A.N.: Gosh it feels good to get this finished and shared with the world! Hand injuries, deadlines for other works, moving house, parenting drama...it's honestly been non-stop for me in recent months. A huge chunk of this chapter has been sat on my computer for actual months, waiting for me to have the time and focus to finish.
Partly as a result of that, and partly for the sake of flow, this is something of a bumper update, coming in at about 2k longer than I wanted it to be, if I were sticking with my plan of approximately 5k per chapter. Oh well.
Tuesday, 2:25am (2:25pm local time)
The stupid woman who had fussed all over her and kept calling her 'Envoy' had followed them out of the rooms, still carrying the dress over her arm. Mimi wasn't entirely sure what it was about that which was so annoying, coming from the woman—it didn't particularly bother her when anyone else said it—but it might have had something to do with how she hovered around her like a fly, wittering on and on.
"Envoy, this is really most irregular. I'm afraid you won't be allowed—"
Mimi stopped abruptly, fists clenched. She turned as quickly as she could without feeling dizzy, and glared at her.
"My friend is locked in a dungeon, so don't you dare tell me what I can and can't do!" she snapped. "I don't care if they're not ready for me. I'm not waiting another minute. Everyone's been worried sick about him, and in case you'd forgotten, we're all here to save the world—your world—so believe me you'd better hope no one's hurt him!"
Shichiro the healer cleared his throat. "Excuse me Envoy, but I fear she speaks the truth. There are guards outside the Audience room who will not permit you to pass without…er…appropriate attire."
Mimi looked down at the dressing gown she still wore. Oh. Heat flooded her cheeks and she faltered. Perhaps they had a—
Yamato needs me though. And Gabumon. And…and what about Sora and Piyomon? They might be in danger too!
Drawing herself upright as haughtily as she could, she took a deep breath and shook her head.
"I don't care," she said, feeling a surge of encouragement as Palmon reached up to take her hand. "This is more important." And it was, wasn't it? Besides, she'd gone running halfway across Odaiba in her pyjamas before, and that had all turned out for the best in the end.
Shichiro looked as though he were trying to hide a grin, but the woman with the dress seemed mortified.
"You…but you…" she spluttered, so lost for words that it was apparently all she could manage to flap her arms up and down, ruffling the fabric of the dress.
"It's this way," Shichiro said, covering his mouth with one hand and pointing with the other. "I don't know how you plan on getting in, but I know when there's no stopping someone."
"Right then," Mimi said, nodding firmly. This was no time to let herself worry. "Lead the way, please."
"O-of course," Shichiro said, giving her a hasty half-bow. "Mind, I can't make any promise that you will get in."
"We can worry about that later," Mimi replied, pressing her lips tightly closed as she finished speaking. After all, when it came right down to it, none of these people looked as scary as most of the monsters they'd faced in the past. They were all more or less human-sized, for one.
Beside them, the woman with the dress stuttered with either outrage or sheer disbelief. There probably wasn't a lot of difference between the two, in fairness. She trailed behind them as they marched along the corridors, now and then attempting to speak before fussing herself into silence again.
They had to go down two more floors to reach Their Graces, and the closer they got the larger their audience seemed to be. Mimi told herself she really didn't care what any of these people thought and, well, it was true, but equally it was hard to ignore all of the stares being directed her way. She clung to Palmon's hand as she walked, staring ahead as proudly as she could. She'd been warned about these Grace people, after all. Chausiku had thought it important enough that she'd told her rules before departing, despite being rushed. The expression in her eyes had warned of real danger if she broke them.
I have to get this right, she told herself as they reached a pair of grand double doors. They're depending on me to fix this, so I can't let them down!
The guards stared, eyes wide. Apparently they were professional enough to stop themselves from actually gaping at her, but it looked like a close-run thing.
"I am here to see their Graces," Mimi said flatly. She let her free hand rest on her hip, while squeezing Palmon's tightly with the other. "I must speak with them immediately."
"Little girl, go back to your chambers," one of the guards said lazily. "Lest we have to move you along ourselves. You know the laws of this land."
Shichiro cleared his throat. "You speak to an Envoy of the Forest City, one who is also Chosen," he said.
The guard scoffed. "A girl in a bathrobe? Seems to me she escaped from the infirmary and span you quite the merry tale. Their Graces are meeting with the Security Council, and will not be disturbed by a rabble at the doors. Be off with you."
"A rabble at the door?" Mimi snapped, letting go of Palmon and folding her arms. "I am a Chosen Child! Here from Earth to…to save you from everything that's going wrong, and if you don't let me through this minute I'll just have to show you why!"
A snort of laughter at her words was the final straw. That was it. There was absolutely no way she was going to put up with anything else going wrong in this wretched, forsaken world which she didn't even want to be in anyway, because it was too bright, and full of monsters, and after days of his being missing, she was so close to finding Yamato and the others that she could have screamed, and despite all that she was still there trying to save the place and it would almost certainly mean risking her life again, so why couldn't any of these people understand that was trying to help them!
Light bloomed and filled the corridor, bright enough that if she hadn't turned away she was sure it would have blinded her. Cries and protests from everyone else suggested it was just as painful for those who had been caught unawares.
Despite their obvious surprise, it was the guards who recovered fastest, although Mimi was only half a second behind them, reaching out with both hands.
"Stop!" she cried, leaping in front of Lilimon as they drew their weapons and pointed them at her partner.
"Don't worry Mimi," her partner said, resting a hand on their shoulder. "I feel perfectly alright."
"Wait, she's a… What manner of trickery is this!" one of the guard cried, weapon still pointed firmly in Lilimon's direction.
Mimi glanced to either side of her, noting that everyone within her range of vision had taken a step back. Shichiro had gone deathly pale.
"Lilimon is my partner digimon," she said, swallowing heavily past the lump in her throat. "And as I mentioned, I am Tachikawa Mimi, the Chosen Child of Sincerity—acting as an Envoy from the Forest City—and I will see their Graces right this instant, to correct a great injustice being done to my dear friends. If you want there to be anyone left to actually save your world, then maybe you ought to spend less time being suspicious of people who are trying to help you, and more time actually letting us help! What more do I have to do to prove I am who I say I am!"
Shichiro cleared his throat, looking at her rather more nervously than he had as they'd been walking. "I'm…I'm sure no one here doubted your identity, Chosen…"
"You've all doubted her since the moment we arrived," Lilimon said, folding her arms. "Doubted, accused, and treated her like a child. We came here on important business and instead we're stuck here arguing. I won't let you harm Mimi or her friends any more. Now let us through these doors before I open them myself!"
The guards backed up as she spoke, glancing at each other and at Shichiro, apparently for reassurance.
"Oh for heaven's sake!" Mimi snapped. "Stop fussing and stalling and just open the doors. I'm not going to hurt your precious Graces!"
It was almost comical the way they practically tripped over themselves to open them and make room for her to walk past. Lilimon squeezed her shoulder.
"Let me go first, Mimi. I'll make sure no one hamrs you."
There was a steely glint in her eyes behind her smile, and Mimi didn't question the decision. After all, there was no way that Lilimon could have evolved without being recovered from her injuries, and who knew what their Graces were going to be like once they got into the hall itself?
Don't look into their eyes, she told herself, keeping her head down as they walked along a short hallway to another set of doors. There was no one to stop them opening them this time.
"A word, Envoy?" came Shichiro's voice from slightly behind her. Mimi almost jumped out of her skin. "I know you spoke of haste, but… truly, your meeting might got the easier if you took Ilana's advice and changed—"
"I'm sorry but this can't wait," Mimi said, folding her arms. She glared at him. "I'm not going to stop now, after we just got past the guards. Their Graces will just have to put up with me as I am."
Right on cue, Lilimon swung the doors open to reveal a large, lavish hall. Tall columns flanked a walkway to the centre, each carved and painted with fantastical creatures which Mimi only recognised a few of. It was lit by a flames from braziers and torches alike. At its centre were three occupied chairs, with a man stood in front of them dressed like he was straight out of a period drama.
Shichiro cleared his throat and darted into the room ahead of them.
"Presenting Tachikawa Mimi, Chosen Child of Sincerity and Envoy of the Forest City, here to discuss vital matters," he called, voice shaking a little.
The man by the chairs turned to stare at them. Mimi made sure to keep her head down as she marched forward into the room, ignoring Lilimon's protest as she walked past her.
"Let him go!" she snapped, lifting her head at the last minute and staring just past the richly dressed people in front of her. "Let them go! They aren't here to harm you or your people—they're just like me, stuck here because we were Chosen again and we have to save the world. So don't you dare lock them in the dungeons! I insist you release them this very minute!"
There was a short pause. Mimi's nerve was almost about to fail her when one of them spoke—she refused to look at them and see which of them it was. The voice was musical and soft.
"My dear child, whatever has convinced you of such things. There is no immediate danger. No risk to anyone. We concede that your companions were interred upon arrival, but so is the fate of all who trespass without purpose here. We cannot risk exceptions in these…trying times."
"No danger!" Mimi spluttered, clenching her fists. "You're all living underground because there are monsters everywhere, and now it's got so bad that whole worlds are leaking together! Of course there's danger! We came here to fix it and you just…just locked up some of the only people who can actually help you!"
The man stood by the thrones cleared his throat.
"It is as I stated, your Graces," he said. "These Children appear convinced of imminent danger, and think nothing of the disorder and panic they might sow. I know you are minded of the old prophecy, but I must strongly advise caution before you act. The City can ill afford rioting in the tunnels."
"I don't care about caution!" Mimi cried, stalking towards the people who could only be Their Graces. Hang the consequences; she was far too angry to think about that sort of thing any more. "I care about my friends and I insist you let them out of your dungeon—this very minute! You have no right to keep them locked up like this! None of us wanted to be trespassing here, or breaking any of your laws! Yamato and Gabumon didn't even know what this city was! How dare you treat them like that!"
She wasn't quite sure how, but her eyes met the piercing green stare of a man seated in one of the chairs. She fell silent—everything fell silent. She couldn't even hear Lilimon beside her, and suddenly it was hard to focus on anything but the man, if that was even what he was. All she could really tell was that he had green eyes, and looked grander and sterner than anyone she'd ever seen in her life.
You speak with much passion for one so young.
The sentence arrived straight in her head, almost more a feeling than actual words.
Let my friends GO! she cried. Or thought, or…felt? With the world so silent it was impossible to tell if she spoke aloud or not. Impossible to know if she was even still standing there, or somehow floating in an empty abyss; surrounded by nothingness with only a piercing green stare to anchor her in place.
Something uncomfortably like laughter resonated through her being. Not malicious or cruel, but so shockingly inappropriate it made her insides crawl.
My, such urgency and haste. You humans are too brief. You should consider the consequences before rushing to make accusations.
I won't wait a minute when my friends need me! Mimi screamed at the voice. I won't wait when they're in danger—when the whole world is in danger! I despise people who fuss and wait when things need doing now!
The eyes blinked. Mimi stumbled, suddenly finding herself stood in the large hall again, far closer to the seated people than she had been before. Lilimon was by her side and caught her before she could hit the ground.
"Mimi!" she cried. "Mimi are you okay? You stopped answering when I called!"
"She could not hear you," a woman's voice announced. "Your…Mimi spoke with my brother, and he alone. He would not countenance her to be distracted while he made judgement of her character."
It was a little like the conversation were taking place somewhere else. Mimi sagged in her partner's arms, muscles aching as though she'd just run a race.
"Cahir, a word," said the man with green eyes, staring at the one who didn't have a seat.
The man—apparently Cahir—nodded, but neither of the two men spoke. Mimi was too exhausted to question it. She clung to Lilimon, sure that if she didn't she'd end up in a heap on the floor.
"Bring refreshment," said the same female voice from before. "And someone fetch this child some suitable attire. It would seem we have matters to discuss."
Tuesday, 1:44am (1:44pm local time)
The guest chambers of the Fastness had been touted by Amund—the man apparently assigned as Ken's bodyguard—as being the best accommodation the entire city had to offer.
It wasn't so much that Jou had any particular reason to disbelieve that fact, but more than anything else he had seen thus far in the strange world, it really hammered home just how desperate their situation had to be.
The rooms were large, paved with carved stone tiles and filled with sturdy furniture made from both wood and stone. And despite the fact they were deep underground in a city mined out from solid rock, wooden panels lined the wall along which contained the door to the bedchamber. In fairness to their hosts, Jou later discovered that it was a fairly grand bed, too. Still, despite the obvious high quality of the sheets they were old and worn, and a thick layer of dust had settled over everything.
At one time, the suite would likely have been just as impressive as Amund had promised. When Jou was wheeled in by the porter, and the dim bulbs flickered on in their housings set into the walls, he could only think about how gloomy his surroundings were. The air was cold, and filled with a damp, musty smell which would not be good for his health. The sooner he could get back out into fresh air, the better.
"We'll set someone along to make your rooms readier in a bit," the porter said, rubbing the back of her head. "Time was, these chambers were kept fresh against their need. It's been years since we had visitors though, much less any of importance, and with the labour shortages…well."
"It's fine," Jou said, trying to think of the positive. They had dropped in on the city rather unexpectedly, after all, so it was only fair to be polite to their hosts. "We're only going to be here a short time before we set out, so there's no need to go to that much trouble."
The porter stared at him. "Set out where, Chosen?" she asked. "There's nowhere to go. We're surrounded on all sides by monsters and corruption. You can't leave."
It wasn't easy to draw himself up straight in a wheelchair, but Jou did his best. He might not have been Taichi, or Yamato, or even Mimi with her endless confidence, but he was a Chosen Child all the same.
"Don't underestimate us," he said, watching Gomamon out of the corner of his eye. His partner was nodding eagerly along with him. "We're here to fix this, you know."
"That's right!" Gomamon added. "You just wait! We'll teach all those monsters a lesson, that's for sure! As soon as we find the others, they won't know what hit 'em!"
The porter smiled, but it was an indulgent expression, probably more as a result of the picture Gomamon painted than anything.
She doesn't believe us, Jou thought gloomily. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. No one ever does, at first.
"Well," she said, stepping back from the chair and offering them a polite nod of the head. "As I say, someone will be along shortly to freshen your rooms up some. Your friend is just a little ways along the hall. I'm sure he'll be able to come help you if you need anything before then."
Bowing again, she left the room without another word. Jou sighed. With no way of communicating with the others, he felt completely at the mercy of the city's strange inhabitants. It wouldn't have been so bad if he could have walked, but with his foot strapped up, there was nothing he could do but wait.
If the porter's reactions were anything to go by, they would have a lot more of that in their future than he wanted or could afford.
"Gomamon, I need you to go and find Ken," Jou said. "I don't think it's going to be quite so simple getting out of here as we'd thought."
Tuesday, 2:45am (2:45pm local time)
If Their Graces had started to take Mimi a little more seriously as a result of her brief conversation with the green-eyed man (who, she noted, still hadn't bothered to introduce himself), that only redoubled when they realised the extent of her injuries. A word from Shichiro that she needed medical treatment and the woman had summoned healers and further supplies. Mimi didn't trust her enough to face her and see what she looked like after whatever her brother had done, but she sounded older suddenly. Less like a charming young woman and more like an older one, regal and imperious.
No wonder Chausiku warned me about them, she thought tiredly. And she was right about looking at their eyes. Urgh. I don't like them at all!
She was ushered to a corner of the throne room, which attendants quickly walled off with ornate standing screens. They were decorated with pictures of more strange creatures and creeping vines drawn in a multitude of different art styles, as though someone had taken pictures from around the world and laid them all together, and then the same carpenter had framed them all. Even amid a confusion of lightheadedness and bustling staff, Mimi was captivated by the designs.
"Just lay face down, Chosen," Shichiro said, somewhere off to one side. Mimi blinked, and realised she was sitting on what looked like a raised camp bed. When had that happened? She'd been too busy staring at the decorative panels to notice anything else.
"Oh," she remarked, looking around.
Lilimon was still right by her side, watching with the same anxious expression she'd had since catching her in the main part of the hall. The expression didn't lift as Mimi laid down with a wince.
Shichiro muttered curses as he stepped closer, waving his hand slowly through the air above her.
"When did you get these injuries?" he asked, frowning.
"It was yesterday," Lilimon said, taking a step closer. "She had them cleaned in her own world shortly after that though."
Shichiro shook his head. "The toxins circulate far too quickly to be cleansed by normal means," he said. "I hadn't realised the extent of the injuries to her back. I believed the scratches to her face and arms the worst of it. Had I known…"
"I'm fine, really," Mimi said, although apparently the foul-tasting restorative she had been given was starting to wear off, because now that Shichiro had mentioned her injuries she realised that they really were starting to throb. Tiredness wore away at her too. When was the last time she'd slept? What time was it, even? Exhaustion and the repeated back and forth between worlds was starting to muddy her sense of how long the whole wretched adventure had lasted.
Lilimon laid a hand on her forearm. "Rest, Mimi," she said softly. "You protected me when I needed it, even though it meant putting yourself in danger. Now you need to let others take care of you for a while."
There wasn't much that Mimi could have said to that, even if she hadn't been too busy wincing. Whatever Shichiro was doing, it hurt. Heat flared in each and every wound and scrape, sinking deep into her back and arms. She bit back a whimper, determined not to complain all the while she was within hearing distance of their Graces. How dare they think themselves better than her and her friends!
More to the point, she was not about to own up to anything they might consider a weakness, especially not while Yamato, Gabumon—and probably Sora and Piyomon too—were trapped in the City's dungeons. The sooner they were freed and they could all leave the whole dreadful place, the better.
The burning heat in her back and arms fizzed and cooled, turning to pins and needles. Despite her best efforts, she hissed with pain and discomfort.
"Just a little longer," Shichiro murmured. "These must have been deep."
It might not have been much longer in reality, but as far as Mimi was concerned it was practically an age before Shichiro sighed with satisfaction and she was able to relax. She took several deep breaths, slumping against the bed as the hot, painful sensation—almost as though she were being turned inside out—eased into merely an uncomfortable warmth.
Her back still hurt, but it no longer truly burned—it was more like an ache following too much exercise than a fresh injury.
"There," Shichiro said, taking a step back. "I'll tend to your face in a moment but I would recommend that the dressings on those be changed…"
The words trailed off into a vague buzz somewhere halfway through a sentence. Mimi wasn't entirely sure how much more he said, or how long she laid there on her stomach while people fussed around her, pulling the old dressings and bandages away and replacing them with clean, cool cotton which was gently around her wounds. The time was a dreamlike blur, until she was helped into a sluggish sitting position by Lilimon and presented with another tiny cup full of red liquid.
"Drink," said a strange woman who seemed to be made entirely of angles and beauty. "'Twould be unpropitious if you were to succumb to exhaustion after such bold words, and miss your moment of triumph."
Mimi blinked at her, not entirely sure what she meant, but drank the liquid anyway. It burned in her throat, raw and unpleasant, and she belatedly remembered that she knew what it was, and really ought to have taken a moment to prepare herself first.
She coughed, wincing as her new bandages rubbed against her with the movement. But her head was clearing, and the weariness which nagged at her, head to toe, was smaller. It was like waking from a nap—not as refreshed as a full night's sleep would leave her, but alert enough to think clearly again.
"Urgh," she said, handing the empty cup back. "Does that stuff ever stop being awful?"
The woman in front of her shook her head. "Would that anyone should drink sufficiently of it to grow accustomed," she remarked. "In truth, there is little enough to allow for such a thing in these difficult times."
Recovered as she might have been compared to just a minute beforehand, Mimi was not fully equipped to handle speech like that. She simply nodded, rather than risk replying.
"Yamato?" she asked after a moment. "Are he and Gabumon…are they letting them go yet? And do they have Sora and Piyomon here too? I need to see them. I'm not leaving until they're free. You won't even be able to drag me out."
"None would ask it of you, Envoy. Chosen," said a familiar voice. It was the woman with the dress, and…ah, yes. There it was. She still had it held stiffly in front of her, just the same as she still had that frustrated, you're-doing-it-wrong look on her face.
She held out the dress, and gestured for Mimi to stand up. "Their Graces have summoned your companions. If you will now allow me to make you presentable for their arrival?"
Monday, 6:25pm (6:25am Tuesday, local time)
Yamato wouldn't have believed that things could get worse than the sheer tedium which went with being locked in an empty prison cell somewhere underground in another world, but that was before he knew that Sora was trapped there as well. Close enough that they could call out to each other along the corridor, but too distant to know where exactly she was, or be sure that she was safe.
And she wasn't safe, was she. At any moment they could come for her, just as they'd come for him, and drag her back to…to that bastard so he could poke and pry in her mind. There was nothing he could do. He had no phone, no digivice. His pockets were as empty as his stomach, and the exhaustion and lack of nutrition from the last few days were taking their toll. Even standing up at the cell door to call out was almost more than he could manage.
The guard from the night shift had been helpful enough, he supposed. He'd removed the manacles from Yamato's wrists, carried a few messages between them before settling back to his other duties, and even, a little way into the night, brought a couple of mugs of some herbal concoction he'd claimed was tea.
Yamato wasn't entirely sure he believed the man about that—it certainly hadn't tasted like any tea he'd ever encountered before, herbal or otherwise—but he and Gabumon had drunk them down all the same. Whatever was in it, the flavour was a lot better than the thin, watery soup he'd had. The knowledge that Takeru was safe with Taichi and Koushiro was a welcome relief, too, even if it was something of a shock to hear that all of them were now being dragged into this mess.
The remainder of what was apparently the night had passed well enough, but morning brought more of the same treatment Yamato had grown familiar with. His breakfast of another bowl of thin gruel was brought by the guard who took over, and who looked different. One of the mysterious 'Fae', he supposed, now that he knew to look for the clues which screamed wrongness at his instincts.
It was written all over the man as he slid the tray into their cell with a sneer. Body language which spoke volumes about the man's arrogance, and a face which was just too perfect to be real. No freckles, no wrinkles; like an airbrushed poster brought to life. His ears weren't pointed, but they didn't need to be. The man was somehow all angles even without that. His nose was too straight, his jaw too thin. Cheekbones high and sharp. Everything about him was thin and slight without being gaunt. He didn't need muscles to suggest at his obvious strength, either.
He didn't speak to Yamato, not then. Just slid the tray through the slot with a withering, suspicious look around the cell, and moved on. A minute or so later Yamato heard him returning, presumably from having visited Sora and Piyomon.
It was pointless to think he could ask a person like that to carry messages. Instead he sat and waited for him to be out of earshot, fishing out the meat for Gabumon as he did so. The remainder of the broth was thin enough that he could lift the bowl to his lips and drink it.
"If we get out of here, I'm never having soup again," he muttered, dropping the empty bowl by his feet and hauling himself upright by the door. He peered out through the bars as best he could.
"You mean 'when', don't you?" Gabumon asked.
Yamato closed his eyes, pressing his forehead against the metal. "Yeah, sure," he said, voice leaden. "When."
"We'll get out of here, Yamato," Gabumon said. "Someone will come and find us, I just know it."
Yamato didn't have the heart to point out that so far, the whole disaster only seemed to be getting worse by the day—however many of those there had actually been. With only their frugal meals and the guard changes to mark the passing of time, it was almost impossible to keep track of how long they'd been trapped in the cell. He couldn't bring himself to ask Sora. She was still reeling from Cahir messing with her mind, and the last thing she needed was to try and count hours.
Was she okay? It had been a while since he'd checked—what if she'd vanished? What if she'd remembered something traumatic and been pulled back to safety?
…What if he and Gabumon were alone again?
"Sora?" he cried, not even caring about the note of panic in his voice. He had to know if she was there.
"Yamato, are you—" Gabumon said, falling silent as Sora replied too.
"Are you alright?" she called. "What's going on?"
"Hai! Silence, prisoners!" came the voice of the guard. A moment later the man—Fae, Yamato reminded himself—appeared along the corridor, scowling. "This is a prison, not a shouting gallery. Now stay quiet in there, lest I be forced to make you."
If he'd been alone, Yamato would have…have… But he wasn't alone. He had Gabumon, and Sora and Piyomon, and he couldn't risk leaving again. Couldn't risk putting them in danger just to shout a few choice words.
They waited on the tip of his tongue, and seemed to burn as he swallowed them down. The Fae guard stared at him haughtily, face twisting into a sneer. What little strength Yamato had mustered to stand at the cell door fled, leaving him in a crumpled heap on the floor.
"Yamato!" Gabumon cried, rushing over.
"I'm fine," he said, shaking his head and instantly regretting it. Sparks danced across his vision, and the edges of the cell grew dark for a moment. "I'm not…that bastard doesn't scare me. I'm angry, that's all." He gritted his teeth, letting his frustration mount. Who cared if the guard heard him? What more could they do that they hadn't already done?
And it was good to be angry. In this strange, dangerous world, it was safer by far than allowing himself to feel afraid.
Hours passed. Anger faded into mute frustration, and ebbed further away to apathy. He slumped against the wall of his cell with his knees drawn up to his chest and his head resting between them, dozing now and then in an attempt to pass the time.
The fragmented news Sora had brought turned over and over in his mind, addled by fatigue and what he could just about acknowledge as paranoia. Takeru was safe with Taichi and Koushiro. Safe somewhere, or had been when Sora had last heard from them. But Sora had been trapped for hours now as well, and things could change fast. What had changed since she'd been snatched from his apartment?
What had the others thought, when they'd realised Sora and Piyomon were gone? Had they started looking? Were they looking for them in the real world, or had all of them been given up for lost?
In his fitful sleep he saw snatches of his friends. Strange rooms and corridors, lit by flickering torches and dim, old-fashioned electric bulbs. There was sound too: fragments of conversations too muffled for him to properly hear .
"I'm going crazy," he muttered at some stage in the… Day? Night? Who knew; who cared? He was too exhausted to do much beyond staying halfway upright against the wall as time inched past.
"What do you mean?" Gabumon asked, sitting beside him.
"Voices," Yamato muttered. "This place…it's getting to me, I guess."
He lifted his head and rested it against the wall, rubbing the chafed skin around his wrists.
"You know," he added, sighing, "I never thought I'd miss the days when we were all stranded in the digital world together. I hated it. Hated walking and walking, with no idea where we'd end up. Hated never having any privacy, and having to huddle together for warmth. And scavenging whatever kind of food we could find, I hated that too. Now here I am, and I just keep thinking how at least we had some sort of goal, something to work towards—even if we never knew exactly how we were going to do it. Compared to that, what am I supposed to do here? There's no way out, no way of letting anyone know where we are…it's hopeless."
"I'm sure one of the others will find us, Yamato," Gabumon said. "If they get close enough—"
"And what about him?" Yamato hissed, glancing over at his partner. "What if he finds them first? He already knows who they are. He knows their names, their crests…I—I told him everything, Gabumon! If they come looking here, they won't know that until it's too late. And then I went and dragged Sora into all this too, and Piyomon along with her. If anything happens to them—to any of them—it's going to be my fault."
Gabumon didn't say anything, but after a moment of apparent thought he shuffled nearer, close enough that Yamato could feel the warmth of his body in contrast with the cold cell wall. They sat together in silence, long enough that Yamato had started to lose himself in the monotony again before Gabumon finally spoke up:
"I don't think it's your fault, Yamato."
There wasn't anything Yamato could think to say in response. Gabumon was loyal enough that he'd never change his mind: experience had taught him that much. And despite the guilt which plagued him because of it, he couldn't help but be glad for the company and reassurance.
Still, although Gabumon knew all that already; although they had always found silence far more comfortable than stilted speech, Yamato couldn't help but wish there were something to fill it. There was a world of difference between companionable quiet and the stretched, unending tedium of imprisonment.
How long had it been? How many hours; how many days? How much longer until the guards changed, and would the replacement be better or worse? So far, Yamato hadn't seen the same guards twice. Whatever their rota, it had to include either a ludicrously high number of staff or a far larger prison complex than he'd realised. The lack of repetition made time blur all the more, too. What was night and what was day?
He was jolted into consciousness by the sound of footfalls, and wondered when he'd fallen asleep. Someone was approaching—no, someones, and the clink of metal on metal suggested that either they had another prisoner with them, or they planned on moving one of those they already had.
Cahir, he thought, sitting bolt upright. They're going to take us to him again.
His head swam. Had they left him in the cell so long for that reason? Pitiful as his attempts to resist had been before, they were far beyond his capability now. But what more did they want from him? Or, if not from him, what could they hope to find out from Sora, given that she didn't even remember her first meeting with that bastard?
The footsteps halted outside his cell.
"Back up against the wall, and no funny business!" called a voice. "You're to be taken to Their Graces."
The door swung open after a jangling of keys, revealing several armed men. Possibly some were Fae, but with their faces covered by visored helmets it was impossible to tell.
"Now," said the man who had spoken before. "Will you be coming quietly or no?" He jangled two sets of manacles in the air. "We can arrange for either. Search me why they want the lot of you up in that fancy chamber of theirs, but I'll not chance their displeasure by refusing a direct order."
"What about Gabumon?" Yamato asked, eyeing the manacles warily. "I'm not leaving him here."
"Oh, I wouldn't worry there," the guard said. "Like I said, we've orders for all of you. The girl and the bird thing, too. Now, I'll ask again. You going to put up a fight?"
Yamato struggled to his feet. "You're really giving me that choice? About how I get hauled off somewhere?" he spat, but the words were hollow and weary, and came out far more desperate than they'd sounded in his head.
"Listen, kid," the man said, swinging the manacles around his wrist once. "I'm not heartless: I got a boy of my own and it rubs me wrong to go kicking a scrap of a thing like you when you're down. I'm giving you a chance here. It's more than you'd get off most. So. Either you pack in the lip and come along with just an escort, or we come in there and drag you out. Kicking and screaming if need be."
"And Gabumon? Does he get the same choice?"
The man hesitated.
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Listen, I'm not letting you people—"
"It's okay, Yamato," Gabumon said. "You're hurt already, don't fight now."
Yamato ignored the startled noises from some of his captors as his partner spoke, too weary to care any more. He held out his arms as steadily as he could manage, and scowled at the guard with the manacles.
"If you're chaining him, you're chaining me," he said flatly. "He's just as much a person as I am."
"You got pluck, kid, I'll give you that," the guard said, and sighed. "But it's my head to let a creature of unknown origin go before Their Graces without restraint—person or otherwise. You know that. Come on now, I can see you're not putting up a fight, there's no need—"
"I go as he goes," Yamato repeated. "Neither of us did anything wrong, and you threw us in here anyway. If Their Graces really care that much about seeing us all of a sudden, they can see how we've been treated, too."
Sighing once more, the guard nodded. "Apperlo, Stenberg, go fetch the other two," he said, and waited for them to leave before walking forward and fastening the manacles around Yamato's wrists with considerable care. He tapped the skin of Yamato's arm gently, and muttered: "Hold them against your body, lad. It'll keep 'em still and lessen the chafing."
Yamato wasn't sure what to make of the guard as he moved on to Gabumon and fastened the manacles around his partner's wrists as well. Come to think of it, he wasn't sure what to make of this sudden summons to 'Their Graces', either. Their captors didn't seem to understand it any more than he did, either, which only doubled the mystery. Cahir had certainly been thorough enough in his interrogation—if he'd wanted more information it should have been easy enough for him to get it the first time.
Had he reported that information on? If that were the case, then they were likely headed for something like sentencing for their alleged crime of existing. But if so, why had he been given the option to walk there of his own free will? It didn't add up. Didn't make sense, but he was exhausted enough that he couldn't trust himself to decide if it was the situation which was confusing, or just his own understanding of it.
By rights he ought to have been scared as he was led out of the cell. If just an interrogation had been enough to send him back to the real world, whatever punishment these people could come up with would probably be far worse. But instead of fear, he just felt numb. It crept over him as he stood waiting in the corridor. An empty fatalism. Whatever was coming next, he couldn't stop it. He was powerless, with barely enough energy to remain upright. All he could do was wait for the inevitable.
Okay, so, originally this chapter was meant to go on a little further with the plot than I managed to get, but the length really was getting excessive, and I really wanted to be able to post it, because it has been Too Long. If peeps want to come yell at me, I can be found on Tumblr under the username 'tottwritesfanfic', or on Twitter as 'TottWritesFic'.
I hope you enjoyed reading!