Make your own free website on Tripod.com

The Daemon Conflict
By: LadyBard

Chapter 17 - Face to Face

Inside the mind of the viral general Dariem, a young Guardian screamed.

* * *

The large one binome stared up at the muscular virus. Many emotions flashed across the prisoner's face. Anger, fear, defiance. It was the fear that pleased Dariem the most and had him hungering.

"So," the voice of the general was deep and grating, "Tell me about this Underground resistance movement."

"You'll never get anything from me, virus!"

Dariem was silent for a nano. "You think so?" A slight smile of amusement flickered across his features. The general raised his right hand and extended black claws. "I love it when they defy me. It makes torturing the truth from them so much more fun, don't you agree, Valadare?"

The figure that stood in the corner of the room was draped in shadows. An eerie red light emanating from his right eye was the only indication of his presence, "Yes sir."

"Remove his clothing format."

Cooper Black stepped forward and ripped the icon from the binome's chest.

"What is your name, binome?"

"Tan."

"Ah, Tan," Dariem said, "I was once like you. Convinced that I could defeat Daemon and rid the web of her evil. I see now that I have a greater destiny and that is to serve her."

Dariem leaned towards the binome and drew one of his claws across the captive's forehead. The binome struggled against his bonds but could do nothing more. The general wiped the resulting trail of blood away and licked it from his fingers. "I will give you the opportunity to join us. Tell me what I want to know and I will give you the gift of Daemon's power. Continue to defy me --,"

Dariem thrust one of his claws into the binome's eye. Tan's scream was high and shrill.

"Now I will ask you again," Dariem's voice took on a deadly edge, "Tell me about this Underground Resistance."

When Tan was able to function through the pain he growled, "Never, virus!"

Dariem laid a hand on the binome's chest and sent a burst of corrupting energy into Tan's body. The binome screamed again as the hot poison seared his insides.

"Realize," Dariem said, "that the more you scream, the more I like it."

By now Tan had broken down into a fit of coughing.

"How would you like it if I caused your core-com to explode inside of you? Or fill your lungs with poison so you asphyxiated? That is my power. Corruption and rot. I know a hundred ways to bring pain and I am eager to show you."

Dariem used his claws to cut bloody wounds in the binome's flesh. The poison caused the wounds to instantly fester. Tan's screams faded into incoherent cursing.

"Now, are you ready to speak?"

"No," Tan croaked after a time.

Dariem straightened, "Bring the bug."

Cooper brought forward a rectangular metal container. Dariem opened it and the black and red bug with wicked pinchers seemed to wait solemnly from him to take action. Dariem lifted the insect from the box and placed it on binome's shoulder.

"Eat, little one."

Over Tan's screams Dariem turned to Cooper, "Bring the woman up next."

"Yes sir."

"It pains you greatly doesn't it, Cooper? Having to answer to me now."

"No my --,"

"I wouldn't lie Cooper, it might annoy me."

"Yes, I can't stand the fact that I have to answer to you now."

Dariem laughed without mirth, "I don't know which is more amusing, you or this binome scum."

Dariem reached out a hand and the bug came to him. The viral general placed it back in the box.

Tan had pitched forward on his face. Blood poured from the many gashes on his skin. Dariem turned him over with the toe of his boot.

"I already have a member of your forces. I'm sure I'll retrieve information from her. Would you like it if I put her through the same torture?"

"No - please."

"Well?"

"No, I won't tell you anything."

"Very well," Dariem said, "I grow bored with this. Release him from the containment field."

Cooper stepped forward again. Since the keytools were no longer functioning, he was forced to use a conventional file lock program.

"What are you going to do with me?" Tan managed to whisper.

"Release you." Dariem smirked. "And you'll no longer be in pain. Valadare, if you will?"

The green-skinned viral moved into the light. Valadare bared yellow fangs. The whirring of his mechanical eye was all the warning Tan received before Valadare drained him completely of his energy.

"There," Dariem smiled, "You're free. Cooper, clean up this trash, then bring me the girl."

"Yes sir."

"He may have told us with further probing," Valadare commented when they were alone.

"I doubt it, colonel," Dariem said. "Besides, I'm looking forward to getting what I want from the woman."

An imperceptible change came across Valadare's features, but he said nothing.

A few micros' later, Cooper returned. He shoved the second prisoner into the room ahead of him.

"What a strange looking woman," Dariem said. "What's your name?"

"Em," she whispered, her fear was making Dariem agitated. "You're the Guardian, aren't you?"

Dariem struck her across the face, "I'm no common Guardian. I'm General Dariem of Daemon's Army."

"No," Em said. "You are the Guardian. There's a woman that loves you --,"

Dariem struck her harder this time, "Shut up! You'll speak only when spoken to, do you understand?"

"Y-yes."

"Your friend Tan is in bad shape. If you don't want to end up like him, you'll cooperate," Dariem knelt before her and grasped her slim throat with one hand, "And maybe you and I can have a bit of fun."

"No!"

Dariem pushed his claws into her flesh until the blood began to flow. As Em struggled, Dariem pressed his mouth violently to hers. When he broke the contact, Em slapped him hard enough that Dariem's face turned aside.

After a nano, Dariem laughed derisively, "I like a woman with determination. Reminds me of --,"

He halted and for a moment, his mind was filled with a screaming voice. Mentally, he forced the voice to be silent.

"Lock her in my room," Dariem said roughly. "I'll personally interrogate her later."

"Yes sir." Cooper yanked Em by the arm to a standing position and forced her from the room.

"General Dariem," Valadare spoke.

"Yes?"

Valadare again seemed to examine him. The green-skinned virus was silent, but still the expression on his face spoke volumes.

"It is for Daemon's glory," Dariem said, "Do you have any objections?"

"No sir."

"We will have the information we need," Dariem said. "Anyway I see fit."

* * *

And within the mind of the general, the Guardian continued to scream.

* * *

It was unthinkable, what was about to happen. After everything they had went through Dot realized they were about to lose another one of their people and there was nothing she could do about it.

The group of people cried out as one as the flash of the pistol split the air and as always the clock speed slowed. It took Dot a few moments to realize that it wasn't just their imagination; the laser shot was actually slowing down. The blast was a shimmering ball floating lazily towards Hexadecimal. The beautiful virus waved a hand dismissively and the blast dissipated.

Silence descended as a collective breath was held.

Then Hex vanished to the astonishment of everyone. Dot was about to let out a relieved breath when Hex suddenly appeared again, that time, right behind Desdemona. Her mask was a hateful grin of needle-sharp teeth.

Screams erupted but none as shrill and high as Desdemona's. Hex wrapped her arms around the resistance leader in an embrace and with a maniacal cackle, teleported Desdemona away.

"No!" Dot turned in desperation to Mouse, "Is Melissa here?"

"She's on the Mercurius with Enzo."

"Call her now."

"Dot, what did that virus do to Desdemona?" Dom's voice rose hysterically, "She's not --?"

"I hope not Dom," Dot shook her head, "We should have told her sooner."

"Well it's a moot point now," Dom said, "We won't be able to keep this from anyone. They'll be terrified with the two of them here."

"And I doubt they'll get along well with Dr. Norton."

"She's on the way, sugah," Mouse said after closing the connection. "She and Enzo."

As much as she would love to see her little brother, Dot knew she had to concentrate on the matter at hand, "Melissa may be able to find Hex. Dom, we'll look for Desdemona, someone has to stay here."

Dom nodded, "I'll try and prepare everyone for their being here."

"Can we borrow a few soliders?" At Mouse's raised eyebrow, Dot amended, "Just in case."

* * *

Hexadecimal gave her jesters grin and was pleased when the woman cowered away from her. "Now what in all the net possessed you to shoot me?"

The woman called Desdemona didn't reply. It felt good to induce such delicious fear in someone again. Hex had teleported them both to a dense section of the forest well enough away from the rebel camp so that no one would find them for milliseconds. She had dropped the woman at the base of a large and gnarled data tree. Hex leaned over the woman and smiled wickedly at her.

"Now I've come here to help and what do you do? Try to delete me. Naughty, naughty, I am quite upset."

Still the woman did not speak and Hex mused over the current situation. Would anyone care if she deleted this woman? Perhaps. If Bob came back, and that was a big if now that he was a virus, he might not like it that she had deleted someone.

Hex was pleased by that although she figured she shouldn't be. Wouldn't Dot be surprised that Hex had sensed the new viral presence the moment she had teleported to the Super Computer?

Still this woman had to die. Hex conjured a flaming ball, "This won't hurt - much."

"Hexadecimal!"

"Oh dear," Hex sighed. She turned and frowned as Dot, Mouse, and Melissa approached on those zip-boards.

"Have you come to watch the show?" Hex asked sweetly.

"Don't delete her Hex," Dot said.

"Why not?"

"It would be wrong," Dot came closer.

"She tried to delete me," Hex said.

"We know but that's because she was frightened of you. She acted rashly," Mouse fixed Desdemona with a pointed glare, "Didn't ya, sugah?"

Desdemona nodded once.

"What do you think, dear little sister?"

"Oh you know what I think, Hexadecimal," Melissa said, "But - Melissa glanced at Dot - Dot asked me to find you and try and convince you not to. I suppose it's because of this need that sprites seem to have to prevent deletion."

Hex shrugged, and caused the ball of fire to dissipate, "Very well, I'll do it for you little one. But if she ever crosses me again --," Hex turned and smiled at Desdemona again and the woman promptly became ill. Hex beckoned Melissa to her and before anyone could protest the virus teleported them all back to the resistance base.

* * *

The moment Dot and Mouse entered the command center; Dot was greeted by a familiar voice.

"DOT!" Enzo came barreling at her from across the room and Dot braced herself for the impact but at the last nano, Enzo skidded to a halt. "I mean, Commander Matrix," he saluted, "Sector Warden Matrix reporting for duty!"

"Well Sector Warden you have my permission to give me a hug," Dot smiled and was glad when Enzo complied.

"I've said it once and I'll say it again, I hate to ruin this Photoshop moment," Mouse said, "But we've got a few surprises for you. "Give me about a half millisecond, and I'll call you." With that, the Mouse left the center without further elaboration.

Dom approached them, "What of the virals? Desdemona?"

"It was decided that Hex and Melissa would remain on the Mercurius for the time being. Desdemona is in the infirmary."

"Infirmary? She's not --,"

"No, she's not. Hex just scared her to the point where she became ill," Dot said, "Her people are with her now."

"This does not bode well."

"No."

"Dot? What's wrong?" Enzo asked. "I guess the people here aren't too thrilled with Hex and Melissa?"

"No," Dom said, "I've talked to everyone but - well, they want to have a meeting about this."

"A meeting? Now? Surely they realize we have more urgent things to do."

"Yes, but - you know what a volatile situation we're in. Since your friend seems to have some plans of her own, we should have something quick and impromptu. Just to reassure the people about them."

"Should they be here?" Enzo asked. "So they can defend themselves if they have to?"

Dom looked at Enzo, then at Dot and a knowing look flashed across his face, "Yes, I suppose you're right."

"I'll go get them."

"Be careful," Dot warned, "There may be stragglers from the enemy forces out there."

"I will Dot," Enzo rushed from the room.

"He's quite a unique young man," Dom smiled.

Dot smiled as well, "That he is."

"He showed quite an interest in the workings of our facility. Does he have an interest in science?"

"Well --," Dot didn't know how to answer. Enzo - that is Matrix - had wanted to be a Guardian. For a time it seemed that Little Enzo still wanted the same thing, but lately ...

"He's young yet," Dot said, "He has plenty of time."

* * *

Two separate factions that were once a whole gathered in the large second-floor conference room. Dom sat at one end of the oval table, Desdemona, bandaged and bruised, sat at the other. At least twenty to thirty people crowded the room, sitting on extra chairs, windowsills, and on the floor.

Hexadecimal and Melissa were sitting across from Dot and Enzo was to her left. Mouse still hadn't returned and AndrAIa and Ray sat to Dot's right.

To Dot, this whole thing was a colossal waste of time, but she figured they'd never get anything accomplished if this wasn't at least moderately settled.

The doors had been left open so those who couldn't fit in the room could hear. That suited Dot fine. They didn't need any more secrets.

"I can't believe you kept this from me," Desdemona said, it was the calmest Dot had ever seen her. Perhaps her experience with Hex had doused some of that fire. "Has our friendship deteriorated that far?"

"Our friendship is not the reason for this meeting," Dom said.

"No, it's not. The reason is that we have two enemy virals in our camp, how do we know they won't betray us?"

"Now why would we do that? When we have as much at stake as you do?" Hex smiled sweetly at Desdemona and Dot saw the women's face go a shade paler.

"And just what do you have at stake here? You're Daemon's children! She would welcome you!"

"No," Melissa said, "she would not."

"We've betrayed her in her eyes," Hex said dismissively, "so now we must destroy her before she destroys us."

"I don't believe you," and much of Desdemona's supporters made mutterings of agreement. "While we sit here, Daemon's army may be sneaking up on us."

"My point exactly," Dot interrupted. "We have more important things to do. Hex and Melissa are here. We can't detain them and they could be invaluable to our forces. It won't matter whether they betray us or not. When that last attack force doesn't return, more will be sent. I say we put our differences aside and concentrate on the matter at hand."

"I agree," Dom said.

There are more mutterings.

"How can I assure the safety of my people?" Desdemona asked.

Dot drew in a deep breath and slowly stood, "I'll vouch for them both."

Dot had never seen such a look of pure amazement on Hex's face.

"Me too," Enzo said, which earned him a smile from Melissa.

"Just you," Desdemona smirked at Dot and completely ignored Enzo's words. "And no one else? You expect me to agree on just your word?"

"Not just her word," AndrAIa stood. "Mine to."

"Copy that," Ray chimed in.

"Make that a foursome, sugah."

All eyes turned to where Mouse stood in the doorway, "Melissa and I got a little agreement, don't we?" Mouse winked at the little virus and Melissa smiled.

"How wonderful!" Hex clapped her hands gleefully, "Isn't it great to be loved?"

"Very well," Desdemona said, "If we all come out of this alive, this and everything, will be dealt with."

"Now that that's settled," Mouse said, "Everyone needs to come outside. "I've got a surprise for all of ya."

"Ooh! Are my pretty ones here?" Hex said eagerly.

"That they are, follow me everyone."

Curious, Dot filed out of the conference room with the rest of the group. She did notice Desdemona hanging back and talking to her supporters.

* * *

"What do ya think?" Mouse smiled and raised her arm with a flourish.

"To coin a phrase from Phong," Dot smiled, "Mouse, you are truly an artist."

Mouse chuckled dryly.

The twin laser cannon, which sat atop their own retrofitted transports, were certainly a sight to behold. Dot recognized them as the cannons from the foredeck of the Ravage.

"I used the schematics from the laser cannon we used to seal the web portal, made my own improvements and voila!" Mouse smirked. "Am I good, or what?"

"Magnificent, love," Ray gave her a peck on the cheek.

Hex was fluttering around the guns like a mad enlarged butterfly, "ooh-ing" and "aah-ing" at what she had termed her "pretty ones".

"Hex will be the power source?" Dot already had her organizer open and was feeding in calculations.

"One for her and one for Melissa," Mouse glanced at where Enzo stood with Melissa. "Um -- Dot, honey --,"

"No Mouse, Enzo will no go with her! I can't force Melissa not to go. She's Hex's responsibility but I won't be able to keep an eye on Enzo during the fighting."

"I wasn't suggesting that he go," Mouse said exasperatedly, "I don't want neither one of them there, but like you said, Melissa is Hex's call. But Enzo'll be asking and ya have ta think of a way to let him down easy. He really cares about Melissa ya know."

It was then that Enzo approached, "Aren't they cool Dot?" He motioned towards the guns. The people were now surrounding the weapons showing their admiration and surprise.

"Very," Dot smiled. "Enzo, sweetie, I need to ask you something."

"Sure Dot."

"There are civilians here now, families. When I leave with the soldiers, someone's going to need to take care of them. Do you think you can handle the responsibility?"

For a moment, Enzo didn't speak. His eyes flashed with a momentary sadness, before he whispered, "Sure Dot."

It was then that Dot realized he had seen right through her ruse. Enzo was innocent, but he wasn't basic and now she had virtually told him he was. He's growing up so fast, she thought with no small measure of distress, just like Matrix. Would Enzo loose his childhood as well? "Thank you sweetie, I knew I could depend on you."

"Sure," he turned around and walked away, joining the crowd admiring the gun.

Dot sighed, "He knows why I did it. He's hurt, but someday I hope he understands."

"He will, sugah, someday."

Dom approached them, "We have a chance and a plan."

"Yes," Dot's mind was already somewhere else, or more accurately, on someone else.

This is it Bob, Matrix, all the planning and sacrifices. Now it's time for us to strike.

* * *

Bernard was a young binome with what other sprites and binomes referred to as delusions of grandeur. Bernie, as he liked to be called, thought himself merely ambitious and destined for greater things. It was that thought alone that kept him at his guard post, the massive twin gate towers, which were the entrance point of the frontier.

The towers stood like grim and silent sentinels, rectangular and eighty feet high. Each could house about eighty-five soldiers. At the base and pinnacle of each tower were the control centers, each manned by three guards per shift. Two guards remained inside, warm and secure, while a third patrolled outside. Bernard was on the parapet of the West Tower that night.

The East Tower parapet was supposed to be manned by another binome, who had talked Bernie into covering for him while he went down to the local bar for a drink. Now Bernie was cold, hungry, and greatly wishing he could join his friends in that same bar.

It had been quiet within the city as of late. Sure there had been trouble with that underground resistance movement, but the new general Dariem, and his right hand man, Colonel Valadare was taking measures to quell any signs of rebellion.

Bernie buried himself deeper into his coat. The combination of quite and cold caused his eyelids to droop. Soon Bernie was snoring softly.

A sound jarred him awake. It was so faint; Bernie thought he had dreamt it. He peered out into the darkness beyond the glow of the frontier. He could have sworn he saw something moving.

In the next nano, Bernie no longer had to worry about fulfilling a grand destiny. A wave of searing light exploded from the darkness, smashing into the tower, obliterating the structure and Bernard along with it.

* * *

The message was received.

Hexadecimal's screech filled the air as she gripped the handles of the first gun. Viral power flowed from her hands and filled the deadly machine. Hex cackled maniacally and turned to where Melissa held the "reins" of the second machine.

"Like this, my dear baby sister!" And the cannon burst with a second shot that destroyed the other tower in a violent and blazing explosion.

Fighters came charging from the night sky, being led by Mouse in Ship and in their wake the Mercurius and the Libertas. The air was suddenly heavy with thousands of laser shots as the fighters and transports breached the frontier and the gate guards, caught completely by surprise, were deleted or incapacitated instantly.

On the ground below them, hundreds of citizens, now turned militant poured from their homes and swarmed through the city streets raising battle cries that roused those that had either chosen not to fight or were not a part of the Underground. Some joined in the fray wanting to assist, others merely out of a want for vengeance or action.

They grabbed whatever they could for weapons, accosting any guards that dared to oppose them. When Daemon's troops finally gathered themselves the Resistance and the Underground were well into the city.

Hexadecimal continued to fire in her random manner and Melissa emulated her sister. Buildings crumbled under their onslaught and people fled, least they be crushed on the streets.

Out of the mayhem a blue and silver comet split the night sky. Ray Tracer, leading a detachment of troops on zip boards and rocket cycles fought the enemy troops for air supremacy. Behind him, AndrAIa came on another cycle and at her side, flew Dot Matrix. The two women exchanged a knowing look and a nod. AndrAIa left Dot to land amongst ground troops being led by Captain Capacitor and his crew.

Nothing seemed real to the Command.com of Mainframe. Not the enemy soldiers pouring from Council Hall, not the guards attempting to beat back the Underground army, not the lasers that lit up the night sky. None of it mattered. She was searching for one face. Longing to hear one voice.

And then he came.

The cycle he rode, a wicked-looking thing in the same design of the Ravage, was being piloted by a girl sprite. Dot only took a moment to notice she had never seen the woman's like. Her skin was flawless and silvery. She only took a moment to glance behind the cycle at the contingent of infected guardian troops that flew in his wake. They all flew low, underneath the laser fire, so much so, that Dot could have leapt to the nearest rooftop if she chose to do so.

The girl piloted the cycle to a halt and the virus surveyed the scene, a grim smile on his face. He was hideous. It was the only word Dot could use to describe him. Yellow eyes, devoid of a pupil still managed to exude malevolence. His skin was marred by a network of pulsing yellow veins and vicious fangs protruded from his mouth.

Then his gaze fell on her.

A very different smile played across his lips. One of familiarity and of something else that made Dot shudder. He turned back to a Guardian who flew nearby and gave a command. Those following him fell back to join the battle overhead. Now Dot was facing the viral alone. He had the sprite move the cycle closer, until they were within shouting distance from one another.

Again he smiled, his gaze traveling up and down her form and Dot felt an acute sense of revulsion. Then as though they were meeting under normal circumstances, as they had countless times in Mainframe sharing an energy shake at the Diner, the creature said, "Hi Dot, what's processing?"

Dot's whole world shattered. The only other time she had felt that way was when she watched Megabyte send her one true love into the web. Only her one true love wasn't here now. This thing had taken his place.

And like that horrible time, when Megabyte banished her love into the void, Dot screamed at the top of her voice, "Bob ---!"

* * *

They had planned ahead for this mission. AndrAIa's troops had taken; what she had learned from their Underground contacts; an important structure within the city. The office of the Chief of Operations was in this building. It reminded AndrAIa of SiRCe. She hoped her friend was all right. It was there, she was also told, she could obtain more intelligence information.

The citizens of the Underground had been outnumbered and had almost fled against the onslaught of enemy troops until AndrAIa had arrived and had led them in a frontal assault. Now, with a workstation at her disposal, AndrAIa accessed the data files and downloaded everything she needed into a specially set up workstation on board the Libertas. When she was done, she escaped outside with her troops, only to be confronted by a group of enemy foot soldiers. AndrAIa gave the order for retreat but as they fled down a narrow dimly lit street, more soldiers came at them and they were forced to fight. AndrAIa drew her trident, warned anyone who didn't plan on fighting to stay out of her way and threw herself at the nearest soldier.

For a few nanos, AndrAIa was consumed with battle lust. Her trident struck with deadly precision, until the soldiers, seeing they were dealing with more than a weak defenseless woman, drew back.

"Hold!" A voice suddenly came through the darkness. The enemy soldiers suddenly withdrew into the shadows.

AndrAIa halted abruptly at the voice, so familiar and at the same time as foreign and as alien as the world had been to her when she had first left her game. A grim figure strode towards her. A menacing glow emanated from his right eye. AndrAIa stood rooted to the spot. As the figure stepped into the weak light, AndrAIa's hand flew to her mouth.

A beast faced her.

The game sprite took an involuntary step backwards. No, this was not her love. This was not the man she had risked everything to be with. This was a thing. A horrible monster that no longer remotely resembled Matrix.

The thing smiled at her. It was a lecherous grin that made AndrAIa feel unclean. Matrix would have never looked at her like that.

"AndrAIa," hearing her name issue from its mouth in a low snake-like voice, ripped AndrAIa from her shock.

"Don't you dare say my name!" AndrAIa screamed, brandishing her trident, "You've stolen him from me and I want him back!"

The thing laughed. "What, I'm not good enough for you anymore? Look at me AndrAIa. I'm more powerful then I ever dreamed. Now don't be afraid, I won't hurt you much."

He took a step towards her.

"I said stay back!"

"I'm hungry, AndrAIa," for a moment, his voice was soft, almost pleading. "I haven't eaten in so long. Just let me get near you, and we can be together. You'll, be a part of me."

"No," AndrAIa said, "I'm warning you whatever you are."

"You won't hurt me," the thing taunted as it moved closer, "I'm your Lover."

"You are not!" AndrAIa extended her claws.

Matrix made a lunge for her. AndrAIa lashed out and slashed his arm. Matrix stumbled back with a cry of fury.

"Game sprite witch!"

To AndrAIa's shock Matrix came for him again, the paralyzing sting of her claws seeming to have no effect. She let out a defiant cry as the beast went to grab for her and her trident exploded in its face with a light so bright that all those present shielded their eyes. When the light dimmed, bright dots swam before AndrAIa's sight.

The enemy soldiers turned and fled. Her soldiers cheered but the game sprite barely heard. AndrAIa looked down and the thing that had once been Matrix lay unconscious.

* * *

Dot faced the thing that had once been Bob and knew she could not fight him.

"Bob," she called across the expanse that separated them, "You've got to fight it. Come back with me!"

He laughed, "Wrong! I am Dariem of Daemon's Army. For her glory, I will bring her your head!"

Dariem leapt from his cycle to a nearby rooftop and beckoned Dot imperiously to him. Dot abandoned her cycle and leapt off into space. She landed a few yards away from him near the roof edge. Not a very strategic place for her to be, she realized.

He leered at her again and approached, brandishing claws six inches long.

"It's good to see you again Dot," Dariem said, "How do you like me now?"

"I don't," Dot muttered backing away.

"Come with me, Dot," Dariem said. "I can truly make you mine. Wouldn't you like that? You've always wanted me."

"I want Bob, not this evil thing you've become."

For a moment, Dariem's face was a twisted mask, "I can make you want me."

"Try," Dot hissed going into a fighting stance.

Dariem threw his head back and laughed, "How quaint."

He rushed her but learning from her encounter with Ashar, Dot dodged out of his reach. Dariem barely kept himself from going over the side.

"So it's cat and mouse, hmm?" Dariem smirked as Dot backed away. "And speaking of Mouse, where is she? Shouldn't she be saving the day?"

"Mouse is a little preoccupied," Dot hissed. She cocked her wrist cannon, "Don't make me hurt you."

"You, hurt me, with that?" This seemed to be the funniest thing Dariem had ever heard.

Dot fired twice. The blasts knocked Dariem back but he did not fall, "I'm getting tired of this."

Dariem came for her again. Dot jabbed her fist sharply, connecting with his nose. Dariem's head snapped back. When he regained himself he smiled and wiped the blood away with the back of his hand.

"You were never much of a fighter were you?" Now it was Dot's turn to taunt. "This is what, the second time I've cold-cocked you?"

"You remember, how sweet." Dariem smiled. "I called you basic. It won't happen again."

Unexpectedly, he backhanded her. Stars exploded before Dot's eyes as before she could move, he was over her. He grasped her painfully by the wrists and hauled her up.

"I really don't want to hurt you," Dariem said and even as he spoke, he began to apply pressure to Dot's wrists. When the pain began unbearable, Dot screamed. Then by some grace of the User, he released her. Dot stumbled back. She looked up into Dariem's eyes and saw ---

"Bob?"

Dariem's face twisted in pain, "D-dot?"

Cautiously, Dot approached, "Bob, keep fighting!"

"No!" His scream startled Dot. Whether it was his protesting his own actions or warning Dot away, she couldn't tell. Unexpectedly, Dariem slashed her across the chest. Dot cried out as the searing pain robbed her of strength. Her knees buckled and she lay there in her agony, tears streaming down her face, unable to move or even focus on what was happening.

From far away, Bob's voice said, "I'm sorry Dot."

She managed to raise her hand to her face and saw her own blood. She forced her eyes to focus on Dariem standing over her.

"So am I," Dot whispered. She forced herself to raise her arm. The wrist cannon was pointed at Dariem's face.

"Come now Dot, it's over see?" He motioned skyward as though he had had some type of premonition and in the next nano, several portals opened above them bathing the sky in golden light.

"As you can see reinforcements are on the way."

"No," Dot groaned. Dariem was lifting her up again, with surprising gentleness.

"You'll be deleted in a few micros," Dariem said. "I can save you. I'll take you to Daemon."

No!" The word came from her lips with her last remaining strength. Dot launched herself at Dariem who, completely caught off guard didn't have time to defend against the attack. The pair hit the edge of the building, teetering madly for a nano. Dot looked into Bob's eyes and saw the glimpse of horror there before the both of them went over the edge.

The fall seemed to take forever. It was even worse than the time she had been shot. Now the images that she saw were death and destruction for the whole of the web as Daemon subjugated all.

From very far away, she heard a voice screaming something, but she didn't know what. The end came then and when she hit a solid thing the world around Dot exploded and then all was darkness and silence.


Read Chapter 18 | Back to The Daemon Conflict