Author's Note: Please remember to leave a review at the end of the chapter. Nothing motivates me more than hearing what my readers think!
Fair warning, this is a long chapter.
The D-Word, Part II
Pandamon had been to the Port of Yuessbee many years ago and remembered it as a thriving little town that welcomed a great many to the Continent of Server. Not far beyond it one could find the Great Desert, and traders often travelled to the port to trade on the open market. But looking at the place now, it was clear that things had changed.
The population was sparse and he saw many digimon packing their things, loading them onto carts, and hurriedly boarding a lonesome, broken-down train. The market district was literally in shambles… buildings had been smashed and carts broken and the streets were littered with trash. He wondered what had taken place, but he noted the nervous looks on the citizens' faces as they watched the newcomers disembark from the boat. He decided to get some answers and slake his thirst at a nearby tavern.
Walking inside, it had the look of an old west saloon, though there was no music or indeed hardly any patrons. He strolled over to the bar where a Burgermon was cleaning a glass.
"Can I help you, sir?" the Burgermon asked.
"Yes. Could I perhaps get a glass of green tea?" Pandamon asked.
Burgermon nodded. "Yeah, I think there's some left." He put a pot on a stove in the back and began boiling the water.
"This town," Pandamon began, "it seems a bit, well, deserted. I remember it being a bit busier the last I came through here."
Burgermon sniffed. "Yeah, things have gone downhill around here in a hurry. If you hadn't heard, there's a rumor about some pretty horrible things going down in Full Metal City, and we're the closest town to it. The railways are shutting down all over the continent, and some shady characters started coming around Yuessbee, pushing some folks around. Plus… well, it's just a rumor, but they say that the Ancient Enemy has returned and it's all his doing."
Pandamon narrowed his eyes. In trying to get away from the Ancient Enemy, it seemed that perhaps he had mistakenly stepped right into his territory. "I'm sorry to hear of your town's hardship," he said simply.
"You and me both," Burgermon said. "A lot of folks are pulling up stakes. Sailors and merchants who lived here for years are getting out as fast as they can. And after yesterday, I don't blame 'em. I'm selling what's left of my stock and then getting out of here." He smirked. "So, uh, if you'd like something else, I can give you a good price on it."
Pandamon smiled as Burgermon brewed his tea. "Perhaps. And what happened yesterday, if you don't mind my asking?"
Burgermon made a face. "You saw the smashed buildings?" Pandamon nodded. "Yesterday this… thing came up out of the ocean. I've never seen a digimon that big, but he came through, stomped a few buildings flat, and tore through the market district. Gluttonous beast ate almost all the goods and merchandise… and a good portion of the merchants." He shuddered. "Then he just went off toward the desert. I don't know what for, but if this is what the future holds for this town, then I want none of it."
"I don't blame you." Pandamon graciously accepted his tea, drinking it quickly. "Thank you for the information. Good luck in the future."
Little did either of them know that not far away, Crocmon was having a very different conversation. "The Master said you'd show me the way?" he said.
He was speaking to a Blossomon, the both of them standing in a burned-out warehouse. "The Dark One wants you to go on to Full Metal City," Blossomon explained. "Follow the railway tracks for about half a day and we've got a secret railstation that can take you the rest of the way. You might want to get moving, our recruitment is closing and once we have our forces, we will shut down every last station that connects to Full Metal City."
Crocmon made a face. "I hate the desert," he muttered.
"If you can get to Full Metal City, you'll find it more to your liking. Anyway, what's the problem?" she asked, jokingly. "Not a fan of the great outdoors?"
"Let's just say I have bad memories of the desert," Crocmon said, gritting his teeth and clenching his fists. His thoughts drifted back to a certain small, black digimon and the memory of a slow, painful trek across a desert, his body wasted away to nearly nothing while he made off with the only food left. But if this journey brought him closer to revenge, it was one he would gladly take.
Ángel and Amanda emerged from the woods, hearing the sound of the pond as the waves lapped on the shore. It wasn't a very big pond, not much more than an average-sized city block, but both of them let out a sound of admiration at the sparkling blue water and the sight of the lush forest that surrounded the shore.
"Wow, just look at this place!" Amanda said.
"It is very beautiful," Ángel agreed.
"It reminds me of the pond near Roxanne. Sometimes I take Penguinmon and go swimming on hot days. He loves it."
"I have not been swimming in a long time," Ángel remarked. "I do not think it matters, though. We're going for a walk, not a swim today. We don't have our swimsuits anyway." He laughed somewhat nervously.
"Yeah," Amanda said slowly. She stared at the water and a thought came to her mind: No bathing suits… well, there's always skinny dipping…
She grimaced. Darn it, Brain, stop thinking dirty thoughts! This is why I keep getting in trouble! It's a first date, stop thinking about nakedness, you perv! Oh… oh god, I forgot, he can read minds! Crap, did he just read my mind? Stop thinking dirty thoughts, think unsexy thoughts! Um… dead puppies! The last episode of 'Evangelion!' The Holocaust— argh, too far, now he thinks I'm a racist! Crap crap crap…!
Her heart going off like a jackhammer, she turned to Ángel, feeling horrified at her own thoughts when she saw he was merely looking out at the water serenely, taking a deep breath of fresh air. She slowly calmed down as she realized that he had not, in fact, been reading her mind. In fact, seeing how calm he was made her relax as well and she also took a deep breath of fresh air. The scent of wildflowers, the earthy aroma of the trees, and distinct smell that one always encounters on the shores of lakes and ponds had a soothing, almost hypnotic effect on her and she felt her anxious mind shut down.
"Well," Ángel said, "we do not have all day." He put out his hand, trying to be smooth (but the shakiness of his hand and his voice gave his anxiety away) and said, "Shall we?"
With a blush and a momentary flutter of her heart, she looked down and muttered "Um… yeah. Let's," and took his hand. The two of them began their walk, both red-faced and silent as they tried to think of what to say next.
"So far so good," Michael whispered.
Mimi unwrapped a granola bar carefully and whispered back "They look really cute holding hands like that."
"Yeah, but if they go around the whole pond like that, their hands are going to get sweaty eventually. I remember when I went on a first date and that happened. I wasn't sure if I should let go or if she would think I didn't want to hold her hand if I did."
Mimi giggled. "That happened to me once too," she said. "Aren't first dates so awkward?"
"I'm just glad I don't sweat," Palmon commented.
"Likewise," Betamon commented. "Still, it might be nice on a hot day. It's rough when you need to keep rehydrating."
The whole group of them had taken a position up in the forest not far from the couple on their date. Their spot was fairly well hidden from view and it would be easy to hide in the bushes if they got too near. As long as they kept their voices down, nobody would hear them, leaving them free to spy on Ángel and Amanda as long as they wanted.
"I feel a little guilty about this," Penguinmon admitted.
"I don't," Muchomon said. "I wish I had some of those little binoculars they use at those fancy shows."
"Opera glasses?" Michael asked.
"But they aren't going to sing."
"I sure hope not," Penguinmon said. "Something tells me Ángel would turn the other way and run if Amanda started singing."
"Penguinmon, that's not very nice!" Palmon said.
"It's not her voice," he said defensively, "it's not that bad. The problem is that she always sings anime theme songs and gets way too in to them. I can't tell you how many times I've been karate-chopped or thrown across the room."
There was the sudden crunch of sticks and foliage underfoot and they all turned to see Jin standing there. "There you are!" he exclaimed.
"Shh!" they all hissed as Michael and Mimi tackled the surprised boy and brought him to the ground.
"Jin, you dope, you want them to hear us?" Michael demanded.
"Would it end their date faster?"
"If you end this date," Scarmon remarked, slinking in to get a better view, "then trust me on this: Mimi will end you."
Jin turned and saw Mimi's dark, very nearly murderous expression and wisely decided another round of complaining wasn't going to get him anywhere.
"Fine. I guess, when in Rome…" he said. "Oh, by the way, I brought that Spam from earlier."
"I'll give it a try," Michael said. "I hear they love this stuff in Hawaii. Let's give it a shot!"
"Yeah, it's real exotic tropical stuff all right," Jin said sarcastically as he peeled the lid off the can. "Anyway, what are those two doing now?"
As they ate their informal lunch, they continued watching the date from afar.
As they walked hand-in-hand, Ángel and Amanda settled into a slightly uncomfortable silence. Though both were enjoying themselves and the feeling of their hands intertwining with each other, neither one wanted to break contact as they stepped over rocks, logs, or puddles of water along the shore. This made it a bit awkward to walk as they continuously bumped into one another or nearly tripped over each other's feet, occasionally jerking one another in one direction suddenly. After about the fifth time it happened and after a brief, nervous apology, finally Amanda said, "Um… sh-should we talk about something?"
"What? Oh… yes, I think we should!" Ángel replied.
"Great, um… oh!" she said, remembering one of Mimi's suggestions. "What are your goals in life, Ángel?"
"Yeah, you know, like… ugh, this sounds so corny, but fine, I'll say it: what do you want to be 'when you grow up?'"
"Ah, I see," he said. She looked up at him, anticipating his answer as he frowned in deep thought. But when he finally turned to her, he just smiled and said, "I don't know."
She blinked. "Oh come on." She sighed irritably. "Don't just cop out on me. You must have some idea."
He looked genuinely confused. "No, I… well, when I was young, I wanted to be a fireman. But not anymore." He paused for a longer moment, rubbing his chin with his free hand as the two of them stopped walking. "I really do not know," he said finally, shrugging his shoulders.
She let go of his hand and stood in front of him. "Well that's a sucky answer!" she said, putting her hands on her hips. "Everyone should have at least some idea of what they want to be in the future."
He looked down, somewhat shamed by her apparent scorn. "I am sorry… but for so long I thought my purpose in life was just to defeat the Ancient Enemy. Now the day is finally here and I do not know what I will do in the future. I really never thought about it until now."
She softened. "That's kind of sad, Ángel," she said. "When this is over, you should really think about what you want out of your life."
"Well, maybe I can just borrow money from you when you are a rich scientist!" he said.
She stared at him. "Huh? That's—oh, wait, that was a joke!"
"Yes, I didn't really—"
"Oh crap, I was supposed to laugh! I'm sorry!"
"What? No, it wasn't very—"
"Tell me another!"
"What? I… uhh…"
Off in the bushes, watching this exchange, Mimi smacked her forehead. "Amanda, you goof, I just said to smile politely!" she cried.
"Never mind what I said earlier," Jin said, snickering as he watched the pair. "This is actually pretty entertaining."
"Uh, it's okay, forget the joke. What do you want to be in the future, Amanda?"
"Me? Oh!" she said, apparently eager to discuss the subject. "I want to get a job as an electrical engineer!"
"An electrical engineer?"
"Yeah, like at MIT or a private company or something. I want to develop new technology based on the Digital World!" she said excitedly.
"What kinds of things?" he asked.
"Well think about it!" she exclaimed. "The Digital World just appeared after humans invented electronic digital computing and it gets its data from the Internet now. Without even trying, we created new life, intelligent life, and a whole new world. How did that happen? If we could figure that out, what else could we do? Could we create new resources? Or maybe we could learn how the Digiports work and create teleportation technology! Or maybe we could even learn how to develop artificial intelligence and make smarter technology! Oh wow, just think of it!"
He smiled, admiring how enthusiastic she was, realizing how much she thought of her future and regretting that he didn't have a better answer regarding his own. "Well," he said, "you should be careful when you invent better technology. You might invent the Terminator!"
At first she was angry that he would think such a thing, but when she saw his warm smile, she realized he was teasing and actually laughed. "Mmmaybe," she said slowly, with a hint of mischief. "Or maybe I'll make sure the robots I build aren't smarter than me. And I'll build an army and just take over the world myself. What do you think about that?" she asked, leaning in and raising an eyebrow.
"I think I found my new job," he said as he likewise leaned closer. "I'll become a hero and smash your robot army to pieces and save the world!"
She raised her hands and in mock surprise said "What? You'd break my robots! How dare you! Well, I won't let you!"
"And how will you stop me?" he laughed.
"Wellll," she said slowly, stepping in closer, her cheeks already starting to redden, "m-maybe I'll just seduce the handsome savior of humanity and bring him over to the dark side." She poked him in the chest with one finger as she said this, tracing a line downward as she looked up at him.
Ángel blushed profusely. "Th-that's… ah, that's a good plan. That might just work."
The two of them stared at each other for a moment before they both started laughing, the tension broke in an instant. "Ah jeez," Amanda said, "I can't keep a straight face when I try to pull off that Wicked Temptress act."
"Shall we continue?" Ángel asked, holding out his hand, still laughing slightly. She took his hand and the two continued their walk.
"Smooth," Betamon said. "Wow, I think they're getting the hang of this."
"I'm glad she recovered after that stupid bit with the joke," Penguinmon said. "Hey, can someone unscrew the lid on this water for me? It's hard to do it with flippers!"
Jin obliged and handed the open bottle back to Penguinmon. "It's good to see Ángel lighten up for a change," he remarked.
"Yeah, now if only we could get you to try it sometime," Muchomon quipped.
"I'm ignoring that," Jin said, even though he had cracked a smile. "Hey, Mimi, Michael, how's the Spam?"
"Yech," Mimi said, making a face as she chewed. "It's too salty!"
"How about you, Mike?"
Michael, to everyone's surprise, was actually wolfing down his piece. "It is a little salty, but this is actually pretty good!"
"Ew, Michael, how can you actually like something so disgusting?!"
Michael cringed and Jin, for once, decided to come to his rescue. "That's not disgusting, Mimi. Michael just has an open mind when it comes to food. Besides, I've eaten way grosser things than this."
"I don't want to hear—"
"Like what?" Betamon asked, his curiosity piqued.
Jin grinned. "Bugs," he replied.
"Eww!" Mimi and Palmon said.
"And worms," he added, needling her further.
"Ewww!" the two said again.
"Mimi, Palmon, shh!" Michael said, though he was having a hard time keeping himself from laughing.
"I don't know what the big deal is," Betamon said. "Bugs aren't gross!"
"Neither are worms!" Muchomon added.
Jin just shrugged. "Sometimes things were tough when Scarmon and I were travelling around the Digital World. I ate whatever I could find when things got bad. But this guy here," he said, patting Scarmon on the head, "will eat absolutely anything."
"Ugh, I remember," Mimi muttered. "Palmon remember a few days ago when he ate that poor birdy?"
"Hey, yeah! You never apologized for that, Scarmon!" she exclaimed.
"And I'm not gonna!" he laughed. "Besides, I like to think of myself as a gourmand."
"Where did you learn that word?" Michael asked.
"I'll have you know that I've eaten out of the dumpsters of some of the finest restaurants in New York while Jin was in juvenile hall!" he said. "And anyway, you humans are the disgusting ones. You'll eat something dead and preserved with chemicals out of a metal box, but I get picked on for eating the freshest food I can find!"
"As in 'still alive,'" Muchomon remarked.
"The fresher the better!" Scarmon chuckled.
"Yeah, but you're the only digimon here that has actually eaten other digimon," Michael said.
"Food's food," Scarmon replied as he snapped up more of his lunch. "Though I gotta tell you, even I regretted this one time when I ate a live Numamon."
"Bleh!" Mimi said, nearly gagging. "Ewww, can we please change the subject? You guys are grossing me out!"
All the guys shared a mutual chuckle, but agreed to be quiet and went back to watching the date still in progress.
"No way, you like Dragonball Z too?!" Amanda exclaimed.
"Yes. I mean, I have not seen every episode—"
"Oh my god, oh my god, can you do the Fusion Dance?"
Ángel cocked his head to the side. "What? You mean the dance where Trunks and Goten combine? I… well, I mean, as a kid…" he started to turn red, but Amanda's eyes lit up.
"We have to try it!" she cried.
"Huh? We… we do?"
"What the heck are they doing?" Scarmon asked.
"Good question," Michael replied. The pair was now out of earshot, but appeared to be lining up side-by-side on the opposite shore of the pond.
"It's the Fusion Technique," said Jin, Mimi, Muchomon and Penguinmon almost in unison.
The others stared at them.
"Well, you know," Jin said, trying to stay nonchalant, "I did grow up in Japan. I don't know too many people in Japan who don't know what Dragonball is."
"Same here!" Mimi admitted.
"And I'm guessing we just know it from our partners' geeky preferences, Muchomon?" Penguinmon asked.
"Yes. Ángel loves Dragonball. But I am surprised that even girls like that show."
"Well, it wasn't my favorite," Mimi said, somewhat embarrassed, "but Bulma always wore cool things on that show. Oh and the older Trunks from the future was kind of cute!"
"You are such a girl, Mimi," Jin remarked.
"Darn right!" Mimi shot back.
"That is probably why Amanda likes the show too, right, Penguinmon?" Muchomon asked.
Penguinmon stared at his partner as she energetically gave pointers to Ángel's stance as they lined up and recalled more than a few instances where he had caught her unaware, standing in the middle of the room and yelling intensely, apparently trying to 'power up,' as she put it.
"Yes," he lied. "That's exactly why she likes the show. And it has nothing to do with wishing she could fire energy beams from her hands."
"No, no, bend your knees more!"
"One more time, almost got it!"
They stood side-by-side, knees bent, arms out, and slowly moved closer as they began the chant.
"FUUUUU… SION!" they both said standing straight on one foot, one knee raised with their arms straight out in opposite directions. "HA!" they shouted, bringing the tips of their two index fingers together, forming almost an arch.
"Yeah, that was perfect!" Amanda said, raising a fist in triumph. Okay, she thought, I managed to find a guy who can do the Fusion Dance with me. That totally outranks the religious stuff in terms of boyfriend and/or future husband material!
"That was actually pretty fun," Ángel said as he laughed. "I haven't even seen Dragonball in a while, though. I was not sure I would remember!"
"I didn't think they had it in Mexico."
"Of course! The Spanish dub is very popular. I used to watch it at my friends' houses in elementary school. I guess you probably watch the English version?"
"Well, yeah, though I guess I like the Blue Water version that I used to watch on YTV, but the Funimation dub is good too."
"Wait… there is more than one English version?"
"Well Canadian television requirements— you know what, never mind!" she said, rolling her eyes. "So if you like it, why haven't you seen it in a while?"
Ángel cringed. "It is because after my… ah, abilities began to appear and I became a Digidestined, the other children… I suppose they thought I was too strange. It is hard to keep friends that way. They just stopped inviting me over after school."
Amanda sighed. "Yeah, tell me about it… being strange and alienated? Story of my life!"
"But I do not understand why it is like that with you, Amanda. Being so smart is wonderful!"
"That's sweet, but trust me, nobody appreciates brains. Bosoms, yes. Brains, no."
"Qué? What are 'bosoms?'"
"N-nothing!" she said quickly. "Anyway, what about you? With all the other weird stuff going on, we kinda just accepted that you're psychic or empathic or whatever we're calling it but… I mean, really, that's kind of amazing!"
"It's nothing really—"
"Ángel… you can read minds. I know I yelled at you earlier about it and I'm sorry, but, geez, for lack of a better word, that's a Super Power. You're like Professor X or Jean Grey or at the very least Deanna Troi on Star Trek—"
"Just work with me!" she snapped. Then she took a deep breath and calmed herself. "Sorry. I mean… what's it like?"
He frowned. "Like? I don't know… if I am trying, I can concentrate and understand what someone is thinking. But if a thought is very strong or it has emotion, I can hear it. If I am not watching them, it sounds to me just like they are speaking, which is why I make mistakes sometimes. People think in their own voices."
"Wow. That's kinda trippy."
"Well, it is not so great when I accidentally hear someone's thoughts. I do not mean to, but it is… it is like if you hear the radio or television on in the next room. Or if someone is having a private conversation and they don't know you are nearby. I do not try to hear their thoughts, but sometimes I just do."
Amanda rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Have you thought about trying to use the ability for something? Like, say, performing?"
Ángel looked startled. "I… sometimes feel alone enough without trying to display my gift. I am nobody's freak show."
"Oh, no, I didn't mean it quite like that but… well, think about it: you could be famous, you could be rich, if you wanted to. And just for the science, think what people could learn from a real, living psychic!"
Ángel paused and thought that last idea over. But then he shook his head. "No," he said. "This ability may be helpful, but others would use it for bad purposes. Armies would use it for spying, or they might invade others' privacy on purpose. I know I make mistakes sometimes, but I try not to use my ability more than necessary, even when I am curious about the thoughts of others." He smiled at her. "And that is why I have tried very hard not to read your mind, Amanda. I want you to feel safe with me. I will never try to read your thoughts without your permission."
She smiled back. "That's… Well, I'm actually a little relieved. I'm sorry, I guess I was a bit nervous. It's such a unique ability, though… as a scientist, I have to admit that I'm a little curious about it."
Ángel sighed. "Well, I guess I do not mind if you're the one studying me."
"Oh, so you don't mind if I study you?" She cringed. "Th-that didn't sound right," she said as Ángel laughed. "What I mean is, let's try a little experiment."
He shrugged. "All right. What do you want me to do?"
"You can read thoughts and emotions, right?"
"What about images?"
"Images? Like pictures? Yes, sometimes."
"Okay, then here's an idea: maybe all you need to control your ability better is a little practice. I'll think of an image, and you read my mind and tell me what it is."
"What kind of image?"
"Let's see… how about playing cards?"
Ángel thought this over. "I think I can do that. Are you… are you sure it is okay? Nobody has really ever asked me to read their mind like this before."
"I don't mind, and this could be fun!"
He sighed. "If you're sure, then… okay, let's try it!"
"Great!" she said. "Okay, first one…" she closed her eyes and put her hands on her head. Then she opened her eyes and said, "okay, got it!"
Ángel squinted his eyes and stared at her. After only a second he said, "The Ten of Diamonds."
"Perfect!" she exclaimed. "Nice job, but let's try another one. How about…" she again closed her eyes, then opened them, "this one!"
"The Ace of Spades," he said. "And you are also thinking of a song by some band called Motorhead."
She burst out laughing. "Oh wow, that's awesome! I didn't even mean to, but it just popped in there."
He shrugged, but his smile grew more confident.
"Okay, how about the next one…" she closed her eyes, then opened them again. "Try it now, smart guy."
He squinted his eyes, then they widened and he laughed. "That is the Queen of Hearts. Only it is you dressed up as the Queen of Hearts. You look cute in that little crown."
She smiled warmly, her body actually going a bit slack as she stared at him, practically melting into her shoes. "Yeah… you're three for three."
"Well, then," he said, squinting again as he stared at her. "The fourth card is—"
She stiffened. "No, wait, don't! I wasn't—"
But it was too late. Ángel turned bright red and his eyes went wide. "Th-that was not a card. That was me, dressed as the King of Hearts… without a shirt—"
"Oh god, shut up!" she said, turning bright red.
"—kissing you on the neck while you were dressed as the Queen of Hearts." He laughed in spite of himself.
"Shut uuuup!" she wailed, turning from him and burying her face in her hands. "Oh geez, that is so embarrassing, I'm so sorry!"
Ángel managed to stop his laughter, but then a mischievous look came to his face. As Amanda was still turned, he quietly stepped closer to her and, while her guard was down, gently brought his head down gave her a quick kiss on her neck.
"UWAAAAH!" she shrieked, startling him as she did and jumping forward reflexively. She turned back and stared at him, red-faced and with an expression of utter disbelief.
"I… I'm sorry, I—"
"No, it's… you just startled me, but I, um… it wasn't… bad, just…" She giggled nervously. "I might like that… later. But let's, uh… let's save that for our second date." She put her hand to her neck and giggled again. "But anyway, that was an… interesting experiment."
"Okay. Wait, 'second date?'" he asked, his expression brightening.
"If you play your cards right, mister," she said coyly. "Let's finish this walk around the pond, set up our picnic blanket, and get some lunch. We should probably do that before we run out of time. Unless you want Jin to drag us back by our lips?"
"No, let us go with your plan. That sounds much better."
"Oh wow," Mimi squealed. "I so wish I could hear what they were talking about, but at least they're coming back around the pond now."
"Not sure if that was a good move or not," Jin said, "but at least she didn't clobber him for it."
"What, kissing her on the neck?" Penguinmon asked. "Oh, trust me, I've seen that expression before. She liked it, but she just wasn't ready for it."
Jin considered this for a second. "Mimi, do girls… like that?"
"Huh?" she asked. "Like what?"
"What Ángel did?"
"Kissing on the neck?" Mimi asked, turning a little red. "That's… I'm not answering that."
"Jin, I think almost everyone does," Michael said. "Come on, this can't be the first time you've seen it. Haven't you ever watched a romance movie before?"
"I'm not sure I saw too many movies even before I went to the Digital World, and at the juvenile hall, I think we would have had a riot if they tried to show us a romantic comedy," he said. "If it didn't have guns, explosions, or a good fight scene, I wasn't interested."
"You are such a kid, Jin," Michael said.
Mimi rolled her eyes. "Do I have to put you two in time out?"
"Wait, look everyone!" Muchomon said. "They're setting up the picnic blanket!"
Ángel took the blanket and spread it near the shore of the pond, not far from their unseen friends. He gingerly set the different food items on it and gestured for Amanda to sit down. She did so and he sat across from her.
"I am sorry that it is nothing more than corned beef hash," he said.
"It's not your fault," she replied with a shrug. "Besides, I, uh, I was looking forward to your company more than the food."
"I feel the same way," he said, and he smiled warmly. "But if it isn't very tasty, I also brought some spearmint gum—"
"I don't have fish breath!" Amanda cried suddenly.
"Wh-what?!" Ángel stammered.
In the bushes nearby, Michael nearly had to put Jin in a choke-hold to keep him from bursting out laughing, and the digimon dog-piled onto Scarmon for the same reason.
"I… I never said—"
"Don't listen to what anyone else said!" she went on, her face turning bright red and her expression totally panicked. "I smell fine! See for yourself!" she scooted herself closer and spread her arms wide, looking at him expectantly.
Ángel stared at her, not sure if she was serious.
Jin had finally managed to contain his laughter and now he merely cocked his head to one side, totally confused. "Mimi… is this normal?"
Mimi had placed her palm to her face. "There is nothing normal about that girl," she sighed. She looked over to Michael. "Get ready, Michael, we might have to jump in and save her from herself."
Michael stared at them, then turned his head to Mimi and shook his head. "No, hold on, Mimi. You're right, she is a very strange girl, but Ángel is just unique enough to roll with this. She's my partner and I'll let her be herself." He smiled. "I don't think she'd forgive us if we ended her first date early."
"Are you… sure?" Ángel asked.
"Smell me, darn it!" she shouted.
"Wah! A-all right, if you say so," he said, and leaned over to her, sniffing the air. With him so close and him the way he inhaled through his nose, as if smelling a fine wine, she became aware of how awkward her request was and began to blush even more deeply than before. When he finally pulled back, she crossed her arms defensively and scrunched herself inward, even pulling her knees to her chest.
Ángel repressed the urge to laugh. He couldn't help but think that her expression resembled that of a puppy that had just done something bad and was giving him the most pitiful look he had ever seen. And yet there was an earnest fear of his judgment that he found perfectly lovable. He smiled at her gently and gave his answer.
"You smell very nice," he said. "Not like fish at all."
"Y-yeah?" she asked, relaxing.
"You, ah, you borrowed Mimi's perfume, didn't you?"
Amanda chuckled. "Caught me. Yeah, I didn't have any, so…"
"It smells nice on you too."
"Thanks. Maybe I'll buy a bottle when I get home." She then thought about the economic disparity between Mimi and herself, and the fact that her parents might not want to buy her a $100 bottle of perfume. "If I can afford it, that is."
"Only if you want to," he said. "Well, now that that is over… your turn!"
She blinked. "What? My turn?"
"Now you smell me."
Her jaw dropped open. "What? Th-that's… no way, that's so embarrassing, I can't—"
"Too late," he said, looking at her smugly. "It is only fair, I smelled you!"
She winced. Crap, he's got me, she thought. Out loud she said, "F-fine! But if you stink," and here she held up a fist, "then it's too the moon, Ángel! Pow! Right in the…" her gaze went to his lips just then and her threat tapered off, "…kisser."
"I'll take my chances," he said.
Amanda sighed and got on her hands and knees edging closer to him. As she got close, she could feel the warmth in the air and he sat up straight, mimicking her open-armed pose from earlier. She took a whiff of the air, catching something she couldn't quite place. It was a subtle, not quite sweet aroma, and definitely not sour. She closed her eyes and inhaled more deeply, getting very close to him now. She wasn't sure what it was, but she knew that she liked it. A tingle went down her spine and spread throughout her body.
"Well?" he asked. "What do you smell?"
Pheromones, she thought, keeping her eyes closed. Really good ones. And she felt herself overcome with a new emotion: desire.
Amid this intoxicating emotion, the answer hit her. "Michael's aftershave."
Ángel laughed. "Exactamente. He let me borrow just a little—"
"You smell nice," she said, and he noticed that her eyes were still closed and her voice had a quiet, breathless quality to it now. She opened her eyes and stared up at him dreamily.
Ángel had managed to keep his cool right up until this point. She moved in closer, her face inching toward his, and he knew what was coming.
Is this all right? he asked himself. She's so different from me, she has such different ways of looking at the world, and what will Mother think of her… But then he remembered his own advice and he decided, just once, he would listen to his heart. No regrets, Ángel, he told himself, closing his eyes.
Their lips met softly, lingering for a moment before parting. But then Amanda reached up, wrapping her arms around Ángel's shoulders and she pulled herself up to him again, kissing him a second time, then a third on the cheek, then the chin, then his nose in a flurry of gentle pecks before finding his mouth again. He felt her trembling, inhaling sharply through her nose, and he sat up, putting his own arms around her. She relaxed and slid down slightly, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Oh, Ángel," she sighed.
He smiled, enjoying the sound of his own name in her breathless voice. "That was wonderful, Amanda," he told her, and then chuckled as a happy, girlish coo escaped her.
Mimi's eyes went wide and she actually began to blush. "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" she said. "They really did it!"
Michael gave a satisfied smile and folded his arms contentedly. "I knew they had it in them," he said, proud of both his male friend and his digivolving partner for finally getting over their insecurities to have a special moment. In the back of his mind, there was a pang of regret that he wasn't able to share something so wonderful with Mimi, but right then and there he made a decision: when today's battle was won, when the future was secure, he would take Mimi aside and tell her what he'd been aching to say this whole time. He would tell her everything.
"Well, Jin," he whispered, "it's not exactly a perfect date, but… Jin?"
Jin was sitting there, his expression totally transfixed as he slowly ate piece after piece of dried fruit.
"Jin?" Michael asked again. "Jin, what's wrong with you?"
"Sh, I'm watching."
"You… you're enjoying this?" he asked, not sure if he was creeped out or just amused, though at the moment he was leaning towards the latter.
"Aw, look, Michael, Jin's discovered the joy of romance!" Mimi said, eyeing Jin slyly, trying to tease him.
"Ha ha!" Scarmon laughed. "When we get back to Earth, maybe we should take you to a nice romantic comedy! And then we can get some ice cream and talk about your feelings and buy you a nice new pair of high heel shoes that make your legs look fa~abulous!" Jin didn't react, but continued staring. "And… uh, then we'll change your name to 'Jeanie'!" No reaction. "Because you're a girl! A sweet, sensitive girly girl!" Nothing. "With… with feelings! And boobs!"
"Okay, Scarmon, that's enough," Penguinmon sighed. "He's not listening."
"Sure I am," he said, and suddenly knuckled Scarmon's head into the ground. "Now shut up, let's see what they do next."
"Actually," Michael said, looking a bit reluctant himself, "I think we should go. They only have a little more time left for their date and we set out to watch them and make sure it went well. We did that, so let's just give them their privacy."
"What?!" Jin demanded. "But… but we just got to the best part!"
Mimi giggled. "As much as I'd like to watch more of this too, Michael's right, Jin," she said. "Come on, everyone, let's sneak off before we're spotted and ruin everything."
"But… but…" Jin stammered on the verge of whining. "I… oh, fine," he sighed. "Darn it, Mike, why do you always have to be the gentleman around here?"
"One of us has to," Michael shot back.
"Har har," Jin grumbled.
Amanda turned around in Ángel's arms and leaned back against him.
"Amanda?" he asked.
"Shut up and keep holding me," she said, and the two of them eased back. Ángel sat upright, holding Amanda as she reclined, resting her body against his chest, and the two of them looked out at the little pond once again. "Beautiful," she whispered.
"Not as beautiful as—"
"Finish that corny line and I go back to camp."
She chuckled and he relaxed, realizing she had been teasing him again. "But seriously," she added. "Let's just… let's just relax and stay like this a little while longer."
"We haven't eaten yet."
"I don't care. Do you?"
"We'll eat fast in the last few minutes, I promise. We won't make Jin angry. After all, I really don't want anything bad to happen to my lips right now."
They both shared a laugh about that.
Amanda closed her eyes, turning her head and feeling the warmth of Ángel's body on her cheek. Ángel gave her a gentle squeeze and noticed that he could feel the beating of her heart and that it momentarily fluttered, but then slowed to a comfortable, even rhythm. He gave her a kiss on the top of her head and sighed happily.
How could I think anything bad about this strange, sweet girl? he thought to himself. Even if she does not believe in God, I know that God is love, and he would never send a good person like her to Hell. And if he did, I would not want to go to any Heaven that refused her when I die.
Amanda whispered something, but he didn't hear her. He asked her what she said and she blushed, opened her mouth, and then closed it again before she could get a word out. Finally, she spoke these words: "Ángel, tu es mon cher. Je suis tellement heureuse que nous soyons ensemble. J'espère qu'il sera toujours comme ça."*
"Amanda?" he asked. "Was that French?"
He laughed. "What did you say?"
"I'll… tell you when I'm a little more confident. I know you don't get it, but I'll say it so you can understand… someday."
Ángel nodded. "All right. I'll be waiting."
The two of them eventually made their way back to camp. They arrived on the scene holding each other's hand.
"Welcome back!" Michael said, smiling when he saw them.
"Did you two have a good date?" Mimi asked, feigning ignorance.
Wow, Michael thought. Mimi's pretty good at playing innocent when she wants to. He felt a certain guilty pleasure in keeping up the ruse, but he told himself that no harm was really done and now that it was done it would be better if Amanda and Ángel had no idea of their "chaperones."
Amanda and Ángel looked at each other and smiled.
"Yeah, we had a good time," Amanda said, squeezing Ángel's hand. Then she hiccupped. "Er, we started to run out of time and wolfed down the food you gave us."
"I am sorry we're a little late, Jin," Ángel said, bracing himself for whatever harsh reaction the older boy was going to have.
Jin was actually doing stretches and what looked to be some martial arts moves. Scarmon and Muchomon were watching him, observing the slow, but deliberate moves to get some ideas for the upcoming battle. He looked over at Ángel and said, "Hm… forget about it. I'm glad you two had a nice date and you're only a few minutes late."
Amanda blinked. "Uh, gee… thanks, Jin."
"Are we all ready to train?"
"I'm ready!" Michael said.
"Me too!" Mimi added.
"So are we!" Ángel said.
"Yeah! Oh, wait," Amanda said. "Uh, can Ángel and I have a minute to get undressed?"
They stared at her and she winced. "Re-dressed. B-because we're wearing nice clothes… we don't want to be dirty. Our clothes! We'd like to put on our clothes from earlier— Ángel, stop laughing, darn it!"
Ángel blushed and had to cover his mouth with one hand.
Jin folded his arms and Amanda was expecting him to read her the riot act. "Yeah, sure. Just get dressed fast and hurry back here, okay?"
Everyone stared at him incredulously.
"Okay," Mimi began. "Who are you—"
"—and what have you done with Jin?" everyone else in the group finished.
"I love that joke," Palmon said, chuckling.
Jin's serene smile started to look a little forced.
"Uhhhh never mind!" Amanda said. "Okay, changing, be right back!" She went off, and as she passed Mimi, she whispered "Girl talk later, I'll dish when we get a chance!" giving a wink as she grabbed her things and went into the woods to change.
When everyone was back in their usual clothes, Jin gathered everyone around the camp fire.
"All right, I think I've got an idea," he said. "Seeing these two nutjobs together—"
Mimi and Michael's eyes went wide and they subtly gestured to Jin that he was about to give away their spying.
"—when they came back actually gave me an idea," he said, and both of them relaxed, while Amanda and Ángel remained oblivious. "We're not thinking big enough. We're thinking about our digimon partners and our DNA-digivolving partners, but we should be thinking about the whole group. What I said about us having only three Ultimate levels is still true, but if we figure out a strategy that uses all our strengths and covers our weaknesses by working together, we just might have a shot."
"That's a great idea, Jin!" Mimi exclaimed. "When I was with the original Digidestined, we beat Apocalymon by working together and coordinating one big attack! And he was one of the strongest, meanest digimon we had ever seen! I'm sure not even the Ancient Enemy could be that strong!"
"And we were all there when we used our inner strength to beat MaloMyotismon," Amanda said. "Every Digidestined was there!"
"…Unless they were in prison and didn't have their digivice on them," Jin sighed.
"Oh. Oh, Jin, I forgot—"
"No, no, you see, I missed my chance to save the world for real that day. Maybe today I can make up for it." He had a smile on his face, but it was backed by determination. "So here's what I'm thinking: Lilymon has speed, Freezedramon has power, and Quemamon has skill. If we can build a strategy that lets Lilymon keep the Ancient Enemy distracted, Quemamon can penetrate his defenses and get in a few disabling strikes, and then Freezedramon can finish him off. And hey, if we get some sudden miraculous power up like Ángel has faith in, so much the better.
"I know I haven't always been the best team player and I'm never going to be big on dealing with people, but I'm convinced… if we work together, if we can unify and apply everything we've learned, I'm sure we can beat this guy down."
Mimi looked excitedly to each of them, one by one, and stood up. "Group hug!" she squealed.
"No," Jin said. "No hugs."
"Everyone hug Jin!" Mimi commanded, and all four of them tackled him, catching him in a massive group hug. The Digimon piled on, all of them laughing as they did so.
"Okay, okay, that's enough!" Jin laughed. "Seriously, let go… Get the hell off me, you bastards!"
The whole group worked on their strategies, focusing on harmonizing the digimon and even teaching each other a few new moves. It was a little after noon when they started and within an hour and a half, they finally had their strategy down pat. Using makeshift targets and maps drawn in the dirt, they built up their confidence and soon they felt positive that this plan would work. They had everything in order and soon the Ancient Enemy would fall and their worlds would be safe.
When they finished at around 2 o'clock, they decided to take a break and rest. The digimon de-digivolved and ate a few more rations and drank what was left of the bottled water, replenishing their bodies as they rested, some even dozing off, seemingly unmoved by the prospect of facing what could be their most ferocious adversary yet.
Amanda and Mimi moved to the far side of the camp and began talking excitedly and, by the way they kept staring back at Ángel and giggling, it was pretty clear what they were talking about. Jin, Michael, and Ángel kept it pretty simple:
"So," Michael began, "did you kiss her?" He didn't want to blow his cover, so he asked, even though he knew the answer.
"Ah… y-yes," he replied.
"Did she taste like fish?" Jin asked.
"No," Ángel said. "No, she did not."
Jin raised a fist and bumped it with Ángel's. "Nice," he said.
And that was it. In the dwindling time before 3 o'clock, you would have sworn that they were merely a group of good friends out on a camping trip, not a care in the world.
But as soon as their watches read 3:00, the sound of slow, shuffling footsteps was heard from the woods. They looked in its direction and watched with increasing apprehension as Mr. Y emerged from the darkness, his hood only partially concealing his paper-white face, which now looked pitted and contorted, his eyes yellow and sinking back into his skull.
"Come, children," Mr. Y said, his breath now coming in horrible wheezes. With each pause, Mr. Y looked as though a momentary pain was on the verge of overtaking him. "The Ancient Enemy… awaits. I will take you to the meeting place… and there… we can all greet death together."
Vademon hurried to the prison unit as soon as he got the message. Getting around Full Metal City on his tentacle-like legs was proving difficult, especially with all the responsibilities the master had entrusted him with, so he'd constructed a small, saucer-shaped hovercraft, perfect for zipping around the city and completing his work in much less time. Still, that wasn't going to save him when he had to explain to Delgado that some of his most important projects were behind schedule. Oh, the D-Chamber was built, and that was good news, but then there was the Biological Agent Research, and that had hit a major snag. And then there was the Portal… working out the entanglement was proving difficult, but at least that was something that would be solved after another day or two of trial and error. The question was, would the master be patient, or would he blame Vademon for the delay? Vademon was doing his best to give the master as few reasons as possible for being angry upon his return, and now he just learned of a potentially major problem.
Vademon hovered into Andromon's cell, calling for lights to illuminate the darkened metal room. The shackles on the walls had been broken and there were dents and gouges in the walls, evidence of the struggle that had occurred when the guards had been overpowered. Andromon himself was nowhere to be seen.
"I'm sorry, Vademon, sir," a Bakemon said, cowering as Vademon's expression became one of barely-contained rage. "Apparently some of our forces were posing as double agents. They took our forces by surprise and liberated Andromon before escaping back into the city."
Vademon focused and tried to think quickly. This had only happened in the last half hour. They couldn't have gotten far. They must still be in the city.
"Captain, you are to organize squads to find and recapture Andromon immediately. On each squad, I want you to put at least one of your most trusted soldiers. If there are double agents in our midst, we must work to counteract any interference. I will begin scanning the surveillance footage to see if we can pinpoint where they might have gone. We must capture Andromon at all costs, Captain. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," the Bakemon said and hurriedly left the cell to follow his orders.
"Vademon, sir?" a voice crackled, coming through his hovercraft's communication system.
"I'm busy," he growled.
"There's a… um, there's a guest at the Western Gate, sir. He is requesting entry. He says he was sent by the master, sir."
Vademon sighed. This wasn't even one of his duties! "Did I not delegate someone to interrogate and check any new recruits? Have the Entry Officer transmit his findings to me and I'll provide clearance—"
"Sir, that… that won't be possible. The new recruit just ate the Entry Officer."
Vademon blinked. "What sort of recruit is this?!" he demanded.
"A very big one, sir. Please hurry," the voice said, an edge of fear in his voice. "He says he's hungry."
Mr. Y led them through a winding path in the woods, through a meadow and curving around a hillside with blooming wildflowers. It might as well have been a nature hike, but nobody was really focusing on the beauty of the places they passed. The trip was taking longer than any of them expected and their apprehension was growing. It didn't help that Mr. Y was constantly wheezing as he walked, and it was growing worse as they went further. The exertion was starting to take its toll on his twisted, corrupted body.
"Um, are you all right?" Michael asked.
"No," Mr. Y replied.
"Isn't there something we can do for you?" Mimi asked, showing her concern even knowing that Mr. Y had now become a puppet for their nemesis.
"Your concern… is appreciated," Mr. Y said, seemingly genuine. "But there is nothing that can be done… Not for me… and not for you."
"You look like death warmed over," Jin remarked.
"Jin!" Mimi hissed.
"It's fine. He's… right, after all. Technically speaking, I am dead. Whatever I once was… the Ancient Enemy has destroyed. There remains only this… decomposing shell."
Mimi paused a moment, looking fearful until Palmon tapped her on the leg, reassuring her that she was not without protection. She continued walking as the group went down an incline and through some trees, finally coming out upon an open area.
"What the—?" Michael gasped.
"Wow," Amanda breathed. "This place is kinda cool!"
"No," Ángel said, shivering suddenly. "It is not."
Before them was what had once been a lake, but was now a dry lakebed. But stretched across it was a network of wooden docks and small, wooden buildings with thatch roofs. It was a city that stood completely on tall poles. It was easy to imagine it crisscrossing the water that had once filled the lake and to see that it had once been a bustling town with several stores and residences for digimon of all shapes and sizes. But now the water was gone, the sandy lakebed dry as a bone, and the buildings looked to be in disrepair. Holes had formed in the roofs and several wooden walkways were rotting and had begun to sag or had already collapsed to the ground below.
"What is this place, Mr. Y?" Michael asked.
"This is Old Partition," he replied. "The predecessor… of the city I once called home."
"Partition?" Amanda asked. "So, I guess a long time ago the digimon moved from here to the new city when the lake dried up. Am I right?"
"No," Mr. Y said.
Ángel held himself more tightly. "He is right. I… I can feel that something much worse happened here." He felt someone take his hand and looked over to see that it was Amanda. And then Muchomon flew up and perched on his shoulder, and even Jin came and gave him a pat on the back, and his apprehension began to disappear.
"Come on," Mr. Y said, and he began leading them down the narrow wooden walkway. "Step lightly. Some of the boards are rotten."
As if to punctuate this point, Mimi suddenly cried out as her foot went through a board and stumbled forward. Michael jumped and caught her, helping her to her feet.
"I warned you," Mr. Y said coldly.
He led them into a round building, the boarding on it a bit crude and asymmetrical, and stopped once they were inside. It was dark and musty, but they saw the remains of a few cots, the bedding still intact, and there were pitchers for water and a copper stove for cooking. It could have still been used, all it lacked was a resident.
"Look at the wall," Mr. Y said. And they saw a flag with a green symbol hung on the wall. It was a hand-painted symbol that resembled bird wings. It looked almost angelic, but Ángel shivered. Something was very wrong in this place. Whoever had lived here, they had left something of themselves behind.
"What is that?" Amanda asked, examining it more closely. "The flag for the town? Maybe an old nation's flag here on Folder?"
"It is the symbol… the Vaccine digimon used for themselves," Mr. Y answered. "Come."
They followed him out, deeper into the town, and came to another residence. But unlike the last one, this one had been wrecked, and half the building had been blasted away, the floor suddenly dropping off and out to the ground below. The bedding had been strewn, the stove missing entirely, and the pottery smashed.
"I smell something," Scarmon said, and with his snout to the ground, he moved to a corner of the room where he spied dark spots stained on the wall. "I knew it," he grunted. "Blood."
"What happened here?" Mimi asked, and now she began to feel a chill as well.
"Look well," Mr. Y said, and pointed to the wall. Another flag was there, but this time it was red, the symbol of a gnarled claw reaching upward upon it. But this time, a huge gash had been slashed diagonally, deliberately, across it.
"Virus," Jin surmised.
"Correct," Mr. Y said. "This was a home for a Virus type digimon. His neighbors rose up one night and murdered him."
"Murder?!" Michael exclaimed. "Why did they do that?"
Ángel sighed. "After seeing the new Partition, you really have to ask, Michael?" His teeth were gritted and his expression was one of disgust. "They murdered him because he was a Virus."
Mr. Y nodded. "And he was not the only victim." He took them from the ruined hut across a larger walkway. While no water was present, suddenly a thin layer of mist and fog began to roll in, giving the place an eerie, foreboding look, driving home the feeling of it being a ghost town. Mr. Y pointed to a bridge that had a huge gap in it. It hadn't rotted away, it was simply gone.
"That bridge was the site of another battle… the bridge was destroyed and three digimon on it… fell into the water and drowned."
They all looked reflexively at the ground where the water would have been and each of them found themselves imagining the horrible scene. All, that is, except Ángel.
"I… I can hear them," he said, shivering. "I can hear them calling for help. And… the ones standing on the bridge are laughing."
"What?!" Mimi asked. "Are… are you sure? How can you hear them? And how could they do something so horrible?!"
"I do not know, but I am certain," he said. "They watched them while they drowned."
Mr. Y grunted. "Not surprising. It was… the nature of the city." He led them deeper into the town, this time through many winding walkways, through some buildings that were intact, others that were barely there at all, and wherever they went, they saw more of those green and red flags, and also a blue one which they learned was the symbol for the Data types. Soon it became clear that this was not one town, but a community that had been driven apart and turned in on itself.
"The old prejudices of the past… still haunt the present," Mr. Y said, his wheezing now very labored. "In the old times… the digimon of this town merely… tolerated each other. But when… a simple conflict caused a stir… things escalated… driving them to rise against… one another."
"What could have caused it?" Michael wondered aloud.
"It was the dam," Mr. Y wheezed.
"What was the dam problem?" Amanda asked. They all turned to her, staring coldly. "Just trying to lighten the mood, jeez."
"The village elders wanted… to use the dam that controlled the height of the lake… and reduce the water level… they feared a strong storm would cause a flood."
"That seems reasonable," Amanda said. "So, what was the problem?"
"Some aquatic digimon… an Octomon, several Gekkomon… and even some Betamon," here Betamon and Michael exchanged looks, "…protested the plan. They said… reducing the water gave them less room to… make their livelihoods… and it was a reduction of their territory… since they were aquatic."
"I know I'd feel pretty strongly about it too," Betamon said.
Penguinmon nodded. "I would too. We aquatic digimon appreciate having lots of room to move around in."
"At first… it was a minor dispute…" Mr. Y said, continuing his story. "But then… the elders went on with their plan anyway, reducing the water level… by a third. And then came… the retaliation. Those aquatic digimon… they blocked the dam, sabotaging it. The water level rose again… and the elders were furious. Because the aquatic digimon were all… by coincidence, Virus types… those who supported the elders focused on that… and then the Virus digimon, on principle… supported their own. It was no longer a minor issue… and from there, it was only one thing… after another. Until one day…"
Mr. Y trailed off and motioned for them to follow further. He had led them almost all the way across the town to the far side of the lakebed. And it was there they saw the remains of the dam.
It still stood, but there was now a massive hole in it.
"I… I can see them now!" Ángel cried suddenly.
"What do you mean?" Jin asked.
Ángel stared on fearfully. Translucent shapes, ghostly figures were now visible, blending in with the rolling mist that had engulfed the town. He could barely hear voices. Shouts, screams, and orders as they clashed with one another, their violent battle spreading through the walkways, into the water (or where the water once was) and finally to the dam itself. Atop the dam, one of them held up something, and Ángel wasn't sure at first what it was, but then it became clear as there was a flash and the echo of an explosion.
A bomb. The fight had turned so bloody that…
"I can see what happened," Ángel said. "It was so horrible… rather than surrender, one of the digimon used a bomb to destroy the dam. The water drained from the lake completely, and the town was ruined. And they… they still continued fighting!" His eyes went wide in horror as he saw images of the carnage begin to unfold, even though the others were unable to see it.
"Ángel!" Amanda cried, throwing her arms around him. "It's okay, just relax," she said, trying to soothe his fears. "We're here, don't worry."
Jin stepped forward put his hand on his shoulder, forcing him to focus on him. "That's right," he said. "We're here. That stuff you're seeing isn't real. Not anymore."
Presently, the vision began to dissipate and he managed to calm down. "All right," he said. "Thank you. I'm all right."
"If you're finished…" Mr. Y wheezed, "then I will take you to our destination."
They followed him around to a much larger building. It was near the center of town and it was big enough to hold a great many digimon at once. It clearly had been the Town Hall, or some other gathering place for the community. But the inside was smashed, and the tattered remains of all three flags littered the floor. Some battle had taken place here, and the floors creaked badly as they carefully stepped over the debris.
"The battles that tore Old Partition apart… they inflicted scars so deep that… even after the Digital World was reset after the time of… the Dark Masters… this place still stands. Vaccine against Virus, Virus against Data, and even Data against Vaccine… the three factions had such vitriol for each other… even now, nothing can heal the scars… The newer Partition was merely… repeating what had already occurred. It is for this reason, for its… timeless ugliness… that the Ancient Enemy chose this place." He took in a deep breath. "I have delivered you… into his hands… and now, at last, he will release me…"
At first, they didn't understand. But then his body began to convulse and shake. And then his limbs began to bulge, inflating like balloons and a dark, horrible energy crackled over him.
"Everyone, get out, now!" Jin shouted, and they all dashed from the building. A few moments later, what had once been Mr. Y exploded in a black, violent inferno. The explosion obliterated the Town Hall and the weakened walkway collapsed as they ran across it, causing them all to crash roughly to the lakebed below.
As they got to their feet, they looked around, checking to see that they were all okay. Nobody appeared to be injured, but they were all shaken by the sudden, violent display.
"He… he just exploded," Mimi said quietly. "Why? Why did that happen?"
And then a new voice, clear as day, rang out over all of them: "Oh, well, you know how it is," it said, a hint of menace in his jovial tone, "I thought it'd be good to start things off… with a bang."
They looked around and finally saw a figure, black as night, his eyes glowing red, standing in the shadows under one of the buildings.
"It's him!" Amanda gasped.
Despite his growing fear, Michael stood up bravely. "Show yourself, you coward! You've been hiding from us long enough!"
"Hiding?" the figure asked, sounding genuinely surprised. "I haven't been hiding at all! In fact," and here he stepped from the shadows, and his form was one most of them recognized instantly, "I've already introduced myself."
"Mr. Delgado!" Mimi cried. "But what are you doing here?"
"Delgado?" Ángel asked. Then his eyes went hard. "No. That is not a man. That is our enemy. The Ancient Enemy."
"Wh-what?" Mimi stammered. "No, that's not possible! Ángel, he helped us before…"
"I think he's right, Mimi," Jin said. "The rest of us didn't want to say anything, and we needed some help to get to Mexico anyway, so we played dumb… but we knew there was something fishy about this guy not too long after we met him."
"I'm sorry we didn't tell you, Mimi," Michael said. "I just… we thought it was better—"
"They don't really trust you when it comes to not trusting people, Mimi," Delgado said. "They don't think you can handle it."
Mimi looked stung by this. "No, no, Mimi, that's not it!" Michael protested. "We… we weren't totally sure what he was."
"Well, I never would have guessed that you were actually the guy we were looking for," Jin said. "We figured you must be some lackey. Who would have thought our enemy was just some dope in a goofy cowboy disguise?" He sneered at his foe, happy to throw some insults of his own after what he just said to Mimi.
Delgado didn't look fazed by the insult. He instead gestured to his denim clothes and cowboy hat with pride. "Call it goofy if you want, but I'm actually kind of attached to it. It was the first human form I ever took, after all."
"But why did you help us?" Amanda cried. "When those thugs in the bar came after us, why did you save us if you just wanted to destroy us?!"
"Save you?" Delgado asked. "Oh please, those rednecks were just ordinary townies without a care in the world. On any other day, they probably would have come to your rescue and taken you to Mexico. But then I showed up, and worked a little of my magic on their minds. You don't really think Texas is just filled with racist stereotypes waiting to jump a bunch of kids, do you?"
Amanda considered this. "I… guess not?"
"No, I made them behave that way so I could appear as your knight in denim armor," he said, and flashed a sly grin. "Y'all needed a ride, and I was pleased to give you one."
"But why didn't you just kill us?" Jin asked. "I don't get it. You seem like you've got power, you had us totally off guard… why didn't you just kill us when you had the chance?"
Delgado sighed. "Still don't understand a thing, do you? I didn't kill you because it wasn't time to kill you." But then his smile returned. "But now it is."
"This doesn't make any sense!" Mimi exclaimed. "We… I thought you were our friend! Why do we have to fight?"
"You've got a good heart, Mimi," Delgado said. "But think about this… you had a few dreams, a pint-sized pink ball came and told you to hunt me down, and without even knowing who I was, you all came here to kill me. And now you ask why we can't all just get along?"
"That's… no, it…" Mimi struggled to explain.
"Do not listen to him," Ángel said. "He is a monster. Tell us, Mr. 'Delgado,' if that's what you call yourself, if we turn around and leave you in peace, will you do no more harm to the world?"
"No," he replied. "I will accept your surrender and let you go for now… but then I will kill you, your worlds… and everyone you hold dear."
The five humans and digimon now stared at him, their gazes stony. Now they saw the monster hiding in that innocuous guise.
"So… Ángel is your name," Delgado murmured, eyeing him appreciatively. "The others don't get it, but you do. You understand better than anyone else that we are being pulled by the strings of Fate. We are puppets, mere slaves to the whims of Destiny. We will fight today because it was decided ages ago, and there is nothing to be done, but see where it leads us. It is my purpose, my one and only purpose, to seek you out, defeat you, and then bring ruination to all who live." He held up his hand and a dark, smoky energy began to rise from it. "Don't look so angry… it's not like any of us have any choice in the matter."
"Wait just a minute," Amanda said. "If you were fated to fight us, then why did you send the Eight Gods? They could have killed us."
"I knew they would fail. But I am forbidden to fight you until you reach your full strength. By sending you strong foes, I knew you would rise to the occasion and overcome them, gaining newfound power as you did. And now you've reached your peaks," and here he chuckled, "and it is so far removed from my power that I almost feel sorry for you." And now he gave a full blown laugh. "You don't stand a chance!"
"We'll see about that," Jin said, cracking his knuckles.
"Hold on, eager beaver," Delgado said, holding up one hand. "There are a few ground rules and it's part of the rules I'm bound by to explain them."
Amanda got out a notepad. The others looked at her. "What?" she said defensively. "Might come in handy, better take notes."
"Then listen well, teacher's pet," he continued. "Rule One: one battle decides the fate of the world. Rule Two: the Dark One – that's me – can only engage the Champions – that's you guys – once they reach the height of their strength. And finally, Rule Three: the Champions of the Five Virtues must comprehend the Dark One's nature and their Virtues must shine."
"And what does that mean?" Amanda asked, irritated by all the cryptic talk.
"Well, let's see if you can all figure it out," Delgado replied, an insufferable smugness in his voice. "But I doubt it. You really don't have what it takes." And now his gaze was cruel, piercing, and stony. "I've seen what you're made of. You're weak little creatures who need your digimon partners to protect you."
"Is that right?" Michael scoffed.
"Oh, you ought to know that better than anyone," Delgado said, and his form suddenly began to shift, changing to one that caused Michael's eyes to go wide. "Hello, son."
There before them, no longer taking the form of Jim Delgado, stood Michael Washington, Sr., Michael's father. "Living the life of luxury has made you soft, son," he said. "I keep hoping one of these days you'll become a man. But all you care about is the violin, polo, and a bunch of the other stuff these bluebloods call living. It's my fault, though. My success in Hollywood made me want to give you every advantage, but now I don't understand a thing you do. I keep hoping you'll be more manly, instead of the wispy little thing you are…"
Michael turned red and looked down and the others suspected that this was something that he had really heard before.
"That's why you put on the whole white knight act," Mr. Washington said. "The whole Dudley Do-Right thing you put on for show… I know it's because you're trying to be the man I wish I'd raised. The girls you meet may like it, but that will only get you so far."
"Enough!" Michael shouted. "You're not my father and I'm not going to stand here and listen to you tell me how to live my life!"
"That's right!" Mimi chimed in. "Michael's not just some… some 'white knight,' he's a really brave guy!"
"And that's just the kind of guy I need!" said Mr. Washington, but now his voice was high-pitched and girly. And then his body shifted form to that of Mimi herself, dressed in a particularly gaudy and skimpy outfit. Mimi turned bright red.
"That's… what are you—"
"I sure am glad I have good friends who will do everything for me," Fake Mimi said. "And it's great having guys trip over themselves to help me out. I know what they're really after, of course," she said. And then, in an instant, she zipped over and was among them, to their surprise, and she pressed up against Michael, drawing a finger down the side of his face seductively. "Even the supposed gentlemen," she said, winking at him.
"M-Michael?" Mimi stammered.
"N-no, Mimi, that's not—"
"I decided just when summer vacation started that I would only date a guy who really appreciates me," Fake Mimi said, skipping away cheerfully, "but what's to appreciate? I'm a sweet little princess with a face to die for. Amanda's right, it's not like I have to think for myself! I can just sit back and rely on others."
"Mimi, don't listen to him! Or her! Whatever!" Amanda said. "I… I said that when I was angry, you're not really like that."
"No… No, I'm not," Mimi said, but she still looked down, and she wore a wounded expression, as though on the verge of tears.
"Could be worse, though," and this was a new voice, and a new face as Delgado shifted form again. "At least people like her. Unlike some others I could mention."
Amanda froze, reluctantly turning around to face this new speaker. "No, that's… no, not…"
"Remember me, geek?" the girl said. She was a younger girl, dressed in modest, but fashionable clothes. Her face was pretty, her hair blonde, and her expression was cruel and mocking. "You remember me, don't you?"
"Tara," Amanda whispered. "She's a girl back in Roxanne. She—"
"You call me a bully, but I'm just reminding you of your place, Amanda Fabienne Giroux," she said. "Remember what I told you? No matter what, even if you're some kind of hero, even if you have a digimon partner, even with all your brains, all it does is make you a freak. You'll always be weird and you'll never be able to keep friends for long. Because, let's be honest, you're too much of a perverted otaku outcast to ever fit in. You will never, ever be normal."
"No!" Amanda shrieked. "That's not true, that's—"
"Don't listen to him, Amanda," Ángel said, putting his hand on her shoulder. "He is preying on your old wounds, but you have proven that you do have a place. And it is here, with us."
"Yeah, cute tricks," Jin laughed. "You'll have to do a lot better than that if you want to get under our skin."
"That right?" Delgado asked. "That's pretty big talk coming from you, Jin Takamura, bearer of the Crest of Rage." He laughed, resuming his more familiar form. "Your friends may have forgiven you for your past, but even they don't comprehend how many digimon you've personally butchered. The lives you've taken. But I know the driving anger that fuels you. You aren't like these others… your true nature is something to be feared, but you've shunned it, caged it, and bound it with chains." He grinned knowingly. "But I know how to bring it out."
And he shifted form again and the confidence on Jin's face was gone in an instant. "No…"
"Jin Takamura," the new figure said, "shame on you!"
"No no no no…"
The woman who stood before them wasn't very old, only in her early- to mid-thirties, if that, with tired gray eyes that resembled Jin's, and long, straight black hair drawn into a ponytail. She was tall and thin, and her disdainful expression cut right to Jin's core.
"You always did bad things, and I tried my best to raise you right on my own," the woman said. "But you kept misbehaving, so I tried to make you do things that were for your own good. But the more I tried, the more you hated me for it."
"Jin?" Ángel asked. "Is… is that your mother?"
"No… no, it can't be…" he breathed. But it was. It had been so long since he had seen her, but there she was, her face, her expressions, her voice, all perfect. His eyes began to fill with tears. "Stop," he said.
"I even sent you to that summer camp, spending more money than I really should have, hoping you might make some friends and stop playing those card games, stop hanging around with those older kids, those Yakuza wannabes, and stop fighting all the time. But you ran away… ran away just like your father, leaving me alone." And now her face became more gaunt and she staggered forward, her complexion growing pale, her eyes mournful. "Left me alone. I didn't even want to continue, so when I got sick, I just decided to stop fighting it…"
She looked upward, eyes unfocused as her body became ever more emaciated. "Where is he? Where is my lost little boy?"
"Stop using her voice!" he shouted and charged at her. His friends all had to hold him back, but even then his strength was such that they could barely hold him as he reached for her. The crest around his neck glowed brightly with a burning red color.
"Jin!" Scarmon cried, feeling the sudden power as it began to rush into his body. He had to resist its power, for he knew that if he digivolved, he'd be out of control. Nobody could withstand that much rage powering them. "Jin, stop!"
Ángel grabbed him, holding his face and forcing him to look at him in the eyes. "Jin, listen to us! Listen to me! Do not let him control you!" he shouted.
"That bastard! He—"
"I know, I know, he used your mother's voice and appearance," he said, his tone softening. "He has violated her memory in an effort to make you lose control. But if you do lose control, you're only giving him what he wants."
Jin snarled like a wild animal, but then presently began to calm down, seeing his friends at his side, all desperately trying to hold him back to stop him from charging forward recklessly. He remembered them, seeing the desperation on their faces, and gradually managed to wrestle his rage back under control. His crest eventually began to dim until it finally grew dark.
Still in the form of Jin's mother, Delgado began to laugh, the feminine voice of his late mother eventually changing as he reverted to his guise as the cowboy Jim Delgado, changing to a hollow, ringing laughter. "Hahahahaha! Oh, you kids are too much!" he said. "I really haven't had so much fun in a long time. I wish I could tease and bully you for a lot longer, but I've got a schedule to keep." He sighed. "Well, maybe I can torture a few of you for a while after I've crushed your little hopes and dreams, but for now, we should get down to business."
"Wait, what about me?" Ángel asked. "You have tried your best to undermine my friends' confidence, but your schoolyard taunts will not stop us. So, do you have anything for me?"
"Eager, aren't you?" Delgado asked. "Well, I do have something for you, but it can wait." He pointed at him and wore an expression that was surprisingly grim compared to the devilish mirth he'd displayed up until now. "You're special, my young friend. You really aren't like your friends. I had the hardest time figuring you out, and I know it has something to do with that ability of yours. It won't do you a bit of good in the end, but a special case like yours deserves… special treatment."
"What does that mean?"
"You'll see," Delgado said. "But enough messing around." He spread his arms wide. "Let's enjoy this fight, Digidestined. Come at me with everything you've got!"
"About time!" Scarmon exclaimed. "Let's do this!"
A few moments later, standing before Delgado were Quemamon, Freezedramon, and Lilymon. They all began to glow, harmonizing with each other and their partners. The whole world seemed to freeze, and the three powerful digimon towered over their much smaller, human-sized foe.
"Not too shabby," he said. "But not good enough. Let's make this interesting." He folded his arms and closed his eyes. "I'll be extra nice today and give you a 60 second head start."
"What?" Lilymon cried. "You can't be serious!"
"I'm already counting, you know," Delgado said, keeping his eyes closed.
"Well, I won't turn down a free hit," Quemamon said. "Take him down!"
They all rushed him, Lilymon aiming a Flower Cannon blast at him, followed by direct hit of Quemamon's plasma column. Freezedramon reared back and let loose his mighty Breath of the Winter God attack, filling the whole area with a cloud of ice and snow. They all stood back to see how much harm had been done, but when the debris, snow, and smoke cleared, Delgado stood there, totally unmoved, still counting quietly to himself. He nodded as he did so, and looked so still that he might as well have dozed off.
"32… 31… 30…"
"Oh you cocky—" Quemamon sprinted forward, winding up for the most powerful punch he could manage, swinging at him and colliding his massive fist with Delgado's jaw so hard that the sound echoed throughout the lakebed. But no sooner had he struck the blow than he had to pull his hand back, grasping it in pain. "What the…" It felt like he had punched a steel wall. Worse, actually, because he was pretty sure he could dent a steel wall. But Delgado didn't even flinch.
"Plasma Column!" he attacked, this time blasting green plasma at him at point-blank range. The flames washed over him, engulfing him completely. But again, when the smoke cleared, even though the ground all around him had been obliterated, Delgado himself was totally unharmed.
"10… 9… 8…"
"He can't possibly keep this up!" Lilymon shouted, and zipped behind him, pressing her Flower Cannon into the back of his head, firing it and flying black from the blast.
"3… 2… 1…"
Delgado turned, looking at Lilymon with contempt. "You really thought that would work?"
Lilymon's speed was amazing, however, as she quickly darted back, moving around in the air to where she was nearly impossible to follow. Delgado's eyes watched her as if he were a cat watching a bird in the yard.
"You're pretty fast," Delgado said. "Let's see…"
And then, in an instant, he was in the air, springing from his spot and seizing Lilymon by the wrist, getting a cry of pain from her as he crushed her arm in an iron grip. "There you are," he said, and his eyes began to glow red. "You'll be the first to experience my power."
"Lilymon!" Mimi screamed.
Delgado pulled his arm back and a black energy formed in a concentrated ball around his fist. "Path of Destruction!"
The attack was a massive, wide beam of pure, midnight black energy. It tore through the air, creating a sudden roar like thunder that left all their ears ringing. But poor Lilymon was caught in this blast, tearing her wings, her body and blasting her back, high into the air. When they all looked back, it was not Lilymon anymore, but Tanemon, Palmon's In-Training form, that was tumbling back to the ground. Mimi rushed out and managed to catch her.
"Tanemon!" she screamed. "Tanemon! Oh my god, what did he do to you?!"
Even though she had de-digivolved to avoid deletion, her form still looked singed and chlorophyll bled from her wounds. She was unconscious and Mimi couldn't seem to bring her around.
"How dare you!" Freezedramon bellowed. "Ice Scales!"
The razor-sharp blades of ice flew down at Delgado. With a simple, almost casual gesture, he backhanded the blades away with nothing but his arm. He chuckled, clearly amused at the useless attack. "Flowers, a few icicles… is that really all you have?" he asked. And again he sprang into the air, this time seizing Freezedramon by the nose using only his tiny, human-sized hand. "You will be brought low," he hissed, and with unbelievable, unforeseen strength, he threw the massive ice dragon to the ground. Freezedramon hurriedly got to his feet, but Delgado was already back in front him.
His speed… his power… it's incredible… Freezedramon thought, and even he began to feel a chill as he stared into his glowing red eyes.
"Dead with a touch, Freezedramon," Delgado whispered. "Child of Rage!"
Rather than the massive, roaring Path of Destruction attack he used on Lilymon, this was much smaller. A single dot of black energy lit on the tip of his finger as he touched it to Freezedramon's nose. At first, it seemed to do nothing, but then the black energy spread over his whole body, engulfing him with a low, ominous humming. The sound began to increase and he howled in pain as every inch of him was suddenly burning in agony. The sound of the attack and his howl both intensified until finally his whole body simply exploded in an icy eruption.
To Michael and Amanda's relief, Betamon and Penguinmon were lying on their backs, breathing, albeit shallowly, where Freezedramon had been a moment later.
Delgado turned to Quemamon. "Well, tough guy?" he asked. "You think you've got what it takes to take me down?" He rolled up his sleeves and held up his fists like an old-timey boxer.
"You don't scare me," Quemamon said, readying himself.
"Don't bother lying to a guy who can see what's in your heart, Quemamon." Delgado was there in an instant, the punch delivered to Quemamon's ribs there and gone so fast that nobody even saw the blow. But a second later as Quemamon gasped for breath and felt his chest on fire, he knew at once that he had already lost. And it was true, no matter what he'd said… he really was afraid.
"Aw, poor guy," Delgado said, frowning in mock sympathy. "I bet that really hurt. I should give you a break." A second later, before Quemamon could react, Delgado had seized his left arm. "Here's one," he said, and simply snapped the bone in his arm. Quemamon screamed in pain as Delgado released him, but a moment later he seized the other arm, breaking it, then his left leg, then his right leg. Quemamon was left in a heap, his limbs broken, his chest on fire, and Delgado standing over him, a dry, horrible laugh escaping his throat. He began to float, levitating into the air, dark energy swirling around his body like some dark messiah or fallen angel.
"Oh boy, now that was really disappointing," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I love suffering, and I really could hurt you all day, but I expected at least a little more resistance out of you. Well, might as well finish this one-round knockout."
The others watched in horror as Delgado grabbed Quemamon by the throat and simply flung him into one of the wooden buildings, smashing it to pieces as he collided with it. But he wasn't finished yet, and strolled over to where Quemamon was lying, barely breathing, and pulled him out by the tail.
"And start the countdown!" Delgado laughed. He pulled Quemamon up by the tail and smashed him into the ground. "One!" He did it a second time. "Two!" A final time was enough to finally, mercifully, cause Quemamon to de-digivolve, separating into Scarmon and Muchomon. "And three! Ding ding ding, that's it, that's the round, it's all over!" He laughed long and hard. The insane, gibbering quality of it chilled them to the bone. This horrible monster had just savagely cut their partners down and was laughing as if he'd just heard the funniest joke in the world.
"No…" Ángel said, staring in disbelief. "No, this… this isn't what was supposed to happen…"
"Oh man, I just realized something," Delgado said, pausing from his laughter, removing his cowboy hat to scratch his head somewhat abashedly. "You know what? I forgot to show y'all my best attack! It's a real doozy. You'll probably want a nice wide view for it, though."
He stooped and picked up the barely conscious Scarmon and Muchomon, zipping over and handing them casually Jin and Ángel before returning to his spot.
"Now, children," he said, straightening his body and pointing directly at the sky, "keep your eye on the birdy!" And then dark energy began to pour from his body in long, rope-like strands, arching upward and twisting into a helix as they met at a point high above them. Gradually, they began to pour into a concentrated, perfectly round, black sphere. It grew slowly, looking like a black star in the sky, then gradually it became larger, rounder, and more ominous.
Jin's eyes went wide as he began to understand what was really happening. "Run!" he shouted. "Everyone turn and run, he's going to detonate that thing!"
They all did as he said and took off running for the far end of the lakebed, beyond the wooden structures, weaving through the wooden poles that supported the huts and the walkways. But then Jin looked and saw that Ángel wasn't among them. When he looked back, he saw that the boy was still back where they started, as if rooted to the spot.
"Ángel, move!" Jin screamed, but his friend either didn't hear or was ignoring him. "Ah, dammit," Jin swore, and ran back to him. When he found him, he was still murmuring to himself.
"No," he said. "No es posible," he murmured.
"Jin… this was not our destiny… it—"
"I said run, stupid!" he shouted, shaking the boy from his stupor. At last Ángel realized what was going on and, carrying Muchomon under one arm, joined Jin as they both ran from the area. But now the black sphere above them was getting much larger, nearly two meters in diameter, and Delgado's expression changed to one of barely contained glee as he watched the two boys desperately trying to escape. At the far end of the lakebed, Mimi, Michael, and Amanda scrambled up the steep, sandy sides of the former lake and made for the woods.
"That's far enough," Delgado said to himself. "Time to let them have it." He dropped his arm and his voice echoed out as he called the name of his final attack.
"BIRTH OF SUFFERING!" he shouted, his voice taking on the unearthly quality of the horrible abomination he truly was under his humanoid guise. The black sphere fell to the ground, and when it collided it let loose all its energy, exploding outward with tremendous power.
The sound of the explosion and the shockwave rocked the whole area, tearing apart the ruins of Old Partition and sending the wood, rock, and sand high into the air. In the woods, Mimi, Amanda, and Michael all dove for cover as debris began to rain down upon them even at that distance. Jin and Ángel, who hadn't as much time to escape, were blown off their feet, thrown into the air in different directions as they were launched out the side of the lakebed and thrown into the woods, the smoldering cloud of destruction towering high above them.
Back at the epicenter of the explosion, Delgado dusted himself off. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," he said, floating up to survey his work. "Not too shabby for such a weak blast," he said. "Well, time to find the choir boy and give him his present."
He grinned. He'd been waiting for this for a long time.
Muchomon coughed. He was covered in a layer of dust and he'd landed in a clearing among several trees. At once, his thoughts went to his partner. "Ángel," he breathed. Then he called his name a little louder. "Ángel, dónde estás?" He didn't see him at first, but he managed to muster enough strength to flap his little wings and take to the air. He saw his friend under several planks of wood and landed near him to begin clearing them from his body.
"Don't worry, Ángel," Muchomon said. "I will always protect you."
"Ugh… Muchomon… is that you?"
"Yes. Don't worry. Everything is going to be all right."
A cruel laugh cut through the air. Ángel was still too stunned to hear it, but Muchomon recognized it instantly and turned to face his enemy. Delgado floated down from the air, landing as gently as a snowflake before the tiny Rookie.
"What do you want, you monster?" Muchomon demanded.
"Death, destruction," he paused, considering the question for a moment longer. "A pony for my birthday."
"You think you're funny, don't you?" Muchomon said sternly.
"My time among humans has taught me a lot about what's funny. And the funniest thing of all, I've learned," he beamed, his eyes glowing red in the shadow of his hat, "is the suffering of others. A slip on the banana peel, a tack on the chair, or maybe just watching a loved one die."
"Get away from him!" Muchomon screamed, flying up into Delgado's face. "Ardent Flame!" he shouted, breathing a blast of fire into his face.
The attack, of course, did absolutely nothing. "Cute," Delgado said. "But I wasn't talking about him." He seized Muchomon by the neck, holding him up roughly.
"Ugh… M-Muchomon?" Ángel murmured. He coughed and turned over, finally seeing Delgado standing there. His eyes went wide, but then he gasped when he saw that he held Muchomon in his grip. "Muchomon!"
"I think I already told you," Delgado said, "to watch the birdie. Are you watching?"
"Let him go!" Ángel cried. "Please, he cannot hurt you!"
"I don't suppose he can," Delgado said. "Really not even worth the trouble of deleting."
"Ángel…" Muchomon croaked, barely able to breathe in the vicelike grip of Delgado's hand. "Don't look, my friend. Salvate. Save yourself…"
"Please…" Ángel begged, the tears running from his eyes. "Please do not hurt him…"
Delgado sighed. "Really, such a pathetic display. Fine. I won't hurt him." He released Muchomon and the little bird gasped and flew down toward Ángel's outstretched arms.
"Muchomon," Ángel breathed.
A sudden motion, a blur, and Delgado's hand sliced through the air, striking Muchomon in the back, his eyes suddenly going wide for a split second before the little red bird merely vanished in an explosion of data.
Ángel stared on in frozen horror as a few red feathers floated down into his hand.
"I'm a man of my word," Delgado said, and a cruel smile spread across his face. "I didn't hurt him. I gave him a totally painless death."
A sob escaped Ángel as he clutched the feathers of his fallen partner and he collapsed on the ground.
Elsewhere, Scarmon had managed to regain consciousness and was walking on wobbly legs, trying to find his partner. He'd already located Mimi, Palmon, Michael, and all the others, but Jin, Ángel, and Muchomon were still unaccounted for. He took a few steps when suddenly he felt a terrible shock, some horrible, cold sensation that momentarily froze him to the spot and robbed him of breath. He collapsed to the ground and felt as though something, something that had become part of his very being, simply vanished from him.
"Scarmon!" Palmon cried. "Scarmon, are you all right?"
The little black lizard stood again. "No," he hissed. "Something… I think something just happened…"
Scarmon didn't answer directly, but stared at her. "We need to find Jin and Ángel right now."
"Well, with that, the game is over," Delgado said. "Really, kind of a letdown."
"You monster…" he sobbed. "How could you…?"
"Hey, in order to beat me, all five Virtues need to be present. I know you really have no idea what I'm talking about, but why take chances? Without your digimon, you're down a fighter, and so your Virtue, whatever it is, is powerless without it."
Ángel didn't respond, but he sucked in a breath, trying his best not to cry in front of this horrible monster, knowing he'd just enjoy it.
"Well, the world is doomed, you failed, but good try, kid," he said. "I mean… not really. Kind of a waste, but hey, at least you can enjoy the ride. I'm letting you and your friends live so you can enjoy watching the end of the world together. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, when you think about it."
Ángel said nothing.
"Good Goddramon you're boring," Delgado sighed. "Well, it's been real, choir boy. Adiós."
"It is not over," Ángel whispered.
"Uh, I beg to differ," Delgado said, turning to go.
"My partner is a digimon, and so he will be reborn."
"Oh, what, you're going to travel to the ends of the Digital World? You can't use the Digiports to get around, it'll take you weeks to get to Primary Village, and by that time it'll be far, far too late. I beat you, now just accept it."
"I will find a way. We will come back, and we will defeat you."
Delgado froze and turned back to him. "The fight is over. This was all determined a long time ago. You are humanity's representative saviors and you lost. Accept it."
"No," Ángel said, getting to his feet. "I will find a way with my friends. We will never give up, even across the Earth, the Digital World, Heaven, and Hell. I will be reunited with my partner, we will defeat you, and I will return to my family, my village, and the world will be saved."
Delgado raised an eyebrow. "What village?"
"My village. Rosa Blanca. I was chosen by God to—"
"Rosa Blanca… oh, oh yeah, that's right, there was a village by that name!" he said, snapping his fingers. "Well, there was… about a week ago."
Ángel blinked. "What? No, it is still—"
"Yeah, yeah, tiny little ramshackle shanty town just outside Nuevo Laredo. Home to a bunch of dirt poor slobs, tiny church, managed to buy a computer… that one?"
Ángel's eyes went wide. He knew of it. But how?
"You have seen my memories," Ángel said, though a pit of dread began to build in his stomach.
"See, in your case, Ángel Dominguez, it wasn't that simple," Delgado said. "The others, I knew who they were, and they learned of me in their dreams. But you… well, you were a big mystery. I had no idea where you were. I tried to narrow it down, but something about that ability of yours kept me locked out. I had to get closer to get a lock on you. Frustrating, really, to not be able to find my true nemesis. You alone understood the magnitude of your responsibility and you alone had the power to penetrate into my dark mind. But you don't get to be the enemy of all who live without using your brain once in a while, so I put myself in the path of your little friends. They thought I was giving them a ride, but actually they led me straight to you." He turned his head and smiled cruelly. "Ain't that right, Jin?"
Ángel turned and saw Jin, battered and bruised, standing a short distance away. His looks were pale and he stared at Ángel desperately. "I… I didn't know. I'm sorry—"
"So," Delgado said, interrupting him, "once your little buddy over there got me close enough, it was just a matter of locking on to your position, making my way up the mountains and then," his grin became toothier, like that of a shark, no longer resembling that of a human at all, "I tore through your little village like a tornado. Do you want to see, Ángel Dominguez? Just look inside my mind."
Ángel couldn't stop himself. He had to see, to make sure this monster wasn't lying, and so he stared at him, plunging into the depths of his twisted mind. And he saw the little shanty town buildings smashed and burning. The corpses littering the center of town. A flash of his mother's face. His father's scream. And then his little brother calling out for him, again and again as a shadow fell over him, "Ángel! Hermano, ayúdame! Ayúdame por favor!"
An anguished cry rose from his throat as the grief overtook him. Jin rushed over to him. "Ángel!" he shouted. "It's a trick, it has to be!"
"It isn't," Delgado said. "He knows it now. His home, his family, everything he holds dear is gone."
Ángel stared forward, suddenly silent. He began to walk forward, toward Delgado with deliberate determination.
"Ángel, don't!" Jin pleaded, trying to hold him back. "I'm so sorry, I wish I could take it back, but your mother made me promise… I have to protect you, so don't do this!"
"Oh shut up," Delgado said, seizing Jin by his collar and tossing him over his shoulder like a ragdoll. He flew through the air and landed harshly, sliding back down the side of the lakebed. The pain wracked his body, but he dug his fingers into the sand and slowly began crawling back up the side of the embankment.
"Well, choir boy, got anything else to say?" Delgado asked. "I'm all ears if you do."
"You can destroy my life," he said. "But you can never destroy what I carry with me."
Delgado frowned. "You worthless little brat," he hissed. "I've beaten you. You failed in your mission, you have lost everything, so give in to your hopelessness. Give in to despair."
"I have seen what you have in your heart," Ángel said. "It is empty, save for one thing. And now that I see it, you cannot hide from the light anymore."
Delgado suddenly felt something creeping down the length of his body. And he watched as suddenly, Ángel Dominguez's eyes began to glow with a curious white light. And then his body itself began to glow and something approaching true fear crept into his mind. There was a sharp, stabbing pain in his eye and he felt his image, the outward disguise he wore as a protective layer, begin to dissipate and peel back, revealing the shadows underneath, his blood-red eye staring out in wide horror.
"I know what you truly are," Ángel laughed. "You poor creature. You are—"
Delgado raised his arm, leveling it right at the boy. Ángel saw this happen in slow motion and knew what was about to happen. Behind Delgado, Jin edged his way to the top of the embankment and his eyes went wide as he stared at his friend, now glowing, as he stared down the demonic creature before him. In the back of his mind, he recited a short prayer:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
"Path of Destruction!" Delgado hissed.
"NO!" Jin shouted, but his scream was cut off by the thunderous sound of Delgado's attack. It shot forward, totally engulfing the boy who stood there, creating a shockwave that forced Jin back to the ground. When it cleared, there was no boy there any longer, and a deep gouge had been carved into the earth.
Staring on in disbelief, he got to his feet, a sickness in his heart he had never felt before. And then he felt a dark presence behind him and he turned around. Delgado towered over him, one eye missing, revealing the swirling blackness just under his skin and the inhuman red eye that glowed dully at him. Then the wound began to heal, covering itself up and repairing Delgado's visage. He stared at Jin with utter disdain, all of his dark humor gone.
"His suffering is over," the Dark One growled, pointing at him deliberately. "He could have walked away, but he chose to keep coming. He chose his own demise. But I wanted him to linger in his grief, to suffer a while longer. You, Jin Takamura… I'm not finished with you, or your friends, just yet. Remember that."
Jin stared on, frozen in horror, unable to even react to this threat as Delgado stepped backward, a mass of dark energy engulfing him as he entered it and teleported away.
He continued to stand there, the magnitude of everything that had happened washing over him. After a time, he heard voices approaching him and soon his friends were on the scene.
"Jin!" Mimi cried. "Thank goodness you're all right! We heard those sounds and came running!"
"This place is a mess," Michael said, looking over the debris and the huge gouge where Delgado's attack had hit.
Scarmon sniffed the air and raised his hackles. "Oh no," he murmured. "Jin…"
Amanda looked over the area. "Jin, have you seen Ángel?" she asked.
Jin didn't reply and at first Amanda thought he hadn't heard.
"Jin?" Still no reply. A sudden dread crept into her heart. "Jin," she said again. "Please tell me. Where's Ángel?"
Jin Takamura turned around and the others were shocked to see tears were rolling down his cheeks. He sucked in a deep breath and finally gave his answer:
"He didn't make it."
To be continued…
*Translation Note: "Ángel, you are my dear one. I'm so happy we're together. I hope it will always be like this..."