Episode 36: Mukademon

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Ambulances arrived within minutes of George calling them, and the paramedics had handled the situation with as much care and decorum as possible, which had been difficult given the circumstances. Bella was a wreck, something that her children had never seen before, and they, consequently, became upset.

Logan was a smart child, and put two-and-two together when the ambulance arrived with a stretcher. He was quick to take his younger brother and sister to a different room with the nanny, away from all the business and gore. He tried to keep them occupied, but that only seemed to work when Claire arrived to help look after them.

As soon as the ambulance had arrived, so did the local news crew, littering the front gates with reporters and paparazzi.

Bella had gone with Russell in the ambulance, and Claire had been on hand to call Richard and try to get a hold of Mason, who was oddly unavailable.

The police became involved too, arriving at the hospital as Russell was being seen to by doctors and his wounds tended to. He had been heavily dosed up on morphine in the ambulance, so the pain was nullified, but his wounds were deep and bled profusely. They asked Bella the usual routine questions: if she had seen anyone else in the room, if Russell had any known enemies or anyone who would want to hurt him when Bella had last seen him.

She answered each question truthfully and honestly, knowing that their investigation – however long it went on – would be pointless. This was not the work of some knife wielding mad-man. Russell had been in the Digital World and something had happened. Something dreadful which had led to this. He had not heeded her warnings, and now he lay in a sealed and sound proof room, being cut out of this clothes where they had dried to his skin.

In the ambulance, Russell had clutched a silver device in his hands, something Bella vaguely recognized as his Digivice. She had taken it from him gently, though it had been like trying to pry something from a dead man’s hand, and pocketed it before the paramedics took it and threw it away by accident. It was a dangerous thing, and should not fall into the wrong hands. She knew she would get rid of it as soon as the opportunity arose, but for now she was too focused on her husband, and trying to understand what the doctors and paramedics were saying.

Russell was x-rayed shortly after being admitted, and then had several further scans to look deeper into the damage to his body. Many of the wounds were deep, cutting sinew and ligaments from where they shouldn’t have been. His muscles had been scored into, like dozens of knives had been plunged into him all at the same time. His right arm was broken, and his neck, too, had been broken when he was attacked. He had severe spinal injuries, and his left elbow had been shattered. There was internal damage to his lungs, liver, and other vital organs. Bella listened silently, tentatively, trying against everything to see some kind of hope in what she was being told.

The doctor’s face was severe. He did not try to hide his bad news, and that Bella appreciated; she did not like being lied to. Even if that might have been what she wanted at the time. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Divine. But there is little else we can do for now. His outer wounds have been dressed, and we’ll keep a constant vigil on him... but for now, we’ve done all we can for him.”

“May I stay with him?” Bella asked. The hospital was not the nicest place in the world, and Bella avoided it as much as possible. The last time she had been here was over a year ago, when Hunter had cut his forehead open on the corner of a coffee table. But the wing Russell was in was the private wing, nicer than everywhere else, and the rooms were personal. She also knew all the rooms had a pull-out couch for when parents stayed overnight with children.

“Of course,” Dr. Harrow said gently. “He’ll be dosed up on morphine to keep the pain down, and he’ll be visited every half hour by our nursing staff, but yes, you may stay with him until...” he trailed off.

Bella hardened herself. “Be honest with me. Please,” she said, almost choking on her own words. She knew she sounded like she was begging as she looked at her husband through the window into his room. “What are his chances?”

Dr. Harrow breathed in slowly. It made his moustache ruffle, and he averted his gaze from Bella, staring at Russell, who had been strapped down to prevent any movement, and thereby preventing further injury or the opening of any wounds. “It’s an incredibly unique case... but your husband is a strong man, and in good health. Healthier than most men his age... with enough time he could pull through.”

“Could?” Bella repeated.

The doctor paused. “His injuries are extensive. In many cases like this, where perhaps someone has sustained these kinds of injuries in a car crash, a person can begin to improve and then take a turn for the worse... We’ll keep our hopes up, but there is always a chance.”

Bella nodded slowly. “I...” She coughed and swallowed. “I see. And... if he does recover... what then?”

“It’s... unlikely he’ll walk again,” Dr. Harrow said slowly. “His neck breaking has... well – it’ll be unlikely that he’ll have movement or feeling lower than his neck. But he’ll be alive.”

“If you can call it that,” Bella murmured to herself. She folded her arms. She didn’t want to be spoken to anymore, and turned towards the window fully. “Thank you Dr. Harrow. If I have any more questions I’ll come and find you.”

He nodded curtly and turned, leaving her quickly and disappearing down the hall. A call went out for him seconds later. Bella let the sounds of the hospital wash over her as she entered Russell’s hospital room. The door swished to a silent close and she was alone with her thoughts, the only noise being the sound of the machines. One covered Russell’s mouth to help with his breathing. He had several wires connecting to his chest, attached to a heart monitor. Other monitors and machines dotted around him, none of which Bella knew anything about.

She had never, not even in her worst nightmares, imagined she would have to face this. Her husband in a comatose state. A small chance of recovery, and the best prospect for that recovery being quadriplegia. And that was the best outcome. She sat down, pulling up one of the armchairs to Russell’s bed side. She leaned back in the seat and stared at her husband’s beaten face, noticing the bruising and the cuts more clearly now that they had been tidied up.

She shifted, feeling the device she had found digging into her thigh, and removed it, turning it over a few times in her fingers, giving the device a closer examination. If this was the same Digivice from before, it had changed a lot since Bella had seen it. Last time it had not been silver, and it had not had all the extra buttons. Her grip on it tightened, turning her knuckles white. This thing, this device, was the root of everything. The reason she now sat in a cold hospital room, with nothing for comfort but the sound of machines and her husband’s labored breathing. Everything had happened because of this little device, and the hope it had promised, but never delivered.

 “You fool, Russell,” Bella sighed shakily, finally letting her worry and anguish take over her. She placed the device on the side table. Her breathing became broken and she leaned over herself, silently crying into her hands.

-----------------------------

Claire had taken to looking after Bella and Russell’s children while they were both at the hospital. Bella kept a constant vigil over Russell’s bed side, and had only returned home once or twice to pick up some things. Richard, along with some junior partners, were picking up the slack at Atlas Corp; Claire did her bit by helping the new nanny with Hunter, Rose, and Logan. She had watched the three of them grow up since birth, so it was like looking after her own son, Eric, as a child all over again.

Emily was running errands that day, and Claire had Hunter, Logan, and Rose to herself. They had taken up residence in Claire’s house for now, a short distance away from the hospital. Emily was taking some things there for Bella, before she would be coming back to pick up the three children.

Rose was settled on the sofa, watching a children’s program on the television – occasionally shouting out words and the answers the presenters asked the children at home. Logan watched it with her, paying little attention, more interested in the magazine Claire had bought him about model building. Hunter was with Claire at the dining room table, he was coloring in a book she had bought for them all with wax crayons.

It had been almost a month since Russell had been found and admitted to hospital. There had been little change or improvement in his state. Many of his physical wounds had healed, but he was still comatose, and showed no signs of coming out of it. The effects were showing on Bella, too. She was not eating properly, and worry was chewing away at her like a disease. Last time Claire had seen her, her skin had looked sallow and almost waxy – like she was coming down with something. They had talked briefly, Bella had disclosed that she barely slept, always afraid she would miss something, and that she wanted to find Mason – hoping he knew what had happened. Mason had still not appeared, nor been in contact.

Claire was worried for her friend, and obviously Bella’s children. They were more than likely going to lose their father. She didn’t want them to lose their mother, either.

“Aunt Claire?” Hunter spoke up from where he scribbled furiously at a picture of an orange and green dolphin. Hunter and Rose had grown up calling Claire ‘aunt’, as she was the closest thing they had to one. Logan was the only one who referred to her by her surname. “When are we going to see momma?”

Claire smiled a little. “Soon.” She patted the little boy’s head.

He paused and looked at her. “We’re going to have to go visit a graveyard soon, aren’t we?” Hunter was more in tune to how people were feeling and what was going on than he let on. He noticed so much going on around him, Claire was surprised he hadn’t mentioned anything sooner.

“Maybe.” There was no point lying to Hunter, or to any of his siblings. Logan seemed to have already come to terms with what was likely to happen, being far more realistic and cynical for a child his age. Rose, however, still was none-the-wiser, and was always asking when Russell would be back. Despite his distant relationship with his children, Rose doted on him.

Hunter returned to the pages before him and continued coloring in silence for a little while, until he set the crayons down and tugged on a chain around his neck. Claire had seen glimpses of the necklace a few times, but hadn’t asked Hunter about it, or Bella. She had assumed it was a trinket that Hunter had picked up somewhere from a toy. She watched the four-year-old take the necklace off, struggling to get it over his head, and then he stared at it. At the end of the silver chain were two silver dog tags that shone like new.

“That’s a pretty thing,” Claire commented. “May I see?” she asked. She waited for Hunter to give her the necklace to not be presumptuous. Hunter was not as protective over his belongings as Rose was, but Claire liked the children to know they had a choice whenever they were with her.

“Sure.” He passed it to her, laying the necklace in her hand when she held it out to him. Claire examined it, tracing her fingers over the tags - one printed with Hunter’s name, and the other with a long digit code. “Dad gave it me.”

“It’s a very nice thing,” Claire commented. “Do you know what the numbers mean?”

Hunter shrugged. “Dunno. He gave it me a while ago. Said there was one for Rose too, but he didn’t want to give it to her yet.” He paused. “I don’t want Rose to feel left out. Do you think I should give it to her?”

Claire smiled and handed the necklace back to Hunter. “I wouldn’t. Your father probably gave you the necklace for a reason. He wouldn’t want you to cheapen his gift by giving something meant for you to your sister.”

“Necklaces are for girls though,” Hunter stated, making a face.

“Well... this is quite a boyish necklace,” Claire explained. “See? Dog tags, instead of a jewel.”

“I guess.” Hunter shrugged and slipped the necklace on again. “Are we going to be able to see dad?”

Claire pursed her lips. “If he gets better. It’s a little difficult at the moment,” she explained.

“What happened to him?” Logan asked, he had been listening into their conversation and now looked at Claire and Hunter with sharp intelligent eyes.  “Everyone says he’s in hospital. And that he’s sick… but no one will tell us what’s the matter with him.”

Claire was always astounded by Logan’s candidness. She knew all children had a certain amount of gall, but Logan had it in spades. Since he’d been able to speak, he’d always made sure he was heard and everyone knew what he was thinking. As he grew, he held on to that, no holds barred. He said what he wished, and made sure he was always heard – a trait he probably had picked up from Bella.

Claire had debated explaining the extent of Russell’s injuries to the children. She had been asked by Bella not to divulge more than necessary if the children asked, but she didn’t want them to be shocked if they did go to see their father. Claire had always felt honesty was the way to go when handling any situation with a child. Otherwise, it was then instilled in the child that lying was alright.

Taking a large breath, Claire called Logan over. She would explain it to the boys, but she had a feeling that Rose would not be able to understand. It would be unfair to take away her hope of seeing her father again. “Your father was attacked in his office,” Claire explained, speaking mainly to Logan, but watching Hunter’s reaction too. “He was cut up very badly, and had a few bones broken. Like when you broke your arm last year.” She referred to an incident where Logan had fallen off a see-saw.

“Oh.” Logan paused. “Why’s that so bad? Why don’t they just put a cast on it, and some Band-Aids, and he’ll be fine. That’s what the hospital did with me.”


“It’s not quite that simple,” Claire said, smiling sadly. Logan looked confused. “You see... the damage to your dad caused by the injuries has... well... they’re very bad. So bad that he has to sleep for a long time to give his body enough time to heal. And even if that works, there is still a chance he might not be able to walk because of the things done to his body.”

Her words seemed to penetrate Logan enough for them to make an impact. Hunter didn’t understand fully, only that his father was badly injured and needed to sleep, but Claire could see understanding seeping into Logan’s mind as he stared at her and his eyes widened in horror. He said nothing after that, just returned to the sofa in silence and sat back down. Hunter returned to his drawing, and neither said anything again until they said goodbye to Claire when Emily arrived to collect them.

-----------------------------

It happened suddenly, just as Dr. Harrow had predicted. Russell had been slowly improving, having been hospitalized for nearly three months, he was showing good signs, responding to voices, and his brain scan readings had all been positive. Bella had remained at the hospital, and the one evening she went out to get some air, sit in the cafeteria with Richard and Claire, the worst happened.

Code red calls echoed all over the hospital, and it was a mad scramble to get to Russell’s room. By the time Bella had got there with Claire and Richard in tow, the room was full of nurses and doctors, all shouting over each other and injecting Russell with this and that, checking his vitals while the machines around him screamed mechanically. Bella had been denied entry to Russell’s room by one of the nurses, and was forced to watch from outside as everything was done to save him, and nothing did.

Russell died – Dr. Harrow confirmed after an autopsy – of eventual heart failure. That despite how promising his progress had been, it had eventually been too much for his heart to take, and it had given out.

Claire stuck close to Bella in the days that followed, moving a few of her things to Bella’s home, to help look after the children and to help Bella deal with the arrangements of a funeral. She would pick up Logan and her own son, Eric, from school and bring them both back to Bella’s place.

“You don’t have to organize things straight away,” Claire explained one morning, sitting across from Bella, mug of coffee in hand. Bella was looking over funeral homes, arrangements that needed to be made. Bella’s calm, in all situations, had always unnerved Claire a little, but this time it was worse. Claire remembered her own anguish when her husband had died a few years before, she had struggled to get out of bed for days, not eaten. And the days she did get up, she couldn’t find the energy or will to do anything. Bella was the opposite. Barely a day or two after Russell had died, Claire had found Bella in the kitchen, going over leaflets and working out network figures for Atlas Corp; it was like the last three months had never happened, that Bella was arranging a funeral for a total stranger, and not her husband.

“I want to get it done. Out of the way,” Bella explained, not looking up from the forms she was going over. “It’s been hard enough. I just want everything done. Finished.”

“Bella...” Claire murmured, “how can you talk about it so... so... easily? He was your husband.”

Bella ran her hands over her face and hair, she looked tired to onlookers, but nothing compared to how exhausted she felt in herself. The last few months had drained her of almost everything she had. She hated to admit it to herself, but she was glad it was all over, because now she could move on. “I think I knew.”

“What?”

“I think I knew... when I saw him lying on that carpet in his blood, I knew, even if he lived for a year after that, he would eventually die of those injuries. That he wouldn’t come out of that coma,” Bella explained. “I knew, and I made my peace with him on those sleepless nights, watching at his bedside.”

Claire tapped her fingers on her mug, sitting in silence, while Bella looked thoughtfully at her hands, clasped in front of her.

“It sounds horrible, I know – but there were nights where I considered killing him myself,” Bella said slowly. “Covering his mouth with a pillow. He wouldn’t have had any kind of life, stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his days, if he had recovered. He would have been miserable and probably taken his own life eventually.” She paused again, slipping her fingers into her hair, and leaning her elbows on the table. “I’m glad he’s dead.”

“Bella!”

“Because then he didn’t have to see what had happened,” Bella carried on, ignoring Claire’s interruption. “I’m sure, in his mind, he was aware of himself, but unaware of his body, that he couldn’t move and never would move again. I just wish he could have gone peacefully, instead of surrounded by yelling people and the insane whirr of those machines. I wish I could have been a stronger person, and told Dr. Harrow straight away to turn off the machines, or done it myself... then he could have died with some dignity. Instead of... of...”

She was beginning to crumble, and Claire crossed to the other woman gently placing her arms around her.

“God, I’m a disgusting human being,” Bella said fiercely. “When he died, I felt nothing but relief! What does that make me, Claire?! I’m a terrible person, I was glad my husband was dead!” Claire’s grip around Bella tightened as the younger woman began to cry. Bella rarely let her emotions take control, but at this moment in time, Claire couldn’t blame her.

It took several minutes for Bella to calm down, to stop crying and just sniffle. Claire found her a handkerchief, passed it to her, and waited for Bella to clear her face. Her eyes were blood shot, and her cheeks already blotchy from her tears. Claire’s previous discontent with Bella’s admission had gone, and now was replaced by pity.

“You’re not a terrible person, Bella,” Claire explained, kneeling on the floor with Bella’s hands in her own. “You weren’t glad. You said yourself, it was a relief, because he wasn’t in pain anymore. It was a relief for you to not have to see him see himself as he would have been... It’s a complicated, and horrible thing you’ve been through – and I can’t promise it’ll get easier. But you’ll get through it, just like I did.”

Both women were silent for a few moments, before Bella smiled gratefully, and Claire rose up off the floor. She returned to her chair, and Bella looked back at the forms for the funeral, to finish completing them.

The funeral was a small affair in itself. Bella organized the whole thing, and only a handful of people were invited. Claire and Richard sat with Bella at the front of the room where the ceremony was being held, not in a church, but a funeral home, as Russell had never been religious. Emily sat with Logan, Rose, and Hunter behind their mother. Mason was also invited, but had not turned up, and the remaining seats were filled by the small group of friends Russell had made. More people were invited to the wake later on that day.

The ceremony was short and simple; Richard made a touching speech, and Claire said a few words. Bella tried, but failed halfway through, and had to have her speech finished for her. After speeches, the closed casket was taken out by pall-bearers into the cemetery. Russell’s parents had been buried in an area reserved for members of the Divine family; there were ancestors dating back several centuries, and Russell was to be buried beside them in the same plot of land.

The owner of the funeral home led the rest of the service outside, which took a short amount of time, before he offered his condolences a final time, and then took his leave of the family. Bella remained at the graveside while Russell’s grave was filled with earth. Richard stayed with her for a little while, before he escorted Emily and the children back to the car. Eventually, Claire left Bella too, going to her own car to get ready for the wake being held at Bella’s home.

Bella found herself alone again, with her thoughts, and completely bewildered as to what to do. She knew she would have to return to work eventually, Atlas Corp was already beginning to suffer from lack of proper leadership, though Claire and Richard had been doing their best. The whole company would need a reshuffle, and she didn’t know where to begin. Despite her best efforts, her attempts to destroy Russell’s silver device had failed, and she now carried it with her everywhere. She held it in the pocket of her coat, finding it an oddly comforting item to have.

She became aware, slowly, that she was no longer alone as she lay the flowers she had been holding on top of Russell’s tombstone. She had been sure she had seen glimpses during the service, but now was sure. After more than three months of being missing, Mason had returned.

The two of them stood in silence for a while, sizing one another up. To Bella, Mason looked vastly different to how she had last seen him. He had lost some weight, and he looked unhealthier than she had seen him before. His skin was sallow in places, like it was clinging – barely – to his bones. She could also see a healing wound on his head, just visible. He was well dressed though; he had always looked smart, and now was no different. He dug his hands into the pockets of his trousers.

“A shame,” Mason said slowly.

“Where have you been, Mason?” Bella asked briskly. She was turning on her business attitude, she needed to. As far as she knew, Mason was the last person to see Russell before he had turned up in his office, a bloodied mess. And because Mason had been out of contact for so long, it immediately made her distrustful of him.

“Dealing with business in Germany,” Mason explained.

“Don’t lie to me,” Bella snapped. “We called the offices in Germany, there was no news of you turning up any time.”

“My own offices,” Mason corrected. “Not all my work is to do with Atlas Corp.” He seemed to smile, and it made Bella’s skin prickle uneasily. “Such a shame to hear about poor Russell... what happened?”

“You’d know if you had been here,” Bella replied fiercely. “Some friend you are.”

“I came for the funeral.”

“You’re a little late.”

Mason shrugged one shoulder. “Sadly, air transport is out of my control.”

“What are you doing here?” Bella asked waspishly, growing impatient at his evasiveness. “You’ve been out of our lives for months now, showed no concern for Russell while he was hospitalized. In fact, I’m almost certain you’re part of the reason he was hospitalized.”

Mason’s expression flickered from nonchalance to intrigue. “Me? What could I have done? As you say, I’ve been missing for months.”

Bella’s hands clenched in the pockets of her coat. “You encouraged him to discover more about the Digital World. To try and tame it to his and your desires. And he was badly injured returning from that place. You try and explain that to me. Even if you weren’t directly attributed to his demise, you were most certainly involved.”

“You could say that about any of us,” Mason replied calmly. “Even yourself.” Bella went to respond, but Mason cut her off. “I didn’t come here to argue, or to point fingers.”

“Why are you here then?” Bella asked. “I doubt it’s to pay your respects, whatever you say.”

“I have... a proposition for you. You’re in no fit state to hear it now, I need to speak to you when you have a level head on your shoulders and aren’t suffering with grief. You’ll need someone to help you with Atlas Corp – and no one knew Russell’s workings better than me.” Mason paused. “Come and visit me in Germany, soon. I have a friend who I’m sure could do great things for us both.”

He turned and walked away, leaving Bella in a stunned silence, swept up in the wind.

-----------------------------

Bella returned to work less than a week after the funeral, much to the surprise of Richard, Claire, and all the other higher-up employees of Atlas Corp. She was insistent though, and could not be dissuaded, needing to keep busy. She did her best to concentrate on work, trying to dig Atlas Corp out from the problems it had created for itself in the time Russell had been in hospital and otherwise occupied. It wasn’t a difficult task to change things around, and to improve the situation, but it added to Bella’s stresses, making her mood worse. It had been some time since she had been so deeply in the Atlas Corp goings-on; she found it overwhelming.

Despite all her best efforts to carry on working as normal, and to not let Mason’s sudden and short visit bother her, Bella found it hard to ignore the conversation they had shared, and his proposition of a friend who could help them. She knew full well that she would need his help eventually, because while she could keep things going, she didn’t know much about improving Atlas Corp’s standing and putting it back at the top of the economical ladder as Russell had done.

Her attitude changed dramatically in a short period of time, where she once made time for social visits, she now couldn’t find the time. She invested herself entirely into Atlas Corp, threw herself into her work and began to spend all her hours at the office. She sent Logan, who was beginning to act out, to boarding school, and hired a new nanny to take care of Hunter and Rose while arrangements were made to move them all closer to the Atlas Corp offices from their family home on the outskirts of town.

Bella became irritable and snappish with everyone; where before she would consider the opinions of others, she now began to ignore them, or take them begrudgingly only because she felt she had to. In a short space of time she had gone from being respected to being feared. Many people were terrified to speak to her, or even leave, because of her hold over them and the company. The only one who did, was Claire. She had originally thought Bella’s change in attitude was due to grief – that she wasn’t handling it well – but it quickly became clear that this was how Bella was going to be from now on, and despite giving many of her best years to Atlas Corp, Claire felt that quitting was the only option for her.

Claire leaving seemed to give Bella the much needed kick she needed to contact Mason about his proposition, which had haunted her mind for the months that followed the funeral and his surprise visit. She arranged a trip to Germany to see him, and also for a change of scenery. Richard was left in charge as usual, and Bella left for a week.

It had been some time since any of the Atlas Corp bosses had visited the labs in Germany, where many of the experiments and trials took place. It had always mainly been Russell’s avenue, as he knew what he was looking for, and also how to deal with Mason and the lab techs far better than anyone else. Bella was willing to give it a shot though. She had to, if Atlas Corp was going to survive and find new strength, they needed to find a new way to affect the market and make an impact.

The labs ran themselves most of the time. Russell had always said they did their best when left alone, without outside interference. Mason had hired some of the best minds available at the time for the labs, and their logic and inventiveness knew no bounds. The amount of ideas they came up with daily always astounded Bella, when Russell had regaled her with them, but the ones they focused on and worked towards were always the best, the ones that would make the most noise and give Atlas the most interest.

Mason was at the main gate to greet her, and his suit looked vaguely reminiscent of the suit he had worn when she had seen him before. Bella was able to get closer to him this time, to see him up close. She remembered that seeing him before, from a distance, he had looked odd, a little strange and unhealthy. Up close now, he looked worse, sickly. His skin was pallid and looked almost waxy, like someone who had been embalmed. His eyes were bloodshot, and the few times he made eye contact with her, Bella was sure she could see a kind of cloudiness to his irises.

Via the emails Bella and Mason had exchanged in arranging this visit, she had been promised a full tour of the facility to better get to grips with it, short one-to-one interviews with the heads of departments, and more of a hand in the goings-on so she could keep track. None of this seemed to be happening, Bella realized, as Mason led her swiftly through the main building, past glass windows leading to rooms where people in white coats and masks handled things. Her annoyance was high from the flight, and from Mason’s unwillingness to speak while he led the way through the stark and cold corridors. Arguing seemed futile. Anything she said he dismissed, and didn’t respond to, unless glancing at her over his shoulder counted as a response.

They reached Mason’s office on the second floor of the labs. Most of the practical work went down in the downstairs facilities. Much of the paper work and formulae were created upstairs where it was quieter, and it seemed more like a huge staff room, than work offices. Mason’s office was at the far end, and it had a small room adjoining it – Bella believed it was for Mason spending the night there. The door to his office closed with a loud click, and was locked by Mason.


“What is this all about, Mason?” Bella asked irritably. “I was expecting to meet the scientists we have on our payroll, not have a sweep through the lab and be stuck in here with you.”

“I thought you would want to meet my... friend, who could help us,” Mason suggested, standing with his arms behind his back. “He is most eager to meet you.”

Bella perked an eyebrow in slight interest, her hands on her hips and her lips pursed.

“If this is some kind of stupid ruse Mason, I promise you, I will destroy you,” Bella said firmly. Mason said nothing, but walked across to the separated room and opened the door. Bella approached and crossed the threshold, glaring quietly at Mason as she stepped past him.

Immediately she was hit with a chill. The room was cold as ice; she could see her breath hanging in the air as she exhaled. It was a small room, about the size of an average storage cupboard, barely enough room for two people to stand in, so Mason stood to one side, in the way of the open door. The walls were concrete and cold to the touch, as if they had been left without insulation on purpose, and the floor was covered in bright white tiles. All the walls were bare, aside from one – the wall that was opposite Bella. It was littered with wires, all tied neatly together and fastened to the wall to keep off the floor. Each wire was covered in thick, foamy outer skin. The wires were connected to several small machines in one corner. One was like a heart monitor, showing regular signs of a heart beat. Another looked like an oxygen tank, which released a hiss every few seconds. These two were connected to another machine, an incubator – something Bella recognized from having to see Logan in one when he was born.

Bella glanced at Mason, bewildered and suspicious of him. He gestured towards the incubator silently with his hand, and then pocketed them against the cold. Bella took a few tentative steps towards the apparatus, her shoes clicking on the tiles.

What she saw made her recoil immediately, and turn a horrified expression to Mason, who remained stationary and silent, watching her carefully. It took her several long moments, and deep breaths, before she turned and looked once again through the plastic lid of the incubator. Before her was something not human. Something, Bella reasoned, that probably shouldn’t have been living. It was a creature, smaller than a newborn baby, and just as vulnerable. Its body was lithe, sickly thin in places, and covered in some kind of dark red goo, and while it looked to be human in some ways, it had an insect thorax protruding from where legs should have been, and from that, tiny stumps, maimed and disfigured when they should have been legs – she assumed. From the top half – which was more human than the bottom, its arms curled in on themselves, as if unable to sustain themselves when fully extended, and the thin neck which rose from tiny shoulders held aloft a bulbous head that looked too heavy to truly lift. The face had a thin mouth, no nose, and where eye sockets should have been there was blackness, holes, and nothing else. Despite its weak appearance and the assistance it obviously required to continue living, Bella could feel from it an eerie power, ebbing from its form, filled with malice and rage. She wanted to believe the chill she felt came from the room.

“Mason what... is this?” Bella asked, and turned her head towards the larger man. Mason’s eyes had gone blank, and his body, despite staying upright, looked limp in places, on his arms and hands. He moved a little from the door, closer to Bella and the vile creature she had seen, and his movements were forced and lumbering. His mouth opened and moved, forming words from a voice that was not his.

“I am the one who can help you...” Mason spoke, and the voice surprised Bella.

“Mason?” Bella queried.

The voice answered her. “He is my vessel... my willing servant.” The words shook Bella down to her core, and it took much of her inner reserves of strength and will to turn and view the deformed creature again.

“Who are you?” Bella asked slowly. “What are you?”

“The answer to both is the same, I am a Parasite,” it answered. “I was helping your husband, and now I wish to help you.”

“You... helped him?” Bella queried. All the better senses, her nerves were tingling, giving her the signals she should not ignore that this was dangerous; what she was doing, just talking to this thing was dangerous, and that Mason was no longer Mason, but she ignored all of the signs… putting them down to the freezing conditions.

“Indeed.” The Parasite’s voice came from behind Bella, from Mason, but her eyes stayed on the thing before her. “With Mason, we had plans. But the Gods, those who ruled the Digital World, discovered them. They killed Russell, and tried to kill Mason and myself. Afraid of our power... of your husband’s vision.”

“They killed Russell?” Bella repeated.

“Brutally, attacked him with the full force of their army. There was nothing we could do. I was almost fatally wounded, but Mason, who also was on the brink of death, offered his body to me. To keep me alive.” The Parasite paused. “The work we were doing was important. Important enough that Mason knew he must give up his life for the greater purpose.”

Bella wished she had a chair handy, but settled for leaning against the cold wall. That explained what had happened to Russell, then. That he had been brutally and viciously attacked by the Digital World’s Gods, causing the injuries that were the eventual cause of his death. That Mason hadn’t had anything to do with it, and that they had been working together.

“What was the purpose?” Bella asked, glancing between Mason and the Parasite, who had not moved once.

“It is not for me to say,” the Parasite explained. “There are documents in Mason’s safe, which he will show you when we are finished. They were written and crafted by Russell, his vision for yourself, your children, and Atlas Corp. He would wish for you to complete his life’s work.”

“Yes...” Bella murmured, almost in a trance like state. “Are we to be partners?”

“If that is your wish,” the Parasite explained. “I believe we can help each other immensely, but I am weak in this form. The Gods’ attempt on my life was almost successful.”

Bella moved a straying strand of hair behind her ear. “When you’re stronger, I want you moved to my offices. I can’t stay in Germany, and I believe we could work much better if you were closer. How long will that take, do you think?”

“Years, perhaps,” the Parasite said slowly, Bella deflated a little. “But that is not something to dwell on now. I am tired... take the documents Mason will give you, read them. You will have an understanding, and then we shall discuss more.”

Seconds later, it was Mason’s voice that Bella heard coming from him, and not the voice of the Parasite. “This way.” He led Bella out of the room and closed the door, securely locking it. His safe was located beneath his desk, he entered a code onto an unseen keypad and it popped open. Mason placed several piles of papers and notebooks on the desk, and he looked at Bella. “Everything you need to know. All you’ll ever need to know.”

Bella became obsessed. She took the documents back home with her after her visit to the labs, and was engrossed in them. Every moment she had to spare she read them and reread them a hundred times, intrigued by their contents, and also relishing that the idea had been Russell’s. That everything they contained was his belief, and that in fulfilling this, Bella would be doing what was his life’s work.

Through reading the information she had so thoroughly, and speaking to both Mason and the Parasite, Bella learned everything.

Russell had been working on a way to bring Digimon to the real world, and also on a way to create artificial animals as pets for those people who had allergies or similar ailments. It had been a shock to her, it was a very different angle than she had expected, and not something Russell had mentioned to her, ever. She had found this strange, but all the documents she had confirmed it: that Russell’s big idea had been to create fake animals using information and energy from the Digital World.

This, though, as Mason explained, was no longer possible now that the Core no longer existed, and there was no way back to the Digital World as he understood it.

With an idea in mind, Bella had brought the machine Russell used to get into the Digital World to the labs. Neither she nor Mason knew exactly how to re-open the gates now that Russell was gone, but they would figure it out eventually. If they could get back to the Digital World, they could find sources close to the Core to use instead.

-----------------------------

Rose, Hunter, Hatimon, and Skollmon sat in silence, trying to take in the information and letting it sink in. Where they had started reading close to nine in the morning, it was almost six in the evening when they had finished all the journals. Every detail – written, and documented – from Russell over to Bella. Books lay scattered about in piles of what had been read, papers that had come loose, sticking out of the pages haphazardly. The four of them sat on the floor, the silence dragging on while the information infiltrated each of them slowly.

Hunter opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out, still silent with disbelief at their discovery. The Parasite being released, the Digimon they had, everything had been because of their father. It was all because of him, and his desires, his greed and his delusion, that everything had happened.

“We should take these back, go over them again and make sense of this…” Hatimon suggested, breaking the tension, the quiet, and looking to Rose.

“A-Agreed.” Rose nodded. She began to gather up the journals within arm’s reach, piling them back up in date order.

Skollmon looked at Hunter, who seemed horrified by what he had read. He nudged his partner with his nose, shocking him from his stupor. “Hunter?”

Hunter snapped out of his trance. “I–…”

“Let’s just go…” Rose said, getting to her feet and packing the books into her backpack. Hatimon pushed over another two with her head, while Skollmon collected up a few pieces of paper that had come out of the pages. Hunter didn’t say anything; he felt sick to his stomach and wasn’t sure if he could stand. He felt like all his limbs had lost feeling. A numbness had spread across his body and he could barely register anything, until Rose smacked the back of his shoulder. “Help me, then!” She ordered, thrusting the full backpack at him and still holding a small pile of the journals in her hands, the dust that covered them staining her clothes.

Hunter took the bag and looked at it like it was a foreign and poisonous object. He wasn’t wrong, he felt like the things contained in it were poison. He couldn’t stand the thought that everything happening now was the fault of his father. He wasn’t sure what to do.

“Hunter, come on!” Rose snapped again.

Skollmon nudged his partner’s leg with his head, sensing Hunter’s unease and the feelings of anxiety drifting off him in waves. “One step at a time, ‘kay?” Skollmon murmured softly, walking at Hunter’s side, urging him to move.

Rose stared at them impatiently, Hatimon at her side, more understanding of Hunter’s plight. Both Hunter and Rose had just uncovered some home truths that had been secrets to them both. Both were reacting – but totally differently. The patience and urgency to leave was Rose’s reaction, Hunter’s was apparently being stunned into silence.

“I can’t…” Hunter said slowly. Skollmon could see he was shaking.

“Can’t what?” Rose growled, her arms folding across her chest with a huff. “Hunter, this is the information we need! There must be more in the pages we’ve missed that will tell us how the Parasite can be defeated!”

“Don’t you get it?!” Hunter shouted suddenly. “It’s our fault! Or it might as well be! Everything that’s happening: all the people who had died or got injured, all the shit happening to the city! It’s all our fault!!”


“It was our father, not us,” Rose replied, her voice low and angry, “and we will make amends, eventually.”

“No, Rose—” Hunter rubbed his face, covering his skin with dust. He was beginning to breathe quickly, panic rising in his chest. He couldn’t explain how he felt right at that moment. Not to her, probably not to anyone. He felt a sense of responsibility he’d never felt before. A feeling of loathing for himself and his family, more than he had ever felt before, was washing over him, like a dark shadow that he had been running from his entire life was catching up with him. His hand fell to his chest as he tried to calm his breathing. He felt the familiar feeling of the dog tags and their chain on his skin, a sensation that had once been comforting made him now feel sick.

Rose lost her patience. “This is NOT the time to freak out, Hunter!” she shouted.

A sudden gust of wind swept across the room, causing several doors in the house to slam, and window shutters to do the same on the outside of the house. The group was suddenly alert and aware far more than they had been, and their previous bicker was forgotten for now. Hatimon and Skollmon took a defensive stance.

The boards of the house began to creak as if someone was walking in the house. The floorboards were old, and the house had made odd groaning sounds while the four had read, but this was different. The squeaks were all registering, and at regular intervals, like footsteps.

“Does somebody live here?” Rose asked in a harsh whisper, clutching the small handful of books she had to her chest.

Hunter slung the backpack onto his back instinctively, knowing if they had to run, he’d be able to run faster without it in his hands. “How am I supposed to know!?” He whispered back. For what seemed like a long time, the four of them stood silently listening, straining their senses to hear any further movement. Eventually, Hunter took the lead and moved.

He peeked his head out of room, followed by Rose, with their companions standing beneath them, also looking, hearing, and smelling. The hall was empty and the house was silent once more, however, it was much darker in the hallway than in the study. The sun had started going down while they were reading, and was almost completely past the horizon. It had left enough light in the study, but the lack of windows in the hallway meant it was practically pitch black. The group made their way out of the room, Hatimon and Skollmon leading and lighting the way. They ventured towards the stairs, keeping close to the wall just in case the railing wasn’t sturdy enough, and descended, intent on leaving.

Another sudden gust of wind hit the small group and Skollmon felt something in the pit of his stomach, a feeling like he hadn’t eaten in days, a gnawing sensation that kicked in suddenly and put him on edge. He began to growl and run ahead.

“Skollmon!” Hunter yelled out.

Hatimon ran after him, without a moment’s hesitation.

Hunter and Rose shortly followed into the living room of the mansion, the biggest room in the entire house, and the room they had see their Digimon disappear into.

Their flashlights shone as they swept the room in tandem, searching for signs of their partners, who were nowhere to be seen.

“How did they disappear like that?” Rose said aloud, not expecting an answer.

Hunter shrugged, but his expression was that of worry and concern. It was not like Skollmon or Hatimon to run off suddenly, or not say why they were running off. He tried to make light of the situation. “Yeah, two dogs with glowing tails can’t really just up and disappear in a flash. Well, so I thought. I take that back now.”

A chill rain down Hunter’s spine, like something was breathing on his neck behind him. He turned quickly to see, hoping Rose was playing a prank. There was nothing there, and Rose stood a few feet away, shining her flashlight from corner to corner with no sight of their Digimon.

“This is really ridiculous, and not funny, Hatimon!” Rose protested. A sound of something breathing – more like a wheeze – caught her attention, she shined her light on Hunter.

“What?” Hunter asked, shielding his eyes from the brightness.

Rose blinked, something had caught her vision. She quickly turned her flashlight up and looked towards the ceiling. Hunter looked up at well, his own light joining her own.

There were no words that did justice to what they found themselves staring at, horror would not cut it. Clinging to the ceiling, and also wrapping around the chandelier, was a huge creature of un-imaginable disgust. With Hatimon and Skollmon in the grip of two of its six arms as they struggled to break free. The head of the creature did a 360 degree spin, looking down at them with feelers in place of eyes. “Hello.” Its voice was a wheezing hiss, like it was out of breath, but sinister. “I don’t believe we’ve met before. My, my, don’t you both look like the spitting image of your parents.”

Hunter and Rose stood there, petrified by the sight of the creature. He matched every description they read of him in the journals — from the insectoid body and the feelers through its eye sockets, right down to his voice. He was grotesque to read about, but even more of a fright to see in person.

“Silent I see…” The Parasite smiled at them, a demented and manic smile, showing off his sharp and frightening teeth. “Nice to meet you, I’m the Parasite… but you can now call me… Mukademon.”

Everything inside Rose cracked and she began to scream.

Mukademon laughed, he dropped the two Rookies and launched towards Rose, his mouth open, ready to strike. She was frozen to the spot. Hunter jumped, knocking her down to the floor, barely avoiding being hit by the giant centipede creature instead.

Mukademon sailed overhead into the wall, laughing as his body followed. Dust and debris rose around him. Rose and Hunter scrambled to their feet, picking up Hatimon and Skollmon, who were trying to regain their strength.

“Out of all the places this thing could be!” Hunter cursed, he wanted to call the others, but he was aware that by the time any of them got here, Mukademon would’ve finished them off.  The house shook violently, and suddenly the large centipede crashed onto the floor boards, throwing Rose and Hatimon to one side of the room.

Mukademon turned his attention towards Hunter and Skollmon, as Skollmon got to his feet. Mukademon laughed once again.

“Marvelous, both halves of the Core right here for me to devour!”

Skollmon growled at him and Hunter backed up slowly. Snarling, Skollmon advanced a few steps on the larger Digimon, who sneered down at him.

“I never would have imagined the Core would become something as simple… makes no matter now,” Mukademon said, leering. He launched himself forward.

“Skollmon–!”

“Crystal Ring!” Hatimon’s voice went up from behind Mukademon, as he went forward, a sudden blue glow erupted on the floor, along with pillars and spikes of ice shooting upwards, impaling Mukademon’s skin. He roared indignantly.

“RUN!!” Skollmon ordered, turning tail. Hunter grabbed Rose’s wrist as she reached him, and practically dragged her behind him, while Hatimon brought up the rear, checking behind her. The window they had gone through to get in was still wide open. A few more feet and they’d be out.

“NOT SO FAST!” Mukademon bellowed. He was a blur, landing in front of them, moving swiftly and without detection over the ceiling like an insect. Rose screamed again, and Hunter stood in front of her protectively, flanked by Skollmon and Hatimon, who each growled. He loomed above the small group, arms outstretched and a vile, twisted grin distorting his features. “You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”

“What do you want?!” Rose demanded, her voice little more than a panicked screech.

Mukademon rounded on her, edging closer, the feelers from his eye sockets touching over Rose’s hair and face, and Hunter’s when he stepped further between the two. “I have no quarrel with you, not truly. My fight is with the Gods who destroyed my plans and tried to destroy me! But alas, you…” Mukademon laughed softly to himself, and grinned further when Rose flinched away from his feelers. “You foolishly allied yourselves with those weaklings… and thus we are now enemies.”

“You pick some bad fights,” Hatimon said bravely, attracting Mukademon’s attention. Skollmon circled around unseen. “We’ve fought with them, been fought by them. They’re unstoppable.”

Mukademon moved towards the blue wolf Digimon swiftly and smoothly. “How quaint,” he murmured slowly. “Your faith. And yet so misjudged. You shall see…”

“No, you will!” Hunter yelled. There was a crash as he brought an old chair down on top of Mukademon’s shoulders and back.

“Fire Fang!”

“Frost Fang!” The twin wolf Digimon bit down on the insect’s thorax in unison, their attacks spreading across different areas, while Mukademon twisted and clawed at them both. Hunter shoved Rose towards the window, practically throwing her out of it, and he followed.

“Hatimon!” Rose cried, reaching for the window.

Hunter shoved her roughly. “ROSE, MOVE!”

Instead, Mukademon held Hatimon aloft by the scruff of her neck, while Skollmon was practically crushed underfoot by the gargantuan centipede.

Mukademon swiftly swung the end of his tail, knocking Hunter back further into the house, missing Rose by seconds as she had clambered out of the window. She screamed for Hunter from outside.

Hunter hit the floor with a loud thud, grunting in pain and coughing from the dust. He gripped his left side, feeling thick blood coating his fingers from an open wound. It didn’t hurt, not now, too much adrenaline. Too much to worry about, his attention turned back to Mukademon.

“All this mindless struggling is making me so hungry…!” Mukademon laughed. With a grunt, he gripped his claws around Hatimon’s neck tighter, until there was a satisfying sound of a crack, adding further pressure to Skollmon, who was as limp as a stuffed toy. Immediately a high pitched wailing echoed from Hunter’s D-Touch and from Rose’s outside, like a scream.

“So… helpless,” Mukademon hissed, examining Hatimon, whose body was lifeless, flopping around in his grip like her bones had been removed.

He had to fight, the D-Touches were still reacting, so there was still a chance the Digimon could evolve. Hunter tried to force himself up, but the shooting pain he felt ricochet across his body prevented him from moving anywhere. All he could hear was the squealing of the D-Touch and the sound of Rose screaming from the window for himself and Hatimon. He couldn’t make out anything else, his vision was beyond blurry, he had lost his contacts somewhere in being flung around. “Fuck…” he cursed. All he could make out was the orange blob of Skollmon under the body of Mukademon, not moving.

“N-No…” Hunter coughed from the dust.

-----------------------------

Hatimon and Skollmon curled against one another, like puppies trying to get warm in cold weather. They felt as if they were floating, and wherever they were felt familiar, but foreign all at the same time. Neither had opened their eyes, and they remained curled against each other, secure and safe and warm. Knowing the other was there, hearing the other’s heartbeat and breathing


“Skollmon,” Hatimon spoke softly, her eyes still closed. She felt the heat of Skollmon’s tail close to her nose and nudged towards it.

Her brother responded in an equally soft voice. “Yeah?”

“Do you ever feel like we aren’t… strong… enough?” asked Hatimon seriously.

Skollmon hesitated to answer, not wanting to admit to himself, let alone his sibling, the truth. But eventually he replied. “…All the time.”

“Why do we… feel like this?” The sorrow in Hatimon’s voice was heartbreaking, any confidence she had felt in herself was gone. Skollmon would’ve usually debunked this with some sly answer to make her feel better, like he always had.

Throughout the years while Hunter protected Rose, Skollmon had done the same for Hatimon. Despite her always being strong and reliable for Rose, he was the strong one for the two of them. The one Hatimon could depend on. Skollmon had felt that in recent years, Hatimon’s confidence had taken a blow. More so over the past year, when they had fought battles with, and against, the others. Hatimon’s self-esteem had taken an extreme blow after losing the fight against Mistresmon, and even more when she had reached a new level and then been defeated. Skollmon always felt it, but never voiced his opinion on it. He felt if he had shown any type of weakness, that Hatimon would have no one to turn to. Skollmon moved, trying to get closer, needing it not just for himself, but because he felt Hatimon needed it too. Like if he wasn’t close enough, she would float away in her sadness.

“Why are we always helpless?” she asked again, her voice airy and tired.

“But we aren’t…” Skollmon replied, trying his best to be positive. “We are just as strong as everyone else.”

“We are not,” Hatimon countered. “We have never been… we aren’t gods. How can our meager powers compare? We are not special, like them.”

Skollmon grumbled softly into his sister’s fur. “Being special has nothing to do with being stronger or confident… or being better. We have all gone through the same trials. We all change in different ways.”

“I just want to stop feeling helpless…” Hatimon said slowly. “I want to protect Rose, I want to protect… myself. I feel like… we’ve been taken advantage of all this time. As if someone just grabbed us and ran away and we could do nothing to stop them… defenseless.”

For a few moments, Skollmon considered her words. She wasn’t wrong. For some time, Skollmon had felt helpless too, like no matter what he did, he could never match up to his sister, or the other Digimon they now fought with. That even his best efforts would never be enough. He had felt defenseless and lost, like there was nothing he could do that was special, or made him a suitable partner. “We were helpless,” Skollmon admitted. “Think about it, when we were the Core… we couldn’t defend ourselves. So when Russell came and stole us from our rightful place… we were defenseless, and helpless. Couldn’t fight even if we wanted to.” He paused, breathing in deeply. “But we’re not helpless now.” Hatimon stirred a little beside him. “We’ve been beaten and down, yes,” Skollmon began, his words slow and thoughtful, “but that’s not always our fault. We were abused and used as weapons by someone who is evil. And wanted all the wrong things… but it’s different now.”

“How?”

“We don’t have a set path anymore,” Skollmon explained. “Just like Rose and Hunter, we can forge our own paths now. We’re no longer the pawns in a game where we don’t know the outcome. We can do whatever we want. We might not feel as strong as the others right now – but we are as strong. I know we are. I can just feel it.”

Hatimon was silent, her head lolling onto its side and against Skollmon’s flanks. “I can’t.”

“You have to believe in yourself, Hatimon,” Skollmon told her. “You have to believe that you can defend yourself. Not just for Rose but for you. And you can do it, I know you can. And Rose knows you can. Knows you always will… that promise you made to her, that you wouldn’t ever abandon her or fail her, you made it honestly. With your heart, because it’s a promise you knew you’d fulfill… well, maybe now is the time to fulfill it.”

Hatimon’s ears flattened a little against her head and she tightened her eyes shut. She could hear, somewhere at the back of her mind, a cry for help. A cry from a voice barely recognized, a voice she hadn’t heard in years. It was Rose’s voice, for certain, but it wasn’t the voice she used now, so clipped and precise. It was weaker, more pleading. Like that of a child.

Opening her eyes quickly, Hatimon blinked into the light. Skollmon nudged her head, and got to his feet, Hatimon followed after him quickly. They appeared to be in a space of nothingness. Around them was nothing but air and white light. They were engulfed with familiarity and warmth, like this was a place where they belonged. Or the place belonged to them. Like this was a secret haven they never knew of.

“Where are we?” Hatimon asked, turning to her brother.

Skollmon answered, “I’m not sure.” Despite their location, that they knew neither where they were, nor where Hunter and Rose were, neither of them felt threatened or worried. This was a safe place, it filled them both with a sense of contentment and ease neither of them had felt before. It was like being dipped into a warm bath after being caught in the rain, or the first drink of water after being out in a desert. Refreshing, and something that filled them both renewed vigor and energy. And something else, something they could both feel, that teased and tempted at the very edges of their minds, more like a whisper than a tangible thing. There, but not. “How’d we get here?”

“I can’t remember,” Hatimon said slowly. “I remember… the house. And Rose.” She seemed to struggle, like her most recently memories were blotted away. “We were fighting.”

The flame on Skollmon’s tail suddenly burst into a brighter, hotter flame. “The Parasite. Mukademon,” he growled, his memories seemed less damaged, or at least, clearer than Hatimon’s. Though at the mention of their enemy, she knew and recalled it all. Recalled the voice she had heard, and how it had been Rose’s. That the voice had sounded like Rose when she was younger, but it was Rose now. Crying, and screaming for help, like she had done as a child. Defenseless against a giant.

“We have to get back.”

“How?” Skollmon looked at her, his expression a mixture of puzzlement and worry. “What if we can’t go back. What if this is it? What if we’re dead?”

“We’re not,” Hatimon said gently. “We’d know if we were. We wouldn’t be able to hear our Tamers. Or feel them. Concentrate, I’m sure you can sense Hunter, too.”

Skollmon closed his eyes, he’d been so focused on Hatimon for a while, he had neglected to think on Hunter, and now that he did he could feel Hunter, gnawing at the back of his mind. Not so much a yell for help, but a kind of pinching insistence — a fierce determination to fight, despite something holding him back. A feeling, a pain. An injury. “He’s hurt!” Skollmon barked.

“They’re both in danger,” Hatimon confirmed. “We have to get back to them,” Hatimon said urgently, beginning to turn on the spot to see if there was an obvious way out, though whatever way she turned all she could see was white. “But I can’t see how.”

Skollmon snorted, sniffing the area around them, until he stopped and looked up, staring at Hatimon. “You know you’re wrong.”

“What?” Hatimon barked.

“That you said we were helpless… when you think about it, we’re not helpless. And we’ve helped the Gods more than they probably realize.”

“Why are you saying this now?” Hatimon queried, staring at her twin like he had sprouted a second head. “Of all times, when we need to get to them, and do what we were born to do!” There was a soft ‘crack’ sound, like the sound of a chip in glass spreading. “When we have to get back to our partners and protect them from whatever it is that’s threatening them!”

“Because I want you to admit it! You don’t believe it yourself, and you have to!” Skollmon growled.

Why?!” Hatimon snapped.

“Because without that belief, we are never going to win,” Skollmon affirmed, his ears flattening. “You might think we’re weaker than the Gods, but without us, they never would have realized who they were. They never would have considered their full potential. Because of us, in whatever roundabout way, they will win, eventually. And we’ll win with them.”

“Skollmon…” Hatimon’s tail and ears drooped.

“You have to believe it, Hatimon.” Skollmon nuzzled his sister’s cheek, offering her a supportive smile. “If you don’t believe it, believe and have faith in yourself, then how can Rose?”

Hatimon stayed silent a few moments, weighing up her brother’s words. However innocent they were, however padded and sugary sweet, they were words of truth and honesty. Hatimon had to take them to heart. She could hear echoing around her head between her ears, ringing alongside the terrified screams of Rose.

Her eyes opened, and she looked at her brother with a fire ignited in her gaze that he hadn’t seen for some time.

“I do.”

Skollmon nodded, his tail wagging in delight.

“We are better than we were before, we are stronger. I cannot continue to let the failures of the past hold me back… failure and mistakes are what brought me - us - here today, to see the truth… to no longer be manipulated,” Hatimon preached on. “I have faith in us both!”

The twins circled each other, their vision becoming blinded by the white light. Skollmon could hear Hatimon’s voice fading as she continued to shout.

-----------------------------

Hunter struggled on the ground, pressing his hand to his side, adding pressure to wherever he was bleeding from. It hurt, but didn’t seem to be a deep wound, else he was sure he’d be in a pool of his own blood right now.

“HUNTER?! HATIMON!!” Rose’s screams from outside were enough to wake the dead, more so when Mukademon threw Hatimon’s floppy body through the window, where it landed with a weak thud. Rose’s scream echoed over the hills, Hunter was sure the police would turn up in minutes. “OH MY GOD! HATIMON!!”

Mukademon’s laugh came from his bowels at first, before it burst out of his mouth in a manic and high-pitched cackle. He humanoid top half nearly bent back on itself as he enjoyed the sound of his own victory.

Hunter’s D-Touch had gone silent, and he could no longer hear Rose’s either, but could just about hear her sobbing over Mukademon’s laughter. The large centipede Digimon edged towards the window, its feet tapping against the wood floors, as he pushed and shoved furniture aside to get closer.

Hunter practically crawled over the floor to where Skollmon’s body was lying, flat and crushed from having Mukademon’s thorax laying over him for so long. Hunter pulled the little wolf Digimon towards him, hating how easily he moved and how his body and legs seemed to drag across the ground. The flame of his tail was nearly extinguished, beginning to smolder and stutter where it tried to remain alight.

“Oh God,” Hunter said shakily, bringing Skollmon’s body into his lap. “You can’t…”

“Hatimon! Hatimon, please!” Rose yelled, her voice reaching the inside of the house.

Hunter stared at Skollmon’s icon on the screen of his D-Touch, sure that Hatimon’s looked the same, an almost invisible hologram now, rather than a bright image of the Digimon’s face. He hated the silence of his D-Touch, the screeching had been preferable.

“Do you see now? How weak your Digimon are, how useless and pathetic,” Mukademon leered, grasping the window frame with his hands, his back to Hunter, he addressed Rose it seemed. “I shall enjoy devouring them both, and enjoy watching you while you look on.”

I won’t let you!” Rose screamed. She was up on her feet, Hatimon’s body clasped in her arms.

“I wasn’t asking,” Mukademon snarled. Seconds later and the window frame was smashed into pieces, as Mukademon launched himself through it, creating a gap in the wall. If Rose screamed, it was deafened by the sound of Mukademon’s yell of indignation, being forced back by a brightness ebbing out from Hatimon and Skollmon’s bodies, pulsating like a heartbeat.

Skollmon’s eyes opened slowly, his tail became a burning flame again, while in Rose’s arms, Hatimon stirred, her eyes opening, staring clearly up into Rose’s relieved face.

Hatimon leapt out of Rose’s arms, approaching Mukademon, still protected by the throbbing light. Skollmon did the same, standing proudly in place, still vastly outsized by the insectoid Digimon before them, who shielded itself from the energy pulsing from the two Rookies.

“It’s time to put you where you belong!” Hatimon snarled, leaping in unison with Skollmon.

The two were immediately obscured, the light combining and causing both Rose and Hunter to shield their eyes.

“Hatimon, reboot evolve to…” Hatimon’s body was completely invisible to the eyes of any who tried to watch. This evolution was different from before, Rose could feel it; no longer was her evolution powered and charged with a negative energy, this was all positive, and all Hatimon. Her D-Touch’s color may have been black, but it felt grand and warm. Images like panes of black ice crossed the light, shapes of Remamon and Tsukuyomon. Eyes that were lit with amber broke through the black barrier first, which then cracked like glass around her. In Hatimon’s place was a familiar, shapely figured woman with wolf ears and a tail. Vaporous wings of cold air sprouted from her back, while her dark blue hair twirled easily in the dusk breeze. In one gauntlet-covered hand she held a golden scythe, nearly double her own height. She spun on the spot, taking a defensive stance towards Mukademon. “Selenemon!”

“Skollmon, reboot evolve to…” As with Hatimon, ghostly images of Skollmon’s other forms – Romulumon and Terasumon – flashed in place of the white light that for the moment protected him, their forms burning up as his power grew. The flames settled down, and a pair of bright blue eyes blinked several times through the light. The protective area almost exploded as flame burst out of it, like from a volcano. Skollmon had been replaced by the figure of a man with a silver headdress and hair like flames, licking around his orange wolf ears. He, like Selenemon, retained his wolfish tail, and held in one hand a whip make up entirely of controlled flames. He cracked the whip across the air in front of him. “Heliomon!”

Selenemon launched towards Mukademon, without giving the giant Digimon anytime for a reaction. Mukademon used his scythe hands to block her attack. Selenemon recoiled with a spin and struck again without pause.

Mukademon grunted, trying to repel her attack. Heliomon chuckled lightly, his arms crossed.

“Uhm… aren’t you going to help?” Hunter questioned, standing next to his newly leveled Digimon. Hunter held his side, trying not to give any obvious indication of his injury.

Heliomon didn’t turn to look at Hunter. “Selenemon is having fun, why not allow her that? Look, she’s enjoying this!”

“KICK HIS ASS!” Rose screamed from the gap in the wall. “SQUASH HIM LIKE THE GROSS INSECT HE IS!”

Mukademon crashed through the wall of the living room into the dining room. Selenemon placed her free hand on her hip, pursing her lips. “You’re all talk, I expected more of a fight. Oh well, Crescent SWEEP!” Selenemon swiped her scythe in front of her, releasing a large ice blade.

“Not so fast!” Mukademon growled. “Corruption Slash!”  His scythe arms became coated in red and black energy. Mukademon leaped towards Selenemon, meeting her ice blade head-on and slashing through it. He tackled the elegant Digimon to the ground.

Selenemon yelped as Mukademon tried to push his thorax weight onto Selenemon, with his claws around her neck and his scythe arms raised high. “Corruption Slash--”

“Scorching Rush!” Heliomon’s voice bellowed off the walls, before Mukademon could strike Selenemon, the giant weight of Heliomon tackled against Mukademon, sending him flying into yet another room through the walls. The mansion was becoming unstable, as Mukademon was almost like a wrecking ball himself.

Mukademon leaped out of the hole in the wall, rushing and punching Heliomon across the room. Before Selenemon could stand up to her feet, he swung his body around, knocking her in the opposite direction of Heliomon with his bladed tail.

“Torch Strike!” Heliomon recovered, rapidly firing off small bullets of fire from his hand, positioned like a gun.

Mukademon blocked with his scythe arms. “Corruption Slash!” he countered.

Heliomon jumped to the side, as the attack knocked down most of the entire wall behind him.

“Howling Gust!” Selenemon attacked with a wave of ice energy. Mukademon jumped to the side, scaling up the wall and running across the ceiling towards Selenemon.

“Corruption Slash!” He attacked.

Selenemon leaped backwards, then rolled across the floor and to her feet, as Mukademon brought his thorax down like a large hammer trying to slam into her.

“Solar Lashing!” Heliomon wrapped his flaming whip around the insect’s body, trying to bring him down from the ceiling. Mukademon shrieked indignantly, feeling the burning sensation of Heliomon’s whip singeing his flesh.

“Crescent Sweep!” Selenemon slashed her scythe upwards, sending an ice blade towards Mukademon. Mukademon crashed into the floor, then was sent flying into the other room by Heliomon’s whip, which had still been wrapped around him.

The mansion was starting to collapse, caving in on itself slowly but surely. Hunter had made it out and stood next to Rose, watching from the outside into the big gaping hole.

“You have to get out of there, this place is coming down!” Hunter ordered.

Selenemon and Heliomon looked at each other, nodding in agreement with Hunter. Any more time spent on this fight and they’d all run out of energy. However, Mukademon was missing.

The two stood relatively silent, trying to pinpoint the insect Digimon’s location in the house. A single creak in the floor board would’ve been enough for them to know. Heliomon narrowed his eyes, standing back to back with his sister.

“HA!!!” Mukademon crashed from the floor, slamming his fist into Heliomon’s back, sending him across the room and grabbing Selenemon by her hair. He tossed her towards Heliomon, watching her crash into her brother before he could fully stand.

Selenemon regained her balance and growled, her scythe pointing at Mukademon. Heliomon stood behind her.

Mukademon laughed. “Not having fun anymore!?” He launched forward.

Heliomon leaped in front of Selenemon, grabbing Mukademon by his face and flipping over the insect Digimon. He tossed Mukademon through the mansion, out into the backyard, and dashed behind him. Selenemon leaped through and dodged the rubble of the falling debris, floating into the air overhead.

Hunter and Rose had run a safe distance away from the mansion, watching it collapse.

Mukademon rose from the ground, standing straight up into the air, towering over Heliomon.

“Devouring Swarm!”  He unhinged his monstrous jaw, releasing a beam of red and black energy. Heliomon dodged it, leaping into the air.

Mukademon released another attack, then another, sending both Heliomon and Selenemon dancing through the air trying to dodge. He eventually grew impatient, growling to the point where his own teeth were grinding against each other.

Mukademon forced a dark ball of energy in the center of all six of his ‘hands’. 

“This, is IT!” He shouted, followed by a maniac laugh. The ball grew bigger, almost covering his entire upper humanoid body.

Selenemon and Heliomon simultaneously took stances.

“ARRRUGHHAHHHHH!!!!” Mukademon released it towards the Megas.

Both Selenemon and Heliomon began to glow, powering up their attacks to counter the giant ball of energy coming towards them at a rapid pace.

“We’ll hit it together!” Selenemon shouted. Heliomon simply nodded. Hunter and Rose could only stand silent as the energy ball was quickly approaching their Digimon. Rose wanted to scream, knowing they wouldn’t be able to dodge it in time, and Hunter could do nothing more but bite his lip, hoping they had some sort of plan.

“Howling Gust!”

“Torch Strike!”

Their attacks swirled together in a double helix, slamming into Mukademon’s energy head on. The attacks pushed against each other for supremacy.

“DEVOURING SWARM!” Mukademon added.

“TORCH STRIKE!”

“CRESCENT SWEEP!”

Attacks were added to both sides. With the energies pushing against each other, everything began to feel distorted. Selenemon and Heliomon’s attacks were gaining the upper hand, pushing closer to Mukademon whose grunt turned into a scream of pain.

As the giant attack touched closer to the ground, swallowing Mukademon in the process, a sudden earthquake shook the earth. Hunter and Rose shielded their eyes, trying to keep their footing as the wind from the attack hitting the earth was too much on its own.

The giant sphere of attacks exploded, causing a giant beam of black and white energy to engulf the entire area of the field, as well as the mansion and everything near it.

Hunter and Rose screamed, their sight and hearing was obscured by the blast, everything going silent and black.

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