Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon. (Sad, but true.)

A/N: You know, I think I'm really going to enjoy writing this Spirit Chip arc!

Following the Footsteps of Destiny

Chapter 260: Frozen Heart

Ryoko Ishida

Net, Northern Hemisphere, Digital World

Ryoko slowly stood up, and brushing the snow off his knees, he took a moment to study the beautiful scenery all around him. As far as he could tell, it looked as if they were standing in the bowl of large valley that was half buried in snow drifts, and there was a grove of fur trees nearby that appeared both silent and watchful. The sun shining overhead was warm and bright, and the snow appeared to sparkle beneath its brilliant rays, nearly blinding him. Shielding his eyes, he was able to make out an enormous cliff surrounding the valley, and though it made an excellent vantage point, as far as he could tell there was nobody watching them from up above.

Gennai wasn't lying when he said we would need to dress warm...

Despite the warm sun, it was a bit chilly, and shivering a little in his blue jacket Ryoko glared at the snow beneath his feet. He really did hate being cold, but unfortunately it didn't look as if he was going to have a chance to get warm any time soon. Considering who his partner was, you would think he wouldn't mind the snow, but that did not deter him from scowling in the slightest. Why couldn't they have traveled to the Southern Continent instead?

Thanks a lot, Gennai.

And speaking of Gennai...

"Look, there he is!" Takara called out, pointing towards the grove of trees.

The gate itself was situated almost directly in the middle of the valley, so they had to shuffle through the snow for a fair ways to reach the grove of trees.

It annoyed Ryoko a bit, since Gennai had been standing by the gate only moments ago, but he set his feelings aside when he realized the robed-figure wasn't alone. Airdramon was stretching his wings nearby, and surprisingly Ogremon was there as well, his club resting across his shoulders.

"Ogremon, what are you doing here?" Mickey laughed, giving the champion a big smile.

Ogremon stood up straight, and smacking himself in the chest, he said, "If you guys are looking to get through the Ice Caverns in one piece then I'm your digimon for the job! You can thank me later, and...uh...if you get the chance you can casually mention to Leomon how awesome I was in helping you. I wouldn't mind, you know. Just thought I'd mention it."

"Right," Matt relied, looking amused.

Ryoko glanced at his father, and turning his attention back to Ogremon, he raised his eyebrows and said, "You're going to help us find the Spirit Chip?"

"Ogremon has extensive knowledge on many of the caves here in the Digital World," Gennai explained, his bright blue eyes sparkling in the sunshine. "Like Leomon, he is a traveler, and there's not much in the Digital World that escapes his sharp eyes. He was also there with us when we located the Spirit Chip's signal, and with his knowledge of our caves and labyrinths he should be able to lead you to the Spirit Chip with relative ease. There have been reports of a strange light emanating from deep within the Ice Caverns every so often, particularly at night. We investigated the incident and were able to see that light for ourselves. I have no doubt it's a Spirit Chip."

"Ice Caverns?" Embermon asked, looking confused.

"Turn around," Ogremon smirked, indicating the direction with his club.

Ryoko did as he was told, and squinting in the sun he tried to follow the direction of Ogremon's club. At first he wasn't sure what he was supposed to be looking at, but at the last second he spotted what appeared to be the entrance to a dark cave. The reason he had almost missed it was because the entrance was almost completely hidden by snow drifts.

It must be pitch black in there...

"Wait a second! You expect us to go in there?" Celestimon cried, hovering just behind Matty's left shoulder.

"If you want to find the Spirit Chip then you don't have a choice," Ogremon shot back, letting out a loud snort. "Scared, are you?"

"No! I'm not scared of anything!" Celestimon pouted, glaring at the large champion.

"That cave is the entrance to the Ice Caverns," Gennai interrupted, getting the conversation back on track. "The Spirit Chip lies somewhere deep within that labyrinth of ice and snow, and it's so powerful that its glow can be seen radiating as far as the entrance. We were able to see the light of the Spirit Chip pulsing from the entrance to the cave ourselves, and at its strongest it even breaks through pockets of earth and rock that obscure the labyrinth, which lies beneath this valley of ice and snow."

"Wait, so the cave itself is actually underground?" Sam asked, looking confused.

Gennai nodded, and gesturing to the entrance to the cave, he said, "Most of the cave interior lies beneath the earth. There are sections that exist above ground that were carved into the cliff walls, but for the most part it lies beneath the valley floor. I believe the Spirit Chip lies somewhere in the labyrinth below."

"This isn't going to be easy, is it," Palmon sighed, her petals drooping.

"When is it ever easy?" Dai groaned, making a face.

"What is the cave like inside?" Kari asked curiously, exchanging a look with Tai.

Gennai and Ogremon glanced at each other, and speaking slowly, Gennai said, "The Ice Caverns are not always what they appear to be. They can cloud the mind and obscure the senses, and if you aren't careful you may end up in a different place then where you were before. I would advise you all to be very cautious. Things are not always what they appear to be. Do not let what you see or hear cloud your judgment."

"Uh, you've totally lost me," Davis replied, scratching the back of his head in confusion.

"Just stay out of trouble and do what your guide tells you to do," Ogremon grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest.

"That would be you, right?" Tai joked, moving over to stand next to Davis.

Ogremon failed to notice he was being teased, and puffing out his chest, he said proudly, "That's right. I know my caves, and I saw that light with my own two eyes. I'll get you guys there easy, no problem."

"Nice to know we're in safe hands," Matty said sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

"Before we go, you wanted Gatomon's tail ring?" Kari asked, crouching next to her partner to give the feline's ears an affectionate scratch.

"Ah yes, of course! I almost forgot," Gennai said, crouching in front of Gatomon and holding out his hand. "If you would be so kind as to allow me the use of your tail ring, it would be much appreciated."

Gatomon reluctantly removed the ring in question, and dropping it into Gennai's outstretched hand, she said, "Just make sure you don't lose it or break it. And there had better not be any scratches on it when I get it back!"

"I promise I'll take excellent care of it," Gennai replied, looking amused. "I will need to take it back to Server with me to begin the process for DNA digivolution. That will be my task for the day. It will probably take me a little while, but you should have the use of DNA digivolving again the next time you visit the Digital World. Be sure to try it out, as I'm sure it will come in handy on your mission."

"What about Imperialdramon?" Davis demanded, eager to know the answer.

Gennai pulled something out of his robes, and holding it out in his hand, he said, "That's what this is for."

"A Digicore!" Dovemon cried, flapping her wings in excitement.

"As you were told before, myself and my counterparts were each given a Digicore by Azulongmon. The one in Benji's position has helped you out on a couple of occasions already. This is the Digicore Azulongmon asked me to hold onto, and I do believe I now understand the purpose in which it is to be used. Thanks to Azulongmon, Imperialdramon will fight once more for your cause. Make use of him, for you will need as many megas as you can get your hands on."

"What do you think, Veemon?" Davis asked, turning to look down at his partner.

"I can't wait to tell Wormmon!" Veemon replied, giving his partner a thumbs up. "It's been a long time since the two of us have had a chance to digivolve together."

"If you would step forward and hold out your Digivice, Davis," Gennai asked pleasantly.

Davis did as he was told, and immediately the Digicore began to glow. The light from its shining surface merged with Davis's D-3 Digivice, and then it was gone again in a flash.

"I can't wait to make use out of this," Davis said, turning to grin at his son.

"I will do the same for Ken's Digivice the next time he is in the Digital World," Gennai added. "After that you should have no trouble digivolving to Imperialdramon. And I also have a gift for Matt and Tai."

"Us?" Tai asked, glancing at his best friend.

"This Digicore should also help to make the digivolving process easier for the two of you," Gennai explained. "It will allow Omnimon to come forth much more easily when you have need of him."

Ryoko watched as Tai and his father smiled at each other, and stepping forward they each held out their Digivices. Once again the Digicore began to glow, and the light was absorbed into the two Digivices. When it faded Tai and his father stepped back to smile at their partners, who were both looking eager for the chance to become Omnimon again.

Despite the mission that awaited them, the atmosphere was surprisingly comfortable, but Ryoko still felt uneasy. He couldn't help feeling like they were being watched, but none of their celestial digimon appeared to have sensed anything out of the ordinary. And on top of that he was also very annoyed at Gennai. The man was prancing around in only his robe, and he wasn't even shivering!

I swear this world is out to get me!

Mickey must have somehow caught on to his thoughts because the older twin turned to his partner and said, "Can you sense anything, Halomon?"

Halomon had been playing by himself in the snow while everyone else was chatting, and leaning over the little snowman he had built for himself he gently patted it down and picked up a stray branch from the trees to add a second arm. Though on the surface it looked as if Halomon hadn't been paying any attention whatsoever to his surroundings or the conversation, Ryoko had a feeling it was the exact opposite.

What does he know?

"Well?" Matty asked, giving his brother's partner an impatient look. "This isn't exactly the best time to play around."

Halomon put the finishing touches on his little snowman, and hugging his knees close to his chest, he let his blue gaze wander over the snow-covered trees. "There's no one here now."

"Your words suggest there was someone here before," Joe said gently, crouching next to Halomon. "What do you feel?"

"I think Lucemon was here before, but he's gone now."

"How do you know?" Matty demanded, addressing both Halomon and his own partner.

Celestimon shrugged his little shoulders, and making a face, he said, "Just a feeling. We can't sense him, but..."

"It feels like he was here," Halomon said softly, his small wings fluttering in the slight breeze.

"You said he wasn't here anymore, though. What did you mean by that?" Mickey asked, settling down next to his partner and scratching the digimon's fluffy ears.

Halomon pointed behind himself, and without turning his head, he said, "I think he might be in there now."

"In the cave you mean?" Glowmon asked, sounding a bit concerned.

"He might be, but I can't be sure."

"Halomon, you need to be a little more clear," Alopemon spoke up, looking impatient.

"There's darkness inside that cave," Halomon said quietly, shaking his head. "It's obscuring our senses. Lucemon's light has been lost in the darkness. I can only sense him very faintly, and it's coming from the same place as the darkness inside the cave."

Ryoko felt a shiver race down his spine, but this time it wasn't from the cold.

"What about DarkAngelicmon?" Matty demanded, his handsome face growing rather pale.

"If he's in that cave the darkness is hiding him well," Celestimon responded, his emerald eyes narrowing in concentration.

"He's in there," Halomon insisted. "They're waiting for us somewhere in that labyrinth."

Nobody seemed to know what to say to that, and glancing at the cave entrance again, Ryoko felt a sense of dread beginning to fill his heart. He didn't want to go down there.

He didn't want to face that darkness alone.

"Regardless of what's waiting for us down there, we need to be careful," Joe insisted. "Do you think we could try scanning the place like Matty did with the castle on Cyber?"

"I don't think that's going to work for this cave," Gennai replied.

"Why not?" Agumon asked.

Gennai shifted in his robes, and once again exchanging a look with Ogremon, he said, "As I said before, this place is not as it seems. There is nothing we can tell you that would prepare you for what is to come. You will see for yourselves."

"Do we even know what we're looking for?" Gomamon spoke up, glancing from one person to the next. "Which Spirit Chip are we even trying to find?"

Ryoko knew the question would come eventually, and he figured there was no point in delaying any further.

Stepping away from the others, he proceeded to stare into the depths of the dark cavern, the tone of his voice sounding surprisingly calm despite what he was about to say. "It's the Spirit Chip of Loyalty."

There was a pause, and then Dai spoke up, the tone of his voice dripping with skepticism. "How do you know?"

Ryoko didn't reply. Instead, he held out his D-Coder Digivice, and a beam of blue light shot out of its screen towards the dark entrance to the cave.

"Your Digivice is glowing!" Sam gasped, obviously surprised.

Ryoko turned to his friend, and raising his eyebrows, he said, "So is yours."

Sam looked properly startled, and pulling out his own D-Coder, the raven-haired Digidestined jumped at the sight of its glowing surface. "I already have a Spirit Chip, though! It can't be mine!"

"No, it's not," Ryoko agreed, turning to face his parents. "Hold out your Digivices."

His parents looked at each other, and without a word they both pulled out their Digivices. Just as he had thought, both Digivices were glowing.

"How did you know that would happen?" Takara gasped, looking shocked.

Ryoko didn't bother responding. Instead, he turned to Davis and Joe and said, "Your turn now."

Davis and Joe also looked at each other, and pulling out their Digivices they too were surprised to discover that the little devices were glowing.

"How?" Mickey asked, standing up and coming slowly towards him. "How did you know?"

Ryoko let his arm drop back down, and turning to the group, he said flatly, "Process of elimination. Gennai knew exactly which Spirit Chip it was, so he chose to appoint the Digidestined who were to come with us on this journey. Once I figured that much out it wasn't too hard to guess the rest. I assume the light coming from the cave was blue?"

"It was," Gennai confirmed, watching him closely.

"With only four Spirit Chips left it wasn't too difficult to figure out the truth. The other three Spirit Chips, Wisdom, Faith, and Innocence, are missing important people for this task. Without T.K., Sora, Ken, and Izzy, there's no way it could have been one of those three Spirit Chips. That leaves only the Spirit Chip of Loyalty."

"And Izzy didn't figure this out?" Tai asked, looking skeptical.

Ryoko looked at the ground, and speaking softly, he said, "Izzy knew every bit a much as Gennai did."

"Then why didn't he say something?" Gabumon asked, sounding suspicious.

Ryoko looked at the robed figure standing before him, and shaking his head, he said, "The same reason Gennai didn't tell us. You and Izzy aren't going to make this easy for me, are you."

"It is your destiny, not mine," Gennai said pleasantly, his gaze never wavering.

"What's this all about?" Mimi asked, frowning in confusion.

Ryoko turned to look at his parents, and stepping towards him, his father said, "What's the matter, Ryoko? What's going on?"

Ryoko shook his head, and without looking at the goggle-headed leader standing somewhere behind him, he snapped, "Daichi, hold out your D-Coder!"

"Huh?"

Ryoko could hear the confusion in Dai's voice, and he closed his eyes as a stream of red light shot past him towards the entrance to the cave. There was no denying it anymore. Everything he had predicted had come true. When it came to the Spirit Chip of Loyalty, there was only one possible solution as to who it could belong to.

How can it be mine when I don't seem to know what friendship really is?

"But I already have a Spirit Chip!" Dai protested.

"Exactly."

The word came out almost as a whisper, but Ryoko refused to look at the group he had turned his back on.

"Mine isn't glowing, and neither is Mickey's or Kara's," Matty said slowly. "The Spirit Chip of Loyalty is only responding to three new Digidestined, and two of them have Spirit Chips already. Which means..."

"The Spirit Chip in that cave belongs to me," Ryoko said flatly, shoving his D-Coder back into his pocket. "Come on, we need to get going. The Spirit Chip won't find itself."

Nobody seemed to know what to say to that, and breaking the silence, Gennai said, "It is time I was on my way. I must get back to Server to begin my work on the DNA digivolving process. We also must begin our search for the fourth Spirit Chip. I will have Leomon and the others working on it as soon as I am back in the Eastern Hemisphere. If possible I would like to find it much quicker than we were able to find this one."

"Let us know as soon as you find out," Dovemon said, beaming at the robed figure.

"You can rest assured I will be keeping in contact with Izzy as our investigation continues," Gennai replied. "You all have a difficult task ahead of you. Be vigilant and stay focused. That will be the key to finding the Spirit Chip."

"You can count on us to get the job done, as always," Davis boasted, giving Gennai a salute.

"I take it your visit with Tal and the others went well?" Gennai asked, once again looking amused.

"It did," Kari agreed. "We learned a lot from them, but we still have many unanswered questions."

"I suspected you would. I will have Izzy inform me later of what was said during your conversation with the original Digidestined. I'm looking forward to it."

"If you can make sense of anything they told us, be sure to let us know," Tai laughed, shaking his head.

The robed figure smiled in return, and turning to Airdramon, he said politely, "Would you be so kind as to take me back to Server?"

"For you? Anytime, Gennai!" Airdramon replied, allowing Gennai to climb onto his back. With a wave from the robed figure the two of them were off, leaving only Ogremon behind to act as their guide.

The green-skinned champion appeared to be taking his role quite seriously because he pointed his cudgel at the entrance to the cave again and said, "Alright, let's move out! And no lagging behind. I don't need any slackers in my group."

Ryoko was quick to join Ogremon at the front, and staring straight ahead he proceeded to head towards the cave entrance. The darkness that awaited them up ahead made him uneasy, but it didn't scare him even half as much as the dark gaze that was burning a hole through the back of his skull.

He knew all the others were watching him as well, and though it made him uncomfortable he knew not one of them was going to say a word about it. Unlike a certain goggle-headed leader, they knew when to leave him alone, and none of them were about to risk his wrath by asking any unwanted questions.

Even his parents.

Daichi, though, was a different story. The goggle-headed leader had no sense of tact, and he was more likely to test your patience then he was to leave you alone.

Ryoko could feel Dai's eyes on him much more strongly then he could feel the others, and it was starting to make him feel very nervous.

What was Dai thinking? How did the goggle-headed leader feel about the Spirit Chip belonging to someone it didn't necessarily suit all that well. What did Dai think of him now, or did he even really want to know?

He's probably laughing at me, thinking what a joke it is.

"Wow, it's really dark in here," Palmon commented, startling Ryoko out of his thoughts.

He blinked to clear his head, and realizing his vision was now obscured by the darkness he squinted in an effort to try and see what was up ahead.

"I don't like this place," Mickey said quietly, huddling against the stone wall. "Halomon was right. This place is full of darkness. I can feel it tugging at us, trying to pull us in."

"It's also freezing in here!" Takara complained, attempting to lighten the mood. "Good thing I'm wearing my warmest coat."

"I can't see a thing," Matty groaned, his voice echoing in the cave. "Where are you, Mickey?"

The only reason Ryoko had been able to judge Mickey's location was because the older twin was huddling next to him against the wall. There was somebody else standing next to him on his right, and though he couldn't see the person he knew from their scent that it was Dai.

His first instinct was to back away from the goggle-headed leader, but then Dai spoke, confirming his location. "Hey Glowmon, care to give us a bit of light?"

"Sure thing! Luminaire!"

Immediately a soft glow filled the entrance. This time Ryoko did step away from the goggle-headed leader, and feeling like a coward he proceeded to hover next to Sam.

"Nice," Ogremon commented, nodding his head in approval. "That's a convenient little trick."

Glowmon beamed at the praise, and gliding towards the large champion, he sad. "I'll help navigate!"

"We can also use Ryoko's D-Coder to check our progress," Ogremon said, sounding pretty proud of himself for having thought up such a brilliant idea.

"I thought you could get us there easy all by yourself," Alopemon said sarcastically.

"I could if I wanted to! But why make things harder for yourself? Know what I'm saying?"

"Right," Celestimon replied, giving the champion a look.

Ryoko pulled out his D-Coder, and he watched silently as a beam of blue light disappeared into the darkness up ahead. In his opinion the light should have penetrated further, but something about the darkness seemed too thick to be normal.

Why do I feel like this is all wrong somehow?

Ryoko felt his father's hand come to rest gently on his shoulder, and speaking softly, the former musician said, "Don't lose sight of your goal, Ryoko."

The words confused him, and looking up he found himself gazing into his father's deep blue eyes.

He expected his dad to speak further, but instead the former musician merely ruffled his blond hair and glanced at Dai before moving off to join the others.

But what is my goal? What am I really searching for?

Ryoko didn't have an answer for his own question, and moving forward he proceeded to make his way through the darkness up ahead.

Persiamon

Net, Northern Hemisphere, Digital World

Persiamon stood atop the cliff overlooking the snow-covered valley down below, and tilting her head to the side she studied the cave entrance with curiosity. The Digidestined had entered only moments ago, and she was curious to learn whether or not they would survive what awaited them in the darkness. She had left Phelesmon behind with their ride so he wouldn't attract attention from the celestial digimon, and thus she had the cliff edge all to herself.

Humans are such interesting creatures.

She had always wanted an opportunity to study humans, and now that she had a chance she was going to make the best of it. And so she sat down to observe the valley below, her tail curling comfortably behind her.

She was a patient digimon, and time would tell what events would transpire. But for now, the waiting game had begun.