A/N: A nice, quiet adventure for our ex-villains. Heheh. Complete. A few of the Chosen Children appear later, as well.
The sound of a four-stroke engine reached out for miles in the quiet evening. A telltale trail of dust hung high in the dry air.
The wind whipped her hair into a storm of snapping white threads. She scowled behind her shades and glanced at her companion at the wheel. He noticed her attention with a quick glance of his own and grinned. She rolled her eyes and he chuckled to himself, licking the dust out of his pointed teeth.
"It's a shame you managed to resurrect this scrapheap of a jeep," Arukenimon grumbled, kicking the floor panel disconsolately with one heel. "I've had just about enough of this open air nonsense."
"Why would you want to shut out the world?" Mummymon replied, shrugging. "Don't you love to feel the wind on your face? Doesn't it make you feel alive?" He grinned wide again and sighed.
Arukenimon tried to hide a thoughtful moment with a scowl. The two of them had been reconfigured not too long ago, and Mummymon was still repulsively in love with life. Arukenimon was less enthusiastic. Oikawa was gone, her desire for power had more or less fizzled out, and she was at a loose end. Everything seemed so.. pointless.
Mummymon was still after her, of course. She'd initially been pleased to find herself alive, unemployed, and free to ditch the clueless beast. But a few weeks of solitude had left her feeling strange and despondent. So much so that when Mummymon had showed up one morning, tearful and begging for her companionship, she had let him hug her for an appallingly long time.
But she could still hear him calling to her as she trembled in Belialvamdemon's talons, and she wished she'd been alive to see him die. It couldn't have been worse than the visions that visited her dreams.
He'd died trying to avenge her. The thought filled her with a feeling she didn't understand. She felt like she was missing something very obvious, and she hated it. She sunk down a little further in her seat and scowled hard enough to scare off a thundercloud.
The car stopped.
She turned a glare onto Mummymon, but he was staring down into her face, concerned. "Something's wrong..?" he ventured.
"Yes - we stopped."
"You know what I meant. Arukenimon..." he frowned, raising his head, "you've been in a foul mood for a long time. Too long. We have to talk about this."
"Get it through your thick skull: you've already pestered me into telling you everything I can think of that's bothering me! There's no point in pestering me any more."
"Then I'll have to try something new," he smiled.
She made a disgusted noise.
Mummymon frowned in concentration, trying to think how he could get Arukeni out of this horrible funk. He was proud of the way he'd fooled her into thinking this exploration of the Digital World was her idea. And at first she'd seemed happy, ordering him around and planning their route. Now it seemed like she'd lost interest and realised that she was never really in command, not the way she wanted to be. Not of herself.
He was sure she was upset because she thought she didn't have a purpose. Whatever she'd believed at the time, she'd always been a tool, someone's means to an end - as indeed had he. But where he was happy to be free, she seemed to have nothing to do with it. He was guiltily glad she had seemed so upset by the time she spent without him, otherwise he would be tempted to think she was only with him because it was... somewhere to be. He still wanted her terribly, and he was more certain than ever that she needed him too, but he didn't want to screw things up by seriously pressing her about it before she got her head on straight.
But how could he help her find her own path when she resented every idea he came up with because it wasn't hers?
He didn't know what to do.
Arukenimon got tired of being stared at and, giving a little frustrated growl, got out of the car. She slammed the door behind her and proceeded to stalk away. She did her best to ignore Mummymon's cries of protest and scowled resolutely forward as he caught up to her.
"Where are you going, my dear?" he asked from a dutiful half pace behind her.
"I'm going," she replied in clipped tones, "for a walk."
"It'll be dark soon," he protested. "I don't know if it's safe here.. I've.. We've never been here before."
"Fine then," she snarled, and to his surprise she shifted into her full Digimon form as she marched forward, hardly even breaking her stride during the transition to walking on six feet, though he could practically hear her grinding her teeth with effort. Bodysense and balance were seriously impaired while between forms, as it was not strictly a natural process like Digivolving.
"I meant... I meant we shouldn't stop here."
She turned her slender-horned head to glare at him, and her feet came down harder with each step, punching deep into the dry earth, cracking it. "I can take care of myself."
Mummymon chewed his lip to keep from telling her to calm down and stopped to change, himself. Just in case. He had to admit he felt better with his dedicated rifle, Obelisk, slung under one arm. His big, clawed feet spread his comparatively slight weight like a camel's, so that all he left behind were shallow footprints in the dust, as he hurried to catch her again.
"Funny, I don't remember inviting you," she said without looking at him.
"I'm sorry," he replied. It was almost routine. He wondered if she'd noticed it yet. She wanted an audience for her unhappiness, and she denied it fiercely, but by now they were little more than token protests and apologies. "How far are we going to go?"
"A far as it takes to stop thinking about twisting your interfering head off your skinny neck."
He made a face, surprised at the level of venom but not particularly offended. "We'll need to save some daylight to find a place to camp.."
"I am looking for a place to camp," she snapped. "I don't know why you think that I... Wha... What's this?"
Mummymon's eye widened as he saw it too. There was a large, ruby-red stone mounted in some sort of plinth - it looked like it was the focus of a focusing dish. He could see it was a device rather than an artifact such as the Holy Stones had been.
"Hmm," Arukenimon grinned, "An unguarded, expensive science experiment. Just what I needed to brighten my day." With something like this, they could afford to sleep somewhere nice at the next town..
Looking around, Mummymon noticed several more of them, spread out in a pattern on the desert floor. At least one of the ones he could see was already missing its gem. "It looks that way," he admitted, "but I don't know if it's a good idea.. We can't really know it's not being watched.."
"So what if it is? We can pulverise anyone who gets in our way."
He sighed heavily, trying to work up the courage to face her. "I... I don't think we should steal it, Arukenimon."
Her jaw dropped and she stared at him in astonishment. Then she scowled, reached back and snatched the gem from its mount and brandished it in front of him. "And what are you going to do about it?"
He just had time to make a pained expression before the ground lurched and they were both falling.
Mummymon woke up to a long, jackal-like face staring at him, and shot backwards in a surprised scramble. He glanced around and spotted Arukenimon lying apparently asleep a short distance away. The three Digimon seemed to be the only things in this small room. It was lit by small panels near the ceiling, glowing with a pale light that suggested battery power.
"Good morning," the Digimon said eventually. "I am Toeremon. We are in a trap. Perhaps we can help one another."
Mummymon decided he wasn't an immediate concern, and checked that Arukenimon was ok before turning his attention to the new acquaintance. "Toeremon, is it? I'm Mummymon and this is Arukenimon... We're trapped? By who?" He didn't know of any Digimon that were starting trouble these days. The Digital World had been very calm of late.
Toeremon turned his head sideways in what seemed to be consideration. "It is an old trap," he said. "We are trapped by no one."
"So nobody's watching, and nobody's coming to collect us," Mummymon figured. "We need to escape."
The Digimon nodded slowly.
"Can we blast our way out?" he asked, hefting his rifle.
"I think... it would reflect," Toeremon warned.
Mummymon frowned and turned back to the sleeping Aru. He stroked her face gently with his knuckles. "Wake up, my dear," he called, withdrawing his hand just as she showed signs of coming around.
"Ugh," she said eloquently, covering her face with one hand. She blinked and looked around.
"We fell in a trap," Mummymon informed her.
"I'd guessed," she muttered. "Ugh, it's crowded in here. I should change."
"No, wait!" he disagreed, "Maybe you can melt through these walls and get us out."
"This wall," Toeremon affirmed, tapping his knuckles against one of the nearly featureless planes with deliberation.
"Who's that? "
"I am Toeremon." He bowed his head. "You will not have heard of me."
"If you're nobody important, then get out of the way," she said, hauling herself up onto her feet. She stared at the wall, concentrating.
"Take your time, my dear," Mummymon offered.
"Shut up," she replied. "Acid Mist!" She disgorged her attack upon the wall, concentrating it as much as she could without harming herself. Vile fumes began to fill the small room, from the melting wall and the mist itself. Several layers of material were already melted through. Her eyes watered but she took a deep breath and repeated her attack.
"Percussive kick!" Toeremon called out, leaning back with one hand on the floor and kicking out. A wave of force crossed the small room and hit the weakened, still melting wall and punched through it. Most of the damaged wall was torn away from the blow. He hurried out into the clearer air.
Mummymon waited as Arukenimon shifted back to her human shape to fit through their escape route, and then followed her out. He grinned at her. "You were magnificent!"
"Flattery will get you nowhere... If I keep saying it, maybe it'll sink in..."
"Do not celebrate until you are sure you are free," Toeremon cautioned. "You do not know this place. I think we are deeper underground than you realise."
"Underground?" Mummymon wondered, looking around the room they had escaped into. It was also dimly lit by panels like the ones in the cell. Several corridors and a closed door led off it. He looked up and wondered how much weight of earth might be pressing down on them. It made him feel uneasy. "Spooky..."
"And dark," Aru observed.
"Well, maybe if you took your shades off," Mummymon grinned.
"Go unwrap yourself," she shot back.
"BE... quiet," Toeremon snapped from the other end of the room, where he was investigating a data panel. "It may be as I feared. It is difficult to tell. There is very little power. I cannot.. can only access emergency functions. They seem to be running from a battery."
Arukenimon approached and peered around his arm at the data panel. "Meaning? Are we trapped?"
Toeremon scowled at her. "Perhaps we are trapped. Perhaps not. We must go," he traced his finger along a line on the panel and Arukenimon realised it was a map, "and find out."
She was surprised to find she didn't really mind this. The exercise of their brisk walk, the silence, the dark. She found it soothing somehow, and was in serious danger of smiling at the sound of the echoes of their footsteps syncing up with their new ones. Mummymon looked uneasy. He glanced at her often.
Toeremon was interested in her too, and nonchalantly asked, "the change between your current form and the one you arrived in. It did not appear to be an evolution."
She snapped out of her echo listening trance and narrowed her eyes. "What's it to you?"
"I am merely curious." Toeremon tried the access on another door and once again kicked it in instead, and led them through. This room looked more important than the other so far. It was large, with a high ceiling, a raised dais on one side and banks of simple-looking instruments, and an archway set against another wall. Toeremon looked intrigued, and gave the whole room a cursory examination. The two companions began to look around themselves, and Toeremon looked up sharply from his studies, warning, "do not step onto the dais.. It may be dangerous."
Arukenimon shrugged. "So?" she asked, "Is it something useful? Enlighten us or keep going... I don't want to be here all day."
"It is.. not useful," Toeremon sighed, ceasing his investigation. "You are correct. We should continue."
"You seem interested enough," she pressed, "What is it?"
Toeremon seemed to consider the question. He turned to another data panel and stared at it. "According to the information, this is an engine room. Power was supplied to this place through," he gestured around at the room at nothing in particular, "the Engine. I am not sure of... I am not sure."
Mummymon perked up. "Maybe we can get it started? It would be nice to have light at least. And then you can get into the computers."
Toeremon stared and then shook his head. "It would be difficult. I do not know.. It would be.." he glanced at the dais and the devices, hanging from the walls like entrails, that focussed on it. "We probably should not. Perhaps we do not need to." He crossed to the far door, kicked it open, and ducked through.
The door out led to a corridor that sloped sharply up and quickly gave way from paneled walls to rough-hewn stone, though there were still lights. "Seems things are looking up," Mummymon grinned, and ran ahead of them a little way.
When Arukenimon and Toeremon caught up with him, he was in a small room at the end of the corridor, scowling at a metal archway that led straight into the rock face. He caught the stranger's eye and flicked a stray bandage out of his face with one claw. "Don't tell me this is the way out..."
Toeremon blinked slowly. "This is the way out."
Arukenimon growled. "What do you mean ," she hissed.
"I think.. It is meant to be an emergency gate.. the destination is aboveground. But it seems the battery power is not sufficient."
Aru's lip curled. "But there is another way out?"
"Perhaps," Toeremon conceded. He kicked at the wall near the archway and dust slid off it, revealing a panel door like those in the complex. It slid open easily, revealing a short tunnel with a metal corkscrew staircase at the end. He stared for a long moment. "If I read the map correctly, this should lead to the surface. I will scout ahead and determine if it is the correct route."
"Oh, no, we're not splitting up, buster," Aru sneered slyly. "And you're not leaving us alone."
"It's alright, Arukenimon," Mummymon said, "I'll go with him. You rest here. We'll be back just as soon as we know this is the way to go."
"And- Well.. I don't want to climb any more stairs than I have to," she said, coming dangerously close to pouting. She didn't want to be left alone here. But she couldn't possibly let Mummymon know that.
They hadn't gone all that far when the staircase ended in rubble and rock. "It's caved in," Mummymon whined, "What do we do now? There are more ways up, aren't there?"
But Toeremon was only staring. "No. I do not believe so."
"I am sorry."
Mummymon tried hard to think. If only there was power, he was sure he could port from some of the screens they'd passed. But if there was power, they'd already be out. It was so hard to concentrate with all this rock everywhere! He didn't want to panic...
Toeremon made a nervous noise. "There is still a way out," he said.
"There is? Let's try it," Mummymon grinned, turning around, relief loosening his chest and throat.
"It is not a good way. One of us will die, I think."
Mummymon stopped in his tracks.
"One of us must go back to the Engine room and," Toeremon shrugged helplessly, "become fuel. Then the gate will-"
"What? You mean that thing back there.. It runs on people? "
"I believe so," he blinked, not meeting Mummymon's eye for more than a few moments at a time.
Mummymon set his jaw. "I have an obligation to Arukenimon. I won't leave her. And I certainly won't let her die."
"I also have an obligation," Toeremon replied, "to those that rely on me. It seems we must choose."
"You or me. Not Arukenimon."
"If that is your wish."
"So how do we decide?"
"It may not be fatal..."
"You believe it is, though, don't you?"
Toeremon lowered his head. "Yes."
Mummymon scowled, closing his eyes, blowing a breath out through his teeth. "I'll go, then." He'd been reconfigured before. He'd be ok. It would just take a long time. And Aru.. well.. she'd be alright. She was strong. She never really needed him, anyway. No matter how much he wanted her to. Maybe she would make better friends with the old Chosen Child, Iori. It would do them both good. And she could find herself, the way she'd always wanted to.
Toeremon bowed fully. "I will.. assist you."
"No... I'll go alone. I don't want Arukenimon to see. I'll just go; you and Arukenimon wait by the gate. Please," he waited till Toeremon looked up, "take care of her. Make sure she gets out ok. Our- her vehicle is nearby. She'll be fine."
He kept telling himself that as Toeremon told him what he'd have to do.
It wouldn't be hard.
Arukenimon waited more and more sourly by the gate. She wished she'd gone with them. Then at least-
"Sorry, my dear," Mummymon called down the stairs as he came into sight, his leg braces clacking loudly on the metal steps, "This way is no good. It's all caved in."
"Well, that was useless," she sniffed.
"It's ok," he said, stepping aside for Toeremon, who went to stand by the gate. "Toeremon thinks we can get that gate working. I'm going to head back to the Engine room and see if I can't route some power through to it." Mummymon smiled bravely at her, trying not to let it show. There were tears in his eye, but at least his voice was steady as he said, "I'll see you soon, Arukenimon."
She frowned back, uncomfortable, but he only smiled wider, full into his true-love face. "Cut that out."
All at once he made up his mind and snatched her close for a desperate kiss. She wrested herself loose, outraged, twisted back and clocked him in the jaw with her elbow.
But he didn't mind. And he barley heard her stream of epithets. He was happy in his soul.
Because for a moment, she had kissed back.
Rubbing his jaw tenderly, he stepped away and waved, turned and ran down the long slope of the tunnel, out of sight.
"Ugh! What an utter moron," Arukenimon spat after him, pulling the back of her arm across her mouth in disgust.
Toeremon looked down on her with a little contemplative scowl. "You could have been kinder to him, as he goes to such a fate for you."
She growled with irritation. "For me? He's saving his own hide. And you'll be getting out too, you know."
He slowly tilted his head to one side. "He is not saving his hide."
She snorted. "What would you call it? Philanthropy? Philogyny more like. He's trying to impress me."
"He goes to his death."
"He... What?" She blinked up at him. "He does not. He's just powering up the engine and then we'll be on our way again."
"The Engine requires sustenance. The Engine thrives on Digital life. He goes to offer himself to it. To be consumed."
She stood there staring in disbelief for a long moment, and then they heard and felt the rock around them suddenly begin to hum with life. She felt strange, like something cold had coiled around her guts.
Toeremon watched the gate intently, but it failed to flicker to life. He scowled and investigated it.
Arukenimon glared at him. "WHAT are you doing? Doesn't it work? "
"It.. This one is broken," he answered defeatedly, finding a bundle of heat-damaged cables inside an access panel.
"There is another gate in the Engine room... It should be functional... We should go," Toeremon said, moving forward with long strides. "The Engine is running."
Mechanically, Arukenimon followed him.
The smell hit them as they entered the engine room. The whole room reeked of burned flesh. The other gate, an archway set into the wall, was filled with a shimmering pale green plane of light. Mummymon was a twisted, dark shape on the raised dais in the side of the white room.
Toeremon stood back, puzzled. "There should be nothing left."
She took slow steps towards him, disbelieving. She didn't know how he could possibly be alive like that, but he hadn't disintegrated. So maybe...? Oh, but he looked so terrible... She reached him, knelt down next to him, and the heat and desiccation made her skin prickle. His bandages had mostly been burned away. Even his claws were carbonized to a brittle matte black, and the ruin of his face was caught in an expression of utter torture. She stared at it, tears rising to her eyes. "Mummymon," she called to him hopelessly, "are you still there?"
Toeremon scowled. "He smells human."
"Shut up!" she yelled, and pulled one of Mummymon's hands close to her, ignoring the sound of cracking ash. "Mummymon, please! You're in there, aren't you? You can't leave! You can't !" She held his hand tight. There was horrible crunch and the hand dropped away from her, leaving her clutching a few of his long, black claws. She stared at them in her hand and lost her precious control, wailing with a painful sadness and dragging the corpse up against herself, where she hugged it tight.
"Look," Toeremon commanded, and she followed his gaze to the hand she had held.
Barely visible, poking out from the hollow ends of the broken-off claws, were pale pink fingertips.
She stared at them. Then she let Mummymon slide out of her arms, both her hands busy tearing at the dry shell of his burned hand to free whatever was inside. Toeremon knelt and joined her, working fragments loose from the joints that had begun to split when Arukenimon had moved him.
She freed a whole pink hand, warm and stiff, and squeezed it, calling out her companion's name.
There was a wrenching cough, and Mummymon's body spasmed and stretched, cracking. He pulled his free hand away from Arukenimon to tear at his face, rolling onto his knees and coughing hard, dust and fragments raining down from him.
She watched in horror as he pulled himself apart, desperately working those small fingers into the dry cracks of his face and ripping them away. "Stop," she cried, reaching for him, but Toeremon pulled her back.
Something silver and spidery fell about his downturned face as he worked at it. The tangle of fibers obscured him as he calmed and finally stopped, swaying a little with heavy breaths, dust still falling from him in little rivers.
Toeremon released her but she stayed still, staring. And then Mummymon raised his head to look tiredly out of a beautiful, pale human face, tousled silver hair draping across one of his bright, golden eyes. He met Arukenimon's gaze. "I won't ever give up," he said with an unsteady smile, "I won't stop trying as long as I have a place at your side to return to."
She stared for a long moment, and punched him hard in the chest. He fell backwards with a shout of pain while she screamed, "You nearly got yourself killed, you reckless idiot!"
"You are a brave creature," Toeremon said to Mummymon, "But you have lost your place at her side."
Coughing hard from the blow, Mummymon got back to his knees. "Why do you say that?"
"Look at yourself. You are Human. And you are not Chosen. Life is.. difficult here for a Human, and if you go to their world you will be trapped there." He paused and looked the former Digimon over for a moment. "But in any case I don't think you'll be much use as a warrior anymore."
Mummymon looked down on himself, at his new hands. They were small compared to his old ones, soft, graceful. He made a fist and gasped at the feeling of fingernails digging into his palm. And his chest still hurt from Arukenimon's blow. He looked to Arukenimon, his heart folding up. He had finally lost his monstrous visage, but with it he had lost his strength. The strength that he knew she had occasionally appreciated.
"Gah," Arukenimon exclaimed suddenly, "you need pants."