A/N: Finally uploaded it! *gasp* I kinda meant it when I said this would be updated pretty infrequently...
In any case though, here we have more kind of outlining some changes in the last few years and what our protagonists are capable of. This was about halfway done for a few months, until today when I decided that I should really finish it. It just needed that extra push... huh...
Anyway, here it finally is. :D Enjoy!
He was standing in a dark cell, bars lined up as the barrier between the small room and the hallway. He could hear the dripping of water, smell the salt and iron in the air, and feel the odd chill that left the room tensed with fear. He could even sense the corrupted darkness that permeated the room, and he inwardly shuddered, knowing what its source was.
"It is time."
He had seen this scene far too many times, yet no matter how often he saw it, the unsettled feeling in his heart never vanished. He watched as the shadowed demon forced the boy to his feet, dragging him by the metal cuff around his neck. Despite all the odds, the boy still attempted to show defiance, refusing to relent even as his fate came near.
It was strange seeing it from the spectator's point of view.
He remembered it all, the metal, the humidity, the damp that soaked everything with a wretched power. He knew that feeling of helplessness, the cold limbs of the dark beings in the room, and the fear that came with the knowledge of impending death.
It was only his older, more experienced and matured self that could watch this and think towards the future. In this memory, there had been none; the only things on his mind had been the conflicts of fear and acceptance of death, the hope and despair of friends trying to save him, the pure horror at what might come. Now he saw and knew more, but regardless those things still echoed.
He followed through the open cell door, seeing the halls that had been painstakingly pieced together from memories of echoes and dark presences. Bars at one edge, stone ledges carrying weapons, instruments of torture, the water dripped from the ceiling; he had known none of this when he was eleven, blindfolded and dragged along by the Spawn. Perhaps it had been a good thing at the time.
This dungeon was well underwater. That much, he was certain. Beyond the dungeons and the foyer before what must be the rest of the structure, he knew nothing of. He had no memories of it, and they could not reconstruct what they had not experienced.
Is there anything else?
It was the only question on his mind, but with the recent decision to forge ahead with their plan, he now found it difficult to focus on the task he had given himself. Some part of him was still bound to the memory of that day, and the realization of their plan made these feelings rise back up. He could separate himself emotionally, yet found himself not wanting to, instead taking in the memory as a way to fuel himself for what they were going to do.
If we're unlucky, we'll end up back in there… but what happened that day won't be repeated. We have more control now, we can do this… we're ready to wage our own war.
Despair had turned to furious determination. Anguish for others became the desire and means to protect. The face of death was the will to defy fate. This was his choice now, and he was ready to dive back into that world of twisted darkness and end those nightmares once and for all, for the sake of him, Kari, everyone -
"You're watching this again?"
TK yelped and clicked a button on the control in his hand. The entire dungeon vanished away, leaving instead a well lit room filled with machinery and screens.
Matt was standing at the entrance, looking saddened. He stared up and around the entire area, then at his younger brother, apparently sobered by the images and figures that had been visible only moments earlier.
"If you want me to leave - "
"No, it's fine," TK answered quickly, beckoning his brother in. He felt guilty for having worried him.
The older boy quietly approached, hands in his pockets and sighing as though unsure how to start after what he had seen.
"Are things going okay?" he finally said after a moment, watching as TK placed the controller back on its panel. "I feel like you've been kinda tense the last few weeks."
He wanted to laugh. I have.
"I'm fine," he replied, turning around to face his brother. He folded his hands behind his head. "Just… reminiscing on things, I guess."
Matt raised an eyebrow. "On this, of all things?"
TK cringed. "Well, okay, so it's more…"
He knew Matt was watching, but they had their plans. Telling him now was something they could not do. Already, he was having difficulty keeping his heart from pounding as he thought up the awkward half-truth that made explaining all the easier.
"I think about how things would've different back then if we could do what we can now," he said, feeling the sincerity of his own statement. "Sometimes it's… you know, empowering to know that you're strong enough to defy what happened and actually make it through."
"Hmm," Matt leaned back on one of the panels, crossing his arms. "I know what you mean, but then considering what we've all been through, we'd have more people down here." He paused for a long moment, not meeting TK's gaze but staring instead at the ceiling as though remembering events of the past. "Bet you think about it, if only you'd been trained back then."
"Yeah, sometimes," he shrugged. A lot actually. "All we can really do is know that we can't change the past… we just prepare for the future."
Matt nodded downwards. "That's why the blades, right?"
TK wordlessly took a couple steps, feeling the weight of the two sheathes hanging from his belt, housing the two katara within. He normally never wore them in peaceful territory, but these days he felt naked without them.
"Sparring practice," he replied.
Matt's eyes were stern. "Those aren't your practice blades."
"No, but they're not my good ones either," he tapped the sheath on his right.
"Still," Matt said, still frowning. "It gets me worried you know, especially after everything. Tai practices with a live blade these days too."
A wave of sorrow passed through him, but he kept his composure.
"Better to keep our skills sharp," he shrugged, though he did give his brother a slightly pointed look. He knew that Matt would understand. "Or keep improving. Things may be peaceful now, but we still fight when necessary. Who knows what the future might bring."
Matt sighed, closing his eyes. "Yeah yeah, I know. Things never really stay quiet for long here in the Digiworld." There was a short pause, then he opened his eyes again with a knowing glance. "Kari, right?"
TK nodded. "If there's anyone I don't mind sparring with using live weapons, it's her."
"Would be. Helps that she's our favorite dangerous healer."
He inwardly chuckled. That was probably one of the best ways to describe her when it came to battle applications. As much he actually disliked conflict and the reasons why they had to fight, he always felt a huge sense of pride every time she felled one of their more powerful enemies.
He checked his Digigear for the time. "Well, I should probably get going," he announced, glancing back at Matt. "I'm supposed to go to the beach with her, and you know it takes a while to get there from here."
"Beach date?" his brother smirked, looking slightly smug.
TK gave Matt a light punch in the arm. "No," he answered firmly. "Sparring practice. We've been practicing on sand. We also figured we'd cool down by swimming afterwards."
"And you didn't invite everyone else?"
TK made a face. "Well of course not, this is just something the two of us do."
Matt was smirking, clearly poking fun at his younger brother. "Oh, so it's still a date then, isn't it?"
TK rolled his eyes and gently punched Matt in the arm. "Only if that's what you call it every time Sora drags you to practice… what is it, 'air maneuvers'?"
"They are!" the older boy responded indignantly. He laughed, and TK felt all of the earlier tension melt away, and he joined his brother, enjoying the release.
"Well then," TK grinned. "I'm expecting a good show next time you decide to jump off MetalGarurumon in midair."
"Oh I will," Matt winked. Then he reached over and gently shoved him towards the door. "Go on, she's waiting."
TK laughed and waved. "All right then. Good memory watching."
Memory watching. Made possible only through the use of this machine in the Digiworld and watched over by one of their own. All Chosen amongst their team knew of it; for others, they allowed its location to remain hidden as a challenge to whomever decided to wander those halls. After all, memories were important things and more often than not, things not freely shared.
Several others used it for nostalgia or their own purposes, but TK and Kari had their own particular reason.
"Hey, you sure you're okay?"
TK paused, only a few steps from the door and his pile of things. He glanced back, seeing his brother's concerned face.
He always notices things.
He put on a bright smile. "Yeah, I'm good."
Matt didn't look completely convinced.
"All right then," he began slowly, his eyes glinting with a knowing look. "I'm around if you need anyone."
TK nodded. "I know."
There were plenty of unsaid words, but they knew each other too well. Battles and shared hardships had drawn them close; they were brothers in far more than blood.
Matt's voice was light again as TK grabbed his things and hefted them onto his shoulder. "You're still eating with us tonight, right?"
"Of course!" TK called back. "Wouldn't miss it for the world. It's not often we're all free to eat together."
"Awesome, see you then. Don't get too banged up."
He laughed. "I'll try. Later."
He could hear the machine whir behind him as he left, and he wondered what his brother wanted to watch. Was it nostalgia or something else? The memories of others, of what he had missed on that fateful day at the tower? As much as he tried to look forward, TK always felt himself drawn to the past at certain times, if only because of how those events affected the future, or how much his friends had changed because of them.
Yet it brought them closer, despite the various directions which they seemed to move in. It was what age and maturation brought them all. Freedom and responsibilities, different interests and obligations, but no matter what they never forgot their bonds as friends and the hardships they had endured throughout their time as teammates. They were each other's families, supports, loved ones, guardians.
It pained him to know that for this one particular battle, he could not call on them. This foe was for Kari and him. He refused to burden the others with what they planned to face.
It was one of their favorite sparring spots and no matter how many times TK went, he always enjoyed the view. The summer breeze blew through his clothes, his hair, Pegasusmon's feathers on the strong beating wings beside him, while the beautiful lush forest below surrounding the mountain brought a tranquil feeling to his heart. It made him appreciate the well-fought peace they had.
And then the sight of the ocean. A deep shaded blue, sparkling in the light against the broad horizon. He loved it for its purity and contrast to the darkened waters of the other realm.
A chill feeling rose in his chest. The start of their mission was so close, and he wanted to remember this view for when they finally returned to that place where the taint ran deep through the fibers of its being. Always the beauty, the pieces of light wherever the shadows ran. It was how his mind had survived the nightmares, the training, the changes that came with constantly fighting in the Digiworld and outside of it. What hardships he endured, he looked at only to serve as guidance, and he focused on the good things they brought or the tiny beads of hope strung throughout.
But that feeling remained, lurking within him ever since the terror of that dawn. Nightmares were very rare these days, but they still existed. No matter if three years or fifty had passed. He doubted he could ever feel at ease until the Dark Ocean had been restored.
He took in the warm sun and the wind, trying to dispel his worries. He fully planned to enjoy this spar.
"You see Kari and Gatomon yet?" he called up to his partner.
Pegasusmon nodded. "They're below. Kari's already warmed up, it seems."
TK squinted at the beach, barely in view from their distance and height. He could make out a twirling figure on the sand, the scattered reflections of a metal chain whip glittering back at him.
"Hey!" he shouted, waving his gauntleted hand wildly in the air.
Kari stopped abruptly and turned, gazing up. Her face broadened into a smile and she waved back.
"You made it!" she yelled.
"About time!" Gatomon followed, jumping up and down. TK could only see her as a small white speck with a brilliant flashing light following her.
"He took a while," Pegasusmon replied as they sharply descended. He flared his wings and glided down softly, blowing the sand into the air and landing with a gentle 'whumph'.
TK took a brief moment to feel the sea air and the lack of flying wind before dismounting. He stretched and rubbed a few stiff places on his shoulders.
"And got a reminder about dinner," he said. "We can't miss that."
Pegasusmon glowed and shrunk as he reverted, his shadow quickly vanishing as well. Kari coiled up her whip and hooked it onto her belt while she strode up.
"No we can't," she answered, smiling as she embraced TK. He hugged her back, and she playfully ruffled his hair. "No hat I see."
He poked her. "That's because you have it."
"Oh yes. That hat. Of course I do."
How TK's old hat had managed to survive the tower battle, the Dark Ocean, and the finishing light without being hopelessly ruined or lost was beyond all of them. All TK knew was that he had long given it up and started wearing a new one before Kari confessed that she had been keeping it as a token. One of security that told her of his survival.
She had tried to give it back. He had told her to keep it.
It acted a reminder now – a sentimental joking one – but a reminder all the same.
They parted, then looked to the side to see Gatomon and Patamon grinning at them.
TK just chuckled and placed his hands at his belt. "So, sparring?"
The two digimon nodded. Patamon struck a battle pose. "Digivolve me!"
"So soon?" Gatomon teased at him. "You just flew here as Pegasusmon."
"That was my warm up! So I'm all fired and ready to go!"
TK laughed as he held up his D3. "Not up to Seraphimon, I guess?"
"For a spar?!"
"I'm joking, I'm joking!"
"I know, but… a spar?!"
"Against Magnadramon, it'd be a pretty epic spar."
Patamon gave him a playfully exasperated look even as light covered his form and the familiar whirring of digievolution sang against the crashing of waves.
TK rubbed his head. "So I guess that means I'm the only one not warmed up or ready?"
"Well, not really," Gatomon replied as the matrix appeared around him. She too started to glow, speaking over the other digimon's familiar yell. "I've just been sunning."
"The weather is perfect for it," Kari shrugged as her partner also lifted into the air within a matrix.
TK watched as Angemon and Angewomon emerged from the light, both ready to engage. He let out a breath and placed his D3 back on his belt, letting his hands glide to the two filled sheathes at his sides.
Kari nodded as she also replaced her D3 and reached back for her whip. "You do look like you're ready to go, even if you're not warmed up," she tilted her head towards his arms.
He glanced down at his gauntlets, which he had pulled on during the trip to the beach. Both had the Crest of Hope inscribed on the back of the hand.
"I didn't want to keep you waiting longer," he shrugged. "Let's move away from our partners…"
"I think they did that for us," Kari said as the two digimon flew down the beach, both clearly wanting a large space for their own spar. "So, what limits do you want? Just normal weapons, or normal weapons plus light, or…"
She trailed off, but TK already knew. "Normal, but we'll work our way up."
"All right then."
The chain whip was off her waist and in her hand. She gazed at him readily, already in her battle stance and at her optimal distance.
TK smiled and unsheathed his two katara, gripping them in his usual horizontal hand grip. He entered his own battle stance and felt the sand shift beneath him.
Then, eyes meeting, they began to circle.
"You think this will help?" Kari asked as he saw the ocean behind her. "The weapons training."
TK raised an eyebrow. "Against the Spawn? Definitely. Against anything stronger… well, we've taken down some pretty strong enemies."
He chose that moment to dive in and make a feint at Kari's left. She anticipated and moved with him, and he had to dodge metal links coming at his head.
"That's true," she replied, twirling the chain before her. TK danced out of her range and waited for her to approach, checking for openings. "But we don't know how much stronger. That part's harder to gauge when they aren't true digimon."
She launched herself at him, and he barely managed to slip underneath the whirling whip. He slid his blade past to where it should have touched her, but she hopped away in time.
There were real digimon in the realm of the Dark Ocean. One of them, Jigomon, was the reason TK and Kari had been able to escape it. They had personal reasons for seeking two others.
TK knew that once, others had existed there. He had no idea if they still did. But he could hope for it, and in the painstaking scrutiny of those memories, he had noticed tiny things – a darting shadow here, or a frightened shudder there, all almost completely hidden. It gave him hope that perhaps some had survived.
They went back and forth at each other for a few moments. Several unsuccessful passes later, all of them more playful than competitive, he knew they should raise the difficulty.
Kari did too, apparently. "Let's bump it up," she suggested.
TK nodded. "Sounds good," he replied, reaching into his core for the light that shone within. It manifested around his hands and covered his katara, ready to spark out however he desired. "I'm glad, you know, being able to do this."
Kari smiled as light surrounded her whip.
"And this time going, you won't be helpless."
Pink and yellow, the light of two people clashing in controlled practice. It was their light, part of themselves, that they could utilize as only they, of Light and Hope, could. It rained at each attack, shot out directly from a distance, but with harmless power meant to only push back or knock down. They knew from real combat the efficacy of their light at full strength.
They were empowered, confident, ready. Their partners could reach Mega with ease. They were fully trained with the light and weapons. They were too well acquainted with the art of waging war.
TK knew he would not be helpless. He knew he had changed. He was much stronger now, grown from the boy walking to his end. He had the ability to charge and challenge it, the wisdom to wait and strike at the right moment instead. He knew what failure meant and refused to bring that with them. No… their return to the Dark Ocean would be the freedom of the other realm and a finish to the reign of that otherworldly being, the same one that wanted Kari for his own and wanted TK dead.
He hoped it would be salvation for all.