Episode 12: Commands the Mind

  dark                              light

The defeat of Behemon had left a huge crevice in the village of the Bearmon and Liollmon, a hole in the ground. Around it the earth had cracked and shattered as the night before Behemon had risen up to fight against Kotenmon.

Rubimon had noticed almost immediately in the morning how one crevice was nothing like the others. It was wider, more deliberate, as if it had been built into the earth long before the village had been created around it. She wondered if perhaps Behemon had been purposely placed beneath the ground to guard the site, but it was not something she mentioned to her companions.

The space was wide enough for them to travel through, and Rubimon investigated a little, walking through the underground tunnel a few feet to see what else she could find. She discovered that built through the earth was an underground track, perfectly preserved and safe to walk upon, as it was dug into the soil. The smell was damp and light was minimal, but it was something worth investigating, especially as Rubimon discovered just how it might assist them all on their journey as she pored over the map while they ate breakfast.

“We can use this underground tunnel to pass beneath this more rocky terrain here,” Rubimon explained, pointing to a group of triangular images on the map. “Otherwise we would have to go around or over the mountains. Going beneath will probably cut days off our journey.”

Katrina pushed her hair off her shoulder, tying it to one side in a loose bun. “You're sure it's safe?”

“From where I walked it seemed sturdy,” Rubimon replied. She could see the wariness on each of their faces, not just the faces of the humans but of the Digimon as well, and she understood their apprehension perfectly.

Adrian rolled his head on his shoulder and pushed his glasses up on his nose. “It seems... a touch convenient, no?”

“Yeah.” Ryan scratched his head, then Anzumon's as the griffin head-butted him for attention. “Built into the walls of a village we happen to visit. Doesn't that seem a little... well... too good to be true?”

Blaire tutted, twirling her hair around her finger. “Pur-lease, you're such babies,” she commented sweetly. “It means we can cut days off our journey, does that mean nothing? Not all of our Digimon are capable of flight, like Melusimon.” She looked at Grindymon, who tucked herself behind Katrina to avoid the other woman's gaze. “It'd be nice to get where going faster.”

“Absolutely,” Katrina agreed, “but let's be logical here. This is the Digital World, it's not a particularly predictable or friendly place.”

“Where's your sense of adventure!” Blaire laughed, pushing herself off the wall and grabbing Katrina's hands. She pulled the other woman to her feet forcefully.

“You're chipper this morning,” Anzumon commented, raising a long blue eyebrow. Katrina steadied herself on the wall while Blaire grabbed Muertomon, a more willing partner, and spun him.

“Is that a problem?” Blaire quipped back playfully. “I had a good night's sleep, I have a full belly of food, and I am eager to get moving! So let's get moving!”

“Good mood aside,” Ryan laughed, placating Blaire with his hands raised, “let's... be sensible about this, eh?” He turned his attention to Rubimon, ignoring how Blaire pouted in his direction. “If we travelled through the crevice, would it get us any closer to a vial?”

Rubimon studied the map for a moment, Karumon peering over her shoulder like a shadow, not really understanding the markings that decorated the pages before him.

“It wouldn't get us closer in the sense of distance, no,” Rubimon admitted, after a few minutes of quiet. “But it would get us closer in a sense of time. These mountains,” she pointed to them, “are not nice to try and traverse. Even flying Digimon avoid going over them because of altitude and how easily the weather changes.”

Karumon sat back on his haunches. “So we wouldn't have even been able to go over them if we wanted to?” he asked.

“No. It would be too dangerous.”

Adrian smirked. “And I didn't bring my snowboard.”

“Right.” Rubimon rolled her amber eyes. “My original thought was to go around. A journey that would take three weeks, maybe more depending on weather, speed, and any Digimon we might meet.”

“And going through this crevice?” Katrina crossed her arms. “How much time would that cut from the estimated three weeks?”

The dragon sighed. “A lot. Almost all of it. It would take us a matter of days to go beneath the mountain, rather than around it. It's a more direct route.”

“Because it's underground it probably has no Digimon inhabiting it, so to speak,” Grindymon piped up softly. “So the chances of having to fight are minimalized.”

“That too.” Rubimon nodded her head. “Ultimately,” she looked at Ryan, Adrian, Blaire, and Katrina, “it is your choice, I will follow what you choose to do. But as your guide, I am simply offering you my... guidance.”

“I don't particularly like the idea of being underground of an extended period of time...,” Anzumon remarked, spreading his wings. “I doubt there's much room for flying. Not to mention it's probably damp, and smelly, and cold.”

“You'd prefer to spend two weeks walking around the mountains?” Muertomon replied to him, crossing his arms beneath his poncho.

“No,” Anzumon huffed. “Why don't the rest of you have forms that can fly?” he complained.

“Technically, Melusimon is the only one of our forms that can actually fly,” Karumon said cheerfully. “As Kotenmon you can just jump a lot, and glide.” He grinned.

Anzumon narrowed his eyes at the bear cub, who sat happily with Adrian. “I suppose you'd want to roll in a ball and bounce all the way there.”

Karumon blinked twice owlishly. “That would be fun!” he exclaimed, hopping on his four paws. “Bounce! Bounce! Bounce!” He hopped around Adrian, causing his partner to laugh.

“I'm all for going through the crevice,” Blaire announced. “I think it's smarter than walking around a mountain range, adding who knows how much unnecessary time to our trip.” She slipped her hands onto her hips and glanced at Muertomon. “You with me?”

“Always,” Muertomon replied, without missing a beat. He grinned at her.

“So we have one pair for going through the underground route,” Rubimon said. That was better than she had hoped. She truly had no idea how long it would take them to travel through the mountain to get to the other side of the crevice. In fact, she didn't know if there even was an exit on the other side, or if they would have to make their own exit. Regardless, the fact that it would cut time off their trip she felt would be a positive thing.

For Blaire it was clear. Her brother was trapped in the Circle, and there was no telling what was happening to him or the others while in a state of crystallized sleep. Rubimon had no idea if they would be aging; if their bodies would work the same way in the Digital World, and in a comatose state, as they did in the real world.

Katrina was next to speak up. “I'm not exactly a fan of being underground. I... don't even like the subway,” she admitted, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear while fiddling with her long earring. “But,” she continued, “I think going around would be a waste of time, especially when a faster option is presented to us.”

“I can light the way,” Grindymon added, her lantern illuminating for effect.

“Boys?” Blaire looked at them, after exchanging a grin with Katrina. “Your call.”

Ryan and Adrian passed glances. Adrian raised an eyebrow and adjusted his glasses, and Ryan stretched his arms out in front of him.

“I think going around is safer,” Ryan admitted. “Going through a mountain just seems like walking into danger.” He saw a small scowl cross Blaire's face. “Sorry, but I do.”

“That's fine,” Rubimon said, placating any argument before it started. “We're all entitled to an opinion. But if it should come to going through the mountain, if the majority vote is to do that, you will come along.” It wasn't a request, more an order, and Ryan knew that.

The scarlet dragon turned her eyes to Adrian.

“Da' faster we get to our goal, da' faster we get home, no?” He shrugged nonchalantly. “I say go with the faster option. We'll just have to deal with anything dat' comes our way.”

Rubimon nodded. “Alright.” She didn't show it, but she was relieved that the underground path was what they had chosen. It was the more sensible option, and she was also surprised they had made the choice with little-to-no input from her. “Gather your things, we'll leave as soon as you're all ready.”

-----------------------------

The Liollmon and Bearmon did not give the group a sendoff, like they had received from the Biyomon. They barely registered them as they walked through the village and down the winding earthen paths to reach the very bottom of the village. Occasionally they would glance at them and bid them goodbye, but there was no swooning, or long-term waving as they disappeared inside the cavern.

It was something Anzumon took great offense to, and wasted no time in airing his annoyance about.

“We destroyed the thing controlling them,” he grumbled, stalking alongside Ryan's long strides. “They could at least be grateful.”

“I'm sure they were in their own way,” Adrian replied blithely. “Nothin' to get fussy about now.”

“Hmph,” Anzumon huffed, sitting his snout in the air as he continued to walk.

Ryan rubbed the Digimon's head gently, and allowed him to pass as the path grew a little narrower the further they ventured down it.

He was surprised to be able to stand up to his full height. The crack in the earth was just taller than he was, and wide enough for him to not feel constricted or feel the need to duck, though he did if something coming up seemed lower than the rest of the cavern around him. He held his hand against the walls, earth coming away as his fingers brushed the soil. It was more to keep himself steady, because even though there were no spaces on either side of the pathway, and no way to fall or hurt oneself, it was dark, and the wall helped to keep him on track.

He didn't think anyone had expected the crevice to get so dark so quickly. They seemed to have only just left the earth town before the darkness swallowed them and Grindymon's pale yellow light was the only source they had.

Luckily, while in their own real world and packing, they had all thought ahead and packed flashlights – with batteries to spare – in case such a situation arose, or if they needed to travel at night. They had all paused for a few minutes to retrieve the lights and bring some more illumination in the caves.

Anzumon had not been wrong about it being cold and damp. The smell was musty, overwhelming to the senses but not wholly unpleasant, just exceptionally strong. The earth and rock that surrounded them was tightly packed and wet to the touch, but it didn't crumble when touched, which was a good thing as far as Ryan was concerned.

Rubimon led the way with Grindymon being her living, breathing flashlight, while the others all followed.

The path seemed relatively straight as they walked; there were no major obstructions, at least nothing that couldn't be moved by the Digimon or by everyone pushing or pulling. They seemed to be making good headway walking through the rock in their small, tightly packed group. There was no telling, of course, just how long they had been walking or even if they had moved very far into the mountain.

Despite the blackness that surrounded them, moods were high and jovial, people bantering back and forth, conversation moving easily.

When Rubimon decided it would be a good time to sit and take a rest no one disagreed with her, and they all sat, laying their flashlights to one side to keep them well illuminated, with Grindymon glowing in the middle of them all.

“This isn't as bad as all that,” Ryan remarked, chewing on a piece of bread from his backpack. “I wouldn't like to live here, but it could be worse.”

“I like it,” Blaire said. “It’s quiet and dark. Kind of spooky.”

“You would like it, cher.” Adrian grinned at her.

Earth crumbled a little as Muertomon carved shapes into the soil with the tip of his finger. “How far do you think this path leads?”

“A few miles,” Rubimon remarked. “We won't get through here in a day.” She took one of the flashlights from the ground and took a few steps further. “It just disappears into the darkness.”

“At least it's relatively straight and level,” Blaire said, shrugging her shoulders. “No random paths to go down and get lost in. No hills.”

“That's true,” agreed Anzumon. “I don't want to be down here longer than is necessary. This atmosphere is going to play havoc with my feathers,” he added, ruffling them for emphasis.

Ryan couldn't help but grin at the griffin, and smoothed down the feathers on his head and back, as if to console him.

Karumon seemed happy enough, digging his paws into the soil. Though clearly meant for colder climates, he seemed to have no issues with this terrain or location whatsoever. He had wandered alongside Adrian the whole time, happily humming to himself, and now enjoyed making foot prints in the earth with Muertomon.

“You're quiet Katrina,” Rubimon remarked, returning to the small group and laying the flashlight beside the red head. The young woman was staring up, her head arched back and leaning on her hands. “Something wrong?”

“Lights,” Katrina said, twisting her head this way and that. “I see lights.”

The others turned their gazes skyward, expecting to see sunlight breaking through holes above them. For a few moments it was just the sound of breathing, until Blaire cleared her throat.

“I don't see any lights.”

“Me neither,” Ryan shrugged.

“You sure you're not hallucinating, cher?” Adrian inquired. “Lack of oxygen, no?”

“I'm not hallucinating,” Katrina retorted. “And you might not be able to see them because they're faint. Here, turn off your flashlights.” She clicked hers off, and slowly the others followed her example. “Grindymon, can you turn down the glowing?”

“Oh,” Grindymon started, hearing herself addressed, “yes, yes. Of course.” With a little concentration on her part, Grindymon was able to dim the light on her head until it was almost completely out.

All eyes turned upward, straining to see the lights Katrina was talking about. They each breathed quietly, just that sound filling the air between them.

“There!” Blaire said excitedly pointing. “I saw one. A straight line, right? Really dim.”

“Yeah,” Katina confirmed, with a nod of her head. “All different colors.”

“That's...”

“Weird?” Anzumon finished Rubimon's sentence for her. He was standing up on all four legs. “What does that mean?”

“I have no idea,” Rubimon admitted, surprised by this new discovery. In all her time in the Digital World she had never seen anything like this: lights, in the earth. She had seen and witnessed her fair share, so she wasn't exactly surprised. The Digital World was full of the strange and unusual, but still, this was a cause for worry for her.

Did these lights mean something? Did they lead to an enemy? A vial, a way out? A cross roads?

“I think we should follow them,” Karumon said, standing on his hind legs and leaning on the cavern wall to get closer. “I think they're pretty.”

“I'm not sure that's such a good idea,” Grindymon said. “What if they're dangerous? A distraction of some form?”

“Rubimon said herself there were no other paths,” Blaire said, rising from her seat and brushing dirt from her legs and backside. “What're the chances the lights aren't going the same way we are?”

“Fair point,” Grindymon sighed. Her light grew a little brighter as Katrina got to her feet. “What do you think?”

“Let's... see if the lights go the same way we are,” Katrina said slowly. “If they are, maybe we're meant to follow them?”

“It's a theory,” Ryan murmured, following the others as they rose from their places and grabbed their flashlights, ready to continue their walking through the mountain. “Let's see where they lead. If they go off to a separate path, then we'll make a decision from there.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Rubimon agreed.

They began to move quickly, the lights interesting them far more than the darkness of the cavern and its long, straight pathway.

Katrina took the lead, as she seemed to be the one who could see the lights the best. Behind her, Rubimon and Grindymon lit the way for the others, who all followed in single file. The pathway seemed to narrow to the point that in places Ryan was forced to turn sideways to get through, due to his height and broad shoulders.

The lights were growing brighter the further they walked.

The streams of light at first had been faint, like catching the tail of a shooting star, something that one only caught a glimpse of, but the more they walked and the deeper into the mountain they went, the brighter they became. All different colors, pinks and reds which mutated into yellows and oranges. Yellows and blues that combined to become green, pink drifted into different shades of purple. In a way it was beautiful to watch and look at, and soon the differently-colored lights above them were bright enough that their flashlights and Grindymon's lamp were no longer necessary.

It was almost magical to see, and they traveled the same pathway that the group took, never veering off to a hidden path, or stopping abruptly.

Soon, the lights were descending, trickling down the walls of the cavern like small streams and waterfalls. They moved fluidly, dripping and sliding down the rocks and the earth, surrounding the group in color.

“This is... amazing,” Katrina commented, coming to a stop.

There was no telling how long they had been walking since their first stop, but no one had bothered to comment or to complain. They were all completely enraptured by the phenomenon before them.

“It's like our own person aurora.”

“What's that?” inquired Karumon, sticking his paw into the lights, entertained by how his white fur changed from white to red, to blue, to magenta without him moving it.

“Lights,” Adrian replied, pushing his glasses up his face.

“Extraordinary,” Rubimon breathed. “I've never seen anything like this in my life.”

“What is it?” Ryan asked.

He tapped at the buttons on his D-Ex. He was willing some information to arise above the screen, to tell not just him, but the others, just what it was they were experiencing here.

“Water? It moves like water,” Blaire said. She held her hand out, cupped, in an attempt to catch the colored material. Her skin stayed dry and unfilled.

Katrina squinted. “It’s data.”

“Data?” repeated Anzumon. “Like what we're made out of?”

“Yeah. It's a... a data stream,” she confirmed, nodding. “I think.” She sounded a little less certain.

“Which means?” Blaire inquired. “For those of us not as tech savvy as you are, Kat.”

Katrina thought for a moment, scratching her chin. “It’s basically how data is moved around. Binary, ones and zeroes are transferred incredibly fast when you click a new web page or download a video. These data streams are transferring and transporting information.”

“What information?” Muertomon peered up at the colors. The butterflies around him seemed disappointed they were unable to land on any of it. “Can you read it?”

“Tch.” Katrina shook her head. “Not when it's going this speed. If I had a transcript, and maybe a week - then yeah. Sure. I could give you a translation, but with it going like this... no way.”

“Let's keep moving,” Rubimon insisted. “Perhaps we'll find more information further in?”

There was a murmur of agreement as they continued to walk.

Around them, the intensity of the streams grew. The colors were growing brighter, and the changing of them more frequent. It was like being in a laser show, or having a light show around them constantly. The streams moved more quickly, information passing through each of them rapidly but silently, the only noise filling the air was the breathing of the party of nine.

Swiftly they were surrounded by it, engulfed by the colors and the streams as they wrapped around each being like ribbons on a present. They were harmless, yet each stream of data emitted warmth; an almost tangible feeling and emotion, they ebbed from each different stream, as if what was surrounding them was a manifestation of something living and breathing.

“Do you think these could be the data streams of dead Digimon?” Anzumon asked after a while of walking in silence.

“Perhaps,” Rubimon said.

“So could Mesilamon and Vazkamon be in there somewhere?” Karumon spoke from the back of the group.

“Quite possible,” said Rubimon vaguely.

“Muertomon, watch out!” Blaire's voice rose from within their single file line.

“One of my butterflies is gone!” cried Muertomon, looking frantically around for the fluttering creature.

“Careful!” Blaire exclaimed again. “Stop shoving!”

“I need to find it!” exclaimed Muertomon. He nudged Blaire out of the way to check behind her, then Karumon and Adrian. “Did you eat it?!” He pointed at Karumon.

“No!” Karumon shook his head. “Who'd want to eat a butterfly?”

“You would!” Muertomon raged, his worry growing.

“Easy, little man,” Adrian drawled. “Karumon didn't eat nothin'.”

“See! See!” Karumon wailed.

“It can't have gone far,” Ryan reasoned. “It's not like it’s got far to go.”

“But I need it!”

“There it is!” Grindymon remarked, spotting the stray butterfly above Muertomon's head.

“Come back here you!” Muertomon leapt up, jumping to try and cup the butterfly in his hands. It dodged and flew higher due to the breeze from Muertomon's leap. “Wait!” He ran for it, ran at Karumon, leaped onto his back and then for the butterfly again, hands and arms open.

His body slammed into Adrian's, and they both tumbled backwards out of the bright data streams.

“ADRIAN!”

“MUERTOMON!”

Blaire and Ryan both cried out as the two beings disappeared and didn't reappear for several seconds. Panic was etched on both their faces as they stood side-by-side, waiting for their companions.

The worst case scenario ran through each mind. There was a crevice on either side of the data stream. Maybe they had fallen down it, and they would never find them again in a dark pit of this mountainous cavern. Or that they were just falling and falling, that there was no bottom to a ravine between here and the rest of the earth and stone.

“Uh...y'all,” Adrian's voice was first. It was not far away and he sounded unhurt. “You need to see dis'.”

With a small frown which she exchanged with Ryan and Katrina, Blaire reached her hand into the data stream that obscured their vision and it went through, traveling straight through the bright colors to an emptiness beyond.

“It's safe, Blaire,” Muertomon assured. “It's totally safe. We're fine!” To prove it, Muertomon popped his head through the bright colors, grinning widely.

The remaining seven followed, stepping through the data stream and into what lay beyond.

As soon as they had all left the colorful data, it dispersed around them and the ribbons flew off in all manner of directions.

They found themselves in something like a chamber, stark white with the differently-colored data floating around, trying to make sense of itself. Images floated around them, of faces and flowers, trees and objects, faint, and strangely childlike in how they appeared. As if a toddler had drawn each and every thing they saw that floated around them, and manifested from the multicolored data.

“Where the Hell are we?” Blaire asked, her question echoing through the whiteness. She glanced at Rubimon, who looked as stunned, awestricken, and confused as the rest of them.

“Is this like, the center of the world?” Ryan inquired, leaning back on his heels.

Anzumon spread his wings and ruffled them, sniffing carefully at a floating image of a bird that swooped past him.

“Dis' looks like somethin' from an anime,” Adrian admitted.

“The data streams are becoming what they are supposed to be,” Katrina remarked. “If everything in the Digital World is data, then... that makes sense.”

“Okay,” Blaire twirled her hair around her finger, “but why does everything look like it's been drawn with wax crayons?”

Katrina shrugged. “I'm a genius, not an expert on the Digital World. I'm just putting a theory out there.”

Katrina's pocket began to beep, the familiar sound they had all come to know well enough and dread.

“Colossus,” Anzumon remarked, immediately on edge and wary as he began looking for their target.

“I don't see one,” Karumon murmured.

“Just because you can't see one, doesn't mean it isn't there,” Grindymon replied gently, keeping to Katrina's shoulder and gazing around warily.

“Should we start moving?” asked Ryan. “Try and find it?”

“That... would be wise,” Rubimon replied slowly, still staring at the images floating around them.

They moved together in a group, safety in numbers. Katrina held her D-Ex, to try and pinpoint the location of the Colossus and the vial, but the tone never changed, nor did the speed of the noise.

“He...”

“Did you guys hear that?” Blaire asked, stopping the group as she stood straight.

“Hear what?” asked Karumon.

“A voice.”

“... ire...”

“There, again.”

“Just your voice,” Anzumon remarked, tiredly. “Can't we focus on one thing at a time?”

“...scape... pped... lp...”

“I hear it too,” Ryan said slowly. “Voices. Disembodied and... weird.”

“Right!” Blaire looked at him eagerly. “Just echoes, right?”

“Yeah.”

“... rian... ad... rian...”

Karumon blinked his orange eyes up at Adrian. “That sounded like your name.”

“... cir... bimon...”

The bleeping of Katrina's D-Ex forgotten for a moment, they each focused on the new noises, which seemed to grow louder the more they listened.

Voices. Broken, confused. Unable to say full words, but words that were somewhat recognizable, but not in the context of which they were used. Slow, broken, fragmented words, in different tones and different voices, belonging to different beings.

“We can't understand you,” Grindymon said aloud, hoping the broken beings speaking to them would understand.

“Shh,” Blaire snapped harshly.

Her attention was focused. A figure was before her, for the first time a manifestation from the data that didn't look like a child's drawing, and that seemed to be forcing its way into a state of being.

She gasped.

Certainly he was not as he should have looked, more like a distorted image from a bad television screen, all broken and fuzzy with interference. He was translucent too, like a ghost or a hologram, and his whole image was in different shades of blue. But she knew him, she knew him as well as he knew her. From the tear tattoo to the swagger of his walk.

“Rey...,” she breathed out slowly. With all her might she wanted to hug him, but he wasn't there, she would fall straight through him. Her eyes prickled, it was the first time she had realized how much she had missed her older brother.

Other beings were manifesting, some with more of a struggle than others, and some not at all, despite how they struggled and tried.

“Boss!” Adrian flicked his fingers at the pink visage of Eva before him, in her Fluffy Muffin uniform. Beside her, glowing green, was Tom.

All three of them looked confused, out of place, and bewildered, as if they were waking up from some form of induced sleep. Their voices echoed over each other, mangled and broken.

“.. aire...”

“It's me! I'm coming to save you, Rey!” Blaire said, stepping towards the image of her brother.

“These are the previous Tamers,” Rubimon explained to Katrina and Ryan, who made no connection with any of the people in front of them. “But... how...”

“ ... ata... ore...” Eva's voice echoed around them, though her mouth did not move

“Concentrate,” Adrian said. “We can't understand you.”

Determination appeared on Eva's face, and frustration on Reyez's, both of them had furrowed brows. “ ... Core...,” Eva's voice growled.

“What about it?” Rubimon asked urgently. “Be swift, you may not be able to retain these forms for long.”

“... we... know...”

“Don't waste time then, Rey,” Blaire snapped.

“... Circle...,” Reyez spoke. “... in... Circle...”

“We know,” Ryan explained, speaking for the first time. “We found you there before. We can't get you out. We're trying to.”

“... Vials...,” Tom murmured. “... get... als...”

Before any more could be said, the bleeping of Katrina's D-Ex increased and it began screaming.

“Company!” Muertomon announced. The images of Reyez, Eva, and Tom all disappeared in puffs of color.

“FUCK!” Blaire cried, reaching for the image of her brother before he disappeared.

Her distraction was not for long, above them floated the Colossus they had been looking for.

Smaller than any they had previously come across, it appeared as the others, made of stone and covered in moss, dirt, and with parts missing through eons of erosion. Two heads peered down, of serpents, mouths open, bright yellow eyes glowing and eyeing the small clustered group hungrily.

The image appeared above Katrina's D-Ex.

“Behemon-WAV,” she said slowly. “I can't tell where the vial might be.” In patterns all across the body of the Behemon were jewels and stones, each glowing the same yellow as their eyes, so many it was hard to pinpoint which one could or would contain a vial, if the vial was even within one of them.

“Let's focus on defeating it,” Ryan quipped. “Then on where we can find the vial.”

“I like dat' plan,” Adrian admitted. “Doesn't look too tough,” he added casually. “No worse than da' one before.”

Katrina winced, but said nothing in return, watching the stone creature above them tensely. She could feel Grindymon beside her, and Anzumon behind with Ryan. Karumon and Muertomon were also with their partners, waiting for their new enemy to make a move.

Rubimon was tense and hot beside them, crimson flames spewing from her maw as she breathed.

Gradually, Behemon moved, slowly to begin with, the rock and stone it was made of cracking and creaking like nothing they had heard before. Unlike the others, this one hissed and snarled as it breathed, rather than groaned or growled.

The two heads grew separate from one another, dividing and drifting further apart as the body – which had once appeared to be one – grew into two separate bodies, displaying two separate parts to the monster.

The two hovered above the small group, waiting, silent.

“Well that hardly seems fair,” remarked Anzumon.

“They're still outnumbered,” retorted Muertomon with a snort.

“Right.” Karumon scratched his paws on the ground. “Let's charge!” The three of them raced ahead, through the humans, Grindymon above them.

The Behemon flew, one to the left and the other to the right. One dashed towards the Rookies and slapped them away with a mighty flick of its tail, the other came behind and head-butted them into the ground. They returned to the air a moment later, though their whole attack had taken barely two seconds.

Ryan swallowed hard. “They're quick.”

“We'll have to be quicker,” growled Anzumon, glaring fiercely at his opponents, apparently unscathed and unfazed by the fast attack.

His eyes glowed, and he and his companions raced forth again.

-----------------------------

“Anzumon, Plasma Evolve to... Kotenmon!”

“Muertomon, Plasma Evolve to... Pelmamon!”

“Grindymon, Plasma Evolve to... Melusimon!”

“Karumon, Plasma Evolve to... Berserkermon!”

Together, the four Champions charged. Melusimon took off into the air, her hands and tail awash with black vapor. Kotenmon was airborne, leaping from the ground, static clung to his huge claw hands and rippled across his body, while below them both Berserkermon and Pelmamon readied themselves. Venom dripped from Pelmamon's fangs, staining the white ground pink, and icicles stuck up out of Berserkermon's fur.

There was nowhere for the humans to hide, all they could do was back as far away as they could. Rubimon stood before them, her arms held out protectively in a vain attempt to protect them should Behemon come near them. Scarlet fire licked around her jaw as she held it open as an obvious threat, though she knew she would be no match for the Behemon.

For moments that dragged, the twin serpent stone creatures gazed at their opposing Champions. Beady black eyes, sharp, intelligent. Unlike previous Behemon, it was clear these two could think, were thinking, capable of acting for themselves, and not just as part of a program.

“What...are they waiting for?” hissed Blaire.

“Shh,” Rubimon replied harshly. She couldn't afford to be distracted, and their own Digimon couldn't afford a moment's distraction either.

Pelmamon's skull markings on his abdomen began to glow, along with his fangs.

“Venom Cannon!” He released the pink blast, shooting straight for the area between the split colossus. As anticipated, the two snakes went in opposite direction to dodge.

Melusimon released her wave of black waters, joining and surrounding Berserkermon's frozen fists as they raced towards the smallest snake of the Behemon. It met his pace, launching towards the large humanoid.

Berserkermon's punch missed as Behemon slithered to the side, but he followed the punch with a wide slash, which Behemon dodged easily. The serpent and the man-bear continued to dodge and weave around one another, Berserkermon being wound tighter and tighter into the coils of the stone snake.

“Shadow Blast!” Melusimon cried, releasing a tidal wave of her attack.

Behemon pulled itself tighter around Berserkermon, who was unable to move, grunting in pain. He struggled, trying vainly to move an arm, a hand, a claw, but finding the body of Behemon only tightened with each miniscule motion. Every ragged breath Berserkermon took was harder than the last, as the serpent reacted to the motion of his breathing.

Behemon, its head towering above Berserkermon, took a moment to look back, seeing Melusimon's attacks speeding towards it before making contact.

The blast was immense, leaving the spot where Berserkermon and Behemon had been in a cloud of debris and black smoke that cleared slowly.

On the ground was Berserkermon, groaning in pain, flat on his stomach with marks of injury covering his body. Behemon had gone, though the marks of its coils were embedded across Berserkermon’s torso for all to see.

Melusimon gasped, making her way towards him.

“Berserkermon!”

The bear-man lifted a claw in a feeble attempt to communicate. His weak warning was missed. Moments before she reached her comrade, Behemon slammed itself against her, knocking her away from Berserkermon, and even further from the group as a whole.

Melusimon slid across the ground, her tail and skin scraping along the surface, opening cuts and tearing away delicate scales.

Rising to his feet, ignoring the shots of pain that coursed through his body, Berserkermon steadied himself, forming two tomahawk axes from the ice of his claws. “Frozen Sweep!” he shouted, the weapons releasing a huge wave of sharp ice.

Behemon launched towards Berserkermon, ducking beneath the attack and tackling the warrior head-on, jaws open wide as if the creature was preparing to swallow the other Digimon.

Adrian winced as he watched and saw the two impact. Berserkermon grabbed the open jaws of Behemon and held them open, digging his feet into the ground to retain leverage while Behemon writhed and wriggled, trying to snap its mouth shut.
He wanted to run out. To help his partner, even though he knew there was nothing he could really have done. If Berserkermon was struggling, then Adrian would only get in the way. Still, the cries of pain and grunts of effort from his injured partner were hard to stand, and watching them fight made his own body ache.

Katrina bit hard on her bottom lip, looking around frantically for Melusimon, who was nowhere in sight. Her thoughts were startled by the sharp sound of Blaire's scream, causing her to turn her head quickly.

Ryan had his arms locked around Blaire, using all his strength to try and hold the smaller girl back as she watched Pelmamon at the mercy of the bigger snake. She clawed at Ryan's hands and arms with her fingernails.

Kotenmon was laid across the ground, his body splayed in an unnatural position. His feathers were in disarray, and nothing on him moved. No lightning flickered over his body, and it was impossible to see if his chest rose and fell as it should have.

Pelmamon's legs wriggled frantically in the air as Behemon pushed its full weight down on him. On the ground around Pelmamon's body was pink venom, which had leaked from his fangs and from a wound where it was stored in his body. The way his abdomen was spread, it was as if Behemon was trying to pop the large spider.

“Deadly Tempest!” Melusimon cried from afar, though her voice lacked feeling, lacked energy, and she seemed to sag as she hovered in the air.

Behemon dodged, relieving the pressure on top of Pelmamon. It flew upwards swiftly, allowing Melusimon's attack to fly directly over the top of the spider and dissipate into nothing. Pelmamon took a moment to recover, slipped onto his front, and skittered towards Kotenmon.

“INCOMING!” Adrian cried.

As Pelmamon assisted Kotenmon in getting shakily to his feet, Berserkermon's bulk flew across the open whiteness of the field, crashing into the other Champions, knocking them both back to the ground.

Melusimon flew overhead, slow and wary. She was poised to attack, dark black vapor around her hands and tail. She watched protectively as her comrades helped one another to their feet.

“This Behemon is way too fast.” Ryan turned to Adrian, Katrina, and Rubimon as Blaire had calmed down in his arms. “They can't get close. Not to mention having two of them–!”

“Dey' ain't landed not a single hit...,” Adrian said, visibly strained by the unfolding battle before them. This looked hopeless. Two parts of the same creature, both with blistering speed. Luck was not on their side.

“We need a miracle,” Blaire said, as if reading Adrian's thoughts.

“Ryan, you have that other vial!” Rubimon said matter-of-factly. “Use it!”

Ryan's face was perplexed, reaching into his pocket.

“What good would it do? I mean it–”

“She's right,” Blaire spoke up, her voice tired. “It may make a difference. Each vial is a different element, and each Behemon has been weak against certain elements. That one might be the deciding factor in this fight.”

“I don't even know how,” he stated, looking at the small object in his palm as it rolled back and forth and the liquid within glowed softly.

Katrina spoke. “Same way you got the other vial to work. Same way we all got them to work. Get the contents on your D-Ex.”

Ryan released Blaire; she regained her balance and stepped away from him.

Ryan nodded and looked at his companions. With a tight squeeze, and clenching his eyes closed a little, they all heard the sound of the vial crack in his fingers. The liquid dripped onto the smaller screen of the D-Ex.

A momentary beat passed, where nothing happened, and the contents remained on the D-Ex like spilled water. Then the D-Ex reacted. The liquid disappeared into the D-Ex like a sponge, and the screen exploded with color.

As the D-Ex began to glow a lilac color, a light enveloped Kotenmon on the battlefield.

Kotenmon released a loud roar, ripping his claws through the air as energy thundered through him. Around him, everything shook and the Behemon – now coiled back into one creature – took notice and watched intently.  

“Kotenmon, Plasma Shift to...”

His body warped but remained approximately the same size. The familiar quadruped shape of Anzumon seemed to appear for a moment, before melting away into something of a far grander scale. A metal helmet adorned his head, with curved, orb-adorned antlers sprouting from the mask. His body darkened to a rich chestnut color, while huge wings sprouted from his back, flapping back and forth once. The arrangement of his legs switched; his forelegs became cloven hooves, silver bracers locked around them, each one adorned with brightly-colored yellow gem stones. His rear legs morphed into massive vicious talons, each claw dark blue. A long indigo tail sprouted pairs of white-tipped feathers, before the light burst and revealed his new form.

“Perytomon!”

The twin Behemon opened their mouths, releasing a spray of intense water cannons towards the group of Digimon, the two streams of liquid entwining so they mimicked the creatures they had come from.

Perytomon opened his wings wide, screeching like a wild bird of prey as a flashing shield of electricity embraced him and his comrades, protecting them from the blast.

Sensing their attack being fruitless, the tangled Digimon ceased to attack, and drew themselves apart again to fight as two.

Perytomon pulled his wings in, the electricity of his shield crackling over them and up into his antlers.

“Is everyone okay?” he asked, not looking back.

“Never been better,” Melusimon said sarcastically.

With a grunt and a short paw on the ground with his front hooves, Perytomon took to the air without a moment’s notice. “Melusimon, with me,” he ordered and flew.

Melusimon followed, as Pelmamon and Berserkermon launched forward.

-----------------------------

With Perytomon's evolution, the area seemed to become busier with data. Rubimon, Adrian, and Ryan watched the battle intensely, as if they were watching the playoffs of their favorite sport and the game was tied.

Perytomon gave the group an upper hand, as he was faster than the others, and just as fast as the Behemon. His attacks damaged the Behemon, giving the others chances to attack as well.

“Hey!” a voice called out.

Blaire looked at Katrina. “What?”

The red head looked back at her, puzzled. “What, what?” she repeated the question.

“Did you just say something?” Blaire raised a brow.

“No–”

“Hey! Over here!” the voice called again. The two girls turned around, quickly making their way over the data visualization of who they could assume was Eva.

“Listen to us,” Eva spoke, her pink eyes fixed on Blaire and Katrina. Beside her, a shorter woman stood, her hair in a braid and her body a haze of yellow color.

“How come you're able to speak now?” Blaire inquired.

“Energy. A lot of energy, that Digimon evolving I guess,” said Eva. “We don't have much time.”

“Where you are now, this is a manifestation of the Core's mind,” explained the shorter woman.

“Who are you?” asked Katrina.

“My name is Piper,” she said impatiently. “Take this seriously.”

“We are,” Blaire responded. “What's the Core?”

“The Core is what powers the Digital World. It was taken away twenty years ago,” Eva explained hurriedly. “Four years ago, our Digimon sacrificed their powers to create a new one, and set it back into its rightful place.”

“It's a power source?”

“Effectively, yes,” said Piper. “We're being held, trapped by it. But we don't know why. We think it's trying to protect itself from something. Its mind is childlike, underdeveloped.”

Blaire drew her brows together, perplexed. “How... do you know that?”

“Being trapped here, we're privy to some of the Core's mind. Small bits. Chunks. It's very broken, distorted. Confused and immature.”

“But not threatening?” Katrina inquired.

“Not that we can sense.” Piper nodded. “It acts and thinks with strong emotions.”

Katrina tilted her head. “How can a power source be sentient?”

Eva shook her head. “No idea.” Her image and that of Piper began to grow fuzzy. “Look, we're not able to do this for long– you need to use the vials. All–”

“All of them.” Blaire nodded. “We know. All six!”

Piper opened her mouth. “N–”

A large crash caught them off guard, throwing Blaire and Katrina to the ground. Ryan and Adrian slid close to them, with Adrian holding Rubimon protectively. Smoke and debris filled the area, making it hard to see.

The group quickly caught their footing, coughing while doing so.

“They're gone!” Blaire gasped. The manifestations of Piper and Eva were nowhere in sight. Whatever else they had meant to say they had missed.

The smaller Behemon, which hovered above the group, released an agonized yowl as Berserkermon withdrew his massive icicle claws in an X-shaped flourish. It crumbled into boulders and rocks before the group, only leaving the larger of the pair remaining, hissing and snarling at them, gnashing its jaws together with the stone hood around its head fully extended.

Melusimon floated beside Pelmamon.

Perytomon hovered upright, matching the height of Berserkermon, who readied his claws for the final blow.

“He's weak now,” Berserkermon stated, an edge of triumph in the tone of his voice. “There is no way for it to win.”

“It's still a danger,” Melusimon retorted. “A cornered animal is more dangerous.”

“Bah.” Berserkermon ignored her and charged with a bestial howl.

Quickly, Melusimon and Pelmamon attacked together, ensuring the impact hit Behemon before Berserkermon and Perytomon reached it.

“Deadly Tempest!”

 “Venom Cannon!”

Weakened by the loss of its twin, Behemon moved more sluggishly now, and less precisely. As it dodged to the side, barely avoiding the attack, and moved as if to fly upwards, Berserkermon grabbed the end of its tail and yanked it back roughly with his brute strength. Despite the attempts it made to struggle away, Berserkermon had a tight hold and only increased the pressure of his grip, causing the stone to crack around his hand.

With a grunt and a bark of laughter, Berserkermon pushed Behemon away, roughly following the motion with a solid punch in its stone side, which sent the staggering stone creature careening across the open space.

Perytomon flew high above it; his antlers were surrounded by pure electricity as the orbs on his head began to glow. The charge was extraordinary.

He changed direction in mid-air quickly, turning on his tail so his face and horns were directed to the ground, and his aim was perfectly on the recovering form of Behemon.

“White Bolts!” he bellowed, releasing the attack, flashes of highly-charged electricity burst forth from his antlers.

“Deadly Tempest!” Melusimon contributed, the blackened water joining the pure white power, increasing its potency.

As the attack impacted on Behemon, it pushed the creature down into the ground by sheer force. Behemon shrieked and roared as the yellow stones on its body began to tumble from their places. Its stone body started to crumble, and the part of its mouth fell away, leaving a gaping hole and an unnatural screech.

As Behemon hit the ground in huge pieces of rock, dust and smoke arose, filling the area like ash from an eruption. Small stones – splinters from those that were larger – flew through the air, crashing into each other and those standing and watching.

The group protected themselves and each other, covering their eyes and faces, coughing through the fabric of their clothing to prevent inhaling the ash as it slowly settled. Through the gloom the only thing that was really visible were the glowing stones on Perytomon's horns, which shone like a glimmer of hope in a darkened world above them.

Perytomon came to land beside Ryan, opening his wings to better shield his partner from the debris. Gradually the two stone creatures crumbled into smaller piles of earth and dust. The smoke and ash began to filter away through unseen exits, and it soon became safe for them to breathe properly and open their eyes more than a squint. The rock they were made from, despite being hard during the battle, now seemed like nothing as it disintegrated at the slightest touch and started to disappear into the air. The only parts that remained intact as they disappeared were the yellow stones that had been dotted all over the two bodies. They followed, undamaged.

As one stone began to disappear, a vial tumbled from it, falling through the air a short distance away.

“Got it!” Adrian dashed quickly, and gained an additional boost from Berserkermon pushing him. He caught the small vial before it hit the ground and cradled it to his chest protectively. As he hit the ground hard, the expanse of white dissolved around them in cascades of different colors, returning them to the darkness of the inner mountain trail.

Adrian rose to his feet, and simultaneously the Digimon all shone their respective colors, returning to their smaller, Rookie stages. Karumon flopped onto his side, while Muertomon sat down and leaned back on his hands, puffing. Grindymon hooked onto Katrina's shoulders.

Ryan held Anzumon up, who examined his wings and feet expectantly.

“Aw,” Anzumon murmured, disappointed.

“What's the matter, bud?”

“I wanted to stay as Perytomon a big longer,” he sighed, clearly saddened at the return to his small form. Ryan smiled, and rubbed his Digimon between the antlers.

“You're pretty good as Anzumon,” he assured him.

Anzumon smiled a little, puffing his chest out and ruffling his feathers. “I was cool though, right?”

“Very,” Ryan nodded.

Adrian held his hand out to Katrina. “Here ya go, cher.” He dropped the yellow vial into her outstretched palm, and she closed her fingers around it.

“Thanks.” She smiled and looked at it closely. It was the same as all the other vials they had seen, small, filled with liquid, and with a light indication of a circuit board etched into the glass. Still, it was just as precious as the others, and had taken a lot more to obtain.

“Why did the whiteness disappear?” inquired Blaire, fishing her flashlight out of her bag and clicking it on to shine the light on the others.

Rubimon looked a little lost, shrugging her shoulders. “Perhaps... it was a special arena?” She shielded her eyes as Blaire's light shone directly at the ruby-colored beast.

Ryan shoved his hands in his pockets. “Well, now what? We carry on walking?”

“I suppose,” Rubimon agreed.

“What if we got turned around?” asked Muertomon. “Then we'll just have wasted so much time walking here and walking back.”

“Uh-uhm...” Grindymon's voice came from a short distance away, timid and soft. Barely audible.

“Lookit,” Karumon called. “Lookit, goes all the way up there!”

“Karumon?” Adrian walked towards his cub partner, illuminated by Blaire's flashlight.

The polar cub hand his front paws on a step carved into the stone of the mountain. He followed the stairwell up with his eyes, though it disappeared into complete darkness as it ascended.

“Stairs,” Katrina said. “Okay. Convenient.”

“Too convenient,” Muertomon remarked, crossing his arms.

“And the only way to go, except probably back the way we came,” Ryan added.

“I...,” Rubimon tilted her head, “don't remember stairs.”

Grindymon spoke up. “We were following those lights. And surrounded by them for some time. There was no telling how far we traveled.”

“True.” Adrian fiddled with his glasses for a moment. “So... we go up da' stairs?”

“I guess?” Blaire shrugged her shoulders. “Unless you guys want to back track and see if we missed any other turn offs or whatever when we were walking?”

“Those lights are back,” Anzumon pointed out, staring upwards.

Where the ceiling was, feet above them, were the same lights they had seen before and been enveloped by. All moving quickly, racing along invisible tracks and all speeding up the stairs that lay before them.

“Hopefully they lead us to a way out.” Muertomon laughed, and went ahead, leading the way.

The steps were steep and uneven. Everyone struggled to keep their footing at one point or another; even with all their flashlights pointed at the ground to give them the best light possible. The air was impossibly cool, and it felt damp all around them, even the walls that enclosed them were wet to the touch, where before they had been dry.

“Could we be under a lake?” Grindymon suggested once. Though her suggestion was met with little response.

Gradually, the dark colors of the steps began to give way to lighter material. Where the dirt once crumbled, it no longer did, as the white substance was harder, more solid, and better built. The walls turned to the same material gradually too, revealing polished stone of white and almost pearlescent make. Their steps echoed around them.

Rubimon hurried ahead, as she now led them. Fire expelled from her mouth, creating her own torch. The humans and Digimon followed her as quickly as they could, surprised by their guide’s sudden and unexpected swiftness.

The ruby dragon stopped suddenly at the very top of the steps, in the threshold of an arched doorway. Her halt caused the others behind her to stop and attempt to peer over each other into the room that had her shocked still.

They all knew this location, even if none of them said it.

Earthen walls with two pillars in the center. They were old and crumbling, untended with moss and greenery growing over them despite the lack of light. The air was damp; the walls were also dripping with moisture here. It was a huge circular chamber, and within were sixteen glass-crystal crypts, each one translucent, holding within a singular person or Digimon.

“The Circle,” Rubimon murmured softly. “We're in the Circle.”


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