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Digimon: Civil War

storymasterb

Knight of RPGs
The Black Coast

Jericho thought back to the words Jaeger had spoken in the control room of Chromium’s Palace. Words about accountability. Of working towards atonement. Of being free to choose for oneself.

Would someone who valued freedom be okay deferring his fate to another? Would someone who had not finished his work forgive them if they let him die?

“The Empire does many things to the minds of its soldiers.” Jericho said. “It deadens your conscience so you will follow any order. It encourages turning a blind eye to inconvenient details while rewarding the acceptance of convenient narratives. But, perhaps most troubling of all, it makes you believe that you are nothing more than a cog in the greater machine. That your only purpose is to die to yourself so that you may willingly give all for the good of the Empire. Jaeger understood well, I think, of how valuable the sense of self was if it could survive the Empire and emerge intact. The last thing he told me to do, was to decide for myself what I would do next.”

Jericho was quiet for a moment as he looked down at Jaeger. “It is for that reason that I cannot decide his fate. And yet, at present, he is unable to decide it for himself. All I can say then is that Jaeger did not seem to me to be the sort of man who would want to let his spark go out before he was satisfied with his efforts.”

Ulysses frowned. "We should let him rest," he said softly. "He deserves it. Use the Chronicle. Heal Surrak. Let the tin--let Jaeger go."

"Did'ya listen to 'ol Rusty-saurus?" Demo scoffed. "Jaeger ain't done. He's gotta see this through."

"He is done," Ulysses said. "Only still alive by some miracle or fluke."

"Then we'd be dumb to ignore it," Demo shot back.

"It flies in the face of nature," Emmara said softly. Ulysses gestured to her as if she was agreeing with him and nodded. "No. I mean...it's odd, isn't it? That they would both be in this state? Close to death, but not dead, at the same time, in the same way?"

"Chromium..." Ulysses trailed off, then shook his head in frustration.

"You never liked Jaeger," Demo challenged. "You just wanna be rid of him."

"No," Ulysses said firmly. "That's sick."

"Oh? Then why'd ya want to let Jaeger die but were fine with bringing back Surrak?"

“Oh, would you two shut up already!” Sawyer blurted out. “You two are bickering like a pair of numemon over a fresh haul of garbage, in the meantime these two are running out of time while we prattle on.”

The Gokuwmon gulped nervously when he realized all eyes were turned to him. “Not sure how much I can speak for the metal mutt,” he gestured vaguely towards Jaeger, “but he struck me as the practical type, so maybe he wouldn’t mind carrying on the mission, even in another form.”

“Besides not every mon gets a second chance like this,” Sawyer said, his voice heavy with emotion. “Those filthmon...I grew up with them...knew many of them by name….They ain’t coming back. If I deny Jaeger and Surrak the opportunity to keep fighting, then I might as well spit on my friends’ sacrifice.”

“I’m not sure saving only one of them is even possible,” Titus spoke up softly. His golden eyes glowed with an unnatural light, as though seeing something hidden from normal sight. The dragon knight shook his head, his eyes returning to normal. “So much data is missing from both of them. It would have to be both or neither.”

"It would," Kytheon confirmed with a nod, fixing Titus with a scrutinizing look. "Valyrium could perhaps just save one or the other, but there is too much missing data to simply heal them. Valyrium would have to fill the missing spaces with something, whether by bringing them together, or by substituting data from the Realm itself."

"But they would then be tied, intrinsically to the Eternal Legion. They would not be able to exist as Realmless any longer."

"And they'd be vulnerable to any invocation of the Realmpact's authority," Emmara said.

"As long as the Legion remained within the Realmpact, yes," Kytheon nodded. Then a frown creased his features. "Words I never thought I would utter."

"I can't say I knew them well," Adirael interjected, frowning. "And I pause at the thought of forcing our decision upon them, but needs must. I don't think either of them would want such a miserable end as rotting away while the fight is far from over." It did trouble him even so, the thought of 'what if I were in their position' playing in his mind. Would he accept being mashed together with another Digimon without a word toward yay or nay?

Medraut nodded in hesitant agreement. "The Digimon Surrak and Jaeger become may well loathe us," he mused. "But if we can save them in some form, then to me it only makes sense to try." He glanced toward Goliath and Adirael caught the look, wondering what passed through the Duftmon's mind. Was it just tactical pragmatism that made him agree? He could hardly imagine it made sense in any tactical or strategic way to let soldiers fall when they could be salvaged, grim as that sounded. But then, there was that hesitation, the look toward Goliath as though seeking certainty from his commander.

The Beelzemon X could hardly pretend it was an easy decision to make, but it had to be made.
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
< Ajax Vol >

So it was decided. Kytheon had begun whatever ritual was required to meld Jaeger and Surrak into a single Digimon. Ajax understood. But damn, it was a hell of a decision to make for them. Then again, there was no guarantee that they'd survive the process despite what Kytheon claimed, or that they'd survive the war itself. Who could really say how long they'd have to live in that combined state.

Kytheon went into some long explanation on the hows of what he would do; breaking down their X-Antibodies into base code and utilizing their power to seal the jogress. Something about the X-Antibody had slowed their degradation, but its complexity hindered his reformatting efforts.

The Warleader extended his hands and light flooded from the golden ring on his back. It traveled in circuit-like lines through his arms and into his fingers, then speared through the air in those same circuit patterns and twisted towards the prone forms of Jaeger and Surrak. It traced over them, etching into their forms as well, climbing into their gaping wounds and exposed sections of bleeding data like glowing, angular vines.

"You seem displeased," said Arahon. He had retreated to a respectable distance once they began speaking about the forced jogress.

"It seems so…unnatural," Ajax forced out. There was something inherently wrong with bringing the dead back to life...wasn't there? "Do you really trust your Warleader? That he can...put them together in a way that doesn't make them some sort of unhinged monster?"

"I do," Arahon said. And there was no trace of doubt in his voice.

"It still seems dangerous."

"You're hardly one to talk about 'dangerous' or 'unhinged,'" Arahon chided him. "The way you throw around that Hazard power."

"What do you mean?"

"I told you, back in Prahv," Arahon said. "It wasn't the first time I witnessed that kind of power, or its capacity to annihilate everything around it. I've seen your kind of power once before. I've faced it. It didn't scare me enough then; it does now." Arahon's stare was piercing. "The last Digimon who threw that power around without caution nearly destroyed an entire Realm."

==\=/==

Our last Warleader was like you; she had that same strength, that same crimson power. And she let that power consume her. Turn her into something...indescribable. And she would have let that power consume the entire world along with her if Kytheon and I hadn't stopped her.

I was very young when I began my rise through the Legion's ranks. But that rise was, by all accounts, meteoric. At twenty years old I was already leading a battalion of my own. I was strong, and I had the trust of those who served under me. And Akroma...she feared that. Because she could only lead through fear and intimidation. She believed that strength was only strength if she was loud about it, an idea more at home among your Hordes than the Legion.

Over the next five years, I was sent on the most difficult missions -- she hoped that I'd die on those missions, and I came close many times. But I always emerged stronger. When I digivolved she felt I was a true threat to her leadership. She couldn't see the value of strength in anyone but herself. But I think she knew that if enough of the Legion backed me they would call for her time as Warleader to end, and for five years, I had been earning their respect despite her efforts to kill me. And I earned my most trusted friends; chief among them Onaga and Valkur.

The three of us spent most of those five years together, fighting alongside one another. Learning from one another. Every frustration I ever had with Akroma's leadership, every time I thought I might snap and lash out, they were there to talk me down. In time, our close circle grew, and we became the most efficient fighting force the Legion had seen in years.

After five years Akroma tried a different tactic. During the festival of Skyclave, legionnaires engage in exhibition bouts to display their prowess in battle. They can be quite fierce, though nothing like the ritual combat of Ankham, and winners see their stock rise significantly -- it's the surest way to guarantee a promotion during peacetime. Akroma asked me to participate, and paired me against my closest comrades.

So I fought. But because I had trained alongside these Digimon for the last five years, our bouts were displays of precision, technique, and mutual respect. Nothing ever went too far, and my victories were well earned. With the cheers of the Legion and the music of the Skyclave festival in the air...I thought she had failed. I thought that it was an attempt to weaken my bond with my comrades, or undermine my standing with the Legion at large; show them I was nothing more than a power-hungry brute, willing to fight and claw my way to greatness at any cost. I assumed she could only envision a leader acting like her.

I was wrong. She knew exactly what she was doing. I can still remember the sudden hush that fell over the crowd, that deafening silence as she stepped into the ring herself. After that it was just pain -- thirty minutes of her walking through everything I could throw at her and beating me into the ground. Her warning to the rest of the Legion was as clear as day.

She tried to humiliate me further over the next year, time and time again. Instead of dangerous missions I was given mundane ones, demeaning ones -- ones that would dull my mind and fighting senses; reduce me in the eyes of the Legion. She isolated me from my comrades, encouraging others to mock and deride me, and rewarding those that did. It soon became clear that the only way to earn a place at her table was to treat me as she did.

I knew she had to be removed, but I didn't have the power to do so. None of us did. Not alone. And if she got word of us attempting to overthrow her she would come down on us with all of her considerable power and resources. And she would never open the challenge for Warleader if there was a hint we would have the rest of the Legion's backing.

And so Valkur, Onaga, and I forged a very un-Legion-like plan. My closest friends would disavow me, publicly, and join in with the mockery, encouraging the rest of our unit to do the same. They didn't know, of course, and were hesitant to embrace Onaga and Valkur's change in demeanor. But there was only so long they could resist the external pressure from the Legion. They never joined in full like Onaga and Valkur did, but I distanced myself from them and they from me. And with Akroma's scrutiny now directed to me alone, Onaga and Valkur would focus on getting stronger and preparing to overthrow our Warleader.

And for a year I endured, because I knew Akroma had to be stopped. Despite the ridicule, despite the mockery and scorn, I endured. I was little more than a pack animal at times, and no better than a practice dummy or a moving target at others. There were so many times I doubted my decision, where I questioned whether Onaga and Valkur were really such talented actors, or had they turned against me. But I put my trust in them, I put my faith in them.

During it all she became increasingly erratic, spurred on by that wild power within her. She saw threats everywhere. She planned for battles and wars where none existed. The drums of war beat in the Legion as we prepared to battle enemies we'd never heard of.

One day she had me lead a training session for the new legionnaires. They were very young, little more than children, and just as unruly, but I did my best to instruct them. And because I treated them as peers, they thrived. And they began to respect me, despite (or perhaps because) their elders did not.

Then she stepped in. The respect of the new recruits was unexpected -- It was a glitch in her calculation -- but nothing she couldn't remedy with another display of overwhelming power. And so I prepared myself for another swift beating, when I caught sight of Valkur and Onaga in the crowd, and they nodded. And I had to trust, then and there, that they had remained my true friends through that lonely year. That this wasn't just a ploy to finally put me down, and they were indeed ready.

And I did.

That nod broke the last of my restraint, and I unleashed every scathing thought I'd held inside. And I said it in front of the entire Legion -- new recruits and all. Akroma was furious. She dared me to speak again, dared me to say I could do better. I shouted out that anyone could do better, so she told me to prove it. She accepted my challenge, and beat me into the ground. She left me a bloody, broken mess, crawling across the floor of Sunhome in my Champion form.

And in her anger and the fury of battle, she shouted out to the Legion; though the new recruits had bustled and whispered uncomfortably, the rest of the Legion was respectfully silent and standing at attention through it all. She told them that was all insolence would win them, and again asked if there was anyone who wished to share my fate, and that she would welcome any of them to challenge her leadership.

Then Valkur and Onaga stepped forward. The results of their harsh training became evident, and Kytheon was born. She had issued her challenge, they had accepted, and Kytheon emerged triumphant. When it was done, I bowed before the new Warleader, then he drew me up and embraced me as his brother.

Akroma raged in defeat, and that power within her cascaded uncontrollably. She exploded and killed dozens of legionnaires, wounding hundreds more. Only Kytheon's power and newly-won possession of Valyrium kept the damage contained to that amphitheater.

==\=/==

"So?" Ajax asked brusquely. "You're worried I'll turn into some lunatic like your Warleader? What's the point of all that?"

"The point, you dense dragon, is to illustrate just how dangerous the powers you're tampering with are," Arahon all but bristled at him. "Akroma did not begin her tenure as a tyrant. She became one."

"Maybe you lot were just unlucky," Ajax said, waving him off. "Maybe she would've ended up that way regardless of what power she had."

"You've felt that power even more closely than I have," Arahon pointed out. "Do you truly believe what you're suggesting?"

Ajax didn't answer. Further off, the Warleader ascended back into the sky with the coiled forms of Jaeger and Surrak, and Ajax caught sight of a shimmering metallic blue something in the sky concealed by the clouds.

"The Warleader's personal transport," Arahon explained. "Skysovereign." He smirked at Ajax's bewildered look. "What, do you think he flew here on a cloud?" His team, the Craniummon, UlforceVeedramon, ShineGreymon, and MirageGaogamon, followed Kytheon into the air, disappearing into the clouds and whatever was hidden within.

"We'll send them back to you," Arahon promised. He clasped arms with Ajax. "Remember what I cautioned." He turned and shook hands with Goliath as well, acknowledging the rest of the Realmless with a nod of respect. Then he followed suit and took to the air.

"Do you think we did the right thing?" Ajax asked, not taking his eyes off the sky, trying to make out what was actually up there.

"The right thing?" Goliath asked. He shook his mane in frustration. "I'm starting to understand that there is no single right thing. But we did the best we could."

"Now what?"

"You heard what Kytheon said," Goliath answered, talking about the Digimon like he was a stranger in the jungle, without a trace of reverence for the Warleader's position. "Speak with the Seven Great Houses of the Unhallowed. Give them the same proof we gave to the Legion, the same proof we'll show to anyone who we come across."

Goliath took a glance around, they were still standing by the shores of the Mercury Sea, on the border between the Empire and the Syndicate.

"Let's move along, get some distance between us and the border," Goliath suggested. Everyone took a quick moment to ready themselves and then they followed the lion into the dark woods.

"Great, into the haunted forest," Demo muttered. "Just what I wanted to be doing after escaping the Imperial capital and avoiding an Empire death squad."

"You'll be longing for the forest once we find the Seven Heads," Aurelia said. Her voice was thin, and she trod along instead of floating, which Ajax thought was odd. "If we can even get an audience."

"Pah, after everything else we've gone through?" Goliath waved her off. He looked from her to Adirael and Versa. "How hard can it be?"
 

storymasterb

Knight of RPGs
Adirael Armaros
The Black Coast


Adirael smiled just a little. "Aurelia has the right of it. The forest is tame compared to the Syndicate's city." He held their attention a moment, remembering. Cutthroat and ruthless, the poor ground beneath wheels of debt. Demon eating demon both metaphorically and literally, anything to gain even the slightest edge over everyone else, gilded by the lie of faith to look holy. Some didn't bother with the pretense, of course, he'd heard the howls in the night, listened to the rumors.

"If we secure a meeting," he continued. "They'll pick us apart with their words. They might be intrigued, after all, should the Realmpact be dissolved then I'm sure they'll see opportunities it prevented them from exploiting open up. So their support will come with conditions. They'll weave words around you to dizzy you, pretending to offer you gold when in truth they offer sand, downplaying whatever they might request as nothing when in truth if you give them an inch they'll take a hundred miles."

"Typical of the Syndicate, then," Medraut said from Ryia's side, an unusual haughtiness in the Knightmon's voice. Adirael met his stare.

"Absolutely," he agreed. "Why do you think I grew disillusioned?" The knight nodded to concede that point and he looked back to Goliath. "A possible starting point may be my brother, Bezaliel. With me absent, he will likely have assumed my former duties and with them enough prestige to provide some inroads. It wouldn't be more than a foot in the door unless he's done very well for himself while I've been Realmless, but if a whisper of what we come to say gets to the right ears then I'm sure the Seven Heads will take notice. But we must be cautious lest we be strung up like puppets and used to further agendas that leave us with more problems once the Realmpact is gone."

"And you think your brother lacks any such agenda?" Medraut pressed.

"He is family and I trust him," the demon replied. "And in the Syndicate, trust is a commodity, like anything else. Versa will tell you the same, I'm sure." He gestured to her, inviting her to offer her own insights. Meanwhile his thoughts turned away from a quiet, observant Baalmon to another face, a BeelStarmon so like the woman he gestured to but made distinct by her X-Antibody, sharp and dangerous but with him so dedicated. He hadn't thought of her so keenly for so long, after all, for all that they'd had together he'd never felt able to tell her his doubts.

She hadn't meant as much to him as he'd thought before, Adirael mused. And he couldn't trust in what little pleasures they'd shared to make Iruel put her agendas aside, while Bezaliel had always seemed to have humble ambition if any at all. Surely he could trust his brother with this, he could hardly imagine pleading a case to Amon. He'd be lucky to get through a few sentences without someone's head rolling across the floor.
 

TheSequelReturns

Faithful Crusader
Versa Victa (BeelStarmon)
- The Black Coast -


Versa watched Surrak and Jaegar depart with her mouth in a hard line. She didn't know what to think. How to feel. In some ways the world felt larger now than it ever had. Horizons she had only ever dreamed of seeing she was now treading underfoot. And in other ways, it seemed so small and fragile. An oddly delicate thing she was intent on breaking. But who would be there to pick up the pieces? Once she had seen her mission through, would it fall on her own shoulders to set things right? Would she have to weigh in on the fate of nations when she couldn't bear to decide the fate of two comrades?

"I know that look." Aakio said as he slid into a spot next to her. "And I think I know what's eating you up."

"Do you now?" Versa said. "Enlighten me."

Aakio let out a weak laugh. "On your own thoughts? I wouldn't dare." He turned his eyes skyward as well. "But we did what we had to do."

"I'm tired of having choices forced upon us. Surrak deserved better. Jaeger deserved better. Moby deserved better."

"We all make our own choices." Aakio said. "They did too. No one can control everything, and tying to only makes you Chromium."

"I know." Versa said, staring at her feet. "It's just not fair."

She expected the dragon to retort. To come back with some witty line about life or fairness. But Aakio was uncharacteristically quiet. Still, Versa didn't dare turn to check on him. What did she care if he decided to clam up? It wasn't until a hand rested on her shoulder that she spared a glance. Aakio was still silently staring up at the clouds, but he had one hand resting reassuringly on her shoulder. That bastard, always doing something she didn't know how to react to.

Versa waited as long as she could before she gently eased his hand away and turned to follow the others. "Come on, we're gonna get left behind if we stare at the clouds all day."

"Right." Aakio nodded and followed after.

---

"He is family and I trust him," the demon replied. "And in the Syndicate, trust is a commodity, like anything else. Versa will tell you the same, I'm sure." He gestured to her, inviting her to offer her own insights.

Trust? Family? Versa almost laughed.

"A useful commodity indeed." Versa said. "Just like oaths. Favors. Secrets. Blood. ...Children." Versa trailed off for a moment, tightening the lid on an old bottled up sorrow before it spewed forth.

"If you want to navigate the ocean of blood and anguish that is the Syndicate's upper echelons, then Adirael is your man. Or, his connections are at the very least." she said, not willing to lump her fellow Realmless in with the nobles. "I'd sooner raze it to the ground than endure its sanctimonious posturing for a single moment."

"Be careful with that fire." Jericho cautioned. "If we must garner their support then-"

"You don't understand." Versa said. "There is no 'garnering their support', there is only figuring out what game they are playing and praying you can find out where your pieces are on the board before they get taken. The Seven Heads are not allies to be won over. They are not scribes or soldiers who can be convinced with words of wisdom or surprising revelations. They are predators. Gnawing mouths seeking only what they can devour and what morsels, if left uneaten for a time, might lead to feasts. Use whatever contacts you want. Make whatever preparations you think appropriate. I assure you, you won't leave their den with everything you entered with."

"Surely there's someone in the Syndicate you still care about?" Aakio asked. "You must have relatives somewhere, right?" When Versa didn't answer, he continued, "You've never talked about them, so I figured now would be a good time to ask."

"What is there to say?" she said. "My father is useless. Even if he had the standing to help us he wouldn't have the tact to do anything with it. I... I'm not sure if my sisters or my brother are even still alive or what they might be doing. And..." she was silent for a moment, "If any of you find out what gilded corner my dear mother Jezlaine has slithered off to let me know so I can kill her myself."
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
< Goliath Leonhardt >
- the Black Coast -


This was going to be harder than he thought. He'd had very little to do with the Syndicate when he served as an ambassador to the Empire. His time as ambassador seemed like a lifetime ago - and he'd barely served at all to begin with before he'd uncovered the atrocities of the Empire. The sum of his own experiences amounted to little more than a handful of rumors and the half-truths everyone "knew" -- the ruthless backstabbing, the selling of children, data-debts, bloodsports, all of it wrapped up in a mockery of the natural order and a pseudo-religion that worshiped the "Unhallowed Truth Beyond All Time and Graves."

From Versa's reaction, he was starting to think the truth was not so far off from the wild rumors after all.

"I agree," Goliath grumbled, nodding to Versa. "I don't want to be caught in any long political games; playing for incremental gains over the next twenty years."

"Optimistically," Aurelia muttered.

Goliath huffed in disappointed agreement. "Why do you trust him, Adirael?" he asked. "He's still there. Despite your opinion of him, he's still entrenched."

"Would you assume everyone lin the Syndicate is rotten to the core?" Aurelia asked. Her voice was even, but there was a twitch of…something in it. Anger? Irritation? Goliath couldn't quite tell, but it wasn't for its own sake. More like anger or irritation on behalf of someone else. And it was like it was only half-there, countered by something that intoned of…resignation? And then all covered up by Aurelia's usual (if there was such a thing with how little they knew of her) poise.

It was like there were two voices speaking just below her own.

"Let's say they're not then," Goliath posed. He glanced around the darkening forest, kept his ears straining for any threatening sounds, kept his senses on high alert. But all he could see in the perpetual gloom was more shadow; all he could hear was the ever-present ruffle of wind through the sharp and angular grey leaves overhead; all he could smell was the strangely pungent perfume of those grey leaves.

"If that's the case, why do we trust a Digimon that has risen up in the ranks to fill a vacant position? A Digimon who embraced the values of the Unhallowed to rise to consideration for that position and take it?" Goliath asked.
 

TheSequelReturns

Faithful Crusader
Versa Victa (BeelStarmon)
- The Black Coast -


"We shouldn't." Versa muttered.

"That's a bit harsh, don't you think?" Aakio said. "We haven't met the guy yet. And if Adirael trusts him then-"

"Word of advice." Versa said. She cast a short, almost apologetic glance at Adirael before turning her attention back to the trees. "Once we get to the city proper, you should probably stop using the word 'trust' so openly."

"Sure, but do we have any other options?” Ajax asked.

"It doesn't seem so," Medraut mused, eying Adirael almost warily. "But I agree with Versa. Trust and the Syndicate aren't concepts that go hand in hand."

"Bezaliel was different," Adirael said, three eyes sweeping over to Versa. "If he took my post, it was out of a sense of duty. Wanting to take up the responsibilities I left behind."

"Yet he wasn't different enough to stand here with you," the Duftmon pressed. "I can't claim to know him, but it strikes me that if he was so principled as you claim, he would have become Realmless too. Principle has no place in the Syndicate, save the principle of want. We may have no better option, but that doesn't mean we abandon all caution just because you believe your brother won't try to use us, Adirael."

"You're making assumptions," Goliath said to Adirael.

"As are you," Aurelia said, though Goliath ignored her.

"You're letting familial bonds get the better of you. For all you know he's the reason you ended up in Ironclad," Goliath continued.

Versa sighed. "There's no reason to fuss about it. Shouting words like "trust" around the Syndicate is asking for trouble, but bickering? Forget it. Any sign of weakness within our ranks when we meet with the heads will give them something to target. Let's just stay focused on finding our way forward."

The less room they gave the politics of the Syndicate to worm their way in, the better.

"Even if our only option is to trust Bezaliel?" Aakio asked.

With every step they took into these accursed woods, Versa's nerves became more and more on edge. She just wanted to be done with this, not sit here and endure this bickering. Even if she had contributed to it.

"Look," she said, her annoyance slipping past her mask, "I'm not saying we lay all our hopes on one guy. If he's our best shot, so be it. Lets use that connection for what's its worth and get the job done."

"Hmm." Jericho rumbled. "Such an opportunistic way of looking at it."

"What was that Grumpy Gears?" Versa snapped.

Jericho slowly turned his head towards her. "I'm saying that perhaps there's still a bit of the Syndicate in you yet."

Versa was livid. Several different half-formed words left her lips, each one the start of a discarded retort. She wanted to light him up. To verbally rip his optics out. But she couldn't. Not here. Not after she'd just tried to diffuse the argument. Her pride wouldn't let her throw a tantrum here in front of all the others. Instead, she huffed and quickened her pace towards the front of the group and left the dinosaur behind.

What was it about this forest that was making her feel like a child again? Was it because she was a child the last time she was here? Was it the thought of retuning home to a place she hated with every fiber of her being? Was it the thought that adult eyes might see the object of her childhood scorn in a different light, for better or worse? She didn't know.

But she was afraid, and she hated feeling afraid.

"You're probably going to have to apologize later." Aakio said to Jericho.

Jericho stared ahead after Versa. "She's going to have to realize that as much as she hates the Syndicate, it made her who she is. I may have cast off the Metal Empire, but it was the empire that forged me. As it was for all of us. To be separate from one's home does not mean that one's home is separate from you."
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
< Goliath Leonhardt >
- the Black Coast -


“She’s going to have to realize that as much as she hates the syndicate, it made her who she is. I may have cast off the Metal Empire, but it was the Empire that forged me. As it was for all of us,” Jericho said. “To be separate from one’s home does not mean that one’s home is separate from you.”

Jericho’s words hung heavy in the air, and stirred a number of conflicting emotions in Goliath. He had been exiled — damn near chased from his “home.” Was it even “home” anymore? Could he conceivably call that place his home?

But then…home wasn’t necessarily a place was it? Home was the place and everything within it. How much had “home” turned him into who he was? How much had the teachings of the Unbowed molded him into the fighter, the warrior, and the…the leader he had become?

The revelation rang hollow in Goliath’s chest, weighed down by all the failures and losses. And further, a single question formed: as heavily influenced by the Unbowed as he was, would the rest of the world follow someone like him into battle against the Metal Empire? How was he not just asking them to trade one tribal ruler for another?

They continued into the forest for several more hours, and put the mountains and the Black Coast between them and any Imperial forces. There was always the risk that the Empire could send a squad after them, but risking conflict and access to the coffers of the Syndicate was…

No, Goliath chided himself. He was still thinking like the Empire couldn’t just amend the Realmpact and take whatever they wanted. They couldn’t rely on that any longer. He could only hinge his hopes on the fact that Arahon’s squad had dealt the Imperial commanders a decisive enough blow to force them to regroup and reassess their strategies.

It would have to be enough.

“Let’s make camp here,” Goliath said, as they came upon the edge of the forest. A meadow of strange, ash-grey grasses lay beyond. “Gather along the treeline. We’ll keep our backs to the clearing.” They’d only have to watch the woods around them from a single direction.

“I’ll take first watch,” Ajax volunteered.

“Hell you will,” Goliath snapped. “Not after that last stunt. I’ll take first watch with one or two others.” He glanced around looking for volunteers. “The rest of you — Ajax included — get some rest.”

“Great,” Demo groaned. “The haunted forest. I’ll sleep great.”
 

TheSequelReturns

Faithful Crusader
Aakio Daisoujou (Goldramon)
- The Black Coast -


It had been quite a while since her outburst, but Versa still hadn't spoken up again. Or at all, for that matter. Her eyes had been on the forest for hours, scanning carefully. But if Aakio knew her at all, and he liked to think he did, he'd wager she wasn't paying any attention at all to the trees. At the same time, he wasn't sure if he should try to talk to her.

There was an increasing amount of things he wasn't sure about ever since she literally fell back into his life.

He was a scribe of the order. Well, a former scribe. By all accounts, he should be neck deep in legal documents right now. But here he was, trudging through a creepy forest in the Syndicate, nursing wounds from a fight with the Metal Emperor, and following a group of rebels against the world's programming. And despite all of that, the thing that kept eating at his attention was not the forest, or the dull ache in his back, or the circumstances that brought about either. It was the strange look on Versa's face and wither or not there was anything he could do about it.

Maybe Ayas was right, maybe this feeling wasn't the least of his problems. He needed to get this sorted out before it put one or both of them in harms way. Getting distracted or flustered in battle was unbecoming, especially for a dragon.

Of course, he'd been telling himself that since before the battle with Chromium and he'd yet to actually do anything about it.

The group finally stopped for the night at the edge of a clearing. Wide open field on one side, cluttered tree line on the other. That would make keeping an eye out easier. No one could sneak up on them from the field unless they were invisible. As long as they kept an eye on the forest, they wouldn't be caught unawares. Hopefully.

“I’ll take first watch,” Ajax volunteered.

“Hell you will,” Goliath snapped. “Not after that last stunt. I’ll take first watch with one or two others.” He glanced around looking for volunteers. “The rest of you — Ajax included — get some rest.”

“Great,” Demo groaned. “The haunted forest. I’ll sleep great.”

"Its not so bad." Jericho rumbled to a stop and laid flat on the ground. His gears creaked wildly as he settled into position. "It beats a pirate ship. Or a prison cell. In fact, this breeze is so nice, I may take advantage of this moment. Wake me for the next watch."

The old dinosaur was out as soon as he stopped talking.

"I'll go watch as well." Versa said. She was already walking towards Goliath, until Aakio slid into her way. "What?"

"You should get some rest. Let me take first watch." Aakio said.

Versa frowned. "I don't think so. I won't get much sleep anyway."

She moved to go around him, but he opened a wing into her path. "You need all the sleep you can get, even if it is just a little."

"I'm fine."

"Oh really?" Aakio motioned towards her. "How's your stomach?"

She pressed a hand onto her still healing stab wound and did her best to hide her wince. "Its fine." she lied.

"No, its not. Do you really want to walk into the Syndicate at anything but your best?"

Versa crossed her arms and glared at him. Th usual daggers weren't there though. She was too tired to even look angry.

Aakio placed a hand on her shoulder. She didn't knock it away. "Well?"

Finally, she relented with a sigh. "Point made. But I'm taking second watch. No excuses."

"Sure." Aakio said. He wanted to ask something else. Say something else. But the words never found their way from his brain to his throat and he watched silently as Versa turned and walked away until she found a comfortable spot to sulk in.

Feeling a little victorious and a little defeated, Aakio made his way over to Goliath and whoever else had volunteered for the first watch.
 

Solsabre

The Reforged Soul
Titus Cloudraker (Jesmon)

“Great,” Demo groaned. “The haunted forest. I’ll sleep great.”

Titus decided it was better that he not mention the data phantom of a deceased Metal Empire soldier currently looming over the shorter Banchomanemon. It wouldn’t help anyone right now to bring up the dead. He shifted his gaze away from open water so he no longer saw the last fading traces of Moby’s data that only his golden eyes could percieve.

An exhausted Ayas settled onto the thick grass with barely a word, carefully stretching his injured wing and shoulder before laying on his side. Ryia swiveled her ears around, straining to hear. The Sleipmon huffed unhappily, “My hearing is still muffled no thanks to Daiou’s singing earlier.” She glared daggers in the Gokuwmon’s direction. “Someone else can have my shift.”

Sawyer cringed at the use of his formal name, “I feel like I’m getting scowled by my Ma again,” the Gokuwmon whined privately to Titus.

“Well, you practically shouted it at the Emporer, Daiou.” Titus replied, rolling his eyes and not sympathetic to his old friend’s plight as he walked to join Goliath and company.

“Woah, hey, let’s just keep it to Sawyer between friends, alright pal?” Sawyer asked, grabbing the retreating Jesmon’s cloak. “I got caught up in the moment, okay” the Gokuwamon explained, “besides Ma was dreaming big when she named me, Daiou.”

“Sure, as you wish, Great King” Titus chuckled softly as Sawyer squirmed uncomfortably at hearing his formal name’s meaning. The dragon knight gave a tired sigh, “take a turn to sleep. I’ll keep watch with the others.”

“Oh hell no,” Sawyer protested, forgetting his previous discomfort. “You’ve been through how many evolutions in the past day, buster?” The shorter monkeymon jabbed a hairy finger at the Jesmon’s chest. “I don’t even know how you’re hanging onto that form right now.”

“I am holding onto it because I need to,” Titus said far sharper than he meant too. His dormant dragon temper flaring with his building exhaustion. “Besides you know I wouldn’t sleep, even if I tried.

“Fine.” Sawyer relented, remembering how little his friend actually slept during their travels. Titus’s mind was always busy and alert. Only hours of intense training or meditation helped the silver-white dragon to slow down his thoughts enough for a restful night’s sleep. With his newly awakening abilities and senses, it felt even more difficult to do so. Titus nodded his head in thanks.

The Jesmon joined Goliath and Aakio, kneeling down carefully on his long bladed legs, and dismissing his wristblades with a flick of his claws. Sawyer curled up against Titus’s backside and immediately began sawing logs. The silver-white dragon shook his horned helm and threw the end of his cloak over Sawyer to muffle the snoring.

Titus pulled his hood over his face, only the unearthly glow of his golden eyes was visible in the night. Cautiously, he created an opening in his mental shields, allowing his extrasensory ability to reach out a short distance beyond the gathered Realmless. This was the main reason he hadn’t released his Jesmon form yet in order to fully rest. He needed the opportunity to exercise this ‘hyper sensory input’ outside the heat of battle and when he wasn’t likely to be blinded by Ajax’s power.

“If any trouble does show up tonight, I should be able to give us enough warning to act.” Titus said those on the first watch shift.
 
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