Author's Note: With this, "Gardens of Babylon" comes to an end. Most of my readers would hope the Game finished here as well, but it's just not gonna happen. Takato faces his first Demon Lord here. How much has he sacrificed so far? How much more will he lose before the Game truly reaches its conclusion? Maybe, if his friends were willing to carry part of the burden, but...well, this Matsuda Takato would never accept that. Such is his kindness. Such is his pride.
I hope some of you stick around and keep rooting for Takato in this wicked Game of his.
Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon. The very idea is ridiculous. Don't bother me with legal stuff.
GARDENS OF BABYLON
End of the Yellow Rose – Alternate Path
"Thou therefore who desirest Magical Gifts, be sure that thy soul is firm and steadfast; for it is by flattering thy weaknesses that the Weak Ones will gain power over thee. Humble thyself before thy Self, yet fear neither man nor spirit. Fear is failure, and the forerunner of failure; and courage is the beginning of virtue."
—"Liber Librae (Liber XXX)" by Aleister Crowley.
Matsuda Takato ran. Faster than any human could hope to run.
He had dismissed the effect of the Magnamon card. It was a powerful and demanding effect, which he no longer really needed. He could make the distance to the seaside with the High Speed Plug-In.
Besides, he would need all the energy he could muster for what he would have to do. Not that it would make much of a difference, though.
He had about forty-four minutes before the last bomb exploded. If Sakuyamon and SaintGalgomon did not defeat their enemies beforehand, Leviamon would attack them in three-and-a-half minutes.
That meant the optimal response would be to: 1) reach the marina in less than three-and-a-half minutes; and 2) solve the data cocoon mystery on his way there.
"Just another day in the life, hmm?"
No. Not really.
But there was no time for reminiscences or recollections. Maybe if he figured out the cocoon issue in the next two minutes. The first step: to organize the facts.
The origin was that Dark Knight Digimon, ChaosDukemon. He was the one who was surrounded by that cocoon of data upon being defeated. The cocoon itself…was it part of his Code or had Lucemon created it in that moment with his Crest?
Lucemon know more about the workings of Digimon than almost everybody else. More than anybody else he knew; that was for sure. The Digimon he had unleashed that day were probably Digimon Lucemon had created. He found it doubtful MetalGreymon and Zudomon were accurate examples of the Dark Area's fauna. If Lucemon had created them, it meant of course that their presence was necessary for the plan.
Three Digimon: ChaosDukemon, MetalGreymon and Zudomon. Takato put the dark knight aside and focused on the other two.
Defeating the four MetalGreymon had resulted in their data being pulled towards the cocoon. This was obviously a command engrained in their code—an algorithm bound to execute upon the unraveling of the Digimon's physical structure.
"Will the same thing happen when those Zudomon are destroyed?"
"Their data will be automatically collected and pulled towards the cocoon, yes."
Takato nodded. That was graceful of Lucemon, to actually answer that question. So, upon defeat, Zudomon's data will coalesce into a red or gold core…wait.
Lucemon never said that.
He had admitted their data would be pulled towards the cocoon, just like it happened to MetalGreymon's. Does it necessarily have to be in the same way the data of the four Cyborg Digimon did it? Does it have to be in the form of a red or a gold sphere?
So far there are two gold spheres and two red spheres. Would it not make sense for the Zudomon to become two spheres of a completely different color? Would that make more or less sense than adding to the existing colors to make three of each?
Turning back to the Digimon…what do ChaosDukemon, MetalGreymon and Zudomon have in common?
Not their level, nor their Type; ChaosDukemon is a Virus while the other two are Vaccines…
…evolutionary paths? Golemon can evolve both into MetalGreymon and Zudomon, but that does not really tell him anything…
ChaosDukemon was the one enclosed within the cocoon. This could mean that Lucemon intended to use ChaosDukemon's data to create something else. It could also mean that the data from MetalGreymon and Zudomon would be used to modify ChaosDukemon in some way.
Lucemon's Crest of Pride allows him to do anything as long as it already is within the scope of his power and skill. It is little more than a means to save time and effort. The long hours of coding time required to build a Digi-Core could be reduced to mere seconds with the power of Lucemon's Crest. However, Lucemon could not create something out of nothing. In the same way, the Crest of Pride cannot create something truly original, unless Lucemon first takes to time to make it the hard way. That is the reason Guilmon was a combined effort: Lucemon offered his expertise in Digimon-crafting and Takato added the boundless creative power of the Crest of Dreams.
Just like Takato could not have created Guilmon on his own, Lucemon could not have created Guilmon on his own either.
Applying this knowledge to the current situation, Takato knew that whatever would come out of the cocoon would not be a completely new, original Digimon. That would have rendered this challenge completely impossible to solve in a few minutes, after all. Lucemon was a dick, but he would not create absolutely impossible challenges. Thus, whatever will come out of the cocoon will be either an already-existing Digimon, or an original variation on an existing Digimon—most likely ChaosDukemon.
Then, what could Lucemon possibly do with the data of those three Digimon? What could ChaosDukemon gain from MetalGreymon's and Zudomon's data…?
He had returned to the same question he had posed at the beginning: what do those three Digimon have in common?
Takato visualized MetalGreymon's and Zudomon's trading cards, comparing every single detail one more time: Type, Attribute, Level, attack power (according to the game, at least); even the names of their attacks did not escape comparison.
Where is it? Where is it! The answer has to be within my reach!
Well, if Lucemon's tales of the "Chosen Children" are more than his wicked version of a fairy tale, the latter two were partnered to two of them. But, even if he associated "Red" with Courage, "Gold" would be more suitable for "Hope". Reliability was more of a "Blue" Crest…
Takato's eyes opened widely, even as his pupils contracted into small dark spots.
There was a certain…mirth in Lucemon's tone. Could the bastard read his thoughts?
"…if those Zudomon are destroyed…the data will assemble into blue spheres, won't it?"
Lucemon's eyes widened as well, but he seemed more pleased than merely surprised.
"…indeed, it will," the angel admitted before chuckling. "I take it you found your answer."
Lilithmon looked impressed as well. She had absolutely no idea what Lucemon was up to, herself.
Takato's eyes narrowed again, and his fists clenched in both satisfaction at his success and worry at the very nature of the answer he had reached.
Red, Blue and Gold. The colors were important, and the answer was, after all, within his reach.
Had he not paid special attention to MetalGreymons and Zudomon's cards several months ago, when he figured out how to use Digimon Cards on himself?
The one thing those two Digimon have in common, which they also have in common with ChaosDukemon.
The Biggest Dreamer glared at his fearsome opponent, and solved the riddle with only two words.
He paused, and decided it was better to be thorough in his answer.
"Not just Chrome Digizoid; the specific variations on the basic material. Red, Blue and Gold."
Lucemon grinned triumphantly, as if Takato's success were his own. With a flick of a finger, three holographic images appeared in the space between the two players.
A variation of Mugendramon clad in gleaming red armor.
"Chaosdramon. MetalGreymon can evolve into this Digimon."
A fully-cybernetic evolution of MetalGreymon, clad in radiant golden armor.
"ZeekGreymon. MetalGreymon can evolve into this Digimon."
A Digimon god of the sea wearing blue scale mail armor.
"Neptunemon. Zudomon can evolve into this Digimon."
The triumphant smirk became an almost affectionate smile.
"Indeed, my dear Takato. You have, indeed, reached the correct answer."
In the mortal coil, Ryo, Shiuchon and Hirokazu jumped in surprise and quickly put some distance between themselves and the glowing cocoon. The brightness was rapidly increasing, obviously announcing its imminent collapse. Shiuchon glanced down at her partner, who returned the silent question with a nod. Returning the nod herself, Shiuchin placed Lopmon on the ground and reached for her Digivice to help him evolve one more time.
Several kilometers away, Matsuda Takato ran at speeds that defied human perception hoping to reach the marina and Leviamon before the worst happened. In the mean time, he prepared himself for the sacrifice he was about to make.
In the Game Room, the two opponents chatted over tea.
"So, Takato," Lucemon began. "You know what's inside the cocoon. Care to share your thought process?"
The boy shrugged.
"MetalGreymon and Zudomon are not common inhabitants of the Dark Area, so I assumed you built them from scratch for today."
The angel nodded.
"The one thing they have in common with each other and with ChaosDukemon is their Chrome Digizoid equipment. If you had wanted to evolve ChaosDukemon to another form you would not have needed those two Digimon, or this whole ritual-like process," Takato continued. "You specifically needed the data of MetalGreymon and Zudomon to modify ChaosDukemon's data."
Lucemon nodded again.
"Every Digimon carries within its DigiCore the initialization data for all its possible evolutions. That includes the data conversion from Chrome Digizoid to its variations, if applicable. I was incapable of building such data myself, so I had to prepare this program to modify my ChaosDukemon's data."
Takato understood the complete significance of that. Now that Lucemon had accomplished this, he would be able to use his Crest of Pride to create Red, Blue and Gold Chrome Digizoid without the need for such lengthy procedures.
"But you still have not said it, Takato: what exactly is going to come out of that cocoon?"
The boy shrugged and allowed himself a proud smirk.
"First I thought you would somehow combine all three Digizoid types in ChaosDukemon's equipment, but you made such a point of stating that more than one thing could appear that I have to go with that."
"Three different copies of ChaosDukemon, each refitted with Chrome Digizoid equipment of a unique type."
The two opponents raised an eyebrow at Millenniumon stealing Takato's conclusive line.
"…I will admit I have been impressed, Dreamer."
Lilithmon eagerly nodded in agreement. She looked almost like a child when she did that.
"Haaaa..." Lucemon sighed exaggeratedly as he relaxed back on his throne. "And I was really looking forward to your face when they destroyed everything precious to you~"
"Prick," Takato muttered, but there was no real resentment in that word. He had long come to terms with the fact that Lucemon was irredeemably evil.
"Ah well, a deal is a deal. I shall retrieve them and spare your friends for today."
"Thank you very much," Takato gracefully retorted, and he could have sworn Lucemon's cheeks gained a little pink after that.
Katou Juri calmly watched the battle unfolding some distance away. It was obvious that the two Zudomon, empowered by the Crest of Pride, had become more than a minor annoyance to the two Tamers in Ultimate Form. Sakuyamon had been protecting the slower SaintGalgomon for most of the battle, but it appeared that she had decided to trust the Machine Digimon's enhanced defense and switched to the offensive with her superior mobility and Type advantage.
SaintGalgomon was big and slow, and thus had a hard time avoiding Zudomon's attacks. However, they did not seem to hurt him considerably. In the same manner, the Zudomon were just as slow and susceptible to being struck by SaintGalgomon's Burst Shot and Sakuyamon's Izuna. They tried hiding their forms in the ocean, but SaintGalgomon's outrageous artillery would catch them even if they could no longer be seen.
The one watching the battle from the edge of dry land was no longer Katou Juri.
Leviamon hated his existence, and envied those who lived in freedom. Unlike the other Demon Lords—with the exception of Lilithmon—, Leviamon was completely aware of just how tight the leash around his neck was, and to what extent Lucemon had control over their actions and thoughts.
He hated it, hated it, utterly loathed it. He may not be the Avatar of Pride, but even he had pride of his own!
His actions were no longer his own. He would obey Lucemon's command and kill the two Digimon Tamers. He would also destroy the two Zudomon. It was the closest thing to rebellion he could achieve, and his attacks were completely indiscriminate in any case.
He would destroy the Tamers, no matter how much the girl whose body he inhabited pleaded him not to.
His attack would attract the boy, Matsuda Takato. He would then kill the boy and claim his data, and use it to release himself from Lucemon's control before the Avatar of Pride claimed the data for himself.
His eyes, Katou Juri's eyes, narrowed as they located the two airborne figures of the Tamers united with their Digimon partners. They were about three hundred meters away in the open sea.
For the largest Digimon in the Digital World, this was not a problem in the slightest.
And Tokyo trembled.
There was no warning. One moment, she was readying what could have been a decisive attack on the Zudomon. After that, there was only pain.
Ruki groaned in agony the likes of nothing she had ever experienced before. Everything, everything, felt broken, and what did not break with that unexpected and terrifying impact broke when her body struck solid ground.
How did that even happen? Were they not fighting above open water?
Weak as she was, she still had usable eyes. When the blurry haze that filled her mind slowly dissipated, she caught enough of a glimpse to discern the explanation.
Whatever it was that struck her like the hammer of a furious god, it had also split the sea. She was in the middle of a wide tunnel in between two walls of ocean water.
Whatever it was, it was just too powerful. Sakuyamon's evolution had instantly broken apart…
Every single cell in her body complained when Ruki tried to turn her head to face the other side. Her mouth tasted salty soil in the process, but she eventually managed to do so and find her partner. The alarm she should have felt at the sight of the mangled, flickering image of Renamon was not there, most likely subverted by her own agony.
She did not think of Jenrya and Terriermon. Not even once. It was hard enough to think about her own broken state; she did not have the will or the energy to worry about others.
For a moment, she pondered what happened to the Zudomon, but her pain addled mind was still good enough to assure her that whatever did this to her must have utterly obliterated the two Perfects.
She could not move. She could barely think. And even her thoughts were mostly pain, pain, pain!
And pain can quickly become fear.
Fear of such power. Fear of the unknown. Fear of death.
Makino Ruki realized she was terrified.
The sound of rushing water as the walls of "tunnel" hurried to collapse on each other was of little significance to her. It was not like she could do anything about it.
Like a discarded, forgotten doll, Ruki's body was haphazardly dragged by the merciless waters.
Optimistically speaking, Jenrya and his partner were faring much better.
They were still one, SaintGalgomon, but they could tell that would not be the case for much longer. It was only his nature as a walking fortress which prevented them from ending up like Ruki and Renamon.
As the giant Machine Digimon struggled against the turbulent waters, Jenrya tried to make any sense of the situation.
What was going on? What was that attack? Completely invisible, completely unexpected…then again, they probably would not have been able to do anything even if they had seen it coming. He had seen the twin Zudomon shattering like glass figurines, caught as unprepared as the Tamers were…
There was a figure. An unbelievable figure, but Lee Jenrya could not deny his eyes.
Katou Juri was there, floating calmly and seemingly unperturbed by the raging currents his massive form was struggling against. Then, just as calmly, she raised her right hand and made a dismissing gesture, not unlike shooing a fly away.
The impact was not direct like the first one, but it still felt like being rammed by a nuclear submarine.
It was not SaintGalgomon, but the separate figures of Lee Jenrya and Terriermon which were blasted out of the water and into the wide sky.
"Je—Jen!" Terriermon croaked out, urging his partner to do something, anything! Their flight was long, so they had time, but that only meant the final impact would be all the worse.
Hoping against all hope that the card would still work even if soaked wet, Jenrya fought against the pain to slash what could be his salvation.
No relief filled his body when the familiar light of evolution shone behind him. He was in too much pain for that, and he would rather close his eyes and take a little break…
Gargomon caught his Tamer and protected him from the brunt of the impact with his own body.
"Guh—aaaaaaaHH!" the big beast Digimon howled in pain as his body struck solid ground and roughly slid across the concrete, coming to a halt only upon impact with a large metal container.
He was about to check on Jenrya when a hideous crunching sound reached his large ears, followed by a second, somewhat more sedate impact sound. His eyes immediately looked for the source, and he found himself regretting it just as quickly.
Something that once was Makino Ruki.
It could no longer be Makino Ruki. It was only a broken, mangled, lifeless sack of flesh and bones.
Of Renamon, only her head remained, releasing diminutive trails of data dust as it lost its coherent form just like the rest of her body.
Her eyes found Gargomon's, and the Adult Digimon could not help but think that he had never seen so much emotion in her eyes as he was witnessing in her death. But, after all, the misery and agony in her eyes had nothing to do with her own demise.
Her lips moved, but no sound would come out of them.
Gargomon saw Renamon's lips tremble one last time, and then the world shook again.
An invisible force fell upon Ruki and Renamon, instantly reducing the Digimon's head to scattered bits and mashing the grotesque corpse on the concrete floor of the docks as if to spread the gore and paint the concrete red.
"Un-ugh…" the utterances of a boy who had shortly slipped into unconsciousness and was roused awake by the tremor.
Gargomon instinctively covered his Tamer's head with his arms. Jenrya did not need to see this: neither the bloody display on the floor, nor his trembling form overwhelmed by terror.
Gargomon was terrified. Scared witless by this invisible and overwhelming power. Rendered mute by his powerlessness, and by the realization that he and Jenrya would soon share Ruki's and Renamon's fate.
And, to make things worse, they would never know why their lives were destroyed so offhandedly.
"Tch. She didn't get the Lee boy," Lucemon complained as he picked Ruki's and Renamon's pieces off the board. "Oh well, at least I got Renamon."
The fallen angel dangled the two black pieces between the tips of his fingers, clearly provoking his opponent with a distasteful smirk.
Takato…was silent. Unsettlingly silent. He quietly stared at the pieces in Lucemon's hand, while his tortured mind bore with the weight of Ruki's and Renamon's deaths.
"And look at the bright side!" Lucemon continued. "Renamon was asking too many questions. She could have even set your other pieces against you."
That night, they camped in the ruins of a village.
What Digimon used to lived there, they did not know.
What dire fate befell them…well, that was not so hard to tell.
Takato did not bother looking aside when Renamon gracefully landed on the stone roof he was sitting on. His hands moved without conscious input, gently stroking the sleeping Culumon.
"I shall take over guarding duty now," the fox-like Digimon announced.
"…I…am not tired. Go back to sleep, Renamon."
"I respectfully decline."
Instead of forcing Takato to go to sleep, however, Renamon only sat beside him and fixated her gaze on the obscure distance, probably looking for any suspicious figure or any other hint of a threat.
They stayed like that for some time, and it surprised Takato to suddenly find himself the target of a question.
"Can you tell me…about my Tamer, Takato?"
Her eyes shifted to the side only for a moment, to register the look of fondness on Takato's face. She allowed the boy to speak and share his memories of the girl she called her Tamer. He spoke of what she had done in the Digimon's absence: of how much she hated school, of her occasional (failed) attempts at beating Ryo in the Digimon Card Game, of her occasional (failed as well) attempts to make Takato a decent card game player, of her improved relationship with her family, of Juri's efforts to bring out more of Ruki's feminine side, and even of the three (so far) love confessions she has rejected.
He spoke with little pause for almost an hour, and Renamon listened. She never interrupted; she never asked questions. It was not in her to do so. She only listened, and felt grateful. She did not know yet if her Tamer was happy in her absence, but Takato's words reminded her of Ruki's virtue of strength, the one which drew Renamon to her in the first place.
Takato's words reminded her of how important Ruki was to her, and how grateful she was for the chance to see her again.
Only when Takato's silence grew beyond the usual pauses so far did Renamon allow herself to open her mouth.
"Are you and Ruki friends?"
Takato chuckled lightly.
"I certainly hope so."
The smile which had permeated his face for the last hour did not fade in the slightest.
"We…get along. To me, she is an important and precious friend, and I like to think she could call me 'friend' as well. Ruki…she always keeps a distance, you know."
Yes, she knew, but did not voice her answer.
"But, Ruki's a great person. And I…I guess I just can't leave her alone."
More silence. Once again, Renamon cursed his ignorance of the nuances of human emotion, which stopped her from making any sense of that answer.
It happened more often than anyone would think.
They were not looking at each other; they were on guard duty, after all.
"I…I want to apologize," Takato nervously spoke. "I came here to find you all and take you back, but now I've gotten you all involved in this war and—"
"It matters not," the vulpine Digimon quickly dismissed the boy's preoccupation. "Even if we wish to return to our Tamers, this is still our world, and we wish to protect it. Even without you, we would have stood against Reichmon."
"Ah…oh-okay…" Takato still seemed hesitant. "But, today, I made you Matrix Evolve with me. I-I know how loyal you are to Ruki, so…"
"The circumstances demanded it."
"But I'm not your Tamer."
Renamon frowned at this.
The sudden use of his full name pulled Takato's face to the side, where he met the Digimon's narrow-eyed stare.
"I said it a moment ago. Even without you, we would have opposed Reichmon. However, without you, we would have died opposing him."
"We have a bond with our human partners, and we depend on them to evolve. I do not know how Impmon manages to reach the Ultimate level on his own, though I presume it is related to the nature of his Ultimate evolution."
Takato had to remind himself not to nod at that.
"You give us power. The power to fight."
"You give us hope. The hope to return to our Tamers."
"Our gratitude to you is already beyond measure, just because you are here. Because you came here for us. And because you chose to fight here instead of leaving this world to its fate."
"Thank you, Matsuda Takato."
Takato's lips trembled, and he quickly looked down, too embarrassed to allow Renamon to see his quivering lips and his watery eyes.
"Ah, I…Re-Renamon, I…" He found himself blushing deeply, though it could not be clearly seen in the dark. "I don't know what to say…"
"Then say nothing. Just lead us. To battle, and to home."
Renamon turned her gaze back to the distance cloaked in countless shadows. The dark sky gained ominous streaks of purple, red and gold as they approached the very center of Reichmon's territory.
"We will either die together or return to your world together. I would never be able to look at Ruki in the face if I made it back without you."
He needed to get Renamon back. Somehow.
Renamon was a precious, valuable piece.
He needed Renamon.
Ruki needed Renamon.
A strange word echoed deeply in Takato's mind.
The boy's eyes widened.
"I…can bring her back," he concluded, and Lucemon immediately frowned.
"Don't be stupid, boy. You're not skilled enough to build a Digimon from scratch on your own. I helped you with the red bread-muncher, but I have absolutely no reason to give you back the vixen—"
"Shut your mouth, you rotten angel."
The sheer rage on Lucemon's face would have sent any denizen of the Dark Area scrambling for cover, and a Demon Lord would pity the fool who earned their leader's wrath.
But this time Takato did not flinch or surrender before the waves of anger and killing intent Lucemon radiated. Instead, he urged his Crest to shine brighter behind him, as if acting as a ward against the onslaught of hate. In response, Lucemon's Crest of Pride also shone brighter, and the two emblems of power clashed in the small Game Room. The teacups on the table shuddered by the tremors of conflict, and the small stained glass works rattled around the room's occupants.
"Takato," Lucemon growled. The almost-affectionate tone with which the angel always intoned his opponent's name was completely gone. "How many times do I have to teach you your posi—?"
"I told you to shut up, Lucemon."
The Crest of Pride trembled and actually lost intensity after those words, as if reflecting Lucemon's stunned silence. It did not last long, however, and Lucemon's golden pupils glowed with ebullient rage.
"Shut up and listen for once, Lucemon!"
The Crest of Pride broke apart like a spider web blown away by a hurricane, and Lucemon himself was pushed against the back of his throne by a force he could not see or understand.
Then the unthinkable happened.
He opened his mouth, but no sound would come out.
There was an obvious tinge of amusement in the Wicked God's murmuring. Lilithmon was too awestruck to be amused.
The five concentric circles that made the emblem of the Crest of Dreams had grown twice their original size behind Takato's seat; a banner of the greatest Crest's undeniable supremacy and its bond to the one it had offered itself to.
Lucemon, rendered mute by a power more transcendental than his, could only listen in voiceless horror. He was painfully reminded of his original imprisonment; the first time something had been taken from him. The first time his immeasurable pride had been stepped upon.
It was an uncomfortable feeling, which he never imagined Takato would be able to instill in him.
"You have no idea how close I am to going to the Dark Area and crushing you with my bare hands, Lucemon."
"You know I can do it! With that accursed power you want me to show you so badly!"
Takato snorted, and then eased his posture on the tall seat.
"But that would be reckless, and stupid. I wish to live in a world in which you are not bothering me."
Something flickered in Lucemon's eyes in response to those words, but it slipped past Takato's attention and then only a guarded, hateful glare could be seen.
"So I will content myself with taking one of your pieces for good."
Takato glared coldly at the Leviamon piece on the chess board.
"You…said I need to step up my game if I want to live."
Clenching his fist as he reached a life-changing decision, he faced Lucemon with the tempered determination of a man who is ready to put his life on the line.
"…I think you're not really aware of what that entails."
Takato's mad dash ended less than a hundred meters away from the water's edge. While his sight was obscured by containers and the walls of a line of warehouses, he was already close enough. And he already knew it was too late. He had seen two blue spheres of data streaking the sky over his head in the direction of Shinjuku, and he had felt the earthquake unleashed by Leviamon's unmatched physical power.
After clenching his fists in pain and regret, he reached for his deck to find that card.
I never…wished for things to be like this.
Even after he had made his choice, even if he was aware there was no other way, even as his steps pulled him forward to Leviamon, he hesitated.
He chuckled bitterly at his reluctance to scan this card.
I guess…I'm still human after all.
To feel sadness, regret and anger at Ruki's and Renamon's deaths, that was the clearest sign that Lucemon's Game had not yet stripped him of his humanity.
However, that was the core of the problem.
A human did not have the power to defeat Lucemon.
The Game would reach the next stage now. To fight, and defeat the Demon Lords. So this was for the best.
He needed the power to defeat the Demon Lords by himself. This was something he would not, could not, rely on the Tamers for. This was as much his kindness as it was his pride.
He just wished he had been able to delay this fight until he had finished his little side project.
"Galgomon, I can't see," Jenrya complained weakly, and his partner made sure things stayed like that.
"It's okay, Jen…" Nothing but empty words. Maybe Galgomon did not want Jenrya's last emotion to be panic, but keeping him in the dark was not helping. "I'll try to…huh?"
Feeling the larger Digimon's grip on him weaken all of a sudden, Jenrya seized the chance to push his head over Galgomon's arms to catch a glimpse of the world around him. Of course, he noticed the indescribable smear of red and gore on the concrete some ten meters in front of him. His brain was still processing the terrifying possibility of where it could have come from when he noticed the boy calmly stepping into the scene of despair.
Several hundred meters in the open sea, Leviamon's body jerked inhumanly, as the visage of Matsuda Takato gave Katou Juri strength to resist Leviamon's urge to turn him into a second smear right away.
Naturally, Takato eyes fell on what once had been Makino Ruki.
"Ruki…" He smiled tenderly and sadly. "It matters not. I'll Dream the Eighth after I'm done here."
Even if Matsuda Takato disappeared, he would not allow Makino Ruki to follow him. More than anything, he wanted her to live and be happy.
His eyes looked at the distance, where he felt the other former Tamer fighting a battle of wills she could not possibly win.
"Katou-san…" A bitter chuckle. "I'm sorry, but I probably won't be calling your name, ever."
The salty breeze from the sea played with his messy hair, creating a fake image of peace and calmness.
"Still, I'll bring you back. I'll save you. And…"
He shook his head. Better not to get ahead of himself.
His tender smiling face fell on the other Tamer, a boy he admired for his intellect, his tolerance and his kindness.
"…Jenrya," he called with a voice full of love. It was as if his emotions were bursting like novas before fading into oblivion. "It's okay now. I…I will fight now."
Jenrya and Galgomon could feel it; in Takato's voice, in Takato's stance, and in that unsettling expression on peaceful resignation on his face. They were less than ten meters away, but that boy who had fought by their side suddenly felt so far away…
It was just like Jenrya had always feared. It was not he who distanced himself from the Tamers by going to a different school. It was Takato who walked a road nobody else could follow.
"Takato…" the boy repeated his call, this time reflecting the sadness of one who knows he's about to lose something precious.
The Dreamer's eyes fell on the large blood stain by his feet. After staring at the remains of Makino Ruki for about two seconds, he looked at Jenrya once more. For the last time.
"I didn't…I never wished for you to get involved in this."
Had it been entirely up to him, there would have been no other Digimon Tamers besides him. But he had no other choice at that time. With the number of wild Digimon increasing beyond those Lucemon would send and the threat of Zhuqiaomon looming in the near future, Takato knew he could not do everything himself. He could not fight all battles on his own. And, admittedly, he had secretly wished to experience the joy of having a friend fighting by his side, just like he had followed that precious person.
"Can you do me a favor, Jen? Galgomon? Could you say something to Ruki for me, next time you see her?"
Galgomon made a strange face at that.
"But, Takato, Ruki is…"
"Tell her…just tell her…" Takato continued, mindless of what Galgomon had to say. "…'I'm sorry'."
"I'm sorry I touched your heart."
"I'm sorry I destroyed your peaceful days."
"I'm sorry I could not protect you."
"Takato…!" Jenrya gasped out, futilely trying to free himself from his partner's grasp to reach his distant friend.
Takato's tears…somehow, Takato's crying face struck him in a way only the departure of his Digimon partner struck him ever before.
"I'm sorry…I intruded in your lives, 'Digimon Tamers'."
The Biggest Dreamer scanned the Lucemon card through his D-Arc, and the Tokyo marina was flooded by light and raging gales.
He stood outside the Game Room, in the midst of the vast "Gardens of Babylon". This was because, for this short moment, his soul was an untouchable fortress.
For this short moment, the Game Room did not exist.
"I see…" Takato muttered sadly, his hands reaching for a rapidly shriveling pink rose. "So this is really my soul…"
Brown leaves and dead petals were swept away by a chilling breeze. All around him, he could see the flowers, the fragments of his soul, the pieces of Matsuda Takato, rapidly falling apart. The Gardens had been in decadence for years already, ever since he first stepped in their once immaculate roads. He had just vastly accelerated the process.
It was the Degradation of his soul, the natural consequence of all the unnatural things he had done ever since he discovered the power within him.
"It's okay…" he said to himself. "Soon, the Degradation will not be an issue anymore."
There was a flicker of gold.
His chest tickled at that beloved voice, and he cursed his weak mind for torturing him so.
Of course, this was but a projection. An image built on his precious memories of the one he had called partner.
"Takato…" the large Reptile Digimon purred as he rubbed his snout against the boy's chest. Takato did not hesitate to return his partner's affection and placed his arms around Guilmon's neck, pushing him closer.
It was a faint voice, coming from far away. Takato found her in the distance, vaguely distinguishable, standing near the horizon, her long ponytail dancing madly in the breeze. Even from so far away, he could see her hands planted on her hips. She stood as proud and strong as he remembered her.
Even from so far away, he could feel her smile.
"I think it's the first time you call me by my name, onee-chan," he said as he chuckled.
He turned his attention briefly to Guilmon, finding bliss in the Digimon's enjoyment of his tender ministrations.
"I…I guess in the end, I've done nothing but disappoint you two."
Takato shook his head, ignoring his rapidly watering eyes.
"I'm not the strong person you believed I was, onee-chan, Guilmon. I was…not able to live the way you wanted me to."
His eyes sought that precious person in the distance.
"But I have to do this. To defeat Lucemon, once and for all."
Guilmon looked up at his Tamer's teary eyes when he felt Takato's tender touch replaced by a desperate grip.
"It has to be me! There will not be another player!"
His head fell on the nape of Guilmon's neck.
What was he expecting? He did not know.
But he trembled when a hand fell on his hair, stroking it gently.
Takato sobbed in Guilmon's neck. Her voice…he still remembered her voice.
Everything about her, he…!
"Um! It's okay," the Digimon echoed the girl, allowing his Tamer to cry on his hard skin. "I believe in Takato, so it's okay!"
"Aah," the girl with the beloved voice spoke over him. "Live your life however you want to, Takato. Just live it with pride."
He snorted at the joke probably only he and she understood.
"Our pride. Not his."
"Umu!" the girl assented passionately.
He wanted to laugh. He knew they were just fakes. They appeared because his soul called out to them, and their words were merely the words he wanted to hear. Still, he abandoned himself to this final delusion.
He was, after all, only human.
Takato hugged his partner desperately, and allowed the girl behind him to wrap him in her warmth.
"I'm sorry, Guilmon…I loved you, but I still used you…"
"It's okay," the Digimon repeated. "I believe in you. I was happy to be together with you."
"I'm sorry, onee-chan…I loved you, but I couldn't save you…"
"It's okay," the girl whispered, tenderly, lovingly. It was a tone he had only heard in her last moments. "I was happy to live the life I lived. Even if only you can remember me…that is enough."
Takato sniffed, trying his best not to look any more pathetic than he did already.
"I…I loved you, you know. Before Katou-san, you were my first…"
The girl chuckled merrily.
"…stupid shrimp. You were born too late."
"You were born too early, onee-chan."
There was a pause, as Takato realized there was nothing more to be said.
"I have to go."
"Um!" Guilmon nodded happily. "Do your best, Takato!"
"No biggie!" the older girl added. "Beat the monster, save the girl, fix the doll. You can do that."
Takato made a strange face at the choice of words, but said nothing before pulling away from the two figments of his imagination. Their shapes weakened and became faded as he allowed the power to course his body. The Lucemon data in the card was integrated with his own, finding matching sections of his own personal code and rewriting them.
Matsuda Takato was not Lucemon. However, his personal code was as close to Lucemon's as it could be without it actually being Lucemon's.
It was the other way around, wasn't it?
"Bye-bye," he said, allowing himself one last smile. The two figures returned it eagerly before becoming nothingness, and then the Gardens, too, were flooded with light.
Small flakes of glowing data bits floated around the clearing in the park; fragments of the shattered cocoon. It made for a beautiful sight, but the Tamers only had eyes for what had been revealed. First that earthquake, and now this.
"Oh…this….this is not good…" Hirokazu muttered, and the others had to bitterly agree.
Three of them.
There were three of them now.
Justimon wondered just how they would get out of this one.
"Damn it, Terriermon was right: where the hell's that Impmon when you need him?" Guardromon's partner loudly insisted. Ryo thought it was rather annoying.
Antiramon's eyes were fixated on the three almost-identical figures, which allowed Shiuchon to scan them with her Analyzer.
"ChaosDukemon Red. A Dark Knight Digimon at the Ultimate Level. Virus Type. A ChaosDukemon that has been optimized for defense with a new armor of Red Chrome Digizoid."
"ChaosDukemon Blue. Dark Knight Digimon, Ultimate Level, Virus Type. A ChaosDukemon that has been optimized for speed with a new armor of Blue Chrome Digizoid."
"ChaosDukemon Gold. Dark Knight Digimon, Ultimate Level, Virus Type. A ChaosDukemon optimized for offensive power with a new armor of Gold Chrome Digizoid."
"They all have the same special attacks: Demon's Disaster and Judecca Prison."
Where once only black had been seen, highlights of their respective namesake colors covered parts of their entire armors, in addition to the parts which had been blue in the original ChaosDukemon. The sides of their breastplates, the pommel of their lances and the outer circumference of their shields had been re-colored in this way. Furthermore, the Zero Unit which adorned Dukemon's Aegis had been replaced by the bleak and ominous radiance of the Crest of Pride.
Ryo was still pondering their next course of action when the ground under the three ChaosDukemon's feet wavered and distorted in a familiar way.
"It's a Gate," Ryo answered Shiuchon's incomplete question, but otherwise mutely watched as the three ChaosDukemon sunk into the ground as they were pulled into the foggy, murky depths.
It was a strange Gate; normally they would be able to see more on the other side besides fog and darkness. It was somewhat disturbing.
"Phew!" Hirokazu sighed as he slumped on the grass. "Well, that was convenient."
Of all people, it was Guardromon who said those words. MarinAngemon, who rested on the bulky robot's head, apparently chirped in agreement.
While Shiuchon seemed to be confused by the statement, Ryo could only agree. For that kind of threat to show up just to depart without doing a thing was not normal. This whole situation had never been normal. Something, or someone, was obviously behind this unusual script.
His thoughts traveled to Ruki and Jenrya. He had a really bad feeling about this, and his worry for the missing Tamers was increasing rapidly.
And then the eastern horizon shone with a radiant gold that filled the sky.
It was something Shiuchon, Hirokazu and their partners had seen once before, but the magnitude this time could not begin to be compared. The city, already mostly paralyzed by the latest Digimon crisis, reached absolute stillness as every single person with a means to watch the sky was almost blinded by the radiance.
"Ryo!" Hirokazu exclaimed, eager to move but not willing to do so on his own.
"Nii-san…" the small girl muttered achingly, suddenly fearing for her sibling's fate.
The Legendary Tamer nodded to himself. There was nothing else for them in the park.
The Game Room was once more. The seats were once more, the board was once more, and the two opponents faced each other once more.
Lucemon was aware he had recovered his voice, but he still took his time to admire the cocoon of light with now surrounded Takato and concealed his transformation.
Chuckling to himself, having quickly recovered from the blow to his ego dealt by the Crest of Dreams, the fallen angel nodded in approval of Takato's sacrifice.
Finally, the Alternate Path was fully revealed. The Game, and Matsuda Takato, would never be the same again.
"Since you won't, I might as well say it, my dear Takato," the amused angel teasingly retorted, ignoring Lilithmon curious glances.
He chuckled again.
"Lucemon, evolve to…"
The light enveloped the world receded into a sphere of golden data fragments roughly the size of an adult human. Jenrya hopelessly called out his friend's name, but Matsuda Takato did not exist any longer.
A distance away, Leviamon hissed in frustration and a tinge of fear. It was that power again! He should have struck before the boy unleashed that power!
On a positive note, the girl's resistance had ceased, seemingly muted by the same power that disturbed the Demon Lord. What was she expecting, anyway? She knew the boy had this power, did she really expect him not to fight?
And so it began.
"Rostrum!" Leviamon announced his intent to kill.
The source is Thelema. The language is Hebrew. The schema is Gematria.
By calling the name Eheieh—"I am"—, he summoned an ideal territory of peace. Within this boundary, no harm would be permitted.
A titanic force like a giant maw fell upon the docks, clashing against the all-directional barrier of white light which had been conjured. A shockwave raged across the length of the marina as the force of the massive attack was diverted from its original target. Jenrya screamed and Galgomon held him as strongly as he could without breaking him as the barrier, ample enough to protect them as well, held the fury of a Demon Lord. All around them, however, cargo containers were flung away like pebbles, and the sea raged as it was buffeted by furious gales.
As the pandemonium stopped, the sphere of light broke apart, revealing the impossible existence within.
A Digimon not of the Digital World. Like Guilmon, it was a Digimon as original as a Digimon could be.
Jenrya had seen the card. It had been released in the first Booster collection following the whole D-Reaper ordeal. He still remembered Takato's strange reaction when it popped in the first pack he bought, on the very same day it had been released.
However, this creature was not Lucemon.
For starters, it still carried the base appearance of Matsuda Takato. Had he not known otherwise, Jenrya would have believed his good friend was suddenly into cosplay.
But it still looked like Lucemon.
Takato's hair had changed to a light blond, just like Lucemon's.
His pupils had changed to a cerulean blue, just like Lucemon's.
He was wearing a toga, just like Lucemon's.
Odd markings covered his bare skin, just like Lucemon's.
Twelve feathered wings swayed gently behind him, just like Lucemon's.
But that was where the similarities ended, and the stark differences began.
As stated before, this was no child. This was a boy in the onset of puberty, like Matsuda Takato.
His blue pupils were circled by rings of gold, separating them from the white sclera.
His toga was not a pristine white, but that of pigment indigo; one of the oldest dyes used as far back as the ancient Egyptian and Akkadian civilizations.
Instead of the Digital Hazard, there was an odd emblem on his left hand: two arrowheads pointing in opposite directions, the point where they met covered by a five-leaved clover. It was the so-called Unicursal Hexagram.
The tattoo-like markings on his body were also different, and they reminded Jenrya of characters of Middle-Eastern languages.
And the wings, they were not fully white. There was a faint golden hue to them, as if dust of the precious metal had been sprinkled on them.
This was no Lucemon. But this was no Matsuda Takato, either.
Galgomon had been staring at the new entity as well, and Jenrya naturally turned his gaze to his Digivice (did it still work after all the sea water?).
"…figures," the boy muttered with a hint of dark humor.
It was loud enough to catch the angel-being's attention.
"Umm, Jen…?" Galgomon's subtle inquiry as to their next action.
Jenrya returned the angel's stare, trying his very best not to show fear or nervousness. It did not seem to matter in the end; the stare of the thing-that-was-not-his-friend showed no emotion or even interest in Jenrya's expression.
It was Matsuda Takato's voice. Flat and inexpressive, but undeniably his.
"I cannot protect you from now on."
His blue eyes glanced at the device in Jenrya's hand for a moment, before looking away and walking to the very edge of the ocean. Galgomon followed him with his eyes, but Jenrya's eyes were on the new image displayed by his D-Arc's projection.
Lucemon Magus Mode
Type: Demon Man
Jenrya frowned and winced at the last lines. He could not make any sense of the katakana. It was probably not supposed to mean English words.
In the open sea, Leviamon evaluated his next attack. If the boy would always retaliate with that barrier, it would be become a battle of attrition Leviamon was confident he would win, but…was there not a quicker way?
Lilithmon finally understood the expression "like a fish out of water".
There was no other way to explain how she felt—or how she looked—at the moment.
Millenniumon was much better at concealing his surprise, though.
The original Digimon, seated on Takato's red, black and gold chair, eased confidently on its back and faced the Digimon across the table with a bored expression.
The Avatar of Pride chuckled merrily, making up for the other's lack of expression with a radiant, triumphant smile.
"…Lucemon," he replied.
"You look happy."
"Oh, I am," Lucemon answered. "My Takato sure knows how to please me."
"…is that so," Lucemon uttered matter-of-factly before looking down at the board. Seven pieces were moving towards him and Leviamon: three Tamers and four Digimon.
He doubted he could defeat Leviamon before they arrived. He also doubted he could protect them all if they stepped into Leviamon's insane attack range. Furthermore, he also doubted he could stop them with The Black Covenant at this point—their worry over Ruki and Jenrya would defeat whatever qualms they had against going to the sea.
The choice was obvious, then.
He had to push Leviamon further away from shore. Upon finding Jenrya, they probably would not move any further.
"Very well. I shall put an end to Leviamon now."
"Confident, are we?"
Lucemon said no more.
Neither of the two.
It was time to fight.
"The source is Thelema. The language is English. The schema is Gematria."
Lucemon's quiet and calm tone did not match the intrinsic tension of the moment as he explained the magical procedure he was about to follow.
In English Gematria, the word "Blutgang" equals 504. That was the number of copies of Dukemon Crimson Mode's holy sword which instantly appeared around Lucemon, held in the air by an unknown force. He ignored Jenrya's gasping behind him.
To this point Matsuda Takato had always manually wielded the weapons he had Dreamed. That did not mean he could not launch them from the empty air the way Lucemon had just done so. He simply did not do it because it was unnatural for swords to float in the air and the fly like arrows at supersonic speed. It was an unnecessary source of Degradation.
However, to Lucemon Magus Mode, only the objective exists. To hold back is anathema to him, and things like Degradation will not stop him from doing what he believes must be done. While the actual transformation causes a considerable amount of Degradation itself, it is this lack of care for Takato's well-being that makes Magus Mode particularly dangerous to use.
Hurricane-like winds buffeted the docks when an invisible force swatted away the supersonic blades like mosquitoes, every single one of them. The Demon Man's blue eyes narrowed.
It had been invisible once. Not any longer.
Like a mirage, he could see the outline of the massive threat around the distant figure of Katou Juri. They extended upwards into the vast sky, and yet Lucemon knew those were just the tips of Leviamon's tails.
With its impossible size, was there really a limit to Leviamon's range of attack?
There did not seem to be a limit to its voice, in any case.
World-shattering force met barrier once more. Lucemon not only noticed the attack was weaker this time; it also appeared to be focused entirely on him—the crushing force did not reach Jenrya's and Galgomon's position, and Lucemon had been able to adjust the barrier accordingly.
Rostrum was simply a bite with its huge and powerful maw. Cauda was a whipping attack with its gigantic tails. No matter how large Leviamon was, its tails were definitely narrower and longer than its head. Thus, Cauda sacrificed destructive power for precision (as much as Leviamon could achieve) and range.
While Lucemon made this analysis, Leviamon in the guise of Katou Juri smiled pleasantly.
"What a beautiful and powerful barrier," it said melodiously. "It makes me jealous."
In response to those simple yet meaningful words, blue traces of light began to assemble around and under its feet, drawing the spirit seal of Ophiel surrounded by two concentric circles.
LEVEL: 666 SYSTEM: LEVIATHAN CODE: ENVY
CAUTION! PURGATORY LEVEL 2
Lucemon noticed his barrier ceasing to exist the very moment it happened.
Any more he wanted to say was interrupted by the ephemeral yet very real tail falling upon him like the giant whip of God.
"Hmm-hmm-hmm~" Leviamon hummed playfully, and then raised an eyebrow when a new set of 504 Blutgang fakes appeared in the sky above its head, all of them pointing downwards and aiming to skewer it mercilessly.
"Oh, but they're so pretty and shiny. They make me jealous as well!"
And all 504 swords disappeared like they had never been there in the first place.
Back on shore, Lucemon shuddered as the pressure of Leviamon's tail disappeared and he was allowed to stand once more.
"A single hit…this…this…" the angel-like Digimon muttered while looking at the broken concrete all around him. Had it not been for his barriers, this whole chunk of dock would probably be underwater by now.
"This is…his weakest attack?"
No barrier came into being, and Lucemon was struck on his right side with titanic force. The Adult Digimon was effortlessly flung into the sky like a golf ball, and the air exploded into a sonic boom that threatened to send Galgomon and Jenrya flying away.
"Gu-guh!" Lucemon grunted at about the half-kilometer mark of his impromptu flight. This was the same attack which had utterly crushed Matsuda Takato's body. Lucemon was not nearly as affected, but he could not deny the fact it hurt. A lot.
Furthermore, he needed confirmation.
And Lucemon understood the nature of Leviamon's Crest of Envy.
"At its core, Envy is not about wishing for the possessions of others," Lucemon Magus Mode calmly concluded on his seat at the Game Room. "The core of Envy is wishing for others to lose the things they have."
"Perfect blockade of access to data. That is the power of Leviamon's Crest of Envy."
Lucemon nodded while smiling with pride.
"Indeed. It is a perfect, unblockable effect, limited only by Leviamon's own power. It can block even the other Crests' powers, except for the Crests of Pride and Dreams."
The blue-clad Lucemon nodded. Leviamon had blocked not his Crest of Dreams, but the sword Blutgang. In other words, the Crest of Envy could only lock specific uses of the Crests of Pride and Dreams, not the Crests' powers altogether.
"You do realize what this means, do you not?" the angelic child taunted with his infuriatingly smug smirk. Magus Mode ignored the obvious threat, but still nodded.
No matter what kind of attack or defense he used, he would only be able to use it once.
Lucemon analyzed the situation. Probably only one of his two special attacks would be of use against Leviamon. The other would be locked before it could do any significant harm to the Demon Lord. But, if he only had one chance to use his technique, then…
"This…will not be easy."
Not that it had expected it to be.
The ruler of the Dark Area giggled childishly, obviously amused by Lucemon's current ordeal.
"Make every move count, Lucemon~"
The first step was ensuring he could take the fight to Leviamon. He obviously had a terrible disadvantage if he stayed at a distance.
The source is Thelema. The language is Hebrew. The schema is Gematria. The word of the Lord ("Adonai") becomes a source of personal power that rejects evil.
I am my own God, and thus the power of God is mine.
Lucemon hoped Leviamon would not notice and lock this spell, as its effect—physical enhancement and extra damage against Demon-type Digimon—was not outwardly obvious.
"Apply 'duplication' to further Gematria calculations."
Extending his wings to their maximum surface area, Lucemon put his unwanted flight to a halt.
Applying English Gematria to that word leads to the number 426, which duplicated results in 852.
However, the hundreds of duplicates of Dinohumon's sword were effortlessly swatted out of existence by Leviamon's quasi-invisible tails.
"Maximize hardness and density of resulting materials."
There was a booming sound like thunder when the terrible force met the shield reinforced to the max. WarGreymon's shield shattered, but Lucemon was allowed to continue his advance. More than anything, he needed to reach Leviamon! For that, a decisive attack capable of restraining such a powerful enemy…!
Two words, adding to 894. Multiplied by two means 1788 blades unleashed thermo-dynamical oblivion upon the space around Leviamon.
The Avatar of Envy should not be allowed to squeak so cutely.
Lucemon landed cautiously on the colossus of ice his attack had just created. All water and air in the vicinity of Katou Juri's body had been amalgamated into a gigantic iceberg, but the Demon Man strongly doubted this could defeat the Demon Lord.
"Silly Takato-kun~" Juri sing-song voice spoke from some indiscernible direction. "You can't imprison my great self with just this~"
Juri's left hand shot to catch Lucemon's left elbow before it could smash her right side.
Even with his physical enhancements—Strength and Offense Plug-Ins plus his Adni spell—, Leviamon was still clearly stronger than him.
"You're faster than me," Leviamon stated, looking clearly surprised. Lucemon raised an eyebrow. "That makes me kind of jealous."
Lucemon suddenly felt the boost given by the High Speed Plug-In card being sealed away.
Leviamon giggled at the smack-dab expression on the so-far stoic Adult's face.
"Silly Takato-kun, I already know your tricks~"
The grip on his left shoulder suddenly became an inescapable prison. Leviamon did not intend to let go.
"Now I'm gonna kill you~"
Lucemon barely managed to duck, and Juri's right elbow only caressed the tips of the hairs on the crown of his head.
In spite of his controlled demeanor, nobody ever said Lucemon Magus Mode was incapable of feeling fear. That was exactly what he felt when he witnessed how the mere displacement of air caused by Leviamon's elbow attack pushed the ocean water behind him. In a moment, both Digimon were standing on the air, for all water in the vicinity of both Digimon had been blown away.
For a moment, fear of that monstrous strength paralyzed him, and that moment was enough.
Leviamon's left palm struck his chest. In an anime, it would have been one of those blows that would make the protagonist gasp out blood. Lucemon could only choke lamely before he was sent flying diagonally downwards like a living missile, striking the receding wall of water like a bullet shot into a giant block of jelly.
The Demon Lord took a deep breath while turning to face the direction Lucemon disappeared into.
A scream escaped Juri's throat as vile energy gathered in her open mouth and was then released as a gigantic blue beam. Lucemon, even while still spearing his way through the ocean water, reacted fast at the perceived threat.
492 copies of Dukemon's shield interposed themselves in that beam's path, and the ensuing explosion further hollowed out the ocean and created a thunderous roar that could be heard throughout Tokyo.
This was unacceptable.
A prolonged battle with Leviamon would only result in his death.
This fight had to be quick and decisive. He had to overwhelm Leviamon, not with superior power—which he did not have—, but with enough attacks to prevent the Demon Lord from killing him.
Leviamon's eyes widened and her arms crossed in front of her face to quietly endure the onslaught of 1024 of Valkyrimon's golden crossbow bolts.
How convenient, being able to apply English Gematria to non-English words.
"These…pointless…mosquito bites!" the Avatar of Envy roared, blowing away the rest of the projectiles simply by spreading her arms. "Denied!"
1024 crossbow bolts were replaced by 1488 rapiers.
"Gah!" Leviamon cried out in an unsettlingly high-pitched tone. "Annoying! Denied as well!"
Even as hundreds of copies of Duftmon's weapon bounced off her body, Leviamon brought her right arm down as if attempting to hammer an invisible nail.
Seawater was pushed aside and Lucemon screamed when the invisible force pinned him to the now-dry ocean floor. It was truly as if the largest of all Digimon had pinned him between its massive jaws.
But, even then, he did not stop.
A double helix, each made of 732 copies of Astamon's automatic rifle, created a somewhat aesthetic scene around Leviamon.
Then they opened fire.
"Gyaaaah!" Leviamon's voice could be heard even through the cacophony of automatic fire.
Lucemon took back to the air before the returning waters could swallow him whole.
"Apply 'triplication' to further Gematria calculations."
Degradation was not an issue.
For the sake of victory, all personal sacrifices were acceptable.
"Tha-That actually hurt!" Leviamon complained with Juri's voice from within the midst of a cloud of smoke and sea foam. "That power makes me jealous!"
The screaming voice of Katou Juri did nothing to stop him.
Not him, and most definitely not his 2250 swords of blue radiance.
"I know you are there, Katou Juri," Lucemon spoke while swords rained upon Leviamon. "And I know you are better than this."
The only response he got was an inhuman growl the former Matsuda Takato would not have believed came from Katou Juri. The sound grew in intensity until it became a feral cry that blew away the sea water and foam created by the hundreds of impacts that pushed Leviamon under the surface.
"Jealous!" the monster screamed in the voice of a dear friend. "Don't you ever run out of goddamn things to throw—!"
Leviamon's complaint was interrupted by 1002 cavalry lances.
"Don't be stupid," Lucemon retorted in a contemptuous tone.
If he ever ran out of existing weapons to conjure, he would just start making them up.
He had never planned to defeat Leviamon with those weapons, in any case. With counted exceptions (Valkyrimon's sword, for example), those creations of Thelema had no other property besides "being sharp and pointy." It was truly like shooting needles at a, well, colossal reptilian sea horror.
No, he was just trying to create an opening.
"Katou Juri! I know you're still there!" he called out once more.
Lucemon dodged by submerging himself. The invisible tail swept the air over the seawater with enough force to suddenly render Lucemon dry and airborne once more.
"Imbecile!" the Demon Lord responded. "I am Leviamon! Do you really expect a puny human girl to overcome the gre—!"
"You speak too much," Lucemon idly commented as Katou Juri's body was pummeled by 2034 copies of LordKnightmon's shield-like weapon. "And the one I wish to talk with is Katou Juri."
"Shut up!" the Avatar of Envy retorted; its voice barely noticeable amidst the impact sounds and the splashing sounds of water being disturbed. "I'm seriously gonna enjoy absorbing your data—uwaaaaaaaah!"
The indifferent warrior's Pile Bunker is a mechanical device which creates high-power pressure waves. There was no reason, then, for Lucemon's imitations not to carry the same functionality.
"You really speak too much," Lucemon insisted as Leviamon was pummeled 2034 times, again. Not that the Demon Lord could hear him, though.
Two more steps.
He could hear the beast's feminine panting. As the water settled down once more, he could also see the consequences of his efforts.
Not a single drop of blood. Only her clothes were battered. The only reason they had not slipped off was because they were soaked wet and sticking to Juri's wet skin.
The original Matsuda Takato would have been severely incapacitated by the unexpected service. As for Lucemon…
At this point numbers truly become irrelevant. In case anybody still cares, there were 2646 of them.
Leviamon, for the very first time, experienced something it had believed impossible, given its unreasonable size.
For the first time ever, it felt surrounded.
Many great explosions became a single one of unbelievable size, as Leviamon was engulfed by cannon fire from all directions.
And it was in the middle of that cannon fire that Lucemon stepped in. He wanted an opening, and the best one would not come at any point after the attack. To strike Leviamon while its defenses were completely down, Lucemon would attack while another attack was on course.
Such was the logic of someone who did not know—could not accept—the concept of failure.
To Lucemon Magus Mode, only "the mission" exists, with parameters defined by Matsuda Takato at the moment he came into existence. Lucemon will sacrifice everything, even his "source", for the sake of fulfilling "the mission."
Flying faster than he had ever done before, Lucemon weaved through the barrage of frigid shots to reach Katou Juri's exposed back. He could have attacked from a much larger distance, but he wanted full certainty of his success. Even as he flew, he had the time and frame of mind to be impressed by Leviamon's toughness. How many of the Royal Knights had to work together to defeat this behemoth?
While his ability to use Thelema spells gave Lucemon Magus Mode incredible versatility, he was in the end still a Digimon. Like all Digimon, he had a few unique special techniques.
Lucemon's Silver Star created a region of super-high-density space around Leviamon and immediately compressed it into a single point; a short-lived micro-black hole that twisted Leviamon's impossibly sturdy body and then threatened to rip it apart.
The great Demon Lord let go a blood-chilling scream. Lucemon Magus Mode was "an existence nigh-equal to a Great Demon Lord." His attacks could most definitely harm the Avatars of Sin.
The original Matsuda Takato would have faltered upon hearing such immense agony in such a familiar and dear voice. Lucemon Magus Mode was not the original Matsuda Takato.
"ΆστρονΑργυρόν. ΆστρονΑργυρόν. ΆστρονΑργυρόν."
As the very integrity of space-time in Leviamon's vicinity was torn apart over and over again, the Demon Lord was too indisposed to even seal away Lucemon's power.
Upon finishing the merciless barrage, Lucemon heard the mild splash of Leviamon's knees striking the sea water. In an instant, Lucemon closed the distance between himself and his opponent and captured Katou Juri's face between his hands.
Their eyes met, and Lucemon found fear in Leviamon's expression.
"Show me your Dream, Katou Juri."
And then both Demon Man and Demon Lord were engulfed in the golden radiance of Matsuda Takato's Crest.
If Takato's soul was a "garden", then Juri's was a "savannah." It was arid, empty, vast, and colored in shades of ochre, yet it carried a unique majesty and warmth Lucemon would have found inviting if he cared about such things.
Lucemon knew this was merely a construct of the Crest of Dreams, though.
"I just wanted…to be one of them again."
He looked down at the girl seated on the grass, and at the lioness she was petting. The feline looked like the real thing, except for the fact that it placidly rested its head on the girl's lap like a puppy.
"I…miss Leomon, but…it's something more important than that."
The hand that did not caress the beast's fur held a dead Digivice.
"It's scary…but I want to fight with them. I don't want to watch their backs every time they go into battle. I want to help. If there's something, anything, I can do to ensure they all come back safe, I want to do it."
Juri finally looked up at the winged Digimon.
"Is that too much asking, Takato-kun?"
Lucemon did not respond to the misery in the girl's face.
"You…envied the Digimon Tamers?"
"Unn," Juri denied by shaking her head. "I do envy that they have their partners and I do not. But I do not wish to fight if I don't have to."
Her grip on her D-Arc tightened.
"But, I want to protect them. Envy has nothing to do with this. To be with them, to fight by their side, that is my earnest wish."
Her eyes brimmed with sadness as she faced and admitted her impossible dream.
Lucemon shook his head.
"Do you realize what you are wishing for, Katou Juri? You have seen what is at stake; you know everything the Tamers do not know."
"I know. But I still want to be there for them."
"Becoming a Tamer means becoming a target. Right now you are a 'piece without tactical value to Matsuda Takato'. You are 'a burden he has accepted'."
Juri flinched at the Demon Man's honesty.
"Then…then, all the more reason for me to stand by his side!"
The lioness grunted as her relaxation was disturbed by Juri's body and tenseness. The beast looked up and growled at the Adult Digimon looking down on her and her human mistress.
"Takato-kun is fighting so hard, against the most terrible opponents! He doesn't need any more burdens! He needs friends who can help him—"
"He needs strong pieces which can match the denizens of the Dark Area," Lucemon retorted. "Things such as 'friendship' are irrelevant."
Stroking the large cat's head one last time, Juri stood up to meet Lucemon's unfeeling stare with defiance. The golden-winged angel, as usual, appeared unfazed.
Juri smiled. It was a very unusual smile, for her eyes carried a flame not even the original Takato had ever seen in her.
"Give me the chance to prove it."
In the Game Room, Lucemon Magus Mode sighed loudly.
The fallen angel across the table only raised an eyebrow, cueing the Adult Digimon to speak further.
"I will be taking your piece now."
The angel in white chuckled darkly.
"…I figured as much."
"Hmm…so even that is within the Dreamer's powers."
Lilithmon hated being the one left in the dark, but she only grumbled to herself.
Lucemon chuckled a bit more before shrugging in dismissal.
"Do your worst."
The response of Lucemon Magus Mode elicited a frown from the other Lucemon.
If everything he had seen so far had not suggested otherwise, Lucemon could have sworn there was a hint of a smile on his Adult counterpart's face.
"It is still too early for that."
The source is Thelema; the language is Hebrew; no schema is applied.
The breath of benediction gives life to clay and light to darkness.
In that moment, Leviamon was struck by the most powerful spell of dizziness.
"Wha—what is this…!"
Lucemon returned the Demon Lord's look of surprise and fright with an unfeeling stare.
"I will be taking your Crest now."
It was the most terrifying thing Leviamon could have possibly heard.
"No…no! No, no, noooo! Get away from m—!"
It was too late.
It was too late the moment Lucemon's hand touched Katou Juri's skin.
Engulfed by the golden light of Dreams, they could not be seen by the audience which had gathered by the shore.
"Let us Dream together, Katou Juri," Lucemon said within the cocoon of radiance. Leviamon, as much as he tried, could not move an inch anymore. The Demon Lord had become a prisoner of Dreams; of Thelema.
"Noooooo!" the Avatar of Envy cried out; it was almost sadistic that it was the only thing Lucemon's spell allowed it to do. "I can't live without my Crest!"
Indeed, the Demon Lords were bound to their Crests of Sin. Without them, they could not exist in their Ultimate forms.
"But it does not matter," Lucemon continued. "Your future has already been decided."
The golden cocoon of light surrounding them became a white nova that grew until it almost reached the Tokyo marina. Those there had to close their eyes or be rendered blind. Water was pushed away from the two Digimon, creating tall waves that crashed against the concrete barriers at the docks.
The spell to assemble something out of its individual components, or separate a complex entity into its components.
He would later use it to reconstruct Renamon from her scattered data which had never been absorbed by Leviamon or anybody else. At the moment, however, it would be used in the opposite direction: to separate Katou Juri from Leviamon and the bomb inside her body, and then destroy the latter two.
"Your Crest is mine."
"Noooooo!" the Avatar of Envy cried futilely one last time.
Leviamon departed from the world with a wordless scream and an explosion of the purest, most violent light.
"No…no way, I can't believe this…" Lilithmon muttered in no little fright at the development. Lucemon Magus Mode was encased in a cocoon of golden light, seemingly disconnected from the Game Room around him while he was at work giving shape to Katou Juri's dream.
"Are you afraid, Empress of Darkness?"
"You can bet I am!" the Avatar of Lust shamelessly admitted. "If he can take our Crests so easily…I mean, he just defeated Leviamon! Leviamon!"
"You need to calm down, Lilithmon," Lucemon called out in a slightly impatient tone. "You're a lot more intelligent than Leviamon. You would not be trapped like that so easily."
"Well, I can't shrug off thousands of swords and micro-black holes like Leviamon!"
"Just…calm down," Lucemon insisted. "You have defeated opponents stronger than yourself before."
Whatever it was Lilithmon said afterwards, Lucemon ignored it. His eyes were on the little piece in the shape of the Avatar of Envy. He quietly watched it disintegrate, to be then replaced by an egg-shaped piece about half the size of Juri's piece next to it.
Leviamon was truly gone, and the Crest of Envy was now in Takato's possession.
The leader of the Seven Great Demon Lords chortled quietly to himself.
This round…is my victory.
Katou Juri woke up in somebody's arms. The first thing she felt was soreness all over and the discomfort reminded her that, while not directly involved herself, her body had been in the midst of an incredible fight.
She glanced up to find the expressionless face of Lucemon Magus Mode. So similar to Matsuda Takato's, yet so distant. He was carrying her as he flew back to shore at a very sedate pace.
Lucemon was not in a hurry anymore. The game round itself was over with Leviamon's defeat and the destruction of the final bomb. What remained were the additional objectives Takato had imposed on the Demon Man Digimon at the moment he transformed.
They had met in that strange yet familiar savannah. She had watched him fight and defeat Leviamon. She knew he came from Takato, or rather, Takato became this Digimon. However…
Lucemon correctly interpreted the intent in Juri's question and gave the appropriate answer.
"I am the 'Alternate Path' Matsuda Takato has chosen to step into."
Juri's pupils trembled in wordless sadness.
"…why? Why would Takato-kun…?"
…do this to himself?
Once more, Lucemon somehow understood the undertone of Juri's inquiry and responded accordingly.
"Because a human Matsuda Takato cannot defeat Lucemon."
The Digimon's golden wings flapped placidly in the clear blue sky. They were beautiful, but Juri could not help but feel apprehensive before this…'thing' that was not her Takato-kun.
"Is the Game really…really worth all this…?"
A hint of a frown appeared on the Digimon's brow.
"…would you rather allow Lucemon to succeed, then?"
"N-No! Of course not!" the girl immediately insisted, shaking her head strongly to emphasize this point.
"Don't move so much; you don't want to drop your Digivice."
"Eh? My Digi—!"
Katou Juri—no, Leviamon—had discarded her purse at some point on the way to the marina. She was sure her dead D-Arc had been there. Then again, the Digivice her right hand was pinning against her body was not the Digivice she had always carried with her.
"This is…just like…"
It was just like Matsuki Takato's: white with a golden ring and buttons. DigiLetters she could not translate—she probably would have been able to if Leviamon still inhabited her body—were engraved on the ring that circled the device's screen. The only difference was the strap: blue like the sky above them unlike Takato's deep red.
But even more interesting than the unknown Digivice was the image displayed on the screen.
Lucemon did not bother look down at the Digi-Egg.
"Huh? Leomon?" Juri mused; her gaze shifting between Lucemon and the blue egg with scarlet dots.
"Don't be stupid, girl."
If she needed further proof of this Digimon not being "her" Takato-kun, she had just gotten it. Still, she could not help her eyes watering a little at hearing such words in that familiar voice.
"Your bond with this Digimon is much stronger than the bond you had with Leomon."
The girl's eyes widened in realization.
"You mean, Leviamon…?"
The shake of Lucemon's head was almost imperceptible.
"It will never evolve to Leviamon. However, you should at least be capable of guiding it to the Perfect level."
Juri made an odd face when the knowledge from her card collection and her communion with the Avatar of Envy gave her the answer she sought.
"It is a powerful Digimon. It could prove a valuable asset."
Lucemon did not pay much attention to the girl's dejected and half-hearted "I'll do my best…"
They were close to shore.
"Everyone's there…" Juri stated. Certainly, the whole group of Tamers stood at the edge of the docks watching their approach. She could not help but notice they had put some distance between themselves and the gap Leviamon's Rostrum had literally chomped off the dock's edge.
The place where…
"Oh, Ruki…!" the girl moaned, covering her face with her hands in shame and self-loathing.
Lucemon ignored the girl's soft cries and just willed himself to land gently on the reinforced concrete pier where the Tamers stood in wait. He correctly guessed Jenrya had explained everything he saw to the others and wordlessly offered the sobbing Juri to Justimon in front of him.
Lucemon Magus Mode had no interest in the Tamers' thoughts, nor did he have any reason to exchange words with them. He had things to do, and explaining things to Matsuda Takato's pieces was not one of them. Thus, he ignored the misery on Lee Jenrya's expression, the looks of poorly concealed fear on Hirokazu's face, the cautious frown on Terriermon's small brow, the undiluted pity in Lopmon's beady eyes and the way little Shaochung seemed to be mesmerized by his golden wings.
"You alright?" Justimon inquired of the girl now in his arms as he gently lowered her to solid ground.
"…um. I'm fine."
If they noticed the new Digivice in her hands, they did not voice it. Most likely, they already had enough in their minds to add such a "simple" thing to their list of questions unanswered.
Justimon then stepped forward to address Lucemon.
"Takato, just wha—"
The Tamers were blinded by golden light. An invisible force pushed Justimon back to where Juri stood.
Lucemon Magus Mode had no interest in further conversation.
Had they been able to see through the sun-like radiance, the Tamers would have witnessed how Renamon's data, till that point dispersed and diffused in the air all around them, reunited and reorganized itself in the space between them and Lucemon. Starting with the Core and following with the supporting body, the whole process would not take longer than one minute.
"Hmm…so you can now reconstruct the Tamers' partners as well," Lucemon noted. "I guess that makes the number of pieces you have pretty much irrelevant."
"It is harder than I make it seem," Magus Mode admitted; the Crest of Dreams glowed eminently behind his seat, as if proudly announcing its power to all those who could see it. "It is something I would rather not have to do often," after a moment of consideration, the Demon Man Digimon made an outrageous admission. "I would not bother with Guardromon, for example."
The Avatar of Pride laughed loudly and heartily.
"Ahahahaha! So cruel, so cruel~"
Magus Mode had no response to that.
Creating a new Makino Ruki was never an issue. It was probably the easiest of all "miraculous" acts he would perform that day.
Under any other circumstance, the degree of familiarity Matsuda Takato had with the entity publicly known as "Makino Ruki" would be deemed nothing short of disturbing.
Matsuda Takato truly knew "Makino Ruki" better than anybody else, and all that knowledge was available to Lucemon Magus Mode. From the most esoteric things such as her quirks, likes and dislikes, her tastes in food and clothes and her conditioned reactions to all sorts of unexpected situations, to the most fundamental things like the frequency of her menstrual cycles, her visual acuity, the thickness of her hymen and the distribution of fats throughout of her body.
Matsuda Takato knows Makino Ruki even to the molecular level: not even the chain of billions of DNA base pairs that make her genome is a mystery to him.
No, creating a new Makino Ruki was never a problem at all. She was his most complex, most refined and most detailed Dream; one he had worked on with painstaking dedication…after the first one, that is.
The point is, the possibility of failure was basically unconceivable.
No, "creating" Ruki was never the problem.
The problem was making it so that "Makino Ruki" never died in the first place.
It was truly telling Reality to shove it and allow itself to be overwritten.
People are supposed to die when they're killed, after all.
The amount of Degradation something like this would unleash upon his soul was enormous. Matsuda Takato knew this fairly well—after all, he has already done this seven times before. Even worse, Ruki was actually "easy" to force upon Reality; it would be much worse if he had to bring back, let's say, Katou Juri.
But stating all this is pretty much pointless.
After all, Lucemon Magus Mode does not know hesitation, nor does he fear Degradation.
That is Matsuda Takato's problem, and a punishment he accepted years ago.
So, the Demon Man in the shape of an angel Dreamt.
He Dreamt, and the world was engulfed in the radiance of his Dream.
And when the Dream ended, Lucemon Magus Mode ceased to be.
He was not one to delay matters; his "mission" had been successfully completed, so there was no reason for him to stay any longer.
Not even to delay the horror Matsuda Takato was about to experience.
Not even for one second.
The sky howled in agony and terror. It sounded like the death throes of countless birds mixed with the pained shrills of thousands of children.
Next to Lilithmon, the Avatar of Pride wore a placid smile as they watched the Gardens of Babylon fall apart. Millenniummon was gone somewhere; who were they to fathom the movements of a being that transcends time and space?
"What is the soul, Lilithmon?" he suddenly asked, but never took his eyes off the depressing scene in front of them. "Where is it?"
The vivid colors of the garden gave way to the dark tones of death. It was as if someone had unleashed a spell of aging throughout the entire place, and the many different flowers that adorned the open roads rapidly died, fell apart and became dust.
Lightning tore through the dark sky, and the very air around them howled as if physically hurt by the electric stream.
"If we refer to the soul as 'that which defines our identity and uniqueness', then it is a lot easier for us Digimon." Lucemon then placed a hand on his chest. "We could say our 'soul' is contained within our DigiCore."
"But, then, where's the human soul?" he continued the monologue even as the Gardens around them lost their liveliness and became a barren land of ochres and grays.
"Maybe there is not such a thing as 'the soul'," Lucemon suggested. "Maybe this is only a metaphysical construction representing the harmony of Takato's mind and body. We say the Degradation affects the soul, and by consequence the body and the mind, but maybe there's no need for such an intermediary."
"Whatever the case, it does not matter whether a thing such as 'the soul' exists or not. It is just a convenient meta-concept. What truly matters is what is happening now."
Lilithmon watched the dying land with mixed feelings. She was the Avatar of Lust, and she appreciated beauty as much as she sought decay.
"Are all the flowers gone…?" she wondered.
"No," Lucemon answered. "The human 'soul' is strong. Takato's 'soul' is strong. So far the Degradation had affected far away areas in the Gardens; that's why we could not notice. But today Takato has triggered an unbelievable amount of Degradation. It will not be enough to end him, but both his body and his mind will be permanently scarred by this."
Lucemon's grin widened.
"Today, a huge step towards my victory has been made."
With trembling lips and groggy eyes, Makino Ruki woke up.
She did not know this, but she was the Eighth.
"Ruki…!" a female voice gasped in unrestrained relief. Ruki found the teary smile of Katou Juri.
"Can you get up?" a familiar annoying voice spoke behind her. She felt hands trying to push her body to a sitting position.
"Get your filthy hands off me, Akiyama," she spoke in a voice she found uncomfortably weak.
"Good to see you're just fine," the Legendary Tamer responded, and Ruki immediately frowned.
Where was Mr. Perfect's usual humor? His voice was disturbingly…flat.
Sakuyamon was fighting the Zudomon, and then…
"Renamon!" she gasped out, and her eyes sought her partner, but they were blocked by Juri's and Ryo's bodies. "Where's…!"
When she found her, an unbelievable sensation of relief washed through her body. She was laying on the concrete, just like her, and she was unconscious. However, Ruki did not see any external wounds or any discomfort on her face. MarinAngemon was using his healing powers on the fox-like Digimon, and Hirokazu and Guardromon stood by her left side like unasked-for guardians.
"What…happened…?" Ruki inquired. She still did not know the source of that ridiculous power that knocked her and Renamon unconscious. She remembered the first strike that disabled their Ultimate evolution, and the second which sent them flying to shore. She remembered the unbelievable strength and the tremendous pain which had now become little more than an annoying discomfort all over her body.
How was she still alive? Had Renamon protected her with her own body?
"Oh, Ruki, I'm so sorry!" Juri gasped out, reaching for the other girl's hands and wrapping them in her own. "I couldn't…I couldn't stop it…"
Ryo frowned. Juri had also apologized to the other Tamers, but she had not really made clear just what exactly she had done. Then again, the current circumstances…
But still, they needed to know.
"Juri," he called with unusual bluntness. "Just what is going on?"
Juri made a pained expression and dropped her face, unable to face the two most experienced Tamers.
"I…I don't think I can explain everything…right now…"
Ryo did not assent. He could accept that answer, though; it was a promise of an explanation in the near future. However…
"Then at least tell us what the hell's happening to Takato!"
It was truly a magical word which sent Ruki's brain into high alert.
"Wha-What's going on—"
And only then she noticed. It was as if she had finally tuned herself to Takato's frequency, and suddenly it became awfully clear in her ears.
Somewhere in the distance, someone was screaming, and the screams were like poison-coated arrows in Ruki's heart.
Lee Jenrya had experienced this feeling before. It was a horrible feeling he wished on no one.
The unsettling awareness of the fact that, no matter what he did, he could not stop what was going on before his eyes.
Matsuda Takato's screams ceased only long enough for his lungs to catch air.
"Takato…!" Jenrya called the boy's name, squeezing his right hand between his own two hands. Takato did not seem to be aware of the gesture.
Across from Takato's body, Jenrya's little sister covered her mouth with her hands as if to stifle her moans. What she could not hide, however, were her tears upon watching the horrifying scene in front of them. Lopmon had placed a tiny paw on Takato's left shoulder, and watched the suffering boy with unbridled worry.
Terriermon stood to his partner's left side, watching the horrible scene with an unusual, quiet solemnity.
Matsuda Takato was a wreck. There was no other, accurate way to describe it.
It was hard to decide what the worst thing was. The screams were disturbing enough, and they were accompanied by Takato's face distorting into horrible masks of unfathomable agony.
No, there was no one thing Jenrya could label as 'the worst'. This was a terror that struck in every level.
They were watching Takato's body fall apart.
His skin and clothes had gained a lively yet disturbing red tone. Jenrya knew this meant Takato's capillaries—and maybe even some larger vessels—had ruptured all over his body. The white of Takato's eyes had been replaced by scarlet.
Takato was sweating, crying and pissing blood.
His body began to shake in a disturbingly excessive manner, reminding Jenrya of TV depictions of epileptic seizures.
"We-We have to hold him!" He spoke far more loudly than he needed to. "He's gonna hurt himself even more at this rate!"
The two similar Digimon nodded and hurried to hold Takato's upper body with their tiny arms. Jenrya had substantial trouble getting a hold of Takato's flailing legs and forcing them to stay on ground level.
His eyes moved to his paralyzed sister. It was not that Terriermon and Lopmon were not strong enough; they were just too small to hold Takato properly.
"Xiăochūng!" He called out in the proper Chinese pronunciation; the way he did whenever he scolded the girl.
The sudden call in their father's native language startled the girl, and she immediately understood her brother's wordless demand.
She knew Takato was not looking at them, but she still avoided looking at his face. Those bloody eyes and that expression of inconceivable pain were just too much.
Shiuchon reached for Takato's left shoulder...and the distinct sound of bone breaking struck their ears.
"Ah!" Lopmon gasped as he jumped backwards and away from Takato. His little eyes watched in horror how Takato's left arm, now detached from the destroyed shoulder, flailed uselessly next to his Tamer.
Takato screamed even louder, and it became more than Shiuchon could handle.
Lee Jenrya sobbed in futility at the sight of his friend's and his sister's screams.
His eyes darted to the boy standing to his left.
Hirokazu was trembling: he was obviously afraid—of the screams, of the unknown, of whatever was making his friend suffer like that—, but he still tried to make a steeled face, staring down at the half-Japanese boy as if expecting something from him.
"What should I do?"
Jenrya wished he could afford the boy a smile for his little burst of courage.
"Just…just hold him. Gently, but make sure he doesn't flail around."
There was only pain.
It was truly pain like nothing he had experienced before, and he believed he was fairly acquainted with pain after the last five years.
But even in this pain, Matsuda Takato was thinking.
He had to; there was no choice.
As long as the Game continued, his brain had to keep working.
But, the pain…!
He could feel it, both at a physical and an intellectual level: his body was collapsing. He could not begin to calculate how long it would take for his Crest to heal this amount of damage.
But it was not only his body that was falling apart, was it?
No, his mind would follow.
He had no idea what would happen, as he did not really know just how much damage he would receive. Was it enough to turn him into a vegetable? Or would his personality degrade to the point he would become an emotionless doll?
What about his memories, then? What would he forget, if anything…?
It did not matter. This damage…it did not matter…! Even if he forgot the Tamers, Guilmon, or that precious person he lost years ago…! It did not matter!
As long as he did not forget that, nothing else mattered!
His salvation and his most secret of secrets: his carefully thought 'plan' for victory!
As long as he had that, it did not matter what else he lost!
It was almost miraculous, Jenrya thought, how the screams ceased in an instant the moment Makino Ruki called that boy's name.
Matsuda Takato had suffered a terrifying 'transformation' in front of his eyes, and now Jenrya was afraid to break more bones by holding him by the ankles.
It was as if Takato's body were being eaten from the inside.
Muscles thinned at frightening speed until the body became little more than skin and bone. Except for the absence of an inflated belly, Takato reminded Jenrya of the unsettling images of starving children in Africa.
"Takato!" Ruki called again. She had needed Juri's and Ryo's help to make it to her best friend's side. She was worried about Renamon as well, but this…this sight before her eyes was too horrible to ignore.
Takato's bloodied eyes sought the source of the voice, and his right hand feebly tried to reach it.
A strange pain gripped Ruki's chest. This was…the second time she heard Takato say that.
"Takato…" she spoke more softly this time, reaching for Takato's hand. "Takato, an ambulance is coming, so…please…!"
What did she want to say?
'Hold on for a little while?'
'Stay with us?'
The other Tamers exchanged nervous looks amongst themselves. For a reason, they suddenly felt like uninvited guests.
"I…" Takato gasped, and the girls besides Ruki gasped as well when richly red blood poured out of the gap between his lips. "I still…it's okay…"
Ruki's lips trembled. Despite the others' presence, she did nothing about her watering eyes.
Takato's voice had weakened by the word, but…was he…?
Was he trying to smile…?
"Takato!" she called out for the third time, this time little more than a choked gasp. She leaned over the prone boy's body, inching her head closer to his mouth so as to better catch his weak voice.
His mouth was pouring blood, yet his tongue looked so pale…
"What…what do you mean, Takato…?"
"Oh, Takato…!" Juri cried somewhere behind Ruki and buried her face in the nearest chest, which just happened to be Ryo's. For once, the so-called Legendary Tamer felt awfully uncomfortable.
"Takato, what do you—?"
"Gone? No!" Ruki almost shouted on Takato's face. "You're not going anywhere, Takato!"
But the boy did not seem to be paying attention to the surroundings anymore. Maybe he was talking to himself by this point.
Golden light. The Tamers gasped as a strange arrangement of circles came to be on the concrete under their feet.
LEVEL: 888 SYSTEM: BEATRICE CODE: DREAMS
CAUTION! PARADISE LEVEL 9
The source is Thelema. The language is Greek. No schema was applied.
The knowledge of Thelema was always Matsuda Takato's. However, thanks to his transformation into Magus Mode, now he knew how to use it.
The Tamers felt something emerge from the light and fill them. Whatever it was, it was warm and comforting, like the protecting embrace of a mother and the approving smile of a father.
It was the word of the Aeon; the magical formula of a dying God.
A magical word of self-sacrifice: to give away a little bit of you for the sake of others.
Matsuda Takato then closed his eyes for the last time, deaf to the cries of the one he had called 'best friend'.
It was not 'death', but, as he succumbed to his wounds and the world became dark around him, he knew that the one who opened those eyes again would not be 'Matsuda Takato' any more.
But, that never really mattered, did it…?
Lilithmon stared at the changed scenery in front of them. There were too many feelings swirling in her chest to point out any single one.
"This is…this looks just like…!"
She looked at Lucemon, her wide eyes wordlessly begging for answers.
Most of the rows of bushes clad in flowers which once had made Takato's 'garden' had now perished. Those that still stood were now gloomy, pitiful things. The once green leaves had become brown, and the spots of color of those flowers that still remained now looked awkward and inappropriate in the new world of shades of brown and gray.
And then there were the columns.
They had arisen from the barren ground, and they were completely unassuming, built in the old Doric order of Greek architecture: faceted columns with plain capitals and no base.
Rows and rows of these columns now filled the garden. Each column stood about three yards from the next, and the rows were separated approximately four yards, about the same as the bush rows had once been.
"It is called 'Degradation', right?" Lucemon responded.
The red circles and the emblem of the Crest of Pride shone over his pupils.
"It 'eats away' at Takato's 'soul'. It's like a virus that deletes data from your hard disk. Does that not mean that you could then 'write' something else in that emptied space?"
The metaphorical light bulb shone in Lilithmon's head.
"You mean…this is…what you were aiming for…?"
"But…" Lucemon continued, obviously not caring enough to dispel Lilithmon's doubts. "It's not working completely as I expected."
The small angel looked at the dark sky, and Lilithmon followed his gaze.
Yes, that was by far the most notorious of the changes.
A distant globe of golden light shone upon the gardens like a full moon.
"Takato created it. I do not know what it is, and that bothers me," Lucemon admitted.
The Child Digimon planted his hands on his hips and grinned.
"But! That is good!"
Lilithmon was once again lost.
"It means he's still fighting," Lucemon clarified. "He makes me so immensely proud."
"Anyway," the angel continued, finally stepping away from the Game Room and into the ruined garden proper. "I'll be stepping out of the Game for a while."
"My opponent is Matsuda Takato, Lilithmon. He will not be able to play for some time, so there's no reason for me to stick around. Also, I have to tighten my leash on Barbamon; it will not do if he seizes this chance to destroy my Game. I'll leave things here to you, Lilithmon."
"Ah…yes, milord, as you wish," the Avatar of Lust accepted with a polite bow.
"Your previous orders still stand," Lucemon continued. "Even if she's now the Eighth, make Takato's doll crack."
"I would do that even without your command, milord."
Lucemon exchanged naughty smiles with the voluptuous woman.
"And please don't ravage my boy while he's unconscious; that would probably kill him."
"What would the fun in that be?" the lusty demoness responded as if answering a child's simple question.
Lucemon nodded. "Good. Also, be careful. The last spell Takato used on the Tamers if probably a ward of some sort."
"Milord…doesn't not what it is?" Lilithmon asked hesitatingly.
"Thelema belongs to the 'Alternate Path'. It is not within the scope of my power."
He looked back to the golden globe in the sky.
"The Game must continue, even if you are absent, Takato-kun. Barbamon will still strike, and the countdown to Belphemon's awakening will not stop to wait for you."
"How much further will you go to stop me, my precious nemesis? If you become Magus Mode one more time and fight like that again, the Degradation will be complete."
"If the Degradation completely fills your soul, 'Matsuda Takato' will disappear, and I will 'rewrite' you as 'Lucemon'."
Two 'bodies', one 'identity'. There is no such thing as 'identical souls'. Even if their appearances are the same, no two Renamon are identical.
If their 'souls' are the same, then they can only be the same being.
By creating a "Lucemon" unrestricted to the Dark Area, Lucemon will free himself.
Their 'souls' will be one, and then their bodies, their minds—their data—will merge as well.
It could be called 'Permanent Matrix Evolution', but it is clearly more than that.
"Takato, your 'Garden' is in ruins now. Babylon has fallen."
Lucemon's face brightened with the loveliest smile, truly fitting of an angel. It radiated hope, pride, desire, affection, and a little bit of longing.
"Let's rebuild it together, ne?"
The Avatar of Pride licked his upper lip in delicious anticipation.
Gardens of Babylon – END
The Game continues in "Ruins of Babylon".