Episode 25: Down the Rabbit Hole

Deekamon's estimate was just about spot-on-- a day and a half, nearly to the dot (and not including sleep) was spent trekking through the thick foliage of the jungle. It was prone to tripping the kids up, while the digimon were more than happy to tramp over it, seeming far more in touch with it, so to speak.
Amongst them, they chatted and they argued.

"I'm telling you, Si, if there was a fire, you'd want to put on one shoe and one sock."

"Egakumon, you don't even wear shoes. You'd totally want both socks."

"I gotta say I agree with Simon, actually."

"Faris! You betray me, yeom."

"... um, Delfinimon?"

"Yes, Tobes McGrobes?"

"... you don't even have feet."

Heated discussions, indeed.

Lukas -- in true form -- was hanging back somewhat, cradling Gemon in his arms; the little digimon was chatting from where she was, even though her mouth barely came over the top of her human partner's coat-sleeve. After some time, Faris (with Delfinimon close in tow-- once again, the aquatic digimon had taken to bumming a ride in Faris' arms) took it upon himself to hang back and step into stride with the newest member of their team-- and yet, didn't say anything directly to him.

"Gemon's got a good idea. Hitching a ride's the oooonly way to travel, yeom," Delfinimon chirrupped; Gemon smiled, and Faris groaned with a roll of his eyes.

"Yeah, but I don't think that Gemon is heavy as a lead cinderblock. You're just getting yourself into this vicious cycle. You're never gonna lose weight if you don't walk for yourself."

"You try dragging your stomach on the ground for twelve hours and get back to me, buddy-yeom."

"Ugghhhh."

Luke gave a look at the two bantering back and forth, keeping his mouth steadfastedly shut. A sort of faint smile played on his mouth, until: "... same goes for you, too, by the way," Faris said, sticking his tongue out tauntingly before speeding up his pace to catch up with Emily and Kamomon.

"... what do you suppose he meant by that?" the boy mumbled, looking at the small digimon he held.

Gemon turned herself around in Luke's arms, and looked up at him. "The part about the vicious cycle," the once-snake said simply, her big black eyes staring straight into her partner's green.

"You never give a straight answer, do you?"
Gemon smiled just so faintly, and had nothing more to say on the matter. There was little more, after that, to say, as from the head of the group, leading the way, was Simon's voice, cutting through the air:

"Call me crazy, but I think we've found it!"

"Okay, you're crazy but we've found it," Andrea snarked from behind, her hands on her hips. Rajamon snickered. Simon seemed to take a leaf from Deekamon's book and chose to ignore the comment. He was right enough;a small tunnel, just barely big enough for the kids to walk through and formed entirely by overgrown vines and roots, led into a larger one carved into a rock face.

"I'm getting tired of caves," Rajamon grumbled, peering in.

"I'd love to see you come up with a better way to connect areas," Iguamon replied simply; the feline sighed and nodded his head.

"Just feels like some architect of the digital world was getting lazy, y'know?"

Any further discussion on the matter was cut off by Egakumon. "So! Who's ready for another glorious cavey adventure?" It was hard to tell whether he was being sarcastic or earnest.

"You know it, bunnyboy," Simon said from beside his partner, holding down a hand for a low-five, and the rabbit's clawed hand slapped into the human's with a small "pamf" slapping sound.

"Glad someone's excited about it, huh?" Andrea said with a look at Rajamon, who nodded his head once.
With no more deliberation-- but with a sort of shudder on Toby's part, followed by Lammon nuzzling her head into his side -- the ragtag group of fourteen filed in.

No sooner than they passed through the vegetation "entrance hall" and approached the rock part of the tunnel, they noticed something. There was a faint, tepid breeze blowing out of the cave mouth-- not strong, but enough to ruffle the hair and clothes of the kids. That wasn't a surprise-- caves 'breathed' even in the real world. However, the air had a sickly-sweet sort of smell, almost overpowering in intensity, almost reminiscent of the perfume that lingered in Lammon's ponytail's smoke.

"Y'know, I'd kinda like to say I'm surprised, or bewildered, or curious what's causing that," Emily remarked, stopping momentarily and putting her hands behind her head, "but I'm just going to chalk it up to the digital world being weird again."

"Probably for the better!" Kamomon said cheerfully from Emily's side. The bird and the girl exchanged a smile and a chuckle, and then caught up the few steps they had fallen behind from the rest of the group. All involved quickly put it off their minds-- even if the smell was a bit overwhelming. They had more important things to think about, though.
Like the fact that not five minutes into the cave, thus far a gentle downhill slope, they encountered a sheer wall-- a dead-end.

"Yyyyyikes, yeom," Delfinimon drawled, looking up. At the top -- some twenty feet up -- there was a faint light leaking out, barely illuminating the ceiling and opposite wall.
The actual wall in front of them, meanwhile, was nearly straight-up-- it might have been climbable by someone with a loose definition of what constituted a safe hand- or foot-hold, but most of the kids (and most of the digimon, really) did not fit such a definition.

Luckily, Andrea was not one of such people, and Rajamon was right along with her.
She knelt, and Rajamon scrambled onto her back, clasping his paws around and riding piggyback. Andrea drew her lips back into a thin expression of determination. She proceeded to -- at a run -- throw herself, Rajamon in tow, at the wall, grabbing at the nearest small outcropping to serve as holds for her hands and feet.

"Is this normal?" Luke asked quietly, blinking slowly.

"Yes," Faris and Delfinimon said in chorus, deadpan and immediate.

"Good to know Rajamon hasn't changed," Gemon mumbled, raising her brow.

"Well, come on, then," Rajamon said, looking over his shoulder, as Andrea heaved herself up a foot or two.

What followed was a sort of awkward, apprehensive, rushed attempt to figure out what was going on-- they knew Andrea would be fully willing to leave them in the dust if they stood around flapping their jaws for too long.
Egakumon and Iguamon could climb on their own, being bipedal; Kamomon, able to fly, would carry Gemon up so that Luke's hands would be free. Delfinimon and Lammon would both pull the same stunt Rajamon did and cling to humans' backs-- though Simon volunteered to carry Lammon, as even though the sheep was very light for her size, she was still the better part of the size of her partner when clinging like such.

It was slow going-- those with Digimon on their backs had the extra weight to contend with, even discounting the fact that foot- and hand-holds were, though abundanat, small and treacherous, barely enough to carefully balance the balls of their feet on with bodies plastered against the wall.

"You're getting there," encouraged Gemon from atop Kamomon's head, over the sound of flapping wings. (The seagull thought it best to linger so as to help if anyone mistepped.)

Slow as it was, with grit teeth and quiet determination, the group made their way up; Andrea, having been the first to reach the top, stood and waited, letting Rajamon off of her back. Emily, the next up, turned around to help pull up the others; Faris was grateful for the help, drawling something about "... lugging this lunk of tuna." Delfinimon stuck her tongue out at him and smirked.
After that came Iguamon; Julian was soon to follow. Simon and Egakumon both refused Emily's help and hoisted themselves up. As soon as Simon let Lammon off of his back (she bowed her head and gave her thanks) both boy and rabbit -- respectively -- extended their hands to Luke and Toby to pull them up.

As soon as they were at the top... it seemed there was no light at all. Or not bright enough to light up the opposite wall, at least; it was illuminated the same dim red light that they were coming to realize lit a number of caves, but nothing like what, from the bottom, had seemed to be harsh daylight. Now, they hadn't seen anything quite this odd yet-- and yet were still willing to chalk it up to the Digital World's oddity.
In front of them stretched quite a length of straight-ahead-tunnel, the soft red glow lighting the way-- like any other cave they had been in thus far.

"Freakin' Digital World," Simon said, letting loose a sort of quasi-sigh. "Movin' on, then?"
Before he even finished saying it, the be-hatted boy was leading the way as per his usual manner, Egakumon right at his side. The rest of the group was quick to follow, but three hung back: Gemon, Luke kneeling to pick her up, and Iguamon.

"You're seeing that too?" the dinosaur said quietly, simply, looking at the newest human member of the team.

"... yeah."
Luke cast a look back over his shoulder, picking Gemon into his arms again, and without much more delay the three shuffled ahead to re-join the group. Gemon, nestled in her partner's arms, furrowed her brow. Now, call her nuts... but they had just climbed up a wall. Looking back, it looked as though they were still on the path below, the path leading smooth and straight back outside, with no stone wall in front or in back of them.
Before they walked too far, Iguamon stopped again. he cast one look over his shoulder and then, using the big claws fixed to his gloves, quickly dislodged a couple of decent-sized rocks from the wall, quickly moving them to be directly underneath one of the glowing orbs in a simple, but distinctive, arrangement. He committed the sight to memory and continued after the group like nothing had happened.

***

For a long while, the path was relatively straight-ahead; while it twisted and turned here and there, there were no splits in the path, nothing interesting, barely a noise outside of idle chatter and the beat of footsteps. It could be worse-- there was nothing attacking them, it was dry, it was lit enough, there were no ways to get lost-- just that meant it was scores more pleasant than the past couple Proxy Areas.
...
Of course, this is just what it seemed to be.

It was a good while since they climbed the wall when Iguamon stopped, his red eyes darting off to the side and his lips drawing back into a dry expression. He grabbed Julian by the bottom of his shirt and gave a tug. His partner looked down at him with a quiet 'hmm?'.
"I placed those rocks there a hour ago," Iguamon said, jerking his thumb to indicate the small pile of rocks nestled below a light. Indeed, it was the same little arrangement-- no alterations made, no pebble out of place.

Julian furrowed his brow. "Hold up, guys," he said, turning to look at the others; in fact, some of them had already halted, having noticed the two stopping. The oldest boy looked at his partner again. "You're sure of this?"

Iguamon looked up, meeting Julian's gaze evenly, and nodded only once. He closed his eyes. "I'm not disposed to uncertainty."

"Once more, in English?" Faris mumbled, putting his hands behind his head.

"He's sure," Toby translated in a low voice; Faris coughed into his hand, looking up at the ceiling.

"It was a good idea, I think," Gemon piped up, almost hopping out of Luke's arms before he caught onto her again. When the other digimon (and humans) looked at her, she looked as though she would have shrugged.
"When we turned around, it looked like we had stayed on even ground. No cliff wall at all." Luke nodded but kept his mouth pointedly shut, looking at his feet.

Emily cottoned on first. "So Iguamon was... conducting, like, a test?" Iguamon nodded.

"To see if anything else weird happened," Simon said thoughtfully, putting a hand to his chin. "... what gave you that idea anyway? I mean, I wouldn't have thought to." He was almost expecting a that's because you don't think a lot from Andrea, but the girl put her hands in her pockets and stayed silent.

Iguamon paused, thinking. "Never hurts to take precautions," he said simply, and was close-mouthed from then on.

Rajamon frowned, his expression a bit incredulous. "So we've been going in one big circle?"

"Or, something is going out of the way to mess with us," Egakumon reasoned, putting one arm akimbo and idly adjusting his bandolier-like belt with the other.

"Somehow, I'm not really surprised," Andrea said, rolling her eyes. She was starting to get on her guard. Anything going wrong could probably be somehow linked to Era-- or if it wasn't, he was a convenient scapegoat whom she internally figured few of their number would objecting to her using as said scapegoat. "So what do we do, just keep walking and hope something works out?" She twirled a bit of her hair around one finger.

"We could try backing up and out," Lammon piped up, looking at the ground as she thought, "since going forward doesn't seem to work. I- I mean... worst that can happen is that we end up outside, right?" She looked up for confirmation.

"Or get horrifically lo-- oof, yeom!" Delfinimon began to wisecrack before Faris gently nudged her in the side with his foot. "Yeah, lammy-wammy's got a point well enough."

"... what is it with you and nicknames today?" Kamomon said with an eyebrow raise, but there was a smile pulling at his beak.

At the end of the discussion, though -- and it wasn't really a discussion, as it just turned into the group looking at eachother and shrugging -- Lammon had the best... and only... idea. It made sense enough, and they'd yet to cover enough ground that it became too much of a bother.
It still didn't come without its fair share of grumbling, however.

Until they actually got to walking. Only quite a while -- nearly another hour -- after they began to re-tread the path did they notice something incredibly peculiar.
There was a completely solid face of rock that wasn't there before.
"... well," Simon mumbled, slapping his palm to his forehead.

There was a sort of awkward silence, until...
Egakumon suddenly lunged at the wall.

"Magic Brush!" the bunny yelled before he could be stopped, painting broad strokes in the air with his brush. He hopped back before he ran headlong into the wall, just in time for the symbol in the air to be painted. It began to shine and fired at the wall.

The beam of energy impacted the stone wall, and... the wall lost. That is to say, it exploded into purplish smoke, scented heavily with the same aroma that was on the wind when they entered the cave. Beyond it was a sharply-sloping hill that they hadn't recalled walking up in the slightest. Progress?

For a moment, the kids and digimon stood dumbstruck.

"H-how on earth did you know that would happen?" Rajamon said, no small amount of disbelief plain on his face.

Egakumon was mirroring the tiger's expression exactly. "I... didn't."

But there it was.
They were clearly being messed with-- that much was clear. But what choice did they have but to follow the path they were presented with?

The group slowly, carefully trekked down. The path was steep, treacherously so, and for someone to rush ahead would mean that they'd quickly lose their footing. Simon and Egakumon, leading the pack as was their wont, proved this rather spectacularly.
At the bottom of the slope, it evened out into a somewhat larger tunnel, at least at the mouth. As they grew quite close to the bottom, the boy-and-bunny pair caught sight of a digimon. Big, upright ears, a face covered by a silver mask... and then it was gone, having turned and dashed into the tunnel
"Hey!" Simon yelped, suddenly lurching forward; Egakumon leapt out to grab his partner's hand to stabilize him, forgetting that he was in fact jumping at his partner, sending both of them tumbling down the thankfully short rest of the way down the hill.

In true character, Simon chose to hold fast to his hat, while Egakumon clung to Simon's back; the other six pairs made haste to the bottom.

"Are you okay?" Luke was the first to ask, skidding to a stop-- and almost crashed into by Emily and Egakumon, followed in turn by each other pair.
...
They could almost see the little birdies flying around Simon and Egakumon's heads.

"Just dandy! Whooooo..." Egakumon groaned, waving one hand in the air.

"What was that about?" Gemon said, blinking a couple times as Simon and Egakumon pushed themselves up to a sitting position.

"Saw something," Simon replied, rubbing his head. "Yeow. ... nah, nah, I'm fine," he said, waving away an offer for help from Faris and attempting to stand up. He failed, a bit dizzy from the tumble, and was grabbed by the arm by Andrea and pulled to stand. "Thankee."

"A digimon, I think," Egakumon elaborated. He paused, struck a thoughtful pose, and then added: "Almost looked like some kinda rabbit."

"Oh, no, can you imagine two Egakumon or, like, another Shokunimon running around?" Emily said with a giggle-- even Julian cracked a dry 'heh'.

"Aw, heck no! One of me's enough," the rabbit said, seeming quite self-aware. "World ain't got enough room for another great hero like me."
Okay, strike that self-aware thing.

"I wanted to... well, see what was its deal, yeah?" Simon explained, gesturing with his hand.

"Well if there's a digimon..." Julian reasoned, hands in his pockets, "then it's either a threat, or might be able to help us. Either way, Simon had the right idea. Wrong execution, but right idea."

Simon chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, see?"

"No more leaping your way down hillsides, and we'll call it good," Rajamon said a bit sardonically.

Egakumon grinned. "Fine, then no more throwing yourself at rock walls."

Andrea couldn't help but crack a smile.

Their inertia lost, the group lurched to life again down the path. It was back to a straight-ahead path, though the lights seemed to be growing to be spaced further and further apart as they went; Toby was quick to begin using his D-GEAR for additional light, and the others (sans Luke, his hands and arms being occupied) were quick to follow suit.
And there was no sign of any other digimon-- any other thing, at all, except for the group.

And then, suddenly, at the end of the path -- and indeed, it looked like another dead-end was up ahead -- there was a shape, barely perceptible in the darkness, moving around, a black silhouette against a dark background.
Simon and Egakumon used exactly the same method from before: instant rush ahead. In fact, everyone followed the Simon'n'Egakumon school of ambush-- possibly because they knew that their self-proclaimed leaders were going to do it anyway.

The dark shape turned to look at them. In the dim light, it was possible to see that it was indeed lapine, standing on two feet.
Its yellow eyes flickered to look at the approaching nigh-mob.

It turned to face them, and then... leapt backwards, into the wall. It phased through as though it were incorporeal.

Simon and Egakumon, meanwhile, smashed into the wall as though they were very, very corporeal.

"This is not a good day for your faces, guys," Faris remarked, stifling a sort of awkward laugh.

"Shyaddap," Egakumon grumbled -- he didn't see the humor in the situation -- as he rubbed his smarting nose.

"Allow me, yeom," Delfinimon said, lolloping her way up to the wall. She proceeded to a sort of somersault, her tailfin beginning to glow. "DolFin!"
As the fin contacted the wall, just as Egakumon's attack had done on the previous wall, the barrier dissolved into sweet-smelling smoke revealing... more empty hallway, barely lit at all, totally still. It was somewhat taller than the tunnels thus far, a good ten feet tall and half again as many wide.

"Proxy cave: two; Virtue Warriors: zero," Luke mumbled, deadpan and quiet; Gemon smiled faintly.

"It's still there," Egakumon said suddenly, lifting his head and bringing his hand down. Simon gave his partner a look and a raised eyebrow. "Trust me on this, Si."
And with that, Egakumon lunged forward again. This time, he ran into something-- not a wall, but rather...

A rabbit, well-concealed by the darkness. As the child-level bunny connected with her, the red orbs of light lining the walls flickered to life.
The digimon was hard to describe; she was pale pink in colour, with four ear-like protrusions -- two for each side of her head --, two long whisker like ones further down her face, with one long, curling, crescent-shaped one in the center of her forehead. This came out from a hole in a silver face-mask, to which a length of pink fabric was tied in order to fasten it to her head. She had the strangest blue chestplate armor, with curled protrusions curling around her from behind.

She didn't waste a moment; as soon as the light came back on, she jerked herself around into a full roundhouse kick. Egakumon yelped and leapt into the air and back towards the group, but wound up grazed by the kick and went tumbling for the second time. Before he could act, the rabbit digimon took off like a bolt down the path.

"What on earth--" Simon said, blinking.

"A Lekismon. Moon rabbit," Iguamon provided, and then looked up at Julian.
The tall boy nodded, and held up his D-GEAR. Iguamon was quickly bathed in light.

"Iguamon, kickstart digivolve to... Velocimon!"
Just like that, the dinosaur took off right after the foreign rabbit, long strides carrying it closer to her. In fact, he quickly passed her-- and merely stood his ground, growling and blocking the way. The kids and other digimon took off after-- they were grateful that the digimon hadn't had much chance to run, lest they end up having to run a half-mile to catch up. They stopped before they got within her kicking range.

"What's the deal!?" Egakumon called, approaching Lekismon; she had been focusing on Velocimon, but turned her head as the little lapine approached. "We just wanna know if you know the way out--"

"Moon Light Bomb!" Lekismon called, cutting off Egakumon, firing a bomb-like orb of of water from her hands; Egakumon managed to leap out of the way of it as it burst on the floor.

"Okay, fine," Egakumon grumbled. "We'll do this rabbit-o a rabbit-o."

"That's not a real phrase," Rajamon remarked as Simon's D-GEAR began to glow.

"Egakumon, kickstart digivolve to... Shokunimon!"

Adult-level rabbit to (presumably) adult-level rabbit, Shokunimon breathed out as he clutched his paintbrush tight. "Velocimon!" he said fast, "cover me-- keep her from getting away!"

"I'm not a stone wall," the raptor said, but nodded his skull-masked head, "but I can oblige." Shokunimon nodded, breathed out, and leapt forward with a somersault.

"Tumble Kick!"

Lekismon, to Shokunimon's dismay, leapt out of the way nearly effortlessly-- and returned with a kick of her own, striking down from the middle of her jump away. "Moon Night Kick!" This managed to bean Shokunimon soundly in the gut, and he stumbled backwards.

And yet he didn't pause for even a moment, even though he was winded as he called his attack. "Paint" (wheeze) "Blast!"
The torrent of paint escaped from the tip of Shokunimon's brush and splattered towards Lekismon. Once again she leapt away-- but some got her on the foot.

Said foot began to dissolve into scented smoke. Shokunimon's eyebrows shot up.
"Soooomething tells me that's not supposed to happen," Kamomon mused a bit sardonically.

"Tumble Kick!" Shokunimon yelled again, throwing his full body forward into a hard kick-- and this time, it connected right in Lekismon's solar plexus. This, in turn, caused her entire body to go up in smoke. No light-- no digitama left behind.
There was something fishy about this, to be completely sure of it.

"What on earth..." Simon said quietly, scratching his head and adjusting his goggles.
The same sentiment was immediately echoed by every digimon and child in the vicinity-- because every inch of the cave was suddenly dissolving into the same perfumed smoke, tinted lavender and pale sea-green, which was quickly blown away by a dry, thin breeze. The light was suddenly blinding, their pupils still enlarged from the dim light of the cave. Before their vision adjusted, Andrea and Rajamon had one thing to say:

"Freakin' Digital World."

When they looked around, they saw themselves in a completely different environment than they had been in that morning. It was almost entirely devoid of foliage, except for thin, low-lying scrub-- not a tree to be found. It was rocky and rugged and arid, the air dry and cool (really, welcome after "hot and humid"). More than vegetation, rocks of varying size and hue made up the scenery. They were on a flat landing of sorts, a small cave behind them with an overcropping of rock above, a vast cliff wall behind, with craggy mountains and valleys in front of them.

Luke was almost in awe, Gemon the same-- Shokunimon and Velocimon hastily shrunk back down to their child levels, and the others were just trying to find their place and gain their bearings. There was no time for this, however. Suddenly, a voice spoke:
"Are you friend or foe?!"

From above, dropped a blue shape that landed in front of the group with a kick-up of dust. Intense red eyes, eyes that seemed to bore into their minds, drifted over the kids, and settled on Luke and Gemon.
For a moment, there was a tense silence; six out of seven digimon were preparing for a fight.

And then the less-than-friendly greeter digimon bowed his head.
"Hello again."

"Hi again, Rafikmon," Luke said meekly, a bit awkwardly, holding up one hand in a halfhearted half-wave.

[Chapter 25: End]