Nothing could stop the fire.
He was running. His claws clashed against the scorched earth. He could feel the metal bands around his gauntlets burning against his skin. He looked back, as if trying to see what he was running from, and then he looked forward and he realised he wasn't running from anything. He was running towards the enemy.
Hundreds of thousands of snarling beasts, charging as one towards him, seeming to merge together into a tsunami of fiery destruction. But he felt invincible. He saw the jaws of hell open and he rushed forwards, and suddenly he was strong once again, bringing back his arms and launching them forwards as lightning arced through the sky. The torrent of flames disintegrated. He stopped running, and looked back.
That same vision; the one he'd looked at nearly every day since the war had begun. Hundreds of soldiers staring at him, raw determination in their eyes. The saviours of the Digital World.
Galvamon opened his mouth to speak, to encourage them.
Velocimon was staring up at nothing. Just plain rock. The same greyness that now permeated through the entire Digital World. He lay there, flat out and arms outstretched, listening to the sound of his own breathing.
Breathing. So he was still alive after all.
His survival instincts kicked in the moment he confirmed that. Pupils narrowing, he got to his feet in seconds, looking around the cave. Not that it was much of a cave; barely an overpass of grey rock sticking out over yet more rock, in a series of rocks. Hey, if nothing else it was unremarkable enough to be hidden. Just what Velocimon had hoped.
Gingerly he peered over the upper lip of the cave, scanning the horizon. It had changed again, getting ever closer. A few of the taller pillars in the distance had vanished, eaten up by the advancing nothingness. The wastegrounds' winds had long since ceased their howling, leaving the barren lands silent and oppressive.
Well, nearly silent. Occasionally he'd hear noises in the distance. Feral growls. Strained roars from alien mouths that didn't work as they were meant to. The golems, always advancing.
He'd have to keep going.
Soon he was running, keeping his head low and his strides long. The sun beat down on him, though its light was cold. The whole world was growing colder, the fires of hell having dried up completely. He had no idea of the time of day, nor where he was. A thought crossed his mind, and the dinosaur glanced left and right, trying to see anything against the pale sky. No sign of Silicon City. No sign of life. Of course not. He wondered whether it was even still standing.
There was a sudden chill. Velocimon became very aware of his bright colour against the grey rock; a neon yellow target for anyone or anything passing by. Not that his body was much to look at anymore; covered in red and black and purple blotches, and a thick layer of dust and grime. His gauntlets were cracked, his feathers were ragged, and his tail dragged along the ground behind him, no longer having the strength to keep itself raised. His whole body was feeling the fatigue, with his once-muscular legs and arms having been reduced to sinewy twigs. His sharp eyes had sunken in greatly, and he found himself increasingly having to stop, and allow his vision to stop swimming.
Presently he did so, collapsing onto his hands and knees and taking great gulping breaths. His head was killing him.
He tried to laugh sarcastically, but his voice was little more than a whisper.
"Not that I even know where I'm going."
For a couple of minutes he lay there, a bright spot on a grey background. Then he began to run again.
It must have been early evening when he stopped again. The sun had long since been covered with clouds, and now its light was fading, obviously just touching the horizon. He wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't stopped so abruptly; losing his footing and tumbling down into a ditch.
When he stood up again, he finally noticed the lack of light. His senses, dull as they were, still screamed at him to be careful. Danger.
He crouched down, clutching the lip of the rock as he looked all around. He wondered whether he'd just been shaken by the fall. At any rate, he wanted to find cover once again, but something felt very off. He tried smelling the air, and even tasting it by flicking his tongue back and forth (something he was usually loathe to do for the sake of dignity), but his throat was too dry to pick up anything except dust.
Still nothing. He climbed up, staying low to the ground. Gritting his teeth, he concentrated, channeling the limited electricity through his body and forcing it out in an invisible arc. He had no idea how far it would go, but it gave him a little confidence in his surroundings. No warmth. No breathing. No movement.
He stood up straight once again, and walked forwards.
If Velocimon hadn't known that the creature was ready to pounce, he would have been decapitated. But his field, weak though it was, had picked up the faint clicking of his assailant's...heartbeat? He wasn't sure, and he didn't have time to think of it now as a writhing form sailed over his head, front sickles outstretched and snapping shut. It screeched with indignation, and landed against the hard rock, holding out one leathery flap to speed its turn, but Velocimon was already running. The golem clicked menacingly, and gave pursuit.
Of all Nithhogg's golems, this was the one that had been created especially for killing. A lithe armoured body that swung left to right like a serpent, with two pairs of spring-loaded legs that kicked off from the rock the instant they made contact. Two leathery flaps hung from its back, allowing it to streamline itself to account for its current speed, as well as jump and glide to cut its opponents off from their escape. Its face, if you could call it that, was a malicious cornucopia of serrated scythes, with, oddly enough for a golem, only two huge, owl-like eyes, that moved independently of one another, zooming in on its victim. As it ran, its front legs folded back on themselves, acting like tensed springs while running, while always prepared to snap open to form the deadly blood-stained guillotines that it used to deliver the killing blow. It was a born hunter. The perfect enemy.
And yet this annoying little lizard had been giving it the slip once too often.
Deep in its primal brain, it felt a spark of determination. It would continue pursuing this creature and it would bring it down with its own hands(?). Nothing would survive. Nothing would escape. It was Nithhogg, and Nithhogg was all. Anything that wasn't Nithhogg had to die. That was all it knew, and all it needed. It pulled its rear legs in tighter, and honed its gaze on its target, preparing to spring.
Velocimon heard the claws clattering against the rock and threw himself flat again, giving the creature room to sail over him. He heard the guillotines snap shut again, one after the other, and he rolled and prepared to run again.
The golem landed, snarling, but this time it reacted much faster. Its body coiled like a spring, bunching up so tightly that it started to bleed, before releasing again, sending it off at a right angle. Velocimon was so focused with looking behind him that he didn't think to turn, and before he knew it the golem had landed directly in front of him. It whipped its head round, and its hind leg lashed out, catching the lizard in the belly. He was launched away like a bullet, rolling against the hard earth, completely dazed as the golem began to chase after him again, its two tongues lolling out, almost as if it were playing.
Velocimon's eyes snapped open again, and he dug his hind legs in, righting himself and facing his pursuer head on.
"Come on...tell me I've got enough left to do this..."
He had about five seconds before the golem caught him, and then it was game over.
On a good day, he would have needed about three.
This was decidedly not a good day.
He tensed his hind legs, stumbling a fraction, aware of the killer beast getting closer and closer, those great eyes focused upon him. He raised an arm, his gun-barrels glowing bright white.
It wasn't a spray this time; that was too much of a risk. Just two, concentrated bursts of lightning fired at near-enough point-blank range, straight at the onrushing eyes of his assailant. They found their mark. The golem screamed, a sound that was about one-third human and two-thirds vulture, and it lost its footing, shaking its head at an alarming rate. Velocimon used the opportunity and jumped high, firing once again into exactly the same places, the sparks making the soft eyeballs boil in their sockets. Looking down, he realised that he had nowhere convenient to land; the golem was flailing so hard that one of those spring-loaded limbs would catch him and send him sprawling again. He gritted his teeth, and angled himself to land on the creature's back, right between the pair of leather flaps.
The moment he did so, the golem began flailing all the more, feeling its prey on his back as Velocimon tried to run again. The dinosaur paused, taking just a second to run his hand through each leathery wing in his reach, ripping them roughly. Then he ran again, jumping between the legs and down past the whipping tail, which just caught him as he landed. He stumbled, and made to run again, but the nudge from the tail was just enough to tell the golem exactly where he was.
Velocimon lurched, the sudden pain momentarily blacking out his vision. His legs kept moving, though his body refused to stay upright, and he found himself scrambling along the rocks like a gecko. He tried desperately to turn his head, to see what had happened, but his instincts were screaming at him to do nothing else but run. He had to make do with a glance back. The golem was looking at him, having bent its body nearly in two. One front leg was held poised, the scissor-like insides covered with blood. Fresh blood.
Something flew past his vision; the tip of a feather, yellow tinged with blue and spotted with red. A tail feather. His tail feather. His tail. That bastard had taken his tail.
The malevolent clicking grew ever more incessant, and Velocimon kept crawling, trying to stand up and run again but failing, his balance off. He just kept looking forwards, not daring to look back any more. The approach was slower this time. Still blinded, the golem needed to listen, and with its damaged wings, its movement was far less aerodynamic, causing it to whistle the faster it went.
But it was still faster than Velocimon.
Chance is a bitch. Desperate as he was to keep running, to put some more distance between him and his impending demise, Velocimon didn't notice the rock giving way beneath him until it was too late. He tried to scramble back onto solid ground, but as off-balance as he already was he fell square on his back. And kept falling. The sky pulled away from him, replaced by black rock as he tumbled into a tunnel, about three metres into the ground. He tried to move, but the walls were tight, allowing him very little chance. Then the sky above was blocked again, and he saw the golem's nightmarish face. It clicked, and spat, and clawed at the rock, screeching all the while. Velocimon could feel chippings hitting his face and chest, and he closed his eyes, waiting for the end.
The end didn't come. The noises continued, getting more agitated and more annoyed. Velocimon looked up, and saw the hunter golem, still trying to reach inside to claw him out. But it couldn't reach him, and it wasn't strong enough to break the rock apart.
Velocimon remained there for a while, with no sound in his head aside from the horrific scratching. He could barely see anything as it was, and the light was fading. His arms and legs were burning from the intense running, and the end of his tail...well, Velocimon could guess, though he didn't particularly want to look. Not now at any rate.
It was pitch black when the golem ceased its activity, pulling away from the hole and galloping away into the night. It did so abruptly; so abruptly that the lizard wondered whether it had seen something or someone else, and decided to pursue them instead. His instincts told him differently. It would be back. It knew where he was, and it knew he was stuck. He'd really annoyed it this time. It wouldn't let him get away again.
His body relaxed itself, and he wriggled, trying to right himself. As he scraped against one wall, it shifted, then gave way, causing him to roll over again. He managed to catch himself this time, and lay upside-down, watching as the rubble slid deeper underground. It wasn't much, but it was another way. Perhaps he could follow it and come out somewhere else. He snorted. Perhaps it was a dead-end.
He banged his head (quite deliberately) against the floor, and rolled over onto his front. Pessimism wasn't going to help him this time. He had nowhere else to go, other than towards certain death up above. He sighed, and began to crawl.
The tunnel twisted at sharp angles, so much so that he wasn't sure that it was a tunnel; it seemed more like catacombs, or pockets of air that had formed as the ash and silt had formed over the wastegrounds, many years ago. He wasn't even sure what the wastegrounds had been like before the war. Maybe there had been villages here, or lush forests. He'd never left his own city to go and see. Not until it was too late.
He was so busy with his internal self-deprecation that he didn't notice the tunnel come suddenly to an end, in the ceiling of a large cavern. The floor beneath him suddenly vanished, and he fell about five metres, crashing into the pile of rubble beneath.
He thought about getting up, but after so much abuse his limbs finally refused to take him any further. He lay there, curled up on a pile of rocks, and his brain shut down, sending him into the calming grip of unconsciousness.
It was several hours before he even started dreaming.
The fire was back. The fire was always back.
He charged forwards again and struck down the next wave, but there were more waiting behind. And they kept coming forwards, a mass of claws and teeth and burning hatred. But their hatred was nothing compared to his own.
Wave after wave. Onslaught after barrage. He looked back after every one, and his soldiers...his followers...friends?...disappeared. Swept away, nothing more than a pile of ash.
He tried to turn. To pull back. Save those who remained. But no matter where he turned, they kept running towards him. The enemy. Always the enemy. He could do no else but keep running, leaving the bodies of his friends behind him.
"I have to get back to them..."
But there was now no-one there. There never had been. And in front of him, the flames were expanding. Stretching. Burning with a blue flame. He looked and saw the figure in the centre; Cephalomon, Martyaxmon, Surtremon, Rinkhalmon, Nithhogg; all bearing down upon him, and yet only the one. Only the enemy. There was always an enemy.
He planted his foot down, and stopped, watching as the flames engulfed him.
"Wait for us..."
He snapped awake, and fell down again, rolling off the pile of rubble and onto the freezing cave floor.
His fist swung out instinctively, crashing against the rock and denting his gun barrels. He lay there again, but this time the pain was too much, not allowing him to slip back into sleep. His entire body felt utterly wrecked.
He became aware that he could see in here, despite the fact that he should have been way underground and it should have been pitch black. Sitting up and looking around, he noticed certain rocks glowing a faint orange and yellow. Crawling his way over to one of them, he put his hand upon it, and found it cool to the touch. Pulling his hand away, it left a bright handprint, which slowly faded.
"What kind of place was this?" Velocimon looked up at the ceiling, at the spots of light peppering his vision. "What was it like before it was buried by this war?"
His mind switched back to more present matters, and he twisted himself around so he was leaning against the rock. He felt behind him and pulled his tail – or what remained of it – in front of him, finally using the light to take a look.
It wasn't a pretty sight.
He grimaced, and gingerly touched the wound, feeling the faint electric fuzz of data bits swarming around it, working to clot it. Velocimon felt weak. He had no idea how much blood he'd lost, but he was sure it was going to impair him. Plus the lack of a heavy tail blade was throwing his balance off. If he had more time, or more energy, or anything, there was a chance he could heal it...somewhat. As it was, he'd have to make do.
It took him a while to be able to stand up and even longer to walk in a straight line, but eventually he got going, heading deeper into the tunnel. The rocks casted his shadow on the walls and floor; strange shadows that moved eerily and flickered. Velocimon shivered; he felt like an intruder in some sacred place.
As he stumbled ever further forwards, his unease grew all the more. What if this was a trap? Or if he was just going in circles? Not that he really expected anything different now. He was on his own. He could handle it on his own.
His mind flicked back to his dream; the same dream he'd had for a long time. Only it was getting worse. He could feel the blue flames, burning him, biting him. For the longest time he'd kept running, but it was fruitless. The enemy was never-ending. He had always kept running; there was nowhere else for him to go.
Something flickered in his vision, and he looked up to see more glowing rocks in front of him. Seemingly stacked up, or rather...embedded in something. Another wall. A wall in front of him.
"Oh no...no, no NO!"
Velocimon ran forwards, stumbling at the end and falling against the solid rock. He scrambled back and forth, trying to feel all along it for some opening or new tunnel, but it was complete. The end of the pathway. A dead end.
Velocimon reared back and slammed his fists against it, again and again, hitting fruitlessly with the little energy he had left. It wasn't long before he'd worn himself down, and he sunk to his knees.
"Why? Every time I do this, why? Why can it never just end?"
He curled up, rolling onto his side and looking back down the way he'd come, the rocks forming yellow and orange and blue dots in his vision. They morphed once again into the terrible torrent of fire from his dreams, and he flinched, pulling his arms in closer.
"NO! I DON'T want to do this anymore! I can't do this anymore!"
"I've always fought; I've done nothing but fight for this world. Why can't I win? Why can't I ever win? Why am I the one who loses everything? My family, my home, my friends...Aaron-"
He suddenly thought of something, and felt around his body, but he already knew the answer. Aaron's D-Nexus was long gone. Swallowed up by Nithhogg during the explosion.
"Of course. Why the bloody hell not?"
The orange and blue was burning his vision, so he closed his eyes. His breath was loud now. Too loud. Patronising.
"What's the point of me being here?"
His words echoed back at him; an empty, mocking shell.
"No more. Leave me alone. I can't be your soldier anymore."
The Digital World didn't answer. It never did. Never had. Yggdrasil stayed away from the affairs of humans and Digimon alike, even in its dying moments. No-one could tell what it thought. It never did what was asked of it. It only did what had to be done.
After what felt like an eternity, the last soldier opened his eyes. It was still the same as before. Just the short, dark tunnel, leading back to where he'd fallen in. The road studded with yellow and orange and blue, as if it were marking every soul that had fallen here.
It was just a flicker at first, but it kept bouncing around his mind. There had been no blue lights when he'd fallen into this place. In fact, if he squinted, the blue was few and far between. Tiny, in fact. Tiny stones, still glowing with a strange energy. They seemed almost familiar.
He stood up, and walked over, picking one up. It was about the size of his head, yet surprisingly light, and unlike the others it was warm to the touch. The surface was smooth and unblemished.
"A royal bead..."
He stepped back, and nearly tripped over something hard and sharp. He turned and picked it up, or at least tried to, for it was much heavier than the bead. Moulded black metal, rimmed with gold. Dented and scratched, but still holding a deep shine. Now that he actually looked, there were similar pieces all around him, scattered amongst the beads. A full suit of battle armour.
"It can't be...Martyaxmon...?"
Velocimon looked around, but of course there was nobody there. But it was unmistakeable. The Red Beast had been here.
"Perhaps he died here..."
The dinosaur shook his head.
"He'd never die. He'd never give up...would he?"
Slowly he walked back to the rock face, and held a hand against it again.
"He was as determined as I was. There's no way he'd let himself die before his enemies did. So if he got out...so can I..."
As if like a message from the universe, he felt light on his face, and looked up. It was a mere dim strip, far above, but there was sky up there. It was daytime. He looked at the rock face again, and saw claw-marks in the stone.
"You climbed out of here. I can do the same."
He felt a surge of energy again, and he cracked his knuckles together, before going to work. The wall was deformed enough that the grip was relatively easy, but after several days of nothing but walking and getting injured, it was still a hellish climb. Several times Velocimon felt himself blacking out and had to stop, pinching himself or simply letting his charge build up again. The constant gripping rubbed the skin off his palms and the soles of his feet. At times the wall would bulge outwards, and he'd find himself hanging precariously from the rock, his grip strained to the limit.
But he kept climbing. And finally, eventually, he made it back up to the surface.
Immediately he collapsed, his breathing more ragged than ever, and white spots danced in front of his eyes as he stared up at the grey sky. The clouds were swirling menacingly, a growing storm that seemed to gather at a single point in the horizon, though there was still no wind. Sitting up, he could see nothing for miles, not even the dead husks of trees that had been here before.
He could hear something though. Far, far away, the sound of footsteps. Great, galloping bounds against the hard rock. A faint whistling of air over cloth. And a low, terrible clicking.
He knew what it was even before he turned. Behind him, skittering towards him, was the hunter. It was still several hundred metres away, but it was gaining ground quickly. It never forgot a target. Velocimon was still prey.
"What more do you want from me...?"
Velocimon stood up. He didn't run. Not this time, though his whole brain was screaming at him to do so. He squared himself off against the oncoming beast, and tensed his muscles. Despite everything, he laughed into the wilderness; laughed right in the nightmare's face.
"Why are you still chasing me? There's nothing left!"
His claws were clenched so tightly that his knuckles were white, and his gun-barrels glowed once again; reserves of power that he didn't even realise he still had.
"Do you wanna fight? Is that what you want? You want to kill me. You want to be the one who finally kills me. Finally makes me lose."
The golem was close now, and its body was coiling, readying itself to spring.
"You wanna fight me? You wanna win?"
Velocimon thrust his arms out, his charge so strong that it formed a visible arc of serpentine lightning between his claws.
"FIGHT ME, YOU SON OF A BITCH!"
The golem leapt, and Velocimon was knocked from his feet and sent scrabbling in the dirt. He jumped up yet again, but had only just turned when one of the spring-loaded legs caught him in the ribs, knocking him away again. He was quicker next time, and he circled around, keeping his distance as the golem flailed in front of him, flapping its ruined wings angrily. Velocimon noted, with some sense of satisfaction and relief, that the creature had yet to heal itself. He wondered whether it even could. It turned in his direction, tasting the air with its two tongues, its eyes clouded and half-blind. But of course, it didn't need sight to catch him. It had followed him here after all.
Velocimon slapped his aching side, and growled. "Come on!"
The hunter jumped, but its angle was slightly off, and Velocimon leapt up and caught it by the neck. His legs dug into the thick armour and he swung himself round, landing on the back yet again.
"You owe me for my bloody tail!"
His gun-barrels were humming, so full of energy were they, and he opened his claws and dug them between the two nearest plates of armour. Blue and yellow flesh bubbled beneath, and the data immediately began to flake away around the wound, unable to stay intact. As well made as it was, it was still a part of Nithhogg. It couldn't survive in this world. Not truly.
Velocimon twisted and went for one of the front arm joints, but he'd barely scratched it when the creature rolled, crushing him under its weight. Winded, he tried to sit up, but the golem thrust its arm back, catching him in the jaw and sending him rolling again.
This time he lay, momentarily stunned. His neck was on fire, something having slipped nastily, and he could feel a tooth swimming around in his mouth. He spat, and rolled, straight underneath the belly of the creature as it scurried over to him. Aware of his opportunity, he raised both arms and stuck them into the brittle underbelly.
More blue liquid poured out, and the golem screamed, its legs jittering. One of them sprang of its own accord and caught Velocimon in the back, driving him into the ground. The golem scuttled back, and looked directly at the lizard, its eyes twitching and flicking every which way. It raised a forearm, the sickle flicking out.
Velocimon spread his aim desperately, and some of the white-hot sparks found their mark, causing the creature to hiss and swung erratically. Velocimon sat up, ready to spring again, but the back of the sickle flicked back and flung him away again.
Despite his best efforts, he was no match.
Velocimon twisted, trying in vain to focus in on his adversary, but he could barely see or hear. The creature's voracious clicking got closer as it too tapped its way around; two half-blind beasts in a desperate battle for survival.
Velocimon slipped and banged against the rock, barely enough energy left to even move. He lay there, listening as the creature he couldn't see got ever closer, tired itself but still persistent and deadly. His vision was filled with dark blotches, and he could do little more than curl his claws in front of him.
For a moment his mind was blank. Helpless yet again.
"What am I doing this for...?"
Keep going, Velocimon.
"There's nothing I can do..."
We need you
Velocimon came to just in time as the golem leered over him, left foreleg raised high. It snapped open, revealing the wickedly sharp blade, and came down like a cleaver.
Velocimon rolled, but only a little, feeling the wind of the blade as it embedded itself in the rock. He only had a few seconds, but with a new drive he moved faster than he'd ever imagined he could. He was standing in seconds, and he planted his claws through the great sickle, using all his strength to pull it out of the ground and tugging against the great beast.
"I'm not gonna lose to the likes of you!"
The golem screeched, and swiped with its other claw, but Velocimon used the limb as a shield, ducking up and down, before running with all his might back towards the golem. The arm creaked and cracked, bending unnaturally backwards, and the sickle twitched and juddered as it tried to return. The hunter was a skilled killer, but it specialised in assassination; taking out its opponents with the minimum of fuss and energy. Against the persistence of this blasted lizard, its vicious weapons were holding it back. And right now, Velocimon was holding the great sickle back against the golem's chest, using all his strength to bend it around. The golem jumped around, but Velocimon held tightly, his face straining and going red from the effort. He adjusted his feet, and using all his strength, bent the great scythe backwards, angling it to go exactly where he wanted.
"The best weapon round here...is you..."
The hunter turned and screamed at him, its twin tongues lashing out and its mouthparts flailing wildly. Velocimon sneered, blood coming from his nose from the effort.
"Go to hell yourself! Spark Shooter!"
He fired a tiny barrage of sparks, straight at the joint where the sickle flicked out. At the very last second, he let go, and jumped back.
The sparks hit their target, breaking the skin and running into the muscles and the nerve endings. The creature's reflexes kicked in, closing the sickle with at a lightning speed. Right around the golem's neck.
Velocimon fell backwards. He could only watch as the headless horror before him writhed and scrambled like a fish on dry land, the head landing a few feet away. Velocimon looked over at the fiend's blind gaze, and he wiped the blood away from his face.
The creature's dying throes seemed to fade into blackness, as the dinosaur laid back, staring up at the swirling clouds above him.
"I finally win..."
A sense of relief and calm washed over him as he finally allowed himself to surrender to unconsciousness...
"You don't die easily."
Velocimon looked around. No flames. No battle. No enemy. Just the pure, dead space that was left. The ground all around was steaming, and there were craters and piles of ash and skeletons. But the battle was over. At least, it seemed to be over.
He sat down, overwhelmed, and stared out over the grey ground. He heard footsteps next to him, and somebody sat down beside him. He didn't turn to look.
"I can't afford to. It never stops. Even when I think the war's over, it never stops."
"It's a war. Can't somebody else carry the burden for once?"
"I thought I had a duty." Velocimon looked down. "I thought the only reason to fight was my duty. But I've kept fighting and yet I keep having to do more than ever."
The person next to him chuckled. "Taking on far more than you should, huh? I get that all the time."
"If I don't, who will?"
"Somebody will. You know that, don't you?"
Velocimon felt the eyes of the other person upon him, but couldn't bring himself to look back.
"There's always somebody on your side. Somebody who can relieve your burden. You must know that, even if it's just somebody you can share stuff with."
The dinosaur didn't answer, merely bunching his body up even more.
"You do know that. You always did. So why did you keep fighting?"
"Because I'm trying to relieve somebody else's burden." Velocimon looked up, staring into the distance. "I'm fighting for the sake of my com...for the sake of my friends. I always was. I just didn't want to say." He sighed. "All the time, I kept pretending like I was doing this for the good of the digital world alone. That's what a hero was to me, right? Except that I lost why I was doing it. I wanted to protect people. I wanted to fight for the things I loved and the people I cared about. But in the end I just lost sight of the people around me and only focused on the victory ahead. I was only fighting for myself."
The person next to him raised a hand, but Velocimon silenced him. "I know, I know. Surtremon did the same. Surtremon got so blinded by his own vision that he forgot the people around him."
He wiped his muzzle, groaning as he did so. "I wanted to be a hero. All this? All this was too much for me to handle."
"There's nothing wrong with that."
"I know now. I guess I always did." Velocimon looked up at the figure next to him. "I know you always did too."
Aaron smiled, his hair blowing in the wind. "You called me here to save the world. It took a long time, but I've seen enough of this world and this people to know that, whatever happens, it's worth saving. It's all worth saving."
"Yes. Enough of this war and hero and soldier bullshit; I just want to save this world. Save the people I love. Isn't that enough?"
"So what do we do now?"
Velocimon thought for a minute, scratching his chin. "I can't be the only one who survived. Everyone else...they must have. They must have regrouped and be heading to meet each other." He narrowed his eyes. "Where Nithhogg's going."
Velocimon looked up. "We're going to save the world, Aaron. I promise you. We, all of us, we're going to save this world and everybody in it. For you, and for everyone who's given everything they had to do the same. We will stop Nithhogg."
Aaron grinned. "You really are a hero, Velocimon. Go get them."
The dinosaur turned, and looked into his partner's eyes. Aaron smiled, and his smile was full of shimmering light, and in an instant he was gone, and the dinosaur was looking at the empty battlefield.
And all across the empty battlefield, there grew flowers. Patches of green, and red, and yellow.
Velocimon raised a claw to his chest, feeling his own heartbeat. For the first time in a long time, it was beating proudly. Twice as strong as before. He felt the power of the element surging through him, giving him strength, hope and purpose like nothing he'd felt before.
He stood up, and began to run, across the grey rock and into the greenery, towards the destination before him. And once again he could hear the footsteps; no longer behind him, but either side of him. Running with him towards the end.
And in the back of his mind, Aaron's voice rang out once again.
"I'll be waiting..."
The lizard opened his eyes, staring up. The sky wasn't there. Well, it was, but something was in the way. A face. A familiar face. Two emerald orbs in an expressionless mask, happier than anything he'd seen in a long time.
"Yes, it's me!" The bug jittered, and stepped back, giving the dinosaur room to sit up. Velocimon looked around, but he found himself distracted by the insect's incessant tapping. "You're okay! You're actually okay!"
The bug stood still, and looked behind the lizard. "Well...most of you...what the hell happened to you?"
Velocimon stood up, and flung himself forwards, his arms thrust around Trilomon's neck in a bear hug. Trilomon chirruped, a little stunned.
Velocimon held on for longer than he meant to. He kept wanting to stand up, brush himself off and march away, but he couldn't do it. He just held on, hugging tighter and tighter. And then the tears came. Stifled, noisy and messy, but definitely there. Trilomon sat down, and rested his head on Velocimon's shaking shoulder. He said nothing. He didn't need to.
Eventually Velocimon sat up again, and rubbed his muzzle. "How did you find me?"
"I had a feeling." Trilomon tilted his head. "We can't leave you behind. You're important. We need you. And by the looks of it, you need us as well. Pikamon said you try far too hard."
"Pikamon?" Velocimon's eyes widened. "How...he..."
"It's complicated." The insect looked back. "We have the element of Wood safe with us, and we have a feeling the others might have gotten the other elements too."
"Wow...you have been busy."
Trilomon shrugged. "Elements belong together. With them, we might actually stand a chance."
The lizard raised a claw to his chest, feeling the pulse of his heartbeat. Despite everything, he felt it. The erratic movement of the element of Electricity, still running through his veins. He nodded. "It's worth a shot. One more stand." He stared into the distance. "So where do we go?"
"To find Kent. Then, wherever we're needed." Trilomon turned, and shook his shoulder. "Do you need a hand?"
"Thanks, Trilomon. But I can walk." He stood up, a little unsteady at first, but just about balancing himself out. Looking behind him, he saw the tip of his tail, no longer with the hefty armour and blade, but ending with a growth of new feathers. Small, and torn, but surviving.
"Or if you're up to it, we can run."
Kent sat alone, his laptop open on his knees. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing regularly, feeling the elements within his D-Nexus.
He felt a tremor. Just a little flicker in his heartbeat. He opened his eyes, and he saw them; Trilomon and Velocimon, striding across the wastegrounds towards him. The boy smiled, and nodded as they came up. "You really are something else."
Velocimon folded his arms. "I've been sentimental enough today." He grinned. "But it is good to see you."
Kent humphed, and pressed a key on his laptop. "Well, if we're all present, then it's time to get moving."
"Do you know where Nithhogg's going?" Velocimon looked over, trying to see the map on his D-Nexus. "Do you know where we're going?"
Kent shifted the device over, and pointed to where there was a little blinking dot. The world kept shrinking, bit by bit, but it was converging. As the ocean dried up and the ground was swallowed away, a familiar place still remained.
"Nithhogg's heading there. To where we first met you guys."
The boy tapped a few keys, and pressed Enter, before closing the computer up and slinging it over his back.
"Back to the beginning..."
"I'll see you all there."
Grace looked up from the message, keeping one hand firmly on Cyclomon's feathers as he skimmed across the beach, and towards the Stone Halo mountain range; more of a small stretch of cliffs now than the rocky crown over the world it had once been. She felt Jack nudge her, and he pointed down, and they saw the sea bed shrinking in ever further, leaving just the silent white void threatening to swallow the world whole.
"Hold on everyone. We're coming..."
"I'll see you all there."
Kai looked out over the decimated Spokes, and even further, across the ruined tundras of the north. He heard something beside him, and looked down, seeing Chromon's dour face. "It's a long trek from here."
"We can move quickly. We'll get there." He knelt down. "Will you be safe here?"
"I'm not s-safe anywhere." The dinosaur smiled weakly, and pawed the ground. "B-b-but I don't really matter. I'm just a w-watchman for an old world. It's all in your hands now."
His front leg went to his barrel chest, and for a moment the flesh seemed to ripple. He strained, and pulled it away again, bringing a bright, shining purple orb with it. The orb flashed, before heading straight for Kai's D-Nexus.
"We need to get going." Eloise walked over, and peered over Kai's shoulder, watching the strange purple energy pulsing through his device. "What is that?"
"The element of Metal." Kai gripped his D-Nexus tightly, and looked up at Chromon. "I'll keep it safe. We all will."
"You'll need it. The elements belong t-t-together." Chromon coughed, and shook his head, before nodding. "Your friends need you."
"What about you? Are you going to hide out?"
Chromon smiled. "I n-need to find a friend. I wouldn't worry; I'll s-s-see you before our hour is up."
Kai looked up at Eloise, and they nodded. They looked back, seeing their partners floating together.
"Ready for one last battle?"
Colchimon nodded. Ladomon smiled. The two tamers reached out and held each other's hands, holding the tiny devices out in front of them as they did so.
Chromon walked through the wood, past dead grey rocks and even deader grey tree stumps. He shivered from the cold, watching as ash fell all around him and settled on his back and neck. He wasn't a fan of the outdoors at the best of times, and this certainly wasn't one of those.
"Finally going for a walk, huh?"
The dinosaur glanced up, watching the bandy-legged spirit as they stepped down from the stump ahead. Chromon bowed. "Y-y-you look terrible."
"It's a popular look nowadays."
"I'm sure." The dinosaur peered back. "The warriors of Light and D-Darkness are on their way. They reached their limit, just as we thought they would."
"As have everyone." Phoukamon reached behind their back and pulled out a long twisted blade, turning it in the faint sunlight. "We have everything we need."
Chromon sat down. "I'm going to miss this p-place. So much history. So much is going to be l-l-l-lost." He shrugged. "Not that I would kn-know. Always being dragged out of trouble."
Phoukamon placed a finger on their chin. "What's this? Second? Third time I pulled you out of trouble? Maybe fourth? I remember last time you were right under Rinkhalmon's sickle?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Chromon sighed, looking at the black, flaking ground beneath him. "I'm not exactly p-p-proud of any of this. Anything I've done. I t-t-tricked everyone into fighting the battle we w-w-wanted. Some of them even...they even...they were j-just trying to h-help..."
He sniffed, and shook his head. Phoukamon stood in front of him, their face unreadable. They stepped forward, and patted their companion on the shoulder.
"It's done. We've done all we can."
Chromon sniffed again, and stared up at the sword. "Not quite. We need to be r-ready."
"Shall we go then?"
Chromon glanced back, looking at the grand ornate structures of the Spokes as they still poked over the treeline. He closed his eyes, and nodded.
"Let's go. To the end."
"I'm coming home..."
Nithhogg repeated the same phrase to itself again and again, feeling more assertive with it every time. Its footsteps made ripples on the surface of the water, pulling away strings of liquid each time.
"I can see home."
It certainly could. There was land ahead. A beach, and a series of red cliffs, with fragments broken off and embedded into the sand. Beyond that, there was a small patch of woodland full of glittering trees, as yet untouched by fire or extra-dimensional force. Not for long though.
Nithhogg squinted. There was something on the beach. Not a golem, for it would be aware of its own flesh and blood. A survivor then. Another outdated member of this world. Though, something seemed awfully familiar about it. It could recognise the face. The body; it was human, certainly.
The human's shirt hung loose, charred, and with a hole in the centre. He stood, staring out at the ocean, at the oncoming swarm of golems, and at the tiny eldritch catalyst in the middle. His hair blew in the wind; long and ragged now, and barely covered by a silly-looking, beaten-up red hat.
Aaron raised his arm, D-Nexus in hand.
"Listen, you spoilt little kid; this is gonna end. Right here, and right now."
TO BE CONTINUED...