Episode 36: Feeding a Fire

The black smoke rose into the air with horrifying speed, blocking out more and more of the blue-grey sky by the minute, until the overcast sky looked clear and bright in the comparison. The smell became oppressive, seeming to seep through any attempts they made to cover their noses, dizzying in its power and so nauseatingly heavy it felt almost solid as it sank into their lungs.

"What should we do?" Meghan said, blurted as more a nervous reaction than a genuine posed question. Obviously, they were all thinking it.

A sound like an explosion rang out through the air. The sound died down quickly, but the smoke only came faster.

Two digimon spoke at the same time:

"We have to go back and help," Raumon said, pointing to the city they had passed.

"Let's go north, before it catches up," Brockmon said, turning in the direction the scrawled message had told them to go.

And then: a moment of awkward silence.

"Two roads in the middle of fucking nowhere diverged," Desmon said, clambering up onto Xander's back. Her joke did not recieve any laughs.

"We have instructions. The instructions didn't say turn around," Brockmon said. "They said go quickly." There was something uneasy in his voice, like he wasn't entirely convinced of what he was saying, but he refused to back down now.

Gelermon and Oremon exchanged looks with each other. Had they both seen the little monkey? The way they glanced to each other seemed to indicate yes, but they couldn't tell. Neither of them chose to volunteer the information, though, and nobody seemed to notice their silent exchange in light of far more active exchanges occuring.


"Okay, but when something is on fire," Raumon said right back, "it's generally considered bad form to just pretend you can't see it."

"Because it works out so well when we interfere with shit," Xander drawled.

"Doesn't seem things work out so well when we try to keep to ourselves, either," Peter said, mostly directed at Xander but he could not resist a quick glance at Brockmon, who was already bristling well before Peter's eyes fell on him.

"Bad shit happens here all the time," Gelermon said after a moment. "It can't be our problem." Sam glanced at her and frowned, but he did not argue with her.

"But..." Banmon said, looking at the ground. "If it happens, wherever we just were... then..." She looked around, looking for someone to pick up her thought.

Meghan did just that. "Yeah, I mean... we'd have noticed something like this if it had happened, right? When there's a fire in California we smell the smoke in Atlas Park, right?" Meghan said, frowning. "So-- I mean..." She gestured ineffectually. "It seems like a bit of a coincidence, righ-- I mean, don't you think?"

"I mean, yeah, but fuck, we can't try to solve every problem that pops up," Xander said, in less of a biting tone than he'd used with Peter; Meghan did not seem convinced, nonetheless. He shrugged, knowing he wasn't going to sway her.

Natalie, by contrast, was already pulling her bandana up around her mouth and tightening it at the back of her head. "Stay here if you want," she said, attempting to fake confidence and doing a very poor job of it. "Or, I guess, get a head start going north, if you want. We'll catch up." Raumon, at her side, looked up at her and nodded once.

"I think we should go back," Banmon said, quietly as ever, as she uncoiled herself from around her partner's shoulders to float beside him. Peter in turn glanced at her and nodded his agreement.

"I don't think I could just walk away," Meghan said, frowning; Oremon, to her side, looked skeptical, but he nodded his assent. Anywhere she went, he would follow.

"Staying put works for me," Xander said, hands in his pockets. "I've had enough wandering in fuck-off nowhere with no idea where anyone else is and of running into towns that aren't going to be happy to see us."

"They won't see much of anything, to be fair," Desmon pointed out. "Smoke."

"That's not--" Brockmon began, about to complain that staying put was no better than going back as far as he figured, but Lily nudged him with her foot.

"We'd have been sitting around arguing for at least a couple hours if this hadn't happened, we're not losing any time," she said, then knelt down and patted him on the head. He frowned, but did not argue. "Go on," she said, looking to Natalie and giving her a sympathetic, though subtly inscrutable, look. "Just, you know. Know when to cut your losses, yeah?"

"We're not going to fight," Raumon said, looking at Natalie; she nodded her agreement. "At least, we're not."

"Nor us," Banmon said, shaking her head.

"So what exactly do you plan to do, then?" Brockmon said.

"Help," Meghan said, looking to Oremon; he looked uncertain, but nodded.

Xander pushed a hand backwards through his hair and shook his head, but didn't see fit to argue.

Gelermon, meanwhile, stared at the three pairs who had decided to go back and she quirked an eyebrow.
"Pass," she said after a moment. "Unless Sam wants to go?" she said skeptically, looking over her shoulder; Sam blinked a couple times, then shrugged one shoulder.

"Not really."

"You can help us hold down the fort," Desmon said. "Or the shrine. Whatever." She looked to Natalie, Peter, and Meghan. "Just scream if you need anything. I'll hear it."


He hadn't really had to stop in for a visit. He was on the way to the shrine while the others did-- well, he wasn't sure. Other things. Other important things, probably. She was never very forthright with her plans. Boo! Boo, he said, and again, boo to that. All mysteries and no-fun and whispers. The not-fun kind of whispers. The good kind of Whispers, the kind with the emphasis, were something different. They were the ones he cared about.
Totally not fair that she seemed to hear them more.

So anyway. He just thought it'd be fun to stop in. Play around. Get a feel for things. See how things had changed. He thought it'd be a great time!

And it was!

Kind of hard to enjoy the fun in between the searing pain that never, ever, ever stopped, but, you know, that makes it more important to enjoy the fun all the more! Have to even things out a little bit.

The Kyuubimon over which he was currently bowed screamed bloody murder -- heh -- and gnashed its teeth, making a valiant attempt to dispel him, right up until he tore its head off. It didn't have the chance to bleed, the blood burning off into putrid black smoke at contact with his hands. The only disappointing part was how, just like every other digimon, it burst apart into data mere fractions of a second after it died, so he didn't even really get to enjoy it as both the body and the head burst apart from charred ash into bright motes of light.

Well. He could make up the difference with quantity. There were plenty of digimon around. Even if they were running, he could catch more than a few. As if on cue, a digimon with aspirations of heroism -- he didn't see the details, only that it was humanoid -- leapt towards him, preparing an attack.

He laughed as the flames that composed his arms spread up around the rest of his body, and he rushed to meet the digimon attempting to surprise him, and it was gone in a flash of light before it had the chance to finish calling its attack.

If he was supposed to be doing something else, the voice whispering in his head sure didn't seem to mind his little detour. The shrine would still be there, after all. He wasn't chasing after anyone, had no time limit. And what was the problem if he burned down a little more than intended? Nothing!

No problem at all.


There just was not enough cover, and not enough time; subtlety quickly became a secondary concern.

Ibexmon was running full tilt with Meghan, Raumon, and Natalie on his back; Banshemon flew along the ground beside him, with Peter in her arms. The scant few miles between the shrine and the town passed by too-quickly. Their failure to get excited did not make time pass any slower, though they might have wished it would. (Weird how it definitely did feel now like a few miles was just a little ways, and maybe they owed Brockmon an apology for his phrasing earlier today; but that was far from the forefront of their concerns.)
As the hills they had passed through earlier today rose back up out of the ground, the smell of smoke grew almost unbearable. Every so often, another sound like something being blown up shook the air.

It was getting harder to see by the moment, the smoke-haze thick and purple and choking out the sun with ease until the grey and overcast sky seemed almost blindingly bright in memory.

Natalie and Raumon both felt a dread in the pits of their stomachs. They could not forget the smell-- and they knew Brockmon and Lily couldn't either. Their teammates' hanging back only filled them with more uncertainty and dread.
But they couldn't just ignore it, right?
(And would the others be coming along without them making this decision?)

The closer they got, the more they heard -- from beyond the rim of the hills that surrounded the settlement -- the sound of all hell breaking lose. Digimon began emerging over the hill, or becoming indistinct shapes as they took flight into the smoke. Luckily (for a given value of "lucky"), those fleeing were not running in any one direction; there was no stampede of digimon coming towards them, and those few that did were too concerned with bolting themselves to worry about the digimon running the opposite way. That was assuming they even saw them; it was getting harder and harder to see in front of their own faces.
Indeed; when as a group the three pairs crested the hill surrounding the town, they could not see the hills on the other side. They could only see a few hundred feet in front of them clearly, and the rest faded away into haze.

A flash of bright white light, lit up somewhere in the indistinct haze; diffused, it seemed to light up everything in sight. Then it faded as quickly as it had come.

Digimon in the town were running down streets and out of buildings, kicking into the air on frantic wings and digging into the ground and making beelines for the hills. The buildings, those made both of stone and of wood, were on fire all alike; the thin trails of smoke rising therefrom joining with the growing mass like tributaries of a river. The flames gave off no light; they were black and purple, and they flickered and burned and twisted as they jumped from surface to surface like they had minds of their own.

The bright light flashed again, not far from where it had been the last time. And then again, mere seconds later, coming from -- as best they could tell -- the exact same spot. A roar, like something in pain, and then a throat-tearing scream. A plume of the black smoke rose from that same spot, blotting out the light that flashed a third time until it was barely more than a candle-flicker.

"If something goes wrong," Meghan said, "then we bail out."

"Right," Natalie said, her voice a little distant; Meghan was unconvinced, but because Natalie was seated behind her on Ibexmon's back, she did not see Meghan's expression.

"I'd say enough has already gone wrong," Peter said, standing up to full height and dusting himself off as Banshemon set him down. "And we already missed our chance to bail out." As he spoke, he pulled his D-Rive out of his pocket and glanced at it. Almost as if idle, he pulled up his radar. They were still close enough to see the others on the radar; the little points of blue, nearly-black, and green sitting stationary mere miles away.
He pocketed the device.

"It's Narakamon's fire," Natalie said quietly. "It has to be." She swallowed thickly. "So if we find him, we shouldn't try to fight. Baykomon and Vindecamon could barely hold him off. I don't think three is going to do much better."

"Right. So look for digimon that are hurt," Raumon said after a moment, clambering off of Ibexmon's back.

"... nobody is going to want our help," Ibexmon said, glancing over his shoulder. Of course, he'd known that when he agreed to come back, but still...

Raumon nodded his agreement. "They sure don't." With that, he and Natalie's D-Rive were both consumed with purple light.


None of those who had decided to stay back at the shrine were sitting easily with their decision.

Xander paced aimlessly, practically wearing a groove into the stone on the ground level of the shrine. The air was a little bit less rancid down here, with both the benefit of lower ground and the protection from the wind, but he also didn't want to stand around staring at nothing. Desmon, not wanting to get nauseous from being carried in circles, sat a few feet away, keeping her ears perked even while she was lying face-down on the ground.

Sam and Lily reclined against two of the trees atop the hill, watching the smoke rising; Brockmon, at Lily's side, kept glancing over at Gelermon, who was shifting restlessly, moving from Sam's side to looking down into the shrine to sniffing at the ground up and down the hillside.

Eventually, Brockmon stood and walked over to Gelermon when she was at her furthest from her partner.

"What," she said flatly, even though her back was turned as he approached.

"Did you see anything before the smoke started?" Brockmon asked, trying quite valiantly to sound causal but failing miserably at it in a way that Gelermon might find amusing if she had less on her mind.

"Nope," she said, an instant dismissal, as she turned to face him. He was fixing her with a curious look, and he tilted his head slightly. He clearly didn't believe her, or at least she got that impression; she did not particularly care for being put on the spot. "That all?"

"Why didn't you want to go back with the others, then?" Brockmon said instead. "If you're in no hurry to follow direct instructions from the Norns." The emotion in his voice was not harsh enough to be contempt, though it was akin; frustration, perhaps.

Gelermon couldn't tell whether he knew something or if he was just making an educated guess; but regardless, she did not respond kindly. "Why didn't you?" she snapped icily before her brain could catch up to her mouth. "Since it works out so well when you try to keep your nose out of things, you'd think you'd get some pattern recognition."
Brockmon bristled, but Gelermon was on a roll. "You may remember shit better than I do, but I'm willing to bet you've got your own reasons to not be thrilled about this. I'm not asking yours." So don't ask mine, went unstated, but could not be more clearly implied.

The badger hestiated for a moment, pressed his lips thin and looked towards the smoke. "My feelings on the issue don't matter. We have instructions."

"Love to see you do anything without instructions for once," Gelermon muttered, glancing away.

It was Brockmon's turn to be snappish in tone. "Pardon?" he said, the fur ruff around his neck almost seeming to stand on end.

"I'm just saying," Gelermon said, again unable to stop herself from shooting her mouth off, "your plan after you gave up on following through with rat-fuck's plan was 'just don't get found' -- which worked out real well -- and now you're all gung-ho on listening to the loopy cult-gods. Would just be real fuckin' neato to see if you can come up with a plan of your own."

Brockmon bristled even further, and he pulled his lips back for a moment, but he was quick to force himself to calm down. "Should I want to run into disaster when it will get us no closer to having a chance to save this world?"

"Hey, I mean, I'm not the one you have to convince here. I'm not going to run into a fire for the sake of any group of people, human or digimon, that wants me dead," Gelermon said simply. "And that goes for the city as much as it goes for the Norns, unless something has seriously changed since the last time we were here."

Brockmon paused, and looked towards the smoke.
"I'd say a lot has," he said.

"Tell that to the fact that nothing has grown in fifteen years, badger boy," Gelermon said right back.

"Ooh. Cryptic," Desmon's voice came as a surprise as she dropped to the ground behind them, making both badger and dog practically jump into the air with surprise. "What're you guys talking about? Trick question, I've been listening in the entire time."

"Must you do that?" Brockmon muttered.

"You seen these ears?" Desmon said, pointing to, indeed, her ears. "I can hear a pin drop in a warehouse. No choice but to listen."

"Not what I meant," Brockmon said, shaking his head; he had been referring to her habit of crashing into conversations she wasn't a part of and being irreverent, but the break in the tension was not totally unwelcome.

"So what's your opinion, if you've been eavesdropping," Gelermon said, frowning.

"Me?" Desmon tilted her head. "Hell if I know what the right thing to do here is. Playing it by -- heh-- ear." She shrugged. "Besides that anyway, I figure I'm not going anywhere without Xandie unless I wanna go hell-gargoyle all over again-- but, you know, hold on just a tick, don't let me steal his thunder."

Before Gelermon or Brockmon could ask what Desmon was talking about, Xander came walking up the backside of the hill, and all eyes -- digimon and human alike -- shot to him. He was rubbing the back of his head with one hand.
"'Ight, I've had enough of this shit."

"Back up a second and go again," Lily said, tilting her head.

Xander exhaled through his nose and ran a hand backwards through his hair. "Look. All I'm saying is that it turns out sittin' on my ass isn't my style either. Tried it. Not for me. You willing to do some flying?" he said, looking to his partner.

"Hey, what happened to not trying to solve every problem," Desmon said cheekily, looking at Xander with a wry sort of half-smile. She already knew that this was what he was coming up to announce, but, hey, if she was going to tease, she needed an audience.

"So fuckin sue me," he said. "It's not like I want to go back to play fuckin'... superhero for a bunch of monsters with attitude problems," he said with a one-shouldered shrug. What he did want to go back to play superhero for was unstated, but obvious. "You really going to tell me you're content just twiddling your thumbs here?"

"Was wondering when someone would ask," Lily said, stretching her arms above her head. Brockmon looked mildly betrayed, almost comically so.

"Well, I'm game," Desmon said, stretching out both her wings and her arms dramatically. "Pretty dumb to fly through smoke, 'course, but I think we'll manage." She looked to Brockmon and Gelermon. "You guys coming?" she said, quite pointedly.


Doctorimon led the group down the hill and into the streets. Peter had joined the girls on (a slightly relucant) Ibexmon's back so that Banshemon could drift in and out of visibility, flying alongside. The streets varied between packed dirt and rough cobblestone, and the buildings were mostly short-- and getting shorter, as black flames ate away at even solid stone. It was hard to hear themselves think over the commotion of digimon running this way and that, panicking, fleeing, as the putrid smoke grew only thicker and darker. The bright light flashed periodically, sometimes closer and sometimes farther away.

The worst part was, they were getting used to the smell. Kind of.

It was, to be clear and with no hyperbole, an absolute shit show. And while that was hardly a blessing, it did mean that nobody had the chance to realize who they were when they tried to help.

"Over there!" Natalie cupped a hand around her bandana-covered mouth to call to Doctorimon, using her other hand to point to a small orange dinosaur-like digimon attempting to use a crumbling wall for support as it stumbled along. Doctorimon nodded once and didn't break his stride to feint to the side, wielding his staff.

The little dinosaur flinched as a stream of white flame came straight for it, preparing for the worst; by the time it realized that the pain was flooding out of its body, Doctorimon was already bounding away. Instead of a good look at Doctorimon, it saw Ibexmon -- with the three humans holding tight to his back -- kicking some burned rubble away from the door of a nearby building that was crumbling as the very stone was besought by the black flames. As a pair of digimon rushed out, Banshemon flickered into visibility as she knocked falling debris away from falling on them; and then they all-- doctor, goat, and ghost -- took back off into the chaotic crowd and smoke.

You never think you're going to be nostalgic for the simplicity of a Meramon setting a city street on fire, until you realize just how good you had it back then. Oh, to be back fighting a fire monster in Atlas Park, with sirens screaming and only moderate panic, and normal fire.

Nobody seemed to pay them too much mind until they directly intervened; what were a couple more digimon running around in a mass of digimon running around, after all? They got pushed and jostled, shoved and had to dodge out of the way of other digimon, and it was only getting worse by the moment. All the while, the bursts of light increased in frequency; and were they getting closer, or was whatever was making the light getting closer to them? Both? It was difficult to tell.

This went on for a while; they helped what digimon they could, but it was hard to keep track of their own locations, let alone find anyone they could give an assist to.

Talk about putting out fires, though.

"I think we've gotten turned around," Meghan said, frowning as she looked at their surroundings; everything looked the same in the smoke, and on top of that it was hard to get a bearing on where anything was in between the digimon coming and going, especially as things continued -- impossibly -- to get more hectic by the moment.

"No we haven't," Ibexmon said, but he didn't sound sure, and he slowed down, tossing his head to look around.

Doctorimon, a few paces ahead, did not notice that Ibexmon was hesitating, and kept bounding forward; Banshemon slowed down alongside the goat, but light as she was, a Moosemon running past her was in no mood to slow down and shoved her with impugnity, practically dragging her along for a few meters on its antlers before she realized what was going on.

Something -- they could not see what -- smashed into Ibexmon's side at high speed, sending the goat falling in the other direction. All three humans yelled aloud, in surprise and fear. Meghan grabbed fast onto Ibexmon's mane and stayed clinging to him; Natalie and Peter were less fortunate and tumbled to the ground, though they only fell when Ibexmon toppled and so did not drop the full distance to the ground.

And it certainly got Doctorimon and Banshemon's attention, as both snapped their attention to the sound of their partners' voices, even in the chaos.

Whatever smashed into Ibexmon did not seem to have been trying to do so, judging by the way that it practically went skipping like a stone, tumbling in its own turn like it had tripped, skidding along like a thrown stone until it came to a stop. Digimon scattered, giving the group a wider berth than they'd had since they arrived.

Doctorimon and Banshemon were quick to turn around to rejoin Ibexmon and inspect their partners. As Meghan let go of Ibexmon's neck, Doctorimon and Banshemon kenlt to help their partners up, and they tried to see what it was that had knocked Ibexmon over.

It looked like a bear of sorts, perhaps a panda; it wasn't large in size, and it was fairly small though quite stout. Before it had even righted itself it was clawing at the ground, scrabbling like it was reluctant to stop moving even before it was on its feet.
It didn't really get a chance. While they were looking -- barely chancing even a couple seconds -- something quite close let out a scream, and a dark shape, indistinct in the smoke, leapt over their heads.

The rotten smell, which they had almost gotten used to, was quite all of a sudden so intense that it was hard to breathe.

A tall shape, long and lanky, landed on the ground and immediately arched over the scrambling panda digimon. Flames seemed to flicker around the shape's head and arms, but they gave off no light. A long skeletal tail thrashed behind it, and it lifted one long arm and smashed it down on the panda's head.
The fact that the panda almost-immediately exploded into bright light did not assuage the smell of burning flesh and the crunching sound that cut through everything else like a knife. Almost immediately was not immediately, and it was not fast enough.

Suppose that explained what the flashing light had been.

Natalie retched from the sound or the smell, it was hard to tell which. There was nothing in her stomach to throw up, and for once she was glad for that one particular oddity of this world. Meghan covered her mouth to avoid screaming, and Peter went pale and stiff. Banshemon let loose with a tiny squeak; Ibexmon stalled his attempts to stand, and Doctorimon gave no reaction at all, gripping his staff tighter.

And then the strange digimon who had just killed the panda straightened himself. He didn't seem to care much that they were there, looking around at the digimon who were making every attempt to get the hell away from him. Understandable, really.

He turned around, and his eyes -- if they could be called that, but more on that in a moment -- fell on the trio of humans and digimon frozen in place as they got a proper look at him.

He had the head and torso of a human with ashen skin. Bone-like ridges curved around the outside of his ribcage, and the top half of his face was obscured by the jawless skull of a sabertooth cat with engraved golden fangs. They could not see his eyes, as they -- as everything above the nose was -- lashed with bandages, from under which shaggy pale red-violet hair poked. A hood of darker red-violet rested around his head, though it was fastened directly to his skin by a diamond-shaped brooch on his sternum.
By contrast, his lower half was the haunches of a large cat, the same colour as his hood and tiger stripes; his tail was only bones. A tattered loincloth decorated with shimmering golden weave rested around his waist, fastened with a spiked belt adorned with a sharp-toothed skull at the front.

Most striking -- aside from the skull adorning his face -- was that he had no arms below the elbow. Floating below the point where his arms ended, wrapped in black leather straps, were too-long arms made entirely of purple fire. They ended in huge paws, with large black claws made of what looked like obsidian glass. The same purple flames acted like a ruff around his hood and swirled at the tip of his skeletal tail.

He towered at well over ten feet tall. Every inch of him looked like there was simply not enough muscle underneath the skin of either his cat half or his humanoid half, but not like he was emaciated-- rather, like there was a fraction of an inch of slack between the skin and the muscle that was there.

And if there was any doubt that he was Narakamon -- or at least that he had once been Narakamon, whatever his name be now -- the raspy giggle was proof positive.
It started as a giggle and then escalated until he was cackling. The sound rattled and rasped, almost like he was choking on the smoke. He may well have been; the patches of his skin around the ends of his arm-stumps and along his shoulders were cracked and blackened, so he certainly wasn't immune to his own flames.
"How fun!" he keened. "It's you!" He sounded genuinely surprised; he hadn't been chasing them, then? Hadn't been looking for them? Surely, he'd be much more satisfied with himself if he had been. "Do you recognize me?" he asked with an almost childlike hopefulness in his voice. "Not you," he said, pointing to Banshemon and Ibexmon in turn. "I know who you are. But you don't know me. But you do," he said, indicating Doctorimon.

For a moment, they didn't realize they were being addressed. It would have been an awkward silence except for the pop-crackle of burning fire and panicking digiomn (which, to be fair, is a pretty big "except for").

"Narakamon," Doctorimon said after a moment, and the skull-faced digimon grinned, excited to be remembered.

"Used to be. It's Vicimon, now," he said, and cackled. "It heard me! And it made me stronger! So I could burn more down!" He held his burning arms out, grinning wildly. "Just like it heard you before! Before you turned into fucking filthy traitors! Devouring Flames!"
He didn't miss a beat, to the point that they almost missed that he was calling an attack-- almost. They certainly didn't miss it when a trio of sabertoothed tiger skulls flashed into existence floating in the air behind him, each engulfed in black fire and each with pinprick lights in their eye sockets, whipping around and looking in different directions. They hovered for a moment, just long enough to appreciate how unbearably hot they made the air, and then the floating skulls rushed forward towards the trio of champion-level digimon.

They had a split second to react, and they certainly did.

"Banshemon, conduction evolve to... Syrenamon!"

"Doctorimon conduction evolve to... Vindecamon!"

"Ibexmon, conduction evolve to... Tanngrismon! Tectonic Tremor!"

The other two may have hesitated a moment before attacking, but Tanngrismon was barely fully-formed out of the orange light before he was taking action. He swung his twin hammers wildly, their metal heads smashing into two of the three flying skulls. The two skulls that his hammers touched exploded into molten shrapnel, but the third was on a collision course with Tanngrismon's chest.

"Raven's Shadow!" Vindecamon cried as he leapt backwards, hurling a pair of black spheres of energy. The ravens borne of his attack were short-lived; as soon as they had formed feathers, they crashed into the tiger skull and evaporated, but not without making the skull explode. The shrapnel flew with incredible force, sinking into Tanngrismon's flesh like hot knives.

"Get away! Now!" Vindecamon cried to the humans -- and any digimon lingering -- but they hardly needed any telling so. Peter, Natalie, and Meghan were quick to get out of Vicimon's direct range, but there was nowhere they could go. Though the digimon panicking had definitely thinned out, more having gotten away the black fire was spreading in every direction, and they could hardly see on top of that. The best they could do was move to the side, for as much good as that would do.

"Dancing Flame!" Syrenamon cried, vanishing into nothingness but for the yellow flame at the tip of her hood. She reappeared a moment later in a flash of white flame, delivering a hard kick to Vicimon's chest before leaping back.
It had very little effect, except for -- despite not touching the flames -- the bandages around Syrenamon's feet burning black. Before she could contemplate this, or the burning sensation that would not fade, Vicimon followed her. He slashed through the air with both arms; she only barely dodged out of the way, and Vicimon's claws smashed into the earth instead of her, leaving a scorched black mark on the ground.

Undeterred, Vicimon turned his attention to Vindecamon. Vicimon flung himself forward when his claws touched the ground, and he hurled towards the raven in a full-body tackle that Vindecamon didn't have a chance to dodge. The air was already filled with the smell of burning, but it grew stronger as Vicimon grabbed a hold of Vindecamon.

"So lucky finding you here!" he giggled, digging his claws in deeper between Vindecamon's ribs. "Lost little traitors! Or maybe you were here to burn it down, too! Maybe you've come back to your senses!"

Vindecamon flapped his wings desperately and let out a loud and keening noise, wrenching backwards. It dislodged Vicimon, but at the cost of leaving deep torn gashes across his torso; or maybe it didn't dislodge him at all, since Vicimon seemed to quite actively and pointedly release his claws and he stumbled back with a grin. He was telegraphing, as plainly as he could, that he was letting Vindecamon go of his own accord.

"Buuuut you didn't," Vicimon said, unperturbed by the interruption. "And I know you didn't, 'cause you've still got humans with you." He said it with a horrible little flourish, the intention of which was hard to determine-- and nobody really wanted to.
He pounced again with no preamble, this time at Tanngrismon; Tanngrismon retaliated with a swing of both his hammers, and they did indeed knock Vicimon away out of his leap, but it did not seem to harm him at all. As soon as he hit the ground he rolled and scrambled and, in a matter of seconds, slammed into Tanngrismon again, this time from the side and before the goat could react.

He giggled and leapt away again, supporting himself in a half-crouch with one hand on the ground, and if there was any doubt that he was playing with them--

"The traitors are funny!" he giggled. "Put up more of a fight! All the rest are weak! But you, you've got Its power," he said, and grinned even wider than before. "That's what it is, isn't it! Power from the master, right? Even if you're wasting it? It's still inside you, after all! Still one of us!"

A two-on-one with Narakamon had gone badly; a three-on-one would probably have only barely stood a chance, and it was quickly becoming apparent that Vicimon was much, much stronger than Narakamon had been. Only a few attacks and the digimon were already covered in burns and gashes, Vicimon was clearly having a wonderful time.

It was quickly becoming apparent that there was no winning this fight. There's no need to recount every single blow; they all happened so quickly, in such rapid succession, that they all blurred into each other. Vicimon would pounce, attack, summon flaming skulls; the three digimon would do their best to deflect them, and shield their partners, and attempt to keep each other from taking too many blows in a row. The black fire all around them raged stronger by the moment, every one of Vicimon's attacks adding to it. Every time they tried to put distance between themselves and him, Vicimon was quick to cut them off; he moved too quickly.
The best they were doing was stalling, making sure he paid attention to them. The panic around them had quieted down; had most of the digimon had the chance to evacuate?

The humans themselves could do nothing but watch, cry out words of support to their partners, and hope to god that Vicimon didn't manage to hit them. They saw the damage he was capable of doing to their partners; they had no desire to experience it firsthand.

Vicimon was having fun, if his manic laughter was anything to go by, and it was hard not to feel like a mouse being played with by a particularly ill-tempered cat. He had no cares in the world, it seemed, but playing with the few digimon who could actually put up a fight-- even if he had to hold himself back to do so.

And that was not a great headspace to be in.

A voice in the back of Vindecamon's head, a very familiar voice, hissed to him. The words were indistinct but he seemed to understand every one. There was (it said), one surefire way to make it out alive. This was all the good that coming back to help had done him, and really, it would be just like coming home after all this ti͜m̡e͡.

In Tanngrismon's head, the voice was the same, but the words were a little different; it was angry, spiteful, played upon a buried rage. If he did not act, he would endanger the humans. More importantly, his partner. He could not fight Vicimon. He stood no chance, and if he did not act, then she would die, too. And, really, that little voice just wanted to he҉l̕p.

Syrenamon, too, heard the voice; to her, it whispered that she should have turned her back. That she could still do it, that she would be better off turning away and retreating into the darkness alone; but she had to be strong enough to get away to do that, and she knew -- she already knew -- the one way she could. She just had to embrace it ag͏a̸in̛.

And you may judge them for being tempted, but when faced against a cat-skull-faced hellbeast who seems to only be interested in playing around, that you know you can't beat, in the throes of a kind of desperation--
Especially when that hellbeast is quite invested in the past version of you, who would have taken the chance without hesitation.

But say one thing for the cavalry: they have quite lovely timing. Vicimon was making a quite valiant effort to rip one of Vindecamon's wings off, poised over the bird, holding onto (and leaving horrible cracking burns on) Vindecamon's arm and the opposite wing. Syrenamon was preparing to lunge in, but--


Baykomon's roar cut through the voices in their heads, clear as anything.
A pair of icy claw-shaped blasts came tearing out of the smoke. They crashed right into Vicimon, and he stumbled back only a half-step, more from surprise than pain, but it was enough. Vindecamon wrenched himself away, the chains on his wings clattering and clanking as they swung and re-settled into place. Baykomon was quick to follow his attack, and as he barrelled into view, his body was beginning to freeze over.

"Blizzard Berzerker!" Baykomon roared, rushing forwards towards Vicimon. The ice began to melt immediately, then refroze from the coldness of his body, repeating this cycle over and over.
Baykomon jammed a jagged icy elbow into Vicimon's stomach, tearing a hole in his skin. The wound did not bleed, and Vicimon seemed totally unperturbed as he lay his flaming hands into Baykomon's frozen-over face.

"Dead Air!"

Radiomon's voice was followed by a sphere of whipping wind that left a sort of reverse-trail of clean air behind it as it tore out of the smoke. The sphere smashed right into Vicimon's face, and again, it seemed more to surprise him more than hurt him, but he still took a step back as it knocked his torso backwards.

Baykomon looked quite a sight as he wrenched away; his icy covering was half-melted and refrozen back in distorted place, almost like a half-melted candle.

"All a-fuckin-board!" Xander's voice yelled from somewhere; a moment later, Radiomon landed with a loud thud next to Peter, Natalie, and Meghan. Xander was holding onto his partner's back, and Radiomon did not exactly ask before she scooped Meghan and Peter into her arms and kicked back into the air.

Before Natalie could think twice, another black shape came leaping over the dark flames. Xolomon came running at full speed, nimble and quick and able to skirt around the black fire on the ground with ease as she made a beeline for Natalie, even in the smoke. As the wolf knelt down, Sam and Lily -- riding on Xolomon's back -- were quick to heave Natalie up alongside them, again, without really asking.

"Eclipse Corona!" she roared, and a circle of green fire appeared around her like a halo -- and for a moment, the humans on her back felt quite toasty indeed -- which then shot at Vicimon like a blast. He slashed out with his hands, his purple flames extinguishing the green ones in a heartbeat, but it wasn't meant to hurt-- it was a distraction.
"Come on, come on! Hold on tight, about fuckin' face and let's move, bitches!" Xolomon barked as she began to move again.

Baykomon was not following Xolomon's instructions; instead, he was bumrushing Vicimon again, more and more ice forming over his body to counteract the heat as he bruteforced his way into into melee range.
Vindecamon and Tanngrismon (who dropped his hammers, abandoning them) grabbed him by the arms and heaved, as Syrenamon deftly leapt over his head to kick Vicimon in the sternum. Again, her feet were singed and burned, but was the point to actually hurt Vicimon, or to knock him back enough to dislodge Baykomon?

It only took a moment of being dislodged from Vicimon for Baykomon to come to his senses, wrench himself free of Tanngrismon and Vindecamon, turn around, and begin to run, using his icy arms for locomotion as well as his legs.

"No fair! No fun!" Vicimon cackled, though he still sounded like he was having just a grand old time. "Come back, traitors!"

They had no intention of doing that, and -- despite being clearly able to -- he didn't see fit to chase.

There were no other digimon at all running around in the smoke as they made a break for it, only crumbling buildings and black fire.


The six ultimate-level digimon, with six humans in tow, tore like bats out of hell out of the burning town. It felt like every time they passed a structure, the mere act of air moving past them caused it to crumble. It was silent again but for the sound of their feet, the flap of Radiomon's wings, and the crackle of flames.

They did not slow as they crested the hill around the town; they didn't even look back. There wasn't a lot to look back on. Just hours ago it had been a small city; now, it was a cloud of smoke and a pile of ash, or at least it was very close to being so. They didn't slow until they were close to the shrine again, following the only path they were even remotely familiar with.

Though they would not stay here for long, this is where they chose to stop. The smoke still hung in the air, but being able to see more than ten feet in front of themselves felt almost luxurious now. In the half-flooded little shrine, hidden -- at least for a little while -- to what lay behind them, the digimon with passengers set them down on the ground, and all six digimon took the chance to de-digivolve.
Raumon, Banmon, and Oremon were all quite laconic, even as returning to their rookie forms made all of their injuries vanish.

"Okay, can we agree to not do that again?" Xander said, running a hand backwards through his hair.

"... we did what we went back to do," Natalie said after a moment. "He would have killed more digimon if we hadn't stalled him."

"And you would have been burned to a crisp for a few more digimon if you hadn't run," Gelermon pointed out, "and you didn't seem ready to run on your own."

"... you didn't see the digimon he killed in front of us," Meghan said, and nobody was prepared to argue that point. They'd all seen digimon killed, but for those that hadn't witnessed it, they could all hear that there was something different in her voice.

"You wouldn't have seen it if you hadn't gone back," Brockmon pointed out, which was... not helpful.

"Yeah, well. Could have stayed put. Would have. Probably should have. Ultimately, didn't," Peter said. "Too late to worry about it now."

"'All's well that ends well' is a pretty shitty argument for running into literal fires," Xander muttered, shaking his head, "but what the fuck do I know."

"I think we should try to help as much as we can. That's all," Natalie said, shrugging one shoulder; there was a slightly distant look in her eye.

A moment of silence hung over the group.

"Can we get moving to the north, now?" Brockmon said. Gelermon rolled her eyes at him, but nobody else had any complaints. Sure, they were shaken. Quite shaken, actually-- even those who hadn't had to stand off against Vicimon.

Walk it off. Just walk it off.


The little green monkey sat in a tree atop one of the adjacent hills, and she furrowed her brow.
This wasn't part of the plan at all. The Norns hadn't said anything about the city. They had come back, yes, but--

She sighed and shook her head. No matter. This was not her concern.


Vicimon was disappointed, to be certain. They were fun! More fun than most of the digimon here.
And he'd gotten so distracted that he hadn't even had any fun with any of the other digimon here.

But he actually had a thought.

They were traitors! To be sure of it. No mercy for traitors.

But they were still here. He hadn't known that much. He was sure the others would be interested to know that!
And if they were seen running away from the fire he started... well. Wouldn't that just be hilarious?
He'd run it past the others. He was sure that Xibalmon would find it particularly great. Sourpuss, no fun at all, maybe he'd actually act like he was happy to be a part of something wonderful for once--

... now, what was it he was here for in the first place?

Right! The shrine. Right.


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