Episode 6: Winged
and Unconfined

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Before them stood two human like shapes, with indications of insects about them. The female had the yellow and black color scheme of a bee, down to the black and gold details on her corset, and the stripes on the bolero around her shoulders. Her blonde hair was long, adorned with flowers and a crown. Her eyes were red, oval-shaped with no discernible pupil, and where a mouth and nose should have been was a black beak-like appendage. She carried with her a long staff with a black shaft and a red blade, which was surrounded by yellow petals.

Beside her was the man: tall and lithe, and more dragonfly-like in shape and appearance than the female. Adorned in a black suit with yellow detailing, his electric blue boots, spiked with yellow, stood out against the drab color. Behind him were folded black wings, on which were flashes of different bright shades of blue. The majority of his face was obscured by a bright turquoise mask, with large orange ovals over his eyes. Grey hair was slicked back, and as with the female, a crown sat neatly on his head. He also carried with him a staff, though significantly smaller: a gold hilt with an orange adornment at the head.

Ryan's D-Ex was showing the information for them both, switching between the two of them as he moved the device back and forth between them. He read off the information. "Vazkamon and Mesilamon… the King and Queen of insect Digimon… Also known as the Emperor and Empress." He exchanged looks with Blaire and Katrina.

"What an interesting toy…," murmured Mesilamon. "And what interesting creatures you are…" She approached on light feet, practically gliding across the grass.

"Personal space," Katrina said tartly, as the bee queen came too close. She clutched the dozing Grindymon protectively and backed away a step. Mesilamon gave her a confused look, but then moved her attention onto Ryan and Blaire.

"Humans… almost unheard of in the Digital World," Vazkamon added.

Blaire huffed in annoyance, placing her hands behind her neck and looking towards the sky. "No offense but can we just skip the riddles and the long-winded bullshit?"

"How vulgar," Mesilamon commented.

"I really don't care." Blaire shook her head, her tone indifferent. "Seriously, today I have had enough. We've already had some weird thing in a cloak spouting crap, just had to deal with a stone Behemon with a bad attitude, and our guide has disappeared. I am not in the mood to deal with more shit right now."

Mesilamon and Vazkamon glanced at one another.

"So if it's not important or helpful, buzz off," Blaire added, closing her eyes and turning her back to the couple.

"I bet you think that was really witty, don't you?" Katrina asked. Blaire shrugged her shoulders, but smiled a little to herself.

"How very rude you are," Vazkamon snapped, pointing his staff at Blaire, "addressing my beloved queen in such a way." He advanced a little, Mesilamon behind him smiling gleefully.

"What do you want!?" demanded Muertomon. "We're tired!"

"I shall make this simple for you," Vazkamon explained. He reached inside his suit and continued to step towards the small group. In his fingers he held a container, in which there was a glowing, pink substance.

"A vial!" Anzumon gasped. "Give it to us! It doesn't belong to you!"

Vazkamon smirked. "Oh but they do… you see, we have been unable to retrieve all of them. Now, you are here, we understand you have the unique ability to do just that. Your automated devices detect them and can seemingly break them from their stone prisons."

"We watched you retrieve one only moments ago," Mesilamon laughed joyfully. Ryan clenched his hand around the orange vial in his jacket pocket. The one he had almost died for. "Give the ones you have to us."

"You're joking," Blaire scoffed, turning back around. "Either that or you're both insane. I'm willing to go with the latter."

"You are trying my patience," Vazkamon snapped.

Blaire shook her head. "I really don't care." She placed a single hand on her hip, adjusting her weight.

The dragonfly king dashed towards her quickly, and was barely an inch from her face as he loomed over her. "You do not know with whom you are trifling," he growled. For a moment, fear flickered across Blaire's face. Until Muertomon head-butted Vazkamon in the leg, causing him to lose balance and stagger back a little.

"Do not get that close to Blaire again," warned the skeleton dangerously. "I will kill you."

Vazkamon straightened his suit and sniffed indignantly. Mesilamon smoothed the fabric about his shoulders.

"Horrid little creatures," she hissed. Her wings buzzed angrily behind her. "Give us the vials you have. And the map we know is in your possession too. Give them to us and we will spare you!"

"This map?" Blaire showed the six pages sewn together as she pulled it from her pocket. "You mean, this map?"

"Blaire, are you seriously trying to get us killed…?" Ryan murmured, disliking the other girl's recklessness more and more as she goaded the two insect Digimon.

"That's the one," Mesilamon buzzed. "Give it to me! You stole it from us anyway. Digging it out of the Gazimon's collection after you so nastily destroyed them. And after all they went through to obtain the pieces."

"You're breaking our hearts," said Anzumon gruffly.

Blaire feigned a thoughtful expression, turning the map over in her hands several times. "No." She folded it again. "Shan't."

Mesilamon suddenly had Blaire held above her, her hands around her throat. The map fluttered to the ground, and Vazkamon swept it up into his hands before Muertomon could grab it.

"You insolent, wretched, insignificant creature! Give me the vials! And I will give you a quick death!" Mesilamon sneered. She saw the panic rising in Blaire's expression and her grip around the woman's throat tightened.

“Let...go!” Blaire managed to scream between chokes. She swung her leg violently, kicking Mesilamon in the chest.

"I warned you!" Muertomon cried. "Skull Grenade!" His head exploded on impact with Mesilamon, forcing the bee queen back. Blaire dropped to the ground and grasped her throat, as another head popped onto Muertomon's neck.

"You…," Vazkamon growled, helping Mesilamon to her feet, "you dare attack my beloved queen?!"

Anzumon took off. "Nice going, Muertomon!"

There was nowhere for them to run, behind them was the fallen Behemon, and before them, Vazkamon and Mesilamon, both with murderous looks on their faces and their staves poised to attack. They took their only and best option and retreated, climbing over the fallen form of Behemon to protect themselves from the impending attack.

"If you will not hand over the vials willingly…," Vazkamon rumbled.

"We will simply pick them from your corpses!" screamed Mesilamon.

Together the Emperor and Empress cried, "Honey Swarm!!"

The blast exploded in light and tore through the air, singeing the grass and impacting the ground where Behemon lay. The stone creature had acted as a form of defense, protecting Ryan and the others crouched behind its fallen form from the worst of the attack.

The ground could no longer withstand its weight, not with the blows from Mesilamon and Vazkamon's attacks further weakening the earth beneath the stone structure.

Ground was beginning to crumble from beneath them. Behemon jerked and more earth disappeared. Anzumon hovered, he could see Mesilamon and Vazkamon approaching them both, determined with their faces images of pure anger.

Their intention was to kill them all, of that the griffin had little doubt. It was starting to look as if their only way out was to drop down into the water below; a risky move, but their only possible means of escape.

Another blow from one of the insect Digimon hit the ground, causing it to deteriorate faster. The stone figure of Behemon was beginning to slide slowly over the grass where the ground was weakest, pushing the group along with it.

Katrina screamed, holding Grindymon to her with one hand. The fingertips of her other hand clung to the grass, where she dug them in as best she could. Blaire dangled, trying to kick her legs up and get some leverage, while Ryan hung there, flailing his legs to try and find some support and only managing to dislodge the earth faster.

One more shock from either Vazkamon or Mesilamon and it was done. The earth gave way, collapsing under the weight of the stone giant as the cliff edge crumbled. Katrina lost grip first, her scream was deafening and her first instinct was to cling to Grindymon. Then it was Ryan; his fingers slipped off the rock and he fell. Anzumon dashed after him, his wings wide, but Ryan saw something fall fast and hit the griffin's wing.

Blaire clung on, with Muertomon holding onto her leg. She tried to keep her grip, digging her fingers into the earth and using all her strength to try and heave herself up onto the grass. As Behemon's body slid slowly, Vazkamon appeared over it and hovered, a nasty grin across his face.

"Thank you for this most… precious gift." He waved the map in front of Blaire, ignoring her as she yelled obscenities at him. He handed the map to Mesilamon, who was practically hugging it to her chest. Vazkamon leaned over further. He reached over and grabbed a handful of Blaire's hair. He lifted her as if she weighed nothing, as if she were a ragdoll.

Blaire grunted and clawed at Vazkamon's gloved hand, trying to scratch and get him to release her. The pain was immense; it felt like her hair was being yanked out by the roots.

"Thank you… for entertaining my queen and I," Vazkamon hissed.

Blaire's eyes widened.

The pain on her head was suddenly gone and she heard Muertomon shout beneath her. She was free-falling with air rushing past her, and the river below speeding towards her.

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

He woke suddenly, and it felt as if he was taking his first gulp of air after being held underwater for an extended length of time. He gasped and spluttered as the air filled his lungs, but he couldn't move, couldn't find the strength to sit up.

His heart was rattling against his ribcage, beating so hard he could hear the thumping in his ears. Above him was a stark white ceiling with hanging lights. He noticed the lampshades were cream-colored. There was noise around him, words being said, and voices, but they all intermingled and he couldn't make them make sense in his head.

Something bright shone in his left eye, and then his right. His head was supported by something soft and comforting and be could feel fabric beneath his fingers.

It was like he was there, but not there. Aware of everything, hearing, seeing, smelling, but for some reason his body was not responding to the commands he was giving it. He wanted to understand what was being said, wanted to reply to the questions that were being asked, and wanted to identify the oddly clinical smells around him.

"Whe… where the Hell am I…," were the first words he choked out. His throat was so dry, like he hadn't had a drink for days. With that thought, others followed. His stomach felt empty, it growled quietly though he could hear it clearly, and it exuded some kind of sharp pain, as if it was curling in on itself. And tiredness, that settled on him like a haze. An odd, unexplainable sleepiness that wafted over his eyes.

The softness beneath him was tempting just to fall into, but bodies were moving around him, and he recognized the face and hair of one of them.

"Ryan, dude…," Rick said quietly. He was sitting on a plain while metal chair, leaning forward with his arms resting against his knees. "Can you hear me?"

"Wh… what happened?" Ryan asked, slacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

Rick's eyebrows furrowed a little. "Do you remember anything?" he inquired slowly.

Ryan reached around him, stretching out his arms and fingers. He recognized that he was lying on a bed, but not his own bed at home. Beside him was a table, small, wooden. The paint was chipping off, he noticed when he checked his fingertips and saw white residue. He felt around blindly on its surface, and his hand closed around what he was hoping to find, a glass.

Keeping hold of the cool object, Ryan grit his teeth and grunted, heaving himself up the bed to sit. Feeling was slowly returning to him, as were his main senses. With every moment than passed, his hearing and eyesight became clearer.

The glass he held was empty, but there was a container of water beside it. Ryan filled and drank three glasses of water, gulping it down in huge mouthfuls. The water was warm and tasted like it had been out in the sun for hours, but he drank as if it was the sweetest nectar. He mopped his mouth on the back on his hand, and breathed deeply.

"Nothing," he told Rick finally. His friend had remained silent as Ryan had quenched his thirst. Just sat and watched and waited.

Ryan knew where he was now: the infirmary at the University. There was a nurse’s office off to one side, and this room, the largest part of the infirmary, was laid out with six beds, three on either side. A curtain was drawn around him, his bed was next to the window, and he could see out. A few people wandered aimlessly, while others were beginning the arduous task of taking down stalls from the morning’s events. Several balloons floated off into the air, detached from one of the games.

"Rick," Ryan sighed and rubbed his forehead. Something was definitely coming back, but it was still just a mishmash of jumbled thoughts. "What happened?"

Rick templed his fingers. Ryan tried to remember when he had seen his normally jovial companion so serious and somber. "You collapsed outside," he began, "after the Atlas Corp speech, you complained of a headache and the next minute, you had dropped to the floor, out cold. Happened like that." He snapped his fingers for effect.

"Collapsed?" Ryan repeated, struggling to remember.

"Yeah." Rick nodded. "Heather was a quick thinker. She sent me off to find a nurse, and grabbed some other people to move you. It was manic. The Ferris wheel was leaning over, some shoddy workmanship on the hinges or something. You were really lucky."

"Hmm…," Ryan replied uneasily. "Where's Heather now?"

"She had to run and help pack up the flower stall. The whole event has been closed early because of all the technical malfunctions," explained Rick. "It’s too dangerous to keep the public here, but apparently the Dean wants to bring the police in to examine the speakers, the stage, and the wheel for tampering."

"Wow…" Ryan rubbed his hand through his hair. He saw two nurses walk from the office and past his curtained cell. He hadn't noticed before, but two of the beds across on the other side of the wall were also curtained. "How long have I been out?"

"About twenty… twenty-five minutes," Rick told him. "I think the nurses were about to call an ambulance for the three of you."

That caught Ryan's attention. "Three?" he repeated curiously. "There were other people?"

"Uh-huh." Rick nodded again. "Two girls. One of them with the dance club, girl with long blue hair. She bumped into me if you remember. She was found in amongst the insanity. And the other girl, a red-head. Some kid found her on the way to the car park, sprawled out."

A hazy memory floating around Ryan's brain suddenly became clearer. "Blaire and Katrina," he muttered.

Rick arched an eyebrow. "You know them?"

"Yeah…," Ryan said slowly, "at least… I think I do." He ran his fingers across his temple. "It's really weird. Confusing. I have all these thoughts in my head but I can't make sense of them all. It’s like trying to recall a dream." He smiled weakly, and saw Rick smiling through his worry.

"Maybe you've taken one too many hockey pucks to the head," he commented, rubbing his hands across his face. "At least you're up and about, Heather will be happy about that. She wanted to be here when you woke up, but the flower stall people were hounding her. And, well, you know Heather…"

"Poor Heather," Ryan murmured. He breathed deep and grunted as he swung his legs around and placed his feet firmly on the ground. He stood, then grabbed the small table for support as his head suddenly swam. When the room was still once more he released his support and went to the small window.

He could hear voices behind him, four female voices, questions being asked and answered. Blaire and Katrina must have woken up at the same time as him. He couldn't make out their words or what was being asked, but he knew their voices enough, and they both sounded groggy.

He thought he should go over, ask them if they were having the same thoughts he was, trying to recall the same things. He knew them, their faces and voices were in his head, but where he knew them from was still something of a blur.

His dream had been horrific, long, and his most vivid recollection of it was a sense of falling. Falling far and fast, and water coming towards him at frightening speed. There was a feeling too, a feeling of worry. For someone, something. A comrade? A friend? Someone who he had seen injured.

"Ah, Mr. Hartwell." A nurse in her late forties approached. The only thing that gave away her position was her shirt, which was white with green trim, and the fact she carried an upside-down watch on the lapel. The rest of her was casual, in jeans and flat shoes. "We're glad you're up. You, Miss. Louis, and Miss. Thompkins gave us quite the scare. I hope there isn't some kind of bug going around…"

"Me too…" Ryan smiled awkwardly. He wanted to get out of the infirmary; the antiseptic smells were starting to get to him.

"You'll understand, I need to examine you thoroughly… its standard procedure," said the nurse, pulling the curtain further around the bed. She guided Ryan to sit. Rick stood up and backed away, leaning on the wall. "The last thing I want is for you to be up and about, go home, and discover you've got a concussion or worse. To be fair, we were debating whether to send you and your classmates to hospital."

"It's really not necessary," Ryan said, smiling weakly. "I feel fine. Really."

The nurse did not look convinced. She disappeared for a moment, and Ryan heard the sound of wheels and something clattering across the tiled floor. When she reappeared, she was sitting on a wheeled stool with a maneuverable table on wheels beside her. The table consisted of several drawers, full to brimming on medical apparatus.

"This really isn't–"

"If you say this isn't necessary, I'll make sure this takes twice as long," the nurse warned, picking up a tool with a handle and a light at one end. "This is for your own good, Mr. Hartwell," she explained, leaning towards him. "Both Miss. Louis and Miss. Thompkins had to endure the same thing."

Ryan groaned softly, he spied Rick behind the nurse, smirking quietly.

"Now, lift your eye up towards the ceiling."

It took half an hour, and in that time Ryan was poked and prodded more times than he cared to remember. He had his temperature taken via an ear reading and under his tongue. The clarity of his eyes was checked, as was the responsiveness of his pupils. The nurse examined the back of his tongue and throat for inflammation, and checked up his nose as well. She asked whether he had been experiencing headaches or general aches and pains, if he had been to the doctor recently for any serious illnesses or had been feeling dizzy, or light headed in the last few weeks. Ryan's answer to all her questions was no.

She checked the reflexes of his knees, his blood pressure, twice because the first reading was inaccurate. She listened to his heart rate, and when she began asking personal questions about his digestion and things related, all Ryan could focus on was Rick's increasing grin. His friend was enjoying his torment far too much for it to be normal.

Despite the annoyance of the questions and the poking, every minute that went past helped. Ryan's head was becoming clearer, and his memories were less of a mess and more of a coherent train, though he could only recall snippets.

Thankfully, the nurse was satisfied with Ryan's reactions, his temperature. She was pleased his vitals were all normal, but despite all the positives of Ryan's physical examination she was still uneasy.

"It’s not right for someone of your age and health to simply faint dead away like that," she said, making notes on a pad of paper. "You've been eating alright? Eating disorders among young men are not that uncommon nowadays."

"I do not have an eating disorder," Ryan complained. "I promise you I'm fine. I don't know why I fainted, but you said it yourself, my vitals are all fine."

"Yes…," the nurse murmured.

"So, why can't I go?" asked Ryan. "There's no point in me staying here if I feel fine. I'm not likely to faint again, and if I do, I'll be at home with Rick and I'm sure he can call an ambulance if necessary." He looked at Rick who leaned on the wall with his arms folded. "Right?"

Rick seemed distracted, his gaze off focusing on something in the distance.

"Rick," Ryan prompted, and lightly whacked the other man on the arm. "Right?"

Startled, Rick shook his head and glanced at Ryan. "Yeah, sure. All good." He stood up straight. "The girls who fainted are being allowed to leave."

"That's the prerogative of my colleagues," explained the nurse.

Ryan ran his hand through his hair, trying desperately not to become frustrated. "But if your colleagues have deemed them, two girls who did the same thing as me, as well enough to go, how come you disagree?"

"I don't disagree," the nursed said gently. "It’s just perplexing…" She looked down at her notes and flipped a couple of pages over. Clicking the top of her pen, she made a note on one of her scribbles and sniffed quietly.

Both Ryan and Rick looked at one another, and then at the nurse expectantly.

She shifted a lock of hair back from her forehead. "You can go home," she said, and quickly continued, "but I want you to go to your local doctor as soon as you can. For precautions I would like to suggest you look into getting some tests, perhaps a CT scan or ultrasound – just to rule out any invisible risks."

"Okay–"

"In fact," she turned over to a fresh page, "give me the address and I'll write a recommendation myself."

To satisfy her, and get out of the infirmary as quickly as he could, Ryan rattled off what he thought were the details of his doctor and the surgery he worked out of. When she had taken the last of the details she allowed Ryan to leave, and he practically rushed through the door with Rick trailing behind him.

He wanted – needed – to catch up with Blaire and Katrina. To ask them about what they had experienced, if they recognized him as he recognized them, and to find out if they had the same memories and images floating around their heads as he did.

Luck was on his side as he turned down the corridor towards the exit of the hallway and saw the two women standing at the top of the stairwell. Blaire nudged Katrina in the shoulder when she saw him, causing the red head to look up.

"Yo." Katrina gave a short wave and then pushed her hands into her pockets.

Ryan came to a stop and looked at them both. "So… you guys remember me?"

"Well… yeah?" Blaire quirked an eyebrow. "Shouldn't we?" She started walking down the steps with Katrina following. Ryan came behind them with Rick.

"Yes. I mean… I wasn't sure if you would." He sighed. "Everything is kind of hazy."

"Tell me about it," Katrina sighed. They reached the bottom of the stairs, coming to a long hallway lined with lockers on both sides, and doors to classrooms. The whole building seemed deserted, giving them reign to speak freely. "Honestly, when I woke up I thought it had all been some kind of dream, before I recognized Blaire and things started settling down in my head."

Rick spoke. "What are you guys talking about?"

"Why are you following us?" Blaire inquired curtly. "This is a private conversation, unless it wasn't clear."

"Rick is my housemate," Ryan explained. "He was waiting in the infirmary for me."

Blaire smiled cutely, curling hair around her finger. "How romantic."

Clearing his throat, Ryan allowed Rick an apologetic smile. "Let me make introductions, Rick this is Blaire, and Katrina." Both women looked at him over their shoulders. "Blaire, Kat, this is my housemate, Rick."

"Nice to meet you," Katrina said slowly. Blaire simply waved her fingers daintily and carried on without saying anything.

"Pleased to meet you too," Rick said, feeling awkward and uncomfortable. They stopped at a set of lockers where Katrina unlocked one. From within she withdrew a satchel, slotting into it a netbook computer, a few wires, and a handheld game console.

"Do you remember much?" Ryan asked the two of them, wincing as Katrina slammed the locker door shut and the noise echoed down the hallway. Despite feeling fine, his head was still a little sensitive, and the loud noise did not help much.

"Bits and pieces," Blaire admitted, examining her fingernails. "Fighting, names. Muertomon, Pelmamon."

"Melusimon. The Colossus with the sword."

"Being on top of the Colossus," Ryan rubbed his head. "Hitokamon. Dalimon. The Gazimon… falling towards water."

"All the same stuff then," Katrina sighed. "Guess we each must have had the same dream."

"Doesn't make much sense though. Before today we didn't exactly know each other." Blaire frowned. "I mean, I knew of Ryan, but I'd never even heard of you, Katrina."

"Maybe we should go someplace else and try and put our heads together and start thinking. Making sense of everything," Ryan suggested hopefully. "I'm sure between the three of us we can work out what happened and help it make sense to us all."

"Yeah…," Katrina agreed. "Besides, I'm worried about Grindymon." At the mention of the creature, both Ryan and Blaire's expressions changed, becoming troubled and uneasy.

"We don't even know if Muertomon and the others were real," Blaire murmured. "What if they were just part of some weird combined dream we all had?" She hoped she was wrong. She had grown attached to Muertomon, even though she had trouble recalling him exactly. But she had a gut feeling, a pull, which caused her to worry about him, and hope that she had not imagined the skeleton Digimon.

"Anzumon too," Ryan said. "I know he and I don't exactly get on, but I saw his wing get hit and I want to make sure he didn't get hurt too badly."

"Okay," Blaire said. "Where can we go to start putting things into perspective?"

Ryan slipped his hands into his jean pockets. "My house isn't far, and it'll be empty."

"Sounds like a plan!" remarked Katrina.

"Hold on a second," Rick spoke loudly, causing the other three to stop and give him odd looks. He had been trailing behind the three, keeping silent as they spoke back and forth. He was trying to understand what they were talking about, make sense of it all, but the more they spoke the more confused he had felt. And now they were talking about going back to the house he lived in. Two perfect strangers and Ryan.

To him, something didn't sit right. Especially as these two strangers were young women.

"Someone, please explain to me what the Hell you guys are talking about," Rick all but demanded. "Because I am severely confused by… Hitokamon? And Anzumon… is this some kind of online game or something?"

Ryan smiled weakly.

He turned to Blaire and Katrina and told them to wait, and he would meet them outside in the courtyard. From there he would lead them to his house.

Once the two women were out of ear shot, he turned to Rick.

"Look, I know how this must sound to you, man–"

"Do you?" Rick blasted back. "Do you really? Because let me tell you how it looks. You wake up after randomly fainting and talk about some weird ass crap with two girls you've never really mentioned or introduced any of us to, but you're talking to them as if they're friends you've known for ages. You're talking about Anzumon, and Muertomon, and falling, and then decide to take them home." He panted a little. "Dude, did you forget about Heather? Your girlfriend?"

"No, I haven't forgotten about Heather," Ryan replied, his tone calm and collected. He appreciated Rick's confusion, his obvious concern and panic. "In fact, I was going to ask if you could let her know I've woken up and walk her back to the house for me."

"Why can't you do it?" queried Rick, crossing his arms.

Ryan rocked back on his heels, "Because right now my brain feels like a ball of knotted yarn, and I think with Blaire and Katrina I can figure out what happened to me, and make it make sense."

Rick's eyes were narrowed and his arms tightened across his chest.

"There is nothing else going on. No funny business. I am not going to cheat on Heather," Ryan explained vehemently. "You can trust me. She does."

Slowly, it seemed like Rick relented. He pushed his hands into the pockets of his khakis and breathed in deep through his nose, closing his eyes for a moment. "Fine," he said eventually. "I'll walk her home."

"Thank you."

"But you are going to explain to me and to Adrian what the Hell is going on when we're both home," he added, jabbing his finger into Ryan's chest.

"Sure." Ryan nodded. "I will. I promise."

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

Ryan's home – a structure of brown brick with four bedrooms and steps leading to the double front door – was located a fifteen minute walk away from the University in a nice, affluent neighborhood. Most of the town houses here were student housing, and those that weren't had been converted into exclusive apartment buildings advertised for young couples or professional singles.

Each building was attached to the other, with only breaks when it came to roads and turnings. Steps led to every front door, and most of the buildings either had a small front garden lined with wrought iron fencing, or a driveway.

Blaire commented once that it looked like it would have been an expensive area to live in, but her words were met with very little response. In fact, most of her attempts at making conversation were met with silence or simple one or two word responses, so after a few tries she gave up.

They were each lost in their own minds, trying to make sense of their thoughts and memories. Katrina had started focusing on her cell phone, reading through pages and typing out emails and messages quickly. Ryan walked purposefully. After digging around in her purse for a minute, Blaire found her music player and slipped in one ear bud, listening out in case one of her companions decided to talk.

Ryan unlocked the front door and pushed it open, holding it for the two women who walked past him into a short, narrow corridor. The floor was hardwood, offset with bright white walls, which made the hallway seem much brighter than it would have regularly appeared.

He let the door close behind him, locked it, and then knelt on the floor and slipped off his shoes.

"Nice place…," Katrina said, slipping her phone away. "I mean… wow. What's the rent on this place?" She started down the hallway.

"Stop," Ryan called. "Please."

Katrina did so, pausing mid-step, and looked at him curiously. He had his shoes off and had placed them neatly by an umbrella stand and side table where he had thrown his keys. Blaire tilted an eyebrow, only now noticing that Ryan had removed his shoes.

"Why are you taking your shoes off?" she asked, amused.

"It keeps the place neat. I don't like treading dirt everywhere and we have white carpets in some of the rooms," explained Ryan. "Would you mind…?" He left the question unfinished, simply averting his gaze to Blaire's black boots and then Katrina's knee high wedges.

"You… want us to take our shoes off…" Katrina realized, glancing at her feet.

Ryan nodded. "Please." He wriggled his toes in his white socks.

"Are you serious?" Blaire joked, grinning. When Ryan didn't laugh, her face fell a little. "You are serious…"

"Who takes their shoes off when they get to their house?" Katrina remarked incredulously. "That is so time consuming…"

"It’s polite. And it’s how I was brought up," Ryan replied calmly, "and I would appreciate if you would please take your shoes off before we go through the house."

"Okay… okay…" Katrina raised her hands defensively and leaned on the wall, reaching down to unzip and unbuckle her right boot. Blaire already had one shoe off, and was in the process of pulling off the other.

Once all three pairs of shoes were placed neatly by the front door, Ryan led the way through to his bedroom. The entrance hallway opened up into the main living area, which doubled as a dining room. As with the hallway, the walls here were white with hardwood throughout. It wasn't a mess, but at the same time it wasn't a tidy room either. It had an element of organized chaos about it, with coats on the backs of the sofa, books piled up on the dining room table, and the television unit being used as a handy place to put things.

Beyond the living area was the kitchen, which in comparison to the lounge was immaculately tidy. A small set of five steps led up to a second landing with a long corridor. Coming off at either side were two doors, bedrooms, and at the far end another door to a bright white and slate grey bathroom.

The door to Ryan's room was open, along with his window, letting air flow through the house. His room was fairly large with a light grey carpet, and white walls decorated with posters, hockey team jerseys, and other trinkets. The centerpiece was a double bed at the far end of the room, sitting beneath the window, which was neatly made, and its sole occupant was a stuffed beanie gorilla. It meant the area closest to the door was all floor, as the walls were lined with Ryan's desk, computer, and a bookshelf. The room overall was neat, the floor was clear and tidy, except for a few bits and pieces leaning against the bookshelves, but the shelves themselves were a mish-mash of random things, placed wherever there was a vacant space. On one wall was a corkboard with various photos pinned to it. Hidden amongst the shelves, beneath discarded t-shirts, were models of motorbikes, though it was difficult to tell the type of bike it was. In one corner, far tidier than all the others, was a small pink bag with yellow and white flowers decorating it.

A girl's overnight bag.

Ryan closed the door behind him, walked past the two women, and flopped down on his bed, releasing a deep sigh. Blaire wheeled out his desk chair and sat down, while Katrina perched on the edge of the desk, leaning back a little and placing her satchel on the ground, setting it against the desk leg.

For a few moments everyone was silent, as they had been while they had been walking. Blaire casually tangled hair between her fingers and daintily cleared her throat. "So… anyone have anything they would like to start with?" She asked lightly, crossing one leg over the other.

"Don't look at me." Ryan raised an arm and laid it over his eyes. "I'm still trying to make sense of things."

Rolling her eyes, Katrina shifted her weight from one hip to the other. "What is there really to straighten out? We all had the same dream."

"Was it a dream though?" replied Blaire. "It felt too real to be a dream. And I can't imagine it's very common for three people who don't know each other to have the same subconscious experience."

"True…" Katrina lifted her eyebrows. "Maybe we should look at the facts? That we all fainted at the same time. We all clarified we experienced the same things just before we all collapsed: the headaches, the blinding pain…"

"We each woke up in the forest in the Digital World. We experienced the… birth, I guess, of our Digimon being pulled from our chests," continued Blaire, listing things off on her fingers. "We all remember the Gazimon. We all saw Pelmamon evolve."

"And Grindymon," added Katrina. "We remember Dalimon, Hitokamon. The Colossus. The Emperor and Empress." She sighed a little. "Is there really any doubt whether what we experienced was real or not?"

Blaire shook her head silently at her, and they both turned their attention to Ryan, who had remained quiet.

"What we really need is some proof," Ryan remarked, from his bed. He rubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "That would cement whether what we experienced happened, or not."

"The extensive list of things that Blaire and I just went through isn't proof enough?" Katrina said slowly, leaning back against the desk and lightly crossing her arms. Ryan sat up slowly and looked at her, her expression somewhere between frustrated and tired.

"I just mean," he said eventually, "something physical. Like the D-Exes. Or the Vials."

"Speaking of," Blaire piped up, "can we talk about the Emperor and Empress for a minute?"

Katrina looked at her. "What about them?"

"Can we formulate a plan to kill them?" inquired Blaire cheerfully. Ryan laughed softly and Katrina's mouth pulled into a wry smile. "I would genuinely love to wipe the floor with their faces."

"Sure," shrugged Katrina. "I think a plan of action would be smart to deal with them, if we can be certain the whole thing wasn't some mass hallucination, and if we can figure out a way to get back to the Digital World."

"Good point." Ryan nodded. He folded his arms. "The way we first went to the Digital World was a random occurrence, and I doubt it can be replicated. At least not easily. So how would we get to the Digital World again, if the whole thing was real?"

Blaire nodded slowly. "I wonder why Muertomon and the others weren't transported too. It seems kind of strange for us to have been, and them not to."

"To be fair, this whole situation is pretty strange," Katrina replied with a small smile.

Ryan shifted a little, yawning. "Maybe they are here, and we just can't see them?" he said, stretching his arms above his head and groaning. "Maybe Anzumon and the others have to get yanked out of our chests again?"

Katrina rubbed her breast bone. "I hope not…"

"Hold on…" Blaire was frowning a little as she rose from the chair and crossed towards Ryan's bed. Ryan looked at her curiously as she got closer, her gaze seemed fixed on his pants. "Ryan, stand up a second."

A little uneasy, Ryan did as she asked, and stood. Blaire bent at the waist, peering at the hemline of his trousers.

Katrina smirked a little. "Do you guys want me to leave for a minute or…?" She tilted her eyebrow, amused by Ryan's rather uncomfortable expression.

"What are you doing?!" Ryan practically jumped two feet into the air as Blaire's fingers lifted the hem of his t-shirt and brushed along his skin.

"Don't worry~," Blaire teased, smiling preciously. "I'm not about to take advantage of you." Her hand hooked around something and she tugged, removing from Ryan's waistband a small black device. "Ah-ha!" Blaire lifted it triumphantly and held it out to Ryan.

"My D-Ex!" Ryan grasped it and grinned. "You could have just told me you spotted it."

"And miss an opportunity to get close to your crotch?" Blaire retorted playfully. "Not a chance." She sashayed back to the desk and grabbed her purse from the table top. Katrina had her satchel up on the desk too, and was digging through her belongings.

Ryan busily scrolled through the familiar screens, oddly happy to have the D-Ex back on his person. The images of the Digimon they had come across showed in the hologram program as he came to them, including the details of Anzumon, which strangely made him miss the bad-tempered griffin. Continuing to work through the options, he came across the details of the Behemon they had met. Still the details were a mess of interference and digital noise, and the images were still fuzzy and hard to make out.

At the other side of the room, both Katrina and Blaire were doing them same with their own, having located them. Blaire's at the bottom of her purse and Katrina's in the front pocket of her satchel. Without warning, both their D-Exes flashed into life, and two glowing shapes formed above them.

The pink shape above Blaire shook off the light, revealing itself as a small skull. Beneath each eye socket were small yellow spots, and above, curved orange markings. It had two small skeleton hands sticking out from beneath a torn black cowl. Two large blue eyes stared wildly around the room as it floated and seemed to be panicking.

Above Katrina's D-Ex was a bright blue shape that the glowing seemed to fall off like water. Its shape was long, like a tadpole, and teal in color with scales covering it. It had red fins for a tail, and a spiked half-frill around the top of its head, with deep red membrane between each spike. Its eyes were pink, large, and just as alert and worried as the floating skull.

Blaire and Katrina glanced at one another, and Ryan was staring at the two small creatures that floated above them.

"Grindymon…?" Katrina asked unsurely.

Her voice set the two off. Both went zipping and flailing around the room, knocking things off shelves in a blind panic as they flitted here and there in worry. Blaire chased after the skull, calling for Muertomon, and Katrina the tadpole-like one, trying to grab its fins.

"Stop! Muertomon! Stop it! It’s me!" Blaire cried, leaping over Ryan's bed as the small skull fled from her hands. It crashed into the wall, turned quickly, pulling a hockey jersey with it, blinding it with its fabric.

"Hey! That's signed!" Ryan yelled, grabbing the shirt, and pulling the skull with it. He kept the fabric in his hand, stopping the skull from flying off anywhere until Blaire had her hands around it.

Katrina ran her hands over her face. The flying aquatic Digimon had escaped her grasp again and was caught up in a corner of the room. It seemed to be confused that it could not move any further.

"Clearly not Muertomon and Grindymon," Ryan murmured, furiously tapping away at his D-Ex.

"Ashramon," Katrina said, her D-Ex bringing the Digimon's details. "Pre-evolution of Grindymon. And that one is… Calamon."

"Calamon?" Blaire repeated, lifting the cowl wearing Digimon to her height. "What was with the freak out?"

"It's very unnerving being so suddenly woken up and waking up in a place you don't recognize!" Calamon explained briskly. "Very unnerving indeed."

"But you recognize me?" Blaire inquired, tilting her head and smiling hopefully.

Calamon nodded, though it was more like his whole body moved. "Of course. Obviously. Blaire. Indeed."

Katrina stared at Ashramon, who was slowly coming back down to a lower height. The little Digimon's eyes were wide as tea saucers, and she seemed to quiver a little.

"You know who I am, right?" Katrina asked, stepping slowly towards the Digimon.

Ashramon looked her up and down. "Y-yes…," she admitted and rushed through the air, curling around Katrina's shoulder and beneath her longer side of hair. Her frill had flattened against her body. "Katrina."

Katrina smiled. "Well, okay then." She nodded to herself and turned to Ryan. She noticed his curious expression and how it was tainted with a look of upset. "What's the matter, Ryan?"

"Anzumon," Ryan snapped. "He’s not in here! There's no sign of him!" He threw the D-Ex on his bed and ran his hands through his hair. "I've gone through every option, every screen twice! And nothing."

"Maybe–" Blaire began.

"It’s because Anzumon doesn't like me. That must be it," Ryan said, speaking loudly but more to himself than to the two women in his room. "He's said as much. Something about taking away his freedom. He resents me, and hates me. That’s why we haven't bonded, that why he's not here and didn't get transported like those two." He pointed at Ashramon and Calamon.

"Ryan, calm down…," Blaire spoke, trying to be soothing. "I'm sure it's not that…"

"Maybe he died in the fall into the water…," Ryan continued. "I knew I saw something hit him on the way down and injure him. What if his wings were broken and he fell into the river? What if the Emperor and Empress got a hold of him?"

"Get a grip!" Katrina snapped, shocking Ashramon on her shoulder. She petted the small Digimon's head to calm her and stomped towards Ryan. "You're babbling like an idiot. Take a breath, calm down and think logically."

Blaire looked at her. "You were more subtle when it came to Hitokamon," she pointed out with a small grin.

"Hitokamon looked like he would have a nervous breakdown at any second," Katrina replied. "He needed the touchy-feely approach. You," she turned to Ryan and smacked him over the top of the head, "need to stop, and think."

"Ow…," Ryan complained and lightly rubbed his head. "No need to hit me."

"I beg to differ," Katrina replied, sitting on the edge of Ryan's bed beside him. Ryan pouted a little. "Now try and stay calm. There is probably a rational explanation for why Anzumon isn't here, and I doubt it’s because he dislikes you."

"What other reason could there be?" Ryan asked her, rubbing his hands across his face. "He's made it pretty clear I'm probably his least favorite person."

"Why don't we weigh up what things have happened to Katrina and I, that haven't happened to you," Blaire suggested helpfully, smiling a little as Calamon settled in her hands. In his own hands he held her D-Ex, and Katrina had clipped hers onto her jeans.

"Okay…," Ryan sighed softly. "Well, we each had them drawn out of our chests…," he began, thinking back to the things that had happened in the Digital World. "And each of the Digimon has protected us at one point or another."

"Only Grindymon and Muertomon have defeated Colossus," Blaire pointed out thoughtfully.

"You've all found vials," Ashramon said softly from Katrina's shoulder. "So that can't be included…"

"And everyone has a D-Ex indeed," added Calamon firmly, wanting his voice to be heard.

"Muertomon and Grindymon are the only Digimon who have evolved…," Ryan mused. He leaned back a little on his duvet. His muscles were beginning to twinge with minute pulses of pain, and he was struggling to find a position to sit in that was comfortable.

Katrina turned her D-Ex over in her hands, looking at the front of it curiously. "Which would mean… Blaire and I are the only two to have used the vials…," she trailed, running her thumb over the segment of the D-Ex that had been blank when she and the others first received them.

"What are you thinking?" Blaire inquired, noticing how Katrina stared at her D-Ex.

"Markings," Katrina murmured. "My D-Ex has a diamond symbol here." She pointed and showed it to Blaire and Ryan.

They both looked at their own for the same sign.

"There's a heart symbol on mine," Blaire announced, brushing her fingertips over the pretty image.

"Nothing," Ryan said, "maybe my D-Ex is broken."

"No, no, no! That makes sense!" Katrina exclaimed. "Blaire and I bonded with our Digimon through their personalities, and then through the evolving. Muertomon evolved because he was the only one left to tackle Behemon that time, and Grindymon evolved I guess because of a similar reason. I guess, the vial and the emotional connection through evolution is what cemented the ability for them to come here too."

"That sounded confusing, but I think I understand." Ryan shrugged. "So… you're saying because Anzumon hasn't evolved, he and I haven't made the same emotional connection."

"Precisely!"

Blaire tilted her head. "That… makes sense."

"But that still doesn't help us get back there, eh?" Ryan growled, getting to his feet and beginning to pace. "Anzumon could be there, thinking I've abandoned him when I didn't want to. I want him and me to be friends!"

"Anzumon is just proud," Ashramon explained. "He’s been getting used to you slowly."

"Doesn't help me right now," Ryan grumbled. He ran his hands through his hair and hooked them back around his neck, releasing a frustrated growl. Blaire and Katrina exchanged looks, unable to come up with any answers, or help beyond trying to be supportive. "Ow…," Ryan groaned. "You really hurt me when you hit me."

"I barely tapped you," Katrina rebuffed, watching as Ryan gently rubbed the crown of his head. He was squinting, his mouth drawn to one side with his teeth grit together.

"It really hurts though."

Blaire's eyebrows furrowed. "Where did that bruise come from?" She pointed, indicating to a large purple mark on Ryan's lower arm that had not been there before.

Ryan glanced at it. "I… have no idea." He winced again and shook his head violently. "Man, I feel like my head is trying to split open."

In front of Blaire and Katrina, all the color suddenly drained from Ryan's face and he hit the ground with a loud thump, his arms sprawled above his head.

"SHIT!" Blaire rose onto her feet.

He couldn't hear what was happening around him, though at first he was aware of movement and images in front of him, blurred shapes with no particular meaning or form. Just blobs in front of his eyes in the dark.

Then the darkness seemed to ebb away, and Ryan could see other things. Something drifting in front of his eyes, shapes and symbols he had seen before. Mechanical, an image used for technology. He knew it, but where from eluded him. But the shapes shone and glowed, shining a tarnished gold color before his eyes were illuminated by an unseen light.

Beyond the shapes was something else. A clearing, fuzzy in the distance. Grass all around him, though everything he looked at was a strange color, kind of sepia toned, as if he were looking at it through an old television or camera lens. He was moving, though he couldn't control his legs or the direction. He couldn't shout either, though he did try. All he could do was go in the direction his legs were taking him, and hope he would find out why he was suddenly seeing these things.

The further he moved, the faster he went, until he was running but still breathing as if he were sitting down comfortably. It was an odd sensation, to be moving at speed but not feel it. Not feel the wind in his hair or on his face, or hear it whistling past his ears.

He was moving towards something. Figures he hadn't seen before, up on the brow of a small mound that could barely be considered a hill. Two figures, one big, and one small. The big one was an insect, with a body like a praying mantis: two arms in the form of massive scythes, and it stood on four legs. It had wings which were folded into its lower thorax, and a mouth lined with sharp teeth, as it leered over its prey.

Ryan saw the smaller form, cowering on the ground with an expression still defiant and stubborn. A four legged creature, its small wings outspread. It had short antlers and was vastly out-powered by its enemy. It looked beaten up, and Ryan wanted to shout to it to flee and give up.

To live and fight another day.

"I know him…," Ryan realized, speaking for the first time, his voice only audible to himself. "Anzumon…," he murmured.

The praying mantis Digimon was closing in, the huge scythes turning purple as it readied an attack.

"Anzumon!!" Ryan shouted, but he was being drawn back from the image, it was fading before him. "Anzumon!" he tried again. The scene disappeared to blackness and the tarnished gold shapes he could see shone before him, he recognized them now as circuit boards.

"ANZUMON!!" Ryan was bolt upright and panted. He was on the floor in his house, in his bedroom, Blaire at one side of him and Katrina at the other. "Anzumon!" Ryan breathed. "He was… Anzumon. I have to help him!" He grabbed for his D-Ex on the waistband of his pants. It was flashing and beeping wildly, and continued to do so as Ryan tapped its buttons.

"Whoa, slow down," Katrina said, touching Ryan's hand lightly. "You fainted, tell us what happened."

"Circuit boards," Ryan blurted out. "I saw floating circuit boards and a battle. Anzumon. He was alone, and I could feel how scared and angry he was. There was a big… bug. With scythes for hands… it was…," he trailed. "Oh fuck, I have to get back!"

"Okay, okay, calm down," Blaire tried, grabbing one of Ryan's arms and lightly easing him to his feet with Katrina's help. "Our D-Exes aren't doing anything. I think maybe yours is the key to getting back."

"What?!" Ryan yelped, he wasn't listening, he could barely hear himself think, his worry was so apparent.

"Ryan," Katrina's voice fell like a stone. "Hold your D-Ex out in front of you." She already had hers held out before her in her right hand, and Blaire the same standing opposite Katrina, in her arms she held Calamon. "We need to get back, and we can do it quicker if we work together."

"We think that our D-Exes can feed off the energy yours is giving out. Hopefully it will transport us," Blaire explained, trying her best to keep a calm tone so Ryan did not continue to panic.

"Okay, okay…," Ryan puffed. He held his D-Ex out and it touched the other two.

The light that exploded from the three of them was bright and painful to look at. As it cleared, before them were open green plains and a small mound, barely enough to be called a hill in front of them.

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

Ryan didn't wait for the dizziness in his head to stop and started running as soon as feeling had returned to his legs. Both Blaire and Katrina were recovering on the ground from their sudden transportation, with Grindymon and Muertomon beside them.

He ran. He could feel himself swerving one way, and then the other, as he tried to keep in a straight line. The grassy mound before him had seemed much smaller before he began to climb it, but as he ran up, and up, it was like it went on for miles.

The pain he had felt before was doubled now. It was like there were sharp implements beneath his skin, trying to scratch their way out. It was agony, and he found it harder to breathe through the pain with every step he managed to take. He pushed through it, he growled through the ache and pushed it to the back of his mind. Ryan could not allow himself to fail, he had to reach the top and help Anzumon.

The griffin Digimon needed him, and Ryan was not about to let him down.

"Twin Sickles!" He heard the attack before he saw it, the voice carrying through the air, a hiss of malice. "Stop dodging, fight like a 'mon!"

Coming to the brow of the hill, Ryan took stock of the situation, holding his D-Ex tight in one hand, and feeling for the vial in his jacket pocket. Anzumon was on the ground. One wing curled into his body and the other dangled to one side. His feathers were broken and badly arranged, covered in dirt and grime. Anzumon was exhausted, but his expression was resolute and stubborn.

The creature attacking him was the same as the one Ryan had seen before. A huge green praying mantis-like creature with two huge scythes for forearms, and a large mouth lined with sharp, serrated teeth. It flew above the ground a few feet, its wings buzzing rapidly to keep it aloft.

"Snimon…," Ryan read the name on the image that appeared above his D-Ex. His mind was too muddled to read any more. He saw the insect Digimon's scythes glowing a purple color as he drew them across himself in an X-shape.

"Twin Sickles!"

"Look out!!" Ryan yelled, watching the attack fly through the air.

His cry caught Anzumon's attention. The griffin turned his head to look at him, his expression a mixture of surprise and relief. "Ry–"

"Anzumon!!" cried Ryan, getting to his feet and running haphazardly across the ground to catch the struck Digimon. His small body was limp as it fell, like a doll with no muscle or bone. Snimon laughed loudly, a deep, threatening sound that echoed from the very depths of his throat.

"The Emperor and Empress will be so pleased you arrived just in time!" he chuckled, landed on the ground, and began to advance.

Ryan backed up a step, cradling the injured Anzumon against him, protecting him with his arms. Anzumon breathed slowly, his yellow eyes opening gradually with sluggish, deliberate blinks.

"Twin Sickl–"

"Aqua Needle!"

"Soul Launcher!" The watery lights and the swarm of flaming butterflies knocked Snimon back, his shock at the sudden attack given only in a startled yell. The flames engulfed him, as Muertomon and Grindymon raced towards the insect, with Blaire and Katrina following close behind.

"Nether Strike!" Grindymon went in with her black aura punches, striking the praying mantis across the face and back.

Muertomon pulled his head off. "Skull Grenade!" He threw it, and sent Snimon rolling onto his back.

"You check Anzumon," Katrina said to Ryan, keeping her eyes on her own Digimon, "we'll keep Snimon at bay."

Grateful, Ryan nodded. He retreated a little, further away from the fighting, and knelt, easing Anzumon in his arms to a more comfortable position.

"I didn't expect you to come back…," Anzumon said slowly, twitching a little as Ryan touched his injured wing. His tone was begrudging, though Ryan could hear a tint of emotion that the griffin was trying to hold back.

"I had to," Ryan explained. "I was worried. Thought you had died in that fall off the cliff."

"Not far wrong," Anzumon muttered. "How do you think I injured my wing? Trying to save you."

Ryan gave the griffin a shrewd look. "You were trying to save me?"

"Of course," Anzumon sighed. He looked at Ryan squarely, and then at his claws. "I guess I got used to having you around. You're not so bad."

"Oh…" Ryan nodded. He didn't want to make a big deal over Anzumon's words. He could see how difficult it was for the griffin to open up. "That's a big compliment from you."

"Mhm…," grunted Anzumon. "Fact is, I was worried when you disappeared. Didn't know what happened or where you'd gone." He drew his mouth back awkwardly and kept his eyes focused on his talons. Ryan lightly rubbed his hand over his feathers, smoothing them out. "I don't hate you, y'know? It’s more like… I don't know what to do. Everything is new to me. I don't know how to be a partner."

"Me either," Ryan admitted, "and I'm sorry for leaving you. It was an accident, I wouldn't do it by choice."

"Yeah…," Anzumon drawled, "I guess…"

"It’s true," urged Ryan. "It won't ever happen again. I swear."

"If you say so…" Anzumon shifted, wincing a little as he did so.

Ryan frowned, he could tell the Digimon didn't believe him, not entirely, but he was not at a loss for how to prove his promise was true.

"I'll prove it to you," Ryan said firmly. He moved Anzumon, letting him freely stand on the ground. Holding his D-Ex and the vial in one hand, Ryan squeezed, applying pressure to the glass.

"What are you doing?!" Anzumon demanded, panicked.

The glass cracked, splitting into two large halves with small shards between the two. The contents leaked out over Ryan's hand and the D-Ex. The surface of the device absorbed the liquid between the cracks like water dehydrating in hyper time, until not a trace of it remained.

"What have you done…," gaped Anzumon.

"Made a promise that I will not leave you again," Ryan explained. "Do you believe me?"

Anzumon looked at the broken vial, the D-Ex, and at Ryan as if he had suddenly gone mad. Why would he waste the precious contents of the vial like that? They were too important to be wasted! But, as he stared hard at Ryan's face, he could see no mirth or deception in his expression or eyes. He was completely serious in what he said and the sentiment behind it.

Tentatively, Anzumon lifted one talon and laid it over Ryan's hand and the D-Ex. "Yes." He nodded firmly.

Both the D-Ex and Anzumon burst into orange light.

"Anzumon, Plasma Evolve to…"

He drew away from Ryan, floating in midair. Anzumon's body extended, and grew upright. His back legs lengthened and thickened, his forelegs too, becoming muscular arms with his talons forming hands. Each arm had a line of elegant feathers lining it. A huge mane of blue fur formed around his neck and down his back, drawing onto his tail, while around his chest a string of golden orbs settled in place. A golden mask molded over his face, lined with dark blue stripes, and from his head his small antlers took on a dark brown color and extended several feet in height. Marked across his body were crescent moon symbols, two on each thigh, and one on either shin. And similarly, one on each shoulder, and two across his lower arms.

"Kotenmon!!"

Ryan stood back to admire the new form of Anzumon and smirked a little. Kotenmon looked at him briefly with the same hawk-like yellow eyes Anzumon had, before turning and charging into the battle with Grindymon and Muertomon.

"Soul Launcher!" One huge flaming butterfly exploded against Snimon's back, while Grindymon floated above him, her antenna alight as she fired myriads of small watery needles into the back of Snimon's head.

The insect Digimon roared, and rounded on Muertomon. "Ultimate Twin Sickles!" He released a foray of glowing purple crescent shapes, which exploded against the ground and knocked Muertomon back on impact. Turning in midair, Snimon turned his attention to Grindymon, his wings buzzing furiously as he pursued the smaller Digimon at speed and knocking into her, smashing her small body towards the ground.

He drew his scythes back, hovering above Grindymon. "Ultimate Twin Sickles!!"

The four moons smashed the group, sending up litter and debris. Kotenmon stood to one side, Grindymon in one arm, out of harm's way, his mane and feathers fluttering gently against the blast of the attacks.

Snimon snarled. Kotenmon released Grindymon silently and sized up the praying mantis creature.

He stepped when Snimon stepped, and they mimicked each other for a moment, until Snimon rushed towards his opponent, his wings beating furiously to gain speed and his scythes glowing green, held above his head.

"Green Sickle Cut!" He brought his scythes down in one fluid movement and sliced through the air. Kotenmon had leaped above him and was returning gracefully to the ground.

"Static Claw!" bellowed Kotenmon. He rounded on the green Digimon, and rained down punches infused with lightning against his back, causing the electricity to ripple across the insect.

Snimon roared and turned quickly, out of Kotenmon's reach, his blades drawn towards him. He charged. "Ultimate Twin Sickles!"

Kotenmon countered. "Storm Cyclone!" He whipped himself into a tornado, a flurry of wind and lightning thundering over the ground. The four blasts from Snimon were absorbed by the quick movement, and Kotenmon leaped.

He railed down hard punches against Snimon's head and body, moving too fast for the praying mantis to see or react. The tornado around him disorientated the insect, making it too wild and intense to take flight.

"Twin Sickles!" Snimon cried, releasing the attack at random. "Twin Sickles! Twin Sickles! Twin Sickles!"

"Agh!" Kotenmon flew back, gripping his shoulder where one of the attacks had cut him. The wound was small and barely registered. It had been more the shock of the impact that had caught him off guard.

The tornado died around him, and Snimon was bruised and bloodied, covered in green ooze which leaked from wounds sustained from Kotenmon's attacks. Still the insect was determined, and stepped towards the other Digimon, his wings now badly damaged and unable to move from his back.

Snimon drew his scythes back weakly. "Ultimate… Twin… Sickles…" Four crescent moons left his claws, moved through the air, and all crashed into the ground feet in front of where Kotenmon stood. "Ultimate… Twin… Sickles…" He attacked again, throwing what remaining energy he still had into the attack.

Kotenmon sneered, irritated by the display of weakness. His hands vibrated with energy, and they were flashing with white lightning. Drawing his hands open a little, he spun the wild element expertly into a ball. "Static Claw!"

Kotenmon charged, the sphere of lightning held between his hands, growing larger with each step.

"Ultimate… Twin… Sick–"

Leaping into the air, Kotenmon released the energy down on top of Snimon, causing the lightning to explode on impact with the other Digimon.

Snimon's screech was deafening as his body disintegrated and data floated up into the air, until Kotenmon stepped up and breathed it in deeply.

The fight now over, the others approached from where they had been watching. Ryan had rid his hand of any glass and residue from the contents of the vial.

Kotenmon shone a bright yellow before shrinking back down to Anzumon's size. His injured wing, now fixed, settled into place on his back easily, and his feathers were clean once more and all neatly preened.

"Oh… I wanted to stay as Kotenmon…," complained Anzumon, looking up at those around him.

"Can't have your cake and eat it too," Muertomon replied happily. "Sorry we left you behind."

"It’s okay," Anzumon smiled. "I know it wasn't intentional."

Ryan crossed his arms. "Yeah. Won't happen again now." He indicated to his D-Ex, where a yellow symbol of a spade had manifested in the area that had previously been vacant.

"Besides, being left behind was pretty good," Anzumon added.

Grindymon looked uneasy. "Good?" she repeated. "It didn't look good."

Anzumon opened his wings and shivered them. "No. I admit, that bit wasn't good. But before that, things were enlightening."

Katrina arched an eyebrow and exchanged looks with her companions. "You going to explain, or leave us in suspense?"

Grinning, Anzumon laughed a little, enjoying the attention being on him. "Well, after my wing got hit by the falling rocks, I fell into the river and was washed down stream. When I woke up, I was being held captive by some of the Emperor and Empress’ scouts. They had no idea I was awake, ‘cause I kept pretending, so I overheard everything they were talking about."

"Which was?" Blaire insisted.

"I know the location of their hive," Anzumon announced smugly, "and that means I know the location of the map, and the pink vial they have."

"Nice job!" Ryan cheered, scooping Anzumon up. "Do you think you can get us there?"

"Oh yeah." Anzumon nodded his head. "When I escaped, that was where I was headed. It might take us a few days, but I can get us there. It’s beyond the Clockwork City, on an island in the middle of a lake."

Blaire loosely folded her arms. "Well, in that case," she turned her gaze towards the orange and red sky, "we should probably find somewhere to rest before we get going… we'll need all the energy we can get."


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