Episode 44: Clock's Ticking

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Eric’s short phone call with Logan had resulted in Logan sending a detailed email with all the information the group required for them to get home from the lightning field - or its proper name, The Rift, as Ryudamon informed them. It all seemed fairly simple: the field was a hotbed of energy that, when channeled correctly, had more than enough power to transport beings from one plane to another. The energy had to be culminated in the D-Touches, and anyone standing within the vicinity of the field would also be teleported with the power collected.

The only downside to this plan was that Logan’s knowledge of where the field was located was little, and he only had vague directions. Which was where Ryudamon came in.

Eric explained everything once everyone had woken up and recovered from their stupors. It had been a lot to take in, but made everyone more positive to know that they could get home and wouldn’t have to wait. Ryudamon confirmed the location of the lightning field: that it existed in the North, a long journey that would take them at least five days, walking at a good pace. He knew a route that was the longer one, but easier, avoiding treacherous terrain like mountains that some Digimon would find easier to navigate than others.

It also meant Ryudamon’s way would take them through several small towns and villages where they could regularly rest and stock up on supplies if needed.

The morning after the Anthemon fiasco, everyone was eager to get moving, the prospect of getting home a welcome one.

Their enthusiasm was short-lived, however.

Ryudamon kept a remarkable pace for such a little Digimon, and was somewhat on the cruel side if ever anyone slowed down or wanted to rest. They took short rests when Ryudamon allowed it, and if he told them to move, they had to move. Eric tried to keep the peace by explaining that Ryudamon was just trying to keep them safe by making good time, but not everyone was convinced.

He wasn’t keen on the Digimon evolving to their Champion forms to make travelling easier for some. It used up energy they could need to fight with if things went wrong, or they stumbled into a hostile Digimon’s territory. But he refrained from informing them as such, to save himself from listening to his companions’ whining.

Travelling was tough; the first day they left the forests and ventured out onto open plains, which made the Digimon and the humans easy targets with nowhere to run or hide except into more open space. This put the Digimon on edge, and every move they heard was one they faced with suspicion. They were lucky enough to find a village of Koromon who gave them all food and shelter for the night, though Ryudamon was swift to wake them all at dawn to get moving again.

Halfway through the second day, the open grasslands had turned to dirt, with odd metalworking visible where the ground had been worn away by the feet of other travelers. And when they started travelling on the third morning, the dirt had disappeared, and all around them was copper-colored metal flooring, which led onto a small cluster of tall buildings in the distance. When asked about the buildings, Ryudamon told them they would have to pass through Clockwork City to carry on, and that was their eventual destination.

The group moved and shuffled as they walked, some keeping a better pace than others. James and Frankie kept relatively close to the back of the group, though Rubimon as always brought up the rear to spur on any stragglers. Odocomon and Siberimon kept close to their partners and each other; occasionally Siberimon would lend a helping paw and evolve to Hurakamon for Frankie to ride on, as she seemed to be struggling the most with the amount of walking they were doing. She had been doing fine to begin with, but had started slowing down the evening before, lagging behind the others.

James managed to grab Frankie’s arm to stop her falling to the ground when she stumbled. It was the fifth time she’d done so that day, and it was becoming a more regular thing. “I’m going to ask Ryudamon if we can take a break,” James told her, supporting Frankie as she straightened up.

“And risk that death glare again?” Frankie teased, smiling. James returned it, but noticed how half-hearted her jibe was and how weak her expression. She was sweating – but then so was he – but it didn’t look like a normal over-exertion sweat. She looked clammy, and she wheezed when she walked.

“You’re not okay,” he stated.

He had been asking Frankie for almost the whole day how she was feeling. Since Ryudamon had woken them up in the Koromon village, she hadn’t seemed herself. Quieter and subdued, she’d been coughing through the night, tossed and turned in her sleep, when she was usually quite a restful sleeper. She had insisted to the point of getting a little irritable that she was fine, but as the day and the travelling wore on, her condition had deteriorated.

Frankie regarded him. “I’m fine,” she claimed. “I swear, I think I’m just a little sleepy. I didn’t sleep very well.”

“We know,” Siberimon answered, peering over his shoulder at her. “James had to keep your arms down because you kept flailing.”

“Nightmares.” Frankie shrugged. “Disturbed sleep. Kept dreaming they’d cancelled ‘Teen Wolf’,” she joked and plastered a smile on her face.

“Frankie,” James sighed. He slipped his hand up onto her forehead, briefly feeling her skin. It was damp to the touch, and cold. Almost freezing, despite the warmth of the day. Frankie scowled at him, jerking her head away and carried on walking. He followed her, persisting. “You’re freezing cold.”

“Am not,” she grumbled, placing her hand on her own forehead. “See? Perfectly normal temperature. Stop worrying.”

James frowned, he exchanged looks with Odocomon. They had both taken care of James’ siblings enough, nursed them each through the flu plenty of times, chicken pox and the mumps, to know the signs of a serious illness, and Frankie was beginning to show them.

“It’s kind of hard not to worry when you’re stubborn about your health,” James admitted, placing his hands in his pockets. “I know you don’t normally get sick.”

“I am not sick,” Frankie retorted. “Stop saying that I am. We have to keep moving or Ryudamon’s just going to get irritated again.”

James scowled. “Right now, Ryudamon and his urgency to get moving can get lost. You’re my main concern, and I don’t think you’re okay.”

“Getting us home is Ryudamon’s main concern. And it should be yours too,” Frankie bit out, running her fingers through her hair, which was lank, and had lost a lot of its natural healthy shine. “Stop insisting that I’m ill when I know I’m not.”

James relented.

Frankie could be incredibly stubborn sometimes, and this was one of those times. She wouldn’t willingly admit she was sick unless she wanted to, and experienced something that proved it. Normally whenever she felt the beginnings of a cold, or anything that could remotely make her unwell, she dosed up on everything to begin fending it off before it could take hold. She boosted her immune system, went to bed early, and drank liters of water and orange juice for the vitamins and to flush out any bacteria or viruses. To her credit, her method always worked. She might have a sniffle for a day or two, but as long as James had known her, she had never been sick to the point of being bed ridden, or having to suffer for it.

But here it was different.

There were no grocery stores where she could stock up on orange juice. No pharmacies where she could get the paracetamol and other drugs she used to keep her strength up. Eleanor had her first aid kit, but that only really consisted of things needed for patching up cuts and open wounds.

He noticed Frankie was beginning to breathe hard, clutching her chest even though their pace hadn’t increased. She was slowing down again, and dropped back even further, leaning over, her hands on her knees as she breathed in deeply, forcing air into her lungs. She was heaving, breathing so hard she might as well have just run a marathon.

Siberimon and Odocomon stopped, returning to their partners, while Rubimon came up behind them.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, unusually gently. She had been witnessing Frankie’s struggle just as much as James had.

“Noth... nothing,” Frankie wheezed.

Rubimon frowned, looking between James and the two rookies.

“I think she could do with some water,” Odocomon advised.

Siberimon nodded. “I’ll go.” He scampered off down the line of humans and Digimon until he reached Eleanor. His urgency had caused everyone to stop and look. He returned with a bottle of water and handed it to Frankie.

Eleanor followed him and kneeled to look at Frankie. She placed her hand on her forehead. Frankie didn’t push her away; taking short sips from the bottle. The water wasn’t cold, but it was good. It seemed to lessen her wheezing, make her breathing easier.

“Frankie, you’re all clammy,” Eleanor murmured. “We’ll stop a minute, I have a thermometer. I think you have a temp-”

“I’m fine,” Frankie insisted. She put the cap back on the bottle and stood up straight, taking a deep breath as she did so, as if it proved some kind of point. “If we stop more than necessary, Ryudamon is just going to get annoyed, and I don’t want to be the cause of any delays.”

“I really think I should at least take your temperature,” Eleanor explained softly. “Your forehead is unnaturally cold, and you’re covered in sweat.”

“It’s warm,” Frankie rebuffed.

“No, cold sweat,” Eleanor said firmly. “The kind of sweat you generate when your body is fighting off an infection.” She folded her arms. By now the others had all stopped and were waiting. Frankie could see impatience on Ryudamon’s face even from the distance and she shook her head.

“I don’t want to hold everyone up,” Frankie explained, “and I feel fine.”

James touched her shoulder. “You wouldn’t be holding everyone up. I’m sure we could all use a break, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Eleanor nodded, agreeing.

“You can take my temperature when Ryudamon says we can take a break,” Frankie compromised. “But for now, let’s just keep walking. I’m good now.” She grinned weakly. “Promise.”

Uneasy, and still dubious, Eleanor backed off and began walking again, sticking closer to Frankie and James in case Frankie needed help again. Siberimon walked closer to Frankie’s side, holding the water bottle, handing it up to her when she needed it. James matched his pace to Frankie’s so he could keep an eye on her, despite her insisting she was fine.

Over the next two hours, it started happening more and more. Frankie would walk for a little while and start wheezing again, struggling to keep up to even her current, slow pace. She would take a drink of water while trying to catch her breath and start all over again. She seemed to be trying to be discreet about it. James always stopped with her, Odocomon, Siberimon, and Rubimon too. None of them called the attention of the others, and they would try to catch up once Frankie was ready.

The tall buildings that they had seen in the distance were slowly getting closer, and slowly beginning to spread out in less of a cluster and more of a metropolis. There were plenty of tall buildings, not as tall as skyscrapers, but still tall. Then shorter buildings, wider in size, came into view. They were still a few hours away from the town, so there was no telling what Digimon lived there, but Ryudamon had confirmed they would be resting there during the night, regardless of the inhabitants. He had explained the Clockwork City was a town that ran on time; everything was always exactly on time. Everything ran at precisely the same time, and never a second before or after. Digimon were programmed to run to the times set by the city.

At least they had been the last time Ryudamon had visited, which had been some time ago. He had had friends in Clockwork City, all machine Digimon, and it had been a busy city that was not just a social hubbub, but a trading one too. Digimon had come from all over to share wares from their own homes and villages that were further off. They made and broke trading deals, and it had been a place where Digimon could ride Trailmon to travel long distances, if they could not travel quickly themselves.

He had heard whispers that the city was deserted now, or as good as. That the clocks had stopped running and many of the Digimon who had relied on them had gone mad, or had simply broken away from the time constraints there and moved on. He secretly hoped they would find at least one familiar face to give them food and shelter; if not, they would be forced to find something themselves.

“Ryudamon.” Eric’s voice beside Ryudamon broke him from his thoughts and he turned to look at him. Eric had stopped and was peering behind him, so Ryudamon followed his gaze. Everyone had stopped walking, they were moving back. Ryudamon could see why. James and Frankie had been struggling to keep up, rather Frankie had been struggling and James had opted to help her along. At first Ryudamon had thought it simply tiredness, and the warmth from being so out in the open. But now he wasn’t so sure.

He moved through the congregated group.

Frankie was on the ground. She was convulsing, one of her leg muscles had gone into spasms and her face was contorted in pain. Eleanor was holding Frankie’s leg in her hands, massaging her calf to lessen the length of each spasm, while James held her arms down to prevent her from flailing or injuring herself. Siberimon looked horrified.

“What’s the matter?” Eva moved towards Frankie.

“No,” Ryudamon ordered, his voice filled with authority. Eva stopped in her tracks, staring at the lizard Digimon curiously.

“Ryudamon...?”

He marched forward. “She needs space, air. All of you crowding around are not helping.” Eric ushered the group away a few feet, though that was as far as they would go.

Ryudamon began to look Frankie over. The convulsions had passed and her body seemed to relax. She wheezed, breathing short, shallow breaths, her chest rising and falling to rapidly. Her skin was damp, sticky all over, and through his claws he could feel the chill on her skin. He delicately opened one of her eyes, which rolled back into its socket. The blood vessels were more pronounced, and the whites of her eyes were mottled with a subtle navy that only Ryudamon seemed to have noticed.

He stood back from her once he had finished his examination.

“What’s the matter with her?” Siberimon asked, sounding desperate and trying to hide it.

“How long has she been like this?” Ryudamon demanded, ignoring Siberimon for now and looking at James.

“Since yesterday. It’s been getting gradually worse today,” he explained.

Ryudamon stared at him. “Have you felt any of the same symptoms? Clammy, cold, breathlessness?”

“No.”

“What’s the matter with her?!” Siberimon pleaded.

Ryudamon turned to him, hoping his expression wasn’t as grave as he thought it was. “She has a virus. It should be quite simple to cure, but we will need to act quickly. She needs to be moved to the city as soon as possible.”

“I’ll go,” Siberimon said.

“You can’t evolve with her in this state.” Ryudamon shook his head. “And the wind you carry on your back as Hurakamon would not help much, her temperature needs to get lower.”

“Vespasmon’s fur could do. It’s always naturally cool because of the sea I guess,” Piper spoke up. “He can take me, Frankie and Siberimon ahead if you tell us where to go.”

“Good,” Ryudamon confirmed, he rubbed his temple, trying his best to remember the layout of the city. “You will need to enter the city through Pendulum Gate; it’s the entrance I was leading us to anyway so you shouldn’t miss it. From there you must carry on down the main street, it’s the longest, widest street, and connects all the four gates of the city. Travel down it no more than thirty feet. On your left you’ll find a large building, with a cog turning over the door. Wait in there.”

“Turning cog, got it,” Piper confirmed she nudged Caesarmon gently, and he edged away from the group, getting into a large enough space to evolve.

“I’m going too,” James insisted.

“Fi-”

“And me,” Reyez added. He had been standing towards the back of the group, his arms folded and the usual nonchalant expression on his face - a stance and look almost mimicked exactly by Ailurmon.

Ryudamon sighed. “Fine.”

Caesarmon exploded in yellow light, and stretched into the form of Vespasmon.

“I’d like to go too,” Eleanor added. Ryudamon stared at her. “I have some basic medical training from looking after my mom. I can help.”

Piper glanced at Vespasmon. “You going to be okay carrying everyone?”

Odocomon stepped forward. “I can carry James and Ailurmon, if Reyez can travel with you.”

Vespasmon grunted a response, nodding. James hooked his arms under Frankie’s back and knees, scooping her up off the ground. She was murmuring softly, her eyes flickering wildly like she was in the midst of a waking nightmare. The back of her shirt was soaked in sweat.

Piper clambered up onto Vespasmon’s back while James laid Frankie onto one of his paws and he lifted her up to his shoulder, where Piper pulled her on. Following Frankie was Siberimon, Eleanor, and finally Reyez, both of whom held onto Frankie to keep her secure on the journey.

Rusdramon appeared in Odocomon’s place and James vaulted onto her back, while Eric lifted Ailurmon on.

“We’ll be with you as soon as we can,” Ryudamon explained. “As soon as you arrive, concentrate on keeping her cool to keep the temperature at bay.”

“Right.” Eleanor nodded, gripping a bag full of supplies on her lap.

 “Keep us updated, alright?” Tom said seriously, looking up at James. He stepped closer, holding the younger man’s arm. “And try not to get into any fights with Reyez about this.”

“Thanks,” James snapped. Rusdramon circled on the spot for a moment. Vespasmon took off first, bounding over the ground in long strides, kicking up dust behind him. Rusdramon reared back a little from the debris before breaking into a gallop to follow.

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

The city was immense. On getting closer it was possible to see just how large the city was and how far the expanse stretched. Tall fences surrounded it, with interesting patterns wrought into the metal. The Pendulum Gate was marked with a sign stretching over it, though the metal letters were covered in rust, and the pendulum that was supposed to swing above the road was stuck in one position, needing desperate attention. Nestled between the tall buildings were smaller ones, warehouse-sized buildings, and some that looked like they could have been houses.

A lot of them looked like they had been abandoned for some time, with windows boarded up, and in some cases, glass had been smashed out of them, left to litter the ground. But still, chimneys of the larger buildings continued to expel smoke, and it was possible at every turn to hear clocks ticking.

James cautiously led the way into the city; if he had learned anything from the Digital World, it’s that there was no room for just running into something stupidly, considering the outcome could have been grim. He and Rusdramon checked each of the buildings they passed for signs of life or movement inside, with Vespasmon following, until they came to the building Ryudamon had mentioned.

It was a couple of stories, with a high roof that had once been copper-colored, but now was mostly turquoise caused by chemical reaction. The windows on this building were smashed, and the door wide open. James entered first with Ailurmon, Rusdramon, and Reyez as they checked the area for any danger. It was dusty inside, and there were tables littered everywhere, giving the impression this building had once been a meetinghouse of some kind. It smelled interesting, like exotic spices that had been left there for some time to defuse.

They checked the ground and upper floor, which was a litter of dust and old boxes that Ailurmon opened and happened upon a vast selection of cloths and sheets in a myriad of rich fabrics and colors, each with intricate designs.

Piper stayed outside with Vespasmon, who was too big to fit through the door while Eleanor, James, and Reyez set up an area to look after Frankie. They covered one of the tables with several of the cloths Ailurmon had found, and rolled them up to form some kind of makeshift mattress. The table was in no direct sunlight that came through the open windows, but still managed to catch some of the breeze that came through them and the door.

James carried Frankie in, laying her out on the table.

She had slipped in and out of consciousness the whole journey according to Eleanor, murmured indistinctly, and had once started to spasm and convulse again. Siberimon pulled up another table close to where Frankie was and climbed onto it, while Eleanor took out a few of the first aid items she had with her. She quickly took Frankie’s temperature while Piper went looking for a water container.

Reyez and James ripped up strips of fabric, and Eleanor stripped off the top layers of Frankie’s clothes, using her shirt and laying it under her head like a pillow. Piper came back with a bucket she had found upstairs. She and Caesarmon washed it up, ridding it of dust and dirt outside, before Caesarmon filled it again with cold water. The strips James and Reyez had torn were dunked into the bucket, soaked, and then laid over Frankie’s forehead, neck, and around her wrists to start to try and bring her temperature down.

The whole time, Frankie muttered indistinctly, but stayed perfectly still.

Ryudamon and the others turned up less than an hour later. It seemed their worry prompted everyone who could work as a mode of transport to do just that, and allowed them to cover the remaining distance much faster.

Irbimon set to work being helpful as soon as he got there, putting the bucket of water on ice, and freezing the edges of the table Frankie laid on to keep it and her cool.

Ryudamon checked Frankie over while everyone else milled around restlessly. He looked over the same areas he had done before, checked her eyes, and took her temperature with his paw again. This time he closely examined the skin on her neck, inner wrists and stomach, while Eleanor followed him around waiting to hear instructions. Eric had the rest of the first aid kit, splints, and bandages - not a lot that would be helpful.

Siberimon stayed with Frankie, watching her sadly, his ears lowered and dejected as Ryudamon summoned the others over to him, a short distance away from the Digimon and Frankie.

“So?” James asked, anxiously.

“I know what will cure this. The cold is doing well keeping her temperature at bay. If it rises any more, curing her might be difficult,” Ryudamon explained, he was not about to pull punches with them.

“What do you need?” Eva inquired.

“Circuit Lilies, Codeberry Juice and Bronze Ash,” Ryudamon explained. He saw confused looks pass over the faces of everyone around him, except Rubimon. She was well trained and knew when to keep her expression impassive and her mouth closed.

“Any idea where we can find them? Or what they look like?” Hunter asked dubiously. He often doubted how smart Ryudamon really was.

“Circuit Lilies are flowers; they’re tall, grow on cliff edges because then they always get the sun, and they retain moisture as it rises up in the air. They’re a variety of colors, the best is a white-pinkish color. It’ll have petals with odd marks on them, like a circuit board,” Ryudamon explained.

Poemon popped her wing up. “Tom and I will go find that,” she offered. “I can fly fast enough as Valramon and we’ll have the easiest access to cliffs from the air, unless people feel like forming a human ladder.”

Tom patted her head. “We’ll be fine to go alone.” She smiled at him.

“What about the Codeberry Juice?” Eleanor inquired.

Ryudamon stroked his chin. “They grow almost anywhere, but they like being in the under-brush. They grow best when not in direct sunlight and in good soil. They’re considered a weed, so you’d be best looking through the city and checking any abandoned gardens or parks you might come across.”

“I thought you said this was a clockwork town,” Eric said.

“It is,” Ryudamon confirmed, “but that doesn’t mean the occupants who lived here didn’t appreciate organic matter.” He smiled, briefly. “They also have a very distinct smell. It’s not pleasant, it smells like rotting vegetables.”

“Leave that to me then,” Hatimon said with a bark. “I can track it.”

“You shouldn’t go alone, especially not in the city. We don’t know if the remaining natives here are friendly or not,” Rubimon explained.

“We can go with them,” Skollmon spoke up.

“No,” Ryudamon shook his head. “I need you and Rubimon to stay here with me as I’ll need your fire power.”

“I’m not leaving,” James insisted.

“Tch, yeah. I’m staying too,” Reyez added.

“Don’t all jump at the opportunity to work with me,” Rose murmured, folding her arms.


Eleanor piped up. “I’ll go. Two heads are better than one, and I know a bit about herbs and plants so I’ll know which ones to get once we find them.”

Rose did not look enthusiastic at this, but didn’t argue. She was aware there were bigger things to deal with right now.

“What about the Bronze Ash?” Eva asked, leaning forward. “Leave that to Piper and I, but where are we going to find it? It sounds pretty... random.”

Ryudamon looked uneasy. “It’ll be the most difficult thing to find,” he admitted. “It’s like a spice, very fine but... it has a similar consistency to sand. As the name might suggest, it’s bronze in color. It’s something of a commodity, not common. It’s not something you’ll find lying around on the ground by chance. It’ll be being stored somewhere. Your best option is to ransack houses in an attempt to find it.”

“Ransack houses,” Piper repeated. “Got it.”

“The most important thing is that you must get more than you think you will need of these things,” Ryudamon said urgently, his tone severe. “If Frankie has been infected with what I think she has, a large batch of the antidote will need to be made and you will all need to take it to avoid infection.”

After that word of warning, the groups split off. Tom ran outside with Poemon, who was Valramon in a flash of light and took to the sky as Tom was still climbing on to her back. Irbimon, Eva, Piper, and Caesarmon all backtracked towards the Pendulum gate to begin their search in the first houses they had seen entering the city. Rose and Eleanor waited for Hatimon to sniff around and get some kind of scent, something from a garden or a plant. Corneliamon travelled with them at Eric’s request, to help keep Eleanor safe if they were attacked. Once Hatimon had found a scent, she raced off with Rose, Eleanor, and Corneliamon in hot pursuit.

Reyez watched the groups disappear in different directions. Eventually Valramon was out of sight, flying in the direction of cliffs. He turned, going back inside. James was soaking the fabric again, cooling it and putting it back on Frankie’s forehead. Ryudamon was going through one of the supply bags with Eric and Rubimon. Odocomon and Siberimon were with Frankie and James, watching and talking quietly. Hunter had planked himself on a table with Skollmon at his feet, waiting for some kind of instruction from Ryudamon.

“So,” Reyez said, his voice carrying over the empty expanse of the room. “Are you going to tell us what’s wrong with her? Or are we going to keep skirting around that and pretend it’s a random infection.”

Ryudamon stared coldly at Reyez, his eyes narrowed and he looked irritated.

Hunter cleared his throat. “I really think there are bigger things to worry about than what information is being withheld from us right now, Rey,” he said, planting his feet on the floor.

“I don’t like being lied to,” Reyez stated, playing with the hair on his chin irritably. “I’m sure no one is appreciating the secrecy, and I know there’s something more to what’s wrong with Frankie that you aren't telling us.”

“For the moment I don’t think it’s necessary to disclose the illness, as it’ll only cause more panic amongst all of you. And provided the others find the items we need within a good length of time, then this will be over soon,” Ryudamon explained shortly.

“Bullshit,” Reyez said, his voice rising a few notches. Not in anger, but just so he was louder. “Your hiding something is nothing to do with benefiting us.”

“Believe what you want to,” Ryudamon snapped.

“How about you just tell us the truth,” demanded Reyez.

“Frankie?” Siberimon’s panicked yelp overrode Reyez’s demand. “Frankie!”

James was holding Frankie down by her shoulders. Siberimon had one of her arms. Hunter raced over and grabbed her legs, pinning them down just after one of them smacked him in the jaw. Ailurmon joined them, securing Frankie’s other arm. Her entire body was vibrating and trembling. Her legs had gone into spasm, she was coughing violently, mustering what strength she had to try and move her limbs. Ryudamon raced over, climbing onto the same table Siberimon sat on.

“Eric, get a bucket, a bowl. Anything!” Ryudamon ordered. He stood over Frankie’s shoulders, turning her head to one side. “James let up her shoulder a little, she’s going to choke.”

James did as Ryudamon asked, just a Frankie retched and a mouthful of bile leaked onto the table and floor.

The smell was intense, and unpleasant. And the substance was thick and yellow; it pooled on the ground until Eric was holding a second bucket underneath her to catch the rest of it. Frankie retched again, louder this time, the noise reverberating off the walls.

“Her nose is starting to bleed,” Hunter stated, panic audible in his tone. James grabbed one of the damp strips of cloth and started mopping up the small stream of blood coming from Frankie’s nose before it dribbled into her mouth.

She retched and dry heaved a few more times, before her body relaxed and she stopped. Her head flopped to the side. She was out of breath and wheezing heavily. Her eyes were open though, and properly, for the first time since arriving.

Rubimon handed a bottle of water to Ryudamon. He trickled a little over her mouth; James sloshed it back, wiping the bile from her cheek and chin. Siberimon stared at her sadly. Her glassy eyes barely registered him as they stared blindly around the unfamiliar area and focused more on the hands that moved around and above her.

Hunter let up the pressure on her legs and ran his hands through his hair, pulling it out of its ponytail. “What can we do to get things ready to make a batch of this antidote before the others get back?” he asked Ryudamon as he hopped off the table on to the ground. “I hate feeling useless, and I can’t do sitting still.”

Ryudamon regarded him with a weak smile. “We’ll need a pot, a cooking point, preferably made of copper or iron to heat up. Twigs, wood, anything that can start a fire. Check the nearby houses, check upstairs here. This was a meeting place for Digimon, market vendors, so there must be something here we can use.”

“There’s plenty more cloth and stuff in the trunks upstairs that should be good for burning,” Ailurmon explained. “I’ll grab some.”

“Thank you.” Ryudamon nodded gratefully, but then left his eyes on Reyez, who was still standing close to the door, arms folded, his expression unreadable and distant. “That is, unless Reyez disagrees and wishes to continue his pointless arguing with me.”

“Not right now,” Reyez said coldly, “but I want answers.”

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

Tom considered himself lucky as Valramon flew speedily through the sky back towards Clockwork City. Their search for the Circuit Lilies had not been a trying one, and had not taken as much time as Tom had originally assumed it would be. He simply hoped he had enough of the flowers.

He and Valramon had flown in a southward direction when they first left the city, until Tom had spotted a river below them and insisted Valramon followed that, as rivers all eventually led to the ocean. As far as Tom was aware, cliffs were made by erosion over time and therefore, there should be cliffs for them to scour.

He had hoped the trip would not take them a long time, or take them too far as time was running short.

He was worried about Frankie, and he sent messages regularly to James to ask how she was doing. The other man’s responses did not make Tom feel positive about her condition, and that had only led him to spur Valramon on more quickly.

They were lucky in the sky as their only company was other birds, and they didn’t see any other flying Digimon for miles around, at least not at this height.

The river they followed took them South and then branched off to the East. Valramon followed it, and soon enough the river opened up into the ocean overlooked from each side by clay cliffs, covered with dark green grass. There were sea birds of varying sizes and shapes that flapped around on ledges, but they scattered when Valramon neared them.

Valramon had hovered along the very edges of the cliffs, both of them keeping their eyes out for the plants they needed. There were clusters off them all along the cliff, all sitting precariously on juts or leaning out from cracks absorbing all the sunlight they could. Valramon managed to pick some of the plants with her beak, while Tom risked grabbed handfuls of them when he could get close enough without Valramon having to risk folding in one of her wings.

There was no time to tell between colors, the handfuls Tom had were a mix: some the whitish-pink Ryudamon had specified. Others of the flowers were pale yellow, pale purple or pale blue. The flowers were big, about the size of Tom’s hand, and the stems long with only two or three leaves on them. The stems oozed from where they had been picked, into Tom’s hand.

He only hoped the others had been as successful as he had been in their search and he would be the last one back. Seeing any one of the their party sick was a frightening thing, as it was hard to know what to do, considering there wasn’t the option of going to hospital or resting in bed. Every day was a danger in one way or another from Digimon attacks. It was scarier still when it was an illness that seemed as violent as the one Frankie had.

Tom had never seen an illness affect someone so quickly, and with such gusto as to knock them out and send them into spasm. It was a frightening sight to behold.

Another reason he wanted to get back sooner rather than later was his worry regarding James and Reyez. He knew that with Eric and Hunter there to help keep them in check, it was unlikely the two would come to blows. That, and they had seemed to be on more friendly terms recently. But still, Tom was worried. In a situation where emotions were running high with worry over someone they both cared about, their already tentative friendship could easily turn into a brawl.

He held onto some hope that Frankie’s condition would bring them together as they looked after her, rather than cause animosity.

“We’re nearing the city,” Valramon said, swooping down to a lower altitude as the city came into view - big and formidable, chimneys spewing smoke in puffs that worked in time with the ticking of a clock.

“Good,” Tom returned. He clutched onto her feathers with one hand, the flowers in the other.

The giant, bat-winged crow descended lower, barely skimming the roofs of some of the buildings as she weaved and dodged through the chimneys and taller buildings. Tom could have sworn he had glimpsed Remamon, with Rose, Eleanor, and Corneliamon travelling in the same direction as they were going, but Valramon was moving so fast he couldn’t be sure.

Their hideout came up fast, and Valramon slowed. She rose a few more feet into the air, circled once as she landed on the side street, and let Tom climb down off her back.

Valramon gasped, opening her wings as she glowed green and shrunk down to Poemon’s size. The smaller crow followed Tom at a run as he charged into the building, practically slamming the door back on itself.

He was the first one back, and that thought caused him a little worry. He didn’t think he had been gone very long, but long enough for things to move swiftly in their hideout.

At one end of the building, Ryudamon stood over a large copper container that looked suspiciously like a cauldron. It bubbled, steam rising into the air and disappearing into vapor. Flames beneath it were heating it. Someone, probably Rubimon and Skollmon, had heated the metal ground so much it had melted away to create a fire pit. The cauldron was suspended over the flames on a makeshift grate, made from the legs of several tables, the tops of which stood discarded at one side. There was a pile of cloth and sticks near where Ryudamon stood. Eric was with Ryudamon.

Frankie had been moved down; the top of one of the broken tables kept her elevated a few inches off the ground. Siberimon sat beside her with one hand in his paws; Odocomon was lying beside Siberimon, her concerned gaze shifting between Siberimon and Frankie regularly. Last Tom had seen James, he had been tending to Frankie, but had been replaced by Reyez in the time Tom had been away. James stood further off looking at the scene with Hunter, Skollmon, and Ailurmon.

Before he did anything else, Tom marched across to Ryudamon.

“Are these the ones?” he asked, thrusting a handful of the pale colored blooms at the lizard Digimon. He examined a few of them delicately with his claws.

“Yes. These are just those.” He smiled and took them from Tom. “And you brought plenty. Thank you. Now we need to wait for the others.”

Ailurmon approached at this point. “Anything I can do to help?”

“The heads need to be torn off the lilies and their petals shredded and added to the water,” Ryudamon explained.

“Leave that to me and Poemon.” Ailurmon nudged Poemon with a smile. “Two sets of hands are better than one, right?”

“Right,” Poemon agreed. She picked up one of the flowers and started doing as Ryudamon had explained; Ailurmon did the same.

Finally noticing Tom’s return, Hunter waved at him for a moment before leaving his spot and crossing towards the shorter blond. They met in the middle, closer to Ryudamon and the other Digimon, than to James and Reyez. James was peering over Reyez’s shoulder, while Reyez mopped Frankie’s forehead.

“How’s she doing?” Tom asked.

Hunter shrugged. “It’s really not looking so great. She’s has two fits since you’ve been gone. The first was bad, she was throwing up, starting having a nose bleed,” he explained. “The second was worse. She lost all control, rolled off the table onto the ground – that’s why we moved her. There was more vomiting. Blood and bile this time. She’s woken up a few times for a couple of seconds at most, but she’s not responding to voices or anything.”

Sighing, Tom ran his hands over his hair and over his stubble. “How are James and Reyez holding up?”

“It’s icy,” Hunter told him, his eyes widening a little. “James was doing fine taking care of her, but when she rolled off the table, Reyez went nuts. Yelled at James, saying he wasn’t watching her closely enough and took over. The only reason she rolled off was because James tried to move her head so she could be sick and not choke. Even Siberimon jumped in to defend him, but Reyez went off on one. James has been hanging back ever since. I don’t think he wants to fight or cause any upset.”

“You’d think they’d band together,” Tom said in a hushed voice, “considering they both care about her.”

“It’s a tough one,” Hunter said, rolling his shoulders once and crossing his arms. “Reyez has history, and still cares about her a lot. But James is her boyfriend and probably doesn’t like his place being usurped like that.”

Tom had to agree. He wouldn’t like it if someone else tried to take care of Eva when she was sick. He could understand James feeling dejected about Reyez’s action, but also understood why he hadn’t done anything to remove the other man. “Heard anything from the others?”

“Rose called me, said she and Eleanor found the berries and they’re making their way back now. Piper and Eva are still looking for the Ash,” Hunter explained.

Before he could utter a reply, they heard Frankie retching from behind them.

She was flailing again; Reyez had her arms held down, tight to the platform beneath her, while Siberimon was holding down her legs. They had already picked up on the signs when a fit was near and prepared themselves for it.

Frankie’s chest rose and jerked as she convulsed and began to gasp and pant. Her hands flexed at her sides like she was grasping for something unseen. She was spitting, blood and bile dribbling down her chin.
“You have to move her head,” James told Reyez, laying a hand on his shoulder. Reyez ignored him, adding more pressure to Frankie’s upper arms to stop them moving. Frankie sputtered again, beginning to bleed from her nose as she had done already. She retched, coughing on the bile already in her mouth as it retracted into her throat. “Rey, move her head to the side!”

“Shut up,” Reyez practically snarled. “I know what I’m doing.”

“You’re going to kill her!” James snapped.

Frankie released an agonized wail. Siberimon’s face was a picture of fear, tears rolling down his cheeks as he held his partner down. Hunter tapped the little tiger and took hold of her legs. Siberimon stumbled away, toppling back onto the ground.

The retching was still coming. The blood and acid Frankie was bringing up beginning to seep into her hair and onto the ground as her mouth overflowed. Each new convulsion was worse than the one before, and they were frequent, barely seconds between them to get Frankie respite. Another retch, and a gargled heave.

Tom grabbed a piece of damp cloth and began wiping the substances away from Frankie’s mouth. Reyez released her for a moment, slapping Tom away roughly. “Leave her,” he growled, “I can deal with it.”

James snapped, and grabbed the back of Reyez’s shirt, pulling him roughly to his feet and then shoving him a few feet away. “You’re going to kill her,” he said sharply. He was angry, but more out of fear than anything else. He didn’t want to fight. He turned around and kneeled at Frankie’s head. He turned it to the side, allowing any further vomit and blood out directly onto the ground and also allowing her to breathe as her mouth emptied.

Frankie was crying. Her face contorted in pain as another wave of convulsions hit her.

By now, Ryudamon and the others were all closer, but still giving space to everyone involved, not allowing themselves to get in the way. The only one who kept her distance was Rubimon as she stirred the cauldron.

“I told you, I’m handling it!” Reyez bellowed.

Tom got between him and James, before Reyez could act towards the younger brunette. He regarded Reyez with a dark glare and squared his shoulders, stopping Reyez in his tracks.

“What is your problem?” Tom asked, a quiet calm to his voice, hiding the anger and rage that threatened to bubble over. James had done the right thing pulling Reyez away; it was clear the other man was not himself or thinking clearly. And had James not yanked him away, Frankie would still be choking.

He could hear behind him that Frankie’s fit was beginning to subside.

“My problem is that everyone else is incompetent,” Reyez growled. “Now move so I can take care of Frankie.”

“James is doing fine,” Tom said sternly.

Reyez scoffed. “She fell off a table on his watch!” he pointed out. “You call that doing fine?”

“And you were such an ass you nearly let her choke on her own vomit,” Tom shot back. He was beginning to lose his cool.

“She was going to be fine. I know what I’m doing when it comes to sick people!” Reyez answered.

“None of us know what we’re dealing with here,” Tom told him, his hands tightening into fists, hidden by his folded arms. “But from what I can see, James is taking the better care of Frankie, and has been since she started feeling sick.”

“He’s fucking around!”

“No, you are!” Tom shouted. “You’re being inconsiderate, and a stupid fucking prick!”

“Better than being fucking useless and letting her fall off the goddamn table!” Reyez shot back, he wasn’t looking at Tom. His gaze was focused on the back of James’ head. James was doing a sterling job ignoring the glare and the comments as he spoke softly to Frankie, mopping up the blood and the sick around her. Hunter re-soaked the pieces of material, and replaced them on her forehead and around her wrists.

“That was one thing,” Hunter spoke, getting to his feet and drying his hands on his jeans. “Bar that, he’s been doing a bang up job looking after her.”

“Like hell he has! He doesn’t have a damn clue what he’s doing!”

“And you do?!” Tom snapped. “Reyez, you didn’t listen to James’ advice to turn her head, almost letting Frankie choke. From what I'm getting, you’re being a fucking jerk, and for what purpose? Because it’s Frankie? Because you’re angry that she’s sick and you’re not the one taking care of her?”

“No.”

“Then what!?” Tom shouted.

Reyez glared at him, green eyes half hooded. He dropped his glare and his tone lowered. “Fuck it.” He turned to walk away.


Tom grabbed him by the shoulder and wheeled him back around. “No,” Tom snapped. “This fucking emotionally stunted bullshittery is done! Finished! I’m fed up with it, as I’m sure everyone else is. We all care about Frankie, none of us know exactly what’s causing this-”

“He does!” Reyez pointed at Ryudamon. “But he’s being an evasive shit and won’t say!”

“And you’re being an evasive fucker by not telling us what your goddamn issue is!” Tom explained with an austere gaze.

Reyez regarded Tom for a moment, but for once felt like he was in a losing battle. “I don’t want to lose her, and it’s pretty hard to see her in this condition,” Reyez explained finally, scraping his hands over his head. “I can’t lose her. And seeing his pointless ass screwing around and not doing much to help her is fucking frustrating.”

“I think I’m doing better than you,” James muttered, without moving from where he sat.

Reyez grit his teeth.

“Enough,” Tom snapped. He shoved Reyez back a few feet roughly, and Reyez stumbled a little. “Until you can accept other people are looking after Frankie and doing a much better job than you, you can not go near her.”

“You can-”

“No. I’m talking,” Tom snapped. “You two have had your issues in the past, but I figured you’d resolved them. But fuck, Rey, you’ve gone one step beyond being a jerk to being a fucking moronic jerk. You put Frankie’s life at risk just then because you wanted to be the big man. Be in control and be the one to look after her. Grow the fuck up. James is responsible for her, and if that bothers you then you have to deal with that yourself and not put other people in danger because of your own pig-headedness and stupidity. Especially when it’s Frankie who you claim you can’t lose. By my guess, I think either you have some serious control issues, or you still love her.”

Reyez blinked, but said nothing.

Tom stared at him.

There was a silence in the room that was almost awkward.

Hunter’s mouth quirked. “I’d say you hit the nail on the head there, Tom.”

Before any other words could be said, the door opened and Eleanor walked in, rushing straight over to Frankie, unaware of the argument that had been going on. Or if she was aware, she acted as if she had not heard anything.

Reyez shuffled his hands into his pockets and backed off. James had said nothing, but Tom watched him warily.

“We got the Codeberries,” Rose stated. She was carrying some linen fabric with the berries inside. Ryudamon took them from her and hurried across to where the cauldron was bubbling, stirred by Rubimon. He began to squish and squeeze them between his claws, still in the material, and let the juice drip into the water.

“All we need now is the Bronze Ash,” he stated.

Eric watched the water turn an interesting umber color. “Let’s hope Eva and Piper hurry.”

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

Skadimon bristled, his fur standing on end and his hackles raised as he snarled. His maw was encased in ice and he panted, his gaze fixed on the golden Digimon opposite him.

LoaderLeomon was a machine Digimon, entirely made of gold-colored metal. His mane looked and spun like a segmented drill, and a massive flail was attached to the end of his tail. The lion Digimon had pounced on Skadimon as he had been transporting Eva and Piper to another set of houses further away. He was faster to travel on than walking, and it was his turn, as it had been Vespasmon beforehand.

Skadimon had narrowly avoided LoaderLeomon’s initial attack and had rolled out of the way to avoid him, knocking Eva and Piper from his back. The two girls had taken cover under some copper debris from a destroyed house. Caesarmon had a minor injuries from Skadimon’s roll, having been rolled on, and had found himself unable to evolve and help, much to his chagrin.

“You’re in my territory!” LoaderLeomon growled, releasing a roar from his throat as he pounced at Skadimon.

Skadimon narrowly dodged, and nimbly leapt onto the roof of one of the smaller buildings they had been passing when LoaderLeomon attacked. He had the higher ground for now. “Hungering Cold!” He released fanged blasts of snow and ice down at the metal Digimon, several of them hit, but LoaderLeomon escaped the rest.

“We’re not trying to take your territory from you!” Skadimon insisted. “We’re looking for Bronze Ash.”

“Liars!” LoaderLeomon yowled. “Boring Storm!” His impressive metallic mane began to rotate at an ultra high speed, releasing a blast of electricity straight into Skadimon’s face. The large snow leopard reeled back from the hit and just managed to swipe his paws down onto LoaderLeomon as the golden Digimon charged him.

“It’s the truth!” Skadimon insisted. He tried to sink his fangs into the other Digimon’s body, but the metal was too hard and his teeth didn’t make a dent.

Piper gripped her D-Touch. “I don’t get it,” she whispered to Eva, so as not to draw the lion Digimon’s attention. “He’s a vaccine Digimon. It doesn’t make sense for him to be attacking Skadimon.”

“Unless he’s not himself,” Eva said seriously.

“Watch out!” Caesarmon yelped. He scurried away, limping on his back leg as Piper and Eva followed. Moments later, Skadimon crashed into where they had been hiding.

Skadimon righted himself as LoaderLeomon snarled at him, his mane spinning quickly while his morning star tail whipped back and forth as a threatening sign. In a glow of pink, Irbimon reappeared in Skadimon’s form.

“He’s not listening,” Irbimon said.

“Now’s not the time to shrink!” Eva shrieked.

Irbimon gave her a look. “I know that.” He dashed forward, running on all fours and was again engulfed in a bright pink glow. “Irbimon, reboot evolve to…” His little feline body stretched and lengthened in places. His forepaws being replaced by hands that held a familiar sword made of ice. A cloak appeared and hung from his back. “Ymirmon!”

The familiar form of Ymirmon was a welcome sight and he glanced back at Eva and Piper. “Get to cover,” he ordered, before charging into LoaderLeomon.

The metallic Digimon’s teeth bit down on Ymirmon’s sword as two the pushed against each other, gauging the strength of each other. LoaderLeomon leapt back as Ymirmon swung Rimefang.

“Loader Morningstar!” Called LoaderLeomon, racing towards the humanoid figured in front of him.

Ymirmon waited a few seconds, before swinging in a wide arc. “Remorseless Winter!” There was a moment’s pause before a blizzard exploded from the arc he had created with Rimefang, forcing LoaderLeomon back.

Raising his blade above him, Ymirmon raced towards the other feline, the blizzard obscuring LoaderLeomon no issue for him. He dodged around the metal Digimon, and plunged the sword down into the ground just behind LoaderLeomon. “Glacier Strike!”

The impact created a small fissure beneath LoaderLeomon’s paws, and before he could notice, giant icicles were sprouting from the ground quickly, one after the other. LoaderLeomon was hit by one, then another; a third struck him on the back leg, piercing through the metal covering his body.

He roared in pain, but launched himself forward, throwing his body against Ymirmon, who raised his blade to protect himself with a second to spare. Still, the impact of the totally metal Digimon caused Ymirmon to recoil a few feet.

“We’re wasting time,” Piper said urgently, watching from the safety of a fallen chimney as the fight raged between the two Digimon. Caesarmon peeked his head out to watch, envious he wasn’t joining in.

“You think I don’t know that?” Eva said, not meaning to sound as angry as she did. “Tom texted me, said Frankie keeps having fits, and she’s getting weaker every passing minute.”

“Any news on the other ingredients?” Caesarmon asked.

Eva nodded. “They’ve got everything else. It’s just this Bronze Ash,” she explained.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack!” Piper complained. “There’s no telling how many houses are in this city. And there’s no guarantee any of them will have the Ash we’re after!”


“Leave it to us to get the most elusive ingredient,” Eva agreed. She pocketed her D-Touch and peered out of the cylinder. Ymirmon had LoaderLeomon on the run, but was unwilling to allow the Digimon go with his life, and so was set on pursuing him. Not a hard task considering the machine Digimon had one of his legs barely hanging on by wires. “We’ll have to keep searching, regardless how long this fight takes.”

“But by that time it could be too late!” Piper exclaimed, her pitch rising.

“I know, I know,” Eva tried to placate her. She wanted to ignore her own anxiety gnawing at her stomach. Wanted to push the nagging and doubting fears that they would never find the Bronze Ash from her mind, but it was a hard thing to do. She wanted to keep positive. She couldn’t think of what would happen if they failed.

A noise echoed up the pipe, causing Piper, Eva, and Caesarmon all to turn and look. At the other end, walking towards them was another being. A Digimon. It was like a giant clock, mostly silver with golden gears, and one of its arms was shaped like a gun. The clock face was broken. Sticking out of the top of the clock’s body was a being that almost appeared human; its face was mostly obscured by a red, stitched cowl, but smart green eyes were visible. This part of the Digimon had hands and arms, and carried a mallet in them both. It had a wind up key sticking out of its back, barely visible.

Caesarmon stood in front of the girls, his back arched and snarling.

“I’m Clockmon,” the Digimon introduced himself. “I overheard your conversation. Or at least the bare minimum.”

“It’s rude to eavesdrop,” Caesarmon growled.

“You were talking pretty loudly,” Clockmon said with a crooked smile.

Piper and Eva exchanged glances. He didn’t seem threatening, and the fact he kept his distance and introduced himself made him seem less like a Digimon that was going to attack them. Identical thoughts ran through the minds of both girls, and they both looked at Clockmon. Piper laid a placating hand on Caesarmon’s head, and he stood down.

“Can you help us?” Eva asked.

Clockmon looked at her. “Depends. What do you need help with?”

Eva took a deep breath and began to explain. Detailing who they were, why they were there, and who Frankie was. She explained about her illness, about Ryudamon and about the ingredients he had sent them to find. She told him how the Bronze Ash was the last thing they needed, and that the fight with LoaderLeomon was holding them up. How they were worried for Frankie’s health and if Clockmon knew anything about the Bronze Ash, they would appreciate his help.

“You mean, this?” Clockmon opened up the clock face on his mechanical pod and took out a suede tan pouch tied with a leather string. He handed it to Eva who opened the pouch and examined the contents. A fine powder drained through her fingers, though it felt like sand on her skin. It was colored bronze and she felt her stomach do a small flip.

“Is this Bronze Ash?” she asked, not daring to let her excitement bubble.

“Yes,” Clockmon told her. “It’s one of the last lots.”

“Will you let us have it?” Piper asked.

Clockmon smiled a little. “It sounds like your friend’s going to die without that antidote. I’d be a miser if I didn’t let you take it. Just, one condition.”

“Anything!” Eva said, fastening the leather string around the pouch to keep its valuable contents safe.

“Let me come with you, to where the rest of you are. I might be some help.”

Eva nodded without saying anything; she peered out of the old chimney. All they had to do now was wait for Ymirmon to finish with LoaderLeomon.

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

Siberimon laid the soaked material over Frankie’s forehead, quickly mopping the blood dripping from her nose with another strip of fabric. He wasn’t entirely sure why she kept bleeding. Eleanor had said something about blood vessels, hemorrhaging and blood loss, but everything she said, everything anyone said, was foreign to Siberimon. All he could focus on was Frankie.

She’d fitted another three times in the past hour. Each time had been worse and lasted longer than the one before. There was nothing in her stomach she could bring up, except the water that people tried to coax her into swallowing. So every time she had been sick since, all she brought up was watery blood. She had started to bleed constantly from her nose, and the corners of her mouth.

Ryudamon had done a check over, and her symptoms were getting worse. Her skin was still clammy; dark, textured marks were beginning to rise all over her body, looking like circuits. Her pupils before had been fully dilated, while now were almost milky in color, like her irises were covered in some kind of white film.

Siberimon fretted. She shouldn’t have been sick.

It was something that never happened. She never got sick, unless it was a hangover, and that was self-induced.

This wasn’t a normal sickness either.

The others wouldn’t say anything, and Ryudamon continued to be evasive about the truth of it all, but Siberimon didn’t need to know anything from Ryudamon.

Whatever it was that Frankie had, that was infecting her, wasn’t a normal illness. It was something worse. Something made of pure evil, and it was attacking her from the outside in. He should have seen it. Should have been able to tell when something was wrong. They had spent their entire lives around each other and it was his job to look after her, and keep her safe. He should have known there was something not right, even before Frankie herself had known. But he hadn’t noticed. And now it was too late.

Eva and Piper hadn’t come back yet. They had been gone for five hours, and Ryudamon was becoming more and more anxious. Another thing Siberimon had noticed. The wise dragon Digimon paced and kept glancing at the main door with worry marring his old face. Every time it moved with the wind, or he heard an odd creak, his head was up and he would look at the door, waiting. When no one would enter, he would return to his pacing.

Siberimon had relieved James for a little while of taking over Frankie’s care.

He had to admit, James’ devotion to her was impressive. It had been something Siberimon had not expected. He had grown to appreciate James being around, and accepted him in Frankie’s life. But he hadn’t expected him to get so involved and concerned over her sickness. He would have to say something, some words of gratitude if Frankie pulled through.

He mentally slapped himself.

When.

When she pulled through. He couldn’t afford to think like that, the idea of Frankie dying was something he could not face. Something he didn’t ever want to have to face. And with her laying in front of him, it was a terrifying image. She had to fight through it, and he was going to do everything he could to help, even if it meant laying down his own life to save hers.

He had read stories like that in books. How animals had traded their lives for a humans, so the human could live. Surely the same thing could be done in this situation, if the worst came.

Siberimon shook his head, trying not to think about it, and adjusted the material on Frankie’s forehead.

“How are you holding up?” He hadn’t even heard Odocomon coming up behind him, and now she was at his side, her legs folding up beneath her so she could lie down.

“Okay,” Siberimon said softly. He spread his whiskers with one paw. He blinked owlishly. He felt desperately tired, like he had been awake for a week and he needed matchsticks to keep his eyes open. In truth, he was just so exhausted from all the anxiety and the worry that gnawed at his gut like a terrible worm.

Odocomon’s ears twitched. “And how are you really doing?” she asked again. Siberimon looked at her for a moment before turning his gaze back to Frankie. “…Dear?”

Her voice was taking on Ceryneiamon’s tone, and it was a welcome sound to Siberimon’s ears. He quivered a little, not happily. It was more like a tremble of when there was a sudden cold gust of air. But there was nothing.

He surveyed the area around him. Ryudamon, Eric, Eleanor, and Rubimon were all over at the boiling cauldron, keeping it stirring so nothing burned or over boiled. Tom and James sat a few meters away with Poemon, Hunter and Skollmon, talking quietly. Tom had made James take a break, because James had barely been able to move his muscles had tensed up so much.

Reyez and Ailurmon kept their distance, which was not a surprise as far as Siberimon was concerned. Rose and Hatimon kept to themselves, Rose busy on her D-Touch, most likely exchanging messages with Eva.

“I keep thinking I’m going to lose her,” Siberimon said finally, not daring to meet Odocomon’s eyes. He still felt strange, knowing their history, having their memories. It filled gaps, but it was still an oddity, talking to her while knowing everything that had passed between them. “She’s strong, and she’s fighting this… whatever it is. But her strength is going to give out eventually.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I don’t want that to be the case. She’ll fight tooth and nail… What if Eva and Piper don’t find the Bronze Ash? What if this disease, whatever it is, takes all of them? What if the antidote doesn’t work?” Siberimon mused.

Odocomon smiled gently. “That’s a lot of ‘what ifs’,” she said softly, “and you’re not really letting yourself look at a positive spin. What if she does make it through? What if Piper and Eva come through the door with the Bronze Ash in two minutes? What if the antidote cures her of everything? In all the gloom, there’s always time to look at things in a more positive light.”

“I know,” Siberimon agreed. “It’s just hard, with her in this state. I don’t want to keep my hopes up in case… in case…”

“I understand, I do,” Odocomon replied. “I would feel the same, if it were James in this situation. But you cannot give in; you cannot let negative thoughts cloud you. You must allow yourself hope, even if it seems hopeless. And I’ve never known you to give up.”

Siberimon half-smiled.

“So, don’t begin now.” Odocomon nuzzled Siberimon’s cheek, before she set her head down on her legs.

He appreciated her sentiment, and her words, he truly did. They were just words though. And though she had said she understood, no one could understand how Siberimon felt at that moment, in those hours. Watching as Frankie started to slip away from him. And that was what it was. He could feel it, an odd tugging, the bond between the two of them that was being pulled at and undone the further away from him she slipped.

What would happen to him if she died? Would he cease to exist too?

He wouldn’t want to exist if Frankie wasn’t around to exist with.

Siberimon mopped the blood from her nose and mouth again. Frankie’s entire body was shaking, not a lot, more like a tremble, but it was the first sign of an oncoming fit. Siberimon grabbed at her shoulders.

“Help!” he yelled, his voice carrying over the expanse of the room.

James was with him in a few seconds, Tom held down Frankie’s legs, while James stood above Siberimon. Ryudamon crossed over too, moving faster than Siberimon had seen him move for some time. They waited, expecting the fit to come. The convulsions, the coughing, the heaving and vomiting. They waited for minutes, which crawled past. The trembling became more violent, and Frankie’s breathing became wheezier and more strained, but there was nothing else. None of the usual fitting symptoms she had experienced before.

The only change was that the dark markings that had been manifesting all over Frankie’s skin had now moved up and were encircling her eyes with black shadows.

Siberimon looked helpless as he released her arms and Tom her legs. He and James looked just as puzzled as Siberimon.

“What… what does that mean?!” Siberimon asked, panic rising. He turned to Ryudamon, who carefully checked Frankie’s eyes and the area around them. “What does it mean?!”

“We’re back!”

The door slammed onto the wall as Eva shoved it open and stumbled inside. Piper followed after her with Irbimon and Caesarmon. Clockmon waited at the door, checking over the others inside, keeping an eye out for danger.

He went relatively unnoticed, as Hunter and Tom rushed towards Piper and Eva, who were staggering on their feet. Both of them carried bleeding wounds on their faces. One of Piper’s arms had been scratched deeply and a cut across her lower lip was bleeding profusely, while Eva had an impressive graze on her forehead and on both her forearms, like she’d fallen over or been shoved.

“What happened to you?” Tom asked, easing Eva inside.

“Doesn’t matter,” Eva shook her head. She held in one hand the tan suede pouch that Clockmon had given her and thrust it at Ryudamon after limping towards him. “The Bronze Ash. We found it. Clockmon gave it to us.” She indicated to the machine Digimon that lingered in the doorway.

“Come in!” Irbimon told him, practically shoving the other Digimon inside. Caesarmon closed the door behind him.

“Sorry it took us so long. We ran into LoaderLeomon, who wasn’t happy to see us,” Piper explained.

“Did you get attacked?” Hunter asked.

“Something like that.” She tried to smile, but her swollen lip prevented it. “Then there was some debris, we were running, it was messy.”

“Not important.” Eva waved her hands, her wounds that bled seeming not to faze her for the moment. “But that’s the last thing you needed, right? You can make the medicine that’s going to heal Frankie.” She spoke to Ryudamon, who stared at her and then at the large pouch in his hands.

“It… might not be that simple,” he said slowly.

Siberimon stood up, alert suddenly. While James and the others joined Ryudamon, congregating around him. “What is that supposed to mean?” Siberimon demanded coldly. “It might not be that simple?”

Ryudamon sighed. “It’s worse than I anticipated.”

“No,” Siberimon snapped. “The truth. The simple honest truth.”

With all the looks on him, Ryudamon felt surprisingly small, despite his age. The bag of Ash in his hands was heavy. More than enough for the batch of antidote Rubimon stirred, it would vaccinate all of them against Frankie’s infection. But…

“It’s too late for Frankie,” Ryudamon said, avoiding the eyes of everyone who stood above him. Especially Siberimon’s amber eyes.

“What…” James faltered. “What do you mean?”

“The illness… it’s not an illness,” Ryudamon explained. “She was infected somehow… by the Parasite itself.”

“How is that possible?!” James snapped. “We haven’t been in contact with anything infected with the parasite!”

“I don’t know,” Ryudamon replied, calmly. “It could have been from anything. Something she ate, water from a plant that dripped onto her skin or into her mouth – anything. It doesn’t have to be direct contact with an infected Digimon for it to pass.”

Siberimon snarled, his voice transforming into that of Vayumon's. “Why didn’t you tell us what it was? How severe it was?!”

“I didn’t want to admit what the infection was, because I didn’t want to worry the rest of you,” Ryudamon explained. “But that last… fit. The markings around her eyes. That’s the final sign of the parasite taking full control. Her natural goodness as a Tamer repelled it for as long as it could.”

“This is crap!” James shouted. “Utter crap!”

“Why didn’t you say it was this serious!?” Eva demanded. “We would have hurried. We would have split up!” There were tears streaming down her face.

Reyez slammed his fist on a nearby tabletop, sending a loud ‘smack’ echoing through the walls of the building but did nothing else.

“So… what? What happens now?” Tom asked, eerily calm. He laid a hand on Eva’s shoulder, she was shaking. With rage or upset, he wasn’t sure.

“We can give her the antidote to stave off the illness for a little while longer. The rest of you will have to drink it to prevent infection, and to kill off any infection if it’s already inside you,” Ryudamon told them.

“Frankie,” James growled. “What happens to Frankie?”
Ryudamon leveled him with an impassive stare. “With the antidote we can help her survive to get her home. Once there… it’ll be a matter of time.”

“No!” Siberimon cried. “It can’t be that! She’s not allowed to die! I’m supposed to be the one to protect her!” His face was contorted; a mixture of anguish and fear gripped him. “Let me be the one to die in her place! It’s what I should do!”


“There’s nothing you can do,” Ryudamon advised. “Valiant as your pleas are, your death would achieve nothing.”

“I can’t live without her!” Siberimon exclaimed, his voice turning back to normal. He collapsed on to his knees, his furry body shaking as he sobbed. Irbimon rushed across to his brother to console him, while Odocomon laid her chin on Siberimon’s head.

James felt oddly numb. He could hear the others talking. Siberimon was sobbing, and Ryudamon trying to explain the reason he had been so evasive and so secretive about Frankie’s illness. The others were shouting, drowning Ryudamon out and all wanting to be heard over each other.

As far as James was concerned, it was all futile, arguing about it.

Frankie was going to die.

As far as Ryudamon had gone on to say, the infection had gone too far and she was going to die. Maybe not right now, maybe not tomorrow. But she was going to die. Soon, far sooner than she should have. And it wasn’t fair. It was completely and utterly unfair. She hadn’t done anything wrong. It could have been any of them who had contracted the parasite, but why did it have to be her?

She wasn’t a saint.

But no one deserved this.

No one deserved all the pain and agony her body had gone through in the past few hours. And there was no way to push it back. No way to take it all away. Move the virus from one person to another somehow. There was nothing they could do. And it seemed cruel, Ryudamon’s idea of elongating her suffering by feeding her the antidote that would only temporarily increase her life span.

She looked peaceful and restful, more than she had all day, lying there. Despite the dark markings around her eyes. She wasn’t sweating any more, nor fretting. No more movement, except the slow rise and fall of her chest as she breathed.

James was kneeling beside her; he didn’t even think the others had noticed he had moved away from them.

He shifted her hair gingerly.

“What am I meant to do if you die?” James murmured. He wasn’t speaking to anyone, wasn’t speaking loudly. It was a legitimate question as far as he was concerned. He knew it was selfish of him to think of himself in this situation, considering Siberimon would be affected more if she died than he would, he couldn’t help but wonder though. She was a big part of his life now. She had been for some time. This beacon of light that had pulled him through the darkest of times, and kept him going with light jibes and affectionate words. She had listened when he needed someone to listen, and talked when he needed someone to talk.

The thought of her no longer talking. No longer laughing, crying… or just simply being put a pain in his chest so intense it was like there was something trying to crack through his ribs.

“I love you, Frankie,” James admitted, his shoulders rising in a weak shrug. “I can’t lose you. I don’t think I could handle it.” He breathed in deeply through his nose and exhaled a short breath. “There’s got to be something...”

James was aware he was leaning over her, his hands braced on either side of Frankie’s head. He knew the idea in his head was one meant for stories, and that stories weren’t real. But right now, he was willing to try anything.

His lips hovered over Frankie’s, and he could feel her weak breaths intermingling with his own.

A hand suddenly landed on his shoulder and James glanced up. Reyez stood above him, an unreadable expression on his face. If he had heard what James had said, he didn’t show it, and frankly James didn’t care.

“I don’t think kissing her is going to make it all go away,” Reyez explained, helping James to his feet. “Unfortunately this isn’t like a fairytale.”

“I know that,” James said softly.

Reyez’s mouth twitched a little. “The Clockmon guy who turned up with Eva and Piper has an idea.”

James hadn’t even noticed Clockmon. He had kept to the side, said nothing when he’d entered with the others, and had quickly left the main group to stand with Rubimon as she stirred the antidote. He had listened to their comments, to what Ryudamon had spoken about, and was now practically cornered by the others.

“How can we know we can trust you?” Siberimon growled, his fur bristling.

Clockmon had his arms raised in defense. “I came because the illness Eva described when I met her sounded familiar. I’ve come across it before.”

“Why didn’t you say you could help before?” Rose asked, more gently than Siberimon.

“No one asked. I was going to say something, but you all jumped on Ryudamon and I didn’t get a chance,” Clockmon explained.

Tom tilted an eyebrow. “You came across this before? Where?”

“In the city,” Clockmon replied. “Look, this place used to be a bustling city of commerce. Sections of it got wiped out by this parasitic infection. Digimon who reject it die. Digimon who accept it don’t… not exactly. They just become mindless drones, which is near enough the same.” He turned to Eva. “You saw that LoaderLeomon; he had the same thing, but with him rejecting it, it had made him insane.”

“That makes sense,” Piper murmured.

“How come you weren’t infected?” Hunter pressed.

Clockmon half smiled. “I had been infected, but in a different town, where Jijimon administered the antidote to me, making me immune to it when it hit this place. I had the basic ingredients for a cure and managed to administer it to a few Digimon, but the disease spread too fast and I couldn’t get to everyone in time. The Bronze Ash I gave to you is the last of the ingredients.”

“Can you heal her?” Odocomon inquired, taking a tentative step forward.

“No,” Clockmon admitted, “but I can move time back to make the parasite recede. I can push it back about three hours, it’ll be at a serious point, but not the point of no return, and you’ll have time enough to administer the cure to her and get rid of it for good.”

James’s mouth twisted a little. “Why would you help us?”

Clockmon took a moment, his face becoming a little sad and forlorn. “I saw the infection take my family and my friends as it ransacked this city. I refuse to let it take your friend when she means so much to you all, and you’re all so important to my home.”

“And it will work?” Eleanor asked.

Clockmon shrugged. “I can’t see why not. It’s the best chance you’ve got.”

“Our only chance,” Reyez corrected.

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

The antidote mixture was ready after the Bronze Ash had been added, and the whole cauldron of watery orange liquid had been thoroughly mixed and decanted into a clean container. Piper filled an empty water bottle with the warm contents and waited with the others around Frankie, where Clockmon stood closest to her.

He had explained that the time would only change on Frankie. Nothing else. Everything else would be the same. His focus could only be on one person, Digimon, or entity at a time for the time transference to work.
Clockmon was silent, and the others all congregating around him and Frankie were too. They kept still, barely breathing and holding onto their hope that Clockmon’s idea would work.

He began spinning his mallet, round and round in circles. Slow at first, then beginning to speed up. His eyes were closed, his mouth drawn back in severe concentration. The clock hands on his machine body began to spin along with the mallet, the one eye visible through the clock face rolling round and round like it was spinning and getting dizzy.

The spinning stopped suddenly, and Clockmon smacked the mallet down onto the ground with a cry of, “Chrono Antipole!”

From the mallet exploded a blast that created a thin, shining veil of light, which covered both Clockmon and Frankie completely.

The effects were immediately obvious on Frankie. The dark markings around her eyes began to retreat, moving off her face and down her neck, disappearing as they went. A little color came back to her cheeks, and the cold sweat that had been covering her returned. The milky-white film covering her eyes thinned until her natural eye color was visible.

The changes took no more than a few seconds, and Clockmon stepped back as the veil that had covered him and Frankie dispersed. He stumbled back, out of breath and breathing hard. Hunter managed to catch the mechanical Digimon before he tumbled and lost his balance.

Piper dashed forward and handed the bottle of liquid to James, who had Frankie’s head on his lap. Siberimon held her mouth open a little ways as James poured in the cure little by little. Each time he closed Frankie’s mouth, and kept it closed until he saw and heard her swallow. After five or so swallows, he stopped and handed the bottle back to Piper.

“Now what?” Eric aired the question everyone had been wanting to ask but hadn’t.

Rubimon spoke up. “We wait.”

Waiting was difficult. Probably more difficult that the actual watching and experiencing Frankie going through the trauma the infection put her through.

Ryudamon made everyone else take several mouthfuls of the antidote as a precaution, in case they were infected already to cure it, and to immunize anyone who hadn’t been in contact with it. This experience had been close. Too close. And no one wanted a repeat of it.

The evening was descending fast.

Clockmon had left them for a short while to return to his own home, and brought with him food and other supplies. From what he could gather, they wouldn’t be leaving there tonight. The fire pit was reignited to provide warmth for when it got colder, but for now everyone milled around, talking quietly and keeping to themselves.

James took a breather from everything and stood outside in the fresh air for a while. The atmosphere inside was stifling, everyone waiting to know if Frankie would make it through. Siberimon hadn’t left her side since she’d been fed the antidote, and that had been over an hour ago.

He was hopeful, quietly so. He had seen the marks on her skin disappear just like everyone. But he didn’t want to pin his hopes too high. After all, there was still a chance Clockmon’s idea could not work, and they had just caused Frankie another bout of fits. She hadn’t had one though, since taking the cure… so things were certainly looking better than they had been.

Rubbing his face and scraping his hands back through his hair, James sighed audibly and stared at the sky. The door opened, and he glanced to see who was coming out.

Reyez simply stepped out, lighting a cigarette as he stood a few feet away from James, to make sure James didn't catch his smoke air. Reyez leaned on the wall, while James shoved his hands into his pockets. Neither of them had said anything about the outburst Reyez had had earlier that day. It hadn’t come up, Reyez had kept himself relatively separate from the group and James hadn’t had the energy or desire to ask him for more details.

Now, though, was a different matter.

The comments made entered his head, and he stared at Reyez for a while.

Reyez obviously sensed him. “What?”

“Was Tom right?” James asked, turning fully towards Reyez. “When he said you were still in love with Frankie,” Reyez cracked open an eye, “was he right?”

“He wasn’t wrong,” Reyez admitted after a short silence. He shrugged and stood up straight. “But it’s not the way you think.”

James arched an eyebrow and folded his arms. He wanted answers, but oddly didn’t feel threatened by Reyez’s admission. “Can you elaborate for me?”

“She was a big part of my life,” he sighed. “I don’t know if she told you… at the Gala that night I showed her something.”

“The receipt for the ring,” James prompted with a wry smile. “She told me.”

Both Reyez’s eyebrows rose and he smirked a little. “It’s good she’s honest with you at least. That should give you an idea of how serious about her I was… back then.” He paused, and sucked his teeth. “It’s hard to let that kind of history go.”

James remained silent. Reyez was talking, he had things to say, and James had a feeling if he spoke it would break the other man’s flow and their conversation would never be resolved.

“I love Frankie,” Reyez said matter-of-factly. “Probably always will. But it’s not the same as how you love her, and it’s not the same as how I loved her back then. She’s… I guess you could say she’s my best friend. And …” he shrugged, “that’s just how it is.”

James’ lips quirked into a small smile. “So I don’t have to worry about you trying to steal her back?” Reyez regarded him dryly. He slowly shook his head. “Well, that’s okay then.”

“Frankie!” Siberimon’s voice caught the attention of both men. Reyez tossed his cigarette instantly and opened the door wide and ran in, James following close behind.

Frankie was sitting up, supported by Eleanor, with Siberimon’s arms wrapped around her as he purred loudly and she stroked his fur with weak fingers. She looked drained, her skin a little sallow around her eyes and cheeks. Her hair hung limp around her face and shoulders. But she was smiling, awake and coherent, which was a vast improvement on her previous state.

James felt a great sense of relief wash over him. Eva wrapped Frankie in a light hug, saying something about ‘never scaring her like that again’ until Tom practically yanked the plum-haired girl off of her. He kneeled beside Frankie, taking her face in his hands and checking her over.

“What are you looking for?” Frankie asked weakly. Her voice was hoarse and she swallowed thickly after she spoke.

“Any sign of the infection,” James explained. He smiled at her. “How are you feeling?”

Frankie lightly lifted one shoulder. “Pretty damn worn out. And hungry.” She smiled a little. “That was one hell of an experience.”

“Just don’t do it again.” James planted a kiss on her forehead. “I don’t think I could go through all that again.”

Frankie tilted her head. “Even when it makes you admit things I’ve known for months and months?” Her mouth slipped into a weak smirk as she watched color seep into James’ cheeks.

“I didn’t think you could hear me,” he admitted.

“I heard everything going on around me,” Frankie said. “I just couldn’t respond.”

James faltered a little. “Oh …”

“Mmmhm.” Frankie ran her hand through her hair. “I do too, by-the-way... I would kiss you but my breath smells like death right now; I don't even know how you even did it the first time.” She laughed lightly. “Ugh and my hair... my clothes are all sweat--”

“Okay, okay! My turn again!” Siberimon yelled, shoving James away and crawling into Frankie’s lap. “I nearly lost her too!”

“If a girl gets this type of attention all the time, I might have to catch a cold more often.” She laughed.

Everyone relieved in the fact that this was all over, but Ryudamon found himself only worrying more. Mukademon's influence was becoming stronger, if it was getting to the point when he could easily infect the Tamers themselves, then that meant anyone was vulnerable ... even the Gods. He was much, much stronger than the first time, stronger than Ryudamon had anticipated ... and it wouldn't be long before he confronted the Gods themselves.

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