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Digimon: Unholy Crusade


The Reforged Soul

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.”


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.”


Tis the Hour to Reload
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.”



...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."


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.


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."


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."


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?"


"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."


God of Monsters
< Samael Cain >

They'd been walking through some godforsaken jungle for what felt like an eternity. Hell of hells, these idiots moved slowly. Their local guides crept through the jungle easily enough, scuttering back and forth like the bugs they were. But damn, did the rest of them have to move so slowly? Samael wanted nothing more than to leave the sticky heat.

Don't get it twisted; he could deal with heat. He could deal with that oppressive muggy haze that threatened to choke the life out of him...he was kinda into that.

It was the endlessness of it. The way it made his leather clothes stick to him and ride up. That was the problem. And then, though he'd never admit it to anyone, he had to imagine this was what Hell was like. Just this endless ceaseless, oppressive haze, only without the dripping red of a butcher's massacre.

"Screw all of this," he grumbled. If there were a horde of idiots getting abducted and brought through a place like this then they damn deserved it.

The only thought that kept him going was the idea that if this was the Council; if they were breaking bad, then all of Heaven would be kissing his feet to thank him for breaking their hold on their mortal worshippers.

If only they'd get there faster.


< Svarog Rodsyn >

Their trek through the Yavimaya Forest was bringing them closer and closer to the Savage Lands; Svarog could feel it in his bones. There were not many places across Saga that he hadn't explored in his long life. But the Savage Lands were never something he actively searched out. There was something...strange...about them - something terribly alien and disquieting. ith.

The Savage Lands were godless in every sense of the word. Where the gods brought structure to the world, the Savage Lands were bereft of it. Even angels and demons brought some sort of substance

They were a place without gods - without angels, without demons. It was a place of other things; things more disquieting than the monsters he sated his bloodlust with from time to time.

They came to a clearing in the jungle and crested a hill. The land below sprawled out into an even denser forest. Full of briars and thorns, fruitless trees and acidic rivers. The most hostile of places. On either side of the clearing rose two great collonades. They were overgrown and cracked, and as ancient as anything else that might ever be. To the east and west were six mor pillars, arranged in a ruinous line across the narrow isthmus between Theros and the Savage Lands.

"What are these things?" Andrea asked quietly behind him.

"These are...um...well," Deneb struggled to answer. Good-for-nothing know-it-all finally stumped. "They're called the 'Gates to the Savage Lands.' Quite remarkable really. Never thought I'd see them in person."

"I've heard the gods built these gates as a warning," said Theo. "To make sure everyone coming into this place knows just how forsaken the Savage Lands are." He made a pitiful contemplative sound. "But if they are doing something nefarious beyond these gates and the eyes of the world, perhaps it was more to keep free from interlopers."

"Don't be stupid," Svarog spat. His voice was hard, but his heart was pounding wildly in his chest. He placed a hand on one of the pillars, hoping no one would notice the momentary tremor running to his fingers. "These are not gates and there was no great plot here. Can't you feel it? A god died here."

And he could feel it. Deep in his bones.

"Your father?" Thor asked. He stepped forward to examine the Gates more closely. But still of the group, only Svarog had gathered the nerve to actually touch one.

"No," Svarog said. His eyes still had not left the pillar. "No, these scars are older." He withdrew his hand, more quickly than he would have liked. "What died here, whatever killed it; whatever caused these scars cut the world down to its marrow."

"Oh, dear, that sounds -- that's fascinating," said Tessa. The Wisemon had recovered much of her former self after her mauling at Stein's hands, though Svarog noted the pronounced physical distance she kept between them.

The two orbs she carried with her spun wildly, bucking back and forth over her palms.

"Wow. I've -- I've never seen this before."

"Reality is damaged here," Thor said. His eyes were downcast and distant. At Svarog's raised eyebrow he continued. "I can feel the White Sword closer here from where it waits in the between."

"Illuminating," Svarog grumbled. None of them could be happy with a simple statement of truth. They had to plod all over it. "Let's be done with this Rod-damned errand and leave his place before it makes you all talk more."


< Michael Ha'Yisrael >

They continued on in silence for a while longer. Camping once at their guides' insistence, before setting out early the next dawn. They traveled through the morning and into the early afternoon before reaching what appeared to be their destination.

Michael did not know how their guides had managed to lead them through the dense forests, but he could only fathom the amount of time they must have spent learning each and every tree and rock.

"Stop. Here," the Ajatarmon said. He held up a hand and pointed through the trees to a stamped out clearing, though "clearing" was a bit of a misnomer; the trees were tall enough that the forest canopy still stretched across it. But it had been hollowed out rather recently.

At the center of the clearing was a structure -- an outpost of some kind, Michae surmised. It was camouflaged the same dark green and muddy brown as the rest of the forest floor and trees, and even had vines and brush netting thrown over it to break up its hard lines and edges. But it was clearly a metal and concrete structure underneath. There was a single tower at its center, with windows stretching around its top. Thin windows dotted the building below, showing thought went into making this a defensible position.

"It's...it looks like it came from our world," Andrea said, glancing over to James, Hoshiko, and Shula. She pointed to the ground around the structure. "There are tire tracks."

"Digimon have tires," Michael said, but he did not sound convincing.

"Sure, but look how uniform everything is - from the size of the tracks, to the size of the windows, look at the size of the doorways," she pointed and whispered lowly. "A Digimon structure would be larger, to accommodate the larger Digimon. This is scaled to humans."

"Yes. Humans. Council. Both together," said their guide.

A chill ran down Michael's spine. If this was true; if the humans and Council were…abducting other Digimon -- perhaps weeding out dissenters -- it would only fuel Galahad's crusade all the more.

"We need to get in there," Michael said. "Quietly," he added quickly as soon as he saw Svarog start to stand. "So we can determine exactly what's going on without giving whoever is in there time to cover anything up." The sun god lowered back into a crouch with a huff.


Faithful Crusader
< Frantz Stein (Boltmon) >
Gates to the Savage Lands

Stein had been quiet ever since Greystone. To the casual observer, he looked almost normal. But beneath his faceplate, Stein’s mind was a fractured mess.

Hours passed by in a blur as they took refuge, then when next he looked up they were trudging through the wilderness. It was as if another force was controlling his body. But not like before. No.

Before, the monster had taken over.

That red tinge at the edge of his vision, that dark shadow that was always clawing at the back of his mind had finally taken over. And Stein had hurt people. People he cared about.

No, not Stein, the monster had hurt people. And Stein had let it. That was what hurt the most. His friends were hurt, because he wasn’t strong enough to stop the monster. Wise One was hurt, because of him.

Even now, she stood at a distance. Everytime they looked at each other, they looked away. It was too much to bear.

So Stein had shut off his optics. Put his muscles on autopilot. Let the captain’s instructions tell his body what to do. He let the machine part take over while his mind retreated farther and further into himself.

He was looking for the monster. But it was gone. It had retreated deep into the darkness where Stein’s thoughts dared not to tread. Now matter how hard it looked, he could not find it. Yet, he knew well enough that that did not mean it was not there. This had happened before, in the small village. The monster had gone and Stein thought he might be at peace. But it came back stronger. It always came back stronger.

Next time it did, would Stein be able to stop it at all? Would it take his body from him forever? Would they switch places? Would he be trapped in the dark recesses while the monster destroyed everything he wanted so desperately to protect?

And so, Stein wrestled with his thoughts alone in his own head for the first time in a long time. Until they reached the gates.

As Stein stared out at this accursed place, this remnant of some long distant bloodshed, something stirred deep in his core. The monster grumbled in its slumber. Even in its dormancy, Stein could feel the rage, the hated welling up from the deepest darkness. The corner’s of his eyes were tinged with red and the Boltmon’s mind was forced back into conscious awareness.

Stein placed a hand to his head and grumbled a bit as the red became pain and grew into a splitting migraine. It felt like his mind was going to tear itself in two.

“You okay big guy?” Aria asked, casting a weary glance up at the Boltmon.

Stein shook the red, hateful fog from his brain as best he could. “Stein doesn’t like it here.”

The worry in her eyes faded as she turned to look out at the dense, wild jungle ahead of them. “Yeah, me either.”

When no one was looking, Stein slammed his knuckle against the side of his head. The red lessened, even if his headache only got worse. But normal pain was preferable to whatever had just happened. And as Stein followed along after the group, he could think only of the lingering fear in Aria’s gaze and how he would kill anything he had to to make that fear go away.


+ Henry Vane (CaptainHookmon) +
- Forest Outpost -

Well, well, well, looks like Henry had been right on the money. Something was definitely going on in this part of the world tucked quietly away from the Axis Mundi suburbs. If Henry was one to say “I told you so” he would have been casting a smug look in Thor’s general direction. Thankfully, he had a little more tact than that.

And after his little excursion with Aria to one of his old haunts he was feeling positively buoyant. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say the same about his better looking companion. Aria had kept close with the group for once, had actually smiled and chatted as they walked, Henry even caught her humming to herself. If this was what a good mood Aria was like then he’d have to take her to more pirate dens.

There were more pressing matters though and Henry turned his full attention to the outpost in front of them. The others were right, it certainly looked foreign. And the humans seemed to be in agreement that it was something from their side of the proverbial pond. And then Michael gave him the best opening a captain could ask for. The angel would be an incredible first mate. Wait… was that already his job, in a manner of speaking? That might explain some things.

“It looks like a golden opportunity has presented itself,” Henry started keeping his voice low against his natural inclination to turn on his rousing speech volume. “We can give our infiltration team a chance to test their sea legs, see if we can pull off some wet work and avoid raising an alarm.”

The captain turned to point out the ones he had decided on for this sort of work earlier. Tessa, Zaza, Aria, Serra, and himself were the obvious choices with Samael as a strong maybe. He relayed as much to the others and then turned to the remaining Guardians.

“It's a solid core, but I’ll take anyone who’s confident in their sneaking ability if someone else wants in.” He turned specifically to the humans and their partners. “Some of you should probably accompany us as well. We don’t know if we’ll need a human touch in there.”

"Then, Captain, I would suggest bringing just Hernandez and Rex." Morgan tapped him and gestured his intent, but he nonetheless understood.

"That is, Shula and Tyfrigo," Kogoro said, on the off chance they didn't know who he referred to with the infrequent use of family names. "She is the most experienced of all of us Tamers, particularly with Biomerging. So on the chance the operation goes off track, you don't have to worry about keeping her safe as much as myself or the other Tamers."
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Tis the Hour to Reload
Dinadan Snow (Mistymon)
Yamivaya Forests -> Inn in Ixalan

His experience with the Guardians had been interesting so far.

Unlike most, travelling through Yamivaya without being detected was little trouble for him, even with some of the passengers he carried as the team's only proper medic. He had been used to going through the dense flora thanks to his mentor, who had resided in the large area. The only other who seemed to revel being such a place was Zaza, but considering he knew the CEO's hometown was in the general area, it was no surprise.

Arriving in Ixalan felt almost opressive in comparison, with how everyone scurried as if the very shadows would get them. Once they were at the establishment belong to an associate of Theo, they were tasked to handle the source of the flitting energy of the city: the cause behind the many missing Digimons. But with that, they were given free reign essentially. Not free reign to roam freely, but it was still free reign as far as Dinadan was concerned, Henry assigning only Aria to come with him and Stein to stay to protect the wounded while the rest were free to do as they pleased.

Not that Dinadan really could, nor did he want to.

He was still busy with the wounded.

Not many, but humans were among them, and that required a bit more care than Digimon, especially since they have partners that would be adversely affected by their deaths.

Besides, he wasn't really the investigative type. One of his sisters, yes, but he didn't want to risk calling them from here. The line could be insecure.

And it seemed most didn't want to go anyway.

It was mainly Thor and Svarog.

As much as Zaza wanted to go, her nephews, particularly her human nephew Kogoro, was still recovering, so she didn't feel up to leaving to investigate as soon as they arrived.

He would admit he was incredibly amused when Thot and Svarog brought a lead for the missing Digimon and Zaza silently swore in at least four different languages, two of them of human origins, as her pride over information gathering had been wounded.

Nonetheless, it was good they got it so soon, but the knowledge itself wasn't so.

After all, they had been given their authority as the Guardians by the Council, and now it seemed they were kidnapping.

So it was no surprise they moved out as soon as they could.

Thankfully, by that point, most of their injuries had recovered enough that he wouldn't have to use his authority as a medic to insist on any kind of rest even when they needed to act quickly.

Kogoro Cadaceus & Morgan Cadaceus the BlackGatomon
Savage Lands

To say their situation was grim was an understatement.

Ever since their brief residence in the Chess Kingdom bunker, Kogoro had been making notes upon notes to analyze and, at the very least attempt to, formulate battle plans, action plans and formations for their group. Though they weren't as "complete" as he wanted them to be because of small time frame of observing their team and Vane was their leader, their "captain" as Aunt put it, having such things in place would ease the burden on him. He felt that was especially important considering their synergy needed immense work and Vane had yet to gain the respect from all their members, most notably the problematic ones, Cain and Rodsyn.

And now, after Odinson and the aforementioned war god went out for a drink, they were travelling towards the Savage Lands to investigate the serial cases of missing Digimon, with their current suspect being members of the Council.

As Ha’Yisrael had said, it was extremely important and prudent they ascertained the motivations. If word got out, the Royal Knights could further capitalize on fracturing what little authority the Guardians in the wake of their failures.

Still, it wasn't just those facts that weighed on him.

"You feel it too, don't you, Brother?" Morgan whispered from atop his head.

Kogoro nodded.

The closer they got to the Savage Lands, the more...strange, he felt. He couldn't quite place it. Just that a part of him was wary to get closer to their destination. He would've initially dismissed it as his previous wariness from his time at the orphanage rearing its head, looking for any and every sign of danger, both corporeal and incorporeal. But he had noticed Hernandez and a few others were similarly offput and then once they were at the "gates" of the Savage Lands, Rodsyn said,

"These are not gates and there was no great plot here. Can't you feel it? A god died here."

Morgan gulped and Kogoro set his jaw.

He still remembered the story of Izanagi and his wife, Izanami.

The war god's words did not bode well.

Not only because such a fact would come off as a bad omen for some of their members, but because that fact must be one of the many reasons perpetrators choose this area to enact whatever their plans were.

It took yet another day to find a clue to what they were looking for, but when they did, well...

Morgan gasped. "Humans...?"

Now they really needed to be the ones to handle this. If it got out that humans with the Council were kidnapping, then the Royal Knights would most definitely use that to further galvanize their cause.

Kogoro turned to their captain as he said, his voice low,

“It looks like a golden opportunity has presented itself. We can give our infiltration team a chance to test their sea legs, see if we can pull off some wet work and avoid raising an alarm.”

Then he pointed out the ones he had decided on for this sort of work earlier, Tesla, Aunt, Morningsong, Castiel, and Vane himself were the obvious choices, while declaring Cain "as a strong maybe". Kogoro mentally agreed with the assessment just as the captain then said,

“It's a solid core, but I’ll take anyone who’s confident in their sneaking ability if someone else wants in.” He turned specifically to the humans and their partners. “Some of you should probably accompany us as well. We don’t know if we’ll need a human touch in there.”

"Then, Captain, I would suggest bringing just Hernandez and Rex." Morgan tapped him and gestured his intent, but he nonetheless understood. "That is, Shula and Tyfrigo," he said, on the off chance they didn't know who he referred to with the infrequent use of family names. "She is the most experienced of all of us Tamers, particularly with Biomerging. So on the chance the operation goes off track, you don't have to worry about keeping her safe as much as myself or the other Tamers."

"Me?" Hernandez said, surprised, but quickly composed herself and nodded. "Sure, I can go." But then she turned to him with a concerned look. "But ain't you have more knowledge on machines, Kogoro? Wouldn't it be better if you go in case there's human based security?"

"That is covered by Aunt Zaza," he quickly reassured her. "What is important right now is the capability for infiltration and battle with little assistance in a worse case scenario for the operation."

"...all right, then if you're sure, and if Captain doesn't mind, I'm coming."

"I don't mind lass," the captain said before he towards Morgan. "But we'd best not dawdle too long. Someone might come along and catch us wagging out tounges out here. So get ready and keep your wits about you. We move on my mark."

"Roger that, Captain," Hernandez said.

Followed by Rex. "Yes sir."

And with that, the scouting group was settled, and Kogoro went back to making more plans to deal with the various possible scenarios that could come from this operation, with a "side project" of possible ways of helping Stein mend relations with the other members, most particularly with one. He had noticed Tesla not being as close to Stein despite what Hernandez had told him about their friendship. It wouldn't do for one of the few good relationships between two members to become distant.


God of Monsters
< Camelot, Avalon >

The work had been tireless, and blasphemous. Brudiclad toiled through the days and nights, unrelenting and unstopping. He had lost count of how many cycles he had spent connected to the Unimind, running the calculations necessary to turn their living gods into...


Nothing less than blasphemy of the highest order. But he'd done it.

Galahad and the Royal Knights would etch their names in the stones and stories when they won, but the scholars and scientists and mathematicians would synth his name for all time in the halls of the great academies. Brudiclad the Apostate; the Lifesplicer; the God Deconstructor.

The Digimon who had brought the fires of immortality to the people of the world; as a warm light for all Digimon-kind to share.

"So, Brudiclad?" came the voice of the Lord of Knights. There was a kindness to the urgency in his tone; a desire to be impressed by the Work.

Brudiclad turned and disconnected himself from the Unimind. He keyed to the startup sequence on his control tablet and offered it to Galahad. "Would you like the honors, my Lord?"

"In your stead? After the work you did?" Galahad politely declined with a wave of his hand. Brudiclad felt his servos quicken. "The honor should be yours."

Brudiclad bowed respectfully and then skillfully keyed in the last few commands needed to start the Henge. The great ring of stones began to tremble as power flowed into them from the modified prisons below. Immortal power.

God power.

The runes along the stelae began to glow, crackling with light. Jagged sparks of verdant arcane energy danced through the engraved markings, building in strength around the Henge. The air was heavy with that strange power. Glowing particles floated from the central stella, flowing through the Henge and bouncing back inwards off each of the outer stelae to create a swirling fractal pattern of light.

“It’s operational,” Galahad whispered. Brudiclad was unsure if the words were meant for him.

“Not quite,” the Andromon admitted. He slid his fingers over the control pad and the Henge powered down. “I’ve done what I can to restore it, but we’re missing the control module.” Galahad glanced down to the tablet. Brudiclad lifted it helplessly.

“This is a glorified ‘on’ switch,” he explained. “I can activate the Henge now, but this is little more than adding fuel to a fire. But control - really utilizing the Henge to its full capability the way we need it? We need something more.”

“And you’ve been unable to locate this ‘control module’ so far,” Galahad surmised.

Brudiclad nodded. “We’ve conducted deep scans throughout Avalon with no success. We have global scans; extrapolated some rudimentary locations based on distribution patterns, historical records, and trace readings, but risk alerting the Council to our intentions if we’re not careful.”

“If you find anything...”

“I will alert you at once.”


Serra Castiel
< The Savage Lands >

Serra looked at the installation in front of her, her three eyes taking in every detail. She watched as her comrades began to discuss possible plans for infiltration and sabotage, but she remained silent. Stealth - she supposed there was something flattering about being included. But there was something unnerving about the place. There was something about it that made her uneasy, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Almost like a strange humming that filled the air - she couldn't actually hear it, but it set her teeth on edge.

She watched as Tessa excitedly scribbled notes in her journal, her eyes alight with curiosity. Aria was grinning, her eyes darting from one person to the next, taking in the scene with a mixture of excitement and amusement. Zaza was talking in excited whispers to Shula and Frost. Henry leaned back against a tree, his eyes scanning the area, but a smile played at his lips. His joy at being vindicated seemed impossible to hide.

As she stood there, looking at the military installation in front of her, she couldn't help but feel a sense of unease wash over her in rhythmic pulses once more.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Henry's voice. "Are you with us, or not?" he asked impatiently.

She hesitated for a moment, unsure of whether or not she should join the infiltration party. On one hand, it could provide valuable information about the military installation and help their group better understand what they were up against. On the other hand, Samael's involvement made her uneasy.

She took a deep breath and made her decision. "I'll join you," she said, trying to sound confident.

Henry nodded in approval. "Good. Get ready."

She spent the next few minutes preparing for the mission, cleaning her weapons and equipment and mentally preparing herself for what was to come. As she made her way towards the group, she saw Samael standing there, watching her intently.

Their eyes met, and she felt a shiver run down her spine. She remembered all too well the dark path he had tried to lead her down, and the fear and uncertainty that had come with it.

But she also remembered the moments when he had saved her life, and the connection they had formed in their shared experiences. She knew that if she was going to do this, she couldn't let her past with Samael hold her back.

She was more than what he had tried to make her.

The rest of their little Guardian group was holding back. Michael was obviously planning on waiting with the rest in case things went sour. Stein had the stealth and tact of a flushing toilet, though one significantly more likely to explode and kill you. She had very little feel for Morgan or his human, and best she could figure, Dinadan wasn't much for sneaking around. Theo might, but she didn't exactly see the hulking BlackWarGreymon having an easy time maneuvering lightly through a human-sized hallway. Which also excluded Thor and Svarog. The remaining humans had been deemed "too inexperienced" with Biomerging and therefore too vulnerable.

That, and Deneb had a tendency to sing and hum all the damn time. But no one was saying that.

Despite her best efforts, she glanced quickly at Thor. He was embroiled in some sort of hushed mumbling with Svarog. The fire god had been in a sour mood ever since they had come upon those "gates" at the border of the Savage Lands. Their eyes met for a brief moment and he gave her an almost-imperceptible nod.

God, he was infuriating. How could he be so uncertain of his worth while being so sure of hers? And if he was unworthy, what did that mean for her? How could she possibly compare...and why did that seem to matter so much to her?

"If something happens we'll assist immediately," Michael said to Henry. "So long as you make it known."

With this group? Despite their need for stealth Serra doubted they'd be able to really keep quiet if things went south.

The group hugged the treeline before quickly cutting across the clearing and heading to a large metal door. There was a control panel of some sort embedded in the wall. They glanced pointedly at Shula who just shrugged and said, "Don't look at me like that. I've never seen anything like this before."

But it only took a few short minutes for Tessa and Zaza to analyze the pad with their respective expertises and hack their way in. Serra supposed it was better, sealth-wise than just kicking down the door.

The doors opened. Bathed in the glow of sporadic overhead lights, the corridor stretched forth like a labyrinthine maze, its polished concrete floor bearing the marks of countless footsteps.

Reinforced steel doors, sealed with further locking mechanisms, loomed ominously along the length of the hallway, guarding access to chambers beyond. Small, recessed pods were undoubtedly cameras, their red blinking lights casting eerie shadows upon the walls.

Tessa moved quickly and a spell of distortion spread from the orbs floating in her hands. A strange, sparkling haze spilled down the corridors and pooled around their team.

"We should be concealed now," Tessa said. Serra pushed through the strange cloudy haze; it was like moving through soap foam. "Where do we go?"

"Well if I had something to hide, it'd be in the whole damn middle," Samael said, checking his nails for dirt. He looked bored; probably was -- nothing to kill yet.

Ventilation grates dotted the floor at intervals, their metal frames worn and weathered from years of use, while the air carried a faint metallic tang mingled with the antiseptic scent of disinfectant. Doors, each marked with cryptic numerical designations and foreign symbols, branched off from the main corridor.

Amidst the hushed whispers of their group and the soft tread of footsteps, an aura of urgency and significance hung palpably in the air. They moved quickly through, following Henry's lead. To his -- and Zaza's -- credit, their metallic legs made no greater sound than the others' rushed footfalls. And all of them were hushed by the invisible foam cloud -- for lack of a better term. Serra supposed that Henry had done some sort of mental mapping of the facility's footprint, because they would often double-back along various corridors and follow new routes.

As they rounded yet another corner, however, Henry quickly ushered them back. They rounded away, but too late, and froze as a pair of humans walked into the hallway before them, entirely unaware of their presence. One stared down at a tablet as it walked while the other talked animatedly.

"If they step into the distortion they'll see us," Tessa whispered worriedly. Samael stepped forward and drew his weapon. He took steady, eager and unflinching aim.

Serra froze, unsure of herself. Should she stop him? But stop what? Stop him from killing a human for the fun of it? Or stop him from protecting the mission?

"Stop!" Tessa hissed softly. "I can't dampen the sound of a Mega digimon's attack!" Samael gave her a strange, scathing look and holstered his weapon. They kept backtracking, sticking closely to Tessa and moving awkwardly as a large group.

Then a ferocious look came over Samael's face. Serra recognized it too late -- he reacted faster than she could intercept. He reached through Tessa's distortion field, grabbed the humans by the throat, and pulled them into it.

"Damnit!" Henry growled. "What're ye doing?"

"Skipping to the good part," Samael sneered. "Enough with the skulking through hallways crap. You, fleshbags, one of ya better tell me what I wanna know!"

There was little more than half-choked mutterings and gasps of fear. "Last chance..."

"They don't even know what you're talking about, you idiot," Serra snapped. She tried to pry Samael's claws off their necks, but his grip was as iron hard and unbreakable as she remembered. He finally relented and she pulled one of the humans free.

"We understand there are missing Digimon here," Serra said. "Digimon who were taken. By you. Whoever you are."

"We don't -- I don't -- We're just--" the human Serra freed stammered. Glancing repeatedly to his compatriot still in Samael's grasp.

"Wrong answer," Samael snarled. He twitched, so goddamn fast, and the human dropped to the floor while his head rolled down the hall. The other Guardians seemed too stunned to speak, but Serra had her weapon pressed against Samael's head a half-second later. He hoisted the human still in his grip higher. "Now all I've got left to talk to is you. Better not disappoint."

"Let her go," Serra said, surprised by the even keel of her voice. Her hand was equally steady. Samael's three eyes all turned to stare at her, but her resolve remained unflinching.

Samael dropped the woman and she fell to the floor in a heap. Staring wild and wide-eyed at the decapitated corpse of her colleague, muttering "monsters" over and over. Serra pulled her gently to her feet.

"We be goin' t'need's an answer, lass," Henry drawled, unable to hide the unease in his voice. There was a noticeable berth around Samael now. "We didn' come t'cause trouble but lives are on the line 'n we can't be waste time."

"Your life, specifically," Samael hinted.

"Just experiments," the human whispered, still staring and her colleague's headless body in shock. "Just experiments."

"Where, poppet? Show us where," Henry urged softly. He knelt down beside her. "We'll take 'em home t' thar families, 'n then we can get the rest o' this sorted."

The woman nodded blankly and rose to her feet. She started walking down the hall and they followed. She led the way around a few more corners, with Henry's hand on her shoulder at all times; a steady, but warning, presence.

Finally she led them to a large metal door. She glanced over to the nearby keypad and pressed a few virtual buttons. But something was off in her movements; an emptiness, a resignation…

"No!" Serra shouted, and was shocked to find Samael shouting the same. They had realized it a half-second too late. The woman keyed something quickly and warning klaxons blared throughout the building.

"Damnit," Henry hissed. He glanced at the woman with exasperation.

And she exploded into a gorey mess of blood and bone.

Red trailed from Samael's claws, and he kicked down the door with the same fluid motion he had used to turn the human woman into a shredded mess. A large room lay on the other side, filled with computers and lights and glowing tubes. There were shouts of surprise and alarm and then a mess of humans falling over one another in a scramble to figure out what was happening.

"Okay, everyone. Let's jus' calm down fer a minute here," Henry's voice carried far, pleading reason. "No needs t' escalate this any further."

Towards the center of the large room, suspended in roughly a dozen glowing tubes, were Digimon in various modes of sleep. Some seemed to be resting deeply, others looked to be in more distress.

"Ye seem t' 'ave some o' our kin held thar. Wha' do ye say ye open up those...tanks? Vats? Whathaveyou. 'N get this sorted by the proper authorities?" Henry offered. "We do nah needs t' be enemies."

But even as he said this, whatever process the humans were participating in continued. The digimon in the tank nearest the leftmost wall shuddered violently and erupted into data particles. Those particles were drained from the glowing vat and drawn into a smaller canister. With revulsion, Serra realized that dozens of such canisters lined the shelves and walls of the room.

"What in all the hells are you doing?" she demanded, with gasps rising from the other Guardians. The humans, still scrambling like mad, had no words. They watched the process with horrific calm. "Put them back!"

"We can't," one of the humans said. They had all stopped working and were crowding together, half-cowering.

"Do it anyway," Henry ordered, his voice missing the placating tone and with a much harder edge.

"It's just data now. We haven't yet figured out how to get everything back in its original configuration."

"But you did this anyway!" Aria shouted, gesturing to the rows of shelves with canisters lining them. "You killed them without reason! Without--"

"It's just data!" another human said, this time more forcefully. "It's not killing, it's just reformatting."

"Not to them!" Zaza snarled. "You--!"

Another door beside them slid open and another group of humans came rushing in. These were not the white-coated lab dorks in the room first, but were outfitted in light body armor, fatigues, and combat boots. Soldiers.

Curiously, they had no visible weapons. They'd be pretty ineffective, but still…curious.

"You need to leave," said one of the soldiers. He glared at them and pointed. "You're going to turn around and walk away. And you're going to find whatever farce qualifies for a government in this world and tell them all about this, but when you return we'll already be gone. And in return we won't hold you accountable for the lives you've taken today."

"Big talk from a little meat sack," Samael sneered. "How 'bout 'no'?"

"We be nah leavin' without the Digimon ye've taken captive," Henry declared. He stepped forward. "That part's non-negotiable."

But even as he said this, another Digimon dissolved in its tube.

"No!" Zaza shouted. "Stop it!" She fired a shot that shattered the glass of the next tube but even that Digimon inside had already dissolved.

"Stop them!" the human soldier shouted. Each soldier reached into a pocket.

But Samael was moving, his blood already up from the two humans he had killed before. He flew into the room like a black shadow. His claws cut long gashes in the human machinery and left their scientists in fleshy ribbons on the floor. Seven were dead before the soldiers could finish drawing what they were reaching for and shouting:

"Bio-Hybrid DNA Charge! Bio-Hybrid Digivolve!"


Light exploded from the thirteen human soldiers, blinding Serra momentarily. Her eyes adjusted to the glare just in time to see the Mercurymon strike. Moving like the wind itself and knocking Samael away just as he was halfway through shredding another human scientist.

Serra let loose with a hail of gunfire, and was quickly joined by Zaza and Henry. The former-human soldiers split away, dodging the attacks with the skill and grace of the Mega level Digimon they inhabited.

But how? How had they managed to digivolve without partners? She'd seen the humans do that Biomerge stuff before, but never just…without a Digimon to merge with.

Suddenly what their guides had said about the Council abducting other Digimon made a lot more sense. It was mistaken identity -- thirteen god-clad impostors plucking Digimon up to use in whatever godforsaken experiments they were doing here. In her anger, Serra finally understood Galahad's point.

Samael had fought back against the Mercurymon, matching velocity with savagery and driving it back. Though they might look it, these human-Digimon hybrids were not gods themselves, and Samael proved it by raking his claws across the Mercurymon's chest and driving its face into the ground. He stood gloating a few moments too long, however, as the Plutomon blasted him away with a barrage of dark energy.

"We're outnumbered," Henry growled. "Where are the rest? Wasn't that loud enough fer 'em?"

And right on cue, the roof of the compound exploded and the rest of the Guardians came pouring in.

"Blow me down!" Henry whooped. "Excellent timing!"


Knight of RPGs
James Reeve and Artanis Dawnflame (BlitzGreymon)
The Savage Lands

The roof blew open and they raced down, verniers propelling them. Already Biomerged, Artanis landed before the Marsmon of the Council's doppelgangers. Sparks crackled around his gauntlets, his plasma shield shimmering around him.

What happened here, James thought from within as he saw the unmistakable ruin of human bodies around them. But there was no time for that as the Marsmon lunged, no words, no warning, no posturing. Just a snarl and a rush of blazing fists. Artanis surged to meet them with a cry of "Plasma Stake!", storm-wreathed gauntlets hammering against the Marsmon's fire. They traded blows back and forth, the BlitzGreymon's shield holding as he deflected some blows and directly countered others.

The Marsmon leapt back and the flames around his hands flared higher. "Corona Sanctions!" he bellowed in mid-air, suddenly reversing his direction and rocketing at Artanis in a surge of fire. The BlitzGreymon ignited his boosters in turn and they collided, lightning against the inferno, Plasma Stake against Corona Sanctions.

The impact blew them apart and sent both skidding back across the ground, only to rush together again.


Hoshiko Yukimura and Okatsu Sekishusai (CresGarurumon)
The Savage Lands

Okatsu landed on her feet and brandished her weapon. Already she could sense something had happened here, something not to plan. The room reeked of blood, of death, swamping her keen sense of smell. There were bodies across the room in the garb of scientists, she gleaned from Hoshiko's thoughts even as her partner's revulsion rang across their bond.

The Mercurymon rose with claw marks in its chest, glancing around a moment for an assailant who had clearly moved on, then turned to Okatsu as the closest threat. Okatsu almost spoke, almost offered a chance to stand down, but caught herself. It was plainly too late in this room that stank of killing. More than the human bodies, she could feel the echoes of Digimon lives here too, snuffed out somehow.

Hoshiko said nothing. Within Okatsu, she drank in the atmosphere, the bodies, and she knew who had done this. He was there in the background, claws red with blood. The same claws that had marked the Mercurymon.

The Mercurymon lunged with knife ready, becoming a blur as Okatsu brought up her weapon to guard. She stepped back at each swipe of the blade, parrying some with flashing strikes of her blade, dodging others by a hair's breadth. Cold, dark thoughts passed over her bond with Hoshiko, clawing at her own mind like shards of black ice. She hurled icicles at the Mercurymon with a cry of "Geki: Hyougetsuga!" to buy some space, attempting to soothe her partner even as she focused on the false Olympian's movements.

She could smell it as Okatsu could, the stench of broken bodies and blood. It wasn't unfamiliar and it brought a flood of memories, other bodies, other places. Hoshiko tried to swallow it down and keep it there but she couldn't stem the tide gushing through her mind like dark frost. Okatsu took a slash from the knife and the pain tore over their bond, Hoshiko clutching her arm in sympathy.

"Hoshiko! Calm yourself, please!" Okatsu pleaded, even as she skirted back from a volley of punches and slashes. The Mercurymon rushed into the opening he'd made and a second slash went through it, nicking her neck this time in the gap between breastplate and helmet. Another volley of icicles forced him back, but as he landed he bellowed "Spiritual Enchantment!" and slashed with the knife. It tore a wound in the air itself, spilling out nightmarish shapes. They moved like oil and surrounded Okatsu, brandishing barbed claws and wicked fangs. The CresGarurumon lunged at the nearest and a swipe of her blade dispatched it, but more spilled from the crack in reality, the Mercurymon quickly weaving through them as a blur.

Hoshiko could feel Okatsu's pain. Each fresh wound stuck in her mind like a shard of black ice, cold and sharp. They joined the others there, the older ones. Every death. Every partner left behind. Every time she had failed. Helpless as that night with the tears frozen on her cheeks. She could feel it even now, closing in around her even here in her sphere of light within Okatsu.

She hated it.

She was choking on the stench.

Okatsu raised her weapon as the apparitions closed in, conjuring dozens of icy copies. She brought the blade down and a hail of halberds impaled the shades over and over again, ripping them to pieces. She winced and groaned as Hoshiko's emotions stabbed icy splinters into her mind, but powered through the pain just in time to block the next blow of the knife. The Mercurymon was relentless, tearing more wounds in the world for his shades to pour through. He struck again when she was fending off two of them, too fast for her to see as

A shard of ice stabbed her back, through her chest. Ripping at an old wound. Hoshiko screamed, remembered the pain in Glen Elendra. Remembered the helplessness, the panic. Her mind spun in agony, the light around her dimming as pitch-dark frost crept across it. The bodies. The blood. She choked, gasped. The shard of ice through her back and breast. Through Okatsu.

Black as Samael's sword.

She saw him then, through the looming shadows, fighting something else with his claws bloody.

Her fingers clenched like claws, nails like frozen splinters as they bit her palms.

She choked again on pain, on helplessness, on failure, on bitterness.

Okatsu pulled herself off the knife and whirled, gasping "Jurou Daikaiten!" as she leapt. Her spinning blade slashed through the shades around them and rent them asunder, but it couldn't catch the Mercurymon as he sped around her. He was less than a blur even, when she saw him he was already ahead. She could have smelled him, were the room not already thick with another stench. Pain crossed their bond once more and Okatsu flinched, only just catching the knife as it came for her breast. It bit her palm and ripped deeper when the Mercurymon pulled it back to avoid the slash she answered with. She hurled more ice down all around herself and forced him to retreat once more, weapon at the ready. She struggled to try and soothe Hoshiko, but she couldn't reach her partner. Every time she tried it was as though a black glacier stood between them, a dark, bitter edifice.

Theo had warned her of this.

Hoshiko curled in on herself there at the centre of a frozen sphere. She could feel the cold, chilling her right to the core like it had that night. She could only barely feel Okatsu, besides the pain. Her hand now, torn on an edge of ice to join the shards she dug into her palms. Hoshiko shivered and shook, drank deep of the dark. Phantoms danced across the ice around her, the lives she'd lost, the people she'd failed. Their faces on ghastly parade. Pain wracked her body only to be numbed, an icy anger enveloping her.


She balled her fists as tight as they would go.


Hoshiko Yukimura screamed into the frozen darkness and black ice engulfed her.

The Mercurymon lunged when Okatsu fell to one knee, sensing weakness and a chance to end it. His knife was drawn back, rushing forward, stabbing down-

It never made contact. Jet black ice surged up around Okatsu and enveloped her, turning his blade aside. He had a moment to stare in shock before the icy prison around the CresGarurumon exploded and hurled him back in a volley of dark shards. The false Olympian escaped with mere cuts but his shades were ripped to pieces by the razor-sharp icicles, bitter and cold as the void. Numbed by their bite, the Mercurymon looked at Okatsu.

A jet black shape stalked through a freezing mist, only dull accents of red and iron standing out from the silhouette. It prowled forward on all fours, not so much enveloped by the mist as generating it. Golden eyes opened fixed on their prey. Claws scraped on a floor that froze beneath them. A wolf made of steel and wrapped in rime, silent as the grave as she glared with icy hatred.