A/N: This…got big. It was born from thinking what the group dynamic would be with the Digimon, especially with the inclusions of Impmon and the other new Digimon. The nine haven't exactly worked super closely with each other for very long at all, as the final season and episodes were mostly spent in mini groups (the three mains plus Cyberdramon, Impmon/Calumon, Guardromon/MarineAngemon), so I wanted to explore that a little while being horrible to Impmon again. He's just such a fun character.

That said, this story is also complete, sitting happily in my Word documents. Given my admittedly crappy track record with uploading chapters of stories that aren't finished, I have decided I would not post a single chapter until the whole thing was done. But because I am a cruel beast, I shall be posting the chapters in weekly increments.

Reading Stand Up is not a prerequisite to understand this story, but it does help, as my "Digital World adventures with the Digimon" take place in the same continuity. Final note-when the mons talk about karma in this chapter, it's not reflective of my knowledge or what I think...I just don't think these guys would have anything more than a very basic knowledge of the concept XD

Let me know what you think! Comments, criticism, etc. Reviews feed and nourish hungry writers. More importantly though, enjoy. :3

Scar Stories (c) DeskRage


Impmon dug his claws into the side of the steep slate incline. Crumbling flakes of shale bit against the thinning fabric of his gloves and rained down below—

"Aaagh, watch it, Impmon!"

-presumably into Terriermon's eyes.

"Shut up," Impmon growled, trying to keep focus and claw himself up further. "This ain't exactly a picnic!"

With the Terriermon hanging onto his tail, Lopmon clinging to Terriermon's right ear and Calumon dangling precariously by Lopmon's ear, it was all Impmon could do to keep them all anchored to the side of this ninety-degree angle of a cliff face.

"You can do it, Impmon!" Called Guilmon from a ledge that might as well have been a thousand feet up for all the progress he was making. "As soon as you get close enough, we'll pull you up the rest of the way!" Guilmon, Gardromon, Renamon and MarineAngemon hovered over the side, poised and ready to reach.

A sharp wind shrieked by, pulling the end of the Digimon chain, threatening to drag them off the side of the mountain. For a second Impmon thought his claws might tear out.

Of course, if he could digivolve, this wouldn't even be an issue.

If I ever meet Momodramon again, I'll rip his fins off.


It had started out simply.

"Guilmon, are you sure this is the way?"

"Positive!"

"I know we've kinda been wishing for a change of pace, but this a bit much…"

Out of the stony plane rose a jagged cliff face that soared straight up into the colorless sky. It had to be about ninety degrees straight up. Now, this normally wouldn't be a problem for some of them. Renamon in particular was a fantastic climber who regularly scaled skyscrapers in the Real World. Impmon was no slouch in the climbing department, either, but even he was used to surfaces that had at least some purchase.

The surface of this mountain was a lost closer to the ground they'd been walking on. Brittle, crackly and smooth.

However, Guilmon was convinced it was the way to go.

Impmon didn't really understand it, but the demon dinosaur seemed to have a strange connection to his Tamer that none of the other Digimon seemed to be able to match. All of them had it to some extent, especially Renamon (for those of those counting, and Impmon was, he knew his own connection to his Tamers was so far the weakest. He knew it was probably due to the short amount of time he actually spent with them, the delayed arrival of the digivice, lack of Biomerge digivolution…a lot of reasons, but still), but Guilmon apparently had always been something of a special case. So when he said that he could feel Takato somehow, even worlds apart, the others had trusted him without question.

The sight of this sheer rock face might have even been a blessing from the featureless splot of rock that they'd been tromping through for a week (Calumon had found a stick that they'd started notching to keep track of time. No one commented on the human-ness of this behavior, although a lifetime ago Impmon might have). Now after being asked to climb it, Impmon was seriously considering the pros and cons of forever having bits of shale stock in the pads of his paws.

"Ally oop!"

They'd formed a chain, with Guilmon going first—he had powerful claws and a long, muscular tail that could form the basis for the best "hook" as they clawed up the mountainside. Renamon went next, supporting and showing Gardromon the best places to put his feet (all metal, rounded edges and heaviness made him the worst climber). So Guilmon wouldn't be endlessly dragging, the next strongest, Monodramon went next, helping push Gaurdromon along. Impmon held onto Monodramon, heading (or tailing) the lightest members of the group. MarineAngemon floated along as supportively as he could.

Impmon lost track of the miserable amount of time hanging onto the tip of Monodramon's flailing tail, scrabbling at the cliffside with his feet and blinking away dust and little rocks away from his eyes. But they'd definitely gone up a significant distance. Impmon had stupidly looked down to note the dizzying height from where they now were before quickly burying his face back into the cliff.

But that meant they were close to the top. Or at least a ledge where they could rest.

All that was tossed out the proverbial window when Monodramon suddenly whirled to the side with a growl.

"I've got to go!" was all he said.

In the moment Impmon had lost his grip on Monodramon's tail, he noticed the striking change in the Vaccine type's eyes. Normally bright and friendly (despite the fuzzy lack of focus, as though he was seeing past whatever he was looking at), they'd flipped, suddenly intensely focused and hard.

With a scrowl, he threw himself away from the cliffside.

"Monodramon, we have to stick together!" someone screamed at him.

"I've got to go!" Monodramon repeated. He fell only for a moment—beofore literally vanishing into what seemed like thin air.

It wasn't thin air though—for the air in the spot where Monodramon disappeared was twisty and undulating, like a heat wave, tinted with tiny shimmering lights almost invisible to the naked eye.

Impmon barely noted that part.

"YAAAAAHHH!"

"Impmon!"

Reflexively, Impmon had jammed his claws into the side of the mountain. He tore his right-hand glove as they slid down. That slowed them some, but it wasn't enough. Terriermon, despite the fact he was being dragged on by his ear and in no angle to do anything useful managed to swing himself and the lower parts of the Digimon chain against the cliff side. It stopped them from falling further, but they'd now at least a tall tree's length away from the others.

"Nuts!"


So now, Impmon again stopped trying to count the minutes, instead focusing on the now monumental task of placing one hand in front of the other, trying to ignore the protesting weakness in the backs of his hands. They were almost within reach now, but his hands were spasming with the effort of gripping by now, and he didn't even have his tail for balance.

"This sucks!"

But he would do this, even if he did end up tearing all his claws out!

The cliffside had other ideas. Maybe it was weak and he'd been gripping it too hard, or just plain bad luck, it decided to crack and give way.

Renamon's arm snaked out to grab him by the wrist before they could fall again. With Gaurdromon's help, she dragged the rest of them up.

Impmon flopped onto the ledge.

"Thanks!" Terriermon gasped, shaking his little hands and massaging his sore ears. "We'd have been toast without you."

"No thanks to that jerk, Monondramon," Impmon grumbled.

"Aww, cheer up, Impmon," Calumon said encouragingly, hopping over to him. "We're fine now, and the fact Monodramon's gone mean he could feel his Tamer!"

Impmon blinked. That certainly painted things in a bit of different light.

"He can do that?"

"Well, I seem to be doing it." Guilmon said, titling his head.

"I think Guilmon is right," Renamon mused. "Monodramon and his Tamer have been together for longer than some of us have been alive."

"Fascinating. It's hard to believe that the bond between Tamers and partners could grow so strong. I can't wait to return to the real world." Gaurdomon added—a little unnecessarily, Impmon thought.

"You guys are freaks," he wheezed at Guilmon. He examined his hands. His right glove was ripped all to heck, revealing a white-tipped, gently bloodied claw. Now that he could see the injury, it started to sting.

"Careful there, Mr. Warp Digivolve!" Terriermon nudged him.

It might be true, but he hadn't digivolved since getting here.

"Hey, guys! Look!" Guilmon had scrabbled a few feet higher up. There was a smile in his voice.

"What is it?" Renamon hopped up to Guilmon's level, sending a shower of pebbles down on the others. Impmon was picking the rocks out of his bandana when Guilmon said,

"It's our way out of this place."

He was sticking his hand through the rocks. When he pulled it out, the surface around it rippled and gleamed, like a puddle of water. It sparkled thinly with ethereal light.

"Follow me!" Guilmon said before disappearing into the portal with a shimmer.

Impmon stood up.

"Well, what are we waiting for?"

The remaining digimon clambered to where Guilmon had pushed through.

"Perhaps this is an inappropriate time to say this. But we seem to have encountered a lot of problems and trails since embarking on this journey," Lopmon murmured. "Sometime I wonder if we're being punished for something."

"What, like karma?" Terriermon replied.

"What's karma?" Impmon asked, interest piqued. He shifted his weight a little on the ledge around the portal, which proved to be a mistake—Terriermon didn't get the chance to answer him because he fell through it. The last thing he did hear was Terriermon,

"Why are we always falling?"


Maybe it was paranoia, but the instant they landed, Impmon struggled to his feet, fur bristling and eyes wide as he cast around for whatever mutated retard that would no doubt jump out of them this time.

This was the first of a series of pleasant surprises that of course culminated in near-fatal disaster, but that was for later.

For one, no one attacked them. And unlike the other time they'd fallen from great heights in getting from point A to point B, this time the ground was—

"I never thought I'd miss grass so much!" Calumon chirped, making snow angel motions in the scrubby wet grass.

"Me neither!" Terriermon sighed.

"At what cost, I wonder," Renamon mused, glancing around at their surroundings.

They were smack dab in the middle of what seemed to be a bombed-out forest halfway through its "growing back" phase. The first impression Impmon had was that of a massive mouth with blackened, broken teeth—but that analogy broke down quickly after about a second of looking. Many of the trees in this forest had probably been huge and imposing. Now most of them had a startled, split off look with jagged breaks. The bark was mostly ashen gray, with splotches of charcoal black. The terrain, mostly jagged and broken like a stomped graham cracker as though it had been torn up by an earthquake was mostly hidden by a thick, cool mist that clung and swirled at the bases of the blasted trees. Despite everything, though, the ground was marshy and a little squelchy. The air was thick with the smell of wet earth, but unmistakably tinged with…

"Is it just me or am I smelling fire?" Impmon asked. He looked closer at the surrounding woods. Some of the trees had a split off, jagged look, with bark that was either charcoal black in its entirety or in nasty patches.

"No. It reminds me of the D-Reaper's smell."

"It seems to have regrown itself pretty well, though," Terriermon said.

He had a point. Despite the blackened, skeletal look of the forest, he noticed the new growth was twisted dark and sickly looking—growing freakishly fast though, enough to lend itself to a scraggly canopy!

As such, the light that pushed through appeared in a latticework of weak, colorless light. It made the squiggling mottled shadows seem to twitch and move.

"Maybe," Gaurdromon said. He was still looking around, as though confused. "But something about this place is very familiar. I know I've been here before!"

"Well, we'll see if you remember. But for now, let's get out of the open," Guilmon suggested. "I get the feeling we're being watched..."

Everyone groaned. Impmon could sympathize, but they all knew that Guilmon was right. Calumon hadn't tried digivolving them since they landed back in the Digital World, and not having eaten anything since arriving probably would compound that. Besides, he'd heard Renamon and the others talking one night about how they weren't sure how reliable Calumon's ability to digivolve them would be now that they were separated from their Tamers—and how Calumon had released much of his power into the Digital World already in the fight against the D-Reaper.

And of course, Impmon himself couldn't seem to do anything either. He hadn't tried to digivolve again since MetalTyrannomon last week. He couldn't honestly say he was eager to try again for fear of failing and the shame at this inability. Again.

He found himself drifting towards the tail-end of their little herd until he was pretty much bringing up the rear alongside Gaurdromon. The big metal digimon was still looking around and squinting—as much as he could squint, Impmon guessed. He had no idea what Guardromon looked like under his armor. He surely had some kind of body inside, given the big organic eyes and (hilariously) echoing stomach growl.

"If we walk much further I'm pretty sure my feet'll fall off," he whined to no one in particular. "We've been walking for days, and I just climbed a mountain dragging three other Digimon and fell ten thousand feet. Don't you think we oughta catch a little R n' R before hittin' the road this hard?"

He didn't expect anyone to answer him. After a few minutes of walking in silence—or in Guardromon's case, clanking along noisily—the machine digimon surprised him,

"I must say that I'm a little confused at some digimon's complaints of hunger," he confessed. "I've very rarely felt those needs myself. It wasn't until the real word that I was even really aware of it in the fullest sense. But even now, to my own surprise, I am indeed hungry like the rest of you."

"That's because you fought your way to Ultimate level," Renamon supplied without looking back. "You were used to absorbing data. I was the same. However, since we've stopped loading our enemies, and are still regaining our strength from the final battle with the D-Reaper, we're going to have to seek other ways of bolstering our recoveries. The vegetables and fruits in the digiworld also contain data, even though it's not quite the same as directly loading."

"I suppose that does make sense," Guardromon muttered. Impmon hadn't really paid attention to Renamon's technobabble, instead having fixated on another thing,

"Woah, wait, you battled your way to Ultimate?"

It had never occurred to him that this stuffy-mannered bucket of bolts could have possibly made it to Ultimate the traditional way. He must have fought hundreds, if not thousands of Digimon to get to that point! Even Renamon hadn't made it to just her Champion level the old way, and he knew for a fact that she had loaded many enemies in her time.

Looking at Guardromon now, there was plenty of evidence for the digimon's caliber as a fighter. His armor was scuffed, joins well-worn and ready for use, and he knew from bitter experience that even as a Mega level, his Guardian Barrage did sting. For the first time he noted a long scratch along Guardromon's rounded side. It was jagged, and easily the deepest mark on the big metal digimon, though nowhere near bad enough to be a dent.

Impmon swallowed. He had never really thought of Guardromon as much of a fighter. He hadn't really thought about him much at all. The only experience he'd ever really seen the other Digimon fight was against him, after all. Maybe he was seeing things, but he remembered wounding Guardromon during the fight against Gallantmon. Could he have been the one to leave that mark?

Guardromon looked at him. Embarassed, Impmon glanced away quickly, wondering if Guardromon noticed where he was staring. His expressions—or what he had of one, anyway, was unreadable. "I found my strength as a warrior for justice," he said, "There's enough injustice in both worlds for it to be perfectly possible that one devoted to such a cause would be able to digivolve to Ultimate. But I never took pleasure in the wake of a defeated enemy, merely the satisfaction that justice had been served and an innocent spared, even if I risk my life in the process."

Perhaps Impmon was being overly sensitive—ew, what a weird thought!—but something in Guardromon's voice seemed pointed. He frowned. There was more to this guy than he'd initially thought. And yet…

He resisted the temptation to sigh. Suddenly felt very singled out and very alone.

"Hey, we're in luck!"

"Oh, yummy, yummy—food!"

Terriermon's exclamation and Calumon's excited laughter sent an electric jolt through the weary company. Bolstered by the thought of a potential meal, no matter how meager, they stampeded over to where Terriermon and Calumon seemed to have found something.

Impmon stopped dead. Okay, so it looked like Guardromon wasn't the only one with a little déjà vu. "Wait a sec…"

"Now, I'm not normally one for mushrooms, but right now, even these look great!" Terriermon said, wrenching a fat, spotty mushroom from its place. He raised it to his mouth to take a bite, when Impmon darted forward and slapped it out of his hands,

"Don't eat that!

Terriermon was surprised enough by the sudden attack that he didn't respond in kind.

"Hey, what's your problem?"

"We can't eat those. Those are—I think they're called the mushrooms of forgetfulness or something like that."

For the life of him he couldn't remember where he'd learned that. Of course he couldn't.

"Are you sure?" Renamon wondered. Impmon folded his arms irritably.

"Sure? Of course I'm sure! What gives you the impression that I'm not sure?"

"But how do you know?" Guilmon asked, titling his head like a disappointed puppy.

"I—don't remember. But hey, I'm a pretty smart guy! I've probably forgotten more stuff than you'll ever know, Pineapple Head."

"Well there's some irony for you." Terriermon put down his mushroom and climbed up onto Guilmon's back. "Hey, maybe you remember them from a past life."

"Okay, what's all this with past lives and karma?" Impmon asked, stamping a foot. "It's starting to get old."

"Yes, you never finished explaining that," Lopmon added.

They started walking again. Normally Impmon wouldn't have listened to closely, but Terriermon had been harping on it earlier and he had to admit—he was curious.

"Guess I didn't. Hmm…let me think a minute. Say a digimon gets defeated, but his data doesn't get loaded for some reason. If he was a nice person and did good things in his life, that means he'll have good karma for if he's reformed out of whatever was left of his data. Which means he'll have a good life, like a reward for the good stuff he did in his previous life."

"So Guardromon would be a good example of someone with good karma?" Guilmon asked.

"Sure, I think!"

"So, that's why you guys don't load data anymore," Impmon realized out loud while Guardromon was coughing in as dignified bashfulness at the praise as was possible, "So whoever you defeated might be reformed again?"

"Yeah," Terriermon said. "Like giving them a second chance." He blinked at Impmon, his black eyes suddenly bright with a curiosity that Impmon could only describe as wry. It pissed him off. "Why did you think we did that?"

"I don't know—you guys are weird!" Impmon blustered, face flushing.

In truth, he hadn't thought about it at all. Not seriously anyway. He'd known from fairly early on from his days of constantly seeking them out and spying on them that they'd stopped loading enemy data. They'd carried out that policy out faithfully, despite what was probably at least an occasionally strong urge to do so.

On his end he couldn't imagine loading data in front of them now even if he did manage to defeat an enemy. The very thought made him feel physically sick.

"So—what happens if you're bad?" Lopmon asked softly.

"Oh!" Terriermon said, as though the thought hadn't occurred to him. "Same thing, basically, but when you're reborn you have a bad life or trouble follows you wherever you go and affects everyone. Like a curse!"

"I knew it," Lopmon sighed. She sounded disappointed, resigned. "So if at least one of us has bad karma, we're all…" she trailed off, as everyone had gone very, very quiet.

Impmon froze, trying desperately not to react despite feeling like the fur had been flayed from his body, face red-hot , tail rigid. He could feel everyone's eyes on his back, guilty, but magnetic gazes. He felt like a rice cooker, all pressure and heat until he was going to scream at them WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT, HUH?

But Terriermon broke the silence.

"It's only awkward if you make it awkward, you know."

"Terriermon!" Renamon warned.

Terriermon spun around on Guilmon's back. "Momentai."

Impmon glared at him. Momentai? Momentai, but not sorry.

He ought to make Terriermon sorry! He caught Terriermon's gaze, and opened his mouth—that little brat was looking at him with those impassive black eyes that practically screamed challenge without betraying even the slightest hint of anger and it drove Impmon crazy, but something in those eyes stopped him.

There was nothing Impmon could say in his own defense. And honestly, there was nothing he wanted to say. He would never deny his actions. What was in the past was done.

So why did Terriermon's coal-black eyes, empty of malice, or even anger hurt so much?

"I was talking about me…" Lopmon protested, but Impmon was pretty sure he was the only one who heard her.


Once they settled down to camp for the night and people had started dropping off to sleep, Impmon announced he was going to go scout. Before Renamon (first on tonight's watch) and Guardromon (still going on about how this dumb forest was familiar to him) could say anything, he hopped away before he could hear their protests. He knew what he was doing was absolutely stupid, but at the moment that part didn't seem terribly important. He half-expected Renamon to chase after him. When she didn't, he was a little surprised, but shrugged it off. She could probably tell he needed the space anyway! That thought at least quashed the tiny flicker of disappointment. What, did they not care if he got squashed out here?

The cool forest smells—despite the charcoal tang of the air—sharp shadow play on the dappled forest floor, twittering, and sometimes menacing howls in the night brought back a strange wave of nostalgia he couldn't place. Maybe he'd been born in a place like this. But after having considered Tokyo's smoggy atmosphere, bright light, noisy people and chaotic cluster of buildings and roads his home for such a long time, he figured that this weird familiarity would be the same way Ai and Makoto might react to the smell of baby wipes and stale panda cookies when they were older.

He leaped deftly from branch to branch, always making sure he left at least some sort of mark so he'd know how to get back, swinging effortlessly from tree to bush and darting through the shadows. He felt wild and alive for the first time in days, gaze darting about from shadow to shadow, tight and ready for quick escape if necessary—

Actually that thought kind of wrecked it, since he honestly preferred a fight and really wanted to punch through something strong and unyielding and prove again that he wasn't a pushover and could be useful for more than just quipping and squabbling with Terriermon, but for some godforsaken reason he couldn't digivolve and as a result he was about as strong and reliable as wet cardboard—

The dull glint of a hanging fruit reminded him of his self-imposed mission.

"Finally!" he hissed to himself, a pointy grin sliding across his features. He hopped over to the next tree. This tree had only one visible fruit dangling temptingly from one of its branches. The rest had the torn look as though it had been recently relieved of its burden. It looked kind of like plum, and the smell was reasonably similar. Like the mushrooms of forgetfulness, he got the feeling that he'd encountered or learned about these before, but couldn't recall any adverse effects.

He twisted it off the branch, careful not to squish it in the process. This was the only fruit he'd encountered in this whole stinking forest so far, and even though his mouth watered at the thought of eating it, he sighed, contenting himself with giving it a sniff and put it aside. He told himself that he just didn't want to be that jerk who ate the last one of anything—not the case, he'd been known to do that with no remorse in the past—but knew that he'd actually just give it to Calumon.

"I find you are in strict violation of the buddy policy!"

Guardromon's voice nearly made him loose his balance entirely. But after a moment's struggle spent composing himself, he shook his fist at the other digimon.

The buddy policy. Early on, the group would talk or joke about how "splitting the party" was a bad idea, and how they didn't want to relive the experience of tramping around all over the Digital World looking for each other (which mostly consisted of wandering around, hoping they'd run into one of their lost number). However, on occasion, they had been forced to split up for short periods. A group of nine—eight, now that Monodramon had scarpered off—was not exactly inconspicuous an was in no way stealthy. Sometimes, to scout, or figure out the literal and metaphorical forks on the road, the group had been faced with the unavoidable dilemma. The solution was the buddy policy. Everyone had a "buddy" (the word partner had been conspicuously avoided) who would accompany the other in cases of temporary separation from the group. Buddies would change depending on the situation at hand. They'd had to skirt around their uneven numbers, so there'd always been a buddy group of three. . They provided protection and company, especially in the worst-case scenario that someone did get whisked off to some distant part of the digital world—at least they wouldn't a lone rookie (or champion, in Guardromon's case) in a world whose Mega population, though probably still depleted from the battle with the D-Reaper, were still more numerous than ever before.

"I don't see anyone with you, either, so that makes us even, pal!"

"But I seek to rectify that. Why don't you come down so I don't have to shout up at you and wake the whole forest?"

Impmon snorted. He figured that whatever was going to be awake in this forest was already awake, but he obliged and hopped down a few branches so that he was about eye level with Guardromon.

"What?"

He carefully watched for Guardromon's response. The guy only barely had what you could call a face—nothing but a pair of big moon-shaped green eyes. He seemed to hesitate. Impmon's tail twitched.

"I want to inquire as to whether or not you'd join me for a reconnaissance mission."

The words were very polite-sounding (so much so that it actually made Impmon want to dislike him for the stuffiness, but even he knew this was beyond unreasonable so he tried to stamp that idea out. It was hard), but something about it rang of challenge, almost…curiosity.

"Why me? Renamon was the one on duty."

"Someone strong has to stay behind at camp. You are already gallivanting out here. So, I thought I'd take the initiative. I refuse to rest I until I discover why this place is familiar to me, but I would appreciate someone who can move more quickly and see in the dark more efficiently than I."

Now Impmon was on guard. Last time anyone had attempted to flatter him or know him in any way had been Chatsuramon. But Guardromon wasn't that conniving turd-licker, Guardromon was a member of—of the group, and...

But even this tiny bit of flattery—even if it was true, he could see in the dark better than anyone, even Renamon—brought to the surface the choked dreams he'd had: instead of being curled up at the heart of the group, weak and protected, of him digivolving and protecting them from some kind of external threat, being useful I in a way that only he could be, valued not just as a "friend" but as someone who could actively participate.

He snorted again, "Fine, sure, I'll help you," he said, trying to sound casual. "I've got nothing better to do."


They rendezvoused with Renamon at the campsite to drop off the plum-fruit-thing Impmon had found. He tossed it to Renamon, who caught it deftly.

"Where did you find this?"

"Ah, I dunno. Just lyin' around somewhere. Give it to whoever's weakest, or something. I don't want it."

He was looking kind of in Calumon's direction when he'd said that. Not that it was necessary, Renamon probably knew what he had in mind the minute he'd brought it back. She didn't mention this, instead nodding and nestling the fruit next to Calumon.

Impmon thought he liked Renamon more every day. She was so dependable like that. On the other hand…

"So…did you send him to find me?" he hopped over to where she was and tried to just sound casually interested while Gaurdromon deliberated on which direction to take first. "I barely know that guy."

"No. I was going to go and fetch you, but he volunteered." Renamon poked the fire with a stick and looked him in the eye.

"I don't think he likes me much," Impmon folded his arms sulkily, pretense gone. This was dumb, because he still wasn't sure if anyone in this little group really liked him. Especially Terriermon—that jerk! He couldn't help but remember earlier that day. Although he couldn't say he really liked Terriermon, either. But Guardromon, well…

If Renamon had been given to human expressions—actually, all of them had adopted humanish mannerisms while in the Real World, even him, eeeegh—she might have raised an eyebrow. Instead, she simply looked at him, a glint of incredulousness gleaming in her star-blue eye. Either way, the message was the same: Should he like you, given what little he does know of you?

"Impmon," she admonished gently, turning her attention back towards the fire. "You ought to be grateful for the chance to get to know your teammates* better. They in turn will get to know you. Whatever our differences, we have some very important things in common. That is what matters."

Teammates? He'd never heard that word to include him before. He scowled, but before he could say anything, Guardromon signaled him over. So instead of a witty retort—she was right, of course, she always was—he settled for a dignified, "Hmph!"


Impmon wasn't keeping super careful track, but it did seem like the night was entering its darkest, deepest phase. He was still getting used to the weirdness of not having a moon—just the weird, greenish light reflected from the distant Real World.

It turned the skeletal, scraggly forest into a ghostly place, all indistinct sea-colored glow and soft, dark shadows—a place of spirits and fear. Well, for other creatures maybe. It only made his fur prickle a little, even at the pretty impressive height of this tree.

Still, he had to admit this had been a good idea.

After walking a few kilometers "north" according to Guardromon, he'd been asked to climb the tallest tree he could find and describe what he saw. Impmon dug his claws into the crusty bark (ugh, the tear in the right glove was getting bigger. If it didn't get fixed soon, the whole thing might rip in half), ready to use his tail as a counterbalance should anything happen. This tree was shockingly tall, but it was deader than the Devas, all black and brittle with death. The roots grip on the earth was about as secure as a little old lady's on a PlayStation controller. He figured a particularly strong exhale could blow the thing right the heck over and smash everything for about three-hundred meters or so.

The tree rocked unpleasantly as Guardromon below knocked three times. It was code for, do you see anything?

"Gahh!" Impmon yelped, clutching the thinning trunk for dear life.

They hadn't actually thought for a way for Impmon to get back to him without shouting. So, after a second, he snapped off a few of the heavier branches he dared break and flung them down. He heard them skitter on the way down before hearing a hollow thunk of dead wood on metal.

Hopefully Guardromon had gotten the message.

All he noticed so far was this hulked out building of stone and thatch—so it seemed, anyway—half destroyed and pretty much buried in foliage. The only reason he'd noticed it was because the wind smelled very vaguely of alcohol of all things from that direction, which was weird enough to report, he guessed. But he wanted to make sure he hadn't missed anything and so checked the other direction.

Mostly, all he could see was the horrible forest. From way up here, it gave the distinct impression of a partially destroyed woven basket—full of holes, dark, delicate and fragile looking. But there was something he couldn't believe he hadn't noticed or scented before.

"I knew I smelled fire, but that's somethin' else…"

There was a big lake or pond-thing what seemed like a couple of kilometers from their position, all brackish looking black water with a big rock-like structure in the middle of it. But neither of those things were what stood out.

On the rock-structure, there was a fortress of some kind, ringed with bright flaming torches. Two really big fires were seated at the top of a couple of watchtower-like structures. The brilliant orange of the fire was particularly stark against the blacks and greens of the night.

He slid down the tree.

After telling Guardromon of what he's seen, the metal digimon stiffened.

"What?" he said. "You say it smelled like alcohol?"

"Don't make me repeat myself if you're not going to listen," Impmon grumbled.

"But there was a fortress…" Guardromon frowned. Impmon wasn't sure how he could frown without visible face, but something tensed in his eyes and they crinkled in a way that could only be described as a frown. He shook his head with a vague whirring noise. "I must be mistaken. It cannot be."

"What can't be?"

Guardromon didn't answer immediately. Impmon huffed. There was a brief lull, but then—

Someone was screaming.

"Did you hear that?"

"What?"

Impmon spun around. He was only a little at loss for what to do. He'd heard distant screams for help before. During his days of skulking around in the Real World, he'd occasionally hear a cry for help on the darker streets of East Shinjuku. He usually responded—mostly to see what was going on out of a callous kind of curiosity that usually left him more disgusted with humanity with each encounter. Sometimes, there was a tiny, tiny sense that maybe, he should do something. But it was always a weak impulse, easily shoved aside and easily forgotten over time. Not too long ago, he had probably been the cause of those kinds of screams himself (but he honestly couldn't remember very well. That part of his life was turning fast into a horrible blur, and he wasn't sure if that was good thing).

But he had never intervened in a digimon fight before. It was honestly…kind of hard to imagine. Unless it was a stronger guy coming in to load both previous combatants...

And yet, he'd changed. The other partnered digimon had changed. Heck, Guardromon here had always apparently been something of a freak, going around and rescuing the weak from bigger digimon or whatever, so…

He clenched his fists.

"Whaddya mean, what? There's no way you didn't hear that!" he pointed in the direction of the cry. Guardromon's eyes were suddenly strange and intensely focused—first on the sound and then fixing back onto Impmon's. He found himself taking a step back without thinking. "I thought this was your thing!"

Guardromon said nothing.

Impmon growled. This felt so strange, but there wasn't really time to think about it beyond this is what Renamon and the others would do. And if we're a team…

Another shriek, followed by triumphant guffaws. Guardromon flinched, but still seemed to be looking for something. Impmon's growl turned into a snarl.

"Whatever, I'm going. I don't have time for this!"

He turned to spring off, only to hear Guardromon clanking behind him.

"Lead on! We'll give whatever cowardly bully is out there what for!"

Of course, in the flurry of movement, emotion and purpose, both of them had failed to consider that their enemy might be more than one.

Or an Ultimate.

Or worse.


Guardromon was surprisingly fast. He was noisy as a train rolling sideways down a hill, all pistons and hydraulics whirring, clanking metal as it rang against the ground, absolutely thrashing the fragile foliage around him in his wake. He almost managed to keep up with Impmon—who while pretty slow just on the ground—was very fast when going by tree.

Sometimes being a ten-pound weakling counted for something.

Impmon happened upon the situation first, Guardromon crashing to a halt several seconds after him.

A pair of Geckomon were huddled in a cluster of what looked like the mushrooms of forgetfulness. The one of the right had one growing out of his head. They'd clearly been eating them, what with a couple of discarded stalks lying around. What was strange was that both had spears lying close beside them. Instead of using them, they were clutching at each other, stumbling over backwards and screaming bloody murder.

Not that they didn't have good reason.

"Geckomon! Then I was right after all," Guardromon said, voice tinged with regret.

"Who cares, that ain't the problem here…"

Two Woodmon slouched towards them, four clawlike arms outstretched. Another pair of them had trapped the Geckomon by ripping themselves free of the foliage behind them. They seized the Geckomon in their vicelike claws—

Impmon hesitated for a single heartbeat—and in that heartbeat, Guardromon crashed to a halt next to them and pointed an accusing fist at the Woodmon.

"I demand you unhand those Geckomon at once! Retreat, and you won't be hurt."

"Yeah, because some serious hurtin' is what you'll be doin' if you ugly fire starters hang around here. So, scram!" Impmon added.

Impmon suddenly realized that they were a (weak, weak weak!) rookie and a single Champion standing up to four Champions who had the ability to drain their energy with a touch. Of course, at that point it didn't matter. But the Woodmon seemed to realize this too, because their only response was to laugh, a horrible, snapping sound like cracking plywood.

Impmon grit his teeth, the fur standing up on the along his spine, tail rigid. Who did these swamp-sniffing toothpicks think they were?

"Look, more fodder to go around," The biggest one said in a voice that reminded Impmon vaguely of rocks dumped into a cement mixer, "The big one is mine."

"You only get one warning," Guardromon said, bringing up both arms to bear. "If you engage us I can assure you we will show you no mercy!"

Things might have degenerated into a battle with only the likely outcome was defeat, but there was still the possible chance of escape, maybe even winning if the Geckmon came to their senses.

The arrival of a new participant transformed the "possible defeat" became "certain".

Actually, this situation reminded him vaguely of the whole Indramon thing.

"My, my, this does seem to be turning into a bit of an ethical conundrum." A voice that seemed altogether way too soft and sophisticated to be coming out of a giant tree monster. "But I actually find that you are in the wrong."

"How did we not notice him before?" Guardromon asked.

"He's got some really good camouflage!"

This was partly true. The Cherrymon was easily several times thicker than most of the trees, dead or alive in the forest. But his general shape, gnarled, crackly bark the mossy vines that hung from his—not head, he was a freaking tree, so…canopy?—seemed to mold him into the shadows of the forest surrounding them.

"And how, pray tell, are we in the wrong?" Guardromon questioned.

Cherrymon made a motion as though he was leaning on his cane in a sagely fashion. "Well my friends, the situation at hand is one that unfolds and evolves all around us, every day. What you see before you now is the law and essence of the Digital World itself."

He said "friends", but he was actually looking at Impmon when he said this. Impmon tensed. He didn't like the way those yellow eyes seemed to stare into him, past the outer layer of flesh and fur and data, down to the twisted little defects in his soul. He felt naked...there were a lot of defects.

"I don't care about that," Impmon retorted, trying to sound convincing and strong, even though there was a significant part of him that felt like he couldn't really argue with Cherrymon on that point… "I don't see any battle—all I see are a bunch of nutcracker rejects pickin' on—on—a couple of weaklings..." he was trailing off fast, God, was he still talking?

It would have been almost funny if the situation hadn't turned so dire.

"Is that right?" Cherrymon grinned. His teeth were weird and creepy—not quite wood but not quite bone either, gross and mossy and stained in places with what looked unpleasantly like blood. "Well, boys," he addressed the other Woodmon, "I don't know about you, but something about that philosophy seems downright otherworldly, don't you?"

"And you know what they say about Digimon who've been to the Real World!" cackled the big Woodmon.

"Load the Geckomon, but leave the other two. The boss'll want them in one piece for now," Cherrymon instructed.

"Wait a minute, what's this?" Impmon barked, "I thought you were goin' on about nature and all that crap, since when do Digimon take hostages for their boss, and what do they say about Digimon who've been to the real world?"

"Oh dear," Guardromon said as two of the Woodmon advanced slowly.

Impmon blinked. "Whaa?"

"They say if you load the data of a Digimon that's been to the Real World, you'll gain the ability to go there yourself."

"What?" Impmon cried, incredulous, "That's just about the stupidest thing I—AUGH!"

He felt his teeth rip open the inside of his mouth as a huge, splintery fist smashed its way into his face. Impmon flew across the small clearing, only to crash straight into one of the other Woodmon. It tried to grab him, but Impmon managed to roll away and run into one of the Geckomon instead.

"Come on, we're trying to save you! At least don't make it harder!" he snapped at them.

The one with the mushroom sticking out of his forehead quailed. "How?"

Impmon stared at him in disbelief. "Here, you've got these, you morons!" he kicked one of the fallen spears at the other one, who looked at it stupidly before shrieking back in a panicked voice,

"What are these?"

"Aaah, come on, what kinda useless Digimon forgets how to fight?" Impmon groaned. He tried to tug the mushroom Geckomon out of the way of the oncoming attack. "You had to eat those mushrooms, didn't you?"

A blow from the nearest of the four Woodmon drove them apart—Impmon rolled away and scampered halfway up a tree before using it as a spring board. He launched himself from there onto the crown of the attacking Woodmon's head.

The Woodmon yelled and tried ineffectually, to grab him, but its longer limbs had no digits and were basically clubs attached to a pair of powerful forearms. "Aagh! Get off!" it attempted to beat Impmon off, but unable to see what it was doing—or where Impmon was on its head, it kept simply—

"Ahahahaha! Stop hitting yourself, you'll give yourself a headache!" Impmon cackled, dodging the blows with relative ease. "Hey, Guardromon! Over here!" he signaled to the metal Digimon, who'd just finished blasting one of the Woodmon into a tree. Guardromon nodded and affirmative, and fired a Guardian Barrage at them. Impmon leaped off the Woodmon's head, fully expecting that Guardromon's missiles would blow it up—only to realize that Guardromon had shot over the thing's head and straight into the sky, where the missile detonated like a firework.

"What are you doing? You missed him!" Impmon accused, as the Woodmon regained its composure and swiped at him again. On the second swipe, it hit him full on, pummeling him into the dirt.

"No, I didn't!" Guardromon replied, a triumphant note in his voice. Impmon didn't have time to wonder about this, because one of the Woodmon grabbed his tail.

"How do you plan on fighting me without your energy?" it hissed at him. "Branch Drain!"

Impmon gasped. It was as though someone had poked a ziplock bag full of water with holes—and he was the bag. Energy leaked out of him freakishly fast, and in a desperate move fueled by adrenaline and panic, he lit the tip of his finger and hurled a tiny red fireball at the Woodmon's face.

"Bada-boom!"

To his surprise and relief, the Woodmon flinched and started back. He scrambled away and rolled—only a little unsteadily—to his feet. He chuckled, lighting his right hand.

Even Cherrymon, who had not so far participated in the battle, seemed surprised.

"Hey, whassamatter, you don't like these little fireworks?" He grinned, revealing his sharp teeth. "That's too bad, because I do!"

Something had to have been said for the sheer suicidal abandon with which Impmon proceeded to fling the exploding fireballs, cackling after the Woodmon. Retrospectively, he would realize that it wasn't so much that they feared him, more like they were prompted by their instinctual fear of fire and hadn't figured out how little damage the attack would actually do.

He didn't really get far though—Cherrymon finally did enter the fight, and made that known by throwing Guardromon on top of him with a massive clang.

Impmon went down harder than a sack of potatoes tossed off the second story. Though his vision only went ink-black for a second, he could barely breathe and his head was starting to hurt.

Actually, everything was starting to hurt now.

He flailed weakly, trying to extricate himself, but the machine Digimon had evidently taken a lot more damage than Impmon had considered. "Guardromon," he choked, "I hate to break it to you, but you need to stop crushing my lungs if we're gonna fight!"

"You're right, it would be better to die—standing!" Guardromon wheezed out. It took him a full few seconds, but he managed to stagger back upright, holding his arms out and ready to fight for as long as they'd be able.

The Geckomon, who'd scrambled closer to their would-be protectors, battered, bruised and terrified.

"Is this the end?" One of them shrieked. He was holding the spear with a grip about as strong as overcooked noodles, and clutching it close to his body like a security blanket.

"Not on my watch," Impmon grunted. He pushed himself up for what felt like the fiftieth time—geez, lie down for two seconds and suddenly your whole body turns into cement and your nerve endings all light like dynamite…

Surrounded on all sides by the four barely worse-for-the-wear Woodmon and with Cherrymon scuttling closer, it didn't look like there was much avenue for escape. His own fire wasn't very strong, even the Infernal Funnel might at best give the Woodmon a black eye or make Cherryon sneeze. He clenched his fists.

If only he could digivolve. Why couldn't he do it? Heck, even if he couldn't digivolve, having the others, like Guilmon or something torch these walking woodpiles would be something.

He was suddenly reminded of Leomon, whose primary attack was a wash of raging golden flame.

NO!

NOT.

NOW.

"STOP IT!" he screamed. The force of the shout gave the attackers a tiny bit of pause. He used that time to climb up onto Guardromon's head. Struggling to channel the fury building up in his guts, he lit all six fingers with a flourish, baring his teeth in a vicious growl.

"Okay, I've had it! I'm done playing games with you. You take one stinkin' step closer and I'll digivolve and light all of you worthless punks up like a bunch of Christmas trees!"

It was a desperate gambit and he knew it. But it at least might give them time to figure something else out.

Cherrymon seemed intrigued. "Digivolve? You?" If Impmon wasn't so furious, he might have noticed the look of dawning recognition in Cherrymon's face, or heard tone of his voice.

"That's right!" Impmon shouted. "I've been playing nice with you so far, but I'll do it! I've taken out a Cherrymon before up on those rocks not too long ago, and it's been a while since I've needed a toothpick!"

This was one of the few genuine recollections he had. There had been three Cherrymon. During his mad rush in the intial days—hours?—as Beelzemon, he'd found them, and destroyed one. Maybe two? The third one got away, for sure. He remembered chasing it, but the rest of the memory had fallen away into some feverish images he didn't want to sort out right now.

"So try me!" His chest was heaving, eyes bright with fury and frustration at his own weakness, desperation to make this ONE situation that he was involved in not go to merry hell in a freaking handbasket

There was a tense silence.

Cherrymon looked at him with gleaming yellow eyes, doing that searching thing again. Before Impmon could work up the breath to start screaming at the guy again, the Tree Digimon gave a low laugh.

"You can't digivolve."

"What?"

"Even if you could at some point, you haven't it in you right now. Too many skeletons in your little soul. I can tell, just by lookin' at you. I know your type."

"My type?"

"Sure. The worst kind of Digimon there is—the guilty killer. I can see it in your eyes. It's unnatural, I tell you."

Cherrymon advanced, grinning that bloody, mossy grin.

"But you won't have to worry about that for long, now, will you?"


A/N: Final note: All the past life jokes are based on the previous voice actors of the characters in question. I'm retarded, I know.

Translation conventions

*teammates: I used this word because it was the closest thing to the actual appropriate word in Japanese, which is "nakama". It just means to be part of a group, or a set united by a common goal. Teammate doesn't really cover it well, since in English its connotations are closer to a sports team, and not quit the "we're in this together" sort of connotation "nakama" has.