Episode 04 - Wishful Flyer

    “Look guys, I’m just saying: it’s not my fault.”

      “Sky, save it!”

      “It’s Loonmon’s fault.”

      “W-what?! It’s not!”

      They had made the mistake of leaving Sky and Loonmon alone with the food while they searched for water. Vincent and Mingomon came across a pathway out of the forest and to a river with no real water but, instead, what appeared to be a bluish data stream that ran thought it, with pixilated blocks and glowing waves that left Vincent’s hands wet when he dipped them in. They had grouped up again with the good news only to find a crumb-covered Sky pointing at a definitely rounder Loonmon.

      “Even if it had been just Loonmon, you should have known better than to allow her.” Beatrix pointed out.

      “Whaaaaat? I thought you said I should get along with her more. Make up your minds.” Sky tried to shrug as innocently as he could, but the smirk adorning his face said otherwise.

      “Why would you accuse me, Sky?” Loonmon wailed.

      “You are an ungrateful swine, you know that?”

      Ruby, clutching at her hurting stomach, gave out a low growl and turned her head, glaring daggers at Sky, who promptly went silent, hands deep in his pockets. Loonmon sighed sadly, her eyes watering just slightly before she pushed her goggles up and rubbed at them. Perhaps so nobody would notice their new redness, she took off high into the air, flying ahead of the group.

      The heat was taking its toll, even with the slight coolness provided by the river they were following. The air was sizzling and stuffy, seeping into their throats with difficulty. Coats were discarded and sleeves rolled up as sweat ran down ran down their faces and clung sticky locks of hair to their foreheads. The Digimon didn’t seem to be fairing any better, especially Melamon with all of his fur. Mingomon followed along through the river, nudging at Vincent with a wet beak occasionally to keep the boy going. Cinismon was the only one who seemed to be completely at home in such a high temperature, even if he was quite grumpy that Beatrix didn’t want him anywhere near her.

      “Sooooo hungry!” Cinismon moaned.

      “I know…” Beatrix said.

      “The food we had wasn’t any good anyway. I’m a carnivore, people!”

      Beatrix sent him a sympathetic look. She looked around, her eyes stopping on Mingomon. “If only we had some…chicken wings…”

      Cinismon followed his partner’s eyes and focused on Mingomon as well. He could just imagine how good his fellow Digimon would taste roasted over a nice fire. He licked his lips at the thought. “Yeah…or some pork.” He added, nodding at the tiny spot in the sky that was Loonmon.

      “We’ve been travelling with flying bacon!” Beatrix let out, exasperated. “There’s the solution for our problems!”

      “You want to eat Loonmon?” Melamon cut in, his mouth twisted and tongue out in disgust.

      “Oh, be my guest if that’s your plan.” Sky said, raising his arm.

      Beatrix looked Melamon over, her eyes locking on the bamboo growing from his back. “Melamon, you would make the most delicious Chinese salad.”

      “Excuse me?!”

      “Mmmm…” Cinismon eyed Bovimon over. “With a side of beef…”

      Bovimon frowned at her fellow Digimon but before she could come up with a comeback, Ruby flung her arm in front of her chest and glared at Cinismon. “You back off before I throw you into the river.” She said in a low tone.

      “Ouch, better watch it, people, she’s serious.” Sky said with a quiet laugh.

      Cinismon puffed up with a low hiss, before turning away and continuing to test how close he could get to Beatrix before she pushed him off with a foot.

      Ruby was in a dreadful mood. Her stomach burned, her feet ached and she had to fight had to fight back the urge to ask where they were going, knowing perfectly well that they were just wandering. Looking for something, or somewhere. She just hoped it was home. With a quiet sigh she raised her head and her eyes widened as she caught sight of Henry, walking a few steps in front of her. “Henry, how’s your shoulder? Still hurting?”

      “Oh!” the boy turned around, one eyebrow raised at her. “It’s much better, actually, thanks. Those herbs must have been really       good.”

      “Did they have sewing abilities?”

      “What?”

      Ruby pointed. “Your shirt is mended.”

      Henry grabbed at his shoulder and felt soft fabric beneath his fingertips. He pressed down, expecting a dull pain, but didn’t even feel so much as a sting. The group stopped in their tracks, humans and Digimon alike gathering around Henry to look for something that, sure enough, wasn’t there anymore.

      “That’s weird, man.” Sky said, shaking his head.

      “Melamon, were those herbs supposed to do this?” Henry asked, still pressing down on his shoulder.

      “I am not an expert, but I would have to say no.” Melamon said without paying too much attention, taking advantage of the pause to dip his paws in the river.

      Vincent seemed mesmerized. “That’s…impossible!” and as he said it his lips stretched wider in a grin.

      Beatrix raised both eyebrows at him. “More of your chosen ones theory?”

      “Maybe we’ve gained healing powers with our new status. Or…” Vincent threw his hands up. “Guys! Maybe we’re immortal!”

      Beatrix rolled her eyes and turned away with a scoff, a laughing Cinismon taking the time to latch on her shoulder. The other Digimon frowned and traded glances between them, with Bovimon whispering to Melamon “Humans are really strange.”

      Mingomon tilted his head. “That’s ridiculous, Vincent. Why would you be immortal?”

      “And what does immortality have to do with the shirt mending?” Ruby added.

      Vincent shot a quick look of annoyance at the girl before turning back to his Digimon. “Because we’re special now. How do you explain Henry’s sudden healing powers?”

      Mingomon’s wings lifted in a shrug. “Digimon heal quickly. No one is wondering about Melamon being healthy, why are you all worked up over Henry?”

      All eyes turned to Melamon. Sure enough, the panda Digimon had taken quite a beating and yet he didn’t have a single scratch or bruise to show for it.  He looked tired, but then again, so did everyone else. Henry touched a spot over the Digimon’s face where he was sure there was a cut, but found nothing. Melamon only smiled at him.

      “Guess I didn’t really notice…” Henry said, stroking his Digimon’s head.

      “Do not get worked up over me as well, please.” Melamon sighed from under Henry’s hand. “You are right, Bovimon, humans are strange.”

      “Humans don’t normally heal like that, Melamon.” Ruby explained. “Nor do clothes magically mend themselves.”

      “So you’re more fragile than we thought.” Bovimon pointed out, her eyes widening and looking over Ruby, searching for some injury she might have missed.

      “That means we have to stay close.” Cinismon announced, rubbing his head against Beatrix’s hand, who just pushed him away unceremoniously, crying about how it was too hot for him to be that close.

      Up in the sky, Loonmon suddenly became agitated. The little dot that was her body seemed to bounce up and down, before it came dashing down to the floor, straight into her partner’s arms. “There’s a village up ahead! I saw it!”

      “A village?” Beatrix asked, her eyes brightening.

      “A village!” Ruby grabbed Bovimon’s paws and danced around with the Digimon, the two laughing.

      “Great work, bacon!” Sky cheered, patting Loonmon lighting and awkwardly on the head. “Let’s roll!” he took off, a beaming Loonmon close behind.

      Henry rubbed at his chin. “Maybe we’ll find people there.”

      “What?” Vincent let out in a panicked voice and raised his hands in the air, gesticulating franticly.  “You think there’s other people besides us in this world?”

      “I sure hope so. Maybe they would know how to get us home.” Henry frowned. “You make it sound like a bad thing.”

      “It is a bad thing!” Vincent freed his D-Bug from his belt and shoved it in Henry’s face. “We can’t go back, we have a mission!”

      “Chill. Out. Vincent.” Henry growled, pushing the other boy’s hand away with a slow but much too firm grip.

      “Do not fight!” Melamon pleaded, tugging at Henry’s shirt. Mingomon stepped out of the river in a frenzy, tumbling over his own feet, and stood with spread wings in front of Vincent. Henry started to clench his fists when someone took a hold of his arm and pulled hard, making him yelp in surprise.

      “Both of you shut up and get going.” Beatrix pulled Henry along by the arm, not giving him any time to complain. “Ruby and Sky are already up ahead, so stop acting like babies.”

      Henry was too busy trying to control the deep blush of shame spreading quickly across his cheeks to complain. Face down, he followed after Beatrix, with a relieved Melamon scolding him at his side.

      Vincent looked mournfully at his D-Bug, the blank screen catching the light of the sun. Mingomon placed a wing over his back. “Hey, don’t worry about it. You’re in the right.” He nudged Vincent’s arm with his beak. “Let’s go meet the others. I know you all don’t get along very well now but I’m sure soon enough you’ll make friends. Like me and the other Digimon, we’re friends, even if Cinismon wants to eat us, which is not very nice.” Vincent laughed and gave a few gentle pats to Mingomon’s beak before strapping his D-Bug back on his belt.

*

      A row of two-story houses sat on the riverfront. The walls were painted in colourful stripes, with roofs made of black bricks. All the windows had their curtains drawn and all the doors were locked shut. The village extended beyond that, all neat rows of houses with thatched roofs and overhanging upper floors surrounding a big town square where a wooden stage stood. It was rather small, the group managing to cross it in a short time, their steps echoing around them on the stone floor.

      “Creepy…” Ruby whispered, looking at the dark windows of the upper floors.  

      “Is this a ghost town?” Sky wondered aloud in a cheerful voice, hands behind his head.

      “Ghosts aren’t real.” Beatrix scoffed, shaking her head.

      “Considering our current situation, I think that’s debatable.” Henry said, placing a hand over Melamon’s head.

      “I’m sure there’s other Digimon here.” Cinismon said, sniffing the air. He narrowed his bright yellow eyes at the windows. “They must be hiding for some reason.”

      “Maybe they are scared of us. Like the Puroromon Henry and I met.” Melamon pointed out.

      “Does that mean we’re going to get jumped? I’d rather if we didn’t.” Ruby whispered, looking behind her shoulder.

      Sky took a deep breath. “Oh man, I hope there’s no evil Digimon that wants to eat us around here, since we’re so fragile and defenseless!” he shouted, his voice echoing down the street.

      “Sky, don’t provoke them!” Loonmon squeaked, flying very close to the ground and looking around, wide-eyed.

      “We’re not defenseless. Ruby and I will protect you, so you don’t have to be afraid.” Bovimon said cheerfully, oblivious to the quiet glare Cinismon was giving her, or the way Melamon crossed his arms and mumbled about being able to evolve too.

      Mingomon watched and listened intently to the conversation, eager to jump in. But Vincent’s silence stopped him. The boy was walking hunched over and looking down at the D-Bug in his hand.

      His empty stomach hurt and he felt light-headed. The clock in the screen warned him it was way over lunchtime. He pressed buttons at random, exploring through menus and functions. Clock, compass, tracker, storage, digital kick…Vincent came to a halt. He didn’t know this one. The words flashed on the screen as Mingomon nudged at his elbow but Vincent ignored him. He traced the button with his fingertip. What would happen if he pressed it?

      “Whoa! Check this out!”

      Sky’s voice broke him out of his trance, followed by a collective gasp. Putting his D-Bug away, he noticed the group had followed a narrow dirt road between houses. He snaked easily through the pathway, with Mingomon fumbling after him and as he made it around the corner, he came to a sudden halt, eyes widening. “What the…?”
 
      The floor behind the village was breached, a deep chasm extending to the full length of the village and disappearing further into the trees up ahead. It was pitch black, as if someone had just cut out a piece of the landscape. Sky picked up a loose rock from the ground and threw it into the void. They all scooted closer to try to hear it reach the bottom, seeing instead the rock falling a few feet and disintegrating into tiny data particles that floated up into the sky, right before they lost sight of it.

 

      “This is really dangerous…” Ruby murmured, stepping back from the chasm.

      “This is really awesome!” Sky shouted, squatting down on the ground to pick up more rocks.

      “I want to do it too!”

      Melamon helped the three boys scoop up rocks and joined up in throwing them, everyone trying to see who could throw the furthest, which rock disappeared faster and experimenting with throwing many rocks at once. Mingomon, Loonmon and Cinismon floated over the chasm, occasionally making quick dives before flying up again, each time going a little bit further down while the boys egged them on from land, much to Beatrix’s amusement and Ruby’s distress. Bovimon wasn’t too happy with it either; she stared at the abyss with narrowed eyes and shook her head, the bell on her neck chiming. “This place feels wrong.”

      “Why can’t the others feel it too?” Ruby asked, flinching as the Digimon took a dive into the darkness once again.

      “I’m sure they can, they’re just trying to make their partners happy.” Bovimon took a quick look at the bow tied around her tail. “I know you would just worry if I played like them.”

      “I don’t like this place either.” Ruby said, shaking her head. Beatrix had joined the boys in their rock experiments and it took all of Ruby’s willpower not to yell at them to stop. She took Bovimon’s paw in her hand and started walking back down the path.

      Warned by the noise of shuffling dirt and pebbles, Beatrix turned her head. “Hey, Ruby! Where are you going?”

      Ruby’s posture turned very rigid for a moment before she turned around, smiling. “I’m going back to the square with Bovimon, we want to explore the stage.”

      “I’m going with you, then.” Beatrix said, tossing the remainder of her rocks over her shoulder. Vincent yelped as one of them hit the back of his head but Beatrix didn’t bother to look.

      “That’s a neat idea, I’ll join you, ladies.” Sky said, running after Beatrix.

      “Wait for me!” Much to Sky’s dismay, Loonmon abandoned her flight demonstrations and latched herself to the boy’s back, snuggling against the back of his neck.

*

      The stage was rectangular and made of dark wood, with a small set of stairs leading up to it. A metal structure in a half-moon shape extended over it, covered by a white cloth, probably to protect the stage from rain. Latched to the metal was a row of spotlights pointing to the center of the stage. Sky climbed atop the stage, ignoring the stairs, and his feet made a loud thud as they hit the wood. It was hollow.

      “I wonder what they use this for.” Bovimon poked at metal railings with her claws, the sound resonating around them. Loonmon flew up and scratched lightly at the cloth.

      “Crazy parties, I’m sure.” Sky was walking around the stage, stepping down hard on the floor. “I think there’s something under the floor.”

      “How would you know that?” Beatrix tried stomping down where she stood.

      “It sounds different depending on where I step."

      Ruby sat down at the edge of the stage, swinging her legs over the side and watched as Sky kept testing the floor, with Bovimon jumping around in an attempt to help. At least they were in the shade now, but there was still the issue of food. Could they really leisure around like this? She thought they should search the houses, break in if they had to. If there were Digimon abound she would do as Bovimon said and protect everyone, so it would be fine.

      “Found it!”

      Sky was kneeling on the floor, his hands pressing down in front of his knees. There was a click and a triumphant shout as Sky lifted a square of wooden floor clean off. “Behold, a trapdoor.”

      The girls crowded around the newly discovered opening, taking turns to peer in at what was inside, all under the smug watch of Sky, who held the trapdoor open for them.

      “I wonder what’s inside.” Ruby said while leaning further in, locks of hair falling over her shoulder and covering her face.

      “Only one way to find out. This is when I would roll up my sleeves for effect, but they’re already short, so…” Sky straightened up and motioned for Beatrix. “Hold this open for me.”

      Sky gave the opening a quick look before unceremoniously jumping in. He coughed as the dust picked up from his landing and slipped into his nose. The cracks between the floorboards let some light shine through, allowing him to see that the stage harboured several instrument cases underneath it. So gleeful he was at his discovery that he straightened up and hit his head hard on the wood. Up on the stage, Ruby flinched at the sound.

      “You alright in there, ponytail?” Beatrix shouted.

      “Sky, should I go with you?” Loonmon asked with a shaky voice, clearly not fully agreeing with the idea as she took in the darkness beneath the trapdoor.

      Sky rubbed frantically at his stinging scalp, the pain fading away slowly the more he pressed down. “I’m fine, it was just a little bump. More importantly, there’s stuff down here.”

      “What kind of stuff?” Bovimon asked.

      “Music instruments, dozens of them.”

      “You can play?” Beatrix asked, raising her eyebrows in disbelief.

      “You bet I can!”

      The girls listened intently to the creaking of Sky’s steps as he shuffled with the cases and grumbled to himself. Finally, he gave out a triumphant cry and tossed a case over the opening, nearly hitting Loonmon, who was peering in. Beatrix dragged it away so he could climb up safely and Ruby closed the trapdoor behind him.

      “What’s in here?” Loonmon asked, poking the worn-out, dark grey case.

      “Only the sexiest instrument known to Earth.”  Sky grinned and opened the case, the sun getting caught in the golden brass. “A saxophone!”

*

      Cinismon and Melamon had quieted down, finally succumbing to the hunger and heat. They had nestled against each other under the shade of one of the houses and dozed off. Mingomon continued his flight in a more tranquil manner, floating gently over the abyss, simply enjoying the feeling of the wind in his wings as Vincent and Henry watched him in silence, their legs over the side of the chasm. Vincent had taken off his shirt along with his jacket and had it propped over his damp hair. Henry had taken to stripping down to the white t-shirt he wore underneath his sweater and rolling up his pants. He was toying with a pebble that had escaped the fate of being thrown into the chasm.

      “Say, Vincent, I’m sorry I snapped at you back there.” Henry said suddenly, his voice very measured. Vincent turned to look at him, but Henry was still watching the pebble in his hands. “We’re all hungry and tired and I guess I’m just on edge over…well, over all of this, really.”

      Vincent took a very deep breath. The corners of his eyebrows curled upwards, his eyes narrowed and his lips fell. He cleared his throat a bit before letting out in his most mellow voice “I’m sorry too. I’m missing my family as well.” A well played lie; he hadn’t even spared them a thought since they had arrived at the Digital World. “But I just can’t help feeling we came here for a reason.”

      Henry smiled softly and looked over his shoulder at the sleeping Melamon. “To tell you the truth, so do I.” He chuckled “This is like the letter I never got for my birthday…”

      “What letter?”

      Henry shook his head. “Nothing important. Back on the subject, I feel like I have to believe we’re meant for something great, if only because I saw Melamon evolve.” Vincent’s eyes narrowed but Henry didn’t seem to notice as he placed a hand over his chest before continuing. “It’s an amazing feeling, like some kind of warmth is spilling out of your chest and enveloping your whole body. It’s hard to describe but you’ll see when Mingomon gets his turn.”

      Vincent forced a smile and looked up at the flying shape of Mingomon. Why did he have to wait for his turn? Why did Bovimon and Melamon evolve before him? They had never looked particularly strong to him. He understood that world better than the others and he had a poisonous flamingo for a partner. Not a cow or a fluffy bear! So why hadn’t Mingomon evolved yet?

      Henry placed a hand over his arm, breaking him out of his thoughts. “You hear that?”

      Vincent did. It was music, saxophone to be exact. Henry stood and went to shake Melamon awake. The Digimon sat up abruptly, eyes half-closed and vision blurry “Wha-what’s going on?”

      Henry smiled and lifted the panda Digimon in his arms. “There’s music coming from the square. Let’s go see!”

      Vincent put his shirt back on and waved at Mingomon. “Get down here! We’re going to the square!” without waiting, he took off after Henry.

      Mingomon landed by the side of a still sleeping Cinismon. He lowered his head and looked around the corner to make sure no one was watching. Then with a quick wing flap he blew out the flames of Cinismon’s whiskers before running away, tripping over himself due to the hurry.

      Cinismon was awake with a jump and a loud hiss, his whole body arching and his ears flattening. The sound of Mingomon’s laughter made him realize quickly what had happened and with a growl he was sprinting down the pathway after the treacherous flamingo. He was already at the square when he reached him, safe by Vincent’s side. Huffing, Cinismon crawled up Beatrix’s overalls and nudged at her face. “Bea, Bea, Mingomon –“

      “Hush, Cinismon!” Beatrix placed a finger over the Digimon’s nose and turned her attention back to the stage. Cinismon rubbed at his nose with a paw, betrayed, and with a grumble settled in silence to enjoy the show.

      Sky wasn’t lying when he said he could play. The notes flowed smoothly from the instrument, carried effortlessly by his fingers. His eyes were closed and his body swayed to the music, not always in the correct rhythm, as he seemed to be improvising, but the beat of his foot on the stage seemed to always follow the notes.

      He wasn’t even done playing the last note when the cheering started to mix with applause. He lifted the saxophone above his head like he was showing off a winner’s cup, before taking an overly flourished bow to his audience. The applause grew in volume and intensity. When he raised his head back up he saw why and nearly dropped the saxophone at the sight. At the entrance of the square stood a group of green, frog-like creatures with huge eyes bulging out of their heads and horns snaking around their thin necks. All of them looked in absolute awe as they clapped, huge, glimmering eyes fixed on Sky, who quickly picked up his D-Bug.

      “Gekomon, champion level. Virus type. His attack, Symphony Crusher, can destroy an enemy from the inside out.” The holographic screen closed. “Oh man, that’s just awesome! Hey –”

      Loonmon jumped on him then, sending them both crashing against the stage floor. Still holding firmly onto Sky’s shirt with one paw she pointed accusatorially to the group of Gekomon’s with the other. “Evil Digimon!”

      The Digimon jumped in formation in front of their partners, paws and wings raised, brows furrowed. The flames on Cinismon’s whiskers came alight again and grew for a moment. “I was itching for a good fight.” His claws scraped against the stone floor. “Come on, I’ll take you all!”

      The Gekomon yelped and cowered, trying to hide behind each other but otherwise not moving from where they stood. Ruby wondered if they even could, shaky as their little legs were. One of them, covering his head, shouted, “Please don’t hurt us!”

      “We just wanted to hear the music!” said another from the back, his voice cracking.

      “Excuses!” Cinismon shouted back, baring his tiny fangs.

      “Stop!” Bovimon extended an arm in front of Cinismon. “Let’s hear them out.” Cinismon glared at her, but held his ground, flames diminishing.  Bovimon addressed the Gekomon “I’m sorry about my friend.”

      The Gekomon were still shuddering but one of them, all the way from the back of the group, spoke up timidly “We saw you arrive so we hid away. We thought you have been sent by the Crusaders.”

      “Who are the –“ Vincent started to ask, but the Gekomon continued.

      “But when we heard such magnificent music we had to know who was the bearer of such talent!”

      “Hear that, guys?” Sky whispered down to the group, gripping the edges of the stage. “Magnificent music, they said.”

      “Surely someone playing like that couldn’t be evil!” by that time the Gekomon seemed to have lost all their fear and were all nodding in agreement.

      “Surely not!” Sky added, nodding along with them. He pried a squirming Loonmon away from his shirt and stood up. “These frog peeps are wise.”

      “Please, sir, play once more!” one Gekomon asked from the front, with the rest of the group joining in the pleading soon after.

      “Whoa there!” Henry took a step forward, her hands raised. “I’m sorry, but we don’t really have time to stand around playing music for you.” Behind him, Beatrix nodded, her arms folded over her chest.

      The Gekomon wailed at this, some of them falling to their knees on the ground. “You must stay! Please stay!”

      “Awww, poor little guys, just look at them.” Sky extended his arm, taking in the whole group of Gekomon with a hand wave. Loonmon was whining and pulling at the hem of his shirt, but he ignored her.

      “You only like them because they think you’re some kind of musical god.” Vincent whispered over his shoulder.

      Sky shrugged, propped his elbows up on the floor and flashed a smile at Vincent. “Am I not a musical god?”

      “My master’s friend is right.” Cinismon announced to the Gekomon, who cowered back as he stepped towards them. “We don’t have time to waste on you.”

      “Don’t frighten the frog people, Cinismon.” Beatrix said calmly, picking up her huffing Digimon from the ground. She turned to the Gekomon. “We’re sorry, but we’re currently travelling. We haven’t eaten anything since morning and…”

      At once the Gekomon’s eyes brightened and they gave out a collective cheer. “Why didn’t you say so?”

      A buzz spread amongst the Gekomon, before a triumphant shout emerged from the group “We shall prepare a feast to honour the musician and his friends!”

      “A feast!?” Bovimon repeated, her eyes sparkling. Sky and Mingomon echoed her sentiment, and even Loonmon perked up at the thought.

      The Gekomon continued. “And we will provide relaxing baths and the comfiest of our beds!”

      “Real baths?” Ruby and Vincent squealed in unison. They shared a quick, embarrassed look before turning away, faces glowing red.

      “Comfy beds!” Beatrix, Henry and Melamon cheered.

      The Gekomon cheered with them, joyful as they were that their guests would stay and provide them with more music. Still in his partner’s arms, Cinismon scoffed “I guess we can stay then…”

*

      “I want to leave!” Cinismon shrieked.

      “Stop squirming!”

      The Gekomon had offered them a quick meal of sweet tasting, round, spotted fruits, apologizing that they couldn’t offer more and promising to compensate them at dinner. When everyone was satisfied, they led them to the bathing rooms, all together at once before Ruby realized they were communal and announced she didn’t want to see any of the boys naked. The Gekomon led her and a laughing Beatrix to a different one at once, the girls being followed by their Digimon. 

      The bathing rooms themselves were quite nice for being owned by frog Digimon. The floors and walls were covered with blue quartzite. There were wooden benches lining up the walls, with a cabinet at the end sporting colourful soaps and fluffy towels. A separate room held a big line of showers, while the main room sported a big hot tub on the floor. Ruby and Bovimon were relaxing in the hot tub, listening in amusement to the desperate sounds of Cinismon in the adjacent room as Beatrix tried to give him a bath.

      The boys had all taken their showers and were also enjoying their own hot tub with their Digimon. Henry had his eyes closed and arms resting on the edges of the tub, with Melamon doing his best to copy the position, opening one big, purple eye at times to see if Henry had moved. Sky ranted about the kindness and wisdom of the Gekomon in appreciation of his skills, with a towel-wrapped Loonmon as his only real listener. She felt quite strange without her backpack, cap and goggles, and had found comfort in the big towels. Vincent had his arms outside the tub, his head resting in one of them, the other extended, holding the D-Bug in front of his face. Mingomon nudged at his arm lightly. “Vincent, if you keep playing with the D-Bug, you’ll waste its batteries.”

      There was a big splash of water as Vincent turned to face his Digimon in panic. “What? There’s limited batteries?”

      Mingomon laughed at the distress in his partner’s face, probably calculating all the battery he had possibly wasted by then. “Of course not, silly.” He gave Vincent a friendly nudge with his beak. “But you shouldn’t spend so much time fiddling with it. What are you trying to learn?”

      Still breathing heavily from the scare, Vincent leaned back against the edge of the tub and moved a few strands of wet hair away from his eyes. “I have a theory…”

      Without another word, Vincent grabbed the towel he left by the tub and climbed out.  Mingomon watched as his partner, with the towel wrapped around his frame, knocked lightly on the bathroom’s door. The Gekomon waiting outside open the door just a bit and upon seeing Vincent dropped down into a small bow. “How may I serve the musician’s friends? Your clothes haven’t dried yet.”

      Vincent looked back inside to check if anyone was paying attention to him, but only Mingomon was staring attentively. He leaned down to the Gekomon and offered him a gentle smile “I was wondering if you could be so kind as to get me some scissors.”

      “Right away, sir.” the Gekomon closed the door. Vincent leaned against the wall, listening to the sound of Gekomon’s steps diminish as he got further away from the room. Mingomon threw him a puzzled look but Vincent merely shook his head. Soon enough the Gekomon was back, wielding a pair of silver scissors. Vincent thanked him, closed the door and made his way to the shower room, where a series of sinks and mirrors stood on the opposite wall to the stalls. He stood in front of one, scissors in one hand and D-Bug in the other. There was a splashing of water and soon Mingomon was by his side. “What are you doing?”

      “Like I said, I have a theory.” Vincent said, giving a reassuring pat to his Digimon’s head. He placed his D-Bug near the sink, held a blond lock of hair between his fingertips and raised the scissors.

*

      The Gekomon had been hard at work during the group’s absence. Colourful paper banners had been put up along the roofs and tied to the stage’s metal railings. A series of wooden tables, chairs and benches were set up in front of the stage, enough for them plus the whole village. Steaming plates were lined up on the tables, mostly sporting fish.

      Sitting at the table with their Digimon, Ruby and Beatrix quietly wondered about the likelyhood of actual animals existing in the Digital World, much less the existence of fish in that river of pixels, but the food looked very much real. There was monkfish and shrimp covered in béchamel sauce and cheese, salmon topped with mayonnaise and sweet onions, boiled codfish with olive oil, broiled fillets with paprika and black pepper, tuna fillets with spicy tomato sauce and red snapper with garlic and white wine, amongst many others. All types of side dishes were available as well, from various types of salads to pasta dishes to steaming potatoes and finally to big bowls of plain white rice.

      “These guys went all out.” Beatrix said, poking at a dish of cheesy grouper with her fork.

      “If by went all out you mean they don’t have any meat available then yes, they went all out.” Cinismon grumbled, his whiskers’ flames diminishing and his ears dropping as looked the tables over.

      “I thought cats liked fish.” Ruby said while reaching for the closest pasta tray.

      “Myth.” Beatrix said quickly.  

      “I’ll let you know that I’m a cat Digimon with very refined tastes!”

      “I think we should be thankful to the Gekomon for their kindness, Cinismon.” Bovimon called out from Ruby’s side, to which Cinismon only replied with a low hiss of defiance.

      A sudden collective gasp from the Gekomon warned them of the boys’ arrival as Sky marched upfront, his arms raised up as the Gekomon cheered and chanted his name. Behind him floated a very saddened Loonmon, her hooves dragging on the ground. Three frantic Gekomon pushed her aside as they scrambled to show Sky to his seat, bowing down as they went, while a fourth Gekomon pulled Sky’s chair back for him. Henry was laughing at the display but Melamon shook his head in disapproval before rushing over to Loonmon’s side to help her up again. At a short distance came Vincent, his hands in his pocket and the widest smile on his face anyone had ever seen, with Mingomon shooting worried side glances at him.

      “What took you guys so long?” Ruby asked, arms resting on the back of her chair.

      “Vincent took an extra long time getting ready.”  Henry said, pulling a tray of the salmon closer to his plate.

      “Sorry about that.” Vincent said cheerfully, taking the seat in front of Ruby. “I was fixing my hair.”

      Beatrix and Henry lifted their heads in a flash to send very bewildered looks in Vincent’s direction. Truth be told, the boy’s hair looked exactly the same to them.

      But soon enough the issue of Vincent and his hair was forgotten and everyone just focused on the food they had been longing for all day. Table manners were set aside as hunger seemed to finally overtake them; there was barely any time for chatter as everyone just kept stuffing themselves with as much food and water as possible. The Gekomon ended up being the ones who talked the most, often abandoning their own dinner to ask Sky if he was enjoying himself or to refill his glass. The more attention they seemed to shower Sky with, the further Loonmon sank in her chair.

      The sun was coming down, the horizon turning into a deep shade of purple and casting a pink lining over the clouds. The sky had abandoned its former blue colour for a tint of warm orange and gold. A group of Gekomon abandoned the table and disappeared under the stage. In a few moments the rows of spotlights came alight, spreading a sound of awe amongst the group. Sky chose that moment to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand and stand up with a long stretch. He turned to the Gekomon and grinned. “Guess it’s time for that concert I promised you.”

      The Gekomon stood in a collective cheer that accompanied Sky as he got up on stage. Bovimon watched him while she finished chewing her mouthful of baked potatoes, and then leaned over to a Gekomon sitting to her right. “Why do you like Sky’s music so much, anyway?”

      The Gekomon stopped mid-cheer, his hands faltering a bit. His shoulders stumped and he stared at the table, suddenly looking quite miserable. “Our village hasn’t seen the happiest of days.”

      Ruby leaned over Bovimon, resting one hand around the Digimon’s shoulders. “What do you mean?”

      The Gekomon took a long, deep sigh. “We’re living in horrible times, ever since the Purging began.” Several Gekomon shivered at the word and one shook his head vigorously, as if to try to shake off the very memory.

      “The Purging?” Ruby frowned. Across from her, Vincent tilted his head just slightly, the most subtle of movements. His eyes remained focused on his food.

      “Nobody is sure when it started. We heard rumors of entire forests, disappearing, lakes drying out, villages left in ruins. No sign of what did it. One day, it happened to us.” The Gekomon pointed between the houses, in the direction of the dirt road. “Overnight, half the village was gone.”

      “Our homes, our loved ones… The very ground was gone! Now all that remains is a Data Void. Emptiness.”

      The Gekomon fell silent, their heads lowered in mourning. Nor Ruby nor Bovimon dared to say a word. After a few moments, the Gekomon sitting next to Bovimon rubbed one of his bulging eyes and raised his head with a crooked smile. He was staring at Sky, who seemed satisfied enough with his saxophone to start playing. “That’s why we take such joy in the little things, like being fortunate enough to come across a fellow musician. You see, we love music but lately we haven’t felt very inclined to play any ourselves.”

      Ruby and Bovimon shared smile between them. The absolute euphoria of the Gekomon was finally understandable. They just wanted to forget, if only for a day. Then something occurred to Ruby. “Do you think the Purging is making Digimon sick?” she whispered over to Bovimon.

      “You’re talking about the Aquilamon from when we arrived, aren’t you?” Ruby nodded. “Maybe. I only have an understanding of how the Digital World is supposed to be. The only thing I know is that…this isn’t it.”

      The sound of the saxophone drowned out the possibility of a continued conversation, especially because at the very first note the Gekomon screeched with delight. Sky was going for a more upbeat tone this time, his foot stomping down hard to rhythm.

      “Sky is pretty good.” Beatrix said between taking sips of her drink.

      “We should go watch him perform once we get back.” Ruby said, to which Beatrix and Henry smiled in agreement.
 
      Across from her, Vincent crossed his arms and crooked up an eyebrow. “Why would you assume he even performs? It could be just a hobby.” He then added in a lower tone “Besides he’s not even that good.”

      “Oh, he does.” Henry said, setting aside his fork for a moment. He had yet to finish his first plate of food, which was probably cold by then. “Sky told me during our morning walk that he’s a part of four different bands, so he definitely performs.”

      “Wow!” Ruby propped herself up on her elbows with the widest smile. “Four bands?”

      “Now we really have to go see him.” Beatrix said, raising her glass. “Cheers for Sky!”

      Vincent rolled his eyes at the clash of glasses between his companions and turned back to the stage with a defiant grunt. Mingomon patted his back gently with a wing but Vincent didn’t budge. Bovimon caught Mingomon’s eyes and shrugged, to which Mingomon responded with a shake of his head. Their understanding of their partners was still very rough around the edges.

      Vincent wasn’t the only one who seemed to be in a low mood. Loonmon was facing away from the stage, slumped low in her chair. Her eyes were red and she was sniffling quietly from time to time.

      Bovimon slipped out of her own chair and came around the table to occupy Sky’s currently vacant spot. She placed her paw gently over Loonmon’s back. She gave out a lonely sob at the gesture. Alerted by the sound, the other Digimon gathered around her with concerned looks, taking advantage of the seats left empty by the Gekomon who had gathered around the stage. Mingomon nuzzled at the side of Loonmon’s face with his beak and Melamon rubbed one of her arms. Only Cinismon kept some distance, the concern in his eyes clashing with the half of fishbone sticking out of his mouth.

      “You should be happy, Loonmon.” Bovimon said, tilting her head towards the stage. “It’s your partner who’s up there.”

      “That’s the thing. He’s my partner. Not any of the Gekomon’s.” Loonmon took her glass of water and drank it all away in one gulp. She slammed it back on the table, gasping for air. “I-it’s not fair! Sky doesn’t even know my name but he’s s-so happy with them...”

      “You’ve got bad luck at landing such a terrible partner.” Cinismon said in between chewing his fishbone.

      “Don’t talk about Sky that way!” Loonmon squeaked, her body shaking.

      Bovimon shook her head in a warning towards Cinismon, her bell ringing over the noise of the Gekomon’s cheering. Cinismon ignored her and just grinned lazily. “Why? It’s true.” He spat the fishbone to the floor and wiped his mouth with the back of a paw. “He’s a useless slob who isn’t the least bit interested in this world or in you.”

      “Cinismon!” Bovimon got up from her chair, her paws over the table.

      “That’s so mean!” Loonmon wailed, her eyes watering up. “Why are you so mean?”

      “That was quite impolite of you.” Melamon said with a slight frown, his paw moving to rub at the spot on Loonmon’s back where Bovimon’s paw had been.

      Mingomon tilted his head. “It’s not like you have much to brag about, Cinismon.” Cinismon’s whiskers shook and the tiny flames at the tips flickered, but Mingomon didn’t seem to take notice. “Beatrix doesn’t seem close to unlocking evolution.”

      “Neither does the toothpick you walk around with!” Cinismon spat, his ears folding back. “All he does is spout garbage at everyone like he’s so superior!”

      Mingomon raised his head high and spread his wings, knocking over a tray of rice. Cinismon hissed loudly and crouched in his chair. Loonmon was sobbing loudly now, hiding her face in a napkin, and Melamon kept nervously looking back and forth between Mingomon and Cinismon.

      Bovimon clenched her teeth and stomped her hoof hard on the stone floor. “Enough of this! Everyone calm down!”

      The Digimon seemed intent on continuing to argue but fell silent as a piercing sound broke through the air. It was as if a gust of wind had suddenly picked around them and was whistling loudly inside their ears. And yet, the air stood still. The music stopped. Sky still had the saxophone pressed to his lips but his eyes had darted up, focused upon the steadily darkening horizon.

      The Gekomon were frozen in place, bundled together in a green mass of fear. The other Digimon had their ears and noses up; they could feel something, and whatever it was, it was big. Vincent slid his D-Bug very gently over the table, rotating it with his fingers in hopes it would find something. Henry had his fists up on the table. He didn’t dare to raise his head but his eyes moved from side to side. Beatrix, on the other hand, had her head up, perusing the sky with a furrowed brow. Ruby was like a statue, she kept her hands on her lap and her eyes firmly focused on her plate.

      Vincent’s D-Bug beeped and the holographic screen came up. But Vincent wasn’t looking at it; he was looking at the huge Digimon appearing over the rooftops. It reminded him of a snake, if snakes were a gigantic size and encased in white, gold and red armor. At the side of its head sprouted two long metallic wings, encasing a thick green mane sprouting out of the end of its head armor. Its tail ended in a golden blade shaped like a flame.

      Vincent allowed his eyes to lower to the D-Bug’s screen. “Quetzalmon, champion level. Vaccine type. Well, that’s a first…A holy Digimon that sends curses at the opponent. His attack is Freezing Wave.”

      Quetzalmon’s blue eyes swept across the whole square, his head turning slowly, stopping as he reached the group of humans and Digimon sitting at the table.“What is this?” his voice was low and soft, almost a whisper, hardly carrying any hint of emotion behind it. “Have you been harboring these Anomalies?”

      The Gekomon shuddered under his icy gaze, their silent mouths gaping open. Cinismon’s whiskers flared up and his shoulders tensed. He was about to pounce on the intruder when Bovimon’s paw came down hard on his back, grounding him. The square remained silent, save for the flickering fire of the torches.

      “No matter.” Quetzalmon’s tail whipped the air. His eyes started to brighten. “You are to be Cleansed, one way or another, by order of the Master and the Crusaders.” 

      Sky was the first to move, turning on his heels and running to the end of the stage. The sound of his steps jolted Beatrix out of her stupor. She stood up just as Quetzalmon’s eyes filled with blinding light.

      “Freezing Wave.” It was no more than a whisper, almost muffled by the agonizing screams of the Gekomon as the two beams of blue light shot from the Quetzalmon’s eyes and swept across the front of the stage.

      “No!” the collective shout of their Digimon reached the tamers’ ears just as their bodies crashed into theirs, sending everyone to the floor in a heap of tangled limbs and cries of pain as plates smashed around them.

      Shaking under the weight of Bovimon’s body, Ruby watched in horror as a torn limb from a Gekomon landed next to her face. The ice it was covered in shimmered under the light of the fire, before everything burst into a data stream to be absorbed by Quetzalmon. Ruby brought her hand to her lips and bit down hard, her eyes welling up with tears. It was all she could do to stop herself from       screaming.

      Bovimon wasn’t looking at her. Through the locks of her mane, her green eyes were locked onto Quetzalmon. Once the beams seemed to die out she rolled away from Ruby and got up on her feet, running at the Quetzalmon with a paw raised up towards her fellow Digimon. “Let’s go, let’s go!”

      Melamon jumped gracefully over Henry, followed by a grinning Cinismon. The cat Digimon leaped on top of Mingomon, who was still trying to untangle himself from Vincent “Move!” With that he was gone, darting past Bovimon with the bandages around his paws already coming alight.

      Vincent had to roll over to free Mingomon’s long, lanky legs but as soon as he was free he was taking off into the sky, gliding gracefully towards Quetzalmon.

      “Wait up, please!” Loonmon, the only one who hadn’t reached her partner in time, crawled from under the table and zipped her backpack open. The three red balloons popped out and threw her right into the air.

      Quetzalmon blinked at the sight of the incoming Digimon. “If you wish to be Cleansed first I will comply.”

      “Shut it you flying wimp!” Cinismon growled, the tips of his lit bandages unwrapping around his paws and extending. He whipped them up towards Quetzalmon. “Flaming Lashes!”

      Quetzalmon coiled upwards, just enough to avoid the bandages. He didn’t seem the least bit fazed by the attack, which drove Cinismon into a puffing, hissing mess. “Come down here and fight me, you coward!”

      Bovimon stomped on the ground, the paving stones coming apart under her and floating around her arms. “Rock Edges!”  The stones turned their sharp edges towards their target and flew at him.

      Much like with the bandages, Quetzalmon was swift to dodge both waves of stones. He looked up, watching as they disappeared in the dark sky with what appeared to be curiosity. On the ground, Bovimon clicked her tongue in annoyance.

      “Force Impact!” the purple energy released itself from Melamon’s paws but dissipated in the air before even being halfway towards Quetzalmon.

      The shape of Mingomon came in and out of sight in the dark sky as he glided around Quetzalmon, his eyes narrowed as Vincent yelled, “Mingomon! Get him! You’re faster!”

      Mingomon didn’t even stop to think about how much truth that statement held. With a shake of his head he brought the poison flask around his neck up to his beak. He held the cork firmly and looped over Quetzalmon, pulling his head back just as he passed overhead. It uncorked with a loud pop, releasing a series of drops. Quetzalmon’s eyes darted up but he didn’t move, probably wondering why he should even concern himself.

      Vincent shared a look with Mingomon and smirked. The drops of liquid solidified just before hitting Quetzalmon, exploding loudly upon contact. Quetzalmon hissed in pain and tried to shake off the green puddles left behind by the explosions. The Digimon on the ground yelped and covered their heads, running around to dodge the drops.

      Melamon found himself running back towards the tables. He came to a screeching halt as he caught sight of Ruby. The girl was still huddled on the ground, biting her hand and breathing heavily through her nose, the stone under her stained with coloured sauces and pieces of glass. Melamon opened and closed his mouth, not knowing what to do. Shaking his head, he shouted for Henry in a hoarse voice. The boy crawled from behind an overturned bench and smiled as he caught sight of Melamon. Ignoring Ruby, he ran towards his Digimon and gave him a quick embrace.

      Beatrix, alerted by the sheer helplessness in Melamon’s voice, peeked from under the tablecloth and took sight of Ruby. She pulled the tablecloth out of her way so hard that more plates and glasses spilled on the floor, but Beatrix didn’t mind them as she grabbed Ruby’s wrist and pulled her hand away, flinching at the red teeth marks on her skin. She held Ruby’s face in between her hands “Breathe! I’ll take you to a safe place, Ruby, but you have to breathe, alright?” she turned her head towards Vincent, standing and cheering for Mingomon, and Henry who was speaking softly with a very frantic Melamon. “Didn’t you jerks see she needs help?!”

      Vincent’s body faltered and he turned, his face looking confused for a moment before scrunching into a frown. “We’re in the middle of a battle here, now’s not the moment.”

      Henry nodded, looking towards Ruby with his eyes narrowed in what seemed to be disappointment. “He’s right. We’re all watching out for ourselves and so should she.” Ignoring the stream of insults Beatrix started to shout at him, Henry took his D-bug from his pocket. “Melamon, you have to evolve.”

      Melamon furrowed his brow and nodded. He turned towards the battle and spread his arms, glaring up at the Quetzalmon. “Melamon, evolve!” he waited to feel that spark of warmth inside his chest, but nothing happened. His stance faltered and he looked over his shoulder at a bewildered Henry. “It’s not working…”

      Henry’s shoulders fell. He looked at the dark screen of his D-bug, his mouth twisted in a snarl. “Why?!”

      Something clicked inside Ruby. She exhaled deeply and stood, slowly, with Beatrix’s hands never leaving her shoulders. Her swollen and glassy eyes washed over the battle. “Bovimon…” she whispered, seemingly to herself.

      Beatrix’s grip tightened on Ruby’s shoulders as she looked the girl over. There was a shard of glass buried under her knee, the blood pooling down and darkening the shade of her tights. “Ruby, you’re-" but Ruby stepped away from her arms.

      “Bovimon!” she shouted, managing to limp a couple of steps before Beatrix got a hold of her again. Still, it was enough. The cry had reached the Digimon, who turned her head. “Evolve, please! You have to help.”

      Bovimon’s eyes lowered. She looked up at Quetzalmon before turning her head back at Ruby. “I…” she took a deep breath. “I’ve been trying, Ruby. I can’t.”

      “What?” Ruby’s wounded knee almost gave in but Beatrix held her firmly afoot. “But…how…?”

      Behind the girls, Henry was going through the D-Bug’s menus and functions, his fingers tapping quickly on buttons. “Come on, come on…”

      Hidden by the dark sky, Loonmon was panicking. She had spent more time dodging her own allies’ attacks and trying to go undetected by Quetzalmon than making any move to attack. Ignoring the fact that he was bigger, faster and more powerful, her biggest concern was that she hadn’t seen Sky since the battle started. Her partner had seemingly vanished. She didn’t want to believe the voice in the back of her head saying he had died with all those Gekomon.

      Quetzalmon moved in the air towards her, dodging another one of Mingomon’s attempts to bomb him. Loonmon dived but it was too late. He saw her and in a second they were face to face, his smooth voice washing over her “I thought I was missing one.”

      In the blink of an eye his tail collided with her body. Loonmon fell with a shriek, colliding with the surface of the stage and rolling towards the back. She was still trying to catch her breath when a pair of hands closed over her mouth and pulled her down into the darkness. She immediately started to squirm and squeal but the voice froze her in place “Hush, bacon!”

      She tried her best to turn her head, barely catching the profile of Sky. He was crouching in the dark, underneath the stage, still holding Loonmon firmly in his arms and scowling towards the open trapdoor. After a few moments, he moved his hands away, allowing Loonmon to turn towards him. “I thought you were…” she sniffed, her eyes stinging with the threat of tears “I thought you had…”

      “Hey, hey, calm down now, ham.” Sky patted her head absentmindedly. “I jumped in here just as he attacked. I don’t think he saw me, he was too focused on the-“ Sky choked up, making Loonmon’s eyes widen in shock. She had never seen Sky at a loss of words but there he was, running a hand through his hair and pursing his lips together, afraid of his next words.

      A series of sobs echoed around them. Loonmon looked beyond Sky to catch the gleaming, bulging eyes of the Gekomon, all huddled together amongst the instrument cases. The sound seemed to snap Sky back to reality. He cleared his throat loudly before continuing. “Anyway, if you want to share my hiding place you need to stay quiet.”

      “Hiding place?” Loonmon squealed, tugging at Sky’s shirt. “No, we have to get out there. If you’re safe I can help the others fight.”

      Sky batted Loonmon’s paws away and grabbed her shoulders. “Don’t you see? That thing is not another raging, crazy monster like the ones we fought before.” Sky pointed at the trapdoor.” It’s smart! And powerful!”

      Loonmon bit her lip. She took a moment to glance at the cowering shapes of the Gekomon. “B-but our friends are fighting out there!”

      Sky let her go. He scrunched his eyebrows together and hummed to himself for a bit. If he were any shorter, he would be pacing. “Alright, you stay here. I’m going out there to get them.” He started moving towards the trapdoor. “Maybe we can distract it, take it away from the village.”

      Loonmon stepped towards Sky in a series of ungraceful steps. “I’ll go too.”

      Sky stopped, his palms pressed against the trapdoor. He clicked his tongue and looked Loonmon over. “Bacon, no offense, but you’re not exactly…how do I say this…you’re not Beatrix’s fire cat, you know?” Loonmon gasped at that, throwing arms in the air for added effect. “You’ll be safer here with the Gekomon.”

      Sky pushed the trapdoor out of the way. He held on to the ledge but the sudden push at the back of his shirt stopped him. A frowning Loonmon had her hoofs tangled in the fabric. “No! I’m going back there and you can’t stop me!”

      Sky snorted. “Come on now, pork, don’t be-“

      “My name is Loonmon!” Loonmon yelled, her voice cracking in a squeak at the end. “If you want to hide in here, fine. I’d rather you be safe. But my friends are out there fighting and so should I!” Before Sky could react, she reached into her backpack, her hoofs glowing. “Toolbox! Back away, Sky, I mean it!”

      Very slowly, Sky took one step away from the ledge, his hands raised up in front of his chest. “You wouldn’t.”

      Loonmon tried to maintain her glare but her arms were shaking harder as the seconds passed. She sniffled and closed her eyes, letting a few tears escape. “No, I wouldn’t.” she squealed, violently throwing something at Sky.

      When he felt the cold metal hit his chest Sky let out what he expected to be his last scream. But the bomb bounced off him. His scream trailing off, Sky dared to look at the ground to find that it was not a bomb Loonmon had thrown. It was a can. He picked it up carefully from the dusty floor, rotating in his hand to find the Truffle Soup label. Part of him wanted to break into laughter but another was suddenly all too aware that Loonmon had left. “Bacon!” he grabbed onto the ledge and pulled himself up, just in time to see Loonmon take off at the edge of the stage. “Bacon, come back here! Damn it!”

      Sky jumped off the stage, staggering as the soles of his shoes met cracking glass. It was chaos around him. Henry was on his knees banging his D-Bug against the floor and yelling a series of obscenities at it. Ruby, her knee wrapped in a bloody piece of tablecloth, was leaning on Beatrix and staring intently at her D-Bug, as if she was trying to will it to work. Beatrix herself was shouting orders and instructions at Cinismon, sometimes taking breaks to raise a fist at Quetzalmon, her face contorted in anger. Vincent was the one closest to the battle, waving his D-Bug high in the air and yelling a mixture of incoherent encouragements to Mingomon and insults at Quetzalmon. The Digimon were still engaged in an ultimately futile battle, with Quetzalmon easily avoiding every attack they threw at him and letting them hit the buildings around them instead, leaving several houses charred, walls and windows torn apart.

      And there, suddenly illuminated by the light of the torches, Loonmon zoomed in on the back of Quetzalmon’s head, holding a bundle of tiny bombs in her arms. Distracted as he was from quietly observing the others’ attempts at attacking him, Quetzalmon took the hit directly. The tips of his green mane burned off in the explosions and were still smoking when he turned on himself to come face to face with Loonmon. “You all tire my patience.”

      His eyes filled with blue light. Sky screamed and ran, jumping over tables and benches. Loonmon’s tail twirled in what she knew was a futile attempt to get out of the way in time. Then Quetzalmon turned his head. “Freezing Wave.”

      Vincent let out such a desperate scream that, for a moment, Loonmon thought he had been hit until she saw Mingomon, his flask uncorked as he obviously tried to sneak up on Quetzalmon for an attack. His left wing was encased in ice and he fell, uselessly flapping his right wing and kicking his feet in the air. Vincent threw his D-Bug aside and ran to his partner’s side, sliding across the stone floor on his knees. He buried his fingers in the ice, trying to pry it away, ignoring the freezing sting running up his fingers.

      Quetzalmon looked down at the display, unblinking. “Ah, yes. You present the highest levels of toxicity. Very well, I’ll eliminate you first.” His eyes lit up once more.

      “Bombs Away!” Loonmon body slammed the side of Quetzalmon’s head, a new bundle of bombs in her arms. The explosions went off, forcing Quetzalmon to turn his head and hit the rooftops of several houses instead of his intended targets.

      The smoke cleared. Quetzalmon’s armor was singed and cracked around the head, the right side bloodshot from where the bombs went off. Loonmon was floating a few feet away, her tail turning weakly and barely keeping her afloat. Her own body showed several burns but she seemed to be ignoring them. With a loud snort, she bellowed at Quetzalmon. “Come get me!” With that, her tail gained new speed and she was off into the dark. Quetzalmon glared after her with his good eye, lashed at the air with his tail and took chase.

      “No, Bacon, don’t throw your life away!” Sky cried into the air. “Don’t…”

      “We need to help her.” Bovimon said, nodding at her fellow Digimon. “Cinismon, help Mingomon with the ice.”

      Cinismon grinned and snaked his way up to a squirming Mingomon. Henry had to pull Vincent away and hold him against a wall. Vincent’s hands were red and raw and he waved them about, shouting at Henry to let him go. Cinismon tapped at the ice around Mingomon’s wing with one claw. “I swear I’m not going to take any pleasure in this.” He opened his mouth wide, flames seeping out. “Furnace Bite!

      Mingomon yelled and Vincent almost managed to push Henry off. But a few moments later Mingomon was standing and tentatively moving his now soaked wing. There was moment were they all were assaulted with laughter at the situation and Beatrix even clapped at a bowing Cinismon, before they remembered where they were.

      “I’m sorry, I can’t wait for you guys.” Sky was saying. He didn’t laugh or clap; he was too busy ripping out a torch from the ground and examining it in his hands as if it was a spear. “Loonmon is fighting. And I’m going to fight with her.”

*

      Loonmon was alone in the dark, floating high above the abyss, her whole body turning and flipping constantly. She was afraid the Quetzalmon had realized her plan and gone back to the others. She saw him chasing her but he flew higher, letting the darkness cloak him. Loonmon couldn’t see well in the dark, but she had the stomach-turning feeling that Quetzalmon could. So why didn’t he attack?

      Noise erupted from the square, coming closer with each second. Loonmon saw Cinismon first, jumping gracefully from roof to roof. Then the others emerged from between houses, Sky leading with a torch ablaze and held high over his head. That’s when Loonmon realized why Quetzalmon had yet to show himself. “No, turn back!”

      In the blink of an eye he was there, his snake-like body coiling around all of the humans. The Digimon went into a state of utter panic. They jumped on him, claws and paws trying to grab on to the sleek armor. Quetzalmon taking flight was all it took for them to slip       away.

Quetzalmon’s bloodshot eye perused over the agonized victims that squirmed and yelled in his clutch.  Loonmon flew nearer and caught sight of Sky. The boy had managed to keep one arm free from the enemy’s grip, the one holding the torch but still, the pain was evident in his face: he was grinding his teeth and had to force himself to keep his eyes open. His glasses had slipped off and laid abandoned back on the ground.

      “Do not struggle, it will be over quickly.” Quetzalmon whispered, his voice almost soothing.

      Loonmon gave out her best impression of a war cry, her tail twirling furiously and sending her far above Quetzalmon’s position. Her arms were raised, holding up a bomb the size of her head. The Quetzalmon moved his head to look at her but she was already throwing it down. “Sticky Bomb!”

      A thick, slimy substance trickled down Quetzalmon’s body. It didn’t hurt and Quetzalmon wondered if there was any purpose for it besides a mild annoyance. Sky started coughing, making him turn his attention on the boy. His mouth was moving but Quetzalmon couldn’t hear. He leaned his head closer and could make out just the faintest “Screw…you…”

      Sky swung his arm. The torch hit Quetzalmon straight on the eye and the Digimon let out a pained howl. His body contorted and tossed in mid-air, releasing his grip on the group. They were falling. Melamon immediately kneeled, his paws digging into the ground. “Foliage Screen!” The bamboo grew and twisted, forming a makeshift net. The landing was not comfortable, but they were safe.

      The flames on Quetzalmon’s eye were spreading up his mane and wings, alighting the slimy substance Loonmon had drenched him in. Still perched on a roof, Cinismon saw his chance. He threw his paws forward. “Flaming Lashes!” the bandages didn’t manage to grip Quetzalmon, but as they made contact with his body new patches of fire grew and spread along him. Cinismon grinned to himself and puffed out his chest, delighting in the new agonizing screams erupting from the contorting shape of Quetzalmon.

      Now back to floating above the abyss, Loonmon sighed in relief. Quetzalmon’s screams had stopped and his body was now engulfed by smoke. They made it. They defeated him. Her friends shared into her idea and cheered from the ground. Her eyes locked with Sky’s just as he was putting his glasses back on and he smiled. A genuine, warm smile of the likes Loonmon had never seen. She felt like her heart was going to flutter right off her chest. The corners of her eyes stung but she pushed the tears back and started to make her way down. Sky’s smile fell, he opened his mouth to scream but a loud POP!  blocked out whatever he said from her ears. There was a collective gasp. She was falling.

      She caught a glimpse of Quetzalmon, his armor blackened, his mane almost all burnt off and one eye a black, scorched mess. The sharp tip of his tale glistened briefly and Loonmon realized what had happened. He popped the balloons. She couldn’t fly. He was watching her with one cold eye as she fell into the abyss.

      Sky’s whole body was shaking. It felt like everything was happening in slow motion “Lo-“ his voice was failing him. As she fell, Loonmon turned her head to him and he saw her goggles fogging from her tears. “LOONMON!”

      His body broke free from the grip of fear and he ran. In the back of his head he heard shouts of his name, steps trying to follow, to reach him before he made it to the ledge. None caught him. He jumped, his whole stretched forward. Loonmon fell into his arms and he pulled her into his chest. He felt her gasping breath in his neck and the D-Bug in his pocket started shaking. They stopped falling and the center of his chest felt like it caught on fire.

      A bright yellow light enveloped them both. Sky was blinded but he kept holding on to Loonmon and he heard her voice, clear as crystal, in his ear “Loonmon, evolve!” Her body grew larger, the markings on her legs spreading over her belly. Her gloves retreated from her hands and stretched along her arms and over her torso, forming a fur-lined leather coat. A golden earring glinted on her left ear and her goggles darkened. Her backpack transformed, taking the shape of a gigantic red rocket painted with flames. “Rocketmon!”

      When the light dissipated, Sky found himself sitting on to an ignited rocket that was bigger than him, a realization that almost made him fall over. “You alright up there, partner?” came a voice that reminded him Loonmon’s, but without the usual high pitch behind it.

      Holding on to the straps he leaned over the rocket, asking tentatively “Loonmon? You evolved?”

      The Digimon turned her head and smirked at him. “Thanks to you. I’m Rocketmon, now.”

      Sky’s mouth opened in a huge grin. He adjusted his glasses and looked Rocketmon over. “This is so badass! In the most ridiculous way possible, but still.”

      “Save your compliments, boy, we still have a show going on. Let me get you down, hold on.”

      The advice wasn’t to be taken lightly. Sky was almost thrown back as the rocket pulsed Loonmon dashed through the air at an incredible speed. She turned when she was near the ground, allowing Sky to carefully get down from the rocket. He didn’t even have time to thank her before she was zooming away again, coming to a halt in front of Quetzalmon. She smiled. “How’s it gonna be now, friend?”

      Quetzalmon seemed calmer now; his good eye no longer glaring. Instead, it carefully observed Rocketmon. “The rumors were true then. You can achieve evolution.”

      Rocketmon placed her hands on her large hips. “Sure can!”

      “That is a shame.” Quetzalmon said, opening his burnt eye. They started to lighten. “It makes it all the more urgent to eliminate you. Freezing Wave!”

      “Too slow. ” Rocketmon flew up, the icy beams hitting the side of the cliff. “My turn. Homing Launcher!” the tip of her rocket opened up and a small, metallic launcher emerged. It fired a series of smaller rockets, identical to the bigger one, high into the air. They flew up a couple of miles before suddenly turning and making a beeline to Quetzalmon, leaving a smoke trail behind them. Quetzalmon glided and dashed through the air but the rockets copied his every turn, never wavering. Rocketmon watched in amusement as the enemy Digimon was hit with the first one, the slight hesitation in his next movement costing him any other dodging maneuver. All of the rockets found their target, sending a series of explosions around his body and encircling him with thick smoke.

      A second later Quetzalmon emerged from the cloud, growling with rage and throwing himself at Rocketmon. He coiled around her and she felt the icy cold exuding from his body. “I was hoping you would do that.” she said in amusement.

      “What?” Quetzalmon gasped, but Rocketmon was already blasting off, her body spinning rapidly in the direction of the abyss and enveloping them both in a whirlwind. “You’re crazy! You’ll kill us both!”

      She didn’t respond. They were past ground level now and Quetzalmon let go, the wind throwing him against a side of the cliff. He shook his head, confident that he was safe. Then the rockets hit him.

      Stuck inside the whirlwind he had failed to see all the smaller rockets Rocketmon was firing as they came down.  He paid the price now. They ripped through his armor and exploded inside his body.  The pain was so excruciating he couldn’t even scream.

      Rocketmon flew up again, the lenses of her goggles glinting in the light of the explosions. “Air Strike, my favorite.” She watched, satisfied, as the crumbling body of Quetzalmon fell. He was about to reach the area where his data would start to come apart, when his whole body was covered in blue light. A beam shot out into the sky, coming apart into data particles and spreading in every direction. Rocketmon watched, unsure of what had happened. Waht was left of Quetzalmon’s body was now fading away, the stream of data flowing inside of Sky’s D-Bug.

      Everyone was silent, their heads raised up to the dark. There was a rumbling, like a thunder, and then a booming voice was heard all over the Digital World. “Anomalies found. Sending out Purging units.”

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

     Next Episode:

     Not knowing what's pursuing them, the Tamers and Digimon flee the Gekomon village and take shelter inside an abandoned factory. Tension runs high when Vincent's attempt at proving his theories on the Digital World ultimately puts the group in danger.