Chapter Twelve - The Princess and the Ogre
a/n: I'd say "sorry!" but at this point it's probably too late for all that. Life gets in the way. But here's my first update in like...two years, apparently. It's my own ode to Mimi, a bit of a segue from the usual. We're coming up on the end, though. A few more chapters. I'll finish it even if there's no one left who cares, but if you're still following this story please leave a review and tell me what you think! I'm particularly worried about no one liking this chapter. Thanks to everyone who's still hanging around the Digimon fandom! Mimi fans, this one's for you. Enjoy.
P.S. check out my blog: fandomonium dot wordpress dot com
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess, and she lived in a castle with her mother and father, who loved her very much. They raised her to be elegant and demure and royal, and they taught her about table manners and how to be silent when the maid laces up your corset. They taught her how to sit so as to appear the most lovely and fragile in candlelight. They taught her how to lure a prince, but they didn't teach her a single thing about life, because they were rather silly, boys and girls. I mean, let's face it. They were sweet human beings, but they raised a daughter with a temper and a sense of entitlement and not one ounce of common sense...
On an elevated circular altar, hands tied above her head, bare toes scrabbling for purchase on the gritty stone below, surrounded by a surging, jeering crowd of digimon, Mimi Tachikawa realized that her survival had never been so unlikely as it was at this particular moment.
Her sudden imprisonment, Palmon's senseless death, the slow sickening of the Digital World, every aching moment of those three years home in Odaiba, knowing they'd left Tai for dead-these things were physical to her now. They formed a hard knot in her chest. A hot, churning place of strength. Every endless roadblock in this years-long nightmare had led her here. She felt new.
She felt complete, here at the end.
Several days earlier...
Mimi was not afraid. She was not afraid. Mimi was not afraid. Mimi was…
Mimi was terrified.
There were thick white ropes cutting into her ankles, wrapped around her stomach, cutting painfully into her skin…no…not ropes. Leaves? Vines? And a hand in hers. A large, warm, strong hand, and someone yelling her name. God, what was going on, what was happening? Everyone was pulling, she was going to be pulled apart. Down…down…she was being pulled under the sand and Izzy was holding on to her, and he'd never let go. He'd never let her…
Oh, please, Izzy, don't let me go.
Now, one day the princess was standing on the ornate balcony at the highest point of the highest tower of her castle and staring out at the sea, and she thought it was just another day. She was wearing a pink gossamer dress with a train ten feet long, and all ten feet of it were winking in the wind. She tossed her hair and lowered her eyes and tried to look sorrowful and romantic. Looking sorrowful and romantic were sure to net her a prince. And it's true she was a vision, but that didn't do much for her when the balcony crumbled and dumped her into the ocean, because no one was doing much maintenance on that extravagant castle, it turns out. Wave after wave washed over her, and her brief glimpses of the shore showed it farther and farther away, and that ton of pink gossamer dragged her under the water every time she caught her breath.
And believe me, if somehow she managed not to drown, this was a girl who needed to make a change, because she wasn't going to make it far as she was.
She tried to hold on. She did. Until the last moment, when his tight grip crushed her slender fingers and they still slipped. She curled her carefully manicured fingertips and tried to hook them onto something, tried to learn a way to keep them together. But she wasn't strong enough, and neither was he, and the last thing she heard before her head was pulled under the sand and she drew in a thick breath of the fine gritty stuff was Izzy's agonized yell. She hated to think that causing him pain was the last thing she would ever do. So she fought.
Mimi bit, clawed, tore at the thick paper vines, closed her mouth against the intrusion of sand, then mud, then water. She bit down on her tongue until the grey spots behind her eyelids dissolved, and when she couldn't fight to get free and longer, she fought to stay conscious. The rope-like plants tightened their hold, moving with purpose, binding her hands together, carrying her along, and when she was sure she was finished, sure she would die in the Digital World like she should have done three years ago, she broke through the surface of a cold lake.
She floated there for a long moment, until up became down, and she fell up to the ceiling…down to the floor. The plants retreated so quickly it was almost as if they'd never been there, and Mimi was left, lying on her back in a dim cavern, staring up at the smooth strange ceiling of water. She rolled weakly to her knees and curled in on herself, gagging, feeling grit between her teeth. She was freezing, soaked through, and her hair hung limp and muddy in thick clumps. She put her trembling hand to a painful spot on her cheek and it came back slick with blood. It seemed she had also lost her shoes, and this struck her as funny, prompting a fit of the giggles that made her feel utterly unhinged and seemed to go on forever. She though for a moment that something inside her might break. Oh, God, what was going on?
She wasn't strong—not like the others. She would die down here. After everything, after all the near misses, someone had figured it out. With the others to protect her Mimi was safe but alone she had nothing to offer. She was a weak link. It made sense to pick her off first. Why not? It would leave the others demoralized, they would feel vulnerable. Perhaps they would do something stupid in an attempt at revenge. Yes, someone would be along to deal with her shortly and then everything would begin to unravel.
She stood. She might as well meet death on her feet. It seemed more noble. She remembered her hair and her hands reached up automatically to try to arrange it. She wouldn't want to die looking like this, it seemed unfitting somehow. She slicked the dirty pink mess back into a respectable little knot and secured it with the elastic band around her wrist. Oh, her clothes were a mess. If only she had something more appropriate. Something white and flowing. A dress, maybe. Something fluffy. She straightened her mauve sweatshirt as best she could, but there was a huge tear in it now-there was nothing to be done. She picked restlessly at the fabric. She wiggled her cold toes. She was starting to feel agitated. Where was her damn executioner? She was trying to have a moment here, she was trying to be brave and serene and this was all wrong. In fact, she refused to have any part in it. It was all so absurd, what was she thinking?
Mimi Tachikawa had no intention of dying in this dirty, damp, disgusting cave! It was insulting, frankly. She deserved better! And she hated to be kept waiting, what was the meaning of this?
No one treated Mimi this way. No, this was unacceptable and someone was going to pay. She could be independent. She could be brave like Tai. He had been alone for three years and Mimi had fallen apart after three minutes-that wasn't the person she wanted to be. It was time for a change.
It was time for someone to taste the wrath of Mimi, it was time for her to take her revenge. She was taking a step into a new tomorrow as she launched into a brisk walk down that dark tunnel. She wouldn't stop until the job was done…
Some time later…
Mimi was bored. Mossy stone walls were never terribly interesting, and after what must have been at least three hours (it had been twenty minutes) she was ready to scream.
"Hello?" she called softly. Her own voice echoed back.
She sighed. She had to be patient. That was the old Mimi, expecting immediate results. She had to work for what she wanted. This was the Digital World, and she was in trouble. She had to stay calm, be rational. She couldn't lose her cool if she...
Her impatience was outweighing any instinct for self preservation. She never was much for that whole "slow and steady" mentality. She was beautiful and charming and she was a princess. That's what her parents had always told her and why shouldn't she believe them? It was hard to counteract a lifetime of pampering. She stopped, hands on her hips, and threw back her head.
"HEY! Someone ANSWER ME!"
She followed this up with a frustrated shriek and a rather childish stomp of her foot, neither of which seemed to deliver results.
"This sucks," she grumped, and then, loudly, "Someone had better finish kidnapping me and do it right because I am going to lose my mind!"
"Well," a voice said, "if you insist."
Mimi stopped in her tracks, and all of her careless bravado left her, because there was a strange scraping and groaning ahead, and there were eyes glowing in the dark.
She woke up in a reasonably large cage in the corner of an even larger brick room, slumped awkwardly against two wide iron bars, blinking against a throbbing headache. She was not pleased.
"What the hell." She shuffled around gingerly until she was comfortable and ventured a glance out through the bars.
A fuzzy, newly hatched digimon blinked its big eyes at her and sneezed, which was odd, because it seemed to be entirely devoid of a mouth or nose. Just masses of baby-fine, royal blue fur. Mimi was overwhelmed with wanting to take it home and name it and let it sleep at the foot of her bed..
"Oh, how sweet! Come here…" she reached out her hands, but the digimon shied away. "Oh, no, it's all right. I won't-"
"Get out of here!" a low, booming voice cut through Mimi's coaxing and the object of her attention was out the door before she had a chance to be startled. She raised her eyes to look at the new arrival, and was not entirely surprised to see Cherrymon standing against the wall, looking more absurd than threatening. There was something unsettling about a tree underground.
"Don't you need to photosynthesize or something?" she muttered, getting to her feet and smoothing out her clothes as best she could.
"Ah, yes. How clever." Cherrymon reached out a massive arm and plucked a golden key ring from the wall, twirling it around a bit of branchy finger. "Clever Mimi. You always were so smart. Or no…you really weren't, were you?"
Mimi thought of Matt, she tried to be strong. She swallowed the tightness in her throat and forced a laugh, nearly startling herself at its volume. She hoped she didn't sound as hysterical as she felt. "I'm familiar with your little games, Cherrymon. I'm supposed to start questioning myself now, right? Feeling weak, feeling expendable…that's hilarious. Tell me another one."
Cherrymon just stared, his eyes cold, and Mimi was afraid, but she only stared back. Perhaps he would kill her now. She knew he would do it eventually. She felt herself trembling and hoped he couldn't see. She thought she might not be able to stand much longer. And then the moment ended.
Cherrymon tossed the keys onto a table and left, ducking to fit through the door rather awkwardly, making scraping sounds as he went, the way tree branches will against a windowpane during a storm. Mimi sighed and felt herself uncoil. It was tiring, standing up for herself. She imagined how tired Tai must be, standing up for all of them every day.
Mimi was enjoying a Snow White sort of captivity. Cherrymon came by occasionally to remind her that he was still large and still mean, but his resident goons loved her with the innocent helplessness she was accustomed to and kept her as comfortable as they could. At first they had tried to menace her, but oh, they were just simple rookies who didn't know what side they were on, and a little sunshine in the dark went a long way.
She charmed a warm basin of water out of a pair of Garbagemon and rinsed the mud out of her hair and tattered mauve hoodie. She would have given anything for a real shower, but she was a prisoner after all. She could only expect so much.
Of course it was past her understanding that the comforts she enjoyed went far beyond what any normal person could have expected. It was her gift.
Days went by, and she was lonely. She wondered about the others. She supposed they were looking for her. They would assume she was alive. If there was one thing the Digidestined were good at it was denial. Or I suppose you could call that hope. She was finding it difficult to remain positive. What were they going to do, dig a hole? And she hated the thought of it-the seven of them charging into danger on her behalf.
She struck up quite a bond with a Floramon (though her shadow Deramon remained wary) and Mimi charged her with finding the furry navy-blue baby she'd fallen in love with. She'd learned that the last batch of hatchlings from Primary Village had been rounded up and brought here, but Cherrymon hadn't bothered to contain them and they ran wild, were often underfoot, and, Mimi imagined, starved for attention. As she often did, Mimi got much more than she bargained for, and after a brief period of shyness, had often found herself practically buried in apple-sized digimon of varying colors, all with downy-soft fur and wide blinking eyes. Of course her original find enjoyed a certain degree of favoritism, but they were all showered with endless affection, and listened with what appeared to be rapt attention to Mimi's stories. Though she had little evidence of their understanding, she drew comfort from their closeness.
Mimi closed her eyes and thought of home, of Odaiba and her spun-sugar life. She thought about summer camp and about what it feels like to find things you didn't know were missing. And she saw, in her mind's eye, a little girl with hair down to there and lips like a little red heart.
An incredibly silly little girl.
Mimi looked out through the bars of her cage at the faces of Deramon, Floramon, Gazimon...they were looking at her like she meant something, and when she imagined that girl, with her loud mouth and her pink dress, she barely recognized her.
Mimi smiled. "All right, kids, settle down. Now, where was I? The princess woke in the sand..."
The princess woke in the sand, the remaining fragments of her dress hanging on her wet and ruined, and thought for a moment that perhaps it would be best to loll on the shore and wait for death. She had nearly drowned, she was lost, lonely...she looked terrible. She would never find her castle, and no one would ever be kind to her again without her dresses and carefully arranged hair. Her life was over. Wasn't it?
Well. It probably was, but maybe she would just go see what was over that hill. She would just check, and then she would die.
The princess walked and walked, and for a long time, she didn't see much of anything. There were tall, tall trees; the tallest she'd seen, and sometimes in the distance, what must have been towns with their own castles and their own princesses, all lit up at night, and shimmering, mirage-like in the daytime. Worlds upon worlds, and how had she never known they were there?
Once she saw a long line of phone booths…do you know what phone booths are? No? Well, they let you talk to whoever you want, no matter where you are, no matter how far away. Well, almost anyone. Sometimes you lose someone for a long time, and they get so lost that not even a phone booth will do.
It was on the third day of her uneventful captivity that things started to get interesting, but Mimi was far too deep in conversation with a Gazimon she had named Franklin to sense any change in the atmosphere.
"So now, of course she's confused! She spent all those years holding on to him, but she's with Matt now, and she does love him. Oh, she loves them both. Tragic, really, don't you think, Franklin, dear?"
"Yes, tragic," the Gazimon said in an offhand sort of way, and picked at a burr in his grey hair.
"Now, don't tug, you'll just make a little bald spot, and who wants that? Come here, let me get that for you."
The Gazimon's fingers stilled, and he looked up long enough to shoot Mimi an incredulous look, but all he found was her sincere and beaming face behind the bars.
"Well?" she said, and he was disgusted to find that he nearly moved forward in spite of himself.
Mimi laughed in a light, gleeful sort of way, and the Gazimon went back to ignoring her, but their almost companionable silence didn't last long-Cherrymon forced his bulk back through the small doorway and the soft glow went out of Mimi's eyes. She stood and adopted a cocky, defiant posture that would have been comical under different circumstances.
"Okay, Digidestined," Cherrymon said. "Time for a fieldtrip."
He nodded to the Gazimon curtly, and the guard came forward to unlock the cage, oddly afraid of meeting Mimi's eyes. The door swung open with a shriek, and Mimi ghosted past him.
"Thank you, Franklin," she said, kindly.
Cherrymon was already halfway down the hall, and Mimi followed him without a backward glance, her feet small and quiet on the dirty ground.
Mimi wasn't sure what she'd expected to see when she left the seclusion of her little room, turning the corner into a widening hallway, but all her bravado left her as she walked through the dim light, between rows of cages stacked to the rafters, and everything started to come clear. They still had allies. Their friends weren't all dead and gone as they'd feared, gone to the rolling limbo between data and form. No, they were here, in some kind of underground stronghold. It wasn't just an invading virus that was destroying the Digital World-it was the digimon who'd changed sides, turned against their kind, and picked what they thought was the winning battle.
It was ironic, really, because they'd also turned the tide.
Mimi walked the hall beneath Piximon's desert with her head held high, and she felt the hundreds of eyes on her, looking to her as a savior. As she passed, some bowed their heads, humbling her, making her understand more than ever before what is was to be Digidestined. She wasn't sure why she was chosen, of all the people in the world, over stronger people, braver people. She wasn't sure at all what she had to give.
But all of those hopeful faces, the Numamon, Koromon, Gekomon who murmured Princess Mimi as she passed and brought tears to her eyes…they all knew there was something inside of her that made her different. She didn't have the heart to let them be proven wrong.
"Do you still think you're winning, Mimi?" Cherrymon said, his voice a smooth low chant, his back to her, branches swaying in an imaginary breeze. "Do you still think eight children can save the world? You have no chance. Your life was forfeit the moment you disappeared under the sand. Still feeling ready to fight, Child of Sincerity?"
Mimi looked away from the towering tree and looked instead into the faces of the caged digimon. All eyes were on her now, and this was a first. The others weren't here to form plans and take charge, and if she didn't fight, she would die, and so would all of these digimon. There was only one person who could save the day now, and it was her.
A new kind of strength awoke in her then, and she never was quite the same after that moment. You might say she grew up.
"Yes," Mimi said. "Oh yes. I'm ready."
Mimi hardly noticed the jarring impact of her right shoulder against the bars as Cherrymon tossed her into her cage and slammed the door behind her. She was completely shocked to find herself making a grab for Cherrymon as he stepped back from the bars, as if she could somehow overpower him with nothing more than her bare hands.
Franklin, who had leapt to his feet when they'd entered the room, seemed to be similarly startled by her behavior.
Cherrymon raised an appreciative eyebrow and almost smiled, but Mimi had no patience for games today.
"You've made a critical mistake," she said, "taking me on."
"Yes," Cherrymon said, and rolled his eyes. "I've heard you're the one to watch out for."
"Keep making jokes," Mimi said darkly, and a cruel smile played on her lips. "I can't wait to see the look on your face when you realize you're about to lose."
Cherrymon didn't say anything, just stared back at Mimi and saw that she was changed somehow.
"Yes," Mimi said, "I imagine it will look something like that."
As Cherrymon stormed out of the room, Mimi didn't waste a second. She whirled to face the silent Gazimon in the corner.
"Look, Franklin, I know how Gazimon are, and I know how much you love to pick the winning side, but this is not the time for taking the easy way out. You are aware, aren't you, that your entire dimension is actually sick and dying? You are under attack, and you've sided with this mindless virus just as quickly as you did with Etemon, oh, I cannot stand this! Maybe pick the right side for once. I just can't stomach one more act of cowardice from the silly little minions of this world."
The Gazimon held her stare for a long time, and then called for a guard. Once he'd found himself a replacement, he left the room without looking back, and Mimi's legs were suddenly shaking too hard to support her weight. She sat down clumsily and let her head drop between her knees. Mimi felt powerful, yes, but she also felt completely, painfully alone.
One day the princess came upon a narrow, overgrown path that veered away and into the woods, and she almost passed it by, but something told her that was wrong, so she stopped to consider. It was dark under the canopy, and thick, strange jungle noises echoed in the undergrowth, but she was the silliest kind of girl, and was only beginning to learn about fear. She pushed aside a leafy branch and took to the woods.
Now, a lot of adventures start in enchanted forests, but we'll bypass that, shall we, and get right to it? This story takes place in the dark and the damp. In the twisted nooks of underground.
Hours later, though she must have been awake for at least a full day and her eyelids were sandy with exhaustion, sleep was the last thing on Mimi's mind. All she could see when she closed her eyes were rows of cages, frightened rookies…
All that time they'd been home, comfortable, living their small lives, and the Digital World was falling to pieces. Digimon who remained loyal to them were locked up like animals, and the civil war Tai feared was far more than a looming possibility-it had already begun. They were already losing.
Mimi felt eyes on her, and glanced up to find Deramon at the door, looking extremely uncomfortable. She turned to her guard-one of the Garbagemon-and he snarled, "Want me to get rid of this joker?"
Mimi sized up Deramon for a long moment and shook her head, as much to clear it as to answer the guard. "No, it's fine. Come on in."
"I brought you a blanket," Deramon said.
"Thank you," Mimi said wearily, "but I'm going to need so much more than that."
"That's what we figured," a new voice chimed in, and Mimi looked in time to see Franklin stride into the room with a fat ring of golden keys looped around one finger. "How's this for a start?"
There were five of them, not counting the babies. Franklin, Floramon, Deramon, and the pair of Garbagemon, who Mimi had begun to think of as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Her very own, very brave bunch of rebels. Now she was getting somewhere. The navy powder puff, affectionately dubbed "Blue," and several of his peers kept watch, and Mimi sat close to the bars and bent over the stack of papers Floramon had spread across the dirty floor.
"What have we got here?" Mimi said.
"Floor plans," Deramon said, and flipped through a few pages, pointing out key locales. "This is where we are right now, here is the hallway with the cages, the tunnel you came through, the meeting hall and…the command center. Down past that…"
"That's where the monsters live," Tweedle Dee said.
Mimi traced the outline of the room with a slender fingertip. "The virus-born digimon?"
"A lot of them?"
She met Franklin's eye and sighed. Of course there were a lot of them.
"Right. And what's this here? Beyond the Hall of Horrors?"
"See these? Here, here, and…here?" Floramon pointed out several steep ramps. "These feed into the coliseum upstairs. Any one of them is a straight shot at the surface. Of course, there are the obvious obstacles."
Mimi grimaced. "Okay, what else have you got?"
"I thought you might find this interesting," Franklin said, and handed her the last three pages through the bars. There was the strangest little smile on his face…
"A roster," Floramon said. "Every digimon in this compound who's loyal to your cause. I think you may know a few of them.
Floramon and Franklin shared a knowing glance, and Mimi raised the pages with shaking hands. There were hundreds of them. Gizamon, Monmon, Veemon…Raremon, ew, Bishopchessmon, Rosemon, Tento…
"Oh my God."
The princess waded through mud and thorn bushes and swarms of bugs, and she wasn't sure what she had come here for anymore. She missed her castle and her nice things. She missed her parents and the food and the bubble baths. She missed being comfortable but she kept pushing forward because something told her she had to, and what did she know?
When she was so tired she could hardly stand and so scared that the slightest sound set her heart racing, a clearing opened up ahead of her and she found herself staring with some apprehension at the shrieking mouth of a cave. All the princess had ever heard about caves was that their deepest corners were home to ogres. Now ogres…they eat humans for breakfast lunch and dinner, and princesses…
"…well, princesses tasted best of all because they-Oh, Franklin!"
Mimi started upright, abruptly jerked out of her fantasy land, and colorful balls of fluff toppled off of her, squeaking indignantly, much bolder now than they had been when they'd first met her. "Hush, kids. Give me a minute. Franklin…what on earth happened to your face?"
She walked to the bars and reached a hand through, her fingers grazing the mess of bruises that had replaced Franklin's left eye. He jumped back and stayed carefully out of reach. "Well…I found your friend Ogremon, like you asked."
Mimi clapped her hands. "Oh, wonderful! How is he?"
Franklin stared at her blankly with his one good eye. Mimi hid a smile behind her hand. "Yes, I see your point."
Franklin crossed the room and settled into his usual chair. Mimi could barely contain her excitement, but Franklin let her suffer a little longer.
"Well?" she finally said, looking like she was about to burst. "Is he in?"
Franklin rolled his eyes. Like everyone who'd ever crossed paths with her, he could not deny Mimi. He leaned back in his chair and wished he had some ice, at least.
Mimi squealed. Franklin smiled.
"Okay, so we're all clear on the plan? Everyone feeling comfortable? Deramon, you look ill."
Mimi, a relatively petite girl by human standards, and seemingly harmless, looked about a hundred feet tall to everyone present. She was no warrior, not in the traditional sense of the word, but as she commanded her small army, there was something fiercely majestic about her. She would have been startled if she could have seen herself at that moment.
"Good to go, boss," Deramon said, rather unconvincingly.
"Great, let me out of this cage. Floramon, go. Good luck. Hurry."
As Floramon stepped out without a word, Franklin turned the golden key, and the lock tumbled. Mimi crossed immediately to the crowd of furry, colorful babies. "Now, what are all of you going to do?"
Not having mouths, they remained silent, understandably, and stared.
"Stay hidden. Stay absolutely quiet and do not move until I come get you. No heroics, understand?"
There was a chorus of enthusiastic blinking.
"That means you, Blue."
The herd of them bounded away, and Mimi waited until they were out of sight before turning to address the four remaining digimon. "Okay, Deramon, Tweedles Dee and Dum...I'm giving you a head start, but you need to move fast. And don't get caught, or the game's up. Okay, you know what you need to do. Get lost."
One of the Garbagemon saluted, and Mimi winked at Deramon as he stole a look over his shoulder. Their footfalls faded and she turned to look at Franklin.
"I guess it's just you and me, pal."
"Mmm," Franklin acknowledged vaguely, picking again at the burr on his arm.
"Here," Mimi said. "Let me get that."
Mimi sat down on the cold stone floor, patting a spot beside her, and the Gazimon sat down, quietly holding out his arm. Mimi's delicate fingers went to work on the matted bit of fur, and Franklin sat quietly, staring at a guttering torch in the hallway outside.
"About what I said earlier," she started.
"Forget it," Franklin said.
"When I called you a minion..." she added absently.
The corners of Franklin's mouth hinted at a smile. "Forget it."
"All right," Mimi said, and they waited in comfortable silence until their time was up.
The princess didn't know what to do. She stared at the yawning mouth of the cave. Shade. Shelter. Ogres? Her mother and father had warned her about ogres, but they had also told her that the most important lesson she could learn was how to flutter her eyelashes "just so" and that had turned out to be of very little help since she'd fallen from the balcony. Hell, what did parents know anyways? She hiked up the remains of her pink gossamer dress and charged forward. Forward and down. Into the dark.
God, she was so far down the rabbit hole. The damp dirt walls seemed to be closing in, and running down this tunnel, stumbling, squinting in the darkness—oh, she felt like something small. Like she was being hunted. She felt the panic building in the back of her throat and ran faster. She was so afraid when she thought about what she had to do that for a moment she thought she couldn't bear it. And then she saw the cage up ahead and the hulking green shape inside, and she kept going because she couldn't let herself down again.
"Ogremon!" she gasped, and grabbed the bars to steady herself, fumbling in her pocket for the key.
"I didn't believe him, but the little worm wasn't lying" he said, surging to his feet. "You're really back. All of you?"
"It's true then. Everything's different now," he said fervently, and Mimi felt the crushing weight of responsibility.
The heavy copper key was cool against her palm, and as she tried to insert it in the keyhole her hand shook, embarrassingly, and she cursed under her breath. The key clanged against the opening loudly, and the lock finally tumbled. "Okay, we don't have much time. Franklin went over the plan, I assume, but to recap we...we ah..." She felt Ogremon's eyes on her and felt utterly small and unprepared. She looked up.
"Mimi," he said, his tusks reflecting torchlight. It was sort-of terrifying.
"Yeah?" she said, rather hopelessly, and swung the cage door wide.
"You're doing fine."
"Oh," she said, and laughed weakly, scrubbing her hands over her face and leaving her hair disheveled. "Thanks."
"Touching," Cherrymon said, his voice booming down the hall. "Really, it gets me right here."
Mimi looked up to see him bang a branch against his chest, indicating his heart. He was flanked by two enormous digimon, both sickly grey and only mostly there, in that way of the virus-born digimon. They seemed conscious but unintelligent, and out of phase, like they had one foot somewhere else. There would be no reasoning with them.
"Cherrymon," Mimi said. "Um...hello."
"You're going to be so sorry," Cherrymon said. And Ogremon tried to fight them, but it was no use.
There were endless twists and turns, dripping stalactites, pools of glowing water and phosphorescent creatures skittering, always just around the bend or out of the corner of her eye. The princess walked for hours and the floor inclined steadily downward. At times the cave tightened and she crawled. The deeper she went the lighter she felt, her feet barely made a sound. Down, down.
"Oh," Mimi said mostly to herself, "to be anywhere but here."
She felt a trickle of blood ooze slowly down her arm and tore her eyes away from the rolling, screaming crowd to look up at the metal cuffs around her wrists. She was nearly tall enough to place the balls of her feet firmly on the stone altar below, but nearly wasn't enough and she was pretty sure that there was something wrong with one of her shoulders, and what had she been thinking. She twisted painfully to look over her shoulder and take in the comforting sight of Ogremon's firm back against hers. Chained up similarly and a little worse for wear, he had his eyes fixed coldly on Cherrymon, and the familiar Gazimon, Franklin, cringing at his side.
This seemed bad. Of course, she'd been in bad situations before, but this had a particular ring of disaster to it.
The gritty sound of Cherrymon's branches on the stone steps behind her slowly registered in the back of Mimi's mind and she braced herself against a palpable wave of fear. He was climbing the altar. Zero hour. She continued to face stoically forward and waited.
"Bet you're wishing you hadn't switched sides about now, eh Ogremon?" Cherrymon said, and laughed.
"Hm...why do you say that?" Ogremon said.
"Because I'm going to kill you," Cherrymon said. "Was that not clear?"
Mimi saw movement far off to the left in a formerly empty doorway—the carved out opening to the rows and rows of cages containing the loyal digimon. It was Deramon. When he saw that she was looking he stopped waving his arms and gave her a thumbs up, and she nodded back once, very slowly.
"Not really," Ogremon said.
"Now," Mimi said, quietly.
"What?" said Ogremon and Cherrymon simultaneously.
"Now," Mimi said, almost inaudibly, her voice quavering. She so wasn't built for this, careful timing, crazy risks...why couldn't Tai have been pulled down here? No...that was a horrible thing to think, after...but he'd have liberated the entire damn stronghold in 15 minutes! Cherrymon and the others would carry him out on their shoulders and shine his shoes and...don't get hysterical, Mimi. Deep breaths. She was trying to think like Tai. Think of the plan. She was supposed to wait for Floramon, but things were unraveling, Cherrymon was too close, she was too scared, it felt like they had to move...now. Right now, before she completely lost her nerve, "Now, now! Franklin, now!"
"Wait..." Cherrymon said. "Who?"
A wall of winking diamonds. A limestone formation. She went without abandon, leaving her dress to line the nests of the small cave monsters and continuing in her white cotton shift. She was almost always crouching now. Very little light left, and she felt the walls with her hands, smooth, sometimes wet. She was coming to the deepest place, the center.
"You want me to what?" Franklin said, amidst gasps from the rainbow of baby digimon looking on.
"I want you to go and tell Cherrymon that I've broken out and I'm probably headed to Ogremon's cage, that I've taken your keys, why are you looking at me like that?"
"I'm sorry, it's just that this plan is insane."
Mimi waited for the chorus of muttered agreement to die down. "So you'd rather we just creep out in the dead of night at leave it at that."
"Well..." said Franklin, looking around at Deramon, Floramon, and the Garbagemon. They all looked rather horrified. "Yes."
"Okay, but I don't want to just escape, I want to send a message."
"Yes! Okay? This dimension is being slowly strangled by a virus from who knows where, and half of the population of server has allied with it! I need every single digimon here to know that they don't have to side with this virus to survive, that the Digidestined are still powerful, and for that I need all eyes on me. So let him try to make an example of me, and I'll take it from there, but do not expect me to sneak out the back door. I'm not doing that."
Franklin rocked back on his heels and let out a long pensive breath. "All right, Mimi. But I want you to know that we're all going to die."
"Don't be such a worry wart, Franklin. No one likes a worry wart."
Before Cherrymon had time to react, Franklin had scampered past him, unceremoniously scaled Ogremon like a tree, and drawn back a clawed paw, poised to bring it down on the chains.
"What the hell is going on here?" Cherrymon bellowed, lurching forward belatedly. "Gazimon, get down here! What do you think you're doing?"
Caught up in the moment, feeling energized and important and a part of something for once, Franklin shot Cherrymon an uncharacteristic grin and bellowed, "Picking a side!"
His claws came down and the sound of shrieking metal rang out in the cavernous room as the chains severed, dumping one large green digimon and one slender girl rather roughly on the raised stone altar with a resounding crash and accompanying cloud of dust. There was a stunned silence as the entire crowd paused to take in this new development.
And then Ogremon surged to his feet, charged at Cherrymon, and threw the first punch in the biggest brawl the Digital World had ever seen.
The princess climbed down into the deep pulsing center of the world, a cave smoothly carved out like a drop of water. And everywhere around her points of hot green light broke through, warming her skin, taking her through to some other place.
She felt new.
She felt complete, here at the end.