Episode 8: Discover All

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The hum of wings lessened as the scouts departed. Leaving alone or in twos, they fled the throne beneath the watchful eye of Mesilamon and Vazkamon, who had issued them with their new orders. While many were to remain near the home hive, the majority were the scattered throughout the Digital World to increase the search for the remaining vials. None were to return until they had something worth reporting, or a vial to present to their Emperor and Empress.

Now that they were not searching blindly, using the map Mesilamon had stolen from Blaire, both the Emperor and Empress were confident they would have the power they had been searching so long for within a matter of days. It had set them both in better moods than they had been in for days, Mesilamon almost beside herself with joy, while Vazkamon kept his confidence quieter.

Mesilamon spun on her toes in the middle of the huge hexagonal room, her wings spread to keep her balanced as she faced the ceiling with her eyes closed, arms outstretched with a beguiling smile on her face.

"Not long now, my dearest," she cooed to Vazkamon, who watched her. "I can feel how close our goal is!"

"I am happy that you are happy, love," Vazkamon replied.

Mesilamon opened her eyes as she paused in her spinning, and held her hands out towards Vazkamon. "Dance with me." She beckoned him towards her. "Dance with me to bring in our glorious victory."

Smiling wryly, Vazkamon paced towards her, and took his Queen's hands in his. He did not spin her, or begin to move, simply ran his thumbs across her delicate fingers. "We must not be too hasty, my sweetling. We are not victorious yet."

"Oh!" Mesilamon threw her hands from his playfully. "Can't you taste it in the air? Just how close we are to winning! Within a matter of days we will have the purest power in the Digital World. Imagine what we can do with that, my love!"

Again, Vazkamon was stationary, watching as Mesilamon fluttered away a few feet to continue dancing and gliding gracefully across the earth. "Imagination is one thing," he spoke. "I will enjoy our new power more once we have obtained it."

Mesilamon's eyes were sharp suddenly as she turned her head towards Vazkamon. "You're frightened," she pointed out. "Worried that we won't achieve our aims."

"That is not true," Vazkamon replied, soothingly. "I have all the faith in the world that what we want will be done. But I prefer to be certain before I celebrate."

"A wise standpoint, insect King."

The voice came from the gloom provided by the overhanging roof of the hive. A form seemed to manifest out of the shadows, moving like a cloud across the ground as if its feet did not touch the earth. It glided, a deep sleeved cloak billowing around it, and the heavy black hood obscuring the figure’s face.

"You should have announced yourself," Mesilamon chirped, spinning towards the figure. "Baphomon, why would you stay away so long?"

The cold air that appeared whenever Baphomon did appeared not to affect Mesilamon as she twirled and danced gleefully around him. Baphomon barely seemed to register the whimsical Empress and instead had his gaze fixed upon Vazkamon, making the dragonfly King unnerved and somewhat uncomfortable to be stared at with such intensity.

"How long were you there, eavesdropping?" demanded Vazkamon. "You should announce yourself before you are entertained by royalty."

"I meant no offense," Baphomon replied, his tone deep and gravelly. Even as he spoke, it was as if his words echoed off the walls of the hive and resonated through all the tunnels.

"My love," Mesilamon teased, coming to Baphomon's side, "be kind to our guest. He has been a dear ally to us."

"Indeed," Vazkamon snorted.

"Pay him no mind," Mesilamon cooed at Baphomon, who ignored her. "Please, won't you sit and make yourself comfortable? We've only just sent out our finest scouts to locate the remaining vials."

"Good," Baphomon murmured. "Time waits for no one, after all." From within one of the sleeves of his cloak, Baphomon withdrew his golden pocket watch and started it swinging in front of him. The noise of the clock’s ticks was the only sound in the hive for a few moments, setting Vazkamon's teeth on edge.

"You have a purpose coming here?" Vazkamon asked bitingly.

Since the first, Vazkamon had not taken to Baphomon as his Empress had. Where she was all sweet and light, and could not see a problem with their new, shadowy ally, Vazkamon had only questions. He had always had questions, ones that Baphomon had never answered since the beginning. It had been very obvious from the start just who was in charge of this working relationship the three of them had, and it certainly wasn't himself or Mesilamon.

Yet, despite his best efforts, Vazkamon had been unable to talk his beloved out of a partnership with the other Digimon. Once Mesilamon had her heart set on something it was almost impossible to talk her out of it, and when she had wanted this alliance with Baphomon, Vazkamon had been unable to refuse her.

He, however, had never trusted the cloaked figure. To Vazkamon, he oozed a sense of untrustworthiness with every breath. From never exposing his face or removing his cloak, to the fact he would never appear when called, and only when he decided to appear before them. He was no true ally, that Vazkamon could see, but it was impossible to break the haze of Mesilamon's mind towards the shadowy figure.

His words were always a riddle, or cryptic, which annoyed Vazkamon and so far his advice and help had only resulted in the losses of scouts and very little else.

Even now, after being in cahoots with each other for so long, Vazkamon did not trust the other Digimon as Mesilamon did, and had continued to try and persuade her to break with Baphomon, to no avail. If nothing else, Mesilamon was determined, and when she made a decision on something, not even Vazkamon could change her mind.

"I do," Baphomon answered finally. "You are not alone."

"Obviously," Mesilamon giggled. She crossed to Vazkamon and hooked her arm through his. "We are never alone."

Baphomon was silent for a moment, and despite being unable to see his eyes, Vazkamon could feel them moving over himself and Mesilamon. He took an instinctive protective step in front of his Queen.

"I sensed an intruder," Baphomon explained. "I cannot pinpoint their whereabouts though. But they are here, somewhere on your hive island."

"If you cannot tell us where they are," Vazkamon snapped, "then what good is this news?"

"I believe it is our friend. The little pest," Baphomon explained.

Mesilamon gasped and her eyes blazed. "Where?" she snarled, her temperament changing as if a switch had been flipped. "I want his head set before me!"

"I cannot tell you where he is," Baphomon told her calmly. "And your energies would be better spent on readying an assault."

Vazkamon narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean? An assault?"

Baphomon breathed out slowly. The clock had slowed, not only in its swaying but also in its ticking. Vazkamon had not noticed before, only now when it was quiet in the hive throne room.

"Your intruder can wait; there are graver matters to attend to," Baphomon explained to them, speaking slowly. "They are on their way. Led by the griffin your fool scouts failed to keep captive."

"What?!" Mesilamon's voice rose to a screech. "How soon will they be here?!"

"Soon enough," Baphomon replied. "I foresee them causing you great pain," he added. "I would be cautious if you intend to attack them head on."

"They will cause me no pain!" Mesilamon growled angrily. "They will be dead before they make their way through my maze of tunnels!"

"As you say..." With that, Baphomon disappeared back into the shadows from whence he came. No more words, no more ticking echoing off the walls. He was gone as if he had never been there, the only indication that he had was the cold chill that hung in the air.

A beat of silence passed over both Mesilamon and Vazkamon, and then they were both moving. Mesilamon charged through a range of tunnels, going to seek out the scouts that remained within the hive, and Vazkamon rose to the open hatch in the ceiling. He and his Empress would have to rouse all their remaining scouts to fight for them.

They would see off this threat, and then they would find their intruder.

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

The hive of the Emperor and Empress was an island, sitting in the middle of a lake with no easy method of access, except by air. It was the perfect place for a home of Digimon with wings that could come and go as they pleased. No other Digimon could easily locate the hive, as it looked just like any other mound of earth, and the necessity of being able to fly also made access troublesome.

From the banks of the lake, it had been difficult to make out what part of the island was what, but as the group neared the landmass, things had become clearer.

The edges of the island were sand mixed with earth, giving way to short grasses and then trees. A forest surrounded a hill, the main hive, which grew taller and taller the closer they came. The hill rose out of the trees in a sharp incline. It seemed that no plants or trees grew on the mound, giving the appearance that the hive-hill was simply a large pile of earth.

Aside from the one huge hill and the greenery, there appeared to be little else on the island, and so far the three humans and their Digimon had only seen a small amount of insect Digimon scouts coming and going from it.

"You're sure this is the right place?" Ryan called over the sound of the wind rushing past his ears. Kotenmon regarded him with his yellow eyes for a moment and nodded silently. In his arms, Kotenmon carried Ryan and Blaire, both of them holding on to his biceps and feathers to keep in place. The huge feathered creature, unable to fly in this form, used the wind around him to his advantage, taking huge strides to cover ground, pressing his feet into the water to push himself forwards. At its deepest, the water barely came up to Kotenmon's chest.

Beside him, Melusimon glided only feet above the water, carrying Katrina in her arms, who in turn held onto Muertomon in her own. Melusimon's innate floating ability meant traveling was easier for her than for Kotenmon. The additional weight of human and Digimon slowed her down a little, allowing the two Champion Digimon to keep at roughly the same speed.

"This doesn't feel right to me!" Blaire called over the wind. "Where are the scouts? We haven't had any kind of resistance!"

"Isn't that a good thing?!" Katrina shouted back. "After all, it would be good if we could avoid conflict until we have to fight. To save the energy of the Digimon!"

The group had left the Clockwork City three days ago, after staying in the town for two days. The damage caused by their fight in the residential square had been quickly repaired and no blame had been placed on them after Knightmon had quickly stepped in to their defense. They had been able to buy knapsacks to fit all manner of supplies, from food to blankets and makeshift pillows. While the supplies they had bought had not been their true comforts of home, nor the luxury of the Clock Inn, they had made a huge difference to sleeping on the ground and snuggling up together for warmth.

Anzumon's directions had not been entirely perfect and he had been forced to backtrack a few times. He had used various landmarks he had heard his captors mention to lead the group from the city to the correct location with only one or two misdirects. They had reached the water's edge at nightfall, then decided to rest and gather their strength before going into the hive to retrieve their map and the vial the Emperor and Empress had in their possession. As soon as the sun had begun to appear over the horizon, Blaire had been up and ordering the others about.

The slivers of orange and pink smeared across the sky as the sun rose was the only light they had, and the only light they needed. It was enough to see their reflections in the water, enough to see the trees and the hive-hill coming towards them.

"What do we do once we're on the island?" Muertomon called to the others.

"Charge in!" Blaire replied.

"No," Ryan shouted. "We're not being reckless. We need to be methodical!"

"Methodical is boring!" Blaire retorted. "I say we go in all guns blazing!"

"You do that, then," Ryan told her. "We’ll see how well you do!"

"Pussy!"

"Guys!" Katrina's voice was louder still over the wind. "We've got company!!"

Their good fortunes had not lasted. Above them was a swarm of twenty of more insects, huge wings beating, moving them through the air in a cloud-like formation.

They could see Digimon they had come across before: a few Shadramon in their red and orange glory; Snimon with the huge sickle arms; Flymon zooming towards them. A few Digimon they had not met before but quickly appeared on Katrina's D-Ex as Butterflymon and Honeybeemon.

"Put in some speed, Kotenmon!" Ryan urged as the Champion leapt through the water. Melusimon sped up, dodging and weaving between the scouts as they dashed towards them as singles or in pairs, corralling the two Champions and their precious cargo.

"We're so close!" Blaire cried, seeing the shoreline of the island barely thirty feet away.

"Twin Sickles!!" Two of the Snimon fired down. One attack caught Melusimon's tail and she lost balance for the moment, almost dropping Katrina. She turned over onto her back, black vapor forming around her tail.

"Deadly Tempest!" She fired the shot skywards and blindly. The scouts all dodged the attack as it rose into the sky and dissipated.

"Sweet Spray!"

"Sweet Honey Straw!"

The attacks from Butterflymon and Honeybeemon came together, the poisonous powder of the Honeybeemon mixing with the sticky venomous fluid of their companions.

"Watch it!!" Blaire yelped. Kotenmon grabbed both Blaire and Ryan tight and leapt into the air in one movement. The poisonous mixture just missed him and plopped into the water. Kotenmon rounded a kick with his powerful legs, knocking Honeybeemon back. Landing in the water he took off again, catching up to Melusimon.

"Skull Grenade!" Muertomon's head exploded against one of the Flymon, knocking the insect into the water where it struggled to right itself.

"There are too many of them," Melusimon pointed out. "We can't fight and carry you at the same time." She swirled in midair, narrowly avoiding one of the Snimon coming straight for her. She twisted in her movements. "Deadly Tempest!" The black shot followed after Snimon and shattered into its back, turning the mantis into data.

"Nice shot!" Muertomon cheered.

"A lucky shot," Melusimon replied, speeding on.

Kotenmon over took her, pursued by another Butterflymon and Shadramon.

"They are annoying!" he growled. Electricity fizzled down his arms, fueled by his rage. Static shocked Blaire and Ryan intermittently as they looked behind them at the swiftly closing in insects. "Hold on." He tightened his grip on the two humans he carried and steeled himself.

Leaping, he spun in midair, drawing wind and water towards him. "Storm Cyclone!" He whirled at intense speed, cries of terror echoing up from within the tornado from both Blaire and Ryan. In the vortex, Kotenmon drew in Honeybeemon and the Flymon who had been pursuing them. Blaire and Ryan landed unceremoniously in the water a few feet away as Kotenmon lashed out with his fists, raining down terrible punches and kicks against his enemies.

"FUCK! I HATE BEING WET!!" Blaire screamed.

"Bitch about it later," Ryan ordered urgently, grabbing her hand and yanking her to her feet. The water here was shallow, up to Ryan's calves and Blaire's legs.

"There are more coming!" Katrina pointed out from Melusimon's arms.

Rising above the forest were more insect Digimon, more Flymon and Shadramon. Each one followed by more and more, until it seemed like the whole sky was alive with the sound of buzzing wings.

"Flash Buster!!" one Shadramon cried, blasting down towards the water. Melusimon gasped, rolled to one side and lost grip on Katrina. She and Muertomon splashed into the water, reappearing sputtering and coughing from the shock of it.

Katrina swam a little way and then waded onto the shoreline, while Muertomon rushed through the water with his butterflies, shining pink.

"Muertomon, Plasma Evolve to..." His form changed, eight legs sprouting with the huge abdomen. "Pelmamon!" The water barely came up to Pelmamon's fangs. The huge spider lunged into the sky with his front four legs, grabbing two of the scouts that flew over him and yanking them, struggling, down into the water where he stabbed them each with the sharpened claw at the end of each leg.

"Twin Sickles!"

"Flash Buster!"

"Storm Cyclone!"

"Deadly Tempest!!"

"Sweet Spray!"

"Deadly Stinger!!"

"Venom Cannon!" The attacks came from all sides, the Champion Digimon repelling and dodging attacks from the scouts of Mesilamon and Vazkamon while trying to fire off their own attacks at the growing swarm.

"They're completely outnumbered...," Katrina realized, wiping water from her face as Ryan helped her out onto land. His hair stuck to his forehead with the damp. Blaire stood a few feet from the shoreline, watching with a wide-eyed expression of concern at the battling insects.

"What can we do?" Blaire wondered aloud.

Ryan wished he knew. They were being paid no mind; they were no threat to the insect Digimon, not like their own partners were. They needed to be dealt with first, before the humans. Humans couldn't easily outrun flying Digimon, that much was obvious.

They needed to find somewhere safe, somewhere to regroup and hide. Give them time to think and get their heads together so they could form some kind of plan. Going in and assuming they would not be held up had been foolish. The numbers that Mesilamon and Vazkamon summoned were far more than Ryan had even dared consider, and there were probably more of them on the island unaware of this fight happening.

Not to mention Vazkamon and Mesilamon themselves. Ryan hated to think they were nearby, watching everything unfold, and they would attack when their own Digimon were at their weakest.

He felt uneasy, not just watching their Digimon fight such a growing horde but also because he had a sense of being watched, which unnerved him. His first thought that it was the Emperor and Empress; they would attack the three humans while their scouts distracted their Digimon. Ryan turned, expecting to see them there, feet behind him. Katrina and Blaire remained unawares while Ryan moved briskly towards the wooded area, just to calm his paranoia.

Out of the corner of his eye something moved. Something that was not green and was not flying. Not an insect they had come across. Grabbing a stick from the ground for protection, Ryan quickly rounded to face whatever it was he had seen. A few feet away, peering out of the greenery was a pale lavender polar bear cub. Stout in stature, its four comically huge paws were lined with dark grey claws, along with purple markings on each foot. Around its front left ankle was a brown leather band, punctuated with burgundy triangles. Similarly, around its back feet were more dark leather accessories.

Ryan took a step. "What... the Hell are you, eh?"

Suddenly the polar bear’s orange eyes turned on Ryan, alarmed. "Oh no!" grumbled the bear, turning tail briskly and disappearing with surprising speed into the thicker underbrush.

"Hey, wait!" Ryan yelled, pushing through the leaves and branches, trying to keep the four-legged creature in his sights, difficult when it weaved and darted to get away, moving swiftly on its stumpy legs. "Wait a second!"

"Nope," the bear called back, though Ryan had lost sight of it completely.

"Dammit," he murmured. It seemed odd to him that there would be a polar bear on an island inhabited solely by insect Digimon. Which was also the hive of the insect Digimon King and Queen. It made no sense, and the bear struck Ryan as completely out of place in the warmer and densely forested climate.

He wanted to follow, wanted to track the small beast and ask it questions. Maybe it could have been an ally. Maybe it was a captor of the Empress and Emperor and they could join forces. He couldn't explain what pulled him to pursue the creature, something instinctive but at the same time, his gut told him to remain where he was. He couldn't leave things as they were now, with his Digimon fighting against increasing numbers of enemies, vastly outnumbered. Likewise he couldn't leave Blaire and Katrina.

"Blaire! Kat!" Ryan ran towards them, covering his ears a little as the noise of beating wings was intense. The sky was a mass of wings and bodies, dashing through the numbers were Kotenmon and Melusimon, while Pelmamon attacked from the shallow waters, shooting venomous webs into the air and catching various Digimon to drag them into the water. Both Kotenmon and Melusimon had slowed down significantly since the fighting had first started.

Ryan checked his D-Ex. He could see the energy levels of Kotenmon almost fully depleted and grit his teeth together. They needed to get out of here, before the Digimon returned to their Rookie stages and left them all as sitting ducks.

"This is insane!" Katrina declared.

"Where are all the Digimon coming from!?" Blaire added, aghast as more insects swarmed over the trees and into the fray.

"This is a hive," Ryan pointed out. "Listen, I saw a polar bear!"

For a moment Blaire and Katrina shared the same look, incredulous and puzzled as if wondering what Ryan's statement had to do with anything.

"...So?" Blaire snapped.

"Unless your polar bear can be used as a distraction, now is not the time for sightseeing," Katrina added harshly, turning her attention back to the fighting.

In her pocket, the D-Ex vibrated and flashed green. At the same time, Melusimon was awash with the same color and began to shrink down back to the size of Grindymon.

"Oh no!" Katrina set off at a run, wading into the shallows, watching as the glowing form of Grindymon was battered from one Champion insect to the other, the little aquatic Rookie releasing cries of pain from each hit.

Similarly, Kotenmon had glowed orange and in his stead was Anzumon, disoriented from the sudden change of form, his speed was slow as he dived out of the way of incoming enemies and straight down to the water.

"Anzumon, this way!" Ryan shouted, waving at the griffin Digimon to get his attention.

Above Anzumon, the insects who had been so focused on Kotenmon and Melusimon all turned their gaze at the three humans. As a swarm they turned and raced towards them, buzzing noisily through the air.

"Oh hey thanks, Ryan!" Blaire cried, turning and running at the same time, dashing over the earth and sand towards the forest. Ryan was ahead of her, and Katrina followed with Grindymon clutching her shoulders and Anzumon galloping across the ground.

They could hear the wings above them, deafeningly close as the numerous insects closed in on them, surrounding them in a huge ball of beating wings and bodies, heat and sound. The forest was so close, they could find places to hide and get ahead of their adversaries in there, using the dense nature to their advantage but it was obscured suddenly; a wall of Butterflymon, Snimon, and Shadramon blocked their only means of escape.

Blaire skidded to a halt, bashing into Ryan's back as she did so. He held his arms out protectively, keeping Katrina, Blaire, and Anzumon all behind him, stepping back a little from the advancing insects that closed in inch-by-inch, making their trap smaller.

"Now what...?" Grindymon asked, quivering against Katrina's shoulder. Katrina shook her head silently, too terrified to look anywhere other than straight ahead. There was nowhere to run to. They were blocked in on all sides.

Ryan took a step back, curving his arms back around both Blaire and Katrina.

The ground suddenly cracked beneath them, shaking the small group on their feet and causing them to tumble uneasily to the ground. Blaire dug her hands into the soil. The insect Digimon around them looked confused at the sudden tremor through the earth, only for a moment though, as they moved in closer once more.

Suddenly, the earth erupted beneath the five of them, sending rocks and dirt spraying in every direction, knocking into the different insects that surrounded them. Pelmamon's huge legs appeared from beneath the ground. His arms grabbed Blaire before she fell into the hole his digging had created. He tossed her onto his back, behind his arrangement of blooms and butterflies. Pelmamon grabbed Ryan, Anzumon, and then Katrina, each one he threw unceremoniously onto his thorax before he charged through the disorientated and confused scouts into the forest.

Despite the extra weight, Pelmamon was swift and moved easily through the dense trees and bushes. From his abdomen, he left several ready-formed webs dripping with poison in his wake, which stuck between large gaps in trees, trapping any of the insects who pursued them.

"We need to find somewhere to hide," Blaire announced, riding low to Pelmamon's back. "Somewhere to lay low until the scouts aren't looking for us anymore."

"Good idea," Ryan affirmed.

With Pelmamon's speed and the thickening woodland on their side, they had quickly outrun any insect scouts who tried to follow them through the trees. The canopy above them was so thick that they had no threat of being seen from above either.

With some strength regained, Grindymon and Anzumon set off in opposite directions to try and find a suitable place to hide, and it was Anzumon who returned with news of a thicket not far from their location where they could hide and not be seen until they had gathered their thoughts and made another plan.

For protection, Pelmamon covered the whole copse with his venomous webbing to keep any possible intruders from coming in and alerting more scouts to their location. The fast acting poison would paralyze any would-be snitches before they could turn and fly away. Pelmamon stood guard at what they had used as an entrance as an additional precaution.

Katrina ran her hands through her hair and flopped down onto the grass. Immediately twigs and leaves were sticking to her damp jeans. "Well, that could have gone a lot better."

"At least we're alive," Grindymon said, trying to see the silver lining.

"Just," Katrina said with a wry smile.

Ryan and Blaire both sat, Anzumon plumped up his feathers and began to preen them. "What do we do now?" inquired the griffin, nibbling at one of his primary feathers.

"I say we lay low for a bit. Wait for the scout activity to die down," Ryan said.

"How boring." Blaire sighed. "But," she carried on before either of her companions could say anything, "it's the sensible thing to do. We did attract a lot of attention and we only just made it out of there."

"Makes me wonder how we're going to handle Mesilamon and Vazkamon," Katrina murmured. "If they have scouts at their beck and call, they won't be easy to fight if it comes to that."

Blaire tutted. "Somehow I don't think they would let their scouts interfere."

"How come?" Grindymon tilted her head to one side.

"They struck me as pompous and proud. If a fight with them came about, they would want to be the ones with the boasting privileges of killing us," reasoned Blaire, twisting her hair around to wring out the water. "They wouldn't allow a Digimon below them to hold that over them. It could spell more trouble for them than is necessary."

"That's a good point," Ryan agreed. He sighed, leaning back and looking upwards at the canopy of the thicket, at the purple-pink silk threads provided by Pelmamon. "Did you two see the polar bear?"

"Oh, that," Katrina slipped her fingers across her forehead. "What were you talking about? A polar bear?"

"I saw one," Ryan explained. "On the beach."

Blaire tilted and fine eyebrow. "Are you sure? You didn't...like...just hit your head on a rock in the water when Kotenmon dropped you?" she teased him playfully.

"I'm certain," Ryan replied firmly, but with a good-natured tone. "It stuck out to me ‘cause it didn't look like an insect Digimon. Not a scout of Mesilamon and Vazkamon. I wanted to follow it... seems weird that it's in a tropical location like this."

"Ryan," Katrina's voice was strong as she spoke, "it may be weird, but right now we need to stay focused and come up with a plan. We can wonder where the polar bear Digimon came from after we have the vial, the map, and are miles away. But right now, we need to strategize."

"I know..." Ryan sighed, knowing full well the redhead was right. "I just thought it was weird."

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

Hours passed, dragging on slowly. The only indication of time passing was the brief glimpses of sunlight the group could see through the webbing and leaves, giving them a sign that the day was moving on.

Pelmamon's web caught seven or eight scouts, which he quickly devoured, rebuilding his energy and keeping them all hidden. Grindymon and Anzumon both fell asleep for a short period of time, recuperating from the transporting and fighting earlier. The humans could do nothing but talk and wait for a sign that the scout activity had died enough for them to move safely.

After some time, Pelmamon returned to the form of Muertomon, and snuck out of the thicket to check the area. By now it was mid-afternoon and it had been an hour or more since they had heard the sound of scouts above them.

The skeletal Digimon gave them the confirmation that it was safe to come out and tore down some of the webbing to let them all through easily.

Their escape on Pelmamon had moved them closer to the base of the hive, meaning they now had less distance to travel, and could move quickly and without detection as long as they kept their eyes and ears open for any sounds of possible scouts above them. They had noticed as they waited that the scouts came into the forest very rarely, and it was often the smaller scouts, like the Honeybeemon, who did, and not the larger ones like Snimon and Shadramon.

Ryan led the way with Anzumon, pacing carefully over the ground, trying to make as little sound as possible and not displace any of the foliage beneath their feet. Katrina followed with Grindymon holding her shoulders, and beside her was Blaire with Muertomon bringing up the rear, ensuring they were not being followed.

They covered the ground towards the base of the hive quickly and without detection. They heard no noise of scouts above or around them, and the low sun and heavy leaf cover kept them in the shade and well hidden if there were any eyes above them that they could not see or hear.

Up close, the hive was far bigger than they had assumed, when seeing it from a distance. It rose at least twenty meters at a stark angle. It was smooth on the outside, though the material it was made out of came away like paper in Ryan's hand when he touched it. The hive outside was warm, even in the shadows, heated by the sun's rays.

"Now what?" Ryan asked, keeping his voice low.

Katrina raised her eyebrows as if to ask: 'what?', while Blaire casually examined her fingernails.

Ryan elaborated. "We can either spend time going around it and find a weak point to sneak in. Or–"

"Boring," Blaire sighed rolling her eyes to Muertomon. "Muertomon, blow us a hole."

"With pleasure!" The skeletal Digimon grinned, grabbing his head with both hands.

"NO!" Grindymon flew down and pushed on Muertomon's head. Anzumon did the same, pushing down on the skeleton until he flopped back onto the ground.

"Are you crazy?" Anzumon snapped, at both Blaire and Muertomon.

Blaire narrowed her eyes a little. "We’ve been waiting all day to get into this stupid hive. The sooner we get in, the sooner we get out."

"Are you damaged?" Katrina asked crossly. "If the hive is made of a substance like paper, it will all catch on fire."

"Good," Blaire shrugged. "It will burn all the Digimon inside."

Rubbing her hands across her face, Katrina patted Ryan's shoulder. "You explain."

Ryan managed to chuckle a little and turned to Blaire to explain. "If the whole hive sets on fire, it means whatever scouts are remaining will leave and look for the source. They will find us. Charging in is not only pretty foolhardy, but extremely dangerous," he told her. "I don't need to remind you just how badly we're outnumbered."

Blaire sucked her teeth for a moment before winding her hair around her fingers. "Suggestions then?"

"We could always go around it, and look for an opening or an entrance?" Muertomon suggested, wriggling his head a little into place. "If you won't let me burn a hole..."

"There's no telling how big this hive is. It could take us another day to walk around it," Ryan explained. "It would take too long and we'd be in danger than whole time."

Blaire raised her eyebrows. "Then what? Kidnap a couple of insect Digimon and hitch a ride on their backs?"

"We could climb," Ryan replied calmly. "The material is paper-like, so there's nothing stopping us from clawing handholds and kicking footholds. If one of us goes up first, the others can follow."

"And that is better than setting fire to this hive... how?" Blaire inquired briskly. "We'd still be making a target of ourselves by making noise as we climbed. Not to mention this thing is huge."

Ryan sighed. "Well those are our options."

Anzumon frowned a little. "What about if we evolve? We can carry you."

"I don't like that idea," Ryan said. "It would use up your energy and we'll need Kotenmon, Melusimon, and Pelmamon if we come up against the Emperor and Empress."

"Now that, I agree with you on," Blaire nodded. "But it still leaves us without a way to get inside."

"Oh my!" Grindymon's gasp caught the attention of her Digimon companions, and that of Blaire and Ryan. She and Katrina had been silent as the others had talked about their options, and now Katrina's D-Ex released a series of short, sharp beeps, as a large image of the hive appeared floating above the D-Ex. "What... how did you do that?" asked Grindymon, circling the image with curiosity.

"I'm a genius," Katrina joked.

"What is it?" asked Ryan. Anzumon flapped his wings to be level with the image, while Blaire lifted Muertomon so he could better see.

"It's basically a blue print of the hive," Katrina explained. "While I've been on watch the past few nights I've been looking more into the D-Exes. I found out they can register the... building blocks, I guess, of things. It's kind of complicated, but it pinpoints entrances, weak spots..."

"So... that's the hive?" Muertomon pointed. Katrina nodded. "What's all the stuff inside?"

"Tunnels, I guess. I imagine it's a labyrinth in there," Blaire told him. "So... can you see another way in?"

"Yeah." Katrina waved her hand across the hologram image and it spun with the movement until Katrina halted her hands and the image came to a stop too. In front of her was a blinking pale blue beacon, flashing against the image of the hive which was much darker. "There's a weak spot here, looks like an entrance that has already been made and no one has noticed it yet."

"That's...," Ryan rubbed his neck, "convenient."

Katrina lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. "It's a better idea than burning the place up or climbing," she explained. "What do you all want to do?"

The choice was obvious, and within a few minutes of finding the entrance on the diagram of the hive, the group had set off from the bushes and trees to locate it. They followed the wall around; Ryan kept his hand against it the whole time, feeling for any other weak points. Anzumon kept his sharp eyes upwards, looking for any possible enemies, and Muertomon brought up the rear. Katrina kept ahead with the floating image of the hive above her D-Ex.

They came to a small gap in the hive wall after walking for a few minutes. It was small, only about three feet in height and not very wide. The edges of the hole were lined with glistening ice, which seemed fresh as it had not started to melt at all.

The Digimon eased their way through the gap first. The gap opened into a tunnel, as it had shown on Katrina's D-Ex. Long and narrow, there were only two ways from which enemies could come, so the Digimon checked both directions a few feet ahead before they confirmed that the coast was clear. Blaire knelt and eased her way through first.

"I bet the polar bear I saw earlier has something to do with this," Ryan announced, speaking to Katrina as Blaire wriggled on the ground through the hole.

Katrina rolled her blue eyes and exhaled deeply. "Maybe," she said shortly, "but it's best not to dwell on that. After all, what would it be doing breaking into the hive?"

"Same as us?" Ryan suggested with a shrug of his shoulders. "Maybe there are more Digimon after the vials. They are pretty powerful."

"Maybe...," Katrina trailed, seeing logic in Ryan's thinking. She pursed her lips. "For the Digimon's sake I hope that isn't why it's here. We don't need more Digimon seeking us out for vials." She handed Grindymon her D-Ex through the gap and crawled through, then Ryan followed.

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

The inside of the hive was a maze of twists and turns, tunnels that led onto other tunnels, onto dead ends, and back again. Despite having the holographic image of the internal workings of the hive, it helped very little to steer the group in the right direction.

More than once they had to hide, duck into cramped conditions, out of the way of patrolling guards. Several times Grindymon had been able to use the light on her antenna as a method of distraction to let the others pass, and then sped away from impending danger herself. They went down wrong tunnels, backtracked, turned back on themselves, and found themselves in the same place they had started from more than once.

It was nothing short of intense frustration, but once they found the center of the hive, the throne room, it was worth it.

Aside from the two thrones risen up above the floor, the room was completely empty. Light came from a hexagonal gap in the ceiling, where they assumed insects could come and go.

The two thrones were very plain, beside each one was a place where Mesilamon and Vazkamon could leave their staves. In between the two thrones was their goal: a pink vial glowing softly in the light, encased in glass.

"There it is!" Muertomon pointed excitedly.

"Hold on there..." Blaire snatched the skeleton's hand before he started running. Her expression was mistrustful as she looked around the vacant chamber, her eyes narrow and lips drawn tightly together. "This... is weird," she concluded.

"Yeah," agreed Katrina. "The vial out in the open, undefended... I smell a trap."

"I don't smell anything," Anzumon stated, sniffing the air. "What does a trap smell like?"

"It's...a figure of speech," Ryan explained with a small smile. He was in agreement with his female companions; it seemed strange and too simple to come into the main chamber and find the vial so easily accessible. "What do we do?"

His question was met with silence. The six of them remained standing at the doorway they had entered from, silent and breathing softly, each of them trying to weigh up the best course of action. They had come so far and risked their lives, leaving now without the vial was not an option for any of them.

But it was too convenient – too easy. There was a catch. There had to be. If one of them touched the glass around the vial, thousands of insects would descend upon them from the shadows and everything they had done up until this point would have been for nothing.

"We can't just stand here," Blaire said sharply. "We have to make a decision. This might be the only opportunity we'll get to grab that vial."

"Do you want to go grab it then?" Katrina asked, turning to Blaire. "You go ahead and get swarmed, we'll wait."

"You don't know that will happen," Blaire replied, keeping her tone calm but sharp.

"And we don't know that it won't," Katrina countered. "We have to be smart about this."

Muertomon huffed. "We've been smart the whole time," he said loudly, his voice echoing around the chamber. "I'm tired of being safe and smart. It's time to be a little reckless. I wanna have some fun!"

Without another word he charged off into the chamber, running quickly, his feet pattering on the dirt ground.

"Muertomon!" Blaire hissed.

"Get back here!" Ryan called.

Grindymon swooped down over their heads. "I'll get him," she told them, catching up to the skeleton quickly. He stood at the base of the pedestal, staring up at the glowing object inches away from him. All he needed to do was stand on his toes and reach up to it. He could take it, and they could be out of the hive and miles away before the Emperor and Empress even knew they had stolen it.

"Don't!" Grindymon called softly, coming to a stop in front of the vial. She hovered in place. "You don't know what could happen. What if taking it triggered the whole hive collapsing?"

"How likely is that?" Muertomon argued. "We can't keep standing around and thinking bad things are going to happen. We survived a fall off a cliff. We can all survive what grabbing the vial does."

Grindymon shook her head. "You're not listening. You're not even thinking. You're putting us all at risk if you do this!"

The butterflies around Muertomon's head fluttered crossly, their trailing glow brightening. "Better to do that than just stand there doing nothing, afraid of your own shadow."

"You can't goad me," Grindymon replied. "You know I don't give in to taunting."

Muertomon clenched his hands together. "Get out of the way.”

"No! You have to think!" Grindymon held her ground, being as firm with her voice as she could.

"How did you get in here?!" Mesilamon's voice came from a short distance away. She and Vazkamon stood at the only other doorway, one which faced onto the two thrones and came from a different direction.

The bee Queen stood in front of Vazkamon, her staff pointed at the two Digimon. Vazkamon's wings seemed to vibrate with anger as he stared at the scene before him, his rage overriding his shock at finding the two Rookies.

"Oh dear...," Grindymon murmured.

"Answer the question!" Mesilamon screeched. "HOW. DID. YOU. GET. IN. HERE?!"

"My love...," Vazkamon said softly, touching Mesilamon's arm. "Calm yourself."

"Not good... not good," Anzumon murmured.

"Like it's hard," Muertomon replied bravely, standing up straight and facing the two insects across the large hall. "Your hive is gigantic, not like it's a secret base or something. Anyone could break in."

Mesilamon's whole body trembled with rage. "Such a shame you will never find your way out!"

She launched towards them suddenly, her staff in her extended arm glowing with power. Vazkamon took off into the air, swiftly covering the space between himself and the Rookies.

"Queen Shooter!" Mesilamon fired her staff towards Muertomon, watching as it hit the ground and a whirl of drone bees exploded from the glowing head. They twisted and turned, speeding like one mind towards the skeletal Digimon and Grindymon who had risen up into the air.

"Skull Grenade!" Muertomon returned fire, his head exploding violently against the swarm.

"Nether Splash!" Above, Grindymon launched towards Vazkamon, moving so quickly through the air that she was a blur, landing punches against the dragonfly Emperor.

Anzumon joined the fray, galloping across the dirt ground with his head lowered. "Spark Javelin!" The white lightning fired off, snapping along the ground and up Mesilamon's staff as she retrieved it from the ground. She shrieked as the shock ripped through her, knocking her back.

Murderous eyes turned on the griffin. "I HATE YOU!" she screamed, grasping her staff in both hands. "YOU WILL RUE THE DAY YOU CROSSED ME!!" Tapping the base of her staff on the ground, the blade erupted in light. She spun it overhead. "HONEY KISS!!"

A yellow blast of energy shot forward, exploding on the ground, sending Muertomon in one direction and Anzumon in another. Both Rookies were up on their feet once more before Mesilamon had a chance to fire off a second attack.

"Soul Launcher!"

"Spark Javelin!"

The lightning entwined with the flaming butterflies blasting forth from Muertomon's flamethrower. The huge funnel of power engulfed Mesilamon.

Growing tired of Grindymon's swift movements and the attacks she landed, Vazkamon extended his staff briskly. "Jewel Rapier!"  With a flourish, he whirled around, the blade leaving a trail of orange light in its wake, slashing through one of the fins of Grindymon's tail.

Without giving her a chance to recover, Vazkamon rounded on Grindymon once more. Throwing his arms forward, he summoned before him a cloud of barbed insects, small and turquoise in color, which rushed the floating Digimon before them.

"Aqua Needle!" Grindymon countered, the short jets of water from her antenna causing several of the small insects to explode in puffs of dust.

More came, following after her as she tried to flee.

"Skull Grenade!" From the ground, Muertomon threw his head upwards, blasting the insects into more dust until few remained.

"Volt Blitz!" Anzumon attacked Mesilamon from behind as she swatted away Muertomon's spirit butterflies. The electricity sparked off his wings and rose up the bee queen, causing her to stumble and scream from the voltage.

Her cries of pain grabbed Vazkamon's attention from above.

"Jewel Rapier!" he roared, charging towards Anzumon as he retreated from the slowly recovering Mesilamon.

"Soul Launcher!"

"Spark Javelin!"

From either side, the lightning and flames enveloped the two Champion insect Digimon, combining together in a fiery, thundering tempest. Both Mesilamon and Vazkamon cried out against the attack, shadows in the flames.

"Get the vial!" Muertomon called to the three humans, who had been watching from the doorway. He and Anzumon watched the dwindling flames from the ground, while Grindymon hovered above, her fins engulfed in blackness. All three of them poised to attack. "GO! GET IT!" ordered the skeleton, taking his eyes from the two insects for a moment as they recovered.

Ryan bolted first, running towards the thrones as quickly as he could.

"NO!" screamed Mesilamon. "MY VIAL!" She threw her staff and more drones appeared where it hit the ground. "QUEEN SHOOTER!"

The drones, stingers pointed forward, shot directly at Ryan, chasing him away from the vial. Blaire and Katrina made a run for it, as the bees were distracted by Ryan running.

"I have had enough toying with you...," Vazkamon growled, smoothing his hair. "No more child's play." He drew his staff back, taking off into the air.

"You will NOT HAVE MY VIAL," Mesilamon screeched, her composure completely diminished as she launched herself at Ryan, flying over the head of Muertomon.

Anzumon knocked Ryan to the floor as Mesilamon sailed over him, butting him in the back and covering him protectively with his body and wings.

The momentum kept the hippogriff going, toppling across the ground a few feet from his partner.

Mesilamon stood over Ryan, who quickly rolled to his back, only to come face to face with her sharp-edged staff.

“I am done with these games!” She raised her weapon, ready for a finishing blow.

“MOVE IT, BITCH” Blaire yelled. Mesilamon quickly turned to the voice, yelping as she lost her balance, sliding across the floor from Blaire's brute shove in the back. It wasn't much, but it stalled enough for Ryan to get on his feet.

“You okay?” Blaire asked. Ryan took a deep breath, nodding quickly.

Mesilamon hopped to her feet, hovering from the ground as her wings vibrated in frustration.

“I got it!” Katrina smiled victoriously, holding the pink vial in her hands.

“LOOK OUT!” warned Muertomon.

Katrina squeaked in surprise, tossing the vial and ducking to the ground, causing Vazkamon to fly over her. She scrambled back to her feet.

Ryan and Blaire rushed ahead to catch the vial that lingered in the air. Blaire caught it, almost falling over, but was saved as Ryan grabbed her hips securely.  

“Let's get out of he–” Blaire flew across the throne room, hitting the ground. Ryan caught the vial before it hit the floor once again. 

Mesilamon grabbed Ryan by the back of his neck, growling furiously.

“Give. Me. That,” she snarled through grit teeth. The pain she caused coursed through Ryan's body, causing him to release a yell of pain.

“Muertomon!” Ryan tossed the vial towards the skeleton.

“Spark Javelin!” Anzumon shouted from behind, attacking Mesilamon, who dropped Ryan immediately.

Muertomon held the vial but was gripping it with intense anger.

Grindymon floated to him with mild concern, as he squeezed the glass case in his hands.

“Oh! Muertomon! D-Don't–”

“How dare she touch Blaire!” Muertomon's voice was threatening and deep.

“Well let me just hold on to that–” Grindymon subtly reached for his bony fingers.

“I WILL KILL YOU” Muertomon rushed before Grindymon could advance further.

“Oh no!” She followed behind.

Vazkamon tossed Anzumon towards the two Rookies as he stood beside Mesilamon. Ryan and Katrina had run to Blaire's side, who was getting her bearings after the hard fall.

“Skull Grenade!” Muertomon threw his head, subsequently tossing the vial along with his skull.

“YOU IDIOT!” Anzumon shouted.

Vazkamon and Mesilamon shared a laugh as the skull and vial sped towards them.

Before they could catch the vial and block the impact of the skull, in mere milliseconds, a giant figure leaped overhead.

The polar bear caught the vial in his mouth, rolling to the ground as the skull exploded on impact against Vazkamon and Mesilamon, causing them to yell in pain.

The polar bear looked back, then at the three Rookies who stood in between him and the exit.

His bushy tail wiggled as his butt rose into the air.

“Give that back!” Anzumon shouted.

The lavender bear shook his head, sprinting towards them and powering through Muertomon and Anzumon.

"HEY!" Ryan lunged after the fleeing polar bear. He toppled unceremoniously to the hard ground as the cub dodged him easily and continued running, its head low, kicking up dirt and dust behind him.

"Get the vial!" Katrina shouted as Ryan pushed himself to his feet.

"But–"

"Go!" Blaire told him. "We can handle these two!"

Without another moment's hesitation, Ryan took off after the bear cub, following the paw prints and the disturbed dirt through the tunnels, with Anzumon running at his side. They caught up to the lavender bear within a few moments, holding it in sight as it fled from them speedily.

The three of them weaved through the different tunnels, avoiding enemies in the hive itself, and Ryan recognized they were retracing the route they had taken to first get in. He could feel his heart rate rising, and the build of lactic acid in his legs made every step agony, but he made himself breathe through it. Luckily he was athletic, and that allowed him to go much longer.

There was no way he was going to let the vial go, not after he and the others had worked so hard and fought so hard to get it from the Emperor and Empress.

Light appeared, piercing the gloomy hive in the form of the small hole they had all come through originally. The ice around it was still there and had yet to start melting. The bear cub slipped through the gap easily, glancing back at Ryan and Anzumon as it ran.

Anzumon followed close behind. "Come on, Ryan!" the griffin panted. He couldn't carry on without Ryan, there was no telling if the cub was alone or with others, and while Anzumon had no doubt in his skills, he had no desire to go up against a large group of enemies alone, or without the ability to evolve to Kotenmon.

Hearing the Rookie's cry, Ryan braced himself. Squaring his shoulder and raising his arms to shield his head and face, he put in some additional speed, clenched his eyes and mouth shut, held his breath, and charged through the paper-like wall of the hive. The ice shattered against his legs, splintering against the denim of his shorts, which were thick enough to stop the ice piercing his skin.

He stopped to take a breath and view his surroundings.

Anzumon was up in the air, his wings spread, flying back and forth with his keen yellow eyes directed downward, unblinking.

"What do you see?" Ryan called, panting.

"Nothing," Anzumon called back. "He disappeared into the woods before I could give chase..."

"Dammit," muttered Ryan beneath his breath. He drew in a long gulp of air. "He was pretty small, can't have got that far!"

"He had a friend," Anzumon replied, still swooping back and forth, hovering every few seconds. "Big. Not as big as you though."

"Human?"

"Maybe– There!" Anzumon flew lower. "Shadows! This way!"

Ryan ran, heading into the woods, jumping over tree trunks and ducking low branches. "Maybe you should evolve?" he suggested when Anzumon joined him. "Just in case."

Anzumon nodded. "Good idea." He exploded into orange light.

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

"We lost them?" The polar cub asked his companion, his pink tongue lolling out of his mouth, coating the vial in slobber.
Beside him, his associate inhaled deeply through his nose and ran his hand back through his hair, straightening his glasses moments later. He stood straight on two legs, a few inches short of six feet in height. His tanned skin was lightly covered with a film of sweat caused by his unexpected exertion in escaping the polar bear's pursuers.

Parkour was a hobby of his, but even with his knowledge and longtime practice of the urban sport, doing it in the dense jungle forest was harder than he had expected.

"Think we're safe for now, Karumon," he spoke, his words tinged with a distinctive Southern Cajun drawl. "Now, what happened?"

Karumon let the vial roll out of mouth onto the ground where his spittle collected dirt. "It was mad. There were Digimon all fighting and creatures who looked like you, Adrian."

"Humans?" His interest piqued. "Maybe I should'a gone wit' ya'... could'a been allies, no?"

Karumon shook his head. "But Varanumon said not to trust anyone except us and him. He is going to get you home."

"I suppose," Adrian murmured. He lifted the pink object from the ground and rubbed the dirt away with his white shirt. On examination it looked unimpressive, a small cylinder of glowing pink liquid. Pretty, but unremarkable otherwise. "Wonder what all da' fuss is about wit' this thing."

"Who knows?" Karumon replied. "It doesn't taste good."

Adrian smiled a little. "Thinkin' wit'cha stomach again, yeah?"

"I'm sorry," Karumon murmured, curling in towards himself to try and suppress the sound of his stomach growling. "I can't help it if I get hungry..."

"Don't worry 'bout it." Adrian grinned, rubbing the cub on the head affectionately. "C'mon, we need t'get dis to Varanumon."

Walking through the dense woodland, the heat of the day was beginning to fade, leaving the forest to erupt with the sounds of chirping from all manner of different insects, invisible to Adrian's own eyes. Karumon took the lead, as he had from the first day Adrian had met the polar bear cub. Though that had been more a meeting of fate than chance. Adrian had woken in an unknown foreign land and Karumon had been pulled from his chest, causing him intense burning pain.

Despite their first meeting being so full of agony and heat, Adrian had come to rely on the gentle cub. He was an expert forager, keeping them both supplied with edible berries and leaves, finding water when it seemed there was none to be found. He was protective too, having come to Adrian's aid when he had been under attack from monsters that were far larger than Karumon was himself. Most remarkable of all, the cub had sworn to protect Adrian until he found his way home almost as soon as they had met.

That was where Varanumon came in.

A lizard Digimon of dark blue colors they had come across on their travels. At first, both Karumon and Adrian had been wary of the stranger, but his words and bargains had made them less unsure of him, and more willing to put some trust in him. The lizard had promised he could send Adrian home, but only with the power contained within the pink vial Karumon had risked his life to steal from inside the huge insect hive.

With that clasped in his hand, Adrian felt closer to getting home now than he had in days.

Their chameleon companion had been the one who had led the two of them to the hive, who had got them there safely and without danger. He had been a shady character to begin with, and while Adrian still did not trust him fully, he found him a useful guide who had fulfilled his promise to keep both Adrian and Karumon safe from harm as much as he could. Which, considering the variety of dangers the Digital World presented, was no mean feat.

Though had been more than willing to hang back while he and Karumon blindly went into the lion's den to locate the vial.

"Varanumon!" Karumon called, his voice being swallowed by the huge broad leaves of surrounding trees and bushes. They waited still and silent for a few moments, waiting for a response from their lizard companion.

"Varanumon!" Karumon tried again, bellowing louder in hopes his voice would carry further.

Above them, the canopy of a tree with dark pink leaves shook, depositing its small orange blooms on and around them. A flash of blue color appeared between the branches, and in a few seconds their chameleon guide stood before them. Three feet in height with a yellow fabric bandanna around his neck, a small horn at the end of his snout, and a little hunched over in his stature.

"You're back!" Varanumon said eagerly. "You were successful?!" The beady eyes of the lizard Digimon stared at Adrian's hand where he could see the glow of the pink essence emanating.

"Yeah," Adrian answered. "More like Karumon was successful." He examined Varanumon warily, disliking the greedy look that was displayed across his face.

"Well done," said Varanumon, not really meaning it. He held out a clawed hand expectantly. "Give it here...," he said, then added as an afterthought, "please."

Adrian considered it for a moment. It had been part of the deal, but his gut was giving him the feeling he should not trust the lizard so easily now. Things were not adding up suddenly. The lust in his eyes made Adrian uncomfortable. Giving the vial over with no trouble… somehow, he knew he would never get home if he did.

"Now, hold your horses," Adrian said slowly, narrowing his eyes at Varanumon. Varanumon's hand dropped, his expression hardening. "Show me how t'get home first."

The chameleon gasped. "After all I have done, you don't trust me?"

"Call it... insurance, yeah?" advised Adrian, throwing the vial leisurely into the air and catching it easily as it descended. Varanumon seemed to flinch when Adrian did the movement and continued to toss and catch the vial so casually. "So, show me how t'get home, you get da' vial."

With no other alternative, Varanumon steadied his expression. "Very well," he sighed. "All is prepared in a clearing just beyond these trees."

"Aight' then," Adrian nodded and clutched the vial in his hand, feeling it warm his skin. His palms had broken out into a sweat for some reason, one he was unsure of. He wiped his free hand on his pants, putting the sweat down to the heat and not to the apprehension he felt at Varanumon.

Funny, he had not felt it before.

Though he had certainly never entirely trusted the lizard, now he felt almost in danger from him. His attitude was different to how he had been before, and the look on his face when he saw the vial... The greediness, and how he asked for the vial immediately. Not taking a moment to check on either himself or Karumon.

He could sense Varanumon wanted only the vial, but did that mean he had been lying about being able to send Adrian home?

Inwardly, Adrian hoped not. He wanted to get home. No matter how fond he was of Karumon, he wanted the comforts of home. His bed, and his clean kitchen with everything he needed to make a decent meal.

"Wait." Karumon broke Adrian from his thought. The little cub was sitting on his haunches, his head tilted to one side with a confused expression on his face and his round ears pricked forward.

"Yeah?" asked Adrian, ignoring the impatient growl that rose from Varanumon's throat.

Karumon was silent for a few seconds, his amber eyes trained forward, his ears twitching every once in a while, his breath slow and steady. He seemed to concentrate on something which was not there. Normally a happy character, this sudden change in temperament caused Adrian concern.

"What is it, Karumon?" He knelt beside the polar bear.

"I think...," Karumon spoke slowly, slacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "Something is coming..."

As if it had been timed, the leaves and trees above them shook wildly with an unexpected gust of strong wind. Adrian spun on his heel, peering skywards. Karumon was on the defensive immediately, standing before Adrian protectively. Varanumon fled a few steps, hiding within a dense bush.

From the sky a figure was falling, graceful and agile, landing with dark blue hooves on the ground. A body on long, strong legs rose above Adrian, huge claws and long primary feathers extending from the creature's elbows. A mane of dark blue, and a tail of the same color. Across the creature's chest was a set of golden spheres, and a golden mask obscured most of its face, except for the eyes. From that were a set of small, curled antlers.

Another figure leapt from its back, as the maned animal stood erect and alert, ready to move should Adrian or Karumon try to make a run for it.

Adrian, however, was more focused on the other figure. The one that stood upright like he did, with a straight back and messy black hair. Wearing a red shirt and worn denim shorts, both of which he knew for some reason.

The figure with the dark hair turned suddenly. "You!" He pointed at Karumon. "Where's the vial!?"

"You'll never find it!" Karumon bit back bravely. The masked creature simply gazed down at Karumon snapping at his feet and kicked weakly, knocking Karumon back. Not one to be put off, Karumon rolled onto his paws and ran at the legs again.

Adrian knew him. The man, the human talking. "Well shut my mouth...!"

Taller than he was, the man in the red shirt turned. He stared at Adrian for a moment. Two moments. Blinked, and the confusion flew onto his face. "WHAT?!"

"DUDE!"

"Adrian?!"

"Yeah!" he replied loudly, "What da' hell, Ryan?!"

"What are you doing here, eh?"

"Me? What're you doin' here? What de' hell?"

Ryan grinned. "Got sucked into the Digital World! How long have you been here?!"

"Feels like weeks, no!" Adrian replied enthusiastically. He could not stop the grin from spreading onto his face. It had been a long time since he had seen another human being. He could not believe his fortune, for the first human he saw to be his own housemate and friend.

On the ground, Karumon had given up gnawing at the leg of the larger creature and simply stared up at Adrian and Ryan, not quite following their exchange. "Do you two know each other?" he asked, confused.

"Yeah!" Adrian told him enthusiastically. "Karumon, Ryan. Ryan, Karumon."

"Nice to meet you," Ryan nodded. "This is Kotenmon." He indicated to the creature behind him. For now, in the midst of unexpectedly finding one another, the vial was forgotten, as was Varanumon watching warily from his hiding spot.

"He's... uh," Adrian leaned his head back, giving Kotenmon a discerning look, "big, no?"

"Not normally," Ryan smiled. "He's usually smaller, a form called Anzumon. This is his evolved form, just in case we needed to fight."

"...Evolved form?" Adrian repeated. He exchanged a look with Karumon, who seemed struck by awe at the sight of Kotenmon.

"Yeah. They evolve to bigger forms when in danger," Ryan explained. "You... didn't know?"

"Can't say I do, no?" Adrian shook his head. "Karumon has never done dat'."

"Oh, well... they don't do it alone," Ryan added. "That’s what the vials are for. It makes sense why you were after it now." He grinned at Adrian, expecting a confirmation to his words. The other man just stared at him blankly, his expression only showing confusion. "That's... why you wanted the vial, right?"

"Uh–"

"Varanumon asked us to get it for him," Karumon answered before Adrian was able to. "He said he needed it to get Adrian home."

"Varanumon...?" Kotenmon grumbled softly. "Who is this?"

"Our guide," Adrian answered. He turned towards the bush where the lizard had fled. "Hey, Varanumon."

For a moment there was no movement, the bushes were still, and the only sound audible was the leaves above in the canopy moving in the weak breeze. Adrian stepped towards the bushes, nudging them with his foot. Karumon joined him, diving into the greenery unceremoniously.

Immediately, Varanumon sprang out with a yelp of surprise.

Ryan's eyes widened. He knew this shape, this form. Not the colors, but that didn't matter, Dalimon was a chameleon, there was nothing to say he couldn't change shape.

"Dalimon!" Ryan snapped. "The hell?!"

Varanumon stared at him in confusion, though his eyes also blazed angrily.

"Dalimon? No, my name is Varanumon!" he growled.

"Bull! I know Dalimon when I see him," Ryan argued. "You ditched us. We've been making our way through the Digital World blind and you've been helping someone else?"

"I have no idea what you are talking about," Varanumon replied sharply. "You're mistaken. I know no Dalimon."

Kotenmon stomped one large foot. "Do not lie to us."

"You cannot intimidate me," hissed Varanumon.

"Ryan," Adrian cut in, "what in da' sam's hill... are you talkin' bout', who is Dalimon?"

"This is Dalimon," Ryan replied, bringing up the image of the chameleon on his D-Ex. "We met him our first day here. He gave Blaire a vial and then disappeared on us, leaving us to fend for ourselves and find our own way."

"Who’s Blaire?"

"A girl. I'll introduce you later. The point is, that–" he jerked a finger to point at Varanumon, "is Dalimon."

"Fool," Varanumon said bitingly. "Your eyes play tricks. My name is Varanumon, and I know nothing of any Dalimon."

"Right," Ryan snorted.

"Come, Adrian," Varanumon turned to the boy, "the vial?"

"He's after the vial?" Ryan asked, looking towards Adrian, who rolled the pink item between his hands. Immediately his suspicion was raised higher. "Why?"

Adrian held the vial still. "Said he could use it ta' send me home, no?"

Kotenmon slowly shook his head, his mane ruffling. Ryan did the same, sweeping his hand back through his hair. "He's lying."

"You dare–"

Before Varanumon could finish, Kotenmon stomped again, silencing him.

"It’s hard to explain. You don't need the vial to get home. They help with the Digimon's evolution. Getting home is... it’s more like being kicked out of a video game. I don't know how to explain it."

Adrian's brows furrowed in confusion. He looked at Karumon, who had the same uncertain expression, having difficulty following those around him.

"Look, I can't explain it," Ryan added desperately, "but believe me, the vial is not needed to get you home. Varanumon wants it for some other reason. The second you hand it over, he'll probably bolt."

Releasing a bark of laughter, Varanumon turned to Adrian, his expression pulled into a smug grin. "Adrian, see how your 'friend' can barely make sense of anything himself? Who would you believe? This fool? Or me, who has been your trusted guide through the dangers of the Digital World?"

His arrogance was practically tangible, Ryan was steady on his feet and could feel Kotenmon behind him, ready to spring into action should Adrian give the vial to the chameleon. He could see his friend's face, confused and uneasy, unsure who to trust or what to do. Karumon sat quietly at his feet, allowed Adrian a moment to think and make his own choice. No one could force him to hand the vial over to the other.

"Sorry Ryan," Adrian said slowly, giving a weak smile to his friend. "But... he says I can get home." He turned to Varanumon, who smiled and held out his hand for the vial expectantly. "Do everythin' you need to get me home first. Otherwise you ain't gettin' it." He spoke clearly and firmly, ensuring his words could not be misunderstood.

The change in Varanumon was almost instantaneous. His smile disappeared becoming a tight, contorted look of rage. His eyes burned and he lashed out with his tongue, snapping at the hand that held the vial.

"DAMN!" Adrian shouted, grasping his wrist. The vial flew from his hand. Varanumon ran to catch it, but Karumon, Kotenmon, and Ryan were on the move.

Karumon bounded forward, curling into a ball. "Tundra Tumble!" He rolled straight for Varanumon, his whole body becoming covered in hard, freezing ice, leaving a trail. Varanumon yelped, and fled from the swiftly moving cub.

Karumon moved far faster than the lizard could, and smacked into him hard. Varanumon was sent flying several feet. As Karumon unrolled himself and shook the ice from his fur, he saw the blue coloring of Varanumon disappearing into the trees above them.

Ryan slipped on the ice left by the cub, but Kotenmon was graceful and steady, snatching the vial before it hit the ground.

Adrian's wrist was unharmed for the most part, though a large red welt had appeared where Varanumon's tongue had lashed him. Ryan pulled himself to his feet, watching as Kotenmon handed the vial to Adrian.

"Guess you were right," Adrian admitted, accepting the item from the feathery Digimon beside him. "Sorry, man."

"It’s okay." Ryan grinned. "No harm done."

Karumon approached Adrian. "Are you okay?"

"No permanent damage," Adrian assured the cub fondly. In his hand, the pink vial changed. The soft glow that had been constant now appeared brighter and warmer in Adrian's open palm.

He was intrigued by the change before him, but had no time to ask questions.

The two men were suddenly distracted by the sounds of shouting beyond the trees, words being exchanged, and loud explosions.

Kotenmon was alert. "They've left the hive," he announced.

"How–"

"They're coming this way!"

Kotenmon grabbed the three around him and leapt up high with so little effort is was as if they weighed nothing. Beneath them, seconds later, trees flattened and dust rose from the soil: the impact of an attack.

"Melusimon! Pelmamon!" Ryan shouted down to the ground as Kotenmon descended slowly.

"Friends of yours, yeah?" Adrian asked.

"Yeah." As the debris cleared, he could make out the distinct colors of Blaire and Katrina's hair. "Kat! Blaire!!"

Both the women looked up as they forced themselves to stand.

"RYAN!" Blaire shouted back. "Get down here! THEY. ARE. PISSED!"

As Melusimon righted herself, and Pelmamon readied for another attack, Mesilamon and Vazkamon appeared through the trees, both hovering above their adversaries, rage-filled and indignant.

"Now what?" Adrian stared, uncertainly.

Now on the ground, Kotenmon released the three of them.

"That is Mesilamon and Vazkamon. I'll explain later," Ryan said briskly. Kotenmon took off swiftly, entering the fray as both Melusimon and Pelmamon worked squarely against the two insect sovereigns. "That vial, you have to use it, to help Karumon evolve!"

"What?" Adrian stared. "How?!"

"Crush it, open it, spill the contents on your D-Ex!"

"My what?"

Ryan grabbed his from his waist band. "This!"

"Oh." From his pocket, Adrian fished out an identical item, black, but where Ryan's had yellow marks, he had dark purple. "So... I just..."

"Smash it!" Ryan shouted urgently. Despite the three against two ratio, the three Champions were struggling against the two more powerful insects. Melusimon and Pelmamon had already used up quite a lot of energy dealing with them thus far, but with Kotenmon it didn't seem like their odds had evened at all.

Following Ryan's orders, Adrian squeezed the vial hard in his hand and poured the gooey liquid onto his D-Ex. The device absorbed the liquid.

Instantly his D-Ex lit up in a bright pink glow, swallowing Karumon in the same light. Enveloped by the shine, Karumon laughed loudly.

"Karumon, Plasma Evolve to..." His form began to change dramatically. His bear cub body stretched and elongated, standing erect and tall with two legs and two arms. Armor manifested around both arms, huge and heavy-looking with long claws. His legs retained their bear-like appearance, with huge feet and claws. A well-toned chest was visible with dark skin, and a headdress – of fur, as if Karumon had been skinned – covered the head of this new form, leaving only his chin visible. His voice deepened, losing Karumon's innocent quality and becoming gravelly and heavy. "Berserkermon!!"

The hulking form leaped into the air, crashing down in between the two insectoids and his new allies.

Mesilamon laughed arrogantly. “If we can take on three of you, surely one more will not make a difference!” She spun her staff above her head, the glowing blade aimed towards Berserkermon. “Honey Kiss!” The beam released, causing the opposing Champions to dodge to the sides.

Berserkermon slid on the ground, but did not fall. He pushed himself up, charging towards the queen bee. Mesilamon charged her beam again, taking aim.

“Honey Kiss!”

“Freezing Sweep!” The large humanoid Digimon formed a broadsword from the ice of his paws, swinging the weapon in a large arc that released a blade of ice towards Mesilamon.

Mesilamon screamed as she was taken aback by the attack, unable to block in time.

“My sweet?!” Vazkamon's attention was caught from the crash of Mesilamon slamming into the trees. He dodged Kotenmon's swift attack and quickly made his way to his queen's side. “My darling, are you alright?” He helped her onto her feet.

“I'm fine, my love. But he must PAY!” She pointed her staff accusingly at Berserkermon.

“Let's finish them together,” Vazkamon kissed Mesilamon on the top of her hand, bowing politely.

“Oh give me a break,” Melusimon spoke in the background.

Mesilamon and Vazkamon charged towards Berserkermon, who stood ready. However, in their lust for battle, they had forgotten the others.

“Deadly Tempest!” Melusimon twirled behind Berserkermon, releasing her wave of high pressure water towards the couple. The atmosphere around Berserkermon invigorated her power, immediately freezing the water released from her attack.

The giant ice cannon caused the couple to split up.

“White Bolts!” Kotenmon charged as Vazkamon was caught off-guard, tossing the king a few feet back.

“Venom Cannon!” Pelmamon released a beam from between his skeletal hands. Mesilamon twirled around it, but kept her speeding pace.

She raised herself into the air, positioning her staff and aiming to impale Pelmamon from above.

Pelmamon leaped backwards, dodging her attack as her staff stabbed into the ground.

Before she could regain her bearings, Melusimon charged her. “Deadly Tempest!” she shouted, grabbing the other female Digimon by the neck and blasting her away with her element.

Mesilamon dropped to the ground, growling. She got to her feet. “I AM TIRED OF THIS!”

“So am I!” Pelmamon's deep voice sounded. “Primal Executioner!”

Before Mesilamon could launch herself into the air the ground gave way, causing her to scream. Her scream had caught everyone's attention, especially Vazkamon's.

Pelmamon's fangs were wide, revealing large rows of teeth. Mesilamon tried to hold herself from his maw, but was weakened from the battle. The venom Pelmamon injected was also no help.

“My love! I-I...!” Mesilamon could not finish her sentence. Pelmamon yanked her body into the sky, jumping up and devouring her within seconds. Her scream filled the area as her data floated into the air aimlessly.

Vazkamon was silent for a moment, two moments. He was still, but shaking. His wings began to vibrate more violently and his teeth clenched.

“No....No....NO!!! I WILL DESTROY YOU ALL. I WILL BEHEAD EACH OF YOU MYSELF!” he raged.

Vazkamon kicked Kotenmon from in front of him, grabbing Berserkermon by his fur and tossing him over his shoulder. He launched towards Pelmamon in rage.

“I WILL HAVE YOUR BODY HOLLOWED AND USED AS MY THRONE! JEWEL RAPIER!”

“Venom Cannon!” Pelmamon released a blast, hoping to stop the Emperor in his tracks or slow him down for an escape.

“Shadow Blast!” Melusimon joined in the attack, swirling the venom and water together to make the cannon larger.

Vazkamon summoned his miniature swarm, which did not act as a hive mind like they did once before. Instead they were all over the place, causing the humans to duck into the bushes.

Vazkamon was hit with the combined attack, but it only pushed him back further instead of stopping him completely. The attack had caused him to drop the map from his pockets, which was then rolled away by the wind.

“That fella's runnin' on pure adrenaline,” Adrian pointed out. “He's gone keep comin' no matter what they throw at him.”

“What do you suggest?” Ryan asked.

“They should attack him all at once,” Katrina interjected before Adrian could reply.

“Right.”

Blaire peeked out of hiding. “YOU GUYS, ATTACK HIM AT ONCE! IT'S THE ONLY WAY TO STOP HIM IN THE STATE HE'S IN NOW!”

Kotenmon turned to acknowledge the idea as Melusimon crashed to the ground from the battle.

Vazkamon clashed weapons with Berserkermon, forcing the bigger Digimon back. His staff released a blast towards Pelmamon, who barely dodged.

“Attack together!” Kotenmon shouted.

Pelmamon turned himself around. “Venom Cannon!” He released a blast of web from his spinnerets. As Berserkermon kept the insectoid busy, the webbing was able to hit, holding Vazkamon in his place.

“Deadly Tempest!”

“Storm Cyclone!”

“Venom Cannon!”

“Freezing Sweep!”

The attacks came from four sides; Vazkamon broke free of the web but was hit with the attacks simultaneously. He screamed, filling the ears with blood-curdling pain as his body disintegrated in the center.

The wind blew slightly, the ground was singed by the attack, but all had suddenly gone calm.

Katrina picked up the map, examining its rolled-up exterior for any rips or tears. “We're good,” she sighed in relief.

Blaire dramatically huffed, playing with her hair as if she was ready to put it into a high ponytail. “SO fucking exhausting... emotionally!”

“And physically!” Muertomon flopped on the ground.

“Well, unfortunately, we can't feel it physically since we're already technically asleep,” Blaire regarded the small skeleton with a knowing glance.

“Woah woah woah, cher. Come again?” Adrian said, confused.

Blaire, Katrina, Muertomon, and Grindymon finally took notice of Adrian and Karumon after the battle was done.

Ryan stepped forward. “Oh. Adrian, this Blaire and this is Katrina. These are their Digimon, Muertomon and Grindymon.”

Blaire waved daintily, with Muertomon grabbing her hand like a small child. Katrina regarded Adrian with a head nod and a smile while Grindymon floated to her side. Anzumon cleared his throat, stepping forward with his chest poked proudly.

“And this is Anzumon, you met him as Kotenmon. You guys this is Adrian, my roommate, and his Digimon Karumon.”

“Two cute roommates, Ryan? I think I might just want to move in myself,” Blaire said flirtatiously, causing Adrian to chuckle and Ryan to blush.

“Now that da' introductions are ova' can someone please explain to me what da' heavens is goin' on?”  Adrian adjusted his glasses.

“We'll explain while we get off this island...” Katrina smiled.

“So we all woke up in the Digital World, right? Well…,” Ryan began, as they made their way out of the thick forest and towards the beach.


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