Episode 40: Through an Open Door

You realize that what you ask of us is all but unthinkable on a generous day-- it is heresy, on a worse one.

"Yeah, but I think with the circumstances as they are, I think I can be excused in asking for it?"

Hmm. Then so be it. You ask that your... comrades be granted power this once; it shall be so. The data will be granted to your former allies, made allies once more. Know that it is granted you only because it is too late in the game for us to take any further risks, and because we have placed our trust in you above all else. Use it well.
Mind this: it is meant only to aid and protect our chosen warriors; use it for no other purpose, or it will be stripped of both of them-- and likely your own, as well, as recompense.

"Aye-aye, captain stripey. You've got my word. All of our words."

Were you any other digimon, I would strike you down for referring to me as such.

"Recognized."

***

It was in the afternoon; the kids were continuing their trek down the mountainside and towards the shimmering city below them. Light glinted off every other surface in the city, with no clouds to obscure the sky. The sight below them was like a gradient-- from the less-polished edges of the area leading forward into the shiny, polished central area. It stretched farther than they could see, buildings and structures across a stark flat expanse, no mountains or hills at the other side. Clouds of smoke and exhaust rose from a few of the buildings, lending a slight haze to the environment.

A feeling was spreading throughout the group, one they couldn't explain, and one that was unspoken-- that this was go time, this was time to do-or-die. Perhaps it was that this was the final of the cardinal sovereigns, or that they had seen Zhuqiaomon fall before their very eyes to make it more real, more concrete. Perhaps it was that they understood, now, that they had to watch their backs, as not every digimon with good intentions was on their side.

The point was that all of them, digimon and human, truly felt the weight of this situation on their shoulders.

And some more literally than others-- Egakumon was riding piggy-back with arms draped around Simon's shoulders to gain a better vantage point as to what lay ahead, while Sampamon stayed in her usual position around Luke's; Mismon and Finmon were still held safely by their respective partners; it was only Rajamon, Iguamon, and Lammon that stayed on foot.

"Geeze, you're heavy," Simon griped; Egakumon grinned in return.

"Gets you in shape," Finmon squeaked from her place in Faris' arms.

"Is that what you call it," Faris replied in a low mumble, rolling his eyes with a smirk.

"Doin' you a favor, yeom."

"I don't see how you can manage it all the time, man," Simon continued, looking over at Luke.
Luke, for his part, blinked a couple times, confused; he had grown entirely accustomed to the weight of Sampamon, despite her surprising bulk, laying around his shoulders, to the point that it very nearly felt odd when she wasn't draped there. Once he understood the remark, a moment later, he smiled faintly but said nothing.

He would have spoken, had Egakumon not suddenly nearly jumped up and stood on Simon's shoulders with a yelp.
"What's that?"

And the group looked out into the shining city below them, but saw nothing; where they should have been looking, instead, was just a short distance down the hill. Having appeared there mere moments before, silent as a passing shadow but unmistakably there, stood a too-familiar form, even with back turned to the group. Rusted wing-frames poked out from a long coat; Epidemon of the reapers, unmistakably, stood there. As silently as he had appeared, he turned his head, glowing red eyes glancing across the group lazily-- taunting.

The Mega said nothing, merely lifted one hand in gesture to the city; each member of the group followed his hand, even if for a split second, and when they looked again, he was gone. The group was still and silent for a moment or two to follow.

"You don't suppose his killing Magoriamon was another ruse, do you?" Emily mused, looking to Andrea. "I mean, if he was still around, it'd be an explanation for... whatever just happened."

The other girl frowned and furrowed her brow, then shook her head. "No. I don't think so. Not that I want to try and figure out what's going on in that bird-faced freak's mind."

"Do you suppose it's a trap?" Toby said, looking around at the others around him.

"Andrea thinks everything is a trap," Julian said off-handedly, and when the girl looked at him with an eyebrow raised, he continued. "And she's often right," he finished coolly, putting his hands in his pockets.

"Epidemon doesn't... do a lot straight-fowardly," Luke said, putting a hand to his mouth as he thought. "He's more clever than PicoDaemon was, or than Javermon is."

"But he's also lazy," continued Sampamon. "If he's setting an obvious trap, then the chances of it being legitimate or a red herring are about fifty-fifty."

Rajamon paused, looking over at boy and snake. "So basically what you're saying is that if he is setting a trap at all, then it's a crapshoot," the tiger said slowly.

"But then... he'd have to be counting on them to catch that," Lammon said, quiet and thoughtful. "He'd know that they would know."

And so they went on for a moment or two, debating as they began to walk further down the hillside. Eventually, however, Simon gave a groan of dismay.

"Ugh, this is all way too much what-ifs and I-know-you-knows. I vote we just get a move on, you know? If it's a trap, we'll be careful and ready to kick his beaky face in. If it's not, well, then what are we wasting time for?"

"Hear, hear," Faris said from a few feet behind.

And, really, the group couldn't particularly complain-- and even if they could, they reasoned there was no use standing around or poking about. (Perhaps a delay was all that Epidemon was trying to incur? Ugh, Simon was right-- there was entirely too much I know you know afoot here, if they were thinking that.) Even the usually-so-slow-to-act Toby took off at a decent clip as Simon threw himself down the hillside full-tilt, Egakumon holding fast to his partner's shoulders.

However, the newest of their number was not without remark. "Why do you think we keep following him?" Luke asked, his voice low as he spoke to the partner slung around his shoulders.

"He tends to have good instincts, and good intent, I think. But more importantly," the snake replied, "we tend to need someone to yell 'go', and that's what he's best at."

"Hmm. ... I guess."

***

It wasn't far from where they were until their feet clapped down on the metal "pavement" that covered the ground within the city; there were no suburbs, as once the land evened out it was nothing but tall buildings; out here at the ends, it seemed more rusted and old, a bit less well-maintained than what they expected to see further in. Pipes of varying widths and breadths ran overhead and along the sides of buildings, granting an industrial feel to the atmosphere. It felt like they had stepped inside of a giant machine-- a factory that opened to the air.

And yet... the further they walked, ever on the alert as they were, it was completely disconcerting in how quiet it was. Aside from the occasional far-off churn of machinery or outburst of smoke, there was no hustle or bustle to be beheld. That stillness didn't feel like this was the natural state of the place.

"First person to suggest we split up to figure out what's going on is getting punched," Andrea said offhandedly, looking around them as they came to a four-way intersection of street-paths.

"We could just try to look for Baihumon, and try to head off the Reapers... uhm, if they're not already there," Toby said, quiet-- so quiet, in fact, that very few of the group actually heard him.

"I'm going to say we should just forge ahead," Julian said, and unlike the youngest of the group, he spoke loud enough to be heard. "If the Reapers have beaten us here, then we can't waste time. If we can get to wherever the Sovereign is first, then we can hold the line."

Toby mumbled something along the lines of 'that's what I just said', but did not complain much further; Lammon nudged his hand with her nose in what was perhaps a comforting gesture. "We shouldn't go in unprepared, right?" he said, this time speaking up. "I mean-- do you think the digimon should digivolve, so we're not caught off-guard?"

"Kid's got a point," Andrea conceded. The others nodded.

A series of flashes followed. First, three of the pairs combine: Simon and Egakumon became Kisekimon; Andrea and Rajamon, ImperialBaghamon; Julian and Iguamon, WarTriassimon. Each brandished their weapons as the light around them dissipiated.
Toby and Luke were next to hold out their D-GEARs (while Sampamon slithered down to the ground), and their partners were engulfed by light as the devices began to vibrate-- they barely stopped in Adult form, growing to Perfect levels within seconds; there stood Nimbimon and HebiDramon.
Following all of this, Mismon and Finmon hopped out of their partners' arms; they did not immediately have the energy to reach their Mega forms once again, but twin bursts of light returned them to their child forms-- and moments afterwards, up to their Adult levels. With that, the final two -- Kaizokumon and Shayumon -- joined the ranks (or rather, the unruly mismatched mob).

An assorted bunch, to be sure, but impressive enough to look at.

They wasted no further time; Luke clambered onto his partner's back, while Nimimon allowed Toby, Emily, and Faris alike to climb on board. (The snake-dragon would have extended the same offer, but it was a mite awkward to try and grab a hold on her back.)
And with that, they took off-- straight forward, towards the center of the city, those with weapons having them brandished and at the ready.

***

"They're getting close, you know," Epidemon remarked, nonchalant and giving only a sidelong glance to his superior. "And at this rate, they're going to beat us there. We're, what, day, two days away from the center? And they're right behind us."

"Do you think I'm unaware?" Javermon spat, digging his claws into the metal that formed the roof of the building they stood on. The uppermost sheet of metal crumpled like tinfoil in his grip. "It's not my fault the puppet and his friends are on patrol." They had to be cautious; the city had been nearly empty when they had arrived, which signaled to them that someone had been there to evacuate the citizens, and the two Reapers knew exactly who it was.

"How about this," the bird man remarked, turning to face the canine-like digimon. "You handle them. See if you can get the core without me. I'll go take care of the brats and steer them away. I think the... brute force... job is more your style, at any rate. They'll be expecting a trap from me, anyway. I can't let them down now."

Epidemon did not wait for confirmation from the dog; he merely leapt from the building and into the alley, and slipped silently away through the shadows.

Javermon watched him as he went, his eyes trained to spy the plague doctor no matter how sneakily and swiftly he moved. Fine then; so be it.
The more for him. He reared his head back and let loose an ear-splittingly loud howl as his body began to shift form, once more becoming feral and animal in nature.

***

To the group of children and digimon, the howl's source was entirely too close. The sound rang off the buildings and streets-- and in their ears. They skidded to a stop, just temporarily, when the noise hit them.

"Did you hear that?" ImperialBaghamon said, peering skyward and frowning, squinting in the light.

"How could we miss it, yeom?" Shayumon replied, frowning.

"Making sure I wasn't hearing things," the feline replied, growling low and gripping his blades. He could swear that he saw a dark shape leaping from rooftop to rooftop in the distance, but he couldn't be sure.

"Then let's get a move on it," Kisekimon decided; each digimon nodded in turn-- and once again, they took off at a run, setting a decent pace. They weren't aiming for what they (correctly) assumed was Javermon; the primary directive at this point was to try and find Baihumon, wherever he may lay.

Unbeknownst to the group, Epidemon slunk through the shadows of the alleyways they passed, a plan brewing in his brain as he slipped from one to the next. No way was he in any mood to strike directly-- not when the brats had three of their lot already in Mega form. No sir. But if he could pick one or two off...
If the bird-faced mega had a mobile mouth on his mask, he would have been smirking as the gears and cogs began to turn in his head. He ducked further into the alleyway he had just entered. He just needed a distraction, and well, he had plenty of those.

After all, they had even gotten all ready for a fight-- it'd be a shame to make that all for naught.

***

It was quite a while later-- the sun was going down behind the border of skyscrapers around them, and even so, they had met no digimon, friend or foe-- it was becoming unsettling. In fact, it felt as if they had barely made any progress at all-- the stark atmosphere of the city and the lack of digimon made every street seem the same as the last, just a different array of machinery.

Even so, they knew better than to let their guards down. ... but that didn't mean that they weren't getting a bit frustrated.

"What the heck is going on here?" Faris groaned, threading his fingers through his hair.

"It's... kinda creepy, yeah," Emily concurred, looking around and furrowing her brow.

While the group had their little discussion, however, Kisekimon's ears perked up straight. Behind his cloth face-mask, his lip drew back into a half-grimace as he gripped his twin blades tightly in his hands. "Guys," he said, voice barely above a breath-- but that was enough. All seven digimon braced themselves, and the four children (who were currently still children) could feel the change in mood and the changes in the bodies of the digimon they rode on.

It was big, it was heavy, and its feet crunched the metal below them effortlessly. A sight familiar -- at least in passing -- to three of the pairs of partners, it was a tremendous dragon made of steel-- wires ran across its heavily-armored body, twin cannons mounted above its metal-masked face. It had no gaze-- its eyes were hollow and black. Claws, wires, and metal plates-- it was too complex to take in all at once as anything but as an intimidating whole.

"A Machinedramon again," ImperialBaghamon growled; Toby and Faris both were taken aback; Andrea, within her partner's core, was much the same. It was the same digimon -- at least the same sort -- that they had seen an illusion of back when they had been partly back in the real world.
The fact that it was solid now did not make it any less intimidating.

Cue the D-GEARs:
Machinedramon. Mega-level machine digimon. Perhaps the ultimate in cyborg and robotic digimon, its defenses are beyond measure. Its core, which provides unlimited power, is imbued with malice and harmful intenet. Its Giga Cannon leaves no survivors.

"Looks like we got us a fight, then," Kisekimon said, rearing down and preparing himself. Alongside him, WarTriassimon gripped his spear in both hands while ImperialBaghamon blew out a puff of flame, bringing all four sabre-wielding arms into battle-ready position.

The Machinedramon, however, wasted no time in waiting for its targets to prepare-- instead, it merely let out a monotone, mechanical:
"Giga Cannon."

With a mechanical whirring, it reared down, and the insides of the cannons on its back flared up-- and fired. In a flash, the three megas of the team threw themselves into the way to shield the others. It worked, for a value of worked-- they took the brunt of the attack, and while they were no longer fresh as daisies, they were in no danger of de-digivolving.
But they only took the brunt-- the other four, digimon and human alike, still took some of it, and were chucked backwards by the force of the cannon-fire, incurring a rather swift and merciless de-digivolution. (Luckily -- for a value of luck -- those riding on the digimon's backs were expelled from their positions before the digimon became considerably smaller.)

The group, dazed as they were from the blow, did not notice the scraggly form of Epidemon stepping up alongside the Machinedramon. "Well, this is going splendidly, isn't it, kiddos?" he drawled, sounding positively bored. "Having fun?"

"If this was a trap, it's a sorry excuse for one," Kisekimon said, standing his ground even as Machinedramon's cannons began to glow faintly, one heavy foot crushing the metal below as the robotic dragon stepped forward.

"Oh, come on now. Even I'm not so lazy as to leave this as the only trap. I'm positively hurt," Epidemon said, dramatically putting one over-sized bony hand to his chest, then looked back at Luke. "You should know better! Or were you trying to lull them into a false sense of secur--"

"Don't." ImperialBaghamon pointed the blades in his left hands at the Reaper, eyes narrowed. "It's not going to do you any good to try and sew the seeds of discord."

"But it's so fun," Epidemon said, his voice a whine, once again making a gesture to indicate that they had wounded his heart. "But if you insist, I can stop trying and more doing." Before anyone had a chance to stop and think, the Reaper leapt forward. In one bound, he cleared the group of digimon and towards the children and digimon scattered on the ground, just now getting to their feet, and landed surprisingly elegantly
"Eenie, meenie, miney, you."

With that, Epidemon grabbed the youngest of their number by the back of his sweatshirt, digging claws into the hood. Gripping right, Toby barely even had the chance to cry out before Epidemon darted away with boy in tow, and darted away. The digimon cast one look over his shoulder, and said:
"Don't worry, I won't do anything. I just wanna talk."

And like that, he bounded up -- still gripping Toby, though now by the arm -- up on top of one of the shorter buildings.

"We have to follow him," Emily said immediately, clenching her fists tight. Lammon didn't need to be told; before the girl even finished speaking the little sheep had already begun to bound in the direction the Mega had gone. She went without a word, hooves pounding on the metal at a surprisingly fast pace.

A most rudimentary plan was forming in WarTriassimon's head. "We'll hold the Machinedramon here," he said quickly, glancing to Faris, Emily, and Luke, with their respective partners. "You three. Follow Lammon, find Epidemon." There was a pause, and the dinosaur closed his eyes before adding:
"Rip his head off."
That bit sounded much more like Julian than the saurian's voice had the other times he had spoken. How curious.

Faris nodded and threw a salute before picking Delfinimon into his arms. Sampamon was lifted back onto Luke's shoulders, and Kamomon kicked into the air to fly a bit above, and then the trio followed the sheep before she left sight. (As they took off, Faris threw one last look over his shoulder at the digimon half-formed by his elder brother, but said nothing.)

***

When Epidemon came to a stop, it was on top of a building, not a huge distance away from where he left the group with (what could safely assumed to be) his metal minion to fend off. Strained ears could pick up the sounds of the scuffle, the blasts and the called attacks.

"Wh-what are you trying to do?" Toby stammered, trying very hard to act like he wasn't a) scared, b) confused, c) worried, or d) all of the above. Try as he might, his voice and face betrayed him. Epidemon had his back turned to the human boy, looking out over the city they stood mostly above. With its inhabitants evacuated, there were precious few lights flickering to life as the sun went down, and the factories still trickling smoke began to still, making the environment quiet, dark, and clear.

"I'm not trying to do anything," Epidemon said, turning on the boy. "I'm here to help you, after all. You know so little of what you're getting into and screwing up. And out of all of your little party, I think you're going to be the one who might actually be willing to listen to me."

Toby frowned, furrowing his brow; he was separated from the group, his partner, and any real safety net. He reminded himself, deep in his mind, that the Reapers would not kill them-- a small comfort. So... what other option did he have but to listen? He couldn't run, not from the top of a building.
Epidemon's scrutinizing gaze was on the boy as he thought, and after a heavy silence, the Mega continued talking:
"I would make a remark about having a 'captive audience', but I think it would be lost on you. Puns."

"I'm not stupid," Toby mumbled, so quiet it was clearly not meant to be heard and so quick it seemed like a reflex.

Epidemon seemed like if he had a mobile face he would have quirked an eyebrow in mild amusement, but otherwise gave no respect. "I know what you expect me to do. You're the holder of Trust, aren't you?" Epidemon knew the answer, but he waited for a nod regardless. So what you expect me to do is this: try and earn your trust, win you over-- or some total syrupy crap like that." He snorted. "Believe me, I'd see that coming a mile away, too. That's no fun for me."

Call Toby crazy, but he didn't exactly take comfort in the Reaper's amusement. Still, he kept his mouth shut.

"So, lemme ask you something, kid," Epidemon said after another heavy silence. "Why are you and your little..." Hand gesture. "Associates. Pushing on. It'd be exponentially easier for you, for me, for all of us, if you'd just give in. You don't understand what you're gettin' into. Who you're listening to."

Perhaps if any of the others were here, they'd have a snappy comeback, a way to shut the digimon down in his tracks. Maybe even if Toby had Lammon at his side, he'd feel confident enough to have an answer of his own. But that wasn't so. He was no strategist; all he could think to do was play along. Toby looked up at Epidemon, the spindly form towering over him, and thought for a moment.

"Because," he said, slowly, "because... it's not just here that's at stake, isn't it? I-- I mean, the real world's involved with this, too. So... even if we could turn our backs on... I mean..." He was a bit flustered, his thoughts going faster than his mouth. "Even if we didn't have friends here, now, we couldn't just walk away."

"Is that what you've been told." It wasn't a question, it was more of a flat, vaguely curious observation. "Cute."

Toby frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I'll let you puzzle that out on your own. After all, you said you're not stupid," Epidemon replied, folding his arms. "Do you want to know a bit of history?"

The boy did not respond, and the Mega clearly took this as an affirmative.

"My... associates-slash-coworkers. ... really, associate-slash-coworker, since your friends went and murdered one -- and I? We're not the first Reapers. Call us replacements, I call it 2-point-0. When Lord Era first came through to this world, he recruited some digimon to be his right-hand goons. Three of them, same as us. I remember them, too. I wasn't part of Era's goon brigade yet, no, but I saw them around. Pretty vicious bunch, they were. But some years later, the unexpected up and happened. The Reapers betrayed him. They ran off, split up, went into hiding. Began to serve the Sovereigns. He recruited us. Primary objective was to hunt them down and kill them. That's taken a bit of a backseat ever since you and the rest of the brat brigade have started running around -- had the chance, decided not to because Cujo wasn't around and I didn't feel like lugging the egg around -- but that's beside the point."

Toby furrowed his brow as Epidemon paused, then continued.

"The ex-Reapers went from goons to Lord Era -- a guaranteed victory -- to goons for a bunch of giant stupid animals with pipe dreams and plans. Not an improvement, if you ask me, but you're probably not asking me. Your loss. The leader, well, word is he went to the Sovereigns himself. Risked becoming assimilated into the tree to see them himself, throw himself at their whims. When the big stupid beasts decided to enact their last-ditch effort to save themselves, they decided to let him make their special digimon projects his charges." Epidemon chuckled as the fact of the matter quite clearly sunk in to the young boy's head.
"I can hear it now: But how could that make any sense?" (He affected a very sappy, feminine, mocking tone here.) "Frankly, it doesn't. Lord Era does not accept those who can't prove themselves loyal to the core as Reapers. I could get into the details, but I'll spare you, it's not particularly entertaining. The beasts trust even less than Era does, if that's possible. You're running around on the directions of a loony who can lie and deceive better than any digimon, alive or dead."

The boy pondered for a moment, face buried in his hood. "But... but it doesn't make sense if you're telling me this. If anyone has reason to lie, it's... well, you." He spoke slowly, choosing each word one at a time.

Epidemon snickered. "Well, come on. Have some faith in your gracious host. I've got nothing to lose at this point. We're all dead data once Lord Era wins, anyway, so I may as well have some yuks while I can, and it turns out the truth is a lot more entertaining than anything I could be bothered to make up." He folded his arms, looking out over the city.
"Don't take what I'm saying as some half-baked bid to get you and your pals to join up with Era, though again you probably should if you don't fancy a swift and immediate death the second you stop being under protection. Your digimon are dead either way, but you'd do good to save yourselves at least. ... I'm getting off-topic again, aren't I?"

In the back of his head, Toby wasn't all-listening to the words the digimon was saying. He was rolling over in his head what had already been said, trying to determine the truth value of it. The problem was, he couldn't think of anything off the top of his head that really contradicted it-- but not a lot that really confirmed it, either.

"Everything you know about Era is coming from those who were loyal to him. The purple lunatic you take orders from, the brat who used to be a valued general to us, and now, well, me. Be a bit more selective about who you trust."

Toby breathed out, lost in thought. He looked up at Epidemon, trying to read the immobile metal mask for any signs of deceit. "So... uhm... why are you telling me, then? If you're... um, not going to try and... convince me, I guess?" He shook his head. Words were not his forte. "I mean why me instead of any of the others."

Epidemon fixed him with a blank stare, then laughed. "Because you're the only one who can't reach Mega yet, aren't you? Well, that and Forbidramon -- or, he who used to be Forbidramon, guess that's a bit of a sore spot -- but he already knew, and he's not shared that with you, sooo..." Toby looked slightly taken aback, surprised; Epidemon chuckled. "Why, there's a lot you're not being told, isn't there?" The tone to his voice indicated he downright relished the idea. "You'll tell them what I'm telling you, even if it's just to try and discredit it. You're not going to be able to kick my tail, and you're going to spill the beans. Some things in life are certainties!"
A pause as Epidemon looked down to the street, a sidelong glance down. "Oh, look. Your friends are coming."

And indeed they were; down on the street, led by Lammon, were the three humans and their respective partners who had been sent off to hunt the Mega down. Dark as it was, and subtle as he was in the dark, it didn't seem that they took notice of the Mega atop the building.

"Do you want to see if they notice?" Epidemon said, quiet and calm, before grabbing Toby by the arm once more, and this time holding him out over the side of the building.

"Wh-what are you doing?" Toby blurted out, looking up frantically at the Mega. Below them, the other still hadn't seen them.

"I did say 'those who were loyal to him'. Past tense. I said what I meant. I'm going to die whether or not Era wins, kid," Epidemon responded, casually loosening his grip just slightly to watch the boy flail madly, before tightening it again. "Though mark my words-- he will win. Even if, say, you die, and that ruins his plan for now, he'll just find another way. He'll win. So it's no matter of mine, really, whether Era wins or not. May as well get my yuks while I can. If I can screw up everyone's day in one fell swoop, then that's great in my book."
He was just so very casual as he spoke.

"And besides that, don't you expect your partner will save you? Come on. Have some faith."

"Don't!" Toby yelped, reflexively, as Epidemon once again tauntingly loosened his grip, almost dropping the boy before grabbing him, just narrowly, by the cuff of his hoodie.

"This is fun!" Epidemon chuckled, before he turned his gaze down to those walking below. As he did, Lammon's nose twitched and she looked up, stopping-- just in time to see Epidemon as he gave his greeting. "Welcome, lady and gentlemen!" the digimon yelled, his voice almost a caw, and all those down below on the street immediately looked up. "Welcome to the most entertaining thing I've done in months!"

Perhaps understandably, they were a bit taken aback at the fact that the Mega was currently quite literally hanging the youngest of their number over their heads.

"Don't assume he won't hurt him," Luke said quickly, quietly. "... Epidemon has a screw or fifteen loose," he added, more under his breath than anything, and only Sampamon heard it in enough clarity to make out the words.

"Duly noted," Kamomon replied, barely moving his mouth as he landed astride where Emily stopped.

"And I'm assuming if we told bird-face to let shorty go, he'd take it literally," added Faris, frowning.

"Direct method, then, yeom?"

"You know it." Faris and Emily both unclipped their D-GEARs (Luke chose to stay a bit back, though Sampamon slithered to the ground -- in case she was needed -- and D-GEAR gripped in his hand). But before anyone could make a move to digivolve, they heard Epidemon chuckle.

"It's cute that you think you're going to be able to do anything. I'm done talking, so you can have him back. Catch," the Mega remarked coolly, before he opened his hand and let Toby drop.

The boy had barely the time to yelp, but the second the hand left his wrist, clipped to his shorts, his D-GEAR began to glow.

In a flash, Lammon leapt forward, making no comment or remark. Instead, she merely threw herself into Toby's path before she was bathed in light.

"Lammon, kickstart digivolve to... Ariamon!"
Moving graceful, she leapt into the air in enough time -- barely enough -- to catch her partner on her back, cushioning the fall. "Are you hurt?" were the first words out of the sheep's mouth, craning her neck to look at the boy she called partner.

"I'm... fine," Toby mumbled, gripping his hands into the wool on her back; she wasted no time in darting out of the way, as she knew that very soon, there was not going to be a dearth of room in which to maneuver.

"Let's trash this loser," Faris mumbled, holding out his D-GEAR. Emily followed suit, and within seconds both pairs of human and digimon were bathed in light.

"Delfinimon, genesis digivolve to... Galeomon!"

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

The bird took off immediately into the air, as the street -- while wide -- was not bound to be comfortable for a beast of his size for terribly long. Galeomon, comparable in size to the average school bus, fit much more comfortably, and so turned to Toby, Ariamon, Luke, and Sampamon.
"Get somewhere safe-- try to report back to the others, yeom. We'll keep him occupied here."

That was all she said before she launched herself, all powerful legs and claws, into the side of the building next to the one Epidemon stood on, clawing her way up on pipes and, failing that, simply smashing her claws into the metal. (There was certainly a lot of dented metal today.)
Worryingly, Epidemon stood his ground, looking down and waiting for the shark-- and occasionally looking over to those not currently in Mega form, gaze impassive.

"C'mon, I guess," Luke said, casting one look up at Epidemon and frowning, before he began walking. Sampamon, still on the ground, slithered smoothly after him, and Ariamon followed, though Toby kept his neck craned to look over his shoulder at the Mega atop the roof-- and the tremendous bird rising up above, and the shark clambering her way up.

They slunk down an alleyway. In the background, they could hear the call of attacks:
"Electro Break!"
"Bitter Hailstorm!"

With one last glance over his shoulder, Toby could see what was happening-- the two giant digimon weren't even leaving a scratch on the plague doctor. In fact, Epidemon effortlessly backflipped, his coat fluttering behind him. As he drifted back down to the next building over, he called an attack.
"Pandemic!"
With that, he threw open his arms, and a flurry of smoky black shapes -- rats -- scurried out from within his coat, dashing at the pair. Rocmon quickly soared out of the way and Galeomon dropped to the ground with a crash, but Epidemon still kept his cool completely effortlessly.
In other words, not-so-hot. What Epidemon had told Toby was still running laps in his head, turning itself around and on constant replay. (That, and the sick feeling of being suspended by an arm.)

"What's going on?" Ariamon's voice snapped Toby out of his thoughts, as she was pulling to a stop-- as Luke, in front of her, had stopped in turn.

"Toby's got something on his mind," Luke said, softly, as he turned around. The younger of the boys was a mite taken aback. Slowly, but surely, he climbed off of Ariamon's back and nodded once.

"Y-yeah. Kinda. How'd you tell?"

"He's got a sense for it," Sampamon replied, smiling faintly.

"... well, more that he was just stuck alone with Epidemon than anything," Luke mumbled, looking at Sampamon and rubbing the back of his head. "But I get the feeling you kinda... wanted to stay and help. That's all." He was getting more abashed by the moment.

Toby paused, watching while Ariamon reverted to her Lammon form, then proceeded to nuzzle her nose against Toby's hand. "Well... yeah. I guess." Luke said nothing, merely looked at the other human, as though granting him the space to speak if he so choose.
After a moment, Toby spoke-- more to himself, or to Lammon, than to Luke, but even so, it came about to be heard by the other boy.
"Well... I d-donno. It feels like... like, I don't think it's on anyone else's fault? But... d'you think that maybe... I guess, it's because Lammon's not a fighter, which I guess is good because I don't like to fight either, but... do you think they'd act like I could help more if I acted like I could?"

Luke blinked a couple times, then rubbed the back of his head in thought. "You're... hmm. You're worried that they don't take you seriously because you don't think you take yourself seriously?"

"... that's a lot nicer way to put it, than I did," Toby mumbled, his words getting a bit jumbled in the mumble.

Sampamon nodded her head, while Luke picked her up to once more place her in her usual position around his shoulders.
"The way we act affects the way others see us," Luke said, thoughtful, "and we see ourselves by the way others react to us, and that's reflected in how we act. So, it's plausible. Changing one thing could lead to a chain reaction in the rest."

Toby nodded, looking over his shoulder. "I guess."

"So... I donno. I'm bad at motivational speeches, but, do what you think you've gotta do, okay?" Luke said with a shrug of one snake-laden shoulder, placing a hand on the side of his partner's head.

"I... yeah. Thanks," Toby said, smiling faintly.

"No problem," Luke replied, turning to leave and giving a half-wave to the younger boy. He breathed a sigh as, out of the corner of his eye, he watched Toby, in turn, turn around to look back where the other two were trying to fight Epidemon. It was interesting, Luke discovered, to have someone actually ask him for advice, even as ambiguous as it was.
Despite the relatively short time the entire group had been together, the little ragtag group of monsters and kids was starting to feel more like a proper family than anything he had really known up until now.

"C'mon," Luke mumbled absentmindedly.

"Need I remind you that I am on your shoulders, not particularly inclined to go anywhere without you," the snake replied, smirking in good nature.

"Shush."

And with that, Luke, with Sampamon in tow, took off at a light jog back towards the site of Machinedramon, leaving Toby standing alone in the alley.

Lammon looked up at Toby, not saying anything, as he took a deep breath and began to walk back towards the site of the scuffle with Epidemon. After a moment, the lamb spoke up. "It doesn't bother you when I'm concerned, does it?"

"A-ah! No," Toby said, a bit half-yelped. He rubbed the back of his head and smiled. "No. It's okay. I just... I donno. I guess I need to..." he paused, tugging at his sleeves a bit. "I mean... you think I can do this, right?"

"Of course." Pause. "I don't think you've noticed, but you've grown up a lot since you got here. You all have. We're... thankful. That all of you arrived. None of us could do this -- digivolve, fight, protect -- if you didn't lend us your strength. At the start, it seemed like you were being thrown into something that none of you understood. But even so, you've stayed, helping us protect something that... means quite a lot to us."

"Well... uhm... if you don't... well, mind," Toby said, putting both hands behind his head. "You guys... uhm, well, I can only speak for me, but, you guys mean a lot to us, too. To me. Nobody's ever really... believed in me, b'fore. Like, my mom and dad always kinda treated me like I was too... I d-donno. Sick. Small. To do anything? So... it kinda... felt like I was... missing something. Before we came here."

"I know the feeling," Lammon replied, closing her eyes and smiling. She nudged her nose into her partner's hand, and Toby smiled sheepishly.
"Shall we?" the sheep said, head still placed in her partner's hand.

"... yeah. Yeah," Toby said, closing his eyes as well.

They could hardly say it was unexpected when Toby's D-GEAR began to glow bright white, the light creeping, warm, from the device to engulf the pair of partners.

True warrior of the Virtue of Trust; this is your genesis.

In synchronization, two pairs of eyes opened up, blazing violet and flickering like starlight. The glow was quick to cover both bodies -- as, of course, they were the smallest pair of the bunch, the sheep nearly but not quite matching the boy for size. It was blinding, especially in the dark as the sun's last rays crept away below the horizon, shining like a beacon in the dusk, as the light expanded from their bodies to form a shell of light-- paradoxically twinkling like a star and swirling like clouds, a flowing abstract form tinged with the same violet that overtook their eyes just moments before.

"Lammon, genesis digivolve to..."

It was warm and cool all at once, the sensations mixing and playing against each other as their bodies combined. The faint sound of something undefinable, harmonizing with the sound of rushing data, sang in the background -- almost like music, unlike anything they had ever heard and too faint to make out. The shape within the light became humanoid, tall and slender. Her head remained that of a sheep, and from head to toe was the dark skin and thin hair, all black as pitch, as though all the wool had been shorn away. The only markings to be seen were on her cheeks, triangular markings under the eyes that faded purple to pink.
Long hair -- though it was hard to tell where the smoke began and the hair ended, for it was both in its entirety -- framed her face, and a long ponytail -- almost as long as she was tall -- was clasped with a metal ring, leaving the smoky end to fade into the air. A long tail, of the same smoky substance, curled freely from below her attire, again almost as long as she was tall.

Her attire was simple enough; a blue top, sleeveless and cut at a slanted angle from mid-abdomen down to her hip. Around her waist she wore a slitted skirt, purple-pink in shade and accented with white, fastened with a black belt adorned with silver rings. What might be called black shorts were worn under said skirt, though most of her legs were covered by the high blue boots she wore; adorned, again, with silver rings, at the cuffs and the buckles, with some amount of heel (though not to excess). Long blue gloves, similarly fastened with rings of silver, covered most of her arms, accompanied by thinner silver rings that floated freely around her upper arms.

Four blue orbs floated behind her back, and betwixt them were two semi-transparent wings, floating unattached to her body. In her hands she gripped a staff, silver and black, and topped with a golden fixture. This was the symbol of their Virtue-- a curved S-like shape, with two golden orbs floating within the curves of the shape, accented by a golden ring at the bottom of the pole.
She brandished this weapon gracefully -- despite the fact that her eyes remained closed this entire time, and seemed intent on their continuing to be so -- slashing the golden end down through the light that encased her and causing it to disperse into motes of light.

"MagnaAriamon!"

"Wow," Toby -- from within MagnaAriamon's core -- murmured, breathing deep. Though he could feel that MagnaAriamon's eyes were closed, there was no question of what was around them-- he, she, they, could sense what was around them. Not see, no, but feel.

I could tell you how this power is yours as much as it is mine, MagnaAriamon's voice said, but I believe that is not the matter of utmost importance at this moment.

"Hahah... no, I guess not."

Shall we? MagnaAriamon echoed her words from mere moments ago, but she did not need wait. Running like she was walking on air, she darted forward.
Ahead, Epidemon seemed to be enjoying himself a tad too much. He flitted from building to building, far too small for either of the larger, bulkier digimon to follow him gracefully.
He leapt backwards as Galeomon nearly crashed into the side of a building, holding his hands above his head. "Fall of Worlds!" Epidemon cawed. In the space between them, a orb began to gather-- gunky and black, pulsating as though it were alive. It grew rapidly, gathering matter from who-knew-where, until it was tremendous.
While Galeomon tried to gather herself and claw her way back up the building towards the plague doctor, and Rocmon began to swoop in for an attack, Epidemon chuckled. He brought his hands apart, and the orb split in two. In rapid succession, he threw one of the orbs at the bird and one at the shark.

The orbs of gunk burst on contact with both of digimon's faces, and the effect was immediate. Galeomon roared, and tried to shake it off, but the gunk held fast. Similarly, Rocmon keened loudly, rearing his head back and thrashing. Whatever the gunk was, as it seeped in, it caused him to convulse, and the bird dropped out of hte sky and crashed -- none too gracefully -- into the metal street.

Epidemon turned them, and looked at the newest Mega, who stood unannounced in the mouth of the alley. "Awesome. Saves me time, if you're in one form. Two birds with one stone! Fall of Worlds!"

MagnaAriamon merely stood as the orb of gunk formed once more, and Epidemon quickly hurled it at her-- but she did not flinch. Instead, she merely held up her staff in one hand and traced a circle in the air around herself. Where the tip of her staff traced in the air, a golden line appeared.
"Shining Break!"

Moments before the plague doctor's attack hit her, the circle expanded into a translucent golden shield of light. The gunk did not disperse over the shield-- it simply disintigrated, vanishing into thin air. The shield vanished after it absorbed the attack, but MagnaAriamon slashed her weapon through the air and turned her head up towards Epidemon. (The word 'look' was not used because, once more -- her eyes remained closed.)

"I am the healing light to your vile sickness," the humanoid sheep said, her voice calm and even. "I am no warrior, but when facing corruption, even the warrior, be he of darkness, will kneel to the light."

"Nice speech. Too bad I don't got one in return! Bad Air!" Epidemon cried, holding his hands in front of him and summoning a great black cloud-- though it was a cloud, it had a solid form, and surged forard the Virtue Warrior of Trust.

"Radiant Lance!" MagnaAriamon cried, her staff beginning to glow bright white. She threw it, then, straight through the cloud, absorbing it harmlessly, before it hit its true mark-- impacting Epidemon, causing the Mega to keel backwards, grabbing at the point of impact as the staff of light disappeared.

MagnaAriamon twisted her wrist, and her polearm was once more in her hand. It was at this point that Galeomon lifted her head off of the ground, trying to see through the gunk still covering her face.

"Hey! Lammon, that you, yeom?" she growled out, before snarling in pain as the black substance got into her eyes. As it sunk in, it began to make every ounce of her being began to sting and burn-- and Faris felt every bit of it from within the digimon's core.

"A little help would be greatly appreciated, lass. ... lad. Both," Rocmon rumbled, unable to stop his body from jerking erratically.

"But that'd be no fun!" Epidemon sneered, and suddenly threw himself from the building he was perched on, and once more his coat fluttered in the air. "Pandemic!"

From his coat rushed forth a swarm of smoky black rats, their eyes flashing yellow as they swarmed not just MagnaAriamon, but all three of the Mega digimon there on the ground.
Rocmon keened, forcing himself -- albeit a bit clumsily -- to his feet. "Bitter Hailstorm!" he keened, opening his wings wide just long enough to fire a spray of dagger-like ice at Epidemon before he began to convulse once more, falling to the ground. The ice, when it touched any of the rats on the ground, caused them to explode into smoke.

Galeomon responded much the same way, supporting herself on a building before she cried out: "Shark Attack!" Around her formed a legion of glowing-white sharks to combat the smoky rats attempting to sink into her flesh, the contact between the two ephemeral animals cancelling eachother out.

MagnaAriamon, too concerned with what was happening to her allies, forgot that there were some of the rats headed for her, as well; they began to scurry up and burn away at her flesh. She grit her teeth and did not let it affect her too deeply, however, as Epidemon landed straight in front of her. She wouldn't waste her chance to attack; she threw herself forward, and her body began to glow bright, destroying the spectral rats in an instant.
"Cleansing Light!" she called, and she ran straight into Epidemon. Or, perhaps, not into-- more through. By the time she reached the plague doctor, her body was incorporeal, and she passed straight through him. What did not pass, however, was the light from her body. It seeped into the bird-faced digimon's body, and he snarled with pain.

Before MagnaAriamon could turn around, Epidemon did-- and he held out hands, glowing purple and black, and smashed them into MagnaAriamon's back. "Contagion!" he hissed, and the glow seeped from his hands into her body.
MagnaAriamon cried out with pain and doubled over before falling to her knees, kneeling on the ground.

"There's no digimon alive that gets a hit on me and lives to tell about it. I got a reputation to keep up, you know, nothing personal. Except it is," Epidemon mused, growling low as he stepped forward, lifting a foot to place on MagnaAriamon's back to push her down-- and then--

"Blade Tornado!" Galeomon's voice snarled, and she rushed forward, her arm-guards blazing white with energy before she brought one back in a powerful slash to Epidemon's back, sending the plague doctor tumbling head over heels away from the humanoid sheep.

"Thank you," MagnaAriamon choked out as the tremendous shark -- still wavering on her feet, still with black gunk covering her face and burning at her flesh -- helped her comrade stand up.

"It's no problem, yeom," Galeomon replied, then growled low. Epidemon snarled, beginning to rush at the pair -- but it was then that Rocmon let out a loud cry, forcing himself to his feet and into the air.

"Rolling Fog!" the avian cried, flapping his wings once, and then the street was covered in a dense fog-- and Epidemon cawed with pain, stopped in his tracks. "This way, lassies!" Rocmon said as quietly as he could muster for his giant size, and Galeomon and MagnaAriamon hurried in his direction.

"Thank you, once more," MagnaAriamon said, bowing her head.

"We're teammates, it's what we're supposed to do, yeom," Galeomon said, grinning, then cringing. "But if you'd like to thank us, you could see if your light-magic-woo-woo powers can do anything about this junk on our faces, yeom."

MagnaAriamon nodded her head, and flexed her hands. "If my shield could disintegrate the attack, I might be able to get rid of it, yes." As quickly as she could -- while she still had the fog for cover -- she focused her energy into her hands. Galeomon bowed her head to test the theory, allowing MagnaAriamon to place her hands thereupon; as they hoped, the light counteracted the black toxic gunk and while the light drained from her hands, it also caused the diseased goo to disintegrate as well.
By the time Rocmon bowed his head to get the same treatment, the fog around them was beginning to disperse, and the dark shape of Epidemon stalking forward could be seen through it.

"I'll hold him off. You heal birdy-boy, yeom," Galeomon said, rearing down onto all fours. When MagnaAriamon nodded, the shark leapt forward. "Crashing Wave!" she cried, and became surrounded by a swirling orb of wild water. She crashed into Epidemon, and threw the doctor backwards once more. He wasn't much for taking hits, it seemed...

MagnaAriamon once again summoned the light to her hands, removing the remnants of Epidemon's attack from her avian ally's face. He shook his head a few times, and though the sting remained, it ebbed by the moment. "Thanks plenty," he rumbled. "I don't want to see what would have happened if we hadn't gotten rid of that."

The sheep nodded, but she turned. "Right now, we have more pressing matters at hand."

"Aye."

The fog was now cleared away all but entirely, and Epidemon had ceased relying on attacks-- he simply leapt and delivered a kick to the back of Galeomon's head, and that was more than enough incentive for sheep and bird to get a move on.
"Contagion!" the plague doctor growled, placing his hands into Galeomon and letting the aura from his hands seep in.

"Hey, rust bucket!" Rocmon cawed as he leapt into the air, but MagnaAriamon was quicker-- but it was still vital that Epidemon turned to look.

"Piercing Stare!" the sheep cried, opening her eyes for the first time-- her eyes were a shining, blinding white, and the magic of sorts behind them was unmistakable but indescribable-- simply gazing into them made Epidemon freeze in his tracks, frozen by some strange power.

She stepped forward, closing the distance between herself and the Reaper quickly, and her eyes closed once more. "Kneel to the light, agent of corruption," she said, a vague echo of her previous words to the Epidemon. Epidemon began to move again, the attack wearing off, but she had more time than she needed. MagnaAriamon drew her staff back, and it began to glow white.
"Radiant Lance!"
Instead of throwing it, this time she merely struck out at the reaper-- and struck true. When the light from her staff faded, the light from Epidemon going up in data just began to glow.

"You can defeat me," he taunted, sounding as happy as anything, "but it won't change anything."

And those were Epidemon's last words before a beam of light shot into the air, and all that was left was an egg, black and speckled purple.

MagnaAriamon knelt down and picked the digitama into one hand. "Two have fallen, and only one more of the reapers remains," she remarked to herself more than anything. Galeomon shook her head to shake away the aches, and Rocmon landed atop one of the shorter buildings nearby, and let out a contented keen.

It was at this moment that, from the direction that the other half of the team had been, they came. Kisekimon led the group, followed by ImperialBaghamon and WarTriassimon, with Luke riding on the back of HebiDramon to back them up.
Galeomon, Rocmon, and MagnaAriamon were about to give greeting when they noticed that their allies were joined by three more than was with their party prior.

First of the three was a familiar shape-- Deekamon, his fabric form unmistakable. The other two were less familiar.
Flanking on Deekamon's left side was a monkey; he was human-sized, though with the hunched-over way he stood he was probably taller than the general human being. His fur was slate-blue, the skin on his face and belly snow-white, and his eyes were a clear blue with red markings beneath. A braid, fastened with a silver ring, framed either side his face, as did low-set rounded ears. A ruff of lighter-blue fur was around his neck, and lower around his abdomen, a strap held a gigantic oblong mask to his back, a dark navy shade decorated in red and silver. His legs below the knee were a darker shade than the rest of his body, edged at the knee with a ruff of lighter-blue fur. His feet were bare, and his hands -- in fact, much of his forearms -- were covered with tremendous brown leather gloves, while a leather brown belt sat around his waist. On his legs, his face, his arms -- red markings stood out against the rest of his colours. His tail whipped behind him, fluidly moving, as he bowed his head to the three who had fought Epidemon.

On Deekamon's right, a digimon that reached nearly nine or ten feet tall stood. He was a dinosaur or a dragon, his scales jet black. Armor in shades of black, silver, and yellow adorned much of his body, covering the majority of his skin. A helmet over his face granted him horns and short, yellow-striped antlers; bracers, fastened by what looked like yellow tubing, were around his shins, above his (quite large, and quite-large-clawed) feet. A shock of golden hair stuck out from under and behind his helmet, a shade that matched his yellow eyes. On his back he wore what looked like a shield that was split in two halves, almost like it was hinged; on his arms were gauntlets, tremendous and terrifying with wickedly-sharp silver claws as long as his upper arms.
He, too, bowed his head in greeting.

"I can only assume that you are Lammon and Toby," ImperialBaghamon said, looking to MagnaAriamon; she nodded her head, and the four-armed lion-man smiled. "Excellent."

"You manage Epidemon?" WarTriassimon asked; Galeomon chuckled.

"And then some, yeom."

"You take care of Machinedramon?" Rocmon questioned, fluffing up his feathers.

"We were having a bit of trouble, admittedly," Kisekimon said, shrugging, "but then we got some... help." He looked to Deekamon and the two new digimon.

Deekamon laughed. "You are doing far better than I could have even dreamed, children!"
MagnaAriamon did not know why she felt Toby become uncomfortable within her core, but did not question it.
"I would like you to meet some very old friends of mine," Deekamon said. He gestured to the monkey. "Shamon -- you knew him by the names of Rafikmon and Tumbilimon." He gestured then to the black dinosaur. "And BlackWarGreymon-- BlackAgumon, the last you saw him. Call them old allies."

"Machinedramon is no laughing matter," Shamon said, closing his eyes-- but then he smiled.

"But BlackWarGreymon sliced that sucker up!" Kisekimon cheered, then coughed and tried to re-gain his composure.

"Sliced up, you say?" MagnaAriamon said, a smile playing at her lips.

BlackWarGreymon chuckled, his voice a low rumble. "Like an onion."

[Chapter 40: End]