Episode 4: 'SCAPE THE
Serpent's Tongue

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Morning broke cold and bright, the orange rays of the dawn bleeding into the night sky.

Blaire had never seen a sunrise like it, and she had witnessed more than her fair share. In the city they were often obscured by buildings, or the full effect was lost due to the artificial lights. Here, without any of that pollution, the colors were vibrant in shades that Blaire had never considered could exist.

Beside her, Muertomon stirred in his sleep. He was leaning against her arm, snoring softly with his arms folded beneath his poncho. He had been sleeping for several hours, giving in to the draw of slumber almost as soon as the six of them returned to the Biyomon village. Blaire did not have the heart to disturb him, even after her arm had fallen asleep. He had deserved the rest.

The battle with the stone Behemon during the night had left everyone wide awake and feeling wired. They had taken their time to return to the Biyomon village, trying to use up some of their energy on the walk back to the small settlement. When they had returned, sleep had either not come easily or at all, except to the Digimon, who all managed to sleep soundly for a few hours.

Katrina had tried in vain to get some sleep, and eventually became so fed up that she started playing with her D-Ex again. Even though she had gone over every inch of the device already, the fact the information on Behemon was so minimal in comparison to the other Digimon bothered her. She had made it something of a mission to find out why.

Ryan too had failed to sleep, though he had made more of an effort than either Katrina or Blaire. At one point he said he felt like he had dozed for a few minutes, but aside from that he had spent most of the night going quietly over the map.

Blaire had spent the entire night outside the shelter, where she had spent a good hour or two just looking at the sky trying to recognize constellations. She had tried to sleep against the building's walls, but each time she closed her eyes she could see her brother's face. Reyez was more than capable of taking care of himself; Blaire knew that better than most, but that fact did not stop the worry gnawing at her stomach.

If what Dalimon said had been correct, then Reyez and Ailurmon were trapped in the Circle with no way out. Blaire was Reyez's only hope to get home, and that kind of responsibility troubled her. She had herself to worry about too. Things in the Digital World were not entirely as Blaire had imagined.

She was realizing very quickly that being in the Digital World and hearing Reyez's stories about it were two very different things. It was one thing to envision it: the forests, the rolling hills, the clean, clear water. To picture what other Digimon looked and behaved like. The reality of it was not living up to Blaire's over-romanticized expectations. She had been naive to think it would not be vast. It was a whole world after all; the clue was in the name. She had also not anticipated the dangers that lurked here, despite some of the harrowing stories Reyez had told.

The Biyomon and Yokomon were beginning to stir, waking up as the sun rose higher and warmed them. The flower petals on the heads of the Yokomon opened in response to the growing warmth, absorbing all they could from it, while the Biyomon spread open their wings little-by-little, warming up slowly.

For now, Blaire decided to enjoy the peace, as she doubted it would last once they started moving again.

Gradually, the whole village began to awaken. The Biyomon and Yokomon came and went, chattering to one another in high-pitched voices. They bounced and rushed from one hut to another, carrying things to and fro, and clearing out the dirt from some of the huts. They talked among themselves, leaving their guests to wake up in their own time, which would have made sense, had any of them slept.

Several of the Biyomon left the village in a small group, disappearing over the rise of the hill and towards the forest. To go foraging, Blaire assumed.

Blaire was aware of Ryan standing a few feet away before he made himself known, the sound of his boots crunching the ground underfoot gave him away. Anzumon was quick to leave the cramped conditions of the hut, stretching his wings as he took off into the air for a short period, flying out over the village and back again.

"Did you sleep?" asked Ryan.

"No," Blaire replied, "but I'm not tired."

"Neither am I." Ryan sighed.

"Good morning~," Grindymon yawned, rubbing her eyes with the back of her fins. She was floating at Katrina's shoulder. The orange-haired girl seemed amused, and stretched her arms above her head, releasing a satisfied groan as her muscles relaxed.

"Morning," Ryan replied to the Digimon. She smiled drowsily through a yawn, and quickly hid behind Katrina when she realized. "You didn't sleep either, huh?" Ryan looked down at Katrina.

"Nope." Katrina shrugged then smiled brightly. "But honestly, that's not unusual for me."

"Find anything out about Behemon?" Ryan inquired, watching Anzumon land and begin rolling in the sand and dry soil, giving himself a dust bath.

Katrina slipped her hands into her back pockets, unconsciously gripping one hand around her D-Ex. "Nothing that we didn't already know. It's pretty weird that the D-Ex didn't register all the details. I've checked every available screen, every possible button combination, but I can't find anything about it."

"I'm sure there's an explanation," Blaire sighed.

"I did, however, find something very interesting!" Katrina added, taking her D-Ex from her pocket and turning it over.

"Your idea of interesting and our idea of interesting may be very different," laughed Ryan.

On the back of the D-Ex, Katrina tugged at a small rectangular slot that was practically invisible. A part of the black casing came loose, revealing a port. "This has a mini USB port," announced Katrina smugly.

Ryan gave her a bemused look. "Great?"

"It is great!" Katrina replied enthusiastically. "When we get home I can hook this up to my laptop and examine all the intricate details! It's exciting!"

"What a thrilling life you must lead," Blaire said, rolling her eyes, "if you get excited about hooking things up to your laptop."

Blaire nudged Muertomon gently, who had not stirred even a little despite the talking around him. He woke with a start and looked around, a little disorientated. Standing, Blaire wiped the dirt and dust from her backside. Muertomon adjusted his skull as if stretching his muscles and joints out. "We should probably get moving, so we have all the daylight possible to move by."

"Actually," Ryan paused, noting how Blaire's jaw tightened, "I was thinking it would be a better idea to stay in the village for another day."

The atmosphere between the three of them immediately tensed. Katrina muttered 'oh no' under her breath and found a stone to kick with her boot. Blaire drew herself up to her full height, breathed deep through her nose and quickly ran her hands through her hair in silence. She loved a good argument as much as the next person, but it was too early.

"Why?" she asked politely, surprising Ryan and Katrina both.

Ryan gave her a mistrustful look. In their short time together Blaire had been aggressive and abrasive most of the time. Her suddenly being polite to him, especially when it came to questioning her decision, threw him a little. He had been expecting an outright 'no'.

He answered carefully, narrowing his eyes just a little to try and gauge Blaire's reaction before she gave it. "I was thinking that staying here one extra day and night will allow us to get all the information we can from the Biyomon. It'll give us a feel of everything the Digital World has to offer, and we'll be able to go over the map in more detail."

Blaire pursed her lips. "It's not that it's a bad idea…," she began, trying to answer diplomatically, "but I want to find my brother as soon as possible… if he's at the Circle, there's no telling what is happening to him." She was surprisingly calm, and kept seeing Katrina and Ryan exchange confused looks.

"I think we'd be doing more harm than good to ourselves if we leave before we know where we're going, and what we're getting ourselves in to," Ryan explained evenly.

She considered arguing the point, but it would only end in another bickering match. Blaire could see both Ryan and Katrina were decided that staying in the village one more night was the best course of action. There was no point in fighting, they would never all agree. "Okay," she said finally.

"I know you want–" Ryan stopped midsentence, his automatic response to the answer he had expected drying in his mouth. He stared at Blaire for a moment, then at Katrina, who looked just as surprised.

"You… aren't going to fight him on this?" inquired Katrina tentatively.

"No," Blaire replied.

Ryan narrowed his eyes. "What's your angle?"

"Angle?" repeated Blaire. "Angle? What angle? There is no angle."

"You can't blame me for my surprise," Ryan explained. "You’ve rejected most other ideas in favour of your own. Why the change of heart?"

"It's not a change of heart," Blaire said shortly. "I still want to get to my brother and the Circle. But if we argue about every little thing and waste time doing that, we're never going to get there."

"Can't fault the logic," Katrina admitted with a small shrug.

Ryan was not convinced. "Are you sure you're okay with this? You're not going to stomp up to me later and demand we start moving?"

Blaire rolled her eyes dramatically. "Do you want me to sign a contract in blood? Yes. I'm fine with us staying one more night here in the village if the Biyomon will allow it."

"Okay…" Ryan released a long breath.

Blaire snorted and brushed past them both, heading into the hut. "Where's the map?"

Ryan discussed the change of plan with the Biyomon as it had been his idea. The bird Digimon were overjoyed to have their guests stay another night, and sent out a small party to gather more food for them.

Blaire examined the map in relative quiet for several hours while the others occupied themselves, trying to work out the details of it, from scale to locations. She had noticed when sewing the pieces together the previous night that there was an odd marking, a small square box dotted here and there. With no key to tell her what they meant, it left their meaning to her imagination. They could have been anything, and the fact that she didn't know annoyed her. She also wished she had a pen to write on the map, but settled for a piece of chalk she found.

She was mapping their course, where they had come from and been. At least, she was trying to, using the exposed areas on the D-Ex as a guide. On the map the distance they had travelled did not look like much, when in reality they had walked quite a way through the forest and to the Biyomon village, not to mention their jaunt out during the night.

Katrina sat leaning against the hut outside, D-Ex in one hand and the glowing green vial in the other. She had borrowed Blaire's D-Ex briefly, noting down the differences between the two which had occurred and remained during and after Muertomon's evolution.

Muertomon and Grindymon kept themselves busy by watching Anzumon. The griffin Digimon had become something of a hit with the Yokomon and Biyomon, who all crooned and cooed over his wings and flying prowess. He was only too happy to oblige them with a rather showy demonstration of his speed, agility, and style, gleefully lapping up the attention and their praise.

"What are you doing?" Ryan sat beside Katrina, watching the orange-haired woman slowly tipping the vial of glowing liquid to one side. Both of them watched in silence as a single droplet plopped onto the lower screen of Katrina's D-Ex.

Katrina seemed to hold her breath, tipping the vial upright again and waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, she exhaled deeply and frowned.

"I don't get it."

"What don't you get?" asked Ryan. "I don't think you should waste this stuff, by the way." He took the small glass container from her hand. He examined it up close, having not been able to have a good look at Blaire's.

He saw the vial itself had a certain texture to it, and in the right light it looked as if an image of a circuit board had been embedded into or onto the glass. The liquid inside was more viscous than water, and so moved slower, but there was no telling exactly what the substance was.

"I'm trying to figure out what caused the reaction to make Muertomon evolve," Katrina explained. "The way Blaire described it, she crushed her vial in her hand and when the contents leaked onto her D-Ex, it triggered the evolution."

"Right…," Ryan murmured.

"I've tried doing that with mine. Dripping a few drops onto different parts of the D-Ex… Nothing is happening to it. No lights, Grindymon isn't changing shape or glowing." Katrina's frown deepened. "And this material just confuses me."

Ryan rubbed a hand through his hair. "Why?"

"Here, feel it." Katrina handed him her D-Ex, despite the fact his own sat on the waist band of his jeans.

Taking the item, Ryan felt its weight and looked at Katrina expectantly. She sighed impatiently, shifted towards him and grabbed one of his hands, manipulating his index finger to run over the surface.

"It's smooth…?" Ryan said, not entirely sure if his answer was correct.

"It's metal," Katrina told him, dropping his hand, "and it's a metal I have never come across, and that by all logical standards, shouldn't exist."

"Why?"

"It absorbs liquid," she told him pointedly. "Do you know of any metals that can absorb liquid? Because honestly, I have dropped phones and music players in puddles and the bath so many times I can tell you with ample confidence, metal does not absorb liquid."

Ryan stared at her, somewhat astounded by her tenacity. This was obviously something that had buried itself underneath Katrina's skin during the night and she was not going to let it go.

"Well…" Ryan cleared his throat and handed Katrina's D-Ex back to her. She had the vial uncorked and turned the D-Ex over in her hand. "This is the Digital World… maybe it's some… special Digital World metal?"

He watched as she dribbled a small amount of the vial contents onto the back of her D-Ex. The liquid puddled there for a few seconds, glowing, until it disappeared into the device. Ryan had to admit he was amazed, though Katrina's expression looked more disgruntled than ever.

"And you never know," Ryan added, "maybe the circumstances have to be special to trigger an evolution like Muertomon's."

Katrina looked at him and blinked her blue eyes slowly. Ryan could tell that was a variable she had not thought of, so he elaborated for her. "Last night we were under attack by a huge monster. Grindymon and Anzumon were out of commission, leaving Muertomon the last Digimon standing."

"Okay…" Katrina nodded slowly.

Ryan continued thinking as he spoke. "Obviously the Digimon have bonds with us. Or at least Grindymon and Muertomon have bonded with you two. Muertomon was in a fix. Too small to do damage to a giant, and Blaire in danger of getting smashed if he didn't do anything. He probably had the willpower to evolve and protect Blaire the whole time, but the liquid and the D-Ex were like…"

"A kick start," Katrina finished his sentence, breaking into a smile.

"Exactly." Ryan nodded.

Katrina considered his logic for a few moments, rolling the vial back and forth in the palm of her hand. "That… actually makes a lot of sense." She breathed slowly, then looked squarely at Ryan. "And it came from you."

Ryan laughed. "You don't have to sound so surprised."

"No, I mean," Katrina paused and laughed uneasily, "I'm usually the one with all the answers. It isn't very often someone has to explain something to me."

"Maybe give yourself a break. We're all in this mess together. There's no reason we can't bat ideas off one another," Ryan told her gently.

"I guess…" She clasped her hand around the cylinder.

"Don't squeeze it so tight," Ryan told her. "It's obviously pretty fragile."

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The attention lavished on him by the Biyomon and Yokomon made Anzumon the happiest he had been since this whole thing had started. He had made a show of his feathers and wings, and his impressive speed, soaring above the village, creating circles and patterns in the sky. Making nosedives to the ground only to turn up and rise back into the air with a moment to spare, lapping up the applause and attention from his audience.

Some of the Biyomon had flown with him for a short time. Their own wings, which doubled as arms, not as used to flying or as strong as his own. Those that had joined him quickly fell behind or lost their breath. Anzumon was all but too happy to point out their shortcomings as he overtook them with ease, and maneuvered through the air casually.

He had noticed Grindymon and Muertomon watching the display from the ground, away from their human cohorts, who were all involved in other things.

Tiring a little, Anzumon landed on the ground gracefully, kicking up a cloud of dust as he did so. He fluttered his wings, fluffing and shaking them before he sat and started to preen, making himself neat and tidy once again, rearranging the feathers that had become messy during his display.

He was soon surrounded by the cooing Yokomon and the excited babbling of some of the Biyomon, and he was more than happy to receive the attention.

"Please, you have to teach us how to fly that quickly!" one Biyomon insisted, grasping her wing-hands together as if begging.

Anzumon smirked. "There's no way to teach natural talent," he explained, flapping his wings and rising a foot or so above the gaggle of fans he had acquired. He sped off quickly, flying straight for a few meters, rising into the air to complete a loop, and then landing again. Almost in exactly the same spot he had taken off from.

And echo of 'oooohhhhhh' went up from the Yokomon and Biyomon, causing Anzumon to stretch his head proudly above them, scratching his talons on the ground, creating small grooves.

"Can you run as fast as you fly?!" one Yokomon gushed, bouncing exuberantly.

"Who walks when they can fly?" Anzumon replied, ruffling his feathers. "Walking is so boring, and slow."

"You must be tired," a Biyomon said, gently spreading the Yokomon so she could approach. "Please, let us look after you while you have a rest."

Anzumon quirked a brow and examined the pink bird with sharp yellow eyes. "I don't get tired," he told her, and quickly stretched his back legs, causing his whole body to tremble. "But I wouldn't say no to some pampering."

He flopped there on the ground, resting his head on his forelegs, leaving his wings outstretched as the Yokomon and Biyomon crowded around him for a closer look. Several of the Biyomon carried with them large make-shift brushes made from twigs, twine, and leaves, which they used to preen Anzumon's feathers for him. A handful of the Yokomon smoothed down his coat and picked out small clumps of matted fur and dirt for him.

"Can you believe him?" Muertomon grumbled, averting his gaze from the crowd of pink Digimon to Grindymon, who hovered close by.

She smiled a little. "It's quite funny."

"It's a disgusting display, that's what it is," Muertomon told her, frowning. "How come we're not getting that attention?"

"Well, Anzumon is quite showy," explained Grindymon with a giggle. "I'm sure you would get their attention if you made your head explode."

Muertomon rubbed his chin, as if considering her comment for a moment. Eventually he shook his head. "I wouldn't want to cause a panic."

"Good idea," Grindymon replied, smiling.

"On your own?!" one of the Biyomon exclaimed. "The Gazimon gang? On your own!?"

"Where were your companions?" one of the Yokomon asked loudly.

Anzumon's voice came from the middle of the gaggle of Digimon, himself unseen through the sea of feathers and petals. "They were too scared to do anything. Frozen by fear. But I wasn't afraid. It all came down to me. A face off. Four versus one…"

Muertomon muttered something softly under his breath, while Grindymon covered her mouth with her fins, muffling her own laughter. "Just remember," she told the skeletal Digimon, "you evolved first. He can't take that away from you."

"I suppose," Muertomon said.

"And he can't help if they make him the center of attention," reasoned Grindymon.

"Shouldn't lie about facts though." Muertomon continued to grouch, folding his arms beneath his poncho. "It makes you an' me look like weaklings."

"We know the truth," Grindymon explained brightly. "That's what matters."

"I jus' don't want other Digimon thinking we're cowards. Gossip travels fast I'm sure," Muertomon told her. "Doesn't that bother you?"

"No," replied Grindymon simply. "Not in the slightest. What others believe doesn't really bother me. It's funny. I think about it, and really the only opinion I can think of that matters to me at all is Katrina's."

Muertomon gave the floating aquatic Digimon a long look, his blue eyes narrowed slightly. She smiled back sweetly. Eventually he sighed and leaned back on the ground. "Well, maybe that's just you."

"Perhaps," Grindymon reasoned. She bobbed up and down slowly. She watched the goings-on around her in silence: Anzumon being fawned over, the few Biyomon not buying into his showy nature being busy around the village, tidying and preparing meals. Katrina, still crouched over her D-Ex, scrawling with a twig in the dirt. Blaire poring over the map with Ryan as they discussed what the different markings might have meant.

"Muertomon?" Grindymon turned mid-air, facing the other Digimon, who opened one eye to look at her. "May I ask you a question?"

"Mhm?" Muertomon's eye closed.

"When you evolved to Pelmamon last night…," she paused, watching Muertomon sit up, "how did you feel? I mean… what was it like?"

Muertomon was thoughtful for a few moments, his brow furrowing deeply as he thought over the question that had been put to him. He had not thought on it much since it had happened. He had been tired after the fight, to the point that Blaire had carried him for a while as they made their way back to the Biyomon village. Only once he had regenerated some energy had he walked on his own. He had fallen asleep almost instantly, and since then it had not been on his mind. But now he thought about it, he remembered a lot. Sounds, feelings. A white heat that spread through his bones as he had transformed.

"It was scary… and intense," Muertomon explained slowly, "but once I was Pelmamon, I felt unstoppable. I had to defend Blaire. You and the others too, but Blaire was my main concern."

"Mhm…" Grindymon sighed. "Before you evolved… did you feel anything?"

"Angry," Muertomon replied without a moment of hesitation. "Angry that we were being attacked. A little desperate… and…," he frowned, "kind of thirsty." He saw Grindymon's face light up.

"I felt the same thing," explained Grindymon. "Only… it got worse, and worse as the fight went on and I became weaker. It was as if there was nothing to quench it. As I was fighting I got more and more thirsty. I could feel myself getting slower and my attacks doing less to Behemon… That's why I got caught by his smog attack and was blinded… It was strange though, when I was blinded and couldn't fight any more, the feeling went away."

Muertomon nodded sagely. "That's basically the same as how I felt," he agreed. "I imagine Anzumon felt it too. We should ask him when he's done with his adoring fans."

Grindymon giggled, before returning to the conversation at hand. "The feeling though… did it go away?"

"Eventually," Muertomon replied. "I felt so powerless and weak until… I think when Blaire crushed the vial and the contents were taken in by her D-Ex. I felt like I had been rejuvenated. Like I had more energy than I knew what to do with!" The skeletal Digimon's voice was rising with excitement as he recalled the sensations of the night before. "I had so much strength and energy I didn't know what to do. Before I knew what was happening, I had transformed to Pelmamon!"

"Then what?!" Grindymon urged, her eyes shining.

Muertomon looked at her. "While I was fighting… at first I felt strong and powerful. After a little while though, those feelings began to lessen. Not a lot, but I definitely didn't feel as fierce as before." Muertomon stopped for a moment, his expression suddenly serious. "And when I devolved from Pelmamon, it was like a starving feeling settled inside me. Like I had used up every ounce of energy."

"Sounds terrifying," Grindymon observed, "and exhilarating all at the same time! Oh my!"

Muertomon's face was still serious as he looked across the village at Blaire. "I wonder if those vials are a one-use thing though? Maybe crushing it was a bad thing."

"What do you mean?" Grindymon asked him, a little worried.

"Well," Muertomon inhaled and looked at her, "what if a drop was all I needed to evolve to Pelmamon? What if by Blaire crushing the vial in her hand by accident, and all the contents dripping onto the floor or being absorbed into the D-Ex, I got a massive power boost when all I should have got was enough of a jolt to evolve?"

Grindymon frowned, not understanding.

"What if it only takes a drop of the vial contents to evolve, and we're supposed to save it? Use the contents only in dire circumstances? And now, because Blaire broke her vial, I won't be able to evolve to Pelmamon again?" Muertomon mused, his voice and expression serious.

Grindymon swallowed. "You don't really think that… do you?" Worry nagged at the back of her mind. If Muertomon's theory was correct, then Katrina had been frivolously wasting the contents of her own vial.

"I don't know," Muertomon admitted with a shrug. "I hope I'm wrong."

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With Blaire examining the map, and Katrina so deeply engrossed in the workings of the D-Ex, Ryan found himself at a loss of what to do. The Digimon were keeping out of trouble, Anzumon enjoying his new stardom, with Muertomon and Grindymon looking on.

He got to his feet and stretched his arms above his head, lightly scratching his belly as he released a satisfied grunt. The day was light and airy, a nicer atmosphere than the dense forest they had travelled through the day before. A small breeze brought on the odd cold chill, which caused Ryan's skin to rise in gooseflesh, but aside from that the weather was mild and kind, bright and clear as far as he could see over the low walls of the Biyomon village.

"Do you have a lot of dangers around here?" he asked one of the Biyomon walking past him. She stopped and looked at him while adjusting the bundle of twigs and larger sticks within her arms.

"Not very many," she explained, moving the branches. One tumbled from the pile to the floor. Biyomon bent to retrieve it. Ryan beat her to it and took the bundle from the bird.

She smiled gratefully and began walking, leading Ryan to the far end of the village where the Biyomon kept their supplies.

"What kind of dangers do you experience?" inquired Ryan.

"For the longest time it's just been the Gazimon. We get the occasional heavy rainfall, which can cause flooding, and strong winds have been known to destroy some of our houses, but we're very diligent and can get them rebuilt in no time at all," explained Biyomon. "One of the dangers of living in open space is that there is little protection from the elements."

"I see," Ryan sighed. Bending his knees, he deposited the collection of twigs onto an already existing pile and brushed the debris from his jacket and shirt. "If I was to leave the village to get a better lay of the land, would I be in any immediate danger?"

Biyomon considered his question for a moment. "No. I wouldn't have thought so, as long as you don't wander too far. Keep the village in sight." She smiled brightly.

Ryan nodded. "Okay. Thanks."

Doing as the Biyomon said, Ryan left the village by the main entrance and started walking. The village stayed in sight no matter which direction he went. His plan was to get a better look at the land around them, as they had not really had a chance on their original arrival here and during the night.

The area the village was situated in was an area of flat ground surrounded by short grasses and flowers, much like a meadow. The small bushes they had seen dotted around seemed much smaller in the light, and there were no trees anywhere except back in the woods. In most directions, Ryan could see for quite some distance and make out faraway hills. He could hear the sound of a river flowing too, bubbling quickly over rocks.

A short distance from the village was longer grass, more overgrown and wild-looking. It moved occasionally, brushed by the breeze, but still for the most part. There was quiet all around him. In truth, it was quite peaceful and enjoyable to be surrounded by so much silence. Since moving to the city, Ryan had forgotten how calming it could be to just sit and enjoy the sounds once in a while. He had gotten so wrapped up with his new life in a busy metropolis, small things like that had gotten away from him.

He breathed in deeply, letting the clean air fill his lungs. He raised his arms above his head as he exhaled, turning his face up to be warmed by the sunlight.

Despite their current predicament – being in a world that was not their own with no way to get home – Ryan felt all those worries melt away and slip slowly from his mind for the moment.

Until he was hit with a feeling. Something or someone was watching him, and he only knew why because he could somehow feel the gaze of someone on him. He had experienced it enough as a child, his mother's gaze staring into his back when he had done something wrong. He knew this was not as intense as those stares, nothing ever could be, but it was a noticeable feeling and it suddenly made Ryan feel very aware of how unprotected he was, and just what an easy target he was out of the village.

"I should have brought Anzumon to protect me…," Ryan murmured to himself, debating what to do. He could stay still, a sitting duck for whatever was staring at him. An easy meal. He could try and communicate, as it seemed that most Digimon could talk - but then he ran the risk of it being an unfriendly Digimon like the Gazimon.

His third option was to run at his watcher, waving his hands wildly. Get the upper hand with the element of surprise and make enough noise to draw the attention of those in the village in case he needed their assistance.

Ryan moved slowly, turning on the spot. He strained his eyesight, trying to spot whatever it was that was staring at him. Considering his surroundings, it could have been something that easily camouflaged into the grasses, or something incredibly small and difficult to see without looking for it, or knowing what to look for. And as Ryan didn't have a clue what to look for, he did not want to take any chances.

As he moved, his feet crushed the grass underfoot. He faced the long grass a few meters away from him in his rotation. The grass here was not as green as the short grass outside the village. It was yellowing and brown in places, possibly dead, without many flowers, and it looked brittle. Without standing in it, Ryan couldn't judge how high the grass was exactly, but he was willing to guess it would at least come up to his knees.

While he turned he noticed something: a color that stuck out plainly in the earthy tones. A deep, royal purple flashed between the long strands of grass as the wind blew them lightly.

Ryan focused on the spot, staring at it curiously. Slowly a form attached to the color became clear, a form that Ryan would not have noticed had he not been looking for something. The purple was from a bandanna, wrapped around the neck of an oddly familiar shape, though he had only seen it once. The green and teal were gone from his body, replaced with a deep poppy shade of red, and warm oranges and yellows. There was no mistaking him though, the shape, the horns, the eyes.

"Dalimon," Ryan announced, suddenly feeling his wariness be replaced with a sense of annoyance. "You gave me a fright," he said, striding towards the lizard Digimon. "Where did you disappear off to yesterday? We looked for you."

Dalimon's eyes stared at Ryan for a moment as he approached, and then darted one way and then the other as he backed up in the tall grass. His expression was fearful, timid. Ryan could see he was not pleased to have been seen, and looked ready to bolt.

"Dalimon!" Ryan broke into a run suddenly. As he expected, the chameleon dashed away from him, running through the grass quickly on his two back legs, panic evident on his face. "HEY!" shouted Ryan. He knew he had to get the attention of the others, and shouting was the only way he could think of doing it. He also knew he had to keep Dalimon away from the trees, otherwise he was certain he would do another disappearing act.

The chameleon darted this way and that, trying to outrun and lose him, but Ryan was fast on his long legs and the lizard did not possess the element of surprise, his moves were clumsy and a little labored. In his fright, he tripped and tumbled once or twice and the tilts of his head and tail made it very clear which direction he was going to go. Ryan kept pace with the Digimon easily, anticipating his movements and coming to stop him or block him as Dalimon turned.

Dalimon's panic was growing ever more apparent, but Ryan was about to lose him again. The lizard seemed completely oblivious to Ryan's corralling him towards the village of Biyomon, blinded by his terror at being seen and chased.

He called all the time, shouting for Dalimon and for Anzumon, Blaire, and Katrina as they got closer to the collection of huts. The women did not let him down when he saw their heads appear over the low wall of the village. They were both following him with their eyes, and also watching Dalimon's drastic, direction-changing run.

Eventually, Ryan chased Dalimon through the main entrance to the village and deemed it safe enough to stop running and catch his breath, as Dalimon did not have any other way to go.

The rushing visitor had gained the interest of the Biyomon and Yokomon as he cowered, quivering behind Blaire's legs. Muertomon, Anzumon, and Grindymon were all approaching, their curiosity piqued by this new arrival.

"Get off me!" Blaire ordered, wheeling around and practically kicking the trembling lizard off her legs. "You have a lot of explaining to do!"

"Why did you disappear yesterday?!" demanded Ryan, folding his arms as he stood behind Blaire. Dalimon cowered.

"That's right, shout at him, that'll work," Katrina murmured sarcastically, laying her hands on her hips. "Maybe you two should take a step back. It's clear he's frightened to death."

Blaire growled softly, and tapped her foot on the ground to show her annoyance. She twirled a segment of hair around one of her fingers, watching Katrina drop to the ground and slowly approach the frightened Digimon with Grindymon.

"It's okay…," Katrina soothed, moving cautiously across the ground. "No one is going to hurt you, Dalimon."

"I'm NOT Dalimon!" shouted the lizard, his voice rising with panic. He was panting, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he seemed to struggle to catch his breath. "I was trying to tell him!!" He pointed at Ryan wildly. "But he started to chase me and wouldn't listen! I'm not Dalimon! I'm not, I'm not!!" He was beginning to shake and beat his forearms against his head.

Ryan and Blaire exchanged disbelieving looks. Ryan shrugged, and Blaire's arms tightened across her chest.

"I've never even met a Digimon named Dalimon!" cried the chameleon, trembling on the ground. "How can I be a Digimon I've never even met!?"

"It's okay… you're okay…," Grindymon spoke softly, floating towards him. She moved slowly and deliberately, making smooth movements and not sudden ones. "No one is going to hurt you."

Ryan ushered the Biyomon and Yokomon away, believing that an audience would only make this Digimon more panicked.

"What's your name?" asked Grindymon softly. She lightly patted the lizard Digimon on the crest of his head, smiling warmly and being patient as he regained his composure, sniffing and rubbing his arms and claws beneath his nose. He looked at her mistrustfully. "We need to know your name if we're to speak to you," she coaxed.

"Hitokamon…," he answered after a few minutes of him sniffling and getting his breath back. Muertomon was sitting on the ground now, Anzumon too, bored by the whole thing. Both Blaire and Ryan were still standing, towering over the red and yellow lizard, as imposing as possible. Hitokamon had not looked at either of them once.

"My name is Grindymon," she introduced herself gently, "and this is my friend Katrina." Katrina waved once as Hitokamon looked at her with watery eyes. "Over there are Muertomon and Anzumon," continued Grindymon, "and they are Blaire and Ryan." She indicated to the standing humans. "And Ryan is very sorry for frightening you and chasing you… aren't you?" She gave Ryan a hard look.

He groaned softly, running his fingers through his hair. "Yeah… sorry."

"Why did you chase me?" demanded Hitokamon. "I was just curious about you. I have never seen a creature like you!"

Ryan frowned a little, his mouth drawing into a thin line. "I thought you were a Digimon we had met before. Dalimon… he was a Digimon we met yesterday, and he bolted."

"Oh." Hitokamon nodded, seeming to understand. He was much calmer now, breathing easily and seemed more at ease as he spoke and looked around at his surroundings. "Where is this?"

Muertomon answered his time. "It's a Biyomon village. We stayed here yesterday and are here for the rest of the day. They've been feeding us and letting us rest."

"I'm sure they wouldn't object to one more guest," Blaire added, her tone bored as she examined her fingernails.

Hitokamon shook his head. "I-I couldn't impose like that," he said softly, getting to his feet. "I wouldn't want to be a burden."

"Actually," Katrina spoke, tossing her glowing green vial from one hand to the other as she spoke, "I think they like having visitors… and the food isn't all that bad."

She waited for Hitokamon to respond, but the Digimon's eyes were fixed on the vial in her hands, following it as she threw it from left to right. His eyes were wide, and his mouth had opened a little bit. Blaire and Ryan were looking at their guest with queer expressions, and Katrina glanced at the vial in her palm before she offered it to Hitokamon.

"You want to have a look?" she offered.

Hesitantly, Hitokamon took the vial from her hand and examined it in his claws. Muertomon and Anzumon were slightly more alert now, ready to give chase if Hitokamon tried to run away with the precious container. Grindymon seemed to be the only one not on edge, and was watching the jumpy lizard like a hawk.

"This is a most… wonderful thing," Hitokamon said slowly, turning the vial over and over. "Where did you find it?"

"It was stuck in a big rock Digimon called Behemon," Katrina explained. She tapped a few buttons on her D-Ex and brought up the image of Behemon to show Hitokamon. He only glanced at it, before his attention turned back to the vial. Blaire and Ryan looked at Katrina and then Hitokamon warily. "We had another too, but Blaire broke it."

"You broke it?!" Hitokamon yelped. "You broke something so precious and unique?!"

Blaire's eyebrows furrowed. "It was an accident," she said tersely.

Hitokamon ignored her comment, running his claws gently over the surface of the glass. He was quiet for a few long moments, his focus on the item he held so delicately.

Grindymon floated closer to him calmly. "Do you know what it is?" she asked with a soft smile.

"Oh… oh yes." Hitokamon beamed. "It is power and energy in its purest form."

"That's… not clear," Anzumon said slowly. "What power? What energy?"

"Energy from the Gods of old," Hitokamon explained. "The content of this vial is the essence of one of them. It is their energy, their life force in its most basic and powerful form."

Blaire arched an eyebrow. "In English?"

"Their blood," breathed Hitokamon.

Katrina took the vial from Hitokamon's hands, though the chameleon was unwilling to release it at first. "Why is something like that in a bottle?" she asked, not expecting an answer.

"It is not supposed to be, I can tell you that much without a doubt," Hitokamon told her. "The truth has been marred by legends, stories, lies, and myths. But if you can believe it, a Digimon broke into the Circle centuries ago, and was able to extract essence from each of the six Gods."

At the mention of the Circle, Blaire was suddenly paying more attention to the Digimon and squatted on the ground.

Hitokamon continued to explain, watching the cylinder in Katrina's hands. "The vials were said to have been lost… scattered across the Digital World, kept safe by the sentient Guardians. Behemon is their actual name, but across the Digital World they were known as the Colossi." He reached for the vial in Katrina's hand, which she held just out of his reach.

"Six Gods?" Blaire repeated.

Hitokamon nodded. "Blood from each of them. Ymirmon and his brother, Vayumon. Ceryneiamon, Vayumon's dear wife. Marquismon, Morrigamon, and Gaiusmon the Lord of the Seas."

"So…," Blaire tapped her finger against her chin, "there are six vials?"

"I think he just established that," Anzumon told her sarcastically. "Can't you humans count?"

"Hang on a second." Suddenly, Blaire disappeared into the long hut. Ryan and Katrina glanced at one another. Ryan shrugged. Hitokamon looked nervous again, wary, and his eyes flitted all around, never focusing on anything for longer than a few seconds.

When Blaire returned, she held the map and placed it on the ground in the middle of them all. "Six of these." Blaire pointed at the odd squares, the meaning of which had been troubling her. "Look! This one is close to our location, that must be the one we found last night."

"Meaning all these others are the other vials?" Ryan murmured, peering over Blaire at the pieces of paper.

"Must be." Blaire sat back on her knees proudly. "The squares are drawn to indicate their locations. We could probably pick them up as we travel."

Hitokamon seemed uneasy. "It may not be that simple," he said slowly. "The vials may have been moved or taken over time. The Colossi were mobile many centuries ago. And there is no telling how old your map is." He touched the edges of the paper warily. "Where did you find this?"

"Some Gazimon had it hidden," Muertomon explained. He dropped the pocket watch and cogs onto the ground from beneath his poncho. "We found this stuff too."

Uninterested in the trinkets, Hitokamon took a closer look at the map. "Interesting… most interesting."

"How come?" asked Katrina, shifting where she sat.

"Hm?" Hitokamon looked at her.

"You mentioned the Circle," Blaire pointed out, not giving the chameleon a chance to answer. "Have you been there?"

"Can you take us there?" Ryan added.

"We--"

"How long will it take to get there?"

"How far is it?"

"Did you see humans at the Circle? People like us?"

"How far is it?!"

"How can we get there?"

"What's the fastest route?"

Hitokamon covered his head, cowering under the bombardment of questions from Ryan and Blaire. He was trembling again, shrinking under their gazes, breathing hard and fast while struggling to pull air into his lungs.

"It's okay…" Grindymon's voice was soothing as she floated easily toward the panicking Digimon. "Breathe… Hitokamon, breathe…"

Katrina said nothing, but gave the other two a reproachful look while she scooted across the ground closer to Hitokamon.

"Count to ten… in through your nose, out through your mouth…" Grindymon breathed alongside Hitokamon, rubbing a fin up and down his back. "That's it, nice and slowly. One… two… three…"

"Four! Five!"

"Slowly, slowly…," Grindymon murmured gently.

Anzumon and Muertomon had moved off a little, away from Grindymon and Hitokamon. Both of them looked confused, unsure what to make of Hitokamon on the whole. Ryan and Blaire were with them, and Ryan indicated for Katrina to come to their small group meeting, away from their high-strung guest.

"What?" Katrina asked, rubbing dirt off her back side as she approached.

"He's a jumpy thing," Blaire pointed out. "I really don't trust him."

Katrina sighed. "I think you guys made him panic with your questions, that's all." She shifted her fingers through her hair and fiddled with the chain of her long earring. "You were pretty intense. You can see he's nervous."

"Why is he so worried?" Anzumon asked, sneering. "It’s so… weak."

"Maybe you should ask him," Muertomon suggested. "Demand it out of him. It's funny watching him panic and freak like that!"

Ryan slipped his hands into his pockets. "I think that will definitely do more harm than good. Obviously throwing questions at him is… a bad idea."

"Obviously," Blaire murmured, her voice tight. "I still think he's hiding something. Can't be trusted." She turned to Katrina. "Make sure you keep that vial out of his hands."

Katrina raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.

When they returned to Grindymon and Hitokamon, the red lizard had calmed down and seemed a little more relaxed. He watched the five of them approach and glanced at Grindymon, who smiled supportively.

Following Katrina's example, both Blaire and Ryan squatted to be more on-level with Hitokamon.

"Would you mind answering their questions, Hitokamon?" Grindymon asked him softly. "It would be terribly helpful to us." Nervously, Hitokamon nodded. Smiling, Grindymon turned to the three humans. "One question at a time."

"Okay." Ryan rubbed his hands together.

"The Circle," Blaire interjected before Ryan to get his question out. "Do you know where it is?"

"It is in a central location of the Digital World. Far from here and across an ocean," answered Hitokamon slowly. "I have been there only once. But it is a glorious structure. Two hundred feet into the sky, towering above lush flatlands. A beacon for all who need one. A place of peace and sanctuary."

"Do you know anything more about these vials?" inquired Katrina, showing hers again to draw Hitokamon's attention.

"Only what I have told you," Hitokamon admitted. "And…," he trailed, glancing around warily.

Grindymon patted his shoulders. "You're among friends. You can speak freely."

"You are in danger having them," Hitokamon spoke softly. "There are others hunting them, the rulers of these lands. The Emperor and Empress…"

"Emperor and Empress?" Ryan repeated. "Who… are they?"

"A ruthless pair. Evil, malicious and powerful. I would not want to face them for all the Digital World," Hitokamon explained in a hushed tone, as if afraid someone else might be listening.

"What do they want to Vials for?" Blaire questioned.

Hitokamon looked at her and breathed slowly. "For the power they hold," he explained. "The essence of the old Gods is a power that cannot be easily harnessed. If the wrong Digimon was to get a hold of them and use that energy for evil means, it could do untold damage to the Digital World. Turn innocent creatures into mindless drones, destroy lands and seas."

"So, basically," sighed Katrina, "they want absolute power."

"I believe so, yes." Hitokamon nodded. "But they are obviously unaware that you possess two… Or at least, did possess two. That information, however, will not be kept from them for long. They have scouts and messengers everywhere."

A tense silence settled on the group at that, and they all saw each other look around as if expecting there to be an obvious scout nearby.

Ryan shifted a little. "You said you know where the Circle is," he started, "do you think you could lead us?"

"No," Hitokamon answered instantly.

"No?" Ryan repeated. "You didn't even think about it."

"I don't have to," Hitokamon replied, trying to keep his voice firm. "I cannot lead you."

"Why not?" demanded Muertomon, speaking up for the first time. "What's stopping you?"

Hitokamon shook his head vigorously from side to side. "I cannot lead you," he said again. "It is too far and dangerous, and I…"

"But you know exactly where the Circle is," Ryan reasoned, trying to keep his voice as calm as he could, despite the growing frustration he felt. "You could lead us straight to it. We need to get there."

"My brother is there," Blaire added. "I need to find him. To rescue him."

"It is not my responsibility!" Hitokamon answered, beginning to breathe short breaths.

"Ease off a little, guys," Katrina said, noticing the rising panic of the lizard, but she was ignored.

Muertomon stepped towards Hitokamon, getting in the other Digimon's face and sizing up to him, despite being about two feet bigger. "I am not asking you to take us to the Circle," Muertomon growled. "I am ordering you to do it. Don't be such a coward! We need your help!"

Suddenly Hitokamon's breath was coming in short, sharp gasps and his hands closed around his throat. Grindymon gave Muertomon a gentle shove to make him back off, but the skeletal Digimon stood fast.

"Stop faking it!" Muertomon ordered, grabbing the lizard by the shoulders and shaking him.

Grindymon placed her fins on Muertomon's arm. "Stop it, Muertomon!"

"I really don't think he's faking it…," Ryan murmured, watching as the chameleon struggled in the skeleton Digimon's grip, gasping for air as he clutched at his chest and his throat.

"Calm down, Hitokamon," Grindymon said, her voice worried and high pitched. "Breathe, it's okay. Breathe…"

But Hitokamon was too far gone. He shook his head wildly. Behind him, his tail stretched out straight and he twisted around with surprising speed, knocking Muertomon away from him. He took off at a run, shoving Grindymon to one side and stepping on Muertomon's skull as he dashed through the village.

"Quickly!" Blaire shouted, getting to her feet. Anzumon had already taken off and Muertomon was getting to his feet. Grindymon grabbed onto Katrina's shoulders as the redhead gave chase behind Ryan and Blaire. "Don't lose sight of him, Anzumon!"

Hitokamon leapt over the low wall protecting the village, taking it in a single stride despite being shorter than it.

The Yokomon and Biyomon scattered and stared as the group of them ran from the village. Ryan was over the wall in one stride, followed by Blaire, Katrina, and Muertomon. Anzumon was airborne, flying a few feet above the ground, easily keeping up with Hitokamon who zigzagged as he ran, trying to find a place to hide.

Whenever he turned to head towards the forest, Anzumon was there to stop him, screeching and spreading his wings wide to frighten Hitokamon into another direction. Panicked and fearful, Hitokamon ran blind, only aware he was being chased, and was not fast enough to outrun his pursuers unless he found some form of cover like a cluster of bushes or trees to hide in. In these flatlands however, he had no chance of that, and with his way blocked by Anzumon if he tried to glimpse the trees, his only option was to keep running and hope they became tired before he did.

The village was vanishing behind them as they kept up with Hitokamon. Anzumon was easier to see, with his wings and how he rose into the air a little every so often, but they could glimpse the red of Hitokamon's tail through the grass on occasion when he changed direction.

There was no telling where they were going as they chased the frantic Digimon. Ryan, Blaire, and Muertomon were all focused on catching up and catching Hitokamon, while Grindymon kept trying to shout at them over the wind as they ran. Her cries were unheard, and even Katrina didn't respond to her.

Before them, they saw Anzumon rise suddenly high into the air, as if surprised by something.

"What now?!" Blaire yelled, panting.

As they came closer they saw Hitokamon cowering on his back, covering his face with his hands, being leered over by another creature.

This was another airborne Digimon, about six feet in height. It had the appearance of some kind of humanoid butterfly, with wings on his back with red, yellow, and orange markings. It was armored on the face, torso, arms, thighs, and feet with brown carapace, decorated with markings that looked like flames. The areas of its body that were exposed were a dark green.

"Don't hurt me!!" Hitokamon begged, sniveling on the ground.

Ryan had his D-Ex in front of him, reading off the information it gave on this Digimon. "It's called Shadramon. Insect… powered by flame," he explained, and looked back at the two women just behind him.

"You have been a most troublesome little worm," Shadramon hissed, hovering only a few feet above Hitokamon. "You have caused my master and mistress much distress."

Hitokamon was shaking. "I never meant…," he trailed. "The Emperor and Empress. I never meant to insult them. I just didn't want to remain their captive!"

"Did they not treat you well?" growled Shadramon. "They treated you better than you deserved."

"I– I'll come with you. I will," sniffled Hitokamon. "I won't run away again."

Shadramon's arm shells lit up on fire. "You won't. Or I will have to explain to them your charred remains."

Hitokamon got to his feet, his head hanging low and his shoulders slumped. Blaire had her hands clasped in tight fists. They were about to lose their only possible guide to the Circle if they let him leave with Shadramon, who seemed almost oblivious to them.

"Excuse me!" Ryan called, stepping out from the group. Shadramon stopped and turned midair. Hitokamon did the same. "That's our captive."

"Indeed?" Shadramon returned gruffly. "And just why is he your captive?"

"He stole something from us," Ryan replied confidently. "We have to deal him the appropriate justice."

"What the hell is he doing?" Katrina whispered harshly to Blaire. "Does he want to get himself killed?"

Blaire twisted her hair nervously. "Shh… maybe he has some kind of plan?" She hoped he did, anyway, and glanced down at Muertomon on the ground beside her. If things came down to a fight, she hoped she and Muertomon could trigger his evolution to Pelmamon again to defend them. Shadramon looked too powerful to be taken down by their Digimon in their current forms.

Shadramon snorted. "Your justice," he said condescendingly. "You can take that up with the Emperor and Empress."

Ryan shook his head. "I'm afraid I'll have to insist," he smirked.

Releasing a guttural chuckle, Shadramon flew towards Ryan until he was mere inches from his face. "And if I choose to ignore you? What can you do to me… meat sack?"

His smile did not falter and Ryan simply shrugged his shoulders casually. "Well, there's always…" He stopped, and before Shadramon had registered, Ryan's fist had smacked hard against his face. "GEEZ!!" Immediately Ryan was clutching his hand. "What the Hell is that armour made of?!"

Shadramon gave him a bored look, the punch barely registering. "What exactly were you trying to do?"

"Yeah, Ryan!" Blaire shouted. "What were you trying to do?!"

"IDIOT!" Katrina added.

"Enough of this!" Anzumon crowed, rising up into the air. Electricity crackled between his antlers. "Spark Javelin!" The white lightning flashed and crackled against the back of Shadramon's head.

The butterfly Digimon rounded on the airborne griffin, his body bursting into red flames. "That was very foolish… Flare Buster!!" He charged after Anzumon, who took to the sky in a flash, beating his wings hard to keep out of the larger Digimon's grasp.

"Oh no!" Grindymon cried and flew over Katrina's shoulder, entering the fight. The light at the end of her antenna blazing. "Aqua Needle!" Shots of water followed Shadramon, landing against his flaming body, extinguishing some of the fire. The insect's attention was fixed on Anzumon, though.

"Soul Launcher!!" Flaming butterflies fired from Muertomon's rocket launcher, exploding in the face of Shadramon as Anzumon turned sharply at the last moment, rising up into the air.

"Serrated Screw!" Shadramon bellowed, spinning his body at an incredible speed, making it seem as if he had been engulfed by a twister. He rocketed forward, knocking Muertomon to one side and then Grindymon, both of them singed from his still-aflame body.

"Spark Javelin!" Anzumon shouted again, the lighting sizzling against Shadramon's face.

He growled, "You’re very annoying!"

"Aqua Needle!"

"Skull Grenade!"

Both attacks hit the butterfly from behind. Shadramon flew forward, uncontrolled, and crashed into the ground from the impact of them both. Anzumon flew down vertically, pulling his wings into his body to gain speed.

"Volt Blitz!" The griffin’s antlers pierced the armor on the back of Shadramon's body, and the electricity went racing along his limbs and wings, causing him to shudder and twitch as he rose back to his feet. Anzumon hovered above him, watching his moves with a hawk-like gaze.

"You are going to regret that!" Shadramon roared. "Psychic Wave!" From his mouth he released waves of purple rings, directing them at Anzumon, who shook his head violently from side to side.

"Soul Launcher!" A singular flaming butterfly grabbed Shadramon's attention, causing him to turn, directing his attack towards Muertomon. Anzumon fluttered uneasily in the area, disorientated for a moment.

Grindymon flew at the back of Shadramon's head, her fins enveloped in the black water. "Nether Strike!" Her fins slammed against his head. Shadramon cried out in surprise and the purple rings stopped. Grindymon landed more hits, moving around the larger Digimon's body with incredible speed.

Anzumon charged across the ground with his head bowed, Muertomon on his back, firing a continuous stream of flaming butterflies from his rocket launcher.

"Not doing too badly, eh?" Ryan pointed out, nursing his injured hand. He could move his fingers, so he knew for certain it wasn't broken. Katrina had Hitokamon – who had fainted in fear – in her arms, and was watching from a distance.

"Don't speak so soon," she murmured uneasily, recalling how the night before they had all started to slow down as the fight with Behemon had carried on.

"Flare Buster!" Shadramon lit into flames and took to the air, knocking Anzumon back and kicking Muertomon roundly in the face. He had Grindymon in his hand, the flame covering her too.

"GRINDYMON!" Katrina dropped Hitokamon unceremoniously to the floor. "Let her go!!"

"Yours, is she?" Shadramon asked, his tone mocking. "You can have her back!" He flung the singed Digimon at Katrina; the impact knocked her to the ground.

Anzumon was in the air again. "Spark Javelin!" The lighting surrounded Shadramon. He turned sharply and flew towards Anzumon, knocking the griffin to one side roughly and watching as he hit the ground hard.

"Skull Grenade!" The explosion sent Shadramon back a few feet, but did little else as a new head sprouted on Muertomon's neck.

Shadramon was spinning again, making himself a tornado. "Serrated Screw!!" He aimed himself at the ground, swirling Anzumon up in his vortex, and then Muertomon, despite the skeleton trying to run.

As he came to a stop, Shadramon had Muertomon and Anzumon clutched in his hands, the former by his spine, and the latter by the head. He squeezed on them both as they struggled and wriggled, grunting and growling as they tried to escape.

The armored butterfly stared darkly at Ryan, Blaire, and Katrina. "Once I am finished with these two insignificant creatures, I will deal with you meat bags. You will not get in the way of the supreme Emperor and Empress." He squeezed harder, and Anzumon released an agonized screech, while Muertomon seemed to hang there like a ragdoll.

"Muertomon!" Blaire shouted, her D-Ex clasped in her hands. Slowly the skeleton lifted his head and looked at her. He smiled a little and suddenly both her D-Ex and Muertomon were glowing with pink light.

Shadramon dropped both him and Anzumon to shield himself.

"Muertomon, Plasma Evolve to…" His shape shifted, the eight legs sprouting from the large split body. Fangs and skeletal arms burst from the head of the arachnid shape. The decorative skull on the thorax shone through the pink light eerily. "Pelmamon!"

"He did it again…," breathed Ryan. "How?!"

Blaire pointed to her D-Ex. "I guess it had recovered, or refilled from last night…" She shrugged.

Shadramon hovered in the air, his face contorted in anger. "I see…," he said softly, watching the spider beneath him. "How interesting…" Without sparing a moment, Shadramon lit himself on fire. "Flare Buster!" He flew at Pelmamon, his arms outstretched.

"Venom Cannon!" The pink ball of energy shot from Pelmamon's fangs with butterflies trailing it. His attack and Shadramon impacted one another, sending the two Champion Digimon flying back several feet. Pelmamon's legs wriggled above him as he tried to right himself.

Shadramon was up faster than Pelmamon, recovered and ferocious. "Psychic Wave!" The purple rings flew towards Pelmamon, surrounding the spider.

"Pelmamon, get up!" Blaire cried, tightening her grip on her D-Ex, watching the spider’s legs twitch erratically.

"Ahhhh! Volt Blitz!" Anzumon came through the air with electricity covering his wings. He smashed against Shadramon, gaining his attention and breaking the attack he held on Pelmamon.

"Nether Strike!" Grindymon came from below, smashing her fins and tail into Shadramon's abdomen, arms, and back, avoiding his attempts to grab her.

"Spark Javelin!" Another attack from Anzumon, the white lightning shooting from his antlers to crackle against the back of Shadramon's head.

"Primal Executioner!" Pelmamon leapt up from beneath the ground, just as Grindymon and Anzumon retreated. The attack caught Shadramon off-guard and he was grabbed by the giant spider, the claws at the end of his legs digging into the butterfly’s body and cracking through the armor.

"Serrated Screw!" Shadramon beat his wings hard, trying to gain some air and shake the spider off as Pelmamon began to drag him beneath the ground. The spider's grip was vice-like, with no chance of being released.

Yelling indignantly as the ground closed in around him, Shadramon bellowed, "Flare Buster!" He was engulfed in flame, which spread onto Pelmamon, who seemed unfazed by the burning or the heat.

"How irritating…," Pelmamon muttered, reaching with his front arms to Shadramon wings. With one swift movement, the spider had torn the wings from the butterfly, causing Shadramon to scream in pain and his flames to die. They disappeared under ground to the sound of Shadramon's yells.

Grindymon approached Katrina, with Anzumon close behind, as the sounds of Shadramon's cries quieted and no one seemed to want to question what Pelmamon was doing to their enemy. The group of them leaned over Hitokamon, who was now awake but disorientated, and started when he saw the faces looming over him.

"You are a lot of trouble," Ryan told him.

"Shadramon," Hitokamon blurted out, "where's Shadramon?!"

Blaire shrugged one shoulder. "Probably becoming Pelmamon's lunch I would think."

Hitokamon didn't seem to understand for a moment, and looked at her with a rather confused expression on his face. Slowly, realization seemed to dawn on him and he blanched a little. "Thank you… for saving me from him."

"Why was he after you?" asked Grindymon.

"The Emperor and Empress who rule these lands… they want me for the same reason you wanted my help. I know the way to the Circle, and they wanted the map you now possess," Hitokamon answered slowly. "I was caught by them, but I was able to escape. I knew they would send their scouts to find me."

"Is that why you freaked out?" inquired Katrina. "When we asked if you could lead us to the Circle?"

Slowly, Hitokamon nodded. "Yes… I am sorry. I am afraid. I am a coward. I do not wish to go there as the route is fraught with danger I cannot face myself."

Blaire frowned. "But if you were with us, you wouldn't be alone."

"I cannot ask you to protect me," Hitokamon admitted, "and I certainly cannot protect you."

Ryan stood up straight. "We can protect you. We will. We won't let the Emperor and Empress find you, whoever they are."

Hitokamon looked doubtful.

The noise of scurrying was heard and Pelmamon crawled from the hole he had made in the ground. He moved a little sluggishly, but approached the ground and stood behind Blaire. Hitokamon stared at the giant spider with awe-stricken eyes.

"Let's make a deal," Blaire said. "You lead us to the Circle, and in return we'll protect you from any danger." She held her hand out in an offer of a handshake.

"You… are certain?" Hitokamon asked, looking at her hand and then into Blaire's face.

"Sure." She nodded. Tentatively, Hitokamon took her hand and they shook once.

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

The throne room was silent for once, aside from the sound of one pair of feet pacing back and forth. Their children, who swarmed over the ceiling most of the time, had fled their anger, and disappeared into the outside world as scouts to locate their target.

On the double-seated throne was the Empress. Her long legs were curled delicately beneath her, somewhat obscured by her yellow skirt. Attached to the skirt was a black corset detailed with intricate yellow markings, and her blonde hair spilled over one shoulder of her fluffy black and yellow bolero jacket. The crown embedded in her hair was adorned with pretty flowers of red and blue. In a stand to her left was her weapon, a long black stave with a red blade at the very top. Her wings were folded behind her.

From the throne she watched the Emperor pacing in the gloom of the hexagonal room. His black wings with their flashing blue markings trailed a little behind him, as his blue boots crunched noisily on the ground where he stepped. Flashes of electric blue and yellow were visible on his black suit when he turned to pace towards her. The darkness did little to accentuate the bright turquoise color of his helmet, or the orange of his eyes. Even his ornate crown seemed dull in the darkened hive. The Emperor's own scepter was in the same stand as the Empress’, though his was shorter with a gold handle and an orange headpiece. Set in the center of that was a singular blue stone on either side.

"How is it possible he escaped?" snapped the Emperor, turning his eyes on his queen. "It is not possible!"

"Obviously it is, my love."

The Emperor's gaze was hard on her, a glare of utter distain. "It should not have occurred. There should have been more guards assigned to him."

"I agree."

"This sets us back," growled the Emperor. "We are already at a disadvantage without the map."

The Empress rose gracefully to her feet and seemed to float across the floor to the dragonfly Digimon. "My love," she cooed, lightly caressing his face with soft hands, "we are not as hopeless as you seem to believe."

"Are we not?" spat the Emperor, brushing the queen's hand away from him. "I feel as though we are powerless. All our plans are slipping through our hands like sand."

"You must not be so downtrodden, my dear," said the Empress, following him. "We are a long way from being defeated."

"Indeed?" the Emperor growled. He rounded on her and grabbed her hand before it touched his face again. "How so?"

Twisting her wrist from his grip, the Empress reached into the curve of her corset. From within, she withdrew a small cylinder which glowed a pretty pink that seemed to be the only color in their nest. "You must not forget we possess this."

"One," the Emperor muttered. "It hardly seems enough."

"It is one more than none," replied the Empress smoothly. "Without this, I am sure we would not be in our fortuitous position."

"Hm," shrugged the Emperor, turning his back on the queen.

She glided towards him, facing him with a soft expression. "Once we have that conniving little chameleon, he will give us everything we desire. All the information we need, and he will guide us to our needed destinations."

"If we ever find the wretched creature," replied the Emperor angrily. "I want the guards who failed to keep him captive. I want them swarmed. I want them ready to be fed to our children by tonight.

"As you wish, my darling one." She caressed his face once more, shining the pink light up to his skin. "We shall find the deceptive little lizard, my love. We shall. Of that I have no doubt."

The Emperor's expression softened a little and he leaned his cheek into the Empresses hand. "Where would I be without your eternal optimism, my dove?"

She smiled whimsically, and floated back to the throne, twirling as she went. As she sat, she examined the container and its glowing pink contents. "I am wondering what these do…" She turned it over in one delicate hand. "What do you suppose would happen if we opened it, and drank its contents, my dear one?"

The Emperor followed at a slow pace. "I would not like to think."

The Emperor took the small item from her delicate hands and looked at it more closely, squinting at the bright light. He knelt at the feet of the Empress and kissed her hands. "I am sure we will discover more when we have them all in our possession." He sighed, and laid his head in her lap as she lightly stroked his head with her fingers.

"I promise you, my love, we will have them all soon," she said softly into the darkness.


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