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Digimon: Unholy Crusade

Solsabre

The Reforged Soul
Henry/Michael/Theo/Pyra/Galic


Theo gingerly massaged his right shoulder, nodding in acknowledgement to Henry and the Paildramon, Pyra, he believed her name was.

“I assume we’re all caught up on our,” Michael frowned and thought carefully for the next word, “misadventures. Correct?”

“Misadventures is certainly one way to put it,” Pyra said with a deep and heavy sigh. “It’s staggering to think that Lancelot could defeat us without breaking stride and then go and do the same to all of you.”

Theo hadn’t really been surprised...to a degree anyway. He’d fought in mock battles with his former platoon against Sir Lancelot numerous times for training, but even his experiences paled in comparison to what they had just endured.

“Tremendous power, tremendous training, and the ability to adapt to most any fighting style,” Michael acknowledged. “At its root, that is what we’re facing. And if we are to triumph we cannot be as…cavalier in our efforts and actions as we have been.”

“Agreed.” Henry said. “Kaladesh, Glen Elendra, Greystone, Meletis,” he counted the cities off on his fingers, “The Knights keep fighting us in cities and the cities end up taking far too much damage. The citizens wind up scattered, demoralized, or worse, actively rallying behind the Knights. I don’t think this is coincidental, the Knights have been choosing the battlegrounds from the beginning. Setting a stage for us to perform on, so to speak.”

He motioned towards the map. “Until we can make them fight us on our terms, they will continue to have the upper hand. And, as Michael so eloquently explained, Lancelot and his like are too powerful for us to fight head-on, on their terms, especially when we have collateral damage to worry about.”

“But what are ’our terms’?” Pyra asked. “The knights target areas where Tamers are plentiful. Do we just ignore their plight? Or the plight of our allies under attack?”

“That’s what we’re here to figure out, isn’t it?” Henry asked. “Our next move? The Knights have their own goals to achieve, but what are ours? Are we content to show up wherever tamers are gathered and give it a gentleman’s try, ‘cause that doesn’t seem to be working out too well for us so far. I agree the tamers need to be protected, but what exactly does that entail?”

He looked around the table. “If we have to sacrifice another city to save a group of tamers, are we ready to do that? How many civilian’s lives are we willing to destroy in exchange for moving
the tamers to a new place to be attacked at a later date? If stopping the Knights means ending them permanently, are we prepared to do that? If it takes their deaths or our own to put an end to this, would you hesitate, even for a second, to go through with it? We cannot afford to waver. Whatever course we choose to set, we have to be ready to commit to it wholeheartedly.”

“Henry’s right,” Theo said finally, after studying the map for a long hard moment, “because I fear we may be running out of time. I’ve taken enough orders and briefings from Sir Gawain and his predecessor to recognize some of the Knight’s patterns.” Theo turned to face Galic. “You asked earlier whether or not the Royal Knights would wage war with every city or government that would oppose them. In truth, they couldn’t, not without exhausting their own forces, but they could very well overtake a single city with precise planning.”

The black dragon pointed to the center of the map, “Axis Mundi. I’m still convinced this is their long-term objective. Our previous battles have devastated council-aligned cities, dissuaded other cities or nations from supporting our cause, and concentrating the majority of the tamer into one location, and keeping us preoccupied in the meantime. With that many tamers in one location the Knights could focus all their forces in a single campaign to gain the upper hand quickly and assume control over the capitol.”

The BlackWarGreymon snarled to himself on the inside. The old dragon should have paid more attention from the start. He went over the battles of the last few days in his head. Herd and drive the enemy into a single location. Isolate and cut off chains of support. He’d utilized these methods plenty of times, but only on a smaller scale. But… He scratched at his chin uncertain.

“It is the logistics of moving such a large force without attracting attention that escapes me,” Theo admitted, “though inserting infiltration teams as an advance force would be easy enough to do with the hundreds of refugees entering Axis Mundi on a regular basis.”

“The Royal Knights also do not have a large enough force to properly lay siege to Axis Mundi,” Michael said. “Even should they call in every reservist in Avalon and each loyalist faction throughout the realms, they are still outnumbered ten-to-one by just the Council’s forces alone.”

“You’re also talkin about open war. Not just contained battles,” Galic added. “Dey’ve been careful with how far dey escalate each battle. Your fight in Greystone being a notable exception.”

“And that will mean engaging the Council directly,” Pyra notes. “They defeated the gods of the Council early on, but there’s no guarantee they could do so again. Right now they’re prevented from interfering because the Royal Knights have two of them held prisoner. But this would force the Council to action.” She glanced to Michael, “the Host, too, I assume.”

Michael nodded, hesitantly. “Presumably. The Great Archangels have seemed hesitant to engage in open war.”


"Surely the Knights have considered this as well?" Henry said. "If things continue as they are, it's only a matter of time until the tamers have all rallied to Axis Mundi for one reason or another. The tamer settlement near Valeron aside."

The pirate scratched his chin. "What then? If attacking Axis Mundi is out of the question, what's their next move?"

“We’re missing something,” Michael mused. “A piece of the puzzle.”

“Regardless of how we see things, the Royal Knights still consider themselves the protectors of this world,” Pyra said. “War at the cost of Digimon lives would be something they’d avoid.”

“We need more information,” Theo sighed, rubbing a claw over tired eyes. He paused for a moment, as if remembering something. “Lord Michael, you mentioned something about Ixalan, when we were still in Axis Mundi. What intel did we have on that location again?”

“Essentially none,” Michael admitted. “Just some strange energy readings that one of the Council advisors had suggested looking into.” Michael frowned. “Unless we can get word to and from Axis Mundi there’s no way for us to verify those readings are still active, or even where to pinpoint them.”
 

TheSequelReturns

Faithful Crusader
< Henry Vane (CaptainHookmon) >
- Chessmon Bunker -

"What about the captured Council members?" Henry asked. "Do we know where they are being held?"

“Camelot, I’d assume,” Michael mused. “Or somewhere nearby. There are a number of castles nearby, but most have fallen into disuse. Galahad would keep the Council members close by to dissuade further attack.”

A small glint appeared in Henry’s eyes. "Say we were to… liberate them, like so much precious cargo. Tip the scales a bit more in our favor…" he let the suggestion hang in the air.

Michael nodded. “This would improve morale and reunify the Council’s power structure, but that would be a difficult…more subtle operation.” He glanced over the rest of the Guardians and Peacemakers. “One I’m not sure our…contingent is entirely suited to.”

"Unless we send a smaller team with those individuals most suitable for the task," Theo suggested. "I am somewhat familiar with the area having done a few rotations at a small garrison in the past in one of those old castles."

“It’s not my area of expertise. All I see are obstacles,” Michael admitted, though he seemed uncomfortable with how far out of his element this conversation was trending.

His frown deepened. “How many of us are truly suited for the task? Do we know where to find the imprisoned Council members? Once found, do we even know if they’ll be in a state to easily extract? Or will we just end up adding to those dungeons?” He looked at Henry. “What would we need for something like this? Are you confident we can pull something like this off?”

Henry’s eyes went back to scouring the map as he brushed the cobwebs off of his former life. “With the right crew, a good ship, and a strong enough drink, anything is possible.” The nearly forgotten words were said more to himself than anyone around the table.

Henry immediately perked up. “If Theo’s knowledge is halfway decent, and someone around here can find me an actual ship, it's not impossible. The hardest part will be figuring out exactly where they are being imprisoned. And what the defenses look like without raising the alarm. Since we only just fought many of their number in Greystone, if we move quickly there may not be many Knights there to guard the prisoners.”

“I’d need a handpicked crew. At least one transport, though more would be better. Scouts, preferably one who swims instead of flies. Theo’s knowledge will have to be reliable enough to narrow down our target locations. Those of us skilled enough to breach the prison walls will have to be willing to follow orders *and* improvise on the fly while the rest of our number could serve as a decoy or a vanguard to cover the escape. And we’ll have to do all of this, in our current state, with as little prep time as possible if we want to strike before the main number of Knights return to Camelot themselves.”

The pirate grinned. “I’ve pulled off worse jobs, but I won’t disagree that the stakes will be high. We have a narrow window to act, if we intend to do this, otherwise we should consider options with more predictable outcomes.”

“We must imagine that their defenses will be strengthened after the failed attack on Camelot,” Michael said. “And I mean no offense, Theo, but how old is your information regarding their defenses?”

“Over 10 years old, I’ll admit,” Theo said, “plus, Sir Gawain recognized me during our battle at Glen Elendra. I could lead us through the castle at Camelot with little trouble to where the dungeons are at and avoid the guard houses and soldier barracks, but I can’t be completely certain of any additional measures the Knights have implemented for their security since my time there.”

“And these are temporary cells, not long term prisons,” Pyra pointed out. Camelot is the Royal Knights’ bastion; they don’t run a prison. There’s no guarantee that’s where they’d keep high value prisoners like Kruphix and Karametra.”

“Prisons are designed to keep things in, not out.” Henry said. “If you were the Knights, where would you keep such valuable hostages if not your most defensible position?”

“Prisons, sure. But fortresses are designed to keep enemies out,” Pyra said.

“Let’s step past this for a moment,” Michael said. “And consider who we’d select to infiltrate their stronghold. Do we even have options for this?”

“A valid point.” Henry admitted. “Ideally, I’d have a small, but capable crew. But some of our best are still recovering from the last battle, and some of us most suited to quick, quiet work in the dead of night may not be willing to fall in line. We’d more than likely have to pull from the Peacemakers ranks as well, which would present its own challenges.”

“Off the top of my head, and speaking hypothetically of course, I’d suggest myself, Aria, Zaza, Serra, Theo, and perhaps one or two of the Peacemakers like Galic here, or that beetle fellow. We need those of us smaller in size, less flashy in appearance, and with skills that work quietly and in close quarters. Samael, if he’s willing, might also be an asset.” Henry paused for a moment, mulling his choice of words. “If we’re unfortunate enough to be spotted, we’d need someone to handle the situation before an alarm is raised.”

“That’s a small team,” Michael said. “And there’s not a lot of room to maneuver if things go wrong.”

“And again,” Pyra said, more forcefully. “We don’t know anything about the situation on the ground there. Your information is 10 years old! Galahad wasn’t even the Alphamon then — or maybe just barely. Gawain had only barely stepped into his role. That’s a full decade of change that you aren’t privy to.

“We don’t know anything for certain about what you’re talking about jumping into. The Royal Knights haven’t been at war with any force of note in…how long? Not in my lifetime,” she glanced at Theo. “In yours? To the point where Avalon was invaded?”

She let the rhetorical hang in the air for a moment. “There’s no precedent for the Royal Knights going to war with the Gods of Saga and managing to take two captive. We have no idea what we’re walking into,” she said. “How are they holding them captive? Can you inhibit a god like you would a mortal Digimon? Or do you need a special kind of holding cell? If this cell can hold a god then how are we going to break them out? And if we somehow find a way to do so even with all these questions, what other safeguards might be in place to — and I’m going to say this again, but slowly — hold. A. Pair. Of. Gods. Captive. That we have no way of anticipating. Never mind countering.”

“Agreed.” Henry said. “I’ve already pointed out the level of risk involved and I did not do so lightly. And while I’m comfortable operating in a sea of unknowns, I acknowledge that many of us here are not. I was asked if I could pull this off and under the right circumstances I believe I can. I also acknowledged that those circumstances may not be within reach at present. I was asked what preparations it would take, and while my accounting was spur of the moment, it was an answer. With the right information and a debrief on the Peacemakers, I could have a plan with a job for everyone in this room by sundown. But we’d all have to be on the same page or it’d be pointless to put it together.”

“Now,” Henry leaned forward, resting an arm on the edge of the table. “We can go back and forth on this till the tide rolls in or we can discuss our range of options. But we need to be ready to act once our collective injuries have healed. And whatever our next action is, it needs to be something big enough to make up for the loss of Greystone or the Knights will only continue to gain momentum while we continue to tread water.”

Big has not exactly been on our side,” Pyra said. “Every time we’ve tried something big it’s ended up blowing up in our face. Hell, even the small things go pear-shaped.”

“We don’t need something big, we need something unexpected,” Michael said, his voice was low, teetering on the edge of realization. He nodded to Henry “The same way we fought against Gawain. And won. Not with brute force. Not by overpowering him. But by moving and working in ways he didn’t expect.”

“Forgive me, but how does winning one fight give us a strategy moving forward?” Pyra asked.

“Because it's not about de fight. It's de mindset,” said Galic, nodding slowly along with Michael. “De Royal Knights are expectin us to act in certain ways, based on centuries o' experience and our own personal follies. We can't beat dem 'ead-to-'ead right now, so we need to change 'ow we're approachin dis fight.”

Michael glanced pointedly to Henry. "Prod the map, look for anything at all that might give us an edge,” he said. “And then, when it’s all done, slip a gun under the table so that the game hardly matters."

“Precisely!” Henry said with a snap of his fingers. “We know the game that’s being played. We know who our opponents are. What we need to do now is find our gun.” He gestured to the map of Saga arrayed on the table before them. “And I’ll need your help for that. On a map this big, there are a lot of corners to prod and I’ve only got two eyes.”

“We’re zero for three, we have wounded, our teams are scattered, and Greystone has fallen.” Henry tapped their current location on the map. “With the board set up like so, what would be our most reasonable course of action? Anything that seems like a safe, strategic move we should rule out immediately. In the meantime, if we can figure out what the Knight’s endgame looks like, we can more easily find our golden opportunities.”

“It’s safe to assume we are not going to figure that out from here,” Michael said. “What if we ignore the Royal Knights? Their attacks will always need to be met, of course, but we cannot always react, not if we want to gain momentum ourselves.”

“Play the game we’re expected to with one hand, while the other moves under the table.” Henry nodded in agreement. “There’s a pirate in you yet, angel.”

“Throwing ourselves into a half-considered gambit for the sake of momentum seems akin to throwing ourselves against a wall for the sake of it,” Michael acknowledged. “So let us play against their expectations.”

“Their tactics are unrivaled,” Pyra said. “How are we going to maneuver against that?”

“By not,” Michael said simply. “Their tactical play will always outmaneuver ours. We cannot fight like them — no one can. But we can choose to act and move in ways that they would not anticipate.”

“How?” Pyra was more frustrated. “They’ll see all of this coming.”

“We stop playing chess,” Michael said. “And play something different. Make them reconsider their actions so that they do not notice the gun being drawn beneath the table.”

Pyra shook her head in disagreement.

“The Royal Knights do not see all of you,” Michael explained. “They do not see the Tamers in our ranks, they do not see Henry, they do not see you, or Aria, or Tessa. They see myself, they see Thor, and Svarog, and Samael, and now Stein, perhaps. Names and faces that resonate with them. They will expect only the actions that we might advocate, that we might be expected to take.

“Marching armies, meeting them in single combat — this won’t work,” Michael admitted. “Not on its own. We have to utilize the idea that they see you only in their periphery — that they might underestimate you and misjudge your natures.”

“I feel like you’re complimenting me, but that sounded like an insult,” Pyra muttered.

“They can’t counter our plan if we don’t have one.” Henry said with a laugh. “In some respect, our next move is crucial. But in essence, it almost doesn’t matter what, specifically, we do. All we need to do is toss a wrench in their gears. Doesn’t matter which gears or how big the wrench is. Any unforeseen disruption will make the Knights pause and consider our play, which gives us some much needed breathing room.”

“We can’t just not plan,” Pyra objected. “We can’t just let them continue building towards whatever their endgame is.”

“Ah, but we don’t yet know what that endgame is.” Henry said. “We need more information to puzzle that out, and we need more time to get that information. Both things we are lacking in at the moment.”

“We need to better utilize each other,” Michael said. “Not just as fighters, but as resources and what we know.”

“Tripwires,” Galic mused, mostly to himself before turning to the group. “If we don’t know what de knights are doin until after dey've started, let's try to close dat window.”

“An early warning system,” Michael nodded. “Something to keep better tabs on their troop movements and activities. Actionable intelligence so that we can make a play to extract the captive Council members.” Michael turned to Theo, “and start preparing Axis Mundi’s forces if the Royal Knights are indeed planning on an attack.”

"Perhaps it would benefit us to return to Axis Mundi to see if the Council has any more intelligence for us?" Theo asked.

“We’ll need a new method of transport.” Henry mused. “Or a very good airship mechanic.” He reached deep into his coat’s inner pockets and placed a handful of very ornate, golden coins on the table. “I’ve also got a few old favors I can cash in. If we need eyes and ears in a few choice ports, I can make that happen.”

"I know someone in Ixalan we can trust, since that is the closest port to Camelot." Theo said. "She runs a bed and breakfast there but she does cater to soldiers for meals as well."

“Dey wouldn’t all be thrilled wit it, but Ican reach out to de different nomadic tribes and see if we can get some information relays established,” Galic offered. “It takes time to plan attacks, and de Royal Knights are all opperatin’ from one big island in the middle o’de sea. All dese places that we’ve lost, they’re too spread out to keep forces stationed dere for long.”

“They don’t have the numbers,” Michael agreed. “They’ll rely on local loyalists and external pressure to maintain their no-Tamer edicts, while maintaining their forces in Camelot.”

“It’s not sustainable,” Galic agreed. “Dey can’t keep control over all dese diff’rent places with nothin’ but fear and fervor. Not forever. And not from so far away.”

“That’s disconcerting,” Pyra muttered.

“Oh?” Galic asked.

“It means we’re either close enough to their endgame to where they just need to hold on a little longer,” she explained. “Or, they’re not sure what that endgame is and they’re doing this on the fly. Either way we’re woefully unprepared.”

“Suggestions?” Michael asked.

“What if we just don’t return to Axis Mundi?” Pyra asked. “At least, not all of us.” She took a steadying breath and continued, “We have three Peacemaker squads and your big group. We don’t need all of that in Axis Mundi, pretty far removed from any of the…whatever’s happening.” She nodded to Henry and Galic. “Let’s get this network set up, use them. Figure out when the Royal Knights are moving, where they’re moving to, and let’s position our people to get their first.”

Henry pointed to the map. “If our squad heads towards Ixalan, we can get our sea network established.” He motioned towards Pyra. “And if your group heads towards Axis Mundi, you can try to send word to the other Peacemaker squads, get them onboard, then work on the land network.”

“Dere are some nomadic groups in the seas around Avalon, too,” Galic pointed to the map as well. “I’d leave the details to dem, but we might even be able to get dem into Camelot. Just one or two o’dem, but it might give us a better view on what’s going on and where the Council members are held.”

“Okay, let’s work with that then,” she said. She turned to Henry. “Take the Guardians to Ixalan. Do whatever it is you pirates do. My team will go back to Axis Mundi. We’ll be able to travel faster; there are fewer of us and we have fewer injured. We’ll meet with the rest of the Peacemakers and start figuring out where to place ourselves.”

“If I may,” Michael said, positioning himself by the map. “As Theo pointed out, beyond Ixalan and Axis Mundi, the continent of Theros has fallen, or at least can no longer afford to deny Galahad’s demands. With our efforts in Ixalan it won’t make sense to have another team in place.” He gestured further north. “Yisrael is under the protection of the Host, and the Tamers there are safe.” The words for now hung unspoken in the air.

“But Yirushalayim will provide you access to Gondowan, is well fortified, and has the infrastructure to accept refugee Tamers,” Michael said.

Pyra nodded, “We’ll need a team in Valyria, too, if that Tamer camp is as big as you’ve said. And I don’t want Axis Mundi entirely left to its own.” She frowned. “That leaves Olympia, Asgardia, and the Savage Lands unattended.”

“Very few humans enter the Savage Lands willingly,” Michael said. “And even fewer would seek refuge there if we hold the line. Let Thor handle Asgardian affairs. Olympia presents a problem, but with Meletis lost most humans would seek shelter on the mainland.”
 

TheCharredDragon

TREMBLE BEFORE MY PAW-ER!
Bunker, Somewhere in Chess Kingdom

Zainab "Zaza" Cadaceus (MagnaKidmon)


Unsurprisingly, Mr. Samael continued to be a pain in the rear as he gave a rather enlightening education...on how he worked. Oh Zaza would commend him for shutting down the Justimon easily, words were half her weapons after all, but as he himself put it, his "tone" was all wrong...otherwise known as being an annoying prick. No one liked an annoying prick. But considering how good he was at being that, she had a feeling he also knew how to, to paraphrase a human saying, "catch flies with honey"...and he had said he was bored, so of course he was riling others up.

She knew the feeling but there was a way to rile people up without actually hurting them.

Teasing and banter existed after all.

Luckily he didn't have much else to say before he went on to buzz around the others. Zaza internally sighed but didn't let it show on the off chance he could use even that as fuel.

“Thank you… Zaza,” Hoshi murmured as soon as the fly left.

Zaza smiled and tipped her hat forward. "Glad to serve," she said as she began to wrap up the girl's ankle.

But despite the thanks, Zaza could tell Hoshi wasn't feeling better, not saying a word with that dark look of hers as she almost finished the bandage.

Then she looked at her and said rather quietly, “You had good timing. We would have been hard-pressed without you.”

"Like I said, glad to serve," she said. "And...there. All done."

Zaza gave a light pat against the foot to emphasize it before she leaned back.

"Not too tight, is it?" she then said.

Before long though, conversation echoed around the bunker and Zaza paid them just as much of a mind as Hoshi's words and the team's Mistymon healer moving about to give first aid after having been handed some supplies from the Justimon earlier. She heard about the story before their arrival woth Shula and...hoo boy.

She could easily guess they failed, but they really failed hard in their mission. Though that still did little to dminish the feeling of accomplishment of defeating a few of the Royal Knights on the way. She'd still take it. As well as the support from the Tamer camp near Valeron. She remembered that camp. A lot of her customers talked about it after all, though she didn't know any of the "big ones" there personally.

And then in the middle of the arguments, Svarog and the GrandisKuwagamon began to argue.

Zaza noticed Shula stood to handle it but Pyra stepped in before she could even try. The GrandisKuwagamon was unimpressed with Svarog with his "high and mighty" attitude, not that Zaza blamed him since she wasn't really impressed with him either. But what she didn't like was how he, whether intentionally or not, egged the Apollomon on, pointing out that "his highness" was with them "mortals".

And then Svarog roared,

“I would have won!”

The room was silenced at the boom.

Zaza could only guess why the others quieted, but in her case? Well, she was just even more unimpressed at his attitude.

“I had him; I had all of them. I could hear his heart hammering in his chest. I could smell Gawain’s fear in the burning winds. I would have put down that dog and brought us that much closer to victory if the rest hadn’t been so close and defenseless.”

Her view of him only grew lower the longer he went on. From how he spoke, he sounded like a sore loser who cared little of his surroundings. It was incredibly ironic he called the GrandisKuwagamon that started everything a sore loser as well and nearly started a fight then and there had Pyra not intervened. The large insect huffed but listened and the Apollomon seemingly huffed and didn't bother.

Zaza felt bad for Mom. She knew she worshipped Svarog's father, Rod, or at the very least admired him, despite him being dead. Though then again, she cared not what culture one came from, she appreciated a good warrior, so it was probably respect from what little was known about the god to mere "mortals" like them. But unlike how Svarog seemed to be, Mom appreciated those who didn't fight on pure strength too...though from what Dad said, she hadn't always been that way. So if Zaza had been a more optimistic 'mon, perhaps she could've hoped for better for Svarog.

But right now? Nope.

Especially when he woke up her nephew, who gasped and said,

"Aunt!? Morgan?!"

"It' okay, azizam. We're all right," she said, moving to his bed.

Her nephew thankfully calmed immediately but unfortunately he opened his eyes and lifted himself to lean against the bedrest with a groan.

"Then what happened?"

"Just an argument from fumes," she said, if only not to incite even more.

Morgan was still asleep after all.

Kogoro wasn't entirely convinced but didn't press further, instead saying,

"So can you tell me what else happened?"

Zaza opened her mouth to answer, but then she turned to her head towards Mr. Samael spluttering over bad booze...only to find out it was water. She nearly laughed at that, but a snicker did mange to leak through. But then the devil said,

"Hell kinda sex dungeon doesn’t have booze?”

And Pyra blanched and said, “This is a bunker, not a sex dungeon."

She caught a split second flash of embarrassment coloring the Paildramon's features.

“Look, lady, I’ve been to a lot of both, and let me tell ya, you don’t put a bunch of four-poster beds, swanky furniture, and fireplace mood lighting in a bunker.”

And...

"Bwahahahahaha!"

...Zaza couldn't help it. She laughed and bellowed and clutched her stomach as if it was funniest joke ever because her mind probably was happy over there being a joke amidst the doom and gloom that she ignored the fact it was said by Mr. Samael.

Kogoro wasn't amused when she finished her laughter though.

She chuckled sheepishly and said, "Sorry, azizam. Couldn't help it."

He didn't say anything but kept up his look, unsurprised.

Zaza chuckled again but without that sheepishness. "All right. I'll tell ya what happened...but how about we do it with Hoshi?" she said as she lifted her bandaged human nephew.

He gave her a confused and questioning look as he made sure to settle into a comfortable position in her arms.

She whispered, "'Cause Mr. Devil might bother her if we don't stay near."

And she didn't feel up to leaving her nephew alone now that he was awake. Morgan should be fine since he was asleep. For now.

Kogoro lit up in understanding and he nodded. With that settled, she plopped right back beside Hoshi with a smile.

"Hey there." More apologetically she said, "Sorry for laughin' at...y'know." She titled her head towards Mr. Samael. "Couldn't help it."

She felt more than saw her nephew roll his eyes.

Zaza chuckled. "Anyways...this here's my nephew, Kogoro Cadaceus."

The boy in question waved briefly before turning his head towards where Henry was. Following suit, Zaza listened as the captain discussed their plans...which mentioned a prison break. She perked up in interest as they further deliberated about it, feeling a bit honored and definitelt quite pleased when Henry mentioned her name among those he would like among his crew on this would-be prison break. It would be quite the shakeup if they did go through with that plan. But all that was set in stone was that the Guardians would go to Ixalan and the Peacemakers present to Axis Mundi. If they wanred to go through with Henry's plan, they were going to need the things they mentioned during their discussion.

A ship for transport.

A crew willing to think on their feet and listen to him.

And intel on the enemy.

"If we go for that prison break, you can count me in," Zaza said, first wanting to deal with that.

"Me too," Dinadan said in the middle of finally getting around to checking Aria. "You'll need a healer after all and I'm willing to listen to your orders yet improsive."

"I'm willing to help too," Shula said. "If you'll have me. I don't mind listening to you and thinking on the fly."

Her partner sighed in exasperation but still said, "And you have my cooperation as well, even if that is all we have to offer in comparison to some of the others."

But then Kogoro said, "I as well."

"What?!"

Before she could say more, Kogoro turned to her and said,

"If they do have some kind of device that is inhibiting the captured gods, I can dismantle it or any security systems on the way so that the combat units can focus solely on using their energies on the enemy instead of whatever devices that are hindering any progress. And the only other one who could so is Tessa, who we do not know will be recovered by then or volunteer for the mission."

Zaza shut her mouth and glared at her nephew in her arms.

Kogoro just stared back, face blank as usual but eyes determined.

She sighed. "Okay, fine, if the captain wants you on...I won't stop you."

Kogoro nodded and though it was only a slight quirk of his lip, Zaza knew he was pleased.

Wanting to take her mind off of regreting to teach Kogoro her negotiation tricks, she said,

"Anyways...if you need an early warnin' system, I'm willing to chip in my company. I got branches of my store all over Saga. They can be our eyes one way or another. I was plannin' on making an intelligence system anyways so I don't mind makin' it'll be our warnin' system too. I could even try contactin' 'em right now but that might get intercepted." She couldn't help but smirk. "I can definitely arrange on gettin' a ship though." Then she frowned as she contemplated on the logistics. "Though gettin' it without anyone noticin' might take a while. But if you don't mind the Knights noticin', when we get to Ixalan, I can see what I can do to get one."

Another thought came to mind.

"Oh, it might not be much, but I can contact my old man over in my home city in Yavimaya and see if he can get my home and some of the other cities and stuff on our side if you want. Don't know how helpful that'd be but just thought I'd mention it."

That made Dinadan hum in thought and then he said, "I could maybe do the same for my family in Kaldheim...but they aren't exactly influencers of any kind. Though I do know they would be willing to to fight for our cause to help me."

"The more Digimon that will help us, the more options we have," her nephew said. Then he looked to Henry. "If the captain doesn't mind, of course."

Zaza chuckled, amused and glad that Kogoro referred to him as such.

"Yeah, pretty much. That's what we got to offer."

She noted, however, Shula smiling sadly and holding partner a bit tighter, the BlackAgumon holding her arms to comfort her.

Ah...she must be thinking of her own family...

...either that, or thinking of how little she had to offer compared to the rest of them.

Because that's what the kind ones tended to think.

She would know. Her... Her brother had been like that, despite being one of the bravest 'mons she had known.
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
< Michael Ha’Yisrael >

After making preparations and thanking their Chess Kingdom allies, Michael and the rest of the Guardians made their exit. It took some time, slowly maneuvering through patrols from the Chessmon loyal to the Royal Knights. It wasn't until Victoria, the QueenChessmon they had encountered in the bunker, sounded an alert from the opposite end of the kingdom that they were able to move about freely.

Their journey to Ixalan was a long one; while avoiding detection Michael had the fleeting sensation that they had been traveling for months on end through ever-thickening jungle. The forests of Yavimaya were hot, humid, and unbearably sticky; but only once the vegetation became too dense to traverse did they dare send flyers up to scout for more established pathways.

After what felt like months of walking, they came upon a scarcely used forest railway. A short train ride later and they disembarked at Ixalan's city center. They were lucky the center was so busy that day; so that their large group of Digimon and humans bustling about didn't draw much attention.

"Let's locate this acquaintance of yours, Theo," Michael said to the BlackWarGreymon. "Before our luck runs out and we draw attention to ourselves." He offered a silent prayer of thanks that their luck held as long as it had.

There were precariously few humans present, and those that were still within the trade city kept themselves hooded and low profile. Hugging dark overhangs and alleyways. Michael acknowledged this was likely due to Ixalan's proximity to Avalon; this would be one of the most dangerous to any Tamer, and positioned himself on the outside of their human comrades. Hopefully whatever luck they had would hold out a little longer.

But as they followed Theo through the crowds, Michael began to pick up on the strange, restless energy of the populace. An agitation that permeated them and set even those seemingly standing still bouncing on the heels of their feet. It was no wonder the Guardians had been largely ignored; the Digimon were flitting back and forth.

"That's quite a lot of 'missing' posters," Deneb said, lost somewhere in the wall of Guardians. Michael had to admit, there were far more than he would expect, even for a time as tumultuous as theirs. It seemed a different one was posted every few feet, both printed and holographic.

"The tragedy of war is far-reaching," Theo acknowledged. But even so, Michael thought this seemed excessive.

Theo led them down a street off the main square to a small entryway. They waited outside for Theo to go in and make their introductions rather than crowding the small building, and were shortly thereafter invited in by a Sistermon Blanc. She led them into the building and Michael noticed it was larger than he thought at first glance. They were ushered down a long hallway, down a set of stairs, and into a basement room where Theo was already waiting for them with a Sistermon Noir and Sistermon Ciel.

"I've explained our predicament," Theo said, nodding to the two. He motioned to the Ciel. "This is Amélie and her partner Priscilla. They've agreed to let us use their establishment while we're here."

"Not as if there is a lot of business right now anyway," said Priscilla. Her already tight lips turned downwards. "More and more Digimon missing each week."

"We're willing to help you," Amélie said, but Michael noticed a hardness to her voice that indicated it wouldn't be for free. "But we'll need something from you in return."

And there it was.

"I don't think this is exactly the time to go off on side quests," Andrea muttered.

"Helping you is a risk," Amélie said. "To our finances and safety. If this goes south and the Royal Knights find that we're helping you...we're a long way from Axis Mundi."

"And you're hardly in a position to barter," Priscilla added.

Michael glanced at Henry, who seemed entirely surprised by the turn, and asked the question he knew they were both wondering. "What do you need from us?"

"These missing Digimon," Amélie said, shaking her head. "It's been happening for quite some time, since before Galahad's crusade began in earnest. But it's ramped up in recent weeks. We need you to get to the bottom of what's been going on."
 

TheSequelReturns

Faithful Crusader
< Henry Vane (CaptainHookmon) >
- Clandestine Meeting Room -


"These missing Digimon," Amélie said, shaking her head. "It's been happening for quite some time, since before Galahad's crusade began in earnest. But it's ramped up in recent weeks. We need you to get to the bottom of what's been going on."

It was always something. No one ever gave anything away for free, and why should they? Even trivial information was valuable to someone, and everything had a price. But something was nagging at the back of Henry's mind, a lingering suggestion that their original objective and this missing 'mon case were two sides of the same coin.

Henry rubbed his chin as if he were mulling the thought over. He had already made up his mind, of course, but it was bad form to agree too readily to a deal.

"I've been around this port many times, back in the day, and its not exactly the safest place. Young lads and lasses with a bit too much alcohol or excitement in them tended to wind up shanghaied. Anyone looking to rent a bunk bellow decks on the cheap could find it here. If you wanted to disappear and start a new life somewhere, this was a great place to do it."

He was speaking from experience after all. It wasn't too far from here that he had washed up on shore himself, shot and waterlogged and in need of a new start.

"But that many posters... if those missing digimon had all been pressed into service, there would be an entire pirate armada out there in the port."

"No one just vanishes for no reason." Aria said. "Either someone's taking them, or they're all already dead."

"If someone's taking them, then there's a system in place to accommodate that much traffic." Henry said. "Ships would be the most likely method, but let's not rule out foot travel until we know what we're looking for." He paused. "And if they're dead, then we've got a bigger problem to solve."

"You've accepted our offer then, I take it?" Amélie said.

Henry nodded. "I can't make any promises, but we're here to do some work of our own anyhow, we may as well see what we can find on these disappearances while we're at it."

Henry took stock of the room while a few of the others asked questions. No one looked like they wanted to be here but what else was new? Some of them were still healing from the last battle. Aria was up and moving, but it was clear she was still recovering. Tessa was conscious at least, but she wouldn't be back to full for a while yet. And Stein... well, he hadn't said much since he woke up either. And none of the others seemed eager to press him on what had happened. Not yet, anyway, but Henry knew that conversation was coming the moment things slowed down.

Better to keep the team busy then, at least for now.

"I think we have enough to start with." Henry said. "For now, let's split up and tackle our own investigations. The lot of us wandering around town interrogating strangers will raise a few brows but if we move in smaller groups we'll blend in with the bustle out there no problem."

"So... what, I'm supposed to walk around town and try not to look suspicious?" Aria asked.

"No." Henry said. "You're coming with me. Where I'm going, I'm going to need a second pair of eyes."

"I think I'd rather take my chances on the streets." Aria said.

"What if I told you there would be booze involved?"

Aria mulled this over for a moment and shrugged. "Sure, whatever."

"Ok." Henry said. "The rest of you, I trust you all know what you're doing. Some of you have connections here, use those for all their worth. Those who don't, see what you can find out but don't draw attention to yourselves. And keep and eye out for each other. Move in pairs, got it? We don't need a poster going up for any of you."

Henry turned towards Stein. "Hey you big lug."

Stein perked up.

"You stay here and look after the wounded. Keep them safe, you got that?"

Stein turned to look at Tessa, then turned back to Henry and nodded. "Aye aye Captain."

"Good. Now, I'm going to see what I can do about getting some seaborne help for our little network and see what else I can dig up along the way. See what you all can discover on your own. We'll meet back here by sundown and reconvene."
 

Kamotz

God of Monsters
< Thor Odinson >

Henry seemed reluctant to dole out specific assignments, and Thor was grateful. It wouldn't have sat well with many on the team, to be instructed so specifically, especially after being dragged halfway across the continent twice, but Thor supposed Henry already suspected this.

"This is a waste of my time and my talents," Samael drawled, leaning against the basement wall. He glanced over to the Sistermons. "What's a room here run if I promise not to kill either of you?"

"We're here for a reason, Samael, not for you to nap," Michael admonished him. But, true to form, the demon paid him little more than a dismissive wave.

"What d'ya want me to do, go make nice with some shopkeepers?" Samael scoffed. He grinned a grin that was all full of sharp teeth and malice. "Flash 'em a smile of these winning pearly whites?"

"Maybe put in the bare minimum effort," Serra all-but-growled.

"I'll put in my effort when we actually have something worth it in my crosshairs,” Samael quipped back. “What, you think Svarog or Mikey’s gonna go low-profile and start asking around all detective-like?”

Michael had the good sense to look uncomfortable.

“I’ll wait here,” Svarog said, still glowering. Despite the long journey, his mood had improved little. They had all failed to improve their moods, and a glowering Svarog would serve no one. Still, there had to be some better use to their more…infamous…companions than just sitting around.

Thor considered Henry's words carefully - "If someone's taking them, then there's a system in place to accommodate that much traffic.".

"The number of Digimon missing; any system that would traffic them across the continent or even through the seas," Thor mused. "This is a massive undertaking, on a tremendous scale. One or two at a time we could account for. But here - now - so close to Avalon…We aren't looking for a shipping line, or a trade route. These are dozens of missing Digimon over a short period of weeks. They're either very careful, or not what we think."

"So?" Svarog said. He picked at some dirt beneath his nails. "Does that change anything?"

"It changes everything," Thor insisted. He looked to the door where the others had left through. "It means they won't find anything searching docks and asking questions."

“So what’s your plan then, Prince of Asgard,” Svarog asked with a glare.

“Let’s get a drink,” Thor said. He rose from his seat and led the way to the door, with Svarog belly-laughing in tow. The Sistermon Ciel directed them down the block a ways to a bar that seemed a thousand times rowdier and busier than the dour, anxious walkways outside.

Even Svarog throwing open the doors and entering alongside him barely seemed to register with the patrons. The two battle-worn mega Digimon drew a few curious glances, but most went back to their arguing, shouting, and drinking. Svarog led the way to the bar counter and the sea of Digimon seemed to part around him.

“Drinks, now,” Svarog said. “Something to wash down the taste of ash and blood.” The war god’s voice cut through the noise like cracking of earth.

The bartender, a lanky SymbareAngoramon, rolled his eyes but complied. “Dunno if we have anything specific to ‘washing ash and blood’ but I’ve got an Acherian wine they say only the most highborn of their knights are allowed to drink.”

Svarog scoffed at the notion and Thor suppressed a chuckle; the notion of “highborn” in Acheron was laughable to anyone familiar with the kingdom. There was no noble class in Acheron, just houses vying for ever-greater control and fighting to hold onto it. But he suspected that the sales tactic might have otherwise succeeded on anyone else.

“None of that,” Svarog waved him off. He scanned the row of top-shelf bottles and his eyes practically lit up (which, for a sun god, was actually possible). He pointed, “but we’ll take the Greystone rum. The whole bottle.”

“Bit pricey,” the bartender mused, but shuffled back all the same. “‘Specially after what went down in Greystone; rumor has it the whole place melted to slag.”

“Aye,” Svarog shot Thor a grin like there was a good inside joke between them. Thor thought it in terrible taste. “So what’s your price?”

“For maybe our last bottle ever? Let’s call it 12,000 trader’s credits.”

“Trader’s credits?” Thor wondered.

The bartender shrugged. “No saying which way the fighting’s gonna go. Olympic dracmae just ain’t as sure a thing these days, and the Royal Knights aren’t exactly thinking so far ahead to mint their own currency. So yeah. Trader’s credits. That’s all we’re takin’ really.”

Svarog nudged Thor. “Pay him.” Thor glared back. “Oh, what? Asgard has no gold now?”

“Asgardian, eh?” the bartender nodded. He keyed up a holographic tablet and presented it to Thor for payment transfer. The shimmering screen floated in the air. “Bit far from home, ain’tcha? Asgardian krone don’t hold much value here, got an exchange rate if you’re paying that way.”

Thor waved his hand over the holographic screen and with a flicker of will submitted payment. The royal coffers would scarcely register the cost.

“Well…” the SymbareAngoramon seemed at a loss for a minute. “The…Royal Bank…so…”

“You get the distinct pleasure of tending bar for the Lord of Asgard,” Svarog bellowed. He held out an open hand. “Now if you’re done stuttering, hand over the bottle.” The bartender relinquished the bottle and two glasses, then scurried away.

“That was unnecessary,” he said, shooting Svarog a sour look.

“Maybe. But it was fun,” Svarog said. He poured a glass of the rum and handed it to Thor, then took a swig from the bottle. “You’re too glum, Prince of Asgard. There should be more thunder in your veins for this sort of thing.”

“I’m afraid the state of the world has drained the thunder from me,” Thor said sadly, feeling the weight of the world and the emptiness of his hands.

“You and I are old enough to know that nothing of this world’s state is new,” Svarog said pointedly. “Do you think this some new condition? Some great deviation? You have seen this sort of thing a hundred times in your lifetime, and you will see it a hundred thousand more by the time your life ends.” He took another swig from the bottle. “If you don’t find a way to fill your veins with thunder you’ll spend your eternity in misery.”

“‘Thunder’ huh?” Thor mused.

“What else could it be?” Svarog said with a wild grin. “When you bring that sword down with all your intent -- that sound you hear, it’s not the snapping of branches, the rumbling of the earth, it’s not the burst of volcanic flows, or even the piercing song of sunlight flashing across the heavens. Yours is the torn sky, the Motherstorm, the First Thunder, the rushing Crack of Doom."

"Some good it does me," Thor muttered into his drink. "When I can scarcely hold it in my hands."

"That's because you don't hold thunder. You don't throw it around like a spoon or a knife," Svarog said. "You let it explode from within, from your chest. Thunder roars."

Thor nodded quietly.

"Inherited power is a fickle thing," Svarog waved him off and downed another mouthful. "I can't imagine wielding a power that isn't my own; that I haven't bought with my own sweat and blood. It seems terribly cumbersome."

"Rod left nothing of his strength to you on his death?" Thor wondered. The idea seemed…so liberating.

"Believe it or not, yours is the exception," Svarog said with a grin. "Besides, I was a child" a shrug, "and who would be crazy enough to entrust a child like I was with the Nova? Better that power fade away. Better that I earn my strength."

"And if it's not enough?"

"Then it's not enough," Svarog shrugged. "And I must make it enough."

"Serra told me something similar."

"Ha! I'll bet she did," Svarog said with a booming laugh.

"She said I should learn to be worthy as Thor, and not by trying to be Odin," he said.

"Well, I didn't ask, but that seems like sound counsel," Svarog took another drink. "And how's that going?"

"Well I'm here talking to you, aren't I?"

"Ha!"

"Oi!" a new voice cut through the background noise of the crowd. Thor turned, and Svarog lazily followed. A Digimon with a floral headdress slunk his way. It was composed entirely of twisted and braided vines; its arms were adorned with thorns and a skeletal vambrace. An Ajatarmon -- they were often misunderstood as angry and violent jungle dwellers, though Thor had enough experience with them to know they had a strong sense of honor and community. But they were types that rarely ventured out into crowded cities.

"You them?" the Digimon continued. Thor just tilted his head to the side curiously. "Fightin' types. Fightin' Royal Knights. Guardians. Hmm?

"Aye, that's us," said Svarog. "You have something you want to say?"

The Ajatarmon waved a viney arm and motioned over to a pair of Digimon in the corner of the bar. A sinewy and shimmer-scaled Toropiamon strode over alongside stout-bodied, long-limbed, insectoid Climbmon.

"It's them," the Ajatarmon said, nodding at Thor and Svarog. The other two Digimon exchanged silent glances and nodded.

"You're fighting Royal Knights," the Climbmon said. It wasn't a question. "But you're out here."

"It'd be better if you didn't raise so much attention," Thor cautioned. "We're trying to remain lower-profiled."

"Speak for yourself," Svarog muttered, taking another swig.

The Climbmon nodded, but Thor noticed he looked on edge and uncomfortable.

"Speak your mind," Thor said with as reassuring a nod as he could muster.

"A friend of ours," the Toropiamon began. "Has gone missing."

"Many missing," the Ajatarmon said motioning around the room, which even then remained only half full. "Friends. Family. Enemies. Decent. Not. No pattern."

"Yes, we've been told as much. What do you know if these disappearances?" Thor asked.

"We've been looking ourselves," the Climbmon said.

"Tracking. Hunting. Found trail," the Ajatarmon explained in his own clipped way.

"Following it to the end, however..." the Climbmon trailed off.

"We do not have the power or numbers to venture further," the Toropiamon said. "Not without knowing the enemy."

"And this enemy is indeed a terrifying one," the Climbmon said. "We scarcely believed it ourselves when we saw."

"Digimon. Stolen. The Council," the Ajatarmon said.

"You found the missing Council members?" Thor asked, sitting up suddenly. He caught himself before he shouted.

"No. Council steals," the Ajatarmon said. "Taken. Savage Lands."

"Why would the Council be abducting Digimon?" Thor asked, disbelievingly. "And why take them to the Savage Lands? They have no sway there. No power. It doesn't make sense."

Svarog finished the final gulp of Greystone rum and slammed the bottle down on the table. "Enough with the back and forth. Let's get these idiots over to the others and figure out where to go next. Though I'm guessing it's somewhere Savage."

==\=/==

< Michael Ha'Yisrael >

When it was Thor and Svarog, of all Digimon, to return with developments, Michael could scarcely believe it. That was the last thing he expected - aside from returning with developments in the collateral damage area. They related what they had been told and their three new drinking friends filled in whatever details the two immortals had deemed unimportant enough to gloss over.

"It seems impossible," Michael mused softly. "The details just don't...I can't see how, or when, or why the Council would do this."

"Seen," said the Ajatarmon. "Known. Other unimportant."

"No. If the Council has betrayed the trust of its people the reasons are extremely important," Michael countered.

"We can figure out all that once we find this trail and follow it," Samael said with a wild grin. "Finally. Something to hunt. This might not be a total waste of time after all."
 
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