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Digimon Epics- A series of one-shots or dabbles

Solsabre

The Reforged Soul
This thread is going to be a companion piece to my character storylines in the Digimon Epic RPs, created by Kamotz, Civil War and Unholy Crusade. In the vast world of Saga and Eon, many stories or perspectives will not be experienced by our core characters. We will only see a hint of the pain, joy, or anger of the family, friends, or enemies that have cross paths with them. Minor characters that have the potential to take on a life of their own. Or events of the past that have far reaching impacts on our core character's present. Here are their stories, journeys, and tragedies.

My fellow rpers are more than welcome to add to this chronicle.

Civil War
Titus's father, Thoreau, witnesses the return of Imego.

Thoreau Bonecleaver (Slayerdramon) (Age: 49)
Nastrond


The grizzled Slayerdramon ascended to the upper cliffs of Nastrond's central caldera, unchallenged. Karrthus's cronies knew better than to bothered him, though it didn't stop the taunts behind his back. He didn't care. With each passing year, he cared less and less about his own reputation. An insult to his family's horde? Okay yea, he'd knock trouble-making whelps down a level here or there. Enough to keep them on their toes and guessing as to his intent.

Thoreau frowned. He'd been once like those younger dragons. Fire laced his blood, as his Fury drove him on. But... He'd surrendered his pride a long time, when he'd returned to his den empty and abandoned. Cold ash and scorch marks marred the floor and walls. No sign of his mate and son, both he believed dead.

Until the ancient Paladin sought him out in secret one night, seeking to confirm the identity of a huckmon child he discovered, wandering the mountains alone. The meeting hadn't gone well for the Slayerdramon. Thoreau demanded his son returned to him, but Rheagos refused. In hindsight, Thoreau grudgingly admitted the Imperialdramon Paladin Mode had attempted to explain with reason. His hand passed over the deep scar in his chest plate. Nope, he'd earned a painful reminder as to why so few dragons challenged Rheagos in those days.

Seeing his son again, alive and growing in strength...well relief lifted the heavy weight that was his failure, his dishonor, for nearly 17 years. Fighting Titus in combat had rejuvenated his Fire and awaken a Fury in his soul towards the Empire. He wasn't quite sure yet,what to make of his son's crusade against the Realmpact. The Empire? Let them burn.

He paused in his stride to look out over the caldera. Karrthus, his neph-khan, gathered in the heart of the sweltering smoke with his underlings. Thoreau nearly turned away when a rapidly growing spec appeared in the sky, before descending to meet the Dragonlord. The silver bipedal dragon narrowed eyes. Imego. And he didn't return alone.

Had Titus and his Realmless succeed in their mission or had Imego betrayed them?

The Dragonlord confronted the returning Imperialdramon, their words lost to Thoreau in the heated air. However, the hostility and tension was obvious to see. Only as Imego snubbed the Khan, did Karrthus's roar raised to volume to which Thoreau could understand.

"You want to challenge me, Imego!?" Karrthus howled, and the other dragons chortled with laughter.

Imego grinned widly.

"Accepted!" Imego roared. Light burst from his body, impossibly bright. Hotter than the volcanic flows all around them and blazing with greater intensity. When the light faded, his armor shone brilliant white, and he held a sword in his grip.

"Think I haven't fought your kind before?" Karrthus roared.


“Karrthus, you over-confident fool,” Thoreau muttered beneath his breath. The older dragon pressed his body back against the cliff face behind him. “You only defeated a tired old dragon. You never faced Rheagos in his prime.”

He watched the confrontation with growing dread. How or when did Imego achieve the Paladin Form!? The Imperialdramon certainly didn't possess it before he left with the Realmless.

But Imego struck, before Thoreau could ponder it further. An explosion of blinding light and power swept through the caldera, throwing even the far away Thoreau off his feet. He slammed into a pile of rubble that was once a cliff face over looking the former caldera. The Slayerdramon's armor smoked as he painfully rose to his feet, struggling to maintain his mega form. Thoreau gaped in awe. Only once as a small child had he witnessed the full strength of the Paladin form. He had never forgotten that day forty years ago, when the former White Blade of the Legion declared his intent to join the hordes.

Thoreau leaned painfully against a smoldering boulder, spotting the former Dragonlord now pinned helplessly to the volcano. He narrowed his eyes, growling. Maybe he couldn't help his son, where ever he was. But Karrthus was still his nephew, his family, such as it was. But he couldn't do anything for right now. Even, Thoreau's own Examon form wouldn't be able to tip an Ankam challenge in his favor. With a level of patience that Thoreau forced himself to abide by, he'd wait for the right moment to help his nephew.

The Slayerdramon staggered away from the newly reformed crater.
 
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Solsabre

The Reforged Soul
Sequel and I put this scene together some time ago, but could never find a place to put it into Unholy Crusade. Enjoy some Henry and Nadia!

_________________

Unholy Crusade
Henry & Nadia
Axis Mundi
Serra's Tavern



With the night’s events drawn to a close, Henry found himself alone at a table, mulling his thoughts. He knew he had bitten off more than he could chew with this fool’s errand, but he wasn’t going to back down now. Sink or swim, he was in this till the bitter end. So he needed a solid plan which meant sitting up late at night and going over his mental notes. It was about time to call it though. Plan or no plan, he’d be no good to anyone if he couldn’t even keep his eyes open. Before that however, he had one more thing to do.

“Pardon me lass,” Henry said as he approached the bar. A small pouch of coins bouncing gently in his hand. “Wanted to thank you for the drinks tonight. I know they were on the house, but good service deserves a tip, no?” he said, tossing the pouch towards Nadia.

“Lass? Hon, I’m old enough to be your Gran and then some,” Nadia raised an eyebrow at the pirate, questioning his sanity.

The pirate shrugged. “Not much surprises me anymore.” he said, matter of factly. “But I know I lass when I see one.”

“Not that I don’t appreciate it, but sugar, you’re going to run your coins dry trying to keep that up every time you come back here from a fight. And I know a shipwrecked captain, when I see one. Miss Serra was generous tonight, but her books aren’t going to survive the tab you’re going to need to run to keep that demon satisfied”

Nadia put away a few cleaned glasses, “So if ya need anything, just ask miss Nadia. I’ve got some good sources without bankrupting, my Serra.”

“Much obliged.” Henry said with a tip of his hat. “But I gotta know something. A classy establishment like this? I’d bet my peg-leg you’ve got a real treasure stocked away in the back room. Mind if I take a peek?”

“I got an even better idea, hon. Pardon me, for one sec,” The plump Lekismon stepped away from the bar to enter the kitchen. A few minutes later, Nadia returned holding a heavy brown bottle with an elaborate label and seal. Setting it in front of the pirate captain, Nadia explained, “‘The Pissing Parrot’ from my personal stash, a specialty rum from a tiny island in the southwest corner of the world. Only 50 bottles are made a year. I’ve had this baby for quite a few. My gift to you.”

“If you’re trying to win my heart, that’s one way to go about it.” Henry said, eyeing the bottle with obvious envy. “But no, you’re quite right. Such a treasure is meant for savoring, not for adding to the sea of drinks I drowned in tonight.”

“That’s a smart boy,” Nadia teased, chuckling. “Hard to enjoy this beauty, when you can’t even remember your folk’s names. I’ll keep her safe for a more sober occasion. And you can regal me with some of you high sea adventures.”

Henry grinned and winked. “That, my dear lass, sounds like a plan. Keep that bottle stashed away, I plan to live long enough to taste that brew.”

"Oh, I'll hold you to that, Sailor!" Nadia laughed.

“Sailor?!” Henry laughed and gave a practiced flourish. “I think you have me mistaken for a working man. Only flag I sail under, is my own.”

Nadia glanced to the air above Henry, “I don’t see any flag,” the Lekismon bartender sipped her own bottle finally, since she was now off shift. “But I can’t say I’ve got room to talk, I haven’t raised my own flag in ages.”

Henry snapped his fingers. “I knew you had the sea breeze about you. Your taste in rum is far too refined for a landlubber.”

Nadia cackled, “Why else do you think, Serra, keeps me around?””
 
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Kamotz

God of Monsters
Taichi "Tai" Kamiya
Highton, Valeron
The world of Saga -- Unholy Crusade


Tai watched the Tamer camp from the top of the hill. Nearly a hundred Tamers and their partners had gathered in Highton since the Royal Knights began their crusade nearly a month ago. The Council and the angels hadn't been able to coordinate any sort of assistance until the last few days. Tai had taken it upon himself to protect the rest of the Tamers.

He and a few others, his best friends, had established Highton years ago. First it was just a Tamer camp, where they could rest, hang out, and trade stories with other Tamers. But as time went on it grew beyond anything they could have imagined. What started out as collection tents and a well, was now a thriving community.

The first thing they'd built had been the "mess hall" -- but it had grown into an entire town hall since then. They'd paved the roads with cobblestone and flattened down walkways into packed dirt paths. The well at the center of the encampment was now a fountain; they'd since incorporated Kaladeshi engineering to create indoor plumbing. They'd even implemented a rudimentary solar and thermal-power energy grid, providing clean, renewable electricity to the settlement.

Radiating outward to form a near-circle were the four wedge-shaped sections of Highton, divided by the two major crossroads. From the community center back was the northern section, where they'd built a number of small, permanent cottages with modern amenities. Tai and his friends lived at the far end of this section on the hillside.

The eastern section started at the inn, across the street from the community center. It wasn't much, but it provided a place for visiting Tamers and other Digimon to stay if they didn't have permanent residence yet. It also had a tavern, though they'd never settled on a name. Tai and Matt had argued for days about what it should be, until another of their friends had taken the reigns and named it "Mimi's." Neither of them were really willing to argue. Behind that were number of small "camp-out" areas. They'd become more crowded since the crusade began, and more tents seemed to be setting up daily. There was also a community garden, but that seemed to be getting crowded out more and more.

The western section started with the warehouse in the center. Any Tamer could apply for a locker or storage section, where they could keep their valuables and adventuring gear that didn't fit in their smaller homes, and where they could hold things when they went out adventuring and gave up their permanent residence.

Behind that were a smattering of shops and workshops; a "bookstore" connected directly to the internet and made it easy to import any kind of media entertainment. A "healer" -- aka their former med-student-turned-Tamer who'd abandoned his schooling to pursue adventure in the Digital World -- had actually set up a small clinic to help out anyone who'd gotten sick or injured on their own adventures. Human diseases and injuries behaved differently in the Digital World, and he was at the forefront of that research. The nearby smithy, electrician, and mechanical workshop meant that he was never short on people injuring themselves. A smattering of other shops featured whatever treasures and wares had been found on various outings.

The southern section was the open-air Market, lined with stalls and carts. This was what Tamers and Digimon from the surrounding areas flocked to. It was open every day for whoever was still in town and not out exploring, but every Saturday, the entire market crowded with Tamers returning from their adventures, selling and buying goods and treasures from across Saga.

Around the entire settlement was a wall, made of metal, stone, and wood. Tai had been eyeing that wall for the past thirty minutes. With the way Tamers were pouring into Highton, he suspected they'd need to expand very soon. But that meant tearing down at least one section of the wall and breaking the perimeter. If the Royal Knights were really drumming up support across the world, Tai really didn't want to leave Highton undefended for even a minute.

"Still thinkin' about that wall?" Matt walked up beside him. They always butted heads over these sorts of things, but for once since the start of their adventure, Matt wasn't actively fighting him. And that scared Tai more than anything else. "The others think you're crazy."

"Surprised you aren't leading that charge," Tai muttered.

"I'm normally the one keeping your crazy in check," Matt said with a sigh. "If the others are already doing that I don't need to. But…"

"'But'?" Tai wondered.

"But I think you're all wrong. Izzy agrees, too," Matt said before Tai could object. "There's no way we're safe here. We're comfortable, but that's way different. If the Knights come then we're stuck."

"If the Knights come, we'll fight," Tai declared steadily. "We've got almost one hundred Tamers here. More are coming every day."

"Not everyone has the experience we do," Matt pointed out. "A lot of them are going to get hurt if they fight. Hell. We might, too."

"Someone has to do something," Tai said. "Someone has to take a stand. If that's gotta be us, then that's what we'll do. And if it has to be just me? I'll do that too."

Matt sighed the way he always did when Tai spoke, like he was talking to his little brother. It drove Tai crazy. He ran a hand through his hair -- man, the dude really needed a haircut.

"Sure I can't convince you to head to Axis Mundi?" Matt asked. Tai shook his head and held Matt's stare. "Well I'm not about to let you get killed all on your own."

Tai mirrored his smirked. "Then here's where we make our stand."
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
~Axis Mundi~
The Wayward Inn and Tavern
The world of Saga -- Unholy Crusade


Drakn dropped himself down onto a heavy wooden chair and let out a restrained sigh. The tavern was mostly empty, but he'd expected as much for the quiet hours of the early morning. Dawn was still two hours away, and he'd never get any sleep with the thoughts roaring through his head.

He'd spent most of the night going back and forth with Lucia, Michael and the Council over what actions were taken, and what should have been taken, and those that still needed to be taken. It was -- to put it lightly -- exhausting. He'd dealt with that kind of pressure before -- the pressure of leading -- but this was something else entirely. Leading the Elysium Dragonsguard for a year had prepared him woefully little for this kind of leading.

They'd been disciplined, well trained, and organized. They'd had time to learn to work together, time to feel one another out, gain one another's respect.

This was...a mess.

Even his squad, with Adriana and Odric, couldn't help but stumble over itself. Gigas, Nocchi, and Sha were another trio of well-acquainted fighters, but they were so...erratic, so hard to anticipate or maneuver through. Gigas meant well, but he was single-minded and needed instruction. Nocchi was obstinate and uncooperative. Sha was flighty and had the attention span of a distracted child.

And that was just his team. Pyra and Lucia were dealing with their own problems. From over-exhuberant Justimon, sulking wolves, and mercenary insects, to forlorn samurai, trigger-happy wasps, and...whatever Radha was.

Topping that all off was the fact that Pyra's team was missing and had been since they'd been sent to Meletis to contain the Royal Knights' forces there. But their final transmission had come through garbled and full of static; a single world.

"La...seh...ot."

They'd spent a good while trying to decipher what that might have meant. But Drakn knew as soon as he heard it. Lancelot. And everyone else knew it, too. They just wanted it to be anything else.

"So what're we doing?" Adriana asked. She sat down across from him, a heavy mug of beer in her hand. She folded her blue wings neatly behind her and fixed Drakn with an imploring look. Odric pulled up a nearby chair and sat down next to her, sliding one of the two mugs in his hands over to Drakn as he did. The Valkyrimon seemed oddly at ease.

"You should get some sleep," Drakn protested. He rubbed his snout. "Can't believe you both waited up for me."

"To be fair, we weren't exactly waiting for you on our hands," Odric said, with a strange cryptic smirk. Drakn noticed a blink-and-miss-it glance between him and Adriana. Were they...could they be…?

"Oh?" Drakn dared to ask.

"The beer was free," Adriana said...almost too quickly. Drakn was about to ask more questions, but another Digimon joined them, loudly sliding a chair.

Lucia collapsed into the chair and dropped her head onto the table. She groaned. "Head hurting. Someone make it stop."

Odric slid over his mug of beer awkwardly, but Lucia grimaced and declined with a wave. "I don't know why I let Trowa talk me into this," she groaned.

"I tried to warn you," said Duo, a Gaiomon. He, too, brought up a chair and gently handed Lucia a glass of water. The QueenChessmon took it gingerly but didn't drink.

"And where did you go?" Lucia asked, eyeing him warily. "Off with...whatserface? Saria?"

Duo half choked on his water and sputtered at the suggestion.

Drakn blinked. "You and Saria?" he wondered. He glanced around the room, looking for the Sakuyamon that was the seventh member of his squad; the lone standout amidst the two trios. Already? He wanted to add, but stopped himself. So what if they'd only known one another a few days? Now was hardly the time to get judgmental.

But Duo waved him off. "Ancient history," he said, and Drakn noticed he spared a long look to see Lucia's response to that statement. But she had her head down against the table in the crook of her elbow and was no longer paying attention. "She and I...well...it was half a lifetime ago," he said, this time more to Drakn.

"So you're saying she's sing-- OW!" Odric yelped as Adriana jabbed him in the side with an almost-too-fast-to-see elbow. "Ugh, it's a joke! He set me up just -- ugh." Adriana silenced him with a glare.

Yeah. Something was definitely going on there. Odric never joked...and since when did Adriana try to stop him?

"How'd it go?" Duo asked pointedly, trying to steer the conversation back on track. Drakn noticed how he sat almost-possessively directly between him and Lucia. He glanced to Lucia and Drakn, but Lucia just groaned into her elbow again. "That bad?"

"Everyone's on edge," Drakn explained. The Council is down two members, which hasn't happened in...ever, I'm guessing. It's making them...short." He sighed and took a quick swig from the mug.

"Understatement," Lucia said, muffled, then picked her head up and rested her chin wearily in her hands.

"And we're losing support left and right, or at least it seems that way," Drakn continued. He had his doubts about that all, of course. A few changes in loyalty wasn't good of course, but it was hardly the cataclysmic event the Council was making it out to be.

"Who -- who's changing sides?" a new voice asked. Drakn craned his neck and saw Lucia's VictoryGreymon squad member clamber down the stairs. "Do they know who?" he asked again, still as timidly as ever.

"Rhys," Lucia said placatingly, there was a grimace in her voice.

"No," he whispered.

She nodded grimly. "Greystone declared for the Royal Knights late yesterday," she said. "They sent official notice to the Council."

"Tamers have been sending out emergency messages to every human in Greystone, but it's the middle of the night and we don't know who's going to hear any of that," Drakn said with a sigh. "And it's not just Greystone either."

Rhys drove a fist angrily into a nearby wall, punching a hole through it, much to the expressed outrage of the tavern's owner. His demeanor changed suddenly, and he was at-once apologetic and clumsy again.

Odric grunted in distaste.

"Benalia and Vryn could turn any day," Drakn pulled up a holographic map and projected it across the table. "Valeron and Halcyon are currently allowing Tamers to stay within city limits, but there's a huge Tamer 'camp' on the border of Valeron that's caused some concern," Drakn continued, pointing as he spoke. "The Council has strong allegiances throughout Theros, but…" he gestured futilely to the entire continent of Gondowan. "Who knows."

"At least we can count on Wolfhal," Odric said glumly. Drakn shot him a questioning look. "If Greystone's declared for the Royal Knights, Wolfhal will declare for the Council." Drakn's look persisted. "That rivalry is 500 years old. How do you not know this?"

"Old grudges between wolves and dragons wasn't an emphasized part of our curriculum," Adriana said with a half-laugh.

"Any idea what kind of support we can count on?" Drakn asked.

Odric shrugged. "It's a warrior clan living isolated in the most northern reaches of the world," he said. "I wouldn't count on much of anything. Beyond a nice note."

"Well, at least we've got Olympia and Asgardia," Adriana said with a sigh.

"I wouldn't count on that too much," Odric cautioned. His brow furrowed and Drakn saw that old dark look settle across his face.

"Which one?" Lucia asked, perking up.

"Either," Odric answered. "We don't know what kind of state Olympia is in after we lost contact with Pyra's team."

Drakn fought the urge to blurt out "Lancelot" -- it wouldn't do them any good to dwell on it right now. "Thor's with that other group though," he said. "He's Asgard's king or something, right?"

"Crowned prince," Odric said dismissively. "Asgardian politics is...complicated. But the short of it is that he's only the prince of Asgard right now. The other nine -- well, eight -- realms of Asgardia don't owe him anything. And some of those realms are held in check by the skin of Asgard's teeth. Nidavellir and Valkheim, sure, they'll come if Thor calls, but Vanaheim and Alfheim…" he trailed off for a moment at the mention of his home. "There's a lot of resentment between Vanaheim and Asgard."

"And Alfheim?" Lucia asked. Drakn saw Adriana grimace.

"It's complicated," Odric said softly. "But that doesn't take Svartalfheim, Muspelheim, and Jotunheim into account. They're held in check because Asgardia is at peace and things are stable. Once you bring the continent into the war...all bets are off."

He let that morbid fact sink in.

"You said 'nine realms,'" Duo cut in. "But only mentioned eight." Drakn raised an eyebrow. Duo had been counting. He'd already forgotten how many realms Odric had outlined.

"The last is more a region than a realm," Odric said with a sigh, and the tension broke around him. "Spooky place, if you believe the stories. Further north than even Jotunheim or Wolfhal. No one has ventured into those frozen wastes and returned alive in the last thousand years." His voice dropped into a stage whisper and he leaned in close to the group. "Most don't believe anything of note is located that far north, though those that do claim that a half-dead queen rules a legion of undead Draugar from the frigid lands of always-winter."

"Do they say anything about grumpkins and snarks?" a nasally voice asked. Nocchi the Puppetmon made his entrance and pushed his way between Odric and Adriana to get a seat at the table. "What'd I miss?"

"Figuring out where to next, and how screwed we are," Odric said, shoving Nocchi back. "Where are you two better halves?"

"Better thirds, ya bird brain," Nocchi said, and stuck out his tongue. "Gigas spent half the night talking to that Ivy chick. He's still out like a light. And Sha snores. So here I am. Want me to take over? I'll need your cape." He pointed at Drakn's cape.

"No, but…" Drakn looked around. "I don't think beer is the way to go. Let's get some coffee and try to figure out what the next move is."

"Or, the two of you go to bed," Adriana interrupted, gesturing to Lucia and Drakn. "Get a few hours of sleep. And the rest of us will try and make sense of what's going on.

Drakn was about to protest, and he saw Lucia about to do the same, but then he saw the bags under her eyes; saw how ragged and worn down she looked. And he knew he must look exactly the same. She needed sleep…he needed sleep. But neither of them wanted to be the first to admit it. So he stood.

"I guess we're not much good right now, are we?" he looked to Lucia and nodded. "They're right. We should get some sleep before we set out again. Wake us at dawn?"

Lucia gave in without much of a fight. A half-heartbeat of hesitation, then she stood as well. "Rooms?" she asked.

Duo stood and came to her side. "I'll escort you to --"

"That's okay, Duo," she said, almost pushing him back to his seat. "Just...where?" Odric motioned up the flight of stairs and she nodded her thanks. Drakn fell in step behind her and followed her up to the rooms they'd rented from the innkeeper. "Thanks," she said to him as soon as they were out of earshot. "I was...I'm not used to this sort of thing."

"None of us are," Drakn said, trying to comfort her. "Well...maybe Pyra is."

"She took to it strangely quickly," Lucia agreed.

"Right?" Drakn half-laughed. He felt the tension in the air dissipate a little.

"You seem to be handling this better than me, at least," Lucia sighed.

"I might just be better at admitting when I'm at my limit," Drakn suggested generously. "I think I'm on my last legs here."

"You don't look it," Lucia said, tapping on his shining armor.

"I wear more armor than you," Drakn teased. "It's all in the armor -- shine it up nice and no one notices how ragged you look underneath."

Lucia laughed, but it was short and hollow, barely a breath. They reached her room first and she bid Drakn goodnight through a yawn and half-lidded eyes. Drakn reached his room in another dozen exhausting steps, closed his eyes, and collapsed into sleep.
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
~Axis Mundi~
The Wayward Inn and Tavern


Duo sighed as he watched Lucia head upstairs for a few hours of sleep. She needed it, she knew that -- and he was desperately glad that she'd relented and left. But that still left the rest of them to try and figure out some options. He looked at the rest of their group, seated around the table, then spared a glance at Rhys, desperately trying to placate the innkeeper and apologize for punching a hole through his drywall.

That outburst was so unlike him.

"So," said Adriana. It wasn't a question, just a heavy word that hung in the space between them for a good long moment.

"So," Duo echoed with a slow nod and sigh of his own. "I suppose they're open to suggestions," he said. He stared down at Drakn's holographic map, still projected out across the table.

"We could spare a group to go to Greystone, I suppose?" Adriana offered weakly, risking a glance over at Rhys. He was sitting dejectedly with his head hung and his shoulders slumped. Duo felt a pang of pity for the young dragon. In their short time together, Rhys had talked much of his life in Greystone, how proud he was of his family name and his friends who were still there, cheering him on.

"I think not, at least for our squad," Duo answered, then turned back to the map.

"Are you…" Adriana seemed to falter with her words. She gestured weakly to Greystone's icon on the map.

"Greystonean?" A nod. "No. At least not recently," he answered. "I probably have some common ancestor there, but my family hasn't had roots there in any living memory."

"So…?" Adriana continued to look at him expectantly.

He sighed. "My father's from Wingthrone, my mother was from Regatha," he answered. "But I spent most of my life on the move. Travelled up and down the eastern coast of Gondawan." He kept his story brief and vague. As much as he had grown to respect the others in the past few days, the details of his family's sordid past weren't something he wanted to share.

"If Rhys can't keep his head on straight then Greystone is probably out for all of us," Odric murmured. Duo shot him an expectant look. "I don't think we want to head over there with anything less than our full number. Seven of us in an enemy stronghold against an unknown number of opponents?" He shook his head. "I'd rather not."

"We'll you're just a big coward then, aren't you," spoke a rough voice. Odric's head snapped to the side as Radha strode down the stairs. The BurningGreymon's wings shimmered with heat, and even just woken up she already looked to be in a sour mood. "Not only are you all making enough noise to wake me, but your snivelling cowardice is making me sick, too."

"Well aren't you just a ray of sunshine," Adriana grumbled.

"I am the fire that burns," Radha exclaimed proudly, in a voice laced with deep offense, as if she hadn't just called them cowards.

"Oooohhhh," Nocchi's eyes went wide and he shivered in mock fear. "Heck does that even mean?"

"It means little tinderboxes like you should watch your mouths," Radha snapped.

"Spell 'tinderbox'," Nocchi challenged. Radha just snarled and stalked towards the tavern counter.

"Coffee. Now," she grumbled.

"Two creams, three sugars," Nocchi guessed teasingly.

"Black," Radha snapped, more to Nocchi than the innkeeper. To his credit, the Kokatorimon innkeeper didn't bat an eye.

"Nice save!" Nocchi called out. "Nyeheheh!"

"Maybe stop antagonizing the fire dragon prone to burning down buildings," Adriana suggested, fixing Nocchi with a disapproving glare.

"Man, that sounds boring," said a new voice. Duo felt a smile tug at the corner of his mouth as Trowa emerged from his room. The TigerVespamon let out a loud yawn and popped a few of his joints. "Ya'll are loud as hell. Between that and Gigas's snoring, I --"

"That's Sha," Nocchi corrected.

"No, the really loud snoring," Trowa said.

"Yeah, that's Sha," Nocchi said again.

"No. I mean...you can hear it from down here," Trowa cupped a hand to his ear.

"Dunno what to tell you, bug-boy," Nocchi shrugged. "Gigas doesn't snore."

"That can't be right," Trowa insisted. He looked around the room. "Man, everyone's up. Lucia back yet?" Duo briefly filled him in on the goings-on from before his arrival, and what they were discussing. "So Greystone's out then. Anyone got ideas?"

He was met with silence.

"Yeesh, tough room," Nocchi muttered. "You're acting like you've been getting your butts kicked all day. Nyeheheheh!"

"Yeah, that bothers me," Odric muttered.

"Ugh, it was a joke!" Nocchi protested, waving his arms in frustration. "I didn't -- gah! I meant --"

"I know what you meant," Odric said. "But it still bothers me. We shouldn't be that outclassed, should we?" He asked the group as a whole. "Let's say we can't take them one-on-one. But two-on-one? Three? Three of us should be worth at least one Royal Knight."

Duo frowned, but hummed his agreement. It wasn't a truth he enjoyed.

"It's because of their initiation rituals," Rhys said, sulking over to the group. The VictoryGreymon slouched in a nearby chair. "Sorry about earlier. I...I lost my head for a second there."

"Nyeh! First time you were actually interesting, from what I hear," Nocchi chuckled. Duo sent him a glare. "What? I'm kidding. No sense of humor with these guys."

"What rituals?" Duo asked.

"Each new Royal Knight takes in the experience of their predecessor," Rhys said. He leaned forward. "So when you fight one Royal Knight you're not really just fighting that Royal Knight. They're backed by a thousand years of experience -- and not just life experience like the Eternals -- but combat experience. The experience of their every predecessor from their time in the Order extracted, distilled, and downloaded into the mind of each new Royal Knight. If you make a move against one of them, you can bet they've seen that same move at least a hundred times before."

"That's sobering," Odric grunted, and pushed away his half-full mug of beer.

"Then how does that other group do it?" Trowa asked, gesturing vaguely to the outside of the tavern. "The Guardsmen, or whatever."

"Well there's more of them in each fight," Odric suggested. "They have the numbers advantage."

"Yeah, but have you seen some of them?" Trowa countered. "I don't know if some of those guys have ever even been in a fight before this. Y'know?"

"From what Drakn's said the best they manage is a stalemate once Thor threatens to blow everything up," Adriana said with a grimace. "Apparently he can't control that power of his too well."

"'Least we know there's a limit to what the Royal Knights can handle," said Trowa, and Duo found himself nodding, though more so in contemplation.

If the Royal Knights were really only being held back by Thor Odinson's lack of control...that wouldn't last for long, especially if what Rhys said was true.

"That's not gonna work for too much longer," said Rhys, seemingly coming to the same quick conclusion. "I saw him at Kaladesh, and before that when we attacked Camelot. That power's insane, but…" he trailed off. "He's clumsy."

"You're one to talk," Radha grumbled, lumbering up to the table. How could such a lithe Digimon move like she weighed a million pounds? Duo wondered. She was thinner and lighter than he was, but she stomped around like she was twice Rhys's size.

Rhys looked down sheepishly for a moment, then steeled himself and returned Radha's glare. "Gawain'll figure it out soonest, but they'll all eventually figure out how to fight around that if Lord Thor doesn't learn how to control himself."

"That's his problem," Radha grunted. "Arrogant Asgardian fool." She cleared her throat and spat angrily.

"Not a fan, I take it," Adriana said, her eyebrows raised.

"Not a fan of anyone who keeps his boot on the neck of other Digimon," Radha snarled. "I don't care who he or his father are. In Muspellheim my people have been in --"

"Oh gods, you're Muspellssynir," Odric practically laughed. A huge mocking grin cut its way across his face and he shifted in his seat. "Gods, that explains so much about you."

"You watch your tongue before I burn it out, you Ljosalfir pixie," Radha snarled, brandishing her claws angrily.

"Put those away," Duo snapped, not even rising to his feet. Adriana was standing ready, with her wrist blade extended. Odric hadn't even shifted in his seat, but Duo could see that his earlier shifting had already maneuvered him to respond with a quick sword-draw. And where Radha would have to charge through a table and other Digimon, Odric had positioned himself to draw his sword unimpeded.

Duo fought to control the tone of his voice. "Everyone. Put it away and sit. Down." Adriana slowly sheathed her blades. Radha straightened and snarled. But both returned to their seats. "Keep your heads on straight," he said. "You're embarrassing yourselves." He wanted to say that just to Radha, but could already tell how that'd go.

The tension hovering across that poor, battered table was thick enough to cut.

"So...we still don't know what we're doing?" Trowa offered tentatively. Duo fixed him with an admonishing glare. "What? Do we?"

"Why…" Rhys began in a soft voice, then cleared his throat and spoke louder. "WHY DON'T...er...Why don't we find the others," he said, after a few attempts to find his voice. "Pyra's group."

"That's not a bad idea," Odric admitted, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "It's not as proactive as I'd like to be, but we're down six fighters without them, and clearly jumping into random hotspots isn't working out."

"Let the Guardians tromp around all loud and noisy," Adriana continued, picking up on Odric's thread. "Draw their attention. They've probably already got most of it. Thor, Michael, three humans, the demon...whatsisname?"

"Samael," Rhys offered. "Venom of God. An actual fallen one. They say he…" He trailed off at the sideways looks the others were giving him. "Nevermind. Just trivia stuff."

"You...a fan of his or somethin'?" Trowa asked.

"Er...well...of him? No," Rhys stammered. He pushed his pointer fingers together and fidgeted in embarrassment. "But I studied a lot of military history, and he's a big name when it comes to the rebellion of the Seven Great Demon...Lords…" He trailed off again. "Nevermind."

"Right," Adriana forced out awkwardly. "And there's that Apollomon, too. He seems to think he's pretty important. Svargo? Sarvog? Something?" She turned to Rhys expectantly.

He shrugged. "No idea."

"Well the more big names those Guardians bring around, the more attention the Royal Knights will give them," Adriana said.

"Leaving our groups free to move around unobstructed," Odric finished with a smirk. "I like that idea."

"The question is, where would Pyra have led her team if things went bad in Meletis?" Adriana asked. They all turned their attention to the map.

"Not North," Radha said, feigning disinterest with a gruff sigh. "Too much open ocean, nothing to cover themselves with."

"Plus she and Khep are the only ones who can fly," Trowa pointed out.

"Could've escaped South into Akros," Odric suggested. "It's another Council stronghold. In a desperate situation she would have felt that was her safest bet."

"But if she wanted to lose whoever might be chasing her --" Duo began.

"Or draw them away from Meletis," Adriana cut in.

"Yes, of course," Duo nodded, not intending to imply any cowardice on Pyra's part. "The best place to do that would be among these islands in the Sea of Monsters." He pointed to the spattering of islands that formed a broken bridge between Olympia and the main continent of Theros. "Island-hop up towards the mainland and head towards Greystone."

"Yeah, but Greystone's an enemy now," Nocchi blurted out, and Duo saw Rhys flinch.

"She wouldn't know that," Duo said. "She might even have arrived during their declaration of intent."

A silence settled between them.

"Anyone else come up with something?" Adriana asked, glancing around the table.

"What about there?" Trowa asked, pointing a slender finger at a spot on the map. A peninsula on the north end of the Savage Lands, almost directly west of Meletis. "Themy...Thema...Themis? What's that say?"

"Themyscira," Duo answered. He frowned. "That's a bit of a jump. It'd be much easier to head to either Akros or Greystone."

"Yeah, and way more obvious," Trowa insisted. "Trust me. If I were looking to lead someone on a wild goose chase I'd hop up those islands, lay some tracks to Greystone, and then double back across the ocean to rest up."

Duo considered Trowa's words carefully. He had a point, and Duo trusted Trowa's hit-and-run tactics more than he did his own.

"Let's arrange transportation," Adriana suggested. She glanced at Duo and he nodded. "It'll give Drakn and Lucia a few more hours to sleep, and hopefully we'll be able to wake up Gigas and Sha by then, too."

"Nyeheheh! Optimistic," Nocchi chortled. "I like it!"

"We'll see what they want to do, but at least we'll be ready to move," Duo agreed. He glanced back to Adriana. "Shouldn't require more than the two of us to get that set up."

She nodded, then gave Odric a reassuring smirk and they headed out into the early-morning gloom.
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
~Meletis~
Subcontinent of Olympia


Pyra flung her arms wide. "This is madness, Sir Lancelot." There was no way she'd beat him head-to-head. She had to stall him, again, until the others regained their strength...or at least caught their breath.

"Yes. It is," Lancelot agreed, looking from her to the fires billowing around them. "It's madness that it had to come to this at all. Have we Royal Knights not proven our worth? After a thousand years have we not shown that all we want is to fight for Saga's best interest? This violence, this bloodshed, it could have been avoided. The humans could have simply been expelled. Instead you made us your enemies. So that when you fall - and you will - you will have no one to blame but yourselves."

The white knight raised his right arm and brought his cannon to bear. Power pooled in its maw, glowing white-hot. Pyra lost herself in the light of its burning eye, and the horrible awe it inspired.

"Move!" It was Justin. He lashed out -- missing an arm -- and landed a thunderclap of a kick to the MetalGarurumon effigy of Lancelot's hand. It knocked the blast off course as the Royal Knight fired...if barely.

Justin landed awkwardly, off balance from his missing limb, and Lancelot wheeled upon him with a vicious backhand, the sword on his left arm extended and crackling with fire. And then Galic was standing between them, digivolved into MirageGaogamon -- Pyra wasn't even aware he could -- and crossed his clawed gauntlets in the weapon's path.

But all he could do was blunt the blow's force. His weapons cracked under the pressure, and the energy of the strike rolled through him. His cuirass crumpled and his cape dissolved, and then he slammed into Justin and the two were flying across the ground.

"An annoyance," Lancelot half-snarled, and in that moment Pyra understood that's all they were to him. He turned to the fallen Digimon and raised his cannon again.

Azur and Dunk sprang to their mentor's defense; Azur grappled with the knight's right arm, and Dunk scratched and clawed and bit at the knight's shoulder, doing everything in their power to stop the white knight.

"Galic, go!" Azur grunted, straining with all his body's might against the strength of Lancelot's one arm. But Lancelot sheathed his weapons suddenly, simply shrugged Dunk off, grabbed Azur by the throat, and crashed him bodily into the ground. Lancelot raised his foot, and slammed it hard onto Azur's chest.

Pyra found herself rooted to the ground, unable to move, or blink, or tear her eyes from the scene in front of her. Meletis had been razed. All that was left were the few remaining Digimon trying to gather the remnants of their shattered lives, while the Royal Knights' soldiers rounded up humans and began crushing Digivices to banish them from the world.

How had she failed so spectacularly?

The howling yelps of pain from Azur cut through her shock, as Lancelot ground his heel into the WereGarurumon's chest. That same implacable look never left the white knight's face. A look of grim finality; that he'd done this so many times to the same result -- and would so many more times. It was the look one had when watching the waves break against the rocks on the ocean. No sympathy or pity. Just the grim understanding that this was the way things were and would always be.

It was like a farmer threshing wheat, she realized. Lancelot gave Azur no more consideration than he would a stubborn stalk. His annoyance was one of inconvenience; that the wheat resisted a single stroke of his sword and would instead require a second, thus breaking his pattern and his efficiency.

There was never any doubt that the wheat would fall.

Azur clung to Lancelot's ankle and somehow managed to snake himself around the limb. He locked himself in place and wrenched with all his might, trying to push against the knight's joint and bring him down with a different tactic.

Pyra noticed a flicker of irritation pass over Lancelot's features. The Grey Sword extended, and she felt a well of panic explode within her.

Out of sheer desperation she reached down into that dark pit within her. She locked eyes with the thing that lived within, and with no time to hesitate, she opened herself to it.

Light and power burst from within her as the thing took hold of her and the line between them blurred. Her body grew, still lithe and powerful, but in a wholly monstrous sort of way. Her armor blackened, her snout elongated, grew wide, and filled with razor sharp teeth. Her wings fused together and lengthened, no longer short and agile, but huge and sky-spanning, and blood red.

She felt power pool in the open maw and the space behind its teeth -- her teeth -- as a cry of "Mega Crusher!" escaped her throat and sent that power barrelling into Lancelot.

With a terrifying fluidity, the Royal Knight turned and took the blow on his left shoulder, bracing against it with the Grey Shield pauldron and WarGreymon arm gauntlet. Still, he wasn't able to stop the blast entirely, and the force of its collision picked him off his feet and drove him through the air. It carried him away from Azur and Dunk, flying over Galic and Justin, before exploding violently and hurling Lancelot into the fiery wreckage of Meletis.

"Rrrrr--Run," Pyra forced out a growl. A low, guttural, grating sound that rasped its way past her teeth and snarled out into the air like smoke. She watched the conflagration carefully for any sign of Lancelot, as Azur and Dunk pulled themselves to their feet and limped away. Galic helped Justin to his feet, and together the two of them hauled the unconscious Khep from the rubble and followed just a few steps behind the brothers.

Pyra watched them for a moment, before a flicker of white pulled her attention back to the flames. Lancelot stepped forward, looking none the worse for wear. He flicked his cape to the side in an almost-purposefully-dramatic gesture. Then he exploded forward, moving with enough sudden force to disperse the flames around him. He struck her like a charging train, and even in her massive Imperialdramon form she found herself thrown backwards.

But with that size came durability, and an almost catlike agility that took hold and caught her mid-flight. She flapped her wings once...twice, and righted herself, turning to face the white knight. She let her wild draconic instincts take hold, and she turned her laser cannon loose on him before he could get within a dozen meters of her, but it barely seemed to slow him down.

Lancelot planted his feet and braced himself against the beam. Pyra could feel her own power start to falter against him. The dragon within Pyra howled, and the body she wore echoed its fury, sending cries of "Mega Crusher!" after "Mega Crusher!" streaming towards the knight to finally halt his advance. Her power crashed against him, spilling white-hot light and liquid fire out in all directions.

Pyra was vaguely aware of the screaming coming from Meletis's citizens, but she didn't stop...no...she couldn't stop. It was like trying to hold back an avalanche. The dragon was so much stronger than she was, so much bigger. Its wants and needs were so much more than hers...more than her entire being. Its single desire to strike out at Lancelot, to survive and conquer and win was more than the sum of all Pyra's other parts put together and screaming for it to stop before all of Meletis sunk into the sea…

And then the dragon dissolved, or rather...she dissolved through it, no longer strong enough to maintain her hold on it; not strong enough to let go...and not even close to strong enough to control it. Pyra dissolved through that dragon in her mind's eye, and the dragon around her body simply ceased to be, its power sputtering out in the blink of an eye.

Lancelot shook himself clear of the debris and smoke that surrounded him. His armor was charred, and a few plates of that pristine white were dented, but beyond that and a tattered cape he seemed unnervingly fine.

And alongside the sheer exhaustion she felt from trying to hold on to that thing, Pyra deflated in disbelief.

How could anyone be so strong?

Lancelot regarded her thoughtfully, as if seeing her for more than an irritating object for the first time. Then the grim look settled across his features again and he stalked forward, only to be met with another barrage of attacks from Galic, Azur, and Dunk. With what was surely Galic's instruction, the three of them aimed at nearby buildings and columns, dropping the heavy marble onto Lancelot and filling the ruined streets with thick black smoke and dust.

"Go! Pyra!" Galic howled. Pyra fought to her feet and sprinted into the dust towards him. She didn't dare look back over her shoulder, fearing what she'd see. But with her body aching and exhausted, she followed Galic into the gloom and left the wreckage of her mission behind.

==\=/==

Chess Kingdom
Royal Palace, Bunker


Galic grimaced as he finally allowed himself a moment to let down his guard. He sagged against the wall and slid to a seat against the smooth granite floor. His every joint ached, his ears were still ringing, and he still tasted blood in his mouth. He steadied his breathing and took a glance around the room, letting his senses acclimate and regather his bearings.

While most of the Chess Kingdom was allied staunchly with the Royal Knights, a small faction of the Royal Family -- Lucia's family -- remained supportive of the Council and Lucia's efforts to bring the matter to a peaceful resolution. Lucia was family and that trumped any grander politicking. Their allies in the Chess Kingdom Royal Family had managed to find them shelter in a long-forgotten bunker after they had stumbled weary and ragged across their borders.

It was a bit much for a bunker. The ceilings were low, but Galic attributed that to the smaller size of the Chessmon royalty and the fact that it was, well...a bunker. A number of modest (at least by royal family standards) canopied beds stood against the eastern wall. A large oak table sat in the center of the room, with enough space for eight average-size Ultimate Chessmon to sit comfortably. The western wall held a space for a kitchen and a fully stocked pantry, while the north wall had a clean-burning fireplace built into it.

Galic didn't quite see the point of a fireplace in a bunker but wasn't about to complain. He shifted closer and allowed the heat to work its way into his tired and aching body. He rubbed at his chest, where he felt a massive bruise forming underneath the fur. He wouldn't be surprised if he was all bruise by the morning.

Azur and Dunk were already foraging through the kitchen and pantry -- or rather, Dunk was foraging and tossing bundles of food to Azur, who was desperately trying to keep up with his more energetic older brother.

"How do you have this much energy still?" he heard Azur ask in exhausted disbelief, struggling to hold and balance the food Dunk kept handing to him. He'd try to find a place to set the items down, only for Dunk to load up his arms with more food, throw off his balance, and send him swerving through the kitchen to catch up.

"Gotta eat, Azur!" Dunk said merily, shifting through the cupboards as he did. "Did you see any fish? I've been craving fish all week."

"Why would they have fish in a bunker, Dunk?" Azur asked.

"So we can eat it!" Dunk said, not pausing in his exploration.

"It doesn't keep very well," Azur said.

"It would if it were canned," Dunk said.

"Do you really want to eat canned fish?" Azur asked. He finally managed to set the tower of food on the central table.

Dunk stopped his foraging. "Hmm," he mused thoughtfully. "I've never tried it. It can't be that bad, it's still fish."

"In a can," Azur grumbled.

"Don't be so glum, little brother!" Dunk cheered, almost dancing over to the table, where he deposited the last armload of food.

"You're maybe four minutes older than me," Azur said with a frown.

"Yes, and don't you forget it," Dunk said with a wide smile. Azur smirked despite himself, and the sight set Galic a little bit more at ease. It was familiar, comfortable; an argument as old as time and as harmless as a summer breeze.

"I'm glad to see someone still has their spirits up," said Justin, sitting down in front of the fireplace on one of the many plush woven carpets. He spread his hands towards the fire -- both hands, now that he'd been allowed to regenerate by reverting to his Ultimate level. The SuperStarmon's sunglasses flickered in the light, but despite the glowing flames, everything about him seemed dulled, from the sharpness of his star-shaped body, to the colors of his clothes.

"Dunk's positivity 'as always been...indomitable," Galic said after a thoughtful moment. He spared a glance over to his two pupils, who were busy dividing up the food between themselves and the rest of their squad. Dunk spoke loudly and non-stop and moved with a frenetic energy; while Azur spoke hardly at all and moved with a thoughtful slowness. But Galic knew; it would take maybe a few minutes, but Dunk's energy was infectious, and soon Azur would be moving with the same wild speed and smirking despite all his efforts otherwise.

"Speaking of 'indomitable,' how are you holding up, Sir Galic?" Justin asked, glancing sideways.

Galic frowned, ill at ease with Justin's choice of titles. He was hardly "Sir" anything; he was a nomad and a wanderer and a sometimes-good-samaritan. But certainly no "Sir." Justin's formal speech only made Galic more aware of his rough brogue. Though to Justin's credit, he didn't seem to hold any prejudice against him.

"I imagine I suffered least o' everyone 'ere," Galuc muttered.

"Perhaps," Justin mused. "But I saw the blow you took in my defense. Cracked all the way through you like Keranos's lightning. You took a blow that would have ended my life, Sir Galic. I am in your debt."

"I'm sure you'll 'ave plenty opportunity to repay 'de favor," Galic said, staring into the fire.

"T'was a bold move venturing this far inland," Justin said, not bothering to hide the admiration in his voice. Still, Galic heard the undertone of skepticism; the lingering suspicion that Galic's strategy of heading through enemy territory was not as well thought out as the results would suppose.

"I'd rather slep past Greystone's lumberin' sentries 'dan try t'evade 'de Royal Knights through 'de rest o' Olympia," Galic said with a practiced shrug of nonchalance.

Justin was right to be suspicious. It was a split-second decision on Galic's part to flee into the Sea of Monsters rather than down the coast towards Akros. Even if Lancelot was being truthful about strategy "not being his strong-suit," that was far too obvious of a move. Once they'd made it through the archipelago and into Theros propper their options were to either flee north through the desert towards Amonkhet or backtrack south across the sea again towards the Savage Lands.

But in the dead of night, Galic had no way of knowing how far behind them the Royal Knights' forces were. If they were spotted out in the open desert they'd never escape, and the harsh environment would be too difficult to traverse quickly with their injuries. Themiscyra would be much more likely to offer aid, but their presence there would risk drawing another nation into open conflict with the Royal Knights.

That left the Grey Mountains and Greystone. It would be a much more difficult target for the Royal Knights to engage in battle, and -- as Galic assumed at the time -- as likely to aid them as Themiscyra.

But they'd been mistaken. In the few hours since first leaving Axis Mundi, Greystone had renounced its allegiance to the Council and the Tamers, and declared its support for the Royal Knights. In a way this was a blessing in disguise; it was easier to evade the Greystone patrols than it was to evade the Royal Knights in pursuit, and the change of allegiance made their journey through Greystone even less likely.

Galic had spent a few hours covering their tracks through the mountains as Dunk and Azur led the others ahead, Pyra and Justin still holding Khep between them. He'd come-to only just before crossing into the Chess Kingdom.

Their evasion and successful escape had been entirely dependent on how strategically-minded Lancelot really was.

"Still, a bold move if I ever saw one," Justin pointed out.

"I didn't want to say," said Pyra. She made her way over to them from where she'd lain Khep down and bandaged his wounds. He'd taken far more punishment than the rest of them; the full force of Lancelot's cannon blast. Pyra slumped against the wall beside Galic, not even bothering to move closer to the fire. "I didn't want to jinx anything."

"It's good to be wary," Galic said with a slow nod. "But not to 'de point of lettin' it stop you from speakin'. If you 'ad doubts, you should've spoken. You're our leader after all."

Pyra grumbled something unintelligible and probably self-deprecating under her breath. "How could you be sure Lancelot wouldn't see through that?" she asked.

"I wasn't, but I suspected 'e wouldn't," said Galic with a slight wrinkling of his brow. At Pyra's shocked look, he continued. "I doubt 'e's ever 'ad to give very much thought to 'is strategy. Just blast through anything in 'is way. Did you see de look 'e gave us? 'E was going through de motions. 'E only started payin' attention when Pyra Digivolved and 'it 'im."

"So you chose the most complicated path," Pyra acknowledged with a nod. "The one he was least likely to anticipate."

"'De mind's a muscle just like anythin' else," Galic said sagely, with the same tone he explained things to Dunk and Azur in. "If you're not keeping it strong you begin to lose definition." He sobered quickly and glanced to where Khep lay in the bed. "How's 'e doin'?"

"Fine. I think," Pyra muttered. "Just wish he'd be a bit more cooperative."

"He's a difficult sort of folk, that one," Justin agreed with a tired nod.

"He can hear you too," Khep grumbled from the bed.

Pyra sighed. "It's...it's not easy. And I have no idea how or why I was chosen for this," she muttered.

"I don't mean to cause trouble, my Lady, but did you not volunteer?" Justin asked..

"That's not what I mean," she said, flushing in embarrassment. "I mean...bigger picture. How did I let myself get involved?"

"Best not to worry too much on 'de 'ows' or 'whys' of 'de past," Galic said with a kind smile. "You're doin' well, especially for one who 'ad never fought alongside any o' us before."

Pyra sighed, in a way that told Galic she didn't quite agree with his assessment. But she didn't press the issue anymore. She gave him and Justin a pair of nods before heading off to one of the nearby beds across from Khep. Justin grunted his agreement and then lay himself out on the plush carpeting.

Galic glanced over to his students only to find Dunk splayed out on the floor, unconscious, with a half-eaten loaf of bread still in his grasp; and Azur curled up alongside him. The old dog sighed; he briefly considered staying awake to keep watch, but before the thought even finished forming in his head, he felt his eyes begin to close, and resigned himself to sleep.

==\=/==

Despite her weariness, Pyra lay wide awake in bed. Surrendering to sleep felt all too similar to surrendering to the dragon. And what good had that even done her? All that power, everything she'd spent the last two years so afraid of, so overwhelmed by...Lancelot threw that aside like it was nothing.

"Still up?" Khep grunted from the nearby bed. The fire had begun burning low, little more than coals and embers. Dunk snored on the other side of the room. She didn't answer the insect mercenary, she just lay still and steadied her breathing. "Yeah, me too." He took a beat. "Keep running that fight over and over in my head. I think I dreamed it a hundred times while they were carrying me here."

Silence settled between them.

"You know, you're really bad at pretending to be asleep," Khep said. She heard the blankets of his bed shift as he moved. She could picture him pulling himself to the edge of the bed and staring at her. "You're too obvious. Too stiff. It's not natural."

"I didn't ask for your advice," she said in a half-whisper, half-snarl. She pulled the covers tighter over herself. "Some of us are trying to sleep."

"Nah, you're torturing yourself just like me," Khep countered calmly. Flippantly. Pyra grit her teeth in frustration. Gods, he was infuriating. Though he wouldn't be half as infuriating if he weren't right about her most of the time. "You're running through that fight, too. Wondering how he beat you so quickly. So easily."

"I know exactly how he beat me," Pyra said, struggling to maintain her composure. She held her voice evenly, hoping to sound convincing.

"Oh? Enlighten me?" Khep chuckled.

Pyra grunted and rolled over to face him. She swung her feet off the edge of her bed and fought the urge to glare at him. Everything about him screamed "bad news." The kind of bad news that they taught you to keep away from in Valeron. Low class, criminal, without honor or decency. Even his reasons for fighting alongside her were entirely selfish.

"All my life I've tried to do the right thing," Pyra admitted, unable to stop herself. When Khep rolled his eye, she ignored him. "But not just the 'right' thing - not morally. The 'correct' thing. The correct way to carry myself; to act, to behave."

"What's the difference?" Khep asked, but Pyra knew it was rhetorical. "You're a goody-goody. Big surprise."

"It's more than that," Pyra insisted. The Way of Valeron was hard to explain unless you were born into it and had it drilled into you your entire life. Her time spent in the outside world had given her some wider perspective, but she still struggled to explain. "Moral right is like saying 'it's right to brush your teeth.' Correct -- "

"You're saying brushing your teeth is a question of morals now?" Khep stifled a derisive laugh.

"Shut up and listen," Pyra snapped. "Right is saying it's right to brush your teeth. But correct is saying brush your teeth with a toothbrush and toothpaste." Khep stared at her blankly. "Don't give me that look. It's hard to explain."

"Maybe you're just not good at explaining it."

"It's a bad example but it's simple so I figured even you could follow along," Pyra hissed, still purposefully quiet so as not to wake the others. "Correct is doing things in a way that contributes value to society." Khep gave an almost-imperceptible nod, before stopping himself and sliding the mask of confusion back on his face. It was almost too subtle for Pyra to notice...almost.

"Violence is wrong," Pyra said.

"Says you," Khep muttered.

"Says everyone," Pyra insisted. "That's why we don't go around killing children or slaughtering villages for fun. But sometimes violence is necessary. Would you agree with that?"

"You want my opinion?" Khep asked.

"No I want a simple yes-or-no answer," Pyra sighed.

"Sure. Yes. Violence is sometimes necessary," Khep sneered out the words. "Can wrong be fun though?" he mocked.

"Fun is subjective," Pyra groaned.

"So is morality," Khep said.

"No it isn't," Pyra countered. And Khep fell silent. "You can do the wrong thing in the correct way and still contribute to society," Pyra said. "That's what I'm trying to say."

"Then why bother with all the fancy analogies?" Khep wondered, throwing up his hands in exasperation, but wincing in pain as he did. "Just say that." Pyra glared at him and ground her teeth. "How about the opposite? Can you do the right thing in the incorrect way and still contribute?"

"You mean, I dunno...like...fighting to save some humans but only doing so because the authorities promised you a reduced sentence if you did? No," Pyra answered. "The way you do something must be correct for it to be of the Way."

"What does this have to do with why you're still up?"

"The Way has very specific codes of conduct," Pyra explained. She folded her hands together and leaned forward. Her shoulders slumped and she bowed her head in shame. "What I did...that's not of the Way."

"And what was it that you did?" Khep asked with a shrug.

Pyra gave him a quizzical glance, then remembered that he'd been unconscious until just a few hours ago. "Oh, right. You were out of it, huh."

"Yep. Sure. Rub that in," Khep murmured. "Definitely not a sore subject for me."

"Sorry," Pyra muttered.

"So?"

"I Digivolved," she answered with a half-groan. "Into a dragon." She stared down at the ground for a long moment, waiting for Khep's response. But when he said nothing she dared to look up at him. He wore a strangely concerned look.

"I...I uh...I hate to tell you this," Khep said, looking suddenly very unsure of himself. "But you're already a dragon. Man, how hard did he hit you?"

"It's not the dragon itself that -- No," Pyra groaned. "That's not -- it was the way that I digivolved. What I became after. I didn't become a warrior, or a knight, or a soldier, or anything noble. That thing that I became -- that I've tried to control for so long -- was wild and vicious and untamed. I did the right thing in the wrong way."

"So it would've been more right -- sorry -- 'correct' for you to let yourself and us die?" Khep wondered incredulously. "That's...that's idiotic."

"Of course you wouldn't understand, you're a barbarian," Pyra said without thinking, then caught herself. "No, I didnt --"

"Wow. Okay, sure not rude at all," Khep muttered. "How 'correct' was that?"

"Sorry," Pyra sighed. "It's been a long time since I called someone that. I didn't mean it."

"Well, one, that's a lie," Khep counted off on his fingers. "But, two, that's irrelevant. The reason you can't control that dragon whatever-it-is that you're having so much trouble with? It's because you got all this 'Way' and 'correct' bullsh!t up in your head. And that dragon you've got in there," he pointed at the center of her chest. "That dragon doesn't give two sh!ts about any of that."

"How would you know?" Pyra all but snapped.

"Which of us has dealt with more feral Digimon, huh?" Khep challenged. "Unpucker and listen to my analogy and you might learn something. That dragon doesn't care about that stuff."

"Now you see my problem then," Pyra sighed, deflating.

"No -- damn, girl, it's not the end of the world," Khep said disbelievingly. "It just means you gotta come at it from a different angle. Stop trying to get that wild dragon to come up to you, and go down into the mud and see what she wants. Meet her on her level."

"That would not be of the Way," Pyra muttered.

"Well then maybe you're wrong about that, too," Khep said. "Because it sounds like you're only looking at things minute-to-minute and not considering the long-term implications of doing the little things 'correctly.'"

"No, that's...wait," Pyra said, as Khep's words sunk in. "How did --"

"Now, thank you for talking about all this stuff with me," Khep said with a yawn, rolling back under the covers. "Because that was insanely boring and it's putting me right to sleep."

And just like that, he was out, and Pyra was left sitting bolt upright in her bed, staring at the sleeping back of the criminal, insect, mercenary, thug who -- with a single sentence -- had just pulled the entire foundation out of everything she thought she'd believed.
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
Axis Mundi
Hall of the Council
Two Days Ago


Adriana watched the closed doors of the Council's chambers. A quick shared glance between herself, Drakn, and Odric was all they needed to decline the archangel's call to action and step outside. From the looks of things, they weren't the only ones; a larger contingent remained on their side of the closed doors than inside with the Council.

For her, the decision had been easy; too many volatile individuals on the other side of that door. The archangel Michael, two sons of Odin, a handful of Rookie Digimon and their human partners, and what she could only describe as a smattering of mercenaries. She could deal with that well enough, but it was the Apollomon -- she'd seen him in action the night before at the tavern -- and an honest-to-God demon that made her skin crawl. Not just a demonic-species Digimon, but a real demon. A fallen angel. She'd never encountered one before, but had heard enough stories to know what he was...to know how he made her feel when he strode into that room.

Like she was facing a roaring inferno while icewater rolled down her back. It made her sick to her stomach. Whatever the madness of the Royal Knights, she couldn't face it among that group. She could hear their bickering from the other side of the door.

"So we all agree that those guys are..." Odric trailed off thoughtfully, carefully considering the right words.

"Screwed," said a nearby TigerVespamon. He leaned against one of the many massive columns that supported the Council's domed hall, shifting uncomfortably. He fidgeted, drumming his fingers across his palms, tapping his foot, and rolling his head side to side, like he was filled with a tremendous amount of nervous energy.

The Gaiomon beside him let out a small sigh of frustrated embarrassment, but noticeably didn't move to correct him.

"That was awfully crass of you, Trowa," a QueenChessmon scolded. She wagged an admonishing finger his way. Only then did the Gaiomon make a more open display of disapproval, and gave Trowa a pointed look.

"Oh, c'mon, everyone's thinking it," he protested. "'s why we're all out here instead of in there with prince charming and an actual archangel!"

"Then why haven't you left altogether?" asked a Paildramon. Adriana turned to face her. She stood off to the side on her own, arms crossed, looking over this gathered group carefully. Her question wasn't accusatory or spiteful; just a genuine question.

The TigerVespamon seemed caught off guard by the question. He stammered for a moment, scratching his head in embarrassment, and glancing back and forth between the Gaiomon and the QueenChessmon. The Gaiomon shrugged helplessly and the QueenChessmon nodded confidently.

So the three of them knew each other quite well then.

"Well it's not because I'm all that big on humans, or anything. I don't really care," Trowa began, clearly forcing ambivalence. Then he stammered. "But, well...Lucia's kinda in charge, between the three of us...and...uhrrr..."

"They're my vassals. And I don't believe that we should stand idly by while this world falls to madness and extremism," the QueenChessmon said proudly, straightening herself and almost-posing. "Lucia Almehada. This is Duo Greyclaw and Trowa Mithra." She motioned to the two Digimon beside her.

"Pyra Torren," the Paildramon said with a polite, shallow bow and salute of her arm across the chest.

"Wait, Lucia Almehada?" Drakn asked, turning to the QueenChessmon. "Of the Chess Kingdom Royal Family?" Lucia nodded stately. "What brings you so far up north?"

Adriana rolled her eyes -- sometimes Drakn had the tact of a thrown brick. Still, it was a good question. If she remembered right, Lucia was fourth in line for the High Throne. Someone of that rank should've been learning courtly manners and how to rule, not fighting battles against the Royal Knights.

"You mean, so far outside the Chess Kingdom?" Lucia corrected knowingly. "I left the Chess Kingdom some time ago. I believe there's more to the outside world that I should know, regardless of whether I rule or not."

Drakn nodded, the way he did when sizing someone up and slowly acknowledging their worthiness; jaw locked, brow furrowed, and his eyes never leaving yours.

Oh, brother, Adriana only just stopped herself from sighing. Despite all his accolades, some social nuances were still just a bit out of his grasp. He was an inspiring commander -- more so than she'd ever be; and a terrific warrior -- though he'd never beaten her, but he was still her awkward little brother.

"Drakn Stormheart," he said, extending his hand. He seemed to remember midway through the motion that he was addressing royalty, and stopped awkwardly, his hand half-outstretched. He slowly pulled his hand back, but then Lucia stepped forward with a chuckle and gave him a quick high-five.

If Drakn was stunned before, a high-five from Chessmon royalty completely floored him. He stared at Lucia slack-jawed, completely at a loss for words as she smiled happily.

Adriana burst out laughing. "I like you," she said with a grin. Lucia returned it, and then offered her hand for a high-five.

"Adriana Stormheart," she introduced herself.

Lucia's grin faltered for a moment, before she forced it back up. "Oh, you and he…" she glanced pointedly at her brother. "It's um...wonderful? That a couple like yourselves fight together and --"

This time it was Odric's turn to laugh, and he doubled over. Adriana's own mood fell at the sound of it. Odric's laugh was a harsh and hollow one. Not angry or mocking, but it carried with it all of his self-loathing, where even in his happiest moments, he never let go of that pain.

"Siblings," Adriana explained gently as Odric struggled to get the word out between bouts of laughter. She frowned at him. That was rude. "And this idiot is Odric Stern."

"Oh," Lucia stood straighter, and the explanation seemed to put her at ease. "It's a pleasure to meet you all."

"Nyeehh well I haven't said anything since we all started talking, and I find that entirely unacceptable," droned a pitched, nasally voice. A Puppetmon strode forward, flanked on either side by a frog-like Shawjamon and a massive HerculesKabuterimon. The huge beetle Digimon absolutely dwarfed every other Digimon standing there...possibly even all of them together. Adriana hadn't even noticed the other two with him in the way.

"Something to add?" Pyra asked.

"Ehhhh," the Puppetmon shrugged. "I just wanted all'a ya to quit yer yappin'."

"HOHOHO!" the HerculesKabuterimon laughed, with a great booming voice. "Nocchi is just mad that we slept through the fighting."

"Nyeh. We didn't sleep through anything!" Nocchi snapped, wheeling on his companion. He glared up at the towering insect. "You slept through it. Sha was snoring all night keeping me awake. And when I finally managed to get some sleep no one else bothered to get us up!"

"Cha-haw-haw! That's what Gigas said," the Shawjamon chuckled loudly. "Too bad we missed it though. I bet we would've won if we were there."

"You think so?" Pyra asked with a raised brow. Adriana was similarly skeptical. This Gigas, sure, she could see the benefit of having him in a fight. But the other two? "Nocchi, Gigas, and Sha, was it?"

"Nyehehe! You betcha!" Nocchi declared proudly, hoisting his hammer over his shoulder. "We're the perfect team. I'm the brains, Gigas is the brawns."

Adriana waited a beat for him to continue, but he just stood there, beaming. "What about Sha?"

"What about him?" Nocchi asked.

"What's Sha in all that?" Duo asked, picking up on the thread.

"A frog. A Shawjamon," Gigas answered. He glanced back and forth from Sha to the others. "Have you...have you never seen one before?"

"Cha-haw haw! I'm the looks!" Sha exclaimed. He leaned against his polearm. "I'm also the charming, likeable, funny one."

"Nyeh, Gigas is plenty likable," Nocchi countered.

"That's true, I like a lot of things," Gigas said, nodding sagely. Then he stopped suddenly and his gaze lingered on a nearby Lilymon. "Helloooo." He stepped towards her.

"Uh, me?" the Lilymon looked around just to be sure. "Hi?"

"Down boy," Nocchi admonished his huge counterpart. He wove a complex series of motions with his fingers and pulled, jerking Gigas back a step. "You're scaring the poor girl."

That in itself raised a few eyebrows. It was an impressive-yet-casual feat.

"Nocchi, what's she got t'be scared about?" Gigas frowned.

"Seriously?" Nocchi asked, he wove his fingers again and seemed to release Gigas from his control. "Yer a giant bug and yer lookin at her like she's the main course."

"No!" Gigas exclaimed, turning to the Lilymon with a worried look on his face. "I don't wanna eat you, I promise. I just--I think you're pretty."

"Oh!" the Lilymon blushed.

"Wow. Smooth," Nocchi muttered in embarrassment.

Adriana was wrong. There was someone with less social tact with women than her brother.

"Um...Thank you," The Lilymon said, still furiously red. "I'm Ivy."

"Seriously?" Nocchi muttered. "Little on the nose with that."

"Cha-haw! You're one to talk, Strings. Cha-haw!" Sha laughed teasingly.

"I'm Gigas," the huge bug boomed. He extended his hand and gently shook Ivy's much smaller one. "And this is Sha, and Nocchi, and Peera, and Dragon, and Lucy, and Trowa, and Dodo, and Andy, and...bird...face…" His face fell a little as he thought it through. "I don't think I got all of those right."

"Meh, close enough," said Trowa with a shrug.

"Well that's because he didn't call you 'bird face'," Odric grumbled.

"Why would he call me 'bird face'?"

"You know what I mean!" Odric snapped.

"Eh-hem. Befahre dis gets any mahre ooeht o' 'and," said a MachGaogamon. He was older than the rest of them, graying around the temples, eyes, and snout. Behind him stood a pair of younger Digimon, a WereGarurumon and a Cerberumon X. "Perhaps intrahdoehctions are in ahrder."

Adriana did a double-take, struggling to adjust to the Digimon's rough brogue.

"I'm Galic. Galic Loupahcoure," the MachGaogamon introduced himself. He motioned to the two Digimon behind him. "Dese are me students, Azoehr and Doehnk Schattenlecht."

"I'm Dunk!" the Cerberumon exclaimed cheerfully. Unexpectedly so. The only Cerberumon Adriana had ever come across were all grim or sadistic b@stards. He sprang forward and waved to the group. He grabbed the WereGarurumon and hauled him forward by his arm. "This is my little brother Azur."

"We're twins," Azur deadpanned, shrugging out of Dunk's grasp. He seemed uncomfortable being the center of attention, like he wanted to fade into the background.

"Yes," Dunk said. "And I'm the older twin."

"Do you have to bring that up every time we meet people?" Azur grumbled. "They don't care."

"Well I think it's important for them to know. Especially if we're going to be working together," Dunk protested. "It gives them a better sense of who we are so we can work together better!"

"How is that relevant?"

"Well, obviously as the much older brother--"

"MUCH?!"

"I'm more confident, and open, and speak my mind more," Dunk said. "And as the little brother, you're much better at...listening? Yes. Listen--oh!" Dunk's attention snapped away and he all but leaped towards a VictoryGreymon that had remained sulkily-quiet in the background the whole time. "Azur, look at his sword! It's huge!" He raced over, practically dancing on his feet. "Can we see it!?"

The VictoryGreymon all but recoiled and held the sword protectively to his chest. "Uhmmm."

"Doehnk, leave 'im alahne," Galic ordered

"But--" Dunk frowned, at a loss for words, before turning back to the dragon. "Sorry. I just...I thought it was pretty cool."

"Uhm...thanks," the VictoryGreymon said. He rubbed his neck and shifted on his feet, clearly embarrassed. "I'm Rhys."

"I'm Dunk! Dunkelheit. That's my full name. But you can call me 'Dunk' if you want. Everyone else does," the Cerberumon said in a single breath. "That sword is really cool though. Is it heavy? It looks heavy. You must be really strong."

"You're the one who went with Lord Heliod to Greystone," Drakn said with a nod.

Rhys nodded. "We weren't able to capture the Royal Knights or anything like that, but," he sighed, as if a weight had been lifted. "Greystone isn't joining them any time soon at least."

"s'that home?" Azur asked, and Rhys nodded.

"Wow, you're from Greystone?" Dunk exclaimed. "We're from Wolfhal!"

"We are?" Azur asked.

"You are?" asked Galic.

"Well, we could be, right?" Dunk proposed. "We'd fit right in! But," he turned to Rhys, hopping back and forth on the balls of his feet. "Y'see Azur and I were orphaned when we were really young. Well. I was young. He was much younger, y'see, but we didn't know where home was. But then we found Galic...or he found us...I think that's the way it went...and then we didn't have any home because Galic is a nomad, which means he wanders a lot. But it's not wandering like 'oh I don't know where I'm going,' it's more wandering because they don't like sitting still in one place, which I don't really understand even though Azur says I should, and I --"

"Doehnk, easy," Galic said, making a placating gesture with both hands. The younger Digimon straightened to attention and nodded.

"Holy sh*tballs we're all gonna die," Nocchi muttered, with none of his flair or confidence.

"I like him," Trowa said. "We're definitely dying, but he'll be fun at least."

"Were you at Camelot?" Adriana asked, looking to Galic for the answer.

"We were--" Galic began

"We were at the Chess Kingdom!" Dunk exclaimed excitedly. "With Lords Erebos and Mogis. Have you ever seen Lord Erebos fight? It's the coolest thing I've ever seen. They say he was once a Cerberumon like me, too, and I really really want to Digivolve into Plutomon, but I can't, but I can turn into BlackMetalGarurumon, which is almost as cool, because I get to fly and shoot missiles--"

"Everyone gets missiles but me," Trowa grumbled.

"And that's really cool, too, but the cape and the armor that Lord Erebos has are really really cool and I'm hoping, one day, fingers crossed, that I learn to Digivolve into Plutomon, too."

Dunk said all of this in what seemed like a single, uninterrupted breath.

"Doehnk, I believe she was askin me. and what 'ave I said abooeht interroehptin?" said Galic, in a soft, parenting sort of way.

"It's rude," Dunk sighed, sagging his shoulders in defeat.

"I appreciated the information," Adriana said with a soft smile. The young Digimon's energy level was a bright spot after what felt like sheer hopelessness.

"Oh, anytime," Dunk said cheerfully, his low mood erased in the blink of an eye. "I know things, a lot of things. Everyone always thinks Azur knows the most because he's quiet and brooding. And it works for him, but what I think is that he's just not very confident in himself on account of being the little brother, so he's afraid to speak his mind, but I'm a lot more outgoing so I talk with more Digimon and I learn more about them."

"Dunk," Azur admonished pointedly through gritted teeth.

"We were at de Chess Kingdom, as Dunk says," Galic continued. Adriana was beginning to have a better grasp of Galic's accent. "We dedn't get involved directly wit de Royal Knights, but we tried to keep damage to a minimum."

"And?" Lucia asked cautiously. Galic shrugged helplessly. "How could they side with the Knights? There...there was never any of this hatred of humans. I just don't understand it."

"The Chess Kingdom only united under the Pax Perpetua in the last ten years or so, right?" Drakn asked Lucia. She shrugged, but nodded. "Allying with the Royal Knights is the safest course to maintaining that peace. It was Sir Galahad that brokered it, after all." Adriana saw him grimace and look down.

They all remained silent for a few moments, that awkward tension filled the air.

"They did a lot of good," Rhys said, speaking softly. He was not at all like the other Greymon she knew, who seemed to work hard at being loud. "Everyone seems to be forgetting that. Before all of this...they were my--I mean--our heroes."

"You didn't see what Sir Caradoc did at Camelot," Odric said. His voice held a hard edge that made Rhys flinch. "All of them really. Heroes...they don't act like that. They don't lay waste to retreating armies. Those are not the Royal Knights we spent our lives hearing about."

"Do you think they're imposters?" Rhys asked, his eyes wide. There was a strange note of desperation in his voice. "They said there was a Metamormon at the Chess Kingdom. Do you think…"

"Not with that kind of power," Odric said, shaking his head. "Not with the way they moved and fought. You can't mimic that."

If possible, it seemed that Rhys deflated even more.

"Well, Valeron was convinced to reject their alliance," Pyra interjected.

"That's surprising," Adriana mused.

"Why?" Pyra looked almost offended. "Their actions fly in the face of everything Valeron stands for and believes. Wholesale outright war? For something that could be easily determined in a hall or between champions? That's not of the Way."

"You're from Valeron," Adriana said. She hadn't meant it as an accusation or a condemnation of the nation.

Pyra nodded. "I was present when both contingents arrived," she said. "You can imagine what kind of spectacle that was." She sighed. "We thought things would be civil. But they spiraled so quickly."

"What do you think Halcyon and Acheron will do?" Adriana asked, quick to change the subject.

Pyra shrugged. "Who knows. Relations with Halcyon have improved in recent years, but…" she trailed off, shrugging again. "And Acheron? I don't understand them at all."

"They're all about 'ambition,' right?" Drakn asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

Pyra nodded. "It makes them notoriously difficult to understand or predict," she said. "It's entirely dependent on what their king wants at any given moment."

Adriana frowned; that was an overly simplistic way of looking at it. She hadn't studied the individual courts as much as Drakn had, but she knew enough about Digimon in general to know Pyra's description was based more on bias than in fact. Still, it was their best guess."

That was disappointing altogether.

"Hold!" shouted a voice from above. With a flourish and a flash of navy and red, a form dropped from the sky and landed in a crouch. Everyone was on their guard an instant later, except for Adriana, who had already sped up her reaction time and determined that the new arrival wasn't a threat.

He was a Justimon, his right arm clad in shimmering steel and polished to an almost-obnoxious luster. His red muffler fluttered in the ever-present breeze of the Council's Hall. He stood from his crouch and pointed an accusing finger towards Duo.

"Duo Greyclaw!" he declared. "Aha! I found you at last!"

"What?" Duo asked, flustered, and clearly at a loss. "Justin? Is that you?"

"Of course it's me!" the Justimon's stance faltered and he stomped his foot in frustration. "I'm your greatest rival! Who else would it be?"

"Maybe some other 'creatively-named' Digimon," Nocchi muttered.

"Cha-haw, ok 'Pinnochio'," Sha laughed.

"You already made that joke today!" Nocchi hissed at his comrade. "The humans make it all the time. I don't get it!"

"I was worried about you," Justin said, striking a pose again and pointing towards Duo. "My great rival was going into battle with the Royal Knights. I wondered if we'd meet on the field of battle, on opposing sides. But then I learned that we were on the same side! And what better way to determine, finally, which of us is the greater warrior than by--"

"Justin, I'm not doing this with you right now," Duo sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'm not having this conversation with someone who dropped out of the sky to yell at me."

"Why, because you're scared?" Justin challenged.

"No, because this isn't a commercial for breakfast cereal," Trowa teased.

"You're just jealous!" Justin shot back.

"Mr. Justin, what are you doing here?" Adriana asked, hoping to cut the conversation short.

"It's Syr Justin," he corrected. "Justicar of Halcyon."

"Really?" Nocchi shouted, looking around in disbelief. "No one else is gonna say something about this? It's just me? I'm the only one that thinks this is too on the nose? Justin the justicar Justimon from Justiceberg?"

"I think he said 'Halcyon.' You really need to listen better, Nocchi," Gigas chided.

"Let's take a beat here," Drakn said. He took a moment and looked around. "Is everyone here for the same thing? We're all looking to continue this fight, right?" A smattering of nods and a cheer from Dunk answered. "Then we need to do this smart."

"The Council is clearly favoring the other group," Adriana pointed out, knowing they were all thinking it. "It has pedigree and there are humans in that group. It represents more."

"Nyeh, I don't like playing second string," Nocchi grumbled.

"This could work to our advantage though," Drakn countered. "With the Royal Knights focused on that other group, the 'Guardians,' we'll be free to move around with less in our way. There's more of us. We can cover more ground. Protect more people."

"There's sixteen of us. That is a lot to handle," Odric pointed out. "A lot of personality."

"And with that, I make my entrance," said a new voice, soft and mocking.

Adriana all but jumped out of her skin in surprise. She hadn't heard anyone sneak up, hadn't felt the wind shift as they made their way towards her. But someone was suddenly just there as if he'd appeared in the middle of them.

A Piedmon stood in their midst as if he'd always been there. He stood regally, with his arms crossed behind his back and an amused expression on his face, as if he relished in the opportunity to frighten them.

"A Digimon falls from the sky and you barely bat an eye, but I speak and you're on pins and needles," the Piedmon feigned insult. "I don't know whether to be hurt or flattered."

"Nyeh, and who the hell are you?" Nocchi asked.

"Loki Odinson," he said with a sweeping bow.

"Shouldn't you be in there with the Council and your brother?" Pyra asked warily.

Loki waved her off. "Oh, posh. For all they know I still am," he said. "No, I caught wind of your little gathering out here and wanted to see if we could be of use to one another."

"In what way?" Drakn asked.

"Well, clearly the Council will be backing the 'Guardians' publicly, what with my brother, and the archangel, and the humans, and the son of Iroas all involved. And there's that demon, and he's going to be a real stick in their craw." Loki answered. "But it occurred to me that it couldn't hurt to have more...agents in the field."

"We shouldn't trust him," Odric said. "Everyone in Asgardia knows stories about Loki."

"And I can assure you that most of those stories are underreported," Loki said with a smirk. "But I see no reason why we can't work together when our interests align."

"And what interests are those?" Lucia asked.

"Do you see where we are?" Loki asked.

"We're at --" Gigas began.

"Rhetorical," Loki cut in. "I'm seated at the right hand of the Council. I'm finally making something of my life outside the shadow of Asgard. Thor is off in his own little world puttering about. Everything I have now, I have earned. And I wish to keep it, but dear Galahad has decided to start shaking things up just as I get settled. And I have no interest in being an observer to another's shakeup."

"And what do you want us to do?" Drakn asked.

"I want you to do exactly what you were planning to do," Loki answered with a wave. "Except with official approval and support from the Council's…generous coffers."

"You mean we'd be getting paid?" Trowa asked. "In money?"

"Do mercenaries not get paid where you're from?" Loki asked.

"We're no mercenaries," Justin said adamantly. "And I refuse to be treated as such."

"Speak for yourself," Trowa mumbled.

"Fine. Bounty hunters," Loki said. He pointed to Dunk. "He even has the cool outfit for it."

"Azur, he said my outfit was cool!" Dunk exclaimed

"It'd be better if he didn't talk though," said Loki.

"Nyeh, we ain't your bounty hunters," Nocchi declared. He crossed his arms over his chest defiantly.

"It's fine if you don't fit into the same clothes as him. There are a number of costume shops in the Middle district, just get a child's large...medium maybe."

"HOHOHO!"

"I am no one's bounty hunter," Justin said, with somehow even more firmness.

"Soldiers then. Do you not pay soldiers and knights in...wherever you all hail from?" Loki asked. "Do they not eat?"

"Well," Duo began, hesitantly. "He's not...wrong. And it would be good to have some support."

"Exactly," Loki said. "Representing the Council comes with benefits and privileges. And if you're going to do this on your own anyway, why not work together when we all want the same thing?"

There were a number of nods and mutterings of agreement from the large group, though Adriana noticed that Odric remained tight-lipped and motionless, glaring at Loki from behind his visor.

"Excellent," Loki exclaimed. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "You will be our…Avengers..." he trailed off and a sour look crossed his face. "No. Don't like that. Odd connotations there…"

"Maybe just Peacekeepers," Pyra suggested.

"Little late to keep the peace, my dear," Loki said. Then his eyes brightened. "But Peacemakers, yes. I do like that ring. Striving for a peaceful resolution but also not afraid to get your hands dirty if you must. Let's go with that."

"Okay," said Pyra. "And what kind of support can we expect from the Council? Do we have extra troops, supplies, or transportation?"

"No, yes, and yes," Loki answered. "After the debacle at Camelot, the Council is wary of engaging in all-out war with the Royal Knights. That's why we're looking for small, precision teams that we can move quickly and quietly to areas deemed necessary."

"This is not a small group," Lucia noted, glancing around at the assembled sixteen Digimon. "We won't be easy to move quickly or quietly."

"Then might I suggest splitting into smaller, more manageable groups?" Loki asked. "Let's say...three groups of five or six? Doing some basic math here?" Lucia nodded. "Wonderful. I'll let you work that out yourselves. When you're done, let me know. I have assignments for you. Places I'd like some extra boots on the ground." He glanced at Nocchi. "Or clogs. Whichever you prefer."

Then Adriana blinked, and Loki was gone.

"That's eerie, right? I'm not the only one concerned by that?" Trowa asked.

"Oh, I forgot to mention," Loki blinked back into existence and Trowa jumped into the air. "Feel it out, but there are a few more potential Peacemakers down in the holding cells. Some unscrupulous fellows, sure, but good in a fight and probably willing to work off some prison time. I've made arrangements with the captain of the guard to release one or two into your custody if you and they feel up to it. Bye!"

And then he was gone again.

"So. Three groups," Drakn muttered. Adriana could almost hear the gears turning in his head as he glanced over the assembled Digimon. "We're going to want to keep those of us that have worked together...together."

It was fascinating. Drakn could be so inspiring in battle, but regular conversation often had him stumbling over himself. He had delegated most of the personal stuff to her when they served on the Dragonsguard together.

"That's the three of us," Adriana said, motioning to Drakn, herself, and Odric. "The three of you." She gestured to Lucia, Duo, and Trowa. "Our 'nomads'." She looked to Galic, Dunk, and Azur. "And--"

"And the heroes of this entire story! Nyeheheheh!" Nocchi declared proudly. He, Gigas, and Sha posed heroically.

"That leaves the four of us," Pyra said, looking at Justin, Rhys, and Ivy. "Plus whoever joins us from jail." She said this last part with no small amount of disbelief.

"I would be honored to follow a noble lady of Valeron into battle," Justin saluted Pyra and gave a deep bow.

"Lady," Pyra murmured, with a sense of dreaded resignation, low enough that if Adriana wasn't right next to her she wouldn't hear her at all.

"We'll join ye as well," said Galic, volunteering himself and his two students. "I've heard a lot about Valeron, and I'd love to ask you some questions." He nodded to Azur and Dunk. Azur nodded back firmly, and Dunk all but skipped to stand next to Justin.

"We get to be on the team with the superhero!" he cheered.

Justin gave him a dramatic thumbs-up. Pyra nodded, without a trace of hesitation or doubt. She didn't shrink away from the presumption that the others would be joining under her lead.

"Well, Drakn," said Adriana, she gave her younger brother a smirk. "Command is yours."

"Really," Drakn asked with a raised eyebrow. "Not going to fight me for it?"

"Gods, why would I?" Adriana laughed. "Something is going to go catastrophically wrong and I'm definitely not going to be blamed for it."

Drakn shook his head with a chuckle. "Alright then."

"Nyeh, that's a good point," Nocchi mused. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Alright. I don't wanna be responsible for any of ya'. We're with the...what're you, dragons? We're with you two and the bird guy."

Drakn looked from Adriana to the trio of Nocchi, Gigas, and Sha, and then back again. She saw an inner war between his uncertainty and more heroic nature flash briefly across his eyes, before heroism won out. His eyes steeled and he nodded to the three.

Good. They'd be tough to handle, but between herself, Drakn, and Odric, they'd be able to keep things in control.

"I suppose that leaves us then?" Rhys asked, looking from Ivy to Lucia, Duo, and Trowa. "You don't mind right?"

Duo and Trowa looked to Lucia for approval.

"Oh, I guess...me?" she seemed taken aback by the notion, but quickly composed herself and nodded. "Of course. Yes. We would be happy to have you join us."

"I guess your squads get the jailbirds then," Odric deadpanned.

Pyra grimaced, but nodded. "Wouldn't want to insult all the hard work Loki went through to arrange this for us, I guess."

She turned to Lucia. "Why don't we head down and see if anyone's willing to take on a very dangerous, life-threatening mission for the possibility of a reduced sentence."

"We'll check in and see where Loki wanted us. Meet back here in an hour?" Drakn asked. Nods all around. He shrugged helplessly. "Good luck."
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
Axis Mundi
Council Guard Holding Cells


Lucia followed Pyra down into the Council's holding cells. They weren't real dungeons by any stretch; they weren't designed to be permanent cells for prisoners. Those prisons were scattered throughout the countryside. but they were designed to hold unruly lawbreakers. Like the ones they were about to...ask to join them.

She cracked her knuckles in a decidedly unlady-like way, one that would assuredly have earned her a talking-to from one of her etiquette coaches back in the Chess Kingdom. She forced herself to remain mindful of her physicality, of the way she held and carried herself. So she did her best not to let her discomfort show.

Lucia had left the United Chess Kingdom to get away from leading, but somehow she always seemed to find herself in that position. Whether it was with Duo and Trowa as her vassals, or now with an entire squad of fighters she was being asked to lead.

"I didn't know the Council had its own dungeon right here," Trowa muttered. He glanced around nervously. "Don't like the idea of a place like this right underfoot. It's creepy."

"It's more of a drunk-tank than a prison," Pyra said from the front of the group. They followed a Council guard, a lanky Garudamon, down the long stone corridor and banked right. "So unless you're planning on getting into some drunken brawls…"

Trowa said nothing, but grunted in reply.

"We're here, my Lady," the guard bowed and folded his wings. "These are the ones Lord Loki told us to prepare for you." He gestured to the row of cells before them. "Most of them were rounded up after the brawl last night in Lower."

A dozen cells of wrought iron lined the corridor, six on either side. Each of the Digimon within those cells were fitted with an inhibitor, a burnished black metallic wristband that suppressed their abilities and made them no more dangerous than a large Rookie. Some cells were crowded with Digimon; disgruntled, but well behaved. Four or so held two or three Digimon a piece. They stood glowering at the Peacemakers and at one another; barely a few minutes from rowdy. Then there were three cells that held only a single Digimon.

The one closest to the entrance held a languid GrandisKuwagamon. He was shackled at the wrists and ankles, and those shackles were bolted to the floor. He picked idly at his inhibitor band, and didn't spare them even a first glance. A few cells down, a single, burly Gogmamon snored loudly. The last single-occupant cell was at the far end of the hall, and glowed with a strange fire.

"We're not here for brawlers," Pyra said simply. She stepped past the guard and called out in a loud voice. "Anyone here ever been in a fight?" A smattering of grunts answered. "A real fight. Not just a barroom brawl."

"You lot wouldn't know a real fight if it stood across from you and punched you in the face," snarled an angry voice from the glowing cell at the end of the hall. Two clawed hands grasped at the bars and shook them angrily. "Let me out of here and I'll show you. I'll show all of them!"

"Ehh, ya'd do better sittin yer @ss down before ya hurt yerself," drawled a half-awake voice from a cell across the hall from the fiery one. The glowing Digmon thrashed against the bars and cursed up a storm, but the other Digimon just chuckled. "Heh, man that hasn't gotten old all day."

"How about you," Pyra turned to the drawling Digimon, a massive Olegmon. He was scraped up and covered in gashes and bruises from a heck of a brawl, but he lay on the prison cot like it was his second home. "You look like you know your way around a fight."

"Sure do," he said, picking at his nails absently. "Whatsit to ya?"

"We're looking for volunteers," Pyra said louder, announcing it to the whole corridor. "Anyone willing to join us against the Royal Knights."

"Ha!" the Olegmon laughed. "Sh!t, I'm better off waiting this out and paying my fine with a slap on the wrist. And you want me to fight the Royal Knights. Hey, Varg, Khep, you guys hearin' this?"

"Ya put us in the slammer and now you wanna take us out to do what we were gonna do before all this?" a snarling, rasping voice bellowed. Down the corridor a burly, bear-like Callismon snarled against the bars of his cell. "You can piss off."

"Cowards, the lot of you," it was the fiery one again, a BurningGreymon. She tightened her grip on the bars, but seemed to have given up trying to pull them down. "First that Apollomon blowhard starts a brawl and gets out scott free, and now I have to listen to you dither on and on?"

"Sounds like you want out," Lucia said, walking up to the imprisoned Digimon. Duo protested softly, but she ignored him. "What's your name?"

"Get me out and I'll tell you," the BurningGreymon snarled, gnashing her teeth in frustration.

Lucia said nothing. She did nothing. She just stared silently into the other Digimon's eyes. She had seen enough of her siblings throwing tantrums to know when to dig in her heels and when to give them just enough slack to pull themselves up to her level.

"Gah, fine. I'm Radha," she said. "Radha Ahi. Born of Muspelheim. Mine is the blood of Surtur, by Sindr and Ancalagon." She all but bellowed the last few words. Lucia assumed they were names, but had never heard of them before.

"That sounds impressive," Trowa nodded. "I've got no idea what that means, but at least it sounded cool. So...kudos?"

"How well do you follow orders?" Lucia asked, shooting Trowa a pointed look.

"I don't," Radha declared.

"How well do you fight?" Lucia asked.

Radha grinned, a wide and wild grin. "Better than the rest of this sorry lot," she spat in anger, and the remaining dozen prisoners shouted and grumbled their protests.

Lucia eyed her carefully. It seemed like a terrible idea, and Radha was all but saying so outright. Still...she glanced to Duo, Trowa, and Rhys. She needed someone like Radha -- maybe not exactly like her. But she needed someone she could just…unleash. She'd seen the way the Royal Knights moved. She'd seen the conviction in their eyes.

Radha had the same look in hers, an absolute conviction that she could overcome anything put in her way. It wasn't a look of delusion; the deluded always had some undertone of fear or uncertainty in their eyes. They were always trying to prove they were greater than they really were. No. Radha was absolute in her convictions, in her self-worth.

"Last question, then," Lucia asked, and she felt her stomach tie itself in a heavy knot. "Why are you here?"

"Because some idiot trapped me under a mountain of other Digimon last night and I couldn't get free before the --"

"No, not here in this cell," Lucia shook her head. "Here. Fighting against the Royal Knights."

Radha glared at her, and Lucia realized at once that Radha absolutelyunderstood the question from the start, but found the thought of revealing something so personal abhorrent. But though it took all her willpower, Lucia held her glare. She didn't look away, didn't let her mind wander. She focused every thought in her head on peering into this 'Radha' creature.

And then Radha looked away. Briefly, for a heartbeat, before she had even realized it. A sour look of self-loathing crossed the dragon's face before she returned to her glaring.

"To win," Radha said, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. "I refuse to let others take what could be mine." She bared her fangs. "The Council cannot win. The world goes to war. And I refuse to be sidelined."

"So why fight for the Council?" Lucia asked. "Why not join the Royal Knights?"

"You said that was the last question," Radha snapped.

But Lucia didn't back down. She just cocked her head to the side and continued staring at the BurningGreymon. Radha, for her part, looked tortured. A hundred emotions flittered, unhindered across her face. Mostly anger and variants thereof, but then brief flashes of fear...no…embarrassment.

"They would not have me if I went to them," she growled softly, and she looked away. "And there is no sport in fighting those so much weaker than you are. So," she looked Lucia in the eye. "If I have to fight to protect humans, so be it."

Lucia nodded, slowly coming to grips with who Radha really was. Down beneath the anger and the snarling and snapping. Radha had been unable to keep eye contact with her. Whatever she had said there wasn't entirely the truth, just enough of it to be true...or what she wanted to be true. But she had no issues defending humans; she'd looked Lucia right in the eye when she said that.

"Good enough for me," Lucia said with a shrug. She motioned to the guard. "Let her out."

The guard opened Radha's cell and removed a brushed black ring from around her wrist. Radha flexed her wrist as if it were tender, and snarled at the guard. He backed away briefly.

"Anybody else?" Pyra asked, taking her turn with the room. A handful of spit curses were her only replies. "Or are you afraid to fight alongside a woman?"

A chorus of laughter erupted from the cells. "Ain't got nothin' t'do with yous bein' a woman," the Olegmon said. "It's got everythin' t'do with not wantin' t'die next to ya when those Royal Knights kill ya dead."

Lucia leaned in close to Pyra. "This might be the best we can muster," she said under her breath. They were probably lucky to have gotten a single volunteer, even with pay and a reduced sentence.

"You go on ahead and meet the others," Pyra said. She turned to the warden and motioned to the first single-occupant cell with the GrandisKuwagamon. "Tell me about this one."

==\=/==

Pyra eyed the GrandisKuwagamon up and down, taking in his appearance and the harsh look in his eye. She'd seen his kind before; they weren't common in Valeron, but enough had passed through and she'd had enough time outside her home to encounter several. They had all possessed a rough, roguish charm. This one seemed to be missing that.

But what stood out more than the silent, angry look in his eyes, was the fact that he was not only fitted with an inhibitor band on his right wrist, but also had on one his left wrist, too. He was then also shackled on the wrists, ankles, neck, and wings; and those shackles were further bolted to the walls and floor. He barely had enough slack to stand and use the toilet. He couldn't even lay down. It seemed unusually cruel.

The guard pulled up the beetle's file on a holographic projection and skimmed through it briefly. "Kheprius Aeolus. Khep, they call him," he said. "Brought him in last night after that brawl. Turns out he has at least a dozen warrants out for his arrest. Extortion, kidnapping, assault, witness tampering, bribery, and murder." He scanned down the rest of the file. "Last known location was at a Bogarden supermax. Supposedly inescapable, but this guy managed to escape within a week of being sent there. He's been lying low ever since. Until last night."

"How'd he get caught?" Pyra asked with a frown. If he'd escaped from the most secure prison in Godowan, how was he being held in the drunk tank?

"Someone knocked him out," the guard said with a humorless chuckle. "Piled him right in with the rest of the drunks. Way I heard it, it was that Apollomon. The demigod."

Khep spat. So that was true at least. Something in Pyra's reaction must have given her away, because Khep's gaze snapped back to her and he muttered under his breath.

"Suckerpunched me."

"I'm sure," Pyra mused. Something struck her as odd about his situation. There was an eerie calm in his eyes, one she didn't quite recognize. The best she could tell, he had accepted his fate, but there was no anxiety in him, nothing forlorn or pitiable. His eyes were proud and unbroken, his back straight and unbent. This was not a Digimon resigned to his fate.

He was waiting.

"So why are you still here?" Pyra asked him. He raised his hands and jingled the chains around his wrists with a grim smirk. "Something tells me that's not as much an obstacle to you as you'd like us to think."

"Maybe you're right," Khep shrugged as best he could given his chains. "Maybe I'm just hanging out here for the free food and room until I make my escape."

The guard bristled at this.

"Or maybe you don't mind getting caught," Pyra said, a shadow of an idea started to form in her mind. "Maybe you need something that only getting caught can get you. Something you left in Bogarden, maybe."

Khep seemed taken aback for a moment, then laughed. "You've got a hell of an imagination," he said, and pretended to wipe a tear from his eye. "But your poker face is crap, so I know you're just fishing."

Pyra shrugged. "Either way, something tells me that they'll be taking more precautions with you from now on," she said. She pointed at the pair of inhibitors on his wrists and at the chains securing him to the cell. "Double inhibitors."

"I'll admit, that's a new one," Khep said. She saw him flex his fingers. Agitation. He was good at keeping his cool, but even he couldn't hide the physical irritation the inhibitors caused. Pyra had been told it was like static running along every nerve; a full-body pins and needles. She could only imagine what two felt like.

"Wonder if they can do three or four," Pyra mused thoughtfully with an exaggerated curiosity. "Would you be able to move at all?"

Khep shrugged, but more stiffly this time, as if he was forcing indifference. "Doesn't matter," he said. "I'll get out all the same."

"Maybe, maybe not," Pyra said. "If the other inmates don't get you first. I hear prisons are rough places."

"Ha! 'Rough places,' she says," Khep laughed ruefully. "Girly, what you don't know about prison could fill a book."

"You're right," said Pyra. "I imagine you know much more than I do about that. Including just how much more closely you'll be watched this time. Just how much more difficult it will be to escape...maybe even to move. And I think you're starting to realize that, too."

"Well thanks for the lecture," Khep tried to wave her off. "You're a delight."

"Well maybe you should think about my offer," Pyra said. Khep was being purposefully obstinate now.

"Oh, I don't think they allow conjugal visits here," Khep said.

Pyra blanched, and Khep laughed.

"Or, you take me up on the offer and get your pardon," Pyra said pointedly. "And then you don't have to worry about all this other nonsense." She waved her hand around the corridor.

"Join up with you?" Khep asked, his brow furrowed. "With the Council? Fight for all the goody-two-shoes out there? That'll kill all my street cred."

"That so?" Pyra said thoughtfully. "I thought willingly fighting the Royal Knights would do wonders for your…'street cred.' You'd get bragging rights and a pardon. But what do I know?"

"A full pardon, huh?" he said after a long moment.

"That's what I've been told," Pyra said with a shrug. "But with a record like yours, who really knows. That's a lot to write off. But I imagine something is better than nothing."

"The only people who really believe that are people who were born with everything," Khep stressed with a grim smile.

"The only people who believe that are the ones that think they're proving something by purposefully living with nothing," Pyra shot back.

"You must be really desperate if you came to me for help," Khep said, shifting in his confined space.

"We are," Pyra admitted without hesitation. "But consider the alternative. If we fail, think what happens to you. A career criminal in the Royal Knights' authoritarian dystopia. And already tied up with a bow. You won't make it a week."

"At least I'd be going out on my terms," Khep said.

"Are they though?" Pyra challenged. "Or are you still just a plot point in someone else's story?"

Khep stared at her for a long minute with that same implaccable gaze. His mouth seemed to work itself into knots as he looked her up and down. Judging her? Leering at her? She couldn't really tell.

There was no way he would really turn them down at this point. He just needed one last selfish push. "Plus, you get paid," she added.

"I'm in," he said quickly. "Bust me outta here."

Pyra turned and nodded to the guard. He gave her a wary look, but disengaged the restraints on Khep's limbs, neck, and wings. The insect stood and winced, stretching his arms over his head, rolling his neck from side to side, and fluttering his wings quickly. Joints crackled and popped.

Khep held up his wrists and shook them in the guard's direction. "Well?" he demanded, glaring at Pyra.

"I'd recommend leaving those on with this one," the guard said quickly.

"He needs to be able to fight," Pyra countered.

"I can transfer the control program to you," the guard offered. "Restrict his movements out of combat. Keep you all a little safer."

Pyra considered this for a moment, then turned to Khep. "What do you suggest?" she asked him.

"He's smarter than you if you're considering taking these off," Khep said. There was no hesitation.

"So I shouldn't trust you," Pyra said. "Is that what you'd do?"

"'F I were in your place? Yeah, I definitely wouldn't trust me," Khep said. "But I also wouldn't have let me out in the first place."

Pyra eyed him carefully, then turned to the guard. "Transfer control and leave one inhibitor on," she said. "We'll take his advice on this matter."

"Smart," Khep said with a smirk.

"Somehow, I doubt it," Pyra muttered. She led Khep out of the dungeons and back up towards the others, noting how easily he moved. Not desperate to escape, not shivering with anxiety. He was perfectly in control of his appearance. If he weren't such a degenerate and a monster, he'd fit right in with the courts of Valeron.


==\=/==

Lucia led her team up out of the dungeons, eager to put distance between herself and that dismal place. Radha all but flew up the stairs, and they emerged shortly into the open air of Upper Axis Mundi.

"Duo!" a voice shouted, almost as soon as they stepped outside. The group stopped almost as once, and turned to greet a Sakuyamon. She ran towards them, fighting to catch her breath; her silver-white hair trailed wildly behind her, and the golden-yellow sheen of her armor seemed dusty and diminished, as if she'd just come from travelling a long way.

She ran to Duo and launched herself into his arms. Her arms gripped him tightly, and he stood stunned, for a brief moment, before she saw something akin to recognition settle across his eyes and he returned her embrace.

"S--Saria?" Duo gasped. He pushed the other Digimon back to arm's length to get a better look at her. "What are you -- how are you…?

"I was on my way to join the effort," Saria said. "I was hoping to run into you, actually. I found...well…"

"You were?"

"Yes," she said. "But when I heard you were on the force sent to Camelot, I feared the worst." She bowed her head sadly. "So many lives lost."

"We were fortunately not among them," Duo said, nodding to her and Trowa as well.

Saria reached up and touched the side of his face gently. Duo did not fluster or stutter or recoil at her touch, and Lucia felt a twinge of jealousy. He always flinched at her touch, unnoticeable to most, but she noticed. She wished that, one time, he would feel that comfortable around her.

"I'm glad," Saria said softly. Then a strange look crossed her face and her eyes fell dark. "Listen, Duo, we need to talk."

"It has been a long time," Duo admitted with a wistful smile. Lucia almost flinched herself. He was so easy-going with her. So informal, so willing to let down his guard. "But I don't know if now's the time to--"

"Duo, it's about Kail," Saria said pointedly.

Duo let out a massive sigh, and Lucia could see his entire body seem to sink into the ground. "I don't have time to deal with her right now."

"She's not a little girl anymore, Duo," Saria said. "She's organized and ambitious. She's as bad as your father." She sighed. "And she's becoming worse."

"One problem at a time," Duo said softly. He rubbed at his eyes. "I can't -- I can't deal with Kail until this crisis with the Royal Knights is closed."

The arrival of Drakn and his team brought a welcome change of subject, and a quick set of introductions led to Drakn asking Saria to join his team, reasoning that she had a number of different skills and areas of expertise that the other members were lacking. Once that was agreed upon, Drakn gave her an almost imperceptible nod.

Had he recognized her discomfort so easily?

Pyra arrived a few moments later with the GrandisKuwagamon from the dungeons in tow. He looked them over with his bright red eye and then shook his head in what looked like disbelief.

"Wow you look awesome!" Dunk exclaimed, bounding over. "Are you on our team with Miss Pyra? That's so cool! I am too! I'm Dunk. This is my little brother Azur! That's Galic. He's not our dad even though he sometimes acts like it and a lot of people think he is, but he really just takes care of us, or he used to when we were kids, but now that we're grown up he mostly just helps us train to be strong."

"Yeah. 'Grown up.' Sure," Khep deadpanned. Lucia saw Azur bristle, and Galic placed a calming hand on his shoulder.

"We've got three transports lined up, courtesy of the Council," Drakn said. He glanced at Pyra and Lucia. "Meletis, Kaladesh, and Glen Elendra. That's where they want us right now."

Pyra nodded, and Lucia followed suit.
 
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