The sounds of the battles echoed around the pillars of the Echo Quadrant; sounds of fracturing rock and splintering metal, clanging and crashing like nothing else. For those nearby, it gave them pause for thought, as they wondered what terrible thing was happening.
And for one lone figure nearby, it gave him a direction to go.
"Hang on, children..."
A flurry of blades flew in all directions as Phorusrhamon lashed out with both legs, catching Paradismon's wings. The sprite fell back, and the bird followed, only for Procoptomon to raise both arms, catching the arcing blade and knocking Phorusrhamon off her stride.
She jabbed out with her beak, but the kangaroo dodged. Another swipe with her leg, both wings, a feint and another lethal jab; she managed to graze the kangaroo's hide, but Procoptomon was quick, dodging more often than not. And as she did so, her movements became more fluid and her steps back grew faster. Eventually she was stuck against the wall, but moving more rapidly than before. Phorusrhamon lashed out with a blade, impaling the fortress, but Procoptomon ducked.
"Bad move, administrator."
Her head came forwards, knocking the bird back. She staggered, and Procoptomon began to blur, the momentum at a critical level within her.
She struck; again, and again, her fists and legs a blur as she drove the bird backwards. Each hit was bruising, giving Phorusrhamon barely any time to move let alone to counter. Procoptomon's breath grew ragged, and she spun around at the last minute, slamming her fist into the bird's midriff.
"That's for stabbing me in the fricking shoulder!"
Phorusrhamon coughed, and looked down at her chest; the armour was dented, not by much, but certainly noticeably. She glared upwards. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
She spun round, throwing up a blade to counter Paradismon's attack, but it was a bluff; a flurry of feathers cascading downwards as the sprite zipped behind her, daggers in hand.
The cut wasn't deep, but it caught Phorusrhamon's flesh beneath her armour. Paradismon floated up, forced to travel wide due to her speed, and the bird noticed her moment of vulnerability.
A bladed feather shot forwards, gashing the sprite's leg. She cried out; a melancholy caw like that of a songbird, and barely managed to dodge Phorusrhamon's consecutive blows. The metal bird flew upwards, out of Procoptomon's reach as she swung a punch.
"You will never reach Lord Dallurmon!"
Procoptomon smirked beneath her mask, and wiped her snout. "You've been telling us that since the beginning. We're never gonna listen."
"Let us past, administrator." Paradismon rose, her daggers held out either side. "Please. End this resistance, now."
Blade after blade shot outwards, some of them grazing Procoptomon's limbs and Paradismon's wings, but despite her skill Phorusrhamon could feel herself tiring. The two creatures before her had such immense determination; despite their lower levels they were proving an arduous challenge. Her eyes darted down towards George, hiding out of range, his arms around the juddering D-Port.
"Why, Jiminymon? Why would you follow these...these..."
She screeched, and rushed downwards, arms outstretched as she prepared to impale the only child not evolved. But it was a reckless charge. She was soon arcing away as Procoptomon's massive leg looped around in a roundhouse, connecting with her jaw. She shot sideways, and found herself hovering in the air, vulnerable.
Behind her, Paradismon thrust her daggers sideways, releasing arcs of blue and green energy that slammed into Phorusrhamon, whipping her up and spinning her around as if she'd been caught in a gale. She squinted with her good eye, but could do nothing, even as Procoptomon leapt up towards her, muscles straining beneath her skin.
One blow sent Phorusrhamon spinning. The other caught her in the square of the back, sending her slamming into the ground with a crunch. She rolled over, leaping to her feet, but Paradismon shot past, her daggers slicing into the bird's exposed legs. She staggered back, crashing into the wall and looking up at her assailants.
The ground was fractured, sending more rock and rubble tumbling downwards and threatening to send the four warriors down with it. Fafnirmon regained his balance, looked up, and gasped.
Groundramon was running at full charge, and he slammed into the smaller dragon, his jaws closing around his chest. Like a feral beast, the goliath threw his head from side to side, slamming Fafnirmon's body against the rock, before he threw him upwards, swatting him aside with one great sweep of his mighty claw wing.
"Get away from him!"
Osteomon rushed forwards, arms outstretched in an attempt to tackle the dragon, but she stumbled at the last minute, and a crushing blow from Groundramon's arm to her skull sent her sprawling.
Ahuizomon's charge was halted by Groundramon's two claw-wings, and he pressed them inwards, stopping Ahuizomon's spin in its tracks, He coiled downwards, damaged by his own assault, but Groundramon grabbed him and threw him sideways, right into Khrysomamon's path. The four Champions lay, stunned around him from the brutal assault, fuelled by anger and adrenaline. Groundramon merely laughed.
"Your power? Don't make me laugh! I am a warrior of Lord Dallurmon and he has given me power far surpassing yours! I am stronger than all of you; you shall never reach the keep!"
"Then why don't you take on somebody your own size..."
Groundramon flinched, and turned behind him, suddenly aware of a lone figure at the top of the pillars, striding towards them with purpose. The four Champions looked up as well, squinting to get a look at him. The great dragon merely sneered. "Who are you? You have no business being here."
"The children are my business. I would be remiss if I didn't come to their aid."
Khrysomamon struggled to his feet, grinning despite his wounds. "Geryomon...?"
The golem stopped, his expression as unreadable as always. But the ram knew he was smiling. There was a great tremor as Groundramon turned again, rushing towards the newcomer with fury in his eyes.
"Four opponents or five; it makes no difference to me! You will all be crushed!"
Geryomon raised his six hands, opening the palms and holding them out wide. For a brief moment energy crackled within them, then each hand produced a weapon; in three of them, a round, sharp-edged shield, and in the other three, a long, barbed spear. He shifted his limbs effortlessly, raising the shields towards the huge assailant in a perfect triangle.
A world devoured.
A world reborn.
A catastrophe, unlike anything seen before.
Jiminymon rose, gasping, her wings fluttering instinctively as she shook her head. But the horrifying visions would not leave. They would never leave. Not after that.
"Is it true...?"
She looked up.
"Is this what you see...every time...?"
Dallurmon didn't answer. He was staring out of the window, his tattoos swirling around him. They were bright purple. No, they were shifting. To pure, dazzling white. Jiminymon had heard of this happening, but had never seen it. Dallurmon was terrified.
"It's futile. My own people...it's utterly futile."
Jiminymon hopped up, and peered out of the window. She gasped. "Procoptomon! Paradismon!" Her heart rose a little, although she didn't know why.
"Groundramon...Phorusrhamon...everyone...why do they fail me? Why...NOW...do they fail me?"
Jiminymon felt her shoulders tense up. She turned on her haunches, looking at the shivering figure before her.
Jiminymon squinted as Dallurmon marched away, his hand reaching out towards the wall, pressing a panel. The cricket held her breath. "They...they're still coming, even after all this..."
The insect jumped, and looked back to where Dallurmon was standing, his hand on the wall. His mouth was twisted in a strange expression, and his tattoos were flashing different colours; purple, red, white. She looked down again. "What have you done?"
"They will all die. If I cannot use those loyal to me, then I will use those I have enslaved."
Jiminymon paused, her eyes flickering back. "What...I don't-"
Dallurmon smiled. "Creatures lost in the dark, given new purpose. They have no purpose here; only a will to destroy. They can perform what those of the light cannot."
"Creatures...you mean...Digimon? You've enslaved your own people?" Jiminymon turned back.
Dallurmon lowered his hand, his face stern.
"Those monsters were never my people..."
The ground shook, setting Procoptomon off her balance. Phorusrhamon saw her chance and lashed out with a bladed foot, slicing into the kangaroo's arm.
It was a weak spin, but it did the job; the two Champions scattered, and Phorusrhamon rose up again, extending all the feathers she could. Her eyes were wild, and on the brink of tears.
"Look, Dallurmon! I can...still fight!"
In the hiding place, Neonamon bit his lip on George's shoulder. "This doesn't look good."
"Have you noticed how misty it's getting?"
George blinked. It was. Not even mist, but thick, black vapours, streaming out seemingly from the wall they were again. He felt his head turn, and he put a hand over his mouth.
The boy ran, but there was no escaping the mist as it grew thicker and thicker. He was dimly aware of Phorusrhamon still standing there; he was directly in his line of sight, but on closer inspection she wasn't paying attention. She, and her two opponents, were also feeling the effects of the vapours; staggering, and swaying. Phorusrhamon's eyes were wide now.
"I don't understand...I can still...fight them..."
The boy looked back, and where the wall had been there now seemed to be a dark void; the source of the mist, empty and foreboding. No...not empty. As his vision was slowly obscured, he could see two glowing red pinpricks, and he felt the ground shudder with the sound of immense, clattering footsteps.
Jiminymon stared down in horror at the horrific creature below; it was a mass of bones from which emanated the black vapours, and it stood taller than any Digimon she'd ever seen, rivalling Groundramon for size. It had two spiked wings, sabre teeth and an air of terrifying power.
Dallurmon stepped forwards, slowly. "It resisted. But any shred of decency it may have had was stripped out. I despise Nightmare Soldiers; they only cause trouble. But without the difficulties of emotion and free will, they can be useful."
Jiminymon looked away. "You were holding this...thing? You created this thing? Why? I thought you wanted to make a better world!"
"You can't make a better world without sacrifice." Dallurmon stood next to the cricket, and looked down, his expression calm once again. "Nor can you save it."
"Phorusrhamon!" Jiminymon turned round. "Call it off! The senior administrator is still down there!"
Dallurmon said nothing, but Jiminymon reared up, clutching his palm. "Please! She'll die! She doesn't need to die!"
Her lord pulled his hand away, and looked down at her.
"She doesn't need to live, either."
Jiminymon sat, stunned. She felt sick; her insides were churning, her mind was burning, and her eyes were still swimming with the visions of the future. One by one, her inhibitions shattered. As the black vapours rose outside, she stared up at Dallurmon. He pressed his teeth together.
"You're...not a peacemaker. You're not a hero. You're not fit to be anyone's lord. You're nothing but...a monster." She glared up, her pupils burning gold with utter rage. "You're a monster! You're the one who will destroy this world, not us! Not the children! Nobody but self-serving cowards like you!
Dallurmon flinched, and took a step back. "It's a shame. For a moment, I had hope for you. But you're just like the rest of them."
Jiminymon tensed herself. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Before Dallurmon could move, she jumped, her legs powering her towards the glass. The giant thrust his palm up, which was already surrounded with pure, white energy. "Aesir Storm!"
The attack blasted the windowsill, but it was a split second too late; Jiminymon burst through the glass, falling to the ground below, fluttering her wings with all her might. The brunt of Dallurmon's attack missed her, but it still buffeted her, this way and that, sending her out of control and careening straight into the black fog. Dallurmon roared, and slammed his fist down on the ledge, cracking the metal of the fortress with his sheer power.
"You will die there with the rest of them! I don't need you! I don't need ANY of you; I shall purge this quadrant and burn it to the ground if I have to! I will keep the Digital World safe on my own!"
Storm clouds billowed around him as he raised his hands to the heavens, his tattoos glowing pure scarlet.
The ground trembled as soldier and dragon clashed. Groundramon struck down again and again with wing and claw and tail and tooth, but Geryomon was far more adept than he had at first seemed. He kept on moving forwards at a steady pace, swinging his arms around again and again, alternating between a thrust from a lance and a blow from a shield. There was something beautifully mechanical about the way he fought, and with every strike Groundramon made, he countered effortlessly. The dragon reared up, holding his claw-wings out in front of him as he roared.
He slammed his body down, tearing into the rock, but he was even slower than before. Powerful he was, but with every attack, and every new fissure, he had weakened the ground all around him. Great chasms were opening up and his huge bulk was set off balance by the shifting strata. He'd been fighting for too long.
He cursed and disappeared, one of Geryomon's lances impaling his hind leg as he sunk downwards. The goliath slowed, rolling to a stop through his own momentum, and looked up at the four other beasts, all of whom had rescued themselves. Osteomon looked up, and sniffed the air, before turning towards the keep. "Something's happening."
Up above the tallest spire, clouds were forming. The rain had started up again, only it was no mere drizzle. It was harsh, and biting, the droplets an intense blue. Ahuizomon ground his teeth, shaking his fur out.
"It's Dallurmon. He must be getting desperate."
Geryomon twisted his head around. "You must be the ones to bring about the change in this world. The one we so need."
The lake demon glanced back. "Why did you come? I thought you were going to protect your people."
"It wasn't so much for you-"
Geryomon stumbled, and rushed forwards as fast as he could manage as the ground crumbled beneath him. Groundramon pulled himself out, his claws slipping but flailing wildly, one of them striking the golem across the back. He spun, and raised his shields once again. Groundramon was breathing heavily now.
"You...foul creatures! All of you! You will all disappear from this world! You should never have come!"
Geryomon steadied himself, and raised his lances. "That's a shame. I came for you."
Groundramon stood in the rain, staring at the far smaller golem, who continued. "Monsters like you...you would never let us alone. My people are living in peace, but you...you threaten that."
The dragon stared, fury in his eyes.
"I can't be complacent. If I was, it would lead to my death, and the deaths of those I would protect." Geryomon twisted his head, looking back at the beasts behind. "That's why I came. I won't let anyone else suffer by this monster."
"Enough! Scrapless Claw!"
Groundramon rushed forwards, his wings digging downwards and pushing Geryomon backwards, despite his shields being raised. The dragon's eyes were burning, and he ran forwards, driving the golem back further.
"You don't deserve to exist! You are tainted! You...all of you are a virus! And I will see you all die!" He stopped suddenly, and swung round, his tail carrying forward, despite the bleeding.
"Megaton Hammer Crush!"
The mace struck Geryomon in the centre of the body, and sent him rolling away, his weapons and shields clattering every which way. The golem struggled to get up, as Groundramon towered over him, flexing his claw wings.
"You will be the first..."
Ahuizomon shot forwards, tearing into the monster's back, but with a shrug and a swipe he was downed once again. He rolled on the sodden ground, ending up face to face with the fallen golem. "Geryomon...no..."
The dragon flinched as the torrent of water and light struck him, and he roared, striking down against the ground and sending Fafnirmon and Osteomon toppling down again. Groundramon snarled, and looked down at Khrysomamon, still the smallest amongst them, as he stood atop the cracked rock.
"You are powerless against me! What did you believe you could possibly do?"
Khrysomamon lowered his head. "They weren't aiming at you..."
Groundramon stumbled, and glanced back at where the torrent of water had been aimed; not at him, but at the ground beneath his feet. Already sodden, already weakened, and already crumbling away, due to the dragon's own immense and reckless power. He struggled, but fatigue and his own huge bulk worked in tandem, and he slid backwards into the sink trap of his own making. He could feel the earth packing in, holding his limbs tightly as he struggled, tearing at the rock. He tilted upwards, and roared up at the sky, before lashing down at the sheep in front of him, who only just managed to jump out the way.
"How long do you think this will hold me, you pathetic creature?"
A voice answered, but it wasn't Khrysomamon.
Groundramon's eye darted back, to where Geryomon had risen to his feet. The lances were in his hands, shimmering with electric energy, and as they crackled so his whole body seemed to shimmer, flickering from side to side. There were two of him. Then four. Then eight...then, in seconds, a whole army, shimmering against the rain and moving in unison. The figure at the head raised his lance.
"You will not terrorize these lands anymore."
Behind him, dozens of clones raised their lances as one, the spears bright against the darkening sky and illuminating the dragon's panicked eye. He struggled, tearing at the rocky tomb, but it was too late.
The sky was lit up by a hundred bolts of energy, that rose up, then fell down in a deadly rain upon Groundramon's stranded form. Some of them impaled the ground around him. Others glanced off his heavy armour. But yet more struck true. They dug deep, burning through flesh and muscle and scale, lodging themselves deep within his body and coursing with energy. Groundramon's scream was immense and terrifying as the pain racked through his body. Then a spear struck his skull, piercing through one eye and out his lower jaw.
He sat there, frozen in his final position half buried in the fractured rock, a twisted grimace frozen on his face. All around the entire battlefield had been ravaged, with great trenches and crumbling pits. The rain was heavy now, and above the keep there came flashes of blue lightning. Already the blood and data of the dragon was beginning to get washed away, his body travelling back into the earth from where he'd roamed.
Geryomon's legion shimmered, and disappeared, leaving only the golem as he bent double, clutching his chest. There were flashes of energy all around, and the children and their partners rushed over, guiding him away from the dragon's corpse before he too was pulled underground.
They were all of them too exhausted to speak. Slowly, but steadily, they walked away, leaving the earth dragon in the grave of his own making. Not one of them looked back.
For a moment, Jiminymon was running for the others. She could see silhouettes in the black fog; a great beast, at the moment of each blow. Striking down Procoptomon. Phorusrhamon. Paradismon. With each blow, the fog growing thicker, and the eyes brighter.
Then the fear set in.
She was running for her life. The beast was on her tail; truly evil, and catching up. Forever behind her. She let off blades of static, but they simply cut the air. Wherever she turned, the SkullBaluchimon's undead grimace was waiting to devour her.
The visions grew worse.
She shook her head, backing away as she looked left and right. Paradismon flattened into the ground. Procoptomon lying motionless, gored through the stomach. Jiminymon closed her eyes, but there was no escaping the dark terror. It flowed around her. Dissipated through her. She felt the ice cold gaze of the creature's eyes upon her, forcing every moment of its own eternal torment into her.
A hand touched her shoulder, and pulled her close. She felt herself being pulled away, something smothering her head. She struggled, feeling the air leaving her body as she was constricted by the fog...
And then the fog was gone. She opened her eyes, and saw two faces staring at her. George and Neonamon. Both smiling. The D-Port was beside them, the front panel clattering as it let off a horrific noise. Neonamon glanced back. "Yeesh...they are in trouble."
Jiminymon ignored him, staring up at the boy. "You...came..."
"I knew you wouldn't abandon us. Not like that." George grinned. "You're too much of a stickler for details."
"You came for me..." Jiminymon shook her head, and pawed the ground. "You were all right; Dallurmon's nuts. I'm afraid he's not gonna let us through."
"That's a shame. We'll need to find our own way."
The cricket buzzed, somewhat smugly. "Luckily for you, I happen to have seen the wall between worlds. It's-"
There was a crash nearby, and the cricket jumped, staring back into the fog at where SkullBaluchimon was tussling with a wildly-swinging Procoptomon. George frowned. "It'll have to wait. They're in big trouble from that thing."
Neonamon bit his lip. "I've heard of these things. They overwhelm their enemies' senses; make them feel they're being chased forever. Their influence reaches as far as the fog." He gave George a side-eye. "Although you seem to be fine with it for some reason. Human stuff?"
The boy shrugged. "I just thought it was an interesting skeleton. I was trying to figure out what it was. Plus it does seem to be ignoring me."
Jiminymon shook her head. "Does that mean that we could turn the tables? Overload its senses?"
Neonamon hopped down onto the D-Port, swaying from side to side. "It's worth a shot. But we don't exactly have the firepower to do that. And I think asking Dallurmon might be a no-no."
The cricket chirped, and looked up at George, who had a smile on his face. "What do you say? Are you going to join us for real?"
"I think it's time I did something useful."
The boy reached out, his palm closing over the buttons on the D-Port. It shook, and spat, causing Neonamon to roll off and dive for cover. A torrent of energy burst forth; waves of green light, enveloping the boy and the bug as they stood up, stepping out of the alcove and into the fog as one. There was a flash as George disappeared, followed by a swirl of green. Neonamon watched, transfixed, as his senior's body lit up with energy, shining through the fog in a beacon of hope.
"It's a beautiful world, isn't it?"
The two sat together, staring out at a thriving city. A vibrant park, brimming with life. Colours and shapes, each one different. In the centre, a small boy, already scribbling down on his paper and pad. His too-big glasses slipped down his nose again, and the two onlookers chuckled.
"Why did it take you so long?"
The boy looked at Jiminymon, who ducked her head.
"I was running. I couldn't bear to stand up to the one I'd loved for so long. But why you? Why were you the last to fight?"
George sighed. The vision was still busy, but through the pictures and sounds were darker truths. A crying child. A man sleeping on the corner. Yelling and screaming in the background hubbub. Truth through the distractions. All just out of earshot of the little boy with his little pad.
"Because I never needed to fight for anything. Because the world I saw was beautiful, and I never needed to lift a finger."
Slowly the city faded away. So did the younger boy. The vision merged into the keep, with the storm rumbling up above. George stood up.
"Now I do. And now I will. I want everyone to see that beautiful world. My beautiful world."
He smiled down at the cricket, and the two of them walked off together, into the green light.
"Let's do it, partner."
"Jiminymon, Soul Interlock!"
A distinct hum started up within the fog. Mixing with a kettle whistle, then standing on its own, growing in volume and timbre. The dark mist curled. It billowed around the new figure, but the energy was pulsing outwards, rejecting its influences.
Phorusrhamon saw it first; the green figure stepping forwards, taking shape in the mist. She backed away, holding her breath.
"Not you...not you too..."
There was a roar, and SkullBaluchimon's head rose above the fog, releasing more and flooding the back courtyard of the keep. But the new figure would not yield; she stepped forwards, and her form became clear.
The cricket had grown vastly, and her soft sandy carapace had hardened into thick plates. Conical spikes stuck up through her back and limbs, and her back legs reached high above, the lower leg like a large barbed sickle, each one nearly ten feet in length, with the barbs quivering slightly. Her wings had folded up, and were stretched, taut, from the nape of her neck to the tip of her tail, like the string on a guitar. Her head was monstrous; two great bladed mandibles that clicked together, five bright yellow-pupilled eyes and a set of headphones attached to the side of her head, carrying aerial-like antennae that twitched and rotated left and right. She clicked, and raised her head, the hum clearly emanating from her body. Gone was the frightened insect from before. She was ready to fight. They were both ready to fight.
With a roar that was both intense and utterly silent, the maddened creature rushed forwards, leering over the cricket and releasing yet more of the acrid smog. It washed over her, and further, into the hiding place where Neonamon was curled up in front of the D-Port. The snake squinted, trying desperately to make out what was going on.
"You're not gonna make it..."
Wetamon didn't move. She positioned herself on her front four legs, and raised the great sickles behind, the legs twisting and resting at the base of her neck.
"I can see through your lies."
With a sharp movement and a sharper sound, the fog dissipated, leaving Wetamon staring up at the immense creature. It growled, its face frozen in permanent fury as it raised a leg.
The foot slammed down, right into Wetamon's crossed sickles. She was driven back, but only slightly, her armour taking the brunt of the assault. She hissed slightly, and tensed her legs again.
"I can see through all the lies now. You have no power over me."
Wetamon wrenched her legs back, the barbs quivering and striking the hardened wing membrane at a hundred times a second. The noise was intolerable; a scraping shriek that shot out in waves from the cricket's body, cutting through the dense fog like a knife through butter. Wetamon adjusted herself, and raised her head, releasing the full force of the sound directly into SkullBaluchimon's face.
The beast staggered, swaying from side to side and shaking its head violently, sending bursts of fog out in an attempt to muffle the sound. All around, the fog was twisting skywards, unable to hold its corporeal grip on the battlefield. Wetamon's antennae twitched, upping the resonance even more.
"Rest, demon! You have no more purpose here!"
SkullBaluchimon roared; a hoarse, pained sound, accompanied by black liquid that fell from its mouth. The sound ground to a halt, as Wetamon reached the end of her wings, her sickles searing hot. All around, the battleground was revealed again. Procoptomon and Paradismon were getting to their feet, turning on the beast. They were shaken, and deeply scarred from its assault. But they were still prepared to fight.
Wetamon raised her legs again, her eyes flickering back and forth. There was no sign of Phorusrhamon.
A vast knuckle struck Wetamon across the head, and she fell sideways, momentarily stunned from the impact. She lashed out with a leg, the sickle swiping at thin air. SkullBaluchimon may have lost its terrain advantage, but it had plenty of other assets to make use of.
"Die, insect! Die for Dallurmon!"
Wetamon rolled as the beast's jaws clamped shut, nearly over her own legs. She righted herself, and turned, spinning her left sickle as the barbs vibrated at an impossible speed.
The air warped, crashing into the skeletal monstrosity with crashing screeches of sound. Wetamon backed away, no longer with the nimble reflexes of her previous form. But even as SkullBaluchimon shook off the attack and began to charge, she wasn't worried.
She wasn't alone.
Procoptomon's knuckles slammed into SkullBaluchimon's lower jaw, and as it reared up from the attack, she twisted round, coiling her legs up and slamming it in the opposite direction. There was an immense crack, and the lower jaw snapped clean off, sending black miasma all over. SkullBaluchimon screeched, and thrust its head to the side, nearly goring Procoptomon through the chest as she fell back to earth, staggering a little.
A rush of stamps cracked the ground beneath the beast, as Procoptomon pulled Wetamon back. The kangaroo humphed, and flicked her snout.
"I thought that would shut it up."
The unearthly sound roared from Wetamon once again, and SkullBaluchimon thrust its head from side to side, trying and failing to remove the damning pain from its body. It raised its head, and something caught Wetamon's eyes. She lowered her gaze, and pointed beneath the monster's ribcage.
"There's its Digicore. Without it, it's powerless."
SkullBaluchimon thrust itself forward in a kamikaze attack, its bulk crashing into the ground and nearly flattening the monster cricket. It got to its feet again, and swiped left, this time sweeping Procoptomon and Wetamon away like they were nothing.
"Hey, Ermintrude! Up here!"
SkullBaluchimon roared as a dagger pierced its eye socket, impaling whatever horrific organ lay within. Paradismon floated up into the creature's new blind spot, and ran her other dagger over the bone, with little success. SkullBaluchimon made to bite at the sprite, but with a lack of a lower jaw that too didn't work as planned. It resorted instead to sweeping its head sideways, very nearly crushing Paradismon into the fortress wall; she just managed to roll away in time and rounded herself above its neck, her feathers fluttering in the mist.
A storm of green and blue energy dug into the bone in the beast's neck, sending fragments clattering to the ground. Unbalanced, the creature fell to one knee, right into Wetamon's line of fire.
The arcs hit true this time, opening up the massive ribcage and revealing a pulsing blackness within, surrounded by hundreds of tiny white veins. Already the wound was spewing mist, threatening to cover the battlefield once again. Wetamon braced herself. "This is your shot!"
Procoptomon bent her knees. "I'm on it."
There was an explosion of black fog as the kangaroo catapulted herself into the gaping wound. There was a blinding flash, and SkullBaluchimon threw its head to the heavens, crying out in silent agony.
The fog faded from all around and the heavy rain began to pierce the dark dimension, dissolving it away completely. The red glow faded from SkullBaluchimon's eye, and it tumbled forwards, its bones landing haphazardly on the hardened floor. Paradismon fluttered down, clutching a gash on her shoulder as she peered inside the chest cavity.
"I take it you hit it?"
Procoptomon poked her head out, and practically fell out of the withered beast, breathing heavily. "I'm never doing that again..."
The three laughed for a moment. It was a grim moment. But they were alive.
Sometimes it's the little things.
Wetamon's antennae flickered, and she looked down to see Neonamon, waving from his hiding place. He pointed upwards with his stubby tail. "The storm is Dallurmon's work. It's dangerous to be out in it."
The three Champions looked at one another, and with a brief flash, they returned to their smaller forms. Neonamon hadn't been lying; the rain was painful, and any harder and it could become dangerous. They rushed forwards, grabbing the D-Port and the tiny snake and heading for the open passageway, now unguarded. As they huddled within, getting their bearings, George couldn't help but glance outside.
Jiminymon nodded. "We saved her back then. I...hope she stays safe. And gone. At least until this is over."
The boy ran his hand through his hair. "We've got other things to do. We're nowhere near done yet."
Marsuamon tapped the tunnel up above, and grinned back. "So what? I feel like a million. Dallurmon won't know what hit him."
Neonamon smiled nervously. "Whatever he thinks, he's not far above here."
As the storm raged outside, so the seven infiltrated the keep, where the guardian of the wall between worlds was waiting, readying their demise.
Geryomon winced as Chupamon held a paw to his chest. The demon looked up. "Does it hurt?"
"Nothing hurts. I don't feel pain." Geryomon's eye flicked down to where his muscle and rock flesh was cracked, pieces flaking away onto the sodden ground. "It's just awkward."
The group had reformed beneath the keep's side gate, now lying in two pieces on the floor, courtesy of Geryomon. The assault had taken a lot out of him though, and he stood slumped near the arch, only able to stand due to his inherent stability. Still, it didn't look that promising.
Wyvermon stepped forwards, and nodded his head. "Thank you, for what you did back there. I've...misjudged all of-"
Geryomon shook his head. "I've protected my people. If you wish to help, do me a favour." He pointed upwards with a great stone hand. "End Dallurmon's rule. Show him we no longer recognise him."
Wyvermon bowed his head, but didn't respond. Geryomon shifted sideways. "I'll watch the gate. You must go inside. Meet your friends, and use your powers. You are...something special. You can change this world."
There was silence. The children looked down at their feet, as the heavy rain pockmarked the very rock just outside. Joel folded his arms. "We just wanted to get home."
Alasdair sighed. "It's been a long time since then."
He stared into the black hallway, where the distant sounds of alarms were still ringing.
"It's now or never."
With shaking hand and steady foot, he walked into the blackness. Wyvermon and Arimon followed him, then Yvonne and Joel, then the rest, Lucy bringing up the rear, looking uncomfortable. Alasdair paused, and looked back at everyone; soaked to the skin, scratched and bruised. The whites of all their eyes shone in the eerie blue light of the keep.
Their leader smiled.
"Come on, everyone. Let's go home."
The eerie noises resonated throughout the tunnel; a deep, almost gentle tapping that still steadily grew and grew, like the sounds of a thousand soldiers descending from outside. George winced, and gripped the D-Port to his chest more tightly as he edged forwards.
"My dad would kill me if he ever found out what I was doing."
"Your dad?" Ahead of him, Rachel peered back, a hint of incredulity in her eyes. "Mine's going to kill me for breaking his research. And be careful!"
George pulled back, narrowly avoiding scraping the device against a wall for the second time. It was humming in his arms, the energy swirling ominously in the centre of the screen, lighting up the passageway. It also illuminated the existing damage to the D-Port itself, which was looking dangerously scarred from its journey. Occasionally the whole thing would shudder, and the lights would brighten and the whole tunnel would seem to shake. George clutched it tightly regardless. They couldn't afford to lose it now.
The noise increased regardless, and a thin, metallic dust fell from the ceiling. At the front of the line, Neonamon stopped, his eyes darting back and forth.
"The storm's getting worse. We're lucky we got out when we did."
Marsuamon hopped a little further, walking alongside the little serpent. "Is this Dallurmon's doing? Is he that strong?"
"He's stronger than anyone I've ever met. Smarter too. Instinctive. That's how he managed to get this region under his control."
"I never got that."
Behind the snake, Lizzie forged ahead, with Mynahmon shuffling along beside her, cooing grumpily about dust in the wings. Lizzie ignored her, her eyes dead set ahead. "He wants us dead, right? Why not send a whole army? Doesn't seem very smart to me."
Jiminymon's antennae flickered, and she tilted her head. "He can't. He doesn't have an army."
"How does that work? You can all fight, can't you?"
"We all have abilities, yes. But to be strong, we need to fight. I guess I should have seen it back...back then. Dallurmon forced peace upon us. We never needed to fight. Therefore there were no warriors. No chance for an uprising." She looked away. "Perhaps he had less of a universal appeal than I initially thought."
Marsuamon and Mynahmon glanced at each other knowingly. "Really? How can you tell?"
"Yes yes, I know." Jiminymon buzzed angrily. "I'm with you now, aren't I?"
Neonamon grinned. "You certainly are. And actually, Dallurmon may have caused his own downfall."
George blinked. "How do you mean?"
"No warriors. No challenge. He had complete control, until you came along. You are an entirely different source of power. The biggest threat he's ever faced." Neonamon chuckled. "I'm sure he'll still call upon his excuse of you destroying the Digital World, but really he's scared."
Lizzie frowned. "You seem awfully chipper. Didn't you work for him as well?"
"A change of outlook is healthy now and then."
The girl raised an eyebrow, but thought nothing of it. There was another rumble, and the light flickered slightly, showing the way ahead. Marsuamon pointed. "Is that the end? Please let it be the end."
"Ssh." Neonamon whispered. "I don't know who's still here."
Lizzie sighed as she shuffled forwards. "I can't wait to get away from here. Get home."
She looked down, and noticed Mynahmon looking up, sadly. Lizzie gave a weak smile. "Don't look at me like that...it's not you. You're one of the best things that ever happened to me."
The bird's face transformed into a beaming smile (or something resembling one). Behind her, Jiminymon clicked, contemplatively. "It's funny, isn't it? You've only been here a few days, and yet our lives are never going to be the same after this. Some of us moreso than others."
George stopped, adjusting his glasses. "Us too."
The other two nodded in agreement. Rachel knelt up, holding her arms around her stomach and staring down at the D-Port. "How are we going to live?"
"It's so...big. How are we supposed to live knowing there's such a world like this?" She shuddered. "I never imagined my dad was working on something so...so..."
Lizzie looked back, holding her fist tightly. "Dangerous?"
They'd reached the edge of the tunnel, beyond which lay the interior of the fortress. They sat in silence, each one buried in their own thoughts. Neonamon coughed to himself, and nudged the wall in front of him. "It's, uh...kind of difficult for me to open on my own."
"I've got it."
A push from Marsuamon and the hatch opened up, revealing the interior of the fortress itself. It was an old admin room, turned storage. Piles of parchments and bags of equipment lay around the room; all out of date, and many gathering dust. The group slowly unfurled from beneath the floor, stretching their cramped bodies whilst looking all around. Jiminymon was the last to get out, and she buzzed curiously. "Wasn't the alarm going?"
Neonamon shrugged. "You were in here last; you tell me." He looked around himself. "Though it's a good point. There's nobody here."
George stood up, stretching his arms. "Maybe they were evacuated? Maybe Dallurmon's out with them."
Lizzie bit her lip. "I wouldn't bet on it. He knows we're coming. He'll be standing guard."
Mynahmon fluttered above her, looking down. "So what are we going to do?"
The taller girl became aware of the other two looking up at her, almost expectantly. She felt herself blush. She wasn't used to making decisions.
"The others are coming. We're not going anywhere without them." She grasped the hem of her skirt, putting on her best brave face. "Neonamon, do you know where the entrance is?"
Marsuamon looked up. "You think they'll have got past Groundramon?"
"They're as strong as we are. They must have." She smiled. "I know they have. Let's go meet them."
The group ascended; up the stairs, and along the winding corridors. Lizzie held the rear, walking alongside George and keeping an eye out behind her, only shaking slightly. George looked up at her as they walked.
"That's a good look for you."
"Fearless leader." He smiled. "I certainly feel safe."
Lizzie swallowed, and her face went even redder. She avoided the younger boy's gaze, focusing straight ahead.
'Glad someone does', she thought to herself. But she kept it inside. Together, the seven of them made their way further into the keep, as the sound of the storm grew ever louder around them.
Yvonne looked back at Arimon, who had his fingers running over his dagger, his scarlet eyes keen even in the darkness. The sheep became aware of her looking down at him, and he relaxed slightly. Slightly.
"There should be others here. Dallurmon's administrators."
"They've all left." Chupamon pointed at the entrance, now far behind them. "The sirens went off. It's an evacuation."
"But for what? Surely he'd need-"
"You really think Dallurmon needs any of them?" Chupamon said, his eyes ghostly and piercing in the dark. "He knows we're here. He's called the storm for a reason. Everyone else is just a distraction. He's going to take us out himself."
Wyvermon huffed. "So I guess Jiminymon's little defection didn't work."
The dragon flinched as several sets of eyes glared down at him, and he flexed his wings. "Alright, alright! I'm just saying..."
He didn't know what he was saying, so he promptly shut his mouth, instead grumbling to himself. He became aware of Alasdair walking just ahead, seeming deep in thought. The dragon nudged him. "What's wrong?"
"We...killed somebody today." Alasdair looked down, and his eyes were unfocused. Slightly hazed.
Wyvermon ground his teeth. "You've killed lots of people since you came here." He frowned. "More than normal, maybe, but it was self-defense."
"I don't know how to take that."
"Their data doesn't go anywhere. It returns to the elements which formed it. Groundramon's going back into the earth."
"But he's still dead." Alasdair looked down. "Are Digimon at peace when it happens?"
"I don't know..." Wyvermon fell quiet. "I don't want to die...not yet..."
The group walked ahead in silence, feeling their way along the walls. It was Joel who broke the silence; hanging back for a moment as he looked down at the floor.
"Dallurmon's strong, isn't he..."
The others paused, and looked amongst themselves. Lucy nodded, and Placomon reached over and took the boy's hand. "It's alright. We can stop him."
The boy's hand was shaking, and he pulled it away. Joel held his arms close, most uncharacteristically. "We nearly didn't beat Groundramon. Geryomon had to help. But he can't help now. And Dallurmon's stronger..." The boy looked up. "What are we gonna do?"
Alasdair felt all eyes on him once again, and he pulled his shoulders in. Chupamon was gazing more than most. "What are we going to do? Even if we do beat Dallurmon...what then?" No answer. The devil continued. "If it comes down to it...could you kill him?"
Deathly silence. Chupamon bowed his head. "Forget I said anything."
He dropped back, sitting down beside Lucy. Arimon and Wyvermon stared at him with cold eyes. "Is this the world you live in?"
Chupamon sighed. "I don't know what world I'm living in anymore. I thought I did. I was the bad guy; the scoundrel. It was easy like that. Why did you all have to go and complicate things? Even if we get through this alive, I can never return to that life."
Placomon frowned. "Me neither. I need to actually get out into the world." She grimaced. "And do things. Ergh."
There was the sound of falling fabric, as Lucy reached down, putting one hand on Chupamon's mask. She stared into his pale eyes with her emerald green ones, smiling encouragingly.
Arimon and Wyvermon looked at one another. "Well we...don't have a life to go back to. Not after this. Kabuterimon would maim us if we showed our faces."
Alasdair sighed. He looked down at his feet, then over at Wyvermon. The dragon looked nervous; very unlike him. But the boy knew exactly what he wanted to say. He wanted to say the same thing. There was no hiding it now.
The boy nodded. "We'll get to that when we come to it, alright. For now, we're gonna beat Dallurmon, and we're gonna get to the gate and get back home."
Wyvermon grinned. "Let's go. Partner."
There was the sound of footsteps, and the group turned around, looking down the corridor. Somebody was emerging out of the gloom. They held their breath, trying to see.
The two girls rushed forwards, and into each others' arms, as the two groups met up with each other once again. George chuckled as he wandered forwards. "I was worried about you guys. I suppose I didn't need to be."
"You took your time."
"We, uh, ran into some trouble. A lot of trouble." George grinned, and nodded down at Jiminymon. "Still, we're a full set now. We can help you too."
Alasdair looked down at Jiminymon, who bowed her head, embarrassed. "Sorry for all the worry I caused. I've set things straight now."
Wyvermon smirked. "No luck with Dallurmon after all, then."
"Dallurmon's an arsehole. He's going down."
Rachel stepped forwards, now holding the D-Port on her back having taken over from George. "I don't know how much time we have. Should we...get moving?"
Marsuamon cracked her knuckles beside the girl. "Dallurmon's up there. It'd be rude to keep him waiting."
Alasdair's face fell serious. "We've got one more thing we need to do. It's not going to be easy, and it's going to require all of us. But I promise you all, we're going to put our everything in, and we're going to get home. All of us are going to get home."
He looked around, to the response of nodding heads and determined smiles all around. His gaze finally fell upon Jiminymon.
"Please would you lead the way?"
"Of course." The cricket blinked, and fluttered her wings as she shuffled off. "And this time, we're all going to get there."
As they edged deeper into the keep, the noise from outside grew duller, muffled by the heavy walls. Occasionally there was a flash of energy from the sky, which would light up the corridors. As they got close to the centre, the children shivered, and held their arms around their bodies.
Jiminymon stopped in front of a great door, her wings sticking straight upright. She turned, and spoke, her voice impossibly quiet.
"He's right there."
Marsuamon gritted her teeth. "I've never felt such...power. Such desperation to destroy."
The others were quiet, but the children noticed all their partners cringing. Even they could feel something; a deep, heavy aura, thick with rage and sorrow. Lizzie swallowed. "We can't turn back now."
Yvonne peered backwards. "Are we all ready?"
They nodded. In Rachel's arms, the D-Port hissed, a rainbow of colours swirling in the cracked screen, ready to burst out at any time.
Alasdair turned to Yvonne, and the two of them reached out, placing their palms against the huge door. "Dallurmon wants us dead. Don't give him the chance. Help one another. Remember, we're going home. All of us."
He could feel himself shivering, but he braced himself against the freezing cold metal. Wyvermon stood alongside him, his tail held high. Yvonne and Arimon held their arms against the door, ready to move on the signal. Behind them, Jiminymon stayed near George's feet, as the boy cleaned his glasses. Mynahmon sat on Lizzie's shoulder. Lucy and Chupamon stood ready, holding one another's hands. Joel clenched his fists, with Placomon angling herself ready to charge. At the front, Rachel held the D-Port tightly, her eyes distant, and deep in thought. Marsuamon just cracked her knuckles.
Whatever they did, it would have to be quick.
Alasdair took in a breath, and readied his feet, preparing to open the chamber door.
He and Yvonne pushed together, revealing Dallurmon's inner sanctum, and together, they charged.
TO BE CONTINUED...