Last time…The kids faced off against the Flock! Merrowmon found a way to reverse her Druith Lullaby, and then defeated Egalamon with Arkenmon's help; and Latranamon and Kodamamon beat Raptormon. As the kids head off for lands unknown, their parents, along with Bokomon, Neemon, and Ryuudamon, arrive on the Continent of Ice…

Chapter 16: The Frozen Land

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around;
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!
-from "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Tommy woke midmorning to the sounds of hushed conversation among Kouji, Kouichi, and Zoe, but at first he ignored them and turned over in an attempt to fall back asleep. The Warriors and their digimon companions had left the Continent of Light the previous evening, and in the hours since, Tommy had done little but sleep. There wasn't much to talk about, and long journeys always made Tommy tired. The soft sounds of snoring let Tommy know that Takuya, JP, Bokomon, and Neemon were still sleeping as well. Ryuudamon's bench across from Tommy's was empty.

For half an hour, he let the indistinct voices of his friends lull him into a light doze, but as the sun rose higher, it began to fall on Tommy's face. After a brief battle to blot out the light, Tommy gave up on sleep and sat up with a sigh.

Zoe and the twins fell silent instantly, and Tommy sent them a surprised glance. Before Tommy could ask them what they had been talking about, however, a door rattled open and Ryuudamon entered the Trailmon car.

"Good morning!" Zoe called cheerfully, face flushed as she avoided Tommy's eyes. "Where've you been?"

"Good morning to you as well," Ryuudamon replied, bowing courteously. "I have been thinking."

"About what?" Kouichi asked.

Ryuudamon hesitated. "Many things," he said at last. "Some more private than others. And I am afraid that in matters which pertain to you, I have been unable to reach satisfactory conclusions."

"What matters?" Kouji asked.

"The Spirits, for one, and the Guardians as well."

Tommy sat up a little straighter and looked at Ryuudamon with keen interest. "Do you know which Spirits are here?"

Ryuudamon shook his head. "Not for certain…"

There was hesitation in his voice, and Tommy wasn't the only one who heard it. "You have a guess," Kouji said, and Ryuudamon, after a moment's pause, nodded. "Then you might as well tell us. We've got nothing else to go on, so even if it's wrong, it's at least somewhere to start."

"Very well. Only allow me to preface my guess with a word of caution. Just because two of you found your Human and Beast Spirits on the Continent of Light, does not mean two sets of Spirits await you here. Remember that all four of the new Warriors found their Human Spirits on the Continent of Light, and none of them found their Beast Spirits. You may find four Spirits here, but they may be all Human Spirits, or all Beast Spirits. You may not find any Spirits here at all."

Tommy's heart sank at the thought. He hadn't considered the possibility that nothing awaited them on the Continent of Ice. If this was all a waste…

But Zoe was waving her hand unconcernedly. "Whoever called us here wouldn't open up a useless path. There's a chance we took the wrong track from the Continent of Light, but even if that's the case, it only means that the other Warriors came this way before us."

"Zoe's right," Kouji said. "But just for argument's sake, let's say there are two sets of Spirits here."

"In that case, the obvious answer would be the Spirits of Ice," Ryuudamon said. "As for the others…my guess would be the Spirits of Thunder."

Both Kouichi and Zoe looked crestfallen at his words, and Tommy sent them a sympathetic look. "Why do you say that?" he asked Ryuudamon.

With a sigh, Ryuudamon rested one clawed hand on the hilt of his katana. "I'm sure you have noticed that the continents in the digital world have elemental affinities." He waited for them to not in agreement before he continued. "The Continents of Light, Earth, and Ice are now connected via Trailmon lines. The other two continents, so far as we know are still isolated, but through Serpimon I gathered some information about them. The Continent of Water lies somewhere to the north of the Continent of Light. To the northeast lies the Continent of Darkness."

"And if the element of the continent matches up to the element of the Spirits," Kouichi sighed, "then we know where my Spirits are."

"That's a big if, though," Zoe pointed out. "It might have just been coincidence that we found Kouji's Spirits on the Continent of Light."

Ryuudamon nodded. "We know that the Spirits had nothing to do with the elemental affinity of the land. It was the Guardians who shaped the land after the world was reformatted. Two Guardians to each continent. And the Guardians who shaped the Continent of Light were…"

"The Guardians of Fire and Light," Tommy said. "You mentioned that before."

Kouichi frowned. "If that's true, maybe it's more than just a coincidence."

"You think our Spirits are attracted to the elemental energy?" Kouji asked.

With a shrug, Kouichi said, "It's possible."

"Indeed it is," Ryuudamon agreed. "In fact, if the locations of your Spirits are not random, I would say that is the most likely explanation."

"So the Guardians of Ice and Thunder shaped the Continent of Ice?" Tommy asked.

Again Ryuudamon hesitated. "This is where my confidence wears thin," the digimon admitted. "Communication between continents has never been good. I hatched several years after the world was reformatted, and until I began to serve Serpimon, I heard only vague rumors concerning the other Continents.

"But Serpimon had a way of receiving news no one else did," Ryuudamon continued. "She was…unusually interested in the whereabouts of the Guardians. Everyone knows of the disappearance of the Guardians of Light and Darkness, of course. With everyone searching for the Celestial Angels, I suppose news still traveled among the continents. The Guardian of Fire must have disappeared at some point as well, though I've never heard how or when. Maybe Serpimon deleted him; I don't know. She certainly seemed anxious to determine the whereabouts of the others." He glanced out the window at the distant ice cliffs. "The Guardian of Thunder is not here. Only the Guardian of Ice."

"Then how…?" Zoe began.

"Process of elimination," Ryuudamon replied, not waiting for Zoe to finish her question. "Aside from the three who have disappeared or been deleted, Serpimon located five of the other seven Guardians."

"They're still alive?" Kouji asked, frowning. "I assumed if we were called in, they must all be gone."

Ryuudamon shook his head. "By now, they might be. It has been some time since Serpimon received any new information. If they are still alive, they are obviously not in any position to offer assistance."

"We can at least keep our ears open," Kouichi reasoned. "If they're in danger, maybe we can help them. Maybe they'll be able to help us in return."

Tommy nodded. "What are their names?"

"And where are they?" Kouji added.

Closing his eyes in concentration, Ryuudamon began to list off names. "Frazilmon, the Guardian of Ice, is here, or she was. Kermon, Ioumon, and Diviomon, the Guardians of Earth, Thunder, and Wood respectively, were last seen on the Continent of Earth. Neshamon, the Guardian of Wind, was on the Continent of Darkness." Zoe and Kouichi shared a look that was both startled and intrigued. Ryuudamon continued without acknowledging their reaction. "Serpimon was unable to locate Ekmon, the Guardian of Water. She never mentioned the Guardian of Steel."

Kouji nodded slowly. "Frazilmon, huh? We'll tell the others to listen for any mention of her." With a glance at the snoring figures at the other end of the Trailmon car, Kouji sighed. "When they wake up, that is."

-.-.-.-

"You see?" Zoe said triumphantly half an hour later. "I told you there was another explanation."

She, Kouji, and Kouichi had gone to the back of the Trailmon to continue their earlier conversation. Their tacit agreement not to share their suspicions with the others had put a hold on the discussion once Tommy had woken up. After Ryuudamon's revelations, Zoe had been eager to speak to her husband and brother-in-law, but they had been unable to get away immediately. It was only when Bokomon, waking to find Neemon clinging to him like a baby koala, launched into an embarrassed lecture that roused Takuya and JP, that the trio had managed to sneak off, leaving Tommy and Ryuudamon to fill in the others on the identities of the Guardians.

Now, as the frigid wind whipped her hair around her face, Zoe couldn't suppress the grin that tugged at her lips. It was a smile of relief as much as of triumph. Kouichi was wrong. Nao wasn't in the digital world, after all.

"I don't know, Zoe," Kouichi said slowly, eyes staring out over the deep blue ocean. "I still think he's here."

"What makes you so sure?" Zoe demanded. "I'll admit, getting our D-Tectors together was weird, and it might have had something to Nao. But now we know better. The Guardian of Wind is on the same continent where the Guardian of Darkness disappeared. If there's a connection between the Guardians, why can't there be a connection between our Spirits?"

"But –"

"She's right, Kouichi," Kouji interrupted. "For all we know, the Guardian of Wind might have been the one who sent you two your D-Tectors."

Kouichi shook his head, scowling. "And who sent you yours? If the same digimon sent all of them, they would have done it all at once. And the Guardian of Light has been gone as long as the Guardian of Darkness. You didn't get your D-Tector at the same time as Takuya."

Though Kouji fell silent, staring down at the water with a thoughtful look on his face, Zoe wasn't at all convinced. "Stop worrying, you two. Our children aren't here. They'll probably be home soon, sitting down to dinner and wondering where we went…" Her throat constricted suddenly as she thought of Nao, left all alone. Kaya would care for her nephew, of course, but he would still worry. Catching sight of Kouichi's concerned frown, Zoe forced a shaky smile. "We should be worried about ourselves. Take care of things here and get home in one piece…"

"We'll be fine," Kouji said, voice leaving no room for doubt. "Anyway, there's no point arguing about whether or not our children are here. Even if they aren't, that just means it's someone else's kids risking their lives out there. They still need our help."

Kouichi gave a heavy sigh. "I know. And I really hope you're right, Zoe," he said, reaching out to rub her back. "I know that the Legendary Warriors have to risk their lives all the time, but…It would be a heck of a lot easier to let someone else's kid take that risk." He laughed feebly. "Or maybe I'm just selfish."

"You're not selfish," Zoe assured him. "I feel the same way."

-.-.-.-

"You can't be serious."

JP was just as frustrated as Takuya, but he kept his mouth shut as he peered out at the bleak landscape. Even in the small, dim station, JP felt the arctic chill of this continent. Once they stepped outside, the wind and snow would make travel all but impossible.

"D'you see any more track out there?" Franken asked sourly. "I couldn't go farther if I wanted to, which I don't. It's too cold here. My gears are freezing."

"How do you think we feel?" Takuya cried.

With a snort, Franken began to back out of the station. "Youse guys are the one that wanted to come to this frozen wasteland. I'm outta here!" And with that, he cleared the platform and quickly disappeared into the hazy white distance. Takuya ran after him, but was quickly driven back by a gust of icy wind.

"So…" Tommy said at length, staring out at the blowing snow. "We have to go out there?"

JP made a face. "Guess so."

There was nothing more to be said. Bracing themselves against the glacial temperatures, the group stepped out from their shelter and instantly sank thigh-deep into the dense snow. The first blast of ice and wind left JP breathless, and he shuffled closer to Tommy, hunching his shoulders against the cold. Ahead of them, Kouji and Takuya walked shoulder-to-shoulder, Ryuudamon a few steps behind, stony faced and silent. Bokomon and Neemon struggled to make their way through drifts that in places rose over their heads. Kouichi, his arm around Zoe's shoulders, brought up the rear of the group.

The knot grew tighter with each step, and twice they nearly lost Bokomon and Neemon in the deep snow. After the second instance, Tommy picked up Bokomon, and Zoe, Neemon, and the group continued on, too cold even for words.

It didn't take long for Takuya to get fed up, however. The Trailmon station was still just visible through the blowing snow when the Warrior of Fire suddenly let out a strangled cry. "That's it!" Startled, JP looked up to see that Takuya held his D-Tector in his hand; Kouji gave a sigh and stepped back, just as fractal code wrapped around Takuya. "Execute: Fusion Evolution! Aldamon!"

"Well," Zoe sighed. "I guess that's one –"

"Solar Wind Destroyer!" Aldamon roared, hurling the massive fireball through the snow and leaving a steaming trench several hundred meters long.

"- solution," Zoe finished, rolling her eyes. "Was that really necessary?"

Before Aldamon could respond, Neemon leaped out of Zoe's arms and latched onto the Warrior's tail. "Ooh…warm," he sighed contentedly.

"H-hey!" Aldamon protested. "Get off!"

"No way, Takky," JP said, sidling up beside him and relishing the heat that radiated from his reptilian body. "That was a great idea. You're like a mobile furnace!"

Kouichi snickered. "Guess we don't have to be cold anymore."

Aldamon started to protest, but it was too late. The others had all gathered around him for warmth, and he was left with no other option but to trudge forward, grumbling all the way as Bokomon joined Neemon on his tail.

"On the bright side, you answered one question that's been on my mind lately," Kouji muttered, keeping his head bowed. He might have simply been hiding his face from the wind, but JP suspected he was hiding his amusement at Takuya's irritation. "We can still Fusion Evolve."

"Huh," Aldamon muttered, as though realizing it for the first time. "I guess so."

"You guess so?" Bokomon demanded, worming his way up to Aldamon's shoulder. "Honestly, Takuya. Sometimes I wonder if you even notice what going on around you." Rolling his eyes, Aldamon shrugged his shoulder, sending Bokomon sliding down his back. "There, you see?" Bokomon chided. "Totally oblivious!"

Aldamon rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry. Were you sitting there?" He grinned, but suddenly a look of intense concentration crossed his face, and he cocked his head to one side. "You hear that?"

"I don't hear anything," JP said.

"What is it?" Kouji asked.

Aldamon paused, closing his eyes. "Voices. Lots of them. This way."

He turned and struck out into the wind, one arm raised to protect his face from the blown ice. The others fell in behind him, relying on his bulk to block the wind. For several long minutes, they trudged, silent, shivering, and blind. When JP leaned around Aldamon to see where they were going, all he could see was white. The snow seemed to be falling faster now, and visibility was reduced to only a few meters in any direction. He huddled closer to the others, hoping Takuya knew where he was going.

"There!" Aldamon called suddenly. "It's a village!"

JP's heart leaped at the words. A village meant warmth and shelter. And food. Their pace picked up, and a few short minutes later, JP found himself on a narrow, snowy road that led through a gap in a wall that was either made of ice, or so plastered with snow that you couldn't tell the difference. At the moment, JP didn't really care. The wall was tall enough to block the worst of the wind and snow, and when Takuya devolved, no one protested.

-.-.-.-

The elder stared at the villagers who had gathered around him. The In-Training Bukamon, small gray creatures with only two fin-like appendages and a tuft of red seaweed sprouting from their foreheads, bobbed in a small knot, chattering nervously among themselves. They had been the first to report the strangers to the elder, but being the timid digimon they were, all they could say for sure was that the strangers were not any kind of digimon they had ever seen before.

The other villagers, Penguinmon like the elder, were Rookies, and as such a bit more level-headed. It wasn't long until the stout purple birds waddled into the plaza in ones and twos, bringing solid information. There were nine visitors. Among them were a Bokomon, a Neemon, and a reptilian digimon whose name none of the villagers knew. And, strangest of all, the other six were humans.

The elder had been dubious at first. Humans had not appeared in the digital world for centuries. But time and again, the report came in. Humans, the elder mused. Can it be? Could they have come because of… No. Our problems are not so bad. Surely they are here for some other reason.

"What do we do?" one of the Penguinmon asked.

"Should we hide?" a Bukamon whispered.

The elder shook his head. "There's no need to hide. The humans have always been protectors of the digital world."

A murmur ran through the crowd. Isazmon. "They're here to help us," one timid voice said. Soon the cry was taken up by others, and the villagers' suspicions became certainty.

The elder held up a hand. "We do not know why they are here," he reminded them. "I will speak to them."

"We'll come with you!" the villagers chorused.

"No," the elder said firmly, trying not to grimace. He knew all too well how excitable the villagers were. The last thing he wanted was to overwhelm the humans with dozens of Penguinmon clamoring for help. He gestured to three of the oldest – and calmest – Penguinmon. "Come with me. We will meet with the humans."

-.-.-.-

"Where are all the villagers?" Zoe wondered aloud as she and the others wandered the deserted streets. "You don't think something happened to them, do you?"

Kouji frowned. "We can't rule that out. Remember, no one knows what's been going on here for the last few decades. There could be an evil digimon on the loose."

"Why do you have to be so pessimistic?" Takuya complained, peering though the entryway of one of the many igloos that made up the village. "Maybe they're just…busy."

"I'm not being pessimistic," Kouji argued, peering into another igloo across the street. "I'm being realistic. Why call us here if no one needs our help?"

Zoe sighed as she moved to the next igloo. They were all exactly the same: furniture, dishes, even food. It was as though the inhabitants had left only a few minutes ago, except that there was no sign of life anywhere. "I hope they're alright."

"I can assure you we are quite alright," a new voice said. Zoe turned, along with the others, and saw four squat bird-like digimon, purple with white bellies. The one who had spoken leaned on a cane that looked like an icicle. The other three hovered a few feet behind him, staring at the humans with looks of keen interest and lingering disbelief.

Bokomon let out a soft sound of realization. "Well that explains the lack of welcome. Those are Penguinmon. Incredibly shy creatures, you know. Only found in the coldest regions of the digital world."

"We are not used to having visitors in this village," the Penguinmon elder said. "Few can survive the weather on this continent."

"But there must be other digimon on this continent," Takuya said, confused. "Isn't there travel between villages?"

The Penguinmon exchanged a mournful look. "There used to be travel, yes," the elder said, ignoring his companions. "Not anymore."

"But why?" Tommy asked. "It must get lonely out here."

The elder shook his head, and one of the others answered for him. "Isazmon."

Out of the corner of her eye, Zoe saw Kouji's face darken. "Who's that?"

"No one knows," another Penguinmon answered. "She showed up out of nowhere just after Frazilmon disappeared."

"Frazilmon?" Ryuudamon asked sharply. "The Guardian of Ice?"

The Penguinmon shared another look, and the elder sighed heavily. "The same. Frazilmon was once a Penguinmon in our village. She was the first Penguinmon to digivolve since Lucemon's fall, and it was a great honor for our village when Kumamon chose her as the Guardian of Ice."

"And now she's disappeared?" JP asked. "Do you think Isazmon could be holding her prisoner somewhere?"

"I doubt it," the elder said. "If Frazilmon were still alive, I do not believe she would have allowed Isazmon to reshape this continent as she has."

"It wasn't always this bad," the second Penguinmon explained. "When Frazilmon was alive, there were never any storms."

The third Penguinmon nodded. "Back then, we were able to trade with other villages."

"Now, there is no trade," the last Penguinmon added. "Between the storms and Isazmon herself, it's too dangerous. None who leave the village ever return."

Zoe glanced at the other Warriors and saw that they all wore the same look of outrage. "That must be why we were sent here," she whispered to them.

Nodding, Takuya stepped forward. "We'll stop Isazmon. Don't worry. Just one question first."

"Anything," the elder replied, as the other Penguinmon whispered excitedly among themselves.

"Do you happen to know of any Spirits around here?"

-.-.-.-

"Are you entirely sure this is a good idea?" Bokomon asked nervously several hours later as they stood outside the only entrance to a series of underground ice caves.

Takuya rolled his eyes and glanced at an equally annoyed Kouji. "Of course we're sure, Bokomon. It's the only lead we've got."

But Bokomon wasn't about to give in without a fight. Climbing up on Takuya's shoulder, he glanced nervously down into the dark tunnel. "But we don't even know for sure that there are Spirits in there!"

"But we know that Isazmon want to keep people away from here," Kouji pointed out.

"All the more reason to stay away," Bokomon argued. "Far, far away. At least until we've found more Spirits."

Takuya sighed. The Penguinmon had never heard of any Spirits hidden near their village, but they had informed the Warriors that, early in Isazmon's reign of terror, when travel among villages was still possible, they had noticed that those who ventured near the ice caves to the south often disappeared. The survivors confirmed that Isazmon had attacked them as soon as they came close to the caves.

"What else is there in this frozen wasteland to protect?" Takuya asked. "You think Isazmon is afraid someone's going to steal her precious supply of ice?"

"How should I know?" Bokomon demanded. "Who says she cares about the Spirits at all?"

"Only the Legendary Warriors are strong enough to stop her," JP pointed out. "She beat a Guardian, and the Guardians were supposed to be pretty tough themselves. If someone got their hands on the Spirits of the Legendary Warriors, suddenly her hold on this continent wouldn't be so secure."

"Besides," Takuya said, "no matter what's in there, I'm sure Beowulfmon and Aldamon can handle it."

Kouji turned to him, frowning. "Actually, Takuya, I think you should hold off on Aldamon in there."

"Huh? Why?"

"Those are ice caves."

"And?"

Zoe sighed. "Takuya, if you melt too much of that ice, the whole place could come down on top of us!"

Takuya frowned. "Oh. So I guess BurningGreymon's out of the question, too?"

"Probably," Kouji said. "And even in your Human form, you'll have to be careful."

Takuya sighed, but nodded, and they began the tedious descent into the ice caves. Long stretches of gentle slopes alternated with jagged cliffs and crevices, and it wasn't long before both Takuya and Kouji Spirit Evolved to carry the others across the rough sections. Eventually, the tunnel leveled out, and Lobomon ignited his Licht Seiger, letting its bluish glow illuminate the winding tunnel. The light gleamed strangely on the walls – rough, packed snow through which patches of smooth ice flashed like polished metal.

"How deep do you think we are?" Agunimon asked, glancing up at the faint light above and behind them.

"Let's not think about it," Bokomon moaned. He had taken refuge in Zoe's arms, burying his face against her shoulder. Neemon waddled over to a slender ice pillar and began to rub it, humming to himself. "Get away from there, Neemon!" Bokomon snapped, twisting in Zoe's arms. "You'll bring the whole cave down on top of us!"

"No, I won't," Neemon argued. As if to prove that the ice would hold, he began to push against the pillar, straining so much that his feet slid on the slick ground. "See?" With a loud groan, a spider web of fissures appeared in the ice, and then a sharp crack sounded as the top half of the pillar jumped an inch to the left. Bokomon let out a wail.

Lobomon stifled a groan and started walking; as he held their only light source, the others had to follow or be left in near total darkness. "Does anyone have any idea where we're headed?" he asked after a moment. Agunimon glanced over his shoulder, curious, and saw that the other four were all pulling out their D-Tectors. Kouichi and Zoe sighed in resignation as their screens remained stubbornly dead.

"I've got something," JP said, the pale light from his screen illuminating his face. "It's faint right now, but there's definitely a signal. What about you, Tommy?"

Tommy shook his head, but as he opened his mouth to speak, his screen suddenly flickered to life. "Now it is picking something up…" But just as quickly, it dimmed and went out. "That's weird." He glanced at JP and shrugged. "Let's go after yours first, then try to figure out what's going on with mine."

"If you insist."

Taking up a position at Lobomon's side, JP raised his D-Tector and followed its beacon through the ice caves. They passed so many branching tunnels and cavernous chambers that Agunimon wondered how they would ever find their way out again, but he pushed the thought aside for the moment and kept a wary eye on the shadows around them. According to the rumors, they never should have made it this far without running into Isazmon. Her absence was beginning to worry him. What if this was some kind of trap?

The ice around them groaned and creaked, and every so often, a gust of wind would howl in the distance like some kind of ice monster. The only other noises were their echoing footsteps. Bokomon had slowly accepted that they would not be leaving the ice caves without fully exploring them, and had climbed down from Zoe's arms to prevent Neemon from breaking any more supporting ice pillars.

"I think we're getting close," JP said, after what felt like hours of hiking over the ice. Even as he spoke, the caves around them filled with low moans, soft at first, but swelling louder and louder, until Agunimon's ears rang with the sound. When it faded, the ice crackled and popped for a few seconds, creaking like someone climbing an old staircase.

When silence reasserted itself, Tommy made a thoughtful noise. "That was weird."

"No kidding," Agunimon said, laying a hand on the ice. "I didn't know ice could make that much noise."

Tommy shook his head. "That's not what I meant." He raised his digivice. "My D-Tector reacted to something just now."

"Really?" Zoe asked, surprised. "That is weird."

"You think it was reacting to your Spirits?" Kouichi asked.

With a shrug, Tommy glanced around. "Like my Spirits' power is going haywire, or something? I guess it's possible, but I lost the signal. Let's keep going for now. JP's Spirits are bound to be easier to find at this point."

So they continued through the tunnel, glancing around as the moaning returned, more distant this time. JP's D-Tector led them down a low, narrow tunnel that snaked deeper into the ice, where it suddenly flared wide. They spilled out into a chamber so large the light from Lobomon's seiger was all but lost. The floor was smooth and level, the walls (as far as they could see) like a glass dome. There were no stalactites or stalagmites, no dips or cracks in the ice, no ice formation of any kind to break up the vast, empty space.

Tommy's D-Tector flickered briefly at a distant groan, and then all was still.

"It's so quiet," Agunimon whispered. "I don't like it."

"Me either," Lobomon agreed, eyes flicking from side to side. "I'm going to Fusion Evolve before we get any farther. It'll be dark," he warned with a sidelong glance at Bokomon. The Rookie crossed his arms and ignored Lobomon, so as the others nodded, he quickly devolved.

As the fractal code vanished, the only lights now the glow of Kouji's and JP's D-Tectors, the mournful howling returned, sudden and fierce and louder than ever before, and Agunimon instinctively covered his ears against the cry. He thought he heard a voice this time; not just the sounds of shifting ice, but something living. A new light appeared in the darkness – Tommy's D-Tector, once more reacting to…something.

An icy breeze lifted the hair on Agunimon's neck, and he shivered. The temperature in the cave, already chilly, seemed to drop further, and Agunimon whirled around. There shouldn't be any wind down here…

He knew something was wrong even before the light from Kouji's Evolution momentarily revealed the tunnel behind him. Otherwise, he might have missed it. The dark eyes were hardly distinguishable from the shadows that danced in the tunnel, the translucent face as pale and hard as ice. He swore he saw something malevolent in the eyes, but as the light from the fractal code faded, another gust of wind buffeted him, and something solid connected with his chest, sending him flying into the center of the chamber.

"Takuya!" Zoe cried as he landed with a grunt and slid until he hit the far wall.

"I'm fine," he assured her, leaping to his feet and sprinting back across the chamber. "Just watch out. Something's in here."

-.-.-.-

Isazmon grinned delightedly as the humans congregated in the middle of the chamber. With a wave of her hand, she sealed off the only entrance with a wall of ice. The fiery one had seen her, she knew, but none of them knew where she was now. Inoxmon had warned her of the Warrior's arrival. Inoxmon would deal with the children, but they hadn't planned on these ones arriving.

Serpimon and the Flock had failed to prevent the young ones claiming their Spirits, but they had always been weak. Maelstromon was stronger, and smarter. He knew how to separate his prey, pick them off one by one, distract them from the danger until it was too late.

Like Maelstromon, Isazmon knew how to distract. Humans were so predictable. Sickly, frail creatures, they were - weak and pathetic without their precious Spirits. For that reason, they would chase the Spirits anywhere, even if it spelled their doom. Yes, she had hidden the Spirits in this cave, but they would never claim them.

Or perhaps they would. It seemed only two of the humans were able to fight. What a pity it would be to expend so much effort in luring them here, only to kill them without a real challenge.

She would give them a chance, she decided. If they proved clever enough to find the Spirits hidden under their noses, they deserved a chance to use them. She would give them as long as it took to kill their friends, starting with the strongest.

As the Light Warrior raised his glowing sword high, and the humans sent anxious looks around their prison, Isazmon grinned even wider. Here's where all my hard work pays off.

I didn't actually mean for this to be a cliffhanger… Oops. Guess I'll have to resolve it before heading back to the kids, huh?

In any case, now that finals are over and I've settled into my summer routine, updates should be regular again. We're about halfway through this fic, now, and some of my favorite story arcs are coming up soon, so I'm really excited for this summer.

Trivia! So many new names this chapter. (Actually, that's part of the reason this chapter was late. I got distracted figuring out names for the Guardians, because, yes, they will play a large role in the story. At least, some will.) I'm not going to explain their names just yet, but if any of you manage to figure out the reasoning behind them…well, there might be some clues buried in there for the shrewd reader. ;) The one I will tell you is the one who actually appeared in this chapter – Isazmon. "Isaz" is a proto-Germanic rune meaning "ice." Small wonder for a digimon who's basically managed to seize control of the whole Continent of Ice, ne?

Next time: "Thin Ice" – Isazmon has the Legendary Warriors right where she wants them – trapped, hundreds of meters under the ice, in a prison of her own design. Can Kouji and Takuya hold her off long enough for Tommy and JP to find their Spirits?