Episode 46: A Call to Arms

The group spent three solid days on the move.

They spent much of the first two days merely trekking across the Barren Lands-- they forced their way through, even when the winds acted up and digimon attacked. They sped up their time by piling onto BurningBaghamon, HebiDramon, Nimbimon, and in Julian's case Velocimon's, backs. This had a notable secondary reason, as well: even when they had tried to stay hidden, it seemed like the wild digimon were a bit more pro-active. Even if the party tried to stay out of trouble, it found them, and seemed intent on trying to impale them, pummel them, liquify them with acid, or something equally unpleasant; having more of the digimon in a battle-ready state helped them save time and unnecessary wear-and-tear.
(They would have employed Rocmon, or even Ospreymon, but the bird was quick to remind them that the chances of the wind sending them awry were fairly close to one. Considering that their idea of where to go was vague at best, this was just a recipe for disaster.)

Near the end of the second day, they passed into a proxy area-- a cave-mouth inconspicuous in the face of a spire of rock that was visible from miles away. ("Always subtle, the digital world is," Faris remarked.) They had no choice but to pass through, having no better idea of where to go. Inside, it was just like old times; a sprawling web of cramped tunnels, claustrophobic and dark. It was a maze, but it was not terribly long, nor terribly eventful; it just involved a lot of accidentally crashing into walls and each-other when they ran into dead-ends and had to backtrack their way back to the last fork and take the other path.

When they emerged, it was almost shocking to note the contrast. They stood on a steeply-sloping hill; they had to quickly adjust their footing and dig their heels in, so as not to slide downhill. They were surrounded by trees both living and felled-- tall trees bearing leaves and fruit, hollow trunks covered with moss laying horizontal on the ground, and everything in between. The air was crisp and light; the sun was sinking behind them, casting long shadows in the orange light and cutting through a cloudless sky. A slow-moving river cut through the bottom of the wide valley, making lazy turns. Every inch of the area around them thrummed with life and activity-- bird digimon flying and singing their songs, more mammalian digimon padding through the underbrush, bug digimon buzzing away contently. The wind was not harsh and gritty, but a gentle cool breeze.

And of course, weirdest of all, Simon was still going hatless.

Compared with the lifelessness and harshness of the Barren Lands, this new place was overflowing with energy-- it was almost shocking.

"The Timeless River," Iguamon provided, closing his eyes.

"The first, and the last," Kamomon added. "This was the first place in the digital world to be created, except for Yggdrasil's hollow, which it surrounds; digimon live and die here, but it stays as it ever has been."

"Whoa," Emily said, looking around. Plant life (and some plant digimon, at that) was everywhere, but while much of it was alive, it indeed, it looked as though everything was frozen in time, captured in a picturesque state. It was paradoxical; unchanged but more alive than anything the children had ever seen, in this world or in theirs.

In a word... it was beautiful.

"It's untouchable," Rajamon said, smiling faintly-- almost sadly. "It stood on Era's doorstep, but he could never so much as scratch it. It is under Huanglongmon's guardianship, directly."

They didn't know why this world was still intact, in light of that thing -- they knew it was a digimon, but it didn't seem like one -- that Era had. It was a reality warping abomination, by all respects-- he should have already taken Yggdrasil. If Rajamon's words were true, was it Huanglongmon's protection that was keeping Era and his demon-fetus away?
They could only pray it was-- and that it would hold.

"I don't know about you guys," Egakumon said, breaking through their reveries. He twirled his paintbrush, then tucked it for safekeeping between his belt and his belly, "but I'm not stopping now. We going?"

Well, there was no arguing with that.

***

One pair of eyes looked skyward and narrowed slowly, thoughtful.

"Are they here?"

A heavy silence followed; all eyes were on him.

"Yes," he said after a moment. "Be prepared."

***

The group of kids and digimon descended the hill, and slowly the ground evened out the closer they got to the river.

"So... where do we go?" Toby said, looking around as he dug his heels into the dirt and came to a stop. "Uhm... not to sound, rude, or anything."

"Yeah, no offense taken," Simon replied, looking around. "You said that this place surrounds the tree, right?"

"Something to that effect, though the spatial relationship is likely not quite so literal," Sampamon provided.

"In English, yeom?" Delfinimon said from her place (of course) in Faris' arms, rolling her eyes.

The snake smiled in return, closing her eyes. "I do not know how literally the Timeless River truly surrounds the Sacred Hollow. Does that help?"

"Insofar as it means we have no idea where to go or what to do, yes," Faris replied, deadpan as anything.

"You realize we have a bird who can fly now," Andrea said, pointedly looking at Kamomon; the bird jumped a bit when he realized he was being addressed, but he puffed his chest out and nodded.

"At your service," Kamomon said with a little bow, chuckling and looking to Emily. "If you would be so kind as to lend me the power?" The girl nodded, lifting her D-GEAR. It began to glow, and Kamomon followed suit.
"Kamomon, kickstart digivolve to... Kaizokumon!" He did not stop growing, but as he took his taller form, he grabbed Emily by the hand; she nodded. "Kaizokumon, virtuous digivolve to..." Before he took full form of his Perfect level, he leapt into the air, spreading his arms as they shifted into wings, and Emily swung herself to be seated on the newly-forming digimon's back. "Ospreymon!"

The kids and digimon alike looked up; the tree's foliage wasn't terribly obstructing, so they could see the bird clearly. He looked down at them, hovering in place. "Ah'll do a quick scouting," Ospreymon assured them.

"Shouldn't take more than a minute or five," Emily said with a smile. "Keep going, no point in wasting time; we'll find you."

With that, the bird and the girl took off to do a quick sweep of the area. As instructed, those left on the ground walked on in an arbitrary direction (towards the river) for a short time.

"Don't you find it interesting?" Lammon said after a lengthy silence. It wouldn't have been hard to miss her voice, but they heard her loud and clear over the quiet serenity of the area around them.

"What's interesting?" Toby asked.

Looking to her partner, the sheep elaborated. "We are able to share energy freely; we can digivolve even when there is no immediate danger. We've come quite a way."

"I'm gonna say at least part of that is due to the whole fusing with you bit," Andrea remarked, casting a fond look at the cat beside her.

"And not only that, but it had the added benefit of putting us soundly on Era's bad side," Simon remarked, putting his hands behind his head.

"More on his bad side than we already were," Luke corrected, shifting Javermon's digitama in his arms (he had been carrying it this entire time, though if asked he couldn't say quite why he felt obligated to do so).

"Well, yeah," the red-head admitted, shrugging one shoulder.

"But still," Lammon said. "Even before we digivolved to Mega. We wouldn't have been able to digivolve with you if we couldn't share energy freely even without some sort of connection."

"The sovereigns have a sorry sense of humor, then," Julian said, matter of factly; Iguamon cast a sidelong glance at him, but the said nothing. A number of the others had no such problem, and indeed seemed quite primed to make comments, but something happened to take their attention off of the subject at hand.

That being, Ospreymon letting loose a loud keen from above them to try and catch their attention. Catch their attention it did; every eye was turned skyward, where the avian was staying in the air-- primed for a battle, if he had to do it.

"Guys," Emily called down, cupping one hand around her mouth, "something's going on!"

Well, that wasn't vague at all.

But they weren't going to take any chances-- not now. All six children on the ground got their digivices ready, while their partners tensed up and prepared themselves. They could hear it; from further into the trees, what sounded like a small army was approaching them. It was a mess of noise-- feet beating on the ground, the wings of both birds and bugs fluttering and buzzing (respectively).

"I am really not in the mood for another seven-on-fifty-thousand brawl," Faris mumbled, looking at his D-GEAR as though it would give him the answers. He -- and all of them -- were still thinking of the chaos of the battle outside of Era's cathedral.

"To be perfectly fair," Delfinimon remarked, smiling just a bit, "it was really only seven on, oh, two hundred and seventeen, yeom."

Carefully and gingerly, the group began to move forward; the oncoming forces were advancing fast, and they were unwilling to be caught by surprise.

Of course, they were caught by surprise anyway, despite their best intentions.

Before too long, the small group spilled into a treeless glade of tremendous size; all the way, they could hear the sounds approaching them growing louder and more urgent. Ospreymon alighted next to them, quickly de-digivolving to Kamomon so he could digivolve together with Emily if need be.
The moment they entered the clearing, however, everything went totally, utterly silent. For perhaps thirty seconds, they waited, tense, with bated breath.

And then, from every crevice and nook and cranny in the trees, digimon emerged on the other side of the clearing.

They could see Loromon perched in a tree-- with a dozen others of his kind in the branches alongside him. A veritable hoard of Gekomon and Otamamon poked out of the bushes, and then the tremendous, unmissable form of ShogunGekomon peeked out from behind the tallest trees some ways back in the woods. Bouncing heads of every size and shape gathered around, corralled in and watched over by Piximon and Lopmon. Every size and shape of insect digimon -- whom Emily and Faris were quick to recognize from their stint in the jungle -- emerged, from small enough to fit in hollowed logs to too large to miss flying above the trees.
A bipedal blue dinosaur in armor -- Marinemon -- threw a cheerful salute, while a small pink-and-yellow rabbit poked her nose out from the shrubs. Palmon and Floramon seemed to pop out of the scenery as they began to move, accompanied by Woodmon and Veggiemon, and Gotsumon stood beside, waving quite enthusiastically. Towards the edges and still half in the shadows was a small black Ichimon; aside him stood a little purple and black wyvern-like dragon they were not quite familiar with.

But it didn't even stop there-- digimon of whom they had far less pleasant memories filled out the ranks. A herd of Armadillomon, led by a lone Ankylomon; Deputymon, standing by Kokatorimon; Gargoylemon was flanked on either side by Wizardmon and Witchmon; a trio of SkullSatamon flapped their wings to stay aloft above the trees; the list went on and on and on. They even saw a furry face they could never forget-- Grizzlymon, the first digimon that the children and their partners (excepting Luke and Sampamon, of course) had ever fought.

Digimon they had helped, digimon they had fought, even digimon they had never seen before-- all of them spilled out, and they got the distinct feeling that there were more waiting in the wings.

It was all but silent, despite the mass of digimon so close. The crowd parted, then, just enough for a pair of digimon to emerge from the throng-- they were unmistakable.

Shamon came forth first, forward-slung and walking with his knuckles on the ground; he straightened up as he came to a stop, parting just slightly to the left. BlackWarGreymon was behind him, walking stoic and silent, looking steadfastly down at the ground instead of up. He, too, parted-- just slightly to the right, leaving a space between them.

It was absolutely clear who was meant to stand between them, but for a short time it was utterly silent. A pang of panic cut through the disbelief that even Shamon and BlackWarGreymon were there, and alive and well; what happened to...?

They got their answer before they could properly complete the thought.

From out of the trees -- how dramatic, how cliche -- Deekamon stepped forward. Even from the other side of the glade, the group of digimon and kids could see a gleam in his eyes as he walked forward, each step made with deliberation and purpose. When he took his place standing between Shamon and BlackWarGreymon, he stopped for a moment.
Then, the purple-hoodied digimon bowed deep, so low that the ears on his hood nearly touched the ground at his feet.

Like a ripple effect, so did Shamon and BlackWarGreymon, and then every other digimon in the area (at least, those that had the proper anatomy, namely limbs; those that were just heads, or otherwise lacked such body parts, bowed their heads).

For the group, who was expecting a fight, this was... a bit jarring.

"What's going on?" Toby said quietly, more to himself than anyone else.

"Someone's been busy, clearly," Andrea remarked, shifting her weight from one leg to the other.

Simon, for his part, looked uncomfortable. They were getting the hero treatment, but they still had to actually go and take down Era. What was the deal?

"Meet the cavalry," Deekamon said, loud enough to be heard from across the clearing, as he spread his arms out wide and straightened up.

***

Before long, they were settled down in the clearing; the moons were beginning to rise, the last of the daylight starting to fade. The cavalry, as Deekamon had put it, had spilled more into the clearing instead of huddling around one edge. Even so, there wasn't nearly room for all of them, and even then, the larger digimon were hanging back.

It felt like an honest to god war-camp.

Some digimon were setting up carefully contained campfires, under the watchful eye and advice of Shamon and BlackWarGreymon, acting like moderators and overlookers; Deekamon was weaving and bobbing in and out of the circles that were forming around the fires, keeping his eyes and ears open at all times. There was chatter and discussion everywhere one looked.

The virtue warriors, however, were all but silent, sitting around a fire near the center of the makeshift camp, sitting cross-legged on the ground. Egakumon, Rajamon, Kamomon, and Iguamon sat next to their partners on the ground; Sampamon lay coiled next to hers as well, but in her coils lay Javermon's egg. Lammon lay half on the ground and half on Toby's lap, while Delfinimon sat on Faris's lap, propped up by his arms.
Different questions surged through the minds of all fourteen of them, all burning to be asked and discussed and put into the open, now that they had the time to collect their thoughts.

It was a heavy burden, knowing that they were the only ones there who actually knew what was going on-- but really, had any clue what was going on. They couldn't claim to really understand it. More like they were the only ones who had seen what they were going up against, and even that much was foggy and unclear.

And yet, here they were, with a veritable slew of digimon on their side all of a sudden.

Piximon and Lopmon had come to greet them as they were setting up camp, and had explained what he could about one issue: the existence of digimon they had fought, ex-agents.

("Do you remember when Wizardmon and Witchmon attacked while you were at our village?" the little pink Digimon had said, flitting over with kindling for a fire. "We reclaimed their eggs. Most digimon... do not remember themselves when they are reborn." He looked pointedly, knowingly, at Sampamon, but did not comment.

"Sometimes, they choose to fight with our side upon their rebirth," Lopmon had continued. "Of course, more times than not, Era's agents beat our side to the eggs, and those eggs of any digimon his agents have felled," the brown rabbit said, shaking his head. "We've lost a number of our own, more than we've reclaimed."

"What you see here is every digimon we could muster, from every corner of our world," Piximon had finished, gesturing around. "Not every holdout, of course. Just those willing to fight.")

Well, that was one question down, but as they sat around the fire as the area around them grew darker, they had a dozen other more-- and so did not notice the approach of a familiar face.

"You seem quieter than as is your norm," BlackWarGreymon remarked as he approached, footsteps surprisingly light for one of his build and size. There was a momentary pause; hearing no sign of dissent, the Mega took a seat on the ground.

"There's a lot on our minds, I think," Sampamon said, looking to Luke; the boy nodded but said nothing.

"Might I ask why, or is that no business of mine to meddle in?" BlackWarGreymon asked.

Another short silence (well, not really a silence-- there was sound and activity from the groups around them, but nobody in this particular circle spoke). As it ever was, it was Egakumon to break it; the rabbit looked up, to the large dinosaur.

"What happened in the Metal City?" he asked. "I mean... not to sound like you shouldn't be here," the rabbit said, tapping his snout with one claw. "But... why are you here? You and Deekamon and Shamon."

BlackWarGreymon paused and thought. What had happened? Well, the truth...

"We decided it was for the best to... declare the City a lost cause. We ran."

"You what?" Simon blurted. BlackWarGreymon met his gaze, his face under his mask solemn.

"We were faced with a decision, and there was something more important than protecting the Sovereign. Javermon has--"

"Had," Emily corrected, gesturing with her head to the digitama that Sampamon guarded.

BlackWarGreymon closed his eyes and nodded. "Had it is. He had the power to steal the core of a Sovereign. If we stood to fight, we would have been destroyed." Not could have been, not might have been-- would have been. "We... decided that we had a more important mission to complete than protecting the Sovereign."

"What could possibly be--" Kamomon started, but before he even finished speaking, he knew what BlackWarGreymon was going to say.

"Protecting you."

Well, they weren't exactly going to argue on that point.

BlackWarGreymon sighed, then continued. "We are going to do what we can to protect you from Era--"

"But you can't," Emily cut the dinosaur off, shaking her head.

The black dinosaur looked to the girl. "Do you mean we can't, as in you would not have us?"

"No, she means you can't," Andrea said. "You..." She sighed, putting an elbow on one knee and propping her head up with one hand. "We found out what Era was doing with the Sovereign cores."

"He created a digimon," Rajamon said, growling low at the memory. "Or something. I don't even know what that thing was."

"And if it had even had fingers, it would have wiped the floor with these guys without lifting one of them," Faris said, placing a hand on Delfinimon's head. BlackWarGreymon said nothing, but he quirked his head, intrigued.

And so they explained what they could-- the fetus that Era had created, that it was (they had concluded as they walked) made with data siphoned through the stolen virtue and bound with the cores of the Sovereigns, of its power-- and that Era said it wasn't even complete yet.

They rather forgot that the digimon around the other fires nearby could hear them too, as they were not being particularly quiet, and the story spread through the camp like wildfire.

Digimon flooded over to hear the story straight from their mouths, and the pairs of partners found themselves each telling it to a small group or two, so as to have to repeat themselves less-- but the strangest thing was that Deekamon only hovered near the back of the crowd, saying nothing and not coming closer.

***

It was late in the night; most of the digimon were asleep, as were all of the members of the Virtue team. Only three remained awake.

"You seem to be troubled," Shamon said quietly, tending to the only fire that still burned-- the one at which he, BlackWarGreymon, and Deekamon now sat. "Was it the news the Virtue Warriors brought?"

"At this point," Deekamon said, "your guess is as good as mine is." The hoodied digimon sighed, looking into the flames contemplatively. "It's simply hard to imagine that soon, for better or for worse, it will all reach its peak."

"We can do nothing else now but protect them as they ride into war," BlackWarGreymon said, bowing his head. "We have played our parts."

"That is true." Deekamon paused before he spoke again. "... but still, I can't help but wonder if we could have defeated Javermon. Do you think we could have prevented this from happening?"

"Don't be a fool," Shamon admonished. "You said it yourself; we wouldn't have stood a chance, even three against one. Warriors though they may be, they are still all of them children. We must lend them our aid. That is our primary concern as given by the Sovereigns, and we would be no aid to them were we destroyed."

It wasn't just that Deekamon had said it himself; it was his reasoning and his impassioned plea to his two comrades that led them, however reluctantly, to run and live another day.

Deekamon looked to the monkey, shaking his head. "No. You are right-- or, I was right." He was being only slightly sarcastic. "It would only delay the inevitable and leave them without help. I just... wonder why it had to be this way."

The black dinosaur closed his eyes; he knew the answer before he asked. "What way?"

Deekamon looked skyward. "That they will die, if the Sovereign's predictions -- fears, rather -- come to pass. Call it sentiment."

It wasn't particularly hard to see why he might get sentimental-- he had raised the digimon from the egg, and more than that, he had grown quite attached to the children themselves. Their partner's deaths -- deaths that seemed inevitable -- would break their hearts even more than it broke his, even without as much history of time. It was... a hard pill to swallow.

BlackWarGreymon and Shamon's eyes were both fixed on Deekamon as he stood up, still looking up to the stars.

"We'll just have to see," Deekamon said after a moment, shaking his head as he looked to his two comrades.

***

It would be done soon. Those words throbbed against the inside of Era's skull, a mantra and a war-chant.

It was only a matter of time. He had rallied what... forces he had. A bit inelegant, and rather slower than he'd liked -- he'd had to send out scouts and messengers of his own. Perhaps, if this world continued to exist, he might have made them his next Reapers in the future.
But now, all that mattered now was hijacking the tree -- and taking down the dragon of the center, of course.
That wouldn't be a problem. Yes, there had been some... unexpected delays.

Not that it would really matter.

He no longer had his Reapers; he had planned for that. Nor his headquarters; he had planned for that, too. All that mattered was his creation.

And, of course, his judgment. The judgment that this entire world would feel-- would feel, he corrected himself, if they could feel.

He wouldn't lie; he almost felt bad that the human children would be taken down with it, but they were no better than the rest of the scum now. They were corrupted and tainted.
It would be an act of mercy to kill them.

***

The morning came; one more morning that the digital world survived to see. The sky was greyed by an early-morning fog; it would dissipate once the sun rose more, but for now, it was only barely light out.
But even so, the makeshift war-camp was buzzing (sometimes literally, considering the concentration of insects there) as its inhabitants stirred to wakefulness. Every digimon in the place was chattering about what they had heard the night before. A few even volunteered to leave to take news to the rest of the digital world, a few dark shapes flying off at high speed (but not nearly enough to make any noticeable dent in their numbers).

A few digimon took their chances to say hello to the digidestined and their partners, once they had stirred:

Loromon, flustered as ever, was quick on the scene to say hello and even affectionately pecked some of the digimon on the head. "Even when other digimon had lost faith in you," the parrot said, after telling of how he had helped to gather some of the digimon they saw around them now, "I never did."

"That means a lot," Simon said, voice utterly sincere, a smile on his face; Loromon puffed his chest-feathers out proudly.

Gotsumon gave an impassioned ramble punctuated with "yes"es every five words, all of which boiled down to it's been a while; you've come quite a ways, haven't you?. When he was introduced to Luke (who, really, had to be introduced to quite a few of the digimon), he looked the boy up and down, thoughtful, before concluding:
"Not bad, yes!"

Very reluctantly, a little pink Koromon gave her respects to Toby, Julian, and their respective partners. (She beamed, though, when they seemed to remember her; "It would be difficult to forget a pink rabbit ball that evolved into a giant skeleton dinosaur," Julian had remarked, clearly taking a cue from Faris' school of snark.)

Mikemon made her way across the clearing to greet the group of children, as well. Right, before she left, however, Luke seemed conflicted.

"Hold on," he said, handing Javermon's egg off to Simon for a moment. Sampamon slithered off his shoulders and followed him as he gently pulled Mikemon aside; she was confused as anything, and couldn't be blamed for that.
The snake stood by as her partner knelt on the ground to be on-level with Mikemon. The boy spoke in low apologetic tones, a few yards away from the rest of the group.
The other kids could not hear what was being said between them, but they could imagine it probably involved the word (name, rather) Dobermon. It ended with two things happening in very quick succession; the calico cat digimon scratching Luke across the face with one paw-gloved hand, then immediately embraced the boy around the midsection.

The other members of the group could clearly hear Luke say, sidelong to Sampamon: "I deserved that."

"Yes, you did," Mikemon replied, pulling away with a sort of half-smile; there were traces of tears in her eyes, but she blinked them away. "But it's Era's fault, not yours. Just go punch his face in for me, and we can call it even."

"I would have done that, even if you hadn't asked," Luke replied, tone dry but good-natured.

"It's what we're here to do," Sampamon added, nodding her head. "So consider it a promise."

As the cat waved goodbye, Luke remained kneeling on the ground.
After a moment, he raised a hand to his cheek, which now bore three shallow red scratches. "... that actually hurt," he said absently, and then began to laugh. It wasn't a bitter laugh or a sarcastic one, nor a big belly laugh, but it was a genuine chuckle.

"Feel better?" Andrea said, putting a hand on her hip and raising an eyebrow, expression bemused. She was in no small part sarcastic, but the speck of sincerity in her voice did not go unnoticed by any present.

"Yes, actually," Luke said, craning his neck to look at the others. He didn't quite understand it himself, but it felt like a weight off his shoulders (ironically enough, as at that moment he lifted Sampamon to her usual position around his neck-- a quite literal weight on his shoulders).

He stood just in time for another digimon to approach them.

"Do you have a moment?" Deekamon said, popping out of seemingly-nowhere. (More than a few of them jumped a bit with surprise.) His eyes flicked from one pair of partners to the next, looking at each in turn.

Simon exchanged looks with the rest of the group; after seeing no real outstanding dissent, the red-headed boy nodded on behalf of all of them. "Yeah, sure," he said. It was the first time that Deekamon had actually approached them; he had been flitting around the entire night before, as far as they could tell, and they wouldn't say no to a chance to get to talk to the closest thing they had to a mentor figure.

Deekamon led them to the edge of the clearing, just into the trees so as to get them away from the throngs of digimon; not even the most rambunctious of the rabble of digimon tried to follow, presumably knowing the weight of what was going on. They were still in full sight of the camp, but they were just barely under the canopy of the thick trees.

"What's up?" Faris asked, shifting Delfinimon in his arms.

Deekamon paused, looking at the kids again. He tapped a claw against the grin-like facemask on his hoodie, before he sighed and shook his head. "I'm bad at this."

Emily mouthed bad at what?, while Lammon and Toby exchanged somewhat confused glances. Julian folded his arms, and Andrea put her arms akimbo, but otherwise, they were just waiting for Deekamon to continue.

"What's going to happen," Deekamon said, slow, choosing his words, "is you are going to have to advance into the Sacred Hollow of Yggdrasil. We will protect you on the way there, but we cannot enter it. After that... we will guard its entrance, to keep out any of Era's forces that may try to follow you." He looked solemnly at them. "Your focus must be on keeping Era from taking the Tree." He sighed heavily. "If what you've said is true... then we have reached a situation that I have not been in for as long as I swore myself to the Sovereigns."

Slowly, Deekamon shook his head.

"I... have no idea what you're going up against. After you enter the Hollow, I cannot help you, and you cannot turn back. This may be the last time I see any of you." Pause. "... so I wanted to take a moment to say something. And trust me, I'm being honest this time. I know, crazy," he said, looking pointedly at Julian; they could almost hear the smirk, and Julian smiled faintly in return.

"I don't know what's going to happen. I can't promise you that you will be victorious. You know the weight of what is happening; I'm not going to remind you and make you feel awkward about it. All I do know is that whatever happens..." Another momentary pause; he did not look directly at any of them as he spoke, but the pairs of partners bowed their heads in turn.
"You have kept your heads up, even when things were most dire. You have courageously stood up to danger and injustice. You have refused to give up, even against the odds. You have trusted in your partners, in each other, and in those around you. You have shown tremendous kindness to an often-hostile world. You have always stayed on top of the situation, using what was given you; and you have fought honorably every step of the way. All of you have. No matter what happens, nobody can say you did not fight to the last."

Egakumon would not make any bones about it; he was first to step forward, as he always was, and ever would be. He beamed up at Deekamon, and held out his arms. Deekamon knelt, embracing the rabbit.

One by one, every digimon followed-- first Kamomon, then Sampamon (who, lacking arms, had a bit of a time returning the hug she was given, but she would not complain), followed by Iguamon, then Delfinimon, then Lammon, and then -- finally, and trying to pretend his eyes were dry -- Rajamon.

And, well, not wanting to be left out...

Simon was (as his partner was) the first to step forward once Rajamon stepped away, and he grinned lopsidedly as he gave the digimon who had been their guide and friend a hug. Toby followed, then Emily, then Andrea; Faris had to drag Julian, who was in the Rajamon boat of no I am not going to admit I am showing emotion thanks (but did cave, eventually). Last for the humans was Luke, who was a bit sheepish; Deekamon responded to the boy's sheepishness by taking the initiative and walking up to the boy himself. (It wore Luke down pretty quick, and he returned the gesture.)

If they had anything more to say, it went unsaid.

Not because they wanted some sort of dramatic silence, no; more out of necessity, because everything was suddenly very loud. The digimon in the war-camp were snarling, growling, buzzing, screeching, all at full volume. Even Deekamon's eyes flashed as he suddenly growled, low and animalistic, flexing his claws and hunching forward.

The partner digimon stood at their respective children's sides, bodies tense and pupils all contracted to pinpricks and slits...
And the oddest thing was, their human partners were much the same. It was involuntary, an animal instinct, pure reflex, and impossible to shake; it was almost as though the kids and their digimon were in synch.

And why?

Well, it should have been obvious by now what was causing this-- or rather, who. It was just a matter of how.
Deekamon's voice -- which rather sounded as though he was talking through grit teeth and trying very hard to stay upright -- cut through the white-noise feeling that was clouding the group's senses.

"Go!"

It was one word screamed at the top of his lungs-- it wasn't just a direction to the kids and their partners. It was a signal. At his word, a thousand digimon rose into the sky, bellowed and roared and began to move.

If any of the group cocked their heads up and looked above and around themselves -- and they did -- they would see two things. First, more positive than the other: the digimon of the camp were taking to their positions, both by foot and wing, creating a veritable wall of fighters. They were creating one last line of defense.
Second, and far more deeply concerning: the sky above them was warping, surging with streaks of data and distorting like graphics gone wrong.

"Oh, holy crap," Faris blurted, his expression one of deep discomfort. His outburst was not audible, however, in the cacophony.

""What are we supposed to do," Emily said, furrowing her brow deep, but she already knew the answer; all of them did.

As the camp cleared out with alarming speed, soon, the seven children, the seven digimon, and the trio of Deekamon, Shamon, and BlackWarGreymon were all that remained.

All seven children reached for their D-GEARs, their partners readying themselves as the digimon in the sky dispersed.

"It has been an honor to be in your service, Virtue Warriors," BlackWarGreymon said, bowing his head.

"We have the utmost faith in your success," Shamon said, solemn, closing his eyes.

Deekamon took a moment before he spoke, then nodded his head once. "For what it's worth," he said, choosing each word carefully, "I'm proud of you." He paused for only a second, shaking his head as though shaking something off. "We'll hold it down here. Go."

"Go where?" Toby asked; Deekamon looked to the short boy.

"You'll know," he said-- one last piece of cryptic advice. Behind his facemask, he smiled, just ever so sadly.

Nothing else was said; with rushes of light and sound, keening cries and roars, seven mega-level warriors took the place of the fourteen children and child-level digimon.

 
 
 

Moments later, they were rising into the sky. MagnaAriamon and WarTriassimon rode on Rocmon's back, while Kisekimon and ImperialBaghamon took a careful perch between Quetzacoatimon's wings. Unable to clamber onto either's back, Galeomon was riding on Rocmon's talons, holding fast to one of his legs,4 but being lifted like she weighted nothing at all. (She would not allow herself to be carried, for the sake of dignity.) Two pairs of wings beat at the air, rising upwards into the gradually-brightening sky.

At a higher vantage point, they were able to see more of what was going on-- aside, of course, from the ever-worsening distortion of the sky around them -- to try and get a better idea of what to do. It was almost eerily silent, all the sound and chaos that had been around them on the ground almost nonexistent here in the air.

Not to say nothing was happening, though. No, much to the contrary, everywhere they looked, they saw streams of data shoot into the air from around the edges of the area-- whether they were friend or foe was impossible to tell.
But Deekamon was right about one thing-- they would know, because something was acting very odd indeed.

Instead of streaming straight into the air like they always did, the streams of data surging into the sky were moving at an arc, headed for the zenith of the sky above, above what they could only presume was the center of the river area's land, some distance away-- but no problem for the two digimon in flight. (The area itself was remarkably small, by all appearances.)
Not surprisingly, the point the data seemed to arc towards was warping the most violently, as the streams began rushing towards it.

"I'm going to guess that's our destination," ImperialBaghamon deadpanned.

Kisekimon, beside him, nodded. "Call it a hunch."

From over at Rocmon, Galeomon added her two cents, even in the otherwise dry seriousness of the situation.
"You guys are stealing my lines, yeom."

The sky's distortion got worse by the second; every surge of glitched area acted like a ripple effect. Every few seconds, it sent out a fresh wave of the staticky feeling, coursing through the Mega digimon currently on the approach and threatening to incapacitate them.

Keyword: threatening. Never actually managing. Rocmon and Quetzacoatimon steeled themselves and flew on; their passengers held tight, setting their jaws and fighting back the instinctive feral reaction.

Inside the digimon... it didn't feel like the children were "inside the digimon" at all. There was no distinction between them at this point. They were laser-focused; every gentle adjustment of the feathers on either snake or bird; every twitch of the nose, every flick of the tail, every flared nostril, every tensed muscle, was the action of seven digimon and seven human cores working in absolute synchronization.
They might have thought it surreal, if they didn't have far more pressing matters to attend to, and moreover, dedicate their attentions to.

If ever there was a time to fight, it was now.

***

Still holding the fetus-like digimon in his arms, Era looked skyward; he was standing on a hilltop, and positioned directly underneath the apex of data-- the point towards which the so-called warriors were rushing. His face was impassive. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the dark shapes flying at breakneck speed towards him.

In his arms, the little creature rolled its eyes back and let loose a rattling hiss.

For a second -- only a second -- the glitched distortion of the sky stopped. Era's lips quirked upwards in a smile.

And then, the sky began to tear apart at the seams.

***

"Oh, holy crap," Galeomon blurted, an echo of Faris' words from not that long ago. From the sky, the view was spectacular-- in a sort of horrifying, the world is breaking kind of way. The sky was ripping apart in streaks, pixellated and shifting erratically, revealing something behind it.

Beyond the sky itself, in the darkness, were rivers surging data and and oceans of shining light. Every so often, it shifted-- and they could catch glimpses of a titanic, shining-white tree of life in the distance. Some of its branches curled downwards and joined with its roots; more, however, merely stretched on into infinity, fading into the darkness, in every direction. A huge dark thing curled around the middle of the tree's trunk, indistinct and almost drowned out by the light.
It was unmistakable.

Behind the sky of the Timeless River was the sacred hollow of Yggdrasil.

And Era had just forced the gates open.

[Chapter 46: End]