Episode 33: Madhouse

When Emily awoke, she found herself staring at not a dark sky, but a dark ceiling. She cracked one eye open, then rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. Kamomon stirred to wakefulness at the same time as she; not five feet away, Andrea and Rajamon were waking up as well. They seemed to be the only ones there, if this room was any indication.

"Good morning," Emily mumbled, a bit sarcastically, looking out a dirty window close by. Outside, it was dark -- though they had no way of knowing so, it was the same cloudy, dim sky that Luke (and, in fact, the other members of their team) were waking up to see at just about the same time. She frowned a bit, the corner of her mouth tugging down.

"I'm taking it that you just woke up, too?" Andrea said, taking her chance to look around the room. It was dark; one got the impression that even if one brought in flood lights, it would absorb the light into the walls and the wooden floors, and insistently stay dark. The room was empty as far as furniture went, but empty picture-frames hung here and there on the walls.

"Where are we?" Kamomon said, hopping up onto the windowsill and disturbing a cloud of dust as he landed. Out through the murky glass, he could see the tops of crooked trees and gnarled branches, framed by a smoky, inky mass of clouds through which faint moonlight was filtered, but not much else. There were mountains (or were they cliffs?) in one direction; larger trees sprang up in the other, standing tall and proud as they towered over the rest.
They were on the second -- maybe even third -- floor of a building; immediately outside the door, the trees came right up to the doorstep.

"Well, wherever we are..." Andrea said, standing up and dusting herself off. "It's freakin' dark."

"Dark Woods?" Rajamon provided, hopping up onto his hind legs and placing his paws on the sill; Kamomon hopped backwards off to allot him the room, and flapped his wings to stay aloft. The tiger furrowed his brow, shaking his head. "And I thought it was just another one of his crazy coot stories. Go figure."

"I'm getting the impression that Crazy," (she meant Deekamon), "is right more often than not-- no offense," Andrea said, putting her hand over on Rajamon's head and smoothing it down (it defiantly sprung back up into shape). He stuck his tongue out as he lowered his paws off the window sill.

Emily had already gotten up and moved over to the door; Kamomon was hot on her heels. The door solid and wooden, but looking very much out of use. Placing a hand on the ornate, tarnished brass knob, the younger girl gave it a hard twist and pull...

To absolutely no avail.

Kamomon tugged on her hand, a silent plea for her to move aside. She did so, and the bird stepped forward. He cracked his knuckles (wait, did he even have knuckles in those wing-hands of his?) and threaded his fingers together, clasping his hands together into a ball.
"Seagull Strike!" he cawed, lifting his hands above his head before bringing them down, hard, against the wood. Indeed, the door couldn't withstand the force; the moment his hands connected, it creaked and groaned as its rusty hinges began to break. It quickly surpassed its elastic limit and simply splintered before falling forward with a clatter into the hallway.

Behind them, Rajamon raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Score one for brute force."

"At the cost of structural integrity," Andrea added, her arms akimbo and an eyebrow of her own cocked, but she seemed nothing less than amused.

As a quartet, the four -- two girls, bird, and cat -- walked into the hall. Andrea looked one direction, whereas Emily looked the other. Either way they looked, it was virtually identical; a row of doors with poor lighting, dust motes hanging in the air above the unadorned wooden floors.

Andrea cocked her head, but refrained from commenting (likely a 'bit early for Halloween haunted houses, isn't it?' remark). She shook her head, sighing, looking down at Rajamon. "You notice anything I'm missing?"

The tiger looked back up at his partner and shook his head. "Unless you're missing the hallway I'm seeing, I'm gonna call it a no."

Emily furrowed her brow; Kamomon peered around the doorframe, but stepped out into the hall soon thereafter. Rajamon, not to be outdone, followed suit.

"Which way do we go?" the bird said, scratching the back of his head. Rajamon frowned, looking over his shoulder at Andrea and Emily. He couldn't give any response, though--- they got an answer without anyone deciding on it, and his attention was decidedly occupied.
A familiar form faded into view at one end of the hall-- short, impish, his neck surrounded by a ruff of blue, flame-like smoke. An obnoxious giggle echoed throughout the narrow passageway before Magoriamon cheerfully skirted away, taking a right turn.

"Call me crazy, Andrea," Emily said, but she was speaking to the other girl's back already-- she and Rajamon had taken off at a brisk pace in pursuit, and so the younger was forced to speak as she folowed. "But something tells me this is gonna be... um..." she gestured with one hand. "... a trick?"

"You don't say," Andrea said dryly, casting a look over her shoulder-- there was a wry smile on her face. She shrugged, "But if I've learned anything, it's that if that lovely stain on our lives-thus-far has anything to do with where we are, trying to get out by conventional methods is going to be a dead-end."

"And moreover," Rajamon added, and flames rared up around his feet for just a moment, "I kind of just want to kick his stupid smoky face in."

"Can't argue with that," Kamomon chimed in. "I rather share the sentiment," he added with a sort of sheepish chuckle. After a moment of consideration, Emily nodded her assent, and they quickened their pace.

The two girls and their partners turned the corner, and what they were not expecting was for Magoriamon to be waiting there, just a turn away -- not hiding, not--

"Drowsy Smoke!" the imp cackled, spreading his arms wide as the ruff of smoke around his neck flared up impressively, and he leaped at the quartet-- and phased right through them, leaving them in a cloud.

... Crap.

"Hold your breath!" Kamomon squawked quickly -- as though they needed to be told -- throwing up his wings up to cover his nostrils and mouth the moment he was done speaking, but it was entirely too late.
Magoriamon's very image behind them dissolved into the same smoke, the sickly-sweet perfumed cloud hanging heavy in the air around them and seeping past any attempts to block it from their bodies.

"Somehow, I am not surprised," Andrea mumbled, even as her eyelids began to feel like leaden weights.

***

Rajamon awoke before his partner; he was, after all, a digimon, and thus slightly less-affected by the attack. He nudged his nose into Andrea's side, attempting to wake her. He could no longer see Kamomon or Emily -- perhaps they had been moved elsewhere, but...
It didn't seem they were even in the same place-- not even the same building they had fallen asleep in.

It was brighter-lit; the room was furnished, looked more lived-in. Rajamon's claws, even when they were retracted, got stuck in the shag carpeting; a bed was pushed up against one corner, left in disarray, as though its owner couldn't be convinced to make it; a small number of stuffed animals were sitting on the bedspread, a worn-out-looking tiger lying across the pillow. A bookshelf, lined with trinkets and books, was up against another wall, alongside a wooden desk across which notebooks were sprawled.
The walls were painted a pale blue, though faded band posters all but wallpapered the wall behind the bed. Sunlight was seeping in through a decent-sized window, the white curtains pulled back; outside was a suburb, not the dark woods they had found themselves gazing out over earlier. The room was a bit messy and unkempt; a backpack lay slung on the floor, its contents spilling out; clothes looked as though they were thrown in the general direction of the laundry basket, with varying degrees of success on the actual getting into it part. The closet door was open, revealing glimpses of the clothes within.

This -- all of this -- had to be some sort of illusion-- a trick on Magoriamon's part.

Rajamon would eat his golden necklace if it wasn't.

Andrea finally stirred, and she was about to groan-- before she fell silent, staring at the ceiling fan. "Ohh, no no no no no," she mumbled, sitting up; she looked around frantically, calming down only when she laid eyes on the tiger sitting astride her, a concerned look on his furry face.

"It's an illusion," Rajamon said, nuzzling into her side. "Magoriamon."

"Don't have to tell me twice," Andrea said, placing a hand on the tiger's head.

"Where are we-- or, where does it look like we are?" Rajamon said, furrowing his brow-- but he already had a pretty good idea. He just wanted to confirm it. Andrea frowned, but let loose a sigh, getting to her feet.

"I'm guessing his illusion crap is just playing on my memories," she said, slowly, thoughtfully, "because I don't think he'd have any way to know what my room looked like otherwise." Rajamon could almost hear her heart sinking as she said the words. The girl looked around.
Everything was where it was when she was plucked out of her life-- she had been lying on her bed when her phone had buzzed, and almost automatically she went over and sat down on it. Rajamon leapt up alongside her.

Andrea lied down on the bed (Rajamon quickly moved to sprawl across her stomach, like an over-large cat-- which he was). She took her D-GEAR out of her pocket, holding it above her head-- it was still, in fact, a D-GEAR, and moreover, when she pushed a button it functioned normally. Just another layer of confirmation that they were still in the Digital World.

This was entirely too surreal. But how could she wake up out of it? She realized she had no idea how to disperse the annoying smoky imp's illusions outside of smashing his face in-- Rajamon seemed to be thinking the same. But... there was something about it. Just the feeling of seeming to be home was... ... well, it wasn't a comfort. But to lie on her own bed for just a minute had some appeal.
She cocked her head, looking towards the door. There were voices outside. Her mouth twitched.

She wouldn't get anything done just lying here.

"Come on," she said, pulling herself up and hopping off the bed. "Let's... try to figure out what's going on."

She just wondered if Emily was having the same sort of experience.

***

Kamomon awoke, too, earlier than Emily did; also like Rajamon, he found himself in a bedroom rather akin to the one in which his feline comrade awoke in. However, this one was fastidiously tidy. The bed was lofted a few feet off the ground, and was in freshly-made condition-- or it would have been if Emily wasn't unconscious on it. The floor was wooden, though bright rugs covered much of it. There was a wardrobe against one of the walls, and a mirror was affixed to it; there were pieces of paper taped thereupon. One wall of the room was predominantly taken up by large windows, covered by blue curtains; the bright morning light, then, was actually coming from a skylight, fastened into a sloping ceiling.

The walls were painted in a pale shade of seafoam green, but they were almost entirely covered up -- the three walls that weren't taken up by windows, that is -- by posters; there was even one on the back of the painted-white door. Kamomon tilted his head, looking at them quizzically; he could not, in fact, read the words on them, but the designs were striking, and he hopped up onto a wooden desk to look at one closer. He frowned, tilting his head the other direction. None of this made any sense.

The bird was startled out of his reverie by Emily stirring behind him; he immediately looked over his shoulder at the slightest sound.

The girl looked around, sleepily; for a moment, nothing was odd. When she realized, however, where she was, she suddenly yelped, looking around frantically. She didn't immediately see Kamomon standing on her desk; she was... back in her room, everything looked exactly the same as it had. All the posters, all of her belongings. Had everything, the digital world, been a lie, a dream, a--
"Emily, what's wrong!?" Kamomon squawked, hopping off the desk and flapping over to his partner's bed. She stared at him for a moment, as though she didn't recognize him, before she let out what was almost a dry sob of relief, dragging the bird into a hug.

"Oh, thank god," she murmured, but smiled a bit sheepishly a second later. "I-- that was a bit of a shocker."

Kamomon smiled back, nodding his head. "Is this... your room?" he asked, looking around. Emily leaned back on her hands, nodding. "It's nice!"

"I... ... do you think this is Magoriamon's... thing?" Emily said, after a moment, turning to throw her legs to hang over the side of the bed.
They weren't going to be fooled any more than Andrea and Rajamon were.

Kamomon paused, then groaned and slapped his forehead with a wing. "I can't believe I didn't think of that." He frowned, looking out the window. "But if that's so, then how are we supposed to get out? I mean, if realizing it's an illusion doesn't do the trick..."

Emily sighed, hopping from her bed to the floor. "I guess we should... look around. See if we can find any hints, or leads, or... maybe, I donno, if we can find the others?"

Kamomon nodded his head, puffing up his feathers as he hopped off the bed, but flapped his wings to stay aloft. "Before we go, though," he said, and nodded his heads towards the posters on the walls. "What do those say?"

Emily paused, then blushed a bit. "Oh. Um... they're nothing. Just posters for... shows. Musicals. It's silly. Don't worry about them." Kamomon tilted his head, curious, but nodded, following as Emily walked towards the door.

***

As Andrea and Rajamon stepped out into the hall, Andrea found herself disconcerted a bit -- it was, exactly, her house. Outside of her room, the (frankly ripe) smell of Magoriamon's smoke was faint but noticable.

As if they needed any more confirmation.

Andrea clicked the button on her D-GEAR, flipping through until she found the map. A second dot blipped on and off very close-by-- she could only presume it was Emily's digivice signal. "We can start by trying to find Em and Kamomon," Andrea surmised, pocketing the device, and Rajamon nodded. Carefully, the two began to walk down the hallway. It was a bit dark, but Andrea could likely have maneuvered it with closed eyes.

"Wonder how he's doing it," she said, frowning. "Changing the layout of the house to fit the vision?"

"He could do it with the proxy cave," Rajamon proposed. "I don't suppose it's that big a stretch?"

"I suppose," Andrea said after a moment, frowning and shaking her head. "It just unnerves me a bit."

Though it was familiar territory to one half of the duo, girl and feline both walked with some degree of trepidation. There was no telling, after all, what -- if anything -- the illusion imp would throw in for the sake of tripping them up.
But perhaps the most disconcerting thing he could have done was what he did. They turned a corner, walking into a dining room slash kitchen, and... two adults were sitting, talking over newspapers, relaxing-- at complete leisure. Both bore a striking resemblance to Andrea herself -- same skin-tone, same dark hair, even some of the same facial features.

Nothing odd at all.

Except to Andrea, who sighed and shook her head. "This is just low," she murmured, lowering her eyes. Rajamon looked up at her, concerned-- confused. Even so, she added a totally flat, "Hi, dad."

"It's good to see you're finally up, Andry," said the adult man, causing Andrea to clench her fists. "We'd thought you'd just about died in there." He laughed; the woman laughed. It didn't sound natural-- didn't sound real.

Andrea shook her head, as though trying to shake away something that was buzzing around her head, but she said nothing. There was a heavy silence hanging in the air, thick enough to cut it with a knife.

Slowly, almost zombie-like, she walked up and took a seat at the table; she put her elbows on the table, folded her hands in front of her face. She pointedly ignored the disapproving look that the woman -- her mother? -- gave her. Rajamon hopped up into the chair next to his partner, sitting up and putting his paws on the table for balance.

Andrea's parents didn't notice him at all-- and considering he was a two-foot-tall talking tiger cub, it was hard not to find this at least a little strange.

For a few minutes, it was quiet, silent almost except for the sounds of breathing and the man flipping pages of the newspaper.

"Andrea, I really think you--" it was when the woman began to speak that the girl lost her composure-- it was a flood, a rubber-band suddenly breaking under stress. It as though it had been wound up bit by bit, and this was the final twist too much.

"Shut up!" she snapped the moment the voice hit her ears, digging her fingers into her hair, hands clasped over her ears. Rajamon looked over at her, but he found no words of his own. He didn't know what was going on-- only could see the discomfort and pain on his partner's face.

"That's no way to speak to your--" her mother began to speak again, but Andrea shook her head more violently, turning 'shut up' into a chant, a mantra. She was almost threatening to tear her hair out by the way she held to it.

"Andrea! Andrea!" Rajamon's voice cut through the muffling force of her hands. She looked next to her, and the tiger's big blue eyes were looking right back at her, an uncertain expression etched across his face.

Wordlessly, Andrea pushed her chair away from the table and stood up, all but stomping her way back into the hallway. Rajamon was hot on her heels, of course.

"Your mother -- at least, I'm guessing that's who she is -- was just starting to say something, that's all! What's going on? " The tiger implored, frowning.

"No, you're not wrong, she's my mom-- or, she was-- they're-- my parents, they're... This isn't real, this isn't right, this is--" she lowered her hands; she looked back over her shoulder, towards the room they were just in. She was shaking, just lightly, and leaned against the wall for balance.
Her parents-- obstensibly, but...
"This is low of him," she spat, after a moment of consideration, once again clenching her hands into fists even as they fell to her sides.

This... gave no clarity of the situation to Rajamon, and so he merely tilted his head up at his partner.

"Rajamon," Andrea said after a moment-- the idea bulb over her head was all but visible. "I need you to attack them."

"What?" the tiger blurted, cocking an eyebrow. "Is the smoke going to your head, 'Drea?"

Andrea shook her head; Rajamon still looked skeptical, so she gave her reasoning. "His illusions have been stronger when he's working on just projecting one thing -- like the digimon in the Floating Ruins." She paused for confirmation, and Rajamon nodded. "But when he has to put effort into an area, too, it's broken easily-- the rabbit thing in the proxy cave. Once bunny-boy got a good hit on it, the entire thing went up in smoke-- pardon the pun."

Rajamon turned this over in his head for a few seconds, thinking it through. "I... suppose you're right. And... they're just illusions, yeah? So I guess there's not much harm to be done..."

"Especially since I'm betting money that he's splitting his attention to create an illusion for Emily, too," Andrea added.

Rajamon looked back over his shoulder, and nodded. "I'm in, then." A pause. "You owe me an explanation, though."

"Of course."

With that, the two walked back out of the hallway-- the fake parents, of course, only noted Andrea upon their return.

"Andrea, are you alright?" the woman -- the illusory mother -- said.

"Now," Andrea murmured, fists clenched, and Rajamon nodded his assent.

"Fire Dash!" Rajamon exclaimed, bounding forward. The long fur on his head, limbs, and tail suddenly ignitited in plumes of fire. With a few long strides, he closed the distance between himself and the table at which the (quasi) humans were seated, and threw himself straight into them, flaming paws first.

Exactly as Andrea had predicted (thankfully), the moment that the tiger made contact with them, they dissipated into mist-- and the room around them began to do the same. Before they disappeared, the once-human forms reared back into shadowy shapes, all glowing eyes and sharp teeth before they -- pardonning the pun -- went up in smoke.

Within seconds, they found themselves standing in a large, empty room -- much like the one the members of the little group had found themselves in upon thier awakening, only greater in size. Dark, poorly lit, musty-- but real (or at least as real as things got in the Digital World).

"About that explanation," Rajamon said after a brief moment of silence -- as though they were waiting for another image to appear. When none did, Andrea sighed and shook her head.

The tiger looked up, expectant; Andrea was about to make a remark about having to find the other two, first, but the look on her partner's face made her think twice about trying to dodge the issue. She walked forward and sat down alongside her partner, cross-legged on the dusty floor. In turn, he too plopped down, placing his paws on her legs and on her lap.

"When I was a litte kid-- like, when I wasn't even five... my mom died." She sighed, and Rajamon only looked at her; he said nothing, but didn't need to. "She was really sick. And my dad would always tell her, when we visited her, to be brave and keep fighting it."

She sighed, rubbing the back of her head.

"After she... went, he started telling it to me, instead. To be brave and keep fighting it. I don't think he's ever really gotten over it," she remarked, turning her head and looking out the window and placing a head absentmindedly on Rajamon's head. "But the words kinda stuck with me. Obviously."

"Yeah, you borderline tackled Deekamon the first time you saw him," Rajamon said, putting his head down on Andrea's lap. "If that's not brave and fighting, I donno what is."

"But... so it felt wrong, to see her again. She's not supposed to be here. I can't shake the feeling that it's just Magoriamon trying to screw us up, y'know?"

"I understand," Rajamon said. He nuzzled his head against her arm for a few seconds, and said nothing. A few moments later, he got to his feet. Together, they walked out -- the door, this time, opened freely, letting them step into the hall.
"So I'm going to propose we should go look for Emily and Kamomon?" the tiger said; the girl nodded.

A flash of light later, Baghamon stood in Rajamon's place; he bowed his head, and Andrea climbed onto his back.

***

Emily poked her head out of her room carefully, but just like Andrea, was taken aback more than anything at simply how... precise... it was. It was just like home.
Right down to the loud, mediocre music blaring from two rooms down and the sound of incessant talking from the next room over. She sighed and closed her eyes, smiling a bit. It was nothing if not familiar, but Kamomon took it with a little less in the way of nostalgia.

"It's loud!" he squawked, clapping his wings to his head and cringing.

"It's home," Emily provided, but nodded. "It'll be quieter downstairs. Those are just my brother and sister. You get used to it."

Kamomon nodded his head, following his human partner. Right in front of her room was a staircase leading downstairs; it turned at a 90 degree angle to the left, and opened up into a comfortably (if a bit messily) furnished living-room. A couch that looked well-sat-upon; a scattering of DVD and video-game cases strewn across cases and the floor around a large TV. It... looked like a family lived there, in short.

Emily heaved a heavy sigh, smiling faintly. In the middle of all the chaos and running around, dimension-hopping, worrying about the megalomaniac with the powers of a god... just being in a familiar space could mean wonders.
Even if that sick, sweet smell insisted on lingering.

For a moment, the girl merely stood, looking around. She walked towards the front door -- a few steps down a short hallway from the mouth of the staircase; she gave the knob a hard turn and a pull, to no avail.

"I'm going to guess I shouldn't do what I did last time?" Kamomon said, smiling; Emily smiled back, but said nothing, as any further discussion was cut short by the clattering of footsteps charging down the stairs nearby.

Two people -- teenagers, by the looks of them -- had come down the stairs. In the lead was a boy -- shorter than the other, with glasses perched on the bridge of his nose and a wolfish smile on his features; despite his height, he looked a year or two older than the girl behind him. She, meanwhile, was tall and this, with spiky and chopped-short hair. Both of them had hair similar in shade to the un-bleached parts of Emily's, and scrutiny would reveal some less blatant similarities.

Instinctively, Kamomon flapped his wings and put himself between Emily and them -- not for fear that the people themselves (so to speak) were dangerous, but that they were not themselves-- they were images, created by Magoriamon, children of smoke, and thus--

They seemed to look straight through him, as though the bird wasn't even there.

In fact -- though they had no way to compare this point -- unlike the visions in Rajamon and Andrea's illusion, they didn't even seem to see the girl herself. They barrelled past the pair, taking a sharp left turn from the stairs and towards the kitchen.

"What in the name of the Tree was that?" Kamomon mumbled, dropping to the floor and looking up at his partner.

"Those were the siblings I mentioned a minute ago," Emily said with a half-smile, shrugging and moving to follow after them.

"Is it normal of them to ignore you like that?" Kamomon said, a frown tugging at his beak, shuffling to catch up and walk alongside the girl.

Emily considered for a minute, but then she nodded. "It's not odd, at least. They looked like they were in a hurry, after all. But I'm just kinda... like, hung up? On why they didn't see you."

The bird looked at his partner quizically. They continued walking; after a minute, Kamomon quickened his pace. He looked over his shoulder at Emily, who had a sort of surprised look. "Let's see if we can figure anything out, yeah?"

She smiled and nodded.

They soon entered the kitchen, the door swinging behind them. It was a bit cramped, but comfortable; sliding glass doors led out onto a low deck, beyond which The teenagers were sitting at a table, as was a middle-aged man, a bit heavier-set. A woman, blonde, was milling about over the stove, the smell of bacon wafting through the air. All four were talking, but their words were muffled and unclear, as though spoken through a pillow.

"Ma?" Emily tried, but there was no response-- it was like her words died in the air. She reached her hand out, but drew it back, closing it into a loose fist. Kamomon was looking up at her, his face inscrutiable.

Through the haze, they could suddenly hear the boy speak loud and clear:
"Em's been gone a while, hasn't she?"
There was actually a hint of concern in his voice.

"Huh. Seems so," the man said, giving no indication of any emotion. "What's the plan for today?"

Without a moment of hesitation, without even being instructed, Kamomon suddenly surged forward, opening his beak wide.
"Ocean Blast!" he cawed, a jet of high-pressure water escaping his mouth and hitting the man.

"Kamomon, wait!" Emily said, but...

Almost immediately, he -- and the entire scene around them -- began to dissolve into smoke. Just like Andrea's, the human forms suddenly surged into monstrous forms for a split second before dissipating, and then...

They were in a room back in the mansion-- dark and musty and no hint of the sweet smell hanging in the air.
Kamomon had a hundred questions spinning around in his feathery head; he chose not to vocalize them, merely walking over and reaching up to grab his partner's hand with his own wing, nodding with a smile.

Besides that, any conversation they could have had was cut short by the sudden phasing in of a shape in front of the window.
Magoriamon was suddenly sitting there on the sill, cross-legged, arms folded, the smoke around his collar causing the little light drifting in through the glass to become distorted. "You like what you see?" the imp said conversationally. "Your friend certainly did." He pointed to Kamomon at these words.

Once more, Kamomon threw himself in front of his partner; Emily, however, picked the bird up into her arms. "You have a pretty sorry sense of humor," she said, trying to sound more confident than she really was.

Magoriamon splayed his hands out; despite the unchanging expression on the mask that covered his face, it was clear he was trying his best to look hurt. "I'm offended," he said, voice like poisoned honey. "If you saw it, it was from your own little head." He tapped the side of his own head with one finger to illustrate the point. "So don't go blaming me. I'm just the weaver of dreams, after all."
They could hear the grin behind the mask.

"Maybe it's just me," Kamomon said, as Emily set him back on the ground, and he clenched his hands into fists, "but I'm really getting tired of you wasting our time."

On cue, Emily's D-GEAR began to glow, Kamomon following its cue.

"Kamomon, kickstart digivolve to... Kaizokumon!"

Now closer to his opponent's size, the pirate bird digimon drew his pistol. He was not fast enough, however; the second the light faded, Magoriamon began to cackle, standing up.

"Well, then, this is a poor battlefield, wouldn't you say?"
Just like that, Magoriamon stood up and drifted out of the room, phasing through the door effortlessly. Without even a cue, Kaizokumon ran towards the door and smashed his elbow into it, bringing it down without even the need for a formal attack.

"Quick, now," the bird said, looking over his shoulder, but he needn't have done so; the second the door was down, Emily was in hot pursuit of the imp, moving past her Adult-level partner. "... perhaps not that quick," he mumbled, but grinned, long strides carrying him after her partner-- and Magoriamon.

***

Trying to follow Magoriamon through the halls was like trying to solve a maze with no way of tracking where they'd been. It took hours. Turns and turnarounds abound-- and well before Emily and Kaizokumon caught up with their target, they met up with some allies, instead.

The giant red tiger with a girl on his back was a mite hard to miss.

Emily -- on Baghamon's invitation -- scrambled up onto the cat's back, while Kaizokumon ran ahead of them -- being more agile in the relatively small space.

"Gonna feed that stupid blue elf his own rear end," Andrea had remarked, more to herself than anything; Emily chuckled.

"I think Kaizokumon's got a bid on that, too, sorry to say."

A turn around one corner led them feeding out into a foyer, with long curved staircases curling down in either direction; down in the middle of the floor, Magoriamon hovered, waiting, casual. He had chosen his arena.

Further behind Magoriamon stood Epidemon. He was leaning his back against the heavy wooden door, arms folded and stance even more casual than his underling's. He looked up as the two girls and their partners arrived, and chuckled. "Shame we couldn't distract you any longer than we did, isn't it?" the Mega-level said, mocking looking at a watch. "Why, you were only sleep for a good night's worth before Magoriamon set up the illusions. Tsk-tsk."

"Why is it your plans seem to be nothing but time-sinks?" Baghamon growled; the girls climbed off his back. Without waiting, he suddenly threw himself over the railing, smashing into the floor below, in front of Magoriamon. (The wood began to creak and crack where he landed.) Kaizokumon leapt down after him, landing far lighter than the large feline.

"Why, that's for me to know," Epidemon said, gesturing to himself, "and you to find out. I suggest you ask the traitor. He should be the closest by now, I believe..."

Magoriamon snickered.

"But first, I'm going to let you deal with Magoriamon. Make it entertaining," Epidemon said, leaning back casually again, as though he were in fact awaiting a show.

"You got it, lad," Kaizokumon replied gruffly, lunging forward and towards Magoriamon. Within the space of one step, he drew his pistol from its holder.

"Flintlock Shock!" he squawked, sending a round of glowing bullets towards Magoriamon. Even though they were blinding fast and shot and an increasingly short distance, the bird's target effortlessly feinted out of the way.
Before Kaizokumon had a second to realize what was going on, Magoriamon lifted one leg high and slashed down with his sharp-clawed feet, sending the pirate tumbling to the side.

Baghamon took this chance, rearing down as light began to gather in the jewels on his necklace.

"Tiger Gem!" he said, the light released from the jewels and firing as a shot at Magoriamon, flickering like fire.

Magoriamon was too preoccupied, following through on his previous attack, to dodge out of the way of this one, and yelped in a most undignified manner, blown back a bit by the attack. Frail, for a Perfect-level.
He looked at Epidemon; the bird-faced Mega said nothing, but shook his head just once. Magoriamon growled, looking back at the two, and his eyes narrowed behind his mask.

"Room of Mirrors!" the illusonist cried, spreading his hands out-- and then there were a considerable amount more of him. The two humans, above the battle, could make a quick estimate of a total of eight copies of Magoriamon-- in addition to the original, rounding to a total of nine.

"Cute parlor trick," Baghamon rumbled, smirking. "But parlor tricks don't win battles."

Taunted on by his statement, a few of the copies descended upon the feline, taking advantage of their numbers to hit and get away, lashing out on Baghamon and backing off before he had the chance to strike out in return.

The other copies had the same idea, taking their chance to perform the same kind of assualt on Kaizokumon; being smaller, it was harder for them to get a hit on, but they were able to more easily toss the pirate bird around, preventing him from getting a chance simply by battering him back and forth.

And again, those above had a vantage point.

"The real one's staying back!" Andrea called, cupping her hands over her mouth. Baghamon nodded and snarled, looking up-- indeed, one was keeping well back from the others.
Baghamon snarled, batting a few away and thrashing his tails to keep the copies at bay; Kaizokumon planted his feet hard on the ground and leapt into the air. Using this afforded time, they called their attacks:

"Tiger Gem!"

"Flintlock Shock!"

But when these attacks connected... the Magoriamon they contacted merely faded into sweet-smelling, dark blue smoke.

It was a copy-- taking advantage of the partner pair's surprise, the copies began to laugh and attack more fiercely.

"That's enough!" Baghamon snarled, being knocked to the ground by a particularly harsh strike to the side. "Fire Cyclone!"
He thrashed his body until he got free, then proceeded to bulldoze his body into the copies, leaving fire in his wake. They yelped and screeched, and before long they were engulfed in a cyclone of fire. Puffs of blue smoke joined the smoke that the fire left behind naturally, before the flames dyed down-- perhaps amusingly, leaving the wooden floors blackened but intact.

Kaizokumon followed suit; he reared down before calling an attack of his own:
Kaizoku Kick!"
His foot glowing with energy, the bird delivered a hard roundhouse kick to the imps around him, leading them all to go up in the same blue smoke as those that had antagonized Rajamon.

... wait a moment.

"Very good!" Magoriamon snickered, clapping, stepping back in-- phasing through the ornate wooden front door. The real one had ducked out of the way in the chaos and confusion-- unseen.

"Time for a bit of well-deserved karma," Baghamon growled, getting to his feet-- he was a bit battered up, truth be told, even if his pride wouldn't let him admit it.

"That won't be necessary," Epidemon said suddenly. Magoriamon turned around, confused, as Epidemon continued speaking. "Don't you worry, kiddos. I'm done wasting your time, after all. We've got more important things to do. You know, lives to ruin, plots to advance, digimon to take care of--"

With that, Epidemon slowly closed a bony hand around his underling's head. A surprised, gurgling scream and a flash of light later, and there was a digitama in his hand instead of a minion. He tilted his head when the girls above let out yells of surprise, Baghamon began to growl low in his throat, and Kaizokumon let loose a low screeching squawk.

"I don't need his help anymore. He was starting to get lazy," Epidemon explained as though it could be no simpler than that-- but the tone in his voice said he clearly relished in their surprise.
"Have fun finding your friends." He turned the digitama over in his hand, and shrugged. "I'm gonna go out on a limb and say you guys don't want it, so I'll keep it. Might be useful later. Or might not. Not my problem."

With a swirl of his coat, Epidemon turned and forced the heavy carved wooden door open. He left it open behind him, and a soft wind blew in.

There was a heavy silence, before Baghamon spat in disgust.

"They keep wasting our time," he growled, "and then he can't even let us get the satisfaction of taking down his minion."

Emily and Andrea reached the ground level, hurdling down the staircases; Kaizokumon gave his partner a one-armed (winged?) hug, while Baghamon nuzzled his head against Andrea's side. "We are going to trash his face," Emily assured.

But... first, they had to find their friends.

They slowly, carefully, walked out the door. Outside, it was darker than it was inside. This time, they walked slowly, carefully. The tiger led the way with Kaizokumon following. It wasn't hard to see why; when Baghamon tramped through the tree and brush, he made a nice path to follow.
Luckily, this search wasn't long. One quick D-GEAR map inspection later revealed a trio of flashing dots straight ahead

... almost immediately ahead.

Because of the low light, they very nearly, and quite literally, ran straight into Faris and Delfinimon; along with him were Toby and Julian, each with their respective partners. They were seated in a small clearing, looking as though they had just been through a bit of a... scuffle... of their own.

However, it was Faris that mumbled (once he had his bearings, and had gotten over his near-trampling at Baghamon's paws), "Looks like you guys have been having fun."

"You have no freaking idea," Andrea replied, sighing.

[Chapter 33: End]