Digimon re:CONNECT || Something wicked this way comes.

Episode 23: Point/Counterpoint

If anyone had been hoping for a peaceful week of downtime with no digimon incidents in the aftermath of Draugmon's defeat, they were going to be sorely disappointed.

One champion emergent, southwest. got it covered, the message from Peter sat read in the chat late on Saturday afternoon-- or really, early on Saturday evening. Either way, it was an acknowledgement of the emergent, that it was being taken care of, that anyone who wanted was welcome to jump in on it if they happened to be around.
This was the sixth emergence since the incident last Saturday night-- they had only barely avoided one emergent a day. August was finally on its last legs; it had felt like this month had lasted a half a year with everything that had happened.

With the uneasy peace between the main group and Ryan's group (even though nobody was quite over his we're supposed to be the good guys bit) and the rapid pace of issues that needed dealing with, the actual dealing with them had quickly become a simple matter of whoever was closest and available in whatever combinations they could muster. If they happened to run into Ryan, Eli, or Jen at any of the incidents... well, the more the merrier. More important than anyone's feelings about each other was the imperative to take care of the feral emergents quickly, before anyone could get hurt or anything was too badly-damaged; sightings by "civilians", such as they were, had been sparse. With eight people scattered around Atlas Park, their coverage was decent.

And it was indeed eight, and not nine. Though Lily had shown herself, she had still yet to actually participate in any digimon incidents.

Truth be told, she was starting to feel a bit self-conscious about it.

Lily sighed heavily as she scrolled through the past messages in the group chat on the walk up to her apartment. Natalie had added her to the chat, but she had thus far avoided saying anything in it. She'd gone full-on lurker.
Admittedly, she felt she had a reason for not getting involved in any digimon fights thus far. Namely, Brockmon was only now truly recovering. After a tearful reunion when he'd woken up on Sunday afternoon (he had stayed unconscious through the morning), the badger had been not exactly in peak condition. 'Not in peak condition', in this context, meant wasn't able to move at anything more than a glacial pace without being hit with a tidal wave of pain and nausea.

Any time that he wasn't immediately in Lily's line of sight, sitting next to her on the couch or on her bed, he was minimized; he couldn't afford to stay out, not now, not when Ratamon knew where he was. (Because being minimized seemed to dull his discomfort, this wasn't the worst possible outcome, so he might have elected to have done this anyway.)

Still-- just knowing Brockmon was back was a peace of mind that Lily had been sorely missing.

A swirl of black not-quite-light accompanied Brockmon's materializing as Lily closed her apartment door.
"Still nothing?" he asked, looking up at her.

He didn't mean to imply that digimon emergences were nothing. Rather, what he was interested in was any sign of Ratamon.

The fact that the little white digimon hadn't shown his face all week was no comfort at all-- in fact, it put everyone, Brockmon especially, on significantly more edge.

"Just another digimon showing up and wrecking things," Lily said, shaking her head.

"Hmph," Brockmon mumbled, shaking his head. "I'd almost prefer it if he just got it over with."

"What do we even plan to do if he does show up?" Lily asked, kneeling to take her work shoes off. Brockmon opened his mouth, but as soon as he did he realized he didn't actually have a good answer to that, and he closed it again. "My point exactly."

"It just worries me," Brockmon said, shaking his head. "Not knowing what he's doing doesn't exactly put my mind at ease."

"Forgive me for asking," Lily said, "but why exactly was he so preoccupied with keeping you back in the first place? I mean, the catalyst reaction's kind of a one-and-done deal as far as you know, right?"

"Right," Brockmon said with a nod, crossing over to and crawling up onto the couch, "but Ratamon must have been concerned about something else if he didn't want me to get back. My best guess is that he doesn't want anyone who knows as much as I do roaming free."

The obvious question -- if that's the case, why don't you just tell anyone who will listen everything you know? -- was one Lily already knew the answer to. She and Brockmon alike had no idea how to even broach the subject with anyone who it would be useful to tell. It sounded dumb, but, hey, you try inserting yourself an established group of people, especially taking into account how much of what had happened over the past month was on your shoulders.

Lily had never been a spill-her-guts type in the first place, last weekend notwithstanding, and Brockmon had historically played his cards close to his chest.
One supposes that this was part of what got them into this mess in the first place, but old habits tend to die hard.

But digimon emergences were definitely getting more frequent, so even if Ratamon wasn't doing anything directly... something was definitely happening, even if they didn't know what.

Brockmon sighed and glanced at Lily's D-Rive where she had set it on the table, then over at her. "You think we should go?" he asked, and it was as much a suggestion as it was a genuine question, him asking for her input.

Lily sighed, running a hand backwards through her hair. "And here I was, with all my busy Saturday night plans." Any other time, that might have been an actual complaint she had, but this week... no, this month had really taken a toll on her. "Give me two seconds to change out of my work clothes, I smell like potpourri."

***

Lily wasn't surprised by the fact that by the time she got down to where her radar was leading her -- which was down on the south side of town, she was late to the party. It was underneath an freeway overpass, a forest of grafitti-ed concrete pillars and scrubby grass poking up from under dust and gravel, with the rumbling roar of cars for soundtrack.
She hung back, standing half-behind one of those concrete pillars to watch the in-progress fight she had stumbled upon from a safe distance.

"Southern Cross!" Malakhimon cried, the white beams of light smashing into the hide of the giant triceratops that was currently threatening to take out a concrete pillar with the wild swinging of its head. The dinosaur roared as it turned its attention to Malakhimon and began to charge.
The angel-dragon grabbed a hold of Triceramon's horns to grapple with it. She gritted her teeth, glancing to the side to see if she could spot where her ally in this fight had gone.

"Spirit Ripper!" Banshemon cried. Where she actually was was unclear until her claws appeared in mid-air -- or rather, the glowing light around them appeared. The rest of her flickered into visibility only a moment before she dragged her claws through Triceramon, catching the dinosaur wholly off-guard. As she passed, Triceramon roared and began to pixellate.

A burst of data later and two twin beams of light shot into Peter and Ryan's D-Rives, and the kerfluffle of battle was replaced with the sound of cars on the overpass above them.

"I forgot," Malakhimon said primly, her face even, "that you can turn invisible."

"I'm..." Banshemon said, a bit flustered, "I'm trying to get better about using it--"

Malakhimon, though, couldn't maintain her stern expression, and she smiled a small smile. "I wasn't complaining. It was clever," she said, and Banshemon looked even more flustered.

"Is that all they've got?" Ryan said, stretching his hands over his head. It was hard to be heard over the roar of cars going by overhead. Flashes of red and white brought Malakhimon and Banshemon back downto their normal sizes.

"Hopefully," Peter said with a nod, looking around. He though he saw something move, and he paused and furrowed his brow, but... "Thanks for your help," he said after a moment, nodding an acknowledgement to Ryan.

Ryan paused, then nodded right back. "Same to you," he said. "Shitomon, let's split before anyone starts getting nosy."

"That works for me," Shitomon said. She nodded her thanks to Banmon, and in a burst of red, she was gone from sight.

They parted ways soon after, and Banmon floated after Peter as they walked towards where he had left his car. It was a short enough walk, in an area with little enough foot traffic, that he didn't bother minimizing her. She could hide if she had to-- there would be ample places for her to do so.

"You've been doing better in combat, I think," Peter said over his shoulder.

"Huh?"

"I just mean you're getting a lot more confident when you fight lately."

Banmon paused. She hadn't been feeling her best lately. "I have to admit I don't really feel the part..." she said.
Peter hummed and nodded slowly. He didn't say much else, his eyes focused on where he thought he had seen movement a moment ago, and he trudged on with Banmon sticking close to him.

Lily seemed to realize that she couldn't stay hidden without making things more awkward, so she kind of half-stepped out as Peter and Banmon drew close. Banmon squeaked and dove behind her partner before she realized that she didn't strictly need to hide.

"Sorry I'm late," she said, and, boy, wasn't that just about the story of her life? It felt appropriate that this was the first thing she'd said to them -- any of them -- since last weekend.

Peter shook his head, an unspoken it's fine, as Banmon peeked her head over his shoulder. "It's good to see you're still alive," he said, and Lily couldn't quite get a read on how sincere or sarcastic he was being. "Are you busy? I was about to meet up with Sam for something and I think he's been wanting a chance to talk to you. More specifically, your partner."

Lily raised her eyebrows, and wondered--
Was it really that easy?

"I'm not busy, no."

***

"Cool," Lily said, peering at the bones and dead animals in jars that littered the shelves of Peter's flat. Peter's roommate was at work, Sam hadn't yet come around, and Brockmon was being reserved (read: didn't want to come out of his D-Rive, because he was being a big baby), so Lily was filling the space by investigating the slightly odd decor choices. "What's this one?" she asked, pointing at one in particular.

Peter glanced over from the couch to see which one she was looking at. "Fetal kitten."

"Creepy," Lily said, grinning.

"People generally don't say that with that much excitement in their voices," Peter said, eyebrow raised.

"Well, I recognized that one, so I was just curious," she said, gesturing at the badger skull next to the jar.
Of note was the fact that she was gesturing with the arm that was almost fully sleeved in tattoos. Now that they weren't standing on a half-dark street or shoved into a too-small apartment, it was much easier to see that one of the centerpieces of the entire sleeve was an intricate badger skull, enwreathed in roses and -- appropriately -- lilies, emblazoned on her upper arm.
Well, that explained why she was able to identify the skull on first glance, at least.

"I guess the ghost digimon kind of fits you, then?" Lily mused out loud, and Peter hummed.

"Everyone," by which he meant everyone who knows about Banmon, "says that. I've noticed that the digimon we're partnered to tend to be appropriate."

"Oh?" Lily said, glancing over at him. Banmon was sticking close to him, watching her carefully, and Lily shifted a bit uncomfortably, self-conscious.

"Banmon suits me, as everyone says she does," Peter said, tilting his head at Banmon, "a loudmouthed bat suits Xander, a raven suits Natalie-- you get my point. A badger--- bear? -- seems to suit you."

"What exactly is your logic on that one?" Lily said, somewhere between amused and bemused. "Since, no offense, you barely know me."

Peter was undeterred. "Something, I think, about hunkering down and minding your own business until that's not an option. I hope I'm not offending or being presumptuous."

Lily paused, and she shrugged pointedly. "Nah, you're pretty much on the money," she said. "Honestly, I figure that's probably because if you spend fifteen years around someone, you're going to start resembling them, yeah?"

Banmon nodded slowly, but any further discussion was stimeyed by the tap-tap of rapping knuckles on wood. "Door's open," Peter said, and the door swung open. Sam was shouldering the door, maneuvering around the two laptop bags he had criss-crossing his body. Gelermon, on all fours like a proper dog, slid in as soon as the door was open far enough for her to fit.

"Hi," Sam said, kicking the door shut behind him as he entered. He glanced at Lily-- Peter had told him she was going to be here, and for a moment it looked like he was going to go tight-lipped as he tended to go around people he wasn't familiar with.
"Glad to see you haven't died between last week and now," he said instead. "Was starting to wonder about that."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Lily said.

Peter shook his head, deciding not to comment that Sam only barely had room to talk, given his own propensity for radio silence outside of digimon fights, if only because he knew Gelermon would take it as an affront.

"Where's badgerboy?" Gelermon said, looking around and sniffing at the air. "All I smell is the usual smell of death and misery and hipster trash this place has, no new digimon at all."

Lily huffed a laugh, and apparently drawn forth by the mocking, a paradoxical flash of blackness darkened the room for a split second. A black shape quickly formed and as the dark energy faded, Brockmon -- conscious and not half-frozen this time -- stood at his partner's side.

If not for the fact that both Sam and Peter had seen their own partners go berserker in turn, it might have been jarring to see the monster that had given them so much trouble in a small and fluffy form. Still, though, they could see the resemblance if they squinted-- the same indigo shade of fur, similar big blunt claws. Even the belts wrapped around his limbs, they realized, had been mirrored in Draugmon.

... okay, it was still kind of surreal.

Brockmon paused, shifted his weight, and glanced to Lily for instruction. For all he was trying to put on an air of seeming confident, aloof, composed, he was actually fairly nervous. He wasn't entirely sure how they would respond--

"Hi," Banmon said, raising a hand in greeting. Gelermon nodded by way of greeting.

"Hello," Brockmon said slowly, cautiously.

"Glad to have you here, in particular," Sam said, looking over at the badger, "seeing as you're just about the only person we know who can help me out with a question I've got."

"Glad to be of service," Brockmon said with a clipped nod.

"I would've asked you," Sam continued, looking over at Lily, "but, uh." He faltered slightly. "Frankly the idea of contacting you out of the blue makes me crave the void, so, you know."

"I can relate," Lily said, smiling faintly. She couldn't help but feel a kind of sense of... not quite relief, but something akin.

"Clearly," Peter said, his voice flat, "it's a good thing I'm just so damned outgoing." He paused for a moment, allowing his sarcasm to really sink in. "God, it's a mystery we get anything done without Natalie shepherding us."

Lily took a seat on the far end of the couch, opposite from where Peter was, while Sam situated himself on the floor.

"A while back," Sam said, for Lily's benefit, "Natalie had a chat with-- Ryan. You know, mister sunglasses, dude whose apartment we bogarted?"

"Right."

"I tagged along so I wouldn't have to hear about it in post. Shitomon mentioned something about a time dilation between their world and ours-- something about how when their big head honcho dude separated the worlds, their flow of time more or less synched up with ours."

"Right," Brockmon said, nodding. "The digital world has, as I understand it, been pretty much in a state of stasis since the quarantine."

"That's just it, though," Sam said, turning his palms upwards. "The digital world isn't quarantined anymore. Or if it is, it's a shitty quarantine that's not working. That's kind of the point, right? To get the time flow to speed back up so whatever-the-fuck-it-is can start growing back?"

Brockmon nodded slowly, furrowing his brow.

Lily caught on immediately. "So you think that their timeflow is starting to speed back up or something?"

"Got it in one," Sam said, tapping his nose. "It's just a theory, of course, but if it's starting to accelerate again..."

"Then it follows that even if the rate and number of digimon making it through is the same from the other end," Peter said, "it would appear to be happening quicker from our side."

"I love explaining things to people who actually understand," Sam muttered to nobody in particular, turning his eyes upwards as though at some imagined deity. (Really, the entire group -- not just those present -- was relatively quick to pick up anything he put down, so to speak, and god that was nice.)
Try not to be too condescending there, buddy.
He coughed, coming back down to reality.
"So what I needed to do was ask you, badgerboy," Sam said, looking to Brockmon, "if you've noticed any time dilation in the times you've been dragged back to funtown by Ratamon, in between his visits to wrecks-shit-ville."

"I hate to disappoint, but I can't really say for sure," Brockmon said, scratching at his nose. "Maybe a little bit. I admit I didn't exactly keep track of calendar days, but--" he paused, and furrowed his brow even further.

"If it had been just a couple extra days," Banmon said, tilting her head, "you might not have noticed it."

Brockmon considered this. "It wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility. I assume it might only start to pick up over time, as the connection grows stronger." He frowned and looked at the floor. "Maybe that's what Ratamon's been doing..." he muttered, more to himself than anyone else.

"Pardon?" Peter said, raising an eyebrow.

"He's been practically driving himself crazy the past week over the last week wondering why Ratamon hasn't shown back up," Lily said, placing a hand on the badger digimon's head.

"No I haven't," Brockmon said in an unconvincing way, and he shook his head to dislodge Lily's hand. "It's just that if Ratamon is feeling threatened by the loss of some element of his plan," meaning: Brockmon himself, "he might be... how to put this..."

Sam provided. "Putting the pedal to the metal on making the time go all pear-shaped?"

"Something to that effect-- or going all-in on a backup plan, at least," Brockmon said. "Giving an inch now in order to blow everyone back a mile later."

"That's comforting," Lily said dryly, frowning.

"Isn't it just?" Sam said, scratching the back of his neck. "Man, it sucks being right all the time."
Stay humble.

"Wasn't there something," Peter said, "you wanted to talk even if I hadn't run into Lily?"

"Right, yeah," Sam said after a moment to remember what, exactly, it was he had been intending to talk about before Lily and Brockmon had thoroughly derailed his train of thought.

"Hey, before you get into that," Gelermon said, catching the attention of everyone. "Since you've asked him what you need to, can I borrow Brockmon for a sec? I've got something I've been meaning to ask him."

"By 'ask'," Peter said, "do you mean 'beat up'?"

"Have some faith in me, scarfy," Gelermon said, though she smirked.

"That's really up to Brockmon, isn't it?" Banmon said, tilting her head.

Brockmon indeed looked around a bit and considered before nodding. "That's alright," he said after a moment, and a little bit of logistics later, they -- that is to say, Brockmon, Gelermon, and Banmon to mediate just in case -- slipped off to Peter's room.

***

Peter's room was dark, which suited Brockmon fine. He looked around; there were more bones and wet-preserved animals on the walls, above milk crates full of vinyl records sequestered in the corner.
All of them seemed fairly accustomed to dark conditions, though it was slighty disconcerting that Brockmon's eyes practically seemed to glow in the dark.

"If you're going to ask me to tell you about your pasts," Brockmon said, acting pre-emptively, "I have to admit I don't know very much, so I'm not going to be much help. I was in large part in isolation for much of the time leading up to the severance of the worlds." When both dog and ghost looked slightly bewildered that he seemed to know about their spotty memories, he added, "Lily told me that your humans told her that your memories are shot."

"Well, that's not what I was going to ask about," Gelermon said. Actually, the issue of their pasts was a question Gelermon had wanted to ask, but she was okay to move rapidly along without letting on about that, because she had another question.

"Go on, then," Brockmon said, gesturing with one blunt-clawed paw.

"Why did you make friends with your human?"

He blinked. "For the same reason the both of you did, I imagine," he said. "When I arrived here, Lily was the first one who found me, and she quite quickly decided I was her new best friend."

"I think what she means," Banmon said, piping up, "is more like..." She paused and thought of how to put it. "When we arrived, we didn't know where we had come from. We still don't, really. But you did. You do."

"Right," Gelermon said with a nod. "Shitomon, Hulimon, and Lurumon-- they remembered too, but they believed they were part of some big righteous crusade. You, though, from what I can tell, have a perfectly intact memory. You came here with a mission to help re-ignite that corruption thing, but you still made friends with a human. You had to know that it would cause problems for her when the time came to follow through."

Brockmon frowned. He was on the spot, and he didn't see a purpose in trying to weasel his way out of it. "The effects my presence would have on her in the future were not my primary concern at the time, no," he said. "My priorities have changed over time; by the time I was concerned about getting her involved, she wasn't interested in parting ways with me. She's made her choice. I made mine." He paused, and tilted his head. "Why do you ask?"

Gelermon frowned, folding her arms and drumming her claws on her upper arms. "It's just that if I had known," she said, "the kind of garbage shitshow we were going to get involved with, I don't know if I'd have wanted to drag Sam into it."

"Supposing you had known what your future held," Brockmon said, "would you have cared enough about a stranger's wellbeing to not want to involve him?"

"He's not--" Gelermon began, defensive, but she knew what Brockmon was going to say before she even said it.

"He was a stranger then," the badger said firmly. "There's no version of events where you both care enough about him to not want to get him involved where he isn't already involved. You've made your choices, and he's made his, the same as me and Lily."

"It doesn't feel like our partners really have a choice, though," Banmon said, looking at her scarf-end hands. "We... we kind of dragged them into this without full disclosure..."

"You realize that they could part ways with you at any time if they so chose," Brockmon said. He spoke with the consideration of someone who'd had a lot of time to consider these things, instead of the mere weeks that the others had.

Gelermon curled her lip to bare her teeth. "Is this supposed to make me feel better?"

Banmon, though, seemed to catch Brockmon's point a bit better. "They haven't. But-- but that's because they wouldn't want to abandon us to deal with emergents alone."

"Of course they don't," Brockmon said, tilting his head, "but do you think they haven't made that choice of their own volition? If they didn't want to be involved, then nothing would be strictly-speaking stopping them."

"Except for all the giant monsters," Gelermon said flatly. "But, you know, I suppose that's overlookable."

"The digimon are concerned with us," Brockmon pointed out, "not the humans. There would be consequences if they decided to part ways with any of us, but consequences are part of any decision."

Banmon sighed, her shoulders -- 'shoulders' -- slumping. "That's actually kind of been bothering me," she said, shaking her head.

"What has?" Brockmon and Gelermon both said at the same time, and they glanced at each other but chose not to comment on this.

"I-- the emergent digimon who came about in the first place were only concerned with us, right?" she said. "I know that the humans have the D-Rives, and that means something, but... I don't know. I can't help but feel like they wouldn't need them in the first place-- like this would all have been a lot easier if Ratamon hadn't... had the chance to activate the catalyst... thing." She trailed off inarticulately, but her point was made.

"Honesty, I think that might have been true," Brockmon said after a moment of heavy silence, shaking his head. "If we -- all of you carriers and I -- had just surrendered, I don't know if we would have this much of a problem."

"So are you just saying we should roll over and surrender?" Gelermon growled, and Banmon shrunk back, even though Gelermon wasn't snapping at her.

"No," Brockmon said evenly, unperturbed by Gelermon's temper, "I'm saying that it might have been better if we all had, back when all of this begun, but we didn't."

Gelermon raised an eyebrow incredulously. "Yeah, okay, pardon me, but what's the fuckin' difference?"

"Just the fact that we didn't?" Banmon said, uncertain, but Brockmon nodded at her.

"The fact that we didn't is the difference, yes," he said, splaying his hands out palms-upwards. He sounded like he'd thought about this a lot; he sounded almost like he had practiced this in his head (spoiler alert: he had). "Originally, when it was just digimon who had a problem with you and a few feral digimon, if we had all just laid down, then maybe the corruption wouldn't have had a chance to reactivate, and the incidents would have ended as a fluke. Maybe the D-Rives were just a backup plan from whatever sent them and not meant to be the first line of defense." He paused.
"Or, alternatively, maybe it would have gone exponentially worse; maybe everything would have gotten worse and the partnerships of us and our humans are the only thing standing between total anarchy and--" he paused, losing a bit of steam, and his slightly haughty tone faltered, "... not that. The point is that either way, neither of those outcomes is what did happen."

"Nice monologue," Gelermon said, rolling her eyes. "You've had a lot of time to think about this, haven't you?"

Brockmon shrugged. "I've had fifteen years to consider and reconsider my position, my choices, and my actions," he said, his voice wry, "and the past three weeks with nothing but that and the desire to freeze Ratamon in an icecube to keep me entertained. I have to get my fun from somewhere."

"The events we are considering now wouldn't be something we are considering if not for the fact that the five of you chose to fight back, that I chose to lie low, and Dinmon's little task force decided to try to take you down. None of those would have been options on the table if not for the fact that all of us chose to make friends with our human partners and gotten them involved. Regardless of how good an idea those were in retrospect... what is it that humans say? Hindsight is 20/20?"

Gelermon opened her mouth, and then closed it without saying anything. She snorted through her nose and folded her arms.

"Is something wrong?" Banmon said, glancing over at Gelermon.

"He's more or less right, and I hate it."

Brockmon huffed a laugh -- the first time he had done so -- and he fell forward onto all-fours. "I have a question for the two of you, now, if you're satisfied with my answer to yours."

"As satisfied as I think she's going to be..." Banmon said, tilting her head at Gelermon and then nodding at Brockmon. "What is it?"

Brockmon paused and pawed at the carpeting for a moment. Mere moments ago he had been giving them what sounded like a rehearsed speech, something he had had time to think about and practice, and now he sounded quite a bit less so.
"When you digivolve, what does that feel like?"

Banmon blinked. "It's..." she said, and then considered her words. "I don't like to do it. I don't like fighting very much," she said, shaking her head, "but when I do it, it's when I feel like there's something I need to do that's more important... like I need to protect someone, or stop something bad from happening."

"And that feeling turns into like a rock dropped into your stomach," Gelermon said, pointing at her own chest, "except it gets kind of stuck right about here, and starts getting bigger until it feels like it's going to blast your arms and legs off." She paused, and looked at Banmon, who had no proper arms and no legs to speak of. "Or, you know, whatever."

Banmon nodded. "It gets... bigger, and when it can't get any bigger, that's when I evolve into Banshemon," she said.

"Or Frekimon," Gelermon said, pounding her fist into her opposite palm, and then she paused to gesture. "Or whatever, I assume it's the same for the others."

Brockmon nodded slowly, and he considered before he answered his next question. "And when you digivolve to ultimate?" he said, trying to stay diplomatic, but he could tell there was a slight awkwardness to the question.

"... basically the same, I guess," Banmon said, her voice wavering a little bit. "But worse."

"It's like instead of growing," Gelermon provided, "that feeling's being dragged out by force. Like it's not supposed to come out but fuck you, something wants it out anyway and it comes out kicking and screaming."

Brockmon nodded slowly, his face solemn and his eyes on the floor.

"Was it something like that?" Banmon said quietly, leaving when you turned into Draugmon unsaid, but it was understood.

"Something like that," Brockmon echoed with a slow nod.

***

Ratamon dropped down into the ruins. He was light enough, after all, and between his small size and his wings flapping to slow his fall, he barely even disturbed the dust when he landed.

He had to admit he hadn't bothered to come here often; the cracks that had been turning up elsewhere in the wastes had been much easier to reach, seeing as this place had practically caved in in the intervening years-- or rather, it had almost entirely caved in back when the refugees and their pursuers had crossed over.
It had already been in an impressive state of disrepair, but the past fifteen years had done as much of a number on it as the thousands prior had.

It was really sort of vindicating to see it like this, but even so, didn't particularly care to come poking around here unless he had to. It wasn't exactly full of happy memories.

But still-- now that things were starting to pick up... well, it would be good to keep an eye on it.

Somewhere far away, footsteps echoed. Ratamon flicked his feathery ears.

Some digimon must be wandering these ruins, he supposed-- blind, almost definitely, either by madness or by the darkness. By this point, it was likely both. Needless to say, Ratamon wasn't particularly worried about it; anything big enough to make such a noise would almost definitely be too big to follow Ratamon too far.

It was, after all, a long way down yet.

***

"Right, but that still doesn't explain why they've all been feral," Peter pointed out, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked at Sam's laptop screens. Sam had brought two, and both were open so he could show multiple things at once. One had his current attempt at decrypting the dumped file from his D-Rive (the one without a minimized Gelermon, he didn't want to brick two computers), and the other was an honest-to-god spreadsheet he had made for tracking digimon emergences.

What a fucking nerd.

"Right, see, that's what I'm saying," Sam said, nodding. "Whether there's more feral ones or whether there are fewer ones who have aspirations of glory or whatever the fuck, I think it's evidence of something changing on the other end. Aside, I mean, from the possible time dilation thing."

"That's vague. You got anything else?"

"I was getting there."

Lily sat listening to all of this with rapt attention, but she wasn't contributing much. More than anything, she was fascinated by the way the two rapidly bounced their ideas off of each other, and she was content to simply listen and absorb the information as she tried to get herself up to speed.
The creak of the bedroom door drew the humans' attention. Gelermon came out first, followed by Brockmon in short order, while Banmon simply phased through the solid wood.

"It go well?" she said, and Brockmon snorted as he padded over to her, hunched over on all fours.

"As much as could be expected," Brockmon said; he felt that the conversation he'd had had been productive. "You?"

"I'm just absorbing like a sponge," Lily said, inclining her head over at Sam and Peter.

"You can feel free to add, of course, if you'd like," Peter said, clearly hastily trying to make up for accidentally locking Lily out of the conversation.

"Oh, hell, no," Lily said, putting her hands up, palms facing out. "I don't want to barge in and make an idiot of myself talking about things I've got no place talking about."

"Can't be worse than we sound half the time," Sam said, closing the computer that had the spreadsheet open so he could focus on the D-Rive file.

Lily laughed through her nose. "Okay, fair enough. My point stands, though. It's not really my business."

"Pretty sure it is your business to some degree, on account of you making buddies with a badger," Gelermon said, pointing at Brockmon.

"She is right," Sam said, "you're kind of implicated." Beat. "I'm making it sound like a worse thing than-- no, wait, it involves giant death monsters, it's allowed to sound a little bad."

"... in nicer terms," Peter said, picking up on Sam's point, "the point is that you're a part of this as much as we are."

"I'm not exactly the get involved help the community type," Lily said, rubbing the back of her head a bit nervously.

"You're in good company," Peter said for the second time this evening.

"That's kind of the kicker of it, isn't it?" Sam said, glancing up from his computer. "Fuck if I thought I'd start spending a bunch of time around you people, but you kind of get drawn into it."

"You sound like you're complaining about it," Lily said, raising an eyebrow.

"That's just how he sounds all the time," Gelermon said. Sam rolled his eyes and nudged Gelermon with the side of his foot.

(After all, it wasn't like Sam had to come over here to talk about anything he had planned to talk about. Lily and Brockmon being available was a bonus. If he had really wanted to just share his thoughts with Peter, or, hell, any of the group, he could well have done that over text, right?)

(Lily was starting to consider that maybe she hadn't had anything to be afraid of.)

***

By the time they had gotten to clearing out of Peter's apartment, the sky would already have been dark even without the clouds blocking what moonlight there may have been.
It was possible that they had spent a bit more time than they had intended to talking. What had started as an on-topic discussion of digimon emergences had derailed into Sam and Lily both flipping through and snidely commentating on Peter's collection of vinyl records while the digimon contemplated amongst themselves why on earth being a hipster was such a big deal.

The fact that things were going well should, by now, be a red flag in and of itself, but even so-- it hadn't even been twelve hours.

Sam, Lily, and their respective digimon were just preapring to clear out when the power browned out with the buzz of old electronics. Even as the lights came back to full brightness, they all felt that sinking feeling somewhere in the pits of their stomachs.

"Shit," Brockmon said flatly, expressing the mood of the room as he turned his eyes up at the flickering lights.

"Of course," Peter said, glancing at his D-Rive, and sure enough, it had lit up.

"We're now averaging one a day!" Sam said, voice acidic as he pulled his own D-Rive out. Sure, it wasn't literally one for a day, but now it was averaging out. "Thanks for making up the deficit--" he said, and swiped over the dot on the screen to read its name, "Deltamon. Champion."

"Could be worse," Peter said. Even though he said this, he was clearly not thrilled.
It could have been an ultimate level, for instance-- the fact that no more of them had shown up was only a partial comfort. It could have been more than one digimon. It could have been a lot of things.

"Could be a lot better," Lily said.

It could have been, indeed, a lot better.

***

The good news: Deltamon had emerged quite close to them, meaning that they could make it on foot.

The bad news: Deltamon had emerged quite close, meaning it was in the university district, meaning it was near quite a lot of people.

Frekimon and Banshemon led the charge, having evolved just about as soon as they had had the room to do so. Lily minimized Brockmon, as he wasn't a particularly fast runner, and so minimizing him would make it easier to keep up.
(And moreover, neither she nor him wanted him to be a potential liability in a fight.
Three on one would just be overkill, right? Right.)

The street lights were flickering eratically-- even the traffic lights were affected, and traffic had understandably ground to a halt for blocks around, which at least made it easier for the little ragtag group to cut across streets and duck through side-paths to take the most direct route to Deltamon.

Deltamon -- a tremendous blue dinosaur-like beast with extra heads in place of hands (one skeletal and the other more metallic, both saurian, both monstrous) -- practically filled the narrow street, and didn't seem to care overmuch about what was in its way, taking out trees, power lines, and the windows of buildings with the swing of its twin tails and the thrashing of its hand-heads.

The group of humans, led by their digimon, only barely skidded to a stop in time to avoid bursting out of an alleyway and into the path of a twisted half of a car that had been sent skidding down the road like a pebble across the surface of a pond.
Hope whoever's car that was had good insurance, because the other half of it was currently being twisted like a bread-tie between the jaws of Deltamon's skeletal hand-head.

"Ravenous Hunter!" Frekimon roared, the flames around her wrists flaring to life as she lunged forward, running on all fours to close the distance between herself and Deltamon quickly.

"Serpent Bite!"

Deltamon reacted in remarkable time for its size, dropping the mangled car remains from its skeletal hand and striking out with it at the wolf. Frekimon leapt, deftly avoiding the attack, and she slashed out at Deltamon. She grazed it with her claws, only to be knocked away by a quick retaliatory strike knocking her astray.

""Banshee's Call!"

"Triple Forces!"

Deltamon focused its two hand-heads straight ahead and opened its normal mouth, and from its mouth and each of its hands, it fired a beam. The three beams converged on point-- in this case, Banshemon. The beams shot forward lightning-quick, tearing through her ghostly attack and catching her unawares, knocking Banshemon herself backwards onto the sidewalk.

"You're a real pain in the ass, aren't you," Frekimon muttered, rearing back. "New Moon Fire!" She fired a green fireball, which at least got Deltamon's attention, but as soon as it turned--

"Triple Forces!"

This time the beam was focused on Frekimon, and she took the brunt of it; if she tried to dodge, it would probably hit something else, so she may as well just grit her teeth, and Deltamon was quick to strike out again with its head-hands.

In a burst of black, Brockmon appeared next to Lily, his fur bristling. "Something's wrong," he said.

"Gee, you think?" Sam couldn't stop himself from saying as Frekimon attempted to sink her teeth into Deltamon's arm, only to be shaken off with a ground-shaking roar.

"What do you mean?" Peter said, flinching as he watched Banshemon take the brunt of a beam attack.

"It's--" Brockmon said, but he cut himself off and looked to Lily. She looked back at him, not entirely sure what he was getting at; he shook his head and turned his head back to the fight between the three digimon.

Even if its eyes were on Frekimon, it seemed to know exactly where Banshemon was, and visa-versa. They exchanged blows, but neither Frekimon nor Banshemon could find an opening to get a proper hit in. Even though Deltamon was only a champion level, its awareness and its vicioussness, both paired with the narrow space they were trying to maneuver in... it was proving to be a little bit frustrating.
Not worrying, not yet, but-- but people were gawking, and screaming, and filming, and there was only so much time before people they really didn't want getting involved (read: police) would try to get involved...

And though they hadn't noticed it, he had.

Sometimes, when they hit Deltamon... it shifted slightly. Glitched. Distorted. It only took the blink of an eye, and it would have been easy to miss in the chaos of battle, with attacks flying, but Brockmon was nothing if not perceptive.
(Had any of the other digimon this past week done that, he wondered?)

"Brockmon," Lily said, kneeling down. She didn't speak further, but her question was clear to him: do you want to get involved?

He wasn't sure if she had seen it, but he knew that it was more than that. He could see what looked almost like guilt on her face as she watched Banshemon and Frekimon take blows as they desperately tried to avoid wrecking things while trying to find an opening.

Even if he had no idea how well it was going to work if he tried to get involved, that expression on his partner's face was enough to convince him to try.

Brockmon nodded slowly, and then:
"Occupy its hands!" he barked out, suddenly lumbering forward. Frekimon and Banshemon both gave a little bit of a start, not expecting to hear Brockmon yell a command, but they both quickly surmised that the badger, apparently, had an idea.

Not much of an idea, but an idea nonetheless.

Banshemon grabbed a hold of Deltamon's more robotic arm, while with a mighty effort, Frekimon wrestled with its skeletal arm. Deltamon roared, trying to snap out with either hand. Frekimon and Banshemon couldn't do much else, focusing as they were on subduing Deltamon's arms, but it left the saurian digimon open.

"Icicle Arrows!" Brockmon yelled, coming to a stop and getting onto his hind legs once he as a bit closer to Deltamon. His claws froze over in an instant, and he slashed them through the air, releasing a trio of razor-sharp icicles that flew at Deltamon's exposed abdomen.

They had almost no effect-- but for the effect that Brockmon was going for, as Deltamon snapped its attention to the badger, and yellow eyes met yellow eyes.

Brockmon growled and stood his ground, his pupils restricted and his teeth bared. His eyes practically glowed in the dark as he met Deltamon's. There was no awareness in Deltamon's gaze-- only a wild and feral madness.

A very familiar kind of madness indeed.

Brockmon and Lily's D-Rive both began to swirl with a pitch-black energy, almost getting lost in the dark of the night and the flickering lights.

There was no high-pitched glitchy squeal like there had been the first times the refugee digimon had digivolved. Whether this was because Brockmon didn't react with the D-Rive the same way, or because that fuse had already been blown out when he digivolved into Draugmon... it was hard to tell, and it wasn't really the point. The point was that Brockmon's voice was clear and bold as he said:

"Brockmon, drive evolve to..."

Brockmon hunched over, no longer able to stay on two feet as his body began to grow in size, his arms growing thick as tree-trunks and the claws on his hind legs growing long and metallic. Meanwhile, the claws on his front paws vanished as the red bands grew into gloves that engulfed his hands entirely. Before this could be lamented, massive frozen claws broke through in his old claws' place with a loud cracking noise. A thick mane grew, and grew, until his front half was almost entirely covered in extra-thick pale fur, and from underneath this mane, long thin icicles sprouted.

As he stopped growing, he seemed to have split the difference between badger and bear-- the dark markings of a badger on the face of a bear, a stout and sturdy hunch-backed build and massive digger-claws. As he moved, a fine powder snow flew into the air around him, only to melt almost immediately on contact with the warm air.

"Melemon!" he roared, his breath visible for a split second as he tossed his head back to bare rows of vicious teeth.

He didn't waste a moment; the moment he had re-formed in champion form, he rushed forward, his movements heavy and powerful as he ran, full-tackle, at Deltamon.
"Arctic Impact!" he roared; as he drew in close, he raised one paw, and his icy claws visibly grew in size with a cracking sound. The moment before he impacted his opponent, he smashed them into Deltamon's abdomen, leveraging his weight against the mutated dinosaur. Banshemon and Frekimon disengaged with their respective arms immediately to avoid being dragged along as it stumbled backwards.

"It's coming," Deltamon growled, the first words it had said that weren't an attack name, its eyes wild and its lips curling up over its sharp teeth. Even though it was a dinosaur, it almost gave off the impression of a mad dog. It seemed that the impact of a direct hit seemed to have awoken something in it. "It's coming and you can't stop it it's coming it's coming--"

"Yeah, okay, great, it's coming, what the fuck are you talking about?" Frekimon growled, flexing her claws.

Instead of providing any insight into what that cryptic phrase meant, Deltamon attacked. "Serpent Bite!" it roared, lashing out with its skeletal hand. Melemon, Frekimon, and Banshemon all stumbled backwards, not wanting to be caught by the jaws. It didn't even take time to breathe; it launched another attack. This time it was aimed at Melemon, directly in front of him. "Triple Forces!"

Melemon growled, bearing -- no pun intended -- his weight down and gritting his teeth as he took the brunt of the attack, even as Deltamon showed no intent of letting up. Frekimon was prepared to hurl an attack of her own, and Banshemon's claws began to glow in case she had to rush in, but both of them held off, because--

"Icicle Shroud!" Melemon growled through grit teeth.
Spikes of ice began to sprout out of Melemon's body-- his arms, his head, and his back all began to sprout razor-sharp ice until it almost completely covered him. As the force of the beam broke the icicles, two more grew back in their place. They continued to grow, veiling Melemon in a protective layer of wickedly-sharp ice, right until he slammed into Deltamon's abdomen, having straight-up plowed through the beam attack.

When Melemon crashed into Deltamon, its beam attack ceased. It roared, lashing its tails and flailing its arms wildly. "It's coming! Serpent Bite!"

Deltamon was not the only digimon that called an attack just then, however.

"Banshee's Call!"

"New Moon Fire!"

"Arctic Impact!"

Frekimon's fireball, Banshemon's ghosts, and Melemon's icy claws all collided on Deltamon at the same time, and that was enough to push it over the edge. In a burst of light, Deltamon dissolved into pixelated bits of light that shot with laser precision into the D-Rives being held by Peter, Sam, and Lily.

Melemon stood where Deltamon had been a moment earlier, and the layers of icicles that had covered his body began to sublimate into a hypercold mist. He breathed heavily, and his breath cooled in the air around him, adding to the fog that swirled around him.
As the fog began to dissipate in the gentle wind, Melemon was engulfed in a black glow. In mere moments, he was replaced by Brockmon, who maintained his hunched-over, bear-walking stance. The civilian onlookers who hadn't run away (luckily, most people had at least the sense to clear the immediate vicinity) didn't want to be the ones to approach the badger.

Frekimon and Banshemon exchanged glances, first with each other and then with their respective partners, before they followed suit in flashes of green and white.

In moments -- before the light even had the chance to fade from Gelermon and Banmon -- all three rookie digimon vanished in bursts of their respective shades as they were minimized, leaving their human partners to try and look casual.

Peter sighed, rubbing the back of his head and glancing around. Most of the people who had been rubbernecking were already clearing off, and he wondered if this was becoming as routine to the populace as it was to their group.

Sam, meanwhile, shoved his hands in his pockets and glanced to Lily; Lily, for her part, pocketed her D-Rive and kept her lips pressed tightly together.

"... well, it's a good thing we had a third on hand," Sam said without prompting, turning around and making towards the alley from whence they had come. "Would've been an even bigger pain in the dick without it, you know?"

Lily raised an eyebrow as she made to follow, but she couldn't say she didn't appreciate the effort to make her (and Brockmon) feel included.

They didn't talk much more as they began the trek back to Peter's, much slower than they had come to the site of the incident-- at least, not until they were a goodly ways away.

"What was all that 'coming' stuff was about?" Peter muttered, more to himself than anything.

"Insert inappropriate joke here," Sam muttered, and neither Peter nor Lily could stop themselves from snorting despite themselves. "My best guess is something bad."

"Thanks," Lily said, smiling a little, "couldn't have figured that out myself."

Sam rolled his eyes.

Really, though; it was hard to feel too good about anything. Any hint they got at what was going on only set in a greater and greater sense of dread, of confusion and unease and apprehension and all other kinds of synonyms for 'bad feelings'.
So if all they were going to make progress on today was a few knew pieces of information and a chance to finally see Brockmon help in battle... they'd take that for now. They'd each have a lot to talk about once they had the time to talk one-on-one with their partners, and in the days to come, with the group as a whole.

Not least of all because they had all -- not just Brockmon -- seen the way Deltamon had distorted.

EPISODE 23: CONNECTION INTERRUPTED

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