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

Episode 24: The Conductor

Meghan could think of numerous things she'd rather be doing at two in the morning on a Saturday. Sleeping, for instance. Sleeping was a big one. But here she was, holding one arm up to shield her head from the rain as she and Oremon took off running through their neighborhood. Whenever the street lights flickered, it cast the street into total darkness, with only the screen of her D-Rive -- held tightly in the hand not serving as a makeshift umbrella -- for light.

They were on the lookout for a champion-level digimon. Though she couldn't be entirely sure what Stegomon was, she had a hunch.

Meghan was, she realized, getting better at creeping in and out of the house without making a sound, which wasn't exactly a skill she was proud of, but it was proving useful. In the past week, the digimon emergences had not significantly slowed down, and it was only their quick action that had prevented it from becoming the full-on citywide crisis it could have become (as opposed to the minor crisis it was to their little group of nine).
Some of the digimon had been spotted, and a few incidents had been captured in shaky, glitchy cellphone footage, but... well, everything paled after the last Draugmon fight, huh?

... she really still didn't want to run any risks.

"We have to be getting close, yes?" Oremon said over his shoulder, a few feet ahead of Meghan. It hadn't emerged too far away from them, and the lights were flickering, which was as good an indication as any that it was at least in the vicinity... indeed, before long at all, they heard the thundering footsteps of something very large, trudging along as fast as it could, coming up the street that they were about to merge into.

Meghan looked down at her D-Rive, but just as soon as she did she knew she didn't have to.

Stegomon -- who, unsurprisingly, was a stegosaurus -- ran, with stomping footsteps, into the halo of light of the streetlight ahead of them. It was large, and green, with orange markings crisscrossing its body. Dozens of massive knife-like spikes that lined its back, and a similar metal composed the spikes on its tail and its huge blunt claws.
Its eyes were wild and its lips were pulled back in a snarl, baring teeth far too sharp for a herbivore. It tossed its head to whip away the rainwater, setting its gaze intently on goat and girl.

Part of its body appeared to glitch out slightly.
That'd been happening more and more, this past week.

"Alright," Oremon said gruffly, bracing himself. "Let's get this over with, then." Meghan took a half-step back, preparing her D-Rive. The faster they dealt with this, the better. Stegomon seemed to have much the same idea, as with a roar that shook the air, it bounded forward, rushing towards Oremon.

The lightbulbs in the streetlamps flickered eratically and with the crackling sound of a fuse blowing, they cut out entirely, casting the entire street in darkness-- or, rather, the street would have been entirely dark, if not for the orange glow that immediately engulfed Oremon and Meghan's D-Rive.

They didn't, however, need that orange light to know that in the blink of an eye, Stegomon was nowhere to be seen.

Oremon faltered, the glow fading from his body before his form began to change.

"W-- what?"

Meghan blinked a couple times, her body still tense. She looked down at her D-Rive-- the screen was still on, but the only thing on the radar was the little goat-head-shaped dot at its center signifying Oremon. The pounding in her ears replaced Stegomon's thudding footsteps, and the rain muffled any sounds in the distance.

The lights didn't come back on.

The entire walk back was wet and uncomfortable and tense, as they were waiting -- with every step they took -- for Stegomon to reappear behind their backs. They would have hung around longer, but...
Well, nobody wants to stand around in the rain at 2 AM on a pitch-black street. Not even people with talking goats as their bodyguards. It would have been in vain, anyway, as it never reappeared.

***

Oremon spent much of the rest of the night very tense, and sleeping very poorly as a result. Every sound louder than the patter of rain stirred him.
He knew it wasn't likely, but every time he looked to the window, he expected to see shiny eyes and white feathers.

It never happened, but considering that the only other times a digimon had vanished like that had been when a little white squirrel-dragon had been running interference, he felt like he was justified in his concern.

He'd been having bad dreams for the last couple weeks, anyway. They had already been making his sleep less restful than he'd rather it be, so he didn't feel like he was missing out on all that much.

***

It was not a fluke.
Not that anyone really expected it to be when Meghan told them about it, because that would mean things taking a turn for the better (or at least not for the worse), but, you know, it's always fun to dream.

"Mother fucker," Xander hissed under his breath.

"It vanish?" Corymon said, glancing over her shoulder. She was flying high above Atlas Park, with Xander on her back. They had been in pursuit of a signal, only to have it go up in proverbial smoke just when they were getting close.

It wasn't just him and Meghan, either; everyone else had started reporting that emergents they had been in pursuit of had vanished without a trace over the past few days. The problem wasn't just that they were vanishing, wasting everyone's time and energy. It wasn't even that they still caused property damage in the short time that they trudged around before vanishing. Most of them stuck around for a few minutes, just long enough for them to think they stood a chance of heading them off. This had led to people reporting seeing giant bears in alleyways and talking cats ripping slash marks in the roofs of their cars, with no way to follow up or confirm any of it.

No, the problem was the fact that the fakeout emergences were on top of the ones that actually did stick around long enough to fight. Some of them even vanished mid-fight, to rub salt in the wound.

It was getting harder and harder to not feel exhausted, like they were running around like beheaded chickens. Even with nine people on the job, not everyone was available all the time.

Xander was, in fact, getting real fuckin' tired of this game of wack-a-mole. He had better things to be doing on his Friday afternoon.
... and yet, here he was.

They were going to have to start calling it off sooner than later, because the skies were threatening rain. (This wasn't surprising, considering where they lived, but it was still annoying.)

"One more lap around just to make sure?" Corymon suggested, and Xander sighed. He was getting bolder about riding on Corymon's back; he held on with one hand while he pocketed his D-Rive and pull out his phone.

"Yeah, may as well," he said, starting to swipe a very strongly phrased version of false alarm again into the group chat.

Corymon's ears twitched.
She couldn't be sure, but she swore she heard something-- or maybe she felt it.

***

"Again?" Raumon said, frowning as he peered over from the foot of Natalie's bed.

"Sounds like it," Natalie said, sighing as she rested her cheek on her hand. She had been reading Xander's complaints in the chat out loud for Raumon's benefit. They had only just gotten home, but relaxation simply wasn't on the docket yet.

They both direly wished they could relax-- that they could take refuge in the fact that so many of the emergences lately had turned out to be fake-outs. They all did, and they couldn't afford to. Some digimon didn't just vanish unless they were defeated-- and the digimon that had been emerging overall had only continued their trend of being wild and feral.

More than that-- there was the fact that it was happening at all, and that was enough to cause no small amount of consternation. Any development had to be treated as something dangerous-- especially when their problem was something attempting to force a connection open... well. More emergent digimon, and especially more shakily-emergent digimon, were not good signs.
But what could they do?

Natalie and Raumon had been combing their brains for the past couple weeks, and Natalie couldn't shake how damn helpless she felt to do anything other than take care of emergent digimon when they showed up. Even that was starting to get harder and harder to keep on top of.

She sighed and set her phone face-down. There was only so much she could do.

Raumon sighed, looking over at his partner with concern, but he said nothing. He settled back down into his little blanket-nest.

Natalie's phone buzzed with another message, rattling loudly against her desk, a mere ten minutes later-- juuuust long enough for her to maybe start relaxing, and to be pulled back out of it. Of course.

She hummed through her nose and picked her phone up. On the screen were three words from Xander:

fuck
strike that

Natalie blinked and furrowed her brow, and read these messages out to Raumon. The two of them exchanged slightly concerned looks.

"That's... troubling," Raumon said slowly.

The power surged.

"Oh, goddammit," Natalie said quietly.

***

Xander and Corymon dove out of the sky to avoid... well, what Xander's D-Rive was telling him was called Wingdramon-- and, more worryingly, it was telling him that it was an ultimate level.
The massive blue dragon had materialized practically right in front of them, its enormously long, whip-like tail lashing behind it as it glitched and distorted its way out of thin air. It didn't seem to be entirely aware of its surroundings just yet, which was the saving grace.

Xander wondered if he had ever actually seen a digimon in the middle of emerging, and he looked to the sky as he and Corymon landed on the ground.

It was... bizarrely unnerving. Parts of the digimon's distorted body began to re-align, forcibly snapping into recognizable forms. A bone-white mask on its face; a lance-like structure sticking out of its back over its head, large spike-like frills on its arms.
It didn't stay still; it flew forward without flapping its wings, circling like a vulture, silhouetted against the grey cloud sky.

"Wing Blast!" a roaring voice echoed from far above -- no prizes for guessing it was Wingdramon. With that call as its only warning, the very air shook so hard with a shockwave blast that it almost knocked Xander off his feet, this far below on the ground.

"Fuck," Corymon said, gritting her teeth.

if you're northside get your ass outside and look up right now

That was the politest way Xander could phrase what he meant to say.

***

While Wingdramon soared above north of the river, a similar yet distinct problem had emerged on the south side of town.

It moved rapidly at first, and Natalie almost swore she could feel the ground shaking as it did; but once it settled into the vicinity of the park, a little dot labelled Groundramon. Ultimate level. came to rest.

Groundramon was -- as it turned out -- a massive green quadrupedal dragon, solidly built and the size of a schoolbus. In place of wings, a pair of secondary arms with massive red digger-claws sprouted out of its shoulderblades. A spiked ball like a morning-star adorned the end of its shortish, thick tail, and what looked like cannons emerged out of its forearms' elbows. The question what hole in the ground did this thing crawl out of was clear and literal; the parking lot had cracked and buckled even where it hadn't been dug straight through, leaving a massive tunnel hole from which it had apparently emerged.

Natalie would have liked for backup, really she would have; but by the time she had gotten there, Groundramon had already determined that it had a bit of a grievance with things like trees and cars and public property. Every time it took a step the ground shook, and it swung its tail and wing-arms around recklessly, taking out anything unfortunate enough to be close to it. Its heavy footfalls left a picnic table crushed like a cheap plastic toy and massive foot-shaped craters in the soft earth.

(What chance was Raumon going to stand if he couldn't safely digivolve to ultimate...?)

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

Well, they were about to find out.

"Black Bloom!"

Groundramon's back was turned, trudging as it was towards the trees that lined the stream, and as Doctorimon threw his black rose like a dagger... it had about as much effect as attempting to throw actual rose petals. The dragon's metallic scales practically reflected the attack.
At least it got the dragon's attention.

On the downside, it got the dragon's attention. It whipped its head around, baring rows of sharp teeth, and its eyes were wild. Its pupils were restricted, and -- like so many digimon had these past weeks -- for a moment, its body seemed to distort and shift just the barest bit. It swung its tail and took out trees like twigs.

"Giga Crack!" Groundramon roared, and with a monumental effort, it heaved its entire massive body into a jump. It didn't jump high, but it didn't need to, as when it contacted the ground again. From the point of impact, all around it, the ground began to crack into massive fissures. As Natalie stumbled backwards to get out of danger, Doctorimon leapt deftly to avoid falling into one of the cracks himself. He prepared his staff to fire off another attack, but--
"Scrapless Claw!"

Groundramon had, apparently, been prepared for this. The extra arms on its back slammed together, catching Doctorimon between them, like someone clapping their hands to kill a gnat.

The plague doctor hissed in pain, his teeth gritted as Groundramon's hands separated and he fell to earth. The cracks, thankfully, had begun to knit back together by the time Doctorimon hit the ground. Small blessings.
"Face of Judgment!" Doctorimon yelled before he even got up fully. With the judging face of his staff turned towards Groundramon, a stream of black fire spilled forth, licking against Groundramon's lustrous scales.

Groundramon rumbled in what sounded like a humorless laugh, and Doctorimon felt his heart sink.

"Spirit Ripper!"

Banshemon's voice preceded her appearance, and the appearance of her glowing claws preceded the appearance of the rest of her. Glowing claws slashed through Groundramon's thick hide, and Banshemon faded into view on the other side of the dragon.

"Megaton Hammer Crush!" Groundramon swung its tail, catching Banshemon on its spikes. The ghost was hurled at great force into mass of broken trees and she had to disentangle herself, ripping her robes and bandages slightly in the process.
There was no time to think, thugh, because not a moment later-- "Scrapless Claw!" Groundramon's appendages reached out for Doctorimon again. Doctorimon only barely managed to somersault out of the way as the dragon's hands smashed together.
Good thing, too-- he wasn't feeling so great about taking another one of those straight-on.

Peter ran up to Natalie, huffing.
"I miss anything?" he said, trying to sound collected and unaffected, but he had seen Banshemon take the brunt of that tail-smash, and he couldn't pretend that well.

"Show's just starting," Natalie said, shaking her head.

She had no idea.

***

"We're not going to be able to do shit unless it comes down!"

Xander's message had not gone unheeded. Both Sam and Meghan had been quick to come running, but Frekimon's complaint was a valid one. Even with them on the ground, primed and ready to attack, they could only do it when Corymon was able to lure it down.

"I'm doing the best I can!" Corymon called back, frustration clear in her voice. She had to try and bait Wingdramon down, but the thing was... Wingdramon was faster than her, and the fact that it was stronger was a given. She felt like she was playing with fire.
The only blessing was that it didn't seem to be catching on that every time it dove at Corymon, and kept falling for the same trick, allowing Frekimon to hit it squarely with a fireball, or for Ibexmon to shoot one of his rock spires out of the ground as it passed.

Or, alternatively, it didn't notice, or didn't think it was important enough to take note of.

Take your pick on which was better: it was too feral to care, or too strong to care.

They had tried to find as open a space as they could, but there weren't a lot of options unless they wanted to try to lure it towards the edges of the city-- which they didn't really want to try to do.

Industrial district it was.

Corymon frowned, and she had an idea, but... it'd be risky.
Hell, this entire thing was risky. She may as well.

"Hurricane Blitz!" Corymon cried, whipping a sphere of wind around herself. She surged upwards in the air, only to pull back sharply, sending the sphere sailing past herself. It soared right into Wingdramon's path, and the blue dragon growled, shaking its head like it was about to sneeze. It looked around, its eyes settling on Corymon.

The bat nodded once to herself and dove, while Frekimon and Ibexmon braced themselves. Wingdramon followed, gaining quickly on Corymon as they descended. The bat pulled out of her dive and flew parallel to the ground. When they passed overhead, Frekimon and Ibexmon took their chances.

"New Moon Fire!"

"Terra Spear!"

Ibexmon's spire of rock shot out of the ground when he slammed his hooves down, and both it and Frekimon's green fireball smashed into Wingdramon's underbelly. The dragon, yet again, didn't seem to notice the attacks at all outside of mild annoyance, and kept its eyes on Corymon ahead of it. It was about to catch up, but Corymon kept going.
She would have pulled up, drawn the dragon back into the air, but--

"What is she--" Sam muttered quietly, brow furrowed, but a moment later, when he looked at what Corymon was flying towards, he understood.

Just ahead of her were two closely-packed, boarded-up warehouses. She'd just be able to fit if she tucked her wings in and barrelled through with her forward inertia, but Wingdramon wouldn't be so lucky.

And this is exactly what Corymon did. She sped up, as fast as she could, and pulled her wings in flush to her body moments before she entered the gap between the two warehouses.

"You idiot," Xander muttered, with a sense of admiration and respect tinging the insult. Meghan cringed visibly, awaiting the inevitable result of Wingdramon being in close pursuit.

Indeed, just as predicted, the dragon crashed into the buildings with an earth-shaking roar. As it smashed into the brick, the onlookers could see its body begin to glitch slightly. Corymon looped back around, returning to her allies on the ground, while Wingdramon tried to right itself and stand again. It shook its head, growling as it whipped around. It was significantly more awkward on the ground, but they weren't stupid enough to think this meant they were safe.

"Great," Ibexmon said gruffly, "now it's mad."

"Now it's not in the air," Frekimon said, pounding one fist into the opposite palm.

"Now it's not going to try and fuck shit up anywhere else," Corymon added, bracing herself as she landed.

"Blaze Sonic Breath!" Wingdramon roared, opening its mouth wide. It released no flames, merely a shockwave of super-heated energy that even the humans, taking refuge a short ways away, could feel.

***

If you're keeping track, yes, there is a person missing from the groups we've gone over thus far-- but don't worry. She wasn't trying to keep her head down and stay out of things.
Not this time.

It was easy to go unnoticed in the furor of Groundramon and Wingdramon, but a third digimon had emerged as well. Where? Why, if Wingdramon was north of the river, and Groundramon was south of the river, then that left...

A massive red sea serpent by the name of WaruSeadramon writhed in the Harper River, striking out wildly with its long body. It opened its mouth in a roar as electricity sparked around its golden horn.
"Thunder Javelin!"

It shot the electricity in a lightning-bolt, but Melemon was unperturbed. He grit his teeth and bore down, his body shaking uncontrollably, but he powered through it, as he had done multiple times already.
Melemon's primary directive right now was just to keep WaruSeadramon away from either of the bridges, but he had to get closer to do that. He didn't have any way to attack from a distance-- all he was able to do right now was get the sea serpent's attention, and that was working, but--

"You can freeze water, can't you?!" Lily yelled, cupping her hands around her mouth, hanging back as she was from the shoreline.
It was worth a shot.

Icy energy swirled around Melemon's paws, and he reached out for the water.
If he was wrong, and he couldn't freeze it, then he was putting himself in incredible danger-- he didn't want the water to amplify WaruSeadramon's electrical attacks, after all.

But before his massive icy claws even touched the water, it froze instantly thanks to the frigid energy around them. Ice spidered out, freezing so fast its expansion was audible, and Melemon tentatively -- but knowing he had no time to waste -- placed a heavy foot down to test if it could bear his weight.

It held.

Melemon grinned a joyless grin and intensified the energy swirling around his paws, and the river in front of him began to freeze over.

WaruSeadramon fired another lightning bolt, and again, Melemon gritted his teeth as the pain and voltage wracked his body.

If this thing vanished before he got the chance to give it some payback, he was going to be pissed.

***

As it turned out, it never stopped being easy to lure the humans and their partners out by just dragging a few digimon through and causing a little mischief. It had worked with the Meramon and Drimogemon and so on and so on, what felt like so long ago; it worked again now, just on a larger scale.

Well, hey, he had to make sure it would be urgent enough to get everyone on it.

It was easier than ever, with the rapidity with which the connection was strengthening-- he could pull through a trio of ultimates with almost no trouble at all. More and more digimon had been able to emerge-- sure, a lot of them were still dragged back and unable to fully emerge, pulled back at the last second.
He couldn't help but wonder what happened to them.

Torn apart when the digital world dragged them back, probably.
Pity, really. It was the only reason he wasn't willing to try to go the whole hog. It still wasn't stable enough to safely transfer enough of his data if he had gone... well.
He could save that as a surprise for a rainy day. He had to focus on the present, for now.

The fact that they'd likely be a bit worn down after being dragged out into the open was just gravy, really; he wasn't worried. Not this time. He just wanted to make sure that nobody was hiding in the wings.

***

Banshemon and Doctorimon knew there was only one thing they could do-- keep Groundramon occupied until someone who could digivolve to ultimate could get there.
It felt absolutely goddamn horrible, but if either of them did it, they'd risk doing more damage than they prevented.

Luckily for them, their prayers weren't doomed to go unanswered.

"Aura Stream!"

A crackling beam of yellow energy shot out from behind where Natalie and Peter were staying out of the line of fire. A blur of burnt-orange and brown rushed past them as Himamon ran onto the scene, her massive tail trailing behind her like a banner. Her attack dissipated harmlessly against Groundramon's hard scales, but she didn't waste time in following up. As Groundramon turned its head to look, she rushed into melee range.
"Chakra Strike!" the red panda yelled, delivering a hard uppercut to the dragon's jaw with her claws glowing with that same gold energy.

This also had... very little noticable effect aside from dazing Groundramon slightly, but still, that was something. Himamon bounded backwards before Groundramon had a chance to retaliate, re-joining with Doctorimon and Banshemon.

Jen came jogging up in short order after her partner. "Sorry we're late," she said, looking a little out of breath. "Ryan and Shitomon went to the north side of town, since it sounded like they needed someone who could fly. He would've gotten here to help you out sooner otherwise, yeah?"

"Better late than never," Natalie said, sighing with something between resignation and relief. Doctorimon and Banshemon were doing their best just to avoid being completely wrecked by Groundramon's attacks, and the section of the park that they were fighting in was...

Well.

It'd seen better days.

It may never have seen worse ones, honestly.

"Let's go, then," Jen said, lifting her D-Rive as it began to glow, and Himamon was engulfed by white and gold as she rushed forward.

"Himamon, conduction evolve to... Shaolimon! Dragon's Breath!"
The light hadn't even fully faded from her body when the red panda monk launched her first proper attack. She pulled her mysterious cask out of nowhere, took a deep pull of the amber liquid inside, and spat out a stream of yellow flames at Groundramon's face at point-blank range.

"Scrapless Claw!" Groundramon roared, slamming its secondary hands around Shaolimon with a force that even the onlookers could feel.

Shaolimon hissed with pain, and this was only made worse when Groundramon's hands grabbed onto her tail and used it to fling her into the air. Its wing-hands spread wide, prepared to slam closed around Shaolimon again on her way back down.

"Face of Judgment!" Doctorimon cried, and the orb atop his staff began to glow. He rushed forward and, only once he was almost directly on top of Groundramon, faced the vengeful mask towards Groundramon, releasing black flames directly into its eyes.
It roared and hissed with pain, flinching away. The flames had quite apparently temporarily blinded it.

At the same moment that Doctorimon moved, Banshemon shot into the air like a bullet. She caught the airborne Shaolimon in her arms. Shaolimon seemed momentarily confused, but she nodded her thanks to Banshemon once she figured out what had just happened.

"Let me down, I'll take care of it before he gets hurt," Shaolimon said, inclining her head towards Doctorimon.

Banshemon nodded and let Shaolimon go, and the red panda practically leapt out of the ghost's arms. Her claws crackled with golden energy as she dive-bombed the dragon.
"Eighteen Paw Strike!" she cried the moment before impact, sinking her claws into the dragon's scaly back. With a mighty, sickening cracking sound, her energy-charged claws smashed straight through Groundramon's hard scales.

Groundramon stumbled backwards, swinging its mace-tail wildly, smashing everything behind it with reckless abandon. Shaolimon leapt away, freeing the way for the other two to say their pieces.

"Face of Judgment!"

"Banshee's Call!"

Black flames and white ghosts rushed at Groundramon, and though they still seemed to have little effect, the attacks that struck near Groundramon's broken scales did seem to actually affect it, as it hissed as though salt were being rubbed into a wound.

"Give it another go!" Jen yelled to her partner, and Shaolimon nodded her quiet assent, taking advantage of Groundramon's temporary blindness from Doctorimon's flames to rush in.

"Eighteen-Paw Strike!" She dug her claws into the dragon's side, and once again, its scales broke away, revealing what looked like rotten flesh underneath. (Call Shaolimon crazy, but she wasn't sure that was... supposed to be what it looked like...)
She didn't get much time to admire it, becasue as her powerful attacks struck the dragon, it began to shift and distort-- this time, not the glitchy distortion, but the interruptions of a digimon who was on the verge of defeat.

She glanced to Doctorimon and Banshemon. She nodded, and they needed no further instruction. The red panda leapt away, procuring her keg once more.

"Dragon's Breath!"

"Black Bloom!"

"Banshee's Call!"

This time, the white ghosts rushed around in a shower of razor-sharp black petals and a stream of golden fire; the three attacks collided on Groundramon, and in an explosion of light, Groundramon became a cloud of data.
The cloud of data hung around for a split second and glitched noticably before it organized itself into beams of light that shot into the three humans' D-Rives.

"You know," Doctorimon said, "at least we actually got to defeat that one."

Banshemon nodded slowly, flexing her claws, and looking to the sky. It was still threatening rain.
"Do you think we should see if the others need help?" she said.

Even if they had wanted to say anything else, though, they were violently distracted by the sudden loud screech that all three of their D-Rives -- yes, even Jen's -- emitted.

***

Because the nature of storytelling isn't temporally locked, let's back up a moment.
It will pay off in a little bit.

You're welcome.

Wingdramon was, indeed, now just pissed off.

No time like the present.

"Headstrong Charge!"

"Ravenous Hunter!"

Ibexmon and Frekimon both bounded forward, horns and claws -- respectively -- at the ready. They had a little more luck than their allies were having on the south side of the river, at least; where Groundramon's scales were metalic and hard, Wingdramon was a bit less defense-oriented, and they were able to tear some decent gashes in the dragon's hide, but it barely seemed to notice the damage.

"Blaze Sonic Breath!" it roared, releasing another hyper-heated sonic blast from its mouth. Once again, even the humans watching from a relatively safe distance had to lift their arms to shield their faces from the intense heat; it was far worse for the digimon in much closer proximity.

"Black Stinger!" Corymon cried, leaping into the air and backwards, her tail curling underneath her. She fired off the series of black arrowheads from her tail, for all the good they did, crashing into Wingdramon's face and doing middling amounts of damage.

Wingdramon thrashed its tail, smashing a bit more of the buildings behind it, and shook its head as though it were shaking off flies. With a snarl, it kicked into the air, and rose up incredibly quickly-- so quickly, in fact, that--

"Wing Blast!"

The very air vibrated those present down to their very core. Any glass in the warehouse windows that hadn't been smashed already shattered instantly as Wingdramon rose up into the air, soaring out of range in the blink of an eye.

"Dammit!" Ibexmon snarled, rearing down and gritting his teeth, but there was a silver lining.

"Southern Cross!" A beam of cross-shaped light came shooting out from beyond a smokestack, and even though it missed Wingdramon entirely, it was still as good as signal as anything that the cavalry had arrived.
It was immediately followed by:

"Hey, hey! Wait until I'm not on your back!"

"Hey, there's something to be said for stylish entrances," Malakhimon reasoned right back, smiling faintly.

Malakhimon swooped down and allowed Ryan to climb off of her back, and she wasted no time kicking back up into the air after Wingdramon. Ryan held his D-Rive close to his chest as both it and his partner began to glow crimson.

"Malakhimon, conduction evolve to... Eudaemon!"

The large shape of Malakhimon shrunk down, but the rising form of Eudaemon soaring into the sky after Wingdramon was a very welcome one.

"Christ," Xander said, shaking his head and huffing. "Took you long enough." He wasn't even speaking loud enough for Ryan to hear him as he came running over.

"Thanks for the assist," Sam said wryly, and this was said for Ryan to hear.

"Sorry about the delay," he said, shaking his head. "There's-- a bit happening."

"Define?" Meghan said, frowning.

"Two other emergents, both ultimate level," Ryan said, glancing over his shoulder from whence they had come. "Jen's helping with one, and I think Eli's getting on the other--"

"Explode Sonic Lance!" Wingdramon roared from above, and suddenly dropped into a nose-dive towards Eudaemon. The lance on its back began to glow faintly, though that was easy to miss in all the chaos. When it was getting closer to the angel digimon, the dragon suddenly pulled back, but the lance continued on, sailing in a perfect trajectory towards Eudaemon.

"Purge the Wicked!" Eudaemon cried, a spear of pure light forming in her grip. She held it up to parry Wingdramon's attack. Unfortunately, the dragon's lance exploded on contact with her spear, evaporating both weapons. She wasn't knocked out of the air, but she was blown backwards almost crashing into a smokestack--

Until Corymon shot into the way, cushioning the angel's trajectory.
"Gotta pay more attention, when they say things explode, you usually don't want to try to deflect it in melee range, you know?" the bat said, smirking.

Eudaemon hissed in pain, but nodded a slightly reluctant thanks to Corymon as she spread her wings and launched herself towards Wingdramon.

"Ruby Oculus!" she cried, gathering up all the light that the red jewels all over her body produced before firing in it a concussive beam. Wingdramon was still hanging relatively close because of the dive-bomb it had had to do for its last attack, so Eudaemon's attack hit true, smashing the dragon straight in the chest.

It roared, gritting its teeth.

"Blaze Sonic--!"

"Purge the Wicked!" Eudaemon yelled, another spear of light appearing in her hands. This time, she didn't hold onto it-- she lobbed it straight at Wingdramon. It didn't hit Wingdramon as directly as her beam had-- but she hadn't been aiming for that. The spear tore through the membrane of Wingdramon's, well, wing, and the dragon faltered. Even though it didn't have to beat its wings to fly, damaging its wings still seemed to be a viable strategy.

Noted.

"Black Stinger!" Corymon cried, launching her attack this time not at the dragon's face or underbelly, but at its other wing-- and this, too, seemed to work. With both of its wings damaged, Wingdramon faltered, falling a few meters.

And that was close enough.

"Terra Spear!" Ibexmon cried, stomping the ground and firing a sharpened spire of rock straight through one of Wingdramon's wings.

"New Moon Fire!" Frekimon called, and her green fireball crashed right into Wingdramon's other wing, and the dragon fell all the way to the ground with a harsh crash. As it crashed into the ground, it distorted slightly.

"Terra Spear!"

"New Moon Fire!"

"Hurricane Blitz!"

"Ruby Oculus!"

Green fire, red energy, the swirling ball of wind, and the razor-sharp spear of rock springing out directly under its feet all struck it at the same time, and with an earth-shaking roar, it exploded into light and data.

However, this group didn't even get the couple minutes of downtime that the southern team had-- not five seconds between the light shooting in equal parts into their D-Rives, all D-Rives present began to emit that horrible, horrible screeching noise.

It was not a result of trying to process Wingdramon's data, let's just make that much clear. It was something far more troubling.

***

We need to step back in time one more time, just to get everyone up to speed.
It will pay off soon.

Melemon growled as he bounded across the ice he was creating on the river. WaruSeadramon was smashing his footholds as quickly as he could make them, either directly or with electric shocks and dark whirlpools of energy. He hadn't been able to get close enough to land a single attack on the sea serpent; he had only been able to distract it. He just had to get a little bit closer... he attempted to jump from one ice floe to the next.

"Thunder Javelin!"

"Dammit!" Melemon growled, still in mid-air. "Icicle Shroud!"
A thick coating of ice surrounded his entire body, and was smashed apart almost immediately by the bolt of lightning that WaruSeadramon fired his way. He scrambled onto a platform of ice. He generated more icy energy around his body to freeze the water as quickly as he could, not wanting to get drenched if he could possibly help it.

WaruSeadramon growled, eyes narrowed, and sparks began to gather around its horn once more--

"Moon Bomb!"

Hokkaimon came bounding out, running quickly out of the street and into the river. The fox deftly leapt from chunk of ice to chunk of ice, his small size proving to be a boon as he bounded close to WaruSeadramon and threw a glowing orb directly in the sea serpent's face.

The sparks dissipated as WaruSeadramon looked for what had distracted it, granting Melemon the chance to stabilize himself on the ice once more. He glanced over at Hokkaimon, face quizzical, but the kitsune looked over at him and--

Well. It was hard to say winked because his eyes looked like the black eyeholes on a mask, but Melemon had never seen something quite so decisively convey the idea of a wink.
"Don't worry, buddy bear," the fox said. "Backup's here. Hold your applause."

"I wasn't going to," Melemon muttered, but he paused and nodded his gratitude regardless.

Lily whipped around. Eli was taking his sweet time crossing the street over to the sidewalk above the shore, but she could see his D-Rive held in his hand.

"Just us, huh? Guess everyone else got the fun ones, so us cool kids have to make do with two," he said, stuffing his other hand in his pocket. "Really clever with the ice, though. Creative. I dig it."

Hokkaimon, standing out on the ice, and Eli's D-Rive both began to glow bright cyan.

"Hokkaimon, conduction evolve to... Yokaimon!"

Even with his massively increased size, Yokaimon seemed feather-light on the floating ice. The fox grinned, his seven tails fanning out behind him. "Hey, buddy bear, gimme a foothold, will ya? I'd rather not get my fur wet."

Melemon didn't need to be asked; he was already working on freezing as much of the water as he could, and Yokaimon elegantly stepped onto the more solid footing that the bear provided.

"Much obliged," Yokaimon said, again not-quite winking. "Keep at it. I've got a plan."

"Thunder Javelin!" WaruSeadramon roared, its eyes tracking Yokaimon.

The fox leapt moments before WaruSeadramon fired its attack, landing on a broken piece of ice; the lightning bolt shot into the water instead of smashing the ice that Melemon was building up. Melemon immediately understood.

Yokaimon was pulling WaruSeadramon's attention away from him-- giving Melemon a chance to freeze as much water as he could. Not only could he get close enough to WaruSeadramon to attack the sea serpent-- he might be able to trap it.

Yokaimon bounded from stray chunk of ice to stray chunk of ice, not even trying to attack-- he waved his tails and snickered, making loud barking noises whenever WaruSeadramon's attention started to drift.
It didn't even notice that the water immediately around it was starting to freeze.

"Arctic Impact!" Melemon roared, now that he was finally close enough. His claws swirled with ice and he smashed them into WaruSeadramon's spine, and the feral ultimate roared, trying to whip around.

But... the water around it had been frozen. It whipped its head in confusion, attempting to thrash its tail.

"Once more with feeling! Moon Claw!" Yokaimon yelled, suddenly leaping towards WaruSeadramon with his claws glowing brilliant blue.

"Arctic Impact!"

Both bear and fox's claws smashed into WaruSeadramon at the same time, causing it to writhe, sparks crackling around its horn.

"Thunder Blade!" it roared, wrenching its head around so it could attempt to stab out at Melemon with an electrified horn.

"Icicle Shroud!" Melemon growled, defensive ice covering his body again. It absorbed the brunt of the attack, even though the impact of it sent him skidding backwards across the ice he had formed.

Yokaimon, though, took the chance. "Luna Wave!" he cried, drawing the string on his bag and firing a powerful beam of blue-white energy at the sea serpent.

By the time the light of the fox's attack faded, WaruSeadramon was going up in light, itself, and swirled in twin beams into the D-Rives of the waiting Eli and Lily.

Without looking at her, Eli raised his fist to Lily for her to fist-bump it. She blinked a couple times, looked from Eli's face to his fist, and then bumped her knuckles against his.
He smirked.

"Sorry we were late," he said, glancing over at her.

"I'm not gonna say it's fine," she said slowly, then she sighed and relaxed her shoulders. "But it's okay. It worked out alright."

Yokaimon was able to make his way back to dry land much faster than Melemon was able to; the bear had to carefully freeze the water in front of him, while the fox was feather-light and able to leap gracefully.
"Come on, this ain't a race, so slow and steady won't win you anything," he taunted over his shoulder, and Melemon growled low in his throat, but said nothing.

When Melemon set foot on dry land again, though-- well. He was given quite a start when both Eli and Lily's D-Rives suddenly erupted in an unholy glitchy squeal.

Alright.

Now it's time to address it.

Their D-Rives began to screech at the exact same time that everyone else's did. Whether they were in the park, on the river, or in the industrial district, all nine D-Rives ignited with that horrible screech at the exact same time, and all of them did for the same reason.
If they checked them -- and they all did, immediately -- that singular, shared reason would be immediately obvious.

On their radars, a glitchy dot had appeared in the dead center of downtown. Even without their input, its information box popped up, and they got the distinct feeling that this was, in fact, what was causing the noise.

Ņ̶̀̀͠i̵̵̢͞t̶̕h̢̧͠͠m҉̶̢o̢ņ̸̀͢ ̶m̀́͜͏o̵̡͘͜n͘͢ ̛̀m̸͘͜͠ơ̶͢͟͡n̷̢͠҉͏ ͏̸̡̛͢m̶̧͘͡͝o͜͠n̵͘҉ ̷͘͢͞n̛͝͏i̴̢̕͠t́͢͝h̶͜͞m̷̶͘͜͡ó̕͞͝n͢͝͠͝ ͡͏̛͝͝i͜͢t̸h̸͏m̶̨o҉̕͡n̡͝҉ ̴̧̀u҉̵̵̕l҉̶t̨͢͟ ̡͜͡͡҉i҉̶̧ ̵̷̢m̸͢͡a͏҉̕͏͝t̴̷͢e̛҉͏̨͞ ̷̵̀͝m̵̕̕át̀͜͢ ͘͢͞͞m͏͡a͠t̢̧̡̛͝ę͜͏̨ ̴̷̧͘͜m̷̵ą͝͠t̡̡͏́ȩ̶̶̶ ͘҉̛҉͢u͏͏̴͜͏l҉̢̀͟ ̸̷̢m̷̷̨͟͝á͡͞ ̷͏̨̕ţ̨̕̕͡į̨͞ ̨n͝i̴̵ţ͝h̡͟͝

The glitchy squeak began to die down quickly -- thank god -- but the glitchy, distorted something on their radar remained.

***

Going towards the glitchy death-radar reading felt like walking directly into danger, but given their experience with things that caused their D-Rives to go apeshit, call it a hunch-- it could only have ended worse if they'd walked away.

is everyone getting that reading too? Natalie sent to the group chat.

Meghan was the first to answer. yeah. heading in-- we have ryan, xander, sam, and me. you?

i have jen and peter with me. anyone know where lily is?

i'm fine, lily's message popped up -- a rare sight, as she hadn't been a huge talker even as she had integrated with the group more. dude whose partner's a fox is with me too-- we're probably closest to downtown. waiting for backup before we go charging in.

probably smart, Xander said.

The thing was... nothing bad seemed to be happening. Once their fights with their respective -dramons had concluded... there was no big catastrophe happening downtown, as far as they could tell. Lily and Eli were able to meet up with Natalie, Peter, and Jen as soon as they got across the bridge, and Xander, Meghan, Sam, and Ryan made a beeline for the location of the dot as well, promising to convene there.

Part of this was because they had straight up given up on subtlety, the digimon not even bothering to de-digivolve, meaning the digimon large enough to carry people did just that, and people certainly got out of their way in short order.

The dot for Nithmon, whatever it was, did not move, nor did it stop glitching.
It was hard not to wonder why it had only appeared when everyone had been in range of it.

***

Before long, they convened in one spot-- a city square of sorts; the only remarkable landmark was an old, ornate fountain that stood starkly in the center. The rest was pavement stones laid out in what some city planner probably thought was very aesthetically pleasing, encircled by benches and meticulously-trimmed trees and hedges.
There was no sign of any digimon that weren't already accounted for.

Those who had ridden on their digimon (or been carried by them) returned their feet to solid ground, and they glanced around, keeping their backs to a building. Right now, everyone was on high alert; they felt they had the right to be.
The humans all looked to their D-Rives with varying degrees of uncertainty, to confirm that the dot hadn't moved. It hadn't; they were almost on top of the glitchy dot, and by all rights, it should have been apparent to them from where they were standing.

"Yeah, that's not suspicious at all," Frekimon said, glancing around and sniffing at the air, but she didn't detect anything, and she pinned her ears back, frowning.

"If this is another bullshit fakeout, I'm going to..." Ryan muttered, but Natalie held out a hand to shush him.

"Imma let you finish," she said, "but shut up for a second."
He did; they never found out what he'd do if this was another bullshit fakeout. Xander snorted and opened his mouth to say something, but she held out her hand at him, too, signalling that he, too, needed not to commentate.

They could hear sirens in the distance and the faint bubbling of the fountain. They could hear cars honking as they were still backed up on the bridges.

What they did not hear was people-- the square was entirely bereft of life but for them.

Downtown.

On a Friday afternoon.

"Spooky," Corymon said, her ears twitching.

"Something is very wrong," Doctorimon said quietly, inclining his head just barely towards Natalie. She nodded tersely, looking around without moving her head.

"Be on your guard," Euedaemon said, holding her hands out, light starting to coalesce into a spear in her grip.

Something fizzled. They felt a-- not a chill, but a kind of numbing tingle wash over them for just a split second, the kind that made the hair on the backs of their necks stand up.

"Vedfolnir's Wings!"

A voice cried from above. Eighteen pairs of eyes immediately snapped upwards, but they didn't look up for long, as a hail of feathers, glowing red but shining so brightly they hurt to look at, filled their vision.

"Get down!"

It was impossible to tell who yelled that, because multiple people and digimon yelled it or some variation upon it at the same time. Digimon leapt in front of their partners almost as though by instinct, whether that meant Eudaemon leaping in front of Ryan with the jewels on her body starting to glow, Banshemon throwing her arms in front of her own face as she immediately shot in front of Peter, or Melemon practically bowling Lily over in the interest of protecting her, and everything in between.

But the attack never connected-- not even with the digimon who had been preparing to take the metaphorical bullet.

When those who had closed their eyes dared to crack them back open, they saw the blazing-red feathers suspended in midair. They hung at various heights, but they had all stopped at least inches away from each and every one of the digimon and in the air between them. They shone so brightly it was difficult to see past them, but it was just as difficult to miss what had changed.

Perched like a gargoyle on top of the fountain was a humanoid shape with four feathered wings, resting one elbow on its knees and looking over at the gathered humans and digimon with what seemed to be mild, polite curiosity. The water in the fountain had stopped flowing as though it were paused in time.
This was, presumably enough, Nithmon.

It wasn't an impressive height, just barely shy of four-and-a-half feet. Four long, feathered wings spread out behind its back, and a long, thick tail trailed behind it. Black claws adorned the hands that peeked out of flowing sleeves, as well as the toes of knee-high boots.

It was very pale in colour-- most of its body and its clothes alike were austere white and faded ivory. Both its wings and its clothes were white at the bases, fading into peachy yellow and dusty pink, while faded gold accessories glistened at the tops of its boots and around its upper arms. Its mostly desaturated colour scheme made the things that weren't pale stand out all the more.

First of all: it wore large hood, gathered into a cowl around its neck. The fabric was a deep, bloody crimson, a similar shade to the glowing feathers suspended in the air.
Second: a symbol was emblazoned on the tabard it wore; this symbol was the same stark red as its hood. It was something like an inverted arrowhead shape that followed the contour of the triangular fabric, and it looked weirdly familiar to the digimon, though none of them -- not even those with intact memories -- could place why.

Third, and most damningly: a vivid pink strange shiny orb fastened at its neck, and eyes that were both acid-green and vivid pink. Both its eyes and the strange orb were so shiny that they seemed to glow in the grey afternoon.
As if the short, curved horns and the feathery wing-like ears poking through its hood weren't enough of a giveaway.

Nithmon placed his chin in his hand, tilting his head just-so.
"You're late," he said. His voice was exactly the same as it had been when he had been Ratamon, though it sounded... slightly distorted, like he was speaking through some kind of filter. "I mean, I'm surprised as anyone that you're still this easy to lure out, but even so! Late. Time is money-- or, whatever."

"Fuck," Sam said flatly, managing to capture the feeling of the room (well, open-air town square, but you get it) in one syllable.

"You know, this all could have been avoided if you'd been a little more cooperative," Nithmon said, tapping his chin as he looked at Lily and Brockmon, and then he grinned. "Or maybe it couldn't have been avoided. Hell if I know. I mean, I might be feeling a bit more charitable right now, but the rest of this," he gestured around, "who knows? This whole force-connecting the worlds thing has been pretty interesting!" he said, his tone downright amicable.

That probably accounted for the appearing-and-disappearing digimon, one supposed.

"You noticed anything weird on your end?" he said, unperturbed by the fact that he was basically monologuing.

For some reason, nobody felt overmuch like answering him. Maybe it had something to do with the blindingly-bright red feathers floating inches away from them, forcing them to hold their poses, whatever position they were in. Nobody really wanted to be the first one to discover what touching them would do.

Nithmon got to his feet, and as he moved, he distorted and glitched-- or maybe it was the air around him doing that, it was hard to tell. He raised his hands; in an instant, the red feathers hanging in the air disappeared. He stepped down to the ground, standing between his audience and the fountain.
Nobody relaxed. The digimon tensed, and the humans all held their D-Rives tight, preparing for what felt like the inevitable.

"Be ready," Melemon said quietly, and Lily clutched her D-Rive, but even this small comment didn't go unnoticed.

Nithmon smiled for the billionth time. "What exactly is it you think you're going to do?" he said, looking quite pointedly at the digimon that were still in champion form. Eudaemon, Yokaimon, and Shaolimon all felt like he was looking straight through them, while the others felt the intense sensation of being stared at-- which was quite a feat, considering there were six of them.

The mockery was plain in Nithmon's voice. He didn't have to say it; his smile said that he knew already that they couldn't digivolve to ultimate to fight him-- that didn't dare.
They couldn't, and when the digimon glanced to their partners, uncertainly Nithmon's smile turned into a full grin.

"Purge the Wicked!" Eudaemon cried, hurling a spear of radiant light at Nithmon. When it was about to impact him-- well. There was a fizzling noise, and the space around Nithmon distorted slightly.

The spear smashed into the fountain, cracking the stone, and left Nithmon untouched.

"See, here's the thing," he said, glancing at Eudaemon. "Even if all nine of you could evolve---" He paused. "Even if your partners would allow you to, then you still wouldn't stand a chance against me."

"Luna Wave!"

"Dragon's Breath!"

As the two attacks, released in perfect synch, drew close to Nithmon, both the golden flames and the blue-white energy distorted. Unlike Eudaemon's spear, they did not continue past him; instead, they deflected off to the sides, shooting off in different tangents. As this happened, Eudaemon lunged forward, another spear forming in her hands.

"Purge the Wicked!"

"Stasis Matrix!" Nithmon cried, holding his hands out in front of him. In the blink of an eye, a red-pink eight-faced crystal surrounded Eudaemon, floating a few inches off the ground. The angel was captured as though in amber, frozen with her mouth open in her attack-call. Her spear didn't stop glowing, reflecting and refracting inside the crystal.

Nithmon looked almost amazed, like he hadn't quite had the chance to try out that attack yet and he was quite impressed by it.

Doctorimon leapt forward, and Nithmon drifted backwards a short distance, watching impassively.

Doctorimon didn't say a word as he rushed in and he swung his staff like a hammer; one of the masks impacted the crystal encasing Eudaemon, and pale cracks spread out from the point of impact.
It was hard to tell if the sudden, intense shattering or Eudaemon's scream of pain the moment she was free was louder. She dropped like a stone, hitting the ground. Even though she was clearly in pain, she wasted no time in attempting to get back to her feet.

"Face of Judgement!" Doctorimon called, though he wasn't aiming the vengeful mask -- the one that spit black flames -- at Nithmon. He was aiming the mourning face at Eudaemon. When the sorrowful mask's beak fell further open, a stream of white flames poured out, licking over Eudaemon's body and doing no damage.

In fact, quite the opposite-- while it wasn't much, only a champion-level's power, she found it slightly easier to get to her feet, some of the pain numbed by the white fire.

"Very sweet of you," Nithmon mocked, "but I meant what I said. What, exactly, do you hope to do here?"

"We'll fight you," Ibexmon said decisively, stepping forward.

"And we'll find some way to drive you back to the god-forsaken rock you crawled out from under," Frekimon said, her teeth bared.

"Even if we have to catalyst evolve," Banshemon said, her voice quiet. "We have our friends." She glanced to Peter, only daring to look at him for a second before re-focusing on Nithmon.

"We have our allies," Doctorimon said, and even without visible eyes the glance he tossed in Eudaemon's direction was self-evident.

"And we just really, really, really want to ruin your plans," Corymon said, smirking.

Melemon said only three words, nodding once: "At any cost."

Nithmon only smiled.
"That's fucking adorable," he said, and a glitchy, red-and-black energy pulsed around his claws. "Nithogg's Teeth!"

All around them, massive spikes comprised of that same distorted energy shot out of the ground. They were uncountably numerous, but nine in particular shot up underneath the feet of the digimon, impaling them immediately with the force of their protrusion.
They seemed to not form around where the humans watched.

Curious.

That was hard to think about at the moment, though; the nine digimon immediately went up in their respective colours, replaced in a heartbeat by their rookie forms. The spikes vanished with a faint buzzing noise as the digimon de-digivolved.
Nothing could have stopped their human partners from immediately running to their sides, and Nithmon grinned again.

Again, he seemed slightly surprised at how effective his attack had been, but more than pleased.

"This is its power," he said, holding his hands out as they began to glow red and black again. He tilted his head and spoke with a childlike glee as he continued. "Imagine! Imagine! This is its power weakened! A fragment of it, given to me, a small enough piece to fit through to this backwater shithole of a world!"

Nobody was paying attention to him -- they were too concerned checking over their partners to see if they were alright -- but he did't seem to mind that much.

(They were; they had simply already been tired out from their previous fights, and they were more than a little dazed.)

"You've all played your roles-- you know, I'm not going to say well, because you've been a massive pain in my ass, but well enough. Your jobs are done," he said, gesturing with one claw at the refugee digimon and Brockmon in turn. His gaze turned to Shitomon, Hulimon, and Lurumon. He paused, searching for words. "And you... well. You tried. Nice attempts, I suppose."
He stepped forward, finding the exact center point between all of the pairs strewn around.

He paused for dramatic impact, and looked around. The digimon were coming more to their senses; with the peace of mind that this granted them, the humans had turned their attention to him, finally.

His claws began to glow again.

"But you know what? I'm done playing."

The glow began to spread out from his hands-- not around his body, but outwards into the air, expanding in a sphere. It shifted and distrorted the air inside it, scorching the stone on the ground. They could feel an overwhelming heat -- or possibly an unfathomable cold, it seemed to paradoxically be both.

It didn't move slowly; the humans and digimon alike only had the time to think that they really didn't want to know what was going to happen to them when it reached them, before it grew to the point that it was about to engulf them.
Luckily, they didn't have to find that out.

They were never so damn relieved to hear that unholy D-Rive screech.

The instant before any of them were touched by the expanding bubble of corruption, which was significantly less funny than that phrase might imply, the D-Rives activated with a passion and a fury, and that meant they screeched like the gates of hell were being opened.

And the bubble stopped growing as though something were stopping it.

"It must be..." Sam began, but he didn't get to finish his thought.

"What the hell," Jen muttered, flinching backwards. It was apparent she wasn't the only one thinking that.

Nithmon, standing at the center of it all, wore an expression of disgust and disbelief. He held his hands further out, like he was trying to force it; nothing happened.
"This wasn't supposed to happen," he said, but the bubble around him filtered his speech as well, making it sound slightly garbled to those outside it-- that is to say, everyone present -- if they could even hear it over the D-Rive noise.

The sphere of corrupted energy wavered. It distorted, it shifted, and with a static buzz-- it vanished.
Before they could even register this fact, Nithmon followed suit, blinking out of sight.

The D-Rives died down, and the square was left eerily, oppressively quiet once more.

"Wait--!" Meghan blurted, reaching her hand out towards where Nithmon had been a moment before. In his place was...

It looked almost like a tear in space, but 'tear' seemed to imply that it was fluid, or fabriclike, when it was really more like...
A crack.
It was tenuous, and looked like it was trying to close itself even before their very eyes-- but that was definitely what it was.

"Shit," Xander said, dragging his hands backwards through his hair.

"You said it," Desmon said, getting to her feet but not trying to jump into the air just yet. "Now say it about five more times, and that's how I feel."

A few moments followed wherein everyone did full-body inventories; nobody seemed to be seriously hurt. The digimon felt a little off their game, but nothing that couldn't be attributed to the 'just got impaled and forcibly de-digivolved' funk.

The city square stayed quiet, but they began to check on each other and their digimon partners.

It was only Natalie who didn't say anything. She stood, her eyes on the ground underneath the strange crack in the air. Everyone was, understandably, steering clear of it. Air, after all, was not meant to be cracked.

"Well, nice job, team," Sam said flatly, sarcasm dripping from every syllable. "Let's take the rest of the day off and reconvene tomorrow for a performance review and crumpets."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Gelermon said, feeling her body protest as she got up.

"Hold on," Natalie said, the first words she had said to anyone but Raumon. Her eyes were on the crack in front of them. Her posture was board-stiff.

"What's up, Nat--alie," Ryan said, appending the later two-thirds of her name hastily.

All eyes were on her, digimon and human alike, and she was acutely aware of it.

"We can't just sit around waiting for this to happen again," she said slowly, choosing every word carefully. Raumon looked up at her meaningfully, immediately catching on.

"What are you trying to imply?" Peter said, raising an eyebrow while Banmon peered over his shoulder.

"Lemme guess," Lily said. "You think we need to follow squirrel boy, right?"

Natalie didn't immediately answer, and that spoke plenty.

"Hold up, back up, two seconds," Jen said, holding her hands up. "Why?"

"Because we have the D-Rives," Sam said, looking down at his own. Natalie looked over at him in surprise, the grateful expression of oh thank god you're in the same boat. "They've got something to do with this. They have to, considering what just happened. If anything's going to have a chance at fixing this shit," he held up the little device, turning it over in his hand.

There was a moment of silence, and Natalie took a deep breath.

"Look. I don't know-- none of you have to think this is a good idea, because I'm pretty sure this is the worst idea I've ever had? But I've been looking at that crack, and I-- I don't know. We may not get another chance. I think I--" she paused, and looked at Raumon, who nodded decisively. "We need to follow him. The rest of you are free not to."

Hoo boy, was the silence that followed this statement a heavy one as eight other people stared at her.

Lily, again, cut straight to the point.
"I'm in," she said. "Assuming Brockmon is, I mean," she said, looking to her partner.

"We've been prepared for this for some time," the badger said.

"Yeah, see? We're in."

Another pause followed, this one shorter than the last.

"I must be going fucking crazy," Xander said, "because I think you've got a point."

"You've thought about it too, you liar," Desmon said, piping up. "You said if you had the chance you'd go strangle Ratamon in his own home."
Xander chose to pretend he didn't hear that.

"What the fuck else have I got to do with my day, I guess," Sam said, scratching the back of his neck. He was clearly nervous, but he couldn't not be sarcastic. Gelermon looked meaningfully up at him, then glanced around at the others.

"Whatever he does, I do," she said.

Meghan looked to Oremon for confirmation; the goat said nothing, merely nodded once, and Meghan heaved a heavy sigh. She picked herself up, clenching one fist determinedly. "We'll go, too, then," she said, sounding more confident than she felt.

"I think... we should go, too," Banmon said quietly, hovering over Peter's shoulder still. Peter nodded once; he needed no further statement.

Truth be told, all of them had thought abut this before; they had just... never really thought it would be something they would have to act on.
But really... they'd all made their choices a long time ago.

A quick exchange of hushed words went around between Ryan, Eli, Jen, and their respective partners. They nodded at each ther, and it was Ryan who acted as delegate, turning to Natalie.

"We'll--" he said, but she immediately shook her head.

"No," she said. "You have to stay here."

Ryan and especially Shitomon looked like she had just told them that she shot their dog.

"We deserve to be a part of this too," Shitomon said, indignance and frustration mixing in equal measure in her voice.

"Yeah, I mean, it's only the only reason we came here in the first place," Hulimon said, arms akimbo.

"That's why you have to stay behind," Raumon said evenly. "Emergent digimon are still going to be coming through. Someone who can actually take care of them, and fight, and digivolve, has to be here." He looked pointedly between angel-rabbit, fox, and red panda.

"I..." Lurumon said, frowning, then closed her eyes. She nodded slowly. "That makes sense."

Shitomon stared at the ground for a few moments. She seemed very conflicted, and her brow furrowed.

"You alright?" Ryan said quietly, and Shitomon closed her eyes and sighed. She opened her eyes again, and she put a determined expression on as she did, clenching one paw into a fist.

"You can count on us," she said.

"There's the duty-bound wacko we know and love," Hulimon said, rubbing at his nose, and then glancing at the crack. "May want to get a move on it, though. Those things don't stay open forever from what I hear. It can be pretty nasty to get caught in it."

Shit, right.

"Hey, I mean, the time dilation thing's already happening again, right?" Desmon said. "We might be back in time for dinner. Who knows."

It was a hastily-made decision, to be sure of it.

But they didn't really have a better one, and that's how twelve hands reached out as one for the shimmering, shining distortion in space in the center of the town square.

With a shimmer, a shift, and a little bit of glitchiness, Natalie, Raumon, Xander, Desmon, Peter, Banmon, Meghan, Oremon, Sam, Gelermon, Lily, and Brockmon vanished, and the crack in space flickered out a few seconds later.

Ryan looked at his D-Rive and noted, with some surprise, that a new option on his D-Rive's menu had appeared, spelled out in English letters. As he pointed this out, Jen and Eli checked their own, and they confirmed it had appeared on their own.

CONNECT.

EPISODE 24: CONNECTION INTERRUPTED

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