Mimi and Joe had just left the rest of the group. Mimi was shaking badly, still reacting to all the fighting and death they had just witnessed. Joe took her hand and calmly led her through the forest, their Digimon waddling along after them.
"I am so glad to be away from them," said Mimi finally. The small group paused to rest, and Mimi sank down against a tree, hugging her legs to her chest.
"I know what you mean," said Joe carefully, "it gets too much sometimes."
"Do you think we'll be safe here?"
"Well, we're still in Puppetmon's territory, so I think we should get moving again soon. We're no match for him. I guess the others will go after him. What do you want to do?"
"I want to go home," said Mimi, in a voice that trembled, but she didn't cry.
Joe looked helplessly at Gomamon and Palmon. They shrugged. Big help, he thought.
"Well, I don't know if home is much safer right now," he said finally, "I think we should stay and do our job. We must be here for a reason."
Mimi looked at the ground. "Do they really need us here though?" she said finally, "I mean, what can we do?"
The others were shocked.
"Of course we need you, Mimi," said Palmon.
"We can't just give up because we're not as strong as the others," said Gomamon.
"What're you talking about, Gomamon," snapped Joe, "of course you're as strong as the others."
"But the Dark Masters are Mega Digimon," said Palmon, "and we're not."
"And we're no angels either!" said Gomamon, with a slight grin.
"And it took us longer to digivolve," said Palmon.
"But we DID digivolve," argued Gomamon, "and your crests helped beat VenomMyotismon!"
"That's right, Mimi!" said Palmon happily, "and if it weren't for us, the others wouldn't have escaped from Toy Town, or beaten Kokatorimon..."
There was a pause while everyone looked at Mimi to see what her reaction was.
"Let's keep walking," she said.
"What IS this place?"
The two kids came through a clearing in the forest and stared. There was a great heap of rubble, as though a huge building had collapsed. The only part still in one piece was a great stone door.
"It looks kind of like Myotismon's castle."
"But what's it doing here?"
"Who knows? The whole digiworld is messed up!"
They picked their way through the rubble, glancing around as though looking for something. Gomamon laughed suddenly and picked something up, holding it in both flippers. It was the key card bearing his picture.
Mimi made her way to a stone tablet and traced the patterns on it with her finger.
"Maybe we really could leave," she said thoughtfully, "I'm sure nobody would miss us..."
"Mimi!" everyone exclaimed.
"You can't be serious!" added Joe, "can't you see we're needed here? It's okay if you don't want to fight but there must be something we can do instead!"
"But, Joe... our families... they might need us more."
"Oh. I get it. Maybe we could be more useful in our world..."
"If there are still monsters there..."
Palmon and Gomamon glanced at each other. They weren't sure about this, but knew they would go with their partners.
"Well, Mimi," said Joe, "if you're set on it, I'm coming with you."
"Then let's find the rest of these key cards and get going!"
Mimi had her smile back and both of them dropped to hands and knees, sorting through the rubble. Gomamon moved as though swimming, crawling under rocks, and Palmon hauled aside larger pieces with her ivy. Finally, they had the nine key cards.
"Well, Joe, you know what to do!" said Mimi cheerfully. He looked at the cards in his hands and sweatdropped.
"Actually, I'm not positive, but I think Izzy ordered them in terms of their levels and types."
He laid cards out as he muttered, "virus, vaccine, data, rookie, champion, ultimate... does this look right to you guys?"
The others nodded, a little blankly, and he slapped Gomamon's card into its slot.
"At least we don't have to worry about which is the right card," Joe said.
"Of course there's no question that any card with ME on it has gotta be the right card!" said Gomamon.
The great door creaked, shooting light all over the castle ruins, and edged its way open.
"You're sure about this?" asked Joe, nervously. Mimi nodded, biting her lip.
"Are you going to come or stand there staring at each other until the door closes?!" said Gomamon.
Joe grinned. Without Tai and the others, he had thought they were without someone who was reckless or too brave, but no chance of that...
"Interdimensional travel makes me nauseous," he said, but took a step forwards.
The four of them stepped nervously through the gate, and found themselves spinning, falling, surrounded by first light and then darkness. There was a rumbling sound all around them and Palmon wrapped her ivy around everyone to keep them together. Suddenly they all stopped falling, and they were on the ground again and the effects of the interdimensional travel faded.
And they were in a place that none of them recognised.
The ground beneath them seemed to be asphalt, the sky was overcast and the charred remains of trees, skeleton trees, covered the landscape. There was a faint smell of smoke and charcoal in the air.
"Um, this might be a stupid question, but where are we?" said Joe.
"Oh no!" screeched Mimi, "what if this is the end of the world? What if the whole world got nuked or something and this is all that's left?"
"I doubt that," said Gomamon calmly, "why don't we take a look around and see if we can get our bearings?"
"Do you think you got the key cards wrong?" said Palmon.
"I don't think so," said Joe, turning a little pale. He didn't want to be responsible for THIS.
As there were not many other options, the four friends started walking. For some miles there seemed nobody else around, but in time they came to a long silver road.
"Silver!" exclaimed Joe, "that's pretty extravagant!"
"Well, it's certainly a lot prettier than anything else we've seen around here," said Mimi, leaning down to touch it. It rippled under the slight pressure and Mimi jumped back with a squeal.
"It's alive!" she shouted.
"Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more," said Joe drily.
"What are you talking about, I don't see anyone around here named Toto," said Gomamon.
"And where's Kansas?" asked Palmon.
Joe was going to answer but all of them were distracted; the road had been sending out ripples from the point that Mimi had touched, and now the air was rocked with sound.
"A huge roaring sound," shouted Joe, "that's never a good sign!"
"No kidding, Joe!" shouted Mimi, "should we run or what?"
The two jumped backwards as the road, acting almost as water, was broken by twin creatures leaping from it.
"I'm Spikemon!" shouted one of them.
"I'm Spearmon!" shouted the other.
"I'm GOMAMOOOOOOOOOOON!" screamed Gomamon, not to be outdone. Everyone clapped their hands over their ears and glared at him.
"Well, I don't think this is our world," said Joe, "what with the large metal Digimon glaring at us and all."
"You are certainly not normal humans," said Spikemon.
"You are certainly deserving of being killed," said Spearmon.
"Not while we're here!" snapped Palmon, and promptly digivolved. Gomamon followed suit.
"At least our digivices still work," said Joe.
"What was that they said about 'normal humans'?" said Mimi, "I most certainly am normal!"
"Shut up!" said Spikemon.
"Geez, what's your problem," said Mimi, "you're pretty uppy for someone who must be worth a fortune at the jeweller's."
"He said shut up!" roared Spearmon. The two metal Digimon took hands and shot up into the air.
"Where did they go?" said Mimi, "did they try to escape us?"
"I doubt that very much," said Joe with his usual optimism, "I think we should move away from here RIGHT NOW."
"Huh?" Mimi squeaked in protest as Joe grabbed her wrist and yanked her away. He ran, almost dragging her behind him. The two Digimon shrugged and followed.
"Joe, what's the hurry? JOE!"
The ground shook suddenly and the kids whirled. Spikemon and Spearmon had dove back into the ground from quite a height, creating a huge crater in the ground, right where they had been standing. Mimi whimpered.
"You're not getting away!" shouted Spikemon, "Silver whip!"
"Silver cannon!" shouted Spearmon.
The two attacks hit Ikkakumon and Togemon, sending them flying into their human counterparts.
"Ikkakumon, you should go on a diet," choked Joe, spitting out fur and trying to crawl out from underneath a huge, heavy walrus.
"Owwwwwchie!" screeched Mimi as she was nearly impaled, cactus needles scratching across her skin.
"You jerks, prepare for Needle Spray!" shouted Togemon, spinning around and shooting needles in the general direction of Spearmon and Spikemon.
"Harpoon Torpedo!" shouted Ikkakumon, firing a volley of his attack at the enemies.
Spearmon laughed as the needles bounced harmlessly off his metal-covered body. The harpoon torpedoes proved slightly more effective but did not even dent them.
"You call that an attack?" taunted Spearmon, "try THIS for teamwork!"
He and Spikemon moved close together, and both shouted "Twin Silver Volley!"
Moving impossibly fast, the two Digimon shot through the air as one, separating at the last moment so that one of them collided with Ikkakumon and the other Togemon. They moved too fast to see which was which. Ikkakumon groaned and Togemon slumped to the ground, trying to push herself back up with her boxing gloves.
"Ikkakumon!" called Joe, "digivolve again!"
"You too, Togemon!"
The two glanced down at their chests, and saw no tell-tale light. Ikkakumon shrugged apologetically.
"I can't seem to do it, sorry Joe."
"Why isn't your crest reacting, Mimi?" said Togemon.
The kids didn't know, but they could see it wasn't going to be advantageous to stick around. Neither of them were Tais, and so they both started running. Ikkakumon dedigivolved and Joe scooped him up in his arms for the faster Togemon to catch them all up and run off with them. Spearmon and Spikemon were busy preparing for an elaborate attack and by the time they had executed it, missed, and realised their opponents were gone, it was a little too late.
"Wow, talk about your mean Digimon," said Mimi. Togemon dedigivolved and sighed, exhausted. Mimi started massaging her back.
"So is this our world or the digital world?" asked Gomamon.
"I don't think it's either," said Joe, "maybe the key cards WERE wrong." He sighed, red in the face. "I'm really sorry, everyone. I'm just not as good as Izzy."
"Now don't you say that, Joe," said Gomamon, "you don't need to compare yourself to anyone else!"
"Besides," said Mimi reassuringly, "none of us knew what the keycards were either."
"For all we know," added Palmon, "you DID put the cards down right but something just happened that wasn't supposed to."
"Maybe," said Joe.
"Do you think we should keep on walking?" said Mimi, "I mean, much as this dry air is bad for my skin, I really think it would be better to be, like, looking for something."
"Fine with me," said Joe, and the two walked on, carrying their tired Digimon partners.
After a while, the boring black ashphalt plains gave rise to a forest; dark, with decaying trees and grey smoke lingering in the air, but a forest nonetheless.
"Well, this is cheery," said Joe, "this smoke is going to be killer on my allergies."
"What a horrible forest!" gasped Palmon, "those poor trees! Those poor plants! Oh, I can hardly look!"
"I think we should go in," said Gomamon, "we might find something."
"If we can SEE anything in all that smoke," said Mimi uncertainly.
"Who knows, maybe we'll even find some water!" said Gomamon hopefully.
"I could use a drink," conceded Joe, "but if we did find any water, it would probably be full of black toxic sludge or something."
"Oh, c'mon Joe, don't give up until you've at least tried!" said Gomamon, "in fact, don't give up even then!"
"But am I the ONLY one who thinks that forest screams out "evil dwells within" or what?"
"You're not the only one," said Mimi, and took a step forward, sniffing the air delicately. "It smells like dirty gym socks or something!"
They might have debated longer but suddenly a scream sounded and three figures came running from the tree cover. The two kids and their Digimon quickly ran for cover themselves and peeked out behind the trees to watch.
The first figure was running from the other two, and as she ran nearer them, they could see that it was a woman, a human woman.
"Joe!" hissed Mimi, grabbing his arm very tightly, "Joe, that's a real person!"
"I can see that!" whispered Joe, trying to pry her hand off before he lost circulation to his arm.
The woman was being pursued by two Digimon, not very large but obviously stronger than she; two jackal-like monsters with, predictably, large teeth, and club-like tails. Reaching the open air had been a bad call, and the two Digimon caught her before she had been running even a minute.
The kids had no opportunity to help, even if they had been bolder or more reckless. The Digimon leapt on her, clubbing her with her tails while she screamed, until she lay there, insensible, bleeding, and terribly still.
"She wasn't reconfigured," muttered Joe, "does that mean this isn't a digital plain, or do no humans become reconfigured?"
Gomamon just looked at him. He couldn't believe that cold reaction.
As the small group watched, the Digimon tore into the woman's skin, ripping her apart in a gory and disgusting display in which most of the major organs were made fully visible to the spectators. The putrid smell of the forest was soon eclipsed by the smell of blood, red staining the black ground of whatever world they had come into.
Joe blanched, clutched his stomach and threw up into the bushes. He grabbed his hair with one hand, agitated, and knelt there gagging, taking little gulps of air. Gomamon trembled. He had never seen death like that before. He absent-mindedly rubbed his partner's back, staring transfixed at the horrible scene.
The two jackals strolled away, licking their chops and muttering to each other, but they were evidently satisfied with their meal and if they did smell Joe and Mimi, they made no effort to pursue them.
Joe pulled himself together enough to look at Mimi. She was leaning against a tree, breathing heavily. Palmon sat beside her, eyes tightly shut. Joe was a little worried; if anything he had expected Mimi to be hysterical, not silent. He could see that she was shaking very badly.
Sometimes I hate being the oldest, he thought, but tried to push aside his own fear to check on Mimi. It was easy to forget that they were only children. All of them had grown up so much since entering the digital world.
But Mimi looked very young now, just the delicate child she was, and whispered, in a broken tone, "I want my parents." She shivered and hugged her knees to her chest. "Joe, where are my parents?"
"They're back on Earth where it's safe, Mimi."
"Joe, that was my mom."
"Of course it wasn't! Your mother's in another world altogether and she's... she's perfectly safe."
"That was my mom, Joe."
"Mimi, listen to me! Maybe it looked like her or something but your real mother is safe and sound and waiting for you to come home just as soon as we've done our job!"
"Our job..." she said, and suddenly she was crying, really crying. "Mom, Dad!"
"I'm sorry, Mimi," said Joe, becoming scared himself, "I'm sorry, there's only me, and I'm not enough."
But he tried to be what he could, moving awkwardly to her and pulling her to his chest. Mimi was sobbing, choking for air, and grabbed at Joe, holding him almost desperately. The two stood there for many minutes, just holding each other, trying to draw strength from each other.
It was loneliness they were fighting, and fear, and horror, and their own guilt. The only person the other could trust, the only friendly face. Any rift that had been between them, any social differences or contrasts in character, dissolved completely and became irrelevent. They were not family but they held each other as substitutes, and it was enough.
"This is even WORSE than Digiworld," said Mimi finally, and Joe smiled humourlessly. Having left the digital world to find their parents and avoid having to witness more death... it didn't seem a very good start. He hoped she wasn't going to give up altogether, because he didn't know if he was strong enough to support both of them for long. He tried to forget that he was only a kid himself.
But she impressed him, jolted him out of his thoughts with a surprisingly strong voice, "there's something WRONG with this world. We have to do something."
"But we weren't called to this world," said Joe, "do you really think it's a good idea to do anything? If all the worlds are interconnected, who knows what effect our actions could have?"
"You idiot, Joe!" snapped Mimi, "do you think we should just stand by and see helpless people die like that?"
"I'm not saying that at all," he said, in a tone that clearly indicated he was about to go on and say more in his usual infuriatingly reasonable voice. But he checked himself, and nodded to agree with her. He changed the subject, remembering something.
"What do you suppose went wrong with our crests?" asked Joe, worried. He pulled it out from under his vest and looked at it, confused. "Hey, the symbol's changed. It's not the cross anymore."
Mimi immediately fished out her own crest and traced her finger around the symbol there. "Mine's different too, no more teardrop."
"Man," said Joe, "it takes so long to get a crest or digivice to react for the first time. So as soon as we finally got Reliability and Sincerity to react, we have to try something else?"
Mimi shrugged. "I wonder what they mean."
"Maybe we can find someone who knows," said Gomamon.
"Great, another mission," said Joe, "find a way out of this world, try to avoid getting killed, try to achieve digivolution and find out what our crests mean. At this rate we'll be home after Christmas. Jingle bells, jingle bells..."
"That's my Joe, always thinking on the positive side," said Gomamon.
"What are jingle bells?" asked Palmon.
"Please don't sing," said Mimi. She had a trace of her usual look about her now.
"Hey, there's someone!" said Gomamon, "look! Let's go ask them about the crests!"
Gomamon started running off out of the trees towards a figure in the distance and Joe grabbed his tail.
"Gomamon! When are you going to learn to stop running into potential danger?"
"When he's reconfigured, probably," said Palmon, snickering.
"That's not funny," said Mimi.
It turned out that they did not need to go after the figure as he was approaching them instead. It was a tall, solidly-built man with dark, half-closed eyes and an impassive face. Mimi and Joe gasped.
"It's ANOTHER person!" whispered Mimi.
"Do you think this world has Digimon and people living together?" whispered Joe.
"Why are you whispering, you sillies?" whispered Palmon.
The man was soon right in front of them, but he didn't stop, continuing to walk right past them.
"Hey!" shouted Mimi, "hey! Don't be rude! Wait a minute!"
The man stopped and turned, very slowly and deliberately. Mimi took a step back at the look on his face and grabbed Joe's arm.
"What... do... you... want?" asked the man, grinding the words out between gritted teeth.
"Um, I'm sorry to bother you sir," said Mimi, nervously, still clutching Joe's arm, "I was just wondering if you could possibly tell us where exactly we are!"
"We are... where... we are."
"Mimi," hissed Joe, "I kind of can't feel my arm..."
"We are where we are? Yes, we know that!" said Mimi, "what we want to know is, where is where we are?"
"We are... in this land... where there is nothing... that matters."
"Huh? I don't get it!"
The man, whose every movement and word was slow and deliberately, suddenly leapt forward and grabbed Mimi's collar, pulling her towards him. He looked very intently into her eyes and she squeaked.
"Girl. You're unaffected," he said, speaking quickly now, snapping out his words, "your friend is further along. I don't know how you came here. I once came here myself. Most of those people or Digimon who live here were born here, but I came, and so did you two. I can tell. That's how I know, you should leave before this land touches you all."
"Touches? Just what is THAT supposed to mean?!"
"There are no humans that are not slaves to indifference. There are no Digimon who are not virus-types. And nobody is immune until the two with the crests come. Nobody else knows. The humans forgot, and the Digimon are constantly at war. I barely remember myself. It should be different."
"Crests?" asked Joe, "do you mean these things?"
He and Mimi both pulled out their crests and the man looked at them unblinkingly.
"Could well be," he said, "I'm not familiar with them. If you can fix things here it might be good. I should go home but I can't be bothered."
"Excuse me, but would you happen know what the symbols on the crests mean?" asked Gomamon.
The man raised an eyebrows. "A polite Digimon. Now I've seen everything. How would I know. I'm a human. Only Digimon would know what crests mean. It's not my responsibility. Don't see that it matters, anyway."
He turned as if to walk off, and began moving very slowly again.
"Wait!" called Mimi, "do you know what we should do? How did you come here? Where are we supposed to find -"
"Don't... bother asking questions," he said, without turning around, "don't bother finding answers. Hiding... is easier... than fighting."
"Maybe," said Joe, "but it won't get you anywhere. If there's one thing I've learned, that would be it."
"That's right!" shouted Gomamon - for the man was walking off now, in the same direction he had come from, taking purposeful steps to nowhere - "it's always worth fighting for what's important!"
A few moments later, the man was gone, and none of them made any effort to follow him.
"Well," said Joe, "what do we do now? Could it be possible that we were actually called to this world for a reason?"
"Maybe everything happens for a reason!" said Gomamon, "looks like we're going to be the heroes of this world!"
"Oh goodie," said Mimi.
"But if all Digimon are virus, how can we beat every Digimon there is?" said Palmon.
"Well, maybe if you made them NOT virus any more, they could help us! Remember when you were Lillymon and you made that ring to counter the virus controlling Tyrannomon?"
"But I can't fully digivolve without a crest! We've only been in this world for about two hours and already we've seen four Digimon. I bet there must be thousands!"
"Maybe there's some source of ultimate evil and corruption that we have to destroy, and that will save everything!" said Gomamon.
"You sound too cheerful for the words coming out your mouth," muttered Joe.
"Nothing wrong with that! Now let's go into forest! We don't mind a little smoke!"
"Speak for yourself, Gomamon. I happen to be an asthmatic."
"You also happen to be a hypochondriac!"
Since I had to split this fic into two pieces for the sake of file size, I might as well ask something... I'm not sure whether I should make this little story fit into the Digimon continuum (like, have them return to the digital world afterwards, meet Ogremon/MetalEtemon, etc, with all changes reversed) or have it as a sort of alternate scenario for the show. The latter has the advantage that I can basically do what I like and not have it affect the story's place in the series. If you'd prefer one or the other please tell me. ^_^.