Episode 33: The Thief, The King, and I

The speaker had said he meant them no harm, but it was hard not to feel a little on-edge. Too much had happened, too fast.

As their eyes adjusted, between the light of the D-Rives and the light that the newcomer had brought, they could see what had entered.

The newcomer was a small digimon, perhaps close to Desmon in size. He was bipedal, but didn't look like any kind of particular animal; rather, atop his head was a massive mushroom cap. His colour was hard to determine in the dark, but his body was predominantly white, with darker arms and dark bulbous patches on his mushroom that glistened in the light as though they were liquid. His tail, long and almost lizardlike, ended in a fungal structure that looked like a gnarled hand, and smaller mushrooms sprouted out of his back. His arms were disproportionately large; he held one akimbo, and the other held up a red crystal the size of a fist that glowed faint pinkish-red.

His eyes were very peculiar, that much they could see, with white irises set in black sclera-- and half-hooded lids, an unfazed expression on his face.

"I'm not interested in fighting," the mushroom digimon said. "Six of you. One of me. No brainer."

"Don't you mean twelve?" Peter said after a moment, speaking cautiously, but the response came swift.

"No, I meant six. You're humans, right? So there's six humans and six digimon, and it's only the digimon that matter. Though I suppose you could probably kick me pretty hard. So, fine, twelve of you if you insist."


"... not to be rude," Meghan said; to her side, Oremon was rising to a kneeling position. His head was spinning, so even if he wanted to rush, he couldn't. "But who are you?"

The mushroom glanced at her, and regarded her for a moment, as though weighing whether or not she was worth answering.
"Sienimon," he said. "And you're the Refugees, I take it?"

Forgive them for not wanting to answer immediately. A lot had just happened, and an extremely rude mushroom was not the first thing they expected to deal with right now, even if he said he meant them no harm.

The digimon were getting their bearings again. They righted themselves, rising to their feet and shaking the dust out of their fur and feathers, and Raumon helped to adjust Banmon's wrappings that had come loose from the fall. Luckily, most of the damage done to them had been to their ultimate forms, and so they were ragged, but mostly intact, as rookie-levels.

The humans were less fortunate, with no forms to transform in and out of to clear away the damage.

Meghan's leg was in poor shape, and as she tried to shift her weight she wondered whether or not she'd be able to walk on it at all (which was a real kick in the teeth after how it had mostly healed in the past few days). Sam's stomach wasn't bleeding as profusely anymore -- the injury had been shallow -- but if he tried to straighten up, a searing pain shot through his entire abdomen. Xander had wrenched a shoulder something awful and had skinned large parts of his forearms from attempts to protect his face when he landed; Peter had landed on his back and had the air knocked out of him in stellar fashion, to the point that he was still trying to get it back; Lily was almost certain she'd cracked a rib, and it was only the adrenaline and lingering numbness from Baykomon's icy hands that prevented her from feeling it just yet. To round it off, Natalie wouldn't have been frankly shocked if she hadn't broken her nose, judging by the blood all over her face and throbbing, thought-destroying pain in the middle of her face (and she had to count herself lucky that she hadn't hit her head more properly).

And that was all to say nothing of the shock, of the adrenaline and the panic and the fear still coursing through them.

But through all of this, through this rigorous self-cataloging, nobody wanted to take their eyes off of Sienimon. He didn't seem bothered at all, and he watched them in turn.

"We're, uh," Natalie said, wincing as she wiped blood off of her face with the back of her hand, "we're not going to be moving anytime soon. You may want to take a seat if you're waiting on us."

Sienimon quirked an eyebrow.
"Figures," he said, but before anyone could ask what he meant by that, he set his glowing crystal down on the floor and took a seat, cross-legged, on the dusty stone.

Natalie had been being facetious, but she didn't dare say it. Luckily, she didn't need to.

"... can we help you?" said Xander, rolling his shoulder but not taking his eyes off of Sienimon.

Sienimon looked them up and down, then tapped the side of his face with one claw.
"What? There was a loud noise. I came and inspected it," he said after a moment, "seeing as, you know, I live here."

Brockmon narrowed his eyes.
"No you don't," he said sharply. If anyone would know that, it was him. If anything could be said to live here, it was the blind and mad digimon who lived in the caves below and roaming the barrens. Sienimon was -- bluntly but truthfully put -- too lucid to live anywhere near here.

"Fine. You caught me," Sienimon said immediately, sounding thoroughly unperturbed that he'd been caught out in a lie. "Aren't you clever. Any other questions?"

Yes. Several!
Why was he here? What did he want? They knew his name, but who was he? There were a great many questions to ask.
But some were more practical and functional than others, and more likely to be useful.

"How far underground are we?" Raumon said. There were a great many questions, but Sienimon did not seem particularly... uh... personable? So it seemed prudent to ask a few quantifiable questions.

Sienimon paused, and glanced around, taking stock of the room, specifically the tapestries on the walls and the murals carved into the stone, and he did some quick calculations in his head. "Couple hundred feet. Pretty close to the top, honestly. I assume that sound was the throneroom caving in? Could've been a lot worse. Next question."

His clipped tone was startling, but luckily, someone else had thought of one already.

"What's the red crystal?" Sam said.

"We're a little bit sick of the stuff," Gelermon added, eyeing with suspicion the glowing rock(?) that was sitting in front of Sienimon. She couldn't shake the association with Nithmon, and it wasn't hard to imagine that the others had a similar sort of feeling.

Again, Sienimon was totally unbothered. He picked the crystal up and turned it over in his hand; the light danced off it, casting shadows as it moved. "It grows around here." He gestured back down the stairwell. "Not here. A ways down, I mean. It glows. It's easier than keeping a fire lit. Didn't want to walk around in the dark like a dipshit. Next."

As brusque as he was, he was quick to give some direct answers at the very least.

"... so, forgive me if I missed this, but who the fuck are you?" Xander said.

"Sienimon. Already answered that."

"I don't think that's what he means," Meghan jumped in. "I mean-- who are you?"

Sienimon did not answer for a moment. He hummed, and drummed his fingers on the stone floor.
"That's not imp--"

"Bullshit it isn't!" Gelermon snapped. "You saw what happened with wonder-rat, you know who we are on sight which is impressive considering how little light there is to see us by, and by your own admission you don't live here," she counted off on her fingers as she spoke. "So if you say it's not important I'm going to bite your leg off."

Sienimon stared blankly at Gelermon, taking the slings and arrows of her digression without so much as an iota of surprise.
"Is it so hard for you to imagine I may not want to have this conversation sitting right on top of the mouth to hell -- proverbially speaking -- and underneath a temple that's finally decided to start collapsing in on itself -- much less proverbially. Is that unreasonable." The words indicated a question, but his tone was flat and uninflected. When nobody had a response, he seemed assured of his own correctness.
"Right then. Follow me. I will answer your questions. Some of them, anyway. The ones that aren't stupid. But this place is a real fucking bummer, so. I repeat. Follow me," Sienimon said, and without waiting he turned and began to walk down the stairs he'd come from, holding the glowing red gem aloft.

"... so," Desmon said, twitching her ears and stretching out her stiff, sore wings, "do we follow the asshole mushroom?"

"Do we have any chance of finding a way out without him?" Raumon said, glancing at the stairwell. The red light had grown dimmer quickly as Sienimon walked away, but it had stopped dimming. Sienimon was waiting for them, so they took a moment, debating quietly amongst themselves.
Sienimon was rude, and a little prickly, and kind of offputting, but did they have any other courses of action here? Going back the way they came wasn't an option; he didn't live here, so that meant here had to be a way out, right?

"I have to say I've noticed that most digimon who mean us harm," Peter said, folding his arms, "don't tend to be particularly subtle about it."

"That's true, but..." Banmon trailed off. She glanced around and shivered. She wasn't sure how to feel, but she knew that something about this place made her feel very, very uneasy-- even on top of what had transpired.
She just couldn't explain it, but she absolutely hated being here, in the dark, caved in and dark and claustrophobic.

"Shouldn't you know the way out?" Xander said, glancing at Brockmon.

"There are some tunnels leading in and out of the temple, far below the surface," he said slowly. "Leading in and out of the lower levels, and into the cave system below the barrens. I wouldn't know where they are, though, seeing as I never left once I was stationed here."

"Some help you are," Gelermon remarked, inspecting her claws.

"Hey, ease off," Lily said in her partner's defense, but he shook his head to call her off.

"Let's focus," Natalie said, clapping her hands together gently to draw attention to her, and it worked surprisingly well. "Let's follow him. If it goes badly..." she said, then closed her eyes and exhaled. It couldn't be any worse than what they'd just done, and they made it through that intact; but that just brought other questions up.
What were they going to do now? Just try to get out to the barrens and hope they could make it through a crack to get home? Could they stand to do that even if they wanted to?
Natalie knew that all eyes were on her, and she felt the pressure. Her voice shook a little when she spoke, but nobody commented on it.
"We can't do anything from down here. I guess we'll just-- we'll try to get out of the dark. We can figure out where we're going to go from here once -- once we can actually get somewhere."

At that Sienimon's voice called out to them.
"Are you planning to just sit in the dark and hope the roof caves in further?"

They had no other ideas, so with great trepidation, they began to get up.
Nobody was in a scrambling mood, and it took a minute for them to figure out how to move. Luckily, Sienimon -- despite his apparent impatience -- still patiently waited, the soft glow of his light still visible in the stairwell.

"Can you stand?"

"Here, lean on me."

"You alright there?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine-- shit-- no, got it, I'm fine."

With Meghan half-leaning on Oremon in some weird imitation of a three-legged race, Sam half-hunched over as he walked, Peter and Lily walking extremely gingerly to minimize jostling, Natalie simply walking slowly to keep her head from spinning, and Xander making a valiant attempt to power through any pain he felt, with their digimon following at the pace the humans set, the twelve followed the dim red light down into the darkness.


As they went, it was silent but for their footsteps-- except very occasionally, they heard a distant but powerful rumble from somewhere far below. It wasn't a supernaturally loud noise; it didn't shake the walls or disturb the dust. It simply sounded like a clamor was happening somewhere far away.

"Whaaat is that," Sam blurted, looking around frantically. He was on-edge (he felt he had good reason to be!) and he was feeling a mite more jumpy than usual.

"Nothing to worry about," Sienimon said, and since nobody was sure of his degree of skill with threat assessment.

"Not sure I trust your threat assesment," Gelermon muttered, and Sienimon shrugged.

"Fair enough," he said glibly, and quickly switched subjects. "Why're you shutting up now? You were so talkative just a minute ago. Thought you were going to keep asking me stupid questions."

"... yeah, well, we've had a hell of a day," Xander said.

Sienimon snorted, clearly unmoved, and he led onwards.

The pathways they took were dark and twisting. They went from sprawling open rooms the size of a track and field, to cramped hallways barely large enough to hold their arms out at their sides, which then opened up into tunnels large enough to drive a double-decker bus before shrinking back down. He led them down coiling stairways and back up, through halls that twisted back upon themselves, until it was hard to tell where they were in relation to where they had started. It almost felt as though they weren't making spatial sense-- they would take turns that should have sent them looping back into rooms they'd already been into, and yet they would emerge somewhere new-- or maybe it was just a trick of the light, or lack thereof.

Speaking of the light, the first remarkable occurance came when they turned a right-angle corner and Sienimon pushed aside a dusty curtain. They spilled into a room full of a dull crimson light-- it was faint, and dark, but it was almost searingly bright compared to the near-total darkness they had been walking in.

Sienimon had been telling the truth about his source of light, at least. Clusters of red, faintly-glowing crystal had pushed through the spaces between the stone, in much the way that grass grows in the cracks of a sidewalk. It was a very familiar looking material, quite like Nithmon's crystalline prisons, but it lacked the glitching appearance.

It was still pretty unnverving, though; its light seemed to pulsate gently, an ebb and flow that wouldn't have been noticable if not for the fact that it was the only source of illumination. They paused for a moment,

"I wonder what it is," Peter mused aloud, very gingerly kneeling down to look at a patch near them. He reached his hand out, but--

"Don't touch it," Sienimon snapped sharply, and Peter quirked an eyebrow, pulling his hand back.

"Why not? You are," Desmon pointed out, and Sienimon met her eyes.

"What's your point?"

"Her point," Xander said, hands in his pockets now and his patience with Sienimon quickly dwindling, "is that if you're going to expect us to follow you and follow your instructions, then you owe us a hell of a lot more explanation, since you're kind of pissing me off."

Sienimon glanced at him. "I know more than you. So do what I say."

"You are not making a fantastic case for that, you know. Your," Desmon waved an arm in the air, "proverbial bedside manner could use some work, if you follow."

Sienimon snorted and glanced away, but he didn't press the issue.

This was the most illumination they'd had to see by, and now, here -- in a place where they weren't half-destroyed by claw marks and erosion and sand and stray winds -- they could see the intricate carvings that encircled the wall, like an unbroken ribbon of imagery. It looked as though they may have had paint on them at some point, but now they were bare stone.

"What are these?" Meghan asked, as Oremon helped her walk over to the closest wall so she could inspect them closer.

"They're... a version of our world's ancient history," Sienimon said.

Humanoid figures and bestial figures alike were carved in ornate stylization-- a hundred soldiers with birds circling overhead, trees made of vines blooming from the petals of massive flowers, flowing rivers, forests and jungles and cities. Though they were ancient and worn, they had a strange liveliness to them, as though the carvings were mere moments away from having life breathed into them, or like they had been living beings frozen in time just moments ago.

The group came to a standstill for just a few minutes as they inspected the engravings.

Three figures appeared over and over. The first two were a pair of angels -- one covered in armor and wielding a shield and spear, and the other slightly more bestial and wielding a sword. The third, upon closer inspection, looked like three humanoids clustered together. They were never separated, appearing as one consistent unit every time they appeared in the carvings.

In one image, the three figures held an intricate flower in their hands; in the next, that flower had bloomed into a tree. A few feet down the way, a war unfolded between three armies, each distinct even in carved miniature, and at the place where the three converged stood the shield-bearing angel. On and on they went like this, like still snapshots. There wasn't time to look at any of them for too long, let alone in the dark, but it was enthralling, almost captivating.

The digimon felt a twinge of something familiar as they looked upon the images, not wholly unlike the unearthed feelings that they had felt before. The humans, meanwhile, felt something different, and not entirely pleasant, gazing at the telling of a history of a world totally divorced from their own. The temple didn't sink until after Dinmon's fight with whatever Ratamon had been, and so these tellings had to predate them. Even so, there was so much that lay before them, a sprawling and truly ancient history.

You know, they hadn't even really had the chance to process what had just happened so short a time ago; but now, stopped and considering all of these things, it began to sink in.

Nithmon was--
Dead? Gone? Consumed by extradimensional leeches? Going to come back with a vengance? LEECHES? Whatever the details, something very strange had happened to him.
Nithmon, Ratamon, whatever he had been called a thousand years ago-- he was the evil digimon that had fought against Dinmon, and that meant that the Whisperer -- that to which Ratamon had been in service all this time -- was something else entirely, despite what Shitomon had told them. (Which meant that Dinmon either, A, hadn't been honest to Shitomon and company, or B, he didn't know the truth. Which was better? Neither! Everything was bad!)

A version of history, Sienimon had said. That was a loaded statement. The judgment was clear, but they still didn't know what the little mushroom's angle was.

And speaking of him: Sienimon tapped his foot impatiently and cleared his throat unsubtly, and -- a little reluctantly -- they began to move again.


They kept on for a long time; it could have been an hour or three hours, it was impossible to tell in the dark with few ways to orient themselves. Patches of crystal came and went, sometimes in greater concentrations and in massive growth-like spires, and sometimes in tiny clusters like moss on the sidewalk. Every so often, they would hear a noise-- sometimes closer, sometimes farther, and sometimes Sienimon would change courses to steer them away if they sounded close.

"It's probably the Olmon that live in the lower levels and caves around here," Sienimon had said, as though that meant anything to them, but it almost sounded like he was trying to be more accomodating by explaining himself. "They're harmless for the most part, but. They freak out when they get spooked."

Eventually, they emerged into a dead-end of a room-- or it would have been a dead end if the temple still stood above ground. It was a small room, no larger than Xander's apartment in its entirety; there was nothing in the room now, but across from the doorway was a window. They'd passed windows before, and had seen walls of stone and sand; but this window was different. Shattered glass lay in the dust, long-since settled and covered in thick layers of dirt and debris, because the window opened into a dark tunnel, carefully-hewn stone giving way to dug-out earth and rough edges.
Deliberately carved out to match the exact dimensions of the window's opening, it was perhaps just large enough to drive a minivan through; and around the window itself they could just barely make out makeshift supports set in place to reinforce the opening.

"There's one of your escape tunnels, huh," Lily said, glancing to Brockmon. He said nothing.

"Can we uh, maybe stop for a second here," Meghan said, shifting her weight uncomfortably.

"The longer we wait, the more of a pain in the ass it's going to be to keep going," Sienimon said, but he was taken aback by the swift response.

"The longer we walk the more literal the pain in my literal ass!" Xander snapped; behind him, Meghan had to try very hard not to burst out laughing, Sam snorted into his hand, and even Peter's face twitched a little in a resisted smile.
(Lily, meanwhile, did not bother to resist the urge to laugh; she barked a loud HA.)

"It's kind of hard to move when you're injured and can't see where you're going," Peter said, a bit more gracefully.

"It'd... probably be for the best to let them rest, now and then," Banmon concurred, looking uncertainly to Sienimon. "Don't you think...?"

Sienimon hesitated.
"... fine. But the sooner we're out of here, the better off we'll be."

They all as a group, found ways to sit; he found it easier to remain upright, but Meghan was quick to take the chance to sit, and Sam was quick to follow, pulling his knees to his chest and trying to find a more comfortable position.

Sienimon sighed, and glanced over at Raumon as everyone took their chance to catch their breath and take stock of themselves.
"You. Bird. You're a doctor, aren't you? Shouldn't you have an attack that heals?"

"Well--" Raumon began, and he quickly became flustered. He was about to deny it, but then he recalled Doctorimon's Face of Judgement. "-- I mean, yes, in theory, Doctorimon has a healing attack, but, I mean-- I don't know if it'd work on humans, and I can't do it since I'm not Doctorimon--" he said, gesturing wildly with his hands as he spoke. He didn't want to give away that he could evolve at will; that was a bit of information that did not have a track record of getting them a warm reception thus far.

"Right, so your human can just point their," fingerwiggles, "thing at you, you can just digivolve right quick, and--" Sienimon said, and then immediately realized he had said the wrong thing, and swore under his breath.

"... you know about the D-Rives," Raumon said, speaking the words as they occurred to him. Had he been told? Had he heard it from somewhere, like how rumors of their presence were beginning to precede them? Or--?

"... ah, dammit," Sienimon said, pressing two fingers to the bridge of what would have been his nose if he had one. "Look. You. Doctor-bird. See if you can fix your friends. Do that. Once we get a move on again I'll," he gestured vaguely with one hand, "explain shit, I guess."

"No, nah, nuh-uh, I think this is the kind of thing we ought to have explained before we press any further on," Lily said.

"Not like we have a great track record of the things we're told being right," Desmon said, but she still looked to Sienimon expectantly.

Sienimon looked as though he'd quite like to make a break for it and take off running rather than explain himself, but he grimaced and resisted the temptation.
"Fine. Okay." He paused, and pointed to Brockmon. "You. Catalyst. Badger. You still have your memory. How much do you know?"

Brockmon blinked at him. "About what?"

"The D-Rives."

Brockmon shook his head to indicate that he knew nothing, and Sienimon swore quietly.

"God dammit," he said, again pressing his fingers to the bridge of his 'nose'. "I've got my work cut out for me." He looked up. "Do any of you know where the D-Rives came from?"

Not for lack of trying.

"That's kind of been one of the driving mysteries of the past few months," Peter said, shaking his head as he looked at his own little device. But for a little bit of dust, it still looked as pristine as it had on the very first day. "So. No."

"Cool. Great. I do. I'm doing them a favor by trying to help you out by not leaving you to rot in a deserted temple that's caving in. Is that a good enough answer for you?"

The silence that followed was a stunned one, though Sam visibly perked up, so fast that he actually kind of hurt himself in doing so.

"Before you get excited," Sienimon said, holding his hands up in a whoa-there motion, "I didn't make the damn things. I'm here for the sole and exclusive purpose of leading you out of the hellmouth. That's all my job is. All I know is who made them and the fact that they're supposed to let you evolve temporarily, so don't shoot a bunch of questions my way."
Sam's enthusiasm was only mildly curbed, but he still managed to bite his tongue.

"Who made them, then?" Lily said. She wasn't entirely sure that any answer Sienimon could give would have any meaning to her, or most of them-- but Brockmon might be able to make sense of it.

"I can't tell you that," Sienimon snapped immediately.

"Why not!?" Gelermon shot right back; Sienimon looked to her, totally unwavering.

"Because if I told you, then there's a very real chance that someone we don't want to know would end up knowing it one way or another."

Oremon folded his arms. "You're not very forthcoming with information. Why should we trust you to have our best interests at heart?"

Sienimon paused; he actually didn't seem to have a pre-prepared answer for that. He stopped and thought, weighed his words carefully, and when he spoke again there was something a little softer, a little less abrasive, to his tone.

"If I wanted to hurt you, or capture you, or lead you astray, or anything else, I'd have much easier ways of doing it than showing you the way out of here. Do you really expect me to expend more effort than I have to?"
Well, based on what little they knew about him, that was a fair claim to make. He shrugged one shoulder.
"My only job here is to lead you out. That's it. Nothing more and nothing less. That's all I'm going to do."

A moment of silence passed.

"That doesn't explain why you volunteered, if we're such a big pain in the ass as you're acting like we are," Gelermon said, sounding a little skeptical, and Sienimon did not seem impressed with having to explain himself even more.

"Do you really think I seem like the type to do more than asked of me?" Sienimon asked, quirking an eyebrow. Couldn't fight that.
"They decided you'd be our best shot. I'd like to preserve what little chance we've got left. I'd like to think you're here for the same reason."


Coniumon led Narakamon and Pendramon through a dark stone tunnel, deep below the surface of the barrens. It was one of many that spread out like a spider's web, allowing for-- well, perhaps 'safe passage' may have been a bit of an exaggeration for most; but it allowed them to move quickly, much quicker than on the surface.
(And lest the reader worry, this tunnel was far from the one at whose end the party of thirteen curently sat.)

Only the outcroppings of the lumiescent red crystal lit the way (as Narakamon's purple-flame mane gave off no light), but it was fine; Coniuomon needed no direction. She had passed through these tunnels a thousand times, and her recruits need only follow her.
They had heard something loud but distant, echoing like a ringing bell through every tunnel for miles in every direction.

Something to do with Nithmon's folly, certainly, thought Coniumon. He had already done his job; it was foolish of him to think that he would be afforded more, when he'd already... well.
He wasn't her concern.

What was her concern were her two new travelling companions, such as they were. It had asked for them.

Not them, specifically, no; any of a number of digimon would likely have sufficed. But it had spoken to her, beckoned for them through her. She did not question it; it was not her place to do so. It would not matter.

She paused for only a moment, her ears flicking; something was breathing not far away, just around a wide bend.

"Hold," she said quietly, and though Pendramon and Narakamon were many times her size -- let alone being a Champion and an Ultimate to her own Rookie -- they heeded her. They came to a stop almost immediately; the sound of breathing did not stop, and Coniumon indicated with her head to continue.

Just around that rounded shoulder, a small bird sat, exhausted, against the wall of the tunnel. It looked up when she approached; it was ragged, and looked like it had travelled far without a plan, or a true understanding of what venturing across (or under) the barrens entailed. The feathers on its hands were burned and its flesh was cracking-- no doubt it had tried to carry the crystal for light.

Gosmon lifted his head and met eyes with Coniumon, and Coniumon heard a whisper in her head.


"So what is it we're supposed to do, exactly? We didn't exactly get any instructions when these things turned up," Natalie said, turning her D-Rive over in her hands. She, as they others had, had stopped using it as a flashlight -- it was a bit unwieldly -- but she still gripped it tight.
He'd like to think that trying to help was why they were here.
So be it that they were actually here without a plan except "deal with Nithmon" and now that that was done(?), they were now almost entirely rudderless. So, sure, absolutely, a clue. Any time.

"And try as I damn well might I can't make any significant progress on figuring out how they actually, you know, work," Sam chimed in.

"And how are we supposed to figure out what we're doing if you won't tell us?" Lily said, moving to stretch her arms above her head but thinking better of it when a sharp pain shot through her side.

"What did I tell you about not asking me questions!?" Sienimon snapped, shaking his head. "Look. I don't know, alright? I don't know jack or shit. You heard of don't shoot the messenger? Don't interrogate the messenger. For the fiftieth goddamn time: I'm just here to get you out of the temple, which, by the way, we can get right to doing any time now."

"Hey, remember, injured," Xander said, and Sienimon snorted.

"As I said. Bird. You can evolve, right? Try to heal them," he said, pointing to Raumon.

Raumon blinked a couple times and looked to Natalie.
"Do you think it'd work?" he said, furrowing his brow.

Natalie paused, and looked at her D-Rive again. "Do we have anything to lose?"

Raumon nodded, and took a deep breath. He was exhausted still; he'd have to work quickly if he wanted to do this at all.
In a moment, purple light flooded the room, blindingly bright, as Doctorimon stood in Raumon's place. He gripped his staff tightly and sighed deeply. Sienimon, though he did a fairly good job of looking totally unfazed, could not hide the raise of his eyebrows as he watched what was, in truth, a quite remarkable feat.

"Are you certain?" Doctorimon said, looking to Natalie as he gripped his staff.

Not really was what she wanted to say, but she nodded anyway, then immediately regretted it because moving her head sent nauseating pain rocketing through her face.

Doctorimon nodded his head and took a deep breath.
"Face of Judgement!" he called, holding his staff out, with the mourning face facing outwards. Its beak creaked open, and if the light of the D-Rive had been blinding, the white fire that spilled out of his staff was almost unbearable.

But when the white flames touched Natalie, she felt no pain.

Literally-- no pain. Not from the attack, and not from her face. It almost felt like having a bucket of water dumped on her head, except the water was a wave of relief from pain that spread from her head down to her toes.

"Whoa," she said, reaching up to touch her face. Her injuries were not being healed. She still looked as bad as she had a moment before, with blood on her face and two black eyes, and she could feel the break in her nose, but it didn't hurt. It was actually kind of unsettling and surreal, but compared to the previous state, she'd take it.

"It worked?" Lily said, tilting her head curiously.

"I wonder if it works on us because we're in this world," Peter said. After all, if they didn't need food or water here...
(And, he thought back to the last digimon they had fought in the human world-- the Groundramon that Banshemon, Doctorimon, and Himamon had fought had had strange, almost rotten flesh when they tore wounds open in its hide, and he couldn't help but wonder...)

"Wouldn't be the weirdest change," Sam said, shrugging, and then immediately regretting it as pain shot through his stomach. "And if you could get a move on sharing the love, that'd be great."

"I mean, it might work anywhere. It's not like he ever really used it even on us back in the human world," Desmon pointed out, which was true. He'd never quite gotten into the hang of using the ability. Doctorimon didn't commentate; he instead set himself to work.

Doctorimon's white flames were turned on every human member of the group, and they each saw the same results. Blood lingered, wounds remained open, anything out of place or twisted or weak was still so; but it did not hurt. Meghan stood up, a little wobbly on a weak ankle but not in pain; Sam, moving gingerly to avoid opening the wound, sat up straight and did not wince from pain.
They'd have to be careful, possibly even more so-- not being in pain didn't mean they weren't still injured, but it would make the entire process significantly less unpleasant, at the very least.

Almost as soon as he was done, Doctorimon became Raumon again in a burst of purple light, as though he simply couldn't hold the form much longer-- he slumped down, exhausted.

"I gotta say, I don't have much in me right now," he said, dusting himself off.

"See? Easy. Why didn't you think to do that yourself?" Sienimon muttered, shaking his head.

"First, I wasn't aware it worked on humans, and second, I'm not used to healing as my first instinct," Raumon said by way of explanation; Sienimon raised an eyebrow.

"... but you're a doctor digimon," he said, in the same mildly condescending tone as one would say the phrase but the sky, in case you forgot, is blue.

"Yeah, but--" Raumon began, but couldn't find a good retort.

Sienimon rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Humans. Are you good? We can get out of the hellmouth now?" Sienimon said, gesturing towards the tunnel impatiently.

The humans and their parnters looked at each other, then to Sienimon, and then at the passageway at which he pointed. Somewhere far away, but sounding a little closer than before, the sound of rumbling and crashing, echoing from a distant place but still too close for comfort.
"Right," Natalie said, wiping a bit more blood away from her face. "Let's go."

Sienimon nodded, holding his red crystal aloft as he led the group of twelve into the rough-hewn tunnel.

Aside from slightly less even ground and less straight paths, it wasn't that much different from walking through the temple; they snaked and curved, occasionally passed by outcroppings of glowing red crystal, growing out of the floor and walls and the ceiling, but it was always rising, sometimes shallow and sometimes steep but always climbing in elevation.(It really was only thanks to some Doctorimon-fueled painkilling that they managed it, but it was hard to tell if this was better or worse than moving across sand in the barrens.)
Sometimes, the tunnel had offshoot paths that back down into the earth, and even some coming straight down from the ceiling, but they were never like forks-- the main path continued on straight, or at least, straight-ish, and Sienimon never led them from it.

"So, how... long are we going to be here?" Banmon said, looking around at the dark cave walls, still very uneasy in ways she couldn't quite place.

Sienimon hummed. "Just about a mile or two. This tunnel opens up into a fissure-- it's where I came in. Then you're back in the barrens. Fresh air and as much sand as you can shake a stick at."

That was... well, it wasn't a comfort, but it was something, and so for maybe ten minutes they continued on in relative quiet; contemplating, marvelling at their lack of pain, quietly talking between themselves, never wanting to raise their voices too high for fear of unknown eavesdroppers in the rock.

But they all had uncountable questions, and it was only a matter of time before someone pitched another one.
"... so, I know you said you wouldn't tell us who you work for," Lily said after a short while, "but I gotta ask, and you know, you can feel free not to answer if it's too damning or whatever." She clicked her tongue, a tic to fill the space while she found the words to say what she meant. "Do you work for Dinmon?"

"No," Sienimon said after a moment, shaking his head. "Dinmon isn't--" he paused, and tried to find the words. "What he's doing will not help us. He still has the call out for your heads."

"Cool. Cool cool cool," Lily said, putting her hands in her pockets. "Real neat."

"Despite the fact that it's not going to do anyone any good?" Desmon said. "I mean, Rat-face kept saying over and over that it was too late to change anything, blah blah, it was already awake, blah blah. You'd think Dinny would be like, oh, hey, guess I can call off the mon-hunt."

"That's not how Dinmon works," Brockmon said, sounding more than a little put out but unsurprised; Sienimon snorted a bitter laugh.

"You're not wrong. Besides that, though, most digimon wouldn't want to hear it, anyway," Sienimon said. "We've all spent fifteen years using you as a lightning rod for our hate. Turning around now and saying actually you guys are cool, game's off-- the few digimon left who've got a glimmer of give-a-shit would riot."

"And yet you're perfectly willing to help us," Oremon said, raising an eyebrow.

"Why shouldn't I," Sienimon said; it really wasn't a question.

"Because we're..." Banmon began, but she didn't know how to answer it. Luckily, Sienimon seemed to have been waiting for a chance to launch into this.

"What, criminals? You've killed digimon? Were a general public nuisance?" he said, gesturing with the hand that wasn't holding the glowing crystal; then, he shook his head. "Congratulations. You've killed digimon. So have half of the digimon we've got left. If they're doing it because an idiot on a throne told them to do it or because some whispering bastard in the back of their heads did, it doesn't matter to me."

For a moment, that statement hung in the air, not nearly drowned out enough by the sound of footsteps.

"So who cares if someone goes around murdering, I guess, if it's six of one, half-dozen of the other," Oremon said bitterly, with irony dripping from his voice; but Sienimon looked over his shoulder and gave him a blank deadpan look.

"I mean, pretty much at this point, yeah."

That was not the answer Oremon was expecting at all, and he was shocked into silence, so much so that he stopped moving, and Meghan almost bumped into him.

"But that's-- that's absolutely insane!" Meghan blurted, frowning deeply, but Sienimon was unperturbed.

"Don't get me wrong. I'm hardly a syncophant for you lot. I'm not about to start a fanclub."

"Thank god," Brockmon muttered, thinking immediately of Narakamon; Sienimon continued as though uninterrupted.

"But if it wasn't you who got chosen, it'd be somebody else, and if it was someone else, I'm sure somebody could find a reason to complain. They think you're the ones that have the best chance of doing the job now. They've put the D-Rives in your hands, and since my faith is in them-- well. Q.E.D. It doesn't do any of us any good for you to sit around feeling bad for yourselves."

"I think that's easier to say when you're not at risk of turning into a hell-beast at the first sign of danger," Desmon mused, and Sienimon paused, looking over his shoulder.


"We... sometimes, when we digivolve to Ultimate, it goes... wrong, and--" Banmon said, then stopped. "You... didn't know about that?"

Sienimon shrugged and shook his head. "How many times do I have to say I have no idea. But no, can't say that I know anything about hellbeasts being part of the plan."

"Great," Sam drawled with an utterly crushing amount of sarcasm.

Any further was cut off by a loud rumble behind them, shaking so loud it dislodged bits of debris from the ceiling. The group stumbled to a stop-- and then the entire world around them rumbled again, as if they hadn't heard it the first time.
And they heard the unmistakable sound, not far enough back for comfort, of claws on stone, echoing in the confined space until it almost drowned out the strangled roars, coming down from one of the side-tunnels a short ways back.

"Could be an Olmon," Sienimon said by way of explanation, albeit a little less self-assured than the last time he'd said it.

"... you said they were mostly harmless?" Peter said, looking over his shoulder into the darkness. There was always the chance that it would go a different direction, of course, but--

Well, with their luck.

"Harmless unless they get spooked, yes," Sienimon said, with emphasis on the latter part. After all, just hours ago the upper floors of the temple had collapsed, and certainly, anything living under the ground would have heard (felt) it, so...
They couldn't say he hadn't mentioned this earlier, but only on technicality.

"Um... not to make things... you know, worse," Banmon said, piping up so quietly it was almost lost, "but... Raumon couldn't hold his Doctorimon form for very long, could he...?"

... Right. Even being in champion form long enough to try healing the humans had exhausted Raumon, and nobody was in much better shape than him; the digimon were still in a poor state after the fight with Nithmon, so if they had to encounter a hostile digimon--

"... so, all in favor of moving fast, like, now," Natalie said, raising her voice a little bit, and her words grew tight in a way that would have been comical in other circumstances.

Nobody disagreed. As quickly as they dared to move, they picked up the pace, all ears pricked for the sound of anything behind them. They tried to do calculations in their heads-- could the digimon hold it together long enough to digivolve? How much space did they have? There wasn't a whole lot of room to do anything like fight or maneuver.

But the sound behind them kept getting louder, and they were as fleet of foot as they could possibly be.

Thank god that Sienimon's estimate of the distance had not not wrong. At a brisk walk, fueled by the desire not to encounter something violent and freaking out in a dark, enclosed space, they quickly-enough came to hear another sound-- howling wind in the distance, ringing faintly like a whistle in the confined space.

But the sound of the wind gave little comfort-- not because the idea of getting out was unappealing, it very much was. Rather: behind them, a ghastly white shape came around a turn, so pale that it seemed bright in the dark. It was a tremendous eyeless salamander, with its long jaws muzzled shut--
Though the sight of an Olmon was new to this group, it need not be explained again.

There was a moment of aching silence, where in the dim light of the crystal they saw the Olmon twitch its external gills and toss its head this way and that. They barely breathed.
Its gills twitched, and it rounded its sightless face on them, and it began to skitter towards them, thrashing its tail and knocking huge chunks out of the wall as it moved-- though it seemed very careful to avoid touching the red crystal, and it gurgled and recoiled whenever it brushed it by accident.

"Move!" Sienimon barked, but by the time the first sound was out of his lips everyone was already taking off at a ragged run.

Meghan nearly tripped on her weaker leg, but was helped back upright by Lily, who was right behind her, and Oremon to her side (who, in a move that would be amusing if not for the immediately pressing circumstances, was pointedly staying between Meghan and Xander, whoever could tell the reason). Sam felt the dampness of fresh blood on the front of his shirt, even if he didn't feel the pain of the wound re-opening.
And the digimon, though they didn't have physical injuries to be worried about, felt almost leaden, like they hadn't quite recovered from the fight, even now, even when it had been hours.

(Because it had been hours on the move again, stressed and tired.)

As they approached the mouth of the cave, and could see it a few hundred feet ahead of them -- there wasn't much light, as it was nighttime now, but it was straight-ahead, and the crystal still lit the path -- Sienimon glanced over his shoulder. Olmon was gaining on them, and fast.
He swung around and flung the crystal he'd been carrying directly at the salamander's face. It shattered upon impact, like brittle glass, and the Olmon reared up and roared, hissing and gurgling. It smashed its head into the ceiling; debris and rocks fell all around both it and them, dislodged by the impact.

A few of the group slowed to see what he was doing, glancing over their shoulders.

"Keep moving!" Sienimon said, but there was something a little more off about him-- something that they could see now that they hadn't before in the dark room they'd first wound up in.
On Sienimon's hand, any point of contact where he'd gripped the glowing rock was blackened, practically charred, and almost seeming to solidify. The skin was cracking and brittle, and looked like it would slough off if he brushed it against anything.

"When we're out of here," Raumon said quickly, "let me heal your h--"

But Sienimon shook his head. Olmon was re-righting itself and starting to gain on them again, skittering along on too-thin legs at far too quick a pace. "Keep going. I'll distract it."

"What?" Raumon blurted, as though he hadn't heard correctly.

"I did my job," Sienimon said, glancing over his shoulder at the Olmon. "I got you out. That's all I had to do, so I'm good. Don't do something stupid and make all the effort I dropped on this go to waste."

"No! Shit no!" Xander snapped. They were close to the surface, they could almost feel the wind. "You didn't tell us shit, how are we supposed to know what we're doing?"
He put on an affect of anger, but there was something else, hard to define, in his voice.

Sienimon didn't answer immediately. He slowed his run to a jog, falling behind the pack, and the others followed his lead, all but stopping to turn around and stare at the acerbic little mushroom who'd helped them find their way out, even if his personality left something to be desired.
He looked like he was considering something, then he turned to face the approaching Olmon. He glanced around, and seemed to make a decision.

With one last look over his shoulder, he yelled in a military bark:
"Go to the Shrine of the Norns-- badger will know where to go!"

Indeed, Brockmon bristled visibly immediately, but there was no time to react or ask what he meant. Even so, Sienimon had one last parting shot to share:

"And don't fucking tell anyone where you're going, either!"

With that said, Sienimon rushed back down the tunnel towards Olmon. He leapt, rearing back for a punch, and aimed straight at Olmon's long, muzzled face.

Raumon almost gave chase, but Natalie instinctively pulled him back-- and thank god she did, because with Sienimon clinging to its face, the Olmon writhed and whipped, and with a mighty crack it reared up and smashed both its head and its clinger-on into the ceiling.
But Sienimon hadn't acted randomly. Directly overhead as the Olmon reared back was a patch of the red crystal, and the two of them smashed into it, shattering it in an instant.

The smell of burning flesh was immediate and overwhelming, but it wasn't even the most pressing issue; as the crystal broke, the tunnel around them began to shake as though it was about to cave in. Perhaps it was holding things together?

Don't do something stupid and make all his effort go to waste.
That was all that stopped them from running back, to try and help. ... well, that, and the mass of rock that fell onto the ground between them and Sienimon. Even so, the temptation was there to say damn it and try anyway, but it was quickly becoming a slimmer and slimmer chance by the moment.

It was hard to tell whether it was blood or simply the crimson liquid pooling in Sienimon's mushroom cap that they saw splatter on the ceiling in the moments before their vision filled with rubble, both dark rock and shards of red crystal, with them a mere fifty feet from the mouth of the cave and nothing stopping them from continuing on.

They stood there for a few seconds. The sounds from beyond the rock were still loud, but they grew more muffled every second. Crack, crack, rumble, smash, and then--
And then they began to grow more distant.

"Shit," Xander said flatly.

"Shit is right," Peter said, just as flat.

Wordlessly, Natalie began to walk towards the mouth of the tunnel, almost numb. They had been so close.
(In a lot of ways.)

"Hey-- Natalie?" Meghan said, reaching a hand out to her back, but she got no response. Raumon was quick on her heels, but she didn't respond to him either.

Sam and Peter exchanged looks; Xander and Meghan looked from each other to Natalie's back; and Lily looked to Brockmon, who was still bristling, but silent, and then at Natalie's back.

"... well, come on, teamsquad," Lily said, gesturing with one hand. "Don't want to let her get caught unawares if there's something out there, huh?"

There was nothing waiting outside for them, luckily enough.
They emerged into a deep fissure, with steep stone walls rising a hundred feet above them; across the way, maybe fifty feet away, was the opposite wall, where they could see the tunnel continued. Overhead, the sky was dark; the afternoon sun that lit their way when they descended into the throneroom had left behind only a dark night, the moon hidden somewhere beyond the stormy skies. The red glow that tinted the sky was still present,

After the commotion of mere moments ago, it was almost achingly quiet.

Natalie, standing with her back to the group, with her back even to Raumon, dug her hands into her hair and all but screamed in frustration. It rang out against the walls of the ravine, then faded away, smothered by the empty air.

"Are you okay?" Meghan asked, reaching a hand out to Natalie's back, but she quickly retracted it.

"Why does everyone who tries to help us get killed!"


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