until they wake up?"
"I'm surprised, bunnyboy," Sinjmon said. "I'm gonna suggest what you usually suggest." Egakumon raised an eyebrow. "Call Deekamon." He gestured towards Simon's D-GEAR, clipped to his shorts as always.
Egakumon blinked, and carefully plucked the device into his claws. A bit unwieldly, he inwardly noted that the D-GEAR units were clearly made for human hands and not big honkin' Egakumon claws.
He plopped down onto the ground, tapping carefully at buttons. The screen began to glow, and then... ...
"Oh, that's a good sign," Egakumon mumbled, shaking the digivice a little.
"Probably got mixed up by the attack," Sinjmon reasoned, gently nudging Andrea again. "Looks like we... wait."
And wait they did.
Through the night the rabbit and the puffball sat, the moons rising silently and drifting along in the black sky. As the shining spheres were almost at their zenith, the nearly-asleep duo was shocked into wakefulness by a loud rustling sound.
Egakumon gripped his paintbrush in his hands, hopping to his feet; Sinjmon opened his mouth, little red bubbles starting to gather therein.
Out of the trees and dense ground-bound plants, there popped a pink head; after it followed a pink body, and a little pink tail. It was a rabbit of sorts, with big grey eyes, with ears and an underbelly to match in colour. Yellow ring-like markings were at the base of its ears, a stripe over one eye, and around its neck was a ruff of yellow fur, not unlike Egakumon's.
"Hi!" the new digimon said in a cheerful voice, waving.
"Who're you?" Sinjmon demanded, hopping over alongside Egakumon. Egakumon pulled his mouth back in a skeptical look as the pink rabbit waved again.
"M'name's Curamon," she chirrupped, and almost immediately bounded towards the two humans, sniffing at them. She whipped her head from the humans to the two digimon. "What're these?"
"Our partners," Egakumon said in a snap, walking forward and waving his paintbrush towards the newcomer.
Curamon blinked a couple times, then grinned. "Partners?" she shuffled a few feet towards the other rabbit, curious. "So are you guys..."
"The Virtue Recievers," Sinjmon finished for her, nodding his head (body), still looking distrustfully at the chipper newcomer. "And they're the Virtue Holders."
"I thought there were supposed to be seven of those," Curamon prodded, smiling in an almost mischievous way. "Not twooo."
"We're having a bit of... trouble with that," Egakumon said, a little sheepishly, but not losing face.
"What are you doing here?" Sinjmon cut in, bouncing a little bit.
"Well, I heard a noise," the pink bunny replied, gesturing with one paw, "and I wanted to see what it was. Nothing to worry about, I don't thiiiink."
Egakumon and Sinjmon exchanged looks with raised eyebrows; the little puffball spoke first.
"Well... you know what it is now. You can go away."
Curamon put her hands on her hips, and huffed. "G'heeze. For heroes, you guys aren't very niiiice," she said in an almost singsong voice, and turned to go. Egakumon gave just the littlest groan, and spoke up.
"We just have to stay alert," he said, holding out one hand as though to stop her, despite being quite a few feet away. "And we gotta be careful." He was getting into a heroic-speech groove, and pointed to the heavens with his brush. "And be on the lookout for anything that might attack!"
Curamon giggled; Egakumon went a little red in the face. "That's silly," she said, still giggling. "This place is still a free Area, y'know?"
"So it is, then," the male rabbit said, nodding with just a bit of satisfaction on his face. "Good to know. Less chance of being ripped apart by Agents!"
"And you said I'm bad at optimism," Sinjmon mumbled.
Curamon giggled again, and pointed into the trees this way. "Well, I won't booother you then. I live just a little ways this way." The two partner digimon blinked, and she elaborated. "Looks like your partners are gonna be out for a while, and it looks like they're kinda heavy! So if you need any help or anything, until they get up, yeah?"
Before Egakumon or Sinjmon could get a word in, she darted off into the foliage and was lost from view.
"What a kook," Egakumon remarked; Sinjmon gave an 'mm' of assent.
Before long, the two worked out a plan to alternate sleeping-- Sinjmon would keep watch first while Egakumon caught some sleep, and then the roles would reverse. Switching off like this every couple of hours, eventually the moons sunk below the horizon and the rosy sun began to cast its rays over the Area.
Yet nothing happened.
Unbeknownst to either digimon, spread throughout this 'corner' of the area were all of their teammates, all of the humans unconscious and the digimon rushing to protect them from all comers.
And yet, nothing was happening to the rabbit and little bouncy ball.
Nothing continued to happen for another entire day; Curamon returned in the late morning, and she made small talk with the pair. Though she was considerably less erratic as before, she again chose to run off without much in the way of warning. The two sat and listened to the sounds of the Area around them, even made small talk with passing digimon.
It was weird to be in an Area without any Era influence. All of them had grown up in an area where they couldn't stay outside long for fear of Agents until their partners came, and even then, they could never let their guards down.
And it was almost disconcerting to be in a place where they could sit for a day and not worry. Egakumon wandered off to find some food. He came across a strange fruit-- not a Terrafruit, best he could tell, but it was soft to the touch and tasted pleasantly sweet and tart, and it quickly took a high spot for both Sinjmon and Egakumon.
After the sun had set on the second day (or the first full day, whichever they chose to see it as), though, something interesting did happen.
A good half-day before any of their distant comrades would, Simon and Andrea both began to stir to wakefulness.
"Oh geeze what happened," Simon groaned as he forced himself to sit up, startling the two digimon, neither of whom were keeping a close eye on the humans at this point.
"Si!" Egakumon yelped, leaping towards his partner, jumping at him in a full-tackle hug, and pinning him back down to the ground.
"H'ooff! Dude, you need to lose weight, my paintbrushy bunny buddy."
"Shyaddap, will you?" Andrea murmured, rubbing her head and staying laying on the ground. "It feels like someone took a sledgehammer to the back of my head, and your yelling isn't helping it."
Sinjmon nuzzled his head up against his partner's arm, and she even momentarily paused her griping to put a hand on his fluffy head, and he smiled. She picked him up into her lap as she sat up, and looked around.
"What'd we miss?" Andrea said, then blinked and looked around. "... aaand where the heck is everyone else."
Egakumon opened his mouth, and was shoved unceremoniously off of Simon. He responded to her as soon as he finished his clumsy somersault. "You didn't miss much! ... aaand we have no idea."
The kids -- their heads still foggy -- stared at eachother for a moment. Andrea's expression was irked, and Simon's a combination of mild dismay and conviction.
"I'm gonna take it, then, that we were right about this being free of Era," Andrea chanced, a bit sarcastically.
Curamon's pink little head popped out of the greenery from behind, and just about gave the two humans a collective heart attack.
"The heck is that!?" Simon yelped, clutching at his hat as though he were expecting bombs to start falling.
Sinjmon responded with the air of someone who was vaguely apologetic, but mostly exasperated. "That's Curamon."
"She's been breaking up the silence, y'could say," Egakumon continued, gesturing with one hand. "She's... a'ight."
The pink bunny hopped forward, looking between the humans. "Good to see you two woke up," she remarked, her ears twitching and a mischievous smile on
her face. "Virtue Holders and stuff. Fate of the Digital World."
Again, Simon and Andrea looked at eachother, this time both of them a bit bewildered.
"I guess you're gonna go find your friends, then," she said airily, gesturing to the jungle at large with one paw.
Simon let out a huffing laugh. "Yeahhhh, gimme a second here. I just woke up, y'know?"
Andrea meanwhile stood up -- after putting Sinjmon on the ground -- and stretched her arms and legs, her body bending like a bow. "I don't think it's such a bad idea," she said, yawning.
"But it's, like, midnight," Simon all but whined, moving his legs to sit cross-legged on the ground. "Let's wait until morning before we send out any, like, search-and-rescue parties."
"No offense, Si, but you guys have been sleeping for the past, like, day," Egakumon pointed out (and physically pointed, at nothing in particular, as though to emphasize his pointing-out).
"The guy with the funny hat is right thouuugh," Curamon said, then, tilting her head. Simon clutched at his hat and went a little red in the face. "A lot of digimon probably won't like it if you go stomping through their territory in the middle of the night."
Sinjmon frowned, and gave a little 'hmph', but nodded. "Makes sense, I guess."
He sounded reluctant to admit it.
Andrea paused, but folded her arms, and sat down, cross-legged, the same as Simon. She put her hands on her knees, and Sinjmon bounced his way back onto her lap. "So what do we do then, sit around until the sun comes up? I'm not exactly gonna go straight back to sleep, if you get me."
"We could sing campfire songs," Simon remarked with a roll of his eyes, pulling his knees to his chest. "Or you could try being at least a little optimistic."
"Already had this coversation with bouncyball," Egakumon said, jerking a thumb at Sinjmon, who gave a little growling mewl in response.
Curamon looked between the four with her big grey eyes, and then she giggled. "You guys are funny," she remarked matter-of-factly, putting her arms akimbo.
As quickly as she had appeared, she darted off into the dark again, and all gathered looked after her. Egakumon sighed.
A moment of sort of bewildered silence later, Andrea shrugged, looking at the moons. "Just figure we should try to find the others, before anyone gets hurt or attacked by anything they can't handle."
Simon raised an eyebrow, and smiled a bit. He felt that were he here, Faris might have remarked that look, she has a soul. The thought crossed his mind, but he held his tongue.
"Well, still. I donno how much we'll get done, at the moment," he said, "'cept getting lost."
"Aren't we already lost?" Sinjmon piped up.
"He's got a point. And I donno, Si," Egakumon said, with a sly grin. "Being lost is like your favorite hobby, innit?"
"Ah, put a sock in it," Simon replied, smiling, but he looked up as Andrea spoke.
"He's got a point, though. I mean, you've been acting like you get to be leader, but you've got a penchant for getting yourself lost from what I hear, when you keep breaking away from the group." She leaned back on her hands, but there wasn't much of her typical malice or anger on her face, and she spoke with an even face. "And for running into things headlong."
Simon blinked a couple times, and shrugged.
"Yeah, well. No offense but the rest of you guys all just wanna... I donno. Stay in place and take stuff sitting down, y'know?"
Andrea gave Simon a long, hard look, but said nothing for a good ten seconds. She shook her head, and scooted herself back to sit against a fallen log, closing her eyes.
"If we're gonna stay here, then, we may as well at least not exert ourselves."
Simon furrowed his brow, but nodded. He moved himself up aganst a boulder, his knees still up to his chest. He watched the girl for a moment. "You've been acting kind of weird since--"
As if she predicted the next word, Andrea's eyes shot open, and her expression was nothing short of a dare. Finish that sentence.
There was a tense silence.
"It just seems like you're trying to pretend--" Simon began, but was cut off very quick.
"Well I'm sorry if wanting not to talk about it makes me a bad person, or whatever the heck you judge people by. Yeah, knowing you, I figure if you made Egakumon turn into a murderous monster you'd just skip merrily into the freakin' sunset and act like nothing went wrong. Sorry I'm less so."
Andrea's voice was icy and even-toned, which unnerved the boy more than if she had yelled.
Sinjmon nuzzled his tiny body against her; she put a hand on the top of his head again, and stared daggers into a pebble on the ground near her.
Simon and Egakumon were both completely taken aback.
"Iiii think I hit a nerve," Simon mumbled out of the corner of his mouth to Egakumon.
"No kidding," the rabbit replied, blinking slowly.
Hours passed in a sort of tense silence. Eventually Egakumon and Sinjmon both fell asleep, while the kids kept remarkably to themselves. Curamon poked her head out of the leaves once or twice, but quickly slunk back without a word. The first rays of sun were beginning to peek through the leaves, and the kids had finally fallen asleep alongside their digimon.
Only the Digimon were awake, then, when a cold, dry wind suddenly passed through their little camp, a sharp contrast to the heavy, humid air of the jungle. Mere moments after, strolling straight through their midsts was a familiar black form.
Nimon was walking straight past them. Egakumon and Sinjmon tensed themselves.
It stopped, breathing heavily through its nose. The two digimon's breath hitched. The black digimon did nothing. It merely stood, both Sinjmon's coal-black eyes and Egakumon's blue meeting with the slit pupil and the searing yellow of the huge eye fixed on its chest as it swivelled to look at the two digimon and their human parters. Its gaze seemed to bore into each of them, lingering too long to be comfortable.
It did nothing, and began to walk away.
The partner digimon could only stare in its wake.
"... I think that's our cue to get moving," Egakumon said, and Sinjmon couldn't agree more.
With the kind of jolt only obtainable from a giant rabbit shaking your shouders violently, Simon and Andrea were both brought to wakefulness by Egakumon's haphazard method.
"What's the deal?" Simon mumbled, rubbing at his eyes.
"It's time to go," Sinjmon replied simply.
They found it best not to argue, though the urgency in the little puffball's voice was a bit disconcerting.
Perhaps the digimon didn't want to alarm their partners by telling them what had just happened.
In a sort of harried way, they began to move again-- Andrea picked her partner up into her arms again, and sighed. Egakumon was all but pushing Simon on his way until they began to walk of their own accord. Into the jungle they went.
It was slow going at times-- there was almost no path to follow, instead just a haphazard walk through a mass of tree-roots and huge plants.
They didn't notice the little pink bunny following them, staying quiet as she could.
"We're never gonna find the others in here," Simon lamented as he batted a vine out of his face.
"Optimism, Si!" Egakumon cheered, pumping his paintbrush-holding fist into the air (and into a low-hanging branch, whacking his knuckles).
"Cute," said a voice from behind them, and they almost stumbled in their sudden whipping around. Seemingly having appeared from nowhere, Forbidramon stood there, standing as nonchalantly as he ever did. His tattered wings fluttered just slightly.
"What do you want now?" Egakumon blurted instantly, almost hopping up and down; Forbidramon smiled.
"Oh, calm down, bunny boy. I'm under orders, so I won't be doing anything to you little brats or your pets. Moreover, I have other places to go. It's so boring around here without any Agents to order around," he mused, and gave an overdramatic sigh. "Pity. Unless this place surrenders soon it'll have to go."
"What do you mean by that?" Sinjmon piped up, growling.
Forbidramon smiled. "Why, wouldn't that just ruin the surprise? No, though. At the moment I'm just here to do a little checkup." He paused, his red eyes drifting between Simon and Andrea. "Surprised you two are already awake. All of your little friends may as well be comatose at the moment."
A nasty, nasty laugh. "Of course, excepting the seventh."
Simon's hands clenched into fists, Andrea's body tensed. Neither motion went unnoticed.
"Oh! You gonna try attacking me again, girlie?" Forbidramon said in the most mocking tone, then looked at the little digimon in her arms.
With one long stride forward, he extended his red arm in the blink of an eye and plucked the little digimon out of its partner's arms. Andrea made an indescribable noise; instantly, Simon's D-GEAR began to glow, his fists clenched tight.
"Egakumon, kickstart digivolve to... Shokunimon!"
Forbidramon let out a hearty laugh, looking at the still quite small rabbit digimon. "I said I was under orders. What, do you think I'd lie to you?"
"You're not exactly the most trustworthy," Simon mumbled low.
"I'm hurt," Forbidramon said, putting his mechanical hand over his head.
He looked impassively at the little red digimon, totally dwarfed by his hand, and chuckled. "Still only this level? You don't even stand a chance."
What happened next happened very fast, and was very strange to behold.
Forbidramon closed his hand around Sinjmon, who was trying his hardest to bite at the enemy's fingers, to absolutely no avail.
His hand, and the digimon in it, began to glow bright white; Sinjmon let out a growl and a yelp, and then...
Forbidramon dropped Rajamon at Andrea's feet, the tiger only half-conscious and flopped on the ground. She instantly kneeled, completely speechless, holding her partner's head in her lap.
"What do you know," the dragon-like humanoid mumbled, smiling nastily as though a number of ideas were swimming around in his head, "it works."
"What was th--" Shokunimon demanded, clutching his paintbrush; Forbidramon snickered.
"Lord Era will be pleased with this little development, now, won't he?"
The four were rendered speechless-- or rather, the three and the half-unconscious Rajamon were rendered speechless.
Simon was the first to speak; he looked at Shokunimon, and as he spoke, Forbidramon grinned nastily.
"He... forced a digivolution," the boy murmured, looking sideways at Forbidramon. "Do you think he could do it to other digimon, too...?"
"We are so screwed," Andrea said, half-choked.
Shokunimon clutched his brush, and set his jaw. "No, we're not. Paint Blast!"
He instantly leapt forward, spraying the acidic paint from his brush straight at Forbidramon; the target took a step back as if only for formality, looking almost entirely unscathed.
"You're still trying that," Forbidramon said with what was almost a giggle, as though he couldn't contain how funny he thought it was.
"Matter of principle," the rabbit replied, almost nonchalantly.
Forbidramon smiled. "Do you know what happens when you force a digimon to grow to a level it's never been to?" He looked pointedly at Rajamon on the ground, and then at Andrea. "I'm sure you do, girlie. They lose their minds." He tapped his head as though to indicate it.
"That's because of the-- corrupt virtue thing, Deekamon said," Andrea spat back, glaring daggers. His lips curled into a smile, Forbidramon held up his red hand. On the palm, a small symbol was glowing, slowly fading away-- the symbol that had been on the virtue talisman they had seen him absorb.
"Then tell me, what do you think this is?" Smile. "The virtue stops working right. It siphons too much of Yggdrasil. There's a reason they say that being near it would cause a digimon to go mad."
"And that's why we're glad that our Lord Era is no mere digimon."
A flash of darkness suddenly crossed the path; the searing yellow eye of Nimon was visible for a split second, and then both it and Forbidramon were gone.
Just behind where Forbidramon had stood a second before, Curamon sat with awe and fear in her eyes, dumbstruck. "What was that?" she said in a hushed voice; Shokunimon raised his eyebrows.
"That was one of Era's agents," he said, shaking his head and twitching his tail.
"..." Curamon furrowed her brow, looking deep in thought.
And then she darted away.
"... what a kook," Rajamon rasped from where he lay, cracking one eye open.
Andrea smiled-- perhaps there were even a few tears forming in the corners of her eyes, not that she'd ever admit it if pressed.
"We've... gotta find the others," she said after a moment, stroking the tuft of fur on Rajamon's head. Slowly, he got himself to his feet, a bit like he was waking up after a long sleep.
"Feels weird to have feet again," he remarked.
"Good to see you have feet again, broski," Shokunimon said, smiling, then closed his eyes. With a surge of light, he reduced down to Egakumon. The rabbit turned, looking at Simon. "You good to go?"
"As ever," the boy replied, giving a thumbs-up, but his mind was clearly somewhere else. Egakumon gave a thumbs-up right back. Andrea pushed herself to her feet.
And look for the others, they did. Breaking out their D-GEAR units for radar, they searched high and low. They ran into digimon of all sorts, many of them friendly or at least completely unconcerned; but none of them had seen hide nor hair of any of their friends.
It was a long day, to be sure of it; they covered a great amount of ground, and moreover, they didn't run into either Forbidramon nor Nimon at any point. The thought was lingering in their minds, though, of what could happen... and yet, nothing did.
There was no progress at all until the morning after, almost a full day after they had seen Forbidramon.
A smallish green caterpillar-like digimon actually came up to the small group from behind; they might not have noticed it if not for the fact that it tugged on one of the legs of Simon's shorts. "Excuse me," he said in a meek voice; Simon craned his neck to look, and only after a moment got the idea to turn around.
"Que pasa, bugsy?" Simon said, Rajamon coming up and sniffing at the bug, then backed away.
"Uhm... my name is Wormmon, but-- You four are Virtue Warriors, aren't you?"
This was perhaps the fiftieth time they had been asked this in the past day; Andrea nodded. "Yyyep. I guess word's going around."
Wormmon seemed to smile, even though its odd mouth didn't much allow for it. "Uhm... some of your friends were looking for you. They're not far from here, when we left them..."
One could almost hear a little 'ping' noise as all four of them straightened up, suddenly alert. "Where!?" Egakumon yelped, hopping up and down with excitement. Wormmon beamed.
Emily, Faris, Julian, and Toby -- and their partners -- were all just stirring to wakefulness, finally rested. Koromon was still on Julian's lap, no closer to consciousness than she was before.
She almost tumbled straight off of the boy's lap when the group at large heard rustling.
And a voice.
"Guys!" Simon's voice echoed out; Egakumon was letting out noise of cheer, and Andrea and Rajamon were both laughing in a ragged way.
"It's about time, yeom," Delfinimon said, yawning, but a silly grin plastered on her face. A moment later, the four final members of the team thus far stumbled into the little clearing, out of breath.
"You're never going to believe what happened," Simon panted.