Phoukamon flinched, and fell backwards, clutching their chest.
They leapt to their feet and ran forward, peering over the wall as the fortress loomed ominously. The resistance were still fighting back the remaining Fire Forces, tired but winning. It wasn't them Phoukamnon was paying attention to.
The spirit dropped down, their pupils shaking as they shifted colours.
"No…it didn't…I have to…"
"I can't. It'll find me."
"They won't survive. We'll lose them."
"We'll lose everything if we lose us."
"We've lost them!"
"I'm not scared!"
They took a breath, their nails scraping the wall as they gritted their teeth. A tear fell down their furry cheek.
Alfheimon hovered a few inches off the ground, unmoving. Everybody watched, struggling to get to their feet. Kai stared, horror mounting over his face. "Eloise…?"
Rinkhalmon sniggered, tiptoeing forwards. "Well, now that we're at the appropriate point in negotiations, perhaps I could ask you a favour?"
Alfheimon turned her head towards him, before lunging at an impossible speed, her blade morphing mid swing into a great swinging halberd as she aimed for his neck. Rinkhalmon raised his arms, ducking back away from the swing, but the arc of light caught him full in the torso. The warriors watched as he was blasted back, spinning into a wall with an immense crack. He coughed, blood spilling from his mouth, and crumpled to the floor.
Achromon slowly hovered forwards, his claws raised. "Eloise, please, stand down. We're your friends. We can help you."
He stopped as Alfheimon's mirror flicked towards him. There was a shimmer in the air and suddenly she was upon him, her bladed arms moving in an upward sweep. Before he could move the force struck him, sending him crashing into the ceiling and then back down to earth. Immediately the intense pain hit him, and he looked up, just in time to see pieces of his left bone wing clattering to the ground behind the avenging angel.
Ladomon rushed forwards, ramming her little body into Alfheimon's perfect form as she tried desperately to push her partner back. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? STOP IT!"
The angel turned as Cratomon rushed towards her, both arms raised. Alfheimon held up her own arms, but Cratomon grabbed them, pushing them away with all his might. "I know you can hear me! This isn't right! You can't-"
He was promptly silenced as Alfheimon's leg lashed out, sweeping him off his feet. As he fell she brought her other leg down and swung, hoisting Cratomon and throwing him away. She stood still for a moment, then began to hover towards him, raising her blade arm.
"NO!" Jack raised his D-Nexus, but his knee gave way and he fell to the ground, losing his grip. Grace and Vulpimon were more successful; in a flash they were Chionemon and Alopemon, and they ran as fast as they could.
The projectiles struck the back of Alfheimon's legs, and she stopped, looking down at herself and giving Chionemon and Alopemon time to rush in front of Cratomon. Chionemon stuck her arms out. "Stop! We don't want to do this!"
A tiny barrage struck Alfheimon on the back of the head, and she turned, her attention diverted again. Velocimon stood there, One hand holding Aaron's D-Nexus, his other pointed straight at her, the gun barrels glowing.
"What have you done?"
Perimon flapped clumsily forward, pushing the lizard back. "Velocimon, no…it wasn't her fault…"
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"
Perimon pushed. "Please…it was an accident…"
Quick as clockwork, Alfheimon raised a bladed arm, which morphed into a vast scythe-like device, and spun, sending vast arcs of light in all directions. The blast knocked everybody back with the force of an explosion, and there they stayed.
Nearly everybody. Alfheimon suddenly twitched, and she turned to see Nithhogg, holding its arms out and making strange gestures.
Come back to me.
Silently, Alfheimon glided towards it, causing it do lean back, holding its arms out in defence.
You belong to me!
Alfheimon drew her hand back and punched; a powered strike that sent pulses of light juddering through the rift. Nithhogg cried out in a hoarse whisper, shrinking back down, but Alfheimon struck again and again, each blow shaking the creature's link more and more. Despite the repeated attacks, Nithhogg remained intact. But it did scream with every hit.
Rinkhalmon held his injured arm as he leaned against the door frame. He smiled to himself. "Attagirl."
Still in pain himself, Kai crawled forwards to the coiled form of his partner, so far unnoticed by the attacking Alfheimon. He held the great wyrm's head up, and his partner's eyes flickered open.
"How do we stop her?" Kai leaned forwards, tears welling in his eyes. "We've got to stop this! How do we stop her? She's…she's going to destroy us all…"
Achromon closed his eyes. His voice was weak from pain. "I…don't know…this is nothing like…I've ever known before…"
Kai looked up in desperation, at the frenzied form of his friend, striking again and again at the unworldly creature, unrelenting, without feeling.
"I have to do something. This isn't her, this is her element…"
"Darkness…" Achromon's clenched his claws, trying to push his body up. "Maybe that's how. Maybe…"
He trailed off, not wanting to meet his partner's gaze. He didn't need to. Kai had figured it out. For a moment he knelt still, horror on his face. Then he steeled himself, and felt in his pocket for his D-Nexus.
Another scream penetrated the chamber, and everyone looked up to see Alfheimon blown back. Nithhogg was still shaking, but the rift was different. A crack had appeared, snaking out over the wall and the floor and the distorted space. Nithhogg itself was shimmering, almost as if it could be seen through water. No longer practically transparent, but translucent. And they could hear it. All of them could hear its screams.
Trilomon raised his head. "She's nearly broken through…"
Jack closed his eyes tight, crouched on the floor. "DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY IDEAS?"
Kai stood up. He was still wounded, and shaky, and his vision swam before his eyes, but he locked his gaze on Alfheimon and stood firm. Achromon held out his hand. "Take my power…take what you need…"
Kent looked up. "Are you sure about this?"
"No." Kai raised his hand, as a pitch black aura emanated from the tiny device. Alfheimon held back. Slowly, she turned, her mirrored head reflecting the pure darkness.
"I'm not sure. But what I am is very, very angry…"
There was a dark flash and Achromon dissolved, leaving Colchimon looking very small in the middle of the chamber. Rinkhalmon stepped back, clutching the wall as he grimaced. "Oh crap…"
Kai seemed to explode; dark aura flew out from him, leaving just a black silhouette in the midst of a swirling maelstrom of energy. The shadow morphed, twisting and popping and growing into something else. It crouched as each bolt of darkness hit it, but it remained standing.
As the darkness cleared, it revealed a tall, yet hunched figure, basically humanoid but also bestial and demonic. His arms were long and thin, and his legs were bent like those of a bird's, complete with claws poking out from the armoured feet. A thin, spiny tail swung lazily back and forth behind him. Every inch of his body was covered with armour just as intricate as Alfheimon's, although his was a mixture of pale as the moon and black as tar. Spines protruded from his shoulders, and he wore a tattered shawl over his upper body; grey, and covered with scrawled insignias. His face was hidden; partly by the cloak and partly by a horned mask, also etched with archaic symbols. Only his eyes were visible; two were wild, intense blue and darting every which way, and the third gazed forwards, with an intensity that could have cut through steel.
The beast shuffled, holding out an arm and revealing a huge, double-pointed scythe like the crescent moon. Alfheimon's own blades morphed into twin longswords, and she held them up, the edges glowing. She spoke. One word.
With a sudden move he swung, the scythe light as air in his one hand, and swiped to the left, pulling the chamber's shadows with the motion and slamming them into Alfheimon. She raised her arms, the light slicing through the darkness, but Svartalmon had already leapt forwards and brought the weapon straight into her side.
To everyone's shock and horror, Svartalmon laughed. "You poor, pathetic creature…"
For a second the angel flailed through the air, but she righted herself and began to charge back, the light intensifying on her gauntlets.
Svartalmon's scythe seemed to dissolve into him just as Alfheimon struck him in the chest, driving him backwards and up. The two struck the rock ceiling, but Svartalmon's tail lashed out, ensnaring her and throwing her away. They both hovered level with one another, brandishing weapons again. Svartalmon swayed. "Go on, holy one. Fulfil your duty."
"You will not escape. None of you shall escape. My power surpasses yours. You will face judgement for what you have done."
Svartalmon glanced down, his voice taking on an eerily cheery tone. "What I have done? Who here murdered their friend?"
"I'm glad you've forgiven yourself so quickly."
"Your accusations mean nothing." Alfheimon's twin sickles scraped against one another, her posture never faltering. "You have betrayed your comrades on multiple occasions and have meant to cause them harm. You have no grounds to judge me, nor anyone else."
"Look at you, once so adamant, so proud. Now reduced to a puppet. How you have fallen in mere moments." The demon's grip on his scythe hardened. "Blaming one another is pointless. You will still suffer greatly for what you have done. Allow me to fix you."
The scythe whirled in mid-air, and the shadows of the room whirled with it. Everybody backed as far as they could away, watching in terror.
The shadows coiled and stretched, forming waves and spears that lunged at Alfheimon from all directions. But she was too fast; she flew up, scaling the dark wall and diving down at him, blades unfurled. She slashed once, twice, sending him staggering back, but he swung the scythe again, slamming it into the floor and creating a crack.
Alfheimon's blades warped again, forming crossbows that released thousands of tiny spears of light, rushing towards the demon. He ran sideways, and her aim followed him, blasting out great chunks of the chamber in the process. Everybody else lay crouched against the ground, not even daring to look.
Svartalmon leapt, trailing darkness behind him as he gazed down. "I get the impression you're holding back."
"My battle is with you. The others will face their judgement separately."
Svartalmon twisted in mid-air, bringing the scythe down in a cleaving fashion that sent a bolt of darkness crashing into the angel and slamming her to the ground.
"Don't insult me! FIGHT me!"
The angel shot out of the dust cloud, arms outstretched as she slammed into the demon. Still she rose, driving her body with psychic force as she slammed Svartalmon into the rocky ceiling, and through it into the chamber above. Again and again they punctured through rooms, until Svartalmon wriggled free, throwing his adversary away. Slowly they hovered level with one another, the torches in the great central chamber flickering all around them as they both raised their arms.
In the deepest level of the dungeons, the fortress was beginning to give way. Great chunks of rubble crumbled from the holes in the ceiling and the walls, and the whole thing started to judder worryingly. Layer upon layer of fortified Digizoid it may have been, but it was not invincible.
Barely anyone moved, so shaken were they by the battle. Colchimon looked around, his vision smeared in red, as he desperately tried to see Ladomon. He saw her; a white streak, flat out across the chamber floor. He hurried over as fast as he could, coiling around her trembling form. "It's okay, it's okay. I'm here."
Her eye opened, and she looked up at him. When she spoke, her voice was a barely audible whisper.
"Can you feel it too?"
Colchimon nodded. While he was trying to keep it hidden his insides were on fire.
"Has it always been like this?"
"I don't know." Colchimon looked down. "Probably. Probably since the dawn of the Digital World."
Ladomon wailed, and curled up even further. "I hate it! I hate it all! Why was I part of this; it's like some sick joke! Please, Colchimon, make it stop!"
Colchimon couldn't. Weak and injured, he could only coil his own body around hers, providing what little comfort he could as he squinted through the dust.
Grace opened her eyes, looking around the darkness. She noticed Kent, limping badly, but heading towards the corner of the room. Towards Nithhogg.
She felt her brother move in her arms, and looked down at his face. He was white as a sheet, and his eyes were glazed.
He glanced up at her, but didn't say a word. Grace looked around desperately, trying not to fall into a panic attack, before standing up and rushing clumsily over towards Kent and grabbing his arm. "Please, stop them!"
Kent looked down. "I can't."
"You have to!"
"I need to stop Nithhogg."
Grace looked at the blue mass; she could just make out a couple of eyes staring out at her. "That thing?" Her voice cracked in distress and fury. "Eloise and Kai are gonna kill each other! We need to stop them!"
"We need to stop this. That's why we came down here."
"No!" Grace tried to push him back, shaking her head violently. "You've got to…we've got to…"
Anger flashed in Kent's eyes, and he pushed her away, looking down at her. His stony façade cracked. "Leave me alone!"
"This thing isn't important! Our friends…"
"It's going to escape; I can't just let it destroy everything we've worked for!"
"What's it got to do with you?" Grace clenched her fists, tears streaking down her cheeks. "It's not up to you! We're a team…we have to work as a team…don't you care about them-"
"Of course I do!" Kent fell to his knees, staring wild-eyed into Grace's own panicked eyes. "I want to help them, but I don't know how, and I'm not strong enough even if I did, and Aaron's gone and they've gone and I'm all that's left to protect you and your brother! I don't know what to do and I'm trying to make a choice!"
Grace was shocked into silence. Kent stood back up, holding his left arm. "We're still here. We've got to do something. Kai meant to buy us time. That's what he wanted. And to save Eloise." He looked up. "I hope…"
The girl let out her breath. "You're right. I'm sorry."
"You've done nothing wrong."
Grace flinched, but ignored the friendly lie. "What do we do?"
"We've got to reseal the rift. Or destroy Nithhogg. It can't be allowed out."
The two of them turned to face the azure patch again, where the creature huddled, eyeing them with something like contempt.
Leave me alone.
Kent grabbed his D-Nexus, his gaze darkening. "None of this would have happened if you had just stayed where you were."
I had to leave.
I had to leave the empty place.
"You had no right to destroy this world." Kent raised the device, glancing down at Grace beside him, who was doing the same. "You're not welcome here. We came to save the world from you, and that's what we're doing."
Nithhogg looked around in panic as Vulpimon, Trilomon, Velocimon and Perimon stepped forwards, all battle-worn, but still ready to fight. Velocimon pointed. "I don't care where you came from, you hideous thing, but we're sure as hell not letting you any further."
Kent shoved Grace to the ground, but felt the dagger slash his arm. Velocimon and Vulpimon also fell, struck by needles themselves. Vulpimon got to her feet quickly, but Velocimon remained on the ground, clutching Aaron's D-Nexus as he spasmed uncontrollably. Kent meanwhile winced in pain as a cold grip spread out from the wound. Grace wriggled out, and looked at Rinkhalmon, who was crawling towards them, both his legs now defunct. He was shaking his head.
"You really are cruel, cruel people, aren't you…"
"That's it!" There was a flash, and Chionemon stood before Rinkhalmon, her own daggers in hand. "You've hurt every single one of us! This is it for both you and that thing!"
"He just wants to be a part of the world and you won't let him. You toss him away." Rinkhalmon began to make cooing noises. "That's alright. Daddy's here. Daddy will help you."
Vulpimon growled. "You're finished, Rinkhalmon."
Rinkhalmon's arm moved faster than he did; most of the blades were deflected, with only a few sinking into his arm. He seemed to ignore them, still rambling to himself. "Daddy's okay. Daddy can handle it. Daddy can handle all of them."
Velocimon got to his feet, still shaking. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Rinkhalmon finally seemed to notice them. He smiled, but his voice was tinged with sadistic malice. "I'm not about to let you ruin everything I've worked for, now that it's so close to coming true."
"You don't have a choice."
To the aghast faces of the remaining warriors, Rinkhalmon stood up. Both his legs popped, then his remaining arm. His good eye twitched, and he let out a laugh. "That should do the trick."
Perimon ground his beak. "You've got to be kidding me…how the flying hell is he-"
Rinkhalmon held up a finger, and pointed. "You saw what Nithhogg can do to a body. I regretfully don't have much bodily control at the moment so I'm partially relinquishing bodily control to him." He sighed, and pulled out a needle. "Wonderful though this pain is, I shall quench it for now. I believe I should really focus."
Kent looked back and forth between Nithhogg and Rinkhalmon, and his eyes narrowed. "Just when I think you couldn't get any more depraved…"
"Not at all." Rinkhalmon smiled, flexing his arms (or was Nithhogg flexing them for him?). "I guess you could say I'm just standing up for my adoptive child."
Kent pulled out his D-Nexus. At the side of the room, Jack shifted himself, reaching for his own and trying to stand up. The rest of the warriors braced themselves.
Get rid of them, daddy.
Rinkhalmon clicked his fingers, and green fire erupted from his arms. He smiled savagely.
"Let's finish this!"
Alfheimon moved at light speed through rooms and corridors, twisting and turning as the darkness cut great swathes through the architecture behind her. She turned right into another corridor, before doubling back on herself and heading in the opposite direction just as the blackness reached her. Another turn, and a couple of trailing shadows flickered out of her field of vision.
"There you are."
She rushed forwards, clasping her hands together, before holding her right one out and running her hand along the wall. A white streak followed her movement along the stonework, and she turned, just as Svartalmon turned his head towards her.
In a single movement she flung her hand forwards, and the wall exploded into light, the force sending the demon hurtling down the corridor. She didn't relent; rushing forwards she grabbed him mid-fall, slamming him into the wall at the end, before throwing him into the giant central chamber to the left. He hung in free space for a minute, disorientated, and giving her enough time to shift her blades yet again. A volley of spinning blades of light exploded from her wrists, filling the entire area.
But he was no longer there.
She looked up, just as the demon crashed down upon her, scraping her body down the side of the stone wall with his great talons. He bent down briefly, the darting eyes of his mask reflecting from her own mirrored one.
"Are you frightened?"
"I have nothing to fear from you. Absolution!"
A savage kick sent Svartalmon crashing upwards into another wall, which also exploded and sent him flying. Alfheimon rose into the air, her armour slightly cracked as she clasped her hands together once again.
The air shimmered behind her, before seemingly tearing open, revealing a dazzling light. Svartalmon looked away, before lowering his head and rushing around at her. He didn't reach her, though. There was a flash, and something crystalline coiled towards him and struck him in the chest. He reeled back, feeling the gouge across his torso, before ducking down as the creature dived at him again. It looped round, and revealed itself to be a vast, winged serpent, seemingly made out of thousands of rainbow lights, almost as if it were crystal. It opened its mouth in a silent scream and rushed down towards him again, its teeth razor sharp.
A nest of shadows reached down from the ceiling and ensnared the creature, dragging it away and constricting it. It writhed, trying to get free, slicing at the darkness. There was a strange, unearthly sound, and the serpent dissolved, the particles rushing back towards the portal, closing it.
Alfheimon's fist came from out of nowhere, sending the demon reeling. He brought his hand up and caught the second punch, before bringing his head forwards into hers. Both were forced apart by the impact, but Svartalmon recovered first, holding out his hand as a torrent of shadows rushed forwards. Alfheimon was forced back, but she moved her arms and sliced them away, instead sending arcs of light towards him. Svartalmon slashed, catching nearly every projectile before it struck him, but Alfheimon was relentless; in a mere second the portal had opened again, and a swarm of ethereal birds rushed out, converging on the shadow demon and tearing his shadows from him.
"Your beasts don't belong in this world!"
"Neither do you."
The shadows erupted from Svartalmon like a second skin, driving the birds away, and he soared upwards, spinning his scythe rapidly. "You have no power over me! I am inevitable! This world will fall into darkness and you will follow it. That's the way it's always been."
Alfheimon's blade rushed up and struck the shaft of the scythe. The two celestial beings traded blows, matching each other for strength, for speed, for endurance, as they hurtled around the chamber, which trembled around them, their raw power shaking it the dead Obelimon to the very core. Already the parapets above were collapsing, and the alcoves inside were caving in. Far up, in one of the highest rooms, an altar glowed faintly, before cracking, and crumbling to dust, the element having been taken long ago.
Alfheimon flew upwards, crossing her blades and releasing millions of tiny points of light, which forced Svartalmon down to the ground, ripping at him like a rain of needles. Her voice echoed around the room, echoing like a deity's command.
"It is you who will fall. This world belongs to the just. It will be purged and reborn anew, as a dwelling for all those who deserve it!"
Svartalmon sneered beneath his mask. "You would count yourself amongst those? With the numbers you've killed?"
"My crimes have been just. But I am not worthy. I will be the last to die."
"And until then, you'll keep killing. You'll render everything to ash before the world is pure. Everyone and everything has darkness within them. You can't win."
"Life will persist. Life always persists, even if it evolves from chaos itself."
"Light and Darkness. Both exist only to destroy what they are not." Svartalmon allowed himself a chuckle, his scythe spinning more rapidly now. "No wonder we are drawn to one another. We cannot exist without one another, and without the two of us together, this world cannot exist. You would condemn this world?"
"I would condemn your world. And the evil that propagates through it."
"Then we are at an impasse. Destruction is the only option." Svartalmon let go, the scythe spinning freely towards him and forming a circle – no, an orb – of pure blackness.
Alfheimon held out her hands, but she was too slow; the orb exploded, unleashing a wave of pure dark energy that completely engulfed her.
Ladomon cried out in pain, and her eyes snapped open. Gritting her teeth, she pulled herself up, Colchimon following her as she looked around.
The black dragon's eyes were wide. "What happened?"
"Eloise! She's…" Ladomon looked at the floor. "So much pain. The element's protecting her. No, protecting itself. But still, so much pain. It's tearing me apart."
She looked up. "We have to stop this. We're the only ones who can."
Colchimon looked around. The chamber was in uproar; Rinkhalmon was rushing, countering every attack thrown at him by the weary warriors. Velocimon glanced at them as he ran past, and pointed. "Up there. Can you make it?"
Colchimon gritted his teeth. "We have to. Come on, Ladomon, we'll do it together."
The two dragons mustered the last of their power, forcing themselves to rise up, towards the break in the ceiling, and further, where light and darkness clashed.
A flurry of ice shot through the air, digging into Rinkhalmon's shoulders as he rushed forwards with blades in hand. He swiped left, then right, as Chionemon kept leaping back, dodging his moves. "Frozen Dag-"
The serpent leered forwards, grasping her outstretched hand. The rings extended, and the daggers pierced through his own palm, but he ignored it, instead breaking the icy blades off and slashing sideways. Chionemon fell to the ground, clutching at her sternum as blood began to flow.
"That was close." The serpent grinned. "A little higher and your pretty little mouth would have been a whole lot quieter."
"Bastard! Silurian Sabre!"
Kent swiped from behind the ex-Commander, but his aim was slightly off; the energy arc glanced off Rinkhalmon's torso and merely sent him staggering sideways. He turned, eyes darting every which way, but something clasped his legs and threw him upwards. Seismon pulled back his fist and sent it flying forwards as Rinkhalmon fell, sending the serpent skittering over the stone floor.
The three attacks hit empty rock, as Rinkhalmon had already scurried to safety. He smiled, and held out his hand as the warriors rushed towards him.
A burst of acid fire erupted from his palm, smothering the attacking warriors and sending them back down to the ground. Rinkhalmon lowered his arm, catching his breath, which was more difficult than it seemed due to the amount he was laughing.
"Is that really the best you've got? I thought you would be good at this by now! What, don't tell me you're tired already? I haven't finished yet."
Alopemon spat, forcing herself to her feet and firing icicles again. "What more do you want with us?"
The serpent gazed over at Nithhogg, who was crouched just behind the rift, a look of intense focus in its eyes.
"Not long left. However this ends, I'm trying to enjoy myself while I still have a chance." He smirked, raising a fan of small, poisoned blades. "I'd advise you to do the same."
"Son of a bitch!" The serpent found himself knocked to the ground yet again as Mistramon pecked and slashed with his immense beak and talons. The snake man slashed back as best he could, but Mistramon didn't seem to notice the wounds, such was the anger in his eyes.
"I don't get it? Why? Why out of all the monsters we've fought, all the enemies we've defeated, why are you the one left over? Why is it always YOU!"
A green explosion sent the bird hurtling skywards, and he banked away, just avoiding Rinkhalmon's blades as they hurtled past him. He looped back round, his tail glowing intensely.
The blade came rushing down, but the target was never reached. Rinkhalmon's right arm was raised, and where his hand had been severed, a glowing blue substance grasped the raptor's tail blade. Rinkhalmon humphed, before grabbing the tail with his other hand and slamming the great bird of prey into a wall.
Jack cried out, trying to stay standing on his injured knee, but he was too far away to be of any use. Mistramon tried to raise his head but the serpent was on him in an instant, bringing back his good hand and slamming it into the bird's head. As he did so, he began to talk again, emphasising each punch with specific words.
"In answer to your question, it's really quite simple!"
Mistramon snapped at the arm with his beak, but he was at the wrong angle, and the bone fist instead struck his left eye.
"Don't you get it yet? I'm stronger than you, I'm smarter than you, and the reason I'm still here is cause I do what nobody else has the gall to do!"
Frantically, Jack pressed the centre button on his D-Nexus, dropping it in the process. It worked though; Mistramon disappeared in a flash, and scrambled out of the way before Rinkhalmon could grab him, glaring back all the while. Rinkhalmon seemed in no hurry to move. His head tilted back, and he regarded the exhausted warrior with his lazy expression.
"I am a monster. The very fact that I'm a monster is the very thing that has kept me alive. Because where everyone else would hesitate, due to fear, or morality, I will take the risk. That's why I'm still alive and still fighting." He chuckled. "If you think about it, morality's the only thing stopping you from killing everyone you know. This game is all about survival, by any means necessary. And I don't have anything to lose; only that still to gain. So, to completely answer your question, Perimon…"
He stood up, and his makeshift blue hand flickered, just for a moment, and he turned to face the seven warriors before him.
"I'm the only one left because I'm a monster. And in the end, we're the only ones who get what we want."
He raised his hands, fire travelling up both of them as he adjusted his footing.
"Shall we continue?"
The chamber rumbled, as if to acknowledge him, and more stone fell from the ceiling and walls. In the corner of the room, where Nithhogg lay huddled, the crack in the seal widened, spreading ever so slowly across the last barrier between worlds.
Ladomon and Colchimon were able to easily locate their partners due to the intense noise, but they had to hide almost instantly as a swarm of dark pellets flew over their heads. The white dragon yelped as Alfheimon soared over them, running her hand over the wall and seemingly dragging it with her. The energy trial exploded as she struck Svartalmon, sending him skidding backwards, before finally toppling.
Not wasting any time she rose directly above him, blades stretched out as she dived down.
The blades struck nothing, as Svartalmon disappeared in a cloud of shadow. The angel immediately ducked as the scythe flew over her head from behind, and lashed out with her leg to where the demon had materialised. He caught her, throwing her instead and slashing at her with the weapon for good measure.
Ladomon's eyes were wide, and she shook her head. "I…I don't know who to…"
"They've both lost control. They don't know what they're doing."
"Well what do we do then?" Ladomon was pleading now; the pain through her body was more intense than ever and she was more afraid than she'd ever been before. "You always know what to do; you have to think of something!"
"Not like this! I've never done anything like this!"
Ladomon flinched, before glancing up. "Kai. Maybe Kai'll listen."
She flapped her wings and pushed on upwards, her dread and determination giving her the strength to fly higher. Colchimon flew after her, hissing at her to return, but she shook her head, planting herself firmly in front of the demon's mask. The single eye immediately snapped to her, the pupil piercing into her heart.
"Stop this…please…no more of this…"
Ladomon's voice was deathly quiet, and there were tears in her eyes. Svartalmon was unmoving. He didn't even recognise her.
Colchimon flew over, yelling out. "Is this what you wanted? Is this what you were both fighting for?"
Ladomon turned, eyes wide. "Colchimon, look out!"
Colchimon barely dived in time. Alfheimon's glowing blade scraped him across the back of the wings, but before he could cry out the shockwave struck him, sending hurtling across the chamber. The ceiling groaned; the fortress itself was falling apart from the chaos and collateral. A great crack appeared and suddenly the ceiling was falling down, making the whole fortress shake. Ladomon flew as fast as she could, helping Colchimon out of the way before he was crushed beneath the rubble. Desperately looking for shelter, she stole a glance at the two warring beasts, who didn't even notice them.
"Ladomon, quickly, in there!"
Colchimon pointed with his tattered wing; an alcove on a wall that was still just standing. They rushed inside, curling up just as another yell echoed across the chamber.
Another blast hurtled across the chamber, taking another chunk out of the stone wall. The entire fortress was trembling now, each crash resonating through the dying building. Alfheimon swung to a halt, knocking falling rubble out of her way. "Your attacks are chaotic. You will succumb eventually."
Svartalmon laughed. "You haven't seen the half of my power."
"So far you have succeeded only in destroying the world and the people around you. As seems fit from you."
"You were holding back for the others?"
Alfheimon's wings fluttered, all of them worn and tattered from the battle. "The others are irrelevant. I despise inefficiency."
Svartalmon gripped his scythe. "Well then, perhaps it is time we broke free of our confinements."
Without warning he crouched down and leapt, punching through the weakened ceiling and into the chambers above. Alfheimon followed instantly, and the two warriors rose through the floors of the fortress in a blaze of trailing light and shadow.
The fortress roof burst open, and the two warriors hovered, just above the shattered remains of the Infernal Fortress. The evening sun bore down on them, and all around they could see the fortress grounds, lit up like a wildfire. Already the warriors below were gathering, pointing, letting out sounds of alarm. They didn't matter. They were like insects. Up here, at the convergence of the sea, sky and land, they could see over the entire continent.
"Do you not remember fighting for this?"
Svartalmon's voice was low, but dangerous. Alfheimon didn't even glance around. "Everything before is irrelevant now."
"All we went through together. All those memories. Those battles." Svartalmon gazed wistfully up to the sky. "Was there any point to any of it? At the end of it all we've still ended up here."
Alfheimon's head turned, just slightly, enough to make the sun reflect off of her mask.
"Maybe before, I had an idea of how to save this world. I was too noble. Idealistic. This world can't be saved. It can only be made right."
"And you feel you are the one to deliver that?" Svartalmon gripped his scythe, his cloak billowing out behind him. "You're unbearably naïve. It must be a human trait. Even now, the humans below fight the creature in the rift. It's pointless. Everything eventually falls to conflict. There's no way of stopping it."
"I will stop it. The free world is won through power and resolve. I will bring about that free world. And I will stop you."
"You don't have a prayer."
"I am the liberator of this world!" Alfheimon flew forwards, bringing both blades down in an X-shape as light blasted out, illuminating the crimson sky.
"There's nowhere left to run! This ends now!"
Svartalmon rubbed his chipped mask, before preparing to loop round for his retaliation, the tips of his scythe tainted with deepest black.
"Yes, this is the end…"
With a cry of rage he rushed forwards, swinging the great black blade.
Down in the courtyard below, Karatenmon threw his arms wide, downing two approaching Fire soldiers, and looked up, squinting into the sky, as two lone figures sent trails of energy hurtling through the atmosphere.
"What the hell…"
Distracted, he didn't notice the Sethmon crawling towards him until Lobomon struck it with a roundhouse kick, sending it running away, yelping. She stood up, looking around with a confused expression. "I don't get it. They're running. They've never run before."
"Look. Above the fortress."
Lobomon followed his gaze, and her eyes widened. "Is that…that can't be…"
More and more resistance members began to gather round, torn away from their own battles as their opponents had suddenly lost all will to fight. Some were running. Some were stock still, seeming almost dead to the world. Yet others, those most tied to the flame, had died on the spot. Lobomon gritted her teeth. "Something's happened in there. Something big."
The watchers scattered as bolts of light rained down upon them, crashing into the ground and into the fallen bodies of comrades and enemies alike. The two hybrids swept low, unaware – or worse, uncaring – of their allies watching below.
Lobomon whirled around, panic in her eyes. "Is everyone alright?"
A few mumbles and unsure whispers were her answer. She turned back to Karatenmon, who stared skywards, shaking his head just slightly and muttering to himself. "What do we do?"
He didn't respond. Lobomon walked in front of him and grabbed his shoulders. "Karatenmon, what do we do? Is there anything we can do?"
Still no answer. He merely lifted his right hand and placed it over his torso, covering a red stain that was now becoming prominent. Lobomon looked down and recoiled her grip. "Karatenmon…"
Suddenly the tengu looked older than she'd ever seen him. Mottled feathers streaked with grey and blood, cracked and missing armour, torn clothes, tired eyes. He seemed to be staring through her, as if trying to comprehend something.
Lobomon gritted her teeth, looked up again, then looked at the vast wall of the fortress, which appeared to be trembling, with chips crumbling away from its highest points. Making up her mind, she wrapped Karatenmon's arm around her shoulders and turned to the others.
"Everybody fall back! Help everybody who needs it back to Grid Central."
A majority of the resistance looked stunned, but Lobomon began walking. "That's an order! Unless you want to be stuck out here!"
Slowly, held back by the wounded and exhausted, the resistance obeyed. Chirinmon landed, only just able to fly, and bent down to allow himself to be loaded up with the unconscious and those too weak to walk, aided by Seahomon and Gwappamon. Gargomon helped along Sistermon, the puppet hobbling along on one leg. The two Monitamon walked solemnly, one of them housing a broken monitor, and the other holding Dracmon's buckled mask. Yasyamon held back, supporting Karatenmon's other arm as he helped Lobomon walk him back. He glanced up, huffing to himself.
"Don't be too shocked if I ask this, but are you really sure about this?"
Lobomon shook her head, looking almost bereft. She flinched at another impact from above her head, and hurried up the pace. "It's up to them now. We'll be waiting."
Wind and flame engulfed energy and ice, and yet still Rinkhalmon ducked and dived, laughing as he leapt beneath Seismon's swinging blade and lunging as Chionemon dived out of the way, flinging daggers as she did so. The serpent stood up, readjusted his bent arms and focused his movement towards Jack, shuffling agonisingly slowly towards Nithhogg.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Half a dozen blades clattered from the rock, and Jack overbalanced, scraping his body down the sides of the crumbling stone. Rinkhalmon was over him in an instant, but Cratomon rushed forwards, grabbing his tail and flipping him over his head and into the floor behind him.
Ancient fossils sprouted from where Cratomon stood, rushing all as one towards the snake before his flames could reach them. They bit and slashed and slammed their entire bodies into him, forcing him back. Cratomon swung his blade back for another attack, when Jack yelled out, "BEHIND YOU!"
He turned too late, as something liquid yet firm wrapped around his neck and pulled him to the ground. He struggled in vain as Nithhogg's tendrils pulled him up against the wall, with only a thin layer of matter separating him from the void beyond. He reached up, tried to break the fragile looking arms that held him, wrapped around his face, but it was like trying to break titanium. Nithhogg's head turned and those huge, painful eyes stared into his, the pupils vibrating just slightly.
"You hurt us."
Its voice was clearer now; syllables and words piercing through the weakened rift. Cratomon was now slamming his blade against the ethereal mass, to no avail as the tendrils began to bit into the rock armour. "I didn't know!"
"You hurt me at the beginning. It was you. It was always you."
"You…you weren't supposed…"
Rinkhalmon chuckled, resting on all fours as he tried to regain his breath. "Look at you. Trying to negotiate with a creature beyond your very comprehension."
"DON'T HURT DADDY!"
Cratomon let out a strangled cry as his entire upper body was engulfed in fungal projections, biting into him like hot wire as they melted into the very data of his arms. He screamed; his vision darkening as those eyes kept staring into his.
Velocimon was in front of him now, and Seismon, and Chionemon, and suddenly all of them were attacking all around him, trying to free him, and Nithhogg only held on all the tighter and suddenly Rinkhalmon was there, and Seismon was pinned down with poisoned blades sticking out from his armour plating and Cratomon reached out his arm and
Alfheimon's fist slammed down into the fortress roof, sending Svartalmon spinning away. He recovered, and rushed back towards her, dragging the night's shadows like a blade, but she raised her hands and portals of light opened across the sky.
A crystalline pegasus charged out, lighting up the night sky as it rained down kicks and rams onto the demon. Again and again, more holy creatures emerged; winged serpents, eagles, harpies and bulls, each bombarding Svartalmon again and again. But the demon remained upright, lashing out at each of them with whips of shadow and daggers of darkness. The roof seemed to boil below him, writhing under the weight of the dark power. He raised his arms and pointed upwards, and the shadows converged around his gesture, spiralling upwards and striking the portal. There was the sound of a distant screaming and the darkness recoiled, fading into nothing as the portal closed. But Alfheimon wasn't finished yet; with a silent dive she caught the demon and drove him into the roof, slicing down with the immense blades again and again.
He brought up his taloned foot and flung her away, before spinning after her like a drill, his sharp talons digging into her wings as he drove her across the sky. But something forced him back, and he drew back his arm – armour fractured and bleeding dark blood – and slashed forwards, while summoning his great scythe again in the other. Alfheimon rose even higher, raining columns of light down upon him, where they struck the ground and the fortress below, wiping out great segments of stone. Svartalmon called upon the shadows again, sending them hurtling upwards in a tornado that ripped and tore at both inhabitants, until the angel threw her arms wide and the tornado was cleaved in two.
Alfheimon brought her hands together, and they shone more brightly than ever, as around her the air seemed to shift and warp and
the very wall shook itself apart, splitting in two, and Nithhogg's grip loosened and Cratomon felt as Mistramon's iron grip closed around his wrist and suddenly he was free, the tendrils chasing after him as Nithhogg swung from side to side, clutching its head, and suddenly Alopemon rushed forwards with her icicles flying out in all directions and Rinkhalmon was sent crashing to the ground
and the demon rose to meet the angel, his three eyes burning with hate and fury, and as the fortress below him shook itself apart from the sheer power he held out his arms, holding the scythe in both hands, and began to spin it as the shadows coiled around him and
Chionemon stood over the broken body of Rinkhalmon as it lay bleeding on the ground, Nithhogg's influence all but worthless now, and Velocimon's gun blazed away as the sparks struck Nithhogg's form again and again, and as the room crumbled around them Mistramon tried to drag his comrade away, and suddenly Jack was calling for Grace, and Seismon grabbed his choking partner, and as the ceiling finally caved in completely there was the sound of Nithhogg's barely audible, yet pained and wretched scream
and Lobomon stared back as the light above the fortress swirled and pulsated and grew in size and intensity, as the very fabric of the fortress itself began to rise up from the ground, pulled by the intense power
and Phoukamon scurried from their place atop the fortress's protective wall, their eyes wide and unblinking
And Alfheimon brought her hands forward, clenching her fists as the air around her seemed to freeze in place, her hair billowing out behind her and her torn wings fluttering.
And Svartalmon's movements slowed also, with the exception of the scythe which now formed a black ring in front of him, churning with monstrous energy.
Light met shadow. Pure energy emanated from Alfheimon, reaching forwards, grasping Svartalmon and the orb of destructive power just as it exploded.
With a silence as if the sound had been ripped clean from the world, the maelstrom of chaos opened, and rained hell down on the Infernal Fortress.
Everyone on the ground below grabbed onto anything and anyone they could find as the gaping maw opening in the sky, revealing glimpses of dimensions beyond comprehension swirling through the void. Black lightning snaked through the sky and tore into the earth and the fortress, accompanied by flashes of intense colour, too painful to look at. The fortress was swamped as the vortex traversed its way down, shaking in the sky as rubble and rock flew into the centre. Alfheimon and Svartalmon were whipped away as if they were nothing. Not even feathers in the wind.
Down below, the children looked up, seeing the eye of the deadly dimension descending down upon them. Barely able to run or even move an inch, and with nowhere to run even if they could, they held each other tight as the once mighty fortress was torn from around them.
Without a sound, Nithhogg reached high with both spindly arms, its tendrils stretching out as far as they could.
It stretched higher, reaching out to embrace the dark vortex as it came down, annihilating all in its path.
And then Nithhogg made contact.
The tendrils were caught in the vortex and pulled, wrenching Nithhogg's body up and causing it to screech. But even as it did so, it was morphing. The chaos was being diverted, sucked back as if through a conduit down through the creature's tendrils and through its body and through even further, back into the rift in the Digital World itself, spreading throughout the rift. The sound from Nithhogg's mouth was ghastly, and its body twisted and morphed and turned transparent, its heart beating ever faster and the great mass of leeches bubbling and boiling.
And still the energy was pulled down, ripping the chaos from the sky and sending it spreading through the final barrier between worlds, which was glowing now, the cracks reaching through the final layers and into the dimension beyond.
And as Nithhogg pulled the last vestiges of chaos from the sky, the barrier shattered.
It was only for a minute, but a minute was more than enough time for the Interface to fill the room. Some of the warriors had their eyes forced closed. Others were staring deep into the abyss, the void between them and the world they'd left behind.
Rinkhalmon opened his eyes, and saw the Interface once again. He reached out, trying to crawl along the floor, ignoring the pain. There were tears in his eyes as he reached the tear between worlds, where Nithhogg – or what seemed to be Nithhogg – was waiting for him. It bent down and pulled him to his feet, staring into his eyes. Nithhogg looked down, and it saw the last few leeches just floating away, leaving it complete. Fully realised. Just for a moment, a pure being of the Interface.
Rinkhalmon grinned, and took one last lingering look at the warriors.
"It's been so much fun."
Then he leaned in, whispering to Nithhogg.
"I hope you enjoy this world, friend. As much as I will enjoy yours."
Nithhogg let go, and Rinkhalmon held his arms wide and tumbled back, through anomalies in time and space and into the very fabric of the Interface itself.
Nithhogg collapsed, with its last connections to the Interface finally falling away. And as it did so, the Digital World reached out and reconnected its lost data, stitching together the rift just as suddenly as it had opened. The last colours vanished, leaving Nithhogg and the remaining warriors alone in the chamber. The only sign the rift had ever been there was what seemed like a break in space, as if two pieces of the universe had been glued together.
It wasn't enough to save the fortress.
Kent grabbed the hands of the others and rushed up the staircase before the fortress caved in on it, and the warriors ran as fast as they physically could through corridors and chambers, until they saw daylight once again. And as twisting metal tore at their skin and rocks threatened to crush them outright, they ran free of the underground chamber and into the light. They ran, and ran, and when they could run no more they collapsed, feeling the intense sun on their bodies. Kent could hear his breathing, and feel his heartbeat, and as his vision blurred he watched as the fortress fell in on itself, the rubble and the entire battlefield being coated with golden particles from the sky.
In the fortress itself, the still figure of a girl was slowly sliding towards the gaping chasm in the centre of the fortress. Svartalmon stood above her, his form hazy, about to break up at any minute. He bent down, holding his hand out and grabbing the girl's arm, pulling her away before she slipped into oblivion.
He held her in his arms, slowly limping backwards as the ground threatened to topple him in as well. He looked down at the young girl's face, with her red hair strewn across it.
"So it's only you left."
There came a crash from behind him, and the light diminished. Svartalmon turned as the final corridor was blocked off, and he stood still, with nowhere left to run. He held out a hand in front of him, but the shadows barely listened to him now. He looked down at the girl once again.
"You're no enemy of mine."
He placed her down once again, and lay down himself, the last pieces of his body dissipating and swirling around the two of them. As he held tightly to Eloise's hand, Kai's eyes flickered, barely awake as the last of the rubble blocked out the light for good.