Author's Notes and the Story So Far
Greetings, and welcome to "Ruins of Babylon", second installment of the "Babylon" series and sequel to "Gardens…" I must advise newcomers to read the prequel first; otherwise the story setting will make absolutely no sense.
Before anything else, and because it has been brought up a few times in e-mails and private messages, I'll provide an answer here: the summary of "Gardens of Babylon" shown in this website is in a fact a quote from the Bible. Revelation 17:9-11, to be precise.
And now let's briefly go over the story up to this point, if only to refresh your minds and point out the most important plot elements.
In the setting of "Babylon", the protagonist, Matsuda Takato, was a Chosen Child before he was a Tamer. He carries the primordial crest of creation, the Crest of Dreams; the original power that spontaneously emerged at the dawn of the Digital World. It gives him the power to do virtually anything, but severe manipulations of reality inflict damage to his soul—Degradation—, as the world itself rejects Takato's forceful commandments. Furthermore, the Crest of Dreams has given Takato strange abilities based on a flashy interpretation of the ways of Thelema—the spiritual philosophy proposed by the 'magician', Aleister Crowley, and a concept that has not been embodied by any Digimon so far.
At the beginning of the story, the Crest of Dreams was still a secret Takato kept only to himself. However, there is another who knows of the boy's supreme power: the Avatar of Pride, Lucemon.
Takato and Lucemon are engaged in the Game of Completion, and they have been at it for the past five years. It is a bizarre competition; a macabre combination of chess match and roleplaying game in which they use their supernatural powers to direct the course of events and match their opposite scripts, with Takato protecting the world from Lucemon's attempts at harming everything he holds dear. When Takato loses, Lucemon intends to overwrite Takato's existence with his own to release himself from his imprisonment in the Dark Area. He is assisted by the other Great Demon Lords, who obey him out of respect and fear but in the end are nothing but additional pieces in the grand scheme of things. That does not stop them from having agendas of their own: Barbamon not-so-secretly aims to overthrow Lucemon with the Crest of Dreams he aims to claim from Takato's corpse; Lilithmon, who has struck a bizarre alliance with the sister Takato did not know he had until a few months ago, only aims to enjoy herself in the world of humans and engage in mind-blowing incest with her beloved 'onii-sama'. And there's the Avatar of Wrath, Demon, who has been missing for years already.
At the end of "Gardens…" we left Takato broken and comatose. He used the thelemic powers of the Crest of Dreams to become Lucemon Magus Mode, for it was the only way he could defeat the Avatar of Envy, Leviamon, which had possessed his dear friend Katou Juri. The Degradation had extended to the point where his physical body was also severely affected, dragging him to the brink of death. However, it is the same power that slowly kills him which also keeps him alive: the Crest of Dreams acts automatically to protect Takato's life in response to threats of a certain level. The Tamers, who witnessed the awesome battle between Lucemon and Leviamon, were left with many questions unanswered. Furthermore, only one of the Demon Lords was defeated. Even with Takato out of commission, the Game must continue.
So let us continue; the sad tale of the boy who dared play a game with the devil.
Disclaimer: Digimon does not belong to me. That is a good thing.
RUINS OF BABYLON
The World That Still Spun Around That Boy – Amphitheater of Anarchy
"We have another successful Realization, sir!" Ootori Reika announced from her high seat in the middle of the Hypnos operation room. The perpetually dark abode flashed with only the light projected by the screens that seemingly made the entirety of the room. What had once been a 2D representation of the digital networks was replaced by a map of the bustling metropolis of Tokyo.
"Put it on the screen," Mitsuo Yamaki demanded in a restrained growl, his uneasy right hand fiddling with a worn-our steel lighter.
"Sir, I can't find the Wild One anywhere!" Onodera Megumi almost desperately announced as her hands blurred in front of her, alternating between the keyboard over her thighs and the touch screens in front of her and to the sides.
Watching her from the floor two meters below, Katou Juri thought the Hypnos technicians looked rather cool when they were at work. For the first time ever, she considered Hypnos as a career path.
Unnecessarily—it was a habit that developed strangely quickly—, Juri brought her right hand to the wireless headset attached to her right ear. At the same time, she adjusted her left arm so that it could take the full weight of the large red-pink clam-like Digimon she called partner, Shakomon.
On top of her head, the former Digi-Enthelechy, Calumon, struggled not to slip off. Juri winced a little when the little beast pulled at her hair to get a better grip, but ignored it for what she knew was truly important.
"Ruki, do you see anything?"
"Other than Chrysalimon every-goddamn-where, no, I don't see a thing!"
The conference call was coordinated by Hypnos' private network, and the same voice Juri could hear through her headset filled the entire room as well. It was a simple thing, but it was an important element in the renewed cooperation efforts between Hypnos and the Digimon Tamers after that day.
Juri frowned. Ruki's statement was certainly odd. The tracer on Sakuyamon indicated that she was pretty much on top of the Wild One…
She quickly noticed the oddity in the way the unknown Digimon moved. It simply rushed past streets and blocks as if they were not even there. It was as if it could walk through walls, but…
"Of course," she whispered to herself before raising her voice.
"Onodera-san, please show me the—"
The screen changed before she could finish her instruction. The map of the streets of Tokyo had been replaced by an even more complex network of wide paths and gigantic chambers: the city's water flow control system. Looking to the side, Juri noticed Yamaki pulling his right hand off a touch screen.
There was something roughly resembling a smirk on the man's otherwise steeled face.
Juri nodded. Great minds think alike, and all that.
"Right!" She turned her attention back to the ones connected in the conference call with her mobile. "Ruki, the Digimon's traveling through the water control system!"
"Got it. In which direction? I'll intercept it—"
"We have another confirmed Realization!" the red-headed technician, Reika, loudly announced from the center of the room.
"I heard that, Katou. Where is it?"
Onodera Megumi answered that question even without being cued.
"A hundred and forty meters east from here!"
"Eh?" Juri uttered. "Isn't the Keio Plaza in that direction?"
"We don't see anything from here." The clear voice of Lee Jenrya replaced Ruki's in Juri's right ear and the room's speaker system. SaintGalgomon was on the building's heliport, so he had a vantage view of the entirety of Shinjuku Ward. "There are no signs of additional Realizations here—aw CRAP!"
Juri did not even need to ask. A frighteningly close explosion rocked the entire building and made the power in the room waver for a few moments. The girl in the Hypnos control room did not even pay attention to the fact that those last two words came from more than one person.
"What the…!" Juri shrieked. "Lee-kun!"
"I saw it!" Ruki spoke instead. "It came from the sky! It's attacking from over the clouds!"
"Damage report, now!" Yamaki howled.
More information came from the Tamer-Digimon pair on the heliport.
"It hit Kumano Shrine!" Jenrya announced. "Did you hear me! It hit Kumano Shrine! Send the rescue teams over there right now!"
"We're on it," Yamaki responded with far less urgency in his voice than he actually felt. "Deal with whatever did that before it kills us all!"
"On my way!" Ruki announced. "I'd recognize that beam attack anywhere! I didn't know that bastard could fly! I have a score to settle with him!"
"Alright," Juri agreed with Ruki's change of plans.
"In that case," Akiyama Ryo made act of presence. "I'll tackle the one underground—"
"No!" Juri immediately retorted. "Please stay with SaintGalgomon! Shao-chan!"
"Hai~!" The youngest of the "official" Digimon Tamers—Impmon's partners were not part of the roster—cheerfully announced herself. "Lee Shiuchon here~!"
"Please follow my directions to intercept the Digimon traveling underground! We'll be counting on you!"
"Um! Leave it to us!"
"Complete power failure in Minato Ward!" A male technician suddenly announced from the edge of the room. "Chuuou is at 80 percent! Chiyoda at sixty-three—ah! We just lost Sumida as well! I repeat, complete power outage in Sumida!"
Juri did not flinch at the sudden attention she got from Yamaki.
"You have to do something about those, Tamers!"
"No," the girl insisted. "Lee-kun, I know you're not ready yet, so please hold on a little bit longer."
She moved her gaze to return Yamaki's concealed stare without hesitation.
"I believe in Hirokazu-kun. He said he could do it, so I will trust him."
Many human eyes fell on the one Digimon in the room who had stayed silent since the very beginning of the crisis.
"Those Chrysalimon are not only draining the city's power," Impmon explaine as he stepped forward. "They're using the power lines to break down all digital equipment and absorb all kinds of data."
The small demon Digimon looked up at the diagram showing the extent of the damage to the twenty-three special wards of Tokyo. Six whole wards—Shinagawa, Minata, Koutou, Edogawa, Katsushika and Sumida—were already completely lost.
"If those things merge into Armagemon, it will be a disaster far worse than D-Reaper."
"I know," Juri admitted. Her expression was unflinching, even in the face of disasters coming from every direction. "But I still choose to believe."
She nodded to herself before turning her eyes to the large screens presenting the development of the crisis in real-time.
"We can do this."
Against the threats from the Dark Area, the Digimon Tamers fought valiantly and unhesitatingly.
To protect the world that boy sacrificed himself for.
SaintGalgomon stood on the Metropolitan Government Building's heliport. He was not alone; Justimon stood with arms cross in front of his chest some distance away. However, the huge Machine Digimon was the one with a mission.
Jenrya had always known that SaintGalgomon was not a Digimon for urban warfare. Its destructive power was simply too reckless and risked unacceptable collateral damage. That day, for example, he could have easily unleashed his Burst Shot to eradicate the swarm of Chrysalimon flooding the streets. However, if he did do that, he would probably take out half of Tokyo with them.
Juri's idea was simple. She called it "aiming".
The original Burst Shot was like carpet bombing. However, was it not possible for him to calculate the trajectory and destination of every single shot before unleashing the barrage?
The answer turned out to be "yes". It is possible. It only takes time.
"Not yet…" the boy muttered to himself within the enveloping warmth of SaintGalgomon's core. The Chrysalimon were small but did not move much, preferring to lump around the power lines to feed off them like babies suckling on their mother's teats.
However, the Chrysalimon were Hirokazu's duty. SaintGalgomon would only fire if Ruki's classmate failed. After all, there was no guarantee this "targeting" thing would actually work.
Juri trusted the boy. Jenrya wanted to trust as well, but…it was hard.
"Don't worry," the former-Tamer-turned-Tamer-again had said to ease him. "Hirokazu-kun has the best motivation to succeed."
"Don't we all…?"
"Ah, no…it's nothing," the boy spoke a bit louder, having drawn his partner's attention.
"I hope we can wrap things up here soon," Terriermon commented. "I was in the middle of updating my blog, you know."
Even without him, Lee Jenrya and Terriermon would fight.
To protect the whole world from the pain he took upon himself.
"Ruki, I'm really sorry; we can't even send satellite images—"
"It's okay, Katou; it's BelialVamdemon," Ruki interrupted. She had a rather unsettling grin on her face. "I feel it in my guts."
"Do you need support? I could have SaintGal—"
"No." A second interruption. "Stick to your plan. It's a good plan. I'll take care of things here; you look after everyone down there."
"Ah…um. Thank you."
It was a strange yet somehow natural turn of events, how Katou Juri became their unofficial "leader" after that day. She simply knew more: about the Game, about the Dark Area and the enemies they would face.
Juri was not Takato, and she intended to keep the secrets to a minimum. From her, they learned of the Seven Great Demon Lords. Normally, they would be imprisoned in the Dark Area of the Digital World, but they had somehow found a way into the material world by attaching themselves to "suitable hosts." They learned that these seven Digimon were amongst the most powerful Ultimates, and their leader, Lucemon Falldown Mode, possessed power which far surpassed that of "ordinary" Ultimates. Furthermore, they possessed the fearsome "Crests of Deadly Sins," which gave them further unique and dangerous abilities.
The Seven Great Demon Lords were playing a "Game." The objective of the Game was to kill Matsuda Takato. The prize was the incredible power in Takato's data. It was this power which allowed Takato to fight beyond what their card-based enhancement allowed Jenrya and Ruki to do. The Game had started at the beginning of the school term, but Juri claimed that Takato had caught the attention of Lucemon long before that day.
Juri explained to them that she had been possessed by Leviamon of Envy. However, Takato had defeated it, released her from its invasion, claimed its Crest of Envy for himself, and used Leviamon's remaining data to create a Digi-Egg.
There were things Juri could not answer; things only Takato knew. There were also things Juri chose not to reveal, like Hegemon's Sovereignty and The Black Covenant. However, Juri did not hesitate to voice her thoughts.
She hypothesized that, just like she was a suitable host for Leviamon of Envy, Takato would be the ideal host for Lucemon of Pride. However, the power that contained the greatest of the Demon Lords was stronger than that which contained the others, and thus it could not be overcome in the same way they had done so. Unfortunately, Juri did not know what conditions had to be fulfilled for Lucemon to take over Takato's body.
Ruki did not know everything. She was not really interested in knowing everything.
That was the 'fight' Takato had been fighting all this time, in secret.
How long had he been involved in that?
Could it be that the same boy who cooked miso soup for her, who allowed himself to be dragged to the arcades when she felt like loosening up a little, who even went as far as to cross-dress only to pull pranks on her…could it be that, at the same time, that boy was crying in pain and struggling for his life, all by himself?
On Christmas' Eve, he was drawing Lucemon, was he not?
"…for as long as I'm alive, Ruki."
Those words he said on Valentine's Day…he had truly meant them, in every way. Back then, she had not seen them in their full significance: to Takato, the end of his life was something palpable; a looming threat that could become truth very soon.
But, until that day arrived, he swore to stay by her side.
"Heh…Ruki, really…never change. Stay like this forever."
"Stop it…" Ruki whispered within the core of Sakuyamon as she flew towards the stratosphere.
"Ruki…?" her partner inquired, but she was completely ignored.
This time, she could hear it: the dreadful, hated voice which confirmed her suspicions.
Two identical cannons of high-temperature radiation merged into one. It was but an instant, but they still failed to devour Sakuyamon. Instead, they clashed against a barrier she conjured; the same barrier that attack had broken through the first time they clashed.
But that would not happen this time.
Matsuda Takato had made sure of it.
Within the translucent spherical barrier, three golden concentric circles appeared along its surface. There were words written between the two larger circles.
'APO PANTOS KAKODAIMONOS'.
Hypnos' research had revealed it was Romanized Greek. It meant something like "away every evil spirit."
This was Matsuda Takato's last act in this world. He put the last of his power into a spell to protect his pieces while he was gone.
A persistent, contingent enhancement spell that increases both offensive and defensive power against 'Fallen Angel', 'Undead' and all 'Dark', 'Devil' and 'Demon'-type Digimon.
A spell that makes them stronger against exactly the kind of enemies they would be fighting.
"Stop…" Ruki repeated. The barrier was holding without wavering. Type Advantage no longer meant a thing.
With a sorrowful war cry and unshed tears in her eyes, Sakuyamon continued her inexorable advance, undeterred by the high-temperature beam attempting to obliterate her. The barrier stood strong all around her, and the God Man Digimon approached her enemy by speeding her way through the beam itself.
"Stop acting like you need to protect us all!" she cried out, overcome by regret, doubt and a feeling of hollowness she could not name.
Even without him, Makino Ruki would fight.
For the sake of those peaceful days they once shared.
Even if they were nothing but lies.
The Sodegaura Power Plant can be found on the other side of Tokyo Bay from the metropolis, on the western coast of Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. It is an impressive thing; a gas-fired power station with an installed operating capacity of 3600 MW. It stands next to the Anegasaki Power Plant, another 3600 MW monster.
But it was in the first one where Shiota Hirokazu was building his counterattack on the swarm or Chrysalimon striking his city through the gigantic power network. If the Chrysalimon were using the power network to tap into all connected electronic devices, they would then use the same network to reach them all without exception. 'A killer indigestion', he had called it, and everybody had groaned.
Merely meters away, confused and scared plant workers quietly watched him at work.
Of course, at the moment he was not 'just' Shiota Hirokazu.
LEVEL: 888 SYSTEM: BEATRICE CODE: DREAMS
CAUTION! PARADISE LEVEL 9
Those were the words he could read, circling him around the warm comfort of HiAndromon's kernel. One of the Wild Bunch, Daisy he believed, had immediately identified the reference to Dante's La Divina Commedia, the greatest work of Italian literature. According to her, Beatrice was the author's ideal woman, as well as his guide through the numerous stations of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise (this was wrong, by the way—that infuriating sister of Takato's had corrected the programmer). At the end of the tale, Beatrice becomes one with the rose representing the immense love of God, and Dante is led by Saint Bernard to meet with the Creator Himself.
In the tale, God is represented by three concentric circles, all of them equally large and 'occupying the same space'. It made an interesting contrast with the three concentric circles of different sizes in Takato's Crest of Dreams. Daisy then suggested it could mean 'the power of a False God'. Babel had called it an 'incomplete Seder Hishtalshelus', but nobody really got that one, except apparently Shibumi, who claimed to be surprised to find out Babel was Jewish. Babel denied it, though, furthering the confusion of everybody else.
Hirokazu watched the floating letters around him while his partner handled the bulk of the work. They appeared on his Digivice whenever he initiated the evolution process as well. Al those who had been present on that day had received the gift of 'protection' from Takato in his last conscious breaths. Hirokazu had received an additional gift; the one thing he had wished for the most.
Finally, at long last, he could truly and proudly stand on the front lines.
"Not like this…" he whispered miserably.
He had refused to see Takato in the hospital. After watching his agony and how he 'broke' before their eyes, it was too much. Ruki called him coward, and he did not disagree.
He could not bear the idea of looking at the broken form of his friend a second time.
He could not bear the thought of that being the price for his new power to evolve to the Ultimate level.
Shiota Hirokazu had always wished to become one with his partner, but never like this.
Regardless, Shiota Hirokazu still fought, even without that boy.
Making full use of the power he received from that boy who cannot fight anymore.
"I thought the smell would be worse…" Lee Shiuchon pondered under the dim underground lights.
Lopmon chuckled quietly. "Shao, we're not in a sewer…whoa."
It was not a sewer, indeed.
The small duo watched in awe as the admittedly-already-huge waterway gave way to the biggest enclosed space either of them had ever been into. The largest pillars of reinforced concrete she had ever seen—though admittedly she had never really seen many of those—supported the weight of the colossal chamber and the ground over it.
Between the columns, something—no, a collection of somethings—slithered with the quietness of a predator, its full form partially concealed by the poor illumination.
A terrifying hissing sound echoed throughout the chamber, making the true nature of the digital invader awfully obvious.
"Shao…" Lopmon muttered warily.
"Uhh…" the girl willed herself to stop trembling. She did not like snakes very much. "No holding back, huh?"
As if in response to the young Tamer's intent, the patient slithering abruptly changed into a blur of motion, unreasonably fast for something so large. Merely a moment later, a huge silver and scaled head was looming over the two; its gleaming yellow eyes looking down upon them with blatantly obvious hunger.
The girl's pink Digivice finished the joke by beeping and announcing its recognition of the threat.
Attacks: Ame no Murakumo, Sake Breath
"Aah…ahaha…haha…" Shiuchon laughed nervously as she sweatdropped. "Umm…hi?"
The giant snake head inched back a bit before ramming the place where the girl and her Lopmon stood.
The impact, however, was blocked by a beautiful burst of golden radiance.
LEVEL: 888 SYSTEM: BEATRICE CODE: DREAMS
CAUTION! PARADISE LEVEL 9
The concentric circles of the Crest of Dreams grew larger and larger beyond the spot where Shiuchon had been standing, and their light elicited a howl from all eight heads of the Demon Dragon Digimon.
"Lopmon, evolve to…!"
A tall figure, far taller than any human, leapt out of the then-receding light, effortlessly landing on top of the nearest snake head.
It was the standard Ultimate evolution of Lopmon and one of the Three Great Angel Digimon. Had Takato been able to use the power of the 'Aeon of Horus', then perhaps the fusion of Shiuchon and her partner would have resulted in something completely different. However, his blessing was still deeply entrenched in the 'Aeon of Osiris', which 'limited' the possibilities to the 'standard, existing choices'.
Shiuchon did not know this and, even if she knew, she probably would not understand it. She probably would not care, either.
She was a goddamn Ultimate.
"Hai, hai!" the girl exclaimed gleeful in her new, rabbit-like form. Two white spears of heavenly lightning came into being in her overly large hands. "Would you please nicely line up to be beaten? Pwetty pwease?"
Digimon Tamer Lee Shiuchon enjoyed the thrill of power a little too much.
But even that young girl gave it her all and fought in his absence.
To show her gratitude to that boy who put that gift of power in her hands.
Twenty minutes later, Katou Juri picked the last white piece off the board.
"And with BelialVamdemon's retreat, this is our victory."
She was responded to with effusive clapping.
Juri made an odd expression at the unexpected onomatopoeias.
She had never visited the "former" Game Room, so there was no way for her to know almost everything was different. What once had been an almost-claustrophobic circular kiosk with a gothic-church-of-decadence kind of feeling had for some reason become a more spacious room. Their Game Room was built with a wood lattice patched together with felt—it was a yurt, the traditional portable dwelling used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia.
Her opponent rested comfortably and majestically on a bed of cushions with most ornate embroidery, truly like the queen of an exotic land of fantasy.
"Excellent, Katou Juri!" the Avatar of Lust honestly praised the young teen. "You have really learned how to use your pieces most efficiently!"
Lilithmon grinned naughtily.
"I think you have been most underestimated all these years."
Juri nodded curtly, only barely acknowledging the praise.
"Please do not call them that. They are not my pieces."
The Demon Lord shrugged and relaxed on her bed of exotic cushions.
"Are you even taking this seriously?" the girl remarked somewhat scathingly.
The smiling Digimon raised an eyebrow.
"Do you want me to take it seriously?"
It may sound clichéd, but a chill scurried its way down Juri's spine. It was a simple, straight-forward and frighteningly effective reminder of the fundamental difference between Digimon and humans.
"You're the one who's taking things too seriously, Katou," Lilithmon countered. "You need to be aware of your position. We're just stand-ins for onii-sama and Lord Lucemon."
Lilithmon demurely covered her lips with a single hand, as if acknowledging an indiscretion.
"It's not like I don't know whose body you're using."
"Ara, now that's awfully rude," the lusty demoness complained. "Takako-chan and I have reached a most satisfactory agreement. We are of one mind and one soul."
"I highly doubt that," a grimacing Juri responded. Lilithmon shrugged, and the human girl found her eyes drawn to the unnatural bounce of the Digimon's generous breasts.
"Think what you want. So…"
Lilithmon's gaze narrowed and Juri shuddered as she became the target of a chillingly salacious stare.
"Will you leave now or will you stick around for more…physical games?"
"Buh!" A strange sound escaped the outraged and embarrassed girl's lips. "Wha—what are you saying!"
"Why not?" the Demon Lady proposed. "We could call it practice for when we get onii-sama to join us."
Katou Juri was swiftly betrayed by her own mind. Then by her face, which became a beacon of red amidst the cacophony of colors around them.
"Wha—with Takato-ku—no, I…ah, aaaaahhh…"
The Mistress of Darkness laughed heartily at the sight of a pitiful young teenage girl burying her face in her hands with shame.
"Oh, thank you for the hard work, Katou, Doll."
Kuroyama Takako greeted the two girls the moment they stepped into the hospital room. For obvious reasons—to people in the know—, Takako no longer called Juri "Lizard."
Ruki's nickname was there to stay, though, and it remained unexplained and utterly annoying to the "doll" in question.
It had taken a lot of effort for Ruki not to stomp her way to the Kuroyama mansion and strangle the girl the moment she was told her true identity. Juri had to remind her of what she had been capable of as Leviamon—the fact Ruki and Jenrya survived that day was nothing short of miraculous.
The truth of Ruki's actual death and 'reconstruction' Juri would take with her to the grave if she could help it. She had spent hours and hours hopelessly crying on her bed upon coming face to face with the realization of what Makino Ruki truly was. She could not find it in herself to reveal that secret.
They knew—and Takako had admitted—that Lilithmon is weaker than Leviamon.
"That does not mean, however, that I could not kill you all if I really wanted to."
She had said.
"We won. Again," Ruki retorted in as smug a tone as she could muster. Which was very smug.
Takako grinned and nodded, turning her gaze away from the two girls.
"Then you should thank him."
Peacefully, disconnected from the world of strife which surrounded him, the boy slept.
It is the second week of August.
Almost three and a half months have passed since that day.
"Hey, Gogglehead," Ruki said, having taken Takako's seat next to the hospital bed.
"Very well! I am kind, so I will give you your privacy, doll. Serve him properly!"
"Your sister is incredibly annoying," the redhead muttered between gritted teeth. "It's like she's trying to outdo herself every single day."
She had utterly hated the first six weeks. Back then, Takako had been in another room; a special division of the ICU where he was kept isolated. Only family was allowed to go inside, so Ruki could only see him from behind a tiny, round panel of glass.
She had only seen that many machines in the Hypnos control room. And all those wires, probes and tubes coming out of those machines to invade his body…
The first time she saw that, she had to quickly excuse herself and dash to the toilet. Her stomach, somewhat fortunately, was empty.
She had heard the doctors and stolen peeks at the medical reports on Yamaki's desk. Back then, all of Takato's vital values had reached impossible lows. The fact his heart still beat and his brain still delivered signals for the organs to work was described in every page as an unexplainable miracle.
It was not a miracle, though. Juri had said it back then.
"Takato's power has a will of its own. It won't let go of him easily."
The Crest of Dreams.
Ruki remembered the Crests: they were a plot point in the Digimon animated series, and there had been a series of commemorative trading cards involving them at one point. But this…this went beyond anything those Crests had been capable of doing…which was admittedly not much.
It had been months since then. The machines were gone, and Takato rested placidly on a comfortable, pristine bed. Only a single catheter provided him with valuable nutrients which, the doctors said, his body metabolized at an inhuman pace. It seemed that Takato's powers, automatic as they were, still were working at a frantic pace and claiming all of his energy.
The body of Matsuda Takato had long stabilized: all damage had been repaired, and all numbers were within normal ranges. The truth was that nobody knew why Takato had not awakened yet.
"You're taking your sweet time, aren't you, Gogglehead?"
Even if the doctors said Takato had 'recovered', it just did not seem like that to her. He looked thin, almost famished, with sunken cheekbones and pale skin that received little sunlight.
Matsuda Takato was like a sun. How could this…vestige, this flickering candle, be called a 'healthy' Takato?
"Not that we're having problems here," Ruki pointed out in a dismissing tone. "Everything's alright here. We won again today, no biggie."
"But I swear, next time BelialVamdemon shows up I'm taking him down, the bastard."
Ruki stared at the unmoving form, only his chest rising and falling with a slow and steady pace. She allowed her crossed arms to rest on the edge of the bed and her head to fall on them, turned right so she could look at Takato's face.
"…stupid Gogglehead," she whispered, her throat suddenly painful. "Stupid, stupid, imbecile, retarded Gogglehead."
It had taken a lot of thinking and analyzing to realize the full significance of the thing Katou Juri had taught them.
"Damn it, Takato, how long has it been!" she whispered in utmost complaint. "How long have you been hiding this stuff!"
How long had he been fighting? How long had he been hiding such a thing from everyone?
"You're my best friend…"
Her best human friend, yes. Her bond with Renamon was something special and unique that she found hesitant to label merely as friendship.
Just what was she to Takato?
What did he think on those days when they joked together, teased each other and hung out at the arcade?
What was really in his mind on those days he cross-dressed to mess with her, and on the nights he stayed over at her place and watched her win Digimon card matches online?
On all those days…was he even looking at her?
"Just what…what was in your eyes?"
She remembered, she clearly remembered, that Christmas Eve.
He was drawing Lucemon.
Just how many emotions must have swirled in his chest as he said those words?
But the unconscious boy would not answer. And Ruki could not stop the guilt eating away at her heart.
She knew it was unreasonable, but she believed that, as her friend, she should have noticed something. She should have seen the pain and the sadness in his eyes. She should have prodded further; she should have tried harder to learn her friend's secrets, the things he would not share with anyone.
"Stupid Gogglehead, wake up soon," Ruki concluded with a hint of venom in her voice. "And don't think I'll let you stay quiet after this."
At one point, the bleak shades of gray that make the Dark Area give way to a thing of beauty.
The hard, dark soil becomes grainy sand clear as glass, and the monotone grey sky becomes a cleaner shade closer to white, tinged with streams of violet- and red-colored data. Digimon life does not exist in this realm, and the flora becomes completely inorganic. Forests of crystal surge out of the glass desert, and their irregular shapes create wondrous displays of color like auroras in the sky as they refract the dismal lights of the Digital underworld.
In the center of this kingdom of wonder stands a castle of violet crystal.
Colossal shards of glowing stone jut out of the land like tumors, arranged in no regular or logical sense. The castle itself is a crystal underground complex; the massive pile of shards nothing but an outrageous landmark for the entrance.
To this castle, few can enter uninvited, and none can enter unnoticed.
Kuzuhamon was a member of Sororité Salace but, long before she swore loyalty to Lilithmon, she had belonged to the lord of this castle and his unbreakable charm. Landing by the base of the gigantic geode-like structure, the wicked shaman stepped into the underworld's underworld.
With walls, ceilings and floors of crystal, natural illumination was not lacking. The labyrinthine passages she crossed with the confidence only experience can give somebody, even if she knew that, from time to time, the layout of this network of tunnels and rooms changed in unpredictable ways.
It was an odd place; a bizarre refuge not mean for habitation. It was the playground of the lord and only inhabitant of this region of the Dark Area.
Eventually, she made it to the "throne room": the main and largest chamber where the lord of the underground fortress resided and welcomed his sporadic visitors.
Inevitably, Kuzuhamon's eyes were drawn to the new feature standing conspicuously on the very center of the room. She stared at the nine-feet-tall octahedral crystal for a second or two, but she did not try to make anything of it. Besides, it would be very rude and potentially lethal to not address the looming figure at the far end of the chamber.
Walking past the huge and perfectly regular crystal and bow by the base of the pompous staircase that distanced her from the lord of the fortress. No greetings were necessary—no 'milord' or any other title. In this fortress, nobody spoke before the all-powerful lord.
The numbers of Digimon forever imprisoned within the crystalline walls attested to the price of defiance.
"Speak," the huge figure spoke from above; its quadruped bulk casting strange shadows all over the room thanks to the myriad light beams constantly crisscrossing within the crystal walls.
It was the greatest of demon beasts, the Lord of Vampires, GranDracmon.
Kuzuhamon spoke without raising her head.
"Lady Lilithmon's latest invasion of the human realm has met with failure. From what she has communicated, she does not seem very bothered by this."
"…understandable," the Vampire Lord admitted. "She is currently residing in the world of humans, is that right?"
"Yes. As per Lord Lucemon's orders, she was able to reach the world of humans by merging with one of them."
GranDracmon already knew this, of course, but it made sense to ask these questions nonetheless.
"And the others?"
"Lord Barbamon has not made further moves after being…castigated. His troops engage in mass combat exercises regularly, however. Lord Belphemon shows no signs of awakening."
"Not that such a thing can ever be foretold. And Demon?"
"Lord Demon is still missing. Lord Barbamon has claimed full command of Exercitus Excelsii and Kakiá Taxiarchía."
"Hmph…not wasting time. Not that it will help him much. Anything from Lucemon?"
This was the really important issue. The Leader of the Seven Great Demon Lords was the one creature GranDracmon could not track.
"…after his…retribution upon Lord Barbamon, there have been no further sightings of Lord Lucemon. With the Game on temporary hiatus, it is not known where he might be or what he might be doing."
Kuzuhamon said no more after this, hoping against all hope that this utter lack of information would not result in her destruction.
GranDracmon released a deep sigh.
"…I see. Very well, here are your next orders: you will not return to Sororité Salace. From this moment onwards, you will stay here and guard the main entrance. Understood?"
Even if the instructions were most unexpected—guard the main entrance against what?—, even if there were several things Kuzuhamon would have wished to ask, she could only nod and voice her assent.
Such was the power of GranDracmon's domination.
"You may leave."
The God Man Digimon stood and turned her back to the Vampire Lord, only to find an unexpected yet expected new guest.
The mercenary prince of the Dark Area grinned, showing twin rows of saw-like white teeth. He made a greeting gesture, but Kuzuhamon paid closer attention to the motion of his machine gun as his swayed his left arm.
"Yo," the Demon Man Digimon saluted with his usual, charming voice. "Seems like we'll be working together from today onwards." He made an exaggerated and overly elegant bow. "Please take care of me."
She should have known this particular Digimon followed no allegiance. For all she knew he was a double agent.
Secretly hoping GranDracmon would smite him for speaking out of turn, the female Digimon walked past Astamon, once more gazing at the crystal standing in the middle of the room like a monument…or a trophy.
This thing. This thing was the first and most important question she really wished to ask.
Astamon tapped her left arm with a gloved finger. Noting the glint in his ruby eyes, Kuzuhamon followed him out of the lord's chamber.
"So you're interested in him too…?" the Perfect Digimon inquired as soon as he decided they were far enough. "GranDracmon promised me the chance for a rematch if I help him in his new Game."
"I just…I don't understand—how is he…what is he doing there?"
Astamon shook his head and shrugged.
"I have no idea…but I'm sure you know what this means."
Kuzuhamon's frown became more pronounced, but she nodded anyway.
The moment Lucemon learned of this, it would be war…and Kuzuhamon then understood that was exactly what GranDracmon desired.
A long time ago, long before Kuzuhamon and Astamon first came into existence, Lucemon and GranDracmon played a Game, and the original and mightiest of fallen angels was the victor. No longer interested in playing with the Vampire Lord, Lucemon never gave GranDracmon the chance for the rematch he very much wished for.
But, under these circumstances, there was no way Lucemon could refuse.
Kuzuhamon could not take the unexplainable image out of her mind. Her thoughts were fixated on the crystal in the middle of GranDracmon's throne room…and in the figure imprisoned within.
It was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the Avatar of Dreams, Matsuda Takato.
"Just…what is going on…?"
Astamon only grinned. As long as it was exciting, nothing else mattered.
It was a dark place, completely devoid of features. It was no clear ceiling or floor, yet Takato could feel something solid under his feet. He could walk, thus he did.
The former Matsuda Takato would have found this place as unsettling as it was boring. The current Matsuda Takato only stared ahead, uncaring of his surroundings and building no opinion on them.
GranDracmon waited for him in silence, its quadruped bulk resting like an ancient sphinx ready to impart judgment. In front of him, an empty chessboard rested on a short, chalice-shaped table.
"Well then?" the huge Digimon spoke the moment Takato made it to the table.
"I am ready," Takato replied, not bothering to take his eyes off the black and white checkerboard. "We may begin now."
"Good," GranDracmon returned with noticeable satisfaction in his tone. "The pieces, then."
Like that, the board was no longer empty. On one edge stood a single black figure, in the position of the King. It was GranDracmon himself. Aside from the main piece, his half of the game board was covered in a purple mist that rendered GranDracmon's side completely invisible.
Takato stared at the mist for all of two seconds before looking down at his side. Interestingly, unlike in Lucemon's Game Board, Tamers and Digimon were being counted as a single piece. Instead of Makino Ruki and Renamon, he had Sakuyamon. His eyes quickly recognized SaintGalgomon, Justimon, Cherubimon and HiAndromon. There was a smaller figure: Katou Juri, carrying her partner Shakkomon in her arms. There were three new and welcome pieces: Lilithmon, Barbamon and Beelzebumon, while Kitagawa Kenta and MarinAngemon shone by their absence.
The boy's inexpressive eyes fell on his own piece, standing alone as the King. His pieces were already split into groups, representing their different locations. The board looked rather like a game already in progress.
He then looked at the empty space next to his piece's.
"…I'm missing one piece."
The golden concentric circles of the Crest of Dreams spun in his irises as a new white piece came into being in his right hand. GranDracmon recognized it when it was placed on the table and chuckled darkly in reaction.
"You are most amusing, Matsuda Takato. Just how do you intend to control that piece?"
Takato's right index finger fiddled with the Lucemon piece. The boy still did not bother raising his head to look at the looming shape of the Vampire Lord.
"I don't intend to do so. I won't be directly controlling any of my pieces." He allowed himself a vestige of a smile. "Their own choices will be good enough."
The Ultimate Digimon frowned at that.
"…your overconfidence disappoints me, child."
"Overconfidence?" Takato repeated. "No, I merely believe you are a fool, GranDracmon."
He picked the Lucemon piece and grasped it in his right hand once more.
"But let us begin; I'd rather get things moving again." He snorted quietly. "I have another Game running so I'd rather make this quick."
GranDracmon glared at the boy, and the full might of the Crest of Dreams flared to life around him.
"Don't bother; your charm doesn't work on me. I came here of my own volition, and I accept this Game at my whim."
He twirled the Lucemon piece between his finger.
"White gets first move."
Alone in the seemingly endless expanse of Matsuda Takato's soul, the Avatar of Pride walked placidly. The patches of dead flowers no longer drew his attention. There was no point in further surveying the damage caused by Takato's transformation into Magus Mode.
Matsuda Takato was broken.
The Gardens of Babylon looked like they were eternally caught in the aftermath of an earthquake. Fissures disrupted the lay of the land, and the ground was littered with the remnants of what had once been beautiful expanses of flowers.
But Lucemon's interest was fixated on the one new feature of the gardens he had been completely unable to explain: the beautiful golden moon pasted on the dark sky. No matter how long he walked or how high he flew, the moon remained unchanging and unapproachable. He believed it was some manifestation of the Crest of Dreams, but that did not really tell him much.
Obviously it was some sort of plan from Takato's part, and the fact he could not make anything of it bothered Lucemon substantially. But it was mysteries like these that made the Game interesting, after all.
There were no preparations he needed to do. After all, technically, he could have won the Game any time he wanted by overwhelming Takato's pieces with his own. Even if there was a physical limit to how many Digimon he could send through the Gate of Deadly Sins, numbers were numbers were numbers. Hell, Lilithmon was already there. Even if Magus Mode could definitely beat her, she could probably exterminate the Digimon Tamers before losing to Takato.
So, no, there was not much in the way of strategizing Lucemon needed to do. Besides, everything was going according to plan. If nothing is broken, why fix it?
He was musing on how to welcome Takato upon his return when an utterly arctic gale coursed through the Gardens without prior warning. As his many pristine wings moved to cover his body, Lucemon's eyes became fierce and attentive.
Nothing this unexpected should occur in the sanctuary of Takato's soul.
His eyes sharply scanned his surroundings.
The flowers and the leaves, both the living and the dead ones, were frozen—no, crystallized.
As if to confirm the dire suspicion, the world began to shake and huge spikes of violet crystal jutted out of the ground like banners of conquest.
Lucemon knew this power. He could not understand how it could manifest in this place—more like; he could understand but could not see how it could be happening. Regardless, its presence was an unwelcome annoyance.
"Away with you!" the angel growled threateningly, invoking the power of his Crest to counter this invading force…
The moon began to shine.
Lucemon watched the symbol of the Crest of Dreams come to life on the surface of that distant moon, and its presence was enough to shatter the invading forest of crystals. The leftover dust refracted the Crest's golden light creating a wondrous display of sparkles in the night sky.
Knowing Takato could reject GranDracmon's power so easily filled Lucemon with a strong feeling of relief.
Lucemon quickly turned around, aware of a sudden presence standing closely behind him. In an instant, he not only turned his body but placed a considerably distance between himself and whoever it was who dared sneak up on…
Matsuda Takato greeted his opponent with a placid smile. However, it was not really Takato; his translucent visage betrayed its true nature as a mere projection, even vaguer than everything else in this metaphysical realm.
"…if you can do something like this then why will you not meet me in person?"
Behind him, the moon with the shining Crest engraved on it began to shine radiantly once more. A ring of golden light appeared behind the phantasmal Takato, and the space enclosed by this light began to ripple and become fuzzy.
Lucemon looked at the false Takato, wordlessly asking for an explanation. The figure remained silent, however, merely staring at the angel with a weak smile.
The space within the ring no longer showed the Gardens behind it. Instead, it showed a murky realm in which hair-thin trails of light painted the darkness with lame tones of gray. It was a strange, mysterious realm different from the Dark Area. Lucemon did not recognize it.
His eyes switched between the Takato ghost and the strange gate, but the ephemeral figure would give him no answers.
"You…you want me to go in there?"
Finally, a response: the ghost's smile widened a millimeter, and its head tilted up and down almost imperceptibly. Rather than a ghost, it was more of a mindless automaton with pre-programmed responses to specific inputs.
Lucemon was for once completely confused by this sudden turn of events. He could make absolutely no sense of the avalanche of events of the past minute or so. He had kept tabs on GranDracmon's plotting, even if his rule over the Dark Area ended at the very entrance of the Vampire Lord's realm. Just how did that cursed vampire get close enough to Takato to use his charm on him? Just what was Takato up to? What was the meaning of this move? Was it even a move?
Why was he thinking so much about this?
Planting his open right hand on his face, Lucemon laughed darkly at himself.
Wasn't this kind of unknown challenge precisely what he had wished for? Hadn't he demanded Takato to provide him with an interesting challenge?
He was Lucemon! No matter what may come, he would crush it! Nothing would prevent his plans to come into fruition!
Laughing like the arrogant lord he was, Lucemon swiped his right hand over his golden hair.
"Fine!" He declared. "I shall play along, Takato, so you damn better impress me!"
Without hesitation, he walked towards the Gate, only barely sparing a glance towards the false Takato before stepping through.
The translucent effigy smiled brightly with gratitude before dispersing into a cloud of tiny golden lights.
"Hmph," the Avatar of Pride harrumphed while scratching his slightly reddened right cheek with a single finger. "If you can still smile like that, do it in person, idiot."
GranDracmon's huge shape suddenly leaned closer, as if pulling his face closer to the Game Board could help him make sense of what just happened.
Lucemon's piece had completely disappeared.
It was different from Lilithmon's and GranDracmon's powers to occlude parts of the Board. GranDracmon had clearly seen Lucemon's white piece standing on the Queen's square one moment, and the next it was gone.
The Ultimate Digimon glared at the utterly calm boy standing across the tiny table.
"What did you do, Matsuda Takato!"
Takato's left index idly poked his left cheek, while the arm it was attached to rested on the boy's crossed right arm. The Avatar of Dreams smiled coldly at his utterly flabbergasted opponent.
"I believe…" he began, interrupting the sentence to chuckle. "…that is your job to figure out."
It was a strange feeling: the satisfaction of watching everything flow according to plan.
"Saa," he urged. "Your turn."
His cold eyes glinted with the promise of a challenge.
"Let's see what the Lord of Vampires can do."
With haste and no hesitation, Matsuda Takato opened his eyes.
He wasted no time identifying his position in time and space. He was in a hospital, and there was a convenient placed clock on the wall to his left stating it was 7:41 PM.
There was not a second to waste.
Not a sound came out of his mouth when he pulled the catheter plugged to his left arm.
While he felt he could use his body well enough, it did not change the fact it had been laying on that bed for several months. His muscles were not only weakened by the degradation; they were also atrophied by disuse. Thus magical reinforcement was a must.
After this, he needed to travel, and fast. It would be best if he were back on this bed before Lucemon's made his way through the limbo he had sent him to.
By invoking a secret name, the manipulation of air became possible.
His thin figure shot out of the hospital window just in time to escape GranDracmon's imprisonment.
Makino Ruki was already getting used to night calls. It did not make them any less annoying.
After returning from the hospital, she had taken off her school uniform and changed to casual clothes. The phone ringing caught her on her futon, staring up at the ceiling as if it could provide her with answers or a direction. The device was within reach of her right hand.
The red-aired young girl frowned in obvious annoyance.
"How did you get this number?" Ruki growled right before noticing there was another incoming call, this time from Hypnos.
"Katou gave it to me," Kuroyama Takako coldly responded from the other side of the wireless connection. "Look outside. You can see the hospital from there, can't you?"
Ruki was already opening her bedroom's door at 'hospital'.
After D-Reaper, it was by far the most overt and overwhelming disruption of the natural order ever since she learned Digimon were real. The Shagghai wormhole had nothing on this.
Beautiful, yet eerie. It scattered the artificial lights of Shinjuku like an angry puppeteer lashing out at his creations, showering the surrounding buildings with wavering, amorphous light shapes like the moon's reflection on a disturbed pond.
It had encased the hospital building Takato was residing in, like a beautiful translucent tomb.
"Taka…"the word ended up stuck in her throat, and her right hand gripped the cell phone a little too hard.
"If you care for onii-sama at all you will come here; I don't think even I can deal with this on my own."
"Hmm—wait, what?" Ruki suddenly stared at the device, as if she could look at Takako through it. "Why you talking like you didn't do this?"
"Because this is not the work of the Great Demon Lords. Now get moving, dolly; it seems we'll be working together for a short while."
In the enveloping darkness GranDracmon had picked as a 'Game Room', the Vampire Lord stared at Takato's moving piece.
"Hnn," he murmured. "No matter where you go, there is no escape."
Takato's eyes were burrowed on the board, as more and more pieces of crystal emerged on his side of the battlefield.
While GranDracmon lacked a Crest, he was far from powerless. Like Lucemon's Hegemon's Sovereignty and Takato's The Black Covenant, GranDracmon had Crystal Avalon. Unlike Lucemon's and Takato's "command" powers, GranDracmon's was not 'a power created for the Game'. It was a power he had at all times, which also worked during the Game.
Within the boundary of his crystalline domain, GranDracmon can create and perceive anything and everything at will. While his perception power is unlimited, his creation power is limited by his intrinsic capacity to fuel the creative effort. Furthermore, the limits to what he can create become more stringent the further from himself he creates them.
It explains, then, why GranDracmon is not really interested in reclaiming the whole extent of the Dark Area. Within his small domain, he is God. And God needs no armies, for he can mold them from the endless streams of loose data that make the uncharted expanses of the Dark Area.
After spying on Lucemon's Gate of Deadly Sins, it was just a matter of time to reverse-engineer it within his crystal fortress. However, just like Lucemon's Gate, GranDracmon's reproduction was incapable of accepting a Digimon of his magnitude through. Not that he cared for that, though.
Just like Lucemon, GranDracmon could deploy virtually infinite numbers of troops, given enough time and energy. Unlike Lucemon, however, GranDracmon had no interest in an extended Game. He would just overwhelm and win, to force Lucemon to accept the much-desired rematch.
Matsuda Takato—well, the person that had once been Matsuda Takato—was well aware of this. This was not a Game that could be stalled by appealing to GranDracmon's interests, because it was in GranDracmon's best interests to get things done quickly.
Fortunately for Takato, he did not care in the slightest about this Game, except for its worth as a smokescreen in the Game that really mattered.
Game Rooms are not fully physical constructions, but they are not fully metaphysical locations, either. They are made of data, but they can exist in locations not defined in Minkowskian space-time, like Takato's soul. In the same manner, the 'Takato' and the 'Lucemon' that meet in the Game Room are not the 'real' Takato and Lucemon. The 'real' Takato has just awoken after a long stay in a certain hospital, and the 'real' Lucemon resides in a marvelous gothic castle in the Dark Area.
The 'players' are merely artificial data projections given form by the original's powers, and they can only 'exist' within the Game Room with the approval of both opponents. Among all currently existing Digimon, living or dead, only MoonMillenniumon (and its evolution) and AncientWisemon have the power to intrude a Game Room uninvited.
In other words, at this moment, nobody was allowed inside Takato's and Lucemon's Game Room.
In other words, at this moment, nobody could see the movement of pieces on Takato's and Lucemon's Game Board.
In other words, as long as this Game with GranDracmon lasted, Lucemon could not remotely keep track of Takato's location and actions.
For the very first time in the devilish angel's Game of Completion, Matsuda Takato had the initiative.
It would not last long, but he knew exactly what he intended to do in that little time he had.
"My move," he declared.
She did not waste time in pleasantries.
"Yamaki-san," Katou Juri saluted the man on the other side of the phone connection.
"We've set the conference call."
It was strange how naturally it happened. Before she could tell, she had claimed the reins of the group called 'Digimon Tamers'. Now she was the first Hypnos contacted on a crisis, and the one the rest of the team and even the adults went to for advice and strategy. She guessed it made sense as the replacement 'Player', but she had never seen herself a leader before this.
However, this time she could not reached the Game Room. She had never had difficulties doing that, so she did not know what to try now that her access was suddenly and unexpectedly denied.
It was interesting that the metro lines still worked in spite of the obvious situation. She could see the crystal mega-structure, looming larger and larger as she approached. It was really pretty, and she would have gazed admiringly at it were it not encasing a whole hospital.
"Katou," a familiar voice drew her attention back to the mobile phone.
"Ruki," she returned. "On your way there?"
"Of course. What's the plan?"
The girl thought it for a second or two. She spared a glance around her—while convenient, it was rather uncomfortable how the rest of the commuters had isolated her by creating a void area between Juri and themselves. Some of them often shot nervous glances at the large pink oyster on her lap.
"The usual. SaintGalgomon should be on standby on the heliport. Justimon, HiAndromon: who makes it first?"
"That would probably be me," Ryo responded immediately. He had the advantage of living the closest to Hypnos, while Juri was by far the furthest from the Government Building. She was in fact the only one who could not make it there by foot in a reasonable time; public transport was a necessity for her.
"Alright. Stay with Lee-kun then, please. Everyone else meet two blocks away from the hospital. If there are Digimon in the vicinity, take further distance. Do not engage before at least two of you are there! Did you get that?"
"…sure thing," Ruki replied, sounding somewhat impatient.
"Roger!" Ryo and Hirokazu exclaimed almost simultaneously.
"Understood," Lee Jenrya declared with a steely tone.
"Yup! Shao too~!"
"Huh. So, what should I do?"
An uncomfortable current traveled down her spine. That was an unexpected voice.
"Umu. The one and only and already killing creepy crystal Digimon—whoa. That makes…thirteen, I think."
"Ah, don't mind the details, girl. You must have noticed by now that the Game Room is locked."
"Wait, what do you mean 'locked'?" Jenrya inquired, but was promptly ignored.
"So, Kuroyama-san as well…?"
"Well, of course. I didn't create the Game Room, I just…remodeled it for our little—fifteen!—interlude. Anyway, the room is locked, so you must realize this has nothing to do with the Game."
Juri was not sure of how to respond, but Takako relieved her of the task by just speaking some more herself.
"Look, like it or not, this is one of those 'enemy of my enemy' situations, so I'll be cooperating with you for a while. Beelzebumon is already fighting in his own front, although it almost seems like the enemy was actually seeking him out. Now, get over here, 'cause not even I can get rid of all this crystal by myself…oi, oi, this is getting a little too nasty…!"
Juri and the other Tamers were startled by sounds of heavy violence. A ceaseless staccato of shattering crystal and things like blades slicing the air resounded close to their ears for several tense seconds.
"Oi, Tamers!" Takako suddenly yelled, startling the other youngsters in the conference. "Drag your asses over here; this thing is jamming my connection with the Dark Area, and I could really use some support here!"
With that, Takako abandoned the conversation, leaving the Tamers with a new feeling of urgency.
"What the hell's this!" Beelzebumon Blast Mode shouted as his wings drove him upwards, closely chased by strange crystalline copies of himself. He could barely see his Tamers' home as a speck on the distant ground, but he still could not fire in retaliation—no matter how far it was, his bullet could still reach the home place if he shot downwards.
His slumber had been brutally disturbed by the emergence of strange crystal monoliths dotting the small landscape of Ai's and Mako's home's backyard. When the crystals began to morph into Digimon, Impmon knew it was not wise to stay in that place anymore. Fortunately for him, the Digimon-like creatures had chased him instead of staying to harm his Tamers and their parents.
It did not change the fact that he had no idea what was going on. The crystals triggered a vestige of a memory in his muddled mind, something distant and vague from his distant days in the Dark Area, but everything from that time remained ephemeral and indistinguishable.
"Damn it!" the Avatar of Gluttony cursed as he directed the strange clones to a position where he could fire at will. The fake Beelzebumon, while inexpressive and clearly not made of "flesh" like the original, seemed to have a form of intellect of reasoning, at least enough to split apart to attack him from different directions.
"Tch!" the Demon Lord spat before releasing a first volley of shots. He did not know the capabilities of these clones, but if their bullets were as powerful as his, this could prove a very difficult fight—
A beautiful blade of pure whiteness effortlessly pierced through the head of one of the crystal Digimon, reducing their numbers to seven. The impaled creature quickly developed web-like cracks that spread throughout its entire form before it shattered into purple dust that beautifully scattered the moonlight for an instant before it ceased to exist as well.
Beelzebumon was struck by a very strange emotion. Something very deep within him told him he should fear that sword. Just what was it, and why did Matsuda Takato know of it?
"Don't absorb their data," the newcomer warned before Beelzebumon could even think of it. "We do not know what kind of code GranDracmon put in there."
Matsuda Takato was 'standing' in the open sky with arms crossed and a somewhat bored expression.
Takato glanced at the Demon Lord.
"You…don't remember GranDracmon," he stated. "Curious…"
A copy of WarGreymon's Brave Shield interposed itself between Takato and the crystal bullets one of the fake Beelzebumon had decided to shoot at him. The same creature flew to use its claws on Takato, its bullets still bouncing off the large shield.
Takato leaned back, letting himself float upside down. The moment the slashing Beelzebumon flew over Takato's feet, at least a dozen copies of the original Berenjena came into being, completely surrounding the fake.
The simultaneous fire was more than enough to shatter the clone, and Takato calmly returned to an upright position. His attention was not really on the fakes. At the moment, he only cared about the true Demon Lord.
"I have come to claim my rightful spoils."
The words brought a memory from a fierce, yet sorrowful battle. That day, so many things changed…
Beelzebumon clearly remembered that battle. He remembered the rage, the flames, and the vile red dragon of the end of times. He remembered the holy knight, and his decisive victory.
And, of course, he remembered the cryptic words the holy knight whispered so that only he could hear them.
"That Crest of yours…I'll let you keep it for a bit longer."
Back then, Beelzebumon did not know who he was, and those words made little sense to him…
The Demon Lord of Gluttony…smiled.
"…took you long enough, stupid Gogglehead."
Takato raised an eyebrow.
"Wha…what is this thing?" Sakuyamon murmured as she floated in the open sky of Shinjuku, watching at something utterly bizarre and beyond her comprehension.
The hospital and its vicinity had been engulfed within a strange "field". It was different from the usual Digital Field: it was like an abnormally solid and evenly-colored fog, and indecipherable symbols like Nazca figures danced and swirled on the surface of this grayish dome. It was eerie, but it was very hard to take her eyes off the moving shapes.
However, just like that, the strange field faded away to nothingness, revealing a calm—and disturbingly underdressed—Kuroyama Takako standing half a block away from the hospital's main gate.
LEVEL: 666 SYSTEM: ASMODEUS CODE: LUST
CAUTION! PURGATORY LEVEL 7
The Crest of Lust, glowing a sickly green as it slowly turned under Takako's feet, disappeared with a slight burst of green sparkles like fireflies. The short rich girl flicked her long hair flamboyantly to the side, as if making an (obnoxious) statement.
"Took you long enough, doll!" She called out to Sakuyamon, even if, with her back to the Ultimate, there was no way she could have seen her coming. "I had to do everything in the end!"
Indeed, the girl stood alone on the deserted street. The hospital, revealed now that the strange field was gone, remained encased in a tomb of violet crystal.
"What happened here?"
"I bet you'd like to know."
It was the main reason Juri did not have the Tamers act directly against Lilithmon: despite having many of Leviamon's memories, which told her Lilithmon was the weakest of the Seven Great Demon Lords, Leviamon had not the slightest idea what her Crest does.
The fact that, despite being the weakest, Lilithmon stood confidently among the other Demon Lords, commanded her own army in the Dark Area and acted as Lucemon's confidant, implied the power of her Crest more than made up for her lacking in overall stats.
"Whatever," Ruki dismissed the reply. "More importantly, where the hell are your clothes?"
Takako stood with her right hand planted on her hip while wearing only white lace panties and a same-colored garter belt clipped to matching translucent stockings. It was the kind of risky underwear Ruki's mind would naturally connect with a rich ojou-sama.
The small girl pointed at the ripped, worthless remains of her dress laying on the street.
"They were in the way."
Ruki had many things she could say to that, but she went with something she noticed upon glancing at the discarded clothes.
"…you don't wear a bra," Sakuyamon commented with a certain amount of amusement. This vertically-challenged, physically-immature young girl was supposed to be just a few months younger than Ruki, after all.
"Do you want me to add you to the burnable trash pile, doll?"
That aside, the two females stared at the giant outgrowth of crystal that encased the hospital.
"So," Takako began. "Any ideas? My attacks can barely chip away at that thi—"
The elemental spirit foxes bounced uselessly off the violet crystal and dissipated into non-existence.
Takako flatly stared at the pointless attack.
"…how did you guys stop D-Reaper again?" She asked in a quiet, tired tone, more to herself than to the disappointed Ultimate next to her. "Aaah, right, right, not your own plan."
Sakuyamon growled something unintelligible.
The colossal crystal tomb glowed faintly, and then multiple outgrowths of the stuff, too many to count, began to pop out of the main body like pustules. Even as they expanded like tumors, their shapes changed into many different bodies. Digimon-like bodies.
"And now look at what you have done."
"Do you ever shut up?"
Takako grinned proudly as she opened and closed her hands as if to flex her fingers.
"I was born to be annoying."
"This is bothersome," the Takato in the "Game Room" muttered to himself as he saw his pieces being swarmed by fake Digimon. He knew GranDracmon was more than capable of overcoming his forces with virtually infinite numbers.
He sharply glanced upwards at the Vampire Lord.
"You're even worse than Barbamon."
If he was insulted by the comparison, the ancient Demon Beast did not show it or voice it.
Truly, unlike Lucemon, he was not interested in stretching his personal entertainment. GranDracmon knew what he wanted, and would strike with overwhelming power until he got it.
Takato examined the situation with an inhumanly calm, unwavering mind. Not even Lilithmon's and Beelzebumon's support would be of much help against an infinite swarm of these things. Furthermore, he was acting under a severe time constrain—it was a matter of time until Lucemon made it out of the boundary.
He sighed. It was not like he was surprised by this development but, to a point, he was somewhat…disappointed by this inelegant game. Yes, was that the feeling? Disappointment?
"GranDracmon," the human (?) player called out. "I am willing to negotiate."
The Vampire Lord smirked nastily.
"It's…really weird, ya know?" Impmon muttered. "I've changed so much, and I didn't even notice."
The Small Devil Digimon was calmly seated on the roof of his Tamers' single-story residence. The humans had already left the house at his behest, in spite of the children's reluctance to leave him behind.
Impmon dabbled in emotions and memories while seated on a rooftop. Standing next to him, Matsuda Takato almost boringly sniped the crystal Digimon. He would not even allow them to emerge from their crystal "cocoons", spearing their heads with copies of that familiar, frightening light sword he called Seiken Gradalpha. The boy stood calmly and unmoving, arms crossed across his chest, while swords came into being around him and flew without physical manipulation.
"I…really don't want to fight anymore. Can you believe it?" Impmon chuckled. "Me, Impmon! Just some years ago I was all about being the strongest. Feh!"
There was a certain dark spite in his words, as if he were still embarrassed to admit them.
"I just…I just want to be with them, and I don't want them to fight. They, they shouldn't have to, just because they're Tamers!" Impmon seemed to have problems organizing his words in his mind. "I-I mean, I think what you guys do is great—well, I mean, not you; Guilmon's dead and…ah, but, but, you're still fighting—I mean, you're kicking serious ass right now and…what…"
"I'm a fucking mess…"
Swords flew and destroyed enemies. Impmon vaguely noticed that new crystal spikes were not emerging as quickly as before.
"Anyway, just…just, thank you." The small Digimon said. "For taking this burden from me…from us. And, well…I'm sorry. For turning my back on you guys."
After destroying the copies of Beelzebumon, Takato had done as he had done with Katou Juri three months earlier.
The Crest of Gluttony was now his, and without it, Beelzebumon can no longer exist.
Takato's swords destroyed the last of the fakes, and the remaining crystals, suddenly inert, began to sink into the ground of the courtyard. A thin layer of mist coated the grass, as it was replaced by the visage of an alien realm.
The Digital Gate, GranDracmon's creation, emitted an eerie feeling and an undeniable coldness that made Impmon wished to crawl away from it. The vague memories from his earlier life told him it was a Gate to the Dark Area, but at the same time it was different; it led to a forbidden land; a kingdom where fates far worse than death awaited.
Takato did not bother looking at the Child Digimon. His eyes were fixated on the Dark Gate and the glimpses of a forest of crystal beyond the fog.
"I have to leave now. Do not tell the Tamers or anybody else of our meeting. Do not tell the Tamers or anybody else that I took the Crest of Gluttony from you. Make up some excuse to avoid fights until I come back. Otherwise assist the Tamers in whatever way you can. Can you do that?"
Impmon did stare at the boy, his white face a semblance of pain and exasperation.
"You…were you even listening to me?"
"I have no interest in irrelevant information," Takato bluntly responded, his voice unwavering in all its cruelty.
Impmon winced, not because he felt particularly insulted. Instead, his face adopted an unusually sad and emphatic expression from him. He could clearly see now, what Matsuda Takato had become.
"You…you just can't care anymore, can you?"
This time, Takato did look down at the small Digimon by his feet. The boy's face was a steel mask, its muscles making not even the slightest motion. His eyes, before so full of life and intensity, even when the rest of his body lay exhausted and broken, were now like aged glass mirrors, having lost their luster.
Impmon shook his head in sad disappointment.
"Man, you're gonna make the girls cry."
Impmon snorted at the meaningless response.
"Yes?" The question mark was barely hearable.
"Was this really what you wanted? To become…" Impmon's facial structure shifted between confusion and disgust. "…this?"
"It was what had to be done," Takato said conclusively. "However…I admit it is inconvenient. My pieces will not follow me like this."
"Your pieces…" Impmon muttered in clear disapproval.
"Measures will be taken to correct this." A pause. "No, 'correct' is not the appropriate word. I do not find this…state of being…a mistake. However, the former Matsuda Takato must be restored."
Impmon's eyes widened.
"You…you can do that?"
"Hmph," Takato made a haughty sound before leaping off the roof tiles.
"I am Matsuda Takato. Have I ever failed to accomplish anything I strived for?"
"Well aren't you modest now," Impmon uttered with utmost sarcasm.
"My Pride gives me strength."
With those last words, the boy leapt into the Dark Gate, which closed before Impmon could even consider jumping after Takato, had he ever intended to.
However, those were not really Takato's last words before leaving the world of humans, only the last words Impmon heard.
Before his face fully disappeared as he sank into the Gate, Matsuda Takato allowed himself the vestige of a smile.
"Everything's up to you now, 'partner'."
Impmon stood back on his feet, but made no further action beyond staring at the space on the backyard where the Gate had lain just moments ago. The place was completely ruined; the ground dotted with ugly holes where the crystal spikes had surged through.
He had lost his Crest; a Crest he did not even remember ever using. However, he felt the weight of its absence.
He felt powerless.
He was powerless.
And then, he realized he did not really care that much anymore.
"Heh," he chuckled. "This world has really made me soft."
Then it happened.
His legs immediately gave in and he fell on his knees like a dead weight; like the Earth's gravity had suddenly doubled.
His body shuddered. His lips trembled. His pupils widened and contracted and widened again, completely out of control. Were he human, he would probably have emptied his bowels and coated his body in a sheen of cold sweat.
"Aaah, wha…whaaaa-wa-wa-waa, ah, ah, aaah…"
His mouth blurted out nonsense as he was crushed by the gigantic, magnificence presence that suddenly invaded Shinjuku Ward. Slowly, he turned his body to gaze in awe at the immense pillar of light that surged out of, naturally, that most momentous park where so many things happened.
What is this? Who is this?
And why does it feel both nostalgic and terrifying at the same time…?
"Buh!" Kuroyama Takako gasped; the surprise interrupted the conjuration of her next attack. The Tamers as well had been rendered utterly stunned by the sudden presence that permeated the air and filled the sky with rippling power. The vessel of Lilithmon quickly corrected herself, noting that the fake Digimon that endlessly emerged from the crystal that entombed the hospital were not bothered by the new presence.
The silhouette of a taller, voluptuous female could be seen surrounding the young heiress of Japan's greatest private fortune. The figure outstretched swiped the air in front of her with her monstrous right hand, and the mere shockwaves released by the gesture blew away the crystal figures, melting them as if with acid.
A pillar of light split the sky of Tokyo, and the paralyzed Digimon so far failing at destroying the crystal covering the hospital—Sakuyamon, HiAndromon and Cherubimon—, could only stare lamely at its golden majesty.
"Wha…what the hell…?" HiAndromon uttered in Hirokazu's voice, the hint of fear in it severely contrasting with his cybernetic appearance.
Even Ruki needed a few moments to regain the ability to move her frozen jaw.
"O-Oh, oi! The pervert down there!"
"Yeah?" Takako responded.
"You're supposed to mind being called a pervert, you know!" Ruki mentally kicked herself to bothering to tsukkomi in the current situation. "What the hell is that!"
Takako made a strange, pained expression.
She did not know what to say. She did not know what she was supposed to do. Why did nobody inform her of these things!
I need you to comfort me, onii-sama…
"Realization in progress!" Ootori Reika announced from her high seat in the middle of the main control room of Hypnos.
"I can see that!" Yamaki shouted with no little sarcasm.
It was a lie, actually. He could not see it, but he could feel it. The Realization was of such magnitude that he could feel the energy being emitted all the way to their windowless room. The analytic part of him noted they had never made a spectroscopy of the emerging Digital Field at the moment of Realization. That was a dangerous lapse he promised himself he would correct as quickly as he could.
This…this would paralyze the whole Ward, if not the entire city. It was just too powerful for anybody to ignore!
"Did you trace that, Onodera!" he demanded to know.
"No way! There's no way I could have done that!" Onodera Megumi shrieked from her seat behind Reika's. "It was…it was way too sudden! It came out of nowhere!"
"Tch!" Yamaki cursed very loudly, if only in his mind. "Dark Area again…"
"No sir!" Megumi corrected.
Even if they still could do absolutely nothing to prevent Realizations from the Dark Area, after witnessing so many of them they have begun to see patterns in the data recorded by their tracers and passive monitoring devices. Even if they could not prevent them, they could certainly identify them.
"These numbers…the readings are completely different!" Megumi pulled at her blonde hairs in frustration, an emotion she experienced more and more often since April. "I have no idea where this Digimon came from!"
So many. So rich in variety and quality. No longer defined by discrete frequency peaks, but a continuous spectrum of infinite frequencies he could not fully process.
Colors…not as many as in the Digital World, but definitely many more than in the place he came from. So many colors, so full of vitality. So full of spirit. So full of existence.
This world…was not composed of zeros and ones. This was the world of quarks; of atoms and molecules; of proteins and DNA. Even his own body was now directed not by algorithms, but by pseudo-genes and pseudo-proteins.
It felt…heavy, but not in an uncomfortable manner. It felt more…alive, somehow.
What he did not like, though, were the smells. So many of them, all of them repugnant: car smoke, public waste, animal excrement. Even the smell of the concrete mega-structures that reached hopelessly to the sky like Towers of Babel was disgusting to his delicate nostrils.
"Really…" he spoke, his voice soft and feathery; the beautiful soprano voice of a child. "…it's too early for me to be here, Takato."
He was not supposed to be there.
It was not supposed to be possible.
Much less in this form.
He closed his eyes, reaching with senses that transcended those of humans and capturing every signature of digital "life" in the city. He unmistakably found them all: Lilithmon with three of the Digimon Tamers; two more of them on top of a nearby building, and the one who had once been Leviamon inside that same building, together with the former Digi-Enthelechy. There was also Impmon in a completely different direction, as well as the Tamers' MarinAngemon.
"…I can't feel you," he whispered. His melodic voice was like a mournful aria, laced with bittersweet longing. "I cannot feel you in this world, Takato."
His mind re-evaluated the latest developments: the crystals invading the ruined gardens, the apparition, the strange portal leading him to that incomprehensible darkness, the sightless road he had fearlessly followed all the way through to that gate of light at its end…
"…I see…" the beautiful creature whispered in elation. "So…so that is the nature of this move, Takato." He chuckled. "Playing hard to get, hmm?"
It was amusing, in a way.
"Very well, Takato!" Lucemon boisterously laughed, at the same time the pillar of light that announced his Realization receded, revealing his glorious presence to the world and the visage of the material world to the fallen angel.
"I shall, for the first and last time, play the role your Crest decided for me!"
He was not doing this for Takato's sake; of course not.
It was a matter of Pride.
"You made the one mistake I will not tolerate, GranDracmon," he muttered darkly, his fierce eyes and chilling voice a promise of horrible retribution. "Nobody…nobody!"
"Nobody takes MY Takato away from ME!"
The roar of challenge of the Avatar of Pride resounded ominously throughout the metropolis of madness.
CHAPTER 01 – END