Colours and shapes, whipping past his vision as the blue demon literally exploded with dark energy. He felt the energy slam into him like a truck, ceasing all movement. Try as he might to reach out, to hold onto something, to grab somebody, he felt his body being lifted like a rag doll, tossed through the air as if it was nothing. All around him the others were undergoing the same fate, as if they were falling through space, the deadly darkness threatening to rip them apart in an instant.
Then they began to disappear. One by one, with no warning. Grace, Eloise, Kai, Velocimon. Even Trilomon, spinning around uncontrollably within the vortex, and then gone.
And he was alone, spinning in the endless void as the energy carried him up, up, away from the ruined fortress and far over the wastegrounds. And he saw Silicon City and the Northern Tribes and the Spokes and the Southern Daggers and the remnants of the Painted Woods, and beyond that the vast mountain range and the global sea, and beyond that…
Nothing. The endless void from before. The entire Digital World, spread out before him, over half of it decimated. Ruined. Devoured. A barren wire frame, with tiny pockets of data, lost in an endless white void.
The world blurred before him, and the energy threatened to consume him, once and for all and…
Kent's eyes snapped open, and he sat up, taking in great gulps of air as he sat, alone on the blackened earth.
He looked around, confused, half of his mind still in the dream. No…it wasn't a dream. It had happened; in fact he'd just been there. There with everyone else, and then Nithhogg had wiped everyone out and then…
Kent stood up, looking all around him. The forest had clearly once been thick and fruitful, but it was now just a mass of grey ash and charred stumps. Flecks of dust hung in the air, unmoved by even the slightest breath. Kent suddenly felt the dust in his throat and he put his hand over his mouth, coughing up something grey and disgusting. He hacked away for a good minute or two, his body feeling like somebody had dragged sawdust through it.
He winced, holding his hands to his midriff. Every part of him hurt, but especially where he'd been pulled from the ground and cast aside. The feeling of panic was now catching up with him, and his head was beginning to spin. He kept staring around, looking for any other person or creature nearby. He was completely alone.
Kent rushed over to the still form lying in the dust bed. At first he'd thought it was one of the other tamers, but as he got closer the more he realised there was something wrong with it. It was dark and fuzzy, and it flickered from side to side, as if being viewed through a wonky old film projector. Kent crouched down, keeping a relatively safe distance away, as the form gained mass, slowly turning from black to a green and dirty brown fuzz. The form jerked, lurching this way and that as the afterimages around it grew more chaotic. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped. The after-images died away, and the body slumped. Its fur rustled slightly, indicating its breathing.
Kent frowned. He couldn't help but feel somewhat let down that out of everyone else, his only companion was this strange creature. Still, he decided, on looking around, it was better than nobody at all. There was no way he'd make it any great distance, and the ashen forest remained ever oppressive. Phoukamon's body jerked slightly; the first signs of a choke.
With a lot of effort, Kent dragged the unconscious Phoukamon up to the nearest tree stump and sat them up against it, waiting while their breathing stabilised. The spirit was heavier than they seemed, so Kent found himself sitting just across from them, watching as the creature slept.
"Surely it couldn't have been you…"
Phoukamon, as expected, didn't respond. Kent pulled his knees up to his chest, holding his body tight. He realised that he hadn't felt cold for some while now, and yet the still forest was deceptively biting.
"No more element of Fire, I guess…"
He leant back, and was on the verge of falling asleep himself, when he realised something and sat up hurriedly. There, next to Phoukamon, was something flat, square and familiar. His laptop. He retrieved it, examining the contents; case, cables, everything seemed to be there and surprisingly working. He was sure he hadn't picked it up since before they'd gone off to battle; why on earth was it here now?
He contemplated starting up and searching for any sort of answer, but his mind was too frazzled for anything high-level at the moment. He closed the machine up and placed it beside him, focusing on the odd goat-monkey sleeping just across from him. He squinted, feeling drowsy himself. As his head began to nod downwards, he found himself mumbling his thoughts aloud.
"Why? What did you want with us?"
"Why are you still here?"
"We've got nothing left…"
Kent awoke to find the strange Digimon still across from him, the spirit's tongue lolling out almost as if they were dead.
The boy sat back, looking up at the grey sky. He considered maybe trying to climb one of the skeletal trees around him, maybe try and get higher and get a look around at where he was. But one look at everything around him told him that that was useless; even if the tree would support his weight, he'd never get high enough.
"Besides, it's not like I could ever climb trees back home anyway."
He almost spat, cursing inwardly for reminding himself of home. Now the need was even greater; he had to get up and do something, make some attempt to get out of this endless dead land. But his body refused to move. He just lay, heavy and useless against the tree. A dull pain throbbed through his chest, stabbing him with each heartbeat.
He held up his hand, staring at his palm with lazy eyes. The silence of the forest taunted him, daring him to say it again. He obliged.
"It's all over."
Slowly he closed his fist, tighening his grip until it shook, his rough nails leaving imprints in his flesh.
"So why the bloody hell am I still here?"
He glared down at the spirit before him, who still sat, looking peaceful and yet still ungainly.
"It was you, wasn't it? Why the hell am I still here? What about you? What about the others? Are they still alive?"
"If I'm the only one left, then you're wasting your time. We've already failed. I've already failed."
He sighed. Getting angry was making no difference at all. Still he sat; there was a sudden gust of wind, digging into him, but he barely reacted, simply staring up at the sky. The ash from the ground was whipped up a little, spraying over his legs, his hands, and part-burying his laptop beside him. Kent gave a cynical chuckle.
"All this from ones and zeroes. All this life, coming to this. In the end, that's all you really were."
He raised his palm again, squinting at the skin. The indents from his nails were still there, but there was the faintest fuzz around them. A tiny congregation of the data, fixing the irregularity of his flesh.
"That's all I am..."
Still no response.
Kent brought his fist down and yelled to the heavens as loud as he could, his shout reverberating around the leafless wood. With an angered groan he ran his hands through his hair, shaking the fallen dust out.
"Is this your idea of a joke? Come on; why the hell would you leave me alive, but all on my own? This is insane. It's all been insane from the beginning and I've hated every minute of it and I never should have bloody come here in the first place! What the hell is wrong with me? Why the hell did I decide to put myself through this?"
The Digital World, par to its nature, didn't actually give him an answer. But it did allow him to hear his own voice, out loud, yelling in his own ears. He snorted, and sat up.
"Well at any rate, I suppose I am still here."
He glared once again over at the spirit.
"Then again, so are you? What was meant to be so special about you?"
He rummaged in his pocket, and found his D-Nexus, which was looking slightly battered from all the continued abuse. Still, it worked, and he scanned the misshapen being before him.
He rolled his eyes, giving the unconscious creature a half-smile.
"What the hell am I doing here of all places...?"
He reached over and opened up his laptop, plugging the device in and delving even deeper. Deep into the data within his device, of the area around him. He kept going, in near silence apart from the tapping of the keys, not noticing the time pass by as he looked for anything of use. Anything to give him a clue about what to do. Any new option. Any new path. Just...anything.
He didn't even notice himself falling asleep until the laptop fell sideways from his knees, leaving him sprawled out against the tree.
Kent's eyes snapped open. There was a musty smell in the air and the sky had darkened considerably. The temperature had dropped as well, hitting Kent like an icy wall. He shivered, before looking over to see that Phoukamon had disappeared.
The boy stood up, trying to will warmth back into his legs as he looked around. "Um…hey…whoever you are?"
"One should ask names first."
Kent turned back, but saw nothing. He folded his arms. "Look, this isn't a game any more."
The boy did so, and saw the goat spirit suspended upside down on one of the few remaining tree branches, swinging gently on their two tails. They opened their middle eye, and waved down at Kent. "Hello again."
"Are you sure that's safe?"
"We have a perfect grip. Nothing will ever take us down. Nothing. Nobody."
The branch promptly snapped, and Kent stepped back as Phoukamon landed awkwardly at his feet. The boy was less than impressed, but Phoukamon seemed to pay the incident no mind, simply getting to their feet and brushing the ash from their matted fur.
"You found me. Found us. I should thank you very much for that."
Kent shrugged. "You're welcome." He whispered aside, as if not wanting to admit it. "I couldn't find anyone else."
"Everyone? Everyone's in the world. Everyone's here."
Kent looked at the odd little creature with curiosity. He pointed a finger. "You can teleport, can't you…"
"A little?" kent folded his arms. "Be straight with me. It was you; you brought me here. Even had the decency to fetch my laptop."
Phoukamon smiled warmly, flexing their fingers. "Great distances in no time at all. Nobody knows our power. I had to. We had to stay out of sight. But that was different. If I hadn't taken you away you wouldn't be here. None of you would."
Kent crouched down. "The others are alive? Jack? Trilomon?"
"Where are they?"
Phoukamon looked a little ashamed. "Not sure exactly. We had to drop you quickly."
"Well we're all in this forest though, at least? Aren't we?"
The spirit didn't answer. Kent let out an angry sigh and stood up tall. "Come on then, let's go find them."
"What do you mean, 'can't'?"
Again no answer. Phoukamon simply extended a hand and snapped their fingers. Their form shimmered for a second, before letting off a little cloud of magic. They stayed where they were.
"No more power. It took everything to get you all away."
"Well that's absolutely wonderful if you didn't take us all to the same place!"
"We don't have time!" Phoukamon stood up, pointing out into the grey woods. "You saw! That thing – that poor, terrible thing – it devours the world! You need to save it!"
"I can't! None of us can! We've tried, but we don't have the power. We're missing Aaron, we're missing a plan, we're missing…something…"
He trudged away, not looking back. Phoukamon ran after him, trying to stop him. "You can't give up-"
"Go away!" Kent pushed the spirit away, but he remained still, his shoulders hunched as he stared at the ground. "We tried, alright. We tried, and we won. But we weren't prepared for Nithhogg. I guess that's our fault. We couldn't save your world." He sighed, closing his eyes. "Thank you for saving our lives, but it was a waste of time. There's nothing we can do for you now."
Phoukamon remained still, watching as the ash fell down around Kent, piling on his shoulders and his shoes. The spirit stepped a little closer. "You saw it, didn't you."
"You were the last to leave. You rose higher than everyone else. You saw the world."
Kent nodded. He certainly had. A mere speck of land and sea in an endless void of white, a world decimated from the base level up.
"By the time you arrived, half of it had already gone. The creature was feeding for a long time before."
Kent smirked. "The dragon beneath the world tree. Rinkhalmon's a jammy bastard, isn't he."
Phoukamon stepped back. "The world was dying when you came. You are to save it. You need to save it. All of you came to save it, didn't you? Will you still do it?"
Kent spun round, staring down at Phoukamon. "If this is true, why didn't you tell us this before? When we came here? Why did we spend so many bloody months trying to survive?"
Phoukamon looked deeply ashamed. "We couldn't. You would have died."
"We'd at least have known what we were up against!"
The spirit's eyes flashed, and they looked up in anger. "Have you ever taken a test? What good is doing the question when you know the answer?"
"What the hell are you on about now?"
"You! You came to save but you weren't ready, because you didn't know how to use this!" Phoukamon suddenly grabbed Kent's D-Nexus from his pocket, pointed at it, and threw it on the ground. "None of you. Human or Digimon; none of you knew!"
"You could still have told us!"
"Not that! The link! You know about the link, you know the link, you found the bloody link before anyone else, so why don't you know how the bloody link works yet?" Phoukamon gestured wildly, genuine anger in their voice. "The elements. Tamer, partner, one bond. That's the power. But you needed to connect; we can't just tell you what to do to make friends and be happy and forgive all your wrongdoings; that's not how life fucking works! Without that, the bond is nothing. Just numbers. Information. Structured and perfect and false; it means nothing. We couldn't tell you, because you needed to find the power on your own. Because that's how the power works. That's how you get the power to save the world. And that's why you're still weak; because you haven't finalised the bond. There's enough power in a single element to create a dozen worlds, but you need to find it. You need to actually look for it. If you don't, whatever you do, it's useless! Everything is useless unless it actually means something to you!"
Kent stood, stunned at the outburst. He raised his eyebrows. "Touché."
Phoukamon simply sat down, folded their arms and crossed their legs. "As we said, you're not done."
"I know…but what…"
Phoukamon nodded at the device on the ground. "We watched you all this time and we'll watch you to the end. But you're the ones who need to keep going."
Kent felt confused. Phoukamon pointed at the device, which was lying half-buried in grey dust. Kent pulled it out, curious, only to notice a red flash on the screen. Trilomon's energy. His partner was alive.
Kent looked at the mystical figure, who sat with their eyes closed. Phoukamon hummed. "The bond of the element. Let it lead you."
Kent nodded, swung his laptop up onto his back, and set off, running through the ruined woods. Phoukamon smiled, and called out after him. "Be here when you get back!"
The forest grew dimmer and dimmer as Kent ran, left and right, here and there, with no clear direction in mind. The minutes got away from him as his vision grew dark, the last light of the day fading and the night chills rushing in. The little device kept beeping away in his hand, sometimes speeding up, other times going almost silent. Kent was out of breath before he realised, nearly collapsing against a skeletal tree. He looked up, and saw that the sky had gone pitch black in the time he'd been searching. For a brief moment he considered turning back, trying again later. The rational part of his brain was still screaming at him to stop, that this was pointless.
"No! I'm not giving up on him!"
Kent forced himself to carry on, following where the device took him. The night chill had begun, and it was bitter, catching beneath Kent's loose clothes and causing him to shiver uncontrollably, his teeth chattering. He could barely see in front of his own feet, and once or twice he went flying, his shoes catching under an old root. But every time his will wavered, he thought of his partner, lying alone in the freezing ash, maybe with hours left to survive.
"I've always done this…I'm not doing it again…"
Kent pressed on, mouthing the words under his breath, his ears virtually deaf from the cold.
"I'm done doing nothing. Not when there's someone close to me who's hurting. I refuse to sit back and let it happen."
His vision faded in and out from blackness, but as it did so, a tiny dot came into his focus. With no idea how or why, he found himself marching towards it, swaying left and right as he did so.
"'Cause it is my problem…whether or not it was my fault…it's still my choice…to carry on…or to sit and do nothing…"
The dark blob hovered on the ground before him, a shape sprawled out messily, motionless. He found himself reaching his arms out, the cold burning the bare flesh.
"From now on, Taylor…I'm gonna make things right…it's down to me this time..."
He stood up, the bitter wind whipping his hair as he looked down at the Digimon in his arms. Trilomon unfurled a tiny bit, and even in the pitch blackness his eyes were like jewels, full of wonder, staring up at the boy. The insect gurgled, barely able to get the words out.
Kent said nothing, only holding his partner tightly, and the two of them made their way back through the blackness.
Kent couldn't remember how far they'd gotten. He remembered walking for some distance, and then remembered some place out of the wind, still holding his partner, and then…
Kent snapped awake as something sharp poked his hand. He sat up hurriedly, and Trilomon clattered to the ground in front of him, writhing like a little ball of knives as he tried to stand up.
"Sorry! I'm sorry!"
Kent sucked in his breath, looking at the cut on the back of his hand. "Watch where you're putting those things, alright?"
Trilomon, having figured out which way up he was, nodded glumly. "It's easy for you. Stabby things were not made for walking."
Kent lunged forward and threw his arms around his partner, who nuzzled his chest, letting off little buzzing purrs. "I can't believe how much I missed you."
Trilomon nodded. "I thought you were gone. I thought everyone was gone."
"We're okay." Kent set his partner down, finally getting a good look at him. Honestly, the insect looked awful. Great snaking cracks over parts of his armour, and several pieces bent out of shape and alignment, causing him to move around with a pronounced hobble. Even one of his bejewelled eyes was sporting a pale web of cracks across the surface, though the green glow behind it was as warm and bright as ever.
Trilomon sat down. "I know what you're thinking. It's not as bad as it looks."
"Christ, Trilomon, that thing really messed you up."
"Look who's talking. You don't look any better."
Kent chuckled, nodding in forced agreement. Having had it brought up he realised that he was very much still in quite a significant bit of pain himself, especially around the midriff. "It can't be that bad..." Pulling up his shirt a little, he inspected the ring of purple bruising and split skin around his belly, where he'd been wrenched from the ground.
"Ah. Missed that."
Trilomon winced. "I rest my case. How the hell did you manage to find me?"
"I guess I got lucky." Kent frowned. "Although Phoukamon did say they'd dropped us all off in different places. Speaking of which, where are we?"
He stood up, slowly, all the while looking around. Somehow he'd managed to drag his partner into a cave; roomy, with cracks all over the walls and floor. In the centre there was a blackened area with several chunks of what appeared to be old firewood. The area was lit, although not by much, as the morning light from outside was still decidedly grey and mizzy.
Trilomon cocked his head. "Phoukamon? Who's that?"
Kent stretched, scratching the back of his head. "Um…weird Digimon, like a monkey or a goat or something. Seems to have a lot of things in its head."
Trilomon started. "Can they teleport?"
"Yes. Well, they could. I think they teleported us all away from Nithhogg and now they can't teleport anymore; at least, that was their excuse. I'm still not sure yet whether I completely believe everything they say. Why do you ask?"
"I think I've met them."
Kent looked down at his partner, who seemed deep in thought. "All of us Digimon met them, the night before we went off to battle. I think they're the one who gave us the elements."
Kent sat back down, his legs cracking slightly as he did so. "It looks like they know all about us. Do you think they've been behind everything?"
"I think they're involved." Trilomon looked over at his partner. "They seemed to know a lot more than they let on."
"You'd be correct there."
Both boy and bug looked towards the cave entrance, where a bedraggled and shaggy looking creature leant against the entrance, obviously out of breath. Phoukamon regained their breath, before lolloping awkwardly inside, sitting themselves uncomfortably close to the two warriors of Earth. "Don't know how you do this. All this walking. It's unnatural. We said I'd be there when you got back; where the hell where you?"
Kent rubbed his forehead. "It's good to see you're alright. Forgive me; I had a bit of a rough night. I'm not exactly dressed for the cold."
Trilomon rolled his eyes, before looking the creature over. Phoukamon had already settled down, their legs crossed in a lotus position and their tails scraping back and forth over the cave floor. The three eyes snapped over towards the bug. "You're very young. Very young to be out here all on your own."
Trilomon gave a cough. "Can I ask you what exactly it is you've done?"
Phoukamon blinked. "Specification is helpful."
"I mean…who are you? Why us? And please don't just walk away again like you did before; I think we need to know what exactly's been going on all this time."
"Why now? Why is it important now?"
"Why?" Trilomon looked around, gesturing as if he could make the answer more obvious. "This. All this. Everything that happened since we came across Nithhogg. I know you're all about the whole partners and working together thing, but this goes way beyond anything the Fire Kingdom tried to pull. We need clear answers for once."
Phoukamon sighed, looking up at the ceiling. The other two waited, wondering if the spirit was going to say anything. The spirit ground their teeth, before looking down again and clasping their hands.
"If it were just the Fire Kingdom, we'd have done nothing. The Digital World is always changing. Neither peace nor war lasts forever. It would have been the same here. The Fire Kingdom could have taken over the world and there would have been many years under their rule. Then they would have been taken over, or the people would revolt, or they would just fade away or change beyond recognition. The earth keeps moving, with little regard for the surface. You should both know this better than most."
Kent shuffled forwards, joining his partner around the old fire pile. "So what was different about this time, then?"
"Because the Digital earth wasn't responsible this time." Phoukamon looked up, closing all their eyes. "The one who lies beneath Yggdrasil, the world tree. Nithhogg. It came from beneath the very framework."
Kent clasped his hands together. "But how? I mean, we let it out, but it was halfway through before we even got here."
"We didn't know. We didn't even notice at first. You're right; it had been attacking us for a very long time. Scratching away at the very foundation of the Digital World. The Obelimon, the ancient foundations and incubators of the elemental data; they were the first to go."
Trilomon looked up at his partner. "Isn't that what Jack talked about, back in the fortress? The lights of the Obelimon going out?"
Phoukamon nodded sadly. "After them, the next layer of data above them. And again. Whole cities were devoured while they slept. Over half the world was eaten away and the rest of it wasn't even aware it had gone. Only we knew. Three of us. Watcher, chronicler, and curator. Three."
"Three…" Kent raised a finger. "Karatenmon's brother. He was one of them...one of you, wasn't he? He wrote those journals and knew all about the Obelimon. Where they were, as well."
The spirit nodded.
"And who was the third?"
Phoukamon popped their lips. "Three of us. We gathered. We had to stop the devourer."
"You haven't answered-"
"Ssh." Phoukamon looked away, and the two warriors of Earth saw the faintest tinge of guilt cross over their face.
"It kept coming. No matter what we did, it kept pushing its way through. Even when we contained it. Things never turn out right. Never. Never trust anyone." Phoukamon huffed, before staring down into the fire pit as if it was alight and flickering in their eyes.
"The elements are the core of the world. Even with the Obelimon dying, their essence remained. From a single speck of data, the Digital World can be rebuilt. Fire was lost, already swallowed by Nithhogg before we could reach it. The remaining nine we kept safe, but the fire was advancing rapidly and with it the reach of Nithhogg." Phoukamon placed their palms on their knees. "You must understand, you did what you had to. If you hadn't fought, and the Fire Kingdom had won, the rest of the elements would have been consumed as well. You only sped up its escape."
Kent's shoulders sagged. "Sorry…"
"Don't be. You live. The remaining elements are still whole. Still unblemished." Phoukamon reached out, and tapped the centre of Kent's and Trilomon's chests, once each. "Still within you."
Trilomon pawed the ground. "So…you gave us the elements and told us to use them against the very thing that was threatening to eat them?"
"Pardon me, but that seems unbelievably stupid."
"Because the elements are the only things that can destroy it." Phoukamon raised a hand, cupping the air, before closing their fist in a crushing motion. "The very Digital World itself, rejecting the false data. But they must be as one. The nexus must remain together. As ten, as one. Through Digimon and through human. The bond of many brought together."
Trilomon shook his head again, frantically this time. "No…no, that can't be right, you're leaving something out…"
The spirit stood up as if yanked by the neck, and began to march back towards the entrance. "As ten, as one."
"The nexus was destroyed before the humans even got here! Why have you let us all go through this if it was already too late?"
Phoukamon twirled on the spot, leaning against the wall. "We didn't say anything."
"This talk is boring. We never like to talk. Too many words. Bleh. Too long, not interesting."
Trilomon stamped his front claws on the ground. "If you don't help us you're gonna die along with everyone else! Along with the entire world!"
The spirit shrugged, and walked away, leaving the bug staring after them. Trilomon let out an exasperated trill and began to pace, rare anger welling in him. "I will not let my legacy be the one who almost saved the world! I have loads of my life left to live, goddamnit!"
He stopped, looking up at his partner, who seemed deep in thought. "Shouldn't we go after them?"
Kent clasped his head, letting out contemplative noises. "They wouldn't have saved us if there wasn't still something we could do. They're a real pain in the butt but I don't think their sense of humour is that bad."
"Well then, what?"
Kent sighed, and leant back, holding his hands behind his head. "I need to think..."
"We don't have much time, Kent."
"We don't have much of an idea either." The boy's eyes flickered, and he stood up. "If I don't do something I'm going to fall asleep. I'm going for a wander."
Trilomon nodded. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"Don't feel you have to; I'll be back soon." Kent shivered. "It's too cold to stay out there for any great length."
Trilomon watched as his partner left the cave. The bug sighed. "Guess I don't blame you. Guess I should really thank you even more."
He lay down and tried to catch some more rest himself, but the conversation was buzzing irritatingly round his head and he soon found himself pacing, heading back into the depths of the cave.
"We're missing something. Something right in front of us. Something we can use."
His gaze shot up, and rested on the cave wall.
"Where've I seen you before...?"
As ten, as one...
Kent ran the words around his head as the wind immediately bit into him. He brushed it off, though, and carried on through the grey woods, looking around for any signs of anything. It wasn't a very successful endeavour. Much like his travels through the wastegrounds, so long ago, there was virtually nothing for miles in every direction, save for a few dead trees.
"Well Phoukamon, I don't know what you thought we were gonna do here. I'm sure you have great plans for us but we just don't know…"
He trailed off, his attention suddenly drawn to the ground nearby. Moving over, he saw it was something very familiar. Surrounded by grey ash and moss, the imprint of his partner's body lay clear as ever. Looking back he saw the cave, just visible between the stumps.
"Guess I didn't make it very far after all…"
Something twigged in Kent's mind and he looked down again, reaching out to stroke the hollow. The ash fell away the instant he touched it, but the moss was firm, holding in clumps like a single organism.
Kent looked around, and saw that mixed in with the permanent grey and black of the ash were several such clumps of very dark green, some of them even sprawled over the dead tree trunks.
"That…that doesn't make any…"
In fact, the impossible plant life extended far farther than he'd originally noticed. Looking to his left, he saw a flash of bright verdant green, and he bent down, staring in wonder at the tiny green shoot, poking up through the dead land.
"How about that…"
Trilomon rushed straight up to Kent the moment the boy re-entered the cave, tail bobbing up and down frenetically. "Kent, I know where we are! I've been here before!"
The boy looked confused, but Trilomon ushered him over to one corner of the cave, which was more fractured and damaged than the rest of it. The boy folded his arms. "I'm surprised you're able to identify rocks to this degree."
"I know it. I seriously do. The fire pit, this wall; there used to be writing all over here but the wall broke…" Trilomon sat down, trying to form a sentence. "This is where we first called you through."
Kent blinked. "What? How?"
"He had to find the place where your world was closest to the Digital World. We gathered here and used the energy to break through; that must have opened the portal in your world."
Kent reached out, and ran his fingers down the rough cracks and splintered rock. He pulled back, almost hesitant to press. "I don't suppose the rift is still here?"
The bug shook his head. "The rift moves. Well, technically it doesn't, but the Digital World moves around it. Every time it opens it goes somewhere else. Phoukamon must have been incredible lucky to pinpoint where it was going to be." The bug looked around, sadly. "I guess this must be all that's left of the Painted Woods. The Fire Forces must have destroyed them just after we left. There's no life left."
"That's the thing." Kent looked down at his partner. "Where I found you yesterday, there's moss growing all over the ground. Even some plant life."
Trilomon stopped, and looked at the ground. "That's weird…"
"Do you think the world could be healing itself?"
"After everything we've done? I highly doubt it. Besides, when an element is destroyed all traces of it slowly die away. You realise how cold it's been getting? Since the element of Fire's gone, all the heat's been slowly disappearing."
"But that can't be right. I swear, all this greenery, it's right there…"
"I believe you. I just don't know how-"
Trilomon suddenly gasped, and looked dead ahead, like a rabbit that had spotted a hunter. "Unless…"
Without warning, Trilomon scuttled out of the cave, with Kent following behind, yelling for his partner to slow down. The bug turned, looking frantically left and right. "Which way?"
Kent fumbled for a bit, before leading his partner to the mossy grove. Trilomon looked around for a moment, mumbling to himself and peering down at every scrap of colour like ti was a precious gem. Finally he stopped, and bent down, pressing the base of his head to the ground right in the centre of the largest cluster. He held it there, his eyes focused dead ahead. Kent swore he could hear his partner's faint trill travelling out into the earth.
"What is it?"
Slowly Trilomon got to his feet, looking back over his shoulder. "I'd recognise that...aura...anywhere."
"The element of Wood."
Kent's eyes widened. "What?"
"It's faint, but I can feel it. But…but it was destroyed…I was there. But this is unmistakeable."
"What happened to it?"
"Pikamon saved us all. He sacrificed himself to save us from a Fire Tyrant. But the element overloaded and all its energy was released. Without it the Wood Digimon would have died away. There shouldn't be anything left."
"As ten, as one…"
Kent held his hand to his chin, deep in thought. "Could they have known? Was this what they were trying to do?"
"Kent…what does this mean?"
The boy looked down. "I think you and I need to go on a little walk. I think we need to find the place where Pikamon fell."
"You think that's where we're meant to go?"
"It's better than any other idea I have." Kent looked out into the forests, and the patches of moss scattered all over. "And hey, at least we have a vague idea of where to go."
Cautiously, the two made their way through the dusty forest, making sure to follow the sporadic areas of greenery. Initially it was tough, since the trail of plant life would seemingly stop for a little while and then reappear some distance away. But as they carried on, the mossy areas began to join together, forming something resembling a path. Still, it was long going, and the sunlight was beginning to wane with both partners having little clue of where they were even going.
Kent looked down at his partner, who was trotting along happily beside him. "Did you really walk all this way? Just to get to that cave?"
"We came from the other side of the continent. Avoiding Fire soldiers, I might add. I don't know exactly where it was we passed through."
"No matter. I'm sure we'll get there." Kent sidestepped to avoid crushing a couple of blossoming sprouts. "Is it just me or is the earth seeming even more lifeless here?"
"I mean besides the plants. Don't you just get the feeling that something's...off? Something's pulling at the elemental link?"
The bug looked down. "I expect Nithhogg's already moving. Probably absorbing all the data it can find. It must be getting closer; we'll need to get a move on."
Kent hummed in response, cautiously looking over his shoulder. Everything was deceptively quiet here. Too quiet. Like the world might blink out of existence if he wasn't continuing to watch it."
"Did you really see it?"
The boy looked down, and noticed his partner staring straight ahead, not wanting to catch his eye. "Just before Phoukamon pulled you away. Was the world really half-gone?"
Kent sighed. "I don't know. I thought that's what I saw."
"What if we can't bring it back?"
"We will stop Nithhogg-"
"Even if we do, it's already destroyed countless lives." Trilomon looked up, his eyes glistening. "What do we do afterwards? How are we supposed to carry on with only a tiny piece of our world left?"
Kent stopped, eyes closed. Trilomon came to a halt a couple of steps in front of him, before turning, a worried look on his face. "Kent?"
Kent crouched down, and held the tiny insect in his arms, saying no words. Trilomon tensed a little, before relaxing, his armour flattening out. Kent held his partner by the shoulders.
"You and me, we've come this far. All of us set out to save this world. No matter how bad it gets, I promise I'm going to keep fighting to do that."
He held out his D-Nexus, the screen glowing a faint green. "We're from different worlds, but somehow we came together and we were able to make that bond. We're partners. Warriors of the earth. I've spent my entire life questioning everything and thinking everything is just going to happen however it happens. But now I'm going to actually do something. I'm going to change the world, or at least fight so I can. Are you with me?"
Trilomon sniffed, and nodded, profusely.
"Even when we've given everything we can."
"We'll just give a little more." Trilomon chuckled. "You know what, I never expected to come here. Born on my own in the Southern Daggers. I'm the one who was chosen to wield an element? It's crazy."
"Things work out in weird ways." Kent stood tall, hands on his hips. "We can question a lot of things. But in the end, we still have to move forward."
"Hey, Kent, what's that?"
Trilomon pointed with a claw, and Kent followed his gaze. The greenery had clumped together even more, and just in the distance he could make out something thicker. He signalled Trilomon to be careful, and together they headed forward, their feet digging into the moss and leaving fluffy imprints.
The dead trees finally thinned out, revealing a ravine that stretched for a vast distance in either direction. In one direction the two could make out the grey of the wastegrounds, in the other, the sharp peaks of the Southern Daggers, far off in the distance.
Kent heard his partner gasp, and looked over the edge himself. The ravine was verdant and beautiful. Great climbers snaked their way up and through the rock, each one covered with ornate blossoms and thorns as long as your foot. Twisted trees corkscrewed up, some of them sticking far out of the chasm, each one unique and covered in unblemished foliage. The base of the ravine was completely covered with a thick canopy, the tops of the trees swaying in the wind tunnel. The whole thing looked as if somebody had placed a tiny rainforest within this crack in the earth, stretching for about a kilometre in each direction.
Trilomon whistled. "I don't believe it…even after all this time…"
"I guess the element of Wood really isn't dead after all."
"But it will be when Nithhogg gets here." Trilomon looked up at his partner. "Unless we find it first."
"Retrieving the other elements. As ten, as one." Kent suddenly laughed, causing Trilomon to jump.
"What's so funny?"
"Phoukamon. That snickering bastard; they knew exactly where they were taking us." Kent looked south again, to where the sun was disappearing over the peaks. "I have a feeling the others are right where they need to be as well."
"Do you think they can figure it out?"
"Let's have faith in them. We've got our own mission." Kent crouched down, poking one of the great vines that had snaked its way over the lip of the crevasse. "What do you think? You're not afraid of heights, are you?"
Trilomon hummed in an irritated fashion, tapping the earth with his claw. "I think I'll stick to burrowing, thank you. Though you're very welcome to try climbing down. Do you think there's enough light?"
"Probably not. But as you said, we don't have long anyway. No time like the present."
He scouted a particularly thick vine, the width of a large tree trunk, and gently placed his weight upon it, holding onto one of the great thorns. He peered down, the canopy stretching out beneath him, seeming to let off a faint glow in the dusk. He looked upwards, and saw his partner looking worriedly at him. He grinned. "See you at the bottom."
Trilomon nodded, and walked back. Kent heard a scuffling sound as his partner went subterranean, and, bracing himself against the wind, he too began his long descent into the chasm.