Further into the abyss, the scent trail had abruptly vanished for the keen nosed Digimon. DAIS scans were intermittent at best. The signal faded in and out until Wendigomon's data could no longer be traced. And yet they proceeded past several more crossroads without second thought. Renamon led his allies on blind intuition. Time was too crucial a factor to stop to discuss the decision.
Wendigomon's signal reappeared to their relief. The map showed his blip as being shortly ahead of the group. As soon as Garret announced this, Trance sped off and left them far behind. They just as soon caught up and realized their error. The tunnel had met a dead end in an empty circular chamber.
Garret was the most irritated. "Where are they? It says they are right in front of us. Are they invisible? In a warp?"
"No, they are below us," Lloyd responded solemnly.
"Is there a secret way out of this room?" the boy continued as before, as if to ignore the implication.
"We made a wrong turn! We have to go back."
Dust drifted from the ceiling. The walls began to tremble and shed rocks. The intensity continued to climb until the room shook. Everyone had enough sense to clear away from the end of the tunnel before the far side caved in. The room was now covered in rubble and a cloud of dirt obscured the mass inside. In the haste to find a different path, the Digimon ran off and failed to notice what the boys pointed out to them. Drimogemon climbed out of the hill of rock he had just made by drilling his way to the room from the upper levels.
"Drimogemon!" they called out to him. They were impressed by the mole's remarkable ability to tunnel and how he managed to time his entrance so well.
"Oh, I am glad to have found you!"
"What's wrong? Weren't you going to stay with Armadimon?" Lloyd asked. He recalled Drimogemon being on the cowardly side, so it begged the question of his appearance.
"Armadimon is safe, but he was worried you would not find your way on your own. I told him that I would guide you. There's not much I can do to fight, but I can at least get you to the bottom of the cave."
"We don't have time for this!" Garret cried. "Which way do we go?"
"Down. I'm going to dig us a tunnel downward. It's the fastest way. Here, everyone get behind me. I'll show you why Drimogemon are known as the best diggers in the world!"
"I thought that was Digmon," Ward said.
Drimogemon did not appreciate the comment. "Just watch!" he barked.
The large horn drill on his snout did most of the work. It spun like a power tool and tore through the earth. The smaller claw drills helped to clear the way. He burrowed a hole that was only enough for himself to squeeze down but that was still plenty of room for the rest to follow through. The cramped tunnel was drilled through the wall of another chamber that they all climbed inside.
"Through there," Drimogemon said as he pointed through an archway that lead to double iron doors. The doors were already ajar, as the twins were not far ahead. "Up ahead is the digizoid wall. Nothing in the world is harder, so it should buy you some time."
Past the door, the cave became wide and open again. The rectangular room was spacious enough to fit a modest building. It was completely dark save for the opposite end of the entrance where a hexagonal pillar stretched from floor to ceiling. The pillar was surrounded by several short metallic pole lamps that protruded from the ground like stalagmite in a wider hexagonal pattern. The lamps illuminated the crimson metal of the smooth and featureless walls.
Chartreuse and Wendigomon stood before the lamps and turned to face their pursuers. The twins had no reason to fear any of the others. They patiently waited for the group to approach. It was not a rush as it had been in the pursuit. Despite how Ward subtly gritted his fangs and growled under his breath, they all knew better than to demonstrate themselves as aggressive.
"You followed me," the small rabbit stated. "Please, don't interrupt what I'm doing here. It does not concern you."
"We only want to ask a few questions, then we'll leave you alone," Lloyd assured. He was about to continue his earlier line of questioning when his partner Digimon did so for him.
"I want to know how or why a DAIS is bound to me. Why does it evolve me in this unnatural way? It is useful, of course, but I can only maintain the form for a brief amount of time. What purpose does this serve?" Trance spoke of all that had started this journey for him.
The twins held a brief glance of affection. Chartreuse smiled and said, "Digimon are very loyal. if a Digimon has something to protect, they become stronger. I do not fully understand how it works myself. It is an inherent part of a Digimon's being, in the code of their Digi-Core. The DAIS chooses two who are in alignment with each other so that they may mutually benefit. The user who is protected gains a powerful guardian, that goes without saying. The Digimon that the DAIS evolves will not age and can attain levels of power they could not alone. The DAIS can read and manipulate the code in the Digi-Core in ways that are not possible through the 'natural' progression of time."
"But why?" the fox emphasized. "Why us and not others?"
"You were just lucky I guess. I do not know why the DAIS is only for a chosen few. Perhaps it is to limit the incredible power it offers. The world itself is its own entity with a code and intention. Perhaps Arcadia chose you."
"Why are the Royal Knights after you?" Garret inquired. He changed the subject as he felt it was his turn to ask a question, although it turned out to be the correct one.
"They do not want me to have a DAIS. I wasn't chosen like you were. Through my knowledge and curiosity, I acquired one. Apparently that is the kind of entropy that the world does not like. They have always chased me. The began to chase me even though it is not my desire to hurt anyone.
"They do not want me to be here, but I have just as much right to be here as you. I think so, anyway. Digital Arcadia is a paradise for the users. I wanted to experience that paradise. I wanted the freedom that could only be afforded through being a user. They don't want me to have the power to control my own fate. I had the initiative to make it this far. I feel I deserve it. That's why the Royal Knights hunt me."
During the monologue, Chartreuse turned to face the protective barrier and contemplated on the device in his hand. Too much had come to pass to come this far for him to stop. Imminent pursuit of the Royal Knights was a constant threat that he managed to stay one step ahead of at every turn. Divulging what information he had was of no consequence to him. It was the clock that inspired such urgency. Time was wasted by talking.
The DAIS screens were flipped through too fast for the humans to make much sense of it. Chartreuse's DAIS had a different looking interface on top of that. After all of his selections were complete, he held it up high with the screen facing the Digizoid bulwark. Concentrated green light formed a cone in its direction. The composition of the Digizoid was reprogrammed by the DAIS and replaced by average rock instantaneously.
"What are you doing? What did you come here for?" Garret shouted. He was ignored. The twins bore no ill will. They merely had no reason to let their secret be known to everyone.
The silent twin had bulging muscles and a sharp maw, although it had no need to use them. Gravity and time were inside his domain and bent to his wishes. Control of this technique was imperfect and clumsy. Rage and desire were the driving forces behind the magic and caused the results to be inconsistent. Through his patience and bond to the Terriermon, he stored his frustration. Digizoid was too solid for his powers to dismantle, but the now ordinary wall was hardly an obstacle. A slow, methodical punch sent a wave of energy forth to tear apart the rock.
Inside was a pedestal of glossed white plastic, square and about three feet high, that housed a fiery beacon of sorts. The crimson energy bathed the entire chamber in its radiance. The light emitted from a brick red chip inserted in the pedestal like a flash drive. None of them were able to get a close look at the object before Chartreuse hopped up to pull it out. He immediately utilized his DAIS once more to place the object into an extra dimensional pocket. The blazing torch had been extinguished from existence.
"What was that? Explain to us what this is all about!" the impatient human implored.
"You can't take that! The Royal Knights entrusted it to us! No good can come of disrupting the balance of the world. They call you a scoundrel and I now see that it is indeed true," the mole said. It was a surprise to all that Drimogemon mustered the courage to talk down to Chartreuse.
"Stay out of our way," he responded sternly. "Stand down or I'll be forced to make you. I don't want to hurt anyone."
"Then put it back! It does not belong to you!" Drimogemon barked as he advanced towards the demolished pillar.
"My fate does belong to me!" the rabbit roared. "To obstruct my path towards freedom and happiness is the only injustice here. I've had enough of you. Remove him, Wendigomon."
The beast snarled with a hideous grin. He was at last allowed to unleash his power. With a hefty lumbering sweep of his thick limbs, the heavy mole was tossed against the far cavern wall at a crushing velocity. The creature groaned in pain as he fell to the floor.
Ward, with his predisposed hate of Virus Digimon and personal inclination towards the protection of others, refused to stand idle any longer. The sight of the suffering native was all that was required for an excuse to act.
"Garret! We're doing this now!" he growled.
The feeling was mutual between human and Digimon. Garret activated the evolution sequence. His dragon partner's body was enveloped in a fire not unlike the object's energy shortly before. Ward was augmented to grow in size and covered in implants and armor. As Reptiledramon, he charged at his quarry.
Wendigomon countered in turn with a circular gesture of the hands about an imaginary sphere in his palms. A vortex of gravity magic spun to entrap his belligerent aggressor. The dragon felt his own immense weight several times over. Each step was labored and agonizing. After only a few steps, the gravity field dragged him to the ground. The Reptiledramon was flat on his stomach and unable to move an inch.
Hearing the speech of Chartreuse's deeds and desires left Lloyd conflicted. To the Royal Knights, Chartreuse was the enemy of order. A threat to the organized system that kept everything as it should be. From the other perspective, they oppress his liberty. His explanation showed no sign of ill intentions. The only real hint of darkness and destruction was from the partner Digimon. It was difficult to ascertain the full picture. Lloyd surmised that whatever the chip contained was the key to the deeper truth. There was little promise of any more answers coming from the twins, however.
Lloyd sensed his Digimon's agitation with the inaction. It didn't seem right to stand by and do nothing, but it also didn't seem right to attack someone with unknown motives. Trance hoped to evolve for the skirmish, if only to defend his allies. As a user, Lloyd held the ultimate decision of that power. His hesitation prevented the possibility for evolution.
The fox sprung into action regardless. A Renamon would be more than enough of a match for a Terriermon, who was also a child. Wendigomon was occupied with Reptiledramon, so he dashed in while he had the chance. He was wary enough of the gravity field to curve his approach around it.
Chartreuse was on guard and saw the advance. The rabbit spun like a top. Long ears were twirled around in a blur. A tunnel of wind formed around him.
"Petite Twister!" he announced as he threw the whirlwind in Trance's direction. The tornado's trajectory failed to account for the curved dash and missed. Before he could mount another attack, the fox snatched him up by the back of the neck. Terriermon thrashed with his ears to no avail. He rained blows upon the hardened monk and growled, "What are you doing? Leave me alone! Let me go!"
"It was rude of you to ignore their questions. I think you owe a better explanation for what you're doing here," Trance stated firmly, unaffected by Chartreuse's pathetic writhing. "You realize being caught stealing warrants that much, don't you?"
"Wendigomon! Help me!"
The spacetime manipulator released his hold on the dragon and turned his attention towards assisting his friend. His powers were focused around himself. A ripple in space formed and stretched out. Wendigomon was pulled through and instantly appeared behind Trance. To avoid the same treatment as the immobile Reptiladramon, the Trance relinquished his grip and retreated. In midair, the fleeing fox's jump slowed to a halt. Like a bungee cord, the tether of gravity magic snapped its mark backwards out the leap and into the stone. A single adult Digimon had made short work of the three who opposed him.
While the humans assessed the situation and their Digimon were incapacitated, the twins made their escape. Perception of the event was the most strange for Lloyd and Garret who witnessed a flicker of reality. They did not immediately understand what happened, or even if anything happened at all. Before the flicker, the twins stood before them. Then, they vanished as if they were never there to begin with. It left them in a disorienting haze.
"What just happened?" Garret asked.
"I'm not really sure," Lloyd said. "They're gone now, though. Is everyone okay?"
The Digimon collected themselves and summoned the strength to stand up. Ward had degenerated into his usual shape. Trance looked more annoyed than usual. Drimogemon was disappointed in his failure to uphold his duty. They were battered and bruised but no one sustained any serious injuries. They stated as such as they drew in to form a circle with the rest of the group.
"Well...What now? Do we see how far the rabbit hole goes?" Lloyd asked. "He clearly knows more than he's saying. But surely someone else knows something, or at least where to look. Is there anywhere we can go to find a lot of Digimon? So far we've only visited small villages."
"That was a bad joke and you should feel bad," Garret chided. "We should go to Divine Castle. It's the closest from here so we can get there in time for dinner. There are a lot of Digimon there. And a library."
"And food! So much food!" Ward desperately cried. Evolution had given him an appetite.
Garret continued, "We can get warm beds for the night, too. They have a bustling town inside of the castle walls so we went back there a few times already."
"That sounds great," Lloyd cheered. "I think I speak for all of us when I say a rest is in order. Maybe someone will know something useful, too."
Drimogemon lead towards the chamber's entrance. "Come. I'll show you the way out," he grumbled. Loss of the chip weighed heavily on his conscience, even if he had no clue what the object's purpose was. Armadimon joined them at the surface to bid them farewell on their journey across the plains.
Shortly after arrival in the region that the DAIS displayed as the Neko Plains, an expanse of rolling grassland with sparse vegetation, a gray structure came into sight on the horizon. Ash grey fortress walls with guard towers and walkways guarded the town inside. Garret pointed it out and explained a little about it as they drew near. It was an impressive fortress with reliable defenses. The soldiers made it safe from the threats that lurked outside. Luckily, humans were familiar and not seen as a threat.
The promise of comfort and nourishment motivated them all to trudge forward. They eagerly awaited the go ahead by the gatekeepers who peeped down at them from the tall towers above. Divine Castle's heavy iron gate was hoisted up by a system of chain pulleys and the party headed inside of the inviting bastion.