“Playing With Fire”
* * *
~~~ Kristina’s P.O.V. ~~~
Well, I guess I really messed things up this time. I blew up at everyone, even Jaymon! At first I thought Jenn was just trying to be a smartalec when she let me be leader for a day, but later I realized she was really trying to show me how hard it was. I don’t want that kind of responsibility anymore! After Jaymon jumped in and took a hit from Kiwimon for me, I knew what a jerk I had been. Even though she digi-volved to Skylamon to defeat Kiwimon, as Jaymon she’s still hurt. And it’s all my fault. . . .
* * *
“Aaarrrrrrg!” Sonomi roared in aggravation, tightly clenching her black gem. Her angry, bloodshot eyes stared down at the image of the celebrating children and their Digimon.
“Something wrong, your highness?” Sunemon gulped, her eyes wide with alarm.
Sonomi only responded in a low growl. Sunemon laughed nervously, covering her mouth with one paw. “Heh, forget I asked.”
The Digi Queen paced around the room in search of a solution. She settled down on a dark purple silk cushion, rubbing her temples roughly, eyes never leaving the images of the Digi-Princess and her friends.
“What to do,” she thought out loud. “Monochromon, Minatoramo, Kiwimon: all of my best minions have failed me.” She stood up and walked over to an open book, sitting in its usual spot, on a nearby table.
“How about we take a perfectly innocent Digimon, put it under your control, and order it to take out the Digi-Destined?” Sunemon nodded triumphantly.
“Infernal Digimon!” The girl raised a hand at the fox Digimon. “Did I ask for your advice?” she continued, brutally slapping her across the room. Sunemon hit the wall; the mark left from Sonomi’s hand appeared fresh on her cheek. However, the queen chuckled with sheer delight as the idea stuck in her mind. It was actually the perfect plan. Perhaps she would take it into consideration.
She called upon the powers of her dark crystal, seeing many peaceful Digimon flash one by one in the murky depths. Suddenly she twitched her fingers and the picture froze. It showed a tall humanoid figure of crackling flames, bending over to move a dead log from a forest path. She nodded to herself. Yes, this would be perfect!
Sunemon, still smarting from her “discipline,” dared to inch closer to her mistress. “Meramon?” she asked, peering up into the crystal. “Meramon look fearsome, but they’re really very peaceful and helpful.”
“That’s the point, you fool,” sneered Queen Sonomi as she foraged through a drawer. She brought out a string of unusual-looking beads. “These Prayer Beads will give me the power to control any element of nature I wish.” She set them on the table beside her dark crystal, where the glow of Meramon’s image remained.
“Knowing his kind nature they will hesitate, which will give him the opportunity to attack. He won’t be so sweet when I’m through with him!” she chuckled.
“You are very wise, your highness,” murmured the fox, bowing.
* * *
“What I’d give for a chocolate bar,” mumbled Lina as she stared at her plate of fried fish.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t enjoying the meal of all-you-can-eat-fried-fish and fruit, but it still left something to be desired. She couldn’t even remember how long they had been stuck in the Digiworld, and she was definitely beginning to miss certain things from her normal life.
On the other hand, the lunch they were eating was a step up from their usual. While a few of the Digi-Destined and their Digimon had discovered a few bushes of recognizable fruit, others went to a nearby creek to fish (or in Foximon’s case, to attempt to), while Nerimon made a fire. They all agreed it was the best meal they’d had since they had left Piximon’s Mansion.
“Trust me,” said Skye, “you don’t want a chocolate bar. Although they are good for your cholesterol, they’re also full of lovely chemicals and they do tend to dehydrate you.” Seeing the look of confusion on Lina’s face, the blue-haired girl popped a berry into her mouth and added, ”Plus, they’ll give you zits.”
Lina stared at her with one eyebrow raised, then letting it go replied, “Skye, I mean this is the nicest way possible, but go stuff your face.”
“No problem there.” The girl grinned and then proceeded to do so.
Beside her, Magimon helped Jaymon with her piece of fish. Although she was recovering quickly from her injury from the fight with Kiwimon, her wing was still wrapped in a bandage made from a leaf.
Someone laughed, although Alex wasn’t quite sure who it was. It was supposed to be a perfect lunch, and from the look on the girls’ faces, it was. On the far side of the circle, secluded from the others, Alex sat and absent-mindedly poked the fire that Nerimon had made earlier with a stick.
Staring into the fire, he let out a heavy sigh and let his mind wander. He’d realized that being the only boy stranded with nine other girls wasn’t all the fun he’d thought it would be. Everyone seemed to be getting along great except for Alex, who was finding it hard to speak to any of them at times because he didn’t know what to say.
“Hey buddy,” Nerimon greeted, sitting down beside him. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing,” Alex replied uneasily.
“Okay, if you say so.”
“It’s just that-well-I’m the only boy here!”
“I’m a boy too.”
“That’s not really what I meant.”
“Oh. . . .” Nerimon paused. “Then what did you mean?”
“I’m the only guy Digi-Destined in a group full of girls. And at first I thought it would be great, but now . . . I’m not so sure. Everyone seems to be getting along and having a great time but I’m getting completely excluded from the group.”
“Maybe you should try to find something in common to say to them. Then you’d have something to talk about,” Nerimon offered.
“That’s just it! I don’t have anything in common with anyone here!”
“Hey,” said a voice quietly. Alex turned, and nearly jumped. He’d been so into the conversation with Nerimon he hadn’t head Erica come up behind him.
“You really feel like you have nothing in common with us?” Erica asked bluntly.
Alex nodded. “Yeah. I mean, there’s nothing I really have to talk about besides, you know, saving the digital world.”
Erica laughed quietly, but Alex frowned. “What? What’s so funny?”
“That’s exactly how I felt when we got here. And it’s not the first time.”
The blonde nodded. “Totally. I’m what you might call a ‘sports freak.’ I mean, I might be a bit of a daddy’s girl, but I swear I must be the biggest sports fan for blocks. And when I’d hang out with other girls it would be harder for me to find common ground, so I just started talking with the guys instead. It’s kind of weird because, in a way, I get along better with boys than I do girls. So I guess it’s comforting to know I’m not alone.” She smiled warmly at him, and much to his surprise, Alex found himself smiling too. Maybe he wasn’t as alone as he’d once thought he was. . . .
While Erica and Alex spoke, Foximon sat next to Nerimon, who was watching curiously. Suddenly turning to her, he asked, “Hey Foximon, what was it like being Glorymon?”
Foximon blinked, slightly taken aback by the question. “It was like-well maybe it was more-no it was-but it was really-” Foximon’s furry brow scrunched as she searched for the right words. How could she describe the incredible rush of digivolving? After a few minutes she finally replied, “It’s one of those things you can’t really explain. I think it’s something you’ll have to experience yourself.”
“Oh.” Nerimon seemed disappointed.
At that point Tania spoke up above the idle chitchat of the group. “Okay, I’ve been meaning to say this for a couple of days now. Has anyone besides me noticed that we haven’t had a shower in the last couple of days?”
“It’s too bad we didn’t find a bath house or a hot tub or something when we found the fruit,” Lina commented wistfully.
“Right,” Dani said sarcastically. “Like we’d find a hot tub in the middle of. . . .” Her voice trailed off trying to find the right description.
“Digi-nowhere?” Emily offered.
Dani nodded. “Exactly.”
“Right,” said Jennifer, finally speaking. “Just like we didn’t find a soccer field in the middle of the desert, or find out that Skye is the Digimon Princess, or the fact that we’re stuck in a cartoon show!” She waved her arms around wildly.
“Jenn’s right!” said Foximon, jumping up. “There’s got to be some place around here that-wait a minute!” She sniffed the air loudly.
“Jenn, when you designed Foxi could she double as vaccum?” Skye teased.
Before Jennifer could reply, they all rose to their feet. Magimon ran ahead, following the scent with the other Digimon. “No, I smell it too. It smells. . . .”
“Refreshing,” added Cunomon. “Like. . . .”
“WATER!” the Digimon chorused. The group ran quickly through the forest, the Digimon leading the pack while sniffing wildly. Suddenly they stopped, their Digi-Destined practically tripping over them.
“My hut!” Huntermon cried happily as she spotted a familiar cottage with a little pool outside.
“This is great! We can all shower and rest up!” Emily agreed.
“Not to sound condescending or anything, Em,” said Kristina. “But how do you know?”
Lexxy answered before Emily could. “She created it in her own saga. I remember from when she asked me to read it.”
Tania snickered. “We really must be becoming our characters, if you remember!” Everyone gave her an odd look, so she explained. “If you’ve ever e-mailed Shelli in the real world, you’ll know what I mean. She never remembers anything.”
Lexxy scowled as everyone turned to stare at her. “Very funny, Tania.”
* * *
Huntermon was the first to enter. “Don’t just stand there, come on in! It’s safe!” she reassured them. Emily nodded and went inside, gesturing for the others to follow.
“Make yourselves right at home!” Huntermon smiled warmly.
“Wow, you live here?” Alex looked up at the ceiling in awe. “But, it’s so-”
“Big!” Erica finished. “You call this a ‘hut’?”
“Well, it looks like one from the outside. Anyway, I’ve only got one bathroom, so who’s first?” asked Huntermon.
“Oh right, I almost forgot.” Jenn grinned. “I guess I’ll go first.”
“I’ll show you where everything is.” Huntermon led Jenn upstairs while Foximon stayed behind with the rest of the group.
“Ahhhh. Now we’ll get some real food!” Emily exclaimed happily, heading for the kitchen with a skip in her step. “If this really is the hut I invented, I know what I’ll find in here!”
“Uh oh,” Lexxy muttered under her breath, as some of the Digimon followed Emily curiously. “I think I know what’s coming-”
A happy squeal cut her off. “TEA!” Emily shouted from the kitchen. She poked her head around the doorway just as Lexxy groaned and rolled her eyes. “I saw that, you! You don’t know what you’re missing with that fake American tea. Get in here and taste the real stuff.”
“But Emily!” whined the black-haired girl. The others were grinning and pushing her toward the kitchen, getting into the spirit of things. “I don’t like tea!” Lexxy complained.
“You will when I’m through with you!”
An hour passed and almost everyone had a chance to shower and clean up. Emily had just gone into the bathroom.
Alex was meanwhile downstairs, drying his damp hair with a towel. When he was finished he draped it over the back of his neck. He suddenly began digging through his pockets as if he was looking for something.
“What’s up?” Nerimon asked.
“I dunno. Something feels lost.”
“Yeah, like I forgot something.” He suddenly gasped “My digivice! I left it in the bathroom!”
He ran back upstairs, along with Nerimon. “Alex, wait!” The dino called after his human partner.
When Alex got to the bathroom door he almost ran into it, forgetting that someone had just gone inside. It was shut and on the other side, he could hear Emily humming happily and loudly over the sound of a running faucet.
Alex winced and slowly turned the knob. “I’ll just get it and get out . . . maybe she won’t notice.” He opened the door and reached in to grab the digivice, which was sitting on the sink between the shower and where Alex was standing. He coverrd his eyes so he wouldn’t see anything he wasn’t suppose to.
He managed to get his digivice, but because his eyes were covered he knocked over something in the process. It caused a bit of unwanted noise.
Emily poked her head out from behind the shower curtain to see what all the fuss was about. “Gaaaaaaah!!!” she screamed. Alex scrambled for the door while dodging the objects being furiously thrown in his direction. With his digivice still clutched safely in his hand, he managed to get out without being hit. The boy leaned against the door and panted in relief.
Nerimon, however, was finding this all too amusing. His eyes watered as he rolled on the floor laughing his little red tail off.
“That wasn’t funny!” Alex snapped. Nerimon bolted down the hall, still shaking with laughter, while Alex chased after him.
Nerimon lead Alex downstairs, where the rest of the children and Digimon were still gathered. He grabbed his Digimon by the tail and pinned him to the ground. “I’ll give you something to laugh about!” he grinned deviously. The two boys rolled around the living room floor, tickling and laughing. Seeing the spectacle, the others couldn’t help but laugh.
“Worse than my brothers,” Tania tsked, smiling smugly. Kristina snickered and elbowed Dani. Skye stuck her nose in the air, about to mention the immaturity of boys, but a loud laugh came from her mouth instead. She couldn’t help herself!
Cheekomon leaned over to whisper in Diratimon’s ear. “What are they doing?” she asked, perplexed.
The winged dragon shrugged. “Dunno, but looks fun.” A wicked glint entered his green eyes. “GET ‘EM!”
“Huh?” Both Alex and Nerimon looked up at the same time. In some kind of male bonding ritual the three Digimon dragons and Pandamon leaped into the battle and started a tickle war. The girls-human and Digimon-found this even more hilarious. By the time Emily had returned to the first floor and Erica had gone up to take her place, everyone was tired and sweating, panting as they lay sprawled or sitting around the spacious living room of the hut.
“Now this is what being a Digi-Destined is all about,” Jennifer grinned. “Friends having fun.”
“Uh, isn’t being a Digi-Destiend all about saving the world?” Dani pointed out.
The goggled girl grinned. “That too.”
* * *
“Hope you’re in the mood for a barbecue, my precious Digi-Destined,” cackled Sonomi. She again hovered over her dark crystal, staring into the pictures that appeared within. At the moment the crystal showed a burning man of fire running through the jungle.
There was no way to tell he was under the Digimon Queen’s most powerful spell. His eyes were the same blue as always. No metal spiral or ring circled his body. Sonomi was too smart for that. And she laughed quietly to herself as the small hut appeared in the distance, rapidly becoming larger as Meramon neared.
“Now die, Digi-Destined,” hissed the Queen. Her eyes burned with hate . . . and hidden pain. “Die and leave the Digiworld to me.”
* * *
Jaymon was the one who spotted him. After the tussle downstairs the leaf she used as a bandage was ripped, so she stepped outside to get another one. A tree with large, broad leaves grew right beside the hut; she was glad she wouldn’t have far to go.
As the little parrot Digimon reached up with her beak to pull down a big leaf, she spotted a towering figure among the trees, obviously running toward her. She realized with surprise that it was a Meramon!
I wonder what he’s doing, running this way so fast. . . . Jaymon’s thoughts trailed off as Meramon came close enough for her to see his expression. It wasn’t one of fear, like she had been expecting. It was one of twisted hatred. He was running at them, not away from something else.
She swallowed, feeling the first trickle of fear in her stomach. “Uh, guys?” she called inside. “Somebody! Everybody! Come quick!”
“What is it, Jaymon?” Kristina asked as everyone rushed outside.
“It’s Meramon! There’s something wrong with him! He looks. . . .” She pointed with her good wing, unable to explain.
“Evil,” finished Jennifer.
“How much do you want to bet it’s the Digi Queen?” Lexxy said grimly.
“I don’t want to take the chance,” she replied. “We’ve got to get out of here as fast as we can! Hurry!”
The Digi-Destined and their partners all rushed back into the cabin quickly, collecting their things and exiting. In the scramble no one noticed Cheekomon pounding on the bathroom door loudly, calling out Erica’s name.
They fled into the woods to hide and watch Meramon’s reaction. “He is definitely one angry Digi,” said Dani, peering from the bushes as the group watched the flaming Digimon appear in front of the cabin. They watched in horror as the front of the cabin sparked up in flames.
“Wait!” Tania said in a hoarse whisper. “Where’s Erica and Cheekomon?!”
“Oh no! They must still be inside!” Kristina turned to look at Jennifer. “We’ve got to help them!”
Alex’s mind flashed to earlier that day, and remembering Erica’s help, he stood up. “I’m on it,” he declared, then rushed to the back of the cabin and inside.
“Alex, no!” Jennifer called after him.
“What in the Digiworld does that boy think he’s doing?” Dani asked incredulously.
“Saving Erica!” Said Magimon.
“Right!” added Skye. “Let’s give the boy a helping hand! We’ll distract Meramon!”
* * *
“Erica?!” Alex called out as he pushed his way through the cabin. Smoke filled his lungs like poison, causing him to cough. “Erica!” The flames seemed to dance around, taunting him not to get to close.
“Alex?” Erica’s voice cried from somewhere upstairs. “Alex! We’re up here!”
Following the sound of her voice, he found them. The open bathroom door and the doorframe had caught fire. Cheekomon stood protectively in front of Erica, who was clutching her clothes and the towel wrapped around her for dear life. Alex remembered as he saw them that Erica had given her digivice and other things to Emily to hold while she was in the bathroom. That was why Cheekomon couldn’t digi-volve now!
When she spotted him, Erica picked up her clothes and then shouted to him across the flames. “Now what?!”
“I don’t know!”
“I didn’t plan this far!”
“Well, that’s just wonderful!”
“You’re going to have to jump!”
“It’s the only way!”
Erica looked to Cheekomon, then nodded and began to back up a few steps. She ran as fast as possible, clearing the flames. Cheekomon followed quickly after. “Come on! This way!” Alex grabbed her hand and began to lead her through the inferno. Heat pressed in on them from all sides, and sometimes they had to dodge falling pieces of the wood ceiling. Suddenly Alex felt Erica’s hand go limp. He turned just in time to catch her as she passed out. Cheekomon gave a worried cry.
It’s the smoke, Alex realized, as his own chest rasped with each breath. If we don’t get out of here soon we’ll all suffocate. . . .
* * *
Outside, Nerimon could feel Alex’s fear as if it were his own. To his surprise it gave him power, rising from deep inside of him as he let out a roar!
“Nerimon digi-volve to . . . Nedikismon!” The large red dinosaur Digimon barrelled his way past Meramon and into the burning house.
The fire man growled and reached out an arm to grab Nedikismon, but was thrust back by a Lightning Punch attack by Huntermon. He rumbled darkly and turned away from the cabin to face the seven Rookies. Magimon was busy trying to hold back the flames with her Lightning Shocker attack, but it wasn’t working very well. Too bad none of the Digi-Destined Digimon had a water attack!
Ha, who cares about one Champion? Meramon’s twisted, evil mind told itself. I will defeat this entire group and make the grand Digi Queen value me above all her subjects! With a wicked grin he leaped into battle with the Rookies.
* * *
Inside there was nothing to see but smoke and flame. Almost everything that could catch on fire, was on fire. Nedikismon thought of his partner and his friends, Erica and Cheekomon. He let loose a roar of rage as he realized he could already be too late.
“N-Nerimon?” a weak voice reached his ears. The Champion swung his head toward it. Cowering in a corner of one of the rooms on the ground floor sat Alex, Erica and Cheekomon. The girls seemed to be unconscious, and Alex was not far behind them. He smiled weakly as Nedikismon came closer, shielding them from the leaping flames with his scaly body. “Nedikismon,” coughed the dazed boy. “I knew you would come. I felt it. . . .”
“Save your strength, Alex,” growled the dinosaur Digimon. “I’ll get you out of here!” He scooped up all three gently in his metal-covered hands. As he turned toward the back of the cabin a large section of the ceiling caved in, blocking his way. Nedikismon snarled in anger and swung his wide tail at the wall. Weakened by the fire, it collapsed in a shower of wood and smoke. The Champion barrelled outside and into the clean air.
“Nedikismon’s got them!” Lina shouted when she saw them emerge from the debris. Jenn called to Tania and Dani, and together they rushed over to take the three wounded. “Go get ‘em, Nedikismon!” cheered Tania with a grin. “You show ‘em!”
“Right!” The dino Digimon plowed through the Rookies to get to Meramon.
“You’re welcome,” snorted Cunomon as he scrambled out of the way.
Meramon didn’t flinch at the oncoming Nedikismon. They struck each other, arms locked as they tried to push each other off balance. The man of fire stared right into Nedikismon’s blue eyes and grinned. “Roaring Flame!” he shouted. Fire leaped from his hands onto the dinosaur’s red skin.
Nedikismon howled in pain and fell back. He knew his fire attacks wouldn’t do much against a Digimon made of flames, but it was all he had. He had to do his best and protect the others!
Meramon threw back his head and laughed as the flames hit his body. But suddenly a blank expression crossed his face. He looked around, seemingly confused. He eyed Nedikismon, who stood in a battle stance across from him. “Where am I?” the fiery Champion finally asked.
The Digi-Destined and their Digimon looked at each other, quite confused themselves. “What’s going on here?” demanded Yazumon.
“It’s gotta be a trick,” was Pandamon’s opinion.
Nedikismon slowly approached Meramon, until they looked each other straight in the eye. After a moment he turned back to his friends. “Meramon is on our side now,” the dinosaur said. “I can sense it.”
Alex came forward, leaning on Emily to walk. “How do you know?” he rasped. He sounded bad.
Lexxy came up beside the two and brushed soot from Alex’s hair. “I don’t like how you sound. I hope the smoke didn’t do anything serious-or permanent-to your lungs.”
He tried to give her a smile. “I’ll be fine. Just tired. How’s Erica and Cheekomon?”
Lexxy went to check on them as Nedikismon answered Alex’s question. “Meramon’s evil has fled. I digi-volved and attacked to protect you all, and that goodness overrode the evil controlling him.”
“Hey, we were fighting too,” protested Yazumon.
“Yeah, but we’re not Champions,” Diratimon pointed out.
Meramon bowed to the whole group. “I am very sorry for my misdeeds. I remember everything. While I was under the spell I could only think of pleasing . . . the Digi Queen.”
They gasped. “So she is behind this!” scowled Jenn. “Somehow she can even make good Digimon fight us!”
Kristina sighed. “As if our troubles weren’t enough. Now we have to worry that anyone we attack might be on our side.”
“But it seems like our attacks can break the spell, if they’re powerful enough,” Jaymon said, trying to look on the bright side.
Jenn stepped up to the Meramon with a smile. “There’s no need to apologize. We know it wasn’t your fault. We’re on a journey to stop the Digi Queen and restore the Digiworld to the way it was before she came.”
A smile crossed the fire man’s face. “Then I wish you good luck on your quest. If you ever need help, call on any of my people. We will give you any help if we can.” With a nod of thanks, he stood and disappeared back into the forest.
Foximon grinned. “Looks like things might turn out okay-uh, Huntermon? You okay?” The droopy-eared fox walked over to her friend with the blue gloves, who was staring sadly at the burned out hut. The flames were dying down after consuming all the wood. The hut was totally destroyed.
Huntermon sighed. “It’s gone.”
Foximon looped an amiable paw around her neck. “Hey, huts can be rebuilt. Friends can’t,” she pointed out.
The other fox girl brightened. “You’re right, Foximon. Thanks!”
“Erica’s awake!” Dani’s voice suddenly cried out.
The Digi-Destined and their Digimon crowded around Erica, who was lying stretched out on the grass. Cheekomon stood nearby. She recovered faster than the two humans, and looked worried but ready for action. Erica’s blue eyes gazed around, then landed on Alex. “You saved me,” she said, her voice just as scratchy as his.
The boy shrugged with a grin. “Somebody’s gotta look out for you gals.”
(“What are we, chopped digi-kibble?” Cunomon whispered to Magimon. She jerked an elbow into his gut to silence him.)
Erica tried to sit up and Alex offered her his hand. She pulled herself up, then leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on his cheek. “Thanks, Alex. It was very sweet.” The boy stood there, stunned and stuttering, as the others laughed.
“Hey, what about me?” Nerimon demanded, arms crossed. He had devolved after Meramon left.
Erica chuckled. “Well, would you like the kiss from me, or Cheekomon?”
The dinosaur Digimon looked between the two of them. “Uh . . . er . . . um. . . .” He scratched his head and sweatdropped. “Never mind.” There was more laughter, then everyone settled down to decide what the next step was in Their journey.
~~~ Alex’s P.O.V. ~~~
Today was one of our worst days. Somebody could have really died because of that Digimon Queen. But it turned out okay in the end. I always knew I could count on Nerimon when the chips were down, and I was right! I know we would have been in real trouble without Nedikismon, but I still had to do what I did. Friendship means putting yourself on the line to help others, and these girls and the Digimon are the best friends I have!