Episode 2: Fights
By the Book

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Dalimon had disappeared without a trace, as suddenly as he had appeared minutes earlier. Ryan had ventured a short distance into the forest, his eyes straining skywards to try and spot the elusive chameleon and convince him to lead them. The canopy was too thick though, and despite his best efforts, Ryan couldn't spot the lizard no matter how hard he looked.

Anzumon was no help, refusing to take off into the air and fly into the trees to try and flush him out. Neither Katrina nor Blaire were helping him either. Katrina was sitting on the grass, while Blaire turned the vial of glowing blue liquid over and over in her hands. Muertomon and Grindymon stayed near them both, watching Ryan's desperate attempts and listening to his increasingly frustrated cries of the Digimon's name.

Anzumon was curled up on the ground, his eyes shut and his head resting on his front claws. The only indication he was awake was the way his mouth twitched into a satisfied smirk each time Ryan called out.

After a short period of time, Katrina had grown weary of Ryan's shouting and his mounting aggravation. She watched him circle several of the tree trunks on the edge of the clearing she and Blaire were in, before she rose to her feet, wiping any residual grass and soil from the back of her jeans. Grindymon rose with her, hovering at her shoulder.

"He's gone, Ryan," remarked Katrina, her tone tired and disinterested. "We should get moving."

"Do you know which direction is North-West?" Blaire quipped, turning Katrina's earlier statement on her.

Katrina gave the other woman a bored look, unperturbed by her comment. "No," she admitted with a shrug of her shoulders, "but neither do you."

"I think we should follow Dalimon," Ryan announced, moving back towards the two humans.

"Finally given up, have you?" Muertomon comment jovially. "That's good. I'm sure your shouting scared him off and attracted plenty of other Digimon to come and investigate."

Ryan's glance at the skeleton was fleeting but brimming with anger, though he said nothing in return to his comments. "He obviously knows this place. Why shouldn't he lead us?" he said, directing his words to Blaire and Katrina.

Anzumon broke his sleeping façade and lifted his head to look up, his expression irritated. "Because he's gone," he said, resolute, "and unless you have exceptionally well-trained eyes, you've lost him."

"You can fly," Muertomon indicated by flapping his own arms in the fashion of wings. "What's to stop you looking for him in the trees?"

"I could," Anzumon replied stiffly, "but I won't." He curled his head back beneath a wing.

"Great team spirit there..." Ryan sighed, rubbing his hands over his face.

Blaire sighed loudly and dramatically. "Well, we– I have no time to go after that stupid, jumpy chameleon. My brother is in a North-West direction, and that is the direction we are headed in."

"Who made you boss?" Ryan inquired, folding his arms defensively. He continued speaking before Blaire could respond. "I say it's a better idea to look for Dalimon and make him lead us where we need to go. It will save us from getting lost, maybe cut time off the journey and then we can get home."

Running her fingers through her hair, Blaire smiled dangerously. "I am putting myself in charge because I happen to know more about Digimon and the Digital World than you do. Therefore, as the 'boss' I say we are going to find my brother."

Ryan ran his a hand through his hair, releasing a frustrated growl. "We don't even know where this Circle place is, or how far away it is! You seriously want to risk blindly walking into an unknown place?"

"Sure." Blaire shrugged her shoulders, and gave Ryan a disarming smile. "Think of it as an adventure."

"I get that you have more information about this place than I do, but have you ever actually been here yourself? Or are you just basing you knowledge on what your brother has told you?" Ryan asked her, doing his best to keep his tone and demeanor calm, which was difficult considering just how stubborn Blaire was being.

For a moment Blaire said nothing. Her eyebrows perked a little at Ryan and she adjusted her stance and her gaze to Muertomon, who stood beside her, watching and listening to them bickering while absorbing everything they said. At the moment his bright blue eyes were fixed on her, and when he noticed her looking, he smiled happily. "No... I haven't been here myself," Blaire admitted slowly, she followed up before Ryan could interject, "but that doesn't mean I don't know what to expect!"

"You don't know what to expect!" Ryan snapped. "I'm certain that the stories your brother told you and the real thing are very, very different!"

"Maybe so, but they are the best experience we have right now!" Blaire shouted back.

"Please stop shouting...," Grindymon murmured, peeping over Katrina's shoulder. The floating aquatic creature was aware that loud noises would attract unwanted attention. This argument, joined with Ryan's shouting from before, made it seem as if they were advertising themselves to potential predators. Katrina was disinterested in what the other two were bickering about, and Grindymon's plea fell on deaf ears as neither Blaire nor Ryan heard her.

"Maybe you should divulge some of these stories to us so we know what to expect too, rather than keeping everything oh-so-secret," Ryan suggested crossly.

Blaire's hands tightened into fists. "Where would you like me to begin?!" she snapped, her voice rising. "Oh, maybe with TigerVespamon, who nearly killed Ailurmon and ransacked a whole village for kicks? Or the underground fighting ring my brother and Ailurmon were forced to take part in, all for the enjoyment of some twisted king?! Or maybe you'd like to know about the siren Digimon Anthemon who bewitched my brother and wanted to keep him as a pet when he came here? Which one should I start with?! Which one sounds easiest for you to swallow?"

Ryan breathed steadily, his brows furrowed and his jaw clenched so tightly together it was beginning to hurt.

The fact of the matter was, none of them sounded easiest to swallow. This whole situation was one he was not happy with and one he resented completely. Being thrown into an unknown world, one that, to his logical mind, should not have existed but obviously did. And not only that, but being told to go somewhere and do something he did not want to do.

He had no answer for Blaire, not an answer he was willing to give her anyway. He didn't want to give her the satisfaction of knowing he was frightened, and the few things she had said had only increased that fear.

"You're awfully quiet." He turned his attention to Katrina who was looking at the black and blue device Grindymon had given her. "Do you have anything to say?"

Despite her surprise at being addressed, Katrina raised her head and looked between the two leisurely. "You've decided to stop screaming at each other, have you?" she mocked, her mouth quirked into a small sardonic smile.

"Well, we're divided in what we should do," Ryan said. "Your vote will decide it."

Katrina snorted softly. "Don’t get me involved in your petty argument." She returned her attention back to the device.

Ryan was speechless for a moment.

"There is nothing to decide anyway," Blaire hissed. "We are going to the Circle."

Ryan grunted in frustration. "What will it take for you to understand just how stupid that idea is?!"

"Have either of you two actually bothered to look at these?" Katrina asked them, shaking the device in her hand at them both to draw attention to it. "They're pretty remarkable even from a brief glimpse."

"Who cares?" grumbled Blaire, her arms tightly folded across her chest.

"I do," Katrina retorted sharply. "If you could put your claws away for just a second perhaps you'd be interested to know that not only has this registered all the information of Grindymon, Anzumon, Muertomon, and Dalimon, it also has a digital compass. There's a clock on here, as well as very interesting energy readings. The materials are like nothing I've seen before either."

Blaire's eyes were glaring into Katrina, her expression unimpressed and bored. "I hope you have a point, or are you just rambling?"

Katrina sighed softly. "It has a compass, smart ass. I assume you know what one of those is."

Blaire withdrew her own device and tapped several of the buttons. The small screen lit up brightly as it scrolled through various options, including spinning holograms of the Digimon, each hologram with a detailed reading of statistics for each Digimon, eventually she found the compass program and waited for it to find their location. Once it had, Blaire turned on the spot until she was facing in the correct direction they needed to go North-West.

"So we go this way," Blaire pointed.

"I'll lead," Muertomon announced, dashing out in front of Blaire.

Ryan had also been examining his own but quickly slipped it back into his pocket. "We still don't know the distance. Or what lies between here and where we're meant to go."

"Standing here talking about it isn't going to help us," Blaire replied impatiently. "At least I'm trying to be proactive."

"What if there's a sea between here and there? What do you propose then?" asked Ryan, folding his arms.

Blaire turned to him. "We'll use you as a raft. Or swim. At the moment you're being difficult for the sake of being difficult, I swear!"

"I am trying to make you aware of how foolhardy your plan is to just go walking off into the wilds of the Digital World," Ryan explained wearily. "You said yourself, you brother went through some ordeals. We don't know what’s out there, what might be there to get us. The... chaos Dalimon mentioned did not sound friendly to me."

"We can't just stay here and argue about it," Blaire replied angrily. "If you're so sure that Dalimon knows something, then go ahead and look for him, I have no fucks to give. I'm going to look for my brother with or without the two of you."

"I said, don't get me involved in your petty argument," Katrina said loudly. "I don't care what we do."

Ryan turned to the other woman. "Then what is your... preferred plan?"

Quirking an eyebrow, Katrina glanced at the device in her hand where she had been reading more information about Grindymon, and then at the Digimon herself. Grindymon was leaning over Katrina's shoulder, interested in the holographic image of herself. "Personally, I think both ideas are without merit."

"Big shock," Blaire huffed.

Katrina ignored her. "I think we're better off finding shelter, maybe there are some Digimon who are not like the ones your brother met and would be more helpful to us than Dalimon. We can ask for shelter, and get the lay of the land from actual inhabitants, instead of going off blindly which is what you both want to do," she explained, running a hand through her hair.

"Your idea still requires us to go walking blind," Anzumon pointed out, stretching.

"I know," Katrina admitted. "But so do all the other options we have..." She shrugged her shoulders. "Do what you want, I really don't care, but I think the best thing for us all would be to stay together. Getting separated would just be stupid." She clipped the black device onto the waist of her jeans and shifted her weight, looking between Blaire and Ryan.

"I still say Dalimon is our best option," said Ryan, slipping his hands into his pockets.

"And I still say that going North-West, finding the Circle and rescuing my brother is more important," Blaire countered.

"ENOUGH!" Muertomon roared, the back-and-forth bickering finally getting on his nerves. Blaire and Ryan stared at him, while Anzumon's head rose quickly and Grindymon flew to hide behind Katrina's back at the outburst. "I can't take it anymore!" He walked a few steps from Blaire, his eyes glued to the ground. He found what he wanted, a small grey stone and held it in one hand, showing it to both Ryan and Blaire. "I will hide this stone in one of my hands. One of you will pick a hand, if that hand has the stone, we do that plan. If not, we do the other plan."

"Sounds fair," Ryan nodded, impressed at the skull Digimon's thought.

Blaire folded her arms. "Fine. If it will put an end to this and we can get moving."

Relieved, Muertomon tucked his hands beneath his poncho so they hidden from view. "As Katrina doesn't seem to care what we do, Blaire will pick because I like her more than you."

"That's not fair," Ryan pointed out.

"THIS IS MY GAME!" Muertomon barked loudly. Blaire smirked smugly at Ryan over Muertomon's head.

A few moments later, Muertomon held out his hands, both closed and facing the ground, he turned to Blaire. "Okay, pick."

She pointed to his left hand, which Muertomon opened to reveal was empty. Blaire released a small growl, while Ryan grinned triumphantly at her. "So we're going after Dalimon then."

Blaire narrowed her eyes. "Fine," she conceded eventually. She was not pleased to have lost, but the decider had been fair.

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

The forest was much denser than they had first anticipated.

Even though Blaire and Ryan had come through it once already, they had only come short distances and had paid nearly no mind to their surroundings, more panicked with waking up in a strange, unknown place.

The canopy of the forest was almost completely obscured in some places by the lower branches and leaves of trees and bushes. Vines crept from one branch to the other like huge snakes, wrapping around boughs and tree trunks.

The way the forest was so enclosed and tightly packed, it made flight impossible for Anzumon. After only a short time was forced to take to the ground and walk like the rest of them, much to his chagrin. The looming branches and heavy leaves didn't make walking much easier either, as every tree seemed out to make the walk as difficult as possible, throwing leaves in the way, and branches stretching out like long arms with spiked fingers.

More than once, they had to turn around when they found their way blocked by a dead tree, fallen over and overgrown with fungus and mulch. Ryan was always called up to move heavy branches or push back larger bushes.

The ground was covered in decomposing leaves, and some fungal flora that thrived on the wet ground without much sunlight. There were no flowers to speak of. Many of the smaller trees and bushes looked as though they might already be dying, or dead due to the lack of light that reached the lower regions of the forest. The floor covering was also deceptive in places, as Ryan had discovered more than once, putting his foot down on what he assumed was solid ground, only to have part of his boot swallowed up by swampy water, mud, or for the foliage to just collapse beneath his weight an extra foot or more.

The smell was heavy and musty, not wholly unpleasant, but a smell that quickly became overwhelming and was seeping into their clothes and hair as they walked.

Ryan kept his gaze trained on the trees above them, certain they would spot Dalimon at any moment. Every time he saw something move above them, he called their small group to stop to see if it was the chameleon Digimon, and when he was sure it was not, he would continue.

The hidden roots and pitfalls were causing no end of annoyances for both Blaire and Katrina. Every so often, one of them would catch their foot underneath a root, or step into a pit which would cause them to topple. Without Muertomon or Grindymon to catch them, and Ryan occasionally lending a hand, one of them probably would have broken something.

Grindymon was trying to keep the ground lit at least a little to try and improve the visibility, something that proved difficult when trying to avoid being stepped on at the same time.

"This was a stupid, stupid idea," Blaire complained from the back, having tripped on another root. She brushed her fingers through the hair covering her eye. She was having a bad time, wearing her jacket had made it too hot, so she had to tie it around her waist; the twigs had been scratching her bare skin, and the passing bushes whipping her legs. "There's been no sign of Dalimon, has there?"

"This again?" Anzumon grumbled, glancing back at her from over his shoulder. "Haven't you bellyached enough?"

"No, I haven't!" Blaire snapped at him. "This was a dumb, foolhardy idea. We’re going to get lost in this forest, we have no idea how big it is, and that idiotic chameleon is probably watching and laughing at us!"

Ryan continued walking as he answered her calmly, letting her shouting and ranting wash over him as if she had been speaking in a hushed whisper. "Regardless of what we did, we would have had to go through the woodland. We would be experiencing this if we had done your plan too."

"At least my plan had a purpose," Blaire told him, snapping a twig between her fingers. "At least my plan meant we were actually going to go somewhere."

"There are three of us here," Ryan replied coolly. "It is not all about you."

“Six,” Muertomon corrected.

"Would the two of you just shut up," hissed Katrina. She had been the most silent while they had walked, situated between Blaire and Ryan, their back-and-forth bickering flying over her head. "I have had enough of your bitching at each other. Give it a rest. You're making me want to pierce my eardrums."

Muertomon sniggered as he walked beside Blaire. "You three really couldn't be more different."

"You're just annoyed because you can't get the three-gee to work on your phone," Blaire pointed out, her tone smug as she pushed a set of leaves aside. "I've heard you muttering and complaining about it the whole time we've been walking."

"That may be so, but I'm half tempted to go off on my own so I don't have to listen to you two squabbling," Katrina snapped. "You're like a pair of children," she added briskly, slipping her phone into her pocket. Blaire's statement had truth to it even if Katrina was loathe to admit it; she had been trying to get her phone to work, by calling, texting and using the internet options, but nothing was working. No calls going through, no messages.

To say Katrina was frustrated was an understatement. She was completely cut off from any games, the Internet, and communication with anyone outside of the three Digimon, Ryan, and Blaire.

"You don't have any brothers or sisters, do you?" asked Ryan. He pushed back a branch, and held it for Katrina, looking at her expectantly.

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"I have an older sister and a younger brother," Ryan explained, smiling jovially as he answered. "And we already know Blaire has one sibling."

"I'm the youngest of six," commented Blaire. "One brother and four sisters. Hard work."

Ryan chuckled a little. "See Kat, when you have to compete with siblings, you do squabble and bicker. I guess Blaire and I are just... batting off one another. It's difficult to understand if you've never had any siblings of your own. Or even younger cousins."

"Great," Katrina said, without enthusiasm. "So because I'm an only child, I am to be subjected to your... primitive sibling rivalry." She had her arms tightly folded and her face was drawn into a scowl. This conversation was making her uncomfortable and it was obvious. Grindymon swooped up from the ground, appearing to be the only one to notice Katrina's unease and gave her a soft, supportive smile, lightly touching her hand.

"It beats silence," Anzumon quipped.

"I think silence would be preferable," said Grindymon softly, jumping to Katrina's defense. "Especially as we're looking for someone who I don't think wants to be found."

"Don't say that, we'll find him," Ryan told her with conviction. "We have to."

"Otherwise you're going to look like a complete dick, and I'm just going to laugh," Blaire added merrily.

"How long have we been walking?" whined Anzumon. His mood had only worsened when he had realized he would not be able to fly as preferred. Every so often he would mutter something about his feathers getting dirty, and that walking was a degrading method of travel for someone like him.

"About four hours," Katrina told him, sweeping her hand over her hair, "why?"

"Just wondering," replied Anzumon, huffing as he spoke. "I don't like walking."

Blaire snorted. "We’ve noticed. You bitch about flying as much as Katrina does about having no reception."

"You could always fly above the canopy and tell us how far the edge of the forest is," Muertomon suggested. "You could be our airborne guide. It'll mean you won't be walking and we won't have to listen to you complain. Everybody wins!"

"No," Anzumon sighed, ignoring both Blaire and Muertomon's jibes. "You'd just get lost without me anyway."

"Because you're being so helpful right now," Blaire commented sarcastically, rolling her eyes.

Anzumon ruffled his feathers, and smiled derisively at the turquoise-haired woman. "I know I am." Blaire quirked an eyebrow.

"Four hours...," Ryan murmured, stepping over a large puddle. He turned and grabbed Katrina's arm to help her and then Blaire. "I guess we were in that clearing for a while...," he continued, moving to the front of their little group again, "not to mention how long we might have been out cold when we got here. I wonder if anyone is looking for us back at home yet."

"Legally you're not a missing person until you've been missing twenty-four hours or more," Katrina informed him. "Unless you're a child."

"But we vanished from the University. In crowds of people, our sudden disappearance must have been noticed," Ryan reasoned, running a hand through his hair and pausing their walking for a moment. "I mean... I had people with me when it all went down."

"Maybe they'll report you, maybe they won't," Blaire shrugged. "It was pretty manic when everything started happening, I'm sure a lot of people got separated and lost each other in the mayhem."

"Do you recall how you all got here?" Grindymon inquired, floating about shoulder height with Katrina and looking at the three of them.

"We were at a function, at our University...," Ryan began to explain, detailing the headaches they had all experienced, and the sudden electrical surges that had caused the Ferris wheel to begin turning and made the speakers release their strangely pitched groaning noise. When he had finished, the Digimon all exchanged puzzled looks, until Muertomon moved to the center of the small group.

"I have some questions!" he announced. "What's a Ferris wheel? What is ee-lek-tris-it-ee? What are speakers? How many people are there in your world? What's a University? What's a Heather and a Rick?" He tapped a finger against his jaw, thinking for a few seconds. "That’s it for now."

Ryan looked amused and exchanged a small grin with Katrina, who was entertained by the curiosity of the Digimon.

He, and the others it seemed, had forgotten quite quickly that these Digimon were not from their home. Consequently, many of the everyday mundane things they had mentioned so far were things they would have never come across.

Ryan answered, listing the answers to Muertomon's questions off his fingers. "A Ferris wheel is a circular structure on plinths and hinges which turns slowly. There are seats on it, which people sit on as it goes round. It's a ride... meant to be fun. Speakers are big, or small, pieces of electrical kit used to play music loudly, usually to cover large distances. A University is a place of higher learning and Heather and Rick are people." He smiled. "Heather is my girlfriend, and Rick is my housemate."

Muertomon nodded his head slowly as he listened, absorbing Ryan's words with a wide-eyed expression. Grindymon and Anzumon still looked a little lost, but were both listening intently. "I see, I see," Muertomon said slowly. "And this... ee-lek–"

"Electricity," Blaire piped in, saying the word for him. "It's a type of energy in our world that powers most things. Stuff from phones, to refrigerators. Even some cars are powered by it now, as it's a cleaner energy source."

Grindymon raised a fin. "Where... where does it come from?"

Ryan, Katrina and Blaire exchanged looks. "Well..." Blaire struggled, pursing her lips as she considered an answer.

"It's made by converting other forms of energy. Like heat, gas, coal, and oil," Katrina explained. "It's a bit difficult to explain."

"How many people are in your world?" Muertomon prompted on his final question.

"A lot," Ryan answered, rubbing his hand through his hair. He understood the Digimon had questions, but didn't like standing still for too long. The chance of finding Dalimon lessened the longer they stayed.

Muertomon's brows furrowed. "How many is a lot? A thousand? Five thousand?"

Blaire smiled. "Try seven billion."

His eyes widened. "Seven... billion?"

"Yep." Blaire nodded. "And counting."

Muertomon's mouth hung open a little as he tried to comprehend the number.

Anzumon stepped forward. "Where do you all come from?"

"I think question time is over for now," Ryan informed him, raising his voice a little to be heard. "We should get moving again." He started walking without waiting for the others. They would follow, or they would get lost. It was a harsh take on the situation, but Ryan was not willing to wait.

"Why?" Blaire asked, following none-the-less. "It’s not like we've come across any other Digimon aside from these three and Dalimon. This forest seems pretty empty, not that that is much of a surprise." She pulled a dried leaf out of her hair. "Anyone who would voluntarily live in here must be insane."

"Maybe your brother was spinning you tales about how dangerous this place is," Ryan suggested with a grin. "Maybe he just told you the stories to frighten you."

"Nobody asked for your opinion!" snapped Blaire.

Katrina groaned quietly into her hands, while beside her Grindymon smiled gently and patted her shoulder with a scaly fin.

"Besides, Reyez doesn't lie...” She lowered her voice to a hushed mutter that was only audible to herself, “…when he’s sober.”

The next few hours of walking were just as uneventful as the first ones. There were no other Digimon to be found, and the forest was becoming more and more unwelcoming the deeper they travelled. They kept a straight path, chosen by Ryan, only making detours to get around blockades that couldn't be moved or climbed over. Ryan had given up looking for Dalimon – wherever the lizard creature was, he did not want to be found – but he neglected to tell either Katrina or Blaire this. He did not need or want Blaire crowing 'I told you so' in his ears.

The light on the forest floor was getting worse. The canopy above seemed to be getting thicker with every step they took, and despite the cover, there was no protection from the chill that was beginning to settle in.

"I think it's getting dark," Ryan stated, looking above. He could just about make out through the trees what he thought was sky: it was turning pale purple color, an indication that twilight was upon them. "Maybe we should wait until it gets bright again."

"I am not spending the night camping in here," Katrina declared. "Just no. I don't do camping, or trekking, or hiking, or anything to do with the outdoors."

Blaire smirked. "You don't have a choice, there's no sign of where this forest ends."

"You two can camp out and sleep on the ground, but I am quite happy to keep walking through the night with Grindymon to lead me. Furthermo–"

"Quiet," Anzumon barked at them in a harsh whisper.

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

Unnoticed, he, Muertomon, and Grindymon had all practically frozen in place and were all looking in the same direction, their eyes focused and their breathing slow. Anzumon's wings were quivering against his body, while Muertomon's expression had turned severe. Grindymon dropped down a few inches, and the light at the end of her antenna was swiftly dim.

"What is it?" asked Ryan, suddenly aware of how exposed they were. So far their trip had been danger-free, but the drastic change in the demeanor of the Digimon gave him pause and made the hairs on his arms stand up on end.

"I don't hear anything," Blaire murmured.

"Be quiet," Muertomon returned. "There’s something coming."

"Get low," Grindymon told them, "please."

Doing as the floating Digimon asked, Ryan, Katrina, and Blaire squatted, seeing things at almost the same eye level as the Digimon themselves.

The forest was eerily silent, no wind passing through the trees, and for the first time, the three humans noticed the lack of any other noise. No bird song, no frogs croaking. Nothing. Just silence and stillness.

Then, through the heavily packed trees, there was movement, and the Digimon all stiffened. Anzumon's eyes narrowed and his wings went tight against his body. It was difficult to make out the shapes of what was moving, as they were on all fours, until one of them stood up.

Barely ten feet away was a group of three grey creatures. Upright they stood about four feet each, and that did not include the large, rabbit-like ears that stuck out of their heads. But they weren't rabbits. Their forelegs doubled as arms and had three long, razor-sharp black claws one each paw. Their back legs were more like feline legs than a rabbit’s, and instead of a short fluffy tail, these creatures had longer tails with tufted ends.

"What are those?" Ryan asked, keeping his voice as quiet as possible.

"Gazimon...," Katrina informed him. In her hand was the black device with a hologram image floating above, showing a clearer picture of the Digimon. "They're a virus type Digimon... known for being thieves and attacking on sight if you so much as look at them wrong. They work in groups to overpower targets."

They could see the Gazimon digging in the underbrush, pushing aside dead leaves and soil until they had exposed a pile of their own goods, bits and pieces they had taken from other Digimon or found. From their current distance it was too hard to see what any of it was.

"We should move," Grindymon informed them. "Carefully and quietly."

"No," Muertomon rebuffed, "we can take them on. Some of that stuff might be useful!"

"Shhh!" Grindymon covered his mouth. "We can't take on three of them."

Anzumon sniffed indignantly. "Why not? Three of us, three of them."

"But-"

"Can you even take on one?" asked Blaire, leaning back on her hands a little. "I mean... well, can you?"

"Never tried," Muertomon told her, once Grindymon had removed her flipper. "Now is a good time to try! No time like the present!"

"Please, don't," begged Grindymon.

Anzumon laughed. "You’re such a 'fraidy-cat." He scratched his claws along the ground, sniggering.

"She is not. She's being sensible," whispered Katrina. "More than can be said for you two."

"I say we attack them," Muertomon urged. "If we kill them, we can have their stuff."

"I like his idea," said Blaire, smiling. "What's the worst that could happen, really?"

"We could die?" Ryan suggested, shifting as he spoke. "Did that cross your mind?" As he moved, he stepped onto a twig, which snapped underfoot. He grimaced at the noise, and averted his gaze to the Gazimon to see if they had heard. His companions also waited and watched with wide-eyed expressions.

One of the Gazimon was upright with its nose up, ears perked. "You hear that?"

Another one joined the first. "What?"

The first sniffed, looking around warily with sharp red eyes. He moved slowly, turning to look behind him, his ears twitching to catch any more noise.

He appeared not to have seen them as his gaze moved over the area the six of them were squatting in.

"You're imagining things," the second Gazimon told him, nudging the other with his forearm.

The first squinted before relaxing a little. Without another word, he turned back to their digging.

They had been holding their breath the whole time and each let out the air they had been keeping in. Blaire shifted, her legs growing weary beneath her. She stretched one a little, trying to help the muscle relax. She placed her foot on the ground, and it sank, dropping down into a hole well hidden by the underbrush. She fell back with a yelp, landing hard on her backside.

The Gazimon noticed that time, and turned in unison.

They dashed towards them together on all fours, navigating easily through the trees and underbrush.

"Electric Stun Blast!" Black gas spewed from the mouths of each animalistic Digimon.

"Up, up, up!" Grindymon ordered, rising rapidly into the air as Ryan hauled Katrina and Blaire to their feet, pulling them out of the way of the oncoming attack.

Anzumon had flown up to a branch of a tree above them, far from harm.

"Keep moving! Avoid their attacks but don't run too far!" Grindymon told the humans firmly, watching as they scattered.

Muertomon charged into the oncoming Rookies, releasing a war cry as he did so. He reached beneath his poncho, withdrawing a flamethrower.

"Soul Launcher!" Muertomon bellowed, laughing manically as a stream of flaming butterflies shot from the end of the weapon and dispersed the oncoming gaseous cloud attack.

One of the Gazimon came from behind and head-butted him in the back, then attacked again as Muertomon was recovering from the first hit. He kicked Muertomon in the side of the head and sent the skeletal Digimon sliding across the ground, leaving smoldering leaves in his wake.

"Electric Stun Blast!" Gazimon yelled, spewing another cloud of gas directly at Muertomon's fallen form.

"Get up! Get up!" Blaire shouted. She had ran, but stopped as soon as Muertomon began to rail on the Gazimon. Now she was stationary, watching the skeleton on the ground. She couldn't even see Katrina or Ryan, or the Gazimon who moved quickly and with ease through the bushes.

Something hit her from behind in the back of her legs, something hard that might have been a rock, had it not been for the burning sensation she felt in the same place immediately after where her skin had been broken. She toppled forward from the impact and saved herself from face-planting into the undergrowth.

"You don't know who you're dealing with...," Gazimon hissed, stalking towards Blaire as she turned over and backed away, kicking up dead leaves and mud with her pink boots.

Muertomon was getting up slowly, wiping debris from his face as he did so. He was unsteady on his feet at first, the quick attacks of the Gazimon surprising him. He would not underestimate the Digimon again.

He looked for his enemy, and felt a fire burst in his chest when he saw it closing in on Blaire.

Another Gazimon was chasing Ryan, bouncing over roots and mounds of earth as Ryan darted one way and another, using trees as cover and obstacles. Anzumon watched from the tree branch, amused at the blind panic of everyone. He was able to see everything and how the Gazimon moved perfectly from his perch.

Ryan was cornered against a fallen tree; the Gazimon that had been chasing him a mere few feet away with his mouth open and black gas billowing out. Anzumon ignored the pull of instinct to protect him, and instead turned and snuggled his head beneath his wing.

He knew he was trapped. The fallen tree trunk was too low for Ryan to slide under, and too tall for him to jump over. He could not run left or right and get behind it as there was no gap, his only option was  to run or jump over the Gazimon. Which wasn't really an option as the Gazimon was fast, much faster than Ryan, and would undoubtedly catch him before he even got a few feet away.

He had to think, and think of something quickly. Push on his survival instincts to find a way out of this. If he was quick he could duck and perhaps, if luck was on his side, grab a stick to fight off the creature. But again that meant being faster than the Gazimon. He could always try and kick it. His legs were long and the Gazimon was close to him. He could probably do a lot of damage with his heavy biker boots. Or miss completely, both were plausible.

The Gazimon snarled, the black smoke escaping from his mouth forming a cloud around his face. Ryan watched carefully and took a breath. The Gazimon launched himself at Ryan, his maw open wide. Ryan grunted and kicked as hard as he could. He felt his foot impact with something, and heard the yowl of the Gazimon as it flew back several feet through the air and whacked loudly against the trunk of a tree.

"Yes!" Ryan cheered, but had no time for more celebration. The Gazimon recovered quickly and was back up on his feet. Ryan bolted.

Katrina sped over the fallen roots and the slippery ground, using some of the upturned roots as leverage to get a bit of a jump away from the quick four-legged creatures. One had been close to her and she had yet to lose it even a little. Every time she chanced to glance behind her, she saw it on her heels.

Grindymon's light was ahead. The little teal Digimon looked lost and confused, following the Gazimon and her comrades with her gaze, unsure whether to fight or flee.

"Electric Stun Blast!" the Gazimon shouted.

Katrina yelped, catching her foot on uneven ground. She fell, putting her hands out to protect her. The black cloud passed over her head, she saw, as she turned over onto her back, using her legs and arms to scramble away from the closing in Gazimon.

"Stupid human," one of the Gazimon had its claws raised about to strike.

Katrina raised an arm to protect herself, bracing herself for the impact, closing her eyes. The strike never came from the claws, only she heard the Gazimon spluttering and coughing. As she peered through half open eyes, she saw it brushing a clump of mud and earth from his face.

"Pick on someone your own size!" Grindymon ordered, floating in front of Katrina protectively. Her fins were covered with soil residue. "Katrina, are you okay?"

The Gazimon's face was murderous as he snarled at the floating Rookie.

"I'm... good," Katrina confirmed, backing up a few more paces.

"Not a clever idea," Gazimon growled, snapping its jaws at Grindymon.

"Neither is attacking my friend,” Grindymon announced. Her flippers were suddenly covered in black water. "Nether Strike!" She plummeted to the ground, pounding the Gazimon with her tail and flippers, as if she were delivering hard kicks and punches. She railed around the grey Digimon's body, delivering one blow after another.

As the Gazimon advanced on Blaire, Muertomon shook his head and took judgment of the situation, clasping his hands into fists.

Blaire backed up a step, her foot dropping down deeper into the decomposing undergrowth. She tumbled, releasing a startled cry as she hit the ground. The Gazimon launched itself at her as she fell.

His claws were almost on her, his maw open and dripping with saliva.

"Skull Grenade!" Muertomon's skull flew past Blaire, crying the attack as it went. It exploded on contact with the Gazimon, blowing the other Digimon several feet away and into the ground.

"MUERTOMON!" Blaire yelled, expecting to see the worst, only turning in time to see a new head growing in place of Muertomon's thrown one. Her mouth hung open a little as he rushed ahead, drawing the flamethrower from beneath his poncho again his eyes fixed on the slowly recovering Gazimon.

"Soul Launcher!!" This time, instead of it being a steady stream of flaming butterflies that exploded from the gun, it was a single, large burning butterfly that crashed straight into the Gazimon like a torpedo, leaving nothing in the place of the Gazimon but a steady stream of data, which he absorbed.

Ryan was cornered again. The Gazimon he had kicked was finding plenty of enjoyment chasing him, and trying to tear into his clothes with its claws. He was pinned against the tree Anzumon had decided to use as his refuge. The griffin Digimon was above him watching the fighting unfold.

"Anzumon...," Ryan spoke, his eyes switching between the Gazimon that prowled in front of him like a starving lion, "if you want to give me a hand, now would be a good time..."

Gazimon snorted. "You're asking for help? From that over-grown featherweight?" He laughed loudly.

"Feather weight?" Anzumon repeated, his feathers ruffling.

"You'd be better off asking for help from a falling leaf. All the good he can do you."

Anzumon was up on his feet, clawing the tree bark with his talons. "Featherweight?!"

"Heh. Not that anyone is any help to you now."

"Featherweight?!" yelled Anzumon. His cry drew the attention of the Gazimon. "I'll give you a featherweight!" Anzumon bellowed, swooping from the tree branch with his head bowed and lighting crackling between his small antlers. "Spark Javelin!" At his cry, a bolt of white lighting blasted forth from between his horns, snapping around Gazimon.

Landing, Anzumon kept his wings open, the electricity that had generated between his horns spreading all across his feathers. He pawed the ground for a moment with his front and back feet, yellow eyes trained on the recovering Gazimon, then he charged, his head low.

"Volt Blitz!" shouted Anzumon as he neared the Gazimon. He impaled it with his antlers, the electricity across his body spreading into the offended Digimon. As Anzumon bellowed and rounded, ready to make another strike, the Gazimon shook its head and fur, twitching from the electricity.

Grindymon rose a few feet above the beaten and bloody Gazimon, the black vaporous clouds disappearing from around her fins and tail. Gazimon looked barely able to think, the aquatic Digimon's attacks had been so fierce and well-aimed.

The grey Digimon swayed on its feet uneasily, staring up at Grindymon. He snarled, and drew in a breath. "Electric Stun Bla-!"

"Aqua Needle!" Grindymon countered.

Short blasts of glowing water erupted from the light at the end of her antenna and pierced through the black cloud, dispersing it.

Gazimon took a last ditch attempt, and leapt through the clearing fog with the last of its energy, at the hovering Digimon. Grindymon reacted too slowly to the surprise attack, only noticing the Gazimon coming at her through the black smog when its paws caught her tail. Gazimon yanked her roughly towards the ground, his mouth drawn into a grim smile.

"Not so brave now!" Gazimon sneered over Grindymon, pressing his paws into her tail, keeping her grounded. The light at the end of Grindymon's antenna had dimmed, Katrina saw as she stood a few feet away.

Katrina bit her lip, torn between running and drawing closer to the teal Digimon who had defended her. She could not pull her gaze from the savage expression of Gazimon's face, and hated how Grindymon's eyes were suddenly so full of fear, when moments ago they had been bright and confident.

Without realizing she was doing it, Katrina grabbed a large stone from the ground and threw it. She watched the rock thwack Gazimon at the crown of his head, and the black eyes rise to glare at her.

It was the distraction Grindymon needed. Her fins were surrounded with black vapor as she swung deftly with them both, slapping Gazimon in the face with both fins simultaneously. Gazimon staggered back and Grindymon was free from his grasp.

"Nether Strike!" Grindymon cried, rising above Gazimon and then pile-driving down to the earth, both fins above her head, aimed well into Gazimon's back as he recovered on the ground.

The noise that tore from Gazimon's throat was an anguished scream. Grindymon spun in the filtering data of the deceased Digimon, absorbing it as the black essence around her fins disappeared.

Anzumon charged again, his head lowered. The other Gazimon dodged just as Anzumon reached him, twisting awkwardly to one side, Ryan was all but forgotten by the rabbit-like Digimon. Anzumon grumbled a little, annoyed at missing the other Digimon.

Flapping his wings to get airborne, Anzumon rounded in the air as he rose higher, electricity generating between his antlers again.

Gazimon watched him through half-focused eyes, following the flying figure as he circled and crossed overhead. The electricity racing through Gazimon's body was causing him to twitch randomly and his balance was shot.

"Spark Javelin!" Anzumon cried, a bright white spark shooting from his antlers to Gazimon on the ground.

"Electric Stun Blast!" Gazimon retorted, using its last ounce of strength to expel the attack.

They both hit the other at the same time, and the paralyzing blast caught Anzumon off-guard as he found himself unable to flap his wings or even turn. He was falling to the ground before he even realized it. Gazimon's data floated around him and he was absorbing it, that much he knew.

The ground was coming in fast. Anzumon tried to brace himself for the impact of the ground, but couldn't move to ready himself. All he managed to do was shut his eyes.

When he didn't feel himself hit anything except something catching him, Anzumon opened one eye and then the other.

He realized, much to his embarrassment, he was in Ryan's arms. Caught by him on the way down.

Ryan placed the griffin on the ground as the effects of the Gazimon's attack began to wear off. Anzumon wanted to get as far away from him as possible.

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

"There's another!" Blaire cried, spotting a fourth Gazimon none of them had seen. It had been watching from the sidelines and had a face that was drawn and terrified.

"Let's go!" Muertomon yelled, beginning to run.

Realizing it had been spotted, the Gazimon gasped, turned, and bolted, rushing through the trees and bushes as fast as it could move.

"He's getting away! After him!" Blaire ordered, pointing wildly in the direction the Digimon had fled.

"Let him go," Ryan said, rubbing bark and dirt off the sleeves of his shirt.

"Let him go!?" repeated Blaire, holding her arms protectively to her chest. "What if he comes back with a whole army of Gazimon?"

Ryan gave her a long look. "We'll probably be miles away by then."

Muertomon shrugged his shoulders. "And if he does, then we'll fight them too." He smiled and looked up at Blaire. "Are your legs okay?"

"Think so," Blaire confirmed with a small smile. She touched the flesh that had been caught by the Gazimon's claws. "I'm not bleeding, so I think it's probably just a graze." She untied her jacket from her waist and placed it back on.

Nodding sagely, Muertomon seemed satisfied. "That is good then."

Ryan knelt beside Anzumon, who was beginning to recovering from the paralysis. "How you doing?"

Anzumon fluffed his wings and stretched them, speeding up the process. "You didn't need to catch me," Anzumon told Ryan. "I would have been fine."

Ryan sighed. "Next time I won't then." He ran his hand back through his hair. "Thanks for coming through for me though."

The griffin snorted. "I wasn't protecting you," he stated primly, lifting his head high. "He called me a featherweight; I had to prove I wasn't."

"Oh...," Ryan replied slowly, "well... you protected me in the process, so I owe you for that." He smiled weakly.

"Whatever," replied Anzumon.

Grindymon came to Katrina's shoulder, her fins drawn together nervously. "Are you alright?" She floated around the girl, lifting her elbow and bending her wrist, checking for injuries. "Did you hurt yourself when you fell?"

"Only my pride," Katrina replied, her mouth curved into a quirked smile. "You... you pack quite a punch for someone so small and timid. I am very impressed!"

"Oh..." Grindymon smiled shyly, and spun around on the spot. "It's nothing... I just didn't want you to get hurt."

"Mission accomplished," Katrina told her. "Thank you."

"You're... very welcome," said Grindymon, drawing her fins up to her mouth to hide her broadening smile.

"Let's see what the Gazimon had here...," Muertomon crowed, digging through the Gazimon's spoils. The grey Digimon had hidden their stash in a hollowed-out tree stump. Disguised with leaves and dead grasses, it blended it perfectly with the surroundings. It looked like any other tree stump, until the leaves were pushed aside, revealing its true purpose.

Muertomon dug around, handing things to Blaire while she watched. Katrina, Grindymon, Ryan, and Anzumon had joined them, becoming curious.

"A... whatever this is," Muertomon murmured, handing a bronze pocket watch to Blaire. "I wonder what these do..." He handed her a selection of differently-sized cogs and wheels, all copper or brass.

Katrina took one. "What's with all the clockwork stuff...," she wondered aloud.

Muertomon turned some paper over in his hands, tilting his head. "That looks boring." He tossed it over his shoulder and continued to rummage. Ryan stepped back and picked up the discarded pieces of paper, turning them over to examine them.

The paper itself was crumbled, stained with dirt, and discolored by the sun and water exposure. A lot of what had been written and drawn on the pages had run or faded, but it was still possible to make out certain details, which Ryan examined with interest.

In the top right corner of every page, when laid horizontally, was a compass with the Cardinal Directions marked. There were squiggles across the pages, each with words in a language he could not comprehend around or beneath them. Some of the marks were, some were two lines running parallel to one another.

Ryan turned the pages over again. "I think these are maps," he said slowly, squinting at the pages.

Katrina turned and looked at him. "What makes you say that?" She stepped towards him with Grindymon at her shoulder and Ryan turned the pages towards her. "Hmm... Grindymon, do you think you could give us a little more light?"

Grindymon nodded and the dim light on her antenna increased, becoming bright enough to read by.

Katrina perused the pages as Blaire came towards them, carrying the pocket watch, cogs, and a handful of small stones. Muertomon continued to dig through the few bits that remained in the Gazimon's hiding spot with Anzumon.

"Look here, I think this is a river...," Ryan pointed, "and see here, this is the forest we're in, I'm sure. There's a small area here that must be the clearing we found you in." He moved his finger across the page.

"Is it all one map? Or different maps?" Blaire asked, peering at them curiously.

Ryan frowned. "I can't tell... they're not in great condition."

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," Katrina joked. "It's something that tells us where we are and where we can go... I think it's safe to say we're lost thanks to your idea of looking for Dalimon."

"That really worked," Blaire teased. Ryan awkwardly stuffed his hands into his pockets, causing Blaire to smile. "Is there anything on those about the Circle?"

Katrina shuffled the six pieces of paper, examining each one briefly and then handing them to Blaire so she could have a closer look. "I can't see anything on there mentioning a place called the Circle... but then there's a language here that I don't recognize."

"And the light isn't great though," sighed Blaire, turning the pages this way and that after handing Muertomon's new treasures to Ryan.

The light Grindymon was giving diminished suddenly. "I... I'm sorry."

"I didn't mean yours," Blaire addressed her suddenly. Her raised tone caused the aquatic Digimon to flee and hide behind Katrina. "It's getting dark and the forest doesn't give good light."

"You have a point," Ryan agreed, stretching his back and groaning as he did so. "We're probably better off heading in a straight line, waiting for the morning and hopefully we'll be able to map out our course to this... Circle place."

Blaire gave him a look with one fine eyebrow tilted. "You admit your idea to follow Dalimon was stupid?" She handed the pages to Katrina.

"Will you say I told you so if I say yes?" Ryan asked her, his mouth pulled into a thin smile.

She smirked and crossed her arms. "Most likely."

Ryan narrowed his eyes a little before he huffed. "Yes. It was a bad idea. Go ahead and gloat."

"Maybe there is a better time for that when we don't have company." Katrina suggested, pointing beyond Ryan where his back was turned.

He turned to see what she was indicating to, suddenly alarmed. Blaire looked too, while Muertomon and Anzumon were already gearing up to attack. Grindymon peeked out from behind Katrina's shoulder.

Unnoticed by the six of them, a pink bird, about three feet in height, was watching them from a low branch. The feathers on its head were tinted with blue at the tips, and it had an extra long forehead feather, which was striped blue and pink. Its beak was a salmon color, as were the claws on its wings and its yellow feet. Around its left foot was a silver bangle.

"One of Gazimon's friends?" Anzumon growled, his feathers rippling with electricity.

The bird looked at them calmly, blue eyes examining them each in turn.

Grindymon floated in front of Katrina and above Anzumon and Muertomon. "I... don't think so. It isn't threatening... just observing."

"Says here it's called Biyomon," Ryan said, looking at the details as they appeared above the black device in his hand. "A bird Digimon who lives in small colonies with others of its kind and its earlier form of Yokomon..."

"It's weird how it's just staring...," Blaire said quietly. Her stomach rumbled. "Is it edible? Do you think it tastes like fried chicken?"

Biyomon's eyes stayed on Blaire for a moment, before it flapped down to the ground.

"Let me attack it, go on. Barbeque Biyomon!" Muertomon laughed raucously.

Grindymon shook her head. "I don't think that's necessary."

"Are you the three who disposed of some of the Gazimon gang?" asked Biyomon, its voice betraying its gender as female.

"Yes...," Grindymon confirmed, "only three of them. A fourth one escaped us."

"I saw." Biyomon smiled. "He came rushing through our village, a mere shadow of himself, raving about how his friends had been set upon by terrifying fighters... I had to come and investigate for myself."

"Your village?" Ryan repeated. "Does that mean we're near the edge of the forest?"

Biyomon nodded. "Oh yes." She turned and pointed. "Less than quarter of a mile, that way."

"Thank you," grinned Ryan. "We've been lost all day."

"I can see that," giggled Biyomon. "You have done all of us Digimon who live in these forests a great service by dealing with the Gazimon gang. They have been stealing and pillaging the villages on the edge of the forest, and also killing some of my kin. We are more grateful to you than most for your dealing with them."

"There are other Digimon in this forest?" Blaire asked, delicately twisting a strand of hair between her fingers. "Where? We haven't seen any. Aside from the Gazimon and you..."

"Oh, they are here. They keep to the trees and stay hidden. Word of you has spread from mouth-to-mouth very quickly," Biyomon explained. "News of newcomers often generates excitement."

"We were being watched this whole time?" Blaire reasoned, looking skywards. Sudden she felt exposed and covered herself with her arms. "...Creepy."

"I had hoped you might accompany me to my village? As a token of thanks to your good deeds, we will be happy to provide you with food and shelter for the night," Biyomon offered, bowing graciously. "The night in these forests is far more dangerous than the day."

Ryan cast a look back at Katrina, Blaire, and the Digimon. They had already dealt with one lot of dangerous Digimon today, and despite how friendly Biyomon was being now, there was no telling that her manners weren't some kind of ploy. After all, Blaire's stories about her brother had not filled him with much hope of friendly Digimon.

"What do you two want to do?" he asked them, shrugging his shoulders.

"She seems friendly enough...," Katrina reasoned, "and I don't want to be in here when it starts getting really dark and dangerous."

"Besides, she mentioned food and shelter," Blaire added. "We'll be able to get the lay of the land. Didn’t you say it'd be worth asking native Digimon about the area to get a better idea?" She nudged Katrina, who nodded.

"I know but..." Ryan scratched his neck. "I just... what if it's a trick?"

"My brother did mention that some of the Digimon they came across here were kind and helpful, not all of them were evil and wanted to kill him," Blaire told him with a disarmingly sweet smile.

"Convenient you forgot to tell us that earlier," Ryan told her, breathing through his nose deeply. He looked at the Digimon. "You guys have opinions?"

"We're hungry after fighting...," Muertomon admitted. "I wouldn't say no to some food."

"And perhaps you'll get a better idea of those... maps of yours?" Grindymon added hopefully.

"I don't really care...," said Anzumon, not wanting his opinion to be left out.

"Helpful," Ryan told the griffin with a tired tone to his voice. He gave each of the Digimon and the two women a long look, before turning around and seeing Biyomon waiting patiently, looking at their small group expectantly.

"Well?"

"Lead the way." Ryan indicated with his hand, half-smiling and half-grimacing as he spoke.

He still had a worrying thought niggling at the back of his mind.


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