Episode 45: Revelations

By the light of the crystal in front of them, seven pairs of feet made careful -- but quick -- work of crossing the chasm, hopping from floating stone to floating stone. It wasn't terribly difficult, as in no place were the stones too small nor too far-flung; indeed, it seemed the bridge had been broken quite recently, and the parts had not yet had time to disperse. Seven pairs of arms held little digimon, save for Luke; Plumon was settled around his shoulders, and in his arms was instead the digitama of Javermon.
(He couldn't quite explain why he was carrying it; he doubted he would be able to deliver it to Deekamon, even if their ally was still around to have the egg delivered to him. Still... he felt bad leaving an egg, even a Reaper's egg, sitting on the cusp of the abyss.) up the steps.
One by one, the other kids followed suit and followed the goggle-boy up. They hesitated before actually goin

It was a relatively short jaunt, but it was hard to shake the discomfort of essentially skipping from stone to stone over an endless abyss. Once, Simon nearly faltered-- and before a second passed, Toby was quick to reach out to help stabilize him.
The few minutes spent crossing the chasm felt like they took forever; before long at all, they were standing on the floating island, looking up at the structure before them. There were stone steps leading up to the entrance; there, there were tall doors, but they were not closed; one of the two stood open, leading into a tall, long, and -- above all -- dark corridor.

"What are we waiting for?" Cindemon said from Andrea's arms.

Well... what were they waiting for?
But the kids were rooted to the spot, and the digimon -- even Cindemon, for his griping -- were in no particular hurry either. Their apprehension was understandable; they had no idea what was waiting for them inside, even the two of them that knew where to go.

It took a moment, but with a heavy breath, Simon steeled his nerves. "Let's go," he said, and he began to walkg in, though; they looked, again, to Simon. "Why do you keep looking at me like that?" Simon said, a bit unnerved.

"You've always been the one to rush in," Toby said, shifting Fuwamon to one arm and rubbing the back of his head with the newly-freed hand.

Emily smiled faintly, picking up. "And stop me if I'm wrong, buuut... I think we kinda need that right now. You know?"

The be-hatted boy paused for a moment, and adjusted his goggles as he looked down at Efudemon in his arms. "Well," he said slowly, and then nodded, and smiled slowly. "Then I can't let you guys down. Time to rush in where angels fear to tread, yeah?" When he looked back up, the others nodded, and uncertain smiles played on their faces.
Simon gave the group a thumbs-up.

When -- and only when -- he got six thumbs-ups in return did he turn to the door, and was the first to step over the line and into Era's stronghold. The others were behind him in a moment's notice.

Inside, it was two things: dark and almost painfully quiet. They could see well enough to see walls, the floor, the basic layout of where they were... though they couldn't quite tell the light source, light was coming from somewhere. There was only one way to go-- forward. Hands occupied as they were, they had a hard time getting their D-GEARs out for extra light, and so they tread on in the dark, breath bated.

It wasn't long before the corridor opened up into a far larger room-- the light was as faint as it was before, and the shadows seemed soaked into the corners. Dilapidated pillars decorated the floors, while crumbling statues lay askew. Even in the dark, they could see the forms of the statues that lay near the outside of the large room, just inside the halo of light-- the Sovereigns. It was no wonder, then, that they looked like they had seen better days-- claw marks gouged through solid stone.

"Guys?" Toby said, suddenly, his voice cutting through the quiet. He was walking forward-- seven broken pedestals, lying in a pile. Their bases looked broken, as though they had been uprooted and tossed aside. Carved forms, details worn away by time and abuse, sat atop the fallen pedestals. The same shining crystal as ever, though it seemed to have lost all of its luster and shine, comprised the familiar statues.

If they thought back to Wisemon's castle under the sea, they would recall the sight-- for indeed, the statues were likenesses of the seven child-level digimon, the receivers of the virtue.
In fact, they were the exact same statues-- not simply replicas or of a similar make, but the exact same, ripped up out of their places in Wisemon's stronghold and hidden away.

Which meant who-knew-what for Wisemon himself. Or rather, his fate was clear, if they looked close; a familiar book lay open, the majority of its pages carelessly ripped out and torn, now in the form of scraps of paper strewn on the floor.

... call that a nice kick in the proverbial teeth.

"I... dang," Faris huffed, chewing the inside of his cheek and looking at his feet.

It was possible to forget that the digital world didn't just exist where they were-- it lived and breathed and things would happen, even if they weren't there to see and try to stop them. It brought up the question: how many other allies and friends had fallen without their knowing it?

They had to tear themselves away before they got sidelined for too long; time was of the essence, and now that they were quite literally no longer on the doorstep of the enemy, but rather past it, they couldn't afford to waste their time. They had to find him.

They had to walk away, minds racing but mouths closed as they ventured deeper.

Luke gave his input on direction from the rear of the pack; it wasn't hard to hear him, as the only remarkable sounds was that of their feet on the cobblestone floors. They walked through dark corridors and crossed empty rooms, passed naked masses of crystal sticking out of the walls. Occasionally, they could look towards the ceiling and instead see the dark sky outside and hear the howling wind.
In other rooms they passed through, they saw more crumbled statues, more odd objects hoarded in piles; digitama lay here and there. These were half trophies, and half a way to make sure that reborn digimon would be indoctrinated from hatching. Perhaps even the eggs of fallen allies lay in these stores-- or even perhaps eggs of digimon they had defeated, snatched up and returned so they would not be able to switch sides.

They twisted and turned, and it felt like they were walking in circles, but before long they stood at the bottom of a stairwell, leading up into one of the only intact spires in Era's cathedral base. They could see the stairs turn to wind around a central column, and it was pitch black.

The digimon each felt a slight tingling in their bodies, like the pin-pricks of a limb regaining feeling after going numb, but they dismissed it as simply nerves. The kids felt the same, though considerably more subdued-- it was almost like the feeling of passing through a proxy area.

"So this is where he's hiding out?" Emily said, a frown tugging at the side of her mouth.

"Yes," Plumon said from her place around Luke's shoulders.

"It's all upstairs from here, then, yeom," Finmon remarked.

With that, they began to climb the stone stairs, slow, deliberate; it wasn't cramped by any means (it couldn't have been, if Javermon and the like could pass up and down it), but there wasn't an overabundance of horizontal space, and they went up in single-file. Every sound had an amplified echo, and though it wasn't a terrifically long walk up, it felt like it took so much longer than it did.

Before they reached the top, however, the digimon began to act quite strangely indeed-- the tingling was growing in strength, and when they were perhaps three-quarters of the way up, it became too much for the little digimon.

"Set me down, set me down," Efudemon said, almost shaking with the something. He wasn't the only one; even Lammon and Plumon began to bristle, and their partners did as Efudemon demanded of Simon, setting their partners on the steps in front of them.

"What's going on?" Toby said, sounding a bit concerned; they were staggered on the stairs, and it was hard to really get a bearing on what was going on with the group as a whole.

"It's-- energy," Paleomon said, before what sounded like an involuntary growl escaped him.

"A whole freakin' lot of it," Cindemon added, his tail flicking. It looked like he was having trouble keeping his eyes open.

"That explains the tingling, then," Julian reasoned, speaking low, but he was audible, thanks to the reverberation of his voice.

"Okay, great, so that wasn't just me, then," Simon remarked.

It was energy, yes-- but the thing was, it wasn't the kind of energy they might have felt in the presence of a Sovereign. It overflowed; it was being handled by something not fully equipped to handle it, and it felt like it was surging through them.
Within a few seconds -- and without even announcing it -- the digimon began to glow, and took on their Child forms, as if they were forced-- or were absorbing the energy runoff they spoke of.

"Somehow, I'm getting the feeling that this isn't an act of charity on Era's part," Kamomon remarked, looking up the stairs and furrowing his brow. At the head of the pack, Simon (as was per his usual) did not hesitate; he merely began to lead the pack up the stairs, now with Egakumon hot on his heels instead of Efudemon in his arms.

It was even more claustrophobic now, with the digimon in their larger forms (though, of course, Sampamon was still on Luke's shoulders, and he still held the last reaper's digitama in his arms), but the change gave the kids a bit more hope-- their digimon were at least in a more independent form, capable of fighting if they had to.

Not that they had any idea what they were going to do when they reached Era, but they couldn't turn back now.

Within minutes, they reached a flat landing at the top of the stairs. In front of them, a large, ornately-carved black door led into a room; the door itself was cracked open, and darn if that didn't set off every kid and digimon in the pack's radar as a sign to be on the alert.

"Well," Egakumon said, looking around as all seven pairs stepped onto the landing, breathing out. His voice was low, but he didn't tell himself that Era wouldn't be able to hear them on the other side. "... you guys ready for this?"

"Let's get on with the face-kicking," Andrea said after a short silence, pounding a fist into her other hand's palm. That was enough-- that was the go-ahead.

"I've been waiting for this for more than my share of time," Luke admitted, nodding once.

A heavy silence overtook the entire group as they turned to look at the door.

Simon did not lead this time-- instead, all as one, they began to move. The door was pushed open; by whom was unclear. They crossed the threshold, not knowing what was going to be on the other side, except for one thing: Era.

It was dark in the room; so dark, in fact, that they couldn't see a thing in front of them. The door closed unbidden behind them, casting the group into total darkness, but all stood fast (even Toby, though Lammon did nudge her nose against his hand reassuringly). The ceiling soared so high above them that even if it were not dark, they'd have difficulty seeing it. The tingling of the odd energy stayed strong-- stronger than before.

Then, a moment later a tinted-blue light flared to life in front of them-- its source was unclear, but there, sitting on an ornately carved black throne, was Era.

The light was faint-- it was just enough to let them see his basic form. He propped his chin up with one hand, his elbow resting on the arm of the chair; the rest of his body was slack as a ragdoll. His glasses hung loosely from his free hand.
The man looked more... tired, than he had when they had seen him in the Deep Jungle, though perhaps it was a trick of the light. He was paler and his skin was almost translucent, his hair looking like it had gone quite a while without being washed.

And it did not take away from the intimidation factor. Era was still a scrawny man, no older than his mid-30s, and most importantly: he was wholly human. There he sat, in front of kids and creatures who had just come out of fighting a seven-foot-tall dog-man, giant birds, bugs the size of commercial jets... and yet, it was he that made the group fall still and silent.

Truth be told, they realized they didn't know what to do; they couldn't fight, not in their current state -- ragged and run-down -- but it was far too late to turn back, and waiting would have made them even bigger of sitting ducks.

"You know," Era began to say in a low tone, "it's interesting."
His voice was even, but there was a barely-concealed hint of rage lingering below the surface. He got no reply, so he continued. They couldn't see his eyes; his head was rolled forward and hung slack. "It's interesting," he repeated, "that the dog conveniently forgot to tell me something important. The idiot gods must be truly desperate. It would have been wonderful to know earlier."

Silence fell again; either nobody wanted to dignify Era with a response, or they were waiting to see if he had more to say. (Not for interest in his point of view so much as it was the same sort of instinct that drives someone to watch a train wreck-- the feeling that they should turn away, but they couldn't).

"It's interesting," Era said for the third time, "that the idiot gods value your lives so very little that they would forfeit them, just for a shot that did nothing to save themselves."

"What?" Rajamon said, not to anybody in particular but just a general expression of bewilderment.

"They drag you down with them, and they feed you lies that it's for your own good-- for your world as much as theirs, for your lives, and so you should let their scum contaminate you," Era continued, as though he could not hear the cat-- really, as though he were speaking to himself more than he was to anyone else. "They forfeit your lives, and all for what? A slight delay of the inevitable?" Pause, and then he looked at the children-- or rather, looked through them. "I would be a lot angrier were I in your position."

The group exchanged sidelong looks in silence, bewildered. The kids reached slowly for their D-GEARs, but the motion did not escape Era.

"It's far too late to be thinking about doing that," the man said coolly, raising his hand in a nonverbal cue for them to stop. Uneasy, they froze; the digimon bristled visibly. Era continued only when it was clear that he wasn't going to be interrupted. "You should be thanking me, you know. At least I was going to give you a choice to live, but no, so much for that."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Emily said, sudden, almost as if it were reflexive and unbidden; but even so, it was dead-on for what was on the entire group's minds. Her hands were clenched into fists; she was trembling slightly, but more from contained anger than any sort of fear.

Era looked at the girl, his expression unreadable; it was almost like he was looking through her, rather than at her. "I was not aware until your little fight outside that they've gone so far as to actively contaminate you, instead of just stealing energy. They sullied you by using you like batteries for their... modest, at best, highest forms, by forcing you to fuse with them. It's a pity that the idiot gods decided to forfeit your lives for their own sake--"

"Shut up!" Egakumon yelled, and before anyone could stop him the little rabbit was running forward, his hand reared back and beginning to glow with code. "Pummel Claw!"

As fast as Egakumon could move, Era just needed to lift one hand again, as he had before. Where his hand stopped in the air, a holographic keyboard appeared; one flick of his hand, just one keystroke, and it was as though Egakumon had hit a wall, or some sort of invisible barrier, some ten feet away from the man himself. His claw hit empty air and he was forced backwards in the most undignified way, and he stumbled backwards to where the group stood still. Simon was quick to stabilize him; the rabbit was not hurt, merely disconcerted.

"Don't you dare," Era hissed quietly, his eyes narrowing as he locked his gaze on Egakumon. "You will not touch me, nor will you even think to." The holographic keyboard flickered out of existence again as he moved his hand away. He was almost disconcertingly still; he was still sitting slack, still shrouded in the dark. "Not that it will be an issue in a moment, of course, but good manners are important regardless. So blame them, not me, for your demise." Era looked back up at the group. "If not for them, I would have offered you salvation."

"And do you think we'd have taken it?" Luke said, his voice quiet but every word was spoken with total conviction. Era pointedly did not look at him, and so he continued. "You think that, at the end of everything we've been through, the only thing we'd care about would be self-preservation?"

It wasn't about the digital world anymore; it wasn't about the real world anymore. It hadn't been for a long time.
It was about their friends. It was about their partners, and it was about the digimon that had helped them along the way, and that had fallen -- and those that still fought on.

If becoming a part of their digimon had forfeited an empty self-serving way to make everything they had gone through all for naught, then they were happier for it.

The man paused for a second, and shook his head.
"You've taken their bait, then. I'm not surprised," Era said, his voice even in such a calculated way that it immediately betrayed a seething rage, bubbling just below the surface. "It's a pity."

Once more, he lifted a hand, and once more, a holographic keyboard appeared to meet his fingers. "But you are just in time."

The moment he said that, something changed. All around them, the tingling feeling -- the overflowing energy -- suddenly became overwhelming, to the point where it verged on unbearable. The digimon snarled and spat and hissed like wild animals; the kids clutched their heads and covered their eyes, teeth gritted to hold back cries of surprise and something that wasn't quite pain. The children were rooted to the spot; there was some invisible force trying to force them back, unrelenting and powerful like the rapids of a river.
Era, for his part, was either unaffected, or amazing at keeping his composure; his eyes stayed fixed on the brilliantly bright thing, an uneven smile splitting his face.

If they were watching Era (though few were; the surge of power, of energy, made their vision slide out of focus, and the light was suddenly vividly bright), they would see that he had gotten silently to his feet. The light that had illuminated him from above was now in his hands-- or rather, floating between his hands, held in front of him. It was a swirling mass of data, so bright they couldn't look at it. All of this energy and data was compressed into a thing whose shape they wouldn't be able to make out, but was remarkably small in size-- only a foot or so long.

The digimon seemed to not be in control of themselves. Their pupils were narrowed; those with claws seemed like they were trying to dig them into the solid stone floor. They reared down, reacting on pure instinct-- not only the energy pulsing through them sending their senses awry, but also the sense that whatever was in front of them was not meant to be.
Most odd was that the children could feel it, as well; it was a sickly sort of gut feeling, of primal rage and fear with no discernible origin.

It felt like hate-- like pure, unadulterated hate, coursing through every fiber of their being, rushing through every vein.

After what felt like forever -- when in reality, it was hardly 30 seconds -- it began to die down. Though they had no way to tell, all of the energy was being pulled back into its source.

Slowly, the kids were able to look; the digimon stayed tense, even as their pupils dilated once more. All fourteen of them, digimon and child alike, shook uncontrollably. They heaved heavy breaths, as though they had run marathons; their hearts thumped against their chests like the beating of war drums.

It was hard to see, but in Era's arms was a thing. It was small, the size of a human baby at best. In fact, it bore some resemblance to an infant-- in only the most cursory and grotesque of ways.
Its body was translucent and pinkish; it had no skeletal structure to speak of, only a bare nervous cord running down its dorsal side. It had only the most vestigial of arms, and no legs to speak of; instead, its lower half tapered into a curved tail. It was positioned in some vague parody of the fetal position.
Its head was too big for its body, and entirely covered in bandages-- except for one eye. Said eye swiveled to look at the children and digimon, staring and unblinking-- deep red with a ring of vivid yellow around a too-tiny pupil, and entirely too large. On its head were thin extensions, three per side, looking almost like the external gills of an axolotl; three similar protrusions ran down its back.
Making it worse was the fact that its entire body occasionally throbbed and pulsated gently; this alone, even disregarding its grotesque appearance, would have solidly cemented it as one of the most unnerving things the group had ever seen. But no, that was it in its entirety; it was a deformed fetus, held gently in a megalomaniac's arms.

The kids' D-GEARs lit up like they did when a hostile was near-- but before they could read anything out, they suddenly began to buzz and screech, an unholy noise, as though they were crashing.
They were being fed the data of a digimon they couldn't understand.
It was a digimon.

Of freaking course it was.

To be perfectly honest, it was pretty dang unsettling.

"What is that?" Simon said, pulling a face.

"Perfection," Era said in return, cool and calm. "It will make me a god."

"That is not what I'd call perfect," Faris mumbled.

"That's what he was using the cores for," Iguamon said suddenly, eyes narrowed.

"What?" Julian said, not taking his eye off of Era.

"... to create something incredibly powerful," Lammon said, catching on. She cast a look at the dinosaur, who nodded once; the sheep looked then back at the little creature in Era's arms.

That... thing contained the raw power of the cores of four sovereigns.
... fantastic.

Rajamon growled, rearing down. "You're going to have to do better than that thing!" the tiger snarled, rearing his head back. "Prince Fire!" he said, forming a fireball in his mouth and spitting it at the tiny digimon in Era's arms.
The little thing made a rattling hissing noise, its one visible eye rolling up.

They didn't see a thing actually happen, but the fireball was engulfed by white light and vanished-- and then Rajamon screamed in pain, his entire body convulsing. Parts of him began to visibly 'glitch', bursts of data glowing on his body before fading. Andrea gave an inarticulate yell, kneeling down next to the tiger almost immediately. The air around them felt strange-- like the space around them was warping.

"It's not even complete yet," Era murmured-- his voice sounded downright giddy.
The glee in his voice was not a comfort.
"It's not even done yet," he reiterated. There was a wild, wolfish look in his eye; the faintest of smiles tugged up one corner of his mouth. "Do you understand what this means?"

"That you have serious problems, yeom?" Delfinimon offered through clenched teeth; she was trembling with rage.

"It means I win," Era answered his own question with no regard for the dolphin's comment, laughing breathily.

"You think this is going to be enough to stop us?" Andrea said, looking still at Rajamon; the cat was a bit rattled, but got to his feet. "You're out of your mind."

"You haven't won yet," Simon said after a second; beside him, Egakumon gripped his paintbrush tightly. One by one, each pair of kid and digimon stood a little taller, felt a little stronger.

Emily looked to the goggle-wearing boy, and nodded, placing a hand on Kamomon's head. "We've come way too far to back down now."

"Even if it's hopeless," Toby said, frowning, "we won't just stop."

"And just because you have a demon-fetus-- that don't mean jack to us," Faris said, smiling a bit despite himself.

"We'll do as we always have," Julian picked up, putting his hands in his pockets.

Luke, for his part, was quiet. He still held Javermon's egg in his arms; he looked down at it, then closed his eyes and breathed out heavily. "We can't afford to lose," he said, lifting his head and opening his eyes only after he spoke. "We're not going to."

Era quite pointedly said nothing, merely looking at the group with the trace of a smile on his lips.

At present, the kids D-GEAR units were still glitching out, trying to process the data from Era's creation. But the data flooding forth from the fetus, jamming their digivices, was exactly what enabled what happened next-- and quite tellingly, Sampamon slithered down off of Luke's shoulders and onto the floor.

With a roar and a hiss and a growl, the digimon began to glow and change form.

Within a matter of second, the digimon changed to their adult forms-- and didn't stop there. Only when seven perfect level digimon stood where seven child levels had been moments before did the light fade from their bodies.
They felt tired; they felt they were working on borrowed energy, a lucky surge. They did not expect that anything would come of this; if it could so easily toss Rajamon around, so effortlessly, then they didn't expect to do anything. It was simply that they refused to go down without a fight.

Era still said nothing, his face all but frozen, contemplative.

"Do we attack?" Nimbimon said, tone low.

"Yes," StarShokunimon replied with a single nod, his sword-blade shining white as he surged forward.
What happened next was a flurry of activity; everything happened so fast, it was almost impossible to keep track of it.

Every one of the seven digimon let loose an attack-- a Starlight Blade from Shokuminon, a Bagha Comet from BurningBaghamon. Ospreymon flapped up a whirlwind of ice and snow with a Gale Storm, while both of WarTriassimon's heads spewed red and blue flame with Double Helix. Nimbimon's Orb Bomb sent streaks of light cutting through the dark; the MetalShayumon's Seeker Torpedoes were quick to home in on Era and the strange digimon, accompanied by the colourful blast of energy that was HebiDramon's Nightfall Sniper.

Just as effortlessly as it had extinguished Rajamon's Prince Fire, the strange fetus digimon merely began to make a sound like a rattling breath. Its eye rolled back, and just like that, every single attack was stopped cold in its tracks. It was like the energy was sapped away in an instant-- whether it was light sheathing a sword or the actual physical torpedoes, it was up and gone.
And in the time it took any of the onlookers to notice this, the digimon themselves began to snarl and hiss in pain as their bodies began to convulse wildly, thrown backwards by some unseen force. Once again, it felt like the world around them was beginning to warp out of shape around them, and they began to visibly distort with bursts of data. Within seconds, they were reduced back down to their Child forms, and were laid out flat and quite inelegantly on the floor. They sucked in heaving breaths, crying out with pain as their bodies shuddered and glitched; their partners were immediately by their sides, kneeling on the ground.

It had all been for nothing. They couldn't say they didn't expect it, but it didn't ease it.

Era said nothing. The digimon he held was shuddering slightly; one corner of his the man's lips was quirked upwards.

"You'll die a nameless death, just as the others," he drawled. "Game over."
He shifted the fetus to one arm, and dragged a hand through the air; under his fingers, projected inputs appeared silently, read his hand's motion. The fetus's eye swivelled down to stare at the children and digimon one last time, before, with a flurried flash of data, Era was gone.






For a few seconds, it was totally silent, and they were left sitting in the dark.

"No," Simon hissed. "No!" he repeated, now a ragged yell that tore its way out his throat as he slammed a fist into the jagged stones of the floor, and he stayed in that position, chest heaving with every breath. With no other way to channel his frustration, he pulled his goggles off his head, throwing them to the ground; they clattered skittered off a few feet, but were relatively unharmed when they came to a stop in the dust.
Nobody said anything. The red-head's frustrated outburst neatly encapsulated what was on all of their minds-- frustration and pain and not knowing where they went from here.

They were left sitting in the dark-- seven digimon whose attacks had been neutralized, who had been thrown back like ragdolls. Seven children who didn't know what they were supposed to do. Era was gone, with-- even in an unfinished form, something that was ludicrously powerful. He had played them-- they didn't know to what ends, but Era had clearly been in total control of the situation (and if he wasn't, then he was a flawless actor.

Slowly, Simon leaned back, then reached up to his head, he pulled his beanie off. He ran a hand backwards through his disheveled mane of hat-hair, breathing out heavily. He looked up after a moment; once again, all eyes were on him.
"... I got nothing," he admitted, shaking his head; it sounded like even saying the words pained him. "Anyone got any ideas?" Though he would surely deny it later, his eyes were so slightly wet with tears of frustration.

And it fell silent again. The children looked down, their gaze on the dusty floor. They didn't know what to do, not even the slightest idea, and the unbearable weight of that statement weighed down on their shoulders for the first time. What could they do-- try to chase after Era? What, while he still had the demon-fetus that could stop seven Perfect-levels dead in their tracks with a twitch?

"... Are we going to let this be what brings us down?" Rajamon said, pressing his nose against Andrea's hand; she looked at him, then slowly shook her head 'no' in response to his question.

"You said it yourself," Kamomon said, shaking his head defiantly as he turned to Emily, who frowned and blinked a couple times. With a bit of a struggle, he kicked off the ground, flapping his wings to stay aloft. "We've come too far to quit now."

Lammon nodded, getting to her feet and pressing her head against Toby's hand. He flinched his hand away, tense, but relaxed a second later. "It's not hopeless yet; we haven't done all of this for nothing," the sheep said quietly.

"It doesn't matter what he has on his side. We've got something he doesn't, yeom," Delfinimon said, laying her head down on Faris' lap. When the boy was about to answer with a quip, the dolphin shook her head. "Each other. I know, it's sappy, but it's true."

Iguamon looked at Julian wordlessly; once again, as they ever did, they exchanged silent looks, but after a tense moment, the dinosaur spoke. "We will find a way. That is not a possibility; it is a certainty. Era works alone; he spurns support from others. We, however, do not." Iguamon looked pointedly at his partner at that last bit.

Sampamon nudged her head against Luke's side; he was, for lack of a better term, zoned out, staring at the floor. "We can't afford to lose," she said quietly, recalling his words from mere minutes before. "We're not going to."

It was Egakumon who spoke last; he quietly stepped over to where Simon had thrown his goggles, and picked them up. With one furry forearm he wiped them clean, then looked solemnly at Simon. "He hasn't won yet," the rabbit said. "We're not gonna let him."

Simon paused, looking around. Each child was allowing their partner's words to sink in, silent.
It still felt so hopeless, but it was hard to argue with the earnestness of the digimon; they spoke with such conviction that it was hard not to let at least some of it sink in.

Andrea was the first to actually get to her feet, dusting herself off and heaving a sigh. "I don't know about you guys. But all this has made me want is to kick his face in even more than before." She paused, and looked at Rajamon, then around at the others. After a bit of hesitation, she continued. "I wouldn't take any of this back, even if I got the chance to."

"Nor would I," Emily said with a nod as she got up. "It's been crazy, there's no doubt about that, but the train hasn't gone off the tracks yet. We're still alive. We still got a chance, you know?"

"Keeping on like this is a lot easier said than done," Faris conceded, placing a hand on Delfinimon's head. "But... you know, we've been through too much to call it quits, just because he's pulled something unexpected on us. Everything has a weakness. Even -- heck especially -- super-powered fetus things." Pause. "Seriously, that thing is creepy."

"Era thinks he's more in control of every situation than he is," Luke said, looking at Javermon's egg in his arms. "He thinks that he's strong enough that the flaws in his plans don't matter, and he gets sloppy when things start working his way. There's got to be a way around it."

"We'll find a way," Toby confirmed, quiet and sincere; Julian said nothing, merely looked to the younger boy and nodded before turning his gaze meaningfully to Simon.

Simon looked at the goggles in his hand and frowned, thinking hard.

It wasn't just about them anymore-- it wasn't even just about the digital world. Era was on the cusp of destroying more than he understood; they were needed now more than ever. Any mistakes they made, any failures that had brought them down-- they were nothing compared to this.
This was why they were here.

Still gripping his hat in one hand, Simon looked to the others, digimon and human alike. One by one, he got thumbs ups, nods, smiles; with a smile that was more confident than he really felt, he returned a thumbs-up to the group on the whole, before pulling his goggles over his hair and onto his forehead once more.


They rested only briefly; they figured that they had been on their feet for entirely too long, and so the entire party slept lightly in Era's throneroom. When they woke, they felt bizarrely rejuvenated, entirely awake and wholly aware-- perhaps it was the adrenaline.

Almost immediately upon awakening, they began their trek out of the now-empty cathedral stronghold. It felt like it took much less time to get out than it did to get in; perhaps it was because instead of tense silence, they were chatting, talking, making plans and discussing what to do. Where Era was headed was an obvious answer (Yggdrasil, wherever it may lay), but the matter of getting there themselves to head him off was another entirely.

Before long, they were walking out the heavy, looming front doors; ahead of them stretched the floating rocks that stretched over the chasm, and further than that, the wasteland they had trekked through just the day before. It was morning. The wind was died down; it was calm, and the cloud cover seemed a little thinner than usual, allowing the light of the sun to peek through the red-violet haze a bit more.
They made their way back across, but they stopped at the far lip of the chasm to look behind them at the abandoned fortress.

The wind howled in the distance.

Simon ran a hand backwards through his hair again, getting accustomed to the feel of not having a hat on. He gripped the beanie hat in one hand, and for a split, impulsive moment, he considered throwing it into the abyss. He dismissed the thought, instead wadding his signature hat into a ball and pocketing it in one of the deep pockets of his shorts.
He adjusted the goggles that sat on his forehead, and looked to the group.

"Let's go."

[Chapter 45: End]