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Digimon re:CONNECT

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A thin silver of crescent moon peeked out from behind a wall of clouds. It was a beautiful night in the merry month of May; the air was warm, tempered by a gentle breeze. In the distance, lights twinkled and cars rumbled; the downtown of Atlas Park was coming to life as Friday night was underway.

That is not where we pick up the story.

Where we pick up the story is one girl who was having no part of any of the downtown. Natalie Green sat perched on the roof of her family's apartment building, legs dangling off the side and the backs of her rubber-heeled sneakers bouncing off the brick.
Natalie was a girl of average height and decent grades and average-enough circumstances, with shortish ginger hair and eyesight that would warrant she wear glasses more often than she did. She had a few freckles on the back of her left knee and was mildly allergic to tomatoes; she chipped a tooth in the third grade and often got mad at other drivers while in her car.
She was, of course, rather extraordinary in other ways, though; for instance, her best friend was quite unique.

You see, seated next to her on the roof, sitting behind the wall rather than on top of it, was a large-- well. Not quite a bird? He had a bird-like silhouette despite his lack of wings, yes, and he had talon-like hands and feet, and black feathers all over his body... but 'bird' would fall quite short of describing him. His skin -- as he was bare from the elbows to his hands and his knees to his feet -- was lilac; a frill of longer, darker feathers sat around his neck, and even-longer feathers of the same shade formed his tail, which was oddly rigid and bent obtustely. He had bandages wrapped around his upper arms, for reasons that were hard to discern.

But all of this is a distraction; the most remarkable thing about him was that his face appeared to be covered by a plague doctor's mask, complete with a thin black strap running around the back of his head. It was white, with a long beak and big black eyes with curious white pupils. It seemed to be a mask, but he could blink and furrow his brow and he had a mouth, just not one that was terribly apparent until he actually spoke.
This was Raumon-- Natalie's oldest friend, closest confidant, and most jealously-kept secret.

(To everyone that wasn't in her family, anyway. It's kind of hard to hide a small-child-sized bird from your parents for, uh, fifteen years.)

Natalie turned and craned her neck to look at her feathered compatriot. He'd been acting slightly out of sorts lately; Natalie herself had been busy, and even now, she felt a lingering sort of unease. Her finals week had just concluded earlier that day, and she had barely had the time to do anything but study and regret her life choices. These precious few days were her chance to unwind before she began whatever summer job would hire her --
(Look, it had been a busy semester, and she had totally spaced out on applying ahead of time, okay?)
-- but she still felt a curious ball of stress in her stomach. She knew one way to at least ease it, though, if not totally cure it.

"Hey. You wanna go down to the bridge?" she asked, and watched the ear-like clusters of feathers on Raumon's head prick up as she spoke.

"Sure," Raumon said without a moment of delay, scratching at his face idly.

Night was, for self-evident reasons, the only time that they (or, rather, Raumon) could leave the apartment; even though Atlas Park never really went quiet, if you knew where to go, you could find secluded places under cover of darkness without too much of a trouble.

 

***

The door on the roof led right down into her family's apartment on the top floor. They passed Natalie's sisters' bedroom (twins, you see, and young enough that sharing a room until Natalie moved out wasn't too terrible a prospect), down the hall past the other bedroom, and stopped just short of the living room. Natalie peered around the lip of the doorway; her parents were watching some terrible B-movie-- the kind of drek that nobody with an ounce of self-respect would watch.

Of course, she recognized instantly that it was 50-Foot Squid Monsters vs. The City of Cleveland.

Natalie mouthed along with a few lines of badly-acted, stilted dialogue, while Raumon mimed along with the actors on-screen, because they both knew the film by rote.

Of course.

"We're going out to the park," Natalie said after a moment, once there was a gap in the script. (Didn't want them to miss any vital plot developments, after all.) "We'll be back in a bit, unless we get hit by a car or something."

"Noted," her father said, not taking his attention away from the television, with his typical level of engagement. Natalie occasionally contemplated saying she was doing something outlandish, like running away to join the circus or to get a tattoo on her forehead, to see if he'd respond any more.

Nonetheless, Natalie plucked her car keys off of the ring. With Raumon hot on her heels, the pair set out the front door. They gingerly crept down the four flights of stairs that led down to ground level, not wanting to alert the neighbors by galumphing down at high speed. Sure, they knew that they had absolutely no chance of being evicted -- it was her parents' apartment building, as in they owned the building... but Raumon would be a hard pill to swallow if any neighbors peeked their heads out to see what was the matter.

Oh, and also it'd be rude to be loud, but that wasn't quite as high a priority, you know? Gotta keep those priorities in order.

Raumon practically dove into the bushes once they hit the ground floor as one of the tenants poked his head out to take out his garbage; luckily the dumpster was close-by, so even though Natalie kept walking so as not to look suspicious, Raumon didn't have far to catch up.
Within a few scant seconds, Raumon was clambering into shotgun in Natalie's car, and he was far more at-ease as he buckled in. He was short enough that, even sitting shotgun, someone would have to be standing right next to the car and looking in to spot him.

"All good?" Natalie asked as she got into the driver's side; her avian-esque friend gave her a thumbs-up, and they were off, comfortable in silence and not needing to fill it with small talk. ... okay, more the latter than the former; Raumon turned on the radio.

Their destination was in the city park; it was up relatively close to the Harper River, a little ways north of Natalie's apartment building. It was only about twenty minutes away assuming no outstanding traffic congestion, which for some godawful reason, did sometimes happen.

The park was a green oasis in a city that was rapidly developing every spare inch of land; the stream that they were headed to, a tiny offshoot of the much bigger river nearby, cut through one side of the park, and was fairly close to the parking lot that Natalie pulled into. It was bordered on either side by tall trees, the remnants of an old grove that once stood near the edge of town. They towered over the lazy water's surace, providing a natural ceiling of sorts and dropping stray leaves. On nights that the moon was fuller, it would shine beams down through the gaps; on a night like tonight, the only illumination came from the sparse street-lamps that intermittently lined the concrete walkways that zigzagged through the park.
This, paired with the dense foliage, provided plenty of cover for Raumon to run ahead into and wait until Natalie caught up, walking at more natural a speed.

A very old wood and metal bridge stretched across the water at a relatively narrow point, and it is on this structure that Natalie and Raumon convened. They came here relatively often, when Natalie had the time; sometimes they came to sit and think, sometimes they merely came to avoid the claustrophobia of staying inside, and sometimes they came to pretend, if only for a short time, that they didn't live somewhere quite so intensely developed and industrial.
It also had a degree of sentimental value, but, you know, that was just a bonus.

"I've been going crazy cooped up inside," Raumon said, stretching out his arms and legs in turn like he was doing a careful inventory of himself.

"I know, I know," Natalie said with an apologetic little shrug.

"I know, I know," Raumon said, in exactly the same tone of voice -- not to mock her, but just because he had picked up the tic from her, "you've been busy. Too busy to spend an hour or two doing absolutely nothing with me. I'm so very slighted and offended," Raumon said, putting a claw to his forehead like he might just swoon. Natalie smirked and shook her head.

"I'm a terrible friend."

"Just the worst."

They kept straight faces for a good ten seconds before both of them began to laugh. It felt good to be outside instead of studying (in Natalie's case) or simply just stuck inside (in Raumon's).

"Really, though. You been feeling alright?" Natalie asked, looking over at the bird as she leaned forward on the railing of the bridge.

"Yes?" he ventured, but his voice was unsure. Perhaps he was just feeling cooped up; that was how he was chalking up the slightly uneasy feeling in his gut. So be it that he'd been cooped up a dozen times in the past few years for one reason or another and he'd never felt like this before.
Natalie squinted at him; she wasn't buying it, and he knew it.
"I don't know," he said after a second delay, and he tapped a claw to his beak. "You know that feeling when you know something's happened and you're waiting with bated breath for someone to tell you about it?"

"Right," Natalie said, nodding. The both of them had historically had fairly reliable gut feelings, and they always seemed to settle in within the day, if not mere hours, of something coming out of left field, whether it be as simple as predicting that Natalie's mom would forget to run to the bank on her way home to Raumon's prediction, a mere 24 hours prior, that Natalie's then-boyfriend would show his particularly douchey true colours soon.

"I've been feeling like that. Like something's really off." He spoke apprehensively, not sure if he was making sense, or if this was worth bringing up at all; he was a bit taken aback, but pleasantly so, when Natalie's shoulders slumped with a sigh of relief.

"So it's not just me, then?" she said, miming wiping sweat off of her forehead with the back of her hand.

"Not just you," he said, and he too slumped his shoulders with the release of that uncertain tension-- or, at least, some of it. "I should have figured you'd catch on too."

"I don't know what it is," she said, stretching out and looking towards the direction of the parking lot, where they had just walked. "I was thinking it might just be the college thing. But unless I've missed something, you're not doing online classes or sneaking out to the college," (Raumon chuckled at this), "so why would you feel it too?"

Raumon nodded; he remembered full well the way, after graduating from high school, his friend had woken up in a cold sweat more than once in the following week, and convinced of the delusion that she must have some project to complete or a test to study for. He looked up at Natalie, scanning her face and her body language; she had turned back to look at him, her hands on her hips, weight shifted onto one foot.

"Psychic brain worms?" he suggested after a moment of thought, gesturing vaguely with one purple claw.

"May as well be," she said with a heavy sigh, looking up at the sky through the shifting canopy of leaves.

Somehow, neither of them felt any less confused about that uneasy feeling settling in their stomachs, but it was at least something to know that they both felt it. Was that a comfort, though? If they both felt it, didn't that mean that something was probably about to happen, or was that just confirmation bias?

Raumon, feeling the itch to move, half-clambered up onto the wall of the bridge, not quite able to pull himself up all the way but hoisting himself up sufficiently to look over the side.

"Is something up?" Natalie asked, following his eyeline.

There was a beat of silence, before he answered: "I thought maybe I might see something if I got up here, but I think I'm just hurting my arms."

Natalie smiled and picked Raumon up, hands under his armpits, to set him on top of the wall proper. He puffed his chest-feathers in appreciation as he took a seat on the top of the rail, while Natalie leaned forward and rested her arms.

They stayed there for another fifteen minutes more; they talked about the news that Raumon had read while Natalie was taking her tests, and about maybe getting something from a drive-through on the way back home (Raumon, of course, would have to hide in the back). They didn't fill the space, though; they were perfectly content to take advantage of the stillness.
(They didn't know, at the time, how little they'd get to do so in the very near future.)
The wind rustled the trees, the water ran beneath them, and every now and then, a bat would swoop down to snap up a mosquito from the water's surface, but nothing gave either of them cause for alarm.

The silence and the stillness were broken when Natalie snapped her head up. She saw a light in the distance, accompanied by the whir of bicycle wheels -- someone was riding their bike through the park at the ripe hour of nine-thirty at night, for some godforsaken reason.
"Someone's coming," she said in a hushed, urgent tone, and tapped Raumon on the shoulder gently.

What she meant was for this to be a signal for them to go. Unfortunately, Raumon was a bit lost in thought; the gentle tap was a rude awakening, and instead of being gently roused, he half-squawked, half-squeaked, and jerked forward.

He flailed his arms around in circles; Natalie wouldn't dare say it, but in her head, the only word that came to mind was timber. A couple slow-motion seconds and one large splash later, and they had a very soggy bird on their hands.
Or in the stream.
Mostly in the stream.

The passing night-cyclist cast Natalie a very strange look as she half-hoisted herself over the lip of the bridge, trying very hard to stifle a giggle, but they presumably suspected nothing.

Raumon re-emerged with a gentle bloop a few seconds later and he began to spit water out of his mouth, but aside from being wet and maybe a little muddy, he seemed fairly unharmed.

"You know," he said, and though he was drenched his tone was quite dry, "there are more effective ways to warn me when someone is coming." Luckily, the water wasn't too deep nor quick-moving, and it was a short paddle back to the bank. A few moments to shake some of the water out of his feathers and he was trotting back up to rejoin Natalie on the bridge.

"We're both lucky that I don't care if you get my car wet," Natalie said blithely, smiling at her soggy friend, "or I'd hang you up to dry for a few hours before we went home. Come on. Let's get a cheeseburger or ten," she said, beginning to walk back to her car. Raumon was quick to follow, doing an awkward hop-skip every few strides to shake more water off of his limbs, but he cast a look over his shoulder.

He should have waited just a second more to look back; the moment he turned away, a shape in the dark shimmer and shifted in the trees, a dark-hued something visible for just a second before it faded away.

They didn't think twice of the way the streetlamps flickered.

 

***

In the corner of Natalie's room, there was a square of about two and a half feet by two and a half feet, between the foot of Natalie's bed and the wall, that was designated space for Raumon. It was mostly a nest of blankets and pillows on a large bean-bag chair, but many of his other belongings were buried strategically-- a little chest full of feathers and trinkets, a scrapbook full of pressed flowers, books he had borrowed and had Natalie buy for him, candies, candy wrappers, all sorts of little things.

When they had moved into and taken ownership of this building many years back, her parents had offered him his own space, but he had declined, perfectly happy to share space with Natalie. Indeed, while it was nominally "Natalie's Room", it was really more of Raumon and Natalie's room. The strange bird creature had been a part of their family for fifteen years-- though, admittedly, he had looked different when they first met. He was older than Natalie's sisters, even; they had had plenty of time to adjust.

This of course did make it a bit problematic whenever Alexis and Madison, said younger sisters, had friends over, but this was solved easily enough by having Nat and Raumon sequester in their room whenever visitors were about.

Luckily enough, they were perfectly content to do that whether there were visitors or not. In fact, this is exactly what they did when they returned to the apartment at nearly ten-thirty PM.
Raumon was still soggy, but he had been placated by an offering of a milkshake and a chicken sandwich, the former of which he held in both hands now, seated comfortably in his aforementioned blanket nest. The latter had already been eaten on the drive back. (He didn't strictly need food, he had explained once, but food was tasty, and he liked eating it, so he was going to continue eating it. Natalie, having a hard time with the idea of a living thing that didn't need food, basically assumed that he would participate in every meal.)

The film that Natalie's parents had been watching had reached its conclusion; apparently, it was a marathon event, as 50 Foot Squid Monsters vs. The City of Omaha was starting up in its stead. (The sequel, you see.) Natalie knew this not because she had actually stayed out in the living room, but because her own TV was switched to the same station, and glorious B-movie cheese was providing background noise as she scrolled mindlessly through her social media. Beside her on the bed, Raumon was reading through Natalie's copy of Alice in Wonderland for the fifteenth time in between sips of his milkshake.

Pretty standard night.

So standard, in fact, that when it was disturbed by a loud THUNK! from the roof, Natalie almost jumped out of her chair. She didn't really, of course, but she did get quite a start-- enough that the fact that the power browned out for a half-a-second and the way her television screen distorted momentarily went almost unnoticed. Raumon was looking just as startled as she was, looking up at the ceiling as though he might be able to see through it if he looked hard enough.

"What the hell," Natalie blurted out, furrowing her brow.

She didn't get an answer-- quite the opposite, in fact; she heard crunching, heavy foosteps, like someone with no concept of downstairs neighbors was stomping around on gravel. The self-evident problem: top floor. Anyone stomping upstairs was on the roof.

"Curiouser and curiouser," Raumon said wryly, because he just had to, and he was just about to ask if they should go take a look, when Natalie's mother's voice drifted through the door.

"Nat, dear, would you mind taking a look? It sounds like something fell over."

Natalie pulled one side of her mouth back in a not-quite-a-grimace and shrugged one shoulder as if to say well, there's your answer-- though she noted that it seemed that her mother didn't hear the footsteps, and that did nothing to set her at ease.

"This is how people die in bad movies," she said, but she shook her head in resignation. "Let's go check it out." The bird nodded back, gingerly setting his milkshake aside and putting a bookmark to keep his place. In a moment, he was hopping off his friend's bed and onto his feet.

As an afterthought and a precaution, Natalie pulled the old wooden baseball bat out of her closet and hoisted it up over her shoulder before she began the trek down the hall and towards the stairs. She could hear, through the cracked-open door, her sisters wondering what the ever-loving crap had just happened.

 

***

A pair of wings beat rhythmlessly against the air as boots clomped on concrete, ducking down back alleys and side streets, careful to avoid streetlamps and any sign of other human life.

"You had better be sure of this or I'mma be pissed."

"If it isn't what I think it is, I'll eat the pudding you've had in the back of the fridge since Easter."

"Your point?"

"Easter of last year."

"Hm."

"... ... oh, come on, buddy bear! Trust me! It might be dangerous, but we may be the only ones who stand a chance, you know? I mean, come on. What are the odds there's anyone else?"

"Don't call me buddy bear."

 

***

Natalie and Raumon trekked up the stairs that led up to the roof, careful, quiet. They weren't quite sure what to expect when they opened the door; maybe it was really just something that got knocked over?
(What could have gotten knocked over that would sound like that, though?)

Call it wishful thinking, because whatever they expected, it sure wasn't what they actually saw; Natalie opened the door and felt the intense urge to slam it immediately.

See, standing in the middle of the roof, looking like it was trying to dig through the roofing to absolutely no avail, was-- well. Not a person, but one could be forgiven for making that assumption at first glance.

It was tall, and roughly human shaped-- more or less. Huge clawed dragon feet and long ears kind of ruined the illusion. What skin was visible in the moonlight looked kind of blueish, but admittedly, there wasn't a lot to see; it wore a white tank-top and ragged grey pants, and more importantly (and vastly more unnervingly), its face was covered by a white mask.
Two long horns curved up from the mask's forehead, and dark purple marks were under what were either eyes or marks made to look like eyes, but that was as many distinctive features as it had. It had long shaggy red hair that grew out from under the mask, and belts made of green thorny vines cross-crossed across its chest, which held on its back--

Bizzarrely, a blue teddy bear?

There wasn't much time to look at that, though; far more important were the heavy wooden gauntlets that covered its forearms, matching the wooden swords it held, one in each hand.

The reason Natalie nearly slammed the door wasn't just that she saw a strange humanoid thing on her roof-- no, it was the fact that the moment after she opened the door, the strange humanoid thing lifted its head and stared at her and Raumon just behind her, unblinkingly.

She stood there for a moment, her mouth hanging slightly open-- she barely noticed that Raumon's brow was furrowed, his eyes squinting, his feathers standing up on end.

"A Yasyamon?" he said, more of a question to himself than an explanation for Natalie. He felt tense all of a sudden, like his body was preparing to spring into action-- without his permission.

The human-like creature -- Yasyamon? - tilted its head, and boy oh boy, did it move in a way that didn't look natural. Its body was slightly limp, its torso lolling back and its head rolling when it moved like its neck couldn't support the weight of its head. Its gaze focused on Raumon, practically looking through Natalie.

"What the--?" Natalie began, frowning slightly as Yasyamon began to move its arms. It lifted both of its wooden swords above its head, striking a bizarre tableau before it yelled only two words--

"Double Strike!"

With a brilliant flash of light, it was no longer holding two swords, but rather one, held above its head with both hands. Its blade was no longer wooden, but wicked-sharp steel, and it glowed like a beacon in the dark of the night.

"WHAAAAT THE HELL," Natalie said in a frantic yelp before she could stop herself, nearly dropping her baseball bat-- but it was a lucky thing that she didn't. In the blink of an eye, the blue creature leapt forward, swinging its blade, and aiming right at Raumon. Before she knew what she was doing, Natalie held the bat out horozontally, using it to try and stop the sword. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Raumon dive to the side-- and then, back in front of her, the bat was nearly snapped in half, held together only by the thinnest of splinters.

Just as soon as she looked, though, she could see that Yasyamon's sword had separated back into two wooden ones the moment it had hit the bat.

As Natalie saw all this, Raumon saw his chance.

Acting on instinct and not reason, Raumon reared one hand back and it was immediately engulfed in a strange purplish glow.
"Symptom Claw!" he yelled, slashing out at Yasyamon's leg. He struck true, catching Yasyamon in the left shin. He tore two long rips in the thing's pant leg and sliced into his leg proper, as well; when Raumon's claws struck flesh, the glow seeped out of his hand and into the cuts it left behind.

Yasyamon snarled and stumbled backwards, glaring at Raumon and it resumed a fighting stance.

"What are you doing?" Natalie asked, a bit breathlessly, a bit shell-shocked. She never wanted her face to be that close to the business end of a sword again.

"Haven't the foggiest," Raumon answered truthfully; he would have given his friend a distressed look if not for the fact that he was totally unwilling to look away from Yasyamon. Understandable, really. "What do you want?" he said to the stranger, louder than he spoke to Natalie. He was trying to sound brave, unflapped, but Natalie could see him pull his hand back in case he had to attack again.

"I found you," Yasyamon said, as though that was any kind of explanation, "and I'm not going back without you! Double Strike!"
Yasyamon lifted his swords once again; a flash of light replaced his weapons, once again; and he lunged at Raumon, once again, swinging his weapon down as he did-- and he hit true.

Raumon was simply not able to take a hit from Yasyamon's sword straight-on, and even though he was preparing to counterattack, the stranger moved faster. Even though the blade looked sharp, it had a more concussive effect, sending Raumon tumbling head over heels backwards into the knee-high concrete wall that bordered the roof.

"Raumon!" Natalie cried out, stumbling to her feet and rushing to her friend's side, dropping the halves of the baseball bat as she did so. He was dazed; he had hit his head on the wall. Yasyamon was advancing with no regards for the girl in his way; he began to lift his weapons again.

This was the turning point.

A single powerful gust of wind blew past, strong as a hurricane. Overhead, a couple streaks of light arced across the moon-lit sky-- and one of the beams of light shot down into Natalie's hand, where it began to coalesce. Even Yasyamon -- thankfully enough -- paused in confusion.

It swirled and spun, gaining mass very quickly. It took on a purplish glow, not unlike Raumon's hand had a moment before. Within mere seconds, there was a small device in Natalie's hands where there had been nothing before.

It was almost like a phone or an Mp3 player; it was sleek and rectangular, the size of a small smartphone. Its corners were rounded off, and the back was heavy-duty black rubber. Its faceplate was two different shades of purple, with a few small buttons on the left-hand side-- three rectangular-ish yellow ones, and a circle split into two buttons and a third center button. On the far end from the buttons, a tiny silver charm dangled on a thin silver chain attached to the device.
Most of its face was taken up by a shiny black screen; it was very shiny, looked quite new, and was completely, utterly lifeless.

Though she didn't know it yet, this little doohickey was a digivice, and in many ways, it was about to turn the tide. A lot of tides. A whole lot of tides.

You know what this absolutely did not do?
Make Natalie any less confused. In fact, it compounded the questions she had severalfold. If she had known what it was, of course, she would have felt a powerful sense of relief, but she didn't, so she felt no such thing.
"What the hell, what the hell, whaaaat the hell?" Natalie did her best broken record impression, looking frantically from the thing in her hand to Raumon to--

Actually, you know what it did do?
It gave Yasyamon pause. Yasyamon was watching Natalie, his head tilted just barely to the side.
"Hm."

"What is that?" Raumon groaned as he pulled himself up to his feet, a little bit dazed from his sudden familiarity with the concrete wall.

"Double Strike!" Yasyamon yelled as a fantastic interruption, and for the third time his swords began to glow and combine above his head. Before Raumon could intersect, Yasyamon attacked again-- but this time, he was aiming for Natalie.

Natalie only barely avoided yelling with panic. She threw up her arms in front of her as a last ditch attempt to protect her face, if nothing else. Raumon was already making to leap in the way.

She didn't expect this to work.

See, the thing was this: the sword hit the device that she gripped in her hand, and it was as though Yasyamon's sword was wooden once more and had tried to hack through a wrought iron shield. It stopped cold, and a loud metallic clangk! rang out in the night air. The hit resonated through the little gadget and into Natalie, making her bones shake.

Yasyamon stumbled backwards, his swords separating. He was clearly as surprised as either of them-- all three of them stared in Natalie's hands, the digivice began to glow.

It was different from the light that had formed it; purple light began to swirl around it, and around Natalie's hand. The screen flickered to life; a rush of strange characters rushed across the display, far too fast and far too much for Natalie to make heads or tails of-- and it began to make the most ungodly noise, like the sound of a thousand dial-up modems and a thousand out-of-service fax machines meeting in the middle to knock each other's circuits out.
Very melodic.

The bright side to this was a literal bright side-- the purple light swirling around the digivice was suddenly starting to swirl around Raumon. It started around his hands, and then worked up his arms and began to engulf him.
He didn't know exactly what was going on, no, but he knew that this was something good. The same could not be said of Natalie, who was having an extremely bad night thus far and was not looking forward to more surprises.

So, you know, imagine her sense of unease when Raumon, surrounded by this light, began to change.

 

"Raumon, Drive Evolve to..."

What happened next happened over the course of mere seconds.
He grew taller, more humanlike; his body enlongated until he was well over a foot taller than Natalie. Appearing from nowhere, a long, tattered black coat draped over his body, with sleeves that came several inches past the tips of his clawed fingertips. His skin was grey; admittedly, not much was visible, as the coat covered most of him, aided by a large, loose collar of fabric resting around his neck to cover the lower part of his face and his neck. Long silvery hair replaced the feathers on his head, tied into a loose ponytail.
Tall steel-toed black boots covered his feet, and a wide-brimmed, flat hat rested on his head. His beaked mask shrunk in size, covering only the top half of his face (though, as stated, his jacket covered the rest), and was now two-toned, black on his right and staying white on the left, with two purple streaks running down the cheeks.

Once he had formed fully, he threw his arm out to the side, and procured a staff from thin air. It was wooden, and topped with a tremendous red jewel. Strapped to the gem were a pair of white bird masks, quite like his usual face, though one's expression was sorrowful, and the other angry. He flourished this new weapon before folding his arms. He spoke quietly, his voice serene and solemn-- though not much deeper, and still having the timbre it usually had.
"Doctorimon!"

 

"WHAAAAT THE FUCK."
That was courtesy of Natalie, if you couldn't tell.

(Look. The last time Raumon had changed, it had been -- ... not nearly so severe or dramatic? He had been a little bouncing black ball with feathers and no mouth, but he had grown up into the Raumon they knew now a little more than a year ago. He had explained it like a butterfly pupating, but--
Had Raumon just changed for good again?)

Raumon -- pardon, Doctorimon -- looked down at Natalie, who sat flabberghasted. She still gripped the digivice in her hands and stared at him, her jaw hanging slowly slack. He tilted his head just so, such that she could see a faint, thin smile.

She felt... uneasy, yes, but a little more reassured.

Just a little, though.

He turned his attention back to Yasyamon, and his demeanor changed entirely-- he seemed detached, severe.
"I don't know what you want from us," he said; he didn't need to speak above a whisper to sound intimidating and imposing, "but you won't have it."

"I'm not leaving without--!" Yasyamon spat, and he began to lift his weapons, but this time, Rau-- Doctorimon was quicker on the draw.

"Black Bloom!" he said, and from within his tattered sleeves, his hand (still a purple talon, just like Raumon's) was now holding a strange black rose that glinted in the moonlight. He did not hesitate; he swiped it down through the air, and in its wake, it released a shower of razor-sharp black petals that shot at Yasyamon like bullets.

Yasyamon snarled and twirled his swords. Even as the attack pushed him back -- and it clearly caused him pain -- he was in no mood to surrender. "Double Strike!" he yelled, moving almost too fast too see as he clapped his swords together. He twirled his weapon with a flourish and lunged at Doctorimon.

Once more, the sword was stopped in its tracks, but this time, it was by Doctorimon's staff. He crossed it with Yasyamon's sword, holding him at bay. "Had you not tried to harm my friend," Doctorimon said, calm and quiet, "then this may have turned out differently. Face of Judgment!"
The way he had oriented his staff was no mistake; the more hostile-looking mask was facing Yasyamon. The gem began to glow, and red light began to spill out of the eyes of the masks. Under its own power, the beak on the angered mask began to open-- and it began to spill a stream of black flames, licking over Yasyamon's skin.

Yasyamon roared in pain, stumbling backwards. The flames licked over his body but as they did he--
Became pixellated?

Natalie half wondered if she needed to wear her glasses more often, because it looked as though a real-life object was becoming lower-resolution. Within mere moments, Yasyamon's body burst into pixel-like motes of light. The specks of light, or whatever they were, swirled around each other in what was too graceful to be a random array, but it was impossible to discern the pattern. The digivice in Natalie's hands beeped quietly (much quieter, less ear-grating, thank god), and as though it was a signal, almost all of the light organized itself into a thin beam and shot into the device.

It beeped softly, and the screen turned off.

And then... everything was quiet except for the cars in the distant downtown.

Like nothing had happened.

... except for the fact that Raumon was now a tall bird man. That was new.

Doctorimon turned to look at Natalie; he bowed his head and then bowed properly, with a little gesture with his staff.
"Raumon, you, uh," the girl said, finding her voice slowly; her tongue felt like lead. "You look different." Pause. "Good, though. You look good." Though she couldn't see his mouth, she could tell, somehow, that he was smiling again. There was another few moments of silence, before--
"Is this going to be permanent? Because we may have to stop going to the park except for like, when there are anime conventions in town. Or Halloween."

"I don't think so," Doctorimon said, shaking his head once.
He was right, and this was right on cue. The purple light returned; he seemed a bit surprised as it began to swirl around his hands, but he remained calm as it overtook him once again. This time, instead of making him grow and turn into something new, the light began to shrink him this time. When it faded, he was once more small, feathered, and familiar-- he was Raumon once again.

Natalie breathed out a heavy, shaky breath, but she couldn't help but smile. She knew that Raumon was Raumon, end of the day, but--
But.
... but a crazy blue dragon man had just swung a sword at her face several times in the space of, like, ten minutes, and Raumon had turned into a big plague doctor man, and she was kind of in shock, so it was nice to have something familiar come back, okay?

 

***

"Did you see that!?"

"Hm."

"I'm going to take that as a yes, mister chatterbox."

"How many names are you going to call me tonight?"

"Like, six more."

"..."

"Anyway, I bet there's another person!"

"Do you, now."

"And I bet they got one, too."

"Only one way to find out. Tell me if you see a fire escape."

After all... after the mysterious force that brought electronic gadgets on the wind, tonight couldn't possibly get any weirder.

 

***

About fifteen minutes passed as Natalie and Raumon tried to gather their nerves and try to figure out what was going on. Natalie had checked her phone-- a text from her father, everything alright up there? Quality parenting, she had thought as she fired back a yeah, before she had sat where she sat now, with her back to the concrete wall. Raumon sat beside her, peering over at the litte device in her hands, for indeed she was holding the little purple thing.

She had been experimenting with it over the past couple minutes. When pressed, the buttons caused the screen to come on, and caused subtly different mostly-empty screens to show up. It had a basic menu, that much she had figured out.
That said, none of the symbols on the screen, aside from the single word 'MENU', seemed to resemble real letters. She determined, at least, that the little circle keys were used to navigate through the menus, and the different yellow buttons brought up what were probably different functions, but what those functions were was unclear. She wasn't exactly eager to press buttons she didn't understand, least of all when it had had quite so dramatic an effect on Raumon.
The little silver charm on one end was -- curiously enough -- a little plague doctor mask, with engraved eyes but no other features. Next to the little chain holding the charm on was a pull-away tab that, frankly, looked like it would fit a mini-USB.
Also filed under deal with later.

"So, that thing was--" she said slowly, still turning the thing over in her hand.

"A digimon," Raumon said, with a nod. "Like me. I mean, kind of. Obviously not entirely, but-- you know?"

"Right." Digimon. Raumon had said the word before, of course; he had explained that there were lots of them, that they came in many sizes and shapes, but he had also said that as best he knew, he was the only one here. Around. That Natalie would ever run into.

She had asked lots of questions over the years; she knew her fair share, but Raumon's memory of such things was always a bit spotty. She had no reason to believe that he was withholding information deliberately.
In truth, he realy wasn't, for what it was worth-- but it still meant that their understanding was woefully incomplete.

And more pertinently, it didn't explain a damn thing about why Yasyamon was here, what he wanted, why he seemed to recognize Raumon... What this thing was that she held now. Why Raumon had grown.

"I don't understand it," Natalie said. She was loathe to admit it, of course, but there was no way around it. She was clueless.

"We're in the same boat, then," Raumon said with a shake of his head and a shrug.

Natalie looked at the gadget in her hand. She turned it over in her palm. It surprised her, really, that it had stopped Yasyamon's sword-- and that stopping a sword hadn't even scuffed it. She frowned and tucked it into her pocket, and though it was lightweight, she knew it'd weigh heavy on her mind.

And that's when Natalie just about had a heart attack for the umpteenth time tonight!

For what it's worth? She was really, really sick of surprises. Had never been fond of them! Really starting to hate them, now.

"Hey."
It was the voice of a young man, bored sounding, and quite close. Natalie leapt to her feet and whipped around; Raumon ducked instinctively, even though the concrete wall would have been tall enough to hide him even if he hadn't.

"Uh?" Natalie said, doing an excellent job of pretending to be composed (that's sarcasm). She had no idea where she was supposed to be looking, as she wasn't sure where the voice was coming from; she looked around, and it took a second or two for her eyes to fall on the fire escape of the next building over.

He was kind of hard to miss once she spotted him.

Standing there, leaning against the railing, was -- indeed -- a young man; he looked like he was around Natalie's age. He wore blue camo pants and tall combat-style boots. He had something of a loose mohawk, with the sides of his head shaved (though not recently-- he was kind of shaggy) and the rest of his dark hair spiked loosely. He wore a black t-shirt and black cuffs on his wrists, and he looked like the kind of person Natalie would expect to see wrecking utter face in a mosh pit or something.

"Am I late?" the young man said, looking up at Natalie. His voice and face were both hard to read, almost devoid of emotion as they were.

"No, most people hang out on fire escapes at eleven PM," she said, keeping her cool even though on the inside she began to panic. How much had this guy seen? She swore she could see him raise an eyebrow even in the dark, or maybe she just felt that kind of aura coming off him, but he didn't break eye contact as he reached into his pocket.

"Let's cut to the chase. You got one of these?" he asked, pulling out of his pocket--
A device practically identical to the one in Natalie's pocket, though it looked like it may have been blue instead of purple. She couldn't quite tell, though, as the only light came from the moon and the streetlights down at ground level.

"Maybe," she said after a moment, watching the boy carefully.

There was a tense moment of silence, wherein he scrutinized her, then shrugged his shoulders. "'Ight. C'mon up," he said, peering down into the alleyway; he raised his voice just a bit. From below, Natalie heard the distinct sound of a garbage can being knocked over.

And then there was a bat the size of a labrador flapping its way up to the fire escape.

She was the size of Raumon-- though, actually, maybe she was a bit bigger. Her entire body was steel blue in various shades, except for her white muzzle and matching fluff on her chest. She had crescent-shaped markings on her legs and shoulders-- which were separate from her wings. Indeed, she had a large pair of wings, and then in front of them, a pair of normal-ish arms.
She had big spade-shaped ears, and big orange claws on her hands and feet; her eyes were gold and so bright they shone in the darkness.

She flapped up at high speed, though not particularly gracefully; she landed deftly on the rail of the fire escape that the boy, who was presumably her friend, was standing against.

"Howdy howdy howdy," she chirrupped, cheerful, high-pitched, with an upwards inflection that made her sound eerily like a squeaky-toy for a split second.

If this wasn't a digimon, Natalie would eat her bandana.
She cast a sideways glance at Raumon; his brow was furrowed, but he continued to lay low.

"Name's Xander. This is Desmon." He gestured at the bat; who waved cheerfully with one club-like hand as well as the matching wing.

Natalie hesitated before returning the courtesy. "I'm Natalie," she said, looking sidelong at Raumon. "And this is--"

Raumon peeked up over the wall, his white face obvious in the dark. "Raumon," he said, looking at Desmon more than Xander.

 

***

Around the city, these two were not the only people who received the digivices. Not by a long shot.
One by one, and one at a time, the little mysterious objects began to appear with swirls of light and zero explanation.

Chapter Text

"'Ight. We're cutting short today," Xander said, rolling his head to loosen up his shoulders as he returned his mic to the stand. "I got a thing to do today."

The time: Saturday, around 3 PM. The place: a busted, broken garage. The reason? A busted, broken garage band.

Around him, the other members of the band mumbled their 'sure, alright's. This was around the time their band practices usually devolved away from productivity and careened headlong into unabashed screwing around, so it wasn't like they were really missing that much. Yes, they had a gig coming up in a few days, but they'd handle that like they always handled gigs.
That is to say: by panicking.

... you have your methods, they had theirs.
(There was a reason that they had been together for a couple years and hadn't really gotten out of Atlas Park, okay?)

The band had their fair number of quirks and oddities, not least of all how well they all managed to cope with Xander's perpetual plus-one. Desmon was kind of like their mascot-- a mascot they couldn't show to anyone else, of course, but a mascot nonetheless. They had grown pretty used to the sight of her, having had a couple of years to get used to her and a few death threats courtesy of Xander if they ever said a word about her.

They were also used to the sight of her helping herself to the snacks. Indeed, she currently currently sat on the couch pushed up against the wall, cheerfully munching away on a bag of cheeseballs. She complained whenever she was left alone, because she already had to wait at home alone while Xander worked, so she pretty much always tagged along when Ekko Lokation got together.

"Hey, Desmon, are there going to be any of those left when you're done?" Paul asked, picking out a few last sour notes on his guitar before he began the process of unplugging his amp.

"Juuuuust a minute," Desmon chirped, stuffing one last mouthful into her face before rolling up the top of the bag and tossing it over.

"Much obliged," the blonde guitarist said, turning his attention back to Xander as he opened the bag back up. "So, what is it you're doing, Xander?"

Xander looked back at him and raised one eyebrow. "Funny you should ask. I gotta go save the president of Nicaragua. Top secret shit, you know how it goes," he said dryly, holding his arm out horozontally like a falconer. Desmon knew her cue; she hopped off the couch and flapped over. She perched on her friend's upper arm and shoulder, resting her elbow on his hair after making sure she had maneuvered her wing behind his head.

"Which means: he has a date," Eric said from behind the drumset. He hadn't moved; this was, after all, his garage. He could lay all over his drums if he damn well pleased. "A real hot date with some chick he doesn't want us creepin' up on."

"Yeah, you got me. A hot date at 3 PM on a Saturday, and I haven't said a word about it before now." Xander's sarcasm was thick enough to cut with a knife as his eyelids slid down into an unimpressed expression. "Bite me."
The truth was, of course, that he had agreed to meet up with Natalie today-- or, rather, he had said, "meet me at the Lotus Café tomorrow," and he was expecting her to show up. Standing on a rooftop and a fire escape at 11 PM did not make for the greatest discussion venues. Moreover, he was under the impression that if he prolonged, he might piss off the people whose fire escape he had been bogarting, and while he wasn't over-burdened with concern, he didn't want to explain himself or Desmon.
And that? All of that? Not something he wanted to explain to his bandmates. Yes, they were familiar with Desmon, but this was pretty hardcore need-to-know information.

"It's none of my business," Will said, in the middle of packing his bass. "But try not to get killed until after Friday, okay? We kinda need you for that and it'd be a pain to get a new vocalist on that short'a notice."

"We'd have to like, print up fliers, and make online listings," Paul said with a mock horrified expression. "Or we could just pull some rando out of the crowd, he'd probably sound nicer than you."

Eric couldn't help but leap in. "We're not supposed to sound nice, we're supposed to sound like something you'd want to form a psycho pit to. That's basically the mood Xander is in all the time. It'd be a serious pain in the dick."

"It's nice to have such great friends," Xander deadpanned, throwing middle fingers over his shoulder as he strode out of the garage. "Fuck all you guys."

 

***

Xander and Desmon had been following Yasyamon the night before-- it was this pursuit that had led them, instead, to Natalie and Raumon. Xander had been visiting Will a good few streets away; an attempt to hammer out a song had turned into them standing on the balcony, yelling unkind words (read: death threats) up at Will's frat-boy upstairs neighbors and being thoroughly unheard over the thumping of their house party music.
Look, this sounds extreme, but it wasn't just house party music, it was bro country party music.

It had made them feel better in the moment, at least, even if the only real effect it had was mildly annoying some douchebgas.

It had been Desmon, staying just inside, who had seen it first-- a blurry black shape leaping from rooftop to rooftop; she had immediately wanted to follow it, having gotten 'a strange sort of feeling' from it. Xander might not have been so ready to agree if not for the fact that he wanted nothing more than to avoid the headache he had forming. It had been moving too erratically to follow by car-- and seeing as Xander didn't fancy concocting some truly fascinating excuses up to tell the cops when he careened through an alleyway, they had taken off on foot. Or, by foot and by wing, anyway.

On their way there, they didn't think twice about the rush of wind that blew through the alleyway they were ducking through-- but they had noticed the streak of light and the little blue-and-black gizmo that currently rested in Xander's pocket.
Though he had no way to prove it, Xander had the distinct feeling that he and Natalie weren't alone in this. He was right, of course, but right now, he only had one lead, and he was going to take it.

But back to the present: they were on their way to the Lotus, and Desmon was doing as Desmon do.

"It's unreal, don't you think?" Desmon chattered as they took a right at a traffic light. "Finding another digimon!"

"I'm going to guess you're not referring to the one we were chasing after," Xander said, glancing sidelong at the bat. She was sitting shotgun, with her wings folded around her like a poncho.
He knew his guess was right; that one had been a rogue. It was far more interesting that there was another person with the little... thing.

"Well, yeah," Desmon confirmed, nodding and twitching her ears. "The bird, I mean! Was it just me, or did you feel like he was kind of familiar somehow?"

"It's just you. I don't know about you and what you've done in your life, but I don't hang around with giant chickens."

 

***

"You're going to wait here," Xander said as they pulled into the parking lot -- which was really more of a parking strip -- behind the Café.

"Awww, whaaaat? Why?" Desmon exclaimed, indignant and furrowing her brow.

"Well, we're in a public place," Xander replied, putting the car in park. (His parking job was kind of bad, but it was inside the lines, so it still counted.) "In case you forgot."

"I don't see why we couldn't meet her somewhere where there weren't other people," the bat said, rolling her eyes in exasperation. "Like your apartment! Your apartment isn't that bad. I mean, it's small and you haven't cleaned up your socks in, like, ever, but--"

Xander cut her off. "First of all, because I don't want her to think I'm going to chloroform her and have her wake up in a basement I don't have, which is a thing that women think when you demand they come to your house a day after meeting them."

Beat.
"I see your point."

"... and secondly, and more importantly," Xander continued, "it's a long drive back to the north side, and I'm lazy." Desmon snickered, and Xander smirked. He began getting out of the driver's seat. "I'll leave my phone and keys. Try not to get anyone's attention." His windows were tinted, which helped keep Desmon low-key, but, you know, never hurt to reinforce.

"Roger-doger!" Desmon replied, giving a thumbs-up as she picked up her friend's phone to start picking out a playlist. Xander nodded, locked the doors, and looped around the front of the building to go in the front door. As he passed the window, he chanced a glance inside; it was almost entirely empty. On one hand, it meant few people to overhear; on the other, it meant very little cover.
It was going to be one or the other, though, so he wasn't about to complain.

Regardless. It did make it easy to see that in in the back corner, there was an occupied table; a red-headed girl, tapping at her phone and looking guarded, with a ceramic mug set to cool beside her.
Cool.

The tinkling of the bell attached to the door caught her attention as Xander walked in. She looked up and nodded in greeting, but didn't say anything as he crossed over to the table. Xander, for his part, raised a hand in greeting to the barista behind the counter.
"Hey," he said simply, inviting himself into the chair opposite Natalie.

"Hi," Natalie said, sitting forward a bit more. Looking at him up close, she could see things she couldn't have possibly seen last night-- namely, how many pieces of metal were in his face. He had at least five pieces of silver jewelry in various piercings, and-- okay, those were definitely contacts, because his eyes were a super unnatural, rich golden yellow.
It kind of made her uncomfortable, honestly.

"So you've got a Digimon, too," Xander said, ever one to skip right to the chase. He spoke quietly, so as not to give their conversation away, but a quick glance revealed that the one barista manning the front was slacking off and reading a magazine behind the counter.

"Yep," Natalie said, folding her arms and sitting back in her chair.

"You seen any others before last night?" Xander asked, frowning slightly.

"Not as far as I'm aware of, no."

Xander sighed through his nose and ran a hand backwards through his hair. "Then you're just as in the dark as I am. Great. Fantastic."

"This is just as new to me as it is to you, you know," Natalie said, quirking an eyebrow. "I mean, I just spent fifteen years thinking my best friend was the only thing like him in the city-- heck, the world, for all I knew!"
She paused, and sighed, and took a sip of her drink. She knew she was getting too animated. "And then in one night, I get one monster making threats on my life, I got a piece of plastic electronic crap granted to me by means of magic light, my friend shapeshifts into a different monster for all of five minutes, and then a third monster shows up that my monster thinks he knows. And then her friend grills me in a coffee shop like we're characters giving exposition in a screenplay by some kind of hack writer."

... ANYWAY.

Natalie paused again, and Xander's eyebrows shot up.

"I've had a weird day is what I'm trying to say," Natalie concluded.

"Gives me something to work with, though," Xander admitted, and he smirked a bit.
For one: fifteen years, which meant they were working on the same timeline. The second-- the magic sky-light electronics delivery service. That meant that at least on two counts, they had something in common-- but it also gave him insight into what the digivice did. He had poked at it, but when realizing he couldn't make heads or tails of it, had quickly said fuck it (both metaphorically and literally, outloud, said "fuck it") and put it back down.

Whatever. Progress was progress.

"So, fill me in. What happened last night?" Xander asked, kicking his chair back and balancing it on its back two legs, ignoring the disengaged, bored barista's mumble of four on the floor, if you don't mind.

Natalie paused for a moment and thought back. She talked about hearing the noise on top of her apartment, and of finding Yasyamon on the roof; she talked about the fight, even if she kind of glossed over the exact blow-for-blows. She explained the little device and how when it got hit and started glowing, Raumon transformed into Doctorimon. She talked about everything right up until Xander and Desmon had shown up; she felt that was a pretty good place to stop. She spoke quietly and cast occasional glances around to see if anyone was eavesdropping or giving them weird looks. Considering that the only other people in the shop were a middle-aged woman with earbuds in and the disinterested barista, she wasn't too worried.

"That's it, then?" Xander asked her.

Natalie nodded. She hadn't mentioned either her or Raumon's gut feelings from earlier in the day, or if they had anything to do with anything-- it was a mix of not totally trusting this new guy, and not being sure if she could trust this new guy.

Such as it was, Xander wasn't totally sure he could trust this new girl, either. It worked out.

"Give me your phone number," he said without preamble or lead-in. When Natalie raised her eyebrow, as he had done a number of times, he shrugged one shoulder. "If we find anything out, it'd be useful. Easier than me climbing up a fire escape again if some other digimon shows up like Yasyamon did."
He had the distinct feeling that they would.

(Yeah, that was his razor-sharp lightning brain at work; please, hold your applause.)

"Suppose I can't argue with that," Natalie said after a moment, shrugging as well with a nod. She rattled off her phone number; Xander thumbed it into his contact list and rattled his off in return.
"There's some kind of connection, yeah?" she said. "Between the gadget things and Yasyamon showing up."

"Mmm." Xander hummed, leaning back and closing his eyes; he didn't see Natalie's eyebrow twitch a little bit in annoyance.

"It made Raumon stronger. It's too unlikely that it's a coincidence that it shows up right when the first other Digimon I've ever seen--"

"So we wouldn't need them if there weren't going to be more freaks of the week," Xander said, cutting her off.
She was getting sick of this guy's attitude in record time.

"That was the point I was getting at, yes," she said coolly.

Xander nodded and let his chair clatter to the floor. He rubbed his chin in thought; there was a lot more he could say, but right now, what was certain? A rogue digimon, it had been looking for Raumon. The gadgets appeared; they were related to the digimon. More weirdos might appear, or they might not.
Plans are hard to make when the future those plans rely on a are a big, resounding question mark-- and Xander wasn't about to spend a lot of energy preparing for a total unknown.
"Good job, team," Xander said in a very sarcastic tone of voice. "Very enlightening." Behind them, the bell on the door rang gently, as a gaggle of teenagers -- five or six, at least-- was entering the shop.
That was their cue to leave.

"Nice meeting you on a place that wasn't a fire escape," Natalie said, finishing off her drink and standing up. Xander smirked as he also got to his feet. "I'm sure we're going to meet up again soon enough."

"Probably," Xander confirmed.
They didn't part ways just yet; they had both parked out back, and so both had to loop around to the back.

As they approached, Desmon rolled down the window of Xander's car. "Hi!" she chirped over the sudden blast of funk-rock that she was bumping over the car stereo. Natalie smiled, enjoying Desmon's vibe and personality somewhat more than the boy she hung around with. "If Xandie's been rude, don't mind it. He's just like that!" the bat continued, ears twitching as she beamed.

"I'll keep that in mind," Natalie said while Xander, behind her, groaned and rolled his eyes. Natalie waved goodbye as she continued down the row of cars; Xander did a half-salute as he climbed into his driver's seat.

"How'd it go?" Desmon asked, looking over at him as he started up the car.

Xander breathed oiut heavily through his nose. He didn't respond immediately, his attention on pulling out of his parking space.
"I just don't want to get stuck playing crisis reaction squad," he said, and left it at that as he turned his attention to mentally mapping his way back home.

 

***

Neither Natalie nor Xander had noticed the subtle, curious expression that the bored barista had cast at them as they left the café, nor the small, secret, almost hopeful smile that pulled one corner of his mouth up.

 

***

"... all I'm saying is, you should have got got me a muffin while you were there. Those muffins are the best."
Desmon, as was normal for her, went on at great length the entire drive back. She didn't have any particular subject; she just saw fit to share every single thought that occurred to her.

Xander had learned a long time ago that there were times that Desmon had useful things to say, and there were times that he could safely tune out without missing anything. This was one of the latter times.
Desmon, for her part, had learned when Xander was tuning her out, and amped up the ridiculousness of what she said just to watch how little Xander reacted.

It was a symbiotic relationship.

"... so, anyway," she was saying as they pulled into the parking lot of Xander's apartment complex, "I stole all your boxers and shot them at passing children, so don't be surprised if the elastic is a bit worn out."

"I'm sure I'd have asked," Xander said, casting a sidelong glance at Desmon. She grinned. Xander gathered up his belongings, and crossed to the other side of the car to let Desmon out. She looked around to make sure nobody was watching-- then, she stopped to listen. After all, if those ears couldn't hear jack, there wasn't jack to be heard.
Confident that the coast was clear, she hopped out of the car and spread her wings before she even hit the ground. A bit of frantic flapping later, and she had deftly landed on the metal railing outside their place on the second floor. She was used to this song and dance; it helped that she could hear a pin drop across a room if she wanted to, so if she needed to hide, she'd be the first to know and have ample time to get out of sight.

Point is: perched on the railing, she waved. Xander rolled his eyes, before taking off after. He took the stairs two at a time, and was quick to get the door unlocked.

Xander's place was, in a word: tiny.
In two words: tiny, and messy.
It consisted of two rooms-- the main room and the bathroom. The kitchen was relegated to one end of the room; the futon in the middle doubled as Xander's bed.
In the opposite corner from the kitchen, above the window, Xander had rigged up a mesh net, with no small number of tacks and nails ("I ain't getting the deposit back on this fuckin' dump, anyway," he had reasoned through a mouthful of nails and over the pounding of his hammer). Up in that net was a couple of small blankets and a handful of pillows.

Take a guess who that was for, and take a guess who hopped her way over and flapped up into it the moment the door was opened.

"What now?" Desmon asked, kicking back in her little nest as Xander faceplanted onto the futon.

"Nothing," Xander said, voice muffled by the throw pillow his face was currently buried in. He wasn't in the mood to do much of anything; tomorrow he had work, and he had enough to think about as it was. After a moment, though, he stood up--
But only long enough to get a soda from the fridge and turn the TV on, after which he promptly face-planted once more.

"You're sure about the freaky crow thing?"

Desmon looked over at Xander; she almost didn't hear him, between the fact that the TV was cranked up high and the fact that he was speaking into a pillow. Still, though... dem ears.
"Totally sure."

Xander paused, sitting up a bit more properly. Perhaps he was about to make some kind of thoughtful commentary or insight, or-- "Chinese sound alright for tonight?"

"I want lo mein!"

 

***

"How'd it go?" Raumon asked, looking up from his book, as Natalie walked into their room. She didn't respond with words, merely breathed out through her teeth and flopped onto her back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling while spread eagle.
"That well, I take it?"

"Like talking to a brick wall," Natalie said, turning to look at Raumon. "You're sure about the bat, though?"

"Not sure what, exactly," Raumon said with a nod, "but I'm sure. I've seen her before."

 

***

So, let's move ahead a little bit; it was the Thursday after Xander had met up with Natalie, and since then, very little had happened. No more digimon had shown up as far as Xander or Natalie knew about. Neither had made any attempt to contact each other in the interrim, and both were just fine with that.
Xander had spent his night as he had been expecting to-- rehearsing to the poing of exhaustion, because they were out of wiggle room. Tomorrow night was the gig; it was just basically opening for an opener for the band people actually cared about, but it was at the Rock Star (excuse me-- the Rock★Star), which was as good as they could hope for right now. Sure, Xander had work until just two hours before the show!
But he had priorities dammit.

It was the last moments of Thursday when they wrapped up; by the time they were clearing out of the garage, it was past midnight. Paul and Will had already said their goodbyes and cleared out, while Eric was waiting patienty -- albeit not too patiently, for Xander and Desmon to scram.

"I'll see you later," Xander said, waving vaguely at Eric, then looked over to where Desmon was still sitting on the ratty couch. "Get your ass in gear," he was in the middle of saying when his phone went off. It was just a text, because who actually called?, but he frowned regardless. He pulled his phone out of his pocket with a grumble of who the hell and better be important.

From: Natalie || 00:04
Something big and flying heading towards downtown- lights flickered and device thing lit up as it went by. raumon thinks it's a digimon

Well, that was one way to break the ice, wasn't it? He hissed through his teeth and ran a hand backwards through his hair as he swiped letters on his screen.
i'm busy. get back to me if you're sure.

Desmon gave him a quizzical look, tilting her head.
"We going?" she asked, her ears and nose twitching in curiosity.

"I've been waiting for you, pudding-brain," Xander said back, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm leaving you guys in the dark," Eric said cheerfully, walking towards the door that would lead back into his house. "Try not to steal anything. Lock the side door on your way out."

"Who was the text from?" Desmon asked, completely ignoring Eric's warning, and similarly unperturbed when the lights were killed, leaving them in the dark.
Xander, with slightly worse senses than the giant bat, had to take a moment to let his eyes readjust. They weren't totally left in the dark, as shafts of light from streetlights outside still bled through the dusty windows. He heaved a heavy sigh and contemplated whether or not he should just not tell Desmon.

She'd probably try to get into his phone later, what with her total lack of sense of privacy and incredible knack for sticking her nose where it didn't belong.

"Bird girl," he said, shrugging a shoulder as he crossed over to the side door that would lead out onto the driveway.

Even in the dark, Xander could tell that Desmon perked up with curiosity. "What'd she say?"

"Nothing importa--"

Buzz.

Fuck.

Desmon flapped up onto Xander's shoulders as he pulled his phone back out; to understand the way this felt when he wasn't braced for it, have someone drop a full sack of potatoes on your shoulders from the top of a ladder.

"Christ! Lay off the cheeseballs, you fat fuck!"

Desmon grinned so hard it was darn near audible.
(Inside the house, Eric contemplated checking back in. He contemplated for about three seconds, and then he got a soda out of the fridge.)

Xander snorted derisively as he turned his attention back to his phone.
From: Natalie || 00:06
Don't shoot the messenger, just figured you might be closer than I am

He was, of course, assuming she was at home, but that still didn't mean he wanted to run around on whims and hunches at midnight.

Xander stuffed his phone back into his pocket, but Desmon hummed faux-thoughtfully, in a way meant primarily to get his attention.

"What?" he said, but Desmon just hummed again.
Beat. Beat. Beat.
"Fine."

Desmon chittered cheerfully as Xander yet again retrieved his phone from his pocket. As he did, he finally crossed to the door leading outside, swinging it open. Desmon alighted ever-so-gently (ha) from his shoulders, flapping over to land beside his car. She turned and looked expectantly at him; his walk over was slowed by the fact that he was having to be that one weirdo who actually calls.

Natalie answered on the third ring.

"What's up?" her voice came from the other line.

"Explain to me what's going on, exactly, that's so important that you had to text me?"
He realized he was complaining about this while in the middle of calling her, but it was too late to take it back now. He unlocked the car so Desmon could climb in, but he himself remained standing.

"Look towards downtown?" She sounded like she was quickly descending a flight of stairs-- maybe she had started heading out once she got it in her head that Xander wasn't going to do anything. Admittedly, he wasn't going to, but--

"I ain't seeing jack," Xander said, before he even bothered turning to look in the direction in question, but come on. What was he supposed to be looking for? It was dark, and this was stupid--

A huge black shape soared by overhead towards the downtown district. The porch lights on a few of the houses nearby flickered for just a split second.
Well, shit.
It was dark, admittedly, but even against the black sky it was obvious that it was a giant bird of some denomination, but it seemed to flicker and shift. Desmon scrambled from out of the car and onto the roof to watch it pass. It barely beat its wings, instead soaring silently towards the lights of Atlas Park.

There was no reason for him to be seeing a singular bird flying in the night, unless the bird in question was the size of a Buick. (Spoiler alert: it was.)

"Okay, so strike that. Looks like a bird the size of a boeing flew by. I'm going to take a guess," Xander said slowly, "that that's what you were talking about?"

"It's a digimon!" Desmon exclaimed, one hundred percent sure of herself.

"Ding ding ding," Natalie said; it was hard to tell whether she was replying to Xander or Desmon's remark.

"Shit." Beat. "Fukkit, I'll tail it." He could see Desmon's ears perk up yet again.

"You want me and Raumon to go after it? You seemed so very loathe to go a second ago." Natalie asked.

"I ain't gonna stop you if you want to come spectate," Xander replied, but he felt a vague sense of indignance. Desmon leapt off of his car and flapped over, preparing to land on his shoulders again, but he stuck out an arm and clotheslined her; she recovered quickly and perched on his arm instead. "But I'll take care of this, jus' watch."

He could imagine Natalie's lip pulling back in a skeptical sort of expression, but instead of a complaint:
"If you're sure."

"Yeh, I'm sure."

Xander was extremely not sure, but he was even more extremely not willing to say as much.

 

***

It was a short drive, at least. Xander had been trying to keep his eyes on the birdthing, but both the sky and the bird being dark made it difficult to do that while also not crashing his car. The only blessing was that it didn't seem to be moving terribly fast, meaning that it hadn't been as though Xander had to floor it to keep up.
(The fact that it was after midnight and this meant the number of people on the road was low was also a blessing, actually.)

It was a short ways into the city, however, that Xander completely lost sight of it.

"Shit!" he spat through grit teeth, pulling off into an unoccupied metered spot on the side of a one-way street. He rolled the window down so he could crane his neck out and look to the sky. If he had been looking at the digivice, he might have found its radar function and had a much easier time, but guess what he didn't think to do?

The good news, though: he had Desmon.

The little bat's ears twitched and she frowned, humming yet again in deep thought. Then, without warning, she opened up her door and leapt out of the car, taking off into the air.
"Wh-- the hell are you doing?" Xander hissed. Even though he was asking what Desmon was doing, before he knew what he was doing he had pulled the keys out of the ignition, unbuckled, and practically flung himself out of the driver's seat as well.

"Follow me!" Desmon said, popping up from the other side of the car. Luckily for them there was nobody on the sidewalk to see her as she leapt into the air, out of the spaces lit up by streetlamps. You see, she was a bat; she had magnificent ears and a hunch. Mostly the ears.

Xander took off after her; she led down an alleyway to the street on the other side, a one-way heading in the other direction. That had been what had got them-- because they could see, circling above a parking garage on the opposite side of the street, a big circling black shape, and the lights on the parking structure going a bit on the fritz.

"Nice," Xander said, looking up at Desmon. She would have preened a bit, but there was no time; she took off flying, leaving Xander to follow on foot. He did; he bolted across the street, crosswalks be damned. The bar was down to prevent any cars from entering the structure; he leapt over it and scanned for a stairwell.

He found one; he took those stairs up, three stories, two at a time.

Thank god he was in shape or he would have been miserable right now. Ignore the fact that he had to stop to catch his breath with his hands on his knees as he reached the top; he was upright in a moment's notice, because there were far more important things at hand right now.

Desmon was perched on the concrete barrier by the hut where the stairs let out, waiting-- but her eyes were cast skyward. It was getting closer-- big, black, and totally oblivious to the pair watching it.

(Xander wondered, momentarily, how many other people were seeing this.)

"That a digimon?" he said, frowning.

"No doubt about it," Desmon confirmed.

"I'm not surprised," Xander said slowly, the corner of his mouth twitching downwards, "but I am disappointed." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the digivice that was still safely stowed there. It was on, and there were words on the screen-- Menu. Strange symbols on the side of the screen indicated one of the buttons, and ever the scientist, he pushed it.

As he pressed the button, up sprang a radar that looked like a street map in blue lines on a black background, with two shining dots almost overlapped. If he looked close, one of them was a simple white dot-- the other looked like a silhouette of Desmon's head. That would have been nice to know before.

In frustration, he pressed his thumb down on the little white dot, and three words popped up in a little window:
Saberdramon. Champion level.

"The fuck does that mean, you plastic piece of shit?" he hissed in frustration. Above him, he heard the sound of flapping wings, and his eyes were drawn upwards.
It was not the black bird approaching making that flappa flappa flappa noise-- it was Desmon, flying towards the giant black bird that was approximately an order of magnitude bigger than her.

"Come on, you giant turkey! Black Static!" Desmon yelled, opening her mouth wide. She shot a short series of -- indeed -- black and staticky concentric rings of energy from her mouth that flew skywards at her target.

The rings hit the giant bird -- Saberdramon? -- harmlessly in the breast, but it got its attention. Was this a good thing? ... good question! It turned its attention downwards, and stopped its movement to flap in place.

"Get down here, you idiot!" Xander yelled as his eyes shifted from Desmon over to Saberdramon.

Its body was covered in inky black-blue feathers, but its wings and its tail seemed to crackle with fire. It was difficult to tell where the flames started and the feathers ended. Silver talons glinted in the moonlight. Its beak was blunt and rounded, but to make up for it, it had two rows of sharp teeth poking out what might have been lips, if the phrase 'bird lips' weren't so deeply uncomfortable.

It glared, metallic gold eyes glinting with a feral ferociousness. It offered no rebuttal to Desmon, but it spread its wings wide.
"Night Roar!" it cawed, releasing a flurry of razor-sharp feathers from its wings. They burned like purple embers and shot across the dark sky like shooting stars-- and began to rain down on Desmon.
Judging by how effective Desmon's attack had been, Xander assumed that Saberdramon would have an advantage, but it was no nicer to see Desmon nearly knocked out of the sky. She grit her teeth, though, and flapped frantically to stay aloft.

Most of the feathers faded by the time they got that far, but a few stray ones collided with the roof of the parking structure, and they left ashen marks like they were actually made of fire.

"That all you got?" Desmon said with a cocky grin that Xander could hear in her voice, even if he couldn't see it above him. "Come on, birdy boy!"

"Black Saber!" Saberdramon roared, swooping down lightning-quick, its claws pulsing with the same purple energy that the rain of feathers had glowed with. Desmon yelped and dodged quickly to the side, only narrowly missing the grip of the bird's talons.

Xander was suddenly aware that even if the streets were scarcely populated, that wasn't nothing-- he could hear from street level a couple people exclaiming with confusion and alarm, and he heard a car slam on the brakes.

Crap. This one seemed more feral than the one Natalie had fought, that he and Desmon had pursued. He looked at his digivice; how did he make this thing work? Desmon didn't stand a chance as she was--

"Night Roar!"

This one actually did knock Desmon out of the air. Xander's train of thought got handily derailed as he leapt into action. Luckily, Desmon hadn't gone far-- he was able to position himself underneath her and catch her before she hit the roof.

"God, you're heavy," Xander muttered, with he smiled faintly as Desmon chuckled. Her eyes were squeezed shut; she looked like she had seen better days. Xander looked up at Saberdramon, who was starting to lower itself down to land.

The bird was here. It had an attitude. It didn't seem to have an agenda, or if it did, it sucked at it. It was causing property damage. It had hurt Desmon.
Xander's patience, already in short supply, was overdrawn.

"You ready to trash this thing?" Desmon said, cracking one eye to peer up at him.

"I'm kinda pissed."

"Good. So am I."

While they chit-chatted away, Saberdramon began to gather energy again, spreading its wings as it prepared to finish off the annoying little bat and her even-more-annoying little friend.

In his hand, the little digivice Xander held began to glow.

It swirled with blue energy, and-- you know, no amount of description of how horrible that noise was prepared Xander for the horrible screeching computerized noise that emitted from the gadget. He couldn't be happier when it died back down and the digivice flashing far-too-fast information across the screen, as the light began to swirl around it faster. Soon, Desmon followed suit.

Xander let go of her, and she was suspended in the air for a moment instead of dropping like a stone, as though the light was making her weightless.

 

"Desmon, drive evolve to..."

Desmon began to grow so rapidly that Xander had to take a step backwards. She kept the same physical form, with powerful hind legs and large spread wings, but her arms vanished as her wings grew more developed. Her ears grew longer and swept back, while a fluffy mane sprouted from the crown of her head and coming down around her neck. This new fluff framed a trio of silver rings that encircled her throat, while bandages wrapped around her feet framed her claws.

She grew a long, draconic tail; it was as long as her body, and the tip erupted into a stinger like a scorpion's. She looked somewhat like a wyvern crossed with a bat. She flapped her wings and snapped her tail like a whip as she settled her feet on the roof; she was almost nine feet tall, and her wingspan far greater than that.

"Corymon!"

 

"Hell yes!" Xander exclaimed, pumping his fist with a wolfish grin on his face.

"Finally," Saberdramon's voice rumbled as its talons crunched down on the roof. "A digimon that is not so weak."

"What do you know, it can talk," Corymon chuckled, glancing sidelong at Xander. "Where do you think you are, bub?" she said, then, looking over at the bird. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're messing up my plans for the night."

The black bird snorted, and took off into the air with a powerful kick-off. "Night Roar!"

Corymon narrowed her eyes and grinned. So be it! She kicked off as well, with much more grace than she usually did, and much gentler than the bird, at that. "Black Stinger!" she cried. Her tail curled below her and began to glow with a black aura, much like the static rings she had shot as Desmon. Almost immediately, the black energy was released in the form of arrowhead-like blasts.

They smashed into Saberdramon, five in all; quite unlike her previous form's Black Static, Saberdramon couldn't shake these off like they were nothing. It keened loudly and glared at Corymon.

She grinned.

"Pick it up!" Xander said, but was trying to be quiet. He would bet money that anyone down below would be getting cameras out, and he sure didn't want his voice to carry that far.

"I didn't think you did ska, I thought you were more of a punk rock classic kind of guy," Corymon remarked cheerfully, but her snark was cut short. (She ignored Xander yelling Not funny!.)

"Black Saber!" Saberdramon lifted higher into the air. Its talons glowed as it prepared to swoop at the bat.

"Hurricane Blitz!" Corymon cried. As if summoned by her words, the wind began to whip viciously around her; Xander could swear he could see it, streams of air tinted with blueish light swirling around her.

Corymon surged forward, like she was going to headbutt Saberdramon right in the gizzard. The sphere of wind surrounding her acted like a shield; it impacted the bird first, and exploded like a bomb. Xander was almost concerned, but just as soon as he could look, Corymon had shot backwards away from the impact, where Saberdramon was thrown backwards far less voluntarily.

The black phoenix let out an ear-shredding keen as its body began to shift and distort, pixellating and...
God, this must have been horrifying to the onlookers.

Saberdramon's cry quieted down only as it burst into pixellated motes of light.

Corymon alighted next to Xander, surprisingly light for something of her size. "We're not gonna get to your car the normal way, people are staring," she said, looking around. "Wanna try things my way? I'm preeeetty sure I can make it before I turn back."

"I'm afraid of what 'your way' entails," Xander said in deadpan, "and 'pretty sure' from you is, what, fifty-fifty?"

"Something like that!" Corymon grinned at him and kicked off into the air-- and on the way up, she grabbed Xander, almost entirely engulfing him in her big orange claws. It was simultaneously one of the coolest things he'd ever experienced, and one of the most pants-shittingly horrifying. Corymon immediately took off back the whole, like, one block over and one block up to where Xander had parked.

Xander looked down at the street below the parking garage, and saw a small smattering of people -- not a lot, maybe four or five standing on the street total. Still, four or five more than he wanted there to be.

Corymon did a great job of not letting Xander know that she could feel her form starting to get harder to maintain, but she managed; she gently set Xander down on the sidewalk and no sooner than her claws released him did she begin to glow bright white and blue.
A second later, she was Desmon again, and she dropped cheerfully into Xander's arms.

"If you dropped me," was the first thing Xander said, "I was going to flay you alive."

Desmon grinned as Xander dropped her on the groundd so he could open up his car doors.

As soon as the bat was safely tucked in the passenger seat of his car, Xander couldn't help but ring up Natalie.

"Took care of it."

Chapter Text

In a messy basement-level flat in the university district of Atlas Park, a young man turned on the television tuned to the news station.

"... but luckily," the familiar voice of co-anchor Rebecca Porter was reading over shaky, grainy camera cellphone footage of bright lights over a parking garage, "damage to public property seems to be minimal. No hard evidence has been found to support any particular explanations, but the official police statement is that it was likely a prank..."

In front of that television, another young man stopped walking.
He furrowed his brow and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He looked at the screen, and felt-- a mix of relief, confusion, and something else. Almost a week later, and finally, something he could work with-- maybe. If she thought it might be something, at any rate.
Insert-deity-of-choice bless the people who cared more about filming weird occurrences than petty things like getting out of the way, or he might have kept right on walking without paying an ounce of mind to the local news.

"Peter, if you don't move, I'm going to kill you," the first young man said sharply, but honestly, he was used to this.

"Hm?" Peter was knocked out of his reverie by his roommate's threat of violence. "Oh. Very persuasive," he said back coolly; he smiled a thin smile and sidestepped such that Ian could see the television. The channel switched almost immediately, but Peter had seen enough, and thanked his fortuitous timing.

He had just been heading back to his room with a sandwich in hand, but this gave him pause. "Don't suppose I could convince you to change back to the news?" he ventured. Ian looked back at him and raised his eyebrows.

"You can look it up on that there interwebs. I have faith in your abilities," he said, reaching out. If he could be bothered to stand up, he would have patted Peter on the shoulder; as it was, he patted him in more of the elbow region.

"Thank you for your boundless helpfulness," Peter said dryly, but Ian was right, and he continued walking back to his bedroom. As he crossed the threshold, a little digimon poked her head up over the other side of Peter's bed.

Enter: Banmon.

Or, rather, enter: Peter, because, you know, he was the one actually entering the room.

"You look like you know something I don't," she said, drifting up out of her bed of choice-- a laundry basket. (Not the laundry basket Peter actually used, mind you. It was specially sectioned off for her.)
This made more sense when you realized what she looked like-- her body looked like black smoke, long and curling like a snake's. Wide strips of gauze-like tan fabric were wound around her, loose ends tucked into the folds or left to dangle. Her head was covered by a large baggy hood with big black buttons on top that made her look kind of like a ragdoll. This hood shaded her face, leaving only her glowing white eyes visible on her face.

Though she might appear to have no limbs, two lengths of loose fabric coming out from under her hood had the rough appearance of hands, and instead of hanging limp, she was able to animate them and manipulate objects.

"Honestly, I'm not sure if I do," Peter said, taking a seat in his computer chair and setting his sandwich down on the table. Banmon tilted her head and blinked (that is, the lights that served as her eyes flickered out for a moment). She waited for him to say more; maybe, if she didn't know him as well as she did, she might be annoyed by his non-answer, but he was moving with purpose and she decided to drift over to watch what he was looking up.
Banmon had felt... uneasy, the past week or so. She couldn't quite place it, but it hadn't gone away. She couldn't say this made her feel any better, actually, but, you know.

Once his computer had come out of sleep mode, it only took a few clicks and keystrokes to get to the local news' site, and there, right on the front page, was the online version of the news story of the day. The pictures were low-resolution and blurry, and the auto-playing video was. Well. Any time it cut back to the video of the happenings, it was hectic and shaky, grainy and the audio cut in and out.

Banmon, looking over Peter's shoulder, let loose a little gasp. "Do you think--?" she said, even though she knew immediately what she was looking at.

"I was going to ask you," Peter admitted, eyes darting back and forth as he skimmed the page for any information that might prove useful. From the looks of it, most people were writing it off as a confusing publicity stunt or a prank. That worked fine for him.
Witnesses indicated that their phones began to malfunction, accounting for the quality...

"Don't read the comments..." Banmon warned as her friend reached the end of the article proper. He, of course, loved himself far too much to do such a stupid act, and stopped to scroll back up. He stopped on the video that was playing, intercut with commentators and anchors. Banmon squinted at the video, while Peter's eyes drifted off to the side.

Half-buried under a flurry of loose papers there was a little electronic device. The faceplate of his was white, and the little charm dangling off the edge was a little cartoony skull, but aside from that it was identical in almost every way to the others. He had attempted to make it work, but his attempts had proved as fruitful as any other so far-- that is to say, not really.
It might not have even been in such a conspicuous place if not for the fact that on Saturday, two customers had come into the Lotus on Peter's shift. He sort-of kind-of recognized the girl, as she had come into the Lotus multiple times during the school year as well as occasionally seeing her around on campus, but the other dude was a total unknown.

He had, indeed, been the one on shift at that point in time, and how fortuitous it had been that he was. He had tuned them out, not intending to be a creeper; but after he had had to make the request that the guy keep his chair in its intended position, he noticed that they were certainly ending a lot of words in mon.
Now, he wasn't going to assume anything, but he had a hunch that they probably weren't speaking a bad Jamaican patois, so if he had maybe listened a little closer, then... well. Greater good, okay?

He made sure to take note of their faces before they left, just in case.

Was this kind of creepy? Probably, but around the time that strange electronic doohickeys start materializing from light and thin air, you're going to take notice of anyone who says, hey, so, this electronic doohickey appeared in a public place.

Peter reached over to the little gadget and turned it over in his hand. It was his day off, but he knew the chances of his actually finding anything out were... not great. But it was the first chance he had after a week of searching high and low for anything, right? So...

"You're thinking of doing something, aren't you?" Banmon's voice cut through his thoughts.

Peter didn't answer immediately, leaning back in his computer chair. Banmon hovered nearby, watching his face. He looked intently at the digivice, then at his computer, and then turned to look at Banmon. He picked up half of his sandwich and offered it to her.
Peter's computer screen flickered behind him while he was looking away; in the front room, the television went bizarrely staticky for a half a second.

"I'm thinking of going into town in a little bit. You want to come? S'okay if not."

 

 

***

Banmon had always had a bit of a preference for enclosed spaces-- in fact she had always kind of disliked being out in the open. Luckily enough, then, she fit into many small spaces; she was long, but the bulkiest parts of her were her hood and hands, which weren't exactly like trying to stuff something with actual bones and meaty parts into a space.
While she was a bit too big to comfortably fit in a traditional backpack like she had as Wispmon, a duffel bag was hardly any more conspicuous.

She had never been particularly sociable, either, so it's not like she really minded having that barrier between her and other people. Even Ian, who was perfectly well aware of his curious other roommate, only rarely saw her. She kept the last part of the zipper undone, though. She liked looking out and seeing what was around her while safely not having to deal with it or worry about being seen.

So anyway, Peter sat with his duffel bag across his knees on the back of a city bus headed for the downtown district.
(He had originally set the bag to the seat beside him, but a shrill 40-something woman had begun ranting about how young people these days were so disrespectful. Not wanting to cause a scene, he moved the bag onto his lap, not daring to ask why she couldn't just take the unoccupied seat another space away-- until she did, and then set down her own bulging handbag on the newly-freed seat.)

(Whatever. He had a car, yes, and probably could have driven, but his idea of fun was not trying to get where he was going and have to park and deal with all that shit, so he could live with the inconveniences.)

Ostensibly he was looking at his phone, but as he flicked through news articles and social media posts, his mind was entirely somewhere else.

Namely, it was in the duffel bag, on the little ghost tucked away in hiding. It was in the Lotus, where he had overheard that conversation. It was at the parking garage he was on his way to check out.
It was in the vast empty chasm of everything he didn't know.

He almost missed his stop for being so lost in thought, but Banmon shifting around in the bag to get his attention, indeed, got his attention.

Rubber soles touched down on the pavement of the sidewalk, and he looked around to take the surroundings in as he gently hefted the straps of his duffel bag up over his shoulder.
The grey skies had started to precipitate at last. Rain was pretty much an expected feature of the area, because that's what you got when you lived in the pacific northwest, so the people on the street were split fairly evenly between those who carried umbrellas at all times for just such an occasion, and those who were so used to the rain that they didn't mind getting wet.

Peter was among the latter group.

It also appeared that he wasn't the only person here to do a bit of rubbernecking. As he took off at a casual pace towards the parking garage, he overheard a couple conversations.

"Did you hear about what happened? Apparently some jokesters had some fun with some smoke and mirrors, got everyone all bothered..."

"... probably just a bunch of pranksters making some fake videos and trying to sell it to the news. I remember when those kids found bigfoot in the park last summer, I ain't buyin' it."

"Aliens."

Peter could practically hear Banmon sigh with resignation from her hiding place. "Do you see anything?" her voice was quiet such that he had to strain to hear her, but there was no chance of it being overheard.

"We're gonna be here a while," Peter replied in a mutter, deliberately sounding like he was talking to himself. Nonetheless, a passing man still shot him a strange, not-quite-trusting look.
Peter continued on, shuffling past groups of people on the street, both people who were here to nose into places they didn't belong and people just going about their Friday, being careful not to jostle Banmon too much. In light of events, he became acutely aware how odd it was for him to be carrying around his best friend in a duffel bag.

(Look-- spend fifteen years and you'll get used to anything, even a ghost being your best friend.)

He had known, or at least figured, that if there was one of Banmon, there had to be more. Maybe not other Banmons, per se -- she was unique, most definitely-- but other things. He had accepted that as inevitable a long time ago-- but the idea of actually coming face to face with it was a bit disquieting.

And why now?

Peter's wandering feet had led him right up to the parking garage, and he peered up at it over the top of his glasses. Then he looked at it through his glasses, not sure why he bothered looking over them, because his eyesight was absolutely awful.
"You feeling anything?"
It was his turn to ask Banmon.

"Go inside?" she said quietly, peering out of the bag to see what she could see. Inside the parking garage, it was darker, with plenty of places to hide-- she might be able to actually come out of the duffel bag to look around herself, if she was careful.
Luckily for her, Peter was already on the move to do just that.

He waved casually to the man running the booth and began walking up the gently-ramping path; once he was around the first bend, he looked around before sidestepping behind a car. There was nobody here, and nobody coming, so he set his bag down and unzipped it. Banmon peeked her head out and looked around cautiously before she floated up and out of the bag.

This wasn't the first time they had done something like this. If she needed to hide, Banmon... well. She couldn't turn invisible, but she could briefly make herself incorporeal, allowing her to slip, say, through a wall or a floor and out of sight. As they scaled the parking garage, she made sure to keep to the shadows, and ducked behind cars and pillars when she heard a car coming or going. That said, it was midday on a Friday, and many of the people parked here were at work.

"I feel something," Banmon said quietly as they rounded a corner. Though she didn't have a visible mouth, she seemed to be frowning when Peter looked over at her.

"The kind of something that we should avoid or not?"

"I don't know... I feel kind of weird."

"Hold on. Do you hear something?"

Banmon looked around frantically, then pricked up her ears. (Did she even have ears? Not the point.) It was the sound of someone talking-- a female voice, but the words were indistinct. Peter gestured at Banmon to stay hidden, not that she really needed to be told.

 

 

***

"I don't think so, either," Natalie was saying to Raumon, leaning against the passenger door of her car, parked just past the curve in the parking garage's last indoor floor. The window was open so she could talk to Raumon, who was standing on the seat with his arms folded on the door. "We can probably head up soon. Wait. Hold on. Someone's coming."
Raumon ducked down; Natalie looked down the way to where she had heard voices from, and saw a blonde young man in glasses just about to come around the bend. He looked kind of familiar, but she wouldn't have been able to pick him out of a crowd if you had asked her. How many hipster-y looking guys were there in a college town, after all?

She furrowed her brow in thought, but figured he was probably just someone coming to get his car, so she nodded politely as he passed. He was tight-lipped but nodded in return, hands stuffed in his pockets.
"Natalie," Raumon whispered frantically, but something else caught Natalie's eye as the boy drew closer.

Behind the young man as he came around the turn was... something, not quite all there. She squinted, and saw... what looked like a flickering white shape, almost like a child in a ghost costume for Halloween.
It is important to note that Banmon, who -- drifting behind the pillars, ducking in and out of the ceiling when she had to pass between gaps -- was still neatly out of sight. She was not what Natalie was seeing.
This was something else-- and this was what Raumon was trying to get Natalie's attention for, because her digivice, sitting on the center console of her car, had lit up. The white shape was growing ever closer to the stranger, and it reared back a hand like it was preparing to attack, and the lights began to flicker--

"Look out!" Natalie cried, but as soon as she spoke, Raumon had already decided that this risk was worth the taking. The little bird vaulted out of the open window and leapt forward, his claws beginning to glow purple.

"Symptom Claw!" Raumon yelled, slashing out at the ghostly white shape. In the space of a second, Natalie was immediately trying to come up with explanations she could offer this young man-- but Raumon wasn't the only one making a pre-emptive move.

"Breathtaker!" an unfamiliar female voice cried, and a pair of stretchy-looking, glowing-white hands emerged out of the shadows to strike at the phantom.

The young man whipped around in surprise, his scarf trailing as he turned.

As both Raumon and the glowing hands impacted the phantom, it became much more solid-- and was, indeed, a white sheet ghost, with tattered edges, black eyes, and a mouth full of far too many teeth; five to one it was a Digimon. Luckily, it seemed about as able to take a punch as its shroud would imply-- both sets of glowing hands sent it tumbling like a sheet in a stiff breeze, rolling backwards down the incline. Raumon had leapt back, intending to get out of sight as quickly as possible, but--

Natalie did a double take. The young man was remarkably cool-headed about all of this, as he looked from the crumpled white shroud to Raumon to-- he looked to the side, and Natalie followed his gaze. Out from behind a pillar and looking quite apologetic was a little bandage-wearing ghost.
(Little, like, the size of a small child. Shh.)

Raumon, however, was not so easily distracted. His eyes were fixed firmly on the little creature, who was rising back up to-- well. Not its feet.

It glared and gritted its many teeth, looking between Banmon and Raumon.

"This was going to be easy for me, you know," it said, sounding rather put out. "But no, you had to have backup. Hell's Hand!" it yelled, and from underneath its shroud, out shot a shadowy hand -- and was aimed straight for Banmon.

"Shadow Shot!" Banmon yelped, as a blob of black energy appeared in each of her hands. She lobbed both at the appendage flying towards her, and it seemed that she had the right idea-- when her attack hit the more hostile ghost's, they cancelled each other out, dissipating harmlessly. She, of course, had the advantage of having one left over-- and it flew on and knocked the strange digimon back again, right into Raumon.

"Dark Ring!" Raumon yelled, holding his hands out in front of him. Right under where the ghost was crumpled on the ground, a purple spell circle appeared, and it flickered with purple fire. It surged with energy and the strange ghost made a truly unpleasant kind of noise before--

It was gone.

It straight up vanished right into thin air, and everything went quiet for a few seconds.
The awkward silence between the two pairs was downright palpable.

"So," Natalie said -- ventured, really, after a few moments, "you too?" She was judging by how Banmon was ducking behind Peter for security to figure that maybe, just maybe, they knew each other. She was, of course, correct.

Peter looked from Banmon to Natalie. "Yep," he said with a nod, putting his hands in his pockets. He seemed to be just doing a casual stance, but one hand came back out, gripping the little black-and-white device.

"It's just a regular party, isn't it?" Raumon said, looking at it as he walked over to Natalie's side.

"I'm Peter. This is Banmon." He gestured at her; she half-ducked behind his back.

"Natalie, and Raumon," Natalie said, pointing to herself and the bird in turn.

There was a brief pause before Peter nodded. "I kind of knew that. At least the latter part, didn't really know your name." When Natalie looked understandably disquieted, he sighed and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He thought of how to phrase this, and then just said, in a very familiar, deeply bored tone of voice:
"Four on the floor, if you don't mind."

Natalie squinted at him like he had lobsters growing out of his ears, because, What? But she thought for a moment, and put two and two together, and then, bam, the proverbial lightbulb over her head. "You work at the Lotus!" Beat. "... you overheard us at the Lotus?" Another beat, wherein her expression grew disconcerted. "I'm kind of creeped out."

"You were talking about Digimon," Peter said, casting a glance at Raumon. "It's not the most common word. I didn't expect to find you here, if that helps."

Natalie shrugged one shoulder. It only kind of made things better. Still, kinda creepy, don't you think?

"We thought that maybe, after what he heard you talking about, and then we saw on the news..." Banmon said, and trailed off, looking to Peter to back her up.

"That there might be some kind of a lead, here. Which there was," Peter said, lifting a hand and pointing to indicate where Casper The Far Less Friendly Ghost had been. "Which I assume is why you're here?"

Natalie nodded slowly, putting her hands on her hips. "Yeah. I wanted to see if there was anything I could work together, like some kind of common element. It was kind of a pipe dream that, well..."

"That maybe another digimon would show up. We kind of got a two-for-one," Raumon said, pointing at Banmon, who again ducked behind Peter.

"Sorry about that," Peter said, shrugging his shoulders.

"They took care of it, though," Natalie said, looking between the bird and the ghost. She had never thought of Raumon as the type who'd be prepared to throw down in a fight, but he was full of surprises.
(Peter was even more surprised, as Banmon often flinched when the television was up too loud, let alone prepared to... well.)

"More or less," Raumon said with a shrug, nodding. He felt vaguely uneasy still, but he couldn't tell why. Maybe it was just the nerves from interacting with another digimon? After all, he had spent fifteen years without seeing one, and now, a week later...
(That feeling he got about Desmon, he felt again here with Banmon. Maybe familiarity was the wrong word, but maybe like... a powerful sense of deja vu? It wasn't a particularly comfortable feeling.)

(It's hard to say if it'd be a comfort if he knew that Banmon felt the same way-- without the having the same feeling about the bat digimon she had never met, of course.)

"Do you want to relocate?" Peter said, pushing his glasses up his nose. "I don't feel like this is the most conducive place to hold a conversa--"

As if on cue, the sound of a car approaching echoed throughout the structure. Raumon ducked back towards Natalie's car, while Banmon dove underneath it to hide there-- or rather, she dove through it, and re-solidified once she was hidden underneath it in the shadows.
A red mini-van stopped just shy of coming around the curve, just before the group; they waited for the middle-aged woman to get out of her car and go into the stairwell before they picked back up.

"...tion," Peter finished dryly.

"We could go up to the roof," Natalie suggested almost immediately, looking up to the ceiling and putting her hands on her hips. "People shouldn't be parking up there for a few hours so we shouldn't have to deal with too much." When Natalie looked back down, Peter was looking blankly at her. He didn't say anything or look terribly confused, but the how are you sure didn't need to be said aloud. "I read the sign on the way in. It doesn't open to the public until 5 pm." She and Raumon had been planning on going up themselves before they got a double helping of ghosts, hence her quick decision.

Peter looked to Banmon; she looked around nervously, from Peter to Raumon to Natalie and considering-- and realizing that her friend was going to make his decision based on hers.
"... alright," she said after a short pause, and Peter nodded, first at her, and then at Natalie.

Natalie picked Raumon up by looping her arms under his armpits. "Like we talked about: if anyone asks," she said, "you're a stuffed animal and I got you at the fair."

"How undignified," Raumon lamented, but maybe not-so-secretly, he wasn't too opposed to being carried.

By the time they finished this exchange, Peter was already beginning to walk; Banmon was close on his heels. In his head, a million synapses were firing and he was sorting out all of the minutae of what had just happened. He was quite actively formulating what questions to ask and what to look for.
What of this showed, though? Not a lot, aside from him shoving his hands in his pockets.

"You tell me, Raumon," Natalie said quietly to the bird she was holding, shaking her head. "Is the total lack of surprise at all of this a male thing?"

 

 

***

Up to the roof of the parking garage they went. The marks on the concrete were still there and didn't seem to be terribly willing to be cleaned up. They realized this not because they tried to clean it up, but because cleaning crew were on the scene when they got up to the top level.
Banmon hid in her duffel bag and Raumon went limp, but as they and the maintenence were the only people there and the latter seemed much more invested in their jobs, nobody really looked twice if they continued to talk to the digimon and each other.

Natalie took note that Peter was at least less abrasive than Xander was, but far less direct. They talked a bit, much the same questions that Natalie had answered for Xander in the Lotus, but restated so that Peter could hear without, you know, eavesdropping. Natalie asked if Peter had encountered anything on his own-- any digimon, if his little doohickey had activated, any information at all.
The biggest bit of new information that Natalie had to share was that, if Xander was to be trusted (and though Natalie found him deeply frustrating she didn't have reason to think he'd lie) Saberdramon had only paid attention to them when they went after it-- a distinct contrast from how Yasyamon had seemed to be actively seeking her and Raumon out.

Banmon stayed mostly quiet except to answer questions directed at her; Raumon similarly remained fairly quiet, preferring to take in as much of the conversation as he could. Natalie sent a few texts to Xander, but she got no reply; as he had said, he was Very Busy today, so she expected no less, or perhaps no more.
Before they could really dig into the nitty gritty, though, Raumon grew heavy and Banmon grew slightly antsy. Deciding that was as good a sign as any to part ways, they did what all civilized people do: exchanged messenger handles so they could communicate like real people instead of face to face.

They both tossed a final look at the frustrated maintenance workers as they made to go back down. If not for the black marks and the handful of people who caught it on camera, it was almost like it had never happened.

Of course, there's something missing from this.

It's important to note that no matter how much they discussed, all of them had missed a vital fact-- what Natalie and Raumon had failed to notice, as they had only fought one Digimon before, and what Peter and Banmon simply couldn't know:
That hostile ghost digimon hadn't exploded into light; it had vanished without a trace.

 

 

***

It was later in the day, around three-thirty, when Peter returned home. The moment they were in the door, Banmon phased and drifted out of her duffel bag without even waiting for it to be unzipped.

"Hey," Ian said with a half-wave as soon as the door was closed. He was seated on one end of the godawful-ugly couch, his laptop perched on the arm thereof. Banmon nodded her acknowledgemen, but was quick to return to the relative safety of the bedroom.

Peter grunted by way of greeting and took a seat on the other end of the couch, setting the now-empty duffel bag down next to it with one hand and getting his phone out with the other.
"Don't you have work today?" Peter asked; Ian looked at the clock on his computer. Ian's job occasionally landed him with weird shifts, so it was kind of a crapshoot what times he'd be working on any given day.

"Not until like, six."

"So you won't be back until, what?"

"Two? Ish. Clear out the dancing girls before I get back."

"Right," Peter said, rolling his eyes. On his phone, his messenger app pinged with a push notification--the reception in the parking garage had been garbage (pronounce 'garbage' to rhyme with 'garage' for best effect) and it seemed that her contact request had only now gone through. "I'll be sure to make it child-friendly again before you get back."

"Attaboy."

Peter shook his head and didn't say anything for a moment as he thumbed over the accept option. "You happen to notice anything weird going on lately?"

"I work front desk at a hotel. I'm pretty sure I checked in two eloping couples and a meth addict yesterday. Weird is probably literally part of my job description."

So that was a no, then. Fair enough. He hadn't actually expected that much, but it couldn't hurt to ask.

They spent the next couple hours in the relative silence on the couch. 'Relative silence' meaning Peter on his phone because he couldn't be bothered to go get his computer, Ian on his laptop on the other side of the couch, and a binge-stream of old sitcoms providing background noise on the TV. Banmon had retreated to Peter's room and was staying there, having been quite peopled out for the next millennium.

Five-forty-five came around. Ian threw deuces as he walked out the door, and Peter finally migrated back into his room, leaving the television on.

 

 

***

After a couple hours of spending his day off in as productive a way as possible (watching videos and browsing social media), Peter couldn't help but get poking his nose back into things, but he had a limited number of options.

This is how he ended up doing exactly what Banmon had advised him against doing-- reading the comments on the news article. Banmon, who often would drift nearby to read over his shoulder-- well.
"Oh, no," she had said, half distressed and half exasperated, covering her face with her hands and shaking her head as she drifted over to the bed instead, where she remained to the present, curled up almost like a sleeping cat.

Peter couldn't help himself from looking at every angle, though; he wanted as full a picture as he could, wanted to see if there was any information he could glean from mispelled comments and spam advertisements.

yeah, one comment went, and my dog can talk and shoot laser beams. where's the news van in my driveway? it's obviously just some cg student trying to make use of their degree lol try harder

aliens was the full text of another. Peter was noticing a theme.

dudes calm down its just a publicity stunt for that shitty new michael bay movie

It was getting on ten o' clock. Peter was right in the middle of reading an impressively long diatribe about its thanks to these no good lazy entitled millennials and their participation trophies that-- when his screen distorted like someone was holding a magnet to a CRT monitor-- the problem, of course, being that his laptop was not a CRT montior.
And then, as soon as it had happened, it returned to normal in the blink of an eye.

Peter raised an eyebrow in vague concern, and waggled his mouse.

"Peter?" Banmon said, a bit nervous. Which... honestly, was pretty normal for her, but still. Paired with the oddness--

"Mm?" he said, turning to look her, and immediately noticed that her eyes were aimed somewhere about a foot to his right. He followed, and.
Oh.
Hm.
That little device? That he had returned to its place on his desk? (That he really needed a catchier name for?)

It was totally lighting up.
And what's-her-name had said...
... hm. Concerning.

He picked the digivice up and stood up, looking down at it like it might actually have an answer or two this time. And you know what? It did. There was a menu option that hadn't been available to him before-- and when he pressed that button, the screen sprung to life with the radar.

And there was certainly a little dot on the radar, drawing closer.

"... well, shit," Peter said in a perfect deadpan. He sat still, like a total putz, for about a second before snapping into action-- that is to say, leapt to his feet and got his shoes on.

You never realize how weird your life actually is until you're running out the front door at ten PM because a magical device from the sky says that a monster is coming, and you and your little monster friend may be the only ones nearby qualified to determine if it's hostile or not.

You know, this was probably not the weirdest thing that had ever happened to him.
(It certainly wasn't the weirdest that was going to happen to him. This would soon seem downright quaint, but that's for another day.)

He also realized only as he was heading out the front door that he had no idea what he was doing, but screw it, he'd do it live.
Banmon, for her part, direly hoped that this wasn't his plan, but knew better than to expect that it wasn't.

Peter kept the digivice in his hand and referenced the radar as he moved; an inquisitive touch of the dot on the radar brought up a little window displaying Bakemon - Champion level. However, that wasn't a lot of help; when he and Banmon stepped into the empty lot, with its piles of sand and small tower of bricks and half-derelict concrete foundation overgrowing with grass, he couldn't see anything, even as the little blinking dot was presumably right on top of them.

This did not inspire a whole lot of confidence.

Peter frowned and looked around; Banmon was trying to make sure she could duck under some form of cover if she had to.

"What the hell," Peter said, squinting at the radar screen and at the empty lot around them. Unless dirt was really threatening, there was nothing here.
(Didn't that girl say that the other guy had said something about bringing up information...? Fucked if he could remember it right now.)

"Maybe it's broken...?" Banmon suggested quietly, looking around as well-- a bit more cautiously than Peter's vague annoyance.

And then, something happened that put both of them on their guard: the street lamps flickered.

"Ghost Chop!"
A white shape phased out of nowhere and struck Banmon, slashing diagonally with a shrouded hand and sending her flying forward-- she almost collided with a small pile of bricks, but she had the foresight (panic) to phase through them.

Peter was quick to turn around, and right there in front of them, it was exactly the type of ghost they had seen earlier in the parking garage-- a white shroud and a too-large mouth curled into a snarl, with empty black eyes.

"Another one?" he muttered, squinting, but as soon as he said it, he knew -- or at least, supposed -- that he was was wrong. He stood his ground as Banmon flew up beside him in record time.

"No," Banmon said, and if she had a brow, she'd have furrowed it. "It's-- it's the same one, I think. Maybe we didn't--?"
Defeat it properly?
Regardless-- their hunch was right. This Bakemon and the ghost they had fought earlier? One and the same.

"You've been making my life real difficult, you know," Bakemon said, distain in its voice. "First I try to get you alone, then you have backup, and then you go running off to who knows where and make me look all over--"

Yep. This was definitely the same Bakemon.
Banmon gathered up her courage to interrupt.
"Shadow Shot!" she cried, throwing one shadowy orb and then the other at Bakemon.

Bakemon was prepared for it this time, and flickered out of sight just long enough to avoid the attack, then phased right back in.
"Shadow Shot!" Banmon said again, but to the same effect as before. Without the element of surprise and backup from Raumon, she was a bit more outmatched by the other ghost.
"But fine! I could wait! I'd waited long enough, what was a few hours more," Bakemon said as it flickered back to full corporeal-ness (totally a word).
Peter frowned and furrowed his brow, looking between the two ghosts. His words were... there was something there, he was sure of it, and he wasn't entirely paying attention as he began to puzzle over the hostile ghost's words.

"What are you talking about?" Banmon said, not taking her eyes off of Bakemon. "If you wanted something, you could just ask--"

"Hell's Hand!" Bakemon yelled instead of explaining, throwing out a hand and, just as it had done in the parking garage, a clammy hand emerged from under its shroud and stretched out-- but this time, it was aiming its attack towards Peter instead of Banmon.

That certainly got Peter out of his own head-- as did what happened next.

"Breathtaker!" Banmon yelled almost as soon as Bakemon finished calling its own attack. Her hands, glowing white, intercepted Bakemon's-- but even with her using two limbs against Bakemon's one, and making the mistake of using her limbs instead of a projectile, she had put herself at a disadvantage. Bakemon grabbed her around what may as well have been her wrists (fabric, remember) and dragged her back towards itself.

"Banmon!" Peter yelled, emoting as much as he ever did. Before he knew what he was doing, he threw out his hand. Banmon reached out and grabbed a hold of the outstretched hand, but so did Bakemon, reaching out its other shadowy hand to intercept--

And in that moment, the empty lot was filled with the most unholy screeching as Peter's digivice began to swirl with pure white light. Peter internally apologized to the people who actually lived in the house next to this lot, while also thanking them for apparently not looking outside.

The noise died mercifully quickly as that same light surrounded Banmon, and Bakemon let go of her like she was a hot potato.

 

 

"Banmon, drive evolve to..."

Banmon grew in size until her smoky, snakelike body was well over fifteen feet long from the top of her head to the tip of her tail. The trailing ends of her scarf that made up her hands began to grow rapidly into large, club-like arms, black from the elbow down, and decorated with metallic golden accents. From the ends of these new paw-like limbs, three sharp white claws grew and glistened in the moonlight.

The buttons on her hood vanished, leaving holes in their wake; as small fabric wings sprouted from the back of the base of her hood, the bandages around her torso morphed into a white robe-like garment with golden accents. Her eyes, still pinpricks of white in her shadowed, smoky face, shone even brighter from within the dark as a skull-like mask covered her face. She slashed her arms through the air and let loose a cry that sounded melodic and sad.

"Banshemon!"

 

 

The newly-christened Banshemon looked as surprised as Bakemon did for a split second, before she realized she had no time to waste. Not only were they making a lot of noise, it would be harder to hide and deny it if anyone spotted them-- and far, far more importantly?
Bakemon had tried to attack Peter.

"Banshee's Call!" she cried, and all around her, little white spirits began to drift out of the ground. They had vaguely humanoid shapes, with what might have been faces and long, gaunt arms, with their bodies trailing off into ghost tails much like Banshemon herself.
It was hard to get a good look at them, though, because they began to fly at Bakemon.

Bakemon itself was frozen to the spot with something between fear and confusion-- and so didn't get out of the way when the little white spirits rushed him, making a quiet wailing noise as they shot through the air, and they exploded on impact with Bakemon, each one nudging it backwards and clearly causing it pain.

Peter didn't gape but he could feel the surprise showing on his face. Not just at the attack itself, which was almost mesmerizing to watch-- but at the fact that Banmon (Banshemon?) had acted so swiftly, decisively.

"No fair!" Bakemon said indignantly, raising its arms up. "Hell's Hand!"

Once more, the shadowy hands extended out to grab a hold of Banshemon; they grabbed her, as she couldn't phase out in time, but instead of rendering her helpless, she lifted her own arms to grapple with them. Bakemon snarled and bared its teeth, clearly straining to keep its shadowy hands manifested as Banshemon held her own and held her ground.

"It can't take a hit!" Peter said, thinking back to the parking garage. Raumon and Banmon had been able to scare it off-- its attack was far better than its own constitution.

"No comments from the peanut gallery!" Bakemon snapped, but in that moment, Bakemon was distracted, and that was all she needed. With a surge of effort, she wrestled the shadowy hands off of herself. They dissipated harmlessly, and now that her hands were free, she had other plans.

"Spirit Ripper!" she cried, and her claws began to glow-- and grow. Encased in white light, they grew as long as sabers and she slashed out with one hand at Bakemon, with no backup from a little black bird or her own little white spirits backing her up this time.
Bakemon abandoned its attack, and instead elected to try to phase out just as it had done for her Shadow Shot-- but this time, it wasn't successful. Banshemon's claws passed right through the space where Bakemon was, yes, but when they did--

Bakemon returned to full visibility the moment the claws passed through its space, and it snarled, opening its mouth wide.

"No-- fair! No fair! I was going to be the one to--"

And just like that, Bakemon began to glow white. It began to distort, and pixellate, and in a flash of white light, pixellated-looking motes of light scattered, and the lot was empty except for a young man and his much, much friendlier ghost.

Banshemon's claws returned to their normal size and luminosity, and her arms hung limp at her sides like they were simple fabric yet again. She slumped down like she was sighing, and she hung in the air where she 'stood', her long tail swirling like smoke.

"... well," Peter said, after a few moments, which immediately made Banshemon lift her head and turn around.

"Sorry!" Banshemon said immediately, growing suddenly self-conscious. Peter raised an eyebrow at her; though she had been uncharacteristically assertive mere moments before, it was clear that she was still... well. Banmon, even by a different name. His expression softened and he gave her a look that communicated the it's fine without saying it.
"I don't know what--" she said, looking down at herself. "Happened?" Her voice turned up at the end, in vague confusion hence the question mark.

"It's fine," Peter said, ending up saying it out loud anyway. He looked at where Bakemon had floated, frowning. "Do you have any idea what it was talking about?"

Banshemon shook her head with a shrug of what was going to pass for her shoulders. "No, I--"
Coming around the turn, the headlights of a car shone bright; Banshemon squeaked and looked around for cover. There was nothing that could cover her in her new size, and like a child who thinks if she couldn't see you you couldn't see her, she lifted her hands to cover her face.

The weird thing was? In that moment, Banshemon flickered almost entirely out of sight. The car passed; at best, they were giving Peter a weird look for standing out here at night, but they saw no giant ghost floating mere feet away from him.
Banshemon spread her claws out to peek through them, but she realized that she didn't need to, as she could see through them just fine. Seeing the car retreating away, she looked around, and she returned to her full visibility.

"You okay?" Peter asked.

"... yeah, I think," Banshemon said after a moment, nodding her head.
It was in that moment that she was consumed by white light for the second time, and just like that, she had returned to the much smaller, travel-sized Banmon.

"Why is it always ghosts with me?" Peter sighed, massaging his temples even as he was grateful to see his friend back to normal. He pocketed the digivice, and signalled for Banmon to follow him home.

He'd explain this to Natalie in the morning. Now, though? He was a little bit sick of ghosts. You know. Other than the one he lived with.

Chapter Text

It had been a few days since the Bakemon incident; since then, as far as any of them could tell, no digimon had shown up. That is, none of their digivices had lit up, no weird power surges had happened. None of the small subsect of Atlas Park citizens who were now obsessed with the idea of catching something on video had anything, and no news stories happened.

It was a bit past one PM the following Tuesday. It was only now that all three of them -- Natalie, Xander, and Peter -- were free to meet up in the first meeting of the Digimon Response Squad Task Force Go.
Name pending.

They were seated on the grass in the Atlas Park City Park, near the stream; the digimon, wanting to stay nearby and out of sight, had their methods. 'Their methods' meant 'hiding in the boughs of a tree about ten feet away'. Admittedly, it was a bit of a cloudy, grey day -- as was pretty common -- so there weren't too many people out and about, which was a boon.

It was good to have little conveniences, because trying to coordinate the three of them had been an adventure in and of itself. Natalie had texted Xander about what had happened only to get messages from Peter about the Bakemon; Natalie had to ask for Peter's number and brought him into the text conversation, but keeping up with things on their phones grew troublesome, and Xander had to give out his messenger handle and--
Well.
Natalie was swiftly coming to the conclusion that putting Xander and Peter in the same vicinity as each other was a captial-M Mistake.

"Just curious: do you have anything useful to say, or do you just like the sound of your own voice?" Peter said flatly; Xander's lip curled into a derisive, but subtle, sneer.

"Hey, I dunno, man. Don't you have a vinyl collection to wank over? Maybe a few more scarves to flip pretentiously over a latte?"

"Oh my god," Natalie said, burying her face in her hands.

Over in the tree, the digimon were watching their friends and getting along substantially better.
"Oh no," Banmon was saying on repeat like a broken record, covering her head with her hands. "Oh no, ohhh no."

"I think it's going well!" Desmon chirped at the exact moment that Xander gestured at his crotch with both hands in a 'suck it' motion.

"... it's certainly going," Raumon said, scratching nervously at his beak. He paused, watching as Natalie commandeered the conversation over top of the bickering, but he could make out the words.

"She's doing god's work tryin' to rein them in like that," Desmon said, obviously able to hear much better than either of her compatriots.

"They're certainly... clashing," Banmon said, curling her smoky tail around the branch she was laying on. "Maybe this wasn't a great idea?"

"Naw," Desmon reassured the little ghost. "Xander's not that bad. He's just starting an argument for the sake of an argument. He does that. Clearly it's 'cos I'm not there to tell him to lighten up."

"It worries me," Banmon said with a sigh.

"It'll be fine," Raumon said, and his voice was a bit more comforting than Desmon's. "They're just going to butt heads for a little bit, probably." Banmon didn't seem entirely convinced, though, so next option:
Distraction.
"This is pretty close to where I met Natalie, I think," he said, looking around; they were fairly close to the bridge. The reason they had come there so frequently wasn't just its tranquility; it had a special significance.

This picqued both of the other digimons' interest. "Do you remember anything before that?" Banmon ventured; when Raumon shook his head after a moment of thought, she nodded. "... me, neither."

"Same here," Desmon said with a nod, stretching her arms out; Xander had given her the rundown on his own conversation with Natalie from the Lotus. "That's a pretty big co-inky-dink, don't you think?"

"Not the phrase I'd use, maybe," Raumon said, but he nodded. "Though I certainly feel like. Hm." He paused to think. "Not like I know you? But I've seen you before, I think."

Desmon's ears twitched. "Ooh. Cryptic."

"I think I follow," Banmon said.

Back at the circle, with Natalie actually taking control, Xander and Peter were snipping at each other a little less-- admittedly, mostly by using Natalie as an intermediate instead of actually talking to each other, but you know, it was progress of a sort.
"... yours seemed to be more feral, then?" Natalie prompted Xander.

"If it had anything to say, it didn't speak up fast enough," he said, nodding and shrugging one shoulder.

"From the sounds of it, the ones we dealt with," Peter said, speaking to Natalie, "seemed to be a bit more directed. The Bakemon talked about following us."

Natalie frowned and nodded, folding her arms. "And I don't think it was a coincidence that Yasyamon decided to stop on my roof, but the-- what was it?"

"Saberdramon, but yeh," Xander cut in. "Unless there's someone secretly living in the parking garage, I don't think the chicken was looking for much. Wrong place at the wrong time or something like that. Might not've noticed it was there until the what's-it-called went off, or until it busted something."

Natalie nodded, thinking for a moment. "Where do you guys live?" Beat. "Like. Roughly. I don't need your addresses, that'd be creepy."

"Uni district," Peter answered first.

"Northside," Xander said; he meant that he lived on the north side of the Harper River.

"And I live over more this way," Natalie said, pointing in the direction that her apartment building lay. "That's... not a bad spread, if something happens," she said, rubbing her chin in thought. The only problem was that there was her and Peter on the south side, and only Xander to the north.

"Hey," Desmon said to the other two digimon, her ears perking up. "Do you guys hear something?"

It was a stupid question, but still, they were on high alert quite all of a sudden.

 

***

At this point, we need to backtrack a little bit-- not far, just about a half hour, to half-past noon.

On the north side of the river, a girl was walking up her family's home's front drive with a small backpack slung over her shoulder.
The house had gotten a bit crowded ever since the end of the school year, as her older brother was back in town for the summer, and she had gotten kind of used to the extra space over the past nine months. It would only get worse once her younger brother, still in his last year of middle school, let out for the summer next week.

On the other hand: she was coming back from a morning half-shift cashiering, so she'd take a bit of a cramped house over going back to dealing with customers, any day of the week.

She unlocked the door and poked her head inside, calling:
"Hey, I'm home! Anyone alive in here?"

"Hey Meg," a male voice said from over on the couch; her older brother, Brendan, was lounging there, with the TV going, but he muted it as he craned his neck to look at her over the back of said couch. "Mom's out. Store or something, I wasn't really paying attention."

"Figures," Meg said with a one-armed shrug, walking inside and taking off her shoes. So their mom was out, James was still in school--
(What a beautiful day not to be in K-12 anymore. Every day was a beautiful day not to be in K-12 anymore.)
"You seen Oremon around?" she asked, looking over at her brother even as she made for the stairway.

"He's been acting weird," Brendan said, propping up his head on his knuckles. "He's been even less talkative than he usually is."

Meghan blinked, stopping mid-step. "So... what, has he imploded? Seeing as that's literally the only way that's possible?"

Brendan made the universal inarticulate iunno noise, and Meghan sighed, continuing her trek up the stairs. The television began to chatter again, but by the time she was at the top of the stairs and gone down the hall to her room, it was barely a distant mumble. She shouldered open the door, and was met with--

You know, most people would consider the sight of a four-foot-tall upright goat a bit distressing to find in one's bedroom. This didn't seem to register at all to Meghan as she crossed into her bedroom.

Oremon was like nothing Meg had ever seen; he was black with a cream muzzle and underbelly, and with angular red markings on his hips, forearms, and forehead. His forearms were club-like and pale gold; his legs below the shin were fluffy and the same creamy colour as his belly. His hooves were big but the ones on his hands didn't seem to inhibit his dexterity; the ones on his feet made a clip-clop sound on the hardwood floors. His horns, which he had two pairs of (one pair was longer and higher on his head, and a smaller pair down low) had destroyed more pillows than he'd have ever admitted.
Oh, and he was a four-foot tall upright goat that talked. You know. Minor details.

"Hi. We need to go out," he said in short order, his voice gruff and clipped.

Meghan blinked for the billionth time.
"Can it wait for me to change out of my work pants?"

Oremon didn't respond for a moment, before:
"... yes."

Oremon excused himself so Meg could change. She watched him as he strode out of the bedroom, arms akimbo. See, while clipped and gruff was basically his M.O., he usually at least paced himself a little bit, so this was kind of weird.
"'Go out'," Meghan repeated, speaking loudly enough that Oremon could hear her through the door as she changed out of her work clothes. "You do realize that's a total pain, right? I don't think I can pass you off as James in a fursuit again."
Look. Desperate times, desperate measures.

"It's important," Oremon said, leaning against the door, folding his arms.

"Dare I ask what it is?" Meg said as she straightened her shirts. She opened up the window to let some of the late-spring air in before she crossed back over to open the door. Oremon stumbled noticably as his balance was thrown off by the door opening behind him. She stifled a laugh; he righted himself quickly. He turned to face her and acted as though nothing had happened.

"There's a digimon nearby."

Oremon held out one hand with his palm upturned. He was holding the little plastic-like device; the faceplate of hers was orange, and the little silver charm dangling off the end looked kind of like an anvil or a hammer of some sort. Oremon had been fascinated with it and had spent more time poking at it than she had, but his hooves were not particularly conducive to operating the small buttons, so he hadn't been able to really futz with it too much.
Meghan's eyebrows shot up so high they practically vanished under her bangs. Oremon had been on high alert recently-- ever since that news report on Thursday he had been obstinantly sure that there something was happening, but he had yet to actually make such a clear declaration.

And, indeed, the screen was lit up of its own accord, and it was open to the radar screen; Meghan took it in hand and looked at the screen, and if it were possible for her eyesbrows to go further up, they would have.
At the center, there was a faintly orange shape that looked like the silhouette of Oremon's head, but that wasn't what was important. What was important was that there was a little white dot on the screen -- and it was moving in a way that could only be described as erratic if it slowed down significantly. It was zigging and zagging, but it was staying within range of the radar-- mostly. It dipped out here and there, then zipped right back in.

She furrowed her brow, though, as a thought hit her, and she looked up from the digivice.

"Brendan said you'd been acting weird all morning, though?"

"I don't see how it's any of his business," Oremon said bluntly, folding his arms yet again. Meghan responded to this by bumping him gently on the forehead with her knuckles.

"Can't you cut the tough guy act for two minutes?"

Oremon snorted and shook his head to shake Meghan's hand away. The tough guy act was practically integral to his personality, but that didn't meant Meghan didn't give him gentle hell about it on the regular.
Needless to say, he did not cut it.

"I've had a feeling all day. This is probably why," he said after a moment, his ears flicking. He frowned, and looked towards the window. "We're going," he said; it wasn't a question, but he still looked to her for confirmation.

She sighed through her nose and looked at the digivice. The radar dot was still going this way and that, and it was at least concerning if not worrying. Sure, it didn't say it was a digimon, but Oremon usually didn't make declarations unless he was willing to stand by them.
"Alright."
This would have been so much easier if he had just stayed Billymon, but they'd have to make do. She cast another look down at the radar on the digivice and was shocked to see the dot approaching their location.

Oremon's eyes had also fallen to the digivice, apparently, because the next thing Meghan saw was Oremon practically leaping towards the window.
"Wait--!" she yelped as Oremon grounded his hands on the sill. She half expected him to start trying to get the screen off, or worse, just straight up go through it, but he managed to control himself. Meg, of course, followed him to the window.

Meg looked at Oremon; his brow was furrowed, and his eyes narrowed. She followed the line of his gaze to the top of a power line past their neighbor's back yard.

Sitting there was a white... thing. It had a tail nearly as big as its body, and ears almost as big as its head. It had eyes as big as tea saucers -- big enough to see from this distance -- and she could swear that it made eye contact with her.

It tilted its head and flicked its tail, perked up its ears, then crouched down and took off running down a power line--
Right towards their backyard.

Oremon took off right on out the bedroom door, and Meghan had a feeling that if she didn't follow, she would see him emerge into the yard mere moments later anyway.
She was hot on his heels; Oremon was, indeed, heading down the hall, not running but doing a focused fast-walk, and Meghan was able to catch up by the time he got to the top of the stairs.

"What's with the walking-with-purpose?" Brendan asked over his shoulder, having heard both Meghan's footsteps and Oremon's hooves on the hardwood.

"Long story?" Meghan tried, grabbing her sneakers as she turned the corner near the front door. (Tellingly, Oremon paused a half a moment so she could slip them on, which she did clumsily and hopping on one foot so as to not have to stop.)

Slight detour aside, they crossed through the living room, through the kitchen, and out the kitchen door into the back yard.

The little white thing was perched comfortably, if precariously, on a power line. Up close, the details were much easier to make out.

It was relatively small, only a little bit bigger than a particularly tubby cat. It was almost entirely white, with a black patch on its tummy and three acid-green triangles -- one on each shoulder, and one in the middle of that black patch. It had tiny, useless-looking wings; it had big blunt claws on its hands and feet, and short little horns on its forehead. What looked like a black collar sat around its neck, and on the front, a featureless-but-shiny hot-pink orb hung from a D-ring.
Its eyes were vividly bright, acid-green and hot pink, and shone brightly as it stared intently down at Oremon and Meghan.

Oremon, for his part, duh his hooves into the grass and took a defensive stance. Meghan hung back a few feet, clutching the digivice in her hand.

"Hi!" the thing said in a high-pitched, but at least vaguely masculine, voice.

Blink.

"Uh... hi?" Meghan ventured, not quite sure what the proper protocol was in these situations.

Oremon had no such problems-- or at least, he had a much more decisive plan of action. "Who and what are you?" he said, digging his feet into the grass more and making Meghan vaguely wonder if her mother would complain about him messing up the lawn. Again.

The little white beastie seemed to either not notice or not care that Oremon snorted and glared. "I'm Ratamon!" he said as though that explained everything. "And you are?"

Oremon and Meghan exchanged sidelong glances, and by the time they looked back up, Ratamon had moved.
Not far, mind, he had just skittered along the power line to be a bit closer to the pair, and they had to crane their necks to look up at him.

"Well, alright, I was just asking a question, but I guess you don't gotta answer right now," he said, nonchalant as anything, and perfectly conversational, as though Oremon wasn't wondering if he could jump high enough to dislodge him without tearing down the power lines.

"I'm-- Meg," Meghan said after a brief, slightly confused silence; she wasn't sure what to make of this thing, and it seemed Oremon wasn't either. "This is--"

"Oremon," the goat said, relaxing only slightly; he didn't want to let his guard down, but there wasn't much good to be done by preparing to throw down too pre-emptively. "You're a digimon."

"Sure am," Ratamon said, fixing his big glossy eyes on Oremon. "Why? Are you looking for other digimon, too?"

"Too?" Meghan said; Oremon's ears perked up in a way more reminiscent of a cat than a goat, kind of an involuntary expresson of interest. "Well-- not really? I don't think?"
See, the news story from last Friday? Hadn't really come into her bubble, or Oremon's by extension. Without it, the inexplicable little device and now this weird little creature were the only leads either of them had.

"Other digimon?" Oremon cut in, only once Meghan was done talking.

"Oh, yeah!" Ratamon said, pointing in a vaguely south direction with one blunt claw. "There are a bunch of digimon out in the big park on the other side of the water." Beat. "At least, there were a little while ago? I could lead you there, if you wanted!"

Meghan was about to ask how 'little' that while could possibly have been, right until she remembered Ratamon's little dot zipping around the radar's range; the little thing could book it.
She didn't immediately distrust Ratamon; Oremon, though, needed a few more moments to determine.

"It's just the park, it sounds like?" Meghan reasoned, in a hushed tone of voice. She figured that Ratamon, with those big feathery ears, could probably still hear her anyway, but habit was habit. "It's not like we're being asked to go down a dark alley or anything, and-- you've been feeling weird, right? So I mean..."

"Hmph." Oremon frowned but thought hard, and slowly nodded. "Fine."

Ratamon beamed and almost took off running right then and there.
"Wait!" Meghan called, not quite in a panic but definitely concerned. "We, uh-- it might be a bit hard for us to follow on foot?"

Ratamon tilted his head.

 

***

A few minutes later, and the pair were following Ratamon by car instead of trying to keep up with the hyperactive little thing on foot.

Oremon kept the radar up on the digivice to make sure they didn't lose Ratamon. The little dot was moving fairly straightforwardly; occasionally they saw him, jittering along power lines and railings, ducking out of sight before anyone could get a good look at him. Thankfully, he did a pretty good job of staying within range.
Just like he had said -- or at least, what Meghan had assumed he had been referring to -- he was leading them en route to the Atlas Park City Park.

"What do you think about this?" Meghan asked Oremon over her shoulder, looking at the goat sprawled in her back seat in the rear view mirror; the goat grunted before responding.

"He's annoying. But if there are digimon, I want to be the first to know." Too late. "And if he's lying, well, we can't just let him run off on his own. We have to follow him."

Meghan raised an eyebrow that Oremon could see in the mirror. She smiled. "You're as curious as I am."

Oremon grunted and folded his arms. That was a yes.

As they pulled into the park's parking lot, Meg was halfway between excitement and nervousness. Oremon nodded at her, holding up the digivice so she could see its screen; in addition to the little silhouette of his own head in the center and the dot of Ratamon in a tree nearby (waiting patiently -- but not too patiently), there was a small cluster of two or three little dots bunched up a little ways down from the bridge, and both that excitement and that nervousness doubled in an instant.

"You take the path. I'll be nearby."

See, here's the thing. Oremon, for his size, was surprisingly light-footed. If he had strong enough branches to land on, he could make his way pretty easily through trees, so Meghan wasn't too concerned when Oremon, climbing out of the car, made for a tree near the one that Ratamon was currently sitting in, and just like that, if you weren't looking closely enough, you might not even notice him.

Ratamon watched the goat and flicked his tail. "This way!" he said, looking back to Meg--
But by the time he looked, she was already taking off down the path.

 

***

Raumon and Banmon obviously did not have as good of hearing as Desmon did, but they regardless perked up their ears and listened hard for anything that might have caught Desmon's attention. Aside from the rustling of the branches in the other trees and the discussion happening between their human partners, it was hard to make out anything in particular.

Desmon had been the first to hear, but Banmon was the first to see anything-- it was just a young woman, with red-violet hair and a white v-neck layered over a dark red long-sleeved 3/4ths sleeve shirt. She was moving briskly, but it wasn't that weird to see someone running through the park. After all, that was why they were tucked up here in tree, safe from prying eyes.

"Do you think it's--?" Banmon said. She was watching the girl carefully, and the little ghost's eyes went wide when -- as the girl was drawing closer-- she pulled out and looked down at a little orange device that looked very familiar. Maybe if they were anyone else, they would be forgiven for mistaking it for a cell phone, but... She looked from it, and then right at the tree that the digimon were hiding in.

It was at that moment that Oremon landed in the tree, mere feet away from the branch that the three other digimon were perched on.
It was at the very next moment that, not expecting to see three digimon in the tree he was jumping into, Oremon lost his footing and fell out of the tree, landing squarely on his ass.

It's raining goats, hallelujah.

Banmon, Raumon, and Desmon stared down at the ground; Xander, Peter, and Natalie were practically shocked into standing up with a start as a large, strange black shape suddenly dropped out of the tree their friends were hiding in. Ratamon, much more stealthily concealed in a different tree, was watching intently.

"The fuck?" Xander said, digging into his pocket. He wasn't the only one -- both Natalie and Peter were also reaching for their digivices, just in case. You only need to fight one giant monster before you're like, oh, hm, maybe I should be prepared.
Natalie cast a look over at the girl who was walking by, not sure what to expect--

"Oremon!" Meghan practically yelped, running over to him. Note that at this point, she hadn't noticed the digimon in the tree, and in fact, had hardly even noticed the three other people staring; her focus was solely on Oremon.
Xander furrowed his brow; Peter squinted; Natalie watched carefully.

"Hey, Raumon, come here," she said, erring on the side of caution.

"Looks like it's a regular party," Desmon remarked from her position up in the tree, causing Meg to snap her attention up. Oremon, a bit dazed and in not the most dignified position, also looked up, and his pupils constricted.

"There goes the cover," Raumon said, looking around to make sure no other people were around before jumping out of the tree. He landed much more far more gracefully than Oremon had. He didn't quite run, but he did make haste to get over to Natalie's side; behind him, Desmon and Banmon, both able to fly (or at least float), drifted more directly over to their humans. Just in case, you know?

Oremon scrambled to his feet and put himself between the group and Meghan, glaring.

"Who are you?" Peter asked, looking between the girl and the goat. Meghan, for her part, was a bit flabberghasted.

"Um... what?" she sputtered, looking between the now-six individuals all staring at her and Oremon. Ratamon had said there were other digimon -- he had said nothing about people. Aside from, you know, the people you usually expect to see in public places. "My name's Meghan?" she ventured after a moment.

"She has one of the... things," Banmon said, speaking primarily to Peter. "The devices. I saw it."

"Still doesn't help much, seeing as we barely know what they are," Xander cut in; Peter shot him a sidelong glance but ignored him.

"Is the goat with you?" Natalie said, gesturing at Oremon.

"Oremon," Oremon said crossly, still standing between Meghan and the others.

"He's definitely a digimon," Raumon said decisively, looking up at Natalie. "I mean, the name just solidifies it."

"We're not looking for trouble--!" Meghan said, holding her hands up, palms out in a kind of whoa there gesture.

"We might be looking for trouble," Oremon said, though luckily not loudly enough to be heard by anyone other than himself and Meghan, who shot him a dirty look, a nonverbal you're not helping.
Unnoticed in all the hubbub, Ratamon had migrated over to the tree that was the cause of all the trouble.

A short round of introductions went around as tensions began to ease. Why, Oremon even relaxed a little bit! They stayed on the lookout for any people coming around, but luckily enough, nobody seemed particularly interested in coming out to the park on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon. The digimon had settled on the grass nearby, on the far side of the humans from the path.

"Why are you here?" Xander asked as he looked at Meghan, about as polite as usual.

"You could try being a little less hostile," Peter muttered.

Xander completely ignored Peter's comment. "I mean, it's not just me who thinks it's weird, though, right?" he said, shrugging. "The first time the three of us meet up, and here comes goat girl out of the blue."

"It is kind of odd," Natalie said, frowning slightly and stroking her chin.

"Oh!" Meghan said, looking around. "Um, there was--"

"Hi!" the voice of Ratamon, familiar only to Meg, said from his position, unseen, in the tree, giving everyone present a start. He popped his head out of the leaves and jumped down, his wings flapping enough to slow his descent a little bit, not that a fall from that small a height would have done much to him.

"This guy," Meghan said after a second, gesturing as Ratamon skittered over to the other digimon. He kept a little bit of distance, but nothing too major.

"Is he with you, too?" Raumon asked, looking between Ratamon and Meghan, the latter of whom frowned and scratched at her face.

"Not... really?"
This, of course, raised a great many questions. The pressure was on Meghan (and a little bit of Oremon, but he wasn't particularly talkative) to explain herself. She did-- admittedly, it wasn't much, but still, 'a little white monster told me' was at least an explanation for why she and Oremon were here.

"If it knew we were here," Natalie said, looking over at Ratamon, "it must have been here before... did we just not notice it or something?"

"It certainly moves fast enough that I'd call that rational," Peter reasoned, watching how Ratamon was zipping around-- up trees, across the grass, down to the stream, up a street lamp, and back again.

"It needs to calm the fuck down," Xander said. That was as much an agreement as anything.

Meghan had as many questions for them as they did for her, if not more. She hadn't seen any other digimon, and was totally engrossed in hearing about the ones these strangers had encountered, so they gave a quick recap of what they had dealt with so far.

"I didn't know there were other people with digimon," Meghan said, beaming.

"I just wonder how many others we're going to have to party up with," Xander said, leaning back on both his hands.

"It can't be that many, or this wouldn't be the first we'd heard of it." That was courtesy of Peter.

 

***

They parted ways not long after; Natalie, being Natalie, had been first to request contact infromation from Meghan, which she gladly gave. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology (read: cell phones), she was added in to the group messenger chat before leaving the circle. Seeing as they were all headed towards the same parking lot, they didn't give their goodbyes prematurely, instead waiting until they were actually parting ways.

"Did any of you see where Ratamon went?" Meghan asked, looking around. As soon as she asked that, though, a little white shape poked out of a tree-- upside-down. Ratamon had the tip of his huge tail curled around a bough, and he looked at the digimon and humans assembled, waved one hand, and vanished back into the leaves. He hurtled himself upright and took off like a shot.
Darn; she had wanted to thank him for the tipoff to come here.

"I guess if he's not hurting anyone," Natalie said, arms akimbo, "then we don't have to worry about him."

"I'm sure we'd find out if he was," Desmon said, entirely too cheerfully; Xander rolled his eyes and held out his arm as a signal for her to come perch on his shoulder, which she did.

"Later," Xander said, throwing deuces over his other shoulder as he made to walk towards his car.

"I'll talk to one or the other of you later as well, I'm sure," Peter said, nodding his regards as he knelt on the ground to unzip Banmon's duffel bag. She had had quite enough of people for now, and was quick to retreat into it. Peter hefted the bag up onto his back, but left it half-unzipped; Banmon waved shyly as they crossed the parking lot over to the old junker that Peter drove here in.

"And then there were two," Natalie said, looking over at Meg. Raumon coughed conspicuously. "Four," she corrected herself.

"It was nice meeting you," Meghan said with a little wave of her hand, "and Raumon, too."

Raumon held out a claw to Oremon to shake. He wasn't expecting much; Oremon had been quite tight-lipped for much of the short time they had spent in each other's company.
Oremon looked down at Raumon, who was maybe half his height. To both Raumon and Meghan's surprise, Oremon reached down with one hoof and shook the bird's hand.

As Natalie and Raumon departed, Meghan put her hands on her hips and looked at Oremon.

"Look at you, being all sociable," she teased.

Oremon snorted, totally not slightly embarrassed, folding his arms.

 

***

By the time they had returned home, Meghan's mother had gotten back from the store, asking in her typical way where she had been. See, it wasn't like her mother was radically overbearing or anything, but she went low key nuts whenever she didn't know where any of her kids were, despite the fact that now two out of three were adults, legally if nothing else.

Meghan had elected, perhaps understandably, to leave out the part about the digimon, and had just said that she and Oremon had taken a quick trip to the park to get some fresh air.

So it was around eight o clock that evening. James was excitedly explaining some video game to Brendan that Brendan could hardly care less about, and their mother was tending to other business in the kitchen. Meghan was seated downstairs on the couch, laptop on her knees and feet propped up on the coffee table. For her part, she was only barely paying attention to anything, instead idly scrolling through and tabbing between her social media without absorbing much of any of it.

For all Oremon could move relatively stealthy when he wanted to, it was still about as stealthy as a foghorn when he came down the stairs in a hurry, and got all of their attention.

"Something up?" Meg asked, but she looked at him, and could see he was holding the digivice in his hand. More importantly, it was very much lighting up, so she didn't wait for a response before continuting with an, "oh, crap."
Conveniently, it was at that moment that the lights browned out, and the television and her computer both staticked out for a half a second.

Oh crap, indeed. Meghan set her laptop aside and jumped to her feet; her brothers looked between the television, her, and Oremon with bewildered expressions.
"What's up?" James asked, peering over at her as she bolted over near the door to put her shoes on again.

"I'll explain later." That was actually courtesy of Oremon, not Meghan, going over to join her.

"You know mom's going to ask me where you are," Brendan said, resting his head on his knuckles.

"Tell her I decided I wanted a cheeseburger more than I need to live?" Meghan suggested halfheartedly, shrugging one shoulder helplessly. "I don't know."

 

***

Ratamon frowned, looking on with vague concern from a safe vantage point on a rooftop as he watched the faint, fiery shape start to flicker down in the middle of the street, shifting and distorting but growing more solid by the moment.

The digimon on the street began to move before it had fully realized, and as it ran, Ratamon could feel the static in the air. It was trying to draw electricity from its surroundings to pull itself through more efficiently-- which, unbeknownst to Ratamon, was causing the electronics in the area to flicker and distort.

It was totally unfair that he had to find them himself, whereas these antagonistic digimon seemed to have either a better idea of where to look, or the best luck in the world.

 

***

It was significantly harder to make sure Oremon stayed out of sight in suburbia instead of the park, but just staying off of the main streets was a huge help.

"You're sure it's not Ratamon again?" Meghan asked, running to keep up with Oremon. They had run halfway across the neighborhood by this point, and had run into thankfully few people.

"Yes," Oremon said simply, stopping to sniff the air and taking a right turn at an intersection. Meghan looked down at her digivice and, indeed, he was heading closer and closer to the little white dot-- and the white dot was heading closer to them, but not moving nearly as fast as Ratamon would have.
In one day, she had gone from confused about the little device, to meeting Ratamon, to meeting the others, to... well. This.

Oremon, for his part, seemed like... almost like he had finally been validated in something that Meghan couldn't quite place.

"It might help if we knew what we were looking for," Meghan lamented, looking at her digivice and up to the road again. She pressed her thumb down on the white dot approaching them; it brought up the words Boarmon. Champion level., but a fat lot of good that did them.
However, it turned out that they'd get the answer to the question of what they were looking for as they turned another corner.
Quite handily, actually.

Heading right towards them, barrelling right down the street like a runaway car, was an enormous pig.
Okay, a boar, but you get the point.

Its entire head and the mane-like ridge down its spine looked like they were on fire, and most of its its body was vivid orange, save for a black underbelly and face, oddly striped tusks, and a metal plate that glinted in the dying light -- and also, it was the size of an SUV. You know, in case they were going to mistake it for a normal boar.

You know, it might just be the 'Boarmon' that the digivice read out.

Before Meghan could even express confusion or alarm, Oremon rushed forward.

"Iron Head!" Oremon yelled, rearing his head down and holding out his hands like he was preparing to grapple. The space between him and the Boarmon closed rapidly, and the goat straight up smashed his head into the metal plate on the Boarmon's forehead as he grabbed onto the boar's tusks.

"Oremon!" Meg yelped, but to her intense surprise, this didn't result in Oremon being flung, or even knocked backwards. Though the Boarmon didn't stop moving entirely, Oremon smashing headlong into it did seem to have the effect of slowing it down. They skidded to a stop mere meters away from where Meghan stood rooted.

Her relief was not long-lived, though. Boarmon snorted, releasing a cloud of smoke from its nostrils.
"Running right to me! Make my job easier!" Broken English aside, that was not the most encouraging set of words to hear --- and even less so when it followed up. "Nose Blaster!"

Boarmon snorted loudly and released a plume of flame from its nose-- which, you'll remember, Oremon was practically flush against. The blast of fire threw Oremon backwards, sending him tumbling head over heels across the concrete.

"Shit," Oremon hissed; he was badly singed, but even as Meghan made to run over to him, he was already getting back to his feet-- but struggling at it. "No! Stay back. Don't get hurt."

"You're already hurt!" Meg protested, but she was drowned out by the hostile digimon.

Boarmon was chuckling, a deep and rumbling noise, as it began to close the distance between itself and Oremon. "Too simple," the giant pig said, narrowing its eyes and grinning; it hardly even seemed to notice Meg was there. It reared down and its tusks began to glow, preparing to charge. "Slamming--!"
At that point, Meghan threw her entire body weight against Boarmon, jamming her elbow into the general vicinity of its ribs, taking care to avoid its fiery mane.

Well, if you've ever tried to dislodge a car with one elbow (and if you have, why?), you can imagine how effective this was at actually derailing Boarmon, but it did distract it. It turned its head to glare at the girl as she stumbled backwards with the recoil, snorted out a cloud of smoke from its nostrils.
Meghan was realizing she had made a massive mistake when she saw embers begin to form in Boarmon's nostrils-- but Oremon, just as his friend had, saw a chance, and was rushing at Boarmon once more, consequences be damned.

"Iron Head!" Oremon yelled, smashing his horns right into the side of Boarmon's turned cheek.

Boarmon roared in pain and frustration and it stumbled backwards. It tossed its head as it looked between Meghan and Oremon, and again, flames began to flicker to life in its snout.
Oremon realized a half a second too late that, perhaps fueled by frustration, Boarmon was turning his head towards Meghan as it prepared to call its attack.

And then, that terrible screeching noise echoed off the street, courtesy of the digivice gripped tightly in Meg's hand.

She nearly dropped the darn thing, and it certainly surprised Boarmon out of action. It began to swirl with orange-tinged light as the noise died down, and Oremon smirked as the light began to overtake him as well.

"Oremon, drive evolve to..."

Oremon's body began to grow as he hunched over and grew to match Boarmon in size. His club-like arms slimmed down into forelegs as he became quadrupedal, though his (now hind) legs stayed as fluffy as ever. Red and black markings decorated all four limbs and across the small of his back, and a pair of red marks appeared on his face, following the curve of his cheek bones.

A shaggy red mane erupted from the back of his head and running down his back and between his shoulders; just past where the mane ended, two rib-like bone ridges grew out of his lower back. A skull-like helmet covered the top half of his face; his secondary horns disappeared, but as if to compensate, his primary horns grew enormously. With a snort, he reared back onto his hind legs and slammed his front hooves down into the ground.

"Ibexmon!"

Boarmon, unfortunately, was too aware to stand in awe of the goat's new form. The change had happened quickly, but Ibexmon barely had time to put his new hooves down on the street before flames licked at Boarmon's snout.

"Nose Blaster!" Boarmon cried, blasting a plume of fire out right at Meghan.

Ibexmon was having none of that, and leapt right in the path of the fire. He took the full brunt of the attack, but for all the good it did, it might as well have glanced off him harmlessly. Boarmon sputtered out a couple flustered clouds of smoke; Ibexmon smirked as he reared up onto his hind legs.
"Terra Spear!" he said, slamming his front hooves down onto the pavement with collossal force. From under his feet, cracks radiated out, towards the pig. Once they reached their target, the cracks spread open wide and from out of the street shot sharpened spires of rock, digging into Boarmon's belly.

Meghan was about to panic about ruining the road, but she looked twice, and though a few cracks were there that definitely weren't there before, most of them vanished as the sharpened rocks retreated into the ground. It was almost as though the ground beneath them was knitting itself back together like a wound.

What a weird metaphor to think of.

(She was beginning to fear there was no way this would go unnoticed by the people who lived on this street, and indeed-- from the safety of their homes, more than one person was peering out the window, staring-- and a couple were taking video.)

Boarmon groaned but righted itself, glaring daggers at Ibexmon. "Making things difficult," it snorted, before it charged at Ibexmon. "Slamming Attack!" it yelled, and judging by its actions and that attack it just called, it was probably going to try a full-body tackle.

Ibexmon met it.

"Headstrong Charge!" Ibexmon yelled, rearing up before charging at the oncoming boar.

His skull-masked face smashed straight into Boarmon's metal plated forehead-- and Boarmon's tusks got caught up in Ibexmon's horns. With a little bit of evident effort, Ibexmon reared his head back, and practically flipped Boarmon like a pancake, sending the big pig tumbling into the air. Not a second later, when he fell back down, instead of smashing into the ground, Ibexmon smashed his head forward one more time.

As the pig skidded down the road, it began to distort and pixellate. Before it even came to a complete stop, it had blown apart into little motes of light and data.

"Ha! Serves it right!" Ibexmon snorted with a wolfish grin.

Meghan ran over to him and placed a hand on his side. "Oremon, with all due respect: what the hell?" Her voice was somewhere between incredulous and ecstatic, excited and confused all at once.

Ibexmon smirked and tossed his head. It was then that he slowly began to glow white and orange once more. The light intermingled with the ever-sinking sun, and just like that, Oremon stood on the slightly-more-cracked concrete where Ibexmon had been a moment before.

They wasted no time getting out of sight-- even ducking down a side street felt a little safer than standing out there in the total open. Meghan was practically looking over her shoulder every inch of the way.
"Shame you couldn't stay all big long enough to give me a ride," she said, sticking her tongue out. Oremon snorted. That was totally a 'i know, right?', she knew.

 

***

Most of the walk home was fairly uneventful. Yes, they had to take some detours, but they avoided people, and the fading light provided a little bit of extra cover.

They were almost home free, when--

"Did I miss it?" Ratamon's familiar voice said from somewhere nearby, right before his white face popped out, upside-down, of the next-door neighbor's tree, where he was hanging by his tail.
Meghan and Oremon both nearly jumped; Oremon, for a half a second, took a defensive stance, but relaxed shortly thereafter.

"Depends on what you mean by it," Meghan said, looking at Oremon.

"Another digimon," Oremon said, after a moment of consideration. "If that's what you mean, then yes, you missed it."

Ratamon looked between them. He flipped himself right-side up on the branch and peered down at them. "You fought it off? Any trouble?" Oremon couldn't help but smirk a bit self-satisfiedly, and Ratamon grinned.
"I'll see you around, I'm sure!" he said, flicking his tail and waving as he took off up the tree, across to a power line, and away into the night.

"God, he's annoying," Oremon said flatly, after a few seconds of silence.

"Iunno, I think he's kinda cute," Meghan said, arms akimbo.

Oremon snorted.
He waited for Meghan to lead the way up to the house.

Chapter Text

"Come on," Natalie huffed in exasperation, her feet beating against the pavement. Raumon was hot on her heels, and her digivice was held tightly in her hand. There were four little dots shining bright on the radar-- two of them, she wasn't worried about.
The other two, though? The other two were a problem, and were why she was currently running full tilt down an alleyway.

Her peaceful Friday afternoon had been interrupted by a message from Xander plopped all nonchalantly in the group chat right around 4:30.
hey. thing went off. two dots on my radar heading towards downtown from NW. following but if anyone wants to beat me to it be my guest

So, see, she knew: two of those dots were Desmon and Oremon, because Meghan had also jumped in with an omw of her own.

She also knew for sure who they were when, as she was about to emerge from the alleyway into the street, she saw Oremon go skidding backwards down the road.
Natalie and Raumon practically power-slid into the street, looking in the direction that Oremon had been flung from, right as the goat barrelled right past them and back into the fray. A few meters up the street, Desmon was flapping about fifteen feet off the ground, spitting rings of black static at the identities of the anonymous dots made themselves apparent.

It was two of what looked like the same digimon in different colours -- tall, more or less humanoid, with huge gaping mouths full of sharp teeth, and wild manes of white hair. The only appreciable difference was that one was green and had long, striped horns, while the other was a brownish-red and had tiger-striped shorts but no horns.

The little info window that had popped up on pressing the dots had said Ogremon - Champion level and Fugamon - Champion level, and it was a fair bet that these were said digimon; judging by position, the green one was the Ogremon, and the brown one, Fugamon.

They seemed as interested in fighting each other as they did in Desmon and Oremon. This would be fine (... for a given value of fine? That is, they might not have intervened) if not for the fact that they also seemed to have very little interest in things like 'buildings' and 'property'. A couple windows had been smashed, an awning was in tatters, a couple cars had been dented and pushed up onto the curb, and there were cracks in the concrete and the brick walls of half the buildings on the block.

"Bone Cudgel!" Ogremon yelled as it leapt off of a parked car and swung its massive bone club at Fugamon. It hit true and sent Fugamon flying, where it clipped the corner of a building -- and broke off a little bit of the brick.
This was, Natalie realized, probably what had hit Oremon right before she showed up.

On that note. "Iron Head!" Oremon yelled, rushing at Ogremon.

"Acro Slicer!" Desmon yelled from her vantage point in the air, slashing down in an arc with one arm. Her claws left a crescent-shaped blade of energy in their wake, aimed right at Ogremon as well. The attack only barely avoided hitting Oremon; if he had moved even the tiniest bit faster, he'd have been hit instead of Ogremon. That said, the big green digimon stumbled backwards a half-step when Desmon's attack hit, and took the full brunt of Oremon's horns right after, knocking it right into the parked car it had just jumped off of.

It was dazed, and the car would get away with a bit of a dent, but that still left Fugamon, who was leaping right for Oremon.

Raumon saw his chance, and leapt out of the mouth of they alley, claws glowing.
"Symptom Claw!" he cried, slashing out at Fugamon. While he did this, Natalie dashed across the street to where Xander and Meghan were standing, at a safe distance-- that is, far enough away to have some kind of plausible deniability about being involved.

"Hi! Better late than never?" Meghan said as Natalie ran up.

"You almost missed the party," Xander said in deadpan, looking at the fight ahead of them.

"Oh, yeah, totally, gotta be fashionably late," Natalie said, taking a moment to catch her breath and look around. Some people were looking out the windows of the buildings; a couple people had slammed on the brakes in their cars and were rubbernecking out the window. Dammit. Up to now, they had done a pretty good job of pulling digimon at times and places where it wasn't that big a deal; there had always been some plausible deniability. Meanwhile, if nobody saw this, Natalie would eat her bandana.

In fact, just out of sight in an alleyway on the other side of the fighting digimon, was a young man, watching very intently-- more intently than the people who were hurrying out of the street or gaping in surprise and confusion, at any rate.

 

***

This young man leaned against the wall on one arm, looking between a picture on his phone to the scene happening on the street.

"You think it's the same ones?" a female voice asked from a little ways behind him, from behind a garbage can. The speaker crawled up on top of the trash can she was hiding behind to get a better vantage point.

"Iunno. Doesn't really look like the pictures, don't you think?"

"Hmmm... I think the goat does, just, like, smaller."

"Yeah, I guess," he said, stuffing one hand in his pocket as he thumbed through the pictures he had saved.

He'd stared at those grainy, distorted cell phone pictures for hours over the past few days. He'd been keeping tabs on everything he could find since last week-- actually, since two weeks ago, when this stupid device had shown up, but only since last week did he have any actual leads.
You know. If internet wackos and conspiracy theorists uploading and reposting shitty photos to derelict news aggregator sites and image boards and blogs counted as leads.

Take what you can get.

"Sam," the female voice said, with sudden urgency. "Hey. Sam. Look."

"What?" Sam said, looking up at what was happening on the street.
Oh. Well, damn. He pocketed his cell phone and grabbed the other device sitting in his pocket, just in case. Truth be told he was kind of hoping this was a dead-end, but... too late now.

 

***

"Shit!" Natalie hissed through grit teeth. All it took for Fugamon and Ogremon to put aside their differences was few claws to the shins, goat heads to the abdomen, and staticky energy blasts, all in the interest of taking care of these nuisances.

"Bone Cudgel!" Ogremon yelled as it leapt, striking Desmon right out of the air with a well-timed bone-club swing.

"Heavy Swing!" Fugamon cried in turn, knocking a charging Oremon aside with its own club.

Raumon, only now recovering from being knocked back himself, was already starting to charge back in-- when in Natalie's hand, her digivice began to glow.

Thankfully, this time it did not see fit to make that horrible screeching noise as Raumon began to glow.

"Raumon, drive evolve to... Doctorimon!"

The transformation basically happened mid-step, and where one moment was Raumon, Doctorimon was rushing forward with staff in hand. For a moment, he didn't seem to realize that he had changed forms, but he was quick to accomodate for this fact, a phrase here meaning leapt at Ogremon.

"Face of Judgment!" Doctorimon yelled, skidding to a stop and turning the angry face of his staff towards Ogremon. Out spilled a stream of black fire, and Ogremon yelped in pain, jumping backwards and on top of a car to get out of the literal line of fire.
Fugamon, seeing an opening, was rushing to lay a blow on Doctorimon's turned back, when--

"Oremon, drive evolve to... Ibexmon! Headstrong Charge!"

Fugamon caught a side full of angry goat headbutting him. Oremon had rushed right back into the fray, and what do you know? The exact same thing had happened. Meghan's digivice had lit up, much quieter than the first time, and Ibexmon took Oremon's place, and where Oremon's headbutt only would have knocked one back, Fugamon got sent skidding down the road just as it had made the goat go skipping like a rock, just mere minutes before.

Ibexmon snorted as justice was, in his eyes, served.

Ogremon stared dumbly after Fugamon, getting the distinct feeling that it may have gotten in over its head. That feeling only intensified when Desmon, not wanting to be left out, half ran and half flapped her way back in, began to glow.

"Desmon, drive evolve to... Corymon!" she cried, growing in size as she took off of the ground.

Ogremon's eyes flitted between the three digimon it now faced, and it snorted derisively. It swung its club in a menacing fashion, and for good measure, slammed it down on the car it was standing on top of, smashing the driver's-side window.
"Pummel Whack!" it yelled, throwing a fist out to punch into the air. This released a wave of dark energy, aimed right for Corymon. The big bat-dragon ducked out of the way-- and the wave continued on to take a few inches off the top corner of another building.

"Whoopsies," Corymon said, a bit nervously, casting a look over her shoulder, before turning her attention back to Ogremon. "Black Stinger!" she cried, her tail curling under her, and a series of three black blasts of energy shot from her tailtip.

All three of them hit true -- and Ogremon stopped in its tracks, apparently stunned. Corymon grinned.

It was at this moment that Fugamon was back on its feet and running back--

"Moon Howler!"

Right as Fugamon was passing an alleyway, out shot a beam of swirling, black and green energy. Fugamon yelped, looking around for what hit it.

Luckily, both Fugamon and everyone else present didn't have to wait or wonder, as the culprit bounded out of the alleyway on all fours, growling.
It was a dog-like creature, about the size of a labrador. It kind of resembled a particularly stocky saluki, mostly white with a grey muzzle and underbelly, with long, fluffy ears and a matching tail. That said, most dogs didn't have green paws and ears, or green markings on their limbs and faces, nor did they wear not only a leather collar, but also bands around their wrists and ankles.

And they certainly didn't shoot laser beams out of their mouths, but that was beside the point, beacuse this one sure was.

"More?" Natalie muttered, looking down at her digivice-- and sure enough, right where the dog was standing was now another little point of light.

"Wasn't on the radar a minute ago," Xander said, squinting.

"Nice puppy," Corymon said sarcastically, from somewhere above; Ibexmon snorted, and Doctorimon shook his head.

The introduction of a new digimon whose hostility was hard to discern was a bit of a spanner in the gears, but the digimon rolled with it.

"Black Bloom!" Doctorimon yelled, procuring a black rose from inside his sleeve; unlike the time back on the roof, this time, he simply threw the rose like a dagger, and it shone bright as it flew towards Fugamon.

"Terra Spear!" Ibexmon reared up and slammed his hooves down into the ground, leaving cracks in the pavement yet again. Spikes of rock shot up out of the ground under Fugamon's feet. This was just enough to tip it over the line, as as the rocks receded, leaving only slightly-buckled pavement in their wake, Fugamon began to glow, before dissipating into pixellated bits of light.

Ogremon, while they were distracted, was beginning to move again.
"Pummel Whack!" it yelled, punching out in the direction of the strange new dog-like digimon. Once again, a blast of dark energy escaped its fist.

The dog took the full brunt of the attack, tumbling backwards, but it provided the opening Corymon needed, and she swooped in close.
"Black Stinger!" This time, she struck out with her scorpion-like tail at close range, the tip engulfed in the same black energy as it had shot before.

Bam. Ogremon problem, solved!

...
Mostly!

You know, aside from the property damage, and the people who saw, and---

That white dog was watching them intently, and watching even more intently as Raumon, Oremon, and Desmon began to glow and return to their rookie forms. She smirked and took off for the alley she had emerged from.

"Hey!" Desmon said, dropping down to ground level, looking around at the other digimon.

"Follow it!" Raumon said, loud enough for the humans to hear. They didn't need telling twice; in fact, Natalie had already started moving. Both trios made a beeline for the alleyway. Not only was following a strange digimon a priority, there was also the issue of getting the hell away from the scene as soon as possible at hand, so, you know-- two birds, one stone.

But see, funny thing: when you try to cram six individuals into the mouth of an alleyway at the same time, and they're coming from roughly two different angles... even if half of them are smaller than normal people, you kind of have a clusterfuck to deal with, and it gets even worse when there's already someone there.

Human and Digimon collided with each other, and nearly jumped a mile when there was a young man sitting on top of a garbage can right around the corner as they turned in to the alley.

He looked to be around their age, with a short-sleeved hoodie over a T-shirt, and a baseball cap on top of messy black hair. He was relatively small in stature, and in his hand he was holding something distinctly cell-phone sized, and distinctly familiar.
And on the other side of the garbage can, the dog digimon was falling over herself laughing.

"Sounded like fuckin' coconuts colliding!"

"Not wrong, but shut up," the boy said looking sidelong at her. He twirled his digivice in his hand, turned it on, and pushed a button down-- almost like he actually knew what the options meant. The dog digimon began to pixellate in a manner not unlike the digimon they defeated, and with a streak of green light shooting from her right into the green digivice, she was... gone. Just like that.

Natalie and Meghan stared blankly, while Xander voiced what was on their mind:
"The fuck?"

"... what?" the stranger said, genuinely not understanding why they were looking at him funny. "Have you not found that feature yet?"

"Um... no?" Meghan said slowly. "What?"

Oremon, behind her, was looking between Meg, the stranger, and where the dog had been a moment before. "Where did she go?" he said, fixing his gaze on the boy.

"Don't you think it'd be a good idea to get somewhere a little less... obvious?" Raumon cut in, looking over his shoulder back out at where they had fought Ogremon and Fugamon.

Natalie nodded; the strange boy jumped off the trashcan he was sitting on.

"My name's Sam, by the way," he said, but didn't wait for any other introductions before he took off down the alley.

"Maybe my downstairs neighbor can have a digimon, next," Xander said in deadpan as Desmon alighted on his shoulder. "-- fucking fatass. Warning when you do that, please?"

Natalie and Raumon were first to follow Sam, followed by Meghan; Oremon came a moment later, with Xander bringing up the back.

"So can I assume," Natalie said, half-jogging to close the distance between her and Sam, but he wasn't running particularly fast, "that that dog is your friend?"

Sam didn't touch his digivice at all, nor did he actually say anything (Natalie kind of thought she saw him roll his eyes?) but in a burst of green light, the dog digimon appeared again. Natalie stumbled a bit to the side to accomodate her; she was keeping pace, running alongside Sam on all fours. "My name is Gelermon," she said, looking up at Natalie, "and yes."

"Cool!" Desmon said from her vantage point on Xander's shoulder, grinning. She looked at Xander. "Teach me how to do that. The light show thing."

"Oh!" Meghan said, and one could practically see the lightbulb pop up over her head. "That must be why she didn't show up on our radars!"

They turned around a corner and off to the side was a small, dirt-filled back lot where someone had set up a small garden; this would do. If they listened close, they could hear police sirens not far away.

"Oh no," Meghan mumbled, looking in the direction they had just come from.

"It was just property damage. We're the only ones that got hurt," Oremon said, quietly enough that only she could hear him.

"So nice job back there," Sam said, turning around to face the others; his voice was dripping with sarcasm and he looked like he was going to keep talking, but Xander cut in.

"Hey, hey, hold up. Before you start with the snark, explain yourself. Who are you?"

Natalie might have phrased it a little less bluntly, but she was about to say something similar herself. "And why were you there?"

Sam looked between the other people and their digimon, and shrugged his shoulders, averting his eyes. "Same reason you were there. My D-Rive went off. I followed the radar." He sounded like he wasn't telling the whole truth, but first of all--

"D-Rive?" Natalie repeated, looking from Sam -- still holding the little green device in his hand -- to her own purple one. He had pronounced it like derive, which wasn't a noun, but had mentioned the radar... "Is that what these things are called?"

"Is he the only one who's looked at it for more than thirty seconds?" Gelermon said, rolling her eyes. Sam nudged her with his foot as a nonverbal shut it gesture. She did not. "I mean, between not knowing what it's called, and not knowing how to minimize--"

She was cut off mid-sentence by the fact that once again she was absorbed into Sam's little device. "Don't mind her," he said, though the look on his face said that he at least in part thought she was right.

"How are you doing that?" Meghan asked. It was obviously a pertinent question, for her (and Oremon) maybe more than anyone.

"You really didn't mess with it at all?" Sam looked over at her, then at the other humans, and at their digimon, and shrugged his shoulders. "Start the D-Rive up and hold the center button down for like two seconds. I thought it was obvious."

Natalie looked at the device in her hand. "It wasn't, really," she said, but looked to Raumon. "You mind if I try?" Raumon nodded, and Natalie did just as Sam had said... and it turned out, he was telling the truth. Raumon pixellated like the digimon they had defeated, was engulfed in purple-tinged light, and shot like a beam into her digivice.

And not two seconds later, he re-emerged and re-formed, looking confused and a bit flustered.
"Okay. That was weird," he said, looking up at Natalie.

"Bad weird?" she asked, kneeling down to be more on his level.

"Not... really?" Raumon tapped his beak and thought of how to explain. "It's kind of like... being there, but not?" He shrugged apologetically. "I'd have to spend a bit longer to tell you for sure." He stretched out, inspecting himself to make sure nothing was out of place, and seemed satisfied. "I kind of got freaked out and wanted out; kinda looks like that's all it takes."

"I was wondering if it was just Gelermon could break out," Sam remarked, stuffing his hands in his pockets as both Meghan and Xander followed suit in minimizing their friends, their digimon absorbed into their D-Rives. "Apparently it's a universal feature."

"Can't contain me!" Desmon chirped while she was still re-forming. Apparently, they could still hear perfectly well while... what had Gelermon called it? Minimized?

"Shit, there goes any hope I ever had of sleeping at night," Xander mumbled in a dry deadpan, and the girls couldn't help but snicker a little bit.

Oremon reappeared in his turn; Meghan was bubbling over with questions to ask him, but Gelermon reappeared next to Sam, too, apparently getting the hint enough to at least discontinue the mocking.

"So, anyway," she said, getting up onto her hind legs and standing upright so she could put her paws on her hips. "You guys are the same digimon there's pictures of, right?"

"What pictures?" Natalie asked immediately, looking up; she was still kneeling, inspecting Raumon.

"Not you," Sam said, gesturing at Raumon and Natalie, then looking to the other two. "The bat and the goat. Couple of local discussion forums have been blowing up ever since batgirl fought the Kentucky fried chicken," he said, pointing at Desmon, "and Billy the Kid over here taking a stand against pork."

"Oremon," Oremon snapped before anything else (Desmon didn't take issue with her nickname at all), before-- "... people got pictures of that?" There hadn't been any news hubbub about it-- but it had taken place in a residential area...

Sam shrugged one shoulder. "Just a couple conspiracy theory weirdos, mostly, but. Gelermon kept insisting it was Digimon-related so I kept my ear to the ground." Beat. "Turns out she was right."

"As I usually am."

Natalie thought for a moment, looking at this new kid. After a moment, she held up her digivice. "What did you say these things were called again?"

 

***

A round of introductions went around; Sam explained what he knew. It wasn't much. He had the same story as them, that the D-Rive appeared a couple weeks ago; he had been keeping up with local news aggregates and gossip apps, and he showed them the pictures he had. They were of bad quality, and distorted slightly, like the files had become corrupt in rendering them. There were only a couple. The ones of Corymon were about the same quality as the ones that had been on the news; the ones of Ibexmon were only marginally better.

When asked how he had figured out the little device as much as he had, he had shrugged and said only I spent a little time messing with it. This was an understatement, but that was beside the point, and he didn't share that fact.

(In truth, he had spent at least a couple days trying to get every piece of information out of it. He had practically pulled it apart to no avail. He tried plugging it into a computer; that had dumped an encrypted file, which itself opened up a whole other set of questions. He had even done a cursory internet search or two, as a total last-ditch effort when his attempts to puzzle it out on his own proved fruitless... but if they hadn't even figured out how to minimize their digimon, then... eh. He figured they wouldn't understand anyway.)

For their part, the others explained what they knew; that there was a fourth (a fifth, now?) person they had found, Peter. Meghan asked Sam if he'd encountered Ratamon; his bewildered expression spoke volumes.

They parted ways before long; Natalie, Xander, and especially Meghan were relieved to know they could get around with their digimon without risking exposure, and they tried out this new travel mode. Natalie was sure to ask for Sam's contact information before she left, and then she was off, leaving Sam and Gelermon alone in the parking lot.

Sam stuffed his hands into his pockets and adjusted his baseball cap.
"What you think?" he said, looking at Gelermon.

She came back with another question as opposed to a real answer. "Does this mean we have to start working with them?"

Sam shrugged one shoulder. He really hoped it didn't, but he had a feeling what he wanted had very little to do with what was going to happen.

"... well, I for one hope not," Gelermon continued, folding her arms. She paused before looking up at him. "Wanna go home?"

He let loose a huff of breath and half-laughter, his shoulders falling with the release of tension he hadn't realized he had been carrying. "You have no fucking idea."

 

***

It wasn't quite right to say that Sam lived alone; he lived with his father, but for all intents and purposes, that meant he lived alone as often as not. Not to imply that his father was deliberately absent or neglectful; he just worked as a trucker, meaning he spent weeks at a time away from home on a regular basis. It was just as well; they only had one parking spot out front of their crammed little townhouse, anyway.

So the fact that Sam walked into a house that was dark in the middle of the day -- from both drawn blinds and all the lights off -- was no surprise.

As soon as he was in the door, Gelermon reappeared out of his D-Rive with a flash of light and data, having -- of course -- hidden, even for the short walk up from the parking spot. She was already appreciating the fact that she could get out and about a bit more easily now. Not that she minded staying inside by any means, but ever since she had grown into Gelermon last year, she had been feeling a little bit cooped up.

Still. Sam had the monopoly on feeling cooped up, far as Gelermon was concerned. Maybe the whole going out and beating up giant monsters would be good for him, she thought. It was certainly a better incentive than most.

"When's your dad get back?" she asked, stretching out her paws as she stooped over onto all fours as she followed Sam up the stairs.

"Uhh, fucked if I know. Next week? It's, what, the 25th?"

"Something like that."

"Then yeah, he's back on the first, eye-eye-are-see." Yes, he just spelled out iirc.

Gelermon stuck her tongue out. "Boo."

"You just hate having to stay in my room," Sam remarked as they reached the first landing. Again, don't take this the wrong way-- his father and Gelermon had a perfectly acceptable, amicable relationship; it was just that the former was allergic to dogs, and the latter's being a digimon and not a normal dog didn't seem to make a difference.

"Well, I mean, that's not even going to be a problem now, is it?" she said, starting up the second flight of stairs. "What with digimon showing up. Wrecking shit. I'll get all the exercise I can handle." She grinned.

"Joybunnies," Sam drawled and rolled his eyes, taking the stairs two at a time to beat Gelermon to the top. He pushed open his bedroom door and waited for her.

"And," Gelermon continued, standing up on her hind legs once she was on the top landing, "you saw those other digimon. The ones with the humans, I mean. They're sloppy." She thought back to not just how they had almost hit each other with their attacks in the process of fighting the two ogres, and also to how they had collided like rubes in turning in to the alley. "We're going to have to pick up the slack if any more digimon show up."

 

***

"... eyewitnesses disagree on the exact series of events," read off the newscaster, "but regardless, several thousand dollars worth of property damage is estimated to have occurred as a result of the incident. Investigations are underway by the Atlas Park Police Department..."

Sam paused the video playback, sitting back in his computer chair and resuming the consumption of his half-eaten dinner of microwave pizza. "The conspiracy wackjobs are probably having a field day with this already," he said, looking over to where Gelermon was flipping through an old comic book, lounging on his bed.
It was around half-past eleven o clock by now. Normal people might have considered this a bit late to be eating dinner, but when your sleep schedule could be politely described as totally fucked... well, time loses all sense of meaning, you know?

"Sounds like the general populace is already getting in on the gig," Gelermon said, not looking up. "Just watch. There'll be weird furry porn by the end of the month."

"Christ, there's a mental image I never asked for," Sam said, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose. Gelermon grinned.

"I mean, it's got the transformation, and the big monsters, we're like sitting on the holy grail--"

Sam raised his voice as he cut her off. "Here, toss the D-Rive over. I wanna look at it again."

Gelermon snorted and continued grinning. "It hasn't grown any new limbs, you know, it's going to be the same as it was last time you looked at it." Regardless, she picked it up from where it lay on Sam's bedside table, among a veritable pile of disassembled old electornics, and threw it underhand over to him.
He caught it with both hands and turned it over to look at it from all angles.

He cast a look at his computer. Natalie had added him to their little group chat, but luckily, it seemed pretty low-activity; the one Sam hadn't met, Peter, reacted with mild surprise at there being a new person in the group, but seemed pretty hard to faze. It had gone quiet since then.
Sam was thinking of it now, not because anyone had said anything new but... well. for as much as he'd postured, this thing was only slightly less a mystery to him than it had been to any of them. It had shown up for him two weeks ago out of nowhere, and in fact he had almost overlooked it. Only the fact that Gelermon was drawn to it made him give it a second glance, as Gelermon usually kept her nose out of his electronics.

There had been no doubt that it was related to digimon, or at least to Gelermon (seeing as how it was able to minimize her), but watching it at work -- and watching the digimon change forms temporarily as a result of the D-Rive at work -- made a whole fat lot of nothing make any more sense.

Suddenly, without his hitting any of the buttons, the D-Rive lit up, and Sam nearly fumbled with it in his surprise.

Gelermon's ears involuntarily perked up in a moment that made her seem very much like a normal, non-Digimon dog. "Something up?"

Sam frowned as he looked at the D-Rive, and a few button presses later brought up the radar. Right at the very, very edges, one dot came into view-- followed, mere seconds later, by a second.
This had happened earlier today, too-- but these two were pretty much on a direct course in their direction, coming from dead north and moving south.

"Shit, not again."

Gelermon, meanwhile, cottoned on immediately, without needing to see what Sam saw, or even have it explained to her. "Let's go!" Gelermon said, clenching her fists and practically springing to her feet.

"You realize I could be saying, shit, not again, we're out of corn chips."

"Yeah, but you're not."

Sam groaned and put his pizza aside again, standing up. He paused, before firing off a message into the group chat.
so are we using this to tell each other when something shows up?
Beat.
anyway there's shit on my radar, northside heading towards the river looks like. but none of you are probably awake so w/e wish me luck

He grabbed his phone, pocketed his D-Rive, and looked over at Gelermon-- but she was already waiting outside of his room, at the top of the stairs.
As they were about to head out the back door, he swiped his thumb to the dots on the map, bringing up both names at once.

Garurumon - Champion level

Ratamon - In-Training Level

... hadn't one of them said something about a Ratamon? Like, in a positive sense? Because, you know, by the look of this, every turn the Ratamon dot took, the Garurumon dot followed, almost like Ratamon was being chased.
Dammit, now he had to. ... ... aside from Gelermon practically beside herself ready to go and he was pretty sure she'd explode if they didn't.

... not that he was hoping that they wouldn't have to, but... you know?

Shut up.

 

***

Ratamon frowned, looking over his shoulder as he stopped in a tree. There existed the faint -- just a faint!-- possibility that he had made a mistake. He'd gotten a bit too close, that was all.

"Howling Blaster!"

He squeaked in a terribly dignified manner (read: not at all) and jumped out of the way, the stream of blue fire hitting the branch and snapping it off instead of hitting him and snapping him off.

Okay, he had made a few mistakes. He could fix this!
... he realized, only belatedly, that he only knew where one of the humans actually lived.

...

...

He could fix this!

 

***

Sam had surmised that on the track they were on, the dots would intersect with a street a few blocks over, still in the general residential neighborhood-- they'd have plenty of time to cut them off, so there was no real point in driving for that, right? Right.
The problems that arose were that, A, the dots were still moving; and B, the dots started moving at an angle, moving more streets away, and by the time he noticed, it would have cost him more time to go back.

"I!" Huff. "Hate!" Huff. "Running!"

Sure, it was only, like, fifteen minutes, but still. That was fifteen minutes of a brisk jog he hadn't been prepared to make, with the bonus vague fear of someone trying to jump him because who went jogging at midnight?

Gelermon took the liberty of rematerializing herself out of minimization as Sam nearly doubled over on the sidewalk, hands on his knees, to catch his breath. She lowered herself into a quadrupedal stance, just in case anyone looked, so as to minimize suspicion.
"I'm exempt from running for the rest of my life after this." Pause to catch his breath. "This is what I get for skipping PE."
Gelermon sniffed at the air, her ears perking up again.

Turns out, she might not have needed to, because the street lamps flickered for a second, all as one.

Sam looked up and around -- which direction was north was kind of a crapshoot, he had always sucked at directions, so he looked up and down the street.
Well, looking to the left yielded nothing, and looking to the right he could see a large shape coming their way, so, you know, bets on the right here. Sam (correctly) assumed that the big one was Garurumon, but Ratamon was proving hard to spot in the dark.

That was not a problem for long.

"Howling Blaster!"

A beam of blue flame shot from the big, approaching shape, right at a street lamp on the far side of the street. It certainly stopped flickering-- the actual light part practically exploded, and a little white shape leapt from where it had apparently been sitting down to the street and resumed running on all fours with its massive tail held high, like a squirrel-- and then looked straight at Sam and Gelermon, as if just noticing them.

The approaching digimon were only about a block away, now, and it was much easier for Sam to make out details. Garurumon, it turned out, was a big-ass wolf, silver and blue, with weird furry feather-like protrusions on its head and back and a long ribbon-like tail.
Okay. Noted.

By the time he was able to take stock of this, a few things happened.

Ratamon suddenly darted to the side of the road that Sam and Gelermon were standing on; Garurumon turned its attention to them, and skidded to a stop, the feather-like protrusions around its face twitching. Ratamon darted behind the boy and the dog. Gelermon got up onto her hind legs, taking a defensive stance.

Sam got the intense feeling that he was being used as a meat shield.

"You," Garurumon growled, eyes narrowing, its voice deep but with a feminine timbre.

Sam couldn't help himself. He looked in both directions around him, before saying with profound sarcasm, "me?"

"Not you!" Garurumon snapped, and focused on Gelermon. "Look at that, rat, you accidentally led me right to one."

"What?" Sam said, craning his neck to look at Ratamon; he looked apologetic and mouthed accidentally, and Sam was prepared to ask a number of questions of the little white monster.

Gelermon, however, did not have nearly so many questions. "Moon Howler!" she yelled, firing a green and black beam of energy out of her mouth right into Garurumon's face. Sam, of course, turned back to see it take the brunt of the attack right to the face.

"You're making it mad," Sam muttered, not a warning, not even worried, just a flat, deadpan observation.

"Howling Blaster!" Garurumon yelled, firing a beam of its own right back -- right at where Sam, Gelermon, and Ratamon were standing. Ratamon leapt away handily; Sam practically tripped over himself to get away from it, while Gelermon actually jumped forward, towards Garurumon, narrowing her eyes.

"You've got a problem with me, you try to blow my head off, not Sam's! Void Paw!" Gelermon cried, running right into close range with Garurumon's face. Her handpaws ignited with the same energy she had shot at Garurumon a moment before, and she began to strike out in quick jabs and punches.

Garurumon growled low, flinching back from the assault, but even as it did, icy energy began to well up in its mouth. "Alright! Subzero Ice Fang!" it yelled, and despite that mouthful of an attack name, it instead snapped out and grabbed Gelermon in its jaws. Its teeth began to freeze, sharpened ice digging into Gelermon's body. The smaller dog snarled, trying to escape, but it only made her problem worse.

"Hey!" Sam yelled, just about lunging forward, when--

You know, he hadn't been expecting the loud noise, because it sure hadn't happened when those other peoples' digimon had changed forms. His D-Rive screeched and quieted down as it began to glow, green mixed in with white light. Gelermon began to glow as well and Garurumon dropped her like she was burning hot. Gelermon landed on the ground and righted herself as the light overtook her.

 

"Gelermon, drive evolve to..."

She began to grow in size, and rose up onto her growing-more-powerful hind legs. Her wristbands and anklets disappeared as the dark and light parts of her body inverted, the bulk of her fur turning jet-black, and her paws and underside turning white, though the green circles on her body and the markings on her face remained vivid green. Her ears changed from long and floppy to cropped and alert, black outside and green inside, as her face became more lupine. Her tail followed suit, becoming black with a white tip and underside.

Bandages wrapped around her wrists, and from under the bandages, licking up her arms to the elbows, dark emerald-green flames roared to life. Her collar grew large, pointed spikes in place of its studs, as a black, spiked wristband settled onto her right wrist. For a finishing touch, a crest of three green-tipped "feathers" emerged from each of her shoulderblades, not unlike Garurumon's. She howled before slamming one flaming paw into the ground.

"Frekimon!"

 

Sam stumbled to a stop; he surely didn't need to intervene now. Frekimon smirked.

"Well, would'ya look at that," she said, flexing her claws and admiring her own new form for just a second. As she flexed them, the fire began to lick further down her hands, and she cried: "Ravenous Hunter!"
Her paws fully ignited in the dark-green flames, and she leapt onto Garurumon, slashing out with her claw before digging them in to grab a hold of it; she was still somewhat smaller than Garurumon, and Garurumon roared and began writhing to throw her off. She held fast for a few moments, but she lost her grip and skidded backwards.

The very second that Frekimon was off its back, Garurumon turned its sights to Sam. It was him, after all, holding the thing that had made Frekimon evolve, right? So...

"Subzero Ice Fang!" it cried, lunging for Sam with icy energy crackling in its jaws once more.

"Fuck!" Sam yelled, which we can all agree is a perfectly understandable reaction to having a giant wolf leap at you.

Speaking of giant wolves leaping at things, Garurumon was knocked off course mid-leap by Frekimon.

"Bitch!" she snarled, lunged and moved with surprising speed to smash into Garurumon's side, then feinted away, leaving Garurumon to go careening into a bush, whose owner was definitely going to have to call... whoever it was you called about bush concerns, Sam couldn't say he knew off the top of his head.

Garurumon was righting itself and growling, its pupils restricted-- as was Frekimon.

"Howling--!" Garurumon began, opening its mouth to gather up some blue fire, but Frekimon cut it off.

"New Moon Fire!" she yelled, rearing back. Within a second, she spat out a black-and-green fireball, which she shot right at Garurumon's face-- and into its open mouth, where it was gathering energy for its own Howling Blaster.
Needless to say, Garurumon did not get its attack off without a hitch-- in fact, it did quite the opposite, and began to shift and pixellate before exploding into little bits of data.

Ratamon, who had relocated in this time back to behind Sam, practically had big sparkly hearts in his eyes.

Frekimon was still glaring at the spot where Garurumon stood a moment before, breathing heavily, when Sam apprehensively approached her. "Hey. You, uh, you okay there?" he said, looking up at her face.

She didn't immediately respond, growling faintly, still glaring straight ahead. She paused, her ears twitched, and she looked down at Sam. Her eyes were bright, practically glowing, such that he could actually see her pupils dilate back to normal.
"Never better," she said, slightly sarcastic, but after a moment, she smirked.

"You can digivolve!" Ratamon piped up-- he hadn't actually been present for any of the fights thus far. Frekimon snapped her attention to him, her pupils constricting again before she remembered who she was looking at, and relaxed.
As she relaxed, she began to glow, and in a swirl of light, she was back to being Gelermon.

She pointed one blunt claw at Ratamon. "You. Are you Ratamon?" Ratamon, in fact being Ratamon, nodded enthusiastically.

"Why was Garurumon chasing you?" Sam said, looking down uncertainly at the little white monster.

Ratamon looked between Gelermon and Sam, and scratched his cheek. "Kind of a long story," he said.

Gelermon retorted without missing a beat. "We've got time."

"It's midnight and we're standing on a residential street, we really don't..." Sam muttered, but his complaint went un-commented on, because at that moment, a human shape came around the corner. Gelermon fell to all fours and Ratamon leapt for the now-wrecked bush.

"I take it I'm late?"

It was Natalie, sounding a little out of breath. Sam apprently couldn't hide the surprise on his face. Ratamon poked his head out of the bush.

"Yep," Sam said simply, putting his hands in his pockets and trying not to look like he was still winded from running here. His eyes drifted to the side as the girl approached.

"You missed it," Gelermon said, tossing her head pridefully. "What with my champion form being by far the coolest."

With a flash of purple light, Raumon appeared next to Natalie. "Well, we're all entitled to our wrong opinions," he said with a shrug; Gelermon glared for a moment, then, after a moment, couldn't help but snicker. Raumon beamed.

"Hi!" Ratamon chirped.

Natalie blinked. "Oh, hey," she said in greeting, then looked at Sam. "You met Ratamon?"

"He led a giant wolf that tried to kill me to us. So let's say yes." Sam looked at Ratamon again, and folded his arms.

"Well, it was an accident!" Ratamon said, splaying out his little clawed hands defensively. "It was trying to eat me, and I was just trying to find where the goat lives!"

"Lucky it ran into you," Raumon said thoughtfully, earning him a strange look from Sam and Gelermon, and he puffed up his feathers as he hurried to explain himself. "Well-- Meghan and Oremon live kind of a ways away from here, right?"

"I think she said she lives over in the western quadrant," Natalie said, scratching her head in thought; this was a ways northeast.

"Right! So, you know, it might have caused more damage on the way," Raumon explained, looking at the destroyed bush, the claw marks in the road, and the destroyed street lamp the next block over.

"Well, your cities are hard to navigate," Ratamon said in his own defense.

Sam took off his baseball cap so he could run his hand through his hair, looking up in exasperation at the sky. "Still not what I'd call lucky." He paused, looking back down at Natalie. "Wait, how did you get here? Do you live nearby or something?"

Natalie shook her head. "Raumon and I were down at the park," she said, gesturing in the vague direction of the city park. "I got your message in the group chat and we thought we might be able to help. We crossed the river and the radar went off."

"We didn't need it, obviously," Gelermon said, but Sam blinked. He honestly hadn't been expecting that answer-- he hadn't been expecting anyone to actually come, but life was just full of surprises, wasn't it?
(Of course, sometimes those surprises take the form of giant wolves trying to eat you, but, you know!)

"Don't you, you know," Sam gestured vaguely with his hand here, "have a real life. Like, a job or something?" Beat. "School or something, maybe?" He honestly had no idea what the college schedule looked like. "You know. Like a normal person."
...
That was a normal person thing, right?

Natalie blinked, but shook her head. "Summer break, and..." she coughed. "I've been kind of distracted on the summer job front. With all the digimon stuff."

"Whatever. Not like I have room to judge you."

None of them were paying attention to Ratamon, who was sniffing at the air. He moved quickly enough that by the time Gelermon noticed that he was scurrying away and up a power line, it was too late.

"Hey!" she barked (ha). "Get back here!"

Ratamon looked over his shoulder and waved before taking off.

"Dammit," Sam muttered, replacing his hat.

"He'll show up again, probably," Natalie said, shrugging. They might have continued their conversation, but the window of a house nearby lit up-- the inhabitant was probably about to come out and demand to know what was going on. In a hurry, both Sam and Natalie minimized their digimon into their D-Rives, and Natalie began walking. Sure, it was a weird time to be taking a leisurely stroll, but...

"You drove here?" Sam said, following Natalie.

"Yeah," she said with a nod. "My car's on the next block over, at the gas station."

There was a brief pause.
"Can you give me a ride home? I'm not about this running thing and didn't exactly expect to come this far."

Natalie perked up. "Sure!"

Chapter Text

The bell on the café door jingled its gentle alarm that the door was being opened, but good luck hearing it. Some days the Lotus was a goddamn ghost town; this was not one of those days. Almost every table was occupied. A small group of twenty-somethings stood around waiting for their drinks, while an older man in line was expressing frustration that he wasn't being prioritized immediately despite four customers being ahead of him.

Natalie mostly tuned the complaining out as she slid into line behind this man. She knew her order ahead of time, and she was in no particular rush. She had just been out running some errands and having lunch with some friends, and after parting ways with them, she had decided to take a gamble on the Lotus-- both the gamble of it taking a while, and also the vague wonder if Peter would be on shift when she popped in. Not much had happened on the Digimon front in the past week, so interactions had been pretty minimal.
Assuming that none of the other members of the loosely-connected group People With Digimon and D-Rives (name pending) weren't hitting it off on their own time. Call her crazy, but Natalie kind of assumed they weren't. (She was right.)

She understood why this was, of course-- they were all still pretty much strangers, their digimon being one of the only things to unify them, but she couldn't get digimon off her mind.

In the days after the incident with Ogremon and Fugamon (and to a lesser extent, Garurumon), they had agreed to lay as low as possible; police were looking for culprits for the incident, and the people who owned the building were looking for someone to sue for damages. Because it was hard to sue a green monster that had exploded into pixels, that wasn't going so well, but... well. It opened up a lot of questions.

As the line moved forward a bit, she craned her neck around the line to see if she couldn't catch a glimpse of who was working.

Bustling around behind the counter, the black-aproned baristas were moving to and fro in the cramped space there, doling out muffins, preparing drinks, and praying for the sweet release of death. It took a second for her to recognize Peter sending out drinks-- without the douchey scarf (well, come on, it was douchey) on, she almost moved her glance right past him.

It took a while to get up to the front of the line, but by the time she reached the front, there was only one person behind Natalie; the crowd sitting around hadn't thinned much, but there were at least fewer people coming in, and by the time she went to the side to wait for her drink, you could almost hear yourself think!

"Medium iced mocha for Nata--" Peter stopped mid-name, noticing that Natalie was already standing at the bar, raising a hand in greeting. "Hey. This yours?"

 

"Having fun?" Natalie said as she took her drink, irony positively dripping in her voice. Peter fixed her with a look that could only accurately be described as dead. Passed on. Ceased to be. Bereft of life. Remarkably parrot-esque. Pining for the fjords?

"I was supposed to get off my shift," he checked his phone surreptitiously, "forty-five minutes ago. Look into my eyes and ask me that question again."

Natalie gave him a sympathetic one-shouldered shrug and her best sorry-for-your-loss grimace, but not ten seconds later, courtesy of an older woman who Nat assumed was Peter's manager:
"Hey, replacement's here and the crowd's died down. You can clock out, Peter."

"'Ight," Peter said over his shoulder, then looked back at Natalie. "Hey. Hold on a second."

Natalie blinked a couple times but didn't have anywhere better to be, so she stood around awkwardly while Peter disappeared into the back. He re-emerged a few minutes later sans the black apron, running a hand backwards through his hair and adjusting his glasses.

"You wanted something?" Natalie said, and Peter nodded, but kept his lips tight, in a we'll talk about this when there aren't people around way. If it wasn't already obvious it was Digimon matters -- because what else would he want to talk to her about? -- that sealed it.

As they emerged out of the building, blinking in the sunlight, Peter spoke again. "I'm gonna assume nothing's happened for you?"

"Nope," Natalie said, taking a sip of her coffee and shielding her eyes with her other hand. "Do you have Banmon with you?" she asked; Peter shook his head.

"Banmon doesn't want to try coming to work with me to work just yet."
Natalie supposed that made sense. Raumon had explained, after a bit more experience, that being minimized was kind of like floating next to her, able to more or less hear everything going on around him, but unable to interact with anyone. From what little she knew of Banmon, Natalie could guess that the little ghost wouldn't be eager to be around in a bunch of people and loud noises, even if they couldn't see her.
"I left her at home with the D-Rive. She can get my roommate to call me if anything happens."

Natalie hummed in acknowledgement of his words, dipping her hand into her pocket and pulling out her D-Rive to look at it. She began to walk back to where she had parked her car; Peter followed.
"Why do you ask? Do you have Raumon with you?" he asked.

"Oh-- no," she said, shaking her head. Raumon had been more interested in the idea of coming out and about, but had declined to come along today, himself, but she still found herself carrying the little gadget around everywhere she went, with bird or without. "I was just curious. I was thinking it wouldn't be a bad idea to keep them close at hand in case something happened."

"Do you expect something to?" Peter asked, looking over at her.

Natalie couldn't quite tell if he was being condescending or not, because -- as she was quickly learning -- he spoke primarily in a deadpan. "I don't know, honestly," she-- fittingly enough -- answered honestly. "Not that I'd be able to do much without Raumon around, but... you know. I don't think it'd be a total fluke."

"Not with the way some of them talk, no," he agreed. The Digimon who had really spent much time talking seemed to have an agenda of some sort, and it was reasonable to assume that the pattern would continue.

"Especially," Natalie added, "considering that the digimon we know seem to recognize each other." Raumon hadn't been able to shake it, and had told her so-- all of the digimon who had been partnered with humans that they had met so far set off his deja vu something horrible, and each of the digimon had said the same to their respective humans.

"Right." For someone who apparently wanted to talk, he was certainly laconic. "Don't you think it's weird?"

"What? The monsters coming through from nowhere?" Natalie couldn't stop herself, making a pbbbt sound by expelling air from her cheeks. "No, that's just a normal Tuesday for me. The weird part is that it's happening on other days too, now." Peter actually cracked a bit of a smile. "Really, though, yeah."

Peter nodded, putting his hands in his pockets. "It's been on my mind a lot lately."

"I guess it does kind of come off as the kind of thing some people would call fate or something," Natalie said, gesturing idly with one hand.

He hummed. "Would you?"

"Me?" She blinked, kind of taken aback by the question -- she had only kind of meant it as an offhand comment. She shrugged one shoulder. "I-- I mean, I don't really believe in that kind of thing." Beat. "Why, do you?"

Peter looked like he was considering his words carefully before he answered. "To a degree. I don't exactly expect any lion heads to come out of the clouds and tell me to follow my destiny, but." He shrugged. "It just strikes me as odd that we've all run into each other so easily." Beat. "Relatively speaking." He stopped as they came to an intersection. "I live over this way. Unless you want to follow me home, I think we part ways here."

"Oh-- I'm glad we were going the right way," Natalie said, a bit sheepish to admit she had begun walking without doing such trivial things as confirming with Peter, but at least it worked out. "... you weren't kidding when you said you lived in the uni district, damn."

As they parted ways, Natalie couldn't help but feel a little bit lost.
What a strange guy.

 

***

"I think that might just be the way he is," Raumon said when Natalie described the slightly odd conversation she had had with Peter, and had complained about his... indirect methods of communication.

"Yeah, but it's still frustrating," Natalie said. She was laying on her back on her bed, looking at her phone with one arm propped under her head. "Iunno. It's not like I'm expecting everyone to be best buddies or anything, but if there's something connecting all of us... I'd kind of like to know what they think about it, you know?"

"I know," Raumon said, a bit wryly. He looked over at Natalie from his seat -- sitting in Natalie's computer chair.

Natalie sighed and spread out eagle on her bed. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just antsy." She paused. "Do you think I'm being too pushy?"

"How do you mean?"

"I mean..." Natalie paused, trying to find the words. "What if all of this just is a coincidence and I'm making a big deal out of nothing? Rallying the troops for--"

Raumon cut her off, sounding incredulous. "Are you really trying to say that being attacked by monsters is a big coincidence that we shouldn't think twice about?"

She paused. "... okay, you put it that way and it does sound pretty stupid."

"It sure does. No offense."

"None taken," Natalie said, handwaving it away. "I don't know, though. I just don't want to come across as... like... the over-enthusiastic boss telling his team they need to synergize and bring up sales percentages by 12% by next quarter."

"I think they're all probably just a bit apprehensive about all of this," Raumon said, then he paused to stroke his chin. He spoke slowly, thinking through what he was saying. "I mean, Peter said he thinks there's more to this than just coincidence. They're just playing their cards closer to their chest to wait and see, or something." Beat. "Or they might be asocial weirdos, heck if I know."

Natalie smiled. It was always good to have a sounding board to bounce ideas off of, or tell her when she was worrying too much-- and Raumon excelled at that role.

Raumon beamed back, and continued talking. "Point is, aside from maybe Meghan, I don't think any of them are jumping to associate with each other. If this is something bigger than coincidence---"

"Which, let's be real."

"Right! Trying to get everyone to come together might not be the worst idea." He paused. "I'd actually like another chance to talk to some of the other digimon, myself." He thought back; pretty much every chance he might have had to talk to the others had either been interrupted or at an inopportune location.

"Do you want to try meeting up with them again or something?" she asked, sitting halfway up and propping her head up on her knuckles. "Or, actually try meeting up with them, since we haven't all been in the same place yet." Who knows-- maybe this time another goat would fall out of the sky.
She hoped one didn't-- she was kind of tired of going over introductions.

"That was what I was getting at, yes," Raumon said; his shit-eating grin couldn't fit on his face, and bled over into his voice.

Natalie groaned overdramatically and flopped backwards. "First Peter is roundabout and indirect. Now you. What's next? Will I be the next one to succumb to The Vagueness?"

"Only time will tell."

She rolled over to look at Raumon. "I'm going to throw you out a window."

"Please don't, I don't have wings."

 

***

hey-- when are people free in the next few days? raumon wants to meet up. thought we could give it another go with less falling out of trees this time.

That message, courtesy of Natalie -- obviously -- popped up in the group chat later that evening. She sat with her phone, waiting for a response; it didn't happen immediately. It was about fifteen minutes later when Sam popped in a reply:
what the hell did i miss

The last time we tried to meet up, it ended... oddly, came courtesy of Peter a little while later.
Well, 'oddly' was a word for it. It wasn't bad, per se, but... yeah. It seemed to open the floodgates, though-- the ice had been broken, or maybe just the repeated new-message alerts were getting attention.

oremon and i are free pretty much any time after about two most days !! :D Meghan was the first to respond with actual useful information. and also, he got really put out at the falling out of trees thing

From Peter: Should be free on Saturday. Let me check the schedule.

im free whenever literally all the time i guess, Sam said. i dont do mornings tho

im off day after tomorrow too, but i got shit with my band until whenever, came from Xander, so ten to one says ill be late

you have a band? :o from Meghan.

yeah and we're shit

... ... it took a while to get a plan sorted out.

 

***

Saturday afternoon came around. June had just begun, and there were just enough clouds lingering in the sky to keep it from getting too horribly hot, or worse, humid. This was a real concern, living in a city on the river. Even if they were a ways away from the river, they were going to be gathering out at a mostly-abandoned picnic area, and thus, were outside-- mugginess was quite realistically the worst thing that could happen.

Yes-- we're counting monster attacks in that.

Humidity is the worst.

The picnic area in question was a bit out of the way, in a mostly-abandoned park, quite unlike the large main city park. It was barely more than a ramshackle old playground and a thicket of overgrown trees -- nestled in which were the picnic areas -- but that was just fine for their purposes.

Natalie couldn't deny that she was feeling a bit... well. Anxious wasn't the word. Her talk with Raumon, the one that had led to this meeting in the first place, had set her at ease, but she couldn't help feeling a bit unsure.

As she took the final turn on the path into the picnic area, she was met with a pleasant surprise. Meghan and Peter were already there, though by the looks of it (and by the fact that she saw the light fade as Oremon materialized out of his D-Rive), she wasn't terribly behind.

"Hi!" Meghan said as she noticed Natalie's arrival, waving; Oremon glanced over, and that was as much acknowledgement as they were going to get. Peter looked over from his seat at the old picnic table, and nodded his acknowledgement.

"Hey!" Natalie said; she would raise a hand to wave, but her hands were occupied by the assortment of plastic bags she was carrying that were by no means a light load.

Raumon materialized of his own accord next to her. "We brought food!" he said helpfully, gesturing at Natalie with one claw. There was a beat of silence, and then it struck him to actually take one of the bags from her to help carry it over to the table. As he set down the bag, he looked around inquisitively. "Is Banmon here?" he ventured, not seeing her. This was, of course, because she was not present to be seen.
There was a certain reluctance to the way she materialized with a surge of white light, or at least apprehension and lifted one clothy hand in greeting.

"You're really going the extra mile, aren't you?" Meghan said, peering at the bounty of food that Nat had brought.

Natalie smiled, shrugging. "I figured it might ease tensions a bit. Food solves everything, you know?"

"Have either of you heard from the others yet?" Peter asked as Banmon drifted closer to him. Natalie checked her phone; there was a big fat lack of new messages, which was a no to answer Peter's question. When she looked up, Meghan was shaking her head.

"What a communicative bunch," Meghan said, putting one hand on her hip.

"Might be driving," Peter said, taking a peek inside the bag that Raumon had set down, right as Natalie set the others down as well.

Banmon popped up over his shoulder. "You certainly brought a lot..." she said. Most of the food was the kind of food you pick up from the store when you realize belatedly you have to feed --

"Ten people," Natalie said, holding up both hands with all her fingers splayed out to indicate ten individuals. Beat. "Or, I guess, five people and up to five digimon, depending." She realized only as she was talking that while Raumon ate regularly, it wasn't required for the digimon. They certainly did seem to enjoy eating, though, so she was going to accomodate them, dammit!
She had brought an armful of prewrapped sandwiches --enough to have extra -- and tubs of side dishes from the supermarket deli, a couple bags of chips, a small assortment of two-liter bottled drinks, and plastic cups for said drinks. Not a lot, admittedly, and pretty basic fare, but-- look, there is no easier way to lure young adults than with free food.

While they laid the food out on the table, they heard the sound of approaching foot steps coming up the path through the trees. For a moment, they were apprehensive -- the vague fear that it was a Normal Person was hard to shake -- but when Gelermon came around the bend, padding along on all fours, they relaxed.

"Sup, bitches?"
Sam was a few seconds after her, looking somewhere between amused and apologetic for Gelermon's announcement of her own arrival, but his lips were pressed tight as he raised a hand in greeting. Peter moved his battered old messenger bag off of the table bench and onto the ground to free up sitting space.

Well, that was four out of five (eight out of ten, really) at least. Conversation was pretty limited (read: not happening), so Raumon opened up the floodgates on eating by being the first one to unwrap one of the sandwiches, and that was at least enough to break the ice on that front-- nobody had wanted to be the first one to reach for food.
Gelermon grabbed one sandwich with each hand and passed one to Sam; Peter grabbed two as well, but he unwrapped and picked all of the meat off of one, before handing the now-vegetarian sandwich to Banmon. Oremon feigned disinterest, taking a seat at the rickety old table, but surreptitiously grabbed a sandwich once Meghan asked if he wanted one.

Sure, the conversation wasn't lively, as everyone had varying amounts of food in their mouths, but it did seem to at least kind of break the ice.

Just as promised, Xander showed up late, though not too much so-- only about ten minutes after Sam's arrival. Still in the middle of eating, they heard a frenetic flapping noise and turned to look, just in time to see Desmon emerge over the top of the trees, surveying their little clearing from up above.

"So much for subtlety," Sam remarked, in what seemed like the most words he had said at one time since arriving. He was, accordingly, speaking sidelong to Gelermon, who snickered.

"I heard that," Desmon said, grinning as she landed smack on the table, almost squishing a bag of chips, grinning all the while.

Xander didn't appear, coming around the bend in the path, until after the bat digimon had already invited herself to the bag of chips she had almost landed on.
"Hey," he said, waving half-assedly. Peter nodded once his vague acknowledgement of Xander's existence, Meghan waved, and Sam was more concerned with his drink than on the people around him.

"Heyo," Natalie said, gesturing over her shoulder. "Food's free for the taking whenever you feel like it, or if you don't, your prerogative."

"Glad to hear it," Desmon said, already in the process of shoving a handful of chips into her mouth as she hopped down onto the ground. Xander rolled his eyes at her and took a seat at the corner of the table.

Conversation struck up slowly with everyone there. Peter and Xander were conspicuously not talking to each other. Sam looked to Natalie and Meghan, and tilted his head at the two other young men with a what'd I miss? expression. Natalie, picking up on it, explained in hushed tones how their previous attempt to meet up had gone.

"So they're probably tying to peace-keep by, you know, totally ignoring each other?" Meghan provided, gesturing with one hand.

"Honestly, I'll take it over the alternative," Natalie said with a shrug of one shoulder and a sip of her drink. "I'm counting it as a success if nobody punches anyone."

"I... see..." Sam said slowly, looking between them. "Goats falling out of trees and fights. This is what I get for being late to the party, isn't it?"

"Yep," Meghan said, smiling in a way that was sort of amused, sort of apologetic.

Peter cut into the conversation with Sam, here. "Speaking of. Outside of messengers, we haven't formally met."

Small talk was definitely a step in the right direction; they began to chat, explaining the basics about themselves to those that had missed it. Names, occupations or lack thereof, shoe size, deepest darkest secrets-- you know, the normal introductions.
(Okay, maybe not the shoe sizes and the secrets.)

Banmon, as well as the rest of the digimon, was seated a little ways away from the table where the humans sat, near the fallen-into-disrepair barbecue pit. She cast a look over to where the humans were making their small talk. "Whew... I was worried they might start another fight."

"Fighting's a lot more of a pain than the alternative," Gelermon said, shrugging one shoulder. "Not worth the effort most'a the time unless someone really needs an ass-whooping."

"Group harmony through apathy?" Raumon said wryly, tapping his beak thoughtfully.

"Hmph."

"See? Beardy's already got the hang of it," Desmon said. Oremon looked at her with an unimpressed expression and snorted, and she grinned right back.

"Is any of us going to cut to the point and address the elephant in the room?" Oremon said, deciding to ignore Desmon. When all eyes were on him, he folded his arms. "We've met each other before."

"That's a big claim, innit?" Gelermon said, lounging back and leaning on her hands.

"You feel it too, though, don't you?" Raumon prompted.

"What? Just because I know I've seen a Raumon doesn't mean I've seen you," the dog said. "Just because I knew what I was fighting was a Garurumon doesn't mean I had Sunday brunch with it."

Raumon scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, I guess."

"But... it feels different," Banmon said, quiet. "I think it does, anyway..."

"What I think," Desmon said, "is that we were all dropped here by an alien conspiracy, and all of this is a big government cover up. Brainwashing!"

"You're sounding like the internet wackjobs," Gelermon said, disdain in her voice and in the curl of her lip.

"It's jokes," Desmon said, sticking her tongue out. "We've all been there the same amount of time, though, right? More or less?"

"Fifteen years, give or take," Raumon said, nodding; the others nodded their agreement with that timeframe. "And this certainly hasn't happened since then. If we all came through at the same time, wouldn't it make sense that we have something in common?"

"Yeah," Gelermon said with a roll of her eyes, "the fact that we all came through fifteen years ago." She was obviously not on board with this.

"For someone who just said fighting was more effort than its worth," Desmon said, looking at Gelermon, "you're certainly being contrary."

"I think Raumon's right," Banmon said, but Desmon didn't stop talking, and so kind of drowned the ghost out.

"I think birdy boy has a point," Desmon said, shrugging. "Fifteen years, and our buddies got the D-Rive thingies, and we're all getting mad deja vu from each other, and none of us remembers anything before coming here?"

Back at the picnic table with the humans, the conversation had actually turned in to a related channel, quite by coincidence.

"I actually met him," Meghan was saying, "hiding under the slide at the playground. He was lost and confused and really grumpy -- I mean, he still is really grumpy, but he almost tried to headbutt me. I think he thought I was gonna try to kick him like a soccer ball or something."

"Sounds about right," Natalie said, nodding. "I mean, I met Raumon under the bridge at the city park, and he seemed on pretty much the same page." Beat. "I mean, I think he'd also been attacked by a bunch of dogs at the dog park, so that might not have helped." She hummed, looking over at Xander, who looked like he had something to say.

He, of course, did.

"You're here saying you met them out in places you might actually expect things to show up. Desmon just fuckin' showed up in my parents' attic and refused to go away. I mean, in mini form, but still, I'm figuring you didn't find a full grown goat under the fuckin' slide, either."

Meghan nodded. "Well, yeah. He was like, a little goat puff."

All five of them compared notes, so to speak. Peter said that Banmon (then called Wispmon) had accidentally drifted through his wall and had collapsed into a little ball of fabric when he had noticed her; Sam's story was that Gelermon, formerly Shuckmon, had caused a massive racket by knocking over their garbage cans at two in the morning, but they all had a similar basic framework-- a little digimon, lost and varying levels of confused and afraid, who had appeared fifteen years ago.

The small talk had given way to discussing their digimon, and the digimon had been a bridging point to actual conversation. Though it was still a bit awkward, and still mostly about digimon-related matters, a good portion of the tension began to slip away. Sure, Sam and Peter were both relatively quiet, but in different ways. Peter spoke up often, but was generally laconic and was more of a listener; Sam didn't voice his opinion as much, but had more to say -- usually sarcastic-- when he did. Xander and Meghan were able to keep the conversation going at varying levels of abrasiveness, filling in the silence.
(Xander and Peter weren't completely ignoring each other, but they didn't really... respond to each other a lot. This was probably for the better.)

Natalie, for her part, felt a great sense of relief. This was actually kind of working. ... she didn't mean to sound too surprised, but-- seriously. Look around at the people she was trying to get along. Them being amicable was a sign of sucess, darn it.
She cast a look over to where the Digimon were discussing, and pricked up her ears.

"I think it's obvious, then," Raumon was saying, "that we most likely came through together, and got separated."

"Hmph. I guess that makes sense, kind of," Gelermon said.

"If you have any better ideas," Oremon said, crossly, "go ahead and share them."

"I just wonder," Banmon said with her usual level of confidence (that is: lacking), "why it was we came through together?"

 

***

Ratamon flittered his wings to slow his descent as he leapt from one rooftop to the next, and he paused where he landed, looking at the sky. Things had been quiet for the past few days; that was understandable. Even he had a hard time finding cracks stable enough to pass through sometimes, it must be even more of a pain for less-compact digimon.

Maybe one of these days he'd end up stuck on one side or the other for longer than he anticipated.

...

... he'd cross that bridge if he ever got to it.

He had gotten a better idea of where the humans and their digimon lived, at least in the broad strokes-- it'd be easier to find them if he needed to alert one of them to any fishy digimon business. That was good!

But that still didn't solve his biggest problem.

That biggest problem... well, they were certainly laying low, weren't they?
Hmph.

Ratamon paused his internal lamentations, looking to the sky and shielding his eyes with one blunt hand. He had to squint, but he could see against the drifting clouds and the blue sky, the faintest bit of distortion.

It's the damndest thing. Sometimes, your biggest problem wasn't your most immediate one.

 

***

"... so every time anyone came looking into my room, she'd hide in my laundry basket," Peter said. He was in the middle of explaining that, from their meeting until he had moved out, he had managed to keep Banmon almost entirely a secret from his mother as far as he knew.

Banmon had returned to his side, while the other digimon were taking advantage of the opportunity to spend some time outside. Desmon was doing laps around the clearing (with Xander yelling at her periodically to stay below the top of the trees) while Gelermon, after a bit of prodding, was chasing after her on the ground; it was one half for fun and exercise, and half because Desmon was having fun coming up with new nicknames for her, most of which she did not appreciate. Raumon was gathering up flowers and leaves to press later, and Oremon was sitting on a rock. Said goat trying resolutely to ignore everyone else except for Raumon, with whom he seemed to have an unspoken understanding of some kind.

"See, that's harder when they're not ghosts," Natalie said, sticking her tongue out. "Every time my sisters have someone come over, Raumon has to hole up in my room, and it's not like I could have anyone come over. It kills your social life, doesn't it?"

"Tell me about it," Meghan said, looking over at Oremon.

"You can just avoid all of that by not having a social life to kill in the first place," Sam said. He was looking down at his phone instead of over at them, but this was -- they were finding out -- not terribly out of character for him.

"Honestly, though," Natalie said, by way of agreement. She rested her chin on one hand, looking over at the digimon to see if they were getting on as passably as they were.
(Seriously, though, she was counting this as a rousing success.)

"Aw, come on, puppypants," Desmon chirped, grinning down at Gelermon as she turned around and began to fly backwards, apparently just to prove that she could.

"Get down here!" Gelermon barked. "Moon Howler!" She opened her mouth and fired a swirling black and green beam. Desmon ducked to avoid it and it instead snapped a thin tree branch just behind where the bat had been moments before.

"Will the both of you knock it off!?" Oremon snapped, finally hitting his breaking point. Snorting, he got to his feet and glared.

 

"Someone's in a bad mood," Desmon said.

"You've been running in circles for the past fifteen minutes," Oremon grumbled, folding his arms.

Gelermon snorted. "Why's it any problem of yours, billy goat gruff?"

"It's--"

"Hey, guys?" Banmon said surprisingly loudly, which meant 'what anyone else would consider a normal speaking volume'. This was enough to get the other digimon's attention, and the humans' as well.

See, she was over near Peter-- which meant that she noticed the little light going off in Peter's bag sitting on the ground.
Peter reached into his bag, as all of the others reached for where they had stored their own D-Rives. Sure enough, each of them had lit up, and when they brought the radar up...

"Kabuterimon, champion level?" Natalie read off, furrowing her brow. It was hard to tell whether it was a relief or not that the dot was heading right towards them.
Bets on it not being a good thing.

It was less of a relief that two dots flickered in beside it -- or maybe they had been overlapping it?

"Both of them are 'tentomon, rookie level'," Meghan provided, being the first to flick her thumb over them.

"That's not bad, then," Sam said, stroking his chin. After all, their friends were rookies, so...
(Yep, thank the fact that he actually read the damn D-Rive's information for that one. And for his next parlor trick, he'd do a simple web search! ... no, but really, the others had intuited that much, Sam was just the only one who actually knew it factually.)

"We gonna throw down?" Desmon asked, perking up her ears as though she could locate them by sound alone. She landed on the ground, regardless.

"Hopefully not," Raumon said.

At the exact same second, Gelermon gave her own contrary input.
"Hopefully."

The dots were moving in quickly-- faster than any other digimon who had shown up on their radars thus far, barring maybe Ratamon. The fear that these were not friendly digimon was growing more and more pronounced by the moment.
A hush fell over the group; they waited with bated breath. Desmon, to nobody's surprise, heard it first, but it wasn't long before they all heard it. It was a loud buzzing, as loud as a passing truck, and like a hundred-thousand really pissed-off bees were flying their way in unison.

And then:

"Electro Shocker!"

The tips of the trees got fried clean off as a massive ball of electricity arced right down into their clearing, and just as succinctly fried away any hopes they may have had about not having to fight. Convenient!
But more on the subject of the crackling ball of electricity headed their way. The humans scrambled to get the fuck out of the way, or at least further out of the way; the digimon, more directly in the line of fire, dove in whatever direction was most convenient. Imagine, if you will, someone at a house party smashing a forty on the ground and screaming scatter, and you have a fairly good idea of what this looked like. The electricity hit the ground and left a nasty black mark in the dirt, but nobody got hit.

Ten pairs of eyes were on the sky to look for the culprit, and they found it pretty quickly.

It's pretty hard to miss a huge blue rhinoceros beetle with four arms, four wings, and a conspicuous lack of eyes, and even if that were a thing that could happen, the two smaller-but-still-enormous ladybugs flanking it almost gave off the impression of heralds. All they needed was trumpets. They all three came to a stop upon seeing the gathering down below.

"Super Shocker!" yelled two voices -- presumably these were Tentomon-- in unison, shooting crackling beams of lightning out from under their wings.
Unconventional heraldry!
They both crackled down with even worse aim than their bigger buddy, which meant that they, too, crackled harmlessly into the dirt, but it sent a message loud and clear. These big bugs were on the offensive, so there was no reason to wait for a declaration of purpose.

"Moon Howler!" Gelermon yelled, firing the black and green beam from her mouth yet again.

"Black Static!" Desmon cried, hopping into the air as she shot fuzzy black rings of energy from her own mouth.

"Earth Wrecker" from Oremon, and he slammed his hooves into the ground. Like toast out of a toaster, a pair of jagged baseball-sized rocks downright popped out of the ground. He caught both of them in the air, one for each hand, and lobbed one at each Tentomon.

They were followed into the air by a slightly apprehensive, "Shadow Shot!" from Banmon, one shadowy blob after another.

Raumon, uniquely, hung back-- though more because of lack of decent long-range options than anything so noble as waiting for an explanation, but he didn't miss out much. The attacks sailed through the air, one after another, but did jack and all good, as Kabuterimon and the Tentomon dropped out of the air, and out of the line of fire quite handily, landing with a cloud of dirt and dust.

Kabuterimon flexed its many, many claws (remember: four arms) and despite his apparent lack of eyes, looked around, surveying the smattering of digimon -- standing, or in one's case flying, ready -- and humans -- who were in various states of 'getting out of the way'. Both of the Tentomon hit the ground a few seconds after the bigger bug did, and they looked around a bit more skittishly.

"God, I fucking hate bugs," Xander muttered. Natalie shot him a now may not be the time look. It seemed that Kabuterimon agreed that now may not be the best time for that comment, because it turned its head to look towards him.

"Stay out of the way," it said, pointing at him with its two left hands. "This is between us and them."

This actually worked out, though-- distracted by telling Xander to shut up, that left a beautiful opening.

"Dark Ring!" Raumon cried, holding his hands out. Underneath Kabuterimon's feet, a dark purple spell circle began to flicker into existence.

All of these next few things happened near-simultaneously.

First, the left Tentomon began to crackle with electricity as it lifted up its wings, preparing to cut Raumon off, but--
"Void Paw!"
Gelermon rushed in, her hands swirling with energy, and she delivered a nice hard power-backed punch right to the Tentomon's face, sending both her and the bug tumbling head-over-heels.

Secondly, not wanting to give the Tentomon on the right an opening to retaliate, Desmon yelled:
"Acro Slicer!" With a slash of her claws, a crescent-shaped blade of energy flew right into the other Tentomon, who was too busy turning its head to look at its compatriot to step out of the way.

Thirdly, and finally, the spell circle underneath Kabuterimon's feet flickered to life, black energy beginning to surge out of it, and it roared as though it were standing on hot coals, lifting back up into the air with a buzz of its wings.

Kabuterimon did not seem amused, and with a growl, it folded its arms around itself as it began to spark with electricity. "Electro Shocker!" it yelled, releasing the energy it was building up as another crackling orb of lightning. It arced right for Raumon, and Oremon near him; they both dove in opposite directions, and it sailed right past them.

This time, the damage was significantly more substantial than a bit of singed dirt-- the tree the Electro Shocker had hit looked like it had gotten hit by a truck driven by an angry redneck who wasn't going to let a tree stop him from flooring the gas.
In less eloquent terms, it was practically splintering in half; if not for the fact that the impact site was blackened and charred, it would look more like it had been hit by a cannonball than an electric shock.

Now imagine how pretty that would be if it had been bird or goat! Their human partners sure were.

"Oremon!" cried Meghan, clenching her fists and furrowing her brow.

"Be careful!" Natalie yelled, looking around quickly to survey what was going on on the whole.

Gelermon was still tangling with the Tentomon she had tackled; the one that Desmon had attacked had its sights set on her and was following her into the air, beginning to crackle with electricity. Both of these pairs were trading attacks, their voices aiding to make the entire scene more chaotic.
All the while, Kabuterimon was beginning to gather up more electricity in its arms, looking between Raumon and Oremon like it couldn't decide which to go for first.

"Electro Shocker--!"

"Breathtaker!" Banmon cried, closing her eyes tight and throwing her hands out. They stretched and glowed white as they wrapped around Kabuterimon's face; at the exact moment that it released its electricity, she yanked its head backwards.

"Iron Head!" Oremon yelled, rearing his head down and running in to the pulled-back Kabuterimon. His head and more important horns met the big bug's thorax with surprising force. Banmon let go of Kabuterimon, her arms returning to their normal size as she did.

As Kabuterimon stumbled backwards, Raumon leapt in as Oremon leapt back. "Symptom Claw!" the bird yelled, his claws glowing purple as he slashed out at Kabuterimon's belly.

It was kind of surprising to the humans, off to the sidelines. The digimon were-- well, they weren't exactly working as a stellar example of teamwork, but even compared to the way they had fought with Fugamon and Ogremon (Banmon excluded), it was clear they had some kind of understanding of each other on an unspoken level.

The Tentomon bugging (ha) Desmon decided to forgo the formalities and simply rush her, tackling her out of the air. She squeaked with surprise as the bug made its approach, her claws lighting up. "Acro Slicer!" she yelled, not slashing through the air but simply striking out with her claws as the Tentomon connected with her and they both fell out of the air. Her tentomon practically flew right into her claws, and with a flash of light, began to pixellate.

"Moon Howler!" Gelermon yelled as the Tentomon giving her trouble pinned her down, opening her mouth wide to fire the beam. It connected with the Tentomon point-blank in the chest, and it, too, began to distort and pixellate in a sure sign of defeat.

Both dog and bat had to take a moment to reorient themselves (and in Desmon's case, flap back up to height) to turn to Kabuterimon, and only barely seemed to register the raptly-attentive humans congratulating them from the sidelines. The bigger bug was the bigger problem.
Well, there was just one way they solved problems round these parts-- at least, when 'problem' meant 'giant monster trying to kill you'.

"Iron Head!"

"Void Paw!"

"Shadow Shot!"

"Black Static!"

"Symptom Claw!"

Desmon and Banmon's attacks flew past the digimon moving in for a melee strike, and struck the big blue beetle first, while Raumon, Oremon, and Gelermon each delivered their blow in close quarters. See, maybe individually none of their attacks would have been a big deal; but one after another, they certainly gave Kabuterimon pause.

After a second to consider, it snarled, huddled in on itself, and began to spark.

"Electric Storm!"

Instead of firing off the electricity in an orb, the orb surrounded Kabuterimon; the three who had rushed into attack had to leap backwards lest they get shocked. Kabuterimon dug its claws down into the dirt as the electricity dissipated, having done its job.
It cast a look around itself, at the five digimon all perfectly willing to get a piece of it, and made a snap decision. Its wings buzzed to life, it kicked off the ground, and Kabuterimon was making to flee.

Banmon squeaked in surprise, looking around in a panic for about a half a second, before she threw her arms out. "Breathtaker!" For the second time, she was able to apprehend the giant beetle. Kabuterimon, however, had a bit of an advantage in the force division-- the little ghost struggled not to be dragged along as Kabuterimon, hindered, tried to pull away.

Banmon squeaked and focused all of her strength into pulling back. With a massive effort, she gave an almighty pull and dragged Kabuterimon straight out of the air and back to the ground.

"Electric Storm!" Kabuterimon yelled again, surging electricity all around itself, and Banmon let go with only fractions of seconds between her and a nice solid electrocution.

Fearing that Kabuterimon might try to escape again, the other digimon were quick to hurl out attacks.

"Black Static!"

"Earth Wrecker!"

"Moon Howler!"

Desmon's staticky black rings, Oremon's jagged rocks, and Gelermon's beam of energy all collided with Kabuterimon at almost the same time, and it roared with pain and frustration-- but it still wasn't making enough headway to take care of their problem, and if they didn't, the big beetle would either keep attacking or get away, and... well. Forgive them for assuming that it might be a bad idea to let a very angry giant electricity-slinging beetle do as it pleases.

"It's not enough!" Natalie called, cupping one hand around her mouth, looking to Raumon-- but as she did, the little crow began to swirl with purple light, as did the D-Rive in her other hand.

"Raumon, drive evolve to... Doctorimon!"

He wasn't even done shifting into his more powerful form before he was diving forward. The other four digimon gave him ample passage as he closed in on Kabuterimon.

Kabuterimon, in response began gathering electricity. It was clearly preparing to electrocute Doctorimon if he got too close, but he saw what was happening ahead of time.

"Black Bloom!" Doctorimon yelled, suddenly feinting and leaping backwards. As he leapt, he procured a black rose from within his sleeve, and then threw it like a dart. The petals glowed with an eery purple light as it struck Kabuterimon right in the chest, and with a snarl and a roar, Kabuterimon began to shift and pixellate.
The light that burst out of it shot to all five of their digivices, creating five thin streams that surged through the air for a half a moment.

There was a moment or two of silence.

"Well," Natalie said, "that certainly is a thing that just happened."

"Are we going to get to look forward to this happening all the time?" Meghan said, rubbing the back of her head.

Sam was the first to respond. "Just knowing my luck? Probably."

"It does seem to be becoming a pattern," Peter said, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

"Oh no," Banmon mumbled, looking around at the damage they had caused to the picnic area. "I'm not... a huge fan of this."

"Suit yourself," Gelermon said, grinning around at the exact same damage. "I'm glad to finally see some excitement."

"Same!" Desmon said, beaming with an almost manic glint in her eye.

"The last thing you need," Oremon said, glancing sidelong at her, "is more excitement." That said, he did look pretty self-satisfied, so he clearly wasn't complaining too much.

"Is everyone alright?" Doctorimon asked, casting a cursory glance around-- but only at the other digimon. He only seemed satisfied once everyone nodded or at least grunted their assent. He stretched out, and he began to glow. It was only a moment before he returned to being Raumon. He paused for a moment, and looked around. "Are there any more of the sandwiches left? I think I deserve another sandwich."

The digimon were all a lot hungrier than they were before the bugs had shown up, so the last of the food was quickly distributed and handily decimated.

"Sorry about all this," Natalie said to the other humans, sighing. "I have to admit this isn't what I had in mind when I wanted everyone to get together."

Peter shrugged one shoulder. "Worse things have happened."

"Better than if they had cornered any of us alone, right?" Meghan piped up. "Or started wrecking things in the rest of the city."

 

***

Ratamon peered over the treetops, taking care to stay out of sight at the gathering of the humans and their digimon. Okay! Kabuterimon was gone-- they had taken care of it, it looked like. Threat managed.

They were getting better at this! He was almost starting to worry a bit less.
... almost.

That still left his bigger problems to attend to.

Where the heck were they, anyway?

Chapter Text

"People are going bonkers over these monster sighting things."

That's a fine welcome-home. Peter had barely walked in the door when his roommate met him with that comment. "And how is the stock market doing?" he said in utter deadpan, sarcasm apparent despite the lack of inflection in his voice.

"Hey, don't shoot the messenger," Ian said, shrugging one shoulder. He didn't look away from his computer for even a moment. "I figured you might be interested in the affair of monsters, you know, your best friend is one." Beat, wherein he looked up. "But enough about me, I mean you're also friends with Banmon, so."

"You're hilarious." Peter did not think he was hilarious. He flopped down onto the couch to start pulling his shoes off. "What happened? Another digimon sighting or something?" He had kind of given the cliffnotes to Ian as to what was going on, but he felt he was kind of justified in keeping the details on a need-to-know basis.

"Nah, not as far as I know. It was just on the news again. I think someone at the station is preoccupied or something. Someone claiming they saw a giant blue beetle the other day, I think? They were just doing another blah blah if you have any information blah blah shtick."

"Right," Peter said, running a hand backwards through his hair as he exhaled.

"You have any idea why all this shit is going down all of a sudden?"

Were it possible for Peter to have less of an idea than he had a couple weeks ago, that was as much idea as he had now. Not only were more digimon coming through with the same cryptic motivations, but now there were more digimon that made up their merry little band, and moreover, those digimon all agreed that they knew each other, but didn't know why.

"Not the damndest," Peter said. That was that, and he changed the subject. "You're not working tonight, right?" Ian shook his head, and allowed Peter to continue. "You down to run up to the used record store later?"

"The one up northside?"

"Yeah."

"That sounds like some hipster-ass bullshit."

Beat. "So that's a yes?"

"Yuh."

"I'm gonna go get out of these clothes what reek of coffee beans and desperation," Peter said in unnecessarily flowery tones, tugging on his work shirt with a displeased expression. "And check on Banmon. Bellow if you need anything." Ian grunted his acknowledgement, and Peter retreated to his room to do just this.

"You here?" he asked as he closed the door behind him, looking around for any sign of the little ghost. When she didn't respond immediately, he shrugged to himself and figured she might have been asleep. It wasn't until after he had already changed out of his work clothes and into something a bit less soul-crushing that she made her grand reappearance.

'Grand reappearance' meant she drifted in silently while Peter's attention was on his laptop; he saw her out of the corner of his eye and nodded a greeting. "Where were you hiding?"

"Oh," Banmon said, "um." Peter leaned back in his chair to look over at her, waiting patiently. "I actually, um." She raised a hand to rub the back of her head nervously. "I went outside for a little while actually?"

There as a moment where Peter paused, as though waiting for a punchline. "Really?"

Banmon practically wrung her hands in her nervousness. "There's the tree right near the window, and I've been, you know, feeling kind of." She gestured vaguely. "Ever since the thing. With the Kabuterimon, I mean. So I kind of... sat out in it for a while?"

Well. Colour Peter surprised. Not that he had any problem with this, as long as nobody spotted her and nothing happened to her. Still, in all the years he had known her, Peter was fairly certain he could count on his fingers the times she had gone outside alone for any significant length of time, maybe his toes if his definition of 'significant length of time' was really loose.

"You feel any better after?"

"Not really," Banmon said after a moment of hesitation.

"No?"

There was a beat, before "... there's a really aggressive bird who lives on the far side of the tree. That kind of put a damper on things."

The corner of Peter's mouth curled into a small smile, and he swivelled his chair around to face her. Though Banmon's mouth wasn't visible, the fact that she was smiling was evident from the expressiveness of her eyes.

"I don't know," she said after a moment. "I think I just want to be... you know. Ready, if another digimon shows up."

"I thought you weren't exactly thrilled about the fighting, though," Peter said, leaning back and folding his arms. Even though he was asking what he felt were fairly obvious questions, he already followed what she meant. He just had to ask questions, because, you know, he was diffcult like that.

"I'm not," Banmon said, and she kind of slumped as she thought of how to phrase what she meant. "But I... I don't want things to go badly if it happens. I don't want anyone to get hurt, I guess?"

Peter nodded, and considered the little ghost before him. "You think you might want to try coming out in my D-Rive a bit more?"

"Like... when you're working?" Banmon said, shaking her head. "Oh, god, no." The fact that she was using that forceful of language (grading on a scale, here) was a testament to the intensity of her do not want.

"I wouldn't wish that on anyone," Peter said, looking and sounding well and truly dead inside, before he continued in a less hollow tone. "We're going to run up northside to the record store a bit later, things like that. Might do you some good to get out some more, without fear of hostile birds."

"Very funny," Banmon said, shaking her head. "I guess. Maybe? I don't know."

"You don't have to make the decision right now," Peter said, shrugging one shoulder. "Offer's just open."

 

***

"If you keep throwing that thing, I'm going to catch it, and if I catch it, there's a non-zero chance it's going to get eaten," Gelermon said, her eyes fixed on the old stress ball that Sam was currently throwing at the ceiling.

 

Sam, for his part, was laying on his bed with one earbud in, a podcast that he wasn't paying attention to running on his phone to provide the background noise. "What?" he said a half-a-second too late to sound natural, turning to look at Gelermon and getting beaned in the face by the stress ball. "Ow." It was more of a kneejerk reaction to getting hit in the face, not that it actually hurt.

"What's up," Gelermon said, not really a question, as she hopped up onto the foot of Sam's bed, "and if you say something like 'gas prices' I am going to punch you in the dick, so help me god."

Sam couldn't help but snort, and cracked a lopsided smile despite himself. "What? Nothing's up."

"Yeah, that's the point," she said, dramatically flopping backwards. "I'm bored."

"And here I was thinking we'd had enough excitement with the giant bugs," Sam said, propping himself up with, and leaning backwards on, his elbows. "And, you know, the whole human interaction thing. Enough of that for the next century, thanks."

Gelermon snorted. "Right?" she said, grinning. She paused, and her expression -- though not her tone -- softened just a tiny bit, but Sam knew her well enough to notice it clear as day. "I thought you were doing pretty good about it, though. Even if they're all annoying as tar."

"Oh, not with the face," Sam groaned, rolling his eyes and letting himself fall back down on the bed.

Gelermon did, mercifully, not harp on the subject. "We ever gonna tell your parental unit about all the digimon shit?"

Sam thought for a moment and pulled a face, even though he was still staring at the ceiling. "I'm gonna call that something he doesn't need to know about."
His dad had been home for about a week, and would be off again in another few days. This entire time, Sam had magnificently managed to skirt around the issue of digimon-- he had already had to deal with enough well-meaning surprise when he had explained that he had to go out and meet up with some.
Well. He didn't call them friends so much as people, but the point was this was still surprising.

Gosh, was it that surprising that he was interacting with people? ... yes, but shut up.

Point is, it had already been a bit of a shock-- he didn't need to make it worse.

Gelermon smirked. "Ah, lying to your parent. A proud tradition."

"It's not lying, it's just leaving out details. Mark the difference."

Sam chuckled, and still laying down, reached over to the bedside table where he had thrown his baseball cap. It was old and worn -- he had had it since his freshman year of high school, and it was hardly the only thing he still had laying around. The clutter in the corners of his room was testament enough to that, but hey, it wasn't clutter, it was coziness.
(Less charitably, a fire hazard, but either way.)

He cast a look to the window, only bare traces of afternoon sun getting through the blackout curtains, and his gaze drifted from the window to the bedside table. His hat had been covering his D-Rive, and of course, this led to a thought.

"You wanna go out and get something to eat?" he proposed, looking over at Gelermon. "I mean, you'd have to minimize, but." Even though she had literally just been complaining about being bored, she blinked, incredulity on her face.

"Are you sick? Dying, maybe? Pod person?"

"You literally just said you were bored," Sam said, sitting up and tucking his hat onto his head.

"Yeah, but I say that all the time. I thought you knew me well enough to know that meant let's go downstairs and play Street Fighter, meet me in the virtual pit and I'll kick your pasty ass or something."

"So you're saying you're gonna pass on getting food?"

Beat. "Nope."

Sam smiled and picked up his D-Rive.

One trip downstairs later, Sam bid a quick hey we're getting food we'll be back in a bit do you want anything all in one breath to his father, who was more-than-half-asleep on the living room couch anyway. When he got no response, he cast a second comment about I'll try not to die but no promises over his shoulder as he beckoned for Gelermon to follow him through the kitchen and out the back door.

"I wonder if you could try to pass me off as a normal dog," she said as she fell onto all fours and followed Sam out; since they opened up into the back alley, she wasn't too worried about being seen just yet. "That way I wouldn't have to get minimized."

"You're green, wear bracelets, and talk."

"Just like a normal dog, you know," she said, cheeky and smirking.

 

***

Turns out that Banmon had, with a bit of deliberation, decided to come along with Peter in his D-Rive, after all.

See, being minimized was... kind of odd. She was still there, next to Peter, but kind of not. She knew she was floating next to Peter, and could still hear everything that was going on around her, but she felt kind of pleasantly numb, and moving seemed like more effort than it was worth. In a way, it made her think of the idea that Peter had once proposed, of planes of existence layered over each other-- she hadn't really understood it, but it's what came to mind.

Regardless, she had to repeatedly remind herself that nobody could see her as she listened to the idle chatter of Peter and Ian rifling through milk crates of used vinyls in this hipster-tastic used record store.

"Hey, look. Hospice on vinyl," Peter said, pulling a nearly-new record out as he flipped through the dust sleeves.

"I'm vetoing. You're not buying that."

"What? Why?"

"Because if you buy it, you're going to want to listen to it, and if you listen to it, I have to listen to it, and if I have to listen to it, I'm going to want to hang myself."

"It's a good album, Ian."

"It's a suicidally depressing album."

"... that's the same thing. What you just said, that is exactly the same thing I just said."

"You are only allowed to make our shitty little flat so depressing. I can deal with the dead things in jars, but there are limits."

Peter rolled his eyes as he put the album he was holding back in the crate. Banmon smiled to herself -- not like she had anyone else to smile at, of course. Sure, they were a bit abrasive to each other, which always made Banmon as an observer a little bit ill at ease, just because she had always been on the more sensitive side. That said, this practically was the equivalent of uproarious banter, and even if it wasn't quite her style, the fact that Peter was enjoying himself accounted for something.

... she still wanted to instinctively dive behind Peter any time someone else entered the store, and only when she had a hard time moving did she remember, oh, right, only to be on high alert again 30 seconds later.

It... it was gonna take some getting used to.

 

***

It was a little while later that they were finally departing, a few vinyls richer and a bit of cash poorer.
"I haven't actually eaten anything today but a muffin on my break," Peter said, hands in his pockets. He idly ran his fingers over his digivice, almost like confirming that it was still there. "You want to get something to eat while we're here?"
The record store was within a very short walk from a number of restaurants, so it wasn't an out-of-nowhere suggestion.

Ian agreed, and so the debate turned to what, exactly, to get.

Peter scratched his jaw. "I'll have to get something meatless for my plus-one."

"This is a hipster town, near a hipster record store. I don't think that'll be a problem," Ian said, checking his phone to look up reviews for restaurants in the area.

Peter cocked an eyebrow at him. "You do realize that we're the hipsters."

"No, really, mister 'wearing a scarf in June'? Us?"

Peter rolled his eyes and looked around, waiting for Ian's search results to bear fruit, when-- he did a double-take. He squinted through his glasses, but no-- that was definitely a familiar face across the street, headed for the sold-by-the-slice pizza place on the corner immediately opposite the record store. Familiar baseball cap, eyes down on his phone (or was it a D-Rive? Nope, definitely a D-Rive), not exactly the tallest sprout in the metaphorical garden-- that was definitely Sam.

"Huh."

Well, what were the odds.
Not that he was going to just run over and say hi, that would be creepy.

(Unbeknownst to him, Banmon -- on high alert as she was -- had actually noticed him a short time before Peter himself did, but, you know, she very well couldn't just materialize to tell Peter this.)

"Pizza place is apparently way better than it used to be," Ian's voice cut through Peter's minor brain digression, "so that's where my vote is going."

Well, then.
How fortuitous!

 

***

Sam was not looking where he was going; he was flipping through the esoteric options on his D-Rive, idly wondering if he could find a way for Gelermon to communicate without having to re-emerge.
So lost was he in these trains of thought that he nearly smashed straight into another person.

"Uh-- sorry," he muttered, eyes down, deeply not interested.

"S'alright," an unfamiliar voice said-- the person he ran into. That wasn't the remarkable part.

"Hey," said a far more familiar voice, and Sam blinked a couple times as he snapped his attention up.

"Uh?" God, Sam, you're eloquent. He had run into a brown-haired dude who looked a few years older than him, significantly taller than him, and he had no idea who this guy was, but the other guy was... what's his name. Peter? Peter. "Hi."

"You know each other?" the brown-haired dude said, looking between Sam and Peter, and Peter nodded. Sam swore, for a split second, that he heard Gelermon growling.

"Vagugely," Peter said simply. He gestured to Sam and the brown-haired dude in turn. "Ian: this is Sam. Digimon stuff. Sam: this is my flatmate, Ian." Sam could see dawning comprehension on the stranger's (Ian's) face.

"Hi," Sam said flatly, nodding a vague acknowledgement.

"Heya, shorty," Ian said. He was taller than Peter, and Peter was taller than Sam, so he had room to say this, but--

"Ha ha short jokes, hilarious, I'm going to punch you in the dick," Sam muttered. (Maybe Gelermon's comment had just put dick-punching on the mind.) Ian, to his surprise, grinned.

"I like him," he said sidelong to Peter, who shook his head with a sigh.

"You here for a reason?" Peter said, looking to Sam. When he said reason, he meant digimon; Sam picked up on this, and shook his head.

"Nope." He held up his D-Rive and inclined his head towards it. "We're just getting food." Beat. "She was going to hang out in the back alley while I got food." Ian mouthed 'she?' at Peter, who mouthed 'digimon' back, and Sam waited for the exchange to finish before shrugging and turning, excusing himself.

"Hold on." Peter's voice behind him stopped him. "Haven't had the chance to check in with Banmon in a while. The back alley isn't going to get people walking through?" Sam nodded with lips pressed thin, and Peter looked over his shoulder. "Go ahead. I'll be along in a sec."

Ian waved over his shoulder as he carried on to go inside, while Peter followed Sam, who had already started to walk around the corner to get to the alleyway. The alleyway in question was narrow and cramped, with trash cans and old fire escapes. It was fenced off by an old wooden fence at one end, so it only had one way out, which helped cut down on cross traffic.

Gelermon materialized first with a swirl of green light, and she stretched out. She practically ignored Peter, looking imemdiately to Sam. "So you're going to get me pizza, too," she said with a grin, "or do I have to play up the puppy dog thing?"

"Pfft. Relax," Sam said, snorting as he placed a hand on her head.
(Peter didn't comment on it, but seeing the change in his demeanor when he was speaking to Gelermon versus when he was talking to him and Ian was almost shocking.)

Banmon came out a few moments later in a swirl of pure-white light, and she peered around herself.
"You doing alright?" Peter asked, kneeling down to be more on her level instead of making her drift up to his.

"Yes, mostly," she said, looking around. She waved meekly at Gelermon; the dog at least acknowledged her with a nod, which she certainly didn't do for her human partner. "Would it be okay if I stayed out here? I could... use a little time away from people."
(Sure, it was... vaguely terrifying to be out here functionally alone -- aside from Gelermon -- but she had had more than her share of people for right now. She could use a little bit of detox time, and the pizza place was more crowded than the record store had been.)

"If you want to," Peter said after a moment, "I'm not going to stop you."

"It'll be a regular girls night out," Gelermon said, interrupting herself to butt in; she had just been in the middle of giving her order to Sam, but couldn't stop herself from commenting. She rolled her eyes. They didn't even need to look at her face to know that-- it dripped from every syllable.

"... right," Banmon said slowly, but nodded up at Peter. "You'll be back soon, right?"

"We're going to get food and be right back out. I'll get you something," he reassured her, nodding before standing upright again. He looked to Sam. "You coming back around front?"

Sam paused, looking back at the digimon, before, "Yeah."

The humans took back off to circle around to the front of the building while the digimon got comfortable; Sam kept a few steps behind Peter. When they finally made their way into the dimly-lit pizza place, there was already a bit of a line between them and Ian (himself still a ways from the front of the line). Ian, noticing them, beckoned Peter come join him. When Sam stayed put, Ian gave him a quirked eyebrow and gestured for him to cut in behind him.

Sam apprehensively did; aside from an eyeroll from the woman immediately behind them, nobody said boo. He wasn't exactly... thrilled? He knew Peter at least a little bit, but not this roommate of his, and he had never been the world's biggest social butterfly.
Understatement of the century.

Peter spoke up first, and he didn't speak loudly so as not to be overheard-- not that it would matter that much, but still. "You mentioned that you'd been messing with the D-Rives," he prompted, looking sidelong at Sam. "Aside from the minimizing thing, what else have you figured about them?" Sam perked up so much it was almost cartoonish.
(That is pretty much exactly the reaction Peter was gunning for.)

"Not a lot," Sam admitted, after his initial surprise at being asked to talk about something relevant to his interests wore off.

Damn.

Sam continued, and turned his D-Rive over in his hand. "They're like nothing I've actually seen before." He, uh, decided to leave out the part where he nearly tore his apart trying to get into its electronic guts, but seeing as how it had straight up refused to open up, no harm, no foul, right?

"Considering their delivery method, I'm not surprised," Peter said.

"Right, the whole delivery by light beam thing isn't exactly industry standard," Sam said. "Aside from the fact that whatever their deal is, though, fucked if I know. They're a big D-Rive shaped mystery."

Peter stroked his chin in thought. "How do you know they're called D-Rives, anyway?" he said after a moment.

Sam blinked. "I plugged it into a computer. That's what the device was called. Hyphen and all. I suppose it could also be drive going by the fact that they yell about drive evolution but, eh, I think D-Rive sounds cooler--"

"You plugged a mystery device sight unseen into your computer?" Peter asked, raising an eyebrow as he cut Sam off.

Sam blinked, giving Peter a do you think I'm stupid? look. "A computer. I have like, a half a dozen old paperweight laptops. I plugged it into one I wasn't afraid to lose."

Beat. Peter shrugged coolly. "Fair enough." Pause. "So where do you think it came from, then?"

Sam was still a bit defensive and sarcastic, and technological tinkering wasn't really Peter's forte -- there was a reason he was a liberal arts major -- but it turned out they did have a common ground.
Trying to explain what was going on.
Admittedly, Peter was more focused on the why, and Sam's interest more lay in the how, but still.

They were both looking for answers, here. In different ways, sure-- but they had that much in common. That was something.

 

***

Outside, conversation had been sparse between the two digimon.

"Ugh," Gelermon said, leaning against the garbage can and folding her arms. She had just been trying to engage Banmon in conversation for the third time, but Banmon had been put off by Gelermon's... let's call it blunt and forceful communication style. "Nevermind, then. I tried, gold star for me."

"I'm... sorry?" Banmon said, not entirely sure what to say.

Gelermon snorted. "Ugh, enough with the apologizing. You're like Sam used to be, but even worse. I'm almost impressed."

"... um?" Banmon said, blinking slowly. "I'm sorry, I'm not sure I follow."

"I mean the whole," Gelermon gestured vaguely with one paw, "shrinking violet act. You've got it on lock."

Banmon blinked slowly at her again. "O...kay?" She paused and tilted her head, while Gelermon huffed and looked around. "What do you mean, like how Sam used to be?" she tried. It certainly got Gelermon's attention.

"What's it matter to you?" she said, and Banmon shrunk back.

"I was just-- you brought it up!" she said in a defensive, albeit squeaky, voice. "I thought, maybe if we were going to have to--"

"To what?" Gelermon cut her off. "Pal around? Be bestest buddies?" She faked a swoon and rolled her eyes almightily. "Gag me."

Banmon didn't seem to find it that amusing. "You don't have to be a jerk to me!" she said with sudden force. It wasn't a lot, but it was definitely a bit of an outburst. "I was just trying--!" Banmon seemed to realize she had raised her voice, and she seemed as surprised as anyone. She immediately quieted back down to her usual gentle tone. "I was just trying to ask you about your partner," she explained. "That's all..." Beat. "Sorry I -- didn't mean to get--" she trailed off, and wrung her hands nervously.

Gelermon had to admit she hadn't really expected it to happen-- she was kind of expecting the ghost to be a total doormat, so even thus much was a bit of a pleasant surprise. She put her hands on her hips and sighed, thinking for a moment. She looked up and down the alley, and seeing nobody who could interfere, she shrugged.

"It's not like it's a super interesting story," Gelermon said. "Sam's got really bad anxiety. Like, you know how some people on the internet say they have bad anxiety to look cute and quirky?" She paused for a half beat, but didn't wait for Banmon to actually respond. "Yeah, I'm gonna personally punch every single one of those people in the face."

Banmon blinked. "That's, um. Evocative."

Gelermon folded her arms and sighed. "Long story short, and I'm not going into details because it's not my damn place to, but he barely left the house for two years. We're talking dropped out of school, got his GED, threw deuces to the rest of civilized society. Can't blame him, honestly, people fuckin' suck." That last part was kind of an aside.
She shrugged again, looking at Banmon. "And you, ghosty-girl, remind me of him during that time but even worse."

"I'm... sorry?" Banmon said, kind of at a loss for what she was supposed to say to this information. This isn't to say she was unsympathetic; she felt like this kind of explained Sam's behavior, to a degree, and she definitely felt a distinct pang of empathy, but Gelermon didn't really seem up for discussion of the matter. "I wouldn't have guessed that about him, if that helps?"

"It's whatever," Gelermon said, flipping one of her long ears over her shoulder like a dismissive hair-flip. "But you should consider working on it."

"... I like me the way I already am," Banmon mumbled, but it was quiet enough that Gelermon either didn't hear her or was willing to pretend she didn't hear her.
(It was the latter.)

Or maybe, it was the sudden sense of Something in the air that kept this conversation from continuing.

Gelermon's ears perked up and she narrowed her eyes.

 

***

"... so I might be overthinking it, but that's also an option," Sam said. He had his D-Rive in one hand and was gesturing at it with his other hand. They had already placed their orders and were standing off to the side, waiting for their numbers to be called. "Or it could just be aliens. That's what half of the people I've seen seem to think."

"Somehow," Peter said, stroking his chin, "I feel like the conversation doesn't lose much by dismissing that one, no."

"Then I'm putting all my bets on that contingency," Ian chimed in, eyes fixed on his phone. He had interjected a couple times, but he had mostly just been half-listening to the conversation. It didn't really involve him, you know?

"Hedging your bets?" Sam said, raising an eyebrow.

"Mostly just betting against Peter."

They had aaaaalmost become comfortable (or at least, Sam had almost gotten comfortable talking to Peter and to a lesser extent Ian), when something immediately snapped Peter and Sam's attention away from their conversation. One guess what it was!
That's right-- Sam's D-Rive lit up. What else would it be?

"Dammit," Sam muttered.

Peter, staying tight-lipped, pulled his own D-Rive out and, indeed, his had also activated. Luckily, they just looked like they were looking at their phones, aside from the looks of vague distress and displeasure.
(Okay, so maybe they looked like they were looking at their phones and reading the news.)

"Maybe it's not hostile," Peter said, looking sidelong at Sam.

"And maybe it tapdances and sings showtunes," Sam said right back, swiping his thumb across the screen to bring up what limited info it could offer. Strigimon, the little pop-up window said, champion level.

Sam suddenly felt annoyed that, for all the features he had found, he couldn't find one that was more helpful than that. Either way-- it didn't bode well. Sam looked up to tell Peter that they should investigate, but by the time he ripped his eyes off his D-Rive screen, Peter was already gone.
He looked around; Ian gestured towards the door with a tilt of his head.

"He already took off," he clarified, then paused for a beat. "Digimon stuff?" Sam nodded, lips pressed tight, and Ian shrugged. "I'll grab your pizza for you. Go. Be free."

Sam blinked a couple times, muttered a vague thanks, and took off out the door. He stumbled a bit, blinking blearily into the evening light of almost-summer as his eyes adjusted to the change. He looked around up and down the street, then at his D-Rive.
And then he realized that he should probably reconvene with Gelermon.

He was only a few seconds behind Peter; as he turned the corner around the building, he could see the trailing end of Peter's hipster scarf turning ito the alleyway. He was quick to follow.
As they arrived, Banmon peeked out from behind a trash can, a worried expression on her face. ... ... more worried than her default worried expression, that is.

"About time!" Gelermon said, bounding out from behind another can, knocking it over in the process.

"I take it, then," Sam said, looking between Gelermon and Banmon, "that I won't be breaking any news to either of you if I say there's a digimon coming?"

Peter looked at the digimon, who were looking expectantly at them.
He adjusted his glasses, then looked sidelong at Sam. "Seems that's the case."

"Duh!" Gelermon said, rolling her eyes.

"Um... yes. I heard it," Banmon piped up meekly, gesturing at the sky.

"And if she heard it," Gelermon said, not pausing for explanation, "then you know I did. You know. Since I actually have ears." This... explained very little. One could forgive Sam and Peter for not feeling stellar about this.

"Heard what?" Peter said, but just about as soon as he asked, they got an answer.

It wasn't loud, but it was hard to miss, much like how you can hear a firetruck from miles away. It was long and loud, distant, and sounded... avian. Kind of as if someone who had only a vague, pop culture-informed idea of what birds sound like had combined the screech of a hawk with the throatiness of an owl, and then cranked up the volume by a hundred decibels.
Sure, they didn't have proof that it was the digimon, but let's be real -- after encountering a giant beetle, it was safe to assume that any really loud, really huge animal noise was probably courtesy of a digimon.

Gelermon's fur bristled, and she looked up at Sam. "Come on. Let's you and me get a head start, here." She cast a sidelong glance to Banmon and Peter, more the former than the latter. She was trying to communicate without saying as much that she wasn't counting on Banmon to be a huge boon. Not that they were useless, you know, just...
Well.
Gelermon had, historically, always been of the opinion that they could manage fine on their own. Why would now be any different?

Sam followed her eyeline, and though she didn't say it, he got her message-- and he couldn't help but kind of feel it, to a certain degree. Despite the fact that they did have common ground, he was having a hard time getting a read on Peter. Admittedly, he wasn't the best at reading people in the first place, but still!

Peter was too busy recalling Banmon into his own D-Rive to pay mind to any of this. Sam followed suit with Gelermon.

"Dammit," Peter said flatly, looking at his radar again.
A car alarm went off in the distance.

Sam and Peter took off running, knowing they didn't have a whole lot of time to waste.

 

***

Strigimon snorted derisively as she spread her wings to soar. The little humans below were looking upon her with confusion, with fear-- but none of these plebians were what she was looking for.
None of them were going to gain her the glory she so rightly deserved. For their insolence -- for not being what she was looking for-- she had fired off a Razor Feather, and her feathers had riddled holes through their metal vehicles, cutting through them with distressing ease.

It had been, admittedly, mostly for her own amusement, but the loud noises -- the honking alarms, and the sound of sirens -- were less to her liking, so she decided not to dawdle.

She knew some of them had to be close.

(Okay, she was guessing they were close, but was rarely wrong.)

 

***

"I'm going to guess," Peter said flatly as they turned around a corner and saw an enormous bird flying overhead, "that's our mark."

"You think?" Sam said, glancing out of the corner of his eye at Peter. "What gave you the hint?" Peter didn't respond to his sarcasm; he just adjusted his glasses

In a flash of light, Gelermon and Banmon both materialized next to their partners-- Gelermon looked excited, and Banmon, apprehensive. They could hear clamor and what sounded like car alarms going off. Any hope they may have had that this digimon wasn't hostile was evaporating rapidly.

"Hope you're ready to kick some ass," Gelermon said-- it was hard to tell who she was talking to.

Damningly, the shape seemed to notice them, the closer it got. If nothing else, it was suddenly descending, and it was hard to take that as anything but a sign that they were being homed in on.
Banmon ducked behind Peter, while Gelermon bounded forward to put herself between the unknown threat and the others. Or, the unknown threat and Sam. Mostly Sam. Entirely Sam.

Without warning, the bird (the Digimon) swooped, and the distance between them was suddenly significantly less than anyone would have liked it to be. Arcing down between the buildings with remarkable grace for its size, Strigimon was, unsurprisingly, a giant bird. It resembled something like a cross between an owl and an eagle, albeit with a twenty-foot wingspan.

"Razor Feather!" it cried, flapping its huge wings and releasing a flurry of feathers that glowed brightly as they flew at Sam, Peter, and their unwitting Digimon. She missed-- luckily, it seemed that she had attacked prematurely, as the shower of feathers stopped a good fifteen feet ahead of them.

Considering the fact that they sliced through the body of a parked car like a hot knife through butter, this was something they were very thankful for.

"Moon Howler!" Gelermon yelled before anyone could tell her otherwise. She reared back and spat her energy beam at Strigimon, but Strigimon artfully dodged the beam with a (perhaps unnecessarily) dramatic flourish. The bird tucked in its wings and spun like a corkscrew as Gelermon's attack sailed by harmlessly, and then it burst back out to its full wingspan.
However, it did stop, flapping here to look down at the small gathering of humans and Digimon. They could get a good look at it now-- it was mostly tan, with brown and cream across its body. Its mostly natural colours brought out its few red and orange accents, as well as its piercing yellow eyes.

"Aha!" it (she, rather-- her voice was obviously feminine) declared, descending and delicately alighting in the middle of the road.

Behind himself, Peter could feel Banmon shrink down even harder to stay out of sight.

Lucky that traffic had completely backed up, or this might have been even more of a problem.

"Only one, I take it?" she said, peering -- indeed -- owlishly at Gelermon, and sighing dramatically. "Thought I saw... ah, well. I suppose it's better than nothing. I can gather the others at some later point, I assume, get my full dues..."

Peter furrowed his brow and hummed quietly; Sam cast him a sidelong glance, looking slightly confused, but Peter ignored him. "Dues?" he said, looking instead at Strigimon. Strigimon, in her turn, seemed slightly confused that a human was addressing her.

"It's no concern of yours," she said sharply.

"It kind of is, seeing as how she," Peter gestured at Gelermon, "is kind of with my friend here." He made absolutely no mention of Banmon; if Strigimon hadn't noticed her, he wasn't going to point her out.
Sam gave Peter a what are you getting at look with lips pressed tight and eyebrow quirked. Gelermon, hilariously, shot the exact same expression over her shoulder at Peter. It was actually kind of uncanny how similar they looked.

See, he couldn't say it, but Peter had a feeling, and he was going to take a shot here.
Strigimon, just as Peter had hoped, looked slightly taken aback. "Is that so," she said, and Peter knew that he had struck onto something-- even if he didn't know what.

Gelermon caught on. "Hey, yeah," she said, darting her eyes between Strigimon and back to Sam. "I've got a human. That means, you know." She certainly hoped that Strigimon knew, because she sure didn't!

"That can't be right," Strigimon mumbled. Peter was feeling mighty proud of himself, right up until the point that Strigimon decided to resolve her conundrum her own way-- that is to say, by lunging forward and grabbing Gelermon in her talons.

"Hey!" Gelermon yelled, struggling immediately. "Moon Howler!" She fired the swirling green beam right at Strigimon's underside, but it was like trying to shoot a water gun at a brick wall.

"You can't fool me," Strigimon said, glaring at Peter and Sam. "I will return, and you humans will pay for attempting to harbor a refugee." Pause. "And more importantly, attempting to impede my ascent to glory."
Her talons scraped horribly against the concrete as she picked Gelermon up, and lifted into the air with the dog still attempting to break free. With a mighty flap of her wings, she turned and prepared to fly away.

"Gelermon!" Sam blurted, looking around frantically for something he could throw. In a fleeting moment of passion, he almost threw his D-Rive. (That, he realized, was probably not wise.) In lieu of that, he lunged forward, preparing to try and physically intervene himself.
A thousand thoughts rushed through his mind at once-- that Banmon wasn't going to be able to help, that he didn't know how close he had to be to Gelermon to get the evolution thing to work, that he didn't know how to make the evolution thing happen, that this asshole was not helping--

Banmon drifted to Peter's side instead of behind him.

Peter looked over at Banmon, and she looked right back. He met her eye and nodded once; she frowned, but then looked back up at Strigimon. She paused for a half a second before she slowly nodded.
She threw herself forward, bypassing Sam easily. Peter's D-Rive, held tight in his hand, began to swirl with light.

"Banmon, drive evolve to... Banshemon!"

As she grew in size, her ability to efficiently follow Strigimon followed suit. "Banshee's Call!" she cried, and all around her, shining white spirits materialized. They accelerated past Banshemon herself and flew straight for Strigimon.

The owl, in all her infinite wisdom, rotated her head to look over her shoulder at what was happening behind her. Her timing was impeccable; right as she turned, one of the little white spirits was on a collision course with her face. The little ghosts pelted her and she squawked in a most undignified manner. Not expecting to actually be hurt (for, indeed, Banshemon's spirits packed a punch), she tumbled out of the air and back down onto the street, dropping Gelermon moments before she impacted the concrete.

Gelermon made an oof! noise, but was quick to return to her feet. She growled as she righted herself, and boy howdy-- she was ready for revenge.

Luckily, Sam's D-rive seemed to agree, and began to glow green.

"Gelermon, drive evolve to... Frekimon!"

Strigimon looked between Frekimon and Banshemon, confusion plain on her face. "How on earth did you manage--" she blurted, temporarily losing her cool as she picked herself off the ground, but she quickly regained her composure.
'Regained her composure' meant she attacked.

 

"Owl Talon!" Strigimon yelled, rushing close and leaping at Banshemon. Her talons glowed crimson as she did, and when she slashed out at Banshemon, she tore long, jagged rips into her robe before digging her claws in. Despite the apparent lack of substantial form for her to dig into, she was able to grab hold of Banshemon, and began ripping and tearing at her.

"Spirit Ripper!" Banshemon yelled in desperation. Her claws began to glow and she raked them across (or rather, through) Strigimon, which was at least enough to dislodge her. Strigimon let Banshemon go, backing up as she rose into the air, but she was far from done.

"Razor Feather!" she yelled, leaping into the air and flapping hard, and not just to gain altitude. As she flapped, she released another rain of wickedly sharp feathers.

"Shit!"

Was it Peter or Sam that blurted that? It didn't really matter-- both of them, not wanting to be cut to ribbons anytime soon, stumbled backwards, but this wasn't enough to get them totally out of range. They braced for--
Nothing. Frekimon leapt into the line of fire, covering her face with one arm as she shieleded the humans-- but Peter got the incredibly distinctive feeling that she was not jumping in to save him.

"You okay?" Frekimon growled, low and quiet and looking over her shoulder specifically at Sam, which confirmed Peter's suspicion. Sam nodded, and Frekimon snapped her attention to Strigimon again.

"Are you--" Banshemon began, but Frekimon wasn't in the mood to answer silly questions like that.

"New Moon Fire!" the wolf yelled instead, spitting the blast of green fire right at Strigimon. It struck true, knocking Strigimon out of the air again, but she at least saved enough dignity to avoid tumbling backwards.

"Banshee's Call!" Banshemon cried, and once more a flurry of white ghosts materialized around her and threw themselves at Strigimon.

"Hey. You alright?" Sam asked, asking Peter the question that Frekimon hadn't. It took Peter a moment to snap back to reality; he was intently watching and listening to the fight.

"Oh. Yeah, nothing busted," he said, nodding and looking around as he got to his feet. He held out a hand for Sam; after a moment of hesitation, Sam took a hold of it, and Peter helped him to his feet.

It was now that onlookers were beginning to gather. People were getting out of their cars and coming out of buildings to gawk, yelling, capturing video on their phones...
Nobody had seen the interactions that would have given them away as connected to the digimon, right? Right. That was the important part. ... ... okay, it was one of the important parts. The fact that sirens were getting closer? Also a very important part. They had to act quickly.

"Such underhanded tactics would suit you, I suppose," Strigimon said, righting herself and picking herself up into the air as she glowered at the two digimon before her. "It doesn't surprise me at all that you'd sink to such tactics as deceit, trickery, hiding-- clearly a fitting end to be brought by my claws back to--"

"Oh my god, shut up!" Frekimon said, growling as green fire began to gather in her mouth again.

Peter wanted to chastise her for her hastiness-- to tell her that no, actually, let Strigimon ramble as much as she wanted-- but he had the niggling feeling that might not go over well. He held off.

"Ravenous Hunter!" Frekimon cried, leaping for Strigimon. The flames around her wrists ingited, engulfing her hands; at the apex of her leap, she slashed out at Strigimon.

Strigimon, however, was not about to simply wait around for Frekimon to reach her. "Owl Talon!" she yelled, swooping; her talons glowed red for a split second before they collided with Frekimon's face. Frekimon quite suddenly lost her forward momentum, and fell to the ground.

"Is that all," Strigimon taunted, tossing her head dramatically.

"Big talk for an overdramatic feather duster," Sam muttered to nobody in particular; Peter expelled a huff of dry laughter through his nose. Strigimon continued.

"Surely, you should know that you've no chance against me. If I were you, I'd simply give up now!"

"I'd rather not," Banshemon said, quietly but firmly. Being able to fly, she had much less worry of being knocked out of a jump, so she closed the distance between herself and Strigimon with surprising quickness. "Spirit Ripper!" she cried, her claws glowing white as she slashed out at Strigimon.

Strigimon hooted in indignation as she flapped backwards frantically to get away from Banshemon's attack. Peter and Sam could see her yellow eyes fix on them again. Perhaps she was preparing to fire off another razor feather; it didn't matter, because both Banshemon and Frekimon saw her focus on their human partners, too, and decided to be pre-emptive.

"Banshee's Call!"

"New Moon Fire!"

White ghosts and green fire met Strigimon at more or less the same time, and as they exploded, Strigimon let loose with a loud keen and began to pixellate.

"Damn the--!" she managed in one last caw before she burst into motes of light-- and luckily, the onlookers were so distracted by the fact that a giant bird just exploded into light to notice that those pixels of light rushed down into Sam and Peter's D-Rives.
Banshemon and Frekimon stayed where they were, breathing heavily with the rush of battle. With two more surges of light, they shrunk back down to their rookie forms-- and were becoming rapidly aware that they had spectators and rubberneckers staring at them.

Banmon, in particular, seemed not hugely fond of this idea; Gelermon was still glaring at where Strigimon had been moments before.
After a moment, Gelermon glanced out of the corner of her eye at Banmon; when they made eye contact, Gelermon nodded and smirked just the faintest bit. She wasn't going to say thanks for the assist, but she could at least imply it.

Peter didn't notice this small exchange; he was busy looking up at where Strigimon had been. "I wonder," he muttered to himself.

"Hey, cool idea-- wonder all you want when we're not in broad daylight, maybe?" Sam suggested in a hiss, glancing around. He, for one, hadn't forgotten the blow-up that had surrounded the ogre incident; he didn't want to get caught in the crossfire here, and didn't want Peter to, either.
Peter, getting lost up in his own head, actually kind of had-- so after a moment to come to his senses, Peter nodded.

He cast a look over at Banmon, who quickly caught his eye; Peter nodded, jerking his head just slightly, and he ducked back around the corner. Banmon followed, and with a flash of light, she was minimized into his D-Rive.

Sam whistled at Gelermon, which snapped her to attention; she bounded towards him as he too ducked around the corner, and minimized her into his D-Rive.

With the sounds of sirens behind them and trying their best to act nonchalant, the two of them began to walk back from whence they had come, but Peter's mind was already somewhere else; Strigimon's words had set the gears in his brain in motion, and he was trying to make sense of what little they knew.

Sam, on the other hand, felt a deep sense of dread, and his mind was very much in the present. He had seen people taking video-- no way this was going to go unnoticed.

Sam found himself looking over his shoulder the entire time that they walked away, as if waiting for someone to follow them.

Nobody did.
This did nothing to ease either of their minds.

Chapter Text

"... and with the rotors, that's gonna come out to twelve hundred forty seven and change," Xander said in his best customer service voice, bracing for an outrage that, thankfully, didn't come. It was twenty minutes past five, and he was clocking out in ten minutes, and he really didn't want his day to end on a frustrated customer note.

The man, for whom Xander was currently ringing up services, groaned and shook his head. "Oof. I'm thinkin' I should've gotten the brakes checked out earlier."

"Wasn't gonna say it, but yeah," Xander said, smiling sardonically; the man chuckled as he went to dig for his wallet.

The news running on the TV -- an ancient old thing, crammed on a bracket mount up in the opposite corner of the waiting room -- filled the silence. "... and many eyewitnesses are reporting that electronics they had on their person at the time of the incident have experienced minor data corruption. If anyone has any information about yesterday's incident, or the similar incidents that have happened over the past month," the newscaster was saying, "they are advised to contact the Atlas Park Police Department as well as our tip line..."

"You heard about all this?" the customer said, leaning on the counter and gesturing at the television as he fished out his card. "Heard there was another incident over near Market yesterday." He gestured in the vaguely easterly direction of the street he was referencing.

"Yeah," Xander said, shrugging one shoulder. "I've heard." That was as neutral an answer as he could manage. He had heard firsthand pretty much moments after it happened, and he himself had had some choice thoughts about the matter. None of those thoughts were appropriate to share with customers, what with concerns about coming across as professional.

"Pretty wild, don't you think? I've been seein' stories on about it since, oh, on and off since about May... lotta people are claiming it's monsters, but all the video people've been takin's been gettin' all screwed up."

"Sounds like someone's screwing with them, if you ask me," Xander said, keeping his voice even. "Hasn't really disturbed my life yet, so honestly I cant say it's my biggest concern," he continued, lying through his teeth and doing an admirable job of it. "Here's your receipt."

"Here's hopin' it doesn't, you seem like a nice young man."

Right. He suuuure was. The bell on the door jingled as said door swung shut, and the customer took his leave; Xander massaged the bridge of his nose. "I need like, fifteen cigarettes."

"You don't even smoke," a coworker said, popping his head in behind Xander.

"I sure don't," Xander said, not even turning around. "What's your point?"

"Hey, don't bite my head off. Was he that bad?"

Xander shrugged one shoulder. the customer hadn't been bad, outside of the fact that he wouldn't shut up even before the subject turned to the news; of course, Xander had a pretty good handle on tuning out anything that wasn't essential. It was a learned and practiced skill.
"Nah. I've just had other sh-- things on my mind lately."

The attack yesterday, and both Sam and (ugh) Peter had been perfectly willing to share their ample thoughts on what had happened. He had skimmed it, but it had seemed that they had gotten at least a little bit more insight into why these Digimon were getting up in their shit so much.
Vaguely. Very vaguely.
Something about glory and refugees.

Whatever.

Having that damn news running sure wasn't helping-- and neither was the fact that he could feel his phone, in his pocket, blow up with text notifications. He would bet money, he told himself, that it was some Digimon shit. Again.

So he assumed, anyway.

As Xander headed out to his car fifteen minutes later, it turned out that he would have lost that bet. The messages weren't from any of the team squad at all-- they were from his bandmates. Mostly Paul. Like, 90% of them were from Paul. As he settled into the driver's seat, he flicked through the notifications.

dude the first one read.
dude call me when you get off work
ps how late are you working today?
dude

"What the fuck is going on that's so important?" That's how Xander greeted Paul once he called-- no hello, no what's up, cutting straight to the point. "Because if it's less important than someone's goddamn mom dying, there's no fuckin' reason you should've blown up my phone like an insecure girlfriend."
Tactful as ever.

"Dude, Xander, Xander, my dude, my guy," Paul's voice crackled out of the speaker, so excited he almost cut off Xander's little rant, "you know that gig at the Pit this weekend? Opening for The Phobias?"

"Yeah," Xander said, raising an eyebrow. They had tried to get it, but they'd gotten shunted, and he'd long ago accepted that fact.

"So, we're playing it now."

There was a moment where Xander blinked, before:
"What, seriously?"

"Yeah!" Paul's excitement was practically tangible even over the phone. "The band that was going to open had to back out and I slid in and secured it for us. Apparently the booking guy saw us at the Rock Star and decided we'd do in a pinch. Please, hold your applause. ... who am I kidding? Applause, please."

Xander couldn't help but grin. "Shit yeah!" The Pit was not, by any means, a glamorous gig-- it was a little music club, probably even more of a dump than the Rock Star was, but that was part of the appeal, dammit-- and opening for The Phobias, one of Atlas Park's most promising under-the-radar punk bands, only served to sweeten the deal.

A moment, as reality suddenly seeped in.

"Wait. That gig's on Saturday, right?"

"Yeah."

"It's Wednesday now. As in, four days before this gig."

"Also yeah."

"Fuck."

"Also also yeah. I mean, look, I get it if you can't, but if we're gonna back out I gotta know now--"

Xander sighed, and sat back in his seat. Like hell he needed this on top of all this monster bullshit, but also like hell was he prepared to give up this chance.
"I'm in."

 

***

And now we flash forward to Friday afternoon.

"... it's just that I don't think it's really fair to judge," Oremon was in the middle of saying, "considering I don't have fingers."

"You could just stop trying to challenge James to fighting games, you know?" Meghan offered as a suggestion, looking over at her friend as she pulled her keyes out of the ignition.

Oremon looked back at her flatly. "No."

Meghan... didn't mean to laugh at him, really! But she couldn't help it-- the deadpan delivery paired with Oremon's bruised ego over such a silly thing... she kind of burst out laughing.

Oremon folded his arms. "Hmph."

"You ready?" Meghan said as she regained her composure. She fished her D-Rive out of her pocket with a bit of difficulty, as she was still in the driver's seat of her car; Oremon snorted, but he stretched out his legs and nodded. In the blink of an eye was minimized back into Meghan's digivice so that she could walk right on in to the Lotus, unhindered by trying to hide a giant talking goat.

See, she had agreed to meet up with Natalie-- and not even because of Digimon stuff, either! As it turned out, being able to socialize and talk with someone who understood the good ol' Digimon struggle, even if the conversations weren't about Digimon, was a lot more freeing than maybe any of them had expected it to be.
Oremon, for his part, just liked finally being able to get out-- even if being minimized took some adjustment, the change of scenery was doing him a lot of good. Meghan could tell, even if he was still exactly as grumpy and gruff as ever. After the Strigimon incident, he had practically demanded to come along whenever Meghan was out and about in the past couple days. She knew this was kind of thanks to his conviction that something might happen at any moment, but... she had a feeling that not all of it was just protectiveness and grouchiness.

She was, of course, correct-- but good luck getting Oremon to admit as such.

Seeing as they were meeting at the Lotus, they had extended the offer to Peter to come along. He had declined; it was his day off, and he refused to step foot in the Lotus if he didn't have to. Fair enough.

As Meghan walked in to the dimly-lit café, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust, but once she had, it wasn't hard to spot Natalie. Today was not a busy day-- there were maybe four tables occupied, and one of them, tucked over in the corner, had a familiar redhead scrolling through something on her phone and blind to the world.

Meghan tried waving, but quickly realizing that Natalie wasn't going to look up, she closed the distance between them.
"What's up?" Meghan said as she walked up; Natalie didn't seem to have been expecting her, so she jumped a little bit, but she quickly righted herself.

"Oh, hey!" Natalie said. "Sorry, I kind of--" she gestured vaguely at her phone. She tucked said phone into her bag, freeing up her hands to grab her drink.

"Yeah, I could tell," Meghan said, sitting down. She put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on both of her hands. "What's up? More of the same?" she said, peering at Nat's phone. By 'more of the same', she meant 'digimon stuff', and was only asking half-sarcastically.

"You know, surprisingly, no," Natalie said-- surprisingly, indeed. It might be easy to overlook that their lives weren't yet one hundred percent about Digimon.
Keyword: yet. (Give it time.) "I was just reading something while I was waiting and, you know, kinda got distracted."

Meghan nodded her understanding, and with her chin still resting on her palms, she looked around. "I actually don't think I've ever been here before," she remarked.

Natalie raised an eyebrow. "No? And here I was," she said wryly, "thinking that coming here was basically a requirement for attending NWSU."

"Well, I don't go to Northwest, which, you know, probably has something to do with it," Meghan said with a wry smile of her own.

Natalie tilted her head and blinked in mild bemusement. "Really? I could have sworn you said you did..." she said, tapping her chin as she tried to remember, but Meghan was on the ball and ready to provide answers.

"Nope!" Meghan smiled and leaned forward on her hands. "I'm doing two years for an AA at Mountainside," she said, referring to a community college on the northern side of town. "I miiiight transfer to Northwest after, but, you know, art major and all, may as well get on the cheap what can be gotten on the cheap, you know?" She shrugged one shoulder.
(It had taken a lot of finagling to get her parents to go along with that much, so she was still willing to call it a victory.)

Natalie nodded along, taking a sip of her drink. "Art major?"

"Photography!" Meghan provided, beaming. "Because, you know, I hate the prospect of ever having a well-paid job in my field," she added, still smiling despite the sarcasm and vague defeatism. She sounded remarkably like she had heard this exact assessment of her major more than once.

"Man, I'm an English major, talk to me about it," Natalie said, rolling her eyes with a smile.

As it turned out, the two of them got along on more fronts than simply digimon. They were talking like close friends -- instead of friendly acquaintences who had met barely under a month ago -- almost immediately.
(What a long month it had been though.)
Meghan practically bubbled over with commentary on everything Natalie said, and Natalie had a knack for asking questions to keep the conversation flowing.

Surprisingly, if you put a couple of socially-minded extroverts together, they'll make fast friends. Go figure.

They started talking about Meghan's photography, how she got into it, how she was working on building up a portfolio, and it segued from there into discussions of movies (Natalie made sure to recommend some great old B-movies), and from there... well, pretty much everything was free game.
As sure as the tide coming in, though, the conversation did end up taking a turn for the monster-related.

"I don't know, like..." Meghan said, humming as she thought. "Oremon's been really worried about something going wrong."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, like, he's acting like there's gonna be a digimon attack every other day," Meghan said, sticking her tongue out playfully. "Being all, look both ways before crossing the street, make sure you've got your four foot tall talking goat before going anywhere a monster might turn up." She could practically feel Oremon's unamused snort from beside her, even if he was safely minimized. She grinned.

"Well, Raumon's been coming out with me a lot of the time these days," Natalie said, opening up her messenger bag and surreptitiously pulling out her D-Rive, just enough for Meghan to see it before she dropped it back into the depths of the bag. "Just in case, you know?"

"Yeah, I guess," Meghan said, drumming her fingers on her cheek in thought. Beat. "I think we've been pretty lucky so far, though? I mean... for a given value of lucky. Not so lucky for the people who have to pay for car repairs and stuff."

"Right?" Natalie said, shrugging one shoulder. "No, like... I don't know. I know I'd rather not be caught unawares. Can't say I'm a huge fan of surprises when surprises are monsters with a grudge."

"No kidding," Meghan said, puffing out one cheek in thought, but her thoughts were interrupted by the jingling of the bell on the cafe door. Normally, this wouldn't interrupt her, but both she and Natalie noticed at the same time, out of the corner of their eye, that the person pushing the door open was a familiar face.

Xander -- for, yes indeedy, it was Xander walking into the café, even if the addition of glasses made Natalie double-take -- wasn't paying attention, eyes on his phone, until Meghan called to him:
"Hey!"

He looked up from his phone and blinked. He noticed the girls and raised a hand in greeting, then turned his attention to the barista ready to take his drink order.

"Talk about coincidence," Natalie remarked to nobody in particular, but Meghan hummed in agreement. They didn't have much time to mull over it; Xander crossed over to them while he waited for them to make his coffee.

"Hey. What up."
He sounded like he hadn't slept in the past twenty-four hours, which, honestly, he might not have.
Both Natalie and Meghan had assumed that his eyes weren't naturally that piercing shade of yellow, and judging by the fact that right now his eyes were both very dark brown and the bloodshot of someone who hasn't slept enough recently, the glasses made sense.

"You look..." Well, Natalie wasn't going to say like shit, but... "Tired?"
Xander caught her drift anyway.

"You mean I look like shit? Yeah, you're not the first to tell me." (They got the distinct impression that Desmon was the culprit, here.) "S'why I'm here. Coffee." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at where his drink was being prepared. "Why're you here?" he said, looking between the two of them. "Did I miss some new Digimon shit?"

 

"Nope," Meghan said, shaking her head, "just doing that whole social thing, y'know?"

"Not a damn clue," Xander said in a flat deadpan and Meghan couldn't help but laugh a little at his delivery.

"Are you doing something that brings you down here?" Natalie asked after a moment of thought. "I mean, this seems pretty far away from your neck of the woods."

"Yuh. Band shit."

"That what's been keeping you total radio silence the past couple days?" Natalie asked. Not that Xander was always super talkative, but since Tuesday, the group chat in general had actually kind of started to come out of their collective shells... all except for Xander. Which, sure, he wasn't the most sociable, but he hadn't taken any chance to share his opinions on anything, which struck Natalie as a bit odd, knowing what she did about him so far.

For his part he took a moment to consider -- as if debating whether or not it was really their business -- before he answered. "Yeah. Got a gig tomorrow we weren't expecting to have. I haven't had time to do shit else, between prepping it and work."

"Oh, yeah, then, you've totally missed like four separate digimon attacks," Meghan said, but she found herself thinking pretty hard-- she had an idea she was mulling over in her head.

Xander snorted like a bull, running a hand backwards through his hair. "Swear, it's the last shit I need on my mind right now."
He stepped away for a moment as they called his order, and he returned a moment later with both his drink and a napkin-wrapped muffin in hand.

"You missed another digimon attack in the time you were away," Natalie said, swirling the half-melted ice and watered-down dregs of her drink at the bottom of her own cup.

Meghan shook her head. "Ain't that just the way?"

Xander snorted again-- they chose to take that as the Xander equivilent of laughter.
"Look, I gotta get going or they're gonna start riding my ass, and I'm pretty sure Desmon's gonna want this," he said, holding up the muffin.

"I would hate to deprive her of her pastries," Natalie said with a dry smile, and Meghan grinned. Xander snorted for the third time.

"Later."

"Later!"
They bid him goodbye, and Natalie hummed, while Meghan watched him go.

"You know, he gave me an idea," Natalie said, and Meg snapped her attention back over.

"Huh?" Meghan said, because honestly, she had also got an idea-- but she had the distinct feeling that it wasn't the same idea.

"I should get Raumon a muffin."

 

***

heeeey :D

It was past midnight when Xander checked his phone, walking out of Eric's garage with Desmon perching on his shoulder, and he was greeted with a message-- from Meghan, of all people.

"What's up?" Desmon asked, peering down at his phone and twitching her ears as she practically draped herself over Xander's head. (It was late-- nobody was going to care if she stayed out for the distance between Eric's garage and Xander's car.)

"Mind your own damn business," Xander snapped back up at Desmon; she grinned and continued to peer as Xander scrolled through the messages. They were sent earlier in the evening, and he had a hunch that she was probably asleep by now.

so i had an idea earlier and i thought i might run it by you!!
your band thing-- do you want pictures? for like publicity stuff and social media
im a photography major and i thought maybe some nice semiprofessional style performance photos would probably be nice for you to have for like self-promotion kind of thing
or i mean you could do silly boy band promo shots too if that's more your style, matching outfits and all :P
(that was a joke)
anyway hit me back with a y/n?

"Huh," Xander said more to himself than anything as he began to walk to his car.

"Make the text on your screen bigger," Desmon complained, "I can't read from all the way up here."

"Get off of my shoulders, you overweight winged chihuahua."

 

***

"You're going?" Oremon said with vague distaste in his voice as he sat to the side, watching Meghan lace up her most comfortable shoes. Xander had conferred with his band and apparently, the idea had gone over well, judging by the yeah, sure message she woke up to.

It was around six PM now, the doors were at seven, and the music at eight; Xander had shot her a message around five that they were free from sound check hell (his words) and they could get her into the venue at her leisure.

"Well, yeah. It'll be fun!"

"You're not afraid you're going to get, say, knocked over? Have your stuff broken?"

Meg looked over at Oremon and puffed out one cheek in vague annoyance. "It'll be fine, you know." Oremon looked unconvinced, and Meghan rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to be like, down in the pit." Beat. "Well, I am," name of the venue and all that, "but I mean, I'll be up front for a couple songs, that's it, not staying in the mosh pit or anything." Another beat. "Well, not for extended periods of time, anymore," she said, sticking her tongue out.

Oremon made a grumpy, concerned little bleat, and Meghan reached over and gently bumped her knuckles into his forehead.

"If anyone starts anything, you can pop out and kick their ass. Anyone stupid enough to try and start a fight with a girl with a camera is gonna be so blasted that they probably won't remember that it was a goat that headbutted them in the gut. I come equipped with my own personal bouncer." She grinned.

There was a brief pause while Oremon considered this, and after a moment, he nodded, satisfied.

 

***

Desmon had yet to really get on board with the minimizing thing. ("I am no rich woman's lapdog to be carried around in a handbag," she had said, "nor are you a rich woman. Far as I know.") She sat comfortably backstage in a beaten-up, too-small dressing room, sitting on top of a busted amp that had been shoved into the corner.

"When is Will getting back with the food? I'm dyiiiiing," she complained, stretching out her arms above her head and spreading her wings. (Being the youngest, Will had been "volunteered" to be the one to run out and get food.)

"He said he'd be back in like ten minutes," Xander said, seated beside Eric on one of the two moth-eaten couches, flicking through his phone, "and you ate before we got here. You're going to survive."

"She's wasting away, man," Paul said from the other couch, not even looking up from his sketchbook; Xander shot him a dirty look while Desmon grinned.

"See? Everyone can see it!"

"Don't encourage her."

Any further discusson was cut off by knuckles rapping on the door. All three of the humans present made various grunts in a style vaguely indicating what's up or come in, while Desmon slumped backwards and did an impressive impression of a very strange prop.
(Hey, there was a half-destroyed papier-mache zebra on the other side of the room, she didn't stick out too badly.)

"I come bearing sandwiches," the familiar voice of their bassist drifted through the door, but it wasn't like him to knock.
The words were followed by a brief pause as he tried and failed to open the door with sandwiches in hand. A moment later the door swung open-- and behind him was a face that was only familiar to Xander. "And a girl with a camera. I assume she's your friend, X?"

"Hiii!" Desmon chirped, and both Meghan and the other members of the band looked surprised-- the former that Desmon was out and about, and the band that she had dropped the inanimate act.
(Turns out neither party had been expecting the other to be aware of Desmon.)

A round of introductions followed; Meghan made a confused sort of gesture at Desmon, and Xander shrugged, explaining that they -- the band -- had known about her for ages. When the band asked about Meg's nonchalance, Meg practically blue-screened until Xander jumped in with a "she's got one too, turns out it's a thing", though thankfully didn't go into any more detail than that.

"Don't you keep her minimized?" Meghan asked while the other members of the band were busy handing out the sandwiches that Will had brought.

"Why bother?" Xander asked, sitting back on the couch. "It's not like shit's gonna happen." She looked unconvinced; he snorted. "Anywhere I go where I'm gonna be able to run off and play superhero, she's gonna be with me. I'm not gonna go runnin' off to play with monsters at work or whatever, so why carry her around all the time?"

"I don't know," Meghan admitted, shrugging. "It just feels like..." she trailed off and gestured ineffectually.

"It feels like I've got enough going on," Xander said, resting his elbow on the arm of the couch and his head on his knuckles, "that I don't need to worry more about monster shit."

"And besides," Desmon said cheekily, "staying back here fully materialized while they go prance around on stage like a bunch of frat boys with stupider haircuts means I get to nosh on all their leftovers."

"Oremon thinks it's going to happen regardless of whether we worry about it or not," Meghan said, then paused. "Then again, he's also worrying enough for all of us, I think."

"That's because billy goat gruff is, you know, gruff and all that," Desmon said, grinning.

"If something happens," Xander said, "I'll deal with it when it happens." (Of course, Xander should really get better about not tempting fate.) He huffed, shrugging one shoulder. "Can we cut this? Like, the last damn thing I need on my mind is more monster shit. No offense, or whatever."

"None taken," Meghan said, shrugging right back and rolling immediately with Xander's requested subject change. "So like, what'll probably happen is I'll be down up front for the first couple songs, and I'll back off after that so I don't get trampled..."

 

***

Meghan was fairly certain her hearing might never return to normal, but she was remarkably okay with this.

She had managed to get (what she was pretty sure were going to turn out to be) some great shots over the first couple songs in the set. Between the loud music (which was a lot more-- not melodic, but more fun sounding than she ever kind of expected punk rock to be?) and the energy of the crowd, which was comparatively small but energetic and enthused, the dimly-lit venue seemed a whole lot bigger than it was.
Turns out, Xander's usual aggression channeled well into the music; for all he could seem prickly and standoffish, he had a distinctive stage presence and a surfeit of energy. This stood in stark contrast to how tired he had seemed offstage-- maybe he had just been saving up his energy to use here?

Well, Meghan thought it was pretty damn cool, is the point, even if she was in no rush to stay up front after she got her pictures, and she had stuck through to the final song in their set.

"There's a stillness in the air, I pray for sound..."

It was different, sure, but she kind of found herself digging it-- just, you know. Maybe from a safer distance. Towards the back of the concert space was a bit more room to breathe with fewer people packed quite so tightly. So she was seated at a table, taking a cursory look over her shots, but...
Hm.

Some of them were... behaving oddly. They looked distorted, like somehow the photo data had been corrupted. But how was that possible?
(Three guesses, and the first two don't count.)

She scrolled through her photos with brow furrowed, but as she was doing so... the lights flickered conspicuously.

"I hold my breath, did tricks I hoped you wouldn't notice--"

Nobody in the crowd seemed to notice, or thought it was anything to take note of; it was part of the charm of the venue, right? The lights browned out for a half a second, a bit of static rang out over the speakers, and nobody really thought much about it except for maybe a cursory, internal curse for the tech guys.

We should all know by now that it was not just a quirk of the wiring, because they wouldn't be so lucky.

Meghan probably wouldn't have thought twice about it either, but between that, and the photos... Sam had been keeping them up to date on all the photos he could find, and...

She pulled her D-Rive out and, sure as anything, it was active-- and there was a digimon on the radar. (Well within the radar, actually-- it was close enough to make the lights flicker, after all...)
Tuskmon. Champion.

It wasn't just heading towards them-- it was almost there. She had been so distracted-- but really, could you blame her?

She didn't have the highest hopes, here. She looked frantically up at the stage as she shoved her camera back into its bag-- Ekko Lokation had just finished the song, the last in their set, and were met with a surprising amount of applause. (Maybe it was just the small venue making it echo? No, no-- the crowd was into it.)
Meghan, in the back, frantically waved her D-rive in the air and pointed at it, attempting to get Xander's attention. It wasn't a big venue, so it was at least realistically possible.

Up on stage, Xander caught sight of her and squinted. "What?" he hissed to himself, but he quickly cottoned on-- not least of all because he saw the flicker of orange light as Oremon materialized beside her, and the two of them took running for the door before anyone looked twice at them. (It was dark, their attention was on stage, a not-insignificant amount of them were drunk...)

God motherfucking dammit could he have one goddamn day.
(In fairness, he had had several days without digimon shit going on...)

 

***

You know, for something called 'Tuskmon', Meghan had to admit she hadn't expected a dinosaur, but that was the digimon she saw heading her way, only barely more than a block away, when she barrelled out the front door of the venue.
It was a big green T. rex, a story and a half tall, with pink stripes running down the length of its back. A pair of rhino-like horns adorned its head, and matching spikes ran down its spine from the shoulderblades down-- but from its shoulderblades a pair of large, curled... well, tusks, striped red and black.

So she could see where the tusk came from, but it still wasn't her first thought-- but regardles of what she thought, the big digimon seemed to be in a rather foul mood as it came down the street, looking this way and that-- and with those big tusks and swinging tail, it was causing no small amount of panic and collateral damage as it did.

And here was the thing.
It was around 8:45 on a Saturday night. They were close to the downtown.

It was kind of a big deal already.

"Crap, crap, crap--" Meghan blurted, looking around frantically. People were pointing, screaming, panicking... she could faintly hear sirens, and she realized a moment too late that they were probably closer than she thought they were, considering how she felt like she was hearing through cotton balls.

Oremon practically pushed past her, and Tuskmon's vivid-purple eyes settled on the goat that was suddenly heading his way.

"Bayonet Lancer!" it roared, and the larger horn on its face began to glow. It released a javelin-like blast of energy, headed right for Oremon. Oremon snorted and leapt out of the way, not stopping his charge-- the attack smashed into the street and cracked the concrete, but better it hit that than Oremon.

"Iron Head!" Oremon yelled, bowing his head down as he prepared to headbutt him-- but Tuskmon didn't seem to care much for Oremon's aspirations.
As Oremon drew closer, Tuskmon reared down and hooked Oremon on the long curved tusks and tossed him aside effortlessly; a young man dove out of the way to avoid being collided by the discarded goat, and yes, he did do a double-take over the fact that a giant angry dinosaur just threw a bipedal goat at him. As you do.

But that was the thing-- Tuskmon didn't seem particularly interested in following up on that. It seemed content to throw Oremon aside and continue its trudge down the street, swinging its tail and coming dangerously close to smashing said tail into windows and street lamps.

Meghan had to make a decision, and quickly, whether it was more important to help Oremon, or to pretend she wasn't involved to avoid suspicion.

So anyway, that's a stupid question.

"Oremon!" she cried, rushing towards her partner, who was already getting up with no great abundance of dignity. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he said, gritting his teeth, and before Meghan could tell him otherwise, he launched himself forward.

"Oh, you idiot," she muttered to herself, feeling quite helpless-- but of course, as Oremon ran towards Tuskmon's back...

"Oremon, drive evolve to... Ibexmon!"
To his credit, he didn't recklessly charge at Tuskmon; he merely snorted as he went from running at a full sprint as Oremon to a confident not-quite trot as Ibexmon as Tuskmon realized something was going on behind it, and it turned around. As it turned, its tail swung in an arc, and bystanders had to jump out of the way.

Once Tuskmon had turned, Ibexmon snorted.

"Headstrong Charge!" he yelled, rearing down and rushing forward.

"Horn Driver!" Tuskmon reared down in turn, locking its curved tusks with Ibexmon's horns.

"What the fuck did I miss?" Xander's voice brought Meghan back to reality. He had been jogging up to her when he had called to her, and came to a stop as she turned, and Meghan gestured at Tuskmon, practically playing tug of war with Ibexmon's horns.
She really didn't think she needed to explain further.

 

"Well, shit," Xander said, flat tone belying the irritated twitch of his eye.
Unbidden, a burst of blue light materialized into Desmon -- Xander had, Meg realized, had to run backstage, minimize her, and make his way back out. He had moved with impressive speed, really, considering he had had to drop literally any other concerns he had.

"Come on, let's kick some ass!" Desmon chirped the moment she formed, kicking into the air and flapping. She looked expectantly at her partner, impatience on her face.

"We need to get it away from here," Xander said, sharp and decisive. Meghan nodded-- there were a bunch of people in there, and if something went wrong out here on the street...

"Got it!" Desmon said, grinning. She threw before she flapped her way over to where Ibexmon and Tuskmon were locked in horn combat. "Hey! Big, green, and ugly! Black Static!"

The rings of energy hit Tuskmon straight in the face, which caused it to roar and pull away from Ibexmon to look at the new, small annoyance. Its pupils constricted and it snorted out a humid, rotten-smelling breath.

"Oremon! I mean-- Ibexmon!" Meghan said, cupping her hands around her mouth-- as she ran towards him. "We need to--!"

"Get it away from here, right" Ibexmon said with a nod. "Get on my back." When Meghan looked confused, "Can't fight it here, and I'm not going to just abandon you here to fight it somewhere else. Get on my back."

"Bayonet Lancer!" Tuskmon yelled for the second time; Desmon squeaked, practically divebombing out of the air to avoid the spear of energy. It smashed straight into the building opposite the venue that they had just come out of-- a shop that was, thankfully, not open, so all of the damage was to the property.
(Look, there's a sliding scale of things to be thankful for.)

As Meghan clambered onto Ibexmon's back with the time Desmon's distraction afforded them, Desmon herself dropped down next to Xander, and began to glow.

"Desmon, drive evolve to... Corymon!"

Xander didn't need special instructions-- he climbed onto Corymon's back the moment she had fully formed, and she kicked into the air. Ibexmon took off down the street, with Tuskmon focused on giving chase. Luckily, pretty much everyone gave a wide berth.
Meghan yelped, clutching the strap of her camera bag tightly with one hand and hanging onto Ibexmon's mane with the other.

"Come on, you overgrown gecko!" Corymon taunted, waving her scorpion-like tail like someone would wave string in front of a cat.

Xander disagreed with her course of action, and made his opinion clear.
"Hey, dumbass! Don't taunt it while I'm on your back!"

Luckily, it didn't seem to pay attention -- it was more interested in Ibexmon.

"Find somewhere to take it," Xander said to Corymon, looking around. "Somewhere where there's fewer people and more room to maneuver, or failing that, at least one of those."

To her credit, Corymon was already looking by the time Xander said as such. "There's an empty-ish parking lot close to here!" Corymon yelled down to Ibexmon. "Follow me!"

"Easier said than done," Ibexmon muttered, casting a sidelong glance over his shoulder -- careful not to disturb Meghan, best he could. Tuskmon's turning radius was wide, and to minimize damage while leading it around a turn would be... interesting, but what choice did they have?
As he looked back forward, he saw Corymon pull ahead, leading the way.

As they swung around the first turn, Tuskmon took out a stop sign and took a chunk out of the corner of a building with the swing of its tail.

 

***

By the time Ibexmon had turned the final corner, he could see Corymon already landing in the lot to let her passenger off before kicking back into the air, preparing to fight.
The big dinosaur didn't seem too intelligent or interested in anything other than chasing the other digimon, so the screams of people and the distant police sirens didn't seem to affect it much. Whether that was a curse or a blessing was really up for debate. Luckily, the further they went, the fewer people they ran into-- which said nothing of people following them, but, you know.

"Black Stinger!" Corymon yelled as Ibexmon bounded into the lot, firing off three rapid-fire shots from her tail's stinger.

Ibexmon was about to be angry, and he snarled that Corymon was antagonizing the dinosaur currently chasing him, but he realized after a half a beat-- she was distracting it once again, so that Meghan could get off his back.
She did, with great rapidity, and Ibexmon turned to face the hostile digimon.

Tuskmon, for its part, roared so loudly that it felt like its voice shook the earth beneath their feet-- which was just as well that their hearing was already kind of shot!

"Hurricane Blitz!" Corymon said, taking advantage of her newfound freedom to rush at her foe without fearing she'd smash into any innocent bystanders. Wind whipped around her and she swooped at Tuskmon, pulling back at the last second and leaving the wind sphere to continue on its path, smashing into Tuskmon head-on.

Grinning cockily, Corymon failed to move far enough away in time. "Horn Buster!" Tuskmon yelled, its horns glowing as it rushed at her, catching the bat with a nice sharp jab. She cried out, dropping to the ground. She wasn't terribly hurt, but hey, you try taking a horn to the stomach and see how not-winded you are, huh?

"Terra Spear!" Ibexmon yelled, rearing back and slamming his front hooves down hard. The cracks from where his hooves impacted rushed along to underneath Tuskmon's feet, and sharp spikes of rock shot out of the ground to strike it, giving it a taste of its own very sharp medicine.

Tuskmon did not seem terribly amused by this. It roared again, looking between Ibexmon and Corymon, as if it were trying to decide which one to go for first, but while it was undecided--

"Headstrong Charge!" Ibexmon cried, bowing his head down. Once again, Tuskmon reared down and locked horn with tusk, growling low.

This time, though, that was what Ibexmon was trying to do, and Corymon picked up on it, lifting up into the air to get some distance between herself and the dinosaur.

"Hurricane Blitz!" she yelled again, and once more, wind swirled around her. She swooped and pulled out of her dive at the last second.

In that last split second before the sphere of wind hit Tuskmon, Ibexmon gave an almighty toss of his head-- enough to unlock his horns from Tuskmon's, uh, tusks, and pull away so that he wouldn't be caught in the crossfire.

Tuskmon roared in pain, and Meghan and Xander could see it begin to shift and pixellate-- just slightly. Not enough to fully commit.

"One more hit!" Xander yelled up at his partner.

As Corymon circled back around, preparing to attack again, Tuskmon took initiative.

"Panzer Knuckle!" it roared, its fist engulfing in fire as it rushed at Ibexmon.

"Headstrong Charge!" Ibexmon once more rushed at Tuskmon. This time, Tuskmon wasn't rearing down, and didn't catch its tusks on Ibexmon's horns. Ibexmon smashed straight into Tuskmon's abdomen, and that was enough to tip it over the edge. In a flash, Tuskmon pixellated and broke apart into glowing little data particles.

The little pixels rushed into Xander and Meghan's D-Rives, and without the heavy breathing and angry vocalizations of a dinosaur, they were left -- as Peter and Sam had been days before -- to enjoy the distant sounds of the panic they had left behind.

Either Meghan's hearing was starting to come back, or the sirens were coming closer.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Corymon said as she alighted, grinning. Xander rolled his eyes and muttered something about idiot.

"You're alright?" Ibexmon asked as he crossed over to Meghan, and she paused, before reaching over and bumping him in the middle of his skull-plated forehead with her knuckles.

"At least we got it away from the concert hall?" Meghan said, looking over at Xander as Ibexmon started to de-digivolve back down to his rookie level.

Xander grunted and shrugged. "Yeah. Swear to fuck, though, can't believe I had to tap out like that, unprofessional as shit..." he shoved his hands into his pockets, checking his phone.

"Better than letting a dinosaur crash the party," Corymon said, just moments before she devolved back down to Desmon. Xander shrugged one shoulder in vague agreement and flicked through his texts.

where the hell you go? from Eric; the next, you're missing the main attraction dude from Will.

"They don't have a damn clue what's going on inside," he concluded, looking back over at Meghan.

"The power of loud music?" Meghan offered with a hopeless shrug, and then she paused. "... shit! Half of my photos got messed up!"

"What?" Xander asked, blinking.

"When I was-- because the digimon was nearby, I think, it messed with my camera?" she said, gesturing hopelessly, and Xander blinked before he put two and two togther.

"I wonder why that is," Xander muttered, looking over at Desmon and Oremon. "S'not like these assholes screw with our shit..." Oremon seemed unamused with the term of address. Desmon put on her best shit-eating grin.

"I hope I still have enough good ones," Meghan muttered, frowning as she pulled her camera out of its bag and starting to scroll through her photos again.

Xander looked back over at her for a moment; she made a kind of dejected groaning noise.
"At least I didn't have anything else on here..."

Xander rubbed the back of his head. "If you don't have any good ones, you could come to the next show we play."

Meghan was about to respond, and Desmon looked prepared to open her mouth to commentate, when they as a unit were distracted.
"Good job!" a familiar voice chirped, making all four of them jump.

Ratamon was perched up on the top of a utility pole, his eyes shining bright as stars in the fading light. How long had he been there? ... Actually, come to think, it had been a little while since he had turned up-- at least, in any way that they had seen him. (He'd been around.)

"Oh, look," Desmon said, "it's the Greek chorus pudding!" Oremon frowned and folded his arms.

"Caused a little bit of damage, but it looks like it's mostly cosmetic," Ratamon said, peering around before jumping down off of the pole. His little wings flapped frantically to slow his descent, and he practically bounced when he hit the ground again. "Good job, though! You're getting better!"

"How the hell do you keep knowing where we are?" Xander said without a moment of preamble, raising an eyebrow.

Ratamon blinked owlishly up at Xander. "Well, there's only so many digimon with humans," he said, which answered nothing, "so when something goes wrong, I'm going to assume it's happening around one of you!"

They couldn't place why, but they felt kind of... insulted.

"Right," Xander said slowly, and judging by the look on his face he was at least faintly contemplating murder.

Meghan, though, hummed in thought. "How do the digimon causing trouble know where we are, though?" she said, more to herself than to Ratamon.

"That one?" Ratamon said, looking at where Tuskmon had been not long ago. "I think he was just feral. He probably came through by accident! That's been happening more, you know. I'd be more worried about the ones with an agenda, myself, but whatever suits you, suits you."

The ones with an agenda-- they couldn't help but think of what Sam and Peter had said they had heard from Strigimon. But... coming through? By accident, even?

"What do you mean coming through?" Meghan asked, though she was becoming steadily more aware that they had less and less time to dawdle.

"Oh, from the Digital World!" Ratamon said as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "There's more cracks now than there used to be. It's not doing so great right now, honestly, I don't really blame them for brute forcing their way through without a plan..."

The flashing of red and blue lights turning a corner announced that they really didn't have the affordances to continue this conversation. Ratamon seemed to agree, and without warning he bounded over to the pole he had jumped down from.

"I'll see you around!" he chirped, cheerful and smiling over his shoulder before he skittered up.

"God motherfucking dammit," Xander hissed, pulling out his D-Rive and minimizing Desmon. Meghan followed suit, and she sighed, watching as Ratamon took off like a little white bolt of lightning.

"Let's get back to where we started," Meghan said, gesturing in the direction they had come from. It was a few blocks away, but without the threat of being chased by a giant angry dinosaur, it wasn't too imperative to move super fast.

Xander sighed, looking at his D-Rive. He was going to have to start keeping Desmon on-hand more regularly now, wasn't he?
Damn.

"I'll take a look at the pictures I got that didn't get messed up," Meghan said as she began to walk, "but I'm totally down to come to you guys' next concert."

 

***

It was hardly ten minutes later that a young man ran into the parking lot that not even a half an hour ago had been the site of the scuffle; the police had moved right along from the empty parking lot, in search of the perpetrators. Nobody stopped him, nobody even questioned his being there.

"Damn," this young man huffed, stopping to catch his breath. He looked around; there were scuff marks in the pavement and a busted stop sign down the street, but not a thing that he was looking for. He pulled out his phone and fired off a quick text:
missed it

again? came back in no time flat.

hey come on it's not like we've had better luck a second responder chimed in. its like every other one we miss out on

fair nuff i guess

He sighed and pocketed his phone, and pulled out another little electronic device. With a little feathered wing charm hanging from the end, with a white back and a red faceplate...
Well. No prizes for guessing what it was. He turned it on and flicked to the radar screen, and he was met with nothing but the dot in the center of his radar, shaped like his partner's head.

"Every time," he said to himself, shaking his head. Now, don't get him wrong, he wasn't objecting to the fact that when digimon were running around causing trouble, it got more or less taken care of before he or his friends could respond, but... maybe taken care of was the wrong term? After all...

Well. It was complicated, but Shitomon had been right so far, and he had no reason to believe she would be wrong now.

 

***

Later that night, the city had quieted down somewhat-- as cities tend to do around 1 AM.
Ratamon sighed, flicking his tail. He was perched on top of a building, looking around.

This had all gotten more complicated than he had been anticipating.

The more digimon that were breaking through, the harder his job got-- the more he had to worry about the digimon and their humans making a mistake, or getting caught for real. On the other hand, he supposed there was at least a little bit of a silver lining. The more incidents, the greater the chance that the ones who were laying low would finally show their faces. And that went for all of them-- not just the one he really wanted to find.

...
Or, alternatively, the incidents could end super badly, in part because of those outliers.

... either way!

The Digital World had been cut off for long enough, and the sooner that he found the last one, the sooner they could get this ball rolling.

Chapter Text

"It's too hot," Raumon complained, laying spread eagle in the middle of Natalie's living room floor where the air was coolest.

"You weenie," Gelermon said, safe from her spot right in front of the fan and a smug smirk on her face.

"All my feathers are black," Raumon protested, "and your fur's mostly white. I don't reflect as much heat."

Natalie was holding down the fort while the rest of her family were out of town for the next couple days, and she, of course, used this opportunity to throw a WILD PARTY. 'Wild party' meant she invited over the rest of the squad, if they wanted, to come chill. To her surprise (and relief) all of them had agreed. Peter had showed up a bit late, having gotten off work, but this might have been for the better-- it gave him and Xander less time to get on each other's nerves.
July had just begun, and it wasn't just warm-- it was straight up hot, even as the afternoon gave way to the early evening. An oppressive humidity hung in the air, which meant that nobody was eager to hang out outside.

"Girls, girls, you're both pretty. Or both overheating, whichever," Desmon said from her comfortable perch on the back of an easy chair. Gelermon rolled her eyes; Raumon lifted his head and for a moment looked like he was going to offer a rebuttal, but he decided it wasn't worth it and flopped his head back down.

The humans were sitting on the floor, smack in the middle of a particularly vulgar party card game (you know the one)-- Peter had been so kind as to provide the physical copy of the game.
Banmon was curled underneath the side table, watching the happenings around her-- and hiding from the fan, which was on full blast, and she didn't like having her bandages whipped around by the air. Oremon was laying across the couch, arms behind his head and eyes closed. He wasn't asleep, and he still snorted grumpily when anyone poked him, but for the most part, he was content to listen.

The past couple weeks had been... well, let's say they had been good for team-building. This little meetup provided, Natalie thought, a pretty good point of reference; this was the first time since the Kabuterimon incident that all five (ten) of them had all been in the same place at the same time. Compared to then, the tone was so much more casual and comfortable, it was almost ridiculous.

For one, they had actually kind of graduated to a group of... friends? Not like they were rushing to call each other besties or anything, and their digimon tended to stay practically joined at the hip with their respective humans, but still, progress was progress, right? Right. Especially when them getting used to each other and willing to work together was doubly important-- digimon had not stopped rearing their ugly heads.

To recap:

There had been a phoenix called a Birdramon that Xander had refused, point blank, to have anything to do with (No, not again, no more kentucky fried goddamn chickens, I dealt with the goth version, this is on you), leaving Doctorimon to find a way to handle it without being able to fly up to its level, much to the plague doctor's chagrin. Frekimon, meanwhile, had had to deal with another bird, this one a giant chicken named Kokatorimon-- ground-bound, yes, but also able to petrify the wolf digimon in her tracks, and a late-arrival save from Banshemon had been the edge she had needed. Ibexmon had taken care of a feral digimon that had been rampaging towards the downtown; it had confusingly named Moosemon, despite its clearly being an elk, and Corymon had helped take down an enormous red beetle named Kuwagamon, even though she complained afterwards about how loud its buzzing wings had been.

There were a couple more, evening out to one or two a week; and, sure, we could likely go into detail on these-- but ultimately, they didn't gain any more insight than they had. Strigimon's tendency to go on had been an outlier, not a regular thing, and Ratamon was as slippery as ever. They saw him around now and then -- he would pop his head in when a digimon incident happened, as if just to check in and say hi, but nobody had had the chance to press him for information.

They had gone over what they knew time and time again, but without more information, they were running circles. The extent of what they knew -- or guessed at any rate, was this:
There was another world, if Ratamon was to be believed; it 'had seen better days', and was where Digimon were from. Alright, on board with that-- though the digimon, try as they might, couldn't remember anything before meeting their human friends, they had all conceded that this sounded more or less acceptable. The humans were still struggling with the reality of the idea, but it wasn't a new idea. After all, they all had their theories for their talking, shape-shifting monster friends. Moreover, Strigimon had mentioned refugees-- so they supposed that maybe their friends had escaped the not so great state of the world?

But that didn't explain Ratamon's "cracks", or what Strigimon had meant by her lofty claims of glory. It didn't explain the D-Rives at all, which infuriated Sam in particular to absolutely no end. It didn't explain what the Digital World was, or what state it was in, and most of the digimon they had dealt in the interrim hadn't been overflowing with information-- or at least, information that they were willing to share. Most of them had been either feral, or repeated the same monosyllabic found you shtick as most of their fellows.

The trend of digimon being nigh-impossible to catch on camera clearly had also continued, which was a great source of consternation for the news stations and various internet commentators. Sam had put forth the idea that maybe emergent digimon -- as he called them, a term which the others had absorbed through osmosis -- interfered with electronics in some way, but he couldn't figure how.

("What makes you think that?" Natalie had asked when Sam had proposed it.

"Mostly the fact that out of all of my total bullshit guesses, that one felt like it made the most sense," had been Sam's reluctant reply.)

In their own ways, they all had the distinct feeling that there were going to be significantly more questions than answers in the forseeable future. For now, all they could do was keep feral digimon from causing havoc, and protect themselves and each other when digimon with an agenda came knocking.
... and maybe get a round or two of a party game in here and there.

"'We're sorry, but the department of blank has rejected your request for blank," Meghan read off of the prompt card, before pausing. "... who played 'homeless people' and 'turning homeless people into wifi hotspots'?"

"They saw the opportunity, and they took it," Peter said, stroking his chin.

Natalie grinned. It had been her play.
(She won the round.)

 

***

It was a bit later on in the night; the sun had started to go down, making things less heinously hot, and they had had a truly disgusting amount of Chinese takeout delivered. With the temperature coming down to tolerable levels, they had migrated up to the roof of the building, as it was a bit less cramped for five people and five digimon. Though they briefly considered digging out the motley collection of lawn chairs, they as a group decided it wasn't worth the effort, and were generally content to sit on the roof as it was.

The humans were engaged in a truly fascinating, horrible discussion, and the digimon could only sit by and watch in awe as they ate their own food.

"All I'm saying is that the reason nobody goes swimming in lakes," Natalie was in the middle of asserting, gesturing with her chopsticks, "is at least 75% the fact that nobody wants to risk finding a dead body someone dumped there."

"Finding a dead body is just a risk we all have to take sometimes," Peter said, in such a flat and matter of fact tone that it was difficult to tell whether or not he was joking-- but then again, that was how he said everything.

"Okay wow," Sam said in the ensuing beat of silence, right before Peter smirked, shrugged one shoulder, and resumed eating.

Xander, however, had a different take, which he used to pick up the conversation. "No, the reason nobody goes swimming in lakes has nothing to do with dead bodies, it's just that lakes are fucking gross."

"Partially because of all the dead bodies," Sam interjected; Xander rolled his eyes, and Gelermon, to the side, snickered loudly.

"I thought they sank people in the river, not lakes?" Meghan said, tapping her chin in thought, and then paused for a beat. "Or was that a country song...?"

"The point is that natural bodies of water are full of corpses," Natalie concluded decisively, nodding sagely, and there was a moment of silence as they considered this.

And then Meghan said, "what about the ocean?"

"Humans have the weirdest conversations," Oremon muttered, still struggling with chopsticks but his pride demanding he not give in and use a fork, no matter how many times Meghan suggested he try another utensil.

For all it was a... fascinating conversation, though, Raumon took something else out of it as he watched the humans (particularly Natalie) discuss the pros and cons of dumping bodies in the ocean as they sat up here on the roof where, from his and Nat's perspective, all of this had really started.

If he was being honest -- and he never had intents of being otherwise, of course -- he was kind of surprised at how much better Natalie's mood had been since all of this started with the start of summer break. Sure, some of it had just been that immediately before all of this, finals had been eating her soul, as finals tend to do, but that hadn't been all of it.

It didn't start in December, when Raumon's gut feeling about Natalie's then-boyfriend had proved correct, but that certainly had put a bad spin on the entire spring semester. She had already been feeling stressed out, Raumon knew, with the expectations her parents were placing on her--

(Which Raumon, frankly, thought were stupid, even if he wouldn't be so bold as to say so to their faces. Nat's grades were fine as far as he knew, just because she wasn't pulling straight-As without effort like she had in highschool and the first part of her freshman year didn't mean she was in some kind of crisis--)

And it was certainly a curious fact that, once the dust had settled, it almost felt like all of this had been the best mood booster she'd had in years.

Raumon was sure there was something to be said about that, but he couldn't place what. No doubt at least a part of it was the having people she could invite over without Raumon having to hide in the bedroom, or worse, closet.
...
No lie, he appreciated this, too, even if this was questionable dinner conversation.

So caught up was he in this train of thought that he didn't notice Desmon sloooooowly reaching over to steal one his crab puffs.

"... the ocean is literally the world's largest cemetery," Sam said, because this conversation was still happening for some godforsaken reason.

"No, because it has a lot of animals that do cleanup," Meghan reasoned.

Sam shook his head. "Doesn't mean there's not dead bodies."

"Yes it does," Xander said, "because they eat the bodies, and there's not a cemetery without bodies. Supposing for a second that there are bodies in lakes, lakes would be worse."

Peter, having a practical biological imperative to contradict Xander, cut in: "What, do the animals in lakes not eat bodies?"

"The only animals in lakes are, like, sad fish," said Meghan.

"Alligators?" Sam suggested.

"We live in the pacific northwest," Xander said.

Sam shrugged. "You didn't say it had to be local lakes."

Natalie rejoined: "Moose, then."

"Moose don't live in lakes, though?" Meghan said, furrowing her brow.

"Are you really willing to take that risk?" Natalie's tone was as serious as a heart attack, but the grin on her face belied her amusement.

 

***

After everyone had cleared out of Natalie's home, with only empty takeout containers left in memoriam, Raumon was helping Natalie to clean up. It wasn't late late, 11:30 at the worst, but three out of four visiting humans had work the next day. (When asked, Sam shrugged and said he had nowhere to be -- like, ever -- but he felt weird creeping around someone else's place for too long, so he took his leave when everyone else did.)

"I'd say that went pretty well," Raumon prompted as he finished tying off a garbage bag that almost felt bigger than he was.

"Universe: five billion and three," Natalie said with no small amount of irony in her voice, "Natalie: one."

"Well, it's a start," Raumon said.

"Damn straight it is," she said, nodding with a smile.

 

***

The next day, early in the afternoon, Natalie's phone went off with message notifications. She didn't immediately notice it, as she was smack in the middle of a nervous-energy-fueled cleaning of her room, but luckily, Raumon was on-hand to notice when the phone's vibrations rattled against the wood of the nightstand.

When she unlocked her phone, she was greeted with a trio of messages from Sam.

hey
emergent on my radar. looks like it heading southwest-ish? that general direction
im heading after it. will have it under control but if you want to make a guest appearance feel free

That was as good as an outright invitation, coming from them. (She could practically hear Gelermon, in her head, objecting to the idea of them needing help, and Sam completely ignoring her.)

"I'm guessing," Raumon said, watching her expression as she read the messages and cutting through her thoughts, "that it's a digimon?"

"Am I that easy to read?" Natalie said, putting her free hand akimbo.

"Just a little," Raumon said with a cheerful shrug. He took the liberty of grabbing Natalie's D-Rive off of her nightstand and tossed it to her. She caught it and stuck her tongue out at him. He pulled a face right back, and Natalie rolled her eyes.

Before this stupid-face-making exchange could escalate, she minimized Raumon into her D-Rive, and then shifted her attention over to her phone.
on it, she messaged Sam back as she grabbed her keys off the hook, grabbed her bag, and was out the door.

 

***

Raumon, who re-emerged and generously offered his services as navigator once they were safely in Natalie's car, alerted Nat as soon as the D-Rive lit up and a dot appeared on the radar. It took a moment for Raumon to get the info box to pop up, since the D-Rive's touch screen wasn't really calibrated to work with his claws, but with a little bit of forcing he was able to read it off:
Snimon, champion level.

Before it got too close, though, it stopped moving. This wasn't too surprising; they hadn't expected it to full on stop conveniently in, say, the park, just to make their lives easier.

He did not, however, notice an important detail: there was now a second dot on the radar, almost completely overlapped with Snimon's.

 

***

They had tried their best to drag this darn thing somewhere it wouldn't cause too much damage; judging by the giant slashes torn in the chain-link fence and the blade marks on all the concrete, they had made a wise decision.

Here, underneath this overpass, among the scrubby grass and the mud, was as close to a safe location as they were going to get.

"Shitomon! Watch out!" the young man yelled to his digimon partner before casting a look around to make sure that nobody else was around.

Shitomon was an odd little digimon, to be sure. She most resembled a rabbit-- a very, very strange rabbit -- but far stranger than her was the fact that she was fighting a giant praying mantis with scythes for arms.

"Twin Sickles!" the mantis -- Snimon -- yelled, slashing its blades through the air and releasing a pair of pink, crescent-shaped blades of energy that flew right towards the little digimon.

Shitomon yelped as she leapt out of the way, flaring her wing-like ears out to catch the air. As she drifted back down, she called an attack:
"Light Shot!" Light swirled around her open mouth, gathering into a little sphere, which she then spat out at Snimon. It hit the big bug with about as much impact as a rotten tomato.
As her feet touched the ground again, she whipped around to look at her human partner. "No good! Mind giving me a hand?"

"Slamming Attack!"

"Eep!" Shitomon yelped as Snimon decided to get a bit more physical, rushing at her blades-first. Shitomon leapt to the side, leaving Snimon to slash at the ground instead, kicking up a cloud of dirt and grass. "Now'd be a good time, Ryan!"

Ryan nodded resolutely, holding up his red D-Rive as it began to glow.

 

***

Sam had arrived first; he had parked in a dead-end street nearby, and was just checking his radar when Natalie came jogging around the corner. He hailed her over with a hand wave, and inclined his head. Their radars had led them to an underpass next to a storage facility, and between them and the digimon in question was a chain link fence reinforced with black canvas that had been vandalized extensively. This served to block their view entirely, which, paired with the sound of cars on the overpass, made it difficult to get a read on what was happening.

"I figured you'd come," he said as soon as Natalie came close enough to be heard.

"Not like I'm doing anything else," Natalie said with a one-shouldered shrug, but she grinned lopsidedly.

"Story of my life," Sam muttered. "I was just trying to find a way to get through," he said, jerking a thumb at the obstruction in question.

"I mean, we could just hop the fence," Natalie suggested, utterly nonchalantly. ... it sounded like this wasn't the first time she'd done such a thing, and Sam was about to ask a series of fascinating questions, but he opted out of it when she continued, "but that might not go over so well."

"Yeah, no, call it a hunch," Sam said, shaking his head. "We could go around it, or--" he stopped mid-sentence as he noticed something a little ways down from them.
"Well," he said, "if I was doubting if it was here, I'm not anymore."
See, what he had seen was a huge gash torn in the chain-link and the canvas-- like something had torn straight through it, almost bizarrely cleanly, carving out a decent-sized chunk of fence.

"I wonder why on earth it stopped here...?" Natalie muttered, walking over to where it had ripped the fence and peering through, but her field of view was woefully limited by the obstruction of a large concrete pillar and the limited angle.

Sam huffed a not-quite laugh as he followed her over. "Wouldn't I like to know."

"One way to find out?" Natalie grinned, gesturing in an after you motion.

"The things this digimon bullshit has led me to," Sam mumbled as he ducked down to slip through the hole in the fence, woefully aware that they were basically going in blind here.
Once inside, though, they got quite an eyeful-- they hadn't just walked in on the digimon, they had walked in on a full-fledged fight.

It was hard to follow what was going on-- a big tan digimon was fighting a big green one; the first one seemed to have feathery wings, or maybe they were ears, or maybe they were hands? It was really hard to get a good look at it, between the obstructions and the shadows. But the green one-- the green one was a bug, and had no hands at all, but giant scythe-blades in place of its forearms. That was hard to miss.

"Fuck!" Sam hissed, stumbling backwards into the fence and nearly crashing into Natalie.

"Twin Sickles!" the bug yelled, slashing its blades through the air. A pair of crescent-shaped energy blades, bright pink in colour, flew at the tan one.

"Holy Charge!" the tan one yelled right back, and its entire body was surrounded by a blinding white light, making it even harder to make out the details. It threw itself at the bug-- the pink blades of energy dissipated harmlessly against its body as it rushed its enemy, and the light exploded when it made contact.

The big green bug roared as it began to pixellate, and in a familiar sight indeed, it burst into motes of light, leaving only the strange, strange tan digimon standing there.
And then--

And then that digimon was consumed by red-tinted light as a young man's voice yelled something indistinct-- Sam couldn't quite make out the words, but he was transfixed as the big tan digimon turned into a smaller one. In a moment's notice, there stood a little tan rabbit of sorts, with ears so long they dragged on the ground and a red scarf around its neck.

With it no longer in the way, they could see that opposite them, among the wrecked concrete and scrubby grass, was was a young man. He looked more or less around their age; he was tallish and blonde, with a scruffy soul patch on his chin and sunglasses pushed up onto his forehead. His tanktop showed off the faux-tribal tattoo that took up a good half of his left shoulder and upper arm, and held tightly in his hand was an unmistakable little device.

The first word that leapt to Sam's mind was douchey, but admittedly, he may have been biased.

The stranger had a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face as he looked at Sam-- one they knew well from wearing it more than once. It was the oh god, how much did you see? expression.

The little digimon didn't notice its audience at first. It was looking at the young man and making to walk towards him, before it looked where he was looking, and it froze in place. It stood in awkward stillness for a few seconds, until it vanished in a burst of red light, minimized into the stranger's D-Rive.

Sam's mind was already on fire with possibilities, with theories, with what the fuck-- but a larger part of him considered retreating through the fence and pretending he hadn't seen anything. As he slipped his D-Rive into his pocket, Natalie beside him surreptitiously tucked hers into her bag.

"It can't be," Natalie muttered to herself, a creeping sense of dread in her voice.

"Hey-- uh--" the new young man said, holding up his hands in an I can explain sort of gesture, before he paused and the unmistakable look of recognition dawned on him. "Nat?" he asked, disbelief in his voice, but the kind of disbelief that comes from a vaguely unpleasant surprise.

Behind him, Sam heard Natalie made a muffled noise that he could swear would have been a scream if she had opened her mouth the slightest bit, but instead just kind of came out like a disgruntled MMMM. If Natalie's apparently good mood had been nixed any harder, it would have made a whooshing noise as it went.

Sam got the sinking feeling that he was missing something.

What else was new?

The young man half-jogged over to them, and Sam took a half-step backwards, but Natalie stood shock-still as if rooted in place.
"Hiiii, Ryan," she said, the tone of her voice indicating that she could think of at least 200 places she'd rather be right now, and at least one of those places was neck deep in spiders. (She sounded like she'd rather be anywhere else, that is to say.)

Ryan, now that he was at closer range, once again held up his hands in the same gesture as before. "See, I know what you're thinking, but there is a perfectly logical explanation--"

"That sounds familiar," Natalie muttered under her breath, but put on a brave face. Luckily, Ryan didn't seem to hear her.

"So if you could try not losing your mind for three seconds, then I can--" Ryan said, but Natalie didn't wait for him to finish saying he'd explain, let alone actually let him explain.

"Actually, we were-- in a hurry," Natalie said, coming up with a weak explanation on the spot. "Thought cutting through here might be a time-saver, but we don't really have the time to spare."

(If she hadn't come up with an exucse, Sam was going to, because he had no intention of telling this guy that they were in the same monster-filled boat... though Sam realized, after a moment of thought, that he'd have thought Natalie would be the type to see someone else with a Digimon and a D-Rive and try to bring them into the fold, if her treatment of him when they had first met had been any indication There was clearly something at play here.)

"So we've really got to be on our way, sorry, have to have you explain it to me later," she continued, turning on her heel and crouching back down to go through the fence from whence they had come. She had barely stopped to breathe, let alone let this guy get a word in edgewise.
Sam blinked a couple times, looked Ryan up and down, and said nothing as he turned and followed suit with Natalie.

From behind them, Ryan didn't bother lowering his voice as he muttered to himself: "Why are women so fucking crazy, I swear."
Sam could almost feel how much Natalie wanted to swing around, run back, and deck him; he admired her self-control.

"So, uh," he said, after they retreated back through the fence and were safely on the other side -- in fact, he waited until they were most of the way back across the street to ask, "what was that about?" Natalie would have answered, but she was smack in the middle of trying to process this, and Sam's speaking up seemed to be the impetus for the dam to break.

"What the hell!" Natalie blurted, digging her fingers into her hair as she walked ahead of Sam. "I can't believe he-- when the hell did that happen!?"

"I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and guess that you know Douchebag McShades back there?"

Instead of replying, Natalie channelled all of her energy into kicking a crumpled beer can that someone had littered on the ground, sending it flying with surprising force. It clattered into a wall, and Natalie seethed for a moment, before she relaxed -- at least, partially -- with a heavy sigh.

"Yes, I know him," Natalie said, and Sam wasn't surprised. "I'd much rather not, but what can you do?" Seeing Sam's still confused face, she groaned and ran a hand backwards through her hair. "We used to date and it didn't end well and why does he have a digimon."

Sam mouthed a long ohhhhhh. He was about to ask further questions, but it was at this moment that Raumon, unbidden, materialized out of Natalie's D-Rive. It seemed he couldn't keep his commentary in any longer, and he was positively bubbling over with things to say.

"HE HAS A DIGIMON!?" Raumon yelled, his voice taking on a slightly squawky, cracking quality that would have been hilarious if his anger weren't so apparent. "HIM? The clown prince of douchebaggery?!"

 

Sam suddenly felt distinctly glad that his borderline-hermit ways had precluded relationship drama, and relationships in general, but he felt it might be a bad idea to express this thought right now. He cast a look over his shoulder, back towards the overpass, and sighed.
"Something about this doesn't feel right."

Natalie sighed. "You're telling me." Beat. "Raumon, I'm gonna have to minimize you before anyone sees you, alright?"
Raumon nodded, but he still grumpily folded his arms right before he vanished.

Sam sighed, looking over at Natalie. "Look, my car's over here. Keep me updated if you find anything out, okay?"

 

***

After Natalie had gotten home, she was right back to cleaning, now fueled by annoyance. Now that the shock had worn off, she was mostly more confused than angry.

Luckily, Raumon was there to pick up the slack.

"I can't believe," Raumon said; he was sitting in his little nest, fuming, "that he has a digimon. He's a douchebag. How did we not notice?"

"Maybe it's a new thing?" Natalie offered as a suggestion -- after all, digimon were coming through, right? Maybe this was a new development? ... but thinking back, to back when they were dating, she could remember Ryan being evasive-- and she realized that maybe she hadn't realized were weird because she did them too. They had minimized their time spent actually at either of their homes whenever possible, even though Ryan had his own apartment; he had mentioned, sometimes, an otherwise-unnamed friend...
She could have sworn, too, that more than once she had heard something the size of a dog moving in the other room on a couple occasions when she was at his apartment, and he had just handwaved it off as the upstairs neighbors...

Dammit all.

It wasn't like they had understood any of this in the first place, but this was another uncomfortable spanner in the works. There was some reason all of them had D-Rives, right? If Ryan had one, were they going to have to start working together with him?
And if so, was she being selfish...?

From her nightstand, Natalie's phone buzzed with a messenger alert.

"If that's him," she said, picking a long-neglected mug off of her desk, "I'm going to throw either myself or my phone out the window. Jury is still out."
To her immense relief when she picked up her phone, it wasn't-- it was a ping from the group chat.

i for one am not signing any more people up for the goddamn power ranger squad was the message that incurred the alert, and you get one guess who that was courtsy of. (Spoilers: Xander.)
She and Sam had agreed that she'd break the news to the group chat, and she had done it simply-- simply had said that apparently her ex had a digimon and a D-Rive, and thankfully, nobody had really pried too much.

Why, I wonder, came from Peter, have we not seen hide nor hair of this before? I'd think if there was another person with a D-Rive they'd be dealing with emergents, judging by how many of them seem to have no trouble finding us.

Sam seemed to concur. thats what i was thinking. ive been looking on the usual places online-- not that we got a great look at it, but i havent seen anything of his digimon. no pictures, no news footage, not jack.

Before Natalie could thumb in a response to the conversation, her phone buzzed again, and she groaned, because lo and behold, this one was what she was dreading.

hey nat popped up at the top of her screen in the notification.

She opened up the text message history. This was not the first message from him. Above it:
saw you in the student union today, should have said hi from the middle of January; nat come on it's been like three months, are you still pissed? from the very start of March; and heyyyy from late May. All three preceded this message, all three unanswered.
(She realized all of a sudden that that last one had come in after the Digimon business had started. She frowned, before closing out of the texts.)

A few seconds later, her phone buzzed again with another message.
"Ignore it," Raumon advised, but Natalie huffed a frustrated breath, dropping onto her bed as she, against her better judgment, opened it. He waited for her to read it, before he asked: "What's he want?"

"I think he's saying he wants to meet up so he can explain himself about the digimon stuff," Natalie said, squinting at her phone. "I think."

"Ignore it," Raumon said again, folding his arms. "Bet you five bucks it'll be five minutes of him explaining that he has a digimon, and twenty five of him trying to guilt trip you again, and then I'm going to have to materialize and punch him in the face, and it'll be a huge scene."

As much as Natalie disliked Ryan, Raumon disliked him five times as much. It wasn't that Raumon had always hated him or anything, but over time, Ryan had dissolved every last bit of goodwill the little digimon had in him.

See, Natalie and Ryan had dated for... about eight months? Almost nine? And it had started out fine, but Ryan... whenever he did anything wrong, he found a way to blame anyone but himself-- and mysteriously often, things would end up being Natalie's fault somehow, even if he never explicitly pinned blame on her. He refused to take a hint when Natalie said she needed time alone to cool down after arguments, which only ever made things worse; this was, obviously, a habit he still had.

That in mind, you can imagine how well the breakup went-- and it wasn't even like they could completely avoid each other after the fact, as they frequently crossed paths on campus. Raumon was halfway sure that no small part of why Natalie was even remotely entertaining this idea now was because of that blame-throwing tendency.

"It might be useful information," Natalie said, looking over at Raumon, and she could tell that he agreed, but he wasn't thrilled about this either, but... well, it didn't seem like anyone else was going to, right? She was the only one who really had a means to contact him, let alone the drive to do so...
"And I'll let you punch him if he starts up."

"I was already going to reluctantly agree anyway, but that does make me feel better."

 

***

Natalie frowned as she checked her phone. She had agreed -- after promising Raumon that he could deck him if he had to -- to meet up with Ryan at the city park, near the bridge, because she may as well meet him on her home turf if nothing else. The problem, of course: she had agreed to meet him fifteen minutes ago, and he was still nowhere to be seen.

"Why am I not surprised," she said to herself around the twenty-minute mark, sighing as she rested her arms on the rail of the bridge and looked around. As she peered into the shifting leaves of the trees, she swore -- for a moment -- she saw the familiar white shape and big pink-and-green eyes of Ratamon peering down at her out of the boughs.

"Nat!" a too-familiar voice called. Natalie turned to look to see Ryan approaching -- finally -- and as soon as she glanced back to where she had been looking, there was no little white digimon to be seen, and she wondered if she had actually seen him there or not.

She was kind of disappointed-- if it had been Ratamon, she could have asked him some questions. Sure, he'd probably be as evasive as ever, but...

"Hey," she said, raising a hand in halfhearted greeting, crossing to meet him so they were standing in the grass instead of on the bridge itself.

"You were in such a hurry earlier," Ryan said. Beat. "Who was that guy you were with, by the way?" Natalie already felt a sense of creeping dread.

"Sam? He's a friend of mine," she said, emphasizing the word friend. "I have those, sometimes."

"Huh. Friends, that's new," he remarked, stroking his chin, and Natalie's sense of creeping dread intensified, even as he tacked on a jovial, "joking!" It didn't make her feel better.

"What did you want to talk about?" Natalie prompted, trying to get this conversation on-track as quickly as possible. "I mean, I figure it had something to do with the giant monsters, correct me if I'm wrong."

"Right-- yeah. Thought I'd catch up, but, you know, guess not, whatever," he muttered that last bit, then rubbed the back of his head as he found his point again. "So you know those monster things that have been happening lately?"

"I've heard," Natalie said, trying her best to sound innocent and clueless. "You have something to do with them?"

Ryan paused for a moment, looking like he was choosing his words carefully. "Kind of yes, kind of no." Beat. "Do you promise not to freak out if I show you something?"

"That's a big question," Natalie said, folding her arms, but she had a feeling she knew what was coming. "I'll try."

"Ha ha," Ryan said, and from within his pocket, he pulled out a D-Rive. Up close, Natalie could see the details-- it was identical to hers, except red where hers was purple and, oddly, white where hers was black, and the little dangling silver charm on the end was a little feathered wing.
He cast a look over his shoulder, almost like he was making sure nobody was eavesdropping. "I figure you already saw this, so I can't dig myself any deeper," he said, and with a reddish flash, a digimon materialized between them.

"Hi!" the digimon said, holding one paw up as if to shake Natalie's hand. "I'm Shitomon!"

Shitomon was... an odd little digimon, now that Natalie was able to see her proper. She was mammalian, about three feet tall, with wing-like ears that were long enough to drag on the ground, with smaller, rounded, red-tipped nub-like horns further up her forehead. She was mostly tan, with the ends of those long ears and a patch on her tummy being a paler shade. Her eyes were big and golden yellow; her tail, small and fluffy. Her paws were red, and she wore a matching red-- was it a scarf or a bandana? A baggy collar of red fabric, let's say.

Natalie pretended to be surprised, shooting her eyebrows up as she knelt down to be more on eye level with the little creature. "This is what you had with you earlier?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "She's called a Digimon. That's what've been causing all the damage, lately. Not her, obviously, but other digimon. It's kind of complicated, it'd take a really long time to explain."

He was so quick to explain this, Natalie wondered briefly how many other people he'd gone telling. She didn't say any of this, though. "Huh," she said instead, looking back at Shitomon, and she held out a hand to shake her paw. "How long has this been a thing?" She had to try so hard not to roll her eyes-- it wasn't that complicated. (Okay, it was, but the basic gist of it wasn't.)

"I mean, the digimon have just been appearing in the city the past couple months," Ryan said, sounding quite proud of himself for being able to deliver this information, "but Shitomon, god, she's been around for ages... fifteen years I think?"

"Yep!" Shitomon said, proudly putting her hands on her hips.

The gears started going in Natalie's head. "Well, it's nice to meet you properly," she said, putting on a polite smile.

Shitomon smiled. "Likewise."
(Natalie suddenly got the uncomfortable feeling that Shitomon could tell she was faking surprise-- but was she just being paranoid? Who knew. Either way, she looked over at Ryan instead.)

"The reason I wanted to talk to you," he said, "is that earlier, I saw a digimon on my radar, that looked like it might have been following you. I just think you should be careful."

Natalie furrowed her brow, thinking of when Raumon had popped out of her D-Rive to complain. She stood up straight and looked at Ryan. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, digimon can be really dangerous, and I just don't think you'd want to get involved. I'm just saying, keep an eye out."

Natalie blinked slowly. "Um, what exactly am I keeping an eye out for?"

Ryan exhaled, rubbing the back of his head. "It's... kind of a long story? There's a handful of digimon that Shitomon has trying to find for a really long time. Apparently something changed recently, and there might be a lot of, you know, monster shit happening until we can take care of them--"

"What do you mean, take care of them?" Natalie blurted before she could stop herself. That bunch of digimon that he was referring to... with everything that they knew in mind, she was pretty sure that the bunch of digimon they're looking for was her group.

"Oh, well, it's kind of our thing," Ryan said, and Natalie could swear she felt the pressure in her head get thrown off from the exertion of not rolling her eyes. "When digimon are causing trouble, we've been fighting them and stopping them most of the time." That was rich.

"We? Like, you and Shitomon?" Natalie prompted.

"And a couple others, yeah," Ryan agreed nonchalantly, and that was certainly a vital piece of information, wasn't it. "But it's not just us."
Natalie frowned, and Ryan shrugged before continuing.
"You know, it's actually kind of complicated, but just take my word for it, okay? We're keeping a handle on it, and I just don't want you to get caught up in something like this. I figure you might go poking your nose in if I didn't clear it up for you."

"You know, you haven't been doing a very good job of taking care of it, then, if there's all these digimon attacks anyway," Natalie said, and she could tell by the way Ryan was looking at her funny that she may have given too much of her hand away.

"There's more to it than that," Ryan said, exasperated. "There's the feral ones, and we've got a handle on that, but some of the others are only trying to help, and then these digimon we're looking for start causing trouble with--"

"Oh my god," Natalie said-- she couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of that statement.

"What's with you?" Ryan said, raising an eyebrow. "I mean, look, I know you're still pissed at me for some reason, but that's no reason to--"

Seen here: the straw that broke the camel's back. She could take the condescension, she could take the subtle insults, she could even take his taking credit for taking care of digimon attacks, but she had limits.

"Oh, please forgive me for being pissed that you cheated on me!" Natalie snapped, taking the step forward and getting in Ryan's face, "for which, I remind you, you still haven't actually apologized--"

"Hey!" Shitomon barked, rearing down like she was getting ready to fight. "He's just trying to help, you'd think you could put that aside for--!"

"And now," unperturbed by Shitomon's attempted interruption, Natalie was on a roll, "you're going to come in here talking about things you don't know the first thing about, like you're some kind of magnanimous savior--"

Ryan put up his hands in a whoa-there gesture. "Holy shit, I was just trying to help, you don't have to go all psycho-bitch on me--"

And that was the straw that broke the camel's back, part two: electric boogaloo.

"Don't talk to her like that!" Raumon snapped as he materialized in a surge of purple light, causing both Ryan and Shitomon to stumble backwards.
In for a penny, in for a pound!

"What the--!?" Ryan yelped, but Shitomon, once she had a second to see Raumon clearly, had a moment of clarity so obvious it was visible on her face. This was, unfortunately, followed by something else.

"Light Shot!" she yelled, gathering up a ball of light in her mouth and spitting it at the other digimon.
Raumon jumped backwards, as did Natalie, and the sphere of light hit the ground, singing a bit of the grass but otherwise dissipating harmlessly.

"Him!" Shitomon said, turning to Ryan and pointing as Raumon. "That one! He's one of them!"

"Wh-- are you sure?" Ryan blurted, looking between Raumon and his partner. Shitomon nodded resolutely, and Raumon squinted at her-- and for a split second, realization dawned on him, but he didn't have much time to revel in it.

"Ear Pummel!" Shitomon cried. Her wing-like ears(-- were they really ears?) clenched into fists and she lunged at Raumon, delivering a one-two punch that caught the little bird off-guard, sending him tumbling backwards.

"Dark Ring!" Raumon yelled before he had even finished moving, and underneath Shitomon's feet a purplish-blackish spell-circle appeared. It surged with energy, and Shitomon yelped like she was standing on coals.

Shitomon leapt into the air, flaring her wing-ears out, and they caught the air, keeping her off the ground. She gathered energy in her mouth and fired it with a yell of, "Light Shot!"

Raumon stumbled out of the way of the little orb of light for the second time, and he feinted to the side as he rushed at Shitomon, who had just landed on the ground again. "Symptom Claw!" he yelled, slashing out at Shitomon with claws glowing purple, but she twisted out of the way.

It was rapidly becoming apparent that if it kept going the way it was, nothing was going to get done.

"Nat," Ryan said, because even now he couldn't help but give unsolicited advice, "you should maybe get out of the way real quick."

"Oh my god," Natalie said, but even as she did, she saw both Shitomon and Ryan's D-Rive begin to glow. She did take a half-step back, but with the river behind her, she didn't have much room in which to operate.

 

"Shitomon, drive evolve to..."

Shitomon's body grew becoming more sleek and enlongated; her legs grew into powerful haunches, and her arms grew in length as well, reaching almost to the ground. Her red markings disappeared as her fur lightened in shade. Feathery wings erupted from her back, and the odd little horns on her head split apart into red-tipped feathers. Gold jewelry chains settled around her forearms, and golden cuffs came to rest around her ankles. A red jewel, edged by gold, grew out of her chest just below where her red scarf still sat. Her tail grew longer and cat-like, and it, too, was tipped with a wing-like tuft. Her mostly-flat face grew into more of a rounded muzzle with tufted cheeks, and a strange design made up of four red triangles appeared on her forehead, practically glowing.

As she settled into her new form, she resembled a very odd angelic dragon, covered in sleek tan and white fur and feathers, and Natalie finally got a good look at the digimon she had seen fighting Snimon.

"Malakhimon!"

"Oh, come on," Raumon said more to himself than to Natalie.

"Southern Cross!" Malakhimon cried, and four shining orbs of light appeared in the air in front of her. The orbs of light extended into rays, which intersected to form a shining cross. There was no time to admire it, though, because the moment it had formed, the cross-shape light fired like a beam.

Raumon tried to dodge out of the way, but he wasn't able to-- the light hit him and he yelled in pain, knocked down to a kneeling position.

"Raumon!" Natalie yelled, and before Malakhimon's beam of light had the chance to fade, Raumon began to glow in turn.

"Raumon, drive evolve to... Doctorimon!"

"Well, damn," Ryan said as the light faded, "guess you were right."

"As usual," Malakhimon preened.

"I don't particularly want to fight. Not you, anyway," Doctorimon said. The last part came as kind of an afterthought, as after a moment of realization, he'd really like to fight Ryan, but Malakhimon...

"Conveniently," Malkahimon said, "what you want doesn't particularly matter. Southern Cross!"

"Face of Judgment!" Doctorimon released a stream of black flames from his staff, and when the fire met the light, they seemed to cancel each other out, as if the black fire absorbed all of the white light. Though he had no visible eyes under his mask, he squinted-- was Malakhimon really so single-minded that she would attack him, even with their humans so close?

"What on earth is your problem?" Natalie said, looking over at Ryan.

"That digimon is dangerous!" Ryan said, gesturing at Doctorimon as the plague doctor leapt away so that Malakhimon's next attack wouldn't put the humans in the line of fire.

"We aren't even the ones causing damage!" Natalie said. "Just because we're on the scene and trying to stop destructive digimon doesn't mean--"

"This is more important than feral digimon," Ryan spat back. "He's dangerous! He's--"

They were cut off as Malakhimon and Doctorimon exchanged blow for blow, and it was hard not to get distracted for at least a half-a-second. Doctorimon was playing as defensively as he could, dodging attacks; Malakhimon, meanwhile, was trying to minimize the damage she did to the trees and the area around them, and it was like a strange, strange game of cat and mouse.

"He's what?" Natalie demanded, folding her arms at Ryan.

Ryan looked at her like she was stupid. "He's a refugee-- he's a criminal!"

Refugee-- that was the word that Strigimon had used, wasn't it? "Where the hell did you get that from? He's been my friend for fifteen years, the worst thing he's ever done is forgot to return a library book!"

They were cut off again by the digimon fighting.

"Holy Charge!" Malkhimon yelled, her body engulfed in light as she ran to tackle the smaller champion-level digimon, who had backed himself into a corner, with the trees behind him giving him fewer options to feint to.

"Black Bloom!" Doctorimon cried, producing a black rose and swiping it through the air, releasing a shower of razor-sharp black petals. Though they didn't stop Malakhimon, they did slow her down.
She powered through and smashed into Doctorimon, who was sent flying backwards, but the exertion and the shower of petals took their toll on Malakhimon. Even when the light of her attack faded, she was still glowing, and she began to shrink back down into Shitomon, looking quite a bit worse for the wear.

By the time he hit the ground, and was only feet from tumbling down the slope into the river, Doctorimon had begun to glow as well, and left Raumon in his wake.

Natalie and Ryan both glared at each other for a half-a-second, neither wanting to be the one to break eye contact, before both ran to their partners.
(Natalie couldn't deny the intense sense of relief she felt when defeat only led to Doctorimon returning to being Raumon, and not the pixellated explosion that happened to the other digimon they had fought.)

"Are you okay?" she asked quietly, and Raumon looked battered and scuffed.

"I'm fine," he said, though he groaned a little as he sat up and glanced around.
Some ways away, Ryan was picking Shitomon up into his arms. He appeared to be talking to her for a moment or two, and she responded, before Ryan pulled out his D-Rive one-handed and minimized her.

They could only wonder what they had said.

"I should minimize you, too," Natalie said, petting Raumon's head feathers. "At least until we can get back to my car. I have the feeling we're not going to be staying."

Raumon nodded, and in a moment's notice, he was safely minimized in Natalie's D-Rive.

"I don't think we have anything else to talk about," Ryan said, loud enough for Natalie to hear him, but she felt like that couldn't be farther from the truth.

"I guess we don't," she said right back, despite herself. She supposed that right now, communication was going to be ineffective at best, and she knew -- they both knew -- this wasn't going to be the last time they intersected.

"Dammit," Natalie muttered, looking at her D-Rive as she walked back to her car. "Dammit all to hell." When she looked over her shoulder back towards the river, Ryan had already taken off in another direction. Good riddance, she thought, and she mulled over what he had said as she unlocked her doors and climbed in, and as Raumon rematerialized in the shotgun seat.

"You okay?" she asked again.

"Yeah," Raumon said, even though he sounded like he'd had better days. "For a given value of okay," he added, which sounded closer to the truth, and Natalie sighed.

At least she had actually gotten some new information from this whole experience, which was more than she had really anticipated, but she wasn't sure how much better that would make her feel.
But she did know what would make the both of them feel at least a little better.

"Wanna get something to eat on the way back?"

"Don't I always?" Raumon said, cracking a half-smile, and Natalie smiled back.

Chapter Text

In the aftermath of the Ryan incident (the... Ryincident? God, no), there had been a bit of a disagreement over whether or not they really needed to worry about the possibility of other D-Rive holders. As a result, the past, oh, week or so had not been so great for morale.

In the red corner, of the strong and vehement position that they should seek other D-Rive holders and their digimon out, if for no other reason than understanding the situation more fully: Peter.

In the blue corner, of the strong and vehement position that they should mind their own damn business, deal with it when and if it happened, and that they didn't need any more (quote) goddamn Power Rangers on the squad: Xander.

Stuck at various places in the crossfire: everyone else.

At present, they were, as they had kind of become accustomed to, gathered at the Lotus.
(Well, they meant Xander, Meghan, and Natalie at a table, while Peter was working, and Sam was on a strict tell me if I miss anything absence, which was a pattern he held even when there weren't arguments going on. He just didn't particularly fancy public meetups.)
Regardless, it was the first time they had all really gathered in-person since Ryan's reveal. It was a cloudy late afternoon; to make a joke about there being a storm coming would be a bit on-the-nose in the metaphor department, but rain was likely in the coming hours, and Atlas Park on the whole was blanketed in grey.

"What I'm saying," Xander said, balancing his chair on its back legs; the only reason he didn't kick his feet up onto the table is because there were drinks on it, "is that if these assholes want to start a fight with me, that's one thing, but until they do, it's not really my problem."

"First of all, sit like a normal person or I'll come over there and pull the chair out from under you," Peter said from over at the counter; it was dead in the Lotus today, so he was free to eavesdrop and participate as long as he turned his attention to the sparing customers who wandered in, got their drinks, and left. "Second of all, it is our problem. What he said lined up with what Strigimon said, which means it follows that if his digimon has a problem with Raumon, it's likely to have a problem with all of ours."

"You know, I don't know about you, but I just wanted coffee," Natalie said dully to Meghan, who sipped her boba tea solemnly and rested her chin on her hand.
While they were on the whole getting along decently as a group, Xander and Peter were sniping at each other more and more, getting to the point where -- even with others around to try and temper them -- their interactions were getting more openly hostile.

"Yeah, that's your problem. It's not my problem unless I make it my problem," Xander shot back.

"Well, considering how good you are at making everything a problem," Peter muttered, "that shouldn't take long."

Xander glared daggers. "Well hey, I'm not the one throwing a bitch-fit over chairs," he snapped, and to make his point, he tipped his chair back a few more precarious inches.

"Can we get back on subject, please?" Meghan said, which at least chastised Xander a little bit. He didn't return his chair to its full four-legged stance, but he did at least return it to the original angle he was balancing at.

There was a brief, tense pause. Peter broke it: "The subject, which was?" he said, gesturing at the girls for one of them to prompt them back on track.

"That I think we should start being really careful about taking care of emergents in groups," Natalie said. "Just in case."

Xander and Peter managed to keep off each other's backs, once again, by thoroughly ignoring each other; they both spoke freely to Meghan and Natalie, but any time they had to acknowledge a point made by the other they did it in a roundabout fashion, and it was frustrating as hell, but it was better than them sniping at each other.

 

***

"What even is it that annoys you so much about Peter?" Meghan asked, stretching her arms above her head.

It was a little while later; the three of them who didn't work there were clearing out of the Lotus, as Peter would be getting off his shift soon. While Natalie had parked a little ways away and so parted ways with them as soon as they left the building, Xander and Meghan had both walked around to the back alley behind the building, where they had parked. They had actually reached their cars already, and were simply lounging as they talked; Meghan was leaning against the side of hers, and Xander was sitting on the hood of his, looking at his phone.

"He just has the kind of face I want to punch," Xander said, as though that explained jack shit. "You looked at him recently? He looks like one of the fucking Proclaimers." He was still not paying attention, and affected a horrendously bad Scottish accent for all of half a sentence. "And I would walk 500 miles just to get the fuck away from him."

"That is," Desmon said, materializing next to Xander on his car hood, "hands down, the stupidest insult you've ever come up with, Xandy."

"Never call me that again."
Desmon stuck her tongue out.

A moment later, Oremon materialized next to Meghan in turn. They were in a back alley, standing between their cars; prying eyes were going to be few enough that being seen wasn't a huge risk.

"Regardless, it isn't particularly helpful," Oremon said, folding his arms.

"It really isn't," Meghan said, agreeing with her partner. Beat. "Though-- yeah, that's a really weird thing to insult someone over, what the heck, where did that even come from?"

"What do you want me to say?" Xander said, shrugging and totally not explaining his inexplicable apparent hatred of the Proclaimers. "I don't like fake-deep hipsters who wear scarves in summer and act all fake deep and oh ho look at me being all fake-objective and pretending I'm cool-headed, like I'm not a sanctimonious cockhead." He waved his hands in front of him, palms out and fingers splayed, his tone mocking.

Meghan frowned, arms akimbo. "I don't know, I don't think he's that bad. A little..." Beat. "Hipster-y, yeah, but there are worse things to be."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, like, pond scum, maybe."

Meghan stuck her tongue out. "You know what I mean. So he doesn't get mad at everything. I don't get how that's a problem."

He shrugged. "Fucked if I know, then. It happens, don't always need some deep profound reason. He pisses me off because he has just the right personality to piss me off. I inexplicably hate a hell of a lot of people."

"Yeah, well," Meghan said, "most people you just inexplicably hate, you don't have to work together with to fight monsters. So, you know, maybe take that into consideration?"

Xander grunted as he slid off of his hood. He didn't admit she was right, but at least he didn't outright deny it.
"Yeah, well," he said, saying absolutely nothing of substance, and unlocking his car doors. "I'll see you later, yeah?"

"Yep," Meghan said, giving a thumbs-up, and quite clearly feeling like she had made a point that Xander couldn't deny, judging by his slightly gruff closure of the conversation.

Desmon circled around to the other side and pulled the shotgun-side door open, but before she jumped in, she popped her head up over the top of the roof.
"He's just being a grump!" she said cheerfully, before she ducked back down and closed the car door behind her.

Meghan put her hands on her hips and shook her head as she and Oremon watched Xander pull away with a nod of acknowledgement and a one-handed wave.

"One of these days," Oremon said, matter-of-factly and bluntly, "I'm going to headbutt him in the stomach."

"Don't you dare!" she scolded, gently bopping him on the head with a closed fist. Oremon snorted.

Meghan sighed as she leaned against her car for a few more minutes. Out of everyone, it seemed she was the least worried about all of this. Maybe she should have been more worried, but the way she saw it, it wouldn't do much good. Much higher on her list of concerns was trying to maintain the group harmony that seemed to come and go like the tide.

 

***

A short while later, Peter arrived home.

He gingerly shut the apartment door behind him and ran a hand backwards through his hair in exasperation. Ian was at work, so the place was empty; he looked around, double checking this, before he blurted to nobody in particular:
"What the hell is his problem!?"

Banmon materialized behind him, and shrunk back a bit from his outburst -- just because she hated loud noises -- but her expression was full of concern. This was bothering him more than usual; she slipped past him, drifting around to his frontside. "Is something wrong?"

She didn't actually expect an answer, so she wasn't surprised when she didn't get one immediately.
Truth be told, she herself also had a bit of trouble dealing with Xander's... aggressive communication style, but she could tell it was really beginning to wear Peter down, and it was starting to worry her a little bit.

"It's like he's going out of his way to piss me off," he said after a few moments pause, walking across the room. He threw himself onto the couch, and began to pull his shoes off a bit too aggressively. "And I don't get it. What the hell did I do to him to piss him off so badly?"

Banmon paused for a moment. "It might just be that you're hard to read," she supposed. Xander was very... up front? (That's a diplomatic way of saying tactless and blunt.) Peter, by contrast, had just about never been straightforward in his life.

Peter stayed quiet for a few seconds, then looked over at Banmon. He figured she was right, but he was still frustrated, so he was still testy when he spoke again. "That doesn't excuse the fact that it seems that he's deliberately trying to get in the way of us figuring things out just so that we don't mess up his personal life or, god forbid, infringe on his free time."

Peter very rarely got like this-- usually, he was able to sublimate a lot of his frustration, so Banmon knew: his patience really must have been wearing thin for him to vent even this much.

"He probably just... has a different perspective on it. Different priorities... He sees it differently, I'm sure," Banmon said carefully.

Peter sighed, digging his D-Rive out of his pocket and looked intently at it.
"I understand that. Perspective is one thing, but he doesn't just get to opt out," he said, turning the little device over in his hand.

Banmon thought about remarking that Peter wasn't exactly the best at being a team player, either, but she didn't think it would be worth the trouble of bringing it up. This wasn't the first time she had seen him get deeply invested in something, but...

Peter continued talking anyway, so she didn't have to worry about what she did or didn't say. "I don't understand how he can not want to know what's going on."

"I'm sure it'll come to us whether we want it to or not," Banmon said, sighing. She did understand why Peter was so interested in it, but truth be told, she almost understood Xander's desire to be left out of it.
... well. To a degree. She still couldn't quite gel with his aforementioned bluntness and aggression.

But... all of this talk of criminals and refugees and glory and shoot-first ask-questions-later... she had never been a fan of the adrenaline rush of fighting in the first place, you know? She didn't need all of this extra intrigue and mystery and secrets on top of it, but she was starting to accept how little what she wanted was going to matter.
Had she said that out loud, it might have sounded harsher than she intended it to, so again, she stayed quiet.

"Right," Peter said reluctantly, turning his D-Rive over in his hand. Why on earth did he -- did any of them have these? Both the group he knew, and Ryan and the other unknowns-- what, if anything, did they have in common? What did the digimon have in common?

He got the feeling, all of a sudden, that he would probably be happier if he didn't go sticking his nose in looking for answers-- but when was the last time that stopped him?

 

***

As long as we're checking up on everyone...

It was later that night-- around half-past ten, which meant the night was still young. Her sleep schedule had long since slipped, and she would likely be up for a while yet, but she still lay in her bed, one hand tucked behind her head and the other thumbing through her phone.
Though she didn't want to admit it, Ryan's words had particularly stuck in her brain.

Two particular words, actually -- refugees and criminals.
Those were not the same thing, no matter how much Ryan and Shitomon had seemed convinced that they were.

But...
She looked over at Raumon, who was settled in his little nest, beak buried in a book. Now, rest assured-- nothing that Ryan could possibly say was going to change her perception of Raumon, but it was true that there was this huge swath of his past that was a massive blank, and there was no knowing the extent of how much they didn't know.
She heaved a heavy sigh and closed her eyes.

It wasn't to say that she was totally delusional about all of this, of course, but ever since the incident last week... well, first of all, the digimon front had been suspiciously quiet. She couldn't help but wonder if it was because there were no digimon coming through, or if Ryan and his mysterious squad were pre-empting them, and if so, why.
She had to admit that before now, she had been... well. Excited felt like too flippant a term to describe how she felt about this whole thing. She wasn't happy about digimon coming through and causing havoc and needing to be fought back, but it was a rush, a sense of purpose and of meaning that had overwhelmed her thoughts since the start of summer.

Now, there was a kind of dread-- the idea that at any moment, they might run into someone who knew more and meant to do them harm... it ind of took the joy out of playing hero, you know? ... well, for a certain definition of joy.
To say nothing of the interpersonal friction it was causing...

"Natalie!"

She didn't know if she had closed her eyes for thirty seconds or thirty minutes, but Raumon's voice cut through her reverie, and her eyes snapped open. He was scrambling onto her bed to hand her her D-Rive. She could already see that it was lit up, bright as a beacon, which meant--

Crap.

She grabbed it out of his claws, navigating to its radar practically by reflex. A few feet away, her phone dinged with a notification, but she already knew what it was going to be about. There was a digimon on her radar, and she thumbed over it.

Meramon - Champion Level.

By the looks of it, it had emerged in the city park, or somewhere very close to it, and was on the move.

Natalie sprang to her feet, grabbing her phone. She hurried out a rushed something came up I'll be back soon to her (mostly apathetic) family as she stumbled out through the living room.

 

***

Before even seeing the digimon in question, before even parking her car, Natalie and Raumon could tell that Meramon was a fiery digimon. As they drove closer, a plume of black smoke rose out of the downtown area, illuminated from below with the vivid orange of a fresh fire.

Dammit, dammit, dammit.

By the time Natalie was able to get out of her car and run closer to where the Meramon was on her radar, the glow was burning brighter, and sirens were blaring, closer and closer. The ear-splitting screech of a fire engine siren, police, emergency services... The street lamps that weren't destroyed were flickering badly.

Natalie was running against the flow of people trying to flee, but in the chaos, nobody really paid her much mind. She looked around frantically-- Meramon was practically right on top of her--

"Burning Fist!" A voice yelled from above, and a fireball soared down from on high, smashing into the concrete and bursting apart into embers that Natalie had to jump away from.

Meramon, as it turned out, was a tall, humanoid digimon, almost entirely featureless except for solid-blue eyes, a stitched-shut mouth, and the fact that its entire body was completely engulfed in flames, which explained a hell of a lot. It currently stood some five stories above street level, and apparently quite pleased with itself and its handiwork.
The building it stood on, meanwhile, was on fire, which was what had caused the massive plume of black smoke that, even without the radar, would have given away its position.

 

Raumon materialized with a flash of purple light, and Natalie wasn't about to stop him. It was too risky now, with so many people, to digivolve, but... at least they could distract Meramon for now, right...?

Some people stopped and stared, but many were too busy trying to get away from the flames to notice the little bird.
Meramon, of course, was much more perceptive.

"Burning Fist!" it yelled from on high, its arm igniting with even more flames. It threw a punch into the air, which materialized as a fireball, sailing in an arc down at Raumon, who deftly leapt out of the way, and Natalie leapt away in the other direction, not wanting to be set on fire any more than Raumon wanted to be.

Natalie and Raumon waited with bated breath for what was about to happen. A second later, Meramon crouched and leapt down to street level. It didn't seem to mind the fall at all, and it left burnmarks in the pavement where it landed. It reared up to its full height and smirked a stitched-mouth smirk, and it began to advance on Raumon.

Shit, Natalie thought, but at that moment--

"Hey!" Meghan called from behind, and Natalie whipped around to see her and Oremon approaching.

"Yeah-- we just got here," Natalie said, nodding. "Could use a little help though--"

She need say no more; Oremon rushed forward, growling and rearing his head down, charging forward despite the intense heat around Meramon. "Iron Head!" he snarled, rushing past Raumon and catching Meramon in the knee with his horns, which didn't do much to stop the big fiery digimon, but it did make him stumble and turn away from the bird digimon.

"Dark Ring!" Raumon yelled, using the distraction that Oremon offered to attack, himself. A black spell circle appeared underneath Meramon, and tendrils of energy shot up out of it, seeping into the flames and causing the champion-level digimon to hiss with pain.

"Moon Howler!" the familiar voice of Gelermon cried, a green-and-black beam of energy flying past Natalie and Meghan and smashing straight into Meramon's chest. For a few brief seconds, it extinguished the flames on Meramon's body in the spot that it impacted.

"Well, this is just great, isn't it?" Sam said as he arrived on the scene, running up to join the girls, with Gelermon right on his heels. (They couldn't make him come to actually talk in person worth a damn, but he was certainly quick to get on the scene whenever a digimon was fucking things up, like the kid who never comes to class except to take the tests, except the tests were the destruction of public property.)

"So, are we just saying fuck it to the secrecy thing?" she asked snidely, looking around before smirking. "Cause I can deal with that." Without waiting, she rushed forward, her handpaws igniting with the same energy she had just fired as a beam. "Void Paw!" she yelled, rushing forward and striking out at Meramon's shins.

"Heat Knuckle!" Meramon yelled, throwing out a fiery punch as Gelermon approached. She dodged out of the way, but only narrowly, and she could practically feel the tips her ears get singed.

The crowds were starting to thin as police cars and firetrucks began to arrive on the scene, and the humans partnered to digimon were trying to keep back-- trying to look inconspicuous.

Enter: Peter.
"Hope I'm not late," he said as he showed up to the party, and Banmon materialized beside him. Raumon, Gelermon, and Oremon were pretty well occupied with the Meramon, trying to keep it from spewing flames towards a) anything flammable, or b) anything living, throwing out attacks as frequently as they could.

"I think we're all a bit late," Sam remarked dryly, looking at the burning building with a frown and a shake of his head.

"Just this one to deal with?" Peter said, looking to Natalie.

She nodded. "As far as I know, anyway," she said, not discounting the idea that anything could happen at this point.

"Shadow Shot!" Banmon cried as she floated into the battle, lobbing blobs of shadowy energy at Meramon. Like Gelermon's Moon Howler, the places where the attacks impacted temporarily smothered the fire on Meramon's body.

"Burning Fist!" Meramon yelled, throwing out his fist and hurling a fireball at Banmon. She dodged out of the way, but the fireball soared past her and smashed into the burning building, and she made a distressed oh no squeak.

Raumon tried once more. "Dark Ring!" he yelled, and again the spell circle appeared underneath Meramon's feet.

"Earth Wrecker!" Oremon yelled, taking advantage of Meramon's distraction to kick up and lob a couple of jagged rocks at the fiery digimon; Gelermon and Banmon, in their own ways, followed suit.

"Moon Howler!"

"Shadow Shot!"

One attack after another hit Meramon, and it curled its lip with a snarl in response.

"Heat Wave!" it yelled, and its entire body began to flare up intensely. With a primal cry, it released an omnidirectional blast of fire. The human stumbled backwards, and the digimon braced themselves for the powerful blast of fire. It seemed larger after it had finished attacking, as though emboldened by the fires it had started around it.

Now would certainly be a good time for some assistance from--

As if summoned by the lament of her absence, a familiar bat's voice rang out in the air. "Acro Slicer!" Two crescent-shaped blades of air soared past the humans, smashing straight into Meramon and snuffing out more of its fire where they hit its body.

Desmon flapped her way past and into the fray, with Xander coming jogging up after her.

"I miss much?" he said sarcastically, looking around.

"Nice of you to join us," Peter muttered. If looks could kill, the glare Xander gave Peter would have struck him dead.

"Better late than never?" Meghan tried, speaking to nobody in particular, but her voice got lost in the chaos and the sirens and the borderline panic.

"Oh, I certainly missed all the arguing," Sam said flatly, sarcastically, shaking his head.

Natalie sighed through her nose, but turned her attention back to the digimon. They were doing a pretty decent job, though they sometimes seemed to clash a little bit-- only narrowly did they avoid attacking each other, or running into the line of fire of someone else's attack, but for the most part they were doing fine together.

"Symptom Claw!" Raumon yelled, rushing into close range with Meramon at last to deliver a slash of purple-glowing claws to the big flaming digimon.

"Iron Head!" Oremon yelled as well, rushing in right alongside the bird, bowing his head and smashing into Meramon and charging straight on, following through on his headbutt.

Desmon's cry of "Black Static!" accompanied the rings of staticky energy that flew out at Meramon, each one causing a little bit more fire on its body to flicker out as it hit.

"Moon Howler"! Gelermon yelled, having been slightly humbled by the fireball she had barely missed the last time she had gotten up close and personal with Meramon.

"Shadow Shot!" Banmon cried-- her other attack being the one that involved making prolonged contact, and her arms being made of cloth, she really didn't want to risk getting any more up close and personal than that.

Meramon began to flare up, growling-- but it was cut off.

"Light Shot!

"Oh, crap," Natalie muttered, recognizing that attack name before she even saw the attacker. Indeed, coming up from behind Meramon, jumping out of an alleyway, was Shitomon -- long ears and red cowl and all, and her little pellet of light smacked Meramon squarely in the back.

Out of the alleyway from whence Shitomon had come, a too-familiar face emerged-- Ryan, gripping his D-Rive in hand, and he stumbled to a stop when he saw that he and Shitomon weren't the first pair on the block.

The fiery digimon snarled as he turned on the weird little rabbit.

"This the guy?" Peter said, looking over at Natalie, but it was Sam who nodded an agreement.

"I already hate him," Xander deadpanned, looking him up and down.

"Burning Fist!" Meramon yelled, shooting a fireball Shitomon's way, but she leapt up and caught the air with her ears, drifting back down to the ground.

"Magic Trick!" an entirely-new voice yelled, and out of the alleyway from whence Shitomon had come, a shining blue-and-white orb came sailing through the air. It impacted Meramon and exploded like a bomb.

The digimon were quick to look for the culprit, and luckily, he came sprinting out of the alleyway mere moments after his attack did. The new digimon was a fox of sorts, with creamy yellow fur and dark-brown marks on his paws, ears, and tail... but oddly, his face looked like a noh mask, all white with red markings. (Then again, considering they were used to Raumon's mask face, it really wasn't that weird.) His eyes looked as though they were shut, and it wore a massive grin on its face, showing off rows of sharp teeth.
In one paw he clutched the neck of a large tan bag, which he was carrying slung over his shoulder.

"Wild Paw!"

This was a second new voice, and a red-orange blur came running out of the alleyway in turn, accompanied by a streak of yellow light. She only stopped when she collided with Meramon and leapt back, disengaging after striking fast with huge, blunt claws. This one was a red panda, with enormous claws on her hands and feet alike, and a thickly-striped tail longer than she was tall. Her eyes, by contrast to the fox, were large and blue, and very alert.

"Well, would you look at that," the fox said cheerfully, "the gang's all here."

"Meramon first," the red panda advised.

Shitomon furrowed her brow but nodded slowly.

Meramon, meanwhile, had no time for such politeness. "Heat Wave!" it roared, sending out a wave of fire that went in all directions, forcing the digimon both in front of and behind it to brace themselves for the burn.

And then, all bets were off.

"Symptom Claw!"

"Iron Head!"

"Shadow Shot!"

"Moon Howler!"

"Black Static!"

"Light Shot!"

"Magic Trick!"

"Wild Paw!"

Eight rookie-level digimon attacked at once, ranged attacks and melee attacks all focused on the big fiery Meramon, and with all of them striking at once...

Meramon snarled with pain before it began to distort, and it let out one last burst of flame before it exploded instead into light and data, which dispersed into eight thin beams that rushed towards eight D-Rives.

Wait-- eight?
Come on, it should come as no surprise.

Coming running out of the alley, a little late to the party, were two more humans.
The first was a young man with tan skin and dark hair long enough to tie into a ponytail; the second, a fair-skinned young woman with brown hair that almost reached the small of her back, and yes, both of these people cluched D-Rives in their hands. The former's was cyan and white, and the latter's, yellow and white.

"Cho," Xander remarked flatly in an understated expression of dull surprise.

Ever had a standoff involving monsters in front of a burning building? Well, to be fair, nobody here had, either, and nobody could say this is how they anticipated any part of their lives going, but, hey, you win some, you lose some.

"Fancy seeing all you here," Ryan said, putting on a fake jovial tone.
Natalie and Raumon couldn't help but notice that this time, Shitomon wasn't leaping quite so quickly to attacking. (Maybe it was because she was outnumbered this time.)

"I don't believe most of us have met," Ryan said when nobody continued, and he kept up a wonderfully annoying fake tone of cordiality. "These are Jen and Eli," he said, gesturing to the two strangers at his side, the young woman and the young man in turn, "and their partners, Hulimon," the fox, "and Lurumon," the red panda. "Who are all these people, Nat?" he asked, looking at Natalie in particular as he gestured around at the other humans and the digimon accompanying them.

Natalie folded her arms and remained tight-lipped.

"We don't want any trouble," Meghan said instead, putting her hands up in a defensive gesture.

"We might want trouble," Oremon muttered-- not the first time he had said this.

"Trouble's kind of your thing, though, isn't it?" Hulimon said, tapping a finger to the side of his snout. "Harboring dangerous criminals and/or being dangerous criminals and all that."

There that old chestnut was again.

"You know," Gelermon said, putting her hands on her hips, "we've heard that from a half a dozen digimon with a chip on their shoulders now, it'd be really nice if one of you could take the time to explain what the fuck you're talking about before you start trying to tear our faces off."

"Why should we waste time explaining it to you?" Shitomon said, frowning. "You know as well as we do." She looked slightly confused, slightly put out, but not about to back down now.

"We really don't," Peter said, folding his arms.

Behind him, Xander had a different idea. "Let's fucking book it," he said, not quietly enough. "Before this gets uglier than it already is."

"No," Peter said immediately, glancing to the side at Xander and glaring.

"So we're doing it the hard way?" Lurumon asked, glancing sidelong at her compatriots, and then over her shoulder at Jen. They exchanged nods.

"We don't have to do it the hard way," Banmon said quietly, but she went ignored; Ryan, Jen, and Eli all held up their D-Rives, which began to glow in their respective colours.

"Hell yeah!" Hulimon cackled, and if possible, his grin spread even wider.

They did, in fact, have to do this the hard way.

 

"Shitomon, drive evolve to... Malakhimon!"

"Hulimon, drive evolve to..."

"Lurumon, drive evolve to..."

The little fox -- Hulimon -- digimon grew to human proportions, though his odd mask-like face didn't see fit to change at all, bar the fact that the red markings changed slightly-- mark the difference. His legs and arms grew until he stood taller than the humans, but he stopped growing there. Bandages appeared around his feet and hands, and a long, navy-blue jacket settled onto his shoulders-- just his shoulders, though, as he didn't put his arms through the sleeves, leaving them to hang free. The collar stood tall, and it was unclear how it stayed on, but -- again, digimon, they had learned to accept some oddness.
Dark-blue pants materialized, and a black belt, with black suspenders hanging loose at his sides, appeared as well. His tail split into three, and a twig with a leaf at the end appeared clenched between his razor-sharp teeth. He hoisted up his bag, which had grown to scale with him, and set it down next to him as the light dispersed.

The red panda, on the other side of the humans, grew to much larger proportions. Her legs grew into powerful haunches as the claws on her hands grew to impressive size, while the ones on her feet shrunk down to far more normally sized claws. She began to look more and more ferocious than she had as Lurumon, the more she grew. Her tail grew to keep in proportion with her-- that is to say, still longer than the rest of her body. Two golden rings appeared around the base of it, and a length of bandage wrap settled around her midsection.

A fluffy mane of white fur settled around her neck, as her extremeties grew darker. Lighter circles appeared on her hips and her forearms, while tufts of fur sprouted at her shoulders and the junction of her hips and her body. Her fur looked impossibly thick and dense, and she reared up with surprising grace as the light dispersed.

"Hokkaimon!"

"Himamon!"

 

Facing down with three champion-level digimon with a bone to pick and human partners... well, what choice was there?

 

"Oremon, drive evolve to... Ibexmon!"

"Banmon, drive evolve to... Banshemon!"

"Gelermon, drive evolve to... Frekimon!"

"Desmon, drive evolve to... Corymon!"

"Raumon, drive evolve to... Doctorimon!"

 

God, there was a lot of yelling going on tonight, and that was before you even took into account all the chaos from the fire.

"Now may not be a great time for this!" Natalie yelled, shielding her eyes from the bright light of all the digivolution. She didn't even have time to appreciate that this was, as far as she could remember, the first time that all of their digimon had been evolved at the same time.
They were locked in a standoff, both sides watching the other carefully for any sign of movement.

"Get out of the way," Malakhimon said, looking pointedly at the humans standing behind the line of digimon. "You don't have to be any more involved in this."

"They're likely too invested already," Himamon said, glancing sidelong at her allies. "The best we can do is try not to hurt them in the process."

"No skin off my nose," Hokkaimon said, shrugging one shoulder, and without preamble--

"Moon Bomb!"
He reached one paw into an inner pocket of the jacket slung around his shoulders, and pulled out a swirling blue and white orb-- it looked quite similar to the Magic Trick they had seen earlier, but larger. He lobbed it their way, and it exploded in midair, splitting into dozens of smaller orbs-- and each of those smaller orbs exploded like a super-powerful firecracker.

That was enough to break the standoff.

"New Moon Fire!" Frekimon cried, rearing back and releasing a large green fireball from her mouth that smacked straight into Malakhimon.

Malakhimon, in turn, growled and reared down. "Holy Charge!" she cried, her body engulfed in white light as she rushed at the gathered digimon opposite her.

"Terra Spear!" Ibexmon yelled, smashing his hooves into the ground and causing spikes of rock to emerge from the ground underneath Malakhimon as she charged, interrupting her attack.
This gave the humans a window-- and they took it.

"Come on!" Sam yelled, gesturing. "Let's get out of the way before we lose a limb!"

They needed no second instruction-- the humans scrambled for the sidewalk, and it seemed that the newcomers had had much the same idea.

"Spirit Ripper!" Banshemon called as she shot forward, claws glowing white as she slashed at Hokkaimon, who jumped deftly out of the way.

"Aura Stream!" Himamon yelled while Banshemon tried to rearrange herself, rearing back and gathering up golden energy in her mouth. It crackled like lightning, but when she fired it, it almost looked more like a powerful jet of water than a bolt of electricity. It crashed into the ghost, sending her tumbling.

"Black Stinger!" Corymon yelled, taking to the sky -- but not too far to the sky, if she flew too high, she would have her head in the smoke and the fire, which would do her no good. The black spears of energy hit their mark in Himamon, who was momentarily paralyzed. Before Corymon could gloat, Malakhimon flapped her wings rose into the air and began to glow white, preparing to charge.

Between the fire, the fact that it was eight digimon fighting in the middle of the street... it was cramped, it was chaotic, and it was loud.
Even though they were outnumbered, the three new digimon were agile enough to keep the team on their toes-- they couldn't afford to concentrate all their attention on one, lest they leave themselves open to attack from the other two. It was hard for them to work together effectively against three opponents, with so much confusion and clamor to contend with.
On the other hand, the team were keeping the pressure on well enough to make sure that their three opponents couldn't gain a clear advantage-- which meant that they were mostly stalemating.

"What the fuck is their problem!?" Xander yelled, covering his face with his arms as Malakhimon and Corymon crashed into the burning building, taking out a chunk of the wall and sending debris flying.

Natalie looked over at where Ryan, Eli, and Jen were keeping out of the line of fire, and frowned. She was considering trying to confront one of them, but that seemd like it might end badly for everyone involved.
More importantly, the fight was starting to get unpleasant.

And to top it all off, it was starting to rain-- the unspoken threat of the dark clouds hanging over the city all day was finally paying off. As the first raindrops fell, the digimon stopped for a half a moment, breathing heavily.

Natalie took advantage of this momentary lull in the fight to run over to where Ryan, Eli, and Jen were; she didn't notice it, but soon, the other members of her team followed suit, rushing after her as she stormed over.

"Call your digimon off!" Natalie yelled.

"And let'em rip our digimon to shreds?" Jen said, incredulous.

"Yours started it!" Meghan said, frowning and furrowing her brow, and at that moment, the lull ended. As if to illustrate Meghan's point, it was Malakhimon who re-ignited it, rushing forward engulfed in white light.

"Excuse me?" Ryan said, raising an eyebrow and gesturing around them-- at the fight, at the fire, at everything. "Our digimon aren't the ones who are responsible for all of this!"

"Neither are ours," Peter said, "you saw the Meramon who started this."
Natalie coudln't say she was surprised, though-- after he had taken credit for taking care of the emergents, the idea of him pinning blame on them--

"That's not what I'm talking about!" Ryan yelled, cutting off Natalie's train of thought. "All of this! The digimon coming through in the first place!"

Xander curled his lip in disdain. "How the hell is this our fault?"

"Do ya seriously not know?" Jen asked, sounding disbelieving. "Like, for real?"

"No, we've just been acting stupid for funsies," Sam drawled, deeply sarcastic. Jen put her hands on her hips and frowned, puffing out one cheek in annoyance at his response.

"Your digimon are the reason the digital world's fucked up, mates," Eli said casually, rubbing his nose idly, like he wasn't dropping some heavy ideas. "Or, more specifically, I guess they're the reason it's not fixed yet? Semantics and shit."

"What?"
That was from Meghan, but it could have been from anyone.

"If the digimon's world was like it was supposed to be," Jen said, twirling a bit of her hair around her finger, "then there wouldn't be cracks, and if there weren't cracks, there wouldn't be any digimon coming through."

"And it's totally outside the realm of possibility," Peter said, "that it's your digimon who are the problem?"

"Yes, actually! Ours came through to apprehend yours!" Ryan said, like this was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Great at their jobs, aren't they," Sam said, looking sidelong at the others, and then over his shoulder at the fight, which had started up again-- but with somewhat less vigor. "Fifteen years late."

"Because it'd be so easy to hunt down five digimon in a city when you're a little puffball for most of that fifteen years, yeah?" Jen said. "And when you're not even sure they're here in the first place?"

"You keep saying that they're criminals, that they're refugees -- which, by the way, not the same thing," Peter said, frowning-- he was more talking to himself than to anyone else, until he looked up. "What did they do?"

Eli was the one who answered, in terribly eloquent manner.
"They're like living backup drives for the corruption thing trying to destroy the digital world, dude. They're the reason their world's fucked sideways."

Any further discussion was cut off by the fact that they had to scatter when Frekimon, thrown by Malakhimon's Holy Charge, came skidding towards them.

 

***

This was not how Ratamon envisioned this going, he thought, as he watched from a very safe distance.

How he had pictured it was that Meramon would cause a little havoc, he'd draw that last damn one out, and his job would be a nice easy downward slide from there.
That was, obviously, not how it actually worked out. Admittedly, he kind of figured it wouldn't be that easy, but hey, he could always dream, right?

As it was... he had faith in the team of five-- he figured the worst that might come out of this might be some bruised egos and some wounds to lick. Worse things could happen, and chances were good that the humans would intervene if anything got too scary, but...

Ugh.
It had been such a pain in the ass to lure that stupid Meramon through, too...

He twitched his big feathery ears to shake water off of them, and with one last look, he turned his back to where the humans and their digimon were fighting.

He'd figure it out later.

 

***

Lightning flashed overhead, followed soon after by the crack of thunder, and for the second time, the fighting lulled.

Not a single digimon on the battlefield didn't look worse for the wear. Both Doctorimon and Hokkaimon's coats were marred by dark bloody stains soaking through the fabric. Frekimon had bloody gashes along her shoulder and across her muzzle; half of one of Himamon's ears was torn off. Malakhimon's wings looked like more than a few feathers had been torn out, where Corymon had noticable tears and rips in the membranes of hers. Ibexmon was doing a pretty good job of hiding a limp in one of his hind legs, while parts of Banshemon's robes were torn and burned.

All eight digimon stood their ground in the wreckage, breathing heavily, nobody wanting to back down or surrender, but the rain was getting worse, and they were wearing down-- to say nothing of what the humans had to think over.

Well, at least the rain was keeping the fire under control. Ish. Kind of.

Sirens were flashing, police lights strobing.

"Let's go!" Meghan was the first to yell, cupping her hands around her mouth. "Ibexmon! Let's go home!"

"We can't back down now," Peter said, looking pointedly over at the humans. "Not with--"

"Oh, fucking stuff it," Xander spat. "If we had just booked it like I had wanted to--"

"Guys, don't," Natalie snapped.

Ibexmon snorted and tried to paw against the ground with one hoof, but he stumbled slightly as he lost his balance. He looked over his shoulder at Meghan-- and in that moment where he wasn't looking, Hokkaimon started creeping forward.

Luckily, Meghan did see this, and she bolted for Ibexmon, running in between Hokkaimon and Ibexmon, arms outstretched as if to block the attack, or maybe make herself look bigger.
Even more luckily, Hokkaimon stumbled to a stop, his toothy grin faltering slightly.

"No! We're going home!" Meghan yelled, standing her ground resolutely.

"What are you doing?" Ibexmon asked from behind her.

It was hard to tell if she was answering her partner, or still just going off, when she spoke again. "This is stupid! We're going home before we break something else!"

"She's right," Doctorimon said, looking around. "We're doing more harm than good at this point." He looked at his own allies, and pointedly then at Malakhimon, Hokkaimon, and Himamon, as if to say you're not exempt.

"Aren't you lot always doing that?" Hokkaimon muttered, but Himamon shook her head at him.

"Not now, Hokkaimon," she said quietly. "Loathe as I am to admit it, they're right."

There was a heavy pause yet again. Lightning cracked overhead once again, and there was a brief pause wherein Ryan, Eli, and Jen conferred with each other. Their digimon stepped back so they could be privy to this, but did not take their eyes off of their opponents.

In flashes of multicoloured light, one by one, the three opposing digimon returned to their rookie forms. It seemed like it had been a long time coming, with how drained they looked once they settled back into their default shapes.

Ryan and his group didn't say anything that they could hear. They knelt beside their partners, spoke quietly, and then minimized them into their respective D-Rives, before they took off as a group, running back down the alley they had come from.

"Mother of shit," Xander hissed, dragging a hand backwards through his wet hair. "This is so fucked."

Understatement of the century.

One by one, their own digimon reverted to their rookie forms, all breathing heavily, all looking like they had seen better days. They ran to inspect their partners, who were bleeding and bruised and scratched up, but it seemed that changing forms had undone a lot of the worse damage that they had sustained.

 

***

Once their partners were safely minimized and they had managed to slip away from the scene, they began what felt like the thousand-mile trek back to their vehicles-- and exactly the conflict you might expect to happen, was happening.

"We should have just left," Xander said, complaining to himself more than to anyone else. "We could have left the easy way, but no."

Natalie was trudging along, leading the way; she and Meghan were trying to make small talk, and Sam was bringing up the back in silence, but two voices predominated.

"Will you stop complaining for two seconds?" Peter sniped.

"Well, I mean, considering it's partially your fault that we got stuck in a eight-digimon pileup street fight--"

"And we know a hell of a lot more now than we did--"

"At what fuckin' cost!?" Xander stopped in the middle of walking, rounding on Peter, and the entire group stopped as well. "Every goddamn person with a camera and a shred of sense recorded that! Like hell are we going to be able to pretend we're not involved with this shit anymore!"

"Oh my god can we not do this," Sam groaned, feeling his body tense up even more than it already was.

"Just because you want to go back to putting your head in the sand and pretending none of this matters to you doesn't mean it doesn't matter," Peter said, his eye twitching in irritation. "Just because you want to be left alone and pretend that you're not involved it doesn't mean you get to opt out of--"

"Guys," Meghan said, "can we please not do this, we're all really tired and stressed out and--"

"Of what? Excuse me for not being thrilled at the idea of being hunted down like fucking animals over some wack-ass bullshit, but hey, now we know what they fuckin' think of us, so hey, it's all better now! Totally undoes the burning fucking building!"

"Guys," Natalie said, her voice slightly raised.

"You could try actually doing something productive with this information, instead of just whining about it. Or would that be too much of a goddamn imposition on your free time?" Peter wasn't as loud as Xander, but his tone was downright acidic.

"Guys."

"Don't fuckin' talk to me about being productive!"

"GUYS!" Natalie practically yelled, and the group fell quiet as they all turned to look at her. "Will the both of you shut the hell up and stop going at each other's throats for five seconds!?"
She was practically seething, and she calmed down only a little bit as she continued. "I know, you're stressed, we're all fucking stressed, but neither of you is helping! Right now I don't want to babysit a couple of grown men, I want to figure out what where we're supposed to go from here, not whose fault it is that we're here in the first place!"

Both Xander and Peter stared at her, and she realized belatedy that both Meghan and Sam were doing the same, and she sighed heavily.
"Look. We're all tired. Can we just reconvene later when we've all had the time to relax?"

"She's right," Meghan said. "Let's just-- deal with this later, okay?"

"Fine," Xander said stiffly; Peter said nothing, only nodded with lips pressed thin.

There were a lot of questions to be asked, and all of them were swirling around in their heads, and all of them came back to one central question: were they telling the truth? And if so, what did that mean for them?

"Gotta admit this isn't how I planned my day to go," Sam remarked to himself, shaking his head.

 

***

From her balcony, a young woman could see the glow of the fire and the smoke from downtown. Of course, a lot of people could see it from their houses-- she wasn't special in this regard, but...

"You think it's a digimon?" she said, asking over her shoulder. Standing inside, past the sliding doors and watching through the glass, was her best friend.

"Undoubtedly," he said, placing a blunt-clawed paw on the glass.

"I guess it being a grease fire that got out of hand is totally out of the question."

"Trust me on this one."

"It seems like they're getting worse," she said, then turned to look at her friend. "You're sure you don't want to go?" She smirked, rolling her eyes. She didn't want to get involved any more than he did; the question was a sarcastic one. "Go out? Make some friends? Get our ass beat up and down the street a few times?"

"It'd be worse if I did," he said seriously, shaking his head. "Any help I could give would be undone by the damage it would do."

"I know, I know. I'm just giving you shit." She sighed, leaning forward on the railing. She couldn't help but feel that he was being a bit paranoid about it, and he seemed to realize this, because he spoke up.

"If I showed myself, I'd be found, and if I was found, everything would be several times more fucked than it already is."

"Yeah, I know. You're not gonna see me complaining about it, I sure as hell don't want to get involved." She shugged, shaking her head as she walked back inside, reaching down to pat him as she passed. "You don't have to be so serious all the time. Brooding in the dark, talking all cryptically."

He snorted, shaking his head. "I have to get my fun from somewhere," he said, taking one last look out at the city before turning around and following her.

Chapter Text

Sam groaned as he sat back in his chair, running a hand backwards through his hair.
It was coming on seven AM, and he still hadn't slept yet from the night before. Huge digimon fights certainly had a way of igniting the adrenaline and getting the mind racing-- or maybe that was the energy drinks? The empty aluminum cans littered around his computer station were a fine testament to that. HE WAS DOING JUST FINE THANKS FOR ASKING.

The point was: last night had been the Meramon fight, and Sam was still awake and working away at his computer desk.

"Still?" Gelermon said, stretching out and looking over at him. She, unlike him, had actually gotten some sleep-- mostly on-and-off naps, cracking her eyes open every now and again to check whether or not her partner had actually gone to sleep yet.

"Awake again?" Sam said, not looking away from his computer. "Can you toss me a--"

"If you say another energy drink, I'm going to literally toss it, directly at your head, in hopes it knocks you out, because there's a nonzero chance that the next one will be the one to vibrate you off the mortal coil," Gelermon said, before Sam could even finish his sentence. She had been saving that one, apparently.

"I was going to say bottle of water," he said, "but that would work too."

Gelermon snorted as she pulled open the door of the minifridge at the foot of Sam's bed, grabbing a bottled water out of the door and walked over, passing it over instead of lobbing it as she had so threatened.
"You're not still worked up about that shit, are you?" she asked, peering at the screen as she stood next to his chair.

"I have never, in my life, stopped being worked up," Sam replied flatly, cracking open the bottle of water and taking a swig of it. "You should know that."

"Right," Gelermon said, "I'm just waiting for the day you explode."

"Any day now. I can feel it. Though maybe that's the caffeine buzz."

Ever since he and Gelermon had gotten home, he had been throwing himself full-force into the D-Rive with an intensity that he hadn't quite managed to muster since the initial excitement wore off.
He still wasn't stupid enough to plug it into his main computer, which meant one of his less-important laptops was the test dummy of the day.

The more he looked into this stupid thing, though, the less sense it made. He almost felt like it was deliberately, actively fucking with him. Every time he made headway into digging anything useful out of the files it dumped to his computer, said computer began to hang up if not outright crash-- and when he got it running smoothly again, the file it dumped was different. There was no consistency-- sometimes he could pick his way through data for hours before it started hanging up, and sometimes it was like hitting a brick wall inside of ten minutes.

He half wondered if the stupid thing was deliberately fucking with him. Sure, it was a kind of out there idea to think that the D-Rive could deliberately do anything, but at this point, he wasn't going to discount anything.

He was also doing a fantastic job of not really looking into the actual contents of what what's-his-guts had said about corruption and backup drives and all that shit.

...

An idea struck him.

"Hey, Gelermon," he said, looking over his shoulder as he dumped one more copy of the file. "I want to try something. Can I minimize you for a second?"

"I get the feeling this is going to be a horrendously bad idea," Gelermon said, practically able to sense it in the air. There was a moment of silence, before she grinned. "I'm in."

Sam disconnected the D-Rive from the laptop, and minimized Gelermon into it.
For all he had experimented with it, he had never tried dumping the file with Gelermon minimized into it-- he rarely had her minimized up here in his room at all.

When he plugged the device back into his computer, he dumped the file once again, and with the press of the D-Rive's button, Gelermon re-emerged.

"What? Is that it?" she asked as Sam disconnected his D-rive from the computer. She watched as he opened the first file-- the one he had dumped immediately before minimizing her; it came up with the same error message as usual. "I was expecting a lot more, honestly."

"Did you feel anything?"

"No?" Gelermon said, slightly confused as to what Sam was getting at. "I mean, it felt a little tinglier than usual, but I figure that was just the fact that it was actually connected to--"

As she spoke, Sam attempted to open the second file, and Gelermon was immediately silenced-- not least of all because of the unholy screeching that began emitting from the computer.

It was the most spectacular crash Sam had ever seen in his entire life. We're talking legitimately surprised that the laptop did not begin smoking.
The screeching continued for a good fifteen solid seconds like the vengeful spirits of every 20-year-old printer on the planet; in this span of time, the screen lit up in a torrent of symbols and colours. Windows popped up and closed of their own accord, bands of pixels stuck and un-stuck themselves, and then--

And then it shut down, unceremonious and sudden, like the battery had been pulled out of it.

"Well that's real fuckin' fascinating," Gelermon drawled, eyebrow quirked.

"Ain't it just," Sam said, sitting back and folding his arms. Gelermon peered over at him.

"You're not sleeping anytime soon, are you."

"Nnnnnnope."

 

***

It'd be fair to say that everyone learned a valuable lesson, now that the cruel light of day was shining bright and the news stations had gotten a hold of the footage.
That lesson was 'if you want to keep the fact that there are monsters up in the city under wraps, don't start a fight in the middle of the street with nine-later-eight monsters'.

Not a terribly useful life lesson for the rest of us, no, but that's beside the point.

Yes indeed, if they had ever planned to keep things under wraps, that goal had neatly been shot to pieces. Smaller amounts of damage, minor incidents... those could kind of be brushed off, more or less. The whole, building in downtown going up in flames, thing? ... a little harder to ignore. Sure, there were no good pictures of Meramon-- but pretty much from the moment the digimon had evolved up to champion level, there were more than enough pictures and videos floating around of the fight. The news was going wild, the populace was going wild...
It seemed that all bets were off-- and rest assured, a certain strain of enterprising people were actually making bets.

Yes, Peter knew this last point for a fact, because he had the pathological inability to keep his nose out of things, and he was looking for what was being said, now that the news had had the chance to disseminate.

The only upside he could find was that nobody really seemed to think twice about the humans that had been nearby throughout the monster fight. The monsters themselves were much more interesting than the humans trying not to get their eyebrows burned off, and as a result, none of the photo and video evidence lingered too long on them.

Look, you have to look for the small blessings, okay?

And anyway, there were other things to deal with.

"I-- yeah," Peter said, cradling his phone between his shoulder and his ear. "Yes, I know. Tomorrow, right. I'll be there." He was typing away at his desk. His mother had called, which was always a recipe for-- well, a given value of fun. That is to say, if your given value of fun was the literal opposite of fun, then yeah, it was tons of it.

Initially, when he had seen it was his mother calling, he had been momentarily afraid-- had she seen him in the shaky footage? He knew he was unique in the group as being the only one who had managed to, for all these years, keep his digimon a secret from his family.

(Admittedly, this hadn't been hard-- his mother was forgetful and distracted on the best of days, and Wispmon had been so very, very easy to hide. He had -- grading on a scale -- lucked out.)

"Right. I know, I don't work tomorrow, I already made su--... yes, I know," he said, desperately wanting to be having any other conversation, but his tone was even. "Look, I have to get ready for work." Pause. "Right. I'll see you then."

He ended the call, and sat back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head. "She's going to forget," he said to himself, sighing.

"She remembers sometimes," Banmon said, poking her head up from inside her laundry basket hidey-hole.

"Seventy-to-thirty she forgets, then," Peter ammended dully, tilting his head back and looking up at the ceiling.

"That's still not a hundred percent," Banmon tried, but to be honest, even she wasn't sure why she was trying to give the benefit of the doubt here. "I'm sure it's just hard on her, too."

Peter sighed through his nose as he looked back down-- his eyes drifted from his computer screen, to his D-Rive sitting on his desk, and then finally over at Banmon. He nodded once, at least acknowledging what she had said, even as he moved the subject along himself. "At least I won't have to bring you in a bag this time." Beat. "Assuming you want to come, that is."

"Of course I'll come. Why wouldn't I?"

"I just didn't want to assume," he said, looking back over at the little device. He picked it up and turned it over in his hand, then looked over at Banmon. "You holding up alright? You've seemed a little bit shaken."

Indeed, she had been a bit more withdrawn than usual-- and honestly, if she got any more withdrawn, she was liable to straight up implode.

"I'm not... a fan of the fighting," Banmon said, stating the obvious, then looked over at him. "I'll be fine."

"If you say so," he said, not quite believing her.

 

***

my parents haven't said anything either, Natalie said in the group chat. Peter had just remarked on his own mother's total lack of notice. i have no idea if they're somehow unaware or if they're just waiting for a dramatic moment to talk to me about the health risks of monsters.

i wish my mother didnt notice :/ Meghan lamented. she saw a tiny glimpse of me in the footage and practically exploded. every time i go downstairs she goes off again about me running off into danger... :/

Xander snorted. He was laying on his futon, one hand behind his head and the other holding his phone.

how the tits did she recognize you? Xander typed in. i watched that shit too, and it's practically impossible to make out anything between, you know, the fire and the monsters.

my dyed hair? the fact that ibexmon is still pretty recognizably oremon? idk for sure Meghan responded.

pffft. fuck that. sounds like your mom is just crazy Xander replied.

it's not that!! she's just worried, you know?

It's not the least dangerous thing we could be doing. That was Peter, if the proper punctuation and capitalization didn't give him away. Though I don't agree, I can still see why she might be concerned.

Xander almost replied with something about 'cool idea: shut up', but he decided against it. He snorted, setting his phone down as the conversation ticked on without him. He had really only opened his phone to confirm that the plans he had were still a-go.
He glanced over to where Desmon was reclining in her little hammock-net.

"Hey. Desmon. Question."

"That's a dangerous way to start a conversation. Sup?

"You're a girl." Beat. "Kind of." Another beat. "What the fuck do girls like?"

"Cash settlements and mozzarella sticks," Desmon said, with shocking immediacy. Xander paused, sitting up slightly.

"Follow up question: why the fuck did I ask you?"

 

Desmon snickered. "An excellent follow-up question. At least I didn't say 'cars and money'."

"Christ."

 

***

The entire afternoon, Peter's mind was anywhere but on his job.

Well. He usually mentally clocked out somewhere around 30 minutes into his shifts, but this was even more than usual. He felt like his head was in a fog, and he vaguely contemplated the idea of seeing if he could be replaced by one of those custom-order coffee machines that they had around campus at Northwest without sacrificing the efficiency of his job any.

Probably.

Between thinking about the fight, the news coverage of the fight, Banmon's concern, the interpersonal bullshit with the rest of the group... he had a lot to think about, and the brain-rotting process of his job was actually kind of a godsend. The autopilot was strong in this one, today.

Right up until he came to a grinding halt.

"Iced tea for--," he began reading off, and he stumbled. It wasn't a terribly busy day, so there were only so many people this drink could be for, and when he looked out... well. If it hadn't been less than twenty-four hours past, he likely wouldn't recognize the face at all, but sure as anything, he laid eyes on the girl who had been partnered with the red panda digimon just last night. "Jen."

Was there a single goddamn person in this stupid city who didn't come here for their drinks?
(It's almost like he worked at a very well-known cafe in the university district, where a lot of people around their age frequented even during the summer because it was where half of everything that wasn't downtown was. Weird.)

She was looking down at her phone until he called her name, so she didn't see his awkward moment of realization, for which he was grateful. He momentarily wondered if he was mistaken, right until he saw her furrow her brow and puff out her cheek in obvious thought.

"Have I seen you before?" she asked as she approached the bar, peering at Peter's face, and he fixed his face into its usual flat expression.

"I've worked here for the past year and a half," he said evenly, going for a technical truth. "If you frequent the Lotus, there's a substantial chance you've seen me before." There was a nonzero chance they had seen each other before, after all, but he wasn't fooling either of them.

(Though now that he thought about it, he thought he saw her face in here pretty regularly...)

She didn't quite lunge over the bar, but she did lean forward to get a closer look, and Peter leaned backwards in kind because, hey, personal bubble. "Yoooou were at the fight last night, weren't you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said after a moment's worth of pause, and putting her tea on the counter.

"Uh-huh," Jen said, rolling her eyes and picking her tea up. She stood up straight and took a sip of her drink. "Chill, dude, I'm not going to start a fight with you in the middle of a cafe or nothin'."

"You wouldn't be the first if you did," Peter deadpanned, unable to stop himself, and Jen raised an eyebrow, huffing a little bit of a laugh.

"So which one was yours?" she asked, obviously meaning which digimon. Aside from the obvious connection of Natalie and Raumon, courtesy of Ryan, it was easy to not remember which monster went with which twenty-something.

"I decline to answer."

"You're unfathomable, aren't 'ya? Here I am, just tryin' to make some small talk, and you gotta give me the hardass act." She puffed out a cheek in mock indignation. Her tone was casual and conversational-- and she had the slight inflection in her voice that led him to half expect her to end a sentence with eh.
(Just say it, Peter. Canadian. She sounded Canadian. Was this relevant to anything? Not really. Did he notice it anyway, in a way he might not have when they were in the middle of a -- pardon the pun -- firefight? Yes.)

Eh, no point in pretending he really didn't know what she was talking about if she wasn't buying it from the get-go. "You kind of tried to kill my partner last night," Peter said, keeping his voice low. "I think I can be forgiven for not being particularly generous about that."

"It's nothing personal, you know?" Jen said offhandedly-- flippantly. "I don't have anything against you or nothin'."

"Just my best friend."

"Yeah!" Jen said, then paused. "You know, that sounded better in my head."

"I imagine it did," Peter said, curling his lip slightly-- just ever-so-slightly.

"Well, my point stands. It's nothin' against you," she said, shrugging one shoulder and turning. "I'll see you later, I'm sure!"

And like that, she was on her way out the door.
For a few delirious moments, Peter considered flagging her back down and demanding she explain herself, and what she knew, and what she had meant when she had talked about their digimon--
But at that moment, a gaggle of teenage girls entered the café, and he had no choice but to let it go. He sighed through his nose and watched her go.

It definitely gave him food for thought all evening-- as if he didn't already have enough to think about.
He didn't say anything to the rest of the group about it just yet.

When Sam, at around half past seven, messaged the group asking if they could hold a minor meeting at anyone's place ("nothing catastrophically bad just easier to demo than explain"), he figured he'd get the chance to say it anyway.

 

***

"Honestly, I'm surprised it didn't catch fire," Sam said, tugging idly at the brim of his cap.
He, Natalie, and Peter were seated on Peter's living room floor; Sam had just finished explaining the first pass of his experiment with the D-Rive, while their respective digimon watched on from a comfortable seat on the couch.

Yes, the digimon were on the couch while the humans sat on the floor.

It was now half-past eight, that same evening. Ian had just left for work and Peter had just gotten home, which meant that he had the most freedom to invite people over right now. Xander had -- to the surprise of nobody ever -- declined the offer to come, and Meghan had also declined, which struck them as a bit odd, but they figured it wouldn't be hard to catch them up. Sam just wanted an audience; neither Natalie nor Peter could deny the sneaking suspicion that the primary reason he had actually come was that he was the one who was calling the meeting.

"What state is the computer in now?" Natalie asked, furrowing her brow.

"See, I'm ahead of you," Sam said, practically bubbling over despite the fact that he looked like he hadn't slept in a while (spoilers: he hadn't)-- he was clearly excited to have the chance to explain. Peter had seen him get something like this before, when they had been exchanging theories before the Strigimon incident, but this was even more so. He sat back, watching.
Sam turned around; he had brought a messenger bag with him, and from within it, he pulled a slightly beat-up looking laptop. "I actually experimented a little bit with it, and I figured it'd be easier to show you than to try and explain it."

"Oh no," Gelermon groaned, anticipating what was about to happen.

"It's going to be loud, isn't it?" Banmon murmured in worry, looking nervously between Sam and Gelermon.

"That's certainly a word for it," Sam said. "You might want to cover your ears." All in attendance followed his advice, and he pulled the laptop open and pressed down the power button.
They immediately understood what he meant when he said he was surprised it didn't catch fire. Just as it had the first night, the computer began screeching and glitching out immediately; this again lasted for maybe fifteen seconds before the computer powered down of its own accord.

"Should make that your wakeup alarm," Raumon said, uncovering his ears nervously. "It'd get you up right quick."

"Never," Gelermon said, grumpily, "again."

"Christ," Natalie said, looking to Sam. "Couldn't just leave that to the imagination, could you?" she said, but on the other side of her, Peter looked more thoughtful.

"I swear I've heard that sound before," Peter said, stroking his chin, but saying that was enough for Natalie to get the hint, and she practically bolted straight upright as she exclaimed.

"That was the noise our D-Rives made when our digimon first evolved!"
There may as well have been a lightbulb floating above her head.

"Okay, I'm not going crazy, then," Sam said, and again, his excitement was palpable. "But if I wanted to just share that, I could have spammed the group chat with a noise file appropos of nothing, just to fuck with you guys."

"Truly, I feel blessed that you didn't," Peter said flatly, arms folded and eyebrow raised in amusement.

"Check it, though," he said, pulling his D-Rive and a cord out of the messenger bag. He pried the cover off of the little USB port on the side of the D-Rive, connected the cord, and plugged it into the side of the laptop.
When he reached for the power button, everyone except for Sam and Gelermon instinctively covered their ears.

However... the computer started up like normal, quiet except for the buzzing of the worn-out fan and the whirr of a too-old laptop resenting the idea of starting up.
"If I were to pull the D-Rive back off," Sam said as everyone cautiously removed their hands from their ears, "it'd go right back to fuck-up town. I can show you if--"

"NO," Natalie said a bit too forcefully as Sam reached for the cord, but the self-satisfied look on his face was evidence enough that he was just fucking with them.

"I'm pretty sure that this thing is functionally bricked, otherwise," Sam said, watching as the computer booted up, slowly but totally normally, "but it was pretty much just a scrapper anyway, so I'm not too hurt about losing it."

Peter found himself distinctly glad that it was Sam, with junky computers to spare, who had been the one who went digging around like this.

"So," Natalie said, speaking out loud as she was swiping her thumb across her phone, obviously copying it down to send for the benefit of the absent duo, "you plugged it in with Gelermon minimized, and it does that if the D-Rive isn't connected."

"Good, you were listening," he said; Natalie and Peter both chose to ignore his snide sarcasm, having gotten to the point where they realized he didn't mean much by it. "Anyway. I'd been thinking a lot about what the douchebag brigade said, and I think that may be related to it."

Peter sat up a bit straighter, paying more attention.

"I mean-- I don't think I'm going to be rocking anyone's world if I say that the digimon are probably at least vaguely technological in nature," Sam said, speaking quickly. "I mean, come on-- Digimon, Digital World, the fact that they explode into pixels, it's not exactly rocket science here to make the supposition--"

"Stay on track," Gelermon prompted, even though the dog would likely have bitch-slapped (heh) anyone else who interrupted Sam in such a way.

"Right. Anyway-- the file that dumps when Gelermon was in it. I can't exactly be sure -- not without checking another digimon outside of our little group here, but somehow I feel like the douchebag brigade," and yes, he was still going with that nickname, "wouldn't be too excited about letting me give it a whirl-- but if you asked me to imagine in bluntest terms what corruption in something digital looked like..."
He gestured at the laptop.

There was a brief but heavy silence as that sank in.

It was a heavy thing to really accept. Sure, they had all heard what they had been told, but that didn't mean it was a real thing. But...

"... do you suppose," Raumon said, tapping his beak, "that that might be why we don't remember anything?"

"What do you mean?" Banmon asked as she, and everyone else in attendenace, turned to look at him.

"Well," Raumon said, "they -- Shitomon and Lurumon and Hulimon I mean -- they seemed to remember us, but unless anyone's lying about what they know-- and I don't think anyone is -- we're still in the dark. Maybe that's why?"

"So... it's true, then?" Banmon said, clearly frowning, even without a visible mouth.

Gelermon seemed less concerned-- and in fact, a bit more dismissive. "Some world-destroying corruption this must be," she snorted, "if all it can do is knock a few memories loose. Come on. Weak."
Banmon looked down at her hands and sighed.

 

***

"Sounds like they're having fun," Meghan said, scrolling through the messages on her phone. Natalie was practically liveblogging the information they were finding out, and Meghan was reading out the messages for Xander's benefit.

The two of them were sitting on the hood of Xander's car in the growing-ever-darker parking lot of his apartment building; they were just about to part ways, but they were taking advantage of the temperate evening while they had the chance.
Their having spent the evening hanging out was the cause for their absence (rather, Meghan's-- again, Xander probably wouldn't have gone even if you had paid him). It had been Meghan's idea, unsurprisingly; they had simply met up at the mall nearest to them and had roamed. This had eventually culminated in a particularly heated two-player round of an ancient first-person shooter game in the arcade.

(Meghan was a significantly better shot than Xander was expecting; she had won by a narrow margin, and Xander insisted that it was because his gun was a busted piece of shit. The cabinet was ancient, so it was a viable possibility, but the truth of the matter shall forever be lost to the ages.)

This was not the first time digimon had entered the conversation. It felt like it was on everyone's minds; they had actually heard random people discussing it as they had passed. It was... stressful, to say the least, but it wasn't surprising that the subject had come back around. When Sam had asked about holding a flash meeting, they had figured it was something of the sort.

"What a pain in the dick that sounds like," Xander said, rolling his eyes pointedly as he leaned backwards, supporting himself on his hands. "Doesn't sound like we're missing much."

"Does it really not interest you at all?" Meghan said, setting her phone down next to her.

"It just honestly doesn't matter that much to me," Xander said with a shrug-- and the blunt answer surprised Meghan somewhat.

"I'm guessing there's more to that than just you not being able to muster the give-a-fuck about your digimon?" she said, quirking an eyebrow, and Xander shrugged again.

"Basically the exact opposite of that, actually." When Meghan continued giving him a bemused look, he continued. "Look. far as I care, Desmon could literally be the mortal avatar for the dread god Cthulhu, but that's not gonna change the fact that turning her over to the asshole brigade is going to happen over my cold, dead body. I mean, you practically threw yourself in front of the fox dude for Oremon even with that bullshit about them secretly being fuckin' Satan spawn or whatever."
He shrugged. "I'd rather not waste time trying to get to the bottom of shit when it's not going to help, and the alternative is we get in, take care of the monster shit, and be out of there before we get caught on the goddamn evening news again."

Meghan paused as she thought. "I guess I see your point," she conceded. "A bit blunt, but I suppose I can appreciate it."

Xander got the distinct impression, a second too late, that that sentence meant more than one thing.

Before he could commentate, Meghan stretched her arms above her head and slid off of the hood of Xander's car.
"I should get going before my mother puts out a missing person alert or something."

Xander snorted, but nodded. "Yeah, I'd rather not deal with a suburban white housewife gettin' on my case."

Meghan's mother -- Meg herself had explained -- had very strong feelings on the digimon attacks-- and had spent most of her afternoon handwringing about it and wavering between worry and anger. She had related to Xander how she had actually had to show her D-Rive's deactivated radar (and explain what that meant) before she calmed down enough to not panic about Meghan heading out for this little excursion.
(Which, frankly, Xander thought was bullshit, but considering he hadn't spoken to his parents in years, he realized he may not exactly be the model to turn to.)

Meghan huffed a little bit of a laugh. "I'll see you later," she said over her shoulder as she crossed over to where she had parked her own car. Xander stayed where he was, watching; he could see the flash of orange light as Oremon materialized out of her D-Rive the moment he could appear in the shotgun seat. Oremon folded his arms, which was basically his defualt stance, but he at least nodded in acknowledgement as Meghan tossed a little wave out the window as they left.

A familiar burst of blue light accompanied Desmon appearing on the car hood beside him.

"Way to go, you charmer, you," Desmon said slyly, and he could practically hear the grin in her voice.

"Show me where I asked for your opinion."

"Right around the point you said you'd still kick ass over me if I were a Lovecraftian horror. My opinion is now valid in all circumstances."

Xander shoved her off the hood of his car.

 

***

Much later, long after everyone had cleared out and normal, sane people had gone to bed, not everyone had the luxury of being asleep.

Peter didn't realize how late it was until he heard the muffled sound of Ian getting home around four in the morning, and the accompanying shafts of light that poured under his door.
It had been one of those nights where he wasn't laying awake by any means, but any sleep he got was spotty at best. Any time he closed his eyes, he had no way of knowing if thirty seconds, thirty minutes, or three hours had passed by the time he opened them back up.

One of those nights.

He forced a sigh through his nose. At least he didn't have work tomorrow-- today? Today.

Not that that was a blessing. He wasn't looking forward to-- well. Let's be real, he probably wasn't actually going to see his mother. She'd either forget or flake out on him, and he'd be left going to the cemetery alone. He didn't even particularly like going, but the fact that he was the only one who consistently did was still... frustrating.

He sat up, watching as the lights in the living room shut off again as Ian retreated into his own room, likely to go collapse into sleep.
Peter slid out of bed, doing his best to keep quiet so as not to disturb Banmon-- which, as it turned out, might not have been necessary. He looked at her usual hiding place in her designated laundry basket, but he saw no bundle of beige fabric and smoke.
Well. That was slightly disconcerting.

He grabbed his D-Rive off of his bedside table and began opening the radar, practically out of instinct.
The little glowing shape resembling Banmon's head was still smack in the middle; off to the side, he saw the little Ratamon dot cut across a corner of the radar. He wasn't sure what he had been expecting.

He cast a look up at the window. Because they lived in the basement part of the duplex, the window was high on the wall-- it was at ground level from the outside. The view, as a result, wasn't terribly impressive, not least of all because of the tree that took up a goodly amount of said view.

... right.

Not even bothering with his glasses, Peter pulled on a t-shirt and a proper pair of shorts over his boxers before he carefully crept out into the living room, D-Rive still in hand. Ian was probably already asleep, and he slept like the fucking dead, so he wasn't terribly worried about waking him up, but old habits die hard. He slipped a pair of sandals on before he very gingerly made his way outside. He circled around through the grass to the tree outside his window, and if he looked really hard, he could see tan fabric hidden in the boughs.
(He couldn't deny the sense of relief he felt when his hunch was right.)
(He also couldn't deny that maybe he should have put his glasses on, but it was too late now.)

"Hey," he said quietly once he was immediately under the tree. Though he wasn't looking up, the sudden rustle of leaves even though there was very little wind would seem to indicate that Banmon was given quite a start.

"I didn't know you were awake," Banmon's voice drifted down out of the trees after a second.

"Only in the broadest sense of the word," Peter admitted, leaning against the tree and sighing. He felt like shit; he was awake only by the process of elimination. "You doing alright?"

There was another moment before Banmon answered. In this moment, she poked her head out of the branches and looked around, making sure there were no onlookers, before she drifted down, floating next to her partner.
"I don't know," she said.

Peter hummed quietly, but didn't push.

"I--" Banmon said without prompting, shaking her head. She paused, trying to find words, and she looked at Peter, worry on her face. "Do you think we're doing the right thing?"

"What do you mean?"

"If this really is all our fault," she said, choosing her words carefully. "If there's all this that we don't remember. If we are what they say we are, then... do you really think we're doing the right thing?"

Peter frowned.

"I mean-- I mean, you heard what the girl said," Banmon said, and Peter had kind of forgotten that Banmon -- who had been in his D-Rive at the time -- would have heard his conversation with Jen. "They don't have anything against you. It's just... us." She sighed. "You could stop worrying about all of this, and I'm sure it would be better for-- for the digital world, if you just--"

"That's not going to happen," Peter said, cutting her off before she could even finish the thought. He looked at his D-Rive, held loosely in one hand. There absolutely had to be more to it-- these little doohickeys were proof positive of that, as far as he was concerned.
"Besides, if I decided to tap out now, then I'd be the biggest hypocrite in the world," he added, and Banmon laughed at least a little-- that was good. He looked over at her.

 

"I just-- if the corruption is the reason we don't remember anything," Banmon said, "then-- I just... I wonder what it is we did, and why-- why us."

"In the past fifteen years," Peter said, quirking an eyebrow, "you've been by far the gentlest, most sensitive individual I've ever known, human or otherwise. Either you were the same person, or that's not the person you are now."

Banmon paused, looking down at her hands.
"I guess..." she sighed. "I just... don't know whether or not I want to know what happened. Or what might happen because of it."

Peter couldn't help himself:
"I know." He sighed heavily. "But either way. Nothing's going to happen to you as long as I have any say in it."

They went quiet, allowing their thoughts to sit while they enjoyed the cool air of the early morning; the birds were beginning to start up, and Banmon cast a slightly nervous look up at the birds' nest in the tree she had been hiding in.

"Are you doing alright?" she asked after a little while, looking at Peter, and he looked slightly surprised for a moment that she asked. "I know you must be thinking about--"

"Yeah," he said, lifting and dropping one shoulder in a half-shrug and not letting her finish her sentence. "Wanna go back inside? Some sleep is better than none."

Banmon frowned, knowing full well that there was a lot on her partner's mind that he wasn't saying. "Alright."

 

***

Peter sighed heavily, looking down at his phone. He had slept, but not nearly enough; the shadows under his eyes stood as testament to that. It was early afternoon, now; the sun was shining, the birds are singing, and exactly as he had expected, his mother was nowhere to be found. He had been waiting by the gates for almost forty-five minutes, holding out hope, and said hope was starting to wear thin. In years past, he might have tried calling her or messaging her; now, he didn't bother trying.

"You know," he said, speaking to himself and the unseen audience of Banmon, safely minimized in his D-Rive, "I'm not sure why I even bother. Nobody would care if I didn't come."

He'd know, though.
Dammit. He'd just go himself.

He stuffed his hands into his pockets as he crossed through the lines of stones and grave markers and tall, dark trees, his feet on autopilot.
He came to a stop in front of the familiar marker, and he looked around. He was alone; it was a bright and sunny July day, nobody wanted to spend a day like this in a graveyard.

He held his D-Rive loosely in one hand, and he looked down at it, and then around himself. "Banmon, if you want to come out, you can. Nobody's going to see you."

There were a few seconds wherein Banmon hesitated, before she materialized in a burst of white light, and Peter looked sidelong at her, nodding. She nodded back.
Peter sighed, sitting down in the dirt, and Banmon drifted down next to him, settling on the ground among the leaves and the scrubby grass. She curled up next to him, saying nothing but keeping him company for as long as he sat.

He wasn't sure how long he had been sitting there in silence when his D-Rive lit up. He had practically forgotten he was holding it.

He almost wanted to scream, but instead he muttered, "why now?"

He turned to look to the sky, and he could already see two flying shapes over the tops of the trees, and he sighed, minimizing Banmon, just in case.

 

***

"Blast Rings!"

The freak of the week (... wait, it was the second digimon attack that week. The freak of the day didn't have as nice a ring to it, though) was a large red eagle with huge curved black horns, name of Aquilamon.
It was a weird, weird turn of affairs that they considered themselves lucky that Aquilamon had a bone to pick with them-- because it meant it was really easy to pull somewhere they wouldn't have as much of an audience at 1 in the afternoon. They were really desperate to avoid another scene if at all possible, for whatever reason.

Corymon had actually managed to lead it here-- a slightly wooded area that was, if memory served, near the cemetery. Here, Doctorimon was ready to head the eagle off.
(After all, who would be hanging around in the cemetery on a day like this?)
They had had to come up with the plan very quickly, and Xander hadn't been terribly enthused about it, but seeing as he was the one who had seen the emergent on his radar first...

Well, they made do.

"Black Stinger!" Corymon yelled, firing off blasts of energy from her tail stinger. They hit Aquilamon square in the chest, and the bird seized, the attack momentarily paralyzing it. It didn't fall out of the sky entirely, but it did dip in the air before it righted itself, but that few meters it fell were all Doctorimon needed.

"Black Bloom!"

Doctorimon hurled his rose like a dagger and it struck true, and Aquilamon growled as it fell to the ground, snapping a few tree branches in the process.

"Dirty tricks," Aquilamon growled. "Nothing more than I'd expect of filth like--"
It didn't get to finish its insult, as it exploded into pixels.

Natalie came jogging through the trees as Corymon, with Xander clinging tight to her back, alighted down next to Doctorimon. "Well, that could have gone worse," Natalie said; Doctorimon nodded curtly.

"Not a fan of this passenger fighting thing," he remarked flatly, dusting himself off as he let go of the death grip he had on Corymon's mane.

"Like I'd let you fall," Corymon said cheerfully, and she began to glow as she reverted back to Desmon. Doctorimon followed suit. It hadn't been a terribly difficult encounter; the real problem had just been trying to lead it out here without being seen, but they had more or less succeeded.

This desire not to be seen was a big factor in the fact that that all in attendance nearly had a heart attack as they heard footsteps coming their way. Xander and Natalie prepared to minimize their digimon-- but they relaxed substantially when the familiar face of Peter came traipsing through the trees instead, with Banmon floating cautiously after him.

"Aw, he's late, missed all the fun," Xander said dryly, relaxing less than Natalie did.

"Shame," Desmon chimed in.

"Somehow," Peter said flatly, "I think I'll survive." He looked around, lips pressed tight until he spoke. "That was you, I take it?"

Natalie frowned, furrowing her brow-- she could sense something off, something about the stiffer than usual way in which Peter held himself, or maybe the shadows under his eyes that practically broadcasted that he was tired, or--
Maybe the fact that he was here, even though she and Xander hadn't coordinated their makeshift plan in the group chat?

Raumon had the same thought, apparently. He stroked his beak in thought and furrowed his brow, but said nothing. He didn't need to, because there was another pair far too willing to speak up.

"Sure was," Xander said, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Am I needed here, or do you have it all under control?" Peter asked, looking to Natalie instead of Xander.

"What, are we interrupting your free time or something?" Xander interrupted anyway, raising an eyebrow. He very deliberately chose the words that Peter had snapped at him over mere days ago.
Peter definitely noticed it, and he turned his gaze onto him. Instead of saying anything, he merely stared for a moment, an unspoken are you done?.
Xander was slightly taken aback, and he curled his lip just slightly.
"Hey, it was just a question," he said, voice dripping condescension, shrugging one shoulder.

"Dude, now may not be a good time," Natalie said cautiously, taking a half-step back; the tension was downright palpable, and Xander was doing something that would charitably called making it worse.

"Hey, if he's gonna give me shit for it, I'm gonna give him shit."

"You could try not giving each other shit at all, you know," Natalie said, but she had the feeling that this was a fruitless endeavor.

"It's different," Peter said curtly, looking icily at Xander.

"Oh, I'm sure, seeing as your free time is more important than everyone else's," Xander cut back, confirming Natalie's suspicion that her attempts to de-escalate were useless. "Go on. Piss off, see how much I care."

Banmon squeaked ineffectually, every inch of her smoky body desperately broadcasting that she'd like nothing more than to not be here. Peter said nothing, nodding an acknowledgement to Natalie and he turned to leave, stiffly turning around to go back the way he came.

"Man," Desmon said, "he's really playin' up the ice queen bit today, isn't he?" She sounded at least a little bit more sympathetic, but that wasn't saying much-- sounding more sympathetic than Xander was not difficult.

Xander snorted. "Probably pissed that he's having to take time away from whatever the fuck he does with his spare time. Condescend to people about shitty music, probably. Cry me a river."

"Do you ever, like, turn that off, or do you just say whatever comes to mind?" Natalie asked out loud, looking at Xander with a quirked eyebrow.

"Mostly the latter option, yeah," Xander said. At least he was honest about it...?

Peter didn't seem to appreciate the honesty, though, as he had turned back around and was walking back, presumably to retaliate to Xander's comment.
He looked like he was thinking what the best comeback would be-- what biting, laconic thing he could say to really cut Xander down to size.

Instead, he hauled off and lunged for Xander, swinging at his face with a closed fist.

It happened so quickly that even Peter himself didn't seem to see it coming, and he was the one doing it. He had a few inches on Xander in height, yes, but Xander was significantly more solidly built, so the element of surprise was undoubtedly key in the relative success of this attack.

Desmon was, uncharacteristically, struck dumb.

"Peter--!" Banmon cried from behind, looking like she was about to cry.

"Oh my god--!" Natalie yelped, stumbling backwards a few feet and almost falling on her ass in her surprise; Raumon practically puffed up his feathers as he, too, jumped back.

Xander, though, didn't wait, immediately coming back with a swing of his own, having at least the decency to punch Peter in the stomach instead of the face. Wouldn't deck a guy with glasses in the face, at least! ... no, no, wait, yes he would. What's going to pass for lucky is the fact Peter's glasses they flew off his face when Xander's fist connected.

They began to exchange blows, but luckily, they didn't get far-- once the shock had worn off, their partners were quick to and intervene. (After all, if they got in a scrap, that was one thing, but humans totally weren't supposed to be the ones fighting-- let alone with each other.)

"Xander!" Desmon yelled, flapping up and grabbing a hold of her partner's shoulders with her feet, and she leapt backwards, flapping and physically wrenching him back.

Banmon, too, intervened-- she threw her arms out, wrapping her hands around Peter's upper arms and pulling him back. Raumon bolted to pick Peter's glasses off the ground-- they were a little dirtier now than they had been, but luckily enough the worst damage they had sustained was a tiny bit of bend in one arm.

"Could you keep your mouth shut for two seconds!?" Peter yelled, his cool officially gone. "Or is it that hard for you to not hear your own voice!?"

"I'm not the one who suddenly fucking psycho snapped over being called a hipster!" Xander spat back, glaring. He wrenched himself free of Desmon's grip, but he stood solid, and didn't try to lunge at Peter again. He rolled his shoulders, and Banmon slowly released Peter.

"You have no idea what you're talking about," Peter snapped, gritting his teeth.

"Oh, do enlighten me," Xander said, making a terribly sarcastic, sardonic bow. Peter stared at him-- and said nothing.

Raumon cautiously approached Peter to hand over his glasses; he took them with a simple, tense nod. Then, without a word, he spun on his heel and walked away, not even waiting for Banmon.

"I--"

The little ghost visibly panicked.

"I'm sorry!" she cried, before taking off after her partner.

"What the hell was that," Desmon said, quiet and confused and shockingly sober of tone.

"I think you may have struck a nerve," Raumon said matter-of-factly, stating the blazingly obvious.

Xander folded his arms and snorted derisively, but Natalie rounded on him.

"You realize he was probably here for a reason, right?" she said. "Like, did that occur to you at all?"

"So he's a creepy fucking hipster who hangs around near cemeteries, big whoop," Xander muttered, but Natalie fixed him with a hard stare, and he, entirely too belatedly, shut his mouth.

 

***

"You know, she would have been nineteen today," Peter said as he trudged back to the gravemarker he had been sitting at before... that uncomfortable digression. He didn't know why he was going back now -- but he felt like he had to leave on a better note than that.
The way he spoke, it was like that little altercation hadn't happened at all.

"I'm sorry," Banmon said.

"About what?"

"Not-- that anything here is my fault, just... in general..." she trailed off as she drifted behind him, and he went quiet in thought again. "I don't know."

"You're fine," Peter said, and he meant it, no matter how distant his tone was.

He had always felt like there was something to the fact that not even half a year after losing his sister, Wispmon had appeared in a little ball of cloth and smoke.

Even when he was six, he had quickly dismissed the idea that Wispmon was actually his little sister's ghost. Mariah had been loud and rambunctious and adventurous, while Wispmon had always been bashful and quiet and mild. Even a wild-eyed kid who, let's be real, didn't entirely understand the full impact of what was going on could tell the difference.
It didn't change the fact that for a long time, he had always felt there was some kind of a connection-- a reason for it.

He still remembered eavesdropping on the conversation between the doctors and his parents, and how much he hadn't understood at the time; it had been a problem with her heart, and apparently they had known from the time she was born that she was likely to be a ticking time bomb, and...
You know. It was just a lot, and his understanding as a six year old boy had been lacking at best. She had only been four.

(Maybe part of his obsession with finding out all of these why and how and what was the manifestation of all this coming back out again, now that he really had the chance to understand Banmon had come to him.)

Or something like that, anyway.

...

He would never say it, but he was already feeling a pang of regret that he had lost his temper like that. He had always prided himself on his self-control, but...

He maintained that they had to work together. They were in this together for a reason. He was more convinced of that than ever, with all the new information they had recieved recently, but... dammit, dammit, dammit, Xander just had to pick at that wound today. He had to try and pick a fight, and...

"Do you want to go home?" Banmon asked quietly. Peter sighed, raising a hand to his cheek where Xander had punched him back. It was probably going to bruise.

He really only had himself to blame.

"Yeah. Fuck it, yeah."

Chapter Text

"Poison Cobweb!"

Frekimon snarled with pain as she was assailed by the spray of poisonous mist, lifting her arms to protect her face. The flames around her wrists flickered; when the mist hit it, it formed a putrid greenish smoke that made everything five thousand times worse, but, hey, they were already in the industrial district, it's not like the smell in the air could get any worse, right?

"Terra Spear!" Ibexmon yelled, smashing his hooves down into the ground. Rocky spikes shot up into the underbelly of the giant spider they were in the middle of fighting, and it snarled with pain as it tumbled away, practically thrown by the force of the rocks.

Sam and Meghan kept well out of the way, D-Rives cluched tightly. It had barely been four days since Natalie and Xander had taken care of Aquilamon, and thus since Xander and Peter had come to blows. While any of them would be hard-pressed to say that there was a baseline of normal monster appearances to days passed ratio, but it felt decidedly odd that there had been this many incidents this closely back-to-back, and with what little they knew now... well, it didn't put anyone's minds at ease.

Between that weighing on their minds, the interpersonal garbage going on both inside and outside of their little group, and the fact that the entire city seemed to be on high-alert for digimon sightings -- not a day didn't go by that a news report went out about alleged sightings and follow-up on the fire... it made fighting a giant spider more stressful than it had any right to be.
And, considering they were fighting a giant spider, one that spat poison no less, that was certainly saying something.

"Poison Thread!" Dokugumon snarled while scrambling to its many feet. It released a fully-formed purple-tinted spider web from the talon-like spinneret on its abdomen, and this web fell over Ibexmon like a net. The goat tossed his head to try and dislodge it, but he only succeeded in getting himself more stuck. "Poison Thread!" it yelled again as Frekimon lunged for it, and the web stopped her mid-leap, knocking her off course like a cannonball-- impressive stuff, for a blob of spider silk.
"This is much easier," Dokugumon rumbled, rounding on Ibexmon, whose struggling was only making his situation worse, "when you stop struggling so much."

"New Moon Fire!"

If the poison mist had released putrid smoke on contact with the flames on Frekimon's arms, then what the burning web released when hit with a full-on fireball was on a whole other level. Sam ripped his cap off of his head to cover his mouth with it, and Meghan ducked her face into her shirt, and even so, it not only reeked something awful, but stung their throats and eyes.

Well, it was better than the alternative, but...

"Ravenous Hunter!" Frekimon yelled from somewhere in the cloud of smoke, and then she bounded out of it, the fire on her wrists engulfing her hands entirely as she lunged towards Dokugumon. The spider -- even with all the eyes set in its gold-masked face -- couldn't seem to tell where she was coming from until the moment she made contact.

Dokugumon roared and spat as it began to dissolve into pixellated light, and the light shot to Meghan and Sam's D-Rives; Ibexmon was only now starting to break free of the sticky purplish spider web, and he seemed rather put out to have been waylaid so easily. Both humans kept to the side, still keeping their mouths covered as the gentle wind was taking its sweet time dissipating.

"Looks like you were in a bit of a sticky--" Frekimon said, a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

"If you finish that sentence," Ibexmon said, snorting and tossing his head, "I will headbutt you into the next county."

Both champion-level digimon began to glow, and as the light faded, they were replaced by their usual forms, and the smoke was fading faster as time went on.

"It's lucky that Frekimon was able to burn the webbing off," Meghan said, glancing over at Sam. She couldn't say she was surprised when he was looking down at his D-Rive, not fully paying attention to anything else, but she did feel a vague pang of-- annoyance? Disappointment? Something like that.

"It's only lucky it was distracted enough for her to be able to burn it off," Oremon said as he closed the distance between them. He sounded slightly put out.

"Yeah, you did a real good job being bait, nice work" Gelermon said with a smirk, reaching over and patting Oremon on the back with one paw. Considering the full foot difference in their heighths, it was kind of an awkward reach for Gelermon, but whatever.

Oremon snorted. He was clearly more than a little bit embarassed over the whole affair, but wasn't about to say as much. "I weakened it."

"And I pulled out the save, so I mean, if not for me, we'd all be spider food. Please don't hold your applause."

"I wasn't going to applaud in the first place."

"Shame, you really should."

Meghan looked from the bickering digimon over to Sam, who had shifted his attention right back to his D-Rive, and she sighed. "Well, at least there was nobody around," she tried, gesturing vaguely in the air with one hand. She looked around to confirm that she was right, and indeed-- there had no audience, best she could tell.

She didn't actually expect him to throw down and actually want to hang around, but she still kind of felt frustrated when Sam blinked a couple times, like he was waking up from a day dream, shaking his head and looked over at her.
"Uh," he said, elegantly. "Yeah."
He minimized Gelermon before she started a fight with Oremon -- which she was on-track to do -- and resumed looking at the device, and then around at their surroundings.

"Is something wrong?" Meghan asked, while Oremon -- not yet minimized -- crossed over to her. Again, Sam was a bit preoccupied, and took a couple seconds before he seemed to realize he was being spoken to.
(Meg tried not to take it too personally.)

"I was just looking on the radar," Sam said belatedly, shaking his head. There were a number of things he could be looking for-- Ratamon, the other D-Rive holders, any tag-along emergents -- but judging by the fact that he tucked the device away into his pocket, none of them were making themselves apparent. "Thought I saw something, but it's either gone or I was wrong."

Meghan cast a look down at her own D-Rive, and indeed, there was nothing there. When she looked back up, though, Sam was already turning to leave.

"I'll see you later I guess?" she called to his back; at the very least, he waved over his shoulder, so he had at least heard and acknowledged her, which was... something, she supposed.

"Yeah," he called, a bit belatedly, "later!"

Meghan paused, then slumped with a sigh.
"You know, I'm not even terribly surprised," she said, looking over at Oremon, who was standing with arms folded. She didn't explain herself, instead looking around to see if anyone had seen them. "You ready to go?"

Oremon nodded.
It wasn't that there was a huge risk of being seen here -- this wasn't exactly a busy thoroughfare -- but they didn't want to dawdle any longer than they had to. With a burst of orange light, Meghan minimized Oremon and took off back to where she had parked-- though it took a moment to remember which way to go, among all of the industrial plants and piles of gravel and general detritus.

 

***

"So, I take it by the fact that you so rudely minimized me," Hulimon said, emerging out of his respective D-Rive with a burst of cyan light on the roof of Eli's car as he approached, "we're just going to let them get away? No muss, no fuss?"

They had gotten to the scene of the fight at the very tail end of things-- they had literally seen the green and orange light as the goat and the dog had returned to their base forms. Hulimon had emerged of his own volition, ready to fight, but Eli had been quick to hold him back by minimizing him before he could give away their location.

He was used to Hulimon practically leaping into danger (and often danger that Hulimon himself had caused), so keeping a rein on the little fox was pretty standard operating procedure.

"It'd have been two against one, my dude," Eli said, stretching his arms out over his head. He hadn't really wanted to come out today, anyway, so when the emergent had shown up on his radar, he had kind of low key been hoping that one of the others would deal with it.
Maybe not the best attitude for someone who was supposed to be the hero and all, what with the mission and shit, but... really, that was more Ryan's shtick, far as Eli cared.

"Five on three the last time, and we did fine!" Hulimon objected, apparently quite a bit more hurt by the blow to his ego than actually concerned with letting the refugee digimon get away.

"Yeah, because they couldn't focus on who to concentrate on, and the both of them are the heaviest hitters. You'd be a pancake in, like, thirty seconds flat."

"So little faith you have in me!"

"Would you have faith in you?"

Beat. "Okay, I hear your point, but still, you don't gotta be so hurtful." Hulimon groaned, tilting his head back. "Are we actually gonna gonna tell California McGee that we were just late and didn't want a two-on-one, or are we just gonna," the little fox set down his bag so that he could use both paws to made air quotes, "'forget' to mention it again?"

"Eh, we should probably mention it," Eli said, looking around after looking down at his radar again. He could have sworn he saw that little Ratamon thing on his radar-- had he been mistaken? He wasn't sure, but he didn't think it would have been able to run fast enough to completely get out of range that quickly...
Mm.
He'd worry about it later.

 

Honestly, he wanted to mess with Ratamon alone even less than he wanted to get involved in a two-on-one alone.

 

***

Ever since the Meramon fight, and even moreso since Xander and Peter came to blows, Meghan couldn't shake the feeling that what comraderie they had built up was starting to dissolve again.
The past few days had been-- let's charitably call them understandably tense. Nobody really seemed to know how to react to two of their little squad members flipping out on each other like Xander and Peter had, and similarly, nobody really wanted to be the first one to talk about it. Xander and Peter were both staying remarkably quiet; Sam was as hard to interact with as usual; even Natalie had become a bit more withdrawn as she, presumably, tried to figure out the best route to take.

Meghan couldn't say she begrudged anyone, because she had her own fallout to deal with. She got how it went.

She poked her head in the front door, looking around. Sure, her mother's car wasn't there, but she couldn't be too careful. "Hey, I'm back," she called in, cautiously.

"Hey Meg," James said in greeting; though she could hear her younger brother's voice, she couldn't see him except for one foot hanging off the side of the couch that he was currently, apparently, sprawled across. The TV was going, the AC was blasting, and it was in all regards a pretty typical July mid-afternoon.

"Mom's not back yet, is she?" she asked, looking around a bit nervously. She practically jumped when she saw a shape come out of the kitchen, but this was just -- as it turned out -- Brendan, holding a sandwich.

"Nah," her older brother said, shaking his head. "You're safe, for now."

Even with a couple days to cool down since the newsworthy incident that hard sparked this media firestorm (both 'cool down' and 'firestorm' puns thoroughly intended), the acting head of the Abbott household was still tetchy about any potential Digimon activity. Meghan really didn't want to deal with it if she could help it, so she had felt deeply lucky when her mother had been out of the house, running errands, when she got the heads-up on the emergent digimon from Sam.
She had low key been dreading the possibility of her mother getting back before her and asking all sorts of well-meaning, but unwanted and nagging, questions about where she was running off to on a day off.

(She knew her mother was just concerned about her safety; it didn't make it any less frustrating.)

Oremon re-appeared next to Meghan with a flash of orange light as she knelt down to pull her shoes off; from over the back of the couch, James waved one hand when he heard the tap of Oremon's hooves settling on the floor. Oremon, though he'd deny it if ever asked, half-waved back even though he knew James couldn't see it.

"Would I be right in guessing you wouldn't have totally thrown me under the bus if she had gotten back before me?" Meghan asked, realizing wih some repulsion that her clothes vaguely smelled like the putrid smoke that burning Dokugumon's attacks had resulted in and resolving to change them as soon as she got upstairs.

"I didn't exactly have a plan--" Brendan admitted, crossing over to the couch and dropping down onto it, even though James was in the way; this did not even remotely stop him.

"Ow you're sitting on my legs get off!"

The yelling also didn't stop him.

"-- But I figured I'd wing it," Brendan continued, looking over his shoulder. "Though, honestly, is this gonna be a regular thing? Am I going to have to start pre-writing excuses for you?"

"I'll write some on cards for you ahead of time," Meghan said, heaving a sigh and slumping her shoulders. "I'm gonna go change, my clothes smell like I've been hanging around hippies and I'd rather not deal with questions about that."

"Should we hose Oremon off in the back yard while you're doing that?" James piped up, and Oremon snorted with offense, folding his arms. (He smelled fine, thank you very much.)

"Let's go upstairs," he said, turning on his heel to do just that. Meghan paused for a beat and tossed a quick 'later' to her brothers before following.
Meghan took the stairs two at a time, while Oremon clumped his way up rather heavily-- each step was a little more forceful than it really had to be, though not so much that he was stomping.

"You seem grumpier than usual," Meghan pointed out once they were both at the landing, and Oremon snorted yet again.

"No I'm not," he said, lying so obviously and so poorly that Meghan didn't see the point in arguing it.

"If you say so," she said with a shrug of one shoulder, stretching her arms above her head; Oremon continued on without her. This struck her as slightly odd -- Oremon almost always waited up for her, but...
He did wait outside of her door, though, standing with arms folded to the side so she could go in and change in privacy.

"You know," Oremon's voice drifted through the door a few minutes later, voice muffled, "I'm fairly certain I could have taken that Dokugumon on by myself."

Meghan paused as she pulled a new shirt on and thus completing her re-dressing, furrowing her brow. She paused before answering. In this pause, she pulled her D-Rive out of the pocket of her old jeans and placed it on her desk before she crossed to the door and cracked it open. Oremon was still standing to the side of the door with his back against the wall, arms folded and expression grumpy.
"I'm sure you could have?" she said, raising her voice in a slightly bewildered question, pulling the door open further so Oremon could enter the room.

He pushed away from the wall and entered the room. He went directly for his futon, which lay on the floor on the opposite side of the room from Meghan's bed; he dropped unceremoniously into a cross-legged sitting position, obviously still put out.

"Okay, what's wrong?" Meghan said, puffing one of her cheeks out in frustration.

Oremon looked like he was considering saying nothing, but luckily, he seemed to veto that, and cut to the chase. "I don't see why Gelermon had to be so obnoxious about the fight," he said.

"That's kind of just the way she is, I think," Meghan tried, shrugging one shoulder-- she was relieved that he was actually sharing what was bothering him, but she couldn't help but feel a little frustrated. Why now, when everything else was already piling up? "She wouldn't have had an easy a time without you around, either, so I get where you're annoyed, but--"

Oremon snorted loudly, his voice derisive as he recalled Gelermon's words. "Right. I made great bait. Great job."

"That's not what I said," Meghan said a bit helplessly, slumping her shoulders. She was starting to see what he was so sore about, but what could she do about it?

"But I'm not wrong," Oremon said gruffly. "Between being bait so she has a chance to get a hit in and getting thrown up and down the street every time I get in a fight, I'm just doing a fantastic job making everyone else's job easier."

Meghan looked at him with a slightly bemused expression on her face, her brow furrowed. "I-- what?" Oremon frowned, but he didn't say anything further, folding his arms and turning away.
She furrowed her brow and flopped down onto her bed, spread out eagle and her eyes on the ceiling.

It was true that Oremon was-- well, out of the group, he was indeed probably the most likely to get a bit roughed up in a fight, but she had figured that no small part of that was the fact that, as both Oremon and Ibexmon, one of his primary modes of attack was smashing his head into other digimon, which put him in the line of proverbial fire, and he had always been able to shrug it off pretty well.

She wondered, all of a sudden, what kind of blow it had been to his ego when she had run out between him and Hokkaimon when they had been fighting the other group, and she felt a strange lump in her throat.
Between the tension in the group, the back-to-back digimon and all the stresses that that entailed, her mother's reaction to all of this, (what she interpreted as) vague annoyance from her brothers being asked to cover for her, and now Oremon's mood tanking...

Well.
Obviously, she told herself, she was just being over-sensitive, right? Right! Nothing to worry about.

...

She wiped at her face with the sleeve of her shirt in as surreptitious a way as she could muster. Oremon -- to his credit -- seemed to notice anyway, and as she sat up, she noticed that he was looking at her.
"Is something else wrong?" she said, putting a smile on her face. "You're looking at me weird."

Oremon frowned. He didn't say anything, merely shook his head.

 

***

Later on, Meghan, James, and her mother were seated in the living room; the sounds of the evening news on the televison and their conversation carried well enough for Oremon to hear all of them from the top of the stairs.
It wasn't unusual for him to sit out of these times-- at least, when Meghan's mother was the only parent around. He could never shake the feeling that she had never liked him as much as Meghan's father did, especially not since he had evolved into Oremon, and double especially not since all of this digimon business had begun. Triple especially since last week.

He was trying to give Meghan a bit of space, though he wondered if he wasn't making the wrong choice by doing so. He simply didn't want to exacerbate the problem; he knew that if her mother started talking about digimon, he might not be able to resist the urge to argue.
(Honestly, he might have started a fight anyway-- Brendan was out with some of his friends who were in town, and she hadn't said boo to him going out, and Meghan herself probably wasn't going to say anything about it...)

Of course, most of the time he simply stayed in their room during this time, reading or listening to music or trying practice emulated games on Meghan's computer (it was hard, with hooves, but he was dedicated), but he felt like he had the obligation to pay attention now.

"... another sighting has been reported, but not confirmed. Citizens are implored," the voice of co-anchor Rebecca Porter drifted up, "not to interfere if they encounter what they believe to be an Unidentified Destructive Creature, and are advised to vacate the vicinity and contact law enforcement immediately. Though there have yet to be any casualties or injuries resulting from a UDC incident, the property damage sustained should serve as a potent warning..."

Oremon snorted, rolling his eyes at the name that the media had decided to bestow upon them, but he couldn't dwell on it.

"Well, I'd certainly hate to be in such a situation," Mrs. Abbott said, and even though he couldn't see them, Oremon could clearly imagine the pointed way that she was looking at Meghan, and he frowned.
He heard the distinct sound of James ever-so-subtly getting up and wandering towards the kitchen, clearly sensing what was happening and surreptitiously excusing himself from it.

"Right," Meghan said, apprehension clear in her voice. "Well, let's hope you never have to be, yeah?" Just as clearly as Oremon could imagine the way her mother looked at her, he could imagine the slightly-forced smile Meghan put on her face.

There was a pause in the discussion where the only noise was the news, finishing up the usual tell the police if you see a digimon shpiel and moving on to some more lighthearted human interest story, but the tension was palpable.

"Meghan," her mother started up again, and her tone was clearly the serious discussion tone. "You know, I've been thinking."

Oremon snorted.

"Ever since the start of summer you've been acting very oddly... running off, doing god knows what at all hours. And I wondered what had gotten into you all of a sudden, but you seemed happy about it, so I was more or less okay with it."

Oremon leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and frowning; he could practically feel the objection coming up; the only way her pause for dramatic effect could have been more obvious if she had said pause for effect.

"But--?" Meghan prompted, just when Oremon thought that Mrs. Abbott was holding onto her dramatic pause a bit too long.

"But," Mrs. Abbott said, sounding like she wanted to say I was getting to it but deciding not to, "from what I've seen, it all seems to come back to Oremon, and I was just thinking that maybe we should consider..."

Oremon furrowed his brow, his face scrunching into one of vague displeasure for where this was going, but Meghan was way ahead of him.

"If you're going to suggest I kick him out or something, I'm going to flip my--" A beat, wherein she self-censored. "Flip out," she finished instead, not wanting to say flip my shit to her mother.

"I wasn't going to say that!" her mother said, tone defensive-- but, honestly, it wouldn't be the first time the conversation had happened; the last time had been back when Oremon had first actually evolved proper from Billymon to his present Oremon form. "You seemed to be safer when you didn't take him with you--"

"And what if something did happen?" Meghan said, cutting her mother off. There was a pause, where the tension hung thick; Meghan rarely interrupted her mother.

"Well, you probably wouldn't run off into danger if he wasn't there charging off all the time..."

"He doesn't just charge off into danger!" Meghan retorted, but Oremon frowned, looking down at his hands, even as her voice continued. "It's not like he's dragging me off--"
Oremon clenched his hooves like fists, thinking. Almost every time a digimon incident happened, he was the one with Meghan's D-Rive in hand as often as not, informing her that they needed to get moving, wasn't he?

He stood up-- he practically felt a ringing in his ears, and it was hard to concentrate on continuing to listen in. He turned and walked back to the bedroom, snorting. If he had pockets to shove his hands into, he would have done so.

Oremon had no doubt in his mind that Meghan would continue to stand up on his behalf to her mother, but... somehow, for some reason, he didn't want to hear it right now. Not when he was already licking his wounded ego-- he didn't need to hear his best friend making excuses for him to make him feel worse.

He sighed as he closed the door behind him with a click, and looked around the room. On Meghan's desk her D-Rive lay face-down, where she had placed it earlier after changing her clothes. Oremon picked the little device up and turned it over, and found himself unable to be surprised when -- pressing it to activate it -- he saw the radar was active.
It hadn't lit up on its own; as far as he knew, that meant there were no unfamiliar digimon around.

(But didn't Shitomon and her lot count as 'familiar' now...?)

(... but he had just felt bad about running off and dragging Meghan off to fight...)

For a few moments, Oremon stood, debating with himself what to do, but he didn't end up having to try to open the radar with his hooves-- a sharp tap-tap-tapping at the window drew his attention, and the culprit for the radar's activation was at the window.

No surprises: it was Ratamon, clinging to the tiny spit of windowsill that was outside the screen. This was frankly impressive; there was barely any more than the narrow plaster moulding for him to hold onto... but there he clung, peering in with those eyes the size of tea saucers, electric green and shocking pink and shiny like a cat's in the dark. He looked like he might might have waved, if his hands weren't otherwise occupied.

Oremon crossed the room and pulled open the window, but left the screen closed so Ratamon couldn't simply climb inside. "Why are you here?"

"See, that's an okay greeting," Ratamon said cheerfully, twitching his big feathery ears, "but I'd say something more like hi or long time no see, myself. Hi!"

Oremon frowned. He wanted more than anything to run downstairs and grab Meghan, but-- maybe not a good time, right now. Ratamon was looking at him cheerfully, waiting for the goat to process his words, and Oremon couldn't help but feel a little-- condescended to, even though he wasn't saying anything. It was just that unspoken I'll wait, paired with his inscrutiably smiling face...

Hmph.

Meghan could think Ratamon was cute all she wanted-- Oremon still thought the little creampuff was annoying at best.

"Are you the only digimon around?" the goat snapped, peering out the window, and then looking down at the D-Rive, just in case.

"As far as I know, and I know pretty far," Ratamon chirped, watching Oremon very intently. The goat stared back at him for a couple of beats, knitting his brow.

"What do you want?" he said after a moment.

"What?" Ratamon asked, still so chipper.

"You show your face so infrequently," Oremon said, "I assume you're here for a reason." (It also hadn't escaped Oremon's notice that Ratamon also seemed to have a preference for showing up around him and Meghan more than anyone else.)

"Aw, and here I thought I was being sneaky!" Ratamon said, shrugging his shoulders, and he looked around. "Could you let me in? This isn't terribly comfortable, you know."

Oremon paused again, looking over his shoulder at the door. He had no idea when Meghan would be back up, but-- how often did they lament how little they could find of Ratamon when they wanted him around? And knowing him, if Oremon did go get Meghan, he would likely be gone by the time they got back...

After some deliberation -- and a little bit of difficulty, because, you know, hooves -- Oremon managed to open the window screen just barely enough for Ratamon to squeeze his way in. He was like a cat-- it only needed to be wide enough to fit his head, and the rest of the odd little digimon followed.

Oremon intitially feared that Ratamon might start darting around or make a break for the door or something equally chaotic. Instead, he merely hefted himself so he was sitting on the inside of the windowsill next to the miniature pots containing Meghan's succulent plants, his little legs dangling against the wall.

"That's better!" he chirped, his little wings and tail flicking behind him as he dusted himself off. Oremon, though, wasn't one to waste time or beat around the bush half so much.

"What do you want?"

"I was getting to it!" Ratamon said, putting his hands up as if to say whoa there. He looked around the room. "Isn't the human here?"

Oremon frowned. "She's busy. What do you want?" he repeated, a bit more forcefully.

Ratamon didn't seem terribly bothered by the rude treatment, but he did give Oremon a bit of an owlish look for a few seconds before he spoke.
"I was just going to ask if the human you hang around with knew of any other digimon in the area," he said, "aside from, you know, you and Raumon and Desmon and Banmon and Gelermon and Shitomon and Hulimon and Lurumon." He was counting off on his claws, but he listed more digimon than he had fingers so he had to re-use some of them.

"Not to my knowledge," Oremon said, then he paused as a realization struck him. "When did you find out about--?"

"That's not important," Ratamon said, waving his hand to dismiss the question.

"... yes it is," Oremon said; but Ratamon continued talking over him, forging right ahead.

"That's disappointing, though," he said, tapping a claw to his chin. "I was hoping maybe you'd run into him and I just hadn't noticed yet, but if he's not showing himself to you, either..."

Oremon's ears twitched as he heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming up the stairs in the distance; he was willing to bet that Meghan's discussion with her mother hadn't gone stellarly, and Ratamon was busy bringing up exponentially more questions than he saw fit to answer, and-- and--

"Well, if you don't know, that's all I needed to know!" Ratamon said, and he stood up. "Do you know where the other humans are? I kind of came here because you're the only ones I really know for sure where you live. Wouldn't want to give some old lady a heart attack by popping in at the wrong apartment window or anything like that." He had a bit of a carefree lilt in his voice that was just the right inflection to make Oremon irrationally angry. He also didn't wait for Oremon to actually answer his question before he reared down and prepared to jump back out, which, really, only exacerbated the problem. Oremon realized he had to make a snap decision here, and so, in the space of about two seconds, three things happened.

First, Ratamon leapt out the window. He didn't fly, but his little wings flapped hard, allowing him to drift to the ground instead of falling like a rock.
Second, Oremon lunged towards said window after Ratamon, pulling the window the rest of the way open. He wound up half hanging his torso out the window with an arm outstretched, ineffectually reaching after Ratamon, before he re-stabilized himself on the windowsill.
Third, the bedroom door opened behind Oremon, and Meghan walked in on a slightly curious scene-- see point two.

 

"Dammit!" Oremon spat through grit teeth as he stood back up straight, looking frantically from the window over his shoulder at Meghan, back to the window, and finally back to Meghan, where his eyes came to rest. He realized suddenly that he was still holding her D-Rive clutched tightly in one hand.

Meghan looked more than a little bit upset, with a bit of shine in her eyes and a bit of pink in her cheeks, and she was looking at Oremon with a slightly bewildered expression. She seemed to be trying to piece together what was going on, while Oremon practically felt himself shrink back. Doubtlessly, she had just been going to bat for him, arguing with her mother that he wasn't the type to go running off and starting fights, and now--

"It's not a digimon, is it?" she said, sounding apprehensive, and Oremon frowned.

"It was just Ratamon, being as helpful as always," he answered truthfully, closing the window screen before walking over to Meghan's desk and setting her D-Rive down on it. "It was nothing."

"That's a relief," Meghan said, her shoulders slumping in a sigh. "I mean-- not that he's not being helpful-- I'd rather not get another lecture so soon, you know?" she said, putting on a smile despite how little she obviously wanted to. "I was kind of worried, what with you almost jumping out the window, that I was going to have to go running down the stairs and... yeah."

Oremon cast another look out the window -- Ratamon had moved so fast that he couldn't see the little guy anymore -- and he frowned with a sigh.
"Yeah," he said. "No, it was nothing."

"What did he want?"

 

***

Meanwhile, in an apartment a ways out from downtown:

The young woman turned her TV off, sighing as she sat back on the couch. There was nothing good on, and she was, frankly, sick of hearing all of this digimon speculation and gossip on the local news.
Call her when something concrete actually happened.

"New day," she said, looking over at her best friend, who had just walked in from the other room, "same shit."

"Isn't that just the way," said friend responded, stretching out his claws and climbing up onto the couch. "Will you check the radar?"

The young woman responded with a shrug and picked a very familiar-looking device off of the coffee table. She carried it with her everywhere, though she wasn't really sure why; the two of them had yet to get involved in any fights, and though she knew it had the ability to minimize her partner (she had poked around after a few incidents had gone public, and she had put two and two together)... well, Brockmon didn't want to risk showing up in public.

(In fairness, he wasn't exactly the 'go out and do things' kind of guy; he preferred staying holed up, and was practically immune to cabin fever; she supposed it was apt. Weren't badgers supposed to be really 'hole up in their burrow' animals, after all? Sure, Brockmon was an abnormally huge badger who talked, but, still, a badger.)

But the radar function, they had definitely gotten acquainted with. Every time something called Ratamon was on the radar, Brockmon got very tense and prickly until it passed on. Of course, because Brockmon himself had huge claws that made it hard for him to work the device himself, so he frequently asked her to check it for him, like a child asking a parent to work the computer for him.

"Nada," she said; the radar wasn't even active, and she set the device down, face-up, back on the table. "I don't know why you're so paranoid about this, you know. Nobody's going to find you if you keep your nose out of things, you've said so yourself."

"Yes, well," Brockmon said, a bit defensively, "if things are going to keep going as they are, it doesn't hurt to be careful. Trouble may well come to us."

 

As if on cue, not five seconds later -- before the screen had even idled out back to black -- the radar option lit up. Brockmon looked, with a very I told you so look, at his partner, who sighed and picked the radar up.
She swiped her thumb over the dot.

Ratamon - In-Training level.

"Thanks for making a liar out of me," the young woman said, sighing as she ruffled her own hair in frustration. The dot zipped around a little bit, here and there; Brockmon practically held his breath, even though the dot was neatly avoiding coming in their direction.
And then-- it vanished. Not zoomed out of radius, but simply vanished.

This wasn't the first time they had seen the dot do this.

The badger digimon heaved a heavy sigh. Ratamon must have found a crack to slip through to slip back-- presumably to the Digital World.

Brockmon knew the cracks weren't new-- not really. They'd been there ever since the connection got (as good as) severed-- tiny trickles here and there, bare threads holding things together. The fact that digimon were starting to be able to pass through them was definitely new-- they had eroded away to the point where they could start forcing through.
(Brockmon got the vague but distinct feeling that truly, completely severing the connection would be difficult if not impossible; if it had been, knowing the culprit, he likely would have gone the whole nine yards and completely cut things off.)

But that wasn't the most relevant thing to him right now. What was relevant was that now, Ratamon wasn't around; just from that he felt a weight on his shoulders just barely lifted, only to be replaced with an equal (if not greater) weight.

At least it meant Ratamon still didn't have a clue, because he knew for a fact, if he knew, he'd be beelining for them-- but not knowing whether or not it meant he had another plan brewing, it couldn't be much comfort.

 

***

It's a sad truth that in life, lots of things that you want to happen don't happen. For instance, sometimes you want a meteor to hit your workplace, wiping it off the map, and sometimes you want a swarm of Japanese killer hornets to descend on a politician with tiny hands, and sometimes, sometimes, you want the giant monster attacks in your city to take a long weekend and stop happening for a couple days.

None of these things happen when you really want them to, and we live in a worse world for it.

Let's start at the start, though.

The day had actually started off well enough. Meghan's mother had seemed to cool down after the digimon debate last night. While they hadn't really followed up on it, she wasn't still harping on the subject, which Meg was totally willing to take at face value right now.

Meghan had explained to Oremon in broad strokes what said argument had been about -- and he more or less could have assumed it from the parts he had heard. This was dangerous, Oremon is a headstrong asshole dragging you into danger, you should consider just blah blah blah. Instead of expressing how frustrated it made him feel, he rolled his eyes and snorted at all of this as though it were patently ridiculous. This seemed to make Meghan feel a bit better, which completely validated his decision.

At any rate, Meghan had been helping her mother run a handful of errands (and was mooching a car trip to take care of some of her own to-do list, because if she didn't have to drive she'd take it). She presently stood just inside the door at the bank, flicking through her phone. She could practically hear Oremon to her side complaining; he had, of course, come along in her D-Rive. She had warned him that this was going to be a dull excursion, but he had elected to come along anyway.

They were likely to be here for a good long while yet, as it was busy and her mother had to take care of more than a simple deposit (something about closing an old account), but, eh, worse things had happened, right?
And worse things were about to happen!

When the lights began to flicker, almost nobody thought twice about it; maybe they grumbled a little bit and looked around, and one person complained about it not being supposed to rain today -- perhaps blaming it on a rainstorm? Even though they could perfectly well see outside that it was dry?
Meghan, though, practically felt her heart leap into her throat.

She also wondered if she was going to have that reaction to flickering lights forever.

She tried to keep nonchalant as she opened her bag to look if her D-Rive was on, and sure enough, the moment she looked in, it sure was. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from exclaiming something that would be inappropriate to exclaim in a public forum, looking up and around herself.
Her mother wasn't even remotely paying attention, and Meghan didn't want to draw attention to herself; she deliberated, then sidestepped her way towards the door.

(Why did it have to be now? Why so soon after the last-- and why now, why not any other time--)

She pulled the D-Rive out properly as she got outside onto the street, but she felt it was more important to look around her than to look at the little device. If a digimon was already close enough to screw with the electronics, then it was close enough to be a problem, right?
So... why couldn't she see anything? Ahead of her was the square that lay opposite the bank and the street running past her, with people milling around and going about their business without any of the typical 'a giant monster is nearby' reactions.

This did nothing to make her feel better.

She looked in every direction from her vantage point at the top of the steps in front of the bank. She didn't see anything, which made her think that maybe it was in the other direction, behind her, but more importantly-- she didn't hear anything. No yelling, no sirens, nothing that would indicate a digimon was nearby, and considering how high-alert it seemed like everything was...

"Come on," she muttered, venturing a glance down at her D-Rive; the dot was close, very close, even if she couldn't see it.
Drimogemon - Champion level.

As soon as she read its name, though, it seemed to take her request to come on to heart and made itself apparent.
As a rumbling sound began, the ground began to shake. It rose up through her legs and into her chest, practically vibrating her bones and rooting her in place, growing stronger and stronger by the moment.

... oh. Well, there were the sounds that had been missing-- people beginning to worry as they took notice as well.

It would be hard not to, as in the space of not about thirty seconds, the noise and the vibration grew steadily stronger. Worry gave way to panic in record time, and it'd be hard to blame anyone for that. In the square across from the bank, the pavement and stones began to churn and buckle, respectively, and mere moments later, a spiral drill the size of a tree trunk began to break through the ground right next to one of the benches.

Meghan had a feeling this may, just may, be a digimon.

"Shit!" someone yelled as a massive shape began to claw its way out of the hole, and Meghan found she agreed with the random expletive-yeller. People began to scatter and yell as a huge shape began to climb out of the ground. She saw people get out their phones, some to take video (fat lot of good that would do) and some to call the police-- obviously they had taken the constant reminders from the news to heart.

The digimon that was emerging was something like a mole crossed with a narwhal crossed with a power drill and scaled up until it was ten feet tall. Both the tusk in the middle of its face and the massive claws that ended its paws were grooved metal drills, but aside from that, it wasn't the most ornate-looking digimon Meghan had ever seen, its body mostly cream with a purplish-blue back, but that didn't change the fact that it looked pissed, and, you know, it had an enormous metal drill on its face. It pulled itself out of the hole it had come from and roared, baring rows of sharp white teeth.

Understandably enough, people began to scatter and panic. This only seemed to anger Drimogemon; it whipped its head around, snarling at anything that moved. It seemed to want to charge, but it couldn't decide on who to pursue; it settled on destroying one of the benches it had emerged near, smashing it into splinters with a single swing of its drill-like horn, and it rounded on the people around it.

Before she knew what her feet were doing, Meghan was bounding down the concrete steps, because -- as she said to herself -- she was a fucking idiot, apparently.

She faintly registered a burst of orange light out of the corner of her eye. Oremon materialized, running alongside her, and they were some of the only people who were pointedly running towards Drimogemon. God knows why.
"We won't be able to pull it away," Oremon said quickly. "Too many people, not enough room. It can probably dig away."

"Then we're going to have to fight it here, and quickly?"

Oremon nodded.

"Shit," Meghan muttered, casting a look over her shoulder. People were pouring out of the buildings to see what was going on, and she'd bet money she had a familial audience right now, which was exactly what she didn't need.
Not far away, someone yelled now there's two of them! and for a moment Meghan worried. A second later she realized the person was likely yelling about Oremon. ... that wasn't much better, actually.

Oremon gritted his teeth and -- because, like Meg, he was a fucking moron -- he began to run forward before even waiting to digivolve.

"Oremon--!" Meghan yelled after him, reaching a hand out as though she could stop him, but she realized in a heartbeat that he wasn't simply being foolhardy.

"Earth Wrecker!" Oremon yelled, slamming his hooves down into the ground as he bounded in; it wasn't like it was going to get any worse, after all. A pair of jagged rocks rocketed out of the ground and he grabbed them out of the air, hurling them at Drimogemon. It had about as much effect as you'd expect, but it decisively got Drimogemon's attention.

Oremon growled, his eyes narrowing as he bore down, and braced himself as Drimogemon rounded on him.
He could feel the fact that he was about to digivolve-- it felt like static electricity building up all throughout him, but now, right now, he was holding it back, holding it off. He could do this.
He wasn't sure if he was trying to prove it to himself or to Meghan or what, but dammit he was going to prove something to someone.

Drimogemon began to charge as its drill got up to full speed, roaring:
"Iron Drill Spinner!"

Oremon stood resolute, preparing to duck and maybe try to take out some of Drimogemon's teeth with a headbutt, even though he realized a moment too late that this may have been a mistake--

And then a rock hit Drimogemon in the side of the head, because Meghan had run up and thrown a rock at it to prevent Oremon from turning into a goat kebab.

Drimogemon snarled, turning his attention to Meghan, and in that moment, the metaphorical dam broke. Oremon was engulfed in orange light that surged through Meghan's D-Rive.

"Oremon, drive evolve to... Ibexmon! Terra Spear!"

The very moment he was done changing forms, he slammed his hooves down into the ground, and rock spikes emerged from the ground underneath Drimogemon. It roared in pain, scrambling for purchase and giving Meghan the time to backpedal the hell out of the line of fire, which she did without hesitation. As the spikes receded into the ground, Ibexmon glanced over at Meghan in the couple of moments while Drimogemon wasn't moving; she was putting space between herself and the mole as fast as possible. Right, then.

"Iron Drill Spinner!" Drimogemon roared again, rushing forward, and this time, Ibexmon leapt forward to meet it.

"Headstrong Charge!" he yelled, bowing his head down as he got close to the giant mole thing so as to duck underneath its whirring drill. He succeeded, hooking Drimogemon on his horns and, with a mighty effort, he reared his head up, practically tossing it backwards and driving his horns up into Drimogemon's chin.

Not the most gentle way to take care of a threat, but Ibexmon was not the most gentle of sorts, so you can't expect much more.

Drimogemon began to dissolve into pixels almost immediately, which shone and shifted and burst apart a moment later, gathering up in a beam that shot into Meghan's D-Rive.
She came running up to Ibexmon the moment she could, irrespective of the people staring and watching and the sirens coming closer, because dammit, this was more important. The moment she reached him, she reared back and punched Ibexmon, hard, in the chest. Sure, it didn't hurt much because it was a relatively unathletic human girl punching an eight-feet-tall-at-the-shoulders goat monster, but it was symbolic or something.

"You idiot!" she yelled, pinprick tears in her eyes. "What were you doing taking so long to evolve!? You worried me for a second!"

"I-- well, you almost put yourself in the line of fire," Ibexmon retorted, quick and gruff and avoiding the question by redirecting the blame.

"Because you were being a dumbass!" Meghan shot back, before she leaned in to hug the big goat around the neck.

Ibexmon snorted again, right before he minimized back down to Oremon. Meghan wasted no time in minimizing him; in all the flurry and the chaos and the confusion, people were more concerned asking what had just happened at all. Where had the big goat gone? What the hell was with the giant mole? Why, they hardly seemed to notice the girl who was running back towards the bank, trying her damnest to look inconspicuous.

(The police had just arrived on the scene, too, so she was doing her best to blend in with the crowd and make her way back to where she started. She'd rather deal with her mother, honestly.)

 

***

Ratamon watched from a safe, high vantage point, tapping at his chin.

He thought he had an idea, now. Even if he had been pretty sure of it before -- after all, how else could they find trouble so easily? -- it simply hadn't slid into place until he had so blatantly seen Oremon check the little device when asking if there had been anyone else around. He was almost entirely sure, now; he had to be, since he didn't want to risk possibly blowing his shot on a false hunch.

See, he had gotten the idea last night, when he had visited Oremon; he had just had to find some not-too-tough digimon, something that could go mostly unnoticed... it had taken a bit of prodding and poking and following, but the girl had definitely noticed it before she should have.
Sure, it was a bit unfortunate that he had to cause this much trouble just to confirm a hunch, but... Eh. Ends justify the means, he figured to himself, and the means had resulted in what, a little property damage? It didn't even look like any humans had gotten hurt. This was a stunning track record, the way he saw it!

And more importantly, it wasn't really his problem.

Honestly, now he just needed to borrow something.
That wouldn't be hard.

He'd wait on it, though; he didn't want to try to borrow one of their D-Rives, however temporarily, when there was a digimon inside it. He'd have other chances. He'd make other chances, if he had to.

 

***

The drive back home was a tense one; the argument from last night was basically being played on repeat. Meghan's mother hadn't seen that it had been Meg herself to rush into danger, and she was practically beside herself with panic and worry and hand-wringing.

Meghan understood. Really, she did. When Drimogemon had been facing her down, she had felt like she had made a massive mistake; but she felt just as much fear when it had been facing down with an unevolved Oremon, and all she could do was bite her tongue.
And besides that, she didn't really have a choice, did she?

"Well, I just think you should have let the police..."

Meghan knew not to argue. She knew it would do no good to protest that by the time the police had gotten there, Drimogemon might have had the chance to destroy more property or hurt someone. She took comfort, at least, in the the idea of Oremon, safely unheard as he was minimized in her D-Rive, saying everything that she couldn't.

(He was. He very, very much was.)

Chapter Text

"You know," Jen said, folding her arms and looking next to her, where Eli sat, "generally most people would expect you to share information a bit sooner than two weeks after it happens."

He shrugged one shoulder, tilting his head back onto the back of Ryan's couch. "Eh, it slipped my mind. It's not like it changes anything, you know?" Hulimon, sitting on Eli's other side, snickered. "Figured it wasn't that important."
He had only just now bothered to share that he and Hulimon had run into Oremon, Gelermon, and their humans, and yes, it was two weeks after the fact. The rest of July had come and gone; it was August first now, and thankfully, the blitz of digimon had cooled down somewhat.

"Yeah, but," Jen began to object, then she shrugged with a sigh as she couldn't come up with a proper complaint.

"At least it wasn't anything important," Ryan conceded, stroking his chin and putting his feet up on the coffee table. He had pulled up a chair opposite his couch so that they could all face each other; this was the first time all three (six) of them had been in the same place in a couple weeks, and the conversation had come up of why all they had seen of the Refugees was the aftermath of their fights-- the news reports and the alleged, unconfirmed sightings, and as it had turned out, Eli's near-run-in.

"It seems they're as interested as us in keeping damage to a minimum," Lurumon said, tapping a claw thoughtfully to her chin. She was content to sit, cross-legged on the floor, her tail partially wrapped around her legs.

"Which is, frankly, weird," Shitomon piped up; she was practically hanging off of the back of Ryan's chair, and peering over her partner's shoulder.

"No kidding," Hulimon said. "It's not really in their nature, as far as I remember."

"It's been fifteen years," Lurumon said, spreading her paws out palms-up. "It's possible that things have changed."

"They're still a threat to the integrity of the Digital World," Shitomon said firmly. "They still carry the corruption, no matter how much time has gone by."

Hulimon, though, was a bit more incredulous. "That aside, I mean, regardless of time that's passed, they're still the same digimon that--"

"I didn't say that they weren't," Lurumon said back, a little bit defensive, but keeping her voice relatively calm even as she cut Hulimon off. "And I remember as well as you do." Hulimon looked at her with a kind of blank expression and he shrugged one shoulder. Lurumon knew him well enough to know he was being apologetic.
(Well, apologetic for Hulimon's standards. We're grading on a scale, here.)

See, these three digimon -- they did remember. Their memories were intact; they had been intact for fifteen years. They remembered full well coming through to this world in pursuit of dangerous digimon carrying remnants of the corruption threatening their world; they remembered getting blindsided by a powerful something on the way, and they rembered thinking it would be impossible to try and find their allies. After all, each one of them would hardly have survived if they hadn't met their respective human friends. They hadn't even been sure they were in the right world at all, until that scant few months ago when all of this had started.

"My point isn't that we need to stop trying to apprehend them," Lurumon continued. "Just that... I don't know. There's been a lot to think about."

"No kidding," Ryan cut in, here, sighing as he tucked his hands behind his head. They hadn't been expecting the other digimon to have human partners as well-- and he sure hadn't been expecting to know one of them, which had really been sticking in his mind all month.

"I mean," Jen said, "didn't you say you knew where the girl with the bird lives, Ry? We could just go in guns blazing, metaphorically speakin'."

Ryan winced, and Eli looked over at him and smirked. "So I take it that your relationship with her is stunningly good," Eli said, raising an eyebrow.

Ryan rolled his eyes; he hadn't seen fit to divulge his history with Natalie to them, and he knew by now they had formed some theories. "Ha ha very clever," he said. "No, though. I'd either get decked or the police called on me, or potentially both."

"And we'd cause a lot of damage and get in a lot of trouble," Shitomon said, "if we tried to just go hunt Raumon down where he lives. She could just minimize him into her D-Rive and we'd be stalemated."

"Riiiight," Jen said. "I kind of forgot they had D-Rives, too."

"... they could evolve," Eli said, his tone dry as he looked sidelong at Jen. The how could you forget that? was unstated; luckily, she took it pretty well in stride.

"Well, you know me: me brain good," Jen said sarcastically right back, tapping the side of her skull to emphasize her point. "And either way, I guess that would still leave-- what, four more, maybe five others? Okay, so strike that."

"I mean, you gotta wait for the right moment," Eli said, shrugging. "We'll have chances, I'm sure. It's not like there aren't more digimon who are gonna show up."

"I just don't want to risk collateral damage," Ryan said, shaking his head, "or worse, casualties. I know your mission is really important to you guys, but keeping damage to a minimum is really high on our list of human priorities." Jen and Eli both nodded in agreement.

"It's high on our list of priorities too," Lurumon assured the humans. "I'd rather not hurt anyone."

"Eh, it's probably in my top ten," Hulimon said with a grin. "Maybe." Eli thwapped him upside the head gently.

"Right!" Shitomon said, dropping down to the ground off of the back of Ryan's chair and circling around to stand beside him instead. "It just... it sucks that we can't do anything more than sit around and wait for the right moment." She frowned. "I mean-- we've already sat around and waited for fifteen years, but it feels like now we're running out of time, I guess."

"Time until what?" Hulimon prompted, tilting his head and twitching his ears.

"Someone gets hurt," Lurumon tried, waving a hand in a vague gesture. "Or--" She fell quiet, and frowned. They all knew what she meant-- until it was too late to stop it. They didn't really have a choice.

 

***

Peter cast a cursory glance at his D-Rive as he exited the Lotus out the front door. He didn't know why; it wasn't like he had been in the position to take care of any of the emergents that had happened lately, having either been busy or otherwise indisposed (read: still kind of awkward about interacting with Xander, for obvious reasons, or Natalie, because she had bore witness to said obvious reasons).

He wondered if it wasn't starting to get to him, a little bit, that he had been sitting out.

Thankfully, the emergents had slowed back down after Meghan's Drimogemon encounter-- there had only been two that they knew about. One a week, admittedly, was still way more monster incidents than anyone wanted, but after four confirmed incidents in the space of barely more than a week, this pace seemed downright breezy.

(He wondered if there wasn't a reason that digimon attacks seemed to oscillate between a bunch back to back and a slower trickle, but truth be told, he wasn't even sure what the implications of that would be.)

August had decided to start with sweltering heat. Now, even though it was only the early afternoon, an oppressive humidity hung over everything like a damp, suffocating blanket, and there weren't even any clouds to take the edge off of it.
Because he had worked opening shift, it hadn't been this bad when Peter had walked to work, and his foresight had failed him. He was presently experiencing a profound sense of regret. He squinted up at the too-bright sky and sighed through his nose, resigning himself to his fate. Bugs buzzed and he heard what may have been an ambulance somewhere in the distance.

He made it about half of the way up the block before he heard a voice behind him.

"Hey! Peter!"

He did a very good job of not jumping like a startled cat, even though he really wanted to. He merely jolted a little bit and looked over his shoulder, fixing his face into its usual stoic blank state.
"Yes?"

Natalie came jogging up the distance between them, and immediately seemed to regret it because of how freaking hot it was, but she powered through.
"I was just going to come by to see if you were working," she said, "so I'm glad I caught you. As far as I know, nobody's heard from you in, like, weeks."

Peter shrugged one shoulder. He had indeed kind of fallen off the planet; really, the only person he had interacted with to any great degree outside of work had been Banmon and his roommate (but really, was that so different from the norm?). "I've been busy," he said evenly, but Natalie raised an eyebrow at him. She didn't say as much, but he could practically hear the, you know, you can admit what the real reason is.

"Are you doing okay?" she said instead, with her hands on her hips and her eyebrow still quirked.

"For as much as anyone whose life is a constant spiral of disaster and monster attacks, yes," Peter said, his tone completely flat.

Beat.

"You know, honestly, same," Natalie said, her delivery not quite as emotionless as his but she made a good attempt. Peter huffed what may have been a laugh through his nose, and Natalie did the same. "Really, though. I just thought I'd touch base, and I figured it'd be kind of creepy if I just bust down the door at your house," she said, gesturing with one hand.

"Breaking and entering is usually frowned upon, yes," Peter said, shaking his head, but he was amused. "And why you couldn't just message me about this, if you were so concerned?"

Natalie paused for a half a second. "Part of it was that I wanted an iced coffee," she admitted, shrugging one shoulder. "I assume you just got off work?" When Peter nodded, she looked around. "Do you, uh, want a ride back to your flat, maybe?"

"It's not that far," Peter said, glancing over his shoulder, but a bit of sweat rolling down his forehead betrayed him.

"It's also, like, a hundred and five out."

"... yes, I would appreciate a ride."

Natalie beamed, then paused. "Can you wait for like five minutes? I still want a coffee."

 

***

This had, admittedly, gotten a bit out of hand. Ratamon had only meant to bait the big one; the other two tagalongs, he hadn't accounted for. He wasn't particularly worried, per se. He figured it'd work itself out, one way or another, and if he really had to he could probably intervene, but...

Well. He'd worry about crossing that bridge when he got to it.

(He probably could have stood to be a bit more careful, but... he was getting frustrated. Since he formulated his plan, the cracks had been so irregular that he hadn't had the chance to lure anything through. The only couple that had gotten through were digimon deliberately trying to seek out the refugees, which... well, that was the opposite of helping.)

All he needed was for one of the refugees to get there and start handling it, and he'd figure out the rest on the fly from there. Sure, some stuff might get broken in the meantime, but... eh.
That wasn't really his problem, was it?

 

***

A few minutes later, they circled back around to Natalie's car behind the café, and wasted no time in climbing on in and cranking up the A/C. Natalie sipped at her coffee, and a flash of purple light heralded Raumon's materialization in her back seat.

"There he goes, taking my spot in shotgun," Raumon said, putting on an air of patently faux huffiness. He folded his arms and defiantly stuck his beak in the air, but he was doing a poor job being convincing about it.

"Sorry," Banmon said earnestly, apologizing for Peter as she appeared next to Raumon in her own burst of white light.

"You don't need to apologize!" Raumon blurted. He put his hands up and waved them a bit frantically in a no, no! kind of way.

 

"Sorry!"

Both Natalie and Peter shook their heads at the silliness happening behind them.
It was indeed a very short jaunt from the Lotus to Peter's place, and they spent most of it complaining about the weather, because, seriously, nobody in the history of the world had ever asked for it to be this hot, followed by at least we don't live any further south.

"While I'm grateful for the ride," Peter said as Natalie pulled up, "I feel like you didn't just want to check whether I was alive."

Natalie leaning forward, resting her arms on her steering wheel. She looked kind of like she'd been caught out, but wasn't too bothered about it. "You've been doing alright?" she said.

"As I ever am," Peter said after a moment, helpful and detailed as always. He lifted and dropped one shoulder in a shrug. "What possesses you to ask?"

Natalie shrugged, herself, but it was Raumon who spoke. "You seemed like you weren't exactly doing that great last time any of us saw you," he said, tilting his head.

"That's certainly a way to put it," Peter said dryly, shaking his head; it was a very diplomatic way to say hey, you snapped and punched a guy and it freaked us out, which is what he was sure they meant.

"And it'd been long enough that we figured we should check in," Natalie said. "Since you haven't really stepped forward to help with any digimon stuff lately, and..." she trailed off, shrugging a shoulder.

"In fairness," Banmon piped up, "the couple of incidents since haven't been very close to us..."

"Right," Raumon said, nodding, "but..."

Peter nodded once, looking out the window of the car. They were idling in the driveway, but he felt like up and getting out of the car now would be rude, and he couldn't deny his own curiosity.
"So you decided you'd pop by," he provided, resting his elbow on the door and the side of his head on his knuckles.

"Nobody else was going to. I mean-- Sam doesn't exactly reach out unless he wants to tell us something, and Meghan told me she doesn't want to bother you, so..." She didn't mention Xander, because... well, that was a foregone conclusion.
"Iunno. Felt like somebody should. Especially considering how much you were all about not having the option to sit things out..."

"It makes me a hypocrite," Peter finished for her.

"I wasn't going to say that," Natalie said, but Peter shook his head.

"It's fine. I'm the one saying it."

Natalie furrowed her brow and sighed, perhaps about to say something that was a bit more productive and useful than Peter's self-deprecation, but they were interrupted by a message alert sound.
They blinked and looked at each other in the universal was that my phone or yours? look, before they pulled out their phones, and wouldn't you know it? It was both of them.

So no points for guessing that it was a message in their group chat.

hey so not to make anyone worry or anything, from Sam, and he was still typing a second one when they looked. This, of course, was a great way to make them worry, even before his next message came in.
but ive got three (3) emergents on my radar starting north heading towards downtown, so some backup before we try to engage them would just be fan fucking tastic

"Well, shit," Peter said flatly, stroking his chin. That was... probably what the sirens he had heard had been. The sound did tend to carry; Atlas Park was quite compact, geographically.

"I'm assuming," Raumon said, peering over the back of Natalie's seat to peer over her shoulder, as Banmon did the same with Peter, "that it's not good news."

Natalie shook her head. "Digimon," she said, looking over her shoulder at Raumon, before she shifted her attention over at Peter. "Do you want to come?"

Peter, in turn, sighed and ran a hand backwards through his hair. "Yeah. Might as well. Where do we need to go?"

"Already asking," Natalie said, already typing the question in to the group chat.

 

***

Xander had to admit there were certain advantages to having Desmon for a partner.
For instance, he only rarely had to worry about any food going stale or bad; she'd eat it before that point. (Aside from the pudding in the back of the fridge, which had, indeed, been there since Easter of last year. The pudding was an outlier and should not be counted. He was fairly sure it was sentient, now; moving it might be inhumane.)

... what point was he trying to make, here?

... right.
Key among these advantages was the fact that, in case of emergency (or, as it were, emergents), now that they had a few months of experience under their belt and a better handle on evolving at will, they practically had a shortcut to digimon incidents. It was a hell of a lot faster to be able to fly, instead of having to try and maneuver on the ground.

He was getting more used to flying on Corymon's back-- where to hang onto her mane, where to tuck his knees to not interfere with her wings, and how to stomach the fact that there was nothing between him and falling to his death but his own grip and his faith in Corymon.
He was, by the day, getting more and more grateful that he had never been afraid of heights, not least of all because -- to avoid suspicion or staring -- they had to fly pretty high up.

They were coming up just north of the river, close to the largest the major bridges that ran across it, traffic had ground to a complete and utter stop. Not a crawl-- completely stopped. Sirens were already blaring, and the trail of oddly purplish smoke rising up off the ground was a fairly good indication of where they needed to go, even without having to risk pulling out his D-Rive, which he'd rather not do while riding on Corymon.

Xander steeled himself as they began to descend, and they quickly wished they hadn't, as they seemed to be the first on the scene. They held back for a moment to take a look at the problem of the week. The emergents, like them, had been coming from the north, and so the view they got was from behind. Underneath and behind them was chaos all down the road; cars were overturned and left abandoned in the street, pieces of buildings were broken, and people on the ground were having a fucking time.

The first two digimon, flanking the third from behind, were similar, differentiated only by colour. They were both-- and this was a strange thing, indeed -- enormously large gourds, or perhaps pitcher plants, with vibrant crests of leaves on their heads, grinning mouths full of teeth far too sharp for a plant, and long arm-like vines. The first was mostly yellow, with red leaves tipped with blue on its head; the other was more murky shades of green-grey, a crest of with yellow and brighter-green leaves on its head. There were other minor differences, but one could be forgiven for not taking a careful tally of the minutae.

Not only because they were currently having a heyday, swinging their vines around, taking out cars and windows and chunks of the pavement-- though that was definitely part of it. No, the primary reason there was other things to be concerned about was the horrible stench of rotting meat eminating from that other digimon. Paired with the sweltering heat, it was almost enough to make them retch.

The third digimon was huge and sludgy-- it was almost made of gunk, but it was too solid for comfort. It was a mass of greyish-blue flesh-- flesh that seemed to slough off it in chunks and globs, only to be reabsorbed. It was clearly rotting, and it filled the air with an unholy stench that made it hard to concentrate.
It had bones and strange pipe-like wiring on its body, indicating that maybe once upon a time, it had more form; metal plates were bolted onto the space above its gaping, tooth-filled mouth, and bulging red eyes peered out in different directions through gaps in these plates.

These three digimon had handily brought the city streets to a total standstill-- they were running wild. The more-mobile plants were bouncing around, smashing everything in sight. Meanwhile, the pile of rotting meat practically oozed forward, leading the way down the street with remarkable speed for something that could be described as oozing. It dragged its claws along the concrete and secreting a substance so vile it actively ate away at the pavement as it passed over it.

"Shit," Xander hissed, reaching up to cover his mouth and nose.

"No kidding," Corymon said, gritting her teeth.

 

Luckily, while they apparently had been the first on the scene, they weren't alone for long-- or maybe they had been spotted, and this was the signal to get involved. From an alley just ahead where the digimon were, they saw an unmistakable flash of green light, and a familiar black wolf leapt out, with green flames flickering at her wrists.

"New Moon Fire!" Frekimon roared and a green fireball smashed straight into sludgy monster's face.
The mass of meat roared ferally, but the two plant digimon were quick to look around for any other digimon that might pose a threat-- and settled on Corymon behind them.

"Shit," Xander said for the second time, and Corymon growled.

"Hold on to your pants," she said, and she practically dropped to the ground, needing to let her partner off her back before anything else could happen. The fact that the two plants also stretched out their vines, aiming to grab a hold of her, was also a great incentive to move. Xander practically threw himself off of Corymon's back, skidding to an inelegant stop, but frankly, scuffing up his boots and the knees of his pants was a small price to pay.

Xander cast a glance around before bolting over to the alley from which Frekimon had emerged. As he had expected, Sam was there-- and when Xander suddenly came hurtling around the corner and into the alleyway, Sam jumped but composed himself quickly.

"Black Stinger!" Corymon yelled, her tailtip glowing black and firing off a series of staticky energy-spears at the plant-like digimon.

"Deadly Ivy!" the green plant yelled, stretching out one of its vines to strike out at the bat; she in turn flapped backwards hard, slashing out at the vine with her claws. It severed it, but no sooner than her claws had cut it had it reformed as though nothing had happened.

"Hey," Xander said, nodding in greeting. "The fuck we dealin' with here?"

"Green one is Weedmon," Sam said, pointing, and he couldn't say he wasn't expecting Xander's not-quite-amused snort, "yellow one's Vegiemon, the sludge one that smells like ass is Raremon. They're all champion level."

"Oh, fuck me sideways," Xander muttered, looking over his shoulder and hissing through his teeth.

"Yeah, that's why we were waiting before getting involved," Sam said, shaking his head, "but we decided they're causing enough damage that we're going to be in even deeper shit if we don't try to occupy them, so, hey, thanks for showing up before we did something even stupider."

Xander paused, and quirked an eyebrow. "Gelermon wanted to start the fight, didn't she."

"That was also part of it," Sam said after a moment. "We've been trying to head them off and stay out of sight, but--" he looked in the direction that the emergents had come from. "I don't know how much damage they've caused already, aside from not a small amount."

Xander swore under his breath, turning his attention to the digimon, and while it wasn't going badly, it certainly could have been going... a lot better.

Corymon was showing off her aerial stuff, dodging Vegiemon and Weedmon's best attempts to ground her; she wasn't risking moving in close, yet, so all she could do was fire off Black Stingers, and it was clearly trying her to keep track of both of them. Meanwhile, Frekimon desperately wanted not to get into melee range with Raremon, who was backtracking after her-- and it could really move, for a giant mass of rotten meat and slime. It roared as she fired off New Moon Fires into its face, retaliating with bursts of foul gas and swipes of its claws.

While the two-man team of Corymon and Frekimon were able to occupy the digimon, they weren't making much headway; this wasn't a job for two digimon.

Conveniently enough, within a few minutes, it didn't have to be.

"Compost--" Vegiemon began, but it was interrupted.

"Terra Spear!"

A spike of sharp rock jetted up underneath Vegiemon, knocking the plant off its course as it produced and prepared to hurl an assuredly-horrible sludge of dubious origin at Corymon. Coming up from behind, Ibexmon came barrelling towards the fight, teeth gritted; Meg was clinging to his back with one hand, covering her mouth and nose with the other.

The goat came to a stop long enough to allow Meg to dismount, and she darted to where Xander and Sam were standing.

"Hi, sorry," she said. "We, uh-- we would have been here sooner, but--" she gestured at the direction they had come from. "It's backed up really bad."

"I'm not surprised," Sam muttered, tugging on the brim of his hat and frowning.

"I think there might be some people who got hurt," Meghan went on. "I couldn't look closely because we were just trying to get here, but--" She trailed off; it was remarkably hard to hold a conversation in these circumstances.

"We need to keep them here," Xander said. "So they don't fuck anything else up. Easier to deal with it if they're not running around." Besides that, the emergent digimon seemed pretty happy to just fight them, which was... well. At least they weren't the kind that had an agenda.
Maybe that would have been better, honestly. Then they might be able to lead them somewhere else, but they didn't want to risk ferals losing interest and going back to wrecking shit.

"Stink Jet!" Vegiemon yelled, gathering up a foul-looking liquid in its mouth before it fired it with high pressure at Ibexmon, clearly wanting revenge for being interrupted. Ibexmon snarled and charged forward, feinting to the side at the very last second, and the jet of liquid splattered on the ground instead; it, like Raremon's secretions, practically burned through the concrete.

"Acid Sludge!" Raremon yelled; it snapped its gaping jaws shut, and its mouth began to fill and swell like a water balloon with something unpleasant; when it fired it, in a pressurized blast, it turned out to be a sickly green liquid. It fired it at Frekimon, who leapt out of the way-- and good thing she did, too, because when it hit the utility pole behind her, it almost immediately ate through the metal, so lord knows what it would have done to her.

 

***

Natalie and Peter had to duck through alleys to get towards the fight; Natalie had a wild hunch that they wouldn't be able to just walk up the normal way, and she would have been right. She had also correctly assumed that the most straightforward way -- the main bridge -- would have been impossible to get across, and so part of their lateness was to do with the fact that she had circled around to the next bridge down to the south.

Though, honestly, they would have been later if they had tried to go the direct way, but... you get the point. They had had to park a few blocks ago, making the call that it was more worth it to take off running, even in this heat, than risk getting stuck in a traffic jam further up ahead. Raumon and Banmon were both minimized in their partners' respective D-Rives, wanting to attract as little attention as possible as they bolted through backstreets and shortcuts.
(Natalie vaguely contemplated how much time she had spent in alleyways in the past few months compared to the rest of her life up to that point.)

It wasn't hard to figure out where they had to go just playing it by ear -- just move towards the sound of all hell breaking loose -- but as they came to an intersection, they had to stop to catch their breath.

"That's... odd," Natalie murmured, looking down at her D-Rive's screen. She was taking advantage of the moment to make sure they were on the right course, but...

Peter frowned, pulling his own D-Rive out to see what she was looking at, and he furrowed his brow as he swiped his thumb over the radar screen.

"I don't recognize that name," Natalie said. "Do you think it's another emergent?"

"Hell if I know," Peter said. There was a lot to take in on the screen-- not only was there the cluster of digimon a few blocks away, there was a very active dot -- Ratamon, presumably -- bounding this way and that, but... there was a new dot, staying quite still, very close by-- just in the other direction.

"What's up?" Raumon asked, popping out of the D-Rive in a flash of light. This was hardly the first time he had popped out to inspect or ask questions, of course; he didn't figure that it would be a terribly big deal.

And the fact that it's necessary to point out that he didn't think this would be a big deal should be the warning sign that it was, in fact, about to be a big deal-- or at least, the precursor to a big deal. The enabler of a big deal. The first domino knocked over in a big deal.

As Natalie was opening her mouth to explain what was up, it happened very fast. All she -- or anyone -- saw was a white blur, and she felt a stinging in her hand-- the kind of sting you feel when someone high-fives you way too hard, or--
Or when something moving very fast crashes past your hand.

And, more importantly, her D-Rive was not in her hand anymore.

"What the--?!" she blurted, and Raumon practically doubled in size from how his feathers puffed up in surprise. Peter, for his part, stumbled backwards a half-a-step.

"What's going on?" he said sharply, having not yet realized that Natalie's D-Rive wasn't where it was a moment before. Banmon in turn appeared behind Peter with a flash of white light, her expression more pointedly worried than usual.

Natalie looked around frantically for where her D-Rive was-- had it been knocked out of her hand? She hadn't heard it, but-- she looked on the ground, but she was looking in the entirely wrong place.

"I'll bring this back!" a high-pitched voice promised from up above, and all four in attendance snapped their attention upwards. On a rickety old fire escape sat Ratamon-- and in Ratamon's claw was Natalie's purple D-Rive.

"What--!?" Natalie said, this close to panicking, but before she could really process what was going on, Ratamon was bounding up the metal stairs and, in mere seconds, was completely out of sight.
"What-- the absolute-- fuck," she said, slow but tense, and then she-- instinctively-- tried to look at her D-Rive to see where Ratamon was going.

This didn't work.

"Oh, shit," Natalie muttered, digging her fingers into her hair. "What the heck- what the heck! What did he mean he'd bring it back--?"

"Why on earth did he want it?" Raumon said, talking to himself. His tail swayed back and forth quickly in agitation, a release for some of his nervous energy. Immediately a hundred possibilites came to him-- to all of them, really. Even considering they didn't fully understand the things--

Peter cast a look over his shoulder, back towards where they had originally been heading. The other three were there, right? Banmon looked at him and nodded her head once, even though she was shaking a little bit.

"We have to follow him," Natalie said, decisive if maybe a little bit frantic as she looked to Peter. "Not like this is going to be our first detour. Get your radar up?"

He was already in the middle of doing just that.

 

***

The block where they were facing down the trio of emergents was getting worse and worse for the wear by the moment; between the two plant digimon throwing their vines this way and that as Ibexmon and Corymon tried to avoid them and fire off attacks of their own, and Raremon spitting its acidic sludge after Frekimon, they were so busy trying not to get hit that it was hard for them to actually get attacks in edgewise.

The police had made their presence known-- now that the emergent digimon had been more or less contained to this couple of blocks, blockades were being set up both up and down the street, but nobody seemed to know what to do that wasn't already in the line of fire-- that is to say, anyone that wasn't a digimon or partnered to one. The humans tried their best to stay out of sight, practically crouching in the alleyway to give support to their digimon without giving themselvs away.

An officer was yelling over a megaphones for any civilians to evacuate as calmly as possible; calm was not in the cards, though, and people both clamored and panicked from beyond the wall of police and police cars to both get away and to get a better look.

"Acid Sludge!" Raremon roared, filling up its mouth with and spitting out the stream of green acid -- this time, it turned its attention skywards, to Corymon. Corymon hadn't been anticipating this -- she was making a valiant effort to send out black stingers down at Weedmon and Vegiemon, without hitting Ibexmon in the process -- and the acid hit her squarely, causing her to recoil in pain and almost drop out of the sky.

"Deadly Ivy!" Weedmon cried, extending its vines and grabbing the surprised Corymon around the tail. With a mighty wrench, it swung her, smashing her into the side of a building, taking a chunk out of the wall.

"Ravenous Hunter!" Frekimon yelled, bounding around Raremon, and the fire around her wrists flared up. She lunged at Weedmon-- or more specifically, at its vines. She leapt in, slicing through them; the moment they were severed they shrivelled and practically disintigrated, freeing Corymon. She righted herself before she fell to the ground, and she may have been a teensy bit pissed now.

"Black Stinger!" she yelled, swooping down at Weedmon and, instead of firing the black energy that gathered in her tailtip at it, she moved in close and struck out like a scorpion, using it as a proper stinger.

A burst of white light later, and the fight was down to a three-on-two.

"Fuckin' brutal," Frekimon said, grinning her approval. Corymon smirked in return before she kicked back up into the air just in time to avoid a swipe from Raremon's claws.

"Headstrong Charge!" Ibexmon yelled from the other side of Raremon-- but Raremon still felt the aftereffects of it, as he headbutted Vegiemon straight into its back. Vegiemon spat and sputtered-- it clearly wasn't immune to its ally's foulness, and it was now coated in an oh-so-pleasant veneer of meaty slime (which is, for the record, a horrible way to have to describe anything.)
Vegiemon snarled and whipped its vines around, trying to reorient itself and get away from Raremon, but it was met with something much greener and glowier than it might have liked.

"New Moon Fire!"

And that was two down. Good progress, team! Good freakin' job.
Frekimon smirked, and Ibexmon snorted, and they might have started to snipe at each other if not for the fact that there was still Raremon to deal with.

And then, what happened next was either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it.

"Southern Cross!"

"Shit," Xander spat, clenching his jaw as a cross-shaped beam of light came searing out of the sky.

The light seared at Raremon's rotting flesh and caused it to roar, averting its attention to look for its new assailant. Malakhimon herself came flapping out of the sky in short order, her strange furry-feathery dragon-angel shape unmistakable.

"Oh, no," Meghan muttered, stumbling a half-step backwards-- Ibexmon snarled, gritting his teeth and his pupils constricting, but he had to dodge to the side before he could even consider attacking.

"Aura Stream!"
A crackling bolt of golden energy shot from up the street as Himamon came running on all fours towards the fight, moving with surprising speed considering her size and bulky tail. Her attack only barely missed Ibexmon as it soared towards Raremon-- and it was hard for them to tell for certain which she had really been aiming at.

"Moon Bomb!" A voice from above yelled, and from on top of a building, a swirling bright white sphere came sailing down. It exploded in mid-air, splitting into smaller orbs which rained down on not just Raremon, but also Ibexmon, Frekimon, and Corymon before exploding in rapid succession.
Hokkaimon leapt deftly off of his perch, the coat hanging off his shoulders trailing behind him like a cape as he bounced from the roof, practically doing wall-jumps to avoid a straight-down descent.

"Goddammit, yeah, great, thanks, just what we needed," Sam said, tugging on the brim of his hat and thinking quickly. They all seemed to be coming from the south. Had they gotten stuck in the backed-up traffic?

"Hey!" a policeman's voice over a loudspeaker boomed. "Do not cross the police line!"
They got the distinct feeling that that was the sound of Ryan, Eli, and Jen... crossing the police line. Well, could they really judge? They had kind of backdoored through it...

"Holy Charge!" Malakhimon yelled, her body engulfed in white light as she rushed towards Ibexmon.

"Shit!" Corymon spat, encapsulating the true feeling of the moment. "Black Stinger!" she cried, shooting off the black staticky energy at Malakhimon. They did their job-- the paralyzing blasts of energy stopped Malakhimon in her tracks, causing her to stumble, and Ibexmon had the chance to leap out of the way before she connected.

Another crackling stream of golden energy courtesy of Himamon connected with Raremon, and a moment later, all that remained of Raremon was the pixels of light shooting towards all six humans' D-Rives, and all of the damage its corrosive secretions had done to the street in its wake.

"Oh, fuck it, I'm stoppin' this before it starts," Xander hissed, and he ran out into the street, clutching his D-Rive and skidding to a stop, turning to face Ryan, Eli, and Jen, who had just come to a stop themselves.
Meghan and Sam exchanged looks before they decided to follow suit, and if nothing else, it seems that Xander's decision forced a stalemate, because the opposing digimon weren't willing to try and attack through him. Meghan and Sam, accordingly, went to their own partners.

"Hey, check it," Eli said, rubbing his nose. "Just like last time."

Hokkaimon nodded, stretching his paws up over his head and smirking. "Except they're down two, so this might actually be a fair fight."

"Are you seriously going to try to fight us here?" Meghan said, furrowing her brow. "When it's already--" she gestured around. Even now they had to shout, because of the sirens all around them.

"What more damage can we possibly do than what you've already done?" Malakhimon interrupted her, gesturing around. "Look at the mess you already made!"

"We didn't cause even a half of this, dumbass!" Xander yelled, with his typical level of tact.

"What he said!" Corymon piped up, landing on the ground behind "It was the goddamn meat smoothie and the side salad it came with! We were just trying to keep it from making things worse!"

"They wouldn't have come through in the first place," Himamon said, "if not for you. It's on your hands."

"You keep saying that," Frekimon said, flexing her claws, "but unless you've actually got something useful to say about it, maybe find a new line. It's not our fault and if you could get your heads out of your asses for two seconds, you might realize that!"

"Tactful," Ibexmon snorted, glancing over at Frekimon. She ignored him.

 

***

Brockmon paced around the apartment; he occasionally peeked through the curtains out at the city, but he didn't need to look to know what was going down. The fight was far, far too close for comfort-- mere blocks away, if he wasn't wrong. It was still close enough for the lights in the apartment to be shorting out from time to time, though not close enough that they flickered consistently.
He wouldn't have needed that to know that it was a digimon incident, though.

Truth be told, he kind of just assumed anything going wrong was a sign of a digimon incident these days. Maybe he was wrong, but it was better to be safe than sorry. He realized he probably couldn't keep his head down forever, but... he didn't really see any other options presenting themselves right now.

And then, his heart leapt into his throat as a white shape dropped onto the balcony in front of him. It was entirely too familiar to him-- big tail, feathery little wings, and shiny, shiny, shiny eyes. In one hand, it held a little purple device that Brockmon was entirely sure did not belong to it.

"Hi!" Ratamon chirped, face broken into a wide grin. "You've been a real pain in my ass, you know that? And you were right under my nose the whole time!"

Brockmon's pupils constricted and he began to snarl-- a reflexive reaction. He reared one big paw back and preparing to attack, but Ratamon was ready for this.
Ratamon leapt forward, tackling the badger digimon backwards and onto to the floor with almost no effort, despite their difference in size. To an onlooker, this might have looked a bit ridiculous, but Brockmon simply couldn't find it in him to be amused.

"I don't get why you decided to hide," Ratamon continued, cheerful and chipper. "You haven't forgotten the plan, have you?"

 


As he spoke, the claw planted on Brockmon's chest began to glow bright white. Ratamon pressed down, and his claw began to phase through Brockmon's body.

 

***

Natalie and Peter were moving as quickly, but no matter how fast they booked it, they could hardly keep up with Ratamon, especially when they had to keep out of sight. Peter had re-minimized Banmon, but without her D-Rive, Natalie and Raumon had no such indulgence, and so their only options were to move fast, and to lay as low as they could as they did.

Because of the heat, they elected to save a lot of their energy for moving, instead of chatting.

Well. A lot, but not all.

"There's another dot, right?" Natalie asked as they stopped momentarily to catch their breath, and Peter nodded after a glance at his own device. Ratamon's dot on the radar was running towards it, which meant that they were running toward it, and it would be good to know what they were getting into, considering they were getting quite close to it.

"Says it's--" Peter said, and looking down. He had swiped over it before they took off running -- it had started with a B, but he hadn't really comitted it to memory. Even so, when he looked again, he didn't need to remember it spot-on to know something was up, and not least of all because it changed as he looked at it.

It went from a normal window displaying a name -- that, again, Peter didn't get the chance to really commit to memory -- to one that looked like it had been put through the blender. The name began to glitch out, exploding into a mass of shifted pixels. Maybe there were letters under there; maybe there weren't. Fucked if he could tell.

"Oh, that's a good sign," Peter muttered, but for some reason, his comment went un-remarked upon.

The some reason was the fact that Raumon suddenly seized up, like he was being electrocuted. No sooner than they noticed this -- and they noticed it damn quick -- Banmon reappeared in a flash of white light. She, too, was locking up in mid-air-- and considering that Peter's D-Rive began emitting that familiar horrible screeching noise, they got the distinct impression she hadn't materialized by choice.

"Raumon?" Natalie blurted, dropping down onto her knees to grab a hold of his shoulders, while Peter grabbed Banmon in his arms. "What's going on?"

And then, quite all of a sudden -- despite the oppressive heat up until that very moment-- it got very cold.

"I think," Peter said slowly, stating the extremely obvious, "we should find the others."

 

***

Back at the scene of the standoff, the same thing had happened-- Ibexmon, Corymon, and Frekimon all froze where they stood. Moreover, Xander, Sam, and Meghan's D-Rives began to emit that same, familiar horrible shrieking sound-- and Ryan, Eli, and Jen's definitely didn't. Everyone -- digimon and human alike -- was taken aback by this.

"What the hell--?" Jen murmured, looking to Himamon and then to her human teammates-- but none of them looked any less confused than she did.

Xander, Sam, and Meghan all turned around to look at their partners, while still trying to keep an eye on their opponents; they were all locked in place, shaking slightly, as though they were being electrocuted and their muscles were seizing. They didn't even breathe. Then, for a moment, they surged- not like the pixels that digimon burst into when they were defeated, but rather, they shifted and changed for a half a second as if they were glitching out. It happened again after a moment, and the second time seemed worse.

And then they relaxed, exhaling as though they had been holding their breath and looking slightly confused. The entire deal took maybe thirty seconds.

"What on earth...?" Sam said, more to himself than to anything. While Xander and Meghan were inspecting their partners, though, he looked to his D-Rive.

Malakhimon furrowed her brow, and she looked between the digimon opposing them and then to her allies. She looked almost like she were considering if this were some kind of ruse or trick, but her train of thought got soundly derailed-- as did everyone else's, as the sound of something very, very large taking huge, heavy steps shook the ground.

And then it got very, very cold.

Thud. Thud. Crunch.

Ibexmon, Frekimon, Corymon, and their partners turned around to look as, from a few blocks down, the huge thing emerged from around the corner.

It was enormous, bigger than any digimon they'd seen so far-- 25 feet easily, and that was while it was hunched over. It looked like it might have been a bear at some point-- it had the right shape and it had fur, though admittedly, parts of its indigo hide were missing entirely, exposing purplish, frostbitten flesh underneath. And, yes, it was clearly frostbitten-- not just because its massive claws were made of ice, not just because its arrival heralded the immediate temperature change, not even because it had icy spikes sticking out of its arms and shoulders, but because it was visibly freezing the ground beneath its feet as it moved. The temperature difference between the hot and humid air and the freezing cold it was emanating was enough to immediately crack and buckle the road beneath it-- or maybe that was just because it was already weakened from Raremon and company.

It had tattered cloth hanging around its waist and black belts around its wrists, neck, and ankles, and lashed around its body were bandages with old, caked-on and dry blood. An inky-black orb was settled into its sternum and surrounded by protruding bones.
Oh, and let's not forget its most striking feature (after its size, anyway): its entire face was stripped-bare and skeletal, with glowing white lights set into empty sockets in lieu of eyes. It had what looked like black (or at least, dark indigo) warpaint smeared around its eyes, up its muzzle, and on its jaw, and massive lower teeth that were as long as a human arm.

It made no sound, didn't even appear to be breathing, aside from the heavy sound of its feet on the ground.

Though they really couldn't be blamed for missing it -- after all, there were bigger things to focus on -- the sound of footsteps echoed up one of the alleys nearby, just down from where Xander, Sam, and Meghan had been hiding for the fight.
Peter came barrelling out first; Banmon had evolved up to Banshemon on the run over here, and she came flying hot on her partner's heels. Natalie followed a few moments later, with Raumon sprinting after her without a moment to lose.

The huge undead digimon before them cast its gaze in the direction of those gathered in the middle of the street-- eight humans, eight digimon. Its white-fire eyes clearly focused on them, and it turned its entire body in their direction.

It opened its mouth and-- it looked like it might have been intending to roar, but what actually happened was significantly worse. It was like a choked death rattle, rasping and staggered. Icy mist poured from between its jaws, fogging up the air around it.

 

It began to advance.

Chapter Text

Even without the obvious literal freezing effects of the -- well, presumably it was a digimon -- before them, the entire group felt like they were frozen in place as the enormous monster began to close the distance between them.
For some reason, nobody wanted to be the first one to throw the first (metaphorical) stone at it.

Actually, that's a bald-faced lie. There was one digimon who was absolutely first in line to throw the first stone.

Frekimon glanced sidelong at her allies, and she snorted. "Anyone mind telling me what the hell we're waiting for?" she said, and the green flames around her wrists flared up. She launched herself forward, teeth grit and lip curled. "Ravenous Hunter!" she cried, closing the distance between her and the giant digimon in a few simple bounds--

The giant skull-faced digimon stopped walking forward, and focused its white-fire eyes on Frekimon rushing towards it. It raised one massive paw, icy energy beginning to swirl around the claws that were already carved out of ice. It made a hissing noise, presumably calling its attack. As Frekimon closed in, it swiped out at her, pre-empting her before she was about to connect.

She went down like a sack of potatoes. The icy claws dragged through her flesh, tearing huge bloody gashes that they could see even at a distance; she was thrown to the side by the force of the swipe, tumbling inelegantly into a light post. For a split second, she seemed to begin to glow as though she was about to de-digivolve, but through sheer determination, she managed to maintain her form, and the faint glow died back down.

Two things happened: first, Sam flung himself forward, the fact that he was running towards a giant death monster be totally damned. "Frekimon!"

"Hey--!" Meghan yelled, reaching out after Sam, but she accomplised nothing by doing so-- not least of all because Ibexmon put a hoof in front of her to keep her from rushing forward.

The second thing, though:

"Hurricane Blitz!"

Corymon launched herself forward, swirling winds beginning to whip around her. This immediately caught the strange digimon's attention; Corymon pulled up before she collided with it, the sphere of whipping wind energy continuing on its trajectory, while Corymon swooped overhead.

Even though it took the attack squarely in the face, it seemed to have no effect. The skull-faced digimon craned its neck to follow Corymon, as though her Hurricane Blitz had been nothing more than a stiff breeze.

As the skeletal-faced digimon moved its head to follow Corymon, icy mist began to pour out of its jaws. It swirled around and upwards, solidifying into razor-sharp icicles that floated over its shoulders. The tips followed Corymon as she swooped past, as though they were homing-locked on her.

"Oh, dicks," Corymon muttered through grit teeth.

The digimon hissed a rattling noise again. Corymon could swear it sounded something like "Hypothermia" -- but she didn't have much time to contemplate what its attacks were called, as those massive icicles shot at Corymon at high speed as though shot from a cannon. She quickly feinted, allowing herself to drop out of the sky a few dozen feet.
For not the first time, her ducking away from an attack instead led said attack to sail past, dealing damage to the building behind her. The icicles smashed the windows of the building and took out a chunk of the wall, but, frankly, she'd rather break a window or six than take that hit head-on.

"What the fuck are you doing!?" Xander yelled, cupping his hands over his mouth.

"Great question!" Corymon yelled back, rising back up into the air. "Hadn't really thought that far ahead yet!"

Back down on the ground, Frekimon was gritting her teeth and cringing with pain as Sam ran up to her.
"That thing hits like a goddamn truck," she spat, wincing as she attempted to pick herself up. "You should get back to the others, before you get hurt," she said, glancing at Sam.

He didn't say anything, merely gave her a raised-eyebrow glance, and she chuckled, shaking her head.

"Point taken, but still. Even if we were weakened by the bullshit with the garbage patrol," she meant Raremon, Vegiemon, and Weedmon, "there's no way it should be able to do that with one hit unless it's an ultimate. You should get back to safety. Get back to the others. Tell birdy boy, he'll know what it means."
She left him with those words, getting back to her feet and steeling herself. Despite her wounds, she charged forward again, though the flames around her wrists seemed to flicker a little bit weaker than they had before.

He wasn't quite sure what to make of her summation or what that implied. It didn't help that nobody else was privy to this information, and as a result, the other digimon were throwing themselves towards the skull-faced digimon.

Ibexmon was first, and he surged forward, bowing his head and preparing to headbutt; Banshemon's apprehension was apparent, but not enough to stop her from flying forward and summoning her white spirits around her. Hokkaimon leapt deftly forward, nimbly landing on and springing off of a lamp post and Himamon rushed forward on all fours; Malakhimon held back for a moment, only a moment. She cast a look at Raumon, brow furrowed and a frown on her mouth, before she kicked into the air, her wings spreading behind her.

 

***

Admittedly, this hadn't been part of the plan, but at this point, Ratamon was kind of playing it by ear. After all, he was riding high on a bit of a rush-- finally, after months of running around and bullshit, he had finally found that stupid catalyst. He could already feel the cracks start to widen, and that was just his own perception. It wasn't even accounting for the fact that...

Well, Draugmon was proof enough, right? It was an ultimate level! That alone would have been just about impossible without the connection strengthening-- or, at least, ones crossing over would have been. He couldn't say he was sure he knew if the same rules applied to those weird induced evolutions, but considering that none of them had managed it...

He looked down at the little purple device he held in his claws; he turned it over, and looked at the little plague-doctor mask charm hanging from one end.

He supposed he had better give it back before he crossed back over. Not that he wouldn't be back, but after all, he had said he'd give it back, and he wasn't about to make a liar out of himself.
(Any more than usual, anyway.)

 

***

The simple fact that everyone except for Banshemon had already been involved in the fight with Raremon couldn't account for how badly this was going. No matter what attacks they fired off, it seemed that none of them seemed to do as much as put a scuff mark on the huge skull-faced digimon; they had to constantly interrupt attacks and had no time to strategize. They had all seen how easily Frekimon had been taken down by a direct blow; none of them wanted to be next, and that meant that far too much of their time was spent simply trying to avoid the swipes of claws and the barrages of icicles.

"So, thinking I'm not going to be breaking anyone's hearts here," Sam said as he came running back to the cluster of humans, "if I say we're totally fucking screwed and ought to consider bailing."

"We can't!" Meghan said, looking frantically over at the digimon; Ibexmon practically threw himself to the side to avoid an oncoming swipe of the massive digimon's paw, trying and failing to find an opening to headbutt, and when Corymon tried to swoop in to take a stab with her tail in the window afforded by it missing Ibexmon, she only narrowly avoided getting thrown by the paw's way back up.

"I don't know what it means," Sam continued, looking to Raumon, "but Frekimon said something about it being an-- ultimate? She said Raumon'd know what it meant."

Raumon's brow furrowed in deep thought; he didn't say anything, but he tapped his chin, trying to think-- which wasn't easy, considering how loud their surroundings were.

Sirens filled the air in between the crashes and roars and shattering of concrete happening far-too-close; if they strained their ears, they could almost hear what they assumed were helicopters, though whether they were news choppers or something far more aggressive was going to have to go unanswered for now.

"Meghan's right, though," Natalie confirmed, nodding at Meghan. "We're the only ones that can actually do anything, we can't just--"

"It's not really you, is it?" Ryan cut in rudely, looking pointedly at Raumon. He, with Eli and Jen behind him, had closed the distance between the groups; Natalie felt the frustration and rage start to bubble up in her in record time. "I mean, more than the fact that this is kind of your digimon's fault in the first place, you're not really part of it, Nat. Why is your digimon the only one who isn't fighting?"

Raumon instinctively put himself between Natalie and Ryan, glaring even if he knew he couldn't really do anything. "I don't appreciate the implied accusation," he said.

"You can't deny it is kind of suspicious, ya know," Jen said with a shrug of one shoulder, before she started counting points off on her fingers. "I mean, you came in late, you're like, the de facto leader of your little refugee squad, and you're the only one who's holdin' back--"

 

A little white streak crashed the party, not stopping amongst them but brushing past Raumon and the legs of more than one of the humans as it passed. Left unceremoniously at Natalie's feet was her D-Rive, open to the glitched-out radar.

"Ratamon!" Raumon yelled, looking around for where the little white digimon had gone; he caught a glance of him atop a bent light post, curiously watching the fight up the street and (seemingly) paying no mind to the cluster of humans (and Raumon) turning to see him.

Seemingly, anyway; he glanced over his shoulder, and grinned.

"Thanks for the help!" he chirrupped, just barely audible, before he took off like a bolt, ascending a building with lightning quickness and darting out of sight.

"Goddammit," Peter hissed while Natalie immediately dropped down to pick up and inspect her digivice. She looked at it-- one word was visible on the screen.
Draugmon.

"I'm going to take a wild guess in the dark here," Jen said, rubbing her nose, "that that's why birdy-boy wasn't gettin' in on the action."

"Why am I not surprised!?" Ryan yelled, turning his palms up to the sky and rolling his eyes in exasperation.

"Yeah, gotta admit, this really isn't helping your case," Eli said, rubbing the back of his head.

The mixed confusion, frustration, and exasperation on everyone's faces, from Natalie to Sam, was practically picture-esque.
"You know, this would go a lot faster," Xander said, taking a half-step towards Ryan, "if you'd stop fucking treating us like we're stupid for not knowing what you keep refusing to tell us!"

"Is this really the time," Peter said, quietly enough that Xander couldn't hear him, but Natalie still felt the sickening drop in her stomach, of hoping that maybe things would be able to be smoothed over.
(She had kind of been hoping that when she had come to talk to Peter earlier, and she can't say she was surprised but..)

"Could we maybe focus on the giant monster instead of this?" Natalie said, gesturing hopelessly at the fight, which had long since devolved from a fight proper into an effort to keep the giant monster -- Draugmon -- occupied.

With swipes of its massive icy claws and barrages of icicles, even though it couldn't focus on any one digimon for too long at a time, it seemed to have no trouble handling them; the attacks lobbed seemed like gentle shoves at best and stiff breezes at worst, but at least it was staying contained. Police were yelling for them to clear the area, that they had called in reinforcements, they had been authorized to use force--

"What exactly are we going to do from back here?" Ryan snapped, gesturing at the wreckage of the street. "I think this is a perfectly acceptable use of our time here! You're in cahoots with the squirrel from hell, so I'd say this probably is pretty soundly on you!"

"We're not in cahoots with him," Sam said, furrowing his brow, as Xander added:

"Who the fuck even says in cahoots with!?"

"If he borrowed your D-Rive and then this happened," Jen said, ignoring Xander's outburst, "then, you know, put two and two together?"

"He didn't borrow it," Raumon said, puffing up, "he stole it!"

"Because you were friendly enough with him to not be suspicious of him," Ryan said quickly, shrugging his shoulders dismissively. "Say whatever you want, it's not going to change--"

"Are you really so petty," Natalie blurted, "that you're going to stand here pointing fingers at me when people are in danger!?"

"You can call it pointing fingers all you want, but that doesn't change what happened. It's still on you, isn't it?"

"Oh my god," Natalie groaned, dragging one hand through her hair and balling it into a fist in frustration. Eli and Jen looked at each other wordlessly, while Ryan, in front of them, folded his arms, standing resolute.

"We should bail," Sam said, turning to Natalie. "Before any of our digimon get hurt. I don't know what the police or whoever else they call in can do, but it can't be any less than the good we're doing, and frankly, I'd rather our partners don't die."

"You're perfectly content to leave Shitomon and Hulimon and Lurumon to pick up your messes, huh?" Ryan said, putting his hands in his pockets and frowning. "Typical."
Jen and Eli exchanged looks with each other again, but neither said anything.

Sam, for his part, looked at the ground, muttered something about I wasn't talking to you but thanks, and then went tight-lipped-- but luckily, there was a loudmouth present who could speak for all of them.

"Holy shit, I think I hate you even more than I hate the hipster fuck," Xander said, raising an eyebrow at Ryan and jerking a thumb at Peter to indicate that he was, in fact, the hipster fuck.
Peter was in the middle of opening his mouth to say something to the tune of boy, don't I feel flattered, but it died in his throat when Xander took another step towards Ryan, reared back, and decked him in the face, sending the douchey sunglasses perched on his head flying.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing!?" Peter yelled instead of the snide comment he was about to make.

"Don't you fuckin' dare!" Xander snapped, gritting his teeth. "You of all people have no fucking place to say shit to me--"

Ryan came right back swinging, and Xander cut himself off to feint to the side and keep the punch aimed right for his stomach from landing. It half-worked, Ryan's fist grazing him, but Ryan followed through by slamming his elbow right into Xander's ribs instead.

"Oh my god, oh my god!" Meghan said, digging her fingers into her hair and clearly beginning to panic-- and the fact that at that moment, Ibexmon was practically thrown into a parked car just down the road didn't help.

"Dude!" Eli yelled, though it was hard to tell if he was yelling at Ryan or at Xander as the two of them began to exchange blows.

"I can fight now," Raumon said, quietly, looking up at Natalie. "I'm going to go in."

"Are you sure?" Natalie said, frowning as she looked at the hopeless fight up the street, back to the fruitless fight with Draugmon happening there, and back down to Raumon, not sure which to look at.

Raumon nodded solemnly, and without another word, he took off running down the street towards Draugmon, who was laying waste not only to the street, but to his allies and his enemies alike. The little bird began to glow purple.

"Raumon, drive evolve to... Doctorimon!"

Doctorimon's boots pounded a rhythm on the ground; despite all the chaos around him, he focused on the steady beat of his steps, focusing only on what was in front of him.
Hokkaimon went skidding backwards past him as he ran, thrown by a swipe of the strange digimon's paw; the fox's coat slipped off his shoulders, but he held tight to his bag as he skidded backwards, half-frostbitten gashes visible across his back even as he was thrown like a skipping-stone.

Behind him, he could tell that the fight was just as lively behind him as it was in front.
He wondered if he shouldn't turn around and try to break up that fight, or if he'd just make things worse.

He also wondered if he wasn't just going to be making things worse by getting involved in the fight with this thing. Sam had said that Frekimon had said that it was probably an ultimate-- they hadn't had to deal with anything higher than a champion, lately.
(He wondered, all of a sudden, why he had never considered the possiblity before-- it felt almost like the very existence of higher levels had just struck him, sliding back into his memory-- like something slid back into position by someone who had hoped that nobody would notice its absence.)

Back with the humans, a concentrated effort -- Meghan and Natalie on Xander, Eli and Jen on Ryan -- had pulled the two human combatants apart. Peter had resigned that trying to get involve would likely complicate things even more, and Sam was a few steps away, distancing himself with his hands in his pockets and his attention on the digimon in lieu of the throwdown.

"Our problem isn't with them, dude," Eli was saying, but Ryan pulled his arm away, rolling his shoulder and glowering at nobody in particular.

"Well they're pretty intent on making themselves our problem! I mean, only god knows how much shit Natalie's chatted about me--"

"Oh, don't worry, I hate you entirely based on your own merits," Xander said with a joyless smirk as he wiped away a bit of blood from his mouth with the back of his hand-- one of Ryan's punches had led to him accidentally biting the inside of his mouth hard enough to bleed, nothing major.

"I haven't chatted shit," Natalie said, furrowing her brow, and she felt the frustration starting to reach a breaking point. She had thought that maybe they could get things under control--
(Maybe she shouldn't have come at all, maybe she should have just let everyone else take care of this--)

As Doctorimon rushed into close enough range with Draugmon to make his move, Corymon fell out of the air as an icicle tore clean through the membrane of her wing.

"FACE OF JUDGEMENT!" Doctorimon yelled, surprising himself with his own volume. He leapt into the air, flourished his staff as he slashed it through the air, the red jewel at its tip beginning to glow.
Black flames poured out of the mouth of the judging face, flying through the air in an arc that followed the path of the staff's tip.

The dark flames at least caught Draugmon's attention, though that wasn't saying much. As Doctorimon's feet hit the ground again, the skull-faced digimon focused its eyes on the little plague doctor before it--

"Doctorimon!" Banshemon cried-- she was trying to pull her arm free of the concrete, where her arm was pinned by an icicle as thick as a lamp post-- one of the same barrage that had downed Corymon. Close by, Ibexmon was trying to stand on a badly-injured foreleg, and Frekimon looked like she was missing the better part of an ear and had massive gashes running along her sides and back. Himamon had been thrown into a building, and was trying to extracate herself from the debris.
Malakhimon, overhead, was the only one still on her feet (so to speak), and even she had stopped, flapping to hold her place in the air steady, to see what was going on on the ground.
Draugmon lifted an icy claw, preparing to attack Doctorimon.

You probably could have healed them, he realized too late. Face of Judgement-- if he had chosen to use the mourning face instead of the judging face, he could have -- if not undone the damage, he could have at least have helped his allies. But you didn't, he told himself.

Just like last time--

In that moment, the very instant that he had that thought, a purple light began to consume Doctorimon. It started at the tips of his sleeves and boots alike, creeping up his limbs like circuits-- or maybe like veins, as while they started geometric, they quickly branched out into a more ambling, organic form.
Curiously, Draugmon recoiled its claw, releasing a horrible hissing noise that may have been a noise of fear; it was kind of hard to tell.

Back among the humans -- still arguing -- Natalie's D-Rive began to screech for the second time today. It was a familiar enough noise by this point, but it still stopped every human in their tracks.
It didn't stop nearly as quickly as it had every other time before.

"Oh, fuck," Natalie blurted, as she had the distinct feeling that might not be a good thing.

In the space between the purple light, a black glow began to emanate from Doctorimon's body, if something black could be said to glow. Doctorimon snapped his head up just before the black glow fully consumed him, and the holes in his mask for his eyes had filled with purple light.

And it was becoming apparent very, very quickly that something here was going very, very wrong.

Doctorimon began to make an unearthly noise of his own-- like the cry of a dying bird, rasping and pained. It began to distort, rising in pitch and becoming more staticky and unnatural until it was difficult to tell the difference between the screech of Natalie's D-Rive and the noise that Doctorimon was making.
After a moment, it was hard to tell if the glitchy screech was Doctorimon, or Natalie's D-Rive-- or both, melding into a high-pitched digital grinding, the very sound of an error.

They could almost make out garbled words.

 

"Doctorimon, catalyst evolve to--!"

The black glow grew into an orb of light that surrounded his body, and from there it grew quite a bit larger. It shifted and glitched as though the light couldn't quite hold on to where they were supposed to be. The purple streaks shifted, disappeared, and reappeared at random, flashing different colours for a split second before returning to their original violet hue. The sphere suddenly split apart like it was being sheared, and the paradoxical black glow began to fade.

What was left was...

Well. It was a lot more bestial than Doctorimon had been. In some ways, he looked much more like Raumon, but much larger-- and much worse.

He was once more a bird-like creature, with black feathers all over, an angular tail, a simple white plague doctor's mask, and feathery ears. It was unmistakably Raumon, which made the points of divergence worse.
He looked kind of like a vulture, with an unnaturally long neck. He had very little apparent muscle mass; his skin and feathers clung to his bones, leaving his ribs and spine plain to see. Stained bandages were wrapped around his neck, around the beak of his mask-like face, and around his raptor-like feet. It looked at first glance like he had wings, but a second glance would reveal that these were just long, tattered black sleeves, not apparently connected to any garment, cloth merely growing out of his shoulderblades and falling down his arms.

Greyish marks, like tear-tracks, ran down his face from his eyes, and a strange black gunk seeped from where his mask met his face, trailing down and dripping from the underside of the mask itself.

His white pupils constricted as the glow faded away, and he spread out his arms, flexing his claws. He moved in a way that was unnatural and awkward, at once both stiff and jerky yet disturbingly fluid.

"IlDoctorimon!" he hissed, his voice cracking and raspy.

 

He rose up to his new full height -- fifteen feet, so still dwarfed considerably by the towering Draugmon, but still far more imposing than he had been a few moments prior.

And by the time he had finished transforming, Natalie was already running foward.

"Raumon?" she yelled, feeling her heart drop into her stomach as she ran. Nothing about this had inspired confidence-- even when he had first digivolved to Doctorimon, it hadn't seemed anything like this. "Raumon?!"

"Human! Get back!" Hokkaimon yelled, forcing himself to his feet, and it was quickly apparent why he advised she stay back.

"Ashes to Ashes!" IlDoctorimon crowed, opening his mouth despite the bandages wrapped around his beak. He tossed his head, spilling a stream of black flames-- not just at Draugmon, but into the air at Malakhimon, and even at the digimon who had been sidelined from the battle as well. He didn't seem to care for friend or foe, casting black fire in a veritable wave in every direction in front of him.

"Hey, birdy boy! What are you doing!?" Corymon yelled, trying to kick into the air but having no luck, and having to jump to the side to avoid a blast of black fire.
However, Draugmon actually seemed to respond to this attack, growling as it took a heavy half-step backwards-- while it wasn't much, it was more effect than any of the champion-level digimon had managed to elicit. Icy mist began to pour out of Draugmon's jaws, and it shook its shoulders-- almost like it was laughing.

IlDoctorimon clearly didn't appreciate this; he lunged forward, slashing at the exposed flesh of Draugmon's arms. His claws struck true, tearing through half-frozen tendons and causing Draugmon to roar in pain, slashing out wildly with the paw that hadn't been attacked. IlDoctorimon couldn't move in time to avoid the attack, and he was knocked backwards. He stumbled to a stop, rearing back up to his full height in an uncomfortably fluid motion, and he didn't so much as hesitate before coming right back.

"Ashes to Ashes!" he cried again, but the black flames from before hadn't yet died out-- as he spewed more and more of them, they simply added to the fire that was there before, which was beginning to spread to the buildings nearby.
Because, you know, what we needed with all of this cold-cracked concrete and icicles pinning down his allies, clearly, the solution would be to set some shit on fire!

It had a side-effect, in addition to setting a fire-- one by one, the digimon caught in the fire began to glow with the light of de-digivolution. Frekimon, Corymon, Banshemon, Ibexmon, and Himamon all shrank back down to their respective rookie levels; Hokkaimon, who had hung back, was in no state to rush forward, as he was uneasy on his feet as it was.

Malakhimon was presumably the only one left at champion level-- and she was nowhere to be seen overhead, hidden by the quickly-gathering plumes of smoke.

The other humans still hanging back ran closer; Sam and Meghan had taken off running first, though Xander, Peter, and Jen were hardly a half-a-second behind. Eli stopped next to Hokkaimon, who de-digivolved back to Hulimon with a great sigh of exhaustion, and Ryan, his partner being in the apparent least danger, hung back a little bit.

Draugmon growled and rushed forward at IlDoctorimon, who met it, leaping forward with a feral keen and slashing out at Draugmon and grappling with the larger digimon. This was the cover that they needed-- kind of.

"I donno about you all, but I'm not waiting around for either of them to attack again, thanks," Jen said, speaking as though she was just talking to herself but looking pointedly at Natalie, before she ran forward towards the rubble where Lurumon was using her newly-shrunken form to extricate herself.

The others followed suit-- rushing forward to where their partners had fallen, and they were aiming to do exactly one thing: minimize their partners before anything went wronger. (Sam, in particular, was holding down the button on his D-Rive the entire run over to where Gelermon was; he was apparently testing its range, and it was only a matter of meters.)
This was no easy task; IlDoctorimon's black flames were spreading, and spewing an even blacker smoke as buildings and overturned cars alike began to catch fire, making the area not only a hazard, but hard to see in. Behind her, Natalie could see a flash of cyan light as even Hulimon was re-absorbed into the safety of his partner's D-Rive.

Natalie, though, couldn't very well follow suit, and had only one thing she could think to do.

"Raumon!" she cried, cupping her hands over her mouth. "What are you doing!?"

IlDoctorimon ignored her yet again.

Draugmon had been emitting the icy mist from its jaws for quite some time, now, and over time, it had been coalescing into more and more icicles floating over its head, ready for the firing-- and that time was now. Draugmon snarled, releasing the spray of icicles, laser-focused on IlDoctorimon.

For a time, anyway, as IlDoctorimon was ready to retaliate, for a given value of retaliate.

"Black Shroud!" he yelled, slashing one hand through the air. His talons seemed to cut into the air as though they were ripping through fabric, and from the tears left in his claws' wake, black blades of energy surged forth.
They flew forward, crashing into the icicles before they had the chance to hit him. Instead, the icicles burst into much smaller, sharper shards, which exploded all around-- and at far greater radius.

What this meant was that every human who had run forward to get their digimon -- even though every one of them was scattering to get out of the line of fire as quickly as they could-- was in range for an icy spray of razor-sharp shards of ice, and got them they did.
The ice crystals cut through clothing and sliced jagged cuts into bare flesh; they didn't quite have the force to sink in with a direct hit, but that didn't mean they didn't leave a mark; even the ones that didn't leave bloody scrapes were certain to raise welts and even bruises.

So, you know.

This was fine.

(This was extremely not fine.)

"Hey!" Eli called. "Could you call bird boy off before he makes things even worse?"

"I'm trying!" Natalie yelled back, feeling more than a little helpless. "He's not listening--!"

The backfired attack rained down on Draugmon in its turn as well, slicing through its hide and at least causing enough damage that it stumbled backwards-- backing up into a building and taking out a huge part of the front wall of said building as it did. It righted itself quickly, and it made a noise it hadn't made before, apparently quite put out.

It began to rumble from deep in its chest, and the sound echoed and reverberated as though it was bouncing around inside an empty vessel before it emerged out of Draugmon's throat. As the sound grew in volume, black energy began to swirl around its claws.
IlDoctorimon was raising his claw for another attack when Draugmon reared forwards and slammed its hands down into the earth, palms out, like it was trying to pry open the street.

And the thing was, it kind of worked. Massive cracks spread out from the point of impact, and they spread with lightning precision.

See, these cracks rocketed out underneath everyone's feet-- not just IlDoctorimon's feet, but out under the feet of every human standing nearby, as far back as Ryan.

"What the hell!?" Peter blurted, hissing as he jumped away from the crack under his feet-- and a good thing he did, too. A good thing that nobody was terribly willing to stand still, as Draugmon began to, with a great effort, its claws apart, and the radiating cracks all split open wide.
Out of the earth from within the cracks, frozen hands -- looking mummified by cold -- began to emerge, grasping out at the ankles of the onlookers and IlDoctorimon alike.

The street filled up with panicked yells and sounds of disgust and dismay as the hands seemed quite intent on grabbing a hold of their marks, stretching out to unnatural lengths to grab out with frostbitten fingers.

"Raumon!" Natalie cried again, stumbling backwards frantically and only narrowly avoiding the hand. "Listen to me!"
Xander tried to strike out with one foot to discourage the hand, and only succeeded in only narrowly avoiding its grip, and everyone else that she could see was doing a similar song-and-dance.

IlDoctorimon, though, paid no mind to the humans. Instead, he snapped his attention upwards, and why only became apparent a second later.

"Holy Charge!"

Malakhimon divebombed out of the sky, out of the smoke, in a shining white bolt; encased in white light, she smashed into Draugmon, which wasn't enough to hurt it, but it was enough to distract it-- it pulled its claws up out of the ground, and the moment it did, the cracks slammed shut with incredible force, and it was a profoundly lucky thing that nobody was currently stepping in one, or they'd likely have lost whatever limb was in it when the earth smashed back together.

"There we fuckin' go!" Ryan yelled, cupping his hands over his mouth, but he spoke too soon.

"Black Shroud!" IlDoctorimon yelled, slashing his claws through the air-- and sending an attack at Malakhimon, who was swooping back into the air.

"What is he doing!?" Meghan yelled, scrambling backwards on the ground in an awkward crab-walk from where she had fallen down. "She's trying to help!"

If Natalie's words weren't going to reach IlDoctorimon, Meghan's sure weren't, and that was illustrated when he attacked again.
"Black Shroud!"

"Christ," Ryan hissed, running up beside Natalie. "What the hell did you even do?"

"I didn't do anything!" Natalie snapped back-- she was in no mood to be condescended to.

"What do you call that?" Ryan said, gesturing at IlDoctorimon ignoring Draugmon in order to throw attacks at Malakhimon.

"I don't know!"
It came out sharper than Natalie meant, but her patience was gone. "I don't fucking know, okay, Ryan!? If you could stop being a dick for two seconds and try to help then maybe-- I don't--"
She trailed off, her steam lost after the initial burst, and she looked away.

This was spiralling out of control and fast.
She shouldn't have come-- she shouldn't have tried to go interfere with Peter, she shouldn't have tried to get involved and help out. If she hadn't come then Ratamon wouldn't have stolen her D-Rive, right? And then none of this would have happened, and...

She screwed up her eyes as a couple tears threatened to leak out. The last thing she needed right now was to start crying.

Fuck it, it was happening anyway.

One of IlDoctorimon's black energy blades hit Malakhimon, but his own distraction provided the opportunity for Draugmon to strike out with his claws, smashing a paw swirling with icy energy right into IlDoctorimon's side.

IlDoctorimon was knocked aside by the force of the blow, skidding off to the side and having to scramble to avoid being knocked into a burning building-- but Malakhimon fell to the ground, and she scrambled to right herself before either ultimate had the chance to round on her.

"Malakhimon!" Ryan yelled, reaching out a hand to her.

She looked over her shoulder at her partner, and nodded.

Ryan looked deeply confused, but in his hand, his D-Rive began to glow-- but his didn't make the same infernal screeching noise as Natalie's had.

Red light began to run over Malakhimon's body in a way that looked quite familiar; a crimson glow that started at the tips of her limbs and began to work, circuit-like, up her body. Unlike IlDoctorimon's transformation, though, hers remained geometric and circuit-like, clean and crisp. The negative space between the lines began to glow with a piercing white light, and as she snapped her head up, her eyes filled with that same bright red.

 

"Malakhimon, conduction evolve to..."

(That hadn't been what Doctorimon had said...)

The light expanded around her, encasing her in a swirling, shining orb. Red streaks raced around her, cutting through the white in high contrast; everything was much cleaner, far less glitchy, than it had been for IlDoctorimon.
Instead of shearing, the orb of light burst apart into pixels not wholly unlike a defeated digimon, and in its wake was a shining whtie shape.

She was smaller than Malakhimon, and more humanoid in shape, though her tail and animal-like haunches emblazoned with red marks stayed similar, and the tan and white fur that covered her body also remained constant. Two feathered white wings flared out behind her back, while a second pair settled, folded, at her waist, almost like tassets. At the highest joint in all four wings was a glossy red jewel-like orb, and the wing-like end of her tail had one as well.
Golden bangles decorated her upper arms and her ankles, which matched the golden armor on her wrists, and the visor, decorated with a cross design, that covered her eyes. A garment not unlike the lower half of a tabard hung around her waist, held in place by a golden chain with more red gems inset. Yet another red jewel was in the middle of her chest, decorating the front of a simple, gauze-like wrap of a garment that was worn over a simple black cropped shirt.

With her new humanoid appearance came long flowing hair, silver in colour and long enough to reach the base of her tail, where -- you guessed it-- a ring of red jewels served as a hair tie. Small ornamental wings decorated either side of her head, and her ears drooped downward, poking out and the same colour as her hair.

"Eudaemon!" she announced as the last of the light faded from her body, and she flared her wings out, her paw-like feet alighting on the wrecked street.

 

"Another one!?" Sam blurted through grit teeth, clearly frustrated. "Is there anything else we don't know that anyone would like to explain!?"
Between Jen and Eli's slightly baffled reactions, as well as Ryan's more openly shocked one, though they were as in the dark as anyone else.

"Be not afraid," Eudaemon said, her voice confident and calm, and it was hard to resist the thought that she had wanted to say that for a long, long time-- even if just judging by the faint smile on her lips. "You humans will come to no harm."

"Why do I not feel reassured," Peter muttered, pulling himself to his feet with a little bit of difficulty-- he had taken the barrage of ice shards to one leg, and it hurt more than he cared to admit it did. Even so, the humans were in no hurry to stay where they were; all of them who had been caught ahead scrambled back to the backlines, closer to where Natalie and Ryan stood.

"You got this!" Ryan yelled, clenching his fist and gripping his D-Rive tightly.

Eudaemon chanced a glance over her shoulder and nodded once.

IlDoctorimon practically hissed as he got back to his feet, his too-thin ribcage heaving with breath-- and on the other hand, Draugmon stood almost troublingly still, the only thing moving being the msity fog spilling out of its mouth and its pinprick-fire eyes.

Eudaemon was smaller than either other digimon by a large margin -- in fact, she may have been shorter than Ryan, now -- but she composed herself with an unwavering calm even so.
"Purge the Wicked!" she cried out, holding her hands out in front of her. In her hands, a shining spear appeared, its edges blurred by the fact that it seemed to be made of pure light except for the shining ruby set in its blade. Both the higher wings on her back and the ones around her hips flared out, and she leapt into the air, hurling the spear right between Draugmon's eyes.

The direct hit, accompanied by an audible crack as it broke the bone of Draugmon's skeletal face, caused it to rear its head back and release a raspy noise that might have been the dregs of a roar, even as the spear faded away into nothingness. Draugmon stumbled backwards more than a few steps,

"Ashes to Ashes!"

IlDoctorimon seemed still quite focused on -- well, now Eudaemon, regardless of the massive undead ice-monster in front of him, and instead of fanning his flames out, he fired a concentrated stream of the black fire at his now-smaller target.

Natalie averted her eyes, staring down at the cracked concrete below her feet.
This-- this was wrong. Something had gone wrong.

She didn't feel better, knowing that Shitomon (or Malakhimon, or Eudaemon, or whatever she was right now) had managed to pull off the same thing as Raumon had-- that stronger evolution-- but... she hadn't sounded like she was in pain. It hadn't looked as glitchy, or as wrong.
She hadn't lost sight of what she was doing-- she hadn't started acting without regard for anyone around her.

She was still listening to Ryan.

They're like living backup drives for the corruption.

Dammit.

Since she was looking down, she didn't see what was going on until a sudden jolt of surprised noises from the humans prompted her to snap her head up.

In the blink of an eye, Draugmon had vanished.

It hadn't been defeated-- there was no burst of light, no pixels dissipating in the air.
It was simply gone. It was no small feat to hide a twenty-five foot tall ice zombie bear, either-- but there it was. One moment it had been releasing a rattling noise, scratching at its skull face in pain, and then next--

The icy mist still hung in the air where its head had been a moment before, and the sudden rush of hot air replacing the cold was almost painful.

Nobody noticed the tiny white streak bouncing away from rooftop to rooftop.
Possibly because-- there were other things to look at, more than just the sudden disappearance of the monster and the unholy wreckage it had left behind it, like the monsters who were still wreaking ever-more havoc.

"What--?" Eudaemon murmured, looking into the empty space in front of her, but this even momentary distraction was more than she should have afforded.

With a rasping vulture-like screech, IlDoctorimon flung himself at her. He had the distinct advantage of size, and he grabbed her out of where she was flapping in mid-air to slam her into the crumbling remains of the front of a building. She cried out in surprise, attempting to wrest free of the plague doctor monster's grip as he raised a claw, preparing to attack.

"RAUMON!"

For what felt like the millionth time, Natalie found herself screaming her partner's name. She didn't even know what good it would do.

IlDoctorimon's ears twitched, and his grip on Eudaemon against the wall faltered just a tiny bit.

This was more than enough of an opening-- Eudaemon wrested herself free of IlDoctorimon's hand, and she grit her teeth, the gems strewn all across her body beginning to glow with a scarlet light.
"That is enough! Ruby Oculus!" she yelled, throwing her hands out in front of her. The light from the gems gathered into her palms, where it swirled, creating what looked like a small portal, from which a brilliant-red bolt of energy fired, striking right in the middle of IlDoctorimon's chest.

IlDoctorimon stumbled backwards, half from pain and half as though he was being physically pushed by the attack. He crowed loudly, throwing his head back.

For a split second, he seemed to shift in shape-- not back to any familiar form, but to something different, but it happened so quickly that it was impossible to make out the details.

And then a purple-tinted light engulfed him, as he began to shrink back to his rookie form. The black flames on the street and buildings around them started to die down almost immediately as IlDoctorimon was replaced with Raumon, reduced to smouldering ebony embers in a matter of thirty seconds, but the damage they did was left behind.

Eudaemon alighted on the ground, and she was already preparing another shining spear in her hands, a solemn expression on her face.

"Raumon!" Natalie yelled for the final time, stumbling forward across the uneven ground. It wasn't easy going, but she practically slid onto her knees when she came close to her partner.
He was unconscious, but breathing, his feathers ruffled and his body bruised and bloody but mostly intact. Though de-digivolving seemed to at least suppress some of the damage of fighting, as usual, he looked much, much worse for the wear.

"Please move aside," Eudaemon said, her voice even, but there was no enjoyment to be found in her tone. Natalie didn't look up at her, but instead did the exact opposite, picking Raumon up into her arms. "This is for the--"

"Not now, Shitomon."

Ryan was the one to speak-- he had come jogging up after Natalie, though she hadn't noticed him in her single-minded focus on Raumon. Eudaemon turned to look at Ryan incredulously; though her eyes weren't visible thanks to the golden mask over them, she was clearly furrowing her brow.

"But--"

Ryan shook his head silently, and Eudaemon looked between her partner and Raumon. She opened her mouth and closed it without saying anything, and slowly, the spear of light in her hands dissipated.
So, too, did this form; she began to glow with red-tinged light, and Shitomon stood where Eudaemon had a moment before, and a moment after that, there was no digimon there at all, as Ryan minimized Shitomon into his D-Rive.

And then there was nothing but the gentle wind the sweltering heat of the first day of August, the sirens of police cars and ambulances and fire engines. Ryan said nothing to Natalie as he turned and walked back over to his own allies.

"We'll have other chances, we should get out of here so they can start damage control," he said when Eli and Jen gave him curious looks, but they already understood more or less what his thought process was-- and it was a lot more complicated than that.

Meghan was the first to approach Natalie, who sat with Raumon in her arms on the ground without moving for a few long, quiet, awkward minutes. She had twisted her ankle in all of the chaos, so she didn't move quickly, and she didn't want to kneel down.
"Are you okay?" she asked quietly, placing a hand on Natalie's shoulder.

The hand seemed to shake Natalie out of some kind of reverie, and she heaved a heavy, shaking sigh. She looked around; aside from Meghan having crossed over to her, the three boys were all watching intently, though Xander was with arms crossed and he looked away when he realized he was being looked at.

She said nothing as she pulled her D-Rive back out, and in a flash of purple light, she minimized Raumon, and the first thing she said was:
"Do you still need me to give you a ride back, Peter?"

What else could she really say?

 

***

Draugmon whipped its -- his -- head around frantically. He didn't recognize where he was at all-- one moment, he had been in the city, fighting, and the next--
Well. Let it be said that this place was definitely not there.

He was at the bottom of a canyon, it seemed. The sky, far above, was dark and dusty; the city buildings were replaced with jagged walls of grey stone and piles of rubble, cracked concrete replaced with worn-down pebbles and discoloured stone as the only indication that once, a river had run through this, eroding the stone before drying up entirely.
Where the city -- as uncomfortable as it had been for it -- had been noisy and full of life, there was an eery, total stillness to this new environment he found himself in. The only sound was the howling wind whistling far above.

To be fair, neither was particularly pleasant-- his mind was full of nothing but a feral bloodlust-- no. Not bloodlust-- the desire to destroy.

His mind was clouded by the same feral fear that it had been this entire time as he whipped his head around; he would be snorting like a bull if he had breath to snort, and he flung himself at the walls of the canyon, barrelling into them and breaking the rock, tossing his skeletal head and smashing the icicles on his shoulders into the rock. The icicles shattered, obviously, standing no chance against solid rock, but they re-formed, surging out of his body.

It might have hurt, if he had any sensation left.

"Hi! Been a long time since you've been here, huh?"

A too-familiar voice chirped, and Draugmon felt the animal instinct to rip and tear and crush and freeze surge even higher than before. A cloud of icy fog began to emanate out of his jaws, solidifying into icicles above his head, before he even found the source of the voice.

"Hey, hey, hey! Don't attack me! I got you out of that mess! It could have turned out badly, you know, and we can't have that. Try to show a little gratitude, huh?"
Ratamon was so tiny, it would only take one swipe of his claws--

"We've still got a lot of work to do!"

He felt Ratamon leap up onto his face, and then instead of just a little white spot darting in and out of his vision, everything went white altogether.

Chapter Text

Grey clouds hung heavy over Atlas Park, the scent of imminent rain lingering thickly in the air but refusing to pay off in a timely manner. Yesterday's intense heat had mostly dissipated, ruled off as a freak outlier.

If only everything else that had happened yesterday could be written off the same way.

Barely more than twenty-four hours had passed since the digimon incident, and the entire downtown area was still something of a disaster zone. When all was said and done, the attacks had caused easily hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage- and that was before accounting for the fires that IlDoctorimon had started.

Mm.

At least five people had been hospitalized for the injuries they had sustained in the destruction. It was difficult to discern which were thanks to Draugmon, and which were thanks to the immediately-prior rampage of Raremon, Vegiemon, and Weedmon; to the general populace, it didn't really matter. Most of them were fairly minor -- as far as 'hospital-worthy injuries' go -- but it was a solemn smack of reality. Up until this point, none of the digimon incidents had hurt anyone.

Local and national news alike were running stories, speculating on the causes; the larger news stations seemed slightly derisive of the local belief in Unidentified Destructive Creatures, but even so, it was hard to chalk up the ample amounts of video footage to something as simple(?) as a terrorist incident. The entire downtown was practically shut down, with investigations and news coverage and police tape cutting off access to every street in a several-block radius.

Natalie hadn't slept very well last night. She couldn't tell if the sirens had been actually going off in the distant downtown, or if they had been entirely in her imagination, but every time one went off she found herself snapping awake.

Considering how well (read: badly) her dreams had been going, though, being awake might not have been the worst possible outcome. Between the frigid chill the huge skull-faced ice monster's presence had induced, the sickening smell of thick black smoke, and the shape of the inky-black, snake-necked vulture that had taken the place of her best friend--

Well, anyway.

Raumon had come to not long after Natalie got home after the fight, but he had seemed foggy and drowsy, like his brain was half-a-step behind the rest of him.

They hadn't really talked about it; neither of them knew how to breech the subject. It wasn't that it had been awkward or anything; just quiet, with a mutual understanding of the where do you even start?.

Natalie sat on the wall on top of her apartment building, looking out towards downtown. Raumon sat just to the side, his back to the wall, hidden-- not unlike they had been sitting the very first night, before they had gone to the river, and before all of this started.
(... well. Before the digimon attacks started. All of this was kind of a nebulous term, and the more they learned, the more they realized that there was a lot more to it than digimon showing up and wrecking shit.)

Her phone, set beside her, buzzed with a message, but she ignored it.

"I think it's might be starting to rain," Raumon said, the first thing he'd said in quite some time, and not more than five seconds as he said it, Natalie felt the first couple drops hit her.

Natalie exhaled through her nose, standing up on the wall and stretching her arms above her head. "How on earth do you notice it before I do? You have feathers, that should totally count against you."

"Raw animal instinct?" Raumon tried, craning his neck to look up at her; she was looking around at the city around them.

"Is that what we're calling it now?"

"You know me." Raumon flexed, and with his tiny bird arms, the gesture was almost impressively pathetic.

It was a little thing, but even that much levity -- that much familiar banter -- was a comfort, even if something about it nagged at the back of her mind. (Maybe it was a bad time to be joking about raw animal instinct, so soon after she had seen just that from him as IlDoctorimon.)
Despite the light sprinkling, she was in no hurry to get inside.

"Are you feeling alright?" she asked as she stepped back down onto the roof proper. For the second time, her phone buzzed.

"As good as I can possibly hope," Raumon said evenly, which was a polite way of saying not particularly, but you know, it's whatever. He looked at his claws and frowned, then shook his head as though to dispel whatever thought he was having and looked back up at Natalie, nodding once. "Are you?"

"As good as I can possibly hope," she echoed, smiling thinly. Raumon gave her an understanding look. Yet again, her phone buzzed with a notification that she ignored.

(She couldn't shake the unease. She couldn't help but see echoes of IlDoctorimon's constricted pupils and unnatural movements even in the sympathetic eyes and familiar body language of Raumon-- or rather, she couldn't help but see echoes of Raumon in her memories of his-- what had it been called? Ultimate level? -- and she couldn't say that that was much more comforting. In some ways it might even have been worse.)

Raumon seemed to recognize that something was amiss -- maybe it was because she was having a hard time making eye contact with him. He glanced away instead, casting his eyes over the short wall bordering the roof to look out at the city around them.

That first night -- the night they had fought Yasyamon, the time they had spent up here just like this, mere months ago at the start of Natalie's summer break -- felt like it was years away, when in reality, it had only been months. Some long, long, interesting months, yes, but...

The few cursory raindrops that had fallen seemed to be flukes; try as they might it seemed that the sky just couldn't muster it up. So much for raw animal instinct.
Natalie's phone buzzed a fourth time, and she finally resigned herself to look at the messages, turning her phone's screen on and glancing at it. Though she didn't realize it, she pulled a truly amazing expression at the notification she had ignored just moments before, and Raumon took notice.

"Now there's a face," he said wryly. "What's up?"

 

***

Sam's chair groaned as he leaned back in it, tucking his hands behind his head.
Maybe he was losing his mind, but sitting in the general chat channel in MMOs and quietly sniping at people trying to start fights was starting to lose its lustre.

Or maybe he just had shit on his mind.

It was probably the latter. The former never got old.

But even so, he wasn't particularly enthused about engaging with that. He actually had interests outside of sitting around and pretending to be mission command for the digimon incident, and there were only so many times he could read internet conspiracy theories before they started getting repetitive, at least until he gave it a few more days to fester and for the theories to start getting really crazy.
(Admittedly, the one about how it was a shared mass hallucination spurred by government-issue fear gas was pretty amusingly batshit, but still.)

Still.

He figured if he tried to dig into the D-Rive any more he'd just be running in circles without anything new to go off.
And moreover, Gelermon was asleep, and he was reasonably sure she might claw his eyes out if he woke her up, and the risk of filling the room with the demon-fax-machine screech again was not worth it.

She had been unusually tired since the fight yesterday, and he couldn't begrudge her for it. She still looked a bit worse for the wear even now, which hadn't really happened before-- usually, de-digivolving back down to their normal forms was kind of a cure-all, at least for the minor injuries they sustained in the random monster-of-the-week fights they had dealt with so far. He figured that it was because of how soundly they got tossed around, but still.

He sighed and looked out the window. The sky was grey and miserable, but it resolutely refused to actually start raining despite a couple of false starts. It was the best kind of day, in other words, but...
(He told himself that it was just because he didn't want to be caught unawares in case of digimon incident, even if it was just the ten-minute walk down to the convenience store, but he had to admit that having Gelermon with him -- even in her D-Rive -- was a pretty potent security blanket of sorts even for non-Digimon-related bullshit.)

He resigned himself to his fate. He got to his feet, and was in the middle of considering walking to the bathroom to get some water to heat up some instant noodles in the dinky little microwave he kept in the corner of his room, when his phone went off. Considering just about the only people he talked to regularly was the digimon response task squad (they really needed a better name), he had a distinct feeling that the alert was going to be courtesy of the group chat.

He was not wrong.

hey, a message from Natalie read, the first new message today, so. ryan just texted me asking if we could talk about digimon things.

Sam huffed through his nose as though to say this ought to be good to himself.

considering how well yesterday went, i figure it's going to go really well. Her sarcasm came across even in text form. but i figure, at this point...
A few seconds' worth of pause.
so if i don't say anything for a while, i may have gone to jail for assault. because i might punch him in the face. just a heads up. anyone who wants front row tickets is welcome, i guess.

Sam hummed to himself and debated whether or not he should
On one hand, he'd probably have to go out. Be around people. Be around El Douchadore, more specifically, which just sounded... awful.

But on the other hand, as far as he was concerned, he was the one with the best chance of figuring any of this shit out, right? So it'd just be easier if...
Right.

That's how the psyched himself up as he opened up a direct message with Natalie to suggest he get those proverbial front row tickets and come along.
(It took him a couple minutes.)

Unbeknownst to him, Gelermon cracked an eye open and watched without comment as he paced back and forth to disperse some of the nervous energy.

 

***

For not the first time, nor the last, the meeting place was the city park-- this time, a ways away from the bridge where so much commotion had gone down, under the mediocre shelter of a picnic pavilion. They didn't want to be standing out in the open in case it finally started raining, but the idea of gathering in somewhere where they could be overheard -- like a cafe or a restaurant -- was totally out of the question. Maybe they could have met up at one of their homes, but--
Um.
Frankly, hell to the no.

Natalie couldn't say she was surprised about a lot of things. For instance, the fact that Sam had gotten here first, even though he lived significantly further away than Ryan did, or the fact that Sam wasn't being particularly talkative, instead sitting with hunched shoulders and his eyes on his phone.

She looked to her own phone, scrolling through the messages from Ryan that had led to this point.

look i get it if you're pissed at me
but considering your friend(?) punched me in the face, and, you know, in light of literally everything else that happened yesterday
can we like, meet up somewhere and talk?
ill tell you what i know about the digimon shit

She had debated with Raumon about going, and eventually -- clearly -- decided to, which led to her announcement in the group chat. When Sam had messaged her -- she hadn't really been expecting anyone to take the offer, but she had sent off a notice to Ryan that one of her group was coming with, to which Ryan responded with a glib w/e.

Admittedly, she felt kind of bad for dragging someone else into this -- after all, her track record on dragging people along for digimon business was going really swimmingly -- but the idea of dealing with this on her own hadn't been terribly appealing.
Well. Raumon was, of course, with her, but he had decided quite firmly that he was going to stay minimized in Natalie's D-Rive this time unless there was absolutely no other option. He had no particular desire to start a fight, now less than ever; moreover, if he didn't pop out, then the worst that could happen was a yelling match between humans.

After all, it didn't seem like Shitomon was in any rush to try and threaten anyone but the digimon themselves, so the only thing at stake was how long they could put up with each other.

"I'm kind of surprised you decided to come along for this," she said out loud, looking away from her phone and over at Sam.

"Hm?" he said, lifting his eyes only for a moment before looking back to his phone, then -- after a moment to finish whatever he was doing -- setting the device on the bench next to him, and belatedly giving his full attention to where she sat at the next table over.

Natalie scratched at her face as she thought of how to put it. "Well, like, you don't strike me as the type to jump at the chance to get all social."

"You're not wrong," Sam said, eyebrow raised. "Least of all with fuck-o the clown."

Natalie couldn't help but huff a laugh. "It's kind of a comfort to know nobody else seems to like him, as shitty as that sounds to say," she said, rubbing the back of her head. "I was kind of afraid it'd just be my biases getting in the way."

"Uh, no. He has a tribal tattoo and knockoff designer sunglasses," Sam said flatly, curling his lip. "And that's before the condescension and the constant talking over people and, you know, the part where he's in league with the rabbit-thing with a high horse so far up she can't see the ground."

Natalie smiled a bit, despite herself. "And yet you volunteered to come hear him out with me."

"Well, yeah, considering I don't trust him as far as I can throw him," Sam said, "which isn't far, for the record, because he looks like he enjoys replacing meals with protein shakes and I opted out of high school gym to become a shut-in playing League of Legends and eating microwave pizza for three years, which doesn't do much for the muscles."

"That's fair, though I don't--" Natalie paused, blinking at Sam. She was going to ask how his distrust of Ryan tied back into why he decided to come, and then the entire rest of that trainwreck of a sentence hit her. "Wait, what?"

Sam offered zero elaboration, and instead, proverbially barrelled forward. For as quiet as he had been, Natalie was kind of taken aback by how much he could talk when prompted. "All that in mind, I'd rather hear his bullshit side of things myself, instead of trying to parse it as re-told by someone else -- you -- in post."

"I kind of feel like I should be offended," Natalie said, scratching her nose.
Sam shrugged one shoulder ineffectually, and Natalie chose not to take it personally.
Any further conversation was cut short when they saw Ryan on the approach, crossing across the grass to beeline for them.
Natalie nodded once in greeting as he drew nearer; Sam's attention was quite suddenly back on his phone.

"Hey," Ryan said in a clipped and business-like tone, casting a glance in Sam's direction, seeing he was being ignored, and looking to Natalie instead. "No impromptu monster fights this time, yeah?"

"I'm not really in the mood for another, no," Natalie said, shaking her head and biting her tongue to avoid saying that it wasn't Raumon who went picking fights. (... usually, anyway. Again, an uncomfortable flash of IlDoctorimon lunging for Shitomon's higher forms came to mind, and it only helped her desire to keep her comments to herself. Didn't need to give him any ammo.)

"I just want to talk," Ryan said, putting his hands up defensively, as though Natalie was going to lunge at him. "Shitomon and I talked about it, and we talked with the others, and-- well." He gestured vaguely.

"Do you finally accept that we don't know jack shit about what's going on?" Natalie prompted, and Ryan scratched at his chin.

"Something like that, yeah," Ryan admitted, nodding. Natalie could still see the faint bruise on his cheek from where Xander had decked him, and she sighed heavily. She couldn't even feel good about that, no matter how much she said she wanted to punch him in the face (and she did say so, frequently).

Ryan cast a look around, making sure they were alone -- and they were, because it was a grey and miserable day and very few people were out at the park in fear of that imminent-but-ephemeral rain.

"Alright, then," he said, and as if that was the cue word, Shitomon materialized out of red light, standing on the picnic table that Natalie was sitting at. Ryan took a seat on the opposite end of the table. "She can explain it better than I can," he said. "She's had a bit more practice."

"Oh, shut up," Shitomon said, sticking her tongue out playfully at her partner; Natalie got the distinct impression that she had been waiting a long time to be able to make a dramatic speech, and if not for the fact that this little angel-rabbit thing wanted to kill Raumon and company, she might have found it kind of endearing.

"Alright-- how much do you know?" Shitomon said unnecessarily, looking between Natalie and Sam. "I mean-- anything the refugees have told you at all counts here."

"We keep saying 'nothing', and we mean nothing," Natalie said, her shoulders slumping; she was already starting to dread this. "Our digimon have a hunch that they knew each other before they got here; that's the extent of it."

Shitomon looked between them again, then over her shoulder at Ryan; he nodded, and she sighed, stroking her chin. "Let me start at the start, I guess. We-- Digimon -- come from another world. The Digital World."

"We've gathered that much," Sam said, muttering to himself, but he went ignored as Shitomon continued.

"Our worlds are interlinked in ways I myself don't fully understand-- I've heard it said that we're connected by the branches of Yggdrasil, though I admit I'm not entirely sure what that means, considering Yggdrasil is... well. Anyway." She trailed off, clearly getting distracted.

"I don't know exactly how our timeline matches up to yours, but as I understand it, for a very long time, up until recently, our time passed many times faster than yours did. Hundreds of years could pass in our world while mere months were passing in yours." She saw the vaguely bemused expressions on her audience's face, and she smiled faintly. "I tell you this so you don't get as confused as Ryan did when I mention things happening thousands of years ago."

"I didn't quite get how thousands of years could pass when digital anything hasn't even been a thing since the 20th century," Ryan said, shrugging. "I still don't think I get it, she said it had something to do with the energy exchange, but it sounded kind of bogus to me."

"Go on, then," Natalie prompted Shitomon, who nodded and did so.

 

"Thousands of years ago, the god-king of our world sealed away a great evil, in a huge cataclysmic battle and brought about an age of peace. There were conflicts, of course, and small wars between countries and factions, but through Dinmon's power, almost all threats to the integrity of our world were dealt with before they could become issues." She spoke with a reverence in her voice that it was clear that Dinmon was the name of the aforementioned god-king, and they could practically see the sparkle in her eyes when she mentioned him. She had to take a moment to bring herself back down to earth.

"Um, anyway! For thousands of years, he ruled a mostly peaceful world, but it should be obvious by now that that couldn't last forever. A little over a hundred years ago, though, the remnants of that evil began to re-emerge. It didn't have a form-- it could only whisper in the minds of weak-willed digimon, promising them power in exchange for doing its bidding." Shitomon frowned. "Because of the subtlety of its re-emergence, Dinmon was not able to eliminate it without coming across as cruel and vengeful-- and as it began gaining an underground following, it became a self-perpetuating problem."

Natalie frowned, but said nothing. Sam looked like he was taking notes on his phone, or maybe he was just playing some mobile game-- it was hard to tell.

"Digimon of all kinds were swayed-- weak-willed digimon, digimon with selfish goals, digimon who simply wanted chaos for chaos' sake, digimon who simply didn't know any better. It promised them power, in exchange for enacting its will of destruction. Everything it touches rots-- the digimon it corrupts are driven by its influence to raze the land and destroy everything in their path."

An uncomfortable mental image of black flames and reckless destruction filled both Sam and Natalie's mind's eyes-- especially Natalie's, and they had the distinct feeling they knew where this was going.

"Over time, it began to spread far and wide, and grow its power as it did." Shitomon paused for dramatic effect here, and she sighed, folding her arms. "Dinmon decided that the best course of action -- his best chance to halt its growth -- was to quarantine it and cut it off from the power in the core of our world, and by extension, the power our world borrows from yours. By almost completely severing our connection to your world, ours would slow down to the point where god-king Dinmon could more easily prune the infection."

"We're getting the impression," Ryan cut in, "that this slowdown may have brought their world in line with ours, temporally speaking, so the past fifteen years has been fifteen years for both sides, as opposed to fifteen thousand or whatever."

"Right!" Shitomon said, nodding with a smile, but then her smile faltered. "Admittedly, I don't know for sure-- I haven't really been there since it happened..." her shoulders fell before she continued. "Dinmon began to prepare to cut off the worlds, and many digimon objected. They didn't know what would happen to our world, and didn't trust in Dinmon's judgment. The corruption itself, too, wasn't a huge fan of the idea of being destroyed, and so it created a contingency plan.

"It chose five of its devoted followers, evil digimon who had sworn fealty for its power, and sealed part of itself within them, with the intent that was that they would escape and take refuge in the human world, while the weakened core of the corruption lay in waiting, as it had for thousands of years before its re-emergence. When the time was right, it would force open the connection and be strengthened by the digimon incubating it."

Hm.
Well. This was starting to sound familiar.

"Right before Dinmon was able to sever the worlds, they made their escape. Of course, god-king Dinmon expected this." Shitomon beamed. "That's where I-- we come in. Hulimon, Lurumon, and myself-- we were specially appointed, hand-chosen by Dinmon to follow the Refugee digimon to eliminate them before that time came." Again that sense of clear pride snuck back into her voice; she didn't quite puff her chest out, but it was practically audible in her voice anyway, but it deflated just as quickly. "It didn't exactly work as well as we might have hoped."

"Obviously enough," Ryan said, and Shitomon folded her arms.

"Obviously enough," Shitomon echoed; Natalie furrowed her brow, but didn't have time to comment, as Shitomon wasn't done talking. "We lost a lot of our power coming over-- I'm starting to wonder if it wasn't because of the connection closing behind us as much as whatever attacked us."

"Whatever attacked you?" Natalie prompted, and Shitomon looked confused for a moment, before she realized she hadn't explained that yet.

"Something attacked us en route between our world and this one, while we were weakened. It separated us. Our best guess is that it had been one of the refugee digimon, but..." She sighed, shaking her head. "We had no proof, and nothing to go on."

"When the D-Rives showed up," Ryan picked up from his partner here, "we figured it must have meant that something was going wrong, and when digimon started showing up afterwards, that pretty much clinched it."

Natalie wanted to tell him that the digimon had definitely shown up before she got her D-Rive, but she wasn't sure what that would imply-- or if Ryan and his little group got their D-Rives at the same time as she and all of hers.
(They had, and this was relevant information, but she had no way to know this at the time.)

Shitomon nodded. "It meant that the connection between the worlds was being pried open again. Understand that Dinmon couldn't completely sever the connection without destroying the core of our world, so my theory is that the corruption has been trying to worm its way through this entire time, and its cracks are finally starting to spread, and if other digimon end up coming through, that must just be acceptable collateral damage."

Ryan nodded. "So you have feral digimon on one hand, breaking through because they wanted to escape a stagnant world, and digimon who want to be the hero by taking the window of opportunity to be the ones to apprehend the refugees, because obviously the digimon sent through to do it in the first place hadn't done the job."

That was likely what was going on with the emergent digimon-- the ones who were looking for them. They must have been followers of Dinmon, trying to apprehend the--
Well.

"Rub it in, why don't you," Shitomon said sticking her tongue out again. "We had been separated from each other and we weren't even sure we had ended up in the right world at in the first place, and that was on top of being weakened. We couldn't have done much of any good even if we had known we had ended up in the right place."

Natalie felt her heart sink into her stomach the more she thought about it, and instead she decided to prompt further. "Why are you telling us this now, then?" she said, frowning and folding her arms.

"Oh, right!" Shitomon said, coming back to the subject-- she was a bit easily distracted. "I had wondered at first why the refugee digimon hadn't been driven mad, like most digimon who had taken power from the corruption do," Shitomon said, perking up as she began to explain more. "When we first saw the fights with your digimon, I figured they may have, but when we ran into you -- the humans -- it complicated things. It made me think--"

"It made Lurumon think," Ryan corrected.

"... that maybe the corruption had been dormant in them, so that they wouldn't be reckless or get themselves into trouble until they were needed."

... they way Shitomon was talking about their digimon was disquieting, and Natalie and Sam both felt a distinct sense of unease. They exchanged sidelong glances.

"That's why the refugees claim they don't know anything," Shitomon continued, nodding resolutely and looking quite self-satisfied. "They must not remember it. If the corruption in them was dormant, then it could have had some defense mechanisms, to keep them from blowing their cover or giving themselves away."

"That didn't really answer her question," Sam said quietly, again, not really speaking to Shitomon but more to himself, but this time, his comment was heeded. (Sam seemed a little bit surprised, actually.)

Shitomon stood up on the table so she could gesture with palms up. "Right! So the point is: yesterday, I think something activated the corruption somehow." She said something in a way that suggested she quite well knew what that something might be, even if not the somehow. In fact, so did Natalie and Sam.

Ratamon.

It was like the puzzle pieces were falling into place. Even if they didn't know what Ratamon had done-- he had run off with Natalie's digivice, and not long after that, their digimon had had that little seizure, with that familiar sound, and then...

"Ratamon is -- I think --"

"Eli thinks," Shitomon corrected.

"... a servant of that corruption," Ryan continued, unfettered by Shitomon's interjection. "I think the way it works is that it's small and weak enough to cross between the worlds through the cracks relatively easily, so it could carry out its will and scout information back and forth, and if there was a way to activate the corruption in your digimon," he said, gesturing with one hand, "if anything have known how to do that, it would."

"Which is why Doctorimon was able to digivolve," Shitomon explained, a little bit excitedly. "Ratamon reactivated it, and Doctorimon must have been able to draw power from the reactivated corruption inside him. I think I was just able to digivolve further because of the heightened threat, but I have to admit that I don't know for sure."
That seemed like a pretty major thing to handwave away, but there were more relevant things at hand.
"But it makes sense, right? That's why he reached the next digivolution stage, and why he went off and started setting things on fire!"

Natalie and Sam exchanged glances; Sam shrugged one shoulder in a nonverbal fucked if I have anything better.
"... well, shit," Natalie said, folding her arms and frowning, and both Shitomon and Ryan looked like they were relieved to hear that, which, honestly, kind of pissed her off a little, but now was not the time.
After all, there were still some massive pieces missing from that proverbial puzzle, but it was as compelling as any other argument they could have come up with on their own.

Shitomon hopped off the table so she was standing on the bench next to Ryan, and she placed her hands on the table proper. "So from there, I think it's obvious what we need to do, right?"

What?

"What?" Natalie said, furrowing her brow.

Shitomon blinked, like it was obvious. "Now that you're in agreement with us, we need to eliminate the refugees, before they cause more damage. I mean, you seem to think my theory makes sense, so we thought you'd be on board--"

Ahah.

So that's what their angle was. Natalie felt kind of stupid for not catching onto it quicker. The A, therefore B, therefore you should totally be on board with F while taking everything in between for granted sort of logic-- she felt like she should have seen it coming.
Admittedly, most of her prior arguments with Ryan didn't quite reach this level of gravity, but still.

"You answered maybe half of the questions we've been working on. Appreciate it and all; still doesn't mean we're going to drop everything and tell you it's totally A-okay cool to kill our friends," Sam said, eyes on his phone but his voice acerbic.

"Did you think we were going to just--" Natalie said, pulling a face. "Seriously?"

Ryan and Shitomon exchanged looks, and Ryan looked back to Natalie. "When you put it that way it sounds kind of douchey," he said, frowning, and then he furrowed his brow, rubbing the back of his head. "I mean-- hell, Nat, you saw what that thing did downtown yesterday. Half of the property damage could have been avoided if he hadn't started setting shit on fire. If that's what even a little bit of that corruption can do then-- hell, I don't know what to tell you!"

Shitomon put her hands on her hips and frowned, picking up as Ryan stopped. "Are you really going to prioritize yourselves over the good of everyone else?" she said, looking from Natalie to Sam; her tone wasn't quite lecture-y, but it was close. "All it's going to do is cause more damage by prolonging things just for sentimental reasons."

"As much as you might like to think we're just being difficult for the sake of being contrary, or for-- sentimental reasons," Natalie said, feeling like 'sentimental reasons' was a pretty glib way of putting trusting in your best friends of fifteen years and being cautious that there's more to this situation than can be dismissed in one history lesson from a holier-than-thou rabbit, "there's more to it." She sounded more confident than she felt, but fuck it, fake it 'til you make it.

Sam glanced sidelong at her and nodded once.

Ryan, though, was unimpressed. "Are you saying that because you actually think that," Ryan said, his voice condescending, "or do you just not want to be wrong?"
It was clear what he thought the answer was. It sounded like he had rehearsed that line-- like had it pre-prepared in case things didn't go their way.

What followed was a few seconds where Ryan and Natalie stared each other down, each one refusing to be the first one to blink -- metaphorically speaking, anyway. It was only a few seconds, yes, but with the tension as high as it was, those seconds seemed to stretch into eternity.

"Let's go," Ryan said to Shitomon, standing up. "We've done all we can do for now. Better get out of here before it escalates."

"I just don't get why they want to have to fight over it," Shitomon muttered, folding her arms, but she nodded with a sigh. In a burst of red light, Ryan minimized her into his D-Rive-- and not a moment too soon, as a middle-aged woman in a tracksuit jogged around the bend, the first sign of human life they had seen in the park today aside from themselves.

That was as good a sign as any, one supposed.

Ryan nodded curtly to Natalie, didn't really acknowledge Sam at all (not that Sam minded this), and turned to walk back to wherever he had parked.

A few moments of silence passed, and Sam broke it in spectacular fashion once he was sure he wouldn't be overheard. He didn't even look up from his phone as he said:
"Christ, what a douchebag. Why did you date him?"

 

Natalie paused before saying, "well, in fairness, I didn't know he had the tribal tattoo when I agreed to the first date."

Sam laughed dryly through his nose.

Natalie pulled her D-Rive out of her pocket. She looked down at it and turned it over in her hand. Shitomon's entire lecture was still sinking in, and she was having trouble picking out what to focus on.
(That was a big fat lie -- because you get one guess what she was focusing on, and it involved corruption and five trusted acolytes and a snake-necked vulture who barely acknowledged her, but, you know, she didn't want to dwell on that right now.)

"I'm assuming that there is more that they're missing," Natalie said, "because while I'm pretty sure there is, I'm blanking pretty hard, but the idea of admitting they might be right makes me want to throw myself in front of a train."

"You know, at some point, you might have to stop counting on me to keep track of everything," Sam said, and Natalie was half prepared to apologize, but Sam was smirking a little bit and looked quite pleased at being called upon for his -- well. Not expertise. Memory and pattern-recognition?
"Nah, there's definitely some problem areas."

With impeccable dramatic timing, rain -- proper rain, not just half-assed drizzle drops-- began to fall.

"Explain it to me over text?" Natalie asked, standing up; she'd rather get back to her car now, rather than risk having to run through what felt like an imminent downpour.

"I was planning on it," Sam said, nodding as he, a few seconds later, stood up as well.

Natalie took off for her car, and Sam went in another direction -- presumably he had parked elsewhere. As Sam took a turn around a patch of trees, Natalie saw a quick flash of green light as Gelermon decided she couldn't keep her comments to herself any longer.

When Raumon materialized in the shotgun seat of Natalie's car, he sat with arms folded and brow furrowed. He was so lost in thought that he didn't even ask to get any food on the way back to the apartment.

 

***

"... so I gotta say I'm not surprised," Ryan said, shutting the door of his apartment behind him; he was picking up on a conversation he had been having with Shitomon on the drive. "Just frustrated as shit." As the door clicked closed, Shitomon appeared next to him, listening intently. He shook his head to shake the water out of his hair; in the time between leaving the park and driving back to his place the rain had started coming down, and so the walk from his car to his door had been a damp one.

"We tried," Shitomon said, turning her palms up. "I mean... it was kind of a long shot, anyway. Not that I wasn't hoping for it, but."

"Yeah, I know," Ryan said, walking over and slumping down onto his couch. "But, christ, man, I wonder how much of this is just because Natalie is still pissed at me. Like, I can't help but wonder if she'd be a bit more helpful if she didn't still hate my guts."

Shitomon frowned, and she climbed up onto the couch beside her partner.
"I don't know if it would help, even if you were still on good terms," she said, careful not to make it come across as lmao don't worry because they'd hate you anyway. "It seems like they've got their own personal investments in the refugees."

She frowned, her mind drifting back to what Lurumon had said just yesterday-- that maybe things had changed -- but her own point still stood. Personal investment or not... she looked at her paws.

People had gotten hurt, now. Human people. She'd kind of hoped that maybe, just maybe, the news of their own kind being caught in the crossfire... she had almost hoped that would be enough to get the humans to realize that there were more important things at stake than their friendships.

"Do you think they really know things we don't?" she asked, looking at her partner.

"Fucked if I know," Ryan said. He pulled his phone, wallet, and keys out of his pockets in turn and set them on the coffee table, but when he pulled his D-Rive out, he paused.
These things were still a massive mystery. None of them seemed to know where they came from, or why-- or more importantly, why the Refugees had them, too. There had to be things they were missing, they knew that; they weren't so ignorant as to assume they knew everything about this entire shitty situation, but...

(To say nothing of the fact that if the corruption had activated, it may already be too late to stop it and the best they could do was just try to take down the refugees before anyone else got hurt--)

"We're just going to have to be vigilant, I guess," Shitomon said, shaking her head. "I think I'll need to talk with Hulimon and Lurumon."

Ryan frowned and looked over at her, and nodded.

"Right."

 

***

biggest hole in their story, and by hole i mean total gaping chasm, is everything about the d-rives, Sam explained in the group chat, following a recap of the conversation-slash-lecture. Natalie's suspicion that he had been taking notes was all but confirmed-- either that, or he just had a crazy good memory for keeping everything straight. She'd accept either.

How do you figure? Peter asked.

At the exact same time, a message from Xander came in: ie: they have no fuckin clue about them either

Sam's response was quick. unless they're hiding information from us, i actually think they know less than we do. which is pretty impressive, if you think about it.

Natalie kept her eyes on her phone even as she didn't provide any commentary of her own. Raumon was seated next to her on her bed, occasionally peering over her arm to read the words on the screen. He hadn't needed the recap, so only now that Sam was getting into his own points was he tuning in.
He wanted to wait for Sam's thoughts before he shared his own with Natalie. While she understood, she couldn't shake the unease of knowing he had things to say that he wasn't sharing.

my idea is this, and i could be way off base but hear me out:
theyre theorizing that the noise has something to do with the corruption shit getting activated
more broadly, it has something to do with the corruption theyre playing at our digimon being backups for, right?
remember the minimized digimon data bricking the old shit computer?
and how plugging in the d-rive slaps a bandaid right over that shit
i think these things are not unrelated

They could practically hear the frantic typing as Sam's fingers tried to keep up with his thoughts.

what? from Meghan, followed almost immediately by an oh! right!; she hadn't been present for that and had only heard about it second-hand. but... wouldn't that mean that all the rest of the stuff, about them being like... you know? wouldn't that be true?

Do we have a compelling reason to doubt it? Peter asked.

There was a pause as that sunk in.

The pasts of their digimon. This wasn't the first time the thought had been brought up, but it had been nebulous, questionable, and undefined. Now, even a version of the story...

Unsurprisingly it was Xander who spoke up first.

look to your left or your right or wherever they're reading over your shoulder, Xander said, and look in their eyes and tell me, yeah, that's totally the face of a seasoned evil monster. fuck that noise.

It was meant to be heartening, but Natalie found that it made her a little bit uneasy. She set her phone down face-down and sighed, slumping backwards. Raumon looked at her, and his ears twitched.

"Are you alright?" he asked for the second time today.

(It hadn't even been that bad, right?
It could have been a lot worse.)

"I don't know," she admitted, sighing as she ran a hand backwards through her hair. Raumon nodded understandingly, and he paused before heaving a heavy sigh, and he looked like he was trying to find the right words to articulate what he had been turning over in his head for the past day, and even moreso for the past few hours. Natalie sat back up straight, attentive, as she realized that he was preparing to finally talk about what was on his mind.

"I don't think Shitomon is entirely wrong," he said slowly, and Natalie frowned. "There are things I have questions about, but," he looked down at his claws, "I think she's telling the truth that she knows."

Natalie pulled her knees to her chest. "What do you mean?"

Raumon thought for a moment, and shook his head. "I... hm. Let me put it this way. When we first had that... seizure thing, I felt like my brain was kickstarted. It felt like things and memories were just kind of slid back into place, but I couldn't quite make sense of them without the context."

Natalie didn't quite follow, but she decided not to interrupt just yet.

"And then, right before I became IlDoctorimon," Raumon said, looking at his claws before placing one over his heart, "I felt..." He sighed and tilted his head, unsure how to put it. "I felt like I remembered that I had forgotten something. I felt a surge of a very familiar feeling. I thought of a time before I came to this world that I hadn't thought of in fifteen years. Whatever that seizure was, it definitely turned a key somewhere."

"Right," Natalie said, nodding.

"But then, when I digivolved into IlDoctorimon," he said slowly, "it felt... well, first of all it felt wrong, like something that wasn't supposed to happening was forcing its way through, but it the same way as the seizure, at first. Like something forgotten was being brought back up, maybe not to the surface but dusted off. And when I had digivolved..." He frowned. "It felt... familiar, in a way. I felt like I was sleepwalking, or watching myself from the outside, even as I felt myself move."

"Like a dissociative episode?" Natalie provided, and Raumon nodded.

"Right!" he said. "But it was like-- like I was going through the motions of something familiar. If Shitomon was telling the truth... it would make sense, wouldn't it?"

Natalie frowned; none of this was making her feel better. She knew that it wasn't Raumon's job to make her feel better, but the more Raumon agreed with Shitomon's assessment, the worse she felt.

"And when she was telling us that explanation of events," Raumon continued, "it felt like being told something I'd forgotten, but knew I'd been told before."

Natalie felt a twinge of something uncomfortable, and she sighed in resignation. "So that's it, then?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is IlDoctorimon who you are? If all of what Shitomon said is true, then is that-- ?"

She didn't know what she meant by that. It meant a lot of things. A corrupted vulture monster without regard for his allies? A follower of some unknown evil? A backup drive for a world-eating corruption?
Doomed to go mad because of that evil influence, now that it was active?

"I don't think so," Raumon said slowly.

Natalie swallowed around a lump in her throat: "Are you saying that because you think that, or just because--"

"If you quote Ryan, I'm going to Symptom Claw you into the next century," Raumon snapped huffily, and Natalie couldn't help but smile a little bit just at his immediate reaction. "I don't think it's who I am, and I don't think you're doing the wrong thing by not wanting to turn me over."

Natalie wondered how Raumon was able to discern what was on her mind even without being told-- but then she remembered he had been her best friend for the past fifteen years.
But Ryan and Shitomon's words did stick in her mind-- she couldn't shake the idea that she was willingly throwing who knew how much under the bus for the sake of her friendship with Raumon, for the sake of not wanting to be wrong, for wanting to be the hero in this story--

"So I don't think Shitomon is wrong," Raumon said, cutting through her thoughts, "but I don't think she's entirely right. I think there's things we understand about it that she doesn't, and there's parts that neither of us know. If it were as simple as just turning us over, I feel like we wouldn't have the D-Rives. We wouldn't have the means to fight back, and we wouldn't have something apparently so intrinsically related to--" he gestured with his claws, "all of this."

"I suppose," Natalie said, but she couldn't quite shake the doubt. She looked at her phone set on the bed next to her; it was still buzzing occasionally with message notifications.

"Back when this first started," she said, slowly, still looking at her phone, "I thought it was cool as shit. I thought we were going to be the heroes, you know?" She smiled, a bit bitterly. "But every time we get involved, it feels like things start going wrong, but I was okay with it, because it was up to us! We had to. We were the only ones who could do anything."
She hesitated, and sighed.
"But it's not. There's Ryan and-- what are their names? Jen and Eli? And their digimon. They cause a hell of a lot less damage than us. Digimon don't come after them. It feels like we're the problem that needs solving, or the ones getting in the way."

"How many digimon incidents would have gotten way worse if we didn't get involved?" Raumon countered. "A lot of the damage yesterday was caused by the digimon who showed up before Draugmon. If Xander and Meghan and Sam hadn't interfered, they might have hurt more people and caused even more damage before Ryan," he said like one might say fungal infection, "and company did. Imagine how badly people would freak out if they had seen half of the digimon we've taken care of, and how much more damage they'd have done without us."

Natalie sighed and tilted her head to one side. "Right. You're right." She bit the inside of her mouth in thought. "But those have all been champions. What are we supposed to do if something else like Draugmon happens? I don't-- I don't think we should run the risk of IlDoctorimon again."

Raumon looked at Natalie and frowned, but he nodded slowly. "I understand that. But if it helps--" He paused, looking out the window as he thought of how to put it. The rain was falling still, and it beat a pattering, calming rhythm against the glass.
"When I heard your voice, I came back into my senses a little bit. When I hesitated, when Eudaemon got that last blow on me, it was because you called out to me, and I heard you long enough to stop."

Natalie blinked. She hadn't been entirely sure that that momentary hesitation had been intentional or not-- but it had been the opening Eudaemon needed to hit him hard enough to force him to de-digivolve, hadn't it?
"It took me like ten tries," she said, shaking her head.

Raumon nodded solemnly, his expression serious as he thought hard. "That's true."

"I just... don't want you to be in that position again."

Raumon paused, and looked over at her. "You can't control if it happens, you know," he said gently. "And if it's down to me digivolving or letting you or any of our friends -- or anyone -- be in danger, I might have to choose to digivolve."

Natalie thought of IlDoctorimon-- not just the pain he caused, but the pain he seemed to have been in as he digivolved, and she felt a pang in her chest.
"But what if you do more harm than good?"

There was a long pause.

"Then you'll have to be there, yelling at me until I come back to my senses."

Natalie looked over at Raumon with a vaguely incredulous expression, but she met his gaze, and she realized she hadn't really looked him in the face since yesterday. She saw the familiar, friendly (if slightly eerie) white-masked face of Raumon, a subtle sympathetic expression on what few features he had, and she felt the smallest pinpricks of wetness gather in her eyes, which she quickly blinked away.

"You'd better not scare me again like that, you jerk."

"I make no promises."

Natalie shook her head with a huffed laugh as she stood up. She'd catch up with the group chat's assessments later. Right now, she was the kind of hungry that only a milkshake and a chicken sandwich could satisfy.

Chapter Text

"And I---"

Sour guitar notes followed, and Xander hissed through his teeth.
There was a reason he had practically leapt at the chance to make Paul play guitar when they had decided to form Ekko Lokation-- it had never been his strong point, even though he was competent at it, and now that he hadn't practiced regularly in ages, he was remembering this fact vividly.

He tried again, just trying to get the basic lead down, but with that came a little less focus on the lyrics, even as he kept the tune.

"And I... am going to throw myself in front of a motherfucking train if this stupid guitar doesn't start cooperating instead of being a little bitch--"

"I like these new lyrics," Desmon piped up across the room. "Maybe 'off a motherfucking cliff' would be better, instead of "in front of a motherfucking train"? It fits your meter better."

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind," Xander said flatly, reaching over the guitar to the pen and pad of paper sitting on the messy coffee table in front of him. It was covered in scratched-out notes and hasty re-writes, to the point where it was borderline unreadable.

If he made any significant progress worth keeping, he'd have to rewrite it, but he only barely seemed to register that fact.

It had... been a rough couple days, let's leave it at that.

It was only the day after Natalie had had her airquotes discussion with Ryan, and so only two days since Draugmon had ruined everything for everyone. The garage he worked at was only a short ways out of downtown, which meant that it was impossible not to hear about it; the news was still understandably enough clogged up with it, and of course, every so often his phone would go off with notifications about some aspect of it that the others were overthinking.
So, yeah, he was fairly well entrenched in this last thing in his life that Digimon bullshit hadn't infected yet.

Admittedly, he could probably put this song off; it wasn't urgent, and there were probably more important things he could be focusing on, even in regards to the band considering they had lined up another show in a couple weeks, but... eh, let him have this.

"Your phone's going off again," Desmon pointed out from her hammock, her ears twitching; said phone was across the room, buried under Xander's discarded work shirt and pants. He had been in such a hurry to switch into something less depressing that he hadn't cared about throwing them into the half-broken laundry basket. He hadn't taken his ringer off vibrate, and the clothes were muffling it. "You want me to check it?"

Xander sighed through his nose. "Yeah, sure. Tell me if it's anyone I actually want to talk to."

Desmon hopped down to the floor and over to the pile of discarded clothes. She fished Xander's phone out while it was still buzzing away. "Oh, cool!" she said, and she beamed as she skip-flapped her way over to her partner.

Xander paused scribbling notes to look over the back of the couch. "What the fuck could it possibly be, unless you entered me in some kind of fuckin'... free pizza for life sweepstakes?"

"It's Mikey!"

Xander blinked, momentarily taken aback.

"Shit, really? Give it here," he said and Desmon did just that, and he slid his thumb across the screen to accept the call.
"Hey, Mike, dude, sup?" he said, lifting the phone to his ear and cradling it between his head and his shoulder as he set the poor, out-of-tune guitar aside. There was a pause, wherein Desmon twitched her ears to listen in, but the static of the phone made it hard for her to pick out the words.
"Same to you, you evasive bastard," Xander said, smirking.

Realizing she would have a hard time eavesdropping like this, she quickly developed a cunning plan.

"Free pizza for life would be hella though," Desmon mused louder than she really needed to, then popped her head back over the back of Xander's futon. "Say hi for me!")

"One sec, I'm putting you on speaker so Desmon doesn't try to talk into my ear the entire fuckin' time," Xander said, doing just that and setting his phone on the table in front of him.
This was, in fact, Desmon's plan, and she was happy it had worked so efficiently. (Well, less happy than she could have been, considering this was the same plan she came up with every time she wanted to listen in on a phone call, and she was ninety percent sure Xander knew this...
Eh, still happy about it.)

"Hi, Mikey!" Desmon chirped, kicking into the air and even going to the effort of flying over the back of the couch so she could drop down next to Xander.

"Hail up, ya giant flying rat," the voice of Xander's brother came over the phone. He, like Desmon, had the uncanny ability to make it clear when he was grinning just with his voice. "As I was just saying to Alex, it's good to hear you aren't dead yet."
(Xander winced a little bit at being referred to by that derivation of his name, because lord did he not go by that if it was ever possible, but he had given up the futile endeavor of trying to get anyone in his family to change it up.)

"You're one to talk," Xander said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees.

"I'm not the one who's right in the heart of the shitshow. It's not often I get to say that, you know."

See, this requires some explanation. Xander's older brother, Michael -- Mikey to Desmon, and Mike to everyone who wasn't Desmon and who didn't want to get punched in the mouth -- was chronically difficult to get in contact with. He was one of those people who didn't have a social media presence at all, not least of all because he spent a whole lot of his time both in other countries and the extremely rural parts of this country, doing work with various humanitarian groups and his church, from developing nations to reservations.

Yes, the contrast between him and Xander was hilariously pronounced and obvious, thanks for asking-- and indeed, it was rare that he got to say that it wasn't him in the thick of things.

"So I take it you've been filled in on the shitshow?" Xander asked, weighing his words carefully, trying to judge how much Mike knew without shooting his mouth off.

"Well, when your hometown is all over every news site and station in the country, you take a little bit of notice," Mike replied, probably shrugging on the other end of the line, and Xander groaned. "And I only know one blue bat monster, I was thinking there might be some connection between her and the giant blue bat thing I saw on the news."

"Hey, it could be anyone's blue bat monster, this is unfair," Desmon said, and Xander gave her a gentle thwap on the back of the head.

"Cool," he muttered sarcastically, scratching the back of his neck.

"So you do have something to do with it, then?" Mike said

Xander looked at Desmon, who looked back at him cheerfully; he looked at his D-Rive, set (thrown) on the corner of the coffee table haphazardly; and he sighed.
"Eh."

"So that's a yes."

"Fuck you."

"Definitely a yes." Mike snorted a laugh, and Xander swore under his breath. "You oughta call--"

Xander cut him off. "If you say mom and dad, I'm going to lose my shit," he said, curling his lip in disdain. "Fuck no. I already got the passive aggressive wall post from hell from mom."

"Well, in fairness, have you actually talked to them?" Mike prompted.

"They know I'm alive and not in the hospital," Xander said, which was not an answer to the question. "That should be enough. I don't really want to give them any ammunition, and even putting that aside, I sure as fuck don't want to sit through the inevitable 45 minute phone lecture about how I need to find Jesus and get a four-year degree, preferably in that fuckin' order." He paused, and sighed, slumping back. "So, yeah, no."

"I can't argue that's probably what'd happen," Mike said, then sighed. "It's your life, Alex. I sure ain't going to tell you what to do with it, but if you do have something to do with all this, whatever it is, you should at least let them know what's up."

"Suggestion acknowledged," Xander said sharply, sitting back and tucking his hands behind his head; Desmon gave him a funny look, right up until he followed up with, "and summarily thrown into the fuckin' trash."
Desmon nodded sagely.

It wasn't that she hated Xander's parents, and she knew he didn't either -- not really -- but just about every time they interacted anymore it ended up going horribly south, which was a bad time for everyone involved. While Xander frequently got frustrated, few things made him as-- well, upset felt like a poor word, but 'angry' didn't quite cover it, so it would have to do -- upset as dealing with family bullshit.
(The fact that they had never been especially fond of her certainly didn't hurt her stance.)

"You know what? Fair enough," Mike conceded, and there was a brief pause. "So, explain to me: what is the level of your involvement here? You know, I'm just curious and all."

"Oh, you can just fuck right off," Xander said, smirking a bit despite himself. "It's a goddamn long story."

"Clearly, you should explain it to me at some point in the near future," Mike said, and Xander furrowed his brow until he continued speaking. "Which provides a nice segue. The reason I called was actually not to try and shame you into speaking to our parents so much as it was to tell you I'm going to be getting into town this weekend, and was wondering if you wanted to get a couple drinks or something."

Desmon waggled her eyebrows at Xander, and mouthed the words get crunk; he rolled his eyes at her.

 

"You've proposed worse ideas," he admitted after a moment.

 

***

A young woman sighed as she walked past the corner shops and cafes and Mediterranean-Ethiopian fusion hole-in-the-wall restaurants that she had sworn hadn't been there last week-- or maybe they had. It was a crapshoot.

Her mind had been kind of... elsewhere the past couple days.
She felt she had a pretty damn good reason to, but it was the kind of reason that was hard to explain to anyone who wasn't in the know, which meant that she would get no sympathy from her coworkers, her bosses, or the randos on the street.

After all, 'my best friend, the giant talking badger, went mysteriously missing a few days ago, my apartment is a metaphorical disaster zone, and the downtown is recovering from being a literal disaster zone, and all three of these facts are related' is... a bit much.

She sighed and pulled a very familiar little black device out of her purse. She pressed the buttons; she wasn't sure why. While it still turned on, it barely functioned; the screen would light up, but the radar was blank, and none of the other options in the menu were even active. It was like as soon as Brockmon had gone missing, her D-Rive was as good as a paperweight.

It didn't exactly inspire a whole lot of confidence, you know?

But she couldn't exactly tell anyone all of this. She still had to go in to work; she still had to power through it. Honestly, she thought, maybe that was for the better-- to keep herself busy and occupied, instead of dwelling in the dark.

She had decided already that she was either going to go out this weekend or die trying. She needed it even more than usual.

She knew she had to work out a plan. She knew, intellectually, that she had to try and make contact with the other digimon in the city, but right now... well, she couldn't go knocking door to door. She'd have to wait until there was an opportunity, and since 'opportunity' meant 'attack', she wasn't praying for anything to happen any time soon.

She sighed heavily and shouldered open the door of the flower shop at which she worked.
"You're early, Lily," the owner of the shop, standing behind the counter, remarked, looking up with some surprise.

"Am I?" she said, feigning ignorance; she knew full well that she was. She had tried to spend as little time in her apartment as she could, the past couple days; even with as small as it was, it felt entirely too big and too empty without Brockmon in it.

"It's actually really fortuitous, you know, Marissa called out sick, something about her car being in for repairs, so it's just been me, and..."

Lily sighed through her nose, stretching her arms above her head. She'd just have to focus on what was right in front of her, for now, and for right now, that was not digimon.

 

***

Honestly, the fact that nothing had happened since Frosty the Bad-Time Bear (which, by the way, as a flawless nickname for Draugmon as far as Desmon was concerned, even if nobody else seemed to want to help make it a Thing) was cause for more alarm than any relaxation.
The fact that they felt less at ease when digimon attacks weren't happening had to be some sort of horrible reflection on... something.

"I'm pretty sure the only reason I haven't gotten a more exact lecture is because she doesn't have enough new material since the last time," Meghan said, sighing heavily and slumping her shoulders.

It was the following Friday afternoon. She had only worked a half-shift today, and Xander was clocked out on his lunch break; Meg had dropped by before going home, since it was one of the only chances she really had had to do so-- as she was in the middle of explaining.
This had all come about because Xander had invited Meghan to the next Ekko Lokation show they were doing closer to the end of the month, if she wanted to take pictures again or just come for shits and giggles.

"Your mother still on that?" Xander asked, sitting on the hood of his car with his elbows resting on his knees.
Out of all of them, it seemed that Meghan was the one who struggled the most with family concerns -- Sam's father was borderline absent, Peter's mother was hardly aware of Peter's involvement in any of this digimon crap, Natalie's parents didn't seem to pay attention to anything their daughter was doing, and Xander... well. That's been covered.

That left only Meghan, who was still struggling with her mother being very, very concerned about digimon attacks and the danger of Meg being involved in any of it, which was very clearly starting to wear on her. Xander noticed she seemed a bit more harried than usual, just by virtue of having been fairly cooped up since Draugmon ruined everything for everyone, forever, and Xander found himself pretty frustrated by proxy.
(He was usually frustrated about something, but, you know.)

"I mean, half the downtown kind of got wrecked," Meghan admitted, looking in the direction thereof and furrowing her brow. "I understand why she's worried, it's just-- I don't know, I can't help but feel like any time I leave the house for anything other than work she's afraid I'm going to get crushed by falling debris or something."

"Fuck'er and do what you want anyway. What's the worst she's gonna do?" Xander said, leaning back. "She can't take your car since you need it for work and school, and she doesn't seem like the kind of person who'd flip out and kick you out so much as just go paranoid white suburban mom on you."

Meghan put her hands on her hips and sighed. "Even if all she does is try to convince me more that Oremon is dangerous, even if she can't do anything about it, it's just gonna make it more and more stressful, you know?"

"It's gonna be stressful, anyway," Xander argued, "so, you know, why not go balls to the wall on it and cut the bullshit? S'not like she can realistically stop you from first of all being a fuckin' adult and going out on your own time, and second of all from being implicated in this digimon shit." He snorted. "I'm pretty sure even if you tried to stay out of it it'd come to us, anyway, so I mean, fuck it, go for broke and give yourself one less fuckin' thing to worry about."

"You know, I know you're trying to be helpful -- or at least I think you are?" Meghan said, hands still on her hips, "but it's not terribly useful if every time, your solution is generally the nuclear option."

"It's worked pretty well for me so far," Xander said dryly, shrugging one shoulder.

"You've also punched, like, at least two people in the past month," Meghan pointed out. Xander frowned slightly, while she ammended.
"I mean, like-- I know the first time was kind of weird, since from what Natalie said you didn't start it? And I'm pretty sure we all wanted to punch Ryan, but it's still two more people than I'm used to the people I've interacted with having punched. Unless you count Oremon, and digimon fights as punching, but I don't think that counts."

"What's this got to do with whether or not I'm right?" he said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

Meghan sighed and thought over what she meant to say for a moment. "Just, your advice tends to be very 'torch it and run', which doesn't seem to me like part of the world's best long-term all-situation strategy, you know?"

Xander snorted through his nose. "Well, you're under no obligation to take my advice," he said a little defensively, shrugging one shoulder. "Just calling it how I see it."

"Right," Meghan said with a nod, sighing and twiddling a little bit with a bit of her hair.

"Anyway, the original offer still stands," Xander said. "Assuming you're able to get away from she who must be obeyed, you're free to come."

"I'll keep it in mind," Meghan said; she nodded with a smile, but Xander couldn't help but hear it as a we'll see. "You heading back in, then?" she asked, tilting her head as Xander slid off of his car. His break was just about over; he'd have to go clock back in any minute now.

"Yeah," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "I'll see you later."

"Later! Have fun with your brother!" she said, turning to begin the short jaunt back to where she had parked; she turned around and walked backwards for a few seconds to wave, and Xander lifted a hand in acknowledgement thereof.

He dropped his hand back down and stuffed it into his pocket, humming through his nose as he turned to go back inside and clock back in.
Man. Fuck this.

 

***

"You break," Mike said, tossing a pool cue from the rack over to Xander, who grabbed it out of the air before it smacked him in the face.

This place was only a half-step up from a complete and utter dump of a dive bar, which meant it was absolutely ideal. Xander and his brother were camped out in the farthest corner, lit as much by the old neon signs on the wall as much as any proper lighting; they had laid claim to the less-decrepit of the two pool tables, and had created as much of a little oasis for themselves as they possibly could, considering they were downtown on a Friday night.

Then again, making fun of drunk people and bitching about the jukebox was half of the point.

"Christ, we sound better than half the crap these people listen to," Xander muttered, "and we're fuckin' hot garbage."

"Still doing the--" Mike said, pausing while Xander took the break shot. "-- the band thing, I take it?"

"'Band thing'," Xander repeated, looking over at Mike with a quirked eyebrow; they spoke as they exchanged pool shots. Neither of them had played the game in ages, and they were only half paying attention to it in the first place, so neither was doing a particularly impressive job.

"Hey, don't blame me if I can't remember. You guys changed the name every two fuckin' weeks for like three years. What is it now? Is it still Clones Criterion?"

"That was only for like, three days," Xander shot back immediately, shaking his head. "S'been Ekko Lokation--" and he rapid-fire spelled it out -- "for the last year. We actually started booking shit so we had to stop the name-changing shit."

"Colour me surprised," Mike said, raising both eyebrows; Xander rolled his eyes. "At the deciding on a name, I mean, not actually booking gigs. Considering how damn into it you always were, I'm not shocked you're finally making headway."

"Yeah, well," Xander said and shrugged, "it's just about the only goddamn thing in my life anymore that isn't hot garbage and goddamn monsters. I'd have lost my shit a lot sooner if not for it."

"That segues me fairly well, actually," Mike said, and Xander felt a creeping sense of dread. "Tell me: what's been up with batgirl? She looked significantly more familiar than the giant bat-thing I saw on the news. I was kind of disappointed, actually, was totally hoping she was just a -- what? Ten foot tall bat-dragon? -- all the time now."

"Christ, I don't even know where to start," Xander said, shaking his head and, to punctuate it, draining his glass. (He was going to need a couple more drinks if he had to explain it all.)

"We've got time.

"Public space, dude," Xander pointed out.

Mike didn't seem perturbed. "If anyone overhears you, they're close enough that I wouldn't judge you too hard for decking them."

Xander snorted derisively. (Hm.)
"Cliffnotes version is that bigger monsters with even bigger attitude problems than her," by which he meant Desmon, obviously, "started wrecking shit here and there a couple months back and she decided the solution to that was to beat them up."

"Sounds like something she'd do." Beat. "A couple months ago? What's the timeline on this, exactly?"

Xander shrugged one shoulder as he grabbed his drink. "Back in like, May, and I ain't even touched on the magical handheld from space or the fucking squirrel or the goddamn... rabbit with delusions of grandeur."

Mike paused, and looked over at Xander, then pointedly at the drink he had already finished. "Riiight. Do I need to cut you off already, or are the nice young men in the clean white coats gonna be bursting in here to take you away, ha-ha?

"Oh, fuck right off," Xander said, folding his arms and smirking humorlessly. "I told you it's a long fuckin' story."

"I'm realizing that much."

"Last chance to puss out and let me not explain."

"What kind of sibling would I be if I didn't make you suffer?"

Xander groaned and, over the next few mintues, gave his brother an extremely abridged version of the past couple months, his vague understanding of the D-Rives, of the fucking squirrel (Ratamon), and the douche parade. He mentioned keeping Desmon on-hand at all times, just in case any goddamn thing he was doing got interrupted.
He cut out a lot of parts -- most of the details in general, and he only really covered what he himself had been a part of, and since he out of everyone was the least concerned with the hows and whys so much as the hey I'd like shit to stop getting broken so I can live my goddamn life, he completely left out any discussion of the corruption bullshit, which, yes, made it hard to explain IlDoctorimon, but that wasn't the point.
(Mike for his part mostly just let Xander explain, prompting only when necessary, and patiently waiting through the parts where some halfway-buzzed asshole was getting close enough that Xander decided not to shoot his mouth off.)

"So, like, correct me if I'm wrong here," Michael said as Xander got through explaining what had happened last week, "but you're not running around alone full vigilante style, right?"

"There's other people with digimon, yes," Xander said, stepping up to the table. "Most of them are some brand of fucking annoying."

"I mean, you call your bandmates -- and every other friend you've ever had as long as I've known you -- 'fucking annoying' on the regular, too, so you're going to have to be more specific." Mike did air quotes around 'fucking annoying', which Xander in fact found immaculately annoying.

Regardless. Xander snorted, took a moment to tally up, and started counting on his fingers. "Hipster douche needs to jump into the river. His ghost thing's kind of a doormat but whatever. Natalie's alright-- she's got the bird... plague doctor thing. Sam's a fuckin' nerd-ass NEET far as I can tell, and his weird dog thing is annoying but they generally keep out of everyone's hair unless there's shit that needs fighting. Douchebag McShades, Ponytail, Token Chick, and their small fuzzy animal brigade can get fucked."

He was, of course, leaving one out.
... fuck off.

"Sounds like you've been having fun, then," Mike said dryly, and Xander snorted.

"Cool idea: let's talk about something, anything, fuckin' else."

"Hey, sue me, I'm interested in it when my little brother gets involved in monster attacks. I'd say that's fair."

"For the ten billionth time, fuck off, dude."

 

***

It shouldn't have been possible to lose a giant icy death monster, but life was just full of surprises. Ratamon decided he'd do one more scout around the area just to see if there wasn't some crevice or hole or that Draugmon had found his way into (or, hell, created) before he considered that he might have slipped through the cracks.

Or, specifically, a crack.

... what a pain.

He was starting to wonder if he might have to step up his own game a little bit if he was going to have to try and corral this stupid thing on the regular. It had already been enough of a pain, and... well, the cracks were only going to get worse (better?) from here, and if they were were going to be permeable... Well, he could live with a little collateral damage -- not really his problem! -- but he didn't want to run the risk of anyone killing anyone they weren't supposed to, and with all the other things he had to be dealing with...

Ratamon was quick, and Ratamon was clever, but this kind of speed-chess, keeping all these balls in the air, wasn't really his forte.

He'd consider putting in an application for consideration, so to speak.

...

But first things first.

 

***

To Xander's immense relief, they did switch conversational gears when he asked to, which improved Xander's mood almost immediately. They had gone through a couple drinks each and a couple games of pool, just enough to keep anyone else from invading their little corner.
(Xander's win streak thus far was three to zero.)

"-- and he stood up, pointed a finger at me, and yelled --" Mike affected a voice, and for purposes of demonstration, he pointed a finger at Xander, "'people like YOU are why GOD," and he pointed his accusatory finger straight up at the sky, "doesn't TALK TO US ANYMORE!'"
Beat, which Mike filled with a sip of his drink and sitting back in his seat.
"He didn't appreciate my theological puns, is what I'm saying."

"To be fair, I don't fuckin' appreciate them either," Xander said, smirking then humming quietly. "Mostly because nobody fuckin' likes puns," (he could practically hear Desmon's offended gasp), "but also 'cause I don't know how you can deal with that shit you do. I'd've thought you'd've gotten just as sick of it from mom and dad as I did."
In this case, that shit you do meant the work Mike did with his church, since Xander's own experience with the matter -- on all fronts -- was roughly 'walking out with middle fingers flying'.

"It's different, you know," Mike said, shrugging one shoulder. "A lot less of the repent all ye sinners and a lot more on the don't be dicks to each other."

"S'all the same to me," Xander said, shaking his head.

"Well, yeah, makes sense, seeing as being a dick to people is your religion."

"Damn fuckin' straight it is." Xander snorted.

Mike put up his hands in a faux-defensive way, a sort of whoa-there motion. "Far be it from me to tell you otherwise."

"I've said it before: I sure as fuck ain't goin' up, so if I'm goin' down, I'm goin' down on my terms-- which means in fuckin' flames."

They continued their banter, laden as it was with insults and insistent requests that the other go fuck himself -- as brothers are wont to do.

Then, for about three seconds, the power completely died.

The confusion was palpable as the entire bar -- every sign, light, and jukebox blaring Alice's Restaurant for the third loop because some asshole thought they were clever -- completely powered down, leaving the clientelle in the dark both metaphorically and quite literally. Even the lights outside, visible only barely through the tinted glass windows at the front of the bar, seemed to have given up.
Before anyone had the chance to really contemplate it, though, the power flickered back on with a quick whiff of ozone and a staticky crackle.

"Fuckin' weird," Mike muttered, looking quizzically over at the bar -- where the staff were exchanging just as confused looks.

Xander, though, had a deep and sinking feeling. He swore under his breath as he pulled his D-Rive out of his pocket.

They usually didn't cause full on power outages, right? Usually just the flickering shit-- maybe it was just a trick of the shitty old wiring. He had a glimmer of hope when he saw that the screen hadn't activated on its own-- but then he noticed that the radar option was active, and since he couldn't remember whether or not it was always like that -- spoilers: it wasn't -- he figured he should probably check.

Indeed, sure as anything, there was a shining dot on the D-Rive's radar.

"Fuck," Xander muttered; Mike raised an eyebrow at him, but said nothing.

Xander already had a bad feeling, and that bad feeling was only made worse when he thumbed over it and it brought up a garbled name that was just, just readable enough to be familiar.

D̷̡̕r̷̡a͡͡͡͏u̵͜͝g̷̷m̨̛҉̴̶

He hissed, getting up in such an inelegant hurry that he knocked over his glass.

By the time he got outside, he could already hear sirens in the distance, and he hissed some profanities that were definitely not quiet enough. This is a diplomatic way to say he said fuck very loudly on a street with quite a few people going about their business, and he got a couple strange looks for it.
(Which, admittedly, when someone stumbles out of a bar on a Friday night at half past nine and starts swearing, there are a couple things you might expect of them, but he was only really buzzed, not even drunk yet.)

draugmon. downtown. he shot off in a group message to the chat, for all the good it'd do, and he tried to come up with a plan.

He didn't want to just go charging in and start attacking if it would cause more problems than it'd solve, but chances were good that Draugmon's level of regard for structural integrity of buildings was suspect, and they were probably the only ones who could--

Christ, maybe Natalie's constant lectures about we're the only ones that can help was starting to rub off on him.

The moment they got to a place where Desmon could have come out, she did, and she wasted no time in evolving up into Corymon and taking off into the air with Xander on her back.
"So, do we have a plan, here?" Corymon asked as they rose into the air, trying to get high enough to get a good look at their surroundings and situation.

"Do we ever?" Xander muttered, and Corymon nodded her head once after a brief pause.

"Why didn't you tell Mikey where you were going?" she asked as she began to fly towards the sirens.

"S'not really his problem, is it?" Xander said back through grit teeth. He was very, very glad he hadn't had that much to drink, because giant bat was not the smoothest mode of transport.

"He's going to worry, I bet."

"Since when is that the kind of thing you care about?"

"Since never, I'm just saying, it's true," Corymon said blithely, and she would have shrugged if she weren't busy flapping her wings. Xander frowned but chose not to comment, furrowing his brow and trying to figure out what they were going to do.

"Oh, shit!" Corymon hissed, and it was quickly apparent why.

 

***

Draugmon was moving with intent-- he wasn't simply wandering, like he had been the first time.

He had somewhere he wanted to be, and frankly, if there were buildings or people in the way of that, that was too damn bad for those buildings and those people.

After days of smashing himself into solid rock, rearing his head down and smashing his skeletal face and the massive spikes of solid ice on his shoulders into the relatively flimsy concrete and brick, drywall and glass, was nothing.

People were screaming, and sirens were wailing, and the chopping of a helicopter's blades filled the air-- a police helicopter? Army? Certainly not a news one, at any rate, judging by the fact that the sound of gunfire joined the rest of the cacophony, and Draugmon vaguely felt bullets sink into his frozen hide. It was irritating more than painful, and it was too damn loud.

"Hypothermia," he said, the words coming out about as coherently as ever -- a faint hiss of air, outdone entirely by the icy mist that poured out of his jaws, solidifying into icicles.

The helicopter wasn't a problem for very long; it crashed to the ground, easily felled by the spear of ice.

It only seemed to make the sirens louder, and Draugmon hissed, more icy mist spilling out of his mouth as his white-fire pupils constricted.

 

***

It was this helicopter being icicle-sniped out of the sky that inspired Corymon's profanity, but, hey, on the bright side, it made it very evident where they had to go! Looking for positives, right?

... right.

"Drop me off on the ground," Xander said quickly, "a block away or something. I'll make up the difference and meet up with you without risking being fuckin' impaled. I'll-- fuck, we'll hope to god someone else can come help out. Just focus on not getting hit and keeping it busy, I guess? Fucked if I know."

Corymon glanced over her shoulder and nodded. "Roger-dodger," she said. A few minutes later, they had drawn close, Corymon had deposited Xander on the ground, and she had taken back off into the air to fly the whole two blocks between this impromptu drop-off point and Frosty the Bad-Time Bear, which was already close enough to start to feel the bone-chilling cold that surrounded Draugmon.
Just in case he had vaguely hoped that, maybe, it would disappear again. No such luck.

Xander ignored every signal and person telling him to stay away, and when he made it onto the proper street, just down the street from and behind the giant icy monster, he was just in time to see Corymon soar overhead, razor-sharp winds beginning to swirl around her. He cast a cautious look up the street, taking a quick tally; his guess that Draugmon wasn't particulary concerned with not wrecking shit was right.

He glanced to the side and saw emergency personel trying to rush in to manage the people who had been in the downed chopper; there was no fucking way they weren't injured, if not--

Dammit.

"Hurricane Blitz!" Corymon yelled from overhead. She swooped down towards Draugmon as the air whipped into a wild sphere around her, and she pulled out of her dive at the last moment. The ball of wind continued going and smashed into the back of Draugmon's head, dissipating some of the icy mist that had gathered around the skull-faced digimon's shoulders.

Draugmon hissed and turned around to see the bat who was currently frantically backpedalling away through the air. Draugmon still was bad at turning, and took out a parked car under one heavy foot as he maneuvered himself.

"Hey, buuuuddy," Corymon said, more to herself than really expecting Draugmon to pay attention to anything she said. "Nice to see you again, oughta catch up, you know, my buddy down there just had a catch-up with--"

"Black Ice," Draugmon hissed, icy energy swirling around his claws. He slashed through the air, the trails of energy leaving crescent-shaped blades of ice that soared straight for Corymon. Thankfully (and in fact, she had quite deliberately made sure) there was nothing behind her; when she dodged, feinting to one side, the icy attack sailed into open air, and began to sublimate into a foggy vapor when it was clear it wasn't going to hit its target.

"Right, somehow I forgot you weren't the talking type," Corymon said, gritting her teeth. "Black Stinger!" she yelled, firing off a round of shots from her tail-point, but they accomplished very little, as Draugmon merely swiped one huge paw and dispersed them with ease.

Xander was used to Corymon's constant talking, but her banter seemed a little more nervous than usual, and he couldn't say he couldn't figure out why, as Draugmon began to advance on her.

One time. Just one damn time, Xander wanted to not have to deal with this shit. He wanted someone else to be on-hand, or at least to have one night where his attempts to do something other than work didn't end in a goddamn digimon incident.
(Okay, it wasn't literally every time, but it damn well felt like it.)

"Hypothermia," Draugmon hissed, icicles forming over its shoulders and subsequently flying at Corymon. Corymon feinted to the side again as she had with Draugmon's last attack, but--
But she could hear clear as day that there were more helicopters approaching, and she wasn't entirely confident in her ability to keep Draugmon occupied without turning into freeze-dried bat, herself.

"Dammit," Xander hissed, his eyes focused on Corymon's attempts to occupy Draugmon so much that he didn't notice other aspects of his surroundings, like, for instance--

"Young man," a voice came over a police loudspeaker from down the block, voice firm and urgent, "you need to clear the area--"

Xander glanced over his shoulder and spotted the impromptu police barricade from which the sound was coming, and his stance immediately became defensive. "Shit, not now," he muttered through grit teeth, looking back up at Corymon.

"-- so that we may take appropriate measures to eliminate the threats--"

"Yeah, yeah, I fuckin' heard!" he snapped back, even though he had no chance of being heard; it was really for his own benefit as much as anyone.

"Please clear the area," the officer said, voice crackling over the speakers. "We have everything under control--"

Xander burst out with a laugh, incredulous. "Right," he said, "you sure do." He made absolutely no move to, well, move, figuring he'd figure out how he was going to deal with this after the fact.
The sarcasm wasn't subtle, but his naked amusement at how radically untrue that was was shortlived-- because more important things took over in short order.

"Hypothermia," Draugmon hissed, icicles forming over his shoulders once again-- and this time, Corymon didn't feint out of the way in time, because she was looking down at Xander to see what the hell was going on there. Xander's snide amusement at the claim that the police had this under control (see: the completely wrecked helicopter and almost certainly injured operators thereof) quickly gave way to--

Corymon was hit squarely by another barrage of icicles from Draugmon. Her flight faltered as she flapped desperately, but it was clear that the icicle had taken a nice chunk out of her side and the membrane of her wing. A few more inches to one side and it would have gone through her abdomen.
She landed inelegantly, hissing in pain and trying not to look away from her skeletal-faced assailant, who was advancing on her now that she was downed.

"Shit! Desmon!" he yelled, immediately wrenching his attention away.

"Xander!" she blurted as she noticed him running forward, "stay back! See? This is fine, all fuckin' good--" She grit her teeth as she tried to straighten herself up, but even so, Xander was already breaking into a run towards her-- and Draugmon was already summoning up more icicles over his head, wholly unperturbed by the human running into his line of fire as well.

See, Xander didn't exactly have a plan here-- aside from maybe get Desmon to de-digivolve, minimize her, and make a fucking break for it. If they couldn't do jack or shit, it wasn't worth being here. In fact, he realized vaguely, their being present might actually make things worse, since Draugmon seemed to see another digimon and go into attack mode, so--

Fuck it, cut your losses and try to make a break, and whatever happens is what happens? Admittedly, it was rapidly becoming clear that what happens was looking more and more like a rain of icicles as big as he was, but too late now; Xander was not dissuaged, neither by Corymon telling him to stay back nor from the megaphone behind him yelling-- well, basically the same thing.

Of course, things chose that moment to go from bad to worse.

Before he had even half-closed the distance between him and his partner, a familiar sound filled the air. Xander's D-Rive began to screech as blue circuit-like lines began to creep up from the tips of Corymon's feet and spreading like spider webs up the membranes of her wings. Their geometric patterns opened up into more organic lines as they moved across her body.

Draugmon stopped in his tracks, just as he had when this had happened to Doctorimon, so at least there was that.

The rest of Corymon's body began to turn black. Once she was fully consumed by it, which took mere seconds, she snapped her head up, her eyes filled with the same blue light as the circuit-veins trailing up her body.

She began to screech, an unholy noise that came ripping out of her throat. It was the sound of an animal in pain, sounding breathless and panicked, and it began to match the sound of Xander's screeching D-Rive, until suddenly, four words could be discerned in the noise:

 

"Corymon, catalyst evolve to--!"

"Shit," Xander spat, skidding to a stop.

The black engulfed her and spread out into a sphere that engulfed her. Distortion racked it, interrupting the blue streaks of light that coursed across it, and the screeching noise of both Xander's D-Rive and the unearthly noise coming out of Corymon gradually in pitch until it was ear-splitting. Just at the moment that it was too much to bear, the orb burst, leaving a new form in its wake.

Where Corymon was like a wyvern crossed with a bat, this new form was stil draconic, but in a less familiar way. Her front half was... recognizable, at least, and looked similar enough to Corymon to be familiar-ish.

She'd gotten a bit of a makeover, though.

Her arms still served as her wings, now tipped ended more obviously in big, sharp, burnt-orange claws; they had turned black and had obvious stitching mending together old tears in their membranes, but just above them, a second, smaller pair of black membranous wings burst forth. Large orange spikes grew out of her shoulderblades between her pairs of wings, matching the ones that grew near the base of-- was it her tail, or just the lower half of her body? Below the abdomen, her fur stopped, segueing instead into what looked like a long, serpentine tail covered in light blue scales; a scorpion's stinger remained at the tip of her tail, but it was dripping a viscous orange venom.

Long bandages were lashed around her face, covering her eyes entirely, and a spiked band of leather crossed across the top of them. It looked almost as though she had additional white spikes growing out of her face, but when she wrenched her mouth to let loose with a feral screech, open despite the bandages apparently meant to impede her doing this, it was clear that they were sharp lower teeth, puncturing through the top of her muzzle.

She flapped her four wings as she lifted into the air, lashing her long tail. Her movements were ragged and uneven, like her wings couldn't quite beat in sync.

"Camazmon!" she screeched.

 

"Shit!" Xander said again, louder this time, and he began to backpedal-- not just because Camazmon had an air of wrongness about her, like something wasn't quite supposed to be this way, but because she wasted very little time.

"Kamikaze Dive!"

The claws on her primary wings glowing, Camazmon threw herself at Draugmon; she was maybe twenty feet long to his twenty-five tall, but this slight disparity didn't seem to concern her at all. She smashed into the undead digimon at full force, which was more than enough to stagger him backwards, and the two of them collided as one into a building.

That building's wall did not win that battle, and a cloud of dust and panic rose into the air-- because that building was not uninhabited, if the sounds of panic and frantic evacuation were any indication.

Camazmon seemed completely unperturbed by this; she tore at him with her claws, ripping gashes in his sparse fur and the frozen muscles underneath. Draugmon hissed as he tried to dislodge her, his own claws surrounded in icy energy in efforts force her off; in response, she wrenched her mouth open against the restraint of the bandages around them. She had to open her jaws quite a ways in order to get the sharp fangs that had grown through her face to come free, and yet she did, looking uncanny and almost snake-like in the moment before she sunk her teeth into Dragumon's side.

Xander felt kind of numb, honestly, rooted to the spot as he watched.

Where IlDoctorimon had moved uncannily fluidly with a contradictory jerkiness, Camazmon was... well, she was more consistent, in a way. All of her motions seemed to be barely contained, like a rabid animal, and she thrashed and clawed and dug her teeth and her claws into Draugmon to keep him from throwing her off.
Draugmon finally succeeded when he, rather inelegantly, grabbed her by the tail and hurled her away, though not without Camazmon taking a sizable chunk out of his side on the way out-- though almost immediately, Draugmon's flesh began to knit itself back together (or maybe freeze itself back together was a better term).

Camazmon only barely tried to rearrange herself in flight, and she only barely avoided crashing into another building. She didn't seem to realize this, and Xander got the distinct feeling it wasn't her intention to prevent more damage, as she came to a stop close to the ground.

"Hey, hey, hey, hey!" Camazmon said, her voice like a hyena's laugh, and-- it was actually words, not just attack names, "that's no fun! Kamikaze Dive!" she yelled, surging forward again as she had the last time, rushing up the street near ground level instead of from above; Xander had to quickly backpedal further away to stay out of the way.

"Black Ice," Draugmon hissed, slashing through the air and releasing another wave of ice. Camazmon dodged it by surging upwards; Draugmon's attack instead took chunks out of the street, the buildings, and the overturned cars that had been just past her.

Xander was glad he had moved, because if he hadn't--

Well, dammit all to hell.
(He'd kind of just been thinking of this-- all of this-- as inconvenient. Not dangerous-- not even after last time, but it was getting harder and harder to just brush this off, and--)

"Desmon! What the fuck are you doing!?" he yelled, doing an admirable job of keeping any emotion that wasn't anger out of his voice; she didn't seem to hear him, and he can't say he expected her to.

She smashed into Draugmon again, but this time, Draugmon was ready; he met her with icy claws, jamming them right into her chest as she drew close, and Camazmon--

Cackled.

Troubling.

Before she had even tumbled to a stop, and the moment she righted herself -- in fact, just before she finished righting herself -- she was bounding back towards Draugmon, digging her claws into the cracking concrete.

"Paralytic Acid!" she yelled, and the orange venom that was secreted from her tail-tip began to drip out of her mouth. She wrenched her mouth open most of the way as the substance began to gather, and as she ran, she fired it right at Draugmon's face.

Draugmon let loose with a rattling noise that was as good as a roar as the venom hit him squarely, and began to smoke. He lifted his claws to his face, hissing as he tried in vain to wipe it away.

"Can't see?" Camazmon taunted in a sing-song voice, snickering. "Guess we're even, now!"

Camazmon was the only one who found this amusing, as the newly temporarily blinded Draugmon began to emit icy fog from his mouth again.
"Hypothermia," he hissed, and this was a big one-- more and more icicles began to coalesce.

"Kamikaze Dive!" Camazmon yelled, but she was quite interrupted as Draugmon released his attack.

See, Kamazmon was indeed rushing forward, but the rain of icicles went in every direction, crashing into the ground, smashing windows, impaling overturned cars-- and piercing through Camazmon's wings, effectively pinning her to the ground.

Draugmon whipped his head around blindly, still letting loose with that rattling not-quite-breath.

Camazmon continued cackling, as though this was all some great game.

And then---

And then a little white shape shot by. Xander only barely saw it himself, and he snapped his head to follow it, but when he did--
He saw Draugmon vanish with a little surge of static and glitchiness, and no sign of what had done it. All that was left was Camazmon, pinned to the street by icicles holding her down like pins in a mounted butterfly.

And, of course, the police sirens and helicopters and fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

Xander didn't seem to even realize what he was doing when he ran towards Camazmon.
"Desmon you dumbfuck!" he yelled, but Camazmon didn't seem to register his voice at all. She writhed and continued her manic laughter, trying to wrench herself free, even as her partner ran up to her, totally unconcerned with anything going on around her. She didn't even seem to notice that her writhing was making a mess, her blood smearing on both herself and the street below her.

So Xander did all he could think to do.

He punched her.

He reared back and punched Camazmon. Just straight up decked her right in the snout.

She stopped laughing. She stopped moving entirely.
Her ears perked up.

And she began to glow.

In a matter of moments, she was Desmon once more, laying half-unconscious in a rough circle of icicles and smeared blood in the middle of the street.

"What the fuck," Xander muttered, looking over his shoulder at the police -- they were definitely approaching -- but more importantly at the battered bat.
He didn't have the time to reach down and pick her up; he reached for his D-Rive and minimized her in a flash of blue light.

Fuck.

He stood there kind of numbly for a few moments, and in that time, a police officer closed the distance, asking where the monsters had gone; apparently, they hadn't made the connection that he had minimized her. How could anyone expect them to, really?

Xander nodded with grit teeth as the police officer tried to question him, lectured him on evacuating, that he was lucky he wasn't hurt, that this and that and that-- honestly, he kind of tuned it out.
He glanced at his phone.

Ten new messages-- five were from the group chat, and the rest were from Mike.

God dammit.

 

***

Down the street, a particular young woman looked up the street at the flurry of icicles, at the young man who so obviously was partnered to the bat digimon that she wondered how nobody else noticed it. She tried to commit his face to memory, for all the good it would do her.

Lily frowned.

She had just wanted to go out, but when Draugmon and Camazmon had crashed into the club... well. She hadn't been hurt, but some people definitely had been, and she couldn't help but feel responsible.
She had just wanted to go out, but she supposed she couldn't have that, could she?

After all, it was clear to her, at least, what Draugmon was looking for:
Her.

Chapter Text

The brief reprieve had come to an end. Luckily, nothing quite so drastic as Draugmon had showed up again; no other ultimate level digimon had reared their heads, to the point where the humans only vaguely remembered the term at all. This, at least, was as close to a relief as anyone was going to get.

It had been just a week since Draugmon's last appearance, and in that time, two digimon incidents had happened-- at least, as far as the group was aware of.

The first had been a large sea-serpent type digimon, aptly named Seadramon, that had appeared in the Harper river one evening about eleven PM one night, and been quickly eliminated-- but it had not been the main squad that had taken care of it.
A couple glitchy, distorted photos were all the evidence there was for the incident at all, but to those who knew what to look for, the two orange shapes of Hokkaimon and Himamon were distinctive enough to make out. (Even if Himamon looked qute bizarre in the few pictures she was in, as her bulky fur was drenched and she looked something like an incredibly large wet cat.)

Even if they weren't a fan of the little side-squad, with all that had happened, nobody was complaining that it had at least been as efficient a dealing-with as it was. Gelermon had remarked that it was clearly only because Ryan and Shitomon hadn't been present, because Shitomon would have stopped to give the Seadramon a moralizing speech, and Sam had found this amusing enough to pass it on to the group.
(It was totally unfair, though, because they had a digimon that was safely in the middle of the river, and -- as their digimon pointed out -- Seadramon was only a champion level.)

The other incident, meanwhile, was much lower key-- a giant red beetle, Kuwagamon, had emerged on the very south side of town smack in the middle of the night, and Banshemon had made quick work of it. It cast quite a stark contrast to the entire group's rookie-level struggle against the not-dissimilar Kabuterimon incident mere months ago.

Both of these digimon incidents had been feral ones, as far as they knew, as opposed to ones with any intentions; both were quick and painless and the mark they left, both on the landscape and in the public perception, was minimal.
This was something to be grateful for; in the intervening days, the coverage, the theorizing, had not stopped. It felt like it was impossible to turn around without a picture of Draugmon or Camazmon in the news, discussion of the damage, even the possibility of Digimon (albeit by the name UDC) was enough to get heads turning and people talking.

(There had been no fatalities, but the helicopter crew had been temporarily hospitalized.)

It was easy to see why it was dominating the city's imagination, but it didn't mean it was something anyone wanted to deal with.

The fact that the incident had been quick and painless did not, however, change the fact that it had still been in the middle of the night. Peter was grateful for the fact that he worked at a coffee shop, because it was only by the grace of willpower and dangerous amounts of caffeine that he was functional right now.

It was fairly dead today, with only him and one other person on the clock, and as many people actually in the shop proper, so he didn't even have the stimulation of a busy day to keep him going. He hissed a profanity through his teeth and only narrowly avoided burning his hand, pulling it away from the heating element that he was trying to clean-- some idiot had left it on, and by some idiot he knew it had probably been him.

"Don't hurt yourself, there."

Peter was considering whether or not he needed to run his hand under water or if he could just power through it, he didn't immediately realize he was being spoken to-- it wasn't the voice of the other guy working, after all, and since he wasn't manning the register right now--

He blinked and looked over his shoulder to see a just-familiar-enough face to go with a just-familiar-enough voice; Jen was leaning at an awkward position on the counter so she could prop her chin on her hands.

"Can I help you?" he asked in his customer service voice, turning around.

"Oh, no, I'm good, the other guy already took my order."
Peter glanced to the side, and noticed his coworker was indeed already working on it.

He vaguely hoped that someone else would come in, or maybe that lightning would strike him. Unfortunately, the air pressure was all wrong for a thunderstorm and the café was having a dead day. Of course he wouldn't be so lucky.

"Do you want something?" he said then, speaking at a much more casual tone that can only be described as a NOT-customer-service voice.

"It's you who's got the little ghost, right?" Jen said, straightforward and with the inflection of someone who already knew the answer to the question she was asking. She was still leaning on the counter. Peter said nothing, and she took that as an affirmative. "You took care of the bug problem last night? I know you and your lot have been kind of trying to keep on top of, you know, the problems that emerge."

Peter frowned, but kept his lips shut tight. He hadn't thought anyone had seen them, seeing as it had been so damn late, but--?

"I was gonna take care of it myself, ya know, but then I saw your--" she paused, not wanting to say digimon, "friend's name on the radar, so I figured you had it pretty well in hand. Didn't want to make it more complicated than it had to be, yeah?"

"Can't say that's what I'd expect," Peter said carefully, raising an eyebrow. "Last I checked, you and your friends were still in the business of trying to get rid of ours."
He felt like he was talking in a really, really stupid code, trying to avoid mentioning digimon by name.
"Not to give you any ideas, but I'd think that if someone was alone, that would be the time to try and pick them off."

"Yeah, well, you know, there's extenuating circumstances," Jen said, lifting and dropping one shoulder. "I mean, I'm guessing that yours hasn't--" she paused as she tried to think of a way to phrase it, "hit the next stage yet, seeing as I haven't heard any more news stories about any more disasters, but I'd rather not risk it just in case you decided to pull out all the stops, yanno?"

What she was saying underneath all that vaguery and insinuation, to be clear, was I figure that Banmon hasn't reached ultimate yet because if she had, it'd have been as big a mess as Raumon and Desmon had; but I still wouldn't want to be the only one taking care of it if I came to confront you and she did reach ultimate then and there.
Jeeze.

Peter's coworker dropped Jen's drink on the counter, and she stood up straight as she took it in hand.
"Or at least, that's Ryan's explanation for why he hasn't made any moves, anyway," she said. "Lurumo--" she paused, catching herself, "my friend's got her own reasons, yeah? I kinda follow her logic, and I'm not gonna try arguing it with her."

Peter sighed through his nose. He was currently adjusting a stack of paper cups idly so that he had a reason to continue standing near the counter instead of going back to cleaning.
"Do you have a point you intend to make, or are you just here to antagonize me?"

"Well, hey, don't be self-centered-- mostly I just wanted coffee," she said, holding up her cup with a smile, "but you know. Little bit of all of the above, yeah?"

Peter sighed through his nose and shook his head. Jen waved over her shoulder as she walked out, and Peter drummed his fingers on the counter before going back to what he had been doing before he had been interrupted, and this time being much more careful not to burn himself.

He faintly realized that he was getting a taste of his own medicine in dealing with someone who dealt solely in vagueness. He didn't realize, though, that he was also getting another one of his other bad habits turned around on him; one of the lone customers lurking in the corner was trying desperately to play it cool as he pricked up his ears.

 

***

"Banshee's Call!" Banshemon cried, and a flurry of white spirits rose out of the ground and shot forward.

They were in a familiar-enough locale-- the often-empty park that had played host to the group's little group picnic-stroke-Kabuterimon fight those short months ago. Peter was fairly certain that if he would have returned to their picnic site, he might have still seen the evidence of their scuffle-- the broken trees, or, hell, considering how few people came out to this park, he wouldn't have been surprised if they had been the last people to use the site at all. Truth be told, he was getting a little bit of deja vu, lately, between fighting giant beetles and now this.

Peter had had his brief conversation with Jen on Wednesday afternoon, and now it was Friday, and at least this time it had the dignity to appear during normal human waking hour, around ten in the morning. This park was actually not far from the university district, so he was the closest person to hand, and was hoping to get it done with time to spare before he had to go in for his shift at noon-- but unfortunately, this digimon seemed to have a bit of a bone to pick.

Dobermon growled as it leapt out of the way of Banshemon's attack. It was a menacing creature, sinewy and so thin that its ribs and spine were visible through its skin and with massive blades in place of dewclaws. Its red eyes glinted as the wind shifted the leaves above them-- both the normal eyes, on its face (where eyes are supposed to be) and the red eyes inset into its shoulders and haunches.

When it spoke, its voice was haughty and superior. "This is nothing, compared to what I had to overcome to get here. I'm not about to leave empty-handed. Schwarz Strahl!"
It opened its mouth and fired a continuous jet-black beam; Banshemon lifted her arms to protect the bulk of her body, and even as the black beam singed her, she grimaced through it, and her claws began to glow bright white and grow in length.

"Spirit Ripper!" she cried, rushing forward. She practically seemed to cut through Dobermon's beam as she threw herself at the dog digimon. Her claws passed right through it, but it snarled with pain as it recoiled, practically thrown backwards into the small thicket of trees behind it.

Out of the corner of his eye, Peter faintly thought he saw something move, but he didn't turn to look; Dobermon wasted no time righting itself and snarled, baring its teeth as it leapt at Banshemon.

It forewent a proper attack, leaping at her and sinking its teeth into the fabric of her arm. Even without a hard physical body underneath it to grasp onto, its teeth ripped through the fabric to hold her. She would have simply attempted to become incorporeal just long enough to slip free, but it didn't seem to be possible; Dobermon was beginning to gather up another Schwartz Strahl to fire at point-blank into Banshemon's arm, and the energy of its attack prevented her from escaping so easily.

"Spirit Ripper!" Banshemon yelled again, slashing down through Dobermon with her free hand, and it snarled, releasing her as it made a noise of pain.

She almost looked a little bit sorry as she pulled away. It was hard to tell if her sleeve was smoking, as it was singed black by Dobermon's stalled attack, or if it was her smoky body trailing out of the holes that its teeth had torn in the fabric; either way, it was hard to remain too sorry for too long.

Dobermon reared down and lunged forward, hardly giving Banshemon the room to breathe or realign herself, and she was almost taken by surprise to end up in the exact same situation as she had just gotten out of--

"Acid Claw!"

A tan and purple blur hurtled out of the trees, a purple glow trailing behind. Judging by the voice, it was a girl; she crashed into Dobermon at high enough speed to knock the dog off its course, though she was quite a bit smaller than either champion-level digimon, and this made it a bit hard to follow what was going on.
In a flurry of flying paws, the little digimon (no prizes for guessing that it was a digimon) scratched and clawed at Dobermon's side, and as her claws connected, a faint sound filled the air, almost like a weak sizzle.

Dobermon snarled as it righted itself, teeth bared; the little digimon leapt away to put some space between herself and the dog. Dobermon, Banshemon, and Peter alike all got a look at this newcomer as her paws touched down on the ground.

She was a little lion-like creature more than three feet tall and most of her body was covered in tan fur. Green-spiked bracelets matched her collar, and tufts of dark-purple fur sat around both her wrists and a fluffy ruff around her neck. It was hard to say whether her swoopy mass of mane-like hair or her segmented scorpion-like tail were more distinctive, but both were the same dark-purple colour, and her eyes were bright, shiny, and emerald green.
(Maybe manticore was more apt than lion.)

She wore a mischievous smirk on her face, appropriately cat-like, as she settled into a battle-ready stance.

Dobermon glanced sidelong at Banshemon, and growled. "Of course you would bring in backup."

Banshemon didn't have the chance to retort -- that she had no idea who this little digimon was -- before Dobermon opened its mouth again.

"Schwarz Strahl!"

This time, the jet-black beam was aimed at the new little digimon, and-- well.
Banshemon had to make a snap decision, and so she did.

"Spirit Ripper!"

Right at the moment that Dobermon fired its beam, the new little digimon retaliated.

"Venom Strike!"

She gathered up a ball of an ephemeral substance that could only be described as looking poisonous. She tossed it into the air before leaping up after it and spiking it with a (frankly rather unnecessarily dramatic) swipe of her tail, like a volleyball, right at Dobermon's face, as the black beam hit the ground she had been standing on a moment before.

Banshemon's bright-white claws connected with Dobermon, phasing through the dog's side at the same time that the corrosive sphere smashed into its face.
It was really more because of Banshemon than the newcomer, but either way, Dobermon snarled, baring its teeth right before it exploded into motes of light that gathered into Peter's D-Rive in a concentrated beam.

"Acid Claw!"

The little manticore called her attack, lunging at Banshemon without so much as a moment of hesitation, but Banshemon had kind of been expecting this; before the attack had the chance to connect, she made herself incorporeal for a split second, and the newcomer sailed right through her and wound up face-down in the dirt.

Banshemon cast a glance over her shoulder to where Peter stood, her expression one of clear bewilderment, even if the only expression she could make was with her eyes. She didn't want to attack what was clearly a rookie-level, but--?

Peter gripped his D-Rive tightly in his hand, and he opened his mouth to say something, but the sound that filled the air was pointedly not Peter's voice.

"Martyamon, get back h--!"

A young man stumbled out of the trees from whence the little manticore had come. His voice died in his throat and he continued to stumble right to a stop as he realized that he had an audience.

He looked to be around the same age as every other goddamn person they had met who had anything to do with digimon -- that is to say, college age; he had glasses and blond hair, a plain green button-down over a plain white t-shirt and eyes that matched the button-down. He looked a little bit harried and confused, like someone who ran onstage, hoping to pass unnoticed, and didn't expect to see a full house staring at him.
Admittedly, it was only Peter and Banshemon looking at him, both blinking slowly, but still.

There was an awkward silence wherein the little manticore spat out a clump of dirt but nobody else spoke. All it needed was a cricket chirp; instead what they got was the distant sound of cars, which would have to do.

"This one with you?" Peter tried as a blunt icebreaker, pointing at the rookie-level digimon, whose claws were beginning to glow purple again as she got to her feet.

The stranger didn't immediately answer Peter; he saw a more pertinent issue to take care of. "If you throw one more punch," the young man said, looking at the little digimon, "you're making your own ramen tonight."

"What?" The purple glow immediately faded from the manticore's paws, and she looked over her shoulder, a horribly offended look on her face. "You don't let me use the stove, that's not fair!"

"That's the point," the young man said, and the manticore put her hands on her hips and huffed, but she made no move to attack again.

Banshemon and Peter exchanged slightly bewildered expressions.
With the threat apparently defused, Banshemon drifted over to Peter. Rather, she drifted slightly behind him, as though she could hide behind him despite being significantly larger than her partner.

"I'm going to take that as a yes to my question," Peter said, stroking his chin in consideration. He couldn't quite place it, but he seemed vaguely familiar, though not enough for Peter to place.

The strange young man heaved a sigh, scratching the back of his head in exasperation. "Yeah, Martyamon's with me. I'm-- sorry about her."

"And I'm sorry about you being such a killjoy," Martyamon snapped back, hands on her hips and a smirk on her lips.

He didn't dignify that with a direct response. "She's Martyamon, and I'm Theo," he said instead, and he stepped closer to Peter so he could offer a hand to shake, when Peter did. "I have to admit I didn't exactly expect to run into anyone else when Martyamon took off running, but she had insisted, and I don't think I could have stopped her if I tried."

"Well, I didn't expect there to be two champions," Martyamon retorted, walking up as well "and I just wanted a little bit of entertainment. Side note, I totally could have taken it if it had just been one or the other."

"Sorry we got to it first, then," Peter said, voice even, and he put on a polite smile. "We didn't mean to ruin your fun." Banshemon glanced sidelong at him, a little bit confused, but didn't say anything.

"We don't mean to give you any trouble," Theo said, and he shot a look at Martyamon that very clearly said and don't you say we do. "We'll just be leaving." He began to usher Martyamon, attempting to lead her from whence they had come.

"How long have you known Martyamon for?" Peter said instead, stopping Theo in his tracks.

"What?"

Peter shrugged one shoulder. "Just curious," he explained.

Theo looked between the little manticore and Peter, and he heaved a heavy sigh. "A couple weeks? Just since the start of the month, I think."

"Oh, how time flies when you're having fun," Martyamon said unsolicted, inspecting her claws like she was inspecting her manicure.

Peter hummed quietly at this, though, and he and Banshemon exchanged looks. This was the first time they had heard of someone with a digimon that had come along this recently-- though now that he thought about it...
He couldn't just outright ask if Theo had a D-Rive, but he could definitely wonder.

"I'm not going to lie," Theo said after a moment, heaving a sigh. "I already... well, I can't say knew, but I had a feeling."

"Oh?" Peter said, training his voice into mild curiosity as opposed to anything that might imply oh shit, because, really, he was a bit of a worst-case-scenario thinker.

"I overheard you having a conversation at the Lotus the other day," he said, and Peter immediately realized why he thought Theo's face was familiar. (Give him a break, he couldn't be expected to remember the face of every patron of his workplace.) "I didn't really think anything about it until I heard the girl say something about-- Rurumon?"

"Lurumon," Banshemon provided quietly.

"Yes," Theo said, nodding and folding his arms. "I got curious. I started looking back over the video clips and pictures from the fights over the summer, and I noticed something that looked like her." He nodded his head in Banshemon's direction. "And I saw a guy who kind of looked like you near her."

"To be fair," Peter said, raising one eyebrow, "you'd kind of look like me in bad, shaky pictures. That doesn't say much."

Martyamon snorted a laugh; Theo smiled slightly. "Well, right, but still. I heard her say something about a ghost, and..." He gestured vaguely. "For what it's worth, I wasn't exactly planning to hunt you down and try to talk to you about it or anything," he said, realizing only a bit belatedly that he should probably clarify that. "I just started looking into it more and one thing led to another."

"Joy. We're famous," Peter said dully to Banshemon, who squeaked a little bit, clearly dismayed.

"It seems to me like you've been trying to keep digimon from wrecking things," Theo said. "... admittedly, I only started noticing it when I started going back over the videos again and actively looking that I noticed the same ones were showing up. The ghost and the bat and the-- weird angel dragon thing? Among others."
Ah. Right.

Of course-- and Peter knew this -- the media hadn't been differentiating between one-off digimon emergences and the ones who were taking care of the incidents, and most people were understandably distracted by the destruction that the issue of is this giant wolf the same giant wolf as last time, or does it just look the same wasn't high on the priority list.
And the others -- Shitomon, Hulimon, and Lurumon -- also got the same unfavorable treatment, even if destruction seemed to follow them a little less intently.

So Peter answered noncomittally.

"Mm," he said ("said"), and his lack of comment didn't go unnoticed; Theo kept talking to fill the space.

"Though now that I have you, I did want to ask-- how have you been hiding them?" he said, frowning. "I've been trying to figure out how to deal with Martyamon--"

"'Deal with'," Martyamon said, making air quotes with her paws and scoffing.

"We're already probably not going to get our deposit back on the apartment, after all," Theo said, undisturbed by her commentary. "But I'd imagine a bigger digimon like that is even harder to hide." He gestured at Banshemon.

Banshemon looked nervously at Peter; he nodded once and she, apprehensively, nodded back. She began to glow bright white and her larger form melted away, leaving Banmon in her wake. As the light faded, she had lifted her cloth-like arms up to her face to cover it, and she lowered them sheepishly as she peered back over at Theo and Martyamon.

Both young man and little manticore had taken a half-step back, apparently not wanting to be too close to the glowing monster, which was understandable enough.

"How'd you do that?" Martyamon demanded, pointing an accusatory finger at Banmon.

"I-- do what?" Banmon said, blinking.

"De-digivolve. You're not supposed to be able to do that!" she said, then looked at Theo, still pointing at Banmon. "She's not supposed to be able to do that!"

"You mean shrink?" Theo said, frowning as he tried to determine what happened, but Martyamon was already leaping at the chance to explain.

"De-digivolve! If she de-digivolved it means she lost a bunch of energy all of a sudden and usually when that happens it means they got their ass beat and they're probably dying, but she seems fine as far as I can tell?" She had moved from pointing to gesturing emphatically.

"I only really digivolve for a short time," Banmon said, piping up meekly. "Usually just to fight--"

"I want to do that," Martyamon said immediately, and it was hard to tell if she meant temporarily digivolve or fight; both seemed like realistic options. "Tell me how." She paused, then crossed over to Peter, looking up at him-- and the D-Rive he held in his hand. "When I got the killing blow on Dobermon," you go on believing that, Martyamon, "I saw its data get absorbed into that thing. Give it to me."

Peter immediately blanched, but Theo was already reprimanding her before he even had the chance to say 'no'. "Martyamon, you can't just demand people give you their things."

"It works pretty well on you," she said matter-of-factly, looking over her shoulder at him.

 

"I'd rather not," Peter said, cutting off an impending back-and-forth. He knew perfectly well what had happened the last time an unrelated digimon had gotten their claws on a D-Rive, and he'd prefer to avoid that.

"That's it, though, isn't it?" Martyamon said, putting her hands on her hips. "It's not normal to be able to digivolve at will. That's the first thing I've seen in this world that seems to interact with digimon, but I've never seen one in the Digital World, so that must be it." For as obnoxious as she clearly was, she was pretty perceptive, even if she was making some pretty big leaps of logic to get there.

"As far as we know, yes," Banmon said, tilting her head.

"As far as you know?" Theo prompted.

"It's a very, very long story," Peter said, shaking his head, "not all of which I'm comfortable divulging, but, yes, it's what seems to allow the digimon to evolve temporarily."

"I'm going to take a guess that the other digimon I keep seeing are the same way?" Theo supposed, but Martyamon was much less interested in the details.

"This is lame," Martyamon said, sighing dramatically as she turned around, walking back to Theo's side. "Well, if it's not going to do anything for me, I don't care. If she can digivolve anytime she wants it wouldn't even be fun to try and fight her. Let's go."
(Hadn't she just said she could totally have taken a champion by herself? Maybe best not to point that out.)

Martyamon was already preparing to go back from whence they had come, and Theo looked between her and the Peter-Banmon duo kind of helplessly. "I guess we're going, then," he said; now that he had started a conversation, and had at least started to get some answers, he didn't seem to want to leave, despite how quick he had been to try and usher Martyamon away before.

He barely had time to make a proper goodbye before he went after Martyamon, and his question went unanswered.

"Are we just going to let them go?" Banmon said, tilting her head as she drifted up beside Peter.

Peter spoke slowly, folding his arms and choosing his words with care. "If it's taken this long for us to know she exists, and she hasn't caused a panic, I don't think we need to worry yet."

 

***

"You know, we had a chance to learn a lot that you just threw away," Theo said as he caught up to Martyamon and once they were well out of earshot of Peter and Banmon.

"Why's it matter?" Martyamon, spreading her paws out palms-up as she shrugged. "It's not gonna affect us any."

"I'd say that the affairs of digimon matter to someone -- that is, me -- who is dealing with digimon," Theo objected, putting his hands in his pockets.

"My affairs mostly consist of food," Martyamon said with a smirk. "I'll beat up any digimon or, heck, any human who tries to give you any grief, and you'll pay me back for my generous service with snacks, and it'll be a fantastic mutually beneficial relationship. We can let the special brigade deal with their own problems."

"Don't you think it might have something to do with what's happening to your world?" Theo said. "You said yourself that there were a bunch of digimon that crossed over years ago, and it would make sense if--"

"Hey, I came here to get away from all of that," Martyamon cut him off. "It's not going to affect me any more than it already has."

Theo sighed. "I have no idea how you can be happier not knowing."

"See, I already know plenty, it's you that's got the problem."

 

***

ngl that sounds fishy as fuck, Sam said in the group chat almost immediately after Peter summarized this meeting of the manticore and her beleaguered human buddy. youre sure they werent trying anything?

I'm choosing to take them at their word, Peter replied, and even over text the shrug was implied. It's all I have to go on, but Martyamon didn't seem particularly interested in things that weren't eating or fighting for its own sake. I don't think she's secretly in league with Shitomon.

oh actually ! remember? oremon said the last time he dealt with ratamon, Meghan said, he -- ratamon i mean -- asked if he knew of any other people with digimon. do you think that's what he might have been talking about??

Natalie started and stopped typing a couple times; she, like everyone else, had kind of forgotten that little blip of a question in all of the chaos that had happened since then. Eventually, she sent, hmm. he said martyamon had only been around since the start of the month, and-- when did you fight drimogemon again, Meg?

it was on the 18th last month, came the immediate reply from Sam; he apparently had been looking into this already, and he had brought up the coverage of it to check the dates. so unless this guy is really, really bad at remembering the date, no.

damn, Natalie lamented. i thought we might have been onto something.

I wonder why Ratamon would have cared about that at all, Peter said, after a moment of thought.

no idea, Sam said. shitomon herself said that there were only five digimon who were harboring the corruption shit when she infodumped all over our heads like so much sanctimonious sewage spewing out of a busted pipe. Right-- he had been present, and written down notes, for the entire conversation with Shitomon.

lovely imagery, Natalie said.

you're welcome. Sam's sarcasm was overwhelming even without any other context.

am i the only one who's considered that maybe, just maybe, the rabbit is just shit at math? Xander cut in.

that seems too simply, though, doesn't it? < :T Meghan said.

Whatever Ratamon meant isn't the point, Peter said. What is the point is that there's a digimon who's come through recently and made friends with a human.

without a d-rive, Natalie added, which i feel is an important detail.

Right, Peter confirmed. It doesn't narrow down much, but it nixes the idea that they're just something inherent to making buddy-buddy with a digimon.
See, Peter had initially considered that it just had something to do with the corruption that kept coming up, but that wouldn't explain how the other three digimon and their humans had them, too. He and Sam had batted around the idea that it was just some nebulous thing that happened, triggered by some unknown event and that got sent out to any human who had bonded with a digimon after that point.

Yes, it was weird and nebulous, but a lot of these things were weird and nebulous, and Sam was better (for a given value of better) at figuring out how the D-Rives worked; the theorizing and the why was very much Peter's wheelhouse, and he didn't have much to go off.

Natalie shared her thoughts. if martyamon's been around since the start of the month and we're only just now finding out about her then i mean i guess that's a positive? at least, it's not a negative.

That was my thought, Peter said in agreement, and why I didn't try to apprehend her or anything like that.

moreover, Natalie continued, i don't know how great i'd feel about attacking a digimon that, a, apparently is relatively peaceful, and b, made friends with a human.

yeah. s'not our problem unless they make it our problem, Xander agreed.

i feel like all that kinda brings up the question of why they're coming here, though... Meghan said, kind of just sharing the thought as it came to her. i mean the feral ones were just lost, and the ones who want to ruin our day obviously have a goal, but i wonder why she would have come through only to get buddy-buddy with a human?

There was a pause where nobody typed anything.

Natalie's next question was one that all of them could relate to.

why do i feel like the more we find out, the less sense any of this makes?

That lingered on Peter's mind as he set his phone down to start getting ready for work. It seemed like the questions kept piling up without any resolution, and the deeper they dug the more they realized how little they had actually uncovered.

Banmon had been quiet -- well, she was always quiet, but she had been even more quiet than usual, caught up in thought.

"If you don't want to come with me to work, you don't have to," Peter said, glancing at his D-Rive. He always gave her the option.

"I'll come," she said anyway, though she seemed a little distant, a little distracted, and Peter frowned. Something was clearly bothering her, but he wasn't about to try to needle her about it.

 

***

It wouldn't be necessary to describe how Peter's shift went; it was long, and it was busy, and he had enough to think about the entire time that a couple times, he even managed to not think about digimon for a whole ten consecutive minutes.

That luxury did not extend to his situation after he got off work.

He had only barely begun the walk back to his flat when he heard a voice behind him.

"Hey! Scarfy!"

Peter closed his eyes and sighed through his nose-- it was Jen. He opened his eyes as he stopped and turned around to see, indeed, Jen jogging towards him. They were only a few blocks down from the Lotus, and he had been about to take the first turn.
He had been so close.

"It's Peter," he said, reminding her of his name as she drew close enough for him not to have to yell to be heard.

"Yeah, not gonna remember that, sorry," Jen said frankly, not waiting for his response before she went on. "Glad I caught you. Just happened right before you left and I was hopin'-- well, first things first."
Peter was just about to ask out loud what her point was and why she needed his attention enough to chase him out of his workplace when she pulled her D-Rive out of her bag, and it was very pointedly lit up.

"Motherfucker," he said, completely deadpan, instead. He pulled his own out, and indeed, it was shining bright, and a couple button presses later--

SkullSatamon. Ultimate level.

"Motherfucker," he said again, softly but with feeling.
(He couldn't help but notice another little dart marked Martyamon that was close at hand as well, but he chose not to comment on that one.)

A flash of white light accompanied Banmon's appearing behind him, peering over his shoulder at the device she had just been contained in.
"Oh no," she said softly, her eyes dropping.

Not wanting to be left out of the party, Lurumon appeared in a burst of golden light, standing next to Jen. Banmon instinctively shrunk a little bit back behind Peter, but the little red panda shook her head.

"I'm not going to try and attack you," she said, and she even managed a little bit of a smile, though it was a bittersweet one. "Asking for your help is hardly something I'd like doing, but there are things we all have to prioritize over our own feelings." She looked over her shoulder; the sun was just barely beginning to set, and they could just barely see a shape far too large to be a bird.
For instance, it seemed to say without Lurumon having to say as such.

Banmon looked at her with a curious expression, but she nodded after a moment, drifting out just slightly more from behind her partner, however apprehensively.

"I don't want to make Lurumon deal with this alone," Jen explained, looking to Peter, "and Ryan lives way the hell on the other side of town, so by the time he got here shit might go real pear-shaped, ya know? If it's two of us we may be to at least stall it if it starts going badly, yeah?"

"If we stall it long enough for your backup to arrive, then who's to say it wouldn't immediately turn around into a gangup on Banshemon?" Peter said immediately, ever the worst-case-scenario thinker; Banmon squeaked in fear.

Jen shrugged. "You can feel free to call for your friends, if you want, yanno, I just don't know how well it'd go."

Peter sighed; he thought of Xander's explanation of what had happened with Draugmon, how their attempts to at least stall had gone wrong, but.. this was different, right? Right.
He looked to Banmon for confirmation; she looked conflicted, but she slowly nodded. Peter and Jen exchanged glances, nodded tersely, and took off at a run-- not least of all because it was flying towards a residential area.

 

***

As they drew closer, it was clear that SkullSatamon really lived up to its name, even what they could see from the ground-- a tall and lanky red-boned skeleton with tattered black wings and a massive black core encircled by its ribs and sternum. Leather and metal adorned its body, and a black shroud from which bat wings sprouted enased the top of its, well, skull. A long and tattered tabard trailed far past its feet, suspended by a series of belts around its waist. All of this, and it was wielding a crooked staff atop which a yellow jewel was clutched by a red claw, it looked every bit like something named for both skulls and motherfucking Satan could be expected to look.

"Maybe it isn't hostile," Banmon muttered, not really daring to put her hopes on it.

Its voice rang out from above, and they saw the gem at the tip of its staff begin to glow-- but it wasn't aiming at them. It was aiming at-- really, quite conveniently, an empty plot of land where houses had not yet been built up.
"Bone Blaster!"

The energy from its staff shot down, smashing through the 'lot for sale' sign and into the tall, unkempt grass. A blast of dirt kicked up around the impact point, and something moved within it.

"Venom Strike!" a voice yelled out in turn, and a woefully-inadequate blob of purple poison sailed into the air, only to dissipate harmlessly before it even reached the halfway point.

"Dammit," Peter hissed. Banmon, trailing behind Peter, burst forward and began to glow white.

"Banmon, drive evolve to... Banshemon! Banshee's Call!"
The now-evolved ghost flung herself towards SkullSatamon flying above, and from all around her, white ghosts coalesced out of the air. They sped up and shot past her, and threw themselves at SkullSatamon.

At least it got its attention, and Banshemon realized she didn't have a plan past this point.

"Lurumon, drive evolve to... Himamon!"

Before the golden light had faded away, Himamon was already bounding forward into the lot, presumably to get between SkullSatamon and what, to her, was an unknown-but-presumably-innocent digimon.

Peter looked around frantically, trying to find Theo-- and it took a moment before he saw Martyamon's friend run out from the far end of the plot, apparently in pursuit of Martyamon yet again.
"Martyamon, get back here!"

Theo stumbled to an inelegant stop for not the first time today as he noticed the other people -- and more importantly, other digimon -- who were present.
"Crap," he muttered, gritting his teeth and looking between Jen and Peter, Himamon, and Banshemon and SkullSatamon in the air.

"Spirit Ripper!" Banshemon cried, slashing her claws across SkullSatamon-- or at least, trying to. Her glowing claws, which usually passed without issue through digimon, bounced off, as though SkullSatamon were impervious to her attack.

"Skull Hammer!" SkullSatamon cackled-- and there really was no other way to describe it but a cackle -- and it swung its staff like a club, smashing into Banshemon and knocking the ghost back down to the ground.

"Aura Stream!" Himamon yelled, rearing back and firing a crackling beam of golden energy directly at the core in SkullSatamon's chest. This had about as much effect as Banshemon's attack, which is to say none.

SkullSatamon looked down to the ground and snickered, and it stopped beating its wings; it dropped to the ground like a rock, and the dirt and grass practically exploded into the air around it as its metal-booted feet left a small crater in the ground.
"Lucky me," it said in a laugh, "I'm only here for a few minutes and the other digimon are already lining up. They weren't kidding when they said it would be easier here."

Banshemon righted herself and lifted her claws in a battle-ready stance; Himamon did the same, even though neither of them knew how much good they were going to do. Both champion-levels rushed forward, and it quickly devolved into their claws clashing against SkullSatamon's body, as good as trying to punch solid steel for as much good as they were doing.

With SkullSatamon distracted, Theo was able to run over to the other humans.
"Hi again," he said, frowning.

"Friend of yours?" Jen asked Peter, putting her hands on her hips.

"Not quite, but," Peter said, shaking his head, "for all intents and purposes we'll say yes."

"Martyamon ran off again, and I couldn't stop her," Theo said, adjusting his glasses. "I didn't expect the digimon to be-- well."

"Who's Martyamon, exactly?" Jen asked, tilting her head; she hadn't actually seen the litte manticore, but that was quick to be remedied.

"You guys suck at this!" Martyamon snapped, leaping forward with her paws glowing purple. She practically ran up Himamon's tail and used the red panda as a springboard, her paws glowing purple. "Acid Claw!"

"Martyamon, stop!" Theo said, reaching out a hand as though he could stop her when her attack was already underway.

If the champions' attacks had had no effect, Martyamon's had no chance; she may as well have tried to knock SkullSatamon over with a stiff breeze. This seemed to amuse the skeletal digimon, and even as Martyamon backed away, it followed her with its eyes, and the gem on its staff began to glow.

"Get back!" Himamon commanded, gathering up golden energy in her mouth, but SkullSatamon was quicker.

"Bone Blaster!" it yelled, but it wasn't aiming for Martyamon-- it was aiming for her human friend.

"Theo!"
Martyamon quite literally leapt into the line of fire without a moment of hesitation, the beam of energy striking her squarely. It hit her with such a force that the trajectory of her jump was shifted, and she was practically thrown backwards into Theo. He caught her, a bit inelegantly, but concern and near-panic was plain on his face.

"Wh--!?" he said, words failing him.

"She's fine," Himamon said quickly, "as fine as she can be-- if she's not--"

"Skull Hammer!"

Himamon had only been trying to explain that if Martyamon wasn't shifting into pixels of light, she wasn't dying, but her attempt to break to explain this gave SkullSatamon an opening in which to strike her solidly with its staff.

"Himamon!" Jen blurted, and she had to physically stop herself from running forward.

"Fuck," Peter hissed, not sure what to do-- but if he was confused and feeling helpless, it was nothing compared to what Banshemon was.

Banshemon only barely dared glance towards Martyamon and Theo, Jen and Himamon, and really, a thought struck her.

The fact of the matter was, since meeting and talking Martyamon earlier today, it had been bothering her. If Martyamon had been a champion level -- heck, if Martyamon had been just a little more aggressive -- would they have thought twice about trying to eliminate her?
Yeah, it was true that the digimon they had fought either had it out for them and wouldn't be deterred by anything other than total defeat, but all those feral digimon-- had their crime really been just being too large?

(How many digimon who had just wanted to escape a possibly-dying world had they not even spared a second thought on?)

(Would it even have mattered if they had?)

(Did she even have a choice?)

A pang of guilt and fear and panic hit her, and in that moment, she knew she had felt this way before.

And then she felt a whole lot worse, and Peter's D-Rive began to make that horrible, unbearably loud noise.

Banshemon's claws began to glow bright white, as though she were about to attack, but it continued to creep up her arms and a similar glow began to ebb up from her long smoky tail. Just like those who had gone before her, it started geometric and splintered off, and from the blank space in between the lines a blackness consumed her.

She didn't screech; the noise she made was like a prolonged sob, an entirely too-human cry entirely compared to the amost animalistic sounds that Doctorimon and Corymon had made.

 

"Banshemon, catalyst evolve to--!"

The blackness swirled around her, glitching and shifting, as Banshemon's cry began to distort into a glitchy squeal. It built to a breaking point, and then it did, indeed, break, shearing in two and revealing a new form forming out of the darkness.

Long white hair flowed like water down from a more-humanoid head. She wore no hood, and her face was stark white, apparently done up in makeup; her neck and every other bit of her body below seemed to be made of the same bound-together smoke as Banshemon had been.
Her face was devoid of proper features. Old, blood-stained bandages were wrapped around one eye, and where should have been her other eye was instead a smear of blue facepaint. Instead of a mouth, a jagged, stitched-together scar ran diagonally across her face from underneath the bandages to her opposite jaw.

She wore white and gold robes, tattered and torn, with a greyish-purple sash wrapped around her waist, and-- well. A moment of thought would pin this new form as a naga; emerging from under the tattered bottom of her robe, her body looked more snake-like from the waist down than it had before. complete with a set of white scales on her belly, running down the length of her body and tail, which was tipped in a bone-white rattlesnake rattle. Bandages and bones decorated her long tail, haphazardly placed.

The final detail of note; from the ends of her sleeves were clearly hands, the same black smoke as the rest of her, with too-long fingers and sharp claws. Her arms hung limp at her sides, and her upper body was awkwardly slumped backwards at an angle that couldn't be comfortable for her spine.

She settled on the ground, apparently not able to float freely anymore, and didn't make a single sound as she did.

"Onryomon."

 

It wasn't a cry; it was a simple statement quiet and cold, and easy to miss.

Peter swore under his breath, rooted to the spot.
(He had... kind of been hoping that the fact that Draugmon had been present for IlDoctorimon and Camazmon had been part of this, but hey, throw that one on the debunked theories pile!)

"Shit," Jen muttered, gritting her teeth. "I was afraid of this."

"And I wasn't?" Peter couldn't help himself from snapping; he took steps backwards to get space between him and the newly-formed Onryomon as she silently moved towards SkullSatamon, her snakelike lower half slithering and shifting on the ground without a sound, not even the rustle of grass.

"That's your digimon?" Theo asked, looking incredulously at Peter; Peter himself said nothing, lips pressed thin.

Himamon, still picking herself up from from SkullSatamon's blow, growled, her fur standing up on end, but she stepped backwards, not wanting to be too close to whatever was about to happen.

"Bone Blaster!" SkullSatamon said, a sort of half-frantic look in its eye (though, really, that had been there from the start) as it fired another beam from its staff at Onryomon. The beam struck her, knocking her back several meters as though she was feather-light; she righted herself without comment.

"Kiss of Death," Onryomon said, barely above a whisper, and like a cobra striking, she had struck in close to SkullSatamon, faster than the eye could follow. She lifted her arms and grasped around SkullSatamon's neck, drawing her face ("face") in close to SkullSatamon's.

SkullSatamon opened its mouth, but no sound escaped; instead, a smoky white essence trailed out, which Onryomon seemed to be absorbing.
With a blind swing of its club, SkullSatamon dislodged her, and it coughed a rattly cough, looking significantly more worn out than it had a second ago.

"Bone Bl--!" SkullSatamon began, but Onryomon didn't wait.

"Ivory Viper," she said simply (the only sound she made, it was becoming clear, were her very quiet attack announcements); the rattle at the end of her tail began to glow white, and it quickly extended into a blade-like shape. She drew in close to SkullSatamon yet again, and this time, instead of going for its throat with her hands, she struck out for its core with the tip of her tail. The white blade sunk into the black core in SkullSatamon's chest, and the skeleton digimon began to shift and glow into motes of pixellated light almost instantly. The light, as ever, split into beams that shot into both Jen and Peter's D-Rives.

For a half a second, it was entirely too quiet.

"Chakra Strike!"

Himamon launched herself at Onryomon, her claws crackling with golden energy as she struck right at Onryomon's face.

"Why the fuck does this keep happening," Peter hissed as Himamon began to clash with Onryomon-- clearly not trying to beat her, just trying to distract her, as judging by the fact that Himamon immediately drew Onryomon to face away from the human onlookers.

"It's the corruption, dude," Jen said, putting her hands on her hips-- but despite her glib tone and apparent duh answer, she looked sympathetic.

"'Corruption'," Theo said, looking at Martyamon in his arms-- her teeth were gritted but she seemed to be as close to okay as she was going to be, and she was conscious, if her occasional shit that hurts-s were any indication, she just had her eyes closed. "Is that what you were talking about?"

She cracked an eye open to look up at Theo.
"Can't even let me be wounded in peace, can you?" she managed, smirking, and Theo groaned, half with frustration and half with relief that she could still snark at him.

"What was she talking about?" Peter said, looking at Theo, and Theo frowned.

"When I met her," he said, slowly, "she told me that the world she's from is being torn apart. That's why she came here-- because something happened and it was getting much worse, much faster than it had been for years. She said..." He paused, trying to find words. "She said it was pointless to try and bail it out now, so the best option is to bail out entirely?"

"Butchering my words," Martyamon mumbled indignantly.

"Great," Peter said, grimacing-- but he didn't have time to self-pity, because in front of him, his partner was making things worse.

"Kiss of Death," Onryomon said, drawing in close to Himamon and lifting her long-fingered black hands to the red panda's throat.

"Himamon!" Jen cried out, reaching a hand out, and at that moment, her D-Rive began to glow-- and so did Himamon. Onryomon dropped her hands away immediately, backing away as a golden light began to spread up from Himamon's claws.
While the bright white light and swirling darkness that had engulfed Banshemon to turn her into this new form had been cold and harsh, the white light that filled the blank space between the golden circuits covering Himamon in almost the same manner seemed warm and comfortable.

Or maybe that was just the knowledge that she wasn't going to turn into a monster influencing opinion.

 

"Himamon, conduction evolve to...!"

She was surrounded by a sphere of light, white and gold, and it burst apart into motes of light to leave behind a new digimon.

While she was slimmer and more compact -- and more anthropomorphic -- than Himamon, she wasn't that much shorter. She still had all the features of a red panda, but her tail was more porportional to her body-- and in exchange, her arms had grown even larger, her massive dark-brown claws practically touching the ground when her arms hung at her side. A couple of leather straps encircled each hand, with inches-long golden spikes sticking out of the ones wrapped around her knuckles.

A long golden scarf sat around her neck, concealing some of the orange-red vest that she wore. Around her waist hung a length of orange fabric, encircling around the back and fastened in place with a small array of gold rings inset with reddish gems that matched the kneepad-like armor that appeared on her legs. Black pants blended almost seamlessly into toeless black boots, adorned with black straps.

She wore a calm expression as she set her feet gently down on the dirt, and her voice was firm and confident.

"Shaolimon!"

 

Onryomon, even though she didn't have eyes, seemed to regard Shaolimon with contempt-- she flicked her tail, and indeed, it made a rattlesnake's telltale noise of irritation.

"Ivory Viper," Onryomon said, and a shining blade began to form around her tailtip once more.

"Eighteen Paw Strike!" Shaolimon cried, lunging forward before Onryomon could, and she began to strike out rapidly, delivering hard and fast strikes with her hands and feet alike. In the split second before each strike hit, a flash of yellow light surrounded the paw about to connect, and she finished it off with a full-body turn, smashing her tail into Onryomon's side.

Onryomon was knocked aside and crumpled inelegantly; Shaolimon fell into a defensive stance, her expression serious and eyes fixed on Onryomon, waiting for the ghostly digimon to make another move.

Onryomon righted herself. The bandages wrapped around one half of her face were beginning to unravel and fall to the ground; her hair was obscuring it, falling like a white curtain to block the view; as she lifted her head, her hair shifted just enough to reveal that where the bandages were falling away, there was... just nothing underneath it, a smoky pit of nothingness, and the white makeup on her face was like a cracking mask around it.
She lifted her hands to her face and began to scrabble at it, almost but not quite clawing, as she began to back away.

Shaolimon was already preparing a counter to an attack that never came. "Dragon's Breath!" she cried, leaping backwards to put a bit more space between her and Onryomon; she procured from thin air a tankard of something, and she took a deep swig of it. She reared her head back and spat out a stream of an amber liquid, which ignited in brilliant golden flames the moment it touched the air.

When the flames hit her, Onryomon collapsed and stopped moving entirely; and Shaolimon alighted on the ground, frowning.

She didn't move; Peter could have been imagining it, but he swore she glanced at him and nodded her head, just barely, almost imperceptibly.

Either way, he nodded to himself and walked towards Onryomon himself.

Peter didn't know exactly why he was doing what he was doing, except for the fact that... it was still Banmon, right? And if this ended badly for him, so be it.
He picked up the bandage on the ground from where it had fallen on the ground, and he crossed to the unmoving Onryomon. He knelt to the ground beside her and began to re-wrap the bandage around the void in her face. It was inelegant and difficult, because he didn't want to risk angering her, and she had a lot of hair that needed considering, but the entire time, Onryomon didn't move.

Once the bandage was re-wrapped around her face, Onryomon began to glow white, and in mere moments, she was replaced with an unconscous Banmon.

It was quiet again for a moment, the stillness of the evening finally having a chance to truly set in. Theo stood, holding Martyamon; Peter knelt, holding Banmon; Jen stood to the side, hands in her pockets, watching Shaolimon watch Peter.

The red panda looked at Banmon and Peter, and she sighed, bowing her head and closing her eyes. She was overtaken by a golden glow and a moment later, she was Lurumon again.

Peter looked over his shoulder at her, eyebrow raised. He wasn't going to complain, but he did want to ask why she hadn't taken her chance, but couldn't find a good way to phrase it.

"We'll take her doing the dark digivolve thing and cance it out with you helping us taking care of SkullSatamon and we'll call it even then, yeah?" Jen said, breaking the silence.

Peter looked at Jen with a quizzical expression, but Lurumon, beside her, nodded.

"Alright," Peter said slowly, picking Banmon up. He pulled his D-Rive out of his pocket and pressed the button down, and in a flash, Banmon was safely minimized where she could come to no further harm.

Theo looked between Jen and Peter, and then down at Martyamon in his arms.
"Okay, somebody needs to explain to me what's going on, because I know a lot less than I thought I did."

"Don't we all," Peter muttered bitterly.

 

***

Martyamon was alright, just a bit worn out for the trouble.

Theo carried her as he walked with Peter; she looked like an oversized stuffed animal when she wasn't complaining, eating, or fighting, so any second looks they got were easily dismissable. As it turned out, Theo's apartment building wasn't that far from Peter's place; they weren't in the same neighborhood, but it wasn't too extreme of a walk, and their paths coincided as they both began their treks towards their respective homes.

Theo asked questions about digimon, and everything that had happened the past few months, and how normally, he and the girl with the red panda were at odds; while Peter didn't answer everything to his satisfaction, he didn't try to pry, not wanting to be rude or invasive. He explained what he knew and admitted to the gaps in his knowledge, and while he was hedgy about a few things, Theo saw no reason not to beleive that he was telling what he understood of the truth.

He'd have to ask Martyamon about it when she was more lucid.

As Peter signalled that he was about to take the turn down the road to his own place, and that their paths would diverge here, Theo waved him goodbye -- or, he tried to. Didn't really have the free hand to do so. You get the point.

He knew he had just happened into a friendship with a mouthy little manticore; his own involvement in this was drastically less than these people, that Martyamon seemed to only be a bit player in what was far, far greater than he had initially thought.

Still... when a little monster takes a metaphorical bullet (or, such as it was, skeleton's energy beam) for you, he couldn't help but understand, at least a little, why these people were so damn invested in this, instead of just letting the monsters work it out between themselves.

He was going to buy Martyamon a goddamn cheeseburger tomorrow.