Episode 7: Count the Clock

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When they came across the Clockwork City, the sight of its tall buildings, the ornate metal gates, and the bustling Digimon coming and going from it was a welcome one that the group of six ran towards eagerly.

Since coming across Anzumon, they had been travelling for almost four days, walking over flat plains with no shade or anywhere to hide from the unforgiving sun. During the day they were always too hot, and nights were so cold they all had to cuddle up together to keep warm. It had been awkward at first, however no one really complained if it meant survival against the elements.

On their third day of walking, the grass they had been familiar with began to disappear, giving way to hard, cracked earth a reddish-brown color. The grass that occasionally stuck out of the ground was brown and brittle; lifeless with no moisture in it, and here it seemed the sun was at its worst. Beating down on them relentlessly, burning Katrina's pale skin until it was blotchy and red. Grindymon took cover where she could, though her scales were drying out and beginning to crack. Blaire had resorted to carrying her jacket, uncomfortable with it on and around her waist. Ryan had done the same, and removed his outer clothing for some relief in the burning heat.

Anzumon did his best, flying slowly above them, keeping his wings open to try and shade his companions, but even he became exhausted after a while, and resorted to walking.

There was nowhere to sit and rest during the worst of the heat. It was bearable in the morning and towards the afternoon and evening, but when the sun was at its highest, it was as if its surface was barely inches away from them.

So when they finally saw the shadow of a settlement in the distance, a place they could rest, wash, and feed themselves, the six of them moved faster than they had for days.

The city came upon them quickly. A huge gate with a swinging pendulum was the first thing they saw, aside from some of the buildings, which stood taller than the gate and the walls of the city. Many of the buildings were copper-colored, some with green-tinted roofs caused by oxidization. Others were made of more natural materials: wood, mud, and daub. These buildings were much smaller than others, and gave the impression that they were houses, rather than shops and factories like the metal-covered structures.

The streets were dusty, hard but bustling. Stalls lined each side of the narrow streets, making them hard to walk down. There were creatures – Digimon of all shapes, colors, and sizes – moving around in groups and alone, some selling their wares at small wooden stalls, bartering with other Digimon. Some were just observing, window shopping before moving on. Many of the Digimon lining the streets appeared to be simply trying to get from one place to the other, but the busy and congested streets made it difficult for them to move.

The humans and their own small Digimon were paid no mind. None of the other Digimon already in the city looked or even glanced at them, which allowed them all to take in the city and its inhabitants in their own time, staring up at the taller buildings or watching the Digimon talking over one another in loud voices.

"Rey never mentioned anything like this…," Blaire admitted, stepping back as a group of small Digimon with pumpkins for heads rushed past them, knocking some of the other Digimon as they rushed by.

"No?" Muertomon replied, arching his head up to watch a flaming man walk by. "Can't say I've ever seen a place as lively as this."

"Honestly, this is not what I imagined when the words ‘Clockwork City’ were said," Katrina murmured. "I guess I was expecting… y'know, clocks?"

"Did your brother happen to mention anything about… clothes?" Ryan asked, drawing curious looks from Katrina, Blaire, and the Digimon.

Blaire's eyebrows shot up. "Oh my God!" She covered her mouth for a moment and looked Ryan up and down, then did the same to herself.

"Who redressed me?!" blurted Katrina.

Ryan turned over the hat in his hand. "Excellent question…" His t-shirts and jean shorts had all been replaced with different look, making him appear more like an adventurer. His white t-shirt had been replaced by a collared shirt in a pale coffee color, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and the top few buttons undone. He wore brown gloves on his hands, and hanging at his right hip, from his opposing shoulder, was a brown leather satchel. His pants had remained a dark denim but seemed looser than his jeans, and his heavy brown biker boots had changed places with a pair of black, lace-up combat boots that came up to his shin. A strip of fabric striped blue and black was tied around his waist. He held in his hands a brown fedora hat with a black belt around it, turning it over and over uneasily.

"You look like Indiana Jones," Katrina pointed out, smirking. "Go on, say a cliché!"

Ryan laughed awkwardly, easily pulling the hat onto his head while Anzumon examined it closely, sniffing at the item and at Ryan's other clothes.

"What's Indiana Jones?" inquired Anzumon.

"Have you seen what you're wearing?" He pointed to Katrina's new attire.

Her yellow vest top and half sleeves had changed places with an ornate, fully leather, lined corset, pulling her waist in dramatically and boosting her cleavage. The corset itself was a deep brown, with intricate gold leaves and flowers embroidered onto the surface. Across her shoulders was a bolero jacket of the same material, attached to the corset by leather straps. The jacket also had a collar which encircled Katrina's neck. Her jeans remained the same, as did her boots for the most part, only having buckles and further straps of leather attached to them.

"Well…," Katrina raised her hands in an attempt to cover herself a little, "this is awkward."

"Please," Blaire retorted cheerfully. "If you've got it…," she left the remaining words unspoken as she examined her own change of clothes.

She wore a pant-less outfit, as if it was a revealing one-piece swimsuit. The top half of the leather suit was loosely laced, decorated with gold spikes around the top. Three light brown leather belts decorated her waist, bringing it in tightly as a series of gold chains lung from them, wrapping around her body. Her gloves were made of a more patent leather, stopping at the top of her arms. Her wrist was decorated with two gold bangles. With a leather strap around her thigh, Blaire's boots had changed to a pair of brown stilettos with gold spikes and accents. Her hair was decorated with orange and yellow marigolds, a low bun placed off-center, to the left of her head.

"Why have you all changed clothes?" Grindymon asked, swooping around Katrina to examine her new appearance. "Not that I'm complaining, you all look very smart…"

"Good question," Katrina murmured. "Maybe someone here knows?"

Ryan looked at her shrewdly. "You really want to risk asking the natives?"

"Some of them might be friendly…," Katrina replied hopefully.

"Yeah," Muertomon added, "none of them are fighting. And imagine all the information on Digimon you could get here!"

Blaire stretched her hands above her head, wriggling her fingers. "Honestly, I say go with the flow. Don't you guys feel cleaner wearing a new set of clothes?"

"And you didn't even need to have a bath," Anzumon added. "That’s got to be good, right?"

"I was kind of looking forward to some water…," Grindymon murmured softly, bringing her fins up to her mouth. "It's just… it’s rather dry here and…," she trailed, becoming timid as she noticed all the eyes on her. She fled to hide behind Katrina and the redhead lightly ran her fingers through Grindymon's hair.

"That's a point," said Katrina, drawing a finger down Grindymon's drying scales. "Your skin could do with some refreshment." She turned to the others. "And I suppose it wouldn't hurt if we could find ourselves somewhere to stay for the night, to we make sure we know where we're going, and maybe gather some supplies."

"Sounds sensible," Ryan agreed. "Okay with you, Blaire?"

"Sure." She nodded and they began walking, easing their way through the noisy and busy Digimon.

"In the meantime," Muertomon spoke, trailing behind Blaire a little, "maybe you can ask why your clothes suddenly changed when you got here."

"One thing at a time," Blaire told him with a smile, "but it's a good question to ask."

As they made their way through the crowds, Ryan held his D-Ex out, registering as much information as he could about the surrounding Digimon for future reference. They asked for directions several times, to an inn or a place to stay, and the Digimon they asked were all more than happy to provide them with information.

They discovered the city was divided into sectors: the business sector, where Digimon came to barter, exchange goods and sell their commodities; the hospitality sector where the main inn was located, along with other places to rest and restaurants; the largest sector was the residential one, where actual inhabitants of the city lived; and the final area was the industrial sector, where the natives of the Clockwork City lived to keep it running. At the center of the city was a huge clock tower that chimed every fifteen minutes. It was there that all the sectors converged and divided, making it a main meeting spot for visitors and locals.

They were able to locate the inn with a little help from some passing rock Digimon named Gotsumon. The inn, creatively named Clock Inn, was a large establishment built into a building about three stories tall that went quite far back from what they could tell. It was a wooden building, with wide windows lined with pale wooden shutters. The roof had several ornaments in the shape of numbers and clock hands, and above the main entrance door were several identical clocks, each one telling the same time.

The interior was light and airy, pale cream and brown colors on the walls, with the floor a pale washed wood. There were plants in most corners, wooden benches with plush, decorative cushions, and in the main entrance a small fountain that Grindymon went straight towards and soaked herself in.

The reception, located next to a wide stairwell, was manned by two identical Digimon that the D-Ex showed were named Clockmon, and one larger Digimon that stood behind them, overseeing things. The larger Digimon was an armor clad creature with a large broadsword and shield upon its back. From the eye slit on its helmet came a large white moustache. Ryan's D-Ex told them its name was Knightmon, an Ultimate level warrior.

A few Digimon moved about and chatted quietly in the reception area, creating a light hum of noise over the sounds of the water fountain and Grindymon's splashing.

Ryan approached the counter and leaned against it, with Anzumon beside him on the ground, standing on his hind legs and perching his talons on the edge of the reception desk. Muertomon stood on tiptoes, peering over the top, while Blaire and Katrina stood to Ryan's side as back up.

They realized on their way to the inn that they had no funds with which to pay for their stay, but had decided to inquire anyway about staying the night, and the cost.

Noticing Ryan standing there, the Clockmon closest to him turned and smiled helpfully.

"Welcome to the Clock Inn," he said happily, "are you checking in?"

"We… don't actually have a booking," Ryan admitted with an awkward smile. "My friends and I were just curious to know how much a room for one night would be?"

"I'll deal with this inquiry," Knightmon's voice caught Clockmon off-guard and he gasped. Approaching the counter, Knightmon towered above Ryan, who shrank a little beneath the iron giant's hard blue gaze. Clockmon scurried away, talking to another customer behind Ryan and the others.

"A room for all of you?" Knightmon indicated to Ryan, Blaire, Katrina, and the Digimon.

"Yeah," Ryan nodded. "Though the Digimon don't take up much room."

"The price for one night would be one pendulum and two winding keys," explained Knightmon slowly, his deep voice rumbling within his armor. Ryan stared for a moment, turning his blank expression on Blaire and Katrina, who both shrugged at him. "I see you're not from around here…," Knightmon said after a few seconds of watching their blank expressions.

"What gave it away?" asked Anzumon, just peeking over the desk.

Knightmon chuckled a little. "We use clock parts as currency here in Clockwork City. Not like across the rest of the Digital World, where they often just trade goods for services."

"Okay…," Ryan murmured, trying to understand.

"A pendulum and two winding keys is really quite reasonable."

Katrina raised her eyebrows. "I'm sure it is. But we have nothing to compare the exchange rate to."

Looking at her, Knightmon narrowed his eyes a little in consideration. He had an expression as if he was trying to place her, and the others. He stared at them as though he had met them before. "Where have you come from, if you don't mind me asking?"

"We started in a Biyomon village," Blaire explained, "and we've been travelling from there ever since. Honestly here and that village are really the only settlements we've seen."

"No, no," Knightmon rumbled, "you misunderstand me."

"You asked where we had come from…," Muertomon announced. "That’s where we've travelled from."

Knightmon chortled jovially. "I understand the mix up. I meant your… place of origin. Where have you come from… initially?" The tone of his voice was friendly, disarming to them considering his size and bulk. He could easily flatten the desk just by tipping over, and Ryan besides.

"Uhm… Earth." Ryan shrugged, hoping his answer was correct. "We're not native to the Digital World… we're not even Digimon." He tilted his hat back.

"I thought not," Knightmon nodded. "You looked lost when you came in. I knew you were humans… I was surprised not to see Frankie with you. Or Eva and Irbimon."

Looks on unease and confusion passed between the three humans and Digimon, none of them entirely understanding what Knightmon was referring to or if they should understand. Knightmon regarded them patiently.

"Uhm…" Blaire scratched her cheek gently. "What?"

"Frankie and Siberimon," Knightmon told her, "they arrived here many years ago with their companions. Frankie was very, very sick. I helped in curing her. Of course, I was Clockmon then. Through the peace of the Clockwork City and time I evolved to Knightmon and helped rebuild Clockwork City after the Gods defeated Mukademon once and for all."

Realization crept into Blaire's mind as her eyes widened. "They came here? All of them… including my brother?" She shoved Ryan lightly pushing him out of the way. "Reyez. And he had a Digimon with him, named Ailurmon. A panda."

Knightmon regarded her, and tapped a finger against his metal work. "I seem… to remember a panda. Yes… yes, I believe I recall him. Where are they? I'm sure they would like to see just what their victory accomplished here in Clockwork City. When they were here, it was nothing more than a desolate and abandoned city."

"It's a weird set of circumstances…," Blaire admitted. "They’re trapped, in the Circle. We're trying to get there, but it's slow going."

"I see…" Knightmon nodded.

"Hold on a second," Katrina spoke up. "Time obviously flows differently here than to our world, I assume that it was the same when Reyez and our other predecessors were here. How much time has actually passed since they were here?"

Knightmon hummed softly, tilting his head back and crossing his arms as he considered her question and his answer. "Approximately… three hundred years," he said slowly. "Yes. Three hundred since the new Core was placed here."

"Three hundred?" Ryan repeated. "How… this might be really rude to ask, but how are you… alive?!"

Knightmon laughed loudly, rocking back on his heels as he did so, his noise filling up the entrance of the inn and drawing looks from all those who surrounded them, stopping what they were doing.

"I like you, boy," Knightmon said, smacking Ryan on the shoulder with a gauntlet covered hand. Ryan winced and bit the skin inside his cheek to keep from crying out as Knightmon's grip increased only a little, yet to him it felt like a vice. "I am a mechanical Digimon, we do not age in the natural form of things. And with peace reigning over the Digital World, there has been no need to fight or cause friction. It allowed me to evolve from Clockmon to Knightmon, and allowed the Clockwork City to prosper. All I need worry about is rusting, or oil becoming scarce to keep my nuts and bolts healthy."

"Oh." Ryan grimaced.

Knightmon removed his hand, missing Ryan beginning to rub his shoulder to rid it of the pain. "I hope my answer has satisfied your curiosity, young Miss."

"Sure." Katrina nodded, stepping away from the counter and out of Knightmon's reach. She did not want to undergo the same friendly treatment as Ryan.

"In that case then, to business!" Knightmon bellowed cheerfully. "I'm quite happy to provide you one of our best suites to rest in. Give you a chance to get your strength back and find yourselves. Free of charge, naturally."

"Free?" Katrina questioned, tilting an eyebrow. "Won't… your boss get angry at you for giving us a suite for free?"

"I doubt it." Knightmon told her, handing over a set of three ornate iron keys to Blaire. "I'm the boss. Manager, owner, and proprietor of the Clock Inn."

"Oh." Anzumon slipped his talons off the desk, leaving small indentions on the wood. "That's useful."

"Yeah…" Katrina nodded. She beckoned Grindymon to them, and the aquatic Digimon hurried over, dripping water over the floor.

Knightmon came out from behind the desk. "Your room is up the stairs and round to the right at the very end of the corridor. You can't miss it," he explained graciously. "Please, inform me if there is anything, even the slightest thing, you require."

"We will," Ryan said, grinning. "Thanks a lot."

"My pleasure." Knightmon bowed, watching as the group ascended the stairs.

The oak doors opened into a huge room filled with lavish Roman-style sofas and impressive brass and copper ornaments. As with the rest of the inn, the decor of the walls and floors was simple, but the furnishings more than made up for it. The fabric of the sofas was a deep forest green, matched with gold pillows. Brown shutters were at the windows, open, letting the sounds and smells of Clockwork City waft through the room and filling it with the scent of spices and warmth.

The large reception room had other doors leading off to bedrooms, four of them, each one containing a double bed on a wooden frame, the covers and pillows fine, luxurious linen and silks in colors of white, cream and ivory. While the bedrooms were smaller than the reception room, they were still spacious and beautiful. Each bed was covered with a sheer white canopy. On each side of the bed were small tables, and in one corner of each room stood a wash basin, complete with ornate porcelain jug and bowl.

The Digimon explored happily, bouncing on beds and sofas while the Ryan and the two women explored at a more leisurely pace after one of the Clockmon left them to their own devices.

"This is wicked," Blaire announced, languishing back on one of the Roman sofas and dangling her legs above her in the air. She stared at the mural painted on the ceiling: images of clouds and a white tower with lights leading from it in different directions. "Why would Digimon need a room like this?"

"Maybe some Digimon have expensive tastes," Ryan suggested, sitting in one of the few chairs that wasn't a sofa, an arm chair with a foot stool. He slipped his hat off and laid it in his lap. "I'm kind of surprised Knightmon is letting us use this place for free."

"It's… rather kind," Katrina murmured, her arms folded. She remained standing, detached from the other two with Grindymon at her shoulder. Muertomon had climbed onto another of the Roman sofas and was laying out flat, while Anzumon curled up on a spare footstool.

"Why question it?" Blaire shrugged, glancing at Katrina. "He said it was a good will thing, or whatever."

"But we're not the ones who saved the Digital World before," Katrina said. "It doesn't make sense. Why treat us like royalty, when really we haven't done anything?"

"We're the next best thing," remarked Blaire good-naturedly. "Stop looking a gift horse in the mouth and just enjoy the luxury. I doubt we'll get anything this good while we're here, again."

"I guess…," Katrina murmured. She perched on the edge of one of the Roman-style seats, pulling a cushion into her lap and beginning to tug at the corners.

For a while, the six of them were quiet and still, letting the noises of outside fill the silence. They heard voices talking and shouting over each other, easy murmurs of conversation, and the raised tones of street sellers, peddling their goods. Every now-and-then they could hear a bell ringing from beneath them, and the sounds of other hotel guests coming up and down the stairs. Their room was warm, and the soft seats welcoming to their tired bodies.

Blaire was easily succumbing to the relaxing feeling that washed over her. Having somewhere so soft to lie had never felt so good. She hadn't realized until this moment just how much she missed her bed. She had been dealing fine with sleeping on the cold ground, or cramped up against Katrina and Ryan, but now she wasn't sure if she'd be able to do that again, knowing such luxury existed in the Digital World.

She wondered to herself if Knightmon would begrudge them some pillows and blankets, if they found a way to carry it all.

"I don't know about you girls," Ryan's voice broke the easy atmosphere of the room. Blaire started a little, her eyes opening slowly. "I want to take the opportunity to explore this place. Hopefully we'll be able to pick up some supplies."

"With what money?" Katrina inquired, though she stood up and straightened her corset.

Ryan shrugged. "I'm sure we can figure something out." He paused. "Blaire, you coming?"

"Oh, but I'm so comfortable~," Blaire sang, lounging over the sofa like a cat in a warm, sunny spot.

Ryan laughed, and grabbed one of her hands, easily pulling the turquoise-haired woman to her feet with a groan of complaint from her. "It'll be worth it."

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah…" Yawning and stretching her arms above her head, Blaire released a satisfied groan and nudged Muertomon's head. "Come on, lazy bones."

With some coaxing and force, the Digimon all moved and left with their partners, Ryan carried the key in his back pocket – as he was the only one to have pockets deep enough for it. They told Knightmon their plans to explore when they saw him downstairs, and he supplied them with a worn-out map they could borrow, which pinpointed where the hotel was, and also where all the best eateries and shops were, in Knightmon's opinion.

They thanked him and left at a leisurely pace.

Blaire took it upon herself to be in charge of the map. It was much smaller than the one they had put together themselves of the pieces they had found, and consequently more manageable. It was easy to read, and she could make out all the names of the shops and streets. Marked were the four gates to the city, one at North, South, East, and West. Each area was coded in a specific color: pale purple for the business district, pink for the residential, blue for industrial, and yellow for the hospitality district.

She and the others stood to the side of the busy street as she examined it closely.

“We're closest to the business district, so I think we should check that out first," Blaire explained, shifting the paper in her hands. Anzumon hovered above Ryan, peering over the heads of them all, while Grindymon floated at Katrina's shoulder, and Muertomon stared up patiently. "This city looks huge, though. No way we can cover the whole place in one day.” Blaire twisted her lips as if debating on what to do.

Ryan and Katrina were able to look over her shoulder easily, as she was the shortest of the three.

“We could split up?” Katrina suggested with a nonchalant shrug.

“And why would we do that?” Blaire looked up from the map, straight ahead, not turning her gaze to Katrina though the question was aimed towards her. Her tone was unexpectedly harsh, though not the confrontational tone Katrina and Ryan had quickly come to learn.

She looked ahead for a moment, then back at the map as if making sure her bearings were correct.

"We could each cover equal ground. That's all," explained Katrina, shifting uncomfortably in her confining clothing.

Ryan cleared his throat. "I don't think splitting up is a great idea. This is a big city, we have one map. I don't think any of us want to get lost."

Katrina raised her eyebrows but said nothing in return.

"Okay, so it's this way." Blaire pointed, folded the map, and started to walk in the direction she had indicated. Ryan followed at her shoulder, and with a rather resigned sigh, Katrina came a few paces behind them.

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Their first experience of the business district as they had first entered the city was nothing compared to what they found with the help of the map. At first they came across nothing but stalls and more stalls; Digimon showing off their wares and shouting over each other, bartering with customers, and shoving their goods into the faces of anyone who glanced in their general direction.

None of the stalls or what was being sold was the same. Some flogged copper pots and pans, things for use in the kitchen, utensils and crockery. Others were laid out with richly colored fabric, scarlet with slashes of gold running through it, and deep blue fabric with a drooping crystal lining. Some were showing off fine spices, which filled the air with their aroma. There were stalls selling flowers, some selling souvenirs, others offered currency exchanges. There were a few selling relics apparently taken from the Circle, and others just covered in junk where the owners were trying to get rid of them.

The route Blaire had taken led their small group to huge bazaar situated beneath a huge sandstone roof with matching columns. Rugs and fabric covered the dusty walkways, and the stalls were more organized here, those with similar merchandise being grouped together for ease of browsing. There was also more choice here, not just random bric-a-brac, but some stalls selling food with samples for their customers to try.

Surprisingly, through their examination of the area, they only found one clock stall.

"This is amazing," Ryan commented, working his mouth around some kind of hard candy one of the stall vendors had offered to him. He hadn't asked what it was, but it tasted almost like licorice, though not as bitter. "Can my friends have one?"

The vendor – a pink-bodied creature with a green symbol on its tummy, named Psychemon – nodded happily and passed Blaire a small brass plate piled up with the candies. She took one and popped it into her mouth. She took a second one for Muertomon, who had run ahead and was staring at a jewelry stall.

"What is this?" she asked, her mouth breaking into a smile. She had been enjoying their romp around the Clockwork City. Maybe it was the bustle of it, or the fact it was a city, but it gave her a wonderful sense of being home.

Psychemon took the plate back. "It is a hardboiled berry we have here, called a Codeberry. Then it's glazed in a flavor, and the two infuse. We're always experimenting with them. This particular one is glazed with ginger and aniseed."

"This is really good," Blaire commented. "Katrina­–" She glanced behind her, expecting to see the redhead there, but spotted her several meters away, looking disinterested while Grindymon was chatting to a vendor about a small brass statue. "Katrina!" she called, and beckoned her over.

When she saw Katrina badly suppress a sigh as she approached, she tried not to take it personally. Katrina had been off with herself and Ryan since leaving the inn. Her attitude was dour, making it difficult to speak to her or get a reaction. Despite the best efforts of both Ryan and Blaire pointing things out to Katrina to try and get her interest, they had failed, and were only met each time with a bored expression or a one-word comment.

It didn't stop them from trying though.

"You should try this." Blaire took the plate from Psychemon and shoved it towards Katrina.

"I'll pass," Katrina raised her hand and pushed the plate gently away from her, "thanks."

Blaire frowned a little. "Come on! They're really good."

"No, thank you," Katrina said sharply.

Furrowing her eyebrows, Blaire handed the dish back to the vendor and watched Katrina wander past to the same stall that Muertomon was staring at.

"We should get some!" Blaire said cheerfully, touching Ryan's shoulder. "We could take them home." Psychemon's face lit up at the prospect of a sale.

"With what money?" Anzumon asked. His claws were on the edge of the vendor's stall as he sniffed the goods nearest to him.

Ryan grinned a little, and fished into his pockets. Something within jangled as he pulled out a mixture of clock pieces. Blaire arched a fine eyebrow.

"Where and when did you get that?" she asked, with a wry smile. "You didn't pickpocket someone, did you?"

"No!" Ryan laughed. "While you were looking at that fabric stall, I went and got some money exchanged. I had a few bucks in my pants, stuff I hadn't put in my wallet from the fair at college."

"How much?" Blaire inquired, examining some of the cogs and springs in Ryan's hands closely.

"About forty dollars." He turned to Psychemon, who was waiting patiently. "So how much for… a couple of bags of these?"

"Two small cogs and a spring."

After Ryan had paid, he and Blaire continued on with Anzumon and Muertomon. The skeleton Digimon had decided to forego paying for anything, and had several long necklaces of fake pearls and rubies draped around him and a stall owner shouting after him angrily.

Katrina was further ahead by several stalls. Grindymon was the one more interested in everything than Katrina, who continued to huff, sigh, and poke at things with very little concern for them. Occasionally she would crack a small smile if Grindymon said something to her, but for the most part her expression remained blank or bored.

"She doesn't seem to want to talk much," Blaire pointed out while Ryan pocketed the sweets.

"Huh?" Ryan glanced at her. "Who?"

"Katrina." Blaire folded her arms. "It's like she doesn't want to be associated with us. I thought we were doing well with this whole friendship thing."

Ryan shrugged one shoulder. "I'm sure it's nothing personal."

"I don't care if it's not personal," Blaire replied haughtily. "It's just plain rude. We're trying to include her and talk to her, get her involved. And she looks like she'd rather be anywhere but here."

"Well…" Ryan ruffled his hand through his hair beneath his hat and then secured it back into place. "I think human interaction is… hard for Kat," he said slowly.

Blaire nibbled on the candy-stick for a few moments, then turned her head and looked at him with a tilted eyebrow and slightly narrowed green eyes. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Slipping his hands into his pockets, Ryan licked his lips before replying, as if considering what his response should be. "Some people just… don't do well with others," he said.

Blaire stared at him blankly. "Explain."

"You just said the same thing as before, but in a different way," Muertomon pointed out, picking up one of his strings of fake gems.

Ryan's eyebrows wrinkled together as his mouth drew into a hard line. "It's hard to explain. Uh… okay, so my girlfriend Heather kind of knows Katrina. The two of them have taken the bus together at times, going to college, and Katrina has helped Heather with laptop updates, a new operating system, stuff like that."

"Right…," Blaire murmured, hoping that Ryan was going somewhere with his explanation. She curled a lock of hair around her fingers as she paused to examine a fine rug on one stall, at the same time eating her candy.

"Every time Heather has ever asked if Katrina wants to hang out with her, she's been met with excuses. Katrina has never mentioned friends, or much of a social circle to Heather. Only work, college, games, and computers."

"Maybe she's private," Anzumon suggested. "Or just doesn't like Heather?"

Ryan gave the griffin an impatient look.

"That still doesn't explain anything," Blaire pointed out with a dainty waggle of her finger.

"I don't think she's rude," Ryan sighed. "I think it is more… being introverted. I'm no expert, but I think people like Katrina prefer spending their time on their own, in their own company, rather than in the company of others. They have friends, but more on their own terms… and being among a bustling city and around us all the time, I think it might be kind of exhausting for her. Let's face it, you and I aren't exactly small personalities."

Blaire expression was a mixture of puzzlement and annoyance. Ryan could see his explanation wasn't doing much to win over the other woman, and that he might have just been making things worse for their companion.

"Basically," he carried on after Blaire had not graced him with any response, "I think the way it works is that people like Kat can be around people as long as it's on their terms, and they have somewhere to escape to, to be on their own and recharge."

"Right…" Blaire sniffed. "You know, I think you may be right. My brother is the exact same way."

"If your brother is the same way, then you should really understand then?" Ryan asked uneasily. "You and me are just going to have to remember that Katrina isn't like us."

"Hm." Blaire breathed and carried on a few paces ahead of Ryan. Muertomon followed after her hurriedly, while Anzumon hung back with Ryan, who released a long sigh.

As they had been talking, Katrina had wandered further off, until she had almost disappeared around a corner and out of sight. They only knew where she was because they could see Grindymon's tail fins.

"Katrina," Blaire called, marching towards the redhead, who poked her head around the corner. Muertomon jogged to keep up with Blaire's longer strides, and Ryan followed her a few paces behind, with Anzumon beside him on the ground.

"What's up?" Katrina asked, her hands placed on one hip as her body weight shifted.

"Ryan and I were just talking about checking out another one of the districts," Blaire explained. In truth, she and Ryan had mentioned going to them in passing much earlier, when they had been looking at other stalls.

"Oh," Katrina murmured. She glanced at Grindymon, who tilted her head to one side and smiled. Releasing a held breath she turned to Blaire. "You guys go ahead; I'm content to stay here."

"Are… you sure?" Ryan inquired, a little uneasy at the idea of leaving one of their own in such a vast place without a map to find their way. Katrina might not have wanted to be with them, and Ryan may have understood that, but at the same time he didn't want to lose anyone.

"Yeah," Katrina nodded. "Grindymon and I are kind of tired, and we're in the closest district to the inn, in case we want to go back and have a nap."

Her answer was reasonable enough, so Ryan smiled. "Okay, if you're sure."

"I am." Katrina smiled for the first time, it seemed, since they had reached the city.

"That is such a pile of crap," Blaire stated, folding her arms tight across her chest. Ryan grimaced, and Katrina's blue eyes widened a little as she looked straight at the slighter shorter woman.

"What is?"

"That you're tired, and might want to go have a nap or something. I call bullshit," Blaire said harshly.

Shaking her head Katrina sighed. "Whatever… Think whatever you want, Blaire."

"What is your problem?" Blaire demanded, stepping into Katrina's path as she attempt to slide past her. "I get that you're an introvert and all, but you're just being rude, not hanging out with us."

A look of surprise flickered across Katrina's face before it was replaced by one of indifference. "Is that what you think? That I'm being rude? That I don't want to hang out with you?"

"That's what it looks like from where I'm standing." Blaire remarked, her tone of voice sharpening. Ryan noticed a few of the customers around them had stopped, and were watching with badly disguised interest, even some of the vendors were staring. "And Ryan agrees with me!"

"Can we take this elsewhere…?" he asked, hissing through gritted teeth.

"We're not obligated to spend all our time together," explained Katrina wearily. "We may be here together, and most of the time we stick together. Forgive me for wanting some time for 'me' to clear my head. Don't you ever get the urge to be alone with yourself?"

"No," Blaire replied instantly. "I don't."

Katrina sputtered for a response. "Lucky you. I need to have some time to myself. Some peace and quiet. It's not a personal slight against you, or Ryan. You're both exhausting, and I mean no offence by that, but it's the truth. I like to have some peace and quiet. You know how much time I spend with other people? None. At all. I like my own company, and being forced into a situation where I have to deal with you two bickering, and your big personalities, tires me out. Time alone gives me a chance to recharge. If you know about introverts, then you should understand that."

Ryan could tell Katrina didn't want to have a blazing argument and that she was trying to find a way around this impending explosion as tactfully as possible and without raised voices, but Blaire was having none of it. Her body language was stiff and stubborn, her expression deadly with narrowed eyes, a tight mouth, and deeply furrowed eyebrows.

"You know what I think?" Blaire asked.

"Please," Katrina waved a hand, "tell the class."

"That you think you're too good to hang out. That this whole ‘needing some time to yourself’ thing is crap, and ultimately you're just being a stuck up bitch. My brother is introverted and he's nothing like you."

"That isn't true," Katrina bit back, her voice annoyed but not raising. "I don't think I'm better than you, and if you think I'm a bitch then that's something we should address later. But, seriously, all I want to some time to myself. An hour or two. And for your information, not everyone who is introverted is the same."

"If it isn't true, then why don't you hang out with Ryan and me? Or join in our conversations?" Blaire pushed, her chin high and challenging. "Or even start your own conversations with us? You think you're better than us, and are only associating with us because of the situation, right?"

Katrina laughed quietly and rubbed her hand across her face.

"You're even laughing at us!"

"Because I can't believe the absurdity of this conversation," remarked Katrina, hiding a wry grin behind her hands while massaging her fingertips on her forehead. "Do you even hear yourself? Why does whether I want to hang out, or join in conversations, matter so much to you?"

"We're making the effort to include you! The least you could do is join in!" Blaire replied briskly.

"I do join in," Katrina pointed out. "Maybe not as much as you'd like, but maybe I don't have a lot to say on the subjects you two talk about." Blaire's mouth opened but Katrina continued speaking, cutting her off. "My God, I cannot believe how childish you are being. It is so far beyond pointless that it’s laughable! You're such a brat!"

"That–"

"You know what, if you think I'm a bitch, and that I believe I'm better than you, fine. You go ahead and believe whatever you want. I really don't care."

With that, Katrina turned and walked away, disappearing into the bustling streets and behind the market stalls.

Blaire released a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding, while Muertomon ground his jaw together. Anzumon glanced up at Ryan, and he in turn ran his hands across his jeans uneasily. "Well…"

"That…" Blaire turned to Ryan. Her voice had dropped and seemed remorseful. Even her face showed her unease. "…could have gone so much better."

-----------------------------

She had thought she remembered the route back to the inn, but all the stalls and every part of the bazaar looked the same. Katrina was thankful when she found the way out into the open air – the smell of the spices were almost suffocating – but realized quickly that she still needed to find a way back to the hotel.

When she attempted to ask vendors for directions they were unhelpful, and only shoved their wares in her face, shouting at her to buy something. Their customers were no better, often shoving her out of the way to get past or simply ignoring her. She looked for landmarks, things she recognized, and eventually just settled for walking in a general direction and going with gut instinct.

Her mood was not much help to finding her way back. Grindymon couldn't get any sense out of Katrina while she walked, despite her best efforts, only being met with grumbles and things being muttered beneath her breath. The redhead's expression was practically murderous. Her eyes narrowed, and her teeth clenched together as they walked. Even her steps gave away just how angry Katrina was with the things Blaire had said, with her boots crunching the ground and her hands balled into fists.

Despite what she had said to Blaire, the comments of the other woman had burrowed right under Katrina's skin, and it was showing. It did matter what Blaire and Ryan thought of her, of course it did. Even if Katrina liked to pretend otherwise. Making friends and being friendly to others was difficult for her at the best of times, but she had been trying. Doing her best to interact and talk to them, to befriend them. She had to; they all had to, in this situation. Being friends would be more use to them all than being enemies or rivals.

But it was clear that even her best efforts weren't enough. That even though she just needed an hour or two for herself, to be alone with her thoughts, was obviously a huge insult to them both, tarnishing all the effort Katrina had been making to get to know them and be their friend, making it count for naught.

Just thinking of it, the wasted effort, made Katrina even angrier and she sped up her steps.

She wanted to get back to the hotel, just curl up in one of the rooms and go to sleep, let everything wash over her for a few hours until she felt ready to deal with her companions again. Was that really so much to ask? A few hours peace?

Grindymon followed close behind the redhead, wary and worried for her. When Katrina had wandered off before, that first night in the Biyomon village, she had still talked to Grindymon. They had exchanged thoughts and comments about things which seemed to calm Katrina down until her D-Ex had started to bleep. Now though there was nothing. No words being said apart from her muttering and no attempts to converse.

At first when Katrina had left Blaire and Ryan, Grindymon had tried to speak to her, but when Katrina made it clear she had no intention of responding, she stopped trying and settled for following quietly. She knew enough about Katrina to understand she would talk when she was ready, and for now she just needed to let off steam.

Grindymon would be there when she was ready to talk.

Slowly, the stalls began to grow less and less frequent, the streets wider and less clustered, and Grindymon recognized a few signs, on roads and over buildings. More inns and places to stay. They were in the right area, but nowhere near the Clock Inn yet.

When Katrina came to a sudden stop, Grindymon bumped into her back, having been paying attention to the things around her and not Katrina's movement.

"Sorry!" Grindymon apologized and floated higher.

Katrina was staring straight ahead at a sandstone wall. Her shoulders slumped and she sighed. "Guess I took a wrong turn somewhere…," she murmured.

"Easily done. Everything looks the same here," Grindymon assured her, smiling warmly as she came to Katrina's shoulder.

"I guess."

After a short silence, Grindymon tapped Katrina's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Katrina inhaled deeply, raising her shoulders and rolling her head around. "Not sure… Starting to feel like even my best effort isn't going to be good enough." Katrina's mouth curved into a small, forced smile. "Never is, it seems. Story of my life." She placed her hands on her hips.

Confused, Grindymon floated to appear before her. "What does that mean?" She tilted her head to one side.

For a moment it seemed like Katrina considered explaining it depth exactly what she meant to the aquatic Digimon, but then at the last second decided against doing so. "Nothing. Forget it. I just have to try harder to be friends with Ryan and Blaire… that's all."

The blackness came upon her suddenly, blotting out the sun and Grindymon, who tried in vain to reach for her as she was enveloped. Katrina's breath came from her mouth as a wispy cloud of white as she looked around blindly for some form of light, or a way out of where she now was. She was cold suddenly too, her flesh turning to pin pricks, the hairs on her arms and neck standing up on end. She shivered, against the chill she told herself, and not the fear that was threatening to take hold.

"Grindymon!?" she called. The only reply she received was her own voice echoing back to her. "HELLO!!?"

"Why do you torment yourself with these thoughts of friendship…?"

Katrina knew the voice before she saw the figure to which it belonged. Though she had only heard it once, it was one not easy to forget. Its deep resonance, the deep throatiness of it as the words drifted from a mouth beneath a dark shroud. Its appearance was the same as before: the cloak, the long fingers, billowing sleeves, and the golden, swinging pocket watch. Here it appeared only a little bigger than Katrina herself, standing about seven feet tall.

As the pocket watch swung, Katrina heard the echoes of its ticking.

"Where is Grindymon?" she demanded, turning her chin up.

"Why do you torment yourself with these thoughts of friendship…?" it asked again.

"Where is she?!" shouted Katrina. "Tell me!!"

"Answer my question, and I shall answer yours…," reasoned the figure.

Clenching her teeth together, Katrina growled softly at the back of her throat. She would have to play this game if she wanted to know where Grindymon was and, she assumed, if she wanted to see daylight again.

"Because I want to try and be friends with Blaire and Ryan, and I'm not doing a great job right now," replied Katrina briskly. "And I wasn't tormenting myself. Now where is Grindymon?!"

"Safe," explained the figure. "You shall see her soon. When I am done with you." It swooped back around Katrina, and she turned quickly. It held its back to her and waved one of its long fingered hands. Appearing before her were images. Katrina saw herself at various times of her life, as a pre-teen, and a teenager in high school. Even in college. In all of them the image was the same, she was alone.

"What is this meant to be?" she asked, warily. Seeing herself as she had been was not something she enjoyed, yet despite how she tried, she could not look away from the images in front of her.

"Something to perhaps think on… You have always been alone. It has suited you well… Those who are strong, like you, do not require friends… They are nothing more than a drain on you."

Katrina crossed her arms. "I don't think that. Building friendships is just difficult for me."

"Hmmm…," murmured the figure. "Have you ever considered why that is…?"

"No," Katrina retorted. "And I don't care to be given an answer. What do you want?"

"Has it occurred to you that these… companions of yours are in fact not whom you believe them to be?"

"What?" snapped Katrina. "What are you talking about?" A brush of cold rushed up Katrina's bare arms and she realized the figure was behind her again, the fingers of one of its hands resting against her forearm. She flinched and stepped away.

"All these conflicts are always something you have done…," the figure explained, its voice sounding less threatening now, and more like a whisper in the air. "Perhaps your companions are attempting to drive you away…?"

Katrina remained silent, though she shook her head a little.

"They have no need of your friendship… they have one another… look how happy they are as a duo." One of the images changed, showing Blaire and Ryan in the city, wandering past a stall and sampling foods to one another. Blaire was laughing, her face lit up at a joke Ryan had said. Both Anzumon and Muertomon were grinning widely too, joining in on the jape.

"They're similar… that's all," Katrina said, though the conviction in her voice wasn't as strong as it had been. "They… Blaire wouldn't have made such a big deal of everything if she didn't want to be friends with me."

"Truly?" inquired the faceless cloak. "Then why did her words drive you away?"

"…She's passionate…," Katrina murmured. "That's all."

"You are fooling yourself… and why? You have always been better on your own… no one to care for… no one to bend to the will of… why change that now?" Again the figure drew close to Katrina, practically swallowing her up in its cloak. This time she didn't flinch, or move. She barely blinked. Instead she remained still and stared at the images before her. "They are against you… they only want to be near each other…"

"Why…?"

"They pity you… they believe you would not survive without them… their friendship is a guise… something they will hand you then snatch away… they believe you are… weak."

Katrina shuddered. "Am I?"

"No… my lost child, my dear. You are strongest of them all…" Drawing a hand over her eyes, Katrina's blue irises faded to blank white. "You just show them… prove it to them… make them beg for your mercy…"

"Yes…," Katrina hummed. She stepped out of the shroud of the figure; the blackness around her was lifting. "Who are you…?" she asked softly.

"My name is Baphomon… The Devil…"

-----------------------------

Blaire held the map up in front of her, scrutinizing the details and the names of the streets. She chewed on another candy she and Ryan had come across, something like toffee, but with a sharper flavor that she enjoyed.

Their exploring-turned-shopping trip had been enjoyable, though they had not bought a huge amount. She, Ryan, and the Digimon had discussed staying a few days to get a good idea of the city, and to make sure they picked up all the supplies they would need before they continued on to the Circle. They would also try and find a Digimon somewhere, who could perhaps take them the rest of the way, or at least lead them, since the disappearance of Hitokamon had left them without a guide.

They still needed to discuss things with Katrina, a prospect neither of them wanted to face just yet.

The evening had drawn in quickly, and with it, the colder temperatures that the desert-like terrain here tended to give way to. Most of the vendors had either closed up, or were in the process of shutting down their stalls, finishing with the last transactions of the day and tidying their goods for the following day of business.

"We should go back to the Inn before we get something to eat," explained Ryan. "I'm sure Katrina's probably hungry."

"If you can convince her to come with us," Anzumon huffed, fluttering his wings.

"I'm sure she's cooled down from earlier," Ryan said. "She's had most of the afternoon to herself, and I bet she's hungry."

"You can ask her," Blare told him without looking at him. "I doubt she's too happy with me."

"You going to apologize?" asked Muertomon.

Blaire struggled uneasily. "It seems to best thing to do. I guess I did sort of…"

"Blow off the handle?" Ryan suggested.

"Something like that," Blaire muttered awkwardly. "Yeah."

"Which direction we headed in?" inquired Anzumon, hovering above the two humans and Muertomon. "The sooner we collect Katrina and Grindymon the sooner we can eat. I'm starved."

Ryan laughed and looked at the map over Blaire's shoulder as she ran her finger across several of the streets marked down.

"This…" She pointed, then retracted her hand turned and pointed again. "No, this way. Then we have to take the one, two, three… fifth right."

"Let's go!" Muertomon ran ahead with Anzumon, while Blaire and Ryan walked leisurely. Blaire folded the map up in her hand and passed it to Ryan to hold on to.

Without all the Digimon filling the streets, they were much easier to walk down, not to mention easier to navigate. Before none of them had noticed, but some of the streets were marked with signs in a language none of them recognized, with arrows pointing one way and another.

The route Blaire made for them took them through several streets of stalls, and then into the residential district of the city. From there it was an easy walk to the hospitality district, as it was a straight line from what Blaire assumed was the city’s version of a park. It was a large square, with a huge fountain monument in the middle. Around that were flower beds of different blooms, some of which were glowing white in the dying light of dusk. There were a few benches and trees about, some of the only greenery they had seen in the city.

It was mostly vacant except for a handful of Digimon scurrying home, who did not so much as glance at the four of them.

A full moon was rising over the tops of the buildings, and the sky had been almost completely drained of any orange or yellow colors, instead turning pink and dark purple. It was peaceful and quaint. Without the bustling and the business around them, the city seemed like a completely different place.

"Shadow Blast!" The cry hit the ears of Blaire, Ryan, Anzumon and Muertomon as the ground erupted mere feet from them, showering them all with debris. A hole was left where a potted shrub had been. Blaire cowered beneath Ryan's bulk, while he in turn covered both himself and Blaire's head to protect them both. Anzumon shook dirt from his feathers, and Muertomon groaned, getting to his feet as the blast had knocked him back a little.

"WHAT THE FUCK?!" Blaire screamed, her eyes blazing as she shoved Ryan away and stood up straight. "WHAT IS THE BIG–" she cut off.

Opposite them, about twenty feet away, were Katrina and Melusimon. The sea-witch creature hovered above the ground, her hair wild and expression dark. Black water surrounded her hands and tail as she rose up and down slowly in the air in front of Katrina. The redhead stood back, her head lowered a little, her hair drooping somewhat across her eyes, obscuring them from view.

"KATRINA!?"

"Shadow Blast!"

This time Blaire protected herself from the attack, covering her face. The ground in front of her blew up paving stones and dirt. Blaire sputtered, as did Ryan, brushing his hand through his hair.

"What the hell are you doing?!" demanded Ryan, coming to Blaire's side. "You could have killed us!"

"Next time she will," Katrina replied, though it seemed like her voice did not come from her, as her mouth did not appear to move. Instead it was as if it had come from around them, echoing from every edifice.

"What is this?!" Blaire demanded. "Is this because of earlier?! It's a little extreme!"

"You've been lying to me," Katrina murmured. "I don't need your pity. I don't want it."

"What are you talking about?!" shouted Anzumon. "Melusimon, come on!"

"What pity?!" barked Ryan. "There's no pity!! Plenty of confusion! But no pity!"

"I don't need you," Katrina continued, either not hearing or ignoring the cries from them. "I've never needed anyone… I'm better alone. I shouldn't waste my time and energy trying to befriend you… I'm stronger alone."

Blaire looked at Ryan, bewildered and alarmed. His expression seemed to match hers as he shook his head, not understanding.

"What are you talking about?" Blaire asked, lowering her voice but trying to be as calm as she could, in the circumstances.

"I'm stronger alone… I can show you…"

Melusimon glanced back at her, and took her cue from the tiniest nod of Katrina's head. Drawing her hands together, another explosion of black energy surged forward. "Shadow Blast!!"

Muertomon leapt into action as the attack sped towards the group of four.

"Muertomon, Plasma Evolve to…" His body stretched and he turned in midair so his abdomen acted as a shield for Blaire, Anzumon, and Ryan. He curled his legs inwards, covering the other three with his bulk and taking the most of the blast on his thorax. "Pelmamon!"

The giant spider was formed just as the wave of energy blew up against him, sending the four of them flying back several feet through the air from the impact.

Pelmamon was up first after rocking on the ground to right himself. He checked on Blaire and helped her up before turning to face Melusimon with a pink aura marring his fangs. Ryan rubbed his head as he stood up.

Anzumon flew towards the centre of the two Champion Digimon, staying airborne between them.

"Get back here!" Ryan called, concerned that the others would attack the griffin, as they both seemed totally focused on one another.

"Call Melusimon off!" Blaire demanded. "Let's stop fighting and talk about this!"

"The time for talking is over…," Katrina sighed dreamily. "I don't want to talk anymore. Just seems to end with me in the wrong."

"That isn't true!" Blaire replied desperately. "We don't pity you! We're trying to be your friends! But you make it really hard!"

"I make it hard?" Katrina laughed a little. "I'm trying my best… it's never good enough. I'm never good enough…"

"Is that really what you think?!"

"Pelmamon, Grindymon, you guys don't want to fight!" Anzumon urged, trying to speak plainly and speak sense into his companions. "I promise you'll only regret it. You're friends! Friends don't fight."

"She attacked Blaire," Pelmamon growled. "And Ryan. She could have killed them. If you have any devotion towards him, any bond at all, you would assist me."

Anzumon shook his head. "I don't want to fight Melusimon. You don't either."

"She threatened Blaire's life. Ally or not, it is my duty to protect her whatever the cost. Melusimon has made her choice to side with Katrina in this folly," Pelmamon rumbled, skittering a few steps closer.

"You're making a mistake," Anzumon pleaded. "There's got to be a reasonable explanation. We just have to try and reason with her. With her and Katrina."

"There is no time for reasoning. Talk is cheap," explained Pelmamon. "I will not allow an attempt on Blaire's existence to go unpunished."

"You could kill each other!"

"And you," remarked Pelmamon, "if you choose to continue on this pointless exercise of playing the peacekeeper."

Taken aback by the spider Digimon's threat, Anzumon backed off, his expression confused and a little hurt. He wanted to see the two of them fighting as much as Ryan and Blaire did, but it seemed like there was nothing he could do to stop them.

"Melusimon!" Anzumon zoomed towards the aquatic woman. "You don't need to fight! We can work things out peacefully."

"You? Peaceful?" Melusimon laughed. "What a change of heart."

"You don't have to fight!"

"I do. Everything we've been told is true. Katrina and I are better off alone," Melusimon explained, her eyes focused on Pelmamon, watching for the tiniest movement. "Katrina is strong, and I am strong with her."

"Is she telling you to do this?" demanded Anzumon. "You don't have to listen!"

"Get away," Melusimon snapped, waving her hand roughly at the griffin and striking him in the side. Anzumon hit the ground and groaned. He was unhurt, but bruised. He was at the feet of Katrina, who did not move from her spot and seemed to be staring at the ground more than Ryan, Blaire, or Pelmamon. From his vantage point, Anzumon saw her eyes, how the blueness of them had been obscured by sheer white. It was unsettling, and something he did not understand. But his gut told him that Katrina was no acting of her own will.

His wings spread and he bolted back to Ryan and Blaire.

Pelmamon rushed forwards as Anzumon swooped above his legs. Pink energy formed at the end of his fangs, and the butterflies that swarmed around his abdomen fluttered wildly.

"Venom Cannon!" He fired the shot. Melusimon sailed over the ball of energy gracefully and it flew past Katrina, crashing into one of the potted shrubs.

"Deadly Tempest!" Melusimon returned, firing the black waters from her hands and tail. The three attacks combined into one. Pelmamon rolled to one side and the blast left a crater in his place. He charged towards Melusimon, spooling glowing pink thread from his abdomen. It wound around Melusimon's torso, binding her arms to her sides before she had realized what was happening.

"Venom Cannon!" Another glowing pink ball shot at the aquatic Digimon, bigger this time, and shooting from the spider's abdomen, following the length of thread.

Melusimon wriggled in her binds, clawing at the silk with her long fingers. Unable to reach, Pelmamon's attack exploded on impact, and sent both the spider and Melusimon flying backwards from the blast.

She righted herself almost immediately, speeding through the air with a murderous look on her face, making a beeline for Pelmamon, who rocked on his back as he righted himself.

"Deadly Tempest!" Melusimon cried, her voice a banshee screech as the dark energy smashed against the spider in a wave, sending him careening back, smashing up the wall of the fountain and causing water to leak out everywhere.

Pelmamon growled, he burrowed quickly beneath the earth and cobblestones, disappearing from view. Melusimon rose into the air, her eyes downwards, watching for movement, for the slightest clue of where the spider was.

"This needs to be stopped," Blaire growled. "Anzumon, why don't you evolve and get in there?!"

"You think I want to get involved?" Anzumon retorted. "No. But I don't think this is Katrina."

Ryan looked at the griffin expectantly. When Anzumon said nothing else, Ryan opened his hands and waved them. "…Explain!?"

"Her eyes," Anzumon yelped. "When I saw them. They were white. Not blue! She didn't move, I don't think she saw me, or even knows what's happening."

Blaire tapped her chin. "He's right, she hasn't moved."

Suddenly, Pelmamon leapt from the ground, clasping all eight of his long legs around Melusimon's body before pile-driving her back into the ground, hard. He did not wait for her to recover, generating the energy he needed between his fangs and firing upon his fallen adversary mercilessly at close range. "Venom Cannon!!"

The attack sent Melusimon rolling across the ground towards Katrina. Dust flew up from where she moved, coating her naturally damp skin and scales in grime. Her arms and body shook as she pushed herself from the ground and then rose to hover a few feet off the ground.

Her eyes narrowed, the light on her antenna brightened, and Melusimon screeched again. "Shadow Blast!" She fired one shot, a second, a third. The first missing, the second and third catching Pelmamon on his thorax and face.

"If we can snap Katrina out of it, this will stop," Ryan advised.

"Good luck getting close to her," Blaire retorted.

-----------------------------

The cries of battle were halted without warning as a terrible noise echoed through the air, drawing the attention of all but Katrina skywards. Blaire and Ryan both cried out in pain, covering their ears and crumbling to their knees on the ground. It was as if a jet was flying over head, deafening and sending vibrations through the air that shook the ground.

Melusimon and Pelmamon both halted their attacks to look skyward, Anzumon doing the same, wincing against the loudness of the sound.

It was coming from one particular being, a huge insect flying right towards them. While its body was striped yellow and black, its wings were purple with yellow symbols that looked like eyes. It had four arms, and two larger legs. Around its neck was an orange ruff, and its beak-like mouth was made up of black segments. From the end of its abdomen was a huge red stinger, more than two feet long.

Behind that came another insect, this one a pale green, with darker green markings across its face. Like the other, it had four arms, and two larger legs. Its wings were more rounded, and brown with dust flying off as it flew. Its abdomen was less like an insect, and more like a machine, as it was in the shape of a huge Gatling gun.

"Scouts?!" Blaire shouted. "From the Emperor and Empress?"

"Talk about timing!" Ryan returned.

"Mothmon and Flymon…," Anzumon muttered. "I remember them from before."

"Found you!" Jeered Flymon, hovering a few yards above them.

"And now we'll destroy you!" Mothmon added. The Gatling gun that made up his tail spun, loading. Anzumon's eyes widened and he charged skywards, his head lowered and his antlers charged with electricity.

"Anzumon!!" Ryan cried after him.

"Morphon Gattling!!"

"Electric Rage!!"

"Volt Blitz!" Anzumon smacked his whole body against the two Champion Digimon, throwing them and their attacks off by feet. The two combined together and crashed into the ground below, sending Pelmamon, Melusimon, and Katrina flying off in different directions. Katrina crashed into one of the lower walls of the flower bed, while Melusimon slid cross the ground. Pelmamon kept upright but slid back, knocking into one of the houses and caving the wall in.

Blaire, still with her ears covered, rushed towards the large spider.

Faced with the two Champion insects, Anzumon fluttered his wings, releasing more electricity into the air as the Flymon and Mothmon sized up to him.

"That wasn't clever," Flymon sneered.

"Attacking us wasn't very clever, either," Anzumon snorted, pawing at the air with his claws and hooves. He was engulfed in the bright orange light of before and his form began to change. "Anzumon, Plasma Evolve to…" his legs lengthened, his body stretched. The yellow spheres generated around his chest. His arms lengthened and grew primary feathers along his forearm. He towered above the ground as the light diminished and stared coldly at the two insects. "Kotenmon!"

"When did he learn to do that!?" Mothmon exclaimed, backing up a little.

"Shut up!" hissed Flymon. "Still only one of him and two of us."

They attacked together, flying in tandem towards Kotenmon. Mothmon set off bullets from his tail, while Flymon aimed and shot several stingers in succession.

Kotenmon jumped back, avoiding the stingers, though several of the bullets grazed his arm. Drawing his arms back, electricity formed around his fists. "Static Claw!" He punched the air, a flurry of electric orbs flying through the sky at intense speed.

"Poison Sting!" Flymon yelled, charging Kotenmon, his arms open and his stinger extended. Mothmon rounded behind him.

"Morphon Gattling!" The tail-rifle fired.

Kotenmon leaped into the air, avoiding the attacks. Grabbing Flymon by his arm, he twirled around, slamming the golden insect into its comrade, sending them both flying backwards.

"Storm Cyclone!" Whirling into a terrible tornado, with lightning and wind swirling around him, Kotenmon rushed the two insects, crashing over the cobblestones, bringing it up into the fast-moving wind. With a roar, he extended his arms, throwing out the cobble and the electricity at all angles.

Both Mothmon and Flymon were caught in the waves. They fell to the ground twitching as the lightning fused through them.

Flymon recovered first and flew through the air, fast. "Poison Powder!" A scattering of purple dust escaped from Flymon's wings, covering the ground and Kotenmon, despite his attempts to escape it by leaping back. Mothmon spread his wings and fluttered them, releasing his own spores into the air.

"Morphon Gattling!!" He fired again, the bullets igniting the spores, setting fire to the air around Kotenmon, singeing the struggling Champion.

"Kotenmon!" Ryan reached his partner, covering his mouth with his hat to try and avoid inhaling the poison. "You okay?"

"Get out of the poison," Kotenmon ordered, shoving Ryan hard. He stood, stooping a little as the venom began to take its effect.

"Blaire! Please tell me Pelmamon is coming to help!" Ryan called back at the turquoise-haired woman who stood beside Pelmamon, helping him get back to his claws.

"Give us a minute!"

"We don't have a minute!" Ryan called back.

Rising shakily onto his feet, Kotenmon looked through squinted eyes for the two flying insects. They moved quickly, weaving around each other, unaffected by the flames or the poisonous spores drifting through the night air on the breeze.

Flymon dived, his stinger ready to strike, coming fast up behind Kotenmon. "Poison Sting!"

"Watch out!"

Kotenmon spun on one foot, while his eyesight and balance were affected, his speed and other senses were not. He grabbed Flymon by the wings, electricity already coursing through his arm into his hand. He rotated fast, and threw the other Digimon into the air, the lightning flashing over his body.

Following Flymon's failed attempt, Mothmon flew in at a lower angle, weaving between Kotenmon's legs faster than the larger, two-legged Digimon could keep up. He fired bullets off from his tail skywards, grazing Kotenmon's chest, his face and arms.

Growling irately, Kotenmon punched into the earth. Cobbles and dirt sprayed up around him, scattering across the town square. Mothmon hovered above him, unharmed and grinning inanely.

"Morphon Gattling!" He fired from his tail, round upon round of bullets that broke Kotenmon's feathers and flesh, drawing blood to the surface. Kotenmon roared, trying to round upon the insect, but the barrage of attacks kept him grounded.

"Poison Sting!" Flymon came out of nowhere. Several red-brown stingers shot through the air, catching Kotenmon on his thigh, shoulder, and side.

"BLAIRE!!" Ryan shouted, running towards Kotenmon, who toppled uneasily and looked like he would fall at any moment.

"IN A MINUTE!" she screamed back.

The two insects hovered above Ryan, glee in their eyes as they circled around each other, drawing closer. Kotenmon, injured, was leaning his weight against his partner. Beneath the Champion’s weight, Ryan struggled to stay upright, but held on to Kotenmon while trying to keep his eyes on the two Digimon closing in on him.

"Deadly Tempest!!"

Melusimon's attack came from above, black water slamming both Mothmon and Flymon into the ground with intense brutality. Beating her tail hard, she flew through the air with both of her arms extended.

"Shadow Blast!" Grabbing the Flymon by the neck, and the other into Mothmon, Melusimon sent them reeling back, tumbling over the ground towards Pelmamon and Blaire.

"Are you alright, Kotenmon?"

"Hm."

Ryan gave the sea Digimon an uneasy look. "Are you on our side now?"

"Yes," Melusimon remarked. "There is much to explain. Once we are rid of these cretins."

"Poison Sting!"

"Morphon Gattling!" The stingers and bullets flew through the air at speed. Melusimon rose above them fast, kicking her tail, throwing the attacks off-course and into the ground. Kotenmon rolled out of the way with Ryan, avoiding the attack easily.

"Shadow Blast!" Melusimon attacked again, more black energy escaping her hands in separate shots. Flymon and Mothmon retreated from the attacks, out of their reach and closer to the ground.

"YOU MISSED US!" taunted Mothmon.

"Primal Exectutioner!" Pelmamon's growling tone echoing into the air as the spider appeared from beneath the ground, grabbing both the insects with pink, sticky silk. It wound their wings to their bodies, and the more the two of them wriggled, the more stuck they became.

"Morphon Gattling!" Mothmon fired from his tail, aiming for Pelmamon's face and body.

"Venom Cannon!" The pink energy that thrust from Pelmamon's arms incinerated the Gatling gun attached to the moth creature. Mothmon screeched loudly while Pelmamon held both Mothmon and Flymon in place. Pelmamon grabbed the extended string of the web with his two front skeletal hands, tossing the pair into the air.

"Deadly Tempest!"

"Static Claw!"

Unbidden, Pelmamon's allies attacked, their power entwining into a fierce torrent of black water, electricity, and wind energy. The two insects screamed as the attacks charged towards them, amplified by the sticky poisonous webbing, their cries of anguish disappearing into the night.

-----------------------------

They found Katrina where she had been flung in the first instance of battle. Out for the count with a small, bleeding cut above her eye.

"What do we do?" Ryan turned to Blaire.

"We could leave her here," Muertomon said. "After all, it is all her fault."

"No!" Grindymon shook her head, floating before the others. "No it wasn't! It's hard to explain! But please, you must listen!" Blaire and Ryan exchanged looks. The aquatic Digimon had tried to explain why she and Katrina had attacked them, but her mind was fuzzy and she had been unable to recall all the details despite her best efforts. She hoped Katrina would remember, and had said as much to their companions.

"Okay," sighed Blaire. "How do we wake her up?"

Anzumon landed at the side of Katrina's head. "Like this." He let out a blood curdling yowl right at the side of Katrina's ear. Blaire and Ryan both covered their ears, Muertomon began laughing and Grindymon simply looked aghast at the treatment. However, it was enough noise to rouse Katrina who stared up at the sky for a few moments.

"Whoa…"

"Easy." Grindymon dashed to her side, easing Katrina to sit up. "You took a big knock to the head."

"I feel like I've had brain freeze for hours," Katrina murmured. "What happened?"

"You tell us," Ryan said, squatting and looking squarely at Katrina. He could see her eyes were blue and looked at Anzumon. "She had white eyes?"

"Yeah," Anzumon confirmed. "I guess the bump to the head reset her brain?"

"What are you talking about?" Katrina inquired, bewildered and touching the cut on her forehead.

Blaire still stood up above the others, her arms folded and a haughty look on her face. "You attacked us. Me, more than Ryan. Said we were pitying you, that you didn't need friendship. Or something."

"Attacked you?" Katrina repeated. "When?"

"Not long ago," Ryan replied. "It got interrupted by Flymon and Mothmon. Scouts of Mesilamon and Vazkamon. You… don't remember?"

"I… remember being angry," Katrina explained slowly, "and cold. Like… being covered in something freezing cold." She held her arms to her body.

"Anything else?" urged Muertomon.

Katrina's brows furrowed together as she thought, staring hard at the ground. "A voice. The one… you remember when we were travelling with Hitokamon? We were surrounded by black and there was a … a figure."

"I remember," Blaire squatted. "Same thing?"

"Same thing. Only this time it was targeting me. Playing on my lack of social skills, and how I have difficulty befriending anyone," Katrina replied. "It's… weird. He was intent on turning me against you. Said I was stronger alone… and pitted me against the two of you, to prove it."

Katrina looked at Grindymon for some kind of support. The little aquatic Digimon looked just as confused, and somewhat fearful, hovering in place at Katrina's shoulder.

"What else do you remember?" asked Anzumon.

"A name…," Katrina breathed. "He… called himself… The Devil. Baphmet? Baphot… Baphomon. I think."

"So… it wasn't really you, attacking us?" questioned Blaire.

"No," answered Katrina. "Not of my own free will anyway."

"So… what was all that about, then? Us pitying you. And… whatever?"

Katrina shrugged one shoulder and winced. "I've had trouble making friends my whole life," she explained simply. "You're not the first who's thought I believe myself better than them. It’s not true. I'm just slow to befriend people. I find it hard. I like having time on my own, it helps me get to grips with information I might have learned. That's not me avoiding you. That's me being me." She sighed. "Basically, you're just going to have to be a little patient."

"That's a relief then, that you don't hate us, and don't want to kill us." Ryan sighed, standing up. Blaire followed suit with Muertomon, and Katrina eased herself to her feet. "But now we have to be extra vigilant. Not only do we have the Emperor and Empress after us, but something called Baphomon now, as well."

“Let's get back to the inn. I think we've done enough damage here to stay more than just a day…” Blaire sighed, rubbing the back of her neck as she looked at the destroyed district.


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