Episode 27: Red Hands

Ibexmon made his way south through the valleys and hills and craggy spires of rock that dotted the landscape. He found himself more than once lamenting that the moons that hung overhead were in no way sufficient lighting-- and that was even without the gnarled trees spider-webbing overhead, blocking what light there was. Still, even as he had to zig and zag back and forth to find even-enough footing, he never faltered.

He took great care because Meghan... well, if she wasn't completely asleep, she was at least halfway there. Laying across his back in a prone position, she held onto his mane with loosely-clenched fists, resting her head in the mess of long red fur. Her breathing was steady, so Ibexmon chose to behave as though she was asleep, and didn't want to disturb her.

They had been walking all day, and he had seen no reason to stop when he could still carry her. They could cover more ground this way, even if he had to slow down. As such, when it had gotten dark, he had evolved, she had climbed onto his back, and they had pressed on.
It had been a couple hours since he had taken over as such; he'd find time to sleep eventually. Probably. Maybe.

Their day thus far had been significantly more uneventful than the days many of their teammates had ended up having. That was more than fine in Ibexmon's book. Even if he didn't know what was going on, even if he wasn't able to compare experiences, he was perfectly content to be left alone as much as possible.
It was better this way. Fewer loud noises, less arguing.
Fewer people.


Lost in his own head, he was a little bit distracted, and then he stopped a bit more suddenly than he'd hoped to. In the dark, it had been hard to see that he was coming up on the lip of a rather steep and rocky incline. The ground dropped off suddenly, plunging maybe sixty or seventy feet down into a shallow, forested valley that re-ascended much more gently a few thousand feet across the way.


Well, it wasn't like he had a great number of options.

And so, Ibexmon carefully began to wind his way down the steep incline, having to do everything short of double back in a series of hairpin turns. It was slow going, but he was unfailingly sure-footed, and he'd rather make slow progress than no progress -- or worse, faster progress but risk disturbing Meghan.

Everything shy of alone with his thoughts, he couldn't find any distractions able to shake the feeling that he had been here before. It was a disquieting feeling; the familiarity did not inspire confidence, but rather a vague and free-floating apprehension.

In truth, he was almost certain that he'd seen this place quite recently; it had been the stage for more than one of the troublesome dreams he'd been having.

He chose not to examine this train of thought. After all, it wasn't as if 'a mountainous area full of rocks and trees' was exactly groundbreaking and out-of-this-world imagery. He could just as well have been transplanting some buried memory of somewhere he had seen in the years when Meghan's family had been moving around the country.

(So be it that the exact sight of the valley below them sparked a sense of deja vu-- that he felt like he knew already where to go to safely descend; that every fall of his hooves felt like it was happening on a well-worn path, the cadence familiar no matter how many years had passed. He knew, like how someone still knows the layout of their hometown even after years away, that by dropping down and following this valley, they would eventually join with with the river valley, and that following said river would be the easiest way to continue south.)

But surely, this was entirely coincidental. He was just using context clues and supposing and making educated guesses.

... right.

He decided to change tack and think about something else.

He wasn't thrilled about the concept of meeting up with Gelermon, when- (and if-) ever that happened. He didn't want to deal with her causing problems for them, making snide comments, starting fights...
Hadn't Brockmon said they were only likely to be in the same general area? Ibexmon found himself wishing, almost distantly, that he had been wrong.

(And anyway, a voice in the back of his head whispered, that's assuming that Brockmon is telling the truth in the first pla̴c̶e--)

God, he really needed to find something to think about that he didn't immediately want to shove back into a proverbial drawer. He usually didn't have this problem, but it almost felt as though being here was forcing things to bubble to the surface.

Hell, that voice in the back of his head almost didn't sound like his own.

This series of thoughts popping up and being shoved back down is how he wound up all but in a methodical kind of daze. He chose to focus both his eyes and his mind entirely on the ground beneath his hooves as he took hairpin turns in his steady descent.
In much the same way that a person can drive seventy miles of highway, then snap to attention and realize they don't remember a moment of the preceding hour, Ibexmon only noticed that he was coming quick on the bottom of the incline when the ground began to even out. Only when he cast a glance back up did he see how far down he had come.

He didn't even feel tired, and Meghan was still at least half-asleep on his back. He snorted, satisfied with himself.

Cutting through his vague pride, something in the distance made a noise that tore through the silence. It was a bellowed, bugle-like noise, not entirely unlike that of an elk's call. It rang out, echoing for a few seconds in the still night air before fading away; it was the first thing Ibexmon had heard in hours, so of course it caught his attention immediately.

Meghan stirred on his back. Ibexmon frowned and twitched his ears, sniffing at the air. He was willing to call it none of his business; they had avoided trouble so far, and he was okay with keeping things that way. Just because something was happening, it didn't mean it was their business. This world wasn't empty, despite appearances. The fact that they hadn't passed by anything happening that had nothing to do with them was surprising, so--

A few seconds later, a flash of green light rose up over the trees perhaps a hundred meters away, flickering and then fading out.
He was quick to put two and two together.

Goddammit, Gelermon.

"Did something happen?" Meghan asked, sitting up -- sounding like any rest she had gotten hadn't been particularly restful -- and Ibexmon snorted.

"Hold on," he said, and felt Meghan tighten her grip in his mane.


A few seconds prior...

A fantastically ill-tempered moose-like digimon came charging out of the trees, a horrifically loud trumpeting noise being the only warning they got just moments before it came rushing at Frekimon and Sam in a blur of white and blue.
Frekimon leapt out of the way, her reflexes razor-sharp; Sam scrambled off his partner's back as soon as she stopped moving. He had no particular desire to try to hang on for the world's worst, and most potentially deadly, mechanical bull ride. The moment he disembarked from her, she got up onto her hind legs, rising into a battle stance.

Moosemon -- for, big surprise, that was the digimon's moniker -- skidded to a stop, whipping its head around as it realized that Frekimon had dodged. It was dark, but its red eyes were almost glowing, and the feral glint in them was unfortunately familiar.
"Horn Blade!" the moose digimon yelled, its cobalt antlers glowing as it began to charge for the second time.

"New Moon Fire!" Frekimon yelled immediately, rearing back and preparing a green orb of fire in her jaws, which she quicky fired at the rampaging moose. The trees around them were illuminated by the blast of green for split moment before the attack hit Moosemon squarely in the face.

Moosemon veered to one side, its attitude apparently all bluster; the fireball had made it change tack, and it snorted and spat as it bounded blindly away back into the darkness. As quickly as it had come, it was over.

"That's a nice fucking pick-me-up," Sam said after a moment, his chest still tight. That was the first interaction with anything they had had since waking up, and it had happened and ended so suddenly that Sam wasn't entirely sure what to make of it.

"Shame," Frekimon said dryly, dropping onto all fours. "I was kind of hoping for a fight."

"I could live without it," Sam said, shaking his head and running a hand backwards through his hair. "This entire situation is enough excitement for me for the next century."

Frekimon chuckled, then smirked and tossed her head; this was an invitation for Sam to climb back on her back. He shook his head.

"Can you hold on a sec?" he said, extending his arms above his head. "Gimme a second to stretch before my limbs lock up."

"Yeah, I realize sitting still and doing nothing on my back is a whole lot more strenuous than your usual brand of sitting still and doing nothing in your chair," Frekimon said, grinning; even so, she nodded, sitting down on the ground and waiting patiently.

"Hey, that's not fair," Sam said dryly. "I occasionally get up to microwave food, and you're way less comfortable than my chair."
Frekimon stuck her tongue out cheekily, and she herself began stretching out.

It was actually kind of weird; Sam had only ever really seen Frekimon in the context of battle before now. To see her walk around on all fours (even though she regularly did so as Gelermon) was a bit jarring. She had insisted on being in her evolved form; despite her teasing, she had even more firmly insisted on carrying Sam as they traversed the miles upon miles of forested hills. Obviously, she had grown able to stay in her evolved form for longer and longer periods of time, but this was above and beyond.

Was it -- he wondered idly -- the result of their new location? Had she just always devolved when she was done fighting because some part of her recognized that she could?
(He tried not to consider the possibility that she wouldn't devolve until she either physically had to, or until they weren't in danger.)
... still. At least as far as a free ride went, he sure wasn't about to complain, even if he was gonna have some weird muscle soreness in the future.
If muscle soreness was still a thing, anyway, he'd noticed that he wasn't feeling hungry or thirsty at all.)

Sam was about to climb back onto Frekimon's back when she bristled, her ears pricking up and the fur on her back standing on-end.
Before Sam even had the chance to ask what was up, he heard the sound of hooves snapping through debris and bushes through the underbrush-- his first thought, and Frekimon's as well, was that Moosemon was coming back for a third shot. It didn't register soon enough that, judging by the sound, the unknown agent was moving at a light trot at best, and not the haphazard gallop with which Moosemon had careened through the trees.

(Astute readers can probably guess what is coming next.)

Frekimon reared up onto her hind legs as green fire began to flicker around her muzzle.
"New Moon Fire!"

The trees were lit up in a flash of green, and it was quickly apparent that the hooved digimon on the approach had long curved horns in lieu of antlers and charcoal fur instead of white, but by then it was too late.

"Fuck!" Ibexmon spat.
He was quick to dodge the attack lobbed his way, but everything else happened quickly, too; the green fireball crashed into the trees like a cannonball, snapping long-left-untouched branches with a clatter and a crack that sounded out like a gunshot. Ibexmon had to move quickly, and this meant that Meghan had to hold fast-- or, she would have had to, but since it came as a surprise, she was jerked and fell from her partner's back inelegantly.

The only real saving grace was that the fiery attack flickered out before anything else went up in flames.

Sam kept his distance, standing back. He couldn't help but notice that even though it was clear by now that it was Ibexmon who had been on the approach, Frekimon didn't relax. Even as she fell onto all fours once more she flexed her claws in the dirt, her body tense, and her golden eyes almost seemed to glow in the dark.

Something was not quite right.

"What the hell is wrong with you!?" Ibexmon snarled; he didn't immediately seem to notice that Meghan had been dislodged from his back.

"I heard a digimon coming immediately after one tried to gore me," Frekimon said coolly, or at least an attempt at saying it coolly; just as fire licked at her wrists, contempt licked around the edges of her tone of voice.

"You just attack first, ask questions later?" Ibexmon fired back; his acidic comments almost seemed to come unbidden. "Oh, wait, stupid question, of course you--" He stoppped mid-sentence; Meghan hoisted herself into a sitting position, and the movement caught his eye.

She had landed in much of the same half-decayed, long-untouched vegetation on the ground. It wasn't the softest landing, and she had winced as she pushed herself up. She hadn't sprained anything, but only narrowly, and she had fallen kind of awkwardly on one arm. She was in the middle of inspecting it, about to tell her partner that she was fine, when--

"Headstrong Charge!"
Ibexmon lowered his head and rushed at Frekimon, and while their partners were surprised, Frekimon wasn't. In fact, Frekimon seemed perfectly prepared for this, and the flames around her wrists burst to life.

"Ravenous Hunter!" she cried, rushing forward to meet Ibexmon's horns with her claws.

The two locked claw and horn; Sam and Meghan looked at each other, confusion plain on both of their faces. Meghan pushed herself to her feet, and raised her voice.
"What are you two doing!?"

Ibexmon and Frekimon parted, wrenching away from each other and breathing a bit heavily. Ibexmon was the first to speak.
"Because she jumped to conclusions, you got hurt," he said ferociously, glaring at Frekimon who returned the look in spades.

"No I didn't!" Meghan said, raising her voice and stomping one foot on the ground. "Both of you knock it off!"

"I-- yeah, maybe reel it back a little," Sam said-- muttered, really; without as quiet as the rest of the night was, it would've been hard to hear him. Frekimon glared at Ibexmon for a long moment, then she snorted.

"Well, hey, look! Looks like they're doing fine. Doing just great without our help. Good work," she said, voice harsh as she turned away. "We'll meet back up with them when someone else, someone who's willing to keep billy goat gruff in line, wants to deal with them." Without another word, she began walking away.

Sam and Meghan looked at each other helplessly. Both of them were thinking the same thing:
Where did this open hostility come from? Earlier today -- a world away, back in the square, and before that, versus the Wingdramon -- they had been perfectly okay with coexisting, fighting side by side rather than with each other, even if they were hardly the chummiest pair. It was more than clear, though: both of them were chomping at the bit for a fight, even -- or perhaps especially -- with each other.

"Glad to see you're alive, I guess," Sam said with a one-shouldered shrug. "... later." He looked apologetic, but didn't make eye contact. He hesitated for a moment, then turned and followed after his partner.

Ibexmon stood where he was as if rooted, and he snorted through his nose.


"What the hell was that about?" Sam said, a minute later, as he caught up to Frekimon. She wasn't moving fast, but she was forging a path ahead, barely looking at where she was going, and Sam had had to jog to catch up to her.

"... it wasn't my fault," she said bitterly after a too-long pause, glaring at the ground as she stopped. "It wasn't my fault in the first place, and he's overreacting like a fucking idiot, which is even less my fault."

Sam didn't say anything for a moment. He didn't want to point out that she was on edge, had herself said that she was ready for a fight; he figured that she would already know, that she didn't need him rubbing it in.

Sam surreptitiously glanced at his D-Rive. Even if Frekimon wasn't that eager to keep tabs on their (friends felt like a scary term) teammates, and he was in no way interested in making her be around people she'd rather not be around, he wanted to at least check. He had been wondering if they'd register on the D-Rive's radar, and the gently glowing orange dot proved him right. There was only so far they could go to one side or the other of the valley; they were probably going to be relatively close to Meghan and Oremon for the forseeable future.
He wasn't sure if it was a comfort or not, but he felt that for Frekimon's sake, they could put a little more distance between them before they stopped.

Both of their pairs, he figured, would be okay.

"... you still down to give me a ride?"

"Of course."


Meghan, riding on Ibexmon's back once more, looked down at her D-Rive in her hand; she'd had much the same idea as Sam. The green dot on its radar wasn't much comfort, but it was something, at least a reminder of their friends' presence. It had been maybe fifteen minutes since they'd parted ways with Sam and Frekimon, but it felt like it'd been hours.

Possibly because neither of them had really spoken in the interrim.

She wondered how everyone else was doing.

They'd veered back off to the side from whence they had come, not wholly hugging the wall of the steep hill they had come down, but staying close to it. It was one less flank they had to be aware of.

"Hey, are you okay?" Meghan asked to break the silence, nudging Ibexmon gently; he snorted and said nothing. She frowned.
"I'm not actually hurt, you know," she said after a moment.

"I know," Ibexmon said, a bit too quickly to seem casual. "I just didn't like the idea that--" he began, then cut himself off. There were a few ways he wanted to end that sentence, but none of them were ways he wanted to say out loud.

Meghan slumped her shoulders and sighed. Even if Ibexmon wouldn't speak his mind, she could fill in the blanks pretty well.

For a few more minutes, they went on in an uneasy silence that hung over them, the only sound being the sounds of Ibexmon's hooves falling on the ground. Meghan was the one to break the silence yet again. "Let's just stop for the night. I think we could both use some rest."

"I'm fine," Ibexmon said immediately, flat and gruff.

"I wasn't really asking." She paused, then softened it. "You're not exactly the most comfortable bed, you know?"

Ibexmon stopped and tossed a look over his shoulder. He opened his mouth to speak, shut it again. Then, in a much softer tone than he probably originally intended:

Following the hill as they had been doing was, it turned out, an effective strategy. They were able to find a point where an outcropping of rock in the steep hill face created a lip under which they could settle. The skies were clear, and rain didn't seem likely, but the fewer sides they had to cover, the better. Ibexmon began clearing the ground, swipes of his hooves pushing away half-rotted vegetation, jagged pebbles, and a few spare tangles of bramble.

"I'll stay in this form," he said, settling down on the ground once he had cleared the space. "You can sleep against me. I know I'm not the most comfortable bed," he said, sounding almost defensive, and Meghan huffed a chuckle, "but it should be better than laying entirely on the ground, at least."

"You're sure about that?" Meghan said, sticking her tongue out. "You think you can keep the form that long?"

"I can try," he said, seeming a little sheepish (ha). "I'd just rather be prepared in case-- anything happens."

Meghan opened her mouth, about to protest, but she remembered -- quite all at once -- that these circumstances weren't their normal ones. This was a strange place, a world away from home, and she had kind of managed to put that out of her mind as best she could. If anything went pear-shaped, it would be up to Oremon -- in whatever form he was in -- to act.

"I'm sure we'll be fine," she said, putting a smile on her face in an attempt to put Ibexmon at ease. It had limited success if any, and he snorted, putting his head down on his forearms. Meghan cleared the ground next to him and took a seat, leaning her back against her partner's broad side.
He let loose with a heavy sigh.

"You're feeling alright, then?" he said, and a flare of vague annoyance rushed through Meghan. How many times was she going to have to say this?

"Oh, come on. I'm fine. Remember how Brendan taught me how to fall without hurting myself?" she said. She was vividly recalling a time that her elder brother had been teaching her how to play soccer (and how Billymon had headbutted him in the shin for accidentally knocking her down-- some things never change). Even so, this seemed... above and beyond his usual level of concern. He almost sounded like her mom.
(She very pointedly chose not to voice that particular thought.)

Ibexmon put his head down and sighed again, and said nothing. Meghan frowned, reaching backwards and patting him on the side.
"Maybe you're just tired or something?" she proposed. In response, he grunted wordlessly. "I'll take that as a yes," she said; his breath was already slowing down, proving her correct.

She sighed, looking up at the sky through the gaps in the trees.
At least the weather was nice; it was temperate, the air was still but not oppressively so, and the sky was inky and clear. The last thing she needed was rain, right?

She tried not to think too hard about the grey clouds that had been hanging over the city when they had left. She tried not to think about Nithmon or about the conversations they had all had about what was going on; she definitely tried not to think about how long they'd be here, or if this was a bad idea.

She didn't get why something so minor was tearing Oremon up so badly, or what had possessed him to get so worked up, so hostile, over something so minor. He was acting as though he'd broken her leg. Hadn't they had this argument before-- hadn't she proven time and again that he wasn't going to hurt her?

Maybe, she thought, she was stupid to assume everything would be solved so quickly.
She dismissed that train of thought before it had the chance to go further.


Sam and Frekimon weren't having much better (read: less awkward) a time.

"I can't say I'm a huge fan of this place," Sam said, attempting to ease some of the tension. "I mean, I've never really been one for the nature hike thing, so this is just way out of my wheelhouse." Frekimon snorted a half-laugh.

"Right?" she said over her shoulder. "Give me the foot of your bed and five hundred bags of snack foods instead of this crap. It's gonna be stuck in my claws for ages."
Her tone was jovial enough, but she clearly had something else occupying her thoughts.

"My review of the great outdoors: No outlets. Zero stars," Sam said with a half-smile; it was obvious he was kind of forcing it, but it at least made Frekimon snort a laugh, so that was something.

(Truth be told, the conversation that she and Banmon had had with Brockmon was weighing on her mind pretty heavily. She wondered-- if she could go back in time and prevent this shit from happening, just not get involved with Sam in the first place, she could have avoided dragging him down like a ball and chain-- if she could go back and just have dealt with this shit alone, would she have--?)

She had been able to shove it down pretty well the past few days. Being here, in this stupid forest, seemed to unearth something in her. She didn't like it, or the way it gnawed uncomfortably at the back of her brain.

"You alright?" Sam cut through her reverie.

"Yeah," she said unconvincingly.

"Forgive me if I think you're full of shit."

"Aren't I supposed to be the one sayin that to you?" Frekimon said right back, wryly. Even so, she knew she had no chance of hiding it, and she snorted around a grumpy sigh.
"It's not my goddamn fault."

She'd said that not long ago, and Sam hummed, unsure of what else to say, but luckily, she didn't need prompting.

"None of this is my goddamn fault. No matter what goat-boy or the asshole brigade or the squirrel wonder or some shitty voice in the back of my head say. I'm just trying to keep us from getting hurt." By us, it was clear she meant herself and Sam above all else, and it was just as clear that she wasn't just talking about the incident with the Moosemon.

The voice in the back of her head was a new one.
It was also one Sam totally understood.

"... things were better before any of this shit started," she said slowly, after a brief pause. "Before all of this bullshit with emergent digimon and Ratamon's punk ass and the team crap." She was avoiding saying when it was just us, but that was definitely what she meant.
She sighed.
"I just don't want to hang around somewhere I'm not wanted," she said after a minute, "with people who don't want to be around me. But who cares, right? Blamed for everything back in our world," Sam noted her use of our, "or blamed for everything here, what's the difference? Everyone's just going to go off about me being aggressive or some shit."

"You are, though," Sam pointed out with a thin smile. It was a comment he, and only he, could conceivably get away with, but even so--

"Yeah, but you know what I mean," Frekimon snapped over her shoulder, almost growling before she caught herself.

"Right. Yeah, I do," Sam said with a slow nod. Frekimon slowly settled, almost slumping.

Sam definitely understood, but he couldn't quite find any useful words to share with her. He opened his mouth to say something, but shut it again so quickly his teeth clicked together when he heard something moving-- and quickly, at that.

Frekimon's ears pricked up, and her lips curled into a dry sneer.

"You think it's--?" he said, but he was already in the middle of dismounting from Frekimon's back before he even got halfway done with a sentence. The sound was getting closer, accompanied by wild snapping of tree branches and heavy hoof-fall on the ground.

"Great," Frekimon said only half-ironically, rearing down low to the ground. "I could stand to vent a little frustration."

The white form of Moosemon -- big surprise -- came bounding back into sight in a matter of moments. It wasnt on a course to collide with them until it noticed them, and they could see it actively change its direction.
So, the point is, Frekimon didn't feel too bad about being pre-emptive.

"New Moon Fire!" she yelled, firing a blast of green fire in the wild moose's direction. It was for show; the attack smashed into a tree and dissipated harmlessly, but Moosemon was only spurred on by it, and as it rampaged towards them, its antlers began to glow.

"Horn Blade!"

Moosemon burst through the last trees separating them and lunged at Frekimon, lowering its head to charge. She ducked and dodged, and Moosemon slammed right into a tree. The tree lost in the matchup and began to splinter and snap, but Frekimon saw the chance to get an attack of her own in.

"Ravenous Hunter!" she called, raking flaming claws across Moosemon's hide and then jumping away.

The huge ungulate wrenched its head back, dislodging itself from the tree. Truth be told, Frekimon fully expected the moose digimon to bound off into the trees again, as it had the last time. Instead, it rounded, fixing its gaze upon her. Staring at her now, it was easy to see that Moosemon's eyes were still unfocused and feral-- and the air around it seemed to distort just slightly, glitching out in bands before snapping back into alignment as quick as blinking.

It reared back and bellowed, a deep trumpeting noise that -- once again -- failed, remarkably, to echo, and the glitching got worse. It intensified rapidly, and for a split second, its entire body seemed to go up in a red static.
And then, it began to grow.

It began to grow a lot.

"Ah, shit," both Sam and Frekimon said at almost the exact same time.


Ibexmon was halfway in the hazy twilight of not-quite-asleep, and he was not having the best of times falling asleep. Flashes of images too slippery to make sense of kept forcing their way into his mind's eye, familiar but long-forgotten voices and whispers that scraped like metal on stone just below the surface. The sense of unease, of guilt, of blame, was impossible to ignore, but drawing any concrete meaning -- any narrative -- from the half-dream would be a herculean task.

Moosemon's bellowing cry cutting through the night jolted him back to full consciousness. Whether the noise woke Meghan as well, or if it was his jumping awake that did that, it didn't matter; both of them were roused none-too-gently.

"Wh--" Meghan began, scrambling upright.

Ibexmon frowned and glanced out into the trees. "Can't even go this long without starting up again," he said bitterly after a moment, and he set his head back down, closing his eyes.

Meghan blinked, furrowing her brow. "You think it's Sam and Frekimon, then?"

"Of course it is."

"So we're going to--?"

"No," he said flatly, cutting her off. "She doesn't want my help."

Meghan gave him a funny look that, with eyes closed, he didn't see. "What's gotten into you all of a sudden?" He didn't say anything -- which was fine, because it was a rhetorical question -- but it only made her frown deeper.

At that moment, a noise -- much louder than the one before, but having much of the same character, sounding like an elephant's trumpeting turned up to eleven -- rang out.

Meghan got to her feet.
"I'm going to see what's going on," she said, and she started off at a light jog.

(She immediately began wondering, as she started really putting weight on it, if maybe she'd twisted her ankle a little worse than she'd thought, but at this point, more than her pride was riding on it, so she didn't have any plans to show it.)

Ibexmon hesitated.
Truth be told, he was getting tired of holding this form, and he wasn't sure how much longer he really could keep it up, but there was no way, no way in hell, that he was going to let Meghan be alone. Not here. Not her.

That was the sole motivating factor as he got to his feet and began to follow after her.


As Moosemon grew, it took on an entirely new form-- it was, it was immediately obvious, digivolving before their eyes. Where moments before there had been a rampaging moose -- intimidating enough -- was now a much larger digimon. It was an elephant, now, with a massive wooly body, tattered ears, viciously sharp tusks, and a metal mask covering its face and the topside of its thrashing trunk. It towered over them, and the trumpet it released when its new form finalized shook their bones.

It was less moose and more mammoth, and yet, still exactly as pissed off. Even without visible eyes, the ferality that it had had mere moments ago was evident.

"Nose Stamp!"
It swung its trunk, and Frekimon only barely managed to leap out of the way. It snapped a tree straight in half like it was nothing, and Sam immediately began backpedaling, putting as much distance as possible between himself and the pachyderm with an attitude problem.

"Okay," Frekimon said, "we may have a bit of a prob-- shit!"

The mammoth -- no prizes for guessing it was named Mammothmon -- didn't wait, rounding and swinging its trunk at Frekimon again before she could even finish her snarky remark. She again leapt out of the way, gritting her teeth. She felt almost weighed down, as if staying in this form was starting to take a toll on her-- but now was no time to let that get to her.

Sam gripped his D-Rive tightly, and glanced at it. Every step Mammothmon took was like a miniature earthquake; would Meghan and her partner be able to hear it? Did he (read: did Frekimon) want them to?
He wasn't wholly sure if it was a relief or cause for alarm when, looking at his radar, he saw that orange dot moving towards them.

"New Moon Fire!" Frekimon called, but her emerald flames scattered harmlessly against Mammothmon's hide.

"Tusk Crusher!"

Mammothmon reared back, and its tusks fired straight out of its face like missiles. They homed in on Frekimon, moving lightning-fast, and she didn't have the chance to dodge them; one hit her square, the other sailing past her to lodge itself in what remained of a tree that Mammothmon's swinging trunk had already snapped. The moment Sam looked again, its tusks were already regrown, but that wasn't what he was looking at.

Frekimon was sent tumbling, scrabbling her claws into the dirt to try and right herself before she had even skidded to a stop. She groaned, winded, but refusing to let herself be stopped.

"Ravenous Hunter!" she cried, leaping at Mammothmon with flickering claws, but even as she raked its leg, Mammothmon only grew more irate.

"Nose Stamp!"

Mammothmon swung its trunk wildly, and Sam didn't have the chance to move, only register that it was crashing through the trees on a collision course with him. Before that had even fully finished sinking in, Frekimon was a blur of black and green. She grabbed the mammoth's trunk in a full-body tackle, sinking her claws in. She couldn't budge it, had no chance to stop its path, but the moment she latched onto it, Mammothmon reared back and bellowed. It changed the path of the attack, and that was what mattered.

Sam stumbled backwards and fell square on his ass, heart pounding in his throat so loud that he missed the sound of something -- someone -- on the approach.

"I'm going to have to-- fuck!" Frekimon began, and she was immediately cut off as she was dislodged, and sent tumbling through the dirt and into a broken tree. She attempted to right herself as quick as she could, but it wasn't quickly enough. She was slowing down; perhaps her plan of staying in this evolved form was coming to bite her. Mammothmon began to round on her, trampling the ground beneath its feet as it did.

It was becoming rapidly and unavoidably apparent that she was going to have to evolve. There was no way around it; she straight up didn't have the power to fight Mammothmon like this, but--
A single glance to the side at Sam and Frekimon felt her desire to do so crumble.

(It'd be easier, a voice in the back of her head, not entirely familiar, said, if she didn't have to care about that--)

Not an option. Shit. She'd just have to figure something else out.

With a crash, Ibexmon burst out of the trees.

(Not what she was hoping for, admittedly, but beggars can't be choosers...)

"Headstrong Charge!" he roared, lowering his head and charging with all his might at Mammothmon. Just as Frekimon's attacks had done a grand total of jack and shit to harm it, so too did Ibexmon's, but Mammothmon flapped its tattered ears and rumbled a growl as it tossed its head to see what had just happened.

Meghan followed a few moments after Ibexmon, coming up at a light, if slightly awkward, jog; she made a beeline for Sam, who was still where he had fallen on the ground.
"You alright?" she said, immediately offering a hand down to him. For a moment, Sam gave her a slightly blank, not-quite-processing-things look. A moment later he shook himself out of it and averted his eyes, and began to push himself up on his own, ignoring the outstretched hand.
It was now that Mammothmon reared up on its hind legs and stomped, shaking the ground hard and foiling that plan. Sam fell back to the ground, and Meghan stumbled, falling down to a kneel in turn.

Things were going just about as well on the digimon side of things, as Mammothmon was now just even angrier swiping its trunk and stomping its massive feet.

"Thanks for all the help!" Frekimon spat sarcastically. "Now it's just even more pissed!"

"I didn't come to help," Ibexmon snapped right back, gritting his teeth. He wasn't even sure what he could do, now; he knew as well as Frekimon, before he had even caught sight of the hostile digimon, that coming would mean he'd have to evolve, and--
He didn't need that on his conscience.

"Then piss off! I've got it handled!" Frekimon snapped back as Mammothmon cleared a whole row of trees. (They hadn't seemed to have been disturbed in years, and now the area was getting a bit of impromptu landscaping...)


Now was really not the time for this.

"Thiiis is bad," Sam muttered, more to himself than anything. His mind was running a mile a minute, screaming that this was a bad stupid idea, and this sentiment found itself tumbling out of his mouth in a low mumble.

Meghan chewed on the inside of her cheek as she pushed herself, a bit unevenly, to her feet. She wished she could say something useful-- that it'd be fine -- but...
(But they'd dealt with far worse than this, right? Why was Sam getting weird now? What had gotten into everyone?)

Ibexmon and Frekimon, to nobody's surprise, were making absolutely zero progress against Mammothmon; the best they could do was avoid its attacks, and even that was getting harder and harder as they slowed down, the long stretches of time they'd spent in their evolved forms starting to weigh on them.
(Perhaps, they thought, they should have been saving it for when they really needed it--)

"Terra Spear!"

"New Moon Fire!"

The emerald fire and rocky spike again only irritated Mammothmon at best, and it retaliated in kind:
"Tusk Crusher!"

The attack hit Frekimon squarely, sending her skidding into the trees, and she howled in pain, not immediately getting back up.

"Frekimon!" Sam blurted, scrambling to his feet and surging towards Frekimon, danger to his person be damned. Meghan tried to stop him, reached a hand out after his back, but he moved with surprising speed for a guy who hated running.

Ibexmon gritted his teeth, glancing over as Sam bolted to Frekimon's side. Mammothmon was already closing in on them, and what kind of idiot was Sam, anyway--
It's not your problem, a voice in the back of his head said, sounding less and less like his own inner voice.
Not helpful, he snapped right back before he could consider the fact that he was arguing with himself. And not really an option.

"Headstrong Charge!" Ibexmon called, running as close as he dared to Mammothmon, smashing his head horns-first into the mammoth's leg. This caught its attention, at the very least; Mammothmon rounded on him, giving Frekimon the chance to get up.

He didn't exactly have a plan, here, but it was something, at least, and it gave Sam the chance to check on Frekimon. He didn't catch what words she exchanged with him, as he was a bit too busy--

"Tusk Crusher!"

Avoiding being impaled.

"Thought you weren't helping!" Frekimon called over to him, sounding more than a little winded as she scrambled back into the fray a few seconds later, putting as much distance as she could between herself and Sam as a precaution.

"Would you rather I leave you and your partner to die?!" Ibexmon growled right back, dodging underneath a swing of Mammothmon's trunk.

Frekimon bit her tongue-- and, though she wouldn't say as much, swallowed at least a little bit of her pride. "So, in case you haven't picked up by now," she said after a conspicuous pause, "we're either going to have to make a break for it or --"

"Evolve," Ibexmon filled in, "yes, thanks, I figured that out on my own!"

Neither of them wanted to-- they both knew that if things didn't go as planned, if left unchcked, then they could do far more damage -- both to the area around them, and to their humans -- than Mammothmon. That nagging doubt dug at the back of their minds-- the same whispering voice, not speaking in their own voices, but something familiar enough not to draw attention to itself.
If they couldn't keep their partners safe, then--

Then it was going to just be a repeat of last time--

(What last time?)

But... if keeping their friends safe was their job, then they'd done that so far. Even when they'd catalyst digivolved, they'd snapped back before they hurt their partners-- they'd been tethered back to reality by them. The desire to keep them safe overrode everything else, every feral urge and every shitty whispering voice in the backs of their heads--

(You know, actually, that voice in the back of their heads could get fucked.)

They looked at each other, and without another word -- another snipped, bitten-out word -- they understood each other, at least for that moment.

Vulgar as it was, that thought crept down from their heads and into their stomachs, and a surge of power began to force its way out of them. In turn, Meghan and Sam's D-Rives ignited in brilliant light-- with no horrible screeching to be heard.

Their partners were there-- they would be okay.

The patterns of circuit-board light creeping up Ibexmon and Frekimon's limbs didn't stray from their straight lines. This still came as a surprise to their human spectators. The light began to expand and swirl around the two digimon, causing Mammothmon to recoil away from them, seemingly frozen in place if only for a few seconds.
In moments, they were encased in orbs of black and their respective colours, whipping around them at high speeds without an instant of distortion or shearing.

Instead of pained, their voices were clear as they called.

"Ibexmon, conduction evolve to..."

Ibexmon's orange and black sphere burst apart like it was being shattered, motes of orange scattering like a burst of embers.

He stood on two feet once more and his form was roughly humanoid, even though he remained distinctly caprine. More anthropomorphic than before, he wore dark-brown, nearly-black pants and knee-high black steel-toed boots, and his entire lower half was adorned with belts and straps crisscrossing his legs.
His skull-like mask remained, as did the wild red mane trailing down between his shoulderblades. Bone-like spikes curled around his shoulders, and a heavy leather collar settled around his neck, from which trailed a heavy metal chain.

In either of his hoof-like hands he clutched a massive hammer; it would have been an intimidating sight had he only had one, but either of them was almost as big as his torso. Identical in all ways, their heads were broad and flat on one side, with the opposite sides curving into picks made of a jagged amber-like gemstone, under the surface of which a strange light seemed to flicker.
He wielded the pair of hammers as though they were feather-light, but the way the ground shook when he slammed them down on either side spoke differently. He snorted and tossed his head, his eyes almost glowing, and he announced himself through gritted, sharp teeth.


Not to be outdone, Frekimon's voice rang out in a piercing howl.

"Frekimon, conduction evolve to..."

When her swirling sphere burst apart, for a split second, the flash of green fire accompanying a massive, quadrupedal black dog almost looked like Grimmon, but that fear was dispelled in a heartbeat.

It seemed that skull masks were the fashion, as a helm of white bone, painted with delicate green and adorned with golden fangs, covered the upper half of her face. A headdress and a collarpiece -- both of which looking some kind of vaguely Mesoamerican -- sat behind the skull and around her neck, black and gold and blue with long green feathers. To match with this new aesthetic, engraved golden bangles encircled her paws both front and back, and her claws too seemed to be carved of burnished gold.

In place of a tail... well, at first glance it had seemed to be fire, but it was difficult to tell, now. It was a writhing mass of shadowy green energy, flickering like fire and flowing like water, curling in on itself and crackling like electricty.

The massive wolf tossed her head back and howled, and the sound did not echo, leaving an almost hollow feeling in its wake, in which she announced her name in turn.


Sam and Meghan looked at each other and then back at their partners, struck dumb. Both had been prepared for the worst, and this... well.
They had no reason to expect this was going to happen, and they weren't sure what to do. They stayed where they were, rooted to the spot, almost afraid that they were imagining things.

Mammothmon wasted no time, rearing back and stomping its massive feet and swinging its trunk again.
"Nose Stamp!"

This time, the two digimon were ready for it. Rejuvinated by their evolution, Xolomon and Tanngrismon alike moved with a quickness they hadn't had all evening. Tanngrismon leapt backwards with surprising lightness, considering the clear weight of his hammers, but it was Xolomon that called her attack first, strafing to the side rather than backwards.
"Eclipse Corona!" she called, and green flames began to flicker around her like a halo. In the blink of an eye, the flames disappeared from around her and reappeared encircling Mammothmon. The circle of flames began to constrict and erupt at the same time, a ring of green fire converging in on the pachyderm. It couldn't shrug this attack off half so easily as it had been able to before, and it began to stomp, shaking the earth.

"Magma Bloom!" Tanngrismon yelled, and he added to the shaking ground with a full-force impact of one hammer on the ground before him. The ground underneath the point of impact began to glow, the sheer force of the hammer strike seeming to melt the rock. The other hammer fell a second later, and the molten rock shot into the air, forced upwards by the blow. In one smooth motion, he swung one hammer like a bat, sending the blob of red-hot instant-lava flying at Mammothmon's face.

It hit true, and the metal of Mammothmon's mask began to melt and distort under the heat. Understandably, it trumpeted in rage, thrashing its trunk wildly.

"Tusk Crusher!" it bellowed, but as it thrashed its head wildly, its attack sailed far away from either digimon-- and, thankfully, away from the humans, too. They weren't too willing to take chances, though; in its panicked rage, Mammothmon could easily do twice as much damage as it had already done.
Case in point, it thrashed wildly and prepared another attack in mere moments. "Nose Stamp!" it roared, thrashing its long trunk wildly. It turned and twisted its body as it lashed its trunk like a whip; perhaps the melting of its mask, even though it had no visible eyes, had impeded its ability to see -- or at least, sense-- its surroundings, and so it was hedging its bets.

Sam and Meghan both braced themselves where they stood, but before Mammothmon's swinging trunk even had the chance to come close to either of them, both Tanngrismon and Xolomon were on the scene.

"Tectonic Tremor!" Tanngrismon roared, and his hammers began to glow. He smashed both hammers together, but intstead of impacting each other, they combined into one larger hammer, glowing white-hot and almost shaking from the strain of remaining fused. He wasted no time, lunging forward and swinging at Mammothmon with the fused hammer.

Mammothmon was knocked clean off its balance, sent tumbling over itself away from the humans. Trees snapped and crashed in its wake, but honestly, it was doing just as much damage on its own, so Tanngrismon was willing to count this as acceptable collateral damage. As he followed through on his swing, his hammers split back apart into two.

Mammothmon began to right itself, and Xolomon didn't give chase-- but she prepared to attack again.

"Mooneater!" she called, and her green markings and the paint on her skull-like mask began to glow. The rest of her body began to fade away, like her markings were the grin of a disapparing cheshire cat-- and like a cheshire-cat grin, they too faded.
And then, quick as blinking, a wolf made of pure shadow appeared in her place, the painted skull-mask the only thing not made of writhing dark energy. It was larger than Xolomon, more feral looking, and it bounded forward towards Mammothmon, with snapping jaws and razor-sharp talons, and it slashed and bit and tore at the mammoth digimon's body, tearing huge gouges across its furry hide as it moved lightning-quick.

Mammothmon tossed its head and caught the shadowy wolf clean on its tusks-- and the apparition vanished in a puff of smoke at the slightest touch. In an identical puff of smoke, at the exact same time, Xolomon reappeared where she had been mere moments before, grinning a sharp-toothed grin.

Mammothmon withstood the attack enough to get to its feet, though, and if it was pissed before, they hadn't seen anything yet. With its metal mask half-melted and long, jagged tears in its flesh, it reared back and trumpeted louder than ever before. Tanngrismon and Xolomon glanced sidelong at each other and shared a brief, almost imperceptible nod, preparing themselves, and they moved quickly to put themselves between Mammothmon and their partners as Mammothmon began to charge.

"Tectonic Tremor!"

"Eclipse Corona!"

Both of them wielded their attacks a little differently this second time. The circle of green fire that surrounded Xolomon, instead of reappearing around a moving target, she instead fired as a straightforward ring-shaped blast of fire straight at the charging mammoth. Tanngrismon threw himself forward after Xolomon's attack, gripping both hammers tight. Not a moment after the fire smashed into Mammothmon head-on, Tanngrismon followed up with a one-two pair of strikes from his hammers.

On the second strike, Mammothmon went up in a glitchy white glow, and a moment later, it exploded into motes of pixellated light.

And everything was almost distressinglty, confusingly quiet; Sam and Meghan felt their legs wobble when they stood, their bodies instinctively trying to compensate for vibrations that were no longer happening.

Meghan and Sam were quick to run to their partners' sides, even on shaky (and in Meghan's case, slightly pained) legs.

"I'm really getting some mixed signals on what culture you're supposed to be from," Sam said, and Xolomon rumbled a laugh. Sam couldn't keep the tightness out of his voice, so he was plowing ahead with the snark. "I mean, come on. You were all white people mythology up until now, and now you've got to pull out the Mesoamerican? Keep it straight."

"I'll keep that in mind," she said dryly, butting her skull-masked face up against Sam's side and nearly knocking him over.

Meanwhile, Tanngrismon knelt so that he was at least closer to Meghan's height, his hammers sitting discarded on the ground next to him.
"You're--" he began, about to ask if she was alright, but she was quick to cut him off.

"Don't even start, you dumbass."
Tanngrismon cleared his throat a little sheepishly, but said nothing further. Meghan continued looking put out for a moment, then smiled.

In unison, green and orange light engulfed dog and goat, respectively. In mere moments, all that was left of the hulking ultimate-level digimon was Gelermon and Oremon, looking more than a little exhausted but not too much the worse for wear. Oremon knelt down and Gelermon did the same, shaking her head.

Sam's mouth was dry as he tried to work it around words again, looking over at Meghan.

"So," he ventured. "You uh, you know of anywhere that may be a good place to stop for the night?"

Meghan -- even though she was tired and shaken and a little numb both physically and mentally -- laughed.


A pair of glinting golden eyes watched from a safe distance, dark scales camouflaging their owner in the night.
She had merely been hunting, a good bit of sport, seeing if she couldn't wipe out a few more of the last lingering holdouts. The Moosemon she had attacked had panicked, and began to run; she had been in close pursuit when something she hadn't expected happened.

Strangers. Definitely not from around here; she knew every inch of the Halo like the back of her claws.

She had decided to hold back, watch what happened; either Moosemon would trample them, or they'd take care of it, and she'd have a bit of a show to watch.

And a show she got, indeed-- so much so that when Moosemon ran, she spent more time than she'd care to admit corralling the panicked brainless thing back around, seeing if she couldn't provoke these strange things further. Moosemon, nearly in its death throes, had given in to the whisperer, granting it the power to evolve, and--

Well, she thought that's what the strangers did. At least at first.

They were certainly interesting indeed.

She turned tail and slunk away. No sense, she thought, in giving up the game so early. Entertainment like this was hard to come by.


Oremon didn't answer, and Gelermon snorted quietly.
"I know you're not asleep. Sam pulls that shit all the time, you can't fool me."

Oremon curled his lip and cracked one eye open. "What is it, then?"
He was propped up against a tree, facing the cliff face. They had returned to where he and Meghan had attempted to stop earlier, and the humans were huddled slightly uncomfortably up against the rock wall. Gelermon was curled up on the ground between Oremon and the humans-- or, she had been. She was sitting up now.

"Relax, I'm not going to give you some sappy shit," Gelermon said. "I wanted to ask you something. Purely functional."

"What." He didn't even bother lifting his voice in a question.

"Did you hear it, too?"

Oremon again held his tongue, but tthe atmosphere of this silence was very different. This was more apprehensive. She didn't need to explain what she meant by it. It meant that whispering voice.

"... yeah, thought so," Gelermon said when he didn't answer.

Oremon frowned and glanced up at the sky. He sighed through his nose. "Do you get the feeling you've been here before?" he said after a moment.
It was Gelermon's turn not to answer. She instead curled back up, setting her head back down on the ground. Oremon sighed and closed his eyes again.


Don't run off just yet; there's still one last thing to cover.
It's important to remember that all of the events that have been transcribed thus far all happened in fairly quick succession; a single evening seeping into the following morning, in three different places. Natalie, Xander and Peter, Sam and Meghan-- all of them would have a lot to share with the others, and there is of course one final pair still unaccounted for.
(Give it time.)

And even further, there is more to tell even beyond that last pair-- but there's one last individual with whom the story needs to catch up before the end of this monumentally long evening.

Because everyone certainly wanted to know what he's been doing, right?

Nithmon, with arms folded, drummed his claws on his own upper-arms as he descended, step by step by step, deeper and deeper into the sunken temple.
It had been supposed to work this time -- and yet, here he was, having run away with his tail between his legs.


He raised a hand engulfed with a pale pink light, using his own powers like a torch so that he could more clearly see his surroundings.

The stone walls were eroded, once-ornate carvings-- depicting quite exaggerated, romanticized versions of ancient battles -- being gradually lost to time and hard to distinguish in the flickering pink light. He hadn't been here in quite some time, and all of these staircases looked alike, but he could generally estimate how deep he was by what time period was being dramatized on the walls.

Nithmon snorted, dragging his claws derisively across the carvings. His claws dug into solid stone like fingers in sand, leaving deep grooves, and the horrible scraping noise echoed and resounded in the enclosed space.

Intellectually, he knew he could probably just let them do... whatever the heck they usually did. They couldn't do anything to him now; as far as he figured, the refugees and Dinmon's lackeys alike were all just going to continue running around, playing hero as random digimon showed up around their stupid little city.
Right now, he figured they were certainly just sitting around, congratulating themselves on a job well done.

(He was, of course, wrong, but he had no way to know that.)

But Nithmon had never been particularly good at letting go of his grudges, and he wasn't about to start now.


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