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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.