(Author's Notes: Chapter 67 is here! I'm making good progress on the latest chapter, but was delayed slightly due to heat waves, birthdays, and knee injuries. I think I'm back on track now though. Things are starting to build in the story now.
As usual, please read, review, and enjoy!)
Chapter 67: Possession
Demon soared through the night sky.
The twin moons that lingered over the black expanse were nearly full. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the night was deathly calm.
He flew in front, gliding alone on the wind, with just a handful of his personal subordinates flying behind him. It had been a long flight from Dark Point back north to the Gloaming Fields. The cool, dry air currents blew through his dark fur, and the crisp breeze stung the healing gash on his face.
Ahead of him was Castle Nocturne. To Demon's relief, he could see the full levy of the Nightmare Soldiers' legions mustered at the grounds in front of the castle. There were rows of thousands of demon and undead Digimon, lined up and awaiting their orders. It pleased him that they hadn't left on campaign without him. It was also a relief to him that he had engraved enough discipline in the soldiers that all order hadn't broken down in his absence.
As he flapped his wings and fell into a gliding descent, the cloaked devil inspected both the armies and the castle carefully. The first thing that he noted was a massive, wooden crate. The box was about the size of a Whamon's mouth and likely would have required a Digimon of equal size and strength to pull it. Clearly, it was way too large to have been bought, so it must have been constructed specially upon request. He could see that the huge crate had been affixed with wheels, and that it was hitched up to a pair of SkullGreymon whose job it was to pull it. Such a curious sight was definitely enough to draw his attention.
The next thing Demon noticed were his fellow Demon Lords gathered in front of the legions. He could see Lucemon, Barbamon, Lilithmon, Beelzebumon, and Bagramon talking. However, conspicuous by his absence was Leviamon. He couldn't see the overgrown crocodile anywhere, whose massive, red body was impossible to miss. It garnered an arched eyebrow from Demon as he descended towards the others.
As Demon flew over the legions, he could still feel the sting of the face wound that he received from that upstart knight – the white and red one that he felt he should have killed twice over. Wrath's slow simmer bubbled inside him, underneath his calm, cloaked exterior. It was a wound that he would not soon forget.
As soon as he reached the front of the assembled troops, Demon touched down and began making his way towards the nearby Demon Lords.
Lucemon was closest, standing with his arms folded. He stood stiffly, his boot tapping the ground with obvious frustration. His normally calm face was instead a menacing glare, as his icy, blue eyes burned holes into the ground before him.
"I knew it was a mistake to trust him," Lucemon spoke with venom. He lifted his eyes up and leered at Bagramon, who was standing nearby. "I told you that the fickle newt would betray us at the soonest given moment, but you insisted that I overlook his obvious duplicity and treachery. This was your mistake, Bagramon. You should have listened to the ones who knew him best."
Bagramon narrowed his pensive eye into a bothered frown and his wooden, skeletal finger tapped the compressed soil beneath him.
"Perhaps…" he murmured, his voice slow and methodical as he mulled over their current situation. The nearby flapping of wings and the sudden appearance of crimson fabric in his vision drew Bagramon's attention. He looked up just as Demon swept down and landed behind Lucemon.
Lucemon brushed his hair back and turned around, setting his irritated eyes onto Demon. "Demon."
"Finally, you're back," Lilithmon exclaimed, leaning against one of the black carriages that was going to carry them. "We were about to leave without you."
"Oh. Yo, Dede!" Beelzebumon said with a casual wave from atop his bike. "What took ya furry ass?"
"Did you capture Dark Point as expected?" Barbamon queried, hunching forward on his staff with keen interest.
Demon straightened himself and gazed around at the other five Demon Lords, ignoring the sharp pang in his face. "Of course I did," he decisively confirmed. "There were a few setbacks along the way, but Dark Point is now under our control."
"What sort of setbacks?" Lucemon pried, wondering what other bad news he had to deal with.
"Nothing insurmountable," Demon answered with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Count Murmuxmon was pushed out of Dark Point temporarily, and then the Royal Knights showed up – the puny, gold one and the dumb, white and purple dragon. I pushed them back, but, in the process, one of their underlings evolved into Ultimate."
For emphasis, Demon pulled off his hood to reveal his horned head. He angled his head to display the deep, blackish-purple gash in his left cheek. "The foolish squire was able to do this to me. …He exhibited a substantial amount of power."
Beelzebumon looked over at Demon and he smiled with excitement, hopping off his bike. "Oh, shit! Gross! It's so wet and juicy! Can I touch it?" he eagerly asked, pointing at the healing wound on Demon's face.
"Stay your hand," Demon warned him.
Beelzebumon chuckled. "Can't believe some punk was able to do that to ya. You must be losin' your touch, Dede!" he teased him. "As if your face needed to get any uglier too. Might wanna keep your hood on."
Demon eyes tightened slightly. "Stay your tongue as well, before a cat catches it."
"That don't make any sense, but, hey, it sounds fun," Beelzebumon responded with a grin.
"I see… So, the Royal Knights have another tool at their disposal," Lucemon mused, the drumming of his finger ceasing. "And what of Dark Point? Is it secure now?"
"Captured and subjugated. The paltry team of wounded Royal Knights scurried away like minnows to lick their wounds. I doubt they will attempt to capture it any time soon," Demon explained. After pausing, the Demon Lord of Wrath looked around with a confused glare. "…Where is Leviamon?" he inquired.
"Now that is the question of the day…" Lilithmon slyly hummed.
"Levi up an' skedaddled in the dead of night!" Beelzebumon flippantly announced with his typical impish grin. "How only a handful of guards noticed his huge ass wanderin' off is anybody's guess."
"What?' Demon demanded, his violet eyes narrowing. "What do you mean?"
"Isn't it obvious, Demon?" Lucemon explained with an emphatic shrug and a lofty shake of his head. "Leviamon has clearly betrayed us."
"Or so it seems…" Bagramon said with an even-temper.
"It has been days since he vanished without a word," Lucemon argued, turning back to Bagramon. "Of course he has betrayed us."
"It could be that he is trying to teach us a lesson…" Bagramon reasoned, locking eyes with the blond-haired fallen angel. "Perhaps he feels that we do not respect him, so he wants to prove how indispensible he is… While I am angered by his sabotage, I cannot say he was entirely unprovoked…"
Lucemon's crisp, blue eyes narrowed slightly. "Are you blaming me for this, Bagramon?" he wondered, his words slow and frosty. "I told you from the beginning how self-serving and capricious that lizard is. What he is doing now is no different from what he has done to us countless times in the Dark Area. If he does not get his way, he throws a tantrum like a child and switches his allegiance at the drop of the hat. Leviamon loves nothing more than to play the victim… and he uses that flimsy excuse to justify his own, selfish whims."
"Lucemon is not wrong, Bagramon," Lilithmon agreed, apathetically folding her arms and gazing over at the white-haired demon. "This does rather fit Leviamon's modus operandi… This is not the first time he has left one of us twisting in the wind."
Bagramon sighed and closed his fist, knowing that it was incredibly likely that they were right. He had been able to see Leviamon's frustration, and he feared that the bad blood between he and Lucemon would lead to this. He supposed that he hoped he could keep them together just for long enough for the plan to reach its later stages, but he guessed he was proven wrong. He just hoped the damage wasn't irreversible.
"Even so… Are you familiar with the phrase, 'United we stand, divided we fall'?" Bagramon said. "We must stay united. From what I gather, my brother nearly defeated the Royal Knights by exploiting their divisions, but he was ultimately defeated in part because of his own side's divisions. We cannot make the same mistakes."
"And we won't," Lucemon decisively responded. "Now that the bad egg is gone."
"One bad egg spoils the bunch," Demon hissed, tightening his fists with simmering rage. "That treacherous fool… When I lay my hands on him, I will strip his hide…"
"Yeeeesss, we can tan his leather and make expensive, designer handbags or something," Barbamon flippantly added with a wave of his hand. "It's only right that he should make us some money after all the trouble that he has caused us."
"Ooh, a Leviamon handbag sounds nice," Lilithmon agreed with a smirk. "Though, while I won't miss his fish breath, he did bring considerable strength to the table…"
"Yes, his disappearance right before our next set of operation has posed something of an untimely inconvenience," Barbamon said as he tapped his bejewelled fingers on the shaft of his Death Lure. "I have had to revise the strategy somewhat to compensate for this loss of power…"
"How so?" Demon questioned.
"While the division of the legions will remain the same – with one legion heading north to the ruins, one legion moving westward to the sea, and the rest moving south to Shroud - the composition of the Demon Lords must change," Barbamon explained. "Demon, Beelzebumon and myself will take that –" Barbamon outstretched his hand and gestured to the massive box that was being hauled by the pair of SkullGreymon. "—with the main army towards Shroud."
"Hah! 'Bout time! Sounds like a party!" Beelzebumon laughed, leaning forward on his bike with excitement.
Lucemon took a step forwards. "That leaves me, Bagramon, and Lilithmon to travel north to the Arcane Ruins, I take it."
"Yes," Barbamon confirmed. "I would go, but you three are likely more than enough, and my strategic acumen is best served leading the main army."
"Admit it, old man," Lilithmon teased him. "The reason you aren't coming is because Bagramon said there wasn't any treasure in the ruins."
"Regardless! I would say that the three of you going is too much for what would be lightly guarded ruins, but I know both of you want to be there for yourselves," Barbamon stated, looking at Bagramon and Lucemon. "Still, you mustn't dawdle. We may need you back with us as soon as possible, even with our trump card. Who knows if the Royal Knights will bring allies?"
"I do not need you to tell me that, Barbamon," Lucemon insisted, eyeing the Demon Lord of Greed. "We know what we are doing."
"Very well…" Barbamon grumbled. "So long as you do."
Lucemon nodded and looked around at the other Demon Lords. "If there is nothing else, we should be off. It will take us at least a day to travel north."
"Yes, I suppose we should," Lilithmon agreed, sighing as she stood up from the carriage. "The Fifth Legion is waiting for us up by the mountain pass."
Demon nodded and turned his cloaked head towards the box that sat behind the army. "Yes… After all, we are on a time limit…" he hissed lowly.
Bagramon turned his glowing, red eye towards Demon and Barbamon. "Do you remember the spell? You have only one chance…"
Barbamon smirked and stood up straight, lifting his staff from the ground. "Of course I remember the spell! I studied the grimoire in detail. Any magician worth his salt requires a good memory! What do you take me for, some back alley seer's apprentice?"
"I also remember the requirements of the ritual, just in case," Demon confirmed. "You need not worry. We are both powerful sorcerers."
"Then I trust it to you in my absence," Bagramon told them. "I would do it myself, but I am needed to find the Arcane Ruins."
"Yes, yes," Barbamon answered, taking the Death Lure and beginning to walk towards the army behind them. "If you do find treasure there, don't be stingy."
Beelzebumon smirked in Bagramon, Lucemon, and Lilithmon's direction as he turned the ignition and revved up the engine. "Rather you than me! You're welcome to freeze yer asses off up in the butt end of nowhere; as for me, I'm gonna enjoy myself and hope summa the Royal Knights show up for me to dance with!"
"You do that," Lilithmon responded, her eyes rolling as she walked inside the nearby carriage.
Lucemon nodded at Demon and Barbamon. "I expect a victory," he reminded them as he turned to follow Lilithmon. "And if you see Leviamon…"
"I will make him regret it," Demon promised, with a faint glow in his eyes.
"Victory it shall be…" Barbamon answered with a crooked smile. His gaze shifted between Lucemon and Bagramon. "Best of luck in your own endeavours… I hope you find something will benefit us in the long run."
Lucemon smirked and glanced over at Bagramon.
"Oh, it will… Won't it, Bagramon?" he questioned his fellow Demon Lord.
Bagramon lowered his eyes, gazing down at his artificial limb. The ancient wood creaked as his fingers curved and tightened into a gentle fist.
"Absolutely. The secrets that the Arcane Ruins hold…"
He raised his head and stared back at the Demon Lords. In his face grew stony with a dark, unwavering resolve, and the ruby of his hollow eye flickered with crimson.
"…They are the key to everything."
It was the following day. The sun was beginning to set in the sky.
Dusk crept over the southern reaches of the Gloaming Fields. What little light there was in the gloomy landscape was quickly receding over the dark grey horizon. The sky was covered by thick, nebulous storm clouds, yet no rain fell. The muffled din of thunder erupted in the distance every few minutes, preceded by faraway flickers of lightning.
The Demon Lords' main army continued to march southwards along the Highway of the Damned. Thousands of soldiers walked in a long column down the road, while the throngs of aerial Digimon flew in a spearhead formation overhead.
The size of the Nightmare Soldiers had grown since their attack on New Terminal, despite losing so many during the siege. Their army had recovered most of their losses from their conquests against the other demon nobles, absorbing their private armies into their own. On top of that, the Nightmare Soldiers were further augmented by the three brigades that Bagramon hired from Kowloon Company, who remained in the Gloaming Fields for this operation.
Finally, there was a new brigade bringing up the rear of the army. It was an army of several hundred Digimon who all looked and acted the same, moving in complete unison with each other. They were artificial, undead Digimon whose forms consisted of other Digimons' data, which had been transplanted into specialised, rubber bodies. White, automatised gas masks covered their faces, removing any semblance of individuality.
They were known as Troopmon. They all looked identical and they marched with machine-like efficiency and uniformity. They existed only to serve. The Troopmon Brigade looked something out of Chaosdramon's dystopian Metal Empire, yet they had been created by the Demon Lords using the life force of others. It was the tireless Troopmon brigade that helped hauled the series of boxes at the rear of the army.
As for the Demon Lords themselves, the three head officers were at the fore of the army. Demon flew front and center, right at the head of the column. As a hands-on general, he oversaw the entire army from his vantage point, personally making sure that they advanced southwards efficiently.
Contrastingly, Barbamon sat comfortably in the black carriage that was being pulled at the front of the army. He relaxed on the cushioned seat and gazed out the window, pensively gazing at the dark landscape ahead of them. His mind worked through plans and schemes, not just for their own campaign towards Shroud, but for the team headed towards the Arcane Ruins as well.
Lastly, Beelzebumon drove a ways ahead of the Nightmare Soldiers on his motorcycle. However, rather than leading the army at its head like Demon was, he was simply driving off on his own. Far too impatient to wait for the others and not interested at all in leading the army, he just decided to do his own thing instead.
The army had set off from Castle Nocturne several hours ago. They were nearing the southern reaches of the Gloaming Fields on their long journey towards Shroud.
Barbamon continued gazing out the window, idly rolling a 24-karat gold coin in between his bejewelled fingers. Leaning on his elbow with his sunken cheek against his fist, his red eyes scanned the night sky.
"I wonder what they will find in those ruins…" Barbamon thought to himself, his thumb rubbing over the etched face of the coin. "If they find any treasure, Bagramon, Lucemon, and Lilithmon will likely keep it from me… Rapacious fools."
His thoughts of avarice were interrupted by a sudden knocking on the door of his carriage. Barbamon raised his head and looked through the door window to see an Evilmon flying right outside.
Curious, Barbamon opened the door abruptly. As he swung it open, he unintentionally hit the unsuspecting Evilmon in the nose with the side of the door. "Yes? What do you want? I was in the middle of thinking about something important," Barbamon crabbily inquired, apathetic to the injury he had caused.
The Evilmon rubbed his sore nose with watering eyes, but he quickly got straight to the point. "I-I'm terribly sorry for interrupting, Lord Barbamon," he humbly spoke, fearing something worse. "I have something for you."
At the thought of being given something, Barbamon cocked his brow and leaned forwards with interest. "Oh? Go on…"
The red-nosed Evilmon raised a large scroll that was tucked underneath his armpit. "My Lord, one of our scouts intercepted this scroll that was flying towards our army. There was no messenger. It seems like it has some sort of homing enchantment on it," the Evilmon explained. He presented the ornate scroll towards the Demon Lord of Greed. "It is addressed to you specifically."
Intrigued, Barbamon raised his brow further and glanced furtively overhead, making sure that Demon didn't notice. "…Very well," Barbamon cautiously agreed, taking the scroll from him.
He carefully inspected the exterior of the scroll, eyeing the pure white pages and the pearly handles that immediately felt familiar to him. Next, Barbamon looked at the white, magical seal, which fluctuated between Barbamon's name and the official sigil of the owner.
In that moment, Barbamon recognised the seal. As soon as he did, his eyes widened with surprise. Wasting no time, he cut through the magical band with his nail and unfurled the scroll, eager to read it.
Immensely curious, Barbamon's red eyes started from the top and began making their way down the long piece of paper. "Addressed to Barbamon, the Lord of Greed…" he dryly echoed, reading the salutation. Though, upon beginning the first paragraph, he grew quiet, interested in what the message had to say.
As his eyes scoured the length of the scroll, a wicked and crooked smile slowly crawled across his face. There was a devilish twinkle in his eyes, and, by the time he reached the bottom of the scroll, he was laughing to himself.
"Yes… Yes! Excellent!" Barbamon exclaimed triumphantly, snapping the scroll shut. "This is too good to be true! This is exactly what I need…"
Wasting no time, Barbamon swung open the door of the carriage again, which the Evilmon was smart enough to dodge this time. The Demon Lord grabbed his Death Lure staff, jumped out of the vehicle and flapped his wings. After tucking the scroll securely underneath his cloak, Barbamon rose into the darkening sky.
"Oh, Demon!" Barbamon called out to the cloaked Demon Lord above him.
Demon stopped in the air and spun around, watching as Barbamon rose through the air to meet with him. "Barbamon? What is it?" he wondered, not wanting to slow down their march.
He came to a stop in front of the horned demon. "Oh… something important has come up and I am going to have to make a detour," Barbamon informed him with a crafty smile on his face.
"What in the hells are you talking about, Barbamon?" Demon protested incredulously. "We don't have time to make a detour. We must take Shroud by tomorrow. You know that as well as I do."
"Now, now, there is no need to get all heated up," Barbamon assured him. "Only I need to go off for a little bit. You may continue with the army as planned."
"That is ridiculous. We need you for our strategies once we arrive," Demon argued. "What could possibly be so pressing? Did you hear about a thrift sale in Vespers or something?"
Barbamon scoffed. "I'll have you know that I received a very important bit of information that I need to capitalize on," he cagily explained.
"Tell me," Demon commanded with a subtle hint of ire in his voice.
Barbamon sighed exaggeratedly. "…I must go up and speak with Lucemon's team before they reach the Arcane Ruins. And, on the way, I have a very important meeting…" he explained, though not wanting Demon to know everything about what he had learned. He was inwardly concerned about Demon's anger getting the better of him and ruining his burgeoning plan should he learn what he was actually up to.
"What meeting? With who?" Demon pressed further.
Barbamon raised his head and looked him in the eyes seriously. "Somebody important. I need you to trust me, Demon… Leave this to me; the army needs you here… I promise you that this will work out for all of us."
Demon scowled suspiciously and leered back into Barbamon's eyes. "…This had better not be for your benefit, Barbamon," he warned him.
"I assured you, Demon, this will be for our benefit," Barbamon promised him with a sincere, yet cunning smirk. "You just keep doing what you do best…"
After a few moments of careful consideration, Demon nodded with compliance. "Very well… How long will you be?" he asked him.
"I will only be gone for a while. Six – seven hours at most," the Demon Lord of Greed explained. "Assuming all goes well, I should be back before you reach Shroud. It will be simple enough to catch up to a large army like this."
"Do not keep me waiting," Demon told him, tilting his hooded head and leering at him with a sideways leer.
"If I do, it will still be worth it," Barbamon promised him enigmatically.
"It had better be, Barbamon," the Demon Lord of Wrath said, beginning to turn away from him. "I have to keep the army moving. If you are going to leave, then do so."
"Very well… Tell nobody to follow me," Barbamon agreed, eyeing the cloaked devil with a snide grin.
He turned away and flapped his demonic wings, beginning to fly against the tide of the southward-bound Nightmare Soldiers. As he flew towards the north, the soldiers made a gap for him to fly by them, not wanting to be the one to bump into Barbamon.
Barbamon made his way to the rear of the army where the Troopmon were marching as their rear guard. Flying past the soulless, rubber soldiers, he continued up the highway on his own, soaring northwards. As he flew alone, he cast a look over his shoulder, still wearing a devious smile on his demonic face.
"Oh, it will be worth it, Demon… If what he wrote to me is true, it will be very much worth my time, indeed…"
It was the dead of night by the time Barbamon had made it to his destination.
The Demon Lord of Greed cautiously descended towards an open meadow. The field was mired with tangled grass and a few skeletal trees. Nearby was the folly of a partially ruined church, primarily there for decoration, but it served as a reference point in the letter.
Barbamon's pointed, red boots touched down on the grass and he relaxed his six bat-like wings. Planting the Death Lure's pointed butt against the ground, he gripped the staff firmly and looked around cautiously.
The grassy landscape was far-reaching and allowed for a clear line-of-sight for kilometers. Apart from the ruins, there was no place to hide, and even those were mostly hollowed out and easy to see from above. Barbamon supposed that that's why this location was chosen.
Barbamon tapped his bony fingers against the wooden shaft of the Death Lure, his bejewelled rings sparkling in the moonlight as they knocked against the wood.
He knew that he was taking a risk by coming here. There was a decent chance that this could be a trap, and although he was fairly confident that it wasn't, he was prepared for the possibility that he would be ambushed from the sky. If that happened, he felt fairly good about his chances of escaping. Still, the way the letter was worded made him think that he was onto a tempting opportunity that he couldn't pass up.
Barbamon stood there and waited. Though the sky was matted with thick, grey clouds, he could see the glowing silhouettes of the moons through their smoky veil. He waited until the larger of the moons reached its zenith in the sky, which was around midnight.
He waited past midnight for several more minutes, until, finally, he noticed something. The clouds seemed to be growing denser, yet it looked like the moonlight was intensifying, giving them a warm glow from the inside.
Then, suddenly, the clouds began erupting with flashes of lightning. Arcs of light danced from cloud to cloud, causing the thick veil to flash mutedly like strobe lights. The deep, resonant crack of thunder followed and the mighty sound wave caused the ground beneath to vibrate. Although the bolts of lightning transferred between clouds, none of them channeled towards the ground or towards Barbamon.
Barbamon merely watched and waited impatiently, clearly unimpressed by the light show overhead. "Yes, yes. You just have to make a big entrance, don't you?" he muttered.
The clouds parted momentarily, and from within them emerged a large being. Lightning flashes erupted around the figure, illuminating his darkened pink form against the breaching moonlight. As the clouds closed behind him, the bipedal figure began to descend towards the ground.
Barbamon gazed up at the darkened heavens, and watched as Cherubimon emerged from the clouds to greet him.
Cherubimon gazed down from the sky, eyeing Barbamon cagily as he descended. As he made his way down, he held himself upright, his large muscles taut and ready to strike at a moment's notice. His right hand crackled with holy lightning, and he was prepared to summon a spear if he needed to.
The Archangel of Wisdom's facial expression was stern and detached as he descended. Gone, were his intense feelings of anger and sorrow. They were replaced by determination and vigilance.
He looked around at the surrounding area suspiciously. He was surgical in making sure that Barbamon had indeed come alone. Although he was acting on his own, Cherubimon had no illusions about Barbamon; he was well aware that Barbamon might have taken this chance to lay a trap for him. He had spent the last fifteen minutes surveying the area and watching Barbamon's movements, and he was fairly confident that Barbamon had come by himself and had no time to lay any cunning trap. He deduced that Barbamon was intrigued by his letter.
Cherubimon approached the grassy earth. Cautiously, he touched one of his large feet down on the ground. He made sure to keep a good fifteen meters between himself and Barbamon. He didn't trust the Demon Lord for obvious reasons, and he wasn't yet sure what Barbamon's intentions were in coming here. Although he sent Barbamon the letter thinking that Barbamon would be the most receptive to what he had to say, he was well aware that Barbamon was a cunning schemer, and that he had to tread carefully.
Cherubimon ceased his descent and settled onto the earth. He straightened his back and towered over Barbamon with poise and grace. Yet, his usual warmth was absent, replaced by a cold and icy exterior. He gazed down at Barbamon with solemn and calculating eyes, trying to perceive the Demon Lord's intent.
Upon seeing the Archangel of Wisdom land, Barbamon smiled with faux delight at seeing his old comrade again.
"Well, well… Dear Cherubimon," he spoke in a voice that was saturated with sarcasm. "It is good to see you again lo these long years, my old friend… Why, I haven't seen you in the flesh – ample though it is – since, oh… when was it? Ah, yes, the Heavenly War in which you and your ilk scorched my flesh and scattered me to the Dark Area?"
Cherubimon was unreceptive to his pointed comments. He merely stared down at the Demon Lord with an unflinching gaze.
"Are you alone?" Cherubimon demanded with a voice like gentle thunder.
A wry smirk formed on Barbamon's masked and weathered face. "Are you alone?" he asked in a needling tone.
Cherubimon narrowed his eyes and lightning danced up his hand to his clawed finger tips.
"Now, now," Barbamon spoke, moving his staff from in front of him and holding his lanky arms out to the side to show that he was no immediate threat. "I know you have been watching me since I have arrived. You must know that I am alone. There are no tricks up my sleeves…" Barbamon grinned and stroked his long, white beard with his clawed and bony fingers.
"I cannot be too careful with you," Cherubimon explained, his plasma-emanating palm still crackling with lightning, ready to form a spear at any second.
"You haven't asked me here just to fight me, have you? Why, that wasn't the impression that your letter gave me…" Barbamon diplomatically spoke with a placid smile. Despite his words, he subtly channeled magic into the head of the Death Lure staff, though at low enough levels that Cherubimon was unable to notice. "I thought you asked me here because you wanted to talk… Or were you lying to me, Cherubimon…?"
Cherubimon frowned a little bit and glanced uncertainly down at his sparking hand. He supposed he couldn't talk in good faith if he was on the verge of summoning his weapon. The cherubim Digimon looked around the grassy landscape and the sky above a final time, making sure that they were alone. When he was satisfied, Cherubimon dispelled the charge from his hand and stood with his arms relaxed at his side, showing that he was not there to fight.
"No, I meant what I said in my letter," Cherubimon answered stiffly.
"So, then… Why did you ask me here?" Barbamon wondered. "You said you wanted to talk about the war…"
"I do… Why is it that you are doing this, Barbamon?" Cherubimon asked. "Why start another war?"
Barbamon rolled his eyes. "Because we Demon Lords are bad and wicked Digimon… Is that what you want to hear, Cherubimon?" he sarcastically wondered. "Why do you think? Do you forget the Heavenly War or must we argue the same ideological debate yet again? It is because we cannot accept you and your god, and you and your god cannot accept us."
"No, I did not forget, Barbamon…" Cherubimon coolly answered. "I remember the Heavenly War… I remember the slaughters on both sides, and I remember the Night of Falling Stars." His black, beady eyes narrowed. "I am here because I cannot forget…"
"Then what is it that you want, Cherubimon?" Barbamon wondered, tapping the butt of his staff against the ground rhythmically. "Are you here to settle the score? Or do you simply want to reminisce about old times?"
"No…" Cherubimon answered with a deep frown. "What I want… is peace."
At this admission, Barbamon couldn't help but be intrigued. He placed the Death Lure in front of him and leaned on it, arching an eyebrow behind his golden mask.
"Oh…? Peace, you say?" Barbamon questioned, somewhat surprised by his claim.
"Yes," Cherubimon confirmed, his voice deep and solemn. "What do any of us have to gain from fighting another war? What is the plan for all of us? Is it to fight each other until the other side is completely destroyed? If so, for what purpose does it serve? Mere revenge? Ideological purity? Simply to be victorious? Is any of that worth the thousands of lives that will be lost on both sides?"
"My, that is quite a lot of moralizing for somebody who willingly tried to snuff out us heretics," Barbamon pointed out with a mocking sneer.
Cherubimon winced with guilt. "I make no excuses, but I did so with a heavy heart," he explained. "My wish is that no further violence be necessary."
"And why come to me?" the Demon Lord of Greed wondered pointedly.
"Because I think that you are an intelligent and reasonable Digimon who is capable of having a nuanced perspective," Cherubimon explained. "Unlike Lucemon and Demon, who I doubt I have any chance of reasoning with, I believe that you understand how costly a protracted war would be."
"Really, now… I suppose you aren't incorrect," Barbamon mused as the moonlight caught on the gems that ornamented his person. "What exactly are you proposing, Cherubimon?"
"I am proposing that both sides end hostilities," Cherubimon answered. "We will allow you to keep all of the territory that you gained in the Gloaming Fields, and you all can use that land to create a home for yourselves. In exchange, you will tolerate our existence and we will tolerate your existence. We can end the needless bloodshed. I want us to put the hatred and resentment behind us."
"That is a fascinating proposition…" Barbamon deliberated. "And why do you think that the others will accept it?"
"Because I believe in your ability to convince them," the Archangel of Wisdom answered. "You are a pragmatic strategist. I think you know that this is the best treaty that you are going to get. It is a generous one with no concessions on your part. You must also realise that you are fighting a two-front war against both us and the Royal Knights. Perhaps even the Warrior Ten will involve themselves again too. If our forces combined, it could end up like the Heavenly War for you. I am sure you could convince the other Demon Lords that it is better to take what you have already gained rather than to risk it all…"
"Hmm…" Barbamon considered, mulling over Cherubimon's words. As he did so, his rubbed beneath the crystal orb of his wand. "It is an offer worth considering, but first… may I ask you something, Cherubimon?"
Cherubimon frowned and tilted his head curiously, but nodded.
"…Do Seraphimon and Ophanimon know that you are here?"
At Barbamon's perceptively pointed question, Cherubimon's body tensed and his face darkened slightly. He glanced away with a grimace, inadvertently telling Barbamon what he needed to know.
Barbamon chuckled. "I had a feeling that they wouldn't be so quick to make peace with us, unless you all really didn't fancy your chances…" he darkly stated, a wicked grin on his face. "Now, that is fascinating… You have come here behind the backs of the other two Great Angels. Here I thought you three were always in lockstep with each other. After all, the Three Great Angels are supposed to represent the combined will of God, are you not? Order, Mercy, and Wisdom…"
"I haven't… And we do!" Cherubimon insisted, his passion beginning to return to his heart, puncturing his cold and confident façade. He was desperate to salvage his deal, which he knew would be in jeopardy if Barbamon thought that the other two angels wouldn't agree.
"You aren't a very good liar at all, Cherubimon… You wear your emotions on your face," Barbamon pointed out with a goading grin. He lightly held the Death Lure, beginning to slowly and subtly undulate it in his palm. "So, you've asked me here to make me an offer that the other two know nothing about… That leads me to believe that they would be very cross with you if they knew about this. Do they disapprove of your belief that peace is the solution, Cherubimon? Would they be angry if they knew that you were consorting with the likes of me?"
A faint scowl emerged on Cherubimon's face, knowing that Barbamon had found him found out. "They will change their minds," he argued. "If I can get some sort of promise from you showing them that the Demon Lords are willing to listen to reason… They will change their minds. I am certain that Ophanimon will, at least…"
Barbamon listened and watched carefully, reading the tones and expressions in Cherubimon's voice. "Really, now… You don't seem so sure," he pointed out, burrowing deeper.
"I am sure," Cherubimon contended, a little more vehemently than before. "They will listen to me."
"Oh? And why would they listen to you?" Barbamon wondered, a sly smirk growing wider on his conniving face. "Even before the Heavenly War, you never did fit in with them, did you? You were always the odd one out of the Three Great Angels…"
"What are you talking about?" Cherubimon angrily demanded.
"Everybody could see it. Many thought that it should just be Seraphimon and Ophanimon in charge. You stuck out like a sore thumb – a great, big, beast of a rabbit playing third wheel to the two pretty archangels… I'm sure their attempt to humour you grew tiresome quite fast."
Cherubimon scoffed. "Your insults are transparent and ridiculous, Barbamon. I was chosen to represent God by God Himself. I don't care what you or anybody else thinks…" he answered back.
"If that's true, then why are you here in secret, all alone?" Barbamon pointedly wondered. "Why go against their wishes? Why go against God's wishes, Cherubimon? …Do you think that you know better than they do? Or, perhaps, they both voted against you and you came here to teach them a lesson?"
Cherubimon tried not to appear guilty, but the slight fluctuations in his brows and cheek muscles were just enough to give him away. "That's ridiculous…" he asserted, though his rebuttal was increasingly weak.
"Is it? I think I hit close to the mark…" the Demon Lord of Green confidently guessed.
As Barbamon spoke, a faint, magical power swirled inside the crystal head of the Death Lure, which he slowly tapped, up and down. It was slow, furtive, and deliberate. It was too faint for Cherubimon to notice, but Barbamon began to tacitly work his magic.
"Are you feeling alone, Cherubimon?" he asked him. "Ignored? Ostracised? Oppressed? …What's wrong, Cherubimon? Is there trouble in Paradise…?" The faint grin on Barbamon's face evened out. "…Perhaps now you realise how we felt before we rose up and fell. The iron will and unyielding structure of the Three Great Angels isn't quite so benevolent when it is being used against you, is it?"
"We have all made mistakes, Barbamon," Cherubimon insisted with a frustrated grimace, bringing his hand up and rubbing his head. "I don't claim that we haven't made blunders in the past, but… that isn't what is going on right now! We're equal. That is not what this is about."
"Who are you trying to convince, Cherubimon? Me? Or you?" Barbamon wondered, grinning as he watched his words get under Cherubimon's skin.
Cherubimon's eyes narrowed with cold fury. He could feel his anger beginning to bubble. He was having just about enough of Barbamon's needling insinuations. He was starting to wonder if this meeting was going to go anywhere. He was about to press Barbamon on the issue one more time, but then he saw Barbamon reach underneath his ornate vestments. The action put Cherubimon on his guard and he quickly lowered his hand.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, eyeing Barbamon's left hand as it reached for something beneath his shawl.
"I am merely showing you something I think you ought to see," Barbamon explained, pulling his hand out again.
Clutched in his hand was an ornate hand mirror. The mirror was coated with gold and etched with intricately designed embellishments. Corundum gems were embedded in the handle, and they sparkled in the muted moonlight.
"Catch," Barbamon told him, tossing the hand mirror in an arc towards Cherubimon.
Cherubimon, acting on instinct, caught the mirror in the palm of his hand. He arched his brow with his confusion and glanced down at the mirror. It looked to be an ordinary hand mirror – he could sense neither magical energy nor anything nefarious coming from it. Cherubimon pinched the handle of the mirror between his index finger and his thumb and held it away from him uncertainly.
"…What is this?" Cherubimon questioned suspiciously, looking back up at Barbamon and wondering if he was planning something.
"It is a mirror. What does it look like?" the gaunt demon sarcastically informed him, still quietly tapping his staff. "…Take a look, Cherubimon. What do you see?"
Cherubimon glowered faintly and slowly glanced down at the mirror. He was extremely on guard, but he sensed no dark force coming from the mirror. Cautiously, without letting Barbamon leave his vision, Cherubimon slowly tilted the mirror towards his face.
When he looked down at it, Cherubimon could see his face leering back at him. Confused, Cherubimon eyed the Demon Lord of Greed. "…I see my reflection," he dryly informed the Demon Lord.
"And the look in your eyes?" Barbamon pointedly asked.
Cherubimon glanced back down at himself. When he looked carefully at his face, he could see suspicious and frustrated eyes glaring back at him. It was not a face that he was used to seeing on himself.
"Anger… resentment… paranoia…" Barbamon slowly spoke, gazing right at Cherubimon with his conniving yellow eyes. "Far from the paragon of virtue, what I see in you right now are the very sins that you have accused us of having. You have been cast aside by your friends… You feel scorned. You feel that darkness inside of you, don't you, Cherubimon?"
"No… I do not, Barbamon…" Cherubimon slowly spoke, breathing heavily as he tried to keep his burgeoning feelings of anger under control. "I am calm… I am enlightened… I am one of the Three Great Angels, the curator of God…"
"Oh, that's right… You are incorruptible," Barbamon sarcastically goaded him. "You three are pure of heart, like the whitest, untouched snow. You have never set a foot wrong or have had a bad thought in your entire life. You, Cherubimon, are the epitome of virtue. That is why you are the loyal servant of God…"
Barbamon smirked darkly, and the dark power that he emitted from the Death Lure began to subtly intensify. He reached into his pocket and took out an old coin made of pure gold. He casually flipped the two-sided piece of currency into the air.
"Yet… Virtue and Vice are two sides of the same coin," Barbamon slyly noted, catching the coin in his palm. "You see, Cherubimon… with virtue as lofty as yours, the shining pinnacle that you are… you teeter on the cliff edge over an abyss." The Demon Lord of Greed carefully pocketed the coin and smirked up at the archangel. "Those with the purest hearts are the most corruptible… The reason for that is simple: they are blank slates – an artist's canvass…"
Cherubimon scowled with discomfort and frustration at Barbamon's pointed words. He found that it was taking all of his willpower not to smite him down with holy lightning, right then and there. "What are you talking about?" he irately demanded.
"Yet… you have already been having feelings of vice, haven't you, Cherubimon?" Barbamon accused him with a manipulative smile.
Cherubimon's brows furrowed into angry, rippled creases and his cheek muscles tensed up as he glared at Barbamon.
"Let me tell you the reason that you have come here…" Barbamon methodically spoke, the Death Lure lightly tapping the ground as it released faint, dark energy towards Cherubimon. "The reason you have come here isn't for peace… It isn't to end the war… nor is it to avoid bloodshed."
Barbamon grinned darkly and stared up into Cherubimon's angry eyes, as if staring into the darkest recesses of his heart. "The reason you came here, Cherubimon, is to be proven right," he plainly informed him. "You want to be the one who is right. You want to be the one who is listened to… You want to show Seraphimon and Ophanimon exactly how wrong they were to ignore you… to distrust you… The reason you came here, Cherubimon is for your own ego."
A dark shadow overtook Cherubimon's face as he bowed his head away from the moonlight. He clenched his giant fists tightly as they trembled with barely contained rage. "You are wrong…" he lowly insisted. "That isn't why I came…"
"Yes, it is… I know what Digimon desire, Cherubimon… They always want more than what they have… Whether it is money… adoration… self-satisfaction…" Barbamon spoke slowly, wearing a crooked smile as he watched his manipulations worm their way underneath Cherubimon's skin. He paused for effect as he watched Cherubimon struggle to hold back his emotions. "…Affection… Maybe that's what you want. Ophanimon, perhaps?"
"No…" Cherubimon breathed, his voice now a hollow quiver of emotion.
Barbamon chuckled in a craggy rasp as he plucked and pulled Cherubimon's strings. "You want power over them, Cherubimon. Don't try and deny it. For all of your supposed virtue, at your core, you are no different from us Demon Lords. You try to hide your true feelings from everybody, but you cannot fool the Demon Lord of Greed. You want more - more than the scraps that your so-called friends deign to afford you."
"You're wrong…" Cherubimon insisted, feeling the numbing haze of intense anger beginning to fog over his normally clear mind.
"Am I?" Barbamon wondered, gesturing to the mirror. "Have another look at yourself…"
With an intense scowl on his face, Cherubimon looked back down at the hand mirror, which he pointed at himself.
To his horror, there was another face glaring back at him. A distorted face smiled crookedly back at him. It was his face, but his fur was stained dark purple like the night. Wild, yellow eyes, glowing like twisted half moons, widened as they locked eyes with him. The nightmarish face opened up its smiling mouth to reveal the jagged teeth inside.
"NO!" Cherubimon shouted, his black eyes on his pink face widening with rage and horror.
"Stop hiding, Cherubimon!" Barbamon shouted in a gravelly voice. "There is so much darkness inside of you."
"YOU'RE WRONG!" Cherubimon snarled, pulling his gaze away from the dark face leering at him. With a mighty heave of his arm, he threw the hand mirror violently, smashing it against the ground.
Barbamon watched as the mirror shattered into hundreds of fragments. His eye twitched, but his dark smirk soon returned to his face. "…My… that was quite a violent outburst for an angel who says he wants peace…" he mockingly observed.
Cherubimon panted with widened eyes. The numb feeling of rage that consumed his mind wasn't going away. He didn't know why. He had never felt this angry before.
Inside of him was a flash of fear. He began to feel as if he was becoming unable to control himself. All of the negative emotions that he felt, they were only getting stronger and more intense. He felt like he was being slowly consumed by them, like he was falling in a dream but with nothing to grab hold of. Although his dark emotions were taking him over, he still had flashes of clarity and self-awareness. He knew he had to get out of there before he lost himself.
"This… This was a mistake," Cherubimon unevenly spoke as sweat dripped down his face. "I was a fool to come here… You never seriously considered peace, did you? You just came to toy with me… The… The Demon Lords cannot be trusted…"
"Now, now. It was you who took the initiative – it was you who decided to undermine your friends. They will hate you even more now…" Barbamon taunted him, holding the Death Lure out and pouring dark energy from its tip, not even trying to hide his intentions now.
Cherubimon stared at the Death Lure with wide eyes, watching as it suddenly began to glow with dark energy. It had been so subtle that he hadn't noticed until now. Its power had slithered into him like a snake, augmenting Barbamon's manipulations, coaxing the negative emotions out of his heart. It was with horror that he realised what was going on.
But it was too late.
"Barbamon!" Cherubimon roared with fury, his hand igniting with electricity. A massive, jagged bolt of holy lightning flashed into being in his hand. He reared his arm back and hurled it towards Barbamon in a fit of rage. "Heaven's Judgment!"
As soon as the lightning bolt left his hand, it began to flash crimson. Barbamon casually stepped aside, causing his long hair and clothing to ripple violently as the powerful blast of lightning passed by him.
Cherubimon felt his mind go numb and as the haze of utter fury took over him. His outburst of anger only served to aggravate the process, as his heart went dark and his mind went wild. He looked forwards in a red haze and saw what he thought was Seraphimon standing before him. The sight of his old friend – his rival – his enemy – caused anger to spill out of his heart. Cherubimon arched his back and a mighty roar of pain tore from his throat.
"You see, Cherubimon, I like war. It is a profitable venture. It always has been, if you know the right way to do it…" Barbamon calmly explained. "And I never let a little bit of bloodshed get in the way of a good opportunity…"
"Damn… you…" Cherubimon hissed as the last vestiges of his mind slipped away.
"No, damn you¸ Cherubimon," Barbamon said with a dark, ironic laugh, raising the Death Lure over his head. He continued pouring an intense wave of corruptive miasma from his staff and into Cherubimon. The enthralling and oppressive darkness consumed the archangel, bearing down on him like a heavy shroud. "Oh, I have you now… Do you feel that? Let it consume you… The unadulterated, corruptive magic of the Dark Area itself… It feels good, doesn't it? That seductive power, it's almost as powerful as money. I have swayed many to my side this way… but I never thought I would be able to catch you…"
Cherubimon snarled and growled, falling to his hands and knees. His body writhed and trembled as his light data was slowly corrupted by darkness. It contaminated him, changed him, and altered his very core. Barbamon's manipulations augmented the brainwashing, providing a gateway into an otherwise pure and sanctified heart.
Cherubimon collapsed forwards on his elbows in agony. The darkness had taken hold and he was unable to fight it. The primal rage he felt took over his better judgment and there was no way to shake free of it. The corruption of his data felt as if every single strand of fur had turned into a needle that burrowed inside of him. Saliva dripped out of his mouth, his body writhed and jerked, and his black eyes began to glow an eerie yellow.
Then, his resistance finally stopped. In his noxious haze, he remembered the resentment he felt towards Seraphimon and Ophanimon – the feelings of betrayal. With his heart corrupted beyond salvation, he welcomed it.
The clouds began swirling overhead like the eye of a tornado. Thunderheads began to flicker inside the grey veil.
Cherubimon's fur changed colour, the pure pink and white darkening into a tarnished violet and green. Fangs grew longer in his mouth, and his ears became torn and tattered. His eyes flashed golden, like the first bolt of lightning that erupted in the night sky.
The dark Cherubimon pulled his corrupted body up. His heart black with rage and resentment, he turned his gaze up towards the cloudy heavens.
As he lifted his head, the golden Holy Rings that adorned his ears suddenly cracked and fell off of his ears. The two rings dropped to the ground and fractured when they hit the dirty ground.
As the sky flashed crimson, Cherubimon unleashed a throat-rending cry that split the night sky.
Blood red lightning bolts started piercing through the tempestuous clouds. The crimson bolts fractured the sky and rained down around him in an unholy storm. It was as if heaven itself was weeping blood.
Barbamon watched with dark satisfaction as Cherubimon fully corrupted before his very eyes. He beheld the fallen cherubim, and smugly inspected the beautiful rings that adorned his fingers. "It cost me an antique mirror, but I think it was more than a worthwhile trade…" he mused.
A large, crooked smile formed on his face. "After all, possession is nine-tenths of the law…"
He continued pouring his corrupting magic onto Cherubimon, making sure that he wouldn't be able to fight it and that his body was indeed completely corrupted. He watched as Cherubimon continued roaring at the storming sky.
"Oh, how the mighty have fallen…" Barbamon taunted, tentatively approaching the fallen angel. "Well, you will be useful all the same… I have an important job for you, Cherubimon…"
Cherubimon snarled and looked down at Barbamon, his hands crackling with red lightning but not attacking the Demon Lord.
"You must meet with Lucemon at the Arcane Ruins. You of all people know where they are… He will need you to access what's inside…" Barbamon told him, tapping his staff.
"The Arcane Ruins…" the violet Cherubimon snarled, his monochrome, yellow eyes narrowing bitterly. He remembered something within the black haze of his mind. "Seraphimon…!"
Cherubimon summoned a crimson spear of lightning in his hand and lunged into the raging sky. He stopped in the air, his dark silhouette highlighted against the glowing outlines of the nearly-full moons.
"Yes, Cherubimon. Go…" Barbamon told him with a vile smirk on his conniving face. "Embrace your vice…"
The corrupted Cherubimon – Cherubimon Vice – unleashed a howl of unholy anger.
And, as the crimson bolts of lightning scourged the sky, the heavens flashed a deep red behind him.