Episode 28: Blind Lead the Blind

The night sky was beginning to break into dawn, that bleary barely-light before the sunrise. With the moons having set below the horizon, and the sun not yet above it, it was probably too dark to be moving... but Lily and Brockmon were rebels, baby, and they weren't going to be stopped by such things as light or night time or the possibility of tripping and eating dirt.

Brockmon trundled along on all fours, and despite his massive claws and his general heavy set, he barely left a mark on the ground; his eyes practically seemed to glow in the dark, twin yellow jewels in the early morning darkness, flitting back and forth at every sign of movement around them.
Not much was moving. They hadn't encountered a single soul, had only had themselves for company since they had hung up on the "call" on Lily's D-Rive, and they were well-accustomed to each other's silence, so they had been quiet -- as per Brockmon's request -- to avoid drawing attention to themselves, travelling in... well, as close to a comfortable silence as one can have when you're in a far-flung parallel dimension with very little plan and only barely more of a clue.

(Not the first time Brockmon could remember being in such a situation, though, for all the good that did them.)

They had rested for a while, but Brockmon was keen to not stay in one place too long if he could help it. Lily got the distinct impression that Brockmon hadn't slept, but she couldn't prove it, and she didn't want to press.

He seemed to have a lot on his mind, and she could hardly blame him.

Still, though, it was dark, and he walked silently, so when he suddenly stopped and stood up on his hind legs, Lily ran smack into him and nearly fell.

"Hold on," he murmured (thanks for the warning!) entirely too late, but at least he had the decency to hold onto her and help her regain her balance. She was about to ask what the hell the big idea was, but she caught herself before the words came out. She followed his eyeline and knelt down beside him in order to lower her profile.

It was quite a ways off, and it was very dark, and it was through the trees -- a three-fer of making things hard to make out -- but they could see an ambling shape trudging along some distance away. At first it looked like it was a very tall humanoid; then, they thought it was perhaps a rider on a steed; but in a gap between the trees, it was plain to see that it was more of a centaur-shaped creature, which was, frankly, not better. Its head was wreathed in what looked like crackling fire, but it gave off no light, and so they could only make an educated guess based on the way it flickered.

It moved awkwardly, almost like it was off-balance. In the otherwise stark stillness of the night the snapping of branches underfoot as it walked were loud as gunshots.

Brockmon stood stock still, barely even breathing; Lily followed his lead.

It didn't seem to notice them; it trudged on until it was out of sight, and only then did Brockmon release the breath he was holding.

"Old friend, maybe?" Lily said, only half-joking.

Brockmon said nothing, merely hmphed from deep in his chest as he fell back onto all fours to continue walking.

Lily shook her head and fell back into step behind him.


Natalie hadn't slept particularly well, and the first rays of direct sunlight over the trees were enough to stir her from her fitful sleep. Raumon was sitting cross-legged next to the circle of stones he had made as a make-shift gravemarker for Cygnetmon, and he was moving so little it was hard to tell if he had fallen asleep sitting up or not.
Already, the day before seemed a thousand years past.

Natalie sat up slowly. She tilted her head to one side and then the other to work out the stiffness in her neck -- to no real success -- and pulled her legs up to her chest to do an inventory on herself. She still felt no hunger or thirst, which (she supposed) was going to have to count as a positive, and she was stiff and uncomfortable, but all of that could be accounted for by sleeping on the ground.

And she definitely wasn't dead yet, which was a definite plus. Her dreams had been quite explicit about the alternative. She hoped that the others had had slightly less eventful evenings, though some part of her bitterly suspected otherwise.

"Raumon?" she said quietly. He didn't stir, and his ear-feathers didn't even twitch.

She couldn't really fault him for falling asleep, but she still felt a rush of relief that even with both of them asleep nothing had come across them.

Natalie cast a look around; it looked identical to how it had been the last time she had woken up to let Raumon sleep, and that had looked identical to how it'd been in the first place-- down to every detail. Not a single stick or stone out of place, not even a leaf twisted over in the nonexistent wind. She wondered for a moment if the broken branches and scuffing of the fight had been the first significant change-up this place had seen in years-- if they hadn't come here, then--

Hm. Didn't like that thought.

To shake it off, she stood up and crossed over to Raumon, who was indeed asleep.

"Raumon," she said again, and he jolted awake with a start, and some of his feathers stood on-end. He craned his neck to look at her standing behind him and blinked owlishly a couple times.

"Oh, I-- ah," he said, stammering as he tried to explain himself, but Natalie shook her head.

"You're fine, don't worry," she said, handwaving it away. "Are you doing okay?"

He paused for a moment and glanced at the circle of stones. He heaved a heavy sigh. "I've been better."

"Haven't we all," Natalie said with a thin smile, and Raumon paused before nodding slowly. "Do you want to wait a little while before we go on--?"

"No," Raumon said with startling immediacy; Natalie was almost a little taken back, but he was quick to explain. "We came here for a reason. Alone like this, we're--" he paused. He was going to say sitting ducks, but the phrase felt more than a little gauche, and he hesitated. "-- easy targets," he finished lamely.

Right. They had come to--

Well. They were here to try and stop Nithmon, to have a chance to fight him somewhere where they could fight without destroying buildings and hurting people.
(But were Digimon acceptable collateral damage?)
But even without that train of thought, things had already gone weird-- they'd been separated, Raumon had evolved into something totally different than expected yet again, and they had learned all kinds of new things. Any vague plan they'd had in the first place had already been stimeyed, so the best they could do is try to find the others and work back towards that original point of doing something about Nithmon.

All that said, if Natalie thought too much about how they didn't really have a plan, she was going to freak out a little bit, so she chose not to think about it.

While she was thinking this, Raumon was getting to his feet. He dusted himself off and looked at the circle of stones one last time and then glanced to her. "Shall we?" he said, gesturing downriver.

"After you," Natalie said with a dramatic little quarter-bow, and they began once again to walk.

As they began to follow the bank downriver, leaving their makeshift camp behind, they didn't notice -- they couldn't have noticed -- what was atop the hill over which they had originally come. Faint footprints, large paw pads and deep claw marks, barely noticable in the soft ground, had been left by something that had come and gone without making itself known.


The distant digimon wound up being the only remarkable thing that Lily and Brockmon encountered for some time, which suited them fine.
A few hours after sunrise, they came to the river and began to follow it south; with much less to have to watch for, and fewer places for things to come at them by surprise, Brockmon became much more talkative.

"So, like, I've been meaning to ask," Lily said, hands in her pockets; she had been thinking it since her slightly sarcastic remark earlier. "Do you have any, like, funny stories about Ratamon? Stories from the office, you know?" She was being facetious, of course -- she didn't expect anything from either of their pasts to be particularly funny -- but Brockmon took it well in stride.

"I can't say I know that much about him as an individual, actually," he said after a moment. "If he served the Whisperer before the break, I was never aware of him."

"New blood, then, huh?" Lily said, looking up to the sky. "Shame. I was hoping he'd done something embarassing that we could give him shit about next time we saw him."

Brockmon hummed, which Lily knew well enough was as good as a barking laugh from her taciturn partner.

"How do you think the others are faring?" she said.

"I don't envy them," Brockmon replied after considering for a second. "They've got a good chance of being recognized. At least between us, you're the one that stands out more, and we can probably pass you off as a slightly weird digimon if we have to."

"Thanks!" Lily said in a flat monotone, despite the implied exclamation point.

Brockmon hummed again.

It made sense, though; Lily already knew that Brockmon hadn't been nearly as-- shall we say, public facing, as the others during his original life in the digital world. He had spent a great deal of his time before the break sequestered away in the labyrinthine halls of the old temple. While the digimon that would eventually become the refugees were wreaking havoc and carrying out the will of the slumbering evil digimon, Brockmon -- Jotunmon -- had been biding his time, laying in wait, waiting to be deployed when the time was right.
It was something he was quite good at.

Lily couldn't imagine spending that goddamn much time alone; she'd go crazy.

She abrubtly remembered something that Brockmon had told her once about the history of this world-- about the evil digimon that was locked away, that had become the whispering madness thing they were contending with now.

Before she could continue that train of thought any further, Brockmon seemed to take interest in something. He stopped with no warning, and again, Lily nearly crashed into him.

"You could try giving me a bit of an announcement when you're going to do that," she said, re-balancing on one foot before evening back out, but Brockmon wasn't listening.

She glanced around; up on the hill opposite the river were smashed trees, burn marks, bark stripped from trunks that still stood. It wasn't the only sign of a scuffle they had passed by; in fact, they had seen a few such scenes already. The first time, Lily had been concerned, but Brockmon explained that because things haven't been changing in the digital world, they may be months or even years old. With that in mind, Lily wasn't immediately sure what had drawn Brockmon's attention so about this one.
But the broken trees were not, as it turned out, what was pulling Brockmon's attention.

When she looked back, Brockmon was sniffing at something on the ground, where she hadn't thought to look. There at their feet sat a small circle of smooth rocks, close to the water, that had quite clearly been placed there deliberately.

"What's up?" she said, tilting her head and putting her hands on her hips.

"I'm not sure," Brockmon said honestly, sitting up and looking at her. "This just seemed odd."

Lily paused to crouch, resting her elbows on her thighs. "Kinda freaky. Like a fairy circle, except, like, rocks."

Brockmon nodded, and tapped at one of the rocks with one blunt claw as if he expected something to happen. When nothing did, he shook his head.
"Sorry," he said, an apology for wasting time, but Lily shook her head.

"Nah, s'fine. My feet could use the break," she said sardonically, smiling.

Brockmon tilted his head. "I could carry you as Melemon if you need it," he said, wholly serious. "I would've been too bulky in the thicker trees, but we have more space to maneuver h--"

"I was kidding," Lily said, sticking her tongue out. She sprung back up to standing up straight with a little hop. "I wore my stompin' boots. They're also good for walking."

Brockmon coughed, clearly a little abashed. "Offer stands," he said, turning to continue their trek. He cast one last glance at the circle of rocks and hummed in thought.


Despite Lily's ineffectual protest, though, it wasn't long before she took Brockmon up on that offer. Maybe she just hadn't considered it until now, or maybe this much walking was finally starting to catch up with her, but it wasn't even an hour before she rode on Melemon's back as he made his way down the riverbank.

Even with his formidable bulk, Melemon took care not to leave hugely noticable tracks; he was hardly light on his feet (he couldn't realistically be), but he avoided digging his claws into the soft earth. They weren't moving as fast as Ibexmon or Frekimon could have, but it was a marked improvement.

Because Lily had been neglecting to check her D-Rive's radar (okay, look, she had yet to get into the almost automatic habit of checking it that the others had ingrained in them, and it had been a fat lot of good yesterday, and--) it came as quite a surprise when, in the mid-afternoon, they saw two familiar shapes (one human, and one feathered) come into focus a ways ahead of them as they followed the gently-meandering river south.

"Hey!" Lily called, cupping one hand around her mouth when they were close enough to be heard. "Hey!"

Even from a distance it was plain to see Natalie and Raumon both jump a mile as they spun around, and even from a distance their relief was also clear as they realized who had been calling to them.


A strange digimon, watching from afar, giggled to himself.


Melemon was reluctant to become a beast of burden; Natalie and Raumon didn't ask to ride on his back, and he did not offer. Lily didn't want to talk to Natalie from on his back, so she climbed off; soon after, he returned to his rookie form.
"Easier to go unnoticed like this," he said by way of explanation, which Lily chose to imagine meant I'm not that good at staying in that form yet but my pride won't let me say so.

This meant they were back to the pace that the humans could keep on foot, but it was a small cost to pay.

It shouldn't be surprising in the slightest that the moment they had someone to explain it to, Natalie and Raumon began explaining what had happened to them the night before. It all came out as a rush of words, and they bounced back and forth off each other, daisy-chaining their ideas together in a rapid fire as they re-wove the entire day's events.

After how few words Brockmon had to share, it took Lily a moment to catch up.

It was Brockmon, though, that had the first question.

"You conduction evolved?" he said, sounding surprised (a rarity, for him), surprised enough to cut Raumon off the moment he said it.

"I think so, anyway," Raumon said, tapping his beak in thought. "It was something different, at any rate. Not IlDoctorimon."

Brockmon looked puzzled, but fell quiet again. He didn't interrupt again; Lily picked up the slack and prompted them along, asking what she hoped were appropriate follow-up questions (if anything else had happened, if they'd seen Gosmon since, if Raumon felt different at all now).

"Wild," she summarized as they finished up, putting her hands in her pockets. She glanced at Brockmon, who was lost in thought as he trudged along. "We haven't had nearly as exciting a time."

"Count it as a blessing," Natalie said, sighing. "I still feel like every time I turn around I'm gonna see that goose." Beat. "Not the first time I've been afraid of geese, but that's a totally different story," she added, a bit sardonic.

Lily grinned, but it was short-lived. Brockmon stopped in his tracks and sat straight up, and Raumon snapped to attention at the same time. Both were for the same reason: a rattling giggling rang through the air from somewhere behind them, hard to miss in the quiet. Lily and Natalie didn't miss it, and they froze in place too.

It's a bad day when you'd rather face an enraged goose than whatever the hell the world has decided to throw at you, but that's the place they were at right now.

"Get out of sight," Brockmon said immediately to the humans, casting a frantic look around for anywhere that would work for that. They had the river to one side -- no good -- and it was likely that wherever the sound was coming from, it was coming from the forested side. Heavy footsteps of cracking branches and claws scraping on stones sounded out; perhaps they'd missed them before now because they were talking.

Lily and Natalie, without many options, made a snap decision. They lurched forward, and going ahead a short ways into the foliage. The best they could do on such short notice was crouching behind a felled tree next to a thick standing tree; it wasn't great, but it was at least enough to conceal the two girls. Whatever had laughed was behind them, so they had probably already been seen, but.
... You know.
Gotta make a token attempt.

Lily and Natalie kept their D-Rives close to hand as they chanced their first glances at what was behind them, as Brockmon and Raumon remained alert as they turned. Whatever it was was still in the trees, coming forward onto the slightly more clear riverbank perhaps a hundred feet behind them.
While it was entirely new to Natalie and Raumon, Lily and Brockmon simultaneously got the sinking feeling that they were getting a second chance to see that digimon they had barely avoided much earlier today as the tall shape moved into the open.

It was like a centaur in basic shape, except that the lower portion of its body, instead of being equine, was that of a large, rusty red-violet cat. Bits of its skin, mostly on its torso, were missing, revealing discoloured greyish flesh underneath and ivory ribs. A cracked, gently-glowing magenta sphere where its heart would have been, with similar orbs set into its shoulders in place of wholly missing arms.
Belts were lashed around its body and hind legs, and its forelimbs were encased in tall black boots with foot-long silver claws, but its most striking feature by far was its head-- a sabertooth cat skull with golden fangs, and a roaring mane made of purple fire that gave off no light. A similar violet flame burned at the end of its skeletal tail, which twitched erratically.

Even at a distance they could tell it towered over them, easily over ten feet tall-- and it only seemed to get bigger as it focused on them and began to approach. It moved awkardly but with distressing speed; they couldn't run if they wanted to.

Brockmon and Raumon both braced themselves, ready to fight, even if they had to digivolve to ultimate. Neither of them knew what would happen if they had to-- Brockmon not sure if he'd be able to control himself as Draugmon, Raumon unsure if he'd be able to repeat the Vindecamon trick a second time. Their partners gripped their D-Rives tightly, preparing for the worst, wondering when it would attack and give them the go-ahead to fight back, when--

"It's you!" the creature rasped.

They were expecting -- understandably enough -- for those words to come laced with malice and acid, with recognition and contempt and hatred. They expected them to echo Gosmon's recognition of them, or that of any digimon they had fought in the human world.
To be honest, maybe that would have been better.

What they got instead was a voice that was almost in awe, reverence, like a child encountering a man in costume and believing he's truly met Superman-- except the "child" was a ten-foot-tall cat-taur monster. His voice was a hiss that seemed to rattle around in his skeletal head. Even though his words were jovial, it was hard not to feel threatened.

But along with feeling threatened, they also couldn't deny a mix of dread and naked bewilderment.

"What?" Raumon was the first to speak, and the cat monster suddenly dropped onto the knees of his forelegs so that he could lower his humanlike torso down to their level. Was he reverent (as his voice suggested), or was he just trying to get a better look at them?

His burning hot, dust-dry breath reeked of rotten flesh and burning hair, and his necklace of humanlike skulls clacked together loudly as he moved, so it was hard to concentrate on that question. Up close, they could see his eyes-- like cold white candle-lights, diffused as though by mist. They didn't seem to focus right, and yet it felt like they were staring right through both little rookie digimon.

Brockmon and Raumon exchanged sidelong glances, and Brockmon made one subtle movement of his hand-- one that Natalie and Lily took, correctly, as a signal to stay where they were. They didn't need to be told twice.
"We don't know what you're talking about," the badger said coolly; Raumon nodded.

The eye-lights flickered, which they supposed must be the equivalent of a blink for something without eyelids.
"No, no no no, it's you," the skull-faced cat-taur said, his voice a joyful hiss. "It's definitely you. I can smell it." What a weird goddamn -- was that a compliment?

"We're new to the area, you see," Raumon said, thinking fast; this time it was Brockmon's turn to nod his assent, "so maybe you're mistaking us for someone else? We've never seen you in our lives." It was true, at least as far as Raumon knew, and Brockmon-- well, Brockmon would likely have said something by now if he actually did know the creature's identity.

The cat-monster took great pleasure in this however, and his laugh -- that raspy giggle -- hung in the air before he hissed. "I know. You don't know me. But I know you. I know of you."
If the beast had had lips, they'd have been splitting into a wide grin. He drew in closer, taking an awkward step forward in this odd, half-knelt position. The closer he got, the more suffocating the heat from his mane became. If bird or badger had any more breath left in them, it was taken when the strange digimon continued:
"I'm a huge fan."

Natalie and Lily looked at each other frantically, both determined to stay silent. This was... not ideal. What were their digimon supposed to do? What would this creature know about them?

"I thought it was you," the beast said without waiting for a response, looking intently at Raumon, "this morning. I saw you. I saw you sleeping. That's why I didn't kill you while you slept. In case it was you, I mean. And if it was you I wouldn't have wanted to disturb you--"

(Didn't want to disturb them? Failed step one.)

"Who are you, exactly?" Brockmon cut in, before the strange digimon could say any more creepy-ass things.

(Raumon cast a surreptitious look to where the humans were hiding; he saw nothing, because they kept hidden. He didn't dare look away from the beast too long, though.)

Again the lights in its eyes flickered like a blink. "My apologies!" he said, getting back up to his feet. "I'm Narakamon."
Narakamon. Raumon and Brockmon exchanged glances to see if either of them recognized the name; no dice.

Raumon hummed, playing his proverbial cards close to his chest. "Well. We're--"

"I know who you are," Narakmon cut them off excitedly. "You're Epidemon and Jotunmon. Well. You were. You're not now. But you knew that." Again, if he could have grinned, it seemed that he would have.
Brockmon and Raumon glanced at each other again. Raumon shook his head imperceptibly; he had no idea what to say.

So Brockmon took the lead.

"I'm surprised you know of me," he said, and in the blink of an eye, his entire demeanor changed. He sat up straighter, and though Narakamon towered over him, he gave the distinct impresion of looking down his nose at the giant cat-taur.

Narakamon practically lit up. "Of course I do," he said. "You're why it's waking up again. Of course I know of you. It talked to us! For years! All of us know! All of us who are loyal. Not the heathens. But it told us all about you!" As he spoke in this slightly disjointed kind of way, there crept a sort of mania into his raspy voice.

Brockmon winced internally, but didn't show it. "Is that so," he said evenly.

"Of course," Narakamon said, and its skeletal tail thrashed back and forth-- almost like a dog, confusingly enough. "It's all going to burn thanks to you!" he sounded like a child, which cast a troubling contrast with his words. "It's all going to burn down! We've been waiting so long!"

Brockmon fell quiet, and Raumon searched for words; unfortunately, Narakamon had more than enough.

"Not to disparage your part, of course, Epidemon," he said, turning on Raumon. "Of course. You kept it safe for so long. You travelled to the other world." His eyes flickered with joy. "You probably saw so much. Burned so much," he said, excitement growing in his voice.
Raumon -- and Natalie where she lay in wait -- got an immediate and violent flashback to the black flames that he had spit as IlDoctorimon, to the screams and the sirens, and both felt quite a queasy feeling drop into their stomachs.
"Where are the others?" Narakamon said, snapping their attention back to him. "Why are you here? Why are you back?"

How were they supposed to answer that? Even setting aside the fact that he was rattling off question after question without a pause.

"We-- had things we had to finish here, now that it's awake again," Brockmon said slowly, choosing his words very, very carefully. "But we got separated from the other carriers. We're trying to meet up with them now so we can finish the job."

"Is that why you have the weird things with you?" Narakamon interjected. "The tiny things. Weak things. Humans."

They supposed it was foolish to assume he hadn't seen them -- and hadn't he mentioned seeing Raumon while he was sleeping? -- but Natalie and Lily felt a distinct lack of any desire to show themselves.
There were no words for how much Brockmon and Raumon wanted not to be having this conversation.

"Yes," Raumon, said a bit too quickly. "It's-- an important part of our plan." He flinched at himself and couldn't supress it in time. How much lamer of an answer could he possibly give? He tried to make it better. "It'd be more than a little foolish to explain it all when they can still hear us, let alone when who knows who else might be listening in."

Lily and Natalie glanced silently at each other and nodded; their partners were obviously bluffing, and not doing the best job at it, but Narakamon was clearly a few chicken nuggets short of a happy meal, so who knew what was going on there?

Narakamon paused for a moment, glancing down at the two rookie digimon. His eyes flickered over to roughly where the humans were hiding-- he hadn't been paying that much attention, but there were only so many options.
"It's never seemed to be too worried about humans, and I hear it all the time, all the time, in my head, telling me everything," Narakamon mused, rattling off words as though by compulsion. He paused to consider, then dropped down into the crouching position again. "Tell me!" he said, his voice still cheerful right up until he bowed his torso down, once again putting his skeletal face entirely too close for comfort.

"Do humans burn?"

His voice wasn't so jovial that time. In fact, all of the childlike glee was gone from his voice for those three words.

Brockmon answered after a moment, his voice even and cold and his expression blank. "Yes."

Narakamon giggled, and like that, his demeanor snapped back to it he was before. (Was that actually much better? Hard to say!)

"Good to know!" He righted himself, rearing up to his full height, "because I think you're lying to me."

"What?" Brockmon and Raumon blurted in unison, and Narakamon giggled.

"You're acting weird. Very weird." He was one to talk. "Evasive. Tricky. Not like you. You never would have taken prisoners if you were really you. It doesn't want prisoners."

Brockmon and Raumon stood their ground, not wanting to make a wrong move. This, it turned out, was a wrong move move.

"You're not answering me," Narakamon said, his voice lilting. "That means you're guilty. You're doing something you're not supposed to!" Narakamon's head fell forward, and he didn't move; instead, he began to laugh silently that shook its body, which quickly grew into a manic giggle.
"It's okay!" he managed between dry laughs. "I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed! But it's okay. I'll just kill you now and save you the shame! Shadow's Karma!"
With a sound like snapping, shadowy arms shot out of the orbs on his shoulders. They were emphemeral and disjointed, more like floating shapes in the general formation of hands, but they were long enough to nearly touch the ground-- or they would have, if he hadn't immediately swung them in arcing slashes, aiming for bird and badger, leaving trails of dark vapor in their wake.

Brockmon and Raumon leapt out of the way, and before they even touched the ground, their bodies began to glow.

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

"Brockmon, drive evolve to... Melemon!"

Narakamon's shadowy claws smashed into the ground and kicked up a flurry of dirt and rock. It provided a moment of cover, which both digimon took advantage of.

"Black Bloom!"

"Arctic Impact!"

As a shower of razor-sharp black petals tore through Narakamon's hide, ice swirling around Melemon's claws.
He ran forward at a full tackle; with one swipe of Narakamon's tail-flame, the ice Melemon was building up began to melt, but he still smashed into the cat-taur's legs as Narakamon flinched away from Doctorimon's petals. Knocked off-balance, Narakamon tumbled inelegantly into the water. Immediately upon contact with his purple fire, the water began to evaporate into a putrid-smelling mist.

"Run!" Melemon barked over his shoulder.

There was no point in playing coy now; the two humans emerged from their hiding-spot, enough to have an unobscured view of what was going on, even if they tried to keep a safe distance.

"Where exactly do you expect us to go!?" Lily called back to her partner, cupping her hands around her mouth to be heard. She couldn't fault Melemon if he hadn't heard her, though; Narakamon was hissing something inarticulate, about stolen power and even though you're traitors.

"We've got to-- do something," Natalie said. "They're not going to be able to..."

"But it's fine!" Narakamon hissed. "I'll just take it back, make you burn! Purging Fire!" Narakamon hissed as he rose to his full height once more, standing knee-deep in the river. His jaw fell open, and out spilled a stream of black and purple fire. He didn't seem concerned with accuracy; he swept his head from one side to the other, and in moments, the riverbank was littered with fire that burned on the ground without fuel. They spread wide-- wide enough that Lily and Natalie had to stumble backwards and apart to avoid getting caught in them, and the foliage that the flames touched began to blacken and disintigrate rather than truly burn.

They didn't want to think about what might happen if they touched the fire.

"I've got it!" Melemon growled. "Make sure they're okay!"

"Are you crazy?" Doctorimon snapped back, staring at Melemon, but Melemon tossed his head.

"They're more important!"

Doctorimon wanted to argue, but he didn't have the time, so he had to act, and as Melemon began to swirl with ice, he took a different tack.

"Face of Judgement!" he cried, leaping not towards Narakamon, but towards the humans, the mourning face of his staff turned forwards. As the mask's beak opened and released a stream of white flames-- well.
Narakamon's dark flames had a vast advantage, but the ones that the white flames touched shrunk ever-so-slightly. It took maybe three times as much of the white flame to extinguish an equivalent amount of the black flame, but-- but it was something.

"I'm going to-- try and clear the area," Doctorimon said quickly as he drew in close to the humans.

"Are you alright?" Natalie said quickly, glancing between her partner and Melemon, who was-- well.
Opting for a more direct method.

"Arctic Impact!" he roared again, lunging towards Narakamon, summoning more ice even as the dark flames melted it away. He gritted his teeth as he trampled through the flames on the ground, but Narakamon was ready for him.

"Shadow's Karma!"

Melemon was thrown backwards by the dark claws, back into another patch of flame, and he roared in pain as the fire touched him. Narakamon was a little off-balance, but it didn't stop him from raising back up to his full height, stretching his shadowy arms out again as he prepared to attack again.

"Brockmon!" Lily yelled, but she couldn't get any closer to her partner-- all she could do was look frantically to Doctorimon. "Do something!"

"Can you-- try to digivolve again?" Natalie said, and her partner blanched.

"I don't know if I can control which form I'm going to take," he said, sweeping his staff to try and clear as much fire as he could, but it was rapidly becoming apparent that Melemon couldn't handle Narakamon.
Narakamon practically seemed to be playing with Melemon, judging by his manic giggle and refusal to come out of the water.

"You have to do something!" Natalie said, growing a little frantic. "Brockmon-- can't-- we don't know if--" she stuttered, trailing off as her thoughts raced.
Lily said nothing, close-lipped with a distant look in her eyes.

"Icicle Shroud!" Melemon roared, his entire body encased in ice rather than icy energy, in hopes that would do something more effective, but--

"Shadow's Karma!"

This approach was even worse; the bear was sent tumbling away as the ice enshrouding his body melted away like butter, and Narakamon was not being shy about following up. Great swaths of fire separated him from the others-- from both Doctorimon and the humans.
Narakamon lurched out of the water with a mighty hiss of steam, and--

"Dammit!" Doctorimon hissed, having to abandon his attempts to stifle the black fire and turning his attention to Narakamon, who was approaching fast.

He just--
He really, really hoped this was going to work. Yesterday night already felt so far away, and he couldn't shake the fear that it might have been a fluke. He hadn't wanted to test it this soon, but what choice did he have?

He glanced over at the huddled shape of Melemon.

Doctorimon felt something dark tug at his mind, telling him that it wasn't worth the risk (certainly not for Brockmon, it said), but he all but physically pulled himself away from the thought. He surged forward as Natalie's D-Rive ignited in a purple glow.

As the violet and black sphere surrounded him, for a fraction of a second, the energy seemed to glitch, and Natalie and Lily both felt cold as ice, but it surged back into place before they could really register it.
" -- conduction evolve to... Vindecamon!"

It was an instant relief; Vindecamon burst out of the sphere of light and smashed into Narakamon, not missing a beat.
"Quarantine Control!" he cawed. He dug his claws into Narakamon's flesh and the black energy surrounding his claws sunk into Narakamon, and the beast howled in pain. Vindecamon leapt backwards, his chained wings fluttering uselessly, and the energy ripped its way back out of Narakamon.

Before the glowing energy rejoined with Vindecamon as it was primed to do, though, the bird fell smack into a pool of fire, and Narakamon closed the distance between them frighteningly fast, placing one boot-covered front paw on Vindecamon's chest.

Melemon felt nothing but sympathy for Vindecamon-- the fire felt like it was burning away at your very soul, but...
He'd already proven that he couldn't do much to help. He'd tried to deal with Narakamon-- fat lot of good that'd done.

It was Melemon's turn to feel a voice calling to him, something dark and distorted licking at the back of his mind as he tried, however slowly, to get back up. It was a familiar voice, a hissing whisper without sound, given words only by the filter of his own mind.
Only Narakamon and digimon like him knew about him-- them and the others. He wasn't a carrier; he wasn't sure he had the same power as them. He wasn't sure that Draugmon wasn't his only option. The thought gnawed at him as the fire licked at his body, blackening his fur and slowly melting the icicles sticking out of his shoulderblades.

Vindecamon attempted to force his way up, but Narakamon bore down on him.

"Get off of him!" Natalie yelled, not sure why she was bothering, but Narakamon's eyes did flicker over to her. She froze to the spot.

"Humans! They're strange, strange, mysterious little things," Narakamon hissed, staring at the humans now. His eyes were no longer foggy and diffused-- the lights were sharp little pinpricks of white light, staring intensely at the humans, ignoring any other motion. "It's them, isn't it? They're what ruined you. Kill them first! Burn them! The other one said they burn!"

"Icicle Shroud!"

Melemon, having gotten up with some difficulty, barreled forward and smashed into Narakamon. Again, his attack's protective layer of ice had totally melted by the time he impacted Narakamon, but he bared his teeth and pushed through. Narakamon stumbled a few feet, giving Vindecamon the chance to right himself and leap out of the fire.

"I said," Melemon said gruffly, putting on a much more confident air than he felt, "that I had him."

"Pardon me if I don't believe that," Vindecamon said flatly, but relief was plain in his voice. "Thank you."

Narakamon hissed, rounding on them. Vindecamon was still trying to find his bearings again-- that fire took a lot out of him, and Melemon saw a chance.

"Well," he said, feeling something growing within him, "let me try again." As he spoke, his eyes began to darken, bit by bit. He closed his eyes and lowered his head as Narakamon reared his claws up for another attack.

The voice in his head whispered that he'd done his job, and now, there wasn't anything he could do to undo it or make up for it, nothing that could change what came next.
He had been the catalyst, and once the reaction has started, the catalyst is exhausted. His role here was over.

But you know what?

He'd already got a track record of stubbornness and going for the long haul, so why should now be any different?

Melemon's eyes snapped open, filled with a pitch-black glow as he bared his teeth. He roared, and the glow began to consume him from nose to toe, creeping up his limbs in circuit-lines. The lines stayed crisp, but they began to fill in with more black, and quick as blinking, the glow expanded around him into a swirling pitch-black sphere.
Melemon's voice rang out from within it, clear as day.

"Melemon, conduction evolve to..."

Mere seconds later, the black sphere burst apart, and if they hadn't already seen the destructive force of Draugmon, they could be forgiven for assuming this new form was Brockmon's catalyst evolution, because he did not look particularly friendly.

He was mostly human in shape, though larger and hunched over. Melemon's heavy pelt covered his shoulders, back, and the tops of his thighs, but much of the rest of his body was exposed skin that was frostbitten and purplish, with only a tattered red-violet loincloth and cloth belt for clothing. From the knee down, his legs were massive paws with black claws; his forearms were nonexistent, the limbs ending in gnarled, scarred stumps at the elbow.
His face was not that much unlike Narakamon's-- a bare skull with glowing eyes, though in lieu of long golden fangs, he instead had smears of indigo paint around his eye sockets and up the bridge of his nose. With bandages lashed around his face at angles, it was hard to tell where his skull ended and the long mane of tangled white hair began, but it reached down to his haunches, tied into a massive ponytail.

He reared back and roared, an unearthly sound mixed with a death rattle breath, but it was soon drowned out by the sound of cracking ice. Loud as shattering glass, massive clawed forearms made entirely of ice appeared around his scarred elbows, and dagger-like protrusions of ice burst bloodlessly out of his upper arms and from between his ribs. He slammed his frozen forearms into the ground and announced himself, in that same death-rattle roar.


The newly-christened ultimate didn't waste a moment, because Narakamon certainly wasn't. As Narakamon reared his shadowy hands back, Baykomon followed suit with his own frozen ones.

"Hoarfrost!" he snarled, dragging his hands through the air. In their wakes, claw-shaped blasts of ice formed instantaneously in the air. Unlike last time, as the ice drew close to Narakamon it did not melt-- instead, the attack smashed into Narakamon and shattered with incredible force, sending razor-sharp shards exploding in every direction. Vindecamon had to shield his face from the frozen shrapnel, but was mostly unharmed.

Narakamon was not, however; massive gashes had been torn into his flesh, already beginning to blacken with frostbite. He reared up onto his hind legs, cackling gleefully. "That's more like it!"

A few chicken nuggets short of a happy meal, indeed.

"Oh, will you shut up!?!" Lily yelled, balling her hands into fists.

"Heed the lady's request, if you please," Vindecamon said dryly. "Raven's Shadow!" he cried, hurling spheres of energy that became vicious ravens as they closed in on Narakamon.

"Shadow's Karma!"

Shadowy attack met shadowy attack, and when the ethereal birds met Narakamon's claws, both dissipated with a crackling noise, and Baykomon saw his chance.

"Blizzard Berserker!" he snarled. The ice from his forearms began to creep up to his upper arms, and then began to encase his trunk. In mere moments, he was entirely shrouded in ice from head to toe, except for where his legs met his hips and his shoulders met his torso.
He rushed forward with surprising speed, swinging his arms like clubs. As he ran, he stomped out every bit of black fire he touched; his ice simply re-froze and re-formed a second later whenever it melted in the flames. He smashed into the cat-like digimon with all the force of a speeding car.

Narakamon was forced back, and he stumbled backwards into the water, albeit without toppling over. Baykomon lunged after him, not yet finished.
Vindecamon moved to follow him, but he hesitated.

"Why are you not--?" Lily said, but she looked over to Baykomon and her heart sank. She gripped her D-Rive to her chest. "You don't want to be in his line of fire," she said, the beginnings of panic starting to seep into her voice, but Vindecamon shook his head.

"He wanted to do this," Vindecamon said, "and I plan to let him."

"But look at him, he's-- he's out of control again, and--" Lily said, but it was Natalie that cut her off.

"I don't think so." Natalie couldn't exactly say why, but despite Baykomon's wild behavior, he had a poise and a drive-- he was coherent and driven to defend them, not as an animal instinct to attack what was in front of him, but as a deliberate choice. She'd seen enough of the difference between IlDoctorimon and Vindecamon to know it.

"Purging Fire!" Narakamon hissed, spitting out a stream of fire into Baykomon's path. Under direct fire -- literally -- the ice surrounding him began to falter, but it only made him more imposing, half of his skeletal face encased in ice and the other half bare.

He collided with Narakamon, leading with the still-frozen side. Narakamon tumbled, and the air filled with the hiss of putrid steam as the flames on his body touched the water. Baykomon leapt onto him so that they were skeletal face to skeletal face, holding his icy claws ready to strike.

"Don't," Baykomon growled, "threaten our partners."

"You're still you after all," Narakamon giggled right back. Nobody else heard it over the splashing and the hissing of steam, but they definitely heard Baykomon's rebuttal of sorts.

"Hoarfrost!" The water around Baykomon began to flash-freeze as he prepared his attack, and Narakamon might have had a problem with that, but--

"Purging Fire!"

The claw-shaped blasts of ice met with Narakamon's black fire, and the result was a miniature explosion of embers and razor-sharp ice shards that assailed both digimon. Baykomon stumbled backwards, raising his frozen arms to shield his face, but in the second that he wasn't looking, Narakamon barreled past him, knocking him off his feet into the shallow water.

He made a line for the trees, through the black flames he had left on the ground, breaking hard in the opposite direction of Vindecamon.

"Get back here!" Baykomon roared, and he didn't bother rising to his feet-- on all fours he bounded after Narakamon. Despite Narakamon's awkward gait, he was moving fast-- faster than they thought he could, crashing through branches and cackling maniacally as he made a break for it.

In that moment, the only thing on Baykomon's mind was following Narakamon-- making sure he never had the chance to do anything to the humans, to Raumon, to any of the others. It was not dissimilar to that dark whisper in his head, telling him to hunt Narakamon down and tear his throat out--

"Brockmon!" Lily called to him, and Baykomon immediately halted.
He turned to look at the two humans, at Vindecamon, and for a moment, there was something wild in his eyes, but the moment he focused, it faded away. His eyes were vivid yellow but they lacked a harshness to them. There was intelligence and awareness behind them, a sharp focus that Narakamon (and Draugmon) had most definitely lacked.

In a heartbeat, the desire for revenge was gone.

(But what might happen if they just let Narakamon--?)

The last vestiges of Baykomon's cloak of ice began to melt away, taking away the black fire in his immediate vicinity as it did.
"What are we supposed to do about him?" he said, closing the distance. He plodded over still on all fours; every patch of fire he walked through fizzled out. Without Narakamon present, it seemed that the fire seemed to be fading on its own.

"Avoid him?" Lily said, a bit facetious. She slowly reached out to touch Baykomon's skeletal cheek, and he tilted his head into it.

"We have to find the others," Vindecamon said after a moment. "That's why we're here. Not to kill everything that looks at us funny."
Not anymore.

Baykomon opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again with a clicking noise.

They listened, with bated breath. Narakamon had bolted in a hurry; if they heard any sign of him, it was distant at best.
They weren't at ease, but they couldn't hold these forms much longer. In flurries of purple and black light, Baykomon and Vindecamon returned to their rookie forms, looking a little more haggard for their troubles.

The black fire burned down to ash, leaving a scorched scar on the riverbank as the four, a little reluctantly, a little tentative, a little more aware, continued their trek downriver.


The rest of their day was thankfully uneventful-- though, let's be real, anything would be after that. They saw a few scattered digimon here and there -- a gecko-like creature in the river, a bipedal plant in the trees, what appeared to be a broken trunk turned out to have arms -- but nothing was interested in them.
After Narakamon's intense interest in them, though, that was something of a plus.

They had more than enough time to worry about it-- every snapping twig was cause to jump to attention, ready to fight at a moment's notice. Luckily, none of it ever proved necessary-- though they were hardly at ease.

They wondered what was going to happen-- it felt certain that Narakamon was going to show up again. Raumon, particularly, felt a gnawing sense of what he could only call pre-emptive guilt-- he had let Gosmon run away, too. He was certain that this was going to have consequences, but--
But even with Gosmon and Narakamon, the idea of killing a digimon now felt entirely wrong. After Cygnetmon.

Brockmon plodded up alongside Raumon while they walked, and he spoke quietly, so as not to be overheard by their humans.

"Was that circle of stones yours?" the badger asked, pulling Raumon out of his contemplative reverie.

Raumon blinked a couple times, then-- "Oh. ... you saw it, then?"

Brockmon nodded. "When we were coming downriver, yes. I put two and two together after what you told us, but I didn't want to assume." He paused. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Raumon said, tilting his head.

Brockmon shrugged and looked to the ground. Whether he meant it as a sympathetic sorry or something else, even he wasn't sure.


As they walked, the elevation began to drop more and more readily as -- as Brockmon explained -- they got closer and closer to the sea. Right-- they were to meet up with the others where the river opened up into the sea.
They were moving slowly, since Doctorimon was not a champion-level suited to travel; as such, as the sun began to set, Brockmon offered to evolve to Melemon once more. After a moment, he even -- a bit gruffly -- extended the offer to ride his back to Natalie and Raumon.

Natalie and Raumon declined his offer, and so Lily did too.

"... offer stands," Brockmon had said, and Lily had laughed at him.

Even if the offer had stood, though, Brockmon was growing tired-- as was everyone. They had managed to make it a fair way on nerves and adrenaline, but nobody had slept well or rested for long, and the stresses of the past couple days were definitely starting to take a toll.

With equal parts reluctance and relief, they set up a camp once the sun was completely below the horizon and the stars were beginning to come out. They didn't camp in plain sight on the riverbank; they cut perhaps a hundred yards into the trees, ending up in a densely wooded part of the forest where a webbing of tangled trees and thick foliage provided at least a modicum of cover.

They had neither a way to start a fire, nor any particular desire to deal with any more fire today, thank-you-very-much. Nobody was prepared to sleep; it was just good to be off their feet.

Perhaps an hour after they stopped, though, they heard something coming through the trees-- footsteps. Natalie and Lily immediately shot to their feet, and Brockmon and Raumon immediately prepared for a fight. They weren't going to take any chances, until--

A familiar voice rang out through the trees, loud and clear over the footsteps.
"Found 'em!" Frekimon yelled.

"We've both found them," Ibexmon's voice snapped back. "Their D-Rives are on the radar. You don't get points for running ahead at the last second."

"Sore loser, billy goat gruff," Frekimon said right back.

"Piss off."

"Be nice!" Meghan chided; Sam snickered, but said nothing.

The dark shapes in the trees were no cause for anxiety now-- Frekimon and Ibexmon, both carrying their respective humans on their backs -- made themselves apparent. They were moving at a decent clip, trying to minimize damage to the woods but not particularly troubled with the details. Wolf and goat came to a stop in the little thicket, and Sam and Meghan waved from on their backs.

Lily smiled a bit thinly. "You're not being followed by anything, are you?" she said, casting a glance all around them, peering in the direction they had come from. "Did you see anything that happened to be on fire?"

"Pardon?" Sam said, raising an eyebrow as he dismounted from Frekimon's back.

"We'll explain later," Raumon said, tapping his beak.

"Suit yourself," Frekimon said. As though she'd been waiting for the chance, she almost immediately de-digivolved back into her rookie form, stretching her legs out before rising up onto her hind legs.

Meghan clambered off of Ibexmon; he snorted, apparently wanting to put on airs of being in much better condition (and thus able to keep his form longer) than Gelermon-- but he too quickly gave up the facade and returned to his rookie form.
"We figured we'd probably end up catching up to you, Natalie, since, you know, you don't exactly have a ridable digimon," Meghan said to Natalie, who nodded her understanding; she had kind of been expecting this. "I'm glad you met up with Lily, though! Saves us a lot of trouble, you know?"

"Trouble indeed," Brockmon said, mostly to himself, then hummed-- which, if you will recall, was practically an uproarious laugh for him.

"A little more warning would've been great," Natalie said, trying to get her heart rate back down to normal.

"Weren't you checking your D-Rive radar? It picks up on other D-Rives here," Sam said, in that tone he always used when he was explaining something he thought was obvious. Natalie put one hand on her hip, but decided not to argue.

Gelermon took a seat on the ground and yawned. "Gotta tell you guys, we've had a really weird couple of days."

"No kidding," Raumon said immediately.

They began to regale each other on what had happened in the past 48 hours-- everyone had their own version of events, and everyone was extremely excited to share the story of their partner digimon's new evolutions. It was a good thing they had the chance to practice their stories, too; as the night wore on, a pair of shapes approached from the sky, an enormous blue bat with a human on her back, being closely followed by a familiar smokey ghost with another human held in her arms.

They hadn't seen the point in waiting at the mouth of the river; if everyone was going to be coming downriver, why not beat them to the punch? It wasn't like their goal was to actually do anything at the seaside, so why not accelerate the process?

(It had been Xander's idea, but Peter insisted that he had been of the same mind regardless.)

They all had a hell of a past couple days to fill everyone in on, and they told their stories to each other multiple times; but of course, dear reader, you already know all the good bits. Let's give the recapping a break for now.

We've got a whole other story that needs telling, after all.


<< || [Back] || >>