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The Daemon Conflict
By: LadyBard

Chapter 22 - Into the Pit

Bob laid both hands on the surface of the door.

I know you're there, and waiting for me.

For a moment, he was uncertain as to what to do, then calmly, he stepped back and aimed a blast at the lock. The door came open slowly, in an almost welcoming fashion.

Inside was utter and complete darkness.

Bob stepped inside and brought a globe of light into being in his palm. Still it did little to illuminate the impenetrable blackness. There was no sound save Bob's own ragged breathing, but the stench of Daemon engulfed him and brought the bile to his throat. Still Bob forced himself to step fully into the room.

The door slammed shut behind him.

Now it was he within that tiny space of light and the darkness attempted to bury him alive. Bob faced whatever was to come with grim determination.

An amused chuckle, "Welcome home, my Dariem."

"I am not your Dariem," Bob hissed, "I am nothing of yours viral witch."

Something moved within the blackness, Bob could sense it more than see it.

"Oh I must disagree," Daemon said. "You belong to me, Dariem. You are my plaything to do with what I please."

"Never."

He was not prepared for her sudden and violent attack. Daemon bored her way into his mind and Bob cried out in agony as she ripped at his consciousness. The pain sent the Guardian to his knees.

"You see my dear Dariem? I do not have to engage in physical confrontation." Daemon's voice echoed in his processor above his screams. She drove her presence deeper into Bob's mind, tearing away at his will, "It is a simple matter of destroying you from within."

"No!" Bob fought back, using his memories and his love and respect for the people he held dear as a shield as he had planned. They were waiting for him. Dot was waiting for him and he would be with her.

"Foolish Guardian!" Daemon hissed. "Do you honestly believe you can shield yourself against me?"

Daemon shattered the barrier Bob had constructed within his mind and his unconscious self was hurled into a nightmarish world.

He was floating in that alien realm known as the web. Mainframe was lost to him. Dot lost to him. His skin burned. The air was poison. He was suffocating, being eaten alive by the degradation.

"Good bye Dot," he whispered in a hoarse voice.

Dot.

"Dot!" Bob screamed, and fought his way out of the world of Daemon's warped imagination.

"Why do you continue to struggle?" Daemon hissed. "It is useless, give yourself to me!"

"Never!" Bob cried again and Daemon forced him back into another world. Here worms bored their way into his skull - into Dot's skull - and Bob was forced to watch her suffer, until he realized that it was only a vision and by fighting would once again prevail, using his memories, his thoughts and dreams as a weapon to keep the super-virus at bay.

"Enough of these games," Daemon had finally lost patience and Bob was violently forced back into the waking world.

He was on his knees in total darkness. His head was pounding and his lungs ached. Somehow through it all he managed to create another ball of light.

"Yes, you please me well, Robert Lan," Daemon seemed amused again. "You are strong. Why must we fight like this?"

And she was before him, invading Bob's circle of light.

"Don't you realize," Daemon held out her arms as though to embrace him, "what we could accomplish? The power we could wield together?"

"An evil corrupting power," Bob said, "Gathered by using the lives of innocent sprites and binomes."

"There must be some suffering of the lower orders for me to achieve my greatness, Dariem."

"Lower orders?" Bob smirked at her, "You really are full of yourself aren't? Or should I say, full of it?"

That had the desired effect, Daemon screamed in fury and rushed him and Bob sent the energy ball hurling at her. A different scream, one from agony tore from Daemons lips as she was thrown backwards. Her body convulsed as sparks of the golden light ran across her skin.

Bob gathered more power but as he was doing so, he felt a brush of something along his legs and he realized it was Tentacles.

Bob turned as the first tendril wrapped around his leg, he bent and grasped at it, sending a blast of power through it. The thing screeched, it was a high pitch agonizing wail that had Bob clamping his hands over his ears. Movement behind him alerted him to danger and as Bob turned, Daemon leapt upon him and slashed him across his face.

"How do you think your Dot will like you now?" Daemon cried.

Bob smiled bitterly and wiped the blood from his face, "You're jealous of her aren't you? Because she's more of a woman than you'll ever hope to be."

Bob was almost ready for the red-hot blast that came at him but was barely able to dodge out of its way. The heat sent agony though the wound on his face but he had to keep going, get her angry enough so she would make a mistake. Become reckless.

"I could destroy you now," Daemon said, "But I need you Robert Lan. That does not mean I won't hurt you. You must be punished for your traitorous actions. Beg me for forgiveness, and I will be certain your punishment is swift."

"It ends here, Daemon," Bob ignored her words. "One of us is not leaving this room alive."

"Then you leave me no choice."

Bob waited as she gathered her power. Around her, Tentacles writhed and twisted in a protective aura. Bob placed his hand over Glitch.

The attack, when it came slammed, into Bob, injuring him not only physically, but mentally as a wave of everything, evil, corrupt and dark engulfed his mind and for a moment, he succumbed to it and Dariem took control and he craved the power that Daemon had promised him.

But somehow Bob saw what the result of failure would be and never would he allow Daemon to succeed. So Bob countered her move with his own power, and as always the thoughts and memories of what was dear to him provided a shield.

Something seized him in the physical world and he realized it was Tentacles. The oily tendrils were binding his legs, securing his arms behind him. But Bob could not fend off Daemon's mental assault and this physical one. Soon he was immobile, encased once again in a dark mass. Then Tentacles began to crush the breath from him. If he lost in the physical world, he'd lose in the mental one as well. Bob cried out, "Enough! All right!"

Daemon's mental onslaught ceased. "You're surrendering?"

"Yes," Bob said.

"Excellent," Daemon withdrew. Bob opened his eyes and the darkness had receded to reveal her as she walked towards him, "I'm glad you see the futility of fighting me."

"Yes," Bob said bitterly. "You've won Daemon. I won't fight you anymore."

"Never?" She was close to him. "You are truly and completely mine?"

Bob felt Tentacles release him, "Yes."

Daemon laid her hands on Bob's chest. "It will be glorious, my Dariem." Her face was close to his now. "Glorious." Her lips gently touched his.

Bob's hand closed around Glitch and as Daemon stepped back, he muttered a single word.

"Purge."

"What?"

A white light exploded from the icon in Bob's hand. The globe grew rapidly engulfing them both in purifying light.

"What!" Daemon screamed again, "No --!"

The Purge, the one command that Bob had never attempted. It eradicated whatever it touched. Darkness had no match in its power, but Bob had been warned of the possible cost of its use.

All of his power and his life.

The globe continued to grow, obliterating the darkness in its path, drawing on Bob's energy to feed it. The pain was excruciating, but Bob did not falter. He willed everything, his strength, his energy and his very core-com into the purifying field.

Daemon was screaming as her body convulsed. She clawed at invisible things crawling on her skin. The light was eating away at her flesh. Daemon's screaming was torture. It almost sent Bob into madness. To have to watch another life, suffering despite what Daemon was, was almost more than his protocols could stand. But still Bob pressed on. And as the energy continued to eat away at the super virus, Daemon fell into a heap on the floor, her body twitched and her screams abruptly ceased.

Daemon began to laugh. It was the laugh of someone no longer coherent. Where pain had finally shattered their mind. It was a sound more horrible than the screaming had been.

The light was fading now and Bob knew it would be over soon. Suddenly he was no longer inside himself. He was watching someone that look liked him standing over Daemon's form, watching her in her death throes. Someone that looked like his former self, that cocky young Guardian from so long ago. That man looked at him and smiled sadly before the backlash of power swept over him and it began to eat away at his flesh as well. His insides melted as they did with Daemon until there was nothing left but bone, and then even that became dust.

Robert Lan died.

***

The smell of death was heavy in the air as Dot led her troops on an assault against the enemy ground forces. The last of their transports attacked without mercy, relentless in their pursuit of victory.

After landing her transport near the Hall, Dot commandeered some ground troops and met up with Mouse and they made a mad race through enemy fire for the Hall entrance. Above them, Katiyana continued to lead the squadrons but the enemy was faltering against the onslaught of the Resistance. Dot offered a silent prayer to the User to protect the Keytool Mistress.

Now Dot had a single goal. To infiltrate Council Hall, to rescue Bob.

There seemed to be less troops guarding the entrance, which raised Dot's suspicions. More resistance forces joined them and began to push the enemy back.

Then an explosion came from within the Hall, blowing out a good-sized chunk of the wall and catching the enemy completely unawares.

"Now!" Dot screamed, "Forward!"

With cries of rebellion, the Resistance troops surged forward, converging on the Hall. To Dot's relief there were more of their troops already engaging the enemy within. There was a brief but heated battle when Dot again found herself focused totally on staying processing and as always Mouse was at her back. At last the resistance prevailed and the enemy fled before them.

"Sis!" A familiar voice suddenly called and Matrix was running towards her, followed by AndrAIa, Dom, and Sirce. "We've taken the Hall!"

A ragged cheer went up but Dot nodded grimly, she'd save celebrations for later, "Where's Bob?"

Everyone exchanged almost guilty looks.

"He's in the Council Chambers." Matrix said.

"Oh no," Dot said, "Take me there!"

Dot ran in her brother's wake. At one point, Ray joined them. A few skirmishes small skirmishes that they ran into were quelled immediately and at last they came to the entrance. The door was ajar.

"Matrix?" Dot turned to him.

"Stay back," Matrix nodded to AndrAIa and the game sprite brandished her trident. Then the brawny sprite grabbed at the door handle and pulled. Sinew stretched tight as the renegade threw all his strength into the task and with a ponderous groan the door came open.

AndrAIa was through first, her trident blazing but the light seemed muted by the darkness within. The rest of the soldiers rushed into the room and Dot frowned as her booted feet came down on puddle of something inky and soft.

"What in the net --," Dot began "Oh me User - everyone out, now!"

Someone cried out in shock just as Dot discovered she was rooted to the spot by the black tendrils wrapping themselves around her boots.

"It's the viral bug!" Dot screamed, she aimed her wrist cannon and began to fire. The thing withdrew with a screech that caused an icy shudder down many a spine.

Her soldiers following suit, the room was suddenly filled with defiant cries and the acrid smell of burning things and then a sound, like a guttural moan drew everyone's attention above.

Dot for the rest of her processing would not be able to accurately describe what she saw there. It was more of an impression of something rather than a tangible thing, but she would always remember the abyss that was a mouth filled with teeth the size of daggers.

All present were transfixed for a moment. The Matrix with an animalistic cry bursting from his lungs fired Gun into the huge maw and Dot and the rest followed suit. The thing roared in its death throes and a flash from Gun glinted off a large metallic object.

Dot wondered what it was when it began to fall and a burst of golden light revealed the object that plummeted to the ground and Dot screamed.

***

The cadet took his time walking down the corridor towards the office. He knew he hadn't done anything, well not this time, anyway. So why had he been called to the Prime Guardian's office?

He knocked politely when he arrived and when he was told to enter, the cadet took a deep breath and did so.

"You wanted to see me sir?"

Prime Guardian Turbo stood from behind his desk and a grin broke out across his face, "For one last time, son."

"One last time?"

"Yup," Turbo said. "I'm proud of you son. You defeated Daemon and freed the net."

"What?" The cadet looked at him puzzled. "Sir what are you talking about?"

Turbo chuckled and came around the desk. To the cadet's surprise he embraced him. "You've always been like a son to me Bob. You'll make a fine Prime Guardian."

Something stirred inside the cadet's mind. A realization of who he really was and what had happened. What he was seeing -- the Academy and Turbo's office was an illusion or more precisely, a long ago memory. And he was not a young cadet. He was Bob, Guardian 452.

"Turbo?" Bob whispered. "I'm dead?"

"Well - not all of you."

"What? Turbo, that's ridiculous. Am I dead or not?"

"He means a part of you has died, my son." The familiar voice startled him. "Phong?" Bob looked at his friend in shock, "How - what --?"

Phong rolled over to him, "I do not have much time, my son. I must go back. You must make a decision."

"That part of yourself had to be sacrificed for Glitch to have the power to assist you in defeating Daemon." Turbo said. "Your physical body is intact. What you saw was a product of your mind. You can go back, but it will cost you. You'll never be the same again."

"How so?" Bob said.

"Make the decision," Phong said. "Stay or go?"

Bob smiled, "I notice you didn't answer my question. I'll go of course, but --,"

"You're wondering if your little lady will still love you?" Turbo smiled.

Bob returned the smile, "No, I'm not wondering that at all. I know she'll still love me."

Bob turned to his mentor and embraced him. "Thank you Turbo, for saving Dot and for everything. I'm going to miss you so much."

"Get on home, you." Turbo said gruffly, turning away, but not before Bob saw his eyes glistening with tears.

"Phong?" But the venerable sprite was gone and Bob had a feeling he wouldn't get any answers when he went home.

Then Bob was alone. Surrounded by nothing. He closed his eyes and the events of his life replayed themselves, from his first conscious thought, to his first tentative steps, to his first time out in the sunshine and his first kiss. He blushed at that. Onward the vision went until he reached the present and his mind replayed the battle with Daemon, to the point where he had died. And he felt a hole somewhere deep within him. A part of him that was gone forever and sadness took hold of him for a time, but as always, his memories kept it at bay.

His eyes opened and he was on the floor of Council Hall. It was still dim in the room, but Bob could see well enough. Every part of his body was in agony. His head felt as though it was exploding in rapid succession and his lungs were raw. As Bob struggled to his knees, he saw a pile of something unidentifiable lying a few feet away from him. Bob avoided it.

It was done as last. He had won. Daemon was destroyed.

As Bob was climbing to his feet and he was attaching Glitch to his chest, he felt something brush at his ankles.

Bob looked down, "Oh my User."

A tentacle wrapped around his throat, jerking him violently off his feet, lifting him into the air where Bob hung like a helpless rag doll as he choked.

"No!" Bob wasn't certain if he screamed it or just thought it. The tentacle tightened, pushing against his throat, jerking his head back and forth and Bob realized it was trying to snap his neck.

Then there were sounds that he barely registered below him. Yelling voices and sounds of gunplay. The blasts streaked past him and he felt Tentacles writhing in pain. Bob grabbed at the disgusting thing around his neck and tried to pry it off. Then a blast, which Bob somehow recognized as one from Gun came from out of nowhere. Bob saw it slam into the ceiling and illuminated a monstrous thing with a gaping maw filled with razor teeth. Remembering Melissa's words, Bob gathered what remained of his energy and sent a blast straight into it. The creature gave a death cry and the tentacle that held him jerked once and released him.

Then Bob began to fall.

"Bob!" The voice was Dot's. His beloved Dot. Had they seen him hanging suspended like that? He didn't know and he realized in a few nanos, it wouldn't matter.

***

Someone was crying.

Bob wondered who it was. It was so familiar. Voices just out of his range of hearing teased his senses. Then Bob drifted away again.

When he returned to the conscious world, Bob recognized the familiar room of the infirmary.

"Bob!" It was Dot and she was crying and Bob knew it was her he had heard before. She had never left his side. Tears welled in Bob's eyes. He realized he couldn't move, so they fell uninhibited. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her but he couldn't speak and he realized he didn't need to. She could see it in his eyes.

He had destroyed Daemon and he was alive.


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