Episode 13: Learn of the Wise

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"This is hopeless," Ryan stated, leaning against the wall of the Circle and ruffling the front of his hair. He gazed around at the others: Katrina, Blaire, and Adrian, with their D-Exes in hand. Their Digimon were in Champion form, waiting patiently for the next instruction, and Rubimon stood amongst it all, looking lost and confused.

They had been trying to open the crystal coffins for an hour or more.

"What else can we do?" Adrian inquired, shifting his glasses on his face. "They're all still asleep."

"Let me think," Rubimon said. She went to the middle of the room, dead center of the glass cases, and sat with her back to them, closing her amber eyes and drawing in a deep breath.

"She's meditating," Ryan remarked, snorting lightly.

Rubimon said nothing.

Blaire sighed as she slipped her hands in her back pockets, arching her hips to one side. She tore her eyes away from the coffin which contained her brother and looked at her companions. "Blasting them didn't work," she said. "Might as well return to normal." She spoke to the Digimon. Pushing her hands back through her hair, she chewed on her lower lip a little.
She had been the one with the most desire to reach the Circle, the one who had a personal reason to want to be there and had a specific person to save. Now that it seemed there was no way to accomplish that, she had deflated.

The Champion Digimon lit up in their respective colors and formed back into Rookies, all flopping down on the ground, exhausted.

They had attempted as many things as they could. They tried pouring small amounts of the contents of the vials onto the different coffins. They tried putting their D-Exes together, like Blaire, Ryan, and Katrina had done before to get them to the Digital World. It had caused a spark, but there had been no other reaction.

Their Digimon had attacked the cages in their Rookie forms and Champion, as individuals, and as a group. All that had resulted in was a lot of dust and debris. The cages weren't damaged, even by the most powerful attack.

Rubimon had suggested a blood sacrifice, which had resulted in all of them cutting into their hands and dripping blood onto the ground, to no avail. 

“I think we're out of ideas, eh?” Ryan stated. His tone was irritated, and the way he continued to ruffle and tug his hair in aggravation only seemed to prove that.

“Looks dat' way.” Adrian lay on his back, looking at the ceiling. He was relatively relaxed, though his overly calm attitude had not been helpful or done much to each the worrisome mind of Blaire.

Despite the dire situation, and the dwindling hope of rescuing those trapped, there was no obvious sense of panic or hysteria; the way there had been the last time they had all been in the Circle with Dalimon, and the crystal had tried to capture them. There had been no strange fog, and no odd occurrences. If not for the comatose people and Digimon, the room would have seemed serene and almost calming. It was quiet, that was certain. Inside there was no noise aside from their voices when they spoke.

And at least it was comfortable. The temperature was perfect: not cold, not hot, just... nice. There were no echoes, and none of the Digimon were on alert, so they could only assume there was no immediate danger to them.

Adrian sat up and crossed his legs. Karumon padded over and lay down, resting his head in Adrian's lap. “Let's review what we know so far,” Adrian spoke up after a moment of silence. When no one else moved, he beckoned with his hands. "C'mon."

With a frustrated sigh, Blaire sat with Muertomon beside her. Ryan joined them with Anzumon on the floor, while Katrina remained standing with Grindymon at her side, carefully examining things on her D-Ex.

“Da' others are alive and well, just in suspended animation and dey' can somehow link into da' core's mind, which is where we were about a couple of hours ago.”

“Pretty much," Katrina said, glancing up from her D-Ex.

Adrian continued, “And we need all six of dem' vials to awaken 'em."

"Which we have,” remarked Anzumon.

Katrina hesitated for a moment, rising and rolling her shoulders. “Not exactly.” She fiddled with her earring.

“Oh?” Twelve sets of eyes turned to her.

She inhaled, slipping her D-Ex back onto the waistband of her denim shorts. She rocked back on her heels and to the balls of her feet as she spoke. "So, there were six main Gods: Ymirmon, Morrigamon, Vayumon, Ceryneiamon, Gaiusmon, and Marquismon." She indicated to the Digimon to whom the God corresponded with in their crystal case. "But do a count. We're looking at eight Tamers. Eight Digimon. By all intents and purposes, there should be eight vials."

"No," Ryan spoke up, "only six were marked on the map." His eyebrows drew together.

"Which means, bonehead, there are two vials that no one knows about," Katrina explained impatiently.

"Are you kidding?" Anzumon huffed, his feathers rising irritably.

"Stressful," added Blaire, tilting her head back. "So we're missing two vials that no one knows about?"

“But which two–” Karumon was cut off by Rubimon.

“Heliomon and Selenemon," Rubimon said, her eyes remaining closed and her back straight towards the group. "Before all of this, Skollmon and Hatimon, the Digimon of Rose and Hunter Divine, were the Core of the Digital World. When someone tried to take it from this world to the other, it split, creating the two Digimon. While they are not officially Gods, they are considered honorary ones now. They must have vials too.”

"Why aren't they marked on the map, then?" inquired Muertomon, arms crossing beneath his poncho.

"Because they didn't exist when the map was created I suppose," Rubimon reasoned. "Their own vials must have been created much later."

"How were the vials created anyway?" Blaire asked, twisting a lock of hair around her finger. "No one has ever explained that."

Rubimon stood up and walked towards them. "There isn't really a short version, and it would require a history lesson."

Adrian shrugged. "We're not exactly in a rush." He grinned.

Rubimon drew her claws over her face. "Very well... where to begin?"

"At the beginning?" Grindymon suggested gently, smiling.

The scarlet dragon gave her a long look, but then tilted her head to one side. "I suppose it begins when humans first came to the Digital World. While the Digital World had existed as long as your own, it was only in recent years that humans ventured there. It was discovered quite by accident by Russell Divine. At the time of its discovery it was a very beautiful place. Clean, peaceful, and reigned over by the six Gods that you know of.

"As with many things, humans are incapable of leaving something well enough alone. Once Russell learned of the Core and how it kept the Digital World powered, he wanted to take that power for himself. His greed, and that of his business partner, began to seep into the Digital World and corrupt it. Their avarice and dark intentions was what created Mukademon in the first place. Their greed created a parasite which fed off the anger and ill will that was becoming more and more commonplace throughout the Digital World.

"Now, Russell couldn't just take the Core. It was protected in the Circle, which was a fortress and the home of the six Gods. He had help. A Digimon of unknown origin assisted him, and in that way was able to capture essences of the six Gods, which is what the vials are. The essences of those Gods. As to why, I believe it was because Russell wanted to use their power to bring Digimon to the real world. But their power wasn't enough... either way, the vials wound up returning to us here in the Digital World quite unexpectedly.

"To protect them, to stop them falling into the wrong hands, Ryudamon hid the vials and the Behemon were created by an outside entity to protect them. He marked them on the map.

"As you know, the Divine siblings, Hunter and Rose, for some time worked alongside their mother, Bella, in various attempts to capture, coerce, and generally destroy the others, the six Gods. Bella was under the control of Mukademon, and for a time so was Rose. Hunter was only following orders. I can only assume that in the time that Hatimon and Skollmon were in close contact with Bella, she must have created vials for the two of them. Captured their own essences, as it were."

Rubimon folded her claws together as she finished. "It is my guess that the vials belonging to Hatimon and Skollmon are most likely in the real world."

"You're kidding," Blaire snapped. "So coming here again was basically a waste of time."

"We retrieved those other two vials...," Grindymon pointed out gently.

"Yeah," snorted Blaire, "but we're missing two vital elements, and it means we're going to have to leave. Again. Which means I'm going to have to leave my brother. Again."

"It sucks," Ryan agreed, "but what else can we do?"

"Can you send us back?" Adrian inquired. "Because if you can den' it's a quick flash to and from, right?"

"It isn't that simple," Rubimon began.

Blaire rolled her eyes. "Of course it's not. Why on earth would it be that easy!?" She rounded on the scarlet dragon. "Just what use are you, again?"

"Blaire," Katrina snapped. The aqua-haired girl turned her eyes furiously on the redhead.

"What?!"

"Stop," Katrina ordered her firmly. "Rubimon isn't at fault here. Get your temper in check."

Blaire scoffed, regarding Katrina with a sharp neck roll. "Don't tell me–"

"Enough!" barked Ryan. "Don't start bickering. What help is that going to be right now?"

Silence settled over the group, and tense gazes were passed from one to another as it dragged on.

Eventually, it was Karumon who cleared his throat. "Well, we should probably leave the Circle," he said happily, yawning. "There's no point staying if we can't do anything."

Ryan and Adrian stood to their feet.

"No!" Blaire snapped. "I refuse to believe we can't do anything with the six vials we have now. That's bullshit."

"Blaire–"

"BULLSHIT," she shouted, smacking Ryan's hand away as he tried to grab her. She stood up, kicking the crystal cage that held Reyez. "I will get him out myself so God help me," she growled at them through tightly clenched teeth.

Muertomon joined in, kicking and punching at the crystal case violently, the others looking on.

"Give me your D-Exes," Blaire demanded, turning on those around her.

"No." Adrian shook his head, placing his hands in his pockets. He was prepared to move if Blaire lunged, which was a definite possibility given the crazed look in her eyes.

At his refusal her nostrils flared. "Give them to me!" she screamed, holding out her hand.

"What are you doing?" Katrina asked her bluntly, her arms crossed.

"I don't need your smart ass remarks right now," Blaire hissed.

"No, what you need is a reality check. Or a slap the face," Katrina retorted. "Either one I will gladly deliver."

Blaire turned on her. "I swear Katrina if you don't shut up I will–"

"You're wasting time and energy," Katrina told her harshly. "Have you looked at yourself? I bet your brother would be laughing at the spectacle you're making of yourself."

"Kat..."

"You're making such a fuss, and such a fool of yourself," Katrina continued, ignoring Ryan's call of her name. "You can't rescue him without all eight vials, we've established that. You can kick and punch and bleed and cry as much as you want, but it's not going to help."

"You have no idea–"

"What I'm talking about?" Katrina interrupted. "No. Of course I don't. But you're just being dramatic for the sake of being dramatic. If you would stop being a fucking diva and a drama queen, and stop making sure the attention is all on you and no one forgets how hard this is on poor little Blaire, for one goddamn minute, you would actually see how utterly stupid you are being."

"Kat–," Ryan tried again. He could see the rage building in Blaire's body. Her shoulders tensing and squared, her eyes widening, her expression verging on murderous. Her jaw clenched tightly together as she bit down.

"No," Katrina responded to him, "she needs to hear it from someone. And I'm not going to pull punches. Unlike you two I am neither afraid of her nor want to fuck her. I have nothing to lose."

Adrian eased his way close to Blaire, in case she launched herself towards Katrina, which was looking more and more likely.

Blaire took a single step towards Katrina. "Stop being so damn full of yourself you detached bitch! I'm NOT leaving my brother again and your snide remarks aren't helping my fucking mood. I just want to PUNCH YOU IN THE FUCKING FACE!"

"Change the record, Blaire," Katrina snapped coolly, unbothered by Blaire's threats. "You need someone to tell it to you straight. Rubimon has basically said we cannot save them without all eight vials. That includes your brother. He does not get any special treatment just because you are here. And the quicker you get that through your thick skull and stop bawling for attention, the quicker we can get a move on, find a way back to the real world, get the last two vials, and do what we originally came here to do. Then we can all go our separate ways and get on with our lives."

"Aight' ladies," Adrian eased himself between the two women, "maybe everyone should just... take a deep breath and cool down..."

"I agree," Grindymon nodded, "arguing isn't going to help. And... Well, it’s just making everyone upset."

"I think the best course of action right now," Rubimon began, "is to find our way out of the Circle, and from there I can tell you what needs to be done to get home."

"Fine," Katrina said, letting a long breath out through her nose. "Lead the way."

Rubimon began to leave silently, hoping that the others would follow. She felt it best to say nothing else, the air was too thick with anger and tension to even try to cut it.

As Katrina and Adrian followed Rubimon out with their Digimon, Ryan hung back with Blaire for a few seconds. She stared down at the sleeping form of her brother, so peaceful and so completely unaware of the difficulties she was having without him.

Lightly, Ryan touched her shoulder, and offered a small smile. "Katrina doesn't mean it, you know. She just says those things to get through to you."

Blaire shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I just want my brother back." She sighed. "This is the second time I've found him... and had to leave him." Her voice sounded completely flat and defeated.

"Next time we're here, you'll leave with him," Ryan said gently. "I promise."

With a weak smile that didn't reach her eyes, Blaire nodded. She turned and followed after Adrian, with Muertomon in tow.

Ryan let out a long breath and leaned back.

"You shouldn't have made that promise," Anzumon said wisely, beside his partner. "Not if you don't know you can keep it."

"I know," Ryan replied, rubbing the head of the griffin Digimon. "I just... wanted to say something to comfort her. Y'know?"

"No," Anzumon shrugged, "but you humans are much more complicated than I first believed."

Ryan chuckled, and walked behind his Digimon partner as he caught up with the others.

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

Rubimon kept them moving through the winding halls and vast corridors of the Circle.

From the outside, the Circle appeared to be such a simple structure: a tall tower that didn't look wide or vast on the outside, and yet on the inside was exactly that. There were halls and stairwells that seemed to lead to whole new areas of the tower that hadn't been seen for years. Each new corridor sent them in a different direction, and it didn't help that none of the halls had distinguishing features.

More than once Rubimon met a dead end, had them backtrack to find where they had gone wrong, and they had found themselves in a whole new area once more. It was almost as if the rooms and halls changed just to spite them, and would switch around more deliberately.

Very few words were said between the humans. Blaire spoke the least, still reeling from having to leave Reyez again in the main chamber, and Katrina's harsh truths. Ryan didn't want to get turned around or miss anything, so he kept to himself. Katrina's eyes were mostly fixed on her D-Ex, as she hoped it was mapping the Circle, and that somehow it would help in finding an exit.

The only one who seemed talkative was Adrian, and that was mostly to Karumon. They were attempting to keep up the spirits of their companions, none of which were very receptive. "We're lost, aren't we?" Anzumon remarked as they turned down another hallway which led to a dead end.

"What was your first clue?" Muertomon replied swiftly. "Maybe we won't need to leave your brother after all!" he added, nudging Blaire's leg.

"Don't you know your way?" asked Grindymon, hovering above Rubimon.

She shook her head slowly. "Only the Gods were ever permitted entry to the Circle. I'm as in the dark as the rest of you," Rubimon explained. "I'm sorry, it may take us some time to get out of here, but I'm certain we're going the right way."

“Great," Blaire said unenthusiastically. "Just one more thing to love about the Digital World. Maybe we should just get used to getting lost."

"Maybe we should play a game to keep our spirits up!" Karumon suggested, waddling behind Adrian.

His partner nodded and pursed his lips. "Sounds like a good idea. What did you have in mind?"

"Uhm..." Karumon frowned and looked down at his paws. "Uhhh..."

"Do you even know any games, Karumon?" asked Anzumon from the head of the group, his tone condescending to the arctic cub.

"Well," Karumon slumped back on his haunches, "no. But I bet if I think really hard I can think of one." His features scrunched up on his face, as he appeared to go into deep thought.

Adrian retraced his steps to his partner and knelt beside him. "Don't give yourself an aneurism bud. And no worries if you can't think of a game, we can think of one."

"Yeah," Blaire leaned against the wall, "here's one, make a sentence out of the following words. Face, your, stupid, shut."

For a moment there was quiet until Muertomon began laughing.

Adrian snorted. "That’s uncalled for. At least Karumon is trying to lift the mood."

"Don't bother, Adrian," Katrina murmured, flicking her earring nonchalantly. "She’s in a mood and it’s her natural reaction to take it out on everyone else."

"Don't talk like you know me," snapped Blaire.

Katrina smirked. "But I do. You're like a book written for a child. So easy to read."

"Not again," Ryan sighed. "Can’t you two put your claws away? What's the matter with you both?"

"Maybe it’s just the close confines," Grindymon suggested softly, trying to keep the peace. "Let's carry on moving, I'm sure we'll find a way out soon enough, and then everyone can relax."

"An excellent idea," Rubimon added firmly and began walking once more, checking briefly over her shoulder to make sure her unhappy group was following.

Karumon was the only one who made much noise, his mumbles coming from the back of the group as he continued to try and think of a game they could all play and enjoy. His little grumbles were quite nice to hear, dispersing the tense atmosphere between the adults. Occasionally Rubimon heard a beep of Katrina's D-Ex, or Blaire would scuff her boot on the ground. Muertomon had started to tap his bony fingers onto the walls as they walked, creating a jaunty tune.

It was some time before any of them spoke properly again, and when they did, it was in another hallway that Rubimon didn't want to admit looked exactly like every other hallway.

“I feel like we've been here... before,” Muertomon said with a worried tone. He looked around the white walls and floors for some kind of landmark ­– a scratch on the wall, a window, even a mark in the floor. But it was difficult to tell where they had been and where they hadn't. Everything looked the same, no matter where they went or which way they turned.

"How can you tell?" asked Grindymon from above.

“I wasn't going to say anything, but all the rooms look exactly the same,” Anzumon chimed in, ignoring the aquatic creature’s question.

Rubimon stopped walking. She looked around for a few seconds, placing a clawed hand on the wall. She held her breath and closed her eyes, concentrating, and then turned towards the group. “No, we have not been here before."

"How do you know?" inquired Ryan. "What was this?" He mimicked her, by placing his own hand on the wall.

"I was feeling for energy. You, myself, and the Digimon all give out certain energy as we travel, the Circle absorbs it. If we had been here, I would be able to feel traces of that energy, but I can't," Rubimon explained patiently. She saw the looks on the faces of the Digimon and humans, disheartened and tired. She felt the same, especially the tired part. She continued speaking to them gently. "I know the rooms may look the same, but I guarantee we're going in the right direction.”

“This place seemed a lot smaller on the outside.” Ryan laughed, trying to help lighten the still-palpable tension between the group.

Rubimon smiled, amused by Ryan's attempt to ease the atmosphere, and appreciating his kind attitude and continued walking.

“So, Kit-Kat, I gotta question for ya.” Adrian quickened his pace, walking beside Katrina who looked up from her D-Ex.

She acknowledged him with a raised brow and glanced towards him.

“Do you got a boyfriend?”

Katrina lost her footing, almost tripping up but quickly regained her balance. “WOAH!”

"Are you okay, Katrina?" Grindymon asked, holding the redhead’s elbow to steady her.

“Just a question, cher!” Adrian laughed, grinning widely. "Didn't think ya'd swoon!"

“Why would you want to know?” Katrina asked peevishly. "I mean... where did that even come from?" She stared at him, eyes blazing suddenly.

“Hey Tunes, I don't think Rick would enjoy you flirting with his girl, eh?” Ryan joked as he and Blaire walked past the others. Ryan smacked Adrian's shoulder good-naturedly, grinning. Both Katrina and Adrian had stopped walking.

Katrina looked at Ryan's back, an eyebrow arched high, then turned her glare on Adrian. “What have you guys been saying about me?” she demanded sharply. "And 'his girl'? What the hell kind of crap is that? I'm nobody’s 'girl'. I'm not an item or a commodity or piece of meat to belong to any one!"

“Nothin' bad been said, cher! I promise!” Adrian held up his hands defensively as if he was being accused. "An' Ryan was just jokin'. Meant nothin' by it, right Ryan?" He glanced at his housemate.

Blaire and Ryan had stopped walking, turning to their comrades.

"Of course. Joking," Ryan agreed with Adrian, smiling with his arms crossed. He noted how Blaire had a slightly smug grin on her face too.

“The patriarchy at full swing,” Blaire remarked, a voice sounding more mirthful and uplifted than it had earlier.

“But you were talking about me?” Katrina snapped.

Adrian looked to Ryan for any sort of assistance, as Katrina was clearly offended, something he didn't fully anticipate. It wasn't as if he and his friends had been saying anything unpleasant about her. She didn't even know; it was like she was just jumping to conclusions, imaging what they had said and getting angry about it before having all the facts. And right now he didn't want to say much else for fear of having the high-strung redhead bite his head off further.

For once, he was lost for words.

“Relax, Kat.” Ryan walked over, still smiling with his hands raised to placate Katrina. “The other night, after Heather and I had that fight, Adrian, Rick, and I were... talking about stuff. And Rick admitted that he had a small crush on you and–”

“We don't even know each other,” Katrina cut Ryan off, laughing a little breathlessly. "How can he have a crush on me if he doesn't even know me! Rick and I have barely exchanged two words!"

“Well, yeah but we thoug–”

Katrina's look was of utter disgust. “Ugh, I don't even want to know what you guys were thinking. I have a very clear idea of the workings of the inner man, thanks to the jackasses I work with.”

“Guys,” Blaire chimed in from the short distance she stood away.

“This is utterly, totally disrespectful. I mean I understand the innocence of the situation, but first off you don't blatantly ask a girl such a personal question,” Katrina ranted. "I mean, how would you guys like it if Blaire and I admitted that we talked about you in detail? Which we don't and haven't, by the way."

“Guys,” Blaire said again, a touch louder, and now walking towards them.

Katrina was in the middle of a flow and showed no signs of stopping. "It’s pathetic that you ask on behalf of your friend if I'm seeing someone or not. If he has a crush, then he should be man enough to ask me himself, or better yet, get to know me before thinking he can just ask such a sensitive question!"

“EXCUSE ME,” shouted Blaire, her voice echoing off the closed-in walls. Her words carried and Katrina stopped.

“WHAT?” Katrina yelled back, head whipping around to focus on Blaire.

For a couple of beats, the two girls simply stared at one another. Katrina's chest was heaving; her cheeks had reddened in anger. Both were annoyed, though less with each other and more with the situation than their previous arguments or current one.

“The Digimon are gone,” Blaire explained calmly. She shifted her weight from one hip to the other, her hand placed firmly upon it.

“Oh shit.” Ryan walked ahead, hoping to catch up soon.

Adrian caught up to him swiftly, wanting to put as much distance between himself and Katrina as possible. As they came through an arched doorway he muttered to Ryan, "Guess we can tell Rick she's single then." They both grinned a little.

Blaire and Katrina followed behind them, scanning wildly for any sign of their missing Digimon, though there seemed to be no trace of them. It was almost as if they had completely vanished.

In minutes, their walking had turned to jogging, and their jogging to running. They followed one after another, not wanting to get separated again. Down one hallway then another. Up a set of steps. Along another long, narrow corridor and down a winding staircase. It was no use, each turn they took led them down an identical-looking set of stairs, or along an identical hallway.

Panic was beginning to set in, and with it the many scenarios of what might have happened to their companions.

What if they were separated for good? What if they weren't supposed to have entered this area of the Circle and they were to be trapped forever? What if the Digimon had left them? What if that had been their plan all along? Could something have attacked, swift and silent, as they had been fighting? Could something like that have taken their Digimon and Rubimon away? If that was the case, what was happening to their Digimon now? Would they even see them again?

“We're so fucking lost!" exclaimed Blaire, skidding to a stop behind Ryan and Adrian. "Everything is the same! How are we supposed to find our way around?"

Katrina stared intently down at the screen of the D-Ex. "I can't get a signal on them. Only us." She could see only the other three dots that signified her companions: pink, purple, and yellow. No other signals flashed on the screen to point out the Digimon.

They continued to move through the Circle at an even walking pace. Ryan set it, his long strides taking them through the endless halls and stairs. There was no sign of their Digimon, so their best chance to find them, they agreed, was to continue to search for an exit and hope that their Digimon and Rubimon had done the same.

"They probably carried on ahead when we stopped," Ryan tried to reason, more to calm himself than his friends. "When they noticed we weren't with them, I'll bet they turned back but got mixed up with all the rooms lookin' the same. It'll be fine."

"You keep telling yourself that, Ryan." Blaire patted his shoulder. "Tell us when it makes you feel better." Despite her words and mildly sarcastic tone, concern and worry gnawed away at her stomach. Her loss of Muertomon only magnified how helpless she felt in being unable to assist her brother.

“This place is so weird, yeah?” Adrian caught his breath, looking around. They had reached large square room with a transparent ceiling, like it was made of glass. Iridescent stones poked out of the walls and seemed to hum when they walked past them.

“We've been in this world long enough to know that.” Ryan answered his rhetorical question with a small grin. "Or have you just started to notice how strange and unusual the Digital World is, man?"

Adrian chuckled a little.

Blaire spoke up from a few feet away as they walked through the humming room. “Ya'know Adrian, if you wanted to date Kat yourself you shouldn't have to hide behind... uh, what his name? Uh... Rick?” Blaire crossed her arms and facing the Cajun’s back, resuming their earlier conversation in an attempt to distract herself and the others from their more pressing concerns.

"Are we back on this?" Katrina asked wearily, running her fingers over her forehead. "Seriously, now? Aren't there more important things to be focusing on?"

Adrian spun on his heel to respond to Blaire. “Woah, woah, woah! Now cher, I have no problem asking anyone out on a date. I don't think I need to hide behind my friend.” Adrian took off his glasses, cleaning them on his shirt.

“Well, Kat isn't just anyone,” Blaire laughed.

"I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not...," Katrina murmured, narrowing her eyes at Blaire a little.

“She ain't my type,” Adrian explained.

Katrina turned to Adrian with a playfully offended expression. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means–”

“Look at what I've found,” Ryan cut off his roommate, his voice echoing from around a corner of a hall located to the very left of the room they were standing in.

The remaining three followed his call and found their fourth companion standing at a beautifully ornate door. It was white and seemed about two stories in height, making them appear like mere mice. From what they could see, the door was decorated with intricate patterns: leaves carved up the edges were given embellishments of differen fruits and berries, and on closer inspection the door had a slightly silvery sheen. The strangest thing was how there were several sets of door handles.

Above them were two sets of large round door knockers at different heights, and another set was at eye level. Whoever – or whatever – went through that door was huge, and hopefully whatever it was, it was not located on the side.

“Help me push it open.” He beckoned with his hands. “I bet this is the exit.”

"Are... you sure that's a good idea?" Katrina asked warily. "What if there's something big and angry behind that?"

"You scared?" Adrian joked.

Katrina looked at him squarely. "Yes. As anyone with an ounce of common sense should be."

"We'll just push it open a little," Ryan reasoned with her. "If we look in and see some kind of giant ogre, then we'll run. If it's safe, then nothing to worry about." He grinned at her and waited.

There was mild hesitation, but the others walked towards it.

“On three. One... two... three!”

Together, the foursome pressed their weight onto the large door, groaning and grunting with effort as they dug their feet into the ground to get it to open. Slowly the door began to budge, inch by inch, with more straining from those doing the pushing. Light flooded out of the cracks in the door frame as it opened and began to illuminate the hallway.

"Almost... there..." Ryan heaved, shoving his shoulder into the door with his whole weight behind it.

The others grunted as they pushed, working together to push all their weight until the door was open wide enough for them to walk in. Ryan decided to peer around the frame, but before anyone could speak or move or see what lay before them, they were blinded by white light.

“I can’t see... a thing,” Blaire's voice echoed. She knew she had lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the brightness, but could barely see her hand through her squinted eyes. "Where are you guys?" She was reaching out with her other hand, trying to find a body or something solid to hold onto. She stumbled haphazardly as her eyes slowly began to adjust.

"Blaire?" Adrian's voice came from somewhere.

"Adrian?"

"Everyone, just stay still." Ryan's voice resonated deeply as he gave a clear command, more to try and protect them all from harm. There was no telling what was in this room and what the light was hiding. Maybe an empty floor with a hole in it that would cause them to fall hundreds of feet down.

Blaire stood stationary, blinking and continuing to grimace as she tried to focus on things around her.

Slowly, their eyes all began to adjust to the brightness, and they were able to distinguish shapes and the space around them, as well as one another. It was quickly apparent that the light source was high above them. Something shone so brightly that there seemed to be no ceiling in sight. The walls around them were white, offset with a slightly golden hue, which was only obvious when the light caught it perfectly.

This room – unlike the others they had seen – was completely circular, like the chamber below with the sixteen frozen Digimon and people. All the other rooms they had come across had been square or rectangular. Six tall pedestals lined the walls of the room around them, evenly spaced, and two others stood high in the center of the room. On top of each pedestal were simple thrones, which appeared to be carved right out of the pillars. And each of those thrones held a single occupant.

"What the..." Adrian's words fell flat.

"Yeah...," Ryan agreed. "Whoa–!" he stumbled uneasily; Blaire grabbed his arm to steady the both of them. Katrina balanced with her feet at odd angles, while Adrian had gone onto one knee as soon as he had felt unsteady.

They were being lifted by some unseen force. The ground beneath them disappeared swiftly, and soon they were simply floating in midair. They came to a stop at a point level with those sitting in the carved thrones.

One of the figures lowered their hands in their lap, as if they had been the ones lifting them, and another sat up straight in their throne.

"Welcome." Her voice was warm, kind. It had a quality to it that seemed to give the impression of age and wisdom, yet she had only said one word. "My name is Morrigamon, and we have been expecting you."

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

They were all struck dumb for a number of long moments, each of them taking in the sights before and around them. Eight figures sat staring at them, watching them closely, unmoving. Each of them a different color, with light shining off them in rivulets.

The woman who had spoken to them, Morrigamon, was green in color, with a pink-purple symbol and marking emblazoned into the bare skin they could see. She wore a dark cloak with a crow’s skull pinning it to her head. There were long, clawed gauntlets around her arms and wrists, and her legs covered in dark greaves with more skulls at her knees. A trio of spectral crows hovered around her.

On her right was a man who appeared more animal than human, glowing in a yellow color with darker blue markings across his bare chest. A hood and cloak hung around him in a regal shade of purple, and on his shoulders were intricately decorated pauldrons in gold, which were matched by the belt around his waist and the greaves on his lower legs. A matching shield sat at his side.

Next, an orange man with a huge cloud formed around him and his seat, also making up his forearms. Atop his head was a glamorous golden headdress, which matched the ornate and oriental-looking pauldrons on his shoulders, and adorning his shins and waist. A white and black striped tail flickered beside him impatiently, as he leaned on his fist, his elbow perched on the arm of his throne.

Beside him was another male, wide and imposing in his throne. The exposed skin of his body was pink, broken with blue markings as if the blue was shattering through his skin. He had a crown of ice around his head, and glowing turquoise eyes. A pelt of a snow leopard fur hung from his shoulders, secured with pauldrons which also has ice erupting from them. His hands were like huge gauntlets of ice, similar to those that Berserkermon formed.

A woman sat beside him, still and elegant. Her skin was purple, and she glowed from head to foot. A silver headdress in the shape of antlers decorated her head, and from it hung gems and delicate chains of silver, like spider silk. Her arms were covered in dark grey gauntlets, decorated with stones, and her legs were protected by dark-colored greaves that reached her mid-thigh. She wore a cloak, sleeveless and lilac in color, with pale grey trim. Her legs were crossed, and she observed the group with a quiet, soft expression.

The one to complete the main circle was another female, a lithe body all in blue, nude except for a thin piece of material around her hips and a simple decorative band to protect her modesty. Golden bangles hovered around her left ankle and right wrist, and there were vines across her body, drawn over her shoulders. Her head was that of a panda, though, and huge gold hoop earrings hung from her ears. Her head was adorned with a selection of blue gems, and a crown created with beautiful lotus flower petals.

The remaining two creatures were seated at the two central thrones. They matched in appearance, the similarities obvious, but each held their own individual colors. One, a male, had a body that glowed in a sheer, blinding white, except for the blue pattern engraved on his chest that looked like a circuit board. There was armor, organic in shape and colored black, with orange details at the knees, shoulders, elbows, hands, and waist. Behind him spread wings of orange flame, which matched his tail.

The female sat beside him. Her body black, and her smooth armor white with gold details and pale blue stones embedded across it in the same places as her male counterpart. Similar to him, wings spread out behind her, small and blue like clouds of ice, and her tail the same.

Morrigamon returned to her throne, sitting gracefully.

No one spoke, each group waiting for the other to say or do something. Time dragged on, growing tenser and tenser.

Then Adrian cleared his throat. "So, did we die when we went through that door?"

"No," Morrigamon spoke. "Come closer, let us see you better."

No one moved. Wary glances were exchanged between Ryan, Adrian, and Katrina, but Blaire stared at the beings around her with awe and wonder, her mouth slightly agape.

"We mean you no harm," the woman with the antler headdress assured them gently. "Please, you're safe here."

Blaire strode forward. "It's okay," she spoke to her companions, "I know who they are. Though I didn't realize it at first."

"Care to enlighten us?" Ryan inquired, following the turquoise haired woman uneasily.

"They're the Gods," Blaire explained with a smile. "Morrigamon, Gaiusmon, Vayumon, Ymirmon, Ceryneiamon, and Marquismon." She turned and pointed to the identical male and female pair. "And that's Heliomon and Selenemon."

"Oh... kay..." Katrina frowned. "But... aren't they trapped in those crystal cocoons?"

"Yes," spoke Marquismon, "we are simply manifestations of ourselves, corporeal only for now to communicate with you. We are using the recesses of energy still here in the Circle, making our time precious and short."

"How is this–"

"Please," Morrigamon cut Ryan off, "save your questions for now. You must listen to us, and listen closely." The urgency in her voice put an end to any other queries he or his companions had for now. They stood together closely, listening and watching as the Gods around them exchanged slight glances and shifted in their thrones.

"The task you have currently undertaken is only your first," Ceryneiamon began. "There is a great evil lurking in the Digital World, threatening to undo all that we accomplished four years ago."

"And we are not strong enough to defeat it now," Vayumon continued for her. "After relinquishing our powers to create a new Core, we cannot hope to defeat it ourselves. Leaving it up to you."

"Us?" Ryan scoffed. "I thought we'd be done once you guys were free."

"No," Ymirmon told him, his voice almost as cold as his expression. "All we will be able to do is offer our assistance from afar. Our knowledge. We will be too weak to battle, and it is unfortunate that we have to leave the fate of the Digital World in your young hands."

"Your unprepared hands," Gaiusmon added gruffly.

Katrina crossed her arms. "What is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

"Your bonds with each other are fractious. Tenuous at most. There are many differences between you. Much... conflict," Selenemon spoke softly. "It is something we can feel, even in our slumbering state."

"Without putting your differences to rest you will never grow in strength to accomplish what you must," Heliomon added after his sister.

"What your betters were able to do before you."

"Gaiusmon!" Ceryneiamon chided the sea God. He ignored her, closing his eyes. "Please understand, a weakness in your bonds as humans, and the bonds between you and your Digimon is all the enemy would need to break you apart. To turn you against one another."

Marquismon opened her hands, summoning before her a beautiful spinning sphere. "Something I believe has come close to happening before." An image swam in the sphere, of Melusimon battling Pelmamon in the Clockwork City, while Katrina stood motionless.

Guilt gnawed at the redhead’s gut and she averted her gaze, folding her arms and biting her bottom lip.

"Weakness is human," Marquismon assured her in a gentle voice, which sounded almost as if the blue Goddess was speaking directly into Katrina's ear, despite not moving from her throne. "You are no lesser for being able to be manipulated so. You are not the first, and not the last."

"But you see how vulnerable your differences can make you," Vayumon said, "if you allow them to. You are all different; each of you possesses strengths and weaknesses. It is beneficial, and of the utmost importance, that you focus on your individual and mutual strengths to bind you, and not your differences and weaknesses which will only serve to divide you."

Morrigamon sat up. "He, that is your enemy who has plagued your steps, draws close. He seeks your blood and ours. He will try to draw a wedge between you, do not let him," she spoke firmly. "He can only break you apart if you allow him, and the great power that lurks here wants that."

"Baphomon won't get to us again," Blaire stated firmly. Tentatively, she placed a hand on Katrina's shoulder, and smiled a little when the other woman looked at her. "He won't get to any of us."

Katrina half-smiled.

"Instilled in each of you is a great power, placed there by the Core we recreated," Ymirmon explained. "To use it, it must be awakened, and that is something only you, yourselves can do."

"How?" Adrian asked.

Selenemon touched his shoulder. "That is something we cannot tell you. You may have to face terrible dangers and things you fear to do it. Traversing the darkness to reach the light is not uncommon."

"But you must have faith, and always trust in yourselves. Your Digimon. Your friends. In us," Ceryneiamon told them softly. "For you must know, and always remember, you are never alone."

"We will be there to guide you," Morrigamon added with a small smile. She gazed over the four humans and then turned her eyes up to Selenemon. "Speaking of which - Selenemon?"

"Yes?"

"Now is the time to show them."

"Of course." Selenemon rotated her hands, one clockwise, the other counterclockwise, creating between them a sheen of pure, flat ice. She held it out towards the group and they looked into it. Appearing to them was a scene, a vault. Empty, apart from a small silver suitcase. The image shimmered and next appeared the inside of the case, lined in black velvet, and cushioned within that were two vials. One that glowed white, and the other black. "The two vials you require are in the real world, not here."

"We know," Ryan said. "Rubimon told us. But she's not sure where they are."

"They are safe, kept hidden away in the secure vaults at Atlas," Heliomon told them. "They will be the final piece to awakening us, and our partners below."

"But time is of the essence. You must get them and return as soon as you can," Selenemon added. "Each day we and our humans linger here, our weakness grows."

"Why do we need the vials to get our Digimon to evolve?" asked Blaire, turning to the six seated Gods. "Reyez never needed anything like that to help Ailurmon evolve."

Marquismon smiled. "Your Digimon were born in a very... unique way. Not in the same way that other Digimon are born. For that reason, they cannot evolve in the same way that other Digimon can. The vials are the only way true evolution is possible."

"How did the vials happen?" Adrian inquired, removing his glasses and beginning to clean them on his shirt. "I mean, I know they are containers of your blood, but how did that happen? And how did they get to the Digital World?"

Blaire chimed in. "We know that Russell Divine wanted your blood to try and make Digimon in the real world and that didn't work,  but how did it all happen?"

"He had assistance," Ymirmon explained. "A Digimon who believed Russell a trusted friend, and who would do anything to help him. In time, Russell betrayed that Digimon."

Morrigamon continued, "Before the Parasite, Mukademon, had a grip on Bella, she confronted Russell, angered and frightened by his obsession with the Digimon and Digital World. She took the vials and threw them through the portal to the Digital World that Russell had discovered. She and her business partners created and implemented the Behemon program to protect the vials, and to stop Russell returning and seeking them out again."

"Unfortunately, after Russell's death, Bella was Mukademon's target and host, and she created the two vials of mine and my sister's when she discovered us," Heliomon told them slowly. "She was able to use some of the essence and precious stones to create her war machines, the crystalline Digimon."

"I remember those," Blaire sighed. "Reyez told me they were stronger than normal Digimon."

"And he was correct," Gaiusmon murmured, opening his eyes slowly. "A cowardly tactic, creating creatures only for war, which knew nothing of honor or even had their own mind with which to think."

Ceryneiamon sighed a little, leaning back in her throne. Vayumon clutched her hand and moved towards her, floating on the wind that surrounded him. "Time goes on, and our energy wanes...," Ceryneiamon said, touching Vayumon's face gently.

"We have a gift to give each of you, before we go," Marquismon said.

"Wait," Ryan stopped them. He pushed his hat off his head, ruffling his hand through his hair. "Maybe... maybe you can't even answer this. Maybe you didn't have anything to do with it but... but if you can, I want to know..."

"Know what?" Morrigamon prompted, patiently.

"Why... why us?" He looked at her. "Why were we chosen out of all the other people on the planet, why was it us four that got Digimon?"

"You doubt your worthiness?" inquired Gaiusmon, arching a brow. "Your humility is a becoming trait, but not your self-doubt."

"Is this because of Heather?" Blaire asked Ryan, her face marred with concern. She stepped towards the taller man, and lightly touched his arm. "Are you wondering 'why me?' because of her?"

Ryan struggled a little, his mouth pulling to one side as he struggled to meet Blaire's gaze. "A little," he mumbled finally. "I just makes no sense to me. I wasn't in the city when everything happened. I knew only what I had seen on the Internet."

"Your question is fair," Vayumon spoke, helping his wife to her feet, "and one it is only fair we answer."

Morrigamon stepped down from her throne, and with the other Gods began to approach the four humans. "The Core selected you because it recognized in you the strongest traits of our own companions. Katrina, you demonstrate the headstrong, leadership qualities of Thomas, but also the strong will, determination, and clear-headedness of Piper. An ability to lead, and also to be led. To take the advice of others, and when to make decisions yourself. When everything is going mad in the midst of battle, you retain a calmness that helps you make the choices, to see the weaknesses in your adversaries."

Marquismon enveloped Blaire in her arms. "You hold your brother's no-nonsense attitude. The one that gets you into trouble all the time. And that desire for adventure that Hunter has always held onto. Both assist you, in keeping going, in helping others keep going even at the worst times."

"Your loyalty and determination are traits most like my James," Ceryneiamon spoke to Ryan, placing her hands on his shoulders. "You have such strong ties to your friends and family, that you would never let anything come between them. And, like Frankie, you're kind. It shines out of you like a light that can never be extinguished. You put others before yourself. That selflessness is what will help you and your friends in the darkest of times, and you must never lose that about yourself."

"What about me?" Adrian said, watching as both Selenemon and Ymirmon stood before him.

"Eva's goodness is what the Core saw in you," Ymirmon told him, his voice softening for the first time. "A wealth of love and warmth that draws people to you like a beacon. It is why you were drawn to her in the first place, because you saw in her the same things you have in yourself."

"And Rose," Selenemon sighed. "Rose has always had the desire to please others. Something that can be a strength or a weakness, and something she was able to turn from a weakness into a strength. It's not just a desire to please others, but to prove yourself to them, that you are as brave as they are, as clever, as kind. That you are just as much your own person as they are."

"Now," Marquismon stood back a little, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Heliomon before Blaire, "the gift we will give you is a power, something that you will need in time, to come and will help you when you are in the greatest need."

She and Heliomon carefully placed their hands upon Blaire's clavicle, Heliomon's hand covering Marquismon's. Morrigamon touched Katrina's forehead with her fingertips, and Gaiusmon did the same. At the top of Adrian's spine, Selenemon and Ymirmon touched their palms to his skin, and Ceryneiamon and Vayumon lay their hands over Ryan's left forearm.

"Stand still," Morrigamon whispered, "and brace yourselves."

In a flash of pain and light, all four humans cried out.

Water and black vapor surrounded Katrina's head like a circlet. Vines seemed to burrow into Blaire's chest, while flames licked at her skin from Heliomon's hand. Ice enveloped Adrian's shoulders and Ryan's arm was obscured by blinding lilac light, while wind sliced at his skin.

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

His head was throbbing, but that pain was nothing in comparison to the burning sensation he felt on his lower arm. It was a pain like nothing he had felt before. Almost like some phantom limbs were holding onto it so tightly they were trying to break his arm with their most base strength.

The floor beneath him was cool and solid, something that kept him grounded as he slowly regained his senses. He could hear the sounds of others moving, moaning and murmuring softly nearby, other voices, concerned questions of wellbeing were all muddled and muffled in his ears.

Opening his eyes slowly, he realized his vision was obstructed and blinked them a few times to bring everything into focus.

A pair of intelligent yellow eyes stared down at him, concern most evident in the face of the griffin Digimon he recognized.

Reaching back with his non-injured arm, he drew a large hand over the feathers. "Hey bud," Ryan greeted Anzumon, his voice coming choked.

"You're okay," Anzumon stated, his concern giving way to relief and then annoyance. "Don't you scare me like that again! You disappeared, and then we find you all collapsed on the floor!" Despite his words, Anzumon tucked himself under Ryan's arm to help him sit up when he realized his partner was struggling a little.

"I'm sorry, bud."

"Just don't do it again," Anzumon told him, his eyebrows furrowed. Ryan could tell there was genuine worry and meaning in the little Digimon's voice, and gently touched his head.

"I won't." He scratched at Anzumon's feathers around the base of his antlers.

Around him, Ryan could see Blaire, Adrian, and Katrina all in similar situations, groggy and only slightly coherent, being asked and fussed over by their companions. Rubimon stood a few feet away, watching everything with calculating amber eyes.

When she sensed Ryan watching her she crossed to him.

"Are you alright?"

"I think so," Ryan sighed, running his hand across his face.

"Can you remember what happened?"

Ryan explained slowly, making sense of everything that had transpired to himself, as well as Rubimon and the other Digimon, who came together once they were certain their own partners were healthy and unharmed except for being a little confused.

"You... saw the Gods?" was Rubimon's first question when Ryan had concluded.

"Yeah." He nodded. "We were in this chamber. There were six thrones all around the room, and two in the middle. They were all there, and they spoke to us."

"Told us that we needed to have faith in ourselves, and our Digimon," Blaire said, patting Muertomon's head, "and that there was some kind of evil lurking in the Digital World."

"Baphomon," Rubimon sighed. "Anything else?"

"They told us that the final two vials were in the real world," Adrian recounted, "and that they were being kept in the Atlas vault. Oh, and that we need to be quick cause the longer they're frozen, the weaker they get."

"They also said they were going to give us some kind of power," Katrina added, touching her forehead.

"Oh my gosh!" Grindymon exclaimed, her light brightening. "Your head!"

"What?!" Katrina touched her forehead again. "What? What?!"

"There's a...," Grindymon hesitated. "It's glowing!"

"Here." Blaire handed Katrina a small compact mirror so she could see for herself.

In her reflection, she could see the fading image of a turquoise blue diamond. It disappeared, and in its place was her normal pale peach skin.

Katrina clicked the compact shut, her companions touching themselves where the Gods had touched them. On Blaire's chest a pink heart shone through the tattoos on her skin, and a yellow spade appeared on Ryan's lower arm. Karumon confirmed the appearance of a glowing purple club at the top of Adrian's spine for him.

After a few seconds, each of the markings faded, leaving blemish-free skin in its wake.

"Okay...," Blaire said slowly, "I really hope that won't happen every time I get touched there... it could make sex really  awkward."

"That's your first thought?" Ryan laughed.

"At least you guys can wear clothes on yours. Mines on my forehead. I might as well change my name to Harry freakin' Potter," Katrina huffed, tucking a straying strand of hair behind her ears.

"What's Harry freakin' Potter?" inquired Karumon.

"More importantly, what are these things?" Blaire demanded, pointing to her chest.

"Power," Rubimon reasoned. "I suppose," she added with a small shrug.

"Mine matches the symbol on my D-Ex," Adrian announced, looking at the object in his hand. His companions checked their own items, and echoed murmurs of the same.

Rubimon slowly breathed out. "We'll have to find out more about them at a later time. We still need to get out of the Circle."

Katrina stood. "Oh, that's easy. There's a hallway coming up with a hidden staircase behind a fake panel on the wall. If we take that, it leads up straight outside."

The Digimon stared at her.

"How...," Muertomon tapped his chin, "how do you know that?"

Katrina looked at him, and then her expression shifted, becoming troubled. "I... don't know."

"Gods?" Ryan suggested. "Maybe when they blasted us we got some of their knowledge of the Circle? Cause... I know you're right about that stair case."

Rubimon took charge. "We'll worry about it later. The sooner we're out of here, the sooner we can get back to the real world."

"How are we going to manage that, anyway?" asked Blaire, following after the others as they walked with Rubimon.
"I'll explain once we're outside," replied the dragon impatiently.


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