Fuzzy blackness. Vague shapes swimming in front of her eyes.
She felt her mind floating in an endless void, overcome by the torrent of water that had threatened to drown her not five minutes before-
The girl screamed and sat up rapidly, her head colliding with her brother's. Hard.
Jack sat back up, clutching the red mark on his face, as Grace fell backwards, staring up at the ceiling. The pain caused the fuzziness in her vision to clear, and she finally had a sort-of decent view of where she was. She frowned, and rubbed her forehead.
"Not so close next time…"
Jack folded his arms, pouting. "Well, it's not like I thought you might be dead or anything."
"Don't be sarky." Grace pushed herself up, and brushed her hair away from her eyes. "Bother. I think I've lost my hair scrunchie."
Her brother shrugged. "I haven't seen it."
The girl looked around, slightly breathless. "That's weird. Where are Vulpimon and Perimon?"
"Dunno." Jack knelt upright, and shook his head. "Sorry. I only woke up a few minutes before you." He looked around. "This cave is nice."
It certainly was. The cavern where they'd woken up looked like the centre of an enormous geode; rough, glistening black obsidian and shining flint that was traced with lines of lapis lazuli and studded with blue crystals. There were a couple of pools nearby, filled with crystal clear water that shone with many different colours. But as nice as the cave was, two very important somethings were still missing.
Grace stood up, doing her best to hold her wet hair away from her face. "Jack, do you remember how we got here?"
The boy scratched his chin, seemingly deep in thought. "We were cornered…and then the golems came for us and the wall just…" He opened his hand and made a popping noise. "I'm guessing this is the cave thing they were talking about."
"The Lapis Cavern? It has to be." Grace hummed. "Which probably means that Perimon and Vulpimon are here somewhere."
"Great! Then we need to go and find them."
Grace looked around her. "Is there a way out of here?"
The two scoured around the cavern for a little while, until finally Grace spotted something. "There. In the wall; it kind of bends in a bit."
The two meandered over, taking care on the slippery rock floor. There was a piece of the cavern which at first glance appeared to be an alcove, but on closer inspection, they found that the wall actually bent round into a short tunnel, just about big enough for them to get through. The rock was so dazzling that the exit was somewhat camouflaged, making it difficult to spot at first glance.
Grace sighed. "I have a feeling the whole place is gonna be like this." She glanced back at her brother. "Do you really think we should go? Or should we wait?"
"They could be in danger."
Grace bit her lip, aware of her brother's slightly annoyed expression. "Sorry…"
Jack sniffed, and held his leg forwards, just a little bit so she could see. "It's not good. But I can walk on it. I need to; we don't have a choice."
Grace nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry; I'm making things difficult."
Jack walked forward and grabbed her arm. "You're not; you're wonderful! At least this time being trapped in a weird maze I have somebody with me. Come on, let's go."
Holding onto each other, the two began to edge slowly into the labyrinthine cavern. They'd only gone a few steps when Grace started.
"Hang on, what do you mean "this time" being trapped in a weird maze?
Jack faltered. "Did I ever actually tell you about that?"
The boy floundered a little. "I'm okay! It wasn't my fault! It's all okay though, right? I'm alright. Forget what I said…"
He laughed nervously, but his sister's gaze remained upon him, steely and deadly.
"Jack, I think we need to have a talk…"
Perimon managed to wake up like he woke up most mornings; namely, in a flurry of feathers and a series of unintelligible squawks.
He hopped out of the puddle he'd been sitting in and immediately went to shaking his rather damp leg feathers, trying to fluff them up a bit. It was only after he'd been hopping around for five minutes that he finally took stock of where he was; another cave, very similar to the one his partner had woken in, though of course he had no way of knowing.
As his vision became less blurry, he noticed Vulpimon, standing to one side, looking over something. Her head raised slightly.
"You finally up?"
Perimon fluffed his body up a bit, and began to waddle over. "I thought it was girls who needed their beauty sleep."
"I'm always beautiful. And we don't usually sleep in puddles."
The bird exhaled through his beak. "Alright, just trying to lighten the mood."
"We might be in a bit of trouble."
Perimon looked over her shoulder. "Ah."
Lying before them on the damp floor were two D-Nexus's; Grace and Jack's. Seemingly none the worse for wear, if a bit battered, but obviously, far away from where they should have been.
Vulpimon sat down. "I think Grace and Jack might be okay. I have a feeling they're just being kept under watch. Like we are."
The bird's head whipped back and forth. "We are? Where? Have you seen them?"
Vulpimon shook her head. "We all came into the cavern together. Well, sort of. The water carried us in. I have a feeling like it might have also split us apart."
Perimon nodded. "Which means that our partners are somewhere nearby."
"We need to find them as soon as possible." She looked around, scouring each of the walls. "There are three ways out of here. It doesn't really make a difference where we go I suppose." She pointed at the nearest one. "We'll try there."
The fox looked at Perimon expectantly, who looked down at himself. "What is it?"
"I don't have any hands."
"Oh." Perimon pointed a foot at her neck. "Can't we hang them off that thing?"
"You can't do that!" Vulpimon stepped back, holding her paw protectively against the silver pendant. "Besides, they're too heavy. It'll break."
Perimon scowled, but he took off and dextrously plucked the two devices up from the ground with his talons. Vulpimon smiled. "See, you are good for some things."
"I'm only doing this if you'll let me ride on your back in an hour."
Vulpimon sniffed, and walked towards the alcove. "Keep dreaming, peasant."
Perimon raised an eyebrow, but she turned her head and winked. "Come on, let's go."
The bird gave a chuckle, and rolled his eyes.
"Once a princess, always a princess."
The tunnels were twisting and confusing, and oftentimes changed direction almost instantly, to the point where the children found themselves walking into walls and nearly falling down several pitfalls. Not that they were that bothered; by this point they were just accepting the hardships coming their way.
Besides, Grace was still giving Jack that talking to about his adventure within the Obelimon.
"I do wish you'd actually tell me when you get up to stuff like that."
Jack pouted. "I was trying not to worry you. Anyway, I didn't have a choice. It got me off guard." He pointed. "How come you're the only one who's allowed to go on adventures on your own?"
Grace went the tiniest bit red, and sighed. "Look…I just worry, okay? All the time. I know I shouldn't but I can't help it. I know you can handle things yourself. Probably better than I can, if I'm honest. If I interfere I'll only make things worse. I just...I want to know you can handle it."
Jack shrugged. "I can stand up for myself. And for you." His shoulders hunched a bit. "But…I do like the help. I'm sorry."
"For not always listening to you."
Grace smiled, and squeezed his hand. "Hey, at least we get to go on an adventure together, for once." She glanced behind her, the light making the walls glisten as if they were translucent. "Just so long as it is just us and not anyone we don't want…"
"Grace, look at this!"
The girl looked up to see her brother pointing at the wall, and she gave it a closer look. "What is it? I don't see anything…"
She squinted. Amongst all the crystal latticework were smaller carvings; symbols and ancient writing that shifted around. Jack looked up at his sister. "This must be an old Obelimon. They have all this stuff inside them."
The girl looked back and forth. "That would explain the maze."
"I wish we were able to see what it's saying."
"Maybe we could…" Grace frowned, and reached into her pocket. She felt around, her eyes widening just a little. "Um…Jack, I don't suppose you have your D-Nexus?"
The boy felt around, before holding up his arms. "Did we drop them?"
"Both of them?" Grace planted a hand on her forehead, thinking desperately. "We can try and find our way back-"
The two kids started, and Grace instinctively stepped in front of her brother, holding out an arm. "Who's there?"
The walls shimmered, sending coloured lights dancing round the room as the voice continued. "So weak. So powerless."
Jack twitched. "Don't you start…"
"Get out of my sight."
There was the sound of water moving, and one of the walls seemed to expand; first into a dome, then, as it flopped onto the ground, a more humanoid figure, which shimmered and wobbled as its shape tried to become defined, then failed. It hunched, and two arms stretched out, each one ending in a tapered spear point.
Grace's arms fell by her sides. "Again? Seriously, again? Are you kidding me?"
Jack grabbed her arm and yanked her back as the figure rushed forwards, its entire body turning into spear points that skewered the rock where they'd been standing not too seconds before. The sound of their running footsteps echoed down the tunnel as the creature looked up.
It shivered, and disintegrated, seeping back into the floor.
"Get out the way!"
The liquid creature lunged forwards, with its arm reaching out viciously, swirling with a multitude of sharp blades and spears. Vulpimon leapt out of the way just in time, and the creature disappeared back into the wall, only to reappear in front of her in an instant.
Perimon sent out a blast of air as he zoomed past, but the attack merely dispersed the watery entity temporarily. He banked up, only to fly straight into it as it dropped down from the ceiling.
"Oh, for the love of Yggdrasil…"
"Duck! Snow Blast!"
Vulpimon sent a spray of cold energy in a wide arc, instantly freezing parts of the creature, which writhed and pulled back into the surrounding areas, dropping the frozen pieces of its body away. Perimon took the opportunity to look up and down the corridor, which seemed to split at either end in a dozen different direction.
"Why is it never easy?"
Nearby, Vulpimon growled, her new pendant glowing with cold energy. "Shut up. At least we don't need to hide ourselves away."
There was the sound of sloshing water as the figure reformed, and Vulpimon braced herself, gathering ice in her mouth.
"So weak…you're still so weak…"
The figure shook, and began to shift again, its form stretching and squashing into something new. Vulpimon stared, her eyes widening as her opponent took on an ever more familiar shape. A hunched back, pointed muzzle, sinewy limbs, and yet a strong stance. A crown. A sword. Long, flowing hair.
Vulpimon stared as Kwanmon reared up before her, transparent, yet just as detailed as the real thing.
The Kwanmon figure raised her sword high, the edge glistening.
Perimon lunged forwards, piercing the ghostly figure straight through the chest. The torso exploded, and the lower half staggered for a little bit, as the bird looped back round. He landed by Vulpimon, breathing heavily.
"I…" Vulpimon shook her head. "This thing know more than it's letting on."
Perimon nodded. "Fine. So it's playing dirty. We just won't let it bother us." He looked around. "I have a feeling that our partners might be going through something similar."
"Let's go then."
The fox shrugged. "Anywhere at this rate…wait!"
She pointed, and the bird whirled round, just leaping out the way as the watery figure leapt towards them again.
Vulpimon's attack was a direct hit this time, and the aquatic wraith shivered, solidified, and disintegrated. Vulpimon prepared for it to reappear, only to spot something within the creature's form. It was just a glimpse; bone beneath watery flesh, one piercing eye, the hint of a chain…
Vulpimon began to run, even as the creature tried to converge on her once again. She ran out of the way, keeping her eyes on the ground, following the faint but distinct trail that ran just beneath the crystalline floor. There was the sound of splashing, and Perimon joined her, keeping pace despite the thin tunnels. "I take it you know where you're going?"
Vulpimon paused, before pointing at the third exit from the right, where the trail could just be seen, writhing as it pulled the watery entity back.
"Nope. But we do have a lead."
Grace yelped as she hopped to one side away from the watery claws that were trying slash at her from every direction. She ran, haphazardly, one hand holding tightly onto Jack's as the two of them sprinted through tunnel after tunnel.
Jack let out a gasp for breath. "This would be so much easier if we had our D-Nexuses."
"Don't bother; just keep going-"
No sooner had Grace said it, she skidded to a halt as the aquatic wraith reared up in front of her, limbs flailing wildly.
"Where do you think you're running?"
"Grace, this way!"
The girl was yanked to one side as Jack sped past, into another of the many pathways in this intense labyrinth. Jack winced as his leg began to ache, but still he carried on, all the while the echoing voice of the entity playing all around.
"You can't run forever…"
The two children turned a corner, only skid to a halt as a tendril of water wrapped around their hands, holding them in place. Together they pulled, trying to combine their efforts against the tight hold, which was freezing cold and strong as a vice.
Grace looked up in a panic, as the watery figure formed once again in front of her. Although, different. Smaller. Slenderer. Bearing hooked claws, and a grinning mask. Grace's eyes widened as Inarimon's crystalline grin stared back at her.
"You can't run at all…"
The girl lunged forwards, slamming her body into – and right through – the wicked form. The grip on their hands loosened, and they pulled free, running again. Jack pointed. "Down there!"
It was a split-second decision, but the two of them stuck together, holding on for dear life as the whispered taunts continued all around them. So focused were they on running, they didn't notice as the floor began to tip downwards, with water running down beneath them.
That was, until Jack's feet finally gave way under the incline and the slipperiness, and he tumbled over, dragging his sister down with him. The boy gasped and the girl screamed, as their hands came apart, and they fell. Tumbling like ragdolls, they had no idea of where they were going, with the crystalline tunnel whizzing past them, the sharp edges tearing at their clothes and skin as the water dragged them ever faster downwards.
Then, bright light. They opened their eyes, their gaze falling on each other. The tunnel had opened out to the very centre of the Lapis Cavern; a huge open cavern, with water cascading down all around, great white and blue crystals jutting out from the walls and the ceiling above, and a vast, impossibly deep lagoon beneath.
For a few seconds, they were in freefall, with precious little time to take in the enormous, beautiful cave around them.
Then they hit the water below, and were shocked back into reality.
Jack surfaced first, spluttering and wincing at the cold and the salt water now getting into his new grazes. He whipped his head around, barely keeping afloat as he tried to call out.
She surfaced in an instant, several metres away, and looking in not much better shape than him. "I'm here. I'm coming."
The two children turned around, relief on their sodden faces, as their partners stood at the edge of the cavern, seeming so far away, but both alive.
Grace reached her brother, and tugged on his arm. "Quickly. Before that thing finds us again."
"There's nowhere left to run."
The children looked up in dismay and horror as the water between them and their partners rose up, forming two tall, distinct shapes. They watched, treading water, as the two figures blocked them. All too familiar.
With pupil-less eyes and transparent bodies, Karatenmon and Lobomon both raised a sword as they stood atop the water's surface, their faces emotionless and unreadable.
"How many have died due to your weakness?"
Despite the ringing in her ears and the splashing sound all around, Grace still heard the tiny voice of the boy desperately hanging onto her.
"GET AWAY FROM THEM!"
There was a rush of wind and Perimon's body blasted through the translucent figures, hovering nearby the two children. "They're messing with you. Quick, we need to evolve."
Grace looked past the bird; already the bodies were reforming into those of their former companions, the swords extending. Behind them she could see her partner, standing atop the water on an icy platform, looking with nervous encouragement. She nodded.
She and Jack raised their hands to catch the devices just before Perimon swooped away, the aquatic golems chasing after him with a hellish speed and agility. Jack and Grace looked at one another, the energy already emanating from them.
"Primal Control! Soul Control! Evolution Activate!"
The crystalline forms of Lobomon and Karatenmon stared blankly, as two of their opponents rose into the air and two circled them on the newly-frozen water's surface. From deep below, there came a rumble.
"You're nothing but a show."
The two swordsmen lunged in opposite directions, the blades shimmering and extending, threatening to slice into each Ice warrior in turn. Alopemon skidded out the way, but Chionemon was caught on the arm, and she fell backwards, struggling to keep her footing on the icy surface.
The nomad sent two arcs of daggers into Lobomon in front of her, but they merely stuck, jutting out as they were slowly absorbed. Chionemon gave a sharp intake of breath, and rolled out the way as the watery blade sliced down, cracking the icy floor. The nomad cursed. "Well this is going well so far."
There was a blue glow and Alopemon rushed forwards, spinning in mid-air and releasing her blue aura. Her tail slashed through the watery wraith, freezing the wound on contact and stopping the false Lobomon in her tracks. Alopemon landed, and looked back.
"You don't even know them. How dare you take their shape."
Lobomon's neck turned in a jerky fashion, and she promptly melted away, leaving the solid parts of her body lying atop the ice. There was a bump from beneath, and Alopemon steadied herself.
"Oh, come on…"
The fox turned as Karatenmon swung for her neck, his eyes glazed and soulless. She backed away, but felt the ice giving beneath her feet. The aquatic golem spread his wings, sending tiny blades of water in every direction as he repositioned himself.
The birdman looked up as the blast hit him, knocking his body out of all proportion. He reformed quickly, looking all around as above him the great eagle swooped again, his wings outstretched.
"Why do I get the feeling this isn't really helping?"
Karatenmon raised both swords in a cross, and Mistramon slammed into him, the sharpened edge of his wing digging slightly into the hardened sword blades, but not enough to break them. Though he did manage to keep the tengu in place.
Mistramon pulled away as Aeolumon's attack struck true, the air pressure sending the false Karatenmon's body far and wide. Aeolumon pumped his fist, and made to bank around again, when there was the sound of shattering ice beneath him.
Lobomon leapt from the water, one arm extending into a great, watery tentacle and embracing his leg. Aeolumon's path went awry, sending him crashing down into the water's surface, where Lobomon was on him in an instant, slashing away with those twin cutlasses.
He could barely see Mistramon and Alopemon trying to deal with the newly reformed Karatenmon, unable to reach him. Suddenly the water's surface froze around him, and Lobomon turned, her feet suddenly frozen in place.
Chionemon rushed past, passing her fist through the golem's body. The false Lobomon froze instantly, caught in mid-sword-swing. Aeolumon flexed his arms, breaking them away from the ice and bringing them together.
"Thanks Grace! Crashing Gale!"
He brought both hands forwards at once, blowing the frozen statue apart. With a few more moments he was out, and just about airborne, as Chionemon stood alongside him, holding the gash in her arm.
"This is doing absolutely nothing, isn't it…"
There was another groan, and something scraped beneath the frozen surface. Aeolumon rose up a bit, looking all around.
"Someone's doing this. They're not real; someone's controlling them."
"It's too late to be clever."
Chionemon stamped down, her foot freezing a few more metres of the pool. "What do you want? Why are you tormenting us?"
"Torment? Is that what it is?"
There was a rumble, and the two warriors leapt out the way as the golem broke through the surface again, once again formless and brutish. It slammed an appendage down, smashing the ice and knocking Aeolumon and Chionemon back.
"You've just reached your limit. What more do you possibly think you can do to this world?"
Aeolumon dodged, anger flushing through his face. "We were trying to help!"
"And you accomplished nothing."
The formless wraith launched itself upwards, swinging its mass around and knocking Aeolumon back down. It curved around, aiming for Chionemon, who raised her arms in defense.
"Silicon City. The Silver Citadel. The Infernal Fortress. Even now, the mirrors of the Lapis Cavern show me the diminishing world. The Digimon who put their trust in you. The Digimon that you all failed."
"Open your eyes. Lobomon and Karatenmon fell. Everyone will fall, all because you didn't have what it took to save this world."
Chionemon landed, and glanced down at the water's surface. For a moment, she saw something. A white serpent in the clear. Moving impossibly fast. But she moved faster.
She clenched both fists and plunged them into the water, either side of her. The ice spread out, over the surface, and deeper into the lagoon, leaving just a tiny segment unfrozen. All of a sudden the ice jerked, as something struggled, like a fish on a hook. Chionemon looked up at Aeolumon. "There's something there! Grab it!"
Aeolumon turned, and saw the sliver of white between the patches of ice. He nodded, and turned into a dive, bringing his hands together with a bang. "Crashing Gale!"
The orbs struck the water and blew it away, spreading the ice and revealing the piece of white. Aeolumon banked, grabbing it and yanking it free as Chionemon released her icy grip. On the surface, the watery wraith shimmered, struggled, and then lost its form entirely, being pulled up with whatever the object was. With a savage cry, the white serpent was pulled from the lagoon, getting longer and longer, until it was revealed in its entirety. Aeolumon noticed as he climbed that it was not a serpent at all, but instead what looked like an overly long spine. And as it finally jerked to a stop, the head reared around, and roared in his face.
It was a skull of some kind of fish; heavy-set and blunt-nosed, with great shears of sharpened bone sticking out from its jaws in place of teeth, and thick, blunt spines sticking out from the back of it. In its mouth it held an orb of water; the same water that had formed the wraiths; swirling menacingly, but powerless outside of its element. Still, Aeolumon had to dodge hard as the skull snapped and swung around, each movement with the potential to take off an arm. He looked down, to see Chionemon grasping the base of the spine, the ice already freezing it in place.
"At least we tried. We don't need to hide behind puppets."
Above her, the fish skull snarled, seemingly in indignation. There was a deep groaning sound, and the icy platforms atop the water's surface began to bob up and down; an indication of movement far, far below. Over on their own platform, Alopemon's attack was cut short as Karatenmon's fluid form suddenly dissolved away, back into the lagoon. Mistramon pulled up from his own charge, and he hovered, looking up at the others. "You guys need any help?"
Alopemon crouched, and immediately began to run, watching the water's surface beneath her. "There were two of those things, so that means…Jack, watch your back!"
Aeolumon twisted in mid-air as the second skull leapt out of the water at a frightening speed, preparing to ram him. The soldier managed to raised his arms in time, but the impact loosened his grip on the other skull, and it wriggled free, joining its companion. Within seconds, they were both back beneath the water. Aeolumon lowered himself, to where the other three warriors stayed close to one another. Alopemon peered around beneath her. "At least we know what we're fighting now."
"No. You have no idea."
Another melancholy groan, and the ripples across the water began to grow, as something large and very fast moved beneath.
"But if you're accusing me of hiding, then I'll bite. I'll show you myself just how weak you are!"
With an almighty rushing sound, the water before the four warriors rose up, revealing their tormentor in full. She reared up tall, her entire upper body clear of the water's surface; held up by an almighty fish's tail, covered in spiny armour and beating slowly left and right, with two smaller beating quickly to keep her upright. Her upper body was mostly human; dark-skinned, with rippling muscles on wide arms and blue membranes beneath her upper arms and between her fingers. Her torso too was armoured, with short, thick gauntlets, bony growths sticking out from her abdomen, arms and knuckles, and a spiny helmet that embraced her face like a shark's jaws, as short blue tentacles waved in placed of hair. In her hands she held the bony chain, which seemed to grow and shrink as she needed, and the two skulls bobbed in mid-air either side of her, snarling at the warriors below. Indeed, they were connected to one another; a huge, sentient double-headed chain mace of bone. Although even without that weapon, the figure leering over the four was truly intimidating enough.
She glared down, her fingers curling around the chain the skulls hovered menacingly. "I'm Devonimon. I've been watching you all and I'm not impressed."
Chionemon stared up. "Why are we here? Did you ask us to come?"
Devonimon's eyes snapped towards her. "I didn't ask you to do anything. I brought you here. This is the end of the line for you."
Mistramon blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"You'll remain here. In the Lapis Cavern. It's hidden away; Nithhogg won't find it. More to the point, you won't hurt this world more than you already have."
"You expect us to just hide away? With everything else that's going on? What about everyone else?"
"What about them?" Devonimon lazily swayed to one side, pointing a stern finger at the bird. "They're fine. They can take care of themselves far better than you can."
Aeolumon spoke up. "You can't keep us here!"
"I can and I will, and you will not argue. If you don't have what it takes to stop Nithhogg then you're all but useless out there; you don't have the right to keep fighting!"
Mistramon growled, and flew up higher, flapping his wings and building air. "We need to be out there. You can't do this."
Before Mistramon could blink one of the skulls flew in his direction, knocking him far away and into the lagoon below. Alopemon jumped. "Mistramon!"
"Don't even think about it!" Devonimon reared up above the remaining three, cracking her knuckles. "You'll remain here and that's final. Whether dead or alive; it makes no difference to me. Anything to stop you wreaking more havoc out there."
"You monster! Icicle Barrage!"
The two warriors of Ice fired a barrage of projectiles up at the great mermaid, but she raised an armoured palm, simply catching them in mid-air. Devonimon growled, revealing jutting triangular teeth.
"You're going to regret this..." With an inconceivably fast movement, she flexed the chain mace, retracting both the skulls until they slotted over her hands like gauntlets. She raised her arms, the aquatic orbs spinning rapidly in her new jawed hands.
Alopemon and Aeolumon leapt back, but Chionemon had barely gotten a few metres when the two orbs struck the water's surface. The water erupted; two great waves rising up with an immense force, before crashing together once again. Chionemon barely escaped being crushed under the immense pressure, the first wave having just flung her away in time. But she was now airborne; well within Devonimon's gaze. The mermaid turned, bringing back an arm and flinging it forward. The mace extended again, and the skull opened its jaws, threatening to pluck her out of the sky.
Aeolumon shot forwards as fast as he could, his fist knocking the skull away, causing it to crash into a nearby wall. The soldier immediately dived, catching his sister, who was dazed but conscious. Chionemon looked up, and then to one side. "Jack, watch-"
It was too late. The other skull had shot forwards and had met its mark, grabbing Aeolumon by one armoured wing. Far below, Devonimon wrapped the chain around her forearm and yanked backwards. "You're not going anywhere!"
Aeolumon and Chionemon were dragged back as one, the chain extended and sending them crashing into the other side of the cavern. The two hung in mid-air for a second, winded and stunned, before falling to the crystal platform below.
"How dare you! Icicle Barrage!"
Devonimon pulled the skull back, turning to see Alopemon firing icicles again and again, her projectiles futile against the mermaid warrior's massive body. Devonimon ground her teeth. "You never learn, do you…"
Alopemon shook her head, too furious to be afraid. "How DARE you! They're CHILDREN!"
"Then they should never have come here!"
Devonimon roared, bringing a fist down, but Alopemon leapt out the way, firing off another volley of ice as she did so. She began to run; her limbs ached from battle, but still she ran as fast as she could towards where their partners had fallen, her feet skipping across the water's surface and leaving black ice as she did so. Behind her, Devonimon thrust her arms out and began to twirl the skulls rapidly, the orbs forming serrated circles of water around her arms.
She threw her arms forwards, and the water followed her motion, rushing towards the fleeing fox in spirals that threatened to slice her to ribbons. Just as they were slashing at the backs of her heels, a blast of air came out of nowhere and Mistramon shot out from underwater.
"I'm still here, you know. Spiral Force!"
Dragging pink energy behind him, Mistramon shot over the top of Devonimon's head. She raised her arms as the energy beam hit her, simply brushing it away and throwing a chain at the bird again, but he banked out the way, circling around yet again. "I can see you now. You won't catch me that easily!"
Devonimon spun one of the skulls and threw it up, where it arced round towards the great eagle, barely able to keep up with him. Mistramon glanced down, meaning to taunt the mermaid again, but his sharp eyes noticed a slight smirk on her face.
Mistramon heard the skull roar behind him, and the orb of water shot forwards, the wraith embracing him in mid-flight and wrenching at his wings. He swerved wildly, his sudden descent sending him scraping down one of the cave walls.
Devonimon huffed, and turned back towards the fox, who was currently hidden in a growing mist. The mermaid slowly moved forwards, spinning the free skull around in her other arm.
"You can't hide forever."
"I don't need to."
Devonimon suddenly became aware of a cold sensation around her midriff. She looked down, and noticed a thick layer of sheet ice holding her in place. In front of her, a pair of glowing yellow eyes pierced out of the fog, followed by the hulking form of Tupilamon. The ice spirit crouched, flexing her muscles and digging into the ice beneath her, her breath condensing. Devonimon simply shrugged, cracking the icy hold upon her.
"What are you doing? Seriously, what? You seriously think, even at your level, you can overcome me?"
Tupilamon shook her head, her voice laced with anger. "It's not a case of overcoming you. It's a case of protecting what matters to me." Tupilamon glanced up, to where Mistramon was hovering again, still struggling with the wraith. "It's the same for both of us."
Through the fog, Devonimon could just make out the tiny bodies of Grace and Jack, holding tightly onto one another. Battered, bruised, but standing. Grace was holding out her D-Nexus, her face set, as if willing her own energy onto her partner. Devonimon's eyes narrowed. "Give me a break, you spoilt hound. You could never protect them. You couldn't even protect yourself."
Devonimon raised her arms as the blast knocked her back, but she held her ground. Her immense tail swept through the water and powered her forwards, despite the intense blast freezing her forearms and cracking the skin. She reached forwards, but Tupilamon didn't give up; she kept screaming, holding up her own arms and holding Devonimon in place. But the difference in power was evident. Tupilamon was pushed back; onto one knee, then two, then finally giving way and rolling onto her back, her power running out.
Devonimon glanced back as the air pressure hit her; weaker this time. Mistramon hovered there, straining against the skull that held him, and the water that bound him. But he was still airborne. Devonimon felt a sharp stab, and looked down to see Tupilamon grasped onto her forearm, her sabre-teeth digging in. Behind her, Jack held tightly to his sister's hand, his face sodden but his eyes piercing. "We're not giving up."
There was a flash of anger across Devonimon's face, and she slammed her fist down, causing Tupilamon to grunt in pain, though she didn't let go.
"You ALWAYS said that! ALL of you! I TRUSTED you!"
Effortlessly, she held up Tupilamon and flung her upwards, towards Mistramon, who was too tired now to dodge. The chain mace wrapped around both of them and, with a violent yank from Devonimon, sent them flying into the wall, causing crystals to crumble from the ceiling.
"I trusted you to save the world! Why didn't you do it? Why did I ever think you could do it?"
She yelled, and raised her arms, the gauntlets retracting and slotting roughly onto her hands, as the orbs span wildly within them.
There was a great rush of water, and the whole cave shook, sending Grace and Jack tumbling forwards. Tupilamon and Mistramon were lost in the rushing waves, the full force of the attack hitting them and sending them tumbling down into the maelstrom, the energy scattering from their bodies as they fell.
Devonimon was left, her shoulders shaking, her face wrought with pain and anger. She turned, and saw the two children lying there, exhausted and drained. She moved over, and gently plucked them up, holding them both in one hand as if she held dolls. She held them up, their tiny faces staring up at her huge one.
"I thought it would be okay. I believed in them. I looked into their eyes and I knew they could do it. Why did they let me down? Why did you let me down?"
Grace coughed, feeling the giant's palm squeezing the breath from her. "I…I'm sorry…we tried…"
Devonimon closed her eyes. The lagoon water glistened on her cheeks, perhaps mixed with her own tears, perhaps not. "It's not enough. It was never enough. Even back then, if they'd been stronger…if I'd been there…maybe the world would be okay…"
The great mermaid opened her eyes, and for a second she seemed old and tired. She looked down, almost lazily, at the children within her grasp.
"This is the resting place for the weak. There's no more room in the world for you."
She opened her palm, and the children fell down, both of them sinking immediately into the water below. Devonimon opened and closed her hand, just a little. "There's no more room in the world for us."
Jack could feel himself falling.
He opened his eyes, and saw the crystals all around him. The walls of the Lapis Cavern; a mirror into the Digital World. Silicon City. The Northern Tribes. The Obelimon. No, the other Obelimon. This must be one as well, he imagined. An ancient, long-dead record, still fulfilling its role as its life had flickered out. And even more crystals, showing the end of the world. The endless, white void, all data stripped away, save for pockets here and there. Every place. Every life. Every death and every failure.
And there, floating down just next to him, his own sister. And below them, Perimon, and Vulpimon. Trapped in aquatic space, no longer with the strength to fight back.
His eyes threatened to close, to just hold everything where it was. But he didn't let them. He held his teeth together, and moved his arms, despite the pain and the exhaustion and the constant, pulsating blackness spotting through his vision.
Beside him, Grace was moving as well. Through half-closed eyes, she reached out, seemingly into nothing. Then she moved herself. Her arm stretched out towards her brother. And then her other one, out towards Vulpimon. Vulpimon reached back. Perimon kicked at the aquatic tomb around him. Through will and determination, they reached out towards one another. Getting closer, through the oppressive silence and the gathering darkness. And as they approached, they heard one another calling out for them.
"Maybe…we are weak…"
"But we have to keep going…"
"We have to be heroes…"
"Because there's no-one else left…"
"We have to be hope…"
"Because that's what the world needs…"
Jack reached out and held tightly onto Perimon, and particles of red began to dance around the both of them; faintly at first, but growing in brightness and number.
"Maybe we aren't strong enough on our own."
"But that's okay. Because we're together. We always were together. And if we stay together, we can stand up there with the rest of them."
Grace and Vulpimon embraced one another, the pendant floating just between them, letting out a steadily-brightening blue light.
"Maybe we made mistakes.
"But that's okay. Because we can keep going. We can keep fighting for what's right, and eventually, we'll get where we need to."
The lights intensified. Grace and Jack reached out towards one another, their D-Nexuses glowing brightly, sending red and blue energy spiralling around them as they began to rise up once again.
Weakness can become strength.
Failure can become success.
Children can become heroes.
Devonimon opened her eyes, as red and blue energy shot out of the lagoon all around her, reflecting off of the crystal walls of the cavern in a dazzling display. She flexed her fingers, her chain mace retracting back into gauntlets as she glared up at the four brightly glowing figures in front of her.
"There's nothing else you can do! Give up! You're finished!"
There was no response. The figures merely shone all the more brightly, and as the data particles spun faster and shone brighter, they began to merge into two.
The great mermaid held up an arm as the cavern exploded with colour. Before her, the two figures pulsated and sparked, both hovering just above the water's surface.
One shone a great burnished red, as it shifted into the forms of Aeolumon and Mistramon, Cyclomon and Ventimon. It spun wildly, sending out waves of data far and wide, and shrinking down, down, down to a tiny size, almost threatening to go out altogether. Then, just as the tiniest of lights, it glowed brighter than ever before. It expanded, thrusting out taloned legs and slender arms and great, armoured wings as the red mingled with a perfect gold. As its spinning slowed, its form solidified. It hung in mid-air, for a moment concealed. Then the red glow dissipated, leaving just an orb at the centre of the new Digimon's chest; the element of Air, still so full of energy and power. His entire chest and abdomen was thickly armour with bright golden metal, and a bright purple cape flew behind him, fluttering on the wind. His arms and legs were long and slender, ending in hooked talons, and jutting further from the ends of his arms were huge, crimson wings of armour plating that glowed mysteriously, lined with bronze and gold. His face was concealed by an avian mask, with a hooked beak and ornate metal feathers sticking out from the back. His eyes opened; a flash of vibrant green in a dark space, looking left, right, and finally settling on Devonimon. He spread his arms wide, and flew high, effortlessly riding on the wind within the cavern.
The other figure had materialised at the same time. The transition had been more precise; a slow build-up of ice, showing the images of Alopemon, Chionemon, Tupilamon and Marzamon. Then another image; seeming like a reflection within the crooked mirror. But it had grown, its form solidifying and becoming more than light and water. Girl and beast stood together within the icy tomb, and then suddenly, they stood as one; a silhouette with the torso of a human and the body of a fox. Slowly, as lines of ice traced their way over her form, she emerged from the tomb. Her lower half was canine; silver fur, four slender legs adorned with bracelets and a thick tail, all covered by a flowing shawl that was lined with glowing blue pendants on dark chain-links. Her upper body and back was completely covered with dark armour, lined with spikes and with more of the swinging pendants. A large one hung around her neck, containing a hollow in which the element of Ice held fast; cold and deadly, yet precise and pure. Her face was also masked, with bright yellow eyes staring out and a river of silver hair flowing behind her. In her right hand she held a sword; long and pale, carved with intricate markings and with the head of an arrow. She dropped a few centimetres, until her feet were just touching the water's surface, keeping afloat with barely a ripple.
Devonimon shook her head, backing away as she began to spin the skull mace round and round.
"You can't do this! It's useless!"
Skathimon and Ouranomon glanced at one another, and slowly moved forwards, each emanating a powerful aura. Skathimon held up her sword, keeping it perfectly straight. "Let us go, Devonimon."
"You're too weak!"
"Please. We need to be out there."
Devonimon flinched, her furious visage cracking just a bit. She backed away even further, the rings of water spinning around her. "You spent all that time fighting for nothing; what can you possibly do now? How are you any different now?"
There was a flash of red, as Ouranomon flapped his wings, his armour bright and flawless. "We're not. We just need to keep going regardless of who we are, or who stands in our way!"
Devonimon thrust her arms forwards as the waves of water flew in spirals, slicing through the air and into the walls around them. But the two elemental warriors were already out of their reach; moving back around, their movements swift and agile. Still Devonimon didn't give up; she swung around, thrusting the skulls wide as the water bubbled and pulsed. "Tidal Wraiths!"
The skulls roared, and the water leapt forwards, with claws and spines and flailing limbs flying everywhere, then focusing on the nearest warrior; Ouranomon, gliding past at an incredible speed.
"I have you now!"
The wraiths leapt forwards, but Ouranomn twisted, and their attack merely glanced off of the back of his wings. The avian warrior flew towards the wall and kicked himself off of it, aiming himself directly at the two skulls bearing down upon him.
In a split second spread his wings wide, thrusting himself backwards, as the myriad spines and feathers over his armour glowed and shot forwards in a deadly storm. The wraiths were engulfed in thousands of shards of wind, tearing them apart in mid-air and slicing great gouges out of the skulls, which roared in pain and protest. Down below, Devonimon cursed, and pulled them back down onto her hands, damaged, but just intact.
"How dare you! Gyro-"
Devonimon turned just in time to see Skathimon complete a hand gesture, before her vision was completely whited out by a sudden, terrible storm. The mermaid raised her arms, gritting her teeth as frost gathered over her arms and torso, slowing her movements. She thrust her arms out as best she could, but her attack was lost in the blizzard. All around her she could feel the presence of the two elemental warriors, but she had no way of reaching them.
She opened her eyes a tiny fraction, and could just make out the silhouette of Skathimon before her, holding her sword straight up as she ran her other hand along the edge. The beast-warrior's eyes flashed yellow, and she began to charge, running effortlessly through the storm.
There was a flash, and suddenly Skathimon was behind Devonimon, who was writhing in a sudden pain. The slash had frozen her entire lower body in an instant, splintering the armour and leaving a huge black gouge in her side. She screamed, throwing her upper body around in a desperate attempt to free herself.
"You can't do this! I won't let you doom us again!"
With a manic yell she twisted, cracking her armoured tail even more, and held both arms aloft, as the last of her energy went into her gauntlets.
She brought her arms down, splintering the ice and causing the remaining water to rise up, threatening to crush the warrior of ice before her. But Skathimon didn't move. Instead, Ouranomon flew into view, hovering above the wall of water as the blizzard whipped into a frenzy around his body.
Before the water could descend, Ouranomon thrust his wings forwards and fired; a straight spear of compressed air that pierced through the falling water, and through Devonimon, and into the heart of the lagoon.
There was an almighty bang, and the cavern seemed to explode. The blizzard was dissipated in an instant, as water and crystal and ice and rock alike was thrown in every direction. Devonimon herself was thrown backwards into the crystal wall, smashing it in a million places, as the water below frothed and spun in a maelstrom.
Devonimon's eyes were white, and she curled over, first onto the shore, and then into the lagoon itself, sinking immediately and releasing great waves of data. All around, the cavern was shaking now, with great chunks of crystal falling and the entire ceiling threatening to cave in. Skathimon stood atop the shaking lagoon, sheathing her sword as she looked up at the warrior of Air. "This place isn't going to last long."
"I know. Just hold on..."
Ouranomon's eyes were scanning the water's surface, trying to see anything through the ruckus. Suddenly he folded his wings back and dived, shooting beneath the waves like a rocket and disappearing from view. Skathimon looked up, as the ceiling cracked, crumbled, and finally gave way, ready to bury them all. She clasped her hands together, and made a few rapid gestures, her claws glowing and the pendants swinging all around her.
There was a flash of blue and black, and the noise stopped. Rocks hung in mid-air. The water slowed to a solid mass. Skathimon walked forwards, watching the water's surface.
"Come on, you two…"
There was a ripple in the distorted space, and Ouranomon emerged; a slight sheen around him from where Skathimon's spell was keeping him separate. In his talons he held a small, blue body, held tightly in his grasp. He looked around, before flapping his wings at a nearby wall, which promptly exploded out of turn.
"Now we can go."
The two left, and the Lapis Cavern imploded behind them.
The pair had smashed their way through quite a few walls before their surroundings finally stopped trying to bury them alive. After reaching a quiet, smooth cavern far away from the centre of the labyrinth, lit by the hints of actual sunlight, they finally stopped and devolved.
Jack laid down the still figure on the cold floor, frowning. "She got smaller."
Perimon hopped down next to him, giving the fish a little nudge. "Hey…you alright?"
For a moment Placomon didn't move. Then she groaned, and raised a large, webbed hand to her face. "God, I am such a moron."
The bird grinned. "Sorry, you know, for, um…"
"Hitting me really hard? Don't worry. I would have done the same." Placomon sat up, looking at the warriors around her. "I should be the one apologising. I said some really awful stuff."
Behind her, Grace shook her head. "Probably true though."
"Yeah, well…" Placomon held an arm out in front of her, watching as the data particles began to trickle away. "Cephalomon caught me after all, but somehow I didn't die just yet and wound up stuck in there. The element was safe, just about, but there was nothing I could do to reach you. Nothing I could do full stop, really. It got to me, and I'm guessing the element didn't help." She frowned. "I guess there was that dumb monkey thing who dropped in."
The fish turned to Jack and tapped her chest with her tail. "Water, sweetie. The element of Water. Though by the fact that you're here I'm guessing we didn't need it to bring you after all."
Vulpimon sat down, glancing down at her own pendant. "I don't know; I think we might need them now more than ever."
She looked up, raising an eyebrow. "What's that beeping sound?"
Behind her, Grace frowned, and pulled out her D-Nexus, which was suddenly going into a frenzy of activity, the same as Jack's. She swiped left and right, before coming across the map. The continent had gotten a lot smaller and less detailed, but there, just off of the centre, was a blinking red dot. And above it, a message. Grace squinted, trying to read the tiny text.
"'Found where Nithhogg's going. I'll see you all there.'" She looked up, and smiled. "It's from Kent. He's okay."
There was a sigh of relief amongst the others. Jack smiled, looking down at the message himself.
"Let me look at that…" Perimon glanced over Jack's shoulder, his eyes scanning the map. He let out a little pleased chirrup. "That's that beach. You know, the one where we first met you."
Jack squinted, running his finger across the mountain range just below the blinking beacon. "I guess it is."
Placomon grinned. "Well, I guess you guys do know where you're going after all." Slowly, clumsily, she waddled to one wall, and held up her hand against it. Then, without warning, she brought her gauntlet back and punched it. Everybody else jumped as the wall exploded outwards and light flooded the small cavern. As the dust cleared, they could finally see outside once again. The bright sun beat down on the dwindling beach, and beyond that, the endless white void, seemingly folding the horizon back in on itself. The sea had all but disappeared, pulling out further and further away. Grace pocketed her device again. "I don't think we can stop. We don't have long."
"You have enough time." Placomon pointed with a webbed thumb, her form looking more and more transparent by the second. "I think your friends are waiting for you. I think they need you."
Behind her, Vulpimon and Perimon glanced at each other, before running forward and throwing themselves around the fish in an embrace. Perimon sniffed. "Thank you. And sorry. I promise, we're going to fix this. We won't let you down again."
Placomon chuckled. "Hey now…" She pulled back, and rubbed the both of them on their shoulders. "Deep down, I always knew you could do it. You haven't let me down at all." She grinned. "Just make sure to kick Nithhogg's arse for me."
The bird and the fox nodded, tears in their eyes. Placomon smiled, before turning to the two children. "Look after them, will you? And look after yourselves."
Jack nodded. "We will. Thank you."
"Oh, and one more thing." Placomon's hand went to her chest again, and came out with a small turquoise orb, spinning rapidly and bright with energy.
"Put it to good use, alright? I wish you all the best."
In a swift movement, she flicked the orb. Jack caught it in his hand, where it bobbed around a bit, before settling inside his D-Nexus. By the time he looked up again, Placomon had vanished. Vulpimon smiled. "Two new evolution forms, and the element of Water. Placomon's still beating the best out of us even to the end."
Jack looked down at the fox, and bent down to give her a stroke. "Everyone always was. Her, Karatenmon and Lobomon, the others..." Her face fell. "I just wish we could have made it sooner."
He felt a hand in his, and looked up to see Grace, smiling sadly. "Knowing them, they'll just be happy we made it. Wherever they are."
Jack wiped the tears from his eyes, and nodded. Perimon sniffed and marched outside, spreading his wings and flying up. After a quick look around, he descended again, and pointed. "The Stone Halo's that way. Once we get over that, we just need to follow the coast to the first beach."
Vulpimon looked up at her partner. "Loathe as I am to admit it, at this point we're probably best to fly." She glanced up at the bird. "Do you think you can carry us there?"
"Are you kidding?" Perimon puffed out his chest, his feathers bristling in the breeze. "After all that, I'd say there's nothing I can't do!"
Vulpimon exhaled. "Show-off."
"I know. You still love me."
Jack gripped his D-Nexus. "Welp, time to go save the world. Again."
Grace smiled, looking up at the dwindling sky with the slightest hint of worry, and the slightest hint of determination.
"I definitely hope so."