There was a muffled bang as Chuchidarumon dropped a rock on her foot, followed by lot of hushed swearing as she hopped around. Yasyamon hurried over, troubled by the noise. "Found anything?"
"No, just me being a klutz."
"Well, try and be less destructive with your klutzing. We need to find them."
Nearby, Gwappamon couldn't help a side-smile as she continued burrowing through the remains of the fortress. It was hard going, and there weren't many of them able to work. After the collapse of the fortress all the warriors from inside had quickly collapsed, and half the Resistance hadn't in much better shape, including Karatenmon. The warriors who could stand had somehow managed to drag the tamers and their partners back to Grid Central, where Gargomon and Sistermon were looking over them.
But some had been missing.
As soon as the dust had cleared, Lobomon had insisted that they go and find the others. Yasyamon had initially resisted, saying the rubble was still too volatile and they didn't have the manpower, but Lobomon was adamant. In the end they were able to rustle up a small digging team of Gwappamon, Chuchidarumon, a Togemogumon, the two Monitamon and Yasyamon (though the latter had been relegated to overseer since he would not stop complaining about dirt in his joints).
The evening sun wore on and even the normally super-cool Gwappamon was feeling the burn. It didn't feel quite real. The battle was now over and, by the looks of it, all the Fire Kingdom were gone. There was nobody left to fight. The war was over.
It didn't feel real at all.
The kappa leapt out of her hole and rushed over to Togemogumon, who was scrabbling furiously. "This bit of rock just caved in. There's a hole inside; do you think there could be someone down there?"
Gwappamon whistled and waved over one of the Monitamon, who bent over the hole, sticking his screen as far in as it would go. There was a buzz, and he leapt up, gesturing wildly.
Togemogumon nodded to Gwappamon. "We dig."
The two worked at an incredible speed, and in just five minutes the sun was pouring into the collapsed alcove, revealing the bodies of two dragons wound tightly around one another. By now Yasyamon had rushed over, and he reached in and carefully pulled them out in one hand, placing them gently in the sunlight. Ladomon and Colchimon remained tightly coiled together, their bodies bruised and battered, but they were breathing. Yasyamon nodded to the hole. "Any sign of the other two?"
Monitamon poked his head in again, and withdrew, this time looking forlorn. Yasyamon ran his hand down his mask, and stared up at the sky. "We can't do much more here; we won't be able to see a thing. We can take these two back and get them rested, and come back out again tomorrow."
Reluctantly, the others nodded. Chuchidarumon picked up the dragons and the others followed on. Gwappamon headed up the rear, only to stop, and glance back at the rubble. Deep in one of the holes, she was convinced she could see something shimmering.
She held up a hand. "Hold up, guys."
Rushing back, she knelt down by the collapsed alcove and dug even more, scraping the loose earth away. Yasyamon caught up with her, panting. "Gwappamon, just…"
He stopped, dead, as a hand unfurled.
Gwappamon pulled, reaching inside and stretching her limbs as the rock gave way. She fell back, clutching the figure and panting, before looking down at it. Immediately she recoiled. This was not what she'd been expecting.
Everyone else crowded around, hesitant to go near the slowly shifting creature, all shining skin and trailing limb. Togemogumon looked up. "Wh…what is it?"
"It's not them."
Yasyamon drew a sword and held it high, point down, the tip shaking.
"Whatever it is, it's neither human or Digimon..."
For a moment he stood there, poised to make the killing blow. Then he relented.
"It's not what Karatenmon would do. Gwappamon, are you okay?"
The kappa nodded, to which Yasyamon sheathed his sword, bent down and hoisted the creature's arms over his shoulders.
"We head back. The others'll need to see this for themselves."
Red. Then white.
Kent's eyes flickered, and the red glow increased. For a moment he lay, looking straight up. Everything blurred.
He blinked, and became aware that he was looking up at a ceiling. His eyes flickered left and right, and he found he recognised this place. Grid Central. One of their old rooms. They were back.
Slowly he pulled himself up, looking around the room. Everyone was here, still asleep. Trilomon was curled up next to him, Velocimon and Perimon were leant against the wall, Grace, Jack, Vulpimon; everybody…
He bolted further upright as the events of the previous day began to hit him like a sledgehammer. He immediately winced, feeling intense pain around his neck and down his arms, and he began to give great hacking coughs.
"You'd better ease off a bit."
Kent looked up, and for the first time noticed Lobomon knelt next to him, hands on her lap. Her hair was ragged and she was breathing more deeply than usual; obviously exhausted. She shuffled over and put a hand on his back as he finished coughing, saying nothing. Kent made to get up, but she held him down.
"You haven't got to do anything. You're safe, and you're injured. Sit down."
"…no, I…" Kent's rasping voice trailed off, wincing with the effort, and turned to face the wolf lady. "Where are they?"
Lobomon looked down. "Nobody's found them yet. None of us know what happened in there. But we're looking, I promise you. Can you tell us anything?"
Kent bit his lip, holding out a hand. "Aaron…"
"Kent, you're shaking really badly. You don't have to-"
"Aaron…it was Aaron, and Eloise…oh god…" Now Kent was looking all around the room, noticing the grazes and bruises and burns and deep cuts on those all around him and on his own body, and suddenly the room looked very empty, with nearly half of their number missing. "We were supposed…supposed to win…and go back home…all of us…w-w-we promised…I should have…it was my fault, I should have…"
All of a sudden his body just gave way, shaking uncontrollably as great tears poured down his cheeks for the first time he could remember in a long time. He tried to speak, but his words were meaningless, lost in gurgles and coughs and great heaving breaths. Lobomon bent forwards and embraced him, tightly, rubbing his shoulders and whispering words of comfort.
It took about five minutes for him to calm down. Lobomon leant back, as Kent sniffed, still shaking but able to sit upright. The wolf-woman glanced at the door. "I can leave, if you need a moment."
Kent shook his head. "You need to kn…know everything. From when we got inside."
"Are you sure you're okay to tell me?"
The boy nodded, and after a few more breaths, he began to talk.
The streets were oddly quiet, the only sound being Lobomon's footsteps as she walked down them. Looking left and right, she veered to one side, where one of the old seats stood, kind of beaten up but still in one piece. She sat, and allowed herself a few moments, her breathing shaky and her voice close to cracking.
It was a lot to take in.
Once she was satisfied that she could keep going, she stood up and continued on her way, towards the centre of the city. There was a light on in one of the houses, and she walked inside, forgetting to knock. Karatenmon lay on the futon, opening his eyes as the wolf warrior approached.
"You still keeping me here?"
"How is it?"
"How am I to know?" Karatenmon huffed, and looked away, but he didn't resist as Lobomon moved his arm out the way. The bandage was slightly red but not as bad as it had been before. There was still a shimmering of data though, and the tengu did not look good. Lobomon frowned, released his arm and stepped back.
"Have they woken up yet?"
Karatenmon turned to face her, his face weary more than anything. He didn't say anything; just waited expectantly. Lobomon swallowed.
"Surtremon was killed. Rinkhalmon…they don't know about; something happened with some creature…" She coughed, not wanting to look him in the eye. "Aaron's dead. Nobody knows about Eloise, Kai or the dragons."
Karatenmon exhaled. "Aaron's dead…how…"
Lobomon shook her head. "Kent didn't want to tell me."
The old crow brought up his hand and ran it down his mask. For a moment he said nothing; the only sound was his tired breath on his palm. His claws tensed. "How is everyone else?"
"Recuperating, I think. It's hard to know for sure..."
"Are they talking? Or moving?"
"Some of them."
"Then they'll get through it." Karatenmon smiled. "We've won. We don't need to rush things any more. From now on, everything falls into place."
He burst into a fit of coughing. Lobomon waited until he'd finished, before nodding and turning to leave. She stopped, halfway out the door. "It's never that simple."
She looked back, smiling before he could answer. "I'll keep everyone on the right track. You keep resting. I'll be back soon."
She closed the door before he could see the worry on her face.
One by one, the others had woken up, and were now spread out over the room. It wasn't exactly a happy atmosphere, and the sun shimmering through the windows did little to dispel the dark mood.
Jack had been the last to wake, and was currently leant against the wall, holding the grubby cloths that he'd been covered with tightly against his body. While he was no longer wearing the battered old armour he still ached all over, and moving either of his legs sent pain spasming through his lower body. It was all he could do to crawl.
Looking around, things didn't seem to be much better with everyone else. Velocimon and Perimon sat together on the windowledge, seemingly staring into nothing. Kent was fiddling with his D-Nexus, swiping endlessly left and right as holographic images appeared and vanished, with Trilomon sat next to him, tapping away at the floor and saying nothing. Grace was curled up against the wall he was on, head buried in her lap, with Vulpimon curled up next to her. He'd tried to go over to her, to hug her, tell her it would be okay. But she hadn't answered. The room was unbearably empty, and everyone knew it. Jack stood for a little while, waiting for somebody else to start up a conversation.
That didn't happen.
"So what do we do now?"
There were a few grunts of response, and a shrug from Velocimon. Jack didn't have much of an answer to that. He sighed, rubbing his head, and realised that he was still missing his hat. Looking around, he saw a box near the door to the room; all the stuff they'd left behind when they'd gone into battle. Slowly he made his way over, trying to make it seem less painful than it was, and peered inside. Everything was there. Familiar, and as pristine as it had been since they'd arrived in this world. Jack couldn't help but give a bitter smile. Data was weird.
He rummaged, pushing aside Eloise's jacket and Kai's overcoat until he'd found what he was looking for. He placed the cap on his head, spending a bit of time angling it just right. Small comfort though it was, it was at least comfort. He considered, then pulled out his sister's sweatshirt and (from right at the bottom) Kent's laptop, passing them to each of them in turn. Kent finally looked up, smiled, and took his device back. "Thanks mate."
Grace finally looked up, and nodded, but didn't release her legs. Jack just smiled, and left the sweatshirt beside her. Looking over at the box again, he saw something poking out. Something red and purple. Aaron's hat. He headed over and pulled it out, brushing the dust away from it, before sticking it in his pocket. He looked up, only to find Velocimon staring at him.
"I'm keeping hold of it."
The dinosaur's eyes were dark, either from lack of sleep or from anger. Probably both. He cocked his head. "Why?"
Jack noticed that the dinosaur was still holding Aaron's D-Nexus tightly in one claw. He gave a small shrug.
"Just in case."
"Just in case what?"
The boy shrugged. "I don't know. It's better than just leaving it there."
Velocimon looked conflicted, but Perimon just nudged him with one wing. "Let it go, alright?"
"You know what?" Kent cracked his knuckles and stood up, stretching. "We can't just sit here forever. We've got to stay positive."
Velocimon groaned. "How? There's nothing left to stay positive for. We've done what we came here to do. That's it. It's done. We've won; is that positive enough for you?" The dinosaur shrugged. "I don't know why you guys are even still here; you might as well go."
"Velocimon, don't be a prick." Vulpimon's ears twitched and she sat up, her pendant twinkling in the sunlight. "Everyone feels horrible, okay? But Kent's right; we can't just do nothing. At the very least we need to help these guys get home."
"And how do you propose we do that?"
Vulpimon was flummoxed, and instinctively turned to Kent. The older boy looked at the floor. "It's a legitimate point. I hadn't even thought about that."
Jack placed his hands behind his head. "I thought there'd be a magic portal or something that would open when we beat Surtremon. It's only fair."
At this Perimon chuckled, hopping down off the windowsill. "It's a nice thought, partner."
Grace shifted, her eyes just peeking over the top of her arms. "You never change..."
"Maybe." Jack grinned, before peering over at the window. "Anyway, we can't go yet. The others haven't come back."
Velocimon bristled at the mention of the others, but said nothing. Trilomon cocked his head. "Someone's coming."
Lobomon burst in, looking distinctly nervous; clearly she'd been run off her feet. Vulpimon stood up. "What is it? Have you found them?"
"We found the dragons, and they're safe, but there's no sign of Eloise or Kai."
Kent dropped his head. "I see."
"We can look again tomorrow, but for now…you see…" Her face was pale, as the warriors began to unfurl, worry growing on their faces.
"We found…something…I think it's…" She pointed. "One of you might want to come and look at this."
Velocimon made to move, but Kent stopped him. "You hold on. I'll go. It could be dangerous."
The dinosaur was about to object, but Vulpimon nudged him, shaking her head vigorously. Kent hurried out, muttering under his breath.
"Please no, please no…not now...anything but that…"
Gargomon peered around the door as Kent and Lobomon approached, her face a picture of confusion and fear. She beckoned them inside. "We've done what you said, for now. Though none of us wanted to keep hold of it for longer than we needed to."
"From what I've heard, that's probably for the best." Lobomon gestured, and the three of them walked into the room.
Kent shivered; an immediate cold front that hit him the moment he walked inside. The room was dark, the windows and shutters closed, but there was still an eerie blue light from the room's sole resident, currently lying flat out on the floor. Kent gritted his teeth. "That's definitely it. Although it's changed."
The creature known as Nithhogg certainly had. Its body was now complete, in as much as it had legs, both of them as long and spindly as its arms. It also seemed to have more of a physical presence, despite a faint staticky shine enveloping its form.
But now that it seemed more real, it was clear to see how wrong this creature looked. The whole build was almost human, but the proportions were all wrong, with oversized limbs and a bulbous, baby-like head that seemed far too large for the frail body that held it. It seemed to have shrunk as well, now about the size of a child. Taut blue membrane was stretched over a drab, beaten skeleton, with holes all over, showing its pulsating organs within. The skin itself writhed as well, as fungal fingers protruded out, tipped with yellow. Its joints were studded with the same vivid red talons that had been on the leeches. The face was split in several places, particularly between the upper lip and the hole where the nose should have been. Only its eyes remained completely unchanged. Swirling white in horrendously black abysses, staring directly at him.
Suddenly the great fingers closed and the creature pulled back, trying to shuffle out of the way. It shook its head, opening its mouth and trying to form words, but none came yet. Only strange garglings. Kent felt the colour drain from his face. "It's afraid of me."
"Should it be?"
"Let me try something."
Slowly, he held his hand out, while at the same time crouching down to the same level as Nithhogg. All the while those haunting voids watched him silently, obviously waiting for him to strike. Kent forced a smile, holding his hand up.
"Hi, little guy."
No response. Kent put his hand away, keeping his distance. "I'm not going to hurt you. Not this time. Daddy isn't here; we can start again."
He pointed at his face. "Can you understand me?"
Slowly Nithhogg unfurled, just enough to allow it to sit up. It tried a few more words, then paused, its face crumpling. It opened its mouth slowly, mouthing a single word over and over again.
Kent was aware of Lobomon standing behind him, and turned his head just slightly. "I think it's copying me."
Its voice was rasping and had a fluttering undertone, like the noise of cicadas, but it was almost legible. Kent put up his hand again. "You can trust me. I won't hurt you. But you can't hurt me, or anyone else here."
"Do you understand me?"
No answer. Those eyes had dilated now, the pupils wide as they darted up and down, looking at Kent all over. Kent couldn't help but smile, before remembering he had his D-Nexus in his pocket. Slowly he took it out, holding it up to Nithhogg, who was suddenly very wary again.
"It's okay. Just a second. You want to find out about me, and I want to find out about you."
He held the device out as it scanned the blue creature, but after a long time it came up with nothing. No data, no information, not even a name. It was completely alien. The device was vibrating as well; obviously not too happy about the situation. Kent was aware of Nithhogg watching him the whole time.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeee…" Nithhogg stopped mid speech, its expression changing by the second. After several more attempts at mouthing a word, it tried again.
Kent waited. "Go on? It what?"
The voice trailed off, and Nithhogg laid down once again, folding and unfurling its hands as it did so. Its expression finally settled on a troubled one. Up close, Kent could make out the streaks just below its eyes. Permanent tears.
He stood up, still smiling. "You rest. I'll be back soon. Don't worry; it'll be alright."
He silently beckoned the other two and they walked away, closing the door behind them. Kent let out his breath; he didn't even realise he'd been holding it.
Lobomon bit her lip. "I have a horrible feeling in my gut about this."
Gargomon nodded. "Me too. That thing doesn't belong here. We don't know what could happen."
Kent bit his lip. "This is going to sound crazy, but I'm not so sure..."
Lobomon raised a hand. "Before you go on, as far as I can gather that was the thing that Rinkhalmon raised, wasn't it? That can't be a good thing no matter how you look at it."
"I know that. Trust me, I've felt that thing's…I've felt Nithhogg's power firsthand." Kent sighed. "But you saw that. It was scared; it's in a world it doesn't know and the only Digimon it ever trusted has left. I think it's a child; it doesn't know what it's doing any more than we do."
"So what do you suggest we do?"
Kent opened his mouth, but couldn't think of anything. Lobomon looked deep in thought. "We can't just get rid of it. Even if we knew how, it probably wouldn't be right."
Gargomon folded her arms. "Isn't this the thing responsible for pretty much everything that's been going wrong?"
"Not intentionally." Kent looked up at the sun, squinting. "As with most things, it's all one great big terrible accident which we have to deal with."
"So what do you suggest?"
"We'll need to make a decision, but for now it seems...agreeable enough." Kent turned to the gunbunny, his face grave. "Keep it safe and rested for now. Try not to distress it too much, or it might get weird. And whatever you do, don't touch it. It has…weird abilities. I'd say for now don't let anyone else near it or even know about it."
Lobomon nodded. "Okay. We can make a proper decision later. I'll keep this between us who know about it for now; we don't need any unneeded interference." She sniffed. "Although I have a feeling you're going to have a fun time talking about this with the other tamers."
"Don't I know it." Kent sighed, once again feeling very defeated. "We'll come up with something. Hopefully it'll be the right thing."
Lobomon winked. "Good luck."
Colchimon looked up as Kent entered the room, and held Ladomon slightly more tightly as she lay, very weak in his coils. Kent turned to them, and smiled. "We're glad to see you."
The shadow dragon nodded. "Sorry we took so long. We got a little stuck."
"That's okay. I don't suppose..."
Colchimon shook his breath. "No sign, unfortunately. They're going to keep looking though." His head lowered. "From what I can gather, I take it something else came back with us?"
Kent suddenly felt the eyes of the room upon him, and closed the door, not wanting to alert anyone passing by. "It did. They found Nithhogg."
The sharp intake of breath from around the room made the boy wish he'd chosen a slightly less abrupt way of breaking the news. He raised his hands defensively. "I've seen it. It's changed, it's weak and it's scared."
Velocimon glared at him. "Hold on, correct me if I'm wrong but it sounds as if you're coming out in this creature's defense."
"That's because we were fighting it before under insane circumstances."
"And I don't think we should rush to any conclusions. We've essentially got it in our custody, and as I said, it's changed."
"What other conclusions are there to make? It's dangerous."
A murmur between Grace and Vulpimon signified that they somewhat agreed, though neither of them spoke up. Kent sat down, running his hands down his face. "I'm just saying, we don't know what to do with it yet. Maybe, just maybe, we can start again. Try and avoid any more bloodshed."
"Well you're going about it wrong." Velocimon stood up, marching over towards Kent and looking him directly in the eye. "That thing is responsible for the death of my partner and the destruction of half this world."
Vulpimon flinched, hissing. "Velocimon!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, should I sugar coat it? That thing is a monster and we need to get rid of it now." The lizard folded his arms. "It's not even a Digimon; when all is said and done it doesn't belong here. We don't have any other option."
Kent ground his teeth. "By that logic you should be getting rid of me as well."
Velocimon glared at him. "Don't be pedantic. You know what I mean."
"And you know what I mean. You're just letting your emotions get in the way."
"I'm a soldier. I don't do that."
Colchimon raised his head. "I'm not sure we can buy that any more, Velocimon. You've been through more crap than the rest of us. Maybe you need to step back a bit."
Velocimon growled, his claws clenching. Trilomon noticed the imminent explosion and stepped in. "Do we have any other ideas?"
"I guess it all depends on whether it's safe to let it out. Maybe we can teach it how to survive. It can understand us; it seemed to understand Rinkhalmon alright."
Velocimon smirked. "Oh yes, that's right, it was taught by the insane snake-man, of course, that makes everything better."
Perimon let out a breath, and walked towards his old friend. "Velocimon, look, Rinkhalmon's gone. Martyaxmon's run away and everybody else is dead. There is now Fire Kingdom any more, just this thing. I don't know what to do; none of us do. But the army we were fighting against is gone. Maybe, just maybe, there's nobody to fight any more."
The words floated around the room as everybody looked down at the floor, each deep in their own thoughts. Velocimon faltered, looking the bird in his bright green eyes, the eyes of somebody who'd seen as many battles as he had. The dinosaur sniffed, and pulled away.
"Evil never goes. It just changes."
He went back to crouching on the windowsill. Kent considered pressing the subject, but looking at the exhausted faces he decided against it. He sat down next to his partner, and opened his laptop. Trilomon sat up beside him.
"Do you really think-"
Kent silenced him with a shake of his head. "I don't know what to think right now."
The bug hummed, and rolled himself back into a curled-up mass of bone and armour. Kent's right hand tapped away at the keyboard, and his left, instinctively, reached down and stroked his partner behind the head.
Hours seemed to fly by, and as the day wore on the tamers began to succumb to sleep once again. Even Kent, tapping away at the keyboard, could feel his head drooping and his eyes blurring. But just before he nodded off, there came a shout from outside. "Everyone! Out here, quick!"
The warriors jolted awake as Sistermon ran past the window, followed by several of the resistance. The tamers looked among themselves, before belting out of the door and into the street, following the others. At the ruined wall they stopped, standing in a row, as two lone figures moved towards them over the ruined battleground. Kai trudged one step at a time, agonisingly slowly, towards the remains of Grid Central, holding Eloise over his back. Sistermon rushed up to him, her cross-shaped eyes looking at him all over. The boy smiled.
"It's okay. We're both okay."
He winced and stumbled to one knee, and the two of them were immediately crowded.
Eloise watched, eyelids heavy, as the crimson sky became streaked with purple and night drew in. She sat upright on the centre of the futon, legs crossed and hands in her lap.
There was a knock on the door, but she didn't answer. A moment passed, then the door opened, and Grace peered round. "Eloise?"
Still the older girl didn't respond. Grace walked in, followed by Vulpimon, and the two of them sat either side of the red haired teen. For a few minutes nobody spoke; just staring at the clouds drawing in outside the window.
"It's getting colder."
Vulpimon looked up, surprised at Eloise's remark. "Sorry…I can move if-"
"No, I mean in general." Eloise pointed at the ruined wall, and the collapsed fortress beyond. "Nobody's left. The Fire Kingdom have all gone. The world's getting colder."
"Not too much yet." Grace fidgeted, not sure exactly what to say. "Not as bad as when we went up north. Do you remember?"
She cursed inwardly; bringing up that experience was not going to help anyone. But Eloise simply shrugged.
"Do you know where Ladomon is? I lost track of her."
Vulpimon lay down. "Ladomon and Colchimon are safe. Yasyamon found them and brought them back. Ladomon's very weak though."
The girl nodded. "And you also found Nithhogg."
Grace held her breath, sharing a worried look with her partner. "So you knew…we didn't know-"
"Nobody knows. I get it." Eloise's voice was barely more than a mumble. "I'll stay away from it."
Grace shuffled around, until she was directly in front of the older girl. "Eloise, please, nobody blames you. You have to understand that."
"What does it matter if they blame me or not? If it weren't for me, Aaron would still be here.
"It wasn't your fault-"
"It was." Eloise raised her palms, staring at them intently. "I felt it. I felt the moment that Nithhogg left my head, and just after, I felt the arrow slip out of my hand."
"It was an accident!"
"Doesn't matter. I failed. I promised to get everyone back home and I failed." The girl's head fell, her hair obscuring her face. "I don't even know how we would get home. I guess we won. That's something."
Grace sniffed, her eyes feeling moist. "Please…I can't bear seeing you like this…you were always sure we could get through this…Eloise, please answer me!"
She reached out, only for Eloise's arm to lash out, knocking her away. "DON'T…touch me."
"Don't touch me. Don't even come near me. You'll only get hurt."
Grace stood up, backing away as Eloise folded up. Grace clenched her fists, her anguish giving way to desperation temporarily.
"We need you, Eloise. You're one of us. We can get through this together."
But the older girl had fallen into silence yet again. Vulpimon nudged her partner. "We should probably go."
Reluctantly, Grace took a step back, before shaking her head. "No. I'm staying. She was there for me; I need to be there for her. I need to be here now."
She sat down next to the door, crossing her legs, giving Eloise enough room but just being able to see her. Vulpimon looked unsure for a minute, before sitting down next to her partner, resting her head on the girl's shoulder.
Eloise shifted slightly. "Just go. You don't need to be here. Leave me."
Grace shook her head. "We're not leaving without you. I don't care how long it takes."
Grace forced a smile. "Because I thought that was how we did things. We look out for each other and we get everyone through safely. No matter what happens."
"It's too late."
"Not for you."
"So how did you get out of there?"
Kai sat back, bandages swaddling his body as Jack and Perimon stood either side of him, and the two serpent dragons curled up next to him. Ladomon had woken up now, and had been warned of everything. She seemed to be as shaken by the past few hours as Eloise had been, and she was still very weak.
Kai clasped his hands together, sighing. "We were going at it quite a while. Her element gave out first, and then…I don't know, suddenly I could see her and somwhow I was able to take control…" He shook his head, "Anyway, I formed a shield which protected us from the rubble. It just took me a while to haul us both out."
Ladomon looked up. "Did she say anything? While you were down there?"
Kai shook his head. "She was out for most of it. When she did wake she didn't talk to me." He looked up. "Did you want to be with her?"
Ladomon tensed, clutching her partner all the more. Colchimon bit his lip. "I think Eloise needs space at the minute."
For a moment Kai stared at his partner. Then he sat up, hurt in his eyes. "It wasn't her fault. Things just got out of hand. I'm sorry."
The white dragon just buried her head in her partner's wing tighter. Colchimon looked down, rapidly searching for words. "I know, I know…it's just…"
"You scared us, alright?" Ladomon unravelled slightly, glaring back at Kai. "We felt everything. Every hit. We tried to get through to you and you blew us away like we were nothing. I'd say that's a little more than 'out of hand'."
Kai looked away, going white. "I don't want to talk about it. But I'm not proud of any of it, just so you know, and I am sorry. For everything; for putting you all through this from the beginning."
Jack coughed. "Well we're all here now. That's something, isn't it?"
Kai glanced over at him. "So what do we do then? How do we get back home?"
Everybody was silent. Nobody had an answer. Kai buried his face in his hands, letting out a deep, long breath. "I really didn't think any of this through, did I…"
With all the kerfuffle over Eloise and Kai's reappearance, the small hut on the edge of town had been somewhat neglected. Inside, the small creature writhed and curled on the futon, crying out silently and being heard by no-one. Nithhogg's glow illuminated the room, and where the light hit there was the finest dusting of data.
The window clattered faintly, and suddenly Nithhogg stopped writhing and sat up. It peered over, immediately pinpointing the sound of a Digimon behind the closed shutters. It swallowed, reaching out with a tendril-like hand, a look of curiosity and anxiousness sprouting across its face.
Another clatter, and the sound of nails against the shutters, threatening to pull them apart. There was a brief flash of the night sky, and the sight of three purple eyes and
The front door was unlocked, and the shutters clattered down again. Nithhogg turned to see a short, yellow lizard peering around the door, staring directly at it. Nithhogg stared back, only to become aware of a new pain. It drew its other hand back from the futon, and the top layer of the fabric came with it, dissolving into fibres and snaking into the creature's hand. The skin shone a little brighter, wrinkles and cracks smoothing out. Nithhogg looked in wonder, as Velocimon kept watching.
Aware of its audience, Nithhogg raised its hand, smiling. "The…the paiiin goes."
"So you can fix yourself." Velocimon's claw clenched, and he took another step in, both gun barrels glowing.
Nithhogg's expression turned to one of horror, and it tensed, curling into a ball. "Stop don't come in I'm not supposed to see you."
"Do you know what you've done?"
"Do you know what you've done?" Velocimon's voice rose to a furious whisper as sparks ricocheted from the floor. Nithhogg's eyes were wide, but Velocimon didn't falter. "Don't look at me like that. You know what you are. Your very being here has poisoned this place and dragged us into war. For the good of everyone, I should…I have to…"
Just as his arm was raised, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned, seeing Trilomon's wide eyes staring back at him. "Are you lost?"
"Trilomon?" Velocimon stepped back towards the entrance, glaring at the insect. "Did Kent send you-"
"Don't insult my partner. I came here by myself." The insect walked slowly around, until he was stood between Nithhogg and Velocimon. His voice was quiet but with an edge. He raised a claw, and Velocimon saw it glowing with the faintest green.
Trilomon's claw pressed into the ground, digging in slightly. "I'm merely doing what he would want. You shouldn't be here; you're distressing Nithhogg."
"Tomorrow. Tomorrow we'll talk. But Nithhogg is under our protection. We all need to honour that."
"Stand aside. This is none of your concern."
Trilomon cocked his head. "You once told me to stand up for myself. That's what I'm doing. Please don't do this to me; not now."
Velocimon made to walk forward, but Trilomon's claw glowed a little more, and those emerald eyes narrowed a tiny bit. Velocimon cursed inwardly, considering his options, before he finally walked away. Trilomon following after him and shut the door, leaving a trembling creature inside.
Yasyamon lay back on the chair, hands behind his head. "So is this all we have?"
Lobomon looked around the central hall, which was looking slightly emptier than usual. Only three of the tamers were around; Grace had told them that Eloise wouldn't be coming, and so she wouldn't either. Vulpimon was sat down though, looking decidedly uncomfortable. All of the other warriors were there, although the atmosphere already seemed decidedly dicey. Of her fellow resistance members, Sistermon and Yasyamon sat either side of her, and the nurse was occasionally throwing dark looks over towards the puppet. She didn't know exactly what the spat had been about, but given how much time the two had been spending together recently, she could make a few good guesses.
She sighed, wondering how well she'd be able to handle this discussion without Karatenmon. Still, too late to back down now. She cleared her throat.
"Before we start, and I know this is going to be a bit abrupt, but I just wanted to thank you all." She lowered her head. "I know things have happened and this isn't really the right time, but the fact stands that if it weren't for all of you, we'd likely have been wiped out by now. The Fire Kingdom are no more. Against every odd, we won. So thank you, from all of us."
Blushing slightly, she sat down again, turning to Yasyamon. He rolled his eyes and gave a half-hearted thumbs-up, but said nothing. She half-smiled; she knew enough about him to realise he was being somewhat sincere.
Velocimon glared at the wolf, before folding his arms. "When you're finished..."
Jack pouted. "Hey now, she was being nice."
"Don't we have something we need to talk about? Something important?"
"Well if that's the way you want to play it, then yes, we do." Kent clasped his hands and leant forward, eyes narrow. "After all, we probably don't have much time before somebody decides to make a move again."
The dinosaur shrugged. "You know what I think. I'm frankly amazed we're even doing this."
There was an audible groan around the table. Perimon buried his head in one wing. "Well that was a nice civil conversation while it lasted."
Lobomon held up a hand. "No finger-pointing. This is urgent and we need to make a decision." She glanced over at Velocimon. "Contrary to popular opinion we don't all know what you think, Velocimon. Please tell us."
Velocimon stood up. He could feel the eyes of the room upon him and squinted just a little from the light. "Very well. That creature – Nithhogg I believe it was called – somehow managed to punch through into our reality. From then it's been responsible for the creation of these leeches which have spread throughout the continent and caused many Digimon to go insane or die a burning, painful death, all for wanting to enter a world in which it doesn't physically belong. Its powers are unnatural, and disrupt the very structure of the Digital World. It either needs to go, or we need to destroy it."
He sat back down, refraining from saying any more. The tamers shifted uncomfortably; it was all a very good point. Yasyamon squirmed in his seat. "I'd like to say now, if I'd known what it was out there I would have killed it on the spot."
Sistermon folded her arms. "I'm sure, and you'd have saved the world again with your brilliant prowess and you wouldn't shut up about it again."
Yasyamon balled his fist and slammed it down sharply, causing the white doll to jump. "Before you have a go at me again, I was being honest, not showing off. Honestly I'm with the lizard; I should have killed that thing."
"So why didn't you?"
Everyone turned in surprise to Kai, who had posed the question. The boy rested his elbows on the table. "Just out of interest. No offense, but I wouldn't have expected you to bring it back here."
Velocimon scoffed. "That's irrelevant."
"No it isn't." Lobomon turned to her colleague, also curious. "Why did you bring it back?"
Yasyamon reeled back a little. "Hang on, am I being blamed for something-"
Kai shook his head. "No, I'm only curious."
For a moment the puppet warrior grumbled. Then he leant forward, clasping his hands below his mask.
"I didn't think Karatenmon would want anything else to die like that. I seriously didn't know what to do and it was alive. I just thought we ought to bring it back." He raised his hands. "Of course, that was a mistake, as usual-"
"It's alive." Kai turned to Velocimon. "You're right, it doesn't belong here, but it's also sentient and it appears to be a kid."
"That has nothing to do with it. It was working with Rinkhalmon!"
Perimon hopped up, looking worried. "I'm sad to say I have to agree. It's more complicated than what it's done; fact is it's dangerous to have it around." He nodded at Kent. "You checked it out with your laptop, didn't you? And your D-Nexus. It really is dangerous to be around."
Kent shuffled, but nodded halfheartedly. "Data doesn't lie. Although it's changed since it came fully through. While it is unnatural it's too early to say whether or not it's actually capable of messing up the world."
Velocimon shook his head. "I genuinely saw it last night. Somehow it can take data and absorb it into itself to...I don't know, heal, attack, defend; I guess whatever it feels like."
The boy sat back. "I see..."
Jack popped his lips. "Can't we send it back?"
Jack looked around. "You know; that Interfacey thing it came from."
"That's not possible." Trilomon jumped up, resting his front claws on the table. "It's hard enough to open the portal between worlds, but actually opening up the bit between worlds is even harder. It just doesn't stay open unless something's plugging it. Besides…Rinkhalmon's in there…it could be dangerous."
"Wherever we keep it would be dangerous." Velocimon sat back, looking impatient. "We don't have an option then. It can't be allowed to live."
"You can't just do that!" Kent stood up, glaring down at the dinosaur. "Don't you remember Silicon City? All that work to stop things dying needlessly? This is a living creature, it's hurting and it's lost in a strange world. I'm sure I can think of something; just some way to keep it from being as volatile. Just killing it because it's different is barbaric."
"It's out of your control, Kent." The dinosaur looked up. "Quite frankly, you shouldn't really have a say in this anymore. The war is won. You've done what you came here to do. You should concern yourself with getting home; this is our business now."
Kent flinched as if he'd been struck. Trilomon glared at the dinosaur. "That was out of line."
"It's true though."
The boy gritted his teeth. "We're all in this together. That's what we decided. We deal with this together."
"Fine. Then deal with it. Or don't, and let me and everyone else do what we need to."
Kent stood up. "I know you think you're thinking straight but you're not."
The dinosaur stood up again, pointing at everyone in the room in turn. "I'm the only one who's actually thinking about the bigger picture here. This isn't about the death of a poor innocent creature; this thing is fatal. To all of us. It doesn't deserve to be here and it doesn't deserve to exist if all it's going to do is destroy!"
Kent's gaze darkened. "Did you ever have any humanity? Or did it all come from Aaron?"
This time it was Velocimon who flinched. He clenched his fists, all four of his gunbarrels glowing white.
"Don't you dare use my partner against me..."
Gargomon's ears twitched as she heard a faint rustling sound. She stood up, peering around, only to turn towards the door. The sound was coming from inside there.
She considered ignoring it, but the sound was increasing in frequency and she found herself getting worried. Gingerly, she held out a hand, only to hold back.
"It wouldn't…just keep it happy. I'm sure it'll be fine. It's just worried."
She pushed the door open and stepped inside, her eyes falling upon Nithhogg in the centre of the room. It was an odd sight. The creature was mainly lying stock still, but its arms were going crazy, every joint twisting and twitching at an alarming rate, so quickly that its hands seemed to be a blur.
So transfixed was Gargomon that she let go of the door, causing it to click shut. The twitching stopped, and Nithhogg sat up, turning to face her. For a moment it stared. She forced a smile. "Everything alright?"
Nithhogg's mouth turned upwards, opening the split in its face even more.
"My body can move the data."
Gargomon swallowed and nodded, staying close to the door. "You can speak much better now. Well done."
It certainly could, and its voice was strangely hypnotic, with dozens of trembling layers underlying a smooth legato tone. When it spoke, the voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, reverberating around the room.
"Look, I can show you."
"I don't need-"
"Look what I can do!"
Gargomon watched, afraid yet transfixed, as Nithhogg reached down to the floor. She noticed suddenly that the floor seemed to be rippling slightly, and looked as if it had been ripped apart and forced together again haphazardly. Nithhogg beamed as it ran its fingers over the stone, where they pulled up streams of data. It let out a chuckle and raised its hands again, and the floor seemed to come with it, swirling around its fingertips. Those hands clenched, the fingers rolling up tightly, and the data was trapped, for a moment rippling beneath the blue skin and then vanishing. The creature's blue glow intensified just a little, and the flesh expanded, covering the bare bones a tiny bit more.
Nithhogg laughed playfully. "It's alright. I can do this. It doesn't have to hurt like this."
Gargomon stared, eyes wide. "That's…really awesome…"
Nithhogg's smile vanished just as quickly as it had arrived. It sat up, its eyes dim as it looked down.
"Are you mad?"
Slam. Kent's palms landed on the table as he glared at the dinosaur.
"Admit it, Velocimon; this isn't about the Digital World for you, this is about personal revenge against a child."
Velocimon seethed, but suddenly Perimon piped up. "I think after everything it's done it's a little more than a child now-"
"That still doesn't give us the right to kill it."
Velocimon pointed a claw at the older boy. "Aaron's dead because of this thing!"
"If Aaron were here he'd agree with me!"
The boy swallowed, and sat down, aware he'd gone too far. "I'm sorry. But we've got to be rational on this."
"I am the one being rational. If we don't act now this thing will destroy our world. It's alien. It doesn't belong."
Lobomon raised a hand, but the gesture was all but futile at this point. Colchimon leant forwards, facing his reptilian comrade. "I've had enough from you; you keep pulling out the same arguments over and over again but you can't see that we're already past that point."
Velocimon whirled round. "I fail to see-"
"Humans, Velocimon. We brought humans here to save our world! If that's not alien I don't know what is. Regardless of what it is, haven't we seen enough pointless death?"
The lizard faltered, stepping back a little. "It's different…"
"It's completely different." Perimon stepped in front of the dragon, glaring at him. "Unlike this thing our partners haven't been messing around with the Digital World. That a good enough reason for you?"
Perimon looked over at Kai, who waved his D-Nexus. "Between all of us I think we've messed things up a lot. Not intentionally, but that's how it goes."
Jack and Kent looked at one another, but all they could do was mumble in reluctant agreement. Kai put the device down. "Maybe while we're here we can focus on fixing the damage. As Kent said, maybe there's a way to seal Nithhogg's influence in. Something we can do that doesn't involve murder."
Velocimon folded his arms. "Can I ask something? Why are you so obsessed on saving this thing's life now? None of you had any problem with killing monsters before?"
The room fell quiet for a moment, before Kent put up his hand. "Just because we've killed during battle doesn't mean we can do it whenever."
"You're being idealistic."
"Because I haven't had a chance to be since the day I bloody got here." Kent sighed. "Please, Velocimon. Things have changed now. Can't we just start again? Stop with the killing because something doesn't fit? That's how Surtremon ended up like he was."
The lizard twitched, but didn't answer. Lobomon coughed, running her hand under her chin. "While I appreciate the sentiment, if we're going to start a new way of doing things or whatever is it really wise to be doing it with something so dangerous?"
Now Vulpimon leaned forwards. "It was being used. Blaming this thing makes as much sense as blaming Eloise..."
"Vulpimon, shut up!"
Jack leaned across, panic in his eyes, and Vulpimon stepped back, appalled with herself for what she'd just said. Lobomon slowly turned to look at her old friend. "Blaming Eloise for what?"
The table was quiet, everybody waiting for someone to say something. Kai's expression had darkened considerably. "Did anyone tell you?"
"Not everything. Why was Eloise involved in this?"
Nithhogg leant forward, hurt showing in its eyes. "Are you mad with me?"
Gargomon shook her head, feeling the door behind her. Breath, she told herself. It's just a child. It's just nervous. You can handle this.
"That's really clever. You…you can help…"
"Are you going to tell them? Tell the others? What I can do now?"
"I…I think maybe we should show them-"
"Why are you lying to me? He told me it would be alright. But they came to hurt me again. You don't need to tell them. It's alright." Nithhogg smiled again, and stood up, opening its arms wide. "It's okay. It doesn't hurt if I do this. I'm alright."
"DON'T LIE TO ME!"
Gargomon yelped and reached for the door handle, but Nithhogg reached out into thin air and squeezed. There was a disturbance, and the handle was wrenched away, the door sealing shut as the molecules melded together. Gargomon banged against it, before turning, struggling to keep her composure as the blue spirit cowered before her.
"I can fix it. It's okay, I can fix it. Don't be mad at me, please, don't hurt me."
Gargomon stepped forwards, holding out a shaking hand. "It's alright, it's going to be alright, but we need to calm down. Don't worry, I won't hurt you."
"THEY'RE ALL GONNA HURT ME DON'T LET THEM-"
Nithhogg's pupils dilated and it thrust its arms forwards, propelling itself back and bending the very space inside the building. Gargomon fell to one knee, gritting her teeth as reality threatened to close in around her. "YOU'VE GOT TO STOP!"
"THEY SAID IT WOULD BE OKAY BUT THEY LIED THEY'RE COMING THEY'RE ALL COMING!"
Tendrils shot out from Nithhogg's frail body, attaching like webbing to the walls, the floor, the ceiling; everything within reach, where they immediately began to constrict and disassemble the particles, absorbing the data inside. Nithhogg's entire body pulsated as it tried to rush backwards, but its own panic prevented it from moving.
Gargomon stood up. "STOP THIS NOW! I MEAN IT!"
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO THEY'RE ALL COMING STOP THEM NOW I'LL STOP YOU-"
A front of stray data hit Gargomon and she collapsed, feeling numb in one leg. Gritting her teeth she held out her arms, the gatlings spinning wildly.
The green bullets ricocheted around the room, and for a moment everything froze. Nithhogg stared at the gunbunny, its expression one of confusion and fear.
"You hurt me."
"I didn't mean-"
There was a rumble, and Nithhogg's form rose, its face tearing open in a furious scream.
Lobomon held her head in one palm, exhaling. "I had no idea...you all really went through hell down there didn't you..."
The table nodded in silent agreement. Velocimon seemed to be staring ahead into nothingness, all of his energy gone.
"Who the hell do we blame for all this?"
Jack looked over, pity in his eyes. "It was all Rinkhalmon, wasn't it?"
"But Rinkhalmon's gone. Vanished into another dimension, leaving just the monster who destroyed my world and the girl who shot my partner."
Perimon shuffled up to him. "Velocimon…mate, it was an accident…"
"Of course it was. And you have no right." Colchimon swooped down, spreading his wings in front of the dinosaur. "I see how it is now. Soldier-boy has no more war to fight and can't come to terms with the fact that we've lost people."
"The war is over. If you ask me, it's your kind we don't need around any more."
Perimon barged the shadow dragon, standing in front of the dinosaur. "Hey, back off. We don't need this right now."
"If you ask me, the one thing we don't need is any more needless death. No matter what it is."
Velocimon sat down, looking completely deflated as he held his head in his hands. "So what? It's alright for all of you; your partners are still alive. I don't get it; Aaron's the one who dies and there's nothing I can do? No sense of justice in this world?"
"Depends what justice you're looking for. After all this, are you really willing to blame her?"
"Yes, I am."
Colchimon stiffened, and turned to his right, where Ladomon stared down at him. At all of them. She unfurled, her eyes blazing as she reached her full height.
"Shut up! I'm not a kid; I can see what's really going on. What's always been going on. I never meant to fight in a war but here I am, surrounded by humans. It would be humans, wouldn't it? They always mess with the world."
Kent leaned forward, shaking his head in disbelief. "Ladomon, what are you saying?"
Ladomon threw her wings wide. "The only way we could do it is by summoning you, and you've screwed up this world. All of you have. Maybe we did win a war but was it worth breaking the Digital World to do it? This evolution, this power; it's been wrong since the beginning. It's unnatural and devastating."
Colchimon flew up to Ladomon, panic in his eyes. "You can't mean that! They stayed here to help us!"
Ladomon blinked, before glaring down at Colchimon with those great aqua pools. "You felt it all, didn't you? You've always felt it, hanging around with this…demon." She gave a sideways look at Kai, who seemed to shrink back a little. "We were never meant to give the humans this power. Everything has been corrupted. The Digital World is only a shell of what it was."
"The war only started it." Ladomon glared at each human in term, hunching her shoulders like a vulture. "Everyone's kept saying that Nithhogg's responsible for wrecking the world but it was all of us. Everywhere we went we brought destruction. And you still think you've saved the world."
The door to the central hall slammed open as the wolf-warrior stood up, squinting as she tried to make out the figure standing there. He hobbled a little before falling to one knee, and she cried out as she realised it was Karatenmon.
The group rushed over to the tengu, who was breathing raggedly, clutching his side. "What are you doing here, you should be resting-"
"I heard gunfire, and checked the isolated room, and…and…"
Lobomon's eyes widened, and she crouched down, holding her mentor by the shoulders. "What? What is it, what's wrong?"
Karatenmon's eyes flickered up towards the tamers, sharing a brief moment of blame.
TO BE CONTINUED…