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Daemon looked between the three, still taken aback by Otohime's sheer determination. Then he nodded. "If she is that sure that his spirit is on the river, then I may have a hunch where he could be. Please, come aboard, and I will take you there." "Oh, really? Awesome! Come on!" Otohime jumped into the boat without second thought. Daemon then turned to Titania, and looked at her. Then he pulled down the collar of his cloak, revealing a bit of exposed Digicore among his purple chest skin. "My Digicore is here, Crossmon. I mean no harm to your Tamer and her strange friend. Take this information as a sign of mutual trust. You trust me to speak the truth, as much as I trust you to not kill me."
"Right..." Naoko gulped. Titania, on the other hand, shook her head. "I have a name--Titania. These two are under my protection, so I'm trusting you not to harm them. Abuse that trust, and you will not enjoy what comes next." The Shutumon spoke as she and Naoko climbed into the boat.
"Forgive my lack of knowledge..." Naoko began, "But I'm not...too sure what the problem here is. Despite the...obviously a demon-fellow. Anyways, what's that hunch?" She asked of the wizard. Titania meanwhile kept an apprehensive eye on the Daemon.
She wasn't letting any more harm come to Naoko or Otohime if she could help it.
The Daemon nodded at Titania. "Very well, Titania. My name is Charon. I have no desire to abuse that trust, in fact, I appreciate it." One Naoko and Titania had boarded the ship, Charon pushed the boat away from the pier, and headed out onto the river. "I live out on an island in the middle of the river, where I collect things that are lost and forgotten, as they often end up in this river. I also fish the souls of Digimon out of the river. They sometimes end up here when they cannot properly reincarnate, yet refuse to give up on life. Before they become a malevolent force, I give them a shape, and a safe place to live on in. I make sure they are contend there." Out of the mist, the shape of an island became visible. As the barge drew closer, the two girls could see that the island was covered in dark foliage, similar to the thorny flora of the main Dark Area. Yet these plants had no thorns, no gnarled trunks and no flesh-eating buds. They were just flowery shrubs and trees, with black leaves, and luminescent edges, dousing the island in a faint glow. "There it is, my home."
Perplexing fellow, this Charon was. Titania had read up on mythology to know the significance of that name. A ferryman of the dead--is this where Jiro went, then? To a river of the dead?
A river of lost and forgotten things? Naoko decided to continue her questioning. It was all she could really do right now. "If I may ask...Among those you fished out...Uh. Was any of them an orange Dracomon? Or had a shape similar to one?" The island did not look reassuring to the girl.
Yet, upon a closer look? It seemed like the most hospitable place in this hellhole. And that said something. "...I see..." She murmured.
Charon stirred his oar in the red, murky water, and thought about it. An orange Dracomon? "A Dracomon? I cannot say I saw one. But I did see an orange Wormmon. Perhaps they are related? I can certainly introduce you." Once they arrived, Otohime jumped out of the boat. "He's here, I can feel it!" With that, she ran inland, leaving Charon, Titania and Naoko behind. The Daemon blinked, then chuckled. "You have quite the odd friend, human." He tied his boat to the pier, then followed the dirt path leading further into the island. Unlike most places in the Dark Area, this place felt...quiet, almost serene...
Orange Wormmon, huh? Well, it was orange. It had to be something. "...Sure. Let's meet the orange Wormmon." Naoko nodded. That was...odd. Both the partner and the tamer had known Jiro as a Dracomon the whole time--they were unaware of his actual...heritage.
"She's strange but she has a good heart." Naoko replied towards Charon as she climbed out of the boat, following Otohime into what may have been the quietest part of the Dark Area thus far. Titania followed without another glance towards the Daemon. "So, the dead that gather here...Where do they generally lurk?" The fae inquired as she began following the girls in.
"Where do the dead lurk? That is easy. I keep them close to my dwelling, so they feel safe." Indeed, the narrow forest path soon opened into a large clearing, illuminated by the bioluminescent plants, and the large fireplace in the middle. At the north end of the clearing, near the fireplace, was a simple, two-storey brick house. The house was surrounded by all sorts of things Naoko would classify as junk, like old clocks, a shopping cart, messages in a bottle or old technology. Charon likely put them there, as they looked well taken care of and arranged with aesthetics in mind. Around the fireplace, trees stood, their branches heavy with tiny houses. Many copies of the big brick house hung on the thick branches, with tiny wooden bridges connecting them, a miniature village in each tree. And now, near the fireplace, there sat Otohime, surrounded by giggling Digignomes, hugging a little orange Digignome and crying. Digignomes were so rare that even Ayumi only knew their name. And yet, there was a whole swarm of them right here. "And this is where I live. With all my proteges."
One would need to feel safe if this was basically just hell, huh? That made sense. That made a lot of sense. Naoko and Titania proceeded along the path and found...
A simple house. That was kind of jarring to see in the Digital World nowadays, but it was at the same time comforting. A reminder that perhaps these monsters had some amount of...Not intelligence. They already had that, but that they could probably feign humanity.
The things around the house, to Naoko were less junk and more...bits and bobbles. Neat little things. Naoko moved silently over towards Otohime, stepping past the digignomes and sitting next to her. A second passed before she put a hand on her shoulder. "...Jiro?"
Titania was meanwhile floored by the fact these little gremlins actually existed.
The tiny Digignomes floated up and circled the Daemon while giggling. A few even hugged the demon lord's head. They clearly adored him, and his smile showed that he adored them. Soon, their attention was drawn by Titania. They floated over and encircled her, too. While they all had similar body builds, certain details like wings or facial structures belied the true nature of their data. One had the draconic features of a Guilmon, another carried the mechanic traits of a Machinedramon, and so on.
As Naoko said his name, the orange gnome looked up. Indeed, his features were more Wormmon than Dracomon, but the colour, and the look in his eyes, made it clear: This was indeed Jiro.
Charon sat down by the fire, giving Otohime the respectful distance she deserved in her highly emotional moment. The Sukeban was bawling her eyes out and hugging the gnome close to her heart.
To Titania, it was odd to see people flocking towards a demon lord in adoration rather than fear as she had heard about in all the stories and legends she had heard. She blinked as they floated towards her, and noticed their characteristics. She was curious about how the digignomes resembled their former states of being.
Naoko blinked. Huh, that...really was Jiro? She was very much not completely in the know of why Jiro had been a Dracomon in the first place, so...Yeah, that was new. She just patted Otohime on the shoulder and sat a bit away from her, before she looked to Dracomon.
A few Digignomes settled down on Titania's shoulders, clearly surprised, but pleasantly so, over the appearance of a Digimon that wasn't Charon. They chattered at her, clearly speaking, but they did not use a language Titania could decipher.
Watching Otohime still hugging Jiro, Charon just hummed thoughtfully in a deep, sonorous voice. "When Digimon wash up in the river, their Data is usually beyond repair. They cannot reincarnate properly for varying reasons, and slowly decay into nothingness. This form, the form of the Digignome, is one of a much smaller data size, without losing sapience or any memory. The only price is defenselessness and inability to speak our language. I turn the remains of the lost Digimon into these forms to allow them to live on, without forgetting their pasts."
Indeed, Titania wished she knew the language of these gnomes. Just so she could at least talk to them. Maybe learn more about them. But alas, that wasn't to be, was it? She simply stood there and nodded along with the gnomes. Perhaps she could figure out some way to communicate with them?
Naoko meanwhile listened to Charon with rapt attention. "So, that was the case with Jiro...I guess that's a good way to lead into my next question. What then? We found Jiro...I don't know what Otohi--...Ryuko wants to do from here."
The gnomes surrounded Titania, chattering and giggling, clearly amused by her lack of understanding. One of them, a girly-looking one resembling an Angewomon, floated towards Titania's face, and put one stubby arm to her forehead. Titania's mind was flooded with memories and notions. Birth. Youth. Friendship. Adulthood. Love. Marriage. ... Betrayal. Death. Through the notions and images, she could see the gnome's face, looking determined. Then, when everything had washed over her, it nodded. "To witness is to understand.", said the gnome. Titania could understand her.
Otohime kept hugging Jiro. "It's clear what we're gonna do. I'm takin' Jiro back with me, we'll eat Melonpan, and he will be happy." Charon rubbed his chin. "That is not possible." "Eh? The fuck does that mean!?" "It is as I say it. It is not possible for a DigiGnome to leave this island. The river has already claimed part of their Data. And it is hungry for the rest. Even if you carried him above the river via flight, it would still inevitably claim the rest of him. It takes a Demon Lord, a being of authority in the darkness, to take something out of the river's grasp in the first place. But it will let a morsel escape only once." The Daemon stared into the fire. Otohime stared at him in disbelief. "That can't be it! I didn't come here to find him to just leave him behind! I refuse." Charon looked her over. "There is... -one- way, but there is risk involved." "I don't give a fuck about risk, I'll take it!" The Daemon hummed sonorously to himself. Then, with a movement of his hand, something rattled on his endless shelves of salvage. Two white, blank statues came floating over. They radiated power, but had no traits. One resembled a mannequin. Another resembled a featureless horse. "These...are spirits. Spirits, robbed of their identity by the river. Jiro could merge his data with them. But that would mean opening your body to the dangers of the digital world." "Eh? The Hell does that mean?" "...Miss Naoko, you seem to know how to speak Otohime, could you fill her in on the nature of Spirit Evolution?"
Titania witnessed something alright. The Shutumon's eyes widened at the sudden influx of memories. Notions. She was long-lived, she considered herself as such, but...This was a lot for her.
"...I see." Titania replied to the Angewognome. "...I'm sorry that happened to you." It was the least she could say or do. Meanwhile, Naoko glanced between Charon and Otohime. "Yeah, uh...You know how some people don't have a partner and turn into Digimon, Ryuko? He's talking about that. I...I think he is, at least. What with spirits and all..."
So what was this way? Letting Otohime become a spirit wielder? "...So, how do we fuse Jiro's data with the nameless?"
The gnome shook her head. "It was a long time ago. I have come to terms with it. Charon has helped me overcome the sorrow. I am merely sorry you had to witness it. But as Digignomes, we can only converse with those with whom we have shared our experiences."
"So what, I become a Digimon? Hah, that'd be awesome!" "Spirit Evolution puts immense strain on a weak soul. As Digital and Material fuse at the soul level, the body has to endure strain and bedlam, and once the fusion has happened, it is the wielder who feels the pain most. Even those who succeed in digivolving can succumb to the pain. I cannot just expose anyone to this. As for how we fuse Jiro with the Nameless..." Charon turned the empty spirits in his hands. "I have taught myself to weave data like threads of wool. It is what allows me to carnate Digimon fragments into Digignomes. With the same process, I could weave Jiro's data into the Spirit, binding him to it, but also keeping him safe from the hunger of the river. But before I do this, I must test if Otohime is able to handle the strain..."