Episode 37: Midnight

By the time Vicimon reached the shrine of the Norns, the humans and their partners were long gone.
Rest easy in that knowledge, at least.

He crested the hill and grinned to himself, a giggle rumbling out of his chest unbidden. The last rays of the sun were fading over the horizon, and he had burned swaths of the hinterlands as he went, searching for the Shrine. He couldn't remember exactly where it was, you see -- never been allowed near it back when it had actual digimon keeping an eye on it, you see, and had no need to go there until now -- but the blackened, charred scar he left behind was testament to everywhere he had looked.

Some digimon had really given up on running away far, far too quickly. Got outside of the city and thought it safe to stop so nearby? Foolish indeed.

Well. Anyway.

Vicimon could already hear the others in his head, chiding him for taking so long, but it was drowned out by the voice that whispered to burn everything, and that was the voice he cared about.

He leapt down into the half-flooded shrine; the water began to hiss and evaporate as soon as he set foot in it. When his gaze fell upon the statue of the Norns standing crooked and askew, a surge of hatred gripped his mind like a vice. It wasn't a whisper; it was a scream, the white hot feeling overtaking even the white-hot feeling of the fire burning around his shoulders and arms.
He smashed one fiery hand into the carved stone, and it lurched. He struck it again and it moved even further, but only a few inches. With a snarl, he drove both hands into it, and all at once, the statue shattered, sending polished blue stone crumbling into what remained of the water and skittering across stone. As soon as the statue was gone, the feeling flooded out of him.

You know, he hadn't thought he'd had any particular feelings about the Norns before now. No more than anything else, anyway.

Odd. Weird! Very strange.

He straightened back up and took a step back.
"Burning Earth!" he called into the empty air, slamming both hands down into the ground. Cracks, in which flickered tongues of black flame, spread out from the point his hands touched, just waiting for the chance to burst out.


By the time they stopped for the night, it had been dark for over an hour. They wanted to put as much distance between themselves and the burned city as was possible before they stopped, which was probably a good idea. The air had become more breathable the further they went, with less of the putrid smell lingering in the air; but the sky had been hazy up until the sun had gone down, and whether it be from smoke, clouds, or both, neither of the moons' reflected light managed to break through to the ground. They were thankful to not be in the Halo; while it had provided more cover, the land here was more open, and they were less likely to stumble into things, both in a mundane "tripping over fallen logs" kind of way and in a "walking into a populated area" way as well.

Desmon and Banmon made themselves even more useful, even discounting their ability to fly up and quickly scout ahead; Desmon kept her ears peeled, and Banmon's ability to phase through solid objects enabled her to see if seemingly-uninhabited camps or villages were more populated than they appeared. They avoided several encampments this way, diverting their paths away from any digimon they might interrupt; they came across as many vacated ones, singular huts and the footprints of long-gone houses dotted around the landscape.

It was in one of these abandoned ones that they stopped for the night. It had once been a pair of small huts nestled in a hill valley; now, it was nothing but a collection of half-crumbled walls on flat stone foundations, a half-standing stone chimney, a tree stump. A gnarled tree had burst through what remained of one of the walls of the larger former-hut, and its roots had broken through the foundation, causing the stone to buckle. This invasive tree was proof that this place had not been recently vacated or destroyed; it had had time to grow there. If anywhere was a safe place to stop, it was probably here.

Desmon alighted in the offending tree, causing all eleven pairs of eyes on the ground to look up at her. She had flown up to take a look and a listen around, make sure they were not sitting directly on the doorstep of anywhere populated.
"We're good," she said, giving a thumbs-up as best she could without proper thumbs. "Over that hill, it looks like there's a village a ways that way," she pointed in a northernly direction, over a hill a short distance away, "or at least there's buildings and fires and it doesn't look like it's a buildings-on-fire sort of situation. But that's a problem for us to avoid tomorrow."
With her announcement done, she jumped and flapped her way down to the ground, next to where Xander was seated against a free-standing wall.

"Probably bad timing for the buildings on fire comment," he said, flicking Desmon on the forehead; indeed, Peter, Meghan, and Natalie all looked a little ill at ease, but it was quickly subsumed by the relief at being able to stop.
And getting to stop somewhere where they didn't have to sleep on dirt was even better, even if it was only marginally better to sleep on solid rock.

"I wonder what used to live here," Lily said, glancing around and leaning back on her hands.

"Whatever it was," Natalie said, "it's been gone a long time." She nudged at a bit of buckled stone with her toe. "So hopefully it won't mind us taking a quick break in the remains of its house."

"Worrying about us trespassing now would be a bit too little too late," Raumon said, and Natalie smiled thinly.

"It's weird to think about, though, isn't it?" Banmon said. Though they could not see her mouth, she seemed to frown. "Not just... not just here, I mean. But everywhere we go. Digimon used to live all these places. But the empty places outnumber the places where they're still around."
She didn't say it, but she could not help but think that in no time at all, the town near the shrine had been turned into another ruin.

Gelermon snorted derisively, laying her head on the ground; Banmon looked at her, but said nothing more. In fact she said nothing more at all, drawing back into herself and curling up next to Peter.

"What gets me," Meghan said, "is that this place is really low-tech for something that's supposed to be a Digital World, you know?" She wasn't the first one to think it (just earlier that day they had realized how jarring it was to see a proper town), but she was the first to say it. "You say Digital World and I kinda think like, scifi and-- well. Maybe not Tron, but, you know?" She gestured vaguely, pointing this way and that as though to map out the path of her train of thought. "But this place is way Iron Age."

A pause, just a beat long.

"... why are you looking at me," Sam said, because indeed several pairs of eyes had drifted over to him almost instinctively, even though they looked away innocently when he spoke. He knew why, of course; if anyone would have any insight on this, it would be him.
Even so he spoke with a barely constrained frustration. "It fucks with our phones, the D-Rives are from here. That's all I've got until I get to ask questions of the," he gestured around his head, "ancient digimon and shit. 'Fraid my use to you is pretty much gimped."

"Chill," Lily said, shaking her head. "Nobody's asking you to, like, look at a rock and be able to tell us a whole bunch of code shit." Beat. "Though that'd be dope."

"Moreover, this continent isn't exactly a comprehensive cross-section of the Digital World," Brockmon said. "In terms of environment or technology."

"Explains why everything is just forests and hills," Oremon said dully; Meghan smiled faintly.

Brockmon hummed. "Well. Yes. But there's a continent in the south that's almost entirely covered in an enormous network of cities." He paused. "Or, it was."

"Well now you've got me all intrigued," Xander said completely flatly, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back against the crumbling wall.

"... geography is not my strong suit," Brockmon said hastily. "And more than that, I don't think that it's of particular relevance to our mission--"

"You've just never been outside your home country, have you, bear boy," Desmon said, sticking her tongue out.

Sam sighed and pulled his legs up to his chest.
He said nothing more until he volunteered for first watch, when everyone was actually preparing to sleep.
He wasn't going to be sleeping anyway.


Sam sat against the tree, sitting on the opposite side from where the others were sleeping.
They hadn't talked about the Vicimon encounter while they were awake, but it was coming through crystal clear without the inhibitions and filtering of consciousness. Peter's breath kept hitching at whatever he was dreaming about; Natalie's hand kept raising to her head, like she was going to grab it but stopped herself before she did; Meghan tossed and turned. Their digimon partners were faring no better, with Raumon clawing ineffectually at the air, Oremon baring his teeth, and Banmon curling deeper and deeper in on herself.

He didn't want to watch it. It was uncomfortable-- it felt almost invasive. It was weird to see someone else having a nightmare, rather than being the one having it-- not knowing if you were supposed to do anything to help. He felt a particular pang of sympathy for Gelermon.

Speaking of Gelermon: she lay on the ground beside him, her head resting on her folded paws as though she were a regular dog. She was more asleep than him, but any time he moved she cracked an eye open to check on him.

So when -- hours into his watch, around the time he should be waking up his replacement -- Sam instead stood up, she was quick to get to her feet. She said nothing but looked up expectantly at him; he inclined his head towards the hill, over which Desmon said they could see the nearby village. Gelermon nodded her head once and the two began to walk. It was only a few hundred feet to the base of the hill, and the place they'd made camp was still in sight the entire time, and the night was growing steadily clearer.

The slope was steeper than it looked from a distance, but Gelermon heeled close to Sam and stopped him from losing his footing. The trees that dotted the hillside had their roots gnarled out into the air, but a narrow path zigzagged a relatively clear way up between them, as long as they didn't mind using the roots as makeshift stepping stones.

They said nothing until they had reached the top. Ahead of them lay a vast expanse of rolling, sparsely-forested hills, not unlike the others in the hinterlands. A winding path of relatively even land wound between the bottoms of the hills, almost looking like a river of tall grass, leading to the village that Desmon had mentioned.
It was half-obscured behind the hills, but the faint glow of a (normal, light-giving, and non-putrid-smelling) fire stood out bright as day in the otherwise stark-dark night. Beyond these hills, those beyond seemed to become more mountainous -- less stark and steep than those in the Halo, more rolling, but also more numerous. They kept going until they extended over the horizon, as far as the eye could see even by daylight.

Doubtlessly, there were more villages and more abandoned little huts dotted in the valleys between them, or maybe even more shrines tucked into hidden places.
Maybe there were even more places sunken into the ground that they couldn't see.

And the only places they were welcome were the ones that were empty.

"Do you regret not going back to help the others with the city?" Sam said, his voice hushed even though nobody was around to overhear, staring out at the village. "I mean, do you wish we'd gone back with Raumon and Natalie and company."

Gelermon didn't answer immediately, but when she did, her answer was simple. "Nope."

Sam hummed quietly and leaned against a tree, still looking towards the village. "Why not?"

Gelermon again hesitated before she spoke, and her answer was a bit esoteric. "It's amazing what a simple change of surroundings can do to kickstart the memory, huh?"

Sam rubbed the back of his head. "Don't I know it." There were certainly places he avoided, and he didn't even have eldritch-abomination-induced amnesia of past villainy to deal with, just good old-fashioned repression.
Then he said, "do you wish we'd gone home when we had the chance?"

Gelermon hesitated; she flicked her tail and stared out at the pale orange glow in the distance.
"... it'd be so much easier if I could give you a clear answer yes or no."

"God, right?" Sam said, smiling thinly and pulling his knees close to his chest. (He winced a little, which Gelermon noticed but did not comment on.)

The only thing worse than feeling like you were useless was not even knowing what you could have done.
The digimon had to be careful about fighting -- both Vicimon and Nithmon were testament to that. Sam himself couldn't do the one thing he was good at; all of his skills were basically useless here. They couldn't go home, but none of their options here seemed terribly appealing.

Something howled, hollow and long, in the distance. It did not seem to echo, and the sound had almost an almost-metallic edge to it.

Sam hummed from his chest and frowned; Gelermon stared intently out into the dark. They both knew the sound, though Gelermon knew it better. Something large and dark moved between the trees, visible even from a distance.
Gelermon bristled and bared her teeth; Sam glanced over his shoulder, down to the makeshift camp, and stood up.


Natalie was on top of her family's apartment building, with Raumon by her side. They had just gone up to investigate a loud noise, and-- and she totally knew to expect Yasyamon this time. He was waiting for them there, standing stark in the middle of the roof. He did not move, and they stood facing each other for long and terrible moments, waiting for the other to make a move. Raumon, quite unlike himself, was silent the entire time.

Then Yasyamon rushed forward with his wooden swords drawn, preparing to strike at Natalie. She threw her arms up, but she knew she didn't have to be afraid. Purple light flashed in her peripheral vision, and Raumon--

Was no longer there.

Vicimon burst forward from where Raumon had stood a moment before, and Natalie's limbs grew as heavy as lead. Vicimon tackled Yasyamon to the ground as the smell of rot hit her like a truck. Vicimon giggled as he dug his claws into Yasyamon's flesh, and with one smooth movement, tore him completely in two, easily as tearing apart wet paper. Yasyamon did not burst apart into data; his entrails spilled out as his torso was separated from his legs, but he did not bleed. His flesh was rotten and grey, and it began to blacken and burn as Vicimon hoisted Yasyamon's upper half up over his shoulder. Shining insects, like those that had consumed Nithmon, began to emerge from the air as though squeezed out from pockets of space, and swarmed Yasyamon's lower half. The night are was filled with a droning buzz that only grew in volume until it was unbearable.

Yasyamon's head lolled forward, and his mask fell off, falling to the roof. Upon impact, it shattered, and shards of white hung in the air, suspended in time. With a shudder, Yasyamon -- or what remained of him -- lifted his now maskless head to stare at Natalie, but she couldn't manage to look directly at it. She shut her eyes and could not prise them open, even as Vicimon's laughter grew louder and louder. She could feel Vicimon's black fire spread as it caused the roof to begin to crumble underneath her feet. As she lost her footing and began to fall, Vicimon's laughter morphed into a dying bird's keen. She knew, without looking, that it was IlDoctorimon, and she knew she had to force herself to look--

Natalie wrenched her eyes open with a gasp and was staring at the Digital World's sky. Taking heaving breaths as her heart stopped pounding, she scrambled to an upright position; Raumon cracked an eye open as she moved, but had not been disturbed before now.

Meghan, Xander, and Lily were asleep, with their also-sleeping partners close to them. Peter and Banmon sat up, keeping watch; Sam and Gelermon, meanwhile, were nowhere to be seen.
Peter looked over at Natalie and raised a hand in a rather sardonic kind of greeting.
Natalie very carefully stood up and crossed to Peter, trying her best not to disturb anyone. Raumon sat up, but did not rise to his feet.

"Do you know where...?" Natalie began in her most hushed tone, looking around. Peter pointed to his D-Rive; it was open the radar. Natalie dug her own out to see for herself; indeed, there she could see the cluster of colored dots almost-overlapped with her own, and the green dot very close by. She looked in the direction that Sam's dot lay in, but could not see him anywhere.
Not surprising, considering it was dark, but that was beside the point.

The circles under Peter's eyes may also have been a trick of the low light, but she figured they weren't.

Natalie frowned. Sam and Gelermon had been breaking apart from the group more and more frequently whenever they stopped, especially since they'd gotten out of the Barrens. He'd volunteered for every night watch, and he had barely said anything yesterday after they saw smoke. And that was just Sam; Gelermon was a whole other can of worms.
She wanted to help, but truth be told--

They clearly didn't want to be here, and it was her fault they were, so what could she possibly do that wouldn't just make it worse--

She sighed and took a seat against the crumbling wall next to Peter; she wasn't getting back to sleep any time soon anyway. She didn't want to speak too much, lest she wake someone else up. Raumon joined her, sitting cross-legged beside her. She opened her mouth to say something quietly to Peter, but when she looked, she saw that he was asleep sitting up, and she thought better of it.

She pulled her knees to her chest and stared out into the darkness-- and to her surprise, she actually saw something.

The trees at the foot of a hill to the south -- a hill down which they had themselves come -- were rustling, and a dark shape jumped between them. The trees thinned out and whatever was moving had no more trees to jump to, and so it leapt from the tree and to the ground. It looked like a small monkey, no bigger than Raumon in size. Its eyes were like shiny saucers, reflecting even the barest amount of light, like a cat's in the dark-- and it was staring quite intently at them.

It stared for a moment. Natalie did not dare breathe, and nor did Raumon. Had it seen the green light? Was it simply curious, or something else?

Then, after a few moments of agonizing deliberation, the monkey turned away, as though disinterested. It did not run off, but it likewise did not come any closer. Like so many other digimon they had encountered in passing, it did not seem to want to trouble them nor be troubled in return.

For whatever reason, Natalie still found herself unable to relax as every possible worst-case scenario -- for the monkey, for Sam and Gelermon, for everyone here -- ran through her head on repeat. She didn't immediately realize, as she stared intently out into the dark, that the monkey was gone.


The far side of the hill was only barely a gentler slope than the side they had come up, but it went much faster because Frekimon was much bolder. Sam held tightly to her back as she bounded down the hill, digging her claws into the dirt to slow her descent rather than waste time finding footholds.

"You don't have to come with," Frekimon said. She did not object to him being with her, of course, but she was -- she fully realized -- pulling quite a stupid move, and a hypocritical one at that judging by not only her actions earlier that day, but her own stated comments in the immediate past.
But something far more emotional than logical sat heavy on her mind.
"Especially not for something that's basically just a fuckin'... gut feeling on my part."

"You say that now, but hey, just watch. If something goes fucky--" Sam said, but cut himself off with a grunt as Frekimon made a rough landing as the slope evened out, jostling him; his still-healing stomach twinged in objection. "... shit," he muttered, and pressed a hand to his stomach to make sure that his wound had not opened. When he was satisfied that it hadn't, he continued.
"If something goes fucked-up, I don't want you to be alone."

It was impossible not to think about what had happened to Oremon when he'd been separated from Meghan, even if none of them had paid witness to it.

Frekimon said nothing for a short time, until she said simply: "You ready?"

Sam sighed, but decided not to press it. "Go for it," he said.
Frekimon looked over her shoulder, trying to conceal her vague concern but doing a mediocre job of it; Sam rolled his eyes gave her a thumbs-up before dropping his hand to grab a hold of her fur. She nodded and took off at a run, taking long leaping strides; quite different from the brisk pace they usually travelled at, this was a proper sprint.

She wasn't from here, per se, but any one village looked the same as the next. But even if this wasn't a village she had seen before, these hinterlands had once been her home, in a manner of speaking, and she knew what she had heard. That howl had been familiar to her-- she had felt compelled to answer it. She had held off, of course, but she hadn't been able to just ignore it.
This wasn't playing hero like the others had been doing, right? This was something else.

That's what she told herself, anyway.

At a full tilt run, the space between them and the orange glow of the village was all but insignificant. This was mitigated by the fact that they were not, in fact, headed straight for the village itself, but rather approaching at an angle, towards the hill on which they had seen the dark shape. They hit a straightaway of sorts, the land more evening out for a few hundred feet, when--

"Sonic Ear!"

Sam clung vice-tight to Frekimon's back as she leapt deftly out of the way of a digimon that came tearing out of the grass at high speed with a shower of dirt and pebbles, twisting its body to slash out with fast-moving blades attached to its head.

One supposes one always has to anticipate someone keeping watch.

"New Moon Fire!" Frekimon was readying her attack before she landed on the ground, sending a blast of green fire at the attacking digimon. It took the attack straight-on, or it initially seemed to-- it raised metal claws and slashed as Frekimon's attack contacted it, dispersing the fireball into embers.

It was mammalian, almost like a mole or a rabbit, with massive red claws attached to metal armor around its forelegs. Its ears were long and transitioned smoothly from flesh to blades; they had been what it had been attacking with. It was only a little bit smaller than Frekimon herself, so where it had come from was a mystery-- though if they looked closely, they would have been able to see a bored hole in the ground from which it had emerged.

There was no time to appreciate that, though, because it gritted its teeth, leapt forward on powerful haunches, and took aim at Frekimon with its massive claws. It snarled inarticulately, attacking claws-first as it hurled itself through the air.

"Real tired of this shit," Frekimon muttered to herself as she feinted out of the way, again with Sam holding as tight as he could onto her back. The hostile digimon's claws sank into the earth, and for a brief moment, it was still as it had to extricate itself. Frekimon began to gather up another fireball in her mouth, but it fizzled out as Sam nudged her side with his leg.

"Just keep moving," he said hastily. "Probably a scout for the village or something, so if we leave it and alone it'll probably back off."

Frekimon growled, but Sam's argument reached her. She took a half-step back from the hostile digimon as it pulled its claws out of the dirt and, before it could turn around, she took off bounding towards the hillside that was their original destination.
Sam looked over his shoulder, and grimaced as the big-clawed digimon did not seem satisfied with simply chasing them off, and was much more in the mood to quite literally give chase.

It was wickedly fast, and gained ground on Frekimon quickly.

"Ah, right," Frekimon said with a tinge of bitterness in her voice, as though she were remembering quite reluctantly. "Prairiemon are speedy little fuckers."

"Sonic Ear!" the Prairiemon cried. Its long blade-ears glowed with energy as it lunged forward with frightening speed, tossing its head so as to strike out at Frekimon's tail and haunches. The attack connected and Frekimon stumbled, which at this speed meant she fell to the ground; Sam clung tight for as long as he could, but he took his losses as Frekimon fell forward, skidding ahead of her.
(This was not a good day for taking full-speed collisions. Not that there was ever a good day, really, but that's beside the point.)

"Shit!" Sam blurted.

Frekimon's attention shot to her partner immediately, which was probably a mistake, as the Prairiemon wasted no time leaping at her. She rolled just in time to avoid those big metal claws making contact with her face, and she gritted her teeth as emerald fire licked around her muzzle.
"New Moon Fire!"

The Prairiemon took the brunt of the attack, slashing wildly at the air as the green fire singed its whiskers and blackened its fur. Frekimon got to her feet; the wounds on her hindquarters were shallow and the pain was fading quickly, and she powered through as she straightened up.

"The fuck is your problem! We didn't do shit to you!" Frekimon snapped. "We're trying to leave you alone!"

The Prairiemon gritted its teeth and raised its claws in a battle stance. "You're going to go get backup, right?" it spat, its voice a bitter laugh. "Don't bullshit me! I saw the green light! I knew you were signalling to it!"

Frekimon groaned in exasperation and rolled her eyes, and she reared up onto her hind legs.
Behind her, Sam remained lying on the ground, practically curled up in pain. He placed a hand on his stomach, and winced as he felt a warm dampness. Surprisingly, rolling a few meters does not do great things for a barely-week-old wound in your stomach. Who'd have thunk it?

"Don't know what you've got in your head but I'm not exactly popular 'round these parts," Frekimon muttered. "And I have literally no interest in attacking your little podunk town." She spread her paws out wide in a gesture to show she had nothing to hide, but the Prairiemon was clearly unconvinced as it lunged for her again. The fire around her paws ignited in full. "Ravenous Hunter!" she cried, rushing forward with a downward slash. Her claws met the Prairiemon's, and hers won out. With a scrape and a clang, Prairiemon stumbled backwards, teeth gritted.

Frekimon ceded a little ground, taking a half-backwards step. She did not take her eyes off of the Prairiemon. She knew, if she pushed the issue, she could beat it with minimal effort; its one attack that had connected had been a cheap shot, after all, and if it was actually a threat but hiding its power, she could just evolve. She knew, however, that this would be overkill.
(And, more importantly, they didn't need another village pissed at them--)
But Prairiemon was not in a mood to be argued with, as evidenced by the fact that it leapt, claws-first, at Frekimon again.

It was now much, much closer, and accompanied by the thudding fall of a heavy beast cracking through tree branches and knocking stones aside.

"Piss," Sam said aloud as he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees.

Prairiemon steeled itself, and Frekimon gritted her teeth and chanced a glance over her shoulder.

At the foot of the nearest hill, emerging out of the sparse trees, was a big bestial shape. Even with the hazy sky blocking out the moonlight, it provided its own atmospheric acid-green glow. It was big, and black, with a metal mask covered in scratches, wicked claws, and a mane of sickly green fire that provided that aforementioned lighting. Its body was covered in scars and its fur was shaggy, but it was unmistakable for what it was.

With a metallic roar, the Grimmon reared down as though preparing to charge.

Frekimon whipped all the way around at record speed, hurling herself towards Grimmon with a ferocity that might have been surprising if not for the fact that Sam was between her and it. She became a streak of green light, wasting no time.

"Frekimon, conduction evolve to... Xolomon!"
The light burst apart as she touched the ground, revealing her ultimate form. She reared down to prepare to pounce, her teeth bared under her skull mask.

The Grimmon roared again, a harsh metallic rasp. It charged, clearly taking Xolomon's appearance as a challenge.



Grimmon's body was engulfed in green fire; at the same moment, Xolomon's turned shadowy, and she was quickly replaced by a black spectral wolf closer to Grimmon's size. The shadowy wolf's jaws met Grimmon's claws and burst apart in a shower of motes of darkness and acid-green embers. As the shadow vanished, Xolomon was right where she started-- except quick as blinking, she was dodging to the side, a partial ring of green fire appearing in the air around her.

Sam stumbled -- holding his stomach with one hand and his D-Rive with the other -- back to where Prairiemon was standing, claws raised in a defensive stance but seeming unable to move.
"We're not with it, if that wasn't-- shit-- proof enough for you," he said, poorly biting back a wince.

Prairiemon glanced at him and tensed for a moment, but then lowered its arms. It seemed to have cooled off significantly.
"Are you with the other one?" it -- or rather, he -- said. Sam couldn't help but notice that its wording and vocal style were weirdly stilted, though more out of what seemed to be awkwardness than anything more sinister.

"Uh, yeah. I was on her back."

"... I did not see you. I was only focused on the wolf."

"Tunnel vision, huh," Sam said dryly. "I get that.

"... how did it evolve like that?"

"... you know, that's a great question," Sam said, looking at his D-Rive.

"Eclipse Corona!" Xolomon cried, a ring-shaped blast of emerald fire meeting the harsh-green flames of Grimmon's mane, releasing the most horrid stench of sulfur and brimstone.

"Black Metal!" The Grimmon leapt forward, its claws growing darker as it attacked and getting even darker as it drew blood from Xolomon's side. She did not take this lying down, retaliating in short order:


The shadowy wolf bumrushed Grimmon and burst apart after taking a chunk out of its shoulder in retaliation. When Xolomon reappeared she was again taking the chance to put distance between herself and Grimmon. Grimmon was close to close the distance, only to recieve a blast of green fire in the face-- which it quickly returned in kind.

The two were equally matched-- which, Sam supposed, made sense. This Grimmon was a lot less... well. Less out of control, compared to the one he was used to seeing.

"Guess I never really thought about there being more than one of them," Sam muttered, then stopped himself before he said anything too incriminating. Even so, Prairiemon fixed him with a curious look. So Sam did what Sam did best: he deflected. "The hell-dog been bothering you?" he said, inclining his head towards Grimmon.

"Sometimes we go months without seeing it. But it always comes back," Prairiemon said. "I saw green light. I thought I might have a chance to head it off." There was a kind of bitterness in his voice, and truth be told, Sam kind of understood. It was an unstated so much for that theory.
As he spoke, the prairie dog digimon's eyes fell downwards to Sam's stomach.
"You are injured."

"... eh," Sam said dismissively, turning away. He didn't want to say that it wouldn't have reopened if the Prairiemon hadn't gone aggro on them, but he did certainly think it a little pettily. At least Prairiemon seemed to have had a fairly quick change of heart. Kudos for that. Enough to make Sam not mouth off quite so much, at least.

Prairiemon tilted his head. "I can take you back to the village while they fight," he said, pointing a claw at Xolomon and Grimmon. "To fix that," and he accentuated that with a claw gesture at Sam's stomach. "As apology for inconveniencing you."

Sam blinked and furrowed his brow, until it occurred to him-- the Prairiemon didn't seem to know, exactly, who they were. His only beef with them had been an association with the Grimmon that was giving him grief.
"I'll pass," Sam said. "I don't want to leave my friend alone."

"And you can't fight?"

Sam paused. Did this overgrown prairie dog just think Sam was some kind of weird digimon? "Probably not a good idea," he said as diplomatically as he could.
He tried not to think about how frustrating it was.

"I see."

Xolomon was being careful that they did not get any closer to Sam. Every time she gained distance, she made sure to make it in the opposite direction. The problem was that this was leading them closer and closer to the trees from which Grimmon had emerged, which -- in case you have forgotten -- is something of a dangerous prospect when dealing with digimon who mostly use fire-based attacks.

As Sam and Prairiemon watched, Grimmon tackled Xolomon, sending both wolves tumbling top over bottom for a few meters. Grimmon loomed over Xolomon's face, its breath putrid and hot, as it lifted a paw to place its claws on her throat. Xolomon gritted her teeth, and then, taking advantage of the momentary shift in balance, jammed her hind legs into Grimmon's stomach. This dislodged Grimmon, but only for a moment.

"Hellfire!" it roared, lunging straight for Xolomon before she had the chance to right herself, sending both of them crashing into the nearest trees. Xolomon gritted her teeth and put her all into a full-body tackle to shove Grimmon away. The two entangled again in a flurry of claws and teeth and metal and bone, resulting in Grimmon backpedalling a short distance.

Xolomon stood like a guardian, holding her ground and breathing heavily. "You wanna start a fucking fire!?" she snapped, more out of frustration than anything; she had no faith that the monstrous hell-dog had much of a care for such things. She braced herself for another attack-- but while it was righting itself, Grimmon paused, seemingly at the sound of Xolomon's voice-- or, at least, her voice doing something other than calling an attack.

Then, it spoke. Its voice was as raspy as its howl had been, deep, and with a vicious edge.
"I thought it was you," he said. "Black Metal!" Without missing a beat, his claws transformed into metal as he rushed for Xolomon, who leapt out of the way with narrowed eyes.

"What, is your voice suddenly working, or just your brain?" she muttered, landing behind Grimmon, standing between him and the trees.

"Rude as you ever were," Grimmon said as he turned. Though his lips were hidden under his metal mask, the bitter curl on his face was clear in his voice. "You and I must be the last ones left now. All the rest of our pack is dead. You were right all along."


Before Grimmon even finished speaking, the spectral shadow wolf had taken Xolomon's place and lunged, jaws snapping.


-?? Years Ago-

Frekimon ran through the trees, breathing heavily. From somewhere behind her, a Boarmon released a plume of flame; she ducked, gathering up green fire of her own to lob back at the porcine digimon.
"New Moon Fire!" she called. The blast landed right in front of Boarmon, causing it to trip, crashing into the trees and snapping them like twigs.
The red flames on Boarmon's back mingled with the green flames she had shot, catching onto dry wood and underbrush in a moment. As the green flames and red flames alike began to spread, she hissed a profanity under her breath but did not stop.

Admittedly, she'd been passing through its territory, but in fairness to her, she hadn't meant to do any harm. She'd just been passing through. It had just gone full-aggro on her for no goddamn reason.

Big surprise.

The fire burned itself out before it had the chance to spread, but the plume of smoke did not go unnoticed by the town over the next hill, and surprise of all surprises, it was not the Boarmon -- god knew where it had gone -- that they blamed. Maybe she shouldn't blame them. These were dangerous, uncertain times. Anything uncertain was threatening, especially when smoke preceded its appearance.

"It" meaning "her", in this case.

She knew where she wasn't welcome even before she was met with threats.
Weren't her kind supposed to have packs, after all? If she was alone, it was suspicious; there had to be a reason for it, right?
She'd had one, once, of course-- but they'd gone to seek help from the Norns, and she had not gone with them. She had no idea what had become of them, or what would.

This kind of thing just kept happening everywhere she went. Village after city after random hut -- all of them chased her away, suspicious, quick to blame her for anything that had gone wrong. Alone, she was supsicious, but she damn well couldn't go back-- whether that was due to her own pride or her circumstances was hard to say.

Alone, she only had one way to stand a cha̷n͜c̶e̡.


-Present Day-

Grimmon ignited in his acid-green flames to counteract Xolomon's attack, and he bum-rushed her while he was at it. Xolomon feinted to the side and sunk her teeth into his shoulder but let go in revulsion as thick, rotten-tasting blood oozed like tar into her mouth. The two began to circle each other, slowly, carefully, neither taking their eyes off the other.

"Everyone else believed to the end, the entire rest of the pack," Grimmon said, his voice a low growl. "And you were right. We hated you when we heard of what you'd done. All of us did. And all it got them was used up like cannon fodder. The Norns don't care. Dinmon won't do anything. You were right all along."

Xolomon narrowed her eyes, but said nothing.
What could she say?

"Sonic Ear!"

It was now that Prairiemon came tearing towards them, the blades on his long ears glowing. He twisted his body to slash out with them, and caught Grimmon in the long scaly tail.
In the furor of the fight, they had not noticed Prairiemon -- with Sam on his back -- on the approach. Sam dismounted a short distance away before Prairiemon attacked, appreciative of not being made to run.

Let it be known that Prairiemon's decision to come in for the attack was an even more reckless move than attacking Frekimon had been, as Grimmon immediately whipped around, able to pin Prariemon with ease with one massive paw.

"The digimon who live here," Grimmon said, looking down at Prairiemon but clearly speaking to Xolomon. "I tried to seek refuge when I deserted." (Xolomon frowned.) "They refused me. Just like, I am sure, they refused you."
He pressed down, his claws digging into the Prairiemon's flesh.
"You'll be pleased to know that I have been exacting revenge for us both."

"Eclipse Corona!"

A ring-shaped blast of green fire hit Grimmon squarely in the side, and in particular on the bite on his shoulder. He howled in pain, rearing up onto his hind legs for just a moment. Prairiemon rolled out of the way to avoid being crushed as Grimmon's claws came back down to earth.

"What are you talking about?" Prairiemon demanded, pointing an accusing claw at Grimmon. "Why have you been--"

Grimmon did not wait for Prairiemon to finish his question. "Black Metal!" he roared, lunging at Prairiemon and slashing. The attack hit squarely, sending Prairiemon all but flying, tumbling over himself backwards.
Sam looked frantically between Xolomon and Prairiemon; Xolomon locked eyes and gave him a quick nod, and he nodded back. He moved quick as he could to check on Prairiemon.
Prairiemon was breathing heavily, with huge gouges torn into his arms and chest; even the metal surrounding his hands had deep grooves torn into them from where he had tried to shield his face, for all the good that had done him.

There wasn't a lot he could do, but--

"I'll be fine," Prairiemon gritted out.

Good to confirm that, Sam supposed.

Xolomon pounced and slashed out at Grimmon, but Grimmon knocked her aside with a metal claw in the middle of bursting into flame.

He didn't wait a moment, his front quarters engulfed in flame as he leapt-- at Prairiemon and Sam.

It was, understandably, the latter part of this that spurred Xolomon to immediate action.

"Back the fuck off! Mooneater!"

The shadow wolf that Xolomon became was larger than before, wilder, with its edges more ragged and flickering like fire. It snarled and snapped, dragging its spectral claws deep into Grimmon's side, more like a stabbing sword more than a raking claw. It slashed out again -- more than once, more than usual -- imbued with a ferality beyond even its norm.

It burst apart into nothingness in due time, but when it did, Grimmon had fallen onto side, and Xolomon -- the moment she reappeared -- lunged Grimmon again. This time, she was successful, and she pinned him down as he lay on his side, her claws not quite drawing blood.

"And here I thought you'd be happy," Grimmon said sardonically, through gritted teeth.

"Why would I be happy." It wasn't really a question.
This was supposed to be the last member of her old pack, but she couldn't remember anything about him-- she couldn't even verify if he was who he claimed to be. She couldn't imagine what reason he might have to lie, but this -- this chance meeting -- should have been a profound reunion.
Instead, here she was, worrying about not setting fires and protecting her partner.

"Hellfire!" Grimmon began; even lying on the ground, his flames roared to life.

"Eclipse Corona!"

Her emerald flames drowned his out. Her ring of fire burst magnificently as it crashed at point blank into Grimmon, like emerald stars.
Her paws hit the ground with a dull thud as, with a flash of distortion, Grimmon exploded into motes of light.

As Prairiemon pushed himself upright with a grunt, Xolomon's head hung low as though it were suddenly heavy. Her body was covered in burns and gashes; feathers had been torn out of her headdress, and a crack ran down her skull mask.
Sam was already in the middle of crossing to Xolomon. He approached carefully, though he didn't really have to.

He reached out to pat Xolomon's side, though his hand hovered for a moment, as though considering whether he should or not. He ultimately did, hand coming down on her dirty, blood-caked fur-- but his hand was dirty and blood-stained itself, so it was fine.
"So let's not tell the others that we exploded a digimon on our little field trip, huh," he said dryly. "I feel like it wouldn't gel so well with birdy-boy's new no-killing policy."

Xolomon turned to look at him and snorted humorlessly, but she smiled just faintly.

Prairiemon, who by this time had gotten to his feet -- a little wobbly, but intact -- and was trudging towards them, spoke. He had not heard most of what the two canine digimon had spoken about while they fought; to him, Xolomon was simply a passing traveler who had dealt with a problem.
"Not only do I owe you an apology for attacking you, many of us living here owe you a great deal," he said. "That digimon has been giving trouble to not only my village, but countless others across--"

"Forgive me for interrupting," Xolomon said, though she didn't really sound that sorry, "but I didn't do this for you. We're not exactly in the business of running around and solving other peoples' problems for them."

Prairiemon tilted his head, slightly confused. "But even so."
Even so, it had still worked out.
He paused, and looked to Sam. "Now that your friend is not fighting, and you would not be leaving her alone, would you allow the digimon of my village to attend to your wound? It looks like she could use the assistance as well," he said, looking to Xolomon.

Sam and Xolomon exchanged sidelong looks, and tried not to grimace.
"We'll pass. We know a doctor digimon," Sam said after a moment. Prairiemon looked skeptical, but then nodded.

"The offer stands," he said, and cast a look over his shoulder towards the village. "I should go back," he said, with a little bit of dread in his voice, looking down at his wounds.

Xolomon paused for a moment, then knelt down so Sam could climb onto her back. She crossed to Prairiemon -- just barely smaller than her as Frekimon, now quite dwarfed by her stature as Xolomon.
She knelt again.
"Come on. May as well."


They dropped Prairiemon a good distance away from the village, but closer than they had been; she didn't really want to get any closer.

"I'll make sure to tell them who took care of our problem," Prairiemon said as he disembarked, but Xolomon shook her head.

"Nah. Don't. You just go ahead and take all the glory and we'll call it even for you trying to tear my legs off."

Prairiemon opened his mouth to object, but with a flick of her green-fire tail, Xolomon took off.


As they moved, Xolomon filled Sam in on the details that he had missed-- why she had wanted to investigate the howl, what Grimmon had said. He listened with only occasional snarky comment. They went as far as the hill from which they had started before Xolomon devolved-- and this time, they were careful to be a little bit on the far side from the village before she went up in green light. No need to signal to them again, or any other free agents lying in wait, or whatever the fuck.

"Can you make it the rest of the way?" Gelermon said as the light faded away, leaving her a little scruffy, a little dirty, but no worse for the wear that Xolomon had weathered. Without delay, they began the rest of the trek down the hill, walking quite carefully as they did.

"Should be fine," Sam said. "Gonna have to wake Raumon up to get some woogie healing magic, though. Hurts like a bitch."

"It's only been a week," Gelermon said, nudging his hand with her nose.

"Any time you get hurt you can just transformation-sequence back to normal."

"Won't lie that it is convenient."

Sam put his hands in his pockets and fell quiet for a few seconds.
"You doing alright?"

"Why wouldn't I be," Gelermon said, in the exact tone of voice that one uses when they're being defensive. Sam didn't have to say anything for her to know what he meant, though, and she shrugged.
"If you mean do I feel great about killing some hell-beast who claimed to know me pre-mindfuck," she gestured with wiggly fingers around her head to emphasize mindfuck, "then of course I don't, but if you think I'm going to sit up and be tormented by it, the answer is also no."

Sam paused then nodded. "Sorry I couldn't do much to, you know, help."

Gelermon looked at him. "If I had been dealing with it alone, I'd probably have been a lot more torn up about it. Probably would have heard some shitty little whispers. But I didn't. It's hard to feel too bad about someone claiming to be part of a group that did you dirty in the past, when you've got a better group of your own now."

Sam groaned. "Oh, fuck me, that's cheesy."

"Isn't it?" Gelermon said with an appropriately wolfish grin.

They grew quieter as they approached the makeshift camp; by this time, the sky above was starting to gradually grow light in that pre-dawn sort of way. It was with a curious sort of guilt that they came on the approach.
"I certainly hope someone else has been keeping watch," Sam said, more to himself than to Gelermon, but she nodded her agreement. Indeed, they could plainly see Raumon -- even despite his dark feathers in the low light -- perk up and point at them, tugging on Natalie's arm as they came into view.

The camp was more or less in the same state it had been left, which was not surprising-- most nights were excrutiatingly boring. Natalie and Raumon sat beside Peter, who was asleep sitting up with Banmon curled around his shoulders; everyone else was various kinds of asleep, some in more peculiar sleeping postures than others.
Natalie rose and moved to meet them, a little ways away from the group so as not to disturb anyone. Raumon was hot on her heels, as usual.

"Looks like you've had... a time," Natalie said, giving the two up and down.

"You know how it goes," Sam said, hands stuffed in his pockets.

Natalie paused. "I mean. ... yeah."

Raumon looked like he was going to say something, then thought better of it. "Are you alright?" he said instead, glancing between the two.

"I'll explain," Gelermon said, then jerked her head at Sam. "After you give him some magic painkillers, birdy-boy."


Prairiemon, covered in wounds and apparently with quite a story to tell, was quite prepared to share that story with the rest of the night guard and the scouts. As they began to trickle back in from their patrols, he listened patiently as one by one the digimon who went before him shared what they had seen, what information they had gathered, what threats to their village they had taken care of. Most of them were mundane as they usually were, but only one digimon -- Rabbitmon -- was more excited to tell his story than Prairiemon was.

"I heard from a traveler, not even an hour ago," Rabbitmon said, "that the Shrine of the Norns and the city close to it have burned. That's what's made all the smoke." A murmur of interest rippled through the gathered, and admittedly ragtag, assembly. "We may have refugees coming to our village in the coming days."

"What would have done that?" Prairiemon asked, indignant, feeling a rage boiling up inside him. Even those who did not follow the Norns left their shrine alone-- and that was setting aside setting a city ablaze.

"What the traveler told me," Rabbitmon said, clearly relishing in getting to have everyone's attention, "is that it was the Refugees."
The murmur grew stronger; they had all heard rumors that they were back over the past couple of weeks, but nothing concrete had emerged yet. "Apparently they'd been seen that day, and then they were seen again running from the flames."


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