With a flash, they appeared in Gimi’s house, being almost thrown out of the hurried Digiportal.
Leomon landed on a sofa with a loud thud and groan as the crimson sofa struggled under his cumbersome frame.
“We’ve never ported this perfectly,” Tyler muttered, looking around. He noted that they had the extra Digivice of Rori’s, however Aleena’s hadn’t helped too much previously so there had to be another factor at play.
“Digital Anchor.” Gimi got up from a green chair across from them. His kimono was navy blue in colour today. “Like a homing beacon for you to catch on to.” Gimi turned his head towards the raucous yelling and banging going on outside and frowned. “I’m relieved it worked.”
Tyler looked over too and noticed that the doors and windows were boarded up. It was lucky that they hadn’t appeared outside by the looks of things.
“Many thanks for the help.” Gimi lifted Leomon up in his arms as if he were no more than a child and walked over to the door. That old man was abnormally strong for his short stature.
“Silence!” he roared with such ferocity that it imbued Tyler with a little fear. Not a single sound was heard anywhere; even Alex and Zalyea kept silent. This was a side of Gimi they didn’t see too often. “Leomon has been freed thanks to the Digidestined. How do you repay them? You act like idiots! No soup for any of you!” And the quirky idiot was back.
Tyler could hear grumbling and then soft footsteps as the Digimon, presumably, left.
Gimi turned back to them, closing the door. “Go to the bedroom and rest. I can’t imagine you all have much strength left.”
Tyler placed Aleena’s bag down and turned back to Gimi. “We need to talk.”
The others turned back wearily, looking at him. None of them could bare to move much longer, with Alex carrying Corinne with Zalyea’s help.
“Later, later.” Gimi turned into cubes of data and vanished with Leomon, neither of them leaving a trace.
Tyler cursed under his breath that Gimi had avoided him but sighed and followed the others through to the bedroom where eight neat pale blue beds were waiting for them.
As Tyler got into bed and closed his eyes he heard a gentle sobbing but not one of them said a word, all feeling the same about what they knew to be true. About what they had faced there. These demons would surely haunt them all for a long time.
* * *
Tyler woke up, slightly startled, to see a strange face right in front of his. He tried to panic but everywhere was too sore to allow him much movement.
“I said my Digi-Beauty soup would do the trick.” The Digimon, with grey hair proclaimed. “Now onto the oversized cat.” She walked across the wooden boards to Talmon and Tyler lifted his head up, being all he could do, and saw Alex stirring slightly but no one else was making a sound.
The strange Digimon dipped a silver ladle into a deep vat in the middle of the room and withdrew it, green liquid spilling from the utensil as she carried it back over to Talmon. Carefully, but liberally, she poured it over Talmon’s exposed body. At this point, Tyler realised how sticky he was. He was also stripped to nothing but his boxers but was too exhausted to do anything about it. Presumably, this thing was a she by its voice but Digimon didn’t strictly have genders unless they said so themselves. Gender could even vary within the same species. The Digimon walked over to Leomon and stuck her tongue into his mouth. “Baba Milk!” White liquid slipped from their lips, trickling down Leomon’s face. She then leant back and swung her broom about. “How dare you not respond to my healing!” Tyler really hoped she hadn’t done that to him.
“Please do not hit me, Babamon.” Leomon coughed and sat up.
“To be expected.” Babamon thudded her broom against the wooden flooring. “I am great, after all.”
She stepped back and allowed Leomon to stand up. “Now, get back to work, you lazy freeloader!” She hit him repeatedly with the broom until he ambled out of the room and then she turned back to Tyler. “Did I say you could stop resting? No!” Waving her broom at him, she ordered, “Go back to sleep!”
Tyler leant back and closed his eyes, afraid of being hit, and heard her talk.
“Five spiral fractures of the ankle bone, bruised skull, compressed lumbar vertebrae, bruised scapula, internal and external bruising and numerous skin lacerations.” Babamon sighed. “You poor thing…”
He knew exactly who she was on about and cursed that he had let it happen. This was never going to leave him—how he had just allowed something like this to occur. He should have stayed in her place.
“Can you save her?” It was Gimi.
“I’ll do what I can.” Babamon shuffled about. “I’ve consulted Nog, Gimi.”
Gimi didn’t reply for a while. “Nog? You know how I feel about him.”
“You Digital Guardians all hate each other, Gimi. But, Nog has been around longer and I needed to know what to do about him. Gennai is still missing too, of course, so you lot will have to start getting along soon.”
“What of the trouble in the city? Does Nog know about that?”
“There are similar problems over in his area.”
Gimi grumbled. “I’ll be out there.”
Tyler felt sleep tug at him, and as much as he tried to resist in the hopes he could find out more about Corinne’s recovery, he felt himself fall into darkness.
* * *
Len continued to look up at the ceiling as Gimi walked in. He had counted the tiles many times now.
“I bet you are all staving Marvin!” He couldn’t feel hunger, or thirst. He just felt tired.
Alex’s stomach growled loudly at the mention of food.
Zalyea groaned. “Same ol’ Alex.”
Felismon bounded about the room, excitable somehow. “I’m hungry too, don’t be slow.”
“I’ll be back with food for you two as well, Len, Rori.”
Len just wished the ground would swallow him up. He didn’t want to live anymore.
“Yo, what’s wrong with you two, you ain’t said a word?”
He didn’t want to reply to Zalyea. She wouldn’t understand.
“Len, man, you all healed now, we can forget ‘bout that silly fool,” Zalyea said. She was persistent but he really didn’t care.
“Len? You okay, buddy? Rori, my beautiful flower, how about you?”
Len ignored Alex too, hoping they would just go away and leave him alone. He didn’t know nor care why Rori also wasn’t talking but he was glad she wasn’t.
“They’ll be fine. You should be more worried about me, my paws are sore,” Felismon whined.
“They look fine to me, besides, Rori is a pretty girl.” Alex was an idiot.
“Well you should look closer,” Felismon said alluringly.
“Ow!” Alex yelped. As if he had fallen for that. Without looking, Len knew Felismon had scratched him but he just didn’t care.
“You’re so uncaring.” Felismon pounced onto Len’s bed and looked back at Alex. The feeling of her paws on his body was dull, as if there were several inches between her and him but he knew she was basically touching him through the thin blanket. “I might leave you.” She leapt onto the windowsill, walking along it slowly.
“We both know you would miss the free meals too much,” Alex called.
“I can get my own meals.”
“But you’d rather have free ones…” Alex teased.
Felismon bounded from the windowsill back to Alex and curled up in his lap. “Maybe I’ll keep you, for now.”
“Len, Rori, what you doing, yo?”
Len closed his eyes, hoping that he would wake up and it would have all been a dream.
* * *
Len’s eyes fluttered open and he saw it was dark everywhere. It was night time. Alex’s loud snores masked any other sound and when he looked to his left, he saw Zalyea sleeping soundly. Slipping out of bed, he walked over to the door. He was still weak on his feet and his arms were sore but he managed to pull the door open and head into the bathroom nearby with relative ease.
As he walked in, he pulled the white string to his right and the light above flickered on, illuminating the small room. Len turned back and pushed the door closed, making sure to lock it; he didn’t want to be disturbed. He walked across the laminated floor quietly—using the wall for support—and moved over to the mirror. The room was sparse, with just a mirror above the white sink and a porcelain toilet. A gentle breeze drifted in through the small open window but it was refreshing to his otherwise dull senses.
Len looked into the mirror and was shocked by what he saw. He had known what had been done to him but seeing the reality of it was something else. Clearly, healing it had been impossible for Babamon. Slowly, he moved his hand up to touch the scars on his forehead. He tapped them gingerly, grimacing at the pain that flew back into his head when his fingertips graced the troughs in his skin. These scars from that evil woman weren’t going to heal, of that much he was fairly certain. However, that paled in comparison compared to the word she had written across his head.
He traced the letters on his forehead and felt a twang of pain in his heart as he did so. It was on whole different level to the physical ailment. Using one hand to hold his blue and black hair back from his forehead, he grabbed a flannel from the sink and turned on the tap. Len thrust the flannel under the hot running water and then began to scrub his head angrily. He was trying to scrub it away—trying as hard as he could to remove that word from himself.
Blood began to trickle down on his face, mixing with the tears he was crying and slipping into his mouth as he clenched his teeth together. The metallic salty taste clung to his tongue, making him feel sick. Slowly, he lifted the flannel away and saw the scar was still there, clear as day on his blood drenched face. He roared in anger and punched the mirror—shattering it and sending glass across the room—and then staggered backwards, shocked at what he had done.
He hit the wall behind and slumped onto the floor, crying softly so that he didn’t wake anyone. The tears and blood dripped from his chin onto the floor, quickly forming puddles around him. In the corner of his eye, he saw his forehead in a large jagged shard of glass. “I’m not,” he whispered, seeing Trish’s face appear in the glass. He flashed back to her carving into his head and felt his whole body clench up. “I’m not!” he yelled, punching the shard of glass to shatter it.
Lifting his fist back up, he looked at the blood dripping from it. It trickled down, the chunks of glass embedded in his knuckles. “I’m not…”
* * *
Zalyea leant against the bathroom door, her back to it. She rested her head back, hearing everything that was going on in there but being unable to do anything about it. It was the worst thing to be able to hear and not help. She had seen what Patricia and done to him—and she would never forgive that evil woman for as long as she lived—but all Zalyea could do now was listen and try not to cry.
* * *
Len heard gentle snoring coming from the door and sniffled, his eyes having dried up already. He got up and walked over to the door slowly, curious as to who was outside. Pulling it open slightly, he peered outside and saw Zalyea sleeping against the door and no one else about. Walking back over to the remnants of the mirror, careful to avoid the shards of glass on the floor, he pulled his hair back over the scar and wiped his face with the hand towel. He plucked the shards of glass from his hand and then grabbed the first aid kit from the under-sink cabinet, getting a bandage out to dress the wound.
He looked at Zalyea as he wrapped his hand up, hoping she wouldn’t wake up and felt guilty for what he was putting her through. Walking back over to the door, he placed one hand behind Zalyea’s head as he opened it fully and then rested her head down gently. He stepped over her body carefully but piercing green eyes appeared in the darkness ahead and then he saw red hair.
“Rori?” he asked, pretending to be sleep dazed.
Rori looked down at Zalyea and then at the door opposite the bathroom. Pulling it open, she grabbed hold of Len’s t-shirt and dragged him into it with her.
Rori pushed him gently into the middle of the room, shutting the door behind them. The room appeared to be a storage room for tables and chairs.
Len opened his mouth to speak but Rori’s finger on his lips stopped him.
Looking him in the eyes, she slowly moved her other hand up his face, lifting his hair out of the way.
Len had no idea what to do. She was going to see it. Looking into her gentle eyes as they glistened faintly of gold around the pupil, he saw the moment she traced over the word with her eyes.
Without a word, she let the hair flop back down.
They stood there without speaking for what felt like forever, although Len could see by the clock near the door that it had only been a few seconds.
Rori slowly moved her finger away from his lips.
“Rori, what’re you do—?”
Rori’s lips touched his and he didn’t know what to do.
Feeling bad, he tried to move away but she kissed a little deeper and he found himself enjoying it now. Reaching up slowly, he placed his hand against her face and began to kiss her back. A cold draft blew through the room, tickling their bodies and fluttering their clothes about.
Rori moved away and looked him in the eyes, smiling.
He stared back into hers as they glistened, smiling now too.
Rori leaned in, her lips puckered.
Len looked away, unable to make eye contact. “I don’t love you, Rori.” He looked at her small bare feet on the wooden flooring, hoping that he would see them leave without a word. He wasn’t sure why he had felt the need to say it but he knew he had to.
“I don’t love you either.” Rori leant back.
“Then, why are you doing this?” He looked back up, into her shiny orbs. Was she up to something? Was this pity? Where had it come from?
Louder, she retorted, “Why aren’t we doing this?”
Without a response to give, he looked back down at her feet guiltily.
Rori stepped away from him, walking backwards until her ankle caught against a chair leg and she fell over onto her bum, her limbs sprawling and grasping all over for balance.
Len laughed a little. How could he not? He stepped closer, holding out a hand towards her heaped body but still trying to stifle his laughter.
Rori scowled. “It’s not funny.” She folded her arms at first, adamant not to accept but eventually she sighed and took his hand.
He pulled her up but found as she got back to her feet, their faces were touching. The intimacy of the moment consumed him. Thinking straight had faded away now. Maybe this would be okay. A good distraction. He leant in, closing his eyes slightly but Rori looked away.
“You were right, I was stupid.” Rori turned her body away from him. “I was just being over emotional like usual.” She sighed and clenching her fists, she said, “I’m an idiot.”
Stepping back, he asked, “What do you mean?”
“Just… nothing.” She didn’t look him in the eye, instead her eyes moved across the furniture. “Just horny teenagers, I guess.”
Len tried to stammer a reply but nothing came. “Horny?”
Rori blushed slightly. “I’m just going to go. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, Len.” Turning, she climbed over the heaped furniture carefully and left without another word.
As the door closed, Len sagged onto the floor again and tried to gather himself, unsure what to do next.
* * *
Rori looked at Zalyea briefly, her green eyes dancing over the sleeping girl as she thought about what she and Len had just done. No doubt Zalyea wouldn’t have been happy about it but Rori didn’t care. Right now, she just needed to work out what she needed. Losing her two closest friends was playing on her mind. After losing her parents, she hoped for stability, strength. And she thought she had found that in Leon and Aleena. But now… she wasn’t so sure anymore. Sighing, she headed back to the room, hoping to get some sleep before Len and Zalyea came back.
As she walked in, she was confronted by Alex in the doorway. He had presumably woken up due to Felismon, since the window was open and the feline was absent. A chilly wind hit her, freezing her still.
“Hey, gorgeous.” He yawned, stretching. “What you doing?” He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. “Can I help?”
Rori smiled briefly, but slipped past him, trying to ignore him. She was planning, thinking, trying to work out her next step and distractions would only hinder her. However, right now, the compliment had made her blush because she couldn’t imagine feeling less gorgeous at the moment. In fact, this was the lowest she had ever felt.
“Don’t ignore me, I know you can hear me,” Alex called. “At least tell me what’s going on.”
Rori turned around and saw Alex walking over. “What do you want, Alex?” she asked, noting that she had snapped slightly. Nothing made sense anymore and her head felt like it was fighting her heart. Being away from nature and her friends left her feeling vulnerable, exposed. She felt exhausted mentally, physically and spiritually. She was just sick of the Digital World and everything to do with it. As soon as she could, she would get away from all of this but then she couldn’t. Aleena needed her help. So, did Leon. The internal conflict was tearing her mind apart piece by piece.
“No need to be so mean.” Alex scratched his head, yawning. He yawned a lot. “I just thought you might want some company in your bed.” He winked, grinning.
Rori sighed despairingly. “I’m not in the mood. She turned away, walking to her bed.
“I saw you that night.”
Rori turned back to look at him. What did he mean? “What night?”
Alex casually rocked on his feet. “The night that Aleena left, I saw you crying and holding a photo of some boy.”
Rori felt her cheeks flush red, this time with anger, and charged over to him.
Alex retreated until he was against his bedframe.
Rori continued getting closer until she was leaning over him as he bent backwards to try and escape. “You saw nothing,” she growled through gritted teeth. How dare he watch her!
Alex fell backwards onto the bed. “But—”
“But nothing!” The only thing that was stopping her from beating him up was that stupid grin and how it reminded her of him.
“I just thought you might want to talk, honey?” Alex said, smiling uneasily. He had his hands up defensively, holding them out as if she were a rabid animal.
“No, and if you ever bring him up again, you’ll see a different side of me.” Her nostrils flared as she struggled to rein in her anger. The air quickly became very still. In that moment, you could have heard a pin drop. As it was, the gentle breathing of the others resting filled the lull.
Alex gulped, hopefully in fear. “I’ll keep it between us.” He kept eye contact with her as he slid up his bed and under the covers. “I promise.”
Rori didn’t take her eyes back off him for a little while, trying to make sure that he knew how angry she was. Getting him back… Rescuing him was an impossible challenge and she didn’t want to be constantly reminded of it. Right now, all she wanted was her friend back and to be happy and healthy with Orchidemon by her side.
Climbing into bed, she realised that she wasn’t mad at Alex, she was mad at the situation. It was unfair to treat him so badly when he had done little wrong to her. “Goodnight, Alex,” she chirped.
“Good— Goodnight?” Alex confusedly stammered. “I hope you sleep tight…?”
“Goodnight, Alex,” Rori repeated tiredly. She just wanted to go to sleep so she could stop thinking, just for a moment.
* * *
Aleena opened her eyes slowly, unsure of where she was or if she was even alive. Her head was swimming with faint recollections of what had happened and now she was trying to piece them together to get the full picture. Her vision was white and blurry, distracting her from her thoughts. “Is it— is it over for me?” she whispered. It felt like her brain had been liquefied and was sloshing about in her head as she struggled to regain any kind of focus. The cold flooring beneath her felt fairly solid as she laid on it but she wasn’t sure what it was made of. Her body was too weak to move just yet and there was pain all over. Some of it felt like the time she had her appendix removed so she presumed they had done surgery on her; that’s if she was still alive.
Opening her eyes wider, Aleena stared up at the ceiling. “Where am I?” she muttered, still trying to make sense of the flashes of memories. Rori had left. Before that, she said goodbye to Taran. And then? Had she committed suicide at some point? No, there was more after Rori left. A familiar face. “Kayran!” Aleena yelled, bursting bolt upright. She looked around desperately, but the small room she was in was empty and white. Excruciating pain tore into her body and she fell back onto the floor, convulsing involuntarily in agony.
“Cat got your tongue, Aleena?” Kayran!
“What have you done to me?” Aleena screamed through the pain, determined to show him that she would not be beat by a few injuries.
“I’ll let you wait and see, I think it’s better that way.” The crackle of a microphone. So, he wasn’t in the room. “You’re still fresh out of surgery, so I think it’s best you rest for now. Honestly, I’m surprised that you woke up from the anaesthetic that fast. But, you always were special.”
Aleena looked up, just about managing to lift her head. “You know when I get out of here, I’m going to separate your head from your body,” she growled through gritted teeth.
Raucous laughter filled the room and then the intercom clicked off.
Eventually, the intense pain subsided, becoming gentle ebbs and flows at her wounds. She managed to push herself up against the wall, albeit with difficulty, in order to inspect the wounds in more detail. Whatever they had done involved messing around inside her body, she could tell that much. They would have definitely put a new tracking chip in but she was sure they had done more. Rubbing the back of her neck, she winced as she felt the fresh scar. There it was.
She gazed around the room, trying to see if there was anything of note but the room was just four white walls with a matching roof and floor. It was a little disorientating and there were no discernible weak points. Rolling her head to the side, she rested her cheek flat on the cool wall and tried to remember anything. She just wanted to be able to piece some of what had happened together.
Sighing, she realised she couldn’t remember anything and gave up. He must have knocked her out and kept her under this whole time, which meant the only memories she had wouldn’t be of much use anyway. It could have been days, weeks even, since her last wakeful moment.
“Aleena?” The voice roused her from her exhaustion and then it spoke again. “Is that you, child?”
She turned, looking, and saw Bertha sat on a white seat in the corner of the room. That was her. “B—” It had to be fake, but she was wearing that old grey poncho she would always wear. And the pinafore. There was no way. “B— B—”
“It’s me, child, aunty Bertha. Lord Kayran invited me in to keep you company, my sweet pea.” There was no way he would do something that nice for a start. Not without a reason. What kind of game was he playing?
“Bertha…” She looked at the woman, trying to see any differences to work out if it was an actor or not. There was no way this was the real Bertha but she looked and sounded exactly the same. “I watched you die.”
“No, child, you’re mistaken.” She smiled. “Lord Kayran looked after me. I’m fine, see.” She moved her arms a little, laughing gently. That was her laugh!
“Y— you’re dead.” Aleena couldn’t believe her eyes. There was no way for her to believe what she was seeing.
“I’m in front of you, child. Open your eyes!” She started laughing again, flooding Aleena’s memories with recollections of when they would have fun together. But those times were over. Bertha was dead.
Aleena winced in pain as she pushed herself up to her feet. She still had to use the wall to support herself but she was managing, just about, to stand. “You can’t be.”
“Don’t push yourself, my sweet.” Bertha reached out tentatively.
“You can’t be her!” Aleena yelled, shaking from anger and strain as she held herself up. This was some sick joke.
“I’m here now, Aleena.” She beckoned towards herself. “Come hug me, child.”
“You’re not real!” Aleena screamed, tears spilling from her eyes. This was a foreign feeling. This weird sadness inside. She didn’t really remember feeling like this too often and she never cried at things this silly either. What was happening to her? “Go Away!” Even though she knew she was quick to anger, it was also never normally this quick.
Bertha shook her head, no longer looking Aleena in the eyes. “Aleena, darling.” She looked up scathingly. “I watched you grow up, and this is how you repay me? Disgusting!”
“Shut up!” Aleena screamed, grabbing her ears so she didn’t have to listen to the lies anymore. She started crying more now, unable to control it. Kayran had done something to her—to her emotions. She wasn’t sure how but he had amplified them. He was inside of her head.
“This is the last time I’ll speak to you; you were awful child anyway. Good riddance.” Bertha stood up and walked over to a door that formed in one of the walls.
“You’re not real!” Aleena screamed, bursting across the room and thrusting her fist towards a shocked Bertha in attempt to stop whatever trickery this was but a wound on her abdomen reopened as she charged. Staggering, she tried to keep moving forwards but fell straight past the old woman, landing on her face. Aleena started to cry, but she wasn’t sure why. “You’re not real!”
Bertha looked back as she walked out of the door, shaking her head.
Aleena reached for the door, trying to get free but barely able to move her arm. Her fingertips graced the door briefly before it slid closed and disappeared again.
Tutting. “You shouldn’t treat people like that, Aleena.”
Aleena didn’t have to look far for the voice as the familiar round face came into view as he knelt and looked at her with pity.
“This is why everyone hates you. We only pretend to like you because you’re crazy.” This was his voice.
“You’re not real…” Aleena muttered. She couldn’t even fathom this. He wouldn’t be a part of any of this even if he was alive.
The wetness from her blood began to spread up her body as she felt her consciousness wane.
“You’re going to die in this cell. You’ll never leave and I hope you bleed every. Single. Day.”
Aleena began to sob louder and yelled, “Leon wouldn’t say that, go away!”
“I am Leon, Aleena.” The blond boy smirked. “And I am saying it.” He looked at her hair. “Who has hair like yours anyway? Green is a disgusting colour.” He wouldn’t say that. Leon made jokes but he never insulted her.
“You’re not him!” Aleena screamed, lashing out but her fist went straight through the body as it fizzled briefly and then eventually vanished. This was too painful and no amount of telling herself it wasn’t real could fool her brain.
Aleena rolled onto her back, panting from exhaustion. “Stop this!”
“What about me, am I real?” Not again.