Quantumon's cannon exploded with yellow light, sending a column of electricity with the power of a nuclear detonation into Nithhogg's ruined face at near-point-blank range. The impact stripped the flesh and bone away in an instant, and the charred body skidded backwards. The beam stopped, and Nithhogg slumped, headless.
The dinosaur-man swung the cannon outwards, where it smoked, a lot of its charge depleted. "I'm gonna guess..."
"HOW DARE YOU!"
Nithhogg's body lunged straight towards him, knocking him to the ground with one backwards swipe of that skeletal hands. It dug its other one into Quantumon's chest, and bent down, dripping pus and acid as its face reformed in an instant.
"How dare you defile me!"
Quantumon struggled, with sparks erupting from his body and singeing Nithhogg's entrapping arms, to little effect. "Yep, I was right. That did nothing."
"Come on now, we've only just begun."
Nithhogg's arms were suddenly dragged back, and it looked to see Ouranomon and Eosmon pulling it away from Quantumon with all their might. It snarled, and wrenched its arms free, the bones twisting in their sockets, only to suddenly get rushed backwards by Astraeusmon, spear in hand and digging straight into the creature's exposed ribcage.
The energy burst from Nithhogg's chest, opening out its ribcage, but the attack was double-edged, as writhing wires of data burst out with it, slashing at Astraeusmon's body. Nithhogg ducked from another swipe from the staff, and elbowed the dark angel in the midriff.
Astraeusmon twisted away and Archaeomon took his place, his sets of arms spinning at a rapid speed. He began to strike, landing punch after seismic punch against Nithhogg's form; punches that could destroy many Digimon outright but more and more of them getting parried and knocked away. Still, the earthen warrior was fast and flexible, and he slammed in a palm from beneath, knocking Nithhogg skywards, straight into the path of Eosmon's crossbow bolt.
Nithhogg bent double in mid-air, and the beam only caught its shoulder, cutting a hole clean through. Eosmon gritted her teeth. "He's gotten faster."
"Faster than you."
A hand came from seemingly nowhere and grasped Eosmon's wrist, the thin bones digging in. She yelled, and slashed with her wings and tail, but Nithhogg was paying her no heed, instead bracing itself for Ouranomon who came flying at it with fury in his eyes.
"Let her go!"
"There you go then."
Nithhogg thrust its arm out, spinning Eosmon directly towards the oncoming sky soldier, who slowed right down, stopping her. She righted herself, only for the two of them to narrowly block a spear of data that came right at them, extended from one of Nithhogg's arms. It stabbed again as it fell earthwards, removing some of Ouranomon's feathers.
"I won't stop until you're all DEAD."
Nithhogg landed flawlessly, its legs bending and leaving an imprint in the red sand. It clicked, and bent its head backwards as Quantumon rushed towards it, his right arm extended with a blade of light crackling at the end.
The creature shrugged, sending a bladed tendril to counter the soldier's attack and another one to make several quick jabs of its own. It adjusted its footing, swiping with clawed hands as well as its own flesh, as its eyes stared right into Quantumon's.
"Really easy. This wasn't a good idea."
Quantumon smirked. "You really think I'm still fighting on my own?"
Nithhogg heard the footsteps and raised another tentacle, but it didn't expect the tentacle to explode upon touching Skathimon's sword. The creature chattered, and sent a barrage of spears her way, but she blocked them easily, her movements quick on the sand and her swordplay superior. The edge of the arrow-headed blade glowed bright white as she struck again, this time making contact with bone and shattering it outright. Nithhogg screeched, and held up its stump of a right arm, still blocking both Quantumon and Skathimon's attacks. It focused, making the black ice around its stump glisten.
"What have you done?"
"Problems? I'll help."
Nithhogg swung its arm out towards the voice, but the wound would not heal in time, and it found himself caught off guard in Archaeomon's charge, driving it over the sand. Skathimon and Quantumon stepped back, catching their breath and checking one another for injuries. Nothing major, thankfully, but every move counted at the moment.
The pale entity snarled, and bent its other arm around, grasping Archaeomon's broad chest and squeezing with enough power to chip the rock. But Archaeomon wasn't playing around; he grabbed the spindly appendage and snapped it backwards, bringing Nithhogg towards him, where his own arms grasped at the creature's body.
"Get your hands off me."
In a quick move he extended all his arms and brought his foot right into Nithhogg's spine, bending that as well. Nithhogg screeched in pain, but Archaeomon wasn't done yet; he pulled the creature tight and leapt high into the air, spinning while he did so. At the top of his jump, he angled his quarry, the palms of his hands glowing as he did so.
Archaeomon threw with all his might. The pale creature was caught in a blast of rock and gem fragments slamming into it, and together the whole medley went hurtling towards the ground, creating a massive crater in the beach. Archaeomon landed some way away, but even from here he could see Nithhogg's body twisting once again, crawling out of the crater like a spider from a crack. He sighed, and looked down at himself.
"We're going to be here forever, aren't we...?"
He wasn't the only one worried about the time. Eosmon looked skywards, and at the rift in the sky above them, and she felt a pit in her stomach. "We don't have much time. The world is still shrinking."
A blast of data flew past her head just after she ducked, and the barrage kept coming; spinning sickles and rough blades which Nithhogg was firing at a breakneck speed, its jaw bubbling as it did so.
"If you can attack like this then so can I."
"Not like we can." Eloise parried a bunch of blades away, before twisting her staff and pointing it at the ground. "Empyrean Serpent!"
The white wyrm erupted from the end, flying straight towards Nithhogg and engulfing it. Disorientated and blinded from the blast, the pale creature didn't notice as Eosmon flew down herself, striking with the circular blade of her staff. It flailed wildly, catching her weapon, but she wasn't deterred.
Eosmon shimmered, and seemed to expand; a silhouette of her own body forming around her, like armour. She gritted her teeth, and threw a punch, small spikes coming out of the force-field just before impact. Nithhogg countered, but he missed the punch after, followed by the tail sweep, the several wing beats and the clothesline that sent it sprawling. It twisted out the way as Eosmon stabbed down with her retrieved staff, the force-field still around her entire body.
"You've hurt too many people. Your march is over. This is not your world!"
"It IS my world I can do what I want with it!"
Nithhogg snarled, and raised both arms, ripping a torrent of data from the very ground in a huge twisting column. Eosmon was knocked flat, and the column kept rising, bending over like a massive arch. At the top, clamped on like a cockroach, was Nithhogg; surveying the beach below and snarling ferociously. Down below, Quantumon spread his arms wide, lights glowing all over his body.
Dozens of beams fired into the sky, before turning sharply, and all homing towards Nithhogg as it travelled through the sky. It dodged the first few, before splitting the column, bringing up one half as a shield and swatting the blasts away, quickly followed by Astraeusmon, who came up the other side for a well-placed swipe with his lance. The pale creature thrust its arm back, taking a gouge out of the dark angel's chest. He recoiled, gritting his teeth. "This isn't good. It's learning."
Archaeomon rushed towards the base of the column, right arms already spinning in preparation. "Yeah? Let it learn from this..."
Three rock-solid fists struck the sandy pillar, disintegrating it in seconds. Up above, Nithhogg felt its vantage point topple, and it leapt off, spreading flaps of flesh and skin in an attempt to angle its fall.
"Not yet, you don't!"
Ouranomon shot into the abominable creature like a rocket, grabbing it and spinning high into the sky. Nithhogg screeched, and slashed and punched and kicked, taking chinks out of the sky soldier's armour. But Ouranomon's grip was tight; an impenetrable fortress, impossible to break in, or escape.
"LET ME GO!" Nithhogg cried, going for the eyes. "LET ME DOWN!"
Ouranomon closed his eyes, and suddenly his ascent changed direction disturbingly rapidly. He shot earthwards, at first heading for the sand, then directly towards the red-cliffs that stood like sharpened pillars. He spun like a bullet, and Nithhogg could barely move let alone wriggle free. The cliffs grew larger and larger, nearer and nearer and
Ouranomon banked at the last microsecond, releasing Nithhogg from his grip and spreading his wings wide. Space itself seemed to ripple as all his momentum passed onto the pale creature, along with several tonnes of spiralling air that lay waiting to crash into the wall just behind.
There was an explosion of sound, and side of the cliff splintered, with Nithhogg being compressed into it like a swatted fly. Ouranomon flew carefully around up above, his head spinning from the descent, but thankfully his sturdy armour had held.
Nithhogg decidedly hadn't, but unfortunately, it seemed not to be making a huge difference. Its head reformed first, bulging out again to its former hideous perfection, and it growled. Skathimon grasped her sword, and pawed the ground angrily. "Don't you ever go down?"
The abomination seemed not to hear her; its eyes were vibrating, its mouth bubbling, and its flesh was bulging all over its body as tendrils reached out to heal shattered bones and pierced organs. It began to laugh; hoarse, broken, but still shrill and manic, like a hyena. "YOU WILL BE GLORIOUS WHEN YOU DIE."
Skathimon and Quantumon ducked out the way as Archaeomon rushed forwards with his whole body, the earth rising up beneath him like a tidal wave, preparing to slam Nithhogg into the cliff once again. But the creature was learning; a bouquet of limbs burst from its chest, reaching out and bringing the wall of rock to a near-complete halt. Archaeomon leapt down and landed a punch, but Nithhogg landed five more, and they were suddenly just as heavy and brutal as the titan's. More limbs exploded outwards, grasped the earthen warrior and tossed him aside like a doll, where he landed on his feet, but still far away from where he needed to be.
"It's still changing itself. Adapting to our attacks. The longer we leave this the harder it's going to be."
Astraeusmon, Eosmon and Quantumon all fired at once, but their blasts were meaningless, brushed away but Nithhogg which was now discarding limbs as it jumped down from the cliff. It landed low, its knees bent and its teeth chattering, waiting for the next attack.
"I see you..."
Skathimon was rushing forwards, arms held back as she galloped over the sand. Nithhogg grimaced, and ran itself, swiping and letting out kicks as she charged past it. Nithhogg turned, just in time to see her reveal her hands; not holding her sword, but instead tracing something in the air; a symbol, glowing white.
Nithhogg rushed forwards, but the area went white. It stopped, and split each limb in two, staring around. "Where are-"
There was a crack, and one of its arms went spinning away. It snarled and lashed out, but the movement cost it a gouge out of its head. A silhouette dissipating in the mist was the creature's only clue to what happened. But it was enough.
Skathimon struck twice more, effortlessly moving through the whiteout and dodging Nithhogg's slowed-down movements. She twisted as the great hand came around again, and she brought her sword down, threatening to sever it. But the hand curled around at the last second, grabbing the blade and encasing it in fleshy data. She pulled it away, but it was too late. Nithhogg knew where she was.
She didn't even see the spiralling spikes coming from Nithhogg's chest until they struck her; most of them breaking off of her heavy armour, but one or two of them burrowing deep. She yelled, and the fog dissipated, leaving her staring at the creature's maw. She reached for the spikes but Nithhogg got there first, pushing them deeper and swatting her hands away.
Nithhogg jerked as the spear of wind struck it in the back, ripping it apart and revealing more of its spine. It looked around and scowled up at Ouranomon, who hovered above, the wind rippling around him. Skathimon took her chance; her sword came up between her and the creature, severing the twisted spines, and she reared up and punted, knocking the creature backwards straight into Ouranomon's attack once again. It twisted itself round, dodging most of it, only to find itself fending off Astraeusmon and Eosmon's own twisting attacks. Skathimon retreated a safe distance, and wrenched the pieces of spike away from her body. Ouranomon landed next to her, his eyes concerned. "Are you okay?"
Skathimon hissed as a particularly large piece came out, stained purple with her own blood. "I can keep going. Unfortunately so can he."
She held her shoulder, and glared at the pale abomination, which was sending more of those spikes towards the warriors of light and darkness who spiralled around it, doing their best to dodge. The tauric warrior clutched at her sword, when Quantumon stepped forwards, his energy sabre glowing. "We can't stop it alone, but if we slow it down, we can hit it more."
He rushed forwards, spinning his right arm as a trail of light emanated away, circling his body. It joined up, and he held his arm out far as the ring spun fast, gathering energy and momentum. About fifteen metres from Nithhogg he stopped, and thrust his arm forwards.
The ring flew off, growing in size and ferocity. Nithhogg noticed it too late, and it connected, knocking it to one side and wrapping its body in a thousand electric threads. It struggled, only to be slashed by Astraeusmon and Eosmon in turn, followed by Quantumon's bladed fist rushing into its neck.
"Keep your hands off my friends!"
With a yell he drew up his fist, but the pale creature turned its head, the blade merely scalping its cheek. Immediately a swarm of tendrils rushed out, grabbing Quantumon by the shoulder and slamming him into Astraeusmon, sending them both down. It readjusted itself, when a taloned foot struck it in the shoulder, followed by another as Ouranomon began raining heavy kicks down.
Nithhogg ducked after the fifth shot, but Astraeusmon was waiting there, swiping its legs with his crescent tail. The creature went down, and Astraeusmon moved up, spinning his staff rapidly as a black substance began to form.
"Fury of the Void!"
Nithhogg growled and kicked up, sending Astraeusmon up into the air, but his attack was already on the move; a glistening orb of darkness that writhed and moved like liquid, smothering pieces of Nithhogg one after the other. The dark angel smirked, and stabbed down once again, striking directly into the centre of the void on Nithhogg's upper thigh.
The effect was instantaneous; the blackness imploded, causing Nithhogg to writhe in pain as its flesh and bone was pressed and twisted into an unrecognisable mass. It began digging into itself, desperately trying to get the black matter off of it, but it was still writhing, wrapping itself around arms and legs and exposed bones and organs. One piece reached its right eye, then its left, and then its vision went black. Then white, then red, and it scrambled back on its rapidly regenerating legs as Astraeusmon hit it again and again. It stood up and lashed out, throwing crystalline shards of data at its pursuers.
"Going somewhere? Fimbul Scimitar!"
Nithhogg's movement stopped as fresh pain rushed through its legs, and it looked down to see one missing and one frozen in place. It contorted its body, and snarled at the onrushing Skathimon, but she slashed again, taking a piece out of its shoulder.
It grew more arms in retaliation, but the others were already upon it; punching and slashing and kicking, and then as its vision slowly became less and less blurred, it looked up to see Archaeomon, taller than them all, rolling back his right arms as energy built around them.
The titan's attack struck Nithhogg square in the chest. The first fist's effect was immediate; cracks developed over the flesh and the bare bone, and the chest itself caved in, as if the creature had been hit by a cannonball. Archaeomon bowed his head, and brought the other two fists in.
Nithhogg exploded. Fragments of its body went far and wide, out towards the ocean, up into the sky, and embedding themselves into the sand beneath. What was left of the creature was overrun with green crystals that stuck out of its lower half like an unusual fungus. Archaeomon stood up, and stepped back, looking away. The legs didn't regenerate. They just fell, uneven and crooked, onto the sand.
Everyone looked around. No-one dared say anything. They just watched as the data began to fall away, seemingly going to nowhere.
Ouranomon hovered low. "...Is that...is that it?"
"Ssh." Archaeomon clenched all his fists, seemingly staring out into nothing. His ruby eyes couldn't close, but if they could, they would have been. He focused, feeling for any movement. Any vibration. Any-
"Look out!" He turned, pointing as the abomination rose. "Quantumon!"
Quantumon slashed back, ripping open the entity's chest, and it fell back, still and dead-eyed. Quantumon looked down, his breath rapid. "What the-"
Everyone turned back to Archaeomon, who currently had one of Nithhogg's arms clutching his shoulder and one of Nithhogg's fleshy blades sticking out of his bloodstained hip, through layers of crystal and bone armour. It head rose up above, chattering and crazy-eyed. "I've seen what you can all do. It hurt, but it was worth it. I know how you all work." Its hand travelled from Archaeomon's shoulder to his neck, and began to squeeze, the claws cracking the armour plate. "I can finally kill you."
"Bastard! I won't let you!"
Archaeomon twisted, holding all his arms out as he spun in a windmill and temporarily dislodged the hand, but Nithhogg held tight, moving instead to the earthen warrior's head and squeezing.
Nithhogg pulled as soon as it heard Skathimon's words, roughly removing the pale sabre from Archaeomon's body. It twisted backwards and leered, pushing off from the titan and straight into a shocked Skathimon.
"I saw you coming."
She raised her sword but a flurry of arms came at her, digging into her arms, her shoulders, even her front legs. She dug in, standing her ground as the sword glowed white-cold, but the pale creature was relentless. One of those arms made its way up towards her own neck, then stopped, instead curling around the heavy pendant, the inside of which glowed and pulsed with the vibrant blue element.
"How weird. This isn't like the others." Its lip curled upwards, like a terrible half-grin. "What would happen if I broke it?"
"DON'T YOU DARE!" Skathimon brought her head forwards, he mask scraping Nithhogg's face. During the distraction she dropped her blade and moved her fingers quickly and neatly, still in the entity's grip. It finally looked back, its expression dark.
"I suppose I will-"
The blast knocked Nithhogg back, freezing and snapping many of its arms instantaneously. It was quick though, and its body began to glow; its molecules rubbing together at a high velocity.
"You can't stop me in this, hybrid."
It twisted and caught Skathimon's hidden blade in both palms, before lashing out with three kicks in quick succession. Skathimon blocked them as best she could, and parried the overhead hand, before going in with a stab of her own and vanishing back into the whiteness. She could hear the panting of Nithhogg as it chased after her though, hot on her heels, no matter where she went.
Suddenly she jumped, and skidded into the sand, as she felt Nithhogg's revolting tendrils around her rear left tendon. She focused the blizzard, but it made no difference, as the grip on her foot only grew tighter, threatening to break the bone in half-
"Let her GO!"
Archaeomon rose out of the white blindness and three of his fists crashed into Nithhogg at once, sending it rolling backwards from the sheer impact. The titan leaned down and helped Skathimon up, her rear left foot sprained and purple but still in one piece. They rushed away as the blizzard dissipating, revealing them to their comrades, but also to Nithhogg, whose relentlessness was renewed, and who was currently tussling with Eosmon and Quantumon. Skathimon pulled her hand away from Archaeomon and she looked at the blood, and then at the wound in his side. She shivered; not from the cold, but from the impending feeling. Archaeomon just looked away.
"I thought...we had it..."
There was a crack; not close by, but up above, way in the sky. The rift was flaking away now, revealing more and more of the dreaded Interface behind. All around the world was getting whiter and whiter, the data from each tree and rock and grain of sand being pulled away into Nithhogg's horrific form. The world beyond...no, there was no world beyond. Only an emptiness, creeping forward quickly and steadily. Pieces of the world flaked off at the very edge, and floated out into nothingness, empty and grey, a cluster of worthless data.
Skathimon felt Archaeomon stiffen, and watched as he stood tall, turning back towards the ongoing battle. His arms were shaking. 'Of course', Skathimon thought. 'He can feel all of this. They can feel every bit of this.'
Archaeomon's voice was deep, and carried a malevolent edge, quite unlike either Kent or Trilomon, when he spoke.
"This is the end of the world. We need to destroy that thing now."
Skathimon held out her hand, but the titan was already rushing into the fray once again. She hesitated for a moment, then started running herself.
They weren't the only ones aware of the impending disaster. Up on the cliff, exposed to the wind and sand, Chromon peered down, flinching as he watched the terrible fight below.
Phoukamon wandered up to him and placed their hand on his shoulder, patting it. "They're still going."
"N-n-not for long. It's r-really giving them a hard time."
Phoukamon bit their lip, and their other hand clasped more tightly around the two spiral swords in their grip. They looked away, seemingly staring into nothing. "They're clever. They made it through fights like this before. Yes they did. They can win. We know they can win-"
"But what if they can't?" Chromon turned angrily on his colleague, his voice shaking through every word from fear and anger. "You kept saying this, you kept pushing them through this, but things only got worse. There's nothing we can do!"
"We have to trust them..."
"We can't even trust one another." Chromon stamped his foot. "This whole...this whole thing was a terrible idea! It didn't work. They had no chance. For god's sake, they were only children. All of them. The world is going to-"
"Then let it!" Phoukamon whirled round, and marched over to Chromon, grabbing his cheek. Their three eyes darted between his two, filled with the same terror and trauma. "We've done what we can. We've made plans. If we must give up on this world, so be it. We agreed on this." They released their grip, and looked up at the growing rift in the sky. "It was the best we could do without him. And that wasn't very good. No good at all."
Chromon sat down, dejected. "What was the point of us trying to protect the Digital World? We have no power over it. We never did. We w-w-were only l-lying to ourselves."
Phoukamon nodded, and retrieved the swords, heading back to the cliff edge. "We stand no chance. But they might. They're all we have left."
Chromon tapped the swords. "When are you going to call it?"
"Not yet. That's a last resort. When we've reached the point of no return."
"Will it work?"
Phoukamon bit their lip, and shook their head. "Just wait. Pray we won't need to." They stared down, their tails whipping in the wind as the crumbling world crept closer behind them. "Come on, children. You can do it."
As justified as Phoukamon was in their belief, that prospect was looking dimmer and dimmer by the second.
Astraeusmon lunged with his twin spear-head, but Nithhogg intercepted it, its fingers rolling around the weapon in seconds. The dark angel flew up and spun, his tail whipping out and catching the creature across the jaw, before he darted down, grabbing his weapon back and firing blasts of darkness. Still, they all simply grazed their target. The pale creature chattered, and sent a sharp kick up into Astraeusmon's face, the impact making him reel back.
"Fury of the Void!"
A torrent of darkness flowed out of both ends of the staff, and Astraeusmon flew up, firing it towards Nithhogg in an abyssal tsunami. But the creature was unfazed. "It's no good. No good."
It raised its arms, and its flesh expanded, spreading out in a web – no, a thin film – that caught and coagulated around the liquid abyss trapping it in mid-air. Nithhogg breathed erratically, in something that sounded awfully like a laugh.
"Let's see how you like it."
Astraeusmon saw the creature's plan too late, and he raised his arms as the torrent came down, spinning around him and constricting him, a mass of fleshy data and his own dark powers. He tried to slice it open, but it held him like cellophane, halting his movement, his vision, his breathing...
"Let him go!"
Eosmon rushed forwards, but Nithhogg moved quickly, its tendrils flying towards her and digging into her wings. She screamed, and moved backwards, driving back into the creature with slashes and stabs from her staff. There was a ripping sound, and she looked up to see Quantumon with Astraeusmon, tearing away the dark angel's prison with his energy blade.
She breathed a sigh of relief, before a new spasm of pain racked her body as Nithhogg's tendrils dug deeper, ripping at the feathers on her left wing. She twisted, ignoring the pain and spinning her weapon, before lunging upwards and thrusting the crossbow right up through Nithhogg's upper jaw.
"How DARE you! Elysian Pulsar!"
The blast was so close that it sent her reeling back, but it worked, blowing Nithhogg's head apart like a shrapnel grenade. Not that it mattered much; she'd barely gotten her bearings back when Nithhogg stood again, its hideous face already stitched back together. It thrust its hand out again, but this time the tendrils rolled out in sideways spirals, glowing like white-hot wires. Eosmon held her staff vertical in an attempt to block them, but the wires lashed around, slicing into her arms, tail and belly. She backed off, bleeding gold. Nithhogg kept advancing.
A twisting blast of darkness flew between them, severing the tendrils temporarily. Eosmon took her chance, holding her head down and tackling Nithhogg with as much power as she could muster, finishing the charge with a lash from her beaded tail.
Nithhogg made a grab for her, but its hand was intercepted by a taloned foot that gripped with a force of iron. The creature sneered, and sprayed yellow fluid up towards Ouranomon, but the bird-man held its wings together, the substance merely sizzling on the outer surface.
"You're not going anywhere!"
Ouranomon opened his wings and stamped down, pinning Nithhogg's hand to the ground and shattering the bone. With his free leg, and his wings he struck Nithhogg again and again, his armour getting chipped and sliced but his huge wings blocking most of the creature's counters. He spun, unleashing a two-footed kick that cracked the creature's ribs.
"We're not letting you-"
A sudden crack, and the ground began to shake. The sky had opened yet again; more holes as data simply fell downwards, revealing more and more of the Interface as the weakest parts of the world's infrastructure had given way. The warriors were disorientated, the motion throwing off their balance, Ouranomon's included. Only Nithhogg was unaffected, and as Ouranomon turned back towards it, it sprayed the yellow acid once again, this time hitting Ouranomon square in both of his piercing eyes.
Ouranomon screamed, and rushed erratically into the air, spinning in a vain attempt to throw the liquid off. Nithhogg chuckled, and reached up, its right arm stretched and spearing Ouranomon in mid-air. The sky-soldier twisted, still blinded.
The attack was wild; a ferocious typhoon of bronze blades that tore into the battlefield. Some went into the sky, some into the sand, and some narrowly missed Ouranomon's allies as they rushed back, trying to head into attack again. But most went straight into Nithhogg, peppering it with holes. It snarled, and drew its other arm back, the hand extending into another set of white-hot blades.
"I'll tear those wings right off you. I'll tear you apart until you have no choice but to be one with me."
A bulky arm came down, severing Nithhogg's hold on the aerial warrior with a blade of energy. Nithhogg grimaced, and looked up to meet Quantumon's fist catching it in the neck. It thrust its free arm forwards, the blades slicing into Quantumon's leg, but the warrior didn't even flinch. He simply rushed forwards again, slamming the crystal spike at the end of his cannon into Nithhogg's body again and again. Both were relentless now, not holding back.
Below them the ground shook all the more. Quantumon glanced sideways; at the edge of the world, clearly visible now, and getting closer and closer. To his right, the top of the cliff was being eaten away, the crystal forest all but disappeared, with only pieces of branch and rock left to commemorate its existence. They were fighting in an ever-shrinking arena. Their time was up.
"You'll take your hands off me, General."
Nithhogg's arms wrapped around Quantumon's cannon and hoisted the warrior off his feet, throwing him to the ground. The soldier spun back onto his feet, unleashing punch after electrified kick, but the pale abomination was a fortress now, still sucking up the last of the data.
It retaliated; a punch, another punch, a kick, and a square hook that knocked Quantumon on his back once again, cracking his helmet. Quantumon's breathing was audible, but he got on his feet again, rolling his neck.
"General or not; it doesn't matter now. All that matters is stopping you."
"You're too late. You were even before you started this war. This was inevitable."
Quantumon lunged again, locking blades with Nithhogg. "You keep telling yourself that. You've somehow convinced yourself that you deserve to win this. But you don't have the faintest idea who we are. What we've been through to get here. What we've lost. We fought Cephalomon, Teslamon, Surtremon...at the end of the day, all you are is another monster. And I promise you, we are not going to stop until either you're dead or we are!"
"SILENCE!" Nithhogg swung wide, its bladed arm extending and digging into Quantumon's arm. The soldier rolled away, clutching the wound, as Nithhogg stood with their arms held high. "This world is me. I am this world now. You have no dominion over this world, and therefore, no dominion over me."
Black and white lightning fell from the sky, embracing and biting into Nithhogg's form. A spear of wind ripped at its flesh, a frozen slash shattered its bones, and a column of the earth itself sent it flying backwards, until there was no world left for it to go. Its body hung, broken, but still twisting and clicking, like a broken doll. It stared up, one eye rolling in its socket. Quantumon raised his cannon once again, the end glowing bright white.
The blast struck Nithhogg in the chest, blowing right through it. It staggered, watching as its flesh knitted back together, glowing whiter than ever. The creature tilted its head, and glanced up, pointing at the throng of warriors before it; beaten, bruised, but still ready to fight.
Its top lip curled up, and it extended its fleshy blade once again; a long way this time, nearly down to its feet. The blade was vibrating, the molecules white-hot, and it began to morph into a more complicated, more ornate shape. A familiar shape. Nithhogg stared down at itself, and then up again.
"That's how I can beat you. You're using elements. You still have the Digital World within you. Fighting for you."
Archaeomon gasped, and put a hand to his chin. "No..."
Nithhogg simply nodded, and held its arm back. "Let me use my own."
Every warrior instantly understood. They started to run. Some of them ducked for cover. It didn't matter what they did, for Nithhogg was already swinging the false sword Logi, its eyes and its veins burning orange.
The onslaught was far more powerful than Surtremon had ever been capable of. White light, pure destructive energy, hitting each of the six warriors square on. It sent them flying back, rushing through their armour and their flesh and bone. Arcs of fire dug into the sand, right into the mainframe beneath, and instantly dissolved it. The blast cut a swathe out of the rock and the cliff, causing them to crumble in seconds. And when the swing finished, there wasn't even a dust cloud.
The six warriors could barely move. Powerful as they were, the blast had wiped them. Skathimon raised herself up on her blade next to Eosmon and Astraeusmon assisting one another. A beaten and cracked Archaeomon was being nudged by Ouranomon. In the middle, Quantumon got to his feet, his eyes still piercing despite the new pain coursing through every fibre of his being. He glanced around, at his friends. They were slow, their bodies beginning to flicker. They glowed so brightly they might have burst, so strained were the elements holding them together.
Nithhogg simply sauntered left and right, swinging the blade lazily. It looked up at the roaring sky, and danced between the pylons of the mainframe; nearly all that was left of the first beach. The last skeletal branches of the Digital World were drying up.
Quantumon's head fell, staring at the ground that rapidly disappeared beneath him. Presently, the ground was gone, and he was suddenly floating; no data to tell him which way was up, down or anywhere. All around, the others were lifting up as well, space bending in on itself as the void caught up with them. They reached out for one another; wordless, but saying thousands as they grabbed tightly onto one another. Nithhogg watched them with what might have been amusement, the last trickles of data running into its body like a drying-up stream.
"Did I win?"
"I'm c-c-calling it."
There was a movement through the rubble, and Chromon shook his head, standing just behind the elemental warriors. Astraeusmon shifted. "You..."
Chromon gave them a weak smile. "You did good."
Some distance away, Nithhogg chuckled. "You're too late. There's nothing left. What can you do to save your world now?"
The dinosaur shrugged. "Not a lot, really. Actually nothing. It was always the way, ever since you came on the scene." He glanced sideways, and mouthed something at the warriors. 'Hold on'.
"Then why are you here?"
Chromon glanced upwards. "One last trick."
Everyone followed his gaze, up towards the roaring and cracking rift in the sky, with a lone figure hovering just next to it. Phoukamon held one sword in each hand, staring into the Interface.
"It didn't work, Karatenmon. Save them."
They looked down at the warriors, huddled together. For a brief moment they smiled, pride showing on their face, pride in the children from both worlds, despite everything that had happened. Then, with all their might, they threw the spiral swords into the rift.
"Take them home."
Deep in the rainbow void, a lone figure saw the flash of gold. Something familiar. They were once his; he was sure of it.
"So, that's how it is after all."
He reached out, with an expertise he'd forgotten he had, and caught both swords, as they swirled, an alien possibility in an impossible world. He held his arms wide, the blades twisting once again, reaching outwards into the distance and yet unbelievable close.
"Do your job once more. Break the seal I placed there, so long ago." Karatenmon looked back the other direction. "Break it all the way through. Open the gate wide."
The Interface pulsed, and the whistling sound began...
The sky opened up; a cascade of colours swirling and spiralling, and reaching down towards the beings below, threatening to swallow them whole. The six warriors clung tightly to one another now; they knew what was coming. Even so, despite their power they were sucked away like a leaf in the wind, into the tunnel before them.
Nithhogg looked up in wonder; partial fear, and yet curiosity and...longing. It reached out a hand, watching as its opponents disappeared from view.
A force slammed into it; not enough to even budge it, but enough to get its attention. It looked down at Chromon, who was standing with his head down and a determined look in his eyes, his legs seemingly splayed on nothing. Nithhogg tilted its head. "I don't understand? You're giving up this world?"
Chromon smiled. "What world? You have it all now. Everything you ever w-w-wanted." He looked around, gesturing at the whiteness all around. "We've r-r-repaid our debt. This world is now yours. Now and forever. But let it be your new p-prison."
There was a glimmer of something in Nithhogg's eyes; anger, or even panic. It looked up again at the spiralling portal; the link between worlds. "The humans..."
"Have escaped. They'll ride out this storm, along with the elements, and their partners. You, on the other hand, will remain here, sealed away once again.
"You're mad. You'll all perish here."
Chromon bowed his head. "Anything to keep you from destroying anywhere else."
There was a cracking sound. The portal was shrinking at an alarming rate, the sky freezing over as Karatenmon's tired body pushed every ounce of energy it had into the barrier. Nithhogg screamed, and began to run.
Chromon fired again and again, the circular walls doing little but slowing the pale creature down. Still it kept moving, entirely focused on the portal before it. "I need to get through...I won't be trapped again..."
Its knees bent and it jumped, aiming towards the shrinking hole like a torpedo, but something wrapped around its exposed spine. It looked back too late, straight into Phoukamon's three eyes. The spirit grinned. "You're staying with us. Staying here. Forever. Shadow Switch!"
Nithhogg rematerialised more than fifty metres further away from the portal; not impressive by Phoukamon's former standards, but the best they could do in their current condition. Nithhogg screamed and swiped, but the spirit had already fallen away. A long way away, the portal was now the size of a football. Then a tennis ball. In a last-ditch effort Nithhogg threw its right arm forward, stretching out the data in one super-fast tendril.
"I WON'T BE TRAPPED AGAIN NOT AGAIN DADDY DON'T LET ME"
Its hand wrapped against the closed rift, smothering it, encasing it in pulsating data...
...and the shell of Karatenmon watched, with a despair he hadn't felt for a long time, as, through the tiniest of gaps, the thinnest of tendrils wormed its way through.
And it stretched out, through the Interface, growing and twirling and spinning, and lashed out towards the end of the tunnel...
Eosmon opened her eyes, her mask feeling heavy and unfamiliar on her head. She ached all over, and her ears were still ringing, but she steeled herself and pushed herself upright, balancing on her tail. With a few flaps she was airborne once again, and she looked around.
The others were all there, laid out close by. Quantumon was getting up, as was Skathimon. Archaeomon and Ouranomon were looking very much worse for wear. She frowned, and looked around, her vision still blurred. Somebody stood behind her; Astraeusmon, upright as well. She moved over to him.
Astraeusmon didn't answer. One hand was over his mouth, his spear held limply in the other. Eosmon looked as well.
The noise of the portal was giving way now, replaced instead by the sound of water. A river, running close by. Below them was grass, blowing in the gentle breeze. And further back, past the field, were buildings. Familiar ones. Hotels, restaurants, the old bowling alley – god, how long ago had that been – people. People walking past, and then stopping, and staring at them. Some were beginning to run. Others just stood stock still. She looked up. Blue sky, studded with a few clouds, with the sun shining brightly down.
She opened her mouth, but it took her a few attempts to get the words out.
"...Ea...Earth...we're on Earth..."
All around, the other warriors stared as they did. Nobody knew quite what to say. Ouranomon stood up, his feathers blowing in the breeze. For a brief moment, his eyes were not their usual piercing green, but instead a glistening aqua.
"Are we home...?"
Skathimon started. "The portal! The Digital World!"
She looked around, but there was nothing. Only the familiar and yet all-too-distant scene around them all. She closed her fist. "We couldn't save it...after all that, we couldn't save it?"
Quantumon shook his head. "We can't abandon it. Not now. The portal has to be around here somewhere."
The others looked around at Archaeomon, who was pointing, though his arm was slowly descending. They followed his gaze, and saw it. It was tiny; a miniscule rip in space, but still whistling gently and swirling. But it wasn't shrinking. Not anymore. Something was in the way.
They watched in horror as the flesh swelled, forming muscle and bone, and curling round. More flesh grew, bubbling as it did so, forming another finger. Then another. Slowly, Nithhogg's hand unfurled, and grasped hold of their world for the first time.
Phoukamon could only look on in horror as Nithhogg shot towards the void, its body coming to a halt at the rift as its arm was retracted. The spirit floated down, coming to rest next to an out-of-breath Chromon. The dinosaur was panicking as usual. "W-w-w-what do...what do we do? Is there anything we can do?"
"Us?" Phoukamon pointed at Chromon, then Nithhogg, then their own chest. "Us, against that?"
The spirit squinted. "It can't get through. It could reach through but it can't get through."
It was true. Nithhogg was squirming and writhing and shifting its body as best it could, but with the seal in place, it couldn't get any further. Its head was twisted with rage as it screamed, even doing its best to bite at the rift in an attempt to gnaw it open.
Presently, it stopped. It couldn't get any further, but at this range it could feel the Interface. It could even see it, partially. And on the other side...it had the other side.
"I won't be trapped again. Not noW. NoT EVeRrrrr...aggaiIIIIiiinnnnNNNn..."
The flesh around its shoulder bubbled, and it began to pull with all its might. And then it pulled even more, its entire body morphing, pressing against the data that wasn't there and sinking into the very space around which it was trapped.
Down below, Chromon and Phoukamon watched as Nithhogg kept pulling, sinking deeper and deeper into what looked like solid space as if it was being wrapped in clingfilm. And as it kept pulling, it pulled the Digital World up with it, dragging it through like a robe on a phantom.
It was going through the tunnel, and it was taking the Digital World with it.
Karatenmon watched as the Digital World moved towards him, fronted by the terrifying maw of the creature that shouldn't have been. He saw the eyes rolling in their sockets, and the jaws that pierced the rift with needle-sharp teeth.
And the Interface pushed back, smothering Nithhogg, wrapping around that gelatinous flesh and making it bubble and pulse and ripple and scream.
And still Nithhogg kept pulling, until even what remained of Karatenmon was drawn up into its growing form.
The outstretched arm grew thicker. Bulbous. Pulling and being pressed from all directions, grafting new skin, new muscle with every pull.
And still Nithhogg didn't give up, as it moved, slowly but surely, towards the other end of the tunnel...
The warriors tried.
They sliced at the hand, tried to peel back the fingers, burn it, blast it; everything they could. But it just kept growing, its grip tightening, and tendrils flying out and fastening themselves to the ground, their very touch turning the grass yellow.
Quantumon held out his arms and drew everyone back as, inexplicably, another hand appeared. It clawed at the opening, squeezing, shrinking, and forcing itself through. Then another, and another and another. They weren't like Nithhogg's arms before; these were huge, bloated, pale appendages, scrabbling and shifting and planting themselves in the dirt. The rift stretched under the strain, as something much, much bigger began to push its way through.
Nithhogg's face appeared. It too had changed, the matter of the Interface pressed against it once again. It was puffy, and swollen; still the same skull as the previous form but fully fleshed out. Its lower jaw was lost in a sea of flesh, leaving its mouth open in a permanent agonising scream. Aside from that, it looked human. Disturbingly so.
It pushed forwards, the rift ripping at its face and stretching the skin backwards. All around the tiny hole, the very air began to move. Subtly at first, then incredibly noticeably, as something began to bulge outwards. It grew, and grew, like a balloon inflating, every movement making the scenery judder and warp. And still the six warriors moved backwards, as the thing grew and grew.
The barrier could take no more. It ripped, peeling back like a balloon, and Nithhogg's full, petrifying form spilled out. Any semblance of humanity backwards from its face had disappeared; its body was long and thick, and pulsating. Its skin was stark white and painful blue, and smothered with hideous pus-yellow buboes and boils, all glowing. All along its sides and underbelly were more arms; just arms, no legs, scrabbling at the ground or waving through the air. Many of the hands themselves were deformed; missing fingers, bent out or proportion, or just non-existent, leaving a single tentacle waving uselessly. Near its head were those tendrils, circling its face like a crown, or even a mane, making it look like a grotesque sea anemone as they darted out and in again. Its eyes hadn't changed; still vacant, staring and mad. It kept pushing forwards, and kept growing, simply growing more arms and more body the further it pushed itself from the rift.
Slowly, ungainly, it pushed itself up, and bent its bloated neck down, staring at the six warriors below, now like ants to it. Its top lip curled up, and its eyes shined.
It was the dragon that had lain beneath the roots of Yggdrasil. For far too long, it seemed. It was hungry. It was angry. And it had entered the human world.
TO BE CONCLUDED...