Hello, everybody. Here I am with the next chapter on schedule. I can scarcely believe it myself and my elbows are aching from doing so much typing, but I hope that you enjoy this chapter and the twists and turns that it takes. It is not at all like I was originally going to make it, but I am quite pleased with the result. I hope that you will be too.
Quest of the Gods
Chapter 20:- Tundra Troubles
While IceDevimon had been a temporary icy trial for the group that had found themselves in the Pokémon World, those that had been left to take care of the problems in the Digital World had their own much more permanent icy problems that they had to get through, namely the incredible and constant coldness of the Tundra Level that they were trying to traverse.
Most of them had managed to get a good rest in the small home that they had found accidentally when Guilmon had fallen through the entrance hole in the snow. It was relatively warm and cosy in comparison to the icy habitat above, and a few of them had even unzipped their parkas which had been provided to them by HYPNOS. Apparently sweating in this environment would be a very bad thing, because any excess moisture would freeze quickly if exposed to colder temperatures before it had a chance to disperse.
When they had woken up and discovered that the occupant of the place was actually a SnowAgumon, there had been a mixed amount of reactions. But the most notable were easily those of Kazu and Kenta, who had all immediately prostrated themselves on the floor and pressed their faces into the ground beneath them and started screaming muffled "We are not worthy! We are not worthy!"
Takato was not that much better off to be perfectly honest. He was all of a twitter and immediately rushed over to the SnowAgumon and asked him if he could sign his shirt. He was quite insistent about it until it was pointed out to him that they didn't have a pen by Ryo, that SnowAgumon couldn't actually hold a pen if they did have one by Jeri and that he didn't even know what an autograph was by SnowAgumon himself.
After that Takato looked very sheepish but cried, "Still, it's really cool to actually meet a real Agumon, even if it's not the same kind as the one from the TV show. It doesn't get much better than this."
"It probably could," Ryo muttered, but said nothing more than that, though there was a distant look in his eye that nobody else picked up on when he said it.
"SnowAgumon's said that he can take us to a nearby village," Guilmon informed them happily. "He says that there should be somebody there who can take us straight to the castle of the Royal Knights so we don't get lost."
"Wouldn't want you kids to get lost," SnowAgumon agreed. "The Tundra Level can be a treacherous place if you don't know where you're going. Your boy, Guilmon, tells me that you found my house by literally falling through my front tunnel. That could just have easily been a ravine or another narrow gap if you had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'll find you someone who'll take you."
"Just like an Agumon," cried Kazu.
"Always so dependable," Kenta agreed.
"Come up with your own adjective."
SnowAgumon rolled his eyes. "I know that you said that they might be a bit excited but this is over the top isn't it?"
"Not if you've seen the TV show," Takato said.
"Even then," Ryo coughed. "It's a bit too much. Cool it, guys. But seriously, thanks for your help, SnowAgumon."
"There's no time like the present," SnowAgumon grinned. "Let's get moving. The blizzard let up a little while ago and it would be best to get moving again before another one hits. They can be quite common in this environment as I'm sure you can guess."
They all had to use SnowAgumon's back door tunnel in order to get out, as it was much less steep, but there was still a good deal of straining to try and get Guardromon out through the gap, as he was almost too big to fill it and couldn't get any purchase on the slippery surface on his hands and legs… he didn't really have any decent knees. Takato, Kazu and Guilmon had to work together from inside to push him, while Monodramon digivolved back into Cyberdramon and reached through to heave on the outside.
"This is like pushing my mum's car in winter," groused Kazu, but eventually they managed to get his partner free and they all continued on their way.
The going was fairly easier. Without the snowstorm battering at them constantly they could make some much more decent headway and they could actually see where they were going a little better, though the brightness of the snow always made it difficult to look at things properly. And it was still freezing cold, but a little less windy so the cold was not as pounding. Even Calumon and MarineAngemon came to worm their way out from the warmness of the coats where they had been engulfed for most of the time, and had a look around before the cold began to get to them again and they ducked back in.
And of course, there biggest issue was having to shove all of the snow out of the way, which the Digimon did with a renewed will as SnowAgumon led them along.
"You know what's really annoying about this?" Ryo asked. "It's that this isn't even real snow. Not like the snow that we have in our world, I mean. Unlike a Digimon this stuff really is just a pile of data, but it's doing a very good job of getting in our way."
"Like a firewall," Jeri suggested.
"A snowwall," Takato murmured. "Still, we could do with a bit more fire. More burning, Guilmon!"
"Gotcha, Takato," Guilmon called as he lobbed another Pyro Sphere at the wall of frozen water in front of him.
"Wow, you lot are slow," SnowAgumon observed as he walked back to where they were for the tenth time of getting too far ahead. "The village isn't that far away from here and we've already been going for some time."
"Well excuse us for not being able to walk on snow like you can," Leomon chuckled slightly as he shovelled aside another large armful, nodding towards the smaller Digimon's feet which were indeed resting on the snow with absolute ease.
SnowAgumon chuckled. "I guess it's a talent. Then again, I've been living on the Tundra Level all my life. It's hard, even for a snow Digimon like me, but I get by. But I would really advise you trying to hurry up. There's no knowing when the next blizzard will strike and I could have been there and back already by now if I had been going at my regular speed the whole way."
"Hey, I just had a thought," Takato cried. "Didn't Rika once say that she and the others made some good progress on a snow planet in Aayla's world by using a Flamedramon card to melt their way through the snow quickly?"
"Hey, yeah, I remember her telling us all that," Guilmon looked up and grinned.
"Anybody got a Flamedramon card?" Kazu asked, rifling through his deck. "Oh, come on! I know that I have one. Flamedramon's one of the coolest Digimon there is – I should definitely have him on me. If I don't then that just makes me a total failure of a Tamer."
"Typical Gogglehead fanboy," sighed Jeri. "Only the Digimon of the leaders are the cool ones in their eyes."
"That's not true," Kazu objected. "I think the others are wicked cool too."
"Maybe, but Veemon and Agumon always win," Jeri shook her head and chuckled, before pulling a card out of her own deck. "Anyway, I have a Flamedramon card right here, so we can use this to get through the snow. Here Leomon, have an upgrade. Digi-modify! Flamedramon's Fire Rocket activate!"
"Much obliged," Leomon said, stepping to the front. "FIRE ROCKET!" he cried and suddenly burst into flames, which immediately caused the snow around him to begin to melt away.
"Hey, hey, watch it!" SnowAgumon cried, backing away quickly. "You do know that I happen to be quite icy too, right?"
"Oh, sorry," Jeri covered her mouth. "Are you okay?"
"Fine," SnowAgumon nodded. "Though I guess that this does make things quickly," he looked over at the flaming Leomon. "Alright then, follow me. We can make it to the village quickly this way. And watch out for patches of ice. Wouldn't want that fire of yours to melt that, would we?"
"Oh, I didn't think of that," Jeri muttered.
"It's fine," Ryo urged her on. "But SnowAgumon's right. We do have to get a move on. Let's keep going."
They made much better progress after that and they moved through the snow which split away before them like the Sea of Reeds in front of Moses, thought they still had to shovel away some of the thicker parts and some bits that threatened to slide in over the top of them, with the larger Digimon surrounding the Tamers to help them along. They seemed to be doing much better than yesterday, though it was still bitingly cold on their faces when they were out of range of the fire's heat and the sky in the distance looked like it was curling into another snowstorm.
"Not far now," SnowAgumon called from the front. "Just a couple-hundred more yards and we should be there. In fact, I can see it up ahead now. It's just…"
The fact that SnowAgumon's voice just stopped dead was no encouraging for those who could not see above the level of snow that was fading away in front of them, but it did not take long for the group to draw level with the white lizard Digimon.
"What is it?" asked Takato curiously, but then faltered.
SnowAgumon's eyes were wide and his jaw was hanging open slightly, a look of intense horror and disbelief on his reptilian features. "No," he breathed. "No, no, no, no! What… How… I was… GUYS!" and suddenly he dashed away across the snow, taking absolutely no notice of the yells of the Tamers asking what was wrong behind him.
"What's happening?" Kenta asked.
"I don't know, but something's obviously wrong," Ryo said. "I don't think I even need to point that out. Cyberdramon, let's fly!"
Cyberdramon snorted as Ryo bounded onto his back and flexed his slightly frost-covered wings, throwing himself into the air and shooting off after SnowAgumon. The other quickly pressed on, the flaming Leomon drawing his sword and using it to help him slash and melt his way through the snow passage in order to get to the village faster while Guardromon and Guilmon shoved the snow out to the side.
It was bitterly cold up in the air, unprotected from the walls of snow from what wind there was as they now were, but when Ryo got a look at what had so perturbed SnowAgumon, he felt a chill that the cold itself couldn't have hoped to match ride up his spine.
"Oh no," he muttered.
As SnowAgumon had described to Guilmon last night in the snow cave where he made his home, the village itself wasn't exactly a village. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. What it really was, was a large cave system that was set in the side of a giant cliff and had numerous openings out from the rocky wall, all at various height, but Ryo guessed that they were all connected together somehow inside the cliff. Ryo could see makeshift buildings and dwellings inside the entrances to the cave and felt it safe to assume that there were more inside, where it would be darker but also much more sheltered from the fierce weather that the Tundra Level produced.
It was like a little community of Digimon that all lived together in the caves, which was quite a nice thought. It would have had a nice municipal feel to it despite the adverse conditions outside.
That is, if there was anything left of the place.
Ryo's blood was running colder than the ice around him as he and Cyberdramon approached, but he could see the damage that had been inflicted on the place even before he got close. The buildings, mostly made of rocks and various bits of wood, had been utterly pulverised, and Ryo could quite clearly make out the huge claw-marks in the shattered remnants of the boulders that were now scattered around the place. The wooden planks had been shredded and tossed everywhere and there were even a few fires burning here and there.
A couple of the cave entrances had collapsed inwards on themselves, so Ryo could only tell where a cave had once been by the huge pile of rubble that contrasted with the rest of the cliff. In other places there were enormous cracks, rents and depressions in the rock walls where things had been torn or had heavy objects thrown at them.
And as Cyberdramon landed at the entrance of the cave main entrance cave and Ryo got a good look inside, he could see quite clearly that the carnage and destruction extended right the way through the tunnel beyond, at least until the point where Ryo could see no further, and he was willing to bet the whole place would look similar if he ventured further in.
"No," breathed SnowAgumon in sheer horror as he reached the entrance to the cave at the same time as Cyberdramon. "Guys! Everyone! Hello? Where are you?"
"They're not here," Ryo said resignedly, and he knew that this was true without him having to take another step.
"Mojyamon! Frigimon! Kumamon! Gotsumon! Icemon! Hello? Anybody, answer me!" SnowAgumon shouted at the top of his voice and dashed into the cave. Ryo just sighed and turned to wait for the others to arrive. As he did, he noticed Cyberdramon was growling lowly to himself, his claws flexing and his teeth bared as he stared at the wreckage.
"Cyberdramon. Steady," Ryo said. "Whatever did this, it's not here anymore."
"Evil," Cyberdramon growled, taking Ryo by surprise. "This is the work of pure evil, Ryo. I can sense it. And also… also the work of… mindlessness. This place was attacked brutally and instantly. I can smell the ferocity of the attack. It smells like… something I would have done. Back then."
That was hardly something Ryo wanted to hear, but he knew what Cyberdramon was talking about. Though he seemed calmer and less prone to quick action now than he used to, there had been times when Cyberdramon had gone on a rampage during their earlier days as Tamer and Digimon together. Ryo had always found it difficult to control him, having to use a special whip function in his D-Arc to get Cyberdramon to even acknowledge him sometimes.
And during those times where Cyberdramon had lost his head, there had been the occasional casualty. It was something that Ryo never liked to talk about… but he knew full well the reason the Cyberdramon had struggled to control even himself in the early days – a reason he had still never told to anybody else. Fortunately Ryo had always managed to get him under control before too much damage was done, but Ryo knew that if he had not stopped his own partner, it would have been a massacre.
And now Cyberdramon was claiming that this, right in front of him, was the work of something just like how he would have been in one of those rages. Only perhaps even worse. Ryo didn't question how Cyberdramon knew this stuff. Cyberdramon just knew. His senses when it came to opponents, especially evil ones, was unparalleled.
It didn't take long for the others to arrive and when they did, Leomon extinguished his flames and everyone else joined Ryo in staring in utter dismay at the sight before them.
"This is supposed to be the village?" Guardromon asked.
"Where is everybody?" Kenta asked fearfully.
"Not here," MarineAngemon added helpfully.
"Yeah, but… where?" Kenta added, equally helpfully.
"I would have thought that would be obvious too," Ryo said sadly, looking up at the rocks again. "This place was just attacked by something. Very recently too."
"Then… all of the villagers?" Jeri asked, looking like she was going to be sick.
"I cannot say for certain," Ryo replied, shaking his head. "But my guess is that this place became a death trap. You can just tell, can't you? This cave system might protect them from the harsh weather but if an enemy went charging in there to attack the village members there wouldn't be any way of getting out. It's like that Watership Down film. No escape. For almost everyone. Any of these Digimon would have been very lucky to have survived an attack as ferocious as this one clearly was."
"But what could have done this? How could this have happened?" Guilmon asked.
"I don't know," Takato said. "But whatever it is, I think Ryo's right. This attacker showed no mercy at all. It'd be a miracle if there are any Digimon left alive in there at all."
"Well, we have to check," Leomon said, stepping forwards. "If there are any survivors then it is our duty as the first to find this place to help them in any way that we can. This might be unpleasant, but I certainly won't stand by and walk away if there's someone who might need help."
"I'm with you," Jeri agreed, hurrying after her partner. Everybody else followed on at a slower pace.
It was as unpleasant as they had expected inside the caves, which were mostly quite dark but had a couple of lights from fires licking hungrily at the remains of bits of wood. Takato briefly wondered where these Digimon had got wood from in this bleak environment but dismissed it. It wasn't important. As they delved into the caves, and found various branches they split up, each searching the avenues for any signs of survivors.
"But stay alert," Leomon suggested. "We do not know for sure if the attacker has actually left."
"Though he probably has," Ryo added. "I would suspect that Cyberdramon would have sensed him by now if he were still here. Nevertheless, he is right. Be careful."
It was an abysmal looking place. Every nook and cranny of the place looked like it had been thoroughly torn to shreds. It was impossible to tell just how many opponents had attacked the place, but they were beginning to suspect it was only one. Or at least only one type of Digimon for all of the claw-marks in the rocks had the same shape and size. They were glad that they had not been here when the attack had happened. It would probably have scarred their minds for life.
Jeri was the one who came across SnowAgumon again. She found the poor guy kneeling in front of what was almost definitely the ruined remains of a Digimon's dwelling, which now resembled a pile of gravel and splintered wood. SnowAgumon looked absolutely shell-shocked, as if unable to believe what he was seeing all around him.
Jeri moved over to him and placed a hand on his head as she knelt by his side. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"Kumamon lived here," SnowAgumon gasped pathetically. "This was his house. We used to go out into the snow and play together when we were younger. He was my best friend. Where is he now?"
"I don't know," Jeri sighed. "Not for certain at least. But… I have a bad feeling I do."
"How could this have happened?" SnowAgumon shook his head. "I was here, at this very village, only a few hours ago. I was right here at this spot. I gave Kumamon a high-five before I left for my own home. Everyone around me was laughing and talking and happy with their lives and with one another. And I leave for a few hours to find everything just… gone, when I get back."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Jeri sighed, her own eyes filled with a pain of their own.
"My friends… they're dead aren't they? All of them," SnowAgumon muttered.
"I'm afraid it looks that way," Jeri sighed. "But we have to keep going, even with the loss of all this. I lost my mother a few years ago you know, and I just stopped moving ahead. I was so determined to remain in the past and remember my mother as she was before my stepmother came into the picture… well, bad things happened to say the least. And when I lost my partner too," she grimaced. "But stopping will get you nowhere. I don't know what happened to all your friends but you are still alive. And you have to keep living for their sakes."
SnowAgumon stared blearily ahead of him for several moments, at the lump of debris that had once been his friend's small dwelling before he swallowed and stood up again. "I don't know if I can forgive myself for this. I was safe while everyone in here was slaughtered," he said.
"There is nothing for you to forgive yourself for," Jeri said. "This was a coincidence. And you're still alive. That's what Kumamon and the others would have wanted if they couldn't have survived right. Don't let this get to you, okay? Just keep going into the future and look back only fondly, if you can."
"I don't know if I'll be able to after this," SnowAgumon inhaled slowly. "But I'll try." He sighed and said, "But I want to know how this could have happened. What could have attacked this colony so ferociously?"
"Jeri!" Leomon's voice called from further down the tunnel. "Over here. I found a survivor!"
"A survivor!" Jeri and SnowAgumon both cried at the same time and they both dashed off in the direction of Leomon's voice. When they found the tall lion he was bending over a pile of ice-covered rocks and propping some of them up… no, wait, it was not rocks. It was an Icemon. An Icemon that had evidently been buried underneath a large amount of rubble and had escaped by blending in with the surroundings. But as Jeri approached, she could see the huge rent marks on the small Digimon's chest.
"Oh my gosh, are you alright?" Jeri cried.
"Icemon!" SnowAgumon shouted, running up to him. "Icemon, are you okay? It's me, SnowAgumon. What happened to you?"
Icemon barely moved, only coughing slightly as his eyes rolled downwards to look into SnowAgumon's face. His pupils were like tiny dots in his eyes and his entire body was shaking, and he seemed to be looking through SnowAgumon rather than at him.
"No warning," gasped the Icemon. "Charging through the cave, claws slashing everywhere. No chance for any of us. No escape. Like a Demon with no conscience. Everybody murdered. Everybody dead."
"Hang in there, Icemon. We'll get you some help," Leomon said, keeping him upright in his giant hands.
"No!" Icemon suddenly yelped and writhed, clutching at his chest. Jeri and SnowAgumon started backwards in surprise as Icemon seemed to be trying to escape and bury himself back in the rocks, but Leomon kept a firm and gently grip on him.
"All dead. All gone," moaned Icemon.
"Don't worry, you might see them again," Jeri smiled reassuringly. "They'll have all gone to Anubimon's realm now and I'm sure that they'll all make it back to the Digital World somehow."
Icemon's face suddenly took on a highly disturbed and slightly mad look which startled them all again. "To Anubimon's realm? No, not there. They will never go there now. Too late. The brutal monster saw to that. Every attack the same. Every one of them now doomed to remain within him. The cores! Their Digi-cores!" He suddenly laughed maniacally. "It won't be enough! It will never be enough for him! He will keep hunting, I know it. For he will never be sated."
His head snapped up and his eyes suddenly bored into Jeri's own. "Those eyes!" he hissed. "Look out for those soulless, red, evil eyes. And beware. It's still out there. It will strike again. It will always strike again."
And then Icemon split into data particles and floated away in many pieces, leaving a thoroughly traumatised Jeri standing there, watching as the small yellow pieces vanished into thin air themselves.
"What… w-what… what did he mean?" SnowAgumon asked. "What did he mean by all of that?"
"I don't know," Jeri shook her head, struggling not to cry. "I just don't know."
"I do not know either," Leomon said. "But one thing is clear. There might be more to this than just a savage, random attack."
The group all met up again at the entrance to the cave, all of them trying not to look behind them at the mess that had been made. None of the others had encountered any survivors, not any other clue as to what might have transpired here. It seemed that everyone in the colony had truly been taken care of.
"If only we'd got here a little faster," Takato sighed. "We might have been here when the attack happened and we could have done something."
"'Might have beens' won't help us at this stage," Ryo shook his head. "We were too late. Who knows how many lives we could have saved if we were here, but it's best not to dwell on it."
"So, what do we do now?" Guilmon asked. "We have absolutely no idea what did this?"
"I thought the Digital World was quite a violent place anyway," Kazu said. "Remember when we first got here there were lots of Digimon that were just killing each other for fun."
"That was before, Kazu," Guardromon informed his Tamer. "Ever since the D-Reaper, when this world learned the value of unity in the face of the common enemy, things have always been much easier and the locals are generally more friendly. Besides, they've usually been friendly anyway except for the survival of the strongest concept that happened in the harsher places. Things are not as much like that anymore as they once was."
"Well, that makes sense, I guess," Kazu shrugged. "But if that's the case then what happened here?"
"I believe I might have a clue," Leomon muttered, his claw scratching at his chin. "I do not know the identity of the attacker, but if you recall this is not the first place to have suffered such a tragic and swift attack. Remember what the Sovereigns told us when we spoke to them before."
"Hey, that's right," Ryo smacked himself in the forehead. "How could I have forgotten that? The Sovereigns said that they were investigating to see if they could find and destroy some kind of new threat that had emerged and attacked many villages, seven I think, at random across the Digital World and its various levels."
"And the only clue they managed to get from a survivor was that it had red eyes," Jeri gasped as she too remembered this conversation.
"That's what Icemon said," Leomon agreed. "That's what made me think of it. Like I said, the identity of the killer remains unknown, but I would say that it was the work of the same Digimon that has already attacked several other villages. It would seem that not even the harsh land of the Tundra level is safe from whatever this creature may be."
"Then it could still be in the area," Kenta looked around nervously. "What if it's standing behind a boulder and watching us right now? How would we even know it if we don't know what it is or what it looks like?"
"I'm sure it's long gone, Kenta," Jeri said reassuringly. "It's like whatever it is, it's only attacking villages and then leaving straight away before the Sovereigns can find it. It's been eluding detection so far so I doubt it would stick around."
"But still, what could it have been?" Takato voiced.
The group lapsed into silence once more, each lost in their own thoughts and theories, but none of what their fevered brains could come up with sounded feasible.
"There's little that we can do about this situation now," Leomon eventually said. "What's done is done, and our efforts to think of the identity of the killer will not bring back those that he has killed. I believe it might be best if we were to push on and try and find the castle of the Royal Knights. Not only do we have our own quest to complete, but perhaps they are aware of this attack and its perpetrator too."
"Yeah, I agree. I think that would be best," Takato nodded. "But we don't have a guide now because… you know…" he nodded towards the cave that none of them wanted to look at.
"Then we'll have to press on without one," Ryo said. "SnowAgumon, perhaps you could at least tell us the way if nothing else. Please, we really need your help."
SnowAgumon was still staring vacantly in the direction of the cave, as if hoping that if he stared at it for long enough then the place would restore itself and it would be revealed as some horrible trick. But eventually he shook his head and said, "No. I will not tell you where it is."
"What? Why?" Kazu objected loudly. "Look, mate, I know that you're hurting right now because of what's happened here but the whole world's at stake here. Two whole words."
"I didn't finish," SnowAgumon replied, his claws clenching into as much of a fist as he was capable of making. "I will not tell you – I will show you. I will continue to guide you to the castle, but you must do something for me in return."
"What kind of something?" Guilmon looked down at his fellow lizard.
"Ask the Royal Knights who did this," SnowAgumon growled. "If they don't know then fair enough but when this whole saving the world thing that you've got to do is done then you use any information that they give you to track down who did this and destroy them so that they can never do this again. And if they don't give you any information then track this guy down anyway and take him out. Make sure that he doesn't get anybody else like this as soon as you can."
"The Sovereigns are already looking for them," said Takato. "I'm sure they'll find out who it is and deal with him sooner or later. But if they haven't by the time we're done with what we have to do… then yeah. We'll find him ourselves. We'll destroy him. And we'll come and let you know when we're done, if you like."
"Good," SnowAgumon nodded grimly. "Make sure you avenge my friends if the Sovereigns are unable to do so. Do all of you swear it?"
There was a chorus of nods from human and Digimon alike.
"Alright then," SnowAgumon's face hardened. "We're taking the short route, and it looks like another blizzard might set in soon. We do not want to be caught up in it… but I also do not want to take shelter inside that cave. Not considering what it looks like now. We've got to get moving."
The party agreed with his sentiment. Resting in a place that had been a slaughterhouse only a few hours ago would give them all the creeps and a large pile of guilt, so SnowAgumon turned and headed onwards, with the group continuing to force their way through the snow after him.
The going was better this time, because of the Fire Rocket card which was now used by Ryo and Cyberdramon. The dragon seemed to enjoy venting his frustration on the snow and bulldozed his way through it like a slow but steady oncoming train, with everybody else following on in his wake. SnowAgumon led them alone and they made reasonable progress before they began to enter more dangerous territory.
Every so often, SnowAgumon would stop and point something out to them like a drop they were coming towards that they had to carefully avoid or a slippery patch of ice that blended in with the snow and a sudden section that ran downhill which even despite his warning to be careful caused Kenta to lose his footing and slide downwards to plough into a wall of snow and disappear through it with a Kenta-shaped hole. Guilmon and Takato had to work together to prize him out of the thing.
The blizzard did indeed hit them a couple of hours later and SnowAgumon estimated that they could keep going for another half an hour before it became too dangerous to go on, so they group went on for another fifteen minutes and used the remaining fifteen minutes to fashion a snow-cave that they could all take shelter inside.
The blizzard blustered around them and all but sealed the entrance to the cave they had made, which was only kept open from occasional blasts from Guilmon and it lasted for another several hours, during which the group could do nothing but just sit there and wait for it to come to an end, in a most frustrating wait.
When it finally died down and they were allowed to continue onwards they continue to soldier their way forwards. At one point though they spotted something else that made them pull to a stop, this time for a large herd of Mammothmon which were making their way across the snow ahead of them. They walked in single file so ease their passage through the snow, and the one at the front seemed to just walk straight through the snow like some sort of giant bulldozer, occasionally flicking his head to get rid of the excess snow building up around his face, and all the others could walk through the channel that he was digging through it.
This gave Takato an idea that he had seen in a Disney movie once and he hailed the lead Mammothmon as it passed. "Um… helllllooo?" he cried, waving his hand.
"Takato, what are you doing?" Kazu hissed, but Takato ignored him and continued waving until the enormous beast spotted him and turned to face him with his single, yellow eye that had been painted on the metal armour in the middle of his face. Takato had never been able to fathom exactly how a Mammothmon saw out of that thing, but he decided asking that might be rude.
"Who are you?" trumpeted the lead Mammothmon. "I have never seen you or your kind out on our level before. What do you want of us?"
"Um… we've got a long journey that we need to make," Takato called to the Mammothmon. "We're Tamers, you see, and we're on an important mission to help save the world?"
"Save the world?" the Mammothmon asked. "Tamers? You mean those Human children who bond with Digimon that we have heard about now and again. We don't get much news up here but we have heard of Tamers sure enough. Were you not the ones who helped to defeat GranDracmon last year?"
"Yeah, we were," Takato nodded, eagerly. "And we're on another mission now. We need to get to the castle of the Royal Knights to ask them some questions. The fate of the world could depend on the answers. But we're finding it a bit difficult to get through all of this snow, so I was wondering if you could give us a lift."
"We'd be really grateful," Guilmon agreed.
The Mammothmon seemed hesitant, but after a few more choice words from Jeri and Leomon, as well as a brief outline of the situation from Ryo, he raised his trunk and let rip with a huge bellow. "Well if that is the case, then of course we shall help out. If the world's in danger and we can help save it in this manner then we'll do what we can. Mammothmon herd, we are altering our course. To the Royal Knight's castle!"
The trumpeting roar that followed pounded the ear-drums of all the Tamers, but they didn't object to it nonetheless. There was a brief scramble as the first few Mammothmon knelt down and allowed a various human or Digimon to clamber up through its fur and onto its back of fly up to land there instead before the lead Mammothmon turned around and headed away in the same direction the Tamers had been taking, shoving his way through the snow as before.
"This is a much better pace," SnowAgumon said. "We should make it before dark at this rate providing nothing else interferes."
"Aaw. You just jinxed it," Guilmon muttered.
"Hup! Two! Three! Four! Dress it up! Two! Three! Four!" Calumon was cheering as the Mammothmon stomped their way across the ground. "By the rank or single file! Over every Tundra mile! Oh we stamp and flail, through the snow and hail!" He then made a noise which sounded like a feeble attempt at an elephant trumpet. "Like a great, big, furry whale. Like a great, big, furry whale."
"Perhaps it might not be a good idea to refer to these guys as whales," muttered Jeri to him.
"Why? Whales are awesome!" Calumon grinned. "You know, I speak whale. Moooooooweeee neeeyeed…"
"Yes, yes, we've heard you do it before," Jeri smiled, patting him on the head.
There was a smattering of chuckling around them. Sometimes Calumon was exactly what anybody needed to lift their spirits after a traumatising experience, for the little guy could bounce back from almost anything remarkably well.
Other than this there was not really much more to say about the journey, except that they ploughed heavily onwards and in fact, did not jinx the journey, for they eventually came to its end towards the end of the day having much, much greater progress on the backs of the Mammothmon than they would have done if they were all still trying to force their way through the snow. The Mammothmon was resilient to everything around them, truly built for the Tundra Level as they were.
And their fur helped to keep their riders warm.
But eventually SnowAgumon pointed ahead and called, "There it is."
Everyone quickly sat up and looked, peering through the bright whiteness. For a moment most of them couldn't see anything but through the swirling bits of snow they could soon make it out.
"The Royal Knight's castle," Guilmon muttered.
None of them were sure what they were expecting it to be like but it seemed to be a vast structure which stretched up into the sky in one enormous building. Huge walls of stone and sheets of metal reared out of the ground and separated into many spires with levels that seemed to stack up on top of each other around the corners and edges of the main bulk of the building's citadel. Every spire was topped with either a set of ramparts or a spiked roof that all compacted together to create a solid fortress against everything. As far as they could see the only way in was a giant portcullis and the only way to the portcullis was from quite a long, winding bridge from the ground up.
"It's so huge!" Takato muttered. "It's amazing."
"Yeah," Guilmon breathed. "Yeah, it is, isn't it?"
Takato frowned and glanced across at his partner, who was staring at the castle with an expression he couldn't read. But for Guilmon, he was once again getting that incredibly strong feeling of nostalgia that he'd had when they set off on the journey, only it had returned in spades. He felt like he couldn't take his eyes of the place, and as if there was something inside him that was calling to him to come closer, to come inside.
Home, that deep voice inside him said again, and Guilmon wondered what the heck it might have been.
But he had to agree with it. In some strange sense it felt like this was where he had belonged. But that didn't make sense. He lived with Takato in his bakery. He always had. Takato had created him from a piece of paper and a Digivice so why was this place so… familiar to him. He knew he was a Royal Knight Digimon himself when he ascended to the Mega Level with Takato. Was that the only reason?
Or was there something else?
Before he could ponder on it much further, Kenta raised his voice and said, "Does anybody else besides me notice that that castle is in a freaking giant plateau surrounded by a huge drop on all sides!"
Guilmon blinked and looked, to find that Kenta was right. A short distance from the castle walls in all directions and there was a humongous drop that descended into darkness too far for their eyes to make out the full depth. It seemed that short of flying, there was no way that they could get across to the place.
"Well that's no problem, Kenta," Kazu grinned. "We'll just change into our forms that can fly and we'll be over that gap in a jiffy. Nothing to worry about."
"It won't work," SnowAgumon shook his head. "I've never been over there myself but I know enough about the place. There's a huge, impenetrable force-field surrounding the plateau from all directions, including from above. You can't see it, but it's there. Flying over there is impossible. You'd smack right into it."
"Oh, come on!" Kazu moaned. "Is there ever a time where we can ask for something to be easy?"
"No, probably not," Ryo muttered. "Remember what the Sovereigns said. The Royal Knights don't just let anyone enter their castle. There will be tests of some kind that we'll have to pass to prove our worthiness."
"Oh wonderful," Kenta muttered. "So what are we supposed to do now? Break the force-field?"
"Impenetrable generally means impenetrable," Ryo replied. "No, going by air is impossible so we'll have to find another way to…"
"Below," Guilmon suddenly interrupted. All eyes turned to him and he looked slightly confused, but he said it again anyway. "You have to go in from below?"
"You think we should try and dig a tunnel?" Takato asked, nonplussed.
"No," Guilmon shook his head, then lifted his nose to sniff the air. "It's this way. Follow me," and he rolled straight off the Mammothmon and into a snow-drift, before setting off across the thinner layers of snow. After making their thanks and goodbyes to the Mammothmon as well as renewing their promise to SnowAgumon – and Jeri telling him to keep moving into the future – the group hurried off to follow Guilmon.
Guilmon led them a short way away until they were close to the edge of the ravine. "What's going on, Guilmon?" Takato asked. "Where are you taking us?"
"We need to stand on this patch of snow," Guilmon said, nodding towards a faded piece of wood that was sticking out of the ground in front of him. It was a little difficult to read but they could just about make out the words… "Entry point here."
"Entry point?" Kazu frowned. "What entry point? There's nothing around for miles and… WHOA!" He suddenly tailed off when the entire piece of ground that they were standing on suddenly jerked and began to sink downwards into the rest of the ground, the snow spilling over the edges as they descended into darkness.
"A lift?" Jeri asked. "The Royal Knights have a lift?"
"Looks like it," Guardromon nodded. Somehow.
They lapsed into silence as the platform carried them down, down, down, down into the bowels of the Digital World's level. The cold grew significantly less in the sheltered area down here, and suddenly they found themselves coming to a stop in an area illuminated with torches held in brackets on the walls around them.
Ahead of them was a tunnel lined with more torches, and that seemed to be the only way out.
"We're supposed to go in there?" Takato asked.
"I don't like this," Kenta murmured. "I don't like this at all. It's weird and who knows what will be waiting for us in there?"
"Not to worry Kenta," Guardromon patted him on the back and almost flattened him. "You can always use that device over there if you so desire once the rest of us are on our way." He pointed to a large red button on a wall nearby with another wooden sign above it, illuminated by a flaming torch on either side, which read, 'PUSH THIS BUTTON TO RETURN TO THE SURFACE AND BE BRANDED A COWARD!'
"That sounds a little unfair, doesn't it?" muttered Kenta. He sighed. "Fine, I'll do it. Shall we go?"
Guilmon was already walking towards the tunnel and Takato hurried to catch up with him as the two of them took the lead.
"Careful everyone," Leomon said. "We don't know what tests the Royal Knights have in line for us."
"If I wanted any tests I could have stayed in school with Ms. Asaji," Kazu muttered to himself.
As they walked into the tunnel, Takato lowered his voice and muttered to his partner, "Guilmon, how did you know that that lift was going to be there?"
"I don't know, Takato," Guilmon shook himself. "It's like when I got here and we were wondering how to get there, a voice in my head said, 'Over there.' And then I just knew what to do, even though I've never been here before and never seen this place."
Takato frowned. "How could that be, do you think?"
Guilmon shrugged, "I really don't know Takato but the voice was a nice and friendly one. I think that we can trust it."
"If… if you say so," Takato murmured, but then subsided. He'd never seen Guilmon like this before and Guilmon had never mentioned anything about weird voices telling him things before either. He was worried, but he decided to put it aside. This was stuff to do with the Royal Knights. How could it possibly be bad? Right?
They followed the tunnel for some time, and it seemed to lead even further downhill, taking them deeper into the icy ground. Nobody said anything, but the shadows made them all a little uneasy. What sort of things would the Royal Knights try and test them on before they were allowed entrance to the castle?
They soon found the first test and balked when they saw it. They had just entered a large chamber with yet another enormous drop right in the middle of it. A huge chasm that stretched across the room from end to end, and on the other side they could see another platform with another door that would allow them to continue on.
And there was only one way to cross the chasm.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Kazu yelled.
The only way of getting across seemed to be a series of several upright ice pillars that extended out of the chasm with flat tops like a series of stepping stones. Really, really treacherous stepping stones. Except they were also about a metre wide and would only be reachable by jumping, so perhaps 'stepping stones' really wasn't the right word after all.
"We're supposed to get across that thing?" Kenta asked. "Oh, please tell me we can just fly now."
"Doesn't look like it," Ryo nodded up towards another sign at the edge of the chasm. The group stepped forwards to read it and it said:-
TAMERS AND PARTNER DIGIMON. THIS IS THE TEST OF YOUR COURAGE. YOU'RE ONLY OPTION TO PROCEED IS TO JUMP ACROSS ON THE PLATFORMS. ANY PERSON WHO FLIES TO THE OTHER SIDE WILL BE PREVENTED FROM PASSING ON BY A FORCEFIELD. HAPPY JUMPING.
"Happy jumping?" Kazu cried incredulously. "What they think this is funny or something? And how did they know it was us who were coming?"
"The cave system is capable of changing shape," Guilmon replied immediately. "When someone steps on the initial platform it reforms itself to become appropriate tests for whoever it is that's coming to challenge them."
Everyone was staring at him and Guilmon looked a little unnerved himself. "I have no idea where that came from," he said a moment later. "The thought just popped into my head again."
"But it does makes sense," Ryo muttered. "I mean if you think about it, if one of the Mammothmon had wanted to get in here it never would fit through the tunnel we just walked through. And the Digital World has many different Digimon in it. So this time it's calibrated itself to a test just for us."
"A test of courage," Takato agreed, looking down into the chasm. "Still, that's a long way down, isn't it? What happens if one of us falls off?"
"Don't know," Guilmon shrugged. "But let's get going."
"Wait, Guilmon!" cried Takato in alarm, but he was too late to stop the dinosaur from springing to the edge and taking a flying leap. The Tamers and the rest of the partners watched with wide eyes as Guilmon sailed across the gap and slammed into the top of the first pillar, his claws digging into the top and anchoring himself in place before he could slip. He flexed his tail on the spot slightly and then grinned.
"That wasn't so hard," he said. "Come on Takato. I can catch you."
"Erm… okay," Takato shivered and before his nerve failed him he took a jump and sailed across the gap himself. He landed erratically and skidded a bit but Guilmon seized him round the chest with one arm to steady him. "Yipe!" Takato cried. "Okay… next time I'll take my time."
"This is mad, I tell you!" Kazu cried.
"But it looks like we've got no choice," Ryo grimaced. "Come on, guys. Let's get going."
They made slow progress, but Guilmon always took point and helped to steady Takato when he made the jump on the next go, with Leomon and Cyberdramon helping Jeri and Ryo in a similar fashion. The dragon Digimon had folded his wings over his back in a rest position to avoid the temptation to use them.
Kazu and Kenta made slower going, with Guardromon using his jets to push him forcibly into the air, but not to fly with, allowing his huge bulk to clear the gaps himself, but the fact that whenever he landed the ice beneath him split was extremely unnerving. Still, after a couple of false starts, Kazu managed to clear the first one and to continue on his way.
Kenta, on the other hand, went up to the edge and faltered, staring down into the abyss below him. He remained standing there, willing himself to jump, but for some reason he found himself unwilling to do it. He'd never been a particularly courageous person at the best of times. In fact it was one of the things that he most loathed about himself. He had always wished that he could grow the spine that the other Tamers seemed to have, but it had always seemed beyond him.
"Kenta," muttered MarineAngemon. "We go now?"
"I can't," Kenta shook his head. "I can't do it. I can help go into battle against an enemy Digimon but jumping across ice pillars. I can't do it."
"Come on, Kenta," Kazu cried from halfway across, while everybody else had already made it the full way and were waiting for them. "It's not so hard."
"Easy for you to say with a Digimon to help steady you," Kenta shook his head. "I'm sorry, I just can't do it. I'll fall."
Despite numerous calls of encouragement from the others, Kenta would not be budged and he just sat down at the other end of the gorge and refused to move. Eventually Kazu and Guardromon crossed to the other side as well and a sign suddenly descended from the ceiling which read, KENTA HAS FAILED THE TEST AND MARINEANGEMON AND CALUMON ARE DISQUALIFIED. THEY WILL BE TRANSPORTED BACK TO THE LIFT AT THE BEGINNING. THE REST MAY PROCEED.
"Disqualified?" Takato blinked and looked down at Calumon, who was standing next to him. "Calumon did you fly across?"
"Yeah, it was fun," Calumon grinned.
Takato smacked his face into his forehead. Moments later, Calumon, Kenta and MarineAngemon all vanished, presumably having been transported back to the start of the test lift.
"Guess we've got little choice but to go on without them," muttered Ryo. And Guilmon was on his way before he'd even finished speaking. The whole group entered what appeared to be another winding corridor filled with torch brackets and once again.
They walked along it in silence before they reached yet another chamber. This chamber seemed to be just a regular cave, except for the fact that it had several large metal rods extended from the ceiling.
"Oookkaaay," muttered Jeri. "So, what's this supposed to be?"
"There is another sign," Leomon said, indicating the wooden board off to the left. The whole group gathered around it and when they read what it said, all four of the remaining Tamers balked in alarm.
THIS IS THE TRIAL OF THE FLESH, it read. TO PROCEED YOU MUST STAND BENEATH THE RODS IN THE CEILING WHERE YOU WILL BE SUBJECTED TO BOLTS OF ELECTRICITY STRONG ENOUGH TO CAUSE INTENSE PAIN IN ALL OF YOU BUT NOT ENOUGH TO KILL ANY OF YOU. YOU MUST MAINTAIN FOR THREE MINUTES BEFORE YOU CAN PASS ON.
"OH COME ON!" Kazu shouted. "WE COULD HAVE DIED IN THE LAST ONE BUT THIS? THEY'RE USING TORTURE ON US? WHAT KIND OF SICK ROYAL KNIGHTS ARE THESE?"
Guilmon growled at him and couldn't work out why that comment had suddenly made him flare up, but Kazu looked alarmed and lapsed into silence.
"I don't like the sound of this," Ryo muttered. "Kazu's right. It sounds very much like some kind of torture."
"I would not say that that is its intention," Leomon replied. "I would say that it is a test of our endurance, for a Knight has to be strong to fulfil the tasks that are required of them. But I agree that I do not like the sound of this. I do not like the sound of putting Jeri in harm's way."
Jeri swallowed but clenched her fists and said, "Well… I'm going to do it. If this is the only way we can proceed then I'm going to do it. We've got to pass all of these tests that the Royal Knights give us if we're going to see them and we need to see them to help save the Digital World. Aayla said that she was tortured with electricity once and she managed to withstand if for over twenty minutes. I can do this."
"Ryo?" Cyberdramon asked with a growl.
"I hate to say it, considering what it means, but Jeri's right," Ryo grimaced. "We have to do this. The Royal Knights say that it won't kill us, but even if it does cause us all immense pain then we have little choice if we want to proceed forwards."
"Oh, I really don't like the sound of this," Takato sighed. "This just doesn't sound like something a Royal Knight should do to me. But… if it's the only way."
"It seems that it is," muttered Ryo.
"I'm ready to take any test that stands in my way," Guilmon said firmly, stepping up closer to the lightning rods.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!" Kazu cried, waving his arms wildly. "Are you listening to yourselves? You're talking about being tortured, just for some dumb test? You're really going to put yourselves through this?"
"We must," Guilmon said. "We've gotta go forward. We can do it, can't we?"
"If we believe in ourselves, we can stand up to a little pain," Takato nodded.
"A LITTLE pain?" Kazu practically cried. "INTENSE! You can't dismiss intense pain as a LITTLE! Look, I can't do this guys. I can barely handle paper cuts. I'd never stand lightning bolts for three straight minutes. Sorry but… I won't do some stupid torture test."
The other three Tamers sighed. "Well, I guess that's it," Takato said. "You ready, Guilmon?"
"Born ready," Guilmon replied, with a fierce glint in his eyes.
"You guys are nuts!" Kazu cried as Takato, Guilmon, Ryo and Cyberdramon all stepped up, with a more nervous looking Jeri moving up beside Takato, who grasped her hand reassuringly as Leomon stood beside her.
"Nuts!" echoed Guardromon helpfully.
But the others ignored him and all six of them braced for the shock that would surely follow, particularly when the metal rods in the ceiling began crackling with electricity, first steadily and then in earnest.
"Three minutes," Takato grimaced, waiting for them to lance out and strike them with the dancing bolts.
Suddenly… the electricity died away and a wooden sign descended from the ceiling which read:-
LOL. JK. THIS WAS ACTUALLY ANOTHER TEST OF COURAGE. KAZU HAS FAILED THE TEST AND GUARDROMON IS DISQUALIFIED. THEY WILL BE TRANSPORTED BACK TO THE LIFT AT THE BEGINNING. THE REST MAY PROCEED.
"What?" Kazu asked. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me?"
"LOL?" Jeri blinked. "JK? The Royal Knights used text-talk on their signs? What's up with that?"
"I… guess they don't have many things to amuse them so this has to do," Ryo muttered.
"Oh man. I can't believe I fell for that," Kazu cried as he and Guardromon both faded away into nothingness.
"We're sure that they're alright, aren't we?" Takato looked at the spot where they had faded away.
"I'm sure they're alright. These are the Royal Knights we're talking about, right?" Ryo muttered. "They're noble beings. I'm sure that Kazu and Kenta are fine."
"How many noble beings do you know who right 'LOL' on important notices?" asked Jeri.
"In any case we may now proceed," Leomon pointed towards the distant door, which had appeared when a chunk of the wall had rolled aside.
"And without having been shocked," Takato grinned. "Alright then. Let's go."
The group had been narrowed down to six now, three humans and three Digimon, but once again Guilmon took the lead as they moved their way through the next corridor of torches and little else, until they managed to reach their next objective.
They entered a chamber much like the last one, but instead of metal rods jutting out of the ceiling there appeared to be some kind of mist filling the room.
"Now what?" muttered Takato.
"Another sign," Jeri pointed, and they gathered around it once more.
THIS IS THE TRIAL OF THE SPIRIT (AND THIS TIME WE MEAN IT). TO PROCEED YOU MUST FACE… YOURSELF!
"Huh?" Takato blinked. "Face… ourselves? What does that mean?"
There was no answer. Takato blinked and looked around him. Guilmon was still standing next to him, but Ryo, Jeri and their partners were gone.
"Hey, where did everybody go?" Takato cried, looking wildly around them.
"Where did the chamber go?" Guilmon blinked. Takato blinked too and then realised the mist had enveloped the entire room around them. The board with the words on it in front of them had vanished, as had all of the walls around them, so that there was nothing around them but missed.
"Are you getting freaked out too, Guilmon?" Takato asked.
"Uh-huh," Guilmon murmured uncertainly.
"Got any useful bits of information coming into your head now?"
"Not this time, Takato."
Suddenly a horrible scream of despair rent the air close by, causing both of them to turn around and cry, "JERI!" at the same time, for they recognised that scream anywhere. But before they could do much more than run a couple of steps the mist began to clear around them and they pulled to a stop in horror at what they saw…
A red, metal floor sweeping away into the distance on one side and a chasm with a giant waterfall on the other, with only a small bridge heading across to the distant horizon. A group of humans… no, it was the Tamers themselves. All of them except Ai, Mako and Ryo – younger versions of themselves, standing together and watched something in horror. Rika, Henry and Suzie were there too, the last holding Lopmon close and staying close to Henry. MarineAngemon, Leomon and Calumon were nowhere in sight either, but Rapidmon and Kyubimon were lying half beaten nearby.
But most worrying of all was the fact that Takato and Guilmon could see themselves standing there with the others, the latter in his Growlmon form, and watching as Beelzemon, in his former Demon Lord wingless shape, sucked many particles of data into his chest.
"No," the Demon Lord growled. "To have power is to be strong. I'll keep loading data until no-one can stop me. No-one! NO-ONE!"
Growlmon looked scared and was stumbling over his next words a little. "Uuh, but… he was just trying to help us… and YOOUU…!" suddenly his face took on a much more feral look as his mood changed to rage. And Takato didn't need to look at the face of his younger double to know that it too was twisted in fury.
"No," Takato gasped. "No! I don't want to see this! Not this!"
Guilmon recognised the scene too. This was what had happened years ago. The data that Beelzemon had just sucked into his chest belonged to Leomon, who he had just killed. And they were well aware of what was about to happen next.
"Stop it!" Takato cried, but his younger self had other things on his mind.
"How could you?" he snarled, his teeth clenched so hard it was a wonder they didn't break and his fist clench so hard his nails were digging into his palms. "How could you do this horrible thing!?"
"Stop!" Takato yelled.
"I'll make you hurt!" younger Takato cried. "I'll make you pay!" And suddenly Growlmon was WarGrowlmon and both of them were roaring.
"No! Make it stop!" Takato cried.
Guilmon said nothing, watching with eyes wide, knowing full well what was coming up but this being the first time he would see it happen from another's perspective.
"Nice outfit," sneered Beelzemon. "But you're still no match for me, you big lump. Just so you know, little whelp, when I'm done with you I'm going to finish your friends off one by one!"
"You're wrong! You're the one who's finished!" younger Takato snarled. And WarGrowlmon took that as his cue to roar and spring into the attack.
"STOP! STOP!" Takato was yelling as WarGrowlmon and Beelzemon slugged it out, firing guns and gnashing teeth, while the younger Takato yelled encouragement and ignored Jeri's cries of distress from behind him.
Guilmon remained rooted to the spot as he head the younger Takato cry, "You cannot lose! I won't allow it! I… order your to digivolve! Digivolve! NOW!"
And that was when the bright red light appeared from nearby and the Hazard symbol on WarGrowlmon's chest started flashing, followed by the pillar of light that rose around him.
"That's it! Do it! Digivolve! I order you to digivolve to MEGA!" screamed younger Takato.
"PLEASE! DON'T DO IT!" Takato yelled at the top of his lungs but to no effect. But as the visionary WarGrowlmon warped into the shape of the Digimon that Guilmon had never seen from another set of eyes and hoped he never would, everything else around them blotted out. Beelzemon, the younger Takato and all the other Tamers vanished along with the landscape, leaving Takato and Guilmon hanging in darkness with the enormous form of…
"Me," Guilmon breathed with horror-filled eyes. "That's… me. Megidramon."
The Megidramon turned its feral red eyes towards them and looked down at the Tamer and Digimon standing beneath it, a low growl emanating from its drool-filled jaws and rows of vicious teeth. It made no move towards them but just hung in front of them, casting a shadow which bathed the two of them in darkness as its spread its huge wings and snarled.
"You… you're… you are me," Guilmon breathed. "You're what I became that time." Both times that Guilmon had become Megidramon before he had very little memory of what had happened by the time he had turned back. He certainly had no memory of what he looked like and nobody had wanted to show him a picture. Nor had they wanted to tell him much about what he had done, but Guilmon knew enough that the last time he had become this monster, he had killed people. Killed humans. He'd gone on a rampage in Tokyo and had only been stopped by his own friends.
Was this him? Was this what he was really capable of? Cyberdramon had nothing on this. He was just a berserker. Guilmon was a monster.
"You… you can't… really be me…" Guilmon stammered. "Can you?"
"No, Guilmon," Takato sniffed, without looking up, crouching on his hands and knees and with tears dripping onto his clenched fists. "That's not you. That was never you. That is me. It was me who turned you into that thing. Megidramon is my fault. I… I can never forgive myself for what I did that day but I was just… so… so angry."
Megidramon lowered its head towards the slightly and seemed to leer at them somehow, though its expression in its eyes never changed from his simple-minded anger.
"No… Takato," Guilmon shook his head. "It is me. I was angry with Beelzemon too."
"No, it was my fault. My fault alone. I should have controlled my emotions better. I should have thought what might have happened. I'm the one who ordered you to digivolve to the Mega level like that. I'm the one who forced you to do it. And that's something that I'll never… never… be able to take back."
Guilmon looked aghast, staring at his Tamer with round, yellow eyes. He'd seen the way that Takato's face had always turned a darker shade whenever the topic of Megidramon was broached, and an intense look of guilt always appearing in his eyes. Despite everything that they had gone through and achieved together, Megidramon had always been their black spot. The part of their adventures that they most wanted to forget.
Takato never liked to think about it. Whenever he did, he would forcibly try and wrench his brain onto something else, but not before he felt his blood run cold once more at the thought of what he had done to his partner. And the thought of what might have happened if Megidramon had actually defeated Beelzemon. In a bizarre twist, Beelzemon had saved the Digital World that day by stopping Megidramon before his mere presence alone destroyed everything around them.
If he had failed… everything would just have been obliterated. And even if it hadn't Megidramon would have gone of a rampage that even the Digimon which had attacked the cave system back outside could probably never hope to have matched. Nobody would have been able to stop him. He would probably have turned on his comrades without a second thought and smashed them all into pieces.
And it had all been Takato's fault.
He remembered what Aayla had said about her own Jedi Order. About how she had to control her own emotions to stop anger, fear and hatred rising up inside her, for if that were to happen then she would be more easily tempted to delve into the Dark Side of the Force to achieve a victory in a dangerous situation. While the Force could not be applied to Takato, the principle behind it could.
And he had always… always lived in fear of it happening again. He never mentioned it but his biggest worry was losing control all over again and causing a repeat of last time. While Guilmon had become Megidramon a second time, that had not been his fault – it had been GranDracmon's thanks to his Eye of the Gorgon attack.
Guilmon had never really been able to comfort Takato about it, for he could barely remember anything about either time. His mind had been consumed, wrapped up in that of the beast that was Megidramon and the rage and the bloodlust that obscured everything else from his mind. He had been the one member of their group who had not seen what he was capable of when he became this creature, and now it was standing right in front of him.
This was the thing he was capable of being. This was the monster that everybody feared would return. Guilmon knew this to be true, for Takato was not the only one who didn't like to talk about it. It had been a traumatic experience for everyone when it had happened, and while they didn't really realise what they were doing, their silence drove Guilmon into deeper guilt. What had he been like? What had he been capable of?
And now he knew.
Now he could see the full horror of Megidramon standing before him. The slavering, evil-eyed, vicious creature in front of him was him. A stark contrast to the way he normally was in his Rookie form but just looking at it gave Guilmon the shivers.
"I'm sorry, Guilmon," he said. "I'm so sorry. I'm really sorry for… for everything that I did back then. I can never… forgive myself. I don't expect you to forgive me either. I'm the one who twisted you into that thing."
Guilmon frowned. He had seen the moment replayed when he had been twisted into Megidramon and while he had given into his instincts at the time, he still remembered how he had felt against Beelzemon when he was Growlmon or WarGrowlmon. He had felt rage… pure, unadulterated, complete rage coursing through him.
And it had been his own.
He had barely heard Takato's commands. He could remember that now. He had been filled with such a rage and such a desire to hurt Beelzemon, to maim him and kill him, that he had lost all reason right there. He remembered Takato's voice on the edges of his consciousness but it had seemed like an annoying buzzing in his ears at the time and he had paid it no heed.
Yet, having re-watched the scene, he had heard Takato's demands properly this time around. Takato had been consumed with the same rage that had possessed him at the exact same moment. For that moment, Digimon and Tamer had been of one and the same mind.
Guilmon suddenly smiled and looked up at the towering hulk of Megidramon once more. "It was our fault," he said.
"Huh?" Takato blinked, looking up at him with tear-stained eyes.
"There's no point in saying anything else," Guilmon said, his eyes hardening. "It was our fault, Takato. Not my fault. Not your fault. Ours."
"But…" Takato sniffed. "I… I ordered you…"
"I was barely listening," Guilmon said. "I wanted to take Beelzemon down just as much as you did, and I was determined to make myself do it. Megidramon was as much my fault as it was yours. I threw myself into the digivolution. I didn't hold back. I didn't even try. We worked together to create this thing, just as much as we both work together to become Gallantmon when we biomerge together."
"Guilmon…" breathed Takato.
"Don't you see?" Guilmon turned to look at him with a smile. "That's how a relationship between Digimon and Tamer works. It's not all about the Tamer and it's not all about the Digimon. It's always about both, working together to achieve the same goal. Good and bad. But we both wanted the same thing then and it went wrong for both of us. You've been blaming yourself about what happened to me all this time, but it was never just you."
Takato's eyes were shining now, but Guilmon ploughed on before he could interrupt.
"And you know what?" he said. "We can work together now, to make sure that this never happens again, right? I've always been a bit wild when I face down an enemy on my own, but when I'm at your side, I'm always fine, because you're there to guide me. And when I face down an enemy, I'm always doing it for you to protect your future. We always work together."
Takato's expression suddenly hardened and he cried, "Yeah, you're right. It was never about just me in our partnership, so why did I think that it was this time? Now that we know that Megidramon was as much a team effort as Gallantmon is, we can make sure that it never happens again, right? I'll watch your back and you can watch mine. We'll guide each other to the right path. We've been doing that all along when we become Gallantmon."
"And as long as we stand together, we can never make the same mistake twice," Guilmon said firmly. "With the both of us, Megidramon is now extinct!"
Neither of them quite knew what impulse seized them, but they suddenly both jumped forwards together, much higher than the laws of physics should have allowed for either of them, and bulldozed straight into Megidramon's chest. The image of the dragon howled and vanished, and suddenly the cavern returned with a smoky 'foof' and the mist receded away into the walls. Takato and Guilmon looked around them and quickly took stock of the others.
Both Ryo and Jeri were lying on the floor, with their partners standing over them trying to help them up. Jeri had tears streaming down her face and Ryo was as white as a sheet, and looked like she was going to be sick.
A sign nearby which had not been there before read, JERI AND RYO HAVE FAILED THE TEST AND LEOMON AND CYBERDRAMON ARE DISQUALIFIED. THEY WILL BE TRANSPORTED BACK TO THE LIFT AT THE BEGINNING. TAKATO AND GUILMON MAY PROCEED!
"Jeri, are you okay?" Takato rushed over to her quickly.
"I'm sorry," Jeri whimpered. "It was all my fault. The city, Beelzemon… all my fault. I couldn't do anything."
Leomon grimaced. "She was shown a vision of how the D-Reaper used her as a puppet to help itself to take over," he said quietly. "She couldn't cope with it. It looks like it is up to you two now."
Cyberdramon looked up and surprised them both by growling, "Do your best," before both he and Leomon, and the other two Tamers, vanished, leaving Takato and Guilmon alone in the chamber. Takato frowned. Okay, so he could understand what had traumatised Jeri so much. She had let Leomon's death get to her and the D-Reaper had managed to exploit that. But what in the world had Ryo seen which had caused him such distress? Perhaps Cyberdramon on an rampage? But no that didn't sound right – he was used to that happening.
It was a puzzle. And one that Takato didn't have time to work out.
"We've gotta go now, Takato," Guilmon said. "The Royal Knights are waiting and I don't think the tests are over yet."
"Yeah," Takato said, clenching his fist. "But we can do it right? Together, I mean."
"Forever and always," Guilmon grinned and the two of them hared off into the next corridor.
Up until I started trying to write this chapter I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for the trials that the Royal Knights would set out for the group, so I decided to pinch a couple of ideas for this chapter and do my own spin on some of the tests which are required to become a Jedi Knight in the official trials of the order, which I never got to cover for my last story. I thought that some of them seemed appropriate for this chapter. Geehee.
And it seems that, like the people in the Pokémon world, the collapsing universes might not be the only thing they have to deal with. XD
I have to write the next chapter of TBAK now, but before I move onto chapter 21 of this story after that, I am going to write out a couple of oneshot requests that have been waiting in the wings for many months. I hope that I can do them justice. Hehe. Well, see you soon with a new update, I hope.
With a failure to find a Legendary at the Seafoam Islands behind them, the party moves on north towards their next destination. They decide to stop overnight in a city, much to Felkan's chagrin, but it soon becomes clear that there are mysterious goings-on here too.
Coming up:- Chapter 21 : Ninja City