The eternally frozen lake of Jack Frost was still surrounded by snow, even as spring edged it’s way into Burgess.
As the hometown of the one and only winter spirit, the small Pennsylvania town was known for the coldest season of the year coming in earlier and hanging around later than anywhere else in the continental United States.
Shoving the snow into a good mound, Patamon stuck two branches on top, shoving them back so the leaves hung down in a parody of wings.
With a little digging, pebbles were found for eyes, and the small Digimon puffed up with pride at his creation.
“Look, RJ! I made a Snowmon!”
Tearing her gaze away from the nearby trees, Rocky managed a giggle and a smile for her Digimon.
But he could feel through the Bond that the joy was false, and deflated slightly.
The smile fell into a sad frown, and she reached down to gather her partner into a hug.
“I’m sorry, Pat…It’s just…”
“It’s okay.” Patamon assured, stretching up to place both hands on her cheeks. “Everyone’s gonna be fine, you’ll see.”
The little smile that faltered across her face was genuine this time, and Rocky giggled as she rubbed noses with her partner.
“You’re right. Kim and Gabumon can beat up Pitch, just like they did last time!”
Perking up, Patamon nodded enthusiastically, flapping his wings to hover in front of her with a smile.
“Exactly! They’ll be here any minute, and then we can go back to the Workshop for cookies!”
“Chocolate chip this time!” Rocky agreed, growing excited. “With sprinkles!”
“There won’t be much time to make cookies for a while.”
The blonde whipped around, her smile growing into a blinding grin.
“Kimi!” She squealed, practically flying into the teenager’s arms. “You’re back! Did you beat up Pitch?”
“The battle was over by the time we arrived.” She answered, a smile hidden in the corner of her lips. “But it seems things went well.”
The group exited the trees, slowed by roots and branches, with Deltamon following behind at a stumbling pace.
“See, squirt? We’re fine.” Jack assured, ruffling the girl’s bangs before floating around to get out of Casey’s way.
Said redhead paused in a clear spot of snow, turning her head to see that Evie was even closer to sleep than she had been, Gatomon clinging to her back with sharp claws like a watchful guard as Wizardmon stopped at her side.
“Anklebiter’s all tuckered out.” Bunny noted fondly, scratching gently behind the feline Digimon’s ear so she purred.
“Th-Then why hasn’t she reverted back to the Rookie form?” Bee wondered, eyes flickering rapidly as thoughts and theories formed lightning-quick in her mind. “E-Everyone else did…”
“Very strong spirit!” North boomed, clapping the small brunette on the shoulder.
“Yeah, I mean, Evie’s always been more ‘see meanings in everything’ than we are.” Faye agreed, pacing in restless circles. “Maybe it finally paid off?”
Sandy shrugged, dream-sand shifting over his side at a clipped pace that only Ally seemed to keep up with.
“He’s right, every jump to the next level has been a big leap emotionally for all of us. Maybe we’re just not ready to stay in that place all the time?”
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’d rather have this conversation indoors.” Ma admitted, eyeing the nearest shadows as Tooth nervously hovered over her shoulders.
“We do not know when Pitch will return.” North agreed, already rifling through his coat for a Snow Globe. “Best to be sa-”
Every Digimon in the vicinity suddenly tensed up, bristling and growling and hissing at some unseen threat as a bolt of NOT SAFE went straight through the Bonds to their Warriors.
Faye went impeccably still, silver eyes flashing, as Gomamon trembled with how tightly he was holding himself back.
Casey straightened up, eyes narrowing as she scanned the immediate area.
“Something’s coming…” The dinosaur-Digimon growled, sparks escaping his maw with every flick of his head.
Guiding Rocky behind her and Jack, Kim placed a hand on Gabumon’s head to ease his nerves, a frown taking over her face.
Bee shrunk into herself, hands clenched into fists as Tentomon buzzed around her, almost hiding in North’s shadow.
Vibrating with nervous energy, Ally turned this way and that, hands flexing in time with her rising heartbeat as Sandy floated up higher to spot any incoming threats.
Biyomon, feathers rising like the fur of a threatened cat, crouched in front of her partner protectively as Tooth fluttered overhead, fidgeting anxiously as she whipped this way and that.
“You all seem a little nervous…”
Taut as bowstrings, the entire congregation spun to see Pitch standing a few meters away, much too smug for someone who had their nose broken and reset in the last hour.
Casey shifted to shield Evie and Gatomon, eyes practically sparking with fury.
“You? Haven’t you had enough of a beating?”
“It’s not him.”
The redhead faltered, looking down at her partner in confusion only to discover that none of the Digimon were paying any mind to the dark spirit at all.
“Not this time.” Pitch agreed. “I’m merely here to watch.”
“Watch?” Ma muttered, wary. “Watch what?”
As if on cue, two large forms dropped out of the sky, suddenly surrounding the group and blocking any form of escape.
“Ogremon!” Gomamon shouted in warning, jumping to the ground in preparation to fight.
“And Leomon!” Palmon realized, shocked.
Well, the names were certainly accurate…
“Doesn’t matter who they are.” Casey asserted, firm, as she gently deposited her precious cargo on the snowy ground.
Everyone closed ranks, the girls and their Digimon blocking the threat from their weaker members and the Guardians.
“We’re gonna beat them up anyway.”
Leomon and Ogremon charged-
And for the first time, six devices glowed in unison.
“Agumon, Digivolve to…Greymon!”
“Gabumon, Digivolve to…Garurumon!”
“Palmon, Digivolve to…Togemon!”
Leomon was shoved back by the dinosaur Digimon’s helmeted head, and the snow rose up in heavy waves to discourage another frontal assault.
“Biyomon, Digivolve to…Birdramon!”
“Tentomon, Digivolve to…Kabuterimon!”
“Gomamon, Digivolve to…Ikkakumon!”
Ogremon grunted as he hit Ikkakumon’s head straight-on, missing being impaled by inches, before he was tossed away, the wind kicking up in a defensive barrier.
Pressing their advantage, Casey and Faye charged.
Leomon blocked the flames with his blade, dodging a fiery kick with relative ease.
Ogremon took the blow, flying out of the dust cloud when a chunk of rock uppercut him into the air.
The large feline Digimon shielded his face from the worst of the attack, though he was picked up and flung by strong tree roots immediately afterwards.
It was clear Leomon and Ogremon were on the losing side; they may have been skilled warriors, but they were severely outnumbered and outgunned, not to mention taking serious damage.
Pitch, however, hardly seemed bothered.
There was no anger, or worry, as he watched his only chance at victory get knocked around like Ping-Pong balls.
North felt in his belly that something was wrong.
Just as all six Digimon reared back, ready to strike together-
The sky went dark.
No clouds had suddenly rolled in, or smog; the sky itself had become ash-dark, stifling the sun and casting the world in eerie twilight.
Caught off-guard by the sudden shift, Kim paused in whatever blow she was planning to land, skin prickling with subconscious dread as Garurumon shifted over her with a protective snarl.
Hugging Patamon tightly to her chest, Rocky curled over him, blue eyes wide with fright as Evie hugged her knees, Gatomon standing on her shoulders with a hiss as Wizardmon stood over her protectively, staff in hand.
“So you are the Chosen Children…”
Standing on the frozen lake was a tall, black Digimon, his wings torn and skin ashen as he evaluated the group with piercing red eyes.
Beside him, a young man smirked, fangs peeking past his lips as bat wings flexed behind him, chest bare and leather pants hanging low on his hips.
“It’s Devimon and Akuma.” Greymon rumbled, lowering his head like a bull might before it charged. “They invented the nightmare in our world.”
Tensing up, Casey scowled as fire flared over her fists.
“We were expecting you to be…intimidating.” Akuma admitted, expression slightly amused.
All of the Digimon moved to shield their Warriors, tense and bristling, to disprove that statement.
“I’ve had enough of your interference.”
Devimon raised his hand-
And the Digimon struck.
A pulse of dark energy met the attacks in midair, an explosion shaking the forest violently as none reached their intended targets.
The girls and their Digimon were thrown back by the blow, hitting the trees and snow-covered grass with earth-shaking force before a flash of light reverted all of them back to the Rookie level.
The Guardians were dumbstruck.
In one blow, Devimon had taken down all six of them…
Heavily dazed by the sudden outward rush of power through the Bond, Casey rolled onto her side with a groan, blinking some fuzziness from her eyes.
“Oh, that hurt…” Faye complained, throwing an arm over her eyes. “Did anyone get the license plate of the rocket that blew up in my face?”
Managing to sit up slightly, Bee reached out, pulling Tentomon to her side in worry.
“T-Tento? Oh, Tento, wh-what happened…?”
Holding a limp Biyomon close, Ma levered herself upright, brown eyes looking over the others as they did the same.
They had given it their best shot, and nothing…
Shoving herself onto her feet, Casey winced at the new aches spreading across her back as Agumon followed, leaning heavily against her leg.
Devimon’s eyes narrowed as the others slowly followed suit, displeased with their resolve.
Sharing a look with his Digimon, Akuma grinned, raising his own hand as shadows converged in his palm.
Evie squeaked as Gatomon and her were surrounded in a sphere of dark energy, toppling over as Rocky slammed a panicked fist against her own, Patamon’s wings flared back like a startled bird’s.
Reacting instinctively, Jack swung his staff up as if to yank the girl out of the air, the crook bouncing off without leaving so much as a dusting of telltale frost.
Boomerangs struck the barriers and ricocheted off without so much as a solid THUMP of impact, and Bunny caught them with a scowl.
Kim whipped around, eyes narrowed and a stormy midnight blue, just before the same fate befell her and Gabumon.
In moments, all of the girls but Casey had been caught in the murky bubbles, unable to break free.
The flames dissipated harmlessly against the obstruction, no sign of harm left on the surface at all.
“Pepper Breath! Pepper Breath! Pepper Breath!”
Frustrated, the redhead turned on her new enemies, whatever fear she felt only fueling her rage.
“Let them go right now!”
“And why would we do that?” Akuma wondered, raising his arm so the bubbles floated up higher, even too high for Deltamon to reach easily.
“You eight are the only threat to our conquest. We can not allow you to live.” Devimon informed her calmly. “Together, you are strong, so we will scatter you throughout the human world and hunt you down, one by one.”
“But we’re going to use you as an example.” Akuma added, grin sharp.
Casey frowned, confused.
Example of what?
“Fist of the Beast King!”
Tackling his partner to the ground, Agumon curled over her protectively as the attack passed overhead and knocked down a good handful of strong, thick trees.
Heart pounding with adrenaline, she rolled quickly, barely dodging the blade that would have decapitated her.
Nightmare-sand rose up, caging the Guardians in and restraining the weakened Wizardmon and Deltamon.
“I can’t have you interfering, now can I?” Pitch noted, shark-grin in place as he turned back to enjoy the show.
Leomon was relentless, slashing and stabbing with his Beast Sword, the edge drawing blood from multiple slices along Casey’s arms and cheeks as she tried to avoid being sliced in half.
The large lion Digimon barely twitched as the small fireball struck his face, only growling when Agumon’s little fangs sank into his sword-arm.
Breathing heavily, the red-haired Warrior pressed a hand to one of the deeper slices on her side, crimson staining her orange tank top and jeans in irregular patches.
Taking only a moment to gather herself, Casey lurched forward, slamming her fist into Leomon’s unprotected side in a bid to strike his kidney.
Hissing as her knuckles met thick muscle, bones grinding and popping, the teenager was smacked back with her own Digimon’s body, both tumbling in a spray of snow and loose grass.
Ears ringing, Casey blinked dirty snowflakes from her eyelashes as a faint sound reached her through the haze.
It was screaming.
Something wet landed on her cheek, and her eyes finally focused.
Hovering over her was Evie, tears making her eyes shimmer and staining her cheeks as they fell, reflecting rainbows as they fell through her cage and landed on her face like rain.
Evie was crying.
Evie was crying, and it was because of her.
Akuma laughed, flaring his wings in triumph as the pair stayed motionless under the displaced snow.
“That was easy! Maybe we should just kill the rest now!”
Leomon approached his fallen prey, blank eyes staring into defeated gold, as he raised his Beast Sword to deal the final blow.
What was the point of fighting, if it only prolonged her sister’s pain?
Bunny growled, slicing through the nightmare-sand and trying to break through, trying to reach her…
“Damn it, bluey! Get up!”
It was like his voice came from far away, muffled by the thought that there was no way to win, no way out, this was it-
Just as Leomon’s blade plunged downward, her fingers uncurled and revealed the device nestled in her palm.
Blinding light shot from the screen, and Leomon roared as it focused on him, a shadow escaping his skin like a dispelled ghost.
Stumbling a step, he stared down at the girl and Digimon he was about to kill, recognizing the device in her hands immediately.
The situation was suddenly shifting, and Leomon reached down to pick up the injured Warrior, setting her on unsteady legs.
“Why aren’t you trying to kill me?” Casey wondered, vision blurring slightly from blood loss as her arms tightened around Agumon.
“Devimon and Akuma no longer have control of me, because of your Digivice. It is proof you are a Chosen.”
Akuma frowned, clearly not pleased with this turn of events, and-
The girls screamed as their spheres suddenly pulsed and rocketed away, flying off in every direction.
“NO!” Casey shouted, staggering in a vain attempt to help.
“Fist of the Beast King!”
The nightmare-sand exploded into harmless dust on impact, and Bunny rushed to her side, catching the teenager before she fell.
Ogremon’s club was blocked by the lion Digimon’s blade, catching them in a stalemate.
“Give up, Leomon! You are no match for us!”
“You may defeat me, but the Chosen will be out of your reach!”
Twisting the spiked weapon from his opponent’s grip, Leomon punched him across the clearing and turned to shove the Pooka closer to the other Guardians.
“You must leave! I will hold them off!”
“No, you can’t!” Casey argued, panic bubbling up.
“You are our only hope! Go, now!”
Wizardmon raised his staff as Devimon and Akuma surged forward, engulfing the group in his magic.
The last thing she saw before they teleported was Devimon’s claws sinking into the noble Digimon’s back.
“Touch of Evil!”
And then it was gone.