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July 18th, 2010 (9:30 PM). Edited June 20th, 2016 by icomeanon6.
[Disclaimer: before you go and read the incomplete story in this thread, you ought to read it here instead: link. All future chapters and revisions will go there. The deal is that after I went almost two years without updating (...again...>_>) I decided it would be best to start a new thread. There's going to be a new chapter posted every week, and I can actually say that with reasonable confidence this time around because I've already written a complete draft of the story. And if you're familiar with my normal update schedule for chapter fics, this should seem nothing short of miraculous. (And I am really, really sorry if you're familiar with my normal update schedule for chapter fics. This time's going to be different.)]
1. On the First Night: a Storm and Red Eyes
2. The Camp, and a Long Walk Ahead
3. A Long Walk, and Rumors of the Commander
4. A Curious Stone, and the Power of the Commander
5. Utter Defeat, and Flight to the Mountains
6. The Homestead, and a Long Rest
7. The Longest Night
1: On the First Night: a Storm and Red Eyes
The fierce wind blew the rain into Ross’s face like an army of pins. He gritted his teeth and ignored it. He was the only one who knew the way to the cave, so losing focus now was not an option. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that the younger kids were not following as closely as they had been earlier. It occurred to him that he might be going too fast, but he had no desire to slow down. “Pick up the pace!”
Turning forward again to move on, he found himself nearly tripping over a root that was almost invisible in the rapidly diminishing daylight. He then barked at the kids, “Watch the roots up here! Keep moving!”
As he looked up the hill his group was climbing, Ross could barely make out the cave that they were to take shelter in. Though a part of him wanted to keep looking at the cave for encouragement, his sense of reason compelled him to remain alert. He tightened his grip on the knife in his hand, and listened for any nonhuman footsteps. It was not long until he heard some rustling in the underbrush. He stopped walking, faced where the noise had come from, and raised his knife in front of his face. A few seconds later a small red creature leaped straight for his neck with clear intent to kill. Ross was ready, and slashed at the base of its wing-like ear, knocking it to the ground. The children screamed at the sight of the bleeding creature, the head of which was indistinguishable from the rest of its body. Its eyes were glowing red, and gave the unmistakable impression of unchecked rage. It growled in a disturbingly child-like manner before staggering to its stub-like feet and darting back into the shadows.
Though the exchange had not been physically strenuous, the simple shock of attacking a small animal with a blade left Ross short of breath. He still pressed on, though, wiping the knife on his shirt as he went. He heard some faint whimpers coming from behind, which came as no surprise. As near as he could guess, the four children were all around nine years old, and were understandably cold and frightened. Ross was sixteen, and wished that he were as young as the others, so that he could let someone else be the responsible one. Since this was not the case, he yelled over the howling gale, “Quit thinking about it! Just follow me!”
Fortunately, the group had no further encounters with any creatures on their way to the cave. Once they passed through the entrance and left the rain behind, they found the place surprisingly warm. The fire that was waiting for them twenty yards in was emitting an unnatural amount of heat. Ross paid no mind to the abnormality, as he was only concerned with getting himself and the kids dry. After sliding his knife back into its sheath and tucking it behind his jacket he walked over to the fire, where another teenager and two smaller children were sitting. He sat down opposite the teenager and began to warm up his hands. He was soon asked, “What took you so long?”
Ross looked at the boy on the other side of the flame, and decided it would be best not to show how irked he was with the question. “These guys felt like playing hide-and-seek for some reason,” he replied, gesturing to the four he had brought to the cave. The oldest looking one of them meant to say ‘Did not,’ but was shivering too much to form the words. They sat down near the fire as well, next to the other preteens.
The other teenager then continued. “Well, now that we’ve got a moment, what’s your name?”
“Ross. And you?”
“Jacob Cartwright. Did you run into Joanie out there? We’ve got six of them here now, so that should just leave the two that she’s supposed to find.”
Ross shook his head, and turned around to look out the entrance of the cave. The rain was still coming down in droves, which made him wonder if the girl he had seen Jacob with earlier would be able to make it back. He had not gotten a chance to talk to her, as almost all of his time in the forest had been spent tracking down four of the pre-teens. A few more minutes passed around the fire, and the fact that his clothes dried much faster than the laws of thermodynamics should have allowed for went completely unnoticed. He was too busy worrying about how the last group was still out there after all this time. He began to stand up, but then saw three human figures coming through the entrance. They walked over, and sat down as well. The oldest of this group was Joanie, who was around the same age as Ross and Jacob. Unlike Ross and Jacob, she was not wearing a jacket, so there were some noticeable cuts on her arms from the forest.
“Sorry we took so long. Some of us were getting a little tired.” It didn’t seem to Ross that Joanie was tired at all beyond some expected heavy breathing. She spoke in a markedly bright tone, which he supposed might be an aspect of her personality that even fatigue couldn’t dim. He stared at her arm and the scrapes on it while she continued to speak, and his eyes began to wander to other parts of her body when he realized that she was addressing him. “I forgot to ask earlier. What’s your name?”
Ross recovered without stuttering. “Ross. And you’re Joanie, right?”
Impeccably sunny, quite the opposite of Ross’s natural disposition. He returned his attention to the fire in an attempt to keep his typical teenage-male visionary habits in check. Jacob then spoke up, addressing the eight smaller children. “Seems like it’s a good time for introductions. Why don’t you guys tell us what your names are?”
Something about Jacob’s tone got on Ross’s nerves. It was upbeat in nature, but it had a vaguely annoying quality about it that Ross didn’t hear in Joanie’s voice. At the moment, though, Ross was more irritated with the content of Jacob’s statement. All of the young ones were cold, wet, tired, and scared. Only the tallest of them responded, and even he did so with some stuttering. “M…Michael.”
When no one else spoke up, Jacob was about to ask for another volunteer when Joanie spoke first. “We’re all tired. How about we warm up a bit more first?”
Her voice was calm and unantagonizing. Ross took note that if he himself had said the same thing, it would have sounded far more like criticism. Jacob nodded and said, “I suppose you’re right. It has been a pretty rough day so far.”
One of the smaller kids then spoke up. She looked roughly ten, and wore what appeared to be a softball jersey along with her jeans and sneakers. “When can we go home?”
That left all three of the teenagers silent. Joanie and Jacob looked at each other for a few seconds, and then both turned to Ross. Ross contorted his facial expression in a manner that said, ‘What makes you think I would know how to answer that?’ After another awkwardly silent five seconds, Jacob took it upon himself to provide what he thought was a safe enough answer. “We’re safe here, so there’s no hurry right now. We’ll start thinking about that as soon as the rain lets up.”
The girl had an immediate response for this. “What if it doesn’t stop raining and it starts to flood and the water rises up to the cave and it fills it up and we can’t swim out and our eyes get all bugged out like a fish’s and we all drown?”
Joanie and Jacob started to laugh, and Ross had to restrain himself to keep from smiling. He had noticed what the other two hadn’t: the girl was being completely serious. When this dawned on them, Jacob quickly tried to recover. “Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen. And if it does, you can borrow my goggles, okay? They’re good for swimming.”
Jacob took a pair of aquatic goggles out of his pants pocket, and showed them to the girl. To Ross’s surprise, the girl smiled and chuckled a little. Joanie gave Ross a quick glance that seemed to say ‘disaster averted.’
Night had fallen, and Ross was sitting at the entrance of the cave, listening for something that might come in the dark. The rain had stopped an hour ago, but all of the younger kids had fallen asleep, so there was no rush to make good on Jacob’s promise to the girl. They had learned later that her name was Tatiana, which made her one of two children who hadn’t been too cold or frightened to introduce themselves. Ross had more important things to worry about than how cold and frightened the children were, though.
Joanie and Jacob approached him from behind, and Jacob asked him, “Hey, can we talk?”
Ross nodded after a moment’s hesitation. He knew what the subject would be, and he had wanted to avoid it for as long as he could. He stood up and turned to face the two. Joanie held a stick from the fire. With its light Ross could see that their expressions were far more somber than they had been earlier. Jacob was the first to speak. “Well, now that we’re as ready as we’ll ever be, I guess, why don’t we get down to business?”
Ross still didn’t like Jacob’s tone, even if he was less cheerful than before. “I’m fine with that.”
Jacob and Joanie both nodded, and then Jacob spoke again. “Though I’m sure this is a pointlessly impossible question to answer: where in the world are we, and how did we get here?”
Ross sighed and frowned. “A forest. Anyone’s guess.”
Joanie rolled her eyes. “That’s not helpful. Please be serious.”
“I am. That’s all we know.”
Jacob raised his hands as if to quell any potential argument. ‘He hardly needed to,’ said Ross in his head. ‘She doesn’t seem very argumentative, and I don’t have anything else to say about the matter.’
“You’re both right,” said Jacob. “That is about all we know right now, but if we can go over what happened to each of us individually, we might learn something more. Why don’t you start, Ross?”
Ross had to concede that Jacob had a point. Some common thread in their experiences might indicate a wider phenomenon. He stared at the torch in Joanie’s hand as he talked. “I was just walking around town at about six thirty, and I heard this ringing in my ears.”
Jacob interrupted. “Which town?”
Ross suppressed his annoyance. “Georgetown, Washington DC. I live in Alexandria.”
“What were you doing there?”
Before Ross could say “None of your damn business,” Joanie elbowed Jacob and said “Just let him finish, okay?”
Ross got the feeling that Joanie meant to spare him the potential confrontation, and appreciated the gesture. “As I was saying, I heard this ringing in my ears, and it was really starting to get to me. I had to sit down on a street corner, and after a few seconds I felt the rain start falling. I looked up and I found I was sitting on a tree stump. I heard a kid scream behind me. I stood up and went to see who it was, and that’s when I found all of you. And you all remember the lightning strike and that…uh…noise. And then the kids scattered, and we split up to track them down and bring them back to this cave.”
After waiting a few seconds to be sure that Ross was actually done, Jacob asked him, “What about the ringing in your ear? How long did that last?”
Ross opened his mouth to respond, but then it occurred to him that he didn’t rightly know. He had to retrace his steps all the way back to the beginning of the ordeal, and then the answer became clear to him. “It stopped as soon as I felt the rain.” He found the thought eerily disconcerting. He then lifted his head and looked Joanie in the eyes. “What about you? What’s your story?”
She shrugged. “My story’s pretty similar, actually. Other than the city—Jacob and I live in Baltimore, by the way—and the street corner, it’s almost verbatim. I heard the ringing while I was walking home from the library, and then I felt a raindrop. I looked up, and instead of buildings and power lines I saw trees.”
Jacob’s expression changed to a slight smirk. “Guess what, it’s basically the same thing for me, too. Actually, get this, Joanie: I was walking over to your house at the time. Imagine that.”
Ross could see that Joanie was doing her best to sound interested in the coincidence, but she was simply too drained. He decided to get things moving again. “So, we’ve learned that we all came here in a weird, vague, instantaneous manner. What I’m more concerned with at the moment is that noise that made all the kids scatter.”
Joanie shook her head. “Oh gosh, don’t remind me.”
Ross persisted. “It’s important. What do you guys think it was?”
Jacob answered him, though his answer did little to clarify the situation for anyone or provide any comfort. “My first guess was actually dragon, but I suppose that’s a pretty absurd notion. Whatever it was, it was big and angry. I’m just glad we couldn’t see it. Why don’t you tell us about whatever it was you ran into while we were out searching?”
Ross was noticeably perplexed. He hadn’t told either of them about the incidents with the wild animals. Joanie then pointed out the red stain on his t-shirt. “It’s kind of hard to miss. I don’t think any of the kids who weren’t with you got what it was, though.”
Ross then explained how he had had several brief encounters with strange, hostile, red creatures. “They were small, but just vicious. Most of them just ran off when I tried staring them down and showing my knife, but one of them tried to jump me. I kind of had to make a little mess with that one.”
Joanie looked concerned. “Are you sure they won’t try coming here?”
“I think they would have done so by now if they intended to, but you can’t be too careful in situations like this. That’s why I’ve been sitting over here for this long.”
Jacob looked slightly less concerned, but still considerably so. “Have you heard anything?”
“Just regular forest noises. Nothing that came too near; and definitely nothing like that noise from earlier.”
There was silence for the next half minute. Despite how much the three had tried to keep up appearances for the sake of the tired and frightened younger ones, they were all just as tired and frightened themselves. The question currently on all of their minds was how—and if—they could ever get home. There seemed to be a wordless understanding among them that there was nothing else to say that night, and that they would resume consulting one another in the morning. Jacob was the first to retreat to the dwindling fire and lay down near it. Joanie followed suit soon afterward. She tossed her stick back in and then sat against the wall in silence, watching the small flames dance.
Before Ross left the entrance, however, he looked outside again just for good measure. For a while, there was nothing, but then two glowing red eyes seemed to fade in from the blackness. He reached for the knife in its sheath, and let his hand linger on the handle. He stared back at the eyes, and his expression slowly changed from one of nervousness to a stern glare. For what seemed like several minutes his gaze was locked with the figureless presence beyond the entrance, until the foreign eyes faded away in the same manner they had come.
Morning came earlier than anyone wanted it to, and accompanying it were renewed and unwelcome emotions. The three youngest children were crying for their mothers until Joanie could finally console them. She had to use a number of lies in order to do so, such as “We’ll get home soon,” and “Don’t worry, we’ve got everything under control.” Ross watched her work and felt sorry for her, but not sorry enough to help. ‘Besides,’ he thought, ‘I’d probably do more harm than good. I suck with kids.’
Jacob was stamping out the few lit embers that remained in the fire circle, as he had no water to do the job properly. When he was done, he called Ross over to the side to converse in private. “Well, as near as I can figure, our main problem right now has less to do with getting home, and more to do with getting food and water for the eleven of us.”
Ross looked around at the sizable group. The logistics of the situation hadn’t properly occurred to him yet. Jacob continued. “A few of us ought to go on a walk, try to find some water or preferably some people.”
“That’s not a bad idea. I’m guessing you have yourself in mind?”
Jacob chuckled a bit. “Yup, and I’ve got you in mind too. I’m thinking we want two of us older ones out searching cause, you know, buddy system. And Joanie’s definitely the right one to look after all the others. She’s one hell of a babysitter.”
Ross couldn’t imagine that any previous babysitting experience would be comparable, but he didn’t see the need to argue. “Okay, so that’s you and me. Should we bring one or two of the others with us to lighten Joanie’s load?”
“Absolutely. I’m thinking Tatiana. She looks pretty tough to me. To be honest, I think she’s also a little too discerning. She’s probably caught on to the fact that we’re pretty much stuck, and I don’t want her to get all the other kids spooked.”
Ross had to admit to himself that Jacob had thought this out quite a bit, and that he was probably right. “Sounds like a plan. We ought to set out right away. There’re only so many hours in the day, and who knows how long the good weather will hold up.”
Jacob smirked. “I’d say ‘that’s the spirit’ if you weren’t being such a damn pessimist.”
Ross scowled, and Jacob laughed. “Lighten up, it was a joke. Let’s notify all the concerned parties.”
Joanie agreed with the plan, and told Jacob and Ross not to worry about a thing. Tatiana was slightly more reluctant due to an apparent lack of self-confidence, but she complied with minimal coaxing. After deciding upon a general direction to walk towards, the three of them set out. Two dozen yards down the hill, Ross turned around and saw Joanie waving goodbye to them. He waved back, and felt strangely happy about doing so.
Before long, the cave was out of sight due to the trees. The forest was dense, but without the rain and dusk it didn’t seem so haunting and claustrophobic. Ross kept his eyes and ears open for the creatures that had taken such a liking to him the day before. He was glad to find no trace of them. He remained silent for most of the trip, though Tatiana and Jacob seemed to find no end of things to talk about.
“You’re keeping a really nice pace, Tatiana. You done much hiking before?”
“My daddy used to take me camping a lot, but he’s always real busy with work now. Sometimes the lady that does our softball team’s physical training takes us out in the woods for hikes, though.”
“They have physical training for kids’ sports, now? When I did all that we just had practice every two days.”
Tatiana grew quite cheerful over the first half mile, which was a remarkable shift from the night before. Ross and Jacob both suspected that the sun was making a difference. “Why do you carry those goggles with you, Jacob?” she asked at one point.
“Well, it’s a little silly, I guess. When I used to be on swim team I would always forget them, so I started the habit of bringing them around everywhere with me, and the habit just stuck.”
Tatiana then asked him with a most hopeful expression on her face, “Can I please borrow them?”
Jacob was visibly amused. “Be my guest.”
Jacob took the goggles out of his pocket and tossed them over to Tatiana, who was most eager at the prospect. For some reason that Ross couldn’t fathom, she seemed fascinated by the things. After shortening the strap, she tried wearing them on her forehead. She asked Jacob with much anticipation, “How do I look?”
“Very sharp. They go great with the jersey.”
The first word that came to Ross’s mind was actually “dorky,” but to his credit he did feel terrible for it and didn’t say anything. By this point they had walked two miles, and the trees were starting to thin. Before long, they were out of the forest, and in front of them lay a wide landscape dotted with small hills and partially covered by distinct clouds of fog. Ross then raised the question of the hour. “Well, we’re out of the woods, so what now? We haven’t found any source of water yet, so do we keep going this way or search some more in the forest?”
Jacob simply said “hmmm,” and then said something that struck Ross as decidedly irresponsible. “What do you think we should do, Tatiana?”
It looked like Tatiana was simply going to balk at the prospect of contributing to an actual decision. “You want to know what I think?”
‘Way to go,’ thought Ross. ‘You had just gotten her nice and not-worried, and now you drop this on her.’
To Ross’s surprise, however, Tatiana looked into Jacob’s eyes for a second or two, and then found the resolve she needed to give an answer. “I think we should keep going this way.”
“Good thinking. I’m glad we brought you along.”
And once again, Ross had to grudgingly give Jacob credit. Now in addition to not being worried, Tatiana was more confident, which could come in handy depending on how long they were going to be stuck here. And so they kept walking into the misty foothills, until the forest was no longer visible behind them. At one point Ross began to worry about their decision. The fog was awfully thick in spots, and he thought that if they went out much further it might become much harder to find their way back. Once they reached the bottom of the hill they were on, he spoke up. “Guys, I think we might be out far enough. This fog’s pretty nasty, and we don’t want to get lost.”
Before Jacob or Tatiana could respond, something happened that caught them all off guard. A voice came out from behind the hill in front of them. “Hey! Who’s over there?”
Stunned speechless, the three all stopped in their tracks. Had the voice been a more normal one, they might have been more enthused at the chance encounter. This voice, however, was unusually deep and distinctly inhuman. It almost sounded more like an elaborate growl than an English sentence. “I know I heard you. Speak up!”
Jacob swallowed hard and took the initiative. “W…We’re three kids! We’re lost, and we’re trying to find some food or water!”
They then heard a second voice from behind the hill. “What’d he say?” This voice was much higher pitched, and somewhat raspy. There was a slight hint of a hiss on the s in ‘say.’
“He said they’re all Child level, I think. It’s a strange dialect. They must not be from around here.” The voice then grew louder in order to address them. “Hey! Where are you from?”
Jacob and Ross looked at each other, both having no idea of how to answer. They both had the gut feeling that naming an American city wouldn’t mean anything to the people on the other side. After giving it a few moments’ thought, Jacob decided to answer. “We think we’re from far away, but we’re not sure. There are eight more of us in the forest back there, and most of them are small and very frightened, so would you please help us find some water for them? We’re in a desperate situation.”
The raspy voice asked the deep one, “He said the others are small. Does that mean Child level, too?”
“It’s possible, but we’d have to check to make sure.”
“And what did he mean that he ‘thinks’ they’re from far away? Are they stupid?”
“Again, it’s possible. Whatever the case, they don’t sound dangerous to me and we don’t have anything better to do. Let’s go check them out.”
The three all glanced at each other, unsure of what sort of characters would be approaching them over the hill. A thick stretch of fog rolled in on their side, so they heard the footsteps before they could see who was coming. Slowly, a pair of silhouettes began to appear, and they were not of any shape they had expected to see. In a few moments, standing right before them was the largest wolf any of them had ever imagined accompanied by a smaller (but still frighteningly big), bipedal, dinosaur-like creature. Needless to say, the three all had a hard time absorbing this at first. After a few seconds of staring, the lizard was the first to speak. “They look weird.”
“Don’t be rude, Agumon.”
Agumon was orange in color, and had the most disproportionately large mouth, presumably to match his disproportionately large claws. He held one of these claws out in front of him as he stepped forward to get a closer look at Tatiana. Ross didn’t know how Tatiana could look at him straight in the eyes and not even quiver a little. ‘Maybe she’s paralyzed with fear. That’d be bad.’ Agumon held his claw near Tatiana’s forehead, and gave the goggles a light tap on one of the lenses. He then gave Tatiana a light tap on the arm, which did in fact make her flinch. “They’re poorly armored. The things up here are solid enough, but they’re too small to protect her head well, and her skin is terribly soft.”
The wolf, who was white in color with a number of blue stripes, spoke next. “You must excuse my friend here. He isn’t good around strangers. My name is Garurumon. And what is your name?”
Ross was starting to break into a nervous sweat. “Which one of us are you asking?”
Garurumon raised an eyebrow. “All of you. You are of the same species, are you not? What name do you three go by?”
Ross could not imagine a more confusing response to his question. Still, he tried to answer as best as he could. “Well…we’re humans. The thing is, though, we each have different names. I’m Ross.”
“I’m Jacob. And this is Tatiana.”
This only added to the two strangers’ confusion. Agumon said to Garurumon, “I take it back. I don’t think they’re stupid. They’re just insane.”
Garurumon let out a low growl. “I said don’t be rude. Obviously, they’re from far enough away that our rules don’t apply to them. Perhaps the captain would know something more about their background.”
“That didn’t even occur to me. You’re so smart, Garurumon.”
“Oh, not really. You’re just under-evolved.”
Ross couldn’t see why Agumon didn’t take this statement as any sort of insult, but he decided that for now it would be best not to ask. Garurumon then addressed the three befuddled humans. “At any rate, you’re welcome to follow us back to the camp. There’s plenty of extra room for your friends, and I’m sure we can work out some sort of arrangement with the captain so you can stay.”
Jacob lit up at hearing this. “That’d be terrific. We’d be most appreciative. Could we go back to our friends, first? They’ll start to wonder why we’re taking so long.”
“Don’t worry about that. We’ll send out a scout to fetch your friends later. They should be easy to track down once we know their general area.”
Ross wasn’t sure whether to find this fact convenient or worrying. For now, though, he was happy to have arranged for the group in the cave to be relocated somewhere safer. The three humans and the two anthropomorphic creatures started making their way further into the foothills, and for the first time in over twelve hours Ross felt slightly optimistic about how things were going.
July 19th, 2010 (8:35 AM).
Wanna huge story, but its so interesting, i like those kind of fics, also i write fan fics , but, in spanish, because i dont know so much english XDDDDD
AWESOME STORY! !
July 26th, 2010 (6:49 PM).
Review! Review! The promised review is here!
I'm just going to hop right into the review.
You're taking your time with the characters, allowing the reader to get into Ross's mind. (If we think about Digimon character archetypes, I'm going to say he's the "lone wolf" of the group, pretty much.)
At first, I was going to say that there tends to be a matter of telling what's happening than showing. Mostly the smaller stuff, like when Joanie tells Jacob something, and the conversation isn't shown, but it says that she said it. Like here:
What I did enjoy was when Garurumon and Agumon showed up. They're a great duo, and I'm looking forward to seeing where they take the children. I also liked the small details that you included to separate the DigiWorld from the real world (the heat of the fire, the quick-drying clothes) and how the children aren't excited about being away from home.
Let me know when the next chapter is up. I'm looking forward to it.
July 26th, 2010 (10:40 PM).
Many thanks for reviewing, Astinus! I think I see what you mean with the whole showing vs. telling thing. I'll keep that in mind for the next chapter, and apply some fixes to this one where I see fit, as well. And yes, the "lone wolf" archetype is exactly what I was going for with Ross. I personally tend to like them more than the goggle-heads, so I decided to put him in the center instead of to the side, as he probably would have been in Digimon proper.
Glad you liked Garurumon and Agumon. I wasn't too sure about them, as I've never actually written for Digimon before. I think my biggest challenge is going to be making the rest of the cast of Mons as interesting as the humans, but I'm optimistic.
Many thanks as well to all the other readers! I plan on starting the next chapter sometime this week.
July 30th, 2010 (4:19 PM).
I don't have the effort to read it completely, but what I did read, I noticed this.
August 5th, 2010 (4:31 PM).
Yes, I think you should do more showing than telling.
Otherwise I think it's rather well done. This is overflowing with detail and the plot was gripping
September 29th, 2010 (3:11 AM).
This is only a quick little review, as I don't particularly like digimon or it's style (which you've captured well)
Though this might have been done on purpose, Ross seemed to handle the creature attack too well. I might have skipped over a part explaining this, but drop a 16 yr old boy in a place he doesn't know and has no idea how he got there and automatically, he isn't going to be on top of his game, plus he comes from a city, so he wouldn't be used to dealing with wild creatures. He also moves his knife into the right spot while the animal is in mid-air. Either this thing is jumping slowly, or this kid has super reflexes. Most peoples instincts are not to lash out at something that is coming towards you fast. It'd be more realistic if he ducked and then stabbed it.
- Joanie and Jacob (and Ross to a lesser extent) don't seem affected enough. as I said above, you have no idea where you are or how you got there. you heard a ringing in your ears and poof you're somewhere else, no matter how bright or upbeat a person is, they are going to be at least worried. to be honest, at first when I was reading this, I thought that they were at a camp and were out walking and bad weather was rolling in, so they were taking shelter. Other then the young kids, they all seem to be too relaxed about everything.
Also, Ross seems the type of character to speak his mind, so I find it strange when he hide how irked he was and he was nice to Tatiana.
May 24th, 2012 (9:15 PM). Edited June 16th, 2012 by icomeanon6.
[Hello again, PCFF&W. I am pleased to announce that chapter two has been finished in less than two years! In all seriousness, if you read chapter one and were interested in reading chapter two, I apologize. I've made a few minor revisions to chapter one in preparation for this chapter, and since it's been two years you might as well go read chapter one again if you have already. Despite any evidence to the contrary, this story has seldom been completely absent from my mind during this entire time. I intend to complete it, and I have done a lot of planning since I posted the first chapter and the story is definitely going somewhere.
So here's chapter two. I hope you enjoy it, and please post any comments or criticisms you have. I mean to have the next chapter posted by the end of June, but I'm afraid I can't promise anything.]
2: The Camp, and a Long Walk Ahead
Before an hour had passed, the three humans and their unusual companions came across a large hill. The top was obscured by fog, but halfway up Ross could see two rows of wooden spikes jutting out in a manner that set his hair on end. There was a narrow gap where a few spikes had been removed and set aside, presumably to be replaced when the need arose. As Garurumon and Agumon headed for this gap, Tatiana stopped. She asked a question with voice wavering. “W…what are those things for?”
Agumon turned around. “They keep the baddies out. Don’t you know there’s a war going on?”
Tatiana had not known, and took a step backwards. Jacob said to her, “Come on, there’s nothing to worry about.” As he said this, Tatiana’s expression relaxed, and she caught up with the rest of the group. They passed through the gap and came to the top of the hill. All around were several small clusters of beige tents. There were a few faint sounds of activity from within some of the shelters, but otherwise the place seemed dead. Garurumon made a deep, slightly disapproving noise in the back of his throat. “Home sweet home.”
Something about the whole setup went against Ross’s grain, and he shuddered. He looked over at Tatiana, and saw that she was keeping awfully close to Jacob, who was looking about as if he wanted to memorize every detail of the camp. Agumon then motioned the three of them to follow, and they walked to the largest of the tents, on which were inscribed some rough, incomprehensible ink letters. ‘It looks kind of like Chinese or Japanese, but not quite,’ thought Ross. ‘Maybe I should ask later. Then again, I might not get any kind of meaningful answer.’
Before passing through the entry flap, Garurumon paused and said to the three humans, “I would advise you to be careful with your words. Things have been a little tense around here as of late.”
The three followed Garurumon through the entrance, and saw something that they did not expect. Sitting on a stool in front of them was a tall, man-like figure with six white wings. His eyes were covered by the steel helmet he wore, which was adorned with a cross. Ross couldn’t help but stare, especially at the light the man—or creature?—seemed to emit. Garurumon bowed his head slightly and said, “Captain Angemon, we have brought back three wanderers from the hills. They say there are more of them in the woods, and that they wish to seek refuge here.”
Angemon was motionless, but somehow Ross got the feeling that he was examining the three of them closely. After a few seconds of pondering, he answered Garurumon. “You bring with you unexpected but most welcome guests indeed, Garurumon.” His voice was strong and firm, but strangely soothing. He gave off the aura of a soldier; a powerful guardian whose mere presence brought safety to those who were lucky enough to be on his side. “I suppose you have noticed that their attributes are indiscernible, which in my mind makes them all the more welcome.”
Ross didn’t know what to make of this statement. He looked over at Jacob, who was more collected but no less confused. Angemon’s head remained still; he faced no one in particular, but when he resumed speaking Ross could tell that he was addressing Jacob in particular. “Pardon me if I’m completely off base, but I have a feeling that although you three are clearly alike, you each answer to a different name. Am I correct?”
Garurumon’s ears rose a few inches, and his voice did little to hide his surprise. “You could tell, sir?”
Ross glanced over to Garurumon, but he became suddenly aware of a faint presence. It was as if someone was tapping him on the shoulder, though he felt nothing there. He looked again to Angemon, and in an instant the presence grew strong and seemed to force the words right out of his mouth. “Ross! Uh…Ross, sir. My name’s Ross.”
The presence vanished, leaving Ross red in the face. Angemon didn’t seem to take any offense at his slightly embarrassing outburst, however. As for Jacob and Tatiana, they didn’t seem to notice it at all. “I’m Jacob, sir.”
And then there came a meek voice that wanted to hide back inside its mouth. “Tatiana.”
Angemon nodded. “Intriguing names, all. They sound almost as ordinary words. Most unorthodox.”
At hearing the word ‘unorthodox,’ Ross began to suspect that everyone around here had a name that ended with ‘-mon.’
“But I forget my manners. It is plain to see that you are tired and hungry. You may take as much as you like from the mess tent. Garurumon, show them the way, if you’d please. I shall have a messenger sent for their companions at once.”
Jacob answered as earnestly as he could. “You are too kind. Our friends are hiding in a cave. I think we walked about four miles to get here. Thank you very much, sir.”
Ross followed suit, saying “Yes. Thank you, sir,” and Tatiana nodded her head slightly.
Angemon nodded back to her and said, “Good day, you three.” As they all turned to leave, Angemon spoke once more. “Agumon, would you stay a minute, please?”
Jacob, Ross, and Tatiana were sitting on a log outside of the mess tent, each holding a bowl of a bland yet hardy grain dish. Ross didn’t think it was rice. Perhaps it was barley? Millet? None of them could say, but they were more than happy to finally sit down with something hot to eat. Garurumon asked them, “Is the food to your liking?”
Ross looked over at Garurumon, and wondered if he normally ate the same thing that they were eating. Considering Garurumon’s size, he would certainly prefer a larger bowl, and probably wouldn’t use the chopsticks—the only utensils they could find—either. Jacob answered, “It’s great. Thanks again.” Jacob then noticed that Tatiana was struggling with her chopstick technique. He whispered to her, “Hold them more like a pencil—there you go.”
As Ross continued eating, he noticed that the fog on the western edge of the hill was beginning to thin out. The now visible landscape consisted of rolling hills that grew into distant mountains to the right, and became covered with a dense forest to the far left. This was nothing out of the ordinary, but something else about the scenery caught Ross’s eye. There were three small but prominent craters among some of the closer hills. They had no grass growing on them, and the dirt was dark, nearly black. Ross supposed this had something to do with the war that Agumon had mentioned. Ross wondered about this war. Who or what do wolves, dinosaurs, and angels fight against? And as long as Ross was asking himself impossible questions, just what in the hell were these creatures, anyway? As he wondered this, Agumon came walking over from their right.
“Agumon’s back,” said Jacob to Garurumon, who was staring at the ground.
Garurumon looked up, and promptly shook his head. “Different Agumon.”
As this new Agumon walked past them and into the mess tent, he said, “Hi, Garurumon.”
To Ross’s ears, this Agumon’s voice was indistinguishable from the one they had first met. Garurumon answered in kind. “Hello, Agumon.”
Ross tried to wrap his head around this: These two creatures looked identical, sounded identical, both answered to ‘Agumon,’ didn’t seem to have any other kind of name, and Garurumon regarded them as differently as one regards two different people. Ross wondered how many Agumons there were, and whether or not any of them suffered from identity crisis. It was then that another Agumon came walking over from their right. Before anyone could ask, Garurumon said, “Yes, this one’s ours.”
Agumon sat down on the ground next to Tatiana, who still couldn’t help but stare at him. “Of course I am. Who else would I be?”
“Any other Agumon, it would seem,” answered Garurumon. “Our new friends have trouble with recognition.”
“Not even surprised. These new friends are weird, weird, weird.”
Tatiana giggled a little, and Agumon smiled. Ross would have been more than happy to leave any discussion of their differences at that. They may have been confused, but they were on good terms with their potentially dangerous hosts. Ross suspected that further talk might reveal differences that would lead to animosity, which they couldn’t risk. Especially dangerous in Ross’s mind would be any mention of—
“So, could you tell us more about this war?” asked Jacob.
Ross wanted to punch him. He was just as curious as Jacob was, but in his experience talking about wars led to heated disagreement, which he certainly didn’t want at the moment. Fortunately, Garurumon didn’t seem at all affected by the question. “What do you want to know?”
Ross hoped that Jacob would simply say ‘Never mind,’ but he had no such luck.
“The basics, I guess. Who are ‘they,’ who are ‘we,’ and what are we fighting over?”
Ross thought that saying ‘we’ the second time made the three of them sound much too involved. Garurumon let out a low sigh. “I was wondering when one of you would ask, and I must admit I’m not sure how to answer. You are all ignorant of much that we have always taken for granted as basic reality. I suppose I’ll start with as basic an explanation as I can think of.”
“I would greatly appreciate it, and I must apologize for our ignorance.”
Garurumon shook his head. “There’s no need. On the contrary, you should say ‘You’re welcome.’ This is the most interesting day I’ve had in quite a while.”
Agumon interjected, “Oh, this day’ll get even better, but go on.”
Ross couldn’t help but notice a hint of frustration in Agumon’s jest. He wondered what it meant, and just what Agumon had been talking about with Angemon.
Garurumon continued speaking. “We are the Vaccine. We are one of the three basic branches of intelligent life. Since even before the dawn of Knowing, we have existed alongside the Data and the Virus.”
Data. Virus. Though the temptation was great, Ross did not ask Garurumon if he knew anything about computers. He was relieved when Jacob did not do so either, and simply said, “Got it.”
“Three years ago, the Virus grew angry with the status quo, which if you ask me is an inexcusably common development for them throughout history. They were once again organized into a formidable army, and we have been fending them off since then. If our army of the Vaccine fails they will overrun our lands, wipe our kind from existence, and obtain control of all life.”
The first thought that came to Ross’s mind was, ‘Oh, man. We’ve stumbled into a genocidal conflict.’ If Jacob found this situation worrisome, he showed no sign of it, and questioned Garurumon further. “What about the ‘Data?’ Can they do anything to help defend against the Virus?”
Garurumon sighed a second time. “Though the Data are greatest in number of all the branches, they lack the leadership and collective will to fight as one. On top of that, they are mentally ill-suited to fight the Virus in particular.”
Ross hoped with his entire being that the other two wouldn’t call Garurumon’s last statement—
Tatiana asked, “Isn’t that racist?”
Ross tensed up, and began to sweat. Even Jacob looked a little nervous in response to Tatiana’s potentially disastrous question. It was an immense relief when Garurumon answered, “I’m not familiar with the term, but trust me when I say that it is fact. All other qualities being equal, one of the Data will usually fall to one of the Virus.”
Tatiana was about to speak again, but Jacob put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Let’s take his word for it. This is his home, not ours.”
Tatiana hesitated for a moment, and then nodded. Garurumon nodded back, and then said, “That about sums it up, I think. I hope I’ve done an adequate job; it’s not something anyone usually has to explain.”
Ross seized this opportunity to change the subject. “You did fine, thanks. We’ve got the picture.” Looking off into the west, which was again growing covered with fog, he continued. “I wonder how long until the others get here.”
It was getting dark when the nine figures walked in cautious fashion up the hill. Leading the way was a three and a half foot tall, pink-feathered avian. Of the creatures that Ross had seen so far, he considered this one to be the strangest. It looked almost like a child in a bird costume, as it stood perfectly upright and its wings seemed to be just as similar to arms as actual wings. He found it slightly unsettling when it jumped up and flapped its ‘wings’ a few times to bring itself to the very top, where it gave a small bow to Garurumon. “All have arrived safely, sir.”
“Thank you, Biyomon. Show the little ones to the mess tent; they must be hungry.”
It was then that the first of the eight humans came into proper view. Garurumon looked at her and asked Jacob, “Is this the ‘Joanie’ you mentioned?”
Jacob smiled and nodded. “Yup, that’s her.”
Joanie let out a light sigh, and smiled in kind. “I am so glad to see you guys here.” Her eyes were then drawn to Garurumon, but she did not seem particularly surprised, which Ross had not expected. “Are you Garurumon, sir?”
Garurumon nodded. “Yes, indeed. And you needn’t call me ‘sir.’ Biyomon is more formal than is warranted. If you don’t mind, our captain would like to see you along with your two friends, here.”
The eight children minus Tatiana were now all assembled behind Joanie, and they for the most part looked far more optimistic than they had been when Jacob and company had departed. The oldest of them, whom Ross remembered as Michael from the night before, looked particularly interested in Garurumon.
Biyomon addressed the crowd, “Follow me, there’s good food this way!”
Joanie walked up to Biyomon and extended her hand. Biyomon returned the gesture with the three large claws at the end of her right arm/wing, and the two of them shook appendage-ends. “Thanks for everything, Biyomon!”
“No problem. You were fun to talk to!”
As Biyomon walked off, most of the children did as well. The three exceptions were Michael, a younger boy, and Tatiana. Joanie turned and said to the two boys, “Go on, Michael, Steven, I won’t be too long.”
Steven, who seemed to be simply anxious about leaving Joanie, nodded and followed the other children. Michael, on the other hand, stood his ground and said “I want to see the captain, too.”
There was now little fear and fatigue in Michael’s eyes. His tone of voice wasn’t what anyone would call steadfast, but it was markedly more resolute than it had been the night before. Garurumon looked straight into his eyes, and took a few steps forward. Michael took a sharp breath through his nose, and his eyes wavered a little, but he seemed otherwise unaffected by Garurumon’s intimidating gaze. Garurumon made a noise in his throat, as if suspicious. “Hmmmm.”
At this point, Tatiana spoke up as well. “Me too. I’ve already eaten, anyway.”
Garurumon made a quick glance back at Tatiana, and then said, “Very well. Follow me.”
Michael’s face broke into a wide grin. Garurumon turned and began walking toward the main tent and the two children followed him closely, with the three teenagers trailing several yards behind. Jacob was the first to speak. “Well, it looks like we’re all safe and sound.”
Joanie let out a deep breath. “Yeah. It’s so lucky that you guys stumbled across this place. I was worried you might get lost; then we’d really be in a tight spot.”
Ross concurred with a simple “Mm-hm,” and Jacob responded in a more verbose fashion. “You can thank Tatiana for that. She’s the one who picked the right direction.”
“And you guys should thank Biyomon later. Once she showed up she was great with helping all the kids feel safe. Actually, I think she earned their trust even faster than she earned mine. And she just loves to talk about everything! I wouldn’t be surprised if we know more about this place than you do.”
Ross asked, “Did she tell you about the captain, already?”
“Yeah, Angemon,” Joanie replied. Then she laughed a little. “It’s funny, Biyomon described him like this: ‘he looks like you all, but bigger, stronger, and well-armored. Oh, and he has six wings on his back!’”
Jacob snorted. Ross didn’t think it was particularly funny, and supposed he just wasn’t in the mood. The three of them looked ahead at Tatiana and Michael. They seemed to be engrossed in conversation with Garurumon. Michael in particular appeared most attentive to what Garurumon was saying. Jacob said, “I think Michael there might have felt cheated when we left this morning. Maybe we should have brought him.”
Ross nodded. “I think you’re right. Is he the oldest out of the kids?”
Joanie nodded. “Yeah. We all said names and ages earlier and he’s eleven, the only one who’s over nine. Oh, wait. Do you know how old Tatiana is?”
Ross shook his head. “Never asked. We could ask later.”
Jacob was not interested in waiting, and called out to her. “Hey, Tatiana! How old are you?”
Tatiana turned her head and called back. “Ten!”
Jacob spoke in normal voice again. “That settles that.”
Garurumon and the kids had now reached the tent, and waited a few seconds for the teenagers to catch up. They all entered together, and Ross still couldn’t help but find Angemon’s presence slightly unsettling. Angemon was sitting and facing the ground, apparently lost in thought. Garurumon was the first to speak. “Captain Angemon, they have arrived.”
Angemon was unresponsive for a second, but then turned his head upward and smiled. He stood and spoke. “Indeed they have. You must be Joanie.”
Joanie bore a slight smile, but a subtle contortion of her eyebrows and a subtler haltingness in her voice betrayed that she hadn’t been fully prepared for the sight of Angemon. “Yes, sir. It was too kind of you to have us.”
Angemon chuckled at the notion. “Not at all, I assure you.” He then turned his invisible attention to Michael, whose mouth was already agape and now took a step backwards. “And what is your name, little one?”
“M…Michael. It’s Michael, sir.”
Angemon nodded. “That’s a good name. It strikes me as a name of inner fortitude, and of a strong sense of right.”
Michael’s expression softened, and he took a step forward. “My parents said they named me after St. Michael. He was an…an angel, like you.”
Michael’s face began to turn red, but then Angemon spoke again. “I can’t say I quite understand the story, but now I’m sure that the name is a perfect fit.”
Upon hearing this, Michael practically beamed, and Ross could swear that some of Angemon’s glow was sharing space with the boy, if only for a moment. And it was a scant few moments later that Angemon moved on from introductions to more pressing matters. “Now that we’re all acquainted, let us get to the issue at hand.”
The air hung still for a moment, and then Angemon spoke again. “In exchange for our continued hospitality, you three large ones must serve us as spies. You shall infiltrate the enemy encampment, and report back on their intended movements.”
Ross’s jaw dropped, and the other four were speechless. Garurumon was the first to speak up. “I must object, Captain Angemon. This is far too much trust to place in strangers, and I personally doubt their qualifications for the mission.”
‘Yes, that’s it. We are not qualified. At all.’ is what passed through Ross’s mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak. Angemon, however, was unperturbed by Garurumon’s claim. “Of course, I value your council, Garurumon. Nevertheless, not only do I believe that we can trust these individuals, I also believe that they are uniquely qualified for the mission.”
‘You’re wrong. You’re insane. This is bad. We have to leave.’ Ross did not interrupt, and Angemon continued. “Garurumon, you first became aware of Jacob, Ross, and Tatiana when you heard them speaking, correct?”
“With anyone else, you would have known they were nearby from four hills away, correct?”
“Undoubtedly. All of my concentration was devoted to locating enemies.”
“This is precisely why they are qualified. Their presence cannot be felt from afar, and even when they are in the same room their attributes are hidden. They will be invisible in a way that none of us ever could be.”
Jacob finally interrupted. “Sorry, but you mentioned ‘attributes’ earlier and I never asked what…er…”
Angemon chuckled. “Hearing this, I am now even more certain that you have no attributes to speak of. You are not Data, Virus, nor Vaccine. Garurumon, these beings come from the Holy World. They are of the mighty race of Creators, and they have been sent to help heal Creation.”
Ross could no longer remain silent, and stepped forward. “C…Captain Angemon, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. We’re not ‘Creators,’ we’re just ordinary people. Human beings, that’s it. We’re not mighty; we’re weak, lost, and confused. We don’t know why we’re here, and no one sent us, we just showed up.”
Joanie stepped forward as well. “He’s right, sir. We’re not Creators; we’re Created, just like you.”
Angemon smiled. “Trivialities. Nowhere is it written that those who created us knew that they were creating. Nor is it written that they were the ultimate Creators themselves. Moreover, I said that you were sent with a purpose, not that you were fully informed and prepared beforehand.”
Ross made some vague noises of objection, and turned to Garurumon. Garurumon looked back at him, and his eyes seemed both heavy and ponderous. Garurumon then turned back to Angemon and said, “If you are so sure of this, Captain, then I am as well. They are more than suited to carry out the task.”
“If that’s all true,” they heard Agumon say as he walked into the tent, “then we’ve been blessed. We can’t lose!”
Ross was petrified that Angemon would agree with this sentiment, but fortunately the captain shook his head. “It is written that perfect justice will come at the end of time, but until then there are no guarantees. It would be equally foolish to grow overconfident as it would be to discount the significance of our guests.”
Ross was beginning to sweat. Angemon was apparently less of a fool than Agumon, but he and his companions were nowhere near off the hook. He didn’t know what else to say, but Jacob decided to give it a shot. “Let’s suppose that you’re right, sir, and we were sent here to help you. Even if we were to sneak up close to their base without them ‘feeling’ or smelling us or something, we’re not experts at espionage by any stretch. We can’t sneak around in their camp without them noticing us, and since we don’t know a thing about them other than that they’re ‘Virus’ I doubt we can get them to trust us.”
Much to all of their consternation, Angemon continued to smile. “Most astute, Jacob, and I would have to agree with you were it not for one other factor. You won’t be going alone; there is one other who is especially qualified for this sort of mission.”
Hearing this, Agumon’s eyes narrowed, and a few wafts of smoke rose from his nostrils. In response, Angemon’s smile vanished and everyone in the room could feel their bodies grow slightly heavier. “You promised me decorum, Agumon, and I expect you to honor that.”
Agumon stared at his feet. “Yes, sir.”
Angemon turned to the rear entrance of the tent. “You may enter.”
This new individual had apparently been waiting for a signal. He parted the tent flap with his three long claws and revealed himself. He was identical to Agumon except for one key detail: his skin was not orange, but rather black as pitch. Angemon introduced him as he approached the center of the tent. “This is BlackAgumon. He is a Virus type who has more than earned my trust and is under my personal protection. BlackAgumon, these are Jacob, Joanie, Ross, Tatiana, and Michael of the Holy World. You will be working with the large ones, contingent on their agreement.”
BlackAgumon had a grim expression, and there seemed to be some gravel in his throat. “My pleasure.”
With a glare and a few shots of even darker smoke from his nostrils, Agumon stomped heavily from the tent. Tatiana followed him after taking one more look at Angemon and BlackAgumon. Ross would have liked to join her, but he couldn’t just leave without giving a final answer to Angemon. Then again, how could he possibly give an answer that Angemon would approve of? They couldn’t afford to get involved in this race war, especially not when that would entail working as spies. But there was also the matter that they couldn’t afford to get kicked back out into the wilderness. Would Angemon force them to leave if they said no, small children and all?
As bad scenarios fired through his mind, he suddenly felt that uncanny pressure from Angemon, this time stronger than ever before. He then heard the captain’s voice, though his lips did not move. “I cannot have my subordinates hear me say this, human beings, but I only ask for your help because we are desperate. We cannot face the challenges before us without more intelligence, and it is too dangerous to send BlackAgumon alone. Our lives may depend on your answer. So I beg you, please help us.”
Ross’s heart rate was spiking. He glanced quickly at his companions, and he got the feeling that they too heard Angemon’s plea. On top of that, it seemed that Michael’s eyes were welling up with tears. Jacob and Joanie glanced at each other, and then at Ross. All it took was for Jacob to nod his head slightly and Ross felt that the group had reached a consensus. The three of them turned again to Angemon and Jacob gave the official reply. “All right. We’ll do it.”
Angemon did not smile, but simply nodded and sat on his stool. His head dropped and it was clear to all that his invisible attention had returned to his own mind. As Angemon entered a deep trance of thought, BlackAgumon began walking back the way he came. “Marvelous. It’s a long walk tomorrow, so don’t stay up late.”
It was the middle of the night, and Ross was standing at the edge of the hilltop, some seven feet above the spiked barricade. All around him was perfect silence. Ross had expected at least some insects to be making noise, but there were none that he could hear. He stared at the cloudless, moonless, star-filled sky for three solid minutes before he heard anything. What he heard were footsteps, and since they were far softer than the thuds that came from Agumon and Garurumon’s feet, he figured they were human. He kept looking up, and soon he heard a girl’s voice.
“Is that you, Ross?”
The voice was Joanie’s. He turned to face her, and he could half discern her silhouette, but nothing beyond that. “Yeah.”
“Can’t sleep either?” Joanie sounded weary, but not physically exhausted.
Half a minute of silence passed. Ross couldn’t tell if Joanie found the silence awkward or not. There were no visual cues to pick up. He wanted to know whether she was looking at the stars or at him, whether she had come out because she couldn’t sleep or because she noticed he was missing. If he had her figured out correctly, she was the sort who upon waking in the middle of the night would take a silent headcount just to make sure everyone was safe. But how could he tell? They had only met the evening before.
His train of thought was interrupted when Joanie spoke again. “I think Tatiana and Michael will do a good job of looking out for the younger ones while we’re gone.”
Just as Ross was thinking to himself that he wasn’t saying enough, and that he ought to extend his reply so it wouldn’t sound like he was brushing her off, Joanie said, “That’s a lot of one word responses.”
‘Damn. Too slow.’ Ross rubbed his eyes and said, “Sorry. It’s just…well...rough day, you know.”
Joanie made a half-chuckle, just enough to indicate to Ross that she wasn’t bitter about the lousy conversation he made. He then continued. “It’s a good thing you’re here. Jacob and I wouldn’t have been able to take care of all those kids by ourselves.”
“Thanks. It’s nice of you to say that.”
Another half minute of silence passed. By this point enough had been said that Ross was sure that she had more that she wanted to talk about but just wasn’t getting to. He was looking at the sky again, trying to find the North Star when Joanie sprang a new question on him. “Ross, why do you think we’re here?”
Ross swallowed. Her voice had a palpable sense of foreboding about it. As for the question, he had absolutely no idea, and trying to think about it just made him frustrated. He spent enough time not answering that Joanie got the gist, and resumed speaking. “I’m mostly blank on ideas, too. But I can’t help but think about what Angemon was saying earlier. I mean, the idea that we’re any kind of ‘Creators’ is a bit ridiculous, but…”
She trailed off. Ross wondered what she was getting at. “Yes?”
“But what if he’s half right? What if God sent us here for some real purpose?”
“Don’t tell me you buy into that crap.” The words came out of Ross’s mouth before he had a real chance to think about them.
“What crap? Belief in God?”
Ross felt himself the biggest moron on the face of the Earth. How could he not have picked up the earnestness in her voice when she said that? He did his best to recover. “No! No, not belief in god itself. Just, you know, that kind of active god. I just think it’s kind of a stretch of an explanation.”
Joanie was not convinced. “You can tell me the truth. You don’t believe in God and you think it’s dumb for other people to believe in God, right?”
She did not sound happy with him, and that made Ross cringe. “Uh…well…Right. But I didn’t mean it to come out that…I didn’t mean it that way. So…I take it you’re Christian?”
Ross sat down and pressed his hand to his forehead. “Really, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to call you stupid. And I don’t think you’re stupid!”
Joanie sat down next to him, but she still sounded kind of annoyed with him. “I understand. It’s the same with everyone. We always view people themselves and their ideas separately.”
There was something about Joanie. Ross had been in countless exchanges that started the same way as this one and simply ended in angry arguments over whether the idea of God was bunk or not. “Go on with what you were saying earlier; about god sending us here and all. I shouldn’t have shot you down like that.”
“Well, I don’t want to—”
“Please.” Ross could tell that she was going to change the subject to avoid offending him, and he couldn’t stand the condescension implicit in that. When Joanie spoke again, she slowly lost the defensiveness in her voice, and in its place came the foreboding that was present before Ross’s boneheaded comment.
“Think about all that we’ve seen here, I guess; all these big, strange, talking animals and the Captain and everything. It’s all too improbable. I’m sure it’s real because there’s no way I or any of us could have dreamed this up. And us being here, it’s just not something that happens naturally or by dumb luck. Why are we all from roughly the same part of the United States of all countries? Heck, Jacob and I have known each other since we were six, why the two of us out of all people? I’ve just never bought into ridiculous coincidences like that. I have to believe there’s a reason. I just wish I knew what it was.”
Ross had been listening intently, and for once he was ready with something to say. “I guess part of my problem with that is that I don’t see why this isn’t all just a dream. Just because I can’t think of where all the elements came from doesn’t mean they weren’t in the back of my mind somewhere.”
“Yet you’re still acting as if it’s all real.”
“I don’t think I can help that.”
“Hmm.” Ross supposed that she did actually have something to say to that along the lines of the existence of free will, but he didn’t want to open another can of worms.
“And the other problem I have is the whole idea of God, I guess. You talk about how you don’t buy into ridiculous improbabilities, but to me that’s what God is. God’s supposedly some perfect, omniscient creator who somehow cares about one random species on one planet out of billions or trillions or whatever. If I had to bet money, I’d say it’s more likely that I’m just dreaming.”
Joanie wasted no time in answering either. “But again, you don’t believe you’re dreaming, do you? You believe that this place is real…that I’m real, right?”
The word ‘believe’ always came across as somewhat grating to Ross’s sensibilities. He much preferred the word ‘think.’ He couldn’t stand spirituality—much less religion—but he understood the nuances of the word ‘believe.’ Screw proof, screw reason, just go with what your touchy-feely heart-of-hearts shouts at you, and he thought that was stupid and dangerous. But for whatever reason he didn’t let it get to him that night. “Yes. I do. It’s all too lucid. There’s no way I can possibly believe otherwise.”
“So how does this place exist and why are we here?”
Ross was growing more agitated, and his bitterness at their whole situation harshened his tone. “I don’t know. That’s why I’m scared.”
That stopped the conversation cold. There would be no more discussion and no more communication of any kind except for ‘goodnight’ and ‘goodnight’ when they returned to the others, hopefully to go back to sleep. For the time being, they both knew that they had to set aside their thoughts on the situation from a cosmic sense and focus on what was immediate. They had a long walk ahead of them.
May 25th, 2012 (12:32 PM).
I really enjoyed it. I thought it was well written and the characters were interesting. Just wondering are Jacob and Ross ect, OCs or characters from one of the later seasons? Silly question, but I'm only familiar with the first two seasons and Digimon Tamers and I think character is one of your strong points by reading the fic.
May 25th, 2012 (5:34 PM).
You have really improved in your writing over the past...
It has been nearly two years.
But seriously, the problems that you had with the telling instead of the showing are gone. I love the fact that Ross's thoughts are put in through the chapter, giving us more insight on his character despite the fact that he doesn't talk much. It's also a treat to see this from his point-of-view as the "lone wolf", as compared to Jacob's being the leader.
Plus, Tatiana and Michael (interesting name choice given the prescience of Angemon) are shaping up to be interesting kids. I'm wondering if you're going to go the typical route of having Digimon partners, or if your fic's "Chosen Children" are just soldiers in the war.
Your Digimon characterization is fine. Agumon's feelings towards BlackAgumon were very apparent. Same with Angemon being the leader. Though I have to say that I like Garurumon's character. Not sure why. I just like him helping to take the humans under his watch and giving them advice.
Let me also compliment you on taking your time setting up the characters instead of rushing to get to the action.
I'm looking forward to more of this, even if it's a wait until the next chapter.
May 25th, 2012 (10:53 PM).
Many thanks for reading, bewbs and Asty!
And really, thanks for finding the time to read and review. I'll try to get chapter three up reasonably quickly! (but again, no promises. I've learned to stop making writing-timetable promises. x_x )
June 18th, 2012 (2:13 PM). Edited June 20th, 2012 by icomeanon6.
[Wow, I finished a chapter when I said I would; that almost never happens! And if I follow through with this writing-blitz thing, you can expect chapter 4 before the month is out.
Anyway, enjoy, and as always please post any comments or criticisms.]
Chapter 3: A Long Walk, and Rumors of the Commander
The sun was still down, but there was light enough to see. Jacob, Ross, Joanie, and BlackAgumon were gathered near the western edge of the hill. The humans would have liked to have spent more time in the camp and out of danger, but as BlackAgumon reminded them as they packed, “Time’s of the essence.”
Ross rubbed his eyes. He had managed only five hours of sleep the night before, and now he had to walk back the way he had come. He looked at Jacob, who seemed wide awake and practically raring to go, and then at Joanie, who couldn’t have gotten much sleep either but still looked far more awake than he felt. She asked BlackAgumon, “Do you need a blanket? One of us can carry it for you.”
BlackAgumon shook his head. “Don’t bother. Just hurry up.”
Jacob, who was in the middle of tying a square knot, said, “No worries. We’ll be done in a second.”
BlackAgumon was perhaps as irritated with Jacob’s morning-chipper-ness as Ross was. He snorted and began to pace back and forth. Still, Jacob was right in that the humans had little to pack. Several loaves of bread, four skins of water, and three blankets constituted the inventory. The only reason things were taking longer than a minute was that Jacob had insisted they should tie the blankets with string after bundling the food in them. Once the bundles were tied and slung over the humans’ backs with cord, Jacob said to BlackAgumon, “All right then. Lead the way.”
Joanie looked back toward the tents and then tapped Jacob on the shoulder. “Hold on.”
Tatiana, Michael, and Garurumon were walking toward them. BlackAgumon looked to the cloudy sky and groaned. “You said your goodbyes last night. Let’s move.”
“One minute tops, promise,” said Jacob before he headed over to meet the three with Ross and Joanie following him. “We’ve got to go real soon, guys. Don’t worry; you’ll be fine without us. Just—”
Tatiana interrupted him. “What are you talking about? Of course we’ll be fine. We’re worried about you.”
Ross, whose eyes were half closed, said, “She’s smart. Let’s switch her for Jacob.”
The other humans laughed, Garurumon chuckled, and BlackAgumon was stone-faced. Jacob, fully aware of BlackAgumon’s impatience, got the discussion back on track. “Just do what Angemon and Garurumon tell you to, and watch out for the younger ones.”
Joanie added, “And make sure none of you leave the camp. Got that?”
Michael nodded. “We got it. We’re going to be fine.”
Jacob nodded back. “We’ll be back in four days. See you soon.”
Jacob shook hands with Michael, and then with Tatiana. He then turned to Garurumon, who made a polite bow. “I patrol the hills twice a day, but whenever I’m around I’ll keep an eye on your friends, and Agumon will too. You have my word.”
The three teenagers bowed back. “Thanks, Garurumon,” said Ross. He then glanced over at BlackAgumon, who was fuming in a literal sense. “Guys, we really have to get going now.”
With that the talking ceased, save for a few understated goodbyes. The three teenagers left their two seconds in command with Garurumon, and followed BlackAgumon down the hill, past the barricade, and into the fog. Less than a minute later, Ross looked over his shoulder and could spot no sign of the camp.
They had been walking over the hills for about twenty minutes when Ross spotted to their right a crater similar to the ones he had seen the day before. It was approximately ten feet in diameter, and a few short blades of grass were coming up near its edge but the center was completely barren. Ross wondered by what means these craters were made when he saw that he was starting to lag behind. He then shifted the weight of his pack and picked up the pace.
As Ross caught up, Jacob tried to start some conversation with BlackAgumon, which Ross thought was an ill-considered but not unexpected venture. “Hey, BlackAgumon. How long do you think it is until sunrise?”
BlackAgumon, who was walking a good eight feet ahead of Jacob and Joanie, did not answer. Ross thought this was just as well, as BlackAgumon was their only lifeline in the wilderness, and he worried that a conversation that went in the wrong direction could jeopardize that. He couldn’t figure out Jacob’s apparent need to sacrifice the status quo for the sake of having something to talk about, and Jacob’s next statement did not put his mind at ease. “Not feeling very talkative, huh?”
BlackAgumon snorted. “Just wondering why the alleged race of Creators would send help to a bunch of scumbags like Angemon and his scumbag army.”
Ross nearly had a heart attack. He immediately decided that he wouldn’t let Jacob make the situation any more caustic, and whispered, “Don’t bother him. He’s not in the mood.”
Jacob whispered back, “No chance. We’ve got a long way to go with this guy. I want to make sure we’re all on good terms.”
Joanie joined in the whispering. “Guys, I think he might be able to hear you.”
Fortunately, she was only half right. “What are you whispering about back there? Don’t trust me now?”
Before Ross could say anything, Jacob answered BlackAgumon. “We’re not sure whether we trust you yet, or Angemon for that matter. We just got here, and we’re only doing this to keep our friends safe.”
‘The more we talk about motivation, the closer we get to losing our guide,’ thought Ross, who followed Jacob’s answer with an attempt to stop the conversation cold. “We don’t want to bother you. We can keep quiet if you want.”
BlackAgumon spat. “Pathetic.” All three humans grew anxious. “You think I’m a moron? I saw the way Angemon had you suckered in with his talk. You two snakes are just trying to keep me from ditching you in the woods, and you’re tripping over each other in the process.”
Ross and Jacob looked at each other, disappointed that they had both been found out so quickly. Fortunately, Joanie was ready to take over for them. “You got us. We’re sorry we doubted you, but…”
BlackAgumon’s tone was growing harsher. “But what?”
“…But we really trust Agumon, and it seems like you two have some issues to work out.”
BlackAgumon spat again, but this time instead of saliva there came a quick burst of flame that blackened the grass. At the sight of this the three humans stopped in their tracks, and Ross especially was worried that they had gone and done it. BlackAgumon then turned around and began to approach them, and as he spoke little tongues of fire could be seen at the corners of his mouth. “Don’t you dare mention that orange slow-mute’s name to me again! I’ve had it up to here with your ignorant, two-faced prattle! You don’t know a damned thing about those Vaccine thugs, so don’t talk like they’re your best friends in front of me or I’ll roast your hides and cut them from your bodies! I shou—”
For a few moments toward the end of BlackAgumon’s tirade, it appeared that his green eyes were growing red around the edges. All of a sudden he choked on his words and his eyes grew wide. He was breathing heavily, but a few seconds later he was composed.
It had all happened so fast that it was just now sinking in to Ross how frightened he had been at the sight of BlackAgumon’s anger. He glanced over at Jacob and Joanie, and he saw that they too had been terrified. When BlackAgumon spoke again, the violence in his voice had been replaced by a palpable meekness. “Let’s keep moving. We’ve got a long way to go.”
BlackAgumon turned around started walking up a large hill. Somewhat reluctantly, Joanie began to follow, and she was soon followed by Jacob and Ross. There was silence for about a minute until BlackAgumon said, “I apologize. That was inexcusable of me.”
It appeared that only Joanie had the courage to reply. “It’s fine. Everyone loses their cool now and then.”
Her voice did not waver in the slightest, but Ross could see on her face that she was hardly at ease. He crossed his fingers that she would be able to dig them out of the hole that he and Jacob had dug. It seemed to be working, as BlackAgumon remained calm. “Maybe where you come from some rules apply to everyone, but that’s just not the case here.”
When they reached the top of the hill, BlackAgumon stopped again. He looked over his right shoulder, and his eyes grew narrow, but not exactly angry. Ross looked where BlackAgumon seemed to be looking, but there was nothing but a few hills and fog. BlackAgumon made a low growl in his throat and spoke again. “I ought to explain where I stand, just so we all know.”
BlackAgumon pointed off into the distance. “There. North-east. You can’t see it right now because of the fog, but in the middle of the mountain range some tens of miles off is the Forbidden City.”
Jacob looked intently into the fog, as if he expected to gaze upon the city itself. “We’ve never heard of it.”
“I’m not surprised Angemon wouldn’t tell you about it. The Vaccine also call it the ‘Holy City,’ which is an utter farce. It’s where their damned aristocrats have the greater part of the world’s wealth holed up, and no one can pass the mountains to enter it.”
Jacob stroked his chin. “What about Biyomon, the one who picked up Joanie and our friends at the cave? She can fly. Are the mountains too high or something?”
“No, they’re not that high, but they have something worse. An impenetrable force surrounds the City, like an eternal storm. No one alive today is evolved enough to stop it or break through it, Data, Virus, or Vaccine.”
Despite himself, Ross’s interest was now piqued. “Why would they make a city that they can’t enter or exit? Seems like they’d starve in the middle of the mountains.”
BlackAgumon growled again, but his tone made clear that he was not angry with the humans. “And that’s the crux of the matter. There are a scant few secret passages beneath the mountains that provide access to and from the City, and one of them has an entrance in this region. The Virus army knows the entrance is here, and if Angemon’s army can’t keep them out they will eventually find it and invade. And frankly, I wouldn’t mind if one day we did.”
Joanie looked at BlackAgumon intently. “But there’s something about the Virus army that you can’t tolerate; something bad enough that you’d rather they lose.”
BlackAgumon sighed, turned around, and began walking again. “That sums it up. And do not ask me what that something is. I’m not in the mood.”
The rest of the day was something of a blur in Ross’s mind. The fog rarely let up, and what they could see was all similar. Other than a brief stop mid-day for lunch, which consisted of half a loaf of bread each, there was nothing but walking until it began to get dark. It was at the crest of some hill when Ross noticed the edge of the forest in what little daylight remained. Apparently they had veered southwest. Just when he was about to ask whether this was by design, BlackAgumon uttered the first words following several hours of silence. “We’re going to rest for the night in the woods, where we’re less exposed. There’s a hidden cache of Vaccine supplies around here, and you’re going to help me find it.”
Jacob wiped some sweat from his brow and asked, “What’s it look like?”
“Can’t say for sure. It’ll probably be covered by boards and hidden with leaves.”
When they reached the woods, it was slow searching. It would have been difficult enough had the sun been out, but there was so little light that upon looking around his tenth tree Ross figured the effort was futile. On top of that, they had been walking all day and he was worn out. He finished kicking aside some leaves, which of course were covering roots rather than boards, and looked over his shoulder to see if BlackAgumon was nearby. As luck would have it, he caught BlackAgumon’s bright eyes between two trees. He called over to him. “Are you sure we need to find this thing tonight? I’m pretty sure we packed enough food.”
BlackAgumon opened his mouth, and acquired some extra light by breathing heavily. Finding nothing, he answered Ross. “I’d feel better if we found it tonight. There should be some weapons in it, and I don’t trust any of you to keep watch with nothing but your bare hands.”
Ross was about to mention the sheath knife that he kept with him when Jacob called over from somewhere out of sight. “Hey, there’s a river over here! I bet it’s close by!”
Ross heard BlackAgumon’s heavy footfalls moving in the direction of Jacob’s voice. “Good thinking. You two, get over here.”
Ross kept his eyes on the ground as he made his way to the river, and even then he nearly tripped over a few roots. He could hear the soft sound of the ‘river’—more of a creek, he guessed—before he could see it. Figuring they weren’t going to find the cache anyway, he decided to indulge himself and draw a handful of cold water before he resumed his search. He headed to the nearest tree and checked around its roots. Nothing.
Ross was thinking to himself that if the cache happened to be on the other side of the creek they might be out of luck when he heard a noise fairly close by. Something was rustling in the underbrush, and it wasn’t a person. Ross’s first thought was that it might be another one of the creatures he had to fend off on their first night in this place. He bit his lip and grabbed the hilt of his knife.
Just then, Joanie spoke loudly, and as she spoke Ross could hear the little thing scamper off deeper into the woods. “Hey! I think I found something!”
Ross sighed with relief, and made his way over to where the others had gathered around. As he reached them BlackAgumon was moving the last board aside, which would have made the contents of the hole in the ground completely visible had there been enough light to make it all out. Jacob moved his head in closer. “What’s down there?”
BlackAgumon groaned. “If you worthless humans can’t even see in the dark you should have said something earlier.” BlackAgumon then picked up a thick branch, set it alight, and handed it to Jacob. As BlackAgumon went looking for suitable branches for Joanie and Ross, the three humans inspected the cache. There were several baskets of grains, some hammers and nails, what looked like a saw, and a number of weapons. Jacob knelt down and grabbed a longsword which was housed in a dark red scabbard. He held his light close to it and stared intently at the inscriptions that ran up and down.
Ross wondered who the weapon was for. He couldn’t think of anyone they had met here so far who had the opposable thumbs to make good use of it. “Strange weapon for an army of talking wolves and small dinosaurs.”
“Quit spouting nonsense and take this torch.”
Then the obvious hit Ross: Angemon had thumbs, so it was reasonable to assume that plenty of other Vaccine did too. This mental blunder made him realize how tired he was from the hike. He yawned as BlackAgumon handed him the lit branch, and then he bent down and examined the remaining weapons: two spears and a bow and arrows. “What do you want, Joanie, spear or bow?”
Joanie was looking at her torch when Ross asked her this. Apparently something about the fire had her fascinated. “Is it a longbow or a recurve bow? I’m more used to recurve.”
Ross had no idea what a recurve bow was, and didn’t see how Joanie could expect him to. “Showoff.”
Joanie giggled. Ross thought it was way too late after way too long of a day to be joking, but he shrugged it off. He handed Joanie the bow—“Thanks. Ah, it is recurve; that’s good.”—and then its quiver. This left either of the spears for himself. He picked the one that looked slightly shorter, thinking that it would be more wieldy. It turned out to be just a bit longer than he was tall, which felt right to him.
Jacob was sitting with his back to a tree, and had unsheathed his sword to inspect the blade. “So what now?”
BlackAgumon sat down as well. “Now we eat half a loaf each, figure out the order for keeping watch, and then sleep until an hour before dawn.”
As she was unraveling her pack, Joanie asked a question with voice suddenly void of mirth. “You don’t suppose that we’ll have to use these weapons, do you?”
“I sure hope not. I don’t trust you weaklings to hold off any real threat. But, since you miraculously have good hands for tools, I’m hoping that the weapons scare off anyone who might want to attack us.”
Jacob re-sheathed his sword and turned his attention to the bread in his pack. He was about to take a bite when he stopped and said, “That reminds me. Hey Ross, why were you carrying that knife around the day we showed up here?”
“That’s none of your goddamn business.” There was acid in Ross’s voice, and he thought he had good reason for it. Jacob was not one to judge him for having a knife. Ross noticed how quickly Jacob went for that sword, and how he was the first to agree to Angemon’s plan to make spies out of them. The knife was none of his business. Not in the slightest.
For the rest of that night, no one asked Ross any more questions. He ate dinner in silence, nodded in agreement when BlackAgumon announced the order of the watch, and sat in stillness with the spear on his lap when the others lay down to sleep. There was light from the torch to keep him awake, but he wouldn’t need it to see what he was looking for. In the underbrush was sure to appear a pair of red eyes. Ross could see it before it happened: his iron pole and point against reckless madness and teeth. He tried not to blink as he watched for any glow and listened for any movement.
They never came. The next thing he knew the sun was almost up and he was walking up a hill with his companions again. Someone must have replaced him and he had gone to sleep, but he couldn’t remember it. He was still tired, but he was good enough for another hike.
As of that morning the four spies were closer to harm than to safety, and throughout the day the hills grew small and the grass grew brown and sparse.
The sun had disappeared beneath the horizon in front of them, and in the distance they could spot smoke from campfires. The absence of hills and fog put Ross somewhat ill at ease. If perchance they had to leave the Virus encampment in a hurry, they would be easy to spot on this brown plain. When BlackAgumon spoke to them for the first time since noon, Ross could hear his own worry in their guide’s voice.
“Listen closely. What we’re going to do is sit at one of the outer campfires, join in on some conversation, and listen carefully for any meaningful information about their plan of attack and numbers. You will let me do the talking. You will speak only when spoken to, and when you do speak you will be vague and noncommittal. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” said all three humans, and Jacob followed with a question. “What should we say if they ask our names? Name. Whichever.”
“Be honest. We want to keep this simple, and that means no pretending that you’re one of us. They’re going to know that you’re strange from the moment they set eyes on you without sensing an attribute, so our hands are tied in that regard. Our story is that I’m scouting the western half of the woods, and I found you in there two nights ago and recruited you in exchange for my help and protection.”
“One more thing. We want to leave tomorrow morning at least an hour before they wake up, so that means we leave in silence. Don’t unravel your packs when we get there. Use the bundle as a pillow so we can leave without packing. I trust you can sleep on the bare ground just fine?”
Ross rubbed his eyes. “Not sure the blankets would help much.”
BlackAgumon could tell what he was thinking. “That reminds me. Do not show fear. That would be a dead giveaway.”
Ross could see that Joanie was holding her bow very tight. “No promises there, but we’ll do our best.” Joanie then looked over her shoulder, back to the east. Ross supposed she was thinking about Michael, Tatiana, and the other kids. Was she just scared that the three of them wouldn’t be there for the young ones anymore? Ross couldn’t understand how that could be her top priority, yet that’s what it felt like. For his part, all he could worry about was the prospect of the Virus soldiers finding them out and tearing them apart or setting them on fire.
He shivered and tried to drive the thought from his mind. As they drew closer and closer to the smoke in the distance, he attempted to distract himself with thoughts of rest and sleep. When the furthest fire from the main camp finally came into view, however, he turned his concentration to following BlackAgumon’s instructions to the letter.
The sky was almost black when they felt the warmth of the campfire, and saw the three Virus soldiers sitting on the opposite side of it. They were gray, mammalian, four-legged things whose main features seemed to be a cross between those of a rabbit and a cat. They were roughly the same size as BlackAgumon, and like BlackAgumon they sported long, sharp claws on all four legs. One of them, who had a claw with a missing tip, grinned when he saw them come and spoke first.
“Lookie here, it’s a BlackAgumon. Don’t see too many of you around anymore.”
BlackAgumon replied in stoic fashion before sitting down. “Evening, Gazimon.”
The other two Gazimon grinned along with the first. “Evening, BlackAgumon.”
The three humans sat together near BlackAgumon, and tried not to stare at their hosts. They were somewhat surprised when they were asked by Missing Tip, “What about you? What’s your names?”
His grammar was unimpressive, but his word choice was revealing. Unlike Agumon and Garurumon, Missing Tip didn’t get the impression that they all had the same name. As Ross wondered about the significance behind this, his companions started answering.
Their voices were neutral. Ross figured they were doing an okay job so far. “Ross.”
The Gazimon to Missing Tip’s right snickered at the unusual names, and Missing Tip snarled at him in return. The one to the right snarled right back, but they were interrupted by a noise that none of the humans had expected to hear again. It was a low and droning, yet powerful and angry roar that shook the very ground they sat on. Ross swallowed and resisted the urge to wipe the sweat from his forehead. He glanced over at Jacob and Joanie and saw that they too were fighting back the instinct to squirm. This was the same noise that had made the young ones scatter on their first night in the woods.
The Gazimon to Missing Tip’s left spat. “I can’t believe we got to bring them slow-mutes with us. They’re so damn annoying.”
In the distance, Ross could vaguely see a dark, towering form that was nearly invisible against the sky. Missing Tip pointed one of his good claws at the complainer and said, “Watch it. They’re the only Adult levels we have. How’d you like me to go and tell our friends the DarkTyrannomon what you have to say about them?”
The left Gazimon cringed, but the right one was not intimidated. “Go ahead. I bet they don’t get no language, the no-words-ers.”
“That ain’t a smart bet. If you’re wrong you get squashed flat.”
“He too slow! I scurry up his back and claw his eyes out first!”
The right and left Gazimon broke into fits of laughter, and this seemed to give BlackAgumon the opening he was looking for. He asked Missing Tip, “I take it these two haven’t been Child level for very long?”
This stopped the laughter cold, and Missing Tip grinned. “You got that right. Not me, though. I’ve been around long enough to cut down more than my fair share of scumbag vacc’s.”
Missing Tip showed off his missing tip, and BlackAgumon nodded in approval. “You rookies itching for your first kill?”
The one on the left was indignant, but the one on the right was positively enthusiastic. “Heh heh, yeah. Just two more weeks, and I gonna kill my way to that Garurumon and claw his eyes out!”
Missing Tip rolled his eyes. “Switch up your language, you dolt.”
“Don’t see why we got to wait two whole weeks,” said the Gazimon to the left. “We ought to move out now and kill them quick.”
Missing Tip grinned again. Ross was beginning to dislike that grin. “Relax. There’s no rush, and besides—” Missing Tip paused, and looked right at the humans, especially at Ross. “—If your friend says we wait two weeks, we wait two weeks.”
It took a mighty effort for Ross to keep his confusion from taking over his expression. As his brain stumbled over possible ways to respond to this, the right Gazimon bought him some time. “I dunno. These ones don’t seem much like the Commander to me.”
“You ain’t ever even seen him before, rookie.”
“Maybe I ain’t, but they say he real strong, and I bet when we see him in two weeks he gonna look real strong. These ones don’t look real strong to me.”
Missing Tip then addressed the humans directly. “I’m right, ain’t I? You’re all humans from the Creators, just like the Commander!”
Jacob’s voice was mostly calm, but wavered just enough to put Ross on edge. “That’s right.”
The left Gazimon asked them, “You all as strong as the Commander? You got his powers?”
For once, Ross felt that his curt dismissiveness was a welcome asset to Jacob and Joanie. “Can’t say. We haven’t met.”
BlackAgumon then took over. “I’m afraid not all humans are quite as powerful as the Commander. Nevertheless, none of them are without use. These three make for fine scouts, and they’re good with tools and weapons as well. The humans may be the greatest gift the Creators have ever bestowed on the Virus.”
Once again, Missing Tip showed off his grin, and Ross swore that grin looked more sinister every time he saw it. “All sounds good to me. And from what I hear about the Commander, we’re only going to need one of him anyway!”
The three Gazimon howled with laughter, and the three humans put on the best smiles they could muster. It was going to be a long night.
Ross didn’t know how it happened, but he had at least eight hours of sleep behind him when BlackAgumon prodded him in the ribs. It was completely dark, except for a few stray embers in the campfire. Missing Tip and the two rookies were snoring, and Joanie and Jacob were sitting up. In a matter of seconds they had their packs on their backs, weapons in hand, and were walking across the plain to the east.
It was another hour until the sun started to creep up, and there was still no fog. For a while Ross wished that the weather would change before it got much brighter, but then he realized that by now they were far enough from the camp to be reasonably safe. Still, the Gazimon’s talk of this ‘Commander’ had him worried. That another human was present in this world was a surprise, but that the other human was some sort of powerful figure who was leading the enemy of their hosts was too disturbing. For once, he found that he couldn’t keep his mouth closed while they were walking.
“BlackAgumon. Did you know anything about this ‘Commander’ they went on about?”
“No. I had never even heard of humans before you all showed up.”
Jacob joined in. “I wonder if he’s some kind of military genius, or maybe a super soldier. Hell, the way they talked about him he might have been some giant or wizard.”
“You’re not helping,” said Ross and BlackAgumon together.
Joanie spoke next. “Whoever he is, I just hope he stays far away. I don’t like the sound of him at all.”
BlackAgumon said, “You can forget about him staying far away, that’s for certain. The Gazimon said they would see him in two weeks, which means he’s playing no small part in their campaign to invade the City. You can bet that we’ll all be well too familiar with him before long.”
In his head, Ross remarked that perhaps they should abandon the Vaccine camp before they had the chance to learn anything else about the Commander.
“At any rate, I should say that I’m pleasantly surprised with how you three handled yourselves back there. Not only are we safely on our way, but this news concerning the time of their attack and of their human leader will be invaluable to Angemon. There were plenty of opportunities for you to land us in hot water, but you avoided them all. I’m content.”
Even as he said all this praise and good news, Ross found him somber. He supposed that it must still pain BlackAgumon to aid his former enemies. This made him wonder what prompted the betrayal in the first place. If Joanie and Jacob were also thinking of this, they gave no sign of it.
“Thanks, BlackAgumon,” said Joanie. “If you hadn’t led us on this trip, we’d have been in a real spot.”
“She’s right; we owe you one,” said Jacob.
BlackAgumon simply sighed. And so they walked on in silence, until a few hours later the plains gradually turned into hills, and they could see fog not too far off. It was around here that Ross noticed that BlackAgumon was acting strange. His ears kept twitching in a way he hadn’t noticed before, and he would frequently squint.
They were walking down a slope when BlackAgumon spoke again in a heated whisper. “Listen. No talking. Keep walking.”
The humans, confused as they were, did as he said. “Pay close attention. The Gazimon from last night are fifty yards behind us.” Ross’s blood froze. They had done something wrong. “They must have seen through us somehow. If I know Gazimon, and they’re not hard to figure out, they’re going to call out to us and pretend they just want to talk. Then, when they come into view and we’re expecting friends, they jump us. We’re going to play along, and you three are going to have your weapons ready. Is that clear?”
All three humans whispered “Yes,” and they followed BlackAgumon’s lead. After a minute that felt like an hour they were moving along the bottom of an unusually steep hill that was lined with boulders. It was there that they finally heard the Gazimon call at them from behind.
“BlackAgumon! Is that you over there?”
BlackAgumon stopped in his tracks and made a quick gesture across his neck; he would handle the talking. “Yes it is! What’s the matter?”
“You missed some orders from the top this morning! Could you hold up for a minute?”
“Of course! We were just about to stop for a meal anyway!”
BlackAgumon motioned to the humans, and they all dropped their packs. They then crept until they were only ten yards away from the bend around which the Gazimon were to come. Joanie pulled an arrow from her quiver and put it in place. Jacob removed his sword from its scabbard with care and in silence. Ross held his iron spear in both hands and pointed it forward. BlackAgumon took a firm stance and raised his head as smoke wafted from his nostrils. They all heard slow footsteps approaching the bend.
It happened in mere moments. The footsteps sped up and the Gazimon ran into view with a cry for blood. They were met with a burst of white-hot flame that hit one of them square in the chest. He writhed on the ground, but the other two didn’t stop. One of them ran at BlackAgumon and dove claws first, but BlackAgumon’s claws were quicker, and they punctured the Gazimon’s throat before pinning his body to the ground.
The other one charged the humans. Ross stood with his spear, but he couldn’t get his limbs to move. Just when it appeared that the last Gazimon was going to jump for him, an arrow whistled past Ross and struck the ground in front of their foe. The Gazimon stumbled, and Ross felt some courage welling up within him as he ran to one side, hoping to have the enemy trapped.
Jacob took a few steps closer with sword leading. “Don’t move!”
BlackAgumon was now finished with his own business, and as he stepped over his mouth seethed from his last shot. “Against the rocks. Now.”
It was then that Ross noticed that one of this Gazimon’s claws was missing a tip. That nasty grin was far away now, and in its place was a look halfway between fear for life and horrible rage. Missing Tip slowly backed up to the face of the boulder and glared at BlackAgumon.
“You followed us. Why? What gave us away? Speak!”
Missing Tip snarled, spat, and stamped the ground with his hind foot. “Don’t insult me. You think I’m so dumb I can’t smell fear?”
“No lies, rat! If you smelled fear you would have raised the alarm right then and there, or killed us in our sleep!”
“It’s human fear. Smells different. Didn’t recognize it at first, thought it might be something else. Humans supposed to be from the Creators, didn’t know they had fear at all. Figured it out when you were gone at sunrise. Should have gotten it sooner, should have torn your throats out, should have drained your—”
Missing Tip hissed and frothed at the mouth. The very sight of it made Ross a little sick. “Enough with you, you miserable traitor! When the Commander breaks Angemon’s neck and we have won, we’re going to find bottom-feeders like you and slit your wrists and leave you at the bottom of a pit!”
“I said enough!”
Missing Tip said nothing, though his whole body was twitching.
“You have two options, rat: you may die here with your comrades, or you may come with us to Angemon’s camp with hands tied. Angemon is soft on the likes of you; if you tell him everything you know, he may let you leave with the rest of your claws clipped and nothing more!”
Missing Tip howled at the prospect, and clawed at his own face. And then something happened that sent a shock through Ross’s entire body. Missing Tip’s eyes shifted to a bright, solid red. He leapt straight for BlackAgumon, but he was stopped in midair by a spear point that pierced his left side and a sword point that pierced his right. Joanie screamed, and Missing Tip was thrust against the boulder.
“Look away,” said BlackAgumon to the humans in a fit of kindness right before he torched Missing Tip’s face. As Jacob and Ross let him down and pulled the tips of their weapons from him, they saw that his eyes were now empty and charred black.
“Grab your packs. We’re moving on.”
As Ross slung his bundle over his shoulder, he looked over at Joanie. She looked as if she were going to throw up, but she never did. Jacob didn’t look sick, merely grave. Ross imagined that he himself appeared something between the two extremes. They walked away from that place as quickly as they could. Ross only looked back once, and saw that the three bodies were faint in the fog. It looked to him as if they were fading into nothingness, but surely that was his imagination.
June 19th, 2012 (10:29 PM).
I was about to send you a VM about your fic, and then I saw in your signature that you updated.
BlackAgumon really is an interesting character. I wonder what made him turn against the Virus type. Just like I wonder who this Commander is.
There weren't any problems with the fight scene. It moved at a good enough pace with your sentence choices, especially since Missing Tip and BlackAgumon talked during the fight. We'll have to see how you do with a bigger action scene, but this one read fine.
It'll be good to see how Jacob, Ross, and Joanie react to having to fight, and seeing their first deaths in this world.
June 28th, 2012 (10:02 PM). Edited July 6th, 2014 by icomeanon6.
[Thanks as always for the feedback, Asty. Really glad to hear you think BlackAgumon's interesting, and the child/rookie word choice was indeed a thinly veiled reference. :)
And look, two chapters in one month! I'm getting much more comfortable with getting myself to write, so expect more Digimon Campaign in July! Enjoy!]
Chapter 4: A Curious Stone, and the Power of the Commander
It was late in the afternoon of the fourth day since they had first set out that the four spies once again found themselves at the foot of the camp’s hill. All three of the humans were low in spirit, and BlackAgumon was as sullen as ever. As they climbed the hill and passed the spiked barrier, they could hear some kind of commotion at the top; a number of raised voices were competing with each other. Ross found it difficult to care. What he wanted to do more than anything was simply let BlackAgumon deliver their findings to Angemon and go off somewhere to lie down.
Despite his weariness, however, he knew that before he got any rest he needed to have a private conversation with Jacob and Joanie. Ever since the violent incident that had occurred two mornings ago, he knew that things had gotten completely out of hand. If things were ever to get back in hand, he and the other two teenagers would have to make the right decision without the influence of these mad Virus and Vaccine. He glanced over at Jacob and Joanie, and it was apparent that for once he would have to work to get them to talk. He didn’t relish the prospect.
Once they reached the top of the hill, Ross saw one thing that he had expected and another that he hadn’t. The former was a crowd of several Agumon standing around Garurumon, and they appeared to be arguing about something. The latter was a large, winged horse that was lying near the edge of the slope. Its wings were black and somewhat tattered, its body was covered in scars, and the top of its head was covered by a red, steel mask that had a spike coming out of the forehead. BlackAgumon took one look at the creature and glared. “Unimon. There must be some news from the City.”
Jacob said, “Let’s ask him about it later. I’m bushed.”
“Don’t bother; you won’t get an answer. He only delivers written messages.”
Jacob paused to look at Unimon. “Is he one of those…I think they’re called ‘slow-mutes’?”
At the sound of that word Unimon raised his head and looked back at Jacob. Its eyes were hidden behind a narrow slit in the mask, so none of them could see what was surely an expression of disapproval. BlackAgumon motioned to Unimon with his arms and then spoke to Jacob as one would correct a toddler. “I forgot to mention earlier: you never want to use that term. It’s horribly impolite. The proper thing is not to recognize the distinction.”
Jacob was embarrassed and his face didn’t hide it. This was enough for Unimon to lay his head back down and apparently forget about the matter. “And besides,” said BlackAgumon, “I imagine we’ll hear of the news soon enough, judging by that racket over there.”
The teenagers turned around and saw Tatiana running toward them. “You made it back!”
Though fatigued, Jacob smiled at her. “Just like we said we would. How’s everyone doing?”
“We’re all fine,” said Tatiana. “I mean, we’ve been here the whole time. Why are you so worried?”
Had Joanie not been exhausted, she might have laughed. “Guess we should have known better. Sorry we ever doubted you.”
It was then that Tatiana noticed the bow in Joanie’s hand and the spear that Ross was leaning on. “Hey, where did you get those!”
“Never mind,” said Ross. “What are they arguing about over there?”
Tatiana bit her lip and fidgeted with the goggles on her forehead. “I think the Agumon want some answers.”
“Answers to what?” asked BlackAgumon.
“Well…Angemon left this morning and I don’t know why.”
The force in BlackAgumon’s reaction startled Tatiana. A moment later they heard Garurumon speak in an immensely loud voice that silenced the Agumon. “That’s enough! Back to your business, all of you!”
The argument was over, and the Agumon dispersed. Garurumon then began to walk in the direction of the crowd at the edge of the hill. As he moved he muttered some combination of curses beneath his breath. BlackAgumon waited until Garurumon was right in front of them before he asked, “What’s all this about Angemon leaving?”
Garurumon closed his eyes and groaned. “I don’t need this from you, too.”
“I’m serious! When is he coming back?”
“I’ve no idea.”
BlackAgumon hissed. “The Virus are attacking in less than two weeks! We need him back as soon as possible!”
Garurumon’s eyes opened wide and he looked straight at BlackAgumon. “What? So soon?”
Tatiana was stunned. Jacob moved close to her and put his hand on her shoulder, which didn’t seem to put her at ease.
“They have at least two DarkTyranomon, maybe three,” said BlackAgumon. “Why isn’t Angemon here?”
The usual command and strength in Garurumon’s voice was diminishing. “I’ll tell you what I told the troops, which is all I know. This morning Unimon came with a message for Angemon. Angemon didn’t show it to me, and he didn’t tell me what it said. All he told me was that he had urgent business in the Holy City, and that Unimon would stay here to keep our strength up while he was gone. That still makes two Adult levels for us, but three DarkTyranomon? This won’t be easy.”
“There’s worse news, too. I’d rather divulge it in private.”
The Commander. Not the least of the things that had been heavy on Ross’s mind over the last two days.
Garurumon nodded to BlackAgumon. “We’ll discuss it in the captain’s tent.” He then spoke to the teenagers. “You three can go rest now. I’ll speak with you later.”
“Got it,” said Jacob. Once Garurumon and BlackAgumon had left, Jacob yawned and was walking off when Ross spoke up.
“We need to talk.”
“Can it wait?” asked Joanie.
Jacob bit his lip. “Let’s keep it short.” He turned to face Ross and looked at him expectedly, but Ross was not yet satisfied.
“Tatiana, go to the others and tell them we’re back.”
Tatiana got the message, but she was clearly indignant about it. “Why?”
Jacob rolled his eyes. “Ross, it’s fine.”
“No it isn’t. We need to talk alone, just the three of us.”
“Why aren’t I part of ‘us’?”
Tatiana’s insistence was getting to Ross’s nerves. “Because we’re bigger, got it?”
“You don’t have to be nasty about it,” said Joanie. Then she looked him straight in the eye. She made a subtle motion with her bow, tapping the bottom of her quiver. Ross understood her. The conversation was going to be in part about death, and none of the teenagers were sure they wanted to broach the subject with the young ones yet.
Jacob seemed to understand her meaning as well, and he found a way to resolve the matter without letting Tatiana in on anything. “Is this about that inflamed abscess on your backside, Ross?”
Ross wanted to punch Jacob in the face, but he knew a good gambit when he saw one. “Yeah. I think we need to take a look at it.”
The indignity on Tatiana’s face was now replaced with disgust. “You know what, I think I’ll go.”
Tatiana left, and Ross led Jacob and Joanie well out of the earshot of anyone in the camp. When they were standing next to the spiked barrier, Jacob said, “This had better be really important.”
Since none of them had any desire for the conversation to last long, Ross got straight to the point. “We have to leave as soon as possible.”
Much to Ross’s crushing disappointment, both Jacob and Joanie responded to this by saying “What?”
“Ross, that’s out of the question,” said Joanie. “It’s too dangerous out there, and we wouldn’t know where to find food for all eleven of us.”
“And besides,” said Jacob, “the Virus are coming. It’s not going to be safe away from the army.”
‘The army,’ noticed Ross. Not ‘the Vaccine army,’ but simply ‘the army.’ If Jacob already counted them all as being a part of the Vaccine, this was going to be difficult. “That’s exactly why we have to get away and lay low. You heard how worried Garurumon and BlackAgumon were; they’re going to lose without Angemon and then we’re in trouble. And besides: we’re not Vaccine, this isn’t our army, and this isn’t our war.”
Jacob’s brow grew stern. “I don’t think you have the right idea, Ross.” He pointed off into the west. “There is something very wrong about that army out there. For now it’s our war because it’s not going to be safe for anyone around here if they take over.”
“You don’t know tha—”
Jacob cut him off. “Did you notice that Gazimon’s eyes?”
This gave Ross pause. “Yes.”
“I thought so.” Jacob’s voice was quickly growing more forceful. “Three nights ago, when we were in the woods? You kept muttering ‘red eyes’ in your sleep. Those little red things you fought off on our first night here, were their eyes glowing red too?”
Ross glared. Bringing up sleep-talk was crossing a line.
“Hell, even BlackAgumon’s eyes were getting pretty red that one time he got real mad, and he’s on our side! The Virus are dangerous. If you don’t think we’re going to be in deep sh*t if we leave now, then you’re nuts!”
Joanie covered her eyes with her hand. “Jacob, please.”
This got Jacob’s attention, and he took a few seconds to calm himself. When he spoke again his eyes were no longer angry. “I’m going to fight in this battle.”
Joanie was shocked. “Jacob!”
Ross was shocked as well. He was now less angry at Jacob and more incredulous.
“I mean it. We have to keep the kids safe, and that’s going to depend on Angemon’s army driving the Virus back.”
“You going to bet your life on that?” asked Ross.
“Yes, and you can’t change my mind.”
With that, Jacob turned around and walked back up the hill as Joanie and Ross simply watched him. When he was out of sight, Ross turned to Joanie.
“Do you agree with him?”
Joanie stared at the grass. “There’s no way I can fight in this battle. But…I can’t say that he’s wrong. It’s our responsibility to protect the kids, and I believe we’re on the right side of the fight.”
Ross shook his head. “I can’t say I’m sure we’re on the right side, or if there is a right side. This Forbidden City of theirs rubs me the wrong way, and I’m not sure we can trust Angemon. The way he…talks to you is freaky, and looks can be deceiving.”
Joanie sighed. “That’s understandable. One question, though: do you trust Garurumon?”
She was playing for feelings, which Ross thought was disgustingly Christian, but he had to be honest. “Yeah, I do.”
“In that case, I think we can accept for now that we’re under his care.”
Ross took a deep breath. “Seems like I’ve lost the argument anyway.”
Joanie lowered her head, and Ross kept speaking. “Can you agree to one thing, though? That during the next two weeks we work out an escape plan in case the fighting goes badly? It can be just us and the kids if Jacob wants to fight to the bitter end. I just want to be sure we know where we can take the kids to hide in the event of disaster.”
Joanie nodded. “That’s a good idea, we’ll do it.”
Ross nodded back and they both began to walk up the hill, hoping to finally get some rest. “Just don’t mention ‘the bitter end’ again,” said Joanie. “I’m not sure I can take it.”
Her voice wavered, and Ross felt that she was near tears. He looked down, and he saw that the bottom of his shirt was still stained red.
The first few days after Ross’s return were uneventful, and there was a sickening anticipation and tension in the air. He and Jacob had avoided each other since the conversation, and they had not spoken since. Though Ross was conscious of this, it concerned him little, and he was more than content to occupy his mind with trivialities such as day-to-day duties around the camp and the weather.
It was three hours after noon on the tenth day until they expected the battle that Ross was leading several of the children back to the camp from the well a quarter of a mile away. Ross was carrying two buckets of water on the ends of his spear, which he held on his shoulders. For the remaining buckets it was two kids to a branch. He was half-listening to one of the girls—was it Rebecca?—as she described to him the game of highly improvised baseball that Tatiana had led them in last week.
“Jamie had a hackey sack, so we used that for the ball and sticks for bats.”
“The field was really narrow and second base was uphill!” That was one of the boys, and for the life of him Ross could not remember his name.
“I got Michael out at first three times!” That was Steven, or at least Ross thought so. It could have been another one of them.
“Anyone hit a home run?” asked Ross, as he saw the bottom of the camp’s hill come into view.
“Nope,” said Rebecca, maybe. “No one could hit the ball far enough.”
As they neared the barricade Biyomon appeared and perched herself on one of the spikes. “Thanks for covering for me, Ross.”
“Okay kids, I need those buckets over by the mess tent! Oh, Ross, could you take yours over to Unimon? He drinks a ton!”
Biyomon hopped down and led the kids on their way. Ross veered to the left and made his way to where Unimon was lying. The winged horse had barely moved since he had arrived, which made Ross wonder if he was going to be worth all the food he ate. As Ross lifted the spear from his shoulders and set down the buckets, Unimon moved his head slightly in acknowledgement and resumed staring at the horizon or whatever he was doing.
Ross walked away from Unimon and further into the camp without a destination in mind. He happened to pass by a clearing where Jacob and Agumon—the Agumon they had first met, Ross guessed—were facing off from each other. In part because of curiosity and in part because he knew he couldn’t stay out of Jacob’s way indefinitely, he decided to watch.
Jacob was holding his sword in front of him, and Agumon had his arms raised and knees bent. In a swift motion Agumon dove for Jacob with a swing of his claws, and just as swiftly Jacob stepped to the side and avoided the attack. “You’re starting to get the hang of it. The Gazimon just about always attack like this, so it’s only any trouble if they gang up on you.”
“Got it.” Jacob was nearly out of breath, but the spirit in his voice was high.
“That’s why you’ve got to work close with your platoon to split them up.”
“Think that’s enough for today. I’m going to grab lunch.”
Jacob returned his sword to its sheath. “I’ll join you in a bit. Thanks a ton!”
“Hey, we need all the help we can get.” Agumon said that, but both Ross and Jacob knew that there was some help that Agumon would much rather do without. They also knew that the less anyone said about the matter in any Agumon-oid’s presence—black or orange—the better.
As Agumon trotted off toward the mess tent, Jacob turned around and approached Ross. “Hey Ross, got a sec?”
Ross had all day, and he figured a second of it spent talking to Jacob would be tolerable. “Sure.”
“So, Joanie told me you and she are putting together an evacuation plan for the kids.”
“Yeah. Biyomon tells us there are a number of homesteads a few miles east, where it’s flatter. She said she’ll help us get away if things go south.”
Jacob nodded, and looked to the fog in the west. “That’s all good. Nice you got it worked out.”
“Yup.” Ross figured that Jacob was hiding some of his thoughts on the matter. Undoubtedly Jacob was thinking that Ross was looking for an excuse to get away from the armies, and he wouldn’t be wrong about that.
“And believe me, I think you’ve got the right idea on this one. Mind you, I think we can win, and that even if we have to retreat it’ll still probably be safest with the army, but the worst case scenario is that the Virus have got something up their sleeve and we’re toast. If that happens it’s absolutely the right choice to find somewhere to lay low. I’m glad you’re planning for the worst; you always need someone to do that.”
That was Jacob, Ross supposed: always trying to spin discord as cooperation. After all, if Ross had had his way they’d already be long gone. “That’s the idea.”
“And hey, I know things got a bit out of hand when we came back, but us humans from America or the Creators or whatever got to stick together. We still good?”
“Of course.” After all, if Ross didn’t act ‘good’ enough with Jacob, then he’d be on worse terms with Joanie, and it would make things much more difficult when they found themselves alone with the kids following the defeat.
Jacob smiled. “Great. Catch you later, I’m starved.” Jacob slapped Ross on the back and went on his way.
In that moment, Ross felt that BlackAgumon’s earlier description of him and Jacob as ‘snakes’ was perfectly appropriate. He went on his way as well, and didn’t get far before he heard Tatiana calling, “Hey Ross!”
‘I’m popular today,’ thought Ross. “What’s up?”
Tatiana ran up next to him. She looked excited about something. “You’ve got to come see what Joanie found!”
“What is it?”
“Just come on! You’ve got to see it! It’s in the supply tent!”
Ross supposed he could let the knowledge be a surprise. “All right, I’m coming.”
He made a point to walk at his own pace, and Tatiana slowed herself down to match him. When they were getting close to the long supply tent, Tatiana asked him a question in a much more subdued tone than she had used earlier. “So, uh…How’s your…that thing on your butt?”
Ross was confused for a few moments, but then he remembered. “Oh, it’s fine now. Nothing to worry about. Thanks for asking.”
Tatiana nodded, and Ross again felt the desire to punch Jacob in the face. He tried to put it in the back of his mind as he parted the supply tent’s flap and they walked in. Joanie and Michael were squatting on the ground some fifteen yards in, engrossed in conversation.
“I think,” said Michael, “it’s like you can’t see it and then stop yourself, because then you wouldn’t have seen it.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly right. Pretty wild, huh?”
Ross couldn’t make heads or tails of the exchange. “What are you guys talking about?”
Joanie and Michael looked up. “Hey,” said Joanie, “take these for a second.”
Joanie stood up and showed Ross a small, shiny, black stone and a clump of iron. Ross was perplexed, and looked around at everyone’s faces. They were eager about something, and Michael in particular looked like he was overtaken by wonder. Ross raised an eyebrow, trying to think of what was going on. Seeing as there was no better way to find out than to play along, he laid down his spear and took the rock and metal from Joanie.
“All right,” said Ross. He took another look at the stone. Apart from its peculiar luster, he didn’t see anything special about it. “Am I missing something here?”
Tatiana giggled, and Joanie smiled. “Okay,” said Joanie, “take the stone and hit it against the iron, real hard.”
‘Oh please,’ thought Ross. ‘They don’t think I’ve ever seen flint before.’ Unimpressed, but willing to humor them, Ross raised the stone over the iron. And then nothing happened. Ross did not bring his arm down, and the stone did not move.
Ross’s lip began to tremble. He had brought his arm up with the intent of moving it again, and he still had that intent. And it wasn’t as if his arm were paralyzed: he could move it back and forth just fine, and he even managed to bring the stone down slowly and softly to touch the iron, but that was it. He shook his head and brought his arm up again, but still he could not bring it down quickly so as to strike the iron. Or was it ‘would’ not? He didn’t know, and that scared the living daylights out of him.
He looked up, and he could see that Joanie and Tatiana were stifling laughter.
“You have to really mean it,” said Michael. “Don’t think about anything except your arm. Tell yourself you’re going to move it no matter what.”
Ross had no idea how that would help, or why he even needed help for that matter. He took a deep breath and returned his attention to his arm. For a few seconds he just breathed, until finally his mind was absolutely made up.
And then it happened. As soon as Ross shut everything else out of his mind, a brilliant green flash and a hundred sparks erupted from the iron in his hand. Less than a second later, Ross brought his arm down and the stone made impact with a little noise and nothing more.
Ross stood still for several seconds. “Someone tell me what just happened.”
Joanie was more than happy to oblige. “So, imagine that you had hit the iron, but the flash had happened just as you hit it.”
Ross was still reeling, but he followed her. “Okay.”
Michael followed up. “That’s basically what happened, except the flash showed up early.”
Ross looked at the rock, and then back at Joanie. “That’s impossible.”
Joanie grinned and shrugged. “That’s what happened, though.”
“Joanie said it’s a PPTR,” said Tatiana.
This was not helping Ross. “A what?”
“Paradox-Proof Time Rock,” said Michael, who was also grinning.
“Think of it this way,” said Joanie. “When the rock hits the iron, it sends out sparks.” She closed a fist and opened it again to demonstrate. “But, instead of just sending the sparks out into space, it also sends them back in time.” She then moved her hand sideways.
Ross was speechless.
“It fits. That flash came out from just where you were going to hit the iron a split-second later. The reason why you were having trouble going through with it is because what is impossible is for you to see the flash, and then stop yourself in surprise and not hit the iron, because then there wouldn’t be any sparks in the first place!”
It did fit. Ross looked at the rock one more time, and he understood the logic that held the thing together in a temporal sense. He raised the stone again, and this time it took very little hesitation on his part for the sparks to fly and for him to strike the iron. He also noticed this time that the flash seemed to extend through his hand and out the back, though he felt no heat. He smiled a little, and a small laugh even forced its way from his lungs. “This is incredible.”
“It gets better,” said Tatiana. “Watch this!”
Tatiana took the stone from his hand and walked further into the tent. Joanie and Michael backed up closer to the walls and Ross followed suit. Tatiana stopped when she was a number of yards past the closest of the iron poles that held up the ceiling. Ross wondered for a moment what she was up to when suddenly she wound up and delivered. As the rock left her hand, an astoundingly large flash burst from the pole and moved in the direction that the rock was moving. The rock hit the pole with a clang, and the flash kept flying for a good twenty yards before fading. The sparks from the impact hung and danced in the air for several seconds before they too disappeared.
Ross’s jaw hung open. As Tatiana retrieved the stone, Joanie spoke again. “It seems like the more force the rock has on impact, the more pronounced the effect is.”
“No kidding. How did you find this thing?”
“Dumb luck. I was walking around and looking for some spare blankets when my foot slipped on it. I picked it up and was about to throw it, and I just didn’t.”
Ross was in awe. The awe, however, began to slip away when Joanie spoke again. And when Ross heard what she said, he began to think that she didn’t truly believe that she had found the stone through ‘dumb luck.’
“I think we can make something to help Jacob with this.”
Here Ross had been so happy to see something so fantastic, and now she had to remind him that the battle was approaching. “How so?”
Joanie took the stone back from Tatiana and examined it closely. “Garurumon said a while ago that one of their big problems is that it’s hard to make an organized retreat when everyone’s so spread out.”
Ross’s first thought was to make something that would surprise the enemy, but this was a much different matter. “Go on.”
“Judging by how far the flash went when Tatiana threw it, I’ll bet that the distance the flash travels is closely tied to how far the rock would have traveled had there been no impact. I think if I could break down and reshape this rock—and it seems brittle enough for that—I could get it to fit on a crossbow bolt.”
“You want to make a signal flare.”
“That’s right. All the crossbow would need is a piece of metal fixed to the front end for the rock to hit.”
Ross thought about it for a moment. “That makes some sense. There could be someone keeping watch in a high place where they can see the whole battle. And if things get really bad, they start firing signals for retreat.”
Joanie nodded, and then made some indentations in the short grass with her finger. “Ideally the watchers would be somewhere to the side of the fighting.”
Michael asked, “So the soldiers don’t have to turn around to see the signal?”
Ross thought about this a little more. “Depending on how close the battle is to the camp, and how bright the flash is, everyone here might be able to see it too.”
“That would be perfect,” said Joanie. “Oh, but there is the fog to consider, though.”
Ross had forgotten about the fog. That could indeed through a wrench into the whole thing. “We’ll test it out. This is too good an opportunity to ignore.”
“Of course. We ought to go talk to Garurumon about it now.”
Joanie and Ross stood up to leave, and Michael handed Ross his spear. “Thanks. We do have crossbows, right?”
“There are some in the back,” said Tatiana.
The four left the tent, and went looking for Garurumon. As they looked for him, Ross contemplated his responsibility to keep the little ones out of harm’s way. This was perhaps just the opportunity he needed to make sure they could escape from this impending disaster, despite all of Jacob’s reckless efforts to the contrary.
The days were passing quickly, and the outlook throughout the camp was not growing more optimistic.
The sun was dropping in the western sky, and it lit the surrounding clouds on fire. For the third time that week the hills were mostly free of fog, but overhead it was dark and promised rain. It had been one week and six days since Ross had sat around the Gazimon’s campfire, and Biyomon had just returned from her scouting mission with the news that the Virus army was moving east, and would reach the camp in four hours at their current pace. It was time to march out to meet them.
Ross was squatting next to BlackAgumon, double-checking that he had everything. He had his spear, a modified crossbow, a number of ordinary bolts, and one bolt made of the unusual stone. He was ready. He slung the crossbow over his shoulder, took his spear in hand, and stood up. It was then that Joanie approached him from behind, and BlackAgumon frowned. “No goodbyes this time. We have to get to the Bluff before the fighting starts.”
Joanie understood. “Then I’ll walk with you for a while.”
BlackAgumon nodded and then began to lead the way out of the camp. On their way down the hill they passed Jacob and a group of six Agumon. The Agumon all looked away, BlackAgumon kept his eyes forward, and Jacob waved to Ross and Joanie. “See you later, Ross!”
“Good luck out there.” Ross was by no means over his anger at Jacob, but he did mean it when he said that.
“And be careful,” said Joanie.
“Don’t worry about me! Just watch out for the kids!”
And that was the last Ross heard from Jacob before they passed the spiked barricade. He now let out some of his frustration. “What a nutcase.”
“Don’t say that about him,” said Joanie.
“All right.” It pained Ross how thoroughly Joanie defended that snake. All three of them were silent for some time.
“Not that I don’t love the company,” said BlackAgumon eventually, “but didn’t you come along just to say goodbye?”
Joanie sighed. “I really appreciate you doing this, BlackAgumon.”
“Think nothing of it. It wouldn’t make sense to have a Vaccine do the job; they’d stick out like a sore thumb.”
“I think she means you doing the job in addition to me.”
“Ah. But what, would you do it alone? That’s a laugh. You wouldn’t even be able to find the place.”
Ross would have felt that he was being babysat, but his adept capabilities at carrying things and using thumbs made him invaluable for this mission. “Fair enough.”
“By the way, it’s a great use you all found for those little rocks. I had always wondered why Angemon insisted on keeping them.”
“How long have you known about them?” asked Joanie.
“Everyone’s always known about them. We didn’t think they were anything more than an oddity to provide light amusement for the simple.”
It should have been funny, but nobody laughed. They reached the crest of a hill and could see the mountain range to the northwest, toward which they were veering. Ross was starting to get worried that Joanie wasn’t going to leave them, so he moved things along. “Keep a close eye out for the signal. You and the kids need to head for a homestead as soon as you see it.”
“We’ll be okay. We’ve got Biyomon to help us. The kids love her, and they’d follow her anywhere.”
“The same goes for you.”
“Isn’t this all touching,” said BlackAgumon.
Joanie ignored him. “Be careful. The enemy’s bound to see that signal too.”
“We know,” said BlackAgumon. “We won’t be sticking around once it’s over.”
Joanie began to slow a bit, and Ross understood her. “Bye then.”
Joanie reached out and touched his shoulder. “God bless,” she said before she turned around and headed back to the camp where the children were waiting.
Ross shook his head. Even his obvious aversion to all things God couldn’t discourage her from telling him ‘good luck’ in the most sincere way she knew how.
Now that Joanie was gone, BlackAgumon hastened his pace to the point where it got tricky for Ross to keep up. For the next hour they walked up some hills and around some others, and as they went the hills grew steeper and taller. Eventually they reached a rocky path that changed their course from northwest to simple west. Ross looked to his left and was amazed at how far he could see. The vast forest was visible far in the distance, and he could even make out the tents on the large plateau behind them. He also made out some movement in the hills: several groups of small orange figures. He was trying to spot Garurumon when BlackAgumon spoke to him. “Look there.”
He faced forward, and saw that BlackAgumon was pointing west and a little south. At the very edge of the hills at the horizon there were three black shadows spaced well apart. Ross swallowed, and he knew what he was looking at.
“I had a feeling it was three,” said BlackAgumon.
It was twenty more minutes moving west until BlackAgumon turned south and away from the path. They climbed a gentle slope until they reached the top and found themselves at the edge of a steep cliff. “This is Seraphimon’s Bluff,” said BlackAgumon. “I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.”
As Ross looked around he could see that BlackAgumon was right. The hills before him and the army walking through them were now far clearer, even though the sun was getting very low. When Ross focused, he found that he could even discern an Agumon’s eye. He scanned the entirety of Angemon’s forces, finding Jacob’s unit at the southern edge, Garurumon a few hills north of there, and lastly Unimon at the northern edge, closest to where he was standing.
“You might as well sit,” said BlackAgumon. “We’re going to be here a while.”
Ross sat next to BlackAgumon and laid down his spear and the crossbow. And then with heart heavy he looked to his right and saw the three towering monsters. They easily dwarfed Garurumon and Unimon in size, and the twin claws on their arms gave Ross a chill. In front of them were many bands of Gazimon darting from hill to hill. Ross counted perhaps twice as many of them as he counted Agumon. As one of the DarkTyrannomon let loose a roar that just barely reached his ears, Ross asked, “How long do you think until the fighting starts?”
“Less than a quarter of an hour. The DarkTyrannomon are terribly sensitive when it comes to detecting attributes, so they should begin a ranged attack shortly. They aren’t terribly accurate, but it will force the Vaccine to engage the Gazimon more directly than they’d like.”
“What’s the Vaccine’s strategy?”
“The Adult levels—Garurumon and Unimon—will try to break through or get around the grunts and take down the DarkTyrannomon one-on-one. The others and your friend Jacob will try as best they can to trap the units of Gazimon and split them up. If there were only two DarkTyrannomon and only two-thirds as many Gazimon, this battle would be no problem for the Vaccine. Or, for that matter, if Angemon were here.”
Ross glanced at BlackAgumon, who was fuming. “It’s so typical,” said BlackAgumon. “I stick my neck out to get that deceitful coward everything he needs to know, and he leaves before I can get it to him.”
It was then that Ross felt a few raindrops. He looked again at the Virus army, and this time he looked at the feet of the center DarkTyrannomon. Walking just one hill in front of those feet was a figure he had not seen before. It was a young man, clad in gray clothes and a black cape. At his side Ross could just make out what appeared to be a black scabbard for a longsword.
“And what about the Commander?” asked Ross. “What are they planning to do about him?”
BlackAgumon looked where Ross was looking, and shivered. “For the time being, they’re going to ignore him. They’re hoping that he has no real powers or strength—like you and your friends—and that the Virus are just using him as a tool of propaganda for the grunts.”
Ross looked as hard as he could at the Commander. His face seemed to be obscured by scars and bandages. “And what if he’s no fake? What are they going to do then?”
“They’ll play it by ear.”
It didn’t strike Ross as a great plan. He kept staring at the Commander, and the longer he stared the worse he felt about him. After a number of minutes, the Commander stopped in his tracks, and the DarkTyrannomon followed suit. The rain picked up, and the Commander reached for the sword at his side. He drew it and swung it in the direction of Angemon’s army as his cape billowed in the wind. Immediately the DarkTyrannomon reared their heads, and then launched massive balls of fire from their mouths. The shots soared over the Vaccine forces and made impact several hills back, leaving three smoldering craters.
And so began the battle. Once the shots were fired, Angemon’s army began to advance. “You’d better load that crossbow now,” said BlackAgumon. “We don’t know how long this will last.”
Ross reached into his pocket and brought out the special bolt. He only stopped to look at how it shone for a moment before he placed it in front of the bowstring. It took all of his strength to pull the string back to the catch; the flash was certainly going to fly high. He kept the crossbow in his lap, and continued to watch.
The Vaccine’s strongest wing seemed to be to the south. There Garurumon was jogging ahead of three units of Agumon, one of which contained Jacob. When they got close enough, Garurumon sped into a sprint and bounded clear from one hill to another right over the heads of a mass of Gazimon. The Gazimon turned around in the hopes of flanking him, but they were shortly flanked themselves by a barrage of small fireballs from the Agumon.
Meanwhile, Garurumon ran on and confronted the south-most DarkTyrannomon. Ross could see that the dinosaur’s teeth were smoking and shaking, which he interpreted to mean that for a short time a fire attack was out of the question. This left the twin claws, and though they were swung with tremendous force, they were not quick enough to strike Garurumon. Ross saw a brilliant streak of dancing blue flame shoot forth from the wolf’s mouth, and it scarred the DarkTyrannomon’s face.
On the north wing, Unimon appeared to be doing just as well as Garurumon. He had flown over the Gazimon with ease, and was now harassing the north-most DarkTyrannomon with a series of white energy blasts.
“It looks like they’re doing fine,” said Ross.
“It does look that way, doesn’t it?”
It was then that Ross remembered the Commander, and scanned the battlefield for him. He found him in front of the center DarkTyrannomon, who was raising his head to prepare for another shot. The Commander was half squatting and half kneeling. He held his right hand to his chest, and was facing the ground.
“What is he doing?” muttered Ross to himself as he wiped the rain from his arms.
The battle raged on, and Ross looked mostly at the Commander. His eyes strayed only momentarily to see Jacob far in the distance dodging and then stabbing a Gazimon, and later to see Garurumon avoid a blast of fire and then jump at the DarkTyrannomon’s throat, knocking it over. While all this went on the Commander did nothing, until finally he stood again.
In that moment the rain fell harder still, and a sound of rolling thunder came from miles away. The Commander raised his right arm to the heavens, and Ross could feel something in the air that set his hair on end. BlackAgumon felt it too. “Something’s happening.”
A mighty gale swept eastward over the hills and battered Ross’s face. The wind grew stronger and stronger, until at last it happened. A towering bolt of white lightning burst from the heavens and struck the Commander’s welcoming hand. The Commander took this in passing, and held his ground with no effort at all. He then kept his hand in the air as he turned around and aimed his palm at the center DarkTyrannomon.
The DarkTyrannomon began to twitch, and bucked his head back and forth. Its body began to spark with little flashes of electricity, and the flashes grew quicker and brighter until the entire creature acted as a strobe light. And then before Ross’s very eyes the monster appeared to grow.
“No!” shouted BlackAgumon. “No! This can’t be happening!”
All of the fighting had ceased as both armies gaped at the event. The body was approaching twice its previous size when the most terrifying screech Ross had ever heard burst forth from it. It was as if the DarkTyrannomon’s ordinary cry had been amplified and accompanied by grinding gears and twisting steel, and it shook the very ground on which Ross sat.
“Fire the signal! Now!”
Ross did not hesitate. He raised the crossbow to the heavens, and in an instant there erupted a green light that nearly blinded him. As the flash shot to the clouds for all those in the surrounding miles to see, he pulled the trigger. While thousands of sparks hung in the air over his head, Ross’s sight returned to him and he could see that the center DarkTyrannomon had turned into a colossal, biomechanical dinosaur.
Unimon wasted no more time in flying away from his earlier foe and straight at the new monster. As the winged horse fired some shots that merely glanced off the thing’s armor, BlackAgumon pressed his claws to his head and despaired. “He made him evolve to Perfect level. This is a disaster. The whole region is lost. That damned MetalTyrannomon! That damned Commander!”
Irritated with Unimon, MetalTyrannomon raised his left arm and aimed his palm at him. Unimon folded his wings and dived just quickly enough to avoid the concentrated blast of energy that followed. The shot climbed into the sky and retained its shape even as it sailed over the mountains. When Ross saw how long the new monster’s range was, a horrible thought occurred to him. “No.”
Unimon got too close, and a swing of MetalTyrannomon’s arm was enough to swat him out of the way. MetalTyrannomon then turned to the east, and aimed his arm well past Angemon’s retreating army.
Ross rose to his feet and looked to the east as well. “Joanie!”
No one heard him besides BlackAgumon as a flash of blue sent a second shot clear over the hills and straight to the Vaccine camp. When Ross strained his eyes, he could see that the plateau had been completely smote, and that all of the tents were gone.
July 1st, 2012 (6:18 PM).
Though I have to admit that I am fond of the Tyrannomon family. They're one of my absolute favorite Digimon families, so to see DarkTyrannomon and MetalTyrannomon in this fic made me happy.
I still like how Jacob and Ross are written. They're not the obvious "leader" and "lone wolf", but they do have those qualities. Jacob wants to do the right thing, and Ross wants to do the safe thing. And they're old enough to keep their feelings in check to be helpful during the war.
Since you ended this chapter on a cliffhanger, you know I'm looking forward to more. Especially to find out more about the Commander, who seems like a much more badass version of the Kaiser from 02.
September 11th, 2012 (6:27 PM). Edited December 7th, 2012 by icomeanon6.
[Once again, I eat my words after giving an expected update date. Extended power outage, laptop failure, school, long story.
Anyway, new chapter. Enjoy!]
Chapter 5: Utter Defeat, and Flight to the Mountains
The rain and the wind began to let up. The Commander’s forces would need no further assistance from the sky. Ross barely noticed; he was frozen in place as he stared at the hill where the Vaccine camp had stood. His mind was occupied with perceived numbers: how many seconds it should have taken for Joanie and the kids to scramble from the hill, and how many seconds there had been between his signal and the blast. As near as he could guess, it was thirty seconds between when he fired and when MetalTyrannomon fired, and depending on where Joanie had been and how quickly she had seen the flare, she could have been gone anywhere from twelve seconds to sixty. So they had roughly a two in five chance of being alive. Or one in five. Or one in a hundred. It made him sick.
Ross was jarred from this train of thought by BlackAgumon, who was now roused from his despair and spoke with urgency. “Pick up your things! We have to leave!”
Ross turned around. He saw the Virus forces marching forward, but apart from them there were three figures running northeast, right in his direction. They were the Commander and two Gazimon, and they moved with impossible speed. Behind them the dark clouds opened and revealed the sun, which had not quite set. Now that the cover of nightfall was delayed, Ross became aware of how exposed he and BlackAgumon were.
With head reeling, Ross slung the crossbow over his shoulder and grabbed his spear. BlackAgumon was already running north and down the slope. “Hurry!”
Ross took one last look over his shoulder and saw the Commander bounding from the crest of a hill that was too close. With that he turned and ran as fast as his legs could carry him, trying to catch up with BlackAgumon.
They ran for half a mile on the rocky path. Ross’s heart was pounding, begging him to give up and stop, but he didn’t want to be caught dead near the Commander after what had happened. BlackAgumon frequently had to slow down so Ross wouldn’t fall too far behind. Squat as he was, BlackAgumon’s legs were several times stronger than those of an ordinary teenager. Panting as he ran, Ross asked him, “Where are we running to? The camp’s gone.”
“We’re going to turn north, into the mountains. If we’re lucky we might lose them.”
When they neared the crest of a tall hill Ross stumbled and scraped his knees. As he pulled himself back up he glanced over his shoulder. They were not going to be lucky, Ross could tell: the Commander and the Gazimon were only four hills behind them. As he and BlackAgumon left the path and ran up a draw in the mountains, they could hear the Gazimon laughing.
As they scrambled through a harsh ravine, Ross wondered if this mess was his fault. If he had only been thinking, they might have left as soon as he fired the signal, and then they may have gotten far enough away that the Gazimon wouldn’t have been able to hone in on BlackAgumon’s attribute. For that matter, if he weren’t so slow and exhausted they might have gotten away regardless. After they cleared a boulder that was blocking their path, BlackAgumon said, “This is futile. We’ll have to find some high ground soon and make a stand.”
They ran on, and Ross asked between gasps, “What are our chances?”
BlackAgumon snarled. “We’ll find out. Just move it, you slug!”
Ross’s legs objected, but they obeyed as well as they could. BlackAgumon’s pace quickened, and now it took all that Ross had to keep him within eyeshot. In the last of the daylight, BlackAgumon was hard to spot, and this could serve only to hurt Ross, not to conceal them from their pursuers. He could hear them jeering now.
“Keep running, scumbags! Make it easier for us! Ha!”
Those were the Gazimon, and though they were certainly threatening, they did not move Ross to any real fear. The fear came from the Commander, as for the first time Ross heard his voice. It came on a wind from his back that picked up suddenly: the darkest laugh he had ever heard. It was in one sense quiet, and barely reached the ear, and yet it pushed other sounds and even other senses out of the mind. It felt malicious to the point where it was nauseating, and after a few moments Ross nearly despaired and collapsed.
But then a roar came from in front of him, and the wind died down. “Keep moving!”
It was BlackAgumon, and it was enough for Ross to regain control of his muscles and push on. They ran a mere twenty yards further when BlackAgumon stopped and studied the rock wall in front of him. He muttered, “This is it,” and began to climb. “Toss up your spear. This is where we’ll hold them off.”
Ross nodded. His heart was beating so hard that it hurt, but he wasn’t about to give up and wait at the bottom for the Commander to catch up. He took a step back and threw his spear over the top of the wall, where it landed safely. He then clambered after BlackAgumon, and with some difficulty he reached the wide, deep shelf some fifteen feet above the bottom. After taking a moment to catch his breath he grabbed his spear again, and then he noticed the statues.
They were each twice the size of a grown man, and they stood at opposite ends of the stone platform. On the left was an angel with two wings—in contrast to Angemon’s six. With its long right arm it pointed at and slightly above the other statue, which was a cowering, sickly, man-like figure squatting over a beast’s carcass. Ross had no time to contemplate the statues, as BlackAgumon brought him back to the danger at hand. “Get the bow ready! This is our chance!”
Ross felt in his jacket pocket for the bolts and stumbled back to the edge of the wall. He unslung the crossbow and with great effort pulled the string back to the catch. He set the bolt, and looked down into the ravine. The Commander and the Gazimon were just visible some fifty yards away, vague figures of gray among the shadows. Ross lined up the Commander with the bow’s two sights.
But the Commander would not stay in line. He would run, and Ross’s hands could not stop shaking. On top of that, when Ross would get the rare two seconds when the shot was perfect, his finger on the trigger would go limp. He motioned with his lips, ‘Not human. He’s not human. It’s not human,’ but to no avail. His finger didn’t believe him.
“What are you doing!” cried BlackAgumon. “Shoot him!”
Ross gritted his teeth, and swore at himself. Without knowing why, he turned his aim away from the Commander and picked out one of the Gazimon. He lined up the sights, pulled the trigger, and the bolt flew straight from the bow and into its target’s forehead.
BlackAgumon was furious. “Damn it! What’s the matter with you?”
The two pursuers were now twenty five yards away from the wall, which was too close for Ross to get another shot, but just close enough for BlackAgumon. He reared his head, and Ross backed out of the way. The sheer size and heat of the white blast took Ross by surprise as he watched it light up the ravine. It flew straight, and for a moment it seemed that their luck had changed. And then out of nowhere the fire veered to the right and engulfed the remaining Gazimon instead of its intended target. The Commander was utterly undaunted by his subordinate’s dying scream and approached the final stretch.
BlackAgumon, with teeth steaming and shaking, said, “Grab your spear. Get ready.”
Ross fumbled for his spear and staggered to his feet, but he wasn’t ready. When he looked up, the Commander was hanging in midair with sword drawn. BlackAgumon managed to fire a small shot at him, but a wave of his left arm sent this flame wide as well. The Commander landed from his twenty-foot leap with ease, and a swing of his iron blade sent BlackAgumon jumping back.
From there things happened far too quickly. The Commander turned and dashed at Ross, who just barely raised his spear in time to block the sword. Amid the fury of swings and thrusts, Ross caught a glimpse of the Commander’s face with its scars, bandages, and manic grin. Then Ross blinked once and the sword was too close for him to stop. He cried out when it slashed his arm, and then a swift punch to the gut knocked all the breath out of him. He staggered to the side of the mountain, fell over, and nearly blacked out.
Ross heard the sounds of a struggle, and when his eyes focused again he saw that the Commander had BlackAgumon pinned to a boulder by the neck with one hand, and was ready to stab with the other. When Ross tried to move a jolt of pain came from his abdomen that was too much to overcome. He had to listen to what happened next.
“It seems there’s been a misunderstanding, little one—is it BlackAgumon? The last time I checked, you were supposed to be working for me.”
It was the same despicable voice as that laugh. It made Ross wish that he had blacked out after all.
“If I’d known they were going to make us report to someone like you I would have left years earlier.”
The Commander laughed. “You left? Whatever made you think you could truly leave? You are Virus, you are Child level, and that means you are mine. If you don’t give me any more trouble, I might just stab you to death and leave it at that. Your comrades the Gazimon will hate me for punishing a traitor so lightly, but such is the price of being merciful!”
The Commander grinned all the wider at his own parody of self-sacrifice. BlackAgumon was unmoved. “I won’t die in answer to a snake like you. You would make slaves of us all, you and that warped council that sent you here!”
The Commander’s grin diminished, and his eyes grew harsher. “You have no say in the matter. I will command, and you will obey.” With those last words, his voice lost its dark mirth and gained a darker anger. “Show me your true self.”
A breeze sprung up out of nowhere. BlackAgumon’s eyes began to flicker around the edges, and he jerked his head back and forth. “No! You can’t make me!”
“What’s the matter? You don’t like the Gift of the Virus? Is that why you tried to flee to the service of the Forbidden City, traitor?”
BlackAgumon clawed at the stone behind him and let out a pained groan, trying to keep control. His eyes were growing cloudier when the breeze became a strong wind.
BlackAgumon’s body broke into spasms, and his eyes finally turned completely red and glowed bright. With this the Commander’s grin returned, and he tossed BlackAgumon aside with a loud laugh. BlackAgumon sprung to his feet, and with a deafening roar he charged at the Commander.
Ross shut his eyes, but not before he saw what happened. The Commander thrust his sword straight into BlackAgumon’s mouth and pierced his brain. Ross’s head spun. He wanted to forget everything that had happened since he came to this miserable place.
The Commander pulled his sword out of BlackAgumon’s head and stepped over to where Ross was lying. Ross found himself pulled up by the neck, which brought further and more intense pain from his gut. He opened his eyes and looked at his enemy, who seemed to be having the time of his life.
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m a human sent from the World of Creators to lead the Virus to victory over the Forbidden City.”
Ross didn’t believe him for a second. No person from his own world could ever have done what he had. No one could take the full force of a lightning bolt and use it to turn a giant dinosaur into an even larger, metal dinosaur. “You’re not human. That’s impossible.”
The Commander scoffed at him. “You don’t think so? I do hope I haven’t gone too native; I’ve only been here for a year, after all.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Think about all the other ‘impossible’ things you’ve undoubtedly seen since you got here. Is one other human who knows a few humble parlor tricks really so farfetched?”
This was pointless, Ross thought. His side was crying out in pain, and more than anything else he wanted it all to be over.
“You talk too much, you sick bastard.”
“Ha! You’re absolutely right, of course. And for that matter, I suppose your time’s about up, anyway. Nothing personal; it’s just unfortunate that you happened to land on the wrong side of the war. Can’t call you a traitor, so no ironic execution for you. I’ll make this quick.”
The Commander raised his sword, which was still caked in blood. He aimed the tip right between Ross’s eyes, and held it in place for several seconds. At first Ross just stared at the blade, but when nothing happened his eyes strayed back to the Commander’s face. There was something odd in his eyes, some momentary flash of apprehension. But then they were back to normal. “I’ll be damned. The sword says it isn’t your time yet, after all.”
Ross got no chance to say anything to this. The Commander tossed him to the ground, and kicked him so that he rolled on his stomach. “Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this, though!”
With that the Commander swung his sword and carved a gash across Ross’s chest. Ross cried out in agony, and the Commander simply laughed some more before he walked back to the rock wall and jumped down.
Though his entire body protested as he did so, Ross turned his head to catch one last look at BlackAgumon. At that moment the moon came out from behind a cloud, and Ross knew then that his eyes must be deceiving him. BlackAgumon was not only dead, but was fading from existence. Over the course of ninety agonizing seconds, Ross saw the body disappear entirely. All that was left was the pool of blood.
He looked back up to the sky. The pain did not subside. His eyes welled up with tears, and he could feel his own blood trickling down beneath his shirt. For a moment his thoughts went out to Joanie, and he was certain that she was dead, as were the kids, and Jacob, and Agumon, and probably even Garurumon. He was alone, and if he kept bleeding he was sure to die along with the others.
As his senses began shutting off, he was filled with one thought only, and that was revenge. He wanted desperately to chase after the Commander, to break his arms and knees and then tear his throat out. Even as he finally slipped into unconsciousness, he was still cursing the Commander with every word he knew for it.
June 16th, 2014 (9:34 PM).
[I'm going to be frank, people: most of the time I'm too busy with school to write fanfiction or to be active on PCFF&W. It kills me because I love you guys and this story is really, really important to me and I really, really want to finish it. It wouldn't be right of me to promise anything, though.
This summer's looking good, and I'm going to try to write as much as I can. Chapter 7's already written, and if I don't finish chapter 8 before two weeks pass I'm just going to post it.
So now for that cliffhanger. Is everyone actually dead? Let's find out!]
Chapter 6: The Homestead, and a Long Rest
For many hours Ross would periodically half-wake to fitful pain that would always convince his brain to fall back asleep. And then for once the pain wasn’t quite so bad. He managed to crack his eyes open, and he caught a vague shape. It seemed like a girl who was about his own age, which was a comforting thought. Then two smaller shapes came into view, probably children. It looked like one of them was wearing a pair of goggles on her forehead. At the sight of this, he remembered where he was, and his eyes opened wider and were fully resolved with his mind.
“Ross? How are you feeling?”
Ross looked at Joanie’s face, and for a few moments he thought he could cry. “You’re alive.”
Joanie smiled. “Yup. Thanks to you.”
Ross smiled back, and then decided to sit up. He regretted it instantly, as every muscle he moved ached terribly.
“It still hurts?” asked Michael.
Ross nodded, and then noticed that something felt off. He clutched his hand to his chest and found that he had been bandaged up. His jacket hung from his shoulders, and his shirt was missing.
“Two nasty cuts,” said Joanie, “but it wasn’t bleeding too bad by the time we got here.”
Ross felt his chest and then his left bicep. “When was that?”
Tatiana answered him. “A few hours after the sun came up. Biyomon told us where you and BlackAgumon would probably try to run.”
“That’s where we found signs of a struggle,” said Joanie. “All the kids are back at the Homestead.”
At the mention of BlackAgumon Ross felt his throat tighten. He looked over to his right, where the rocks were stained red. The others noticed. “What happened?” asked Joanie.
Ross bit his lip. So many terrible, impossible things had happened the night before that he couldn’t wrap his head around them. He kept his answer to the most pertinent information. “The Commander. He killed BlackAgumon.” Ross felt the gash on his chest again. “I thought he killed me, too.”
Joanie was still fixed on the red stones. “Why did he take his body, and not yours?”
Ross shook his head. The Commander had left them both here, but how could he explain that? “We’ll talk later. Let’s get a move on.” He tried to prop himself up with his arms, and found that his left one still hurt too bad to help. He shifted all his weight to the right, and groaned as he rose to his feet.
When Michael saw that Ross’s knees were shaking just to stay standing, he asked, “Are you sure you can walk?”
“Just give me a minute.”
This was no exaggeration, as Ross couldn’t get his muscles to move comfortably and reliably right away. In the meantime, Tatiana and Michael began gathering up their things. They had enough food and water for three days, and for protection they had Joanie’s bow. When Ross was ready, he asked for his shirt, which was in a sorry state. The small, red stain from their first night in the storm was now joined by larger stains and a long tear across the front.
Tatiana looked away as Ross re-clothed himself with some difficulty. Her eyes were drawn to the two statues, especially at the one in the shape of an angel. There was little in the way of fine detail, and the angel’s tunic was simple. The only feature that distinguished it from a simple man with wings was its blindfold. “Why do all the angels here have their eyes covered?” asked Tatiana of no one in particular.
‘Because “angels” arise from the willful ignorance of reality,’ Ross wanted to say, but didn’t.
Joanie and Michael didn't have any answers they wanted to say aloud either. “Maybe we can ask Angemon if we see him again,” said Michael, who was focusing on the other statue. It appeared to be a large man hunched over the carcass of an elk-like creature. The animal was made to look covered in wounds, and as if its throat had been opened and emptied. The man’s teeth and nails had been filed to points. He held his arms in front of his face, as if in fear of the angel’s attention.
“The angel’s clear enough, but I wonder who or what the man is,” said Joanie.
Ross looked at the angel’s outstretched arm and pointing finger and shook his head: judgment from heaven. “He’s probably in violation of the Vaccines’ hunting ordinances.”
Michael’s expression hardened, and he turned to Ross. “Do you think the animal’s just an animal, or is he like Garurumon and Agumon?”
Ross hadn’t thought about that. It would certainly put the statues’ scene into a different light. He had been quick to judge, which in his mind made him too much like those who put stock in angels. “Sorry. That was a bad joke.” He swung his right leg back and forth without any real problem. “I think I’m ready to hike, now.”
Tatiana picked up the crossbow and spear and handed them to Ross, and then they were ready. After a slow, careful climb down the rock wall they found themselves at the top of the trail.
It was slow going, even though there was a fairly easy path moving east through the foothills. An hour into the journey Ross expressed some doubts about walking out in the open like this, but Joanie said in a hushed tone, “According to Biyomon most of the Virus forces either went straight for the mountains further east than where we’re headed, or are pursuing remnants of Angemon’s troops to the south. On top of that, they can’t sense us from a distance, so our chances are good.”
“Also,” said Tatiana, “We don’t want to spend another night out here, and the trail’s quicker.”
“I wouldn’t guess that it’s more direct,” said Ross. He felt a sharp ache in his chest with the next step he made, and Joanie seemed to read his mind.
“In this case easier might be faster.”
Ross nodded, and concentrated on moving. He had to use his spear as a walking stick, but his legs were working and that was good enough. Even so, he could not get rid of this anxiety about the enemies that were surely nearby.
Another two hours passed, and when Ross turned around at the top of a hill, he saw that the sun was nearing the horizon. And all of a sudden he jumped as shrill voices reached his ears from the east. Joanie signaled to everyone, and they left the path and made their way down the hill as quietly as they could.
“Are those the Gazimon?” asked Tatiana.
The cackling voices belonged to two or three individuals. Ross couldn’t make out what they were saying, but the pitch was unmistakable. “That’s them.”
“Do they know we’re here?” asked Michael.
Ross wasn’t sure, and he suspected that Joanie wasn’t sure either when she said, “No. We were too far away, and we were only up high for a moment.”
Ross was unconvinced: they could have been spotted some time earlier as well. Still, it made no sense to risk the kids panicking. All they could do was start moving away with caution, keeping low and ready to fight if need be. Joanie was thinking the same thing, and she led them southward for a time. The grass was wild and thick, and Ross quickly missed the path.
The minutes that followed were long, but they heard nothing more from the Gazimon. After a time Joanie steered them toward the left, and they went southeast until they reached a small yet strong river. This they followed south, until the hills turned into plains and the sun sank out of sight. Twilight came and almost passed, until finally at the edge of his vision Ross saw a small girl sitting on a rock at the end of a bridge. The girl jumped up, waved, and ran over the bridge shouting “They’re back! They’re back!”
Joanie smiled, and said “We made it.”
Before long they crossed over the bridge as well, and found a scene of irrigated fields near an old, earthen hovel. Between them and the hovel were the six other children, Biyomon, and a number of small, soft creatures with bright faces. They all cheered to see the return of the older ones, and Joanie hugged them each in turn. Ross even shook a few of their hands as they all walked back to the house.
They had reached the Homestead, and as he passed the threshold and found himself surrounded by four walls and a ceiling, Ross knew that at least for while they were finally safe.
Ross was sitting by himself on a ragged mat in the corner of the room. Three of the kids (Ross decided he would make a point to commit their names to memory later) were helping Biyomon prepare dinner, and the rest were playing with what he guessed were baby Vaccine. Joanie had instructed them all not to bother him for the time being, and he didn’t object. The blood loss seemed to be catching up to him, and his head felt dangerously light. It just now hit him that since they hadn’t risked stopping to eat on the trail, it had been more than twenty four hours since he had last eaten. Food would help, he was sure.
One of the young girls, whom Ross correctly remembered as Rebecca, finally came over holding a candle. “Biyomon says dinner’s ready.”
Ross nodded, and felt his eyes start rolling back but he snapped out of it quickly. “Thanks. I’m coming.”
Ross stood up and surveyed the room. It was a wholly Spartan abode with one window, one door, and all dirt surfaces except for some exposed wooden beams in the ceiling. It was also small enough that a few candles provided more than enough light for everyone. As far as Ross was concerned, though, it was perfect.
The dinner was perfect in the same way. It consisted solely of the grain dish that they were introduced to back at the camp, and bowls were scarce so everyone paired up. Ross shared his with one of the boys, and during the course of the meal’s conversation he learned that this one’s name was Carlos. All of the children clearly wanted to know what the story was with him, Jacob, and the battle, but it seemed they all understood that they weren’t to ask any questions of him. This didn’t present much of a problem, as Tatiana was more than willing to tide them over with the story of their adventure in finding Ross and bringing him back.
While she gave her spiel (with many embellishments and exaggerations which were mostly modest) Ross took the time to examine some of the baby Vaccine. They were very simple in form compared with Biyomon and Agumon, to say nothing of Angemon. For many of them their heads were effectively their entire bodies, and all looked very soft. In truth they made Ross feel somewhat uncomfortable, as they reminded him of the vicious red creatures from their first night in the woods.
Something else about them bothered Ross as well. They clearly couldn’t take care of themselves between their size and their scarcity of functioning appendages, but Biyomon had spent far too much time at the camp to be their primary guardian. The sacks of grain that lay in the corner showed that someone had been harvesting before Joanie and the children had come here, and that someone's absence was conspicuous.
Ross put all this from his mind when he heard Joanie interrupt the riveting tale.
“…I think the story’s gotten a little out of hand, Tat. We were never actually near the Gazimon, so you don’t know if their teeth were that big!”
The children laughed, and so did a few of the young Vaccine. Carlos asked Tatiana, “Do you know how big their bodies were, though?” He glanced a few times at Ross in vain hope.
Ross had no chance to indulge him, as Tatiana provided her own answer without missing a beat. “Six feet tall, at least!”
Michael and maybe one of the other children smirked, but the rest bought it completely. Ross shook his head, and decided he would indulge them after all. “Okay, she knows that’s not right either.” Tatiana grinned, and Ross continued. “The Gazimon are only about the size of Biyomon, maybe a hair larger.”
He had half-hoped that this would make the children less interested, but sure enough he now had the undivided attention of everyone in the room. His first inclination was to say his head was still fuzzy and ask Joanie to tell them more. But then he glanced at her, and she looked expectant. It wasn’t a push, but more a reminder of his responsibilities to the younger ones. It wasn’t fair to merely protect them from a distance; they needed adults who were present. “So no, they’re not very big, but they’re nasty, and their claws are sharp and they run fast. If you ever see or hear one, you need to either come get me, Joanie, or Biyomon, or hide somewhere. They won’t find you very easily.”
The little ones nodded, and one of the Vaccine asked him in a nervous tone, “Can you fight one? Can you beat it?”
Ross bit his lip. “Not easily, but yes. I can fight them.”
Another Vaccine piped up, this one with much more energy. “Me too! I can beat a Gazimon!”
The other tiny creatures dissented in a chorus of nuh-uh and cannot. “Can too! I’m gonna evolve real soon, you’ll see!”
The little one waved his stub-like appendages in the air, doing his best to show his battle readiness. The other baby Vaccine protested further at this brash assertion of impending evolution, and the human children regarded him with curiosity. Ross, on the other hand, swallowed hard. He could still see the blinding lights, and feel the ground shake beneath him. More than anything, he remembered the helplessness in the face of unimaginable force.
“What do you mean ‘evolve?’” asked Rebecca.
The baby Vaccine were at a loss for words. How could you answer a question that you didn’t even know could be asked? Biyomon, who had so far been happy to just listen, was about to try and explain when Ross started. “It…”
He stumbled. He didn’t know why he was doing this. Perhaps it was just to straighten out his thoughts on the matter. “It’s how they grow here. It’s like how we grow—well, no, it isn’t. Think of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, except it happens quickly and they get much bigger when it does.” He still heard BlackAgumon’s voice, full of despair at two names: that of a human, and that of a monster. “They get a new name, too.”
Ross looked up. Biyomon was nodding, and Joanie was staring at him with a strange look on her face. She wasn’t incredulous, though. On the contrary, he got the feeling she wondered mostly when he had learned this without her.
“That sounds about right,” said Biyomon. “I gather humans keep their names for life? That’s fascinating.”
The children were quiet. Ross wondered whether they thought changing into something completely different sounded like a dream or a nightmare. Soon one of them, Steven probably, asked a question that hadn’t occurred to him.
“Who gives you your new name? Is it your parents again?”
With that, the conversation hit a turning point that all the humans felt in their guts. Most of the children stared at the floor, while the baby Vaccine asked a flurry of questions.
“Someone gives you a name?”
“Can I give someone a name?”
There was a long silence. Ross and Joanie wanted to steer the subject elsewhere, but now they couldn’t without being unfair to Biyomon’s little ones. Soon, they heard some sniffles.
Joanie rubbed the back of the kid sitting next to her, who was starting to sob. She turned to Biyomon, who shrugged in consternation. That told her enough. The babies weren’t simply ignorant; there were in fact no parents in this world. With that, she tried to be both accommodating to the Vaccine and soothing to the children with her answer. “In our world, when two adult humans—a grown-up boy and a grown-up girl—make a promise to love each other and be together, they can make a new baby boy or girl. They give the baby a name, and they watch over all their children until they become adults themselves.”
The baby Vaccine stared at her in wonder, but the children were looking no better than before. Ross was at a loss. What could you do for children who missed their parents and would probably never see them again?
Tatiana had an answer that Ross didn’t appreciate in the least. She asked Joanie, “Can we pray?”
Joanie looked like she could cry herself. “I think that’s a good idea.” She glanced over at Ross for any sign of disapproval. He suppressed it. Joanie then took the hand of the child to her left, and laid her other hand on the baby Vaccine to her right. The rest of the children followed her example, and Ross played along. When they had a circle of hands except for an arc where there were no proper hands, Joanie bowed her head.
“Dear God, please bless our families back in our world.
“Please bless Rebecca’s and Steven’s, Carlos’s and Jamie’s, Nathan’s and Krissy’s, Tatiana’s and Michael’s, and Jacob’s, Ross’s, and mine.
“Please bless the little ones of the Homestead; the Viximon, the Motimon, and the Poyomon.
“Thank you for keeping us safe with Biyomon, Garurumon, Agumon, BlackAgumon, and Angemon. Please bless them too, and keep them all from harm.
“And so, we pray:
“Our Father who is in Heaven, holy is Your name. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done on these worlds as it is in Yours. Let us not go hungry today, and forgive us our wrongdoings as we forgive those who do wrong against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
The children all said ‘amen’ after her, as did Biyomon and a few of the babies. Everyone dropped hands, though the feeling of the circle still lingered. Many of the children’s eyes were still wet, but they all looked to Joanie and they were not afraid.
The Vaccine too were entranced. “Who were you praying to, Joanie?” asked Biyomon. “Was it to the one from your world who sent you here?”
Joanie never grew tired of explaining her position on the matter. “Not from our world. Our world is Created, and so is everyone in it. We pray to the Creator.”
The babies were confused. “Just one?”
“That’s what most of us were taught.”
“But you got sent from the Holy World to win the war, right?” They looked toward Ross now. “Why’d we lose if you were there?”
Joanie began to say “Well—” but she was cut off by the babies.
They knew who had been at the battle yesterday, and they wouldn’t take an answer from anyone else. All eyes were on Ross. He took a moment, and found it in himself to piece some words together.
“You have to understand that we’re not powerful like Angemon and Garurumon. We can use tools and we can pass by unnoticed, but we can’t change the tide of a battle, much less a war.”
The babies lowered their heads, and the comfort seemed to fade from the children’s faces. Steven wiped his eyes, and asked Ross with a wavering voice, “Why are we here?”
Ross looked to Joanie. She stared right back as stern as anything. He decided that he wouldn’t let her down. “I don’t know the answer in general, but I do know one thing. Jacob, Joanie, and I are here to watch over you kids. We’re here to keep you safe, and get you home to your parents. Right now we have to lay low, but don’t worry. We won’t let bad anything happen.
Ross was sitting by a small fire some twenty yards from the hovel. It was now three hours after sundown and except for the crackle of embers and the murmur of the river there was nothing to be heard. Of all the oddities in this world, the one that struck Ross the deepest was perhaps the complete absence of insects and other small creatures. Though they had seen little of it, it seemed that this was a world of plants and Sentients with no middle ground to speak of. This as much as anything made him wonder if it was all a long nightmare.
He heard footsteps, and this reminded him of the case against this world being a nightmare: his nightmares were usually uncompromisingly terrifying, but in this world Joanie was here.
She came over and sat beside him. “Hey, Joanie.”
“I think you handled them well at dinner. They seemed much calmer going to bed.”
Ross stared north. The stars indicated the contour of the mountains. “And here I thought Christians hated liars.”
Joanie wasn’t indignant. She had made him pray, and fair was fair. “In a pinch, we’ll take white-liars if they really care.”
White-liars. Ross supposed the term could be applied to Christians at large. “You made some pretty conspicuous changes to the Our Father, I noticed.”
Joanie shrugged. “It just felt right, I guess. I wanted to make sure everyone understood what I was saying, even the babies. Anyway, the prayer’s been translated countless times. It should be about intent, not formula.”
In Ross’s experience, Christians thinking about the words they said or sung was exceedingly rare. He thought for a moment about what he would say next, but Joanie beat him to it.
“Before I forget, I came out here because I’m insisting you take the night off.”
“I’m all right. I think I just needed to eat something.”
“Forget it. You lost too much blood, and you need to rest. Biyomon and I can handle tonight’s watch just fine.”
Ross didn’t want to admit it but he was in fact exhausted, and this was a relief. “Whatever you say.” He stood up, and turned back to the hovel.
“Good night, Ross.”
“Good night, Joanie.”
When Ross opened his eyes the inside of the house was still dark, and the floor was crowded with sleeping bodies. He sat up, and to his surprise it was easy. His chest felt fine, and all of his limbs could move without trouble. He got on his feet and stepped over Michael and Steven on his way to the door, where he stepped over Joanie and headed outside.
The morning was dim and misty, and a swath of red clouds just over the horizon kept the sun from warming things up. Ross stretched and breathed in deep. His head was perfectly clear, though he suspected that he should still be low on blood. He walked over to the dying embers in the fire pit, where Biyomon was whistling a little tune to herself. When she was finished, she looked up at Ross and half-sang the words “Good morning!”
“For once, I agree. It is.”
Biyomon got up with a flap of her wings. “I’m not surprised. I much prefer waking up here than in a camp or in the mountains.”
“Is this where you live, then?”
Biyomon had to think for a moment about this. “Not exactly. I suppose I might say ‘yes’ now, but I wouldn’t have not too long ago.” She shook her head, and she had a look of concern in her eyes for a moment. “Anyway, I try not to think too hard about things like that.”
Ross could tell she wanted to change the subject. “So, do you have anything for us to do around here?”
Biyomon was chipper again in an instant. “Oh, there’s plenty! For starters, the south fields are ready for harvest, and that will…”
And she was off, so Ross sat down to listen. Not only was there plenty to do, but there were several tangential topics that Biyomon brought up for each of them. By the time she was finished it was noticeably brighter, and the children were starting to emerge from the hovel. Some of them asked Biyomon to start over, and Ross took this chance to excuse himself and have a look around.
There were three flooded fields of grain surrounding the house: one in front to the north, another behind to the south, and one across the river to the west. Beyond these there were plains that stretched to the horizons west, east, and south, while to the north one could see hills and mountains. While he was walking back from the south field, Ross nearly missed one last feature to the east. It was a plain, broad, grass-colored wooden door flush against the ground. He opened it and it creaked loudly. Beneath it was a set of dilapidated stairs that led to a tunnel. Ross wondered if tornadoes were a problem here. He should have been able to think of another purpose for such a well-hidden shelter, but no part of him wanted to. Today his mind was on the land and the sky.
For most of the rest of the day, Ross was barefoot and up to a few inches above his ankles in water. The children sang as they worked, which put everything into a calm cycle. Pull up a reed, crack it open, scrape out the grains, drop a few in return, and move on to the next. Everyone kept a good pace, though at one point Ross had to object to the children’s choice of “I Know a Song that Gets on Everybody’s Nerves.”
Around noon the sun came out from behind the clouds. It made for hot foreheads, but cool feet and hands from the flooded plain. Ross would wipe his brow, and it was a good feeling. His face felt dirty, but it was a good dirty, a fitting one. It reminded him of where he used to live before his dad got a job in Washington.
This gave him a moment’s pause, but only a moment’s. He was just as quickly back to the rhythm of the field, gathering food for his family.
And indeed, they were some manner of family now. Days passed, and as Ross spent them harvesting he felt this more and more. Sometimes he would sit at the edge of the river watching the clouds move from the west to the east, and he would be joined by one of the little ones—human or Vaccine.
“What grade are you in, Ross?” asked Michael one time.
“What’s your favorite subject?”
“History. What about yours?”
“Math. Joanie says that’s hers, too.”
“Math’s too hard for me.”
It made him wonder, but he was one of the adults in these children’s lives now. This became most clear one evening when he and Joanie were breaking the chaff off of some grains with stones from the river.
“Anything happen today?” asked Joanie.
“Krissy scraped her knee; got cleaned up quick. Crisis averted.”
The chaff was tough, which made it hard to accidentally crush the grain inside. They had gotten good at this over the last two weeks.
“I almost forgot,” added Ross. “I found some strange but nice-smelling herbs near the river earlier. I checked with Biyomon, and she said they’re not poisonous.”
Ross took the herbs out of his pocket and handed them to Joanie. She had to stifle a laugh.
“Ross, this is rosemary.”
He felt like the dad who makes an idiot of himself in the kitchen. It didn’t help when Steven walked up and said to Joanie, “Mom?”
Steven blushed and stuttered at his mistake, but Joanie acted as though nothing had happened, “What’s up?”
“I…uh…wanted to know if there’s anything I should do for dinner.”
“Yeah, go grab Carlos, Tatiana, and Jamie and get two buckets of water.”
Steven got right on it. “Good kids,” said Ross.
Joanie just smiled. But still, there was an unspoken foreboding that lay around them. It had been easy to ignore—everything had become so peaceful and regular. Everyone got up with the dawn each morning, and each night they ended dinner with one of Joanie’s prayers. Ross wasn't even bothered anymore because they put the children’s and the Vaccines’ minds at such ease. He even felt some good from them—nothing very personal, more like watching a fire from a few feet away. It was a warm, comforting end to the day; a safeguard against the perils in the darkness.
But still, the night was dark, and it held dangers that they had too long ignored.
It was Ross’s turn to keep watch at three hours after sundown that evening, and once again he was visited by Joanie.
“What’s the matter?”
Joanie shook her head. “Nothing. Didn’t feel like sleeping.”
She sat down next to him, and for a while they let the fire and the river do the talking. Five minutes had passed when Joanie spoke again.
“It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it?”
It was dark, but Ross had known his answer for some time. “It is. I’m not sure I ever want to leave.”
Indeed, Ross couldn’t think of any reason to leave at the moment, but Joanie’s thoughts strayed wider. “What about home? Don’t you miss your family?”
And here was the crux of the matter. Ever since they had left their own world, Ross had thought of his own particular home and family only two or three times. He didn’t want to make this known, as something felt simply wrong about it. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from giving an answer that hinted at the truth. “To be honest, not really. It’s like…”
He lost his train of thought. “Like what?”
“It’s…like I’m at peace here—like I’m in the right place for once. When I used to think ‘When will I be back,’ it’s like I was thinking about being here—with the kids and Biyomon and the little 'mons.”
“So, it’s like we're your family?”
Ross wondered if he should admit it for a few moments. “I suppose you could say so.”
Ross glanced over to read Joanie’s face. He caught one moment where it was warm—he guessed she felt they were a kind of family, too. He wondered if she felt the same way about her old home as he did. Perhaps that was why they had been able to stay sane for this long: they had few real attachments to the world they had come from.
But then her face changed. The warmth was gone, and in its place was worry. Ross knew what the matter was, but he couldn’t bring himself to broach the subject first.
After what felt like hours, Joanie asked, “Do we want to talk about it?”
Ross swore in his head. “Want to? Definitely not.”
“Are we going to talk about it anyway?”
Joanie had no shortage of questions, and she started right away. “What happened the night of the battle?”
Ross took a deep breath and recounted the sequence of events starting with Garurumon’s counterattack. He tried to explain it all as best as he could, though much of it now seemed beyond belief, especially how BlackAgumon faded away when he passed. Yet Joanie believed it all, even how the Commander caught a bolt of lightning in his hand and could leap twenty feet in the air.
“Do you think he's really human?” she asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Why do you think he let you live?”
Ross shivered. “I don't know. He said he was going to kill me, he hesitated, and then he left me bleeding. If it had been anyone else, I would have said it was conscience, but I'm positive that's not the reason. It's something sinister, I'm sure of it.”
Joanie swallowed. “Do you think he knows where we are?”
“It depends on whether he cares. If he doesn't, we can only hope he doesn't start. If he did care, I'm sure he could find us and get rid of us whenever he felt like it.”
“If he let you go earlier, though, maybe his hands are tied, somehow. I don't know.”
They were silent for another while before Joanie changed the subject, but the new subject wasn't much more pleasant.
“I learned something from Biyomon today.”
Joanie rubbed her eyes. “Something was bothering me, and Biyomon wasn't volunteering the information, so I kind of had to drag it out of her.”
“It's about the previous residents of this place.”
Ross was still.
“They were some 'Child levels,' all Data type. They worked the farm here and took care of the babies—the Viximon, at least. They're Data type. I guess Biyomon moved the other babies here from somewhere else.”
“Get to the point.”
Joanie groaned. “They ran away weeks ago because of the Virus army, and they left the babies because they'd be a burden in the wild. They said that once the Virus get out this far and start to run out of their own food, they'll raid farms like this and kill anyone who's there.”
Ross's heart sank.
“Biyomon said she's been here because she couldn't stand to leave the babies to die. In another week or two when some of them evolve and the rest are stronger, she plans to lead us all away somewhere. Probably into the woods.”
“Why didn't she tell us?”
“Because she doesn't know how many of us will make it in the wild, even if we never get separated. She said that a lot of those who live in the wilderness, away from society and language, grow up to be predators. I asked her if we could try to find Garurumon or Angemon, but she doesn't know where to look. They didn't think they would be overrun so quickly—all the places they might have regrouped are compromised.”
Joanie put her head in her hands. Ross was reeling from the realization of just how illusory their safety had been. “What are we going to tell the kids?”
Joanie rubbed her eyes. “At this point, I don't think there's much to tell them. We can't leave for weeks anyway, and if they're already being cautious I don't see the point in scaring them.”
Ross nodded. They would just have to deal with it when the time came.
“And besides, we've gone this long without an attack, right? What's important is that we stay strong for them. I think we'll be fine.”
Their mouths said one thing, but their eyes said something completely different when they met again:
'We can never be safe here.'
July 5th, 2014 (3:43 PM).
[Here's the next chapter! Chapter 8 is partway written, but I'm going to take a break from it to write an entry for the PC Get-Together's Small Writing Competition (if you're reading this, you should also write an entry for the PC Get-Together's Small Writing Competition). As always, comments and criticism are appreciated. Enjoy!]
Chapter 7: The Longest Night
The clouds were heavy one day, and Ross never saw the sun. Most of the children were off playing with the baby 'mons somewhere, and he couldn't help but feel anxious about that. He had been standoffish lately, no matter how hard he tried to act normal. Or perhaps the problem was that he was acting normal, and couldn't act like he was still feeling content, safe, and happy.
In any case, he was finding it very hard to smile, and that made it difficult to be fair to the children. So he started avoiding them, and spent more time walking around the perimeter of the Homestead. When it got to be evening, he made his way back to the hovel with heavy shoulders. When he reached the door, he paused. The wind had picked up, and it set his neck-hairs on end. He turned around, and took a brief survey. Six children including Tatiana and Michael were playing with the babies in the field to the east. He could hear Biyomon and Joanie talking in the room behind him. There were two children unaccounted for—Rebecca and Krissy, he was pretty sure. He looked all around, and though he knew they were probably fine he couldn't help but worry.
And then it happened. He heard a girl's scream coming from the west. Immediately he grabbed his spear from where it leaned on the wall and ran for the bridge. The two girls were running for the bridge from the other side with tears in their eyes. “Gazimon!”
Ross looked out and saw a whole pack of them running from the north. He waved the girls on past him, and then ran behind them. He shouted at the hovel as loud as he could, “Joanie! They're here!”
The children who were playing past the house almost fell into confusion, but Biyomon and Joanie came quickly—Joanie with her bow and arrows—and ordered them all toward the door in the ground in the east field. Ross turned around and saw that the Gazimon had already passed the bridge. The two girls who were with him ran on to where the others were, which left Ross alone in the clearing by the fire pit, where he had one chance to give the stall the enemy.
He spaced his feet apart, held his spear at ready, and shouted at the mass of Gazimon. There must have been a dozen of them, but they slowed down at the sight of a larger being who appeared ready to fight. Not that they were scared in the least; just that none of them saw why they should be the one to take the hit while the others tore Ross to shreds. They laughed and kept closing in until Ross yelled, “Stay back!” and gestured with his weapon. Then they began to move out in a circle to surround him, until Joanie made herself heard from a fair distance behind Ross.
She was aiming for one of the ends of their extending arc, and just to keep them honest she moved her aim to the other end and back again quickly. This made the Gazimon hold their positions, but it didn't stop them from laughing.
The oldest and meanest-looking of them said to the two with a cackle, “We're not looking for a hard time here. You two just walk away, leave the food, and we'll call it even.”
It was the most Ross could ask for, but it felt too good to be true, just like everything else lately. “And the little ones?”
They laughed harder. “I said leave the food!”
Ross hadn't trusted them to keep it anyway. Still, he had to do something to keep them talking, as a fight here would spell death for him and Joanie, and once they ran for the underground shelter they would be stuck until they would inevitably have to fight again. He could tell now that the enemy wouldn't leave a chance to slaughter the baby Data and Vaccine while they were stuck in a corner.
With no real leverage to speak of, Ross knew he had to bluff. “Do you even know who you're talking to?”
The Gazimon howled with laughter. Ross continued. “We are Humans sent from the World of Creators! Just like your precious Commander!” The enemy hadn't put two and two together yet, so this gave them pause. “Even worms like you must have heard about the Commander and his powers! I'll warn you just once: no one who sees a Human's powers ever lives to see them twice!”
Despite his fear and desperation, Ross's voice and eyes held a fire that affected the Gazimon deeply. No one moved or said anything for what felt like a solid minute. The enemy's resolve was not getting stronger, but they still weren't about to leave.
And then something happened that blew out whatever fire Ross had to hold them at bay. The wind from the west picked up sharply, and it brought words.
'Leave none alive!'
It was the Commander's voice, and though it was miles away its hatred and anger were palpable and hit Ross right in the gut. The Gazimon quaked where they stood, and their eyes were filling with a red cast. Nothing would hold them back now, so Ross turned and sprinted. “Sh*t! Run!”
He got two seconds' head start before the Gazimon's eyes glowed bright red and they began to run after him. Joanie shot the closest one in the head before turning to run as well.
They passed the house and were getting close to the open doorway in the ground, where Biyomon still stood. They wouldn't have made it before the next closest one got them, but Biyomon flapped her wings hard and conjured a green fire that danced forward haphazardly before honing in on its target. The Gazimon was engulfed and then stumbled, which gave Ross and Joanie just enough time to half-fall through the entrance. When Biyomon dropped in behind them, Ross pulled the door shut, which left them in complete darkness.
Ross and Joanie fumbled for the latch, and while they did the Gazimon clawed at the door and hammered against it with their arms and feet. In this sense at least there was some luck: the Gazimon's rage was too primal to allow them to pull the door open as it was designed. Even with the latch secured tightly, though, the force applied to the door was great, and they could hear it cracking. It was then that Biyomon shouted, “Get away from the door! Down here!”
Ross and Joanie obeyed, feeling their way down the stairs to the base of the tunnel. Biyomon pushed them behind her, and said, “Stay back.”
Biyomon then brought forth more of her green flame, and it flew up in a rough spiral until it reached the door and seemed to spread into every crack of the thing. Suddenly the Gazimon on the other side cried out in fierce pain.
The door burned with an intense green glow, but it was not consumed. Ross just stared, but Joanie managed to ask “How?”
Biyomon slumped to the floor, gasping for air. “I call it the Magical Fire. It won't hurt anything it doesn't want to. It also has a way of messing with your head, kind of like your little spark-stones. The Gazimons' rage won't go away, but they won't hit the door much until the Fire goes down.”
“How long will that be?” asked Ross.
Biyomon took a moment before answering. “Twelve hours, maybe. We can only hope that they'll go back to normal before then, and then decide that it's not worth the trouble of waiting.”
“How likely is that?”
Biyomon didn't answer. She didn't need to answer, and Ross hadn't needed to ask. He was right in guessing that there was almost no chance at all.
Biyomon needed a minute to catch her breath. Even when she finally stood up with Joanie's help, she held her head and groaned. “What's the matter?” asked Joanie.
“It's the Gazimon. I can feel them like they're right next to me. No, even closer than that. Can't you feel those red eyes?”
Joanie shook her head.
“Of course you can't, sorry,” said Biyomon. “Don't worry about me. I'll be fine.”
Ross changed the subject. “Did everyone else make it down?”
“Yes. I sent them further down the tunnel.”
At the moment they could see decently well because of the Magical Fire, but after they passed a few turns of the pathway all was pitch black again. Joanie then took one of the special stones and a piece of iron from her pocket. After every twist in the tunnel she would rub them together to get a sustained glow, just enough to see what was ahead for a little ways. At these points they would all call some names, but not too loudly just because of the dread the crowded walls and ceiling instilled.
Eventually they got a reply from Tatiana. “We're in here.”
Her voice came from the left path in a fork in the passageway. The three followed the voice, and found themselves in a small room where the eight children and the babies were crowded together. Some of them squinted from the light of the stone, and they were all too frightened to greet them. Joanie dropped to her knees among them, and in the darkness she touched and reassured everyone she could. “It's going to be okay. We just have to sleep down here tonight.”
There were some tears and sobs. Ross sat with his back to the wall and pressed his head into his hands. He could barely admit it to himself, so how could he admit to these kids that this was going to be their last night alive? And so he said nothing. After all the work, weeks, and narrow escapes, he knew he had failed them. For the next hour he cursed his decisions, his weakness, and more than anything the Commander's existence.
The hour ended when he heard Joanie say something to the others besides her futile attempts at consolation. “Ross and I are going to look around for a while. Biyomon's right here, okay?”
There were some feeble, scattered replies of 'okay.' Joanie stood up and so did Ross. Before they left, Joanie made some light so the children could see her smile. The sadness in her eyes made Ross doubt that it would fool them. He didn't say anything as they left their charges and took the other path in the fork deeper into the shelter.
After they had gone a few dozen yards, Ross asked her, “What do you think we'll find? Another way out?”
“Maybe. Biyomon told me she was pretty sure there was only one entrance, though. We might also find something we can use to barricade the door.”
And so they kept checking for signs of hope with the stone as they went along, until finally they reached a dead end. The tunnel ended abruptly at an uneven dirt wall that suggested whoever started building the shelter had never finished. Perhaps it was supposed to reach another entrance or at least a larger storeroom with emergency food and water, but they would never know.
When the light went out, the two stood and stared int nothing. Ross could hear Joanie breathing, and it wasn't encouraging. “Should we head back?” he asked.
“Let's take a break first.”
So Ross sat against the end of the tunnel and closed his eyes. Even if everything looked the same with them open, he was tired. To his surprise, however, Joanie sat right next to him and found his hand. They closed their fingers together and sat still for a time. Ross wanted to be happy about it, but what was holding hands with a pretty girl in the face of certain and painful death and failure?
“What do we tell them?” he finally asked.
“I don't know. We'll think of something.”
Ross couldn't keep it in. “How about, 'Sorry, that's all we've got.'”
“Don't say that.”
“I'm just sick of lying to these kids. Can't we just tell them that we blew it and that it'll all be over soon?”
“You do know this is the end, right? There are too many of them for us to kill, they'll never stop, and we can't even slow them down for a whole day.”
“I get it. I really do. But we can't let them spend their last hours despairing. It's not right.”
Ross started breathing harder. “But what about us? We know better. What are we supposed to do?”
Joanie didn't answer. In the meantime, Ross's head kept spinning. It was all a mix of anger, sadness, and longing for what should have been. Finally, out of nowhere, something made it from his head to his mouth that never would have under most circumstances. “I just don't want to die without having...you know...”
“...I don't want to die a virgin.”
Joanie was still for a moment before she sighed in consternation. She didn't let go of his hand, though. “I know what you're getting at, Ross, and you already know what my answer to that is.”
Ross's instincts were to apologize immediately and then drop the whole thing, but something compelled him to try a different approach. “Joanie, will you marry me?”
Joanie snorted, then laughed.
“Hey, I'm serious! I swear to you right now that if we get married I'll never love another woman until I die.”
Joanie laughed on. “Oh, stop!”
“We can get Biyomon to be the witness, and then we'll tell the kids they're officially adopted until we get them back home. We'll be a real family with eight darling children! How much more Catholic can you get? And what better way is there to go without despair?”
Joanie's slowly regained her composure. “Okay, there were actually two reasons why I'm not going to sleep with you. I know you think what you're asking for is hopeful, but it's just not. You wouldn't have asked me this if the end weren't in sight, and if we both say yes we're both admitting that we're all goners and that what we do now doesn't matter.
“That's not hope.
“Hope means doing the right thing even if you can't see what difference it makes. I'm not going to let you act as if everything's pointless. I know you don't believe in Heaven, but can you at least understand that we owe it to these kids to believe—in our actions if not in our thoughts—that we can save them?”
Ross was stumped. Even in the face of certain death—the one thing that was supposed to reduce all rational people to a more basic, primal kind of humanity—here was Joanie. Of all the people Ross could be stuck here with, it was Joanie, who it seemed would never stop being Joanie. “Tell you what,” she said. “As to your proposal: if you don't give up, if we pull through and get these kids out alive, I'll give it a few months and then I'll think about it, okay?”
Ross sighed. “Alright, you win.” He felt no consolation, though.
They weren't smiling now. Joanie said, “Come here,” and they held each other close.
“I'd have been so lost without you,” said Ross. “We'd all have been.”
“That's why I'm here, and it's why you're here, too. I couldn't have done it alone, either.”
They sat together a while longer before they started to make their way back.
When they got back to the small room they heard some snoring, so Joanie didn't use the light. Instead she got close enough to the little ones that those who were still awake could tell she was there. Soon one of them said “I'm thirsty,” and Ross knew it broke Joanie's heart to whisper, “We'll get water in the morning. Try to sleep, now.” This got Ross thinking of all the other things they wouldn't have a chance to do again: eat a meal, watch the sky, sit around a fire. None of them seemed more important than drinking water, though. It made his throat feel parched, so he took Joanie's advice. Knowing that he'd never manage to stay asleep for more than a few hours, he closed his eyes. Only a few minutes later his ears followed suit and he lost track of his senses.
When he was awake, he could hear Joanie whispering a prayer to Mary, and when she said 'amen,' she started over again. Ross wanted to say to her that sleep would be much more useful than praying the Rosary, but he decided against it. 'Makes sense to her I guess,' he thought, 'She's about to join the Dead Virgins Club so she might as well pray to the president.' He probably would not have thought this if he could see the tears rolling down her cheeks. He soon nodded off again.
When Ross awoke the second time, Joanie was asleep sitting up against the wall near him, which he could tell by the steady breathing. He didn't know how much time had passed, so he didn't feel like falling asleep again. He got up and walked near the entrance to the room. He whispered to no direction in particular “Biyomon?”
There was a rustle nearby and soon he was tapped on the arm by a dull claw. They stepped into the hallway and he asked, “How long do you think we've been down here?”
Biyomon clicked her beak a few times. “I guess around ten hours, give or take one.”
“It's probably about time to keep watch at the entrance.”
“Yeah. Are you good to help?”
“I'm afraid I used too much fire earlier. I won't be able to use it again for a few days, and that's only if I take it easy. I don't know how much help I can be, but I'll—”
“Forget it. Just stay with the little ones and do all you can when they get past us.”
With that they went back in the room, and Ross carefully made his way to where Joanie was sleeping and tapped her on the shoulder. “It's time,” he whispered.
Joanie stretched. “Got it,” she whispered back.
Their weapons were just outside the room. Ross grabbed his spear and Joanie her bow and quiver. Ross didn't ask how many arrows the quiver held. They then both knelt down and gave Biyomon a hug. “Thanks for everything,” said Joanie.
“No, thank you two for everything. We had so little hope before you came.”
It broke Ross's heart. In Biyomon's eyes they were still saviors sent from a higher plane. After they stood up and Joanie began walking to the entrance, Ross lingered. “I'm so sorry,” he said.
“You can be sorry when you break your promise to protect these children,” said Biyomon. “But before then I won't hear it. Even if you die keeping that promise I won't hear it.”
Ross shook his head. “I won't disappoint, then.”
He followed Joanie down the path again. Every little while she would give them some light, and they found they would each look at the other's face more than the twists and turns ahead of them. At last they came to the stairs, and the door above was still glowing enough that they could see each other reasonably well. They heard a pound followed by a muffled scream. They knew that soon the door would not be painful to touch, and then their work would be cut out for them.
They didn't need to consult on tactics. They pulled as far back as they could to give Joanie an advantage with the bow. And then they sat and waited.
Already they could see that the door was losing its glow. It was a slow, seamless way that the Magical Fire died down, and every so often they would realize that it was not as bright as it had been some minutes prior. Ross looked over at one point and could just barely make out Joanie's face: beautiful and sad, but not beaten—not yet.
When the door was barely visible, and the two sat in complete darkness again, Joanie spoke at last. “Remember what hope is. Hold on to it tighter than your own life.”
When the Magical Fire was dead, and there was no light to be seen, Ross replied. “I'll try.”
The pounding began again. At first it was hesitant, but in no time it was relentless. Ross stood up, reached out, and touched Joanie's shoulder so that he would remember the last time. He then took a good number of paces forward and readied himself. He stamped the ground a few times so Joanie would know where he was.
The pounding grew louder, and so did the cracking noise. When it reached its loudest point it was punctuated by a terrible slam, and a pale light poured into the tunnel. The first Gazimon tumbled down the stairs, and he was met with an arrow to the head. The others ran down behind him with perfect balance, and before Joanie could get another shot ready one of them was upon Ross.
He swept his spear and iron met skull. With one Gazimon dazed against the wall, Ross's weapon was still ready to use. The next foe got close too quickly, though, and Ross could only stab it. Even impaled, the creature snapped its foaming jaws and swung wildly for Ross's throat. This was what he had been afraid of: with two more enemies charging at him he had no room to act. Another arrow whizzed by, and Ross saw the beasts dive at him.
Just as he braced for impact, he was blinded, deafened, and tossed back by a different force entirely. He was dazed for a moment, and then he found that the tunnel was glowing white and his ears were ringing. He stood up, pulling his spear out of the now limp Gazimon. In front of him were a crowd of the creatures lying dead and seared. The two that had dived at him had landed behind him, and though their backs were burned they were starting to get up. One of them stumbled toward him again and was interrupted by an arrow. The other ran past him at a new figure running down the stairs. This newcomer stabbed with a sword and made short order of the last Gazimon.
The glow subsided quickly, but Ross's head kept spinning. He stared at the young man before him, who stared back in turn before breaking out in gleeful laughter.
“Jacob!” shouted Joanie, who ran up and gave their rescuer a big hug.
Ross had nothing to say yet. The reality of the matter hadn't set in. “Ha ha! Here comes the cavalry, right?” he heard someone say, and then “Let's get you out of here, man!” before the other two helped him up the stairs and into the early morning light.
It was then that everything ticked, and Ross saw Jacob at his left side and Unimon before them, whose mouth was letting off what looked like steam. “What...How on...” He never finished the sentence. He just grabbed hold of Jacob and for the first time since far too long ago he laughed loud and long.
“You didn't know we were here, did you?” asked Joanie, still laughing herself.
“No! We couldn't miss a dozen Viruses standing around while red-eyed, though! Unimon smelled them from two miles away during our morning patrol!”
Ross kept laughing. Even if it wasn't as big a coincidence as he had thought, he still considered the whole thing wonderfully, wonderfully stupid.
“Hey, you've got some burns,” said Jacob. Indeed Ross had a few light burns on his forehead and hands, but he could barely even feel them.
“Forget about it!”
“Done!” Jacob then turned to Joanie. “Are the kids all here too?”
“Yes! We're all here safe, sound, and accounted for!”
“Ha ha, oh man. I can sleep at night again!”
“They're all in the shelter—let's bring them out! They're going to be so thrilled to see you!”
Ross motioned for them to go on ahead without him. The other two went down into the earth again, calling out for the little ones to meet them half-way. As they did, Ross approached Unimon and found himself at a loss for words. Unimon was not offended, and simply made a shallow bow. Ross responded in kind but bowed lower, and smiled.
In short order the entire throng was out in the open, and Ross found himself mobbed. Tatiana sat on Jacob's shoulders and Biyomon walked over to Unimon, but all the other children and 'mons seemed to want to tackle him. It was a better feeling than he could ever remember, and he only half-listened as Jacob described to Joanie the hideout deep in the mountains where Garurumon, Agumon, and Angemon had regrouped.
It would be a rough effort to bring them all there safely—especially because Unimon would have to scout all around to make sure no enemies found the road they were taking. It made no difference to Ross, though. The sun was out, and his promise was still going strong.