Episode 24: Breathe In

It was later that night. The group had divided themselves around the spacious once-battlefield in the interest of keeping watch all around it, so they would have fewer blind spots if attacks came in the night. In the distance, the sounds of rampaging digimon began to die down until there was nothing to be heard, but were taking no chances. Loromon had, once again, taken off, explaining that he needed to help his friends, and the team could surely manage themselves.

The sun's light was soon, but had yet, to rise over the trees, and four of the number -- two humans, two digimon -- sat awake near the north end of the clearing.

"I donno, man," Faris said, leaning forward onto his knees and poking at what was left of a small fire with a stick. "I don't mean to be that guy, but y'really sure we can, y'know... trust this guy?"

Julian cast a look over at his brother, and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't think we're going to have a choice in it. Deekamon and Wisemon both said we'd need all seven of us." He cast a look at his D-GEAR-- ever since arriving in this Area, trying to contact Deekamon had been met only with dead static.
As far as he was concerned, it meant only bad things.

"We must wait until Sampamon hatches," Iguamon said calmly. "She was a bit of a strange one, yes, but we can tell."

"Tell?" Faris said back, blinking.

Delfinimon nodded her head. "If she's our teammate and friend. If there's something wrong, we can tell, yeom."
Julian paused, and looked at the dolphin for a moment with a harsh, scrutinizing gaze-- it made her uncomfortable. "H-hey! What's the big idea, yeom?"

Julian turned away, something on his mind. It took a moment for him to say it:
"So did you know it was her, when she was that thing?"

There was an uncomfortable silence.
"We could feel her presense somewhere," Iguamon admitted, but shook his head. "But we didn't imagine what was going on."

"Hm."
Julian cast a look across the clearing to the tree Luke was sleeping in, near the eastern edge. "At any rate, we're going to have to, so we may as well not complain of it. If what he explained is true," he just barely emphasized the 'if', "then we have an ex-insider for Era, at the least."

"Never thought you'd be the optimist, Jules."

The older boy looked up, and shook his head. "It's not optimism, it's realism. He'll know more about what Era is doing than any of us. And even if things go wrong," he said with a sigh, "then it's six against one."

"That's kinda grim, yeom," Delfinimon mumbled, shaking her head. "I don't want to fight Sampamon if I can help it."

"If the fates are with us," Iguamon said, closing his eyes, "then we won't need to." The dinosaur cast a look outwards, and drew his lips back in a sort of grimace. There was the sound of strife in the distance. "If the fates are with us, we'll have worse things to consider fighting."

It fell silent from there on out. Egakumon was snoring a short distance away, and there was the occasional rustle of a digimon passing through, but the brothers and their digimon fell back asleep before entirely too long had passed.

***

Given time, the dawn broke.

A good while after that, the team began to stir.

"Good morning, Digital World," Emily said in her usual (bubbly) way from halfway across the clearing, stretching out.
"You seem happy," Egakumon said to his partner as he sat up; all around their little camp, the others were either waking up or milling around, Simon being the last to wake up.
Simon couldn't explain it, but there as just an air about the day that made it feel like a good one. Possibly that they finally had their entire team together, Forbidramon was out of the way, and he had just had the first truly restful sleep he had taken in a while. It was a bright day,

"I'm freakin' fantastic," he said, grinning lopsidedly.

"Glad someone is," Andrea said as she walked over, popping her neck while Rajamon shook his head to rouse himself. "I kept having dreams about that wacko." By 'that wacko', she meant Era-- somehow, having a human face on him only made him worse. It sent a million questions rocketing through her -- and the others' -- minds.
And the only one with any semblance to answers clammed up as soon as he had told his story.

Luke stayed sitting in his tree, holding Sampamon's egg close to his body as though his body heat would hatch it faster. He looked over as he noticed that the rest of the group was looking at him, and he sheepishly hopped down out of the tree and walked over slowly.

"Kinda emo, inne?" Egakumon said, putting his arms akimbo.

"He has good enough reason," Lammon pointed out, and Egakumon begrudgingly nodded his head. The sheep looked around as the teammates began to convene around them, Luke stepping over last, and Lammon stepped back alongside her partner so as not to feel at the center of attention.

What Toby said next was devastating in its simplicity:
"So what do we do now?"
It was a good question. Everything they had been trying to do over the past weeks -- find their missing team member-- had taken such precedence in the minds of child and digimon alike that what they would do when they actually found him hadn't really been an issue of consideration.

Their question was answered fairly readily from a voice in the tree Luke had just been sitting in.
"I think I have an idea," said a familiar (to most) tone of voice. Sitting on a bough as though he had been there the entire time, swinging his legs like a carefree schoolchild...

"Deekamon!" cried a chorus of a dozen voices.

Deekamon's yellow eyes squinted up into a clear expression of mirth, and he began to laugh (or, really, giggle), and he spread his arms wide... and then swung himself backwards over the branch he sat on, until his back was so bent as to have his head right-side up again, looking around at the kids.
It really looked painful-- and it would have been, indeed, were Deekamon not just a floating head and hands with a fabric shell.

"What a loon," Rajamon and Andrea said in nigh-tandem, both girl and tiger putting a hand (or, in the latter's case, a paw) to their face in exasperation. Deekamon either didn't notice or didn't care. Their cat-hoodied friend whipped himself around to sit upright again, and continued giggling.

"You're finally together again," he giggled, hopping out of the tree.

"Good to see you're not a pile of scrap fabric, yeom," Delfinimon remarked, beaming.

"We've been trying to get in contact with you for a week!" Egakumon said, flailing his arms wildly and nearly smacking Delfinimon on the nose with his paintbrush. She batted it away with a fin, sticking her tongue out at the rabbit.

"We've got more than a couple questions," Julian added, putting his hands into his pockets.

Deekamon peered around, his eyes landing on the boy holding the digitama in his arms, and lurched forward with frightening speed. He seemed deaf to everything around him, his round, faintly-glowing yellow eyes boring into Luke's green.
And then Luke's hair, as the boy lowered his head after a moment or two, and even did a little half-bow.

"I'm honored," he mumbled, carefully looking back up at the cat-hoodied creature. "Sampamon told me a lot about you."

Deekamon snorted and grabbed the boy by the back of his goat, hoisting him upright. "Ahh, none of that stuffy... stuff!" He giggled, Luke's face the absolute picture of vaguely-disturbed confusion. There was a brief pause; the other six kids looked at eachother, exchanged looks with their digimon, and then focused on Deekamon once more.
"I think this belongs to you," the odd digimon said, and with a flick of his wrist, there was a familiar-looking plastic device clutched between his claws. It was a D-GEAR unit, purple with black accents and trim, its screen dim and dull.

"How did you get that?" Kamomon blurted in a squawk, flapping his wings. "We saw Forbidramon crush it and absorb the Virtue, and--"

"I know," Deekamon cut the seagull off, but didn't take his gaze off the new child, who looked incredibly uncomfortable. For a minute, it would be easy to think he was trying not to think of Forbidramon, but then:

"Does he always do this?" Luke said suddenly, a bit uncertainly, giving a sideways glance at Simon.
Simon grinned.

It was the first thing he had said that hadn't sounded like he wanted to be anywhere but where he was. It was a little thing, but even with the uncomfortable tone, there was a hint of being slightly more at-ease.
"Yeah, it's kind of his thing."

"Well, c'mon, take it," Deekamon prodded, shoving the D-GEAR at Luke. He took a step back, more than a bit confused.

"Where did you get it?" Iguamon cut in, blinking slowly and deliberately. "A real answer would be best."

Deekamon gave Iguamon a quick look. It was a look he, and every other digimon there, knew well:
I'll explain it soon, but hold your Unimon, will you?
Deekamon was... being Deekamon. He held out the D-GEAR again to the boy, and this time reached far enough that it tapped on the egg he held.

Both egg and device reacted; the egg suddenly began to crack, the wide splinters in the shell spreading out from the point of contact. In turn, the D-GEAR's screen began to glow faintly.
Luke was frozen to the spot, his feet rooted to the ground, as a high-pitched squeaking drifted out of the egg he held. In a matter of seconds, the top half of the egg was gently nudged away by the being inside of it. A quite-small grey blob was looking up at Luke with coal-black eyes, totally featureless outside of those eyes, a tiny, thin mouth and the red gemstone set on its forehead.
She smiled.
"Hi."

"Welcome back, Gemon," Deekamon said as the eggshell fell to the ground. The little form of Sampamon, who had busied herself with cuddling right up against Luke's shirt, was given quite a jump at the voice. Holding her with one arm, Luke reached out as Deekamon pressed the digivice into his hand. He clutched the device, looking at it with a sort of torn expression on his face.
What, he could only wonder, had become of the Virtue? Where had he even gotten this? How had he known?
A dozen more questions raced through his mind, but he could only say two words.

"Thank you."

"At the risk of sounding like a broken record," Toby said quietly, putting one finger up, "could you please explain what's going on, Deekamon? ... Uhm... sir?"

"You guys are so impatient," Deekamon mumbled with faux indignation in his voice, but he laughed. "A'rright, sit down."
It had been a while since they had much explained to them. They were almost ready to welcome it at this point, if just to understand. They did as instructed, sitting around the purple-hoodied digimon.

"I have, contacts," Deekamon said in his usual completely non-committal way, waving one hand at the air. He paused, to think. "When and if something happens to you, or when the tides turn, I'll know before long. News travels fast, both between the enemy and our friends." He grazed over them all with his yellow eyes, once again taking a moment of silence.
"When I heard that a Digimon had absorbed a Virtue, I was... somewhat concerned." Understatement. "Your D-GEAR units have not been working to communicate with me since, have they?"
A group nod of affirmation.
"It does not connect to me, you understand. It connects to my home. I rarely leave it, for-- ah, personal reasons," and he put his hands over where his heart would have been. "Sentimentality, you know me. But if I'm not there -- say, trying to make my way through the Digital World to come find you..."

"What took you so long?" Simon butted in, and then quickly mumbled, "sorry." He still leaned forward, plainly curious.

"Not a problem," Deekamon chuckled, nodding. "I very well couldn't follow your tracks. The Great Ocean is under the utmost surveillance-- the Wide Forest, too. I had to take a much more, ah, roundabout route." He traced a path in the air with one claw as though to demonstrate. "I won't bore you with my path, but I couldn't much show myself. Had to be careful, you know." They got the impression that he was smiling behind the mask part of his hoodie as he tapped his head and winked. "Big bad Era isn't a big fan of little old Deekamon, you see."

He turned on Lukas, and bowed his head. "I am glad you're okay. I was afraid that perhaps Forbidramon had completely overtaken you."
It was subtle, but the boy it was directed at, and his little partner, caught it: Deekamon wasn't saying whether or not he knew the extent of the boy and snake's relationship with Forbidramon and Reimon. He could have meant physically overcome in battle, or... less literally.
It was impossible to tell.

"So I..." Deekamon said and then paused. "Asked a friend for a favor," he said slowly, deliberately. His yellow eyes flashed for a split second, mischievous and cryptic.
"Seventh child, your Virtue should be restored. ... replaced, rather..."
Just the tone in his voice implied, clear as day, that he'd rather not talk of it further-- not now.

Egakumon was next to speak up. "So what the heck happened to the one that Forbidramon absorbed?"

"That," Deekamon said, and sighed, "I'm not sure. But it's still active, I know that much." He paused for dramatic effect. "If he took it from Forbidramon, then Era has a piece of Yggdrasil. It's concentrated, limited, but it's been activated. He can use it. This much is dangerous. I cannot overstate that."

"Crap," Andrea hissed, breathing out through her nose. She looked at the strange digimon, and said:
"I'm gonna guess he's going to use it like Forbidramon used it. To force digivolution."

Emily frowned deeply, furrowing her brow. "And... if a digimon gets power from him, it'll be loyal to him," she said quietly, putting two and two together.

"But," Deekamon said before any more seeds of doubt could be planted, holding up his hands. There was a twinkle of mirth in his eyes. "You are dangerous, too. You are finally a full force. The true Virtue Warriors. The chosen saviors of our world, if you will."
He looked around himself, and breathed out.

"If what you think he is doing is true," he said with deliberate pacing, "then you'll have to be on your guards. You are strong, but you've never been a complete team until now. And even if you had, you'd still have room to grow."
Pause. He looked at the digimon, specifically.
"I cannot tell you how to reach your most powerful forms-- I can't tell you how to reach Mega. That is one of the very few things I tell you with utmost honesty that I do not know about." ... wait, did that mean he wasn't telling the truth about not knowing about other things? "But I can help you in other ways."

"Oh no," Faris groaned, putting his hands behind his head. "I sense a training session."

Delfinimon gave her partner a dirty look, sticking her pink little tongue out. "You just had to say it."

Deekamon giggled. "Biin-go."

"What's the plan, then?" Julian said, threading his fingers together in front of his mouth, resting his elbows on his knees. Some part of him doubted whether their eccentric mentor figure had much of a plan at all, really... All around, there was a sort of quiet assent with the oldest of their number's unspoken thought.

Again, either Deekamon didn't hear this comment, or chose to ignore it. "I want to see what you've learned thus far," he said. After a moment, he added: "just child form, mind you. No need in wasting energy or drawing attention to ourselves, and I think what I need to know will be proven fine just like this."
Gemon huddled down against Luke's body, quite aware of her little squishy body and almost-nil power Deekamon noticed the little digimon's motion, and laughed. "Of course, those among us who aren't quite up to child level are exempt."
Pause. "Just for now, of course. You just watch. Might be good to see. Or, at the least, pretty funny."
Comforting!

Rajamon narrowed his eyes, thinking. "You... want us to attack you?" he said slowly, picking his words carefully.

"Of course!" Deekamon said back entirely too cheerfully, nodding his head.

"Aren't you at least the slightest bit concerned about fighting six adult-levels at once?" Toby asked, tilting his head a little bit. The kids could have sworn that Deekamon smirked as he turned and beckoned for the digimon to follow him away a bit, further back into the clearing their fight with Forbidramon had created-- just far away enough so as not to harm the bystanders.

Egakumon, as he followed Deekamon, looked over his shoulder as Simon; the boy shrugged, and the rabbit shrugged back.
"Around me, please," the cat-hoodie monster said, twirling one finger per hand in a circle. At his command, the six child-level digimon took places around him. Little Gemon watched from her vantage point in Luke's arms, curious as to what was going to happen.
She couldn't say she was eager to fight Deekamon, though.

"Ready?" their mentor figure said; when the six digimon around him nodded, he nodded as well. "Then go." He said that, and then slung himself forward, slouched over impressively. His arms hung limp.
The six partners weren't quite sure what to do, until (of course) Egakumon was the first to act.

"Pummel Claw!" the rabbit yelped, his hand encircled by swirling data as he leapt forward. Almost in tandem, likely not wanting to be upstaged, Rajamon surged forward as well.

"Fire Dash!" he yelled, and the long fur around his limbs and on his head burst into crackling fire.
Deekamon didn't move; this inspired the other four to leap forward with attacks of their own.

"Seagull Strike!"

"DolFin!"

"Lamb Kick!"

"Dino Claw!"

They barely got close enough to Deekamon to hit him that suddenly he whipped his body into the air, almost backflipping; his long arms and fabric legs fluttered in the air as he floated for just a second or two, watching. Below him, the digimon weren't having the greatest time; that is to say, they had all collided into eachother, their attacks meeting with almost explosive result.

"Is it always your tactic to just all attack at once and hope something works?" Deekamon said as he gently floated back down to the ground, landing on his toes. His tone was cheery as ever, but there was a faint scolding note somewhere...

"Well, it usually works," Rajamon retorted, pushing himself off the ground. "I mean, we got Forbidramon good enough."

"And we normally don't have to fight with all of us in the battle at once," Lammon said, much gentler and quieter than her feline teammate. "It's usually just one or two of us working together. When we're all together, we..."

"Usually, half of us have been been creamed within a few minutes, yeom," Delfinimon completed, propping her head up with one fin. "Or we've just got a big honking target."

Deekamon paused and considered. "You're strong. You work well as a team, pulling together to attack in unison-- but your timing is horrible. Doing that creates a massive window for your enemy to counter or retaliate or even," and he seemed to smirk, "just avoid it."
The partner digimon groaned, begrudgingly accepting what they were being told.

"C'mon, now," Deekamon chirruped. "Try what you just did, but this time try not to clobber eachother. I'm the target, yeah?"

Pause, and yellow eyes turned on the spectators (the humans and Gemon).
"And you're not exempt, kiddos. You have to be the eyes on your partner's backs of their heads, watching what they can't. Moral support and second pair of eyes!"

***

C'mon, now quickly became the words that no digimon wanted to hear; every time Deekamon said it, it meant they would be put through another drill, always the same-- the same as last time, the same but this time do it while moving, the same but this time with your eyes closed... they wouldn't be surprised if Deekamon started asking them to try and attack him while standing on their heads and singing campfire songs. Each time a teammate accidentally landed a hit on one another instead of Deekamon (and note that none had managed to hit the latter), he would stop the drill immediately and make them do it again... and again... and again... And even when they got it, he'd make them do it again another time or two. Just for good measure, he said.
Their human partners yelled encouragement and advice from the sidelines until their throats grew hoarse; Deekamon would sometimes hop behind one of them in order to give them a jolt or a surprise, or to test their partners.

Deekamon, meanwhile, was a little purple pinball, turning and whirling around, jumping out of harm's way with effortless ease, never even having to throw a punch as he put his charges through the motions.

For three hours.

They never got any closer to landing hits on Deekamon, but eventually, almost as the sun was overhead, he suddenly stilled.
"And that's enough," he concluded. All six digimon he had been testing breathed heavy, taking great gulping mouthfuls of air, trying to catch their breath. They had been given little reprieve, and their limbs were beginning to ache.

"But we didn't even come close to--" Rajamon almost snapped, growling just a bit.

"You seem to think I expected you to?" Deekamon said with the most amused tone in his voice.

Rajamon stared, and couldn't hold back from saying it:
"You're such a loon."

Deekamon bowed his head and giggled; he didn't argue.

Over with the children: "I take it he doesn't do straightforward that well?" Luke mumbled; Julian, from beside him, let out a bit of a bitter laugh.

"Yeah, no."

"He does straightforward," Faris explained, "like a fish does marathon running. It's totally contradictory to, like, just about everything he stands for." As he said that, Deekamon began to walk back towards them. The digimon weren't saying anything, but they couldn't suppress the feeling that Deekamon was just being odd, and it showed on their faces as they followed him back to their partners.

Delfinimon instantly flopped onto her back onto Faris' lap, flailing her fins in the air above her. "I need a fin massaaaage, yeom," she whined, and Faris rolled his eyes and pushed her hands back onto her belly.
Rajamon remained silent, but laid his head on Andrea's lap and breathed out, his breath warm like the air above a fire. Lammon lay at Toby's feet, while both Egakumon and Kamomon nearly stumbled as they moved to their partners and sat down, almost collapsing as they did.

"Count yourself among the lucky that you didn't go through that," Iguamon said with a look at Gemon, who gave a little 'mm' and nodded her body. The dinosaur heaved a slightly rattly breath, sitting on a fallen log alongside Julian.

"She'll have to eventually," Deekamon said, chuckling. "But... not now." He sat down on the ground, folding his legs and putting his hands on his knees. "I know that you likely don't see the point of that," Deekamon said, and was met with nods and grunts of assent. He bowed his head. "And for that, I apologize. I wanted to check up on you, you understand! See how you've grown."
He looked up.
"And you have. Not just over the past few hours, but since the few weeks ago when you fought against Grizzlymon, all in child form for the first time. Why, you almost actually hit me once or twice!" He smiled behind his mask-like hoodie. "Understand I have tested you in Child form, even though you might have actually hit me once or twice in Perfect, even Adult. I wouldn't be bothered by that."

Deekamon paused, his yellow eyes flicking to each member of the team in turn.

"But it's going to take more than power. If you build good battle habits in lower forms, you don't rely on it as much." He breathed out heavily, changing subjects.
"I can't guarantee any of you that I can stay in much contact with you after this. Your D-GEAR units probably won't suffice anymore."

"What?" Emily said, sitting up straight. "But... why?"

"Era... isn't horribly fond of me," Deekamon said wryly, echoing his words from before, smirking behind his hood. "Even I can't hold my ground against as many digimon as he could send after me-- now that he has the Virtue, I don't believe it will be safe for me to stay at my hut any longer. It's probably gone by now, destroyed..."
A pang of sad nostalgia rippled through the digimon. The hut had been their home for most of their lives-- they didn't want to imagine it being destroyed by Agents. Deekamon seemed to share the sentiment.

"I am only one digimon," Deekamon conceded. "Mind, I'm not going to keel over, step down from my, ah, position. I just can't risk staying in one place any more. Even if Era can't force Digimon up to my level," he said, looking to the sky, "he can force them to Perfect." He motioned to himself. "And even a Mega can't hold his ground against a thousand Perfects alone. I can't stay with you, lest either of us bring unneeded attention to the other. If Era knew he could get both me and all of you at once, we would be got."

His position? Mega? Deekamon was saying things that seemed strange to even the partner digimon, but in true fashion, he didn't wait to let them ask.

"If you keep moving, you will be safe. Keep a low profile as far as you can. Fight only when provoked, and -- it pains me to say this, as many agents and the like have been friends in the past -- do not let your attackers get away from you if you can possibly help it." It was a bit of a grim statement, and more than one of the gathered lowered their eyes. "That said, I can give you a bit of more concrete guidance from here."

Deekamon pointed off into the distance, towards the end of the jungle they had not yet been through.
"A day and a half's walk from here, give or take, is a Proxy Area. It will lead you to an area under Era control, and for that I am sorry; but I have a close friend there who can assist you, and get you through it quickly." He looked around. "You'll know where to go once you get there, I guarantee you this."

He was saying so much so fast; it was almost hard to process.

There was a deep rumbling not far away at all; rustling, stomping, crushing, roaring. Deekamon's eyes narrowed.
Something had been after him-- or the kids. Well, whatever it was...
"Be on-guard," he said cautiously, turning to the kids and their partners. "I... can't stay here and let danger befall you. I wish you good luck. I will see you again soon. Remember, if anything happens to you, I will know before too much time has passed."

Without another word, Deekamon leapt off into the trees again. Within a few moments, they heard only two words in Deekamon's voice...

"Deja Vu!"

... followed by a roar and the sound of whatever it was all but stampeding away.

"I think," Toby mumbled, sinking his face into his hood, "that's our cue to go."

[Chapter 24: End]