The sky was pockmarked by stars, pinpricks of light that began to fade as the sky around them began to lighten. A nearly-full moon was just about to pass below the horizon, as though it were running from the very first rays of the pre-sunrise twilight. Fading from inky black to a pale, clear blue without a cloud in sight, the sky began to lighten.
It was early; a clear summer morning was upon the city. The night owls were retreating, but the early birds had not yet showed their faces; and while it was not truly silent, it was as quiet as it ever got.
This was no comfort to those who could not see it clearly.
In the calm of the night, the children and digimon were anything but calm themselves. Most of the night sky was lost to them, hidden behind an obscuring haze.
"Why," Andrea whispered, before growling and driving her fist into the ground below them, her knuckles bloodying at the contact. She did not care that every inch of her body still burned with pain; her emotion was too much for her to handle. "Why are we back here!?"
Rajamon got to his feet a bit shakily, padding his way over to his partner; he nudged her with his nose, face sympathetic, but he said nothing.
"This can't be happening," Simon said, laughing breathily, but there was no joy in that laugh; beside him, Egakumon sat up with a groan.
When the brilliant white light had faded, the children had found themselves... in what seemed to be the real world. They were sitting in an unorganized heap in a city street. An acutely familiar street in fact-- the very city street that they had found themselves awakening on in a heap once before.
Their location, the thick hazy fog that obscured the details of everything around them-- everything was exactly the same. No time had passed; they had not passed out. They had merely been there one second, and here the next.
Their bodies, digimon and human alike, felt like they had been blindsided by trucks, and there was a pervasive feeling that could be best likened to white noise as a physical sensation.
"Maybe we're dead," Faris suggested; the tone in his voice gave away that he wasn't serious, but it wasn't as though he was the first to think it.
No, they were not dead (quite the opposite, in fact), but that didn't do much to explain what had happened.
"Don't say that," Emily muttered nonetheless, shaking her head; Kamomon looked at her, frowning just slightly. The girl had taken her D-GEAR out of her pocket. The little electronic device was acting exactly as it had the first time they had been here -- that is to say, it wasn't working.
"Era wouldn't have taken mercy," Luke said, shaking his head as he placed a hand on Sampamon's forehead. Really, none of them were so foolish as to imagine that Era would take mercy on them-- it was just Luke trying to set his thoughts straight. He was doing a remarkable job of staying calm-- or, at least, of seeming like he was staying calm. "Not on us, especially. For us to be here..." he trailed off.
"Either this is a trick," Julian concluded, "or something happened that Era wasn't counting on." He quirked an eyebrow at Luke, looking for confirmation; the other boy nodded once.
"I'm guessing the latter," Luke said, sighing loudly.
"How do you figure?" Toby said, frowning and burying his face a bit in his hood (it was actually a bit cold, though it would warm up with the sun). Lammon nudged her nose against his hand, gently.
Luke paused, looking down at Sampamon. The snake looked up at him expectantly with her big yellow eyes, even though she felt the same way-- she was just silently encouraging him to speak. "Era is... he's very smart. But he's impatient. He's on the doorstep of something he's waited a hundred years for; he might have overlooked something, being as sure as he was that he had covered every possible eventuality." He spoke in a way that seemed to convey that, once he started, he was set on finishing the thought as soon as possible-- not rushed, per say, but at a pretty quick clip.
"Fancy words, there," Faris said, rubbing the back of his head. "But I think I follow."
"So for us to be here... Yggdrasil must have acted of its own accord," Egakumon said slowly, scratching his snout.
"That's impossible," Iguamon replied, closing his eyes.
"Well, if you don't have any more theories," Delfinimon said, cocking her head, "it does seem like it's what happened, yeom."
"That's great and all," Rajamon cut in, "but we have something more important than why we're back here to worry about."
"And with several parts to that question, actually," Kamomon remarked, looking around. His brow furrowed slightly; his feathers were on the ruffled side, both literally and figuratively.
The question, of course: what did this mean for the fates of Era and the freak of the week? Had they been left behind in the digital world (to have free reign to destroy it)? Had they been pulled through to this limbo, too (and who knew what kind of consequences that could have)?
They felt helpless and lost-- one of the only times in this entire escapade that the kids had any idea where they were in relation to anything they knew, they felt more stranded than ever.
"We have to find out what happened to Era," Simon said after a moment. This was obvious, but it was nice to have it said aloud regardless.
"If you suggest we split up, I am actually going to punch you in the mouth," Andrea said, putting her hands on her hips; Simon huffed a dry laugh and nodded.
"No splitting up," he conceded, nodding.
"That way, if something goes horribly wrong," Faris said, "we'll all have it go horribly wrong together."
"Something like that, yes," Luke said, standing up. Once he was to his feet, he knelt to pick Sampamon up and place her around his shoulders. (She hissed appreciatively.)
"We've been together through a lot of things going horribly wrong," Emily said, getting to her feet as well. "Now's no time to break the streak, yeah?" She smiled faintly, shrugging one shoulder.
"Before we... start running around, and everything," Toby said, speaking up. "Something's been bugging me." Before he even said what it was, all six of the other kids -- and, in fact, all seven digimon -- knew what he was going to bring up-- it had been on their minds as well.
"What... exactly... are we supposed to do, if we beat Era?" the short boy said, tugging at his sleeves. "I mean... with bad digimon, it's not really an issue. We fight them, and then they turn back into eggs. But..."
But Era was unique to them, in that he was human. It was a different ballpark.
What exactly were they supposed to do? The kids were still, after all, kids-- kids chosen for their virtuous hearts, at that. Kids who had adventured across a land that, more often than not, wanted them dead, yes, fought fantastic monsters alongside and then a part of their monster friends, yes. Yet... it was a very hard concept for them to conceive; to so much as think that they may have to take a human life, evil though it may be, was difficult.
The digimon, too-- though it was a foggier concept to them, both outside of the realm of their experience and a result of their own very young age (in comparison to other digimon), it wasn't entirely foreign. Inducing a final death was the worst thing a digimon could do to another, and they understood perfectly well that humans didn't work the same way as they did. Humans did not kill their own.
But... Era was pretty far past redemption. The lives he had taken in his hundred years in the Digital World would already put him far past the line, even without the whole attempted omnicide thing he was working on at present.
"One of the hundred thousand things we don't have an answer for," Luke surmised, frowning as he looked to the ground.
"We'll... have to cross that bridge when we get to it, yeah?" Emily said, sighing out heavily.
The entire end of this journey was shaping up to be a big we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
It was quiet for a moment; in the distance, a car honked.
Julian sighed through his nose, looking to the rapidly-brightening sky through the thick haze of fog. "We should get to doing something. We don't know how long we have."
Lammon frowned, looking around. "But... what are we looking for?"
That... was a good question. Those who had not yet stood got to their feet; necks were craned in all directions as everyone looked for some sort of clue.
And to their great surprise? They actually found one. Or rather, Kamomon, tilting his head back to look to the sky, did; perhaps a bit of his sharper eyesight from his higher forms had held over. (More likely, he had just been looking in the right place at the right time.)
"Look!" the bird cawed, flapping his wings once in excitement.
It was only in the sky for a second-- it was over the buildings to the east, and silhouetted by the impending sunrise's lightening of the sky. It didn't quite look like it was truly there, but that was likely the fault of the cloud that surrounded them; it was hazy and blurry. Indistinct would be the word.
Indistinct though it was, the shape was that of a bird-- not just any bird, but a bird roughly the size of a minivan, with two large horns curling forward on its head.
"Either something's gotten into the water supply around here," Faris deadpanned, "or that was a digimon."
"Your jokes are getting worse," Julian said, casting a sidelong glance to his brother, "but you're right."
"Do you suppose it's breaking through?" Toby said, frowning as he looked at where the bird had been not long ago.
To his side, Julian shook his head. "I don't think so," he said. "Breaking through would be a conscious act. If Genesimon is attacking the tree, then things are going to start being thrown out of order."
"Then it's the worlds that are crossing over into eachother," Simon said, snapping his fingers as the realization hit him; Julian nodded once.
"He's bringing our world through to yours," Sampamon reasoned. "I believe he's trying to... everse our world, so to speak, by pulling it through the tree. If that makes sense."
"Not even in the slightest," Emily said, but she was smiling faintly. "No, I think I get what you mean. More or less."
Rajamon heaved a sigh, shaking his head. "Fantastic," the tiger grumbled.
"But the point," Simon cut in, "is that they're coming through, whether he's bidding them do it or not."
"And if there's one," Egakumon said, gripping his paintbrush, "there's going to be another. Right? It might come through stronger?"
"I don't think it's a one-time deal, yeom," Delfinimon said with a nod.
"We are dealing with a raging psychopath, and a hundred-foot monster that's ripping apart the dimensions for him," Faris deadpanned, picking Delfinimon up into his arms. "Of course it's not a one-time deal."
"We have to reach the fountain," Simon said, then, clenching one hand into a fist.
That fountain was what everything kept coming back to; it was their best bet.
The sun was beginning to peek up over the horizon beyond the haze.
The kids knew the way back to the fountain just by memory-- even then ones that didn't live in the city, after their madcap run for it the last time they had walked these streets. Navigation wasn't an issue; they ducked through every side-street and shortcut they could, trying to cut travel time as much as they could.
Every so often, they would see another apparition-- in the sky, or in the street.
About thirty minutes into their travels, he group was approaching the mouth of an alleyway, just spilling out onto the sidewalk, when a phantom-like digimon phased into their sight, cutting through the fog. It was a tremendous praying mantis, with no visible eyes and black sickle-blades where its forearms should have been.
Despite lacking eyes, it was most definitely looking straight at them.
"Crap," Andrea muttered. She pulled out her D-GEAR, more out of reflex than anything; it was still acting bizarre. She didn't have time to dwell on it, though.
"Twin Sickles!" the giant green insect digimon said, but for some reason, its voice was slightly garbled, like a corrupted sound file. What came through loud and clear, though, was the fact that it slashed both of its arms downward through the air, releasing twin crescent-shape blades of pink energy in their wake. The moment it had begun to call an attack, the kids and digimon had promptly gotten out of the way.
"Magic Brush!" Egakumon yelled as he leapt to the side down the sidewalk, drawing his paintbrush and tracing a glyph into the air; a second later, a burst of concussive energy shot at the bug from the strokes his paintbrush left behind.
"Prince Fire!" Rajamon called at the exact same moment, feinting the other direction and gathering a fireball in his mouth before firing it at the insect.
The big bug's attack hit first-- but with its targets out of the way, it missed. One of the pink blades of energy only sliced through empty air before fizzling out further down the alley, but the other hit a trash-can behind where several of the kids had been standing before. The trash can was... well, for lack of a better word, obliterated, as a result; it had been all but blown apart by the force.
The blast of white light and the fireball hit their target on the mark; the bug merely growled, taking a step closer.
But before the hostile digimon could take another step, he seemed to flicker out, fading back through the dimensional fabric.
For a moment, it was quiet as the adrenaline rush died down.
"That was a Snimon, if you were curious," Kamomon said helpfully, though there was no small amount of irony in his voice-- there were bigger things to worry about than what the big bug had been named, and he knew it.
"Fantastic," Julian mumbled, sarcastic and dry, as he looked at what had once been a trash can. They could affect the real world, even in this limbo as they were; the group had less time than they thought. Was this happening elsewhere?
Filed under questions that they didn't have time to ponder. They had to keep moving, and keep moving they did.
A short time after the Snimon incident, the group turned around a corner, and-- in the next alley, they found themselves face to face (and entirely too close) with a rather... hostile-looking digimon. It was a tremendous fox, barely fitting in the alleyway, with nine tails tipped with blue fire.
"Get ready," Julian muttered, bracing himself -- as the other kids were -- as the fox's tails fanned out, their tips growing brighter. In their pockets, their D-GEARs began to warble out broken static-- the little devices were making a valiant effort to give them a reading, but couldn't.
Hey, it was progress.
Distorted and staticky, the fox began to call an attack-- but did not get to finish it.
"Fox Tail Inf--!"
"Cable Crusher!" another voice came through, garbled but spoken loudly and clearly enough that the words came across understandably regardless. One heavy arm was reared up behind the obscuring fan of the tails, and it smashed downwards like a heavy club. The fox roared, rearing its head back, before it went up in light, and it vanished entirely; instead of shooting into the sky, its data simply dispersed into the fog as an egg dropped to the ground. The club-like arm actually cracked the concrete, but that wasn't what they were looking at.
Behind it, for a brief moment, they could see another digimon-- a tremendous rabbit with the strangest proportions, its body colours brown and red, with a skull-like helmet and huge curved spikes on its shoulders. They could not place it, but he seemed familiar-- and a definitely-familiar pink-furred face was perched on his shoulder.
Piximon saluted with his spear as the rabbit bowed his head and the rabbit scooped the digitama into one big red hand, before they too vanished with the fog that surrounded them.
"What the heck was that," Faris deadpanned, blinking a couple times.
"A Kyuubimon getting its hide tanned by a Wendigomon, yeom?" Delfinimon replied, looking up at her partner. "But I don't think that's what you're asking."
"They couldn't have known this would happen," Julian said then, quiet and thoughtful. When the others turned to look at him, he continued walking (as did they all), but he began to explain: "It's not just digimon loyal to Era that are getting through. When Deekamon rallied the troops, I don't think even he knew this was going to happen."
"But they're coming through, too," Emily said, repeating Julian a bit as she puzzled it over in her head. "Why are they--"
"They're our friends," Simon said immediately, looking at the ground. "Their world's survival depends on ours, too, yeah, but... they're our friends."
They would be able to articulate exactly why, had they been asked, but they picked up the pace after that.
The further the group went, the more they noticed two distinct things:
One: the strange fog was thickening, making it harder and harder to make things out clearly, even with the growing levels of natural light.
Two: the digimon appearances were getting more and more frequent, and they were staying around longer before fading out. If they looked hard enough, sometimes they could see digimon fighting-- though they didn't know which they should be rooting for, and so were forced to keep their distance and not get involved.
They just had to wonder-- if the digimon fighting for Era, and, in fact, the digimon fighting on their side, could damage things in the real world even through the fog of limbo-- what kind of damage were they causing elsewhere in the city?
And what was going to happen if they couldn't contain them?
It felt like they were walking in a figurative haze, in addition to the literal one, when they reached the edge of the fountain plaza. It had only been just over an hour since their getting to their feet when they awoke; it felt like much, much longer.
The world around them was obscured and unclear, to the point where it felt they weren't quite in the real world, not even the odd limbo version. They were just a hop, skip, and a jump away, somehow-- closer to the real world than the digital one, but not quite there.
Funnily enough, that was exactly what the case was-- not that they knew it.
They could sense -- human and digimon alike -- a surging power, something staticky and entirely too familiar for comfort. But they could see nothing-- only the fountain.
Except... not quite. If they looked carefully -- and they did -- they would see, occasionally, flickers of something. Light and data and energy, surging across the surface of the water sprayed out by the fountain-- like reflections or shadows.
And they could see a distorted shadowy thing, misting over the, well, mist, distorting and corrupting even itself.
"This... is where Yggdrasil connects to this world," Sampamon said, quietly-- a dawning realization.
"One of the points, at least," Iguamon added quietly.
"This is what we have in common," Luke said slowly, looking up and glancing at the other six children. "Isn't it?"
It was; as Julian and Emily had supposed the last time they had come here, and as their idle conversation afterwards, had confirmed.
It had just gone from a wild, coincidental theory to a very, very viable one.
Simon pulled his D-GEAR out of his pocket; it was flickering, trying valiantly to function, with mixed-at-best success. "How do we get back?" he said, looking from the device to the fountain. "Last time, we went back, but... last time, Yggdrasil wasn't being controlled by our enemy."
Egakumon looked up at his partner. "We'll find a way," the rabbit said. All around, the other digimon nodded and voiced their concurrence. The seven children nodded; in moments, seven hands held their D-GEAR units tight.
They all felt it a second before it happened. They felt it in their bones, a surge of something beyond the physical. Like a dam bursting, there was light and power and energy all at once. In their hands, their D-GEARs sprung to life, lit up in an instant. Before them, the fountain before them was lit up with energy-- with data. It was surging and distorting, and they could almost swear they could see a shape within the light-- a shadow, faint and pale.
"One last granted wish from the fountain, huh," Andrea said -- almost a bit wistfully -- as they looked at the fountain erupting in light. Her words stuck in more than a couple of the kids' minds, but they said nothing.
Iguamon sighed deeply, looking straight ahead for a moment. He craned his neck to look up at Julian, and spoke only four words: "End of the line." Julian, in his turn, lowered his eyes.
"... it is, isn't it?" Toby said quietly after a moment; Lammon nodded, brow furrowed.
"Guess there's no turning back now," Emily said, but beside her, Kamomon shook his head.
"We passed the point of no return quite a while ago," the bird said, but he smiled a melancholy smile.
"Yeah, like, right around the time we met you, yeom," Delfinimon added, beaming up at Faris.
It was true. It had long ago been too late to turn back-- it had long since become personal.
They were fighting for their worlds; that much was clear and inarguable. But along the way, it had been clear-- they were truly fighting for their worlds.
To the humans... their past months in the Digital World had made the place, as strange and foreign and dangerous as it was, as much a home as the one they came from. And the digimon? Well, they didn't need to have spent much time at all in the real world to have taken it on as their own. It was their partners'; simply by being around them, by learning of their friends' families and homes and lives before and after, they felt a kinship to it.
But really, all of that was just dressing. Whether they were fighting alongside one another as a team, side by side as human and digimon, or together as a true Warrior-- they were parts of each other. All fourteen belonged to both worlds; surely, they didn't have the best of both, but what they had -- the good and the bad -- was indelible.
For every friend, every family member; for every mentor, and even every digimon that had tried to kill them; it was time to fight for them.
And they were ready to do it.
"... you know, we're going to have to keep in touch, once this is done," Faris said, smiling faintly. "You guys are... pretty cool."
"You know it," Emily said, putting her hands in her pockets and beaming, a bit pink in the face.
"Hey, a kid with green hair thinks I'm pretty cool. Neat," Luke deadpanned sidelong to Sampamon, but he returned the faint smile.
Once more, the gnawing dread hit the back of their heads-- of the fate the digimon would face, win or lose. It was not only the humans feeling such apprehension; the digimon themselves were all too aware.
They wouldn't fail. They would fight to the last.
There was no part of this adventure that any of them, digimon and human alike, could regret. Rough times and good times alike; through wandering lost on the search for Wisemon, facing down with Forbidramon, fighting the Reapers, trying to track down Era-- it all came to this.
One at a time, the kids lifted their D-GEAR units into the air. Their digimon stood beside them, preparing themselves. The glow from the digivices began to bleed out, spreading down the kids' arms. It wasn't long before the light began to overtake the digimon, too.
For the final time, a warm bright light overtook the bodies of the seven chosen children and their partner digimon as, through the power of Yggdrasil, they were once more beckoned back into the digital world to fight Era's forces.
The light was quick to fade.
Once more, they found themselves in the hollow of Yggdrasil-- that vast dark void. Before them, the tree was corrupting, hurtling towards the point of being beyond recognition. The brilliant-white light was being tainted with a bloody red as the surface of the tree glitched and corrupted with alarming frequency. Around them, they could see tears in the fabric of the hollow; glimpses of the digital world and real world alike, fuzzy and distorted.
"It's not working," hissed a too-familiar voice from behind the group, so quiet and yet it caused them to turn immediately. Era stood there, his face still as ever but his eyes burning, every inch of his body straining to hold back the livid rage that coursed through it. His voice was even-toned but was spat out through gritted teeth; every molecule of the man betrayed his anger.
Simply for the way Era was acting -- and the knowledge that Genesimon was just around the corner, it had to be -- the group couldn't feel any relief at all.
"There remains something," the man continued, speaking very slowly, as though he were speaking a none-too-bright dog, "that eludes me."
At that moment, the air was split by a screeching noise. Their attention was drawn to Yggdrasil once more; something was emerging from it.
No prizes for guessing what it was.
Emerging from the tremendous tree of data was... well, it was Genesimon. Its appearance had changed, but it could change a thousand times and the digimon and humans alike would never be able to mistake it.
It was significantly larger now, clocking in at well over three-hundred feet-- more than doubling its previous form's stature.
Some things remained similar. Its torso was still human-like in a broad sense, and just as emaciated as the last time; it still had a ridge of protrusions running down the back of its head, and its lower half was decidedly more monstrous than the top. There was still a core-like orb embedded in its chest and held in by teeth-like spikes, though now the orb was pinkish-red instead of pitch-black.
That was where the overt similarities stopped, though. The pink of its flesh was replaced with a sickly purplish hue, now. Instead of its entire head being robed in bandages, only the bottom half, up to where its eyes should have been, were bandaged up. Note: where its eyes should have been. Instead of two large and bulbous eyes, there was only one, long and thin, in the middle of its forehead. Two tube-like attachments ran from the back of its head to the nape of its neck, one each on the left and right.
Instead of arms attached to its shoulders, however, it had four long tendril-like extensions on its back. Two -- one curving up over its shoulder, and one swooping downwards -- emerged from each shoulderblade on its back.
From the waist down... well. Its lower half was no longer crystal; rather, it was something between a snake and a legless centipede. Its lower body was long and tapered, covered in a hard exoskeleton-like structure instead of skin. About fifty feet before the tip, the tail split into three bloody-red tendrils that curled around each other in a triple helix that came to a point.
In addition to the orb in its chest, there were three more identical spheres-- one where its navel should have been, and one each at each of its shoulders, the latter pair being rimmed by the same fang-like protrusions as the one on its sternum. Out of all of the traits of Genesimon's newest appearance, these were the most disturbing. Every so often, they surged with data-- but consistently, once every ten seconds or so, they throbbed and pulsated, seeming close to breaking just before they settled down again.
They were so busy looking at the newest edition of the freak of the week that they almost missed Era's next statement.
Though nobody was looking to see it, the man's face curled into the nastiest of smiles. "But thank you for bringing them back. I'll be taking them now."
Yggdrasil was, for lack of a better word, dying.
When the Sovereigns had realized, some time ago, that this was rapidly becoming a viable scenario, instead of simply a possibility, they had put forth a fail-safe-- a way to keep their chosen warriors fighting, and keep their chance alive.
The light that Azulongmon had given the children, what seemed like so long ago-- he had claimed to be a way to reach their digimon's higher levels, should their ordinary way become unusable. That was their fail-safe, and that time was now; Yggdrasil was more than being taken over. It was being actively broken.
But the catch was this:
Era could not take the tree without taking it completely.
Era might be able to do quite a bit of damage-- he might even ravage the digital world beyond repair, as he was well on his way to doing. He was able to weaken the barriers between the worlds; he had already proven he could do that. All that, yes, he could do-- he could cause unthinkable damage.
But as long as some part of Yggdrasil stayed out of his control, he could not destroy it.
And some parts did stay out of his control.
And that was enough to keep Yggdrasil out of Era's full control.
So long, of course, as they did not fall to him; for seven small parts of Yggdrasil rested not with the core tree, but in the form of the Virtues. The Sovereign's plan cut them off from the tree, as they could not use the corrupted data they would otherwise be blessed with.
They would have to use only the power innate to the Virtue talismans themselves, those mere fragments of Yggdrasil; the children, those with the power to activate them; and the digimon, those borne straight from Yggdrasil and made especially to receive power from the Virtues.
Why, for any other digimon to use the power of the Virtue talismans for very long at all might drive it to madness.