Announcing the ninth chapter of Return. This fic is nearing its climax. As I've stated before, Return will finish, but as to when that will happen...

Disclaimer: I do not own Digimon frontier in any way, shape, or form.

Warnings: Fighting...

Notes: Just a reminder, this is an alternate world we are dealing with here. Natural phenomenon works differently in the Digital world then in the Human world. So when you can't picture a swamp and a jungle in the same geographical location, I suggest you get over it.

Flashback: "I don't see how the Heater could be broken."

"no matter what, we can't seem to get it to work right."

"There's a key around here somewhere..."

"It's almost the same as when I got my beast spirit."

-(Chapter 9: The Fire Works!)-

"Takuya, this is pointless."

The group groaned in agreement with Kouji's harsh understatement, dragging their feet through afternoon-heated mud as the bubbling goggle head skipped ahead, turning around and marching backwards to face his team.

"What are you talking about! At least we aren't walking in circles," he pointed out cheerily, waving his hands in encouragement.

"This is worse!" Kouji fumed, the heat getting to him, even if he'd taken his jacket off long ago. "We're just following some random direction you picked, so we might as well be running around in circles!"

"Hey, well, at least I'm actually trying to find our way home! I don't see you helping anything," the brown-haired boy snapped, facing forward once more and crossing his arms.

Kouji grit his teeth, warping the jacket in his hands by twisting his fists over it. "I was trying to help Kouichi figure out which direction we should go. At least he has an idea, unlike you, who just goes wherever he fancies!"

"But since Kouichi couldn't figure out where to go we needed to do something instead of just sitting around!"

"Stop fighting!!" Izumi screamed, halting the tiring exchange, hands poised in the air. The humid, swampy jungle seemed to screech eerily with the echoes of frightened Digimon, the group growing quiet after the girl's outburst. Kouji took the moment to regain his head and his breath, shaking himself of annoyance and noticing the wariness in the rest of his friends. Takuya too could tell his team didn't have as much energy as he did running around in the too-hot climate, Tomoki and Kouichi looking particularly wary.

"Break time!" Junpei smiled, lifting the heavy atmosphere. He wiped sweat from his brow with an extra handkerchief before pulling out a few ice-cold bottles of water from a backpack.

"Excellent thinking, my boy!" Bokomon praised, grabbing a water bottle. "Icy water from the Autumn Leaf Fair! I approve!"

"Here," Kouji turned to Kouichi and guided him to sit on a less mossy rock, handing the boy some water and seizing his green over-shirt from his hands.

"Thanks," The elder smiled tiredly, unscrewing the bottle and taking a few gulps.

"How're you feeling?" Kouji asked, somewhat worried and at the same time curious. His brother's headaches were pretty much unpredictable, and so far they'd been lucky to have found what keys they had by just running after the warrior of darkness' "sixth sense".

"I'm okay," he sighed, closing his eyes in the familiar notion of trying to pinpoint the direction of the key's call. But oddly, he could not feel any strange, back-of-the-head pains, and the absence of such was almost.... unnerving.

Kouichi shook his head, frowning, "I'm sorry, but... I just can't feel anything. We must be too far away..."

Kouji swiped back his brother's sweat-soaked bangs, "No, it's okay. I'm glad it isn't bothering you for once."

"But we're lost..."

The younger brother just chuckled, "It's not so bad... besides, we've always got our D-Tectors, so..."

"Hey, great idea!" Takuya pounced up with a huge grin, startling the twins from their 'private' moment to watch the goggle head in curiosity. Said warrior of fire tugged out his device and clicked a few buttons until the circular map popped out, heralding cheers from the rest of the group.

"That would've been nice before!" Patamon giggled, flopping comfortably onto Takuya's hat to look down at the device. "Which way now, captain?"

Takuya chuckled uneasily, scratching his head and holding the digivice upside-down for a moment, before trying to hold it out properly once more, as if looking at it from a different angle would help. "Er... who was the one who programmed these things to just look for the Spirits, again?" he asked uneasily, sweat-dropping. The team groaned, their shoulders slumping in defeat, Kouichi's head going into his hands and Tomoki dropping carelessly into the mud.

"Let me see that thing!" Bokomon swiped Takuya's black hand-held from him in a huff, bringing out his trusty Book and making sure not to dirty the pages with mud.

"Hey, lemme see, lemme see!" Neemon whined as Bokomon studied, which prompted a good snap to the yellow Digimon's waistband.

"Okay! Well.... umm.... According to the Digivice, we're in the Continent of Earth, and we just came from the Continent of Steel with that gargantuan lake and the island, and we're headed toward... umm? A big jungle... and there's a clearing, and some sort of... thing in the middle there.... Uh..." Bokomon flipped through the pages in confusion, and the group just sighed.

Lopmon turned to the warrior of darkness, climbing up onto his lap as to keep his ears from getting too muddy. "Do you have any idea where any of the keys are, Kouichi?"

The boy shrugged, "How am I supposed to know? I'm just sensitive to the call... besides, none of us have even heard of the keys before! We don't even know where they come from."

"Do we really want to hear another history lesson?" Takuya questioned, folding his hands behind his head in boredom. "Besides, we don't need to really know the history, we need to find them so we can go home. Have you forgotten?"

"Kouichi has a point," Kouji stated bluntly, angry at Takuya once again. "Maybe if we actually knew a little more about these ten elemental keys to the Digital Gate, it'd help our search. So far, finding them has been blind luck!"

"Okay, okay!" Izumi stepped in once again. "Before you two start bickering again, let's think about this for a minute. We're all tired, so maybe listening to a story wouldn't hurt - and since we don't know where to go, we may find some insight. Got it?"

"Sounds good to me, Izumi-chan!" Junpei agreed quickly, while Takuya huffed and rolled his shoulders, looking for a relatively clean place to sit. Kouji was just about to lean against a tree when Kouichi beckoned him to his side, and the group of warriors, plus the angels, settled around Bokomon in a mixture of interest and boredom.

"Alrighty!" Bokomon flipped to the beginning of the Book, smiling. "First off, the Gate was originally created as a passage from the Digital world to the Human world, and with its creation, the ten Elemental keys were born. They were powerful sources, only to be controlled by equally powerful wielders. When Lucemon became corrupt, the Ten Legendary Warriors destroyed the keys so that Digimon could not go to the human world, which was why Lucemon was so bent on creating that wormhole. Anyways, when the world was reborn, the ten keys must have been reborn as well - but scattered, just as the Digital world is."

Tomoki rolled his eyes, "That didn't tell us anything..."

Kouichi turned to the little digimon in his arms, "Lopmon, do you remember if there was ever a place where the keys were kept? You know - like how the Spirits were kept with the Angels?"

"Uh, yeah, I'm pretty sure there was a place like that," Lopmon answered, pondering.

"Really!?" Takuya jumped to his feet, the other's eyes all wide. "Where??"


Salamon hung her head, "We don't know... it was so long ago. Plus, with the chaos that the Digital world is in now, I doubt the original place is in the same spot."

"Question is, where was that place?" Junpei wondered, scratching his chin.

"...You know," Tomoki spoke up quietly, fingering his water bottle, "We found like... half of the keys on that big ol' island, before. Do you think that place could have been...?"

"Close to where they were originally kept," Bokomon supplied, nodding his head in thought. "Well, it's a start... but that means we'll have to backtrack."

"No problem!" Takuya smiled, bringing out his D-tector which was finally blinking, to everyone's relief. With a destination in mind, the devices seemed to react, which was very good news. Marching happily, the gang finally set off with Takuya, Bokomon and Neemon in the lead, Izumi and Junpei directly behind him, Tomoki bouncing after them (feeling lots better now) with Salamon and Patamon, Kouji with Lopmon after that, and Kouichi in the back.

Kouji heard something humming in the back of his head just then, the vibrations crescendoing into a steady rumble that he couldn't ignore, but just as he was about to speak up, Junpei beat him to it.

"Do you guys hear something, or is that just my stomach?"

The ground rumbled seemingly in response, and Takuya turned with a slightly horrified look on his face, "That is definitely not your stomach!"

Kouji glared at the shaking ground beneath him, almost loosing his careful balance when Lopmon decided to roost at his shoulder. The earth gave a huge leap, and Kouji watched Kouichi fall backwards from the force, whose eyes were fixed on something in the ground. As soon as Kouji turned his gaze to the bubbling mud that had captured his brother's attention, a deafening crack shot through the humid air, and the twins' eyes widened.

The ground was splitting.

Mud started to leak through, pouring in like sand through fingers. The sound of cracking continued as the small hole in the continent got steadily larger, pieces of land starting to crumble at the edges. Kouichi felt the mud around him start to seep towards the opening, and he scrambled to his feet, stumbling backwards. The ground crumbled away and continued to shake violently, the sound of startled yells the only background to the thrumming rhythm of the quaking earth.

Kouji realized what was happening and reached his hand out.

"Kouichi!" his brother's arm shot out for his, but their fingers only brushed.

The grumbling slowly ebbed, and all the noises faded into an eerie silence as the team took inventory.

"Is everyone okay?" Takuya asked with heavy concern, scanning the area. Four, five, six, seven heads... "Where's Kouichi?" His gaze went to Kouji, who's mouth was set in a very straight, unmoving line, his eyes gazing across the newly created abyss.

"H-He didn't fall, did he?" Izumi gasped, afraid, desperately searching the horizon for her missing friend.

There was a call from the distance, a faraway "Hey!" and they all turned to find their missing companion waving. The only problem was that a giant hole separated him from returning to their sides.

"Kouichi! You okay?" Izumi cupped her hand over her mouth to yell, the mirror image of the boy she addressed too frozen to have asked.

"Yes, I'm fine," Kouichi assured, looking to either side of the creator and finding no easily accessible way over.

Junpei and Takuya simultaneously reached for their D-Tectors, only to be stopped mid-swing by the younger of the two twins. "We can't. Don't waste energy."

"But Kouichi...."

"Will be fine." The others stared at the resolute look on Kouji's face, unable to doubt his determination. The digimon, however, peered across to the warrior of darkness' distant form. Patamon was about to fly right across, but once again, Kouji stopped him. For a long moment, the flying orange creature was upset, but when he watched Kouji's face, he was overcome by the strangest sense of deja vu. The warrior of light was thinking hard about something.

Kouichi didn't see what was going on, trying to pay attention as Takuya waved his arms and pointed in a certain direction. Kouichi understood and gave a last farewell flick of the hand and started to walk parallel with the rest of the group. The farther they walked, the wider the abyss grew, until they soon could not see a sign of one another.

It was very quiet walking alone, without even the traces of his friend's echoing conversations breaching across the vast crack in the earth. The air was still as muggy as it had been earlier that afternoon, and Kouichi silently hoped that the temperature would go down with the sun.

The warrior of darkness tried not to daydream too much, worried about accidentally falling off the edge of the cliff, but it was hard to concentrate when there wasn't much to focus on. The only thing vaguely interesting to keep himself occupied was a very distant, hazy blue glare dancing on the horizon...

What in the world?

It took a long while - waiting for the day to get dark - until the boy could actually make sense of the glowing light. It looked like a blue bonfire, or make that a figure standing behind a fire... or a person on fire?

Kouichi started to run, momentarily worried that someone was in danger, but the closer he got, the more he started to understand that this was the makeup of a Digimon. Its head was encased in a metal helmet, had chains around its torso, and it had black pants on. He couldn't deduce much more before something hot, liquid-like and blue came hurdling towards him.

He was quick enough to dive out of the way, the incredible heat singing his left shoulder. He glared upwards, shifting into a battle-ready stance as he watched a metal-clad, blue-fire-skinned Digimon sauntering up to him without a care in the world.

He got to his feet as the creature paused before him, now close enough so that Kouichi could take note of the burning chain weapon laying in his opponent's hands.

"Who are you?" Kouichi demanded, feeling threatened by the other's incredible power.

"SkullMeramon," it hissed, steamy blue fire exiting on it's exhalation. It lifted a finger to point directly at him, and Kouichi flinched. "Give me the key."

The warrior of darkness bristled, "I don't know what you're talking about."

The chain whip came down directly in front of the boy's feet, and he jumped a foot, a startling CRACK! resonating as the metal rebounded with a flick of SkullMeramon's wrist.

"Give me the key of Darkness!" SkullMeramon wasted no time and charged.

"Execute, Spirit Evolution!" Lowemon threw his staff downwards at his opponent and used the leverage to jump into the air. But all SkullMeramon had to do was turn his head and shout "Metal Fireball" and a hot fire attack shot from his mouth.

Lowemon's shield protected him from the blast as he was thrown to the ground, but the heat wave seemed to suck a lot of the Legendary warrior's energy out of him, and he was sweating as he got to his feet.

"Can't take the heat, Warrior of Darkness?" Lowemon answered the question with a Shadow Meteor, which SkullMeramon simply knocked away with a swish of his chain.

"Slide Evolution!" JagerLowemon instantly lit up in a glow of red and darkness, pouncing forward with a fatal cry of "Dark Master!" The attack hit SkullMeramon straight-on, and as Lowemon slide to a stop and turned around, he was greatly surprised when the other's whip wrapped around his body.

SkullMeramon walked out of the darkness and the dust with a hideous smirk. "I will ask once more. Give me. The key."

JagerLowemon growled, and the next thing he knew, he was being flung upwards, and sideways, and into the ground.

"Heat Chain!" The whip burned the Beast Evolution's metal covering and seemed to be melting it where it touched. JagerLowemon growled in pain as he was battered around, weak attempts as "Ebony Blast" missing his opponent completely.

Kouichi finally fell at the edge of the cliff, burnt and exhausted, staring up at the approaching SkullMeramon with fearful hate. The Digimon's boot pressed into his stomach, and Kouichi flinched from the overwhelming heat that radiated from the fire.

"Goodbye, Key of Darkness," he said, then pushed him with his foot into the black abyss.

When he opened his eyes, there was no falling, no sky, no ground, no top, no bottom; nothing but darkness all around him. It comforted him, and yet worried him at the same time.

A blink, and he could see his partner's vague figure standing – floating? - there before him.

"Lowemon," Kouichi's voice whispered and echoed in the darkness like feint fluttering of wings in a cave. The boy then turned around and saw his Beast form standing behind him.

He suddenly wasn't in the darkness anymore, but in his memories, watching Kouji as his brother received Seraphimon's power into his D-Tector. Even though it was slightly painful to remember what he had been back then, he now knew what was happening.

He took his D-Tector into his hands, watching as the screen flashed back and forth between his evolutions. And then he saw the elegant face of something new, something mysterious and powerful. Someone with Lowemon's mask, only more powerful looking, with jewels encrusted in the eyes of the mask.

"Execute! Fusion Evolution!"

Strength and power flowed back into Kouichi's tired body. The image of a huge, cat-like Digimon, clad in elegant black armor and adorning powerful golden wings, flashed through his mind. He automatically knew it was AncientSphinxmon, the Ancient Warrior of Darkness. Then as fast as it had come, it disappeared, leaving the memory of AncientSphinxmon's image in the background of his head.

"Reichmon!" The darkness started to get slightly lighter, until the blue fire of SkullMeramon came into view above him. The warrior of Darkness burst up from the cavern into the night sky, drinking up the light of the three moons and the gentle glow of the starlight. This, and the cooling breeze of after-twilight gave him a sense of freshness and strength he'd never known.

His peace was broken by a metal ball of fire hurtling towards him.

Reichmon swung his improved staff, complete with four metal daggers at its end, at the attack and it was made ineffective instantly, dissolving into little blue embers that rained down like snow. SkullMeramon's resulting frustrated growl was music to Kouichi's ears.

Flexing AncientSphinxmon's replica golden wings on his back, Reichmon tested his abilities as a flying Digimon and started circling overhead.

"Black Theorem!" a black darkness more intense that Lowemon's Shadow Meteor and JagerLowemon's Ebony Blast shot from the cannons fastened to Reichmon's shoulders shot down at the blue target. Dust and embers sprouted from the dry earth, and Reichmon's view of his opponent was momentarily obscured.

From the cloudy ground, a spark zoomed into the air, and he moved out of its way so that it passed by his shoulder harmlessly. Then, from behind him, there was a very loud Crack and he turned only to be blinded by bright light.

Reichmon caught himself by his wings before he hit the ground, his eyes still burning from the the sudden photosensitive scandal. His sharp instincts helped him throw his weapon in front of him right when SkullMeramon's chain whip came flying at him, which then wrapped itself around his staff. An almighty tug pulled his ancient rod out of his hands.

At the corner of his eye, he saw a metal cannon sitting at SkullMeramon's side, steam spewing from its mouth. At the other's feet was a pile of paper cylinders that Kouichi could see were fireworks, which explained the airborne explosion he'd experienced. In his opponent's hand was his staff, chains wrapped up and down its length.

The cannon aimed towards him, and he had to jump up into the air to dodge the fired missile, its smokey trail traveling underneath his feet. Another Bang went off behind him, and he was thrown forward from the slight blast, doing a somersault in the air. He was able to right himself just before SkullMeramon threw another Metal Fireball at him, and then they were playing dodge ball in the sky. Reichmon was having a pretty easy time just moving out of the way, but he couldn't ever get in range for an attack, or pause to aim.

"Having fun yet?" SkullMeramon chuckled, pulling the cannon's cord again and cackling as it went off sooner than usual and disoriented the warrior of Darkness.

A blast of Black Theorem came hurdling towards the ground at that moment, and the fire Digimon was thrown off his feet. Reichmon settled in front of the cannon, looking a little battered, his chest armor scratched and gray from the firework. Instead of moving out of the way, he took the attack and fired his own directly after, from the same direction it had come. SkullMeramon gawked.

"Flame Chain!" The heated chain came at him, and Reichmon simply fired a blast at it, dissolving it in a burst of darkness. The look on SkullMeramon's inflamed face was one of nervous uncertainty.

As Reichmon took a step forward, SkullMeramon gulped and took one backwards.

"No! Don't come any closer!"

Reichmon glare was covered by his eyelids in a moment of self-calm. SkullMeramon blinked in confusion, then decided to take advantage of the given opportunity and lunge forward. But then Reichmon's eyes opened, and in an instant, all of the jewels littered across his golden-lined black armor sparkled to life, tracing the Warrior of Darkness in an outline of red light. SkullMeramon stopped in his tracks to defend his eyes, unable to get any closer.

"Red Cross!" A huge wave of red energy exploded from Reichmon's body, creating a huge surging circle around him. SkullMeramon was engulfed, his blue turning to purple, then red... then nothing.

"Fractal Code: Digitize," Reichmon scanned the data and rendered it back to its rightful place. The ground that was once cut in half sparkled with Digicode and was filled; the earth covered itself in flowers, all dryness gone.

Finally, carefully, the warrior of Darkness de-digivolved so that he was next to the cannon. The metal gleamed with a different emotion than before, now that it was free of its master's crazed control, shining at him.

Kouichi loaded the cannon, and pulled the cord.

A bright firework went off in the sky, shining pretty colors. Underneath its light, Kouichi laid on the ground, eyes closed, seeing darkness.

-(to be continued)-

Quick fact: "Hanabi" is Japanese for fireworks, which is made from the kanji characters for flower, "hana", and fire, "hi" (the "hi" is usually read as "bi" when with another kanji character). So literally, the translation for fireworks is 'fire flower'.

Bokomon's information at the beginning of the chapter implies that, even though the Digimon could not get through to the Human World, humans could still get to the Digital World, and Ophanimon was still able to get in contact with the other world. Also, it is implied that the "key to the human world" that Crusadermon and Dynasmon were lusting after, is the same "key" to the Gate that the guys are looking for now. Thought I'd make that clear.

One more thing: I told myself I'd get this done by Nov. 3. So I wrote practically half of this (the fight scene) Nov. 2nd. Sad, huh?

If you have stuck through this far, I am eternally grateful. I hope it was to your liking. Please stick around for the next installment of Return.