That Dark Abyss
Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon or any other works of literature referenced in that which follows.
A/N: My apologies for the density of the text in this fic, but I hope that those familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft will be able to appreciate my attempt to emulate his style.
Forewarning for some disturbing images.
"Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimaeras—dire stories of Celaeno and the Harpies—may reproduce themselves in the brain of superstition—but they were there before. They are transcripts, types—the archetypes are in us, and eternal. How else should the recital of that which we know in a waking sense to be false come to affect us at all? Is it that we naturally conceive terror from such objects, considered in their capacity of being able to inflict upon us bodily injury? O, least of all! These terrors are of older standing.They date beyond body—or without the body, they would have been the same. . . . That the kind of fear here treated is purely spiritual—that it is strong in proportion as it is objectless on earth, that it predominates in the period of our sinless infancy—are difficulties the solution of which might afford some probable insight into our ante-mundane condition, and a peep at least into the shadowland of pre-existence."
—Charles Lamb: "Witches and Other Night-Fears"
If I had known what was to come, things might have been different. It might have been within my power to act, and with action forestall the nameless horror that sought to devour us all. I might have found a way.
But that's a lie.
Because there was never anything that we could do in the shadow of this terror, this blight of nature ancient beyond reckoning. Even now, I wonder whether we destroyed ourselves or merely hastened the end with our novel inventions and optimistic explorations of the unknown.
I can't say that it matters at this point.
It began in a manner familiar to me. Familiar, and dreaded, because I had seen it begin once before. At that time, our guardian angels, a dose of daring, and more than our fair share of luck plucked Kari and myself back from the shores of that dark ocean. At first, I harbored some anxiety about this episode in our lives, but as the years passed and that world's undersea master did not reveal himself, I came to disregard the whole affair as an unrealized threat.
Formless shadows seeking a queen of light? Reaching for a womb to bear their unholy spawn? Uttering the promise of their overlord's coming? I couldn't see it for anything else: a cosmic hiccup in our adventures, rarely to be recalled beyond those first clumsy confessions of caring and affection.
Oh, the folly of blind youth…
When the dreams began this past year, I did not at first remember them when I awoke. True, there was a growing sense of unease and weariness in the mornings, but the bright light of the sun banished my cares when I looked out upon the world that we had saved so many times. Man and monster living side-by-side upon this green earth, sharing in the fruits of companionship and friendship—how could I expect anything different with our oldest living foe defeated, our worlds joined in one accord, and all my friends in such high spirits?
And so I was blind to the first hints of wrongness in the dark night. My greatest concerns in those days were my college entrance exams and Kari's increasingly frequent illnesses. The latter worried me, of course, but she and Tai often assured me that the frailty of her childhood was simply resurfacing in the typical stress of our teenage years. Late nights, high school drama, and raging hormones made such an explanation all too believable, and I adopted these justifications for myself even when my own eyes slowly grew dull, my skin shone faintly sallow, and my manner continually slipped into tense restlessness. As the summer of our senior year waxed green and vibrant, I found myself in a perpetual state of denial—for how could anything be truly wrong when my life was so normal?
With this thought in the foreground of my mind, I dismissed the niggling sense of doubt, and would laugh when Davis squinted at me sideways, questioning my wellbeing. It was only the excitements of everyday life running me down, I would say; to which Davis always replied, "Then how come I'm at the top of my game when you're dragging your backside and dozing off in every class? Your life's not that tough, T.K., and I oughta know. I mean, you are one of my best buds."
Of all my friends, only Kari and Ken accepted my excuses in silence. In hindsight, of course, I realize that there was always something of this matter between us three, though Ken's journeys had brought him to those shores by a different route.
The first true warning came on the last day of summer. At Yolei's suggestion, we traveled to the beach in order to celebrate our future prospects, which appeared positive across the board. The trip was overshadowed with some concern for Kari, who had remained home that day with another fever, but nonetheless we each took much pleasure in our little escapade.
I can recall the exact moment when my heart froze in my chest as I stood looking out on the surging surf. The sunlight dimmed as a gray haze clouded my vision; my friends' delighted laughter and playful voices faded as the vast ocean thundered in my ears. I remember shivering fiercely as a sudden wind from the east cut through my light shirt, setting my teeth on edge and raising the hairs on the back of my neck. In an instant which stretched a thousand years, I saw nothing but the bottomless abyss which I knew to be lurking beneath those hoary, foamy waves—and I knew that some awful presence was stretching itself up towards the sky from untold leagues below.
And the age…oh, God, the age of that great, malevolent thing rearing up and raising its sight towards me…
Untold millennia of patient waiting encompassed me, bore me away into the mists of time where I lingered helplessly. Adrift in tides of murky awareness, I struggled in an adamant web to recall my own identity, and thence to return to my proper place and time. It was no small mercy when the illusion began to fade like so much dust in an infernal wind.
When at last I surfaced from that mad delusion of skewed perspective and thoughtless perception, I retained only a fraction of the sensation which so shook me, but that small disturbance left me waspish and sullen. I'm afraid I snapped at my companions quite badly when they began to inquire about my sudden lack of cheer; when we left the beach not long afterward, the weather had darkened to reflect my bitter and dismal mood, and there were few words in the car on the way back.
The storm broke some weeks later. While all was forgiven between us, our friends had conspired to keep a close watch upon Kari and myself, sensing that something wholly out of the ordinary was at work in our lives. As for the two of us, we began to share in a close confidence of anxiety and whispered speculation—calling up snatches of our increasingly memorable and worrying dreams, questioning each other on our experience in that dark realm from so many years ago, and (most tentatively of all) recalling that ominous promise of the enslaved wraiths: "Our master can sense your power, too, and he will come for you."
I believe now that I understand why we could not bring ourselves to seek advice or inform our closest friends of these affairs from the first. Since our younger years, we had done so much beyond the pale of children that we grew up never truly realizing the nature of peril—whether in battle or our long wanderings in that digital dimension, we had always seen ourselves as a force for Good, and our grasp of defeat was largely limited to tactical retreat and recuperation. This deficiency of awareness was, doubtless, only further fostered by the nature of digital rebirth: though a handful of our Digimon partners and friends had fallen to deletion at one time or another, their return nevertheless inculcated a sense of invincibility. Looking back, I shudder at how close we often came to death and worse without ever being the wiser.
Yet this growing call of the Dark Ocean, once we had acknowledged it, surpassed any and all fears from those simpler times, and utterly shattered our false sense of security. Even when that cursed place first snatched Kari from our world, so many years ago, we had felt not even a trace of the terror which now stole our breath as we pondered it. Never before had the anticipation of conflict turned our spines to ice and our feet to clay. As the weeks went by, an insidious darkness poisoned our thoughts and sapped our strength, until we were forced to admit that this was a fundamentally different phenomenon from anything we had experienced before. And now, paralyzed by a grim trepidation and with no explanation for this psychological paradigm shift, we could not be reconciled to what we felt was coming. We, who had thrown down the Dark Masters and Myotismon in all his forms, were helpless as babes in the face of this uncertainty and vague horror.
But when Kari collapsed in the girls' showers one day, screaming incoherently before lapsing into faint and evident gibberish for approximately half an hour, and retaining no clear recollection of the event afterward, we knew the time had come to seek help.
Our friends were suitably appalled both at our account and with our previous recalcitrance, but the former quickly overtook the latter as we made the matter clear and they observed for the first time what an impact it had made upon us. Only Ken seemed to expect something of our explanation, and he shuddered throughout. In the end, having thought of no solution on our own, we as a group sought out our predecessors. Across the country, they expressed their own concern and alarm, but were able to offer no help without further knowledge. For what indeed could any of us do, when we fought not tangible enemies, but the specter of fear and the harbinger of our own dreams? Indeed, even had we a known gateway to that dark world, we could think of no benefit in striking out upon a foolhardy expedition without a known objective; ignorance alone would have made us hesitate, but Kari's increasingly plaintive pleas to steer well clear of that foul Ocean swayed even our most intrepid friends. Davis himself, shaken by her hot, desperate tears, promised to enact a purely cursory inquiry into such avenues of travel.
As the weather grew increasingly tumultuous for that time of year, and our dreams darker still, Kari slipped into minor fits of hysteria over the course of sixteen days, culminating in a bout of violent resistance when her parents confined her to bed. The doctor's subsequent medications for supposedly dreamless sleep seemed only to sap her remaining strength as she tossed and turned feebly beneath the sheets, unable to awaken even with her mother's loud sobbing elsewhere in their apartment. I myself, having grown similarly weak and somewhat disturbed in temperament, took my leave from school until such time as I might recover my vitality. I suspected, however, that the matter would come to a head before this occurred.
In all this time, our one hope for answers lay in word from Gennai, whom Izzy had been attempting to contact on our behalf—but fruitlessly. Whether through a mere quirk in that world's finicky nature or on account of more sinister causes, his messages went without response from our old mentor and guide. And so we found ourselves adrift on uncertain seas, waiting for a revelation or some providential hand to usher us along a path which might lead to deliverance from our fears. But it was not to be.
On the sixth day of her medication regimen, Kari slipped into a silent coma. When I first saw her in the hospital some hours later, surrounded by cold and heartless machines feeding parasitically on her too slow pulse (or so it seemed to my dazed mind), I felt the same state beckoning me with icy fingers that numbed my dread and set its hooks in my marrow. But like a winter breeze, the sight of her lying so still also awakened my resolve, and I braced myself for what I knew needed to be done.
Leaving Kari and her weeping family without a word, I strode away, intent on my quest. If Gennai could not respond to our messages, then we would seek him out ourselves, regardless of where he might be. It took little time to rally my companions, and before the sun's sinking rays touched Tokyo's high towers, we had stepped into that other world of our great adventures.
There was no sun hanging low in that digital dimension when we arrived; whether by a tremble in time or for a less encouraging reason, the world lay as in the dead of night. What stars we could see above shone dim and cold in an expanse that took the breath away and left us staggered in awe. Never before had that dark field of the heavens seemed so full of dimension and depth—even without those beloved pinpricks of light piercing the celestial dome for reference, I could taste the scale and scope of space in that pitch sky. And it left me hollow inside.
Our group traveled on foot in silence, for any noise seemed to resound unnaturally in the darkness. Once, I swore that a hushed question ("Anyone know where we are?") echoed off the far-off and shadowy mountains on the horizon before us. We did not speak aloud after that—but we soon realized that we barely needed to direct our feet on our path. Something nameless drew us onwards, but no glances full of trepidation could stall us on our search at this late hour.
With covert glances, I studied my companions in order to distract myself from the eerily empty savannah in which we had appeared. The expression Davis wore was equal parts determination and uncertainty, but he covered the rest admirably—though his eyes jumped anxiously to every dancing wave of knee-high grass flickering in the faint light of a gibbous moon. Close by my side, Cody walked with his head held high and his fists clenched tightly, but the young man looked more like a child than I had seen in years. Yolei, arms tucked tightly across her chest, quivered like a leaf on the verge of its autumnal fall; now and then, a faint whimper escaped from behind her clenched teeth. At the rear, Ken's face was rigid, carved from pale marble, and I could discern nothing of his thoughts save a shade of despair. I could only imagine my own appearance, but my fellows' hesitance to meet my gaze perhaps said enough on its own.
Our partners seemed even more subdued, and faint alarm trickled down my spine like an icicle's tears when I glimpsed their flat expressions and the bruised bags underneath their dull eyes. It seemed a statement of the obvious to say that something in this world was not quite right, but its effects—verging on the tangible—began to weigh on my concerns more heavily than even before.
We had walked for hours in that gloom, or so it felt, when Davis' sharp intake of breath brought us to a halt. Straining my eyes, I quickly spied what had arrested my friend's keen sight.
A hunched figure, cloaked and hooded in a tattered robe, shuffled toward us with a wholly unnatural gait. We stood still, held in place by a sudden grim certainty—all our questions drew breath but never found voice, strangled as they were by an intuitive foreknowledge. We would hear our answers, yes, without prompt or request. We needed only wait.
Uneven, muffled footfalls seemed to pound as war-drums in the night. I barely breathed as the approaching silhouette continued its plodding, awkward journey. My hair stood on end, and Patamon clutched my greasy locks compulsively from atop my head, the both of us shivering weakly. In those moments of awful anticipation, I pondered our old lives, which seemed to be slipping away piece by piece with every one of the figure's increasingly abhorrent steps. In that advance, I knew, lay the end of all that which we had once known. Before us strode a harbinger garbed in sagging cloth and, to my growing disgust and horror, accompanied by the acrid odor of embalming fluid.
In a moment heavy with the weight of eons, the robed one came to a shuddering halt some feet away. Beneath his hood flickered a dull light as two smoldering eyes gazed up at us from a shadowed face stained like aged ivory.
"So…you have come."
The voice creaked and groaned like old tendons pulled taut in a vice, but we knew it. Gone was the grandfatherly care, the newfound youth, and all that lay between. Scratchy chords and stripped boards seemed to rub in his throat as his jaw dropped and clenched, gnashing cracked teeth.
"You seek knowledge. And you crave release from your fear."
Yolei dropped to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. Slack-faced, Cody stumbled toward her, hand reaching for her shoulder, but she merely cradled him in her arms when he reached her. Numbly, he fell into her mechanical embrace without resistance.
"I can give you…nothing."
Blood vessels bulged in Davis' face as he clenched his hands at his side, staring at this dark messenger, choked by rising dread. Ken only bowed his head and wilted, as though some puppeteer had cut his strings.
"You have tasted this coming catastrophe."
I looked on expressionlessly as those dark embers met my gaze. He did not need to explain now, I found, but he continued nonetheless.
"Glimpses of other worlds…appetizers of foes and terrors fit for destruction…you are no strangers to these foreshadowings," he rasped, "but all pales before the true reality which will grind the worlds to cosmic dust."
An image sprang unbidden to my mind: a colossal mass of quivering flesh, of squirming tentacles and great flapping wings. At the edge of perception, droplets of dark water
fell from on high, cast aside by rippling muscle draped with rubbery membranes and adorned with puckering suckers. All about me, rising waves surged and dashed me to and fro, until I thrashed beneath the sea, lungs afire with need—
"You know nothing."
The vision shattered in a thousand shards of thought and sense, leaving me to gasp raggedly for air on that empty savannah. The broken herald regarded me with a sudden frenzied smile of tattered lips and broken enamel, and I could bear it less than the sight of that aquatic monster looming above his undersea realm.
He leaned forward, but though I recoiled, that death's-head rictus leered on grimly. "I know what you saw…
"…and it is but a shadow of the truth."
My breath caught, for I could hear no lie in those ghastly tones.
"The Dark Ocean…" he mused slowly and mockingly, eyes now casting an assuredly unholy glow. "A playground for the cast-offs of these little worlds. A place for the nightmares to nest. A box…for Pandora's brood of Cyclopes and dragons.
"A world full of make-believe monsters who ape their Greaters like children playing at war," he whispered with all the crushing force of apocalyptic revelation.
My hope died, and I felt something break inside.
Jerkily sweeping his arm to encompass our stricken fellowship, the robed figure's feverish gaze fell on our partners, who stood as statues frozen in time—as though helpless in the sight of colossal Powers reaching across time and space to pulverize them with the brush of a fingertip.
"You know that these digital forms are but vessels for thoughts and dreams. But They who come are not the dreams of men, oh no. They are the dreams of the horrors of bygone aeons—those slumbering beneath the depths and beyond the stars for hundreds of millions of years…for you see, they reached out in their dark sleep, and grasped the oh-so-malleable nature of digital matter. And they prodded. And they twisted. And they squeezed until some Digimon took on the barest shadows of their most primitive forms.
But they are growing. Those dreams of the Deep Ones, of the Mi-Go, of the Great Old Ones…they are taking on life of their own, becoming less digital and more real. That which holds their image must become them in fact and flesh. You think you are facing Digimon? No. No, no, no. You are standing on the cusp of a new age. An age where beings from the Dawn of Time will awaken in new bodies and roam a world which sought its escape from them in the face of cataclysms and tumults which your wildest imaginations could never hope to encompass!"
His lips grew dark with bloody froth as they twisted and snarled in a manic grin.
"You think you face Dagomon, the Undersea Master of the Dark Ocean? A petty villain who schemes to conquer the world as you know it? NO! Dagon rises from the deep, and behind him looms Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep and Shub-Niggurath and untold legions like them! Their coming is the end of Men, for their very existence warps reality and bends it to their will! They shall not attack you—you insects, you mites—with rays of energy nor clever wordplay, nor will they even deign to threaten you as if you were worth their notice. They shall drive you mad and consume your minds as you gaze upon them, for they are utterly beyond your ken! They shall devour your very being as they grow and fester on the surface of this rock, until they are bloated with milk and blood, and fill up the void between the stars!"
And before our horrified eyes, Gennai's skin began to split and spill forth thrashing wires and black ichor. His eyeballs bulged, weeping jaundiced tears, the pupils growing wide and jagged, but even blacker than they ought—
And it became far too clear how he knew this to be our fate.
His form swelled and distended with great tumors that burst the seams of his frayed robe, revealing a glossy carapace of chitin and waxy skin that sloughed off muscle and stretched across warped bones. Jaw splitting down the middle into a gash like nothing so much as insectoid mandibles, the grisly husk of our beloved mentor nevertheless spoke once more.
"You have invited their return with these frail digital vessels, these shells of electronic bits and artificial clay, but it is now already too late! They draw nigh—they have passed the threshold—they have transcended their nightmarish echoes and fairy tale puppets, and even now supplant them!
"THIS IS THE HOUR!"
And then he screamed, wavering in place with arms outstretched, his voice a cacophonous mash of broken glass and rotting wood and burning sulfur. I tasted coppery blood as we each reeled to the ground as one organism, stricken dumb with horror. And I knew, as I gazed up at that macabre figure poised against the vast cosmos, that the end had come.
The cold stars wheeled overhead for a moment or an eternity more, until an inky black mass rolled across the sky and blotted out the light.
Would that I had known no more.
A/N: Many of us long-time fans know the history behind the second season episode His Master's Voice, but I've never personally read a fic which primarily sought to address Lovecraft's source material, and not merely its digital echo or manifestation—and certainly not in this manner. It's rare enough to find a story that takes the conflict to a level above 'digital monsters doing battle,' so the odds of having both here seem pretty low overall.
Hope you enjoyed. Drop a review to let me know what you thought, if it please you.