Episode 40:
The Mon Next Door

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Hurakamon’s paws landed with soft, rhythmic thuds as he covered the ground at speed. The sun was high overhead, beating down on him and his passengers unrelentingly as they continued their journey across a rather inhospitable land. The wind on Hurakamon’s back and the speed he moved at made the temperature less unbearable, but both Frankie and Piper felt the heat despite their personal fan, as their clothes were more suitable for the colder autumn weather.

Piper had been woken up by Caesarmon shortly after they had arrived in the Digital World. Piper had been dragged in from a class she had been taking, and had understandably been shocked to wake up surrounded by dried grass and with a sweltering heat on her face, not to see the faces of her peers staring at her oddly after she had blacked out – as she believed she had. Caesarmon had recognized the place immediately, sensing danger at every turn and being instantly on alert to protect her if need be. Where they had been drawn to was a place neither of them knew from their visit before, and therefore did not trust. But after a short trip wandering blindly in search of shade from the heat, they had stumbled upon an equally irritated and uncomfortable Frankie and Siberimon.

According to Frankie, something similar had happened to her. She had been running an errand for her manager, and while waiting for the subway her D-Touch had exploded with light and she had been drawn into it, awaking in the Digital World with Siberimon, and no clue as to why she was there or where she was. To say that the girls had been relieved to find each other had been an understatement.

That had been several hours ago. Following the conversation with Eva and the others, the two girls had decided to set off as suggested by Irbimon to Ryudamon’s. Despite both girls’ D-Touches pointing out the most direct route, Caesarmon had insisted that he knew a short cut across a sparse plain of dried grass and no shelter, like a savannah during a drought. Despite protests from Hurakamon – who Frankie insisted on using as a mode of transportation, not wanting to walk long distances in her heels – Piper and Frankie had agreed to follow Caesarmon’s suggestion of a short cut.

“You are never allowed to give directions, ever,” Frankie bit out, glaring at Caesarmon over her shoulder, who was secure in Piper’s lap. Frankie held her hair out of her face with one hand while holding on to Hurakamon with the other. “I swear we’ve been this way before.”

“How can you tell? Everything looks the same, there are hardly landmarks to go by,” Piper replied, trying her best not to sound exasperated. Frankie had already told Caesarmon off for his bad directions, as far as Piper was concerned he was sorry and the subject should have been dropped.

“I just know we’ve been this way before!” Frankie argued.

Hurakamon’s pace slowed until he was walking. The wind on his back still blew around the two humans and other Digimon, but without the constant speed the change in temperature was noticeable. Piper wiped a bead of sweat away from her forehead as it threatened to roll down the side of her temple and sighed loudly.

“Maybe we should stop for a while and get our bearings.”

“Stop, where?” Frankie snapped.

Caesarmon muttered something under his breath, but dared not repeat it when he caught a glare from Frankie.

“There is water close by,” Hurakamon said, his head high as if he was smelling the air. “Barely a mile away. We should rest there, the sun is getting to its highest point – it will be too hot to travel soon.”

“It’s going to get hotter?” Caesarmon whined.

Hurakamon rumbled softly before setting off again in long, judged strides across the arid plains. Piper had noticed over their travels the lack of other Digimon they had seen. There had been birds, usually only a solitary one with the occasional flock, but nothing else. Admittedly on their first visit to the Digital World they had not explored far beyond the safety of Ryudamon’s home, but she had expected there to be Digimon, herds of them or families. Groups, like those on a wildlife documentary – anything but what they were seeing now. They might as well have been in a wasteland; it wasn’t just the grass that was dry and dying, but everything. The ground was hard, the earth completely devoid of moisture. Trees barely stood anymore, nearly toppling over to the ground, their roots no longer able to hold them up. It was almost as if something, like a plague, had wiped over the entire area, forcing Digimon to move on or die and in its wake, it had destroyed everything good and natural.

Hurakamon’s nose steered them the right way, and he found the water he had smelled earlier. It was a lake – or what remained of one. It had obviously once been much larger than it was now, but it still had enough water in it to be called a lake. Mud was caking the very edges where it had dried in the hot temperatures. It seemed here the desolation of everywhere else had not been as bad. The grasses were slightly greener and not as brittle, and the trees could still be considered trees, with huge leaves that gave shade from the blistering heat.

After letting the girls and Caesarmon off his back, Hurakamon devolved back to Siberimon and leapt into the water with Caesarmon without a moment’s hesitation. Both Piper and Frankie stripped off their top layers, leaving them in cooler tank tops. Piper’s woolly poncho acted as a blanket for them to sit on while they both sought shade under the boughs of the trees close by.

The shade was welcome, especially as the sun did get higher and the heat became worse. The wind from Hurakamon’s back was missed, but the shade made up for it somewhat. They would start travelling again once the worst of the heat was over. Despite the mishap with Caesarmon’s directions and his proposed short cut, they had lost little time and could still probably make it to Ryudamon’s in a day or two.

Frankie flipped through the screens of her D-Touch, viewing messages from Eva and James. She had been keeping in touch with the others as best as she could, keeping tabs on them all. From her screen she could see the dots had all met up and were in pairs or more now, which meant no one was alone: a welcome piece of news. As yet, it seemed no one had made it to Ryudamon’s, which was less pleasing but also not surprising. They were more spread out than they had anticipated, all in different locations and further away from Ryudamon and each other than any of them probably liked. Travelling was not an easy task, even when travelling on Digimon to speed things up. The D-Touches were useful with the maps and the directions to Ryudamon’s home, but the map was not so good at showing the things that got in the way. Forests, fast flowing rivers, mountains – obstacles that all needed to be gotten around somehow, and without the use of a flying Digimon, they had been forced already to find the long way around things.

Sighing, Frankie flipped her D-Touch shut and glanced across at Piper who was also looking at the screen, perplexed and chewing her thumbnail. Piper had been surprisingly quiet since the two had found one another. At first Frankie hadn’t been too worried, she hadn’t exactly been in a chatty mood either, more annoyed by the fact she’d been dragged unwillingly from her job to the Digital World without so much as a by-your-leave. But now her initial annoyance was over with, and she had resigned herself to the fact she would be here until the figured out why they had been dragged back, Piper’s quietness was a worry.

She nudged the blonde, and smiled at her when she looked. Piper returned it weakly, before returning her gaze to her D-Touch screen.

“Why the long face?” Frankie asked, nudging Piper again. Piper closed the lid on her D-Touch and put it down on the ground beside her. Caesarmon and Siberimon were both playing happily in the water, apparently oblivious for the moment to anything else.

“Just worried,” Piper explained. “Hunter hasn’t been in touch with me, it’s kind of weird.”

“He’s with Tom, you heard him. He’s fine. They’re all fine,” Frankie replied. “What’s really buggin’ you?”

Piper half-smiled. “Probably the same as you. Why are we here, again? And what is the Parasite doing at home? I hope our families are okay.”

“Even Jesse?”

“Even Jesse.” Piper smirked.

“They’ll be fine, you’ll see. You’re just worrying over nothing,” Frankie explained, leaning back on the tree trunk. “Besides, while we’re here, I’m sure the military will keep things in check.”

“Or take over,” Piper replied softly. Frankie glanced at her with a quizzical expression. “Think about it like this: while we’re away, there’s nothing saying the military won’t come out and make us out to be the bad guys, along with Bella and the Parasite, and the military the good guys. Put their own spin on things. So when we do get home, we’re automatically attacked despite trying to do the good thing.”

Frankie remained silent for a few seconds, thinking over Piper’s comment. She had made a point, one that Frankie hadn’t considered, nor did she think anyone else had. While the military hadn’t been involved very much, on the times they had, they had practically ear marked herself and the others with Digimon as trouble makers. Now Reyez was effectively AWOL from the military and would have no way to secure damage control or feedback to McTyre... there was no telling what damage the military could do now, directly or otherwise.

“We’ll just have to hope Ryudamon can get us home sooner, rather than later,” Frankie said, trying her best to keep a positive attitude. “Do some damage control.”

“Yeah...” Piper trailed. “I guess.” She shrugged, finding there was nothing else left to say and turned her gaze to the two Digimon still playing in the water. Well, Caesarmon was playing and trying to entice Siberimon to join in, but the white tiger Digimon seemed happy enough just paddling around in the water.

Piper immediately put her guard up as Caesarmon bounded out of the shallows dripping wet, rushing towards her with his cheeks puffed out. Her hands were up guarding her face as Caesarmon released the water in a spray, laughed loudly and dashed off before Piper could yell. Frankie smirked, while water dripped from Piper’s hands, pooling on the ground.

“Charming,” Frankie commented, grinning.

“Absolutely,” Piper replied. Shaking the water from her hands, Piper noticed the damp area where the water was hitting the ground was beginning to glow beneath the soil. Frankie watched curiously as Piper gingerly pushed away the earth, revealing the glowing item a few centimeters beneath that was warm to the touch. It glowed yellow in Piper’s fingers as she lifted it from the ground and dusted the remaining dirt from it, until it ceased to glow, and was heavy and cool against Piper’s skin.

“Lodestone,” Frankie pointed out, exhaling softly. “Still no idea what they do.”

Piper quirked an eyebrow. “I guess it’s silly I was hoping digging this out of the ground would send us home?”

Frankie allowed her a sympathetic look. “A little.”

Caesarmon’s return to the water created waves that lapped up on the muddy edges. Piper and Frankie continued to talk up by the trees, and Siberimon was largely ignoring Caesarmon, content to wallow and cool off in the shallower parts of the drying lake. Despite how desolate the land around them was, the lake was teeming with life, if one knew where to look. There was algae, and plenty of smaller life forms feeding off of that. The deepest part of the lake was littered with fish hiding from predators that scattered whenever Caesarmon neared them. So the area wasn’t completely hopeless – though it was certain that if whatever was causing this drought didn’t end soon, this lake would dry up and everything in it would die.

The fish were quick, but Caesarmon was quicker and knew how fish moved when they were scattered, all it took was some quick movements and good judgment on his behalf until he had separated the shoal and was quick on the tail of one large animal that looked like a carp. The fish dived, disappearing into the weeds to hide, trying to find safety. Caesarmon followed, close on its tail. Entering into the reeds, Caesarmon moved with slow, deliberate movements, there being no current in the lake made this a lot easier. Closer, and closer, the carp seemed to hover in the water, going on the rule that if it didn’t move Caesarmon couldn’t see it.

A short pause, Caesarmon jetted forward, jaws open, only to have them clench down on the weeds, and the fish disappear right in front of him in the jaws on another Digimon that swam upwards with speed similar to his own. Caesarmon followed, rocketing straight up to the surface – the fish was his after all. He’d done all the work to get it separate from the others. He deserved it.

Breaking the surface of the water, Caesarmon glanced around him, looking for the thief. He saw the girls on the lake bank talking, and Siberimon still laying down in the shallows. Nothing there. Glancing around again, lily pads and flowers, dried grass, bright blue eyes, more dried grass... wait. Bright blue eyes?

Turning back around rapidly, Caesarmon found himself face-to-face with another Digimon. An almost exact replica of himself, though he could see where his fur was orange this one’s was a light cream color and the underside was almost white. Also where he had a small grey nose, this one’s nose was pink... and it was obviously female. Caesarmon blinked. Once, twice, three times, and then swallowed loudly. The other otter Digimon giggled softly, quickly nudging Caesarmon’s nose with her own, before turning tail and swimming off, leaving the lake on the opposite side and then disappearing into the grasses with a quick glance over her shoulder.

Caesarmon chased, catching up in seconds, finding this other otter in the grasses, easily hidden. He breathed and blinked slowly, he wondered if this was what humans felt like when they were drunk on something and had the funny idea to ask Reyez when they saw him again. This caused him to laugh to himself goofily, and the female Digimon gave him a curious look.

“Sorry,” Caesarmon corrected himself, allowing her what he thought was his most charming grin. “I’m Caesarmon.”

The blue eyes looked quizzical for a moment, as if debating his name and whether to return the introduction. Eventually, she seemed to agree with herself and briefly plopped the flapping fish on the ground. “Corneliamon,” she introduced herself with a soft voice. She turned tail, grabbing the fish up in one paw and started through the grasses.

“Wait, where are you going?!” Caesarmon yelped, pursuing a few feet.

“Away,” came her reply, with another glance beyond her shoulder back at him. “Unless you want to follow me.”

Caesarmon almost did, but he had that nagging feeling at the back of his mind that he should not leave without at least saying that he was leaving to follow her. She sensed his hesitation and did not wait, instead she disappeared into the grass and the woods beyond.

For a few moments, Caesarmon stood there a little bewildered and confused, and aware of little else bar the hammering in his small chest which he was certain was his heart, and it was beating at an abnormal rate. What... had just happened? She was the only other Digimon they had come across for miles, yet she had said very little, she had not seemed worried or frightened of him, bold enough to steal his food. Caesarmon swallowed on something that wasn’t there in his mouth and somehow felt like he’d been slapped. He turned swiftly, racing towards the lake, creating a large splash of water behind him as he sped towards Siberimon.

“What is it?” Siberimon asked, cracking open one yellow eye as Caesarmon reached him. He had been happily relaxing in the cool water, enjoying the sensation of the water soaking his fur and keeping him comfortable in the heat – the only thing that would have made it better was a good book, but Siberimon had to suffice. He wasn’t especially happy to be interrupted by an overzealous Caesarmon.

“I just... uhm...” Caesarmon babbled a little, unable to find words to make himself coherent. He couldn’t quite explain what had just happened. A couple of mere seconds and he was knocked speechless – a rather new and interesting experience for him. “There... there was...”

Siberimon’s other eye opened as he turned his head towards Caesarmon, looking impatient and irritated.

“IthinkI’minloveandjustmetthegirlofmydreams!” Caesarmon said, finally. Blurting out the words in one breathless rush that left Siberimon staring at him with confusion and Caesarmon panting with excitement.

Siberimon’s mouth opened and closed a few times. “Say that again,” he said. “Slowly, this time.”


Caesarmon breathed in through his nose, speaking purposefully and punctuating each word. “I said: I think I’m in love and just met the girl of my dreams.” He sped up a little at the end, his enthusiasm getting the best of him, but Siberimon understood him more this time.

“The heat’s gotten to you,” Siberimon said firmly, putting down Caesarmon’s raving to the only logical explanation. “Go and sit in the shade.”

“No!” Caesarmon protested. “I saw her, and she was real and she disappeared in to the woods. Come with me to find her!”

“You’re delusional.”

“I am not!” the otter Digimon argued. “Come with me!”

“And leave Frankie and Piper unattended? Oh yes, very clever,” Siberimon explained with sarcasm lacing his tone. “Very responsible of you to go off after some mirage and leave our partners unprotected.”

“We wouldn’t be going far! They’d be fine anyway!”

“You don’t know that,” Siberimon replied crossly. “Don’t you get the feeling like we’re being followed?”

“No,” Caesarmon answered, his ears flattening a little against his head. “Come on~! Ten minutes, that’s all I’ll need!”

“You go – you’re the one who thinks you saw her,” Siberimon grumbled. “Do you even know what she’s called?”

“Don’t need to!” Caesarmon replied. “I’ll be back later!” Siberimon watched as Caesarmon turned his back and vanished into the water, reappearing on the other side of the lake, and then walked without hesitation into the long dried grass.

This was not going to end well.

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“I cannot believe you let him go off on his own!” Frankie complained loudly atop Hurakamon’s back.

The giant tiger grumbled quietly. “I did apologize,” he muttered.

“It’s okay,” Piper patted the side of his face where she walked at his side, more than happy to walk on foot. Frankie opted to ride her Digimon, explaining her footwear wasn’t suitable for long distance trekking through any kind of terrain unless it was a paved street.

It hadn’t taken long for Piper to notice Caesarmon’s disappearance, and her first line of questioning had been Siberimon. He had explained what had happened, that Caesarmon believed himself to be in love with another Digimon he had just met, and had consequently gone after her with the intention of only being a few minutes.

Piper had offered to search for him alone, so Frankie didn’t have to leave her comfortable spot in the shade and Siberimon didn’t need to move either, but Frankie had argued that without Caesarmon, Piper was effectively defenseless, and that she wanted to give the otter Digimon a piece of her mind when she found him – which they would.

The dried grasses gave way to scattered woodland after a few meters beyond the drying lake. The drought had hit the forest hard too, as many of the trees and plants were withering and the leaves coating the forest floor were barely leaves at all. They seemed to crinkle into dust whenever a foot touched them, and their remains were easily whisked up by the wind on Hurakamon’s back.

Caesarmon wasn’t as silly as to not leave an indication as to where he was going. Piper recognized the signs, he had scratched markers onto tree trunks and roots to show what direction he was moving in, part of the reason Piper walked on the ground was because she could get a better view from there.

“Does he run off often?” Frankie asked, irritation audible in her tone.

“Not really.” Piper shrugged. “Must have been a big thing to cause him to dash off so quickly,” she explained. She bent on one knee, examining an upturned root for a marking. Hurakamon walked on a few paces, pausing to glance behind him. “This way.” She started walking through the trees, pushing dead branches aside, which cracked when Hurakamon butted his head against them or crushed them underfoot.

“You’re awfully calm about him pretty much deserting you,” Frankie said.

Piper shrugged one shoulder. “It’s Caesarmon. He gets distracted pretty easily, I know he wouldn’t desert me for any length of time.” They both fell silent, moving through the trees and leaves, both equally as unnerved by the silence of the forest. They had all noticed the quiet, how there were no birds, no insects in the forest making it home. It was like it had been deserted, just like the grassland they had come from.

That’s why Piper noticed the small noises first. When the silence was broken and she could vaguely hear footsteps, but not Hurakamon’s footsteps, the pacing of shoes hitting paving – even though there was no one around. She stopped in her movements, and Hurakamon did the same when he noticed Piper standing perfectly still.

“What?”

“Shh.” Piper rose a hand up, causing a cease to any other questions Frankie might have had. “Can’t you hear that?”

Frankie quirked an eyebrow, looking at the blonde over her shoulder. She strained her hearing, trying to pick up on whatever it was that had Piper spooked. “I can’t hear a thing.”

Piper squinted before she gave a response, looking through the trees, there was something... someone coming towards her, a human, and that was where the sound was coming from. She didn’t say anything – after all the Digital World had humanoid Digimon and not all Digimon were friendly, instead she stayed quiet and watched patiently. The person was coming towards them, walking at a leisurely pace, dressed in a work suit and reading the paper. Something brushed past Piper and she quivered against it, like she’d been hit with a cold breeze – she noticed more people walking, apparently unable to see her. She could also make out the outline of buildings, skyscrapers that disappeared.

“You can’t see this?” She pointed out to Frankie, the bodies she could see moving, more like they were ghosts. Frankie stared where Piper pointed, and followed the blonde’s line of vision as it moved. “There are people... Frankie, actual people.”

Frankie tilted her head. “Are you sure you’re not hallucinating?”

“I’m sure,” Piper snapped. “They are here. How can they not see us?”

Hurakamon made a rumbling sound. “Perhaps we should investigate after we locate Caesarmon,” he suggested slowly, wanting to appease both girls.

“Yeah...” Piper murmured, “it’s probably a good idea. He could be further away by now...” She started walking again, her eyes flitting between the ghostly outlines of people as they walked past her, continuously unaware. Caesarmon’s markers became harder to spot now that Piper was otherwise distracted; his scratches easily merged into the patterns of the bark on the logs and trees, and a couple of times Piper found herself having to double back or rely on Hurakamon to confirm if the markers carried Caesarmon’s scent.

Frankie hummed quietly to herself, thinking over what Piper had mentioned about seeing people. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe the blonde, she did, she was more than willing to go on faith – after all, it was the Digital World, anything was possible. Glancing down at Piper, Frankie cleared her throat. “Did Tom and Eva ever talk to you about what happened when Irbimon and Poemon evolved?” she asked.

“No.” Piper looked at her. “Why?”

“Well...” Frankie pursed her lips, considering how best to explain. “Eva told me that before Irbimon and Poemon hit their evolution stages, the real world kind of... merged with the Digital World. Maybe the same thing is happening here.”

“But no one’s evolving...”

Frankie nodded. “True. But maybe there’s something else at work? I don’t know, Pipes, it’s just a thought, and probably the most logical explanation we’ve got right now.”

“Probably,” Piper replied softly. “The two could be merging. But that would mean that the Digital World would be appearing in our world... but these people were walking straight through trees. They walked straight though me.

“Could be weak right now,” Frankie reasoned. “That we’re only seeing glimpses of the real world, and the people in the real world are so wrapped up in themselves they don’t notice the hazing of the Digital World – after all, they probably don’t know what they’re looking for.” She paused, noticing that Hurakamon’s pace had slowed and he was now more cautious as he continued, but the fact he continued to walk gave her the impression there was no danger. “Did the place and people you saw... look like home?”

“No,” Piper muttered, “everyone was in business suits, and there were so many people. Throngs and throngs of them. And I could see a few buildings – skyscrapers. I can’t be sure but... it kind of looked like it could have been Japan.”

Frankie looked shocked for a moment, before she composed herself. “Makes you wonder how big the Digital World is. And how far we’ve been flung.”

“More questions without answers,” Piper sighed. “I guess it’ll be up to Ryudamon to explain everything again.”

“But you love Ryudamon’s theories,” Frankie teased. Piper made a face, walking away as something caught her attention and she followed what her eyes were seeing. Breaking through the trees, she waited for Hurakamon to catch up, and they both stood, staring at what they had come across.

 “Now I know we’re both seeing this.” Piper commented, looking back towards Frankie who had slipped of Hurakamon’s back to get a better look. They were faced with a village, like something out of a history book. There was a central path made of yellow brick, lined on either side with dead trees. At the furthest end of the town was a building that towered over everything else, a pagoda in colors of orange and turquoise that was at least four tiers all. All other buildings that were scattered around the village were similar colors but much smaller. In the dead center the path broke off into a crossroads, using a large and decorative well as a meeting point.

“Do you think Caesarmon went there?” Frankie asked.

“Probably,” Hurakamon replied, he looked between the town, Frankie and Piper. “Perhaps I should return to Siberimon, so as not to give the wrong impression.”

“Good idea,” Frankie agreed, shielding her eyes as Hurakamon flashed orange and left Siberimon in his stead.

He breathed in deeply, setting his shoulders and taking purposeful steps in front of the girls to lead the way. Piper and Frankie exchanged amused glances, while Piper mouthed: ‘my hero’ to the other girl.

Siberimon’s steely approach did not seem necessary as they were looked on by the occupants of the village with vague but unthreatening interest, apparently having visitors was not a thing that phased the natives of the town. The Digimon themselves were a mixture of Kotemon, with their kendo blades and masks, and Hyokomon, chick Digimon which were bright yellow, still half in their shells with tiny samurai swords strapped to their backs, making them appear comical. Siberimon also pointed out a few Champion level Digimon, their numbers vastly outweighed by the Rookies.

Kabukimon, with white faces, and petals around their heads and hands; also the humanoid Yasyamon, armed with wooden blades, and a mask that hid its face from view. There was also a singular Buraimon, a bird-man Digimon that looked like a hawk beneath its traditional hat, large golden wings were folded in on its body, while both hips with lined with a long blade, and one hand rested on the hilt of the left blade.

“There you are!” Piper practically stormed over to Caesarmon who was at Buraimon’s feet. Buraimon looked at her with unease, and then beyond her at Frankie and Siberimon. Caesarmon seemed not to have heard his partner and continued to talk up to Buraimon.

“So you haven’t seen her? She looks like me, just with lighter cream fur and a white tummy. And she’s got the cutest pink nose!” Caesarmon explained, Buraimon looked exasperated. “Goes by the name of Corneliamon?”

“Caesarmon, stop bothering the nice...” Piper gave Buraimon a quick onceover and smiled awkwardly, “uhm... samurai.” She scooped up the otter Digimon into her arms, ignoring his protests and the way he squirmed.

“We’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Frankie added with her best scolding tone.

Siberimon folded his arms. “Any luck finding this dream girl?”

“NO!” Caesarmon complained. “And no one has seen her!” His voice took on a wail as he slumped over Piper’s arms. Buraimon examined the group silently.

“One of your party, I assume?” he asked.

“Yes,” Piper replied, with a small, sheepish grin. “I’m sorry he bothered you. Hopefully he hasn’t caused much ruckus here.”

“Not that I know of,” Buraimon said slowly. “I’m here on a pilgrimage, this is not my homeland. You would be more suited speaking to the Kabukimon or Hyokomon who live here.” He made a short, curt nod of his head and turned swiftly on one heel, continuing on his own way down the pathway.

Siberimon huffed. “Now we’ve found you,” he cast Caesarmon an irritated look, “I think we should leave.”

“But what about Corneliamon?” Caesarmon argued feebly, slung over Piper’s arms. “I haven’t found her yet.”

“Tough,” Siberimon retorted sharply.

Frankie patted her Digimon’s head. “Easy there.” She grinned at him. “It couldn’t hurt to have a look around, I don’t know about anyone else but I’m famished, and maybe we can get something to eat while we’re here. There’s no telling the distance between here and Ryudamon’s.” As if on cue, her stomach released a loud rumble, which caused Frankie to laugh awkwardly, turn on her heel and start down the path towards the entrance where most of the other Digimon had been.

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The villagers were more than hospitable. Hyokomon and Kotemon showed the group their local inn where they could rest, and also where they could stock up on food and eat their fill until they were finished. All of the smaller buildings inside were built like old fashioned traditional Japanese houses, with sliding doors, low tables with cushions to sit on instead of chairs, and the décor in them seemed mostly the same wooden paneling with decorative curtains and sweeps.

After some discussion with each other, Frankie and Piper agreed they should stay in the village for one night to rest and regroup, and also to get a layout of the land, before setting off early in the morning. The villagers were more than happy to help them, answer questions and map the best route for them to take to get to Ryudamon’s without having to cross any more deserts, or challenge any forests, mountains or lakes.
Caesarmon took every opportunity to ask the villagers about Corneliamon, with no luck. She was unheard of, and it was becoming more and more likely that Caesarmon had imagined her due to the heat, and she was not an actual Digimon who existed.

Despite Piper’s best efforts to keep Caesarmon at the inn and keep him out of trouble, he escaped when both she and Frankie had been distracted by the Hyokomon plotting out an easy route for them to take the next morning. Caesarmon’s earlier directions had turned them wildly around, but the new route meant they would be out of the Dead Plains (as the Digimon called them) before the heat of the day if they set off early morning.

“He’s gone again,” Siberimon’s voice grumbled from the doorway as he walked through. He had been keeping an eye on Caesarmon as much as possible, while also trying to assist in finding a suitable and easy route for them to take, but Caesarmon was quick and had taken advantage of the times Siberimon was distracted.

This was the third time he’d vanished, and Siberimon was sick of chasing after him.

“Again?” Piper snapped, exasperated and beginning to lose patience with her Digimon. She went to the window – their room on the upper floor – to see if she could spot Caesarmon scurrying about, bothering more and more villagers. She looked for a few seconds, but he wasn’t in plain view. “This is getting really stupid. He never gets this obsessed over anything.”

“He is the equivalent to a teenage boy,” Frankie explained, sitting back on one of the plush futons the Kotemon had made up as beds. There was also a separate one for Piper. “I think he just needs to get it out of his system.”

“Hmph.” Piper slumped onto the cushions. “I worry that this obsessing is going to get him in trouble,” she explained, “that’s all.”

“Not at all jealous that your baby’s growing up and doesn’t need you as much anymore?” Frankie teased.

Piper made a face. “Hardly. He’s not exactly my baby. That would be weird.”

“It’s a valid point,” Siberimon murmured. “After all, for all of us its mostly been ourselves and our partners. Maybe you are jealous that he’s more attentive to something or someone else?”

Piper folded her arms. “This is not ‘psycho-analyze Piper’ day. I’m not jealous. I just don’t want him to get in trouble.”

“Maybe not jealous,” Siberimon corrected. “Protective then? That’s natural.”

“Like he was super protective of you when you started dating Hunter,” Frankie added, grinning. “And any other boyfriends I’m sure – it’s the same deal.”

“Actually he’s only ever been really protective of me when it came to Hunter,” Piper explained. “None of my other relationships have ever been as uhm... shall we say... intimate, as the one with Hunter.” She began to trace the pattern on the brocade cushion she sat on with her fingers, occupying her further while she avoided Frankie’s gaze.

“You mean you...” Frankie made a gesture, then paused. “So before Hunter you had never...?”

“Not completely, no.” Piper’s cheeks were flushed bright pink, and Siberimon had practically buried himself in his book with his ears flattened trying to ignore the conversation. “I always said I would wait for someone special and well...” she trailed again.

Frankie sat back on her haunches. “Well, that’s a surprise.” She and Piper sat in silence for a moment, Frankie staring at the blonde, while Piper stared at her knees. “Was it good?”


“FRANKIE!”

“What?!” Frankie laughed, catching the cushion Piper threw at her. “It’s a genuine question, and totally normal. How come you never told me or Eva?”

“It’s not really something you bring up in casual conversation,” Piper retorted, running her hands through her hair. “Can we not talk about this?”

“Why not?” Frankie said gleefully, edging across the floor on her knees towards Piper. “Tell me everything! I want details!”

Piper groaned. “I bet you didn’t put Eva through anything like this.”

Frankie went to add something, Piper reasoned probably more teasing comments, and so was grateful when the door slid open and a pair of Hyokomon walked in with a tray of steaming tea between them. She helped them with it, laying it on the low table, while one of them poured a cup each from the kettle.

“Who lives in the big house at the top of the village?” Frankie asked, pointing at the pagoda in the distance through the window.

Both Hyokomon looked at one another nervously, and the one pouring almost dropped the kettle over itself – caught by Siberimon’s quick reflexes. “Zanbamon,” one explained. “He is the ruler of our town... and reason why the Dead Plains look as they do.”

Frankie looked at Hyokomon curiously, tilting her head to one side. Obviously talking about Zanbamon made the Hyokomon nervous, that much was clear from how they twitched, as if frightened that talking about him would summon him into town. “He’s not doing a great job looking after this place, if it’s so desolate,” she said, arms folding loosely about her abdomen.

“He rarely comes down from the pagoda. He is the Shogun of this realm and any who had tried to rebel against his will in the past have had their fates torn from them,” Hyokomon explained.

Siberimon arched an eyebrow, looking at the bird Digimon over his cup. “How do you mean?”

Hyokomon glanced at him nervously. “When Zanbamon first took power, took up residence, after the previous Shogun disappeared... it was something of a hostile takeover. Many villagers were killed because they resisted, and any who ran were hunted down like wild beasts and made examples of. Some Digimon revolted after a time, sick of Zanbamon’s rule... There were once Ultimate Digimon who lived here with us in peace, and this village was much, much larger than it is now – it was a trading haven for all. But...” Hyokomon trailed, touching the tip of its small samurai sword as if in remembrance.

“But?” Siberimon prompted.

“Asuramon, Gokuwmon, Doumon and Karatenmon... they all revolted together with followers of their own. They were the greatest warriors this town had after the departure of the previous Shogun but they were no match. Zanbamon defeated them, he killed them all in the town square and left them to rot as an example to anyone else who would challenge his power...” Hyokomon’s voice trembled. “It was horrible, no way for them to die. So in the dead of night some of us risked everything to bury their bodies, give them a proper place to lay...”

“How could your previous Shogun just up and leave like that?” Piper inquired. “Doesn’t sound very responsible.”

Hyokomon shook its head. “It was no fault of his own. Vayumon had to leave to fight against the Parasite and his armies. We only thought he would be gone for a few days... we had no idea he would be defeated like the others.”

Suddenly, the mug Siberimon held in his paw cracked and broke under the pressure, causing Frankie and Hyokomon to stare. Siberimon was physically shaking, his face contorted with rage.

“I thought it felt familiar,” Siberimon muttered.

Hyokomon quickly cleared the broken mug with Piper’s help and left, set to return with another, apologizing profusely for bringing their mood down. Frankie sat behind Siberimon and pulled him into her lap, patting his head in a consoling manner. “You weren’t to know – so don’t blame yourself.”

“We’re not leaving,” Siberimon practically snarled. “Not leaving until Zanbamon receives the fate he deserves.”

The conviction in his voice was so strong neither Piper nor Frankie had the heart to disagree.

-----------------------------

By the time Caesarmon sat back on his haunches and sighed unhappily, it was late evening. The sun was almost completely down, littering the sky with patches of red, orange and yellow while it dipped beyond the horizon. The stars were already out, twinkling in constellations he didn’t recognize. He knew it wouldn’t be long until the sky was completely black and he would have to go back to the inn to face Piper and the others.

He had spent all day searching the village for Corneliamon. He had asked every single occupant he could find, including asking several of them again to no avail. He was hungry, tired, and thoroughly fed up, right now returning to the inn and admitting that Corneliamon had probably been a figment of his imagination seemed a welcome and the only option he had left.

Why leave him with just a name? Nothing else, just a face, a name, and this overwhelming desire to bump into her again? To see her, and talk to her. Caesarmon didn’t get strong emotions unless they were connected to Piper or to food. And since Corneliamon was neither – this was completely strange for him. He was hungry, but the few times he’d tried to eat he couldn’t get anything down. His stomach felt like it was in knots, it twisted uncomfortably. He thought he was beginning to see things, he would chase down any little thing that moved, even if it was a leaf, just because he thought, hoped it might have been her.

But his search had been fruitless and he was willing to admit defeat. Sleep, leave this village in the morning and never come back if he could help it. He’d made a fool of himself, that much was certain. He doubted he would ever hear the end of it from Siberimon or the others once they learned of his love-sickness. He was resigned to the fact that Corneliamon had been a figment of his imagination, and he would return with what little dignity he had left.

His shoulders slumped, ears down and mood low, he set off on his feet back down towards the inn, avoiding eye contact with any other Digimon he passed. They all went about their business and ignored him, he was not much of an invasion on their day now that he wasn’t running around like a lunatic.

Then he heard... something. At first he had thought it had been wind chimes, but he hadn’t felt a breeze, and looking up at the surrounding buildings he didn’t see any wind chimes around. 

“My imagination again...” Caesarmon grumbled. “Maybe I am losing my mind.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Caesarmon knew the voice immediately, despite only having heard it once, and turned on the spot. She was there, a mere two feet in front of him. Whether it was the fact the sun was going down, or that now a breeze felt it was the perfect time to whip up, Corneliamon looked more beautiful that Caesarmon recalled. He felt that familiar dry feeling in his throat, like he had a stone stuck and couldn’t swallow. She approached him, all fluttering eyelashes and girlish smile. “Have you been looking for me?” she asked, playful and coy.

Caesarmon let out a noise similar to that of a bleat because he couldn’t find his words, and felt humiliated for it. Corneliamon laughed at him, it was – without a doubt – the most amazing sound Caesarmon had heard. “Y... yes,” Caesarmon replied. “All day.”

“Well, you found me,” Corneliamon pointed out, tilting her head to one side. “Was there... something I could do for you?”

Caesarmon didn’t have anything to say to that. Nothing what-so-ever. There wasn’t really anything he could say to make her stay, nothing from her that he wanted per-se, he had just wanted to see her again. For longer. Talk to her, get to know her. But that probably would have sounded a bit strange. Eventually Caesarmon shook his head. “No...”

“Oh.” Corneliamon wrinkled her nose thoughtfully. “Well, maybe you would like to come with me? I can only imagine you’re quite hungry after I stole your lunch earlier.” She grinned, and Caesarmon felt his stomach give a pleasurable squirm.

“Where?” he asked enthusiastically as Corneliamon began walking. Caesarmon caught up to her, walking at the same pace beside her.

Corneliamon smiled. “There’s a pond not far out from town, I thought we could catch some dinner there.”

Caesarmon paused. “Leave the village?”

“Is that a problem?”

Caesarmon opened his mouth once in an attempt to reply but closed it quickly. He didn’t want to leave the village, not really. He didn’t want to go too far from Piper and the others in case things took a bad turn. So far, since they’d been in the Digital World, things had been fine – no random Digimon attacks, and the villagers were all completely fine with them being there – hospitable and all. But still, there was always that niggling feeling. “I don’t want to leave Piper...” Caesarmon said finally, after leaving Corneliamon waiting patiently for a reply.

She giggled softly. “You make it sound like I’m taking you away from this... Piper. We aren’t going far.”

“She’s my Tamer,” Caesarmon explained. “We have this... bond.”

“It’s a few minutes outside the town. I promise the town will still be visible.” Corneliamon offered what Caesarmon saw to be an enchanting smile and nudged his cheek with her nose.

He hesitated again, glancing behind him at the inn. Corneliamon waited as he decided. They hadn’t come across anything dangerous since they’d been here. And the villagers were friendly. If Piper stayed with Frankie and Siberimon – which was likely – then Siberimon could protect her until Caesarmon got back if anything did go wrong, which was unlikely. Caesarmon turned to Corneliamon and nodded his head. “Lead the way!”

The trip was short, it took barely any time at all for the two otters to walk. As soon as they left the town, they were engulfed in almost blackness, as the sun was much lower now and the lights from the lanterns that littered the town square didn’t travel far. There was little to worry about though, Corneliamon seemed to know where she was going and Caesarmon followed her lead quite easily. They walked in relative silence, occasionally Corneliamon would glance behind her to make sure Caesarmon was still there, and then she would speed up a little, causing Caesarmon to catch up.

Now the heat was gone, Caesarmon could actually enjoy the area, the grass here wasn’t dry and dead like it had been, it was soft underfoot, smelled fragrant, and was obviously a thriving place as there were insects chirping unseen in the grasses.

The pond Corneliamon led them to was overshadowed by a large hill, and even from a short distance, Caesarmon could hear it was teeming with life – fish splashing around in the water, it was almost too hard to resist running to it and diving in head first. He could see the town from the pond, a short distance that he could cross easily in a manner of minutes if need be, which put his mind at ease immensely.

Corneliamon dove into the water without so much as a glance back at Caesarmon. He followed, creating a cannon ball as he jumped in, unfurling himself as he hit the water. The fish scattered, hiding in reeds and wherever they could find. Corneliamon was like a torpedo, ducking and swirling in every direction, her eyesight trained on one particular fish of some size. The pond proved deceptively deep as Caesarmon discovered when he investigated further, at least ten to twelve feet – plenty of space for food to hide, and room to swim.

He rose to the surface to take a deep breath before he would hunt properly. He saw on the bank Corneliamon already had a haul of three fish and was returning to the pond to hunt more.

“Come on, or I’ll get them all and leave you hungry,” Corneliamon teased, slipping into the water.

Caesarmon pouted. “You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?”

Corneliamon smirked. “We’ll find out if you catch anything, won’t we!” She dove, and Caesarmon followed. She had disappeared into the reeds, tracking something else.

It took very little time at all for both Digimon to have a haul of their own on which to feast, settled on the grass around the pond where they both ate their fill. The night had come on fast as they had been hunting, even some of the lanterns in the town had been extinguished. The stars were out, brightly filling this sky, along with a full moon which looked too big to be real, which gave enough light for Caesarmon to see perfectly clearly around him, making the grass and the pond water seem silver.

“Were you in the village the whole time?” Caesarmon asked after he had eaten. Corneliamon had finished before him and was now laying on the grass, preening.

“Perhaps,” she replied cryptically.

Caesarmon mumbled something. “Why didn’t you come out when I called? I spent the whole day looking for you – I was starting to think you’d been a mirage or something.”

“No, I’m as real as you are,” Corneliamon explained, smiling. “I just... wanted to get you alone. That’s all. Every time I thought of approaching you, you ran up to another villager to ask about me.”

“Oh.” Caesarmon grinned sheepishly. “You don’t live here?”

“Not all the time. I’ve been travelling for some time, and came across this place on my travels. It’s nice enough, decided to stay here for a while,” Corneliamon explained. “And you? I hadn’t seen another Digimon like you... or your tiger friend, since you got here.”

“We’re one of a kind – apparently,” Caesarmon explained with a cheerful grin. “I mean, we’re not native to the Digital World. We both grew up with our partners, in the human world.”

Corneliamon looked thoughtful, her ears drooping back. “I see.”

Caesarmon became confused. “Does that bother you?”

“No,” Corneliamon replied quickly. “Not really. I’ve just never met a Digimon who’s not from the Digital Wor—” She stopped mid sentence, turning quickly as a cacophony of screams rose up from the town, along with bursts of flame. “Oh no..”

“Piper!” Caesarmon yelped, up on his feet getting ready to run.

“Wait!” Corneliamon’s voice was urgent, stopping Caesarmon for a moment as he kept his eyes drifting between her and the burning town, trying to pick out Piper’s voice from the panicked cries. “Don’t go.”

“What?” Caesarmon turned on her. “Why?!”

“The village will stand a better chance of surviving if you don’t go!” Corneliamon explained urgently. “The Buraimon you met before... he told me about you. He suspected – as many of the other townsfolk have – that you and Siberimon are the Gods of old! Death follows you wherever you go!”

“What do you mean?!” Caesarmon demanded, his hackles rising angrily.

“In the East, there have been whispers of the Floramon village being attacked and destroyed because the Gods turned up. In the West, the same!” Corneliamon explained. “Stay here – with me. The town will be fine when he realizes you’re not there.”

“I can’t stay here,” Caesarmon argued. “It’s not about the town – it’s Piper. I have to protect her.”

“She’s a human,” Corneliamon retorted. “What good is she? Zanbamon... they’re probably dead already. Or as good as.”

“No. She’s not,” Caesarmon replied. “I would feel it. You wouldn’t understand... you don’t have a bond like she and I do. She’s important to me, the most important person in my life. Frankie and Siberimon are important too. I love them – they’re my friends. I have to protect them.” Without saying another word, or waiting to hear more from Corneliamon, Caesarmon took off, racing across the grass, leaving Corneliamon staring helplessly at his departing silhouette.


-----------------------------

Buildings were in flames, and they only spread further, fueled by the wind from Byakkomon’s back. Many of the townsfolk had fled, though there were some that were trapped in buildings, or were mere shapes charred and broken on the ground. The inn was in flames, Byakkomon digging through the debris, trying to locate Frankie and Piper.

Zanbamon’s attack had come out of nowhere. The three of them had been relaxing in their room, Piper considering turning in for the night and Frankie checking up on everyone else to see where they were – if anyone had reached Ryudamon’s yet. Siberimon had been engrossed in his book, so much so he had almost missed the tremendous thundering noise that had been like the sound of a stampede. The screams had started next, screams of unbridled terror from the villagers as cries had gone up from them. Siberimon had gone to the window, and seen flames igniting everywhere, coming from the charging Digimon’s sword.

He was tall and not like any Digimon Siberimon had ever seen before. He was like a man merged with a horse, but not in the same way as Oisinmon was a centaur – this looked unnatural, as if it had been forced. His skin was black from head to foot, and he was covered in decorative gold armor that reflected the flames that licked higher around him. The horse’s hooves were coated with gold and created craters in the earth wherever they stepped. In both hands Zanbamon held a sword: in one, a slender youtou blade, and in the other a giant zanbato, currently covered in fire which he swung around, allowing small embers to fall onto the houses, setting them ablaze.

Without warning, Siberimon had leapt out of the window, evolving to Hurakamon and Byakkomon straight after, meeting Zanbamon’s sword head on. He had been annoyed that Caesarmon was nowhere; he had obviously left the village or was too wrapped up in finding Corneliamon to notice the gargantuan Digimon attacking the place. Despite holding Zanbamon in place, the horse-man Digimon had charged him, forcing Byakkomon to side step. Zanbamon charged directly into the inn, setting it on fire, and that was now the cause of Byakkomon’s concern.

“Byakkomon!” Caesarmon’s voice broke through the noise of burning and crumbling wood. “What happened?!”

“Where were you?!” Byakkomon growled, rounding on the smaller otter. Caesarmon looked at the ground sheepishly, ashamed, guilt hitting him square in the gut. “Find Piper and Frankie. I will deal with Zanbamon.”

Rising off the floor, Byakkomon gripped his blade tightly in one hand, squarely facing Zanbamon, who smirked in return from beneath his helmet. “Finally ready to fight me?”

“We shall fight, and you shall die,” Byakkomon snarled, pointing his sword blade directly at the Mega Digimon.

Zanbamon shrugged his shoulders, tutting. “Words, words, words.” He poised both blades. “Let us see if your skill matches those words.” The two charged one another, blades meeting, clanging one against the other.

Zanbamon swung with the youtou blade, which Byakkomon narrowly avoided by stepping back, then the large sword came crashing down from above with an almighty swing. Byakkomon practically pirouetted out of its way, leaving a dent in the ground where it hit.

“Sudden Gale!” Byakkomon cried, reaching back as far as he could, his blade enriched with wind energy, which he short forward in a slashing motion. Zanbamon dislodged the attack with a simple flick of his wrist, his zanbato blade absorbing the power and the flames that decorated it growing more fearsome. Byakkomon disguised his surprise, snarling. “Tiger Clutch!” He summoned a second blade, running at Zanbamon again, both blade raised.

“Full Moon Divide!” Byakkomon bellowed, bringing down both blades together, releasing a strong blast of wind that cut through Zanbamon’s defensive stance, causing minor injuries and denting parts of his armor.

Zanbamon smirked from across the burning buildings towards Byakkomon. His blades raised, he galloped across the field, bringing both swords down practically on top of Byakkomon, forcing the tiger Digimon back several feet. Before Byakkomon could recover, his blades were up again, defending against the unyielding blows from Zanbamon’s own swords that hit down on him fiercely, practically pushing him into the ground.

The flames of the inn were mostly put out now, due to Caesarmon extinguishing them so he could more easily get through the rubble. He could see Piper’s blonde hair through the debris, and lying close to her was Frankie. They were both completely still, trapped under the fallen building beams.

“Please don’t be dead...” Caesarmon practically begged, as he dug his paws through the wood, trying to get a grip on Piper. She was too far out of reach and Caesarmon released a cry of indignant irritation at his failure.

He heard Byakkomon yell, and the clang of something against the ground, turning just in time to see his wind sword disperse into the air, and Byakkomon barely fending off Zanbamon’s attacks with his normal blade. He shook under the effort and strain it took to fend off the attacks, barely able to remain on his feet.

“Go.” Caesarmon whipped his head around, hearing Corneliamon’s voice, she was opposite of him, moving smoldering wood as quickly as she could. “You need to help him fight, I’ll deal with these two.”

“But how can I? I can’t evolve.”

“Any help is good at a time like this.” Corneliamon snapped. “Now go!”

Caesarmon cast Piper a short look, worried for her, but more so what would happen in Byakkomon fell. He turned and ran speedily towards the battle, his front paws igniting as he leapt into the air. “Water Strike!” he cried, setting two weak jets of water into Zanbamon’s flaming sword, causing part of it to extinguish.

“How pathetic,” Zanbamon mocked, eyeing Caesarmon as the small otter landed on the ground, facing the – by comparison – giant Digimon bravely, defiance on his face. “An otter and an old tiger... the warriors of old? You are who I am to be frightened of... You,” he pointed directly at Byakkomon, “are to unseat me from my power?”

“Power that is not rightfully yours!” Byakkomon growled, the grip on his sword hilt tightening as he struggled to stand.

“It is no longer yours. No one is faithful to you any longer, you’re dead to all who dwell here,” Zanbamon replied, smirking. “What use are you to this world any longer? Whatever your form, you are no match for us, or Lord Mukademon.”

Byakkomon released a feral snarl, grabbing Caesarmon in one hand as he rolled into a ball, and tossing him towards the armor clad Digimon.

“Spinning Torrent!” Caesarmon yelled, circles of water shooting from his mouth, directly into Zanbamon’s face. Zanbamon was taken aback by the sudden attack, and swatted at Caesarmon like an irritating fly. Byakkomon charged from where he stood, blade clutched tightly in one hand.

“Full Moon Divide!” he roared, sweeping the blade down in one almighty arc.

Zanbamon repelled the attack with a short swing of his flaming blade, knocking Caesarmon to the ground, and unleashing a punishing blow onto Byakkomon with a cry of: “Mystic Flame!” Byakkomon’s sword snapped in half, dropping down to the ground, the sound drowned out by Byakkomon’s roar of anguish as Zanbamon’s youtou blade impaled on him.

Byakkomon glowed orange, leaving Siberimon in his place, disoriented and weakened.

Sneering at the weakened Rookie Digimon, Zanbamon stepped over them both, nudging them to one side with his hooves, striding towards the destroyed inn, where Corneliamon was dragging Frankie out of the rubble.

“No! No, no!” Caesarmon yelled, getting to his feet. “Water Strike!” His attack from his paws impacted the back of Zanbamon’s hooves, and he was shoved back again by the larger appendage. Caesarmon was up on his feet again in seconds. “Spinning Torrent!”

Siberimon shook his head, standing on his feet shakily while he got his feeling back. He still felt dizzy, out of it, and could hear Caesarmon yelling, see his attacks doing little. Despite his weariness, Siberimon followed, his desire to protect Frankie stronger than his desire to give up the fight.

“Hurricane Slasher!” He brought his paws down in an X-shape, the attack impacting the back of Zanbamon’s leg, cutting through his unguarded flesh a little. “Hurricane Slasher!” Siberimon attacked again.

“Water Strike!” Caesarmon’s attack joined it, both hitting against the already wounded limb which Zanbamon now limped on ever-so-slightly, slowing his movements towards the fallen building and their partners.

“You two are beginning to annoy me!” Zanbamon roared, pawing the ground with his front hooves, glaring at the two Rookies behind him.

“We’re still standing,” Siberimon mocked, bowing a little to aggravate Zanbamon further.

Caesarmon copied him, and grinned. “Don’t forget about us.”

Zanbamon sneered. “You’re not worth the effort of a full blown attack.” He sighed, eyeing the tip of his zanbato blade. “But if you insist.” Despite the minor injury to his back leg, Zanbamon reared up and spun back to face towards the two Rookie Digimon. They dodged out of the way as his front hooves crashed down, sending massive vibrations through the ground, shaking the two small Digimon until they were unable to stand. His zanbato blade was drawn back, completely covered in flames, and Zanbamon’s face was a picture of manic insanity as he drew it forward. “Focal Blade!!” he bellowed, slashing the giant sword forward, sending waves of intense energy at the two Rookies, cutting through their fur and flesh easily, pushing them back away from him.

Despite their best efforts to defend, to remain standing, the strike was too much. Siberimon and Caesarmon were knocked clean off their feet, and sent sprawling into destroyed buildings and debris engulfed by flame.

Zanbamon sheathed both blades as he returned to his primary task, turning towards the inn, seeing that Corneliamon had now managed to drag both Frankie and Piper out of the rubble. Corneliamon stood in front of them both, snarling and growling protectively as both girls started to come round.

“Admirable, truly,” Zanbamon laughed, ignoring Corneliamon and knocking her to one side with a swipe of his hand. He gathered Piper in one hand and Frankie in the other, keeping a tight grip on them both. He examined them, one after another, both women were wide awake now, bewildered but painfully aware that they were in danger and their D-Touches were both screaming at them for attention. Their Digimon were nowhere to be seen, and the town was practically destroyed.

“Hey, ugly!” Piper yelled, trying her best to kick her feet while held in Zanbamon’s fist, which tightened around her the more she struggled. “Let us go!” She continued to wriggle, despite her throbbing head, and she was pretty sure she had either broken a wrist or it was badly injured. She looked across at Frankie who had blood dripping from an unseen wound on her forehead, any other injuries were obscured by Zanbamon’s hand.

“Why would I do that?” Zanbamon replied, smiling nastily. “After all, a Shogun needs a wife. Your friend will do quite nicely to fit the part.”

“Oh-no-no-no!” Frankie argued. “I am not marriage material. And least of all, to you! Now put us down!!” Frankie began to struggle too, wanting to reach for her D-Touch. Try as she might as Zanbamon carried them over the town, she couldn’t make out an outline of Siberimon or Caesarmon.

“What do you intend with me then?” Piper queried. “Can’t have two wives, that’s illegal.”

Zanbamon replied, “I’ll need a maid.”

“WHAT?!”

“Sprinkling Needle!” Corneliamon yelled from behind, as dozens upon dozens of tiny spikes of water impaled the hand that carried Frankie. “Let them go!” she demanded, Zanbamon turned, becoming more and more annoyed with the unrelenting Digimon and their stubbornness.

“Or what?” Zanbamon asked, not expecting an answer.

“You’ll have to deal with us.” Siberimon croaked out his words, barely able to stand, his fur bloodied and his body battered to the point that he was trembling on his feet. Caesarmon was not faring my better, he had cuts covering his body and face, he bled in pools on the ground and could only see through one eye while the other was squinted shut.

Zanbamon roared indignantly. “How many times do I have to kill you both?!” His grip increased on both Frankie and Piper, his anger reflecting on them. Both girls cried out against the increased pressure. Frankie coughed loudly, and swore as she did so. Piper kicked against the grip, finding it futile as his hand increased its pressure. Her ribs felt like they were on fire, breathing was becoming more and more difficult, squeezing air from her lungs.

“More times that you can imagine,” Caesarmon growled, stepping forward gingerly, pooling what energy he still had in his body into his forepaws.

“Careful now,” Zanbamon teased, applying more pressure to both Frankie and Piper causing them both to scream. “I destroy these two, I destroy the power you also hold. I could crush them and you like flies, like vermin underfoot.”

Siberimon and Caesarmon exchanged uneasy looks. Was that true? If he killed Piper and Frankie, would that mean they would no longer be able to evolve? Would they lose all and any power they had? Would they be deleted if Piper and Frankie died? What would happen if they died here, rather than in the real world? Would it be like they never existed?

Their thoughts were matched, and any ounce of bravery either little Digimon had felt before had disappeared into nothingness; fear took hold of both of them. There was nothing they could do – no way they could win and they both knew it.

“As I thought,” Zanbamon sneered, “cowards.” He continued to walk away, following the pathway back towards his pagoda. Siberimon covered his ears, trying to ignore Frankie’s screams for him to help, and Caesarmon all but buried his head beneath his own paws, shutting his eyes tightly so he didn’t dare see the disappointment he knew would be on Piper’s face.

-----------------------------

“He’s right,” Siberimon said after a short while, Zanbamon had disappeared into the building, the doors had slammed shut and now all appeared hopeless. “We are cowards.”

“Now you are!” Corneliamon shouted. “You didn’t even try to go after them!” Both Caesarmon and Siberimon seemed unable to hear her, caught up in their own depression.

“We’re the weakest... the most cowardly,” Caesarmon agreed. “We can’t even defend a village properly... how are we meant to stop a force like Mukademon? How are little Digimon like us meant to save anyone?”

“This village wasn’t even yours to save,” Siberimon murmured, “it was mine. I remember this place... it belonged to me, was part of my realm. If I can’t protect things I’m supposed to – what am I meant to do about Frankie? I don’t see how she could believe in me.”

“I don’t deserve to be Piper’s partner. She’d be better off with someone braver,” Caesarmon mumbled, deflated, and laying flat on the ground. Siberimon joined him, sitting on the ground in utter defeat, unable to hear Corneliamon’s cries or her efforts to rouse them through their own haze of despair.

They both sat in silence, the flames growing bigger the smoke rising, higher and higher into the air. Soon enough the town would be nothing but a smoldering mess, another symbol of their failure. How could they ever show their faces to their companions now? The other Digimon and Tamers? How could they go to Ryudamon and tell everyone they had lost Piper and Frankie through their own fears, their own cowardly fears.

“We’re meant to be better than this,” Caesarmon said slowly, barely moving as he spoke.

“Better than what?”

“Better than this. We were Gods...” explained Caesarmon.

“I don’t feel like a God right now,” Siberimon commented. That’s because you have forgotten. Siberimon grasped his head, feeling a sudden pain, like a rush of brain freeze from nowhere. Caesarmon responded the same way, clutching his head with his paws.

The pain past quickly.

“Who’s there?!” Caesarmon yelped into the air, hoping for an answer.

Your powers have been dormant for some time... you have lost faith in yourselves. But there are those who have never lost that faith in you. In us. Siberimon hissed in response to the voice, not wanting to hear it as it echoed in and around his head.

“What can we do? We fail at everything we try!” Siberimon argued.

That is defeat talking, and defeat is not a trait we know well. The voice replied calmly. Your brethren have found their inner strength, their inner desires to protect and fend for this world... it is time you found and unleashed yours.

The voice disappeared with a sudden gust of wind. Slowly the words of the voice was hitting them and both Siberimon and Caesarmon were on their feet, full of renewed vigor, despite their wounds.

It was right, defeat was something they didn't know well. All this time, all the battles, all the things they had been through... Now, was not the time to give up. They had both seen their partners go through hell and back, and each time they were there to protect them. This was not going to be what held them back.

Both Digimon emitted odd glows of orange and yellow that drove them with an unknown force towards the pagoda. Corneliamon followed at a small distance, shocked and a little worried by their sudden behavior.

“Hurricane Slasher!”

“Water Strike!”

Together their attacks impacted on the door, more powerful than they had ever been in their current forms, breaking through the wood and splintering it, creating a large enough hole for them to get through.

The crash alerted Zanbamon and he raced through into the main hall, dragging Piper and Frankie with him, both tied up at the elbows, their arms both behind their backs.

“Why is it always me who gets kidnapped?” Piper muttered, narrowly avoiding tripping up on the ground.

Zanbamon released a feral growl, tossing the two women to one side and leaping down the stairs in one stride, unsheathing his blades. “You return for more pain – and this will be the last time!”

Siberimon snarled, his claws flexing. “Time to die!”

Both he and Caesarmon were engulfed in orange and yellow light respectively, repelling Zanbamon as he launched himself at them in an attack.

“Siberimon, reboot evolve to...” His glowing body was misted over by images of Hurakamon and Byakkomon, giving their powers to him for the moment to boost him into a new form. Siberimon’s legs lengthened, while his paws grew massively in size. His legs were covered with black pants, decorated with white stripes and black and gold armor on his shins. From the waist up, his body became a human torso, half covered with a yukata top that he rested one arm in, while the other supported a huge samurai blade on his shoulder. His eyes and half his face were covered by a white tiger mask, and from his back sprang a cloud of wind, with claws protruding from it. “Vayumon!”

“Caesarmon, reboot evolve to...” Caesarmon’s outline was distorted, as hazy shadows of Vespasmon and Aureliumon rippled over him. His back legs extended, taking on a more humanoid shape but retaining his otter paws, as dark blue markings shaped like water splashes appeared on them, swirling in place. His tail lengthened, the three silver rings disappearing from it. He formed armor around his thighs and lower half, which then rose up to become body armor, covering a well-muscled chest. Caesarmon’s forelegs became longer, like his back legs, becoming a more human-like shape, and the blue markings deepened in color. Around his neck, a fur collar developed, and sprouting from that, a cloak which rose and covered his head and shadowed over his green eyes, which pierced out from the gloom. “Gaiusmon!”

Zanbamon raged as he stepped back, staring as Vayumon and Gaiusmon stood in the place of the once small rookies.

“Let us not waste any more time. My princess and I have places to be...” Vayumon said calmly, unsheathing his sword with a violent swing. The single swing alone was enough to send a cutting wind towards Zanbamon, who was thrown back on impact.

Gaiusmon growled deeply as a sphere of water formed in his hand, the water shape shifted into a broadsword that he grasped tightly in his paws. He rushed towards Zanbamon, who was trying to quickly recover from Vayumon's attack.

“Monsoon Rhapsody!” Gaiusmon bellowed.

Zanbamon quickly summoned his blade, blocking just in time as Gaiusmon’s sword made contact. They gauged one another’s strength, pushing against one another for supremacy.

“BACK AWAY!” Zanbamon yelled. “Mystic Flame!” The attack caused Gaiusmon to leap back, dodging to the side nimbly, snatching onto wooden beams that held up the ceiling. He dangled there for a moment, as the shockwave headed straight for Vayumon.

Vayumon's wind lashed in front of him like a shield, causing the shockwave to disperse.

Zanbamon pawed the ground in frustration, his face contorted in rage. His hands tightened around the blades of his swords as he looked from Gaiusmon above to Vayumon opposite him. He had no way of attacking one without the other attacking him.

He drew back both swords. “Focal Blade!!”

The attack drove towards Vayumon. He in turn slashed his sword once, diverting the attack into the wall barely a few feet behind him. Debris, dust and splinters spread everywhere. Zanbamon had his gaze fixed on Gaiusmon, sure that Vayumon had been dispatched.

He drew his blade back once more, his hooves digging into the ground.

Vayumon rushed through the cloud of destruction, swift and silent. “Winds of Hell!” The windy tiger claws clapped in front of him as he ran, their fingers swiftly posing into symbols as he moved, creating a floating glyph between them. In a fluid motion, Vayumon’s blade impaled the glowing glyph the paws had created and Zanbamon was shot back by a cannonball of wind.

Zanbamon raised both arms, clutching his blades to fend off the attack, which sent him reeling backwards from such close quarters.

“Deadly Circle,” Gaiusmon growled. He dropped to the floor, and his broadsword mutated into a curved spear. He swung it in a semi-circle and from that small torpedoes fired at where Zanbamon recovered. The cloaked otter leapt up, his spear disappearing into a puddle on the ground. Gaiusmon watched from the rafters as Zanbamon struggled to right himself.

Shaking his head, the demon man Digimon snarled, pushing himself to his feet, debris falling off him and burning in the wake of his flaming blade. He looked wild and frenzied, he had forgotten all about Piper, Frankie – about everything. His focus was on the Gods before him, who taunted him. Toyed with him like a plaything. The smirk playing on Vayumon’s noble mouth enraged him further, and he reared onto his hind legs, releasing a ferocious war cry.

He charged, swinging his blades back and forth wildly, bloodlust powering him on. One blade cut through the beam Gaiusmon perched on, causing the otter Digimon to leap for another. Vayumon was swift to elegantly side-step his rampaging enemy, and smack his blade in the hindquarters of his horse body. Zanbamon’s back legs kicked out, Vayumon took a hoof to the shoulder that sent him back a few feet, but he remained upright.

Vayumon gingerly felt the hit with his fingers and found no open wound. Just a minor irritation from the blind kick. He felt wind whistle past his ears and saw a set of five aquatically formed throwing knives embed themselves into Zanbamon hide.

The Shogun roared and turned to face the other Mega Digimon, drawing both blades back.

Gaiusmon once again leapt towards Zanbamon from his height advantage, the water in his hands had formed into a formidable falchion blade. Vayumon finally moved from his spot, moving in tandem with the other. The two Gods clashed their swords with Zanbamon's, whose second blade was ablaze with white-hot fire. Gaiusmon and Vayumon swung in unison, using close to the same technique as Zanbamon tried to fend off both attacks. Their swords clashing in a battle that seemed fair.

Corneliamon had entered the pagoda as the battle had started. Her attention set on Frankie and Piper – if the fight continued to rage then it wouldn’t be safe for anyone, and there was no telling if they would get out of a destroyed pagoda alive if it crumbled on top of them. She began to gnaw through the ropes binding them. First Frankie’s, then Piper’s.

Once free, Piper stared at the cream colored otter. “You must be Corneliamon,” Piper stated, she rubbed her left wrist, it had swollen up and would twinge with every movement, but the fact that she could move it was a good sign.

Corneliamon was taken aback  by the question and stared at Piper, but found herself slightly too shy to answer.

“WATCH OUT!” Frankie screamed. Piper grabbed Corneliamon and quickly dove out of the wave as Zanbamon crashed into the wall.

The horseman Digimon recovered, getting out of the way with moments to spare as Gaiusmon's sword impacted right where his head once was. Zanbamon was suddenly punched by a fist of wind, throwing him back towards Gaiusmon.

Gaiusmon grabbed Zanbamon by the back of his head with one hand.

“Vengeance Crunch.” The words practically came snarling from Gaiusmon’s mouth.

Water flowed from his hand into a sphere around Zanbamon's head causing the other mega to struggle for breath. Zanbamon writhed in pain as Vayumon dismembered the horse head from his body with a single swing of his sword.

“Your time is up, this realm belongs to me,” Vayumon said darkly.

Gaiusmon lifted Zanbamon from the floor and slammed him back down, creating a crevasse.

Vayumon sheathed his sword, leaping towards the ceiling, “Tiger Clutch... GODFIST!” The sound of a tigers roar filled the room as the wind around Vayumon formed into a giant fist. In a quick movement, the fist rained down, crunching Zanbamon into the floor. The sounds of broken bones made the girls themselves wince.

“Ouch,” Frankie said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

Gaiusmon, himself, released a small chuckle.

Zanbamon twitched, barely able to let out a cry of pain. He dissolved into data, floating into the D-Touches that Frankie and Piper held in their hands. Both had gone silent, the screaming noise the devices had been making earlier now completely stopped. They glowed with a gentle warmth.

Piper breathed out a long breath and mopped her brow with her right hand. Frankie smiled at her weakly, as Piper pointed out the bleeding wound on her forehead. Frankie touched it, grimaced, and reminded herself to see if any villagers remained to have a look at it.

“That was a close call,” Piper admitted finally.

Frankie agreed. “You’re telling me.” She pursed her lips. “He wanted to make me his wife!” She made a face. “Could you imagine the—“

“Let’s not go there,” Piper cut her off, standing up straight. Gaiusmon stood close, aware, alert and his stance protective. Water had puddled around his feet, and Piper found herself breathing in the scent of the ocean when she neared him. “So… you arrived a little late.”

“I was… distracted,” Gaiusmon admitted. “My apologies.” He bowed deeply, sweeping his cloak back with one hand. “I will gladly cut off an appendage as recompense for my thoughtlessness.”

Taken aback, Piper stared at Gaiusmon, then glanced at Frankie who shrugged one shoulder. “Uhm…” Piper spluttered, turning back to Gaiusmon. “The removal of appendages won’t be necessary,” she said, swallowing.

Gaiusmon nodded. “You are most gracious.”

“Are you sure you’re Caesarmon in there?” Piper asked, dubiously. Caesarmon was never this gracious. In any of his forms. Gaiusmon rose his head and looked at her sharply through the darkness of his hood. His eyes were narrowed, but he pulled the hood back slowly, and blinked deliberately. His head was covered by the same cobalt blue hair Aureliumon had, and he had a gold laurel wreath settled amongst the locks. He looked more dangerous than Caesarmon or any of his other forms, but without the hood, Gaiusmon appeared far less threatening.

His eyes were the giveaway though.

The same deep green as Caesarmon’s, and while serious, there was an aspect of playfulness in them that Piper could just about make out.

“Okay.” She threaded her fingers through Gaiusmon’s beard and planted a kiss on his brow. “You’re in there somewhere.”

Vayumon checked himself over for damage. The only injury he had sustained was from the hoof hitting his shoulder, and while it smarted, it was not so much of an issue. He checked his yukata, trousers, shin guards. Nothing was out of place, so he visibly relaxed. Frankie watched him and waited patiently.

When Vayumon noticed her watching, he turned with a flourish, sheathing his blade away. “My Princess is quite safe?” he asked. He touched the blood on her forehead and Frankie winced a little.

“I’ll live.” She smiled at him. “You’re not quite what I expected.”

Vayumon looked a little puzzled. “I am my Princess’ loyal and trusted guard.  One who will protect her at any cost. I am sorry if this is not pleasing.”

“No, no!” Frankie waved her hands. “Not that. That does please me. Uh…” She laughed at herself. “I just thought you’d be more uhm… bigger?”

“The size of a man does not deign his strength,” Vayumon spoke, smiling broadly.

“True.” Frankie smiled a little. “Bypassing all the weird... ye olde talk, thank you for the rescue. It’s always a relief to know I’ve got you to count on.”

Vayumon nodded his head. “As I said, at any cost.”

Corneliamon stared up at Vayumon and at Gaiusmon, having never seen the Gods or witnessed anything like the fight she just had. Part of her felt a desperate need to run, while another more dominant part of her urged her to stay. She was barely aware of anything until Piper had hooked her arms beneath Corneliamon’s forelegs and lifted her up.

“So, you’re the one who caused all the chasing of Caesarmon today,” Piper said, pointedly. Corneliamon fidgeted in her arms, but Piper held her fast.

Corneliamon squeaked. “I’m sorry! I won’t do it again!”

Piper patted her head. “It’s okay. I’m not blaming you.”

“O-oh…”

Frankie looked Corneliamon over with a discerning eye. “She’s so cute!” she gushed after a few seconds. Corneliamon started and began to fidget again. “Can we keep her?” She looked at Gaiusmon, who had pulled his hood up onto his head. “Do you want us to keep her?”

“As is your wish,” Gaiusmon spoke plainly, “and hers.”

Vayumon smirked. “You would be unhappy if she did not stay,” he said, smacking the other Digimon on the back. “Admit it.”

Gaiusmon’s mouth twitched into a grimace and he moved purposefully away from Vayumon.

The two girls looked at each other, standing in front of their partners. They laughed lightly, not finding much more to say.

-----------------------------

The morning after the battle, it had been like nothing had happened at all. The buildings had been restored to their original form, and villagers had returned during the night. Kabukimon had made up packs of basic supplies for Frankie and Piper for the journey that lay ahead – which according to the Hyokomon would take them three days with good weather. The Kabukimon also made a point to reset Piper’s sprained wrist, and check over the other wounds she and Frankie had sustained in the fighting.

Everything looked to be healing nicely, and Siberimon had said he would try to return to the village if he could, but now that Zanbamon was no longer Shogun and the Dead Plains were not dead, the villagers seemed happy enough with the situation.

They traveled on Hurakamon’s back again, making a quick and easy pace through the flatlands, following the river trail that Hyokomon had mapped out for them. It was the most direct route to Ryudamon’s, if the longer of the ones available, but it also meant that Caesarmon could follow along in the water with Corneliamon, the two becoming quite inseparable as they followed each other down the river alongside Hurakamon’s strides.

Piper watched them both from Hurakamon’s back, her injured wrist cradled in her lap. Caesarmon looked happier than she had seen him in months, splashing Corneliamon playfully, and disappearing under the water before she could retaliate.

“Y’know,” Piper sighed, “I’m kind of glad that those two met.”

Frankie turned her head, glancing at the two otters. Hurakamon slowed his pace down to a walk, not wanting to expend too much energy. “Really?”

“Yeah.” Piper nodded. “He needs love, just as much as everyone. Maybe Corneliamon can make up for what affection I can’t give him.”

“You’re willing to live with two crazy otter Digimon?” Frankie joked.

“It’ll make Caesarmon happy. And what makes him happy, makes me happy,” Piper explained. “Besides, hopefully being in love will help him become more responsible.”

Hurakamon chuckled. “If anything I would say love makes you more irresponsible.”

“Hm?” Frankie grinned. “What do you know? Silly old tiger.”

Hurakamon rumbled quietly. “That both Hunter and James are in love with the two of you, and have yet to show any responsibility for it.”

Frankie glanced over her shoulder at Piper, who shrugged in return, smiling awkwardly. Hurakamon continued to chuckle to himself, watching as Caesarmon and Corneliamon floated down the river on their backs, paws entwined.

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