The small dragon rushed through the streets of Silicon City, swerving left and right as she followed the sound of shouting and fighting. The crowds grew denser, and she rose higher, her wings struggling even at this small altitude.
Even so, she saw. A crowd of citizens around a bunch of Digimon, locked in a savage brawl. One was a Gazimon. Another, a Bearmon. And the third, twisting and writhing as he swung his bladed tail left and right, was Colchimon.
Ladomon yelled and shot forward, entering the middle of the fray. She saw the Bearmon raise his heavy claw, and flinched, waiting for the strike. But then there was a shout, and all of a sudden Colchimon was dragging her back. The Bearmon backed away himself, holding his injured shoulder as his friend stood in front.
Colchimon growled, and his eyes were dangerous slits. "You touch her and I swear to Yggdrasil I will kill you."
Ladomon felt him tense, and wrapped her tail around him, just to be sure. She leant in and whispered. "It's okay. I'm okay. Calm down."
There was another kerfuffle nearby and a Gargoylemon, one of the city officials, strode in, her large knuckles rapping against the stone pavement. "Alright, break it up people."
Bearmon snarled, and made to run forward, but Gazimon held him back. Still, the cat-rabbit pointed an accusing finger at the two dragons. "That thing is a menace and a freak. Get him out of here."
Colchimon bristled, but held back. "You got what you deserved."
"Your kind have no bloody right to hand out judgement after what you did."
"I had nothing to do with that; I wasn't even alive! You can't blame me. None of you can blame me."
Gazimon spat. "You're a Nightmare Soldier. It's in your blood."
Colchimon growled, but Gargoylemon held up her hands, standing in between. "I don't care who or what started this; carry it on and I'm taking you all in."
For a moment the Rookies glared at one another. Then Gazimon shrugged, and strode away, helping his injured friend along. Gargoylemon turned, and looked down at the two dragons. Ladomon nodded, her voice very quiet. "Thank you. Really."
Gargoylemon said nothing. She simply humphed with disdain, before turning to the crowd, sweeping her arms. "Alright, everyone, move off. There's nothing to see here."
Ladomon and Colchimon slunk off themselves, staying to the side of the road as they headed back to their residence. Ladomon shook her head. "You shouldn't have done that."
"They deserved it."
"Maybe. But stooping to their level isn't going to do anything."
Colchimon sighed, looking skywards and doing his best to ignore the hurtful expressions of the citizens walking past him. "Thanks, by the way. That was brave, what you did there."
Ladomon blushed, and looked down at the ground. Still, she smiled.
"I don't care what they think of you. I'll never leave you; no matter what. Nightmare Soldier or no." She looked up. "But still, no more picking fights. Just learn to ignore them."
Colchimon smirked. "You're way too forgiving, you know that?"
"You know me, Colchimon. I can't condemn anyone." She rolled her eyes. "Even if they are idiots."
Everything froze in mid-air. The tumbling blocks of ice and rock seemed to slow, threatening to crush everybody beneath. Human and Digimon, friend and foe alike; they all held on for dear life as the very floor buckled inwards, preparing to send them tumbling into the dark dungeons below.
Then there was a whistling of wings and Chirinmon's vast figure crashed in, the shards from the walls glancing off of his coat. He roared, his entire body glowing as he reared back.
Instead of an arc, the wind-blade flew as a barrage, forcing the deadly collapse back. However it was too much for him to stay aloft, and he crashed down, causing the floor to crack even more. All around the bodies of Ice Digimon slid downwards into the gaping chasm, their hosts having already vanished. Lobomon hung on for dear life as the floor heaved, one arm around Eloise's. She yelled up. "Chirinmon! Take her!"
Before Eloise could even cry out in surprise, the wolf-warrior swung her up. Chirinmon bent down and plucked the girl by the scruff of her jacket, hauling her back away from the collapsing floor. She sat back, dizzy and out of breath, when a scream caught her ears.
"Grace! Where is she?"
She leaned forward, pointing towards the very centre of the rubble. "There! Somebody help her!"
Out of nowhere Ladomon shot down, putting on more speed than she'd ever done in her life. She hovered just above the girl, lowering her tail down swiftly. "Quickly, grab on!"
Grace swiped, but her fingers slipped and she toppled backwards, vanishing into the blackness of the dungeon below.
The dragon dived, only to hear a rumbling. She looked up, and her eyes widened as a barrage of rock fell towards her, tipping the ornate floor even more.
"GET OUT OF THERE!"
The dragon was grabbed by the wing and thrust away, pulled up by Lobomon, who climbed as fast as her muscular arms would allow. They reached the top quickly, before looking back down. The rock had settled; thankfully a majority of it hadn't fallen through the crack, but it had severed off all means of getting in.
Eloise was beside herself, her eyes wild. "We've got to help her!"
"Chirinmon! You need to break through-"
The kirin shook his head. "Climb on, now. Need to get you away."
"Are you crazy?" Eloise grabbed the behemoth by the scruff of the neck, causing him to shrink back. ""We can't just leave her!"
"Eloise, look up, now!" The wolf-warrior pointed, and the girl followed her gaze straight up. The crystalline ceiling of the Silver Citadel's throne room was groaning under its own weight, and the panels were visibly bending. One snap, and the whole thing was coming down.
Eloise didn't let go regardless. "Then we need to hurry! Someone-"
Lobomon didn't hesitate; she grabbed the girl in one arm and Ladomon in the other and leapt atop Chirinmon's back. Eloise screamed as the holy beast set off, straight towards the hole he'd made on coming inside. Despite his speed, he found himself dodging falling shards of razor-sharp ice as the entire ceiling caved in, the fragments being excited by the howling winds inside and out. Lobomon bent over her quarries, trying to protect them from the worst of the deadly deluge as they shot outside.
Immediately the freezing wind hit them, and the kirin careened to one side, trying desperately to stabilise his fall. Eloise looked up, and her vision was a blur. She could just make out the savage twisters and snow-flurries, and the faint image of the citadel as it folded inwards with a groan and a hideous cracking.
The whole world turned upside-down, first once, then twice, before finally dumping the four of them in the cold wasteland outside.
Vulpimon hung in free space, her world of ice disintegrating around her. She opened her eyes, and the tears froze on her face as she looked all around, observing the horizon through the vicious veil of ice and snow. She looked due south, and her lip curled.
"Hate…I hate you…All of you…you did this…"
She snarled, her eyes glowing bright white as she took a step. The weather followed her every move, threatening to destroy everything in its wake.
"Because of you…all this death because of you…I will end this…I will kill you all…"
She roared, but her roars were lost in the storm. Yet still she moved, and with each step, her power increased. The shattered element of Ice responded to her every call, and would do so for as long as she lived. As long as she still had energy within her body.
She was unaware of the remains of her home, or anything or anybody else. She simply marched onward, and her imminent demise followed her every step of the way.
Grace's eyes were shut tight, as her body rolled to a halt goodness knows where. There was a banging and a smashing from above her and she flinched with each one, expecting to be crushed at any moment. She felt the stinging of sharp gravel as it cascaded down onto her.
But the crushing blow never came. She waited, still hunched in a ball, until she was absolutely sure she wasn't dead. Then, slowly, she unfurled, and opened her eyes. It didn't help; she could barely see anything, although she could hear the roaring from outside, even through all the fallen rock. Something dripped on her, and she looked up, seeing great white slabs of ice jutting out at angles.
"I'm in the dungeon…"
She flinched, suddenly aware of what that meant. Gingerly she looked around, shaking in the darkness. Through the gloom she could make out several large, black shapes sprawled out over the floor. Most of them seemed to be rocks. But not all. She could hear the distinct sound of data dissolving slowly into the air.
She shook her head, purging the decaying liches from her mind. "The others...I've got to get out of here..."
There was an ominous creaking from above as the rubble began to strain against the weight of the collapsing castle. Grace ran, scanning the dim light for any sign of the hidden entrance to the room. Aside from the fallen matter the place was barren and featureless, as cold as the tomb. Grace shivered, pulling her sweatshirt further around her body, but she carried on.
Something glinted in one of the corners of the room, and she sprinted towards it. There it was; the other exit. Her way out.
Something turned round on the staircase, and the girl skidded to a halt. Inarimon looked down at her; her kimono was scuffed, and her mask was battered, but she stood, alive and grinning down.
"Well dear, I was wondering where you'd disappeared to."
Grace tensed, her eyes widening as she gritted her teeth. "You…"
Inarimon clapped her hands, giggling. "Excellent! Some company!"
Inarimon lunged forward, grabbing at Grace's arm, but the girl pulled back in disgust. Inarimon's long nails scraped over her hand, leaving vicious grazes. Inarimon swayed, her voice sinister. "Come off it; YOu've got no reason to fight me now. Your friends have already gone. They've left you behind." She shrugged, clasping her hands behind her back. "Why don't you come with me instead?"
"Never!" Grace roared, rushing headlong towards the fox. "You're a monster!"
The trickster spirit was too fast, simply hopping backwards and giving a little twirl on the stairs as the girl stumbled in front of her. Grace glared up, and reached for her pocket, but as she fumbled around her face fell. Inarimon nodded, pulling her hand out of her sleeve and brandishing two D-Nexuses.
"Looking for these?"
"Give them back!"
Grace lunged again and again, but the fox-girl merely kept backing away, holding them just out of the girl's reach, and taunting all the while. "Uh-uh. You're not getting your little toys back until you promise to behave with them."
Inarimon sighed, slowly ascending the stairs. "Honestly, why are you so desperate? This isn't even your world; you owe nothing to it. Come with me; live a little." She pointed up lazily with her paintbrush. "You see all this? Beauty in destruction. Things changing, things ending. And from the ashes, new and better things will rise up. All we can do is sit back and watch it fall down."
Grace stoppe, out of breath as she glared up at the fox. "You really don't get it, do you? You really have no idea what kind of a monster you are. People have died. Don't you care? Don't you give a damn at all?"
Inarimon tilted her head. "Lives are temporary anyway. What's the point in fretting over them?"
"You hurt my partner!"
"Forget her, Grace. She's gone. Think about it. Once we get out of here, you and I, we could travel the world together. Watch it burn with our very own eyes."
She giggled, and hopped back again, as Grace stood on the stair below her, frazzled and out of breath. Still the girl stared up with hatred in her eyes. "I don't understand. Why are you so interested in me? Why is everyone so interested in me?"
The ground shook again, and Grace staggered back, clutching the nearest wall. Inarimon was in front of her before she knew it, grabbing her wrist and thrusting her ivory mask right up against the girl's face. She chuckled. "Let's just say I can read people like you."
Grace moved her other hand, but there was a flash of something green and all of a sudden she found herself pressed against the stone stairs, held fast by a dozen red-taloned hands. She struggled, whipping her head back and forth to no avail as the Kankomon held her fast, sniggering amongst themselves. "I'll never join you. I came here to help save the world, not watch it burn with people like you. You can go to hell."
Inarimon stood up straight, gesturing with her brush as the grinning visages of more of her children floated behind her, slathering with anticipation.
"I've been to hell, sweetheart. And back. Several times. But that's just who I am, and it's who you are as well."
Grace spat. "I'm nothing like you."
"Maybe not yet. But perhaps you just need a little nudge." Inarimon reached into her belt and withdrew her brush, which glowed white at the end. She crouched down beside Grace, pointing the tip into the blade of her shoulder. The girl hissed as the pain hit, like a white-hot knife cutting into her skin. Inarimon held steady, slowly moving the tip of the brush in a small arc. All the while she spoke softly. "You and me, we belong together. Sooner or later you'll see. Sigil Gheist…"
White lights thumped in front of Grace's vision as she saw one of the Kankomon reach down, scrabbling frantically at the chance to burrow inside her. Possess her, like they had the others. They'd never know, with her still trapped down here. If she was taken over here, they'd only assume she was dead. She wouldn't be able to do anything to reach them.
She thought of them, lost and wounded in this terrible storm.
Of the people back at Grid Central, waiting for them.
And of her partner, falling through a barrage of hatred and fear to her certain death.
Grace's mind went blank. Her vision went fuzzy. Without warning she reached forward, grasping at Inarimon at a last ditch attempt to stop the psychopath.
Inarimon chuckled, but the chuckle soon turned into a hum of confusion as the device within her sleeve began to glow in Grace's grip. She pulled back, and the Kankomon did with her, but the girl hung on with a grip like a vice. The sleeve broke, leaving the D-Nexus humming in Grace's hand as the girl stood up, looking down upon the fox. Inarimon shielded her eyes as the ground began to shake once again, sending spider-thread cracks all along the walls.
Beneath her mask, she smiled.
Grace's eyes were white as the elemental energy from the D-Nexus wrapped itself around her, freezing her in place. With every new surge she could feel her partner on the other end of the link, pulling back in desperation and confusion. She could feel every ounce of her partner's emotion. Her hatred. Her fear. Her lust for vengeance.
Her grip tightened, causing the D-Nexus to scream out in electronic pain.
Jagged spikes of ice shot out of the walls and the stone steps, fracturing the structure of the Silver Citadel even more. Inarimon cursed, rushing down and darting out of the side passageway, scarcely glancing back. She didn't need to; she could feel the ever-extending icy grip reaching out at her, threatening to grab her. She squeezed out just in time before the entire wall of the staircase shattered, splintered into pieces by shards of white death. The Citadel groaned again; great chunks falling from the walls and breaking apart from the floors. Inarimon ran, until she could no longer feel the imminent cold. Then she turned.
The ice kept creeping, turning everything it touched a bright, iridescent white. The wall split again, ripped apart by icicles that emerged and converged from all around, forming an angular structure. It shimmered, and spun, sending silent snowflakes falling all around as the figure within was revealed.
She was tall and impossibly slim, her form hidden by a ragged dress. Over her shoulder she wore a dull, purple chestplate, bound with black chains, in the centre of which blazed the elemental seal of Ice. The spiked armour continued down her left arm, ending in a wicked-looking gauntlet, with sharp diamonds at the tips of the fingers. The other arm was ringed by three heavy bracelets, binding a single long sleeve which fluttered in the wind.
The figure raised her head, her hair grey-streaked and wild, cascading down her back. A single necklace hung around her neck, the centre glowing bright blue. Her face was hidden by a mask, bound in place with more rugged chains that fell over her shoulders. The mask was mostly white, save for an area around the left eye caressed in swirling black. Her eyes stared straight ahead; pale, cold and unfeeling.
Those eyes locked onto Inarimon, who stepped back, waving her hands as the Kankomon s#congregated in front of her. "See? I was right. This is who you are."
There was a breath-like hiss as the figure's flowing sleev straightened, and a blade extended from the end; black and crooked, with a diamond tip and etched with Digicode. The figure let out a breath, clouds of condensation billowing out from beneath her mask. When she spoke, her voice was barely a whisper in the terrifying wind outside.
The Fire Kingdom's dungeons stretched deep beneath the fortress, so far that any contact with the outside world was completely sealed off. The walls were fortified, and the doors were chrome-Digizoid plated. Anything in here would remain here for as long as Surtremon willed. Martyaxmon knew that well enough.
At least, he thought he did. Yet it still wasn't the deepest, darkest place in the fortress. With nothing else to do and no energy left to pace, he simply lay in the dim light, staring ahead into nothing, with his chin resting on his paws. His eyelids were heavy with lack of sleep, yet sleep never came. Only the horror of those close to him, burning. Screaming.
He tensed, blinking to clear his vision, as he tried to remember. What had happened down there? Why did he not remember? He couldn't have been the cause of that destruction, he was sure of it. And yet he could still feel the blood on his hands.
Was this what it was like to be under the leech's influence? Nothing but an unfeeling tirade of destruction?
He narrowed his eyes. Whatever had been down there, it was no normal leech. He could imagine Rinkhalmon's smug, all-knowing grin just taunting him right now. As much as he wanted to have faith in his comrade…his friend…it was getting harder and harder.
The whole thing was getting harder.
He looked up at the blank ceiling, imagining Cephalomon's permanent scowl gazing down at him.
You should have gotten out while you had the chance.
The manticore mumbled. "I believe in the Fire Kingdom."
So did I. Now look where I am.
"That was your…mistake…" Martyaxmon's eyes darted down. "I made my own…"
You really think they will forgive you?
Martyaxmon reared up, staring at his former comrade. The giant's tentacles pulsated, the skin beginning to tear as yellow magma dribbled out. "I believed! I still believe! Our cause is just!"
What is a just cause without just members?
"I've known them my whole life."
So did I. They still killed me. A lifetime of belief killed me.
Martyaxmon took a step back, watching in horror as the giant's mask cracked open, revealing the nightmarish face behind. Cephalomon's skin was webbed with orange and red, the muscle bulging. The eyes glowed intensely with white fire.
"Those children and that Resistance killed you! They are the ones who should pay with their lives!"
Cephalomon stared, and without his mask his stare was one of sadness.
What have we been doing, old friend? How did we fail to see the path we were on?
It's too late for me. But not you.
They will kill you too.
Cephalomon's eyes faded, before his body split apart, engulfing Martyaxmon with the burning magma. He could see, hear and feel the desolation around him. He saw Digimon, soldiers and civilians alike, screaming in pain and begging for mercy as they ran. He turned, watching as the holy flames rushed towards him.
Martyaxmon jerked awake, and sat up, breathing heavily. He looked around, sweat dripping from his body. Just a dream.
But the nightmare was only half over. And no matter how hard he tried, he wasn't waking up from this half.
"Of all the people I ever thought I'd have to lock up…"
Rinkhalmon sighed, leaning back against the vat as it bubbled and fizzed with anticipation. He waved nonchalantly across the room, where Fornaxmon stood awkwardly, his shattered left arm bound up in an array of metal straps.
"You wouldn't know, would you? Well I suppose you might. But then you probably wouldn't remember him from back then. He was always such a good little soldier boy."
Fornaxmon turned his head slightly. "Commander Martyaxmon broke the rules. He had to be punished."
"Marty wasn't the only one who broke the rules." Rinkhalmon raised a non-existent incredulous eyebrow, before whistling aimlessly. "Still, I suppose it isn't your fault. You did as you were told. Can't exactly blame you for anything. As for him…well…that's up to the good General."
Fornaxmon thought about saying something, then thought a little more. He readjusted himself and leant back against the wall. Well, as much as he could given his rotund body.
"He didn't seem right. It wasn't him, the same Digimon who attacked me."
Rinkhalmon stared up at the ceiling. "Loneliness and confusion can make a person unrecognisable, my oven-baked friend. And make everyone else unrecognisable in their eyes."
"But Commander Rinkhalmon…" Fornaxmon trailed off, looking around the lab, particularly at the central table. He vented a little, sending soot all over the wall as the gears in his body whirred into overdrive.
The golem became aware of Rinkhalmon staring at him, a puzzled look on the serpent's face. He flustered; trying to find something to say.
"I wouldn't want anything like that to happen to you. I'm worried."
He watched, nervously, as Rinkhalmon continued staring with those piercing eyes. Several moments passed. Then the eyes rolled. Fornaxmon could hear the serpent mumble under his breath, something like, "You really were frazzled in the head, weren't you…"
Rinkhalmon beamed. "You've got nothing to worry about. Unlike Marty, I'm properly trained. I know exactly what I'm doing."
To reinforce his point he stuck a thumb towards his chest. Fornaxmon took note of the three vials of mysterious substance that toppled off the desk with the motion, and nodded regardless.
The serpent chuckled. "In all seriousness, this is delicate work. A lot of volatile stuff goes on here. Get something wrong, and there goes your sanity. You'll be a mindless husk with no control and no boundaries to your power. If you're not careful, this will destroy you."
He turned, wiping off the desk and preparing several pieces of complex equipment. Fornaxmon realised he wasn't going to be of much help, and decided to make off. Before he left, he turned his head, wanting to ask one more question.
"If it's so dangerous, why do we use it?"
Rinkhalmon paused, gripping a glass vial tightly in one hand. His eyelids were heavy, and he looked almost calm.
"There's a war on. Sometimes we have to take risks."
Fornaxmon waited for a moment, before making his way down the torchlit corridor. Rinkhalmon blinked, watching the vat of leeches out of the corner of his eye.
"Sometimes, the risks might just work out."
Fornaxmon slowed as he ascended the stairs to the main fortress. He paused halfway up, his mind racing. Three leeches coursed around his mechanical body, screaming angrily. They were demanding the return of the fourth, but of course, it was still lost down there, circling in whatever abyss lay below the lab.
And while it hadn't returned, something else had.
Fornaxmon retracted his cleaver, staring up at the light at the top of the steps.
"What the hell am I going to do?"
Surtremon sat wearily on the outside windowsill as he watched the troops practise. It had been a while since he'd done this, but they seemed to be getting on just as well. He had to admit, he was quite proud. Despite the blows they'd suffered they carried on; shooting perfectly, expertly manipulating their firepower, and building their strength. The soldiers he'd known and respected since he'd first joined the Fire Forces, all those hundreds of years ago. Maybe there was no idle chatter, or laughter, like there was back then. But still, they seemed to be getting along almost normally.
It wasn't perfect. But right now, he was taking the best he had. He sighed, clasping one hand over his mask. How had it come to this? An imminent siege, Commanders going awol, soldiers dying by the dozen. To top it all off, his headache had come back. There really was no respite for the wicked.
"Damn it, Martyaxmon."
Just saying the name brought back many memories; times his youngest and keenest Commander had done him and the Fire Kingdom proud, before all this madness. He cursed, shoving the sentiment aside. He had other soldiers to think of. As loyal as he knew Martyaxmon was, in these stressful times his composure had slipped. It was their lives at risk as much as it was the Red Beast's own.
His eyes drifted towards the far corner of the fortress, where he knew the manticore lay, awaiting the General's word.
"I can't risk any more needless loss. Any other time, I would send you away. But there's nowhere else for you to go."
He felt a twinge of pain and slumped a little, squinting up at the sun rising into the sky.
"What am I going to do with you, my Royal Commander?"
Journal Entry #801: Formerly the Elysian Courts
Managed to retrieve the final element just in time. The Obelimon is gone. Dissolving before our very eyes, and the rest of the land is following. The residents are panicking, but there's nothing I can do.
We are reaching crisis point. We need a miracle. At the very least, I need to know what is doing this, and why, before it's all gone.
Eloise groaned as she opened her eyes, but all she could see was white. Muscles aching, she pushed herself up onto her knees, and looked around, bleary-eyed. All around her, the world was shifting white and grey. The winds whipped at her face and her clothes, stinging where it hit. She shivered, doing up the front of her jacket.
There was a shuffling sound next to her and she turned to see Lobomon force herself up, spitting snow out of her mouth. "This is NOT what I was planning on doing this morning!"
"Lobomon, I'm glad you're alright. Where are the others?"
The wolf-warrior didn't need to answer, as the vast form of Chirinmon rose up behind her. Eloise felt a familiar warmth near her shoulder, and turned as Ladomon smiled weakly at her.
Lobomon turned round, looking weary. "Thanks, Chirinmon. You saved our lives back there. How did you get free of Inarimon?"
Chirinmon bowed his head, mumbling. "I had to get you out. I broke away from her magic, but it was hard. I'm sorry I fell."
Lobomon reached forward, hugging the divine beast. "You've got nothing to be sorry about, little bro."
Eloise started. "Grace! She's still in there!"
The girl stood up hurriedly, but stumbled, cursing, before she'd even moved a few feet. Her hand went to her thigh, running her finger over a large gash. She felt all sorts of similar pains over her body, and she stood, looking down at the shapeless mass that was once the citadel. "Shit…"
"Easy now, don't push yourself."
Lobomon walked over, and Eloise could see that the blonde warrior was hobbling herself. The wolf frowned, and stuck a finger in the air. "The storm's died down."
Ladomon floated over. "Perhaps Grace is doing something…"
"It doesn't matter! We need to get her out of there." Eloise's hand went for her D-Nexus, her hair whipping in the wind. However, her face fell as she fumbled, but to no avail. The device was out of her hands. She groaned, falling to her knees, her arms draped by her sides. "Damn it! Why does this always happen? Why does nothing EVER go right?"
Lobomon raised her hands. "Woah, calm down. She's a smart girl; maybe she can get out on her own."
"Maybe, if that psychotic brat hasn't slaughtered her yet!"
Ladomon draped her tail over Eloise's shoulders, nudging the side of her head. "Hey, it's alright. Don't panic."
Eloise's gaze fell down towards the snow, and she held her arms tightly around her. "She's just a little girl. I know we're all in this together, but still...I feel responsible. It's my fault; I should have been looking after her." She looked up. "She might be able to calm Vulpimon down. We need her. But without my D-Nexus I can't do anything."
Lobomon stood over the girl, looking over her shivering form. She cursed; she wasn't feeling too sprightly herself, and her cutlasses also lay in the clutches of the wicked spirit.
Ladomon squinted. "Let me go in. If she's still in there, I can get her out."
Eloise raised a hand, stubborn for a brief moment. Then she relented. "Will you be okay on your own?"
The dragon nodded, determination on her face. "You stay with the others. Find shelter; if the storm builds again, you'll be vulnerable out here. I'm faster than you at the moment."
Lobomon nodded, and turned to Eloise. "She's right. We should go; it's not safe for us."
Eloise looked reluctant for a second, then her gaze fell. She nodded at her partner. "Go get her back, alright?"
There was a whisper as the sky serpent disappeared into the storm, twisting low to the ground towards the ruined palace. Eloise watched her go, until her form was finally obscured by the flurries. She felt a tap on her shoulder, and retreated with the other two. They ran as quickly as they could, protected from the worst of the storm by Chirinmon's great wings, which hung low and heavy.
Lobomon glanced sideways at the girl, who was silent, arms held tightly around her waist. She looked pale; almost grey. The wolf-warrior frowned. "You don't look so good."
Eloise smiled weakly, but said nothing. Lobomon stayed close, holding an arm up as the snow flew in from all directions. She muttered under her breath.
"Vulpimon, please...wherever you are, I'm begging you...stop this..."
Inarimon ran as the walls exploded behind her. She flung her arms wide, and the Kankomon came to her aid, converging back on the advancing witch. But no matter how many times she called them, they simply exploded, returning to her almost as soon as they'd left. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the wraith-like figure fluttering after her, her movements chaotic and unnatural, yet still unbelievably precise.
She turned and went for the nearest door, but it shattered in front of her eyes, sending shards of ice flying towards her seemingly out of thin air. She recoiled, covering herself from the worst of the vicious spray, but within moments her pursuer stood over her. Her sword arm was raised high, the tip glinting with menace.
Inarimon rolled without even looking, but she still felt the impact; time seemed to slow for a second, then the very air ruptured, forced outwards by a rapidly-expanding onslaught of ice. She ran in the other direction, clutching one shoulder. She was scared. Terrified, in fact. She'd never even imagined this much hatred and anger to come from a single person. And yet, somehow, it was exhilarating. Positively thrilling. She laughed out loud beneath her mask; that's right, she never even imagined this.
And she was loving it.
"You can't keep running from me! Banshee Sever!"
The floor beneath Inarimon exploded and she was sent flying, crashing into a wall at the end of the corridor. She giggled, watching from an upside-down position as the wraith rushed towards her.
"You are beautiful, did I mention that?"
"Silence, you foul creature. Flattery won't save your life."
"And outspoken too." Inarimon hopped sideways as another explosion sounded, causing the already half-collapsed corridor to shake worryingly. The fox girl landed on one foot, brandishing as many rods as she could handle. "Sigil Gheist!"
She didn't even bother to use an incantation; she just threw them at Marzamon, who suddenly found herself engulfed by Kankomon. The little spirits immediately got to work; tearing at her hair, clawing, biting, binding her down. But Inarimon had barely taken three steps back when they disappeared, vanishing in delighted puffs of smoke, and leaving Marzamon standing alone. The spirit tilted her head, her dead-looking eyes fixated on Inarimon. Her eyes betrayed no emotion, but they didn't need to.
Inarimon curtseyed. "You must be enjoying this as much as I am."
"Your smart remarks are pointless. Unlike you, I gain no pleasure from the death of innocents."
"Ah-ha!" Inarimon stepped back, as Marzamon walked forwards. "So it's us monsters you find pleasure in killing."
"Justice is worth any cost."
The corridor rumbled, and another section of roof collapsed, blocking Inarimon off from all her exit points. She laughed nervously, climbing as far up the rubble as she could, as Marzamon approached, seemingly not even treading on the ground.
"I wouldn't have thought a good little girl like you would be so blood-hungry."
Marzamon stopped, tilting her head once again. Inarimon exhaled, waiting for a response. The wraith's arms hung low, seemingly heavy.
"I am not a little girl."
Inarimon giggled. "Alright then, you're a stroppy teenager. Same difference."
"I am not a little girl. I am me. My convictions are my own, as are my actions, and my ultimate penance."
"It doesn't matter. Whether you're wearing that mask or not, you are Grace. Anything you do now, you answer for as a human. But I expect you already know that, don't you? Sigil Gheist!"
Without warning, Inarimon flung her arms forward, willing the Kankomon forward. But instead, a sharp pain hit her and she was flung back into the rubble. Dizzy from the shock and the pain, she watched as Marzamon stood over her, her grey figure shimmering in the dim light. Marzamon raised her sword again, and Inarimon raised her hands.
Or she would have, if she still had them.
The fox-girl let out a gasp, and leant up, catching sight of her missing appendages some way away, already dissolving. Her arms shook, and fell again, the sleeves in tatters around the wounds. She could do nothing but stare up as Marzamon brought the blade down, digging into her shoulder. Marzamon leaned in close. "I am no creature like you. Those who I kill deserve to be killed."
Inarimon leant back, giggling again, even as the pain increased. "You are so naïve. If you were really killing out of justice, you would have done so already."
"You don't deserve a quick death."
"You know I completely understand you, right? I'm just the same. The only difference is I don't need to make up excuses."
Marzamon twitched, and her other arm shot forward, clamping over the fox-girl's other shoulder and digging in with the diamond-tipped claws.
"I'm NOTHING like you! Cryonecrosis!"
Beyond the horrific pain within her arms, Inarimon became dimly aware of another pain building up where the girl's gauntlet held her. A burning, ripping sensation, as if her very core was being pulled away. She was half-tempted to watch, but decided against it. She was too exhausted at any rate. Yet still she continued laughing.
"All that pent-up anger. Loathing. Fear. Maybe even guilt. So much emotion, with nowhere to let it out. But you can't hold onto it forever."
"So you snap. You step over the edge. You hurt someone. And from then on, it's easy. You get good at it. Justifying yourself. Lying to yourself, just so you can carry on causing pain."
"YoU're a MonSTER…CryoNEcrosis!"
"In the end, you don't even need to justify it. Because there's no point hiding it. All you needed was a little push. One little push, and you've begun the journey into something glorious."
Marzamon took a step back, her upper body shaking unnaturally, blurring and contorting. Inarimon raised her one remaining arm, holding it out in front of her as tears ran down her cheeks, melding with the blood on her clothes.
"How fitting...to be torn apart...just like...that fool of a matriarch...my final masterpiece…my legacy…you are wonderful…"
Marzamon rushed forward with both blade and gauntlet, hacking and slashing, her eyes wide open as blood and data fragments exploded in all directions. Inarimon choked on the pain and erupted into howling laughter, that only increased in pitch and hysteric as her body was rent to pieces, until it was nearly indistinguishable from screaming. And all the while, the mad eyes of the banshee watched her; unforgiving, merciless and beautiful.
An icy claw closed around Inarimon's heart, and squeezed, crushing it outright. The wicked spirit breathed her last, her hideous cackle still hidden behind the blood-splattered grimace of her mask.
And yet still, like the monster that she was, the banshee continued.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, it was over. Marzamon stood back, swaying a little as she gazed up at the ceiling. The rumbling outside grew in intensity, and the walls shook again. Marzamon closed her eyes, and her form disintegrated, leaving Grace standing alone.
Immediately she stumbled, turning on the spot, disorientated. "What…where…what happened-Ladomon!"
The white serpent stood just around the corner, staring at the girl. Grace went to run up to her, but she stopped, catching sight of the dragon's horrified expression. Grace frowned, worried. "What is it?"
Ladomon hovered back slightly, shaking her head, unable to even get the words out. Grace realized that the dragon's gaze was flipping between her, and something behind her.
She turned, and looked down at the centre of the pile of rubble.
Ladomon could see the girl physically stiffen, her legs bending inwards from the abhorrent sight. Grace's hands went to her mouth and she fell to her knees, looking away.
For a minute or two, neither of them moved. Grace knelt hunched in the centre of the ruined corridor, her breaths heavy and disrupted. Ladomon hung back, hesitant to approach. There was a scattering of light as Inarimon dissolved completely, leaving only a few broken rods, two D-Nexus's and a couple of cutlasses to mark her presence.
Slowly, gingerly, Ladomon stepped forward, coming round the girl with shaking wings. Grace's hands moved to her stomach, clutching it tightly.
Ladomon stopped, and she gritted her teeth, looking away. What had happened? She'd seen it, and yet she still couldn't take it in.
"What happened? What did I do?"
Ladomon swallowed. "I don't know…"
Grace looked up, and her face was pale. She leant forward, pressing her palms into the floor. "I did it, didn't I? I…I killed…I couldn't see, I was so…I was so angry…what did I do?"
Her arms gave way, and she fell to the floor, sobbing hysterically. Ladomon rushed forward, bending her head down and nudging the girl. "It wasn't you. You didn't do this. It's not-"
There was a crash nearby, and the wall splintered. Grace looked up, panicking. The dragon looked down at her. "The citadel's still collapsing. I think the storm outside's getting worse. We need to get out of here."
Ladomon swerved in mid-air, locking eyes with the girl. "The others are waiting. They're waiting for you, Grace. Your partner needs you."
Grace looked up, hearing the raging blizzard outside as it increased in ferocity once again. She nodded, and quickly rushed over to pick up hers and Eloise's devices, and Lobomon's weapons. "Let's go."
The two of them turned and ran, twisting and turning through the corridors as the last remnants of the citadel began to break up. Grace could feel the exhaustion setting in, as her vision blurred and her mind raced. YEt still she ran.
Ladomon pulled back, hovering just beside her, her expression grave.
"You have to forget it, Grace. It's over. It wasn't your fault."
Grace's eyes were blank as she continued running.
For a few minutes, the blizzard had held back. Vulpimon had stopped, staring into nothing as she felt every move of her partner. The element spoke to her, sharing every emotion, every ounce of hatred, every fatal blow. The fox looked down, aware that her paws weren't touching the ground, instead balancing on the very ice that she carried within her body.
"She takes revenge…for me…"
Her partner's presence faded, and she felt the power rushing back into her, cascading all around and billowing out in waves.
"Revenge…I will take revenge for all…"
She broke into a run, the storm growing all around her. She couldn't see the ruins of the citadel, or the few small figures desperately clinging to life as they chased after her. She narrowed her pale eyes, focusing only on the far-away lights of the Fire Kingdom.
"Nothing left…no-one alive…only revenge…"
The cold was biting; Ladomon could feel her wingbeats slowing. Still she ran, trying to force her way through the blizzard, with Grace running along beside her; stumbling, but keeping pace. All the while the dragon looked left and right for any sign of the others.
"Eloise! Lobomon! Where are you…"
The wind slammed into her and Grace was caught broadside, falling backwards and sprawling on the ground. She rolled away, already half-buried in the rising snow, as Ladomon flew back to her. "Grace!"
The girl did her best to stand up, but the weather made it nearly impossible. Everywhere she looked was nothing but white, and the blizzard stung her eyes and face. Still she stood, and carried on, pulling her sweatshirt close as a pitiful attempt at holding back the wind and cold. "They can't have gone far. They wouldn't have. It would be suicide."
Suddenly she pointed. "Over there! I see something!"
Ladomon squinted. Through the mess of white she could see a form; a large, dark silhouette, spread out long and low. She rushed forward, with Grace keeping pace as best as she could, as they approached the form.
The kirin opened one eye, and raised his head slightly. He too had his wings spread out, although they were hanging low and tired. Beneath one of them, Lobomon knelt next to Eloise, who was hunched close to the holy beast's body. The wolf warrior looked up, and smiled. "Glad you could join us."
Grace ran forward, handing the two cutlasses over to Lobomon, who nodded in thanks. Grace turned to Eloise, with the girl's white D-Nexus in hand.
Ladomon rushed forward, nudging her partner's still body. "Please no…don't tell me she's-"
"She's very weak." Lobomon sat back against Chirinmon's body, obviously out of breath herself. "There's nowhere to go. The storm just keeps rising. We're as trapped here as we would have been in the citadel."
Grace lay the small device beside the older girl as Ladomon shook her head, beating her wings rapidly. "No…I won't believe it. We've got to keep moving…there's got to be a way out of this storm…"
Her eyes flicked over to Grace, who now stood beneath the very edge of Chirinmon's wing, looking out. All of a sudden the girl cupped her hands around her mouth, yelling out into the white abyss.
"VULPIMON! WHERE ARE YOU?"
She waited, but there was no answer. Her voice was simply whipped away by the winds. Grace turned, looking hesitantly at the others. Lobomon and Chirinmon, both at the last of their strength. Ladomon, the majestic serpent, looking defeated. Eloise, unmoving and still.
Grace clenched her fists. "I've got to go."
Lobomon shook her head. "Don't even think about it-"
"I have to!"
"For god's sake, Grace, I mean it." Lobomon sat up, her eyes weary. "Vulpimon's gone. She's snapped. She's the one doing this; she doesn't even know we're here. I'm sorry - truly I am - but there's nothing we can do for her now."
"But still, I have to try-"
Ladomon hovered forward. "Grace, the element shattered. You saw, right? That means that the full power of Ice is right now coursing through Vulpimon's body. Our bodies aren't meant to hold that much power. Sooner or later, the element will run dry."
Grace bit her lip. "Then we can't let that happen. We can't let the last Ice Digimon just die!"
Ladomon bowed her head. "I've got nothing. Once the element's gone, it's gone. There's no getting it back. But as we are, it's all we can do to ride out this storm. We can't run, and we certainly can't hide. We're all at risk here."
Grace lowered her head, staring at the ground. "Then it is up to me. She may be the last Ice Digimon, but she and I share a link. If anyone can save her, I can."
She turned, only for Ladomon to rush in front of her, spreading her wings wide as a barrier. "Grace, you'll die out there. We don't need any more death today."
The girl flinched, and Ladomon pulled back. Grace was silent for a second, before she looked straight into the white dragon's deep blue eyes.
"You risked your life to save me, even though I didn't deserve it. I have to do the same for her. At the very least, I have to try. I'm all she has left."
She reached into her pocket, pulling out her D-Nexus and holding it tightly. "I might be able to evolve for long enough to get close to her. This is my element too."
Ladomon looked at the ground. Grace stood firm. "Let me past, please."
Slowly, reluctantly, the white dragon moved aside. Grace stepped forward, raising an arm against the wind and the snow as it flew left and right. Ladomon watched her as she forced her way forwards.
Grace turned. "Keep the others safe until the storm dies down. If we aren't there waiting for you…tell Jack I'm sorry."
The girl raised an arm defiantly against the wind, the ice energy billowing around her.
There was a flash of white light, and Chionemon ran off into the deadly storm.
The wind buffeted her every which way, and the snow drove her backwards with every step, yet still Chionemon ran. Her head was down, and her arms were up in a feeble attempt to protect her from the storm. Despite the element being a part of her, she felt chilled to the bone.
She called out, but her words were lost in the whiteness. She stopped, calling again, but louder this time "Vulpimon…"
She squinted, her yellow eyes the only illumination in the oppressive whiteness. For a second she thought she could make something out in front of her; a lone figure, floating above the frozen earth. Beneath her mask, she gritted her teeth and carried on. It had to be. Nobody else could survive out here.
"Vulpimon, it's me. Please…you have to stop this…"
Through the terrible blizzard ahead, Vulpimon turned her head. "Why?"
There was a surge of wind, and Chionemon fell backwards, grasping at the ground in an attempt not to be swept up entirely. She leapt to her feet, but it was hard to carry on. The constant running was taking its toll on her body, and the storm was draining her energy.
"Please, let it go. It's not worth it. You're going to kill yourself, and hundreds of innocent Digimon."
"I don't care. So long as the tyranny ends."
"For god's sake, listen to yourself!" Chionemon ran again, but still the storm pressed back. The snow became razor-sharp; slicing into her arms as she forced herself forward. "This isn't right. You can't fight with hate like this; it'll only destroy you."
"What do you know of hatred!?"
There was a muffled wind, and suddenly Chionemon felt an impact to her chest. She cried out, and fell down, white and black dancing before her eyes. She raised her head, and the ghostly figure of her partner was still looking at her.
"I watched so many Digimon die for the sake of this war. I carried on, despite my own powerlessness. I carried on with the hope that this world could be saved. That my family could be saved. That the noble would triumph. But it's impossible to be noble. I see that now."
Chionemon crouched, unable even to move as the raging blizzard slammed into her again and again, filled with her partner's utter fury.
"Peace is impossible. Saving this world is a distant fantasy. This war cannot be won, or lost, for there is no justice either side. It can only be ended. I will end it or die trying."
"That's not what you think!"
"That's not what YOU think. You hypocrite, pretending to be a hero like the rest of them. I saw what you really are, back in the citadel. You are the same as me. Driven by hatred and revenge; you're not a hero, only a destroyer of evil. That's what you are. Don't you dare lie to me."
Chionemon raised a hand, barely aware of the data shifting as the storm pressed down on her. She struggled, digging into the ground as she pushed herself to her feet once again.
"What I did was wrong. I've made mistakes; so many mistakes. But I can't just give up on the right thing; I have to try and do something right, for once in my life."
Vulpimon's eyes flashed, and the storm stalled just slightly. The fox's voice echoed all around the desolate wasteland. "What's the point? There's only the enemy now. Only something to fight against; there's nothing left to fight for. I…I've got nothing left to fight for…"
Grace stood up, clutching her arm and shivering. She took a step, brushing her hair from in front of her eyes.
"You have me."
The storm built up again, the snow spinning in mid-air. Vulpimon watched as the girl slowly – agonizingly slowly – walked forward towards her. Twenty metres. Ten metres. The fox could see the tears on the girl's face, turned into little trails of frost running down her cheeks.
"You're right. I am like you. I'm one with your element. You're not the last guardian; not yet. I'm still right here with you, and I'll see it through to the end with you."
The girl reached forward, and flung her arms around her partner. Her grip was weak from the shaking, and she winced as her partner's spiky fur dug into her. But she didn't let go.
Vulpimon descended to the ground, dragging the girl to her knees. The fox wriggled back. "I…I can't…"
Grace pulled back. "I promise. I won't leave you."
"No, I mean…I can't stop this." The fox looked up, teary-eyed. "It's too late. I broke the element and it's loose. It's going to keep going until it runs out."
Grace looked around, watching as the white abyss closed in. Her partner cried out as the energy tugged at her very being, and Grace could see her data straining under the immense power. She grabbed her partner's cheeks. "You've got to pull it back!"
"There's no getting it back. It doesn't have anywhere to go."
Grace gasped, and raised her hands to her neck. "Yes it does."
She fumbled for what felt like an eternity, but eventually she pulled off her pendant. For a brief second she looked at it, the lapis lazuli reminding her of home, and her parents, and of Jack. She held it out. Vulpimon shook her head, but the girl was adamant.
"This has to work. Please…I know you're strong enough to fix this…"
Vulpimon's look steeled, and she bent her head, closing her eyes. "We both are."
Vulpimon reached around and fastened the necklace around her partner's neck, her fingers numb from the cold. She reached down and held the silver pendant, grasping it with all her might as she prayed. Vulpimon's head was bowed too, concentration lining her face.
The snowstorm rushed back and forth, sending icy shards every which way. The wind grew in intensity, knocking the two partners over, yet still they held onto one another, never letting go. Grace's hand was white around the pendant as she willed the element to return to its home.
Within her hand, away from her sight, the pendant began to glow. The snow pulled with all its might, wanting to be free, but the pendant called. Vulpimon gasped as she felt the energy trickle into her once again, the cold flowing into the stone. The wind slowed. The snow fell. The fog cleared.
Within minutes, the storm was over. Vulpimon opened her eyes, stepping to her feet as she looked down at herself. The stone pendant swung on her neck, feeling strange and unfamiliar, yet oddly comfortable.
There was a shuffling at her feet, and she shrieked as she saw Grace, huddled in a ball and shivering. She knelt down next to her partner, huddling up as close to her as she could with her warm pelt. "No! Grace! I'm so...so sorry...this is all my fault; I never meant to hurt you, or any of them. Please, stay with me…"
She jumped, feeling an arm around her body. She looked aside, as her partner smiled at her weakly.
"I told you, didn't I? We'll see this through to the end."
Vulpimon laughed, tears in her eyes as her head slumped to the ground. Blackness covered her vision, and she lay still, exhaustion and emotion finally catching up with her. Grace held her just a little bit tighter, before her own eyes closed.
The sun dipped low over the horizon as Chirinmon raised his head, clumps of snow falling off of it. He stood up and shook, shaking the excess snow off his wings as he looked skywards. The storm had stopped, and the sky was clear and cloudless.
He walked forward, leaving behind a large, dragon-shaped form in the snow, in which lay Lobomon, Eloise and Ladomon. The wolf-warrior opened her eyes first, unfurling herself and looking all around. "It's stopped…"
There was movement beside her, and Lobomon shook Eloise's huddled form. "Come on, girl, wake up. You can do it."
Eloise sat up, looking distinctly drowsy and more than a little blue from the excess cold. Ladomon rushed into her arms, wrapping her body around the girl's shoulders. "Eloise, you're alright!"
"Yeah, um…what'd I miss?"
She looked up, and scowled at the darkening sky. "Crap, how long have we been out?"
Ladomon shook her head. "I don't know…I tried to keep you warm, but I couldn't stay conscious. They must have done something though." She looked sadly out over the wastelands. "I hope…"
Eloise blinked. "Did…did Grace manage to stop Vulpimon…?"
The serpent shook her head, her eyes pointed low. "I don't know."
She looked up, seeing her partner's devastated expression. She huddled ever closer as Eloise got to her feet, staring around. There was a rush of wind and Chirinmon suddenly leapt into the air, his great wings scattering the snow all around. He gained height quickly, stopping about thirty metres up and hovering for a few seconds. Then he descended quickly, his landing a little bumpy. "I can see them. Over there."
He nodded in a direction, and Lobomon began to run, flailing her arms as she beckoned then others. "Come on! Hurry!"
They did so, running over the patchy snow until they came across Grace and Vulpimon, huddled in the snow. Lobomon knelt down, cursing under her breath as she felt for their pulses. Eloise held back, hands clasped in front of her face, not daring to say anything.
Lobomon sat back, and sighed. There was a movement and Vulpimon raised her head, looking more than a little dizzy. "Five more minutes…"
Eloise laughed out loud, and Lobomon reached forward and gently clocked Vulpimon on the back of the head. "You utter moron. Don't ever do that again, alright?"
Grace and Vulpimon unfurled, the fox looking more than a little sheepish. "Sorry. In fairness, I've had a really bad day."
"Do you know what I'd have done if I'd have lost you too?"
Vulpimon flushed, looking down at her feet. The wolf-warrior softened, and leant forward to give her old friend a hug. "It's alright now. You're with friends." She straightened up, looking the fox up and down. "I have to say, I like the new pendant."
Vulpimon blushed, and Grace chuckled, putting an arm around her partner. "If you take good care of it, it'll last a lifetime."
The group headed back to the ruins of the citadel, and found a small area around the side of the courtyard that was relatively out of the wind. Not that it was too bad now anyway. They sat in a circle, slowly warming up from the ordeal of the past day.
Eloise leant back, looking over the landscape. "Is it just me, or does the snow seem thinner than usual?"
Lobomon frowned. "Inarimon's work must have take a lot of strength out of the element. It wouldn't surprise me if these northern lands began to thaw."
Vulpimon sighed, looking down at her new pendant. "Well, then I guess it really is up to me." She stared forward, her chin resting on her paws. "Sorry, everyone. Really, I am; I dragged you all out here for nothing."
Lobomon shrugged. "You did what you felt you had to. There's no shame in trying to save somebody."
Eloise looked up. "I suppose then, we should head back in the morning. We'll be slightly later than we planned though. I hope Karatenmon's not too made with us."
The wolf-warrior sniggered. "I'd much prefer Karatenmon's wrath over whatever the hell Inarimon was trying to pull here." She frowned, and looked over at Grace. "What happened to her, anyway? Did she get away?"
Vulpimon felt her partner bristle, and looked up worriedly. Grace's eyes were distant. "She cornered me…I managed to fury-evolve, and we fought down there…and then…"
She trailed off, biting her lip. Lobomon and Eloise watched intently, when Ladomon flew forward.
"I found her. Inarimon tried to run, but…she got caught by the rubble." She grimaced. "It wasn't a pretty sight. Not suitable for children."
Grace looked at the dragon with a flash of annoyance, before settling with disturbed confusion. Ladomon shook her head, just slightly, and mouthed a 'ssh' at the young girl. Grace sat back, saying no more.
Eloise sighed, rocking on her knees. "Well, I can't say I'm sorry she's gone." She yawned, stretching as she got to her feet. "It's late. We should probably get a little more rest if we're travelling tomorrow."
Lobomon juddered as the vast form of Chirinmon she'd been leaning against let out a snore. Lobomon smiled, giving Chirinmon's flank a gentle pat as she repositioned herself. "You're way ahead of us, mate. You've done a great job today."
The others began to laugh, and Eloise lay down herself, pulling her jacket around her. Ladomon descended, twirling on the ground as she dug herself a nice little hole to rest inside.
Only Grace and Vulpimon were left, still staring up at the stars. Grace let out a little whistle. "You know, with all those clouds gone, this place really is amazing."
The fox smiled weakly. "I did like watching the falling snow though." She lay down her head, looking up with one eye. "Who knows, maybe with your help I'll be able to see it again…"
Grace lay back herself, huddled close to her partner. "Thanks, Vulpimon."
"Thank you. I owe you my life."
Grace exhaled gently as she closed her eyes. "We'll see this through to the end. I promise."
The two of them lay still, sleeping almost instantly. The air was nearly silent, and very still. The rubble lay eerie and quiet in the starlight, with the faintest signs of ancient writing scattered over the shattered walls.
There was a slight rustle as Ladomon opened her eyes, and reared up a little. For a moment she stared down at the young girl across from her, looking so innocent with her sleeping face. Ladomon looked, and her head began to hurt, such were the doubts racing through it.
Her gaze shifted to the sky, and the horizon to the south; even here, she could make out the faint glow of the Fire Kingdom's purge.
The dragon gritted her teeth. She wished Colchimon was here with her. He would understand.
Then again, maybe he wouldn't.
She didn't even understand herself. Her voice was quiet as she mumbled to herself, her words whistling away through the night air.
"Can we really bring peace to this world?"
Head heavy, she lay down again, and slowly drifted off into a troubled sleep.
A great clang resounded beneath the Infernal Fortress as Surtremon closed the door to the dungeons, before walking down the dark corridor. He stopped a short way in, kneeling down to look at his former Commander. Martyaxmon sat up, very wary. Still, the Red Beast bowed his head.
Surtremon nodded back. "It's a shame to see you in there, Martyaxmon."
The manticore didn't respond. Surtremon sighed. "I'm going to release you. You're to prepare for battle in a couple of days time, as expected."
Now Martyaxmon did look up, puzzlement on his face. "You're willing to trust me? After what I did?"
"Not entirely." Surtremon slid a few pages of parchment beneath the cell door, some of which had been scrawled over with red lines. "I trust your skills, but I'm afraid your judgement has been lacking. You will lead the defenses; the Fire Forces could still use some coordination."
Martyaxmon scanned the plans briefly. "You're sending me out on the front line?"
Surtremon nodded again. "I'm sorry. I can't have you near the source; not again. Rinkhalmon will take care of the Fire Tyrants, and Fornaxmon will aid defenses at the inner gate. Those children will want to reach the source; it has to be protected at all costs. I hope you understand."
The manticore nodded. "I understand completely." He ground his teeth, hesitating for a moment, before speaking again. "The thing is, General, I'm not sure you do."
Surtremon blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I've fought those children, General. Multiple times. I felt I could defeat them each time, and yet they've constantly come back. Even with the Fire Tyrants, I doubt we can keep them away. To face them in direct combat like this is suicide. There's no way we can win."
Surtremon narrowed his eyes. "You are my soldier. You pledged allegiance to me, and to my decision. You agreed with the great cause along with everybody else. And now you would run away from it?"
Martyaxmon stepped back, flinching at the venom in Surtremon's voice. "I'm just saying…is there no other way…?"
"Such as what? Surrendering everything we've done? Are you willing to waste the death of your friend? Because I'm not."
Martyaxmon had no answer. Surtremon closed his eyes, standing tall. "I respect the Resistance. Especially those children. In my heart I don't wish to harm them. But I must fight for the greater cause. For a better world. No matter the sacrifices. If I must, I will kill each and everyone one of them in order to end this." The great knight clenched his armoured fists. "There's no way we can lose; right is on our side. If you do indeed believe we can make a better world, you would do well to remember that."
Gently, he reached out and tapped the lock of the cell, which opened in response. He turned, and began to walk away. Martyaxmon stepped out, shouting at him down the corridor. "General, if we go out there against them, you'll have given us all a death sentence."
Surtremon paused, and looked back. "You're wrong. On the day, you will march out there and prove it."
Martyaxmon opened his mouth, but the great knight raised a hand. "That's my final say. If you refuse, you will no longer be a member of the Fire Forces. You will be marked a deserter and a traitor, and I will have you executed. Am I clear?"
The Red Beast's eyes widened, and he fell silent. Surtremon carried on, marching up the steps to the main fortress.
"I'm sorry. I can't take any more chances. On you, or on anybody else."
The great metal door at the top of the steps swung shut, leaving Martyaxmon alone in the dark.