The far North of the Digital World could be a desolate place.

The blizzard was only just beginning to pick up, but already it was ferocious and biting. Wind tunnels shot between the gaps in the peaks of the Stone Halo; much smaller here due to the constant weathering, and stripped bare, unable to gather snow, ice, or even rock in some places. There were many peaks where the very surface data itself had been stripped away, leaving the mainframe beneath clearly visible. The sky was a spiralling mass of white and black and blue, surging in different directions like a fractal. Only an idiot would dare to be out in this weather.

Two such idiots were currently trudging forwards, holding poles, their hoods raised. They stayed close to the peaks, trying to use them for cover, but even then they had to wait for the ebbs and flows of the blizzard.

The one in front, the taller of the two, ducked behind a ledge of rock as another spray of ice came at them. He reached out and pulled the smaller figure in roughly, holding him tight.

"Try to time it better, Serpemon."

The smaller figure rubbed his hands together, before blowing on them, his breath melting the ice crystals on his makeshift gloves. "It's alright for you, teacher. You've got legs."

"Yes, well I'm old. They don't do what they're supposed to any more."

Serpemon hissed through his teeth. "My tail has to be blue by now. Come on, Karatenmon, couldn't we have left this a little later?"

Karatenmon sighed. Serpemon glimpsed his mentor's face beneath his heavy hood; the rings of grey around his mouth and the rough, nearly pure-white beard of feathers. The Rookie level slithered forwards a little, his face serious for a moment. His master was clearly finding this journey just as difficult as he was.

"We don't have much time. Every second counts. You know how quickly this thing moves on; if we don't catch it soon..."

Serpemon bit his lip. "The Digital World will face severe consequences. That's what you said." He looked up, squinting against the wind. "Master, you need to tell me more. If I'm going to become a watchman-"

"You need to start by watching." Karatenmon put a hand on his student's shoulder. "Somebody needs to record this. Somebody neutral, not pulled by personal attachment or opinion. That's the creed of us watchers; we must ensure the Digital World has its history. We can't intervene. I can't tell you what's happening; you need to see for yourself."

"But if we can't interfere, then what are we doing out here?"

Karatenmon pulled his cloak tighter around his body, peering around the peak. "The other job of a watchman. We need to ensure that there remains a Digital World to record." He waved quickly. "Come on, we have a gap."

The two pressed forwards, unable to talk while the wind was blowing. They kept their heads down, and moved slowly, yet surely. All the while unspoken thoughts bubbled through the both of their minds.

All of a sudden Karatenmon jumped to one side, and pulled Serpemon with him, holding him against the rock. The serpent squirmed, tying himself up in his own hood. "Master!"

"Ssh!"

Karatenmon's beady eyes squinted, looking through the spiralling winds. Serpemon reared up taller, trying to see himself. "What is it?"

Silently, Karatenmon turned and placed a finger on his lips. Then he pointed out into the wilderness. Serpemon scanned the whiteness, looking for something. Then he saw it. Or rather, the lack of it. In the middle of the frozen wasteland, there was something...off. A glitch in space. The snow appeared and disappeared in different places, forming a visible crack in the sky. A rift in the surface of the Digital World, with...something...hovering beneath it.

Karatenmon swallowed, and bent down. beckoning Serpemon closer.

"You must watch everything. Whatever happens, do not interfere until it is finished. If I don't come back, tell the other two and Muspelmon what happened. No matter what, this madness ends now."

Serpemon looked up into the tengu's old, tired eyes. "Teacher...this isn't...I don't know, it isn't right..."

"Hush." Karatenmon smiled. "I'm only a chronicler. We change with the will of the world. You need not feel sadness for me." He reached out, and embraced the serpent. "Make your own life, and live it well. That's all I ask."

He stood up, turned, and began to walk towards the rift.


Three weeks earlier...


Karatenmon tapped his foot impatiently, lying against the wall in the far-too-bright room. He was deep within the Spokes, in one of the many ornate meeting halls that were scattered through the ancient buildings. Across from him was Phoukamon, balancing on their twin tails and humming to themselves. Two of the three had arrived; chronicler and observer. The curator was still to appear, and Karatenmon was getting impatient.

"Honestly, he could at least turn up on time."

Phoukamon opened one eye,, and looked to the left. "Speak of the devil."

A small, armoured dinosaur walked into the room, dragging his iron ball tail behind him. Chromon sat down, clearly out of breath. He cleared his throat, and looked up at Karatenmon.

"H...h-hi. Sorry, I, uh, got l-l-lost."

"For crying out loud, Chromon, you live here."

Chromon blushed, but carried on regardless. "I won't waste any m-more time. I hear you have n-news."

Karatenmon stood up straight, and tapped his foot on the metal floor. It immediately shifted; hundreds of rods rising up, forming a 3D map of the Digital World. Well, what remained at any rate. Karatenmon shifted the image until he reached the very north of the continent, and pointed.

"Serpemon found it. There. That's the closest rift into the Interface we've found yet. Wherever this things came from, we're sure to find it there."

Chromon tilted his head. "So we know where it is; are you sure we can actually do anything about it?"

The tengu smiled, and tapped his head. "I've been looking into the Interface for a long time. It's...well, it's only really in contact with our world in one place, as far as the Interface is concerned. We find one rift, we find all of them effectively."

"And in layman's terms?"

"Basically if we can seal it in place there, then it won't be able to reach through to our world anymore."

Phoukamon whistled, and hopped onto their feet, standing in a gangling fashion. "Bold words. Surely won't be much more than a short time, short term solution, maybe? We don't know."

"Well so long as the seal is left alone, hopefully not."

Chromon mulled the idea around in his head. "It's not going to be a quick f-fix. The Digital w-w-World should cover the seal with layers of data and eventually rebuild the missing r-regions, but it's going to take a long time."

"We can do something about that when we get there. Right now the priority is ensuring there actually is a Digital World in future."

Phoukamon fidgeted, their long fingers tapping against their forearms. "Who will it be?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Tough job. Maybe Yggdrasil will require humans once again."

Chromon seemed to be considering the idea, but Karatenmon shook his head. "This isn't a matter within the limits of the Digital World. I fear if we brought them in, it would be too much for them."

The dinosaur looked troubled. "But most of the world is ignorant to the cause of the cataclysms. Who else could we get?"

He looked up at Karatenmon, who had his eyes closed, saying nothing. Chromon glared at him. "Don't."

"Look, Chromon-"

"Bad idea. Bad, bad idea." Phoukamon shook their head, their arms folded. "There aren't many of us."

Karatenmon sighed. "Look, however inconvenient it is the fact remains that I know more about the Interface than anybody in the world. I will know how to reach it, maybe communicate with it, and if necessary seal it."

Chromon planted his foot on the floor. "This thing has been s-s...s-s-swallowing cities whole. Countless Digimon have been annihilated overnight. What makes you think yo-you'll come out alive?"

"I probably won't."

"Karatenmon!"

"Look, I'm replaceable. I only record what goes on around me." Phoukamon made to say something, but the tengu raised a hand. "I don't want to do it. And I would try my very hardest not to die. But if it comes to it, Serpemon will take over for me, or one of the other Digimon you've been observing, Phoukamon." He shrugged. "Face it, there's nothing particularly special about us. If one of us falls protecting the world, well, the world will keep moving on."

Phoukamon huffed. "Don't like it at all. But we have no other ideas."

"That we don't." Chromon looked up. "You c-can't do it on your own. S-someone needs to make sure the job is finished, or at the very least, record what you do." He bit his lower lip. "I could-"

"You have enough to worry about. I would rather take Serpemon."

"Him?" Chromon raised an eyebrow. "He's incredibly young. Are you sure he's r-r-really ready to go through that?"

"If he's to become a chronicler, then one day he will have to chronicle the end of me." The tengu smiled. "He's a fantastic talent. He'd surpass me in no time."

"It's not his talent that makes us worried." Phoukamon's three eyes blinked in turn. "We worry about his history. Dallurmon's fall. Many tragedies. He saw it all. How can he stay neutral and unbiased? Especially if you go, and don't come back. It could have adverse effects. Very bad consequences."

Karatenmon looked down, for a moment doubting himself. "I did speak to him. I said that if I went I probably wouldn't survive. He told me he would go anyway; he felt it right to be with me."

Chromon exhaled. "If you're really doing this, you should do it as you s-see fit. And we will take care of S-S-Serpemon if he returns without you."

"Thank you. Both of you. I mean it."

Phoukamon put their hands behind their head, staring up at the ceiling. "''Tis the life of a watchman. Never seen, never heard, gone in an instant."

"Sad but true. But somebody has to do it."

Chromon tapped the floor, and the map disappeared, the rods returning into an impossibly smooth surface. "So when are you going to go?"

"Soon. Very, very soon..."


Serpemon's mouth was dry. Every muscle in his body was screaming at his to move forwards, to follow the Digimon who had been his mentor for several years now, to see the rift in its entirety. But he stayed put. He merely watched as the tengu strode into the distance, his figure getting obscured by the blizzard, until he was just a dark smudge in the whiteout, standing next to an impossibility.

Karatenmon breathed in, standing a mere six feet away from the silent destroyer. He plucked a feather from one of his ragged wings, and flicked it forwards. The feather reached the rift, shimmered, and flew into pieces, seemingly being pulled apart piece by piece.

"So you are watching me."

The rift pulsed, and then appeared to open up. Just a tiny bit, but revealing the Interface behind. Karatenmon glanced away. He knew it was dangerous to stare directly into the Interface. But even so, he could see something in his peripheral vision. Something moving behind the rift.

who are you

The tengu shivered; the voice was at once present and ethereal, surrounding him entirely and yet whispered into his ear and his alone. It sounded young, but ancient; rasping a little, like a voice that hadn't spoken for aeons. Yet it knew the language of the Digital World.

Karatenmon gripped his cloak tightly. "Who are you? What do you go by?"

A pause.

"Have you been there long?"

don't know

"Did you come from somewhere else?"

let me out

Karatenmon started, but did his best not to show it. Behind the rift, the creature swayed left and right.

let me out of here

"Where would you go?"

with you

"Here? The Digital World?"

please let me out

"Do you know what you've done here?"

please

"Do you know?"

i've been trying to get out for a long time

"If you have, and you know what you've caused, then you know that I can't let you out." Karatenmon bit his lower lip. "I'm sorry. I really am."

you're lying

"Please, go back-"

it hurts

"I can't-"

it hurts in here let me out please let me out let me go back

Karatenmon started. "Back? Back where? Here?"

no

"Then where?"

i don't know

"Where did you come from?"

LET ME OUT

Karatenmon jumped back as the rift pulsed, a volley of invisible hands reaching for him. The gap began to glow an angry purple, as the creature in the Interface grew more and more agitated.

YOU LIED TO ME LET ME OUT IT HURTS IT ALL HURTS LET ME BACK

"Enough of this!" Karatenmon drew a sword, and held onto it tightly, staring at the rift as it frantically pulsed. "It takes a hell of a lot of energy to break through the Interface. You've gotten halfway through. If I let something as powerful and volatile as you into this world you'll only tear it apart."

YOU'RE LYING

"Please, turn back! There's nothing for you here!"

SHUT UP

"I will send you back myself!"

SHUT UP GO AWAY DON'T HURT ME LET ME OUT THERE

"I can, and I will!" Karatenmon raised his sword, the golden blade glowing brightly, seeming to interfere with the rift even at this distance. "I can break through to the Interface and I can seal it up. You'll never break through here again."

STOP IT

"Go back!"

I CAN'T

Karatenmon glanced back, to where he knew his student was watching, but he couldn't see past the blizzard. With his free hand he grabbed his other sword. "Forgive me, Serpemon. You'll need to go back on your own."

LET ME OUT

"Harmony Swords!"

The tengu lunged, sliding the first blade expertly into the rift. The energy exploded outwards, immediately engulfing his entire arm and ripping his data away in strings. The tengu screamed in pain, his wings flapping in reflex, but he persevered and brought the other sword forwards as well. The glowing blades touched, passing his very life energy into the rift. Already it seemed to be solidifying, forming layers over the void, but the creature behind it kept struggling. Space was twisted, taking the blades and bending them into spirals, with the rest of his arms following suit. Still Karatenmon held on, unable to do anything else. Not even to defend himself as the creature reached out with skeletal, spindly hands and grabbed his head. The tengu jerked as tendrils engulfed his vision, threatening to pull him apart.

But he didn't let go.

The layers solidified. The arms retracted, retaining their grip on Karatenmon's body. The old mask fell away, and the tengu was dragged, head first, into the rift. At the last moment, he released his grip on the swords, which fell down next to the singed helmet. The void pulsed. It flashed. Pieces of data were thrown wide, scattered into the blizzard. But it was done. The void was sealed.

Serpemon had rushed forwards the moment he saw his mentor's body disappearing. He stopped in front of the rift, seeing only the two twisted swords and the one mask. But he could hear everything. The screams of his master, mingling with the cries of terror and anger from beyond the rift. He could see the space between worlds thrusting itself left and right; still struggling, but unable to break. For a moment he simply stared, gaining one last glimpse into the world beyond. Then he shook his head, grabbed the swords and the mask, and ran away into the blizzard.


Serpemon shivered, clutching his forearms as he stared into the wall. A nearby door opened, and Chromon walked in, his head down. For a moment there were the sounds of commotion outside; frenzied activity from the rest of the Spokes. All some way away, but in a far different world. Chromon closed the door, and wandered over to Serpemon.

"Y-you okay?"

The snake looked away, biting his lip. "I don't know."

Chromon sat down next to him, his shoulders hunched. "I'm sorry. He said it might end this way, but...I'm s-s-sorry." He looked up, smiling. "L-look on the bright side; that creature's stopped moving."

Serpemon looked up. "It has?"

"Yeah. Whatever K...Karatenmon did, it stopped it in its tracks. The Digital World is safe again. It can heal."

Serpemon grinned. "That's great. Seriously. It's...it's good to know." His eyes seemed distant, but he kept smiling. "I take it Phoukamon got the swords to Karatenmon's brother."

"Should have done. We'll need to check when he gets back."

"Yeah."

Chromon's face fell, and he cocked his head, looking into Serpemon's eyes. "Y-you seem to be taking it really hard."

"I've been with him for a long time. It's...well, I don't know what it is. I'm supposed to be one of the watchmen; this is supposed to be normal for me. And yet I feel...empty."

Chromon brushed his nose aside, and looked away. "You can choose your own path. It may be that you aren't meant to be one of the watchmen. P...p-p-p..." he coughed. "P-particularly after what you've seen."

"I think you're right. You must be right." Serpemon looked up. "But then where am I supposed to go?"

Chromon looked around, before clicking his front legs together. "What about Muspelmon?"

"Huh?" Serpemon raised an eyebrow. "The old Fire General?"

"He and Karatenmon were good friends, weren't they? I'm sure, if you can't be a watchman, there would always be a place in the Fire Kingdom for the apprentice of the chronicler."

"I guess so..."

Chromon reached out, and touched the serpent's arm. "Look, whatever happens; we're here. T...t-talk to us. Let us help you."

For a moment Serpemon stared ahead. Then he looked at the dinosaur, and smiled.

"Thanks. I'll bear it in mind."


The very tip of Serpemon's tail whipped back and forth as he sat in the stone corridor, his head down. In front of him soldiers and officials rushed past in every direction, carrying papers and parchments and heavy, beeping machines. The snake closed his eyes, trying his best to block everything out.

He became aware of somebody standing before him, and he looked up, seeing a small, red-skinned ape-like creature smiling at him. It tapped its feet together and saluted, before beckoning with a bony finger. "Commander...General Surtremon's available to see you now...um..." The nervous Rookie scratched behind his head. "I'm sorry, who are you again?"

Serpemon blinked, and was about to answer when another Rookie waddled up; a large one, with purple tentacles and a permanently scowling beak, that seemed mostly holed up inside an oversized barrel. "Dammit Coremon, do try and read the briefs once in a while."

"Sorry Mollumon. I get excited."

The octopus huffed. "Well you shouldn't. There's a war on. Well...sort of. This Spokes rebellion stuff is getting out of hand." His beady eyes shifted to Serpemon, who was sitting very patiently, a slight smirk on his face. Mollumon huffed once again, the faintest wisps of steam trailing out of his barrel. "Not sure about this one. Doesn't look like he'll take anything seriously."

Serpemon raised a hand. "Thanks, but I'm sure you have busy things to be getting on with." He hopped down, and began to saunter towards Surtremon's chamber, giving the two Rookies a wink as he did so. Coremon blinked, and called after him. "Don't you need to know the way?"

"I've been here loads of times. I know my way around."

He turned into a door and vanished, the two Rookies staring after him. Coremon scratched his chin. "Who on earth is that guy?"


"Did you meet my two new students?"

Serpemon nodded, sticking his lower lip out. "I'm impressed. Definitely sharp. They have the potential to end up like you have."

Surtremon sat back and chuckled, his voice calm and yet still booming around the chamber. Serpemon couldn't help but feel positively dwarfed in the giant's presence whenever he was around, but he did his best not to show it. He smiled, and bowed his head. "You've done well for yourself, General."

Surtremon's laugh faded, and he bent down, his great eye staring at the Rookie level before him. He sighed. "I thought you would have as well. Karatenmon seemed to be everything you were looking for." He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry for your loss."

"No, that's..." Serpemon paused, looking around the chamber and coming up blank. "...okay. That's okay. It was his decision."

"Are you okay?"

"I...don't know what to feel, to be honest." The serpent rubbed behind one ear flap, avoiding the giant's eye contact. "I respected him. Even admired him. But now that he's gone...I don't know how I feel about that. About being the watchman that he wanted me to be."

"A watchman..." Surtremon tapped the ground. "Old General Muspelmon has taken it hard. They were always close; the Fire Kingdom and the watchmen of the Digital World. But I'm not so sure what to do now."

"You're not?"

"The world is changing once again, Serpemon." The knight pointed. "You and I were there in the old days, but those days are gone. They disappeared before our eyes. The world shifted again and now we have new problems. Rebellions in the Spokes. Abductions in the Northern Tribes. Even us..." Surtremon cleared his throat. "We've all moved on. The watchmen may no longer have a clear purpose in this world, especially if they can't do anything about it."

Serpemon cocked his head. "So what are you suggesting?"

"About them? They can do as they please; I wouldn't want to deprive them of their livelihood. But as for you..."

Serpemon chuckled. "You wish me to be a soldier? I'm hardly disciplined."

"From what I remember, you used to serve Dallurmon before. It can't be that different."

"I'd rather not go back there."

"That came out wrong." Surtremon looked up. "Look, I can't force you. And I can't just accept you straight away; you would have to follow protocol." He winked. "But you know, the world could always use dedicated scholars like you."

Serpemon huffed. "Dedicated...yeah right..." He looked around.

Surtremon waited patiently. "It's down to you."

"Okay, okay. I'll consider it."


"Why did I say that?"

Back in the Spokes, Serpemon clutched his head, shaking it roughly. Despite the relatively calm place he'd found, away from the chaos of the current rebellion, the events of the past few days were knocking around his head like nobody's business.

He let out a yell of frustration, and slumped forward, staring at the wall before him.

"Maybe he's right. Maybe I would be better suited as a soldier."

"Troubled?"

Serpemon's eyes flickered up, only to see Phoukamon sitting beside him, the spirit's twin tails curling in the air. They cocked their head. "Seems you've been visiting."

"An old friend. Well...an old acquaintance."

"I know."

"I know you know. You always know." Serpemon shrugged. "Did you get those things to Karatenmon's brother?"

"He has them. Doesn't know what happened, but nobody does. Nobody except us. Well...except you. You know what happened. You saw."

"Yes. Thanks. I did."

Phoukamon sighed, and leant back, twiddling their thumbs. "We wondered whether you would be a watchman. Maybe you've seen too much. Maybe not."

Serpemon rolled his eyes. "Is it really my choice?"

"Course." Phoukamon hopped up, turning to smile at the snake. "Your life is your life."

"But all my training..."

"Can be used wherever and whenever and for whoever." The spirit reached out, tapping Serpemon lightly on the snout. "We are all part of this Digital World."

Serpemon scratched his cheek. "Well, whatever I want, I'm gonna be taking a little journey. I need to clear my head."

"Do what you want." Phoukamon stood up, and headed for the door, only to stop, and turn slightly. "Serpemon..."

The Rookie did a double take. Odd though their mannerisms were, Phoukamon was certainly not one for asking earnest questions. "Yeah?"

"We gave both swords to Karatenmon's brother. Both remnants of what he left behind." Phoukamon cocked their head. "All remnants of what he left behind?"

Serpemon blinked. "Of course."

"Good." Phoukamon breathed an obviously-forced sigh of relief. "It might be dangerous to leave anything else out in the wilderness. Anything used to seal that creature should be completely sealed in itself."

Serpemon merely looked at the spirit with unblinking eyes. Phoukamon shrugged, and disappeared, not even bothering to use the door. The snake was left watching the puff of smoke that they'd left behind them. He frowned.

"I really need to clear my head."


So it was that the story returned to whence it began, with a figure making his way through the frozen north. The weather was slightly better this time; still cold, obviously, but the storm had long since died down and the icy wind was of the awakening rather than the lethal sort. But the better conditions did nothing to better Serpemon's mood, as he trudged ever onwards.

"They don't get it. None of them do."

He stopped beside a mountain to catch his breath, staring out over the white wilderness.

"I can't be a soldier. Or a watchman. I can't put my life on the line again."

He growled, and pulled something out of his backpack. Despite Phoukamon's seeming omniscience, the serpent had deftly ignored his warning, since now the snake held his master's mask in front of him, running his scaled hand over the chipped face.

"It was alright for you, wasn't it? You saw wonder everywhere you went. You saw beauty in this cruel joke of a world. You didn't even know me." Serpemon clutched his head with his free hand, slumping down on his tail. "What the hell is wrong with me? Why can't I grieve for you? Why do I just feel..."

He let out an exasperated yell and threw the mask, where it embedded itself in the snow. Serpemon held his head in his hands, staring blankly at nothing in particular.

"Nothing."

He popped his cheeks.

"Maybe I should just keep going. Just carry on and never come back. There's nothing else for me here."

Doing that seemed more interesting than doing nothing, so after a few attempts Serpemon righted himself and went for the mask. For a moment he stared down at it, watching as flakes of digital snow began to settle upon the purple metal.

"If I'm going to die here, you're coming with me."

He reached down and curled his fingers behind the mask again, only to recoil in shock.

"Ow!"

He brought his fingers to his mouth and sucked them where they'd been burnt by...something. Examining them, they seemed to have been eaten away, with small bits of data ripped out. He looked down again, at where the mask had fallen on its front. For the first time he got a proper glimpse at the rear, and at the strange markings that he'd initially imagined had been there to begin with (for Karatenmon, like many of his kind, seldom if ever took off his mask). That theory was now going out the window as the markings on the back were glowing bright red and blue, and shifting around. The movement made them hard to read, but it was clearly Digicode; a very archaic version, but one that Serpemon had studied and could recognise instantly.

LET ME OUT

Serpemon looked around, and suddenly the endless ice sheets and mountain ranges turned familiar. This place that he would never forget. Somehow he'd walked right back the way he'd come.

He turned round, and saw, not a few metres away from him, a tiny tear in the atmosphere. A piece of space-time that was missing, being stretched and folded from something beyond. Something that was getting into a frenzied panic. In a moment, Serpemon saw a crazed, transparent eye, looking at him from beyond the rift.

LET ME OUT OF HERE IT HURTS COME BACK HERE I WANT TO COME IN

Serpemon turned tail and ran, back beyond the boulders, where he'd hidden before. He didn't even dare to pick up the mask, for fear it would eat him alive if he so much as went near.

He just ran.

And then, inexplicably, he stopped.

It had been a little over two weeks since Karatenmon had sealed the rift. In that time, it had shrunk considerably. Data was already building over the top, like a layer of skin over an open wound. Had Serpemon arrived a few days later, the rift would have been closed for good. He would have never noticed it again. The Digital World could have healed itself with nary a problem, as it had done so many times before.

But infection can come at any time. The world had yet to heal completely, and as it was, it was still vulnerable. It only needed one wrong decision to set the chain of events going that would threaten to destroy it once again.

Serpemon would never know quite why he made that decision. Only that on the spur of the moment, he stopped.

And he turned.

And, ever so slowly and carefully, and brimming with morbid curiosity, he made his way back towards the rift.

He stopped a few metres away, as before. Despite having a sudden desperation to know what it was that had taken his mentor, his self-preservation instincts were still alive and well, thank you very much. With the end of his tail, he gently nudged the mask so it was facing towards him, so he could read the letters. Not that they were much help at the moment; a chaotic jumble of about thirteen sentences at once.

Serpemon cleared his throat, and instantly the letters stopped moving. He looked ahead, squinting a little, and could just make out the rift once again. The creature was sitting just behind, looking out at him.

"You can hear me, can't you?"

There was a faint movement, and the letters shifted. As they did so, there was the very faintest of voices, like the wind whispering through treetops.

let me out

"Shush, I'm talking to you." Serpemon sighed. "I'll take that as a yes. Or a maybe." He pointed at his chest. "You know I'm here, right?"

let me out

"If you keep saying that I'll just walk away and leave you to sit here in silence for eternity. Now, I'll ask again, I take it you know I'm here."

There was a little pause.

yes

Then

don't hurt me

Serpemon blinked. "I'm sorry?"

you were here before he hurt me i stopped him please don't hurt me i didn't mean it

Serpemon sighed, rubbing his jaw. "By him, you mean Karatenmon?" The snake tapped the ground. "You know why he did that, didn't you? You were eating the world. This world, I mean. You were too dangerous to let through."

but it hurts in here i don't want to be here

"I get it, I get it." Serpemon rubbed his eyes, as the constant squinting was beginning to sting. "Actually...I'm not sure I do. What exactly did he do anyway?"

Carefully he slithered forwards, holding his hands up. The creature in the void reacted, trying to pull away, but Serpemon hushed it. "It's alright, I'm not going to hurt you. Please don't attack me."

stay away

"Can't you move out of the way? Go back further in or something?"

There was silence. Serpemon stopped, looking at the creature's mournful eye. He snapped his fingers. "Ah, I see."

Slowly he reached out, tapping the rift. It was semi-solid, bobbing back and forth like a gel. The snake nodded. "He used his own data to form a seal. That's Interface material and Digital World fused together, and you were caught there." He looked at the poor face yet again. "I'm sorry. There's no getting through that." He glanced behind him, at the mask on the ground. "Although by the looks of it you tried. Made yourself a new opening in his own mask. But it's still not enough. That'll just close over in time as well."

please let me out

"I'm sorry. I can't." Serpemon backed away. "And even if I could, I shouldn't. You'd only destroy this world. I can't let you do that."

why

"What?"

why

"What do you mean why? It's my world?"

but why

"Because this world is..." Serpemon snorted. "Lots of Digimon would die if you came through."

but why can't you let me

The snake stopped, and turned. He stared at the eye, and it stared back at him. "You really have no idea about this world, do you?" He sighed, and made to turn away. "You're only a child, after all. You don't even know what it is."

a cruel joke

Serpemon started. He stood stock still, barely even turning. "You were listening?"

i hear lots of things

"Well then why do you even want to come here?"

i want to get home

"Is this home?"

i don't know

Serpemon sighed, and slumped down. "Neither do I, I guess."

All of a sudden he felt incredibly tired, and he lay down on the snow, not even noticing the cold. The creature in the void watched him, still just as curious as ever. After a while Serpemon rolled over, poking around in the snow with a finger. "What's it like in there?"

it hurts

"I'm sorry. I mean what's the place like."

empty

nothing here

i see other places

your world and other worlds

but i can't go there

i come from one of them but i can't go back

"Other worlds..." Serpemon whistled to himself. "I wonder if they're all as big and wonderful as this one." He cocked an eyebrow. "Can you see into the human world?"

everywhere

"Woah." Serpemon smirked. "I knew some humans once. Travelled with them. That was when my old boss lost power. I always wondered what happened to them." He scratched his snout. "All of the other Digimon got on okay. Well, most of them. Surtremon became the new Fire General. Jiminymon left me and went to the Spokes; she's Gryllimon now. Everybody's changed except me. I sometimes think I'm the only one who really remembers back then." He closed his eyes, letting the memories flood back to him.

are you looking for something

Serpemon chuckled. "Maybe I am. But I can't remember."

do you want to look

"How?"

The Rookie got up, and saw that the eye had moved. It was clearly straining, but it was out the way. In the tiny hole, he could see beyond. Into the void itself.

i won't hurt you

do you want to see

you can see everything in here

Serpemon swallowed. "I shouldn't. The Interface is bad. It messes with your head." He looked as the eye came into view again. "Yggdrasil knows what it's done to you."

do you want to see

The snake clenched his claws, but nodded. "Yeah. I do. Just one look."

Agonisingly slowly, he edged forwards, leaning down as he did so. The eye moved out of view yet again, leaving the view to the void wide open, even through the layers of data. Serpemon closed one eye, and leant forwards.

"Just one look..."

He peered directly into the void. And like a floodgate, his mind opened.

Memories. Bright lights. Shining figures. Stories past and future. The swirling vortex. Agony. Loss. Pain. Blindness.

Love.

Pure, unconditional love.

Serpemon pulled back, his eye wide and twitching. Two streams of blood were trickling from his nose, and he was panting, taking great gulps of digital air. The eye reappeared.

did you see anything

Slowly, the corners of Serpemon's mouth began to twitch. They curled upwards, baring his teeth, as his mouth opened wide. He laughed. A huge, great, genuine laugh of humour and ecstasy, like he'd never given before. When he finally came to, he was still grinning. He gazed at the eye before him.

"I need to get you out of there."

you'll let me out

"I need to go through. I need to get to the Interface." He glanced down at the mask by his tail, and he chuckled. "I'm so sorry, teacher." There were tears in his eyes as he spoke, but his expression was as dissonant as ever.

you'll help me

"We'll make a deal, you and I. I'll let you out. You can come through, and I'll go to where you are. Does that sound good?"

i want to come out thank you thank you so much

"You're welcome." Serpemon smiled, running his finger over the rift, then bending down and doing the same over the etchings on the mask.

"And what's more, I think I have an idea of how to do it..."


"I'm surprised." Surtremon cleared some of the parchments from the table in the centre of the room, before scouring the wall racks for the particular form he needed.

"Surprised, but pleased. I honestly wasn't convinced that you'd come back here, Serpemon."

Serpemon shrugged. "Really, neither was I. I was shaken quite a bit."

"Well I'm glad you made your decision. I'm sure you, Coremon and Mollumon will do the Fire Kingom proud. Ah, here it is." He turned and handed down a rather large sheet to Serpemon, with various entry boxes and instructions, all in Digicode. "I can probably guarantee you will enter the forces, but I'm afraid I can't guide you through the process myself. You'll need to go through exams and physical screenings. But you're a capable guy; you'll figure it out I'm sure."

"I understand."

Surtremon paused, holding back the form as he looked down at the tiny serpent before him. "Are you really sure this is what you want? You're not just doing it for my or anyone else's sake?"

Serpemon grinned. "I want to do my bit to change the world. I think this is my best chance."

Surtremon chuckled. "I always did admire the way you watchmen thought."

He handed the form down, which Serpemon put under his arms. The snake headed towards the side door, where the private applicant's room lay just beyond. "I'll be a couple minutes."

Once inside, he unrolled the form and began to fill it in. With one hand. Surreptitiously, his other moved to his pouch; certified empty by the security. But of course, it wasn't. Not exactly.

The rift in the North had closed, but the creature's own void in the mask had proved useful. Serpemon had determined that, so long as a piece of the creature remained in the Digital World, there would always be a rift. After a long time, the creature had finally pushed a piece of its own body through. Only tiny, but once it had melded with raw data, it had become quite bloated. It was formless, and feral, and invisible to the naked eye. The first leech.

Of course it was vulnerable. The watchmen would soon find any disturbances and would smite it. So it needed to bond to something. Something immovable, out of sight, that would remain for a long time. One of the pure elements would suffice, but they'd long since been locked away in the Spokes, to protect them from the creature's initial rampage. Even Kwanmon of the Northern Tribes had relinquished hers to the watchmen's safe keeping.

Only one remained.

Serpemon felt his hand go to his chest, as he watched the leech, slithering about on the parchment in front of him, leaving faint stains. His own heart felt as if it were burning with the ferocity of Surtremon's. Of course it was there. He'd seen it himself. The element of Fire, still burning as bright as ever under the protection of the Fire Kingdom. Despite Karatenmon's best efforts, the element had remained in his possession. Karatenmon had trusted the General enough to keep it safe.

Serpemon's heart was in his mouth as he rolled the parchment up. All the exhilaration he'd felt before had been sapped away. Could he really do this? Surtremon had been a friend, all those years ago. Could he put his friend's life at risk? Use him as a tool? Possibly cause him to end the world.

The snake swallowed, and closed his eyes.

"Nothing else matters." He whispered silently to himself. "I must get through. I need to get through. Nothing else matters." He looked up at the door in front of him. "Not even the people I know."

His words were a mere mumble; a thought buzzing around his head rather than spoken aloud.

"I have no friends in this world."

The more he said them, the less real they seemed.

"I owe nothing to this world."

His hands shaking slightly, he opened the door, holding the rolled-up parchment tightly enough to crumple it. Surtremon looked up, and nodded. "You ready?"

"Yes, General." Serpemon held out the form, holding his breath. "I'm ready."

Surtremon reached out and took it, opening it out. "I will see this goes through. Go to the temporary quarters; we'll have a place for you by tomorrow. One of the captains will get your schedule to you as soon as possible." Surtremon stood tall, placing a hand on his chest. "May you serve the Fire Kingdom well, soldier."

"Yes, General." Serpemon saluted, smiling.

"Dismissed."

"Thank you, sir."

Serpemon turned to leave, as Surtremon sat down at his desk once again. The snake turned just before he left. To all intents and purposes, nothing had happened. Surtremon was still standing. Still alive and well. Nothing had gone wrong.

Only Serpemon, with his beady little eyes, could notice the slight tinge of blue around the element of Fire in his chest.

It was done.


A soldier's life is not an easy one. Not even one in training. Serpemon had been through this before under the eye of Dallurmon, but the process was still gruelling, even if he was able to overcome it with relative ease.

But just as Surtremon had said, he found himself taking a liking to this life. Quickly he became noted and was added to the group of upcoming elite soldiers-in-training, along with Coremon and Mollumon. One look at him and you would think he'd forgotten all the terrible things that had happened.

Of course, this story's twist is known.

During one of his free hours, Serpemon was wandering the fortress alone. All his paperwork was in order (as usual, despite all the teasing from Coremon) and his training for the week was done. He was content. He was at peace.

He turned a corner, and found himself in one of the deep chambers of the fortress. It was mainly used for storage, and as usual was packed to the rafters with old firearms. Serpemon tutted. If Karatenmon could see how the old Obelimon was being used he would have some strong words for Surtremon. Heck, Phoukamon occasionally did, though they were incredibly polite about it. Thankfully the incessant brouhaha about links between the watchmen and the Fire Kingdom did wonders to conceal the slightly more urgent matter of the rift.

Not that it mattered if Phoukamon found out. The rift was more than open. It was everywhere.

Serpemon ran his fingers along the writing on one wall; ancient Digicode screaming out in pain and suffering. Slowly the wall began to ripple, and the little soldier with his sharp eyes could see right through once again. There it was. The new rift, with the creature in the Interface staring back. It pushed against the rift, but was still forced back. Serpemon smiled, and put a finger to his lips.

"No rush. Try not to strain yourself. This is going to take a long, long time, but we've set it all up." He reached down and picked up one of the leeches that was crawling around on the floor, taking great care not to crush it. "These things are very interesting. They do wonders with data. I think they might be helpful in getting that gate open."

it's okay

Serpemon watched as the creature's spindly fingers curled, pressing into the seal. For a moment they extended into digital space. Then they retracted, still stuck fast.

i can see everywhere

through everyone here

this whole place

Serpemon nodded. "You are part of the Fire Kingdom, Nithhogg. May we serve you well.

you'll stay with me?

"Until the end. Until we can cross worlds together. I promise."

thank you

daddy


Rinkhalmon swung his feet back and forth in the air as he lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling. From outside he could hear the explosions and carnage of training, of bloodthirsty monsters and fallen soldiers scrambling over one another to be the first to attack. He groaned, rubbing his temples.

"Soon. So soon..."

He kept telling himself that, but looking at the paper all around him, soon was still looking remarkably late. He snorted, and sat up, scribbling some more ideas away. There was no rush. He knew that. If need be, the Digital World could be brought to its knees, its infrastructure crumbling away. The gate opening was inevitability. The war had made sure of that. He just needed to make sure that he was still around when it did open.

There was a puff of smoke in the corner of his lab, but he didn't react, not even glancing around.

"Hello Phoukamon."

The spirit held their breath, but it was clear there was no fooling the commander. They descended from the shadows, landing on their bandy legs and glaring at the creature before them.

"How many times have you been here, old friend?"

Phoukamon bit their lip. "You knew?"

"Of course. We see everything within these walls." Rinkhalmon finally turned around, opening up his hands. "Do you like what I've done with the place?"

"This place? Or the whole world?" Phoukamon was not bobbing, or grinning, or doing any of their usual actions. They clenched and unclenched their fists. "Was this what you always wanted? What any of us taught you?"

"Not the war specifically. That was Surtremon. His mind is his own, after all."

"Is it?"

"Well...who can tell..." Rinkhalmon leant forwards, his long neck thrusting his face right into Phoukamon's. "I always believed my decisions were my own. I've made my decisions. Far away from you. Far away from anyone on this godforsaken world."

"Your decisions will kill this godforsaken world." Phoukamon narrowed their eyes. "After Karatenmon did so much, you destroyed it. Destroyed that which he gave his life to ensure. Are you happy?"

"I am, actually." RInkhalmon stood up, wandering around. "I see it differently. Karatenmon, bless his soul, gave his life to ensure stability. But the world was changing, leaving you behind. It was doing that long before I got to know you people." The snake-man placed a hand on the desk. "The problem with stability, is that somebody is always still hurting. I'm simply changing up the cards. Giving somebody else a chance. If that is to the detriment of this current world, well then, the world shall change. That is how it's always been."

"While you sit back and watch it burn." Phoukamon sighed, realising their defeat. "Did you ever feel anything? Does anything matter to you?"

"More than you know." Rinkhalmon chuckled, and turned his back. "I'm glad you stopped by. Though we both know there's nothing you can do here. It has spread further than you can manage."

"We have our ways." Phoukamon blinked, climbing back up the wall. "We have our methods. You won't win."

"Humans? Again? How charming."

"I didn't-"

"Come on, monkey-boy, I know you as well as you know yourself. It's what I'd do in this situation." He tilted his head all the way around, and grinned. "I do look forward to meeting them. Humans were always so fascinating."

Phoukamon ground their teeth, and vanished without a parting remark. Rinkhalmon laughed to himself, placing his elbows on the desk, and his head in his hands.

"Humans, Nithhogg. Humans are wonderful creatures. They may even be the key we were looking for."

He eyed his great curved blade, sitting against the wall, gathering dust. Rinkhalmon pouted. "Maybe I could get out a bit. Add a little urgency to the situation. That ought to speed things up. Yeah, why not. Let's take a trip back to the Spokes. Pay Chromon a visit. Maybe see who they've called upon to save the world this time. Should be interesting. Veeeery interesting."

He stood up, and sauntered his way over to the exit, picking up his blade and accessories as he did so. He stopped at the doorway, glancing back into the room.

"Daddy's just going on a little errand. Sit tight, and be patient." He smirked. "I have a feeling we'll be getting you out sooner than I thought."

i'm waiting daddy

i'm waiting

daddy...


"I'm here daddy."

Nithhogg stood alone, standing in the middle of the ocean, which swelled all around it, the data particles being sucked into his feet and through his body. All around him there were his golems; primals and slenders and hunters, all absorbing everything. Every last data bit. The sea was vanishing, and the land would join it soon.

"I'm here but I don't belong here. I'm not home."

Nithhogg shivered, holding their arms to their body and looking down. Despite the data streaming constantly into its body, its skin was still decaying. Slowly, admittedly, but definitely, all the same. Soon there would be no world left.

"I hope you found what you were looking for." Nithhogg said, out loud, though there was nobody to hear it. "I need to keep looking."

Its face twisted unnaturally into a shape that could be construed as a frown.

"Humans. Wonderful creatures. Another world."

It nodded to itself.

"The human world."

Its face twisted again, this time into a grin, mimicking what it had seen so many times from its 'daddy'.

"I'll go with them. I'll finish this world and then I'll go with them. And I'll carry on. I'll find home."

It nodded once again, and began to walk, its feet leaving decaying imprints in the water's surface.

"I'm coming home."


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