The sounds from outside were getting worse. Horrendous crashing, people screaming, and already the distant sound of sirens. The ground shook with the impacts, and the blasts; all of them resonating in the upstairs room. The lady in her bed stared upwards, her vision blurry. She was tired. Deep down she knew what was happening. There had been commotion, after all. And she'd been told. Not that she had the energy to do anything about it anymore.
Something else. A feeling, like a distant memory from so long ago. The old lady dug her gnarled hands into the mattress and, ignoring the pain in her chest, pushed herself upright. The room was dark, and somewhat musty, with only a bit of light getting in through the curtains. Still, she knew...
She wasn't alone.
Her shaking hand reached over towards her bedside table, fumbling around for her glasses. She found them, and brought them up to her face, blinking as the room refocused itself. It looked just the same as normal; bookshelf, wardrobe, computer desk; all, that is, except for the cloud, hovering in front of her doorway.
She recognised it instantly. You don't forget something like that; not in a million years. She watched as the cloud shimmered, and flickered, gently forming the faintest of silhouettes. Hundreds of thousands of tiny lights coming together, like an old film. The small creature took a step, and then another, its legs unsteady and not even physical. The room was nearly silent; only the breathing of the lady, as she clutched the duvet tightly in her worn hands.
The creature looked up at last, and his eyes were blue as sky. His woolly fur glittered, and on top of that, his breastplate and helmet, and the sword hung over his back. He looked across at the woman, and his mouth opened. "Y...Yvonne...is that...is that you?"
Yvonne smiled, and wiped away a tear from the corner of her eye, as the spirit of her old partner tiptoed closer.
"It's been so long, Arimon."
Skathimon galloped away as the huge hand came slamming down, sending earth in all directions. She tried to turn, to make some sort of counter-attack, but already spiralling coils of flesh were on her tail, slashing and pulling at her armoured body.
Eosmon rushed between her friend and the coils, her body glowing as she slashed away herself, but more kept coming and she too found herself being driven backwards. She gritted her teeth and lunged forwards, her spear glowing as she spun rapidly and dug into it, but it was like trying to cut into plasticine; the wound healed up immediately and two other hands came from nowhere and slapped her to the ground.
The amorphous beast convulsed as it was struck from above and below at the same time, the attacks bursting its flesh. But every wound just let more of the creature's body burst through, as if all the data of the Digital World was escaping bit by bit. Archaeomon had to duck before he was trapped beneath the mounds of rolling gel, or within the huge crater-sized buboes that burst in contact with the ground, releasing noxious acid.
A blast of blackness imploded on the creature's neck, causing one of its arms to liquefy at the joint and fall to the ground, but three others took its place and swatted at Astraeusmon. Presently, one of the creature's eyes, dwarfed though they were by its huge bulk, swivelled down to where Quantumon had his cannon pointed straight up.
The blast hit straight and true, but it was simply swallowed by the masses of flesh. Still, it seemed to cause Nithhogg pain; it rolled and writhed, its free hands flailing through the air and slamming against the ground. Quantumon ran as Nithhogg seemed to pulse, the skin behind its face glowing red hot.
There was no sword, and no show of power. Just a torrent of liquid flame that burst from Nithhogg's mouth, so hot and lethal that it burst the skin and made the gelatinous flesh beneath bubble. The liquid struck the ground and flew in every direction, blackening the grass and the earth, and beginning to seep into the base of the nearby houses. The torrent stopped, and Nithhogg leaned upwards, its mouth dripping.
The attacks were no longer precise and deadly; they were monsoons. Unavoidable, and draining. Quantumon blinked as he stood, hands on his knees, staring at the ground. His armour was filthy and blackened, and warped in many places from the intense heat and punishment. He could feel every plate sticking onto him, as if welded onto his skin. And he felt different again; this was no place for Digimon. His movements, which had before felt fluid and natural, now felt awkward. Heavy. The world was wrong and it was pushing back at him. Every attack took more and more out of him.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up to see Ouranomon, nodding, but looking much the same as he felt. The others were the same; Skathimon, Eosmon, Archaeomon, Astraeusmon. Only their elements glowed just as brightly as ever. The light in their eyes had faded a lot.
Above them all, Nithhogg swayed, its mouth blistering as it stitched itself back together.
"a NeeW WoRLD...I have a NEW world..."
It raised one of its larger hands, and tendrils lashed outwards, digging into the ground, the lampposts, the nearby fences, the pavement, even coiling around in the sky. They convulsed, and the world acted in kind. Metal buckled. Stone caved in on itself in red-hot chunks. The earth cracked and sizzled, releasing black dust.
"I can leARn to makE IT miiiIIInNE..."
Quantumon flinched, and Ouranomon's grip left his shoulder. The bird-man flew up, hovering in front of the leviathan's face.
"This world is NOT yours. It will NEVER be yours." Ouranomon clenched his claws together as he held his scarlet wings straight. "We may have lost the Digital World, but we will defend this to the end."
Astraeusmon chuckled, and stood up straight himself. His vision blurred, and he swayed, but managed to steady himself. "If I were you, I'd run back to where you came from."
"That's right!" Quantumon stood up, straightening out his cannon arm as power rushed to it once again. "It's time you laid this to rest. It's time to give up."
Skathimon rose, her sword in hand and her free hand on her glowing pendant. "Because we're never going to."
Eosmon flew up to join the dark angel, her knuckles white with the grip on her lance. "I...we can promise you. We won't let you win."
Archaeomon was the last to rise, as blood dripped from his side and more and more fractures appeared over his crystalline armour; the fact of its intactness a testament to its endurance. In the distance, he could hear sirens. Loudspeakers, many, many vehicles already on their way. People in the streets, panicking.
He looked up, and said nothing. As the beast before him raised another arm, intending to crush them all, he simply began to run. And the scorched earth beneath him rose with each footstep, rising up into a juggernaut.
Arimon held his hand out towards Yvonne's and she did the same, but her hand merely passed through his ethereal one. She pulled back, a warm tingle flowing through her fingers. Arimon held his hand close to his chest. "I'm sorry."
Yvonne smiled. "I knew I'd see you again. Everybody told me it had been a dream, but I knew it. We all did...I think..." She looked down at her own hands; worn and calloused, not like the strong hands that had held the sheep's hand so long ago. "I must look a state."
Arimon let out a hoarse laugh. "I daresay I look worse."
The little knight put his hand to his mouth. "I...don't know. I don't know any more. I thought we all just disappeared when we...you know...when our time came. I thought I could see Karatenmon, but...I saw the Interface again, and I saw out through it and..."
Yvonne placed a finger to her lips. "Calm down. Slowly."
Arimon breathed. Or at least, approximated as best he could a breath. The sounds outside were getting worse, but still, they seemed far away. Another world entirely.
"I was one with the element of Fire when I died. I was...halfway between the Interface and the Digital World. But the Digital World disappeared...I suppose I must have been inside that thing." He glanced sideways. "And it...he...came through to this world." He sat down, not meeting Yvonne's gaze. "Yggdrasil must hate me. After all I've done, to put me here..."
Yvonne clutched her bedsheet, and leant forwards. "You told me you were going to become a knight. Did you make it to the Fire Kingdom?"
There was no answer. The light in Yvonne's eyes dimmed a little as her youthful smile faded, returning her many years to her. "You said you were going to protect the world. You were so hopeful-"
She flinched, and Arimon shuffled backwards along the floor, his sword falling beside him and disappearing into lights.
"I'm sorry. After what I've done...I thought I could save the world. I thought I could save it and make a world you'd be proud of. A world maybe you'd see again." His mouth broadened into a smile, but there were tears in his eyes that floated away like little specks of stardust. "I always thought I could look into your eyes again and they'd be as proud as they were back then. I wanted to make a new world for you, and now I'm here, I can't even look at you. After everything I've done, I don't deserve to look at you. I don't even deserve to be here."
He finally broke down, and curled up into a tiny, shaking woollen ball. "Everything went wrong. Everything...I got everything wrong. Yggdrasil hates me for that; rightfully so. This? This is worse than a thousand damnations. I can't...I have no right..."
He felt her hand grip his wrist, and in a moment he was pulled forwards, into a full embrace. He opened his eyes, and saw Yvonne's shoulder. She was knelt down, her broad arms around him. He could see little lights dancing along her skin where she was touching him. It felt warm. Comforting.
Slowly, the little knight stopped crying, and he pulled back and wiped his eyes. Yvonne knelt up, her posture slightly hunched but steady. She smiled, and the lines in her face creased up.
"I don't know what you've done. Perhaps it's better if I do. Perhaps not."
He pulled back, but she held up a hand. "But I do know who you are. You're the noble knight who travelled with us, way back then, and protected us along the way as we tried to get home. I still remember what you told me. You were going to be a guardian of the world. You were going to fight for the good of the Digital World." She grinned. "Right now, right this second? That's who I see before me."
Arimon slumped, and looked down. "If you only knew, you'd never say that."
"If you only knew me, you know I would."
Yvonne clasped her hands. "The past is in the past. We can't change it. We can't right our mistakes or remake our wrong decisions. I wasted so many years before I learned that." She glanced up at the sideboard. A picture. A family. A distant painful memory.
"What matters is what you do now. And if Yggdrasil sent you to me to apologise, well, I think there's still something to be done."
She exhaled, and turned to the window. The noises had gotten closer. Arimon turned to follow her gaze. She glanced sideways. "You know what's out there, don't you?"
"I know very well." Arimon clenched his fists. "And I know there are a few very brave heroes out there still risking their lives to stop it. Heroes like you."
He stood up, and wandered towards the window, which was already aglow with the distant flames. Yvonne stared after him. "What are you going to do?"
"I can't fight. Neither can I ask for their forgiveness."
Arimon's hand instinctively went to his chest, and pressed inwards.
"But maybe I can give them the edge that they need."
The column of stone slammed into Nithhogg's hands, crushing three of them outright. But more and more kept piling on, stopping the column in its tracks. Archaeomon slammed his fist into the rock and raised it again, branching the column off in another direction entirely, but Nithhogg caught that as well.
"You ARRre an INSect."
Archaeomon crouched on the column, all six of his fists glowing. His eyes were a piercing red.
"And proud. Planetary Impact!"
He raised his arms, firing another column out at a right angle, straight into Nithhogg's screaming face. The leviathan writhed, arms flying everywhere as its masses of flesh rolled backwards, dissolving the rock. Archaeomon was knocked by one of the flailing tendrils, and fell beneath the monster's mass.
Ouranomon flew above, the bronze feather flying beneath him and ripping into the rolling flesh, causing it to bubble. Nithhogg barely noticed, focused more on Astraeusmon before him. The dark angel fired blast after blast, but they just made pinpricks in the mighty form of the monster, who just kept moving, creating more and more of itself as it moved ever closer towards him, and to the town.
Distracted, he didn't notice the anemone-like tendril lash out at him until he was already in its grasp. He spun and cleaved it in two, but another four took its place. Nithhogg leered at him, yellow liquid dripping from its superheated maw.
"iiii dO NOT feaR YoUuuuuu."
"We don't care if you do or you don't!"
Ouranomon shot down, spinning as his wings sliced into the thick cord of tendrils, before turning to face the monstrous mouth. Nithhogg lunged, but the sky soldier lashed out with his taloned legs, scraping them down the monster's cheek. Beside him, Astraeusmon flapped his wings and the two of them flew out of the range of the tentacles. Nithhogg's eyes appeared below them, and the great creature twisted.
The blast of fire blew them off course, sending them tumbling down. Nithhogg just kept walking, or at least tried to, but it was getting difficult with the rings of lightning latching onto its largest hands.
Quantumon fired again and again with increasing desperation, but the hands kept coming; snapping their previous bonds and coming further forwards. The warrior glanced back; the road was getting ever closer, and the first buildings, already scorched from the first onslaught. The glance cost him as he was knocked aside, trapped beneath a swarm of arms, but he yelled, and slashed, and when that failed, he fired his cannon, blasting a great hole out from beneath the creature. As soon as he was free, he yelled out, his voice cracking.
"STOP IT! DO WHATEVER YOU CAN TO STOP IT!"
Everybody was, but nobody was succeeding. Skathimon stood between Nithhogg and the city, her arms moving rapidly as the wind and cold built around her. Already Archaeomon was in place, bringing up wall after wall of earth, but each one was just crushed once again.
Skathimon released her spell, and the storm blasted forward, freezing Nithhogg on contact. But the ice didn't last; the core of the creature was practically nuclear at this point, and while slowed, it wasn't halted. She cast another spell and doubled the strength of the blizzard, but it did little more than the first.
Attack after attack was flung at the beast, but it carried on, its eyes focused on the world before it, barely even noticing them anymore. A flutter caught its eye, and it saw Eosmon flying skywards, joining with Astraeusmon in the air. The two held hands. They turned, their staves pointed at the leviathan, each one pulsing with white and black energy.
Eosmon gritted her teeth, and squeezed her partner's hand. "Give it everything you've got."
The dragon unfurled like a blossom, far bigger than any they'd made before. It spread its wings, and a single eye opened, gazing down at Nithhogg. Then it dived, leaving trails of white fire and black lightning behind it, and it spun into a huge bi-chromatic helix, slamming into the beast's left shoulder. The flesh was opened up, and Nithhogg recoiled, its front half collapsing to one side.
Eosmon bit her lip, and called out. "KEEP GOING. USE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE!"
But Nithhogg was still conscious. As its open wound sprouted tentacles, already sewing itself back together, it reared up and blasted an intense fire in every direction. Eosmon and Astraeusmon were caught together, spiralling downwards and crashing into the ground. The others were forced back; unable to get any closer to launch any attacks, let alone stop it. Nithhogg suddenly stopped, and its face peered down through its rolling body, gazing at the six warriors before it.
"You arE ALL sO TinY..."
It curled several of its fingers, the arms glowing white, then bright yellow, seemingly filling with something. Before anybody had a chance to move, its huge body curled down, and the arms struck the ground.
Instantly they imploded, each of them sending bright, burning liquid forward in a torrent. All of them were caught. The liquid scorched wherever it touched; burning their own skin, their fur, their flesh, or their bodies within their suits of armour. They were consumed, and the napalm seeped further, setting the browned grass alight. All around was ablaze. A wildfire in the suburbs. Sirens sounded, coming ever closer. Already smoke was filling the sky.
Nithhogg took another step, its damaged hands already healing. For a moment it glanced down at the six warriors, barely moving at its feet. It kept on, stepping around them, and moving slowly but deliberately towards the edge of their home.
"EveeryTHINg will BurrrrNNNNnnnnnnn..."
Quantumon could hear his own breathing. The pain was intense; not even dying had hurt this much. He held out a hand, and felt his skin sticking to the armour plating, being pulled off with every movement. The armour itself had lost its sheen; grimy and black, warped and blistered. The metal over his body curled away, the ends dripping. His cannon felt awkward and heavy. The crystal at the end was cracked, the glow fading.
He didn't look around him. He knew the others were there. Going through the same pain. Maybe even worse. Somebody tried to speak, but their words were illegible. Someone else tried to stand. All the while Nithhogg kept moving. It had reached the first house, and was simply obliterating it, blasting and tearing away every brick and every beam, and everything inside. Quantumon prayed there was nobody inside. Not that there was anywhere left for them to run at this point.
"If we can't...if we can't stop it..."
He became aware of cars pulling up, and forced himself to his knees, the effort making black spots appear in his vision.
Sounds of shouting. The briefest glimpse of hi-vis jackets. Blue flashing lights. Emergency services; of course.
"...they'll be killed..."
He looked up, trying to find the energy within him to call out, to warn them not to interfere. But they weren't they were standing back, forming a wall, away from Nithhogg. And it wasn't just police cars and fire engines; other cars as well. Also flashing, but seemingly sturdier. Other people were watching, behind the line of police. Men, women, some children, an old gentleman in a wheelchair...
The voice was tiny, and frightened, and it came from Skathimon. She pushed herself to her feet, and looked over towards the young woman staring back at her. The sorceress's hand flinched, and went to her neck, clutching her element.
And the others were rising, and staring, as their loved ones looked towards them. Nobody spoke; neither parents nor children. Nobody moved. They didn't dare.
And deep within his hurting vessel, Aaron saw his own mother, and Jas, and even his father, someone he saw so rarely. They were some distance away. But they were there. And they knew. He could see their faces, looking at him. They had to.
Quantumon noticed the sounds of destruction had slowed, and he looked to the right, and saw Nithhogg.
Nithhogg was staring at the new arrivals as well. It stepped down. Turned around. And it began to walk towards them.
"...thE peoPLE...the PEoplee of tHIs world...They all LOOK thE same everybody lookS the SAME...tHe sAME faces...the SAMe eyesssss..."
"DON'T GET ANY CLOSER."
Nithhogg stopped, and looked down, bemused, at Quantumon. The warrior was barely standing. He swayed, his skin blackened and blistered. But he raised his arms, and rolled his neck.
"You're not done with us yet."
Nithhogg blinked, and bent down slightly lower, cocking its head.
"You hAve noTHING lefT to give..."
"It doesn't matter." Astraeusmon hovered, unsteadily, beside Quantumon, and Eosmon the other side. Archaeomon, Skathimon, Ouranomon; they all stood between the leviathan and their parents. Brittle, but firm. Quantumon clenched his fists tightly.
"You don't get to touch this world until you've finished with us."
The electric warrior sighed, and held his arms out wide. "Does it even matter to you at this point?"
Nithhogg narrowed its eyes. From deep within, the six warriors could already feel the heat bursting forth. No energy left to run, and barely any left to shield themselves, they simply waited and closed their eyes, as the behemoth opened its mouth...
Arimon's hand tightened, his nails scraping his breastplate.
"It's now or never."
Yvonne watched as the sheep's form – impossibly tiny, and yet standing tall – began to twinkle, as the thousands of individual lights that made it up began to rush with energy yet again. He turned, his form already fading against the orange glow outside.
The woman could do little but watch. Still, she felt her own hands shaking, itching to do something. "Will you be okay?"
"Now?" Arimon smiled. "I think I'll be better than I've been in a long time." He closed his eyes. "I betrayed the element of Fire for so long. But it was a part of me when I fell. I think...no...I can...I'm sure I can call upon its power one last time..."
He faltered, and made to reach out, as if trying to touch his partner once more. But he stopped. Pulled back. He limited himself to a tearful smile that was already getting lost in the swirling orange energy around him.
"I can never atone for what I've done. I don't expect their forgiveness. But I can at least make my final act a noble one. I can help them to save the world I destroyed."
Yvonne held tightly to the bedsheets as his form grew blurrier, swirling and spinning like a little fiery tornado. Then, it rose, and burst through the window, shattering the glass. Yvonne stood up, and hurried forwards, the wind blowing against her hair as she looked outwards into the darkened sky. Through the glow of the hellfire in the background, she could see the energy rocketing through the air like a falling star.
Silver hair shimmering in the torchlight, the elderly woman held her arms close to her body, and wiped beneath her eyes with the back of her hand.
"I never forgot you, Arimon. And I never will."
She fell to her knees, her hands grasping the windowpane as the tears began to fall.
"My little knight..."
The warriors had their eyes closed, and didn't notice the tiny cluster of sparks as they struck Nithhogg on the back of the neck.
But they did notice the instantaneous effect.
Nithhogg reeled backwards, its body rolling as it screamed an impossible noise. It writhed left and right, and its mouth opened wide, wider, tearing at the edges. Ouranomon leapt into the air. "What's happening? What's it doing?"
"I don't know..." Eosmon's tail twitched, as she tried to get off the ground herself. "But I think it's fire's going out."
So it had. The red glow had dissipated, and the bright shining flesh had dimmed, in everywhere except for one area. A tiny, glowing spot, lighting up the nearby veins as it pulsed, swimming left and right beneath the leviathan's skin.
Archaeomon took in a breath. "The element of Fire..."
Phoukamon's words rang collectively in their heads.
You must all be there. All ready to fight.
Quantumon leapt to his feet, his wheels spinning against the ruined ground.
"We have a chance! Take our element back!"
Ouranomon was the first, and he was the quickest, firing an air spear directly at the rolling skin. It struck true, and Nithhogg was blown apart at the seams, revealing the tiny orange orb for all of them to see. Nithhogg reacted instantly, reaching out with every arm in an attempt to grab it back, but it didn't count on Archaeomon, already reaching its lowermost arms.
The impact didn't damage the gelatinous creature, but it was thrown back. Still it thrust itself forwards, even turning itself inside out in an effort to increase its reach. Archaeomon was aware; pushing with all his might against the giant being.
"It's going to get it!"
The black and white dragons spun in a web, rushing into the beast and pushing it back further. Ouranomon joined in, but the creature's arms were extending. Twisting. Closing around the element in its brief moment of freedom.
Quantumon was already running; riding along the earth as it rose beneath his feet. He could see the orb, so close, but the arms were closer.
"It's too late! We're not going to make it!"
"Yes we can! Silent Winter!"
Time slowed. The atmosphere thickened. Quantumon glanced down, watching as Skathimon strained beneath him, the magical symbol pulsating in her hand.
His muscular legs, strained and wounded though they were, pushed him skywards. He could see his friends still pushing; giving everything they had. He could hear his parents...all the people behind him, yelling, shouting.
"You have to stop this thing!"
"Go, Aaron! Go!"
The orb came closer, and so did Nithhogg's arms. Two, four, seven; too many to count. All reaching towards the element. He could feel the heat and the pain from every direction. But he stretched out his arm.
Quantumon's hand closed around the tiny orb.
And Nithhogg's hands closed around him, crushing him tightly.
Lights. Nothing but lights.
Red and white. Dark blue and light blue. Yellow and emerald green. Aqua, leaf green, purple. All dancing. All fighting. All moving within the sea of nothingness.
And just one...one, tiny light. A miniscule spark of orange, buried within his grasp.
All around the void closed in. Pulling at him. Screaming. Let it go. Give it back. It's mine.
And whether through a voice in the element itself, or whether through his own voice, the orange light grew stronger. Somebody turned around. Faced the oncoming destruction.
And said no.
Fire. The most destructive of forces. The ability to ruin lives. Slaughter armies. Destroy worlds.
But also the most miraculous.
A single spark can form a flame. A flame spreads to a wildfire. A wildfire can change the world around it. Start something new. End an era in the blink of an eye. And, through time, and nurture, set the stage for another era. A better era.
Terrifying, but miraculous.
All from a single spark.
It takes a lot to make a new world.
Thriving wood. Healing water. Binding metal.
The relentless wind. The fearless cold.
The immovable earth. The unstoppable storm.
The darkness of change, and the light of hope.
It takes a lot of power, and a lot of people, to make a new world.
But to find that world, through all the strife, and the fear, and the oppression...
It only needs one.
A single spark.
To turn around.
And tell them.
This is our world.
A shining light burst forth from Nithhogg's grip, and it recoiled, its hand disintegrating.
"WhaaaAAAAtttT is THHiiiiIIISsss?"
It pressed itself backwards, shielding its eyes, as Quantumon rose into the sky. The soldier's body was glowing; pure golden, with rainbows running through his circuitry and eyes of the brightest blue. Down below, the other five warriors were rising as well. Each of them shone brightly, their wounds closing, their damage fading away. Scorched metal and skin flaked away, leaving deep, crystalline colours beneath. And together, they rose as well, an immense power emanating off of them all.
Nithhogg dug its hands in, and snarled. "THE FIIIIIRE IS MIIINE! GIIIIVE IT BAAAACK!"
"The fire...?" Skathimon looked over at Archaeomon. "I feel it...is that the element of Fire?"
The earth titan gestured. "Take a look."
Skathimon did, and saw. Around each of them, spinning in the rainbow auras, were ten miniscule orbs. They danced, and mingled, and with every movement they sent a new, miraculous power into the warriors. Astraeusmon looked down at his hands. "I don't believe it..."
"The elements are back together. Back where they all belong." Quantumon turned his gaze to Nithhogg, which lay coiled like a snake, pressing its vast body together.
"The Digital World is back where it belongs. You're just an empty shell by now. Your power is gone." He pointed, back towards the rift, through which Nithhogg was part-emerged. "You've lost. But you can still leave. Return to the Interface. There's nowhere else for you."
The leviathan's eyes flashed, and it unfurled, like a flytrap about to devour the tiny being before it.
"THE ELEMENT IS MINE I NEED IT OR I WILL DIE YOU ALL WILL DIIIIIIEEE"
Quantumon shot upwards, and the others followed suit, forming a ring around the dragon. Eosmon looked around, puzzled. "How come we're all flying now?"
"Maybe because we're using all the elements?"
The others looked over at Ouranomon, who shrugged. "I can fly. If you can use the element of Air, maybe you can too."
Quantumon gazed down, and thrust his cannon arm out. "If I'm right, we can maybe do a little bit more."
He rushed earthwards, holding the cannon behind him as multicoloured lights trickled into the crystal at the end. Nithhogg swiped, throwing out hands at him, but he just burst through them, and turned around behind, pointing the cannon straight at the dragon's right shoulder.
Earth and storm combined, and three vast spears of crystal shot from Quantumon's firearm, impaling the beast and embedding in the ground. Forks of lightning arced between them, tearing into Nithhogg and causing it to writhe, and roar, in pain and in fury. The others gazed in awe. Astraeusmon whistled.
Quantumon narrowly missed the attack of a hundred tendrils, and he called up. "Now's our chance! We can finally end this!"
They started, and immediately armed themselves. Astraeusmon glanced over, and pointed. "Do you reckon the rift is a good place to start?"
"I'm on it!" Ouranomon shot forwards, his wings releasing trails of light behind him as he flew through the air. Spinning at the end of his arc, he thrust his arms out wide as the ground beneath him shook.
A torrent of liquid metal shot up from below the ground, rending through the beast's body in an instant. Ouranomon released his arms, and the liquid fell back down, seeming into the fissure. Inside his avian mask, Jack grinned. "Yes!"
The severed end of Nithhogg was writhing, releasing tendrils and hands all around as it tried to reattach itself. Several tendrils grabbed Ouranomon's leg, but he twisted out of it, spinning further up into the sky. He threw his arms out, but somebody else was already on the scene.
There was an immense cracking sound, a blast of white fire that shot into the sky, and Nithhogg's tail end was writhing no more, instead twisted and dried into a dead mass of flesh. Astraeusmon turned, shook the embers from his staff, and gave Ouranomon the thumbs up. "That should do the trick. At least we now have a finite length of hellish abomination to deal with."
Ouranomon tilted his head. "That's still a lot of hellish aboma...aba...whatsit to deal with."
It was, but the others weren't wasting their time. Eosmon had turned, glancing at their parents, who were now being ushered back, by the police, and by the man in the wheelchair. She ground her teeth, but turned back, focusing her attention on the vast creature before her. The skin opened up nearest to her, and a volley of tendrils lashed out, threatening to ensnare or decapitate her. She ducked, the barbs ripping through her hair and wings, but she was preparing her own attack. Rainbow lights danced beneath her wings, and she flung them outwards, creating a line, two lines, three lines of colour arcing through the sky. Hundreds of crystalline spikes pierced through the air, seemingly from nowhere, as she flew upwards, her voice powerful and commanding.
The blades shot into the beast's body, exploding on impact in a dazzling display. Nithhogg lunged, but every direction just led to another attack. It turned, and saw the rift, and the end of its body, lying limp. It roared; sending great swathes of data into the sky, that impaled the ground and surrounding bricks.
"You're taking a time out."
Archaeomon was on the creature's back, holding on for dear life. With one hand he gripped the pale skin, and the other five he slammed together, before holding up a green flame, that he crushed in each hand.
Five hands slammed into the pale flesh, and the fire took hold, spreading in an instant. Nithhogg shook, but it wouldn't go out; it burned, and wriggled, and then, inexplicably, came alive, spreading in a glowing moss that reached roots down, digging into the grass and clamping. Nithhogg split its body open, sprouting more arms to rip the vines away, but it just kept spreading, restricting even more of its movement.
And so focused was it, it didn't notice Skathimon beneath it, sword in hand. She spun it, and dug it into the ground, forming a black sigyl on the grass.
The sigyl cracked, and a torrent of liquid burst forth and outwards; not mercury, but cold, freezing everything it came into contact with. As the moss grew down, so the water crept up, interlocking and holding every arm in place, solidifying the grey skin and causing it to crack.
Still Nithhogg wouldn't give up. A tear split all the way down its back, and tendrils show out, grabbing onto everything they could find. Astraeusmon narrowly missed one, which instead wrapped around a signpost, its very proximity warping and cracking the metal. He turned to the others. "We need to hurry up! It's going to cause who knows what damage at this rate."
He heard a flap of wings above him, and looked up to see Eosmon, who held out a hand. "Maybe we can call upon something stronger?"
Astraeusmon nodded, and together they flew up, out of range of the tendrils, and reconvened up above. They held hands. Their sceptres glowed, and vanished, as the energy returned to their bodies. And their bodies built it up. One hand they interlocked. The other, in a mirror of one another, they held out, as the rainbow lights gathered at their fingertips.
Everyone around shielded their eyes, as the divine serpent came into being. It stared down with jewelled eyes, its form glittering white and black, half physical, half ethereal, and virtually impossible to see. Then, with a single wingbeat, it descended, and wrapped around the fallen Nithhogg, and reattached itself the other side.
There was a blinding flash, and the serpent vanished. So did a significant part of Nithhogg. Gone. Obliterated in an instant.
Nithhogg screamed, and its insides ruptured again, grabbing at anything. But all around, the attacks kept coming. Wood and ice, metal and electricity, light and darkness; all countering every move it could make. Even the very fire it had held, being used to drive it back, into a coil, into a shadow of what it was.
It was too much.
It toppled, its arms giving way beneath it. The tendrils stopped waving. The flesh stopped pulsing. And it opened its eyes, and saw Quantumon before it, with the cannon raised, pointed straight at it.
The soldier held his arm up, the cannon not shifting an inch. Nithhogg just stared; those haunted eyes jumping from the cannon, to Quantumon's piercing eyes, and back again. All around was chaos. Sirens. Flames. Nithhogg's ragged breathing.
Slowly, the other warriors gathered round. Archaeomon nudged Quantumon. "Is something..."
Quantumon just shook his head. "Look at it."
Nithhogg was crying. Not loudly. Not messily. Perhaps not even consciously. Just a thin stream of tears falling from both eyes.
Eosmon wrapped her hands together. "I think it's already done."
She was right. The battle had been long-fought, and in the final chaos, Nithhogg had taken the brunt of it. It had shrunk to a fifth of its former length, and from the tapered end of its body, its skin was flaking off, leaving a dull silvery dust on the blackened grass. Its breathing was slowing, but was also pained. White liquid – possibly blood – oozed down its bindings. A being once so full of power had turned into a mere husk of itself.
Presently it shifted, trying to angle itself, its head moving around. Quantumon tightened his hold on his cannon, but he held back. Nithhogg just slumped again, and looked at each of them in turn.
From within the mass of flesh on its charred chin, something moved, and all of a sudden the creature's lower jaw snapped back into place. It croaked, the words hoarse and far too quiet.
"...i can't give your world back..."
Quantumon swallowed, and nodded. Skathimon looked away.
"...it never stopped hurting...ever...i wanted it to stop..."
Quantumon sighed, lowered his cannon, and walked forwards. He raised his free hand, and touched the creature's cheek; giant by his standards now. The skin recoiled, disintegrating at his very touch. Nithhogg pulled back.
Quantumon looked into the creature's eyes. "You're cold."
He looked back, but the others hadn't followed him. Skathimon was looking down, her hands clasped. Archaeomon shook his head. "It's no good. I don't know what to do. I don't think it could go back if it wanted to."
Astraeusmon came forwards and joined the lizard-man, putting a hand on his shoulder. "We're only kids. Should I-"
"Don't worry about it." Quantumon raised his cannon, and held it against the creature's forehead. He pressed slightly, the crystal making an indent in the skin.
"I'm the leader. This is the kind of decision I signed up for when I came into this war."
He looked up into the beast's face one last time. The eyes were intensely focused on him. Shaking a little. The same fear, even in this monstrous form.
"Let's end this, alright? Whoever you are."
The creature from the void shut his eyes tightly. Quantumon looked away, and fired.
A silver river of dust lay stretched out along the ground, the particles already blowing away in the wind. Quantumon and Astraeusmon wandered back, the latter's arm around the former's shoulder. Ouranomon tried to fly up, but he found it tough going; the power hadn't faded, but the fatigue had set in once again. He felt drained, despite seeing the elemental orbs still clearly circling around him. He managed to gain some height, and he looked around, surveying the damage. It wasn't pretty. Houses half devoured, ruined roads, decimated ground; even the river was stained a dirty black from all the ash and rubble, and the bank had collapsed, releasing more rock into it.
He descended (slightly more roughly than intended), and looked up at Archaeomon. "Do you think we went too far?"
Archaeomon wasn't listening; he was watching as a group of people walked over from the road. Ouranomon stood up straight, and looked as well. He began to walk, then run, then stop, afraid to go any nearer. Not that it stopped his mother, who rushed forwards, slipping on the mud and the rock but still going, and throwing her arms round his armoured form.
Ouranomon faltered, not wanting to hug back, for fear of hurting her. But his father joined, and Skathimon rushed forwards, and all of a sudden the tamers were rushing towards their parents and carers and the people they'd loved, as if they'd seen them only yesterday. There were barely any words, only tears, and laughter and anger and fear and confusion and more tears.
Astraeusmon, holding his younger cousin Strachan in his arms, finally had a thought, and put him down. "Why, uh...how did you know it was us?" He looked around. "Or that we'd be here?"
Geoff, his uncle, cleared his throat, and pulled Strachan back. "I have no idea what happened to you. Not really. But he said he does."
"He?" Astraeusmon looked back, and the others followed his gaze towards the gentleman in the wheelchair from before. Up close, he was quite stocky and strong-looking despite his obvious age, with a firm jawline, dark skin and rusty-brown, almost red-looking eyes. His hair was a striking white, and only slightly thinning at the back, and his beard was cropped close to his chin. He wore a shirt and jumper, and old, scuffed shoes that might have been smart once.
He cleared his throat, and looked at them all in turn. "Bloody hell..."
He shook his head. "Sorry. You don't know me, nor me you, but I do know where you've been." He tugged at his shirt. "My name is Alasdair. Alasdair Watts."
Quantumon blinked. "Have you...do you know the Digital World? Did you go there?"
Alasdair blinked, and held his hands together. "It's a lot to try and explain. Later, yes. But for now..."
He twisted his body round, and gestured over at the rift at the other end of the field.
"...I think you might have one more thing to see to."
Quantumon turned away from the gathering crowds, and the picture-takers, and stared at the rift. Nithhogg's body had gone, and beyond the doorway...well, there seemed to be nothing.
Eloise's mother was holding tightly to Eosmon, glaring furiously at Alasdair. "You can't send them back in there! Not now; not when we've just got them back!" She looked up at the masked angel, tears in her eyes. "It's going to be fine. We can get through this; I don't know-"
"Mum...please..." Eosmon pulled her hand away, and looked over at Alasdair, then at Quantumon. "What do we do?"
Quantumon just kept staring. He felt a hand on his own, and looked down at the worried gaze of his older sister.
"You can't mean to go back in. Not now."
Quantumon looked away. "We went in there to do one thing. Just one thing. And we couldn't do it."
He pulled away, and took a few steps. "At the very least we should see it. One last time."
Slowly, very slowly, the parents let go of their children, and they all gathered together. They reached out. Held hands. Walked, deliberately, across the grass, and towards the rift. Their parents, Alasdair; all the onlookers watched after them.
They reached the void, and just like that, they were gone once again.
It wasn't like before. No swirling colours. No rushing sounds. None of the fury and the terror of the Interface.
Just a single step. One moment, they were in the human world, with the sun on their backs and the chaos all around. The next, they stood within a calm, white void, with the rift wide-open behind them, showing their world as if through a mirror.
There they stood, still holding hands, looking around with sorrow in their eyes, for the Digital World had all but vanished. There was no ground. No sky. No sea. The entire beach had disappeared. The entire world, just erased off of the map. Here and there were remnants; chunks of rock, flurries of sand, pieces of mainframe. Just floating in nothing; existing in a world without physical laws like gravity or time.
Skathimon swallowed. "There's nothing left..."
"We shouldn't say nothing when it's not true."
"Of course." The spirit hopped down, seemingly from nowhere, and landed on their twin tails, bouncing up and down. There was a bit of cursing as Chromon followed after them, landing somewhat more roughly. Astraeusmon smiled. "You guys are okay. I can't believe it."
"W-w-we got lucky." Chromon brushed himself off and looked at each of the six warriors in turn. "N-nithhogg never got to us. Or others. We're still around, even if the w-w-world isn't so m-much."
Phoukamon glimpsed the confused looks, and sighed. "It takes a lot to get rid of the world. All of it. There are still places around. People around. We saw Silicon City hovering around earlier; they were having fun. Sort of." They hummed, and ran their hand over their beard. "So you beat Nithhogg?"
Archaeomon nodded. "It's gone. For good, this time. But...I'm sorry..."
Quantumon shuffled, looking at the non-existent floor. "We tried to save this world. But it didn't work. We still failed. We don't know what you're going to do now."
"What are you talking about?"
Phoukamon shrugged, and held their arms out. "Honestly, so dramatic."
"Please." Chromon barged his colleague, and coughed apologetically. "Yeah, the world was destroyed, but it's not...gone. Especially not the base parts of it." He nodded forwards, and smiled. "Why do you think we g-gave you the elements in the first p-place?"
Ouranomon's hand went to his chest. "The elements?"
"Of course." Phoukamon switched from their tails to their feet, and sat down, their bandy knees sticking upright. "We were banking on you beating the dragon. Course we were a little, um..."
Chromon interjected. "Petrified?"
"...concerned when you went away. But all's well that ends well. The world is safe, yippee, hurrah, you won."
They smiled, but the six warriors didn't move. They looked decidedly unimpressed. Phoukamon's grin faded, and they leant back, scratching behind their head. "Look...we didn't have a very good plan. It was all down to us; we tried to save the world from a digital level, rather than saving the people who lived here." The spirit bowed their head. "We're sorry. We caused you unnecessary pain. We made mistakes. We caused a lot of you great loss."
Skathimon glanced down at her pendant, before folding her arms. "You did the best you could. It's all gone kind of messed up, but at least we have the elements."
Ouranomon nodded. "That's right. We can start again." He looked back at Chromon. "So what do we do now?"
Chromon shuffled, looking embarrassed. "You know...r-r-really, we need the elements b-back."
Ouranomon blinked, and Phoukamon chipped in. "It's up to you of course. We can't do much to stop you, whatever you decide. But...you know..." They pointed upwards. "Without the elements, we don't have a home."
"Oh, stop guilt-tripping them, you. They k-k-know this." Chromon let out a huff, and swung his tail. "You've saved the world. Well...not s-s-saved. But preserved. We can regrow something from this; not the same place, nor the s-s-same people, but s-something. Something n-new." He smiled. "You must have known you w-w-were using borrowed power. It's t-t-time to give it back. But we have to thank you. For everything. For taking our t-t-terrible plan and making it work."
Eosmon ground her teeth. "What about us? Where do we go from here? All of us?"
She felt a hand on her arm, and looked up to see Astraeusmon. He smiled. "We'll find somewhere. After all this, it should be easy."
Ouranomon nodded. "We can stay together."
Skathimon unfolded her arms. "This is what we wanted."
"Saving the world." Quantumon shrugged. "Sort of."
"A new world. A new paradise." Archaeomon chuckled, and pointed at the two watchmen. "Don't screw it up this time, alright?"
Phoukamon raised their arms, and whistled. Chromon simply blushed. "S-s-s-sorry s-sir."
"That's fine." Archaeomon turned back, and looked at everyone else. "Do you know what to do?"
"All the power we have." Quantumon nodded, and held his arm to the sky. "Time to give it back."
He breathed in, and the lights along his body began to illuminate once again. All around him, the others were doing the same. It was a different power; not one element, but many. The orbs around each of them moved up into the sky, merging into ten distinct spheres, still rotating. They slowed. The ring grew less bright, less concentrated. The power within each orb became visible, shuffling and vibrating. And one by one, the six warriors began to glow; bright, divine silhouettes against a blank white slate. Their breathing was synchronised. The nexus had come back together. And all they needed was a single spark to ignite it.
They spoke. One voice, and twelve voices, and the thousands of millions of voices of the Digital World that had given up so much for this moment.
There was no explosion. No grand burst of energy. Just a single flame in the centre of the ring above, that spread out, the energy within the element beginning to disperse once again. And one by one, the rest of the elements followed, until the air was filled with a kaleidoscope of colour, spreading out to the far corners of the world.
The energy kept coming. From the warriors as well. Archaeomon was the first to disperse; the single, brave soldier disappearing and leaving Kent and Trilomon behind. And the others followed, until the twelve of them were standing at the forefront of a new world, gazing up in wonder.
The elements were spreading further and further. And, slowly but surely, the new world was forming. A new mainframe was emerging; drawn faintly at first, then growing in size and power as data bits coursed through it, sending new wires and data streams out to every loose bit of world in the vicinity. The blank void suddenly became an easel. A sketchpad for something new, with every corner being filled in; lines, grids, form and colour. New landscapes. The twelve former warriors felt the wind on their faces, and felt the ground beneath their feet, and they watched in joy as it expanded, becoming something brand new. A new Eden. The world they'd been fighting for all this time.
Still the energy came from them, the elements returning to their rightful place. The partners smiled, now smaller than before, back to their In-Training forms.
Before anyone could say anything, Aaron felt to his knees.
He crouched on the new earth, clutching his chest.
And he looked up, barely able to breathe, feeling nothing, as the others gathered around him. He could see the Digital World. Then his own sky once again. Other people; his parents. Alasdair. A crowd. Juramon on his chest. The boy could see the little lizard shouting as his vision faded to black.
Toast. And disinfectant. A killer combination in the nostrils.
Aaron opened his eyes, and stared around. An unfamiliar ceiling. An unfamiliar room in fact. Very unfamiliar clothes. There were half-curtains and bright lights and clinical colours; obviously a hospital. He blinked, and tried to move his head, but he was still woozy from something. He noticed somebody sitting at the foot of his bed, and he pushed himself up, trying to adjust to the bright light. Eloise smiled back at him, wearing a hospital dressing gown over her t-shirt herself.
"You're finally up?"
"Yeah, I..." Aaron scratched behind his head, and winced. "I don't remember. I feel like death at the moment."
"Well..." Eloise twiddled her thumbs. "They were quick. Once we got out of there, they sent us all here. Seems to have been a good thing; you were in some sort of arrest."
"You couldn't breathe, and your heart was doing all sorts of weird stuff. That's all I could get out of it. The doctors had no idea what it was." Eloise looked down. "I...didn't say anything. But I can guess."
Aaron held his breath, and opened his gown slightly. There was a small incision down his sternum, all stitched up. His chest felt heavy, but he could hear his own breathing and, when he checked it, feel his own pulse. Aside from the slit, his chest looked fine. But he knew otherwise.
"How did I get here? I would have thought, if I was living off the element..."
Eloise shook her head. "I wouldn't question it. Please...not now. Let's just be thankful for miracles." She bit her lip. "I can only apologise, but I know you. You'll only tell me not to and say it's not my fault."
"It's not your fault..."
"There you go." The girl sighed. "I'm just glad you're okay. Everyone's okay. A bit roughed up, a few bruises and sprains, but overall...honestly, it is a miracle."
A nurse knocked on the door, and entered. He beamed, his freckled face crinkling up, before he looked to the side and rolled his eyes.
"How much of that are you getting through? Honestly..."
Aaron heard a voice beside him; petulant and somewhat smug. "Hey, we just saved your world. Don't get all like that."
Aaron swivelled in his bed, and saw Juramon, sitting beside him and happily munching away on a piece of toast. He glanced over at Aaron, and grinned his toothy smile. "Why didn't you tell me your healers were so good here?"
"I...uh..." Aaron looked between the nurse, and then Eloise, and then back to Juramon. Eloise looked a little sheepish. "Don't ask me. They took in everyone. Even these guys."
Aaron noticed a glint of metal beside him, and reached over for his D-Nexus. He tapped the buttons, but the response was a lot slower, and the screen was dull. There was no energy or powerful fuzz coming from it whatsoever. He sighed. "I guess...all the power of the element went back to the Digital World."
"Seems that way. But we're still here." Juramon exhaled, and jumped into Aaron's lap. He was all wrapped up in white bandages and plasters, and looking very pleased with himself. "We can actually relax for once. I haven't done this for years."
The nurse poked his head up, and growled. "Can you not get crumbs everywhere? It's not very helpful."
"Sorry..." Aaron found himself speaking, before he came to his senses. "Hang on, what is this? Aren't you...don't you know who this guy..." He looked down. "I mean, yeah, he saved my life multiple times, but...he's an alien...sort of...I'm confused..."
"Thank Alasdair." Eloise shrugged. "We got away relatively easily. He apparently got us here without much fuss, and explained everything to the staff. Confidentiality and that."
"What, and people are buying that?"
"They have other things on their minds."
Aaron blinked. "What other things? The whole thing with Nithhogg? People noticed that?"
Eloise tilted her head, and reached for the TV remote. "I think you'd better see for yourself."
Aaron watched as she pressed a few buttons, and the TV flickered into life. A newscaster stood in a field; the same field in fact. Around them were crowds of people, and behind them, the park, the coast, and a great circular rip in space-time, currently surrounded by temporary orange fencing and yellow tape. The wind was picking up as the reporter spoke into the camera.
"After the damage caused by the unknown creatures yesterday afternoon, the portal you can see behind me has yet to close. Some specialists have already gone through and returned safely; their findings are as of yet restricted from public knowledge. All we can say at this time is that this portal should be treated as hazardous and should not be approached by anybody in the area due to possible danger of death. Whether or not more of the unknown beings will emerge in the coming days, or whether this is all a part of a big hoax, has yet to be seen. Certainly there have been sightings from several residents of non-humanoid creatures throughout the area in the evening hours. The police and council have yet to make statements on the matter. Rhys Waters, ITV news. Back to the studio."
Eloise's mouth curled up to one side, her face flushing a little. Aaron just stared.