Episode 27: Lost Time

"Well, that worked, didn't it?"

"More of a delay than you ever won us, steroidmon."

In the dim room, a trickle of smoke began to siphon up through the cobblestone floor, slowly taking form. There was a momentary pause, before:

"Welcome back, Magoriamon," the second speaker drawled, seeming rather satisfied. "I take it they assume you...?"

Magoriamon snorted, closing his eyes-- even so, the painted-on eyes on his mask stared straight ahead. He put a hand to his temple. "Something as simple as a faked death? Little lightshow, empty egg left behind? Please. Don't underestimate me, Epiddles. ... Epidemon."

"You couldn't hold them up for more than two weeks?" the first speaker snapped, smashing his fist into a rock pedestal, sending a crack down its length. Magoriamon raised an eyebrow.

"It's not my fault that you can't get anything done with the time I'm buyin' you, puppydog," the imp taunted, and the smirk painted on its mask only added to the tone-- and then he leapt out of the way to avoid the incoming fist.

"Don't press your luck!"

"Leave my subordinates alone, Cujo," Epidemon sneered, laying back. "Beat up your own, if that's what you need to feel like a big mon. Or a playground bully, whichever, I don't know what your ego needs. At least mine are actually doing something."

"They're making up for your inability to do anything but sit around and be a smart--"

"Temper, temper, Javer-baby."

"You are completely useless!"

"Geeze, cut back on the roid-rage, will 'ya?"

Further conversation was cut short by soft footsteps, and an equally soft voice-- but the soft tone barely hid a vast wealth of disdain. "You do realize you're not getting anything done by arguing like children?" All three digimon in attendance stood at attention (or, rather, Magoriamon and Javermon did-- Epidemon was still sitting down, but he sat up straighter) as Era's inexplicable entrance.

He had a penchant for doing that.

The three digimon stayed in silence, waiting.
Era cast his gaze over each of them in turn, his face impassive; he sighed, and took off his glasses to polish them on his shirt.

"You've wasted time." There was no small amount of irritation in his voice-- as though he thought the idea, or perhaps the very things he were speaking to, were thoroughly below him. "But you have a setup. Take it. The Sovereigns won't be fooled, but as far of the rest of the Digital World is concerned..." He put his glasses back on.

***

Meanwhile, back on the farm (or more literally, back in the Wild Mountains and thus far away from anything resembling a farm), seven digimon and seven humans were trying very hard to try and grasp what they were being told. They were doing this by means of taking off immediately, Rafikmon only barely to keep pace with the harried, hurried group that took off at a mad dash almost immediately upon hearing the news.

The sun was starting to go down, leaving what heat the ground had absorbed to dissipate and leaving the air with quite a chill. It had been several hours since they had escaped Magoriamon's illusion, and they hadn't taken much of a break from moving since-- even though more than half of them were still trying to shake off the effects of their being knocked out.

Julian and Iguamon had reasoned (read: guessed) that they had probably been in a bit of a time dilation, and thus had only been out for a few hours from their perspective while more time passed outside of the glass dome they had been in. It didn't help, really, but the thought of not having been out cold for two weeks straight was a bit of a comfort.

"Gonna, freakin', die here, buddy," Faris groaned, almost doubling over and breathing heavy, stumbling to a stop as he tripped over a rock. Prompted by Faris, the group on the whole came to a sort of awkward stop.

"We're... almost there," Rafikmon surmised, casting a look to the rising moon. He had been instructing them throughout their madcap run towards the next area-- where Deekamon had told them to go. It was fortunately close, compared to others, but...

"There's no way," Kamomon squawked breathlessly, "that we can make it tonight. My feet feel like they're going to fall off."

A murmur of agreement passed through the digimon, complaining of aching flippers and sore hooves to just plain pained paws. Even Sampamon had slithered under her own power for a while to give her partner's a reprieve from carrying him, but she was currently draped over Luke's shoulders like so many wet noodles.
This was to say nothing of the kids, with stitches in their sides and a shortage of breath, red in the face and breathing hard.

Even almost on the verge of passing out, Emily groaned. "But... we've lost so much time," she lamented, but almost teetered over now that she was standing still. Kamomon was quick to help her sit down on the dusty ground. Like dominoes falling, the others followed suit, some less gracefully than others. Drenched with sweat as they were, the fact that the temperature had dropped began to set in.

"I don't figure it's terribly safe to build a fire," Andrea supposed, huffing out a bit of an unamused breath.

"No," Rafikmon affirmed almost immediately, sitting down and crossing his legs. There was a momentary pause (wherein most of the gathered groaned), before the monkey smiled just a bit. "But I suggest you do it anyway. Frozen Chosen Children do nobody any good."

Immediately the children and their digimon set off in attempts to find fuel for a fire-- Rajamon could easily provide the actual flame, of course, but there was nothing without actual fuel for it.
It was scarce to find, and they wound up sweeping a fair amount of space looking for suitable plant matter.

"I can feel my hands going numb, broski," Faris complained to Julian, with whom he was gathering.

"Mm," Julian replied, nodding his head.

Faris raised his eyebrows. "Now don't show too much emotion there, Jules."

"He's just thinking, I think, yeom," Delfinimon piped up, nodding her head in a self-satisfied way; Iguamon nodded back to the dolphin in affirmation.

"Huh. What about?" Faris mumbled, trying to read his sibling's expression to no avail.

Julian waited a few seconds before he responded.
"What does it mean if we've been missing for two weeks?" he said, casting a look to his younger brother, who raised his eyebrows. "If we've been nowhere, then what does the rest of the digital world think?"

Faris frowned and furrowed his brow. They had known that they had lost time-- what could Era have done in the time they had missed -- but one of the most obvious problems had failed to come to mind. "They'd think we're..." Dawning realization. "Ah, crap."
Iguamon nodded his head slowly. The dinosaur closed his eyes and breathed out, his nostrils flaring.

"Ah, heck, man. I donno," Faris said. They had a small pile of things that would burn, but probably not for long-- but to go much further would result in losing sight of Rafikmon and Luke, who agreed to "hold their spot", so to speak. He breathed out, and rubbed his arms. It was cold, and his tank-top wasn't cutting it. "Let's go back, man."

"I second the motion," Delfinimon said, already taking off towards the point of origin. Faris was quick to follow, but before he could go very far, he felt a small weight added to his shoulders. At that moment, Julian passed by him, devoid of his usual green vest and carrying the entirety of what they had gathered for fire fuel.

Iguamon hung back. There was something or another on the dinosaur's mind, but his face didn't show it. He looked up at Faris, who now had his older brother's vest around his shoulders-- it wasn't much, but it was something.
"Ah, man, awkward," the boy chuckled, taking off after the others. Iguamon promptly followed.

The two brothers and their partners weren't the first back-- Simon and Emily, and their respective partners, had already come back, meaning they were waiting on Toby and Andrea. Between the two there was a decent little pile of fire-fodder, but the actual firestarter was still away.

"Geeze, I hope Andrea's not tearing Pipsqueak down for, I donno... not collecting stuff right," Simon was mumbling, looking in the direction that the last two had gone, as Julian and Faris came within range.

"She's not really that bad," Emily said, hugging her knees to her chest. "Y'know. Just... abrasive. 'Zzat the word?"

Faris was tempted to make some sort of crack about yeah, she's only a firebreathing dragon, but elected against it, instead sitting down unceremoniously. Delfinimon immediately threw herself over his lap with some thoroughly unnecessary dramatics.

"Oh, Faris, I am slain by all this manual labor, yeom!" she cried out, grinning and throwing a fin to her forehead as though she were swooning.

Iguamon smirked a little bit. He elbowed Julian in the leg and jerked his thumb towards Delfinimon once Julian looked. "What she said." This one little comment from the dino sent Egakumon and Kamomon into a fit of laughter-- why, who knew that Iguamon had anything approaching a sense of humor? With that going on, it was easy to miss the return of the final pair.

"I think we missed something," Lammon's voice said, quiet as ever; the little sheep had a smile on her face, as did her partner. Andrea then dropped the contents of her arms into the pile-- actual sticks and bits of scrap wood, scrounged from who-knew-where, and easily doubling their kindling.

"And guess who wins again," Rajamon said, sticking his tongue out at Egakumon.

Egakumon immediately countered by pulling at the sides of his mouth with his claws to pull a silly face at the tiger. "Wasn't a contest!"

"Says the loser." With that, and a puff of breath, Rajamon gently blew a stream of flame onto the pile, eventually causing it to ignite. Within a few moments, they had a small fire going-- and while it wasn't much, it was exponentially better than nothing. With luck, it would last a couple of hours-- with similar luck, they'd be asleep by then and it'd be less of an issue.

"You know," Sampamon said quietly from around her partner's neck -- the two were sitting near Rafikmon, having resolved to against the monkey for heat until the fire was made -- such that only Luke himself could hear her, "you are allowed to be a part of this. And moreover, I'm cold." Luke sighed (maybe even rolled his eyes) and scooted closer to the little fire. Sampamon smiled.

"Pardon my guilt complex," Luke said in a hushed voice to the snake, but a smile played on his lips.

"Welcome to the party," Simon said with his usual sort of grin plastered across his face, knees pulled up near his chest.
There was barely the room around the little fire for all seven pairs, but there was still room enough. Rafikmon hung back where he was; Toby craned his neck to look at the monkey.

"Uhm, you okay?"

The monkey lifted his head, then subsequently bowed it. "My kind are from the tundra, small one," he said. "These temperatures are nothing to me."

And that was that.
There was no food to be had, but the gurgling of stomachs was overtaken simply by the joy of not being in motion-- and the sound was handily covered up by conversation. The digimon finally had a chance to welcome Sampamon, in her child form, to their midsts-- today was, after all, the first time they had ever actually seen her in her rightful form, not merely in statue form or Deekamon's drawings in the dirt.

"Finally feels like things are the way they should be, yeah?" Kamomon chuckled, stretching out his wings. The bird paused, as a thought struck him. "Well, I mean aside from the fact that... everything. But we're finally all together in child form, yeah?"

"Like we can take on the woooorld," Egakumon said in a singsong voice, splaying his hands wide and tilting his head back.

"And we may well have to," Sampamon added with a yawn.

Rajamon gave a bit of a dark chuckle and nodded. "We still need to see you in Adult and Perfect forms. You know, show us what you've got."

"Give her time," Lammon chided, but she was smiling. "She's only just now back in Child form."

The children watched this exchange carry out, somewhat amused. Any conversation was short lived, as there was no member of those assembled that wasn't horrifically exhausted-- and moreover, they couldn't shake the feeling that there was something bad set to happen -- or had already happened.

Rafikmon took it upon himself to find a small cave a short walk away-- really, just a single chamber in the side of a rock-face wall, but protection from the elements nonetheless. After extinguishing their fire the group trekked towards and into it, and very nearly collapsed immediately once settled in.
Perhaps amusingly, many of the humans made a point of getting as close to Rafikmon in the little cave as they could, and their digimon followed suit-- the giant primate's body heat was nothing to shirk.

In a sort of cloudy haze, the little pack of resistance fighters drifted to sleep.

***

The morning came with the sun rising, imbuing heat back into the world around the little cavern... and with the dawn breaking, so broke a sound that was uncomfortably familiar to Luke and Sampamon-- and it sounded like it was coming from right outside.

"Wakey-wakey, ya load of freeloaders!"

"Wait here. Whatever you do, don't show yourselves," Rafikmon hissed quietly. Following that, he barely gave notice to the kids as he suddenly darted out of the cave on all fours, his jaw set. The kids could only hear "What do you want!?" the monkey demanded, audibly pounding his fists into the ground.

The snide voice returned-- it sounded like it was coming from above, perhaps as though if the speaker were standing on the top of the face in which the little cavern was situated. "Ah, monkey! Good. You'd know. Me and my friends -- alright, coworkers, I hate them all -- have heard some rather unpleasant news! Though, y'can see, it's just me today, so you're in luck." This was followed by a terrible giggle.

"See, we've heard you've been giving harbor to the brats. Again. You're on strike two, Raffy-baby. ... Though maybe it should be all the way up to three, last time it was just one, after all... and now you've got a full set! And been hiding them for two weeks, tsk-tsk."

"What on earth is going on out there?" Emily whispered, frowning deeply. The mocking tone of the invisible-to-the-group speaker set them all on edge, and the words themselves...

There was a soft thud, a light "pmf" as the mystery speaker leapt from his perch. "Again, you're lucky it's just me. Were the puppy-dog here, you'd be an egg as we speak... and just between you and me, the little puffball ain't too smart." Pause. "Stay there."

With that, there was suddenly a loud noise, the sound of a scuffle and something heavy hitting the wall, followed by a dark shape appearing at the mouth of the cave. He was illuminated only from behind, but he was tallish, and gangly, and wore a coat that his thin body didn't fill out in the slightest. Rusty wing-like attachments sprang forth from his shoulder-blades, and huge gloves covered thin forearms. There was a hat on his head, and the strangest bird-like face could barely be made out in the darkness, red eyes like pinpricks shining out.
"Why, I feel like I'm meeting celebrity," he sneered.

As if on cue, the kids' D-GEARs began to chirp-- not that they were listening.

Epidemon. Mega-level demon man digimon. A digimon consumed by bitterness and hate, it causes chaos and fear wherever it goes. Able to move silently in the darkness, it attacks using deadly viruses with attacks like Bad Air and Contagion.

The digimon before them mimed wiping away a tear. "It understands me." With a giggle, he peered in at the kids and their digimon -- who were almost frozen in place. "In case you missed the memo, my name's Epidemon, and I'll be your host this morning!"

"Let me guess," Rajamon mumbled, his eyes narrowing. "You're with Era."

"Among the finest," the strange digimon said with a bow. "How'd you guess? Oh, wait, is it that three-fourths of the digital world serve Lord Era?"

"I'm really starting to hate this guy, yeom," Delfinimon said deadpan; Epidemon's red eyes focused on the dolphin. Though they couldn't see his face clearly, they could almost tell he was smiling.

"Good." His eyes then swivelled to focus on Luke, and he giggled again. "Long time no see."

"Shut up," the newest human member of the team mumbled.

"Oh, but Forbidramon," and the word was said like poisoned honey, "you had the highest rate of kills per day. Even more than Javermon. That's nothing to laugh at." And yet Epidemon was laughing, barely containing his giggles-- not least of all because Luke and Sampamon were both looking pointedly uncomfortable, growing more so by the second.

"Today, on 'things that aren't as funny as you seem to think they are'," Faris mumbled quietly.

"It's not my problem that your sense of humor sucks, buddy-boy," Epidemon sneered, smiling-- he knew full well to whom he was speaking, the holder of the Virtue of Humor. "Now don't worry, kiddos. I'm not here to kill you," and he paused here, "though I'd have no problem were I to. Both in that I wouldn't mind it for a moment and it'd be easy. I'm just here to tell you something. ... two things."

"And what would that be," Simon mumbled, clenching his fists-- hating the sense of helplessness they were stuck in. A small area, an enemy of what he could only presume was even a higher level than Perfect... And moreover, they still couldn't see their foe clearly, his back to the light. One almost got the impression he was doing this for the dramatics.

"First is this!" Epidemon suddenly walked away-- just momentarily. Before the kids could return, he walked back into their sight and holding a barely-conscious Rafikmon by the throat. "Don't screw with the forces of Lord Era, kids."
He clenched his hand tight, and with a burst of light the blue monkey dissolved into data. An egg fell to the ground, and he left it there.

"Don't you d--" Andrea snarled out, gritting her teeth-- and again, Epidemon laughed.

"Don't worry. I'm not going to absorb it." And again, he looked pointedly at Sampamon and Luke. "That's below even me. Really, buddy, you did know that even the rest of us thought that was pretty low-down of you?"

"Shut up!" Luke blurted again, this time joined by Sampamon yelling the same simultaneously.

"Oh, but it's so much fun," Epidemon taunted.

"You've got issues! Ocean Blast!" Kamomon squawked out, opening his mouth to blast a high-pressure water jet at Epidemon. It didn't seem to be conscious, more just of a reflex to the foes' insufferable personality.

Perhaps to be expected, it was as though Epidemon had been hit by a drop of water-- he felt perhaps mildly annoyed, but no damage was done. "And the second is this, and I feel this is a good time to say it," Epidemon continued.
"Feel free to quit now," he sneered. "Before you drag more digimon into your fight. Digimon that could live if you hadn't forced them to harbor and help you. Lord Era's plan is already in motion, after all. My, ah, co-workers are on the job as we speak. Retreat now and you -- well, the humans, at least -- will live."
Pause.
"Not that you pig-headed kids are going to heed a word I say, after all."

With speed not predicted from his gaunt form, the still-silhouetted Epidemon took off into the steadily-lightening morning, and was gone.

To the general surprise of most, Andrea was the first to step forward to pick up what was once Rafikmon's egg. "... if we see the loony in a cat hoodie," (she meant Deekamon) "like he said we would, we can give this to him. Probably not the best idea to just leave it around."

It was hard to argue with that.

Slowly, apprehensively, the kids started walking-- taking out their D-GEARs to guide them. Indeed, the proxy entrance wasn't far, as the map showed... but it was a bit of a walk full of trepidation. It was quiet, with little in the way of commentary.

"You knew him?" Lammon said after a while, with as much tact as she could muster, looking at Luke and Sampamon. Luke stayed focused ahead; Sampamon, on his shoulders, nodded.

"He's... one of three. Lo--" Sampamon shook her head, stopping herself. Old habits died hard, and she was just about to refer to Era with a 'Lord' prefix. "Era referred to them as the Reapers. They're... dangerous."

"Understatement," Luke mumbled. "They're his highest-ranking officers. Mega-level. I've never seen them get a scratch on them."

"They're just trying to waste our time," Iguamon said suddenly from further ahead, completely decisively.

Julian concurred, expanding on his partner's thought: "If they're that dangerous... then there's no way they're not just trying to stall for something else."

[Chapter 27: End]